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.