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: 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: Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col

Art by Andy Belanger

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW

£2.85

 

I’ve loved Kill Shakespeare from when it first turned up. I was always going to; Shakespearean characters interacting with each other? The entire thing’s a comment on story as magic? Fables-esque collisions of traditional characters using the work of the best playwright in human history? WHERE DO I SIGN?!

It gives me great pleasure then to say that The Mask of Night is the best Kill Shakespeare series so far. Opening with Cesario, a masked, flamboyant (Occasionally unlucky) pirate and his crew rescuing the survivors of the last series, it quickly brings you up to speed on what you need to know. There’s a rebellion, Juliet, Hamlet and Othello are extremely valuable and now Cesario has a choice; stay as a pirate or grow some principles and take some real risks?

McCreery and Del Col have a love for the material that sings in every word. They’re especially fond, I suspect, of Cesario and Viola as the two of them have the best lines in this issue. Cesario is a well-meaning hero wstruggling to accept he may be growing ideals. Viola is his partner, his best friend and a woman with absolutely no compunctions about what she wants. The pair have an easy, rolling banter that allows the writers to expose the moral dilemma at the heart of the story and to get some moments of genuinely great comedy on the page. The bedroom scene in particular is flat out brilliant managing to be very funny, tell us about them and move the story along all at once. You do feel a little sorry for the Page though…

On the art side of things Andy Belanger’s work is great, focusing not just on character and expressiveness but the ways they flow and move around one another. The first page in particular is a hugely impressive splash whilst the closing page uses detail and scale to show just how much trouble the characters are in. The answer is ‘a lot’ by the way.

On colours, Chankhamma uses a muted palate to give a naturalistic atmosphere to the art and on letters Mowry perfectly conveys the unusual speech patterns. If you’re worried about those by the way? Do not be. There’s elements of Shakespearean tone to it but the dialogue is like the rest of the book; clever, accessible and immensely entertaining. A fantasy series unlike anything else, this is a must-read and a perfect place to start.



Review: The Fuse #1 by benjamingoldsmith86

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Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Justin Greenwood

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Letters by Ed Brisson

Published by Image Comics

On Sale: Feb 12, 2014

£2.50

Working homicide on a power station orbiting the earth at 22,000 miles up…it’s murder!

Detectives Ristovych & Dietrich are understaffed, overworked and enforcing the law is a struggle with no backup. Outnumbered and outgunned, nobody volunteers for Homicide Division. Their jurisdiction? Midway City…a strange and practically illegal settlement made up of workers who refused to return to earth and instead decided to stay behind and forge a new life in space.

Antony Johnston (UMBRAL, WASTELAND, COLDEST CITY) and Justin Greenwood (WASTELAND, RESURRECTION) have hit the ground running with their new ongoing hard science fiction crime series. The thirty two pages of this first issue just fly by leaving you hungry for more. It allures to the promise of a deeply rich, dark, gritty and deadly world with great longevity…a gateway for unique stories, unusual circumstances and crazy characters.

The Fuse offers a broad cross section of this society through the eyes of two detectives. Klem Ristovych, the oldest cop working the Fuse and Ralph Dietrich, one of the youngest cops to make detective, fresh off the shuttle from earth with a spotless record.

Human nature always prevails regardless of the context and the citizens of Midway City are no exception. They lie, cheat, steal and kill…each crime and situation allowing Johnston to represent the breath and depth of the story he is weaving on this multifaceted tin can floating in space.

Antony and Justin are great storytellers and the synergy between the two collaborators is immediately apparent. They have worked harmoniously to create a stark and brutal vision of the future. Only a tight sense of cohesion and communication during the design phase and development of a comic could result in something as conceptually thorough as this. They worked together previously on Antony’s long running post apocalyptic series Wasteland and it shines through.

Johnston’s script reads seamlessly from start to finish…from the snappy, gripping dialogue and interaction offered up by the dynamically interesting detectives to the fast flowing panel direction which clearly envisions the story, it’s brilliant. A tried and tested procedural crime element is also used as a staging ground for the story to lead off into unknown territory…I can taste the mystery, plot and suspense already.

In terms of the art it’s well imagined, kinetic, clean, detailed and crisp, allowing stylistic room to maneuver later on as the story progresses and we hopefully delve deeper into the stations rotten underbelly. The character design is distinct and the book has a unique style. Chankhamma’s colours and Ed Brisson’s lettering provide wonderful depth and ambience. It’s really the complete package from cover to cover.

Whilst no comic is going to appeal to everyone…with a receptive audience that understands and relates to crime fiction, Image is definitely the right home for this series. If this is the year of Image Comics then The Fuse promises to be one of the most explosive titles of 2014. Go buy it and check out Antony’s other work. Liftoff…Feb 12th!

Benjamin Goldsmith



Review: Sheltered Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Co created, written and lettered by Ed Brisson

Co-created and illustrated by Johnnie Christmas

Colours by Shari Chankhamma

Published by Image

£2.20 (£1.70 with SuperCard Go!)

 

It’s a quiet day at the compound. Vic and her dad return from shopping. Vic wants to go and get drunk but her father insists that she help him with the supplies. Canned goods, stored with hundreds of others in the basement shelter. Whilst she’s doing that, two of the other local boys, Lucas and Joey ask to borrow her father’s transistor radio. The price is a lecture on how the compound, fortified and almost self-sufficient, is far from ready for what’s coming. But the boys already know, and they’re taking matters into their own hands.

Sheltered bills itself as a pre-apocalyptic tale and that’s very much what’s going on here. Vic, her father, the boys and the rest of the compound are prepping for something awful and it’s deliberately left ambiguous just what that is. There’s a clear hint of right wing survivalist mania to the heads of the compound especially, but there’s also something else going on. The boys mention an imminent eruption whilst Vic’s dad is convinced that the compound should be registered and by extension, be respectable. Meanwhile, Vic and Hailey have had quite enough of waiting for the world to end and Lucas and Joey are taking steps to ensure the right people survive it…

Brisson and Christmas are experts at subtle menace and this issue is packed with it. For example, the final confrontation between Lucas, Joey and the adults is intercut with the reveal on the identity of their accomplices are and what they’re prepared to do. Similarly, the reveal on what they’re actually doing is chillingly handled in a manner which rewards attention with cold, pure menace. The end result is a comic which reads like a clenching fist, the disparate elements of the opening all cycling down to one moment and one fateful choice. It’s a credit to their writing that Lucas and Joey seem genuinely conflicted instead of the gun happy teen murderers they could so easily be, and by the time the issue’s finished there’s a real sense of weight and purpose to what the boys are doing. They’ve been raised to survive and raised so well that they have no problem making the hard choices about who gets to survive with them.

This is a comic as precisely executed as the boys’ plan and it’s also one with the courage of its convictions. We know nothing about the outside world, only what’s in the compound and what everyone there thinks is coming. There’s a measured, precise novelistic pace that reminds me of nothing more than the excellent The Returned, and a real sense of growing menace and horror. It’s all rendered in Christmas’ precise, unwavering approach to characters and the always impressive Chankhamma’s pale, washed out colours to create a world which feels apocalyptic already. Bad things are coming, but worse things are here and, judging by the next issue, Vic will be front and centre in either the resistance or the escape committee. I suspect she won’t be happy regardless.

Sheltered is a cold, measured book with a sense of tangible menace and moments of genuine horror. If there’s an issue here, I suspect it’s not quite fast paced enough for some readers. Keep with the book though, because this sort of small community in extremis is always good fuel for horror and based on this first issue, is in very safe hands. A book full of miniature disasters and personal apocalypses, it’s a compelling, confident debut and is available now.

 

Alasdair Stuart

 



Review: Kill Shakespeare:Tide of Blood Issue 1 by Travelling Man


Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood
Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger
Colors by Shari Chankhamma
Lettering by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW
$3.99/£2.85

Here’s what you need to know; Shakespeare’s characters are real. All of them. And all exist in the same universe or, at the very least, in pocket universes so close together that travel between them is possible and, often, easy.
Here’s what else you need to know; they’re at war. The armies of Richard III and Lady Macbeth have only just been defeated by a rebellion led by Hamlet, Juliet, Othello and Romeo, aided by Shakespeare himself, part-God, part-wizard. Now, as the peace is, just, kept between the victors and Titus Andronicus’ army, news comes of something dreadful happening on Prospero’s Island…

Right now some of you are probably breaking out in hives over the fact that this is a book about Shakespearean characters. Let me go further and say that whilst the text isn’t full on iambic pentameter, it definitely has the sort of rhythm that Shakespeare’s work did, and is littered with quotes and near-quotes. This isn’t the sort of book to soft soap any of its world building, and the first couple of pages, especially if you’re coming to it new as I am, are a tough road.
Then it flies.
The last time I felt like this reading a comic was the very first issue of Fables. McCreery and Del Col have such a handle on this world, such effortless control of the various characters and casts they can draw from that it feels like a book that’s run for years and years. You get a clear idea of the characters and their relationships inside the first quarter of the book, a good idea of their world inside the first two thirds and a very good idea of what’s coming by the end of the first issue. In that time, not only have the main character arcs for Romeo , Hamlet and Juliet been established but you’ve got a rock solid idea of why they’re acting like they’re acting and what the past, and future, holds for them as well as a great action sequence and the introduction of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter. Traditionally viewed as a Shakespeare analog, Prospero is one of the most powerful characters in drama and the possibility he, and Miranda, may not be allies is chilling. Regardless, it’s a testament to McCreery and Del Col that not only can they set up a first issue this well but have a character who isn’t even in the issue cast such a long shadow. This is smart, complex stuff which is presented in a manner that someone who’s never read or seen Shakespeare plays before will pick up. It’s extraordinary.
Tony Belanger’s art matches it every step of the way too. At times looking like Charlie Adlard’s best work, the best way I can describe it is if Terry Gilliam drew comics instead of made films. Everything is earthy and lived in but the people still have energy and life and colour. And speaking of colour, Shari Chankhamma’s work here is amazing, especially in the final pages where a change in locale and palette combine seamlessly. Likewise, Chris Mowry’s lettering differentiates between speech patterns extremely well, meaning you never get lost wondering who, or what, is talking.

Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood is brilliant. It’s fiercely clever, completely accessible, crammed full of references that people who know the plays will smile at and people who don’t won’t be irritated by and tells a fascinating story with near effortless style and energy. In a very strong week of comics, I’ve not read anything better. Go, buy it, read it. You won’t regret it.
(Kill Shakespeare volume 1: A Sea of Troubles and Volume 2: The Blast of War are also available)

Alasdair Stuart




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