4001 A.D. – Review

4001 AD

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Written by Matt Kindt with Art by Clayton Crain and David Mack

Published October 25, 2016

4001adSynopsis – in AD4001 New Japan is a floating city-state around Earth; its creator and controller ‘Father’ has banished his son Rai for rising against him. The young girl Lula infected the city with a virus meant for ‘Father’ but in order to counter it he has been jettisoning parts of the floating city to crash to earth. Can this son or Lula prevent the total destruction of the city, or will ‘Father’ rid his domain of the virus created to stop him?

Sometimes I am not sure what is worse; terrible plot dumps in-character, or a 3 page plot dump out of character. In some ways I completely understand why they need to do this, this comic is set almost 2000 years into the future so it is hard to give the reader a frame of context for what the book is about, but it almost tells me before I start reading that ‘this book is over complicated.’

Actually, I know exactly what is worse than 3 pages of out of character plot dump – 3 pages of out of character plot dump, followed by 8 pages of in character plot dump explaining exactly the same thing again. How stupid do the writers think we are exactly? The irony is that this book really is not that complicated at all and not in need of this much narration. Irrelevant of how good the book is, if you have completely annoyed your readers by the end of page 11, you have a massive hill to climb just to get level again.

And does it climb that hill! This book is stunning to look at; every page is a cinematic experience, from the futuristic cities, to the starscapes, the ruined temples to the glorious battle scenes. This is a fabulous Sci-Fi film waiting to be made and actually, that annoys me slightly as well.

As it escapes from its frankly pedestrian start, into an exciting middle, the feeling I start to get is that this is trying too hard to be a storyboard for a film, rather than a comic in its own right. I quite understand why creators would want to do that, clearly the money is all to be had in the films, with their tie in merchandising and potential sequels. But when you layout a comic in that fashion events move too fast. It only takes 2 pages to jump from the heroes leaving their abandonment on earth, to fighting their way back into the city in space, including a full on dialogue with the bad guy. To say that this comic ‘moves quickly’ is an understatement akin to saying that The Flash is faster than a snail.

Despite all of this, what I come back to is the fact that this book is gorgeous. The backgrounds are incredible, so much time has been put into every panel and there are no single-colour-background ‘cheating’ panels. Even when it pulls in for a close up, you still get everything behind the person fully drawn, rendered and slightly out of focus, just like if it were real. It adds a huge amount of depth to an otherwise shallow book. I say shallow in the kindest sense; there is clearly an attempt to create a great amount of background for the story, but if you scratch away at it, then it falls apart. There are too many clichés here – the big dumb loyal brute called Lemur who talks like he’s been hit on the head a few too many times and ultimately is there purely as a sacrificial plot device; the evil mad villain, drunk on power and willing to sacrifice millions to suit his end goal; the noble hero made to choose between his family and what is right. I feel I have seen all of this before, but perhaps that is because I am getting old and cynical.

Bizarrely the books stunning visuals are let down by the final chapter. There are still glimpses of the previous immaculate style, but entire pages are far rougher, as if someone else was drawing them; or the artist simply ran out of time. At the same time as being worse in places, it is also the most spectacular issue, with the dramatic climax and an extended epilogue showing the fall out of the events of the comic. The detail in those cityscapes are simply breath taking, but the characters become mere shells of how well drawn they were before. For a book that, for me, has won me over by its visuals, to have them decline so dramatically at the end is more than a letdown, it pretty much killed the comic for me.

Over all this is a decent, if stilted read. The art, for the most part, is about as stunning as you will find in a comic printed anywhere this decade; the plot is fair to good, but clichéd; and the characters well defined, but shallow. If you like Mecha, sci-fi or gloriously rendered comics, this is a book for you. If you want deep and meaningful stories with character arcs and witty dialogue, you would be better off with a Garfield strip.

 

Devolution #1 Review

Devolution 001b

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Devolution

Issue #1

Written by Rick Remender with Art by Jonathan Wayshak and Jordan Boyd

Published January 2016

Devolution 1Synopsis – The world is a really ****ed up place*. We brought in on ourselves and in the age after a biological war only the devolved and strong have survived.

Before I start, I have to say that I picked this book pretty much at random because the cover ‘spoke to me.’ I have to say when I was typing the information up for this review, I got quite a shock when I saw the writer. I have to admit that Remender is definitely not on my Christmas card list for some of the travesties he inflicted on the Marvel universe in recent years. However to be fair, I think that was more Marvel’s fault not so much his.

Rick has a way of ‘breaking’ most of the ‘toys’ he plays with. His comics are destructive stories that have a habit of killing characters and breaking down the rest of them. The problem with this ethos and an ongoing universe is that very quickly this means you run out of characters, or you have to undo everything you have done by the end of the series. That meant that a lot of his comic runs produced very circular stories where people died and then came back, the earth was destroyed at least once and then came back, people lost limbs and then got them back. However when he was left with a small group of characters who he could beat and batter to his hearts content without breaking the rest of the universe, we got Uncanny X-Force; and what a book that was.

So, when left to develop his own universe in this comic, what is the first thing he does? Well, destroy the world and kill most of humanity for starters. Everything that constrained him working for Marvel is now unleashed and he is free to let his imagination run wild and the result is beautiful. Well, hideous, smelly, unwashed, desolate and brutal, but beautiful none the less.

I am not familiar with Wayshak’s art, but if this book is anything to go by, it has been my loss. It is really hard to describe, but the best I can come up with is that he manages to draw every grain of dirt, but still make the art attractive. Some people go for a grungy look which just makes the page look messy and ill-defined, by his art is crisp, stylish and has real character where often comics can feel formulaic.

I am hooked. I never though I would ever say that again about a series written by Remender, however I was always confident that left to his own devices, there was still a fantastic writer underneath. Most writers seem to flourish when given their shot at redefining classic characters, but Remender is definitely one for world building, so long as that world can be broken, decimated and abused by the end of issue #1.

Story – 10/10
Art – 9/10

* PS – not suitable for younger readers, this comic contains profuse profanity and nudity.

 

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Steampunk Dream #1 Review

Steam Punkb

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Steampunk Dream

Issue #1

Written by Pat Shand with Art by Annapaola Martello and Robby Bevard

Published January 2016

Steam PunkaSynopsis – What if the Grimm Fairy Tales universe had begun in the Old West, with air ships and steam powered guns? Well we’re about to find out…

I fear that Zenescope may have missed the ‘Steampunk bubble’, that seemed to be over about 5 years ago, but I might be wrong on that point. Maybe it was over for me back then, but it is quietly bubbling along in the background devoid of my attention. If I were to describe this for the main stream comic audience, then this is Zenescopes ‘What-If Elseworlds’; a temporary re-imagining of the core universe in a different setting.

And for me this really misses a trick. As far as I can see there is no way they can bring this into the Grimm Universe proper because all of the characters here are alternate versions of the main ones. I completely understand why they have done that and it is all about ‘brand recognition’ but that’s where I think they made the mistake. They always stick random characters posing on the front cover anyway, its much like Marvel did in the 90’s where Wolverine showed up on practically every cover of every book, even if the characters involved had never even met the grumpy Canadian. They could have easily stuck Snow White/Sela on the cover as they have done, yet not included her in the book at all.

And then there is the second mistake. We already have a Steampunk character in the Grimm universe, she is called Liesel Van Helsing and its already been established that Sela knew her back in the 19th Century when this book is set.* They could have done this with both those characters in this setting, with some wacky Steampunk toys without throwing in Robyn, Cindy and the rest. Had they have done that, this could have been a much better book with prospects of being referenced again, the characters coming back to this time period and it wouldn’t have been a throw away two issue series.

Despite my issues with this book, it is exactly what you would expect from a Zenescope title. There is the usual amount of skin flashed around, the right level of kick-assery from the female heroes and some really solid world building. It is what I have always loved about Zenescope books, good stories, pretty pictures and a bit of horror/mystery thrown in for good measure. I just wish they could have done it ‘in universe’ rather than set outside and most likely never mentioned again.

Story – 7/10
Art – 8/10

* Way back in the Unleashed event comics.

 

Heart in a Box #1 Review

HEart in a Box 1 b

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Heart in a Box

Issue #1

Dark Horse Comics

Written by Kelly Thompson with Art by Meredith McClaren

Published: September 2015

Heart in a Box #1When Emma wishes her broken heart away, she never expects to want it back. After striking an odd bargain with a mysterious man, she finds herself on a journey to reclaim the scattered pieces of her heart.

I like the dialogue in this. It feels natural and has a nice, hip flow to it. The only exception to the solid script is that there’s a really obnoxious over-stating of names and nicknames—Emma, Xan, “Luv”, etc. Characters re-state whomever they’re addressing with a frequency that draws attention to the fact that what we’re reading is a script, which takes away from the otherwise likeable writing. This is a small thing, though, and overall the first issue has near-perfect pacing and set-up. It’s smartly laid out so that it speeds along without feeling rushed, and I feel like I already know the characters and conflict moving forward.

The story itself is also really fun—Emma is heartbroken, and in her grief at a lost love, she draws the attention of a mysterious man who offers to remove it entirely to spare her the pain. After accepting the deal, she quickly realizes that not having a heart makes life pretty empty, and sets out to regain the scattered pieces of her lost heart. It’s irreverent and whimsical without being cloying at all, which you might expect with a premise like this. Instead, it feels hip, with just enough magic realism to give a mundane story of heartbreak some spice.

Art-wise, it’s cartoonish and has some great expressions, although the large eyes occasionally look a little off. Still, Emma has a really cool, atypical design that’s fun to look at, and there’s a neat visual trick that happens after she loses her heart where she appears in tones of grey.

One Hundred Demons

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

One Hundred Demons

Sasquatch Books

Written and created by Lynda Barry

Published: August 2005

100 Demons - dLynda Barry’s “autobiofictionalography” features a series of memoiristic shorts pertaining to Barry’s life growing up, her struggles with being different, her loves and loses, family life, getting lice, her first job, and all sorts of moments in a young girl’s life. Barry is anything but generic, however: her autofictionalography has plenty of twists and turns and quirks, both in the storytelling and the artwork.

In Barry’s world, cruelty can be casual, whether it’s coming from hollering mothers or lousy boyfriends or con-artist employers. Still, Barry’s deftness with direct, cutting language renders it honest without being mired down in pathos or melodrama, and there’s a healthy dose of humour of Barry’s retrospection that makes for a quick, smooth read overall. The stories are relatable and funny, insightful and off-handed, heavy but delivered with such lightness and neat pacing that it lingers without weighing down. It’s a smart and funny look down an old nostalgic road, neither overly sentimental nor unbearably cynical, which allows it to strike quite a likeable tone.

Art-wise, Barry’s style isn’t particularly going for pretty, but rather a cartoonish zeal that adopts a certain arts-and-crafts look. It’s really unique, and while I can see it being a your-mileage-may-vary type thing, it’s thematically perfect to have the construction of the page so emphasized in a memoiristic book of this nature. Barry even takes us through her ink-work at the end, which gives the book an intimate feeling, as though she’s drawing and writing just for you. It’s quite wonderful.

I really enjoyed Barry’s One Hundred Demons, and found it aesthetically interesting, as well as strongly written. If you like the sound of “autobiofictionalography,” then I think nothing should keep you from enjoying what Barry has to offer.

The Graphic Canon Vol. 2 – From Kubla Khan to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Graphic Canon: From Kubla Khan to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

Volume 2

Seven Stories Press

Edited by Russ Kick

Published: October 2012

Graphic Cannon - dRuss Kick’s second volume of “The Graphic Canon” features a huge number of short comics that adapt famous scenes from classic works of literature. From Wuthering Heights to Jekyll and Hyde to Alice in Wonderland, there’s a wealth of genres and stylistic approaches to flip through that should keep most book-lovers happy. Featuring works by Kim Deitch, Gris Grimly, Maxon Crumb, Molly Keily and over 50 other contributors, the second volume of “The Graphic Canon” really does go above and beyond to please.

I’m reviewing this a bit out of order, as I haven’t read the first volume (yet), but this isn’t the kind of anthology series where chronology matters. I picked it up specifically for John Coulthart’s unique approach to Dorian Gray, which features a series of neat collages that uses illustrations and advertisement aesthetics. While this one is a highlight for me, there’s also a satisfyingly classic-looking version of Wuthering Heights by Tim Fish, a stunningly rich and colourful look at Coleridge by Alice Duke, a version of Poe’s “The Raven” by Yien Yip that does some wild things with shadows, and an entire gallery dedicated to letting various artists draw their favourite scenes from Alice in Wonderland. Quite simply, there’s a lot to look at here, enough that it will likely take you days and days to read the whole thing. Certainly, you get your money’s worth.

As is only natural in an anthology of this size, not every entry is memorable or even particularly engaging on an artistic level. Still, there’s enough here that most people with even a passing interest in either literature or comic book art should find something to enjoy. It’s a generous anthology that way, one that doesn’t hold back or impose limits on itself, and it’s well worth a read.

The Portable Frank – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Portable Frank

Written and created by Jim Woodring

Published: March 2013

The Portable Frank - dJim Woodring’s Frank character is fairly iconic, and if you’re looking at anthologies, you likely already have some idea of whether or not you’re going to like it. Frank himself is an anthropomorphic creature of dubious distinction who lives in an ambiguous landscape called the Unifactor. The Portable Frank collects a number of Frank stories that feature characters like Manhog, Pupshaw, and a number of amorphous, blob-like creatures, all of whom factor into Frank’s wanderings.

Woodring’s world is hallucinogenic and philosophical, rarely stopping to hold your hand or explain what’s going on, or why. The entire anthology is mostly voiceless, relying on visual splendor and sensation, the subtle shift of emotion between different moments of melancholy, wonder, curiosity, and frustration. One particular standout for me was “Truth of Plenitude,” which cycles through so many emotions and ends with a mysterious moment of creation. Frank isn’t afraid to be ambiguous (the main character’s design is testament to that), and in doing so it asks a lot of the reader.

Visually, it’s a wild ride, reminiscent of Krazy Kat’s desert, only with a more fantastic edge. Whilst Krazy Kat’s desert is constantly changing, though, Frank’s universe has a certain level of consistency to it. It’s wild, but there’s a logic to it, a certain structure that keeps it from being easily dismissed as a world of dream logic.

The Portable Frank has many virtues, but I think its ambiguity will unavoidably alienate some. Despite recognizing Frank’s many virtues, I found it overall difficult to connect with. I often felt adrift at sea whilst reading Frank, and I wasn’t always drawn in enough by the art or the world to want to spend much time contemplating the meaning behind it all. I didn’t find it particularly funny or pretty, though it was never boring. It’s certainly a good anthology to check out if you want to leap on board the Frank train, but it’s also not for everyone, and I have to admit that I don’t quite think it’s for me.

Buzz – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Buzz

Issue #0

Oni Press

Written by Ananth Panagariya with Art by Tessa Stone

Published: December 2013

Buzz -dFrom the combined efforts of Ananth Panagariya (writing) and Tessa Stone (art) comes Buzz!, a quirky comic about a world of back-alley spelling bees and high-stakes spellathons that could mean life or death for those with the vocabularies strong enough to compete.

Story-wise, Buzz! is pretty quirky, and a lot of the humour comes from puns and various plays on words. Naturally enough, given the spelling-based premise, a lot of the fun comes in the language, though it rockets along at such a madcap pace that it’s hard not to get caught up in the infectious energy it offers. The story, about a young speller named Webster who gets roped into competing in the ‘bees, is surprisingly heartfelt, and alongside a thoughtful and funny exploration of mythology-building, it’s also a nice coming of age story. Panagariya’s blend of action comic parody and linguistic humour really works here, and that along with engaging characters

Tessa Stone, of Hanna is Not A Boy’s Name fame, is in top form here. The yellow/black/white colour scheme (recalling a bee) is weird and engrossing, and her rendering of motion and cartoonish outbursts of expression are really wonderful to behold. Stone is an artist of rare talent, one whose sense of style is backed up with creative layouts and page constructions, and it’s hard to imagine something she can’t do with a comic page and still knock it out of the park. Buzz! looks gorgeous, and more importantly, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Buzz! is such a wonderful comic that I’m sad there’s only one volume, but what we do have works just fine as a standalone, and comes highly recommended on all counts. A fun, clever little romp with gorgeous art as a great bonus.

Prime #2 – Podcast Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Prime

Issue #2

Drive Thu Comics/ Clock Work Goat Comics

Written by Stu Perrins with Art by Israel Huertas and Diego Huertas

Published: June 2015

Prime 02 - c

Synopsis:
Love Conquers All. The accident that should have killed Simon led him into his birthright and the superpowers that came from the experiments on his mother. All too soon he discovers that he is not alone and the Symposium of Justice awaits him.

Thoughts: 
This issue is an improvement in the series, but not in the way I was expecting. I felt that the first issue did not have enough focus on where it wanted to pitch the comic, whereas this clearly brings it down on the site of parody/ humour which is a vast improvement. With the introduction of the ‘Symposium of Justice’ and ‘She Warrior’ you immediately know that the comic is aiming for the ‘Watchmen’ idea of making a commentary on normal comic books. However whereas Watchmen was dark and gritty seriousness, this takes the opposite approach and shows us the softer side of the industry.

However not content to simply laugh at superheroes we get taken into a fully on Star Wars parody as the hero Enigma decides to rescue people in a Galaxy Far Far Away. Prime uses the same trick that the Star Wars films do, by repeating certain tropes and soundbytes, but in way that is not stale and repetitive, but clever and amusing. While the Kardashians reference will certainly date the comic, right now it greatly amused me.

Rating: 
With the greater focus on humour and more of an understanding where this comic is headed, this is better than the first issue, and on consideration, better than I thought while I was recording the podcast; although I would still love for it to be full colour…

4/5

For the complete review, please check out the podcast –Highway 616 Episode #4.

 

Prime #1 – Podcast Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Prime

Issue #1

Drive Thru Comics/ Clock Work Goat Comics

Written by Stu Perrins with Art by Israel Huertas and Diego Huertas

Published: January 2015

Prime 01 - c

Synopsis:
The future is bulletproof. Hope City is a safe place because of the Superhero – Prime, but it has not always been so and it was never more unsafe than during the horrendous experiments that lead to the accidental creation of the invincible eponymous hero.

Thoughts: 
This is an interesting stab at the super-hero genre, but it is ultimately doomed to failure because it is entering the most crowded niche in comic books. The writing is fine, the art is fine, but without colour the usually brightly coloured world of superheroes feels oddly dark and drab and horrific on-panel injuries change from disgusting, to humorous. The characters origin story feels different, but not entirely unique, although I am sure that in the last 80 years of comics it has been done before.

The comic does not sit entirely comfortably tonally in one camp or the other, parts of the book are serious, parts amusing and parts nearly 4th wall breaking. Making puns and taking swipes at villains with funny names is fine, but it detracts from the more serious parts of the story.

Rating: 
With all that said, this is still a decent enough book. As creator owned and distributed comics go, it is pretty good, missing all the usual pitfalls (such as dreadful art, clunky writing, plagiarised story etc). While it does not feel different enough from standard comic book fair to really capture me, it does at least make me interested to read on and see where this universe is going.

A decent 3/5, if it was full colour I would bump it to 3.5/5.

For the complete review, please check out the podcast –Highway 616 Episode #4.