The Fuse Volume 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions – Anthony Johnston

This volume continues the high standard of writing we have seen previously and rewards those loyal readers that have been patiently waiting for the payoff. All those little hints about a larger conspiracy burst forth and are tied up nicely. So much so that this could be the last book for this wonderful world. It would certainly be a shame if Johnston doesn’t come back to this marvellous setting one day though.

The art is superb as always with great colouration helping to set the mood of the moment.

Thumbs Up!

The Fuse Volume 3: Perihelion – Anthony Johnston

This excellent Sci-fi police drama continues to deliver. Set against the backdrop of a carnival and all the crime and mayhem it brings this volume contains a complete story and as usual ends with a tiny teaser for the bigger picture.

The art is excellent with plenty of widescreen panels and lots of visuals to break up the dialogue.

Definitely a keeper.

Thumbs Up!

Usagi Yojimbo 30: The Hell Screen – Stan Sakai

It’s time for another bi-annual helping of your favourite rabbit. The contents page promises seven stories but one is three issues and it isn’t clear why each needs to listed separately.

Inspector Ishida makes a welcome return with another mystery and we also receive a visit from the Komori Ninja. You probably don’t remember Yamaguchi Kyosai from a rock delivering story but the reappearance of these minor characters adds weight and authenticity to Sakai’s world.

All of these feel original and explore cultural aspects we have not touched on before such as the problems Japan faces with its excessive rainfall.

Like normal there is a handy guide at the back which explains and enlightens you to the subjects covered.

The art is great as you would expect. The use of black in the night-time rain scenes and those set in caves are particularly effective.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed +100: Volume 3 – Simon Spurrier

Here is another book in the most interesting Crossed series to date. We leap forward five years, possibly as a jumping on for new readers, or possibly it ties into the number 13.

Like the first book this is another ‘grand plan’ epic in which Salt directs the fate of the Crossed – from the grave. Also like the first book we build to a shocking climax at the end. Or at least we attempt to. Having seen it done magnificently by Alan Moore the cat is definitely out of the bag and we aren’t going to have the rug pulled out on us twice.

There is an interesting family situation developing for ‘Future,’ our antagonist, and it will be interesting to see where Spurrier goes next having taken all this time to worldbuild.

Definitely worth a read but don’t expect lightning to be striking twice.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed +100: Volume 2 – Simon Spurrier

If you are contemplating volume two then you obviously weren’t driven away by the polarising first instalment. Alan Moore was brave and bold, and not to everyone’s taste, as per usual. But he made the Crossed scary again which is something no writer has been able to do since the original. Although Spurrier is the most successful and prolific Crossed writer there is no guarantee he would be able to duplicate Moore’s success. But thankfully he does.

There is a shaky handover as the futurespeak is tough to get a handle on. Too much would render it gibberish and too little would miss the whole point. The flaw is the inconsistency. Sometimes a word will be hyphenated and sometimes it won’t, which for the same speaker is obviously an editing error. There are staple words and phrases which you are able to pick up on and settle into a rhythm of comprehension but some words are just thrown in without any need or logic. This is a language that has supposed to have evolved and not been created.

The stars of the show are, for once, the Crossed. It seems Spurrier remembered they aren’t just mindless hedonists but wily and driven humans. They are capable of using tools, cunning and tactics in order to get their way. And it appears that after a hundred years of natural selection the smart ones have survived and begun thinking long term. Which seems an entirely realistic prospect.

There isn’t the mind-numbing terror of the first book’s ending but there is a good strong story here that builds and leaves you in no doubt that this series is every bit as good as Wish You Were Here.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Marvels: Eye of the Camera – Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern

This is a sequel to the highly acclaimed book Marvels. But you can still enjoy this perfectly as a stand-alone volume. If you have read the original work it is great to see Phil again and learn how the events of this life and that of his family continue.

We follow photographer Phil Sheldon and his documentation of the emerging superhero and mutant phenomena of the 70’s & 80’s. This is very different style of book and isn’t about individual battles and heroes. Instead it’s about the broad strokes of culture and society as a whole and how it views this historical period.

Phil is also a fully fleshed out character with a family and problems of his own. It is this human narration that serves to elevate this book from spandex extravaganza to thought-provoking discussion.

The background events are a chronologically accurate representation of what was going on in the Marvel Universe at that time. If you have some knowledge of the continuity you will recognise many famous key story points of the past. If you aren’t then they are just as dramatic and exciting. And at the back is a huge index that tells you where these story-points come from right down to the issue number.

The art is spectacular. Every panel is practically an Alex Ross cover with them all being (hand) painted like a Blacksad story. It is so different from normal 2D comics and lends such a mature gravitas to the whole work. It is exactly what is needed to support the weighty themes the book is portraying.

There are extensive design notes, a page of art construction and two full draft outlines of the project allowing you to see how it changed during revisions.

The hardcover is superb with a dark blue binding and copper foil stamping. The paper is a sturdy gloss that allows the art to radiate from the page. Even the flyleaf inside the cover is premium quality.

It is hard to know what more they could have done to make this book more perfect.

Double Thumbs Up!

Rat Queens Volume 4: High Fantasies – Kurtis J. Wiebe

The trouble with any book that follows a world-shattering event is where do you go from here? This volume feels very deflated as we almost go back to square one. Except we can’t because square one got blown up and not all the characters are still around.

But we love our Rat Queens and even if the plot isn’t up to much then just hanging around and laughing at their jokes will do for now. There is a nice old school D&D dungeon crawl that tickles the funny bones of any veterans out there and also a quirky flashback to some of the character’s origins.

Thumbs Up!

Habitat – Simon Roy

A future space faring society is reduced to Dark Age tribalism amidst the ruins of their technology. Not a unique idea but executed perfectly. Within just a few pages you have totally bought into the world and are excitedly putting together the copious clues you are given.

There is not a great deal of characterisation. The protagonists just move the plot and the exploration forward. The joy comes in trying to work out where these people came from and what launched them down this descending path.

This is the beautiful vision hand-crafted by a single creator. Nothing looks digital. Even the lettering is handwritten which is certainly unique for a modern book. Everything has such an organic feel as if the world you are peering into has been growing for years. The frames and borders also look as if they were drawn free-hand. They are mostly rectangular or square but the sizes keep changing like a mosaic of visual narrative.

It does have an ending although not a mighty crescendo typical of modern tales. The lack of depth to the characters means they don’t really have an emotional arc more an exploratory one. There could be room for a sequel but it is not needed.

For the effort and vision and the hard work that delivered it this gets a Double Thumbs Up!!

Mysterius the Unfathomable – Jeff Parker

This is a curious and comedic tale about an anti-hero magician. It reads partly like a noir detective story with maybe a sprinkle of Agatha Christie.

It is the kind of book you might use words like quaint and charming to describe and wonder at how it got commissioned in today’s world of consumable media.

There are three pages of prose story thrown in with a faux historical premise that these are from a much earlier edition of Mysterius’ adventures.

The art is definitely an eclectic style that embraces the caricature method with everyone having slightly exaggerated features and expressions.

Thumbs Up!

Brilliant – Brian Michael Bendis

This is one of those normal people get superpowers ideas. The twist is these powers were created by a bunch of college kids. The secret of which entered the corporate world becoming a commodity – making the whole story more of a political thriller. At least this would have happened if the book hadn’t been cancelled after 5 issues. A pretty weird thing since this is a creator owned work.

Maybe this is because most of the work is talking heads. Not straying too far from his Power’s style this is mostly kids standing or sitting talking. They are smart kids so the dialogue is smooth and sharp and not a chore to read but a definite waste of the medium. Then we take a twist and things get interesting – just in time to be cancelled.

The art is classic modern comics. Not a great deal of detail but plenty of colour. Another Bendis trademark is switching the panel read order. One minute you are going across both pages, then one page, then down each column and there is nothing to help you navigate. There is one clever sequence where this is actually turned into a good thing but mostly you read each page twice to see if an altered order makes a difference.

As a cancellation commiseration the five issues that did appear are in a hardback volume. There is a huge cover gallery – maybe the cost of all the variant art bankrupted the book – and full script for the first issue. Bendis’ notes to the artist are actually fascinating reading and give a glimpse into where this book would have gone.

Thumbs Up!