Tricks And Revelations

American Gods: Shadows #2 (Dark Horse)

American Gods 2 cover

David Mack’s really pulling out the stops on those variant covers!

Hear that? That sound of punches flying, mysteries swirling mysteriously and antagonists finally showing up to throw shade at our (anti)hero? That’s the sound of Dark Horse’s adaptation of American Gods finally hitting its stride, that is. And I, for one, am very relieved. It is, after all, an uncomfortable feeling reviewing the comic version of an iconic story and finding it… underwhelming. That is not, fortunately, the case with this issue. Read on and I’ll explain why.

Issue 2 starts off exactly where the main strip last issue left off. In the john. Mr Wednesday’s repeating his job offer to Shadow, in the process pointing out that the ex-con doesn’t have a job because his best friend died in the same car crash that killed his wife. It takes some written evidence from a local newspaper to convince Shadow, but, eventually and somewhat reluctantly, he agrees to become a bodyguard-cum-chauffer for the extraordinarily charismatic stranger. The two seal the deal over a drink and things begin to get strange. Or, at least, stranger.

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Much of the strangeness comes from Mad Sweeney, the self-professed leprechaun who shows up at the restaurant and appears to be, as Shadow says, “about ten feet tall”. Already known to Wednesday, Sweeney provides a fair bit of incident in this first section of the issue. Where Wednesday prefers to sit and make conversation, albeit of the decidedly enigmatic sort, Sweeney likes to provoke Shadow into a fight. Which the Irishman eventually loses. The fight is prompted by both Sweeney and Shadow’s skill with coin tricks and the latter’s desire to know how Sweeney’s managed to pull off a particularly impressive bit of sleight-of-hand. This is rather fitting given how much of this story so far has been concerned with deception and things not quite being as they appear.

After the fight, Shadow celebrates his victory with a drink or seven and wakes up on the highway in Wednesday’s car. Wednesday helpfully informs him that his wife’s body is available to view at a nearby funeral parlour and even more helpfully drops Shadow off there. And it’s here that my earlier suspicions about just what’s been going on between Laura and Richie are confirmed, when Richie’s widow enters and spits on Laura’s face. When Shadow catches up to her, she informs him that Laura’s mouth was wrapped around her husband’s gear stick (this is not quite how she describes it) at the time of the crash. Which would explain why he lost control, I guess.

Not for the first time, I’m somewhat taken aback by Shadow’s muted emotional response here. I can only assume that this is deliberate. More so than his time in prison or his conversations with Wednesday, Shadow’s memories of his wife seem to be idealised and almost dream-like. His ongoing reaction (or lack thereof) to both the death of his wife and subsequent revelation of her betrayal seem like he’s suffering from some sort of dissociation. This may, indeed, be deliberate, but it continues to make empathising with him more difficult than perhaps it should be. That said, the plot is moving now, and it’s well-constructed enough to hold the interest regardless of the slightly flat lead character. (And, to be fair, he’s nowhere near as flat as he was in the first issue.)

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The book closes with Shadow being drugged and encountering a deeply unpleasant fat boy in a limo, and it is clear that the boy is much more than he initially seems. The dialogue here is clever, merging the language of computer science with that of religion. The boy has a warning for Mr Wednesday and it is clear that, in taking Wednesday up on his job offer, Shadow has chosen sides in some kind of conflict. Once again, Shadow is dropped off where he needs to go – this time the Motel America – and, with no back up this time round, the issue ends with him heading inside.

Well, this was better. The dialogue between Wednesday, Shadow and Sweeney really crackles and the encounter between Shadow and the fat boy in the limo demonstrates Gaiman’s wit very nicely. There’s a definite sense of impetus now and, although Shadow’s not quite as engaging as you’d expect a main character to be, Wednesday is and I definitely want to see more of him. I also want to find out more about the wider situation Shadow’s got himself into. There’s a genuine sense of intrigue now – and danger. Scott Hampton’s artwork is of pretty much the same standard as last issue, but the bar fight is dynamic and his portrayal of Sweeney as a mercurial, slightly grotesque braggart is very engaging.

All in all, this is a good example of comic book storytelling: the plot is intriguing, the characters fleshed out in interesting ways, the dialogue lively and the art, though still a little on the restrained side, is detailed and clear. Shadow is growing on me and Wednesday is so far the star of the book. There’s certainly enough here to hook the reader into the unfolding larger plot and I’m now very interested to see how this story develops.

This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website. Check them out for some great reviews of DC, Marvel and indie books!

Hedonist Hell? – Vampirella #1 (Dynamite Comics)

 

TNVampi201701CovATanAfter the intriguing and, at times, dramatic 0 issue, I was eager to have a look at issue 1 and see how some of the hints dropped in that self-contained prologue are developed in the series proper. Well, there’s only one way to find out…

 

Before I go any further, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that I am not what you would call a die hard Vampirella fan. I don’t particularly bear the character any ill-will, but my experience of her is confined to a few issues of the original Warren anthology mag and Grant Morrison’s gloriously over the top take on the character in the 90s. I may have an axe to grind, but not a Vampirella-shaped one. More seasoned fans of the lady from Drakulon may have a very different take on this and I’d be delighted to hear from any of them in the comments below. With that in mind, it’s onwards and, in this case quite literally, upwards as we see Vampi climbing her way out of her underground tomb pretty much exactly where we left off at the end of the 0 issue.

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He’s ‘armless now. Heheh. ‘Armless. Oh, dear.

 

The red on black line of commentary which appeared towards the end of the previous issue is also present, offering a succinct insight into Vampirella’s thought processes as she emerges from the subterranean passages only to be confronted by the winged creatures who dispatched one of our rebels last time. These creatures turn out to be, on the surface, angelic in nature, although Vampirella can smell sulphur on them. Vampirella shakes them off, making spectacularly short work of one of them. (If you ever want to see someone being beaten up with their own recently removed arm, then this is the place to come.) Having ascertained that she can still sprout wings in this brave new world, she flies off and, using Mount Rushmore as a landmark, navigates her way to LA.

 

And this is no LA you have ever seen before. Not for the first time with this title, I am reminded of 70s sci-fi flicks – there’s a distinct Logan’s Run feel to the panels in which Vampirella explores a futuristic city that manages to be both brightly and cleanly gleaming, while at the same time revelling in a kind of loveless and crass hedonism. It would be an exaggeration to say that dildos are everywhere in the LA of the future, but they’re certainly more… ahem… prominent than in the present day city. Costumes are gauche and vulgar; architecture and ornamentation are blatantly phallic.

 

Vampirella’s choice of costume is clever, then. In marked contrast to the in-your-face crudeness of the locals, it’s a throwback to the late 60s and early 70s – sexy but stylish (I do love me a pair of arm-length gloves) and the short hair is a bold move that I think on the whole works very well. Even more attractive is Vampirella’s character. Cornell presents her as intelligent, inquisitive, self-assured and extremely likeable. And dangerous. Her encounter with a citizen whose look is part-Clockwork Orange, part Behind The Green Door does not end well for the young man concerned.

 

The issue ends with Vampirella smearing her iconic bat symbol on her red top, grinning wickedly and declaring that she’s here to “wreck” the shocked onlookers’ world. Which is, on the whole, pretty cool.

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So, is this worth persevering with? Yes, I think so. Cornell writes a sexy, clever Vampirella with a new look that really works. The world she finds herself in is interesting both visually and thematically. Broxton’s artwork is inventive and clear and, when it needs to be, dramatically visceral. The mystery of what’s going on in this strange city, of what lies beneath its superficial perfection, is deftly developed through a series of well-scripted encounters. Vampirella’s meeting with the clothes shop clerk is beautifully written and the clerk’s plaintive “You don’t know what you just did to me” provides an intriguing clue to the emotional cost of this hedonist’s heaven.

 

That said, I have some reservations. I could be wrong, but I think we might be in anti-Trump political commentary territory here. Cornell’s a liberal chap and the presence of a decayed Mount Rushmore, a much diminished and explicitly whitewashed LA and the references to money suggest that the evil that is at work here is an analogue for, if not the tangerine one himself, then possibly a GOP who, liberals would argue, hides its venality and corruption between a veneer of morality, rather like the mono-syllabic ‘angels’ who attack Vampirella while reeking of sulphur. Does this worry me? Not at the moment, no. I have no problem with politically influenced and motivated art, provided it’s done well and doesn’t get in the way of good story-telling. The moment things get preachy, I step off. As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading Cornell’s stuff for a long while and, the odd wrong step notwithstanding (yeah, Demon Knights, I’m looking at you), I have confidence in his ability to write exciting, memorable stories peopled with interesting, believable characters.

 

Although there are one or two slight niggles (why do the ‘angels’ not follow Vampirella to the city, for example?), this remains a very enjoyable issue. There’s enough here to keep me interested in the series, and there are (just) enough hints dropped to prompt some theorising about the nature of the situation in which Vampirella finds herself. Broxton’s art is very good; Cornell’s script is witty and fun. All in all, this is worth checking out.

 

Doctor Who: The Pilot

Doctor Who

Well, that was… wonderful. Doctor Who has returned and not just in the prosaic sense of the new season starting. While the last few seasons have been enjoyable enough at times, they’ve nevertheless contained stories that were lacklustre or unappealing for a variety of reasons. There was a distinct sense that the show was struggling – not for its survival, to be fair, but to fire on all the cylinders it undoubtedly possesses. It’s not the purpose of this short piece of fluffery to analyse the show’s recent problems in detail, but I think that tonight’s episode has addressed at least some of them, the more urgent ones in particular. The following is not a review per se, but more a meander through my initial reactions to tonight’s episode. Feel free to share your own impressions in the comments below.

Bill is fab. I know that’s pretty obvious, but it does need saying. Pearl Mackie’s performance this episode struck chords that the teaser trailer at the end of last year’s Christmas special gave no indication of her being able to reach. (In some respects, that trailer did her a huge disservice, but never mind, eh?) Yes, the persistent questioning is there, and yes there are lots of laughs to be had with her dialogue, but there’s so much more to Bill than comic foil. Not a conundrum to be solved or someone whose life has already been touched (damaged?) by the Doctor, Bill is someone with a fully-fleshed out story of her own told in a very affecting way by both writer Steven Moffat and his director, Laurence Gough. There are no gimmicks here, just an extraordinarily likeable and charismatic character who has, as her reaction to the TARDIS entertainingly displays, a different perspective to the Doctor. I cannot wait to see how she reacts to her new experiences this season.

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Dead drowned girl is dead scary.

This was a story with a considerable amount of heart. In fact, it was ultimately a love story and the cleverness of the plotting revolved around that. Avoiding mawkishness, it was character-driven emotionally resonant stuff and that Moffat found time to chuck in Daleks, the ongoing mystery of the ‘vault’ and Movellans (!) was icing on an already satisfying and substantial cake. The story’s very personal scope made it all very grounded and real, for all its fantasy trappings. The pre-existing relationship between the Doctor and Nardole was beautifully portrayed, too. (The Doctor’s slightly exasperated shake of the head after their handshake following the “bigger on the inside” line made me laugh.)

There are hints at a larger story here. That vault is going to open at some point and the notion of the Doctor lecturing at a university for decades seems very unlike him. But the uber-plot appears to be looser, suggesting that individual stories will have the space to breathe and develop – as, indeed, tonight’s did rather powerfully.

All in all, I was impressed by The Pilot. More than that, I was involved emotionally and intellectually; I was engaged, I was delighted, I was hooked. Welcome back, Doctor Who!

Across The Universe – Planet of the Apes and Green Lantern #1

img_comics_37827_planet-of-the-apes-green-lantern-1DC fans are experiencing something of a crossover renaissance at the moment. Batman’s hanging out with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on what seems to be a semi-regular basis. The Justice League is currently teaming up with the Power Rangers. Heck, even He-Man and the Thundercats are getting in on the team-up fun. Already in the middle of a sequel to last year’s well-regarded adventure in the Star Trek universe, the Green Lantern gets yet another slice of the crossover pie – this time dipping his toe into the world of one of the most iconic sci-fi movie franchises of all time. Yes, it’s the Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern crossover. Is it a bright shiny ring of a series? Or more of a banana skin? Let’s find out…

Before we do, though, that cover… Ethan van Sciver has long been a fan favourite and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a raw power to the image of the ape hand thrusting towards the sky, the ring glowing on its finger, that is really impressive. The GL corps members hovering in the background look great too – even if their number appears to include a disco ball and a giant onion in a sweater. That the internal artwork doesn’t quite reach van Sciver’s level is a little disappointing but not deal-breakingly so. Barnaby Bagenda’s art is impressive enough, although it is, I would suggest, less polished than his work on Omega Men, although that may be down to colouring issues. On the whole, though, it’s dynamic when it matters and faces are expressive and consistently drawn.

The issue opens with a scene that manages to be dramatic and portentous, while simultaneously raising some troubling questions. On a barren planet, a mysterious hooded figure is engaged in some kind of ritual, apparently drawing on the power of a number of differently coloured Lanterns, each bound and gagged by glowing yellow-orange chains. Now, I’m not a massive Lantern fan, but even I recognise Munk, Saint Walker, Bleez, Gnort, Arkillo and Larfleeze along with a Star Sapphire who is probably Fatality, but it’s difficult to be sure. Whoever this hooded guy is, he must be wielding some pretty impressive power – particularly if he’s captured Larfleeze who, remember, wields the power of an entire corps in his orange ring. What happens to these captive lanterns at the ritual’s climax appears to be fatal and we later see their bodies with smoking holes in their chests. Are we in some kind of alternate reality for the Corps here? Hmmm…

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In space no one can hear you scream. Particularly if you have a bright orange gag over your mouth.

The action shifts to the Planet of the Apes-era Earth where a silent Nova (there is no other kind, I suppose) stands at the edge of a huge crater caused by the impact of what turns out to be a mysterious glowing ring. She’s met by Cornelius who just happens to be out searching for Taylor. This, I think, means we’re somewhere between the first and second movies (the original ones, that is – not the recent remakes). Cornelius takes the ring back to Zira, but already the ring appears to be exerting an influence on him, briefly turning orange at precisely the moment Cornelius is expressing that he can’t leave something as “precious” as the ring lying in a hole in the ground. Aside from being a perhaps ill-advised call-out to The Lord of the Rings, it does hint at the nature of the ring, which seems to amplify (or instil?) the emotions of those near it. There are further hints in the conversation between Cornelius and Zira that follows. As Cornelius expresses his dismay at the warmongering of Zaius and his determination to prevent the general from acquiring the ring, the ring begins to glow a distinctly redder shade of orange.

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Cats – even blue space ones – don’t care about things like honour or chivalry. If they see an opening, they’ll go for it.

Which is appropriate, because the next thing we see is the Red Lanterns attacking Oa (which, in itself, is a massive clue that this story does not take place in current continuity) because they believe the Greens have taken Bleez. The Green Lanterns respond as you would expect them to. There’s some nice action here as well as some entertaining banter between Guy Gardner and Hal. Bagenda’s artwork is pretty impressive here, particularly in the panel in which Dex-Starr attacks Arisia. The Green Lanterns deal with the threat of the Reds easily enough and then we’re back to our mysterious hooded figure who reveals himself to be… Sinestro. Of course he is, complete with evil chuckling. We find out that the ritual that started this issue was intended to lead Sinestro to the “universal ring”, presumably the object Cornelius is currently studying. Despite the fact that he still doesn’t possess the ring, he seems pretty happy with himself, the implication being that he knows where it is.

Back to Cornelius who wonders if the ring, now glowing a bright ruby red, is reacting to his voice, before deciding to put it on his finger. Dramatic things happen, including Cornelius crying out in pain and, back on Oa, Hal’s ring telling him that a “cross-chronal disruption” has been detected. The Guardians turn up to reassure Hal that it’s absolutely nothing to worry about, although they do refer to a “relic of an ancient security system”, something that sounds like it just might be worth worrying about. Hal, of course, isn’t satisfied with that and sets off to locate the disturbance and finds out that it’s coming from…. Earth.

On arriving at his homeworld, Hal gets attacked by Sinestro, who tells him that he has found a “true path to victory”. As their battle unfolds, Cornelius is out in the desert struggling with the ring’s energy that, in a rather nice double-page spread, leaps out of his ring and across universes to disrupt Hal’s fight with Sinestro. Things get weird as Hal’s ring loses power, he plunges into New York harbour and struggles to shore only to find himself on the desolate beach made so famous by the first film’s ending, complete with a half-buried Statue of Liberty. This would be a perfect moment to end the issue, but writers Robbie Thompson and Justin Jordan have one more sting in the tail. Cornelius encounters a group of the underground mutants from the second movie who have been drawn to the power of his ring and the issue ends ominously with the mutants bowing down to him in subservience.

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I like the underground mutants. I really do. I wonder whether Thompson and Jordan will remember that those faces are made of latex.

Well, that was fun. There are a few issues with this story, but there’s enough going on here to persuade me that picking up the second issue would be a good idea. I suppose the main problems with the story are how it might fit into GL continuity and the overwhelming sense that we’re experiencing a “greatest hits” of the Green Lantern Corps. Oa? Check. Hal and Guy banter? Check. Guardians acting like tremendously unhelpful authoritarian dicks? Check. Hal fighting Sinestro? Check. While I’m not overly concerned about how this fits into GL continuity, I do feel that, on the GL side at least, we’re not really getting much new here. At the moment, it’s the Planet of the Apes elements that are hooking me. I was delighted to see the mutants from the second film make an appearance and I’m very intrigued to see where Cornelius’ meeting with them goes.

Another issue is that, for readers of the current Green Lanterns series, the concept of the ‘universal ring’ might be just a bit too close for comfort to the phantom ring encountered by Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz in recent issues of their book. How enjoyable you find the issue may ultimately boil down to how irritating you find this and/or the portrayal of the GL Corps.

Personally, I enjoyed the issue and think there’s enough impetus here to take the story forward into some interesting places. Bagenda’s art is dramatic when it needs to be and Jordan’s script is easy to follow and, on occasion, witty. The task of bringing two very different fictional universes together is not a straightforward one, and I think, on the whole, the story manages pretty well. Above all, it’s a fun, if not especially challenging, read. It’s worth checking out, particularly if cross-overs are your thing.

NB: This review first appeared in a slightly different form on the Weird Science DC Comics site.  Check them out for a whole host of comic reviews.

A Chat With A Greybeard – The Adventures of Sven

Sven

Sven in happier times, when singing was still a thing.

“Goodness! That was a long climb, eh?”

The man in the monk’s habit inclined his head towards him slightly. His face was lined with age and, perhaps, the wisdom accrued over long years of study in the remote mountain fortress; his eyes were as blue – and as cold – as the empty shell of the sky above them.

“Yes,” the monk said.

The other man – the newcomer, one of two to arrive this eventful and momentous day – grinned.

“Quite a view though, isn’t it?” Gesturing expansively with a gauntleted hand, the speaker gazed out over the vast wildness of Whiterun Hold, falling silent for a moment, perhaps in awe at the majesty of what he saw. “I killed a troll once in those ruins over there. Those ones, right there.” He glanced across at his listener, who was staring impassively into the middle distance. “Speaking of trolls, do you know you have a frost troll problem on this mountain?” The monk raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Well, you did have. Me and the mistress took care of it. Well, it was me mostly.” He tapped the grip of the warhammer strapped to his back. “Me and the old warhammer. You know.” He turned back to the monk, who was not looking at him; indeed, the only sign that he had heard the other man was the slow regular tapping of the forefinger of his left hand against his thick woollen robe.

The man with the warhammer sighed. “You know, it’s funny. For a bunch of monks who bang on about how important the ‘Voice’ is you don’t talk very much.”

The monk turned to him, his blue eyes flat and unyielding. “Come. The trial is about to begin.”

*

Part of the castle was almost completely ruined. Isolated chunks of masonry littered the snow-shrouded ground and a pair of wrought iron gates hung open between two pillars, whatever part of the castle they led into long since consigned to the oblivion of the past. About twenty yards from these gates stood a young woman in a mish-mash of fur and leather armour. An air of… significance hung about her and the bluish tinge of enchantment coated her boots and breastplate like an oily sheen.

From his vantage point on a particularly large block of stone, the man with the warhammer watched intently. The monk stood next to him, his gaze also focused on the woman and the pair of gates which opened slowly on some sort of mechanism operated by another hooded figure stood behind one of the pillars.

Two other monks stood close to the woman and it was from one of these dark-robed figures that the instruction came.

“Now!”

The young woman said something, something alien, something powerful. Suddenly, she was moving. Quickly. The air seemed to blur around her as she sprinted through the gates that clanged shut just behind her.

“Did you see that?” The man with the warhammer turned to the monk, his eyes wide with incredulity. “That was… amazing! Did you see it?”

“Hmmm.”

“No, really. That was… incredible. I mean, she just…” The man with the warhammer paused. “Come on, that was good, surely? I mean…”

The monk stared at him for a long moment, his lined face unmoving, his lips compressed in a thin, hard line.

The other man’s shoulders slumped and he turned away to fumble in his pack for a wineskin. “Tosser,” he muttered.

The monk turned and said something softly. And the man with the warhammer slid off the stone block and into the briar patch on the other side, spilling the contents of his wineskin – a particularly fine Colovian vintage – over his face, breastplate and arms.

One of the three monks now deep in conversation with the young woman glanced up sharply.

“Arngeir!” he cried, sharply. “Stop mucking about!”

“Sorry,” the monk said, not at all convincingly. “Must have been a slip of the tongue.”

Behind him, Sven of Riverwood rose from the briar patch, wiping the wine from his face and wishing, not for the first time, that, when the mysterious stranger had asked him to join her on her quest, he’d told her in no uncertain terms to get lost.

Rumble By The River – Sven’s Journal

 

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The aftermath of battle. A scene of devastating carnage and wanton destruction that… Oh, who am I kidding?

Sundas, 7th of Heartfire

Well, that was a bit rubbish. We’re walking along by the river just to the east of Whiterun – well, I’m walking; Miss Dragonbreath or whatever she’s called gets to ride her oh-so-comfortable horse while yours truly slogs along in that mixture of steel and dwarven armour that’s all the rage in Solitude, apparently. Not that I can be sure of that, of course, as we’ve yet to actually make it to Skyrim’s capital city, preferring instead to potter around Whiterun Hold or, if we’re feeling really adventurous, parts of Eastmarch. When I signed up to be DB’s companion, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

I have helped slay a couple of dragons, admittedly. But not today. Today it was a sabre toothed cat which had been prowling around near one of the farms. We saw it down by the river and, despite the fact that I’ve seen DB pad up to bandits and slit their throats or blend into the shadows and take down a warded up necromancer with a single shot, we charged the bloody thing. Well, I say we. I charged like an idiot and half way to the big – and I mean huge – cat, I become horribly aware of that terrible emptiness by my side that signals that, yes, DB has finally remembered she carries a bow and is quite good at shooting things with it.

The cat looks up, startled for a moment, and then it snarls and bounds towards me. I’m in the middle of praying to Shor, Akatosh and anyone else who might hear me, when it veers away at the last moment and starts pawing at a nearby mudcrab, leaving its flank completely exposed to me. Well, I don’t need a second invitation. I wade in with the old warhammer, DB gets a decent shot in that pierces its side and that’s one less big cat to trouble the turnips, as they say.

Then we have the ritual skinning and tooth-taking and I have to sit on my backside while DB runs around chasing butterflies for half an hour and picking the wings off them when she catches them. I tell you, that girl’s… disturbing.

Still, it’s nice round here at this time of year. The view’s inspiring and the air’s clean and sweet. When it’s not smelling of animal blood. I’ve no idea what we’ll be doing tomorrow, but I expect it’ll involve me running around after a horse because, despite the fact she’s got enough money to buy a house, DB can’t be bothered to buy me a ride. Still, no one said life would be a bed of rhododendrons, did they? Heh. I should write a song about that. Sound’s… catchy.

Sinister Spirit – The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers #2 (Dynamite)

After the first issue’s compellingly sinister scene-setting, the second issue of Francesco Francavilla’s pulp noir take on Will Eisner’s most famous creation features some vigilante action, a deepening mystery and the introduction of a couple of new characters. Will it all be enough to maintain the momentum established by last month’s issue?

There’s only one way to find out…

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Once we take in the gloriously moody first page with its ominous Raymond Chandler quote, we’re confronted with a page comprising eight TV screens taking us through Central City’s top news stories. Last issue’s dead homeless man hasn’t managed to make it onto the news agenda; the bank robbery that ended last issue has, but even that takes second slot to the ongoing controversy over the ominously-named ‘crimson coal’, a potential source of energy that has yet to be properly tested by the city’s regulatory authorities. This is the second time the ‘crimson coal’ has been mentioned, although how it might tie in to the rest of the story’s events remains, as yet, unclear.

There’s not much time to ponder this, though, because the story quickly shifts into action mode and, once again, I find myself somewhat awed by just how dynamic Francesco Francavilla’s artwork can be. The double page of the Spirit bursting through the window of the bank robbers’ deserted factory hideout is spectacular enough, but the fight that follows it possesses a wonderful fluidity, at least partly because of Francavilla’s decision to dispense with traditional panel borders. It’s also worth noting that the action is made more dramatic by Francavilla’s use of colour, the Spirit’s red tie dramatically punctuating a fight that is otherwise rendered in blues and blacks.

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How to make a dramatic entrance.

While the Spirit deals with the implications that Eb recognises one of the captured robbers, the narrative shifts to introduce Lisa Marlowe (a nod to Chandler that’s just a little too on the nose for this reviewer), a down-on-her-luck PI who’s watching John Bartlett, a “famous entrepreneur” whose wife suspects him of cheating on her. This being a comic book, the subject of her surveillance turns out to be up to something considerably more nefarious than enjoying the charms of another woman. Arguably, this plot strand is the most interesting part of the story as we realise that Bartlett is the man behind the ‘crimson coal’ venture and something extremely fishy is going on involving the city crematorium and a mysterious, hooded man we last saw injecting Eb’s uncle with some unsavoury looking yellow fluid. The issue ends with yet another homeless man being injected, his scream echoing in the night as a train rattles along the railway tracks overhead.

As the second part of a five-issue series, this does a good job of moving the plot along while raising more questions about just exactly what’s going on in Central City. Francavilla’s keeping the Spirit and the main plot apart at the moment, which is, apart from the occasional bit of flat dialogue, the only thing that niggles me about the issue. We do get to see the Spirit in action – and very spectacular that is, too – but it’s Lisa who’s the vehicle for the plot at the moment and that makes the Spirit feel a bit removed from the main action, which seems a bit odd in a comic that bears his name.

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Francavilla sure knows how to draw speeding vehicles.

That said, Francavilla is a phenomenal storyteller and the comic remains a seductive blend of stylish action and atmospheric scene-setting. There’s a delicious feeling of dread in the latter half of the issue when Bartlett and his fellow conspirators meet; their conversation is rich with euphemisms like “factory” and “merchandise” that hint at a horrible ‘processing’ of human life. And that final page is wonderfully chilling.

In many respects, this is a typical second issue. Threads are unravelling, but have yet to start tying together in any meaningful way. The sense of mystery is palpable, and the Spirit is given the chance to shine, not only in the fight with the bank robbers, but also in the interrogation scene that follows. The sense of menace, of something truly terrible happening that has yet to be fully revealed, is what makes this story particularly compelling and I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out in future issues. If you want a beautifully presented slice of pulp noir goodness with gorgeously atmospheric artwork and a really rather creepy plot, this is most definitely the book for you.

NB: This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.