This year has started on a high and I’ve been busy, from a comic point of view. So without a further ado let’s have a quick summary.
Last week saw a number of worthwhile comics hit the shelves. A new Captain Marvel from Marvel was out, written by Kelly Thompson. It was an ‘okay’ start to a series. Not mind blowing and was clearly just a set up for what is to come but it set the tone and direction that Thompson will be going in: namely witty dialogue and fast paced action. (I know, a Marvel title. I thought it was time to dip my toe back into some Big 2 books. How will that work out? Well, just read on)
There was also a new Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Published by Image Comics, this new series is going to be a collection of one-shots with a couple of two parters, if I remember correctly from Brubakers newsletter. I love a bit of Brubaker/Phillips and this oversized first issue was a good way to get back into the series. Although I did think it lacked direction and relied to much on knowing previous story lines; which was a shame. But worth the read, and the monthly has all of those extras that the trade won’t have so buy it now so you don’t miss out.
(If you have missed out, don’t worry, they have announced a second printing!)
In other news I had three reviews published over on Monkeys Fighting Robots. Two for comics I enjoyed and one for MURDER FALCON which is an excellent comic. Excellent, I tells thee!!
Follow the links for the reviews of:
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #3
Spider King: Frostbite
Murder Falcon #4
This week was a bit more of a mixed bag. I managed to get an early preview of Aliens: Resistance from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Brian Wood and drawn by Robert Carey. It’s atmospheric and a slow build but it is what you would expect from a first issue of an Aliens story. My full review is here.
One result of reading the comic is that I bought myself Alien: Isolation for our X-Box. I’ve so far spent 2 ½ hours wandering down dark corridors picking up scrap. I’m not a gamer so it may take me a while before I see an actual Alien but I shall persevere.
The final part of Days of Hate came out which didn’t end with quite the explosion I was expecting but it definitely had a fitting end for the type of comic it has been. I loved it and it was easily one of my favourite comics from last year. It you didn’t read it I seriously recommend picking up the trade collections. It has some of the best sequential art I have seen in a long time.
There was also Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #3. See previous posts about my problems with this comic. It hasn’t got any better and any review I would write would probably boil down to ‘massive disappointment’ or ‘actually dreadful’. I regret having read it.
Black Widow #1 was better (see review here) but was not as 'grindhouse' as I was expecting from The Soska Sisters but it has a good set up and 4 more issues to go. Yes, another Marvel title! This is going well isn’t it…
Unfortunately, not. I also read Invaders #1 believing it would be a good way to get back into Marvel. I enjoyed the old series and was always partial to a Namor story. This comic was, however, another disappointment. There is a poignant war story desperate to get out but any credibility is ruined in the opening sequence by out of place, clichéd ‘comic’ sound effects. The lettering stands out so much from the artwork it’s as if it is making a mockery of the narrative. This spoilt the rest of the comic for me. I also (possibly as a result) couldn’t get behind the framing narrative of the comic and ended up not being convinced to re-enter the world of Superheroes. Maybe I shall try again. Maybe not.
As a side note, I picked up Supergirl: Being Super in its collected form and have been greatly impressed by what I’ve read. Mariko Tamaki’s script is brilliant, capturing the essence of a teenage Kara Danvers while the art work by Joelle Jones is superb. The comic has energy and the power to surprise. I was blown away by it.
Aside from the reviews, I have also written another long-ish essay about an aspect comic book layout/design. This one came about because I couldn’t think of any recent examples of an artist using a two-page spread to great effect. This led me to dragging out a whole host of comics from my collection and writing about 3000 words, basically, about how wrong that initial thought was.
If you have some time and fancy a read it’s the post before this one so fairly easy to find.
I have been reading through The System of Comics by Thierry Groensteen and when I reached the section where he talks about the ‘double page spread’ it made me think about the modern American comics I read and the fact that they don’t appear to take advantage of the full, two page vista very often.
I could think of a couple of examples from older comics but could not put my finger on any recent reads which had struck me, except for one which I will get to later.
In light of this I went looking for a reason why this might be the case but what I found is a surprising number of perfect examples of comics using the two adjacent pages as a visual tool to aid the storytelling of the comic.
It is not a technique which is used often, even from issue to issue let alone from page to page, and there are potentially a number of reasons for this. However, it is not a tool that has been forgotten entirely and is still used to great effect.
The concept of the Double Page Spread is simple: when you read a comic and open it up, the very first thing that you see is a two-page spread of panels, each containing an image. Then you focus on the left hand page and finally on to the top left panel where you begin to read. Subconsciously you have already digested the visual layout of both pages and made a mental note of anything out of the ordinary.
A clever creator can manipulate the readers view of the pages before they have even started reading simply by the design and overall aesthetic of the two pages. For example, if each page contained the same number of panels in exactly the same layout but one of the panels on the second page had a distinctly different colouring, the readers eye would be drawn to it before reading either page. On one level the reader would acknowledge the stand out panel, maybe even engage with it, which in turn will influence the way the narrative is taken in.
A perfect example of this is in Daredevil #228 by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. In the story Matt Murdock confronts the Kingpin at the bottom of the seventeenth comic page. As you turn the page you are greeted with two pages of conflict (Fig. 1). The most noticeable panel out of all 14 panels is the final one at the bottom of the right hand page. It is a page wide panel coloured entirely in red. The panel above is similar but with jagged black lines detracting from the pure block of colour. Compared to the rest of the panels, which contain figures fighting and very little else, the last panel is visually striking. Having acknowledged the final panel of the last page the reader knows that a fight sequences is to follow and in conjunction with this blood red imagery on the right hand page, the reader is lead to a certain conclusion about the fight; you instinctively know that it isn’t going to end well for one of the characters. This heightens the suspense of the scene because it is no longer just another superhero fisticuffs, there are going to be serious consequences, there is going to be blood.
These two pages are designed in a way to tease the reader with an ending that in turn enhances the narrative across all the panels. This type of layout design, to create an involuntary response, is similar to the use of dramatic music in a movie. The creator is gently nudging the viewer towards a particular mind set, to expect a certain outcome, and therefore readying them for the scare or violence or whatever is to come.
The same thing can be accomplished on a single page in a comic or even throughout an entire issue but the double page spread is a rarity. One of the reasons for this might be down to the lack of editorial control that the writers and artists have, especially in the Big Two publishers. A superhero comic may get commissioned with a set number of pages but the layout of the final published comic may be out of the control of the creators. Unless a double page spread is submitted which actually contains panels or images that cross the centre of the page, as seen below in Fiona Staples’s beautiful splash page from Saga #6 (Fig. 2), then there is no guarantee that the pages will end up side by side. Mainstream monthly comics tend to have adverts inserted throughout which breaks up the momentum of the page turning narrative, especially if the page transitions are not fluid. Trying to match one page against another is hard enough, and when you factor in reprinted collections or digital reading, the position of the pages often does not remain reflect an artist’s intention.
In DC’s New 52 Supergirl comic which started in 2011, the side by side page layout in the monthlies did not always match the soft cover collections. In most cases this did not affect the narrative but if you look at a particular sequence from issue 4 (Fig. 3) you can see how moving the page can affect the storytelling.
In the initial printing of issue 4, comic pages 7 and 8 sit next to each other as a double page spread. The panels, all the width of the page, depict Kara breaking out of her incarceration and fighting through armed guards to escape. At one point Mr Tycho, the villain of the piece, requests that a particular artefact is kept safe. This page contains an element of mystery and there is a determination in Kara, the purpose of which is yet to be discovered by the reader. Turn the page and the answer to both of these mini-mysteries is revealed as Kara is reunited with her Supergirl costume. As narratives go it is not the biggest, most suspenseful of story elements but it does set a pace for that part of the comic and for a number of pages. It is a sequence that makes the reader question the motivations of the characters and therefore helps with the development of said characters.
In the soft cover collection Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton published in 2012, the way the pages fall is slightly different. Pages 8 and 9 are the ones that share the double page spread. When you look at these two pages together at a glance, the first thing that you notice, before starting to read, is Kara in her Supergirl costume. This is because it takes up half a page and the bright colouring is contrasted against the dull browns of the space ship and its crew. As a result, the preceding page is taken in a different light, the reader now knows what Mr Tycho is trying to protect and where Kara is heading.
The overall narrative is not changed but the pacing of the moment has. It could be argued that from a visual perspective, pages 8 and 9 work better side by side because panels 3 and 4 depict Kara flying directly towards the final panel of the right hand page. Her destination is evident and the intended outcome obvious. The three panels are linked by the narrative element and, in the collection at least, by the panels positioning; they work together in the overall page layout. The top half of each page features the villains fighting against Supergirl, whereas the bottom of each pages features Kara’s progression back to Supergirl.
Whichever layout works better, the fact that the short term narrative is altered poses a problem for creators when producing the original work. If the book layouts can potentially alter the narrative and pacing it would surely be in the best interests to limit this, the easiest approach of which would be to concentrate on single page layouts instead of a double page layout.
The relationship between left and right page, and the transition from one to the other, does not have to contain any narrative importance. The link may purely be for emphasis of a moment in time or even just an easy way to get the reader from one panel to the next without breaking the flow of the story. A recent example of this is in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (legacy numbering 802) published in 2018. Comic Page 10 ends with Spider-Man, cast half in shadow, looking up towards the top panel on the right hand page. He has just crashed a party and received a surprise from the Kingpin which has left him shocked. At this moment Spider-Man is the underdog, caught unawares and unprepared for the situation he has just dropped in on. The upper hand is with the Kingpin who stands tall in the centre of the top panel on page 11. The final panel on the left leads, via Spider-man’s desperate glare, directly up to the Kingpin at the top of the following page (Fig. 4).
Through this page transition the reader is shown both the vulnerability of Spider-Man and the majesty of the Kingpin. It’s an important moment for both characters and the story but it could still easily work with a page turn. You would still move from the bottom of one page with Spider-Man looking up at you to the Kingpin looking down. The emotional impact is still there either way however, in this particular moment, the page transition makes the moment more fluid and is a nice touch to the page layout.
A more exciting use of a page transition can be seen in issue 40 of East of West. Image Comics provides an advantage for its creators, like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, over the Big Two publishers because it gives them greater control over their comics. This works in Hickman and Dragotta’s favour because they design each issue of East of West from cover to cover, choosing the layout and content for every page.
The transition from page 14 to page 15 (Fig. 5) is especially interesting because, not only does it lead the reader from one page to another, it breaks the usual conventions of reading an American Comic book page. Page 14 reads like most of the other pages in the comic, starting with a widescreen panel and stepping down in a usual Z-path reading pattern but when you get to the bottom of the page, where the character Death ignites the engine blast, your vision is drawn uncontrollably directly to the right and then up, across the large panel on page 15 to the top of the page where you read the first panel on the page out of the usual order.
Dragotta and Martins image in that large panel is a direct line from the bottom right of the left page to the top right of the right page. The simple, arrow like image forces the reader to buck convention and read the page in reverse. The dialogue at the top of the right page links directly with the dialogue at the top of the left page and the entire double page spread acts like a circle leading the reader from the top of the left page, down and round back to the top. It is an extremely clever piece of art work and also has narrative merit as it portrays the strength of Death’s character. By manipulating the reader physically and subconsciously the creators are expressing Death’s strength of character and influence on the world around him.
A double page spread can be used for a number of different reasons, in a number of different ways. The East of West example above demonstrates that two pages of well-designed layout can speak a lot to a particular character. When used wisely creators can use the two pages to reflect upon and even compare specific characters within their narrative.
In the 1990’s Grant Morrison story Gothic for Legends of the Dark Knight published by DC. The story pitted Batman against a supernatural villain called Mr Whisper. With Klaus Janson on art duties, they use the traditional ‘destroy Gotham’ plot line to highlight Batman’s modern sensibilities by comparing him to a villain stuck in the past. The costumes that the character’s wear are a good example of this comparison as they couldn’t be much more different: one dressed in an outlandishly designed bat outfit and the other looking like a University lecturer from the 1970’s.
In part 2, issue 7 of Legends of the Dark Knight, there are two pages that, next to each other, highlights the differences between the two characters brilliantly (Fig. 6). On pages 22 and 23 the hero and villain are in the middle of a high rise struggle resulting in each of them in turn taking a tumble towards the ground. On page 22 the reader is shown how Batman fights against the fall, struggling to save his life and even sacrificing elements of himself, as represented by his clock, to survive. On the opposite page the reader gets to witness Mr Whisper’s fall and his reaction, which is to do nothing.
The pages are layered out in a similar style with a series of long panels on the first half of the page followed by a single page-wide panel and then two panels in the final row. Each page starts with a character facing the long drop to the street below, followed by their actual decent and ends with a panel illustrating their survival. The character contrast is in the images depicted in each of those panels but the reader is drawn to examine this contrast because of the design and layout of the two opposite pages. Instinctively the reader notices the similarity in page layout from an initial glace at the double page spread and then, when reading the pages, compares what is happening in each sequences.
In the first row you compare the desperation of Batman to the arrogance of Mr Whisper. In the second, single panel, row the comparison is between heroic, Batman, and the maniacal, Mr Whisper. And in the final row, the survival panels show us the resilience and determination of the hero against the flippancy and disregard of the villain.
The colouring of these panels by Steve Buccellato, helps to guide the reader through the comparison process by making each row have a similar colour pattern: lighter colours for the first row, blue wash for the second row and dark shadows for the final row. Together the two pages are designed to be viewed as a single page of work and leads the reader as much as possible to compare the characters.
There are some comics that take the ideas and possibilities of the double page spread and apply them to an entire issue, the most notable example of this is Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons where in issue 5, Fearful Symmetry, the design work, layout and narrative all revolve around the central two pages making for a lot of flipping backwards and forwards through the comic.
Another wonderful example is Days of Hate issue 5 from Image Comics. In this issue each page is broken down into three rows, each with a single page-wide panel. Each row features one character’s story so that over a page the reader is passed from one location to another. The design of the comic means that you could, in theory, read only one of the rows throughout the entire comic without taking into account the other rows and their story lines. Each row can be taken in in isolation so on each double page spread you have two panels from each story reading across the page (Fig. 7).
But just like the Watchmen example, the narrative structure of the entire issue all links together and the misdirection of the creators in the way they layer the rows leads the reader to believe that each of the stories is happening at the same time. You could reorganise the panels so that each page features just one character’s story, or even split the comic into three sections telling one story after the other but you would lose the narrative punch. The drama of the story and the brilliance of the structure would be lost by re-editing it. The entire narrative structure relies on the layout of each page and the interpretation the creators force upon the reader.
On each double page spread in issue 5 of Days of Hate, the readers absorb each panel individually, then each row across the page and then the entire two-page spread all as one narrative, not as separate stories told on the same page.
There are many ways to deal with a double page spread within a comic. A brief overlook of the current American Comics published each month may suggest that the creators are moving away from utilising the potential the layout has to offer but if you look closely it is surprising how many different ways that the pages are being used. For simple aesthetics, to character development, or narrative structure, the writers and artists embrace the possibilities afforded to them by two pages of canvass that all readers initially take in as a single whole before starting to read.
Some of the more modern developments in comic book reading, such as trade collections and digital downloads, may have impacted some of the work being produced but it appears that enough creators working for the monthly market concentrate on the single issue layout of the physical product which gives the reader some beautiful double page spreads.
Index of comics
Published on August 2012 by Image Comics
Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Published on March 1986 by Marvel Comics
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller and David Mazzzucchelli
Published on February 2012 by DC Comics
Writers: Michael Green/Mike Johnson
Artist Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl Vol1: Last Daughter of Krypton
Published in 2012 by DC Comics
For creators see above
The Amazing Spider-Man #1
Published on September 2018 by Marvel Comics
Writer Nick Spencer
Pencils: Ryan Ottley
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #7
Published on May 1990 by DC Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Klaus Janson
Days of Hate #5
Published on May 2018 by Image comics
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Danijel Zezelj
Colour: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
East of West #40
Published on November 2018 by Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist Nick Dragotte
Colours: Frank Martin
Letters: Rus Wooton
It’s been a bit of a quiet this week. Apart from the whole it being CHRISTMAS thing.
There have been a few comics out, Bone Parish from Boom Studios!, Man Eaters from Image Comics and a new Superior Spider-Man from Marvel.
But I have only read one new comic this week; Go-Bots #2 published by IDW Publishing and written, drawn, coloured, lettered by Tom Scioli.
For a full review of Go-Bots pop over to Monkeys Fighting Robots where I give an over view of what works and what doesn’t (plug, plug!). In my opinion, there is a lot that doesn’t work. I was fairly restrained in my review because that’s my job; it’s not about ranting and spewing forth hatred, like some ‘reviewers’ I could mention (but don’t wish to filthy my blog with). A review should let the potential readers know what to expect and, to some degree, whether it works or not.
Go-Bots has some wonderful moments, Scioli loves to play with his packed layouts and occasionally uses the constraints of the comic book medium to his advantage.
Unfortunately, I believe that his dense pages and over scripted narrative hampers the storytelling and diminishes the characters to such a point that we, as readers, know nothing about them. There is a deliberate two dimensionality to the art work that is also, unfortunately, reflected in the characters.
Plus, the massive text filled speech balloons drown the panels and almost obliterate the images entirely. Take, for example, the following page:
The top half of the page is packed with speech, most of which is exposition outlining two plot points; the difference between the two fractions of Go-Bots and the destination that the characters will be heading. That is a lot of text to establish only two worthwhile narrative points. The speech doesn’t tell us anything about the characters because it’s all so matter of fact, so monotone; there is no distinctive character voices. What the speech does do successfully is take over the panels. The cast’s faces are squashed to the bottom of the panels and any establishing shot of their location is totally lost. In panel 12 the view point switches and gives you the impression that they are stood up high. This impression is shattered four panels later when the chase sequence starts and the police cars/Go-Bots are suddenly on the same level as A.J. and Hunter.
If you take away the text you can see just how much of the page the speech takes up. Some of the panels on the first two rows are virtually empty.
Now, I understand that in some circumstances there is a need for a lot of exposition to move a story forward however the way that it is incorporated into a page layout can make the difference between a well-paced, engaging story and a text heavy chore.
To compare, look at this page from Tales from the Crypt #33, a story called Lower Berth.
As was the tradition with Tales from the Crypt stories, they were often text heavy with a continuous narrator explaining what was happening from panel to panel. This resulted in caption boxes on most panels along with additional character speech. In this example the caption boxes are mostly large, panel long boxes with several sentences per panel.
If you take away the lettering you are left with some obvious spaces, but unlike the Go-Bots example above, the panels are still rich with information and excitement. Even without the text you have establishing backgrounds and character moments. You can still follow the story from panel to panel and learn something about the characters and narrative. The top half of the Go-Bots example is devoid of narrative or substance without the speech.
If you compare the two pages’ side by side, with and without the lettering you can easily see the difference; one of these pages is a success at storytelling, the other is not.
If you are that kind of person who would like to compare the actual word count per row; Go-Bots has 68 words in the first row, 74 in the second and 31 in the third. It then has two rows with virtually no speech. Tales from the Crypt only has three rows but manages to cram in 97 words in row one, 79 in row two and 48 in row three. Over all Go-Bots has 175 words on the page, Tales from the Crypt has 224.
The point I’m making is that there is nothing wrong with heavy text pages as long as the text serves the narrative and works with art work to move the story on. The main problem with Go-Bots is that it suffocates the images within the panels and reduces the environments so that they are almost none existent.
Go-Bots #2 has some highlights and if you remember owning the Go-Bot toys back in the 80’s than by all means pick up a copy of this, you may enjoy it. However, I found the storytelling to be lacking and the absence of any real characters made this a comic I could easily pass on.
It’s less than a week to Christmas so is there anything out today that might work as a last minute present for the comic lover in your life?
The answer is yes.
After last week’s review of The Simian Age from Boom Studios! I thought that would be it for Planet of the Apes merchandise for this year but I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Boom have today pushed out Planet of the Apes Omnibus (soft cover) which collects all of Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s run on the comic. This is a mammoth tomb with one of the best Ape related stories ever. The creativity and storytelling is of a high standard from the opening page to the last. Other runs have started well, wavered in the middle and ended well (or some variation of that) but Gregory and Magno maintain top quality work throughout.
I could go on, and on, about this but I think I’ve already covered much of it elsewhere. In fact, I reviewed the first arc of the story earlier this year on this website. So, with that in mind, I will simply say that this is an amazing run of comics, beautifully collected together with a number of interesting prologues and epilogues. You can tell from this collection that everyone who worked on it loved what they were doing, and love Planet of the Apes.
If you also love Planet of the Apes, or just good storytelling, this is a book worth adding to your collection.
Another collection from Boom Studios! out today is Lazaretto, written by Clay McLeod Chapman and drawn by Jey Levang.
This is another comic series that I have written a lot about in the past, especially when the original monthlies were coming out. Just scroll to the first few entries on this site and you’ll find a lot of my thoughts on the series.
In short: it’s a grotesque, hard hitting, horror story which gets under your skin, makes it crawl and finally makes you rip at it to remove it from your body. The story is compelling and the artwork is sublime. Together, the creators play with the comic book format, making the gutters as much a part of the story telling as the narrative and they challenge the reader to think about, not only what they are reading, but also how they read.
I can’t praise this comic enough and would recommend it to everyone, whether you are a fan of horror stories, social dramas, or just comics in general.
As for monthlies: there are the usual mass of comics on the shelf. A few of note (that I have read) are Firefly #2 from Boom Studios! and Days of Hate #11 from Image Comics. I have also really enjoyed the finale of Cold Spots from Image Comics but for what I thought about that you’ll have to pop over to Monkeys Fighting Robots for my full review.
Oh yeah, Monkeys Fighting Robots will be a new home for my reviews for the coming year (possibly years) so you’ll have to get used to me posting links to them. Please go over and have a look at what the team are doing, there are some great comic book insights and reviews being posted daily. I’m looking forward to becoming part of the MFR family and spreading my comic book love to a whole new audience.
It’s nearly the end of the year which means I’ll have to stop going on about the 50th Anniversary of Planet of the Apes. Although it is only a year until the 50th anniversary of Beneath the Planet of the Apes…
But, before then, there is still time to get some new Apes stories in and that is exactly what Boom! Studios are doing this week with the release of The Simian Age: three new stories set across the franchise, taking in the original universe and the new movie continuity.
Similar to The Time of Man one shot released last month, The Simian Age has three very different stories which highlight the diversity and story potential for Planet of the Apes. Across both issues, the creators have told 6 wildly different stories but they all are quintessentially Ape stories.
In this week’s offering there is Apex, a tale of a gorilla in military training written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Matt Smith. The story starts off in a very straight forward manner, presenting the training regime for a Gorilla new to the military. But as the story unfolds, the central character Apex begins to learn what it means to be a mindless follower of the status quo and he has a few issues.
The story illustrates the horrors of combat through the eyes of a young Ape and Kindt builds a series of events which leads the reader, and Apex, into a situation where a choice needs to be made. The script pulls no punches and doesn’t hide from the brutality of sanctioned violence. The actions of the military are questionable which leads Apex into his predicament.
The Art work is as bold as the story with Smith using thick, fluid black lines and heavy shadows. The colour choices by Joana Lafuente are also striking with some less than subtle panels.
Apex may feel heavy handed to some readers but it draws on the political nature of previous Ape outings and the creators aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
Cloud and Rain is weakest of the three stories but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable or entertaining. Written by Ryan Ferrier and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, Cloud and Rain follows the tragic adventures of two Apes caught between their fear of Koba and their love of Caesar. As political as the story that precedes it in this comic, Ferrier examines the impact that 'Fear' has upon the average ‘persons’ decision making. He delves into uncomfortable truths and shows the reader how easy it is to manipulate people and turn friend against friend.
Sharma gives the titular characters an innocence, representing them as children in the face of the elder Apes like Maurice and Koba. This approach works well at reminding the reader about the divide between the leaders and the civilians. Sharma also uses the layouts of the page to great effect when telling the story. He mixes up the panel layouts, unafraid to use inserts or allow the gutters to be broken for emphasis. A number of panels have pure white backgrounds which stand out on the page and focus the reader’s attention onto the Ape’s interactions.
There are some strong moments of tension within Cloud and Rain with a number of thought provocative panels. It may be the weakest of the three but that does not mean that it is a weak story.
The best that The Simian Age has to offer is in fact the first story in the collection. Mothers of Exiles is a beautifully moving tale of a Chimpanzee in hiding. Jeff Jensen has written an emotional tale of heartbreak and loneliness that will touch even the hardest of gorilla hearts. It follows the daily routine of Amy, a Chimp who is self-exiled and living in the remains of the Statue of Liberty.
Set a short while after the end of the original movie (reference is made to Taylor so the readers can place the action) and unexpected arrival changes Amy’s life in a way that she hadn’t expected.
The Art work is beautiful. Jared Cullum’s watercolours are a superb fit to Jensen’s narrative and produce an atmosphere rarely found in an Ape comic. It is very insular tale of a single Chimps personal experiences. There are moments of warmth; touching scenes that illustrate the kindness of the chimpanzee’s and are a reminder of the affections shown by Cornelius and Zira in the original movie.
Like the other two offerings in The Simian Age, Mothers of Exiles is about over coming fear and risking personal safety to do what is right. The narrative, however, has a much subtler tone which makes the Hope embedded in the story more transparent and heart-warming. It is a gripping story, expertly written and beautifully illustrated.
Planet of the Apes: The Simian Age is yet another worthy additional to the ever expanding Apes franchise. A collection of three, very different yet very similar themed stories each with its own appeal and relevance. Whether you are a fan of the old movies or the new, The Simian Age has something for you.
It’s been a bit of a Hit and Miss sort of week. A little bit like the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House which started off really well and then became less inspired and less watchable as the series went on.
However, let’s start off on a positive note: Cold Spots #4
Cold Spots is an awesome horror comic created by Cullen Bunn and Mark Torres for Image Comics. Like the aforementioned The Haunting of Hill House, Cold Spots achieves a creepy atmosphere and gripping story by slowly building up tension and hinting at the supernatural, rather than throwing it wildly at the reader. Even in issue 4, where the story has started to pick up pace and the demons/ghost are coming out to play, the horror is still understated allowing the situation to cause feeling of nervousness and fear.
I have written a fuller review for comiconverse.com and it is my 100th review for that website. A great comic to mark that mile stone.
Another great comic out this week is issue 10 of Days of Hate. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to remind anyone about how much I am loving this comic, just check out previous posts (or even my extended essay) to see how much I appreciate this work of Art.
This issue is building to the series conclusion and has a conclusion that you don’t want to miss. It’s heart stopping, jaw dropping tension, beautifully rendered by Danijel Zezelj and Jordie Bellaire. The ominous grey/blue tones coating the first half of the comic create an atmosphere of detachment and coldness that surrounds the characters but Bellaire slowly introduces a red wash, in small amounts at first, which eventually over shadows everything, just as story takes a turn.
Combined with the heavy black inks of Zezelj’s, this entire issue is given a heavy, world carrying feel which subconsciously prepares the reader for the worst. After 9 issues of building the characters this issue is a gut punch as your sympathies towards certain characters are challenged.
One of Ales Kot’s main achievements with this comic is that he is able to misdirect the reader so completely and challenge your conceptions of situations and people. You never feel completely comfortable with anything that is going on in Days of Hate because there is a constant element of mistrust running through the comic. This is based on the groundwork laid out early on and is part and parcel of the dystopian tale that Kot is telling. It is a reflection of the current political turmoil in America, the UK, and all over the world. Finding the truth is difficult. Knowing who to trust and who to rely on is difficult. Kot illustrates this in Days of Hate perfectly.
Published by Image Comics, issue 10 is out this week.
Unfortunately, Dick Tracy Dead or Alive has not improved much from issue 1. The second issue has all of the same problems that the first does and still feels like a pale imitation of Chester Gould’s icon Detective.
Elements of the story strike an uncanny resemblance to the Disney Movie of 1990 but doesn’t have the larger than life cinematography that made the film so enjoyable. However, this is not a gritty retelling either. I’m not sure that Lee and Michael Allred are entirely clear what kind of comic they want this to be, which is a shame because a new and exciting Dick Tray could really boost the character’s profile.
The characters are all one dimensional and the art work fails to impress. All of the ‘nods’ to the classic strips are forced into the narrative with no real explanation. Maybe for a different type of Detective tale the aesthetic may work but for such a strong character like Dick Tracy, there is an expectation of what the story should be and how it should be presented. There is a high bar for any new story and Dead or Alive just isn’t reaching high enough.
The one positive to take from issue 2 is that it is slightly better than issue 1.
Dick Tracy Dead or Alive #2 is written by Lee and Michael Allred, art by Rich Tommaso and Michael Allred, colour by Laura Allred.
Another title that was a little underwhelming this week was the new title Go-Bots from IDW Publishing. I was curious about this title as I have dim memories of having some of the toys way back when. In fact, I had Leader 1 who is one of the central characters in this story.
However, my memories of the toys are that they were a bit rubbish, a poor imitation of the Transformers toys which I loved. The same can be said of this comic. After years of being invested in the Transformers comics, it was Simon Furman’s work on the UK Transformers comic that really got me hooked on comics in the 80s, coming across this comic is a bit of a let-down. It I very underwhelming and doesn’t have any striking features.
The design and the art of the comic by Tom Scioli is definitely interesting as he has made the entire product look and feel like a comic from the early 80’s; especially with the colour tones and panel crowded pages. There is a naivety that is quite charming but this is experience is soon lost in the baffling story telling. The fluctuating art style creates an uneven read which leaves the reader wondering if they are reading a daily newspaper strip or a Marvel-esq superhero comic.
In the end, it is the lack of intriguing characters that makes this a difficult read. It’s like scratching the surface of something only to find more surface underneath.
Go-Bots #1 is written/drawn and lettered by Tom Scioli and published by IDW Publishing.
To remove the disappointment of Dick Tracy and Go-Bots, I would recommend Low Road West #3 published by Image comics, Smooth Criminals #1 published by Boom! Studios and Night Moves #1 published by IDW Publishing. All good reads.
This week a living Legend died.
Everyone knew who Stan Lee was. Everyone! To some he was the creator of Marvel’s greatest comics; one of the most inspirational writers to work in the medium; friend; work colleague; and all round nice guy. To others he was just the old guy in every Marvel Movie.
To most he was more than one of those, and to a select few he was all of those.
I have been reading comics written by Stan Lee for most of my life and, even though I no longer read Marvel comics or even Superheroes comics as a general rule, most of the comics I read today owe a small part of their existence to the power house that was Stan Lee. The out pouring of memories and tributes on social media like Twitter and Facebook just emphasise his status in the world, not just the comic book world.
He will be missed by so many people and remembered by even more. No-one would dispute that he leaves a massive and impressive legacy behind and that he will forever remain a Legend.
Our current family goal in the Lego Marvel Superheroes game is to rescue all 50 Stan Lee’s throughout the game. We seem to have missed so many on the first play through. Even my children, who have yet to reach double figures, know who Stan Lee is.
When I told my son that Stan Lee had passed away, he looked up at me with sadness in his eyes and said,
I guess I still have some work to do there….
This week’s comics have aliens, voodoo, heavy metal and the whole entire ‘Verse.
My first pick of the new releases is the new entry into Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe.
Written by Greg Pak, illustrated by Dan McDaid, coloured by Marvelo Costa and lettered by Jim Campbell. Published by Boom! Studios.
The story see’s the crew of the Serenity limping through space until they are forced by an old War Ship to run and hide on a nearby moon. Desperate for repairs, and a growing need to get out of the local air space, Mal and Co search for a job to earn a penny or two.
The story has a wonderfully engaging opening which not only facilitates the story but re-introduces the characters just in case the reader has forgotten who is who. This opening also helps to set this series in relation to other stories, emphasising the time period of the piece.
Pak’s script is punchy, packed with humour. Each of the characters feels familiar and they each have their own voice, a voice that long time readers will now be used to.
I personally love Dan McDaid’s work, he has a vibrancy and energy that he injects into his work. The action sequences jump from the page and there is always a sense of danger hanging over the characters. Costa’s colour work is also superb in this first issue, contrasting the coldness of space and the threat of burning while the crew are stuck in the middle, coated in their colour faded clothes.
Firefly #1 is an enjoyable action comic with all of the idiosyncrasies that you have come to expect from a story set in the ‘Verse.
Cemetery Beach issue 3 hits the shelves this week. It has yet to reach the same level of admiration that I have for Trees but Warren Ellis and Jason Howard know how to produce a good comic. This is pretty much a chase movie on an alien world populated with unlikable characters and mutated beasties. The central characters cut a swath through a dystopian world as they head for their own personal salvations.
The script is succinct allowing the images to tell much of the story and when you have Jason Howard on art duties, this is exactly what you want. Howard's work boarders on the impressionistic at times with the colour work carrying a lot of the emotion. Some of the panels are made even more shocking thanks to the bright white centres and orange tinges which act like a sudden flash of light in the darkness.
The design work is also worth a mention. Not only are the city backgrounds beautifully rendered on each page and panel but the design of the Outerfamily is sublime and grotesque. These are real creatures of nightmare and worth the cover price itself.
Cemetery Beach #3 is out now, published by Image Comics, lettering by Fonografiks.
Other worthy mentions for today are Jook Joint #2 from Image comics. It’s not an enjoyable read in the same was as Firefly because of the subject matter. A Voodoo revenge story with a heart that beats 'Empowerment'. If it’s on the shelf pick it up, the writing and art are excellent and the story is definitely gripping.
I have Infinite Dark #2 to read. The first issue was a slow, space horror, similar in feel I thought to Steve Niles' Delta 13. Published by Top Cow and has the look of many of their titles, based on the first issue I am looking forward to the second, which is out now.
Finally, Murder Falcon #2. I love this comic. It is ridiculous, outrageous and does not take itself too seriously but despite all of that there are some especially moving moments within these 20 odd pages. My full review is over on Comiconverse.com here, check it out and definitely check out the comic itself. It’s very metal in all of the right ways.
It’s Halloween! Which can mean only one thing: A re-reading of the Revolver: Halloween Special!
Okay, pumpkins and sweets and trick or treating as well but this blog is about comics, mostly…
Revolver was a short lived comic published at the beginning of the 90’s by Fleetway Publications. It came with a ‘mature readers’ tag and was the home of some experimental and more daring comic strips including notable entrees like Peter Milligan’s Rogan Gosh and Grant Morrison’s grim look at Dan Dare’s future. But as well as these ongoing strips it offered up short stories by some of Britain’s greatest talent.
And in October 1990 they let loose their horror special into the world and it dripped with macabre tales from the grimmest of storytellers. This single 80 ish page comic was created by such talent as Si Spencer, Will Simpson, Warren Pleece, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Mark Buckingham and Neil Gaiman. There were 12 chilling tales in total, encapsulating; humorous ghosts and nasty demons; Carrie-esque coming of age awakenings; soul buying demons; the weird, the wonderful and a touch of body horror. I’ve picked out a few of the highlights. My favourites.
In ‘The Wishing Hour’ by Nicholas Vince and John Bolton, a young boy named Simon wants to dress up as a witch for Trick and Treating but due to a rather sexist attitude on his mother’s part, he doesn’t get his wish. “Little boy’s can’t be witches. Sally’s going to be a witch. You’re to be a Jack O’Lantern” she tells him. He leaves home full of anger and childish thoughts of revenge. Then along comes a demon to give young Simon what he wants. The outcome is bloody and has an ending that epitomises the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’.
The story is short and sour with a wonderfully lyrical script packed to bursting point with stomach churning descriptions. Some, but not all, of these are captured by the amazing painted art work of John Bolton. The paint splatter effect he employs adds an extra layer of atmosphere to a tale of darkness driven by a child’s fantasy for revenge. His depiction of Simon as the witch is brilliant and demonstrates to the reader that the ‘classic witch’ look can still be scary and even more disturbing than Anjelica Huston’s turn in the movie The Witches which was released in the same year.
The ending of the tale is a lesson to us all about making deals with the devil and the final page, contrasting the witch’s laughing face and Simon’s face of terror, is all the reader needs to understand the consequences of the night. Although the reader does get an extra image of torturous death just to hammer home the point.
The next story, ‘First Blood’, is a clever little tale about a girl experiencing menarche. Win, the central character, is already a bit of an outcast, bullied by her peers and her mother has no faith in her. At a Halloween party Win decides to feign illness so that she can leave early but as they travel home she actually starts to feel uncomfortable. That night she is restless and wakes, cast in the glow of a full moon, as her body pushes her one step further from childhood into adulthood.
The narrative is designed and laid out like a werewolf tale with Si Spencer referencing elements of clichéd lycanthropy stories. It is illustrated by Tony Riot in the same way, focusing on the central character but always casting shadows onto her or placing her at the edge of the panel as if hiding something about her physical form. Win is an outcast, at the edge of her social group and she feels different: she can feel herself changing but she has no-one to talk to, no-one to help her understand what’s happening. Win’s loneliness is further illustrated by the unusual angles and positions which Riot uses to show her moving through her night of turmoil. It’s as if she is being stalked through an urban jungle by a camera in a modern horror movie.
However, the twist of the tale is that there is nothing supernatural about her feelings at all, it’s just the natural progression of her own body and the ‘horror’ element of the story is a metaphor for her fear that she will never fit in. It is a very smart, thought provoking tale.
My final pick is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mark Buckingham. ‘Feeders and Eaters’ may seem familiar to readers of Neil Gaiman as he later turned it into a prose short story published in the collection Fragile Things. The story is based on a dream that Gaiman had and is a story within a story, a trope Gaiman uses to great effect. A man, who looks uncannily like the writer, bumps into someone he hasn’t seen in years but the other man doesn’t look well, in fact he looks especially dreadful for someone who used to be incredibly good looking. The man, Eddie Barrow, has a dark tale to tell about how his life was taken away from him as he became the slave to a woman but not in the way you would expect. When the story introduces Miss Corvier she appears to be a frail old lady. Eddie starts to feel sorry for her and begins to help her out but at the same time he is a little weary: he has a strange feeling about her. But he is unable to pull away from her hypnotic like grasp and ends up feeding her by providing his own flesh to keep her nourished.
This twisted tale is like so many of the others within this horror anthology. It is simple and subtle, building up the tension by affectedly using the illustration to mislead the reader. The old woman turns from a helpless, fragile lady into a dark, overpowering and hungry creature without actually undergoing any physical change: it’s all in the way that Mark Buckingham lights the panels and changes the readers view from looking down on her to looking up into her face. Eddie on the other hand is barely seen in the story as he acts as the readers eyes and is the one who becomes subjugated making the reader feel as though they themselves are falling into the woman’s vile grasp.
There is a lot packed into this little anthology and it’s a magnificent blend of styles and stories to chill your soul on a dark and stormy night. It’s a shame they never got chance to do any more of these but that was part of publishing comics in Britain in the 1990’s, especially genre breaking stories like the ones on show here. I’m not sure if any of the material has been made available elsewhere, but is you see any of it, give it a read.
It has been 12 months since I set up this web/blog site to rant endlessly about the comics I read. A full year of reading, reviewing and writing about comics. That’s crept up on me.
I started off well, covering each weeks releases, writing full reviews and managing to add a few extra’s; such as stealing from previous reviews to create The Pointless Review. But as the year has moved on I have become a bit more sporadic. Part of this is down to work commitments and partly down to the fact I got wrapped up in writing an essay (see the ‘Time in Comics’ tab for the full thing).
However, I have kept up with my reading most months, and I have read way more comics than I have mentioned on here. Some good, some not so good and some that just weren’t for me.
To celebrate managing to do this for a year without deleting the whole site, I thought I’d take a look at a few of the past reviews and my favourite comics over the last 12 months.
When I created this blog I was (and still am) submitting reviews to ComiConverse.com but I wanted a place to have a bit more of a personal voice, somewhere I could recommend comics or write more specific comic based critique. So, when I started I took a number of reviews I had already written and fleshed them out, re-edited them and turned them into something else.
The first comic that I did this for, and as such ended up with a lot of content over the first month, was Lazaretto, a creator owned, zombie-esq comic written by Clay McLeod with Art by Jay Levang. The comic was grotesque in the best possible way and managed to make the very product you held feel dirty and contagious. Levang’s art work was unsettling and the narrative took a number of unexpected twists. A magnificent horror comic which shone a bright light onto the unnerving College experience that people still have today. Social commentary thinly disguised as a disease outbreak.
If you didn’t read Lazaretto I highly recommend it. It is still available in a collective form from any comic or book shop worth its salt. But be warned, it’s not for the queasy and I’d read it wearing gloves. Just to be on the safe side.
If you want to know more about my thoughts on Boom Studios Lazaretto (and I had many) check out the achieved posts for October 2017
Another horror comic received a lot of my attention in November 2017. Winnebago Graveyard published by Image comics was by far one of my favourite comics of last year. Written by Steve Niles and created/drawn by the amazing Alison Sampson, this comic played with the horror genre tropes and the final product was outstanding. The narrative twists and turns in unexpected ways so that you never feel comfortable. But it is the artwork that really sells the disconcerting feel of the comic. Alison Sampson produces some of the best artwork I’ve seen in years. She manipulates the panels, distorts the perspectives, and simply messes with the reader’s idea of how a comic page should work.
Plus, the collected edition had a touchy/feel-y velvet cover edition which is just lush. And the content is good as well, obviously.
November 2017 achieved posts contain my thoughts on Winnebago Graveyard.
I’ve done a bit of fencing in my time and really enjoyed it. It is something that I’d like to get back into as a hobby; when I have the time. What has this got to do with anything? Well, Boom Studios announced a mini-series early in 2017 about the world of competitive fencing and the first issue was released in November 2017.
It was delightful. Written by C.S. Pacat and drawn by Johanna the Mad, the comic tells the story of rival junior fencers who find themselves attending the same academy where they must battle to win a place on the academy team.
Inspired by Manga sporting epics, Fence is a clean and crisp teen drama with adorable characters and thrilling competition. You don’t need to know anything about fencing to read it but you will probably find yourself Googling the sport to find out more, just to keep up with the action sequences. Johanna the Mad’s artwork is fine lined and shifts from energetic, heart stopping action to Manga-esq comedic panels. The aesthetic is helped by the seemingly simple colour work of Joana Lafuente, who’s ‘simple’ approach actually gives the page’s depth and emphasis.
It is visually breath taking with an uplifting narrative.
I reviewed issue 2 in December 2017 but also plenty of the other issues on here and over on ComiConverse.com
One of my favourite comics started in January 2018 and became the backbone of the essay I spent several months writing this year.
Days of Hate. Published by Image Comics, this comic is a cold look at modern America through the eyes of the very near future. The disturbing elements of the current political and social landscape have, in Ales Kot and Danijel Zezeli’s world, taken control. There is paranoia and fear everywhere.
The comic is beautifully rendered by Zezeli with Jordie Bellaire’s colours making each and every page a delight. The narrative is hard hitting and in many ways brutal but there is also a streak of hope running through it.
I’ve written a number of reviews and additional pieces about Days of Hate, check out the January Achieves for the start of these but, on top of that, the Time In Comics essay includes a large section on this outstanding comic, if you have some spare time.
In January I also discovered the beauty of the new 30 Days of Night. It is a retelling of a superb story and, I’ll be honest, I was a touch dubious when picked up issue one. However, Steve Niles narrative and Piotr Kowalski’s art work won me over. If they hadn’t Brad Simpson’s colour work by itself definitely would have done. I loved the stark contrasting colours; the sense of tension created by a subtle change of shade; or the emotional weight carried by specific colour palettes.
I reviewed 30 Days of Night issue 2 in January 2018 but I took a longer look at the colour work in February 2018. Why not check it out?
I have slowly fallen in love with Aftershock comics and it’s amazing output. They have, over the last couple of years, released some brilliant comics from some of the best creators working today. Super Zero, Jackpot, Babyteeth, Shipwreck, to name a few.
In March 2018 they released issue 1 of Betrothed. A kind of sci-fi love story about two high school kids who learn that their lives are intertwined in ways they couldn’t ever image. Some elements of the comic are ridiculous and there is a definite computer generated part to some of the back ground artwork but it is the comics narrative strength and strong panel composition that makes Betrothed worth reading. Sean Lewis and Steve Uy manage to fully engage the reader from the very beginning so that you instantly become invested in the lives of the two central characters.
Just to give it some frame of reference, Betrothed has the grand tragedy of a Shakespearian play and the sensibilities of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Issue one was released in March 2018 and I wrote a little something about it that month.
In April I was indulging in a re-read of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, for reasons I can’t begin to remember (Infinity War was on everyone’s lips. I saw it eventually. I’ll stick to the comics in future). That is a mammoth task as it encapsulates nearly 100 comics, however, I did find time to read other stuff and even some new number ones.
One of those new titles was Crude, published by Image Comics. Written by Steve Orlando, Art by Garry Brown and Colours by Lee Loughridge, Letters by Thomas Mauer.
From the very start I was transfixed by this family drama and tale of violence. The design and layouts for this comic are phenomenal and the narrative hits emotional spots I wasn’t expecting at all. Beneath the violence and gang warfare, Crude is a comic about a father connecting, too late, with his son.
April 2018 is where I begin my love affair with Crude, but further reviews can be found throughout the year.
I nearly missed Motherlands from DC-Vertigo. I knew it was coming out and was excited because of the talent working on it but it was a title I forgot to add to my pull list. Therefore, it wasn’t waiting for me when I picked up my monthly comics. I then had to track it down, and remember to get the follow up issues and, long story short, I finished reading it several months later than I should have done.
But it was worth the wait. The dimension hopping, family drama played over 6 issues and was a breath of fresh air from start to finish. The story by Simon Spurrier was off the wall but easy to follow. At its heart was a broken family trying to reconcile itself and this came through in every issue, despite the dimension jumping and the distracting sexual technology on display. The art work was handled brilliantly by Rachel Stott and there were some bold colour choices by Felipe Sobreiro. But one of the most outstanding elements of the comic was Simon Bowland’s exceptional lettering (which is why I ended up writing about it in July 2018).
The comic flowed effortlessly and I’m glad I read it in one chunk rather than have to wait month after month because it so easy and enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend Motherland to anyone, over a certain age at least.
It’s been 50 years since the original Planet of the Apes movie was released, I may have mentioned it once or twice over the year. I’m a massive fan of PotA and have only missed one of the comic tie-ins since the late 90’s. The majority of these have been entertaining, worthwhile reads and some have been exceptional comics.
This year Boom Studios have put out a number of PotA comics, and there are still a few to come out. There was the 6 issue series Kong on the PotA: a crossover with the King Kong franchise and a beautifully drawn comic. At around the same time Ursus was released, another 6 issue comic this time focusing on the life of the central gorilla from the PotA franchise. This had it’s good moment’s and a couple of wobbles; mostly in the art department when the artists swapped between one issue and the next. But overall both of these offerings were great reads and, as I have stated, I never miss a PotA comic*
In August Boom Studios released Planet of the Apes Visionaries which is based on Rod Serling’s original script for the first movie. Although Serling left the project the majority of his story was kept intact; there was a shift in setting and a change to the central character but other than that the story in Visionaries is instantly recognisable. Despite the lack of differences, the script has been magnificently transformed into a comic book and the artwork really captures the optimistic fell of Serling’s script.
I loved this book by Dana Gould and Chad Lewis and wrote about it in August this year.
*except the PotA and Green Lantern crossover. I did read the first issue and found it very difficult to get on with. I have zero interest in Green Lantern and I think this is reflected in my bewilderment of what was going on. If I have to criticise Booms PotA comics for anything it is that whenever they do crossovers the other franchise gets more attention. The exception to this was this year’s Kong crossover which I really enjoyed.
So, there we have it. A year in and still finding new comics to read and write about. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and I hope that someone has enjoyed reading it. I’ll keep going, just in case.
One last recommendation, the comic that I am currently enjoying the most: East of West. Check it out and maybe let me know what you think.
As the nights start to draw in and the new series of Doctor Who looms on the horizon, it finally feels like the summer has come to an end.
On the plus side it means I may actually get a chance to catch up on my reading. There are a number of titles out this week that I will be adding to that pile; such treats as Coda #5 from Boom! Studios, Days of Hate #8 and Death or Glory #5 from Image Comics, and a new one called Impossible Incorporated from IDW which caught my eye.
However, there are two titles I want to talk about this week, each for a different reason.
First up is the final issue of Crude, published by Image Comics. If you have read many of my previous posts you will know that I have been enjoying Steve Orlando and Garry Brown’s series about revenge in a corrupted Russian worker city.
The series has impressed me on every level from issue 1 onwards. The narrative is, on one level, brutal and shocking with some uncomfortable reading, especially when the central character gets stuck in to the villains. Neither the script or the art pulls any punches when it comes to the violence; it’s big and violent and definitely in your face. This works so well because the fight scenes are expertly choreographed by Gerry Brown: the movements on occasions are exaggerated but the reactions and consequences of the fights are always realistic and painful. This is not ‘cartoon violence’, it clearly hurts.
In contrast to this, the narrative has a very emotional central theme. At the heart of this comic is a man in desperate need to connect with his son, albeit a little too late. His journey, although soaked in blood, is actually an emotional one which is touching and ultimately has a melancholic ending. Piotr doesn’t learn to appreciate and respect his son until it is too late and everything that he has done in his son’s name is meaningless compared to what Piotr has lost.
Orlando and Brown can dress it up as much as they want in espionage and gangster thrills but this is a story about family and loss. It is a story that pushes the reader’s emotions to breaking point and it does it with style.
The colouring by Lee Loughridge and the lettering by Thomas Mauer enhance the setting and overall tone of the comic. Loughridge especially uses his skills to highlight Piotr’s final journey as the backgrounds slowly change from the cold, brutal blue into the warming reds and oranges of a new day dawning.
If you haven’t read any of Crude, you have been missing out, but now the series has come to an end be on the lookout for the inevitable trade (out in November). Piotr’s journey is one worth following.
A new release this week is something that I have been wanting for a long time; a brand new, monthly, Dick Tracy comic. I am a big fan of Chester Gould’s rough and ready detective and have been reading the collected daily strips for years. I loved the Disney film and every time I hear rumours of a TV series I have to fight the urge to get excited, knowing deep down that it will never come to fruition.
So, a new monthly comic, containing brand new material, should have me leaping for the stars, nearly as much as a new series of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, IDW Publishing’s new offering is far from what I had hoped for.
I have written a full review of Dick Tracy Dead or Alive, written by Lee and Michel Allred, art by Rich Tommaso, for Comiconverse.com but I wanted to add something extra on a more personal level.
I was whole heartedly disappointed with this comic.
Warning, spoilers ahead.
The story is at best a rehash of several earlier Tracy stories, featuring as the central villain Big Boy. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem if there was something new to say, but there isn’t. It is a soulless, uninteresting romp through the motions of a Dick Tracy Adventure. A lot of the script is clichéd and more than one sequence is a direct lift from earlier work; the sequence with Big Boy’s criminal board meeting is a step by step reply of a scene in the Disney Dick Tracy movie without the charisma or presence of Al Pacino and James Caan.
I will admit that I am not a fan of Rich Tommaso’s art style to begin with. His most recent work Dry Country was a difficult comic to engage with and I found all of his characters to be devoid of emotion. So, it will be no surprise that I was equally cut adrift from the characters in Dead or Alive; the difference is that I know most of the characters in this comic already and I have, for the most part, loved them in the past.
Big Boy is an outstanding, larger than life villain, almost Shakespearean in his theatrics but to see him as the oversized toadish character portrayed here feels like missing the mark. The depiction of Tracy is just as troublesome, especially since Tommaso pictures him in gleeful ecstasy as he threatens a criminal in his custody and wallows in the mindless violence. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Dick Tracy comic strip has been soaked in blood from day one and the violence surrounding the detective has reached shocking and disturbing levels however, Tracy is about justice not violent punishment and making him enjoy the destruction gives him a cruel edge not befitting the character.
Tommaso can produce some interesting work and he has a style which appeals to a number of readers but I don’t believe he has the right aesthetic for a Dick Tracy comic. His work lacks energy and dynamism needed for a Tracy story. The 1990’s movie tie in’s drawn by Kyle Baker captured the energy of the story telling, even though the art work bordered on abstraction in places, whereas Tommaso’s work is lifeless. This lacklustre highlights the more disagreeable aspects of the comic, such as inconsistent speech balloons and caption boxes, turning the reader off from the adventure.
I wanted this comic to work. I have been waited patiently for new adventures of the legendary detective and I thought that was going to happen with the announcement of Archie Comics Dick Tracy comic. Imagine, a comic written by Michael Moreci and Alex Segura, drawn by Thomas Pitilli, based on the exciting adventures of Dick Tracy. What an outstanding comic that could have been, especially when you see the sketch and design work that had already been produced. It is such a shame that instead with have Dead or Alive, a comic leaning more to the former.
I hope that IDW have some success with this Dick Tracy comic because that would lead to others with different writers and artists, each bringing their own unique take on the character. But for me, this offering is nothing more than a disappointment.