Monday, December 28, 2009

The end..........

This site is being mothballed, and probably getting dumped in the next couple of months. Basically anything that was done on here was covered on the main site anyway - so therefore, if you were one of the few who followed this blog, I would like to refer you to the main blog already mentioned;

Thank you and goodnight. Over and out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 comic Titles 2009: Number 7 - Captain Britain & MI13 (Marvel)

We lost a few good titles this year due to 'poor' sales - but I believe that none were more keenly felt than the loss of Captain Britain & MI13. One of the best (in fact, probably the best) thing to come out of the 2008 Marvel crossover 'Secret Invasion', the story went from strength to strength, with 'Vampire State' being a highlight of the early part of this year, and ultimately a triumphant swansong for the title.

The plot is stunning, thrilling, high concept brliiance - Dracula, named as the 'Greatest General of his Generation' by Captain Britain & MI13 writer Paul Cornell in an interview with Newsarama, and his Vampire army (with aid from Dr Doom) leave their Moon sanctuary to invade Great Britain, with an armada of Space Galleons.

Let me repeat that because I enjoy writing to so much - Dracula and his Vampire Army (with help from Doctor Doom) plot to invade Britain from their Moon base in space Galleons.

I don't know if I need to persuade you, but if you have not been touched by this comics brilliance then the trades (3 volumes) are available - Secret Invasion, Hell Comes To Brimingham & Vampire State.

Cornell's ability as a writer is all too evident - he effortlessly integrates marginal / forgotten / out of fashion Heroes with some of his own memorable characters. The title was a real ensemble piece, with Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, Blade, Black Knight and Faiza Hussain all having the space to develop and flourish. This was never done at the expense of gripping action produced with a flourish.

Without the right artist, I feel that this title would have been a noble failure (good writing needs the right artist). Luckily, Leonard Kirk was up to the task, delivering some superbly cinematic visions and creating an atmosphere of dread and disaster when called for. He also drew a great Dracula.

A crying shame this could not have gone on, but what we do have is 15 issues (and an annual), 3 trades and a lot of quality. There was not a bad arc, and as 2009 was just concerned with 'Vampire State', it easily hits the top 10 of the year.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Reviews of some of the 'Vampire State' issues can be seen here and here and here

Review - The Walking Dead #68 (Image, 2009)

Warning - Spoilers!!

A fine way to end the 'on time in '09' initiative. Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn & Wooton have all collaborated to bring 12 issues on the promised solicitation date, and the quality has always been high (sometimes more so), with Adlard especially excelling himself over the year. This issue is a lead in to the new storyline that will see Rick and the others begin a new start in a 'safe' community in Washington DC. Their first encounter with one of the community, a guy called Aaron, is tense even though Aaron is at all times relaxed, trusting and keen to get them on board. Not surprisingly, following Woodbury and the recent encounters with the 'Hunters' and Eugene's revelations, Rick, Andrea & Abraham are much less trusting. However, common sense prevails and by the end of the issue we have a consensus among the group that this community idea could give a purpose to their lives. Doubts about the trustworthiness of Aaron, and his partner Eric, remain, however.

This issue gave a few more characters a chance to step up to the centre of a few panels - Michonne, for instance, talked a lot of sense and even got to wield her Katana. Glenn was in the thick of the action, and showed his natural trust in people. Andrea had a brief scene with Rick that made sense but the pay-off felt a bit scripted ("I'd follow you people straight into hell" just seemed a bit awkward and melodramatic...)

We get some zombies! Quite a few of them, and we get to see who can handle themselves when the undead lurch out. Michonne, Carl, Glenn, Rick, Abraham, Andrea, Carl and (is this a hint?) Aaron all show themselves to be more than able. Morgan however, really needs some practice.

We get a very real sense that the likes of Rick, Andrea and Abraham are like coiled springs, just waiting for one false move from Aaron and Eric. We are being shown that the community they will soon join is going to have to handle a bunch of desperate people who are suspicious of everyone and willing to main and kill to protect themselves. This should be very interesting indeed....

Verdict - a slow burner, an ensemble piece, a primer for the upcoming DC is all good, despite the mawkish moment between Andrea & Rick. A fantastic year for this title, with a lot more to come. For this issue, I give Walking Dead 8.75 out of 10.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 10 comic Titles 2009: Number 8 - 2000AD (Rebellion)

I came back to 2000AD in the Summer of this year, 20 years since I last picked up a copy. What attracted me was a cover;

it just got under my skin. 2000AD is a very British comic regardless of where the strips are set (space, future earth etc). The fact that they were embracing this Britishness by setting a story on a sink estate really got me interested. And Cradlegrave (the cover story that got its hooks in me) lived up to its promise.

For the first 2 issues you would not see anything fantastical or horrific, other than the horror that can be other peoples lives, as Cradlegrave is set in the Ravenglade Estate (nicknamed "Cradlegrave" after the ‘ravenglade’ sign loses a few of the letters and an enterprising soul renames the estate).

It is set somewhere in Lancashire. It follows the story of teenage Shane Holt, who has recently been released from Thorn Hill young offenders institution. What you get is a well paced drama of a young man coming to terms with life outside of the offenders institution and trying to stay on the right side of the law, avoiding falling into old habits, and negotiating that while keeping on the good side of best mate Callum. The detail that goes into all this is superb (and the devil is in the details) – like Shanes mom, whose idea of a celebration of his homecoming consists of a few ‘tins’ of lager and a night in front of the television.

As the series progressed at a slow burn, the intensity was suffocating, and John Smith (the writer) kept enough back while giving enough away to keep me hooked. Although it was over fairly quickly (12 issues - progs 1633 to 1644) it was quality, with superb detail provided by the brilliant art of Edmund Bagwell.

Elsewhere, the thrills were abundant;

Pat Mills' Zombie Hunter 'Defoe' in his third outing in the dank and diseased Queen of the Zombies (progs 1640-1649)

Shakara (progs 1650 to 1661). A mind bending tale of revenge with fantastical aliens - set in space!

in "Call of the Wild" (prog 1650 to 1661) tells the thrilling and darkly humorous future Earth adventures of genitically engineered Dog Soldier Gene the Hackman. Words cannot do it justice, as the writing and art are sublime. A real treat.

Strontium Dog 'The Mork Whisperer' - Wagner & Ezquerra & Johnny Alpha & lots of other Strontium Dogs (but minus Wulf). There is not a lot more to say than the combination of Wagner & Ezquerra is the fundamental key to this series success. While they are producing the tales of Johnny Alpha, success is guaranteed.

Finally, Judge Dredd in one of his customary 'epics'. 'Tour of Duty' (prog 1650 onwards), while still ongoing, is already one of the all-time greatest epics. This follows on from "Backlash" in which senior, hard line judges wage a campaign to elect a new chief judge who will repeal the new (& controversial) pro-mutant laws. Their chosen candidate is Judge Dan Francisco, who in "Backlash" survives an assassination attempt by mutants. Despite the fact that Dredd discovers that the assassination was engineered by anti-mutant activists in order to increase support for their own agenda, Francisco goes on to defeat the Chief Judge, Hershey, by a landslide.

Following on from "Backlash", "Under New Management" shows Francisco's first day in office as the new chief judge. He quickly marks his mark, as he replaces the entire Council of Five, prohibits all mutant immigration, and instigates a policy of deporting all mutants already in Mega City One to 4 new build townships in the Cursed Earth. Deputy Chief Judge Sinfield assigns Dredd to oversee this operation, with Beeny as his assistant. It is this story that acts as a lead in to "Tour of Duty," which started in the next issue.

The first episodes seem like a homage to the original 'Cursed Earth' epic, with Dredd and a small posse of Judges riding out into the irradiated Badlands, encountering hostility and dispensing Mega City One instant Justice. As the story has unfolded though, it becomes much more than a tale of a journey into the Cursed Earth - it is more like a series of HBO's The Wire sent forward into time. There are numerous storylines (the tensions between the individual Judges, the task of resttlement of Mutants, the politics of Mega City One, an insight into the power the Chief Judge holds, and procedural drama such as Rico and his assessment of a rookie Judge) and they weave around each other effortlessly. This story - "Tour of Duty" - above all other stories this year in 2000AD, has been the most satisfying and the one I look forward to the most. It could be the greatest Dredd story.....time will tell. It, like Strontium Dog, is produced by the powerful Wagner / Ezquerra creative team, and in my opinion, Ezquerra is becoming the definitive Dredd artist with every prog. Top quality thrills.

I have returned to 2000AD and it is in rude health. There is quality in abundance, so much so that you can forgive the odd clunky or boring strip, as there is so much in each issue to absorb you. I am glad to have it on my pull list.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review - The Boys #37 (DE, 2009)

La Plume De Ma Tante Est Sur La Table

So, now we get the Frenchmans origin. Hughie, perhaps speaking for the ready, wonders why we / he is having another 'origin' story told him straight after Mothers Milk beginnings. To be honest, it all seemed a bit silly, an excuse to dabble in a bit of Gallic nonsense and even at the end of the tale, we are none the wiser if what we have been told is 'true'. There is a bit of an obligatory shag in there (just to remind you you are reading something written by Garth Ennis), some inventive violence / violation and not much of a story - certainly nothing to add to continuity or character development.

Whereas the Mothers Milk origin had a story to tell, this issues 'origin' story felt lightweight, as if Ennis is obliged to get all of the characters back history told, but is heart is not in it. We shall see. Shame that 'The Boys' has to bow out of 2009 with a (Gallic) shrug of indifference. The good times will return, but this diversion was a missed opportunity. Only the last line that Frenchie said has any impact, and its significance may be telling in the coming issues.

Verdict. Average (for The Boys usual high standards). Shame this rounds off a good year for this title. 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Review - Sweet Tooth #4 (Vertigo, 2009)

A stirring, dramatic fourth installment of this most excellent of comic books. Jepperd and Gus take a detour into a little pocket of Hell, and although there is salvation for some, and punishment for others, it is the ending that absolutely floors you. In 5 panels, Lemire manages to pull back the curtain to reveal something very dark and very sinister and puts the potential direction of this story on its head. It's a question of taking these characters at face value, or trying to understand their motives. For Gus, we have to believe that he is an innocent young boy, seeking protection. For Jepperd, you want to believe that his intentions for protecting Gus and getting him to the Preserve are honest and true. By the end of this issue things may not be as they seem, and what the future holds in store for Gus is anything but clear. As Jepperd points out in a tense stand-off, in a sleazy location far away from safety,

"We're all dead or a week from now...don't make no difference to me"
and with that Lemire lets us look into the mindset of Jepperd. Is he a realist, a nihilist, suicidal or homicidal. Or something more mercenary or more sinister? Or is he just capable in a hostile situation? Lemire will reveal the answers to this in time. In the meanwhile, we will no doubt see more effortless quality in further installments of 'Sweet Tooth'. A highlight of 2009, this is a major work in progress, and a delight to read.

Verdict. Peerless, wonderful and absolutely essential. If you are a comic book reader and do not have this on your pull list, then you are missing out on a revelation. It is that good. This issue was near perfect, and so I give it 10 out of 10.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Top 10 comic Titles 2009: Number 9 - Resurrection Volume 2 (Oni Press)

Resurrection was nowhere near my top 10 of the year until last month. When the reboot (and god only knows why it was 'rebooted', the previous volume seemed perfectly able to continue) of this title launched in the summer, it started off well, but quickly lost my interest. There were some redeeming factors - the addition of the 'Burns' (humans who were experimented on by the Aliens aka the 'Bugs') and the 'Road Agents' (human brigands basically, who seem to like attacking with bows and arrows). Most tellingly, this second volume began with Bill Clinton, back during his Presidency, announcing via an emergency broadcast that the Earth was being invaded. This initial scene packed a real punch, giving the story a footing in reality and quickly engaging the reader. For most of the rest of the issue, it was pretty much 'so what?'. Issues 2 & 3 were pretty lame, so bad that I couldn't even be bothered to review them, barely touched when I received them through the post. One sticking factor was the art of Justin Greenwood, which seemed overly stylised (I described it at one point as being 'filtered through that old Dreamcast game 'Jet Set Radio'. I could make no connection with it as a way of telling this story of survival on a devastated Earth.

However (and I better get onto the good stuff before I give the impression that this title is utterly without merit) things improved drastically. There was a glimmer of hope at the end of issue 3, where a Father has to make a terrible choice. This was a short story, seperate from the main story, but hinted that there was some hope that Resurrection Volume 2 was not going to be an unmitigated disaster. Issue 4 continued the recovery, with a gripping 'Road Agent' attack on a human 'sanctuary' called Red Lion (which sounds like a typical British boozer, which itself can be seen as a sanctuary).

Then issue 5 came along, and Resurrection completely (*ahem*) 'resurrected' itself. The fact that Bill Clinton, who really saved the first issue, was back again, in a central role was a key factor. You may not think that having an ex-President of the United States as a central character in comic book is a good idea. I beg to differ. Clinton has enough real-life charisma that his inclusion is a bonus to the comic, and the fact he is in it places all the characters in an era-defining event. This is the World trying to get back on its feet. A few key survivors are in one place, with one intention - to stay alive and try and bring order to the chaos that the Alien invaders left behind. The other characters are now being fleshed out, and some tough choices, all concerned with survival (both the individual and collective) are having to be made. Tensions are running high, and the threat of the Road Agents is ever present.

This title is now something I look forward to. It took a while to get going, but Resurrection Volume 2 is telling a gripping story (and the art has grown on me) that promises much in the near future. I think this can be a contender for one of the better comics of 2010, providing Guggenheim can deliver the quality shown in issues 4 & 5. I really hope so.

Review of issue 1 here

Review of issue 4 here

Review of issue 5 here