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: Black Magick Issue 1 by Travelling Man

black magick 1Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Nicola Scott

Colour Assists by Chiara Arena

Letters by Jodi Wynne

Book and Logo Design by Eric Trautmann

Published by Image

£2.85

 

It’s not easy to be surprised these days, especially with fiction. We live in such a hyper-aware time, where context and research are just a tap of a piece of internet away, that we go into most stuff pre-warned. It’s good, in a lot of ways. It means we can understand the roots of a story and through that the story itself.

I do miss being surprised sometimes though. Which is why I liked Black Magick so much. Because, in the space of an issue, it managed to surprise me twice.

And no, I’m not telling you how. Where would the fun be in that?

Instead I’ll tell you this. Rucka’s script doesn’t so much open in media res as in media average week night. Detective Rowan Black, the lead, is a smart, driven homicide detective for Portsmouth PD who gets a call she was not expecting. A hostage situation where she’s been requested by name. As Rowan digs deeper, she, and we, begin to realize the truth. That Portsmouth is a very old town with very old ideas and some of them have decided to crawl out into the light.

Rucka combines police procedural and horror in a way so logical it feels like chocolate and peanut butter. Rowan’s life is like ours; packed, complex, compartmentalized. The only difference is she’s not safe in any of those compartments and as the issue closes she realizes that. It’s crucial as well to point out that Rowan is never a victim here either. She’s a very smart, skilled, competent police officer who finds herself in a situation she was not expecting. The series, in the short term, looks to explore what she does. In the long term, it’s going to explore why she has to do it. I’ll be on board for both.

Especially as the art here is phenomenal. Seriously, if you have issues with black and white then get this issue with black and white art and get over them. Scott’s work is staggeringly great, detail heavy but always light of touch and crammed full of atmosphere. The first page alone will sell you on the book. Huge, forbidding pines; moonlight, a lone hooded figure. But there’s so much more here, all of it grounded and real and all the more horrifying for it. Scott and the great colour assist from Arena will be in the running for awards here and deservedly so. Likewise Wynne’s lettering is subtle, clever and communicates as much information as every other element of the book, just with even more subtlety.

This is one of the best first issues you’ll read this year. Endlessly clever, endlessly confident and an absolute must read.

 



The Wicked and The Divine Vol 1 & 2 by Travelling Man

The Wicked and the Divine is a graphic novel of a new, wonderful breed that is thankfully receiving its dues in the world of comics right now. These include Saga, Sex Criminals, Rat Queens and many more, but what they all have in common is this fantastic ability to get right to the heart of a very strange scenario, quickly. They all have a mythology of one form of another, a language through which the story is told, and for The Wicked and The Divine McKelvie and Gillen have picked a classic idea – rockstars as gods, or gods as rockstars – and made it completely their own.
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For those who haven’t read any yet, the premise is a simple one. Every ninety years, twelve gods and goddesses, known as The Pantheon, are reincarnated in ordinary people. They become the idols of that time – it just so happens that this time around, pop and rock stars are the closest thing we have to gods among us.

When they perform it’s like a spiritual experience, complete with fans – worshippers – fainting in the crowd. But the price of being famous and being loved is that they have only two years to live. As you can imagine, this is quite difficult for the teenagers in question – especially the youngest, Minerva, who knows she’s going to die before she turns fourteen.

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Every page is beautiful, and carefully thought out. The space is used artfully, with entire pages devoted to portraying blackest depths. Form and frame are shifted to create an effect that draws your eye across the page, making it impossible to put down, and the way it can illicit feelings, moods and experiences is truly masterful. One rave scene in the second trade paperback is particularly evocative; a calculated assembly of lights, colours, and variation in form that TV and film couldn’t even begin to emulate.

In the trade paperbacks The Faust Act and Fandemonium, chapters are interspersed with portrait images of the gods we meet. All of the characters are so carefully thought out that you can tell a huge amount about their personalities just by seeing these portraits, so exquisitely crafted by McKelvie. An important shout-out also goes to Matthew Wilson for the sumptuous colouring, and Clayton Cowles for the lettering which has all the inventiveness of The Sandman in its assigning of fonts to a character. In short, it looks incredible.

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But it isn’t just a pretty face. The amount of effort that must have gone into creating the mythology and back story, the choices of Gods from various religions and the anachronistic nature of true belief in the twenty-first century all show how perfectly sculpted these books are. The telling of the story flows naturally in the voice of our seventeen year old protagonist, as she bears witness to the Recurrence and becomes haplessly involved in it.

In fact, all of the voices sound authentic, even coming as they do from such a diverse cast of characters, but especially from Laura. Gillen manages to capture the fiery defiance of a teenager, complete with the new and exciting stresses that have come with the social media age, without being at all patronising. Laura’s flawed, to the point where you want to grab her by the arms and shake her out of her misguided fantasies, but as an audience we can understand her desire to be as special as the Gods she admires.

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I hesitate to say much because there is so much joy to be had from reading The Wicked and The Divine. The story takes such unexpected turns that by the time you’ve finished reading you realise you can’t go any longer without knowing what horrible, magical thing is going to happen next! So far the first two volumes have been released in Image’s wonderful little volumes, and while it’s killing me not to talk about the huge cliffhanger that the second left on, it’s well worth discovering for yourself.

So please do, then we can get excited about it together!

Read more of my enthusiastic rantings at www.jennymugridge.com



Review: The Mantle Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written and lettered by Ed Brisson

Art and Cover by A by Brian Level

Colours by Jordan Boyd

Cover B by Phil Hester

Published by Image

£2.85

 

Robbie and Jen are having a bad night. The band sucks, Robbie’s just taken some mushrooms which aren’t doing a damn thing, it’s starting to rain and Robbie’s being chased by lightning.

Check that, it’s a really bad night.

This is a very difficult comic to talk about for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that Ed Brisson is a steely eyed plot wizard who knows what he’s doing and doesn’t do a single thing without a reason. To tell you anymore would be to try and peek at his cards and trust me this is something you want to come to cold.

Secondly, Brisson’s brave enough to make his two leads really unlikeable for a good chunk of the issue. It’s not that they’re actively evil or anything, it’s just that they’re well…twentysomething assholes all too aware of both their twentysomethingness and their inherent assholeness. Neither are bad people but neither are really going anyway, which is why Robbie being chosen to be The Mantle hits them both so hard. They’re contentedly discontent with their lives until all of a sudden they have no choice but to accept the change they pretended to want is definitely here. Even then, the three heroes who tell him about his inheritance; Kabrah, Necra and Shadow, aren’t exactly pleasant. They’re spiky, preoccupied and treat Robbie with the same disdain he’s treated the rest of the world with. It all peaks in a moment which is soaring, heroic and explains something utterly chilling;

They’ve all done this before. Many, many times.

This is the ‘heroic responsibility’ trope that defines Green Lantern in particular coupled with the bloody knuckled desperation of Invincible.  Robbie is in so much trouble from the moment he’s chosen, not because he isn’t worthy but because no one may be worthy enough. In that one twist, Brisson redeems his entire cast and sets the book on a course halfway between postmodern ‘90s grim and soaring Silver Age heroics. It’s unique and gripping and absolutely worth your time. Just push through that first half issue.

A script this smart and nuanced needs art that’s its equal and that’s exactly what it gets. Level and Boyd give the book a grounded, realistic palate that makes the more fantastic elements of the book, especially characters like Kabrah and The Plague really stand out. Level’s art is, sensibly, character driven but is absolutely up to the action sequences too and The Plague’s first appearance is especially chilling. Together with the script, they combine to create a first issue that’s confident, surprising and worthy of your time, even if Robbie might not be worthy of The Mantle…



Review: Nonplayer Issues 1 and 2 by Travelling Man

Written and drawn by Nate Simpson

£2.20

 

The Queen of the South Realms is dead, slain by a brave, ultimately foolish pair of assassins.

Except the Queen of the South Realms isn’t real.

But if that’s the case, then why does the King want the assassins found and killed?

 

You can’t talk about this without talking about its extraordinary art. Simpson’s style evokes Moebius, Frank Quitely and Masamune Shirow to create a series which is full of incredible intricate detail. The opening attack on the Queen’s convoy is pure Final Fantasy, while a later guided tour to the world of Jarvath plays out a little like early Jonathan Hickman. There’s constant style changes in the art, constant focus on different characters and places and not a single page that isn’t beautiful.

The script matches the art’s ambition. Dana, the book’s lead is a tamale delivery girl who is also a high ranking assassin in Warriors of Jarvath, the world’s largest online game. A nation state of gamers, Jarvath is renowned for its incredible size and intricacy, right down to NPCs who almost seem alive…

The script shifts between Dana, a pair of police officers chasing what may be a feral AI, the CEO of Lands Unlimited, Jeph Homer and Jarvath itself. Across these two issues, Simpson’s laying out a huge story that takes in AI, what sentience really means, online gamer culture and a world that seems to be post a very untidy, dangerous singularity. He’s got a great ear for dialog, an incredible eye for spectacle and the entire book feels like a first trip to Jarvath; intoxicating, in depth and with so much more still to come. The one bum note here is a reveal that comes towards the end of issue 2. I won’t reveal it, because it’s a spoiler, but one character seems to be an absolutely off the peg stereotype. It’s a real shame as everyone else is nuanced and different, and I’m hopeful that as the series progresses we’ll see something to him other than what seems, now, to be the sole piece of lazy writing in the book.

That aside this is stunningly beautiful and extremely successful storytelling. If you’ve ever played an MMO, you’ll find something familiar here. Beautiful, often very clever and with so much more to come.



Review: Material Issue 1 by Travelling Man


Written by Ales Kot

Illustrated by Will Tempest

Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Designed by Tom Muller

Published by Image

£2.50

 

At MIT, a professor lectures about the threats machine pose to culture and human interaction and then has a very surprising conversation. In LA, Nylon Dahlias, an actress with twin drug and career problems, finds herself a job with up and coming director Sailor Rosenfield. In Oklahoma City, a man wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay finds the after-effects of his torture linger while in Chicago, a young black man wakes up in the Homan Square Chicago PD illegal detention centre and realizes he’s in serious trouble.

Ales Kot is one of the best writers working today and the structure of this book shows why. Arranged in rigid, but strangely mobile, nine panel grids the book lays out these four vastly disparate narratives with equal care and attention. Likewise, Tempest’s art is unflinching and detailed with an eye to the unique normalcies that define us. The crumpled shirt of the Chicago PD interrogator, the careful, absent stare of the former detainee and the look on the professor’s face when his new ‘friend’ tells a truly magnificent joke are all high points here and all communicated through Tempest’s art. The script parks the ‘camera’ straight on a lot, pointing right at these people and Tempest and Kot use that to draw us in. When the Professor is talking on skype, he’s looking at us. When Nylon and Sailor are pitching the film we’re alternately them and the studio execs. When the Chicago teenager is being interrogated, we’re him, or his interrogator. We’re never comfortable, but the book always is, staring straight at us and using colour and posture and language to tell these four harmonized but not quite linked yet stories.

The architecture of this thing fascinates me. As well as the nine panel grid and the four narratives almost every page has built in extra information. Quotes run along the bottom of some pages while the names of those killed by the US police in recent months run along the bottom of the Chicago scenes. Most tellingly, the detainee’s page have no extra information, his internal monolog and external thought processes smashed flat by his trauma. It’s a brilliant, simple idea, halfway between a built in wiki and a writer’s commentary.

Cowles’ lettering is always good but here it’s vital, the different timbres and voices all coming through loud and clear. If the book’s pages are designed to convey information the lettering is the carrier for emotion and it’s hugely effective. The image of the Chicago interrogator growling ‘LOOK AT ME’ as his prisoner, and we, look away is chillingly effective precisely because of the forceful ‘tone of voice’. It’s a book crammed with small clever moments like that and hugely effective design work from Tom Muller.

Material is the best book I’ve read this month. It’s extremely clever, incredibly well designed and built and tells you a dozen different things at once. I have no idea where it’s going. I do know I’ll be following it there.



Review: Injection Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Declan Shalvey

Colours by Jordie Bellaire

Lettering & Design by Fonografiks

Published by Image

£2.20

The Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit are geniuses. They may also have made the largest mistake in human history. A mistake that landed Professor Maria Kilbride in an asylum, colleague Robin Norell on a pilgrimage of sorts to England’s oldest road and Bridgid Roth to a small telecommunications heavy house on the outskirts of Dublin.

They don’t talk about what they did.

But the consequences of it are finding them anyway.

Meet the best opening issue I’ve seen so far this year. Ellis’ profound love for the rarities and unusual corners of British folklore and history has extruded itself into something that plays like a police procedural crossed with Knights of Pendragon and Edge of Darkness. This is the England of the stories I grew up with; full of the mad and altered and the increasingly desperate people who try and protect, or defend, both them and us. We get just enough here to know what’s going on; the ‘five people solve stuff’ model simultaneously evoking everything from Planetary to Luther with a light touch of Primeval for good measure. Ellis’ writing is focused and tight and he uses the two time periods to show just how damaged Maria has been by whatever they did. The Unit changed the world, and none of them, aside from the one in an asylum, can look that in the eyes. Yet.

The two time periods also allow Shalvey and Bellaire to drop in some seriously impressive character grace notes. Maria shifting from haggard patient to Elijah Snow-esque academic is especially nicely handled but it’s the transformation of Robin Morel that really hits home. The shaggy, be-jumpered rambler who gets waylaid on the Ridgway is clearly very powerful, very frightened and not even a little ready to look his past in the face. The fresh-faced, enthusiastic recruit we meet in the flashbacks is mildly annoyed he hasn’t got anything done yet. Connecting the two Robins, and the two Marias, is going to be fascinating reading.

Then there’s the closing, where Bellaire’s cold, English colour palette really comes to life. Something rich and strange is loose in the world and it may be the Unit’s fault. It’s certainly their mess to clean up and while none of them are happy about it, you should be. This is confident, dense, assured comic storytelling that touches on horror, SF, crime and conspiracy and does each of them proud. A cold, bleak piece of 1980s BBC SciFi that fell through a hole in time to here and now. Read it, and find out how the world ends.




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