The Secret (2007)

[ Listening to Grand Magus Currently: Listening to Grand Magus ]

This book collects the four issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics and is written by Mike Richardson with painted art by Jason Shawn Alexander.

The story is centred on Tommy Morris who is invited to a party at Pamela Sweeny’s house. At the party Pamela and her friends are phoning random numbers and challenging the people who answer with the statement “I know your secret”. One of the people called responds with “How do you know my secret?” and is told to meet at midnight to find out more. The following day Pamela is called by the mysterious man at school and later disappears after being dropped home by Tommy. While the police suspect Tommy of the disappearance he desperately tries to find out what has happened to Pamela.

The story is fine enough but has been told many times before. I am sure you could even guess the last panel from the outline of the first half of the book above. However, the best thing about the book is the art from Jason Shawn Alexander. It reminds me at times of the art of Jon J Muth and some of the art at his website reminds me of the Austrian expressionist artist Egon Schiele. Truly excellent and such a shame that the story is not up to the same standard.

A Sickness in the Family (2010)

This book is the latest in the Vertigo Crime line – a series of small format, black and white, original hardback books. It was written by Scottish crime fiction author Denise Mina who previously wrote Hellblazer for a year (collected in Empathy is the Enemy and The Red Right Hand). There are about 10 of these now – some by established comic book writers but others, like this one, that are by writers new to comics.

Set in Glasgow, a Polish immigrant is murdered at Christmas by her abusive partner in the flat below the Usher family. Ted Usher decides to buy the flat below and combine it with the upper flat to recreate the town house of old. When the floor is taken up to allow for the installation of a staircase, the grandmother, Martha, has a stroke and falls down the hole leaving her bedridden and unable to speak. Abandoned in the lower flat by everyone except Ted’s adopted son, Sam, tensions rise within the Usher family which is falling apart due to the secrets and lies within it. When the members of the family start to die they each blame the other but could, as Sam believes, a curse have been released from a witch burned on that spot in the 16th century.

This is only the second Vertigo Crime book that I have read – the first was also coincidentally by a Scottish crime writer (Ian Rankin) and featured John Constantine. Mina sticks to the classic murder mystery formula with plenty of slow reveals of characters and twists in their fate but also throwing in a possible supernatural element. So there are plenty of red herrings and motives around for the deaths and unexplained happenings when they start to occur. The story is good without being exceptional and the art by Antonio Fuso is very nice indeed.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – India (2010)

This book collects issues 261 to 266 of this long running title from Vertigo – it has been published continuously for 22 years and is the only title that survives from the imprint’s launch. This collection contains two stories – India and No Future.

The main story, India, continues the storyline from writer Peter Milligan that extends back to the start of his run on the book. In it a grief stricken John Constantine travels to India to purify his soul so that he can resurrect his dead, on-off girlfriend, Phoebe. While there he runs across a demon that is killing young girls in Mumbai that he must dispel before he can get what he is after from a local holy man.

The second story has echoes of John’s youth when he visits a punk collective on the verge of a Tory election victory. This story has a possessed effigy of Sid Vicious, evil, demonic Tories masterminding the election strategy and John getting a punk haircut.

A good collection but as the storyline carries on from the previous two collections it is maybe not a book for the casual reader. Nice to see Peter Milligan’s take on this character. I always feel that Hellblazer works best when a British writer is at the helm – the Azzarello run was not my most favourite – Milligan is a long time favourite of mine.

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale (2010)

I loved Firefly and the movie Serenity but I have been a little disappointed with the comics that have come out from Dark Horse. To date there have been two 3 issue mini-series (Those Left Behind and Better Days) and a one-shot focusing on Wash called Float Out. The comics have been decent enough but I am always left wanting more – more story; more character development; more comics. The latest comic tie-in arrived in stores this month and focuses on Shepherd Derrial Book.

The back story of the mysterious Shepherd Book is something that has been hinted at throughout the Firefly series (e.g. see the last page of this web comic). Book seems to know things that it would not be expected that a man of God know – like Alliance operational procedures; how to handle a weapon; how to take care of himself in a fight. The crew of Serenity, and the fans, have always been left wondered about the enigma that is Derrial Book. This book, written by Zack Whedon (based on an outline by Joss Whedon), goes some way to addressing it.

The book opens on the Haven mining colony just before an Alliance attack – the aftermath of which appeared in the Serenity movie. As Book lies wounded his life flashes before him – in discreet memories where, like in the film Memento, each one leads into the previously seen one. From Haven, Book’s memories take him to an incident aboard Serenity; the lead up to meeting Kaylee at the space port for the first time; his finding God; his life as Alliance officer; his involvement with the independence movement; his life on the streets; and his life with his father. I am not going to go into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the story for others but I will say that the format allows for new revelations and constant re-evaluation of Book as the story unfolds – you will find out who the real Derrial Book is. This is a great story that is told well and left me wanting more – why can’t Dark Horse produce an ongoing series like they do for the Buffy franchise and really do something with these characters that are so well loved.

As I said previously, the history of Shepherd Book has intrigued fans and the cynic in me cannot help but think that Dark Horse has exploited this in the production of this book. Originally it was to be a 3 issue mini-series, like Those Left Behind and Better Days, but has been published as a single hardback book with a measly page count of 48 and a high price tag ($14.99). Fleecing the fans or giving them want they want? With this book Dark Horse has done both.

For a little extra value (and reward) for those reading this blog I include links to another Serenity short story that originally appeared on Dark Horse/MySpace Presents and a guide to some of the Chinese curses used in the show (be warned that they might offend some) – even though, strangely, none appear in this book.

Children of the Grave (2006)

The second horror title I borrowed from the library is a trade from IDW that collects a mini-series from the now defunct Shooting Star Comics. It was created by two new names to me – writer (and ex-marine) Tom Waltz whose more recent credits include the Silent Hill comic also from IDW and artist Casey Maloney.

The story concerns a small US military unit of three men sent into the fictional country/region of Stinwan to confirm the evidence of racial cleansing of the Kilipanese in the region by a rebel Stinwanese colonel. The men travel to the site of the massed graves of murdered children only to find them empty. They are given new orders to track and kill the rebel colonel. As the story progresses, the US forces and the rebel colonel must face the ghosts of their past as well as the ghosts of the present who seek revenge for the atrocities committed against them.

The black and white art is decent and visceral, at times, though the result is sometimes muddied because of the lack of colour. The story is good while not being entirely original – the sins of the past do not excuse the sins of the present. The story although set in a fictional landscape has resonances with current and recent campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan – minus the zombie children, I hope.

The Curse of Dracula (2005)

I have another run of three books that I picked up at my local library. Since it was in the run up to Halloween it seemed appropriate that they all had a horror/gothic theme. First up is a collection of a three issue mini-series from Dark Horse. The creators of the Curse of Dracula are Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon who had a long run on the Tomb of Dracula for Marvel in the seventies – though this is a different incarnation of the iconic character than the Marvel one.

Given such a pedigree I was looking forward to this book but I have to say I was very disappointed and glad that I had borrowed it rather than bought it. There was not much that I enjoyed to be honest. The story was confused and confusing. The characters were given perfunctory introductions and motivations for their actions. At the very least a horror comic should be horrific in some way and this one just wasn’t. It wasn’t helped by the artwork which although it was terrific in places didn’t evoke any sense of horror or atmosphere. It was also rendered in a pastel colour palette and style that did not help.

I’m sorry to say that I could not recommend this to anyone but if you feel the urge to read try and do as I did and borrow a copy.