Filed under: Our favourite things | Tags: Clayton Cowles, Image Comics, Jamie Mckelvie, kieron gillen, Matthew Wilson, The Wicked and The Divine
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Calyton Cowles, Jamie Mckelvie, kieron gillen, Matthew Wilson, Phonogram, The Immaterial Girl
Art by Jamie McKelvie
Colours by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image
When I was 12 we went on holiday to London. It was a bank raid kind of deal; three days, in, culture, food, culture, culture, food out. It changed my life. Not because of the city itself but because of the wider culture it showed me.
I had my own hotel room.
I could stay up past NINE.
THERE WERE STILL THINGS ON PAST NINE.
Many of them music videos.
So I gorged myself on late(ish) night TV and learned just how perfect a well-placed piece of music with a well-designed video can be. I can still remember the songs that worked from that night, they still rattle and hum in the back of my mind.
One of them haunts this comic.
This is the third Phonogram series. It’s also one you could maybe safely read first. Kieron Gillen recommends starting with volume 2, The Singles Club, but there’s enough of a handle for you to jump on here just fine. Music is magic. Phonomancers use music to create magic. It sometimes goes well.
There you go, caught up!
Claire sold half a life. She did this for power and beauty and glory. It’s gone swimmingly for the half that remains. In 2001, now known as Emily, she strides into the middle of a coven in Brighton and changes the world.
In 2009 she’s running a magazine, and the world is resolutely unchanged.
Emily is bored.
And that’s when she’s weakest.
Gillen’s script is a stripped down motor of a thing that folds David, the previous two series’ lead, a supporting cast, a heavily fictionalized look at the life and death of a magazine, Faust and A-Ha into one place. It’s tight, complex stuff that embodies everything that makes him an extraordinary writer; wit, compassion, painfully acute self-awareness and a fondness for characters who dance a little too fast to cover just how terrified they are. Plus, as ever, it’s very funny.
Likewise, McKelvie’s mutant ability to work with huge expansive panels but make them feel intimate and even claustrophobic continues to amaze. His work has always shown a deft eye for character and nuance but here that’s reached a level where it’s so acute it’s almost invisible. The best way to describe it is this;
Have you ever watched a TV show and noticed the film stock? I used to see this a lot on US shows. The colour is a little off, the aspect ratio slightly wacky.
Have you ever watched a TV show and felt instantly at home with how it looks because it looks how your world does? Like the lightings right, the proportions are right, people are convincingly realistic and complex?
That’s what McKelvie does. And with Wilson’s colours, it’s even more impressive. This is a book that plays with the real and the hyper real and as a result, needs a colourist who’s Ginger Rogers by way of Macguyver. That’s Wilson. Likewise Cowles, whose work is never less than impressive, is on top form here. Especially in the scenes that stayed with me, and will do the same with you.
You see, this is a book set on both sides of the TV screen. The glorious, constructed reality of pop videos is reimagined as an eternal three and a half minutes of Hell here. Claire is pursued through iconic videos with relentless brutality and the art team absolutely shine. Camera angles, looks, production values, colour schemes even individual shots are replicated and then curdled. The 1980s music sphere is alive, angry and coming for these characters in elegantly sketched blue line pencil and super saturated Madonna choreography. Its amazing, elegant, scary work and it marks this book out as something truly special. Magic is music. Music is magic. And here, both are angry cultural ghosts refusing to leave the club. Pay attention to them before they pay attention to you.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Adi Granov, Boba Fett, Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, Edgar Delgado, Emperor Palpatine, jabba the hutt, kieron gillen, Marvel, Salvador Larroca, Tagge, VCs Joe Caramagna
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca
Colours by Edgar Delgado
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adi Granov
Published by Marve;
Darth Vader is an icon, a figure who has strode with relentless purpose across decades of Star Wars fiction. We’ve seen his past, seen his end and seen his future as a force ghost (With occasionally interchangeable faces). But there’s one thing we’ve never seen; what happens to him when he fails.
That’s where Gillen comes in and the result is magnificent. This is Vader immediately after the events of Star Wars, and in fact, the events of the first few issues of the Star Wars title Marvel are putting out. He’s on his heels, out of favour with the Emperor and singularly unable to make any headway. He’s still feared, he’s still Vader, but there is competition at the top of the food chain all of a sudden. And that can’t stand.
What follows is a script that does three things, all very well. The first is set up an invincible villain as extremely vincible and yet stays true to everything about him. The second is to give Vader someone to push against in the form of Tagge, one of the only senior Imperial officers not to die aboard the Death Star. The third is to show what happens when the emotions Vader has convinced himself he no longer has bubble to the surface. This is Darth Vader as Bryan Mills from Taken, minimal resources, thinking four steps ahead and completely at home with brutal efficiency. It’s immense, nasty fun from start to finish and the book shows up for work in every single way. Larroca’s art is note perfect, Delgado’s colours match the muted tones of the locations we see from the movies and Caramagna’s lettering is restrained, smart and effective. Wrapped in a cover from the magnificent Granov this is a team of creative at the top of their game. Which, given their subject, is fortunate…Vader’s back, and watching him hack and crush his groove back is going to be a highlight of the year.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Angela, kieron gillen, Marguerite Bennet, Phil Jiminez, Romulo Fajardo, Stephanie Hans, Tom Palmer
Written by Kieron Gillen (Main Story, Substory) and Marguerite Bennet (Substory)
Pencils by Phil Jiminez (Main Story)
Inks by Tom Palmer (Main Story)
Colours by Romulo Fajardo (Main Story)
Art by Stephanie Hans (Substory)
Published by Marvel
The most terrifying warrior in the 10 Realms is out on her own. Angela, Loki and Thor’s lost sister, has a job to do. Whether or not anyone stands in her way is irrelevant.
The first solo outing for Angela since stepping across to the Marvel universe couldn’t be in better hands. Gillen’s instinctive, cellular level love for the Asgardian characters shines through from the start here and the book instantly sets it’s stall out as another entry in Marvel’s narrative heavy Asgardian books. Following on both from Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery and the criminally overlooked Immonen-scripted Sif run that followed it, it feels like the third perspective in a thematic trilogy. Loki’s story explored Asgard from the underbelly, Sif’s from the inside and now with Angela, we see it from the outside. Not so much Three Colours Red as Three Colours Blood Red Oh God She’s Killing Me, if you like.
The action here, especially the sequences handled by Jiminez, is exactly what it needs to be. Angela is almost contemptuously brutal in the way she dispatches people and that effortless violence is very much on display here. Her costume’s still so far beyond ludicrous it defies belief but the action helps with that. She’s so relentless, so effortless that you focus more on the outcome of her actions and less on the fact she’s still dressed like it’s the early 1990s. Plus there’s a fantastic gag about her semi-sentient war ribbons. Jiminez gives the action in particular the combination of fluidity and weight it needs. His character work is excellent too, especially on Angela’s friend Sera. Sera is going to be your favourite character, she’s already mine. Smart, sarcastic, just a little flawed and the dose of normality to Angela’s war ribbony fury, Sera narrates not only the story but the substory. This is also where Bennet and Hans come in and where the book truly takes off. Hans work iis dense with lush colours and constant threat. The script is far more fluid here and the narrator freely and delightfully unreliable. The substory establishes the book’s overall plot, sets up Angela and Sera’s relationship and gives Gillen, Bennett and Hans a chance to cut loose in pages that are as beautiful as they are savage. It’s the beating heart of the book and the chest it’s been ripped out of is still warm.
This is my first experience of reading Angela in the Marvel universe and I had some concerns going in. She’s an artefact of a different time and place and in the wrong hands that would kill the book dead. In the right hands, as it is here, it’s a rousing, bloody success. Angela’s back, get out of the way.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: alan moore, Alasdair Stuart, Alastor, Avatar, Bones, Cherub, Digikore Studios, facundo percio, Gabriel Andrade, Ganesh, German Erramouspe, German Nobile, Glycon, God is Dead, Hernan Cabrera, Ifrit, jonathan hickman, Justin Jordan, Kamadhenu, kieron gillen, Kurt Hathaway, Mike Costa, Pan, Rafael Ortiz, Satan, Simon Spurrier
‘Arts & Letters’
Written by Mike Costa
Art by Rafael Ortiz
Colours by Hernan Cabrera
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Gabriel Andrade
Colours by Digikore Studios
‘Grandeur & Monstrosity’
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Facundo Percio
Colours by Hernan Cabrera
‘The Great God Pan’
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by German Erramouspe
Colours by Digikore Studios
‘Alastor: Hell’s Executioner’
Written by Kieron Gillen
Painted by German Nobile
All letters by Kurt Hathaway
God is Dead is, quietly, becoming one of the most interesting series being printed right now. The initial run, which I reviewed over here, is often flawed but ends in absolutely the last place you’d expect and has a welcome jet black streak of humour to it. It’s a book whose narrative trajectory is closer to US series drama than normal comic paths. It’s still finding its feet and when it does? First Bones Christmas episode time, baby.
(The first Bones Christmas episode is one of the single most perfect hours of TV ever produced and the point where the series absolutely clicks. It’s actually pretty inspiring to watch as well being insanely sweet, featuring one of the best jokes in the show’s history and also being a fantastically good Christmas episode. Go, watch it, be festivized then come back and read this magnificently horrific book.)
This two part anthology takes the series a huge step forwards, by and large, by ignoring the central plot. The idea here is much simpler; the gods have risen, the world is ending and as it does everything is going to get untidy, frantic, surreal and most of all, messy. Armageddon isn’t a full stop or a period, it’s a run on sentence that careens over a cliff, yelling at you as it goes. Done wrong that could make for dull comics. Done right, as it categorically is here, it’s remarkably good fun.
Let’s start with ‘Pitter Patter’, Si SPurrier’s story about just why cherubs are so angry. It’s a glorious parade of creative profanity, mixed with a little smattering of art history and some very nicely executed physical comedy. Spurrier excels at this sort of story and this is him on absolutely top form. The last page in particular is a fantastically dark punchline to the story and reminds the characters, and the readers, that the truly dangerous gods are self-aware enough to use their limitations as weapons. Andrade’s art is great too, focusing on the exact sort of naturalistic character work the story calls for. Likewise Digikore’s deep, atmospheric colour work.
‘Arts & Letters’ by Mike Costa is the only story to run across the two issues and absolutely deserves the extra space. The hook alone makes it worthwhile; Ganesh summoning an Ifrit to investigate the murder of Kamadhenu, the Great Cow of Plenty. Again, it shows what God is Dead does best; mixing the petty desires of the gods with the traditions and histories that both define and imprison them. It’s an oddly cheerful story, despite the hideous violence at the centre of it and serves as a neat companion to the Spurrier piece, both exploring the different ways the gods make peace with their limitations.
‘Alastor: Hell’s Executioner’ is the funniest story in the books by a mile. Gillen excels at this sort of comedy and mixes his deep love for the absurd with the adventures of a Blackadder-esque Hell resident who seizes an opportunity with both horns. Again, this is a story that’s ultimately about the status quo but Gillen finds a very different perspective on it. Hell’s residents, for all their railing against Heaven, are still carrying wounds from the Fall. Mistakes were made and learned from and Alastor’s position in Hell is as much about educating his compatriots as it is defending Hell from them. Again, it shows how the gods are similar to humanity but this is the story where that hits home most effectively. Nobile’s painted artwork also deserves special mention for the boundless creativity shown in Hell’s residents and the blood-soaked Terry Thomas air it gives Alastor.
Justin Jordan’s ‘The Great God Pan’ is the most conventional horror piece in here and as a result, oddly, one of the most effective. This is the story that focuses on the human cost of the gods and their return and it’s the darkest, most serious story of the lot. There’s no humanity, no frailty to the gods here just a single burning need to exist, by any means necessary. Digikore again do great, blood-soaked work on the colours and Erramouspe’s art is character driven, kinetic and brutal.
And then there’s the Alan Moore piece, ‘Grandeur & Monstrosity’. Not only is it a highlight of the book but it’s amongst the best work Moore’s done in the last ten years. It features Moore, in the God is Dead universe, reluctantly giving a lecture to the assembled gods about Glycon. Glycon is the snake deity that Moore has declared he worships and is an unusually well documented constructed god. Using a Glycon puppet, Moore lectures his audiences, both us and the Gods, about the nature of constructed faith, the need to believe in something and how the very act of forgery hides something true and devotional. It’s an astonishing piece of writing, showing a light comedy tough and a fiercely engaged, brutally honest intellect. Moore doesn’t judge here, he simply points out the absurdity in both his own beliefs and those of everyone else. It’s the magician pulling the curtain back, showing us the trick’s workings and letting us decide if we’re still entertained or not. It’s brilliant, honest, sad and very, very funny and you need to buy the book just for this story.
God is Dead is a series still learning it’s shape and that’s used here to create some genuinely brilliant comics. Blood, sex, laughter and horror all orbit these stories, and their gods, at very close range but what you really take away is the sheer intelligence of everything here. Complex, bloody, brilliant stuff.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Dark Angel, Dietrich Smith, kieron gillen, Mephisto, Ruth Redmond, Shevaun Haldane, VC's Clayton Cowles
Written BY Kieron Gillen
Art by Dietrich Smith
Colour art by Ruth Redmond
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel
I have two reviews of this book for you. The first is this; it’s great and completely British in a way very few comics manage to be, and you should buy it because that may encourage them to launch an ongoing series featuring Shevaun Haldane and her slightly rubbish psychic mate Doris investigating supernatural doings in the Marvel universe.
The longer version is this. The first reboot out of the stocks for Revolutionary War, Dark Angel follows Shevaun Haldane, the daughter of one of the founders of Mys-Tech. Shevaun gained Silver Surfer level powers as part of her father’s deal and, for a while, was one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet.
But we live in an age of austerity, and even Hell needed to make cutbacks.
Now, her powers strictly budgeted, Shevaun is a combination errand woman, enforcer and nurse for Mephisto. She has just enough power to service her father’s never ending debt, and lives a life that’s equal parts Hell’s Intern and endless TV boxed sets.
As this issue opens, she comes round after being knocked out at the end of Revolutionary War Alpha. There’s a trail of destruction leading down the hill, a hole in the side of the manor where she lives and her friend Doris wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help.
What follows is a two level story. On the surface it’s a fast paced, breezy superheroine comic with a razor sharp visual wit. Smith’s got a rock solid eye for character and his precise, tight style helps the fantastical elements of the book really pop. Plus the fact Mephisto has a pair of loafers next to his hospital bed is just all shades of brilliant. The story builds to a nice payoff that connects it to what we saw initially, advances the plot for the series and clearly starts the reboot process too. It’s deftly written, action and character heavy and fun as hell. Literally.
Underneath that, though, is something really quite extraordinary. Gillen’s been cheerfully up front about this being him channelling his inner Pat Mills, and that’s certainly true. This is a very British comic, everything from the countryside to the names, and it gives the whole thing a welcome change of tone.
It also hides the fact that Marvel have, in Dark Angel, the logical replacement to Hellblazer.
The entire set up here; Shevaun and Doris fighting occult crime, is one step away from Hellblazer. Shevaun’s far more willing to throw an energy blast than a quip but the character dynamic between her and Doris is vintage Hellblazer. She’s an occult specialist with years of experience, most of it bad and a burning need to do more. Her mate’s a local medium who knows everyone, does the people stuff and is extremely handy in a fight when called upon to be. Seriously, all it needs is for Doris to drive a cab in her spare time and it’s there.
Joking aside, this is a really important thematic decision, and it’s one that Gillen really drives home. The austerity measures put in place by the British government are mirrored in Hell whilst the A&E that Shevaun takes Doris to at one point is in the process of being shut down. This isn’t a comic mindlessly aping or reflecting its surroundings, this is a comic actively using the events of the time to make itself better. That’s not just clever writing, that’s brilliant, satirical, necessary writing of a sort we’ve not seen since Hellbla That’s not just clever writing, that’s brilliant, satirical, necessary writing of a sort we’ve not seen since Hellblazer closed its doors.
It’s not just the script showing this level of wit either. Smith constantly uses Shevaun’s magnificently ‘90s hair (shaved down one side) to emphasize the duality of her character whilst Redmond uses texture and shape as well as shading to give Shevaun’s powers, and the Hellish locations, a wonderfully granular sense of weight. Cowles’ lettering rounds the whole thing off effortlessly, especially with the way Mephisto is presented and the whole book feels confident, smart and tightly planned.
I’ve always loved these characters but Revolutionary War really is off to a flying start here. The creative team not only honour the past but set things up for what looks like a very exciting future that does something no other active Marvel title comes close to. That doesn’t just make this a fun book, it makes it an essential on and hopefully the start of something much, much bigger.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: 364 BC, Alasdair Stuart, Clayton Cowles, Damar, Helot, Jordie Bellaire, kieron gillen, Klaros, Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Sparta, Spartan, Terpander
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Ryan Kelly
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Historical Consultation by Professor Stephen Hodgkinson
Published by Image
Helots were the lowest of the low in Sparta, state owned people who could, and were, used as hunting practice by the sons of the Spartans. Their lives were worthless except to define the Spartans’ ‘heroism’, culling them once a year like animals.
In 364 BC, three Helots fought back.
Gillen’s script is as pared back as they come, introducing the violence of the Spartans first, then Klaros, Damar and Terpander, his leads. Klaros is competent, sullen and crippled. Damar is calm, intelligent and overlooked. Terpander talks for a living and as a result has no idea when to shut up. All three are cowed, all three Helots and all three are about to have their lives changed forever.
The Spartans are monsters here, eyes and cloaks and huge helmets. Their violence is so total as to be almost abstract at first and the terror their arrival brings the Helots is portrayed with feverish details by Kelly. They’re men who kill the same way some people breathe, arrogance seasoning their brutality. That clash, between Spartans who have everything and Helots who have nothing, is what drives the story and leads to the inciting incident at the end of this issue. The character dynamics between the three Helots are front and centre here and by the end of the issue you realize their relationship is a lot more complex than previously thought. You also realize, as they do, that relationship will almost certainly get them killed.
This is muscular, almost minimalist storytelling. Gillen, one of the best dialogue writers in the business, scales it right back and lets the Spartans’ violence speak for him. It works, and the casual brutality the book is littered with shows you what’s at stake without it having to be spelt out. Right now the characters are taking a back seat but, as the story continues, the focus will shift to the troubled relationship between the leads. For now though, this is a book about monsters who wear Spartan helmets and every page is filled with tension and threat. Kelly’s art is reminiscent of Darick Robertson in its detail and willingness to show the ugliness of people whilst Bellaire’s rich, deep colours set the stage and then throw arterial spray over a lot of it. Together with Cowles’ always impressive lettering and Hodgkinson’s historical backup, they create a book that’s red in tooth and claw and looks set to carve its name on every Spartan monument in fiction. Nasty, uncomfortable and violent, just like history and, based on this first issue, just as gripping.