Tag Archives: graphic novels

review – the complete indigo prime

indigo primeNebulous, a good description for this compilation of the peculiar 2000 AD series. Although I really enjoy the concept of indigo prime, a murky agency composed of eccentric, temporal meta-fixer types repairing the disturbances in space-time, I think I came away with more bafflement than when I started.

Akin to elements found within Alan Moore’s Future Shocks and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe, The Complete Indigo Prime is a collection of serialized shorts from a psychedelic SciFi perspective. If anything, the set details perhaps just how fickle our interpretation of a multiverse is or can be. Eccentric characters floating amid cloudy, kaleidoscopic backdrops stitching events and people back into their proper order is as advertised; perhaps, though, the point of the collection is to emphasize that reality is never so properly sutured, even when left under the care of such unseen professionals.

The cast created by John Smith is enigmatically charged, and the art visualized by Chris Weston and Mike Hadley are equally intriguing. Strange characters obliviously drift in and out of the stories, either directing plotted traffic or playing a more direct role. Fish eyed portrayals of gaping, intestine-laden, multi-mawed hells and planetary nebulae, often bursting ubiquitously from cloudy tendrils of the space-time continuum is par for the course as far the general aesthetic is concerned. Which is actually great, providing a slight but constant feeling of nausea rolling throughout the book, likely a necessary component when contemplating an unbounded set of universes ever folding upon themselves.

It’s too bad, however, that this compilation is too short to get a good feel not only for characterization. The beginning exposition of Fervent and Lobe’s story, combined with their partnership with Almaranda is simply too disjointed from the most accessible “Indigo Prime” tale appearing second to this, and especially those involving Winwood and Cord. The others, particularly Basalt and Foundation, Fegredo and Brecht, lack a more complete introduction required for newcomers to the series.

All of this might just come down to a strange collection of, well, strangeness for those uninitiated (like myself) to Indigo Prime. But it’s good fun nevertheless. If anything, the mystery stemming from fragmented pacing and ineluctable characters in this volume might just be answered in the just published anthropocalypse edition. Not a bad read.

review – the ballad of halo jones

halo-jonesYes, the writing’s distinctly crafty as only Moore can pen, but the pacing and thematic development of The Ballad of Halo Jones is really a treasure, a clinic for aspiring writers needing a lesson in concise simplicity. Along with his Future Shocks, this is likely one of the works I imagine Alan Moore knew from the get-go that he had the goods to become his future current self.

It’s impressive to read how these seemingly disparate installments appearing in various 2000AD progs are feathered together to form this bittersweet ballad. Indeed, as this collection is universally hailed as classic space opera, the slow momentum from which it begins seems anything but.  It starts with an all too common motif, the boredom and need for wanderlust in and for a distant future when even space itself has not only been conquered but hotly contested.  Swiftly though, it changes to something more complicated, as life is wont.

Refreshingly, this is not a superhero story. It’s hard science fiction, cosmically emblazoned within the sharpened panels characteristic of 2000AD’s art and galaxy building. It’s not necessarily speculative on our future (other than our cetacean friends reclaiming Earth upon our folly) but on the human condition, that specifically after another few millennia or so, human nature (the best and worst, of course), still won’t change much. Written with subtle strength from the female vantage, as so many top sci-fi stories have been, Halo Jones is ultimately, believably not super, but heroic nevertheless.

But with all Moore’s clever plotting and the roguish, keen sketching from Ian Gibson, this is the story of no one, or perhaps anyone who at the seductive scent of adventure, is brave enough to claim their own future, accepting the good and not-so-good outcomes with each step.

review – northlanders: blood in the snow

Here is where the series hits its stride. Apart from the ubiquitous (though artfully jarring) head lopping and disembowelments of the past volumes, this third tome of Brian Wood‘s Northlanders tales is an aurora of hardship, themed with the heavy cost of survival among those fighting for their place in the northern desolation of long ago.

In this ongoing meditation of Norse ethos in its rapidly evolving culture, Wood deliberates upon the idea of survival. Whether choosing life based upon the reliance and strength of the old gods or two champions’ quick-witted and closed-in strategy in a duel, or the tenuous safety of a broken fortress against an outnumbering onslaught, to the sacrifice of family for reputation, Wood focuses not as much on Norse savagery but on the fortitude to avoid being swallowed by it. There are very few heroes in these stories, leaving the reader to come away with a sense that in this day and age, familial survival was glory enough.

All four stories in this volume are brilliantly complemented with cohesively flawless art from numerous contributors. The writing is sparse, set against the stoic, ever-present eeriness of the northern lights, glowing upon and enhancing the madness emanating beneath the iron of the warriors’ blades and armor. Two stories are prominent in terms of their gripping starkness, the first being The Viking Art of Single Combat. Never have I read a more absorbing fusion of text and sketching, terse with violent paneling though coupled with a softened, detached narration about two Berserkers vying for their respective lords’ perennial, bloody and ultimately trivial skirmishes.

The Shield Maidens is the second standout. In an attempt to renounce the proverb “fate is relentless”, three Danish women combine wits in an abandoned castle to resist a pillaging Saxon horde, with only the tide providing temporary refuge. It’s an excellent story underscoring the subtle strength of the female experience in Norse society. Daniel Zezelj’s artwork is especially gorgeous, his rigid lines permeated by swaths of blunt color, a blending of sky and sea in the season where the sun never completely sets.

This third volume of Northlanders is a disturbingly brilliant compilation of the old Norse experience. Its strength rests in deft storytelling of the other members of this society apart from the storied warriors. Chillingly (in every sense) it highlights the difficulty of life in this age, how victory was attained not always in battle, but also in its clever sidestepping. An excellent installment in this harrowing series.

review – the nightly news

Reading Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News has been one of the more jarring experiences I have yet encountered with graphic novels. Regularly providing an artistic, entertaining and even socially conscious critique despite their inherent outlet for escapism, every single aspect of The Nightly News is a disturbing, though perhaps necessary confrontation drop-kicked by Hickman directly in the lap of the reader. A blunt commentary on the devolution of journalism and perhaps society, it is an unsettling speculation to what lengths people can go when believing they’re being lied to on a daily or more appropriately nightly basis. That said, it is even more unsettling when given such outrage, one realizes how subtly and often such manipulation continues to occur.

Read the first several chapters and one will think The Nightly News is a rather linear treatise, a thought piece born of intense frustration pondering the implications of justifying domestic terrorism against the information elites in power. It is that to a degree, a clever hook to readers triggering an emotional response to an issue in which seemingly everyone nowadays feels strongly. It is the story of John Guyton, of his recruitment and supposed deprogramming within the Brotherhood of the Voice. Consisting mainly of society’s disaffected and marginalized, the Brotherhood militantly undertakes action against what they perceive as the constant propaganda by the mainstream, corporate news industry as well as its enveloped commercial and political influences. The machinations between a disgruntled society, professional journalists and the governing elite all make for a superficially explosive amalgam. But things aren’t what they seem, and the story complicates with a deeper exposition outlining the more sinister manipulation between all said influences. In between such manipulation is a slew of calculated bloodshed, domestic terrorism that many would think hitherto improbable (but nevertheless not impossible).

Where Hickman excels is in his direct candor to the reader. From the outset, he peppers his panels with separate factoids regarding the corporate media, undoubtedly stoking the readers’ emotional involvement in the story. His artistry is unique: from a graphic design standpoint, his preponderance of red and the aching sharpness of straightened, multitudes of lines infuses the story with a buzzing though beguiling boxed simplicity; sharp are the contours but the content, the people contained within are cold, faceless. Additionally, he provides numerous personal and perhaps curdling, cynical annotations, tempered upon the reader with his citations, a quasi-objectivity nowhere more evident than a double-edged disclaimer in the subtitle: “A Lie Told in Six Parts”. It is not lost upon reader that avoiding the fine print in this story would be as dangerous as doing so when reading the newspaper or listening to a newscast. His portrayal of the cult, or rather the members’ adherence to desperation and infatuation with knowledge-power is both cathartic as it is depressing; that such empowered and self-aware characters can also predictably, blindly accept an unseen, orchestrated fate they feel is wholly of their own making is Hickman’s most important and unsettling complexity.

For all of the sharpness Hickman brings to The Nightly News, it is not without its occasional flaw. As blatant and meticulous as he is with infusing references in the work, the one major issue is the potential confusion between his anecdotes and the sources cited. While admirably giving credit to his sources, they are not enumerated, thereby becoming enmeshed with his anecdotes (both at the end of the work), potentially spoiling the ending for the reader. Nevertheless, some of Hickman’s most important points are located within his anecdotes. His passionate either-or arguments between “head or heart”, “doubt and faith” are not overstated. Rather, it is an intense plea upon the reader not to choose either, but to realize why they are forced to accept such a choice at all. In all, the Nightly News is a violent, daring and important work, an unpleasant though necessary artistic jolt, with a resonance extending far beyond the comics community.

review – tale of sand

Reflecting upon the varied yet consistent work of Jim Henson, culminating in his Tale of Sand, I’ve come to realize I’ve never been disappointed in any of his productions. That’s really astounding, given the breadth of his creativity and talent for dreamy and adventurous escapism.

Like any of his works, we are fortunate to have Tale of Sand. This newly unearthed manuscript developed with collaborator Jerry Juhl could have been easily lost in the production company archives and remained undiscovered or simply disregarded. Thankfully it wasn’t, as it is quintessential Henson, and perfectly adapted for a graphic novel. I’ll say no more than it tells the story of Mac, an everyman who inexplicably finds himself in the American southwest, unusually equipped and on-the-run through a series of surreality and improbable adventure. Henson provides little detail as to the motive of his chase or the background of supporting characters, but these details are ultimately unimportant. Like many great tales, this one is about Mac and his journey rather than the destination or circumstances. As such with Henson’s unique vision, his characters are designed to personally identify with the reader, and particularly so in Tale of Sand. Whether it be strange, frightening, or even humorous, there is always another door to walk through, some new wonder to behold.

That this screenplay, rejected by numerous film studios, has been adapted for a graphic novel can only be fortuitous. It is a most natural medium for the story, told through the lens of Ramón Pérez whose artwork provides a stunning southwestern ambience; his inspired, bold sketches are aglow with blistering, white-hot desert-scapes contrasted against an ever present golden-hued horizon, somewhere in time of the early twentieth century. Pérez excels in his paneling, for as frantic as Mac’s journey is, so is the reader’s journey across the page. The layout often reverts between extended linear, entwining and blending of panels, wherein the reader can become deliberately lost in the progression of the page. Calm desert scenes with nothing more than observant iguanas give way to raucous chase, heavy-duty explosions and action sequences involving Ray Nitschke and Bedouin sultans of all things, requiring the reader to give careful pause before moving on. Perfect sequencing to realize Henson’s imaginative and joyous sense of the bizarre. The only issue I see is whether Perez’s oversized visualization will be effectively adapted for digital readers within a standard screen to fully accommodate the entirety of the page.

A brief imaginary excursion, Tale of Sand is perfect for those just becoming acquainted with Jim Henson’s passion for storytelling. At the same time, the tale is a fitting, bittersweet farewell, his genius of creativity on full display.

review – planetary

Full disclosure: I am an ardent Warren Ellis sycophant. Though I haven’t yet read all his work, his fiction hasn’t yet disappointed. That’s putting it boringly. Rather, I should write that he hasn’t yet not astounded me with his breadth and acumen for writing speculative, traditional and historical science fiction. So rather than simply slew gratuitous praise, I’ll say a few words about Planetary.

Planetary defines the science fiction genre, whether in graphic form or otherwise. Science creating fiction, and fiction literally inspiring science. Constantly feeding off one another. Inventive and all-consuming with magnitudes of possibility. Ellis’s imagination is only tempered by the scope of the four volume arc in which his characters unearth mystery incarnate. If it weren’t for said characters, he’d have a wild, unboundedly orgasmic multiverse to populate on paper. Something never be fully realized, of course; so we have but a corralled current of enthrallment, advancing via strangely disparate heroes less captivated with themselves than the mystery of possibility itself. Briefly, Planetary involves restoration and preservation, of memory, old friends, of the past, of earth and most everything on it; not just earth but more importantly what the earth offers the nascent potential to reveal. Secrets in plain sight, others buried deep or quarantined by other unseen authorities. Joyous secrecy from a group of unlikely archivists.  Secrets in space, earth civilization, multidimensional factions and realized fiction.

As far as character development, I’ll venture that Ellis deliberately understates, instead focusing on the expeditious mind-bending flashes in which they participate. That he never explicitly explains the abilities of Elijah Snow and Co. is for the better, leaving the reader to surmise their perhaps unearthly origins. On the other hand, his is the first example I’ve come across to deftly shatter the “black man always dies at the start” premise. No, it is better to invite the fascination from such issues as “Mystery in Space/Rendezvous”, “Magic & Loss”, “Creation Songs” and “The Gun Club”, all top tier stories and so nebulous as they linger in the reader’s mind.

Planetary is just writing and illustration of awe. Universal awe of not what can be achieved in human endeavors, but comprehended.  A bit tangential, but that’s what both science and imagination do. Carrying one to places never thought possible.

review – captain swing

Readers uninitiated either to Warren Ellis or graphic novels would benefit immensely by reading Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island. On the one hand it’s a brisk and bloody romp in a genre definitely not steampunk (as Ellis insists) but something that feels a lot like it. Sure, there’s lots of metal and some gears but it’s a story enshrouded mostly in fog, blood and sparks. 

Captain Swing is a frenzied mix of clashing societal and seemingly fantastical forces. Enigmatic spring-heeled figures, harnessing blue lightning, are caught slinking about the streets and rooftops of London.  Murdered Bobbies, drawn and quartered with all signs of foul-play pointing to the sky.  Add to this confusion the turbulence of 1830s London with the eruption of the Swing Riots, the peasant uprisings against industrialized agriculture, combined with the full-on war between the emergent policing factions of the Peelers and Bow Street Runners. All these factors paint a story of change swaddled in bedlam, easily personified through the notorious visage of Captain Swing.

Ellis writes a deceptively pithy story. Course like the London grime, his dialogue, especially between his policing factions, is as bawdy as it’s humorous and unsettling. Contrast this, however, to the utopian and progressive aspirations of his altruistic Swing. Thankfully, his own sentiment does not boil down to dualistic either-or scenario. Applying a shades-of-grey lens to the ideological questions concerning the nature of law, justice, piracy and knowledge, Ellis takes great care not to espouse any ideal but rather cloak it in uncertainty, showcasing only the confusion experienced by a rapidly changing English society.

The artwork of Raulo Caceres impeccably parallels Ellis’s authorship. Shades of navy, amber, lavender and maroon deliberately permeate the work, highlighting predominantly the shadows of London upon each character, each panel. Only the blindingly blue sparks in this pre-electrical era add any brightness to the sketches, drawn in finely intricate woodcut fashion. It is equally fun to gaze at the panels as it is to read.

Captain Swing is a grand synthesis of fiction, history and dark, alluring artwork. Whether for the casual comic fan or for readers with a more academic scrutiny, this work is an impressive exposition on the continuum of societal bedlam and progress.

review – skullkickers

Though creator Jim Zubkavich will say it’s little more than a tribute to his Dungeons & Dragons nostalgia, I believe his Skullkickers series was created more as a modern classic. Modern in the sense that he’s imagined an uber-messy mélange of happy violence, not dissimilar to the hearty hemorrhage of bloody guts and uneasy fun witnessed in Jesse Bullington’s novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Classic in that his duo is an immediate and colorful harkening back to the comics like the Asterix & Obelix chronicles, sprinkled with a touch of Dragon’s Lair aesthetic. In truth, Zub succeeds, as Skullkickers is a finely-polished effort providing eager appeal for audiences of comics, graphic novels, and general fun.

Set in a pseudo-feudal fantasy, Skullkickers tells the story of two hardened thugs-for-hire (I’ll label them Baldy and the Dwarf) and pretty much the implosion of everything around them. In Volume one (1000 Opas and a Dead Body) the pair is enlisted to help locate an allegedly injured, uppity chancellor abducted from the infamously unimportant village of Mudwich. Volume two (Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood) continues  their travels to the more cosmopolitan Urbia, detailing their highfalutin masquerades and encounters with a more fantastical cadre of environmentalists. Each volume details countless hackings, poisonings, corpse kicking and fist pummelings, inflicted upon and from a host of demons, summoned minions and their monstrous grotesqueries. Absorbing the violence itself is a fine read for a rainy weekend, especially cathartic for channeling one’s healthy aggression after a long day at work spent with annoying colleagues.

What sets the work apart, though, is the clever and humorous dialogue and narration. Expectedly, the protagonists are base and gruff, weirdly enlightened, or at the very least enchanting. Aside from the excitement from inflicting their pain-for-hire, they’re less interested in worldly matters other than properly supporting their “jumblies” and the refilled tankard at the local Gizzard. They’re discriminating brutes, not half bad, really. Even the supporting and disposable characters are as amusing as they are impermanent, helplessly ho-humming just before learning their grisly fate. But beyond the amusingly chippy back-and-forth, the narration really stands out in the series. Adding to the more traditional action descriptors one may remember from the Batman television show, the creators get innovative.  Just as much for the artwork, descriptors such as “Disgusting Spray!”, “Misplaced stab!” or my personal favorite, “Butter Knife Trauma!” had me in several bouts of chuckles. The narrative subtitles of various victims added on account of “mashed faced chatter” is a nice touch as well. Unrelentingly brutal though the sketches may be, the humor from these aspects provided a great balance to an otherwise intriguing concept.

My main descriptor of the artwork is that it’s simply vivid. Whatever skullkickery takes place, there is always a movie-tinged coloring to the panels. Especially captivating are the multitudes of lavender and purple depicting nighttime sequences. Combined with heavy uses of bright red and orange, the combined aesthetic action provided from Zub and colleagues Edwin Huang and Misty Coats never stops throughout the work.

Skullkickers is an entertaining read for those looking for a little brutal levity. My only near-criticism is that it seems that after only two volumes collected, the creators have set a high bar of quality that may prove hard to sustain over the long haul of publication. But with the passion Jim Zubkavich places on creator-owned comics and books, he seems the sort to not let such a slide happen. In the meanwhile it should be enjoyed thoroughly.

review – daytripper

Daytripper has to be one of the more wholly representative works of the graphic novel genre. All components imagined, written and sketched by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba are so effortlessly, subtly synthesized into a breezy evocation not just of Brasilian life, but life itself. It’s the work of a pair of brothers with nothing to prove beyond simple but effective storytelling. Though by no means slow, it is a story in which everything takes its time to unfold, perhaps one integral trait of South American or Brasilian culture.

It is the story, or perhaps stories, of nothing more than Bras de Oliva Domingos, obituary writer and aspiring novelist. Looking to parallel the literary success of his father, Bras is an ordinary individual striving for some balance apart from Brasil’s numerous sensory distractions, constantly reminded to grasp the importance of living and dying in the moment. To be sure, there are plenty of distractions in Brasil, such as his friendships, family, loves and dreams, but none contemplated without quiet deliberation and perhaps a strong cup of coffee. Such deliberations are shown through a series of vignettes of various time periods in his life, each detailing the circumstances of these spontaneous moments when living and dying get in the way of his daily routine. These momentous accumulations, with a Tarantino-esque flair for anachronism, are caressingly startling. It is here where Ba and Moon confound the reader as to the intersection of reality and our dreams, and the wonder of life and death.

Like fellow Brasilian Rubem Fonseca, Daytripper provides a peek into the culture of passion in Brasilian South America. Despite the instances of death and violence in the work, there is an equal amount of warmth between the characters in their mutual goal of embracing the present. Additionally, the undertones of social and ethnic equality perceived in Brasil, exhibited through Bras and comrade Jorge, is also refreshing. Violence, inevitable as it is everywhere, is simply accepted as a sporadic part of life, a tolerated cost of a naturally unhurried and carefree lifestyle.

The lush coloring from Dave Stewart and sharp sketches from Ba and Moon make Daytripper an achingly quick read. For as much as the story emphasizes a deliberate and dreamlike pondering about life, it’s so engaging one can’t help but devour the atmosphere.

review – chinatown and the mystery of mr. wicker (the goon)

 After learning of Eric Powell at this year’s NY Comic-Con, I’ve been eager to absorb Powell’s highly touted wit and humor. Indeed, Powell’s reputation precedes himself, but interestingly enough this particular work, while a fine representation of The Goon experience, displays a concentrated depth of craftsmanship within an unusually somber though focused graphic novel.

 Upon first glance Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker can be wrongly dismissed as a duo of stories slapped together, providing a lengthier dose of unrepentant, whimsical pummeling one typically would expect from a Goon escapade. That expectation is immediately squashed with Powell’s blunt but effective disclaimer on page one: “This Ain’t Funny.” Even for a newcomer like myself, the blank slate this creates gives way to a duo of thoughtful interweaving of chronologically related episodes detailing a pensive depth to Powell’s chronicle of a brute foretold. Committed fans will receive a greater depth to Goon’s history, while new readers will get a firm grasp for the man himself in his quiet monstrosity.

The story dreamily flows back and forth between Goon’s young adulthood and his firm establishment as strongman-in-chief of the eerily invisible boss Labrazio. One half concerns the past circumstances detailing Goon and Franky’s reluctant negotiations of waterfront lebensraum with the entrepreneurial Triads, while the other with a more prickly unseen influence, straining the pair’s grasp on their community’s cash flow. Connecting these instances are the relationships experienced by Goon. His continual heartache with the sultry Mirna is better understood given the lessons learned from his time with Isabella in Chinatown. The resultant maturity Powell bestows upon Goon beyond mere street thuggery is thus the drive behind this story; it is where his scars, both visible and buried are fully revealed.

Which is not to say the tale lacks action in favor of romance. Powell sketches a startling brutality in Goon’s worldview, complete with flying fists, lead pipes and two-by-fours to all locations on the anatomical map. For however many lumps that Goon and Franky give, they receive an equal share, perhaps a reminder that they are admittedly little more than hardened tough guys and certainly no superheroes. Undoubtedly, though they live among countless thieves and slack-jaws, one can sympathize with their basic humanity but probably not much beyond an image of a pouncing Franky shrieking “Knife to the Eye!”

It is an elegantly sketched and colored brutality, though. The artwork emanates an expertly smoothened feel, showing great care attended to each line drawn on the page. The alternating time periods are brilliantly divided into a past colored in smoke-filled, charcoaled sepia, contrasted with a present washed in comfortable, light pastels with cloudy overshadowing of a rundown, quasi-gothic town. It is a strangely electrified and askew milieu, evoking both the squalor and dustiness imagined by John Steinbeck but with a supernatural and inviting charisma.  

Chinatown and The Mystery of Mr. Wicker is not only an excellent introduction to The Goon, it is a meticulous work of art. Hopefully it will introduce new readers to the creativity of Eric Powell but it may also serve an indication for Powell to continue his graphic novel exploration.