Some weeks the release schedule has one or two comics I’m really looking forward to. Others are packed with so many titles I barely know where to start.
This week is one of the later ones. It is during weeks like this that I wish I had more time to devote to reviewing. I can usually manage a couple and maybe a little something extra which is enough but this week it means I have to leave out so much really good work. “Pick up the reviews later in the week”, I here you cry but that has a knock on affect and before you know it, I’m reviewing comics from 6 months ago which no shop has any left on the shelf.
With that in mind I’m going to try and cover as many as I can, even if it’s just a quick mention.
Like Mata Hari #1 from Dark Horse which looks outstanding (I haven’t read it yet). Written by Emma Beeby and illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, this first of five issues starts to tell the unknown story of Mata Hari; Dancer, Courtesan and Spy.
Then as a bit of a contrast, there is a new Hit Girl comic out this week from Image: see my post last week regarding Kick Ass for my views on titles such as this.
The first of the Postal specials is out this week. It focuses on Mark and fills that hole that’s been left since the ongoing title finished. It’s one for the fans of the series and possibly a bit late for newbies. But if you see it, give it a go, the collections are still available.
The first of my recommendations for this week: Punks Not Dead.
This is a new comic from IDW’s Black Crown imprint. It’s about anarchy, disorder and chaos. And infuses the 70’s punk rock ethos with a modern ghost story. David Barnett and Martin Simmonds bring something special to the shelf with this bat shit crazy story and for my review, head over to comiconverse.com.
Next up, over to Image comics for issue 2 of Ice Cream Man. If you read the first issue you might think you know what to expect, but you’d be wrong. This is a completely different type of story from the patricide child story in issue 1. This is a tragic tale of addiction and one bad idea escalating into another. Writer W. Maxwell Prince and artist Martin Morazzo keep the reader on tenterhooks as their central character slowly spirals into a world out of her control. It’s disturbing and moving and draws you right in. At the heart of it is a sadness that never quite escapes despite the moments of happiness that the characters have.
Ice Cream Man as a series reminds me of the T.V. show Inside No.9; both have individual stories that start from a horror footing but from that moment onward the paths they take could lead you anywhere. It means that you are never quite sure what is around the corner and that is this comics’ most outstanding feature. After the first issue Maxwell Prince and Morazzo have set the stage for almost anything to happen so you don’t get comfortable in the narrative but you do become attached to Karen, the woman at the edge of her tether.
This is a disturbing but addictive read and proof that a monthly series of one shots can engage a reader enough to bring them back month after month.
Fence is turning out to be a real teen drama. There is a lot of fun packed into the wonderfully illustrated pages. A touch Manga-esqu in places but it is following in the footsteps of the Manga Sports epics and this will appeal to the comic’s target audience. Issue 4 is out now and C.S.Pacat has created a loveable rogues gallery of fencers for Johanna The Mad to illustrate. The fencing sequences are bursting with kinetic energy and you truly get the sense of speed that these athletes have. I’m curious to know if the story has changed much since it was announced that the comic will move from a mini-series to a full ongoing; I assume that these issues would have already been written. Time will tell, and with the quality of this comic, I'll be back month after month to see the telling.
I also love the covers; with each issue an increased number of fencers don the cover. A few more months of this and Johanna the Mad will be spending most of her time filling the cover with figures dressed in white.
There’s a new Lucas Stand series out this week; Inner Demons from Boom! Studios. I reviewed the first Lucas Stand comics when they came out (in fact here’s one of my reviews). It was an interesting concept that at times lacked for coherent substance. The first part of this new 4 issue run has a much stronger narrative with a more defined story. You get the impression from the beginning that there is a specific story to tell in contrast to the first run which was more a collection of ideas with nothing holding them together.
In this new series, Lucas is searching for Penemue, a demon who has wronged him somehow. It’s a tale of revenge and our broken, but no-longer addicted, hero goes to great lengths to track his demon down. There is more time hopping but most of this is background information rather than relevant story so it doesn’t take up much space. Most notably there is the introduction of a new character who is to Lucas what Microchip is to The Punisher, but with added demonology.
Lucas Stand: Inner Demons # 1 is an impressive start, better than the initial introduction to the character. Some of the story might not make sense at first if you’ve not read the original but it’s not difficult to pick up; in fact, the scripting is strong enough to carry the narrative without the need to have been initiated into this world.
And finally. Kong. Planet of the Apes.
(Although if you do need more, my review for Kong on the Planet of the Apes #4 is here at comiconverse.com)
The Black Monday Murders is about corporate greed and secret demon worshiping societies. It is also an opportunity for the creative team to use the medium of comics to tell a spectacularly visual story. In my review of issue 8 for Comiconverse I describe it as cinematic, possibly more than once, this is because the scale of the visuals are immense. However, Hickman and Coker are able to manipulate the pace of the narrative and the reader’s perception of the central character by using a very simple comic book technique. They use silent panels expertly throughout this madcap comic.
As I look at issue 8 of The Black Monday Murders I may give away some of the secrets therefore consider this your SPOILER warning. Go read the comic first then come back here.
Issue 8 focuses on Ms Rothschild’s vengeance against the man who killed her bother. She has had him tortured, bound, and basically mistreated but she is about to do much worse to him. A large section of this issue is taken up with The Scale, a magical duel to the death and the depiction of this contains full frontal nudity, violence and a lot of bloodletting. It is not going to be to everybody’s taste. However, it is in the lead up to the duel where Hickman and co use the first silent panel that gives the reader a deeper insight into Ms Rothschild during this issue.
Grigoria Rothschild has thrown down the gauntlet and Viktor has accepted but changed the stakes on her. She accepts but not everybody is on board. Bea believes they are risking too much and dares to implore Grigoria to stop. She is replied to with a look…
On this page the adrenaline is pumping. The stakes were laid out by Grigoria but refused by Viktor and in the first row of panels Viktor’s arrogance sets out an ‘all or nothing’ deal. The confrontational atmosphere is sparking with tension and Grigoria accepts the new stakes unflinchingly; she is showing a cold, hard face to her enemy. Then, when her judgment is questioned she shuts Bea down with a look. That silent panel says so much about Grigoria; there is an element of shock that she has been questioned in this way as if she is not used to it; also there is contempt in her eyes for Bea; and her stance is closed, Bea’s reaching hand is so close to her but at the same time so far away. The position of her arm and look on her face says Grigoria is not to be reached. The strength of her position is so obvious that Bea then turns pleadingly to Viktor; a naked man covered in blood who stole the strength of the Rothschilds by killing one of them. He is not the picture of a reasonable man but more approachable then Grigoria at his point. And all of that was expressed through one, silent panel.
The next moment of silence for Grigoria comes after the duel. The violence has reached its zenith and a stillness has started to descend. Hickman moves the narrative from a full, gory, two page onto a page which slows the pace with each panel. The violence seems to ebb away as Grigoria’s familiar tears the heart from Viktor’s body and passes it serenely to her. The entire page is devoid of speech, apart from two speech bubbles which contain the Hickman Symbolic Writing, however it is the final panel of the page that is the most impressive in this sequence.
For two reasons.
Firstly: the image again tells the reader a lot about this issues central character. With everything that has been going on around her and that has led her to this point where she risked so much, this moment is a slice of total contentment. She cradles the heart in her hands almost lovingly, like it is a child. This sentiment is reflected by her facial expression; a picture of a woman at ease, a weight having been lifted from her shoulders. The reader knows the importance of this moment by the contrast between Grigoria’s face and the remnants of violence that surround her.
The second thing that this panel does is give the narrative a wonderful pause between what has just happened and what is about to happen. It is like the moment in Interview With The Vampire during Armand’s stage show where the French Vampire offers the sacrifice to the ‘actors’ on stage. She lays naked on the stage with the actors surrounding her, all cloaked in black, and for a brief moment there is no movement, no sound. Then they swoop in for the kill, enveloping the woman entirely. This final panel on the page is that moment of stillness before Hickman shocks the reader with the next, full page spread. It creates a specific pause for the reader. After flicking through the action and the magic, the reader slows down on this page and then physically stops at the final panel, takes a breather before being hit with the larger than life full stop on the next page.
Towards the end of the issue Detective Dumas and Grigoria have a conversation about hunches, cover ups and the ‘otherworldly history of man’. The sequence is very speech heavy as the two characters’ dance around each other, each holding onto their secrets but there comes a point where Grigoria challenges what the detective is inferring. This is followed by a contemplative, silent panel with the detective filling only half of the space. Behind him is blackness, emphasising the sudden silence. Hickman has stopped the reader in their tracks, created a moment to think about what is actually happening between the two characters.
This pause also acts as a breaking point for the detective because in the next panel he says what he really wants to say. And this is followed by a further moment of contemplation, this time from Grigoria. This allows the statements from the previous panel to sink in but it’s not a full stop because Grigoria goes on to ask “What else?”
This page has a wonderful beat to it created through silence. First beat “What do you want?”; second beat contemplation; third beat honest reply; fourth beat contemplation. It stands out in this scene because it is such a contrast to the previous pages of dense conversation. This page feels like it’s more important as if this is the bit the reader needs to take notice of. The characters are given moments to think about what is going on and as such, the reader is given that same time.
The Black Monday Murders is a visually stunning comic but it’s not just about how well it has been drawn. The page layouts are meticulously planned to give the reader as much information as possible to read the characters and situations. It emphasises moments that are important by controlling the reading experience. The reader is controlled by Hickman and Coker as much as Detective Dumas is being controlled by Grigoria.
The Black Monday Murders is written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Tomm Coker
Colours by Michael Garland
Letters by Rus Wooton
And is published by Image Comics
It’s Valentine’s Day and there is a beautiful bouquet of comics out this week to share with your loved ones.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Cold War #1 from Aftershock Comics, but I’m waiting for the trade of Babyteeth so issue 8 will have to wait. If you’re not trade waiting, or you haven’t read it, Babyteeth has been outstanding so far so give number 8 a go.
I’m also waiting for the full run of The Power of the Dark Crystal to be out before reading it. With #11 out today that only leaves one month to wait. I don’t think I need to try and sell the brilliance of Si Spurrier’s take on the Dark Crystal, it sells itself, but if you’ve not discovered it yet, the first trade is out there waiting for you (published by Boom! Studios).
Boom! Studios also have Planet of the Apes: Ursus #2 out today. You can find my review for it over at Comiconverse.com. Spoiler: I love it. David F Walker and Chris Mooneyham have captured the essence of the original movies and enhanced the characters and the settings. This is a prime example of how to expand a universe successfully.
I don’t often look forward to many of the Big 2’s publications but I’m hoping that the Ragman mini-series (of which issue 5 is out now, hence the mention) gets a collection real soon. I love Ray Fawkes’ work and remember reading Ragman back in the day so I’m curious to see how these two work together.
And finally: Image Comics have a couple of titles definitely worth picking up. First up is Slots #5 by Dan Panosian. This issue is all about a father and son relationship; the complexities and contradictions. It also seems to be setting up the ‘Sting’ for the series so I think it’s going to be an issue you will come back to in a couple of months ready to make the hindsight knowing ‘aaaaa’ sound to. Slot’s has been a wonderful read so far, I’ve written about the brilliant storytelling before, and it is still on top form with issue 5.
Speaking of top forms: Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker’s The Black Monday Murders is still impressive reading, purely from a visual perspective if nothing else. My review for #8 is over on Comiconverse.com, please check it out, and the comic also. I will have further things to say about this comic later in the week, but you’ll need to read it first.
And finally in the finally section there is the brand new Kick-Ass from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Where do I start? I love Romita’s work, there is something endearing about his chunky style of working that suits a lot of the comics he works on. He has a style that is instantly recognisable and tends to be different from most of the mainstream comics out there.
Mark Millar is a bit like Marmite, some people hate his work others love it with the same passion. I appreciate the work that he has done over the years and the difference he has made to comic publishing, especially here in the UK. However, I’m not a fan of his writing, or most of his comics. I think the new Kick-Ass will find its audience, the same people who have loved each of the other Kick-Ass comics, but I barely got through the introduction. This is just not for me. Which is fine. You can’t like everything. If you enjoyed the previous one’s go get this, it’s pretty much more of the same so you should enjoy it.
So, that’s this week. There is a lot of good comics out there, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Go find something you like, curl up with your loved one, and stuff your face with chocolates.
The excitement never ends on New Comic Book Day. Especially when you have comics like these flying into stores:
30 DAYS OF NIGHT 3, ADVENTURE TIME 73, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 795, ARMSTRONG & THE VAULT OF SPIRITS 1, AVENGERS 679, BACK TO THE FUTURE TIME TRAIN 2, BANE CONQUEST 9, BATMAN 40, BATMAN WHITE KNIGHT 5, BLACK BOLT 10, BLACK PANTHER SOUND AND FURY 1, COYOTES 4, DAMNED 8, DAREDEVIL 598, DASTARDLY & MUTLEY 6, DEATHSTROKE 28, DEJAH THORIS 1, EXIT STAGE LEFT THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES 2, GAME OF THRONES CLASH OF KINGS 8, GIANT DAYS 35, GRAVEDIGGERS UNION 4GREEN ARROW 37, GREEN LANTERNS 40, HAUNTED HORROR 32, HARLEY & IVY MEET BETTY & VERONICA 5, HARLEY QUINN 37, HAWKEYE 15, I HATE FAIRYLAND 16, ICEMAN 10, INFINITY COUNTDOWN ADAM WARLOCK 1, INJUSTICE II #19, IRON FIST 77, JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS DIMENSIONS 3, JETSONS 4, JUSTICE LEAGUE 38, LEGENDARY RED SONJA 1, MECH CADET YU 6, MONSTRO MECHANICA 3, MOTHER PANIC/BATMAN SPECIAL 1, NIGHTWING 38, PAPER GIRLS 20, QUARRYS WAR 3, RASPUTIN VOICE OF THE DRAGON 4, RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER 2, ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN 8, ROGUE & GAMBIT 2, RUNAWAYS 6, SAVAGE DRAGON 231, SCALES & SCOUNDRELS 6, SCARLETTS STRIKE FORCE 2, SHADOW/BATMAN 5 SHE-HULK 162, SHRUGGED VOL 2 #6, SNOTGIRL 9, SPIDER-MAN 237, SPIDER-MAN DEADPOOL 27, SPIRITS OF VENGENCE 5, STAR WARS 43, SUPERMAN 40, TMNT UNIVERSE 19, TOMB RAIDER SURVIVORS CRUSADE 3, TRANSFORMERS VS VISIONARIES 2, TRANSFORMERS LOST LIGHT 14, TWISTED ROMANCE 1, VAN HELSING VS ROBYN HOOD 2, VENOM 161, VS #1, WALKING DEAD 176, WICKED & DIVINE 1923, WITCHBLADE 3, WONDERFUL WORLD OF TANK GIRL 3, X-MEN GOLD 21, X-MEN RED 1, YOUNG MONSTERS IN LOVE 1....
To name but a few.
Unfortunately, I will barely read any of these. Partly because I don’t read Marvel or DC at the moment but mostly because my weekly budget has shrunk over the last few years so I’m now very picky about what I order and what I buy. There are complaints abound that the publishers are releasing too many titles each month and this is damaging sales overall. I'm not an expert on sales so can't comment. However, the vast array of titles is daunting and it must be difficult for new readers to know where to start. Hopefully the few recommendations I make each week can help someone out.
Which leads me to two titles that are in my order this week: VS #1 and 30 Days of Night #3. For my reviews of both of these titles check out Comiconverse.com. (VS will be up soon and 30 Days of Night is here) But before you leave, here’s a look at a few images from both of those titles to whet your appetite:
One of the most impressive things about Steve Niles’ re-telling of the original 30 Days of Night is Brad Simpson’s use of colour to drive the atmosphere and the action from one page to the next. Throughout the three issues so far available he has adapted a simple colour motif to represent various elements of the story, however, the results are extremely affective.
While the narrative leads the reader through the story and the art gives the reader instantly recognisable characters and settings to become attached too, it is the colour work that gives each scene emphasis. It is the bold colour contrasts which give the comic it’s bite.
Take for example the opening sequence from issue 3.
The reader is drawn into the action on the first page as the panels change from a long a shot to closer character shots. For the most part the page has a cold, unwelcoming feel. And the majority of the characters have the same colouring, indicating the same coldness as the landscape. All except Gus who wears a red jacket and hat, making him the centre of the reader’s focus. On the page our eye is drawn Gus because of this colour difference. It also helps to navigate the page, Gus’ run for survival is clearly marked on the page by his positioning within each panel but also by the panels he is in. His movement creates a triangle shape that is easy to follow. The tip of this triangle, Gus in panel 2, also highlights the blood red sky in the background; an ominous sign of what’s to come.
As the reader moves on to page two, the amount of red in the panels increases, just like the amount of danger Gus is in. Add to this the colouring of Walt’s clothing, the same as Gus’, and you have a classic example of mis-direction. Walt is portrayed the same as Gus therefore the reader unconsciously makes a positive connection between the two.
But as soon as we turn to the next page we know that something is amiss. The silence in the first two panels and the dark red sky warn us of danger so the ‘surprise’ reveal that Walt is a vampire isn’t that much of a shock. We have been prepared. But the moment is not diminished because it is in the final panel of page 3 which is the focus of this introduction. The fact that the vampires were coming is not a major surprise to the reader but the savagery of the vampire attack is the point that Niles wants to make. That final panel is soaked in red so that even the snowy ground is tainted with an unpleasant pink hue. Walt’s back saves the reader from the actual violence but the horror is as plain as the fangs in Walt’s mouth. Gus’ end was foreshadowed from page one by the bloody sky behind him and he was bound to his fate by the colour on his hat and jacket. He couldn’t escape it any more than he could run away from the clothes he was wearing.
Simpson’s colouring works on several levels in this opening scene. It acts as atmospheric builder, narrative leader and emphasis for the horror. Without it the story still flows but it would be lacking the punch and the tone.
30 Days Of Night is published by IDW Publishing
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Piotr Kowalski
Colour by Brad Simpson
Already a month into the year and the stack of comics is building up. I’ve picked up Postal #25 which seems a weighty tome (in content as well as page count) and Frankenstein Alive, Alive! but haven’t had chance to read either yet. I can probably give you a number of reasons to buy both without knowing what the contents are like but my recommendations here are for comics I’ve actually read.
Star Trek: Discovery #2
Written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson
Art by Tony Shasteen
Colours by J.D. Mettler
Publisher by IDW Publishing
To start with, ST: Discovery: The Light of Kahless. The new series is back on after its mid-season break and it continues to excel and surprise. Unfortunately, the comic does not have quite the same impact. However, it is an interesting look at an element of the series which isn’t getting much screen time. The Klingon’s are an important feature of ST: Discovery so it makes sense that the comic will explore that rich culture. It’s not perfect but I’m sticking with it and it’s still worth a look in.
For my review of ST: Discovery check out comiconverse.com
30 Days of Night #2
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Piotr Kowalski
Colours by Brad Simpson
Published by IDW Publishing
Strange things are happening in Barrow as the long night draws in. Office Stella Olemaun is not having a good night, not only has someone stolen all the towns’ mobile phones, but cases of vandalism and unruly behaviour are being reported from across town. Oh, and her husband, Eben has been killed.
This is a re-imaging of the original 30 Days of Night which was released in 2002. The story so far has followed the same frozen path but with a few obvious differences; the aforementioned Eben and his surprising case of death. That twist in the narrative is the hook that keeps you reading this latest iteration; without it I think that it would be too familiar. As it is, two issues in and the expectation for divergence from the original premise is now at a high.
Piotr Kowalski’s art definitely has a different look to Ben Templesmith’s, it’s much cleaner with strong, character defining outlines. It creates a different atmosphere to the original; it has more of an emotional punch to it. The colouring adds additional coldness to the scenes; blues for the exterior scenes and an eerie green tinge to many of the interiors.
I’m sure the shock and bloodletting thrills are just around the corner, Steve Niles will not let us down in that department, but for now this comic has an emotional tension which will drag you through the pages and leave you wanting more at the end.
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Illustrated by Sami Kivela
Coloured by Jason Wordie
Published by Boom! Studios
Set in Detroit in 1972 against a backdrop of crime and racism, Abbott tells the story of a journalist who goes above and beyond to tell the truth, no matter whose white, privileged feathers get flustered.
Abbott is a gritty character from a Hard Boiled Crime novel and she is written brilliantly. The opening of this comic has all the features of a Max Allan Collins' Ms Tree story, with the journalist replacing the P.I. The Art work is suitably noir-esq with bloody bodies, stern close ups and cigarette flicking gestures. Some of the panel transitions and slow paced story telling techniques are a joy to follow.
Ahmed and Kivela aren’t afraid to confront the ingrained racist elements of the time head on and in so doing they are able to bring the serious discussions into the present day. Look at the past, now compare it to the present. How far have we come? Is it far enough?
Although, it is possible that they decided to set it in 1972 because Kivela is able to do so much with the image of someone smoking, a dying past-time these days. Abbott’s smoking habit comes in useful on several occasions to help mark the passage of time and the curling white smoke seems to permeate every page.
Where this comic starts to lose me is about two thirds of the way in when a new element is added to the mix that I’m not sure it needed. But I’m waiting to see how it all plays out because, despite this niggling inclusion, I was absorbed in this comic from page one. There are way more reasons to read this than there are to leave it.
Created by Melita Curphy
Written by Singgih Nugroho and Ryan Cady
Art by Sami Basri
Colour by Sakti Yuwonon
Published by Image Comics
For notes on how to make an introduction to a new series simple and affective, check out Dissonance. The opening few pages introduce the reader to Terra Fantasme, a parallel world to ours, and the inhabitants who have reached a higher plain of existence. Obviously this isn’t working out for them and they seek help from a more childlike race to bring stability back to their world. Enter the Human Race.
Violence, media manipulation and family politics follow with an exciting cast of characters. The Herviett family appear to be in charge and it is the brother/sister combo who are central to the goings on. Roisia is the most interesting of the two, based on this first issue, and it’s interesting to see the way she is depicted in the opening pages compared to what you learn of her as a character. In her first, full body shot, she is illustrated in a way to infer that she is weaker than her brother but not all is as it seems. Sam Basri’s clever use of alternating angles means that the narrative is able to hide aspects of Roisia’s life and nature in a way that would be much harder on film.
The other characters and creatures that inhabit this world are a wealth of crazy designs. Part eighties kids cartoon and part Neil Gaimans’ American Gods, the cast are a delightful bunch of extraordinary beings.
And to this a wonderfully paced introduction to the story and a disturbing turn in the final pages, and what you have is the perfect way to introduce a new comic book world.
And a special mention for The Rocketeer: The best of Rocketeer Adventures published by IDW.
This comic has a collection of stories which have appeared in the numerous anthologies over recent years. There are some outstanding stories in this little collection and it will make you want to track down some of the others, especially if you’ve never come across the Rocketeer before. I’d highly recommend The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventure which includes the original stories by creator Dave Stevens.
This new little collection is also worth picking up but I’d maybe rip of the cover as soon as you’ve paid for it cos, Funko, not necessary!!!
Days of Hate is a grim thriller set a stone’s throw into our future. It deals with in house American terrorism, Alt and far Right gangs, political manipulation and revenge. The Art work matches the narrative as the reader is taken through rusty streets and into gaudy night spots. There is a lot of unpleasantness in the story and in the Art.
And yet Kot, Zezelj, and Bellaire manage to produce some beautiful and spectacular images throughout the pages of the comic. A city scene stretched across a two-page spread creates a weirdly magical illusion of bleeding colours and flowing streets. A lonely image of Amanda, one of the central characters, standing in shadows against the door of a run-down toilet tells the reader a lot about the character and where she is in her life at that moment; relating to more than that single scene. It gives the impression of a larger sense of being trapped and reaching the bottom, as far down as she can go.
But by far my favourite part of the comic, and the one I want to spend a few words on, is the page transition from Amanda on the West Coast to Huian Xing on the East Coast. To talk about this may involve spoilers so go and read the comic first, then come back here….
In the opening of the comic the reader is introduced to Amanda as she investigates an Arson in a warehouse in down town Los Angeles. After reaching some conclusions about the incident her attention is drawn out of the window towards a bird flying by. On the surface we are led to believe she is lost in contemplation and briefly forgotten the horrors left within the warehouse. Zezelj deliberately draws our attention to the bird outside. The panels before contain two characters who are staring towards the left of the scene, automatically making the reader look that way. The establishing shot in the first panel tells us that on the left are the large windows, so when we reach panel four, we know we are following Amanda’s gaze out of the building. The most prominent feature of panel four? The flying bird, framed in the centre bars of the window.
We are then given two close up images of Amanda, the second a focused zoom on her eyes. She was lost in the moment, transfixed by the bird, as made clear by the previous panels.
The reader then moves to the next page and the action leaps across the country to a brand new character but everything about her introduction links her to Amanda. The first panel of the page is the bird in almost the same flying position as the it was seen before. Whether this is the same bird or not isn’t relevant but there is some inference that it should be viewed as the same creature. There is then a close up of the bird followed by a large image of the bird returning to its handler. It’s as if we have followed it from one side of the country to the other, from one page to the next.
The transition is cinematic in style but also serves a larger purpose than pure visual brilliance. It links the two characters in the reader’s mind. We are shown Amanda, obsessed with the flight of the bird, then made to follow it to Huian creating a mental link; the two characters are related somehow. At this point in the story we don’t know about their history, about their marriage but we have connected them through a visual transition. For the following few pages the reader is introduced to Huian’s situation and subconsciously we are trying to tie the two plot threads together. This creates anticipation in the following scenes that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Because, as an outsider, we are looking for the connection we are on tender hooks as Huian is being interviewed, wondering if that link will be explained. Without that initial transition the heightened awareness of the character relationships wouldn’t be there so when the ‘wife’ reveal comes the reader might not make the connect between Huian and Amanda. However, by some brilliant manipulation of image, when we get the close up of Peter Freeman’s face in a long, thin panel mentioning Huian’s wife the reader immediately knows who he is talking about.
The creators have used a visual ploy, a clever transition from one page to the next, to feed the reader important, but subtle, information about the future narrative so that when the reveal comes, it’s sudden and has impact. It is a well thought out, perfectly executed piece of comic book narrative and just one example as to why you should be reading this comic.
Days of Hate #1
Written by Ales Kot
Drawn by Danijel Zezelj
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics
New comic book day, Tra-la-la! (I should probably save that for next month’s Labyrinth comic from Boom. Consider this shelved for future reference) Another day, another shelf of wondrous comics. I wonder what people are reading? How goes the DC and Marvel worlds? Maybe one day I’ll go back there but for now all my money goes on beauties like these….
Written by C.S.Pacat
Art by Johanna The Mad
Published by Boom! Studios
The rivalry hots up this month as the two newbies battle it out to get onto the Varsity Fencing Team. Seiji is arrogant and self-assured. He expects to get on the team and Pacat frames him as the ideal candidate for this. He is always depicted with style and grace. He is pictured as an athlete in every panel.
Nicholas, however, has flaws and this is the basis of the drama for the comic. As readers we are expected to be in awe of Seiji but we route for Nicholas, he is the underdog, the loveable rogue character. Sure his technique might not be up to scratch but his determination is evident on every page.
The Artwork is very simple in appearance, with limited backgrounds. The colours also are minimal with a lot of block colouring but this works in the comics’ favour. It helps to focus the action of the story and also allows for some of the more humorous and quirky elements not to stick out like a sour thumb. There is a playfulness to the comic which is appealing. You skip through the pages with ease and reach the end much sooner than you’d like.
Some of the narrative elements are rushed, as if Pacat wanted to get elements of the story in place as soon as possible however this does not detract away from the enjoyment of this issue. Hopefully, now that Fence has become an ongoing at Boom! Studios, there will be time for the narrative to slow down and allow Pacat and Johanna The Mad to explore this competitive world they have created.
Days of Hate #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Danijel Zezelj
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics
In a not too distant future (and I mean, right around the corner kind of a deal) a run down, broken America struggles with its internal prejudices. On one coast gangs rule the streets and the other a more political game is being played; equally as deadly.
Ales Kot’s new thriller asks the question, how bad can the current situation get? The social and political climate that Kos depicts in Days of Hate aren’t that far removed from the world we live in. He gives us two, female, central characters who seem so different in their outlook but there is a connection between them; one that is brilliantly illustrated early on in the comic by following the flight of a bird as it crosses a page transition. Both of these characters have depth and lead intriguing lives, only some of which Kos shows us in this first issue. He makes each character a compelling read and places them in this dystopian world that is visible just on the edge of our own.
This place is familiar in an unnerving way. This is the comics’ hook and its major strength.
None of this would be as successful without the amazing artistic talents of Zezelj and Bellaire. The heavy line work and awkward point of view shots that Zezelj litters the pages with give the comic a foreboding and an emotional weight. The seriousness of the character’s situations is evident in each panel. Even the more touching moments are weighed down with the vast areas of blocked in blackness.
Zezelj keeps the interiors busy with many people and detailed backgrounds while outside shots are sparser, open spaces. This makes the reader feel trapped in this world, hidden away in the recesses of a scared country. Bellaire’s colours reinforce this point. She gives each scene its own tone simply by highlighting one particular colour throughout a given sequence. For instance, Amanda’s journey to the all American Diner is soaked in a pinkish red which reflects the gaudiness of the venue but is also an omen of things to come.
Days of Hate is a powerful and exciting work of Art. Both the narrative and the Art are outstanding. And this comic contains one of the best pages of comic book Art I’ve seen in a long time.
Ice Cream Man #1
Written by W Maxwell Prince
Art by Martin Morazzo
Colours by Chris O’Halloran
Published by Image Comics
Flavours by God knows who
Something strange is going on in the suburbs of America. A professional couple have gone missing and their ice cream loving son is acting all kinds of strange. Detective Jialeou seems to be attracting all of the crank cases in the office and it’s beginning to show but nothing can prepare her for the night ahead.
And the Ice Cream Man is always watching.
This is a spectacular read. Bat shit crazy, yes, but then if you’ve read any of W Maxwell Prince’s previous titles it is something you should be expecting. In fact, The Electric Sublime was one of my favourite comics in 2016 so it’s really good to be able to pick up something new by this talented writer.
Ice Cream Man is a journey through a suburban horror manual. It’s all of those urban myths rolled into one, kind of like the Grimm TV series but with an extra scope of weird. The visual aspect is wonderful, depicting the streets as the mundane homes they are. The beauty of the fantasy element is that Morazzo gives it all an air of the fairy tale monster; there is a distinct B-Movie look to creatures. All of this swirls together to make something that is difficult to get the flavour of but at the same time is never distasteful. It’s enjoyable; it’s fun; and it has enough horror to shock but not enough to turn you off.
Somehow the creators have managed to produce an endearing comic that is one-part crazy, one-part classic horror and a final part that is firmly tongue in cheek. If you read this comic, you will definitely be going back for a second helping.
Kong on the Planet of the Apes #3
Written by Ryan Ferrier
Art by Carlos Magno
Colours by Alex Guimaraes
Published by Boom! Studios
Kong happy in his peaceful garden. Naughty gorilla’s break that peace. Kong no longer happy.
This is quintessential Planet of the Apes. The narrative; the look; the colours; it all reeks of the Ape franchise and is exactly what it needs going into its 50th year.
There are currently two Ape titles out, this one and the new Ursus miniseries. They are both good reads but only this one is out this week so I would recommend picking it up.
For more of what I thought of it, check out my review over at comiconverse.com.
In Sleepless #2, the new political, fantasy drama published by Image Comics, the central character Poppy receives a letter from her mother; one that causes particular distress. The letter itself isn’t full of grief, in fact elements of it are hopeful and in other circumstances would be reason to celebrate. However, when Sarah Vaughn’s words appear over the top of Leila Del Duca’s images they become a more distressing, upsetting narrative.
It is a prime example of words and images combining to tell the story in a way unique to the comic book format.
As way of background, Poppy’s father, the King, has died and she has been left at the court of Harbeny where her life is in danger and the new King, her uncle, is an unknown element. After an assassination attempt in issue 1, Poppy had held on to the hope that her mother would come to her side. The letter she receives in issue 2 puts an end to that hope.
“My dearest flower. My Poppy. My Pyppenia.
I know what you think as you read this. Why have you only a piece of paper, and not your mother at your side?
I promise you, child, if I could be with you, I would. But the stars have been read, and the queen has made her decision.” (words by Sarah Vaughn)
The letter is, on the surface, a simple apology from Poppy’s mother that she cannot come to Harbeny. But as it unfolds there is a darker undertone. It relates the potential dangers to Poppy and the peace between two cities; it talks about divergent paths which could lead to great pain; and even hints at the possibility that the two may never see each other again.
All of this is there in the letter but Poppy’s physical reaction to it speaks of greater upset, of emotional turmoil more important than the relationship between two countries.
The first panel is a long shot showing the cosy homestead where Poppy has sat down to read the letter. It’s comfortable and warm, a roaring fire heats the room thanks to a wonderful glow in the colouring provided by Alissa Sallah. This colouring is set to change over the coming panels as it moves away from the comforting, homely brown hues to a cold grey and finally the angry yellow and orange of a burning fire.
The second panel moves in closer. It is the same size space but the reader is drawn further into the scene just as Poppy is being drawn into the letter. There is a noticeable shadow on the wall behind her, an ominous warning, just like the one her mother is referring to in the letter. Most notably is that the door, to the right in the previous panel, has disappeared as if Poppy is now trapped in the room with no escape. This is a reflection of the words that are to come. Poppy is indeed trapped, trapped by circumstance in the city of Harbeny.
Moving down the page, to panel 3, and again the image of Poppy is closer. We can now see the disappointed look on her face, a contrast to the happy, cheerful Poppy who populated the earlier pages of the issue. There is a melancholy to the image created by Poppy’s dejected posture and the fact that her surroundings are slowly being removed.
This is taken to the next step in the next panel as all of the background and foreground is removed and replaced by a grey wash reminiscent of a prison wall. Poppy is trapped in the panel and the emotional distress is there on her face for all to see. A tear begins to roll down her cheek
The final long panel on the page portrays Poppy at her most upset. Not only is her facial expression, with her hand held against her face, expressive but the image is in contrast to the words she, and we, are reading at this moment on the page:
“You must be strong. You must trust yourself above all others. You must keep your eyes open.”
Poppy does not appear strong in this image, she is weakened by her distress, she has been made vulnerable and, of course, her eyes are actually closed.
The final two panels of the page portray Poppy’s anger at the words she has just read. She has waited for the arrival of her mother, instead she only receives a letter which upsets her and her reaction is to destroy it, rid herself of the cause of her distress. At this point the paper is a symbol of her hope, the words scrawled upon it have tarnished that hope and the all-encompassing fire is Poppy’s emotional state, destroying the hope she had cherished.
The page is a visual descent into despair for the central character fuelled by formulaic political words that say little but infer much.
The fact that her mother failed to show up was clearly upsetting for Poppy, as can be seen in the harbour scene but it is this scene by the fireside that shows the reader the full affect it has on Poppy. She is a princess in distress and she has become trapped, without hope in her cold, prison like home.
Between them the creators have produced a perfect balance between language and images to produce the biggest punch to the narrative. There is no doubt to Poppy’s emotional state and what the absence of her mother means to her.
This is just one example of the brilliant work on display in Sleepless and it goes without saying that I would recommend this title.
Sleepless is published by Image Comics
Written by Sarah Vaughn
Art by Leila Del Duca
Colours by Alissa Sallah
It’s a New Year and a New Comic Book Day (Okay, there was one last week but I missed it. However, there were some awesome comics that came out. Did you check out Planet of the Apes: Ursus? No? Shame on you!). In the multitude of releases this week I have three recommendations and they should all be easy to find on the shelf as they all start with an S.
Sleepless #2 written by Sarah Vaughn, illustrated by Leila Del Duca and coloured by Alissa Sallah. Published by Image Comics
Another intriguing visit to the city of Harbeny and the royal comings and goings. This second issue expands the world that Sarah Vaughn has created while at the same time enclosing the central character, trapping her in the city where she no longer wants to be. Very little is explained and the assassination plot that formed so much of issue one is background noise to the new arrivals in the kingdom. But the threat is always there and still feeds the greater narrative.
There Is a very earthy feel to the comic, created mostly through Alissa Sallah’s colour choices. The drama is created through the character’s interactions and, in a number of cases, what isn’t said is more interesting than what is said. The emotional reactions of the characters as drawn by Leila Del Duca is where this story is told. A simple change in facial expression matched with an alteration in back ground colour highlights the character’s inner turmoil in a simple but very effective way. And this comic is packed with this kind of subtlety.
Sleepless is a charming and intriguing all ages comic, and I mean all ages not ‘for kids’. The world that Vaughn has created is bursting with character and mysteries and heart. And this issue is part of a wondrous tale beautifully told.
Slots #4 written/drawn by Dan Panosian and published by Image Comics
Part four of Panosian’s confidence trick focuses on the rise of Stanley and the slow fall of his son, Lucy. It also heavily features Mercy who is also on the up and up.
The way that Panosian tells the story makes Lucy the focus and all the readers empathy is with him. In the opening chapter Mercy is focused on in all her dancing costume glory but it is the panels which contain Lucy that stand out, they are different to the others with a tone that doesn’t match. He is an outcast from the glitz and the drink that floods the surrounding panels so his plight stands out. He is clearly nervous in Mercy’s presence whereas none of the other, male, characters have any intention of hiding their obsession with Mercy.
One of the highlights of this comic is Panosian’s ability to move the reader through the pages and panels. He applies his art perfectly creating an easy to read comic; the reader barely notices that they are being led around like one of Stanley’s marks. But if you take a moment to re-read each issue and pay attention to the backgrounds, I’m sure that there are clues to the greater picture.
Issue 4 is an enjoyable read and moves the story on in unsuspected ways. I have a strong feeling that when this story is done, a re-read is going to be very enlightening, like re-watching The Sting.
And finally, my pick of the week, Saucer State #6 by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, published by IDW
I’ve been reading this title since it was Saucer Country and it never ceases to amaze me. The twists and turns that Cornell gets into the plot is seconded only by Kelly’s ability to make it all seem so real. I watched the first four series of the X-Files but I found the constant ‘is it real?’ alien subplot tiring after so many episodes, but I have not tired of Saucer State yet. The humour within the script is genuinely funny and the shocks, when they come, are truly shocking. I read this issue while my kids were drawing and there was one point when the kids asked me what I was reading, responding to the very loud gasping sound I had just made. There are two such moments like that in this issue.
If you’re reading this series, you are going to love this issue. If not, it’s not too late to join the gang, I’d heartily recommend it.
For further information, check out my review on Comiconverse.com