Ten Minutes on… All-New Ghost Rider #1

ghostriderI rarely recommend comics purely on the basis of the art. While art is intrinsic to any comic, of course, and I’ve bought plenty of comics from my two or three favourite artists that didn’t have the most stellar script beneath the hood, usually I at least need to have a really strong story hook to carry me along, no matter how good the visual storytelling is.

Well, All-New Ghost Rider is a comic worth buying for the art alone. Tradd Moore has fused the motion lines and fluidity of manga with the digital sharpness and detail of a current big two title to create a comic that doesn’t look quite like anything else. While a lot of the current superstar artists turn out – Finch, Reis, Lee – turn out pages that are richly detailed snapshots, moments in time, Moore is all about motion, about speed of action, which is perfect for a comic about a demonic race driver. He’s able assisted by eye-popping colours from Nelson Daniel and Val Staples which create a neon drenched effect reminiscent of, but wilder than, the excesses of recent speed fuelled films and videogames.

So it’s worth a look because of the looks, which is not to say that All-New Ghost Rider has nothing going on in terms of script, just that it doesn’t get far into the story and doesn’t provide much of a plot hook to carry the reader on to the next issue. What writer Felipe Smith gives us here is an origin story with a lot of questions, which is pleasingly archetypal Marvel in its troubled protagonist with a heart of gold without feeling dated.

That troubled protagonist is Robbie Reyes, the new Ghost Rider by the end of the issue (in circumstances for now unexplained), and he’s stuck in the kind of predicament Peter Parker could relate to – he’s short of money, and has a bullied disabled younger brother to look after. He’s a good kid who, in wanting to elevate his family from a bad position makes an unwise decision, ‘borrowing’ a car from the garage he works in and driving it in an illegal street race, offering the stolen car as stakes in the hope of winning the cash he needs.

It’s a very clean start, and Robbie is sympathetic. Smith’s script clips along and Moore’s art then turbo charges it. It’s not flawless – aside from the slow pace, which builds character but delivers very little plot, younger brother Gabe is a cliched optimistic disabled mini-saint, cheery in the face of adversity and little more than a motivating device to drive Robbie. He’s as two-dimensionally good as Robbie’s boss is as flatly sleazy, both insubstantial characters who do nothing apart from nudge Robbie in the direction the plot requires.

It’s a beautiful book, then, but will need to gain depth as well as speed if it’s going to develop into a comic that’s as interesting as it is good looking.

 

 

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March 27, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

2048: The Grand Budapest Hotel Edition

2016 update: Apparently these stopped working a while ago. Don’t @ me. 

grand-budapest-trailer-635Rather than actually do a ten minute review, I made this Grand Budapest version of the 2048 puzzle game using the UsVsTh3m 2048 maker.

Shut up, I’m ill.

Also, sorry if this is your first exposure to 2048 and I’ve just killed your productivity for the day.

March 26, 2014. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes On… The Fuse

comics-the-fuse-1OK, I’ve got a cold so this is going to be an even blurrier and less coherent ten minuter than usual.

The Fuse. the first two issues of which are out now from Image, is an SF police procedural comic set on a space station in the not terribly far future. Detective stories in fantasy or SF settings can be hard to do, as it can be difficult to rule any possibility out of the mystery if the rules of that imaginary world aren’t clear.

Writer Antony Johnston (Wasteland, lots of other things) solves this problem by presenting an utterly grounded future where we can be pretty certain from the off that teleports and psychic powers aren’t going to turn up.* The Fuse, a vast space station where humanity has colonised every open space between the working areas, feels like a real, practical place, with a society and problems that are its own but not unrelatable.

At the centre of the story are the two detectives, a white, slightly androgynous Russian woman who is the senior of the two  and a black, German man who is a newbie to The Fuse. Although the latter, Dietrich, is our nominal viewpoint character both are intriguing and clearly have secrets, and their dynamic is vital to the appeal of the comic. Although Johnston has had this story in mind for long before the TV series The Bridge came along, there’s something of that show’s mismatched central partnership here, and a similar strong sense of place.

Justin Greenwood’s art is fantastic, with colours by Shari Chankhamma. The Fuse feels real and nuanced, and the characters are distinct and full of expression. You get where this fits on the genre spectrum with a glance at the page, which is vital for this kind of story.

In a golden age of Image launches this is one of the strongest.

 

* This is not a guarantee, so don’t complain to me if an esper teleports in on page 2 of #3.

March 25, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes on… Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers-A-Tale-of-Two-SonsI’ve got PS Plus (thanks, person who got me it as a gift, and yes I will make that call), Sony’s subscription service for PS3/PS4/PSVita users that, along with other perks, includes two or three free games to download every month, and which keep working until your subscription lapses.

It’s about £40 a year, and if you can’t get it as a gift (thanks again, benefactor), it’s well worth getting as, if you’re not bothered about getting titles as soon as they come out, the Instant Game Collection provides pretty much as many triple A and smaller games as you could ever want, certainly more than I actually have time to play.

It also exposes you to smaller games you may have overlooked, which is how I ended up playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Brothers is an adventure game in which two brothers (obviously) travel through a fantastical kingdom, working together to solve puzzles to travel and get help for their ailing father.

In many ways it’s a kind of more mainstream, less spiky take on my beloved Ico: the beautiful fantasy landscape, twinkly music, sense of co-operation and Pingu-like gibberish dialogue are all reminiscent of that game, albeit in a watered down form that’s closer to How To Train Your Dragon than Ico’s solitude and weirdness.

Unlike Ico, you don’t play one character and pull the other along. Neither do you switch characters, like in Resident Evil Zero, or have another player on board like any co-op game. Instead the play style is what might be called single player co-op – controlling both characters at once, one with each stick on the controller.

While the style of the game was charming and the puzzles fun, I found that the control system, trying to use both thumbs to control separate entities in some kind of coordinated fashion, felt like having some weird kind of seizure where parts of my brain felt dislocated and contradictory. I felt I was losing control of my faculties, and a little ill.

So nice idea, but not for me.

March 20, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes on… Line of Duty Series 2

lineofdutyWell, I don’t think anyone expected that.

The first series of Line of Duty, Jed Mercurio’s BBC2 cops-investigating-cops drama was a good show with some great character writing and shocking moments. It was a pleasant surprise to discover it was getting a second season.

Along comes the second series and the whole thing goes stellar, to the point where tonight’s final episode is getting the full no-clips-in-the-trailers locked box treatment. It’s a show that has gained tremendous momentum over its five episodes, the ratings rising as the word-of-mouth drives people to catch up on iPlayer then start watching the episodes on broadcast. I suspect it’s clearly going to be massively influential on how BBC2 approaches drama, especially with BBC3 drama disappearing in the near future.

So why the big deal? There are a few easy things to point to – a career elevating BAFTA worthy performance from Keeley Hawes, playing the polar opposite to the sympathetic lead roles she’s often played before, making DI Lindsey Denton a terrifying, determined bruiser who you absolutely would not want to fuck with. The rest of the cast are great, and the whole production is slick and fast moving, very well-directed.

But at the base is a stellar script that throws in massive plot twists and shocks while still being rooted in the believable. Mercurio’s specialty as a writer is that, as an ex-doctor, he has an instinctive and detailed understanding of what it’s like to do a big, serious public service job where lives are in the balance. He understands the internal tensions of the characters, and he understands the bureaucratic framework that drives, constrains, frustrates and occasionally protects the people who work in that system. Line of Duty has the same feeling of researched authenticity that The Wire had, but without breaking that grounded feel it also has big thriller moments. People do bad, desperate, very violent things but the story never descends into an action fantasy shootout.

9pm, BBC2 tonight. See you on the other side.

March 19, 2014. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes on… The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand-budapest-trailer-635There may be better films this year, but it’s hard to imagine that one will come out that provides such utter, simple pleasure as The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a hot chocolate in a hot bath, a cocktail in a quiet bar with good company. Every aspect of the film, from visuals to performances to the soundtrack, is fine tuned to be a joy to take in. It creates a whole Alpine world you just want to sink into and spend time in, a world that could never exist.

This is what I go to see Wes Anderson films for. There are doubtless directors who make greater films, more serious films, deeper and more nuanced films. But Anderson delivers a whole experience in his films, highly stylised worlds full of charming, eccentric characters that are just, just close enough to some exotic part of reality that your brain is tricked into thinking you might be able to visit them.

Which is not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel is a purely aesthetic appearance, a charming series of flippant comic turns in a visually stunning world set to nice music. It’s 1930s setting is not chosen for pure retro, and an underlying sense of characters orphaned and traumatised by one world war surviving as the next one looms, a resilience that lies between the desire to preserve the hotel of the title as an oasis against barbarism to come. In it’s light, heavily fictionalised way it manages to evoke something of the real past in a way that a more straightforward, historically accurate film might not.

March 18, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes on… Secret Avengers #1

secretavengersI’ve read a good few issues of previous incarnations of Secret Avengers, and while some of those were fun it has always seemed like one of those Avengers books that only exists because ‘Secret’ is a cool word to append to the mother franchise.

The broad intent with the varied incarnations of the title has been to make it the espionage/black-ops Avengers team, a concept that recurs all the time in superhero comics even though ‘superhero black-ops team’ is a TERRIBLE idea because there’s no real room in a supehero universe for head-murdering people because, goddammit, it needs to be done.

(I don’t think there’s any reason in the real world, either, but that’s another story.)

This new incarnation of the book is written by Ales Kot, writer/creator of the superlative Image superspy book Zero, and drawn by Michael Walsh, a superstar artist in the making who has done great work on IDW’s X-Files comic as well as drawing the first issue of Zero. You might reasonably expect this Secret Avengers to be a Marvel U version of Zero – bleak, political, harshly violent.

Instead, Secret Avengers #1 is a far nimbler beast that squares the superhero/espionage circle, making the two elements gel better than I’ve ever seen before. Rather than diving into the murky, frowny end of the espionage genre and trying to impose a faux ‘realism’ on the Marvel U, Kot and Walsh emphasise the SUPER in superspy, with a cleanness and craziness that owes more to the wilder Moore Bonds and Man from UNCLE than Le Carre. It’s a fun concoction that blends beautifully with the Marvel universe at its broadest and most fun – AIM agents, space stations, some popular cybernetic villains in interesting plot roles.

It’s bright, poppy and smart, with the smudgy likeability of Hawkeye – Clint here is straight out of the Fraction/Aja book, and some of the tropes of that title are pleasingly played with – and some clever character subversions. An attempt by two characters to out-poetry-quote each other is sheer joy.

Kot and Walsh are talents to watch, and they’ve made Secret Avengers WORK at last. Great work all round, and one of the best All New Marvel Now books I’ve read.

March 13, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

The Dead Stop Ego Trip Tour 2014

dead stop cover art 1400pxThanks to Rebellion PR Necromancer Michael Molcher I’ve been doing some interviews and guest blogs to promote ‘Dead Stop’. Reviews are also starting to turn up, so I thought I’d put all the relevant links in one place, here, and update this post as more go up in an attempt to not drive everyone crazy with repeated signal boosts for each one:

Original Press Release/blogpost from Abaddon Books

Dead Cities: The Long Road to Dead Stop guest post at Mass Movement

Switching Worlds guest post at Troubled Scribe (added 17/3/14)

Interview at Rising Shadow

Interview at Fantastical Imaginations (added 12/3/14)

Review at Sci-Fi Bulletin

 

Review at the Cult Den (added 20/5/14)

I’ll add updates as more bits appear. Hopefully if you haven’t tried ‘Dead Stop’ already some of this will persuade you to do so – you can buy it direct from Rebellion’s store HERE or from the Amazon Kindle Store HERE.

Cheers, Mark

March 11, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes On…* The Absence by Martin Stiff

TheAbsence_000_CoverA few years back, I offered to do some reviews for a small publication that then, sadly, folded before any of my reviews got published. I was sent a stack of small press and self published comics.

Most of them were rubbish, utter garbage. A couple were good. Only one was *really* good.

That was the first issue of Martin Stiff’s ‘The Absence’, then a self-published mini-series. Now Titan Books have collected the whole six part series as a lovely, not too-expensive over-sized hardcover, and I highly recommend it.

‘The Absence’ sees Marwood Clay, a Second World War veteran with hideous facial scarring (see cover image) returning to his home village, which is not keen on his return. The village is scarred not just by the loss of young men through the war, or the traumatic events that led to Marwood’s departure, but a deeper malaise – people are leaving, disappearing in the night. Are they just fleeing this miserable dump, or is something more sinister or supernatural going on?

Marwood’s return is paralleled by the arrival of a newcomer, a wealthy scientist determined to build a mysterious ‘house’ in the village, and the stories of these two outsiders –  the outcast and the incomer – entwine as the two collaborate and conflict while trying to solve the village’s mysteries.

This is a great book, an intriguing mystery with involving characters that has fringe, fantasy-tinged elements but never descends into a supernatural pot boiler. Stiff writes well, and writes better as the book goes on, and his black and white line art has a scratchiness that melds reality and cartooning in the best Eddie-Campbell-esque way.

‘The Absence’ kept me guessing as to what was going on, and how it would end, all the way through, without ever cheating the reader. Mysterious small towns, from Night Vale to Sleepy Hollow, are big right now, and this is a bracing British equivalent to those American locations. Go get it.

Mark

* I’m going to try and write a review or blog post a day as a warm-up exercise. You can probably guess the time limit I’m setting myself.

March 11, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Dead Stop

dead stop cover art 1400pxOut today, my e-novella for Abaddon’s ‘Tomes of the Dead’ line, ‘Dead Stop’, with the amazing Pye Parr’s amazing cover art, as seen right here. You can buy it for the ridiculously low price of £2.99 NOW RIGHT HERE NOW BUY.

‘Dead Stop’ has the standard noir premise of a femme fatale hiring a hapless narrator to kill someone – although in this case our hero is a psychic, the femme is a ghost and the target she wants killed is her own zombie body.

I would be lying if I claimed to be anything other than smug about this premise, and I’m really pleased with the way the novella has turned out. It’s written in the first person, but I’ve given the protagonist a heightened version of my own voice, which as I’m from Harrogate rather than LA twists away from noir cliche in a way I think is really fun.

It’s also been a chance to pour years of thinking too much about zombies into a story, and the novella format allows for a really tight horror adventure – it’s hardly a scientific comparison but a prose novella feels to me about the same ‘amount’ of story as a movie, which allows for a cinematic momentum, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculously pretentious.

As you can probably tell I’m very proud of this one, and I think it’s the most accessible thing I’ve done. So please buy it, read it, review it, tell people about it. Then tell me, I’ll be very grateful.

Finally, ‘Tomes of the Dead’ is a thematic line rather than a shared world, so although there has been at least one sequel in the range authors have the freedom to pitch any story they want, providing it’s about zombies. What I’m saying is that you don’t need to read any other ‘Tome’* to understand ‘Dead Stop’, it’s a complete standalone.

No excuses, you can read it now with no preparation or homework, so please do.

Cheers,

Mark

* Although if you do want to I can highly recommend Al Ewing’s excellent ‘I, Zombie.’ (No relation to the old DC Comic of the same name.)

January 31, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

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