We Stand On Guard – Brian K. Vaughan

we-stand-on-guardThis is a bold and provocative piece about a future invasion of Canada by the USA. Vaughan pulls no punches in exposing America’s dirty laundry, even attacking their comic books. You can see why people got a bit annoyed.

With the politics and real world analogy, plus obscure historical/ Canadian references, in the foreground this doesn’t give a lot of time for characterisation and worldbuilding. The pacing is snappy and there are some wonderful scene changes but it is all over much too soon. We want to know more – but possibly to distract us from the hefty dose of “wake-up” Vaughn is shaming our conscience with.

The art, from acclaimed storyboard artist Steve Skroce, is excellent. It is mostly square panels but there are plenty of splash pages to make bold statements. The colouring is gorgeous and emotively intelligent too.

This is an oversized hardcover that makes a big difference to the reading/ viewing experience. There are quite a few pages of initial sketches but no form of commentary, which for a book like this would be welcome.

Definitely a Double Thumbs Up!

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Midnighter: Anthem – Keith Giffen & Brian K Vaughan

Midnighter2This is an outstanding volume of two stories created by some exceptionally talented people.

The longer story concerns Midnighter trying to have a normal life and to discover who he was before Henry Bendix. A tall order. The small town he visits is great plus the evil corporate antagonist and their ensuing ideology is also well written. There is plenty of good dialogue particularly with his new sidekick and his daughter. There is also a lot of action – which you expect in a Midnighter book – that feels more of a necessary evil in the early part of the story.

Giffen does a superb job with the character but the fact the entire art team from penciller to letterer changes virtually every issue is disappointing. You do get to see a good variety of styles and effects but having your hero look different every five minutes is unacceptable.

The star of this volume and the entire series is the one-shot written by Brian K Vaughan and drawn by Darick Robertson. The art and the colours are simply breath-taking. You can tell everyone has gone above and beyond in rendering this stunning book.

The story is pretty much disposable nonsense BUT it is told backwards. Like the film Memento in a way we learn what has gone before. At first you think it is just flashbacks but then the penny drops. The sequence of pages has been reversed. What is testament to Vaughan’s genius is that you can read it in both directions. And it is very rewarding when you do.

This story is possibly the most astounding piece of creativity I have ever seen in comics. This deserves the King of All Thumbs Up!

Pride of Baghdad – Brian K. Vaughan

Inspired by the true story of four lions escaping from Baghdad zoo during the bombing of Iraqi in 2003, award winning writer Brian K. Vaughan imagines their story.

This is a fantastic story told from the animal’s point of view. Part Lion King part Watership Down you are able to make an emotional connection to these wonderful and wild creatures. There isn’t a traditional plot as such, and thankfully it doesn’t descend into an episode of Lassie, but there are a lot of subtle moral questions woven into the animal’s journey if you are inclined to spot them.

The art is an absolute joy to behold and the vibrant, natural colours are a masterpiece themselves. The animals are faithfully rendered with dynamic poses and fluid musculature yet capable of conveying primal emotions you can empathise with. This is thick book but there are much more pictures than words allowing you to drink in the setting and leisurely bask in the tangible atmosphere.

If you are so inclined you can take a very powerful message from the author, or maybe you are bringing your own. A Double Thumbs Up!

273/92

Tomorrow: Walking Dead 17: Something to Fear – Robert Kirkman

Ex Machina: Term Limits – Brian K. Vaughan

Where will it all end? With all the twists and turns of the previous volumes will this have a satisfactory conclusion? Or will it end up with the wacky finale that Y: the Last Man did? It’s both.

There is a dramatic conclusion with twists, turns and shocks that really grips you. Then it descends into a Return of the King style epilogue-fest as if Vaughan changes his mind and doesn’t want to let things go. Or maybe wants to finish things in a terminal fashion and move on.

The art is disappointing compared to the wonderful colours we have seen previously. Much of the book is murky and the clean lines disappear in places as if someone else has been filling in. The wonderful faces and expressions are still there but little else that stands out.

The series peaked long before this volume but you care so much about the characters you have to stay till the final curtain. For this reason is just scrapes in as a Thumbs Up!

244/121

Tomorrow: Wimbledon Green – Seth

Ex Machina: Ring Out the Old – Brian K. Vaughan

It’s true. Vaughan has finally gone bat-shit crazy. He has put himself in his own comic. Not the “author insertion fantasy” of bad writers everywhere but as himself with his own likeness as a real person. He has taken his artist with him too, and now they are talking to his fictional characters about real events.

I don’t think “breaking the fourth wall” is a strong enough expression for what occurs here. He may be ahead of his time or completely off his rocker but there is one moment where both the fictional and the autobiographical are so perfectly balanced you begin to doubt your own reality. The story within a story spirals off into the abyss and Vaughan looks right back at you.

It is clever but maybe such theatrics should be on the stage and not derailing a graphic novel. Vaughan would probably be better off with a newspaper column as he declares himself the Jeremy Clarkson of NYC and abandons satire, allegory or parody for poetic ranting.

But that is only the first story. The second is another one-shot, with a different artist, which is an environmental message with a dig at other people’s comics. Then finally we get down to the main story, which is a tense and taught affair concerning a McGuffin that should have been introduced at the start of series if it was to have any credibility. The whole thing then melts into sci-fi psychedelics.

It does feel like he is making it all up as he goes along, or got bored ages ago and is messing around until he gets fired. Yet the characters and the story are so compelling we can’t tear ourselves away from this hand-basket to hell.

The art is familiar and comforting yet lacks the previous sparkle seen in earlier volumes. Even the replacement artist does a good job with the characters without aping Harris’ style.

Thumbs Up, but I am not sure for how much longer.

243/12

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Term Limits – Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: Dirty Tricks – Brian K. Vaughan

They say you have to take the rough with the smooth and right now things are getting a bit bumpy. First we have a single issue story that isn’t really sure what it is saying but it seems Wylie has to have solo-time as every other character has done. We also finish with a single issue story that doesn’t do a bad job of filling in Mitchell’s blanks. The middle story is an odd one but rather human compared to the previous divine and alien themes we have explored of late. It dances about all over the place packing in a lot of mini-plots and ideas but leaves you feeling rushed.

This is the first volume where the art does something different. In the main story has its usual brilliant high standard with a particularly noteworthy dusty 9/11 scene. But the lettering changes font making it a distracting read. The first tale is all talking heads, cramming too much dialogue onto each page. The final part is drawn by a different artist. Whilst it reminds you how lucky you are to have been enjoying our usual talented team it shows you that the words and themes are what hold your interest in Vaughan’s work.

Despite some odd creative decisions the seeds for the finale are being sown and you know you won’t want to miss that. Thumbs Up!

242/123

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Ring Out the Old – Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra – Brian K. Vaughan

If you thought last volume’s visitor from beyond was strange wait till you see who Mitchell goes to visit today. I guarantee you won’t believe it. But you have to trust Vaughan. This is a snappy little thriller but feels very much like a diversion from the political meat and drink that makes Ex Machina so great. There is some wonderful dialogue however and you really can’t predict what will happen next.

It would take a change of team to make this anything less than artistically brilliant. You can see everyone is at the top of their game, but they aren’t taking risks. They are clinging on to their winning formula.

There is a second story concerning Commissioner Angotti offering us a peek into her life as we have seen with Bradbury. On the whole this does feel a little disjointed and even padded as we constantly skip back to scenes that don’t seem to move things forward. For the ballsey guest cameo this leaves with a Thumbs Up!

241/124

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Dirty Tricks – Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: Power Down – Brian K. Vaughan

We are so used to the fantastic political content of this amazing title we forget about its sci-fi component. Well not this time as crazy out of this world shit hits the fan and really mixes things up. Being mayor of NYC and an ex-superhero isn’t enough now we have a visitor from… someplace else.

The art is excellent and the colours spectacular as always. Never has a colourist made such an impact on me. This issue seems to have even more shine than the last with lots of attention to detail and some amazing faces. The lighting gets a lot of care and there are some wonderful scenes. There is also the most noticeable digital effect to date, an in your face motion blur which seems both comedic and out of place.

There are long explanations by both the writer and artist about their creation process and twenty pages of step by step examples of page and cover creation. It is a joy to see how much detail goes into the original pencil art.

A very, very, very high Thumbs Up!

240/125

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra – Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: Smoke Smoke – Brian K. Vaughan

The latest issue that Vaughan tackles in his on-going political drama is Drugs. But rather than being just a trite topic-of-the-week this has real depth and thoughtfulness to it. There are also some tantalising sub-plots being introduced and a twist that will leave you reeling. This certainly feels highly polished.

The art is top-notch as always. There is a second brief story where Bradbury’s life flashes before his eyes in a superb series of revelations.

This is a strong Thumbs Up!

239/126

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Power Down – Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: March to War – Brian K. Vaughan

This contains two stories. The first, March to War, allows Vaughan to use his talent to elegantly introduce global politics into the mix. This is an excellent story that reminds you that, in conflicts there are very few winners.

The second story, Life and Death, reveals the character of Pherson that we have heard so much about. Unfortunately this arrival is telegraphed before the story setting any impact up to fail. The story is too short and resolves the episode too neatly sabotaging future potential. This is an opportunity lost and quite a contrast to the superb lead story.

The art – or rather the colouring – is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic, with bold choices being made. The tonal washes go into overdrive and despite having a very unnatural feel they work superbly. There are some panels that use alternating colours for the two sides of a phone call that really pop out.

This is the best of stories, this is the worst of stories, but the art guarantees it a Thumbs Up!

238/127

Tomorrow: Ex Machina: Smoke Smoke – Brian K. Vaughan