Saturday, September 17, 2005

Four-colour friends

Another visit to my local Forbidden Planet Wednesday last to get hold of some reading material for a train journey east. There was 1 comic in my order, and 2 new comics and an old TPB caught my eye. So, without further ado.

Ex Machina #14
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Tom Feister
Colours: JD Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

The ads for this comic caught my eye immediately, so I picked up #1. It has since been a part of my regular order, and I’ve enjoyed every issue so far. The premise is simple enough to state: in a world very much like our own, a certain Mitch Hundred has an encounter with some kind of alien artefact in the Hudson river (that is what the river in NYC is called, yes?). He gains the unusual powers of communication with and control over machines as a result (ie. machine empathy).

After a brief period as a… no, not a, but the costumed adventurer, he retires to campaign for mayor of NYC. He gets elected. And so the scene is set for a series whose stories I would sum up as Steven Bochco meets Buffy with the X-files thrown in for good measure.

The current issue is a good one. Having accepted a call-up for jury duty for the sake of setting a good example last ish, Hundred found himself in a jury-room hostage situation. This is resolved in a way that ramps up the series’ existing paranoia to a whole new level. Meanwhile, the hero’s ‘sidekicks’ are off clearing up some other matters.

I like this series because it dramatises the real world in a way that the best of American TV always does: well. The issues are part of the plot rather than vice versa. And it has to be said that Vaughan’s central premise- which of course is that of the Slayer (ie. the lone hero with sidekicks), with a twist; well, this has translated well to its new context. Vaughan also knows how to play fast and loose with history and his cultural references in a clever way without showing off. Plus, this reader’s just gotta love anyone who can reference that classic line from 2000AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’: “There’s no justice. There’s just us.”

Oh, and the artwork is very nice too, but I’ve no more space to go into detail.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Colours: David Baron
Letters: Phil Balsman

For a comic that wears its radical counter-cultural credentials on its sleeves, The Authority also has a history of worm’s eye views of its protags (Stormwatch: Team Achilles- a comic that seems to have sunk without trace), not to mention outright spoofery. The present comic falls into the latter category, being the 3rd series to feature the adventures of the hapless Kevin and the most dangerous fighters of the good fight in comicdom.

First of a series of 5, this issue makes me think that the 3rd run of the Authority and Kevn might be the funniest yet. Ennis’ script had me guffawing like a buffoon in places, with its witty pastiche on the Aliens series of movies: “I’m a v…”. No, I just can’t give the slightest hint of a spoiler here.

Also of note for this reader was the artwork by Carlos Ezquerra. He was one of the favourite artists of my childhood, with work on such great stories as ‘Major Easy’- a Clint Eastwood clone in the Battle comic; or ‘Judge Dredd’ a Clint Eastwood clone in 2000AD. Ezquerra also did the art on what was, for me, a seminal moment in the history of 2000AD- the adaption of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat. Nostalgia aside, Ezquerra’s artwork is as good as ever, and strikes me as being very well suited to this particular subject.

Ghost Rider: The Road to Damnation #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Clayton Grain
Letters: Chris Elipoulos

Johnny Blaze, a.k.a. the Ghost Rider will need no introduction to many of my regular readers. Those who need an introduction to this- one of Marvel's iconically weird 1970's characters: well, what do you think google is for?

I saw this comic on the shelf and it all but jumped into my hand. From its delicious cover to its last panel, I just loved this comic. Everything that made Ennis’ work on Preacher so powerful seems to be on display here. Sure, the nods to the Constantine movie strike even me as being pretty obvious. But I don’t care. I just really enjoyed all the moves Ennis was pulling here.

The artwork deserves special mention. I’m sometimes not a fan of ‘photoreal’ comic art. Illustration of this sort is often too wooden to my eye, which means that it loses precisely the sense of dynamism that is one of comic art’s greatest strengths. But Crain’s artwork in this comic is just lovely. It has a sort of manga-esqe feel to it that makes it cartoony and fluid. And Crain’s rendering of the flames of hellfire and damnation is just lovely. You can almost feel those flames licking across your hand as you turn the page.

This comic is going onto my regular order pronto, so that I don’t miss the rest of this more-than-merely promising looking 6-part miniseries.

Wildcats: Vicious Circles (TPB vol.2)
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Sean Phillips
Colours: Wildstorm FX
Letters: Richard Starkings and Saida Temofonte

This one is going to have to be brief after all that has gone before.

I’m a bit of a fan of the DC/Wildstorm universe, it being pretty close to the way I like to do superheroes in roleplaying. My acquaintance began with The Authority, moved on to the original Ellis Stormwatch, and more lately I’ve started trying to follow up on Wildcats.

This TPB compilation of ##8-13 is great stuff. I love the premise- of superheroes as warriors in a long-concluded alien war; Casey’s plot and dialogue provide great characters and layer upon layer of intrigue, all delivered through writing that is a joy to read (except for the odd bit in French, which just got on my tits frankly); and Phillips’ artwork is the sort of stuff I really like- definitely comicbook and not ashamed to show it, with a real flair for cinematic panel layouts that are active co-conspirators in the story.

Mention must also be made of the lettering and the colours. The former uses differing font styles to denote different voices in a way that doesn’t get too tricksy. Hardly novel these days (or those days- these comics date from 2000- either no doubt), but I found that these techniques really did add something to the stories. The colouring uses naturalistic tones mostly, with variations on a chosen hue to represent unusual lighting conditions. Again, not novel, but nicely done.

All in all then, each of the different elements of this comic were done to a uniformly high standard. The overall effect is of a superior adaption of something by Raymond Chandler or Graham Greene. Which is pretty good going for a comic IMO. I certainly intend to fill out my collection of Wildcats TPB’s.

Good reading everyone. ;)
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