I get, on average, about a dozen volumes of comics and graphic novels to read and review each month – some are a joy, some are the most infuriating works ever committed to print, and occasionally, you get sent something that just makes you want to throw your tablet across the room.
Codename: Action Volume 1 by Chris Roberson (writer) and Jonathan Lau (artist) is real ‘Boy’s Own‘ stuff right from the off, full of all your usual spies, baddies and busty female agents. We’re in the early years of the Cold War, and someone is determined to start WWIII by replacing World leaders with clones, totally indistinguishable from the the real thing, and they’re making truly bonkers decisions. It’s up to experienced operative ‘Agent 5’ and rookie recruit ‘Agent 1001’ to get to the bottom of it, aided by their arsenal of super guns and underwater cars. Meanwhile, latex-clad ‘Black Venus’ is leading her troop of equally rubberised and ample co-ops on a mission to discover why the French leader would want Russians assassinated in North Africa. Naturally, the two teams collide and combine their efforts to bring down the bad guy.
This is a great first volume to relaunch Action Comics for the next generation, especially one that’s now raised on S.H.E.I.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. The art is spot-on, panel placement is unfussy and straightforward and there’s some gorgeous alternative covers at the end of the volume. If you want an action based series, without the complexity of recent Marvel and DC sagas then this could be for you.
Sometimes, publishers like to dig up old works for an anniversary issue, often for a movie tie-in or to back-up a reboot of an established character, but then there’s the times when it’s done and you just ask ‘Why?’ The Heart of the Beast begs that very question. Re-released to mark its 20th anniversary, this homage to Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a mixed-media mess. Self-indulgent and full of obnoxiously dull characters this morality tale set in the NYC art scene of the 90’s rambles all over the place, preaching woefully about the value of love and art. Utilising script, photo-realistic painting and photographs, it’s all incredibly earnest, but drowns in pretension, and is ultimately just incredibly dull.
Should’ve been left in the 90’s vault, along with Vanilla Ice.
An all female team is a rare thing for the mainstream comic world, and Pretty Deadly Volume 1 is a good indicator of how we desperately need more of them.
A mash-up of Sandman, Sergio Leone and King’s Dark Tower, Pretty Deadly tells the tale of ‘Vulture Girl’ Sissy and her companion, old and blind Fox. We’re introduced to them as they perform in a small Western town, recounting the saga of ‘The Mason’ and the wife he loved and wronged. Having been locked away to be kept from prying eyes, the wife starts to lose her mind, ripping at her flesh and calling for death to take her, but when Death (yep..big D) does arrive, he falls in love with her and keeps her alive. Eventually, he lets her die, but she leaves in her place a daughter – Ginny, and, so the story goes, if you are seeking vengeance, sing her song and Ginny will appear to do your bidding.
What follows is a tight, beautifully sketched and inked novel, full of properly fleshed out characters, imaginative and violent fight scenes and deaths, and an ending that really encourages you to add it to your ‘to be watched’ list. The bonus of an all woman team is we have female leads who aren’t all T+A, but are still provocative, sexy, and powerful, especially Alice, Death’s right-hand lady, sent to bring Ginny back down to where she belongs.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the ‘monsterising’ (yes..it’s a word) of much in classic literature and history; Austin, and Lincoln are probably the most well known ‘victims’ but in Manifest Destiny Volume 1 it’s American explorers Lewis and Clark’s turn. In this new title, President Jefferson has sent our intrepid duo and their team to explore the American frontier, but with an added side mission – they’re not only plotting maps and tracking rivers, they’re hunting monsters. Alongside the buffalo/centaur mash ups and plant zombies (both are brilliant bad guys – really well imagined and depicted) the pair also have to keep a near-mutinous crew in check and meet their contact to collect a mysterious young girl.
The characterisation in this is truly superb and to get this deep under the skin of our main protagonists within one volume shows how tight the writing is. Seeing Clark wrestle his metaphorical demons while highlighting the barbaric results of their real-life endeavours was a particularly hard-hitting section. Funny, gripping with an ending that’ll leave you pre-ordering the next volume, this is definitely a series to watch.
(Small point though…would recommend getting this in print, unless your comic reader offers panel zoom, as the handwritten font used for Lewis’ journal is nigh-on impossible to read on an e-reader, and this may ruin it for you.)
Also read (and best avoided):
Burn the Orphanage Volume 1: Born to Lose : A tribute to side-scrolling beat-’em-ups with obvious intentions but with a muddled and disjointed storyline and panel placement that detracts from what could be a good series.
Super Ego : Where do Super Heroes go when they need to offload? To Dr Ego of course. Covering all your basic hero screw-ups and poking fun at the Marvel/DC stable is all well and good if there’s a plot and decent art to back it up.
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows : Oh dear. Utilising a story that’s been told a thousand times better in The Clone Wars tv series, this is a complete mess, with a narrative that’s all over the place, sub-standard art and zero atmosphere. Yes, a comic containing Vader has managed to have zero atmosphere. Think on that for a moment.
Indestructible Volume 1 I’m not even going to link to this. Other’s have liked it, but….sorry…when a TV executive goes into comics and his first release is a blatant movie/tv show pitch with thinly veiled depictions of his ideal cast, you are going to get my back up. Having produced kids cartoons for decades, Jeff Kline created a comic publishing house. Then, he wrote a comic. I imagine he then went to his artist and said
“Make that one Simon Pegg, his flatmate fat and dark haired – no glasses though – too obvious. His mentor…he’s on the short side….Dinklage! I’ve got a mysterious guy at the end, tall, middle aged. Draw him like that new Who fella. Women? Nah, they’re interchangeable. Just make sure they’ve got massive boobs! I smell a hit!”
Next month should see more from DC and some independents land in my inbox, so keep an eye out.
All copies were supplied as digital review copies by NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.