Trees: Volume Two – Warren Ellis

Thank heavens for another instalment of this excellent sci-fi series. As this is only six issues we didn’t have quite so long to wait.

With many of the characters from the last volume dead we focus on two survivors. Our botanist spends most of her time in Britain and we get to see a little more about how the UK has both changed and stayed the same. Our other lead is in NYC and his mayoral bid reminds us satisfyingly of Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan.

Visually and narratively this an excellent work with Ellis not afraid to cut between storylines for just a single panel or have several mute pages. Graphically the shabby chic visuals do a wonderful job of portraying a world fraying around the edges.

The book ends in an excellent place and neatly answering some questions setting the stage for volume three.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Sex Criminals Volume Three: Three the Hard Way – Matt Fraction

Here is another fine volume in this wonderful series. It’s hard to think how this could lose its sparkle.
With another volume comes another character, or more than one as the supporting cast grows. While this is one of the keys to longevity you just can’t get enough of Jon and Suzie and pine a little for when the book was theirs alone.

There is a lot of fourth wall breaking here, so much so it’s surprising the roof hasn’t fallen in. From character’s asides to the reader to full on multipage conversations with the caricatured authors. This can be a little jarring, and also hysterical. It certainly isn’t your average work.

Just as the last volume taught us real world facts about contraception this delivers a dry as a bone(r) lecture on the repression, or at least trivialisation, of female sexuality. It’s hard to image a book where the serious and the sublime have been fused so well.

The art is excellent with new sex powers getting their own unique look. This book fuses the basic lines of a Chris Ware title with the amazing colours of Jordie Bellaire, and out comes something inimitable which fits the emotions of the piece to a T.

Double 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!!

House of Mystery 2: Love Stories for Dead People – Mathew Sturges and Bill Willingham

h2If you weren’t sure if this is the mystery for you after the last volume then persevere as this book really kicks up the pace. Its starts with a bittersweet love story and then goes into terror. We get some backstory on Harry so you aren’t left clueless and some about Fig too.

There are stories within stories and their guest artists really contrast with the noir house style. The creepy basement scenes and shadowy corridors are depicted superbly and the matt paper stock really adds to the dank vibe of the haunted atmosphere of this volume.

Double Thumbs Up!!

American Vampire Book 8 – Scott Snyder

american-vampire-8The last book set up one of the most intriguing and deadly threats encountered so far. This book runs with it.

It’s the 1960’s and that means outer space and nuclear bombs. Both of which are effortlessly folded into the story in a way you couldn’t imagine. The sense of jeopardy has never been greater either and you are really worried at how many, if any, of the characters will survive.

Albuquerque is with us through the whole book and is on top form. Lots of drama in the action scenes and a brooding matt palette throughout.

Double Thumbs Up!

The Red Diaries – Gary Reed

red-diariesThis is certainly an unusual work in the normal backdrop of comics. It is a fictional story of the assassination of Marilyn Monroe and by extension John F. Kennedy.

It was originally a four issue series and at the end of each there is an explanation of the facts and theories that abound in these two deaths. It is very open about not drawing any real life conclusions but does stress the moral right to know the truth.

The characters are a team called Raven Inc. that normally look into paranormal mysteries. Reed has used them elsewhere and there is a hefty write-up at the start about who these thirteen ensemble protagonists are. Assuming the fact the big chief is called Edgar Allan Raven isn’t too camp for you the huge cast is reasonably easy to manage. This is good storytelling with some neat little twists.

The star of the show is obviously the conspiracy, one that has fascinated America for decades, and Reed has his own fictional slant on matters. He also delivers hefty doses of historical detail and this makes a great introduction or refresher into the mess surrounding the death of a president.

The art is plain black and white with virtually all square panels. The minimalist style works just fine as you have a lot of text to take in. There are plenty of what look like period photos and illustrations which may or may not be genuine but remind you of the real world roots and more specifically real people involved.

This is definitely something unusual and an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Double Thumbs Up!!

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!

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!!