Comic Book Review – Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor #2.1

Eleventh Doctor #2.1

Written by Si Spurrier and Rob Williams
Art by Simon Fraser
Colours by Gary Caldwell
Published by Titan Comics

The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is travelling with a new companion, Alice Obiefune, a library assistant from Hackney. We first see them trapped in large tubes that are timeless pocket dimensions, at the hands of the Overcast, who have found the Doctor guilty in absentia of the crime of the systematic annihilation of fifty generations of their people. The Doctor escapes, obviously, but they are chased by The Malignant – they are a curse, supposedly created by the Doctor 1,200 years ago, when he meddled (as the War Doctor) with the benefactor-race of the Overcast, The Cyclors, somehow turning them into The Malignant. The Doctor and Alice are rescued by The Squire, an old woman in armour who knew and travelled with the War Doctor, only to be chased by a dangerous bounty hunter called The Then And The Now. They think that entering the Tardis will save them, but there is a worse mercenary waiting for them inside …

This reads like the modern Doctor Who television show in comic-book form – we are thrown into the middle of the action, danger after danger is piled onto our protagonists, running along corridors (as commentated upon by the Doctor), lots of snappy dialogue and funny lines (‘It’s just a bow tie.’) and connecting threads of the various incarnations of the Doctor (there is a nice visual of several different Doctors caused by an attack by The Then And The Now). Spurrier and Williams seem to work well as a writing team, creating a fast-paced adventure that feels a seamless blend of the two writers and that entertains. The idea of a subsequent Doctor being held to account for the actions of the War Doctor is a solid premise for a comic book, and it keeps the tone of the new Doctor Who of examining different aspects of the same character in different settings.

On the art front, Fraser has a style that is perfect for the tone – he does enough to ensure that you know it’s the Doctor without having to be tied down to likenesses, his artwork is a pleasant mix of cartoony and realistic so that there can be images of the Time War and the serious threats but still not jar when humour is present in the facial expressions, and he has a nice sense of design for the alien worlds plus a handy eye for action, so that panels swoosh and hum past in an enjoyable blur of frenetic motion, again in keeping with the current version of Doctor Who. It’s an enjoyable tale with a nice twist end (a treat for long-time fans of the Doctor Who comic books) that sets things up nicely for the next issue. This issue may come after a multi-Doctor event, but you don’t need to have read it to follow this book – I hadn’t read the previous story, and I enjoyed it just fine.

Disclosure: this book was provided as a PDF for review purposes.

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Comic Book Review: Bloodthirsty #1

Bloodthirsty #1

Written by Mark Landry
Art by Ashley Witter
Published by Titan Comics

Prelude: New Orleans, September 2005, a few days after Hurricane Katrina – 80% of the city under 20 feet of water, five days with no help, two thousand dead. Virgil LaFleur is a rescuer with the Coast Guard, helping to save many people but unable to save his own parents; when he tries to save his mother, he nearly drowns, but not before seeing under the water many corpses with their throats slit.

Ten years later, Virgil has kept his promise to his dying mother to look after his brother Trey, although Virgil was kicked out of the Coast Guard. Trey is now a doctor after Virgil put him through college; the only problem is that Virgil works for Simon Wolfinger’s biomed company – Wolfinger bought up a lot of land in New Orleans after Katrina to bolster his corporate empire, something that angers Virgil, as well as the insurers who refused to pay out after Katrina, citing ‘wind damage’ instead of flood damage. Virgil is ready to leave New Orleans, so meets his brother to say goodbye. The next day, he receives a visit from the cop who didn’t believe his story about the corpses under the water – Trey was killed in a gas explosion at the Wolfinger laboratories. After visiting the morgue to see the body, Virgil discovers a key in the locket he gave his brother that has been returned to him; he also returns home to find a man in a balaclava has killed his dog and is robbing his house. He chases after the man but gets knifed for his trouble. In the hospital, he gets a phone call telling him to deliver the package at midnight – Virgil is in the midst of something more complex, and he’s looking for revenge against the murderer of his brother …

This comic is a promising start to the story: it is rooted in the real world and has a strong protagonist with the necessary demons to drive him. There is perhaps enough distance from the real events to use Katrina as a backdrop to a revenger thriller, although Landry doesn’t demean what happened for the sake of a story, taking it as a very serious aspect of the narrative and using the ugly and greedy actions of men after the event as fuel for the righteous anger. However, the antagonist for the story seems rather out of place in the grounded reality that Landry and Witter create for the comic – it seems to be a cross-dressing, overweight brothel owner, who slits the throats of homeless people and drinks their blood. I know that there is a carnival approach to New Orleans, but it jars against the tone portrayed in the rest of the book, which is clearly set in the real world and dealing with real-world issues. This is something that might work better after a few more issues have allowed the creative team to cement the tone of the comic book and find the balance, which will see the creation of a ‘home-grown hero’ for New Orleans, according to Landry.

Landry is a screenwriter, so he knows about setting and dialogue and characters, which comes across in the book and it never feels too much like a script adapted to a comic book. I’ve never seen Witter’s art before, but she does a good job of keeping the comic book realistic and flowing, and her artistic illustrations are an intriguing match for the tone of the book – she is someone to look out for in the future.

Bloodthirsty #1 is a solid comic book debut – it uses its 48 pages to introduce the characters, the setting and the premise, and create enough intrigue to bring the reader back for more.

Disclosure: a PDF copy of this book was provided for review purposes.
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From A Library: Harry 20 On The High Rock

Harry 20 on the High Rock

Written by Gerry Finley Day
Art by Alan Davis
(instalments from 2000 AD progs 287–307)

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the art of Alan Davis on this blog, so this book is an interesting collection of his early art, from back in 1982–1983. There is a particularly fascinating introduction by Davis himself, explaining it all: meeting 2000 AD editor Richard Burton in 1982, while Davis still had a regular day job in a factory and a small amount of experience on Captain Britain and Marvelman, so this was an opportunity for Davis to go full time. However, the job wasn’t one of the big strips, but as the role of back-up artist on new strip, Harry 20 On The High Rock. All 21 episodes had already been written (Finley-Day had written full script but it had been reworked by somebody else), so Davis was assigned to draw episodes 3 and 4 but without seeing the finished art for episodes 1 and 2. Davis then talks about the problem with the design of the space prison and the problems with issues of the vacuum of space and trying to escape. However, it turned out that the original artist hadn’t done the first two episodes – delayed due to another job – so Davis had to do the first two episodes urgently with a launch date for the title that couldn’t be changed. He turned it around in a week and was then offered the job of the whole series because the original artist dropped out; Davis said yes, even though his regular commitment to Captain Britain and Marvelman meant he would have to draw 40 pages a month for 5 months. He didn’t know how insane a prospect that was, with only 18 months of part-time experience, so he readily admits that it was hard work and a steep learning curve.

It’s apparent that the artwork is early Davis and that is has been rushed in places – it’s not as polished and competent as what we think of as Davis’s style – but the basics are still evident at this point. His natural gift for storytelling is apparent, all his characters looks individual and easily recognisable, the action is dynamic and well choreographed, the camera angles and point of view in dialogue scenes keep the panels flowing without loss of clarity, and there is a strong sense of the cramped quality of a packed space prison. It’s the artwork of a talented artist in the early phase of his career.

I suppose I should mention something of the story: it’s 2060; 100 miles above earth, the High Rock is the top-security satellite prison, packed to capacity with 10,000 vicious criminals, to which Harry Thompson is sentenced to 20 years for supplying food to the people of the Equatorial Zone (this isn’t a crime but his punishment is to make a point). The High Rock is ran by Warden Worldwise, an eyepatch-wearing villain of a character, and controlled by his vicious guards; it is a hard and brutal, with Harry vowing to escape, helped by his cell mates (Genghis Eighteen and Ben Ninety – the surname refers to the length of their sentence), while trying to avoid the violent guards and the hardened criminals, with some extra twists thrown in for good measure. It’s a classic 2000 AD concept: take a staple genre (the prison-escape film) and add a sci-fi twist. It’s well done, but for me it’s the art that stands out – seeing Davis on a non-superhero title, adding some grit to his style.

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From A Library: Forever Evil

Forever Evil

Forever Evil #1–7
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch

My reading of collected editions written by Geoff Johns continues. This one was of interest because it was the first company-wide crossover event of the DC New 52, running during the end of 2013 and the first half of 2014, so there was an almost historical aspect to the book. There is nothing new or different in the approach to the crossover, but a new universe to play with allows for different opportunities.

The story starts with Lex Luthor threatening Thomas Kord in a helicopter, because Luthor is an evil businessman and Johns has to show this. While Luthor is doing this, the electricity goes out over Metropolis and all screens that have power bear the message, ‘This world is ours’. At the same time, while outside Arkham Asylum, Nightwing is taken down and captured by a group of characters. An almost identical-looking Superman breaks into Luthor Towers, steals the kryptonite hidden within, and snorts it like a drug – the Crime Syndicate, the evil version of the Justice League from Earth 3, has taken Earth.

Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring, Deathstorm, Johnny Quick, Atomica – in a live relay to the whole world, they claim to have killed the Justice League, taken the Watchtower and called together all the supervillains to pledge allegiance to this new world order. They reveal Nightwing as Richard Grayson, telling the assembled villains that they know the names and locations of his associates, and that they will destroy them. Then Ultraman moves the moon in front of the sun to stop the sting of ultraviolet sunlight. Grid (the Crime Syndicate version of Vic Stone) controls computers and their version of Alfred looks after a prisoner from their dimension.

Luthor realises that this is a job for Superman, so brings out his own version: subject B-Zero, a clone from a single cell of Kryptonian blood (who quickly acquires the name of Bizarro). He also dons a protective armour suit he’s had built using 38 companies he bought specifically for that reason. Meanwhile, in STAR Labs, Batman and Catwoman break in – they need the help of Dr Stone to fix this Earth’s Vic Stone; we discover that Superman has a sliver of kryptonite in his brain, incapacitating him, and Deathstorm has opened up Firestorm’s matrix, which pulled all the other heroes inside it; they are gone.

Over at the villain gathering, things don’t go smoothly: Ultraman crushes Black Adam’s mouth so he can’t say his magic word, and the Rogues refuse to join the Crime Syndicate, barely escaping with their lives but ending up stuck in a mirror, with the exception of a depowered Captain Cold. Black Manta retrieves Black Adam from the sea where Ultraman left him – and all these people by sheer bloody luck happen to meet CONVENIENTLY at the same time with Luthor and B-Zero; what are the chances of that happening? (As my dad would say, when we would watch films as a family and complain about the ludicrous narrative conveniences that occurred, the reason it happened is because the plot said so, now shut up and watch the film.) This band of (bad) brothers go to Wayne Enterprises but Batman is there, closely followed by Power Ring; Batman puts on a yellow power ring he happens to have, but it doesn’t work well for him, but then Sinestro appears out of nowhere, takes the yellow ring and kills Power Ring. We now have the team that will fight back against the Crime Syndicate: Luthor, Bizarro, Black Adam, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Sinestro, Deathstroke (who was there to kill them but is offered a better deal by Luthor) plus Batman and Catwoman.

This story is ‘Luthor as hero wins out due to his being smarter’, which is an unusual premise to take (if symbolically connected to the old DC universe, where the Earth 3 Luthor was the only hero on that world), but it treads a fine line with being an unpleasant read because he is still a nasty, evil individual who takes advantage of people and kills them if necessary. I understand the inherent drama in putting a villainous character into a heroic role, but it doesn’t make it enjoyable if you don’t like Luthor. I’ve never liked the Luthor character, so it meant that I was reading a book with a protagonist I don’t want to read about, and it’s not as if he has a redemptive arc (the most we get is him being slightly less corporate towards Thomas Kord’s son, a certain Ted Kord …) – Luthor is still a disagreeable and obnoxious human being at the end, who wins the day, gains secret information and gets to be excessively smug because he saves Superman’s life. The New 52 universe is certainly not the old DC universe, and although I enjoyed some aspects of this book, I’m glad I don’t read many DC books now.

The other aspect to discuss in a comic book is the art, but there’s not much more to say about Finch’s style: it’s suitably dark and moody and muscular, perfect for a story where the bad guys beat the even worse guys, with everything in shadow (literally and metaphorically), but he doesn’t seemed to have developed much in the years since I first saw (and enjoyed) his work, and there is a certain same-i-ness to his characters in anatomy and facial structure that means that other identifiers are needed to distinguish them. It’s not bad – Finch knows how to construct a good panel and a good page, and there is never confusion in the storytelling – but I would have preferred some advancement in his abilities.

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From A Library – Superman: Secret Origins

Superman: Secret Origins covers


Superman: Secret Origins #1–6
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank

It’s strange reading a story that came out in 2009/2010 that is now irrelevant due to the Nu52 rebooting the entire DC universe. It’s extra strange when the writer behind it is the Chief Creative Officer at DC – did he know that the story would be pointless when he was writing it? Did he just want to write his version of the Superman origin story before things changed? Did he want to leave a footnote to the history while he had the chance? When I think about what Johns was thinking about, it wrinkles my brain; I can’t imagine what it did to him … I have enjoyed work by this creative team before (I particularly enjoyed their Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes), so I thought I’d read this curio even if it has no connection to current DC continuity.

If you’re reading this blog, then you know the origin of Superman, so you don’t need the summary. The point here is to add details and see the story through a slightly different prism. For starters, Johns has a nice angle on the young Clark Kent: he’s developing his powers at puberty, as well as his feelings for Lana Lang, and then his adoptive parents reveal the truth to him, making him a young man in torment and confusion beyond normal adolescence. Johns also introduces some nice touches to the history (which, as mentioned previously, no longer matter), such as the lenses from the glasses he wears are from crystals from the rocket ship because they can absorb his heat vision and that the costume is Ma Kent’s idea from the crystal holograms of Krypton’s history. Johns is a big fan of DC, so he’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about these little twists to established lore, and this story shows that he is enjoying adding these finesses.

A fortunate aspect of the art in this comic book is that Frank, a talented artist whose work I’ve always enjoyed, can actually draw teenage individuals, instead of just drawing slightly smaller adults with excessive musculature. I particularly enjoyed his teenage Clark – Christopher Reeve is the deliberate model for Clark (Johns was an intern and then production assistant with Richard Donner), and Frank captures him perfectly as a teenager. Later, he displays Clark ‘acting’ as the oaf in the crumpled suit, the goofy grin and the glasses, and it’s a nice bit of storytelling.

I mentioned the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the second issue firmly places them in the Superboy story (possibly because John Byrne’s Man of Steel deliberately removed them?), and I’ve got no problem with that, even if it doesn’t mean anything now (I really should stop harping on about that …), because Superman and the Legion should be entwined. The other aspect that is intrinsic to Superman’s origin is Lex Luthor, and Johns puts in extra twists of the science/business man who buys up 78% of Metropolis and controlling the newspapers and running the Luthor Lottery, which effectively controls the city’s working-class populace. These are interesting additions to the canon, and I like how the Daily Planet is handled, but the solid build-up doesn’t survive through to the action because the plotting seems a little mechanical and coincidental: a fat man turns into a monster within seconds of eating a toxic spill in a corridor; the man who puts on the Metallo suit to bring down Superman is a soldier who Lois’ dad has under his command and who of course wants to court Lois [an aside: I did like the placid smile on Clark’s face when the soldier tries to crush-shake Clark’s hand] and who when hurt is operated on by Luthor and sent back out as a condensed Metallo almost immediately, which stretches belief even in a comic book.

The Clark–Lois relationship is well handled, but the other side of the story doesn’t click together – I’ve found that this is a common problem with origin stories that try to add an action plot on top of the origin story (there is a reason why, in old comic books, origins were relegated to flashbacks: origins don’t always work as a complete story in their own right because they are just beginnings) – which means that the six issues don’t hold together as a whole. The book works as a love letter to Superman and Christopher Reeves, with some lovely Frank art and some nice embellishments to the origin story.

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From A Library: Blackest Night

Blackest Night #0 teaser

Blackest Night #0–8
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

Wow, Geoff Johns really loves Hal Jordan, doesn’t he? There is no other hero more super: he’s the greatest because everyone keeps saying he’s the greatest, and no one else can do what he does. At least according to Johns. This is the equivalent of literary fellatio and it can sometimes feel too intimate to read.

This also reads as rather depressing because of the inherent morbidity. To paraphrase, let’s talk about death, baby: Batman (at the time this came out), J’onn J’onnz, Aquaman, Katana, Tim Drake, Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex, Jade (daughter of Alan Scott). DC, and to an extent its Chief Creative Officer, developed an unhealthy obsession with killing off characters or at least mutilating them in a bloody fashion in the years running up to the Nu52 reboot. Now, I’m not going to proselytise that superhero comic books should be devoid of death and grimness, because firstly that would make me a hypocrite (when I started reading comic books, I read 2000 AD and my first adventures in mainstream superhero comic books had the Mutant Massacre storyline, and I’ve turned out all right, relatively speaking), but secondly I’m not going to tell people how to do their jobs which they have earned (which I realise is an unusual attitude for a blogger). If stories are going to reflect a certain level of reality, then death is part of that reality and can’t be ignored. However, the obsession with violent deaths of characters for sake of sensationalism, headline grabbing or just to shake up the status quo is disturbing and doesn’t do anyone, not the readers or the writers or the industry as a whole, any good now or in the long run.

This book makes the unhealthy fascination with dead characters its central premise and almost fetishizes it: it visits the graves of Pa Kent, Ronnie Raymond, Ted Kord; the Teen Titans memorial, the Valhalla cemetery in Metropolis, the morgue of dead supervillains in the JLA headquarters (there is a double-page spread of dead heroes as Hal shows off the dead) – DC kills a lot of characters for the sake of stories, and it’s rather wearisome.

Blackest Night #2

It’s not long before the bloody violence appears in this book: a Black Ring-controlled Guardian bites out the throat of another Guardian and pulls out his heart – there should be a warning on the front of DC books: ‘Please read our disturbingly violent comic books responsibly’ – and Hawkgirl is stabbed through the heart with a spear, because that’s the sort of thing that DC wants to publish for youngsters today, apparently. Johns comes across as a person at conflict with himself, because he loves DC’s superheroes but he also loves to kill them off in graphic fashion.

The sad thing is that the idea of this book is actually interesting – a Black Lantern power battery sends out thousands of rings that bring back to life all the dead heroes, creating a Black Lantern Corps decked in funky black uniforms, and sets them out to kill all the live heroes, which brings about drama and conflict as well as an examination of a character after death brought about by living a heroic life. It’s just a shame that the central conceit requires so much death for the story to work; it demonstrates how cheap death is in comic books and how regularly it is used (thus losing the intensity of the dramatic reason of death).

Johns is a good writer, despite his psychopathic tendencies, and he does set up the premise of the book well and escalates the tension before introducing the potential saviours in the form of the spectrum of the power rings (red=rage, orange=greed, yellow=terror, green=will, blue=hope, violet=love, indigo=compassion), which is an admittedly silly idea but then this is comic books and Johns knows how to sell it in the writing.

Blackest Night #8

As a story, there is a minor glitch between the end of issue four and the start of issue five (did I miss an important tie-in issue that isn’t collected?) because the Lanterns of all colours are together – Hal (green), Sinestro (yellow), Star Sapphire (violet), Larfleeze (orange), Saint Walker (blue), Atrocitus (red) and Indigo-1 (indigo) – looking for the Black Lanterns (there’s a nice double-page spread of them reciting their individual oaths, except for Larfleeze). There are other nice twists, such as the Black Rings affecting those heroes who died and come back (Wonder Woman, Superman, Superboy, Bart Allen, Green Arrow) except for Barry Allen and Hal (Barry runs to avoid them). Another nice touch is for Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, to become a Green Lantern and activate the other colours to deputise like-minded individuals, turning Barry Allen into a Blue Lantern, Lex Luthor into an Orange Lantern, Scarecrow into a Yellow Lantern, Ray Palmer into an Indigo Lantern, Wonder Woman into a Star Sapphire, Mera into a Red Lantern; I thought this was pretty cool, which shows how much of a sucker I am for these things in comic books.

The art in this book is impressive from Reis – there are some great ‘Fuck Yeah!’ double-page spreads throughout, drawn spectacularly by Reis, such as the full complement of different Lantern corps arriving behind John Stewart and the spread of all the heroes arriving for the big fight at the end, but particularly the when the heroes turn into the White Lantern Corps – there is something especially cool about seeing Hal and Barry and Superman and Wonder Woman in white costumes that tickled the superhero-loving side of my brain something special. I’ve always thought that Reis was an above average exemplar of the current DC house style, but he does a great job here, and I shall have to upgrade my opinion; he has a strong style, good storytelling skills, sharp anatomy, a good line and a perfect choice for this sort of company-wide book.

Enjoying the book despite myself and the constant cheerleading for Hal Jordan, I did find the ending a bit weak after all the build-up and the hand-waving to return some heroes to life at the end was very flimsy. However, Blackest Night is an entertaining read and enjoyable while it lasts; if you love Hal Jordan as much as Johns does, you’ll probably enjoy it even more.

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From A Library – Avengers: Endless Wartime

Avengers: Endless Wartime cover by Mike McKone

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike McKone

Tblunka, capital city of Sorenia, nestled between Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. A mercenary, part of a force formed by the unseated regime trying to retake the country from the democratically elected government, shoots down something strange with ‘US Air Force’ on it.

Stark Towers. The Avengers: Captain America (Steve Rogers), Hawkeye, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Iron Man, Black Widow, Wolverine; the characters are introduced by Ellis in a clean, quick, efficient manner but with lovely sharp banter that essays character (Stark: ‘Captain America wants to stomp on me.’ Pepper: ‘Well, in his defense, he has met you.’) The news in the briefing room shows the shot-down drone – Steve recognises the name,  ‘Hereward’, a military contractor based on the Norwegian island of Skrekklandet.

Time for a flashback to 1944: Steve was investigating ‘wonder weapons’ being built on the island, a Wunderwaffe station that exploded and fell into the ice. In the present, Steve is focused on investigating the drone, almost to the point of anger (the other Avengers react when Steve is stern with Tony). Upon hearing that Slorenia has outsourced the action, Steve reacts: ‘You’re serious. We hired a corporation to fight a war for us.’

Steve wants to go into Slorenia; the others are against it until Thor turns up. He recognises the drone creature – it is related to a Nidhogg, a vile creature trapped under Yggdrasil, the world tree, and that escaped to Midgard; Thor fought it and killed it, but only after going into a berserker rage. So now, the Avengers are after ‘Norse Nazi maggot robots. Of death.’

Thor takes Captain Marvel ‘and also, sadly, Stark’ to hunt the creatures; Steve takes the rest of the team to the launch base, where they find a scientist who says that the creatures started going crazy but there are other models, more efficient and deadly, in a SHIELD base on American soil. SHIELD knows all about them because they’re a threat against the Avengers, so they drop Bruce Banner on the SHIELD base, but before he turns to emphasise the point. But Bruce delays things until the Avengers go to where they need to stop everything: Skrekklandet. (Hawkeye: ‘It never, ever ends, Steve. Only old people think things end.’)

Ellis does a very efficient job with this book: snappy banter, character-revealing dialogue, a clean plot that links Captain America and Thor but also requires the Avengers, action that requires the full use of the team, as well as portraying different sides to the same philosophical aspect of the fight. This is a lot harder than it seems – a lot of writers over-dialogue pages when there are lots of characters, causing the art to be obscured by word balloons; other writers also have trouble providing a plot that uses all the characters in a team and gives them all something important to do. This is a lean, mean superhero graphic novel, the equivalent of a self-contained four-issue story that gives you a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s something that Ellis does well (see RED, Ocean, etc.); it’s also good to see it as a graphic novel instead of a mini-series to be collected later in trade paperback (if only Marvel were doing more of that …).

As a relatively straightforward superhero graphic novel, Avengers: Endless Wartime has a solid superhero artist in McKone – his art style is solid, with slick lines, smooth shapes, sharp anatomy, clear storytelling and an approach that favours collaboration with the narrative instead of flashy pages intended for selling off later. I’ve always enjoyed his action scenes – they are dynamic, easy to follow, knowing where to focus, with a bit of flavour and colour to the panels – but he also does a good job with the dialogue-based panels, infusing the characters with reactions and individuality that enhance the story without distracting from the plot.

In summary – Avengers: Endless Wartime is a very good superhero graphic novel; it’s not essential, but it does the job well and provides you with a complete, enjoyable story.

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From A Library: The Perhapanauts

The Perhapanauts by Mike Wieringo The Perhapanauts: First Blood (The Perhapanauts #1–4) and The Perhapanauts: Second Chances (The Perhapanauts: Second Chances #1–4)
Written and co-created by Todd Dezago
Art and co-created by Craig Rousseau

I love this idea: a Bigfoot, a ghost, a psychic, a chupacabra (literally ‘goat-sucker’, an animal rumoured to exist in the Americas that gets its name from what it supposedly does), plus a bloke who is a bit of a mystery, are agents of BEDLAM (Bureau of Extra Dimensional Liabilities and Management), an organisation that tries to control paranormal problems (the unknown, the unexplained, the freaky stuff, the creepy stuff) where the fabric of reality is thin and other dimensions can make incursions. This is a solid concept that allows for a huge range of stories, and the creative team runs with it, providing a lot of enjoyable entertainment.

The Perhapanauts by Art AdamsThe team is led by the psychic, Arisa; Molly is the ghost, Big is Bigfoot (who has been made smarter and stronger by an evolve-ray) and Choopie the chupacabra (also treated with an evolve-ray but it wasn’t as successful as with Big); the mystery man is MG. The characters are introduced in a clever manner in the first issue of the first trade paperback by a janitor (who isn’t all that he seems …), where they meet a foe in the form of a chimaera. Enjoyable though the first four-issue story is, I found the plotting to be odd – it seems haphazard instead of progressing logically, pulling story elements out of nowhere and rushing through the narrative at a detriment to the story. For example, the chimaera is dealt with using ‘cement-eating slugs’ that are placed 35.6 years back in time using a time machine; there is also the use of a dimensional gate to defeat the chimaera later on. It seemed a bit random to me, although I did enjoy the book over all, with an interesting cast of characters, and back-up strips that introduce some back story and the Mothman.

The second trade carries on directly from the first book (in a Hellboy ‘series of mini-series that are really an ongoing series’ fashion) with Arisa requiring a hospital and BEDLAM in trouble due to voracious aliens that have come through the dimensional gate. MG tries to save Arisa while Big, Molly and Choopie try to save BEDLAM, with Big meeting his future self (as well as future selves of other members of the team). With all this action in the first issue of the second trade, the next issue is devoted to the characters, before dealing a little grey alien, and Karl the Mothman travelling back in time with the group (travelling through The Perhaps, hence the name of the book). These stories are fun but the pace seems uneven, much like the random plotting of the first book.

The Perhapanauts by Walt SimonsonPart of the enjoyment of a comic book (and a book like this) is in the artwork and Rousseau does really good work – he does lovely character work on the individual members of the team and drawing dynamic action scenes, and his style perfectly fits the nature of the stories that they are trying to tell. The only issue I had was that his outlines seem strange, somehow pale and weaker compared with the line work on the covers, which have a much stronger, more confident line that seems more suitable to the characters and the atmosphere the book is trying to achieve. This is probably just me and my tastes in art; it’s not helped by the pin-up and introduction by the late (and sorely missed) Mike Wieringo – as a big fan of Ringo’s art, I wanted his version of the Perhapanauts, something than can unfortunately never happen.

Despite my slight artistic reservations, this is a fun title and I’ll be looking out for the collections of the Image comics (these first two mini-series were published by Dark Horse) and I should point out that Todd and Craig have a Kickstarter going for a Perhapanauts 54-page hardback graphic novel, which started in May 2015. I hope they reach their target.

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From A Library – Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

The Hunter adapted by Darwyn Cooke

Adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke

I haven’t read the original novel but I have seen the film adaptations (Point Blank, Payback), so I can’t verify the authenticity of the job that Darwyn Cooke does of adapting Parker into graphic novel format (apart from reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, but that doesn’t really count). However, even I can tell the apparent authenticity of the feeling, the atmosphere, the respect for the source material that Cooke infuses this story with that make for a perfect adaptation to the comic book page.

Cooke’s art is exactly how I imagine the style for this book set in New York and Chicago in 1962 – his art style has that noirish vibe but with a cartoony edge that bridges the novel and the films (his pencils seemed similarly appropriate, although with a little cleaner and clean-cut edge to it, in the pages of The New Frontier, about DC superheroes in the Silver Age), where period detail looks genuine, people dress in suits and don’t look out of place, cars are big and streets are mean.

The story starts with some fine visual storytelling: 12 pages of dialogue-free, narrative-free panels that introduce the reader to our protagonist, Parker. It’s a masterclass in the art of portraying story in the comic book form, providing the reader with the setting and the character without words. This could have been a one-off, a bit of pizzazz that can’t be maintained, but the high quality of sequential narrative is there throughout the book, which is an impressive achievement.

If you’ve seen the films, you know the basic story: Parker is out for revenge after the successful heist he organised led to betrayal and he was left for dead; now, Parker is going through his connections to find the man who betrayed him, a man who is now under the protection of the Outfit (a nationwide organised crime syndicate) after he bought his way in with the money from the heist. And Parker isn’t taking any prisoners … I presume that this adaptation is true to the novel because it provides much more detail and information than the films, which have to eliminate the flavour in order to stick to the plot. Whereas John Boorman went for an almost hallucinatory visual style and Brian Helgeland (or rather the replacement with the rewritten script and a voice-over narration) had a more comedic feel, this feels like how it must have been when people first read the Donald Westlake novel (under the Richard Stark pseudonym) – a raw experience of a genuine career criminal who is very professional and doesn’t care about anybody. Parker is not a nice guy, and you don’t feel much empathy for him past the fact that he was double-crossed and left for dead. The gritty details from the novel have been transferred to this book, making for a more satisfactory realisation of the original story.

The pages make it apparent that this was a labour of love for Cooke – you can tell how much he enjoyed the novels and wants to do the best job possible, to do justice to the material and the author. It’s a fantastic job, even if you can’t enjoy the attitude towards women in the book, which is representative of the genre and the time the story is set, and the fact that various innocent women die in the book. It’s a brutal story – death is a violent and horrific event, even in Cooke’s animation style – a pure revenge quest for a vessel of single-minded wrath in the persona of the cool-headed Parker; however, it is clear to see why the character had such an appeal and why there were so many more Parker stories (Westlake wrote 23 more novels) and why filmmakers were so keen to adapt it to the silver screen. This is a great graphic novel, and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalments in the Cooke adaptations.

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From A Library – Resident Alien: Welcome To Earth!

Resident Alien: Welcome To Earth!

Resident Alien #0–3
Written by Peter Hogan
Art/Colour/Letters by Steve Parkhouse

Dr Harry Vanderspeigle lives outside the small mountain town of Patience, USA. He’s a semi-retired doctor who keeps to himself, until the local police ask him to help in an investigation – the only doctor in town has been murdered, and he’s the only other doctor in the area. The only problem is that Harry is an extraterrestrial who crash-landed on Earth three years ago; he has blended into the community while he waits to be rescued, deliberately staying out of local affairs and trying not to get involved with the rest of the world.

My immediate response to this comic book was: ‘This is a great idea – why has nobody else done it before?’ The simplicity of the central premise belies the thinking behind it because it has a fish-out-of-water aspect, it has a great set-up for a murder mystery with added genre overtones to make it distinctive, it has a character forced to do good and interact with society against his will, it has the dimension of the dual nature of the alien in the United States, as well as the character interactions of our protagonist with the people he is now forced to deal with against the requisites of his mission. The scope for more stories is great, and it’s great to see that Dark Horse is allowing Hogan and Parkhouse to do more mini-series.

Harry is an interesting central character: he can ‘read’ human beings, which helps him in his chosen profession as a physician so he can diagnose more accurately and more easily, which means that he doesn’t have to interact with patients repeatedly because he cures them the first time. This ability is obviously helpful investigating the murder and provides the genre dimension that elevates this from a simple whodunit. His mental powers mean that nearly all people can’t see him for who he is – they see him as a human, although the art shows him as a pointy-eared, black-eyed purple alien – with the possible exception of the night nurse, whose father is a shaman who suggests that Harry might be ‘a visitor to our world’.

Harry is also a decent person – Hogan writes in the introduction that he wanted to have an alien as the good guy – and you care for him and his plight and you want him to be rescued. He is far away from home, he doesn’t know when he’ll return, he has a woman he loves waiting for him; he has been lonely, although he doesn’t know that he’s lonely, and he’s secretly fascinated by Earth and human beings, which is why he is drawn into their world. The resolution of the murder mystery isn’t a massive revelation that upends the status quo – it’s simply another part of existence on this planet – but that’s not the point of the story. It is a charming, small tale that draws you in, with the clear lines of Parkhouse depicting each of the characters in the book differently, with different body and face shapes to define the individual (something that a lot of comic book artists have difficulty with) but not as grotesque as the characters in The Bojeffries Saga, his collaboration with Alan Moore (who provides a nice pull-quote on the front cover). Resident Alien is a wonderful example of the joys of comic books and the result of two creators demonstrating top-notch craftsmanship.

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