Comic Blogs are for Losers!

Only Losers look up peoples skirts

I’m very sorry to report I’m an absolute sucker for a film based on a comic, and so with this Summer’s ‘The Losers’ coming out to play in cinemas, I thought I’d have a look at the comic series itself. Written by Andy Diggle, with art by ‘Jock’, it looks as though this one is a popular little scamp, since my local London Comic shop (Orbital Comics www.orbitalcomics.com) were sold out of all the collected volumes of this series. Happily for me though, the Waterstones near my work had this new collected edition of the first two volumes of the series, which works out at 12 issues for £15. Zing!

Right then, down to the nuts and bolts of the series! The Losers are a secret team of CIA operatives who we learn were formed from military personnel who were experts at their jobs, but not too good at following orders. They were sent into super-confidential operations by the CIA to keep America safe. Then on one operation, they saw too much, and the agency had them killed in a helicopter crash. Two years later the Losers are back! Alive! And they are ready to get their revenge on the people who set them up!

Oh boy! The only way to describe this comic is that this is what the A-Team would be like if they actually fired guns at soldiers, rather than building machines that fired cabbages and grumpy mexicans who tried to smuggle tequila into schools. The action starts up and just doesn’t stop, from the team stealing a chinook helicopter, to breaking up massive drug deals, to finally hijacking a nuclear warhead, these losers are just about the busiest heroes in any comic. And all that shit happens in the first 5 issues.

But it’s not all shoot-shoot-bang-bang, as my Mum would describe it. The history of the team, and the characters back stories are slowly dropped into each issue as we go along, so at first we don’t know quite why they are so angry, and we are never even quite sure why the team ended up together, and whether they could all be trusted. Theres plenty to keep you guessing, and a load of stuff to pick up on with each read-through of the book.

And no action book can ever be properly exciting without the art work to match, and goodness me Jock can draw! He has rather an angular style, with plenty of use of shadows, but his art work is always clear and it is never dark or murky during the frequent action set pieces. And helpfully each character is instantly recognisable and each has their own trademark, so its easy to tell everyone apart from the first page, even if we may not be too sure as to names. Naturally with an action-mystery adventure like this Andy Diggle didnt want to reveal too much right away, so while keeping the mystery as to characters motivations, Jock’s art work made it immediately obvious as to who was who, so while mysterious it is never confusing.

As I said, this collected edition collects the first two volumes of this 5 volume series, so I’m really looking forward to hunting down the next 3. There are enough unanswered questions to bring me back to see what happens next, while also leaving a satisfying end to the 12 issues. Even casual readers who don’t necessarily read comics and just want to pick this up after seeing the film are gonna get a real kick out of it, it was a great fun read, and I was hooting with laughter  on the train home from work reading it.

I can’t recommend this bad boy enough!

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is That A Sasquatch In Your Comic, Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me?

 

The first natural law: Big Foot, Big Bone.

Written by Alexander Grecian, with art by Riley Rossmo, Proof is about the nuttiest tale (Tail, haha, and that’s an animal pun) I’ve read in a comic. Anyone over a certain age will remember how awesome the X-Files used to be when they did one-off episodes about weird mythical animals (there was a really creepy one about a big fluke-worm man, and then one about little green glowing insects in a forest) in the early series, before it got way too complicated and confusing. Proof is like one long series of all those mad animal adventures, without any of the tedious FBI crap.

At its most basic, Proof is a comic series about John ‘Proof’ Prufrock. John is Bigfoot. And he was caught about 200 years ago, and so now he works for a secret government organisation called ‘The Lodge’ whose job it is to hunt down all the cryptids (supposedly mythical animals like the Lock Ness Monster and the Jersey Devil) who are not magical animals, but endangered species who may pose a risk to the humans they encounter, and at the same time protect these animals from the human race.  The first story arc introduces us to the main players of the series, and joins them as Proof hunts down the ‘Goatsucker’ creature, which feeds on animal blood, and skins creatures in order to dress up in their skins. It’s all rather odd, but there are some cool bits where the goatsucker is dressed in the skin of a character’s grandmother.

I told you it was a nutty story.

But at its heart, despite the elements of horror, Proof is a brilliant fun read. It is peppered throughout with little ‘Cryptoid’ facts, (‘Hawaii remains the only US state with no recorded bigfoot sightings’) which I’d like to believe are true, and certainly led me to spend a jolly afternoon on Wikipedia scaring myself silly looking up the creatures mentioned in passing within the pages of ‘Proof’. Suitable to the spooky whimsical style of the writing and story, the art is sketchy, and sometimes dark and shadowy, but it also brilliantly captures the humour of the book. The visual jokes and slapstick moments are fantastically rendered, and the sketchy-cartoony style captures the facial expressions of the characters in a very charming, almost Disneyesque way. Plus you get to see a naked lady at one point, so that’s always a bonus.

Proof is a tip-top read, effortlessly moving from comedy, to horror, to action, to police drama, to mystery at the drop of a hat, and while its characters are 3-dimensional and believably portrayed, it never takes itself too seriously or develops into too much of a heavy-going dramatic slog. If you like your myths and legends, and enjoy seeing huge apes wear suits and drink tea while discussing the mating rituals of male fairys, then you can’t go far wrong than giving this book a try.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Short-Ass!

UK exclusive sketch by John Romita Jr.

A terrible photo, but a tip-top image from John Romita Jr., the artist behind the Kick Ass comic series. It was the cover for the free magazine Shortlist a few weeks ago, and included here as a UK exclusive image, unseen by those beastly Americans with their hot-dogs and their more up-to-date and entertaining comic book blogs. Up Yours Uncle Sam!

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ambassador, with your Comics you are really Spoiling us!

Iron Man: Bashing Nazis since 1939

For the last year or so Marvel have been putting out 4-issue mini-series of their most popular characters in 20’s and 30’s Film Noir situations, under the inspired title of Marvel Noir. After the X-men, Spider-man and Daredevil Noir series comes Iron Man’s turn! But for this series we get something a little different. Rather than aiming for a dark and gritty 30’s melodrama full of pinstripe suits and cigarettes in silhouette, Iron Man Noir is a fantastic pulp adventure. It’s exactly what Indiana Jones would be up to if he had a battery-powered heart and a suit of armour.

The issue, written by Scott Snyder with art by Manuel Garcia, kicks off with Tony Stark and his gang of explorers looking for a mythical gemstone mask which reportedly gives the wearer a second chance at life. Much like the beginning of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, no sooner does Tony get the mask he is betrayed by a member of his team, and then the Nazis show up to claim the goods! One swift exciting escape later, Stark is back in New York and discovers a secret Nazi operation to discover Atlantis! This is the sort of comic where every sentence! Ends! In an exclamation! Mark!

This is exactly the sort of daft adventure that I read comics for. We get giant snakes, jungle adventures, nazis (who are always the best bad-guys)  , explosions, and huge robotic suits. The suit in particular is nicely inspired by the Rocketeer, crossed with an armoured train. It’s only briefly seen this issue, but I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do. We also get a nice insight into Tony Stark, a man with a terrible disability which is killing him, which pushes him onto these crazy adventures (The Search For The bloodstone Gem!) in the vague hope of finding a cure. This is one of the more lighthearted additions to the Noir-universe, and so far looks to be the best.

The art by Garcia is also a real treat, he captures the iconic look of the 30’s adventure-hero, with a nice filmic eye for close-ups, action and dynamic chases. He is obviously cutting loose and having some fun with the project, getting to draw giant anacondas, huge Inca temples and marauding monocled villains. His slightly cartoony style also nicely reflects the light-hearted nature of the book as compared to the grim and gritty scratchy style of the other Noir series.

This is comics done right; a fun, cheerful read with some jolly chase scenes and a nice bit of mystical mystery thrown in for good measure. It’s a shame this is just going to be 4 issues, since I’d collect this series for years.

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Debating the Issue.

This mo-fo eats volcanic ash for breakfast.

Its been a long time since I’ve been able to update the blog, and while I still don’t have time to do a big ‘un, I think it’s about time I let a little ‘un out.

Released this week, with a cover by my all-time favourite comic book artist Rafa Garres (who draws the best looking cowboys of all time) is ‘The Savage Axe of Ares’, which is about the best name for a comic since ‘The Shadow Cabinet’. 

Ares is a  Marvel comic, and features 48 all new pages in glorious black and white. I was thrilled to see the cover also proudly proclaims ‘More Thrills! More Pages! Skull Splitting Metal Mayhem!’. It was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. My life has been lacking in metal mayhem since Robot Wars was taken off the air.

And much to my surprise, this comic was fucking ace. With 48 pages, they manage to squeeze in a 22 page main story, two 12-page back up tales, and a 3 page prose piece with illustrations. Each of the 4 stories takes place in a different time period, and each is tackled by a different artist and writer, which breaks up the issue nicely.

 The main story deals with two Russian criminals who break into an East German weapons factory during the cold war to steal some sort of nutty explosive weapon. Ares, God of War turns up to help them escape from the facility, and the country, chopping and slicing his way through the Russian army to enable the two criminals to get to Holland. But naturally trusting in an ancient Greek God of war has its downside, as the two criminals soon find out!

The artist for this story C.P. Smith really relies on shadows and highlights to tell the tale, which really works well with the cold war mystery theme of the story. The main off-putting element to his art is his reliance on 80’s style pixellated computer graphic backgrounds and textures. At first I thought my issue had a problem with the printing, and it did take me a few pages to get used to the style. But it did grow on me, and it was particularly effective in the bold splash pages, where it takes on an almost vintage computer-game charm. It’s a very simple story, and it is mainly told through the visuals, and this really adds to the iconic nature of Ares, who remains silent throughout the story.

The next 12 page story is probably the least interesting, written by John Barber with art by Jefte Palo. Set in the ancient greek world of myths and legends, Ares has to fight off a load of zombies and a giant snake to kill a wizard to rescue a Princess. This Princess then leads Ares in a rebellion against her father (Ares loves a scrap, being god of war an all) . It’s quite a simple, but effective story, showing off how bad-ass Ares is and how untrustworthy a god of war can be, but it does seem rather rushed, and the black and white artwork isn’t quite as effective in capturing the mood of the time period of which it was set. Nearly all the panels are lacking backgrounds which does limit the depth of the storytelling, but again there is an awesome page showing Ares literally marching over a field of warriors.

The 3rd story is set in Iraq, featuring a face-off between a female american soldier and a giant golden Ram-God. It’s a bit odd, but its a nice insight into Ares’ personality, he takes out a couple of enemy soldiers since their weapons give them an unfair advantage against the lady, but then wanders off leaving the American to fight her way out of a war zone after she helped him defeat the giant monster. It was cool to see that as a God of War he takes no sides, but just exists to make sure no side gets too much of an advantage. The art work here was probably the most exaggerated and stylistically unusual, with distorted and sharp angular designs but it suited the unreality of the story, a sort of fever-dream from the perspective of a wounded soldier.

The final text-story was the highlight of the whole issue for me. I cant help but think most readers will skip this out, but it would be a massive shame. It’s a little story based in ancient Scandinavia, a young Viking trying to live up to the reputation of his father, with the help of Ares. Despite this is the shortest story page-wise, naturally it is the most in-depth character study of both Ares and the human subject. The illustration is very much of the sort of  ‘sword and scorcery’ fantasy story, but to be honest I didnt even take it in while I was reading the text. This was by far the most satisfying story in the whole book, and I hope it gets enjoyed by the readers, since it’s by far the best in the issue, hightlighting the dual nature of a god who delights in destruction and death and war, and yet  has no interest in the winners or losers of a battle.

This issue was about £3, and despite the fact it was all in black and white which I usually dont like, I really enjoyed it. Theres a good mix in storytelling styles and artistic design, and Ares is brilliant character to explore in a little  anthology like this. And with the fantastic cover art, it was well worth it.

Meanwhile…

We're all friends at the end of the universe

I’ve been having a few ideas of what to do with this blog over the last few days. I realised that if I just write reviews of the comics I buy and enjoy then it is just going to be a very tedious list of comics getting 8 out of ten, so I’ve been chatting to the jolly lot at my local comic shop, and every week they are going to be recommending me a random issue which is either selling well, or is a favourite of the shop staff. This way I get to broaden my horizons beyond my usual reading material, and get an exotic sample of the wider world of the comic page!

I also have an interview coming up with London-based illustrator Toby Pennington, and an interview with my friend Sarah who is new to comics on her first foray into reading pen and ink adventures!

The next set of reviews will hopefully be up by the weekend, new comic releases have been delayed by bank holiday Monday so its set everything back a few days.

Flying the Flag

Fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way! Well, that means fuck all to me.

I’ve always been a fan of British comic book characters, naturally because I’m English, but also because I think that there is something about a British comic book character which is a bit more human and accessable than the typical American hero. I’m going to do a sweeping generalisation here, but so far as I can tell American heros are all fighting because of their own personal hang-ups, private quests for justice, or because they feel the urge to prove themselves as human. But the British heros I know of all fight because it falls to them to take up the mantle and do their duty. It’s just Tradition. It seems as though its their job to stand firm and soldier on, knuckle down with a stiff upper lip while the rest of the country stands back and lets them get on with it. It’s the duty of the British heros to get on with it without any fuss or bother. And it seems as though it’s the duty of all British superheros to fail to sell any comics.

I'm very sorry I'm not american

The two main English superheros who have received any attention in the last few years are Captain Britain and Union Jack. I’ve also just remembered there is John Constantine from the DC ‘Hellblazer’ series, but he is less of a superhero and more of an anti-hero, and I would point out that since he is most well-known as being played by Keanu Reeves in a terrible film I’m going to ignore him. Captain Britain was revived for a short time in the fantastic Marvel series Captain Britain and MI13, written by British writer Paul Cornell who has also worked on a number of television series in the UK, including Doctor Who, and during its 15 issue run it was widely applauded as one of the best written monthly series published. It’s intelligently written plots incorporated many different aspects from the nature of being a hero, the multi-cultural population of the UK, and the British fixation on magic and folklore. This series was the most consistently well reviewed series of 2008-9, and yet after 15 issues it was canceled due to poor sales.

Union Jack is yet another British character which often draws the short straw. Created in 1975 to be part of ‘The Invaders’ squadron helping Captain America fight the Nazis, Union Jack was intended to be a British hero fighting both Nazis and curiously vampires, which seem to be running wild through the British Isles since the First World War. In the last 10 years Union Jack has appeared in only 12 comics (a 3 issue miniseries in 1998,  a 4 issue miniseries in 2006, 4 issues of Captain America and an issue of Captain Britain and MI13).

I’m sure that the reason for this failure can’t just be down to poor writing, since Captain Britain and MI13 was voted number 10 in the top 100 comic series of 2009 by the ‘ Comic Book Resources.com’, and the art work in Union Jack or Captain Britain has always been second to none. I think that it just comes down to the fact that Americans arent interested in British superheros, and unless a series is popular in an American market it just isn’t going to succeed. The only successful British comic I can think of is ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, and even that is set in a fictional Victorian London totally unlike any real Britain.

Even the issues of 2000AD or Eagle annuals I’ve had chance to read have revealed that most series are based either in alien planets or parallel universes. It appears that the United Kingdom is just so boring that no one would ever seriously entertain the notion that anything very exciting could ever happen here. Over in America one can zip about with a cape on and no one would bat an eyelid. But just you try it in London, and my goodness I expect you would be beaten red, white and blue.

Review: Nemesis

Right, I’m gonna leap right into the reviews of the comics I’m reading at the moment. It was a mystery to me how to go about this process, but decided I’d have a little plot break down, followed by my thoughts and comments on the issue, then give it a mark out of ten. It was a bit of a slow week for comic releases ‘coz of the Easter holidays, so I’m gonna kick off with a review of a comic which was released about 2 weeks ago. 

Making your Issue 1 look like a number 2.

SYNOPSIS: Nemesis (I think that’s what he calls himself, I’ve just had a flip through the issue, and he isn’t named) is the worlds first and only super-villain. Once a year he targets a police chief from a major city around the world, and works to destroy their credibility, then kill them at a pre-arranged date and time. In this issue we see the demise of the Tokyo chief of police, and then Nemesis sets his sights on Blake Morrow, the police chief of Washington DC. He also blows up a hotel, a train, a plane, and a busy road tunnel, and captures the American President. 

I’ve been an enormous fan of Mark Millar’s writing since discovering his run on the Ultimates and Ultimate X-men, which I remember reading on the marvel website in IT lessons at school. He is best known now for his comic/film Kick-Ass released last year. I may get round to doing a review of that series when I get my copy back from Toby at work. He has made a name for himself by taking a nice little concept (What would happen if the super villains won? What would happen if a normal person decided to be a superhero?) and taking it too its most violent, silly and entertaining conclusion. So it seems here with Nemesis (What would happen if Batman was really a nutty criminal?) he was onto another winner. 

But this story is a stinker. If you’re relying on the villain to carry the whole comic it’s generally a good idea to make him an interesting and charismatic fellow, but it seems Millar is so certain that the idea of an evil ‘Hero’ is so compelling he forgets to ever make it interesting. Nemesis fails to engage at any point, and Millar has to surround this character with hired goons who exist only to spurt loudly to the reader how cool this villain is, and how amazing his powers are. At one point Nemesis lands on the roof of  the in-flight Air Force 1 to kidnap the President. This would be the perfect time to show off his arrays of hi-tec gizmos, jetpacks and anti-gravity boots, to show the intricate planning and superior intellect of this cunning villain. But no! Rather, he appears from nowhere, shoots the pilot through the windscreen with a big gun, then makes a jolly quip. To make matters worse the police chief of washington who is the main target for all this violence is a dreadful smarmy old twat. I cant help but think this issue would have been more entertaining if Nemesis had killed the silly arse within the first ten pages, and we could have left this story at that. 

Even the art is shoddy. McNiven has drawn some fantastic stories in the last few years, including Civil War and Old Man Logan with Mr Millar, yet in this story his pencils seem dark and dull and muddy, as lifeless as the story they tell. I think that this art could have really popped if they had gone for a bright, brash, strong colour pallet, in a huge contrast to the somber story, but sadly even the explosions and bloodstains (of which there are many) are all rendered under a tedious wash of blue and grey. I hope it’s just that this comic is the difficult first issue, and that the series will find its feet by the second issue, but at £3 a pop it had better get its act together pretty quick. 

Rating: 4/10

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My First Time

I started reading comics about 12 years ago, and today I’ve decided to start writing about them. I’m going to use this blog to chat about the comics I’m enjoying at the moment, do a few reviews of what I’m buying and reading, and discussing the various aspects of the medium.

I can’t remember the first comic I ever read, but I do remember my Granny sending me copies of  Walt Disney comics when I was about 5 or 6. I think she collected tokens for them from packets of tea, because that’s the sort of lady she is. I never had any pocket-money so couldn’t ever buy any books myself, but we had a friend across town who had a subscription to the Beano and Dandy. About every 6 months a massive bag of them would arrive on our doorstep, along with copies of Cosmopolitan for my mum. I used to get excited hoping they might have left the swizzlestick lolly attached to the covers of the Beano. There was never any lollys stuck to the front of Cosmopolitan. Reading Cosmopolitan (or ‘Cosmo’ to us fans) was always good fun because there were adverts in the back showing photos of boobs. Despite the fact I read comics, I’m a very generous and talented lover based on reading their articles on the top ten ways to keep a relationship spicy between the sheets.

Zip forward about 5 years, and I started working in a pizza restaurant (3 complaints from customers for nudity) so I finally had money to buy comics myself. Marvel UK were publishing collectors editions which were thick 78 page comics collecting three american comics in one. I think my first issue was ‘The Avengers United’ issue 15, which had a free poster, which is still on my wall.

If Cosmopolitan had free posters, I would have bought that.

From there I started buying all the Marvel comics I could, and since that point I’ve mainly stuck with Marvel. I think it’s just the costumes look better. And Marvel comics had Captain Britain and Union Jack, while I don’t think I can name a single british DC comics character. (Except Batman’s servant Alfred, but I don’t think he counts, since any real British gent would have told Bruce Wayne to fucking grow up and stop sulking a long time ago).

When I went to University I stopped collecting, mainly since I didnt have the room to keep them, and I now had pubs to hang about in all time. It wasnt untill my final year when I discovered a Forbidden Planet comic shop in Sheffield town center that I started collecting properly again. I think I now have somewhere around 1000 comics and trade paperbacks.

I’ve just had a look at my bookcase, and the general themes I collect seem to be Westerns, Cosmic adventures, Pirates, Vikings and Zombies. And Marvel superheros. My favourite book changes almost every week, but I think my favourite series is ‘The Ultimates’ by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. I’m not sure what superpower I would like, but I think my costume would probably involve a waistcoat and a bowler hat.