Black Science #1

I’ve got a new review up at Pipedream Comics. Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera and Dean White have a new comic from Image, Black Science. It’s wicked.

http://pipedreamcomics.co.uk/pipedream-pull-list-black-science-1-image-comics/

comics-black-science

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Why I love Digital Comics

In a break with tradition, I recently shared a few thoughts with Pipedream Comics about my experiment with reading comics on my tablet.

While I prefer to read a big chunky graphic novel that I can hold and then place on the shelf, it turns out that digital comics have their own charms.

http://pipedreamcomics.co.uk/why-i-love-digital-comics-by-joseph-malloy/

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Five Ghosts Volume 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray

Written by Frank J. Barbiere and drawn by Chris Mooneyham

Published by Image Comics

five-ghosts-cover

On hearing that this comic was about an adventurer ‘possessed’ by five literary ghosts, I had an inkling I’d be hooked.* Fabian Gray can access the abilities of these five archetypes at will, but not without cost and the price does seem to be rising. Powered by the otherworldly dream-stone in his chest and driven to save his sister from a mysterious coma, Fabian searches the world for answers to his many questions.

five-ghosts-lineup

Fabian Grey is not a smiley do-gooder, he has that old fashioned callousness and mercenary nature of the great Pulp heroes. Assisted by his friend Sebastian, their travels through the mystical undergrowth of the 30’s take the reader to Nazi castles, African temples and Shangri-La.

I grew to love Mooneyham’s art. Reminiscent of old war and horror comics I plucked from dusty New Zealand second-hand shops as a kid. Flashbacks are clearly shown with a shift in tone and colour, and each time Gray uses his abilities a spectral figure appears to let the reader know who he is channeling. The illustrative nature of the art has a retro-action feel, which is enhanced by the watercolour style of colourists S. M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe.

The covers to the issues are exceptional, many by Ben Templesmith but my favourites are those by Mooneyham. Like old-fashioned film posters, of the type of film that inspired Indian Jones (and a particular but embarrassing childhood favourite, King Solomon’s Mines. Richard Chamberlain as action hero doesn’t hold up but that Sharon Stone turned out to be a good choice). And I love a good tagline.

fiveghosts-Bloodforthe SpiderGod

Now it wouldn’t be a pulp story without Nazis and sure enough they play an understated role that will unfold in future volumes. And who doesn’t enjoy the sight of a samurai possessed hero slicing through SS troopers with a katana?

Five-ghosts-Musashi

Alongside the pulp action, there is a strong horror vibe that the art does a fine job of showing. Things take a turn for the gory when certain ghosts are around and I loved how Fabian holds himself differently when channeling each ghost. And it’s not just Dracula, demonic forces, cannibal cave dwellers and giant spiders all keep things dark and unearthly.

Five-Ghosts-2-fleshlingShould I buy it? Action, horror, swordplay, magic, you know this is the stuff you want in your comic books. Buy the book and let the creators know you want them to make more.

Next time: One of the tightest creative teams of the recent history rises again as Greg Rucka and Michael Lark team up to bring us Lazarus. Another dark, dystopian future in another fantastic creator-owned book from Image Comics.

*But not without a few questions. To start with, what does that even mean? Literary ghosts? Sherlock and Dracula ok, but Merlin and Robin Hood are more legend than literature and Musashi (while an undoubted legend of a hero) is more historical, they have all had books written about them so who am I to nitpick.

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Young Avengers: Style > Substance

Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie

Published by Marvel Comics

Young Avengers Cover

This could be the coolest comic ever made, not the best (although it is very, very good) but the coolest. It’s that cool kid at school who’s going to gigs before you are allowed out past ten, has a serious girlfriend long before you get chest hair but still manages to remember your name and give you a smile as you struggle not to hate him.

Killen and Mckelvie are compatriots from the trenches of creator-owned comics in England (one day I will write about the pop drenched glory of their book Phonogram) who have been steadily rising through the ranks at Marvel. Finally the band is back together and their new tunes are outstanding.

Being a Superhero is Amazing

The Young Avengers are a group of teen heroes who have disbanded and sworn not to fight crime again. However as one of them so keenly puts it, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in the phone booth.” This trade collects the origin story of the group and puts the pieces in play of what I hope will be a long-running series.

No previous knowledge of these characters is needed. I had no idea who most of them were, the exceptions being Kate due to her role in the excellent Hawkeye and the Norse God of Mischief, Loki. Miss America is the powerhouse of the group and demonstrates it by punching everyone. Hulkling shape-shifts, Wiccan casts spells and Marvel Boy runs up walls like a cockroach while shooting lasers and looking great with his shirt off.

Close Harmony Girl Groups

The art is near perfect. McKelvie has the cleanest, surest line in modern comics and uses it to draw great looking young superheroes (helping Gillen to address the elephant in the room of such books-these kids will be wanting to have sex with each other). There is a faux realism to his art, the people look real and even nearly normal sized, even if they are green, godlike or from another dimension. Fashion and haircuts play a role in adding to the teen texture of proceedings but not so much as to put off old geezers like me.

Mention must be made of the panel layouts. Most of the storytelling is through simple, clear structured panels but as soon as the action starts it gets interesting. Mckelvie is doing great things with panel inserts to display movement. Marvel Boy (or Noh-Varr as he prefers to be called) features in an amazing double-page, numbered action sequence that displays a fight scene in a way I haven’t seen before.

YoungAvengers 3 Laufey Attacks

Loki seems to be pulling the strings of this group and Gillen uses him to explore the power of story itself. There is a great sequence where Loki* explains (while talking to a previous, less evil version of himself) that Gods are creatures of story and because Evil Loki now inhabits the body of Less-Evil Kid Loki this limits not only his power but also his malevolence. It’s that sort of added depth that lifts this book from being just another good-looking adventure comic.

Come with me if you want to be Awesome

Should I buy it? If you think you are past teen super-heroics then, well you’re wrong. This is yet another great comic from Marvel, its wicked fun to read, the dialogue is whipcrack smart and the art gloriously pretty.

Next time: It’s a return to classic adventure storytelling and art in a very original way with Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham.

*For a full exploration of how the traditional grown up, evil god of mischief (like the one portrayed in the films by Tom Hiddleston) becomes a pre-teen Trickster check out Gillen’s exceptional run on Journey into Mystery. It too is bloody good comics.

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Thor: The God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher

Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Esad Ribic

Thor God Butcher

There are times in your comic reading life when nothing but cape comics will do. When the stresses of the real world make you crave tales that bear no resemblance your day-to-day, it’s a relief to find you don’t have to stoop to reading bad comics. Marvel are my publisher for superhero books at the moment, DC have almost completely dropped the ball and while Image has amazing titles not many of them would be considered ‘superheroes’.

Marvel are producing some smart, beautiful superhero books that don’t require you to leave your brain behind. Alongside the ranks of Hawkeye and Daredevil we can now add Thor: God of Thunder.

This is a different book from the last Thor comic I wrote about. Jason Aaron has described his take on the character as ‘metal’ and Thor has the hair to live up to it. I’ll leave the storytelling to the creative team but the hook for this comic is that it features Thor from three different times in his life. The young, brash Godling who has yet to earn the right to wield the mystic hammer Mjolnir. Current day Avenger and seasoned superhero Thor and from the far-future, grizzled King Thor: last of the Asgardians.

The Three Thors

I can no longer imagine anyone other than Esad Ribic doing artistic justice to Thor,I’d enjoyed his art before (on X-Force) but this is just a perfect match. To start with he makes our hero look like a god, he’s huge, he’s ripped and he wields a massive hammer. Each Thor looks distinct, young Thor especially has a haughty arrogance to his face that perfectly fits the character. But it’s not just Thor, the weapons look heavy and hurtful, the supporting characters bring real emotion to the page and the different locations are astounding. Look out for Omnipotence City and the Halls of All-Knowing.

Young Thor vs. Mjolnir

My favourite image from this book is of Thor alone in space, investigating the deaths of unknown space gods, No Avengers or Warriors Three to back him up. It really struck home that he is a god and can travel the universe fearlessly.

Thor in Space

I love how the art goes about creating a sense of dread, the subtitle of ‘the God Butcher’ gives a hint as to what Thor faces. Aaron and Ribic build brilliantly to show a real threat to Thor and his fellow Gods. The lead up to the first encounter with the God Butcher is paced wonderfully, going from a dead Native American God to a blood spattered Winged Horse and clouds dripping with Godblood. The cohesion between the art and writing make this comic great.

Thor dead space gods

It’s an impressive feat of storytelling as Aaron advances the plot across three timelines and Ribic keeps three different version of the Thunder God looking alike yet different. The varied stages of Thor are shown so well. From when he is young and carousing amongst the Vikings, to crossing the Universe to bring rain to a dry planet today and then bitter but still mighty in his dotage. The stakes are high, with the future seeming to consist of mainly dead gods and an empty Asgard.

I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed this book, Aaron and Ribic combine so well to tell this story. I used to feel like enjoying a Thor comic was a guilty pleasure, now it’s something to be proud of and recommend to anyone who will listen.

Should I buy it? If you have ever enjoyed a Thor comic or liked his movie appearances, this is better. This is the God of Thunder roaming the galaxy trying to defeat a horror that is beyond him.

Next time: Even though I just want to read more Thor comics I will soldier on in the interest of diversity and read something else. I will be keeping it Marvel however with the astoundingly well reviewed Young Avengers by one of my favourite comic book teams, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

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Saga: Volume Two

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples

Published by Image Comics

Saga Vol 2 Cover

Comics is such a hyped up, bull-shit drenched industry where every book that’s released is heralded as being the next big thing. Once in a very rare while the hype is justified.

There are two current books that I think, not just every comic fan, but every fan of interesting genre fiction should be reading. Saga is one of these (Locke & Key being the other). It’s one of those series that will join Sandman, Preacher, and Y-the last Man on the shelf of modern classics. And unlike those other worthy books, this is one comic that will not be turned into a TV show. Saga is a fucking comic book.

The depth of madcap ideas here could never be conveyed by a live-action movie or TV show and the adult nature of the content would stop it from ever being animated. But it’s not just what other mediums can’t do but more what this one can. And where else can you see the Will eviscerate goons with the help of Lying Cat?

Lying Cat fucking shit up

Saga doesn’t use the visual narrative tricks of other current leading books like Hawkeye and Young Avengers, there are no neat panel-in-panel sequences or quirky logo overlays, instead we get what feels like a classic ‘comic’ style. The panel structure is clear, simple and wide. Each issue opens and closes on a splash page but they are also used to great effect throughout the book.

But I raved about the art last time, how about focusing on the lettering today? Fonografiks do a superb job. I always appreciate when different characters or races are given their own word balloon style. Here we have ghosts who talk in a pink font, spells are in blue and our new-born narrator talks to us in a handwritten scrawl.

saga-vol-25

Everything I said last time in my review applies, our new family are still on the run, The Will and Lying Cat are still after them despite distractions on Brothel planets and we ended the last book with the in-laws appearing and vaporizing the ghostly baby sitter.

Even though we get lots of flash backs here, and they are needed to fill us in on quite how these star-and-species crossed lovers got together, the story in the current day keeps developing at a rapid clip. It’s very easy (as was shown in the otherwise highly enjoyable Man of Steel flick recently) to suck the momentum out of your actual story by flashing back and cutting off its air.

Saga-spinning-wheel

At the end of the day Saga is all about character. Sure the ideas are cool, the settings and situations fascinating but it’s the characters that bring us back. As Alana, Marko and their family develop, and we explore this ever-growing universe jammed with crazy characters and concepts, BKV always keeps things grounded. With a deft twist of dialogue or setting(like meeting your in-laws for the first while only wearing a towel) it feels as real and human as any story I’ve read in any medium.

Should I buy it? Yes, books like this are the reason I read comics. Two creators at the height of their skills, on a book that they own, doing what ever the story needs without crossovers, movie tie-ins or editorially mandated guest stars

Next time: After a hell of a month moving my Fortress of Blogitude and not even having time to hit the comic shop it’s a mystery what I will write about next. Fear not, it will be awesome.

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The Victories

Written and Drawn by Michael Avon Oeming

Published by Dark Horse Comics

MICHAEL_AVON_OEMINGS_VICTORIES_TP_VOL_01

Sick of the same old re-fried tales of super-heroics in your comic books? Michael Avon Oeming’s Victories is different from what you are used to. No stranger to creator-owned comics, Oeming is best known for his long running Powers series with Brian Michael Bendis. Taking full responsibility for the art and writing here, he does an excellent job of introducing a new city, crammed full of larger-than-life characters while still keeping the story grounded and human.

The Victories themselves are a group of heroes who could easily be seen as vigilantes if you squinted at them right. The focus here is on Faustus, a red-robed mask who gains his powers through years of martial arts training. His team mates are similarly powered and well named, Oeming has created some intriguing characters here that leave you wanting to learn more. They are all visually distinct, (I love Sleepers’ bandages and how his tie flaps in the wind) and have strong personalities. I can’t wait to learn more about Sleeper and Sai, meet Metatron properly and learn why D.D. Mau shouts her name when she fights.

The Victories Gather

As in all good comics, this city is a broken dystopia, “it smells of rotting flesh and dirty money–the buildings creak like an old man’s bones.” Haunted by a drug called Float (a narcotic that grants a brief ability to hover while also causing gross physical mutation) the city is only kept from the brink by the Victories and even they may be teetering over.

This is a dark and very personal book. It feels like therapy of a kind, driven by something deep and powerful. At times it bordered on uncomfortable, but that also made for some very real, authentic story-telling. Everything builds to a peak, the unveiling of the secret is inevitable, you can tell what’s coming but cannot turn away.

Faustus and his hip flask

I always think of Oeming’s art as being very clean-almost on the Bruce Timm level-but as in many things, I am so very wrong. Here it’s often fluid, messy and organic. The art gets it’s loosest in the personal monologue/drinking scenes of Faustus. The pages can be dark and visceral and bloody, there are multiple decapitations and the Victories signature move is lopping off the hands of their foes. Many of the panel borders are unevenly drawn, adding to the organic pace of the page. In a comic about a hero with drinking problem you can almost hear the clank of the hip flask in his utility belt as he moves.

Faustus get a watch

The lettering of the SFX in fight scenes is great, huge chunky letters that ‘sound’ loud. The colouring dynamic and evocative while still allowing Oeming’s thick bold line do most of the work. I always enjoy the old technique of having the local TV news guy fills us in, for me it’s always one of the better exposition delivery systems

The Jackal

Should I buy it? This is must for Powers fans, those who love Oeming’s art and for those who like a dark and introspective look at super hero comics. I enjoyed it greatly and think it works fantastically as an introduction to this series, I am excited to read the next collection

Next time: The long wait is over, as the only comic I would consider getting monthly releases its second volume. Saga Volume 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Will it reach the high bar that the first book raised or come crashing down under the weight of my expectations?

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