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.

massive1p1jpg-Kristian Donaldson

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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Halcyon

Written by Marc Guggenheim & Tara Butters and drawn by Ryan Bodenheim

Published by Image Comics

Halcyon cover

What happens when the super heroes win? What happens when there is no crime to fight or injustice to battle? Halcyon is the super hero team of this world and this is the story of what they do when there are no bad guys to overcome anymore.

There have been many attempts at creating more realistic looks at superheroes (if realism is a word that can be ever applied to people who can fly) most of which have been grim, gritty and soulless. Halcyon is a smart and different take on things and I had a wicked time reading it.

I am always keen on seeing new iterations of classic comic characters. Here we have a speedster, a talking-ape/super-genius, a super soldier fighting in Afghanistan and a female Superman who is sleeping with the ruthless, unpowered vigilante. And there are also plenty of other characters that we only get to meet briefly. I would like to read more about some of these. Particularly an Indian Fire god and a cyborg/Ghost in the Machine type called Null. I don’t want to explain too much because I took great joy in meeting these characters. It’s like meeting a new friend and just knowing right away that you will get along.

Occulus 'Damn fools'

This is not just a dumbed down Watchmen clone, although it is open about that classic book’s influence. It takes a closer than usual look at the fractured psyches of these archetypes and what happens to their often fragile egos when they aren’t needed anymore.

Guggenheim and Butters create a real sense of shared history for their characters and the world they inhabit and manage to establish things quickly and succinctly. They keep the focus tightly on the main characters while allowing glimpses of the rest of the world. Zenith Action

The character design of all these guys is wickedly good. Bodenheim has a clean, focused art style that works really well for new characters. Everything is easy to discern and he did a great job of coming up with new and interesting looking superheroes, a tough task in this crowded field. The design is evocative yet not derivative.

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I try to appreciate good lettering because when it’s done well it can add so much to the comic. Here they do a bang up job of adding layers to the story and giving a depth that we can only get in comics. When characters speak in Arabic the text is English but in a curling Arabian type script to show the accent. It looks lovely.

Another favourite is the  labeling of the Heroes and Villains. They each get their own title panel when they are introduced. There is a brief synopsis of their powers and their code-names are in their own unique fonts that are suggest their powers or personality. This does lead to my only real complaint with the book, this isn’t done completely enough, there are instances where characters aren’t labelled and powers aren’t given. I think if you are going to do it, then go all in.

Jarhead Halcyon

The ending has a great, cyclical twist to that I loved. The story is tied up while allowing both scope for more and leaving room for your imagination to fill in the blanks. Very nicely done.

Should I buy it? If you like your superhero stories filtered through a darker lens this is a good example of the style done well. Sure it’s no Watchmen but it is not trying to be. It’s well written and drawn, was fun to read and left me thinking when I turned that final page. There’s not much more I can ask of the comics than that.

Next time: Exciting times ahead as I start to blog at Inter-Comics  and I will be getting the ball rolling with a review of Godzilla: The Half Century War by the One-Man Comic-Army that is James Stokoe.

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Glory Volume 1: The Once and Future Destroyer

Written by Joe Keatinge and drawn by Ross Campbell

Published by Image Comics

Glory Cover

Glory is a superhero who seems to have vanished, living on only in the dreams of a young girl called Riley. These dreams haunt Riley and pull her across the world while telling the history of Glory, a mighty warrior from another realm who came to Earth in WWII. Like a violent combination of Wonder Woman and She-Hulk this is one comic that doesn’t portray its heroine as an emaciated clothes horse.

Gloriana is an immortal bad ass, the daughter of the queen of the gods and the king of the demons, bred and trained to stop a war that has carried on for eons. While a hugely powerful and skillful warrior she can also slip over into her demonic side and almost ‘Hulk‘ out. I love how her body adapts and changes but always stays recognizable even as it gets more alien. Her face turns savage, spikes grow out her arms and her fighting style gets viscous, all elbows and headbutts.

Glory Hulk

This is a comic that knows how to start off, on the title page Glory is punching a tank with one fist while holding the severed arm of a dead Nazi in the other. But after spending the entire first issue building her into an unstoppable force, when we finally meet her Glory is in a weakened state on her sick-bed. The flashbacks and glimpses of the future give the story great scope and while it would be easy to be seduced by the all-out action and cool ideas there is a sense of tragic history that keeps the tale grounded.

Glory on Mars

Campbell does a magnificent job on the artwork. Aside from Glory he creates fantastic, demonic creatures, my favourite of which hides in the body of an old peasant lady and when it morphs back to its true form keeps wearing the remnants like some kind of old tattered jacket. Praise must go to the colourists, Joseph Bergin III and Shatia Hamilton, who keep the tone light and almost pastel at times but never cross the border into cuteness.

Glory WWII

Like my much-loved Prophet, this is a remake of a terrible looking  90’s comic (I didn’t realize how bad until I did an image search for this post, let’s just say that g-strings and bad anatomy appeared to be the main drawcard. I have to hand it to Image for getting these young, talented cartoonists to come in and take their characters in new directions, Marvel and DC could sure learn from this strategy.

Should I buy it? If you want to see some arse-kicking on a demonic scale and think there should be more strong, legitimately powerful female characters in superhero comics then you cannot go wrong here. Sadly it has just been cancelled, but I await volume 2 and will be keepinmg an eye for more comics by Keatinge and Campbell.

Next time: It’s been busy month but I will get to review one more Image book before May ends. A book I loved but that didn’t seem to get much heat, Halcyon by Marc Guggenheim, Tara Butters and Ryan Bodenheim. It’s one of those dark takes on superheroes that usually fail in their attempts to out grim Watchmen, this one pulls it off.

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Orc Stain Volume 1

Written, drawn, lettered and coloured by James Stokoe

Published by Image Comics

Orc Stain Cover

Finding myself with strong urges to blast away the lingering odour of superheroes, I had to choose the most pungent book in my collection, a book so malodorous it leaves a mark, the riotous, violent radness that is Orc Stain.

For millennia the orcs have swarmed all over the globe but their failure to unite under a single leader has saved the world from domination. Now from deep in the south come rumblings of a mighty chieftain know as the Orctzar and the stain of orcdom begins to spread northward.

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We can’t go far in this world with out talking about the gronch, luckily for us Mr Stokoe has provided us with a handy infographic.

Orc Stain Gronch Diagrams

That’s right, this is a whole culture based on using dicks as currency. If that is not to your liking then this is not the book for you, and the love nymphs haven’t even shown up yet. Definitely not for kids, this is an absurdly fun and adventurous ride for the grown ups.

Despite their unashamed savagery and penchant for genitalia slicing, these Orcs are not without a code of sorts, if a brutal one. It’s the Poxa Gronca, ‘an eye for an eye, a gronch for a gronch’ and the enactment of this vendetta helps drive our story through the Northlands.

For in the North is where we meet out nameless hero, nameless due to the fact that only the nastiest of Orcs are named after their deaths. Fortunately for us his lack of an eyeball lends itself to a handle. One-Eye is a thief who uses his hammer to help him crack locks but also to crack skulls. Much like a Kung-Fu pressure point fighter he uses his hammer to Dim Mak anything be it orc, beast or structure.

Orc Stain lock pick

Sadly for One-Eye, the Orctzar is searching for all orcs who are missing an eye, as one of them will help him unlock the God Organ and through that to conquer the world. To do this he sends out his tribe of dark orc assassins called the Shakatuu. Immediately they are my favourites, these Orcs with massive beards that cover their entire bodies, and their leader, a short, stump of a beard called Boss Beard Sersa. I would be first in line to sign up for a world where your fighting prowess is measured by your ability to grow a beard.

Hard to believe I have rambled this long without bringing up the art, because it is the first thing that strikes you, and then never lets up. The art is epic. From massive battles, strange swamps and huge veiny creatures this is a very unique looking book. Everything is organic, feathery and scaly. The high level of detail in the art is shown off in many of the huge panels and splash pages which is a little confusing to start. But once Stokoe gets round to using panels and framing his story through them things get much clearer. And sometimes part of the fun of reading comics can be poring over a page and working out step-by-step what is actually going down.

While there are huge battle scenes this is not your typical fantasy world. It’s both far more raw and more cute than that stereotype. Lizards are used as guns, mortar shells are like clams but when the gore hits there are fluids gushing everywhere. The moments of grotesque ‘horror’ are balanced by hilarity.

Orc Stain Epic

The crafty dialogue of the Orcs reminds me of a bunch of barely grown schoolboys, the slang is loose and hip-hoppy and I love how the Shaakatu are shown as speaking with kanji like symbols. It can be very wordy, some of these characters like to chat, but when the story moves to an action scene the dialogue drops away and we get dynamic motion and weird sound effects.

Orc Stain Bath Tub

Should I buy it? If you are not afraid of Orcs, gronches or beards this book is a must buy. Orc Stain is fun-filled comic books, packed with ideas and adventure and it never once fails to be interesting. James Stokoe has that same love for the comics that his homeboy Brandon Graham does and it leaps off every page. He is just wrapping up a Godzilla book for IDW that I am fascinated to read when it is collected.

Next time: Image keep coming up with the goods. Next will be Glory by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell. An alternate universe Wonder Woman done right, with a lead character that actually does look like she can bench press a tank.

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Batwoman: Elegy

Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by J.H. Williams III

Published by DC Comics

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Long before DC rebooted their Universe and it became the new 52, they spent a year producing a weekly comic that was surprisingly good, if somewhat rushed and messy. Out of the midst of this, a new character called Batwoman was launched deep into the heart of Gotham city. On announcing she was to be the first high-profile lesbian superhero, the chances of a train wreck were high. Surprisingly DC showed restraint, waited a couple of years to get the right artistic team together and then pulled off one of the best initial runs in recent history.

Kate Kane is the daughter of a Marine Colonel who was drummed out of Westpoint for a breach of the American Military’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell‘ policy. Thankfully that absurdity has passed into history and luckily the character has not. (While on the topic, I cannot pass by the opportunity to shout out my Homeland and the way they choose to lead the Pacific in legalizing gay marriage recently.)

There was plenty of opportunity here to exploit having such a high-profile heroine leap into the conservative world of Batman comics. Luckily Rucka and Williams have created a brilliantly written character with genuine motivations that drive and inspire her. While her sexuality does come into play, it is handled in such an organic, realistic way that it almost seems too good to be in a comic book.

Batwoman grapple splash

Rucka handles everything with a deft touch, the characters feel real, he has Kate and her Dad use army lingo that rings true and through their brusque discipline they show real love and affection for each other. There are never enough, well written, strong, female characters in comics and to have one who can sustain her own monthly series is a welcome change. Batwoman also feels like a real woman inside the suit, not just a Batman clone with boobs and heels. Speaking of heels, her costume here has almost realistic looking combat boots and a great cape and utility pouches.

On art duties, J.H. Williams is off the charts, I have raved about him before and expect to continue joyfully shouting his praises for as long as he keeps putting pen to paper. Aside from the beauty of his art, it is the innovation that I appreciate best, the way he uses differing shapes and sizes of panels to tell the story across the page. But also the design of the entire page, there are panels that invite or even require closer, deeper reading than usual. Recently I have been all about clean, focused storytelling but exceptions will be made for artwork that is this good and strives to take sequential story telling to new and better places.

Batwoman Night & Day

When Kate is acting as Batwoman the art is all high gloss and dark contrasts with great dynamic splash pages and interesting panel shapes. But when she is simply herself the colours are lighter, more pastel and the panels and storytelling much simpler. There is yet another stylistic change when we get to the flashback sections and look at her origin. It reminds of Fraction and Brubaker’ Iron Fist book but that was using multiple artists, here it is just one supremely talented dude.

Well one dude who is ably assisted by the mighty Dave Stewart on colours. Once again I wish I knew more about the dark arts of colouring. If only so I could ramble at length about how good this is. Stewart rises above even his own high standards and is crucial to the tone of the book.

Batwoman waltz

Most comics that take me a long time to read are due to wordiness. Not this one, Rucka keeps his word count low and doesn’t crowd out the art with dialogue. It doesn’t stop him from telling an excellent story here either, there are new villains and allies and you get a great sense of where Batwoman stands in Bruce Wayne‘s town, all without the usual Batman team up for the whole book. Batwoman very much carves her own niche.

This is a great origin story that Greg Rucka is writing here, we are immediately dropped into the action, but are given hints throughout and at the end are a series of flashbacks (I assume these ran in the back of the original issues)that fill us in on the years gone by and how Kate came to be Batwoman. There are interesting parallels to Batman’s own story while still being wholly new and fascinating, I loved how Kate’s Dad played the Alfred role, how Kate was inspired by a random encounter with Batman and how she views his signal in the sky not as a warning to criminals but as a call to arms for her.

Kate Kane inspired by the Bat symbol

Should I buy it? I am once again struck by how much I like this comic and how good J.H Williams is on the art duties, I need to be getting the next volumes and I suggest you join me.

Next time: After my looks at DC and Marvel, I am going to keep it a little more independent and spend a month at Image Comics. I will cast an eye back at one of my favourites from recent years the dark, funny and dirty fantasy of Orc Stain by James Stokoe.

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