The Hobbit – Charles Dixon & Sean Denning

HobbitThis is somewhere between an illustrated children’s book and a graphic novel. It follows the plot of J R R Tolkien novel closely and remains faithful to the spirit of the work.

The text starts off identical to the source material but eventually you notice truncations and omissions in order to reduce the length of this volume. The Hobbit was originally published in 1937 and is set in a fantasy world resulting in some unusual and clunky uses of language. The odd typo and unfortunate punctuation don’t improve in this.

The art is beautiful, hand drawn and lovingly watercoloured. The panels and layout are irregular and there is a great deal of bleeding of the art and speech between frames. This gives the book a wonderfully cosy and quirky feel to it. This was originally three books that have been collected into one. The first starts off slowly with big open panels showcasing the wonderful illustrations and is mostly dialogue serving to build character. By the third book the panels are much smaller, dialogue is sparse and the pages are crammed with boxes and boxes of narration that feel lifted straight from Tolkien. It is almost as if the writers ran out of room and had to cram everything into a shorter page count.

The large cast of Dwarves appear almost identical and little is done in terms of speech or art to differentiate them. Intermittently you will spot different colours of hat but only Thorin and occasionally Balin get special treatment. The pictures are there to accompany the text and never get the opportunity to tell the story on their own. The narration text boxes are all in different colours making you spend an inordinate amount of time looking for a pattern or code only to conclude it is merely the colourist’s whim.

It is too long for a single reading session, has no clear breaks to pause and doesn’t convey that the story takes place over a number of months. The sheer amount of text on the page by the latter third of the book is also a crying shame.

No Thumbs today!

315/50

Tomorrow: Rust 2 – Royden Lepp

Whiteout: Melt – Greg Rucka

Whiteout - MeltTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on Ice? No it isn’t some crazy Disney idea it is the follow-up to Greg Rucka’s masterful Whiteout. Actually this is more Ice Station Zebra with a modern day twist.

Whilst Whiteout didn’t need a sequel it is nice to see more of the great character Carrie Stetko. It starts off with an intriguing premise, which is a little James Bond, but sadly becomes far too predictable. You know who the bad guys are and are just turning pages until the good guys win. This isn’t a mystery, there aren’t any twists, and if you were uncharitable you could call the sex scene gratuitous. You do get to see more of Carrie Stetko if you know what I mean.

This is such a shame and so different from the original you would think it was penned by a different writer. There are lots of facts and a strong hook at the start but it just fizzles out leaving you disappointed.

The art is just as good as previously and you can see Lieber putting a lot of effort in, developing myriad techniques for drawing snow and visualising a palpable polar atmosphere. His style feels very old school and evokes the feel of popular war-comics of yesteryear.

So disappointing that it gets No Thumbs up here.

290/75

Tomorrow: DMZ (11): Free States Rising – Brian Wood

Wet Moon – book 3: Further Realms of Fright – Ross Campbell

The first thing that strikes you about this book is the length. Then it is the eyes. Then the whole thing comes off the rails.

This book is almost twice the size of the previous one. It is massive and you really look forward to a nice long read. To getting lost in the world of these amazing characters.

For some inexplicable reason (our protagonist) Cleo’s eyes have doubled in size. They are gigantic. Bigger than her ears, bigger than her mouth, they now take up 25% of her face. They are freakishly and unrealistically huge in a Manga style way. This series has some wonderful depictions of the beautiful diversity present in human beings. It embraces the alternative, the different and the individual but in a realistic and faithful way. We now have a cartoon character foisted within our verisimilitude. There is no explanation, it’s not a clever metaphor, and it just doesn’t work.

If she had big eyes from the start, that would be fine. If the other characters had commented upon her big eyes that would be reasonable. If we knew they were being exaggerated for a reason or dramatic effect that would be okay too. Heck if everyone had big eyes that would normalise things. But this breaks the fourth wall and flushes all the established credibility down the toilet. Like cats becoming primates and lifting up the floorboards. Yep that happens too.

Another thing is we appreciate the great 80s movies references because they are subtle and unobtrusive. Plugging your favourite band the same way would also be acceptable but having a six page spread of them singing live is too self-indulgent. Admittedly there are established characters there but why not create a fake band that is a clever nod rather than brazen advertising.

This is such a shame as the story and characters are so intriguing. You care about them, you want to remain part of their lives but the creator is putting obstacles in your way. The last page is an astonishing cliff-hanger and there are plenty of hooks to keep you interested, Myrtle in particular.

It is only these points that drag it upwards to barely rate a No Thumbs!

212/153

Tomorrow: Wet Moon – book 4: Further Realms of Fright – Ross Campbell

Tomb Raider: Pieces of Zero – Dan Jurgens

The Tomb Raider franchise has pushed the boundaries of the fantastic with myths and legends from around the world. But it always felt tangible with a Conan Doyle’s Lost World feel to things. Just like the fourth Indiana Jones film this book pushes things a little too far.

This is a shame as it is actually a nicely put together tale. The pace is frenetic without becoming ludicrous, there are genuine moments of tension, characters from previous stories appear and there is an intriguing mystery. It’s just not Lara.

The art is a little odd with some quite detailed backgrounds but with minimal detail on the characters. There is a lot of effort on the colourist’s part adding much of the depth and realism of the piece.

If this was an unknown female heroine this would be a passable tale and might scrape a thumbs up. Because it has an iconic pedigree to live up to it falls short. No Thumbs today!

202/163

Tomorrow: Empowered: Volume 1 – Adam Warren

Tomb Raider: Saga of the Medusa Mask – Dan Jurgens

It’s an exciting prospect to see the highly successful Tomb Raider franchise in a different medium. It turns out adapting it to comics is harder than you would think.

Solitary exploration and beautiful ancient architecture are gone in favour of James Bond action sequences and a stereotypical English butler/ sidekick. There is a bit of swimming and a bit of running and shooting and a disappointingly incredulous treasure to drive the whole thing on.

Effort has gone into it as there is a backstory for Lara, a twist at the end and a troubled romantic entanglement. But Lara is an English girl (aristocracy actually) designed by an English computer games company. If you give her to an American publisher then you get the whole “submarine designed by someone who has never seen the sea” affair. There is no “U” in Falkland Islands and no Brit would use the word “sugah.” Yes that’s how they spelt it. It’s Union Jack all over again.

The art isn’t bad. It has that youthful Image/ Wildstorm look and some of the covers are very faithful depictions of Lara. She is well proportioned and decently clothed too. There are some nice underwater scenes and a flashback that uses green and grey as its primary colours that is distinctive and effective.

If you are an international reader then it won’t seem too bad but for the British audience it No Thumbs today.

185/180.

Tomorrow: Tomb Raider: The Merlin Stone – Dan Jurgens

Combat Zone: True Tales of GI’s In Iraq – Karl Zinsmeister

Karl Zinsmeister was a journalist embedded with a U.S. regiment during the Iraq war. This graphic novel is adapted from the books and newspaper columns he wrote during that time.

If this was a work of fiction it would be great. There are charming characters, realistic dialogue, tension and drama, clear cut heroes and villains and a happy-ish ending. Because this is supposed to represent fact it is a very dangerous text.

The Americans are quite clearly the good guys. Lots of emphasis is put on the rules of engagement and the extraordinary lengths the military goes to to avoid civilian casualties and property damage. Equally prevalent are the tales of cowardly acts perpetrated by the people who had their country invaded who clearly deserve to be killed.

If you put a journalist in a military unit it stands to reason you will choose your most sensible one and tell everyone to be on their best behaviour. You would probably pick a person sympathetic to your cause too. There is always the possibility that Zinsmeister didn’t witness any US atrocities, civilian casualties, friendly-fire incidents, cultural insensitivity, looting and profiteering, or anything else that has happened in every war since time began. Or it might be with a strict brief and limited page count he chose to leave them out.

This isn’t journalism here. This is a lovely feel good piece about the way wars should be fought and the wholesome, lovable, well-rounded people we would choose to fight them – assuming we need to fight wars at all obviously. There is no objectivity here.

Most of the violence happens off screen apart from the final few pages and only two Americans died. The faceless, nameless, evil enemy remain such and get no humanising treatment. This isn’t Platoon with a war is hell message, or even Band of Brothers. Everyone seems to be having a lot more fun, and smiling, and telling stories than you would think during a war.

There is tech on show, new words to acquire, procedures to observe and other things to learn. There is an unexpected mention of the CIA and their role too. The art is good with explosions and action making for prime visual candy. Ultimately this is a dumbed down feel-good piece which is a shame as this doesn’t do justice to the stories of the men who are actually getting shot at and risking not coming home to their loved ones. TV programmes such as Over There did a fine job of exposing the broader picture and emotional issues of this conflict. This could have gone so differently and so it gets the No Thumbs!

153/212.

Tomorrow: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 1- Ronin  – Stan Sakai

The Pitt – John Byrne & Mark Gruenwald

What the hell did I just read? Was it an issue zero for an established series? A debut issue for a new series? Or a crazy novella from some publisher with more money than sense.

An otherworldly explosion destroys Pittsburgh and three separate protagonists get caught up in it. Or a ghost, a colonel and a woman with a robot-suit walk into a crater…

A bit of research reveals that this is a one-shot spinoff from the comic Star Brand published in the 1980s. You get to see three separate characters, only two of whom meet each other, and see how they get caught up in this disaster. One has a giant robot suit and one is a disembodied psychic entity but that is neither here nor there.

The dialogue is perhaps the most striking feature. Written and set in the late 80’s it really feels like something from much earlier. Who drives an automobile? Who traverses places? Who dresses in a trench-coat and fedora anyway?

The art is old-school 4 colour Marvel comics. The panels are fixed and straight but there is the occasional bleed and good use of full page images. There is a text monologue from one character at the start and a bookend by another at the end. There is also a technical schematic of the explosion that destroys Pittsburgh as a sort of appendix.

Missing out on the previous and subsequent works in this line I am so out of context there is nothing for me to latch onto so it has to be No Thumbs.

149/216.

Tomorrow: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. – Warren Ellis

CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk – Sekou Hamilton

This is a Manga book based on the TV show CSI and featuring cameos from some of the characters. A group of high school kids win internships with the CSI team and stumble upon a case of their own.

This is my first manga and it is westernised enough to read like a regular graphic novel. It is bigger than digest size but smaller than traditional trade paperback.

The art is black and grey and does a reasonable job. There are some strong compositions giving a great sense of depth and some good angles lending it a very TV-like feel. All the CSI characters look Western but everyone else is typically Japanese and Manga looking (big eyes and floppy hair) which is very bizarre. There are some interesting flashbacks and medical parts but nothing ground-breaking.

Some of the text is a little clunky as if it has been translated into English. There a lot of random quotes from science and literature that normal people just don’t just spout for no reason. There is a lot of techno-jargon which isn’t really explained or helpful. The first thing these children get to do on their internship is to shoot guns on a firing range which is completely inexplicable. You will guess the ending way before it happens.

The whole thing is bonkers which leads me to think this wasn’t designed for a Western audience. No Thumbs today.

144/221.

Tomorrow: Drafted – Mark Powers

Mercedes – Mike Friedland

This has to be one of the weirdest things I have ever read. It begins as a kind of existential meditation on love and rapidly turns into a mystery thriller a la Thirty-nine Steps thanks to its psychic protagonist. Once the story does get going then it does turn into a competent narrative concerning lost biblical treasures.

The art is also suitably schizophrenic. It starts with sumptuous black pastel or possibly charcoal on canvas delivering some truly beautiful faces. Then it clicks into black and white pen and ink. There are also no speech bubbles. The first part has them typed on white paper and cut out and stuck over the art. Then they are written directly onto the page with pen and ruler. There are also enough spelling mistakes for me to notice.

It does feel like the creative team changed, or at least changed their minds, halfway through. There is also a disclaimer saying all characters are fictional; that you see in movies all the time but I have never seen in comics. That plus a completely unrelated two page rant about child prostitution in Thailand from the editor cements the bizarre nature of this tile.

I am not sure. It is stuck between a Thumbs Up for a brave indie effort and a No Thumbs for indecipherable gibberish. As I don’t care what happens to the characters or feel any compulsion to seek out the next part then I guess it has to be a No Thumbs. Shame really.

140/225.

Tomorrow: Morning Glories: Volume One – Nick Spencer

Stormwatch Volume Five: Final Orbit – Warren Ellis

This is an odd volume. It has a three part story that kills off just enough characters to prepare for the launching of Ellis’ Authority series but the second is an interruption by a WildC.A.T.S/ Aliens crossover.

Part one is a promising start. We are dealing with the fallout of the parallel world story and there are some interesting questions, about how much you should interfere in things outside your backyard, on the table. Then a mysterious asteroid turns up and we get a feeling of dread. It is nice to see Molly Perkins continue her rise from background character to foreground star.

Part two takes the best bits of the Scott and Cameron Alien films and pastes them into the DC universe. Lone female survivor of an Alien attack, not sure if she is infected, macho hero types underestimate alien danger, spookily lit corridors, you get the picture. Literally replace deserted LV427 with deserted Stormwatch; and Colonial Marines with WildC.A.T.S. It works but only because two great filmmakers are being ripped off wholesale. If you don’t know who these WildC.A.T.S are then you won’t get to know them as there is no attempt to introduce them or give them meaningful characterisation.

Part three is the loose ends. Funerals, the disbanding of Stormwatch, and an encounter with Henry Bendix. Ellis has lost all interest in the property at this point. He told his two amazing stories and now he washes his hands of the property before cherry picking the good stuff for his next project.

The art is good but quite murky in places. Part two has a different artist and it is nice to see a more open, cleaner style at work before it all descends to spooky corridors.

I want to give it a thumbs up I really do. If you are a fan of Stormwatch, the WildC.A.T.S or Aliens you should check it out. But it isn’t Ellis or Stormwatch at their best. No Thumbs today sadly.

114/251

Tomorrow: Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book One – Micah Ian Wright