Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve – Martin Lodewijk

This is a Titan Books republishing of the Dutch sci-fi title Storm. It is labelled book two but does not follow directly on from book one, which itself was not the start of the series. This book is the first of the 20 part Chronicles of Pandarve cycle and it is unclear if Titan actually published all of it, so you may get a nasty shock if you were planning on making it all the way through.

While the simple storytelling may hark back to when readers were less sophisticated and it can be quite nostalgic you may get bored of this quickly. There isn’t any character development or hard sci-fi concepts and it doesn’t have the charm of a proper pulp or noir piece.

The art is a full colour spectacular and testament to what British legend Don Lawrence can do with pencils and hundreds of hours of hard graft.

For the art and the nostalgia, Thumbs Up!

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Storm: The Last Fighter – Martin Lodewijk

This is another in a huge number of tales concerning Storm, an astronaut who returns to Earth millions of years in the future where the planet has changed into the kind of primitive world that Conan would inhabit. Naturally his outdated principles of honour and courage get him into all sorts of trouble as well as rescuing his semi damsel female companion.

It isn’t in any way postmodern, it isn’t overstuffed with twists and rug-pulls and forced one-liners. There is peril and conflict plus anger at injustice but it is lean and unpretentious. This fundamental storytelling is rare and refreshing. But the shine wears off and it turns into a very old school Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

This is the second tale in this universe but nothing on the cover tells you that. A lengthy prose introduction fills you in on everything you missed, but gives no clues as to why our protagonist is called only “Storm.” The introduction handily tells you the first book is out of print. But thanks to the internet you can find it if you are willing to pay more than the original £2.95 cover price. Although the recap is more than adequate.

The art is astounding and you can tell it is hand drawn; by British legend Don Lawrence no less. There is no cutting and pasting or texture fill here. You can see each pencil stroke in the hair of the humans, the fur of the animals, or rocks on the ground. The anatomy and musculature of the people is perfect. It’s mindboggling to think how many hours must have gone into this work.

Storm’s female friend has had her name changed from Carrots to Ember thankfully so as not to be so anachronistic. But she is held prisoner for plot reasons and does not get a chance to develop.

There are seven more books in this series (before the next cycle starts). But they are hard to find in English and you will be paying quite a lot for them second hand.

Thumbs Up!

Storm the Deep World – Martin Lodewijk


This is an old school tale from the 1970’s but it draws on styles much older going back to Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon and even John Carter of Mars.

An Earth man goes into space and returns millions of years in the future where the earth has changed into a kind of primitive world (but not one ruled by apes). As per usual he meets a feisty female companion, who quickly shuts up and serves only as a prompt for exposition.

Both the art and narrative hark back to a time when storytelling was a lot leaner and more straightforward. This may be because it was aimed at young boys and wanted to cash in on the Star Wars boom. It isn’t overstuffed with twists and rug-pulls and forced one-liners, but there is definitely a villain who keeps coming back.

The art is spectacular and typical of the fantastic fully painted sci-fi vistas of the seventies that filled all manner of coffee table books. British artist Don Lawrence, who was best known for The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire (a similar book), does an incredible job. This was back in the day before pencilling, inking and colouring were developed as separate roles so these mere 48 pages must have been a marathon undertaking. Everything feels lovingly handcrafted in a style that seems so organic it would be impossible to recreate digitally.

There is the occasional bit of clunky writing such as the astronaut named Storm is sent on the Storm Probe spaceship to investigate an actual storm. And the female lead is called Carrots. With an ‘S’. But this could be the translation as it was originally published in Dutch and has been adapted into several European languages. This also means that the speech bubbles are either really tight or mostly comically oversized. Not enough to spoil the gorgeous art however.

It does suffer from being the first book (of many) and toward the end the narration seems hell bent on describing every single panel, possibly in a rush to finish as it is only 48 pages.

If you remember the sci-fi of the 1970’s or have a passion for Robert E Howard or Edgar Rice Burrows style adventure this is a must read.

Thumbs Up!

Sex Criminals Volume Four: Fourgy – Matt Fraction


This is another terrific volume in the series that never disappoints. The reason for this is because it is a comic for grownups. Something that isn’t simply there to pass the time but to get you to think or relive real emotions and personal questions.

The original premise, the unpredictable plot, the myriad hidden details and the Sex Ed all combine to keep you hooked. Although it is the characters and their relatable stories and experiences and feelings that you can truly empathise with. Life isn’t simple or simplistic and this series reminds you of that.

The art is great and does so much more than just look pretty, very, very pretty. The colour coded backgrounds, the visual gags, the abstracted timeline, the use of space, and in this volume the genius idea of the lettering actually interacting with the real world are all masterstrokes.

This title really shows just what the comics medium can do both visually and emotionally.

Double Thumbs Up!!

The Walking Dead 29: Lines We Cross – Robert Kirkman

Whilst the battles and terror are no doubt thrilling reading the intrigue and suspense between them is just as captivating. So much happens in this volume it is wonder there is space for it. Plot hooks and teasers pop up like a demented game of Whack-a-Mole with dozens of characters having emotional scenes now the bullets are no longer flying.

Negan has gone through a huge character arc and Kirkman was right to keep him around to reveal he was not just a despot of the week. One of the most admirable parts of this work is the complex way different characters are emotionally tied together. How the behaviours of one directly affects another, even if it takes months or years to yield a payoff. Whilst the dead are always present it’s nice to see the living have a moment to themselves.

This book reminds us what a living, breathing tale The Walking Dead is. We see another new character introduced, but one who is quirky, funny and definitely unique, and not just there to supply whatever skill is needed or joining the red-shirted cannon fodder. The settlements too don’t just have a status quo and aren’t run by perfect necessity but by bickering human beings. The characters are still exploring the world, meeting new people and being surprised.

The art is great. There are some exciting splash pages and eye-opening juxtapositions and plenty of creative angles. The black and white is a great choice and a hallmark of the book, doing so much for the tone. But when you need colour to reveal something about hair or clothing then you can’t show but have to tell with clunky dialogue. Thank goodness for the colour covers.

This is a superb volume that answers many questions and resolves a lot of sub plots and has you on the edge of your seat for the next one.

Double Thumbs Up!!

The Walking Dead 28: A Certain Doom – Robert Kirkman

This volume feels thicker. Side by side with the last one it looks thicker, but it still has the regular six issues. Despite the size it flies by as the Whisper War concludes and a tragedy happens. A real tragedy. Spoiler warning!

People die all the time and you have stopped learning the names of the minor characters as you know they won’t be around long. In this world it is hard to make death shocking, meaningful, and impactful. Kirkman finds a way and bravely reinforces the core maxim of The Walking Dead, that no one, literally no one, is safe.

The art is great and you would think after so many books that this straight edge panel format would become formulaic. But there are lots of exciting, emotional close-ups, clever perspectives and a very fluid panel count changing the pacing of each page where necessary.

Thumbs Up!

Scotland Yard – Dobbs

 

This is a horror/ detective story set in 19th Century London, particularly the literary London made famous by Conan Doyle, Dickens, Stoker, et al. This was originally published in French by Soleil Productions (Éditions Soleil) as part of their extensive 1800 range before being picked up by Dark Horse.

The story concerns a detective from Scotland Yard who must hunt down two escaped Psychopaths. The book does a great job of evoking the atmosphere and flavour of the period. But just in case you don’t get the subtlety it crams in as many characters from the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula as possible. Even Bram Stoker himself makes personal appearances.

This was originally two volumes (for the two escaped prisoners) but both stories flow nicely into one another. It can be a little disconcerting having so many familiar names from literature popping up everywhere and it can seem like a lost volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The art is nothing less than spectacular. It feels hand painted in watercolour much like the Blacksad books and this allows it to really capture the grime and mire of Victorian London. The panel structure dances between avant-garde and chaotic but always seems to hit the dynamic tone and compliment the pacing at each moment. The palate is mostly grey and subdued but effortlessly switches to black for flashback, red for terror and a sickly yellow for some mad science.

It is one of the few small volumes that actually deserves a hardcover to match its sumptuous interior.

Double Thumbs Up!!

The House that Groaned – Karrie Fransman


This is an eccentrically artistic work by cartoonist Karrie Fransman, very different from mainstream graphic novels.

It concerns the residents of a converted Victorian property whose very human struggles are only one step removed from our own. The whole piece is a voyeuristic soap opera as we get to curtain-twitch to our heart’s content at these weird neighbours. Some of them have literal struggles we can empathise with and some are abstracted to the point of metaphor, but strangely enough this does not break the narrative.

It is definitely for grownups and not just for the nudity and the grotesque themes. This isn’t a work of escapist entertainment but a catalyst to get your emotions ruminating on the failures of the human condition. You definitely need to be in the mood for it and it is probably something you are better off borrowing than purchasing as it won’t be something you will sit down to read often.

It is definitely drawn by a cartoonist embracing caricature rather than realism and shares traits with other comparable illustrators like Seth. The lines are always curving and freehand even when they are meant to be straight and this adds a wonderfully humanising filter to everything. The colours are black, white and teal in various shades and this extraordinary palette imparts a sense of claustrophobia and insecurity.

It is no surprise why it won so much praise. Double Thumbs Up!!

Dominion: The Last Sacrifice – Joe Hart & Stuart Moore

This is an odd volume. It starts off as the lovechild of Y: The Last Man and Bitch Planet presenting a world where female births stop so women become an endangered gender. It has a dark tone as the world goes to hell in a handbasket in something approaching The Road.

You have a strong female lead and some neat little twists but just as it is getting going you realise the whole thing has either been an advert for, or a cash-in for, a novel series. Literally the last story page is an advert. And then after that you have ten pages previewing a different graphic novel. The whole thing seems blatantly money-grabbing.

The art is fine and the black bordered panels give a sense of menace and jeopardy throughout. It is printed on gloss paper for sharp crisp images.

Disappointing because it could have been so much more. No Thumbs Up!

The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan – Robert Kirkman

Origin stories are for heroes. Whenever a villain gets one it always diminishes them as their sense of mystery and fear is gone. As much as you want to know where Lucille came from and how she got her name perhaps it is better if you don’t know.

This isn’t a bad volume but it is a little thin. Both in page count, which can’t be masked by the slightly oversize format and hardcover, and in content. Kirkman skips Negan through the 100 issues of time that Rick got to grow and develop, but does so aplomb. We also see some familiar names along the way.

The art is the same high standard as it the same people as the main issues.

As a fan of The Walking Dead you will want this and it is a lot more convenient than tracking down original issues. It’s a shame that it is so thin however.

Thumbs Up!