Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Aaron, Adriano Lucas, Andrei Bressan, Brennan, Joshua Williamson, Mikey, Pat Brosseau, Wendy
Created by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Andrei Bressan
Colours by Adriano Lucas
Letters by Pat Brossseau
Published by Image
Mikey Rhodes runs into the woods and never comes out. One year later, his older brother is the only member of the family holding the others together. His father is a delusional wreck, broken by the loss of his son and his presumed guilt and his mother is a tired, bitter figure hollowed out by the loss of her child.
Then, a call comes in from the police. A man has been found in the woods. Long hair, muscular, dressed like Conan. And he claims to be Mikey…
There are two stories here. One is the high fantasy element that the book is sold on and, weirdly, that’s the one I can talk least about. Williamson and Bressan go absolutely all out on the world Mikey is thrown into and we get a solid sense of not only how long he was there but the lessons he learned. It’s dizzyingly inventive stuff, flushed through with the lush colour scheme Lucas deploys and the vast scale, character driven action that Bressan excels at. These are the book’s tentpole moments and every team member brings their A game to them, especially Brosseau’s lettering and how much of the atmosphere that communicates. It’s huge scale, huge stakes fantasy and it’s an example of the very best of its type.
But the other story is better.
Harder to read. But better.
That’s the story of the Rhodes family falling apart and it’s some of the best writing I’ve seen from Williamson. The horrific event that ties them together also rips them apart and Williamson pulls no punches for any of them. Wendy’s anger at her grief and her former husband is completely justified but also all too easy for her to get lost in and Williamson never lets that happen. Instead, he uses Brennan as an anchor for his mum, a figure constantly reminding her of what is and not what was. It’s an intensely sweet, emotional relationship and it’s expertly shown here.
But it’s Aaron, Mikey’s father, who you remember. In a few pages he goes from an All-American dad to a shabby drunk and his frantic, relentless dedication to the man who might actually be his son is equal parts sweet and infuriating. Aaron isn’t a bad guy, he’s not a villain, but he’s been put in that role for so long he’s started to act like it. His relationship with the older Mikey is sweet, and desperate and more than a little disturbing. The transition from father to follower is a subtle one but it’s one we see here and it’s not easy reading. Mikey eclipsed every other family member when he was away. Now he’s returned, that’s only going to get worse.
The two stories power each other with subtlety and ease and the book crackles with invention and energy. It’s an epic story with an intimate core and one of the strongest books Image have put out in the last couple of years which, given their current slate, is high and deserved praise. Tough, clever, emotive storytelling that crosses worlds, and genres, with ease.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Bootle's Pie Shop, Captain Newton, Conrad Mason, David Wyatt, Demon's Watch, Old JonHal, Port Fayt, Spoon, Tabitha, Tabs, The Actor, The Bootle Brothers, The Phoenix
Written by Conrad Mason
Illustrated by David Wyatt
Published by The Phoenix and David Fickling Books
Welcome to Port Fayt, where pirates rub shoulders with merchants, magicians and magical creatures. Law and order depends on who’s watching and everyone always has an inside line. Except The Demon’s Watch, a ragtag group of crimefighters. Based out of Bootle’s Pie Shop, the Watch will protect you, whoever you are. But when the watch are asked to find out who kidnapped the baby son of a powerful merchant family, they may be in over their heads.
This is just flat out brilliant. Every single page of Wyatt’s artwork sings with energy and invention. Port Fayt is a believably ramshackle, believably dangerous place and Wyatt always makes it feel grounded and well defined. The opening pages are a guided tour of the town that helps to orientate you and then it’s off at a sprint into a story that touches on family, class, the pressures of being the youngest member of a team and some really smartly handled bad guys.
Mason clearly knows this world inside and and there’s a tangible sense of history to the plot. Tabitha, the youngest member of the Demon’s Watch is the lead and her need to prove herself is a great dramatic engine for the book. What makes it work though is how well she interacts with the other team members. They’re a fun, motley bunch and Captain Newton in particular is a great character. Stern, fair, intensely violent when needed and intelligent with it there’s a sense that one universe over these are stories about him. They’d be fun too but with the spunky, quick witted Tabs front and centre they’re even better.
This is clever, fun fantasy with a vast amount of thought behind it. It’s also the perfect first visit to Port Fayt so sign on with the Watch and take a look around. The work’s hard, the pay’s low but it’s always fun and there’s all the pies you can eat.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Avatar, Digikore Studios, Kurt Hathway, Max Brooks, Raulo Caceres, The Extinction Parade
Story & Script by Max Brooks
Pencils & Inks by Raulo Caceres
Colours by Digikore Studios
Letters by Kurt Hathaway
Published by Avatar
The vampires have turned. Desperate and unable to rely on their food supply to either protect them or themselves anymore, they have gone to war with the armies of the subdead. But how do you fight an enemy whose blood is poison and whose numbers are too huge to contemplate?
The first volume of The Extinction Parade didn’t quite work for me. Brooks’ gift for character and brutal pragmatism shone through but it was a little slow for my taste and seemed to end just where things were getting interesting. Reading it again, in context with this series, I can see how wrong I was. These three mini-series are designed as a three act narrative and this second act, War, is where the vampires, and Brooks, really get to show off what they can do. The action here is constant and huge in scope, and leads to some perfect moments of comics-based storytelling. At one point the vampires, fighting to hold the same bridge they were on in act 1 every single night, wonder how many more of their enemy could be on the way. Brooks and Caceres show us what they can’t see; a highway stretching off into the distance, thick with the dead.
Something, like the man says, has got to be done. What’s tried, and what fails, is what makes this exceptional horror.
Brooks traps his vampires in the cruellest prison of all; intellectual adolescence. Cut off from their support structure, these ageless creatures who’ve never had to learn before find themselves having to try new things very quickly. They’re like blood-soaked, immortal children; fascinated by new ideas but frustrated when something doesn’t instantly work. Again, one of the book’s best moments illustrates this; a vampire who was a British rifleman at the time of the American War of Independence is delighted to find an old musket in working order. He decides that this is the weapon that will solve all their problems, merrily using it until it literally blows up in his face. He hides in his past, convinced it will protect his future. He’s wrong, and his story is a microcosm of everything Brooks shows us. The vampires aren’t just in danger from the subdead, they’re in danger from their own naivety. They play at being human, so entranced with new technology and new responsibility they don’t see the flat, monolithic horde of mouths heading their way until far too late.
This is exactly the sort of grounded, realistic approach that Brooks’ excels at and Caceres is with him every step of the way. This is an increasingly desperate and increasingly sad story about the end of two civilizations that’s often more horrific for its tone than its content. Don’t get me wrong, there’s gore galore but Caceres and Digikore never use it as a short cut for storytelling. This is a story about a world drowning in death and there’s nothing glamourous or flashy about anything we see here. Just the slow, unstoppable advance of entropy, embodied in a billion hungry decaying forms.
But there just might be some hope too. The hook for the final volume promises that the circuit will be closed and that the vampires, just maybe, are finally learning. Whether it’s enough remains to be seen. But after this volume I’ll certainly be turning up to find out.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Brian Churilla, Crank! Charlie Chu, Cullen Bunn, Dave Stewart, Jared K Fletcher, Kerberos, Oni
Written by Cullen Bunn
Ilustrated by Brian Churilla
Colours by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Crank!
Designed by Jared K. Fletcher
Edited by Charlie Chu
75p. YES. 75P. PUT DOWN THE INTERNET AND GO AND BUY THIS. I’LL WAIT.
Back? Like it? Me TOO.
Just in case you didn’t read this yet, here’s why you should. Firstly, it’s a story about a Church funded team of Special Forces operators who will, for the right price, extract your loved ones from Hell. Cullen Bunn excels at this sort of stuff and he’s on top form here, running that deliciously fun premise until it’s going flat out.
Secondly the art’s excellent. Dave Stewart is one of the greatest colourists working today and has the muted, otherworldly tons Hell requires absolutely down. Churilla and Crank! do excellent work too and Churilla’s style is just eccentric enough to tell you how off the world is without losing any of the characters along the way. This could be a book dominated by how much fun Hell is to draw. Instead, it’s a book that focuses in on the humans who go into the Underworld and the cost they pay for their work.
Thirdly, Bunn’s script is flawless. If you want to learn how to write narratively for comics you could do a lot worse than pick up three copies of this (One for you, one for a friend, one to dissect and all for less than a coffee) and study up. We get the background, the characters, the premise, the action, the reveal and character beats galore at a pace that’s measured and confident and never once rushed. The book moves and reads like a Kerberos Operator; always in control, always two steps ahead and always ready to start some ruckus.
Fourthly, this is incredibly fun, clever horror comics and God knows seeing those four words in formation always makes me happy.
Fifthly, 75P. SEVENTY.FIVE.PENCE.
Seriously, go get it its brilliant. And tell a friend or ten.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Descender, Dustin Nguyen, Harvesters, Image, jeff lemire, Niryata, Steve Wands, Tim-21
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Lettered and designed by Steve Wands
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
Variant Cover by Jeff Lemire
Created by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen
Published by Image
£2.20 or £1.70 with that top of the line SuperCardGo! You’ve got
Humanity has settled space and civilization crosses the solar systems. Until the Harvesters arrive. Vast humanoid robots they eradicate a vast chunk of the population and almost wipe the species out.
Ten years later, Tim-21 wakes up on the mining colony where he lives with his parents. He’s the only person left alive. He’s also now the most important person in human space.
This is one of those books that’s a puzzle box and to say anything else plot specific would spoil the fun. Because there is a lot of bleak, slightly desolate fun to be had here. The opening sequence on Niryata, one of the jewels of human space neatly sets up and destroy the status quo. That instantly raises the stakes and the Niryata plot looks to be covering the always interesting ground of what happens after the world ends. The Tim plot is by definition far more intimate and the book splits duties across the two in a surprising and effective way. The Niryata scenes carry the plot and the Tim scenes carry the characters. So far that’s working really well and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when they combine, not to mention how long it takes. Regardless this feels like the first steps into a very large, well thought out story and it’s a pleasure to read.
A huge part of that is down to Bguyen’s art. The hyper saturated colours will bother some people but stick with it. The characters are expressive and real, the scale is often vast and there are quiet moments that see script and art combine to huge effect. Tim’s discovery of the other members of the colony’s crew is one of those but there are many more. Wands’ lettering is also smartly handled, accentuating and mirroring the beats of the script and art.
This is smart, ambitious science fiction that looks like nothing else on the market. Hop on board now, and get ready to find out just why Tim is important, even as he does the same.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Ben Rankel, D4ve, David Hedgcock, IDW, Ryan Ferrier, Valentin Ramon
Written & Lettered by Ryan Ferrier
Art & Colours by Valentin Ramon
Edits by David Hedgcock
Pinups by Ben Rankel and Valentin Ramon
Published by IDW
£2.85 or £1.99 with that medal you got from your time in the Corps that says SuperCardGo! On the side
D4ve used to have it all; job in the army, defending the Earth, glory, medals, the whole bit.
Now he has a job he hates, a boss who hates him and a wife who’s kind of undecided on the matter.
D4ve needs something to happen. Unfortunately, everything is about to happen.
From page one, this wins you over. Ramon’s precise lines are exactly what a robocentric society like this needs to be depicted with and there’s all manner of nice design touches throughout the book. The aliens have the same gristly vibrancy to them as Nick Pitarra’s work on Manhattan Projects and the robot characters have remarkable amounts of expression for individuals with immobile faces. This is an office comedy, and a good one at that, with all the subtlety and social discomfort the genre embodies. But it’s also a science fiction story about a warrior robot facing up to every kind of alien threat.
It’s also incredibly sweet natured. Ferrier’s dialog has the same dings to the corners that real speech has and it’s a pleasure just seeing D4ve talk to other people. He’s not a good employee, he’s an awful father and he’s a sort of okay husband but there’s nothing of the victim to him. He’s a man(droid) without agency but who wants it back desperately. There’s something of the over the hill jock to him sure but his central journey is far closer to returning veterans. D4ve wants to be a hero, he wants to feel needed and the book looks set to give him all he can handle and more. Ferrier’s script, and lettering, are as clean lined as Ramon’s art and there’s a real confidence to every page here. The book deals with big issues without flinching, shifts from horror to humour to absurdity and never once slips a gear. This is machine tooled, state of the art comics and you should check it out if you ever held a job you hated, daydreamed or once defended the Earth from alien attack.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Fight Night, Jared K Fletcher, Lee Bermejo, Matt Hollingsworth, New Angeles, The Saint, Vertigo
Written, drawn and cover by Lee Bermejo
Colours by Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Vertigo
£2.85 or £1.99 with that SuperCardGo! You bled for in the arena
Welcome to New Angeles. It’s fight night. On the wall, the guards keep half an eye on the rest of the world and the rest on the arena. Outside the wall, a desperate group of refugees try and sneak their way into utopia. In the arena, The Saint is about to go to work.
Welcome to New Angeles.
I’m a mark for a good bit of dystopia. Throw in futuristic combat sports and you’ve got my attention. Throw a creative team this good at the idea and you’ve got a winner. Bermejo’s script is paced like music, cutting between the three plots faster and faster until a beat in one is echoed or contrasted in the next. It starts slow, walks you through what you need to see and then, as the run and the fight both begin, everything kicks up a gear. The city roars in approval as the fight begins, the faceless guards are revealed to be anything but and the refugees are what they were always going to be and what, in the end, everyone bar The Saint is; victims. This is one of the most composed comics I’ve read in a long time. Each beat has meaning, each plot has purpose and all of them push the earthquake shattered clock of New Angles along. It’s tense, unsettling brutal stuff and there’s not a single pulled punch. There’s also not a single obvious piece of worldbuilding which is frankly astonishing for a first issue. We find out why New Angeles is closed off through an honest mistake from a refugee. We find out the guards are as human as the rest of us from the conversation they pass the time with. We find out The Saint hasn’t always been so lucky from a passing reference to how good the doctor who worked on his face must have been. No one rides for free, everyone fights. It’s just a matter of what they fight for.
Bermejo’s art is just as an important a part of this and his character work, especially on the chillingly normal and well adjusted Saint, is exemplary. There’s one splash page too which is New Angeles in a nutshell and would sell as a print forever if it was offered. Everything is realistic, everything is a little skewed and just like the audience at the fight, you want to look away but you never will. A big part of that is due to Hollingsworth’s stunning colour work. The entire book is soaked in light, whether it’s harsh spotlight of the Saint’s pre fight prep or the dusty sodium orange of the world outside the city. The colour work here accentuates and focuses every beat of the story and its award worthy from page one. Fletcher’s lettering is equally impressive and deals not only with different accents but different tones with ease. The dialogue here is sparse but it’s all got purpose and that purpose is always communicated with crystal clarity.
This is chilling, humane, dystopian science fiction. If Norman Mailer wrote Rollerball, it would feel like this but it wouldn’t look half as good. The lights have gone down, the fight is about to start. Take your seats for round one.