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!

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Rat Queens Deluxe Edition 1 – Kurtis J. Wiebe

rat-queens-collected-1This is a slightly oversized hardcover that collects the first ten issues and has a couple of extras.

The hardcover is extremely sturdy and opens and lays flat making reading a joy. There is no dust jacket but the silver embossing is very attractive. The art doesn’t really benefit from being 10% larger but the tactile experience is perfect.

Included is the Rat Queens special featuring Braga’s origin story and a couple of single page gags. There are all the covers, including unused ones and a few sketches. Unusually there is no editorial or even a forward. It would have been nice to find out more about the creation of this unusual title.

If you haven’t picked up the first two trades then this is definitely a good way to start reading.

Thumbs Up

Cowboy Ninja Viking: Volume 2 – A J Lieberman

Cowboy Ninja Viking 02This is another outing in one of the weirdest titles in comics.
It isn’t a bad little story, reminiscent of a Bond film or a clever 70’s heist movie. There are more double crosses than you can shake a stick at and the trademark timeline shuffling persists with a vengeance.

The art is the same pencil and block colour but we have dual tones now, and in some of the weirdest colour juxtapositions you will ever see.

This didn’t need another volume and in many ways it would be better off without a sequel to preserve the ‘lightning in bottle’ originality of the first book. But here it is and it certainly has a cool idea for Duncan.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed Volume 17 – Christos Gage

crossed-17Christos Gage returns to the Crossed franchise to revisit his character Smokey, the most intelligent seeming Crossed to date. Not only that, this story is almost a retelling of his original appearance with humans and Crossed collaborating. It does raise some interesting ideas as we explore the idea of a Crossed society.

We start off with a human protagonist who is narrating in the first person. But halfway through he is replaced by another protagonist who fulfils exactly the same role but we are left without a narrator. This is an unusual change in point of view and maybe could have worked in two related stories but switching abruptly mid-volume is quite mystifying.

The art is the usual vibrant red affair but the artists change halfway. There are plenty of covers, wraparounds and chapter breaks too.

Thumbs Up.

House of Mystery 8: Desolation – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h8Well shucks! This is fantastic volume but so sad it is so late. Structurally, narratively and artistically this is exploding with amazing ideas and techniques. It’s a shame that some of these couldn’t have been siphoned off to make the preceding volumes a bit livelier. It appears Sturgis does endings and beginnings well but the middle not so much.

The art is great with plenty of detail, bold colours exciting layouts and energetic guest styles. There is a really dramatic desaturated sequence that I haven’t seen anywhere outside photography.

Going out with a bang this is a strong thumbs up!

House of Mystery 7: Conception – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h7Sadly things are going downhill. After seven books with no new ideas things have become stale. Not even the reappearance of Harry at the end of the last episode can redeem things.

The art style appears to have changed too, becoming less detailed.
There are some nice touches here and there but not the great mystery that still appears in the series title.

There is also another Halloween special but cameos like Constantine just seem like elongated adverts for other books.

No Thumbs.

House of Mystery 6: Safe as Houses – Mathew Sturges

h6Things settle down a bit and some of the stories of the supporting cast are quirky and interesting but because the House of Mystery is no longer mysterious this tale has lost its edge sadly.

The art is excellent with some really interesting guest styles and great colour choices for the main plot.

There is a 3 page prose story written in the most unreadable handwriting font you can imagine. If you can struggle through it then its dark ending will reward you.

Thumbs Up – just.

House of Mystery 5: Under New Management – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h5After the awkward non-ending of the last instalment it is virtually business as usual. Sadly the tension of characters trapped in an unknown location has evaporated. What we have are characters who look to jump about every few books and get visited by plot. Maybe like an inverse Dr Who.

The main story art is fine and the guest artists are generally good at fitting in with the gothic template. But then Sergio Aragonés turns up with his cartoonist style and things feel a little jarring.

The whole thing feels like a page out of a writer’s notebook whose portmanteau of stories fit together more by happy accident than design. Not enough to persuade you to stop reading but enough to make you cross your fingers for future episodes.

Thumbs Up – for the minute.

House of Mystery 4: The Beauty of Decay – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h4This is the volume where the cracks start to appear. There is an ending of sorts in this volume but it isn’t exactly revealed making you wait till next volume for the cliff-hanger. The short stories also become more diversionary and their relevance, if they have any, is most obscure.

The art is great and plenty of ghostly blues are employed effectively for an otherworldly effect. There is also some clever panel use with each frame representing a room of the house.

Included in this book is the Halloween special which features appearances by Constantine, Merv Pumpkinhead, and Madam Xanadu (barely), etc. Sadly these are not about the content, but more about the cameos.

There is no reason to stop reading but the shine definitely wears off.

Thumbs Up!

House of Mystery 3: The Space Between – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h3This is another superb volume because even when it makes decisions that have you feeling unsure they turn out for the best. It delivers plenty of answers and new developments and switches neatly between believable characters with realistic emotions and the weaving of a fictional backdrop. Unlike Fables not having a knowledge of elderly literature isn’t a drawback.

The art is great and you are now used to the guest artists and embrace the, sometimes unusual, styles they bring. There are plenty of ways to depict the unease and tension of psychological horror. And a little puzzle page by Sergio Aragonés.

The neat little touches make this work stand out. In issue thirteen all the pages are numbered 13. That sort of care and attention rewards your faith in this tale. Long may it continue.

Double Thumbs Up!!