Wasteland Book 6: The Enemy Within – Antony Johnston

W06This is an excellent book. Not content with creating a brave new world Johnston flexes his literary muscles by shaking up the narrative structure. This volume tells and then retells the tale of a six month period in Newbegin history through the viewpoints of five different characters. This is a superb structure and a great technique for revealing information slowly. As the same events are re-examined from each perspective we learn more about what has happened.

A new artist comes aboard midway through although you are so engrossed in the story you don’t feel any disconnect. Even though his style is different, pure black and white as opposed to black and grey with heavy digital elements, it does fit in with the Wasteland vibe very nicely.

The story examines terrorism and tyranny and although two characters are in the employ of the tyrant your loyalties are never given cause to change. After so many volumes absent will we ever find out what is happening to Michael and Abi?

For the bold point of view stance this gets a Double Thumbs Up!

Jack of Fables 5: Turning Pages – Bill Willingham

Jack 05This is a superb return to form after the doldrums of the last volume. We have two three issue stories, both of which are excellent.

The first concerns Jack’s history in the Wild West and his confrontation with Bigby that started their feud. Unusually this volume is played as a straight western and works surprisingly well. The artificially injected humour with the blue ox really falls flat and feels out of place.

Then we have three issues concerning the Page sisters (one each) in which we learn more about them. This volume also moves the present day timeline forward and we build up for a giant and exciting battle next time.

The art is great. Each story has a separate artist who sticks with it for all parts. The Wild West setting provides strong landscapes and interesting period/ flashback techniques. The Page trilogy is more straightforward but with no less detail and energy.

Double Thumbs Up!

Fables (21): Happily Ever After – Bill Willingham

Fables 21This is a nine chapter volume that alternates between Fabletown and mini stories elsewhere. As Willingham specialises in battles he has sown the seeds of his final conflict early and tension is rising to fever pitch. Each chapter is marked “the Last Tale of…” so you know things are bad.

Unlike previous battles this will be character against beloved character so no matter who wins we lose. The true story behind Snow and Red is revealed and there can be only one. The book delivers everything a penultimate part should with gusto.

This book has more artists than ever before. Most of the names like Akins and McManus are regulars but Nimit Malavia delivers a superb Noir style meeting between two characters. Nothing disappoints.

There are some great reveals, clever references and fourth wall pokes that combine to make this a Double Thumbs UP!!

Human Target – Peter Milligan

Human TargetThis 4 issue miniseries, based on a DC character from the 1970’s is superb. There is a quality of writing and subject matter that blows most modern offerings out of the water.

Firstly there is an incredible twist that really leaves you baffled and then you have an examination on the themes of identity and the sense of self that is more at home in an Ibsen play than the funny books.

The art is great. Even though the backgrounds are blank or sparsely detailed you don’t notice or care and it seems to project the characters right off the page. There is excellent colouring with strong mood and tone even with the Vertigo newsprint paper.

Terrific in both style and substance.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Bitch Planet – Kelly Sue DeConnick

Bitch Planet 01Yes it’s about feminism. No that needn’t put you off. If you are scared of real world issues this isn’t a Garth Ennis polemic and it is possible for you to enjoy a story where people struggle against adversity. But it is a futuristic satire about women and minorities getting the shitty end of the stick.

It is unquestionably bold and brilliant. The issues that face the characters are the same as those faced today and, arguably, women have always faced. But using the lens of science fiction they become less prone to the knee-jerk braying of our internet culture. There are the spoof adverts for those who need their satire to be so blatant it knocks your teeth in and there is your ‘Great Escape’ prison analogy for those who like things more subtle.

The art is weird retro with the print being made from dots as it was in the 1970’s. Accompanying this are the Exploitation style covers with lurid headlines. There isn’t a lot of detail and the block colouring really doesn’t help either. But the book is very conscious that if it makes things too realistic and too close to our own world people will just switch off or pigeon-hole it as some kind of rant.
Science fiction, and art in general, has a proud and valuable role to expose the underbelly of our world and this invaluable work does so incisively and artistically.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Wayward: Volume 2 Ties that Bind – Jim Zub & Steve Cummings

Wayward 2This book doesn’t just shift up one gear but ten gears growing exponentially from its strong first volume. Brave decisions are made in terms of narrative and point of view and we are treated as intelligent readers but never left behind.

This isn’t all about escapism and supernatural adventure. A new character allows us to explore themes of identity and conformity and empathise with those who suffer because of them. If you aren’t in the mood for a deeper meaning there is action, adventure, mystery and peril that moves along at a cracking pace.

The art is still fantastic with rich colouration and highly detailed backgrounds giving the whole book a lush, animated quality. The digital tools bring a spectacular vibrancy to the supernatural elements yet achieve an almost watercolour softness to the real world.

Every aspect of this from the multipart covers to distinctive lettering to the extensive historical notes contributes to make this a Double Thumbs Up!

Crossed +100 – Alan Moore

C100.1

Comics Messiah Alan Moore takes on the Crossed franchise.

This is a spectacular piece of writing but if you are in Crossed just for the gore then this will be your Prometheus. The biggest talking point is the language. Set 100 years in the future Moore has everyone speaking a dialect descended from internet speak. This will either take you a while to pick up, especially with what look like some editing inconsistencies, or make you put the book down.

The advantage this brings is that it makes you read much slower than a roller coaster page-flipper that some comics can be. It gives you time to digest and speculate on the origins and course of his future. It is great fun working out where all the names came from and where in the world the characters are.

There is virtually no gore or horror in the piece. This ensures you invest so much into the characters and a wonderfully slow build up makes for a shocking ending. There is a tipping point where you put the clues together and your heart sinks. The final issue over-stretches this like the host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But like a proper old ghost story the terror is firmly psychological and no final page turn will compete for what is in your head.

One notable theme is a Muslim dominated settlement and Moore’s discussion and hypothesis of Islam might not be for everyone. Just as his version of the Crossed is the most different anything previous.

The art is great with Crossed veteran Gabriel Andrade returning from volume 9. So much detail and effort is packed into every panel to effortlessly bring this future world to life. The colouring is great with a lot of earth tones working hard to realise this overgrown, agrarian environment.

Double Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead: Volume 24 Life and Death – Robert Kirkman

WD24This is a superb volume with plenty of character and drama. You aren’t expecting much from this volume as you think we are at a quiet point in the story with the first market happening. Oh dear.

The Whisperers present quite an existential challenge. Kirkman shows that antagonists don’t have to be cruel despots or megalomaniacs or even conquerors. They are definitely one of the freshest zombie ideas and they have a few surprises.

Everyone seems to get some screentime in this book. Carl continues to grow and become his own man, Negan gets one of his awesome speeches and Maggie faces up to the hard side of leadership. This is an amazing foundation and would make a great book but the rug-pulls make it fantastic. Kirkman shows that he needn’t kill characters to shock you. And then he kills characters and you are shocked again.

The art is amazing and it is always worth stopping to appreciate just how good it is and how much is done with black and grey. This has never been a normal gig for Adlard. He never phones things in. Each panel is well thought out and even after two dozen books he is still experimenting and there are some really sharp panel structures here.

Walking Dead is everything a graphic novel should be including rising to new heights.

Double Thumbs Up!

Rising Stars Volume 2: Power – J. Michael Straczynski

Rising Stars 2Now the world-building is done and the Specials are no longer kids this really ratchets up a gear. Several gears in fact as politics and humanism enters the agenda. Through a series of twists the action hots up and takes off in a new direction.

Just like the first book this volume has everything dotted and crossed. Things you didn’t realise were being set up in the previous act neatly pop up and dovetail into place. This is a masterpiece of plotting and everything neatly follows on without any jarring deus ex machina. More importantly these are human beings, fallible ones, who don’t always make the right or the expected decisions.

The art is great. Despite the series having several artist changes everything looks consistent and well-polished.

For the big ideas this deserves a Double Thumbs Up!

The Tale of One Bad Rat – Bryan Talbot

One Bad Rat
Taking more than four years to write and draw and published twenty years ago this powerfully and terribly relevant story deserves its praise by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

This work tackles the potent subject of Child Abuse in a way that only art can. Interleaving a contemporary tale, albeit from the 1990’s, with the story of Beatrix Potter this isn’t preachy or frightening and explores every facet of the subject and its aftermath.

If you are paying attention you can learn a lot about a great many things. There is so much gently layered into this sophisticated work and it deftly balances things both hard and joyful to read.

The art is spectacular with each panel crammed with vibrant, realistic detail and wonderful life and emotion. All the scenes and images bring this story and its turbulent emotions to life. Lush and epic vistas of the Lake District, London in all its forms, and real people. The lighting and colouring is extraordinary and pack just as much punch as the words.

There is an extensive Afterword from Talbot and, unusually, a long credit list as most of the characters were drawn from life. There is also an introduction from writer Stephen Gallagher.

Double Thumbs Up!!