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.



Review: Blackcross Issue 1 by Travelling Man

 

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Colton Worley

Colours by Morgan Hickman

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite

£2.85 or £1.99 with those recurrent strange dreams you’re having…or your Supercard Go!

 

A man sets himself alight and never stops burning. FBI Agents Bart Hill and Max Fearn catch another body in a line of brutal killings. A medium’s powers become real. A witness, buried in Witness Protection, is tormented by strange dreams. Something awful is coming to Blackcross. Something awful may already be there.

Ellis’ work is always impressive and it’s always interesting to see him approach similar ideas in very different ways. Here, it’s the idea of ancestral wisdom as a form of delusion from Moon Knight,c rossed with the tropes of sleepy American town noir. It works a treat too, and it’s all played very straight. This is more True Detective than Twin Peaks. There’s no grandstanding, no outlandish characters, just a normal town and the secret history writing itself into existence there.

That sombre tone is helped by Worley’s art. There’s a lot of work done with defining scenes through darkness and some really smart use of high angles to sell the unease. That’s also helped by the colours provided by Hickman. There’s a curious kind of darkness that you only get in American countryside that’s miles away from anywhere else. That’s absolutely what you get here and the book feels quiet and tense as a result. Bowland’s lettering really helps too, especially in the Lady Satan scenes where the horror at what’s happening really comes through in his stark, punchy style.

 

This is intelligent, assured storytelling. Involving, measured and dark it’s a radical turn for these characters but one that works instantly. Awful things are coming to Blackcross and we’ve got front row seats.



Review: Nameless Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Words by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham

Colours by Nathan Fairbairn

Letters by Simon Bowland

Logo and Design by Rian Hughes & Device

Published by Image

£2.20

 

So the good news is this is beautiful. Burnham’s art is razor sharp precision around which a dozen different styles orbit. You get Eisner style geography, Corben style twisted geometry, the pragmatic ugliness of Frank Quitely character work all filtered through this calm, focused style. If you’re a Morrison fan it’s like seeing The Invisibles remade entirely by David Fincher. If you’re not a Morrison fan, it’s like watching a really good, solid police procedural TV drama where the direction masks just how lurid and demented the plot is.

Fairbairn’s colours are an immense part of that too. There’s a scene in the closing half of the book where the lead has a conversation with another character who’s there via telepresence on a drone. The other character is pristine, well lit and the rain, and consequences, are all running off the drone. The lead is in the middle of a secure location in the middle of nowhere, at night, having just had a pretty solid attempt made on his life. Character expressed through colour and design and artwork. Oh and the lettering by Bowland is great too; clean and precise and letting every word come through loud and clear.

The only problem is, this is a contemporary Grant Morrison book and I’m not sure I can read them anymore.

I’ve enjoyed, no, loved an awful lot of Morrison’s work. But I stopped picking up Multiversity because the workings were showing. A vast array of brilliant artists were doing a wonderful job illustrating scripts that doodled with classic pulp concepts, or updated extant DC characters or spent an issue going ‘Hey! Celebrity culture’s dumb! We’re going to celebrate it and parody it all at once!’. Morrison’s current run is, as I’ve said before, a cold exercise in style and this is no exception. The lead is a supernatural thief with endless skill, not especially endless luck and a wealthy patron who wants him to stop an imminent science fiction apocalypse. Nameless, because that’s his name, is grim, capable and not especially interesting. That’s even given how quickly we’re thrown into the middle of his life and expected to swim to the edges. By the end of the issue he’s at least relatable, and his astonishment at how he’s getting into space is rather sweet, but of Morrison’s lead characters he’s so far only the most recent. Hopefully the rest of the series will flesh him out.

 

Nameless is by no means a bad comic and if you’re a fan of Morrison you absolutely need to pick it up. The art is excellent, the design work is lovely and it’s going interesting places. But, for me, right now, it’s not quite getting there fast enough, despite how pretty the route is.



Review: Legends of Red Sonja by Travelling Man

Written by Gail Simone (‘Legends of Red Sonja’), Nancy A.Collins (‘Eyes of the Howling God’), Devin Kalile Grayson (‘La Sonja Rossa’), Meljean Brook (‘The Undefeated’), Tamora Pierce (‘Double Edged’), Leah Moore (‘The Palace of the Necromancer’), Nicola Scott (‘Gertrelle’s Lament’), Rhianna Pratchett (‘Gerd’s Story: What Lies Beneath’), Mercedes Lackey (‘Jenny’s Story: Parallax’), Marjorie M. Liu (‘She Who Lives Still’), Blair Butler (‘The Pazyryk’) and Kelly Sue DeConnick (‘The Play’s The Thing’)

Art by Jack Jadson (‘Legends of Red Sonja’), Noah Salonga(‘Eyes of the Howling God’), Carla Speed McNeil (‘La Sonja Rossa’)Mel Rubi (‘The Undefeated’), Cassandra James (‘Double Edged’), Tula Lotay(‘The Palace of the Necromancer’), Doug Holgate (‘Gertrelle’s Lament’), Naniiebim (‘Gerd’s Story: What Lies Beneath’), Nel Ruffino (‘Jenny’s Story: Parallax’), Phil Noto(‘She Who Lives Still’), Jim Calafiore (‘The Pazyryk’) and Valentine De Landro (‘The Play’s The Thing’)

Colours by Salvatore Aiala Studios

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite

£14.99

 

Some of the best creators on the planet come together to tell stories about one of the finest warriors in all of fiction. Red Sonja is a legend but even legends can be hunted and as the men searching for her travel, they tell stories of how they came to meet Sonja, what she did to them and why…

The framing story by Gail Simone and Jack Jadson is one of the smartest ideas you’ll see in comics this year and it provides an opportunity for an all-star cast to tell some staggeringly good stories. There’s not a single weak link here but there are several stories that really stand out and it’s those I’ll chat about. First off ‘La Sonja Rossa’ sees Grayson and McNeil tell the story of Sonja’s death in mortal combat with a sea god. Except as this is the end of the first issue there’s a lot more to it than that. McNeil’s expressive, friendly art is a perfect carrier wave for Grayson’s clever, sweet story about how Sonja effects people and the final sequence in particular is a real kicker.

That sweetness is carried through into ‘The Undefeated’ by Tamora Pierce. The hunters seek information and what they get, and what we see, are very different. There’s a dark playfulness to the piece that’s helped immensely by Mel Rubi’s art and sets the tone for the rest of the book. This isn’t a one sided battle; the hunters are being hunted too.

Leah Moore and Tula Lotay’s ‘Palace of the Necromancer’ is another standout. Moore’s story neatly explores the perils of being the most competent person in the room and shows just how pragmatic, quick thinking and brutal Sonja is sometimes forced to be. It’s one of the darkest tales in the book and the always impressive Lotay really heightens the atmosphere. It’s particularly interesting that this is the only time we see Sonja carrying scars too. Legends can bleed too and that gives the story a welcome humanity and again, further darkens the tone.

Rhianna Pratchett and Naniiebim turn in the best story in the collection with ‘Gerd’s Story: What Lies Beneath’. Gerd is a former warrior woman turned Blacksmith and her tale is shot through with humour, compassion and a glorious piece of meta fiction. This is the key to a puzzle that’s bothered a lot of people about Sonja for a long time and to say anymore would spoil it. Trust me it’s worth the read.

Marjorie M. Liu’s ‘She Who Lives Still’ is both the darkest and sweetest story in the book. This is Sonja as instrument of destiny coupled with full on Fortean high strangeness. It’s beautifully illustrated by Phil Noto, Salvatore Aiala Studios and Bowland do great work on the colours and letters and thes tory itself is a haunting, beautiful piece suspended halfway between dream and nightmare.

‘The Play’s the Thing’ is the last story before the wrap up and again, one of the strongest. DeConnick has had an incredible year and this story is proof of just how great she is, combining some gentle Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead nods with a look at how Sonja changes the people she saves. This is flat out funny, as well as again being very sweet and swings the book onto its final act with a smile on its face.De Landro’s art, especially on one character in particular, is perfect, full of huge gestures and subtle comedy.

 

This is the best possible introduction to both Red Sonja and some of the best creators in the business. Every story sparks with wit and action, every writer and artist turns in great work and the entire thing is wrapped in an elegantly designed framework. Exuberant, brilliant, brutal fun.



Review: Battlestar Galactica-Death of Apollo Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Dan Abnett

Illustrated by Dietrich Smith

Coloured By Fran Gamboa

Lettered by Simon Bowland

Covers by Mike Mayhew, Dietrich Smith, Livio Ramondelli and Ardian Syaf

Published by Dynamite

£2.85

 

Battlestar Galactica has a history of eccentric endings. The original TV show was revived as Galactica 1980, which saw the fleet find Earth and featured, amongst other things, special effects sequences from other movies, superpowered children and a pair of leads who, despite being a fair haired charming maverick and a dark haired dutiful warrior weren’t Starbuck and Apollo. Starbuck would get a last bow in a surprisingly good episode but Apollo was consigned to the annals of history. Just another casualty on the fleet’s decades-long headlong sprint to Earth.

Until now.

Abnett’s one of the best writers in the business and that’s clear from the first page here. He manages to balance the utopian ideal of the original fleet with the political realities that the reboot series managed so well. Set in the days leading up to Apollo’s death, the series revolves around an ideological conflict between the old Command staff and the new. Adama wants to stick to the same methodical approach they’ve used for decades. Athena, itching to take command of the Fleet, wants to bring in psionics. In other words, science versus faith. This all comes to a head in a brilliant conference scene which shows us the one thing the series never could; the messianic Adama as wrong and overly conservative. It’s a smart move, especially as that’s exactly the mindset that kept the fleet alive but also the mindset they need to leave behind.

That scene is the hub around which the entire book revolves but it’s not beholden to it. This is the original Galactica after all and there’s more than enough inter-pilot banter, dogfighting and magnificent ‘70s fashions to keep you happy. Smith’s work is exactly what this book needs, detailed but fluid and Gamboa’s colour work is great, especially on the space sequences. Bowland, one of the best letterers in the business, is on top form too.

This is a tight, confident book that’s off to a great start. It won’t save Apollo, but in the hands of creators like these, he’ll at least have one hell of a good death.



Review: Flash Gordon issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Jeff Parker

Illustrated by Evan Shaner

Coloured by Jordie Bellaire

Lettered by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite

£2.85

 

On Earth, Dale Arden was the best journalist not enough people listened to. On Earth, Emil Zarkov was the best scientist no one took seriously. On Earth, Flash Gordon was AWESOME.

None of them are on Earth anymore.

 

Parker is the perfect choice for a book like this. His abundant love for classic pulp shines through here, as does his inventiveness. This is a Flash Gordon origin story, make no mistake, but it’s one rendered in the same way as the opening two pages of All-Star Superman. You get everything you need to know in the first three scenes then it’s off to Mongo and beautiful, beautiful mayhem. Parker throws his characters through the wringer with glee and trusts us to catch up as they’re running for their lives. He also, and this is the truly brilliant aspect of his work, never forgets that these characters are human. That leads to the best joke in the issue, as Gordon’s reminded not everyone is quite as awesome as he is and also the smartest moment. That belongs to Dale, who Parker makes clear is as vital a part of the team as the other two. There are no damsels in distress in this book and that makes it all the more fun. The final image in particular is brilliant as Parker combines modern sensibilities with pulp plotting to create something new that still feels pleasingly retro.

On the art side of things, Shaner’s work is exactly what it needs to be; character driven and light on its feet. There’s a lot of great detail added to the dialogue scenes that really helps them feel real whilst the action sequences are equal parts glorious pulp spectacle and modern graphic storytelling, Bellaire, one of the best colourists working today, fits right in too. The colour palette here is subtle in exactly the way the spectacle of the book isn’t and, combined with Parker’s grasp of character, it grounds even the most over the top moments. Finally, Bowland, another creator at the top of his field, turns in exactly rhe sort of subtle lettering the book needs. Bowland’s particularly good in Dale’s big moment and his work really brings that scene into land. Much more smoothly than Gordon’s ‘landings’ too.

 

This is great stuff. It’s a savvy, quick witted reboot for one of the all time greats that has a roll call of some of the best comic creators on the planet behind it. Gordon’s alive! And he’s rarely looked better than he does here.

 



Review: Numbercruncher by Travelling Man

Written by Si Spurrier

Artwork by PJ Holden

Colours by Jordie Bellaire

Letters by Simon Bowland

Logo designed by Simon Parr

£14.99

Piblished by Titan

This is a love story. It’s also a story about beating the system, a story about a particularly British kind of afterlife and what your job can make you. It involves a large amount of punching, a tremendous amount of reality hacking and huge, huge heart. Imagine A Matter of Life and Death with lots more swearing and violence and much less David Niven. If you haven’t seen A Matter of Life and Death, go and watch it, it’s lovely. Read this first though.

Bastard Zane works for the Karmic Accountancy. The Accountancy is the Afterlife, run by the Divine Calculator. The Calculator is calculating the biggest number in creation and each of us is part of his workings. Good choices, bad choices, life and death. None of it matters more than a line on a balance sheet, until Richard Thyme dies in 1969. A young, brilliant mathematician, Richard is intent on being reunited with the love of his life, Jessica Reed. Zane, all pinstripe suit and cockney seething rage, is on hand to get him. Operatives work until someone else agrees to take their spot and Zane is very tired of the Accountancy business. But Richard Thyme, on his death bed, has worked out how the universe works and he has a plan…

Spurrier’s script is balanced perfectly between Neal Stephenson-esque high end math and deep, painfully honest compassion. This is a story entirely about two people who love one another, and the hero has absolutely nothing going for him but his brain. The ingenious ways Thyme begins to execute his plan are as complex and graceful as the equations the Calculator loves, and much easier to follow too. Spurrier puts Thyme and Zane together constantly, and the Road Runner/Wile E. Stitch That Sunshine double act they form is weirdly endearing. Very slowly, the two men begin to evolve, both realizing the consequences of their actions and what changing their behaviour will get them. It’s a weirdly gentle, deeply compassionate way of exploring two broken character’s psyches and it leads to a beautiful panel of Zane in the closing pages. You’ll know it when you see it, believe me.

This is a beautiful book throughout and in a way that very few other comics manage. The Karmic Accountancy is black and white and so, when he’s in the real world, is Zane. It’s a lovely conceit, showing us just how otherworldly he is whilst still having him as a foul mouthed cockney violence machine. Bellaire, whose work always impresses, amazes here as the colours slide in and out across individual panels and drive the story as they go. She’s in perfect lockstep with Holden too, whose work is always impressive but, again, on blistering form here. Zane is a glorious mountain of seething cockney pinstripe and the massive amount of time that passes as the story progresses is smartly essayed. His character work is lovely throughout, especially on Zane. His Gilliam-esque Karmic Accountancy is also great fun. Likewise, Bowland’s lettering has a lightness of touch and versatility that helps the story no end.

Numbercruncher comes from some of the best comic creators on the planet working together to tell a story. It was always going to be good, but this is exceptional. A witty, gentle, magnificently violent and very funny take on life, love, death and letting go it’s wonderful stuff. Plus, what other love story would feature something called The Accident Gun?



Review: Legends of Red Sonja Issue 1 by Travelling Man

‘Legends of Red Sonja’

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Jack Jadson

‘Eyes of the Howling God’

Written by Nancy A. Collins

Art by Noah Salonga

‘La Sonja Rossa’

Written by Devin Kalile Grayson

Art by Carla Speed Mcneill

Colours by Salvator Aiala Studios

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite

Twelve mercenaries ride into town. Each has a reason for wanting Red Sonja dead, each is from somewhere different and each is uniquely talented in the arts of death. As they tell each other their stories, it becomes clear just what Sonja’s done to them and how far she’s ranged over the years. The only problem is, she may be dead already…

This is massive fun. Gail Simone’s run on the main Sonja title has been huge fun from the get go and here she has a lot of fun with the structure of both the book and the creative teams. Simone has gathered a team of writers and artists to do the same thing the mercenaries have; find Red Sonja. However, the creative teams have a lot better luck, and the stories they tell are the best introduction to Sonja you could hope for. Simone’s framing narrative is especially good, establishing the assassins’ pasts and giving Jadson a chance to show off his burly, light on its feet, art style.

‘Eyes of the Howling God’ by Collins and Salonga is a nicely burly tail that takes in werewolves, copious bloodshed and the secret origin of Eles, the monk who serves as the book’s narrator. It’s also a neat insight into Sonja’s pragmatism; can’t beat it with a sword? Beat it with a ROCK until it stops moving. This is character through action and it works very well, especially as Collins and Salonga sidestep the chainmail bikini issue by decking Sonja out in a practical chainmail shirt.

The final story here is the best one though, and marks a welcome return to comics for Devin Kalile Grayson. Grayson’s work opens with Sonja’s death being recounted by a merchant and we watch as Sonja is caught up in a broken love affair, supernatural mayhem and a magnificently Lovecraftian sea monster. Again this is a story driven by her pathological refusal to lose and it tells you a lot not only about Sonja as a character but how she’ll defeat her hunters. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be quick but her relentless tenacity will break them down just as it has everything else. The story is magnificently illustrated by Carla Speed Mcneil and closes with the best visual sting you’ll read this month.

This is confident, assured, charmingly violent storytelling and a perfect introduction to both the character and some of the best creators working today. Track it down, before the hunters track down Sonja.



Review: Eternal Warrior Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Greg Pak

Art by Trevor Hairsine

Colors by Brian Reber

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Valiant

£2.85

I’ve been watching the Valiant relaunch with interest because there’s several completely new things happening there. Their presence in the Kindle Worlds program is one, their ability to tie a very small universe together without making it seem like the books are choking is another and the third is their willingness to hold the door open for people. Every first collection of every Valiant book is $9.99 which equates to about £6.50. The last time I saw that was TokyoPop before they went off the rails. That price point works, and opens up new books to as many new readers as possible.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Gilad is the Eternal Warrior, a champion of his people and the father of Mitu and Xaran, a son and daughter. Gilad’s people are forced to defend themselves against the cultists of Nergal, all huge, brutal and merciless. Gilad is immortal, his children are not and as the battle turns it soon becomes clear his children are as different from each other as they are from him. Mitu is brave, reluctant to fight and of course doomed whilst Xaran is a fury. The absolute equal of her father with none of his ethics, she’s ruthless and brutal on the battlefield. When the tide turns, Xaran is responsible but it isn’t enough for her. She, Mitu and Gilad are soon bound together by tragedy and vengeance as well as family.

It’s a hell of a set up, hitting the ground running and cramming the pages full of beautifully choreographed horror. The elephant charge is particularly great and Hairsine’s character work is exemplary too. Backed up by Reber’s colours, the dusty blood bath in Mesopotamia has a real sense of scale. Similarly, the modern day scenes feel closer, more intimate and character driven. It’s typically excellent work from Hairsine and Bowland, whose lettering is never less than excellent and, whilst I’ve not seen Reber’s work before it’s very impressive. This is a brutal, visceral book and the entire art team combine to drive the tip of that particular spear in under your ribs and break it off.

It’s Pak that delivers the killing blow though. I have no idea about any of the previous history of Gilad but Pak gave me everything I needed. You get the character set up, established and turned on his head in a single issue and it works perfectly. There’s not a wasted panel or line of dialogue, just a lean, stripped down comic that gives you everything you need to be back next issue. This is how reboots should be done; intelligent, pacy and involving. Trust me, this is one battle worth joining.




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