Sunday, 9 October 2016

Death's vengeful daughter, alien invasion, over-reaching geniuses and uncensored Judge Dredd

The last few weeks have seen my comics enjoyment – and involvement – broadening and moving beyond the realms of simply being a reader.

But for this post, I’m going to stick with what I’ve been reading and begin in mid September, when The Other Half was away on a brief Rugby League trip and I leapt at the opportunity to visit Gosh! comics in Soho, where staff took the time to recommend a number of titles for me to try.

The first of these that I have read thus far is volume one of Pretty Deadly, a quirky fusion of westerns, folklore and fantasy by Kelly Sue DeConnick, centred on Death’s daughter and a bitter, savage search for vengeance.

Within this, we get a sense of something ancient and timeless in the power of stories.

The excellent, stylised artwork by Emma Ríos adds to the strange and magical quality of the story, with a fascinating palette that includes, almost as an act of artistic irony given the storyline, pale pastels.

To give you an idea of just how weird this is, each chapter is introduced by the ‘living’ skeleton of a dead rabbit talking to a butterfly. And yet somehow it all works, ensuring an immediate order being placed for the second instalment.

Next up was Y: The Last Man, Brian K Vaughan’s story of Yorick and his capuchin monkey, who find themselves as the last males on Earth when an unknown plague wipes out all other males – and with an awful lot of women wanting them dead too.

Vaughan is a bright new(ish) star of the comics scene, but it took me an age to get going with this and, with the flatness of Pia Guerra’s artwork, I’m not sure whether I’ll follow the story on to a further volume.

By contrast, the first Wild’s End trade knocked my metaphorical socks off.

Dan Abnett’s tale unfolds in and around a peaceful 1930s English village populated by a cast of anthropomorphic animal citizens, who suddenly find their rural idyll shattered by an alien invasion.

This is Wind in the Willows fused with War of the Worlds – with a dry humour underlying the whole and a very clever invocation of a semi-mythical England, from character names such as Captain Wainmaring to two pages of a delightfully realised travel guide that nods to the likes of Wainwright, Bradshaw and Pevsner.

INJ Culbard’s art is a joy. Deceptively simple, it absolutely pings off the page in vibrant colour. And the space ships are Deco lights!

Wild’s End is funny, violent, with a fast-paced story and strong characters – it’s an absolute delight. Whether I will be reading more of this is not even a real question.

The doormat at home is just beginning to get used to Forbidden Planet subscription packets landing on it.

But when the first issue of Hadrian’s Wall descended, it left me with the giddy delight of having my first ever subscribed-before-the-start-of-a-completely-new-comic experience – and that was before I’d even turned the first page.

Once I had read it, my pleasure was increased.

Set some time in the future, it sees pill-popping detective Simon Moore sent to solve an unexplained death on board the space station Hadrian’s Wall, where his ex-wife wants to avoid any trouble.

To be strictly accurate, the death doesn’t take place on board anything, but in space. Which makes this less a locked-room mystery and more an open-space one.

With a story by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, and art by Rod Reis, it’s also further evidence that you can hit the ground running a new series.

Talking of comics that are slow to get going, Injection fell into this category. Volume one was confusing – yet also intriguing and well-illustrated enough that I pre-ordered the second trade.

Indeed, I actually went back and re-read one before starting two – and now it’s all coming together.

The central premise is that five geniuses have ‘poisoned’ the 21st century in an effort to drive innovation and growth and avoid stagnation. But ion course things have got out of hand and now they need to put things right. Which isn’t going to be easy.

In the second trade, everything tightens and, in particular, the concentration on one of the five, consulting detective Vivek Headland, works wonders for drawing the reader further in.

Warren Ellis’s storey is intriguing and the artwork, from Declan Shelvey and Jordie Bellarie, helps create a dark, brooding feel.

Also on the recent reading list was Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored.

Over the years, I’ve picked up the odd copy of 2000AD, but never really been able to get into it.

This, on the other hand, made it easy. The “uncensored” was what drew my attention to it in the first place – chunks had been removed from the original 1978 story because it used the McDonalds, Burger King and Jolly Green Giant trademarks, without asking permission.

And as they showed at the time, those companies are not exactly averse to litigation.

Fast forward to 2014, when the EU introduced a new directive stating that the use of copyright-protected characters for parody was not banned. Thus in June this year, we got the publication of the entire Cursed Earth storyline in a stunningly nice hardback version.

Written by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Chris Lowder, with classic black line art by Mick NcMahon and Brian Bolland, plus a smattering of colour spreads, it’s a fun romp and a perfect intro to the Judge if, like me, you’ve only really dipped in before.

So, that’s a little round-up on recent reading – coming soon: beyond the reading.

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