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The Devil You Know #1-3 – Review

The_Devil_You_Know__1_-_Comics_by_comiXologyIf one thing can be said about The Devil You Know is that it is (pun intended) metal as hell. I recently took a look at Satanic Hell and while that actually had a heavy metal band in it, The Devil You Know feels like I should have a Black Sabbath album playing in the background. However, while the concept is sound, the execution has something left to be desired as the story moves with wild abandon without taking its time to develop any of its characters in the first place.

The Devil You Know begins by introducing us to the Greydon Cross, an unspecified executive at and undefined company, who comes home to find his wife and child murdered and is then shot by Satan himself. When he wakes up in Purgatory, he is met by God who describes the relationship between Heaven and Hell as somewhat mutually beneficial agreement, but Satan has been a bit of a pain lately, so he wants Greydon to kill Satan, and take his place. Greydon agrees, and dives (literally) headfirst into Hell without any hesitation – and that’s only the first eleven pages.

There is nothing wrong with packing a story with so much that it is overflowing. In fact, the first issue of any new series is going to come across this challenge. The problem with The Devil You Know is that it has so much within its first 22 pages alone, that any character comes across as a vessel for the action rather than a living, breathing, person. The murder of Greydon’s family takes two pages, and it doesn’t seem to affect him at all beyond a few swear words- in fact it doesn’t even seem to come up again throughout the next two issues at all. I’m not saying that this series has to be centered around the grief and heartbreak of Greydon losing his family, but on one page he says that “my family was really the only thing I cared about” – so even a mention of them would have been nice, considering that they are the reason he is taking on this mission in the first place.

Greydon isn’t the only character who suffers from flat characterisation. God comes across as a vessel for exposition and plot developments – without any hint of immense power or stature. Every other person Greydon meets fall into a small pool of character archetypes, like the noble savage or the tough woman, without exploring the possibilities offered by them. It feels generic and flat and doesn’t give any tension to any of the action, of which there is plenty.

What does stand out for the most part is the art. Kellik’s pencils invoke a grittier version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and the monster designs while fairly standard, are fun and well executed. Nunun Nurjannah’s inks and Victoria Pittman’s colouring do make the art look a little too clean in the first issue, but they begin to compliment the pencil work of Kellik nicely by the third. The action is expressive, and while it it may be hard to place the positions of the characters in some scenes, for the most part the action is easy to follow.

The Devil You Know has all of the ingredients of a great story – the art is fluid and the premise sound – but the creative team hasn’t quite found a way to put them together yet that satisfies, putting all of the courses on a single plate without letting the reader enjoy each individual bite. If the team can slow down, and place a bit more focus on character, then they could have a winning book on their hands.

You can buy the title on Comixology here.

 

Review: Satanic Hell #1 and #2

Satanic_Helll_issue_1_of_7__Story Grigoris Douros

Art Kevin Enhart Newel Anderson

Colours Jimmy Kerast

Right off the bat, Satanic Hell is going to draw comparisons with Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus. Both deal with strong anti-establishment types of music – Heavy Metal for the former and Punk rock with the latter – and both deal similarly with religious fanaticism, and how the cast reacts to it. But that’s where these similarities begin and end. Where Punk Rock Jesus took a more nuanced response to Christian fanaticism, Satanic Hell simply decides that it wants to flip the bird to fundamentalist Christianity, and ride off into the sunset in a black hearse. Although the themes are completely sound in a ridiculous kind of way, the characterisations of the cast feel week, and the story doesn’t rise above feeling fairly flat.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Satanic Hell is set in a dystopic Texas, where financial woes on a state-wide scale have led to a fundamentalist sect of Christians taking over the governing body. Abortion is illegal, homosexuality is medicated and repressed and, of course, rock music is banned. Enter Satanic Hell, a three man heavy metal group – Exodus, Dante, and Death Priest – who are delivering their own brand of revolution in a series of underground shows. If that sounds completely ridiculous, that’s because it is. The entire thing has a strong pulpy vibe to it in a way that means if anyone tried to parse the particulars of how these events came about, you’re bound to find some holes, so it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The problem is that to back up a tale as ridiculous as this, it needs a strong central cast. That’s where Satanic Hell stumbles – none of its three main characters are particularly interesting, each feeling less like real people and more like they came straight out of an angst ridden teenager’s creative writing project. They never rise above the stereotypes, even so far as Dante having a fairly clichéd upbringing, and it means that the events that take place never feel like they have much weight. Again, there isn’t inherently wrong with this cast of characters, they just don’t feel fully realised yet.

That said, there are some fairly decent moments in these two issues. The scene involving two clueless Christians and Death Priest carrying the cross is fairly amusing in a ridiculous kind of way, and the show the band plays has some of Enhart and Anderson’s best art across the two issues. Helped along by Jimmy Kerast’s muted colours and use of light, their art is suitably grimy and rough. Aside from problems regarding the similar facial designs, the art is strong across the board.

That’s the main crux of these two issues – with having to build such a ridiculous world, the characterisations have suffered. But with the promise of such a world, and backed up by some solid art, Satanic Hell could flesh out into something fun, and only two issues in, it definitely has time to do so.

Batman # 38 Review – Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

batman38Since I started writing for The Comics Herald I’ve learned a lot about comics, both in the way the proverbial sausage is made and how I tackle reviewing them. I’d like to think that I have grown into my own voice, and have moved away from simply stating the story beats, and actually delving into what they actually mean.

Writing anything is always a work in progress, and writing for comics – admittedly an area which I have only truly begun to embrace in my formative years of being an adult – has taught me a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do. This week I discovered I have a tendency to make definitive statements that veer too much into the dramatic – see my final line of my Batman #13 review. Or the way I structured my review of the “Death of a Family” arc, and how I claimed that it was the greatest event ever to grace our shelves in modern comics (and that no one could tell me other wise goddammit!). I’ve learned to pare back such statements. I can’t tell you if this or that comic is a classic – it’s too soon after the fact to make bold remarks.

But there is a problem when something so good rolls around. The monthly release schedule means that often I completely forget what happened in previous issues, and sometimes the weekly releases feel like a chore more than anything. But not Batman. I have never forgotten what has happened between issues, nor have I looked at the release once and gone “Maybe I can skip it this time.” Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have constructed such a fantastic story, time and time again, that it is very hard not making big claims. And “Endgame”? You bet I’m going to burst a blood vessel trying not to.

“Endgame” is dealing with something that hasn’t really been dealt with in recent memory – what would happen if the Joker stopped playing around? No longer seen as some kind of twisted friendship, Batman has finally become something that the Joker can no longer stand – someone he finally hates. This arc becomes somewhat of a second act to “Death of the Family”, where the Joker was acting out of some form of love by removing the things he viewed as making Batman weak. He is now plainly trying to remove Batman out of the equation forever. This Joker has become truly terrifying.

Snyder and Capulo have capitalised on the fear people have for the Joker before, but not like this. This issue highlights how this arc has become a city wide horror story, where a legion of Joker zombies are hunting down Batman thanks to an airborne version of the Joker gas. The scenes echo classic zombie movie tropes and it is always fun to see Batman move through a story that feels more at home in the horror genre.

Enough about mood and themes, lets talk about the two big developments this issue. Firstly, Batman’s investigation into the Joker suggests that he may belong to the same kind of villainy that Vandal Savage and Ra’s Al Ghul inhabit, and there may be historical evidence to back it up. This is a fascinating development, as it ties in brilliantly with the Joker over the years who should have died, but keeps bouncing back. The best part of this revelation is that in true Joker fashion, there really isn’t any definitive answer to that allegation – at least not yet. It echoes the multi-choice origin from the Killing Joke, and I think it would certainly add layers to the character if it was never substantiated.

Secondly, and this is the big one, Batman turns to the Court of Owls for help in an incredible cliffhanger. This is brilliant as it ties together their run on Batman nicely. Too many comics seem to have an amnesia for whatever small events that preceded it, so it is refreshing for Snyder and Capullo to really make this story seem like it was built from the beginning. “Court of the Owls” was a fantastic visual showcase for Capullo, and I look forward to seeing what else he brings to the table in the remaining issues of “Endgame”.

Like I said, I’m having a hard time trying not to gush over these turn of events. Really, all I can say is that I cannot wait for what happens next. February 25th cannot come soon enough.

Sean’s Pull List: 8/09/2014

my-pull-listThere are a lot of comics that come out each week, and I never seem to be able to cover all the ones that I want to. So from now on I will be doing a weekly round-up, where I take three of my favourite comics for the week, and one I don’t particularly like, and give you a short reason why. I still plan to write about some bigger events by themselves, but single issues that I enjoy will go here. So without further ado, here is my picks for the week of 8/09/2014!

Must Buy

Southern Bastards #4 – Jason Aaron and Jason Latour

Four issue in, and Southern Bastards is easily within my top five favourite comics right now. It tells the story of Earl Tubbs, a man returning to his childhood home of Craw County, deep in the American south.  Coming back to clean up his childhood home, Earl is confronted by the memory of his father, a small town sheriff who administered his justice with a thick tree branch. Craw County has changed since his fathers death forty years prior, now being run by the corrupt coach of the local football team, and Earl is forced to become the man he never wanted to be.

The thing about Southern Bastards is that it is so much more than that description. Both a meditation on masculinity and violence, as well as living under the shadow of a father who was almost larger than life, Earl Tubb’s tale is a somber and depressing look at the sins of a father, and a town that has given up on being anything but complacent with its criminal underbelly. #4 brings all these themes to a head, as the fallout of the last issue has forced Earl to rethink his place in Craw County, both as a citizen and as the son of a violent man, as he confronts Coach Boss. This issue is easily the most action packed so far, bringing Earl right to Coach Boss’ doorstep – with unexpected consequences.

Aaron should be commended for committing to the world he has created. Any lesser writer would not have headed in the direction he has decided, but Aaron has gone right down the rabbit hole without so much as a stop to take a breath this issue, and by doing so has laid down the rules for the future of this series: anything can, and will, happen.

But this series would not be anything without brilliant art, and Latour is a master artist, both in style and execution. His quieter moments are drawn with a wide frame, as he works to show how slowly this town works, but as soon as the action begins, he gets right up in the character’s faces, showing the raw emotion and the gory details of each individual blow dealt. His subtle colour work this issue should also be commended, as the palate slowly draws on more of a red hue as the action ramps up. This is easily some of the most inventive and brilliant use of colour I have seen in a comic.

With it’s first arc wrapping up, Southern Bastards presents an exciting new direction. With a huge character reveal in the epilogue, this series is only going to shine brighter as the year progresses. The Jason’s have struck gold, and I can’t wait to see what is next.

Grade: A+

Death of Wolverine #1 – Charles Soule and Steve McNiven

Wolverine tends to be a more divisive character within Marvel’s ranks, with most people bemoaning his tendencies to turn up in almost every X-Men/Avengers comic imaginable. Well, Charles Soule figured out the one way to fix this – kill Wolverine. Death of Wolverine only needs the the most basic understanding of the character, and that in Paul Cornell’s Wolverine arc “Killable”, his famous healing factor was taken from him. this is how events should be done – no over complicated setup; no need to read thirteen separate tie ins to get the full picture (yet),  just a fully featured, standalone story.

Death of Wolverine begins with a fantastic full page spread of an injured Wolverine. It becomes clear that Steve McNiven of Old Man Logan fame really knows how to draw Wolverine, with his panels showing every inch of the intensity of such an important character. His work is bloody, violent, and downright impressive. Justin Ponsor’s colours help this along nicely – while they aren’t nearly as stylised as some other artists, instead opting for a more realistic colour scheme, he still manages to use muted colours to give the entire proceedings the feel of an old Western film, the last stand of a loner gunslinger.

That’s not to say that Soule isn’t up to the task. Having not written Wolverine in an X-Men comic before, you’d think he may need a moment to find his stride, but you’d think that he had been writing the character all his life. Soule’s Logan is sad and reflective, finally aware of how much time he has left, and of how much pain his lifestyle really brings. He uses different captions, one each for pain, smell, and sound, to highlight how much the character takes in. This is especially important in regards to pain, as it gives the reader a chance to understand how little the character was aware of how little he paid attention to such feelings, and now they are brought to the forefront.

Death of Wolverine begins strong – Soule has a firm grasp of the character, and McNiven definitely knows how to draw him. But events have started strong before, so hopefully because of the quick turn around between issues means that this series doesn’t lag. I guess we all hope that Soule has a clear idea of where we are headed – he certainly hasn’t failed us yet.

Grade: A-

God Hates Astronauts #1 – Ryan Browne

My theory when writing something completely off-the-rails insane is that you have to commit – you don’t only go part of the way to creaking something completely bonkers, only to find a point that they realize they don’t want to cross. God Hates Astronauts is that theory in practice, as writer-artist Ryan Browne creates something incredible – a tale that is going to be really hard to explain in such a short piece (I’d struggle in a larger essay so bear with me here), and makes it surprisingly readable, even if we aren’t sure what direction it is heading in.

God Hates Astronauts begins with a man with a crab for a head and the admiral of his ship, named Admiral Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger (obviously), being blown to bits by a makeshift rocket ship. From there, the tale changes gear to one of bestiality, galactic royalty, infedelity, Deadpool-style non sequiturs, and a whole load of other things. I couldn’t possibly string these all together to provide a decent synopsis, but trust me the issue is a blast.

Browne is a master of insane plotting, but manages to make it cohesive. Everything that happens in this universe makes complete sense in regards to everything else – this isn’t an insane man in a sane world a la Deadpool, it’s insane people in an insane world. Yes, we don’t really know where the story is headed by the end of the issue, but it sure was a ride to get there.

His art is nothing to scoff at too. He is well suited to his own weird sensibilities, such as a man with a ghost-hippo head, and his amusing sound effects are equally as weird. Everyone looks suitably manic in a cartoon kind of way, and it really is pure unbridled fun.

Really the only thing I wanted to put in this review of God Hates Astronauts was “Sean likes Comic” but it wouldn’t have really sold it to you anyway. Not that I did a particularly good job with it, but trust me on this – God Hates Astronauts is easily one of the funniest, if not the most insane, comic you will read all year.

Grade: A-

Maybe Avoid

Grayson: Futures End #1 – Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Stephen Mooney

Let me begin by saying that the current ongoing of Grayson, telling the story of Dick Grayson becoming his own little 007 after being demasked in Forever Evil, is really good. I love where he is headed, free from the doom and gloom of the regular Bat family proceedings to pursue an international man of mystery story, with the excellent Mikel Janin on art. That series, as it stands, is really good. Grayson: Futures End#1 however, set five years ahead of the rest of the continuity, isn’t. That’s not for lack of trying – Tom King and Tim Seeley get the tale to somewhere in the end, giving a brief recap of Dick’s past , but most of the issue is a bit of a mess.

It’s a story written in reverse, like the Christopher Nolan film Memento, but that’s where the similarities end. Where Memento gives itself a strict set of rules in how each of the preceeding scenes play out, Grayson jumps time frames erratically. From minutes before, to potentially years, the story jumps around without so much of an explanation of where it was headed. We don’t see why Dick does what he does this issue, nor do we understand his motivations. He seemingly commits an act that is incredibly out of character, without building it up at all. This story would have been better suited if it had been told in a way that was more cohesive, even in a more standard chronological order format, but it’s not the technique that is the fault – it’s how it was used.

The art isn’t particularly anything to write home about. While some of the later scenes where colourist Jeromy Cox uses more than the reds, greys, and greens are more suited to Stephen Mooney’s style, the earlier stuff is confusing and not nearly gritty enough for the content. No, it’s not bad, but it lacks the oomph required for the story.

I really do have to hand it to the team for trying – they could have made a succinct story that utilised the backwards storytelling to  a better effect, but the story they wanted to tell was too broad, and covered a large time frame. The shame is that this team really does good work in the main series, they just miss the mark a bit here.

Grade: Ambition – B+ Execution – C

Batman Eternal #21 – James Tynion IV and Jason Fabok

batman-eternalThis review contains spoilers for the issue

Batman Eternal has been a series that has been ticking along nicely in one corner of the DC universe. The weekly format lends itself more towards a television show, rather than the standard monthly fare, as the fast release schedule has allowed for a series that has been happily dropping major cliffhangers left  and right. The Bat universe suits this format easily, as the large ensemble cast ensures that not one character is going to hog the spotlight for too long – well aside from the titular Batman of course. The team of writers and artists, led by the always excellent Scott Snyder, have manged to find a suitably epic groove in which to explore the Bat family, and issue #21, while beginning a little slowly, manages to solidify this series place as some of the best Batman stories to come from the New 52 – and with the current lineup, that’s saying something.

James Tynion IV picks up the scripting reins of issue 21 and he maintains a steady hold of the events barreling out of issue 20. Batman believes he has got Jim Gordon out of prison after evidence comes to light regarding the train crash back in issue one, and the newly appointed Commissioner Bard isn’t quite who he seems. But the real star of the show is Alfred this week, finally being able to show off his skills that his daughter has consistently bemoaned him for apparently losing in previous issues. Bad-ass Alfred is always a treat when he pops up, and his speech when he lets the intruder know that while Bruce may have an aversion to guns, he certainly doesn’t, makes me hope that Alfred’s back story gets it’s own series.

But enough about the awesome Alfred sequence – lets talk about the reveals. Firstly, Hush makes his big entrance into the New 52, and it seems his original back-story is going to remain intact. Hush is an interesting choice, as he is inevitably going to draw parallels to Lincoln March who was brought up in Court of the Owls, both men vying for the position that Bruce Wayne holds. It will be interesting to see how differently this story will develop moving forward, as the especially muddy events surrounding anything pre-New 52 may alter how much Batman has come to blows with this villain.

The next large development this week is Bard being revealed as one of the big bads for the series. Now this I like – Bard in previous issues had read as a slightly more pessimistic Jim Gordon, willing to do some of the “tough choices” eschewed by the larger superhero community. This is fine, as this can create some pretty decent morality issues – especially due Batman’s work ethic – but this had been done to death. Having Bard taking on a more sinister role is a welcomed approach, and it seems to come out of nowhere.

Jason Fabok is as suited to a Batman story as he has ever been. His detailed and realistic pencils make for a fantastic full page spread with Hush and Alfred (even if it does look like Alfred is being stabbed more than he seems in later panels), and his character work is full of dark and foreboding frowns – always a plus for a Batman comic. Brad Anderson’s colours don’t do heaps to stand out, but it does lend a nice dark and bleak atmosphere to the proceedings.

Batman Eternal is a blast, and shouldn’t work as well as it does on a week-to-week basis. Faring much better than its DC counterpart Futures End, Snyder and Co. have crafted a beast of a story that continues to impress as it closes out its latest arc. But lets be honest – I’m just thankful to see a badass Alfred once again.

Original Sin #1 Review – Jason Aaron & Mike Deodato

ORIGINAL_SIN_ELEMENTSRight off the bat, Original Sin doesn’t feel like a normal event.

This superhero story occupies a space where the stakes aren’t clearly defined, the culprit could be anyone, and the detective(s?) are as shady as the business they’re in – a classic whodunnit setup. The whodunnit is a story not often played out like this in superhero comics, especially when it’s touted as Marvel’s big summer event, providing something that feels decidedly different.

Original Sin finds its core in two of the more unlikely protagonists in current comics history: the recently retired Nick Fury, and a mysterious figure with a crew of the Marvel Universe’s misfits. The Watcher Uatu has been murdered, and his eyes are stolen – and it may not be a villain this time. The way this setup opens Marvel’s roster for a big event is a cool idea, and the pairing of the Punisher and Doctor Strange holds great promise. The return of Nick Fury is also a fun addition, laying the foundation of the classic gumshoe character of this noir-like tale.

Aaron is the perfect choice for such a large ensemble cast, nailing the characters down easily. The only complaint is in regards to the constant reference to “the boss”, rather than any named character makes for some fairly clunky dialogue, but it’s bound to be a small price to pay if the reveal works out in the end.

Deodato’s art is as good as ever, with some impressive character work, clever panel design, and some gorgeous vistas. Aside from some colouring issues, with Steve Rogers’ t-shirt inexplicably changing colour, and some panels are deprived of  detail thanks to some heavy shadowing, Frank Martin is up to the task of matching the tone of  Aaron’s story.

Like almost every event since forever, Original Sin starts off strong. But a lot of events start strong, only to eventually disappoint – Age of Ultron comes to mind. Let’s hope Aaron and Co. can stick the landing.

If not, well, at least they had an excuse to dust off Nick Fury’s flying car off again.

The Walking Dead – Season 4 Episode 15 – “Us” Review

twdOne of my favourite books of all time is Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road. Following the story of a boy and his father as they make their way towards the ocean, it provided me with a sense of dread and despair that hasn’t been matched since, not even in its own 2009 film adaptation. Long stretches of hopelessness and misery prevail, making it an incredibly depressing and hard book to read. But every so often, McCarthy gives the characters a break, providing something incredibly small and taken for granted in the civilised world like a can of coke, and turns it into a powerful and heartwarming moment.

The Walking Dead, while almost certainly not operating on the same level of success, makes attempts to replicate this formula. It’s incredibly depressing and heavy in the first half of the season, especially the events in “The Grove”,  broken by smaller moments – the candy bar bet and Glen and Maggie’s reunion come to mind in this weeks episode. But while the show makes a valiant effort at this juxtaposition, the multiple character trees make for a viewing whose pacing feels off.

Let’s start with one of the biggest plot points, but ultimately the least satisfying conclusion to a story arc – the Maggie and Glen reunion. What should have been a fairly large and momentous occasion feels weak and a little bit forced. That’s not the problem with the episode itself per se, nor is it with the actors themselves – it’s a matter of timing and characterisation. Over the course of the past seven episodes, their story features in three prior, so we aren’t given enough time to really feel their absence. Alongside this, Maggie and Glen aren’t given a hell of a lot of material this season outside of “we love each other”, the sole driver for their actions.

Another character who wasn’t really given a lot of characterisation over the past season was Daryl, at least until the past few episodes. Content in leaving him as a strong, loyal, rogue with a heart of gold character for much of this season, the past few episodes have really delved into what used to drive Daryl before the outbreak (traveling and doing the odd illegal job with Merle). That allowed for this episode’s team up with the gang that Rick had a run in with much more believable, with Joe stepping in as the family element that Daryl craves, albeit as more of a Merle type figure. While it will be obvious who Daryl decides to side with when they eventually meet up, it does allow for an interesting look at other dynamics that are less family focused.

While the moments of tension are welcome and a necessity in a show like this, The Walking Dead has its problems with pacing. So far the first half of the season was heavy with a fairly dark tone: the plague, Carol’s murder, and the Governor’s assault fairly relentless in execution. This second half feels less like an extended epilogue rather than a cohesive half, with a substantially lighter tone, bar last week’s fairly dark episode. It doesn’t feel like there’s a build to a proper climax that is worthy of the mid season, and while these character vignettes are welcome, the structure of the season feels off.

The Walking Dead took a larger risk this season, and risks are always welcome. I find that I harp on the show more than a lot of people, but I genuinely enjoy the fact that a show about zombies has made its way into the mainstream. The end of the world is a fantastic place, and the writers need to take more advantages and risks like this to keep the show fresh.

Besides, Terminus will get its due in the finale. Who wants to bet they are cannibals?

A couple of observations

  • Abraham, Eugene and Rosita are slowly carving out their own little part of the show, and their crew feels a lot like the anti-bandits. Tough, but fair and a hell of a lot more compassionate.
  • The Michonne-Carl scene was fantastic. These two are really coming into their own despite problems with both before.
  • Zombie of the week: The one in the cave that had the holes in it made for a neat shot.
  • I wrote this review not having seen the finale, and I realise that I jumped a few episodes. I played catch up in time for the finale, and I will return to the previous episodes after “A”, particularly “The Grove”. So I will see you all soon!

The Walking Dead Season 4 – Episodes 10/11 – “Inmates” & “Claimed”

Eugene-Porter-twd

As if there wasn’t enough horror in TWD – we now have The Mullet

There is nothing more terrifying than imagination in horror. Letting the audience fill in the gaps of what might have happened, rather than explicitly stating, is far more effective and ultimately more disturbing. The Walking Dead knows this – the baby carriage in “Too Far Gone” or the murder/suicide room in this week’s “Claimed” elicit a stronger emotion than any literal subject. The writers also know when to show their hand, and the reveal in “After” that baby Judith had in fact survived is a welcome one. But while “Inmates” included many reveals and hints at what to come, the intertwining storylines ultimately fell flat. In contrast, “Claimed” returns to the usual storytelling, and pulls back the scope to a smaller scale. The Walking Dead works best when it focuses on less, and these two episodes prove the shows strengths – and weaknesses.

“Inmates” splits its episode four ways, each running concurrent to the other, producing a series of vignettes. Picking up right where the midseason finale left off, it follows four separate groups as they reclaim their bearings. Beth and Daryl get the opening segment, fleeing from the prison. The sequence, while short and fairly inconsequential, is the most hopeless. Stumbling upon what they believe is the remains of the girls, they end up heading in the other direction. Both heartbreaking and frustrating, it helps to flesh out the world around them – instead of the usual everybody finding everybody by some weird television destiny, its great to see that these people won’t be finding each other anytime soon.

By far the most important sequence of the episode is the Carol/Tyrese/Girls/Judith one. Confirming the fate of Judith was welcome, but re-introducing Carol, and setting up a forward trajectory for the rest of the season was also surprising. Sanctuary comes to the forefront, and also presents an end goal for our band of heroes. Where this sequence became controversial was in its handling of Lizzie. In the shows attempts to build Lizzie as some form of  psychopath, the character has seemed to found itself in a violent streak – killing rabbits and almost suffocating Judith. Look, I’m all for Lizzie to fulfill the role that was similarly brought forth in the comics, but infanticide – especially shown infanticide – is almost where I switched off. There are some lines in TV that I do not want crossed.

Regardless of content, “Inmates” doesn’t exactly impress with its storytelling. Glen’s segment starts strong with a lone survivor vibe, but when more survivors are introduced it feels like a retread of Maggie’s, which also feels weak. Beth and Daryl’s intro is marred by a melodramatic narration from Beth, and Carol’s segment would be incredibly dull without any of the reveals. “Inmates showcases that smaller and less dense stories aren’t the shows strong point.

“Claimed” returns to focusing on the 2-3 story-lines typical to the show. Rick finds himself under house invasion, with Michonne and Carl out bonding, while Glen and Tara, with newcomers Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita deciding on the next plan of attack. Bringing the focus back allows for the stories to breathe – the Michonne/Carl bonding would have felt rushed had it not had the time “Claimed” allowed it.

Abraham and Co. are given decent screen time for their debut, and they feel fully realised already. Abraham, while visually stereotyped as the macho, Rambo-esque character has a surprising amount of depth for the short time on screen, empathizing with Glen, and not even being the first punch in the subsequent fight. Eugene and Rosita aren’t given much more than a few moments screen time, but should they move on the same trajectory they could be a welcome addition to the cast.

Rick’s home invasion was the source of tension this episode, but it would have fared better had it not been interrupted constantly by  the other stories. The tonal shift between Michonne/Carl’s game and the intrusion is odd, and the home invasion could have been better suited as its own standalone episode. That’s not to say the game wasn’t welcome – humanizing Michonne is some of the best moves made in the show this season – but another place and another time would have been better.

The countryside roaming wasn’t going to last forever, and as Rick finds the sign at the end of the episode, it becomes clear that all roads lead to Sanctuary. Lets just hope it doesn’t drag on like the prison.

A couple of observations

  • What happened to the person feeding the rats at the start of the season? It sure seemed like it was going to go somewhere.
  • The Eugene, Abraham and Rosita introduction was mighty silly at the end of “Inmates”. Looked like a group of power rangers.
  • “Hitchhikers may be escaped inmates”. We got that the first time.

The Walking Dead Season 4 – Episode 9 – “After”

walkingdeads4e9Welcome back to our weekly The Walking Dead coverage! Having missed the final episode of the midseason, I’ll be doing a brief look at that episode at the end of this review, but for now lets take a look at the midseason premiere “After”

Following the events of “Too Far Gone” its nice to take a step back and focus on a much smaller cast. The Walking Dead often shows its strengths when dealing with only a few characters (see last seasons’ “Clear” or Season 2’s “18 Miles Out”). Allowing the viewer to get into these character’s heads following the tragedy at the prison was a smart, if not a risky choice. Training up viewers on high tension action for the first half of a season does provide a thrilling show, but it does mean that the slower moments, for better or for worse, stand out.

“After” split its focus between Michonne, and Rick and Carl, in the fallout of the prison attack. Michonne finds herself back where we found her, complete with two zombies in tow. Her storyline is the more satisfying of the two, complete with a heavy handed (albeit cool) metaphor of a similar looking zombie. The Walking Dead excels when it lets the viewer draw the comparisons, rather than the many circling conversations that the show often finds itself in, and while the fear of Michonne’s humanity failing in the face of great loss is shown in an incredibly obvious metaphor, it is not an unwelcome one.

Where her storyline really shines is in her small dream sequence, which was an eerie and surreal trip down memory lane. Shot fantastically with strange jumps in time and logic, the dream sequence is (as far as I can remember) the first time the series has gone full blown surreal, and I would not be opposed to more. We also now know that Michonne had a son, lover and an extra friend, but that’s all that writer Robert Kirkman is willing to give us. Again, stories are made all the more better when they leave some details to the audience, so for now the details about her past are left murky – and may very well stay that way.

The real meat of the episode is Carl’s brief rebellion against his father. While Rick may have been unconscious throughout much of these events, it didn’t stop Carl from letting loose his teenage angst. This act of defiance is reminiscent of a standard teenage breakout – Carl thinks he’s old enough to look after himself, especially after his father’s lack of action as a farmer last season, and the act of trying to be his own man and failing is entirely the traits of the rebellious teenager. Chandler Riggs has come a long way from the first season, and while his acting may not be perfect, he’s certainly competent enough to carry much of the episode.

These two storylines all seem to be tying back into the theme of the season – what is worth living for? Michonne obviously found it in the company of the prison group, with her life as a penitent loner far behind her. Carl’s trajectory is less apparent – he wants to be self sufficient, but until he grows both physically and emotionally, this isn’t likely to happen. His need to be a better man than his father appears to be his reason for being right now – he is his father’s son more than he cares to admit – and time will tell if somewhere down the line Carl takes Rick’s place at the head of the group.

Decent direction, coupled with some decent character moments made for a solid premiere – if not one to truly remember. It appears that The Walking Dead may be playing the slow burn for the latter half of the season, and it will remain to be seen whether or not it plays in the show’s favour.

Some observations

  • Zombie of the week: The zombie who took Carl’s shoe made for an intense encounter, and I thought the zombie looked particularly menacing. Tense and claustrophobic, showing that even one zombie can be dangerous.
  • In the same vein, the encounter also gave way to some great visual storytelling. Who was Sam, and why did he have not only his name written on his door, but a ton of books? It’s the little touches, like this scenario and the diner with Joe that flesh out the world.
  • Danai Guirira really was given a lot more to do this episode, and she really was up for the challenge. She was almost unrecognizable in her dream sequence.
  • I looked up how much 112 oz was in litres for our metric-using readers. That’s over 3 litres. That’s bound to give you diabetes.
  • And finally a few thoughts about the last episode: I’m glad the Governor is gone. In fact, he should have been offed an entire season earlier. Hershel’s death was both poignant and heroic, and Rick’s decision to side with Hershel was a noble one, even if it meant losing the prison and most of his friends. It was a well shot and tense finale, and with the (potential) death of Judith, really rough. I really hope that the group doesn’t settle too long in one place in the future.

 

Moth City Season 3 Part 2 Review

Moth-City-Iss-6_preview-coverI always thought a great ongoing series is like an old friend. Every few weeks it comes to stay, brings some beers, and then leaves with the promise of some much nicer beer the next time he rolls into town. Moth City always feels a bit different. It walks into your house with a fine brew, lets you enjoy it, and just before you finish punches you square in the gut. But man does it feel good.

The emotional punch comes midway through the issue, when Governor McCaw makes an ultimately reprehensible choice. This choice, while evil and would damn any normal person to hell, feels earned and in character. Too often do the main cast in issue make a choice that feels underdeveloped and out of character, but Gibson maintains a strong grasp of his cast as he moves forward.

Also, who would have thought that the most noble and human of his cast would be the first one infected? Jun continues to battle his inner demons, as well as all the outside ones. This leads to some fairly exciting and tense moments as the remaining uninfected battle both sides of the coin. One thing that ultimately seems missing is more emphasis on his feral side, but with a large event looming at the end of the issue, it seems like things can only get worse.

As usual, Gibson’s art duties are stellar. His panel design is fantastic, and while the first half of the issue is light on the motion panels, that is easily forgiven when the aforementioned scene takes place and Gibson really shows the potential of this format.

Really the only thing that can be said otherwise is that a lot of this issue feels like it is setting up for the big finale, and while that won’t be a bad thing in the long run the tease begins to drag. That said, when this issue gets rolling, it really gets rolling.

Moth City only has two more issues left before the end, and Tim Gibson has kindly posted the first issue on Comixology for free, so really at this point, you have no excuse.