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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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Punk Rock Jesus

Written and drawn by Sean Murphy

Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Punk Rock Jesus Cover

It’s surprising the idea hasn’t been used before: a reality TV show where a corporation creates a clone from DNA contained in the shroud of Turin. A teenage girl (virgin of course) is implanted with the embryo and then gives birth to Jesus Christ, Chris to his friends. Watching over them is Thomas ‘The Cemetery’ McKael, an ex-IRA assassin and high level bad ass, he is kept busy by constant attacks on the compound by the NAC (New American Christians). This is the story of Chris’s creation, upbringing and what happens when the Saviour discovers Punk Rock.

Being late to pick this comic up, I had heard how good it was. That lead to expectations about the art and particularly the story. They of course were all wrong. The story went to places I didn’t anticipate and the art was even greater than I had hoped. It was much more action packed than expected, and I didn’t think the main character would be the body-guard.

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My man Thomas is like an Irish version of the Punisher. He might in fact be harder than Frank Castle and is infinitely more likeable, using the trauma from years of killing to turn away from murder. But not violence. No way, he is violent as hell, and very good at it. Although he has sworn to never take another life, that doesn’t mean he won’t maim you if you make him.

Sean Murphy  is best known for his artwork for Vertigo comics, primarily Joe the Barbarian (with Grant Morrison), Hellblazer and American Vampire. I have not read any of his stuff before, but will be rectifying that error because his art is exceptional.

PRJ Thomas tinkering

Shadow is well used to create mood and he is very detailed when drawing the technical stuff, the buildings, boats and bikes that fill this script. Murphy manages to capture the flow and feel of a sketch into his finished line-work and maintains a fantastic energy to his characters as they flow through the panels. The panels themselves are great and then he’ll drop an epic splash page on you.

Give it up for Jesus Christ!

While Murphy has justifiably gained recognition as an artist, the writing here is impressive. The characters are all believable and driven by their different motivations. He captures the anger, angst and know-it-all feel of being a teenager so well. I would have loved the hell out of this book at fifteen and enjoyed re-reading it down through the years. I hope it draws some angry young punks into reading a few comics.

It also impresses as a look at a possible future,capturing that dark, anarchic edge that society gets when pushed too far. This type of ominous, near future science fiction is hard to do well as it’s closeness to our reality makes us all experts. Murphy pulls it off by only adding a few tech elements (holographic classrooms and cloned polar bears) but pushing aspects of society to their brink.

Go Fuck Yourself! Jesus Hates You!

Should I buy it? This is a must buy for my money. Even if the story doesn’t interest, then there are Murphy’s epic skills as a cartoonist to consider. I’m off to buy Joe the Barbarian and won’t be making the mistake of sleeping on any of Sean Murphy’s books again.

Next time: I haven’t written about any cape comics in a while so it’s time for some superheroes. Just not the nice ones you usually read about. It’s a dark and insightful look at costumed vigilantes and what drives them in The Victories by Michael Avon Oeming.

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The Massive

Written by Brian Wood with art by Kristian Donaldson and Gary Brown and colours by Dave Stewart

Published by Dark Horse Comics

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The Massive is the tale of a group of eco-activists called the Ninth Wave and their struggles as the World collapses around them. Spurred by a string of environmental disasters, society is bordering on collapse and the crew of the environmental-action ship Kapital (think the Sea Shepherd) battle to survive, find their friends and keep their ideals.

Because the Massive is also the name of a boat, a boat that barely appears in this story. Contact was lost during a huge storm and the Kapital has been searching for her sister ship ever since. A search that is hampered by the fact the world has descended into chaos. 

This could be the smartest book that Brian Wood has ever written. Amongst a body of work that contains Demo, DMZ and Northlanders that is saying a hell of a lot. I’m a big fan of Wood and his political thrillers and very glad that this time he has expanded his scope to the entire world.

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At times Brian Wood reminds me of Warren Ellis (not too surprising they worked together at Marvel early on in Brian’s career). He creates these strong characters and then throws them into some very tricky situations. There is a strong Global Frequency vibe from the Massive, which is never a bad thing. Here too is a team of highly skilled and dedicated individuals brought together to save the world. The difference is in the Massive it is too late, the world has already gone to hell and they need to save themselves while still holding on to their ideals.

Because this is also a story about character. How it is formed and how it can be tested. How what we have done can become who we are. Callum Israel, the Captain of the Kapital and leader of Ninth Wave is an ex-mercenary who listened when the ocean spoke to him and then dedicated his life to protecting it.

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Artist Kristian Donaldson has an almost clinical cleanness to his linework but one that he never allows to become sterile. He excels at drawing the technical stuff that this book is stuffed with: boats, guns, oil rigs and sinking cityscapes. But he still manages to imbue his characters with real life, warmth, and great haircuts, (the selection and quality of the hair do’s in this comic wouldn’t look out-of-place in Melbourne’s most hipster riddled cafe).

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Gary Brown takes over art duties for the second story arc. He has a rougher sketchier style than Donaldson but it has great energy and at times reminds me of R.M. Guera’s work on Scalped.

Colourist Dave Stewart is generally regarded as being the best in the biz and has a string of Eisner awards to prove it. The book relies on flashback to fill in the back stories of these characters and the colouring does a vital job of letting the reader know the when we are looking back through time. Stewart changes the colour palette for the flashbacks and uses a pastel wash over everything to tie it together.

Captions are used well to keep the reader informed of just where the action is happening. The story whizzes all over the globe and I loved how new locations are indicated with latitude and longitude as well as by name. New characters are introduced with a tidy list of their name, date and place of birth. This is a comic that could fall victim to over complexity but the creative team fight that well with the tight structure they keep in place.

massive1p6Pacifists

Part of what I love most about the Massive is that it feels like a global book. The action takes place all over the world and the crew of the Kapital is multi-national. To those of us who live in Not-America it is nice to see, as it can feel as though the American comic book industry has no idea we are out here. Wood addresses this directly in the script with a great exchange on the Antarctic ice that says much about how he sees Americas role in the world.

The constantly changing locations suit the rotating roster of artists and it doesn’t feel like a disconnect when we get a new penciller. We also get to have the mighty JP Leon on covers. I love his art more every time I see it ( it also reminds me to build up the courage to write about the Winter Men).

Massive3JPLeonCover

Should I buy it? If you like Brian Wood then it’s a must. If you haven’t tried his work yet then this could be the start of something beautiful. Without really meaning to I have accumulated over Brian Wood 20 trades and I still haven’t picked up any of his Marvel, Star Wars or Conan work. The man has quite the back catalogue of fine comic books.

This collection is tidy package. You not only get first six issues but also the preview short stories that ran in Dark Horse Presents and fill in the back story on our main characters.

Next time: A tale of a cloned baby Saviour for the 21st Century. Punk Rock Jesus by Mr Sean Murphy.

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Godzilla: The Half-Century War

Story and Art by James Stokoe

Published by IDW

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During thirty years of indifference to Godzilla I had managed to avoid nearly all contact with the legendary beast. Barring the odd glimpse across the channels of his 90’s American movie, I knew little and cared less. Turns out all it took was the work of one very talented cartoonist to get me deeply involved in the world of rampaging radioactive lizard monsters and the men that struggle to contain them.

Skillfully tying fifty years of Godzilla movies into one focused narrative, the Half-Century War tells the tale of Ota Murakami and his encounters with the famed lizard. It begins with the first time Godzilla stomps out of the sea to destroy Tokyo and continues as he rampages across the planet while pursued by the AMF (Anti-Megalosaurus Force!).

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My only previous exposure to James Stokoe was his Orc-Stain comic but that made me a fan for life, he is firmly on my must-buy-no-matter what he’s producing list. His hyper-detailed art style is a skillful blend of Japanese and Western influence. Reading his work makes me want to put some serious time studying Asian comics, a favourite touch is how he has everyone break into the classic manga sweat when under pressure.

Stokoe is a very detailed artist who crams a ton into each panel and also combines dynamic lettering and explosive SFX seamlessly on the page. Godzilla’s sound effects are amazing, it looks like he’s emitting a force field of screeching sound. Explosions (of which there are many) and the resulting dust clouds are used to great effect. Often with the massive lizard looming out of a cloud of dust to spew forth a cone of violent force from his mouth. It turns out Godzilla has Radioactive Blast Breath.

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Each issue starts with a large panel containing an overview/map of where the action takes place, be that Tokyo or Bombay. It’s great at setting the scene locally and often has smoke billowing out over the trail of destruction but it’s also perfect for establishing that this is a global threat that storms the planet wreaking havoc.

The AMF have to develop their own crazy tech and crackpot science weapons to try and take down Godzilla as he is immune to conventional weaponry. And then we meet the others. I am by no means a Kaiju scholar but it seems many of the most prominent are included, Mothra, Megalon and King Ghidorah among them. We are treated to many epic battles between the mighty beasts, intercut with the puny humans scrambling around trying to stop or at least divert Godzilla.

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Should I buy it? If you are a Godzilla or a Stokoe fan then this is a must. If you think you might enjoy reading a magnificent looking comic about rampaging giant monsters then it’s for you too. If you don’t like any of that then you might need to re-examine your priorities.

Next time: Godzilla is a hard act to follow, so I am going to take things in a completely different direction and write about The Massive by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson and Gary Brown. A look at the world after the water levels have risen through the eyes of an enviromental activist group. A tightly written eco-thriller with sharp art that might be the smartest thing Brian Wood has written, which is saying something.

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