Travelling Man's Blog


Review: Trees Volume 1 by Travelling Man


Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Jason Howard

Lettering & Book Design by Fonogragfiks

Published by Image

 

Ten years ago, the Trees fell. Colossal cylindrical bodies that stabbed into the Earth, uncaring of what was beneath them. Cities flooded, anarchy broke out and then…the Trees did nothing. Aside from occasional dumps of toxic waste, the Trees have been dormant.

Until at Blindhail Station in Spitzbergen, a British scientist finds black flowers growing in the snow…

 

Published monthly, Trees impressed me, but I suspect, frustrated others. It’s a defiantly novelistic story that takes it’s time setting up its plot and at times that’s difficult to deal with. The plot set in Cefalu in Italy, where a young woman named Eligia is trained as the apprentice of a mysterious old man, is especially leisurely at times while the traditional SF plot at Blindhail spends entire chapters only being touched on. It’s a wilful, difficult story to read in singles. In a book though, it’s amazing.

This is a story about what how sometimes, survival is the worst possible course of action. The Blindhail plot shows that as Marsh, a man whose been handed the career of his dreams with the Trees, can’t understand the consequences of his findings. The Trees are the norm, the standard and not even someone dedicated to their study can see the destruction they’re about to wreak. The Cefalu plot echoes that too, as Eligia is given a route out of her miserable life with her fascist thug boyfriend. That route, provided by the wonderfully named Professor Luca Bongiorno, takes her out of the world she knows and into the world that’s coming. Luca, the quietest and most interesting character in the book, sets her up as someone who can survive what’s coming. A soldier. A leader. An artist. It’s too early to tell anything other than Eligia is ready for what’s next.

Time and again, the book deals with survival and that moment when we realize it’s all we’re doing. The most affecting plot is set in Shu, the cultural city in China that’s sprung up around their Tree. There, Tian Chenglei, a young artist, arrives to discover both the world and himself. He’s a complete innocent, a charming, flawed guy whose romance with fellow resident Zhen is one of the smartest, open eyed and clear hearted explorations of trans and bisexuality Western comics has ever produced. Their plot is the sweetest, and ultimately darkest, of them all but the darkness comes from the world not from them. It’s also one of the neatest pieces of writing Ellis has ever produced and the symmetry, and sense of impending horror, is tangible.

Every single plotline here is about humanity waking up. The Somalian president who realizes the Tree nearest to him has huge strategic value, the other scientists at Blindhail realizing what Marsh can’t, Tian and Zhen realizing far too late their city is being cut away under them. Across the world, humanity wakes up, sometimes as individuals and sometimes as governments. Across the world, massive change takes place, all of it triggered by the Trees. And, across the world, none of it comes close to a scale that matters to the vast structures.

This is endlessly clever, subtle science fiction that reads like JG Ballard wrote the world’s weirdest, best Roland Emmerich movie. It’s beautiful too, Howard’s colour washes and expressive, scratchy character work the perfect choice for a book like this. When the script cuts loose he’s right there with it too, and the later scenes in Shu are crammed full of memorable images and horrific scale. Fonografiks’ lettering and design ties it altogether too with some of the most striking design work from Western comics so far this century. Combined, they create a book about a world caught between apocalypses, catching its breath just before the next one breaks across it. Clever, funny, romantic, sad and absolutely essential.



Review: Darth Vader Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Salvador Larroca

Colours by Edgar Delgado

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Cover by Adi Granov

Published by Marve;

£3.60

 

Darth Vader is an icon, a figure who has strode with relentless purpose across decades of Star Wars fiction. We’ve seen his past, seen his end and seen his future as a force ghost (With occasionally interchangeable faces). But there’s one thing we’ve never seen; what happens to him when he fails.

That’s where Gillen comes in and the result is magnificent. This is Vader immediately after the events of Star Wars, and in fact, the events of the first few issues of the Star Wars title Marvel are putting out. He’s on his heels, out of favour with the Emperor and singularly unable to make any headway. He’s still feared, he’s still Vader, but there is competition at the top of the food chain all of a sudden. And that can’t stand.

What follows is a script that does three things, all very well. The first is set up an invincible villain as extremely vincible and yet stays true to everything about him. The second is to give Vader someone to push against in the form of Tagge, one of the only senior Imperial officers not to die aboard the Death Star. The third is to show what happens when the emotions Vader has convinced himself he no longer has bubble to the surface. This is Darth Vader as Bryan Mills from Taken, minimal resources, thinking four steps ahead and completely at home with brutal efficiency. It’s immense, nasty fun from start to finish and the book shows up for work in every single way. Larroca’s art is note perfect, Delgado’s colours match the muted tones of the locations we see from the movies and Caramagna’s lettering is restrained, smart and effective. Wrapped in a cover from the magnificent Granov this is a team of creative at the top of their game. Which, given their subject, is fortunate…Vader’s back, and watching him hack and crush his groove back is going to be a highlight of the year.



Review: Agents of SHIELD Issues 1 and 2 by Travelling Man

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Carlos Pacheco (Issue 1) and Humberto Ramos (Issue 2)

Inks by Mariano Taibo and Jason Paz (issue 1) and Victor Olazaba (Issue 2)

Colours by Dono Almara (Issue 1) and Edgar Delgado (Issue 2)

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Design by Jessica Pizzaro

Fitz and H.E.N.R.Y. strips by Joe Quesada

£2.85

 

Phil Coulson has had a busy couple of years. He’s been a breakout pop culture sensation, dead, resurrected, the subject of a TV show and now finds himself pulling duty across multiple media. Coulson is now the Special Ops Supreme Commander of SHIELD and he and (some) of his agents, have made the leap across to comics in a big way. Based on these two issues they’ve got plenty to do.

 

In terms of structure, this book is as perfect as it could be. Single issue stories, each focusing on a different element of the Marvel universe, is a great way to not only make it as accessible as possible to new readers but to grandfather these characters into established continuity. There’s a lot of speculation over just what Marvel have planned for the near future of their universe and you’ll get no direct answers here. What you will get is a hint of the willingness they have to make things easy for readers and a lot of fun action beats.

Waid is the best possible candidate for this job and he nails Phil’s polite, calm manner from page one . He also folds in some welcome vulnerability and a neat extrapolation of something we’ve only seen hinted at before now. Phil Coulson is a fanboy, a man whose love for superheroics has led him to not only study them but put his brain to use to defend us against them when needed. That’s why he’s Phil. That’s why he’s an Avenger. He’s always the smartest and sweetest person in the room. No one does clever, kind, troubled souls like Waid and he’s on top form here. The entirety of issue 1, itself an apocalypse scale battle crammed with guest stars, is designed to show us how Coulson’s brain works and it’s extraordinarily clever. It also shows just how dangerous he is and, in doing so, proves his decency. Phil Coulson is a good guy, because if he wasn’t we’d all be in trouble.


That first issue is a great statement of intent and the second puts Coulson and his team next to Marvel’s breakout star, Kamala Khan. Humberto Ramos, a long time Waid collaborator has the perfect style for Kamala’s frantic life and there’s energy in every single panel. Where the first issue plays like an action movie, the second plays like a really good episode of a cartoon and a lot of the success in both cases is down to the art. Pizzaro and Caramagna impress throughout and Pacheco, Taibo, Paz and Almara bring a precision to the first issue that raises every character note. Meanwhile, Ramos, Olazaba and Delgado showcase not just the action but the heart of issue 2’s script. Kamala is one of the most genuine, sweet characters Marvel have on the roster and Waid cleverly uses both Coulson and Simmons to highlight that. The last scene in particular is one of the most unforced, sweetest moments in comics so far this year and, unlike Kamala’s school, every character walks away looking good.

 

If you like the TV series, then you’re going to like this book. If you like the TV series but can’t stand Ward or Skye, you’ll really like this book. It works as a gateway to the Marvel universe, does fun things with the TV and comic characters and is a showcase for some of the best artists working in the field. Also, most importantly, it’s fun and that’s what keeps Phil in his job, and me coming back for more.



Review: Nameless Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Words by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham

Colours by Nathan Fairbairn

Letters by Simon Bowland

Logo and Design by Rian Hughes & Device

Published by Image

£2.20

 

So the good news is this is beautiful. Burnham’s art is razor sharp precision around which a dozen different styles orbit. You get Eisner style geography, Corben style twisted geometry, the pragmatic ugliness of Frank Quitely character work all filtered through this calm, focused style. If you’re a Morrison fan it’s like seeing The Invisibles remade entirely by David Fincher. If you’re not a Morrison fan, it’s like watching a really good, solid police procedural TV drama where the direction masks just how lurid and demented the plot is.

Fairbairn’s colours are an immense part of that too. There’s a scene in the closing half of the book where the lead has a conversation with another character who’s there via telepresence on a drone. The other character is pristine, well lit and the rain, and consequences, are all running off the drone. The lead is in the middle of a secure location in the middle of nowhere, at night, having just had a pretty solid attempt made on his life. Character expressed through colour and design and artwork. Oh and the lettering by Bowland is great too; clean and precise and letting every word come through loud and clear.

The only problem is, this is a contemporary Grant Morrison book and I’m not sure I can read them anymore.

I’ve enjoyed, no, loved an awful lot of Morrison’s work. But I stopped picking up Multiversity because the workings were showing. A vast array of brilliant artists were doing a wonderful job illustrating scripts that doodled with classic pulp concepts, or updated extant DC characters or spent an issue going ‘Hey! Celebrity culture’s dumb! We’re going to celebrate it and parody it all at once!’. Morrison’s current run is, as I’ve said before, a cold exercise in style and this is no exception. The lead is a supernatural thief with endless skill, not especially endless luck and a wealthy patron who wants him to stop an imminent science fiction apocalypse. Nameless, because that’s his name, is grim, capable and not especially interesting. That’s even given how quickly we’re thrown into the middle of his life and expected to swim to the edges. By the end of the issue he’s at least relatable, and his astonishment at how he’s getting into space is rather sweet, but of Morrison’s lead characters he’s so far only the most recent. Hopefully the rest of the series will flesh him out.

 

Nameless is by no means a bad comic and if you’re a fan of Morrison you absolutely need to pick it up. The art is excellent, the design work is lovely and it’s going interesting places. But, for me, right now, it’s not quite getting there fast enough, despite how pretty the route is.



Review: Postal Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Bryan Hill & Matt Hawkins

Colours and Editing by Betsy Gonia

Art by Isaac Goodhart

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Production by Tricia Ramos

Published by Top Cow

£2.85

 

Eden, Wyoming is a quiet little town. It has to be. Eden is an open prison of sorts, a place where criminals who can still be of use are dropped and told to get on with their best impression of a normal life. Eden is quiet or there’s Hell to pay, for everyone.

But not everyone who lies in Eden is a criminal.

Mark Shiffron is the mailman. He’s the son of the mayor and he’s on the Asperger’s spectrum.

And Mark’s just discovered something he shouldn’t have…

 

Hawkins has been turning in some of the most interesting, and fun, contemporary thrillers in comics for ages now. He and Hill clearly make a good team as this plays like the opening episode of a rural noir show, all character building and menace in quiet, pastoral locations. There’s a lot of plot baked into Eden, and we get enough of it to be hooked without being overloaded. If you’re thinking Broadchurch season 1 with way more swearing and violence then you’re on the right lines.

The thing that impresses here though is Mark. Hawkins and Hill treat Asperger’s as it should be; a function of character not a colossal placard Mark labors under the weight of. This is where the book could have failed miserably and fallen into the ‘magical special person’ trope that so many cop shows have leant on in the past. Instead, Mark is a completely relatable young man who’s aware of his condition and works around it. Just like so many of the rest of us.

On the art side of things Goodhart’s eye for character populates Eden with a memorable cast of deeply unpleasant individuals. My favourite so far is The Chef, the foul mouthed short order cook who, we find out in the back matter is wanted for ‘questioning’ by Parisian authorities. The entire cast are memorable though and the town itself feels run down and foreboding in a way that’s natural rather than forced. A lot of that has to do with Gonia’s brilliant, naturalistic colour scheme and Peteri’s subdued, smart lettering. They’re the team members who will get most overlooked, because letterers and colourists tend to be, but here they do work that’s vital to making the book succeed. Ramos’ smart, understated design is the perfect final note too, especially in the backmatter.

 

Expertly paced, nasty and ambitious stuff this is another feather in Top Cow’s increasingly feathery and interesting cap. Eden may not be a good place to live but it’s definitely worth a visit



Series Catch Up: Captain Marvel Issues 10 to 12 by Travelling Man

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Issues 10, 11 and 12) and Warren Ellis (Issue 12)

Art by David Lopez (Issue 10, 11 and 12) & Marcio Takara & Laura Braga (Issue 10)

Colour art by Lee Loughridge (Issue 10, 11 and 12) & Nick Filardi (Issue 10)

Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna (Issue 10, 11 and 12)

Cover art by David Lopez (Issue 10, 11 and 12)

Published by Marvel

£2.85

 

There’s a moment in issue 10, where Kit, Carol’s best friend, sidekick (Lt Trouble) and awesome little girl is in serious danger. There’s another moment, a few pages later, where Spider-Woman is forced to do something impossible to save the lives of everyone around her. A few pages after that, there’s a moment where Iron Patriot has a bomb slapped onto his suit and has seconds left to live.

Carol Danvers isn’t present for any of those moments. But she’s there for all of them. She saves every single one of her friends, not because she swoops in to save the day but because they’re inspired to do that by her example. Each sequence is pitched note-perfect, with Kit’s being brave, Spider-Woman’s a hilarious conquering of her fears and Rhodey’s pushing out into something within sight of spiritual. Together, they make an issue that’s a perfect jumping on point, a celebration of the character and a deeply moving exploration of heroism. Also there are rats with lightbulbs on their heads.

None of them are the real hero of the issue though. That’s Wendy Kawasaki, Carol’s assistant. Wendy ties every story together, helps Carol’s friends survive and does all of it a hospital waiting room. Tracy Burke, Carol’s oldest friend, isn’t doing well and Wendy quietly waits to look after her, keeps everyone else alive, keeps herself together and tells Carol the news. It’s the most understated heroism in the issue but it’s what you’ll remember.


There’s a moment in issue 11 where Carol accepts something immensely important and difficult about her relationship to Tracy. It’s borne from an assumption on the part of a nurse and there’s a single panel where we see what Carol says, and what she thinks, and how she makes her peace with it. It’s one of the most complicated pieces of emotion I’ve ever seen put on a comics page and DeConnick and Lopez put everything out there. There’s pride, shock, realization, wrenching grief and acceptance all in the space of one panel. It’s extraordinary. It also sets up everything that follows, including the single most iconic Carol Danvers panel ever and an ending which closes that emotional circuit in as complex and brave a way as it’s opened. Superhero comics still have a reputation for dealing with complex emotional situations very badly. This is handled with more subtlety than most novels manage.

There’s a moment in issue 12 where Carol is trapped on a broken down ship, in the middle of an ambush. Her friends are captured, she’s outgunned and her back is against the wall. In the space of a single scene she figures out a plan of attack and executes it with cold, analytical brutality. Like Jim Rhodes and Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers was a soldier before she was a superhero. DeConnick and Ellis’ script use this in a way every soldier I know does and very little of the military fiction I’ve read ever manages. They portray Carol as a woman who cares utterly for everyone who needs it. She expresses that care by running straight through anyone trying to do them harm. The Captain in her name isn’t there for show.

 

The moments I’ve highlighted are the ones that stayed with me but there are so many more for you to discover yourself. Please, do so and discover just why Carol, and this book, are so beloved of so many.



Review: Fire and Stone: Prometheus: Omega by Travelling Man


Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Agustin Alessio

Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot

Cover by David Palumbo

Published by Dark Horse

£3.60

 

This is what it comes down to. The only survivors of the catastrophic mission to salvage the Prometheus are huddled on LV 223, a planet wracked with spasms of feral evolution. Survivors of the Hadley’s Hope catastrophe made it to LV 223 but, in doing so, brought the alien with them. Now, the planet is sprinting ahead into a genetically supreme future and all Angela and the few who are left can do is hang on.

Then, a last chance falls from the stars. One being ridden by whatever Elden is becoming…

 

This has been one of the gutsiest ideas for a crossover I’ve read in a long time. The individual series have cleverly wrapped around one another, providing context and bodies where needed to create a story that gives all three of its signature monsters a chance to shine. The stuff with Elden has been particularly fun and the series as a whole has done a better job of combining the three continuities than the movies ever have.

The reason for that is the human characters caught between them and they’re front and centre in this last dance. DeConnick excels with character and handing her Angela, Elden, Ahab and Galgo is like handing a chef an unlimited budget. In the space of one issue she takes everything the previous writers have done and turns it into something as new and, arguably, brave, as Elden. This is a story about what happens to the survivors after the horror movie has finished, and it’s full of opportunity and terror. With their situation changing, the characters’ own emotional growth is forced to evolve as fast as the world they’re trapped on and that leads to some beautiful moments. Angela’s clear eyed, close-fisted compassion towards Elden is one of the bravest and most poignant beats I’ve read in a long time and it’s just the first of a series. In short order Ahab, Galgo and Angela herself all get moments where they have to choose between change or death. Seeing how each of them chooses is more dramatic than any extended fight scene could be and the ending bears that out. This is a different world, and the survivors are very different people than they were at the start of the series. How long they survive is unclear. How honestly they do it is without question.

Alessio’s art also has to combine the three stories and, like DeConnick’s script, does so precisely and well. The kinder, if not exactly gentler, Elden is a highlight as is the ‘He’s an aging predator! He’s Edmund Blackadder with a gun!’ buddy dynamic between Ahab and Galgo. But it’s Angela who’s deservedly front and centre here. Like DeConnick, Alessio does right by the Captain and her arc here is the most successful and most horrifying of them all. The final scene between her and Elden is note perfect; Angela expressing the existential horror that Prometheus aimed for and missed with heartbreaking eloquence. Likewise, the final shots of Elden, and what he becomes, echo the movie while doing something far more affecting and, in the end, braver.

That courage runs through every element of this project. Structurally it’s been a bravura exercise in metafictional lego, tying three separate strands together with an ease that clearly belies the work that went into it. Artistically it’s been a chance for four separate teams to show what they can do on the same playing field and narratively it’s been one of the toughest, most honest pieces of horror I’ve read. And I read horror pretty much professionally at this point. Brave, smart, and unflinching in the face of near certain death this has been a roaring success. Congratulations to the creative teams and to the survivors. Here’s to tomorrow.




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