Catch-up Comic Book Reviews – Rivers of London: Night Witch #1

Rivers of London: Night Witch #1 cover

Written by Ben Aaronovitch & Andrew Cartmel
Art by Lee Sullivan
Colours by Luis Guerrero
Letters by Rob Steen
Edited by Steve White
Published by Titan Comics

The Rivers of London series of books is really terrific, telling the adventures of Constable Peter Grant as he becomes the first new member in years of the Folly, the branch of the Metropolitan police that deals with crimes to do with magic. I’ve been a big fan of it and Ben Aaronovitch since the first book back in 2012; I even went to see him at Manor House library, where he was funny and smart and charming. I was excited to hear that Aaronovitch was bringing the stories to comic books – this is the second mini-series, after Body Works – but this series is of particular interest to fans of the novels because it continues storylines that are the main overarching thread of the series.

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Comic Book Review – Doctor Who: Four Doctors

Doctor Who: Four Doctors cover

Doctor Who: Four Doctors #1–5
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Neil Edwards
Colours by Ivan Nunes
Letters by Richard Starkings/Jimmy Betancourt
Edited by Andrew James
Published by Titan Comics

On the planet Marinus at some point during the Time War, the War Doctor is with the Voord, a hive mind race, who are resisting the Daleks; they are worried that the Time Lords will remove what the Voord have become during the war and ask the War Doctor for help. Cut to: Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor, with the word ‘Marinus’ popping in to her head – after a quick recon trip, she goes to a café in Paris, 1923, to meet two other companions: Gabby Gonzalez (would-be artist from Brooklyn who is currently the companion of the Tenth Doctor) and Alice Obiefune (former library assistant from London who is currently companion to the Eleventh Doctor). Clara needs to convince the other companions of an important fact or the universe will be destroyed: their Doctors must not meet … Of course, things don’t work out like that and, as the Twelfth Doctor says, “We’re all going to have some sort of ‘Multi-Doctor … Event’! Whether you like it or not!”

After the Blinovitch Limitation Effect creates a paradox at a fixed point in time, Reapers appear to feed on the energy, so it’s time for our Doctors and their companions to run, where the three Doctors deliberately cause their Tardises to become docked into one, allowing plenty of running down corridors, then going to Marinus when they shouldn’t because it’s obviously a trap, revealing the reason why they’ve been lured there, a continuity bomb, and why the series is called Four Doctors. The story includes references to pivotal moments in the lives of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, lots of in-jokes and references and lovely dialogue (Eleventh Doctor: “Is this what deja vu is like? I’ve always wanted to have deja vu.”), plus some nice moments that illuminate the various Doctors and their respective companions. It’s all set at a frantic pace, with twists and turns aplenty, excitement, adventure and the feel of a story that you would see on the television (there must have been plenty of careful coordination with the various creators so that storylines didn’t get messed up, helped by the fact that Cornell has written for the TV show as well) instead of just a piece of tie-in merchandise.

This story works really well as a Doctor Who crossover – it feels organic and connected to the history and reliant on the different characteristics of the different regenerations. Cornell brings the right mix of comic book and television to the mini-series so that it works as a comic book that could be a television episode (well, an extra-length special at the very least) without feeling like it’s simply a storyboard for a show that didn’t get made; it’s a tricky balance to pull off, but Cornell manages the equilibrium superbly. He fills it with detail to show that the book is rooted in details of the series but also gently mocks it as well to create the light touch that drives the current incarnation, mixing humour with adventure that has consequences. So there are lines about the Valeyard looking like something ‘out of a panto’, a sly reference to the fact that the Ninth Doctor isn’t part of the Multi-Doctor Event (‘There was … a problem involving him.’), and the Twelfth Doctor describing the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors as ‘Manic Pixie Dream Doctors’ – a phrase that makes me smile just writing it – and as ‘Baby Doctor’ and ‘Posh Doctor’ respectively. Add in references to Harry Potter, Asterix the Gaul, Bugs Bunny, Star Wars and Carry On films, and you have that beguiling mix of entertainment that is Doctor Who.

Another important factor that makes this book feel like a comic book that is also something that could be on television is the art. Edwards has continued to grow as an artist and he makes this book come alive – not only is his art dynamic with excellent storytelling but he also does really good likenesses, something that can be the bane of comic books that are tie-ins to live-action shows. He perfectly captures the mannerisms and facial reactions of David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, which makes the banter and jokes land so much better. He also copes with the tough task of capturing the feel of the show and the accuracy of the Tardis interiors, which makes the story easier to invest in and go with, because the reader can sit back and let the narrative pull them through without anything taking them out of the story.

Doctor Who: Four Doctors is a fun, action-packed, genuine Doctor Who crossover that entertains and delights and makes you glad you’ve read the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and think that you will as well. It’s Doctoriffic.

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

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Comic Book Review: The Troop #1

Cover for The Troop #1

Written and created by Noel Clarke
Art by Joshua Cassara
Colours by Luis Guerrero
Letters by Rona Simpson
Edited by Steve White
Published by Titan Comics

Noel Clarke should stop being so damn capable at everything he tries. In addition to acting, screenwriting, producing and directing films, he’s turned his attention to writing comic books, and he’s created a really good comic book that is interesting and exciting. It’s so frustrating …

The Troop is definitely a comic book with comic book antecedents, which is definitely a good thing – the industry is littered with comic books written or co-written by film/television personalities that are nothing more than thinly veiled pitches for films or television shows, which is a sad indictment on the way that some people view the medium. However, this story is created by someone who loves comic books: the super powers – a woman who can turn rocky, a man who can create fire from his hands, a girl who can manifest diseases in other people – are rooted in comic books, and this first issue is an archetypal ‘gathering the team’ story.

The story stars in Australia, where a young woman is rescued from a paramilitary squad trying to apprehend her by a man who teleports in to help (he also has technology that blurs his face in video footage) – she can turn her body to rock, giving her strength and a degree of vulnerability. Later, the two of them rescue the young man with fire-hands and the disease girl from a man in advanced armour who calls them ‘demons’ and who reports in to ‘your holiness’. This element of religion is also present in the man who saves them – his narration refers to a prophecy that has begun but which he will not let happen. There is also a very brief glimpse of what would appear to be a vampire, so there is a lot more going on in this world and more to explore.

This is a comic book set in the real world with burgeoning super powers and shadowy organisations trying to control them or eradicate them, echoing the likes of Rising Stars or Heroes in its general tone, even though it feels more connected to the X-Men and the world of mutants in general – no explanation for powers, people fear and hate them, an older man saving them to be on his team. However, it does seem to want to aim for a mature-reader level – there is swearing, the violence seems a bit bloodier than normal, and there is full-frontal nudity (of both sexes). There doesn’t seem to be any reason for these things as yet, but perhaps the ensuing issues will justify the decision as it gets further into the story.

If this is Clarke’s first comic book script, he’s achieved a high level very quickly – the book is assured, competent, considered; the plot drives the story, the characters are fully realised and distinct and have precise backgrounds, there is an air of mystery and tension, and it instils a necessity to find out what happens next. This is an impressive achievement in a first issue of any comic book, let alone from an actor who decided to write and direct as well. It’s not perfect – the names of our protagonists are not all revealed in the first issue, the nudity panels seem unnecessary, the locations of events aren’t disclosed, the narration changes between characters but there is no difference in their voices despite their age and gender – but these are not insurmountable. Clarke is clearly a driven individual with strong ideas and the ambition to achieve them, so it’s satisfying to see a comic book that matches that.

I’ve never seen Cassara’s art before but I’m impressed: it is solid comic book storytelling with a nice style that makes me think of a British version of the good Top Cow artists, strong lines with a slightly grungy vibe, distinct character work and very good panel transitions, never losing clarity or pace. The action is dynamic and visceral, the design elements strong, such as the armour, and the right mix of realism and traditional comic book to enhance the tone of the story. The colours help in this regard, with a palette that reflects all settings instead of dominating the pencils with a single muddy palette that occurs frequently in stories set in the real world. The first issue of The Troop is a complete package and sets up what looks like a very interesting series. Damn Clarke and his talent, which doesn’t seem to know limits – I hope The Troop does the same.

Disclosure: this book was provided as a PDF for review purposes.
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Comic Book Review – Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #1

Cover for Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #1

Written by George Mann
Art by Emma Vieceli
Colours by Hi-Fi
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Edited by Andrew James
Published by Titan Comics

Josephine ‘Josie’ Day is painting in an empty cottage in a Welsh village when she’s disturbed by a noise, then a man: ‘I’m the Doctor, and I’d very much like to know what you’re doing in my house?’; her life isn’t going to be the same. The man is the eighth Doctor (as played by Paul McGann for one film, over a decade of audio adventures and recently wonderfully revived by Steve Moffat in Night of the Doctor), ‘a romantic soul wandering the universe in search of culture, companionship and adventure’, as accurately described on the inside cover.

The Doctor has returned to his home on Earth – it’s been several decades since he was last in the cottage – and he’s looking for a book. He thinks it’s important because someone left it for him – himself, ‘The other me. Old one, white hair and frills.’ – a copy of Jane Eyre (‘It’s one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century! Don’t they teach you anything these days?’). He’s distracted by Josie’s paintings, which have very unusual subject matter, only to be disturbed by a neighbour with a story of being attacked in the pub by a monster (‘I’m the Doctor – and I love a good monster story.’), a monster that was just like the one in Josie’s painting … When the monsters turn out to be Witherkin, creatures of living starlight that fashion bodies from fragments of drifting asteroids, and animated ones created by Josie because she is covered with Animae Particles (I do like a good pun), it’s up to Josie to save the day and finish the story …

I’d read a novel by Mann before but none of his comic books; he does a good job of capturing the voice of the Doctor in his eighth incarnation, the quest for culture and adventure, and the story is very much in keeping with the current approach to Doctor Who stories – quick to action, peril without heavy danger, humorous, a resourceful companion. It’s good to see this version of the Doctor getting a chance to shine in comic books, a good medium for the adventures because it has the necessary limitless budget. Vieceli is a good storyteller – the art flows naturally and dynamically – but the approach to likeness is more impressionistic than realistic; there are times where the art reminds me of Mark Buckingham and sometimes when it reminds me of Mike Deodato, particularly the late ‘80s, early ‘90s style, with less emphasis on background detail and more on the characters in the foreground. It has a charm that matches the Byronic tone of the Doctor and the adventure – light, breezy, playful, dashing – that overcomes any slight inconsistencies. The same playful and breezy tone is developed in the colouring, which channels the pastel end of the spectrum, taking it further away from the photorealistic style and placing it firmly in the cartoonier arena, almost with a hint of old-fashioned children’s book illustrations. It sounds like it shouldn’t come together, but it does in that wonderfully strange way that Doctor Who does. This comic book is a done-in-one story, setting up further adventures for the eighth Doctor and Josie as they investigate the strange circumstances behind Josie’s Animae Particles and her knowledge of unusual Doctor Who villains, which sounds like a perfect recipe for this particular time-travelling team. A good start to the mini-series.

Disclosure: this book was provided as a PDF for review purposes.
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Comic Book Review: Johnny Red #1

Johnny Red #1

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Keith Burns
Colours by Jason Worde
Letters by Ron Steen
Edited by Steve White
Published by Titan Comics

Tony Iverson is a young, wealthy man (he made his money in the dot com boom) who has come to Vintage Flyers in Suffolk so that they can restore P7089: the battered and beaten airframe of a Hurricane plane (‘the plane that won the Battle of Britain while the Spitfire got the credit’). It has a strange history and the wreckage was recently found in Eastern Germany – for more details, Iverson will have to go to Russia to make further enquiries with a specialist contact. The contact in Russia locates a veteran of ‘the Great Patriotic War’ who says he knows Iverson’s plane, a former sergeant called Rodimitz. After laughing himself silly at the price Iverson paid for the Hurricane, Rodimitz (‘I would been happy to burn that worthless, stupid, obsolete English shitbox to the ground’) tells Iverson that he was Chief Mechanic of the fighter squadron the Hurricane flew with, and proceeds to tell him the ‘secret’ story of that time.

With that, the story flashes back to Stalingrad during the Second World War, where millions of Russians have died and those who remain survive and fight, and all planes were drafted to drop supplies so that the Russian defenders could continue the fight. However, the better German planes with their better pilots were always waiting … Fortunately, there was one plane that even the German fighter pilots recognised, a British plane flown by an Englishman leading a Russian squadron of which there is no record due to the story Rodimitz is going to tell Iverson …

Ennis is a fantastic writer of war stories (in my thoughts on Punisher: Valley Forge, Valley Forge, I mentioned that the prose extracts of a factual book about the war were fantastic and that I would read non-comic-book war stories written by Ennis) as well as a huge war geek, as he has demonstrated in his various collections of his war comics. He is also a huge fan of Johnny Red, so this must be a dream come true for him. This comes across in the writing – he cannily starts the book in the present day so that he can slip in his war-buff knowledge before making the transition to the original era, but it also allows him to set the story up in a way to draw in a modern crowd, highlighting the unusual setting of a British pilot fighting with the Russians on the Eastern Front. The material at the back relates how a real event was the inspiration for the original Johnny Red stories (although the unfortunate typos take away some of the gravity: ‘… or make for distance [sic] Russian. He sensibly opted for the later [sic] …’); although this is fiction, Ennis grounds it in the reality of the war and all the horror it involved.

Ennis also uses the build-up technique before the reveal, which is a nice touch and works even though the reader knows that the character is Johnny Red – the deliberate hiding of his face in various panels until the final page reveal (where he is corrupting a 17-year-old boy: ‘It’s time you started smoking.’) is a handsome way to introduce and set up the protagonist. The art by Burns is a fine assist in this regard: using different camera angles to delay showing Johnny Red’s face while still making that seem natural and telling the story at the same time is a tough trick to pull off, but Burns does so with aplomb. There’s a certain rough line to Burns’ style, particularly in the faces, but his attention to detail when it comes to the aeroplanes is anything but rough, something I’m sure was important for Ennis in this collaboration. The aeroplane battles are also impressive, dynamic and vibrant yet clear and easy to follow.

I continue to be impressed with how effortless Ennis’ writing appears – each timeframe has wonderfully natural dialogue that advances the story while dropping in important information and maintaining different styles between the different eras, as well as identities for the different nationalities without needing linguistic tics to achieve it. I have read (and reviewed) some of the previous Johnny Red stories, so I know a little of what to expect, and this new comic book feels exactly in the same vein as the original material. I hope the modern comic book industry has room for a boys-own adventure, because Johnny Red is off to a flying start (and I don’t apologise for that terrible pun).

Disclosure: this book was provided in PDF form for review purposes.
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Comic Book Review – Heroes: Vengeance #1

Heroes: Vengeance #1

Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey and Zach Craley
Art by Rubine
Letterer Jim Campbell
Published by Titan Comics

This is an unusual comic book in that it’s not the start of a mini-series – the cover calls it a ‘prelude’ to the new TV series, Heroes Reborn; the accompanying text for the preview copy talks about it ‘revealing secrets about key characters in the show’; the inside front cover explicitly states the identity of the central character: Oscar Gutierrez, a mechanic who lives in downtown LA troubled by gangsters, is secretly El Vengador. This issue, despite reading as if there is some mystery as to the identity of the character, doesn’t have mystery because everything is explained; instead, it aims to be a combination of back story and current story.

We first see El Vengador coming to the aid of a young man being attacked by four members of a local gang. El Vengador is dressed in a Mexican wrestling mask but with a more military-styled version of the full-body suit of a wrestler. One full-page spread of him jumping from a rooftop transitions to the same pose of a Mexican wrestler (with the same mask) jumping in a wrestling ring in 1994 East LA. A younger Oscar and his little brother Carlos are watching the original El Vengador; Carlos still believes in the truth of the wrestling bouts but Oscar doesn’t. We see several panels of the two fights paralleling each other down the page before returning fully to the present day to see our super-powered El Vengador take down the gang members with efficiency, speed and strength (there’s a nice panel of a face being punched, a look of shocked pain on the face of the gang member as his teeth fly out his mouth). El Vengador tells the intended victim to leave town; the victim wants more help, but El Vengador doesn’t want to give him any more help – he wants to leave before the police arrive. He persuades the man to leave town before going back home to his wife and son.

This doesn’t feel like a complete story, even though it tries to provide a sense of a complete narrative with the modern-day action and the flashbacks. There is an inner monologue that accompanies much of the book, questioning what it is to be a hero and why a hero is needed, but it seems dry and plodding on the page (Fahey is a producer on the television programme and Craley is a writer of Heroes comic books, but it seems as if it might have worked better as an actual voice-over). The flashbacks to Oscar’s youth are supposed to inform his character, but you don’t get a real sense of who Oscar is as a person – he beats up bad guys and he’s a husband/father/brother, but nothing much else. I guess that because each issue will concentrate on a single character, the issue isn’t about creating a narrative tension that will require the reader to return for more – the point is that the issues will provide more details, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying first issue.

The two timeframes are delineated by a difference in art styles – Rubine uses a softer, cleaner line to draw the 1994 scenes, which is looser and warmer, suggesting the rose-tinted view of the past and youth; the modern scenes are drawn in a tighter, harsher photo-realistic style that is grittier and more in keeping with the tone and appropriate for a vigilante fighting in alleyways. Rubine’s art is good, although I prefer the sharper, darker art of the present-day pages (I was reminded of Alex Maleev and Tony Harris in places, which is a compliment), and he manages a consistent facial likeness in what presumably must be in keeping with the actor playing the part of El Vengador, although I haven’t seen any of the new series to be able to tell, a talent that is hard for some artists to pull off in other comic books.

This comic book works fine as a backgrounder on a character the audience already knows, but doesn’t succeed as a complete comic book in its own right. If you are a fan of Heroes Reborn and want to know more, you will probably get more out of it than I did.

Disclosure: this book was provided as a PDF for review purposes.
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Comic Book Review – Assassin’s Creed: Trial By Fire #1

Assassin's Creed: Trial By Fire #1

Written by Anthony Del Col & Conor McCreery
Art by Neil Edwards
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Colours by Ivan Nunes
Edited by Lizzie Kaye
Published by Titan Comics

1852. Great Basin Desert. California Gold Rush. A young woman in cowboy gear attacks a stagecoach to reclaim gold for the Maidu people who mined it. But this isn’t the genetic memories of a past life, as would be expected if you know anything about Assassin’s Creed – it’s a computer game, played on a virtual reality set by Charlotte de la Cruz, who prefers playing as the Brotherhood instead of the Templars because has an affinity for the Robin Hood vibe. She’s in San Diego for a job interview with World Share, some sort of global financial company, but she walks out when she can tell that the interviewer prefers a nepotistic solution to the job vacancy. She channels her anger into performing a bit of Robin Hood-style money transaction at the bank where she works, to help out a poor old lady in need, so it comes as something of a surprise to find two people, claiming to be from the Brotherhood, in her apartment. Not as much as surprise as when people crash through her door and try to kill her – the Brotherhood save her from these Templars and take her to their hideout. They inform her that the Helix System, the game she was playing and which was created by Abstergo, the world’s largest conglomerate, who sell it cheap so they can harvest all the data – sound familiar? – was a testing system, using actual memories instead of stories in the game, to find people with ancestral connections. The Brotherhood need Charlotte to access the memories of her ancestor from 1692, in Salem during the witch trials – a white man who doesn’t seem to have the same values as Charlotte, which she discovers rather nastily as she is violently de-synched from the Animus, the machine that allows the access of a person’s genetic past. However, this doesn’t hint at how dangerous it is for someone to try to change the history of an ancestor …

I really enjoyed Kill Shakespeare, the comic by Del Col and McCreery that made their name, and I’ve read a few Assassin’s Creed comics, but it was still a surprise at how much I enjoyed this comic. They have created a very intriguing protagonist in the form of Charlotte, a capable and intelligent woman who can let her passions get the better of her but who has a sense of right and wrong. The premise allows for a conflict for the character in the current political and financial climate, and I hope this aspect continues to thread its way through the rest of the series, and to see the development of Charlotte, who is a truly well-rounded character.

As well as the writing, the art deserves praise – Edwards conveys three separate timeframes with aplomb and draws realistic human beings in the modern world as well as the past. He manages to hold attention in scene-setting panels as well as the more flashy dynamic pages – the fact that the word ‘Assassin’ is in the title should be a suggestion that there will be violence, and there is some visceral action (I’ve still got the image of a throwing knife protruding from the front of an assailant’s skull in my memory, but in a good way). His artwork has come on a lot since I first saw it over five years ago (and didn’t think much of it), and I’m glad it was in the service of a well-written comic. Del Col and McCreery have crafted a very good first issue: it sold the premise, introduced a great new character, and I want to see how this tale continues. Recommended.

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

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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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Comic Book Review – Elric Volume 1: Elric Of Melniboné

The Michael Moorcock Library Volume 1: Elric Of Melniboné

The Michael Moorcock Library
Elric created by Michael Moorcoock
Script and adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Michael T Gilbert and P Craig Russell
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Original editor: Michael Friedrich
Collection edited by Tom Williams
Published by Titan Comics

Originally published in 1983/1984 by Pacific Comics, these six issues adapting the first Elric novel (Elric of Melniboné) have been enhanced and re-edited for this new hardcover collection, and make an interesting companion piece to the latest adaptation of the same material (the second volume of which I reviewed here). It is a testament to the strength of the original material that the 30 years since this adaptation hasn’t seen an effect on the story – it is more about the execution of the adaptation and what it says about the time in which it was created.

These comics stick closely to the novel, which sees emperor Elric of Melniboné betrayed by his crazy cousin Yyrkoon and Elric’s quest to save his beloved Cymoril from Yyrkoon, and does a grand job of evoking the spirit of the novel in both narration and art. Roy Thomas was the man who brought sword and sorcery to Marvel comics with his run on Conan the Barbarian, so he was a natural choice to adapt the book. His style matches Moorcock’s prose and dialogue, of which there were naturally more in comic books from 30 years ago, but it doesn’t affect the storytelling and seems apposite to the genre.

The most intriguing aspect, appropriately, is the art. The art is by Gilbert and Russell, but the collaboration is a fluid one – the first three issue credits have pencils and colours by Gilbert, and layouts, inks and colours by Russell, but the order is swapped around; the last three issues have ‘art & colours’ by both but with the order swapping each issue. There are some pages that feel more Russell than Gilbert – particularly the last third of the first issue, with the full page being used to tell the story with few other panels and art nouveau touches to the panel design – but it is difficult to see where one artist ends and the other begins. I’m more used to Russell’s art from his many collaborations with Neil Gaiman, and less used to Gilbert’s, whose Mr Monster stories are the only work that I’ve read; however, his style here is very different to what I remember of the Mr Monster stories. The fusion between the two produces a style that echoes what I consider an art style of the 1970s – elaborate, ornate, gothic, arch – and very different from the style common in superhero books from that time. There are times where the characters are grotesque, such as Yyrkoon and Dr. Jest the torturer, with strange close-up panels and the violence of the battle scenes. Then, there are times where art takes on an artistic beauty, large panels beautifully drawn to illustrate a small moment in time, or where the detail is in the composition and framing. The colours can veer into the slightly garish at times – strange pinks and yellows and greens that seem harsh on the eye, so much so that the limited drab palette of the chapter set in the plane of dimension that contains the city of Ameeron is something of a relief (although Rackhir the Red Archer’s costume stands out somewhat).

As a fan of Chris Claremont’s original run on The Uncanny X-Men, I was delighted to see in these comic books the lettering of Orzechowski – his ability to squeeze in many balloons of dialogue and narration into beautiful artwork, honed by years of working with the notoriously verbose Claremont, is put to good use here and helps to make the book an enjoyable read. The art of lettering is a little different nowadays, with computer fonts and the ability to change things more easily, so it’s a joy to see a gifted professional working in the old-fashioned style doing a marvellous job of making the lettering an unobtrusive part of the artwork.

This collection is an interesting artefact of a different time – Pacific Comics was one of the first publishers to back creator-owned work, although liquidation of the company would occur later in 1984 after the final original issue of Elric Of Melniboné was published, and this adaptation can be seen as part of the early wave of independent comic books that didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code Authority (there is some nudity and the aforementioned battles are quite bloody) and which would pave the way for books in the mid-1980s that turned the industry around. If you’re a fan of Moorcock, Elric or the art of Russell and Gilbert, this is a book that you’ll want as part of your collection; for others, it’s an intriguing curio and cultural document.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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