All quiet on the western front …

So it’s gone a bit quiet here again. No good reason just been busy at work and haven’t been reading any comics lately. Not that I don’t have a lot to read. Aside from my big stack of unread books at home I have also been taking advantage of the various sales at Comixology and Dark Horse and have a pile of digital comics to read including complete runs of American VampireTransmetropolitanThe BoysGrendelTerminal City and many others.

My reading time lately has been taken up with Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga – I have just started the second book Judas Unchained.

I have also been catching up on some TV series I have missed in the last few years such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Caprica and Arrow.

However, I have recently bought the final volume of Vertigo‘s Hellblazer series so I will try to read that before the end of the month but after that will probably go quiet until after the summer.

Joker/Mask (2001)

“Wait! Where’s the SWAT team? I don’t see the SWAT team! I don’t even rate the SWAT team anymore.”

Joker/Mask is the collection of a four issue series from DC and Dark Horse. The story was written by Henry Gilroy with art from Ramon F. Bachs and Howard M. Shum. I have not seen the work of any of these creators before but Gilroy is a co-writer on the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series among other animation series credits. Bachs is a Spanish artist who has worked on a number of Star Wars comics as well as some titles for Marvel and DC.  Shum is a writer on a number of titles as well as an artist.

The Joker decides to go to a museum and blow up an exhibition featuring frowning clown masks. However his day does not go well as the head henchman has sent the other henchmen to the wrong location and Harley Quinn has removed the detonators from all the explosives. But the henchman discovers a mask that gives the wearer a manic energy and superhuman powers. Wearing the mask, the Joker is able to beat Batman severely enough that he is out of action feared dead and the Joker is left free to pursue his insane agenda across Gotham while monopolising the television airwaves. Harley fears for the Joker and enlists Poison Ivy’s help to remove the mask from the Joker before he blows up Gotham for real.

This story features the Joker on maximum overdrive and overkill. Even Harley Quinn finds it hard to continue to love her Mister J and the Joker/Mask has to keep coming up with wilder and more extreme exploits to stop himself becoming bored with how easy committing crime is with super powers. While there is some really good comic moments in this book, the manic intensity of the Joker/Mask combination is sometimes too much for the reader as it is for the characters in the story. With the Joker/Mask as the main character throughout the book, the pressure to come up with gag after gag relentlessly is a perhaps a drag on the writing.

I liked the art from Bachs and Shum. It is very cartoony in style but fit in well with cartoon qualities of the Mask and the manifestation of his powers. There are even some lovely renderings of Poison Ivy as well.

A quick and cheerful read that won’t change your life but is worth a look if you can find it.

Maxwell Strangewell (2007)

“The bliss of its waters draws all souls. Can you not feel its pull?”

“All I feel is wind and sand up my ass!”

This is a 380 page graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics and was written and drawn by the Fillbach Brothers, Matthew and Shawn. I have read and enjoyed their Roadkill book, also from Dark Horse.

When Anna Gilmour investigates the crash site of an object that falls to Earth, the last thing that she expects to see is a giant, mute, humanoid walking from crater. She names the alien Maxwell and uniquely bonds with it. However, Max is a semi-mythical, powerful being that a lot of alien races want to exploit. The ensuing conflict threaten to consume the Earth and all living beings upon it.

I enjoyed this story but it had a bit of a multiple personality. It started out as a humorous Men in Black/X-files crossover with the Earth populated by many different races all spying on each other waiting for the return of the Strangewell. Then it mutated into an apocalyptic end of the world story as the power of the Strangewell was misappropriated by one delusional member of the alien race to which all accountants belong. Before finally becoming a morality tale on the abuse of power and knowledge. The size of the graphic novel gave the creators time to do this but it did feel like three books at times. Worth a look if you enjoyed Roadkill.

Alabaster: Wolves #1-5 (2012)

“First thing you learn about birds, they ain’t got no manners.”

Alabaster: Wolves #1 cover

The series was written by horror/fantasy author Caitlin R. Kiernan and is set in the world of some of her novels. Caitlin’s work is familiar to me not through her prose work but the various Sandman spin-offs she has written for Vertigo including The Sandman Presents: Bast; The Girl Who Would be Death; and The Dreaming. The art was by Steve Lieber who was artist on Whiteout on Oni Press, Underground on Image and Shooters on Vertigo.

 

Dancy Flammarion is a teenage albino girl who is God’s instrument of justice on the Earth. Accompanied by a seraph she wanders across America ridding the world of supernatural creatures in God’s name. In this series, she comes across a seemingly deserted town in the American south but which is home to werewolves and other beings. Having killed a female werewolf and lost the protection and guidance of her angelic guide, Dancy finds herself questioning her life after being rescued from a burning church by the ghost of the werewolf she killed.

 

Dancy Flammarion first appeared in the novel Threshold and features in a book of short stories called Alabaster. This book had the look and feel of a series that could have been published on Vertigo and so should have been perfect for be but was ultimately disappointing. While this series can be read on its own merit without any previous knowledge of the character, I felt that there seemed to be a lot assumed in the background of the character of of Dancy that would have meant more if I had read the prose stories. Also the story in this series does not feel like a complete tale. It feels like the middle passage of a bigger story and so suffers from the same limitations that a lot of middle books in trilogies can suffer from. While the book was not for me it might well appeal to a fan of Kiernan’s writing who is familiar with the character and I would encourage anyone in that position to give this series a try.

It’s oh so quiet

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately – sorry about that. Extended holidays and a touch of flu have meant that I have not been reading much in the way of comics recently – currently I am enjoying the the excellent Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks.

Anyway the New Year starts tomorrow – or at least gets back to normal – with a return to work. So hopefully I will get back on track working on the backlog of titles I have accumulated from various Comixology and Dark Horse sales.

And because I love her so, here is another burst of old school Björk.

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.

Kickback (2006)

 

Quote:
“I thought we all lived happily together, Micky … scratching each other’s backs. Giving and taking … so what’s up?”

 

This seems to an original graphic novel first published in France with this American edition from Dark Horse. The script and art is by David Lloyd who is best known, of course, as the artist on V for Vendetta but I also have a couple of Night Raven books that he did for Marvel.

The story follows Joe Canelli, a crooked cop in a crooked city. Everything is peaceful in Franklin City until one of the main gang leaders is taken out. Rather than starting a gang war, this event shatters the reciprocal agreement between the cops and the gangs with cops being taken out and violent reaction from the police on the gangs. Against this background, Canelli has to discover who he can trust as he investigates the cause of the disturbance and finds that he has to choose sides between what he thought was right and wrong.

This is a nice crime caper that I enjoyed reading. The story is not too original and parts of it reminded me strongly of the film Magnum Force. But the art is great and I love Lloyd’s colour palette which is perfect for this noirish tale. The one aspect of Lloyd’s art that I don’t like is that the faces of characters are sometimes not too well defined and it can be difficult to recognise characters when they reappear in the story. Other than that a good little book that I am glad I took a chance on.

Dollhouse: Epitaphs (2012)

[ Watching Game of Thrones Currently: Watching Game of Thrones ]

Quote:
Did I mention how much I hate this apocalypse?

 

This book collects the Epitaphs one-shot and the following five issue mini-series. It was written by Andrew Chambliss, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon. All three were also involved with the writing on the TV series upon which the book was based and especially on the two season finales that were set in the same post apocalyptic world. The art was by Cliff Richards and Andy Owens with some exceptional covers by Phil Noto.

The story has two strands. The first follows Maggie, Zone and Griffin as the brain wiping apocalypse starts, turning those that answer phones into ferocious killers or docile imbeciles, how they survive and meet up and their continued fight for survival in the face of the increasing escalation of mind control from the Rossum Corporation. The second follows a young boy Trevor as his uncle is imprinted with the personality of Topher’s assistant Ivy who is working with Alpha to try and raise a resistance army against Rossum. Trevor meets up with Alpha to find he is the only recruit along with some other Ivys but undeterred joins with Alpha in search of Echo and a means to resist the imprinting process. But they must fight their way to her as the Rossum Corporation is also looking for her.

I was a fan of the TV series and thought it had more high points than low, though it could be patchy at times, but when they stuck to the story arc it was generally excellent. This story is a reasonable addition to the canon without being spectacular. The best part was the return of Alpha and his struggle with his demons – but probably that has as much to do with my love for Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of the character. The problem with the story is that it doesn’t really add a whole extra to the mythology of the show so while I enjoyed it I hope Dark Horse commissions a longer mini-series or ongoing series that will allow the writers to go beyond the confines of the TV show .

Vampire Boy (2010)

 

Quote:
Sure, I can’t die but I don’t have a life either.

 

This book collects the four volumes of Vampire Boy into English for the first time. It is one of a number of collaborations between the Argentinean creators – writer Carlos Trillo, who died earlier this year, and artist Eduardo Risso. This is a fairly early work for Risso from the early nineties and features some wonderful black & white art.

The nameless vampire boy of the book’s title is one of two survivors of a mysterious disease that swept through a company of travellers in ancient Egypt that left his father, the pharaoh Khufu, and the remainder of his party dead in the desert. The other survivor is a priestess named Ahmasi, a favourite consort of Khufu until the boy points out her indiscretions with others in the court. So starts a cycle of hatred and violence between the pair that endures throughout the centuries. Though they try neither can kill the other by conventional means as the sun restores them to health and vitality. The story opens with the boy being revived when a construction site opens a shaft of light to his hidden body. Ahmasi soon discovers that the boy is back in circulation and begins a blood soaked quest to track him down and kill him once and for all.

The book comes in at nearly 500 pages and while that gives us lots of lovely Risso art work to look at, it does mean that the story does drag slightly at times. But mostly it is great as we come to sympathise with the nameless boy and his heartbreaking existence. Unusually for a vampire tale, the sun, as previously mentioned, regenerates the vampires and while they can feed on blood the boy tends not to and can survive on normal food – but has to eat an awful lot of it. The book has a wide ranging canvas taking us from modern New York to New Orleans and London as well as flashbacks throughout history as the nature of the relationship between the boy and Ahmasi is explored. The boy comes across as a tired gentle soul who makes friends easily but not usually for long as Ahmasi will stop at nothing to reach him.

As I said previously, Risso’s art is great and the use of shade and silhouette reminds me of the work of Frank Miller on Sin City round about the same time. There is a noirish element to the story too as Ahmasi works as a prostitute, is followed around by a lovestruck detective who she uses to track down the boy and generally seems to attract the seedier side of life. A welcome change of pace from the costumed antics of the American superheroes.

Cut (2007)

 

Quote:
Look, there’s no use pretending that something really bad isn’t waiting for us on the other side of that door.

 

An original graphic novel from Dark Horse written by founder Mike Richardson with art by Todd Herman and Al Milgrom.

Meagan wakes to find herself in a locked derelict room with no means of escape. The house is in the middle of nowhere and the front door and all the windows are barred from the inside. The need to escape is intensified when she sees another victim, Anita, being fed upon by a large winged, bat-like creature. Escaping from the room she finds evidence of the many people who have been hunted and killed by the creature.

This is a fairly standard horror tale that delivers chills rather than gore. The book is printed in a strange physical size – just over half the size of a normal comic book – and this smaller size means that there is less space available to develop the story fully. There is some attempt to give some immediate back story to the two women abducted in the tale but is not enough to build up a rapport with them. The art is good with a muted colour palette that suits the dismal situation the women find themselves in. But as a whole the book lacks a certain spark to make it truly thrilling and horrific.