Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alana, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks, Hazel, Image, Landfall, Marko, Saga, Wreath
Art by Fiona Staples
Lettering and Design by Fonografiks
Published by Image
Volumes 2-5-£10.99 each
Alana and Marko have just had a baby, Hazel. They have all the problems young parents always have; lack of sleep, endless amounts of time spent looking after their baby, learning to read her moods and what she wants, the whole nappy issue and, of course, the armies that want them both dead.
Okay, maybe not JUST the problems all young parents have.
Alana’s a native of Landfall, Marko, of its moon, Wreath. Their worlds have been at war for so long the entire galaxy has been caught up in it. That’s how Alana and Marko met. How Hazel showed up? Well, that was more a spur of the moment thing.
That’s the core of this story. As David Byrne put it; two fools in love, so beautiful and strong. It’s an amazingly simple, completely universal story that hits pretty much its entire audience square between the eyes. If you’re not a parent the romance will get you. If you’re not in love then their frantic struggle to get their lives under control will be familiar to anyone who was ever 23. If you, somehow, missed that year then the comedy and action will get you instead. Also, I’d like to borrow your time machine.
But the genius of the book is in how it uses that simplicity to craft a story that’s absolutely colossal. Every plot strand that’s introduced is folded around Alana and Marko but they reach across worlds and families to bring in a huge cast of supporting characters. Some of them are villains, some are heroes and most of them change sides more than once. All of them, like the world’s least lucky new parents, are complex, realistic, likeable people. Which, given the amount of characters in this book who have TVs for heads is quite an achievement.
Because make no mistake, this isn’t just an SF series, it’s arguably the definitive western SF comic of this century. Vaughan has talked at length about how long he’s been developing this story and it shows on every page. The world building isn’t just subtle it’s almost instinctive, folding new revelations in as Marko and Alana need them but making it clear they were there along. Volume 4 for example sees Alana briefly work for The Circuit. Somewhere between a rolling soap opera, professional wrestling and superhero comics, The Circuit is mentioned previously and baked in in such a way that you feel like you know it before you get there. Conversely, volume 5 features a moment where Alana tries to trade off her brief celebrity and finds out her character is still in the show and being played by another character. This isn’t a universe powered by the leads, it’s one that’s happening regardless of whether they’re present or not.
That’s also shown by the way the narrative splits in later volumes. As well as Alana, Marko, Hazel and a variable number of grandparents, the series digs into the consequences of their relationship and, crucially, Hazel’s existence. Hazel shouldn’t be possible, but because she’s alive she’s an immensely valuable asset for both sides in the war. Superficially, that’s horrifying; a child being used as a political tool. But there’s more complexity to it than that. The war is everywhere and Hazel is something unprecedented and new. A means to either end it or win it. No one’s right here but no one’s fully wrong and Vaughan excels at that sort of moral complexity.
Even the villains of the piece don’t get off easy. The Will, a bounty hunter sent after the fleeing parents, is entirely too principled for his job. In fact, his plot, and the people it drags in, may be my favourite part of the series.
The Will is Jason Statham on a bad day, or maybe a very good one. Relentlessly competent, a little over principled and entirely too self-aware for his job he’s a good guy who’s done bad things and really isn’t sure how he feels about that. Partnered with Lying Cat, a huge cat who serves as a feline lie detector, he sets off intent on bringing Alana and Marko in. Then things go wrong. Then they go wronger.
How The Will, and the group he accumulates, reacts to this is one of the book’s strongest points. Again, it shows how no one is clear cut and, again, it allows the book to show off its greatest strength; simplicity.
This is a book defined in every way by taking the smallest things and exploring them in the most detail. Alana and Marko, the needs of a new baby, the impact it has on their family. All of these things are the centre of a vast story of galactic intrigue, horror and war and none of them are ever lost sight of. This is a book with a simple, immensely strong central dynamic that a vast amount of colossal ambitious ideas are hung off. All of them work. Every single one.
That’s down to the stunning art that. Fiona Staples’ is extraordinary in a way that on its own, like Vaughan’s script, would make this an excellent book. Together they make it an era-defining one. Both have a clear eyed view of the central dynamic of the book; Marko, Alana, Hazel and the humanity, compassion and occasional ugliness of family life. Staples is one of, if not the, strongest character artist working today and the subtlety and realism she brings to the characters is consistently astonishing. More so when you remember that Alana and Marko’s babysitter is the ghost of a bisected teenage freedom fighter.
The duet between the art and script is better here than in pretty much every other book on the market. There’s a scene in volume 4 where Alana has done something stupid, irresponsible and entirely understandable. Marko confronts her and the fight they have goes from comedic to awkward to disturbing to violent in the space of two pages. None of its tidy, none of its elegant, none of its acceptable but it’s all understandable. They’re two young, terrified parents under incredible and constant stress. When they lash out, they lash out against each other and the consequences of that simple fight echo down through the script and art to the end of volume 5.
That willingness to explore every corner of the central characters is what makes the book truly exceptional. It’s always honest, often very funny and crammed full of the most creative profanity in modern comics. But beyond all that it’s also always understanding. This is a book about complex, difficult people in a near impossible situation. Many of them die, often cruelly, precisely because of that impossibility but they’re all memorable, lovable and most of all, familiar.
That’s why Saga is essential. Not just because of the comedy, dizzying visual invention or truly amazing art. But because in the end this is a story about people we’ve known or people we’ve been. And if they can win, perhaps, so can we. A modern classic in every sense. Do yourself a favour and pick up volume 1 now.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Captain Meriwether Lewis, Chris Dingess, Image, Manifest Destiny, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Pat Brosseau, Second Lieutenant William Clark
Art by Matthew Roberts
Colours by Owen Gieni
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image
Volume 1 £7.50
Volume 2 £10.99
In 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark led an expedition out past the American frontier into land newly purchased by President Jefferson. This is the story of what they found.
Dingess’ script is based entirely around the idea of tension. The tension first of the coillision between fiction and fact as he takes the details of the Lewis and Clark expedition and turns them into something richer and stranger. The cold open in the first chapter is glorious, the crew confronted with something impossible at the same time as the reader is. There’s a moment of total empathy between you that locks you onto the boat and into the mindset of these men. Something far odder than expected is waiting for them. They’re ready. But they may not be ready enough.
That’s the next level of tension, between what the characters are trained for and what they see. Dingess, and the splendidly gooey, burly art of Roberts and Gieni, throws these epitomes of the establishment into a world that’s feral and strange and alive. The first volume, dealing with an outbreak of plant-based zombies, is truly chilling in places because of this. The world the expedition is passing through does not want them there and their upsetting of the natural order embodies not only that tension but the collision between training and reality.
It also echoes back into some surprisingly complex character dynamics. When the expedition picks up several women, the sole survivors of a settlement devastated by the zombies, the book tackles the inevitable head on. There is an attempted assault, but it’s perpetrated by absolutely the last character the books lead you to believe will be responsible. The consequences heap the tension on still further as the need to punish the offender is offset by how few able-bodied soldiers are still alive. The result could have been a catastrophe. Instead it’s a subtle, cruel beat that puts the female characters solidly in charge of the situation and uses the assault to question the viability of Lewis and Clark’s training and approach.
This is all heavy stuff and it would be easy for the book to be dour and grim. However, it’s shot through with a rich vein of graveyard humour. That’s particularly apparent in volume 2 where half the crew are caught on land and the ship runs aground. Between them is a colossal, carnivorous frog and Lewis, the scientist, is the only one able to do anything about it. The running gag of him attempting to hunt the frog, and missing, is brilliant. Not only is it very funny, and very disturbing, but again the female characters are used to point out the absurdity, and arrogance, of Lewis’ actions. He’s not thinking right and, as the group scientist, that’s really the only thing he should be doing. The solution is gentle, again very funny and again more than a little horrific. And, once again, defined by the tension inherent in the book.
In fact the only place that tension is not apparent is in the way the team works. Gieni’s colours are vibrant and dangerous, just as the ecology the expedition encounters requires them to be. Every page feels alive and slightly alien with Roberts’ Adlard-esque character work and deft character touches bringing the humanity needed to close the circle. Finally Brosseau has one of the most difficult jobs, alternating between what Lewis and Clark are saying and what they record in their journals. Both voices are expressed with elegance and precision, which, ironically, is exactly what the expedition itself is increasingly lacking.
Manifest Destiny is, like the characters it focuses on, a book with a very difficult job. It has to balance horror and humour and make inherently prejudiced characters both sympathetic and nuanced. It manages all of these things as well as a surprising emotional weight that lands hard in the final pages of volume 2. Unique, very clever and clearly going somewhere huge, this is one of the gems in Image’s increasingly sparkly crown. Make sure you get onboard. Just don’t volunteer for anything…
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Battleworld, Carol, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kelly Thompson, Laura Braga, Lee Loughridge, Paolo Pantalena, Rhodey, Secret Wars, Thor, VCs Joe Caramagna
Art by Laura Braga with Paolo Pantalena
Colours by Lee Loughridge
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel
The Thors are inbound. The Banshees are outgunned and cornered. And there’s NOTHING they like better.
If you want an example of why colourists are unsung heroes and heroines, this issue is it. Loughridge’s colour palate, emphasizing natural light and outdoor shades ties this issue to everything that went before it. With those as the foundation, any issues that you might have with the shift to Braga and Pantalena’s art evaporates.
Not that you’ll have issues with them, because they’re work is great. I’m a sucker for artists who capture the subtlety of character and emotion and boy do they do that here. This is an issue that moves fast, gets faster and yet we never lose sight of the characters. This is the Banshees’ last flight and they know it and they run towards it all the faster as a result. There’s joy and fear and sadness and impatience mixed up in every line of every image of these women you see and that’s all down to the brilliance of the art team. Coming in to an established run is never easy. Coming in on the end of an established run is all but impossible. But, Braga and Pantalena are Banshees. They get the job done and they make it look simple doing it. They, Loughridge and Caramagna on letters turn in an issue that never slows down and more importantly, never needs to do. It, and the Banshees, have somewhere to be after all.
Deconnick and Thompson set the pace and do so with the same relaxed, professional ease as Carol and her pilots. This is fight AND flight, Carol’s need to go higher, further, faster, more running headlong into the doctrine of Doom and leading to some surprising, and beautifully handled, character beats. The Banshee/Thor fight is especially great, running the razor line between comedy and frantic, terrified action. It’s a brilliant script, in a series that’s never been less excellent. So many Secret Wars books have bucked expectations but this, I’d argue, is one of the very best.
Because, in the end, it’s simple. That’s why the book ends like it does, with that moment where the volume is turned down and we realize that what we want is not only what we’re allowed but also he easiest route to take. There are two moments in the closing pages that will get you. One is a character beat so perfect and so unexpected that it’s been hidden in plain sight from issue 1. The other is the final page. No spoilers, of course, but it’s a perfect summation not only of everything that’s made this book great but the idea that’s always been at the heart of this, definitive, version of Carol. Ideas, like the man once said, are bulletproof. And here, ideas let
Carol, her squadron, the creative team, and us punch one last, glorious hole in the sky.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Fonografiks, Image, Jason A. Hurley, Jeremy Haun, John Rauch, The Beauty
Art by Jeremy Haun
Colour by John Rauch
Lettering & Design by Fonografiks
Published by Image
Foster struggles to come to terms with the reality of life as a Beauty sufferer while other carriers continue to die. This time on air…
The second issue of Image’s relentless confident, and weird, police procedural moves the plot along at a sprint. In the space of one issue we get an exploration of Foster’s minds et, the very realistic possibility he’s coming apart at the seams and conclusive proof of the cover up he and Vaughn suspected last issue. It’s heady, fast paced stuff and Haun and Hurley are more than up to the task.
There’s a feeling of Bendis’ crime work to the exchanges between the two cops. They have a welcome emotional shorthand that, if anything, their shared status as Beauty sufferers, brings into sharper relief. Better still, by having Foster be very much not okay with it, the book rows back from the possible worry last issue raised. There was a chance there that Vaughn would be seen as either aloof or sexually promiscuous as a result of the virus. In reality, she’s neither of the sort; a grounded, sensible cop who’s concerned not only for her partner but for someone starting down the road she’s been navigating for a while.
Conversely, having Foster come apart leads to a moment of real ambiguity and menace. He arrives for work with his hands wrapped and, later, we see that he’s totalled most of the house. His wife apparently left but, given how off balance Foster is, the book doesn’t shy away from him being a real threat to her. It’s a subtly done move and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in later issues.
In fact, everything set up here promises much for the future of the book. The conspiracy is made overt and, apparently, takes action this issue and Foster and Vaughn are systematically excised from their support networks. There’s a sense of things getting away from them, an urgency that suggests big changes are coming very soon. It’s communicated not just in the script but in Haun’s clever, character-centric art and the space the panel layouts give it. This is a book unafraid to breathe and shift pace and that, once again, will put you in mind of Bendis, specifically on the Daredevil run he did with Alex Maleev. There’s the same grounded sensibility, a similar colour scheme from the excellent Rauch and the same snese of creeping urban menace. That versatility of tone is embodied in Fonografik’s elegant, functional lettering too.
This is a clever, sinister book that’s only just getting started. Pick it up, and get in on the ground floor of the oddest, and best, crime series of 2015.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: D4ve, Dave Hedgecock, IDW, Ryan Ferrier, Valentin Ramon
Art & Colours by Valentin Ramon
Edited by Dave Hedgecock
Published by IDW
Previously, in D4VE! D4ve totally turned his life around and defended the 34rth from Aliens who were trying to completely kill it to death! Everything’s sweet now! D4ve’s a general and his son worships him and
Not so much.
Ferrier and Ramon’s first series was immense fun and this is the best possible follow up to it. In fact, it solidifies the very clever thing the original series did. Where that was a story about D4ve getting his groove back, this looks set to explore D4ve’s world and the chilling contradiction at its heart.
That contradiction runs at two levels. The first and most obvious is that D4ve’s still a screwup. There’s a female officer he likes, and who likes him, that he can’t talk to. His son still thinks he’s an idiot. His ex-wife still thinks he’s worthless (but maybe not as much…) and the one problem with winning is…there’s nothing to do.
That ties into the second contradiction; that D4ve and his entire culture is impersonating what came before. The cheerfully relentless, stream of consciousness profanity is a function of that as are the elements of D4ve’s life. He has a job because the humans had a job. There’s a President because the humans had a president. The world the robots took over is still a human world, it’s just one with different residents. It’s a really smart idea, equal parts horrifying, funny and sad and this second series looks set to tackle it head on.
That level of intelligence present throughout the book, from the first splash page to the last. Those two images are the standouts, and bookend the issue, but Ramon’s work is never less than excellent. The characters are all imbued with real humanity, which is no small feat, and the moments of emotional subtlety hit all the harder because Ramon and Ferrier are so good at what they do. Clever, cheerfully profane and far deeper than you might think, this is a welcome return for a great series. D4ve may not be having much fun, but trust me you will.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: 1890, 1940, 2014, 2050, Bodies, DC Vertigo, Dean Ormston, Dezi Sienty, Lee Loughridge, Meghan Hetrick, Phil Winslade, Sal Cipriano, Si Spencers, Taylor Esposito, Tom Napolitano, Tula Lotay
Art by Dean Ormston (1890), Phil Winslade (1940), Meghan Hetrick (2014), Tula Lotay (2050)
Colours by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Dezi Sienty, Taylor Esposito, Sal Cipriano, Tom Napolitano
Published by DC
In 1890, Inspector Edmond Hillinghead is London’s best, and loneliest detective. A phenomenal, and phenomenally principled officer his work is held back by one thing; his struggle to conceal his homosexuality from his colleagues and society. If he fails, he loses everything. If he succeeds, he denies who he is.
Until the body.
In 1940, Charles Whiteman is a respected police officer and a feared mobster. Whiteman wants nothing more than to make his money out of sight of the authorities and has no problem using the war any way he can.
Until the body.
In 2014, DS Shahara Hasan struggles to work out what mask to wear first; dutiful Muslim or cheerfully violent police officer. Hasan’s a good detective but her struggle for acceptance, and her rage at the bigots taking over her country, is throwing off her focus.
Until the body.
In 2050, Maplewood is a detective cast adrift in a city, a world that’s forgotten everything. The pulse wave, a technological weapon, has broken everyone’s short term memories and now Maplewood has a good day if she can remember the right words for things.
Until she sees the body. The same body as Hillinghead finds in 1890, Whiteman uses in 1940 and Hasan discovers in 2014. One murder, four time periods, four detectives and one question tie the whole book together;
Every now and then you stumble across a story that means a tremendous amount to you. It’s not just the motifs, or the subject matter, but the journey you take through the story that does it and as a result, you find yourself in a tough spot. Because when you love stories like this, you want more people to read them. But you can’t tell them what they’ll love because the whole point is the journey.
You in this instance is me, by the way. And this is a difficult review to write but here we go.
At its heart, Bodies is a detective story about detective stories. There are echoes of everyone you’d expected here; Hillinghead is a Sherlock-esque figure, Whiteman has echoes of Harry Lime and Bernie Gunther, Hasan feels like the lead of the best BBC cop show never made and Maplewood is, well…Maplewood. Each one is looking for the same thing, knowledge of both their case and their world. Each one finds it through being confronted not just by who they are but how they’re seen. Hillinghead comes face to face with the bigotry of the society he defends, Whiteman looks his true nature in the eyes, Hasan is shown what others see her as and Maplewood gains absolute knowledge at the expense of peace. It’s a brave, complex way of telling stories and it’s one that Spencer does with incredible confidence and subtlety. The four stories all happen in the same place at different times and echo around one another. London rings with stories and this story, this death, is one the city feels for decades. Why, and how, is what you learn and it’s absolutely worth the journey.
Especially as each artist nails the time period they’re given and helps the story build in a way that’s almost musical. Lotay’s elegant, subtle line work on Maplewood’s story is especially great, as is the heat drenched palate that Loughridge gives it. Winslade’s nervy, clenched style brings the always tense Whiteman to life with tight energy and Ormston’s scratchy, almost pained lines encode the tension in Hillinghead’s life into every page. But it’s Hetrick, and Hasan, who you remember. The contemporary story is illustrated with an open, honest style that cleverly renders it timeless. In doing so, it acts as an artistic anchor for the book, a story where the reader can catch their breath before diving back into the increasingly surreal other narratives. It also subtly puts us in the same place as the detectives; flooded with information. Trying to find a pattern.
They find it and so do you. What’s amazing is how coherent it feels, thanks to the extraordinary work of the letterers and the colour choices of Lee Loughridge, as well as the artists. Each story has its own identity but each story is tied to the central, impossible, corpse and the consequences of its existence. As the book goes on, the four bleed together to create something which is as extraordinary as it is grounded. A truly unique story and one that in the end is horrific, hopeful and profound. One of my books of the year. Pick it up, solve the mystery and find out why.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Adam Murphy, Corpse Talk, Lisa Murphy, Season 2, The Phoenix
Colours by Lisa Murphy
Published by Fickling and The Phoenix
You know how fun and educational are two words that don’t tend to go together? Yeah? Adam and Lisa Murphy defy that. Not only defies it but proves that the two can actually go hand in hand with this just phenomenal comic.
Here’s the idea; Adam runs a chat show. The guests are famous people from history who talk about their lives and deaths. It all unfolds across two page spreads and manages to be information heavy, very funny and lovely to look at too.
A big part of that is just how well researched, and clever, the series is. One of the standouts here is the entry on Pocahontas precisely because of that. Adam contrasts the Disney movie with the reality in a way that’s funny, pokes fun at Disney but doesn’t insult fans of the movie. Likewise, the Guy Fawkes interview is great, not only because of the extra nuggets of information but for how much time Adam spends mocking Fawkes for being a completely rubbish anarchist.
There’s huge personality here, and it’s enthusiastic, funny and above all else, kind. This reads like listening to a genuinely great history teacher. You laugh and you learn at the same time, with Adam’s art and script, and Lisa Murphy’s exuberant and smart colours, tying it all together beautifully. The double page spreads that expand on some stories are especially great, with Lisa’s colours really helping build a sense of place and time.
This is a wonderful book that fizzes with joy at knowledge, learning and how much fun both can be. Plus it’s really, really funny. Grab it, and season 1, now. And then go subscribe to The Phoenix because, amazingly, it really is all this great.