The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye (2007)

 

Quote:
“L–Leave me. When I come back … Maybe I’ll find–find my family … … Maybe they c–came back too. Maybe we can be together again.”

 

While the TV series is on its mid-season break, I thought that I would re-read the comic book collections that I own that inspired it and see how they compare. This book collects issues 1 – 6 of the ongoing series and the story provides the basis for the first season. It was written by the prolific Robert Kirkman who also created the Marvel Zombies series and a number of other books including Invincible and Battle Pope. The art was by Tony Moore who worked with Kirkman on Battle Pope as well as the Vertigo series The Exterminators.

Police officer Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in a hospital bed after being shot in the line of duty. He finds the hospital deserted apart from hordes of ravenous zombies that he inadvertently sets free. Escaping the hospital, he finds that the outside world has also gone to hell in his absence. Finding his family missing, he sets off to Atlanta determined to find out if they are still alive.

This is a great character driven piece that concentrates on the survivors of a cataclysmic event and the trials they go through day to day. The genius of the work is the way that Kirkman can involve you so completely in the human drama that you almost relax and forget about the zombies until they reappear in horrific and usually fatal interludes. The extremely violent episodes are fantastically drawn by Tony Moore with some additional work on the black and white artwork from Cliff Rathburn.

Spoilers ahead: for those who have seen the TV series but not read the books (or vice versa) I am going to discuss in the rest of this post some of the differences between the two. So stop reading now if you don’t want to know.

As I said at the beginning this book is the basis for almost the entire first season of the TV show. It covers up to about episode 5 – after the attack in camp and the death of Andrea’s sister but before they break camp and head out on the road. To expand the story line into a six part series, the writers have had to expand upon some of the situations in the comic and have had time to explore them in more depth. A good example of this is the death of Andrea’s sister which happens very quickly in the comic but is given a much more dramatic interpretation in the TV series. There is also some new scenes written especially for the TV series such as in episode 4 with the ex-gang members protecting some elderly people and in the final episode with the story line concerning the origin of the plague and the CDC not appearing in the books – at least as far as I have read.

The composition of the surviving group is different between the two media as well – the TV series has less children in the group and a different selection of adults. But the one major cast difference is the killing of Rick’s deputy, Shane, at the end of this book. He of course survives into the second season in the TV series and I always felt that it was an unexpected (given the dramatic opening to the series) cop out not to show Shane’s death. However, the circumstances are coming together now in the series that could lead to this so I will say no more for now. I was pleased that, for the most part, the TV series in season one portrayed a world in which none of the main characters were safe, as in the comics, however they seem to have shied away from that a little in the second season – but may be my memory is faulty but I will find out as I continue onto book 2.

Startling Stories: Banner (2001)

 

Quote:
“Your brain for God’s sake! It’s what makes you who you are.”

“It’s what makes me something I don’t want to be.”

 

This book collects the four issue mini-series of the same name by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Richard Corben. I know Azzarello’s work from various Vertigo series such as the great 100 Bullets, the not quite so great western series Loveless and a run on Hellblazer that I did not like terribly much. Corben also illustrated an Hellblazer story line during Azzarello’s run but I am more used to seeing his work in Heavy Metal magazine though he does have a serialised story running in the latest incarnation of Dark Horse Presents.

Doctor Samson is trying to capture Bruce Banner as the Hulk goes on an uncontrolled rampage devastating several small towns. Meanwhile, Banner is struggling to come to terms with his actions as the Hulk, both in the past and the present, as he tries to help in the aftermath of his most recent episode. And all the while General Ross is waiting for Samson to complete his mission so that he can take drastic steps to control the menace.

This is one of a number of tales labelled as Startling Stories. I am not sure of where they lie in Marvel’s continuity with at least one source claiming that they are set on an alternative Earth. In any case, this is a dark little tale from Azzarello with Banner attempting suicide after one particularly devastating episode that completely destroyed part of a town. Azzarello explores Banner’s feelings of guilt and remorse to a level that I have not read before – though I am not the greatest Hulk fan so am ready to be corrected on that. The art from Corben is as good as usual and I like his portrayal of the Hulk. I normally see his work in a fantasy or horror context and I think that this story is enhanced due to his background in those genres, especially in the scenes that feature a reflective Bruce Banner.

The New Avengers: Break Out (2005)

 

Quote:
“Why wouldn’t you be wearing underwear?”
“I chafe.””I want off the team.”

Collecting the first six issues of the ongoing New Avengers series, this book was written by Marvel mainstay Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by Canadian artist David Finch. Bendis has had long runs on many of Marvel’s top books including Daredevil, The Avengers, Ultimate Spider-man and has written the lead story on a number of Marvel’s crossover events including House of M. I have come across Fincher’s art before on Volume 2 of Moon Knight.

Luke Cage and SHIELD agent Jessica Drew are accompanying Matt Murdock on a visit to Sentry on the super secure penal facility the Raft when a jail break, carried out by Electro, occurs. Captain America, Spider-man and Iron Man are attracted to the spectacle and are soon joining the others in trying to contain the prisoners as best they can. In the aftermath, Captain America suggests putting together a new Avengers team to investigate the purpose of the break out and help recapture the 40 plus prisoners who managed to escape. In the course of their investigations they are led to the Savage Land, meeting up with Wolverine along the way, and run into illegal, covert SHIELD operations there.

I liked this book a lot. It had a bit of something for everyone – epic battles between heroes and villains, comedic moments between the fledgling team, intrigue and possible institutionally approved illegal activity and conspiracy theories. The book brings the team together and ends at the conclusion of their man hunt for the villain whose escape was being concealed by the mass breakout but it left plenty of loose ends to examine in further issues. I have already placed my order for volume 2 and look forward to more of the same.

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder (2006)

 

Quote:
“My name’s Billy Batson. But maybe it’s too dangerous to be Billy Batson anymore …”

“Who did this to you?”

 

This book features the first meeting of Superman and Captain Marvel and collects isues 1 – 4 of the First Thunder mini-series. I wouldn’t normally buy a Superman book but I bought this one because it was written by Judd Winick whose work on Blood + Water and Under the Hood I really liked. The art was by an unknown to me – Joshua Middleton.

A gang who has been stealing European artifacts from museums across the country make a successful hit on a museum in Metropolis. When they turn up in Fawcett City, Superman is there to lend a hand to Captain Marvel but they fail to stop the raid or apprehend the gang. Fawcett City’s equivalent of Lex Luther, Dr.Thaddeus Sivana, has hired the gang to raise a demonic version of Captain Marvel to destroy a promising solar energy project. Meanwhile he has swallowed his pride and turned to Lex Luthor for help in hunting down Captain Marvel and his weaknesses so that he can eliminate him.

This book is set mere months after Billy Batson has been given the power of Shazam and marks the first meeting between Captain Marvel and Superman. It starts off as a piece of typical superhero nonsense with Captain Marvel pleased and overawed to be meeting and beating up bad guys with the legend that is Superman. However, the book takes a darker twist towards the end when Silvana’s attempt to assassinate Billy leaves his best friend fighting for his life. Winick takes us from the light to the dark with a great story about the loss of innocence and a boy alone forced to grow up too fast. I’m not a big Superman fan but Winick does a good job of making me want to read more. The only weak point in the story is after the raiders escape from the Fawcett City museum by conjuring up a couple of demons that the heroes have to deal with. After defeating the demons they go off for a chat on Mount Everest rather than trying to hunt down the criminals which didn’t seem right. The art by Middleton is great and in that modern clean style reminiscent of Frank Quitely’s work. I will definitely look out for more from him as well as Winick.

Wolverine: Logan (2009)

 

Quote:
That broad of yours. She … she once told me you were the only man on this island with … with an ounce of mercy. Whatever happened to that guy?

 

This book collects issues 1-3 of Wolverine: Logan by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Eduardo Risso. I know Vaughan primarily from his excellent work on Y: The Last Man and I have also read a couple of volumes of Ex Machina. Risso is rapidly becoming one of my favourite artists for work on 100 Bullets, Vampire Boy and currently Spaceman.

Wolverine journeys to Japan with his memories newly restored to him. While there he has to confront the ghosts of his past from 1945 as well those that linger in the present. In the 1945 story line, Logan wakes up in a cell with an American named Warren in a Japanese PoW camp. Together they escape but soon part ways over a disagreement over whether or not to kill a civilian woman they come across. Warren returns to kill Logan and the woman and is found to have similar abilities to Logan in that he seemingly cannot be killed. But before Logan can exact vengeance for the death of his lover, the Americans arrive to bomb the nearby city.

This is a great book but with one slight qualm. I am a bit uneasy that the background of this book is the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. While there is nothing particularly distasteful in the story it only seems to added to, firstly, show that Wolverine can survive a nuclear explosion and, secondly, to create a powered opponent for him to smack down in the present at the end of the book. It is this second aspect that is particularly shabby to me as the character, Warren, while not portrayed in the best light in the 1945 sequence is just as much a product of his circumstances and nature as Wolverine himself. Maybe if they had more space to examine Warren and Logan as two sides of the same coin then maybe I would have had accepted it more.

Risso’s art is great again. The book contains some unused pages in black and white that are even better. He is an artist whose style is well suited to balck and white only – you can see (and buy) most of the pages from this book in black and white on his web site – including some that don’t seem to be in the collected volume. Having said that some of the coloured pages are superb – especially in the third chapter. Well worth the admission price.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse Volume 1 (2009)

[ Listening to Off the Ball Currently: Listening to Off the Ball ]

Quote:
Hmmm … Why is it always in the bloody sewers?

 

This book collects issues 0 – 4 of Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse by writer/artist Ben Templesmith. I am a fan of Templesmith’s art from his 30 Days of Night books but I think this is my first exposure to him as a writer as well.

Wormwood is a trans-dimensional worm who inhabits, and animates, a corpse – usually visible in the corpse’s right eye socket. He is a paranormal investigator along with his non-drinking buddy, and robot, Pendulum and hired gun, and ex-lap dancer, Phoebe. When he gets a visit from ghost cop, Trotsky, Wormwood finds himself invovled in a case invovling erectile dysfunction pills causing the rapid and violent births of tentacle-faced demons.

I thought that this was a great book full of humour and bizarre situations. How these characters come to exist and function in the world is not really explained but if you are willing to accept the set up then this is a fun read. The art from Templesmith is great as ever. I love his style with minimalist backgrounds and beautiful colouring – horror books never looked so pretty before. I look forward to reading more adventures of Wormwood and some of Templesmith’s other solo works.

Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend (1992)

 

Quote:
Yessss, I too wasss a boy oncce – though of courssse I wasss far from normal, even then …

 

This book collects the twelve part story from the first volume of the Judge Dredd Megazine, the anthology comic from 2000AD set in the Judge Dredd universe. The story was written by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner. The art was the first introduction of Peter Doherty to a wide audience. Doherty has continued to illustrate stories in 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine but does not seem to have done much beyond this.

Set after the Necropolis story line in 2000AD, this story explores the early life of Judge Death as recounted to an unfortunate Mega-City journalist. Young Sidney is a sociopath in the making whose world view is reinforced by his father – a sadistic, psychopathic dentist. On turning his father over to the judges for a series of murders, Sidney joins the judges and refines his world view in which crime is committed by the living and so the living should be punished. Upon graduating he discovers two death cultists who help him complete his vision by removing the paradox of his continued living while sentencing others to death for the same “crime”.

I love Judge Death stories for two reasons. First of all they tend to feature an appearance of psi-Judge Anderson who I adore. Secondly he is, in many ways, the ultimate villain for Judge Dredd in the same way that the Joker is for Batman. I think that there are many similarities between the Joker and Judge Death: the fixed rictus grin; the disregard for human life; the dark humour associated with the characters. The humour in this story ranges from the lightly comical, in the shape of Death’s extremely short-sighted landlady, Mrs Gunderson, to the extremely black exploration of Sidney’s childhood environment. Although this a very good story, I have never been convinced that it was really necessary. I am happy to accept the Dark Judges for what they are and the detailing of an origin does little for my perception of the character – it is hard to imagine ever feeling sympathy for any of the Dark Judges and the choices they made. However, it is still a classic story that is worth reading if you like your humour on the black side and for the art of Peter Doherty.