Camelot 3000 (1988)

“But no need to stand on ceremony. You may call me King Arthur!”

This book is a collection of the first comic book maxi-series, as claimed in the introduction by Don and Maggie Thompson. The series was written by Mike W. Barr who is probably best known for his writing on various Batman titles such as Batman and the Outsiders, the Year Two story in Detective Comics and the Son of the Demon graphic novel. The art was by British artist Brian Bolland who is more often associated, these days, with fabulous cover art but also worked on early Judge Dredd stories for 2000AD and DC’s The Killing Joke.

It is the year 3000 and Britain is under attack by relentless aliens from the solar system’s tenth planet. In it’s hour of need, King Arthur, it’s greatest defender, is reborn. His first act is to restore Merlin to his side followed by the reincarnations of his knights of the Round Table. They discover that Morgan le Fay is behind the alien attacks and so old conflicts are renewed.

I bought this book because it is one of the few examples of a comic series illustrated by Bolland whose work I love. Unfortunately the story did not match my expectations. For a comic that was DC’s first for mature readers, it felt very immature – let’s mix Arthurian legend with the future and an alien invasion and it’ll be cool. It seemed very thin and being stretched over twelve issues did not help. This book has not aged as well as some of it’s contemporaries from the mid eighties. It doesn’t help that a number of later comics, such as Fables, deal with the updating of mythological or fantasy characters much better.

But I came for the art and the art was good but it didn’t blow me away in the same way that his covers can do. Partly this is because it does not have the same detail as his work in black and white does – Bryan Talbot is another good example of someone whose work I prefer in black and white because so much more goes into it. I was also expecting more due to the problems that I know plagued this book as regards to deadlines however I don’t feel that it necessarily shows in the finished page. So all in all a bit of a disappointment – maybe you had to be there to appreciate it.

The Joker’s Last Laugh #1-6 (2001)

“Didn’t figure you for the prayin’ type, boss.”

“Why? Because I kill people and do really rotten things to puppies and kittens?”

My first digital comics read on my new tablet is this six part series from DC. The series writers were Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. There were numerous artists on the series: Pete Woods; Andrew Pepoy; Marcos Martin; Mark Farmer; Alvaro Lopez; Walter McDaniel; Andy Kuhn; Ron Randall; Rick Burchett; Mark Lipka; Dan Davis.

While incarcerated at the Slabside Penitentiary, the Joker is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. He reacts by inciting a riot and using the prison’s own defences to “jokerize” the other inmates – may of whom are super-villains. Having created his own super-army, the Joker escapes and lets them loose upon the world hoping that he will be killed by an old friend before he dies.

The annoying thing about this series is that it is not self contained. And for a series featuring the Joker there is not nearly enough scenes in which he appears. The chaos caused by the Joker ripples throughout the DC Universe and some of the action takes place in other comics. This would be fine if the main series told its own story consistently but instead there are scene and plot changes between issues that are just not explained and so the story has unsatisfying holes in it. This is the reason I tend to avoid crossover events, and don’t read too many modern Marvel books where there constantly seems to a crossover happening. I hate the presumption of publishers that either readers are reading all their books or that they will stump up the extra to follow the story beyond a central series.

As I have already stated, the story is less a story about the Joker than it is about the victims of his cruelty. Oracle and Nightwing are the ones to suffer most throughout the story. Their moral stance on the Joker and his continued existence testing them and their relationship to the limit. This could have been a great story in the vein of The Killing Joke or A Death in the Family if it had been allowed to develop within its own pages with a consistent art team but the disjointed nature of the series ruins its emotional impact for me.

As I said at the start, this is my experience of digital comics and using a tablet to read them. In general my experience has been positive. I bought a 10″ Samsung tablet and the size of the visible screen is only slightly smaller than a standard comic page – which is important as I don’t like the directed zoom way of reading comics that can divorce the words from the images. A big plus is the regular sales on Comixology and Dark Horse Digital and, as there is a lot of old stuff I have still to pick up, I can wait for issues to be bundled or sold for 99 cents an issue. For example, the collection for this series is out of print and  I picked it up for $5.94 rather than the $30 which is the cheapest second hand copy on Amazon UK or Abe Books (once shipping is included). The only downside is the price of new comics that tend to be same price as the print version which has never seemed right to me for any digital media.

The New Deadwardians #1-8 (2012)

“One day I recall, I had to re-kill my entire platoon.”

The New Deadwardians #1 cover

This recently finished 8 part mini-series from Vertigo was created by writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard. Abnett has had a long career as a writer of prose books, most notably a large number of Warhammer 40K novels, and comics books mainly for Marvel and 2000AD. Ian Culbard has illustrated a number of adaptions of literary works including  Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft stories and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars.

Set in an alternate history London of 1910, a curse has spread across England since zombies (known as the Restless) first mysteriously appeared in 1861. Attracted by the living, the only cure is to become a vampire (known as the Young) an option taken up mainly by the wealthy and privileged members of society. The rest of the human race (known as the Bright) live in barricaded zones surrounded by hundreds of the Restless pressing in attracted by the living. In this setting, Chief Inspector George Suttle is called on to investigate the murder of a Young aristocrat who death is made more mysterious by not being due to one of the three ways to kill the Young. During his investigation, Suttle has to cross into a Bright zone and deal with the reawakening of long dormant desires as well as secret societies and pressure to close the case quickly without any scandal.

Abnett has taken some very old (and possibly tired) supernatural species and managed to weave a fresh story full of intrigue. The zombies are mostly background threat with a couple of incursions in the living zones of London. The most interesting relationship is between the Young and the Bright and the simmering resentment that pervades the whole series. Suttle goes through a transformative experience when made to interact with the Bright that challenges the life (or unlife) he has been leading for nearly 50 years. I liked the art by Ian Culbard and the subtle colour palette used throughout the book. Worth a look for a different take on some classic horror tropes.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat (2012)

“Welcome to Hell, John …”

With this latest collection (#283-291), the regular creative team since #250 – Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini – are just one issue away from matching the previous longest run on the series. This was the peerless run in the early 1990s by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The book contains two related stories from the long running series -The Devil’s Trench Coat and Another Season in Hell. In the first, Constantine’s niece has stolen his old trench coat and sold it. But the coat being exposed to years of magic has a will of its own that it exerts on a series of new owners leaving death in its wake. Meanwhile John finds that he is more susceptible to wild magic and not as finessed in the spells he casts. All of which results in a Mafia hit man trying to gun him down while possessed by the coat. In the second story Constantine agrees to go to Hell to speak to his sister so that his niece, Gemma, can find out why she found her mother crying one day and free her soul from Hell. While John thinks he has out-smarted the First of the Fallen, the demon comes to Earth to enlist Epiphany’s consent to bind her father’s soul to him.

During his run, Milligan has done a good job of taking Constantine back to the basics of the character and gradually introducing a darker tone to the storyline. This book contains some of the darkest material yet with the dark magic radiated from his old trench coat to Constantine’s return to Hell and his revenge on his evil twin for raping his niece. Not comfortable viewing or reading at times but a must for long time Constantine fans and horror lovers.

Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer (2009)

“They look like zombies. They’re dead, right?”

“No they are undead.”

“Oh yeah? Then let’s see if we can make the undead dead again.”

Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer #1 cover

This book collects the four issue mini-series which is one of three published by Marvel on their MAX imprint in 2008/9 featuring modern versions of horror characters from the Marvel Universe – the others featured Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night. This one was written by horror author Brian Keene with art from Chris Samnee. Keene is a new name to me but has written a library full of books on his own. Samnee’s work I know from Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Thor: The Mighty Avenger – and he is currently doing art duties on Daredevil.

Dan Sylva is returning for a tour of Iraq after leaving the army but finding that his girlfriend had left him and that there were no job opportunities at home. His first mission is to investigate a site where a captured American soldier is possibly being held. Dan discovers the soldier, and a lot of the civilians who had also gone missing recently, prey to a bunch of demons – both in demonic form and masquerading as part of the mercenary Bloodstone unit. With the help of a magi, Isaac, Dan alone escapes and learns that some demons and angels are plotting to bring about Armageddon early using war zones to hide their ritualistic murders. Dan learns that his uncle was a devil-slayer and that he is the next in line to assume the mantle and prevent hell on Earth.

The blurb on the back of the book says:

A radical re-imagining of Marvel’s premier horror icon!

which is not a good start as I had never heard of the character before – which in a way is not surprising as I am much more of a DC/Vertigo fan than I am a Marvel one. I much prefer the DC/Vertigo take on horror, magic and the supernatural. The original character was created in 1977 by Rich Buckler and this series marks an updating and rebooting of the character. Gone is the cheesy superhero costume to be replaced by fatigues and shemagh.

It would appear that the reboot did not lead on to any further series which is a bit of shame as I quite liked this book. It still had a long way to go to match the rich Vertigo universe but it had some promise. I liked the grounding of the horror within the human conflict and the conspiracy between demons and angels, although well worn, could have legs if handled correctly. The last page in the book showed how the story could be expanded out to involve corporations, religious leaderships and governments – again familiar targets but full of potential if tied to current affairs. Perhaps a missed opportunity for Marvel to try and muscle in on some of DC’s action.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice (2012)

“Mr. Cobblepot, sir. I-I’m glad you brought me here so I could apologize again in person. Of course, I’d never think to be rude to someone of your … … stature.”

Cover to Pain and Prejudice collection

This book collects the five issue mini-series of the same name and a one-shot Penguin story from the first Joker’s Asylum series. The main story was written by Gregg Hurwitz with art by Szymon Kudranski. Both are new to me but Hurwitz is a thriller writer who has also done some comic book work including Batman, Moon Knight, The Punisher and Wolverine. Kudranski is currently the artist on Spawn from Image comics. The short story was by writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Pearson.

The main story sees the Penguin doting over his frail mother and showering her with expensive gifts that have been brutally stolen from their owners. After her death, Oswald fills the lack of love in his life with the friendship of a blind woman who can love him back without judging him on his appearance. His idyll is shattered when Batman comes to call investigating the theft of various pieces of jewellery.

These stories show some of the background to the character of the Penguin. The boy and man that loved and was loved by his mother but who was reviled by his father and teased and victimised by his brothers. Someone who just wants to be accepted for who he is despite his appearance. The main story has more detail given that it is longer but the story rambles without much logic or direction as far as I am concerned. Being shorter, Aaron’s story is much tighter and tells a similar tale of teasing and abuse creating a manipulative monster in adulthood. I liked the art by Kudranski without being blown away but some of his work on Spawn, as highlighted on his blog, is truly spectacular.

Roadkill (2008)

“Bitch, just give it up already.”

“It’s gotta end here, bitch.”

“I don’t know you well enough, but if they say you’re a bitch, then I’ll trust ’em on it.”

Roadkill cover

This 80 page graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics was written and drawn by the Fillbach Brothers, Matthew and Shawn. This is the first work of theirs that I have read – though I do have another, Maxwell Strangewell, in my to-read pile. They also produce a web comic, with writer Ed Hawkins, called Roninspoon Theater.

When a research project to genetically modify animals for super growth is compromised by a mutated, zombie byproduct, one of the researchers escapes with a giant rabbit before the facility goes into lockdown. Unfortunately the rabbit gets loose and is run over by a truck whose occupants are looking for roadkill to augment the burger meat at a local diner. Unfortunately, again, eating the meat of the genetically modified animals turns people into the aforementioned mutant zombies. Enter Jim Kowalski who works for Illuminati Trucking Inc., a mysterious firm fighting evil and the supernatural, and is sent to investigate the incident. Jim has to fight mutated cockroaches, deal with a death cult and clean up the mess left in the local town.

This is a fun, comic story featuring larger than life characters and outrageous circumstances. The artwork is quite cartoony in style but this complements the comedic nature of the story. The characters are well worn stereotypes but the energy of the increasingly bizarre story carries all before it. I look forward to reading Maxwell Strangewell.

Spaceman #1-9 (2011-12)

“So now what?”

“We wait, we web-cast pictures of what appear to be Tara and her kidnappers, from a anom source.”

“Huh? But webee staff on the show …”

‘Jesus, Bob … it’s called drama …”

Spaceman #1 cover

This is a recently finished nine issue mini series from Vertigo. The creative team is no stranger to Vertigo being Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso who have collaborated before on Jonny Double, 100 Bullets and a Batman story in the Wednesday Comics anthology title for DC.

The story is set in a post-climate change world where the water levels have risen to submerge part of an unnamed city. The affluent live in a segregated part of the city known as the Dries while every one else slum it in the Rise. Orson is a genetically modified human, standing 7 to 8 feet tall with monkey-like features, who was created, along with others, to travel to Mars but the programme was shut down due to public outrage when he was still young. He makes a living salvaging stuff from the Rise but his life is turned upside down when he runs into a crew of kidnappers who have kidnapped a young girl from the family of a reality TV show, The Ark.

Interwoven with this story is another concerning four of the genetically altered spacemen on a mission to terraform Mars. Their motivations change when a meteorite veined with gold crashes near their base and disagreements on what to do lead to suspicion and suspected murder.

I have loved the work of Azzarello and Risso in the past – especially the fabulous artwork of Eduardo Risso.(a lot of which you can buy from his web site). And this story was enjoyable too but I was confused as to how the two very different stories connected together. It is suggested in the Earth bound one that the Mars missions never took place and the situation of another of the spacemen, Carter, would suggest that the Mars mission did not take place after the story on Earth. But they are obviously connected in some way – whether the whole of the Earth story is an immersive TV show of some kind or the Mars one a hallucination – some of the sequences are triggered by Orson taking a drug – or something else I just can’t decide. For me the Earth story was more interesting and losing the Mars one to add more detail into that world would have made for a more satisfying book.

Home from Home

This is my first post in the brand new home of the RevolutionSF blogs. It’s great that the blogs have finally caught up with the 21st century and hopefully posts will be easier to produce and maintain.

I am currently re-reading the recently finished Spaceman series from Vertigo by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. So that will be the next comic to reviewed here by the end of the week, hopefully.

In the meantime, I am being dragged slowly into the 21st century myself. Although a still buy a fair amount of CDs, I have mainly been accessing music digitally in the last few years via a couple of subscription and streaming services. Now I think the time has come to think seriously about how I access print material in the future.

I have just about filled, and overfilled, every available space that my understanding wife will allow with comics, graphic novels and books. So I am seriously thinking about moving to a digital platform in the very near future. Comixology always have great offers and this week I was finally tempted to lay down some cash for an omnibus edition of Project Superpowers – 21 issues for $16.99 was too good a deal to resist.

I had a look at the first issue on my Android phone for free and while the experience was not too bad (it was good enough for me to take the plunge in the first place and I have recently upgraded my phone and it has a 4.7″ high resolution display) I think for prolonged reading I will want to buy a tablet so that I can see full pages more comfortably.

There are a lot of circumstances coming together that make now the right time for me. The foremost of these is the imminent release of the Kindle Fire in the UK and the rumoured release of a mini-iPad. One of these may well be my preferred option but if I am not satisfied with either then I will probably go for a full iPad. We’ll see what the future brings.

Fairest #7 (2012)

 

Quote:
‘You’re going to slay me with a walking stick? I know I’m just a girl and all, but it’s a bit far-fetched.’

 

I don’t tend to make many posts about single issues of comics but I thought I would about this one for completeness as, together with the previous issues in the series that I have already talked about, this will be part of the upcoming first collected volume of Fairest. It is a standalone story and was written by Matthew Sturges (Jack of Fables, House of Mystery) and with art by Shawn McManus.

The story has Beast on the trail of a monstrous killer in 1940s Los Angeles. However if he wants to capture the monster alive he must beat the dapper Englishman and monster slayer Saint-George to the punch. But why is Beast so insistent on catching the killer alive and why is Fabletown’s sheriff Bigby Wolf not on the case?

This is a nice standalone story some great art by McManus who colours the 1940s segment in sepia tones to match the mood of the era of fictional private detectives that is used as the setting of the tale. But the most significant development for Fables fans is that this issue shows that this is a series that needs to be followed as it looks like the stories told will relate more closely to the main series than I thought they would. I thought that the series of stories, like Legends of the Dark Knight for Batman, would be set in the universe of Fables but standing outside of the continuity of the main series. However issues 1-6 spun out of an incident in Fables #107 and this story provides some background on the relationship between Beauty and Beast that goes some way to explaining Frau Totenknder’s present for their daughter, Bliss. Now this may just be because the first two writers, series creator Bill Willingham and Jack of Fables co-writer Matthew Sturges, are well acquainted with the main series and its characters. So it will be interesting to see how it develops with the next story arc and a writer new to the world, Lauren Beukes.