Tag: Staff-Picks (Page 5 of 5)

Staff Pick: Batwoman: Elegy

Nick-bigSuccessfully writing a Bat-book can be very challenging. On the one hand certain criteria must be met; the story must include a dose of detective work, an enigmatic and mysterious villain, a twist or two, and a compelling caped crusader. On the other there is the pressing need to create something new, fresh and different. Greg Rucka brings his A-game to the Batwoman character who is instantly engaging and interesting. She is smart and adroit while also being a deeply damaged character, as all characters walking in Bruce Wayne’s footsteps should be. With the creation of Alice, the new leader of the church of crime who converses only with quotes from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, Rucka creates a villain perfectly at home in the Bat-family’s rogues gallery.

While Rucka does a sterling job in the writers chair it is artist J.H. Williams III who elevates this book from a satisfactory tale of Gotham to a classic everyone should have on their shelf. When Batwoman is on the page prowling the streets of Gotham William’s unleashes a barrage of beautifully rendered pages which include one superlatively laid out page after another. The layouts themselves are so inventive and complex any reader can spend a long time just examining each and every page. His ability to create a sense of movement across the page and his use of darker tones makes the parts of the book where Kate Kane is in costume so beautiful you’ll have to resist the urge to tear the pages out and stick them on your walls. In contrast when the lead is out of costume William’s changes to a more traditional comicbook style and layout. The contrast between the two styles adds deep emotional depth to the story.

As a team Rucka and Williams establish the relatively new Batwoman as a Gotham stalwart and have created a book that is easy to pick up and read for any fan of the medium. Most importantly though, it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

Staff Review – Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

Mark-bigI never read any Batgirl before so my relationship with the character is through Yvonne Craig, Alicia Silverstone and (spoilers) getting shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke. So not great.

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The work by Stewart and Tarr is phenomenally fun, it has the vibe of a good Marvel comic contrasting with the more gritty sombre vibe DC seems to have these days. There’s an energy and hipness to these characters that makes it an enjoyable and engaging read. You like them so you want to know what happens to them.

batgirl_38The art is great and as a small time art collector, I’m hoping to add a Babs Tarr piece to my collection. The colouring stands out (POPS!) and adds to the atmosphere.

Barbara Gordon’s belongings are destroyed by a fire so she moves to the hip district of Burnside, joining the cafe/college set, gets some funky new yellow boots and gets attacked by katana wielding, motor cycling, twin sister assassins. Typical hipster.

A refreshing diverse supporting cast and appearances from mainstay DC characters, Batman, Black Canary and Nightwing it’s a great read for new or seasoned readers.

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Staff Picks: The Killing Joke

Nick-bigAlan Moore is arguably one of the comic book industry’s most recognisable names. His work on Watchmen is considered a seminal piece that altered the entire industry and still tops best seller lists today. The Killing Joke, originally published in 1988 as an out of continuity one-shot graphic novel, exists in Moore’s second tier: a work well known within the confines of the industry but not reaching the widespread literary acclaim of the aforementioned Watchmen or the disastrously dystopian V for Vendetta.

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The Killing Joke pairs Moore with the masterfully realistic artwork of Brian Bolland to take on one of the comic book medium’s most enduringly antagonistic relationships: the never ending struggle between The Batman and the Joker.

Here the Joker has, yet again, escaped from Arkham Asylum and this time he’s got something to prove. The central concept – subsequently borrowed heavily by Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight – is that nobody is ever more than one bad day away from madness. In a brutal sequence involving Commissioner Jim Gordon’s daughter Barbara, the then current Batgirl, Joker sets out to break the Commissioner’s spirit and subsequently prove that not only is his own madness justified, but logical. Interspersed throughout the story is a mostly black and white retelling of one of the Joker’s many possible origins. In classic Alan Moore style the flashback sequences juxtapose wonderfully with the central story as they illustrate the Joker’s descent from a going-nowhere everyman to the comic book world’s most popular villain.

Brain Bolland’s art is viscerally brutal in its realism, whether it is the violence of the Joker towards Barbara Gordon or the psychedelically insane use of the same incident to break her father. There is page after page of beautifully rendered panels here, any of which could be considered works of art in their own right. Indeed the image of the joker dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a camera around his neck is universally recognisable to any Batman fan.

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The Batman brand is a behemoth and it is easy to conflate its mass appeal with the idea that Batman is a children’s superhero with a colourful band of largely harmless villains. The Killing Joke is not for children, not by any means. It is thick with physical and psychological violence. Alan Moore’s Joker is a true threat to Gotham City and a genuinely scary villain. If picture books don’t scare you and you’re not squeamish, then you’ll enjoy this one quite a bit.

Staff Picks: 47 Ronin

Mark-bigEvery cinematic version of this classic Japanese story bores me to 47 ronintears so approached this retelling with some hesitation.
It is a classic story of revenge and honor, featuring samurai, lords, politics and corruption. The writer is Mike Richardson, the President of Dark Horse –  a very large man with a bad haircut who has not written very much. The artists, though, is Stan Sakai a veritable powerhouse of an artist, not flashy but he can tell a story. He’ll be recognised as a master one day.

The story is boiled down and presented in just over 140 pages; a corrupt politician goads a honorable lord to break the emperor’s law, the lord is duly executed for his indiscretion but his retainers vow revenge.

The simplicity though works – it doesn’t dwell or over explain, but Richardson doesn’t rush the writing either, nothing is glossed over. It has a good solid pace which Sakai gracefully accompanies with his art. Each panel captures something that propels the story forward; the body language, the backgrounds all work in harmony telling a classic story efficiently but beautifully.

I’ma big fan of Sakai’s other work Usagi Yojimbo but if you want a taste of his work, I’d recommend 47 Ronin.

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Staff Pick: All-Star Superman

Nick-bigSuperman is the original superhero. With a list of superpowers making the character largely invulnerable and unchallengeable, and eighty-plus years of dense comicbook continuity weighing him down, the idea of a shining paragon and jesus-allegory doesn’t really appeal to the modern reader. Enter Grant Morrison: an industry heavyweight ASSwith a penchant for cerebral storytelling and almost frustrating insistence on making use of the most obscure pieces of a character’s backstory to tell stories undeniably grand in scope. The Pairing, joined by Frank Quitely, a master artist in his own right, is simultaneously a gateway book for the non-comics reader, an instant classic for the industry in general and very much a definitive superman story.

Everything that has ever made Superman great is here; Krypto the superdog, Bizzaro the anti-superman, a kaleidoscopic array of kryptonite, 5th dimensional beings and many, many more. What Morrison manages to pack it all into such a small package may be the most fascinating aspect of the entire story.

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Superman is dying. After being poisoned by Lex Luthor he will complete twelve tasks, a la the trials of Hercules, before succumbing to his fate. Told as a series of twelve interconnected vignettes, Morrison’s story plumbs the depths of Superman’s vast history. From epic throw down fights to deeply poignant emotional story beats, any reader will be engrossed from the first beautifully rendered page.

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I could write about this book for many more paragraphs but I won’t bore you. Do yourself a favour and read it for yourself and be reminded why he is the first, and the greatest, of all the Superheroes.

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Staff Picks: Ghost World

Mark-bigIn preparation for Dan Clowes new book, Patience, I’ve been going back through his catalogue. Ghost World was his second book, reprinting strips from the much acclaimed Eightball.

Ghost World centers on two young adults, stuck in that time between leaving school and starting ‘life’. SurroSTK661291unded by kitsch dinners and sterile suburbs, they love their status as ‘outsiders’, they judge and mock everyone, even the people they like but they slowly realise their struggle to fit and need to find their identity.

I’m a sucker for these sort of coming-of-age stories; The Graduate, Breakfast Club, Rushmore, the 400 blows. Who am I? What am I doing?

At first, it’s quite annoying how Enid and Rebecca constantly talk about other people; telling each other stories of their encounters. It’s a comic, SHOW DON’T TELL!ghost world_44But it makes sense, that’s what we as kids did, talk about our relationships – about the people we meet – with our friends like some social sonar; pinging for their reactions. The struggle of Enid and Rebecca’s finding their individual futures and their relationship’s future is so excellently told and after my third reading I’m still picking up little nuances that add to the characters.

In my top 10. The graphic novel equivalent to Catcher in the Rye.

Staff Pick: Monster

Nick-bigNaoki Urasawa is an undisputed master of his craft. His ability to create sprawling worlds filled to the brim with fully realised, totally independent, characters is a real pleasure to witness as a reader. A recommendation to read any of his works should be jumped on at the monster coverearliest opportunity. Monster is 18 volumes of psychological swordplay and if you are not afraid of picture books you would do very well to read it.

Dr Tenma is a brain surgeon; young and brilliant. On a late shift he is given the difficult choice of only being able to treat one of two emergency patients brought to his hospital. Sticking to his moral code and treating the first one in the door his career, which appeared so promising, quickly halts its meteoric rise. Skipping forward a few years the reader is dropped directly into a deeply psychological thriller when it becomes apparent that Tenma’s patient is abusing the gift of life he was given. Consequently, the doctor takes it upon himself to put an end to the danger he feels he created.

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His quest brings him into the lives of a series of complex and fascinating characters who have all been affected by the choice he has made. Descending into the pit of darkness left in his ex-patients wake the doctor must not only save those around him, but struggle to also save himself.

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Beautifully illustrated and perfectly paced, Monster poses the question of how responsible we are for the results of the choices we make. The conclusion being that we make a choice, and we pay the price.

Staff Picks: Civil War

Mark-bigCompared to the comic book, the movie really is just a dozen guys brawling in car park. The number of heroes that appear is staggering, but for the most part they act as ciphers or props to keep the story going. However, if you miss something or don’t get a reference, you are not really left behind; there’s a enough to hold onto, and even the least savvy reader will get a kick out of this book.CIVWAR_HC_cover

Mark Millar tells a big story. He touches on reality TV, authoritarianism, being a hero and dealing with the repercussions of hurting the ones we love. He skims these ideas, never letting them bog down the action. Essentially, two sides of the superhero coin struggle to do what’s right by them and the society they protect. This is one of the few stories where Captain America is treated as villain, or more correctly, an anti-hero.

The artist, Niven, is perfect for this type of story. His detail and structure pack every panel with information to help keep the story moving, but also portray the grandeur this story deserves.
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You don’t need to know much to really enjoy this book. It’s the type you can share with your non-comic reading friends.

Staff Picks: Invincible

Dan-bigWhen it comes to superhero comics, I’m not much of a fan. I mean sure, I like Superman: Red Son and Joss Whedon’s run of Astounding X-men, but who doesn’t?

But Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is a different story. This superhero story is so good that it doesn’t feel like a superhero story. Invincible is deep and layered. It’s not just about how hard the Invincible-Collection-1heroes can hit each other, it’s also about the consequences and complex issues that so many other superhero comics overlook.  At first it starts off as your run-of-the-mill story: boy’s Dad is basically Superman, boy turns 16 and his powers kick in, boy has to balance learning to be a superhero, going to school and having a girlfriend. It all starts very innocent and feels quite familiar, but that’s just what Kirkman wants you to think. DUN DUN DUUUUUUN!

What makes Invincible different is that Kirkman owns the IP to the books’ whole universe. He is under no guidelines or rules like those often enforced by Marvel and DC. If Kirkman wants to kill off a character, he can — and he can do it anyway he sees fit — AND, get this: the character is allowed to stay dead!

The freedom Image has given Kirkman (and all the writers) is so refreshing. The story addresses many new superhero-based ideas without messing with its continuity. The story is written in a way that feels like homage to superhero comics — no, to all comics in general.

newThe first volume was drawn by Cory Walker (issues #1-7) then Ryan Ottley took over and has been doing it ever since. What I really admired about Ottley’s artwork was that he seemed to copy Walker’s drawing style, then slowly he merged into his own style. This made the change almost unnoticeable and I think the amount of skill he must have to pull that off is amazing.

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This comic rules. So if you’re not scared of the occasional violent fight I wholeheartedly recommend this series. You won’t regret it. No one has yet.

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