Written by Mo Ali
Art and design by Andy Bloor
Published by Bad Mother Publishing
An assassin with a clock for a face. A war fought between the seconds of human history. No explanations. No exceptions. No mercy. Welcome to Midnight Man.
When the lead jumps out of Big Ben’s clock face engaged in battle with an evil horse you know you’re onto something special. Midnight Man plays like the very best, cleverest, nastiest strip that 2000AD somehow overlooked. It never stops, it never slows down and it never feels like anything else than a wild, and intensely fun, ride.
That’s down to the sheer quality of the creative team here. Mo Ali’s script does that difficult thing of balancing action and plot with so much ease it’s as uncanny as the clock-faced lead himself. Ali’s pages are rangey and spacey, laid out so you can see the sheer spectacle of history but never losing focus on the Man himself. The action is pacy, nasty and clever. The plot feels like a big finale but never feels incomplete. You get exactly what you need to know what’s going on and it’s shot through with a gloriously grim sense of humour. Midnight Man enjoys his work and, for all the horror he perpetrates, we certainly enjoy watching him.
A huge amount of that is down to Bloor whose style plays somewhere between a burly Chris Weston and the pleasing solidity of Chris Sprouse. There’s weight and heft to every panel, the monochrome art the only certainty in a story that leaves in the grey areas between the seconds. The Midnight Man himself is a striking, disturbingly simply figure and the time frames he fights through are all lovingly rendered. I’m especially fond of the end sequence and the Big Ben moment that opens the book.
This is brilliantly clever, cleverly brutal science fiction storytelling that anyone who ever loved Jason Statham comics or Grant Morrison movies will adore. Get it and find out why it’s always midnight, and why you should never trust horses.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Ezra, Francis, Gabriel Cassata, Image, Jacob Semahn, Jorge Corona, Josiah Latimer, Kathleen MacKay, Morgan Breem, Steve Wands, Zoe Latimer
Written by Jacob Semahn
Art by Jorge Corona
Letters by Steve Wands
Colours by Gabriel Cassata
Water colours by Morgan Breem
Edited by Kathleen Mackay
Created by Jacob Semahn and Jorge Corona
Published by Image
The Latimers are monster hunters, TV stars and parents. The Latimers have held back the darkness for generations.
Tonight, that changes.
Some books hit the ground running. Some hit them flat out sprinting and some pull off something so audacious a few pages in that they grab you by the lapels and refuse to let go. Goners falls into that third group. In the space of six issues, Semahn sets out a world that’s enticing, savage and feels absolutely fully formed. This feels like a season finale but one that’s also a set up for something even better than what came before. The pace never slows, the invention never stops and crucially, the central theme never, ever shifts; this is a story about family, and everything that word means when your family fights monsters.
Josiah and Zoe are the new generation of Latimers. Zoe wants no part of the family business, Josiah is actively annoyed that he has to wait before getting his hands dirty. On the worst night of their lives, the pair are thrown into the middle of an all-out assault on their town, their history and their family. Semahn never stops throwing monsters at them, but also never loses sight of the fact they’re children who are grieving. The emotional core of the book never loses sight of that and some of the most affecting scenes here are just the pair of them talking, to each other or their parents. There’s a recurrent sequence, rendered in beautiful water colour by Morgan Breem, that’s especially great. It gives Josiah a lot of extra context, adds some emotional punch and pays off massively in the finale. It’s mirrored by some really smart characterisation, especially with Zoe and Francis, the children’s guardian. In each case, Semahn faces his characters with their worst fears and, in each case, shows them and us who they really are. It’s a gruelling ordeal for the family but, as the John Carpenter-esque town wide siege continues, we see just why the Latimers are so feared.
On the art side of things, co creator Corona does stunningly good work. There’s a hint of Humberto Ramos to his style but Corona’s art punches harder than Ramos’ ever did. The nightmarish creature designs are chillingly realized and the large cast handled with tremendous ease. Like Semahn, Corona is just as at home with huge action beats as he is with intimate character stuff and here he gets the chance to do plenty of both. Cassata’s deep, lush colours and Wands’ lettering are also impressive additions to the book’s arsenal as is that water colour sequence.
Personal, funny, horrific and gripping Goners plays like the best movie John Carpenter never got round to. Crammed with characters, invention, spectacle and action it’s a thrilling look at the Latimers and their world. Here’s to a return visit soon.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Abigail Ryder, Benjamin Sharpe, Daniel Hartwell, David Fickling Books, It's A Wonderful Life, Kelsey, Neill Cameron, Sophie, Ten Gun, The Phoenix
Written by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron
Illustrated by Neill Cameron
Colouring Assistance by Abigail Ryder
With thanks to Benjamin Sharpe
Published by The Phoenix and David Fickling Books
You know that feeling when you find something so perfect and so fun that you just want to reread it as soon as it’s finished and then shove it in front of as many other people’s faces as humanly possible like an over-excited sugarhigh Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life yelling ‘Read this! It’s great!’?
It’s cool, just buy this, read it and then go watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Seriously. One of the greatest movies of all time.
But you know what it doesn’t have? It doesn’t have pirate ships riding on the back of sort-of tame dinosaurs.
Pirate Ships. On. Dinosaurs.
Hartwell and Cameron’s script is the first thing that impresses here, and it impresses two different ways. The first is in how little time it wastes. The first dinosaur hits in the first six pages and something huge or fun or scary or awesome or all of the above happens every few pages after that. The second thing that hits you is just how smart, and well thought out, this world is. The little details are what stayed with me; the Snuffmen who act as Pangaea’s ‘tug boat’ captains, the ‘sea’ that contains hordes of deadly velociraptors, the way different species are used by the ships’ crews. This isn’t a gimmick with a script attached to it, this is a complex, well realized and immensely entertaining world. The huge spectacle is always built from character or background, never feels unearned and is frequently breathtakingly beautifulo.
That’s down to Cameron and Ryder. The precision of the art here is key, with Cameron giving the pirate cast huge variety and character while still making sure they look ‘lived in’. Likewise Sophie, the lead, undergoes a subtle transformation from out of her depth to take-charge heroine that’s mirrored in the art. She’s still clearly from a different world to the pirates but the way she adapts is subtle, smart and show in how she’s drawn. Just as importantly, the various dinosaurs have incredible weight and scale, thanks both to Ryder’s excellent colour work and the script’s fondness for narrative spreads across double pages. This feels like a huge, very different world and that feeds back into the confidence and depth of the script and art to create something that feels like the best summer blockbuster no one’s quite made yet. Crammed full of action, humour, invention and character this is yet another incredibly fun series from The Phoenix. Pick it up, but beware the land sharks…
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: 10th Doctor, Arianna Florean, Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt, David Tennant, Doctor Who, Elena Casagrande, Gabby Gonzalez, Richard Starkings, Titan, Zhe
Written by Nick Abadzis
Art by Elena Casagrande
Colours by Arianna Florean
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan
It’s the run up to the Day of the Dead in Brooklyn and Gabby Gonzalez is bored. She’s an artist but feels trapped by her family’s pressure for her to help out with the laundromat. But when something impossible comes through the machines, and Doctor John Smith just ‘happens’ to be nearby, Gabby finds her life changing faster than she expected.
This first collection of Titan’s 10th Doctor series is a neat summation of the approach their creative teams have taken to the various Doctors; combine the traditional elements of their characters with new, vibrant elements that the TV series has never tried. In this case, it’s Gabby, whose cultural background and approach is completely different to anyone the series has ever featured. She’s brilliant too, a naturally creative, pragmatic young woman who is a perfect foil for the over articulate gangly swashbuckler that was the 10th Doctor at his best. Abadzis does a great job of setting Gabby, and her home situation, up without resorting to the sort of tropes you’d expect. She has a large family who prize duty over individuality but none of them are one note stereotypes and Gabby’s worth is quite definitely recognized by the end of the first story. The way that’s done not only subtly distances Gabby from Earth but also ensures that her family both fit in with, and subvert, the family dynamic of the 10th Doctor’s TV run. Gabby’s family are large, accepting and completely okay with the fact there’s clearly something odd about the Doctor. They’re so well handled I hope we’ll see them again in fact, as they definitely stand closer to Wilf Noble than Martha’s dad screaming ‘I’m putting my foot down!’ to no one in particular.
That’s the mission statement of the series; take everything that made the 10th Doctor’s run great and do it differently but just as well. Or, in some cases, better. The first story here is great, dealing with an alien incursion that’s uniquely New York and dealt with in a unique but very 10th Doctor-ish way. The second story, featuring Gabby’s first trip on the TARDIS, is revolutionary.
Casagrande’s art is excellent throughout, and she excels at character and the sort of just to the left of normal weirdness the series loves to do. But the second story, dealing with a visit to an art gallery and one of the Doctor’s old friends, sees her work soar. It introduces us to Gabby’s sketchbook, and we get these wonderful, loose sketches of her and the Doctor and the places they go, interspersed with the usual art. It’s a gorgeous conceit that opens the story up, personalizes it and cements this as the sort of story that could only be told in comics. Even better, it plugs directly into Abadzis’ script, the discussion of art and the pressures of creativity it explores and what may just be Gabby’s story arc. Which, again, is both reminiscent of the usual 10th Doctor plots but very different.
This really is an amazingly strong opening to the series. Abadzis nails the 10th Doctor’s endearing combination of eloquence, joy and tragedy and Gabby is instantly one of the most likable companions in the show’s run. Coupled with Betancourt and Starkings excellent lettering and Casagrande’s joyous, versatile art and Florean’s subtly, clever colour work it’s a great start for one of my favourite Doctor’s latest run in comics. And the operative word is, as
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Barrus, Blip, Jess Jetrider, Robert Deas, The Horde, The Phoenix, Troy Trailblazer
Written and drawn by Robert Deas
Published by The Phoenix and David Fickling Books
Troy Trailblazer is a young space adventurer. Aided by Blip, his probability-obsessed droid sidekick, Barrus, his near silent alien muscle and Jessica Jetrider, a reformed bounty hunter, Troy fights for justice, the oppressed and anything that sounds fun.
Well that’s not strictly true. Troy, Blip and Barrus get in way over their heads and Jess rescues them. A lot. Not that they want to admit it. That’s more like it. But, when they pick up a distress signal from a mining colony, Jess finds herself fighting a very personal war…
First off, you really should be reading The Phoenix. It’s become not just an immensely successful champion for all-ages comics but a rally point for some of the best new talent working in comics. Plus, if you like 2000AD? Then you’ll like The Phoenix. There’s the same slightly punky sense of invention but with, a lot of the time, sense of wonder replacing the knowing satire. It’s flat out one of the best things being published in the field and it’s a huge pleasure to see their trade program collecting gems like this.
If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy you’ll like this. If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy and thought Gamora got a crappy deal, you will LOVE this. Deas takes similar SF tropes (Hero who isn’t quite as good as he thinks he is, chirpy robo sidekick, grumpy strong guy, very competent and tough heroine) and takes them down a complimentary but different path. There’s no good natured Chris Pratt-powered slobbery here but rather a kid who has the best job in the universe getting by on charm, luck and the competency of his friends. A lesser writer wouldn’t be able to make Troy remotely sympathetic but Deas nails it, making him a charmingly self aware and still endearingly rubbish lead. The first chapter here in particular is really good, slightly knockabout kids’ science fiction with lots of action, lots of impact and some wonderful, fast paced art.
Then the second chapter hits and you realize what’s really going on. It’s one of those annoying moments where I can’t tell you without spoiling it but there are some really nicely handled beats in that second chapter that give the story, if not a darker turn, then certainly a more mature edge. Every single moment of incident in the first chapter, including the one or two that feel just a little forced, pay off immensely in a smartly realized sting that makes both Troy, and Jess, into even more interesting characters. This is science fiction that knows its sources and influences and does new and interesting things with them, leading to a really fun, snappy read.
Plus the thing looks just flat out gorgeous. Deas’ character designs and page layouts are great and this feels like a refreshingly lived in world. So much so in fact that you could imagine Troy and Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect sharing space in a bar and neither looking out of place. Until, of course, someone realizes Troy isn’t old enough and then Shepherd, Jess and Garrus have to defuse the brawl he just started…
But the real fun here is in the cutaways. An opening breakdown of Troy’s ship is fun, but it’s Blip’s autopsy of a wonderfully nasty alien that stays with you. Deas uses the cutaways to give you a lot of information in a small space and they’re indicative of how versatile his script is. Flashbacks, montages, cutaways and character redesigns are all used to tell the story and they all work perfectly. The end result is a fun, big-hearted and clever piece of science fiction that deserves a place on any fan’s shelf. Oh and the best Alien joke you’ll see this year. Hugely fun stuff.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Dead Girls, Doll virus, House of Murky Depths, Iggy, Jim Burns, Leonardo M Giron, Murky Depths, Primavera, Richard Calder
Written by Richard Calder
Pencils, Colours & Letters by Leonardo M Giron
Cover by Jim Burns
Published by Murky Depths
In the near future, an act of nanotechnological terrorism is stealing humanity’s future. Girls infected with the ‘doll virus’ are transformed at the molecular level into nanotech robots, vampires with incredible strength, speed and versatility and one goal; spread the plague.
Primavera Bobinski is a Doll carrier. Iggy Zwakh is her stalker turned boyfriend turned partner in crime. Fleeing a London that wants them dead and burnt for good measure, Primavera and Iggy head to Bangkok and try make a new life for themselves.
And that’s when the trouble really starts.
Adapted from his own novel, Richard Calder’s script is the sort of full-tilt, comics-with-guitars sprint that would make 2000AD proud. In fact, 2000AD’s a pretty solid touchstone for the entire thing with Giron’s excellent, spacious artwork evoking Carlos Ezquerra at his best. There’s the same neon-soaked landscapes, the same sense of stories and characters existing in the cracks of a larger world and the same cheerful fondness for violence. The major differences are twofold, and they mark this out as something intoxicating and very different.
The first is the language. In places it feels like Calder is trying to cram too many words onto the page, as concepts and characters elbow each other in the ribs to get your attention. Pimavera in particular has a very odd, mannered way of speaking that, chances are, will annoy you for the first few pages. Then you’ll settle into it and see that her speech pattern is as much a part of her character as anything else. It’s also given a very smart in-plot explanation which heightens the horror that lies at her core. Primavera is, to misquote that old X-Factor issue a dead girl filled with nanotech. She’s a monster, something brand new and somehow becomes one of the purest takes on the vampire in years as a result. She’s fascinating, terrifying and absolutely deadly. And Iggy can’t get enough of her.
Let’s talk about Iggy for a moment, because he’s as revolutionary as the Doll he belongs to. Iggy is not a hero. He’s not tough, he’s not especially smart. He’s a cowardly young man who thinks with his libido and on his worst day is two steps away from being a sex offender. Calder doesn’t pull any punches with Iggy and in doing so, somehow, makes him as pure an example of his character type as Prim is of her own. One’s a vampire. One’s a desperately willing Renfield. The thing they feel isn’t quite love but they feel it so strongly it doesn’t really matter.
The second thing that marks this out as something unique comes from GIron’s artwork. It’s kinetic, fast, expressive stuff that revels in the scale of the later chapters in particular and marries that Ezquerra-esque sensibility with a clear, deep love for various kinds of manga. The action here is as kinetic and brutal as it is in any given 2000AD but the iconography owes far more to the likes of Ghost in the Shell. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would tip over into straight up titillation. Here that’s acknowledged and used as a character beat for Primavera and a central pillar of the world building. The end result is an intoxicating, at times deeply disturbing sprint through a cyberpunk underworld in the company of either the worst, or best, possible people we could go there with. Very fast, often very funny and brimming with energy and invention, Dead Girls is cyberpunk in its purest, most mercurial form and a must read for fans of the genre.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Aurelie Martin, Benny, Cale, Ed Ryzowski, Hawk, Krunch, Lar Desouza, LfG, Looking for Group, Richard, Ryan Dunlevy, Ryan Sohmer, Tales As Old As Tim, Tim, Tiny Dick Adventures
Cale is honest and decent and true. He’s also an idiot. Richard is evil, ambitious and just brimming with the blackhearted joy of his work. Benny is a healer who hasn’t healed anyone in years. Krunch is a minotaur of sorts, surprisingly well educated and Benny’s adoptive father. Together, they fight crime!
Together they cause crime! Yes that one.
A welcome arrival in print for Sohmer’s gleeful webcomic, this is one for anyone who loves Rat Queens or has ever played a tabletop RPG. Sohmer’s an extraordinarily good comedy writer and the jokes come thick and fast here. Almost all of them come from Richard, the pale, evil, jovial necromancer who, in my mind at least, speaks with the voice of Stewie Griffin. Endlessly relaxed, cheerfully violent and delighting in tormenting Cale, Richard is one of the great comedic comic characters of the last couple of decades and steals every scene he’s in. Also, incinerating several on the way out. Just for, y’know, kicks.
The rest of the cast are just as much fun, and it’s there where Sohmer starts to show just how subtle a writer he is. Cale is genuinely crushed at having to kill ‘good guys’ to protect his friends and there’s a real undercurrent of darkness to his interactions with Richard as a result. Benny, similarly, is a smart, driven woman who clearly regrets where her life has put her while Krunch is the most articular dragon puncher you’ll meet. These aren’t bad guys by choice, just people doing a difficult job in tough circumstances. Loyalties change, assumptions are challenged and Sohmer shows us a surprisingly nuanced and complex world. One that Richard frequently torches people in for fun but hey it counts.
That intelligence, and nuance, is present throughout the other two strips here. ‘Tales As Old As Tim’, illustrated with remarkable atmosphere by Hawk is a comedic flashback focusing on a suppoting character that again has a surprising emotional punch to it. ‘Tiny Dick Adventures’ illustrated with the same glee the world’s chirpiest necromancer feels by Ryan Dunlevy trades that emotional undercurrent for nuanced and surprisingly dark humour and works just as well. Desouza’s work on the main strip is rounded, friendly and carries a big stick, keeping you off guard better than any of the characters do, as does Martin’s design work. Nothing is what it seems here, aside, maybe from Richard’s fondness for violence and death. But even that has hidden depths…
LFG is colossal, nasty fun for anyone who’s ever played a tabletop game. Smart, off centre and very funny it’s a welcome addition to the pantheon of truly great gamer comics and a welcome addition to Dynamite’s line up. Give it a shot and discover just how endearing a Necromancer can be.