Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review - Unknown Soldier #13 (Vertigo, 2009)

'The Way Home' is the new arc in this terrific series, taking us back to the heart of this title, with the Unknown Soldier coming to the aid of Paul, a child taken by the rebels and forced into their army. His story, told through his own words and drawings, is harrowing, but all the more disturbing for the fact that you know that this is a very real scenario endured by many. Having escaped the GUSCO camp (aimed at rehabilitating child soldiers), having escaped the hellish conditions of forced conscription into the LRA, Paul is now desperate to get to his family in an IDP camp. Moses, initially reluctant, agrees to help this tragic child.

That summarises the issue, but does not do justice to the contents. The writing, as ever, is brutally honest in its depiction of a war in Africa where the most vulnerable are the most exploited and the casualties of war are predominantly the innocent. While Dysart is keen to emphasise the suffering - and this he does with subtlety, power and honesty - he can also weave a terrific and involving story around these bald and terrible facts.

This issue sees a change of artist, as Ponticelli takes a break. The replacement artist is DRC illustrator Pat Masioni. I am a huge fan of Ponticellis work, but Masioni ably takes up the art duties and makes this issue his own. His art, like Ponticellis, lays bare the brutality of war, the grief of suffering and the evil that men can do - witness his drawing of a child being ripped from his mothers arms, her pleading, the hostility and threat of the rebel soldiers - and does it with an energy and anger that drives the story, engaging the reader.

Unknown Soldier #13 is a change of pace from the high octane thriller energy of the 'Easy Kill' arc. It is more contemplative, more terrifying, more heart-rending. The focus is back on the victims of the wars and internecine struggles in Africa. There is no greater tribute to this title than this - Dysart and his supremely gifted artists sear these terrible events into your conscious. A lot of the images and words are not easy to forget. and nor should they be. Unknown Soldier is the most important comic book on the market right now, it is political, righteous, angry, engaging and gripping - no other title manages this feat.

Verdict - superlative. 9.5 out of 10.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review - Resurrection #4 (Onipress, 2009)

Back in June I reviewed issue 1 of 'Chapter 2' / reboot of Resurrection. To be honest I was not that impressed with it - I thought Greenwoods art lacked something, that it was too 'cartoony' for the subject matter, and the characters left me unmoved. Overall I felt uninvolved. One highlight was the start of the issue, featuring Bill Clinton, as the President of The United States, addressing his nation about the Alien invasion.

I nearly gave up after issues 2 & 3 to be honest. But this issue just about has the start of something interesting. Without giving away the ending, it is fair to say that what Guggenheim began with at the start of 'chapter 2', he carries over into the end of issue with some style. Oh, and there is some 'Dawn of the Dead' type shenanigans with the Road Agents trying to break through into Red Lion. Being British, everytime I read 'Red Lion' I think of an old-school English pub, with nictine stained walls and a fruit machine blinking in the corner of a dimly light room. So let's forget the fact that 'Red Lion' is a plain daft name for a sanctuary, and grab what positives we can from this - Resurrection #4 turns a corner - it actually works on a basic level (to entertain), though a lot of the problems I have with the series - the art, the lack of character in the characters - remain.

Still, it stays on my pull list for now. A resurrection of sorts, for Resurrection.

Verdict. Just about a 7 out of 10, for the action and the ending, which was rather great, and surprising.

Friday, October 23, 2009

5 page Preview - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #5 (Boom! Studios, 2009)

Written by Philip K. Dick
Drawn by Tony Parker
SC, 32 pgs, FC, (5 of 24), SRP: $3.99
COVER A: Moritat
COVER B: Brett Weldele
Diamond Code: AUG090721

The book that inspired BLADE RUNNER continues! The world has survived war… but is it ready for mass empathy? Everyday, the thousands left on Earth immerse themselves within the plight of Wilbur Mercer. They suffer as he does, making a never-ending climb through a Hellish terrain. Welcome to the world of Rick Deckard, the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

5 page preview of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' #5, which is due to be released on October 28th, 2009;

5 Page Preview - Die Hard Year One #2 (Boom! Studios, 2009)

5 page preview of Boom! Studios 'Die Hard Year One' #2, on sale October 28th, 2009;

Cover A

Written by Howard Chaykin
Drawn by Stephen Thompson
24pgs, FC, SRP: $3.99
COVER A: Dave Johnson
Diamond Code: JUL090749
Preview Pack : Covers + First 5 pages

BOOM! Studios continues to present America’s greatest action hero translated into the sequential art form for the first time! Drunks, pimps, freaks and the debauched rich. It’s all in a night’s work for NYPD rookie John McClane. But what happens when 1976’s toughest kid on the street runs into a dark conspiracy involving a blonde on the run? With McClane, it means the fun’s just starting. Join legendary industry creator Howard Chaykin on a thrill ride that’s rung up over $1 billion in box office worldwide and become the gold standard for classic action! Yippee Ki Yay!

Cover B

Preview of Die Hard Year One #2;

Solicitation for Unknown Soldier #16 (Vertigo, 2010)

Another classic Vertigo title, probably the next best thing to The Walking Dead in my opinion;

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
Cover by Dave Johnson
Moses, descending deeper into the mystery of who murdered the IDP camp doctor, begins to stir the nest of hornets that is the criminal underworld of refugee camp life. He suspects everyone – and everyone suspects him. It’s nothing short of hard-boiled detective fiction, East African style.
On sale January 27 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • MATURE READERS

Solicitation for Sweet Tooth #5 (Vertigo, 2010)

One of the highlights of this comic year, good to see it will be with us in 2010;

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art and cover by Jeff Lemire

“The new ‘must read’ book.” – Geoff Johns
“Dark, moving and intriguing.” – Frank Quitely

Surprises abound in this conclusion to the first arc of the red-hot Vertigo series that’s so compelling you’re not going to want to wait for the trade. On the dangerous road to a rumored safe haven, Gus and Jeppard come to a raw moment of truth.
On sale January 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • MATURE READERS

Solicitation for The Walking Dead #69 (Image, 2010)

Written by Robert Kirkman,
art and cover by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn.
At long last... they arrive. But will things get better... or worse?
32 pages, black and white, $2.99, in stores on Jan. 13.

So, they finally get to DC, and they finally get to use that brilliant cover that has been knocking about for over a year now....

DC looks pretty deserted though, doesn't it? Maybe they knew what was coming and had evacuation plans in place? Maybe the lack of people suggests forewarning, which suggests conspiracy, which suggests that maybe Eugene does know what caused the Zombie plague, and therefore he actually may know how to do something about it...........maybe....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review - Swordsmith Assassin #3 (Boom!, 2009)

A Japanese revenge tale, as told by Americans? Set in Feudal Japan?

Should Americans be writing about Feudal Japan?

Based on 'Swordsmith Assassin', the answer is a 'yes'. It is not an unequivocal 'yes', for I do not believe that 'Swordsmith Assassin' actually adds much to the genre other than celebrate the likes of 'Lady Snowblood' and 'Lone Wolf & Cub' - and that is probably the point.

The plot is classic revenge material, with Toshiro Ono - the titular 'Swordsmith Assassin' - the focus of the drama. He is a master Swordsmith, who has spent his life making the best swords that have ever been forged and selling them to the highest bidder. But it is this lack of scruples that seals his fate, as his family are killed by a blade of his own making. In the aftermath of his loss, Toshiro realises he must make sure none of his swords ever kill again. To do this, he must track down every sword he has made.

I dived into issue 3 without the benefit of reading 1 & 2. I found the story accessible, though only realised late on in this issue that Ono was relaying his story to a Prussian General, who has the last of his swords. The issue is crammed with subterfuge, love and betrayal, and some great action sequences. The plot moves along quickly, and the issue as a whole was entertaining and made me want to know more about Ono.

As a limited series (4 issues), it is quite difficult to appraise a single issue towards the end of the series, without the benefit of reading the previous issues. However, I recommend Swordsmith Assassin to those who enjoy Japanese Historical drama and those who enjoy revenge tales. In basic terms, if you liked Lone Wolf & Cub, you will find something in this to your taste.

By the way, I love that cover......

Verdict. Solid entertainment, though this is a limited series - catch up with issues 1 & 2 before getting this issue. 7 out of 10.

'Swordsmith Assassin' #3 is out tomorrow (21st October) from Boom!

Boom! Studios kindly provided a digital copy of this issue for review.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review of The Walking Dead #66 (Image) (2009)

Warning - mild spoilers.

"What we've done to survive....sometimes I feel like we're no better than the dead ones"
Rick Grimes, Walking Dead #66

Walking Dead week is a great week. I get to read one of the best pieces of contemporary fiction but I also get to write a little review on my little blog and it is a real highlight of the month for me. It's the little things....Since Kirkman laid down his manifesto for '09 - to get his titles out on time, every month - I have been even happier. Walking Dead has made its shipping date every time this year, without any sign of fatigue or quality control issues. In fact, looking back on this concluding issue of 'Fear the Hunters', and looking back over the arc as a whole, I can now say I was wrong if I ever doubted what Kirkman was doing with this storyline. I just didn't understand. I take it all back, as issue 66 actually sits up at the top as one of the best, if not the best, of the series so far, and the arc......well, more on that later.

First up, issue 66.

So much happens, yet so much of it is not what you would expect. Understated, moving, tense - this issue has all of these qualities. The Hunters confrontation is not what you would expect - it is a testament to Adlards creativity and confidence that he would produce so many splash pages, double page spreads and quick fire panels that deal with violence without actually showing any of the acts that were perpetrated. He does not have to show the explicit details - this is an artist so in tune with his subject matter and characters that all he needs to do is show the anger or despair in the characters faces, accompanied by a few stark images of the aftermath. It is excellent.

The art really distinguishes a lot of the Walking Dead, and here it is again on a par with Kirkmans plotting and dialogue in creating a fully rounded piece of art. I have just been re-reading a scene with Dale and Rick, where Dale is lying on a bed, close to death. The art captures the man as a broken old man, his stubble resting on his double chin, his eyes weary of the fights, but Adlard also manages to infuse a nobility about him, which, when coupled with Kirkmans redemptive dialogue, provides a highlight of this issue. But I could go on, as there are so many highs - like the father / son reunion, Abraham about to go psycho on the reverend, Ricks cold killer stare, completely devoid of feelings - and the final panels between Rick and Carl which are absolutely stunning - between them, Kirkman and Adlard manage to portray a dam-burst of emotion with a few well chosen panels and few words. Adlard can draw a child quivering on the edge of tears like no other artist. Stunning.

So, what of the arc overall? Well, I had my reservations up to last issue, but the fact is that this arc is probably better enjoyed as a trade - the pieces fit together in a way that is quite remarkable, whereas those of us who buy the singles maybe don't get the bigger picture with the piecemeal offerings. Whatever - the 'Hunters' arc was not going to be another 'No-one is safe', and is all the better for it. 'Fear the Hunters' opens up so many possibilities beyond issue 66, with new revelations, a new mindset amongst some of the group, and an overall sense of urgency brought about by dwindling food supplies. There was no whole scale clear out of the cast, and again, the title retains its integrity and quality by constantly managing to sidestep what the readers expectations are, and give them something so much better. The 'fear' in the arc title retains a lot of power throughout this arc - 'fear' of the future, 'fear' of what the individuals are becoming, the fear of loss and losing loved ones (and for a while there was a fear of the Hunters - and subsequently who are the Hunters? etc).

My Walking Dead week is nearing its end. I would like to thank Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn, Image Comics and whoever else is responsible for producing this shining light of a comic every month. It gives me immense pleasure to read it, to write about it, to speculate on it. Thank you.

One more thing - is Kirkmans position as an elevated member of the Image board influencing the content of Walking Dead? More and more often, after 'Chew' was previewed in it a few issues back, The Walking Dead now hosts preview pages of upcming titles on a regular basis. Not really a criticism, more an observation, though to be honest, more pages of The Walking Dead itself would be more welcome than bolted on previews.

Verdict. Near perfect. In a week where there is not a lot else to write home about, this title continues to hit the heights. Still at the top of its game and nearly 70 issues in - 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review - Sweet Tooth #2 (Vertigo, 2009)

I think of all the good stuff that Vertigo have put out over the years - Y the Last Man, Fables, The Losers, Unknown Soldier (I know this only scratches the surface) - and I can safely say that Sweet Tooth is comparable in quality to all of those titles. Issue 2 has the same quiet despair and sadness of the debut, as Gus (aka Sweet Tooth) and his potential saviour (who introduces himself as Jepperd) try to figure each other out, and Jepperd, for whatever reason, tries to coax Gus out from the Woods (where the child believes he is safe and protected) to go to the 'Preserve'. The Preserve is where the mutated children of Earth, free from the sickness that is killing all the rest of the populations, can be safe from the 'HUnters', who want to determine the children's secret for their preservation.

The pacing is relaxed, but the action can be ferocious, and Lemire's art gives the whole thing a primal, but humane quality. Observe the faces of Gus and Jepperd bathed in the shadows cast by an open fire and there is something beautiful, sad and noble in both of them. The Hunters we have seen so far look either pathetic, terrifying or slightly absurd - and sometimes all of those things at once.

The final page is terrific. I want more. This book is a real highlight of the month now - alongside 'Walking Dead', 'Unknown Soldier' and 'The Boys'.

Sweet Tooth demands your attention - there is still time to get in one of the most important and exciting new titles of 2009.

Verdict. Love it. I think I said this before, but I will say it again just in case - 'Sweet Tooth' could be the only post-apocalyptic fairy tale you will ever need to read. It is wonderful. 8.75 out of 10.

Review - The Boys #35 (Dynamite, 2009)

For all his bravado and tendency to shock, it is important to remember that Garth Ennis can also show a much more sensitive side. Shock is not his M.O. He is a talented storyteller who will use that aspect of his style to propel the story, but as we see with issue #35 of The Boys, it is when he focuses on real human drama that some of his best work emerges.

Ostensibly a riff on the vogue for 'origin' stories in comics, the 'origin' of Mothers Milk is absorbing, sad, tragic - and with enough shock moments to remind you that you are, after all, reading an Ennis title. You learn of his childhood, his link with Vought, the exploitation of workers, the immorality of Big Business, the best boxing scene since Frank Miller was in charge of Daredevil some 25 years ago or more AND MM's first meeting with Billy Butcher. The Boys have enough reputation now for this sort of origin story to have a real resonance and Ennis does not disappoint.

The art, with Darick Robertson back after Carlos Ezquerra filled in for the last arc, is exemplary - Robertson can portray any aspect of a City with ease, his character drawing is brilliant and his dark humour seeps through when it comes to the more shocking stuff. I say it a lot, but it is still true - The Boys has great quality control. It is never less than brilliant. They even do 'origin' stories that are better than 99% of all other 'origin' stories. Probably. There is that much goodness in the tale of Mothers Milk that it is enough to spread across 2 issues - more to come with issue #36. Eagerly anticipating.......

Verdict. With 'The Boys', Ennis continues to effortlessly produce a great title. Good to see Robertson back as well. I really enjoyed this issue. 8.75 out of 10.

Review - Crossed #7 (Avatar, 2009)

In which all vestiges of hope for the future are extinguished.

After what seems months, a new issue of Crossed arrives. In it, the survivors are on the run from the pursuing 'Crossed', led by the very big, really angry 'Horse Cock' man. They cross terrain! We see a Crossed barbecue! There is water action. The whole thing is pretty thrilling, the sense of fear the Crossed instill very much at the forefront of proceedings.

The ending is sad and brutal and pretty shocking and - wait for it - handled with an amount of subtlety that is not always present in this series. Yes it has the trademark 'Crossed' savagery, the expected sharp tongue and brutal choices, but it is done in a particularly sensitive way.

I am trying to say that I enjoyed this issue. Whatever lies ahead, this issue was a turning point, for several reasons - although all hope seems to be gone, at least the Survivors started to show some spirit - there was the beginning of a fight back, of resistance, of turning and confronting fear. With 2 issues left, this series is firmly back on track.

Verdict. A return to form - tense, shocking, formiddable. The last 2 issues promise much. Let us hope they deliver. 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Review - Unknown Soldier #12 (Vertigo, 2009)

The final episode of the 'Easy Kill' arc is as satisfying as the rest, with the cinematic tension built up in the last issue exploding into a bloody climax. I think that this issue is all about the art of Ponticelli, who stages the action with an experienced hand and knowing eye - Moses battles with the terrorist cell are thrilling, brutal set pieces, the hotel rooms and corridors becoming a frame for the bloody ballet as the protagonists race to get to the intended target - the American actress Margaret Wells. To give away more would ruin the surprises, but some characters show their allegiance to the Unknown Soldier as others appear to have walked away from him.

Dysart also delivers with the dialogue, as Wells vents her frustration at her role in life - and finds solace and support in her beliefs. The message is, doing something for justifiable and good reason is never not a good thing. It is a simple truism, and the delivery here is understated, but the point is clearly made.

It will be interesting to see where Dysart and Ponticelli take us from here - you get the feeling that by the end of this issue some of Moses relationships have altered forever - and there may be no positives to take from any of those changes. What is certain is this title continues to deliver. Still a highlight of any week, still one of the top titles around. How long before it gets picked up for the movie option?

Verdict - superb styling, strong storytelling, top title. 8.5 out of 10. For the arc overall, I give 'Easy Kill' 8.75 out of 10.