One of the great thing about public lending libraries these days is that they offer a much wider range of services than just the familiar book-lending. Some people like to complain about this. Me, I like it, especially when I can pick up a batch of TPB's for my enjoyment. Here's what a recent trip to my local library netted me.
**********Black Widow: Homecoming
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov
Colours: Dan Brown
Letters: Cory Petit
Apart from the cover picture of a leather-clad woman with a big gun, this book caught my interest because of the name of Bill Sienkiewicz on the art credits. Sienkiewicz was responsible for Elektra Assassin, simply one of the most visually stunning comics I have ever read. I was also interested to notice that this was written by Richard K. Morgan. I have an autographed copy of Morgan's Altered Carbon, which I bought when he sat on a panel here in Glasgow a few years ago.
To my initial disappointment Sienkiewicz's work on the book was limited, with Goran Parlov doing most of the art. This wasn't too bad, because Parlov is a good artist, and his style is close enough to that of Sienkiewicz so that there is no visual clash to irritate the eye. Overall, the art in this book is in a rangy, naturalistic style, which works nicely to take you out of the 4-colour world, and into the shadow world of intrigue in which the story is set.
As for the rest of the book? Richard Morgan delivers a taut thriller, featuring rogue agents and post-Cold War intrigue, all mixed in with a nicely executed re-imagining of the Black Widow character complete with the obligatory retconning. The story moves along at a brisk pace, the dialogue is tight, and the book's hard edge is to be found as much in the socio-political asides as in the violence you'd expect to find in a post-Iron Age treatment of an assassin.
I enjoyed this a lot. It's good enough to make me want to seek out the sequel- Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her- to see if Morgan can maintain his high standards.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Philip Bond
Colours: Brian Miller
Letters: Todd Klein
I first became aware of Grant Morrison as a comic writer when I was visiting a friend, where I read Imperial, the TPB collecting #118-26 of New X-Men. Of course, it turned out that I'd already been a big fan of Morrison's Zenith, from 2000AD, but that's another story. In any event, I began collecting the New X-Men TPB's, and soon became enough of a fan of Morrison's work to pick up anything and everything with his name on it.
It was easy therefore to add this title to my pile when I was checking these TPB's out of my local library. It is a mark of Morrison's standing that Vimanarama was reviewed at the Guardian Unlimited, where it was called "a ripping yarn." I heartily agree with this sentiment.
At its heart Vimanarama is a simple tale of romance and adventure. It fuses the visionary cosmic adventure which Morrison does so well with an acute eye for soap-opera melodrama of the sort familiar to millions of TV viewers. The story involves young Ali, worried about the woman to whom he is about to be introduced for the purposes of an arranged marriage: first, because he is afraid she'll be ugly and stupid; and then because he's afraid the smart and beautiful Sofia will prefer a god to him. While Ali worries about this, everyone else is worried about the impending end of the world unwittingly unleashed by Ali and Sofia. Just another day in Bradford then.
Here again we have a story which zips along at a cracking pace, with twists and turns aplenty, and good jokes and some nice touching moments on the way. In other words: this is what we'd expect from Grant Morrison.
The artwork is also excellent. Bond's style reminds me of Cam Kennedy- high praise indeed IMO. His pages are clean, dynamic and expressive. Miller's naturalistic colours are lovely to look at too, and they work well when constrasted with the classic 4-colour stylings of the Ultrahadeen, the divine heroes who come to save humanity. Klein's lettering deserves mention too, for the sake of the 2 special styles he works up for the villains and the Ultrahedeen.
All-in-all then, Vimanarama is a little cracker. This could prove very useful for GM's looking for a new twist on Armageddon with which to challenge their PC's.
As an aside: I met Grant Morrison when he was on that same panel as Richard Morgan. In traditional Glasgow fashion we decamped to the pub afterwards, where I had a chance to talk with him. He's a very snappy dresser and a charming man who is a very interesting conversationalist. As a believer in magic and mysticism he is also barking mad, but in a good way!
**********Superman: For Tomorrow, Vol.1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Jim Lee and Scott Williams
Colours: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh and Nick J. Napolitano
Superman is a troublesome character for me. Mostly he's just dull, too powerful and squeaky clean for my liking. In the 1980's Alan Moore and Frank Miller delivered a Superman I enjoyed reading. Since then I have read the odd TPB which I enjoyed. My hopes for this volume were raised by Brian Azzarello's name on the writing credits. Azzarello writes the wonderful 100 Bullets, which I am collecting in TPB. Jim Lee's name on the art credits was just a bonus.
My expectations weren't confounded. Framing the story around Superman's seeking out a father confessor, Azzarello delivers a tale which draws inspiration from The Authority to present the Man of Steel facing up to the moral and practical consequences of his decision to intervene directly in human politics. As you might expect from a Superman comic published in 2004 and featuring these themes, this gives Superman: For Tomorrow, Vol.1 a powerful subtext relating to the war in Iraq, a theme Azzarello plants and leaves to germinate in the reader's mind without labouring the point.
Add in Jim Lee's lovely artwork and you have a very interesting Superman story indeed. I really want to find out what happens next.
**********Usagi Yojimbo, Vol.18: Travels with Jotaro
Writer/Art/Letters: Stan Sakai
Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic animal tale of the bunny-ronin Usagi Yojimbo is a comic whose high reputation prededed it. Although I have no special interest in samurai stories per se, I do like Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub. And, of course, there is Katana. So I was interested to see what I made of this highly popular comic.
And what did I make of it? Simple: I'm another fan for whom a complete collection of the TPB's is a goal.
Usagi Yojimbo has it all. The anthropomorphic device works really well, with the different animals giving an immediate persona to each character portrayed. Sakai's B&W line artwork is lovely to look at, with all the dynamism and expressiveness you could ask for. The stories are wonderful, with interesting plots which any GM could use for inspiration. The dialogue is good too, advancing the plot, expressing character and character relationships, and giving a real feel for the setting so smoothly that you can't see the joins. This is quality stuff exemplifying the unique qualities the comics medium can bring to storytelling.
**********Aliens: Nightmare Asylum
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Art: Denis Beauvais
Letters: Willie Schubert
Oh those bugs! Alien was the first X-rated movie I ever saw. Aliens is one of the greatest movie sequels ever made IMO. And I've always loved GW's take on the implacable all-consuming alien horde- the Tyranids. So I was happy to pick up this comic to give it a go.
What Verheiden and Beauvais deliver in Aliens: Nightmare Asylum is piece of hard-boiled military SF in which a group of survivors of the aliens' onslaught on planet Earth find themselves at the mercy of an utterly insane General Spears who has his own plans on how to deal with the aliens.
There is nothing fancy in this story. It develops themes familiar from the best movies in the Alien franchise. But Verheiden knows how to tell a good story, and Beauvais can certainly draw and paint. The chances are if you're a fan of this franchise you'll like this book. These chances probably increase if you're a GM who runs (or fancies running) military SF in the bughunting genre.
**********So I got some good reading out of this pile of TPB's from my local library. I would recommend them all to my readers. If I had to pick one to dispense with, it'd be Aliens: Nightmare Asylum. There is nothing wrong with this as such; it's just that it's the least original of the bunch. And if I had to pick one and only one? That'd have to be Usagi Yojimbo, Vol.18: Travels with Jotaro, because this is a whole new world of adventure for yours truly.