Review: Robot 13, Vol. 1: Colossus!

Robot 13, Vol. 1 : Colossus!Robot 13, Vol. 1 : Colossus! by Thomas Hall (author) and Daniel Bradford (Illustrator)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robot 13 is an adaption and extension of the legend of Talos, the mythological protector of Crete. In the opening pages Robot 13 has been pulled from the sea in a fishing net, with no memory of himself or his past. He is also innately capable of speaking the language of each of the people he meets. Essentially he is interchangeable with Jason Bourne from the film series. As is the nature with epic heroes of Greek Mythology, his mere presence seems to call forth powerful mythological creatures to challenge him. Him must fight them in succession, leaving a wake of destruction and casualties.

The design of the character Robot 13/Talos is whimsical, kinetic and absolutely infused with personality and energy. Daniel Bradford poses Robot 13 in alternately subtle and heroic postures. He is the best part of every scene and your eye is drawn through color and composition to his face. The textured backgrounds and nearly paper cut-out treatment of the sun and moon have a beautiful graphic style which is very complimentary to the Robot 13’s character portrayal. The human characters are inconsistent and often unpleasant, and most unfortunately the mythical creatures are overly crude and disappointing. The blocking of the scenes feels off and releases a lot of the energy and emotion.

Thomas Hall’s writing is very stilted and awkward, although as a translated work it is difficult to tell where the fault lies. The dialogue balloons are digitally placed and feel disconnected from the art in style and composition. The text and background colors are matched to the characters which is a nice touch, but difficult to read for the cyclops. Although the writing does not hold up to the artwork it is more of a distraction than a detraction, and the book is still worth recommending based on strong concept and character work.

I backed the project on Kickstarter and it can be purchased through Blacklist Studios‘s website.

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Reviews: The Bigger Bang

The Bigger BangThe Bigger Bang by D.J. Kirkbride and Vassilis Gogtzilas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Bigger Bang is as absurd as its title, but also endearing. The protagonist is a man named Cosmos. Forged in a singularity from what had been our solar system.

…It’s a shame about all good things.
The end came without suffering at least. Just a flash and then…
…over.

Well…
…over for life on Earth. Over for life in the pocket of the multiverse the Earthlings had barely begun to perceive. So, while Earth and it’s inhabitants were created in The Big Bang…

…a being named Cosmos was created in…
The Bigger Bang.

His impossibly proportioned bulk soars through the vacuum of space. To atone for the tremendous cost of his creation he protects all living things throughout the universe. His primary ability is to absorb energy. The first action we witness is his diffusing of a mega-volcano encompassing one-eighth of an planet. Despite his heroism he is feared. Across the universe he is misunderstood. To others he is known as The Destroyer.

King Thulu (who is a combination of Cthulhu, Thanos, and Zapp Brannigan) rules many galaxies through violence and fear. He is ever attended by his faithful assistant (essentially Kif Kroker), and his will is enforced by Captain Wyan (basically a three-eyed version of Gamora). Captain Wyan has known nothing of compassion until she is sent to kill Cosmos and sees his kindness towards all creatures (then promptly destroys the planet he just saved, because orders are orders).

D.J. Kirkbride’s story follows all the familiar beats you would expect, but is peppered with silliness and comic timing. No one describes the “taste and mouth feel” of exotic fruits unless they are in on the joke. This bizarre satire is paired with some of the loosest surreal artwork I have seen in a comic. Vassilis Gogtzilas’ fascination with tentacles rivals Ben Templesmiths’ The Squidder, but also has frames where rows of eyes and teeth just repeat off into the distance. Its whimsical and disturbing. The style lends to very kinetic tableaus peppered with dirty particle effects, and scribbled shading, but it grew on me. There is a sweetness in the insanity. In each vignette Gogtzilas manages to incorporate a self-aware character who responds with a clarity and surprise which pierces through the chaos.

I received access to a digital copy of The Bigger Bang from NetGalley. The collected trade paperback will be released by IDW Publishing on Tuesday, May 26th, 2015.

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Review: Rust, Volume 1

Rust Vol. 1: Visitor in the FieldRust Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rust is a dieselpunk graphic novel which is a little bit Iron Man and a bit Astro Boy. During The Great War allied forces created mechanical soldiers and aerialists with rocket packs. They won the war and a generation later the machines are slaves used for farming and industrial tasks. In the first volume of Rust we are introduced to Roman Taylor, a wheat farmer struggling to provide for his family. He is repairing an old mechanical soldier to help around the farm when a boy with a rock pack, Jet Jones, crashes through his barn. Jet is vary helpful around the farm, but also quite mysterious.

The Goodreads synopsis describes Rust as a “high-octane adventure”, but despite the clever pun alluding to the dieselpunk theme, the story is really more contemplative. Simultaneously telling the story of the war and the struggles on the farm most panels are devoid of dialogue and action. I do think the characters are likable with some depth worth exploring. The mystery aspect has some promise, while the immediate storyline with Jet seems pretty straight forward, the overall history of the war and man’s relationship with the mechanical men is intriguing.

The character art is somewhat inconsistent, but has some very strong panels. The mechanical drawing is excellent. Each of the mechanical men are beautiful and menacing and the motorcycles, tractors, and trees are artfully rendered. The coloration is sepia-tone with very nice smoke, clouds and motion blurs which adds great depth and energy to the story. The volume I have is hard-bound with a cloth-wrapped, embossed cover with foil and printed inlays. The paper and print quality are both excellent. Archaia has published a high quality product for a promising story.

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Review: Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia

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Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia
Phonogram, Volume 1: Rue Britannia by Kieron Gillen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I almost didn’t finish this book. It’s not that there aren’t interesting exchanges, unexpected turns and imaginative presentation. It’s because the story is slathered in pretentious, obnoxious, absurd, smug drivel. I didn’t want to hang out with these people long enough to figure out how their world worked and their place in it… and its not a long book. As others mention you do need an encyclopedic knowledge of some pretty terrible bands, but that doesn’t necessarily bother me. If this was likable, clever and charming I would have enjoyed looking up all the bands and considered it a bonus. If Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life had buried itself in real Canadian post-punk (or whatever Sex Bob-Omb is) it still would have been brilliant and engaging. This isn’t.

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Review: Trees, Volume 1

Trees, Vol. 1 (Trees #1- #8)Trees, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a lot of confidence in anything by Warren Ellis. He has proven to be a keen observer of society and can create worlds and characters although warped and twisted to reflect ourselves like a funhouse mirror. He has opened up dark places within his characters and revealed a sympathetic link to a little bit of darkness we recognize. Trees, Volume 1 introduces a world, much like our own, only the question of the existence of intelligent life in the universe has been answered, at least for humanity. Immense alien bio-mechanical structures have landed on Earth. The distribution seems arbitrary situated in Manhattan, Mogadishu, Rio de Janeiro, near Shu in China and Svalbard. For ten years they seemingly do not move, do not communicate, do not acknowledge us at all. They stand motionless as trees.

What does change is us. Many flee the shadow of these colossi, others are drawn towards them. They are studied by scientists, philosophers, politicians and artists. The rest of the world carefully tries to ignore the behemoths; to pretend they do not exist – or have always existed. The trees seemingly exert influence over those in proximity simply by their presence. Warren Ellis sets up this tension; a tension which has existed in this world for ten years, but plants the seeds for eminent communication between our species in future volumes.

While Warren Ellis is working as subtly as I have ever seen him, Jason Howard is bold and impressive. His illustration excels in all aspects. Through his scratching short strokes he conveys huge landscapes, expressive characters, organic and technical detail, and kinetic action sequences with equal confidence. He expertly reveals the “trees” from distant shadows and incomplete forms to eventually describing texture and patiently waiting to unveil the view of them in their entirety. He has the unenviable task of working in huge shifts in scale, but through color and composition he translates the action with clarity and emotion. It is truly stunning work.

I received access to a digital copy of Trees, Volume 1 from NetGalley. The collected trade paperback will be released by Image Comics on Wednesday, February 11th, 2015.

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Review: Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds HimOutcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The owner at one of my local comic book shops recommended this collected trade to me, so I picked it up with no real idea about the plot. The book opens on a creepy domestic scene which involves self-cannibalism, then settles in for a slow burn investigation. The story is full of tension. People are acting wrong and no one seems to no the cause. A distrustful quiet fills the panels. The tone is very cinematic, both in color palette which is primarily blues and oranges like a perpetual dusk, and in the composition of the panels. The establishing scenes are rich with foreground and background detail. Not distracting, but filling in the mundane – making it real. There are nearly as many panels of people listening as speaking, and inset frames of small details and shifts of attention; a bloodied knuckle, turning a key, cleaning a razor or a quick glance. The illustration is beautiful, and the inhuman contortions and obvious tension in the hands and faces of the afflicted are unnervingly wrought. I have rarely seen male characters rendered with this much subtlety, although some of the characters were difficult at times to differentiate out of context

The story has a psychological thriller pacing but is taking its time establishing the greater forces at play. We meet a handful of complex characters and relationships but in the first trade the larger investigation is just taking shape. We follow Reverend Anderson who believes the violence is a result of demonic possession. He employs the assistance of Kyle who has been both the victim and inflicter of domestic violence in circumstances which indicate demonic involvement as well. He is generally withdrawn and mistrusted by others, but may hold the key to understanding or potentially confronting what is preying on the community. Even with a few pseudo-exorcisms depicted, volume one is merely a setup and is dominated by questions, but I am intrigued enough to add volume two to my “to read” list and see where Robert Kirkman plans to go with this.

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Review: Saga, Volume 4

Saga, Volume 4
Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story has turned into a fever dream, and I adore it. The characters and their voices are so unlike anything else out there. They are each such unique and honest individuals. I love each little vignette. They do amass to a discernible plot line, but the joy is each scene, each sentence, each panel. Fiona Staples’s artwork continues to be the best in the business. Whimsical, kinetic, luscious, sexy, gory and surreal – she captures body-language and facial expressions too fine to name, too real and complex to label. She is on another level and this is the best ongoing series I am aware of; weird and wonderful.

You can read my equally gushing review of Volume 3 here.
I also named Saga Volume 3 to my Best of Fantasy 2014 list as an honorable mention.

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Review: reMIND: Volume 1

reMIND: Volume 1
reMIND: Volume 1 by Jason Brubaker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crippled Peaks is a sleepy harbor town. The composition of landforms is quirky and feels like a small, magical place just over the hill and out of reach. It is relatable but just slightly off; you sense an element of the fantastic just beneath the surface. As we pan back through the village it is teeming with character and history. We are introduced to Sonja as she maintains the lighthouse. Everything about Sonja reads as strong, intelligent and capable. She is our touchstone. When she accepts these strange happenings as fact, we have no choice but to follow. This allows the story to expand exponentially without breaking our suspension of disbelief.

We get several introductions to Victuals (ostensibly Sonja’s cat). The events of his story could be told as horror or thriller, but Victuals’ loose fun energy keeps the adventure in the fairy tale realm. Every complex facet of Victuals personality is rendered with humor and meaning. You know, even as things get dire, that he will stumble, luck or will his way forward. The first volume ends on a cliff hanger, but it is inconceivable that you would stop here.

For my thoughts about second half of the adventure and impressions of the physical books and printing you can check out my review of reMIND: Volume 2.

You can also read my brother’s reviews of reMIND: Volume 1 and reMIND: Volume 2 on Jaffalogue.

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Review: reMIND: Volume 2

reMIND: Volume 2
reMIND: Volume 2 by Jason Brubaker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

reMIND: Volume 2 continues to deliver beautiful artwork and character design all the while expanding the scope considerably. We see beyond the lizard and human civilizations to something greater which impacts them all. We learn of the depths of the deceit and betrayal within the lizard kingdom and the truths of the modern religion. Perhaps too much is thrown in too fast because without Sonja’s perspective I started to loose my immersion in those moments. Near the end a character which I previously found disappointing revealed themselves to be very compelling. I was frustrated to miss seeing that character’s arc resolve, but I suppose leaving you wanting more is the whole point of serial storytelling.

I backed this project on Kickstarter, and received the two hardcover volumes with the slipcase. Each book is beautifully bound with embossed cloth spines and high gloss covers. The pages are full color, heavy glossy stock with excellent color, gradients, rich blacks and fine linework. The slipcase has a subtle tone on tone print with UV ink lettering. Absolute top quality publication.

For my thoughts about character design, setting and the first half of the adventure you can check out my review of reMIND: Volume 1.

You can also read my brother’s reviews of reMIND: Volume 1 and reMIND: Volume 2 on Jaffalogue.

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