And Then Emily Was Gone #2 Debuts at Thought Bubble!

coverAnd Then Emily Was Gone is a dark horror-mystery that tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a man who sees monsters. A former detective driven to the brink of madness by terrifying apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Orkney Islands, where strange and terrible things are happening…

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  And upon making its US debut at this month’s New York Comic Con, And Then Emily Was Gone #1 completely sold out at the show!

The comic has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

The Off-Panel Podcast

Comics Anonymous

It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

And now, the And Then Emily Was Gone bandwagon will be rolling into Leeds in time for the Thought Bubble comic convention on Saturday 23rd-Sunday 24th November.  Not only will the acclaimed cult hit first issue be available for the first time in England, but making its worldwide debut will be And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Emily2CoverIn this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its highly eccentric locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!

Both writer John Lees (that’s me!) and artist Iain Laurie will be at Thought Bubble, selling copies of And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2.  You’ll be able to find us at Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  Iain will be signing and sketching throughout the weekend, and I’ll be relentlessly shilling And Then Emily Was Gone, along with my other comics: The Standard, Bad Sun and Black Leaf.  Letterer Colin Bell will also be in attendance at the show, I believe tabling with creator Neil Slorance at Table 69 in New Dock Hall.

If you haven’t yet been exposed to the unique visual stylings of Iain Laurie, here’s a couple of snippets of artwork from the first issue:

Page3Page7And for those who missed them last time they were posted, here are some character profiles shared previously on this blog:

HELLINGER

Once, Greg Hellinger was a rising star of the police Missing Persons Bureau.  Gifted with a brilliant analytical mind, Hellinger had the inate ability to find the thread left behind by people thought long gone, and track them down.  Solving a series of high-profile disappearances gained Hellinger some degree of fame and noteriety, and it seemed like his reputation and legacy was secure.

Then, five years ago, Hellinger started seeing monsters.

Plagued constantly by nightmarish apparitions that follow him wherever he goes, terrifying visions he is unable to fully comprehend, Greg has lost just about everything: his career, his family, his reputation, and even his sanity is barely intact.  Medical experts have no explanation for these visions, other than them being hallucinations caused by some unspecified massive nervous breakdown.  Now, Hellinger lives a life of seclusion, a haunted, broken man.

But one more case is waiting to be solved, Hellinger’s greatest challenge yet.  The disappearance of a 17-year-old girl called Emily Munro.  Can he solve this mystery, and in the process find answers to what is happening to him?  Or will Greg Hellinger discover that, as far as he has fallen, there are greater depths of horror and madness for him to plummet into?

Hellinger3FIONA

17-year-old Fiona Tulloch has lived her whole life in Merksay, a small island community in Orkney.  A bright, inquisitive girl, Fiona has always felt like she never really fit in with the isolated, sheltered existence of the Merksay islanders.  Save for her best friend, Emily, Fiona has never really connected with other people, preferring to lose herself in the world of her detective novels and dream of a more exciting life.

But when Emily goes missing, Fiona begins to see Merksay in an unsettling new light.  She starts to believe that perhaps that her difficulty in fitting in wasn’t something wrong with her, but rather something deeply wrong with the island and its people.  The more she delves into Merksay’s history, the more unsafe she feels: terrible things are happening in Merksay, and have been for some time.  And so, armed with her quick wit and many years worth of learned experience from trashy crime fiction, she decides to escape, fleeing the island and heading for the Scottish mainland.

But Fiona knows she can’t run away forever.  She needs to go back to Merksay.  She needs to find Emily, or find out what happened to her.  She needs someone to help her do it.  She needs Greg Hellinger…

Fiona1VIN

Vin Eckland is what some people may charitably refer to as a “hipster douchebag.”  His favourite pastimes include ironically watching Saturday morning cartoons, knitting novelty animals and playing quirky tunes on his tiny little ukelele.  He lives a life of leisure, often accompanied by Louise: his best friend since childhood.  He’s still recovering from the bad breakup of a long-term relationship, but has recently started dating again.

Vin has an interesting job.

VinEckland2BONNIE SHAW

There’s no such thing as Bonnie Shaw…

BonnieShaw1And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2 will be on-sale at Thought Bubble in Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  For more updates and information, keep reading this blog, and follow the creator on Twitter: John Lees (@johnlees927), Iain Laurie (@IainLaurie), Colin Bell (@colinbell) and Megan Wilson (@MeganEngiNerd).

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REVIEW: Zero #2

I never did get round to writing a full review of Zero #1, the highly-acclaimed new espionage series from Image Comics, but it made a strong impression on me.  For starters, based on the strength of that opening chapter, I picked up writer Ales Kot’s earlier Image comics: Wild Children and Change.  I also nabbed the first volume of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country, as I now found my appetite whetted for further morally murky comic book spying exploits.  The concept of the series, for those unfamiliar, is that Ales Kot would forego a highly-serialised narrative in favour of a series of oneshots – standalone episodes linked by their title character: British super-spy Edward Zero – each drawn by a different artist.  The first chapter was a deft piece of storytelling.  Going in many might have been expecting some high-octane James Bond action, but while they were treated to one of the most brutal fight scenes to show up in a comic in quite some time, this wasn’t James Bond, it wasn’t even Bourne.  It presented the spy as ghost, hovering silently on the edge of the action movie stuff and waiting for the right time to silently, efficiently strike and retreat.  But what I perhaps admired most about issue #1 was the comic itself as a physical artefact, packed literally cover-to-cover with narrative, with even the inside cover sleeves serving as story pages.  So I was a bit disappointed when that ended up not being the case for this chapter, which has a more conventional comic book layout – save for the credits being bumped to the back cover.  My disappointment was short-lived however, as Zero #2 managed to not only live up to the high standard set by issue #1, but totally eclipse it.

Let’s make this clear: Michael Walsh is no slouch.  He was the artist for Zero #1, and if I’m honest, it was my familiarity with his work on Comeback that drew me to that debut issue more than Ales Kot, who I’d heard of but never read anything from.  And he did a killer job of it, crafting a slick, minimalist style that instantly made the bleak, cynical world of the story associated in my mind with the visuals of Walsh.  So imprinted was Walsh’s approach in my mind that I went in fearing Tradd Moore wouldn’t be a natural fit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Tradd Moore.  I loved The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, thanks largely to his spectacular artwork, but it was his very resounding success in that series that made me think Tradd Moore was your go-to guy for crazy, bombastic action with a dose of gore-slapstick.  Now, the grindhouse madness of Ghost Rider, that seemed like a natural fit for Tradd Moore to me!  But moral decay and disillusionment? The quiet mechanics of a trained killer?  Tradd Moore is a very different artist from Michael Walsh.  But, as it turns out Zero #2 is a very different story from Zero #1.  And Tradd Moore rises to the occasion with the finest work of an already-decorated young career, uncovering all new dimensions and nuances to his craft.

Zero #1 presented a Zero at the height of his powers, already a ruthless, lethal operative.  Zero #2 takes us not forward from there, but back, presenting us with Zero as a child, taking us through his harsh training in the mysterious academy – serving as home, school and indoctrination centre all in one – and ultimately building to his first mission.  And when Moore’s trademark enlarged heads, big expressive eyes and cartoonish figures are applied to the design of children, it conveys a highly potent sense of innocence, an innocence all the more poignant due to the inevitably of it being crushed, as the previous issue already indicates.  While the more muted style of Walsh was the ideal match for a tale where any emotion was deeply repressed, this is an incredibly emotional, moving story, and Moore just absolutely nails the heartbreak of it all: the blighted sweetness of Edward spending time with fellow student Mina, the doomed happiness of Zero’s intended victim, the tragedy of what young Zero must become.  It’s all in the eyes.  Throughout the issue, look at Zero’s eyes, and the amount of emotional wallop Moore gets from his drawing of them.  They go from vulnerable, to lonely, to happy, to scared, to determined, to devastated, and finally, to dead and cold.  And then we quite powerfully don’t see them at all.

While the Luthor Strode series is very much “widescreen comics”, with lots of grand splashes, the average page here is a 12-panel grid.  and that results in a very different pacing from Moore.  Our eye is drawn right in to the minute details of a scene: a component of a room, or the flicker of emotion on a face.  And the violence is much more unusually paced, the exuberant carnage of Luthor Strode replaced with this quiet dread, with one page in particular – a frantic search for a gun juxtaposed with repeated shots of an empty doorway we know a gunman is sure to appear at any moment – ramping up the tension.  And Moore pulls off some truly masterful layouts: the page with young Zero in training, locked in a box underwater, is sure to be one of the most striking pages of comic art we’ll see all month, if not all year.  This is just a book dense in content, one that rewards close reading and then rereading.

The artist may shift with each issue, but the colorist is set to remain consistent, and on this front Jordie Bellaire is triumphant once again.  As I’ve said before, she has quickly emerged as one of the most talented, diverse colorists in comics.  And while I knew from Comeback that she could provide understated, grainy tones to ideally compliment Michael Walsh’s style, the revelation this issue is the crisp, clipped pallette that ensures Tradd Moore’s lines have never looked better.  I look forward to seeing Bellaire bring out the best in each artist that steps into the book going forward.

Of course, Ales Kot also deserves a lot of credit for, in each issue of Zero thus far, crafting a story perfectly tailored to the skills of the artist he’s working with.  In the case of issue #2, there is a certain weight of inevitability to what must happen before the chapter is complete, but Kot still manages some shocking wrinkles and surprisingly cruel additional twists of the knife.  But while the first issue was very plot-driven, and was dominated by the scenario established by the high-stakes mission, the focus here is much more heavily on character.  And so Zero, who was something of a ghost haunting his own book in issue #1, here becomes more fully-formed under Kot’s pen.  Particularly potent is his relationship with Roman Zizek, his Agency handler.  It’s an intriguing, thorny relationship, as Zizek is something of a surrogate father figure for Zero, but the nature of his official role as partains to Edward and what Edward is expected to be enforces a certain awkward distance, in spite of a suggested need for that familial intimacy in the relationship from Zero and even (perhaps moreso) from Zizek himself.  Zizek comes across as a conflicted figure, going off on a big rant about rabid dogs around the issue’s halfway point where it seems unclear – least of all to Zizek himself – whether he’s talking about the target, Zero, or himself.  Based on his presence in the first issue (making him the only recurring character other than Zero himself) and the focus of this issue’s backmatter, it seems that Zero/Zizek is being primed as the relationship at the core of the whole series, at least in these early stages.

Which brings me to another point: much has been made about Zero foregoing a serialised structure and being a series of stanalone one-and-dones that can operate independent of one another.  But I actually feel like we’re being hoodwinked by Kot on that front, as I can definitely feel an overarching narrative already taking shape.  It might not be immediately apparent in a strictly chronological/serialised sense, but it feels like we’re getting pieces of a puzzle.  There are threads connecting these first two issues: if the ending of the first issue featured the pivotal moment where Zero’s long-dormant humanity resurfaced, here we see the pivotal moment when his humanity was first cast down a deep, dark hole.  I feel like there’s something being said about childhood as well, as the dehumanisation of children seems to be popping up again and again.  There was the child killer sent to kill Zero at the beginning of issue #1, a lot like Zero himself is sent to assassinate his first target here.  Issue #1 also had the dead child caught in the crossfire, which provoked such a strong reaction from the seemingly detached and mission-focused Zero.  Issue #2 juxtaposes Edward the Agency trainee and would-be child killer with the children of Kieran Connelly and the happier, more “normal” family life they live.  It’ll be interesting to see how any overarching threads continue to develop with subsequent issues.

I considered Zero #1 to be a great single issue, but Zero #2 cements this comic’s status as a great series.  Ales Kot’s vision for Edward Zero and his world is more fully taking shape, and Tradd Moore floored me with heart-rending, career-best work.  Is issue #3 out yet?  Is it?  IS IT?

Zero2Zero #2 is out in all quality comic shops now.

REVIEW: Bandette #1-5

In my recent review of Theremin #2, I talked about how my enjoyment of that series had prompted me to sample more comics from the MonkeyBrain library.  I tried a couple of issue #1s, one of which was Bandette #1, the story of a young thief in Paris and the adventures she gets into by writer Paul Tobin and artist Colleen Coover.  Soon afterwards, I had ingested issues #2-#5.  Bandette is, quite simply, a delight: charming, clever and, most of all, fun!

Bandette1

A big part of that fun comes from the aesthetic created by Colleen Coover’s artwork.  The first thing that drew my eye to this book on MonkeyBrain’s Comixology menu was the covers.  Bandette herself was an immediately engaging presence, with her simple yet striking costume design, and that winning smile.  More on smiles and their significance later.  First, I want to note how much of a triumphant invention Colleen Coover’s Bandette is.  She’s just this bubble of pure energy bursting off the page.  Note how rare it is for her to maintain the same position for more than one successive panel.  She’s always striking a dynamic pose, engaging in some acrobatic antic, or even in quieter scenes in her home, making dramatic flourishes with her hands, usually while talking to herself.  And as mentioned, the costume design is inspired in its simplicity: it’s the kind of costume women or even girls (which can’t always be said for female comic characters and their revealing attire) could easily cosplay as at a comic-con and I at least would immediately know who they were supposed to be.  Indeed, there’s one scene in issue #4 where girls and boys alike engage in some Bandette cosplay!

Colleen has an impressive skill for imbuing personality into a character before they even say a word.  From the stern angular features of rival thief Monsieur, to the bulbous, rounded head and massively enlarged ears and nose of Inspector Belgique, to the goofy mannerisms of lovestruck Daniel, a lot is conveyed with quite minimal linework.  This skill extends to location, as we are quite quickly immersed in a very bohemian, picture-postcard Paris with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, drawing on enough real locales to ground us in this being a real place while also crafting a Colleen Coover Paris not quite like anything in the real world or in other depictions of the city in fiction.  One of the biggest compliments I can give is that, without looking at the creative team, you could quite easily think this was a European comic in the vein of Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin adapted for the English language by MonkeyBrain, so authentic does it feel in recreating that vibe.

Herge and European artists of that style are probably a good barometer to use, as that unique quality to the artwork makes it tricky to really compare with any other American comic artists out there at the moment.  In terms of tone, it evokes the light-hearted whimsy the likes of Chris Samnee and Michael Allred are bringing to their respective superhero titles right now.  But in execution, Colleen is quite different.  While Samnee and Allred are all tight lines and careful construction, Coover feels much looser, more reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke at his most abstract.  This feeling of looseness is aided by the approach to coloring the book, with what almost feels like a brushstroke/water-colour effect.  It may mute detail and act against having highly-rendered linework, but what it gives us is a soft-focus, sepia-toned world which perfectly captures the upbeat mood of the story.

But let’s get back to Bandette, and the aforementioned smile.  This is a story about thieves, criminal organisations, murder plots and assassins.  Executed in a different manner, this could quite easily be a dark, edgy crime thriller.  But no matter what situation Bandette finds herself in, she almost always has that big grin on her face.  And thus the dangerous situations she’s faced with don’t feel so dangerous, they feel fun.  Drawn a different way, you could almost see Bandette being presented as a book for teens and upwards.  As is, though, it feels all-ages, something I’d give a young reader – male and female alike – to show them how enjoyable comics can be.  It feels almost like animation, and I could see this story and its visual style being quite seamlessly adapted into an animated series or even film.  It goes to show what kind of impact the art and can have in shaping the narrative.

Of course, it’s not just Bandette’s smile that showcases her upbeat attitude in the face of peril, it’s her voice, and writer Paul Tobin does an excellent job in this regard.  Bandette is presented as someone who never takes anything too seriously, and always seems to have every situation completely under control.  Tobin imbues her with such an earnest enthusiasm for everything and an infectious joie de vivre that the thought of her being a criminal barely even registers in your brain.  Even most of the police in the story give her a free pass because she does good deeds to make up for her thievery and, come on, she’s adorable.  She’s the kind of character that young readers would want to be, or with the inclusion of the “urchins” – a network of children and teens around Paris who assist Bandette on her adventures and hang out and eat candy with her – the kind of character they could imagine being friends with.  Hell, I’m a grown-ass man, and reading these issues gave me a nostalgic pang and had me wishing I was a kid again and got to be an urchin in Paris.  Really, Bandette could be my favourite new comic character of the past year.

Tobin surrounds Bandette with a well-realised cast of multi-faceted characters who are all more complex than they may first seem.  The Monsieur could easily have just been presented as a foil for Bandette, a grim rival to her self-claimed title as “the world’s greatest thief.”  Instead, he is also thoroughly likeable, more straight-laced than Bandette but still with a mischevous glint in his eye.  And you would be forgiven for thinking that Inspector Belgique, as presented in the first couple of issues, would be nothing more than an incompetent buffoon there for comic relief, but in the recent issues he has been revealed as a figure of quiet, grumpy integrity and emerged as one of my favourite characters in the cast.  Even his assistant in the Special Police – who could just have been a background extra – is given her own subtle little arc where she has romantic feelings for Belgique and he’s totally oblivious to it.

Beyond the characters, the writing is an exercise in economic, accessible plotting.  Every issue is dense with incident, and simultaneously builds on a larger story while being centred around a single action set-piece that makes the comic a rewarding read in its own right.  Issue #1 boasts a frenzied motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris.  Issue #2 has a daring bank robbery and the even more audacious plan to foil it.  Issue #3 has the atmospheric first confrontation between Bandette and Monsieur in the iconic Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise cemetery.  Issue #4 features an issue-long fight scene between Bandette and assassin Matidore.  Issue #5 is the only installment that seems more focused on the overarching plotline that will shape the narrative moving forward and setting the pieces on the board to prepare for that, but even that is all very interesting and rich in character moments.

If I had to pick out one of these chapters for particular praise, it would be issue #4.  Every issue is a joy, but this for me was the best, one of the finest single issues of any comic released this year, and the epitome of everything that makes Bandette so great.  With the inclusion of matador-themed villainess Matadori, it gives us another colorful inclusion into the ensemble cast.  It is constructed around a well-orchestrated fight scene where Bandette never really loses the upper hand, but which nonetheless remains compelling largely due to the playful interplay between the two characters.  Even as Bandette fights for her life and Matadori tries to kill her, they still have time to compliment each other’s clothing and chat about what tailors they visit, with both flashing that trademark grin as they do so.  The Monsieur’s meeting with the mystery lady employing him sets the stage for the larger story further fleshed out in the following issue.  Belgique and his assistant get a wonderful little scene together.  And Bandette makes her most ingenious use of the urchins yet, just when it appears she might be in danger, once again demonstrating she always has the upper hand in any given situation.  And it all ends in a delightful exchange between Bandette and Monsieur which serves to reiterate that same point.

Now that I’m all caught up, I’m sure the wait for issue #6 is going to be unbearable.  But for now, all I can is most heartily recommend Bandette in the strongest possible terms.  Colleen Coover’s artwork is enchanting, Paul Tobin’s writing is charming, it may be scientifically impossible to read this comic without a big dopey grin appearing on your face.  For print purists, there’s a hardcover graphic novel collecting the first 5 issues being released by Dark Horse in November that I have a feeling may be my Christmas gift of choice for quite a few friends.  But for those willing to embrace digital, each issue is available for a bargain price of 99 cents, or 69p!  This is one of the best comics around, seriously.  What do you have to lose by giving it a try?  You’ll thank me!

Bandette3Bandette #1-5 are available to buy now from Comixology.

REVIEW: Secrets & Shadows #1

I’ve become a bit of a fan of writer Jon Parrish lately.  I’ve read and enjoyed some of his script submissions on ComixTribe’s Proving Grounds column, and now – after some delay and miscommunication, which I must apologise for – I’m finally getting round to reviewing his new comic series, Secrets & Shadows, which is off to a very promising start.

Our story quickly introduces us to Haven City, a metropolis basking in the reflected glory of its beloved resident Black Sun and his superheroic dynasty, and our grudging protagonist, Black Sun’s estranged son, Joseph.  From there, one of the biggest strengths of Parrish’s narrative is that, as the title might suggest, we are bombarded with questions that make us want to keep on reading and immersing ourselves further in this murky world.  What horrible thing happened to Joseph to end his burgeoning superhero career and make him turn on his family?  What terrible secret about the day of the Haven City Massacre is being shared by Black Sun – now retired, and a broken man – and his other son, superhero prodigy Dark Star?  What sinister conspiracy are the city’s superheroes tangled up in that would require them to murder potential witnesses?  And who is the formidable, shadowy figure killing off these superheroes (or “false idols”, as he calls them) in order to “save the city from itself”?  Parrish crafts an exquisite, tantalising mystery throughout this first issue, continually grabbing our inerest and demanding we read more.

One thing I liked about the comic, and I don’t know if it’s patronising to even need to mention this in 2013, is the high ratio of prominent black characters in the book: not just the Shaw family – Joseph, Black Sun and Dark Star – but also master supervillain Marcus Kane.  And nothing about them feels like it’s foregrounding their colour or making it part of their character, it’s just “colour-blind casting” in the book.  And when a comic doing this so naturally is still noteworthy enough that it merits mention, I think it highlights just how much of a disparity there still is in mainstream superhero comics.

The plotting isn’t entirely without fault.  There is the odd instance of dialogue that feels to overtly like speaking to the reader to catch them up on the exposition it’s important for them to know.  It’s an easy trap to fall into, one I’ve fallen into myself, but perhaps something for Parrish to watch out for in future, particularly as his conspiracy story gets more labyrinthine.  And there are quite a few Starman parallels in the “fictional city protected by a revered superhero who retires after a traumatic incident, and has two grown-up sons, one who followed in his footsteps and another who’s more of a black sheep off stubbornly doing their own thing” narrative.  But that’s forgivable.  Heck, The Standard has a few Starman parallels, and superhero comics these days are always going to ultimately be variations on a theme.  The hallmark of quality is not doing something new, but doing something well, and Parrish seems to have that covered.

More problematic is Marco Roblin’s art.  There are times when it’s very good, evocatively capturing a believable location or a nuanced facial expression.  But at other points the details are quite muddy, hurting the clarity of what’s going on.  At one pivotal moment in the plot, I was unsure of what exact fate had befallen a character because the visuals didn’t make it clear, and I had to rely on the script specifying what had happened to the character afterwards in order to know for sure.  There’s also some awkward scene transitions that made it unclear that we’d switched from present day to flashback and, due to the way some faces were drawn quite similarly, made me confused about what characters were being featured in particular sequences.  There are some odd choices of layout too, where without letterer extraordinare Kel Nuttall carrying the burden of using caption trails to guide my eye along the page in the correct order, I’d have been totally adrift.

One thing worth mentioning is that the comic boasts an ace cover from Dexter Wee.  Apparently, he’ll be taking over interior art from issue #2 onwards, so it’ll be interesting how that reflects in the visuals going forward.

Something else that was noteworthy about Secrets & Shadows was that it has a couple of alumni from The Standard involved.  And before any accusations of nepotism are flung my way, I didn’t even know they were on the creative team until I started the review!  There’s the aforementioned Kel Nuttall on letters, doing as slick and professional a job as ever.  There’s also editor Steven Forbes.  Now, it’s hard to really assess the imput of an editor in any review, as a good editor will render themselves utterly invisible, guiding the creative team to bring out the best in themselves rather than overtly contributing much.  As such, it’s difficult to do more than speculate.  But knowing Steven Forbes’ excellent editorial work first-hand, I would guess that he has some part to play in the ruthless directness of purpose that permeates this script, how everything is functional and serves to push the narrative forward, with work being done to hook us in right from the first page, and every interaction serving a purpose.

Overall, a very promising first chapter.  Visually, it’s solid if not spectacular, but narratively this shows real promise.  Something tells me I’m going to become a bigger fan of Jon Parrish in the future.

SecretsandShadows1

Secrets and Shadows #1 (as well as the next two issues) can be bought online at the official store, or are available digitally for free at Graphicly.

 

 

REVIEW: Fat-Man and Ribbon #0

It seems my regular schedule of creator-owned comic reviews has been thrown out of whack with all the goodies I picked up at Glasgow Comic Con a couple of weeks back.  This week’s offering is Fat-Man and Ribbon #0, another comic from local Glasgow talent, writer Martin Ferguson and artist Andrew Docherty.  As the title would suggest, it plays as a parody of Batman and Robin.  But is there more to this comic than a pithy title?

Plot-wise, not much happens here.  The comic’s narrative basically amounts to a single fight scene, with a possible teaser of the actual plot ready to get picked up with issue #1.  But with an issue marked as #0, a teaser is really all you’re expecting, I suppose.  What Martin Ferguson does give us here, however, is a nice dose of characterisation.  With a fictional city called Metro-Scotia, it’s pretty clear this is a Scottish tale, and Fat-Man and Ribbon do basically come across as a couple of Glesga chaps up for a bit of the banter, only they happen to be superheroes.  I also found it a relief to see just how little of the humor – beyond the name – is derived from directly parodying the Batman mythos.  Instead, Ferguson has the skill to fuel the comedy with slapstick and quips.

But the real revelation here is the artwork of Andrew Docherty.  Brimming with zany energy that keeps the book zipping along nicely, Docherty’s highly-rendered style, with its close-ups of unusual, angular faces, put me in mind of the work of Bernie Wrightson in the 70s or Sam Keith in the 80s, and a few of the contemporaries that they influenced.  It’s a style that’s not so common now, but which gives the book an added charm and uniqueness.  It’s not a style you might commonly associate with a superhero book, and is all the better for it.  Some of his heightened facial expressions are just comedy gold.

If I had any suggestion to make, it might be that the book would benefit from the inclusion of colour.  It’s all black-and-white and grayscale, even the cover, and while I don’t object to black-and-white comics, there’s something about the superhero genre in particular, I feel, that just doesn’t feel quite complete without a splash of vibrant colour.  On the flipside, color might blot out some of Docherty’s lovely rendering, and I wouldn’t like to lose that either.  It’s a dilemma!

Overall, I’d probably say it’s too early to judge Fatman and Ribbon one way or the other.  What we get here is essentially a teaser.  But thanks to Andrew Docherty, it’s a teaser that’s a joy to look at.  I’m certainly sold on sampling what Martin Ferguson has to offer once he starts his story proper with Fatman and Ribbon #1.

Fat-Man and Ribbon is available locally in shops in Glasgow.

REVIEW: Green Lantern

Well, I saw Green Lantern on Saturday. After the barrage of negative reviews, my anticipation for the film had turned to dread, and I went in fearing that I’d be in for a bad, disappointing movie. I watched the movie, and… it was actually pretty good.

I think Green Lantern is a victim of a zeitgeist. A bad zeitgeist. Bad reviews can become like a runaway train, where the more a film gets the stigma of being “bad”, the more other critics review it from the perspective of being a bad film, so bad reviews beget more bad reviews, and the criticisms get more extreme as people take more relish in tearing the film apart, until it’s like sharks at a feeding frenzy. I’ve defended the critics and their validity on this thread, and I still respect their opinions, but I think they’re wrong on this one.

The first thing that needs to be said that, seeing this film in 3D at the cinema, Green Lantern looks GORGEOUS. As a jaded filmgoer, it’s rare for me to just stare open-mouthed and be amazed at the visuals on-screen, but that happened here. I don’t get where the whole “shoddy special effects” angle is coming from, as visually this has splendour to rival Avatar, and I think Green Lantern was far more enjoyable. But that got the 5 star reviews and the Oscar nominations, and this is getting crapped on. See what I mean about zeitgeists?

All the characters are a bit underwritten. But the eminently likeable Ryan Reynolds manages to make Hal watchable and compelling even when his arc is a bit muddied and clumsily handled. His star presence really helps to prevent Hal from being totally cardboard. Blake Lively struggles more with the thin material, often becoming a blank-faced exposition delivery device. Peter Saarsgard makes for an engaging villain, but his arc is muddied and feels out of order. He almost immediately begins his path to big-headed psychodom, and then his shared history with Hal is retroactively worked in later, and never really paid more than the faintest of lip service.

Sinestro is simultaneously the strongest performance, and the one most underserved by the script. Mark Strong is all subtle menace and lip-curling smarm, but balanced with a sense of inherent decency and moral fortitude. The film begins to soar when Hal is on Oa, and has his first confrontation with Sinestro. If the film’s second act had been dominated by Sinestro training Hal, and Hal gradually winning his grudging respect, then his friendship, the film would have been elevated to a whole other level, and made for much better viewing than the meandering second act we get instead. But there’s still good stuff in that second act, and I don’t know how much I’d have taken out to accomodate altered material.

Really, the problem with Green Lantern isn’t that it does anything significantly wrong. All the major touchstones of Hal’s origin are present and correct, the thematic broad strokes, the characters, the mythos. There’s impressive effects, good action. The problem isn’t the film doing anything bad. Just that the stuff that it does good doesn’t get enough breathing space to become great.

There’s a shadow of a great film here, a sense that a tidy-up here, or expanding on a scene there, would have really tightened this up and pushed it nearer the top tier of the genre. Some flaws prevent it from reaching that upper echelon of superhero movies, but it is hardly the franchise-sinking embarrassment that the critics’ narrative is inevitably shaping it to be. It is a perfectly enjoyable mid-level superhero movie, at least as good as Thor and X-Men: First Class, probably a little better. And the sad thing is, you get a sense that the film could act as the building blocks for a much better sequel. But if the reviews lead to box office failure, that won’t happen.

Some Cool Art For The Standard

For the official blog of The Standard this week, I commissioned some original art from series artist Jonathan Rector.  Here’s what I got:

The Black Stripe

For Tuesday, I had this picture of The Black Stripe, a blaxploitation-themed superhero from the 1970s.  The initial concept for The Black Stripe came from Jamie Fairlie (who also colored this image), when he decided that a minor supporting character who shows up in The Standard #3 should have a heroic alter ego.  I loved the idea so much I had Jonathan Rector draw him up, and this is the badass result.  Makes me want to write a whole other comic just for this guy, and give him his own Shaft-style theme tune.

The Skunk

The theme of Wednesday’s blog was supervillains, and I chose a villain close to my heart for Jon to provide an image of: The Skunk.  This character has been in my head for quite a while – in fact, this image is a drastic improvement of my original design for the character – and becomes a prominent player in The Standard from the third issue.  Jon managed to strike the ideal balance between lame and awesome in his design here: just look at that massive tail!

Zachary Zarthos

Thursday’s blog was a spotlight on Zachary Zarthos, the old arch-nemesis of The Standard throughout his 24-year career.  I knew I wanted an image of the diabolical villain to go with my blog, but I didn’t just want a regular pinup like with The Black Stripe and The Skunk.  So I came up with this idea.  I thought it would be funny seeing a mad scientist posing for a police mugshot like some petty crook, and Jon nailed exactly the tone I was going for.  I also like the touch of the broken glasses – which was Jon’s addition.  This could actually be my favorite of the three images.

You can check out all these images in their full-size versions – and the blogs that accompany them – over at thestandardcomic.com!