Update – Things You Might Like To Read III

Just a quick update, because time is a bit squeezed at present and I’ve got important things (like, well, marking) to do. A couple of novels and a curiously moving issue of Howard the Duck this time round.

The Kill Artist

A couple of weeks ago, I finished Daniel Silva’s The Kill Artist, a library loan that took me about three months to finish – which is about average for me. A colleague of mine, it turns out, once had to read this novel for his reading group and found it rather unappealing. I actually quite enjoyed it – enough to be tempted to pick up another Silva book in the future. This novel is about Silva’s Israeli art restorer-turned-spy Gabriel Allon who is, as is usually the case with these things, dragged out of retirement by the opportunity to settle old scores with a Palestinian terrorist who killed his family several years ago. So far, so predictable, I suppose, and it’s true that Silva’s plotting, with one or two exceptions, is not exactly ground-breaking. What is compelling, though, is his decision to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a great degree of sympathy for both sides; he also displays a distinct coolness when it comes to describing action and a somewhat refined, at times lyrical, prose style that elevates this above your typical spy thriller. At times the novel seems to be straining against the boundaries of the genre, but it never quite manages to test them sufficiently to be particularly memorable. That said, it was enjoyable enough and, if you’re looking for a spy thriller, you could do a lot worse than pick this up.

Time_of_Contempt_UK

The Witcher series of novels continues to impress; Andrezj Sapkowski’s second full novel The Time of Contempt sees Geralt of Rivia trying to protect his protege Ciri and prevent her from being used as a pawn in the increasingly murderous machinations of a variety of kings, a coterie of wizards and one particularly cunning emperor. If you’ve played the rather impressive games based on these novels, you’ll be aware of how rich and gritty the world of the novels is, but that doesn’t quite prepare you for Sapkowski’s storytelling which manages to plumb the depths of human baseness and take in the rarefied air of abstract philosophy sometimes in the same scene. In a genre swollen with bloated multi-volume Tolkien derivatives, Sapkowski offers something rather special – a fantasy world based fairly clearly on medieval Eastern Europe and a plot that is as much driven by the petty and short-sighted desires of men than it is by ancient prophecy. In short, this is good stuff, although, if you’re tempted to dip into his work, you might be better starting with his collection The Last Wish, which is so good I’ve read it twice and will doubtless do so again.

Howard The Duck Issue 2

Howard the Duck. Alright, then. I like Zdarsky and Quinones’ run on the character, although it doesn’t really have much of the satirical madness of the Gerber run from the 70s. That’s not to say that there isn’t madness, mind you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the current creative team’s gentle send-up of some of the more prevalent tropes of the Marvel Universe. Issue 2 of volume 2 (yes, Secret Wars is responsible for spawning yet more number 1s!), though, offers something rather unexpected – a touching tale dealing with female versions of Howard and Rocket Raccoon, cloned by the Collector when he captured Howard and Rocket during the first run. Expected to… ahem… keep our favourite duck and raccoon company during their long captivity, the two female clones strike up a close friendship and escape with the help of a Gatherer who should be keeping them prisoner but has formed a close surrogate parent bond with them. I won’t spoil the issue any further but I will say that it’s been a while since a comic book had quite the emotional impact that this one had on me. It’s nice to see that comic books still have the capacity to catch you unawares.

Well, that’s it for now. Be cool and awesome and wonderful.

Don’t forget to check out some other cool comic book blogs like Murph Manor, Chris Is On Infinite Earths and, of course, the one and only Weird Science DC Comics.

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The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers #1

The Spirit Issue 1 cover

2017 is the 100th anniversary of Will Eisner’s birth and it’s wonderful to see his most famous creation get a new lease of life in this Dynamite mini-series. It’s even more wonderful to see the creative baton being handed over to Francesco Francavilla, one of the most distinctive and consistently excellent creators in the business.

Continue reading “The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers #1”

Revision Guide Required? – Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1

Of the ‘big three’ DC superheroes, Wonder Woman’s origin is by far the most fluid, contentious and contradictory. Whereas Batman’s and Superman’s are both more or less set in stone and well known to even the most casual of comic reader, Wonder Woman’s is, it seems, perennially up for grabs, a prime target for the whims and agendas of a host of writers. So, when fan favourite Greg Rucka returns to the book after two (although for very different reasons) controversial New 52 runs from Brian Azzarello and Meredith Finch, is it too much to ask that he leaves the whole notion of Wonder Woman’s backstory alone?

What do you think?

Wonder Woman - Rebirth (2016) 001-000The issue starts by highlighting the two main contradictory versions of Wonder Woman’s origin. Either she is made of clay – a gift of the gods to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, given life by supernatural forces – or the result of a union between Hippolyta and a disguised Zeus and, in that sense, no different from any of the other many demi-gods of Greek mythology. The first origin reflects the Judaeo-Christian creation story and highlights how much Diana was wanted by her mother; the second is arguably rooted in deception and lust, and emphasises Diana’s heroic status, putting her on a par with Heracles, Perseus and a host of other heroes who claim Zeus’ paternity. The more perceptive of you will have noticed that I’m more a fan of the first origin, but I should point out that what I’ve read of the Azzarello run (about 20 issues) I’ve enjoyed immensely. Having made his choice about Diana’s origin, Azzarello explores it to its full potential, crafting a very entertaining set of stories out of the resulting collision of the world of 21st century (post)modernity and the world of ancient gods.

It’s clear, however, that Rucka has his own ideas about which origin should be favoured; arguably the very fact that he’s even asking the question in the first place indicates that he’s not especially enamoured of the New 52 run. Instead of resolving this fundamental contradiction immediately, however, Rucka chooses to make it the subject of his narrative. He has Wonder Woman question herself, question her memories, her origin, her past and her heritage. She questions how she is perceived by “man’s world” (a phrase that is problematic in its own right) and this culminates in her submitting herself to her own lasso of truth test in which she articulates what her subconscious had been telling her all this time. “You have been deceived.” This comes just after she has taken the ‘helmet of the God of War’ and crushed it in her hands, symbolically devaluing the Finch run in the process. While no one will shed too many tears about that, it is nevertheless a disconcerting moment, not only for Wonder Woman, but also for the reader. The question of just how much of what went on in the New 52 run is going to survive into this is raised and it seems the answer might well be “Not an awful lot.”

Wonder Woman - Rebirth (2016) 001-014

There’s seven years of bad luck right there. Rucka’s not going to be on this book for seven years, is he? Is he?

This section ends with Diana punching a mirror in a rather impressive (almost) double page spread, each shard reflecting a moment that has been called into question. These include the relationship with Superman (which I really won’t miss), a battle with the Cheetah, the JL fighting parademons and Diana cradling her mother in her arms. There then follows a page in which Diana questions where her story “went wrong” (a loaded question for any storyteller working in a shared universe to have a character ask, particularly when said storyteller has written the character before) and decides to ‘retrace her steps’ to find out. As she does so, she divests herself of key items of her costume – the tiara and the WW choker, both of which are associated closely with the New 52 run. She turns her attention back to the battered helmet of the god of war and…

Everything changes.

Wonder Woman - Rebirth (2018) 001-017

This is lovely. Just… lovely. Really, really lovely.

Up until this point, we’ve been enjoying artwork from Matthew Clark and Sean Parsons and very nice it’s been, too. The lines have been light and clean and Wonder Woman herself has looked pretty impressive and dynamic. Now, we are treated to six pages from Liam Sharp who will be one of the regular artists on the book. The lines become heavier; the colouring darker. Her armour becomes more detailed. There is a muted sombre quality to the art now and it is gorgeous. Wonder Woman doesn’t waste any time and travels to Olympus using the battered helmet as a focus. What greets her there is an autumnal world of faded elegance and stately ruin. The sky is a sumptuous wine-red, and buildings and statues are wreathed in ancient vines. More worryingly for Diana, the gods are entirely absent. Only the statues remain who turn out to be mindless automatons left by Hephaestus to protect this faded Olympus. Wonder Woman dispatches them in a handful of stylish, beautifully rendered panels and is left with the conclusion that “this lie” is “afraid” of her and this is “not Olympus”. All very portentous. All very dramatic. All very vague.

Wonder Woman - Rebirth (2017) 001-017

The level of detail, the atmosphere, the leaves fluttering in the wind… Just. Awesome.

As befits a Rebirth issue, the reader is left with plenty of questions. Where have the real gods gone? Who is powerful enough to erect a fake Olympus in place of the real one? Who is responsible for the deception that has been worked on Diana? Exactly what is true and what is false? How will this affect Diana going forward?

It’s too early for answers, but what we do know is that Rucka is confident enough in what he’s doing to play a long game and I suspect there’ll be many more questions before we start getting answers. Some would perhaps argue that the entire issue is simply an exercise in professional discourtesy. I’m not convinced myself. Personally, I’d contend that, as a writer whose first run on the book was both critically and commercially successful, Rucka’s earned the right to engage in a bit of revisionism. Whether he’s wise to do so remains to be seen. There’s enough here, however, to intrigue and impress this reader at least.

As Rebirth issues go, then, this is not bad at all. Even when he’s being elliptical, Rucka’s writing is very good (the line about the “first casualty of war” being the truth is nicely played). The artwork of both Clark and Sharp is also good, with Sharp’s being, at times, breathtakingly beautiful. I do have reservations, though. I care about the character of Wonder Woman a great deal and do worry that, if the book gets bogged down in a series of character ‘corrections’, the opportunity for Wonder Woman to reassert herself as a powerful superhero in her own right might be lost. I don’t especially want to see Diana constantly conflicted and unsure of her own identity. I want to see her saving the world, fighting evil and injustice, and generally being awesome. Hopefully that’s where Rucka is taking us. Time, as always, will tell…

Here Is The News…

This is just a quick update to let you know that I’ve had a review published on the rather wonderful Weird Science DC Comics website and hopefully this’ll be a regular (or semi-regular) thing. The review is of Dark Horse’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and can be found on the Weird Science website here and on this site here. Wherever you choose to read it, check it out. I will just say, mind, that the Weird Science website has a ton of great reviews. Although their main focus is DC, they do carry reviews of books from other comic companies including Marvel and those reviews are fair, clear and very entertaining. In addition to their reviews, their DC Comics Podcast is required listening for anyone interested in comprehensive and insightful reviews of DC books. Just don’t expect brevity. 🙂

Another website I’m really enjoying is Chris Sheehan’s Chris Is On Infinite Earths. Chris is one half of the Cosmic Treadmill podcast and, as well as being a knowledgeable and articulate guide to comics past and present, is a very nice guy to boot. How do I know this? Because he recently opened his site up to reader suggestions and one of mine was the first one he picked. For his insightful take on Legion of Superheroes #28, check out his review here. It’s an excellent read and typical of Chris’ approach. Chris manages to review an issue a day which, to be honest, is an output of which I’m genuinely envious. Again, his website is well worth a look – as, for that matter, is the Cosmic Treadmill podcast, in which Chris and co-host Reggie Hemingway look at a single issue from comics history, provide a summary, review and, invariably, some fascinating contextual information.

The WildstormAs for me, I’ll try to keep this blog updated a bit more regularly over the next few weeks. I’ve got reviews in the pipeline for the new Spirit series, the new Vampirella series and, possibly, some comics in translation. Stay tuned for that and, if you’re looking for something to pass a few minutes with, you could do a lot worse than the new The Wildstorm series from DC. Warren Ellis is writing; Jon Davis-Hunt is on art. It’s a thoughtful, intriguing take on the WildStorm universe and I’m rather excited to see where it goes.

American Gods: Shadows Issue 1 (Dark Horse)

pdf0First published in 2001, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is long overdue for a comic adaptation. Presumably spurred by the imminent appearance of a TV adaptation, Dark Horse has decided to release an adaptation across 27 issues constituting 3 distinct story arcs with veteran comics creator P Craig Russell as adapter and co-writer and with Scott Hampton (and, briefly, Lovern Kindzierski) on art. So, does the first issue of American Gods: Shadows succeed in hooking this comics reader (who hasn’t read the novel!)? Let’s find out…

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

American Gods: Shadows issue 1 comes, as might be expected, with a variety of covers. The standard one is a rather tasty bit of Glenn Fabry art featuring a minotaur character who only briefly appears in the comic. My favourite, though, is the David Mack cover which is more impressionistic and more accurately reflects the slow, thoughtful, atmospheric narrative. (If you’re hankering for something more Sandman-esque and disturbing, though, the Dave McKean cover is probably going to be your bag.)

The story itself introduces the character of Shadow (if you’re writing a tale that is rooted in mythic notions of gods, worship and the supernatural, you might as well go the whole hog and give your main character a name positively brimming over with portentous ambiguity), who, when the story starts, is serving time in a decidedly British-looking prison for, we find out later, aggravated robbery. He is presented as a thoughtful – almost philosophical – man who attempts to stay removed from the kind of violence and pettiness popularized in countless low-budget prison movies over the last few decades. Instead, he works out, practices coin tricks and occasionally has interesting conversations with the improbably-named Low Key Lyesmith, a bearded chap who looks like he should be running the House of Secrets rather than serving time. Despite the fact that Shadow is nearing release and an idyllic reunion with his wife and best friend (I have my suspicions about them, incidentally), he can’t shake the feeling that something is going to go wrong.

And, of course, it duly does. A couple of days before his release date he is informed that his wife and best friend have died in a car accident and he’ll be released early as a result. An understandably numb Shadow endures a circuitous journey back home, but he gets off the plane early largely to get away from the dapperly-dressed but strangely knowledgeable Mr Wednesday with whom he’s been sharing the plane flight. Mr Wednesday has, during the course of their conversation, offered him a job, the details of which are worryingly vague. On leaving the airport, Shadow heads to the nearest diner only to again encounter Mr Wednesday (who should still be on the plane flying north at this point) in the rest room and, again, Mr Wednesday offers him the job. And there we leave Shadow, although the comic continues for another four pages, more of which in a moment.

At this point, the comic is… pretty good. Scott Hampton’s art, the occasional slightly off facial expression notwithstanding, is generally great, although it’s worth pointing out that both it and P Craig Russell’s layouts may appear exceptionally conservative if you’re more used to the action-orientated art of your average big two superhero book. The narrative pace is decidedly slow and deliberate. This comic is in no particular hurry to tell its story and, while that doesn’t necessarily have to be a drawback, here it presents some difficulties. Shadow is too taciturn and self-contained a character to be someone with whom the reader can instantly identify. He’s interesting up to a point, but hardly charismatic. That the other characters around him during the prison sequences never really rise above the level of foil or caricature only adds to the sense of remoteness. Some of the dialogue between Shadow and Lyresmith is witty, for example, but that doesn’t particularly translate into warmth. Shadow’s reaction to the news of his wife’s death is so muted as to be almost non-existent, which makes it even more difficult to feel sympathy for him. It’s noticeable that it’s only when Mr Wednesday appears, that Shadow comes alive. Gaiman and Russell do build up a real sense of intrigue about Wednesday and his reappearance in the rest room of the diner is foreshadowed beautifully and handled well.

Whether there’s enough here to hook the reader thoroughly remains to be seen. We get plenty of hints throughout the issue of a wider supernatural plot, not least the character of Wednesday himself, but the focus is squarely on providing the reader with Shadow’s backstory. At this point, I’m not sure that’s enough. It’s a good thing, then, that we’ve got those last four pages.

The four-page ‘Somewhere In America’ section (I can only assume we’re going to get more of these as the series progresses) features a quite frankly bizarre encounter between a young man and a buxom, dark-skinned woman who turns out to be considerably more than she appears. This sequence works on so many levels it’s breath-taking. Both lyrical and mundane, it balances pretty much perfectly on the dividing line between beauty and horror, sex and death, and deals with the kind of fundamental questions about love, sexuality and divinity that would have any student of Freud or Jung squealing with delight. Lovern Kindzierski’s artwork appears to be fairly straightforward but has a fluidity and creativity that is very appealing. In these four pages, the comic offers the Gaiman-esque weirdness that the rest of the issue has only hinted at and delivers a considerably greater impact in only a fraction of the space.

This isn’t to say that the main story is terrible. It certainly isn’t. It is, however, an incredibly slow burn. The inclusion of the last four pages serves as a reassurance that, yes, the world that Shadow is in the process of entering really is as disturbing and compelling as the Gaiman name on the cover suggests. Taken as a whole, then, this issue (just about) manages to do its job in introducing our main character and giving us a tantalizing look at the wider world in which the story takes place. On that basis, I think it’s worth a look.

NB: This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website. Thanks to the guys for the permission to post it here as well.