Comics – 18th April 2012

The Night Of Owls begins in the New 52. Spilling out of the pages of this month’s Batman, Bruce Wayne’s fight against the Court Of Owls engulfs all of the Bat family bar Batwoman in frantic battle. They even appear in the Justice League this month. It’s going to provide  useful spike of continuity across many of the issues. It’s also good to see an event that doesn’t overtake the whole of DC’s output as these things are sometimes want to do.

DC – New 52 #8 Part 3
Batman
Birds Of Prey
Blue Beetle
Green Lantern Corps
Justice League
Nightwing
Red Hood & The Outlaws
Supergirl
Wonder Woman

Not Reviewed
Captain Atom
Catwoman
DC Universe Presents
The Legion Of Superheroes

Marvel
Incredible Hulk #7

Other
Dominique Laveau: VoodooChild

Skipped To The End…
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Comics- 7th March 2012

DC have launched their new look website, wreaking havoc on my bookmarks and generally making things hard to find.

The reviews get cut down further in the New 52 this month, but what remains is good. Marvel continues strongly, and 2000AD starts off a brilliant new story (well. the second arc to a previous title but we’ll get to that).

Let’s get started then…

DC – New 52 #7 Part 1
Animal Man
Justice League International
Stormwatch
Swamp Thing

Not Reviewed
Men Of War
OMAC
Red Lantern
Static Shock
Batwing
Detective Comics
Green Arrow
Hawk & Dove
Action Comics

DC
Huntress

Marvel
The Defenders
Villains For Hire
Winter Soldier

2000AD
Prog 176

Other
The Manhattan Project #1
Supurbia #1
Valens The Outcast #3

Skipped To The End…

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Comics – 8th Feb 2012

Fashionably later, but at least pipping the next releases, here is last week’s comics. While a fuller selection than the last lot, I’ve been left slightly let down, which meant this review has dragged. I’ll explain below…

DC – New 52 #6 Part 2

Batgirl
Batwoman
Deathstroke
Demon Knights
Green Lantern
Legion Lost
Resurrection Man
Suicide Squad
Superboy

Not Reviewed
Batman & Robin
Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.
Grifter
Mister Terrific

DC

The Huntress
Penguin: Pain And Prejudice

Marvel

The Incredible Hulk

2000AD

Other

Thief of Thieves
Valen The Outcast

Skipped To The End…

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Comics- 1st Feb 2012

A change of format this week on two matters. Firstly I’m moving the conclusion section to the end, to hopefully provide a wider overview on the week’s output. Secondly with a number of series having finished their first story arc I’m going to be harsher on what comics I pick to review. There’s a link to the DC Sneak Peaks here for those of you who want to try before you buy, or second guess this winnowing.

DC – New 52 #6 Part 1

Animal Man
Justice League International
Red Lantern
Stormwatch
Swamp Thing

Not Reviewed

Action Comics
Batwing
Detective Comics
Green Arrow
Hawk & Dove
Men Of War
OMAC
Static Shock

Marvel

The Defenders
Villains For Hire

2000AD

Prog 1767

Skipped To The End…

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Comics – 25th Jan 2012

Before we start on the comics a quick work about DC. They’ve got a new logo.Which isn’t exactly earth shattering, but there are some nice variant, with this being one of the more iconic ones…Onto the comics then. The Justice League jumps into this week’s running order, and a few things slip into my Not Reviewed section. I’ll also be waxing lyrical about 2000AD. It is certainly a breath of fresh air after DC.

DC – New 52 #5 Part 4

All Star Western
Aquaman
Batman: The Dark Knight
Blackhawks
The Flash
The Fury Of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man
Green Lantern: New Guardians
I, Vampire
Justice League
Justice League Dark
Teen Titans

Not Reviewed

The Savage Hawkman
Superman
Voodoo

Skipped To The End…

DC

Legion: Secret Origins

2000AD

Prog 1766

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DC The New 52 #3 Part 4 (of 4)

It occurs to me I have not given a link to where you can actually get a taster of what I’m talking about. Clicking here will take you to this week’s DC Sneak Peak on the Comixology website.

Talking of Sneak Peaks, it got me to pick up both Batman: The Dark Knight, and Superman, both of which I’d been planning to skip over. That makes it a review of the full 13 releases this month. Enjoy.

All Star Western #3

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Moritat and Jordi Bernet
Cover by MoritatI like this month’s cover, and its feel of being a Western movie poster. The issue starts, with silent action as Hex’s back story is told in captions unrelated to the panels. It feels a strange place and manner of including a back story that could have been left until later in the run. One of the villains quotes a prophecy, which could be something or nothing. It may have been fulfilled in DC’s pre New 52 continuity, or be yet to come in any one of a number of books based in Gotham.

The art this week falls short, with some really nasty perspective mistakes (watch out for the Gatling gun barrel). The plot sees some of the foundations of the Gotham penal justice system being laid, and a Western style drive by. This issue seems to wrap up part of the plot and move us into new territory, but I expect a reprise soon.

The second story in the book, El Diablo, gets wrapped up with very little ceremony. A two issue short is always going to be a different read compared to a story told over a six issue arc, but it does feel overly truncated. Resolution comes far too swiftly, and the overall piece is left cheapened by this. It has been exploitation of what could have been an interesting premise that fails to deliver.

It’s a sad fall in form this month that I’d hoped not to see, and a particularly worry if parts of the plot are already being squared away, as while I like the idea of playing with the format of the usual 6 issue story arc, in this case I can’t see it working well.

Aquaman #3

Written by Geoff Johns
Art and cover by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

We start with a flashback, but it’s the cover that lays the groundwork for this issue, with the big fight sequence from last month continuing. It’s conclusion, with the fishy enemies in retreat, leaves a battered Aquaman being once again patronised by the people he has saved. The misconceptions and bad reputation Arthur has been running into since the first issue are clearly going to take a long time to resolve. There’s an interplay with the events of Justice League here, in which his initial appearance is quiet awesome. How he’s moved from one state of affairs to another on the New 52 universe will hopefully be explored soon, rather than simply continuing to trade off the meta perception of him. We see the reappearance of someone who I assume was a pre New 52 character, and a hint at something to come, perhaps. The final panels are interesting, showing a character disillusioned with his lot, and bitter about his treatment by the surface world. Next month’s issue promises to be very good indeed.

Batman: The Dark Knight #3

Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by David Finch and Richard Friend with Jay Fabok
Cover by David Finch and Richard Friend

Not a good cover is it? As I mentioned in the introduction, I almost didn’t pick up Batman this week. I was won over by Sneak Peak, where there was some particularly good dialogue from one of the characters. I don’t want to spoil things, so go take a look via the link at the top of the page if you’ve a burning desire to know. What I am going to take pains to point out is that this character was not Batman. Batman, in this series seems oddly written, taking a different direction from other incarnations. He gets an almost James Bond one liner after finishing off an opponent, running counter to his usually lack of humour, and seems to be acting outside his normal focus with a laughably pompous scene threatening someone. Despite of this there does seem to a genuiene mystery being built up, which remains well veiled. We also get a cameo from Flash, who seems to be getting around quite a bit (which is at least sensible given his powers, unlike Batman’s many appearances). I am divided about the issue. Art and overall plotting are good, but dialogue and characterisation seem below par.

Blackhawks #3

Written by Mike Costa
Art Alessandro Vitti
Cover by Ken Lashley

The opening page is a little odd, both in terms of context and content but in fairness would work nowhere else in the book. Past this the rest of the book is very good. There is a very nicely done bait and switch with some unexpected humour thrown in. There’s also some good dialogue: “We are not made of flesh, we are made of choices”. There’s even a foreshortened eye patch joke in there. One thing that is rubbing me up the wrong way is one of the leads being referred to as “Lady” all the time, even if it is her name, it still manages to come across as derogatory. That aside I’m really enjoy Blackhawks. After a shaky start, in issue #1, things are really coming together, and being considerably smarter in its themes, devices and plotting than I suspected. The nano technology used is a well crafted device, managing to be scary science born horror and plot point. The fight has been cut back this issue in favour of a more science heavy dialogue, and exploration of the antagonists.

The Flash #3

Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art and cover by Francis ManapulAnother lovely cover, and consistently wonderful internal art. Once again, this can be really appreciated via the link at the top of the page. Even the way the book title is show internally is well executed. The art is a close second to Batwoman in my opinion, which given the praise I heaped on that a fortnight ago, is no mean thing. Moving beyond the art, there’s more detail about Barry’s powers, which is very well handled with narrative captions, that avoid feeling like a contrived information dump. The plot gets fleshed out with dark science and pig bits, in a change of tone. In fact, the whole issue is a little darker than the previous two, but we’ll come to that in a moment. There’s an slightly out of place feeling caption box telling readers to “Stay tuned for issue #6”, which manages to be both antiquated and effective. Antiquated crops up again, with the use of a steam powered car, which is quite cool. The flip side of this is that it comes in a glaring bit of sub plotting, narrated with lurid green caption boxes. Flash’s cameo in Captain Atom at the head of the month, gets a reprise this month, in a manner of speaking, however tenuously. There is a dark humour showing through at points, and the issue finishing with one of the best cliff hangers so far, across all 156 issues of the New 52 released to date.The main plot, in particular this month’s conclusion, and the characterisation of Allen’s foes is going to a murkier place than in the first two issues. While it works well, I hope there’s a return to the more upbeat nature of the preceding issues.

Next month is promising to be very good indeed.

The Fury Of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #3

Written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone
Art by Yildiray Cinar
Cover by Ethan Van Sciver

I find myself with sadly little to say about this issue, which is slightly unfortunate given the length to which I’ve run talking about other releases this month.

There is the dubious return of someone I assume is a pre New 52 character. This is followed by a very long fight scene, and further exploration of the Firestorm power. And yeah, that’s about it, in admittedly very broad strokes. The agency that are attempting to retrieving the Firestorm protocols a pushed from pillar to post,  with an almost sympathetic bit  of characterisation before things swing the other way. The origin story gets fleshed out by a fractional amount, but the narrator is more than a little unreliable.

The characters are being almost overshadowed by the action, but there is development, which will hopefully see fruition next issue. That the series isn’t being knocked off the review list is indication that I am still finding something of worth here, but it’d be nice to have more depth and less explosions.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #3

Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Tyler Kirkham, Harvey Talibao and Batt
Cover by Tyler Kirkham and Batt

I really like this month’s cover, and the issue as a whole; mainly for it running against the status quo of the DC universe, something all four Green Lantern books are doing to greater or lesser extents. Kyle gets the apotheosis, using all the different rings at once, as foreshadowed over the last two issues. The Guardian’s position within the universe is altering, which will develop nicely, fingers crossed. We get answers to questions that were left hanging over the first two issue, which are resolved in an unexpectedly and awesome way. Next month should be very good indeed.

That the above sums up almost all I want to say about the issue should not be taken as an indicator there is nothing going on. Once again it is the case that mentioning the best bits will spoil them, and I’m keen to avoid that.Consider this my elliptical way to coming around to recommending the book, but go with the caveat that of all the books across the New 52 it is New Guardian’s that requires the most pre existing knowledge of the universe, to get the most out. How it feels without this is something I am ill qualified to judge.

I, Vampire #3

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino
Cover by Jenny FrisonI’m not a fan of this month’s cover, which is a shame after the first two months. Nothing is diminished internally however. Once again the issue takes a different approach to the standard method of telling a story, this time shifting perspective to that of Professor John Troughton, an associate of Andrew’s and a fellow vampire hunter. His narrative manages to encompass back story, the moving forward of the plot, character exploration, and foreshadowing of things to come. There’s the introduction of another new character, who I think I’ll leave people to discover for themselves.

If the above isn’t enough to draw you in this month, maybe that next month promises to be set in Gotham, although I can’t decide if I want to see the implied Batman vs Vampires this implies. Although judging by what I’ve heard about next month, this may get derailed some. I’ll not be giving this away either though.

Justice League Dark #3

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mikel Janin
Cover by Ryan Sook

We are still yet to see the team really assemble as yet. Constantine meets up with Zatanna, and there are definite nods towards a shared past, entrenching him further into the New 52 continuity. Deadman is getting considerable panel time, and remains a bit of an arsehole. Shade gets fleshed out a bit more, with a scene happily reminiscing of Event Horizon, or the Shining, although the book isn’t quite the horror opus that this comparison suggests. There is a lot left high up in the air still this month. Hopefully this will all start falling into place, but not so fast as to ruin the pacing that is being established. Assuming a standard six issue story arc there is a lot to fit into the remaining half of the run.

The Savage Hawkman #3

Written by Tony S. Daniel
Art and cover by Philip Tan

I’m undecided about the art, which veers between looking good and sketchy, without a noticeably style change. I realise that didn’t give much idea of what I’m driving at, but if pictures could be fully described with words then I suspect that a) your reviewer would be a lot better at writing these than his is, and b) it’d be unnecessary art.

This issue seems to sadly advance little of the main plot ending depressingly close to its beginning. Between these points the plot does grow so it’s not an entirely filler issue, but it’s perilously close. There is little happening character wise either, which is the real shame, given the conflict shown in issues #1 and #2. As mentioned in the review of Justice League Dark, assuming a 6 issue story arc, then over the next three issues the pacing and story will hopefully see this justified.

Next issue will hopefully see things advance, as I have high hopes for this series. Certainly the cover previews look suitably grand.

Superman #3

Written by George Perez
Breakdowns and cover by George Perez
Art by Jesus Merino

The second book this month to almost not make review, but scrapping through on the benefit of the doubt from Sneak Peak. The opening narrative captions run on far into the issue. There’s a considerable tie into Action Comics and it really embeds Superman in the New 52 version of Metropolis. Told from the viewpoint of a reporters pitch for a new show it neatly touches on some very old and specific clichés, but also puts the spotlight on the dangers that seem to come hand in hand with Superman’s prominent presence within the city.

There’s some almost quietly done character building, before we reach this month’s big bad, which undermines some of the good will the series has built up, with some, for want of a nicer phrase, smack talk, from Superman. Sadly smack talk seems to sum it up perfectly.

As I seem to have said far too often, I hope things improve next month, with the beginnings of some resolution of the over arching plot that has been building behind the big bad of the month.

Teen Titans #3

Written by Scott Lobdell
Art and cover by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

There is a fantastic speedster piece of art, which does things in a very different way to Flash, but is just as brilliant. I really enjoyed this issue, although there is a bit of  iffy over sexualising of a teenager, with Wonder Girl in a nurse outfit. Elsewhere we get another new team member introduced, who walks a very thin line between being unlikeable and brilliant, which is an achievement in and of itself I suppose. Batman also appears to have taught Red Robin a thing or two in the undetermined time he was just Robin (see last week’s issue of Nightwing as to why I’m stressing this) . The crowning achievement of the issue is a character that turns up for a single panel, and in four speech bubbles surpasses many others in sheer brilliantness.

Voodoo #3

Written by Ron Marz
Art by Sami Basri and Hendry Prasetya
Cover by John Tyler Christopher

Despite not having any nudity in this month, Voodoo still seems to have sex as a key theme, between dirty truckers, stereotypical gas station owners, two girls who seem to be taking fashion tips off the Dukes of Hazard, and Voodoo herself the issue is fairly rife with it. The high point is Kyle Rayner’s cameo (another continuity headache in the making), with some nice dialogue and Green Lantern constructs that are both fantastically imaginative and very well drawn. On the subject of art, and as I’ve mentioned before in reviews of this series, it is lovely, which probably only serves to emphasis the whole sex theme. There does seem to be a move towards a more robust plot with the final page bring in an unexpected cameo (no, not Flash again).

Skipped To The End…

Once again I think it’s Aquaman ahead of the rest this month for my recommendation but it is facing tight competition. The Flash is possibly joint first, and if not is only a whisker away. I, Vampire continues to do very interesting things, and Teen Titans has really impressed me this month. Blackhawks has jumped up considerably in my estimation, and is doing something different from the rest of the line; in plot, if not delivery, it feels very much like a Warren Ellis story (a likeness that has been alluded to elsewhere and one I can agree with). Justice League Dark, is possibly still trading on my love of the occult side of the pre New 52 DC universe, but hopefully not to the point it is colouring me objectivity when I was it is worth getting. New Guardians, as a title is a tricky one, as it does rely on a readers love of the Green Lantern books as a whole, and their recent history, to be worth getting, but isn’t a letdown if that is the case.

The other titles are all a little disappointing in their own ways. Nothing stands out as truly awful and deserving of cutting, but neither are they brilliant. Both the big name titles have left me undecided, which I suppose characterise the problem those titles face; they have to stick to the formula that gives them their audience, particularly at this early stage of the New 52. So it’s going to be big fights and maintaining the status quo for a little while yet. Superman may prove to be a little more adventurous given time, just from the way they are redeveloping the character.

All Star Western, Fury of Firestorm and Hawkman all need another issue to set them back on course. Voodoo is showing a tiny bit more promise than it did, but it’ll have to do something phenomenal next month, and effect a change of tone, to drag itself out of the gutter. Should it manage this the first collection will prove to be an odd read as the feel of the book shifts. There is a change of writer coming for Voodoo with #7 (which is not the only title with changes coming), so it may be that things will alter then.

I have a few pieces of housekeeping to deal with before next week’s release roll around, which will hopefully be dealt with in another post. There will also be a book review from me if I can squeeze it in.

Review | The Fall by Claire McGowan

The Fall
by Claire McGowan
Pub: Headline Books
Released Feb 2012

When her fiancée Dan is arrested for murder Charlotte finds her expensive wedding, nice pampered life and everything she knows is on the line. No one seems to want to know her any more yet alone help her.

Keisha was at the club the night the murder happened, she may know something vital, but she’s not sure exactly what she does know, or that she wants to know it, all she is sure of is that her boyfriend Chris has suddenly become a threat to her.

The Fall is in some ways more about the personal journey’s of the two female leads than it is the crime, as they try to deal with the situation the behaviour of their respective partners has created. If banker Dan hadn’t blown up int he club he would never have been accused and their is some small doubt over his innocence in the readers mind, while Keisha’s Chris would be a much more pleasing killer from our perspective. The case is strong though and the investigation was not incompetent, it also complicated matters that the only really likeable male character is the one who has just dragged Dan off to jail.

There is plenty of internal personal conflict in all the characters and while they are not all or always likeable they are compelling, just enough doubt over the killing also helps to keep the reader hooked. The writing has more of a literary feel than I have normally come across in crime fiction, but there are lurking threats in the dark and plenty of psychological trauma to make this a fun and gripping read.

A strong and compelling debut by an author who has set the bar high and is primed to do interesting things in the genre.

Review | The Killing of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman

The Killing of Emma Gross
by Damien Seaman
Pub: Blasted Heath

It’s Dusseldorf and Peter Kurten is about to give himself up to Thomas Klein. He claims he is the serial killer known as the Ripper. Thomas has several problems, the largest of which may be Ritter, a superior officer with a personal grudge against Klein and the whose case this is supposed to be. He needs to know if Kurten really is the Ripper, what happened to the last little girl he took and what it is about Emma Gross that doesn’t quite fit.

I can sum this one up pretty quickly. It’s grubby and rough. In more detail, Seaman captures the grey drudgery of a city in depression along with the violence and corruption of the age and the police. The use of occasional but consistent German along with his feel for the country holds the reader in place and the characters are, frankly, all thoroughly unlike-able, but none the less compelling and it is possible to empathise even while appalled by the choices they make. By the end of the novel I found myself even sympathising with Tom and feeling his frustration.

The prologue kicks the whole book off with a short sharp shock and then the first chapter throws you right into to a novel that is a well written, rapidly paced, gripping procedural. The book doesn’t really revolve around the Ripper, like all the best procedural’s it’s about the detective, Klein and in this case very much about Ritter too and of course, the killing of Emma Gross.

I expect to hear a great deal more from this author, partly because he has a series of articles running here on unbound over the next couple of months, but also because it really is an excellent and deliciously dark crime novel. Seriously though, grubby and rough.

Review | Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City
by Lauren Beukes
pub: Angry Robot
cover: Joey HiFi

Zoo City was this years Clarke Award winner and after hearing Lauren read an extract  and talk about the book we made it our book club title for November’s meeting. This will be the second book club book in a row i’ve actually finished, unheard of since we got bigger than two members.

I was expecting something a bit special given the accolades and I got it.

In a world were committing a crime lands you with a magical animal you are always marked. In South Africa this mainly means living in Zoo City. For Zinzi a drug habit means in addition to living with Sloth for her crime she is also trapped working scams to settle her debt.

As dark as Zoo City gets at points, I always felt that Beukes had material to take it further, be darker, more violent, more emotive, it would have been easy to go too far. Instead she maintains a balance that let this to be an entertaining and enjoyable read as well as allowing the reader to explore the challenging subtext further in their own mind rather than having it forced on them.

I loved Zinzi and Sloth and tore through the book desperate to know if they made it.Facing murder, muti, her own demons and everyone else’s the odds are against Zinzi all the way through.

This was definitely one of those occasions when I was gutted to find that the last few pages of the book were not the story. I really loved this one. Be interesting to see what the rest of book group think.

Review | Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing

Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing

“Biff!” “Bang!” “Whap!” “Pow!”
Welcome, gentle reader, to this review of Al Ewing’s Gods of Manhattan, a glorious, violent and action-packed Steam-Punk tribute to superhero fiction! Superhumans, masked swordsman, secret cults, Lady Ga-Ga tributes, sidekicks, fast cars, ancient goddesses and more can be found in this storming little tome.

The book follows on from the events of “El Sombra”, with the arrival of that books titular hero sword-wielding hero arriving in a Manhattan as part of his relentless quest to destroy the Nazis wherever they may run and hide. Arriving in the city, he discovers that he’s not the only shadowy hero at work.

With an almost god-like status, and physique to match Doc Thunder is an idle of the American people and the city of Manhattan, casting down the evil-doers with the aides of his super intelligent friend doc and his beautiful and deadly partner Maya, an ancient Jaguar Goddess. Doc is a hero in the classical sense of the term, defeating the villains but not taking lives, unwilling to fall into the darkness that mars his creation.

Lacking the same moral compulsion is the Blood-Spider, an altogether more sinister figure who draws the shadows like Doc draws light. Killing with excellent precision, riding in a fast car driven by a beautiful woman this vigilante stalks the city gaining approval with those who think the criminals should face a bullet rather than jail.

The lives of all three heroes collide spectacularly when a man who is already dead dies, drawing them together to aid and abet each other as they try to unravel the mysteries that the death throws up and the secrets it might bring to light for all of them and the world to see.

Whilst I’m not a big reader of hero fiction, I know enough to see the characters who have inspired the three mentioned above and I’m sure that a true fan of Marvel or DC would appreciate it even more. The book is a glowing tribute to all classic superhero fiction but, at the same time, an inventive and original story the brings together staples of comic-books and casting them through a dark mirror into a grim world that still makes you smile with dark humour from time to time. Al’s writing style ads to the ambience, styled to deliver the maximum amount of world detail (to the point you can practically smell the steam or feel the wall under the Spiders gloves) whilst not breaking narrative or the driving action.
To anyone wanting a thrilling read where the plot twists and turns with the pace of a roller-coaster, this book is for you!
Until next time!
Kerl