Friday, 1 July 2011

Shut Up and Eat Your Awesome

Ok so we all know that fan boys can be notoriously difficult to please, just look at the mauling the Green Lantern film has received, but as an antidote to all the nay saying and criticism comes this brilliant fan trailer for Transformers Dark Side of the Moon Master Class which pretty much sums up everything that is right and wrong in the world of fandom. So shut up and eat your awesome (can I have that on a T-shirt please).

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Mezolith Trailer

I reviewed Mezolith a while ago and found this trailer through a Twitter post earlier this week and it’s brilliant, it perfectly captures the look and feel of the book. If you haven’t checked out Mezolith yet I can heartily recommend it, here’s the trailer

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review – Daredevil The Man Without Fear! The Devil Inside and Out Volume 1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano
Colour by Frank D’Armata
Published by Marvel

For the past few years, Matt Murdock’s life has been teetering on the edge of destruction. Now, pushed beyond the limit, Matt finds himself behind the eight ball with no clear way out, the people he calls friends slowly deserting him, and Hell’s Kitchen gradually slipping out of control. The question is just how far will Daredevil go to get back what is his?

My Daredevil knowledge to date is limited and consists of the following
I have watched the movie (both the theatrical release and the Directors cut)
I have read Frank Miller’s The Man without Fear.
I own a copy of Daredevil #184 purely for the cover – it’s bloody awesome and is present here in all its gloriousness

And that’s it.
So I approached Brubaker and Lark’s The Devil Inside and Out with slight amount of trepidation, to be honest it’s been in my reading pile for a while, filed under ‘impenetrable’ But what a fool I’ve been, forget any of my worries about continuity or not being able to follow the story – it honesty doesn’t matter, when a comic is written and executed this well, it should be able to and it does, stand up on it’s own merits.
For me I think of Daredevil as one of Marvels prestige titles only entrusted to the best of the best and so in 2006 the writing baton was handed over  to a certain Mr Ed Brubaker, Bendis’s run had finished with Matt Murdock incarcerated on Ryker’s Island held on suspicion of being The Man Without Fear, Daredevil.
So how the hell do you get out of that?
Easy (says me), you craft a story that will push Matt Murdock to the very edge of his sanity, you lock him away in the same jail as his most hated enemies then kill the one person in his life who has stuck with him through thick and thin, and then finally when he can’t get any lower you make him evaluate and question his very existence as Daredevil.
So in other words you take him and kick him in the balls repeatedly till he begs for mercy and then you kick him some more just for the hell of it.
Brubaker writes like a man possessed and his story is a lesson on how to write about the brutality and the depravity of the human soul. You know the situation is bad when the Punisher gets involved to add a little sanity and level headedness to proceedings – yes things really do get that bad.
There are a few lines at the beginning that perfectly sum up the book and have stuck with me after I finished reading
‘They think they know who I am….
But they don’t.
Daredevil has always been me held in check.
They’ve never met the real Matt Murdock’
This all said whilst talking to his dead father and using his cell wall as punch bag – grim doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The artwork by Michael Lark is also pretty spectacular, at first I wasn’t really sure if I was going to like it or not. But as you progress further into the book the art dovetails with the writing perfectly and it captures the feel and claustrophobic ness of Ryker’s Island perfectly and all but drips off the page, stunning.
Also while I’m gushing I thought I’d mention Lark and D’Armata’s Hell’s Kitchen which they somehow manage to turn into a living and breathing character. There is a sequence of panels in the fist issue of the collection when Foggy is out looking for the fake Daredevil (nice reveal at the end of the book by the way). His search takes him to the roof tops of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s dark, it’s grimy, it’s raining and it’s absolutely beautiful to look at. Time and time again my eyes were drawn to backgrounds to the details of the buildings, architecture and the lighting. Who knew that a water tower could look so good! 
Final thoughts
So if you hadn’t guessed I loved this book all I want to do now is skip over to Amazon and order the rest of Brubaker’s run and devour it all and I’ve still not read any of the Bendis Daredevil run, oh life is good.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Review – Batman: Under the Hood Volumes 1 and 2

Written by Judd Winick
Pencilled by Doug Mahnke (Vol 1 & 2), Paul Lee (Vol 1), Shane Davies (Vol 2), Eric Battle (Vol 2)
Inked by Tom Nguyen (Vol 1 & 2), Cam Smith (Vol 1), Rodney Ramos (Vol 2), Wayne Faucher (Vol 2), Lary Stucker (Vol 2),  Marl Morales (Vol 2)
Coloured by Alex Sinclair
Published by Titan Books

Who is the Red Hood?
While battling new criminal chieftains raiding his city, Batman in confronted with a face from the past – or rather, a hidden face from the past. Welcome the return of the Red Hood!

The Black Mask is now in control of the Gotham City underworld. But as he tightens his grip on the city there is a new player in town, The Red Hood who systematically embarks on a tour on intervention and disruption much to the chargrin of the Black Mask.  Also thrown into the mix you get Gotham’s own Dark Knight Batman, an array of familiar old foes, a host of shocking revelations and finally the gut wrenching truth, the identity of Gotham’s newest vigilante.  
Ok so my catch up with Batman continuity (not in any order mind) continues and I’m onto  Under the Hood by Judd Winick and Tom Nguyen (as well as everybody else in the DC company going by the credits) the controversial story line published by DC in 2005. Of course being back on the Geek train meant that I all ready knew who was under the eponymous hood but I can honestly say that it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of these two volumes.
After reading bits on the internet it seems that the story garnered a fair bit of controversy when it was first published as it notably brought back to life a supporting character who had been killed off in 1988 and re-imagined him as the blood thirsty vigilante Red Hood, who was not afraid to cross the line and actually take out the criminals of Gotham City, making him the ying to Batman’s yang. Of course if you don’t know already SPOILERS the Red Hood is in fact the second Robin Jason Todd.
But how can that be? wasn’t Jason Todd was violently beaten to death with a crowbar by the Joker back in 1988’s A Death in the Family – I hear you cry. Well Winick takes the idea from Jeph Loeb’s Hush that Jason is fact alive and totally runs with the ball. Which, except for the actual explanation of his resurrection is no bad thing.
There a lot going on in this story and in some parts is extremely continuity heavy but with a little help from Wikipidea I was able to get by, however there are still some parts that are just beyond my understanding for example the whole Super Boy Prime thing just makes my head hurt.
On a side note perhaps this story is a good example of the problems with the big two’s years of continuity, yes there is a massive history with all of the DC and Marvel characters but with the current trend of slavish devotion to continuity, comics have become more than a little off putting to the ordinary Joe on the street. With a little research and determination you can do some research and get a fair handle on the history/story of these characters but are the comics companies expecting too much of non comic book fans? Which surely must be one of the reasons why the comics market is in it’s current state of decline. If only one of the companies would take the bold decision of rebooting all their current titles with new #1’s in the hope of reigniting interest in comics – oh hang on.
Any way back on topic, I really enjoyed these two volumes the final three way confrontation between Batman, Jason Todd and the Joker is a classic and is extremely powerful. In particular Jason Todd’s incomprehension that Batman has never avenged his death at the hands of the Joker is brilliantly written by Winick and Todd surprisingly becomes a sympathetic character as he becomes just another casualty of the eternal war between good and evil and the Batman and Joker, classy stuff.
The art work by Doug Mahnke and the rest of the DC gang is great through out and the colouring by Alex Sinclair is fantastic. Also included in these two collections are the covers, the first volume are all by Matt Wagner which have a very pulpy noir feel to them and then as a seemingly complete opposite to Wagner the covers in the second volume are by Jock which seem ultra modern in comparison. However the standout cover for me is the one from the second printing for the Batman Annual #25 by Shane Davis which is extraordinary.

Final thoughts
Despite the issues I had with the continuity this is a great Batman story and I suspect it must have been pretty special back in the day when the identity of the Red Hood was revealed. My only problem with these collections is the shoddy binding for volume two, the back is all warped and the spine hadn’t been glued properly resulting in all the pages falling out during it’s first read through – very annoying.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Review - Vicious Circle - A Felix Castor Novel

Written by Mike Carey

Published by Orbit Books

Felix Castor knows how to deal with the dead. It’s the living who piss him off…..

I read the first book in this series, The Devil You Know last year and thoroughly enjoyed it but as things tend to go it kind of slipped off my radar and that was that, until a couple of weeks ago when I was searching about for something to read at the library (preferably a proper book with no pictures – I know go figure!!!! but I do go through phases) and Vicious Circle practically jumped off the shelf at me.

The dead have been rising since the turn of the millennium and reluctant exorcist Felix Castor has finally realised that he can do some good with his special abilities. However as with all things in Felix’s life it isn’t going to be that straight forward while consulting for the Met on a gangland killing Felix also picks up his first case in months when a distraught mother and father hire him to find their kidnapped daughter. Unfortunately their daughter is already dead and this is the first of many suprises that Felix must face in his race to find the ghost of Abbie Torrington. Throw into the mix a best friend who has been possessed by a demon, a trainee exorcist who just happens to be succubus, a couple of loup garous, a rouge branch of the Catholic Church, a myriad of physical and spiritual beatings and Felix Castor is up to his neck in trouble.

You have to hand it to Mike Carey he writes good plot, the book kicks off in high gear and doesn’t let up for 500 pages. Nothing is wasted in this book every detail drives the plot forward and there are loads of genuine twists and turns throughout the book and it did manage to wrong foot me a couple of times.

Felix Castor is a great character full of dark humour and witty one liners and damn can our boy take a beating – and he frequently does. Told in the first person perspective you get to spend to lot of time with Felix through out Vicious Circle and by the end of the book you are rooting for him to pull all of the threads of the mystery together and to get the hell out of Dodge with his life and soul intact.

Final thoughts

If you’re a fan of the fantasy or horror genre I think the Felix Castor novels may be of interest to you and if you’re a fan of Carey’s comic work and you haven’t checked out these books why the hell not? However as with all good things it’s best to start at the beginning with the aforementioned book 1 The Devil You Know, which as luck would have it just happens to be brilliant as well.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Review American Vampire

Written by – Scott Snyder and Stephen King

Art by – Rafael Albuquerque

Published by – Vertigo

A new vampire for a new century

Cunning, ruthless and rattlesnake mean, Skinner Sweet has a reputation for cussedness as long as he is ornery. As the first vampire conceived on American soil, however he’s not your usual creature of the night. Stronger, fiercer and powered by the sun, Sweet is the first of a new breed of bloodsucker: the American Vampire.

Remember back in the good old days when vampires weren’t romantic fops lusted after by hormone enraged teenage girls, when vampires were evil, remorseless blood suckers? Cool – so does Scott Snyder the brains behind American Vampire and in Skinner Sweet the titular American Vampire he has created a swaggering rootin tootin cowboy vampire who is as every bit as mean as you hoped and wished he would be.

American Vampire volume 1 collects together the first five issues of Snyder’s creator owned series published by Vertigo. He is joined on writing duties by Stephen King (yes that Stephen King) and the artwork is provided by Rafael Albuquerque.

The story narrative in American Vampire is split into two main arc’s, one arc written by Snyder takes place in 1920’s Hollywood and the second arc written by Stephen King takes place in the wild west of America in the 1800’s.

Skinner is the original notorious bad ass outlaw, however when we pick up with Skinner he has been tracked down and captured by the Pinkerton Agency. Due to a fortunate series of events he is freed by members of his gang but in the ensuing gunfight Skinner is attacked and then accidently infected with the blood of an old world Vampire. But Skinner is different from normal vampires, he is the first vampire to be sired on American soil, he is faster, more ferocious and perhaps most importantly fuelled by the sun – the world ain’t never seen anything like Skinner Sweet before…..

The second arc by Snyder follows the story of would be actress Pearl Jones and her attempt to make it big in Hollywood in the mid 1920’s. Pearl is the everyman (woman) of the story and is our in to Skinner Sweets world. Invited to a party in the Hollywood hills Pearl is savagely attacked by a group of old world vampires and then dumped and left dead in the desert. When Pearl is finally found she is saved by the mysterious Skinner who not only turns her into an American Vampire but also turns her loose as an instrument for his revenge against the old world vampires.

Even though this book has two writers working on two separate strands of the story, the book flows and reads incredibly well. Out of the two stories King seems to have the most fun with the old west Skinner, he throws most of the wild west tropes into the mix bank robberies, train wrecks and good old fashioned shootouts. Also in Pearl Jones Snyder has created a well crafted modern heroine smart, intelligent and hell bent on revenge. Ms Jones is a gal not to be messed with.

The art by Rafael Albuquerque really is amazing and the colouring by Dave McCaig sets everything off beautifully. There are a couple of panels that deserve a mention for their sheer brilliance, a half dead Pearl staggering out of the desert is lit perfectly with a bright yellow sky and then Skinner Sweet bursting out of his water logged coffin, a truly defining moment in the book. However the ones that really struck me are a series of four panels in the first of Pearls stories, she is being used to take a light reading on the film set with the films star Chase Hamilton. The individual panels are just blacked out head shots but are stunningly effective and just scream out old Hollywood – perfect.

Final thoughts

So congratulations to Scott Snyder and co. with American Vampire they seem to pull off the impossible and have breathed new life into vampire mythology. They have single handidly taken the romantic vampire out of the twilight and dumped them firmly into the day light and then ripped their bloody throat out for good measure. Good on ‘em I say. My only problem is now I have to wait until August for Volume 2 to be published.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Mystery of the Million Dollar Brief Case

Found this online the other day and thought I’d share it, comics and libraries are very much passions of mine and this combines them perfectly into one awesome poster.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Review Shorts – Green Manor Volume 1 and MeZolith

So here are some short reviews of some trade paper backs that I’ve read over the past couple of weeks.
First up we have Green Manor Volume 1 Assassins and Gentlemen

Written by - Fabien Vehlmann
Art by - Denis Bodrag
Published by – Cinebook Expresso
A cup of tea? A drop of milk? A spoonful of poison?
Green Manor has been on my radar for a while and thankfully I eventually got around to picking it up. Published by Cinebook and translated from the original French, I managed to buy it from Amazon for around £5 and although the book is relatively short coming in at just 56 pages it’s a cracking read.
Green Manor is the typical gentlemen’s club you’d expect to find in London on the mid to late 1880’s, lots of deep leather chairs, open fires and whiskey. But the patrons of the club are a villainous collection of thieves and assassins and these are their stories.
The stories in this collection are all self-contained and run about seven pages each and are very reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Doyle even cameos in one of the stories, 21 Halberds.  The art by Bodrag is very cartoony (I hate to use cartoony but I just can’t think of anything else) and works really well as an accompaniment to Vehlmann’s razor sharp stories.  My particular favourites were Modus Operandi which gives a clever and unusual twist on the serial killer story and Post Scriptum, whose final payoff left me with a hugely satisfied grin plastered on my face.
Final thoughts
Green Manor is a fine collection of short well executed stories with fine expressive art that perfectly captures the time period and feeling of the era, in my opinion for a fiver you really can’t go wrong.

Next up is Stone Age horror from the DFC library MeZolith

Written by – Ben Haggarty
Art by – Adam Brockbank
Published by – The DFC Library

Beware superlative overload ahead
The world of Mezolith awaits….
10,000 years ago, the Kansa tribe live on the western shores of the North Sea Basin, where danger is never far away. Each season brings new adventure. Each hunt has its risks and each grim encounter with the neighbouring tribe is fraught with threats.
The DFC was a subscription only weekly children’s anthology comic, it was fully coloured and ran to 36 paged, unfortunately it folded with issue 43 when one of the backers withdrew its financial backing. The DFC Library books are collected versions therefore of the stories that appeared in those comics.
So I picked this book up after listening to Lee Grice rave review on an episode of the excellent SFX Blog Awards nominated Small Press Big Mouth Podcast. Again I was able to buy this for the bargain price of £6 from Amazon (can you see a pattern forming here?) and let me tell you this book is a real quality purchase. The book itself is in the ‘annual’ format of children’s books the pages are therefore bigger than you’re normal comic or trade paper back and it’s a hardcover as well.
The book is set around 10,000 years ago and tells the story of Pioka and is essentially his coming of age tale. Pioka is educated and prepared for manhood with stories and tales from the Kansa tribes past, with these stories and his life experiences Pioka soon learns that the world can be a dangerous and unforgiving place.
This book is just brilliant and it really is a fantastic read, Ben Haggarty creates a complete and believable world in these 90 pages. The voices and the beats of the individual stories never fail and they all combine to produce a brilliant whole. The art by Adam Brockbank is simply stunning, you know you are in for a real treat when the first splash page is revealed. It’s a beautifully rendered Stone Age vista with the Kansa tribe’s huts off in the background.
The stories are all excellent but if I was pushed to pick a couple of favourites I would go for the beautiful Swan Bride and the deeply creepy Raven which comes in at just 5 pages and manages to be one of the most unsettling things I have read.  
Final thoughts
MeZolith is a quality book in all its individual parts, excellent story telling, superb art and all wrapped up in a cracking hardback binding. As an all ages book it’s a brilliant read for everybody who cares to pick it up. One of my daughters who really doesn’t enjoy reading and finds it a real chore devoured it in one sitting and has gone back to read it again, which for me makes it £6 well spent.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Review – I Kill Giants

Written by – Joe Kelly
Art by – JM Ken Niimura
Published by – Image Comics

I find Giants. I hunt giants. I kill giants.

So I’ve been pondering on this review for I Kill Giants for a while. I swing from highs of yeah come on lets get on with it to lows of apathy and putting the book back on the shelf.  Don’t get me wrong the book is brilliant and is perhaps one of the best books I’ve read be that in comic book format or prose. But I do think this book is a very personal read and it will mean that everybody who reads it, will take from it something different. I won’t be spoiling this book in any way because quite frankly anybody who does spoil this book for someone who hasn’t read it deserves a punch in the face. Part of the joy of this book is watching it unfurl before you’re eyes and everybody should be given the opportunity to enjoy it unspoilt. So if you are at all interested in this book or it’s on your wish list, do yourself a favour and….
Stop reading this review, now go and get the book from your to read pile, order it online or pop down to your local comic, book shop, sit down and read it, cover to cover. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. Oh and then obviously come back and finish reading this.
I Kill Giants was a seven issue run monthly title published by Image Comics between July 2008 and January 2009. Written by Joe Kelly with art by JM Ken Niimura, it tells the story of Barbara Thorson a little girl who whilst trying to deal with an unnamed looming family disaster retreats into a fantasy world. However Barbara’s make believe world has started to bleed over into the real world to such an extent that all she is able to talk about and prepare for is the impending invasion of giants. But some giants are far too big to be killed. However into Barbara’s fairly mixed up little life comes Sophia, who desperately tries to befriend her. But the course of true friendship is destined not to run smoothly or finish happily ever after.
In Barbara Thorson, Joe Kelly has created the ultimate geek anti hero, she is by no means a likeable character through much of the book she is spiky and unpredictable and prone to both verbal and violently physical outbursts. From the start of the book you can tell that there is something not quite right with Barbara, but that doesn’t make some of Barbara actions any more palatable or acceptable, or does it?  There is obviously something very big going on in her life, Barbara’s retreat into her fantasy world is her means of dealing with whatever that is, Kelly even takes the unusual  step of scratching out parts of the dialogue to keep the story under wraps until it’s time for the reveal later in the book.
I naively thought I had this book all sussed out, it is all too easy to make assumptions with this book. But I was quite unprepared for the amazingly well crafted last quarter of the book. It’s testament I think to Kelly’s writing that the book always stays believable and even when events take a turn for the fantastical, Kelly easily pulls things back from the brink and once again grounds it firmly in reality. When he finally reveals his hand it is simply a breathtakingly beautiful sucker punch that is both profoundly moving and life affirming in equal measure.     
Ken Niimura’s art works wonderfully well in this book it’s a very lose and sketchy style with a black and grey painted wash. The characters are very stylised but they fit the story brilliantly and reminded me a lot of Quentin Blake’s work in the Roald Dahl books. Barbara is a real work of genius as she displays her inherent geek-ness and outsider-ness perfectly and the addition of rabbit ears neatly hits home that there’s something a little off kilter with Ms Thorson. Another nice touch that Niimura pulls off is when we see the world through Barbra’s point of view. As you would expect there are pixies, fairy’s and other fantastical creatures abound and the panels in which we see her POV’s are brilliantly rendered. 

Final thoughts
I really do think it’s difficult to do this book justice in a review, for me it’s one of those books, it deserves to be read as widely as possible and I have already started handing my copy around to friends for them to read it. It is also a book that perfectly fits the comic book medium and I’m sure that it wouldn’t have worked quite so well in any other format. So a triumph on all levels and a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed and loved.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Review – Naruto Volume 28

Written by – Masashi Kishimoto
Art by – Masashi Kishimoto
Published by – Viz Media

It’s been two years since Naruto left to train with Jiraiya. Now he reunites with his old friends to find out he’s still not the most accomplished of his former team mates. But when ones of them are kidnapped, it’s up to Naruto to prove he’s still got the stuff to save them!

I know that the above will mean absolutely nothing to 99.9% of the people reading this review but please stick with it, Naruto is one of my geek loves and I thought it was about time that I spread the love around a bit.
As a comic fan you get used to people looking at you strangely more often and not conversations I have with the general populace go
Stranger - So what are you into?
Nick - I like reading comics.
Stranger - really (incomprehension painted all over their face) aren’t they just for kids? Anyway did you see the football/rugby/any other sport last weekend?
Nick - sigh (and I get stuck in a one way conversation for the next hour over the merits of the Welsh rugby team).
So you can imagine what throwing an obscure Japanese manga series into the mix does, that sh*t really blows peoples minds.
So what the hell is Naruto? I hear the one person still reading cry. Please allow me to explain.
Naruto Uzumaki is a very unhappy twelve year old boy, orphaned, shunned and mistreated by the rest of his village he day dreams of one day becoming a ninja and ultimately the Hokage (village leader). But the villagers have a very good reason for the way they treat Naruto, twelve years ago the village of The Hidden Leaf Village was attacked by the Nine Tailed Demon Fox. In a bid to save the village the Fourth Hokage sacrificed himself by sealing the demon in the new born Naruto. The Third Hokage then forbade any mention of the attack by the Nine Tailed Fox; naturally the villagers were angry at the death and devastation wrought by the demon and ultimately take out all their fear and loathing on the young Naruto.
The first part of the story follows Naruto as he trains to become a ninja, along the way he befriends the two other members of Team 7 Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno. Under the guidance of team leader Kakashi Hatake Team 7 must learn new abilities to aid them on their quest to become fully fledged ninjas and Naruto’s ultimate dream of being Hokage.

Boiled down to its essence it’s easy to write of Naruto off as a simple coming of age story but this is manga/anime your dealing with people so there’s a hell of a lot more going on than first meets the eye.
I first came across Naruto about four years ago whilst searching on the website were it was consistently number 1 in it’s top 10 list of cartoons. Now I’m a sucker for a good cartoon or anime so taking a chance I managed to get hold of the first twenty or so episodes of Naruto and that as they say was that. My obsession lasted all summer, I watched the first 200 episodes back to back, even when I hit the 170 mark and the English dubbed versions ran out I ploughed on with the English subbed versions till I reached the final 200th episode.
Highlights of the first 200 episodes for me were the team from the Village Hidden in the Sand made up of siblings Gaara, Kankuro and Temari. To say that these kids are messed up is an understatement and you really do have to see some of the stuff that Gaara pulls to believe it.

Another winner for me is the bushy browed one himself Rock Lee who is quite frankly a ridiculous character, but he does manage to kick all kinds of ass - spectacularly.

Unfortunately at that point real life took hold and Naruto disappeared from my life until about two weeks ago. Whilst on Twitter a tweet popped up that someone had read and enjoyed the first volume of Naruto so after a quick search on the web I managed to work out that after watching 200 episodes of the anime I was up to volume 28 of the manga (there are a lot of filler episodes in the anime). Well who could resist, certainly not me, a quick click and I was on Amazon ordering volume 28 for an earth shattering price of £4. So I waited with baited breath for the postman to deliver the book, would Naruto be as good as I remembered or had I gone slightly mad back in the summer of 2007.  
The answer to this question is both yes and no.
Volume 28 picks up 2 years after the end of episode 200; Naruto has been away travelling with Jiraiya and returns to the Village of the Hidden Leaf seemingly a changed person. The young hot headed boy has been replaced by a more thoughtful teenager but a quick reveal of his sexy jutsu (don’t ask) shows that the changes may just be superficial. There are two main stories running through volume 28, the first deals with Kakashi testing both Naruto and Sakura to see how far their skills have progressed in two years. This nicely mirrors the first test from the beginning of Naurto and acts a reminder as to what has come before and shows how much Naruto and Sakura have developed. The second story is perhaps the more interesting of the two and shows the kidnapping of Gaara by the mysterious Akatsuki organisation. Overall I enjoyed the book but I had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it after all this was the first volume of Naruto I had actually read. To me Naruto is a very visual show the jutsu’s (special moves) are great to watch and the fights and there are a lot of them, sometimes go on for five or more episodes. Unfortunately the book felt a bit static to me and it just didn’t catch the visual flair of the anime. Also there androgynous nature of some of the characters is confusing, I was convinced that one of the members of the Akatsuki sent to kidnap Gaara was a woman but in fact it turns out that he/she is in fact a he.  Another problem I had was with Kankuro who looks exactly like his brother Gaara when stripped of his makeup and head gear, I got really mixed up at a point in the book,  just who had been kidnapped -Gaara - and who was in hospital poisoned – Kankuro - who I thought was Gaara – arhhhhhhhh.
Undaunted by this disappointment and with a stroke of good fortune I have managed to get hold of Naruto Shippuden (the new name for the anime after episode 200 and denotes the two year break) and I have watched the first three episodes and once again I am totally and utterly hooked. The anime does a brilliant job of capturing the books but it magnifies everything that’s great about them by about 100%.

Final thoughts
After reading volume 28 I am at last able to contrast and compare the two sources and I am falling down squarely on the side of the anime, this I realise may be sacrilegious to some people but frankly I don’t care, each to there own  I say. So when someone asks me what I like I’ll say oh I watch a little known Japanese anime series called Naruto, it’s all about a boy who has got a Nine Tailed Demon Fox sealed in him and if they start waffling on about football/rugby I will unleash my Shadow Clone Jutsu on them. Believe it!!!!!!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

There Can Be Only One – Highlander an Appreciation

From the Dawn of Time we came, moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the Time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you, until now.

So there those big moments in life that define pretty much who you are and to a lesser extent there are those geek moments in life that define your geek life. For me one such moment was when I first watched Highlander, I can still clearly remember it.  The video man round our way ran his shop from his car, one Friday night he turned up with a new rental called Highlander. This would have been around about 1987 I was gearing up to leave school and so was still a tear away ahem, an impressionable teenager. Highlander quite literally blew my mind and as I creep ever more slowly to my 40th year it still continues to blow my mind. I have owned this film on nearly every format that’s been available through the years an ex rental video tape, video tape, DVD, DVD Special Edition and finally Blu-Ray and watching the Blu-Ray has in some one inspired me to commit to blog my appreciation for this film.

I’m not really sure if I can put my finger on why I love this film, for me the sum of its parts is greater than it whole. The central idea of Highlander is that immortals live among us battling one another through history till the time of the Gathering when the last remaining few will battle for the Prize, as an idea it kick’s ass. Being immortal and living for ever is such a staple of fantasy but who hasn’t day dreamed of being immortal? But what this film does really well is also show the realities of living forever, for me there are three key scenes in the film demonstrate this brilliantly :-

First off there is the films emotionally packed middle, accompanied by Queen’s haunting Who Wants to Live for Ever, Connor MacLeod watches helplessly as his beloved wife Heather ages before his very eyes. One moment they are a young couple full of life with years ahead of them but then time cruelly catches up with them and Heathers inevitable death comes to pass but not before she makes Connor promise to light a candle every year on her birthday and remember her. After her death Connor buries her in the mountains leaving his clan broad sword as a grave marker and then burns their cottage symbolising he is leaving that part of this life behind him.

The next scene is between Connor or Russell Nash as he is now living by and his (good as) adopted daughter Rachel. It’s a very simple scene (if I remember rightly she is doing up his tie for him) but with some amazing dialogue which perfectly shows how Heathers death affected and continues to effect Connor

Rachel - Will you listen to me for one moment? You can't hide your feelings from me! I've known you too long.
Connor - What feelings?
Rachel - How about loneliness?
Connor - I'm not lonely. I've got everything I need right here.
Rachel - Oh no you don't. You refuse to anyone love you.
Connor - Love is for poets.

Like I said simple but effective.

Lastly there is the scene in Connor’s Den in his modern day New York apartment, it’s almost like stepping back through history with him. The den is adorned with the artifacts and objects he has collected through his long life. Again it’s a simple device but it really hits home that Connor has lived all these lives down through the ages.

For me though the best scenes in the film are that of the Quickening, it’s jammed pack full of fantasy clich├ęs and sword fights on top of mountains but it gets me every time. Ramirez played by the brilliant Sean Connery tracks down Connor to the Scottish Highlands in order to prepare him for the coming battles and to make sure that he doesn’t lose his head. It plays out like an 80’s soft rock video but given director Russell Mulcahy’s background in music videos it’s hardly surprising. Although I’m still not sure what the hell is going own with the whole deer possession thing, very strange.

The three main cast members in Highlander are also worthy of a mention. First up playing the title role of Connor MacLeod is Christopher Lambert, who as a Frenchman had to be taught English in order to play the leading roll. Given that however Lamberts portrayal of Connor is pretty good and his Scottish accent is not at all bad. However his American accent in the modern day setting does have a distinct French flavour. Next up is Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez played by the indomitable Sean Connery. Ramirez is supposed to a 2400 years old Egyptian living out his immortal years in Spain, but its Sean Connery, so what you end up with is a 2400 year old Scots man. But hey it’s Connery and he does lend the film a certain gravitas. Last but no least is the scene chewing acting behemoth Clancy Brown playing the very, very bad man the Kurgan. The Kurgan is the villain of the film and wants to win the prize for his own dark means; he is from a particularly vicious clan of killers from the Russian Steppes and as Ramirez points out to Connor the Kurgan’s like to "toss children into pits full of starved dogs, and watch them fight for the meat for amusement” which is nice. Perhaps not surprisingly then it’s Connor and the Kurgan left to fight it out for the Prize at the end of the film.

Another important part of the film for me is the soundtrack. The original musical score was composed by Michael Kamen however the soundtrack also includes several songs by Queen most noticeably Princes of the Universe and the Brian May penned choker Who Wants to Live Forever. Although there was no official soundtrack released to accompany Highlander the songs that Queen composed for the film can be found on the 1986 album A Kind of Magic.

Final thoughts

So there we have it a small blog post in praise of one of my favorite films Highlander, for me it’s a classic film that I never get bored of watching. Yes it’s got its flaws, but dodgy accents and ropey special effects aside I still love it and will continue to do so. Remember there can be only one, which is sage advice for the Highlander franchise as we don’t under any circumstances acknowledge the existence of any sequels, we really don’t.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Review – Fables Legends in Exile Volume 1

Written by – Bill Willingham
Pencils by – Lan Medina
Inks by – Steve Leialoha & Craig Hamilton
Colours by – Sherilyn van Valkenburgh
Letters by – Todd Klein
Published by – Vertigo

Who killed Rose Red?
In Fabletown, where fairy tale legends live alongside regular New Yorkers, the question is all anyone can talk about. But only the Big Bad Wolf can actually solve the case and along with Rose’s sister Snow White, keep the Fabletown community from coming apart at the seams.

Fables Legends in Exile is the first collected volume of Bill Willingham’s ongoing series for DC Vertigo. This monthly comic was first published in 2002 and this first volume collects together issues 1 to 5. Yes I’m late to the party but this is the great thing about coming back to comics after an extended break there are loads of great series out there with loads of published volumes just waiting to be read.
So if like me you’ve been living under a rock and you’re not aware of what Fables is I’ll try and provide a brief outline before I expand on volume 1.
In Willingham’s Fables fairy tale and folklore characters have been driven from their homelands by the evil Adversary, the Fables have now somehow travelled to our world and live in a suburb of New York called Fable Town. Fables who look like humans live happily alongside us (the Mundanes) and the other Fables folk who are non human looking, live up at the Farm. The fables community is ruled over by the Mayor Old King Cole, but the real power lies with his deputy Snow White. So there we have it that’s the basic principle behind Fables.
Legends in Exile kick’s of with a possible murder, Rose Red has been the victim of a violent and bloody attack in her apartment and her current whereabouts are unknown. As Fabletown’s sheriff the Big Bad Wolf, now in human form and known as Bigby, is in charge of the investigation and is charged with unravelling the mystery of Red’s apparent disappearance. Bigby is helped in his investigation much to his initial annoyance by Red’s sister Snow White the no nonsense Deputy Mayor. But not everything is as it seems the party girl Rose Red unbeknown to her boyfriend Jack, was engaged to be married to reformed pirate Blue Beard (look how well that turned out for his other wives) and with the appearance of Snow White’s philandering ex husband Prince Charming things get complicated, really quickly.
I thought Fables was a great read, Willingham’s central concept for Fables is quite brilliant and although the characters are well known to everybody they are written differently enough to be interesting. Bigby is perhaps the most interesting character in volume 1, the reformed Big Bad Wolf is now able to take on human form although his shadow does appear to be still that of the wolf – nice touch. Bigby is portrayed as the classic noir detective and although he appears to solve the mystery surrounding Rose Red’s disappearance quickly, he drags out the reveal of events until he can manoeuvre Snow White into a position when he can confess his true feelings for her, which she quickly rebuffs. The other great Bigby moment is when one of The Three Little Pigs escapes from The Farm and crashes at his apartment. It only lasts for a page but its laugh out loud funny and keep your eye for the pig, he does turn up in some unexpected places throughout the book.   
The art work and colouring through out the book is of a very high standard, although it does feel a little old school to me, it very much feels like a proper comic and is different from the kind of work that’s on offer today but seeing as the issues were published back in 2002 it is perhaps understandable.
The original series covers by James Jean and Alex Maleev are also included in this volume and are great pieces of work but they do seem to have a very unsettling and other worldly quality to them.

Also included in this collection is a short prose story entitled A Wolf In the Fold, usually I skip these but decided to actually read this one and I’m so glad I did. The story chronicles Bigby’s life as The Big Bad Wolf and the start of The Adversaries invasion of the various Fables lands. You also learn how the wolf first meets Snow White and Rose Red. This was a fantastic short story and really filled out the back story in Fables that you just wouldn’t get from reading the comic in isolation.

Final thoughts
Although Willingham’s concept for Fables is a brilliant one he does pull off a massive slight of hand trick with the reader, at its heart this first volume is basically a whodunit murder mystery that Agatha Christie herself would have been proud of. That being said I’m a massive Christie fan so this book hit all the right notes for me and I will definitely look forward to reading more Fables.
So if you haven’t read Fables and you can get hold of it (not an easy task) its well worth checking out, it’s a high concept book that works brilliantly. And remember people keep your eyes peeled for the porker.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Review - 10thology

I have written another guest review this time its for Rich McAuliffe's Everything Comes Back to 2000ad site. I review 10thology the anthology book recently released at CICE.

10thology is the brain child of Stuart Tipples, his idea was a seemingly simple one 10 stories, 10 pages, each with a Welsh flavour, written by and drawn by Welsh creators. Sounds easy.

Yes I’m being facetious, it’s testament I think to Stuarts sheer bloody mindedness and hard work that 10thology exists at all. That he and the others involved in the project have produced such a high quality book is something I think to be applauded and congratulated.

I have to admit I have been scratching my head somewhat over exactly how to do this review, I know albeit slightly, some of the creators involved and Wales suddenly got a lot smaller. I had visions of a mob of pitchfork wielding Welsh comic creators descending on my home much like the scene in Frankenstein (not that I live in a castle). So I will try to be honest with the review if I don’t like something I like to think I have the balls to say so, but I like to think that I can also give a reasoned and articulate reason as to why I didn’t like it. Conversely, if I like it expect much praise.

You can read the rest of my review here

Thanks to Rich for allowing me to do the review and posting it up on the site.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Review – Breathe

The guys over at Geek Dome have been kind enough to post up my review for Breathe. Here’s an extract and if you click on link below you can head over to Geek Dome and read the rest of the review.

Written by – John Sheridan
Art by – Kit Wallis
Published by – Markosia
Tread softly in the bulrushes, lest you wake the dragon
Breathe is four issue mini series from 2007 published by Markosia. Set in China 1796, it follows the story of Mi Ling a young village girl who in an effort to escape the drudgery of her everyday life walks and dances in the nearby fields and mountains collecting flowers and doing girly stuff. However Mi Lings peaceful existence is shattered after an act of extreme violence involving her family, this sets her on a path of revenge that will lead to revelations, murder and heartbreak.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Review - Stiffs

Written by – Drew Davis-PJ Montgomery-Joseph Glass

Art by – Gavin Mitchell

Colours & Lettering by – Adam Caldwell

Quality, that’s the first thing that springs to mind when I think about Stiffs (yeah stop sniggering), it looks amazing for a self published comic, the pages are weighty and the art and the colouring are brilliant throughout.  My next thought is Welsh, this comic wears its heart on its sleeve and it’s unashamedly Welsh.

Stiffs is the creation of writers Drew Davis, Patrick Montgomery and Joseph Glass and follows the adventures of Don Daniels and his spliff toting monkey Kenny. Horror stalks the South Wales Valley’s in the guise of the walking dead, zombies and it’s up to Don and Kenny to sort this shit out before it get’s out of hand.

I picked this 12 page preview of Stiffs up at CICE and I have to say it was money well spent. The story hits its stride straight away and finds it voice immediately, which is refreshingly Welsh, not just pretending to be Welsh I mean proper Welsh butty, ewe listening to me. The dialogue is fresh and sharp, with loads of great one liners and it’s quite often the monkey stealing the best ones.

The art by Gavin Mitchell is excellent and reminded me of a lot of Mike Mignola, especially the last zombie filled splash page. The colouring by Adam Cadwell (of the superb web comic The Everyday) is also excellent with the use of lime green put to great effect. Both artist and colourist have done a great job.

I for one can’t wait for more of the story to unfold and as great as this preview is it just isn’t enough, roll on issue number one proper.

I was luckily enough to catch up with the guys at CICE and have a little chat with them and they even signed my copy of Stiffs for me.  I also managed to get a short interview with one of the writers PJ via email, so here it is.

Nick - So how did the three of you Drew Davies, PJ Montgomery and Joseph Glass, get together in the first place?

PJ - Drew and I were friends already, as were Drew and Joe. Drew and I had both been telling the stories which would eventually become Stiffs on our respective blogs. It was on a trip to the Bristol Comic Expo where Drew introduced me to Joe, and the three of us realised that our stories might be good fodder for a comic.

Nick - Have you always been interested in comics and was it always part of the plan to produce your own stuff?

PJ - I've personally been reading comics since X-Men #52 in 1996. That was my first one, and I've been hooked ever since. I've always wanted to be a writer though, and it wasn't long after getting into comics that I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing them too.

Nick - The art in Stiff’s is of a pretty high standard, how did you come across Gavin Mitchell?

PJ - Gav was a lucky find. We'd been looking for an artist for a while, and Gav happened to be friends with a friend of Joe. Joe was put in contact with Gav, and we sent him some pages to see what he could do. It turned out that, not only is Gav a bloody talented artist, but he just got what we wanted to do with the book. I can't imagine anyone else drawing Stiffs now.

Nick - I’m a big fan of Adam Cadwell’s The Everyday, how did you get Adam on board as the colourist?

PJ - Again, that was Joe. We knew The Everyday, but it was Joe who just sent him an e-mail on the off chance. Thankfully, Adam, like Gav, liked the idea and got what we were trying to do with it, and he and Gav have become an excellent art team together.

Nick - Where did the inspiration for Kenny the spliff smoking monkey come from?

PJ - Believe it or not, Kenny was Drew's imaginary friend growing up. In fact, and you'd have to confirm this with Drew, but I think that there's a story about a time when Drew broke the dishwasher, and genuinely tried to blame it on Kenny. Kenny was a part of the original stories Drew wrote, and we decided to keep him in, because a) he's so much fun to write, and b) he's a unique selling point for a horror comedy book.

Nick - How have you found the process publishing your own comic?

PJ - It's been difficult, if I'm honest. It's taken us a long time to get this far. Finding the right printer, and getting the money together has been tough, but it's also very much worth it!

Nick - How was CICE for you and the guys?

PJ - It was really good. The atmosphere in general was fantastic, and people seemed to like Stiffs. We sold a number of copies, and have had nothing but good feedback. It's a really good feeling. We'll definitely be back at CICE next year.

Nick - Where can people get hold of Stiffs?

PJ - At the moment, it's being stocked in The Comic Guru in Cardiff, and is also available through his website, or you can contact Drew, Joe or myself directly. (You can find the guys on Twitter @PJMontgomery @DrewnoD @josephglass)

Nick - And finally when can we expect more Stiffs?

PJ - I can't give you a definite date, but it will be later this year. Keep an eye out for it!

So there we have it a brief review of the Stiffs preview and a short interview with PJ, if you can do, I would urge you to pick a copy of Stiffs you won’t be disappointed.

A big thanks to PJ for doing the interview.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Popping My Cherry

So this weekend I popped my comic con cherry and attended my first convention. Luckily enough for me there was one just on my door step in the form of the Cardiff International Comic Expo (CICE) which was held at the Mercure Holland House Hotel.

And what a day I had. After being greeted at the door by Darth Vader and Stormtroopers from the 501 UK Garrison, we were efficiently and quickly herded through the registration tables and then on to the con floor itself which was held in a bright and airy room to the side of the hotel. After a quick tour of the floor and parting with some of my con budget, there some real bargains to be had, I managed to get a copy of Andi Ewington’s 45 for a fiver (it was a second but I can honestly see nothing wrong with it even after it was pointed out by Andi himself) we headed up stairs for the first panel of the day which was the Sidekickcast’s live version of Secrets and Lies which seemed to go down well with both the audience and the panel alike and I managed to win a Scooby Doo comic from Paul Cornel, I know how cool is that.  After a quick tea break it was back to the floor for another trip around where I picked up a Dredd commission from the brilliant Dylan Teague and then we headed out for a quick bite of lunch.

After some light refreshments it was back to the panels with Fallen Heroes Rising to the Challenge. The panel was hosted by Gavin and Dan from the Sidekickcast and it gave a brilliant insight into self publication with guests Barry Nugent (Geek Syndicate) and artist Steve Penfold giving us a run down of the highs and lows of adapting Barry’s novel Fallen Heroes into a self published comic both in paper and digital form. You can see the panel here which was filmed by the Sidekickcast’s official camera man Matt Pease.

After another tour around the con floor and spending the last of my con budget I’d set aside it was high time to hit the pub.

So congratulations to all involved with con, with a special shout out to the tiara wearing queen of organising Iz McAuliffe, it was a brilliant day and as my first con it was a great experience.

But as great as CICE was there is something that over shadowed the con and that was actually getting out and meeting my fellow geeks. Now Twitter, Face Book and the forums are funny old things you meet people on there you chat to them everyday, follow their lives and consider them to be friends and you may very well never get to meet them in real life. That’s were things change with a comic con you actually get to meet some of you’re cyber friends and I am happy to report that everybody I met this weekend without exception were absolutely brilliant and lovely.

We met, we laughed, we drank beer and we bonded over our shared love of comics and everything geeky. So I just wanted to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to everybody I met at the weekend, you all made a great day even better so thank you to each and everyone of you.  

So I’ve popped my con cherry and it was very good for me. Would I do it again? Hell yes plans are being hatched as we speak for Thought Bubble so roll on November 2011.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Wonderful World of Podcasts or What I Do On My Daily Commute To Work

I do like a good podcast, they are singularly responsible for getting me back into my geek groove after a number of years in the wilderness. After reading a blog post on the SFX site recommending the Geek Syndicate podcast I thought what the hell and gave it a go and the rest is history, well to me anyway. So I thought I’d post up a quick list of some of my favourite podcasts and if you’re reading this and don’t listen go on give them a go you’ll be pleasantly surprised and you never know what it could lead to. So in no particular order I present -

Geek Syndicate
The big daddy of UK geek podcasting, join hosts Barry and Dave as they take a weekly look at the murky underbelly of geekdom. This is the podcast that kicked it all off for me, it got me back into reading comics and rekindled my love for all things geek. Host’s Barry and Dave have been friends since childhood, their warmth, friendship and love of the genre permeates every episode. Get your geek on ninja’s!!!!!

Everything Comes Back to 2000ad
Flint and Rich are without doubt the bad boy’s of my podcasting choices, foul mouthed and straight talking this one is not for the easily offended. As you can gather from the name it’s all about 2000ad the weekly British anthology comic, in each episode the boys take an in-depth and acerbic look at the latest Progs (or issues to the uninitiated). Again this was a bit of a watershed moment for me when I first started listening to Geek Syndicate, Rich and Flint where starting out with this podcast so I listened, enjoyed and then started picking up the Prog. I am now a fully paid up 2000ad subscriber and what can only be described as a 2000ad fan boy.

The Sidekick Cast
Broadcast from the danger room in the depths of Cardiff comes the Sidekick Cast. Join host’s Gavin and Dan as they take an in depth look at the world of comics and review the latest releases in Stack Attack, then listen in awe at Dan’s deductive skills in the comics news quiz with a twist that is Secrets and Lies. This is without a doubt my favourite podcast and I make no apologies for the ass kissing which is about to come. I love this podcast, I have gone back and listened to all the back catalogue and can quite confidently say I am more than a little obsessed by it. Host’s Gavin and Dan, as well as guest Sidekicks, have a genuine and undeniable love for comics and as much as they bluster and cover it up they know their stuff. In a word BRILLIANT. There fan boy rant over dudes, so check it out yo!!

Dissecting Worlds
So we come to the disagreeing duo (their words not mine). If Dissecting Worlds were a Radio station it would be Radio 4. Relatively new to the podcasting  world, they’ve been going now for a little over a year now, Dissecting Worlds takes an in depth look at the social science of science fiction. Which simply put means they pick an over arcing topic for a series for example The Military and then in each episode they talk the hell out of the subject. For the Military series they have discussed amongst others Temeraire, Space Marines, Lord of the Rings and Battlestar Galactica. It is unashamedly intelligent and informative, the host’s Kehaar and Matt are producing what is quickly turning into a must listen podcast. Although they do seem a little obsessed by the Romans, but what exactly did they do for us? Take a listen and find out.

British Invaders
I can’t really remember how I stumbled over this little gem of a podcast but I am really glad that I did. British Invaders is a podcast all about British Science Fiction television. In what is a simple idea, host’s Brian (from Canada) and Eamonn take a British Sci Fi show, watch it and discuss it. But what they do with a simple idea they do really well. Each Sci Fi show they pick is split over two half hour episodes in which they discuss such things as story lines, production details, if they recommend the show for a watch and where you can actually get hold of said show. If you like your Sci Fi TV this podcast is an absolute corker of a listen.

Honourable mentions also need to be made for the following podcasts Comic Racks, Small Press Big Mouth, Scrolls, Comic Book Outsiders, MOMBcast and Waiting for the Trade.
I could go on and on about podcast’s but I won’t, suffice to say that they are a great way to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of geek and pick up recommendations for stuff that would normally be off your radar. But the really impressive thing about podcasts is that all these people do all this for free and for the love of the genre. So if you’ve never listened to a podcast or any of my recommendations please give them a go and perhaps almost as importantly as listening, if you enjoyed it please let them know. I know they would all appreciate the feedback.