Ka-Zar: Guns of the Savage Land – Chuck Dixon & Timothy Truman

Wait! What? Shanna the She-Devil is married and living in a London penthouse?

This a real piece of 70’s storytelling that was actually written in 1990. Ka-Zar is a Tarzan like character that appeared in pulp fiction of the 1930’s and was pinched by Timely Comics in 1939 then rebooted in 1965 for an X-Men appearance.

This story concerns the civilised by unhappy Ka-Zar leaving the surface world and going back to the Savage Land. There are brief Fantastic Four mentions and we have Wyatt Wingfoot as our narrator and POV character but you can follow along without needing to have a degree in Marvel Continuity.

It is quite a brief book considering the length of graphic novels today but we wisely spend our time with the three protagonists and observe the different viewpoints of man vs nature. It has quite a lot to say about civilisation and the fate of all aboriginal peoples. Shanna stands up wonderfully to her patriarchal husband and embodies strength, love and empathy perfectly.

The art is jaw-dropping because it is painted. As in with a brush and paint. You could never find anything like this done today, aside from possibly Blacksad. The wonderful colours and tones bring a warmth and life to the art that digital colouring just can’t match. There is a real sense of glamour to the characters and Shanna herself, with her green eyes, is positively radiant. And best of all she is appropriately clothed at all times.

This is more of a time-capsule than a hidden gem, just like the idea of the Savage Land itself.

Double Thumbs Up!!

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Septic Isle – Andy Winter

This is a brief but exciting little thriller at sits some way between James Bond and Taggart. It pokes at all those uncomfortable things like racial hatred, domestic terrorism and black ops to deliver a most prescient story.

The art is pure black and white inks and certainly has a self-published feel. But it does have a full colour cover and ISBN number so things are certainly being done right.

Definitely an enjoyable read that is over all too soon.

Thumbs Up!

The Walking Dead 27: The Whisperer War – Robert Kirkman

This is another action volume as you can probably tell by the title. It is a good job Kirkman is good at action as this now makes up almost 50% of the content. The series is now less zombie apocalypse than war movie. But we don’t mind.

Even though a hell for leather extended battle scene would be enough for most authors there is a lot of stuff going on in the background. Seeds are being sown for the future. A lot of them. Kirkman isn’t just using this engagement to take a break to search for new ideas. He is piling on plot after plot like there is no tomorrow. Making the end of the Whisperer war look even more dangerous than the thick of it.

This book contains a lot more blank backgrounds and tiny panels than usual. Which is handy for keeping the pace up and dealing with dozens of characters split up in various locations. There are less cliff-hangers and splash pages but still a few tense page turns.

The pinnacle of Thumbs Up!

The Walking Dead 26: Call to Arms – Robert Kirkman

This is a quiet volume for the most part. There are a couple of peaks but most of it is the gearing up for the future war. It is very much an ensemble of vignettes as people talk through the issues of the day.

Eugene starts a new arc and you can see Kirkman planting seeds that won’t sprout for several books to come. Negan also comes to the fore. You had forgotten just how interesting and unpredictable a character he is. Right up to the last page…

The art is great but there was nothing memorable or dramatic which complimented the ‘ticking over’ vibe of most of the book.

A superb Thumbs Up!

The Walking Dead 25: No Turning Back – Robert Kirkman

This volume explores grief and fear and the consequences of those powerful emotions. After the disaster of the last volume people are scared and it threatens to tear everything apart. There is also a subtext about how leaders and politicians prey on these fears and Negan, who has become the devil on Rick’s shoulder points this out.

The art is superb. Many of the panels contain large amounts of black, highlighting the sadness and trauma being felt. There are some superb silent montages too as you see the different ways people try coping.

If there is one fault it is more the medium than the creators. Kirkman has people talk through important issues and concepts which leads to a lot of extended talking heads. There are some good glances and facial expressions but this is definitely drama around the kitchen sink.

Obviously it is a Thumbs Up!

Trees: Volume Two – Warren Ellis

Thank heavens for another instalment of this excellent sci-fi series. As this is only six issues we didn’t have quite so long to wait.

With many of the characters from the last volume dead we focus on two survivors. Our botanist spends most of her time in Britain and we get to see a little more about how the UK has both changed and stayed the same. Our other lead is in NYC and his mayoral bid reminds us satisfyingly of Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan.

Visually and narratively this an excellent work with Ellis not afraid to cut between storylines for just a single panel or have several mute pages. Graphically the shabby chic visuals do a wonderful job of portraying a world fraying around the edges.

The book ends in an excellent place and neatly answering some questions setting the stage for volume three.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Injection: Volume Two – Warren Ellis

This superb literary fantasia continues, building on the high bar set in the last volume.

Vivek Headland who didn’t get much page time in the first book is the centre of this esoteric detective story. The other protagonists certainly aren’t forgotten about and this feels wonderfully holistic in terms of character. Whilst an intriguing whodunit sprinkled with action it really is a philosophical look at some quite highbrow concepts. Ellis manages to make it all eminently palatable however.

The panels alternate between widescreen and square intelligently as does the detailed and then the plain background. The colours are mostly subdued and occasionally monochromatic but there are unpredictably garish tints often going through a whole spectrum on a single page. For whatever reason this seems fine and reminds you slightly of a Powers issue.

The whole thing is exceptional and it is so refreshing to get a story for grownups.

Thumbs Up!

Sex Criminals Volume Three: Three the Hard Way – Matt Fraction

Here is another fine volume in this wonderful series. It’s hard to think how this could lose its sparkle.
With another volume comes another character, or more than one as the supporting cast grows. While this is one of the keys to longevity you just can’t get enough of Jon and Suzie and pine a little for when the book was theirs alone.

There is a lot of fourth wall breaking here, so much so it’s surprising the roof hasn’t fallen in. From character’s asides to the reader to full on multipage conversations with the caricatured authors. This can be a little jarring, and also hysterical. It certainly isn’t your average work.

Just as the last volume taught us real world facts about contraception this delivers a dry as a bone(r) lecture on the repression, or at least trivialisation, of female sexuality. It’s hard to image a book where the serious and the sublime have been fused so well.

The art is excellent with new sex powers getting their own unique look. This book fuses the basic lines of a Chris Ware title with the amazing colours of Jordie Bellaire, and out comes something inimitable which fits the emotions of the piece to a T.

Double Thumbs Up!

Big Hard Sex Criminals (redux) – Matt Fraction

This is a hardback volume that collects the first two trades (or the first ten issues) of the amazing Sex Criminals.

It is only slightly oversized but the hardcover and solid spine is excellent for reading on a table or your lap. Make sure you take the dustjacket off and laugh at the spoof cover underneath.

The extras are all the covers, including reprintings and bookplates and two pages on the artist’s method. There are also two pages of the sex tips – the little one-liners of sex advice sprinkled through the issues. Most valuable of all are close up pictures of the hidden background posters and in-jokes you have just spend the last hour squinting at hard enough to make you blind.

If you already have the issues or trades then there isn’t enough pull to buy this. If you are unsure about getting into the series then pick up the first graphic novel cheaply (you won’t be disappointed). But if you borrowed someone else’s issues and want to own it for yourself then this is definitely a good purchase.

Thumbs Up!

Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons – Kurtis J. Wiebe

rat-queens-3This superb volume continues the outrageously high standards of character driven drama. There are some excellent call-backs to previous story points and you get to see just how deep and nuanced this tale really is. The drama is more personal than ‘end of the world’ but that makes it even tenser.

Tess Fowler has taken over art duties and although you can see a softer, more rounded style things hang together. The panels and layout are now more rigid and traditional however. Gone are Upchurch’s frenzied multipage action sequences unfortunately.

The Rat Queens special featuring Braga’s origin story is at the end of this volume and there are several pages of behind the scenes art extras.

Thumbs Up!