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Friday, 19 December 2014

The Chicken Thief

The Chicken Thief
Writing and art by Beatrice Rodriguez
Publisher: Gecko Press

What's it about?
This is sold as a wordless book where children can invent their narratives to go along with the illustrations.  It's really a comic - sequential art where the entire double page is given over to the art, and there are no narrative boxes, speech bubbles, or sound effects.

It's only about 10 pages long and is pretty simple - fox grabs chicken and runs off, chicken's friends follow in hot pursuit through forest, sea and sand.  There is a twist at the end!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A new reader does a video review of Powers and Yakitate

A friend of mine, Jenny, has uploaded a video review of her first time reading a comic - Powers volume 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?  Powers is a crime comic set in a world where everyone has superpowers.

Watch her review here:

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mike Avon Oeming
Colour art: Pat Garrahy
Separation Assists: Ojo Calhente Studios
Letters: Pat Garrahy and Brian Michael Bendis
Publisher: Image Comics

Powers has been on my list of things to review for a while, but I haven't got round to it.  Thankfully, this is a review by an actual new reader so may well work better  for all of you :D

There's added bonus discussion of Yakitate Japan which is a battle manga about bread.  And there's a very cute springer (?) spaniel rumbling about too.

Sunnysweetpea tweets here and has a lifestyle blog here.  Her youtube channel is here.
Thanks to Ang (@appletreeang) for supplying me with the credits and suggesting the book to Jenny.  Ang blogs here.

If you like the sound of superhero cops you might also want to try Top 10.  It has a very different take on the idea.

Monday, 27 October 2014

A note on variant covers

The wonderful Women Write About Comics (WWAC) site recently wrote a piece on variant covers which I thought was so marvellous I had to share it with you.

Variant covers are limited edition covers sold as an alternative to the more widely available usual cover.  They are usually done by a different artist and are meant to be more desirable than the regular cover.  WWAC has this to say:

"Variants are often produced in limited quantity by publishers, and many cannot be ordered by comic shops without meeting a minimum order. Ordering all (or any) variants is a difficult task even for large retailers. Many comic shops that order variants may also take advantage of their rarity by selling them for more than cover price, even going so far as to bypass the shelf altogether and put them in their online stores first. This is a controversial practice, but it is no different than a speculator buying them for cover price then selling them online for more based on demand. It’s every retailer’s right to decide how to sell “retailer incentive” covers (as variants are also called), and not ordering them at all is also an option.
Every major publisher offers variant covers, some more frequently than others, and there are many different kinds of variants."
The full post is much longer than that so I urge you to go across to the site and read the full post.  The rest of the site is pretty good too - they cover comics, movies, games, fashion, books and loads of other nerdy things.  Enjoy :)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Secret Invasion: Black Panther

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jefte Palo
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

In 2008 Marvel Comics did a big 'event' called:

How pulpy.

Secret Invasion's premise is that a group of shape shifting aliens - the skrulls - have been infiltrating Earth society and are now poised to launch a full scale (secret) invasion.  The skrulls can replicate powers so have replaced key superheroes on earth:
N.B: This is a teaser image and is not necessarily the actual heroes the skrulls replaced (no spoilers here, Jimmy).

The skrulls are undetectable and so it's very hard to know whom to fight.  Whilst the main mini series was a bit dull, a few of the tie-ins were great fun. The 3 Black Panther issues are some of the more enjoyable ones.

The Black Panther, also known as T'Challa, is the King of Wakanda.  Wakanda is a small African country that has never been defeated, not once in 1,500 years.
The Wakandans have always had far superior technology to the rest of the world.  They retain their African identity, culture and dress.  It is unusual to read about a culture with better tech than the Western capitalist world, who dress in both tribal and business clothing, and revere an animal god (in this case the Panther God who gives T'Challa his abilities).  The Wakandans are pretty darn intelligent but not greedy.  They are nationalistic but do not seek out conflict.  They do aggressively defend their borders should anyone seek to invade.

Now, the skrulls have infiltrated the Avengers and the Fantastic 4 and replaced many earth heroes and villains.  They decide to go for Wakanda.  What do you reckon the chances of them claiming control are?

What's good about it?
Ahh, everything about this is good.  Reading the story, seeing it unfold, is utterly delicious.  We know that the Wakandans have never been conquered, we know how good T'Challa is, but the skrulls don't know it. They think that it will be easy to conquer this small nation of puny humans.  They are wrong, so so wrong.
There is mayhem and big battle scenes, thunder and lightning (due to T'Challa's then wife, Storm of the X-Men).  One massive skrull takes on T'Challa, one on one.  It's dramatic and it's glorious.  The pacing is superb.  The Storm and T'Challa scenes feel real and romantic (insofar as you can be romantic while skewering your enemies), unlike other issues in this series where their relationship feels forced.
The story is narrated by one particular skrull, a general of sorts, who has served in the skrull army for many many years.  He wants to get home to his wife but he has this one last battle to serve.  Sadly for him, it doesn't end well - but his viewpoint serves to add pathos and humility to the story.

What's bad about it?
At just 3 issues long, it is a pretty short story.  However, the pacing is superb and three issues is the right length for this short story arc.  The back of my trade includes a historical overview of the character and interviews with previous writers.  This isn't something I'm particularly interested in, but others may like it.  The character and in-progress sketches at the back are great though.

What's the art like?
There's a danger when I write about books for this site that I describe the art as just 'beautiful'.  That's not very helpful to readers as it's just my opinion - I tend to think something more objective is helpful.  But for this book I do get stuck on adjectives like mesmerising, beautiful and glorious.
I can drag out descriptions like the pencils, colours and letters work in harmony together.  Nothing is too heavy.  The art complements and strengthens the script.  The characters are treated with dignity and grace - even the skrulls.  All of this is true.  Yet still I just want to describe the art as inspiring awe.  If you like the panels I've shown, you'll like the art.
More information
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 0785133976

So what's next?  Although this trade is good, this particular series of Black Panther is not great overall.  The first trade, 'Who is the Black Panther' is bloody glorious, politically and storywise. Black Panther: Bad Mutha creates a black superhero team who go to New Orleans and deal with the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Black Panther: Four the Hard Way deals with the Civil War, and is pretty shoddy.   Little Green Men is forgettable.  The trades where Storm marries T'Challa and the two directly after (The Bride, Black Panther: Civil War and Back to Africa) are awful.

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species and Black Panther: Power see T'Challa's sister Shuri take on the Panther mantle.  These trades are great. She's a very different leader to T'Challa and the stories play out very differently when she's in charge.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

House of M

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colourist: Frank D'Armata
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What's it about?
Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, is a mutant with magical, reality-altering powers.  After a traumatic event wherein she kills some of her fellow Avengers, the X-Men decide that she needs to be reined in.  Her brother Pietro, aka Quicksilver (he's a speedster), and her father Magneto (the X-Men's main enemy), want to save her and so spirit her away.  The Avengers and the X-Men go in search of the missing family but before they find anyone the world turns white and changes.  Suddenly, mutants are in charge.  They are running things and aren't victimised.  Magneto is a sort of benevolent leader and homo sapiens (us normal humans) are the oppressed.

Only Wolverine can remember how things used to be, so he sets out to put things right.

What's good about it?
This story is particularly good for fans of Wolverine and Spider-Man.  It's a really good character study for Marvel's major heroes.  How could their lives be different and how can we use these different events to see what drives them?  

It's pretty emotional.  From the get go we are watching colleagues, friends, lovers and family try to work out how to keep the world safe from Wanda, and how to help her heal.  They are desperate, but know the only solution may be to kill her.  Could you do that to your child?

And then imagine the fury when you find out what's happened to you.

The creative team have a lot of love for these characters.  They get inside their minds and simply and easily show us honest reactions.  If you don't know the characters before you read this, you will afterwards.  For example, upon regaining her memories, Emma Frost's fury and indignation at having been treated like this leaps off the page at you:
In particular, Peter Parker's story is one of the cruelest things I've read, but one of the most affecting.  It's fast paced without being rushed and you get a decent introduction to many Marvel characters.

What's bad about it?
It's possible that you won't get as much out of the story if you don't know the background of all the characters. The pages where we see Wolverine running through his memories probably won't make much sense if you don't know his history, for example:
You can see that he's fighting Captain America and the Hulk, but the significance of it might be lost.

However, even if you've only seen the X-Men, Avengers or Spider-Man movies you will have the gist.  It's not important to know all the details from this particular universe as the general idea is the same - the X-Men are feared and hated by non mutants; Spider-Man loves Mary-Jane; Captain America was frozen for 50 years after WW2; Tony Stark is a successful and rich businessman.

What's the art like?
The panels are composed well and the pencils do a great job of showing us the characters' emotions.  I haven't included many examples in this review because it's best to come across them within the story - they have more impact that way.

On the negative side, Coipel's delicate pencils are somewhat overshadowed by heavy inking and flat colours.  For example, this scene where Wolverine meets the human underground resistance:
It's very moody and serious, but the overemphasis on shading and dark detracts from the feeling of the scene.  The drama is over egged and so we lose some of the power.  The colours are washed out and don't have much depth.  It makes the art very shiny and modern, but it loses subtlety.

This page featuring Cloak and Hawkeye (the archer from the Avengers films) is really nicely arranged.  The composition of the panel and the positioning of Hawkeye's fist, right in the foreground, make it a powerful image but the digital colouring does let it down.  It's just not a great example of what comics can be.

On the other hand, the art does tell the story effectively and there are pages that are more delicate, like this one:
The sentinels have been drawn with a lot of detail and the inker doesn't drown this out.  Pages like these are more attractive and arresting, I feel.  However, this book was never intended to challenge comics' artistic boundaries, so perhaps I'm being too harsh.

More information
The House of M main series and tie-ins have been collected in numerous different editions.  The main story, collecting issues 1-8 of the main series and issue 10 of a comic called The Pulse, is available here.
I'd suggest getting the paperback, not the hardcopy, as it's about £13 not £75.

There were numerous tie-ins to this series but most of them are fairly forgettable.  The five Spider-Man ones were decent though, and if you are a Spidey fan it's well worth checking them out.
Second hand copies look to be fairly cheap: House of M: Spider-Man.

I would also recommend getting the Captain America issue, which is number 10 and has this cover:

Search ebay or comixology for it by entering 'Captain America 10 House of M' into the search box.

The first scene in the first issue of House of M is of a woman giving birth to twins.  It's not particularly graphic, but could be hurtful to some.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Saga volume 1

Today's review comes to you courtesy of Phil May - AHA @ReadItDaddy.  Phil is a technical wizard mashing coder by day, drawing fantastic characters and creatures by night and also reviewing children's books with his daughter over at http://readitdaddy.blogspot.com and grown up stuff at http://daddyafterdark.blogspot.com. 

Writer: Brian K Vaughan

Art: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics

What's it about?
Space operas don’t come any weirder than Saga, and just when you feel that you’re comfortable that science fiction comics are mined out and the mighty reign of the superhero comic is unshakeable, Saga spins your head around and embroils you in a graphic universe that is sprawling, chaotic and (sometimes) darkly funny.

Saga kicks off slap bang in the middle of its narrator’s birth, setting the tone for the series stock-in-trade method of shock followed by quick explanation. This is set against a background of a huge intergalactic plot involving space war, marginalization, bounty hunting and sheer unadulterated bizarreness.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The New York Four

Story: Brian Wood 
Art: Ryan Kelly
Publisher: MINX (DC Comics)

What’s it about?
“New York City – It awes me into silence sometimes. And it makes me want to shout out at the top of my lungs. Is there any place better?”

The New York Four is a black & white 2008 comic from acclaimed DMZ-writer Brian Wood aimed at young adults, with Ryan Kelly on the artwork. It was originally a digest-sized graphic novel released through Minx, a line published through DC Comics.

The book doesn't just simply revolve around a strong female lead character, but four of them! Each with their own short narratives woven through the book.

The New York Four is about these four young women that are starting their freshman year at the New York University. They all left their homes and family behind, looking for the freedom you get living in NYC.

As the story opens we meet Riley Wilder. Most of the book is seen through her eyes. Riley's pretty shy, always get straight As and spends all her time on her cell phone, only speaking to all her "friends" she met at parties through it. Her and a couple of friends are kind of short on money, so they decide to share an apartment outside the campus together.

There's Lona Lo, a gal who likes keeping tabs on everyone and kind of comes off as a stalker at times. Ren Severin who's more interested in these older guys and hanging out with other peoples than her classmates. And finally Merissa Vasquez, who's having some troubles with her grades...

One day Riley gets to reconnect with this older sister, Angie, who ran away from home much to her parents' chagrin. Riley never really knew her much before, and she finds her back that year of colege!

There's also this guy, Frank, who Riley falls for... but also appears only interested in dating both sisters at the same time.