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.

bprdhellboyBPRD/Hellboy

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.

northlandersNorthlanders

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!

edenEden

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.





Madame Xanadu

25 08 2008

Matt Wagner has always been one of my favourite writers. When I was first getting into comics his Grendel was one of the titles that really hooked me. Grendel War Child was the first one that I read and as a young man it blew my freaking mind. I tried to track down all the past issues (a near impossible task as the company that had published them had gone belly up) and voraciously read all the new issues. Grendel was a comic that wasn’t afraid to shake the whole world. It started out as the story of Hunter Rose, the debonair criminal mastermind who was both the greatest novelist alive, and Grendel, the world’s deadliest assassin. By Grendel War Child, set 100s of years in the future, the world was dominated by the Grendel’s. The Grendel was a warrior cult and the population lived by the Grendel code. It was a million miles from where the series had started and the utter antithesis of the mainstream crap of the time. I read Mage, Wagner’s reinterpretation of the Arthurian legend but it never really gripped me like Grendel did. I followed that up with Sandman Mystery Theatre and loved it. Wagner writes stunning stuff, he is a writer of dazzling ability and I eagerly followed almost everything he did.

(that Wagner is also a stunning artist shouldn’t be forgotten – in that regard he is like Mike Mignola, a brilliant artist who is only eclipsed by his writing)

So when I heard he was going to be the writer on the new Vertigo series Madame Xanadu I was more than a little excited. Wagner doing a Vertigo series again? Awesome. So two issues in does Madame Xanadu live up to my expectations?

Yep.

I came to Madame Xanadu knowing that the heroine has a history in the DC Universe and is tied to the Phantom Stranger but not much more. And to be honest you don’t need to know more to enjoy Madame Xanadu. The story tells of Madame Xanadu’s beginnings and presumably as the series progresses her passage through time.

Wagner’s hand on the story is deft, with nice touches that undercut our expectations. For instance the moment we discover that Nimue (as Madame Xanadu is known at this point) is sleeping with Merlin comes as a slight shock, in my eyes at least I was seeing her as this innocent albeit fey creature.

But oddly Wagner isn’t the star here. That honour belongs to Amy Hadley and her stunning, manga-ish art. Her panels are filled with delightful touches. The detail on her depiction of Nimue’s celtic garb is awesome. Like Charles Vess, Hadley seems to have been born to draw faeries and the magical world.

So far it reminds me a touch of the Books of Magic, the much lamented (by me) series that spun off a Neil Gaiman mini series. The Phantom Stranger appeared in that series too, as the guide who showed Tim Hunter the DC Universe’s magic past. I loved the Books of Magic in its John Ney Rieber phase so I’m taking that as a positive sign for this (I’m reaching, I know).

While the series has had a good beginning I’m a bit worried about its legs. I know by issue 5 Madame Xanadu encounters Marie Antoinette so there is a danger they are going to churn through too much story. But that’s a minor worry and I don’t know why I am worrying about it. Wagner has proved himself in the past and undoubtedly he’ll continue to do so here.

Madame Xanadu has had a good beginning. Long may it continue!

8/10