The Authority Volume Eight: Revolution Book Two – Ed Brubaker

A08 Rev2Well Brubaker certainly knows his history as Bendix is not the only blast from the past. Trouble is if you don’t know your Stormwatch you will definitely be lost. Brubaker has a reputation for dialogue and our villain spends forty odd pages espousing his evil machinations. Admittedly it is the best plan ever and only someone with his knowledge could prove a serious threat to the Authority.

There are lots of little touches if you have been a reader from the beginning. He handles Jenny Q and the other Jenny’s very well. He is respectful to the source material but picks it up and runs with it. There is even some ideology, but this is definitely second fiddle to the thriller/ action movie he is intent on creating.

The art is certainly colourful and imaginative but it doesn’t have that widescreen feel to it. A lot of effort goes into it and with locations such as the Bleed and the Garden, and new ones being introduced, there is certainly a feast for the eyes. It has a tough ancestry to compete with and you will have to make up your mind if it delivers or not.

Thumbs Up!

The Authority Volume Seven: Revolution Book One – Ed Brubaker

A07 Rev1Brubaker continues the story he established in Coup D’état with the Authority taking over the USA. Naturally all does not go well.

Sadly there isn’t a lot of time to brood over the political metaphysics this situation creates. Brubaker, who is well known for his deep characterisation, plunges headlong into action. It is a thrilling ride and the Authority are constantly on the back foot, something hard to achieve with their powers, but… The reveal of their new antagonist is great and the story breaks at a real low point for the team. You definitely can’t wait for the next six issues to kick ass and take names.

The art is serviceable but not up to the amazing beginnings of Hitch and Quietly. This is a shame as Nyugen has done sterling work previously. The colouring is fine but it is definitely a shame to see the longest serving Authority contributor, David Baron, finally depart.

Thumbs Up!

The Authority: Coup D’état – Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Micah Wright, Robbie Morrison

Authority Coup DetatThe Authority has always been about pushing boundaries. About thinking bigger. But not even Millar and Ellis thought about deposing the United States government. An idea both genius and frightening.

This book is a series of one-shots from The Authority, Sleeper, Wildcats, and Stormwatch: Team Achilles that covers this event. If you are only into one series then your particular issue will do you just fine. If you want to know about the wider picture then they all add more detail to the plot. The big disappointment is Sleeper which only exists to kick things off. You don’t get any clues on who these characters are or any reason to want to know more about them. Such a waste of Brubaker’s talent.

The star of the show is actually the Wildcats issue. Even knowing nothing about this title the questions it raises and their response to the Authority’s action is the most intriguing. No one is backing down here. You have always followed the Authority as “the good guys,” or at least anti-heroes. Now this book cleverly makes you question that. How far is too far?

There are four different artists here and it is right they should stay true to their books. The differing styles, whilst interesting, do break up the flow. Rather than a unified whole this does serve to keep things separate with each title and its characters having a cameo of the week feel.

Thumbs Up!

Incognito: The Classified Edition – Ed Brubaker

Incognito Classified EditionThis book collects Incognito and its sequel Incognito: Bad Influences into one volume. It has a tough, sturdy hardcover and a solid binding that doesn’t make it impossible to read the centre pages (take note DC). The two stories are solid Brubaker works. Noir but with superheroes.

In addition the covers from all the issues are reproduced, most as sumptuous double page spreads. There is also a collection of sketches and production drawings. Finally there is an essay reproduced from one of the issues. Sadly this only really makes sense in context with the other essays so it is a bit of white elephant.

If you fancy giving Incognito a try then this is definitely the volume to buy.

Thumbs Up!

Incognito: Bad Influences – Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Incognito 2This is the follow-up volume to the excellent Incognito which ended in the perfect place for another episode. Unfortunately without the originality and wonder of the first book this doesn’t have the same sparkle. It is still a well written and interesting tale but not a blockbuster. Again it ends at a convenient place for a sequel.

The art is more solid stuff from Sean Phillips. He does get a bit more creative however with some dynamic layouts and psychedelic moments.

There are plenty of twists but if you took out the ray guns it could be another volume of Criminal. Or possibly a reimagining of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Thumbs Up!

Incognito – Ed Brubaker

Incognito 1A Supervillain ends up in witness protection and has a hard time dealing with the loss of his old life.

This could be another volume in Brubaker’s excellent Criminal series – maybe with some Powers thrown in. That’s a great compliment as we have a strong noir style, a pulp setting and a thriller of a story. It’s everything Brubaker excels at. The plot is strong and strides confidently forward taking you in all sorts of directions. The premise is good making someone with abilities we could never have actually relatable to us.

The art is great with long term collaborator Sean Phillips doing sterling work. There is nothing shocking or original here but that isn’t what you want from gritty and hard boiled. It is about the story, the characters and feeling this could have been a black and white adventure serial.

It won’t rock your world but won’t disappoint you either. The female characters actually get a lot more to do than they would in a normal Brubaker book but still suffer from the “dames” template that goes with the territory.

A Thumbs Up!

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent – Ed Brubaker

Just when you think Brubaker (the writer) and Phillips (the artist) could not possibly top the genius volume that was Lawless, they do. This is an incredible tale whose pieces fit together so perfectly it takes your breath away.

The cliff-hanger ending at the end of the first issue stuns you and takes you off in a direction you weren’t expecting, but is a perfect fit for the Criminal world Brubaker has created. The central character’s fate balances on a knife edge and you really have no idea how it will end. And when the end comes it might surprise you but it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The undisputable star quality comes from a bold art decision. Through great writing we get to see who the characters truly are by seeing their childhoods. We are privy to the life changing decisions and experiences that formed who they are today.

There are many way to execute flashbacks such as these including black and white, colour casts, strange borders and so on. Phillips changes the art style completely to that of a children’s comic such as the famous “Archie” American comics. The characters become completely flat and two-dimensional with virtually zero depth and shading. The lines are super clean and the colours bright and vibrant. This is a definite contrast to the gritty black shading and hatching that is a trademark of the series. Even the lettering changes to a straighter, more upright font.

This high contrast style leaves no confusion over the timeline and point of view. It works so well that you can easily jump back to the past for a single frame. You can even mix present day into past memories for dream sequences. This isn’t the first time a change of art has signified past events. Stormwatch did an excellent past flashback featuring period art. What makes this so special is that the children’s comic style is perfect for expressing memories of childhood. Mixing the two narrative threads on the page is something that would only work in the comic book format and it takes a great talent to understand and use that quality.

Definitely the best in the series and a Double Thumbs up!

89/276.

Tomorrow: Soldier Zero: Volume 1 – Paul Cornell

Criminal: The Sinners – Ed Brubaker

Tracy Lawless, the lead from the finest book in the Criminal series (Lawless), returns. We rejoin him in Mr. Hyde’s employ one year after we left him. Someone is killing the criminals and corrupt of the city and Lawless must find out who.

The basic whodunit story is simple enough and the killers are revealed to the reader early on. That isn’t the highlight of this book. What is, is the character of Lawless and every other character he meets. Some of whom we know and others might just have a book to themselves in future. That is the beauty of Brubaker’s talent, his adroit characterisation.

Brubaker keeps piling problem after problem on his lead character’s shoulders. Amazingly he doesn’t break or descend into farce. It would be too easy for Lawless to slip from man into superman but he doesn’t. He is just a regular Joe and you know that things aren’t going to go well for him. You just hold your breath to see if he gets the job done before his inevitable fate.

The art is fantastic. Phillips has really reached the top of his game with this series. He has found the perfect blend of detail, shadowing and colour. This is the most colourful of the books with many of the locations having emotionally themed palettes. But this is Noir colour. The flickering streetlamp, the neon sign, the all-night diner provide the nocturnal sunlight that bathes this world.

This builds on, and equals, the tour-de-force that was Lawless. We want more. An incredible Thumbs Up!

88/277.

Tomorrow: Criminal: The Last of the Innocent – Ed Brubaker

Criminal: Bad Night – Ed Brubaker

Even the best of us have a bad day and that looks like what has happened here. Brubaker is an exceptional storyteller but it looks like he has bitten off more than he can chew, which is a shame as the exceptional cover art promises us something special.

The story starts well enough with the familiar Brubaker single protagonist and their monologue. Slowly we uncover this man’s past and his secrets. A woman is introduced and shakes things up like only a Noir woman can. Then the shit hits the fan with a double, double-cross and the plot twists and turns. We begin to question the man’s mental state and re-evaluate just how reliable a narrator he is.

Everything was going well and the signs of mental illness are expertly portrayed. The whole uncertainty about who is really telling the truth is very well done. The problem comes when we leave the main character’s point of view and hop into the heads of two other characters and spend a while with them. This destroys the intimacy we have established with our lead. Their narration is third person so we don’t even get to have a Rashomon-like switch to another point of view like we did with Brubaker’s previous volume The Dead and the Dying. Had this jolt come earlier or been a constant fixture of the piece then it might work. But we are so late in the day that this derails the fine tone and pacing that has been working so hard to build.

The art is of the usual high standard. There is a great technique that visually symbolises the lead character’s unbalanced state of mind. This is pure genius and definitely more effective than anything done with words. The cover is also worthy of mention as being a wonderfully noirish, loaded image. Shame it has no relevance to the story within.

I feel bad for my low opinion of this book. I have enjoyed all Brubaker’s previous works and no doubt will enjoy the next ones but this just gets too complicated and drops the ball. No Thumbs today sadly. 

87/278.

Tomorrow: Criminal: The Sinners – Ed Brubaker

Criminal: The Dead and The Dying – Ed Brubaker

This contains three short stories that are really the same story told from three different points of view. A lesser writer would have put them into one big story. But then we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of putting all the pieces together ourselves. Brubaker sticks to his rule of only having one lead at a time and letting them tell us their own story in their own words.

These aren’t strangers to us. Technically they are minor characters mentioned in earlier books but we have quickly learnt there is no such thing. We are convinced everyone in Brubaker’s world has a history and a destiny mapped from cradle to grave. That mute shoeshine boy you dismiss today will turn out to be the lynchpin of tomorrow. This is what makes Brubaker’s ship in a bottle so magnificent, it feels so real and authentic and we have no idea how he does it.

The art is excellent and the dark skin tones of the numerous black cast are handled expertly in the noir setting. The first page is a full page panel that really slaps you in the face and makes for a hell of a beginning.

This series is consistently of the highest quality and I am sure the next volume, like this one, will be a definite Thumbs Up!

86/279.

Tomorrow: Criminal: Bad Night – Ed Brubaker