Travelling Man's Blog


Review: Codename Baboushka Issue 2 by Travelling Man

baboushka issue 2Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Shari Chankhamma

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Image

£2.85

Haven’t read the first issue? You should! Here’s my review telling you why! 

 

The good news is that Baboushka is undercover on the Asian Paradise. The better news is that she’s one step closer to completing the op. The best news is Seamus Stirling is on board too.

The bad news is, so are a group of organized, disciplined pirates. Men who seem to know exactly what they’ve hijacked…

The second issue of this fantastic new action series kicks things into high gear two different ways. The action steps in pace and scale as Annika and Seamus find themselves remarkably unwilling hostages and that’s where Chankhamma’s work shines. Her character detailing is always great but this issue lets her cut loose with some glorious, flowing action that builds on last issue’s fight in a very clever way. Annika doesn’t just fight well, she’s smart and mean too. She uses people’s preconceptions about her against them, compensates for lack of mass with brutal efficiency and does everything right. The fight is only a small part of the issue but even so it’s used to build character. Better still, it emphasizes just how dangerous she is and just how few people know it. Plus, as the ending shows, all the training in the world doesn’t compensate for simple bad luck.

With Chankhamma’s brilliant art kicking the action up a gear, Johnston’s script does the same thing for the world. Seamus is a very welcome addition to the cast here, a suave, funny man who has clearly done very bad things and is, if not Annika’s equal, then is certainly a favourite sparring partner. Likewise, the cabal of criminal organizations Annika talks her way into not only progresses the plot but gives us an idea of the larger, shadowy world now part of. A world that, judging by this issue, is under serious threat.

Rounded out, as ever, by Bowland’s effortlessly smart lettering this is a highly impressive second chapter for one of the best action books on the market. Buy it, and find out just what Annika’s got planned. Or at least, what she says she has…



Review: Codename Baboushka Issue 1 by Travelling Man
November 14, 2015, 9:00 am
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

baboushkaWritten by Antony Johnston

Art by Shari Chankhamma

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Image

£2.85

 

Countess Annika Malikova is Russian money embodied. She’s young, beautiful, rich, rarely out of the papers. She’s also, quietly, the most dangerous person in any room she’s in. And now, someone has noticed…

Johnston is one of the best comic creators of his generation. Start with this and The Fuse, the space police procedural he co-created with Justin Greenwood that they and Chankhamma produce and make your way through everything with his name on it, he’s that good.

You can see why here too. The script is as pared down and highly skilled as the book’s lead. No panel is wasted, no beat makes it on the page without earning its slot. Even better, the potential cheesecake element of a series like this is acknowledged, sidestepped and put flat on its back by a gloriously simple piece of narrative Aikido. You’ll know it when you see it.

Plus it’s FUN. Annika and Gyorgy, her minder/muscle/father figure are a charming double act and for all their training, Johnston and Chankhamma make you worry for them. Annika is a highly skilled assassin but she’s also a little rusty and only as good as the half second edge her training gives her. This issue takes that half second and rides it all the way through a highly creative, white knuckle action sequence that only serves as the warm up bout for the main event. It’s taught, smart action comics and it looks amazing.

Because make no mistake, Chankhamma is going to make waves here. Her art has the same sort of clean lines as Paul Duffield’s but, like its heroine, is very light on its feet. The book is graceful, fight scenes flowing with kinetic ease and character beats laid out with a cinematic eye and precision of touch that shows both creators at the top of their game. It’s a beautiful, brutal book and Bowland’s lettering ties everything together with the consummate ease his work is known for.

Tough, graceful, clever storytelling that’s always got an exit strategy, Codename Baboushka is great work from great creators. Find it, and see professionals at work, on the page and behind it.



The Fuse: Year One by Travelling Man

fuse 1

 

 

 

fuse 2

 

Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Justin Greenwood

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Letters by Ryan Ferrier

Published by Image

Volume 1: The Russia Shift-£7.50

Volume 2: Gridlock-£10.99

 

22,000 miles above the Earth, lies The Fuse, a colossal power station. In the middle of The Fuse is Midway City. Midway is five miles long and crammed with half a million people. Some work on The Fuse, some work to help those that do and some won’t, or can’t, be on Earth.

Klem Ristovych and Ralph Dietrich work MCPD Homicide. In fact, along with their commander, they’re an entire shift. Dietrich is brand new, a volunteer transfer from Earth. Klem is older than the station itself. They catch their first case before they’ve been formally introduced. Welcome to The Russia Shift.

Johnston and Greenwood’s series is one of the highlights of Image’s lineup right now and it’s easy to see why when you read it in bulk like this. The series feels like it’s arrived fully formed, with you and Ralph both showing up at the same time. As a result you learn the Fuse the same way he does, through the eyes and ears of Klem. It’s a simple, elegant technique but it locks reader empathy into the character from the start.

It helps that Johnston’s character work is brilliant. Klem is a gloriously laconic leading woman; Bea Arthur with a carry licence and powers of arrest. She’s never overpowering either, always the driving force of a scene but never the only thing in it. Volume 1 in particular does excellent work with her, establishing her connection to the Fuse and throwing some nice meaty family complications out for future stories to chew on.

Dietrich is deceptively simple in comparison and the pair spark off each other delightfully. Dietrich is serious, straight-laced and young. Klem is Klem. The odd couple pairing works from page one and some of the book’s best sequences are the two detectives firing ideas off each other. Johnston writes clever people thinking hard like few other people on the planet and the deductive reasoning here is a joy. Plus it leads to the wonderful chase sequence that closes volume 2.

That brings us neatly to the third star of the show; the Fuse. Johnston’s scripts are wonderfully chewy, complex detective stories that could only work in an environment like this. The Russia Shift takes Klem and Dietrich from the Cabler communities who live in the station’s walls to the highest levels of government and residence. In doing so it not only completes the tour of the station but gives us an idea of all the problems it has. Midway is a city that’s accreted as much as built and that means corruption is baked into its structure. How that plays out, and the human cost of it, is at the heart of the first volume. It plays like The Wire in low-Earth orbit, all difficult choices and hard won partial victories. It’s also one of the best pilot episodes you’ll ever read.

Gridlock takes everything the first volume does and builds on it. The illegal, magnetic racing that goes on across the Fuse’s vast solar arrays is at the heart of the story but again there’s more there. It touches on the difficult relationship between Midway and the company that owns the Fuse, the perils of celebrity and the constant battle the police have to choose what scale of victory they go for. It’s a tough, complex story which demands and rewards attention. It also features one beat which made my day, as it’s revealed that one character isn’t as clever as they think they are and another is far smarter than you’d dared hope.

Both stories are hugely impressive and that’s down to the fusion between script and art. Greenwood co-created the series with Johnston and his visual style defines everything we see. The pale, slightly drawn Klem and the buttoned down Dietrich anchor the entire series but every other character feels just as real and lived in. B, the endlessly cheerful pathologist is a particular favourite but it’s Gridlock where Greenwood really gets to cut loose. The races, the shantytown where some of the action takes place and the finale are all brilliant pieces of graphic storytelling and none feel insubstantial. Greenwood’s scratchy, expressive style coupled with Chankhamma’s excellent, naturalistic colour choices make the Fuse seem like a real, dangerous place. Ferrier’s lettering seals the deal, giving you vast amounts of information with pace and unforced ease.

 

The Fuse is an endlessly fun, confident, smart piece of crime fiction. Johnston, Greenwood, Chankhamma and Ferrier have created one of the first definitive pieces of comic crime fiction in the 21st century. A must read for crime and SF fans.



Review: The Fuse Issue 12 by Travelling Man

Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Justin Greenwood

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Letters by Ryan Ferrier

Published by Image

Ristovych and Dietrich are detectives on The Fuse, a colossal orbital city high above Earth. Their most recent case involves drugs, a staged suicide and the world’s hottest new racing league. It looks closed but nothing’s easy on The Fuse. Which is why Ristovych decides to get creative…

Welcome to one of the best straight up SF books being published today. Johnston’s a writer physically incapable of turning in bad work and The Fuse, rounding the corner on its first year in orbit, can be counted amongst his very best work. The basic dynamic is bulletproof; Klem Ristovych is an old veteran both of the Police and the Fuse. ‘Marlene’ Dietrich is a new, volunteer, officer whose keenness for working high orbit is matched only by his creative efficiency and Klem’s growing distrust of his motives. The cases they work are a hybrid of familiar stories and things that could only happen on The Fuse.

The police procedural side of things is rock solid, following the apparent accidental death of a member of station personnel and the political fallout out from it. Johnston has a clear love of this kind of story, laying each beat out in a way that’s as engrossing as it is methodical. Ristovych and Dietrich may work in space but they still need to follow chain of evidence, keep their noses clean politically and ensure the right person gets locked up. Seeing the creative ways they do that, and the different ways they adapt to their environment is one of the best aspects of the story. Ristovych is a lifer, a woman who knows everyone and has seen everything. Dietrich is brilliant, tremendously enjoys punishing bad people but is untested and that leads to a rash decision here that reminds you, and him, of how dangerous his new environment is. Although, as this issue shows, Dietrich has far more of an idea of what’s going on, and an agenda, than he’s let Ristovych see. So far…

A plot and background this rich needs a solid visual identity and that’s exactly what it gets here. Ferrier, one of the best letterers in the game, throws dialogue around with what seems like maniacal energy but is actually carefully focused pacing. Chankhamma’s colours also impress, combining the by turns grimy and clinical environments of The Fuse’s decks with the stark blacks and blues of space. Greenwood’s character-driven, burly art also never fails to impress and the closing chase scene here is a highlight of the series so far. Everything feels lived in, and real, from the station to the difficult choices the cops make.

 

Endlessly fun, clever and inventive, The Fuse is one of the best series on the market right now. And, based on this issue, it’s just getting started. Essential stuff.

 



Review: Bitch Planet Issue 4 by Travelling Man

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art and coves by Valentine DeLandro

Colours by Cris Peters

Letters by Clayton Cowles

Cover Design & Logo Design by Rian Hughes

Backmatter Design by Lauren McCubbin

Edited by Lauren Sankovitch

Published by Image

£2.50

 

Kamau and the rest of the intake have settled in on Bitch Planet. That doesn’t mean they’re comfortable or safe, and this issue Kamau begins putting together her Megaton team and discovering just how little freedom she and the other inmates have.

One of the things that defines Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work is honesty, not just in the script but in the process. It’s been fascinating to see the obsession with process in comics creation, born through the newfound transparency of the internet in the mid-1990s evolve into a surprising, often profound, willingness to engage with the audience. There’s a generation of creators who came up around then; DeConnick, husband Matt Fraction, the brilliant Antony Johnston and more who have made a virtue not just of excellent work but of talking about the process behind it. Johnston’s writer’s notes on the criminally overlooked and much missed Umbral are a great example of this. DeConnick’s essay here is another.

The entire issue revolves around a shower scene, one so ubiquitous in the female prison movie sub-genre that it’s even titled ‘The Obligatory Shower Scene’. It’s here that Kamau finds out the truth; the Megaton team she’s been asked to put together are a sham. She’s being used to find the toughest, smartest inmates in the prison so they can be murdered during the game. Ratings will soar, every potential ringleader will die and the spirit of the prisoners left will break. She’s told this in a quiet, back section of the showers, where there are no cameras. But, as she’s told, the women aren’t unobserved. In return for letting a guard watch them shower and have sex, they get to talk about whatever they want. It’s not freedom, just a slightly larger cage.

So who’s in charge? The inmates because they’ve found a spot where they can be if not free then less contained? The guards who let them have that space? The peeping tom who’s watching them? The women who know he’s there and in knowing that, let him watch? There’s a constant, just this side of frantic, struggle for control here. It underpins the entire book in fact, with another scene giving us the first real breakdown on just how brutal Megaton is as a sport. But it’s the shower scene that brackets the book, the shower scene that stays with you and the shower scene that DeConnick talks about in the backmatter. The scene took three passes, it delayed the book and they did it anyway. That willingness to get something this important right is one of the reasons this is an extraordinary comic. This isn’t a comic showing up late because no one was doing the work, it’s a comic showing up late because as DeConnick puts it, ‘we need the extra time to get it right’.

That’s not only admirable it maps onto the idea of Non-Compliance. The need, and fight, to be yourself is what lies at the heart of a lot of this series and it’s how the shower scene is concluded. Kamau can’t wear the fake freedom they have so she doesn’t. She also can’t let the guard who’s watching them off the hook so she doesn’t. She finds a way to fight back, protect her team and give herself an edge in the ongoing war. It’s a tough, hard fought payoff that raises the stakes in the book once again and sets up the next phase. It also embodies what makes this such a fantastic series; a fierce work ethic, a refusal to compromise and not a single ounce of quit. Brilliant, complex, tough and essential.



Review: The Fuse Volume 1: The Russia Shift by Travelling Man

Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Justin Greenwood

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Image

£7.50

 

22,000 miles above the Earth someone is dead. The crime scene is Midway City aboard The Fuse, a five mile long space station in Earth orbit. The victim is unknown. The cops investigating it are Ralph Dietrich, fresh in from Earth and Klem Ristovych a woman who’s seen it all. Except this.

Every element of this book appealed to me going in. I’m a sucker for good police procedurals, I love near future SF and I wanted to be a write from the moment I saw the opening episode of Star Cops.

Go youtube it.

Also get off my lawn.

Also, please, I like you people, skip the theme tune.

You’re welcome

Also you’re still on my lawn.

So I went into this book with high expectations. It exceeded them, massively. Johnston has set up a world that feels lived in and thick with history but defiantly alive and exciting. Midway is Baltimore in orbit, a sprawling metropolis of people, violence and accidental cruelty. These streets may be pressurised but they’re still mean and mean in very human ways. The crime at the centre of this first story is logical, nasty and driven by a combination of emotion and simple human nature. It’s a tragedy wrapped in a puzzle and seeing Dietrich and Klem unravel it is a pleasure.

Greenwood’s art is a big part of that and his character design is exemplary. Dietrich is a precision-sculpted cop with a little too much enthusiasm and Klem steals every panel she’s in, a white-haired, white faced old lady with zero patience, a wicked sense of humour and a death stare like no other. The scenes where they’re spitballing the cases are especially fun as is a repeated sequence between Kem and another character I won’t spoil.

Midway is just as much a character as the cops, and Chankhamma’s remarkable colour work does an excellent job of showing how different the various areas are. You get a great idea of the sheer scale of the place too, and in turn that shows just how good a job Brisson does on lettering. This is a vast station and a case with vast density of information and it’s all not only on the page but very easy to find your way around.

So, let’s talk about them for a moment. It’s easy to create a double act that’s entertaining. It’s very difficult to create a double act that’s fun. Klem and ‘Marlene’ are really fun. The friction between them is both realistic and often very funny and the different things they bring to the investigation are cleverly explored. Klem’s history on station is both a vital part of the story and I suspect the future of the book whilst Dietrich’s fresh eyes and enthusiasm are a politely subversive influence on her. They’re also, possibly, a mask for an agenda all his own but as of this story that doesn’t matter. What does is that this is a brilliantly designed and execute murder mystery with a couple of immensely entertaining leading characters.   One of the best books of the year and my new favourite cop show.



Review: Umbral Volume 1 by Travelling Man

 

Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Christopher Mitten

Colours by John Rauch

Letters by Thomas Mauer

Published by Image

£7.50

 

Rascal has the perfect plan; use the eclipse everyone will be paying attention to as a distraction, sneak into the Red Palace, steal the Oculus, be rich. She even has an inside man, the son of the King and Queen.

There is one small problem. The world’s ending. And Rascal seems to be the only person who’s noticed…

I used to say I don’t really get on with epic fantasy. I don’t anymore, because in the space of a year three things have turned me round on it; the novels of Patrick Rothfuss, the increasingly impossible to not get caught up in Game of Thrones and this comic. All three have the same basic principle of an extremely detailed, richly configured world but of the three? This one is far and away the most accessible.

That’s largely because this is the most light on its feet fantasy story you’ll read this year. Johnston’s always had great comic timing and that’s definitely on show here. Rascal moves fast, talks faster and reacts exactly how you would in her situation; panic, swearing, occasional punches. She’s an instantly likable lead and, coupled with the series’ chilling bad guy, the Umbrith, that means you’re invested in the book by about page 3.

Plus Johnston pulls zero punches. This is a nasty book where bad things happen and he never short changes the emotional consequences of that. By the end of this volume Rascal has collected a ragtag group of allies and absolutely none of them are safe. The creeping paranoia of the book, the fact that the bad guys have already won, is terrifying and marks this out as a very different kind of fantasy. There are elements of conspiracy thrillers to it, a light seasoning of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and some wonderful, subtle world building.

Mitten’s side of things is just as great. This is a pleasingly lived in world, combining the scale and spectacle the genre demands with some really nice, earthy touches. The Endless Ladders are a particular favourite and the world itself is configured a little like UK fantasy fiction wrapped around a gooey European centre. The sense of scale and cold history is very European and Mitten gives every one of those moments room to breathe. Rauch’s colour scheme really helps here in particular, subtly keying you in to this being a different world but never drowning the details. Mauer’s letters are clean and precise and there’s a really smart trick used here that I’ll be really interested to see play out as the book goes on.

Start to finish this is the most fun fantasy I’ve read this year. Brutal, smart and frantic it hits the ground running and steals your purse as it runs by. Go chase it.




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