It’s been a bit of a quiet this week. Apart from the whole it being CHRISTMAS thing.
There have been a few comics out, Bone Parish from Boom Studios!, Man Eaters from Image Comics and a new Superior Spider-Man from Marvel.
But I have only read one new comic this week; Go-Bots #2 published by IDW Publishing and written, drawn, coloured, lettered by Tom Scioli.
For a full review of Go-Bots pop over to Monkeys Fighting Robots where I give an over view of what works and what doesn’t (plug, plug!). In my opinion, there is a lot that doesn’t work. I was fairly restrained in my review because that’s my job; it’s not about ranting and spewing forth hatred, like some ‘reviewers’ I could mention (but don’t wish to filthy my blog with). A review should let the potential readers know what to expect and, to some degree, whether it works or not.
Go-Bots has some wonderful moments, Scioli loves to play with his packed layouts and occasionally uses the constraints of the comic book medium to his advantage.
Unfortunately, I believe that his dense pages and over scripted narrative hampers the storytelling and diminishes the characters to such a point that we, as readers, know nothing about them. There is a deliberate two dimensionality to the art work that is also, unfortunately, reflected in the characters.
Plus, the massive text filled speech balloons drown the panels and almost obliterate the images entirely. Take, for example, the following page:
The top half of the page is packed with speech, most of which is exposition outlining two plot points; the difference between the two fractions of Go-Bots and the destination that the characters will be heading. That is a lot of text to establish only two worthwhile narrative points. The speech doesn’t tell us anything about the characters because it’s all so matter of fact, so monotone; there is no distinctive character voices. What the speech does do successfully is take over the panels. The cast’s faces are squashed to the bottom of the panels and any establishing shot of their location is totally lost. In panel 12 the view point switches and gives you the impression that they are stood up high. This impression is shattered four panels later when the chase sequence starts and the police cars/Go-Bots are suddenly on the same level as A.J. and Hunter.
If you take away the text you can see just how much of the page the speech takes up. Some of the panels on the first two rows are virtually empty.
Now, I understand that in some circumstances there is a need for a lot of exposition to move a story forward however the way that it is incorporated into a page layout can make the difference between a well-paced, engaging story and a text heavy chore.
To compare, look at this page from Tales from the Crypt #33, a story called Lower Berth.
As was the tradition with Tales from the Crypt stories, they were often text heavy with a continuous narrator explaining what was happening from panel to panel. This resulted in caption boxes on most panels along with additional character speech. In this example the caption boxes are mostly large, panel long boxes with several sentences per panel.
If you take away the lettering you are left with some obvious spaces, but unlike the Go-Bots example above, the panels are still rich with information and excitement. Even without the text you have establishing backgrounds and character moments. You can still follow the story from panel to panel and learn something about the characters and narrative. The top half of the Go-Bots example is devoid of narrative or substance without the speech.
If you compare the two pages’ side by side, with and without the lettering you can easily see the difference; one of these pages is a success at storytelling, the other is not.
If you are that kind of person who would like to compare the actual word count per row; Go-Bots has 68 words in the first row, 74 in the second and 31 in the third. It then has two rows with virtually no speech. Tales from the Crypt only has three rows but manages to cram in 97 words in row one, 79 in row two and 48 in row three. Over all Go-Bots has 175 words on the page, Tales from the Crypt has 224.
The point I’m making is that there is nothing wrong with heavy text pages as long as the text serves the narrative and works with art work to move the story on. The main problem with Go-Bots is that it suffocates the images within the panels and reduces the environments so that they are almost none existent.
Go-Bots #2 has some highlights and if you remember owning the Go-Bot toys back in the 80’s than by all means pick up a copy of this, you may enjoy it. However, I found the storytelling to be lacking and the absence of any real characters made this a comic I could easily pass on.
It’s less than a week to Christmas so is there anything out today that might work as a last minute present for the comic lover in your life?
The answer is yes.
After last week’s review of The Simian Age from Boom Studios! I thought that would be it for Planet of the Apes merchandise for this year but I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Boom have today pushed out Planet of the Apes Omnibus (soft cover) which collects all of Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s run on the comic. This is a mammoth tomb with one of the best Ape related stories ever. The creativity and storytelling is of a high standard from the opening page to the last. Other runs have started well, wavered in the middle and ended well (or some variation of that) but Gregory and Magno maintain top quality work throughout.
I could go on, and on, about this but I think I’ve already covered much of it elsewhere. In fact, I reviewed the first arc of the story earlier this year on this website. So, with that in mind, I will simply say that this is an amazing run of comics, beautifully collected together with a number of interesting prologues and epilogues. You can tell from this collection that everyone who worked on it loved what they were doing, and love Planet of the Apes.
If you also love Planet of the Apes, or just good storytelling, this is a book worth adding to your collection.
Another collection from Boom Studios! out today is Lazaretto, written by Clay McLeod Chapman and drawn by Jey Levang.
This is another comic series that I have written a lot about in the past, especially when the original monthlies were coming out. Just scroll to the first few entries on this site and you’ll find a lot of my thoughts on the series.
In short: it’s a grotesque, hard hitting, horror story which gets under your skin, makes it crawl and finally makes you rip at it to remove it from your body. The story is compelling and the artwork is sublime. Together, the creators play with the comic book format, making the gutters as much a part of the story telling as the narrative and they challenge the reader to think about, not only what they are reading, but also how they read.
I can’t praise this comic enough and would recommend it to everyone, whether you are a fan of horror stories, social dramas, or just comics in general.
As for monthlies: there are the usual mass of comics on the shelf. A few of note (that I have read) are Firefly #2 from Boom Studios! and Days of Hate #11 from Image Comics. I have also really enjoyed the finale of Cold Spots from Image Comics but for what I thought about that you’ll have to pop over to Monkeys Fighting Robots for my full review.
Oh yeah, Monkeys Fighting Robots will be a new home for my reviews for the coming year (possibly years) so you’ll have to get used to me posting links to them. Please go over and have a look at what the team are doing, there are some great comic book insights and reviews being posted daily. I’m looking forward to becoming part of the MFR family and spreading my comic book love to a whole new audience.
It’s nearly the end of the year which means I’ll have to stop going on about the 50th Anniversary of Planet of the Apes. Although it is only a year until the 50th anniversary of Beneath the Planet of the Apes…
But, before then, there is still time to get some new Apes stories in and that is exactly what Boom! Studios are doing this week with the release of The Simian Age: three new stories set across the franchise, taking in the original universe and the new movie continuity.
Similar to The Time of Man one shot released last month, The Simian Age has three very different stories which highlight the diversity and story potential for Planet of the Apes. Across both issues, the creators have told 6 wildly different stories but they all are quintessentially Ape stories.
In this week’s offering there is Apex, a tale of a gorilla in military training written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Matt Smith. The story starts off in a very straight forward manner, presenting the training regime for a Gorilla new to the military. But as the story unfolds, the central character Apex begins to learn what it means to be a mindless follower of the status quo and he has a few issues.
The story illustrates the horrors of combat through the eyes of a young Ape and Kindt builds a series of events which leads the reader, and Apex, into a situation where a choice needs to be made. The script pulls no punches and doesn’t hide from the brutality of sanctioned violence. The actions of the military are questionable which leads Apex into his predicament.
The Art work is as bold as the story with Smith using thick, fluid black lines and heavy shadows. The colour choices by Joana Lafuente are also striking with some less than subtle panels.
Apex may feel heavy handed to some readers but it draws on the political nature of previous Ape outings and the creators aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
Cloud and Rain is weakest of the three stories but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable or entertaining. Written by Ryan Ferrier and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, Cloud and Rain follows the tragic adventures of two Apes caught between their fear of Koba and their love of Caesar. As political as the story that precedes it in this comic, Ferrier examines the impact that 'Fear' has upon the average ‘persons’ decision making. He delves into uncomfortable truths and shows the reader how easy it is to manipulate people and turn friend against friend.
Sharma gives the titular characters an innocence, representing them as children in the face of the elder Apes like Maurice and Koba. This approach works well at reminding the reader about the divide between the leaders and the civilians. Sharma also uses the layouts of the page to great effect when telling the story. He mixes up the panel layouts, unafraid to use inserts or allow the gutters to be broken for emphasis. A number of panels have pure white backgrounds which stand out on the page and focus the reader’s attention onto the Ape’s interactions.
There are some strong moments of tension within Cloud and Rain with a number of thought provocative panels. It may be the weakest of the three but that does not mean that it is a weak story.
The best that The Simian Age has to offer is in fact the first story in the collection. Mothers of Exiles is a beautifully moving tale of a Chimpanzee in hiding. Jeff Jensen has written an emotional tale of heartbreak and loneliness that will touch even the hardest of gorilla hearts. It follows the daily routine of Amy, a Chimp who is self-exiled and living in the remains of the Statue of Liberty.
Set a short while after the end of the original movie (reference is made to Taylor so the readers can place the action) and unexpected arrival changes Amy’s life in a way that she hadn’t expected.
The Art work is beautiful. Jared Cullum’s watercolours are a superb fit to Jensen’s narrative and produce an atmosphere rarely found in an Ape comic. It is very insular tale of a single Chimps personal experiences. There are moments of warmth; touching scenes that illustrate the kindness of the chimpanzee’s and are a reminder of the affections shown by Cornelius and Zira in the original movie.
Like the other two offerings in The Simian Age, Mothers of Exiles is about over coming fear and risking personal safety to do what is right. The narrative, however, has a much subtler tone which makes the Hope embedded in the story more transparent and heart-warming. It is a gripping story, expertly written and beautifully illustrated.
Planet of the Apes: The Simian Age is yet another worthy additional to the ever expanding Apes franchise. A collection of three, very different yet very similar themed stories each with its own appeal and relevance. Whether you are a fan of the old movies or the new, The Simian Age has something for you.