Review: Darth Vader #1 and #2

Darth_Vader__2015___2___Comics___Marvel_comMarvel had lots to live up to when they took over the reins from Dark Horse in telling Star Wars stories in comics. The first two issues of Darth Vader prove they’ve achieved that aim.

Darth Vader is everything you’d expect plus some. Vader’s personal agendas, combined with a Empire struggling to regain its feet after the loss of the (first) Death Star make for a great story. Kieron Gillen’s writing is strong and like Jason Aaron’s work on the flagship Star Wars title, replicates the atmosphere of the original movies beautifully. Salvador Larroca’s art is top notch as well, with some great full page Darth Vader art to stop and savor. The scene in Jabba’s palace with the full audience is alone worth the price of admission.

It’s been way too long since I’ve been truly excited about Marvel titles, but Darth Vader (and Star Wars) are definitely in that category at the moment.

Why are you not reading this?

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.

Review: Usagi Yojimbo Senso #6

24907Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story. Well, actually, it’s kinda one of those.

(Warning. This review is from a long-time Usagi Yojimbo fan. He tried to keep a lid on it. He really did.)

Stan Sakai is back after a break from looking after his sick wife, with a superb Usagi Yojimbo story. We have come to expect over the 30 years (!) Stan has been crafting Usagi stories, particular styles of stories from the master. Not so much predictable or formulated, as a welcome dip into a familiar world carefully crafted with long term appeal. Senso (War) has introduced something we don’t get to see so much in the world of Usagi.

Something unexpected: an outright WTF!

Because the way the story was developing, as much sheer fun as it was to read, the question in the back of my mind was, This Changes Everything! And I mean in a B.P.R.D. monsters now rule the world kind of way! He’s gone down a path that is impossible to back out of, without turning it in to a hoax story of some kind.

(Spoilers ahead)

Senso starts out with a battle scene between Lord Hijiki and an adult Lord Nobiyuki, so most of issue 1 reads like a welcome return to the world of Usagi after a long break. Then things get weird. Senso has read like a ‘Usagi: The End’ story, with familiar faces meeting their deaths in glorious battle. But this is all against the backdrop of the story being invaded by The War of the Worlds. Everyone in Usagi world now faces survival against the seemingly indestructible tripods of the alien invaders. Gen, Jei, Chizu, the Komori Ninja clan, all die. Even the evil Lord Hebi, faced with the depths of Lord Hijiki’s evil, dies a noble death. It looks like no-one is getting out of this story alive!

Amid the carnage, Usagi snatched a moment with Tomoe in a very Japanese exchange regarding what ‘could have been’, and the price of honour in the face of feelings for each other.

So, when faced with a larger-than-life threat to everything in Japan, even in anthropomorphic feudal Japan, there’s only one way to respond. Jump in to a giant robot suit and go toe-to-toe with the enemy. Enter…Usagi Gundam! It just keeps getting better – issue 6 is a glorious homage to every Japanese monster movie. It’s East vs West in a funny animal comic, and Usagi was enjoying every minute of it! Well, until everything crashed down after immense property damage to Edo, but that’s to be expected.

Oh, and Usagi dies. Did I mention that this wasn’t a hoax story? Or a dream? Or an imaginary story? Well, here’s the final twist. This isn’t a Usagi Yojimbo story. It’s a Space Usagi story! How does that work out? I won’t give everything away, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Needless to say, Stan Sakai has returned to Usagi Yojimbo in style. He has mixed everything we have come to expect with some thoroughly enjoyable liberties, and tied it all up with everything making perfect sense and all is well again in Usagi world.

I’m very much looking forward to the re-launch of Usagi Yojimbo, and maybe even a few more WTF moments too.

Review: Diskordia – Feels Like Falling

Diskordia_vol_1_pdf__page_69_of_356_I came very close to giving up on reviewing this title. That’s not often the case, and in this instance I’m glad I forced myself to read beyond the first issue, because it has a lot to offer.

What put me off initially was the challenging way the story is told. I just found the different story threads hard to pick up initially and I also struggled with the regular changes between first and third-person perspective. However by mid-way through Chapter 2 the   flow of the story established itself for me and it’s a more than interesting one. The official synopsis covers it pretty nicely:

Feels like falling introduces readers to the surreal and bizarrely captivating world of Diskordia, A place where thought, dream and reality are interchangeable concepts; where the rich and powerful buy and sell emotions and minds like stock; where just beneath the surface of our consciousness lie terrible and fantastic beings who could destroy the world utterly if they were to ever emerge from its depths.

Exploring the vastness of this psychedelic everscape is sardonic youth Jackal Black; a man who is abruptly ripped from his unfulfilling existence and exposed to the true nature of the world he thought he knew.  Now Jackal must decide his place in it all lest he remain a helpless leaf blowing in the winds of chaos. Hero or villain, victim or victimizer, Conqueror or crushed insect, the nature of his very identity is up to him.

There’s some great pages of prose to flesh out the world even further, although the story stands up well enough if you want to skip those initially.

Diskordia_vol_1_pdf__page_99_of_356_Onto the art: it is nothing short of stunning. As you’ll see from the couple of examples in this post, this is a story set in dimensions that free things up nicely to create some surreal landscapes and situations. Diskordia‘s creator Rivenis (Andrew Blackman) has some superb art chops and it’s that in particular that’s kept me interested in a big way. I’d personally love to see some prints of some of the pages, they’d be brilliant to hang on the wall.

If you like dark fantasy, great art or both, this is a series worth immersing yourself in. Here’s where to buy issues of Diskordia and a trade is on its way in coming weeks collecting issues 1-9.


50-Word Review: Deadly Class #10

Releases___Deadly_Class__10___Image_ComicsI don’t read comics for laughs, expecially Deadly Class. Issue #10 keeps a frenetic pace, but still manages to add a scene that had me laughing big time. It’s not all laughs though and again I’m hanging for the next instalment.

More than a must-read.


50-Word Review: Star Wars #1

starwars-issue1Huge expectations surrounded this series re-launch and to a large extent they are met. Set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Aaron’s story deftly recreates the atmospherics of those movies whilst providing a new and interesting storyline. Cassaday’s art also ensures this series is a keeper.


Review: Red Baron Book 2 – Rain of Blood


Red Baron Book 2 Rain of Blood By Pierre Veys and Carlos Puerta Published by Cinebook

Warning: Review with major spoilers

Red Baron on first impression is an engrossing visual feast. And that first impression never goes away.   The immediate standout feature of this series is the lush artwork by Carlos Puerta. At times, especially when detailing locations, the artwork showcases a photo-realistic level of detail. This eye for detail remains constant, even when rendering motion blur in action shots for heightened visual drama. It’s all the more remarkable as the graphic narrative is entirely free from sound effects, freeing up each panel from clutter and drawing in the eye with mesmerising sweeps, whether it be aerial shots over landscape, or a boxing match.

This book doesn’t entirely fail at reading like a slideshow, which is an easy pitfall for a sequence of panels that are pretty much frameable in their own right, but for the most part it’s not an issue. The ultra-thin gutters are precision separators of the panels, and add to filling the page, making each page a visual pool to drown in. It certainly helps that the books are being published in the larger European volume-size editions.

Which brings me to the second impression reading this series: the balance of picture and words. There’s a sparseness of words that, together with the freedom from sound-effects, lead to a very modern feel to the book (it’s an English translation of a 2013 comic, so it is actually a very modern comic, unlike many other Cinebook translations). The similarity however ends there. I tend to feel a bit empty after reading many ‘modern’ comics that seem tailored more for tablet readers than anything else. Here there is an intriguing story at work, using an economy of words that drives the artwork along – there is a sense of satisfaction after having read a volume.

And so we come to the second volume of the series. In Book 1: The Machine Gunners’ Ball, we are introduced to Manfred von Richthofen a.k.a. The Red Baron. This story could easily have been a straight historical war story and been none the poorer for it, but in this fictional account, we are introduced to a plausible fictional rationale for the Red Baron’s aerial success. It turns out that Manfred is in possession of a ‘supernatural’ sense, not unlike a mutant power, that acts like a Spider-sense and involves a low-grade telepathy as well. Manfred can sense danger, can read the intentions of an enemy pilot, and so can anticipate actions and counter them. This gives him a ‘supernatural’ advantage, not just in the air, but in any form of combat as we find out in the boxing match at the end of this volume. There’s certainly no attempt to turn this into a post-human manifesto – Manfred just accepts this as something to take advantage of in his own sadistic way.

In Book 2, Manfred struggles to learn the art of flying a plane, rather than being a gunner and relying upon other pilots as he had been forced to do until now. In this he is as human as the rest of us. The heart of the story is essentially Manfred’s will – he is a dashing figure with a sadistic streak, not unlike Jaime Lannister. The comic drives this paradox of brutality lying at the heart of civilisation using both the character study of the Red Baron and in visual cues throughout the story. A particularly striking example is the cut between a plane shot down by Manfred in a nosedived upright position, and an upright flute glass of champagne and bottle at the social gathering for the pilots after the event.   Manfred has no illusions about it, and for him, there is no conflict. His reflection, after downing an enemy pilot in a particularly cold manner is “I have but one desire – to start all over again!”

At the start of Book 2, in an infirmary when being treated for a self-inflicted wound after a dog-fight, Manfred is informed that he has also received a bullet-wound from the enemy pilot, as his flight jacket has been shot up at the shoulder. Manfred remarks, hand on heart, “Hell…I didn’t feel a thing.” Significant, as the shoulder-wound wasn’t near his heart. He feels nothing like remorse for his enemies but does go on to feel the barbaric lust of combat. For him it’s the ‘indescribable pleasure’ of inflicting death upon people which he sums up eloquently in the opening scene of Book 1:

“For me there is nothing better in the world. War is a fabulous thing!”

There are two things to look forward to as the series progresses. First, how much more we learn about Manfred’s ‘supernatural’ power, and the cruel use he will put it to, and second, the wait for the Fokker tri-plane, the Red Baron’s signature aircraft.  I’m drooling in anticipation over Carlos Puerta’s visual depictions of the classic Red Baron in action. The story so far is reading like the origin of the Red Baron, with marvellous visuals over Ostund, Champagne, Verdun and Luxembourg in Book 2 alone.

I am a sucker for fine European comics. And war stories. So Red Baron is another fine series to add to the already impressive output by Cinebooks.

Review: I Sell Comics Podcast

iTunesI Sell Comics is a podcast that shouldn’t work. It has two guys on it who’d be the first to admit that they’re not wordsmiths or polished presenters. There’s enough background noise at times to rival a busy supermarket. There’s pauses, long tangents and guests with awkwardly delayed introductions. Hell, there’s even a lot of cliquey / boy’s club stuff that should alienate a whole bunch of people. But I love this podcast.

I Sell Comics works well for a very obvious and powerful reason: anyone that’s watched more than a couple episodes of Comic Book Men will feel like they know these two guys. They’re the more passive of the four on the TV show (or at least their show personas are) and their likeability translates well to the podcast. Mike Zapcic’s knowledge of pop culture from the ’70s to now is the glue that holds things together, although Ming Chen’s self-effacing manner doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve mentioned the weaknesses of the podcast in the first paragraph, but after listening to a whole bunch of episodes those issues are still endearing rather than grating. My only real concern is that after nearly 160 episodes the casual chat we witness could merge into a ‘going through the motions’ exercise. Some have argued that point has already been reached but for mine the line hasn’t been crossed and hopefully won’t be. As a podcaster myself I tend to be forgiving of production issues given the amount I’m responsible for myself. Even taking that into account, the idiosyncrasies of I Sell Comics are more often than not beneficial. If you’re a fan of the TV show then go have a listen. If you haven’t seen Comic Book Men then there’s probably still enough in each show to keep you engaged although a fair proportion of the chat may not make as much sense.

9/10 *

* Disclosure: I may or may not have emailed The Secret Stash pitching that I be allowed to open a Secret Stash Oz. For some reason I’ve received no reply – who’d have thought??

50-Word Review: Deadly Class #9

DeadlyClass_09-1This title’s been personal for Rick Remender and from reading the letters pages it’s personal for many others as well.

Issue #9 continues the dark and very violent story that never lets its grip loosen. Craig and Loughridge’s art remains brilliant. Still a must read in my books.


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