The Losers Book 2 (2010)

This mammoth collection collects the remainder of the Losers comic run (issues 13 – 32) that were previously collected as three separate trade paperbacks. In this volume the reason for the kill order on the team is revealed; Max and his plan are uncovered and revenge is served up.

While the individual story lines that make up this volume are entertaining in themselves they only serve to slow the action on the main plot. Instead of being 20 issues long the volume could have been leaner at maybe 10 – 12 issues long and still told the same story in a pacier more satisfying fashion. The origin of Max, when we get to it, stretches the realms of possibility more than a little and the proliferation of nuclear devices is unfeasible. Also, by the end, there were not many characters that I cared about as we were given little insight into them – beyond their place in the team and their ongoing mission – and so when they were beginning to die off there was no sense of great loss.

As I thought, after reading the first book, the movie had to ditch a lot of material to make it fit into 2 hours. It also relocated some of the action from a military operation in Afghanistan to a CIA drugs bust in Bolivia. If you want to compare the comic to the movie then you will have to read both these books to see all the source material. If you can find the original trades then the majority of the story line used in the movie is in volumes 1 (Ante Up) and 3 (Trifecta).

Red (2003/4)

OK, so I was going to move straight onto the second book of the Losers (I even read the first chapter) but this afternoon I went with my family to see the movie version of Red and I thought I would read the comic and see how they compare. Wow, are they different!

The only thing retained for the movie is the retired CIA agent Paul (Frank in the movie) Moses who just wants to lead a peaceful life but has a kill team sent after him. And that’s it! Everything else in the movie is added on – the old team, the love interest, the ultimate reason that Moses ends up on the kill list – everything.

In the comic, an incoming director of the CIA is taken to a special room and shown material pertaining to Paul Moses. He comes out shaken and immediately orders that Moses be killed. An initial team go to his home but fail to kill him and Moses unleashes his vengeance upon the CIA.

In the UK, this movie is rated 12A (meaning that children under 12 can only enter when accompanied by an adult) the same rating as the Iron Man and Transformer movies. This means that the level of violence, while high, is toned down from the graphic violence in the original comic. We all enjoyed it and as an action/buddy movie it worked really well – with great performances from the four RED agents. But for me the star of the movie was Karl Urban as the CIA agent tasked with tracking down and arresting Moses. Urban was great in this and as a very much under utilised Bones in the recent Star Trek movie – I was going to say that I could watch him in anything but realised that he was in the Chronicles of Riddick which I hated.

So go and see the movie and go and read the comic they are very different but both entertaining in their own ways.

The Losers Book 1 (2010)

The first thing to say, in regards to all these blog entries, is that the date quoted in the subject is the date of the edition of the book I am reading not the original date of publication of the comic. This is particularly noticeable for this volume of the Losers which collects issues 1 – 12 of the series which were originally released in 2003/4. These comics had also been collected previously in two trade paperbacks (Ante Up and Double Down) that are now compiled into one volume to tie in with the release of the movie.

I was looking forward to reading this series as Andy Diggle had a great run recently on Hellblazer where he rejuvenated the character and took him back to his roots. I have previously come across the artist Jock in his fairly recent Hellblazer graphic novel (Pandemonium) and another Vertigo series, Faker, that was written by Mike Carey.

The basic set up is that a five man team of mavericks are brought together for unconventional operations. Whilst in Afghanistan they see something that they shouldn’t (that has not been explored in detail yet) as a result of which a kill order is issued by someone within the CIA and the team is considered killed in action. Somehow they survive and hook up with an Afghan CIA operative and plan to expose the corruption within the CIA and remove themselves from the kill list.

This volume contains a number of ongoing storylines in their quest to expose the traitorous contact known only as Max. The first chapter introduces the team, their quest and confirms dirty dealings within the CIA. The next five chapters details their investigation of a large oil company for further evidence of CIA double dealing during which one of the team is exposed as a rogue element. The next two chapters follows each of the remaining team members separately as they have some downtime from the mission whilst they decode information from a stolen hard drive. The final four chapters see the team liberate a safe from a buried hose in the Caribbean as they try to find further evidence that will lead them to Max and a credible expose of the corrupt element within the CIA.

The story is a straight action/thriller and, to me at least, sort of plays like a cross between the Jason Bourne movies and the TV series Burn Notice. The action is good and the plot is stringing the reader along nicely without losing their interest – at the end of the book there is no resolution to the quest and I will be carrying on into the second book to learn more. This is a strength for the story but a weakness in marketing as the book would not be satisfying to me as a standalone volume if I didn’t have the second one to hand.

I have not seen the movie – though I have a copy on DVD – and it will be interesting to see how it plays once I have finished reading the book. It already feels like there is too much material for it all to be comfortably fitted into a two hour movie so it will be interesting to find out what has been kept (if anything) and what has been dropped.

The Nobody (2009)

The Nobody is written and illustrated by Canadian Jeff Lemire. I have not read any of his work before but I am aware that he has a continuing series, also on Vertigo, called Sweet Tooth.

Large Mouth is a small town where nothing much happens until one day a mysterious bandaged man, John Griffen, arrives and takes residence in the motel. The residents, with the exception of bored teenager Vicki, are slow to accept his presence in their midst despite him keeping very much to himself. Griffen is a man on the run from his past looking to make amends for his mistakes. When a woman goes missing, the rumours and speculation that surround him crystallise into accusations and witch hunts and life for Vicki will never be the same again.

This is Lemire’s take on the invisible man story. It has a fairly slow pace to match the sleepy, off-season small fishing town but it beautifully put together. The relationship between Vicki and Griffen is good and the gradual reveal of Griffen’s past was handled well and twist at the end was a surprise, to me at least. I enjoyed the story and will look out for a more personal work called the Essex County trilogy that sounds good too.

Conan and the Songs of the Dead (2007)

I have been reading and enjoying Conan stories and comics since I was a teenager. As far as comics go my era was during the seventies reading the Savage Sword of Conan with stories by Roy Thomas and art by the likes of John Buscema and Barry Windsor-Smith. This volume contains an original story by Joe R. Lansdale with art by Timothy Truman.

The story features a number of stock elements for any Conan story: short brutal fight scenes; an evil sorcerer (is there any other kind in a Conan story?) intent on ruling the world; a number of unearthly enemies including mummies, zombies and conjured creatures; a quest. The only thing missing is a damsel in distress that Conan has to rescue. The plot concerns an evil sorcerer who is attempting to gather some magical artefacts to summon and control some dark gods and so rule the Earth. Conan stumbles into this when he rescues a thief who has stolen the first of these objects and he is reluctantly drawn into a quest to find the others as they seem to attract one another.

Although Conan starts out the story as a lone traveller in the desert, Lansdale quickly pairs him up with a smart ass thief who he rescues. Lansdale uses the relationship between the two to break away from the normal image of Conan as a surly loner. This allows him to inject a measure of humour into the story in the interactions between them. The sorcerer is also portrayed as being surrounded by bumbling minions and Lansdale uses his frustration at the incompetence that surrounds him as another source of humour.

I don’t know if this quite works for me as I like the image of Conan as a lone adventurer without much too say. The art, while fine enough, is not as dark and brooding as I like to see in a Conan story – though to be fair it is not really a dark and brooding kind of story. I prefer more claustrophobic tales where abandoned temples, caves, dungeons or other dimly lit locations have to be explored and any horror could be lurking round the next corner.

Ministry of Space (2009)

One of the sub-genres of science fiction that I enjoy is alternative history. This book is a prime example. Its premise is what if Britain had removed the rocket scientists from Germany at the end of World War II and dominated the space race?

The book postulates an impressive time line of achievements:

        1948 – First satellite in orbit round the Earth


            1950 – First man in space


                1953 – First manned multi-stage rocket launch


                    1956 – First space station established in orbit round the Earth by now. First Moon landing.


                        1960 – Moon base established by this point


                            1969 – Mission to and colonization of Mars


                              By 2001 – Missions beyond inner solar system and multiple space stations in existence.

                          The story describes the single-mindedness and determination of one man to ensure that Britain remains great and that the Empire survives in the post war era. The story is told in flashbacks as he is called to account for the price paid for his success.

                          The book was written by comics legend, and long time advocate of space travel, Warren Ellis who is clearly of the generation who were promised jet packs and space colonization. The art by Chris Weston is fabulous – I love the way the rockets are inspired by the engineering that went into the Spitfires, Hurricanes, etc. The book is short, as it compiles a three issue series, and I would have loved it to be longer as the main story is quite slight – the main interest is in the timeline of achievements and those gorgeous ships – and maybe more could be made of the attitude of the rest of the world – America, for example, is only launching its first space mission in 2001. A great sci-fi story that is well worth a look and crying out for a sequel as there are many unanswered questions worth investigating.

                          Heavy Metal (November 2010)

                          I am a fan of comics from continental Europe as they tend to have more explicit sci-fi story lines than the American ones that concentrate on superheroes (a massive generalisation, I know). The major difficulty is finding English translations of these books. Perversely, the best source of such material is the American magazine Heavy Metal. Twenty years ago I was a regular buyer of this magazine but it got dropped when I took a hiatus from collecting and reading comics. I decided to pick up a copy this week when I was in the comic shop.

                          The quality of any particular issue lies in how good the features graphic novel happens to be. In this issue it is a story called Biocosmosis: Savas. This is the second book in a series, the first was reprinted in Heavy Metal in the March 2009 issue, and it suffers because of that. There is not enough background to the characters and their affiliations to make enough sense of the back story and the main story, concerning a rampaging horde of creatures attacking the abandoned survivors of a planetary war, is not interesting enough to make up for this.

                          I’ll certainly try and remember to look out for future issues of Heavy Metal but will probably do some more research on the main story to see if it is likely to appeal to me before I buy.

                          Catwoman: Wild Ride (2005)

                          This collection follows on from my last read and collects Catwoman #20-24 – again written by Ed Brubaker.

                          After the last volume, this one has a much lighter tone – in both the story and the art. Holly and Selina go on a road trip and on the way Selina runs into trouble and some minor DC characters – such as Wildcat, Captain Cold and Hawkman and Hawkgirl – as well as some Egyptian ninja type characters.

                          Not as good for me as the previous volume. Selina goes on a quest that is not at all interesting for me – maybe I would be more engaged having known some of the earlier history of Holly that I am missing but probably not. It is also disappointing in that this is that last volume of the Brubaker run to be collected, as far as I am aware, so the subplot introduced here with the mysterious religious fanatics will remain unresolved unless I go to the original comics.

                          This is the last of the library books that I have at the moment so it is time to return to my own collection and a break from superheroes for a while.