Sex Criminals Volume Four: Fourgy – Matt Fraction


This is another terrific volume in the series that never disappoints. The reason for this is because it is a comic for grownups. Something that isn’t simply there to pass the time but to get you to think or relive real emotions and personal questions.

The original premise, the unpredictable plot, the myriad hidden details and the Sex Ed all combine to keep you hooked. Although it is the characters and their relatable stories and experiences and feelings that you can truly empathise with. Life isn’t simple or simplistic and this series reminds you of that.

The art is great and does so much more than just look pretty, very, very pretty. The colour coded backgrounds, the visual gags, the abstracted timeline, the use of space, and in this volume the genius idea of the lettering actually interacting with the real world are all masterstrokes.

This title really shows just what the comics medium can do both visually and emotionally.

Double Thumbs Up!!

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The Walking Dead 29: Lines We Cross – Robert Kirkman

Whilst the battles and terror are no doubt thrilling reading the intrigue and suspense between them is just as captivating. So much happens in this volume it is wonder there is space for it. Plot hooks and teasers pop up like a demented game of Whack-a-Mole with dozens of characters having emotional scenes now the bullets are no longer flying.

Negan has gone through a huge character arc and Kirkman was right to keep him around to reveal he was not just a despot of the week. One of the most admirable parts of this work is the complex way different characters are emotionally tied together. How the behaviours of one directly affects another, even if it takes months or years to yield a payoff. Whilst the dead are always present it’s nice to see the living have a moment to themselves.

This book reminds us what a living, breathing tale The Walking Dead is. We see another new character introduced, but one who is quirky, funny and definitely unique, and not just there to supply whatever skill is needed or joining the red-shirted cannon fodder. The settlements too don’t just have a status quo and aren’t run by perfect necessity but by bickering human beings. The characters are still exploring the world, meeting new people and being surprised.

The art is great. There are some exciting splash pages and eye-opening juxtapositions and plenty of creative angles. The black and white is a great choice and a hallmark of the book, doing so much for the tone. But when you need colour to reveal something about hair or clothing then you can’t show but have to tell with clunky dialogue. Thank goodness for the colour covers.

This is a superb volume that answers many questions and resolves a lot of sub plots and has you on the edge of your seat for the next one.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Scotland Yard – Dobbs

 

This is a horror/ detective story set in 19th Century London, particularly the literary London made famous by Conan Doyle, Dickens, Stoker, et al. This was originally published in French by Soleil Productions (Éditions Soleil) as part of their extensive 1800 range before being picked up by Dark Horse.

The story concerns a detective from Scotland Yard who must hunt down two escaped Psychopaths. The book does a great job of evoking the atmosphere and flavour of the period. But just in case you don’t get the subtlety it crams in as many characters from the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula as possible. Even Bram Stoker himself makes personal appearances.

This was originally two volumes (for the two escaped prisoners) but both stories flow nicely into one another. It can be a little disconcerting having so many familiar names from literature popping up everywhere and it can seem like a lost volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The art is nothing less than spectacular. It feels hand painted in watercolour much like the Blacksad books and this allows it to really capture the grime and mire of Victorian London. The panel structure dances between avant-garde and chaotic but always seems to hit the dynamic tone and compliment the pacing at each moment. The palate is mostly grey and subdued but effortlessly switches to black for flashback, red for terror and a sickly yellow for some mad science.

It is one of the few small volumes that actually deserves a hardcover to match its sumptuous interior.

Double 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!

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!!

Runaways 8: Dead End Kids – Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon has taken over and that makes this a long and dense read. Rather than starting off slowly he jumps in with a time travel story. So not only do we have a large ensemble cast plus hero and villain cameos but a whole new century to marvel at.

It is very wordy with every panel bursting at the seams with text. But none of those words is wasted. Every inch of space is crammed full of drama, romance, twists, and with the 1900’s setting plenty of social commentary. And clearly not one for half measures he adds more members to the team.

Whedon was a long-term fan of the series and it is great to see him pick up the ball and run with it. The cameos are just there for comic relief but they do eat up page-time from our stars.

The art is incredible as the period setting must have taken a great deal of research. The backgrounds are very detailed and everything feels authentic. Ryan puts everything he can on the page with beautiful framing and confident lighting. Sadly it looks like the book was made full size and shrunk to digest size as the lettering is tiny.

Double Thumbs Up!

Runaways 7: Live Fast – Brian K. Vaughan

Finally we see what this series is capable of. With the tragic events of last episode we actually get to see some real emotion and characters really growing and being challenged. You aren’t sure which way things are going to go and the twists and emotional behaviour is believable.

The side story/ monster of the week comes in the middle instead of at the beginning. So unlike other volumes you don’t get the juddering start. If only all the books could have been as engaging and intelligent as this one. And as Cameo free. Well cameo light.

The art has some great moments. There is a really cool use of lighting that ends one issue and some inspired composition on the following cover.

Double Thumbs Up!

Runaways 3: The Good Die Young – Brian K. Vaughan

After the shaky second volume this bursts into full bloom. With plenty of plot twists and high stakes action this is a real page turner. You know there are eleven volumes but didn’t expect this much revelation so soon. If you are unsure about whether to continue read this volume and it will either convince you to stay or provide a nice point to bow out.

The art looks much lighter and so less subdued than previous volumes. This could be a technical thing with the matt paper or it could be a change in style. In any case the art is excellent.

 

The pop culture references are less intrusive and you don’t even mind the cameo.

Double thumbs Up!

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!!