Volume 1 of Days Of Hate from Image Comics is released this week.
And it is worth checking out if you’ve not been reading the monthlies.
Don’t believe me? Here’s why I think you should.
In a not too distant future, one that doesn’t look too dissimilar to our present, 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.
And so begins Ales Kot’s thriller which poses 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; a link that is brilliantly illustrated early on in the comic by following the flight of a bird as it crosses a page transition.
Through these two characters the creators are able to establish the world that they live in while building an intriguing plot shrouded in mystery and inhabited by a number of fascinating characters.
Danijel Zezelj is creates atmosphere by packing his panels with extras and detailed interiors while in contrast the outdoor scenes are sparser, open spaces. This makes the reader feel trapped in this world, hidden away in the recesses of a scared country. Jordie 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 in issue 1 is soaked in a pinkish red which reflects the gaudiness of the venue but is also an omen of things to come. And one chapter has three distinct time periods each with their own hue.
Every aspect of Days of Hate appears to have the same thoughtfulness applied to it which makes this a superb, if sometimes challenging, read. The story flows effortlessly through the page transitions, flicking back and forth between the central characters and their lives. Each section of the comic feeds off and responds to each other creating a single narrative unit. To take away any section of the comic would create a hole in the narrative which may not be obvious, but it would be there, niggling at the back of your mind like a fake news story ringing muffled bells of warning.
Elements of socially accepted racism, expressions of inner turmoil and opposing personal/professional beliefs make Days of Hate an insightful read. Kot does not make this easy for the reader and just like the real world, the simple good/evil dynamics of the superhero genre have no place here. Each character is multi-layered and the creators take time to portray the different aspects of each. There are twists and turns that build the characters as they move slowly forward through the narrative. It is difficult to tell what is going to happen next and this is another highlight of this comic. Its unpredictability makes it a refreshing read.
Days of Hate is an outstanding character driven narrative with some of my favourite comic book art from recent years. There are some pages that are beautiful, stand alone, works of Art. This is a comic that I would recommend to anyone. It has an engaging story and wonderfully designed layouts which allow the story to flow from panel to panel, page to page. There is a lot going on visually and narratively. For an immersive comic reading experience you can’t go wrong with Volume 1 of Days of Hate.
Days of Hate Act 1 (collecting issues 1 – 6)
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Danijel Zezelj
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics
(some of this may have been unashamedly plagiarised for some of my early reviews of the monthlies, please feel free to re-read everything I've written to find out which bits came from where)
After taking in an overview of Simon Bowland’s letter in Motherlands last week, I wanted to take a closer look at a few lettering techniques. To do this I have chosen the latest issue of The Dead Hand from Image Comics.
There are a number of very good reasons to be reading The Dead Hand, Jordie Bellaire’s colouring over Stephen Mooney’s Art for one but it’s Clayton Cowles lettering work that I’m focusing on today.
Lettering has an important function within any comic while at the same time has to be the one aspect that is the least noticeable on the page. A comic wouldn’t function without lettering but the reader doesn’t want it to distract from the action or the narrative. When done badly, the lettering breaks the momentum of a page and no matter how good your story is, or your art, once the reader is distanced from the narrative it can be difficult to get back into the flow.
However, when done right, the lettering can enhance everything else, as I illustrated in my previous post about Motherlands. And in The Dead Hand Cowles does an excellent job of using the lettering to add more than just information to the page; in fact, his lettering helps to highlight aspects of the art, the narrative and the flow of the panels.
The page below is a good example of Cowles ability to employ basic lettering techniques to make the page easy to read. The consistency of his word balloons and the balloon tales show off his understanding of ground floor lettering. Each of the balloon tales has the same width and lead directly to the mouth of the person speaking. On occasion the tale is short, such as in panel two, leaving a larger distance from the mouth to the balloon but this is so the art isn’t obscured and the positioning of the tale makes it obvious who is talking.
The balloons themselves exist within their own space, covering the background artwork so as not to detract away from the characters and their conversation; except on one occasion which I will come back to in a moment. The placement of the balloons helps to lead the conversation and show who is speaking when. A bonus touch is added when Cowles overlaps a couple of the balloons, in panel 4, highlighting the pace of the conversation and the fact the characters are almost talking over the top of each other.
The artist obviously has a part to play when it comes to balloon positioning. A good artist will leave enough space for the letter but this isn’t always the case. In this example it is as if the artist, Stephen Mooney, and Cowles are working very closely together to maximise the effect of the words and images.
There is one moment on this page that stands out, from a lettering point of view especially, and this is in panel 5.
Harriet is having an argument with her mother and the Sheriff, she feels as though she is being deliberately left out of something and treated like a child. The discussion reaches a point where both adults talk down to her with a condescending tone; she is better off not knowing something. It is at this moment that Harriet becomes aggressive and literally stands up for herself. In the first 4 panels Harriet has been seated, towered above by the adults but in panel 5 she stands up, she raises herself to their level and reaches out as if to tell her mother to back off.
And it is at this moment that Cowles' wonderful lettering becomes more than technique and enters the realm of storytelling. Renae tries to calm her daughter, to reach out by saying her name, but Cowles places this speech beneath Harriet’s hand and for the first time on this page the word balloon covers up part of a character. This helps to emphasis the fact the Harriet is distancing herself from Renae; she is putting up a barrier. Her outstretched arm indicated this and so does the word balloon hanging between mother and daughter.
Cowles also adds an extra dimension to this barrier building. Instead of using a straight balloon tale and ending it a great distance from Renae’s mouth, as he did in panel two with the Sheriff, he bends the tale around Harriet’s hand. This illustrates how hard it is for Renae’s words to reach her daughter, the speech has to curl around her out stretched hand.
This also highlights Harriet’s movement, like underlining a piece of text. This one speech balloon adds so much to the panel; emphasising the character relationships and enforcing physical movements.
The placement and design of the Speech Balloon’s are as important to a narrative as the artwork. They are more than a ‘necessary evil’ and when used correctly, as with Cowles work in The Dead Hand, lettering enhances the story telling. Everything on the page can be used to highlight, define or express character and plot: the creators of The Dead Hand know this and use everything at their disposal to tell the best story they can.
Issue 4 of The Dead Hand is published this week by Image Comics
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Stephen Mooney
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Clayton Cowles
So I finally finished reading Motherlands from DC-Vertigo.
I know, it’s took me ages, the collected edition is probably nearly out but it has definitely been worth the wait. I picked up the last issue last week and sat down with all six issues for a read through. And I was enraptured from beginning to end.
The story is compelling, packed with outstanding characters, narrative twists and so much humour. This is a comic that will make you laugh out loud on several occasions. But for each LOL moment there is a scene which gets you in the gut or pulls at your heartstrings. It’s a surprisingly moving tale of a dysfunctional family hell bent on redemption through self-destruction.
However, the aspect of Motherlands I want to talk about here is not the brilliant scripting by Simon Spurrier or the energetic art or bold colour choices by Rachael Stott and Felipe Sobreiro; no, it’s Simon Bowland’s exceptional lettering.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the art of Lettering but thanks to numerous sources I’m beginning to appreciate the skills involved much more. This learning process is greatly enhanced when faced with such wonderful examples of the craft available in comics like Motherlands.
Page 1, issue 1 and straight away Bowland is using a very simple lettering technique to differentiate between people and machines: different coloured text. It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but making the text different colours helps the reader negotiate through the first page very easily. The blue text, belonging to the robotic teachers, are scene setters, informing the reader about the larger world that the story is set in while the standard black text forms the start of the human drama. Throughout this series the human drama and outlandish World building evolve side by side but never get in each other’s way. And this is illustrated on the very first page of the very first issue thanks to the lettering.
A few pages later and there is another instance of the lettering helping to illustrate aspects of the narrative. As two character’s leap from one String (dimension) to another they continue their abuse riddled conversation. The changing backgrounds drawn by Rachael Stott help to set each scene but it is the lettering that gives the reader the sense of pacing. Bowland chooses to use diagonal slashes in his speech balloons to literally slice through the conversation. It gives the impression that the speech has been cut off put also that it is picked up directly in the next balloon. The actual text shows that there is a bit missing as the sentences don’t make sense however the ‘slash’ effect on the balloons indicate that it is all part of the same speech, therefore the jumps from one panel to another are in quick succession.
Bowland often plays with the speech balloons to create emphasis for the text. One notable technique he adopts is to give the balloon a thick, red filled boarder. He uses this mostly to highlight emotional outbursts but occasionally these types of balloons are used to make part of the narrative stand out as being of particular importance.
One of my favourite, and subtler, effects Bowland uses on his balloons is to make the edge uneven, almost shaky. This often reflects the implied hurt feelings of certain characters and these are used during a character’s moment of weakness. As a rule, this creates a sense of empathy for a particular character which in turn forces the reader to question the following interactions between the cast. It casts a new light onto the situation.
Add to this changes in text size when characters are under particular types of stress, bold speech within balloons, split and linked speech balloons, captions, and sound effects; and you have a multitude of lettering techniques all of which assist the narrative in one way or another. In a number of comics, and I’ll hold my hand up and admit it, I barely notice the lettering unless it has a negative effect on my reading but in Motherlands Simon Bowland’s lettering standouts and adds so much to the reading experience it’s almost impossible not to notice his mark on the pages.
The rest of the creators do a good job as well.
You might still be able to pick up some of the individual issues but if not, the collection can’t be too far away.
Published by DC-Vertigo
Written by Simon Spurrier
Artist Rachael Stott
Colours by Felipe Sobreiro
Letters by Simon Bowland
Boom! Studios is currently invested in sports centric comics. They have a number of titles covering a wide range of fringe sports. Each title has a different creative team, obviously passionate about the sport featured in their narratives, and each title appeals to a slightly different audience: some younger readers, some teens, some more mature wrestling fans. The one aspect that links all of them, however, is the emphasis on the characters; these are comics about personal experiences and surviving in the world, the sport is a way of relaying the character’s struggles via metaphor, allegory or a bit of both.
That’s not to say the depicted sport is insubstantial, quite the contrary. The chosen sport is representative of the greater narrative. Each sport has been chosen as it best defines the characters within the story, or perhaps it’s the other way around; the sport dictates the types of characters that fuel the narrative. Either way, the sport is integral to the characters. Think of Rocky, the narrative would have been quite different if the film was about Lacrosse.
In both Dodge City and Fence, the central characters are underdogs who have something to prove through their chosen sports and as such are determined, strong willed characters. How the creators deal with this is surprisingly similar despite the very different sports; one being a team game with a lot of movement and the other involving individuals in a super-fast technical sport.
To highlight the similarities between the two I’ve chosen to compare an action sequence from last month’s Dodge City (issue 4 is out this week) and another from last week’s Fence #7.
Side by side you can instantly see that they have been drawn with different styles but also that these two scenes look very similar. The choices that the artists have made in layout have the same function. The panels are all irregular shapes drawing your eye in different directions across the pages. Dodge City has a more erratic layout representing the more chaotic sport depicted inside the panels. Fence uses the shape of the panels as well as the fencing swords to lead the reader from one point to another. In other examples, Dodge City does something similar with the ball and movement lines.
Each layout reflects the style of the sport. Fence is ordered, subtler, and has a finesse about it. Despite being a very fast sport, fencing has a pin point precision to it which is illustrated here. Dodgeball has more players, more to follow across the playing field and Cara McGee fills the panels deliberately making part of the game hard to follow. However, these two pages serve the same function within their respective comics. These two action packed pages are not actually about the sports they depict but about the character featured in them.
Each page is about one specific character within the comic. In Dodge City it is Elsie and her determination to stay in the completion. The entire page is centred around her and her reactions to the game. The drama is created by Elsie acting within each panel. She is shown to be impatient and angry; the colouring on her face in panel two and then the lettering on panel three where Elsie’s “Raarh!” exclamation is larger than the “wait for…!” behind her. It’s as if she is drowning out the other players, lost in the moment.
Of course this nearly backfires towards the end of the page where the panel opens up with a long shot passed Elsie to a full figure of an opposing team member and the blurred ball between them. The shape of the ball and the directional lines indicate how fast the ball is travelling and it all seems over for Elsie.
One of the things that Cara McGee and Brittany Peer do to focus the reader on Elsie is to make her the most prominent figure in most of the panels and push the other characters into the background. The panels also have no background detail, just vivid colours that reflect the thought process of Elsie: a strong green when she is determined in the first, third and seventh panels but the colour changes when she is unsure of what to do or she is in danger of being knocked out.
Johanna The Mad and Joana Lafuente do something very similar in Fence however their approach is starker, cleaner, to better represent the refined image of the sport. On this page Nicholas is as determined to beat his opponent but this determination is shown in the captions. Nicholas is almost distracted by his obsession to beat Seji but somehow his natural instinct takes over.
Johanna The Mad keeps Nicholas the central figure in each panel, in the same way McGee did in Dodge City, but very little emotion is given away by the character visually. It’s like a stoic determination, straight faced and poised.
For an exterior perspective Nicholas is simply going through the motions of Fencing. However, the final panel of the page belies this and gives the reader an insight into Nicholas’ emotional state. By changing the background colour from off white to crimson the panel radiates a much stronger emotional hit. The entire panel is an exclamation mark for the page, with the captions and movements all leading to this point. The positioning of Nicholas and his Epee, bent down towards the bottom of the page, emphasises his thought process and draws the reader to the rivalry between Nicholas and Seji. All Nicholas can think about is beating Seji, even during a match with someone else. No matter what, he can make each situation about his obsession with Seji.
These two pages look quite different at a quick glance, Dodge City is colourful and chaotic whereas Fence is orderly and clean but the narrative on each page is the same. Each focuses on a single character and, through the sporting actions depicted, they emphasis the emotional state of that character. The determination and obsession is illustrated in a slightly different way but it is very clear on the page what drives each of them.
Fence #7 Out now
Written by C.S. Pacat
Illustrated by Johanna the Mad
Coloured by Joana Lafuente
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Dodge City #4 Out on 27 June 2018
(images used from issue 3)
Written by Josh Trujillo
Illustrated by Cara McGee
Coloured by Brittany Peer
Lettered by Aubrey Aiese
After being shanghaied and forced to work aboard the sail ship Bellwood for two years, sailor Jack decides to take revenge on those who imprisoned him. He starts with Captain Schork and the crew of the Bellwood. After taking the ship he sails it for home to Portland, to find his family and make those responsible for his absence pay.
The remaining prisoners on the ship are offered the chance to join Jack but first they are in for a shock becasue Jack is in fact Molly, a hard working frontiers woman who isn’t afraid of a little violence if it means she gets what she needs.
And so begins Shanghai Red, a new series from Image Comics, released this week.
Issue one of Shanghai Red is set mostly on the ship Bellwood, with a few flashback sequences to establish the central character. It revolves mostly around the night that Jack, aka Molly or Red as she likes to be known, decides that enough is enough and she unleashes a wave of violence on the deck of the ship.
The opening pages are beautifully drawn with an initial sombre mood exploding into a series of violent actions. Joshua Hixson creates an unsafe environment on board the Bellwood by casting a large amount of the panels in shadow and using a number of long, often tilted angled, viewpoints. This gives the reader the impression of a ship in motion but also the sense that something is not quite right. This is then escalated when Red begins her series of attacks.
Hixson brings his colour work into play and coats the grey/blue lighting of the ship with vivid red for the flowing blood and vibrant yellows for the flames Red unleashes. This gives the opening a really strong visual impact that draws you into the comic immediately. It gives the reader a sense of tone for the following narrative as well as illustrating the central character’s determination and cruel intents.
The fine line work, vast backgrounds and coloured caption balloons all work together to give the comic a cohesion that makes it effortless to read. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering works in much the same way as Hixson’s colouring does. It differentiates the characters and their moods either through the colouring of the word balloons or the separation of the characters’ speech.
For example, on a number of occasions the speech is split into two speech balloons although it could all have been placed into one. This emphasises the different parts of the speech so that the reader is drawn to a specific word or phrase giving it more weight. So when Red says “It’s not you. I don’t deserve it. I’m damned.” There is a break before ‘I’m damned’ which gives her final words emphasis, they are not just a throwaway comment to distance herself from Boston. They relate to something more, something which obviously plays on Red’s mind.
Subtleties like this are spread throughout Shanghai Red and reward the reader for paying attention. They are even more important early on because initially Red is not a likable character, her actions are seemingly cruel and heartless but there is something in the way that she is portrayed that makes the you want to find out why she is the way she is. Some of this information is slowly revealed over the course of the comic as Christopher Sebela explores Red’s character via interactions with her new crew.
After the initial gut punch, the narrative becomes a sterling character piece mixed with narrative history and allegorical imagery. Sebela allows two narratives to unfold, each giving a different insight into the central character. The first is Red’s own story as she tells it: this is biased and for a large part emotionless because this is how she has learnt to survive. The second is through Red’s waking dreams: these are fuelled by pure emotion and are nightmarish in nature. Together they build a magnificent central character and sets up the story for future issues.
This comic works as a first chapter in a story by introducing the central character and the themes which surround her life. It also works as self-contained story as it contains everything you need to know to understand the events on board the Bellwood.
Shanghai Red is an outstanding first issue. It draws you in over the first few pages and then focuses the narrative to create interest and intrigue. The artwork fits the tone and setting of the story and gives the entire comic an eerie claustrophobic feel; a visual representation of Red’s emotional state having being trapped on the ship for so long. It is an emotional story infused with pain and suffering but there is a glimmer of hope threaded throughout which gives the reader a reason to continue to read: the relationship between Red and Boston represents that hope.
Full of amazing character work, a strong narrative and eye catching artwork, Shanghai Red is a must read.
Shanghai Red #1
Published by Image Comics
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Joshua Hixson
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
There were some comics out this week. I know, came as a surprise to me. I’ve been so wrapped up in the Doctor Who Twitch marathon that I forgot everything else that might be happening. Although I did manage to catch the trailer for Bumblebee and I must admit, it looks exactly like the kind of Transformer film I wanted. It all looks very Generation 1 and Starscream is my favourite Decepticon so the lack of Michael Bay may prove to be the franchise’s saving grace.
First up, the final issue of Shipwreck from Aftershock was out this week. The first issue came out sometime in 2016, so it has been a long time coming. However, this series has been excellent so far and I can’t wait to actually read the final issue. From a quick flick through I can tell it’s full of action, suspense, shock and heartbreak. The artwork by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur jumps out of the page thanks to the heavy line work and bold use of vast, black shadows. The colour work by Mark Englert is equally as bold; he is not afraid to use vibrant colours to the excess to create an overpowering mood for each set piece.
As to Warren Ellis’ script, I won’t know how well the story comes together until I’ve read it in it's entirety but Ellis barely steers me wrong, hence I’ve happily waited, patiently, for the series conclusion.
Next we have Dazzler: One Shot from Marvel. Written by Magdalene Visaggio and illustrated by Laura Braga, this one shot is a re-introduction to the mutant character. The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s not exceptional in any way however it is very well paced and mixes humour with a very modern commentary on social bullying. The basic narrative may seem straight forward and as such the message behind it is very clear: Visaggio is shining a light on a certain element of toxic fandom that circulates the comic book (and it would seem almost any) fan base. The conflict between the few outspoken mutants and their hatred of the Inhumans reflects perfectly the self-righteous, angry fan who attacks other fans just because they have a different view point. Dazzler is used as a uniting force against such hatred and is a shining light for inclusivity and diversity.
I have always been a fan of Dazzler, even though she has never really been a major player in the comics, and it’s pleasing to see her written in such a positive way. One the one hand I would like to have seen a much grander story line for this one shot but on the other, I love the boldness and simplicity of the message this comic is sending out.
It looks like I may be picking up Astonishing X-Men #14 which is where Dazzler is set to return.
Boom! Studios have released a Planet of the Apes Colouring Book. I’m not sure what to do with that information. I have seen the book and there is some very fine art work in there, what with it being a collection of black and white pages from the history of Planet of the Apes comics. If you have to own every bit of merchandise they release or you really want to colour in an angry, netted Taylor then I guess this is just the book for you. I tried a spot of digital colouring but I guess I should leave it to those who know what they are doing...
Finally this week, Doctor Who, and not the classic series current showing on Twitch (Have I mentioned the marathon currently taking place? Trust me, it’s the place to be for any Whovian). Titan Comics have reached the Seventh Doctor in their line of Who related comics. This means only 1, 2, 5, and 6 to go. I’m hanging on for 5, as he’s my favourite incantation so far but I digress.
Operation Volcano part 1 is written by Andrew Cartmel and drawn by Christopher Jones. The story sees the Doctor travel to Australia in the 60’s to the site of a crashed space ship. The comic relies heavily on characters from the extended Doctor Who universe with the ‘Counter Measures’ group and Group Captain Gilmore playing pivotal roles. I’m not overly familiar with this lot but that doesn’t affect the story telling one bit. It’s a mysterious, fast paced adventure with a lot going on: a good representation of a 7th Doctor adventure. My only gripe with this issue is that the Doctor and Ace are not in it enough, especially as this is an oversized first issue. However, Cartmel does capture the character’s voices very well even if they don’t play a big enough part.
I think this title will appeal to more ardent fans of the Doctor Who franchise, especially those who follow the audio adventures, but there is an overwhelming love for Sylvester McCoy's interpretation of the character which makes this a joy, if somewhat confusing, read.
It’s not just another day, it’s another New Comic Book Day.
As per usual there have been a number of comics worth reading out this week so let’s get straight to it, there’s Doctor Who to watch on Twitch, you know?
First up is the latest issue of Labyrinth: Coronation. In this issue Simon Spurrier manages to explain everything without giving it all away. This issue is like the moment in the original film when Sarah looks at all of the stuff in her bedroom and it’s all familiar, but the penny doesn’t quite drop.
Each month Spurrier and Bayliss produce the most marvellous comic; the narrative, the art, it all comes together to tell a tale of wonder and adventure. Plus, in issue 4 the threatening nature of the Labyrinth is upped a notch with the central villain managing to do something that David Bowie didn’t do as Jareth, become truly scary.
Labyrinth: Coronation from Boom! Studios is a superb example of taking a much loved story and creating a perfect companion piece.
Unlike Labyrinth, Star Trek Discovery: The Light Of Kahless is a poor companion to its source material. Although the story hasn’t been terrible, not gripping but passable, the artwork is still troublesome pushing the reader out of the comic and making it difficult to get engrossed in the narrative. It took me several attempts to read the entire issue. I wanted so much more from this but unfortunately Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson just couldn’t deliver. But a part of me is glad that I made it to the final few pages.
Judge Dredd Under Siege #1 also came out but I’ve written about that already…
Finally, there is the matter of The Amazing Spider-Man #800.
800!! That’s an impressive number (not 1000 like Action Comics but still…)
It’s been a while since I read a new Spider-Man comic, I gave up shortly after Dan Slott took over. I wasn’t much of a fan of his take on Spider-Man and to be honest still aren’t. That makes this milestone issue a bit of a disappointment because it’s all Slott, from cover to cover.
There’s a number of different artists working on different chapters of the story and I’ve nothing bad to say about any of them. The story itself however feels cumbersome and one long drawn out fight scene, desperately trying to be profound but constantly falling short of the mark. There is only one moment in the entire, 80 odd page, comic which I connected with on any emotional level. Unfortunately, I found myself rolling my eyes at most of the other ‘dramatic’ twists and turns.
It’s not a badly written comic, just not very spectacular. If you’ve enjoyed Dan Slott’s run on Spider-Man you’ll love this, if not you’ll be left disappointed like I was. There was a chance here to showcase more of the Spider-Man universe, to help easy readers through the transition from Dan Slott to Nick Spencer but instead they’ve gone with an oversized Slott issue.
I was expecting this comic to fill me with excitement for the new creators coming on board, to sell to me the idea of jumping back on the Spidey band wagon but it had the opposite effect. I’m less interested in getting back into Spider-Man than I was at the start of the year when the new creative team was announced.
Back to Twitch where William Hartnell’s Doctor is bluffing his way through some space adventure with three, very 60’s, companions.
Two Judges trapped inside a tower block on lock down. A tower block packed to the rafters with murderous inhabitants and overlooked by a maniacal overlord. The only option the Judges have is to go up, headlong into the violence that awaits them.
Sound familiar? Sounds like Dredd the movie doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This is Judge Dredd Under Siege, a new comic from IDW.
Although the basic premise is the same as the movie there are a number of differences that separate the two stories. The most obviously of which is that the villains of this piece are mutants, streaming in from the Wastelands. This allows Mark Russell, writer, and Max Dunbar, artist, to create some outlandish visuals and really play with the sci-fi elements of the Dredd universe. The movie was very ridged with a realistic aesthetic but Under Siege is more comical with a strong emphasis on the humour.
Max Dunbar draws a solid Judge Dredd, strong and powerful, which are also characteristics he fuses to his rendering of the Patrick Swayze Tower; the setting for the story. It is a massive, phallic symbol, highly detailed in each panel. The over bearing setting creates the tension in the opening pages which helps to detract from the ridiculousness of the mutants when they are finally introduced. The four armed, knife wielding maniac would be more ludicrous if it hadn’t been for the tone which had already been set. In fact, it’s almost a relief from the oppressiveness of the opening.
There is a juxtaposition between the comedy and violent underlying narrative. This is something that has defined Judge Dredd from the early days of 2000AD and Mark Russell handles the mix very well. There are some disturbing scenes but also some laugh out loud moments. Russell manages to make the transition from one moment to the next work without spoiling the joke or undermining the serious message a particular story element is portraying.
The imposing atmosphere that is essential for the narrative of this comic is mostly achieved through the colouring by Jose Luis Rio. He gives the Judges a bold colouring which stands out from the gloom that permeates the tower block setting. This grimness invites trepidation and is the overall feel of the comic until the violence starts. When this starts, the colours become brighter, more over the top like the violence itself.
Simon Bowland expertly places the speech and voice over text, of which there is a lot, in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the art or interfere with the atmosphere created by Dunbar and Rio. This is no easy task when trying to create a heightened sense of tension in a situation. A number of horror comics fail to achieve the atmosphere they aim for because the text destroys the mood of the images, but not here. Bowland makes subtle changes to the speech balloons to make it easy to tell who is talking and he also places them in a way that draws the reader to the focal point of the panel. This means that you are drawn to where the writer and artist want you look even after consuming the speech; this makes it difficult to skip through the pages without picking up on the mood so no matter how fast you read it, you still get the sense of intimidation.
The only real problem with this first issue is with the main villain, Talleyrand. Although barely featured in the comic itself, his presence is felt and doesn’t leave the best of impressions. The problem with the character is that he is a poor copy-cat of Lena Headey’s character from Dredd. He sits on his throne, lording it over his minions; he even has a maintenance worker to help him take control of the tower. Talleyrand is Ma-Ma but without the expert character portrayal by Headey. This over familiarity weakens the character and his impact on the story. Ultimately, the Tower and the Mutants pose a threat to Dredd and Beeny but Talleyrand does not.
Judge Dredd Under Siege has a familiar story, with some aspects a bit too familiar, but overall it is an enjoyable read. The script jumps effortlessly from serious drama to comical indulgence and back again without losing its audience. The artwork builds an impressive atmosphere and the narrative is an addictive page turner. If you enjoyed the Dredd movie you will love Under Siege.
Judge Dredd Under Siege
Published by IDW
Written by Mark Russell
Drawn by Max Dunbar
Colours by Jose Luis Rio
Letters by Simon Bowland
It’s not just the unusually long period of sunny weather that’s distracting me from doing what I should be doing. I made the mistake of gorging on a number of things which take up a lot of my spare time, so much so that I’ve not even started writing the planned posts for my site this week.
So, instead of writing what I was going to write about, here are a few things that have kept me distracted.
The End of Everything
Or more accurately, Jonathan Hickman’s run of the Avengers. I picked up the first issue a few weeks ago because I wanted something superhero-y to read; completely forgetting that Hickman’s run stretched over 44 issues of Avengers, 33 issues of New Avengers and several cross over events.
And once I’d started with that first three issue arc I was totally hooked. I hadn’t read any of it since the series finished with the Secret Wars event in 2015 and I had forgotten so much of it that it was almost like reading it for the first time. Unfortunately, I know where it’s heading and I have strong opinions about the end of the run but everything up to issue 2 of Secret Wars is pretty much amazing and the enjoyment of the journey far outweighs any disappointment of the final destination.
Hickman’s plotting is immense with a story that knows where it is going from the very beginning; elements of the first issue refer to sequences that happen 20, 30 or even 40 issues later. But despite the grandiose storyline Hickman’s real triumph is with the characters. His run examines the very nature of the Avengers, what it means to be an Avenger, and what it means to each individual to be a hero. Captain America’s journey is different to Ironman’s whose is different again to Reed Richards’. All of their life’s are put under the microscope to see how they deal with the inevitabilities of life and it makes for fascinating reading, especially as Hickman finds each character’s voice and makes his vast cast reflect every aspect of humanity.
The art shifts and changes as a multitude of artist help Hickman illustrate his vision. Some are better than others, I have written already about Deodato's wonderful work on the series, but for the most part the visuals are as pleasing as the script. Only one artist’s style made me cringe but considering the number of artists and a 100 odd issue run, one or two issues is a small price to pay.
I’m very near the end of this series which means I’ll have to dig out Secret Wars from whatever hole I’ve buried it in but I have totally enjoyed re-reading this masterpiece of storytelling.
Insert Clever Star Trek Pun
Last year Netflix put all of Start Trek on to their service. I started watching a few choice episodes, my favourite from each of the various incarnations but after catching some of series 6 on a terrestrial channel I made the decision to re-watch ALL of Deep Space 9.
I made it to episode 19 of series 5 last year and only skipped a few, mostly Ferengi based episodes. I took a break when other, new TV series were released but now I’m back on track, picking up where I left off and already I’m a good chunk into series 6.
DS9 is my favourite of the Star Trek series and the further into it you get the more addictive it becomes. This is partially due to the extended plot which stretches throughout the run; the last half of series 7 is basically one long story and in my view was a forerunner for the re-imaged Battlestar Galactica.
Just like Hickman’s Avengers, DS9 asks for commitment, not just to each episode but the series as a whole. And just like the aforementioned comic, the focus of this series are the characters and how they grow as everything starts to fall apart. There are moments early on in the character development which lead to massive storylines later in a series, or even 2 series’ down the line. The start of series 6 for example contains the start of Gul Ducat’s decent into madness and Captain Sisko’s actions dictate where he ends up at the end of series 7.
Not all of the episodes are great and some people have problems with the continuing soap opera aspects of the show but this is what endears me to it. Following the characters through their ‘mundane’ lives while one of the most ambitious Star Trek stories unfolds around them makes DS9 binge worthy TV.
I’ll not be watching anything else until I get to the very end.
A Spot of Listening
I’ve never really listened to podcasts but that is starting to change. I’m slowly being coerced into the talkative world and I’m starting to enjoy it.
There are two that I would recommend to people who have an interest in their subject matters.
The first I discovered through the creators other works. For a while now I’ve been watching Strip Panel Naked on Youtube and reading (the now Eisner nominated) Panel X Panel digital magazine. Both of these are dedicated to looking at the craft of comic book production and Panel X Panel especially really gets to the heart of what makes a comic tick by involving the creators of a specific comic in each issue, allowing them to break down the processes. It is a great read and worth the small subscription fee.
From there I found Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s comics focused podcast Letters & Lines. This is fairly new and very in depth. Both Hassan and Aditya Bidikar know their stuff but more importantly they love talking about it. It’s not a podcast where they gush about what they love and review the most recent comics, for that you’ll need to go elsewhere. In Letters & Lines the hosts discuss the processes of creating comics. In each episode they come to the table with a subject and then break it down through back and forth conversation. One of the best aspects of the podcast is that they look at elements of comics that usually get overlooked; the colouring, the letters, production, and editing. It is for listeners interested in the creative process not necessarily just the final product.
You know when you read a comic and know it’s good, you can just feel it but can’t quite put your finger on why it works so well? Then Letters & Lines is for you because they explain what goes on behind the scenes to make a comic a work of art.
You can find Letters & Lines on Soundcloud here.
The second podcast I listen to is a completely different kettle of fish. It’s not even about comics!
Yeah, I know!
Hammer House of Podcast is a look at the Hammer Horror films, in order, from the 1955’s Quartermass XPeriment to 1976’s To the Devil…A Daughter. Hosted by L.M. Myles and Paul Cornell, each episode covers each aspect of one film, with the hosts discussing what they liked or disliked; viewing it from a contemporary standpoint to see if it has stood the test of time.
Obviously a love and certain knowledge of the Hammer Horror movies in question help while listening to the episodes but I haven’t seen a couple of the films they have talked about and I’ve still enjoyed hearing the exceptional hosts talk about it. In fact, their discussion is probably better than at least one of the films they have covered so far. And I have now watched The Abominable Snowman which I hadn’t seen before but completely fell in love with. It is an outstanding film that I wouldn't have thought about if this podcast hadn't introduced it too me. (it appears I have as much trouble writing ‘abominable’ as Paul Cornell has saying it so I’m sorry if I type it incorrectly. Probably best just to move on).
The two hosts exhibit an obvious friendship and their discussions are very natural; it’s easy to imagine them sat around a warm fire in the local pub. The episodes are a relaxed affair although there is a touch of tension as you wait, patiently, for Paul to say something that Lizbeth finds ridiculous. It is a very easy way to spend an hour which I would recommend to people who love film discussions, especially if you are into Hammer movies.
And if you support their Patreon, they run an additional podcast each month looking at other British Horror films, some recommended by their followers. My personal request, and one of my favourite films ever made, The Haunting is due to be covered on the 27th May so I’m looking forward to that.
The podcast can be found on a number of platforms but their website is here..
And on top of all that I am still trying to keep up with the weekly comics. The trouble is that if you start to let a series slide it is difficult to catch up. With a number of titles I am reading I am 2 or 3 months behind but that’s just going to keep building until I reach the point where giving up on them is easier than catching up. Unless of course the entire comics industry implodes and not a single readable comic is released in the next 6 months.
Last week there was the amazing second issue of Crude from Image comics. You can find my review here just to see how much I liked it.
There was also the release of the two sports titles I’m currently reading, Fence #6 and Dodge City #3. Both from Boom! Studios and both interesting for different reasons. I’m finding Dodge City more of a throwaway title; an enjoyable quick read but I’m not invested in the characters or the sport. Fence however has captivated me. The very limited setting and manga inspired artwork gives the comic a simple, yet effective, style but it’s the characters that are so enriching and engaging. CS Pacat is able to dig down deep into each member of her cast and bring out their inner workings. They are only on issue 6 but already we have learned so much about the central characters; their strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad this comic became an ongoing and I can’t wait for each issue to come out. It demonstrates effortlessly how less can be more. The creators focus on the most important aspects of the narrative through the script and the art.
IDW released Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-suckers which found itself in my reading list thanks to fond memories of watching the wonderful movie with Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, the comic fails to amuse and falls somewhere between fan homage and naff rip-off. There is some good colour work and the lettering stands out but the narrative is bland B-Movie fare, and not in a knowing 'wink-wink' way. Tadd Galusha produces some good character designs but just like a cheap B- Movie, the characters don’t really shine out and are very wooden within the panels.
And what’s coming up this week, titles that I’m hoping I have time to read? There is the second issue of Star Trek Discovery: Succession and the latest issue of East of West; becasue you can't have too much Hickman. Hopefully I’ll have something to say about them before the end of the week.
My intention is to post more on here but first I have to rid myself of these other distractions. So it’s back to DS9 where Sisko and crew have just liberated the space station from the evil Dominion.
Last Saturday was Free Comic Book day and saw a number of comic shops across America put on special events to celebrate, with a host of creator signings. Over here in the UK, not so much unfortunately. Either there wasn’t anything happening or it wasn’t very well advertised. Definitely near me the best I got was some discounted stock and a selection of the free comics available.
However, a large crowd seemed to gather at a number of shops bringing customers in and hopefully introducing them to some new comics. That is, after all, the point of the day. And in that respect it worked on me because I have at least three new comics to add to my pull list.
Firstly, Transformers Unicron from IDW. I’ve dipped in and out of IDWs Transformers continuity, Originally I was heavily into it but soon dropped away, then picking up the odd run here and there. I grew up on the Generation One Transformers stories and they shaped my reading habit when I was younger so those giant fighting robots have a place in my heart that not even Michael Bay and his God awful films can eradicate.
Therefore, I was drawn in by the Unicron introduction story written by John Barber and illustrated by Alex Milne. It was familiar but different. I could tell a lot has happened in that world but didn’t have any problems following the story. The Unicron story line promises to end this iteration of the Transformers and that alone makes it intriguing but if the writing and art are the same standard as in the FCBD offering then it should be a good read.
The next title that I find myself dying to read more of is Aftershock’s Relay. The introductory issue is beautifully drawn and reads like a cross between the Martian and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, the main theme and narrative of this 0 issue is very similar to Arthur C Clarkes opening chapters for the novel version of 2001. The highlight of the comic is that it sets up a world full of potential, a proper glimpse into the possibilities of the monthly comic.
It is a perfect hook for the ongoing so what more can you ask for from a free comic? I’ll be buying the first issue when it comes out in July. Well done to Zac Thompson and Andy Clarke, you sold your story well.
Finally, this one page of art is enough to get me on board with this new title:
This is the single most exciting page of comic book art I have seen all year.
New writer (Jody Hauser), new artist (Rachael Stott) and all new Doctor. The excitement on her face in this image mirrors my own. The new series, and this comic, can’t come soon enough for me.