Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Barron Pendergast, Century Falls, Howard Chaykin, Image, Ken Bruzenak, Michelle Madsen, Roberty Ford, Yael Tabackin
inStory and art by Howard Chaykin
Colours by Michelle Madsen
Letters by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Image
Marshal Robert Ford, along with colleagues Yael Tabackin and Barron Pendergast, is the law in the small town of Century, Texas. They keep the peace, and the peace is fairly easy to keep, aside from the odd idiot gunslinger convinced Robert Ford killed Jesse James (Same name, different man). Century is quiet, but it’s not going to stay that way. A car chase brings the movies to town and with it the pasts of Tabackin and Pendergast, and the future for the Old West. Everything is going to change and Ford, Tabackin and Pendergast become the still points in a town being swept up by the future.
There are a lot of things you expect with a Howard Chaykin book but ‘charming’ is not one of them. However, this is lovely, a gentle, very funny story of a town where people go to hide from the world and what happens when the world comes to find them. Using the Marshals gives Chaykin a chance to explore the idealized view of the cowboy too, and what he finds is unusually clever and nuanced. Ford is a man saddled with a bad reputation he didn’t earn, and quite prepared to do worse things to keep the peace. There’s a joke early on that highlights this, a moment of shocking violence that’s both funny and unsettling and tells you everything you need to know about him. Robert Ford gets the job done, and he isn’t particularly bothered how.
Pendergast and Tabackin in contrast are a little more urbane. Both are running, both are discriminated against (Pendergast is black, Tabackin is Jewish) and neither care. They’re not defined by what they are or how people view them. They’re defined by the friendship they and Ford share and the badge they wear. Everything else is irrelevant. Every scene they have is smart, funny writing that says interesting things about one of the masculine ideals of the last couple of centuries without ever resorting to bromance. They’re an instantly charming double act, just as effective with violence as Ford and easily the most entertaining element of the book.
As the trains, and the roads and the movies and eventually the planes come to Century, Chaykin’s script gradually fills up but never feels stuffed. This is a measured story about three measured men who are on the cusp of a huge change and it’s handled with the sort of pacing the story demands. Each chapter works as a standalone and through them we get an idea of the three men, the town and how the future will be. Running through it all are the movie people, themselves fleeing to Century for very different reasons, and the film they’re making. The moment towards the end where it’s screened is lovely, as Ford and his colleagues see themselves immortalised even as their time begins to draw to a close. It’s romantic without being sappy, affecting without being affected.
Madsen and Bruzenak’s work is just as vital a part of the book’s success as Chaykin’s. Madsen’s rich, deep colours drench Century in sunlight whilst flashbacks are in a playful black and white that mirrors the film the book is centred on. Bruzenak’s lettering, this being a Chaykin book, is called upon to do 18 impossible things before breakfast and manages them all. Musical notes, dialogue and sound effects all compete for space on the typically information dense pages but thanks to all three, the peace is kept and the story absolutely shines.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Century Falls. Even the book’s main failing, the flimsy nature of its female characters, is at least contextualised by the times it’s set in. That aside, there’s a lot to like in Century Falls and its inhabitants. It’s gentle, charming story about a time that was anything but and is well worth picking up, especially if you’re looking for something a little different.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alex Sinclair, Billy Tan, Carol Ferris, Dave Sharpe, Hal Jordan, Kilowog, Morgo, Robert Venditti, Robin Hunter, Tony Avina
Written by Robert Venditti
Pencils by Billy Tan
Inks by Robin Hunter
Colours by Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Billy Tan and Alex Sinclair
Hal Jordan’s true superpower is he’s an asshole. Oh sure, the other big DC characters all have moments of assholery but really who hasn’t worked out how to stop their friends if they ever go mad? Or been forced to murder a telepathic despot live on television? Or murdered the only other survivor of their race?
Stuff happens, man. Life gets in the way.
But Jordan’s a special case, because it’s always been part of his character. The classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow Adams/O’Neill run (Which is dated but essential reading by the way) even uses this as a foundation. Hal Jordan is, when it comes down to it, a guy who thinks the status quo is A OK, sees things in black and white and has no problem taking the ring off and getting bloody if the cause is just. Or he thinks the cause is just. Or he’s really, really angry. Or it’s Tuesday.
The truly impressive thing about this character trait is that it’s often at the heart of the best writing about him. Hal has just enough education to perform, is fully prepared to learn and move outside his comfort zone but is still a man who is, in some ways, fundamentally difficult to like at times. He’s not just the hero Earth wants, to paraphrase a certain movie, but sometimes he’s the hero Earth rolls it’s eyes at and goes ‘Really, Jordan? Really?’
Robert Venditti picks up on this and places Jordan’s character at the heart of everything that happens this issue. In fact, it saves the issue, Venditti using it to take a very familiar plot point (The power rings are damaging the universe and their use must be strictly regulated) in some very new directions.
The consequences of this particular idea are huge, especially given the rainbow of Lantern corps we have these days and Venditti cleverly unpacks each one. So you get discussions of the ethics of ring use, Jordan putting forward an extremely hard line approach that places the Green Lanterns above everyone else and the ramifications of that. All of which is done, by the way, in a conversation on Morgo, the planet-sized Lantern. It’s a heady mix, character beats combined with huge scale science fiction but Venditti anchors all of it to Jordan, a man of tremendous will who, in this issue, comes across really badly. It’s a courageous piece of writing, and Venditti doesn’t shy away from a single aspect of its consequences. Jordan alienates himself from one friend and manipulates another here, all because he feels he’s working for the greater good. Or to put it another way, because he’s a man of will and that’s the point. There’s no apology here, no attempt at compromise, just a man doing what he thinks is best for the greater good. It’s an entirely heroic set of actions but Jordan’s past, and inflexibility, are used to make you question everything. This is a complex issue and Hal’s a simple man and that should be admirable. Instead it’s troubling and that gives the issue a real shot in the arm.
This is a really impressive piece of writing, and it’s backed up by some great art. Tan’s style is detailed, clean and grounded which makes the science fiction elements of the book pop all the more whilst Hunter, Sinclair and Avina give the art depth through detail and a rich colour palette. Sharpe’s lettering is also exemplary, leading you through multiple locations and layouts with ease. All in all this is a belter of an issue, and a great jumping on point. You may disagree with everything that happens here. You may view Jordan as the sanctimonious, manipulative asshole everyone else does. It doesn’t matter, he’ll get the job done anyway. Whether or not anyone’s still talking to him afterwards remains to be seen.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Carla Speed Mcneil, Devin Kalile Grayson, Gail Simone, Jack Jadson, La Sonja Rossa, Nancy A. Collins, Noah Salonga, Red Sonja, Simon Bowland, The Howling God
‘Legends of Red Sonja’
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jack Jadson
‘Eyes of the Howling God’
Written by Nancy A. Collins
Art by Noah Salonga
‘La Sonja Rossa’
Written by Devin Kalile Grayson
Art by Carla Speed Mcneill
Colours by Salvator Aiala Studios
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite
Twelve mercenaries ride into town. Each has a reason for wanting Red Sonja dead, each is from somewhere different and each is uniquely talented in the arts of death. As they tell each other their stories, it becomes clear just what Sonja’s done to them and how far she’s ranged over the years. The only problem is, she may be dead already…
This is massive fun. Gail Simone’s run on the main Sonja title has been huge fun from the get go and here she has a lot of fun with the structure of both the book and the creative teams. Simone has gathered a team of writers and artists to do the same thing the mercenaries have; find Red Sonja. However, the creative teams have a lot better luck, and the stories they tell are the best introduction to Sonja you could hope for. Simone’s framing narrative is especially good, establishing the assassins’ pasts and giving Jadson a chance to show off his burly, light on its feet, art style.
‘Eyes of the Howling God’ by Collins and Salonga is a nicely burly tail that takes in werewolves, copious bloodshed and the secret origin of Eles, the monk who serves as the book’s narrator. It’s also a neat insight into Sonja’s pragmatism; can’t beat it with a sword? Beat it with a ROCK until it stops moving. This is character through action and it works very well, especially as Collins and Salonga sidestep the chainmail bikini issue by decking Sonja out in a practical chainmail shirt.
The final story here is the best one though, and marks a welcome return to comics for Devin Kalile Grayson. Grayson’s work opens with Sonja’s death being recounted by a merchant and we watch as Sonja is caught up in a broken love affair, supernatural mayhem and a magnificently Lovecraftian sea monster. Again this is a story driven by her pathological refusal to lose and it tells you a lot not only about Sonja as a character but how she’ll defeat her hunters. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be quick but her relentless tenacity will break them down just as it has everything else. The story is magnificently illustrated by Carla Speed Mcneil and closes with the best visual sting you’ll read this month.
This is confident, assured, charmingly violent storytelling and a perfect introduction to both the character and some of the best creators working today. Track it down, before the hunters track down Sonja.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: 364 BC, Clayton Cowles, Damar, Helot, Jordie Bellaire, kieron gillen, Klaros, Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Sparta, Spartan, Terpander
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Ryan Kelly
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Historical Consultation by Professor Stephen Hodgkinson
Published by Image
Helots were the lowest of the low in Sparta, state owned people who could, and were, used as hunting practice by the sons of the Spartans. Their lives were worthless except to define the Spartans’ ‘heroism’, culling them once a year like animals.
In 364 BC, three Helots fought back.
Gillen’s script is as pared back as they come, introducing the violence of the Spartans first, then Klaros, Damar and Terpander, his leads. Klaros is competent, sullen and crippled. Damar is calm, intelligent and overlooked. Terpander talks for a living and as a result has no idea when to shut up. All three are cowed, all three Helots and all three are about to have their lives changed forever.
The Spartans are monsters here, eyes and cloaks and huge helmets. Their violence is so total as to be almost abstract at first and the terror their arrival brings the Helots is portrayed with feverish details by Kelly. They’re men who kill the same way some people breathe, arrogance seasoning their brutality. That clash, between Spartans who have everything and Helots who have nothing, is what drives the story and leads to the inciting incident at the end of this issue. The character dynamics between the three Helots are front and centre here and by the end of the issue you realize their relationship is a lot more complex than previously thought. You also realize, as they do, that relationship will almost certainly get them killed.
This is muscular, almost minimalist storytelling. Gillen, one of the best dialogue writers in the business, scales it right back and lets the Spartans’ violence speak for him. It works, and the casual brutality the book is littered with shows you what’s at stake without it having to be spelt out. Right now the characters are taking a back seat but, as the story continues, the focus will shift to the troubled relationship between the leads. For now though, this is a book about monsters who wear Spartan helmets and every page is filled with tension and threat. Kelly’s art is reminiscent of Darick Robertson in its detail and willingness to show the ugliness of people whilst Bellaire’s rich, deep colours set the stage and then throw arterial spray over a lot of it. Together with Cowles’ always impressive lettering and Hodgkinson’s historical backup, they create a book that’s red in tooth and claw and looks set to carve its name on every Spartan monument in fiction. Nasty, uncomfortable and violent, just like history and, based on this first issue, just as gripping.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Aric, Brian Reber, Cary Nord, Dave Sharpe, Doug Braithwaite, Eternal Warrior, Harbinger, Livewire, Matt Kindt, Ninjak, Robert Venditti, Toyo Harada, Valiant, XO Manowar
Written by Matt Kindt
Pencils by Doug Braithwaite
Colours by Brian Reber
‘Prisoners of Circumstance’
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Cary Nord
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant
This has been an interesting year for crossovers, and interesting in this instance has meant ‘Oh God Oh God WHY ARE THEY STILL ON THE HELICARRIER? WHY IS NOTHING HAPPENING?! WHY DOES THIS INCLUDE SO MANY BOOKS?!’ more than once.
It’s been rough.
Now, before we all sit around on the SHIELD helicarrier for four issues and talk about what just happened (Which is NOTHING), let’s focus on the positive. Infinity is flat out great, a perfect capstone to the first chunk of the Hickman-era Avengers whilst Unity does the absolute impossible; takes a group of characters you’ve never cared about and makes you like them.
Matt Kindt is one of the most interesting creators working today and he flexes his muscles here. In short order you get introduced to some of the principle Valiant players in a way which lets you know who they are without ever seeming especially expository. Aric is a Visigoth, kidnapped by aliens, who took control of their most powerful weapon and brought it back to Earth only to find 1600 years had passed. Understandably a touch miffed, he decided to claim Romania as his people’s kingdom, and has effectively declared war against Russia in doing so.
It’s not going to go well for Russia. Soon, it won’t go well for everyone else.
Aric’s an interesting character, equal parts Tony Stark and Slaine and Kindt shows us both sides of him here. He’s not quite a hero or a villain, rather a force of nature used to show us the Valiant universe and introduce the people ranged against him. Led by Harada, a businessman and immensely powerful psychic, they include the assassin Ninjak, Aric, the eternal warrior and Livewire one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet. Each one gets a moment in the spotlight, each one is established as a separate character and all bar Livewire are broken on the wheels of Aric’s tremendously powerful suit and even more powerful brutality. We’re dropped into the middle of a world here and expected to swim out to the sides and Kindt makes it both easy and fun.
Seriously, if you’ve never tried a Valiant book before, this is the place to start. The event is huge but grounded, the characters all feel real and well rounded and Braithwaite’s precise, muscular art is a perfect complement to the script. The book feels much more immediate than either Marvel or DC’s crossovers this year, simply because we know less about these characters. Everyone feels less safe, and as a result, much more interesting. Braithwaite and Reber’s work, especially Reber’s naturalistic colours really help with this feeling of immediacy too.
Rounded out with a promising looking backup strip from Venditti, Nord and Sharpe this is a really impressive opening to what looks like a hell of an inaugural crossover. If you’re looking for something new (Or something old made new again, depending on your point of view), give this a shot. 9 out of 10 enraged power armour wearing Visigoths recommend it.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Army of Darkness, Ash, ben templesmith, Bruce Campbell, Denis Calero, Evil Dead, Marshall Dillon, Sam Raimi, steve niles
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Dennis Calero
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Main Cover by Ben Templesmith
Published by Dynamite
Army of Darkness, and the Evil Dead movies as a hole, are glorious. They’re a perfect storm of wonderfully ludicrous, hideously gory and from time to time deeply unsettling. The recent Evil Dead reboot for example, was actually a pretty straight up and down horror movie, and did some interesting stuff with the source material. It’s rumoured that there will be one sequel to that and then either Army of Darkness 2 or a team up movie between the two leads. This is the sort of nerdvana moment that would have been impossible in a pre-Avengers world and, let’s face it, is pretty unlikely even now, but it’s nice to dream. Especially as even if it doesn’t happen, we’ll always have Paris.
Paris, in this case, being Army of Darkness. And, now, this comic.
Niles’ script picks up from the end of the movie (Well, one of the endings) and plants Ash, and S-Mart and a couple of very unfortunate co-worked, back in olden times. Gloriously, olden times looks exactly like it did in the movie; a distinctly American looking rocky plain. Equally gloriously, Niles manages to throw some vintage Ash moments in there without it being a quote fest. Even better, the plot is a smart extrapolation of what went before; absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there is nothing more powerful than the Necronomicon. Ash may be done with the book, but the book isn’t done with him and as the issue closes he has a whole new mess to clear up. It’s an interesting idea, and you can hear the gears grind a little as the quintessential done-in-one movie is stretched out to an ongoing series, but it takes the strain. If anything, the stripped down storytelling that Raimi pioneered works very well here, Niles able to nest the core concepts of Army of Darkness inside his own work very simply.
It’s Calero and Dillon, who, in some ways, have the harder job. They have to not only match Raimi’s chaotic visual style but hit clear likenesses for the characters and give a sense of scale to the events. The likenesses are bang on (The chin has landed, ladies and gentlemen) whilst the scale is equal parts epic and just a little guerrilla, like the movie itself. It’s the panel work where the book shines though, with Niles and Calero teaming up to create frenetic, cracked glass style panel layouts that give you all the feverish visuals of Raimi without the crash zooms. Although let’s face it, we could always use a little crash zoom…
Rounded off by impressive, precision lettering from Marshall Dillon, this is a book any Evil Dead fan will enjoy. The concept strains a little, at first, but by the end of the issue you get an idea where things are going and it’s not a direction Ash is going to like at all. Regardless, the King’s back so shop smart, shop S-Mart (And T Man) and pick up his first issue today.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: Chris Dingess, Lewis and Clark, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Pat Brosseau, Sean Mckiewicz
Written and created by Chris Dingess
Pencils and inks by Matthew Roberts
Colours by Owen Gieni
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Edits by Sean Mackiewicz
Published by Image/Shadowline
This is one of those books. You know the ones. The sort of book that years after it’s started, and taken off, and you’re watching the TV show based on it you remember when you picked up the first issue and go and reread it. Or, odds are, download the holographic version on the iphone 17 in your right eye. Whichever works.
This is the story of Lewis and Clark and their expedition across America. It’s also the story of the reason they were really sent, the conflict between science and the military and the dangers of frontier exploration. Clark is almost banally confident, viewing it as an extended jolly. Lewis is a little more cautious, convincing himself that they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase and it’ll all be fine. The two men banter, mostly good naturedly, whilst the convicts they have with them begin to wonder about things like why every man on board is an orphan and just where they’re going.
The first half of the book is all character and set up. It’s smartly paced stuff and the tension is gradually ramped until, at the midpoint, something impossible happens. As it does, control of the book shifts from the script to the art, for a single, glorious splash page. It’s a chilling image, beautiful and alien and completely threatening. The characters react to it by falling back on training and instinct. The reader reacts to it by paying closer attention. The reader comes off a lot better. These men are in uncharted territory in every way.
This is a phenomenally pretty book. Matthew Roberts’ work is similar to Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore in his ability to draw realistic, grounded characters but it’s more fluid than either of those two artists. He’s happy throwing the camera around, using scale as well as gesture and expression and it pays off here with the issues’ two big reveals. Similarly, Owen Gieni’s colouring is completely naturalistic throughout, emphasising that this is a book out in the wilds and accentuating the character of Roberts’ work. There’s one especially excellent page uses natural light to simultaneously hit an action beat, set up and obscure the final page reveal and act as a statement of intent for the book. This is impressive stuff, however you cut it. Special mention should also go to Pat Brosseau’s letters that convey multiple patterns of speech and sound effects with the same natural feel that the art has.
Manifest Destiny looks set to be a huge book in every sense of the word. This is expansive, detailed storytelling with a great concept, great art and some truly chilling moments. Get in on the ground floor, and watch as Clark and Lewis map a very different kind of territory. It’ll be much more fun for you than it is for them.