Friday, 14 December 2012

Best of 2012

So, it is around the time of the year when people start looking back at what has gone in the past twelve months or so, and compile lists of their favourite music/books/films/etc. In my case, in order to compare with those of MrGiantwoman and the lovely Bob Reyer of Talking Comics, I have dutifully compiled several lists of comic books, writers and artists that have caught my eye, piqued my interest and generally worked their way in to my heart and mind this past year.

Some categories have gotten five or six entrants, some have just got the one. This is partly because some of the entrants were out and out favourites of my year, and partly because there were some books that were just too good to miss out on putting in. It may also have something to do with me being indecisive, but I'm blaming in on there just being so many great books out in 2012

I've listed my current "best of" list below, and will try and go in to more details on several of the books over the course of the next week or so, as some of these are absolute corkers that shouldn't be missed.

So, without further ado the lists:

Best continuing series:

Mind The Gap
Captain Marvel
Thief of Thieves

Best limited or mini-series:

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe
New Deadwardians
Hit Girl

Best single issue or one shot:

Iron Muslim
A Babies Vs X-Babies
Halloween Eve
Amazing Spider-Man #698

Best story arc:

Death of Peter Parker (ASM #698-700)
Intimate Strangers (Mind The Gap #1-6)
Prince of Thieves (Fairest #1-6)

Best Writer:

Jim McCann
Brian K Vaughan
Brian Wood
Bill Willingham

Best Artist:

Rodin Esquejo
Skottie Young
Fiona Staples
Koray Kuranel (Point of Impact)

Best Cover:

Fairest #3, #8
Anything from Mind The Gap!
Before Watchmen #2
Revival #3
IT Girl and the Atomics #1 (standard cover)
Lady Mechanika #1

Best Humour:

A Babies Vs X-Babies
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Deadpool (Marvel NOW)

Best Anthology:


Best kids/young readers:

A Babies Vs X-Babies

Have I missed anything? Have I included something you think I shouldn't have? Let me know in the comments, I'm always open to new reading suggestions.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Transfusion: Vampires versus robots #1

Transfusion: vampires versus robots
Writer - Steve Niles
Art - Menton3
Publisher - IDW

Despite the ridiculous subtitle of this book, I picked it up, almost entirely because the artwork is by the bizarrely named Menton3, often touted by Steve of Talking Comics fame, therefore worth a shot. I have to say, Steve is right about Menton3; his art is haunting, terrifying, beautiful and obscene. Like nothing else I've seen in popular press, the subdued palette he uses only serves to accentuate the lines of his haunting figures, refugees hiding in shadows and grotesque robots stalking a ruined Earth.

The story itself develops slowly across the course of this first issue, but gives just enough storyline and human interest to make me want to pick up the next. We are given a quick summation of how the world came to be as it is at the start of the story, and are then dropped straight in to the 'action'. I have to add those quotation marks, as one of the features that appeals to me about this book is the calm, almost placid way the images are presented, even when showing scenes of graphic horror and death.

I will certainly be looking out for future books in this series, as despite the strange, almost silly premise, as a first issue this book gave me a lot more than I was expecting.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

iT Girl! and the Atomics #1

iT Girl! and the Atomics

Writer - Jamie S. Rich
Artists - Mike Norton
Colours - Allen Passalaqua
Lettering - Crank!
Cover - AMichael & Laura Allred
Publisher  -Image

I am a girl. This is not something I often admit too, because I'm not very feminine at all, I don't have many (any?) traditionally female-oriented interests, and I'd rather go kick-boxing or play an RPG than go shopping. 

However, sometimes my inner-princess gets the better of me, a good example of that being when I saw the front cover of new Image title 'iT Girl! and the Atomics'. Add in some blurb from Fiona Staples on the cover singing its praises, and I duly handed over my hard-earned pennies and walked out of the shop clutching my new pink-and-lilac purchase.

While most of the characters are taken from the pages of Madman & The Atomics (which I have not read), they are given enough exposition that this is an easy pick up, no background knowledge needed. This title gave me everything I wanted: sassy females, comedic bad guys, mad scientists and enough action for set me up for the next issue. The magazine style front cover gives you hints as to the content, without giving anything major away unless you are aware of the characters from their previous books.

Much of the book is taken up with explaining what it going on in the world, and setting up the main characters, but iT Girl has enough personality to carry the plot, and Rich introduces the supporting cast with enough speed to keep the reader interested, but not to confuse them.

Mike Nortons artwork is lovely, perfectly complementing the story and the bright (dare I say feminine) colour palette used reflects the tone of the story, darkening for panels of danger or action, and light and breezy when it needs to be.

Overall I would say this is a good start to a new series, and hey, maybe you have a lady friend who would like a get in to comics? If she wasn't convinced by Captain Marvel (if not, is she mad?!) try her on iT Girl, she might see what all the fuss is about after all.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe #1

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe

Writer - Cullen Bunn
Artist - Dalibor Talajic
Colourist - Lee Loughridge
Letterer - Joe Sabino
Cover - Kaare Andrews
Publisher - Marvel

This isn't the kind of comic I would normally pick up for myself, but as MrGiantwoman is something of a Deadpool fanboy, it seemed only right that I give it a read too. Luckily, I have learnt to turn my brain off before opening a Deadpool title, regardless of who has written it or what it is about. This title is no exception to that rule!

Part one of a four part series, it does exactly what you can expect from the title. We open with our protagonist wreaking havoc on the Famous Four in his usual understated style, seven pages of gore and quips only slightly marred by the portrayal of Sue Richards that harks back more to the bad old days of the 90s than he more recent First Woman of comics persona, but that is a minor quibble from my inner feminist.

We are then treated to a bit more exposition from the Watcher, who luckily informed us before the proceedings opened that this is all occurring in a parallel universe, so as not to cause any confusion with the (seemingly eternally) ongoing Avengers vs X-Men shenanigans. It seems the X-Men have finally given up hope on poor old Wade, and have delivered him in to the hands of a progressive medic who claims he can "rehabilitate" our unhinged friend. Well, I figured I could see where this one was going, but Bunn manages to throw in a curveball in the form of Psycho Man, who - after even more verbal sparring - thinks he has the better of 'Pool. Silly Psycho Man. The voices in Deadpools head (slightly confusing for one such as myself that have not read that much of his previous exploits, but easily identified through liberal used of various coloured speech boxes) have themselves a little party, then we get back to business; bloody, murderous rampage!

Sadly the story gets a bit confused by itself at the end of this first issue, because a character that was alive at the start then meets his maker by the end, an event that happened before the book began. Confused? So was Bunn apparently. Still, having turned my brain off I wasn't overly concerned, because it plays for laughs and lives up to the lovely parental warning on the front cover.

The artwork is fairly decent, given that a few major players make appearances, and the colouring suits the tone. It's all a bit mad and unhinged. As it should be.

This is not a comic to pick up if you are looking for something cerebral, but for a fun diversion from reality Deadpool Kills... ticks all the boxes.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Thief of Thieves #7

Thief of Thieves

Story - Robert Kirkman
Writer - Nick Spencer
Artist - Shawn Martinborough
Colourist - Felix Serrano
Letterer - Russ Wooton
Cover - Shawn Martinborough & Felix Serrano
Publisher - Image

I was quite a latecomer to this series, having missed out on the first, second and third printings of the first issue, and it wasn't until issue six that my LCS managed to find me a full run to get my teeth in to. Thieves turned out to be one of those comics that had me asking for the next issue as soon as I had finished all those I had, and issue #7 is no exception.

With a plot that could be pulled straight from a Hollywood blockbuster (yes the 'Oceans' series, I a looking at you), it has all the intrigue and twists of a major motion picture, supplemented by the sumptuous artwork of Shawn Martinborough. The plot is fairly simple, a master thief wants out, but has to pull one last big heist to set himself and his crew up for life. Except he pulls off a different kind of set up entirely...

Issue six left us wondering how he had pulled it off; setting up his entire crew in order to free his wayward son from the clutches of the FBI, only for them to appear to be walking free for no reason that we are given. Until now. Redmond is a master of plotting, and has pulled a blinder with his plan as enacted in issue 6. We are given the brilliant details throughout the course of issue 7, but the cliffhanger at the end only leaves me wanting more. At what cost has he rescued his son, given that it seems he will now have to carry out the "last big job" that he was so desperately trying to avoid throughout the preceeding issues? I suppose I'll have to wait and find out. Must... be... patient...

The beauty of Nick Spencers writing comes to the forefront in this title, different in many ways from Morning Glories, the only title I knew him from previously, but with the humanity that he seems to bring to all his characters. Once again he manages to create individuals that are flawed, imperfect, and yet utterly believable. Our master thief Redmond has all the hallmarks of the classic 'bad boy', and yes, I love him for it. He has rescued a slightly broken woman from a potential life of petty crime (admittedly by taking her into the murky underworld of major heists), done his utmost to win back the wife he has lost through his life changes, flirted his way through several encounter with the law, and written a heartfelt note to his son trying to prevent him making the mistakes that have peppered Redmonds own life. The supporting cast of thieves, family and FBI agents only serve to uphold the reputation that Spencer is rapidly gaining in my household for being a master of his craft.

Largely free of splash pages, the pared down style of the comic allows the artwork and colouring to come to the fore, with a dark palette that allows the faces of the characters to act as a focus, and a single full page illustration for the final page, beautifully rendered and encapsulating Redmonds plight - and my reaction to the latest cliffhanger - with a single word.

All the characters - even those introduced in this issue, and those that we technically shouldn't like such as the FBI agent that plagues Redmonds every step - have qualities that draw the reader in, and the emotion drawn on their faces, be it shock, happiness or fear, just add to the joy of this comic.

My verdict? if you haven't read this series yet, do so. Now. seriously, stop reading this and go and pick it up, you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Review

We've been spoiled this year. The glut of superhero movies being thrown at us has been overwhelming, but please don't think that I'm complaining. When I go to the cinema, I want a bit of escapism. Something to drag me out of the drudgery of everyday life and enable me to see a potentially better world. Some optimism. 

That is why I loved the Avengers movie, with its larger than life characters, over the top set pieces and general unreality. The way that all the preceding films together was perfectly executed for me.

It is why I enjoyed Amazing Spider-Man because it had a wonderful boy-meets-girl tale of the sort that just doesn't happen in real life, and reminded me of my unattainable crushes from senior school as well as giving me a view of a better world, a world with heroes. 

I should have known that The Dark Knight Rises wouldn't provide me with the escape that I crave, even though I went in with very little in the way of expectations.

While I enjoyed the first two films in the Nolan trilogy, I was brought up with Adam West as Batman, and have always preferred the animated series to the live action films. I have always favoured the more amusing takes on the Bat, rather than the dark, gritty, realistic vision that Nolan presents us with. If I want gritty and realistic, I'll put the news on, thanks. The film just didn't grab me the way that other big budget superhero movies this summer have, which is a shame because the rest of the world seems to love it. That said, it was a good film, visually stunning and with a suitably epic soundtrack. It just wasn't the film for me.

Christian Bale is an amazing actor, there is no denying that. The Fighter is one of my favourite films of the last few years, The Prestige was awe-inspiring, and The Machinist was amazing. I love his Bruce Wayne, but his Batman just leaves me feeling flat. The face beneath the cowl, the way he's all lips and tongue, the voice (oh gods, the voice!), just don't work for me. Sorry, Bale fans, I just don't get it.

Anyway, shocking admission time. My favourite character in the film? Bane. I loved him; his look, his fighting style, his back-story, everything about Bane spoke to me on a level that the other characters didn't. When he was fighting Batman, both in the tunnels under Gotham and near the end of the film, I was paying more attention to his moves than to anything else happening on screen. Tom Hardy brought an elder-statesman style to the character that I haven't seen before, moving away from the venom-pumped luchador I'm used to seeing, and channelling his inner-politician. His mannerisms, style, words, all reminded me of that great man, Winston Churchill. 

Catwoman was fine, there was nothing especially thrilling there for me, although MrGiantwoman appreciated her, can't think why... I liked the way that she got a gradual back story as the film developed, and her goggle-as-ears was a stroke of genius. However, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stole the film for me. His character Blake is the perfect sequel set up - not as Robin personally, but for Batman in the proposed Justice League movie. Why not bring in a younger, less world-weary Batman? There is scope for a film in-between to show his training, and he has the right spirit as far as I am concerned.

All in all yes, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, but would I see it again? No. I felt that it was too long for a single film, and could have either been split into two films or lost at least half an hour of footage. There were too many inconsistencies for me (yes I'm a continuity freak), and although it wrapped everything up in a nice little bow at the end, I just didn't find myself caring about the characters as much as perhaps I should. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Hypernaturals #1

The Hypernaturals

Writers - Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artists - Brad Walker & Andres Guinaldo
Publisher - Boom!

I picked this up because I am currently loving New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett, and I've appreciated some of his writing for Games Workshop, so I figured this was worth a punt. 

The cover drew me, sharp visuals, nice and neat, not too fussy. The same can't be said for the internals though. Maybe I've been spoiled a little by all my recent AvX reading, but the big splash pages with lots going on just aren't doing it for me today. The art is good, I'm not saying it isn't, I'm just not sure about their chosen palette and many of the images have too much going on and t distracts from the comic as a whole for me.

On my first read through I wasn't really sure what was going on; the exposition seemed a bit clunky at times, and under-used at others. I like the idea behind the plot, there is nothing like a good pseudo-robot rebellion to get the blood flowing, but in the first half of the book I mostly found myself rooting for Sublime. Well played to Abnett and Lanning if this was their plan, but I'm worried it isn't, and that I may have missed the point entirely. Still, as bad guys go, he seems like someone I could follow.

The three main characters introduced in the first issue can be characterised as Brains, Brawn and Boobs. They have actual names but I can't quite bring myself to care what they are right now. Brains has deep, black, soul-less eyes. Says it all really. Brawn is a classic bitter Western fallen hero character who I can only assume will find redemption from the alcoholic spiral he has descended in to, and Boobs portrays everything about our current shallow, image obsessed culture that I despise. Yes, she's a girl - lets hive her an illicit relationship and an obsession with her reputation! Yawn.

Credit where it is due, I did read Hypernaturals twice, so it must have some merit, although I did find that reading just the speech and not the quasi-scientific babble helped it out the second time. Again, it seems that the writers were trying to fit too much in, and I'm fairly sure that the impressive images created by the artists could have passed the test without captioning. 

The second section of the book is written as a short magazine article, and mostly reminded me why I don't read lifestyle magazines any more. There seems to be a trend in current comics (The Massive, Idolized, Grim Leaper, Before Watchmen) to add that little something extra to the end of the story, and in many cases it works. This 'interview' just felt like padding to me though, making up the pages without too much effort. I'll probably pick up issue 2 and see if I like where it is going, but I won't rush out for it as a must buy.

Finally, can anyone tell me how / why Boobs gets such am angular rack in her interview shot? I'm both scared and fascinated by it.

Friday, 8 June 2012

America's Got Powers #1 & 2

America's Got Powers
Writers / Artists - Jonathon Ross & Bryan Hitch
Publisher - Image

Let me get something off my chest. I don't like Jonathan Ross. I think he's arrogant, unfunny, overexposed and self-obsessed. I didn't buy this title because of that. Unfortunately for me, I'm a sucker for good publicity. Admittedly, lots of that good publicity came from Bryan Hitch retweeting complimentary reviews on twitter, but still, a couple of people whose opinion I trust suggested it, so I picked up issues 1 & 2. An action I am now regretting. The £4.40 I spent on those two comics could have bought me a pint of ale and a packet of crisps. Or two different comics. Ones with a whiff of originality to them.

I feel really bad, sitting here on my sofa bitching about someone being derivative when the sum total of my creativity starts and ends with a poem published when I was 11, that wasn't actually very good. But heck, I'm going to do it anyway. America's Got Powers draws heavily from influences such as Hunger Games and X-Men. Okay, maybe I draw influences from these sources, and am casting unfair aspersions on the authors. I don't think so though. It just seems a bit heavy handed, harking back to the anti-mutant sentiment of X-Men but not in a way that compliments it, more in a way that says "look, we've read this and liked it so much we're using it again".

The major plot twists we have had so far were so glaringly obvious that I wondered why they even bothered to keep them a secret in the first place, and Tommy, the 'hero' is so two dimensional I can't bring myself to care about him. The art is, well, fine. The writing is, um, nice. There is nothing in these comics that reaches out and grabs me by the cojones though. Yeah, I'll probably read the rest of the series, but I'm not likely to make them release day purchases, and they'll probably sit in a long box for a while before I get around to them. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dial H #2

Dial H
Writer - China Miéville
Artist - Mateus Santolouco
Colourists - Tanya & Richard Horie
Cover - Brian Bolland
Publisher - DC Comics

This is one of very few DC 'new 52' titles that I've picked up, and I did so purely based on the recommendation of the guys over at Talking Comics. Boy am I glad I did.

I'm not a massive DC fan, never have been, but Dial H moves away from their populist superheroes, into darker territory, almost parodying the very characters that are DCs bread and butter. We (technically) have a hero, but he's overweight, lazy, unenthusiastic and generally a bit of an average Joe. Heck, he doesn't even have a super-power, just a schizophrenic phone booth with some bat-crap crazy ideas. That is the joy of this comic though, Miéville takes all those stupid ideas that people think of in  the pub after a few pints (you know it's true) and crafts them - with the help of Santolouco - into the kind of ludicrous 'hero' only DC would produce. Iron Snail, anyone...?

I can't help but like it though. The writing is fun, and has an easy touch of realism - you would keep trying out different heroes too, right? - whilst maintaining its inherent lunacy. There are enough threads of story [sinister gangster types, a friend in need & an opponent that is not all she seems] to keep me interested until the next instalment, thanks to the storytelling pedigree that Miéville brings to the table, and the artwork keeps just enough of the crazy to work, leaving just enough out not to overwhelm. It isn't often these days that I will go back to a single page several times over just to marvel in the joys of the images shown, but the page where CONTROL-ALT-DELETE 'reboots' his opponent is masterful. Also, mental. Did I mention that this comic is a bit mad?

For a self-confessed Marvel fan-girl to be singing the praises of a DC title is strange, but not as strange as Dial H. Try it for yourself. Just don't say I didn't warn you...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Grim Leaper #1

Grim Leaper
Writer - Kurtis Weibe
Artwork - Aluisio C. Santos
Publisher - Shadowline/Image 

Like many of the new titles I encounter, this purchase was inspired by a few recommendations from independent sources on twitter, and the fact that the writer generally comes across as quite a nice guy on there. It helps that it has a tag of line "a love story to die for" and that the dot over the i of Grim is shaped like a little skull. Sometimes, it's the little things that count.

The basic premise (as I picked up through the first book any way) is that Lou (or Blake, or Paul) has a rather bad tendency to get killed in unfortunate ways - truck tyre to the face, anyone? - then come straight back to inhabit another body in his dead end town. I must admit I am already hoping that we will find what out happens to the prior inhabitants of these bodies, as it seems to have been brushed under the metaphorical carpet for now. He seems to have adapted to this lifestyle rather well, and has quite a flippant attitude to the entire scenario. Not sure that I'd be so casual about facing yet another impending death myself. The story has pulled me in though, not so much caring for the main character (he's a bit of an arse to be honest), but wanting to know why he has made certain decisions, such as at what point he anthropomorphised Death, how he recognised that Ella - otherwise a complete stranger - has the same "curse" as him and so on.

Stylistically, the use of colours and textures gives depth to the story, flicking between what I am assuming is the world as we would see it, and the world as Lou sees it. This helps keep the reader grounded, as the protagonists unfortunate tendency to change bodies regularly could cause problems otherwise. Judging by the cover we can look forward to a lot more of the many faces of Lou Collins, some of whom (punk, little boy) could well as some more depth to the story.

One thing I mustn't forget is the extra story that takes up the final few pages of the book. I found the transition slightly jarring at first, as it cut from one story the next without so much as a by-your-leave, but the rather cutesy tale of office/traffic based romance acts as a nice counter to the somewhat graphic main tale, and I look forward to seeing what they use to back-up the next instalment of Grim Leaper, and whether the duo of Joey Esposito (scripts) and Jeff McComsey (scribbles) will be back in the next issue is an added bonus to look forward to.

All in all, [yet] another one for the pull list. At some point I'll have to trim it down, but while good books like this keep getting produced, I for one will keep on buying them.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1 - 3

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child
Writer - Selwyn Seyfu Hinds
Penciller - Denys Cowan
Cover - Rafael Grampa & Dave Stewart
Inker - John Floyd
Publisher - Vertigo

Another new title from Vertigo, one that I have put off reading until I had a few issues in hand, as I had heard mixed reviews of the first instalment and wanted to base my judgement on something more meaty.

Having said that, I am still undecided on whether this title is for me or not. While I like the concept - having chosen to write a dissertation on voodoo in New Orleans whilst at university - I can't help but feel that they are trying to fit too much in too small a space. A number of the references to slightly obscure areas of the religion are fine by me [see earlier comment about studying] but I would imagine they would bypass the average reader, and simply confuse the storyline.

The basic concept - descendent of voodoo queen unaware of her ancestry but at risk from numerous others who know of her bloodline - seems like an over-used trope from bad pulp fiction, and sadly the first three issues don't seem to be adding much. We have a "love interest" who seems a bit trigger-happy, a mysterious, shadowed character known only by a pseudonym, a 'strong' woman acting like a bitch because she's scared of losing her power, etc etc. It's all been done before, often better.

The occasional narrator also makes me feel uneasy - which can never be a good thing. At times the voice is written in what I can only assume [having never visited] is supposed to be a New Orleans accent, but being from the south coast of England, it loses something in translation. On top of that, I can't decide if s/he is going to emerge as an established character, or if the musical references and insider knowledge are simply there to move the plot on.

The artistry and colouring themselves are committed well, with a nice differentiation between different areas of town, but there is nothing inherently gripping that made me finish issue 3 and wish I could pick up 4 straight away. 

I just can't get past the feeling that the creators here have been too ambitious, and have maybe bitten off more than they can chew, which is a shame. Here's hoping the next issue meets my expectations slightly better.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The New Deadwardians #1 & 2

The New Deadwardians
Writer - Dan Abnett
Artist - I.N.J. Culbard
Publisher - Vertigo

The New Deadwardians is a good old fashioned detective story, a murder-mystery with a twist. After reading issues 1 & 2 I have to say I'm glad I picked this up. The artwork cleverly depicts 1900s London in the aftermath of a zombie incursion, and there are numerous little graphic touches - eye colouring, the use of shade in daylight panels - that add further depth to what is essentially a classic story.

We are immediately introduced to our protagonist, George Suttle, via his "remarks", a sort of diary / internal monologue, and from the outset he is shown to be a classic detective, a flawed individual with a dark past and uncertain future. Set in a version of Edwardian England replete with the undead (zombies and vampires by another name), the comic is one of Vertigo's new season of comics, and a change from my usual fare of Marvel superheroes and re-told fairy tales.

Despite having a lot of back-story to include, Abnett manages to pace the first two issues wonderfully, moving the main mystery along smoothly whilst adding layers of story - such as the unfolding tale of Louisa the housemaid which adds a nice 'human' touch to an undead tale.

Visually, Culbard brings pseudo-Edwardian London to life, and although the entire comic uses an essentially dull palette - greys and brown dominate throughout - the occasional splashes of colour, especially where the "restless" are concerned, create a nice contrast and prevent the panels from becoming too similar.

I have high hopes for the rest of this short series (sadly there are only 8 issues), as Abnett already has me caring for Suttle, and my interest has well and truly been piqued by the turns the mystery has already taken.