Saga #19: In which Brian K. Vaughan makes us go “uurgh”!

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Chapter 19 of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples sci-fi series gives us something never seen before; a close up view of a baby with a TV for a head being born.

And this is part of what makes this comic so endearing.

In turns Vaughan makes us ooh, ahh and go uurgh.

I won’t spoil the effect by posting that image here.

We jump forward slightly in time in this chapter.

Our star crossed lovers are still on the run, living in hiding on the planet Gardenia.

Times are tough for a couple in hiding.

Being the primary care-giver can be a thankless task.

And wearing a huge wig and acting in a really tacky soap opera also has its problems.

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At its heart this story has always been about the relationship dynamics of the main characters.

Writers who want a really loyal following ignore that at their peril.

Brian K. Vaughan nails it.

I really care about Marko and Alana.

Their squabbles, their sense of humour and their need for each other just rings true.

Despite the floating ghost babysitter and the spaceships.

All of which are cool.

But importantly they don’t detract from how believable  the story seems.

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After a three month hiatus this chapter feels like the beginning of a new story ark for Saga.

And I can’t wait to see where they take it.

East of West issue by issue summary #01-11

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We are now at issue #11 of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s fantastic futuristic dystopian western series East of West.

But with so much going on in each issue it’s easy to forget who’s who, and why the heck there is a snake coming out of that guy’s head.

So to help us all enjoy issue #11 even more I thought I’d try to summarise what’s happened so far in three sentences per issue.Caveat: they are allowed to be long sentences!

This is only done for fun and as a memory aide so please be gentle if I get anything wrong. In fact if you are able to clarify anything please let me know in the comments!

Phew, it’s a big task but here goes.

***SPOILERS***

Issue 1

Three creepy children come up out of the earth and decide to kill Death and then destroy the world. We learn the world deviated from the present as we know it during the Civil War, seven nations were born and The Message reveals the story of the world’s end. Death goes to The Union with two of the Endless Nation (Crow and Wolf) and kills the President in the White Tower.

Issue 2

The three kids (who are War, Conquest and Famine) make Antonia LeVay President (there might be some killing involved) before sending her off to Armistice to meet with the other Chosen. Andrew Archibald Chamberlain, Chief of Staff at The Black Towers returns home to find Death with his feet up on his desk.  We learn that The Chosen helped the other three horsemen to find death 10 years ago and kill his wife – only she’s not dead!

Issue 3

In New Shanghai we meet Xiaolian, Death’s wife, held prisoner by her envious sister Hu and dictator father Mao. Three horsemen walk into a bar…and talk with an oracle’s eyeball. Death arrives at the walls of New Shanghai and tells Mao to prepare for his judgement.

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Issue 4

A battle begins; the House of Mao: Dragons and Widow-makers against Death on his amazing weaponised horse and two magical side-kicks. Xiaolian dispatches her sister and her father taking her place at the head of the House of Mao. The three horsemen warn Chamberlain that The Chosen had better toe the line and play their part as The Message dictates.

Issue 5

We get the backstory of Death and Xiaolian’s falling in love and OMG they had a son! Xiaolin thought he was killed by her attackers after death was called away – but The Chosen think he is The Beast of the Apocalypse and are holding him captive as part of an organic mega-computer. Bel Solomon asks Chamberlain to help stop The Chosen but he just laughs and says ‘nuh uh’.

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Issue 6

Meanwhile over at Armistice the Keeper of the Message brings forth a beast from the horsemen to flush out a traitor revealed by The Message. Chamberlain betrays Bel and Cheveyo gives chase in the form of a Sarlacc-type demon, Bel makes it to his ship but with a shot-off tentacle round his neck. Bel asks The Ranger to kill The Chosen.

Issue 7

The Keeper is now merged with the grotesque beast (blerg) and it seems they are bound till the end of days. Death and his companions take a winding staircase under a lake. We flashback to when pilgrims visited Armistice, the Four would show up and slaughter them, but one baby was saved by Conquest and reared on blood and The Message. He was Ezra Orion, now the Beast/Keeper of the Message.

Issue 8

Back at the White Tower Antonia LeVay is watching her city burn as people protest against political and economic unrest. Death visits the Oracle in the under-the-lake prison to ask where his son is – and he’s willing to trade for the information. Antonia LeVay shows just how evil she is and starts to quell the rebellion in her city not with hope but bullets.

Issue 9

The Oracle takes one of Death’s eyeballs in payment for information on where his son is. In The Kingdom Crown Prince John Freeman puts his brother in his place (shoots half his leg off) and visits his father, The King of the oil-rich  nation. They discuss the inevitability of war and Xiaolin’s part in calling in debts that have caused LeVay now to beg them for financial assistance.

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Issue 10

At the Oracle’s instruction Death heads for Heetse’isi’  where Cheveyo (Wolf’s father) can be found and asked about the boy’s location. At The Beast’s Lair we discover that the three horsemen aren’t so sure Death’s son is The Great Beast and that kid knows when he’s being watched and is planning an escape. Meanwhile Cheveyo refuses to tell Death where the boy is and morphs into Nihnootheiht, just as he’s telling Death where the Lair is he’s blasted by The Ranger.

Issue 11

In New Shanghai Xiaolian prepares her people for war and goes to confront the Chosen. We learn Archibald Chamberlain has the Oracle’s other eye and that he is about to attend a meeting of the nations. And who should finally show up but the Endless Nation, the most powerful Nation of all.

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There is a lot of world building in this comic and reading each issue as it comes out can leave you a little lost. I think this is one that you can read over and over to appreciate some of the story arcs that have so far only been hinted at.

I can’t wait to find out why the Endless Nation are the most powerful, how Death’s son will escape The Lair, if indeed he is the Great Beast at all and if he isn’t then who is and which of The Chosen The Ranger will take out next…

Revival Comic Review: Vol. 1 – You’re Among Friends

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I love comics that refuse to be categorised.

What is this comic,

Horror?

Zombie?

Crime?

Revival vol. 1 – ‘You’re among friends’ seems to have a little bit of all these and is all the better for defying categorisation.

Creators Tim Seeley and Mike Norton call it a ‘rural noir’.

Which sums it up nicely.

In a small town in Wisconsin the dead have risen.

Not as decaying, brain-hungry monsters.

But very much as they were when you last saw them.

Which makes for some awkward moments.

Not least when the media show up.

The town gets put under government quarantine.

Religious zealots start talking about ‘rapture’.

And the ‘revivers’ start acting out of character.

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We are led in to the story by Dana Cypress.

She’s got a kid.

She was still a teen when she got pregnant.

Her dad never forgave her.

Now she’s Officer Cypress.

Oh, and her dad is the Sherriff.

She also takes her younger sister (Martha or ‘Em’) out on a call-out with unfortunate results.

That’s the great thing about this comic so far. It centres on family relationships and what happens to them when the stress levels go up to 11.

Everybody has secrets, untold stories and as readers we get the sense that no one is getting out of this untouched by personal tragedy.

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The artwork in this comic is traditional and keeps the story nicely grounded in reality – making the paranormal and gruesome scenes all the more spine-tingling. People look real, some are in better shape than others and there’s a realistic diversity in the town that works well.

But the thing I loved most about this comic is the very fact that the people coming back from the dead aren’t your traditional mumbling, diseased corpses out for your braaaains but seemingly unchanged loved-ones who just walk right back into their jobs and places in the family home. If the idea of that doesn’t freak you right out I’m not sure what would.

There’s also the matter of the thing in the woods…

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Which reminds me of that old Neil Hannan song, “she said, there’s something in the wood shed…”

There’s  a lot going on in this first volume and if you take a break before going on to the second volume then a re-read of this will probably be needed to get back up to speed. As it is I think I’ll read it over again just to savour some of the creepiest moments like Em’s growing attachment to the scythe…

Revival is an Image Comics publication and is available to buy on Amazon, Comixology etc. in individual editions or three collected volumes.

Chew – Revival Crossover

It was also announced in February that there would be a crossover with John Layman’s Chew. Tim Seeley said, “Chew showed us all that there was a place for quality off-kilter series, and we’re excited to have the cast of our ‘rural noir’ meet up with America’s favourite cibopath. I think we’ve figured out a great way to take advantage of the ‘WHAT THE HELL’ factor of crossing over two very different worlds that’ll make for a great read.”

And Rob Guillory Chew’s artist added, “Honestly, even I was shocked how well the two titles gelled together. It’s a really, really fun experiment that will surprise fans of both books, I think.”

There are a lot of differences in vibe, artwork and story content between the two titles but there’s lots of scope to have fun with this crossover idea. And it’s one experiment I can’t wait to read and review.

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East of West Vol 1: The Promise – Apocalyptic sci-western goodness

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There are so many comics out there.

So many.

It’s hard to know where the next great story is hiding.

Often I look at the cover art as an indication of what the story is about and if it’s worth investigating.

I scanned past the cover art above at least half a dozen times.

Then someone said, “you haven’t read this yet??”

And I took another look.

Turns out you should never judge a book by its cover.

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First off credit where credit is due.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Colours: Frank Martin

Letters: Rus Wooton

Publisher: Image Comics

You can read this in individual editions – there are currently 10 issues in total but I’d recommend starting off with Vol One: The Promise which collects the first five editions.

There’s a lot going on here and you’ll need at least the first five to see whether or not you’re going to like this.

If you love comics as much for the drawing and colours as for the writing then you are going to love Nick Dragotta’s artwork.

I haven’t dabbled in drawing let alone drawing comics for years but this made me itch to get out an inky pen and some good quality cartridge paper. It’s inspirational, tactile, beautiful and very, very clever.

Each frame is cinematic, epic in scale, considered, original and flows so beautifully.

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Oh and Death is riding an awesome cannon horse.

The whole thing is just the right mix of the familiar but with an original spin.

So let’s get the basics down.

You know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Well, this is a story about them.

But not just about them.

It’s about The Chosen.

They are the leaders of the seven Nations of America created after the Third Great Awakening at the time of the Civil War in 1862.

They’ve heard The Message.

And it says the world is coming to an end.

And they, along with the three horsemen (yeah, Death isn’t totally on-board with this plan) are intent on making sure the prophecy comes to fruition.

But Death got a little caught up in the mortal world.

Got married.

Decided he wasn’t ready to go along with the prophecy just yet.

And so the story goes on a roller-coaster ride of killing, destruction and dodging the dalliances of fate.

But at it’s heart this is a love story.

And that’s what made me care about this motley crew of characters.

It’s not just about grand, sweeping story arcs.

There’s some nicely explored human emotions in here too.

It’s not the first time a fictional Death has fallen in love (see Pretty Deadly for a totally different take on some similar themes) but it could be the first time he’s willing to betray everything he is supposed to be for the daughter of a Chinese warlord.

Read and enjoy!

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Deadly Class comic review: Reality remembered & fictionalised therapy for high school survivors

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I guess there are people out there who had a great time at high school.

Who had lots of friends.

Who sailed through in a fog of only slightly angsty teenage moments.

I have met people who claim high school was the best time of their lives.

Only one or two mind.

The rest shudder at the mere mention of those thankfully long past years.

I wasn’t sure about Deadly Class as first.

Until I read the author’s note in the letters page at the back of the comic and I really saw what he was trying to do here.

It’s interesting.

This stirs up memories of how vicious kids can be.

Of bewilderment, confusion, hatred sparked through the hurt of non-acceptance.

But, and it’s the ‘but’ that makes this worth reading and recommending.

It also places the whole emotional rollercoaster in a fantasy world where a street kid with a black past can be saved from a tragic end by enrolment in an academy for assassins.

It’s the perfect balance of reality remembered and fictionalised therapy for high school survivors.

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Rick Remender and his collaborators in this comic, Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge have chosen to set this in the 1980s of their own teenage years.

They made a conscious decision to set this in a recognisable world.

As Remender says,

“There’s no magic. No spaceships. No one can fly or shoot eye beams. It’s a coming of age story about broken kids expected to deal with a violent world. It’s the 80s. No cell phones or email. And many of these stories are based on true events.”

I read issue 1 and immediately bought issue 2 just to see where this was going to go.

The emotions of the writer, artist and colourist add a lot of spice to this fictional tale. It could have been a fantasy escape aimed at teens. Instead it’s a really rather gritty investigation for adults looking back at just how awful high school could be for a broken kid.

There’s no wish fulfilment here.

At least not so far.

But there is a whole host of great characters that I’m just dying to get to know.

A few secrets yet to be revealed.

And the beginning of a story arc that I get the feeling I’m going to stay the distance with.

And as ever with any comics I find myself drawn to, the artwork here is beautiful. The Day of the Dead parade is a fantastic concept for a chase scene. In fact all the action scenes come across as thrilling but contained within a somewhat believable world.

The colours are also great, really reflecting the bleak aspect of the surroundings but throwing in tiny flashes of that 80s fashion staple neon pink.

What’s not to love?

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Pretty Deadly 1# and 2#: Rios, DeConnick & Bellaire throw down the gauntlet

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Pretty Deadly is an Image Comics release from Kelly Sue DeConnck (Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble) and Emma Rios (Doctor Strange: Season One).

And I’d say if you are willing to pick up the gauntlet DeConnick and Rios are laying down here you’ll be rewarded in time.

Because this story, despite throwing characters at us in an almost haphazard way, blending genres right, left and centre and coating the whole thing in hazy, dream-like artwork and colour, is intriguing.

The comic has already drawn parallels with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and I see no reason to dispute those parallels.

Yes, this is confusing, yes, it’s not a reader friendly first issue, but the quality is there.

The things that make it difficult are put there on purpose to challenge the reader. The reason I think this is because of the inclusion of at least three Tweets at the end of the book that say, “I really didn’t understand what was happening.”

Their inclusion almost seems triumphal.

It’s a defiant show of the team’s confidence in their pet project that they don’t compromise with a more linear introduction, a longer first issue or even an introduction to the main character until the very end of the issue.

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You are either going to love or hate the following things:

  • An opening narration by a dead rabbit and a butterfly
  • Artwork so fluid it takes a while to interpret what is going on
  • The Western setting paired with strong female lead characters
  • A layout that owes more to Manga than modern day American comics
  • A colour scheme that bathes its world in pink, yellow and brown hues

It is useful to have a basic plot outline in your mind before reading this comic for the first time. So here goes. Welcome to a world that resembles a Western in perpetual sunset. Our narrators, the above mentioned dead bunny and butterfly, start us off with the tale of Sissy and Fox, a young girl with mismatched eyes and a cloak made of vulture feathers and an old man who covers his eyes the better not to see the world.

From here the action speeds up and there is little time for formal introductions.

A man called Jonny has let an important document be stolen by Sissy. A woman called Big Alice isn’t messing about when she says she wants it back. She hunts Jonny down and then goes after Sissy guns blazing. Meanwhile Sissy and Fox are high-tailing it over the desert with their rag tag band of outlaws in tow, one of whom isn’t averse to taking pot shots at them from afar – who needs enemies when you got friends like that.

I won’t go any further, since a review should still leave you surprised by the story. But if you are willing to read and possibly re-read this the plot will eventually suck you in.

Reading a comic using the Comixology app

One last thing I should say about Pretty Deadly is that I read these first two issues on the my Google Nexus using the Comixology app.

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This is the first time I have done this, not due to any tech-hating tendencies; rather I just never felt the need before. But due to a combination of having missed the first two print issues being in stock in my local comic shop, travelling and not having Wi-Fi at my disposal, I decided to download issues one and two and read them offline on my tablet.

At first I thought my screen would be too small to really take in the art work or read the script.

I was wrong.

The pages are beautifully optimised for the screen.

Reading full pages is easy and clear.

My ability to follow this story also hugely benefited from the app’s guided reading function.

The app zooms into one panel at a time. Smaller panels are seen whole. Sometimes a whole page layout is broken down into significant elements so you see things in order rather than all at once. The whole thing is pretty seamless and so well done you hardly notice it.

It’s very simple and very effective especially for a complicated story like Pretty Deadly.

I don’t think I’ll me moving my comic habit fully online.

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Like the e-reader vs. paper books debate the online comic app certainly has it’s time and place and unlike the e-reader actually can enhance your enjoyment and understanding of a beautiful visual tale.