After the Mr Comics Planet of the Apes mini-series ‘Revolution on’ (which I will come back to in the near future) there was a bit of a dry spell of new Apes related material. However, sometime in 2010/2011 Boom! Studios picked up the license for the franchise and returned to the classic continuity just in time for the launch of the new movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’.
Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s seminal run was set 1300 years before the events of the original movie and focused on Mak, a city on the edge of revolution. From the very beginning Gregory emphasised the conflict inherent within the Apes franchise and used racial tension as a catalyst for his story.
In the opening sequence, a masked human guns down The Lawgiver, the political leader of Mak. I have written before about the Lawgiver in the Marvel Comics from the 70’s but the one featured here is different. He is still a leader of Apes and Humans but the God like status has diminished and the fact his mortality is central to the first arc highlights how much the religious figure has changed for Ape society. Although, Gregory understands the importance of religion within any Planet of the Apes story, it plays a large part in The Long War, the Religion featured here is a more modern take on how religion can affect its believers. There is corruption and extremism within the faiths of Mak; both feeding the racial divide and stirring the uncomfortable alliance between Human and Ape.
Religious terrorism and manipulation is at the centre of Gregory’s story.
The first arc in this Boom! Studios run deals with characters and consequences and sets up everything that is to follow. But it doesn’t just introduce the characters, it gives them depth, gives them a history and hints at the future. The narrative is grounded in known Ape lore and feeds off every aspect of this to give the story a sense of grandeur while at the same time keeping the story tight on the ventral few characters.
Gregory also isn’t afraid to face some of the beguiling aspects of the Apes franchise. His story embraces the underground mutant humans: in fact, as future arcs unfurl they become ingrained in the narrative. The relation between Human and Ape leads the story, creates the drama and helps to question political and religious dogma. The Long War has some lofty aspirations and this arc creates an intricate, detailed, and complex world with a strong initial focus but roots that spread out in all directions.
Carlos Magno will be a name avid readers of Ape comics will recognise as he is still working on Boom! Ape titles, such as the current Kong crossover. His artwork style is extremely detailed with fine inked lines that brings a cinematic vibe to each panel.
The overall design of this series falls somewhere between the Tim Burton remake, with elaborate costumes and building design, and the realism of the modern movies. In this opening arc there is no distinction between Ape and Human. They are afforded the same particular artistic treatment, with the colourist Juan Manuel Tumburus employing muted, earthy tones throughout. Occasionally there are splashes of vibrant colour but these are mostly reserved for Alaya, granddaughter of the Lawgiver and new ruler of Mac.
As an opening to a story, The Long War is packed with adventure, action and intrigue. Gregory alludes to disturbing histories for some of the characters and feeds that cycle of hate that is present between Ape and Human. An atmosphere of mistrust and racial tension gives the narrative an edge of uncertainty. The reader knows that the city is on the brink of disaster and the title of the story itself foretells the coming conflict but what Gregory does it weave a twisted tale with a number of gut punching surprises to keep you on your toes. It isn’t very clear who is the villain and who the hero for the most part of The Long War, this is because everybody has flaws and everybody can be manipulated when the world around them is falling into such chaos. Each of the main characters he introduces has a wealth of history built into them, waiting to be uncovered. There are strong characters in both the Human and Ape camps, and someone to root for on both sides.
An impressive political story line fused with intricate artwork makes Planet of the Apes: The Long War a satisfying read and leaves the reader wanting more.
Planet of the Apes: #1 to 4 The Long War
Originally published by Boom! Studios in 2011
Written by Daryl Gregory
Art by Carlos Magno
Colour by Juan Manuel Tumburus
While I catch up re-reading Marvels Planet of the Apes comics, looking for old issues to write new reviews about, I thought I’d revisit an old review from the many POTAs comics I’ve reviewed in recent years.
One of Boom! Studios tactics for spreading the world of Planet of the Apes seems to have been the comic book crossover event. Some of these have been more successful than others, with the current Kong on the POTA being a fine example of the former, but who wouldn’t want a Star Trek/Apes crossover? It seemed like a franchise marriage in the making. What follows is a re-edited review of the series taken from the individual reviews I wrote for Need To Consume.
The Star Trek and The Planet of the Apes crossover is a 5 issue miniseries, entitled The Primate Directive, published jointly by IDW and Boom! Studios. It is written by the same people who brought you the Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who crossover a few years ago but don’t worry, this time they had the help of the wonderful artist Rachael Stott, so none of the cringe worthy art that made that Doctor Who crossover almost impossible to read.
The story starts with a good old fashioned arms deal. A gorilla general is sold a shed load of technologically advanced weaponry by a shadowy figure who eventually turns out to be somebody recognisable from the Star Trek Universe (hence all the shadows and darkness; that’s called creating mystery).
The narrative then shifts to a Klingon communications outpost where two instantly recognisable figures (even through their Klingon disguises) are in the process of infiltrating the compound. Sulu and Uhura are on a mission to steal information regarding a secret Klingon operation and a possible new weapon. The information they steal leads the Enterprise and her crew to a secret location where the Klingon’s have constructed a device allowing them to travel to ‘Otherdimensional’ space. After a brief altercation with a couple of Birds of Prey, Kirk is left no option than to travel through the space portal into the other dimension: which is lucky because otherwise this would just be a Star Trek comic.
The story that follows throws the crew of the Enterprise into a world of vicious Gorillas, underhand Klingons, weary Chimpanzees and the inevitable meeting between Kirk and the Man, Taylor.
The main plot is an enjoyable romp packed with all the scenes you would expect from a crossover of this nature. Comparisons are drawn between Kirk and Taylor, the Klingons and the Gorillas, and the societies features in both franchises.
The majority of story is Trek based, which is a little bit disappointing. For the most part the Apes lore is dealt with via ‘history lessons’ that explain to the Trek crew where they are. The first issue is pretty much centralised on the Star Trek Universe and barely touches the Planet of the Apes aspect of the story after the opening scene. This would not be a problem if this was a long running series but it is only a five issue run and for me, there aren’t enough Apes.
It isn’t until issue 4 where it finally feels like a Star Trek/Apes crossover and not an Apes history lesson told within an episode of Star Trek. By this point the Ape characters are starting to speak and act a lot more like their movie counter parts especially Zaius who has something more to do than tell stories. Ursus also plays a clever little role, acting as spokesperson for the Gorilla’s and then stepping into an authoritative role to squash the rebellion.
The Scott and David Tipton aren’t new to Star Trek or writing crossover stories, and they start this one off very well, if a little bias towards Trek. The opening scene tells the reader everything they need to know about this comic: it sets up the central premise and lays out the reason for the crossover. It also tells the reader which of the Universes they are dealing with: we’re talking original incarnations for both franchises. Over the next five issues the reader is going to be transported into the corrupt dealings of Klingon politics and the arms of power hungry Apes as the usual band of Trek characters’ attempt to stop everything from getting out of hand. It is a wild ride and as long as you can accept the Dimensional Device that allows the narrative to exist then it is an enjoyable one. And to be fair, if you can’t accept the Dimensional Device you’re probably not a big fan of Original Star Trek so you wouldn’t be picking this comic up in the first place.
The characterisation of the main cast is wonderful, you can tell that the writers have been writing Star Trek comics for a while now, and the Ape General from the opening scene feels like he has just walked out of the original movie: he’s almost perfect.
They even manage to extend what we know of certain characters. Take Ursus for example. They portray him in a different light to the gorilla seen in Beneath the Planet of the Apes who is very much just war hungry. The writers try to explain how Ursus became this rage filled character: this is something which is being examined further in the Ursus titled comic which started in January 2018. It is fascinating to see how the writers have interpreted this, and other, Ape characters who don’t have much background. Obviously they don’t have the same problem with the Trek side of things, they have written plenty of Trek comics and know those characters inside and out by this point.
Although this isn’t very obvious in the second issue of the series which plays out like a game of Happy Families for each of the franchises, using a host of recognisable figures from each but with very little actual character. “Do you have Commander Kor of the Klingon?” “No, do you have Zira of the Chimpanzee?” This is not necessarily a bad thing as it’s fun to include characters that the fans can relate too and is probably one of the main reasons for doing a crossover like this. It also helps to set the time frame for the story which is firmly between the original Planet of the Apes movie and it’s earth shattering sequel. But it would have been pleasing to get more in depth with some of the characters earlier on in the run; at least some of that comes later on.
The pace of the narrative picks up as the series moves on and the art work becomes more alive because of it. There is a definite sense of action and drama in the fight scenes and the backdrop to Cornelius’ speech showing the potential Ape civil war is harrowing especially, steeped as it is, in the heavy orange and blood red washes. Even the conversational panels seem more animated in later issues as if the story has woken up and the characters have been given a well-deserved breath of life.
Although there may be the odd concern for the character’s portrayal, there is no issue with their visual representations as they are perfectly illustrated by Rachael Stott. She brings a classic look to the characters and their settings but at the same time is not limited in the way she lays out the pages or the panels. She captures the character’s likenesses brilliantly so much so that there is no need to introduce them through the text (this has been a problem with past franchise comics and the Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover I mentioned early suffered greatly from this). Anybody who is slightly familiar with the characters can see that it is Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek universe on that first page which means that as a reader you instantly become engrossed in the story instead of trying to work out who you’re looking at.
The standard of the art work is high quality from the beginning and the representations of the characters are beautiful especially during the scenes of confrontation. Marius and Ursus squaring up to each other is an excellent panel: it has the aggression of the characters but is also slightly ludicrous just like the later Apes movies. And when they start fighting, oh boy does it look good. The gorilla fight scenes are outstanding. They are full of energy and anger and the aggression reaches out of the page threatening to engulf the reader like an uncontrollable force. The inevitable fight scene between Kirk and Taylor is pure nostalgia, choreographed in the same way that every fight in the original Trek T.V. series was. Stott has captured the scene wonderfully focusing on the staged fight moves and highlighting the idiosyncrasies of each leading man.
The Art work throughout this comic series is of a high calibre and carries the story through the weak points. Unfortunately, the fifth and final part of the comic is very underwhelming. The Klingon threat is cleared up so quickly it’s almost as if Kor didn’t want to take over the world at all and was just waiting for a reason to go home. Even the space battle serves no purpose with the mighty Birds of Prey crumbling to dust with barely a shot fired. Everything on the planet returns to the original status quo without much effort from either the Apes or the Enterprise crew. Everything is taken care of and wrapped up so easily that you do question the point of the whole thing.
The final issue also differs from the previous ones in that it relies heavily on background knowledge of both franchises. Up to this point anyone new to either sets of characters could pick this up and get something out of it however that changes in the final part.
Zaius’ role as narrator for the Planet of the Apes elements of the story initially seemed unnecessary and took up too much room, but the reader might very well be pleading for that narration in the final sequences. If you haven’t seen Beneath the Planet of the Apes or Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the entire finale of this story makes no sense. Kirk leaves the earth having returned everyone to their desired places and then, without warning or explanation the planet explodes. It is confusing that the Tipton’s used so much space in earlier issues to explain the intricacies of Ape culture (which has no relevance to the plot) but then doesn’t spend any time at all on a major narrative development. It’s all a little disappointing. By the time Cornelius learns of the ‘slingshot effect’ the reader is left wondering why the story didn’t revolve around the planets destruction in the first place. It feels like a missed opportunity.
Having said that, this series has had some amazing high points; the Tipton’s character representation; Stott’s spectacular illustration; but unfortunately the story arc itself contains too much filler in the wrong places and it ends rather flatly. Issue by issue the problems are more noticeable but read as a whole the narrative does flow more satisfactory. Ultimately this is an extended episode of Star Trek that features, as special guests, the characters from The Planet of the Apes as opposed to an equal melding of the two franchises.
There is a lot to like in these pages. It’s worth reading for the fight between Kirk and Taylor and there are a number of nods that only fans will pick up on, Kirk and Spocks ‘Earth’ clothes for example are reminiscent of Burke and Virdon’s from the Apes T.V. series. And it is moments like these that make this a worthwhile read if not the epic that it could have been. I would recommend this for fans of both franchises as they will get plenty out of it. Casual readers however, could get enough out of it for an enjoyable read although there are better Ape (and Star Trek) crossovers out there.
Title: Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Prime Directive
Publishers: IDW Publishing/Boom! Studios
Writers: Scott and David Tipton
Artist: Rachael Stott
Colours: Charlie Kirchoff
The Planet of the Apes movie is 50 years old today (and the original novel celebrates its 55th year since publication). I forgotten when I first saw it or how many times I’ve watched it since. All I know is that it, and the subsequent sequels, TV shows and comic book spin offs, have captivated me for years. I buy any and all Ape’s comics, re-watch at least one of the movies every year and now, thanks to Titan publications, I can read new and reprinted Apes prose.
To celebrate, I am re-posting an overlook of the Planet of the Apes comics which I wrote sometime around the release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and posted to the Need To Consume website (now gone, sad face...). It is a quick look at the comics runs from their humble beginnings to their current popularity within the hands of Boom! Studios. Some of these comics I will be looking at more closely over the next few months as I continue to celebrate 50 years of Planet of the Apes, but for now, I offer up this quick guide while I try to figure out the best way to abbreviate Planet of the Apes so I don’t have to keep typing it.
The Planet of the Apes comics have been around for nearly as long as the films and, like Doctor Who, the franchise existed long after the films had stopped being produced thanks to these tie in products.
Over the years a whole host of publishers have put out comics with deviations of the Planet of the Apes title splashed across the front, with varying degrees of success.
What is possibly the most surprising moment in Ape comic history is that the first Planet of the Apes comics were released in Japan and not America. And it was released just after the first film hit the cinemas. These comics were adaptations of the Charlton Heston film and very popular at the time. They are also extremely sought after today and very rare. One of the adaptations was written by the Japanese horror comic writer Kuroda Minoru and was over 250 pages long.
Marvel was the first publisher to get any real mileage out of the franchise with a magazine format title that first appeared on the shelves in 1974. The magazine included adaptations of the films but also back up stories where brand new adventures were set in an alternate time line to the movies. They are mostly adventure based tales in the same vain as the films but they also touch on sociological issues such as commercialism, religion and racism.
These stories were reprinted all over the world and translated into a variety of different languages. Each county had their own format for the reprints which means that they are subtly different depending on where in the world you read them.
The UK editions printed the stories in a weekly magazine format with backup stories from a host of Marvel titles including Dracula Lives and The Incredible Hulk. The black and white art work suits the stories that are being told and helps to keep the b-movie feel of the movie. The art was generally of a high standard with Mike Ploog producing some very fine, detailed work. He captured the Apes aesthetic extremely well and created emotional characters that were easy to identify with. His previous experience working on horror comics (again a link with past horror creators) definitely contributed to the style he adopted for his Planet of the Apes run.
The majority of the stories at this time were written by Doug Moench and Gerry Conway, both of whom have written some outstanding, memorable comics in their time: Knighfall and The Death of Gwen Stacy respectively. Because of this the comics have some very strong stories that have stood the test of time: if they were to be reprinted today they would not feel dated.
The 1990’s were splattered with various attempts to reignite the franchise. This involved a short lived monthly from Malibu Publishing and a collection of one off, mini-series and reprints. It was during this period that the concept was pushed to the boundaries of possibilities with titles like Ape City which was set in a European city where life was not as rural as in the American counterparts. This mini-series opened in a speakeasy style venue with an Ape jazz band and introduced a squad of assassins who travelled forward in time to basically massacre Apes. To top this outlandishness there was even a cross over with Alien Nation, a film and short lived TV series which was popular for a year or so. The resultant comic was Ape Nation (obviously) and combined the best aspects of both series in a highly enjoyable alternate dimensional romp. Unfortunately, none of these serials really caught the imagination of the comic buying world and as a result disappeared as quickly as they appeared. Although the comics published at this time do have a 1990’s feel with a lot of large heavy weapons and bulging muscles, for the most part the stories are still worth reading and contain interesting new takes on the Apes concept.
Just out of the 90’s Ian Edginton was brought in to write a movie adaption and new series based on the Tim Burton remake. As everyone knows the film itself wasn’t very well received and the comics fell in its wake. This is a shame because there were some great characters and stories produced in the run from 2001 to 2002. The art captured the wonderful designs of the new Apes (one of the only highlights of the movie) and used a Pop Art style to tell gritty adventure stories that didn’t suffer from the awful acting of the film version. Given half a chance, and a decent movie to play off, Edginton would have been able to grow his idea and produce something worthy of a place in Ape history, as it stands these comics will probably disappear without a whimper, never to be seen again.
Revolution on the Planet of the Apes was a short series published by Mr. Comics and picks up the story of Caesar from the end of the Conquest movie. It attempts to fill in the gaps between the fourth and fifth films and in doing so tells a rip roaring politically driven story full of violence and bleeding hearts. Although it only ran for 6 issues from 2005 to 2006, it is a worthwhile addition to the Ape canon and fits snugly in with the movie continuity. The real beauty of this series is the art and design of each comic. There are some impressive talents involved with Revolution and each issue included a backup, standalone story as well as detailed, and often humorous, ‘previously in’ introduction pages. The final short story written by Ty Templeton introduces the brilliant idea that the ‘Time Loop’ involving Taylor’s spaceship Icarus and the three apes who journey into the past, can be re-written and therefore the future of the Planet can be changed. However, this idea was never played out because no further comics were produced by these creative teams: an opportunity missed for the franchise.
The most recent offerings from Boom! Studios have been very creative and successful. The first run written by Daryl Gregory tells a story of terrorism set before the events of the first film. It details how the Apes and the Humans relationship finally broke down with the Humans fighting every step of the way to survive. Unfortunately, the Apes become the beasts they accused the Humans of being and blood flows through the streets of Ape City. The story was political in nature from the beginning and the artwork is detailed and intricate.
The second Ape offering from Boom! Studios started as a four-part mini-series called Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes which was again set years before the first movie but not related to Gregory’s story or characters. This developed into ‘Exile on’, another four-part story, and finally into a 12 part monthly which concluded the story and brought it up to the very end of the planet as depicted in the second movie. Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman produced some amazing work for these comics and their ideas just couldn’t be contained in the original four-part story they produced.
Both of these Boom! Studio series contained some brilliant, clever and insightful writing as well as some of the best art being produced for comics published today. Although there is a mountain of continuity, these comics do not rely on the reader knowing any of it (until the very end, then it all falls into place) so that they can be enjoyed by anyone who loves reading comics.
Over the years there have been stacks of comics published under the Planet of the Apes name, all aimed at different audiences across the world. As the world has changed, so the comics changed to reflect this but the conflict between Human and Ape has always been used to illustrate the writers and artist’s views on modern life, and in most cases politics. If you enjoy good old fashioned adventure stories or allegorical tales of justice or even family dramas, the Ape comics will have something for you to get your teeth into, as long as you can accept the talking simians.
To start off my New reviews of Old comics I thought what better place to start than The Amazing Spider-Man issue 153.
Does that need explaining? Okay. This weekend is my birthday. The Amazing Spider-Man is, probably, my favourite comic, maybe. It’s difficult to pick a favourite comic especially as there are so many variables to consider. Obviously I love The Sandman, and Watchmen, I have a soft spot for Dick Tracy and I still look forward to each issue of East of West. There are hundreds of great comics but The Amazing Spider-Man is a title I’ve read for years, and years. I love the 70’s and 80’s Spider-Man comics and have two very large boxes containing my Spider-Man collection. So on pure volume alone, Spider-Man wins out over other comics.
I may even get back into reading Spider-Man this year, it depends who takes over from Dan Slott.
Anyway, taking that into consideration, and the fact it’s my birthday, why not start by reviewing the issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that was released when I was born. You see, it all makes some kind of sense.
This issue sees Spider-Man on a high after doing his civic duty only to be brought low by the evil that men do.
The story centres on Dr Bradley Bolton. A former sporting hero from the University, his career took a turn down scientific paths after an incident on the field ended any chance he had of joining the majors. He’s back in town and back at the University to be interviewed by Ned Leeds, who asks Peter Parker along to help with any Nerd related questions.
But Ned and Peter are not the only ones interested in the good doctor and another unfortunate on-pitch incident is on the cards for Bolton.
This issue has all of the elements that make up a superior Spider-Man comic. It opens with some fun, Spidey action: a combination of action and comedy. The banter is written beautifully by Len Wein who captures Parker’s famous distraction technique of constant, nervous chatter.
The Opening is fast paced with panel after panel of Spidey in action. Ross Andru choreographs the panels to give the impression that Spider-Man is merely dancing with the Taxi Cab and not in a life and death struggle. It’s eloquent and flows through the panel transitions.
This leads into another stalwart of 70’s Spider-Man; the teenage soap opera. Parkers luck in the webs does not extend to his love life and the interactions between him and Mary Jane in this issue run hot and cold. In fact, a large part of this issue is to highlight Peter’s obsession with his responsibilities as the web-slinger. At every turn his double life gets in the way and Wein uses Mary Janes’ often volatile reactions as a way of demonstrating the affects the duel identity is having on Peter.
The contrast of identities also plays out in the other plot in this issue, that of Dr Bolton. An especially clever sequence of panels is played out in Bolton’s flashback story only to be repeated panel for panel, action for action, in the climactic moments of the issue. The two pages in question are a pleasure to read and demonstrate Wein and Andru’s ability to tell the very best comic book story. The narrative is simple and has similarities in both the past and present but Andru’s framing of the panels, matching compositions panel by panel, shows off a flair for comic book design.
These comparison pages could also be seen as a hint for things to come in future issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. The two pages are a reminder that time repeats itself, the circle of life spins around and around; could this be a foreshadowing of the return of a major character? Old battles renewed once more? Spider-Man starts this issue on a high note, believing in his own actions for doing good but by the end, the dire consequences of his chosen lifestyle are spelled out for him. Wein works this angle to bring the character down and prepare the reader for what is to come.
The violence within this issue is surprisingly blunt for a Marvel comic. A moment early on when Dr Bolton’s blackmailer makes his point about compliance is framed with the merciless killing of a small bird. Its life is snuffed out like a candle without a second thought. This disregard for life is revisited later in the issue but there is a deeper meaning given to it but the end result is just as brutal.
Back in the 70’s each issue of a series tended to be a self-contained story. Yes, they had story lines running through multiply issues and snippets of future story lines were drip fed into the pages to build up suspense amongst regular readers. But as a general rule you could pick up an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man without having read any of the others and be able to follow the story. The upshot of this is that elements of the narrative can be frustrating to modern readers. Thought bubbles that explain what is happening in the panel, “M-my gun – Snatched away by Spider-Man’s webbing..!?”. That’s what the panel shows; no need for the description. And the fact that characters are referred to by their full names, even in thought bubbles.
However, these little things don’t hinder the story in any adverse way. The fast pace at which the story progresses concretes over those little cracks.
Wein and Andru have crafted a marvellous superhero comic which packs an emotional punch bigger than any of Spider-Man’s physical ones. It tells the story of overcoming your fears and reminds the reader never to give up: sentiments which are relevant whenever you read the comic. It also has the realistic soap opera elements that further the characters involved, especially with Peter and MJ’s relationship. So much about them is revealed in their interactions in this single issue.
To be able to juggle all of these narrative balls is no mean feat but juggled they are and in spectacular fashion. If you’ve not read The Amazing Spider-Man #153, search it out, because it isn’t showing its age at all.
The Amazing Spider-Man #153 (Feb 1976)
Written by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru
Inked by Mike Esposito
Coloured by Glynis Oliver Wein
Published by Marvel Comics.
I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can remember.
I have used them as inspiration for my art work.
I have even tried to write one.
A few years ago I contacted a new website on the off chance they might allow me to review some comics for them. That web site was Need To Consume and the editors of the site took a punt on me. It was one of the best things that happened for me. Over the next few years of writing for the site my confidence grew; I was blessed with the opportunity to interview some amazing people; got access to some preview comics and TV shows; and made some very good friends.
As is life, people move on and things change. I now write for a different web site and, obviously, have this, my own website. As part of this website I planned on re-posting old reviews, gathering my writing all together in one place to illustrate how I have changed over time. I started to mine the old reviews from Need To Consume and re-edit them. I don’t have them saved anywhere because that is something a sensible person would do so I was taking them straight from the site. This week I went to reclaim a few more to work on but was greeted with the following….
I’ll be honest; it made me sad. I knew that nothing new had been posted to the site for a long time but I’d not thought of it actually disappearing. Some part of me just expected it to be there. This is a ridiculous thing to believe especially as the site itself had stalled but still, finding the notice that it no longer existed came as a bit of a shock.
It also means, of course, that a lot of my posts are now gone, probably forever. I do have a few saved in the recesses of my computer but the majority only existed on Need To Consume. With that gone so are my writings.
An important lesson has been learned.
Anyway, the future is where I’m heading and my plans for The Pointless Review section of my site may change a little. Instead of old reviews it will morph into new reviews of old comics. That’s the plan, at least for now.
However, I still have some old things to repost, so they will turn up from time to time.
Need To Consume is gone but not forgotten. It was an important part of my life for a number of years so I salute all those involved with it and thank them for helping me be here today.
Continuing their move into more adult, horror based comics, Boom! Studios’ Lazaretto is a tale of suspense and horror based on the spread of a deadly virus. It starts with a new intake of students at Yersin University and follows the progression of two central characters as they become friends and battle to survive in an isolated world spiralling out of control.
This comic series by Clay McLeod Chapman and Jey Levang is described as Lord of the Flies on a College campus and contains violent, bloody and disturbingly horrific scenes.
As the final issue is set for release this week (Wednesday 31 Jan) I thought I'd revisit my previous reviews for each issue and post them all together here.
Warning: may contain spoilers if you haven't read any of the singles and are waiting for the Trade collection.
Charles is from Chicago. His mother is over protective and his father is almost military in his discipline. Charles, on the other hand, just wants to fit into university life without standing out too much, something that’s made harder by his drug dealing room mate. But it’s only the first day so there’s plenty of time to find himself.
Tamara, Indiana, is from a single parent family. Her mother passed away and she still prays to her. She tries to down play her religious vocation which is hard when faced with the out spoken hippy she is rooming with. She feels she is cut off and all she want’s is too return home.
The two of them meet on a rooftop and strike up what they hope will be a lasting friendship. But is it too late? A horrific virus dubbed The Canine Flu is sweeping through the outside world and students are starting to get sick. Very, very sick.
With a premise that sounds like the start of most zombie movies, Lazaretto takes a lesser worn path in this opening issue. The virus is visually a heavy focus of the storytelling throughout, so much so that the reader might feel as though just touching the comic might lead to infection. Microscopic germs are drawn large, crossing gutters and framing transitions from page to page. The intention of this comic is to allow the reader to follow the spread of the virus as it enters the University and illustrate how it affects the lives of the two central characters.
The tone of the story has more in common with The Survivors, a 1970’s British TV show, than it does Image Comics’ The Walking Dead or Spread. It has relatable characters in a relatable situation. The awkwardness of starting University is played out over the first half of the comic but then the irrational fears Charles and Tamara have are swept away by the horror of a reality neither of them could have ever predicted.
The pacing of the narration by Clay McLeod Chapman builds momentum page after page; it allows the readers to get to know the two main characters while showing the outbreak in the background and on the fringes. And then, sooner than expected, the fringes come crashing centre stage instantly creating dramatic tension. So little is revealed about the virus and its symptoms that from the beginning it is unclear who has become infected; even Charles and Tamara are not clear and free.
Charles and Tamara are both fully rounded characters with backgrounds and varied personality traits. This may seem like an obvious thing to say but in todays’ comic book world, establishing good characters in a first issue is difficult, especially when Chapman is setting up so much more. There is something identifiable in each of the main cast and most can relate to those nervous first days of starting somewhere new, whether it’s University, School or just starting a new job.
Thanks to the artwork by Jey Levang, this is not a comic for the faint hearted. It’s creepy, unnerving and bloody. However, the setting is so normal that the whole thing seems devious: Levang has lulled us into a false sense of security.
Levang favours a thin pencil line and relies on only a few marks to create definition; a lot of the substance of the panels comes from the use of colour, which is bountiful. The chaos of being somewhere new is illustrated perfectly on a number of pages as the panels bleed together, losing the gutters and therefore expressing that timelessness that accompanies being out of your depth. Each one of these moments is punctuated by a virus related panel to hammer home this issues point; the virus is everywhere.
And the first and last contrasting splash pages are a wonderful way to express how much has happened in such a short time. The relaxation of the first page compared to the chaotic fear of the last sums the reading experience of this first issue up perfectly.
The lack of explanation about the virus may be frustrating for some readers but, in a medium where people can accept The Walking Dead after nearly 15 years without needing to know where the zombies came from, I’m sure it won’t put many off. Plus, like The Mist by Stephen King, this comic doesn’t appear to be a story about the virus itself but about the people who become trapped in the University dorms, the ‘lazaretto’ of the title. Some of those people need more fleshing out but there’s time for that later: the reader is given two, strong characters to help them through issue one.
This is a surprisingly satisfactorily crafted comic. I wasn’t sure the medium needed yet another end of the world, zombie-esq story, after all it has been done many times over recent years. But Lazaretto is a fresh take on the theme and the set up gives me the impression that the rest of the story is also going to be different to previous ‘outbreak’ comics. The isolation that the young students find themselves in is more akin to the small indie film Right at your Door (2006). The building of tension and mounting fear that swamped that movie is also present here in the final few pages of this comic.
Both writer and artist have made me fall in love with Charles and Tamara but I also fear for them. This is captivating creativity at work.
After the introduction of the characters and the setting in issue 1, Clay McLeod Chapman takes the reader into a dark, unpleasant place as he picks away at modern society. Lazaretto is not for the faint hearted and is unapologetic about its disturbing content and refuses to shy away for the degradation of the human spirit.
There are two genres at play in Lazaretto: the first is the teenage college comedy and the second is an apocalyptical, mankind turns on itself dystopia. These two may appear at odds with each other and it is true that there isn’t much comedy in these pages but the underlying themes are there and that is what makes this an interesting read.
What Chapman has managed to do is portray the ‘teenage college comedy’, without the humour, to highlight just how disturbing it can be. The treatment of one group of people by another based on their college year group is explored in depth as the RAs abuse their given position. The RAs purpose is to protect the fresher’s in their care but as soon as the connection to the University is cut off they seize power and put themselves on top. By forcing the younger students onto the lower floors a visual hierarchy is produced with those in charge, with the space and the safety, at the top of the tower and the sick, underclass, crowded together on the lower floors. There is even a full page spread at the end of the comic which represents this division perfectly. One simple image of the building tells you everything you need to know about the people inside.
This idea of separating the different classes of people in this way is nothing new, see Si Spurrier’s The Spire for a fantasy based version of this, but what Chapman does is use this to illustrate the College system in a simple way. There are the Jocks and the popular kids, those with money and the illusion of power, all partying at the top of the building as if nothing is wrong, oblivious to the dangers and the struggles of the others. In the middle of the final image, highlighted by a well-lit room, surrounded by dorms in darkness, is one of the popular kids who is too sick to attend the party. She has been abandoned and forgotten with no-one to care for her. At least those at the bottom have each other but Mary has no-one. She has been cast out by the high society for being ill and has ostracised herself from the others by her previous actions. Chapman draws your attention to her because he wants you to see how fickle those at the top can be; they only think of themselves and what you can do for them. In this instance the girls need to be attractive and healthy or their place in the group is lost.
A disturbing undercurrent runs throughout the entire issue and this is best seen through Tamara’s story. It starts when the girls room is raided by a group of lads who force their way in and assault them with spray foam. To the boys it’s just a game, some light hearted fun but what it represents is the awful, disrespectful treatment of female students. When given the opportunity to run free, do what they want, these male students terrorise the women; they disrespect the woman’s personal space by invading it and damaging the walls. They then physically assault the women in their dorm room, a place that should be safe for them. But laugh it off, that’s what the boys do. This represents an attitude that exists not only in isolated fantasy situations like Lazaretto, but is an attitude that so many still have around the world. Especially when it comes to teenage boys just having a laugh.
Chapman uses his forced pocket of society to highlight such real world issues. The most disturbing of which is the scene with Tamara at the party. One of the RAs has set himself up as some kind of Philosophical leader, spouting well-rehearsed (but poorly researched) quotes to make himself seem very clever. A bunch of girls all paw at him in awe, wanting desperately to be accepted by him. Tamara however points out the error in what he is saying; she dares to question his superiority. In the panel where she does this she is hunched into one corner, arms wrapped around her knees in a defensive position while the rest of the room turn to glare at her. The RA has an expression of shock while the girls all stare at Tamara with hate filled eyes. No-body questions the hierarchy.
As punishment the RA dismisses everyone except Tamara. He then proceeds to force himself upon her while trying to convince her that she wants the same thing as her. It is attempted rape, pure and simple. A man in a position of power forcing himself upon someone who is deemed to be insignificant in the social group. This is not a pleasant read but it speaks volumes about how the world treats people of privilege.
While the narrative is packed with psychological horrors the Art work is a visual onslaught. Jey Levang has a rough style that doesn’t allow for the safety of firm, straight lines. The backgrounds have a watercolor effect which gives the interior scenes a sense of dampness. The colors themselves are sickly on every page not allowing for the reader to get comfortable in the surroundings.
The characters are practically all drawn with visual signs of the illness. A technique employed to continually remind the reader that all is not well in the dorm rooms. At no point are you allowed to escape the fact that these characters are trapped inside the college building. The reader, just like the cast, have to face the sickness head on at every turn.
Even the seemingly most innocent of page’s harbours worrying undertones. Take for example the character introduction pages: they are laid out like pages from a high school year book. An image for each character with the name printed in capitals below. Over the top is a typed, sneaky insight into their character. It’s quirky and fun. It once again relates to the college comedies that so much of the narrative draws on. However, it is also reminiscent on the roll call pages from Battle Royale, or the Uncanny X-Men cover for the Days of Future Past story line. How long before the reader sees those same pages again with large red crosses through some of the characters?
At every turn Chapman and Levang remind the reader that the comic is not a safe environment. Very quickly the hyper-social group begins to degrade and each page takes you deeper into this decaying situation. Like all good horror stories, the body mutilation is an initial disgust that will make you reel but it is the psychological horrors that stick with you. After being repulsed by a character tearing the skin from his arm, it’s the manipulation and attempted rape that haunts you after you have closed the comic.
With the College on lock down and the seniors running rampant, the virus that brings out the worst, and grossest, in people is spreading like wildfire. Lazaretto continues to prove that it is the ickiest thing on the shelves while laying out some even more disturbing truths about societies views. You can come for the zombie-esq entertainment but you will have to face some uncomfortable truths as a consequence. Lazaretto opens up the American College hierarchy and shines a light on some of its more disturbing aspects.
Everywhere you look in the third issue there is evidence of the sickness, even the circular shape of some of the panels seems to suggest the spread of the virus. The slightly wobbly outlines create a sense of unevenness and a breakdown of order. Neither Clay McLeod Chapman nor Jey Levang want the reader to be comfortable while reading this comic which is why Chapman litters the script with broken speech and Levang colours the entire thing with a sickly watercolor wash. In essence it is the visual representation of nausea. It is that urge to vomit when someone else is being sick.
There are two themes battling for dominance in the third issue: claustrophobia and obstruction. As the story has progressed, the world has shrunk for the heroes of the piece. Attending University should be the first step into the great wide world, the world should be their oyster but instead their environment has shrunk. The environmental covering that surrounds the dormitory traps the characters within the building but also traps them with their secrets and personal fears. It is only day three in this narrative but already the fear is forcing some of the characters to seek a way out; a need to run from society. Tamara has been in hiding since the death of her mother and she feels ostracised because of her strong religious beliefs; Chris is gay and fears how he will be treated if anyone found out. Together they are able to form a bond but these personal worries enhance the pressure they feel. If their respective secrets get out the society they find themselves in will tear them apart so they make a pact to seek help and escape. But his proves to be difficult as the narrative, and art work, expresses.
Firstly, the clean white gutters act as barriers to the characters. Their crispness against the deluge of sickly colours makes them stand out, reminding the reader of their ridged shape; only the circular panels deviate from a standard rectangular shape, and these are like blotches on the surface of the page. The gutters act as barriers that Chris and Tamara are trapped behind. Throughout the story they have a number of physical barriers they attempt to get passed but these are reinforced by the solid gutters, locking them into the panels and into the nightmare of a story.
The gutters are not the only barriers in the pages of the comic, there are a whole number of obstacles in the way of Chris and Tamara. There are the straight forward glass doors of the main entrance; the clanking chains of the locked fire exits; cross hatched, sealed doorways; rusted, infectious looking air conditioning vents. It appears that everywhere they turn there is something blocking them.
However, the most overpowering theme in this issue of Lazaretto is claustrophobia. As the central characters begin to see their options diminish, the walls start to close in. The panels start to get cramped and overcrowded. Whenever there is a crowd scene there doesn’t appear to be enough room to fit the characters in, they are either squashed together in the centre of the panel, huddled together like frightened animals, or pushed to the very edge of the panel to be cut off by the gutters. The backgrounds in the panels are for the most part sparse, devoid of substance. There is nothing welcoming in this building anymore and Levang doesn’t want the reader to feel at home at all. Everything is stripped away and closed in to heighten that locked in feeling. As the issue progresses any hope of getting out is reduced to virtually zero.
This story is a pleasure to read, even though the content is anything but pleasant. Chapman has written a very tight, fear inducing script which draws the reader in and traps them there with the characters. He creates a world that no-one would want to be a part of but makes it almost impossible to walk away from. Add to this the wonderfully disturbing artwork and you have in your hands an infectious, stomach churning comic unlike anything currently on the shelf.
Clay McLeod and Jay Levang’s disintegration of a college dorm and the students trapped within has become the back bone of one of the best comics of 2017. There is nothing that these two creators won’t do to make you, the reader, feel uncomfortable.
By the fourth issue of the story, the disease riddled students have turned on each other and torn their habitat to shreds. Only Chris and Tamara seem to be keeping themselves together, and only barely. McLeod continues to up the ante as far as the violence and horror goes but he is also continuing to building the characters of Chris and Tamara; their inner qualities are brought out by their desperation and their inner most fears are laid bare for the reader to see.
This creates some very touching emotional story telling which almost makes you forget the horrors surrounding the cast. But not for long because this issue sees a new phase to the disease and I would recommend reading this on an empty stomach. Levang’s art work will make you shudder and potentially retch.
The longer this comic goes on the more disturbing it becomes. In some respect it is probable a good thing there is only one issue left, however, I will miss it when it is gone.
RunLoveKill is a mesmerising read with some brilliantly orchestrated panel design and transitions unfortunately it is marred by one misstep which literally covers the comic.
There are always discussions about whether or not covers should represent the interior narrative but the cover for issue one of RunLoveKill gives the reader a completely wrong impression of the contents. The flat grey, computer constructed figure looks more like a model for a Tod McFarlane figure than an enticement for a new sci-fi comic. It doesn’t represent the artwork or the narrative of the comic’s contents. It isn’t a bad illustration, no-body would look at it in disgust, the problem is that it doesn’t jump off the shelf and grab you in a way that covers need to in today’s market place. First impressions do count and the unfortunate truth is people still judge a book by its cover when it comes to picking up new reads.
And the fact that the cover may put people off is a crime because between the covers, on each page of the comic itself, there is an exceptional and surprisingly engaging story. It has the look and feel of late 1990’s sci-fi films such as Strange Days or the seminal German ‘alternate universes’ movie Run Lola Run. It has a hint of Manga about it but also very European in style. Basically, it has a crisp and fresh look while portraying a murky, Sci-Fi world akin to Blade Runner.
The story is fairly simple to start with but there are depths waiting to be explored and it’s a shame that only four issues were produced. Set in the future, Rain is looking to leave the city before the completion of the Wall. She has a feeling that fills her with dread, an inclination that everything is going to change for the worse so she decides to get out before it’s too late. Unfortunately, an act of kindness sets in motion a series of events which block her exit. She becomes trapped and hunted in a fast paced, over bright world.
RunLoveKill is a comic about consequences and that first ill-conceived but well-meaning act starts the unravelling of Rain’s plans but there is something else going on beneath it all. A flashback/flashforward sequence contrasts scenes of Rain playing a cello and running from armoured police officials, all of which is over layered with the rhythmic tick tick of a metronome. Its monotonous swing seems to mock the future Rain as her life begins to spiral out of control. Her life begins to lose timing and rhythm while the metronome continues to tick tick evenly and clearly. From the very beginning of issue one there is the feeling that her time is running out.
The artwork is fluid and exaggerated which matches the musical undertones of the narrative. It’s impressively cinematic which is a complete contrast to the stiff, structured image on the cover. Instead of a plastic figure, the interior art is more reminiscent of Gabrial Ba’s emotional work in such titles as Daytripper. It is a fusion of Expressionism and Impressionism pasted onto a Catherine Bigelow social commentary.
The script has an urgency to it. This is depicted as each scene seems to intensify and desperation begins to fuel Rain’s actions. Then a clever moment of respite gives the reader a moment to breath easily before Jon Tsuei hits you with a betrayal of our heroine, throwing everything back up in the air.
The pacing is handled beautifully by Jon Tsuei, constantly moving the story and the characters forward, almost as if he’s matching the narration to the even tick tick of the metronome.
The first issue makes a statement of intent for the series. It sets up the cast and setting so as a reader you know who you’ll be following through the series. But it does so much more by setting the tone and making such an important point about the relentless timing. The tick tock of the clock plays throughout giving the reader the impression of a clock counting down, of time running out, of the heroine edging ever nearer to her end. The creators want the reader to know that it is only a matter of time before the Wall is complete and then there is no escape.
The interior of this comic takes hold of the reader and sweeps them up in the high paced, desperate life of Rain. The pacing keeps you moving in the right direction, although you may want to stop to look at the sights, the urgency of the situation makes this impossible most of the time. It is an engaging comic which is under-represented by the cover.
Drawing inspiration from television shows, movies and modern, independent comics, Lucas Stand is a gritty comic that mixes genres in a wide reaching story. It punches you in the gut from the opening page and challenges you to like the unlikable and not to prejudge a character. This is a challenge in an age when the difference between ‘good and evil' is made so obvious in most modern narrative mediums.
The titular character, Lucas Stand, has not been having a good time since leaving the army. He has trouble adjusting to his civilian life, especially with the amount of alcohol he drinks. A confrontation gets him fired from his job. And this is just one in a long line of uncontrollable disasters. The final straw is an incident on the highway that results in the death of a family. The accident was inadvertently caused by Lucas but due to his current ‘state’ he fails to immediately see the consequences of his actions. When he finds out, thanks to a news report, Lucas decides to do everyone a favour and take his own life.
The opening of this comic is grim. It deals with some hard subject matter from alcoholism to suicide. The way that Lucas is portrayed in the first few pages make him a difficult character to empathise with.
But it’s at this point in the narrative, and at this point Lucas’ ‘life’, that things begin to get really interesting. Lucas finds himself thrown into a crazy afterlife where a supernatural soldier offers him ‘the coin' as a way of employment. Lucas doesn't believe what he sees, thinking it is all some hallucination as a result of a bullet to the head.
It only starts to get real for him when he is attacked by a form shifting demon and embroiled in a chase to the roof and eventually into the past. Lucas awakes in the middle of Germany during the Second World War, disorientated. The narrative suddenly turns into an espionage drama; a supernatural Borne story with Lucas completely out of his depth. The unapologetic deadbeat is turned into a reluctant hero, of sorts.
Lucas Stand has been created by Kurt Sutter who is famous for creating and writing Sons of Anarchy, and if you've watched that show, you can see his hand in this comic. Lucas is a rough and ready character with a massive chip on his shoulder. He's on the verge of being a villain and gives off a bad boy vibe. In fact, one of the draw backs is that he's almost too unlikable in the beginning. It creates a large gulf for him to climb out of and one that some readers might not want to stick around for. It isn't until he's thrown into a situation where he is face to face with someone who needs his help that there is a spark of an appealing personality.
Once the narrative gets going it's swimming with familiarity. There's a touch of Quantum Leap and J. Michael Straczynski's Ten Grand but the closest comparison would be with the television series Life on Mars (the British version, I've not seen the one with Jason O'Mara) but with added Nazi's. The words from the show's opening "Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet" ring in the ear as soon as Lucas wakes up in Germany.
This is not a bad thing, the comic is written well and has a wonderfully paced script but you would expect this from a seasoned writer like Sutter. There are just so many elements from different styles of genres all vying for space in a single issue. It's like Sutter has been given a bottomless budget and told to go wild.
The outlandish story is somewhat tamed by Jesus Hervas' art work which is grounded in reality. His design and layout is immaculate with panels that flow so effortlessly into one another. The transition from image to image is intrinsically comic book but at the same time it has the essence of a brilliantly directed movie. There are shifting points of view, mood shots, directional shots, emotional close ups and action sequences full of energy and violence. Whereas the script may nag at you for elements of unoriginality, the art is grimy and dark and whole heartedly beautiful to read.
As a first issue Lucas Stand is gripping and immediately pulls you into his strange new world. It's entertaining, disturbing and a none stop thrill ride from start to finish.
Lucas Stand was published by Boom! Studios, written by Kurt Sutter and illustrated by Jesus Hervas.
In November 2016 the first issue on Slam! was released by Boom! Studios. It was the first of their 'sport' comics and as issue one of Fence is released this week (review soon) I thought it I would drag up my review for this one. Also, check out some of the interior art at the end of the review.
Continuing their brand new, creator owned comic range Boom Studios! continue to grow and encourage their creator owned range and this year (2016) unleashed Slam! onto the shelves. Set in the competitive and growing world of Roller Derby, Slam! Follows two newcomers to the sport as they try to integrate themselves into a team. The sport is rough and doesn’t hold back just like the players on and off track.
Over recent years Roller Derby has become an extremely popular sport. There's probable not a major city in America or the UK that doesn't have a Roller Derby team. Anyone who has been to see a live game will have noticed the intensity; not just of the game but also of the relationships between skaters, between teams and between supporters. The Derby world is one massive family with a full contact sport thrown into the middle.
Slam! is not the first comic about Roller Derby but is probably the most mainstream release to date. But does it capture the energy and excitement of the actual sport?
The comic opens on Bout Day and the newbies, or˜'freshies', are nervously preparing for their first official game. Meanwhile Maisie and Jen are in the toilet. Maisie's nerves are overwhelming her and she hasn't got the confidence to actually get onto the rink. Jen is trying her hardest to convince her everything will be okay. And so the central characters of this tale of friendship and full contact sport are introduced.
The two women meet at the Roller Derby training sessions and quickly become part of each other’s lives. And it is at the first game that the two central women realise that they shouldn't be alone and decide that they can move in together. What could possibly go wrong?
The talent involved with this comic is amazing. Veronica Fish (artist) has worked on developing characters for film and TV and she was the artist on Spider-Woman for Marvel. Pamela Ribon (writer) has also worked in TV and film, having worked on the upcoming sequel to Wreck It Ralph, and has written numerous comics and books. Add to that the excellent colouring skills of Brittany Peer and you know you're in for a good read.
Unfortunately, despite this talent, it is difficult to work ot what Slam! wants to be. Part story of friendship and part Roller Derby propaganda, the narrative never really settles down into a style that flows.
The comic starts off well introducing the central character's moments before their first Bout. The Art work uses silent panels to illustrate the physical preparations while the speech underlines a nervousness from the characters.
Maisie and Jen are then introduced in the rather unglamorous location of the toilets. This is great place to introduce the characters because from the beginning Ribon is showing the reader that these women are down to earth, real women and not some glamourized sports stars. From this scene you can tell they are new to the game and non-professional athletes. Basically, they are just like any women reading the comic. Instantly identifiable characters that draw the reader in and commit them to the story.
However, when the narrative switches to flashback mode to tell the backstories of Jen and Maisie this is where things get a bit muddled. It's not the stories themselves but rather the way they are told.
Jen's history is told in a clumsy, third party voiceover which reads more like a draft outline of the character rather than finalised script. The reader also doesn't really learn anything about Jen's character. She's determined not to let her current situation bring her down but there is something missing from her life; enter Roller Derby. But there are no real details about her lonely life or why so much of her time is taken up in the gym.
Maisie's story is told in a different way; using her friends and internal angst to let the reader know all about her recent relationship break up. This is a contrasting style to Jen’s back story because it gives you a lot of information about Maisie’s recent life. She is much more rounded character but then the artwork manages to let it down with one, large panel that is just awful. The background colour scheme, the script and the overall effect is cringeworthily and catches in your throat. There is a groaning obviousness about the entire image which puts a dampener on Maisie's story.
The part of the narrative that deals with the modern day is told via 10 facts about Derby Life. And therein lies this comics biggest problem. Roller Derby is very much a lifestyle choice for most women who play it. From personal experience I know how much of a players life is taken up by the amateur sport. And what Slam! Is trying to do is show you what Derby Life will be like. This is admirable and relevant but it feels like it's jumping ahead. The characters are barely developed, the plot only really becomes clear in the final pages and virtually nothing about Roller Derby is explained. A collection of images represents sections of the game and related ‘life’ but the lack of exposition means that without already knowing Roller Derby, the casual reader will be lost.
It isn't clear who the audience is for Slam! Do you have to be initiated into Roller Derby already or is it trying to convince you to give it a try? There is a story, with characters who have very good growth potential, but this gets lost in the mixed stylistic approach to introducing them and the game they play.
There is some very well-choreographed Derby action with the introduction of potentially exciting characters however there is no frame work or explanation about the game itself. The main audience appears to be seasoned Derby Players who like a touch of nostalgia.
There is a lot of potential in these pages and the Art work is mostly engaging and kinetic, which you need for a fast paced sport like Roller Derby. Pick up a copy then find a Roller Derby player to explain it all to you. And hopefully, by the second issue, the narrative will have settled on one style.
The Power of the Dark Crystal is based on a script for the sequel to the original 1982 movie. Boom! Studios have enlisted Si Spurrier to rework the magic and take readers on a long overdue journey back to Thra.
If you are of a certain age you will probably remember going to the cinema to see the dark, muppet movie The Dark Crystal. It will no doubt have captivated you and drawn you into its slow paced, grim looking fantasy world. For years’ rumours have been abound about a sequel, including the proposition of a CGI follow up made on a tight budget. For good or ill, the sequel didn't materialise but thanks to Boom! Studios, the continuation of the story is available in comic book format.
The new story is set 100 years after the Great Crystal was healed and the Mystics and Skeksis' left the world of Thra, as seen in the original movie. The people of the world venture forth once more and peace has reigned under the glowing light of the Crystal of Power.
Enter into this seemingly ideal world a Fireling and everyone begins to panic. Aughra, the sage and know it all from the movie, has seen the warnings and dreads what the Fireling will bring.
The old world and the new are about to be tested and the fate of the Great Crystal is at the centre of it all.
The Dark Crystal is a must see movie, and if you are of a certain age you will should have seen it. It's a movie that deals with such themes as Death, Predestination, Religious dogma and is a beautiful fantasy adventure. It was brilliant designed by Brian Froud and created by Jim Hensons' creature shop. The story is mystical and evenly paced, a far cry from the Flashy, colour soaked Disney offerings.
For years a sequel has been in production and various rumours have spread about when and where it will appear but as yet it has never got off the ground. This is where this comic comes in. Archaia, and Boom! Studios, have for a number of years had the rights to produce new stories within the world of the Dark Crystal, as well as the other much loved children's classic Labyrinth. Short stories have been released over time, often in the Free Comic Book Day specials. But this is the first monthly title that they have put out and who better to write it than Simon Spurrier?
Spurrier is currently at the top of his game, having produced some outstanding work in the last few years. Titles such as Cry Wolf and his work on Doctor Who have received high praise but it is his creator owned title, The Spire, where his narrative craftsmanship really shines. It is also exactly the reason why he could be the only person to write a new Dark Crystal story. The Spire has the feel of a Jim Henson world woven into it so it was especially exciting when he was chosen to write the continuing adventures of Aughra, Jen and Kira.
The story for issue one of The Power of the Dark Crystal is a standard fantasy sequel set up affair. It sets the scene and reintroduces the reader to the world of Thra with its changes and host of inhabitants. Using Aughra as a central figure from the beginning is a great move because it instantly gives the reader, and the writer, a familiar character to focus the story around. She was an integral part of the movie without being a hero or villain; she's an observer just like the reader although she does seem to know more than anyone else.
The beauty of the script is how much it reads like the movie. From the opening monologue you get the sense that you are witnessing the sequel to the film. It has the same style and pacing. It's difficult to read without hearing the voice of Joseph O'Conor, the movies narrator, in your head. As the new chronicle progresses the narration continues in the same tone, mirroring the voice over of the movie, and setting the tone for the entire comic. This is a majestic, fantasy populated with benevolent characters. When there is a moment of cruelty, for example when the podlings are turned away from the Castle for being too poor to bring an offering, it jars the reader; it is out of place in this, almost, Utopian world. The opening tells us the world has been healed but are there still scars irritating Thar?
Of course the story wouldn't have the same effect on the reader without the outstanding art work by Kelly and Nichole Matthews. The line work appears simple but each panel is packed with colourful detail. The characters are distinctive and the landscapes lavish. Beauty runs through each page. There is a playfulness to the aesthetic that makes it appear simpler than it actually is. Bright colours sparkle in the darkness of underground caverns, and the evening landscapes are coated with a livid purple.
The artists want the reader to feel comfortable in this world. You are being invited back in to a world that you a familiar with but subtle quirks in characters and backgrounds hint at a darkness beneath. Changes in shade and shadow are used to highlight the internal workings of each character. For example, a dark shadow cast across the castle priest adds a malice to the words he speaks but a change in light helps to illustrate the eternal goodness of Kira and Jen.
The first issue of The Power of The Dark Crystal is a the ground laying issue that takes it’s time to set up the series in an engaging and aesthetically pleasing way. It's the sequel to the movie that all the fans want but isn't so soaked in nostalgia that those new to the Dark Crystal will feel as though they have missed out. A pleasing start to a 12 issue series.