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.
We all know what happens in a post-apocalyptic world where there isn’t any power, petrol is scarce and the population has been decimated but what if the equivalent of a nuclear Armageddon happened in a fantasy realm? What if there aren’t any heroes and the magic is scarce and what’s left of the population has formed factions against each other?
If this intrigues you then you should be picking up Coda #1 from Boom! Studios, released this week.
Coda is written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Matias Bergara. It tells the story of Hum, a wandering bard who manages to find himself in a scrape wherever he goes. Luckily for Hum he travels on a rare Unicorn whose viciousness is only equalled by his loyalty.
The world that Spurrier and Bergara have created is a sprawling fantasy populated with an array of outlandish characters. All walks of life and villainy are represented with the central character being far from a holier than thou fellow himself. The world has been tainted by the mystical event which has robbed it of most of the magic and this is evident thanks to the multitude of gruesome scenes and quirky illustrative style.
The opening starts with the hero, Hum, mining the innards of a rotting dragon who has yet to leave the world of the living. It screams in anger and frustration but also pleads for help and companionship. This lost soul, a remnant of the magical world, and the duality it displays is a fair representation of this comic’s narrative. Spurrier has written a comic that overlays the usual fantasy elements of stories like Lord of the Rings, onto the harsher, bleak world views of The Walking Dead. Coda is a sword and sorcery version of Jonathan Hickman’s East of West.
Matias Bergara’s artwork also has this uncomfortable duality to it. On the one hand it is bright and fun with playful character design however the putrid colour tones which feature heavily on each page give the landscape the feel of rotting flesh, of degradation. The setting is deliberately uninviting so the reader latches onto the character they are given as a hero and follows him, hopefully to a better place.
Large vistas drown out the characters giving the comic the sense of grandeur and when the story rolls into Ridgetown, the vast tower city, the scope of the world that Spurrier is building is revealed. The city scape extends forever upwards and the cast of characters inhabiting the city are varied and complex. Comedy and tragedy play out through the various scenes, linked by the semi-hero Hum. It is a wonder to behold.
Coda is a fast paced, adventurous romp with a complex central character and one of the best steads committed to paper. Spurrier knows how to write fantasy with enough familiarity to hook the reader but also plays with the genre to create scenes reminiscent of 60’s road movies or Shakespearian comedies. The art work feeds the wayward narrative, again mixing up genres to create a new visual language for this new world. Every aspect of this first issue, including the colour work and lettering, works together to produce a uniquely enthralling read.
Published by Boom! Studios
Written by Simon Spurrier
Illustrated by Matias Bergara
Colours by Michael Doig
Letters by Colin Bell
I missed a new comic book day post last week for a number of reasons. One of which is that I am currently re-reading Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers. I was looking for something to read and picked up the first few issues to kill time, now I have the entire run out next to my bed. That’s well over 70 single issues and two event series.
On the whole, the entire run is a good read. Hickman’s plotting and scripting is excellent although his commitment to the long game can put some people off. Not me though, I love it. And the artwork too, I love that most of the time. There are a few moments I’m not to keen, like Leinil Francis Yu’s work on Avengers #19 where a moment of threatening behaviour and possible torture is depicted more like a scene from lesbian erotica; Yu’s work in this issue can best be summed up as tits and arse. However, this is an exception rather than a rule.
For example, Mike Deodato’s work in the New Avengers at this time is outstanding and it is issue 9 of that series that I'm going to look at here.
As way of narrative background: Thanos has sent his Black Order along with an invasion force to find the last of the Infinite gems. If you’ve been to the cinema recently this might be a bit familiar. In the New Avengers #9 each of the Illuminati (see years of Marvels comics for their back story) stand to defend their respective homes against the onslaught and keep hidden the whereabouts of the final Gem.
The confrontations in each location take place in this single issue which is a lot of action and story to pack into a single monthly comic but what Deodato manages to do is tell the reader everything they need to know about each of the Illuminati and their current situation in a single page. This makes it easy to speed up the action sequences and almost skip to the end without making the reader feel like they have missed something.
I’ve picked three pages which best illustrate Deodato’s approach and the impact that a single page can have on a set of characters and the narrative outcomes.
Firstly, let’s look at Black Panther. Wakanda is under siege but they are ready and holding back the initial invasion force. Then into the field steps the Black Dwarf. He is introduced in a standard rectangle panel, striding towards the reader. He is over confident, smug and full of himself. Deodato draws him small in the panel and surrounded by his speech, emphasising the notion that he is all talk.
In the next panel, Black Panther is shown in action, leaping and fighting through the panel. His speech is short and snappy; he is a man engrossed in the moment. This side by side comparison illustrates the difference between the two characters: one is unmistakably sure of himself while the other is prepared for the fight.
The final panel of the page shows that Black Panther is in fact the better of the two. His positioning is higher in the panel, above the striking fist of the Black Dwarf. The Panther’s hand is placed firmly on his enemy’s head, holding him down and out of the two of them, only the Panther's fist looks like it is going to hit the target. There is no doubt in this panel who the victor is going to be and this page acts as an allegory for the rest of the Wakandan fight so that when the narrative returns to this section of the story, the battle is over with no surprise as to the outcome. This single page sums up the entire fight in Wakanda.
Later in the issue The Jean Grey School is under attack from Corvus Glaive and his hoards. The X-Men are making a stand and on this page we can see Wolverine throwing everything he has towards the enemy, and the reader. Wolverine is the definition of determination in this illustration. He shatters through a wall of ice, as seen behind him, but also out of the boarders of the panel. His need to win is too big to be contained.
Unfortunately, in the next panel, the reader is shown how easy the mutant is stopped. The long panel has Corvus on one side and the speared Wolverine on the other; a long, metal spear separates them as if to say that Wolverine was nowhere near victory. He has been subdued and put in his place by Corvus and Deodato, who draws the X-man hunched and pushed almost off the page.
The following two panels highlight the defeat. The first of the two has the fiery background with solid silhouettes in the foreground, reducing Wolverine to a shape instead of the brash, bold character at the top of the page. The last panel goes one step further, as the foreground becomes a confusion of detritus with Wolverine's silhouette lost in chaos. He has been defeated, utterly.
As with the Black Panthers page, this one is also representative of the greater X-Men struggle. They give it their all and never surrender but ultimately they are defeated by a superior force.
Finally, Namor. The following page says everything you need to know about the Submariner at this point in the story. Proxima Midnight has just arrived at Atlantis and in the first panel of the page she is towering above the once great superhero. He is crouched, head down and almost swallowed in shadow. The reader and Proxima know that the fight has been won even before it has begun.
Deodato uses up over half of the page for this single panel because this image is all that is needed. Everything that happens with, and because of, Namor in this issue is because he is a broken character as shown here on this page. Atlantis is lost and it’s king is ready to sell his soul at the first opportunity. The betrayal from Namor which comes later in this issue comes as no surprise because the reader can see from this page alone that he has already been defeated.
What is also interesting is the colouring of the page by Frank Martin. In the previous two examples each of the pages have represented victory in one form or another. The first is Black Panthers and the second Corvus Glaives. In each case the over riding colour theme is red and orange which is very dynamic. In this page, Namor is washed with a cold blue with ice white light shining down on him. The colouring highlights his defeat and is a contrast to the brighter, winning feel of the other pages.
There are a number of big, world changing battles that take place in the pages of New Avengers #9 and this is only possible because of the economy of Deodato’s artwork. He aptly illustrates the conflicts between two characters and their relating forces through a couple of pages, usually with one page acting as narrative for the entire battle. This helps to give the massive storyline by Hickman weight and believability without having to run to hundreds of pages. The first few panels on the pages tell the reader everything they need to know about the heroes/villains and by the end of the page the outcome of each conflict is depicted with a clear and concise winner.
Hickman’s run on the Avengers fills so many issues but when he works with artists like Mike Deodato, it’s no wonder that his narrative and vision is so huge. Anything is possible when you can cover a worldwide invasion in a single, 25 page issue.
New Avengers #9
Published in 2013 by Marvel Comics
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Artist Mike Deodato
Colours by Frank Martin
It’s been a mammoth week for comics. There have been a tonne of great reads hitting the shelves this week and of course the biggest of the big Action Comics #1000.
I don’t tend to read DC comics; I usually give Supergirl a read whenever they reboot to see what they do with her character or pick up a title when one of my favourite writers/artists are on board. Very rarely do I read a title for longer than a year though. However, Action Comics #1000 is a mile stone like no other, surely? This is a comic that’s going to be extremely popular and sell out everywhere. And I was definitely interested to see what content DC would put in a comic like that.
Most of the stories within are pleasurable, heart-warming Superman tales which remind you why the character has survived for so long and why he means so much to so many.
But I guess the biggest piece in the anthology is the introduction of Brian Michael Bendis to the DC universe. This is a massive steal from Marvel and promises big things ahead for DC in general. Action Comics #1000 features the introduction to Bendis’ Superman story and it is Bendis all over. It’s bold and brash with some dialogue that just grates when reading. Fans of Bendis, of which there are plenty, are going to love this. He is going to do to Superman what he did with the Avengers and that’s not a bad thing. Bendis writes comics that are the equivalent of Summer Blockbuster movies, he is the Michael Bay of comics which is perfectly fine if you like that type of thing. I am sure that the new Bendis helmed Superman comics are going to be a massive and hopefully give DC a boost.
Elsewhere on the shelf there is:
30 Days of Night #5
I love this comic. The script, the art and the colours; oh, the wonderful colours. Check out my review on comiconverse.com for further ravings on this.
Crow: Momento Mori #2
Someone is going to like this. I wasn’t taken with the first issue and this second issue isn’t much better. Most of it is about the central character and the journey that led him to the terrorist incident that ended his life. And, at best, it’s dull. At worst, clichéd and insulting to the reader’s sensitivities. The art work is good, better than issue 1, however it isn’t enough to make this readable for anyone other than die hard Crow fans. Look it up if you must but I’ll not be returning for the third issue.
I’m really enjoying this title, partly because I’m a fencing fan but also because this is a very focused character piece with a streak of humour running through it. The overall aesthetic is manga in style with cartoon emotional faces is odd panels and minimalistic settings for fast paced action sequences. These elements work very well together thanks to Johanna the Mad's simple but precise line work and character placement with in the panels. C.S. Pacat knows her audience and gives them exactly what they want which is teenage, school drama with a sporting edge.
This is an amazing comic and volume 1 has also been released this week so there is plenty of it out there to feast your eyes on.
And my review of the latest issue will be on comiconverse.com soon.
Kong on the Planet of the Apes #6
After the violence of the last issue, this finale has the traditional Kong ending with a Planet of the Apes twist. Even though you can see it coming it is still expertly executed and makes the final issue a perfect ending to the series. It’s almost a shame that it has come to an end only because I have thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Ferrier’s take on the Ape characters. In this series he has proven he can create something new using something old.
Add to that Carlos Magno’s art work, he was born to draw Apes, and you are left with an exceptional series. I should have written a full review for this issue, maybe I’ll get chance to come back to it. In the meantime, I’ll raise a glass to the clever creators.
Lucy Dreaming #2
I haven’t read this yet…
I loved the first issue and, unless something terrible has happened between issues, I expect this issue will be as good so I’m getting behind it. Go and buy it, support this title. And if you hate it let me know and I’ll issue a general apology or something.
The Highest House makes me feel claustrophobic and have attacks of vertigo at the same time. Mike Carey writes a sprawling script which Peter Gross manages to squeeze into the pages. There is a labyrinth of panels and conversations which wind around and above and between and beneath. The design of the comic is a work of architecture reflecting the setting and the world building of the creators. It is engrossing and a beauty to behold.
Star Trek Discovery: Succession #1
Finally, a ST: Discovery comic that reflects the TV series. The previous issues have been a let-down but here Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson have captured the voice of the show, albeit the Mirror Universe aspect. There is an element of drama mixed with humour all balancing on the shoulders of the characters. Angel Hernandez and Mark Roberts have worked some magic with the artwork making the overall comic feel like a Star Trek Episode, similar to the recent 2018 Annual. Unlike the annual, however, the story here is fresh and intriguing. Suspense and drama stalk the corridors of the Terran Empire and, as it’s the Mirror Universe, no-one is quite what you would expect.
Phew, that’s a lot of reading for one week. Anyway, here’s some images that might convince you to pick one or two up.
Last week was a slightly disappointing comic week, although on reflection I read some great comics and really enjoyed Frank Miller’s new Xerxes: the rise and fall of something or other. In contrast, this week I have been inundated with a stack of excellent reads. A few ‘meh’s’ crept in but on the whole there is a wonderful array of entertaining stories and outstanding works of comic book art.
First up Boom’s Planet of the Apes: Ursus #4. It’s Planet of the Apes and it’s been many years since I’ve read an Ape comic I haven’t liked (I didn’t read the Green Lantern Crossover though) so already off the fence before picking this one up. David F Walker’s story is a cleverly woven retelling of the original movies with a deeper examination of the racism inherent in the Apes world. The central character is beautifully written, full of depth and character.
This issue sees a change in artist with Lalit Kumar Sharma taking over from Chris Mooneyham. Luckily Jason Wordie is still on colours and manages to bring some consistence to the aesthetic as Sharma’s style is more cartoony than the superb Mooneyham’s rendering. The change in art doesn’t affect the story telling too much but there are moments when I wondered what a panel would look if Mooneyham had drawn it.
Planet of the Apes: Ursus. Published by Boom! Studios. Written by David F Walker. Art Lalit Kumar Sharma. Colours Jason Wordie
Another title that I enjoyed less this month than last was Dry County from Image Comics. The difference is that I wasn’t that taken with the first issue. The story telling is mundane and lacks any sense of drama. I put this down to the central character being thoroughly unlikable and the ‘underground comic’ art style becomes tedious very quickly. Elements of the narrative are intriguing with a slow mystery bubbling away but in the end it just isn’t enough.
Dry County published by Image Comics. Written and illustrated by Rich Tommaso
Dodge City #2 from Boom! Studios Boom! Box imprint is a fast paced, young adult drama. The characters are diverse and larger than life. Set around a sport that is fast and full on, Josh Trujillo writes a script which reflects this. Dramatic twists keep coming as the history of the team begins to unfold and the newbie captain learns about the uphill struggle facing him. Cara McGee’s art is full of energy and the layouts are simple but effective. Dodge City is a fun and easy read which is ideal for a teenage reader.
Dodge City published by Boom! Studios. Written by Josh Trujillo and Art by Cara McGee. Colours Goncalo Lopes.
Robocop: Citizens Arrest #1
You remember Robocop, yeah? That policeman’s brain in the chunky cyber-tech body? Well, people keep wheeling him out to fight new crimes, never letting him retire. Except that’s exactly what Brian Wood has done with this new series from Boom! Studios. The concept of the comic is that a new breed of law enforcement is needed in the future and, as if commenting on modern culture, the solution lays in the hands of the average citizen. Apps! Apps are the way of the future and getting monetary rewards for squealing on no good criminals. What could possibly go wrong with that idea?
Robocop: CA is an entertaining peak at the dangers of technology when used for all the wrong reasons but it’s most fascinating aspect is how Wood deals with the redundant Officer Murphy. Jorge Coelho’s art work captures the sublime atmosphere of the original film and tie-in comics while at the same time feels modern. Robocop himself is especially well drawn, looking like a Frank Miller creation through and through.
I enjoyed this more than I thought I was going to. I was ready to be snarky about it but Woods writing and Coelho’s art make this ludicrous idea work.
Robocop: Citizens Arrest published by Boom! Studios. Written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Jorge Coelho.
Brothers Dracul #1 from Aftershock.
I’ve seen this referred to as Dracula Year one but I think that does it a disservice. Instead of getting straight into the bloodsucking, this comic delves into the life of the character that, supposedly, inspired the original Dracula by Bram Stoker. The Artwork is brutal in places and extremely detailed with some excellent colour work. Check out my full review on comiconverse.com for the full run down.
Brothers Dracul published by Aftershock comics. Written by Cullem Bunn and illustrated by Mirko Colak. Colours by Maria Santaolalla
Next up, the first of two Russian centric comics that came out this week. The Dead Hand from Image comics is an espionage story about an aging spy. During the early 90’s the hero of the piece hunts down dangerous weapons in Russia and is shocked by what he finds. Years later he works in a laid back, pleasant town where nothing ever happens. The perfect retirement for the spy character. That is, until someone comes nosing around.
A wonderfully written story with a big twist really captures the reader and drags you into the story. The opening has a Captain America sense to it with the idea of an American Boy Scout fighting for all the right causes but this cliché is subverted just enough to make the narrative work in a logical way. Stephen Mooney brings a superhero element to his layouts and a espionage look to his panels, mixing both styles with the confidence of a seasoned artist. Jordie Bellaire adds her amazing talent to the colours and the final product is a wonder to read.
The Dead Hand published by Image Comics. Written by Kyle Higgins. Art and colour by Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire. Pick this up if you can but not before (not that I want to have favourites but..)
I loved this character driven family drama. Yes, it's not your average family becasue the central character did despicable and violent things while working for the Russian government. And yes, he hid that from his son by telling him he was selling insurance. But the consequences are dealt with in a very emotional, family orientated way. There is a mystery at the heart of this narrative which only just starts to unfold towards the end of the issue but by then Steve Orlando has already grabbed you by the throat with his heart-breaking story. Garry Brown produces some moving imagery and uses the panel layouts and page transitions to set a melancholic tone to the entire comic.
I have written further about this earlier in the week (here). I can’t recommend this title highly enough. If you only read one comic this week, I’d make it Crude.
But hopefully you can pick up a few of the others as well.
Don’t forget there is also Sleepless #5 which I have yet to read but am looking forward to. And Vs #3 if you are still following it. I really appreciate the artwork on this Image title but I just can’t get into the story, in fact I gave up on this issue. It’s just not for me but I know it will find an audience out there.
And apparently Aftershocks Anthology: Shock was out this week but my local shop did not have it in (I have it on order so I’m not sure where it is….). This is an oversized book of a comic with an array of amazing talent. I cannot wait to read it so, sorry local comic book shop, I will be in everyday badgering you for it.
A great week this week with plenty of good reading. I’ll leave you with some pretty images to get you in the reading mood.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.