comics i like right now

20 03 2009

I haven’t really written about comics for a while so in short here’s a quick rundown of what I like at the moment and one disappointment:

Firstly the “must reads” as soon as I get them:

thewalkingdeadWalking Dead

Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse tale is still brilliant 55+ issues into the series. Kirkman isn’t afraid to write gut wrenching scenes and almost every issue contains an emotional kick, whether it’s a regular being killed or someone realising that the person he is talking to on the phone is actually his dead wife. Kirkman’s also not averse to throwing in the trick cliff hanger ending where you believe one thing, only to have it be revealed in the opening pages of the next issue to be something else. He gets away with it every time because he has killed off other characters in shocking ways. You honestly don’t know whether his “main” characters are going to survive issue to issue and not many other comics can claim that. Plus Tony Moore’s art is starkly stunning, enhancing the emotional punch of Kirkman’s writing.


The world of Hellboy has been around long enough now that the Hellboy Companion published last year is nearly a must have when reading both Hellboy and its spin-off BPRD. Its definitely not essential, at its core both comics read as rollicking pulp adventures, but it definitely adds depth to the reading experience when you can refer back to nuggets of information about certain characters without having to trawl through boxes of back issues. BPRD might be a smidgeon ahead in my affections, mainly because Guy Davis’ art is so brilliant (can anyone draw monsters as well as him?) but Hellboy isn’t far behind.


The idea of a Viking comic series written by Brian Wood was intriguing when I first heard about it. The actuality has been excellent. So far Wood has eschewed the linear, specific character approach of DMZ (and to a lesser extent Local) and had stand alone arcs. The current arc, “The Cross and the Hammer” is a CSI style one set in conquered Ireland as a local man fights back against his Viking overlords in a guerrilla fashion. Northlanders has also featured revolving artists and they have all been excellent: Davide Gianfelice, Dean Ormston (an old favourite of mine) and Ryan Kelly. It might just be the Viking setting but I devour each new issue.

i-am-legionI am Legion

A few years back I bought the first issue of I am Legion from the Humanoids line that DC published and loved it. It was brilliant. It was dark, foreboding, possibly featured vampires and had Nazis as the villains. I eagerly waited for the next issue. And waited. And waited. It never came. DC canned the Humanoids line. When I was in France in 2007 I tried to hunt down a copy of the original French comic (if only to gaze on the wonder of John Cassaday’s art) but no joy. Until recently when DDP started publishing it again. I am Legion is wonderful – atmospheric and brooding. Fabien Nury’s story is gripping and Cassaday has long been a master. The only problem is that the pacing of the DDP edition is out of whack – the original DC version was 48 pages per issue, DDP is 24 pages. I just hope I get to see the end this time!


Eden by Hiroki Endo is the closest thing I have read to Akira in my 15 years of serious comics reading. Like Akira it is the set in the near future and like Akira it is a manga masterpiece. It is sci fi of the hardest sort whether it is dealing with sentient crystal formations which are gradually taking over the world or the extreme violence of cyborg killing machines. At other times it is touchingly sweet. Plus our main Elijah Ballard is treading the path from youth to adulthood, and rather than annoy us, he achieves the rare feat of making us care for him. In many ways Eden is like a manga Battlestar Galactica, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

And finally, one comic I liked earlier which is fading in my estimation is:

madame-xanaduMadame Xanadu

I wrote about it earlier and liked it but unfortunately since then it has sadly deteriorated. It’s still a very beautiful looking comic and the idea of a person living through time and different eras is appealing (look how long Highlander was on the air) but there’s just something that feels … misguided in the way they are telling the story. It doesn’t surprise me when I read it and as a result it is boring. Recent arcs have featured the French Revolution and Jack the Ripper but rather than exciting they are predictable, we know our heroine is going to survive and so far we have seen little to make her appeal to us. I’m hoping it’ll turn around, Matt Wagner is an excellent writer and Amy Reeder Hadley produces some stunning panels. It just isn’t clicking at the moment.


Hellboy II: the Golden Army review

1 09 2008

We went and saw Hellboy II: the Golden Army on Saturday. We decided to go to an early session so we could get more done on Saturday. Ha! Big joke. Anyway after watching a mother abandon her two kids in the cinema (since when has dropping kids off at a movie been a legitimate form of babysitting? I can understand a 12 year old and older but under 10? That’s just wrong), we settled in to watch.

In the interests of full disclosure I should note here that I am a HUGE Hellboy fan. I adore the great red lunk. I read everything Hellboy whether that’s the adventures of our eponymous hero, BPRD or Lobster Johnson. So with that said how did I find Hellboy II: the Golden Army?

I loved it.

I enjoyed it more than any other film I have seen this year, and yes, that does include the Dark Knight. It seemed to capture everything I love about the character, he wisecracked, he smoked, he drank, and in keeping with the first film he saved cats. Abe Sapien (my favourite character from the comic) had a prominent role while Johann Krauss (probably my least favourite character) was surprisingly good. And there were Faeries – scary arse faeries with magical swords. All good in my eyes.

Now I love the Dark Knight. It is a masterpiece that overwhelms the senses. It brutalises us into submission with action scenes of awesome majesty but at the end I felt drained. I’m going to watch it again but it feels like I need to stretch first, work myself into it.

But my enjoyment of Hellboy II is different. It has a heart. And Hellboy IIs heart beats with the same love of the fantasy genre that mine does. The imagery is stunning. When they visit the troll market it is a veritable cavalcade of wonders. It reminded me of the art of Charles Vess, there’s always more going on the frame then you can glimpse at first. Adding to the fantasy vibe are the elements of quest narrative throughout such as when they meet the Angel of Death.

There is also a Miyazaki-like moment when Hellboy kills the forest god that Prince Nuada has summoned. The whole sequence and ethereal consequences echo both Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

And then there’s the stupendous fighting skills of Prince Nuada. Of course it helps that he’s armed with the coolest knife/spear that’s appeared in a movie. I’ve always been a sucker for weapons that are more than they seem – Monkey Magic’s expanding staff, the bone sword from Brotherhood of the Wolf but this one is probably the best.

That’s not to say there weren’t some duff bits. I didn’t like our reintroduction to the BPRD – it felt a bit too like Men in Black while the director of the BPRD Tom Manning was too comic. I felt like I was watching Arrested Development at times.

But Hellboy II felt like a film made for me. I loved it and the only thing that makes me sad is we’re going to be waiting a long time for the next one.

(Of course the fact that Hellboy III is going to take so long because of the Hobbit is reason for joy in itself)  


Meeting Ben Stenbeck

11 07 2008

A couple of weeks back I had the chance to meet Ben Stenbeck, a man who is that rarest of things, a rising comic artist from little old NZ. He was signing comics at Heroes4Sale, the comic shop I frequent. Why was he signing comics? Well he’d hit the big time – art for a BPRD comic co written by Mike Mignola. I already raved about how awesome BPRD is below so I was pretty jazzed that a kiwi was doing the art for it. Now I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of my favourite writers and artists before at Armageddon but I’ve chickened out. A few years back Warren Ellis was there and I couldn’t think of anything witty to say so I hurried past. I did manage to have a chat to the guys from the Red Star but that was probably due to not having a clue who they were (they were sadly missing name tags) so I could have been talking to Chris Gosset or his PA, who knows? There have been others as well. Eddie Campbell tried to sell me Bacchus. At that point I hadn’t read From Hell so I only had the vaguest inkling of who he was. He actually came across as this slightly dodgy guy, from memory quite tall with a pronounced Adam’s apple. I wish now that I’d bought it. Of course if I’d known who he really was (ie I’d read From Hell at that point) I’d probably have run away like a timid chinchilla.

What was Ben like? Cool and normal, much as you’d expect. We talked for about 40 minutes about his work, what it was like working with Mignola (apparently he spoke to him once), the normal kind of things. Ben was stoked at having done BPRD, he described the experience as his dream project. Both of us geeked out over how awesome Hellboy was and he even signed my comic. One thing it brought home to me was the fickleness of the comic industry. Ben didn’t have any comics work on as Dark Horse (who publish Hellboy and BPRD) were waiting to see the reaction to his issue. He had to do some freelance advertising work in the meantime. Now I have no doubt that Ben’s going to succeed, he’s much too talented to disappear but that’s kind of scary, especially if you have a family to support.

Ben’s other main work was the Living With The Dead comic from Dark Horse which was okay, not spectacular and he also did a Hellboy Animated comic which came with the DVD. I had the chance to buy some panels from that comic but instead I decided to go with a couple of pictures he did. One of Hellboy and a nasty beasty and the other of my favourite character Abe Sapien. 

Ben Stenbeck's Hellboy
Ben Stenbeck’s Hellboy
Ben Stenbeck's Abe Sapien
Ben Stenbeck’s Abe Sapien

 We just need to get some frames and they’re going up on the wall.