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Half Past Danger #5 – Review

6 Aug

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Half Past Danger #5

Written by Stephen Mooney

Art by Stephen Mooney

Colours by Jordie Bellaire

Published by IDW

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This issue is entitled “Ours is but to do and die” and paraphrases the poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ which praises the bravery and nobility of soldiers during a war but does not shy away from the consequences noting in its closing paragraph that not all who venture into battle will return. It is as close to a perfect description of the events in this issue as you could find.

The issue starts with a disorientating opening as Flynn, last seen facing down two T-rex’s (rexi?), stirs to find himself and Greta being rescued by Ishi and Noble. This is very surprising considering he was killed in the previous issue! Channelling Monty Python, he dismisses it as but a flesh wound. Although a significant upgrade from dead, Noble is still in pretty bad shape as a result of his confrontation with Toht.

There isn’t much time for our heroes to reacquaint as they find themselves commandeering a German sub as Moss returns, assisting with another of Flynn’s quips “dead Nazis.” The interior of the sub is illuminated with a glorious shade of red, adding to the claustrophobia of the scene. Jordie Bellaire has been an invaluable addition for Mooney as she is one of the few colourists able to understand how important the lighting of a scene is to the feel of a book. She is very much the cinematographer of Half Past Danger. Bellaire seems to be finally getting the mainstream recognition she deserves and this month alone she can be found in DC, Marvel and IDW titles. Most impressively she, along with Declan Shalvey, has jumpstarted a Deadpool series that had become extremely stale.

With his main characters in such close confines, Mooney is able to litter the scenes with his spiky humoured dialogue and wonderfully subtle sight gags. Ishi’s eyes widening when he finds himself forcibly thanked by Noble who also removes Flynn from his Han Soloesqe attempts at communicating with the enemy by launching him out of the panel. The scene also contains a number of blink and you will miss ’em moments of tenderness. Flynn and Nobles reassuring “glad to see you back” smile to each other is a wonderfully executed bromance moment. Also Noble, placing his hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder with Flynn in the background facing away from the couple, is a great contrast to a similar moment earlier in the series where he looked on in jealously and sadness.

The mismatched quartet soon find themselves in a wonderfully tense shootout with a German submarine, each character’s emotions and fears are pitched perfectly throughout the scene. Most memorably in a striking panel showing a close up of Moss’s face, a single bead of sweat betraying the steely focus in her eyes. Having survived the game of torpedo chicken, the group board the German warship determined to stop the deadly cargo reaching its destination. Once boarded, Flynn finds himself frustrated as he starts to lose control of the group as they begin an all out assault on the Germans. Flynn gets his hero moment as he kicks in the door to the ships control room and cooly dispatches a guard before again finding himself face to face with the series big bad, Toht. Toht, who could so easily have been a clich d Nazi bastard, much like his name sake from Indiana Jones we see in most depictions, is instead a very intelligent shrewd operator. He seems to always be in control of the situation no matter how much it seems like he has finally surrendered the upper hand.

When it finally looks like Flynn has gotten his man, Mooney turns the tables in a wonderful triple bluff sequence framing both the panels and the dialogue to appear that at first Noble, then Greta is the groups Judas before finally revealing it is in fact the group’s leader Moss who has turned!!! The timing and execution of this twist was exquisitely handled at various points in the story. Mooney has thrown out red herrings about a traitor within the group, turning the finger of suspicion on Moss, Ishi and with his miraculous return from the grave, I was convinced that Noble was going to be the one not to live up to his name. But no, I should have stuck with Magneto’s motto of “never trust a beautiful woman.” The moment itself is wonderfully drawn, Noble’s face giving a hint of a smirk, veins bursting from his arms, every inch the confident superman as he thinks Moss has given them the upper hand. And then immediately following the reveal looks smaller, his eyes alone convey the sadness of Elizabeth’s betrayal. And with that head spinning moment issue 5 of the series draws its close.

By the end the group is now fractured. Moss has revealed her true colours and with just one issue to go, this series could really go anywhere. Noble is near death, their commander has betrayed them and the hero is a hostage. This issue definitely felt like Mooney’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’ moment as he shatters the core group of characters to their core. Flynn has already lost one squad and is now in the midst of losing another. Will this be the tipping point that finally knocks Flynn over the edge or will it be as the poem says “Storm’d at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell, They that had fought so well, Came thro’ the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of Hell.”

The series has been an unashamed joy to read. It doesn’t try to be a none more dark story that seems to be the default for many titles. Half Past Danger is pure fun and excitement, packed with great action and interesting characters. It’s the film ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ should have been. Despite being, or perhaps because of being a first time writer, Mooney brings a swagger, confidence and humour to his creation that is missing from a lot of the big two’s larger titles. As excited as I am for the series to reach its conclusion I am quite sad at the thoughts of one of the freshest and most exciting title in years come to a close. This is the first issue that Mooney had completed after the initial release of the title so it is interesting to see the evolution of both his artwork and dialogue. He seems to be placing more trust in his reader’s ability to pick up plot turns and character traits through subtle imagery in his drawing as opposed to dialogue heavy exposition which, was most prevalent in Issue Two. As a result of this the pacing of the story is beat perfect, flowing at a fast moving, exciting pace. Mooney has laid down a huge marker with Half Past Danger and one gets the feeling he won’t be short of offers when the series ends. He has firmly established himself as a unique and exciting voice, not just in Irish comics but in the US as well were Half Past Danger is also selling well. I hope the bright lights of bigger titles don’t darken his storytelling ability. But if Half Past Danger has thought us one thing, it’s never count out an Irishman.

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March Book One Review

22 Jul

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There was a moment reading March Book One where I caught myself between pages and thought about the dramatic tension in the story and how it juxtaposed with the smallness of what was happening: black students sitting at a lunch counter in a cafe. It’s unthinkable today to imagine this act would make such a statement on a national level and it’s because of people like John Lewis and the many civil rights campaigners like him that progressed American society in the 1950s and 60s away from the backwards thinking that enforced the reprehensible laws of segregation towards a more enlightened culture where a white person and a black person eating on the same counter doesn’t even register as significant.

March Book One is the first in a trilogy of graphic novel adaptations of Congressman John Lewis’ memoirs from his childhood growing up in the American South with all its injustice and prejudice against black people, to, as a student, becoming an activist in the growing civil rights movement spearheaded by Dr Martin Luther King. Lewis would become a central proponent in organising the famous sit-in protests where groups of black students (and a few white people) would go to cafes and restaurants that refused to serve “coloured people” and simply sit in silent, peaceful protest at the unfair policy for hours at a time.

Like many people, I studied the civil rights movement in high school history and was aware of the sit-in protests but what March does is show how they were created and co-ordinated from the perspective of Lewis, who was there, in a way that I’m sure many people who are familiar with these events on a surface level, weren’t aware of. The training these students – and the fact that so many were students is remarkable – put themselves through where they took turns pretending to be oppressors, abusing one another physically and verbally, to prepare themselves for the real thing, which would unfortunately be much more punishing, is eye-opening.

March Book One Lewis Aydin Powell 2013

It’s one thing to read about the sit-in protests third-hand but it’s something else to read about in comic book form, to actually see how the protests started and played out. It sounds like a mundane recitation of history but writers John Lewis and Andrew Aydin wring so much drama and energy from the source material that it – and I know it’s a clich but its true – brings history to life and gives these events, that happened half a century ago, an unexpected sense of urgency.

John Lewis is one of the few remaining civil rights icons still alive who knew so many of the legends who have passed into history – Dr King, Rosa Parks – that we’re lucky to have him around to share his story with us today. March proves how well suited it is to the comics medium and co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell do a tremendous job of adapting it – Powell especially uses his enormous talents to do justice to the story, paradoxically drawing beautiful art to depict some truly ugly attitudes Lewis and his fellow activists had to endure.

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March Book One is an incredibly moving and inspiring story of a 20th century icon and a unique movement in American history. It’s an important book that’s also an immensely enjoyable and accessible read – March is definitely one of the best books of the year that will have you bolted to your seat reading until the last page as if you were sitting in for change yourself!

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell is out now

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Avengers: Endless Wartime Review

30 Nov

Avengers Endless Wartime Vol 1 1

We all know Marvel rule the superhero box office at the moment – this year Iron Man 3 did really well and Thor 2 looks like it’ll be another hit for the studio, while their TV series, Agents of SHIELD, had a huge number of viewers tuning in when the pilot episode aired recently. And while Marvel are also the biggest comics publisher in the world, the difference between Marvel comics readers and Marvel movie/TV viewers is sizeable to say the least. So how to nab some of the fans of the movies and get them into their printed product, who don’t want to mess around with the monthly single issues? Marvel Original Graphic Novels seem to be the answer – self-contained, book-length stories that are written for this format rather than monthly issues, that don’t require an extensive knowledge of comics continuity and star the familiar movie characters.

The first of these is Avengers: Endless Wartime which blends in all of the characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow – as well as Wolverine, who’s currently the movie property of Fox, and the new Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has yet to feature in any screen adaptation. The setting is the fictional European country of Slorenia where two soldiers shoot down what appears to be a dragon wearing a tech suit(!). This news prompts a memory from Captain America’s time in World War 2 where he led a covert mission to another fictional location, the Norwegian island of Skrekklandet, to fight Nazi scientists developing tech that could turn the course of the war. After another flashback sequence, this time with Thor, we see where the dragons came from and guess at how the dragons and the tech fused, re-emerging, this time under the control of SHIELD no less.

As it’s supposed to be, the book is easily accessible for people not au fait with the current comics Marvel Universe, and the characterisations of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, are in sync with the movies: Cap is the man out of time, uncomfortable in the future and more alive in the past than the present, while Tony Stark is a roguish figure reconciling his past as an arms dealer and even has the reactor in his chest which he doesn’t have in other comics (and of course not in the movies either now). The story stands by itself with any high concepts like Yggdrasil the World Tree explained in full, and even follows a similar pattern to the Avengers movie where the characters have scenes where they sit around bantering with one another with Whedon-esque dialogue and Hulk appears in the big finale to do his thing.

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Warren Ellis brings some interesting ideas to the book about modern warfare and drone attacks, as well as including some distinctly Ellis story elements like archaeology, artefacts from the past affecting the present (best seen in other books like Planetary and Ultimate Galactus, both of which I recommend), and his usual sarcastic quips. The problem is that these ideas are delivered through some painfully dull exposition scenes that you have to wade through, which is unusual for Ellis who usually excels at electric character dialogue. And while the plot does contain ideas, it feels constrained by its done-in-one format, having to cram in all of the info into this one book and comes off quite convoluted.

Mike McKone’s art isn’t bad but I wasn’t too impressed with it. The book is done in the usual traditional, flat wide panel approach with little style or inspiration to the presentation and the characters seem to possess a single bland expression most of the time. The designs for the dragons with tech suits are particularly bad as they’re barely distinguishable as dragons and look more like amorphous purple things covered with what look like light bulb buttons. There’s also no sense of perspective when looking at the giant dragon at the end which looks like an ordinary dragon on close up in the panel.

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The best art, and the best scene, in the book is in Cap’s WW2 flashback where he takes out a German plane attacking them, leaping from his plane with his shield and a piece of rope, blasting a hole in the windshield and throwing in a belt of grenades before swinging back to his plane – it’s an awesomely cinematic sequence. That said, while the book contains a number of action sequences, as you’d expect, this one is perhaps the only successful scene that captures any energy and excitement. Even the scene at the end when Hulk shows up is barely interesting – I don’t chalk that up to McKone entirely, but is indicative of the book as a whole being rather uninspired and uninteresting.

Maybe non-regular comics readers or first-time comics readers will find this book to be enjoyable but as someone who reads the monthly comics and has been reading Marvel comics and Warren Ellis comics for years, I found Avengers: Endless Wartime to be a very dull and disappointing read from a writer who usually produces far superior work than what’s on offer here.

Published by Marvel Comics, Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone is out now

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Tomorrowland #1 Review – Paul Jenkins

11 Aug

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Love comics but think there aren’t enough hippy-ish stories about the power of music? Fear not, for Paul Jenkins’ Tomorrowland is here! Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike are DJs and founders of the Tomorrowland music festival held in Belgium but just before this year’s show they’ve both been having weird dreams about volcanoes and weird light. Little do they know that together they are the two most important people in the battle between Creation and Destruction – and both sides have chosen the Tomorrowland music festival as the site of their final battle!

On paper, it must’ve seemed like a good idea – creation vs. destruction, a kind of mainstream-ish comic about abstract concepts about artistry and negativity – but I felt the execution was a bit lacking. Ironically for a comic all about the importance of creation, there’s very little creativity going on in this book, specifically with regards the characters.

Dmitri and Mike are both nondescript twenty-somethings who wear backwards baseball caps, say “bro” far too much and say things like “Bro, I need coffee” in the morning. They are… dull. They feel like background characters except they’re the main characters in this comic! Maybe Jenkins was going for a Bill and Ted pairing but didn’t quite pull it off – they’re neither wacky or charming enough and come off instead as bland.

The forces of Creation and Destruction aren’t much better – if you ask most people who you think should represent Creation, most people would pick famous artists like Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde, both legendary creators of art, and that’s exactly who represent Creation in this comic. For some reason, fantasy figures like centaurs, fairies, and unicorns also represent Creation. For Destruction, most people would pick demonic monsters, just because destruction in itself is a negative thing and what’s more negative than demonic monsters? And that’s exactly who represents the forces of Destruction in this book. They’re just not very imaginative character design choices by either Jenkins or the artists.

The artist collective known as Stellar Labs (Alti Firmansyah and Beny Maulana) illustrate this book and their style fits Jenkins’ story. It’s polished and competent but lacks style and looks like every other comic out there. The character designs, the settings, are all forgettable, though the comic is bright and colourful to match its positive message of creation over destruction. I did wonder at the stage design of Tomorrowland – a dance music festival where the stage is designed to look like a shelf of books? Hmm… nope! Doesn’t resemble what dance festivals the world over look like. And no (intentional) light show at a dance fest?

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First issues are tough to get right, especially ones with high concepts like this comic so I can forgive Jenkins for not fully explaining the setup (why are these monsters against creation – what does creation do to them? what purpose does invading Earth serve to them?). And it’s hard to dislike the message to create rather than destroy – who can’t get behind that? Not I. But I thought that despite this, Tomorrowland is a comic that doesn’t make much of an impression thanks to the rather boring cast. It’s essentially a high concept story with low concept characters.

Fantasy fans might get more out of this than general comics readers, but I this definitely isn’t Jenkins’ best work. It’s somewhere between the awful Wolverine: Origin and the mediocre New 52 Dark Knight series he did with David Finch – Tomorrowland is simply ok, not great.

Tomorrowland #1 by Paul Jenkins and Stellar Labs is out now

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Happy #4 Review

10 Jul

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

You’ve read this book before. It may have been called Max Payne, or Man on Fire, or The Punisher, but you’ve seen everything that’s contained in these pages before. Okay, maybe not everything. A junkie pedophile Santa is pretty bizarre, but the plot and the way it unfolds isn’t anything that’s going to leave you marveling at the story telling after the conclusion of the Happy mini-series.

The final issue really does serve as a representation of the entire series – a severely underwhelming experience. It wasn’t bad, but worse – it’s forgettable, and for someone with as prolific of a name as Grant Morrison hopefully it gets forgotten. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like something that Morrison would write. This is the same guy who has written some of the most ambitious story arcs in recent comic book history. Happy feels like a clich action movie. Just look at the protagonist, Nick Sax – a down and out ex-cop with a drug and alcohol problem who is given a chance to redeem himself. The only time it feels like Morrison is Happy the Horse, who is very reminiscent of Bat-Mite in Batman R.I.P.

I was weary coming into Happy #4 after the plot twist in the previous issue was more of a sarcastic, “Really?” and not a “Holy shit, oh my god!” reveal. The little girl that Happy the Horse is the imaginary friend of turns out to be Nick’s daughter. This of course serves as the catalyst for Nick to stop trying to get rid of Happy, and actually seek out his help. While it motivates Nick to get off of his ass and save the day, it doesn’t motivate me to care about his plight. I would be worried, and suddenly wanting the “good guy” to win, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in a story that I’ve heard a thousand times before. There was a glimmer of a saving grace in that Grant Morrison is the kind of guy who would write a story like this and not give it a happy ending, but that didn’t happen either.

I find a little blue horse that tells Nick when and where things are happening to be more believable than the way that things just fall into place for him at the beginning of this issue. He just randomly goes to a church, where a priest just randomly happens to be a pedophile who is just randomly watching the live feed of where Nick’s daughter is being held. Then the issue lets Nick go wild with what he does best – shooting bad guys in the face and overusing the F-bomb.

The dialogue is another weak point for this issue, and really it has been for every issue. Throughout the whole mini-series the dialogue basically left me thinking, “Who actually talks like this?” I’m not bothered by excessive swearing at all, but it has to feel natural. In a story about a junkie ex-cop, Guido mobsters and a secret child pornography ring profanity isn’t all that shocking. The way that the it is written just feels clunky and uneven. The problem doesn’t necessarily become that so many characters are dropping the F-bomb, it becomes where. I believe that a well placed swear can dynamically enhance a sentence, but it’s much like switching a sentence from the passive to the active voice – it needs to improve the flow. The language in Happy is more of akin to driving down a road with a lot of potholes – distracting and annoying.

I’ve never found Nick to be a sympathetic character, because I’ve never found him to be an original character. In this day and age a protagonist certainly doesn’t have to be likeable to be interesting, but Nick is neither. Every aspect of him is clich and uninspired. Along with the reveal that the kidnapped girl is actually his daughter we were previously given Nick’s origin, which was more of the same. The now overweight, addict enforcer was once a young, handsome and outstanding lawman. Yes, just like Max Payne. Yes, just like Frank Castle. In keeping with the theme that Nick screws up everything he ended up ruining his marriage, sabotaging his own career and setting his own fall from grace into motion.

Calling Happy “noir” would be too easy. Of course it has those elements, but it never feels like a truly noir experience. Instead, it feels like something that is trying to emulate modern works that were marketed as having noir aspects. I would consider the ending to be a happy one, but given the fate of some characters it might be seen otherwise. Like I said before, despite the cliche premise and storytelling Happy wasn’t exactly bad, but it never realized its full potential. This is the kind of story that is best suited for more than four issues.

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