Mini-Review: BLACK SCIENCE, Vol.1 – “How To Fall” (Image)

BlackScience-Vol.01A fascinating, strange, and engaging science fiction series

Writer: Rick Remender | Artists: Matteo Scalera & Dean White

Grant McKay has done the impossible! Using the Pillar, he has punched a hole through the barriers between dimensions, allowing travel to all possible universes. But now Grant and his team are trapped in the folds of infinity, the Pillar sending them careening through a million universes of unimaginable adventure, sanity-flaying danger and no way home…

Collects: Black Science #1-6

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Black Science. It received a healthy amount of pre-publication buzz – not surprising, given that it’s written by Remender (Deadly Class, Low, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers). Things move pretty quickly in this book, as readers are thrown straight into the action, which never lets up. The series includes everything you might want from a multi-dimensional action/adventure: strange and dangerous situations, back-stabbing, a larger conspiracy, weird and wonderful fauna, interesting technology. It also has everything we have come to expect from Remender: excellent story-telling and well-rounded, diverse characters. The story builds quite excellently over the course of the book, and I felt myself sink in as it took hold completely.

I want to avoid going into too much detail, as things move very fast. Grant is an interesting character, and readers will become invested in his quest and fate, just as they will for the fates of his companions. (Spoiler: not everyone’s going to get out of this one alive…)

Scalera’s artwork is a little strange, quite angular, but by no means unattractive. He does a great job of giving Remender’s story life, merging the weird and scientific excellently. It’s an eye-catching book, certainly.

Overall, then, a highly recommended new series for every fan of science fiction, sci-fi comics, and interdimensional story-telling. This was a lot of fun. I really can’t wait for volume two!

Review: THE WAKE (Vertigo)

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Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Sean Murphy | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help with a new threat, she declines, but quickly realizes they won’t take no for an answer. Soon she is plunging to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oilrig filled with roughnecks and scientists on the brink of an incredible discovery. But when things go horribly wrong, this scientific safe haven will turn into a house of horrors at the bottom of the ocean!

Collects: The Wake #1-10

This is a tricky one to review. This is the whole ten-issue run of the series, which means a lot happens. The multiple timelines, the expansive scope of the story… There’s a lot crammed into this book. It’s the most ambitious of Snyder’s stories that I’ve read, and while I found it excellent on a number of levels, the second half really let the book down. Continue reading

Rocket Girl, Vol.1 – “Times Squared” (Image)

RocketGirl-Vol.01Writer: Brandon Montclare | Artist: Amy Reeder

A teenage cop from a hightech future is sent back in time to 1986 New York City. Dayoung Johansson is investigating the Quintum Mechanics megacorporation for crimes against time. As she pieces together the clues, she discovers the “future” she calls home — an alternate reality version of 2014 — shouldn’t exist at all!

Collects: Rocket Girl #1-5

There is a lot to like about this series: it’s fun, quirky, action-packed, and contains some good light humour. And, of course, the artwork is great (Amy Reeder’s one of the best artists working today). The characters are interesting and varied, their interactions can be pretty fun.

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However, one thing that really niggled at me was the fact that cops in this future are teenagers. It’s probably completely unreasonable to be slightly annoyed by this, but there seems to be a real lack of attention to future-world-building. Sure, this is the first volume of an ongoing series, and therefore isn’t meant to present a complete story. It’s an origin tale, but one that lacks much depth. Part of the problem, I think, is that the creative team are trying to cram in a lot of information and action in a relatively short period of time.

I had really hoped for more from this series. It had huge potential, but sadly didn’t quite deliver. Despite this, I’m still interested in seeing where this goes in the future. The fish-out-of-water element of the future teen (and, uh, police officer) thrust back into the 1980s, and how she’ll adjust to the lower-tech, now-altered past could be really fun and interesting. Also, there are still some mysteries that have been seeded in the “future” parts that need illuminating.

A cautious recommendation, then. An imperfect beginning, but one that still has a good deal of promise for the future.

Batman, Vols. 4-5: Zero Year “Secret City” & “Dark City” (DC Comics)

Batman-Vol.04&05

Writer: Scott Snyder | Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Pascencia, Rafael Albuquerque

The New 52 origin of The Dark Knight delves into Bruce Wayne’s past with the Red Hood Gang and his run-ins with aspiring District Attorney Harvey Dent!

Before the Batcave and Robin, The Joker and the Batmobile, there was ZERO YEAR. The Riddler has plunged Gotham City into darkness. How will a young Dark Knight bring his beloved hometown from the brink of chaos and madness and back into the light?

Collects: Batman #21-24 (Vol.4); #25-27, 29-33 (Vol.5)

I’ve always had a soft-spot for origin stories, as I’m sure many fans do. In Zero Year, Snyder et al, have created a very good, more extensive and explanatory take on the origins of Gotham’s Dark Knight. Other stories and collections have touched up this period of Bruce’s development from spoiled rich kid to crime-fighting genius, but none have done it this well. If you haven’t been reading the New 52 Batman, then I’d strongly recommend you start – either here or at the beginning of Snyder’s run. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Volume 4 pretty much re-creates the background portion of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, but from Batman’s perspective, and with a little more focus on the wider actions of the Red Hood gang. Their fight against the new vigilante are relentless and bloody (Bruce is really put through the ringer, here). The story is very well-told, too. There are echoes with Nolan’s Dark Knight movie trilogy, but with shades of Fight Club and Gone in Sixty Seconds added in the back-up stories focused on Bruce’s overseas training stops.

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In Volume 5, things really get tricky for Batman and his new allies: the Riddler takes over the city (there is a strange leap forward in time, which wasn’t handled quite as smoothly or neatly as it could have been), and it is up to them to wrest control of the power grid and save the lives of their fellow Gothamites from the Riddler’s games. The story has an excellent flow to it, and there’s a nice, circular element to the narrative that takes us back to certain events in Volume 4. Snyder et al show us perhaps the most detailed account of the days leading up to the death of Bruce’s parents that I’ve ever seen. (Anyone know if it’s presented in greater detail anywhere else?) I really enjoyed this volume, made even better by the fact that it’s a pretty long book – not once did it feel like the story was dragging, and the creative team have done a wonderful job of making it visually and narratively engaging and attention-grabbing.

Across both books, and their back-ups, the artwork is fantastic – Capullo’s art is consistently brilliant, and the back-up artists (including Rafael Albuquerque, who has worked with Snyder on multiple other projects) offer welcome and refreshing alternatives. There really is nothing bad I can think of saying about the two books’ visuals – it’s all excellent. There were a couple of moments that were clearly meant to be homages to Frank Miller’s Batman work. First, there was this moment (thanks so the Mary Sue for putting together the image – I was reading the digital ARC, which has degraded artwork to prevent sharing, etc.)*:

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Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (left) and the new image

And also this moment, which is another homage to a Dark Knight Returns cover (I put this one together):

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Snyder’s work on the Batman series continues to impress and entertain, and also expand the Batman mythology brilliantly. I’m concerned about the growing number of Batman titles, though, because I don’t want the story from each to become so cross-pollinated that you can’t properly follow any of them without reading all of them. So, please, just don’t go the way of Marvel?

In all? Batman continues to be very highly recommended. If you’re a fan of the character, you need to be reading Snyder et al’s series.

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Batman, Vol.4 – “Secret City” Contents

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Batman, Vol.5 – “Dark City” Contents

* That Mary Sure piece also has one other homage example, this time to the first appearance of Batman – also something I spotted, but I thought the Miller homages were far more striking, so decided to share them.

Manifest Destiny, Vol.1 (Skybound/Image)

ManifestDestiny-Vol.1An interesting beginning to an alternate history series

Writer: Chris Dingess | Artist: Matthew Roberts

In 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark set out from St. Louis, Missouri with the intent of blazing a trail to the western coast of North America – a trip that would set the foundation for the future of the United States of America.

But what the history books don’t tell you is the true purpose of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the west…

In this imaginative retelling of their famous trek, Lewis and Clark embark on a secret mission under direct orders from President Thomas Jefferson.

They are going to do more than explore the wild frontier: they’re going to catalog exotic life and eliminate the monsters that stand in the way of the safe and rapid expansion of the United States.

Collects: Manifest Destiny #1-6

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I’m fascinated by American history, and particularly its early history. Not only that, I do rather like comics. This meant Manifest Destiny piqued my interest as soon as I read about it on the Image Comics’ website. I enjoyed this a lot and I think this is a great start to a new series.

The twist to Manifest Destiny is the idea that Lewis and Clark, while investigating the continental interior, came across a number of beasties and magical weirdness. And Dingess has written a great story to go along with that premise. Roberts’s artwork is great, too. The story moves pretty gently to begin with, but in the final couple of chapters the story really picks up – not to mention gets rather weird. Lewis and Clark do a great job of battling the strange, aggressive monsters they can swing a sword at, or shoot with a musket. At the same time, they have to contend with the troublesome crew, some of whom are along for the adventure as an alternative to harsh sentences.

Oh, and there are vegetative zombie-types, too. Which are genuinely creepy, and rather interestingly tied in to the idea of the spirit of the land. There is some gentle humour, some good action, and the beginnings of something that could grow into a pretty long-lasted series. I, for one, hope it does continue. I’ll be back for volume two.

If you have any interest in history, comics, a dash of weirdness, then Manifest Destiny will appeal. Definitely recommended.

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Single Issue Covers, Manifest Destiny #1-6

Short Review: THREE (Image Comics)

cover2_altWe are SPARTA!

Writer: Kieron Gillen | Artists: Ryan Kelly, and Jordie Bellaire

In ancient Sparta, three Helot slaves run for their lives.  Pursuing them are three hundred of their Spartan masters.

Collects: Three #1-5

This is a pretty interesting, short graphic novel. The artwork is fantastic, and the storytelling is extremely well-done. Not only have the writer and artist done their research, but the story just flows. After a massacre at a village, a rather mysterious ‘cripple’ and two companions find themselves hunted by an army of snubbed Spartans. Chased across the country, they must keep their trail as hidden as possible, placing their fates in the hands of the oh-so-fickle (not to mention absent) gods. This is a really good book.

I liked the way the history was portrayed. While I can’t say for certain if it is entirely accurate or not (as it is not my area), the book contains a discussion at the end by the creative team about how they went about recreating the time, society and country of the age. Really interesting extra. The Spartan society, in particular, is portrayed without the benefit of rose-tinted glasses (or, I suppose, the sepia ones of 300). They are blindly macho, fatally short-tempered, and arrogant in the extreme. Also, as we learn later, they are not at all above cheating to protect their honour and over-blown reputations…

Overall, this is a really good comic. The artwork throughout is great – vivid, colourful, clear and yet not too clean. The ending is not what I was expecting, but in a really good way. It’s brutal, but not gratuitously so. The action is driven by the story, rather than the other way around. The dialogue is realistic, as are the characters. If you have any interest in history, the Greeks, and so on, then you really should check out this book.

Highly recommended.