Thursday, 14 August 2008

Review: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

Before I get to the main review, may I just say that the binding of the collected edition of Luther Arkwright is absolutely fantastic. You know how you often get graphic novel covers printed on a special kind of textured card (actually its probably some form of lamination) that feels nice and smooth and looks good, but after a while it gets scratched really easily and creases really badly? Well Luther Arkwright's backing has a similar texture, but is a lot more resilient, doesn't get scratched at all and you cant get mucky fingerprints all over it either. Why more Trade Paperbacks arn't printed like this, I don't know.

Anyway, onto the actual story. I'd been trying to get hold of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot for some time now, not least because I'm a completest when it comes to British comics, but also because it includes one of my favorite subject matters, Parallel Universes. As far as this subject goes, the set up is superbly explained on the opening page, and we don't get too bogged down in a load of different universes. Most of the action takes place in a world where Oliver Cromwell's family line kept hold of the throne after his death, and hold control of the British Isles well into the 1980's.

The story switches narrative between flashbacks, and at times, at the start at least, it becomes a little hard to follow, also, Luther ends up on some kind of Doctor Manhattan type trans-humanist trip, and we get a lot of psychedelic scenes. Bear in mind this is not for the casual reader, You'll probably have to have some foreknowledge on myths and legends and a bit of history to be able to follow the meandering parts, but the good side is that Bryan Talbot rewards the well studied reader, not dumbing down anything for the idiots. The story is a bit of a slow burner, but we are eventually rewarded with some brilliantly drawn battle scenes and a genuinely heart pounding climax. Most importantly of all, Luther remains a likable protagonist, despite his whole 'chosen one' epiphany.

All in all, Talbot's done his research, apart from being a bit too wordy at times, his only real flaw comes from the fact that he is genuinely harsh on the Puritan regime and the Parliamentarians. Obviously the whole story is an analogue for the state of Thatcher's Britain at the time, but there seems to be some schizophrenia in popular culture over weather Cromwell was a good guy or a bad guy (Making his way into the top ten of 'Greatest Britons' to being represented as a villain in everything else), regardless, you'll get some people genuinely miffed to see Puritan England represented as a dictatorship.

Of course the big question I'm asking myself is 'is The Adventures of Luther Arkwright better than Watchmen?'. Because yes it is that good, and its climax manages to out-tense that of Watchmen. Its a difficult question to answer, both stories reward the keen eye and feature millions of clues and hidden extras. Both are well researched and enjoyable. Hell, the back of the book has a quote from Alan Moore himself, so it must be good! It is an unanswerable question, but I can say that if Talbot and Moore were both chefs, Watchmen would be a well prepared succulent Steak cooked to perfection with just the right amount of sides and vegetables, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright would be something more adventurous, like Lamb or something, with Quail eggs and all sorts of other things going on, It would not only be delicious but also keep you interested, but you wouldn't quite know what to think of it.

Best Panel: Tanks! Explosions! Holy War! Awesome!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Review: Y: The Last Man

So one day, a friend of mine who was known and respected for his high standards when it comes to films and books, and refers to Star Wars as 'fucking shite', one day is quizzing me on comics, a medium he had little experience of, and mentions in passing that he'd heard of a series called Y: The Last Man and expressed an interest to read it. Well I thought if someone with such sophistication when it comes to films is interested then it must be good. So I went off and began reading one of the best comic book series ever.

Y: The Last Man tells the story of the last two males left on the planet, a lad and his monkey and has constantly battled with other series to what my favorite comic series of all time is. The characters are well rounded, realistic, flawed and likable, the atmosphere is flexible making room for tragedy, suspense and black comedy and the story takes us on a globe trotting adventure to rival both Indiana Jones and James Bond put together (A sort of Frankenstein's monster, Jamesdiana Bones). But it wasn't till I got the final volume and read the whole series in its entirety that I realized just how good Y: The Last Man was.

Writer Brian K. Vaughan takes no sides in the story, presenting how the world would be a better and worse place without men around, and how women are both two faced beasts and grounded emotional rocks (an interesting comparison, I watched the end of Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H last night and he said something similar in the interview afterwards). The series covers a lot of ground, and I like to think I've matured a lot because of it over the last three years, I guarantee that no matter who you are there'll be some part of Y: The Last Man that really means something to you. Vaughan writes the series like a well written classic, having done a Degree in English Literature, I'm well versed in spotting all the set ups that Vaughan seeds in early volumes that lead to connotation a long time later in the series. He also throws us lost of lovely comic book and pop culture references, the best being the Preacher references and slight Manga deconstruction in a later volume.

Of course, the whole series is not without a few minor shortcomings, the glaringly obvious one for me is that the series fall foul of the 'all women are hot' syndrome. This happens all too frequently in comics and in Y: The Last Man's defense its not the worst offender, not by a long chalk, but this kind of thing almost breaks the reality bubble. Are we supposed to believe that practically every woman Yorick comes into contact with would be a stunner? Really? All his female companions, from Scientist, to Secret Agent to Russian soldier, I would not say no to. By and Large all his antagonists and even Yorick's mother aren't half bad looking. Taking into account that there's a fair few lesbian scenes the whole things starts to sound a bit like a soft porn movie, but seriously, I can't help but feel Vaughan missed a trick where he could have included a far from good looking character who could have worked as a commentary on men's idolization of perfect women. I mean really, Post Apocalyptic, All Men Dead, would you really find that many hot women in that kind of society?

Another minor niggle is that, great piece of literature the end of the series was, we seem to have been left with no real moral of what the story represents. Be it Garth Ennis' Preacher's promotion of cowboy values, or Grant Morrison's The Invisibles celebration of individuality, most comic books by and large have some kind of message to bring across. Y: The Last Man is cryptic when it comes to such a message, what it it? Women are better off without men? Women aren't better off without men? Given my previous point on the seres eye candy, is this series doing females any favors or not? At the end of the day Y: The Last Man is a great piece of entertainment, but surely all stories should strive to be more than that, to educate, pass down our values to our descendants?

Despite all that Y: The Last Man is still one of the best comics ever, and its far and away better than most of the other things on the shelf or any piece of knickers galore Manga Japan can throw at us. Whoever you are, whatever you do, go out and buy Y: The Last Man now. Right Now.

Best Panel: Too Many to choose... I'll go for....... This One:

...What are you still doing here? Get buying

Monday, 28 July 2008

Review: Deadpool Classic: Volume 1

I've always liked the character of Deadpool, If you know even the slightest about the character then you probably know the reason why. Just the idea of a character who knows that he is within a comic book is interesting in itself, but the fact that it is within the marvel universe, with its convoluted continuity and inconstant sense of tone, is it an ultra realistic mirror view of the world with realistic guns and real life prejudices or is is it a colorful word full of quirky characters and pew pew laser guns? Deadpool tends to capitalize upon this loophole, being the absurdity to point out the absurdity, and while we don't get much of his notorious forth wall breakery in this volume, being from his early days, we still get more sarcastic nonsense than is good for us, but we lap it up anyway.

Deapool Classic Volume 1 kicks off with his first appearance in New Mutants #98. Apart from novelty value of seeing his first appearance this inclusion in the volume adds practically nothing, being a chunk out of a story arc which we never get to see the real beginning or end of. The issue sort of sets us up for The Circle Chase, but to be honest, a simple written introduction would have sufficed, or might even been an improvement.

The first proper story in the volume, The Circle Chase is a fun little romp around the lesser trodden parts of the X-Men parts of the Marvel universe. Being from the mid nineties we are constantly beset on all sides by asterisk boxes telling us that the characters are talking about something that happened in a previous issue of some series we probably don't have, and the sheer number of them is unintentionally hilarious and ironically Deapool esque, as well as being kind of nostalgic. The Circle Chase is a competent enough story giving Deapool room to motor mouth everyone he meets but the story suffers slightly from the sheer amount of references to stuff that happens in other series, 'last time we me...' 'You ruined my career...' 'didn't I kill you...', etc etc. As I said before could have been solved by some kind of written recap so we know what the characters are on about.

Next up, Sins of the Past, is a lot less bogged down, and Is genuinely entertaining as Deapool spends the entire story trying to avoid being dragged into the adventure. The inclusion of Banshee and Siryn also pleases me as I like to see my fellow countrymen get represented in the Marvel universe (Ok I'm English and their Irish, but I still consider them my countrymen) and the whole Black Tom arc came in handy because it recently came to a close in New Excalibur. As said, Deadpool's at his finest here, I can't really say anything more without spoilers.

Finally we have Issue #1 of Deadpools monthly series, this is more like it. Deadpool's at his silliest best at this point giving us action and comedy in equal measure and the issue leaves us on the brink of an ongoing arc assuring my purchase of volume 2 whenever its released. The overarching theme of this volume seems to be the whole question of what is the measure of a hero and how Deadpool isn't it, a bit like Wanted in that regard, but poor old 'pool don't get any of the good stuff.

It may not be deep, but hey, if I want deep I'll read Watchmen.

Best Panel: Its so easy even Deadpool can do it:

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Review: Virgin Comics Dan Dare

And So for my first review, my blog's namesake, Garth Ennis' new Dan Dare series.

For any Briton who reads comics, Dan Dare's name should resonate, Its a sad fact that in most cases he probably doesn't, but he should because Dan Dare was Britain's Superman, in fact Ennis says as much in his introduction which shows that he understands the weight of his writing responsibilities on this one (I say this 'one' because Ennis had been working on so many series I've lost count, but more on that later).

I must confess that I myself haven't had that much experience of Dan Dare, connaisseur of all things comic that I am. Apart for a brief tango with the 2000ad era Dan from my Annual collection, and an on off dislike for the CGI tv series, I can honestly say that I've logged in more times with 'Supes' than I have with poor old Dan. Ennis' writing compensates for all this however, and as soon as we meet Dan he is instantly recognisable and easy to connect with, he's the mild mannered heroic Englishman we all secretly wish we were. Dan Dare is Blake, Ace Rimmer, James Bond, Doctor Who and even deep down John Constantine.

So, What of the story then? Dan's settling into his retirement when old enemy The Mekon steps out of the shadows and Dan has to return to action once more. So far, nothing we haven't seen before (Cough *Die Hard 4* Cough *Indiana Jones 4*), but Ennis handles the set up so well that we're left constantly on the edges of our seats, never quite sure under what conditions Dan will return to the action. Ennis spin on Dans world is subtly satirical with post apocalyptic undertones and the type of backlash against the image of 'Harmless old Britain' that was so common in post colonial literature. The exiled Mekon's situation also draws parallels to Osama Bin Laden and 'On the Run' Saddam and the like, and the contemporary design of the 'future' soldiers fighting is a desert environment is a nod current affairs I have admiration for.

And having said that, the stories a great nostalgic action packed romp, with far and away great artwork from Gary Erskine, who seems to nail Dan Dare without the exaggerated grin, but keeping those iconic eyebrows (Just how does he get them like that, I want lightning bolt brows). Considering the collection is only three issues long I extracted a lot of enjoyment from it without feeling as though I've seen it all before (Hello Heros!).

And now onto the criticisms, because no review is complete without small quantities of hate being excreted. Dan Dare seems to be aimed at a broad audience, with Ennis' characteristic language and violence absent but not conspicuously absent, however there is rather a lot of talk and while I appreciate and enjoy the scene setting and construction of the stories background I know I would have hated Issue #1 if I was 14, wanting more action of the kind found in issue #3. Also, despite how much I like the slightly political undertones of the series, some of them fall into being a little bit too overt, the Prime Minister in the story is clearly supposed to be an analogue of Tony Blair and a badly represented one at that, and therefore its criticisms on old Tony's policies are rendered null and void anyway when the plot twist comes along.

The Mekon also seems to have a lot in common with the Daleks in the new series of Doctor Who in the sense that everyone is brown pants scared of even the name being mentioned despite the fact that their plots and schemes were foiled on a weekly basis.

But really I'm just knit picking now, Ennis' Dan Dare was great fun and I'd recommend it to anyone, even the international market, and despite it only being three issues long it is well worth the entry price, and I look forward to the continuation of the plot, Keep rocking Dan.

Best Panel: Dan makes sure you all know your history

Welcome to my Blog, Please Flame Carefully

Oh hello there, come in, sit down, do have a cup of tea. I started this blog because I believe that I have a fairly good taste in comic books, I also like the sound of my own voice, If you think thats wrong, tell me you don't like the sound of your own voice. Yeah I though so.

But seriously, I'm fairly well read in the world of comics, comic books, comic strips, graphic novels or however which you want to put it, and since I'm out of work I feel I should probably contribute something to the world.

So here I am, Reviewing various graphic works and occasionally musing on some news or having a rant about one thing or the other. Feel free to drop by and disagree with my opinion, and please show me some support on the road to legitimate journalism, It keeps me sane.