Promethea, Book 4

Promethea, Book 4 

By Alan Moore, J H Williams III & Mick Gray (America’s Best Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0032-X

In this collection of the adventures of the goddess of Myth and Imagination, Alan Moore and JH Williams conclude their epic and surreal exploration of “The Higher Realms” known as the Immateria, which began in the previous volume.

The plot, as such, is in the classic formula of the pilgrimage of wonders, where the protagonists explore radically variant realities and philosophies for our voyeuristic edification, challenging a lot of comic book preconceptions about narrative and giving the illustrator a chance to show his versatility with a spellbinding variety of art styles and designs.

It’s not all avant-garde however, as the interwoven subplot of Promethea’s replacement on Earth follows much more traditional paths, with absolute power absolutely corrupting the substitute Goddess, thereby threatening the world with a very real swathe of destruction. This is yet another challenging yet rewarding read from the very edge of mainstream comics.

© 2003 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Snow

Batman: Snow 

By Dan Curtis Johnson, J.H. Williams III & Seth Fisher (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-481-1

This brief adventure of Batman’s early career (originally presented in Legends of the Dark Knight issues #192-196) tells of his first encounter with Mr. Freeze, as well as examining the gradual movement towards the current methodology and support network that the Dark Knight utilises.

As Victor Fries nears the completion of his work on extreme sub-zero temperatures he makes two shocking discoveries. His beloved wife Maria is hospitalised and dying whilst his research has been subverted by the US military. Batman, meanwhile is nearing a physical and emotional collapse. He finally comes to see his obsession and realises he can’t do it all alone. Yet the authorities have limits he won’t allow himself to be hampered by.

For both men the solution is drastic and in their own hands, and both will suffer consequences tragic and life changing because of their decisions. For Batman it’s the formation of a private unit of specialists to research and supply support for his war on crime. For Fries it’s the forcible reclamation of his wife and work.

The two stories dovetail as Fries suffers an accident that transforms him into a monstrous being unable to live at room temperature. He embarks on a vendetta of insanity and icy vengeance, bringing him into conflict with the Caped Crusader and his tragically under-prepared team.

This reworking of the origin of Mr. Freeze is compelling and imaginative in the modern manner and the art is beautiful if sometimes over-rendered – almost to the point of being passionless. In fact, despite my admiration for Seth Fisher’s ability I do wonder at his selection for such an emotive and gritty tale. His seeming inability to draw anything grimy or unpretty actually detracts from the narrative, I fear.

Since I obviously can’t decide, perhaps you should make your own minds up. It’s still got to be better than a night in front of the TV, right?

© 2005, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Barnum! (In Secret Service to the USA)

Barnum! (In Secret Service to the USA) 

By Howard Chaykin, David Tischman & Niko Henrichon (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-4012-0073-7

This fascinating and fun piece of steam-punk fluff comes from the always interesting Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, snappily illustrated by Niko Henrichon (best known for the superb Pride of Baghdad – ISBN 1-84576-242-8).

The plot involves the intended conquest of America by the Mad Scientist Nikola Tesla and a cabal of Robber-Barons, which can only be thwarted by that magnificent showman and patriot P. T. Barnum, with the aid of his Congress of Anomalies (which would pejoratively be deemed Circus Freaks in less distinguished circles).

The action and sly social commentary rattle along, blending comedy and thrills much in the way of the circus itself. Can President Grover Cleveland be saved? Will the Union stand? Of course, but the fun is in the accomplishment.

The creators have produced a fine Scientific Romance and you should ignore the similarities to the movie Wild, Wild West. If you were a fan of the TV show though, you might be happy to add this to your bookshelf. If you’re a comic lover looking for something light and a little less ‘mainstream’ then you too might be… Amazed! Enthralled! Enraptured!

Well, you might!

© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Battlestar Galactica: Saga of a Star World

Battlestar Galactica: Saga of a Star World 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-930-1

Presumably as a result of the recent TV revival, Titan Books collected the best of the 1970s comics originally published by Marvel (issues #1-5, 15-16). Behind a new Garry Leach cover you’ll find the adaptation of the TV pilot and the opening episode (‘Exodus’ and ‘Deathtrap’) by Roger McKenzie and the hugely under-rated Ernie Colon, followed by ‘The Lost Gods of Kobol’ two parter by McKenzie, and comic big-guns-in waiting Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson.

Rounding out the reprints are two stories original to the comics (‘Derelict’ and ‘Berserker’), the last of which is notable for being one of the first instances of Walt Simonson’s return to his celebrated high-graphic style (so revolutionary in the seminal Manhunter) where abstraction and typography become dominant over company “house-style”.

All Titan publications have a nice collection of added features and this one’s no exception with articles on the show in paperbacks and merchandise as well as comics, plus a set of blueprints for various bits of kit from the series.

Although not a fan of the show and not terrifically impressed by the comics at the time, I now find these to be a surprisingly good read with some very competent picture-making too. This is a great entry-level package to get people into comics.

© 2004 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. All rights reserved.

24

24 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-220-7

Whether or not you’re a fan of a particular property, doesn’t really impact on the production of comic spin-offs these days – if indeed it ever did. I’ve read some very palatable comics and Graphic Novels that often outshone their TV or Movie antecedents and of course some of my favourite viewing has been forever soured by an inauspicious franchising deal.

The attempt to translate the multi-award winning television adventures of insomniac super-spy Jack Bauer falls somewhere between the two. As it would be next to impossible to duplicate the one hour equals one episode “real-time” format (1 comic page per hour?) the various creators have had to rely on action, dastardly evil-doers and the frankly limited characterisations of the TV cast.

That being the case, the three tales presented here are not that bad. ‘One Shot’ written by J. C. Vaughn and Mark L. Haynes with art by Renato Guedes, and set before the first series was broadcast, is a competent little thriller concerning an IRA terrorist turned supergrass and the Counter Terrorist Unit’s attempt to protect her from her very unhappy former associates. A powerful bonus for fans is the savvy use of characters we already know will soon be dead or exposed as shmucks or traitors.

‘Midnight Sun’ from the same creative team, and set during the first term of President Palmer, has our principal team sent to Alaska following the suspicious deaths of oil pipeline executives, possibly at the hands of Eco-terrorists, in another well-drawn if unchallenging thriller.

Manny Clark illustrates the last tale, ‘Stories’ which occurs during the time Agent Bauer was infiltrating the Salazar Drug Cartel (that’s between Seasons 2 and 3, if you’re counting). When Chechen terrorists interrupt a nefarious deal in a luxury hotel Jack has to do his thing without blowing his cover. Sadly the art, which looks like bad painting on hastily downloaded photographs, makes a dog’s dinner of a pretty good script, which pretty much kiboshes this better than average package.

Buy it if you’re a fan or can tolerate disappointment, but be warned, it all ends badly.

™ & © 2005 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

THRRP!

THRRP! 

By Leo Baxendale (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN 0-86166-051-X

This somewhat lost classic is a gloriously gross, pantomimic splurt-fest of broken winds, dripping organs and broad, basic belly-laughs that depends less on narrative convention than on warped yet timeless juvenile invention to revel in the most lunatic slapstick to grace the music-hall or comic page since Leo Baxendale left mainstream comics.

Whilst not as groundbreaking as Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids or the Three Bears, nor as subversive as his Wham, creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, George’s Germs or The Tiddlers, nor indeed, as outlandish as The Swots and the Blots or Grimly Feendish, nevertheless Spotty Dick and the truly repulsive inhabitants of Planet Urf unforgettably cavort through a cartoon-grotesque series of silent adventures that no grotty school-kid of any age could resist.

An absolute treat from a lost master of British tomfoolery. Lets get this back in print now!

© 1987 Leo Baxendale. All Rights Reserved.

Superman & Batman vs Aliens & Predator

Superman & Batman vs Aliens & Predator 

By Mark Schultz & Ariel Olivetti (DC Comics/Dark Horse)
ISBN 1-84576-578-8

Commercial instincts seem to override all other considerations in this beautifully illustrated but just plain daft Battle of The Brands from DC and Dark Horse.

Apparently a colony of Predators™ have been living on Earth since the last Ice Age, complete with a stock of Aliens™, inside a volcano in the Andes. Via various routes Superman™, Batman™ and the clandestine Terrestrial Defense Initiative all become aware of them at the same time as the volcano shifts into blow-up-very-soon mode.

What follows is a race against time as the heroes try to rescue the assorted monsters from the lava before they’re all nuked by the hasty humans. If this is supposed to be a tribute to all-action summer blockbuster movies then the usually excellent Mark Schultz has nailed it, for this slim tale has holes you could steer an aircraft carrier through. As a comic book though all it has to recommend it is the spectacular art of Ariel Olivetti.

I fervently hope that this is the last of these ill-advised mismatched Brand Fests.

© 2007 DC Comics, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Dark Horse Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Steady Beat

Steady Beat 

By Rivkah (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 1-59816-135-0

This teen comedy-drama tells of Leah Winters and her shattering discovery. Leah is a well-to-do sixteen year old who accidentally finds a love-letter hidden by her oh-so-perfect, truly obnoxious older sister, Sarai. Giving in to temptation, Leah reads the letter and is shocked to discover that not only is it a love-letter, but it is signed “love, Jessica”.

This revelation absolutely rocks Leah’s world. She should be concentrating on soccer practise and test scores but all she can think about is how their fearsome dragon of a mother will react. Confused about how she feels and how she is supposed to feel, she decides she must know, one way or another and decides to track down the mysterious writer. When an ominous phone-caller claims to have the answers she needs Leah foolishly agrees to a clandestine meeting in an isolated park. When that appointment goes wrong Leah is rescued by a charismatic boy and his decidedly odd father and her quest becomes even more convoluted…

The creator, Rivkah, is a relative neophyte to the world of manga, but her charmingly drawn romantic tale of teen insecurity and awakening independence is engaging and well-paced, although probably skewed less towards an overtly female readership than many more traditional Shojo or Girl’s books. There is plenty that should appeal to boys here, and they might even catch a clue as to how to conduct themselves better in social situations. Or not.

This volume also includes a large selection of preparatory sketches and notes and a large preview section from the dark fantasy “Mark of the Succubus” by newcomers Irene Flores Ashly Raiti.

© 2005 Rivkah & Tokyopop Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures 1

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures 1 

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN 1-84023-995-9

Devolving out of the Cartoon Network show rather than the major motion picture, this paperback-sized volume contains three plot-light punch-‘em-ups featuring Obi-Wan and Anakin in ‘Blind Force’, Mace Windu and Saesee Tiin in ‘Heavy Metal Jedi’ and Jedi Master Kit Fisto in ‘Fierce Currents’.

In England the cartoon episodes first aired in 5 minute instalments with a polished, if stripped down Manga/anime style which the comics stories seeks to emulate. Sadly this means that despite looking very good the adventures are over before you even realise. Nevertheless youngsters and die-hard fans will lap this up, I’m sure.

Star Wars © 2004 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: To Boldly Go

Star Trek: To Boldly Go 

By various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-084-0

As the live action segment of the monolithic fantasy brand ended once again, the ancillary merchandising machine swung inexorably into action to provide succour to all the stunned and hungry aficionados as they gathered, organised and restarted the campaign for its inevitable return.

For comic fans this is not such a bad thing since the show has spawned a number of comic-book tie-ins over the decades, and many of these are really rather good. Case in point being DC Comics’ early 1980s tandem series featuring not only the then new and risky venture Star Trek: The Next Generation, but also the much more canny proposition of a comic-book series featuring the original characters in adventures set in the aftermath of the film The Wrath of Khan.

To Boldly Go collects the first six issues of that series and starts off in rattling fashion with the destruction of a Federation Starship at the hands of those villainous Klingons, necessitating the dispatch of the Enterprise to thwart whatever new secret weapon the rogues have this time. With nary a breath to spare it escalates the Galactic Cold War into an interplanetary conflict involving the Excalbians and Organians. You probably don’t know who they are and don’t need to. The fans do and casual readers are kept fully in the loop by the accessible and capable scripting of Mike W. Barr.

This romp is swiftly followed by the more traditional tale of a Star Fleet officer who goes native and breaks the Prime Directive, and the volume ends with an intriguing thriller featuring a diplomatic mission and a metamorphic assassin. Solid entertaining stuff, capably and seamlessly illustrated by the brilliant and much missed Tom Sutton, with inking from Ricardo Villagran and Sal Amendola, the only fly in the ointment is a fearsomely coarse printer’s dot-screen that makes some pages look as if they’re being viewed from inside a stocking mask – and no, I’m not telling you how I know that. Use your imagination.

I’m always banging on about getting more people into reading comics, and this sort of material is one of the easiest and most efficient methods. Quality material that needs waste no space on back-story is our most valuable commodity, and one we should be happy to support and extol.

® & © 2005 Paramount Pictures All Rights Reserved.