As the UK disappears under a blanket of snow and no-body goes to work, instead ditching their job for an hour on a sledge, it might be worth giving a thought to what you can read while huddled around the open fire later tonight.
As it’s New Comic Book Day here’s an idea or two.
There is of course the new issue, of the new Arc, of Saga from Image Comics. Everyone is still reading Saga, right? Nobody needs this comic ‘selling’ to them, do they? It was awesome in issue 1 and it’s still awesome as they approach the milestone 50th issue. And if by chance you haven’t read any, it’s not too late; it is still one of the bestselling trades every month afterall.
Speaking of trades, Crosswind volume 1 is out. The first issue was very good and Gail Simone’s scripts are always a pleasure to read. I’m looking forward to reading the first arc in one, huge chunk.
Also from Image (Crosswind is published by Image Comics) is Days of Hate #2. Ales Kot, Danijel Zezelj, and Jordie Bellaire bring you the continuation of their near future dystopian America political fantasy. It is an insightful and challenging read with the script and the art making you think about how you digest information.
My full review is over on comiconverse.com but, to be honest, you don’t need that, you just need issue 2 of Days of Hate.
Another second issue: Abbott #2 from Boom! Studios continues to impress. An intriguing story by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivela. Despite the historical setting the narrative reflects modern issues and doesn’t shy away from exploring difficult subjects. I especially love Kivela’s art in this comic, his composition and panel design lead you through the story like the piped piper of Hamelin. He manages to manipulate the simplest of subjects in order to control the reader and the story.
I’m not convinced that there needs to be a supernatural element to this story but there is plenty of time for the creators to convince me otherwise; I will be sticking around for a while, to see where this title takes me.
Finally, for this week, Boom! Studios can just take my money. I’ve already written about Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation (here) and it goes without saying that I will be recommending this to anyone who will listen to me. Si Spurrier and Daniel Bayliss give fans everything they could possibly want from a Labyrinth comic and then some. The way the script channels the original movie is almost witch craft and I’m not sure I can write much more about Bayliss’ art.
Spurrier’s script is the hand and Bayliss’ art is the glove.
This is like a dream comic, even more so than the Power of the Dark Crystal. Now, who wrote that one?.....
So, avoid the snow, stay in and read an exciting comic or two.
I wasn’t sure if I could write a review for the new Labyrinth comic from Boom! Studios because of the following reasons:
Labyrinth is one of my all-time favourite films. I saw it at the cinema when it was originally released and have then continued to watch it year after year. I recently re-watched it at the cinema with my own kids and I still love every moment of it.
Simon Spurrier is a writer at the top of his game, he has left me in awe on several occasions in recent years. Simply check out Cry Havok or The Spire to see the brilliance of his writing.
I adore Daniel Bayliss’ work whenever I see it. He has a bold, lyrical style which I find so easy to read.
And Fiona Staples has done the covers!
It’s difficult to come at this from an unbiased point of view; I’ve been sold on this before I’ve even opened the comic.
So, we can all assume I enjoyed this new Labyrinth comic. This is not going to come as news to anyone.
Some of the previous short stories that Boom! have released, more often than not in their Free Comic Book Day offering, have been pleasant and quick flights of fancy that made the reader wistful for the movie but very few had any real meat on their bones. Labyrinth: Coronation on the other hand is steeped in the lore of the Goblin world. In essence the comic is about Jareth’s life before becoming the Goblin King and this is journey that is told from the very beginning. Not wanting to give anything away but the central character is not the one that you would necessarily expect. This is a story of belonging and family and is beautifully told. It has a grandiose setting which is soon torn down as Maria, our heroine, is forced to face truths she has been running away from. Just like the movie, the story is an emotional journey for the central character and the similarities don’t stop there.
The first page of the comic is lifted directly from the film. It sets the scene and re-introduces the reader to the world, making it very clear who the story is going to be focusing on. But of course, this scene, with Sarah in the oubliette, has a great significance to the story. From this recognisable moment Spurrier draws comparisons with Maria’s experiences which have filtered through to Jareth. A layer of depth has been added to the characterisation of the Goblin King almost instantly, and we're only at issue 1.
Which leads me to Bayliss’ art; his bold style turns the visuals of the movie into a tale fit for a Sandman collection. His depiction of Jareth is the essence of the character as portrayed by David Bowie without the need to be an identical representation. Spurriers script captures the voice Bowie gave the character and relays this onto the page; Bayliss in turn draws a figure who is quintessentially The Goblin King and a touch reminiscent of Morpheus from the Sandman comics.
His panel compositions are fun and play with the theatricals of the character but also become simple and deliberate to focus the reader’s attention. Sweeping masquerade balls fade away to highlight characters’ interactions and the opulent high society halls become bleak, cold streets as the narrative tests the central characters.
My favourite affect that Bayliss uses is to squeeze the goblins into the gutters between panels. They stare in at the story, just like the puppets in the movie were framed in blackness to indicate they were elsewhere. Bayliss plays with the idea that they are outside, looking in, ready to breakthrough from one world to the next.
There are thrills and chills, excitement and adventure, romance and heart break, all beautifully illustrated within the first issue. The central characters are strong and have layers of depth which in turn leads the emotional narrative from scene to scene. The artwork hones these representations making the characters from the movie instantly recognisable and giving the new one’s their own personalities from the get go.
Labyrinth: Coronation is an ideal companion to the original film and a strong opening to a story. It promises to be a magical adventure with unexpected twists along the way. I know that by the end of this 12 issue run I will be watching the film with new appreciations for some of the characters.
A must read for anyone who has seen the movie or has an interest in magical romantic tales.
But then, I am a little bit biased.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Daniel Bayliss
Published by Boom! Studios
And check out those covers... Especially this alternative cover (below) by the amazing Bill Sienkiewicz
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
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.