Saturday, 12 August 2017

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad - A Look Back at Star Wars: Crimson Empire

This column normally takes a look at obscure comics. For every every sixth month, instead of taking a look at a comic that nobody talks about, this special edition will take a look at a comic I feel not enough people talk about.

                                                         

Star Wars: Crimson Empire by Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley and Paul Gulacy – 1998 – 2012



Contains Massive Spoilers

What's cooler than the Emperor’s Imperial Guard?

Crimson Empire was a mid-nineties Star Wars Expanded Universe comic following the exploits of Kir Kanos, last of the Imperial Guard. It was followed by a sequel in 1999, Council of Blood and after nearly a decade and a half, finally concluded in 2012 with Empire Lost. Crimson Empire is an all time classic, and Council of Blood, in my opinion anyway, manages to outdo even that. Empire Lost? Not so much. I'm going to take a look back at all three books, talk about what makes the first two so great in the face of their weaknesses, and why Empire Lost failed to escape it's own.

But first, a little history.

Crimson Empire was a follow up to Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy's Dark Empire, one of Dark Horses' Star Wars mainstays at the time. Dark Empire was framed as the official continuation of the Skywalker saga, with a plot that saw the resurrection of the Emperor in a clone body, and Luke's flirtation with the Dark Side. It was well revived at the time, but fans clashed over Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy, which also framed itself as the official continuation of the Skywalker saga, albeit in a different way.

While Dark Empire and the Thrawn Trilogy don't directly contradict each other, and supposedly both slip into the EU time-line seamlessly, they do feel like they're from alternative universes. Dark Empire drew heavily from science-fantasy, with an anything-goes kind of attitude to the force that brought us talking trees and ancient tribes. Thrawn on the other hand was much more interested in the military aspect of the setting, exploring the politics of a post Return of the Jedi universe.



This was even reflected in the artwork, where Empire had a fantastical, almost concept-art inspired style to it, Thrawn's artwork was crisp and detailed, with every character, ship and blaster drawn like you were almost looking at stills from the films.

To put it bluntly, Dark Empire was interested in the Stars, and the Thrawn Trilogy more interested in the Wars.

I still prefer Dark Empire, but only by a very slim margin. In the end, it was Zahn's approach that won out, and the EU would embrace more detailed and coherent world-building instead of the kitchen sink approach, and do away with the more 'Space-fantasy' inspired aesthetics.

Out of this came Crimson Empire. While obstensively a follow up to Dark Empire, it has more in common with the Thrawn books. The artwork is crisp and brand loyal, and the story is concerned with the minutiae of the Imperial Guard's back-story.

And from this approach comes Crimson Empire's two most prominent characters, Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn. Kanos is a gruff, brooding, reluctant anti-hero, Mirith is a smoking hot, red-headed femme-fatale with a dark past and a penchant for latex catsuits.



If you're a fan of the Star Wars EU, you'll probably notice those descriptions not only match that of Kyle Katarn and Mara Jade, but also a dozen other EU characters I could name. Despite feeling cool and expansive at the time, the Star Wars Expanded universe really suffered from a lot of it's writers having similar tastes, and as such is rotten with brooding badasses and sexy seductresses. Heck, if you only had a passing familiarity with the characters, you'd be mistaken for thinking that it is Mara Jade on the front cover of Council of Blood.

Now this didn't bother me at the time of course, but going by today standards it's easy to see Crimson Empire starting on the back-foot, with a bunch of character archetypes that are far too common even now. That Crimson Empire is still a classic, though, is because it shines through in spite of these limitations.

Crimson Empire's story is a fairly straightforward one, Carnor Jax, one of the Empire's last Imperial Guard, has manipulated his way to the throne by conspiring against the clone Emperor and killing off his compatriots. He didn't reckon, however, on his old sparring buddy Kir Kanos surviving. So Kanos teams up with the rebels in an 'enemy-of-my-enemy' alliance to finally bring Jax to justice.



It's a standard revenge plot used to info-dump some back-story about the Imperial Guard through flashback. Nothing particularly complex or new. Ultimately, it's safe to say that Crimson Empire has more style than substance.

But what style it has. From Jax's dark-lord design, to General Antilles Super Star Destroyer emblazoned with Rebel Alliance sigils, to the Emperor being overly polite to his prospective trainees while Vader berates them in a wonderful good-cop/bad-cop routine, to Jax and Kanos' final, issue-long duel, and Dave Dorman's amazing, amazing covers, there isn't a moment when pure style isn't just bleeding out of the page.

Stradely's artwork is just incredible, where even just a close up on some leather gloves can become visceral and vivid. If it wasn't for some incredibly unfortunate moments with Sinn's boobs I'd say the book had some of the best artwork of all time.



With a grim and uncompromising ending, Crimson Empire may not be the most original of stories, but the writing and artwork have such style that it burns itself into your memory like the burning Empire sigil on the cover. It's a book as cool and badass as the legendary Imperial Guard long deserved.

Of course there was no way a story as badass and memorable as Crimson Empire wouldn't be commissioned for a sequel. While Jax had been brought to justice, his conspirators on the Imperial Council still lived, and it would be up to Kanos to track them down and bring them to justice too.

It would have been easy for Council of Blood to simply repeat the revenge plot of Crimson Empire, but Richardson and Stradley had more loftier ambitions in mind. Council of Blood instead focuses more on showing us an Empire in decline, with the major villains of the Star Wars films now long gone and the rest slowly being undone by backstabbing and bureaucracy.



The whole experience has a great feeling to it. The Imperial's situation is reminiscent of a receding Eastern Roman Empire slowly becoming Byzantium. The story is chock full of characters with ulterior motives and goals, including the self appointed 'Emperor' Xandel Carivus, sleazy Hutt Grappa, the sympathetic ally Baron D'Asta and the first appearance of Nom Anor, herald of the Yuuzhan Vong.

Despite the story having a sharp focus along a closely nit series of plot-lines, the Star Wars world has never felt bigger, drawing inspiration from both the same hard science-fiction and pulp fantasies that the original films did. The Vong's presence here is particularity interesting, since Anor's intentions are never revealed within the comic itself, surrounding the character with an air of mystery and dread.



With this expanded focus, Council of Blood brings with it the depth that Crimson Empire lacked. The titular council is made up of believable and well rounded individuals with their own goals and motivations on display. Plus there are a lot of cool little details in how it serves as a companion piece to Crimson Empire, like how in the original Carnor Jax's elite guard were simply black armoured stormtroopers, exposing Jax's arrogance and pride at being that last of the 'true' Imperial Guard. Come Council of Blood, the fact that Carivus' own men do wear the red of the Imperial Guard slyly hints at his attempts to subvert the Imperial pecking order.


But if you thought that all these wider themes would mean that style would take a back seat you'd be sorely mistaken. This really shines through when it comes to the characters. Grappa is spiteful, petty and melodramatic in ways Jabba never was, and his Zanibar allies feel genuinely fucked-up frightening. Gulacy's art is even better this time around, and the space battles and combat really sing with intensity. It's everything you could possible want in a Star Wars comic and it fits nicely into six solid issues.



You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned either Kanos or Sinn in my praises for Council of Blood, and that's mainly due to the story being more of an ensemble piece. This is no bad thing though, Kanos and Sinn spend most of the plot being manipulated into place by other characters, and Kanos is at his best when he's just getting out his blade and cutting folks up as his bounty hunter alter-ego Kenix Kil.

Council of Blood wraps up nicely, if less spectacularly than Crimson Empire with Kanos flying off into the stars, still loyal to the dead Emperor. It would be a bittersweet and fine ending for most stories, but seeds were sown for a third in the trilogy, and the EU's tendency to reference and interconnect everything leaves the story in an odd place, with no mention of Kanos in the EU after his vow to kill Luke Skywalker.



I suspect Richardson and Stradley asked writers to hold off using Kanos in other stories, with the intent of concluding his story on their own terms. Kanos would show up, however, in a couple of short comics, though I've only read one, which deals with Kanos' time as a bounty hunter, and it doesn't really add anything to the main canon of the trilogy.

So Kanos would hang around in continuity limbo until 2012, and I was ecstatic to find out we'd get to see the end of his journey in Empire Lost. The hype only increased when I looked at the back of the book and saw what appeared to be him tussling with New Republic versions of the Senate Guard from the Prequel Trilogy.

“Cool,” I thought, “It looks like Kanos is going to be doing battle with his metaphorical successors. That's interesting, resonant and a symbolic way to round off the trilogy.”



As it turns out, these guys never actually show up in the comic.

The moment you open the book something just feels... off. Gulacy's art, once the shining star of the series, looks awful here. I'm not sure if the problem is Gulacy doing his own inks this time around or if Michael Bartolo's digital colours are a bad fit for his style, but the whole thing is a mess. The characters look wooden, stiff and uncanny. There are some seriously questionable panel compositions that look melodramatic and comical, but overall the art is just bad, bad, bad.

The disappointments wouldn't stop there though, because the problems of the 90's era EU would finally be coming home to roost.

A few pages in we're finally reunited with Kanos, who looks more like Commander Shepard from Mass Effect here, and this only cements my lack of enthusiasm.

See, I could go on an extremely long rant about how the default male option from a sci-fi RPG saga represents everything wrong with the diversity of character we have in storytelling today, but it'd take me too long. So let me put it like this:



When I started reading Empire Lost, I expected seeing Kanos again would be like coming home to an old friend. Like slipping on a comfortable old jacket. But after years of characters like John Shepard, Marcus Fenix, Kyle Katarn, Alex Mason, Christian Walker, latter day John McClain, Bill Roenick and many, many other gruff, brooding white guys, Kanos just didn't hold any appeal for me any more. It's like going back to the old café you used to get breakfasts from as a kid and realising that the breakfasts don't taste all that different from the millions you've eaten at Denny's.

This wouldn't be too bad if Empire Lost handled Kanos like Council of Blood did, but this is the character's swan song, so it's got to give an emotionally satisfying ending to what feels more like a collection of tropes in armour than an actual character.

Empire Lost's biggest problem of all is the weird intersection it sits between the original Star Wars Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, the 90's EU and the 00's EU, all of which have their own themes and aesthetics that struggle against each other.

This is most prominently seen in the use of Luke, Leia and Han. In Crimson Empire and Council of Blood, the Skywalker clan never appear, spoken only of in hushed whispers. This gave them a mythical sort of status that loomed large over Kanos' street-level adventures. Seeing Kanos and Sinn interact face to face with Luke and Leia just kind of feels at odds with the story Crimson Empire wants to tell. Mirith Sinn dressed in a leather fetish catsuit standing next to Carrie Fisher as classic Leia can't really get any weirder.


There's loads of other issues like this. Prolonged foreshadowing to the New Jedi Order series sits awkwardly in the plot. Boba Fett shows up to confront Kanos, which should have led to an awesome showdown, but instead only serves as a pointless cameo. Having a rogue Imperial fleet using Prequel-Era ships sounds like a cool idea, but seems to serve no more purpose than the Fett cameo. Finally, all references to the Dark Empire series have been dropped in favour of nods to the Thrawn saga instead.

All this clutter leads to Empire Lost lacking an identity of its own, when it's preceding books both had a strong unity of vision. It's a shame too, because Empire Lost is filled with good ideas. The main villain, Devin was a former assassin for the Emperor, and his back-story is a mirror to Kanos'. However, Devin is just kind of pulled out of nowhere with little foreshadowing, and fails to serve as the 'Evil Kanos' that the plot needs him to be.

Still, there are moments where that familiar style still shines through. The first panel we see Kanos back in full regalia sent a shiver down my spine, and the final battle between the classic Imperials and Devin's prequel-era splinter group is a great thing to behold. Another nice detail I like is Han and Leia's war weariness and their optimistic relief that an end to the conflict is finally in sight. This is kind of sad in light of where the Star Wars galaxy was to go after the story's conclusion.


Even so, the whole book fails as a satisfying ending for Kanos. The original Crimson Empire was framed as a tragedy. A story of a good man bound by a code of honour that drives him to acts of violence in the name of an evil regime. If ever there was to be a fitting end to Kanos' tale, it should have been his own death, by his own hand, or in a final misguided confrontation with Luke.

Instead, we get Kanos' redemption. Now don't get me wrong, I would still have been happy with Kanos turning from the Emperor and renouncing his original vows if it was written well, but in Empire Lost this all happens far too quickly and easily. Where the previous books hinted at Kanos' doubts, he still had a ways to go at the end of Council of Blood. Here though? It just takes one conversation with Devin for Kanos to throw down his arms and turn to the New Republic. It doesn't feel earned, and smacks more of a reluctance to tell a more daring tale.

In the end, Empire Lost just sleepwalks along to a conclusion. While it is interesting to see the Republic win the battle that finally closes the book on Palpatine's Empire, it could have been so much more solid than this. The demands of Empire Lost to serve as a satisfying conclusion were much higher than that of both Crimson Empire and Council of Blood, and it misses the mark horribly. I can't even say that the art saves it.



I don't know if I'd have been happier without Empire Lost. On the one hand it's nice to finally find out just what happened to Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn, but soon enough the new mandate from Disney hitting the continuity reboot button would render that little titbit mostly irrelevant anyway.

Still, in the words of Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad. The entire Crimson Empire saga has been re-released by Marvel now, and it's well worth the entire package. So what if Empire Lost is a disappointing ending? Crimson Empire and Council of Blood still stand up well today, and that's worth any trade off in my opinion.

Crimson Empire is a mixed bag in every respect, but the good outweighs the negatives so much that I still think they're some of the best Star Wars comics ever written. Maybe one day we'll see a retelling of the saga in the new Marvel continuity (now there's an idea to play around with), but until then, if you want to see a gripping tale where the legendary Imperial Guard are rendered as power-armoured space-ninjas, then Crimson Empire's got your back.

                                                     

Jack Harvey 2017. Star Wars: Crimson Empire is (c) Disney/Marvel/Dark Horse where appropriate. Images used under fair use.

Monday, 31 July 2017

For Your Taste Buds Accordingly Part Two

I mentioned about a year ago that my planned webcomic, Sea of Spheres, was being put on hold while my life sort of figures itself out over then next few years. That doesn't mean I've left the characters behind though.





I comissioned the wonderful Willoh to do a piece on Leo and Eva. I'm really happy with what she came up with. I like to see other artists give their own take on my characters, because I'll often pick up on things they've added or changed and work them into my own designs. Plus, it's always good to throw a decent artist some money once in a while. You can find more of her artwork at willohdraws.tumblr.com

Other than that, here's what's been going on recently.

  • As mentioned previously I'll be at Carlisle Megacon on Saturday 19th August. Much the same as last time I'll be selling print copies of Tales of the Modern Realms and promoting my Ebooks, but I'm also hoping to have some prints on sale. Keep an eye out for me.
  • I'll be a guest on the Bat Minute '89 Podcast some time at the end of August. I'll be posting the link to the show here once it's broadcast, but I do encourage you to follow the whole series. It's a great bat-time.
  • Work continues on the John Paul Jones comic, as ever. Turns out comics take a lot longer than anticipated (though especially when you start work on a bunch of other projects,) but I'm determined to get the whole thing done by the end of the year.

Other than that there'll be a Obscure Comic of the Month Special Edition coming in August just before I fly off to the states for a couple of weeks. As ever, you can support me by checking out Tales of the Modern Realms, The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack, and The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix.

That's all for now, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Obscure Comic of the Month - Professor Elemental Issue Two

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.

                                                                        

Professor Elemental Issue Two by Chris Mole, Paul Alborough and various – 2013




Have you seen this ape? Missing since last Tuesday one Ape mostly orange haired with hat, ill-fitting suit and ill-mannered disposition. Answers to the name Geoffrey, particularly when shouted at a hysterical pitch and high volume.

Way back when I reviewed issue one I noted that a lot of the original weaknesses were resolved in the following volume. Indeed, issue #2 is a much more robust book, with a full spine suggesting it has the ambitions of a full blown graphic novel. Professor Elemental Issue Two for all intents and purposes feels more like the real start to the series, with issue one being little more than a taster.

But how does this new batch of stories measure up? The new crop of stories are an improvement upon those in the first issue, all feeling stronger and more confident in what made them great. Large Animal Legislation and Steampunk Superheroes both take advantage of the Steampunk genre trappings to tell familiar stories through the batty lens of the Professor's character, the artwork itself is lovely and each story has a charm of its own. Especially Metadimentional Voyage, where each dimension is depicted by a different artist.



The variety on display is also very imaginative. Last Night I Dreamt I went to Manderly Again, easily the highlight of the book, is pretty much a straight up horror story, and genuinely creepy at that. Belvedere Bully and Young Geoffrey a both children's book-esque stories that tell softer tales about the character's respective childhoods.

Really, if one kind of story doesn't work for you then you're right on to another that probably will, and there are enough stories in the book that you won't feel short changed. That being said, the order the stories are placed isn't structured to play to their strengths, Tempestuous Teapot and Large Animal Legislation, both covering very similar themes, are positioned back to back, giving the reader a sense of deja-vu.



Similarly Last Night I Dreamt I went to Manderly Again is immediately followed by The Case of Aunt Fanny's Horn, another story with creepy horror elements. These two stories could have done with being separated by a lighter hearted one. The last two stories also both end on cliffhangers. It may be a minor quibble, but some many similar stories being clumped together can give an unfair impression of a lack of originality.

My main complaint from issue one, that the stories don't draw enough from the character's chap-hop roots, is also repeated here. While there are nods to various songs like Fighting Trousers, the book again feels more interested in Professor Elemental the character, over Professor Elemental the musician. 



This is fine, but Elemental the character only has a limited shelf-life against the many other steampunk comedies on the shelves, while Elemental the musician is something the world of comics doesn't have anywhere else. Capitalising upon the chap-hop connection seems like a wise direction to take, but the comic itself seems resistant to go beyond steampunk-comedy trappings.

Even so, Professor Elemental Issue Two is still a good time with great artwork and fun stories. You could do worse for picking up a small-press anthology.

                                        

Jack Harvey 2017. Professor Elemental (c) Paul Alborough. Images used under Fair Use.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Obscure Comic of the Month - Amongst the Stars

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.

                                                   

Amongst the Stars by Jim Alexander, Mike Perkins and Will Pickering – Planet Jimbot 2015





Contains spoilers

A trippy tale of science fiction brought to you by the talents of Eagle/True Believers award winner Jim Alexander (GoodCopBadCop, Metal Hurlant, Wolf Country) and Eisner award winner Mike Perkins (Captain America, Ruse, Stephen King's The Stand).

Amongst the Stars is a comic that's big on ideas and low on page count. It's a comic that seeks to explore the deeper questions on the meaning of life and the nature of our place in the universe and it looks to do all that in under fifty pages.

Jim Alexander's cosmic fable is split across four different narrative strands, a murder in Turin, a party in New York, the last days of a dying race on the other side of the galaxy and the love life of a disabled astro-physicist who is almost definitely not Stephen Hawking. Through each of these strands Alexander draws parallels between the interconnectedness of each set of characters. Isn't the disabled astro-physicist's attempt to connect to with his daughter just like the disabled alien's attempt to convince their partner to accept their fates?


You've seen these beats before, but it would perhaps be unfair of me to write Aleander's story off as merely Cloud Atlas on speed. Alexander's little, and maybe too short, tales do resonate with an emotional effectiveness that could easily have devolved into whimsy. It's blatantly obvious that William Holland is a knock off Stephen Hawking, but that doesn't really stop you from being drawn into the story and believing in his character.

This slight of hand is mostly pulled off thanks to Mike Perkins' excellent artwork on the book, which really reminds me of the black and white era of 90's Doctor Who strips (which I've covered in the past,) particularly in regards to the alien sequences that make a bold use of clear white space to communicate the strangeness of their culture and the way they perceive reality.


And perception really is the main focus of the book. For what little plot there is it mostly concerns the alien race's last ditch attempt to save themselves backfiring when they accidentally interface with an old movie camera. Beyond that the beats are much more primal, raising questions of where our animal brains begin and where our human souls end (or should that be the other way around?)

Once again, most of the heavy lifting is done by Perkins' art. Beyond the Stars really wants to be more of an experience than a story. It'll end far sooner than you'll expect it to, and while it will leave you with thoughts to ponder, I do wonder if the story could have done with more time. Alexander's big ideas are still only touched upon rather than examined and, as mentioned earlier, the story will remind you of far deeper, richer works that cover similar ground.


So all in all Amongst the Stars is effective at what it sets out to do, though what it does has been done more effectively, and at length, many times before.

The book also comes with a back up strip in the form of Growing Pains. If you've ever read a 2000ad Terror Tale then you'll know exactly what you're in for here. It's a short, humorously told horror story with a grim twist at the end. It's a fun and unexpected addition to the end of the book, even if it does have practically nothing to do with the main plot.

                                        

Jack Harvey 2017. Amongst the Stars (c) 2015 Planet Jimbot. Images used under Fair Use.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

June Update


June Update

Just time to check in with a summary of what's been going on with my work lately.

  • As you may have already heard, my second ebook, The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix, with amazing cover art by Meg Daunting, is out now from Less Than Three Press. More details here if you somehow missed it.
  • I'll be attending Carlisle's August Megcacon on Saturday 19th August. This time I'm hoping I'm going to have some prints on sale as well as copies of Tales of the Modern Realms. I'm playing with the idea of doing a bunch like the Dorian one posted below, let me know if you have any suggestions.
  • I'm also hoping I'll have the John Paul Jones comic ready for August, but as noted previously, the current time-scale is for it do be done, when it's done.
  • I'm hoping I'll have a third Convention appearance some time in October or November. Nothing certain on this as yet though.



As ever, you can buy Tales of the Modern Realms here, the Carnack Ebook here, and the Jocasta Ebook here.

 And that's about all for now. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Obscure Comic of the Month - The Collected Evil Wee Comics

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.

                                                      

The Collected Evil Wee Comics by John Gordon Miller, Rob Miller and Adam J Smith – A Braw Book 2015



We proudly present the collected 'Evil Wee Comics' brand from Scots underground veteran John Miller. Features 'Secret Agent', 'Super Tales' & 'The Atomic Society' issues #1 & 2!

How exactly is one to describe Evil Wee Comics? My first attempt would be to say that they're a somewhat surreal homage to classic golden age superhero and spy comics, but that wouldn't be quite correct. My second attempt would be to say that they're a stream of consciousness reinterpretation of classic comics through a very Scottish lens, but that wouldn't quite cover it either.

The fact that the Evil Wee Comics are so hard to describe is in many respects part of their appeal. Explaining the plot behind the intricate, decade spanning world of the OSS and the Atomic Society is unnecessary and ultimately pointless. Plot isn't really the purpose of Evil Wee Comics, instead the whole experience is more about in the moment nuttiness and taking a journey to find out where the bizarre tangents end.


The average story in Evil Wee Comics usually starts with something resembling a plot. A secret agent must track down an escaped villain, a superhero team must fight one of their possessed members, but the stories quickly branch off into bizarre non-sequiturs about departmental budget constraints or Paul Jones – lead singer of Manfred Mann being an all round boring K**t.

Art duties bounce around a lot, with some great work by Rob Miller on the superhero fight sequences, but it's John Miller's own artwork that is the most notable. It's sharp and blocky, and often takes up only a fraction of the page, with some pages almost filled with nothing but text. It's another layer of bizarre to add onto a primarily graphic medium, with the humour of some of the strips being the slow inevitable crawl of the dialogue edging out the art.



And the humour is indeed the comic's greatest quality. Evil Wee Comics probably has more in common with newspaper strips than full length issues. It is at it's best when experienced just a coupled of pages at a time and revelling in the straight faced absurdity of it all.

Miller and Co are no slouches on depth either. It's clear that the team has a lot of love for the old Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D comics, and there are numerous nods and references if you know where to look. Likewise, the Atomic Society comics draw back to a lot of WW2 era superhero teams like The Invaders, and there's a po-faced nostalgia that's oddly not part of the many jokes on offer.



To go into more detail would probably defeat the point. Evil Wee Comics is Underground through and through, so it's not going to necessarily hold an appeal to more mainstream readers, but if you can handle the sort of punk rock weirdness of stuff like early Tank Girl then you'll probably find a lot here to be tickled by.

There's nothing else out there quite like Evil Wee Comics, and some of it just has to be seen to be believed.

                                    

Jack Harvey 2017. Evil Wee Comics is (c) John Gordon Miller, Rob Miller and Adam J Smith. Images used under fair use.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Announcing The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix

Hey folks! If you've been following my updates recently you'll have notice me mention that a new Ebook from Less Than Three would be coming soon. Well, the time for talking in hushed tones is over. It's time to announce...



After years of serving as a ranger across untold worlds and battlefields, Jocasta Lacroix is no stranger to scars, and her wife Katie knows the story of all but one. On their anniversary, Jocasta tells the story of her time as bodyguard and lover of Lady Gail Norringham, where she was drawn into a web of secrets and betrayal that led to her first encounter with notorious mercenary Carnack Cousland.

The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix is a follow up to The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack, though it's events actually take place before that story, so in essense you can read them in either order, so don't worry if you haven't read my last Ebook.

The story follows Jocasta, who was a minor character in Reminiscence and Scars seeks to explain how she and Carnack first met and just what their deal is. I've been wanting to write a full story with Jocasta for a long time, and I'm thrilled to finally see it out there.

Speaking of being thrilled, Meg Daunting returns to provide the cover artwork and I couldn't be happier with the finished piece.

I hope you all enjoy what I've come out with, and if you do, I can assure you that we'll be seeing more from Carnack and Jocasta's world in the future.

The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix will be available on June 7th for $1.99, and you can pre-order it here right now.

And if you haven't checked out The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack yet, you can also buy that here.

And while you're there, once again feel free to take a look at the great work other authors have got going on. You still can't go wrong.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Obscure Comic of the Month - Salvagers: Abandoned Cargo

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.

                                                     

Salvagers: Abandoned Cargo by Bob Salley, George Acevedo, DeSika and Hde – Think Alike Productions 2016




In the distant future, the habitable planets are connected through trade of natural and artificial resources. The import and export business is flourishing for some systems, while leaving others at the mercy of major trade corporations.

After the Galactic War ended, peace blanketed the galaxy; however planets with little shipping resources turned to piracy or developed small guerilla military units geared to pillage trade ships. This spawned the necessity for trade companies to hire private security contractors for protection.

Even under the security of peacetime, there is no shortage of violence in outer space; from looting raiders, Navy destroyers neutralizing a rebel movement to the simplest space station falling victim to a rogue asteroid.

These destroyed or abandoned ships and stations are classified as “WRECKS”.

Licensed crews are commissioned by governments, empires and corporations to remove these wrecks.

In a hostile galaxy, the risk and reward is high for these crews.

They are known as... the SALVAGERS.

I picked up book one of Salvagers while I was at Toronto Comic Con back in March. It was the last day, and the comic's writer, Bob Salley, pegged me as somebody who might be interested. He gave me a heartfelt pitch, selling the idea that this was a series that really focused on the working men of a sci-fi universe. No soldiers or scientists or astronauts here. Just everyday Joes who have jobs to do and bills to pay.

I snagged the last copy, and he threw in a couple of issues of the next arc with it.

That is to say, I really wanted to like Salvagers.

It's competent to be sure. The writing comes together nicely, the plot is framed well enough, and George Acevedo's art fits well with the story being told, beyond a few panels feel weirdly off. By and large, there wasn't anything really wrong with Salvagers, but there wasn't anything for me to really get excited about either.

Look, I get it. Doing comics isn't easy, I know that. I'm sure my own stuff has it's fair share of flat writing and I'm certainly still making my way when it comes to art. So I know how much love and hard work you have to put into these things, and how you want what you come out with to be the best it can be.

But what you also have to remember is that a lot of small press and self published comics are done by writers who are just starting out. Fresh talent still forming. So when you see problems, it's best to point them out now, while there's time to iron out your bind spots.



See, here's the thing; when I read independent comics I'm going to be forgiving of a lot of things. There's going to be jank and cheese in the writing, there's going to be a little bit of the art that feels off. What makes up for that though, is getting to see fresh ideas, bold new voices. Subject matters that might not have a broad appeal but that the writer really cares about. Stories that might get a little scrubbed clean of character if it was under a major publisher.

Salavagers though, it doesn't have any of that. The story follows a crew of four as they explore a derelict ship, clash with some security bots, and find out that there is more going on with the derelict than meets the eye. You've seen this story before, you've seen these characters before. There's the big alien guy who's stoic and professional. There's his little funny looking best friend who's quick with a joke but is always getting into scrapes. There's the purple skinned pilot who's strictly business but can relax around the main character, and of course she's smoking hot with a dark and troubled past.

By far the biggest problem is our main character Bill Roenick. Bill is a rough, rugged ex-soldier (despite the fact not focussing on soldiers was supposed to be one of this book's selling points.) He's what I like to thing of as a 'place-holder' character. He's perfectly fine for the first draft but should have been replaced by a more interesting character by the time we got to print.



Here's a little experiment for all you writers out there. Next time you write dialogue for your main character, ask yourself if it sounds like the kind of thing John Mcclain would say. And I'm not talking about flawed, interesting, Die Hard 1 – 3 John Mcclain here, I'm talking about boring, invincible, no personality, Die Hard 4 -5 John Mcclain. If the answer is yes, I suggest you scrap that character immediately.

There are plenty of Bill Roenicks in the world of comics, I read indie comics to expressly avoid them.

So Salvagers real, and in it's defence, only problem is that it isn't bringing anything new to the table. There's nothing wrong with using archetypes, but you have to do something interesting with them. Even the comic's main selling point, working Joes in space, isn't all that original when you consider Alien did that back in 1979.



Fortunately, Salvagers can be salvaged (ah-heh). Abandoned Cargo is only it's first book, and I've seen far worse comics turn themselves around to become classics. The talent is certainly there for it.

But by it's own merits, Abandoned Cargo just sort of gets swept away by the dozens of other sci-fi comics that have covered similar ground over the years. If you're new to comics, there's probably a lot you'd find to like, but it's not what I'm looking for when I pick up a self-published comic.

                                                   

Jack Harvey 2017. Salvagers is (c) Bob Salley and George Acevedo. Images used under fair use.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Judge Cammy White


I don't normally post non-story related artwork here, but I'm going to be working on a bunch of pieces that I'm thinking of making prints of for the conventions I'm planning on attending in the future.

Since most of my artwork is just practice stuff and bouncing around ideas, I thought it would be best to really crack out something as good as I can get it.

So I'm pretty satisfied with how it ended up. What do you folks think? Would you be interested in buying it as a print?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

April Update and Dispatches from Toronto



The year is ticking along, so it's time for another quick update on the projects that I'm working on, but I also want to talk a little about my time in Toronto too, so let's get to it.

  • I enjoyed the heck out of my time at Toronto Comic Con. It wasn't as big as New York, but It sure as hell had the talent on display. I spent more money on swag than was reasonably healthy, and I picked up a lot of independant comics that I no doubt will be covering for my Obsucre Comic of the Month column.
  • The highlight of the show was meeting Andrew Wheeler and Jim Zub, both writers who I have a great deal of respect for. They were lovely to meet and talk shop with, particularly regarding...
  • Chapterhouse Comics, for those that don't know, is a Canadian comic book publisher most likely known for the current run of Captain Canuck comics. I was lucky enough to catch the Chapterhouse panel. The publisher's current line is resurrecting a bunch of vintage Canadian comic heroes and working them together into a shared universe. It sounds like a promising project, seeing them construct the feel of a decades old universe without the baggage of actual decades. I've read issue one of Freelance, by Wheeler and Zub, and I'm excited to see where they go with this.

  • Work continues on the John Paul Jones comic, which you can see some work in progress art for above. Visiting Fort York in Toronto was also helpful in getting a feel for era-specific clothing and weapons.
  • I've been planning for a while to self-publish a bunch of short Modern Realms novellas, with each one featuring a different artist. I don't really have a time-frame for the project, but I'm thinking about getting one out this year just to test the waters.
  • I missed out on doing an Obscure Comic of the Month in march due to Mass Effect: Andromeda multiple factors, such as being in Toronto, and getting out a eulogy for the recently closed Comics Alliance. We'll be back on schedule this month, however.
  • No release date on The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix as yet, but it's coming, oh boy, it's coming.

And that's about all for now. As ever, you can keep up to date on my projects through my Tumblr amd my Twitter. And if you'd like to support my work, please consider checking out my Modern Realms anthology and Carnack Ebook. Thanks.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

RIP Comics Alliance... Again

Not an April Fools joke, sadly. 



On Thursday, 2 May 2013, I wrote a sincere farewell to Comics Alliance, which, In my opinion, was the best comics related website in the business. Fortunately for me and it's millions of other readers, Comics Alliance was resurrected, and would go on to inform and entertain for many years to come.

Yesterday it was revealed that it wasn't so much a resurrection as it was a stay of execution.

You can go back and read my original article, pretty much all of what I said at the time still stands, except I probably would consider myself a comic book academic by this point, in all manners other than legal, and that's all thank to the work and the talent that Comics Alliance had on show.

But 2017 is not the same world as 2013, and I'm all out of sincerity. What the world needs more than anything is righteous anger, and what made Comics Alliance stand out from all the other sites was it's anger.

It's telling that this news lands at about the same time Marvel's David Gabriel comes out with this shit about backing down on diversity. It's important to remember that for all the joy, and wonder and sense of community that businesses like Marvel and DC bring, they are not your friends, and like all businesses, they'd sell you half the product for twice the price if they thought they could get away with it.

Most Comics sites forget this, often, but Comics Alliance never did. When the big two acted like gracious hosts, when they were giving away breadcrumbs, Comics Alliance were always at the ready to call them on their shit.

I'm ever grateful for the work they've done over the years, their focus on important subjects like diversity, harassment and LGTBQ issues are as critical now as they ever have been. Even outside the more topical stuff, their dedication to exploring lesser known comics and unknown histories keep the spirit and the heart of the comics world alive. It's exit leaves a hole in the comic book world that might never again be filled.

As a coda to this article, I got to meet current editor-in-chief Andrew Wheeler at Toronto Comic Con just a couple of weeks ago. He's one of the most intelligent, charming and driven people I've ever met, and the news that he'll be moving on to writing comic books full time is the silver lining to this cloud. Comic journalism's loss is definitely Comic writing's gain.

On that note, I'd like to give the biggest thank you to all of Comics Alliance's writers and staff, both past and present. The comics world wouldn't be the same without you. I hope you all go on to even bigger and better things. And in particular I'd like to give a special shout out to some of my favourite writers, Jon Erik Christianson, Katie Schenkel and James Leask, your work has shaped me as both a reader and a writer.

Godspeed Comics Alliance, and stay angry.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

March Update



Just thought it was a good time to clock in and update you all on my current projects and plans.

  • As I've mentioned in the past, I'll be heading to Toronto in a couple of days. I'll be knocking around Toronto ComicCon while I'm there, and while I won't have a table there myself, I am interested on speaking to artists and other writers while I'm there.
  • Carlisle Megacon was a great experience (Not least when I found I had a table opposite the insanely talented TtotheAffy) and I hope I can snag a table at a couple more conventions this year. No confirmation on that as yet, but you'll hear it here first.
  • So I was being pretty optimistic about getting the John Paul Jones comic done by March, but I suspected that anyway. Current target is for July, but I don't want to rush myself. I want this project to be the best it can be, so I want it done when it's done. On top of that I'm currently working on a novel that I've just been compelled to write, and that's been taxing my attention too.
  • The follow up to my Ebook The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack, is on it's way. The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix will likewise be published by Less Than Three with cover at by Meg Daunting (I can't wait for you to see it). No ETA yet, but you'll be hearing about it very soon.
  • Obscure Comic of the Month might run a little late, since I won't be back from Toronto til' the 21st March. However, I'll try my best to get something out by the end of the month.

And that's all for now. As ever, if you like my work please consider checking out my Modern Realms anthology and Carnack Ebook. Thanks

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Obscure Comic of the Month - Warhammer 40'000: Hard Choices

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.

                                           

Warhammer 40'000: Hard Choices: What Happened on Algol? By Dan Abnett and David Roach – Codex Pictures 2010






It is the 41st Millennium, a grim and dark future where mankind must battle for survival in a galaxy riven by bloodshed and destruction. Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction, assailed on all sides by aliens, traitors and Daemons, and only the superhuman strength of the Space Marines and the uncountable numbers of the Imperial Guard stand between the slavering alien hordes and total annihilation...

Hard Choices was a comic prologue to Ultramarines, Codex Pictures first (and only) CGI Warhammer film. Only obtainable as part of the special edition collector's set, It was also probably the first of many lessons where I learned that if a special collector's edition of something comes with a bonus comic it's almost never worth it.

Hard Choices is a hardback, postcard sized, 32 page 'graphic novel'. When you pull it out of it's collectors box it looks laughably feeble.

But is it any good?

Naturally, as a prologue and companion piece, we're first going to need to talk a little about the Ultramarines movie itself. Ultramarines was undeniably a disappointment. It was over-hyped, under-produced and narratively unremarkable. Many were expecting the 40k universe's debut feature to look on par with the outstanding intro sequence to Relic's Dawn ofWar. Instead the animation was stiff, awkward and plastic looking. The visuals were bland and bare, the action short and muted. It was a world away from the detailed, complex art and models we normally see the 40k setting through.

And the writing. Golden Throne, the writing. This was Games Workshop's one chance to envision their most famous IP on screen, and the best we got was something that wouldn't pass for a Starship Troopers knock off. Nothing about what makes the 40k universe unique or interesting appears in this film, if you scrubbed the Games Workshop trademarks there's not a single thing to distinguish it from any other generic space military story.

Finally, to add insult to injury, Ultramarines has to be the single greatest squandering of a film's cast that I've ever seen. Terrance Stamp, Sean Pertwee, Donald Sumpter and the late, great John Hurt. It's a veritable who's who of actors you'd want to see in a 40k film, and the best lines they could give them were a load of nothing millitary tough guy jargon with the occasional reminder that, yes, this is a Warhammer film.



So Hard Choices has a distinct advantage here, where by actual comparison to the film it can only come out looking good. So ultimately if nothing else I can say reading Hard Choices is a damn sight more enjoyable than watching Ultramarines. 

I have to feel for Abnett in a way (who also wrote the screenplay for the film). It's obvious that he was incredibly restricted by the project. The film clearly didn't have the budget for anything remotely ambitious, and the comic itself had to come across as less epic to prevent overshadowing it.

That being said, I think this was the point in which my opinion on Abnett started to shift. He gets a lot of praise for the sheer amount of stuff he's written over the years, but what I don't think people consider is that for every Gaunt's Ghosts he creates there’s bland unremarkable tripe like this being shat out as well.

And ultimately it's all for naught. Hard Choices ends up overshadowing Ultramarines anyway.
Hard Choices follows the actions of a bunch of Ultramarines fighting the Tyranid menace on the planet Algol. It's not going particularly well, Marines are dying in droves, and Captain Severus is chewing out the Governess for failing to act quickly enough. A bunch of neophytes bicker about missing out on glory and honour and stuff, but they get their wish when Severus decides to promote them to full marines in order to answer a distress signal from the shrine world of Mithron.



It's over pretty quickly, but there is at least a little depth to be found. Severus has to make the difficult decision of how to respond to the distress signal in the face of his duties on Algol. As excuses for character drama go, I’ve seen worse. There's a lot in Hard Choices that I'd have liked them to have expanded on. What exactly were the Governesses failings? What are the implications behind their duties to a shrine world? Why exactly are they the only ones capable of responding to the distress call?

I have no real complaints about David Roach's art either. It all looks suitably Warhammer, and the character's faces are all expressive and unique enough to feel like they have actual personality. That's when you can see them though, since most of the comic takes place in unrelenting grimdarkness.

Ultimately, Hard Choices would have been a better plot for a film. Strange dogmatic future culture explored, divided loyalties between tradition, obligation and humanity, and an actual look at what life in the 40k universe is like. Sure it'd be a little lacklustre, but it would have been better than the nothing film we ended up with.



Despite my praises though, Hard Choices doesn't have all that much substance either. It's just more Space Marines talking about honour and duty. There are about a billion other Space Marine stories that cover this ground, there's nothing new to see here.

All in all I can't help but harken back to the days of Warhammer Monthly, where we actually got good and interesting Warhammer comics that wanted to take the setting in new directions. An ex-Sister of Battle fighting in the Dark Eldar arena, Valhallans and Space Wolves lost behind enemy lines, two unlikable back-stabbers combing the ruins of Mordheim.

A Titan crew stranded on a strange planet, separated from their war machine, written by an up-and-coming writer called Dan Abnett.

There was another Warhammer film in development once, long ago. That film was called Bloodquest. Sure it looked even jankier than Ultramarines did, but it at least wanted to tell a story that was unique and bold. A tale that didn't hide from the absurdity of throwing away a soldier's life to reclaim a dusty relic. A story that had real characters with real flaws, who had hopes and fears and temptations, not cardboard cut-outs spouting military sound-bites.

But alas it wasn't to be. Warhammer Monthly and Bloodquest were both casualties to a changing Games Workshop that was more interested in playing it safe. Ultramarines and Hard Choices are both perfect distillations of that attitude. Unremarkable, easily digested pulp produced to sell you plastic soldiers.

                                         

Jack Harvey 2017. Ultramarines and Hard Choices are (c) Games Workshop Ltd. Images used under fair use.