Caliban – Garth Ennis

CalibanIt’s a very competent work and a pleasing read but definitely not the passion-filled viscera that Ennis is capable of. It looks like his new masters at Avatar have got him on a tight leash as there is no real politics here. It does have the typical Ennis hallmarks of the slow burn start and huge amounts of dialogue however.

The look, feel and story are pretty much lifted from Event Horizon and Alien, so much so the book is dedicated to H R Geiger. There are no grand sci-fi ideas and the characters don’t last long enough to develop or get fleshed out – it’s that kind of tale. Even the love story, whilst charming, isn’t one of the Ennis epics like Preacher or Wormwood.

The art, and particularly the colouring, is spot on. You want the tones to be dark and murky to show fear, suspense, claustrophobia and the grime of industry. But you want to see what is going on and to tell the characters apart. This strikes the perfect balance and although there aren’t any other bells and whistles from the visuals this is enough to elevate it into greatness.

It’s an enjoyable read and it does a good job of bringing horror to the page but you won’t be itching to read it again too quickly.

Thumbs Up!

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Rover Red Charlie – Garth Ennis

Rover Red CharlieIt’s the end of the world as we know it… but from a dogs eye view. More than just Crossed meets Watership Down this is one of those old Disney films like Homeward Bound but updated. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan is the closest comparison here.

This is a satire of our world but Ennis seems to eschew Orwell’s anthropomorphism and delve deeper. He takes the time to understand and show us just how the world appears to a dog and several other animals too. Is the technology and sophistication of human civilisation really preferable to canine freedom?

The wonderful thing is the language. How much vocabulary does a dog need and where does it come from. Looking from a literary and etymological point of view Ennis really hits the nail on the head and is key to making the canine characters plausible and endearingly engaging.

Ennis is not known for his subtlety and there are some visceral punches for any reader who hasn’t grasped the fact that two legs are pretty abominable. The last chapter is incredibly dark and it is arguable that we could take home the authors message without such a polemic delivery. But you sure won’t forget this story or its themes in a hurry.

The art is perfectly suited to the subject matter. The matt colouring has a really analogue feel to it. Dogs are dynamic and energetic creatures and Dipascale captures the feeling of motion that is a necessity in telling an animal’s story.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed: Badlands Volume Ten – Garth Ennis

Crossed 10The creator returns. And you had forgotten just how wordy he is. There is no Crossed action here and minimal gore. Ennis continues his subtle streak of speaking out against modern politics and being nostalgic about the military of yesteryear.

This is an origin story. Oh no you cry. The scary part of all monsters is what you don’t know about them. To have the curtain pulled back or see the wires is always a let-down. But although we meet patient zero and see where it all started the how and why is still satisfyingly vague.

Think of this as the comic book version of Prometheus. It’s the tale Ennis wanted to tell but might not be what you wanted to or expected to read. It is a lot of talking heads. Some famous talking heads. But it is still dialogue. We see the early days of characters we have met before and have a lot of amusing one liners.

If you were going to miss out any book in the Crossed series it could be this one. Not because it is worse than many of the stories that have come before but because it is irrelevant. It does not advance the Crossed mythos. It answers some questions but we really weren’t that eager to ask.

Ennis’s original Crossed book was perfect as it was and is still one of the best stories. Ennis knew that concealing the details in this book made the Crossed a far better read and by spilling the beans now it diminishes the potency and fear of the Crossed as much as over exposure to their violence.

The art is fantastic. This series has been extremely lucky in that every incoming artist has been able to embrace the ultra-chromatic vibrancy of the genre. This is no exception and Zanier does an amazing job. The panels, the composition, the characters and military hardware are all perfect, which for talking heads feels a waste. It is a real joy to see a story set in Britain actually look British.

This is an unnecessary read that adds little to the franchise but it does it faultlessly.

Thumbs Up!

Midnighter: Killing Machine – Garth Ennis

Midnighter1So, you are asking ‘is there enough depth to Midnighter to justify a solo series?’ And what will Garth Ennis do with him?

Seeing as this is Ennis, Midnighter enters a war zone (with tanks) on page 8. Contemporary war zones – politics aside – aren’t enough grist for the Ennis mill so he sends him back to WWII. To kill Hitler. But it’s after that that things get really crazy! This is excellent and Ennis brings some much needed humour back to the character.

There is a second one-shot story set in mediaeval Japan featuring Apollo too which isn’t really meant to be cannon. It is a rather beautiful, thematic piece that makes for a lovely interlude before we hit volume two.

This being Midnighter, and this being WWII, there is a lot of black and grey but there is also a lot of attention to detail in the art. The authenticity of the uniforms, the intricacy in the panels, the sense of motion in the action sequences is all top notch stuff. They certainly aren’t skimping on the production values here.

The Japanese story is rendered in a slightly different style and has a subdued palette which does compliment the fact the story is told in flashback. There are some strong nocturnal sequences but there isn’t the movement on the page that samurai action should have. Although there is a superb digital composition of a sword in motion that leaps off the page. A shame there weren’t more of these moments of brilliance.

A highly recommended Thumbs Up!

Red Team – Garth Ennis

Red TeamIs this just The Boys without the Supes? That’s what you’re asking yourself isn’t it? Here is the story of an elite NYPD unit that can’t catch bad guys the legal way and so decide to bump them off instead.
This is a very mature work in the best sense of the word. Ennis like to make you think. Previously he has screamed and shouted, bombarding you with visual mayhem to try and shock you into paying attention. Now he tries a smoother approach. This is television on the page.

Red Team is that gritty, hard-boiled cop drama that started with Hill Street Blues and has been distilled into ever more sophisticated storytelling. This would absolutely work as a film or television show or maybe a novel. It’s the characters and the things they feel and say that tell the story here which can be bad news for a graphic novel.

The art is great and new face Craig Cermak brings the lush, Jacen Burrows photorealism that Ennis likes to work with. Everything is steady and traditional with all but the binocular shots having straight panels. He is careful not to overshadow the action and characterisation with gratuity but effortlessly keeps pace with the unfolding drama. The colouring is excellent and as this book cleverly makes a feature of talking heads there is some exemplary portraiture.

Each issue is narrated by a single member of the team to an unknown questioner and this device grabs and holds our attention. The dialogue is superb and within a few pages you are hooked. There is no traditional slow burn of Ennis’ earlier works and no hyperbolic action either. This is the smooth confident touch of the master writer.

You can sit back and enjoy the ride or you can pounce on the little clues to try and work out the ending before the last page. Either way you are in for a very rewarding, and uncharacteristic, work from one of our finest writers.

Double Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW Crossed Volume 6 – Garth Ennis & David Lapham & Si Spurrier

Crossed 6 BadlandsThis is a mighty book with a lot of content. Really good content.

The first tale is by Garth Ennis doing what he does best; talking about soldiers and religion. It’s a fine story with a rock solid pace. It does suffer a little from being a polemic but Ennis soapboxes very well and with a lot of research.

The colouring is exceptionally vibrant to the point of unrealistic but this gives the nightmare future of the Crossed quite an eerie and surreal quality that works well. The outstanding point is the panelling. This is some of the most imaginative you have ever seen. The borders are composed of blades of grass, kitchen tiles, playing cards and more to make this an incredibly artistic vision.

The second tale by David Lapham reveals the fate of Amanda whom we met in volume three. This is another tale examining mental illness and whilst better than the original with its garish hallucinations it still fails to rise above middle of the road.

The final story by Si Spurrier fails to match the incredible work he has been doing on Crossed: Wish You Were Here. This is kind of a slice of life love story with a little twist but none of the thought-provoking drama we know he is capable of. Raulo Caceras returns on art duties and we get some more surprise framing techniques.

Once again it is nice to have a big dollop of the Crossed but as time passes the art loses its shock value and occasionally veers into the uncomfortable. Nothing to make you stop reading but it drags it down from a higher rating.

Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW

True Faith – Garth Ennis

True FaithThis was the second comic Ennis ever wrote. At a mere 20 years old it was quite an achievement. You can see he is off to a flying start. There isn’t much narrative trickery or pretentious razzmatazz just a very good story, natural dialogue and interesting characters.

Religion is a hot topic and it seems clear which side of the fence Ennis is showing you but he does it in a sincere and thoughtful way. Grant Morrison who writes the introduction is much more barbed. There are some interesting metaphors and it really evokes the feel of the period (1989) when it was written. There is also an unsubtle political commentary that shows you the roots of Ennis’s anarchic style.

The art is very distinctive. Black pen outlines and detail with ink washes. The whole palette embodies the dreary miasma of the Eighties. There are some very emotive facial expressions too.

Preacher or Wormwood may have tackled this subject more eloquently but there is a raw honesty here, and a sense of confusion common to anyone emerging from adolescence. The story is unpredictable and many of the fancy twists and reveals common today came long after this book which will be coming up for its 25th Anniversary soon.

Another Thumbs Up for the Ennis collection.

354/11

Tomorrow: Rose – Jeff Smith

The Boys: Volume 12 – The Bloody Doors Off – Garth Ennis

Boys 12But it finished last volume? There was a neat little conclusion and everything. Well a slightly clever/ slightly clunky finale. So this is to tie up all the loose ends and give us a lovely happy ending right? Well this is Garth Ennis so what do you think?

This is the book that ends it all with a bang – a blaze of glory. Now that the tale is told what will become of the characters? How will he make sure that neither he nor anyone else starts pimping out The Boys as happened with the Crossed title Ennis created? It won’t be pleasant but it will be very shrewd.

This is an astonishingly good book. Because we have invested all this time in these characters and in this world we care about it so much. Ennis recognises this and knows just how to stick the knife in. This is one of the most tense and gut-wrenching reads ever as all bets are off. There is humour, there is genuine emotion, and a few political points to be scored to boot.

The art is great with the ensemble delivering a top notch performance to match the riveting story. There are some outstanding portraits and expressions that really grab you and deliver the emotional right-hook this book is all about.

This is the finest of all the books in the series. Saving the best till last this is the epitome of a Double Thumbs Up!!

313/52

Tomorrow: Sherlock Holmes: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes – Leah Moore & John Reppion

The Boys: Volume 11 – Over the Hills with the Swords of a Thousand Men – Garth Ennis

Boys 11This is it, the showdown! You know there is going to be a lot of red ink in these pages and it doesn’t disappoint. It won’t play out like you expect though. There is a twist and it is up to you if you think it is clever or too. It has been a good ride and there is enough to chew on in the home straight.

The art is not Robertson but it is good. Plenty of effort goes into each page and there is a lot of red. And a lot of military hardware.

It feels like an ending although there is another volume to go so you don’t have to start getting withdrawal just yet. Thumbs Up!

306/59

Tomorrow: FreakAngels Volume One – Warren Ellis

The Boys: Volume 10 – Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker – Garth Ennis

Boys 10Like the previous volume this is all about the past. All description of things you don’t know that happened previously. This time it is done right. This is a graceful and elegant piece of writing that uses flashbacks, narration, diary entries, dialogue, monologue and everything it can think of to break this information down and present it in clever ways.

This is Butcher’s story. Everything from his childhood to the present day. Just when you were thinking he was as bad as Homelander we strip him bare and reveal the raw human being underneath. This is a very powerful and emotional story that is mature and upsetting in places. Violence is a big part of The Boys and we take it in our stride in all its graphic glory. But the violence here is all off stage and it is shocking and disturbing.

The art is outstanding. No longer an afterthought or second-fiddle but an equal partner. There is a lot of creativity and determination in these images. A good deal of thought and bold choices go into making this an excellent work. Robertson is back in the driving seat and it shows.

It was almost the best Boy’s story but for a mistimed real world intrusion. Ennis tries to be funny but this is the wrong time for funny. The highest Thumbs Up!

305/60

Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 11 – Over the Hills with the Swords of a Thousand Men – Garth Ennis