End of another year

Well it is the end of another year and I haven’t managed to spend any time maintaining this blog. So, in what is rapidly becoming an annual tradition, I am posting an image from Goodreads of all the comic books that I have read this year.

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Highlights this year were The Walking Dead, The Unwritten, Batgirl Year One and Saga.

I have been reading the first two volumes of Saga over the last few days and will continue till I have finished the currently available issues (24). This book is really good and if you are a fan of Y: The Last Man then you should also love this book from BKV. A highlight of this year will be the publication of the last issue of BKV’s self published comic The Private Eye so that I can finally read the story in one go.

Until the next time – whenever it might be – have a great 2015 if you can.

Back to Brooklyn (2009)

“It wasn’t Saetta, oh no, but it was part of the shitstorm he’s stirred up. Part of the fucking walking warzone the son of a bitch just is.”


This book collects the five issue series from Image Comics. The story was by Jimmy Palmiotti and Garth Ennis and was written by Garth Ennis with art by Mihailo Vukelic. Hopefully Ennis requires no introduction from me as he is one of my favourite writers and I have written about him and some of his books on this blog. Jimmy Palmiotti is a writer and inker who often collaborates with Justin Gray and had a five year run on Jonah Hex. This series marked the comic book debut of Mihailo Vukelic.

Bob Saetta is a gangster who has turned himself over to the police and federal agents to testify against his crime lord brother, Paul, and bring down his criminal empire. However, Paul is holding Bob’s wife and child and so Bob arranges with the lead investigators that he be released long enough so that he can free his family. They agree and so begins a bitter battle waged on the streets of Brooklyn between the brothers.

This is a pretty straight forward hard-boiled crime story from Garth Ennis. Whether it is under the influence of Palmiotti or not, the violence portrayed in the book is grim and brutal but without the underlying black humour that we expect from Ennis’ own work. The reason for Bob’s turning against his brother seems like a typical Ennis shocker but there are moments of the blackest humour when Bob visits his mother to talk about what Paul has been up to. The art from Vukelic is very nice but somewhat unusual too. The colouring leaves the book looking like a sepia toned document of the past and the colour palette is muted throughout. All in all a good read but I do miss the all out craziness of one of Ennis’ own scripts.

The Red Wing (2011)

 

Quote:
Who are they, he asked. What choice did you make that they would want to destroy you? Robert, what do they want? And I replied, we don’t know

 

This book collects the four issue mini-series from Image Comics. It was written by Jonathan Hickman who writes almost exclusively for Image and Marvel working on properties such as Fantastic Four, Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D. It features some pretty nice art from a new name to me, Nick Pitarra, who has worked with Hickman before on The Manhattan Projects for Image and S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel.

The story focuses on Dominic Dorne, a cadet earning to pilot a TAC (Temporal Attack Craft) II ship in the 23rd century. His society is at war with a mysterious invader, wearing helmets with blue visors, who are attacking his timeline in the past and ravaging its resources. Dominic is emulating his father, Robert, who went missing on a mission into the past and the story flips the usual trope and has the father trying to atone for the sins of the son.

I liked this book on a first read – though it has its flaws. A story of this nature has to be self contained but I thought it was maybe a little too short – which is a little surprising given that the plot reminded me a lot of the extremely short Future Shock type stories from the old days of 2000AD. But I whizzed through this book very quickly and another issue or two might have been beneficial to help explain the set up better.

I have to say that the (pseudo-) scientific explanation behind the story didn’t quite work for me. The main problem was that the threat was never adequately explained. The only glimpse that we see of the 23rd century, outside of the ring, looks very futuristic and peaceful. The story didn’t really show us the effects that the Blue invaders were having on the Reds and why there was a full blown war.

Having said that I love stories that involve time travel and the best ones always leave me with a sore head as I try and figure out what is going on. And given the impossibility of the phenomenon, it seems a bit churlish not to enjoy the story on its own merits. The tropes used might have been well worn and the surprise ending not really much of a surprise but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless. Maybe I liked it so much because it is the first sci-fi comic that I have read in a while.

I liked the art in general but the design on the ships seemed a bit lazy being just blocky shapes. The art reminded me of Bryan Talbot in places and Geof Darrow in others and I would definitely be interested in seeing more of Pitarra’s work.

Chew: Taster’s Choice (2009)

 

Quote:
Dammit. You rather die than go to jail? Fine. But I’m still getting those names.

 

This book collects the first five issues of the ongoing series Chew from Image. It was written by John Layman who wrote the Fantastic Four House of M story that I read recently. It features some great, cartoon-style art from Rob Guillory. Chew is his first major comic book but I hoping to see a lot more from him.

Chew is set in an alternate reality where 23 million American citizens have been killed by avian flu and the eating of fowl is prohibited. Tony Chu is a cop on a stake out of a speakeasy selling illegal chicken cuts and dinners. When warned off raiding the place by an FDA official, Tony and his partner decide to go and have a dinner. But Tony is cibopathic – a fictional condition which means that he gets psychic flashes from anything he eats – and on eating the soup is aware that an uncaught serial killer is working in the kitchens. When the killer dies rather than be taken alive, Tony starts eating his flesh to get the information on the killer’s victims.This leads Tony to be recruited by the FDA and into further bizarre cases and adventures.

This is a great book. The narrative is a little confusing as Tony changes cases from issue to issue but comes together nicely at the end. This introductory volume introduces some characters and sets up a lot of situations that are unresolved, such as a scene on a planet 24 light years from Earth, but that is fine given that it is an ongoing series. The book comes to an open-ended resolution that, in combination with some of the ideas introduced in the series, makes me want to read more. Definitely a series that I will be revisiting.

The Walking Dead: Miles Behind Us (2006)

 

Quote:
“I think we’ve hit the jackpot.”

 

This book continues the story begun in volume 1 and collects issues 7 – 12 of the ongoing series and the story provides the basis for some of what we have seen, so far, in the second season. Again it was written by Robert Kirkman but this time the art was by Charlie Adlard whose work I know from a number of 2000AD series including Judge Dredd and Armitage.

The group decide to break camp in the wake of events at the end of book 1. Finding a gated community stocked with canned food, they think that their troubles are over for a while but have to run for their lives in the morning when they find that it is overrun with zombies. While out hunting on a rest stop, Rick’s son Carl is shot and taken to a remote farm house for treatment. While Carl is healing, the rest of the group arrive and make camp on the farm. Rick again feels that they have struck it lucky until he finds out about the contents of the barn …

This is another great volume in the series. The drama is heightened in the wake of the killing at the end of book 1 as everyone in the group comes to terms with the deaths. A pattern is established of a period of respite, perceived safety and reflection amongst the group followed by explosive outbursts of violence as the zombies make their presence felt.

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.

The first half of the book deals with the aftermath of the invasion of zombies into the camp, the shooting of Shane and break up of the camp. On the road the travelers pick up three more survivors, who have yet to appear in the series, one of whom, Tyreese, soon becomes Rick’s closest friend amongst the survivors. This further deepens the difference in the composition of the groups that we follow in the comic compared to the TV series.

Also in the first half of the book, they come across a gated housing community called Wiltshire Estates and narrowly escape from it as they find it infested with zombies. This is a standalone episode that could be inserted into the TV series at any time in the future – it is replaced in the series with the disappearance of and search for Sophia.

The second half of the book deals with the shooting of Carl and the group’s presence on Hershel’s farm. The big surprise to me is the pacing of this in the comic having spent most of the first half of the second season in this location. In the comic the arrival, the revelation of the contents of the barn and the zombie barrel shoot is all done and dusted within 3 issues.The pace is slowed down in the TV series to allow for even more character development than is possible in the comic.

The zombie massacre at the end of the book is handled very differently between the two media and it will be interesting to see where the TV series goes now in the aftermath of this as there is a big change in the traveling group, as a result of events leading up to the massacre, in the comics. Right at the end of the book, after being turfed off the farm by Hershel, they find a prison which they hope they can use as a place of safety – but given their luck with safe havens so far is going to to be wishful thinking.

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.

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.