Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Batman: Year 1 by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli (DC Comics)

Perhaps the reason I'm so fascinated by Batman is that there are so many different 'takes' on the character that attempt to revive what it must've felt like to encounter Bob Kane and Bill Finger's character for the first time.

Back in the mid 80s, DC wanted to update their catalogue of superhero titles which had descended into stale samey stories with seemingly no direction or vision. Most writers tasked with re-inventing DC's other mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman took cues from movies and TV but Frank Miller drew on something entirely different. The seething criminal underbelly of the US at the time, and the complete departure from Batman's fairly campy trademark shenanigans towards something entirely dark and malevolent.

"The Dark Knight Returns" (a huge favourite of mine) dealt with Batman's later years, as he struggles to maintain law and order in a city that has no moral boundaries, is ruled by gangs and has no sense of honour or respect amongst the various villains who cross the Dark Knight's path. Here though in "Batman: Year One" we return to Batman's well-trodden origin story to show Batman's evolution from vigilante to the ultimate symbol of justice.

We also get to learn Jim Gordon's origins (and if you're currently watching "Gotham" on Netflix, you'll definitely see seeds of Miller and Mazzuchelli's work dotted throughout that fine series) - and explore more of Batman's world as we begin to see Gotham as a city where the rot sets in from two directions, up from the streets and down from the GCPD and the justice system which is corrupt and powerless to stop various factions carving up Gotham like a christmas turkey.

Batman does take a bit of a back seat as "Year One" gets up to speed, and though it lacks the immediacy and some might say the 'completeness' of The Dark Knight Returns, it definitely instigated a huge revival of interest in the character before Tim Burton's movies came along and underpinned the comic's dark tones with cinematic gothic tones of its own.

Now it's almost impossible to imagine Batman being anything other than grim and gritty. "Year 1" is an absolutely essential part of your Bat-collection though.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Del Rey Publishing)

Though you could be mistaken for thinking that this book was about a space-suited George Michael at the height of his fame thanks to the cover, inside is a work of intricate genius centred around one man's mission to stay alive in the most inhospitable climate imaginable - the harsh surface of the red planet, Mars.

Astronaut Mark Watney is the victim of a horrific accident during a manned mission to Mars. Left for dead by his crew, Watney actually survives ending up with a flagpole through his chest (!) and thus begins his fight for survival. With meagre resources but a ton of ingenuity and inventiveness, Watney becomes Mars' first farmer and realises that even on a desolate barren and unpopulated planet, Mankind's previous visits may well save him yet.

Told mostly from Mark's perspective, "The Martian" is obviously well researched, is hugely tense and exciting and eschews the random pratfall Mr-Magoo-esque exploits of the movie "Gravity" for a thorough and fascinating investigation into what it would be like to be in Mark's place. Would you have the will to carry on when it feels like the whole planet wants to kill you in a variety of new and interesting ways?

Dark humour laces the story as Mark struggles to stay mentally healthy as well as physically. Andy Weird has a talent for perfectly describing the sheer danger involved in space travel and exploration and the myriad of things that could go horribly wrong.

It's wholly engrossing, one of those books you have to force yourself to put down once you've started in on it and now there's a movie on the table, get into the book first (just in case Ridley Scott does a "Prometheus" on this and turns it into a horrible mess!)

"The Martian" by Andy Weir is out now in paperback from Del Rey Publishing.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (DC Comics)

To be entirely truthful, I'm fed up with losing this book and this will be the 5th and very last time I replace it (and it definitely won't be 'loaned out' to anyone ever again, never!). Clad in a new hard cover with Brian Bolland taking on colouring duties for this 20th Anniversary edition of (arguably) The Joker's darkest outing ever, it's not difficult to see why so many people stole my copy (yes stole, because I'd never willingly give anything this good away to anyone).

Origin stories are always tough to get right. Die-hard comic fans will always grumble and moan if someone comes in and interferes with an established character's genesis and it's always puzzled me why any new 'Superhero' movie or reboot feels the need to shove origin stories down your throat time and time again (please, spare us from ever seeing Peter Parker's uncle murdered, or Bruce Wayne's parents buying the farm in a dark alley).

But the Joker's origins? That's something that's been lightly touched on in movies (not difficult to see how Tim Burton used a few ideas from "The Killing Joke" in his first Batman flick) but never with a note that makes you feel sympathetic to the gibbering lunatic's plight.

Starting out with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham, and finding out that someone's pulled a switch and the Joker has escaped, we're soon spiralling on a rollercoaster ride of madness and violence courtesy of the clown prince of crime.

I think the main reason I love this graphic novel so much is because Batman takes a back seat. He's there briefly in scenes where he is merely a foil to the Joker's chaotic and directionless psychotic behaviour, gunning down Barbara Gordon (that scene is one of the most brutal I've ever seen in a comic but you'll probably argue I don't read the right comics) and kidnapping Commissioner Gordon for no better reason than to lure Batman to his doom.

In the present day this plotline is fairly cliched and throwaway (Oh look, the Joker's found yet another dismantled Amusement Park to turn into a criminal base!) but it's when the story digs right into the Joker's early life as a failed comedian turning to crime to support his pregnant wife, his emergence as "The Red Hood" and his eventual transformation into the Joker after falling into a chemical pit that lifts this story right up there into the higher echelons of Bat-legend.

After almost 20 years without a copy, it's been refreshing to see Bolland's work restored in this way, with all the original colouring by John (Watchmen) Higgins removed, linework subtly improved and new digital colours added by Brian himself. Flashback scenes feel vastly improved with highlights picked out in stark contrasting colours to compliment the fantastic character artwork (Bolland's Joker is by far the ideal image of the character, closely resembling the mania and pure evil of 1940s Joker from the old Batman comics). Though many will argue the backstory doesn't fit with whatever sprawling and disjointed universal arc the Batman mythology has crawled on its guts through, this really depicts why The Joker is the way he is, why he doesn't care, and why no holds are barred when it comes to his pure evil because he really doesn't have anything to lose and really couldn't care less what he gains.

The 20th Anniversary edition also contains a short story reuniting Bolland with Batman for an imagined would-be assassin's fantasy of killing Batman. "The Man with No Name" shows that Bolland could've carried on producing the definitive version of Batman ad infinitim (but then again you could say the same of anything he's ever been involved in, his work is that good and I sorely miss his superior versions of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson / The Dark Judges).

Coming back to this has made me realise why I kept lending it out though, why I wanted to convince people it was worth reading and why it never came back. It's astonishingly good and if you've never read it you might as well give up comics and take up fly fishing instead.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is still in print and if you want the definitive version of this masterpiece, this is it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"World of Trouble" (The Last Policeman III) by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)


So it all comes down to this. Ben H. Winters' brilliant trilogy comes to a cataclysmic end with "World of Trouble", the third in "The Last Policeman" series.

I received the book for my birthday from my mother in law and I was almost too scared to start it. How could Ben possibly end the tale in a satisfying way?

 For those new to the series, the world is about to end. A giant asteroid is on a collision course with the planet and there's nothing we can do about it. No last-ditch attempt to blow it to smithereens with nukes, no plucky team of miners landing on it in a pimped up space rover. Nothing, just the inevitability of the catastrophic event and the gradual erosion of civilisation as people attempt to bunker down and somehow survive. People except Henry "Hank" Palace, our dogged and determined hero who is still playing detective even as the world around him descends further into chaos. In the third book Hank is on the trail of his wayward sister Nico, who has fallen in with a survivalist cult and disappeared. Hank is driven to finding her, perhaps through family loyalty or just the need to be close to someone you know at the end. But the path ahead is dark, even darker than the forthcoming cosmic event which will inevitably wipe away humanity as easy as swatting a fly.

 Hank is not alone. With his faithful hound by his side, and a not-so-faithful nefarious criminal in tow, Nico is tracked to an abandoned basement, reinforced with a huge concrete floor to cover...what? Time is running out, but partially to preserve his own sanity and partially to find out what has happened to Nico, Hank continues his own methodical investigation but will there be time to wrap up this one last final case before the end? Ben H. Winters has pulled off the achievement of maintaining the momentum of the series right to the very last page of this final book (which, obviously, I'm not going to spoil for you).

With each plot twist and turn, the book has you asking of yourself the same questions Hank asks. What do we, as humans, hold dear to us? What drives us? Why do we do the things we do? The grand backdrop on which this story plays out is the distraction for what becomes, in essence, a story not about the cataclysmic collision but about humanity itself as each character we encounter in the story describes a particular human frailty.

Obsession, greed, mistrust, envy and above all the essence of self preservation that each of us has right up until the very end, sometimes but not exclusively at the cost of others. So now there's a huge gaping asteroid-sized hole in my life now the series has come to a close. If you want to experience a three-book-journey into the darkest corners of your own character, then "The Last Policeman" and its two stable mates will deliver that in spades.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Heads up on "Strong Female Protagonist" by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)

"Strong Female Protagonist" Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)
The over-long reign of male-dominated cardboard cutout comicbook heroes seems to be dribbling to an end, and it's about time too. For a while, there has been a definite shift in the typical demographic associated with the creation of comics, away from those sexist boob-window-obsessed rags towards intelligent thought provoking stuff. Comics such as "Strong Female Protagonist" - a title in itself that's bound to raise howls of derision from an industry that still has an awful lot of growing up to do.

Alison Green is the titular protagonist, a tough and uncompromising superhero mixing strength and invulnerability with a brain the size of a planet. Life as a superhero is fairly sweet until a showdown with a mind-reading supervillain shows Alison that things aren't quite as straight-cut as they seem. Alison - also known as Mega Girl - gives up the superhero gig for a life of study, riding under the radar in order to affect change from within. But sometimes there's no route back from being at the top of your game, and Alison's past catches up with her all too quickly while she hides in plain sight as a student at a local college.

 Will Alison need to become Mega Girl again? Is someone playing mind-tricks? Just how far down does the rabbit hole of conspiracy and mistrust go?

 Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's web comic comes to vibrant life collected together as the first volume of a graphic novel series, recalling intelligent and grown-up strips like "The New Statesmen" and even with shades of the better parts of "Watchmen" bubbling under thought-provoking and smart storytelling.

 It's strictly for grown ups (hence why it's being reviewed here at DaddyAfterDark rather than on ReadItDaddy, our sister blog) but it's utterly fantastic and engrossing stuff. Top Shelf's latest run of titles is hitting all the right notes, gathering together an enviable catalogue of cool stuff to dive into.

 Follow the web comic over at http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com or drop by the Top Shelf Website for more excellent comics in this vein.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
With a whoop of glee, I tore the packaging off the latest book to drop through the "Daddy After Dark" mail slot. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are exquisite torturers, drip feeding us "Saga" addicts with their collected graphic novels one volume at a time and we gladly sign up for this sort of abuse because Saga is flipping brilliant.

 Sweary, sexy, uber-violent but ultra-intelligent, we left Alana and Marko embarking on a completely bonkers quest (along with their wistful daughter Hazel, the "not-quite-mother-in-law-from-hell", and a ghostly babysitter with half of her guts hanging out). They're seeking out a novelist on a long-dead world, in order to find some twisted wisdom in his words. Hotly pursued by just about everyone, including Prince Robot IV, Marko's ex-girlfriend with a serious case of heartbreak, and "The Will" - a violent psychopathic mercenary with a buzz-cut, a heart of gold and size 11 doc martens.

 On meeting their idol, Alana and Marko find that danger is close, but just as we think we're about to see one cataclysmic finale, Brian and Fi yank the rug out from under us and we're left hanging off the edge of a precipice (or should that be lighthouse) again. Saga's appeal is in the way it balances fast-paced sweary dialogue with mind-meltingly gorgeous art. It reminds me of fabulous 'out-there' sci fi like Farscape, but with a serious adult edge to it that will have you wincing in places.

 Saga is so satisfyingly sprawling that coming in at Volume 3 will blow your mind. Best to pick up Volume 1 and 2 though and seriously treat yourself as you meet an eclectic and dangerous bunch of comic misfits, peripheral characters that are filthy as well as sexy, and two journalists who could almost double for DR and Quinch.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

Beautiful Darkness. Do not judge this one by its cover, this is definitely not kids stuff!


My children's book-reviewing alter ego is quite used to seeing books that feature magical folk or princesses, anthropomorphic animals and other cutesy-pie stuff. For a brief moment, from the corner of your eye or your peripheral vision you might mistakenly believe that "Beautiful Darkness" is a book that belongs on my daughter's shelf rather than mine. Aside, that is, from that David Lynch-like presence sharing the cover with Aurora, the tiny hero of this tale. A corpse. A human corpse.

Worst of all, the corpse of a little girl. "Beautiful Darkness" (recently reviewed enticingly on BoingBoing) takes all the traditional fairy-tale tropes, puts them in a washing machine with a ton of barbed wire and some animal guts, and puts the whole lot on a high spin-speed. The result is one of the darkest and most visceral fairy tales I've ever read.

 The graphic novel starts with idyllic scenes of Aurora, and the rather annoying and uppity Prince Hector enjoying an afternoon tea party. Aurora is dreaming, but when she awakes we see her world unfold. The aforementioned corpse is relegated to little more than a backdrop, a scenery prop and as harrowing as this sounds, it's actually this aspect of the novel that would have me hiding it away in a cupboard so my own little girl didn't see it until she's a moody teen.

Seeing a human being featuring in this way is quite startling and disturbing, particularly when you see the lives of the tiny folk who accompany Aurora happening in complete oblivion to this tragic set of circumstances. Vehlmann and Kerascoet boil the bones of fairy tales until the rich gelatine is extracted and spread thickly like an opaque haze over the story as it emerges.

Aurora's 'friends' are definitely not cute in any way, preoccupied with the more human-like struggles for sustenance and peer acceptance. Aurora's main rival in love is the bitch queen from hell, a doll-like would-be princess who is as predatory and vicious as any of the wildlife living in the woodland glade where the story takes place.

Dialogue is purposely child-like, fairy-tale-like - but all the urges and passions of this tiny group of characters are as dark and blood red as the human world's. Aurora is also misleadingly sweet and the book leads to a conclusion that will simultaneously fill you with the urge to shout "YESSSS!" at the top of your voice, but will also fill you with dark horror as revenge is exacted in a brutal way. I cannot recommend "Beautiful Darkness" highly enough if you're looking for something that feels wholly original, desperately darkly tinged and extremely grown up without resorting to the usual graphic novel excesses of sex and violence (though don't get me wrong - it most certainly is quite icky in places).

 Please though, if you have an inquisitive 6 year old kicking around at home, don't let them loose on this unless you want to spend the next few weeks dealing with their nightmares. Title: Beautiful Darkness Author(s): Vehlmann and Kerascoet Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Format: Graphic Novel / Hardback

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Batman: Year 1 by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli (DC Comics)

No comments:
Perhaps the reason I'm so fascinated by Batman is that there are so many different 'takes' on the character that attempt to revive what it must've felt like to encounter Bob Kane and Bill Finger's character for the first time.

Back in the mid 80s, DC wanted to update their catalogue of superhero titles which had descended into stale samey stories with seemingly no direction or vision. Most writers tasked with re-inventing DC's other mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman took cues from movies and TV but Frank Miller drew on something entirely different. The seething criminal underbelly of the US at the time, and the complete departure from Batman's fairly campy trademark shenanigans towards something entirely dark and malevolent.

"The Dark Knight Returns" (a huge favourite of mine) dealt with Batman's later years, as he struggles to maintain law and order in a city that has no moral boundaries, is ruled by gangs and has no sense of honour or respect amongst the various villains who cross the Dark Knight's path. Here though in "Batman: Year One" we return to Batman's well-trodden origin story to show Batman's evolution from vigilante to the ultimate symbol of justice.

We also get to learn Jim Gordon's origins (and if you're currently watching "Gotham" on Netflix, you'll definitely see seeds of Miller and Mazzuchelli's work dotted throughout that fine series) - and explore more of Batman's world as we begin to see Gotham as a city where the rot sets in from two directions, up from the streets and down from the GCPD and the justice system which is corrupt and powerless to stop various factions carving up Gotham like a christmas turkey.

Batman does take a bit of a back seat as "Year One" gets up to speed, and though it lacks the immediacy and some might say the 'completeness' of The Dark Knight Returns, it definitely instigated a huge revival of interest in the character before Tim Burton's movies came along and underpinned the comic's dark tones with cinematic gothic tones of its own.

Now it's almost impossible to imagine Batman being anything other than grim and gritty. "Year 1" is an absolutely essential part of your Bat-collection though.
Read More

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Del Rey Publishing)

No comments:
Though you could be mistaken for thinking that this book was about a space-suited George Michael at the height of his fame thanks to the cover, inside is a work of intricate genius centred around one man's mission to stay alive in the most inhospitable climate imaginable - the harsh surface of the red planet, Mars.

Astronaut Mark Watney is the victim of a horrific accident during a manned mission to Mars. Left for dead by his crew, Watney actually survives ending up with a flagpole through his chest (!) and thus begins his fight for survival. With meagre resources but a ton of ingenuity and inventiveness, Watney becomes Mars' first farmer and realises that even on a desolate barren and unpopulated planet, Mankind's previous visits may well save him yet.

Told mostly from Mark's perspective, "The Martian" is obviously well researched, is hugely tense and exciting and eschews the random pratfall Mr-Magoo-esque exploits of the movie "Gravity" for a thorough and fascinating investigation into what it would be like to be in Mark's place. Would you have the will to carry on when it feels like the whole planet wants to kill you in a variety of new and interesting ways?

Dark humour laces the story as Mark struggles to stay mentally healthy as well as physically. Andy Weird has a talent for perfectly describing the sheer danger involved in space travel and exploration and the myriad of things that could go horribly wrong.

It's wholly engrossing, one of those books you have to force yourself to put down once you've started in on it and now there's a movie on the table, get into the book first (just in case Ridley Scott does a "Prometheus" on this and turns it into a horrible mess!)

"The Martian" by Andy Weir is out now in paperback from Del Rey Publishing.
Read More

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (DC Comics)

No comments:
To be entirely truthful, I'm fed up with losing this book and this will be the 5th and very last time I replace it (and it definitely won't be 'loaned out' to anyone ever again, never!). Clad in a new hard cover with Brian Bolland taking on colouring duties for this 20th Anniversary edition of (arguably) The Joker's darkest outing ever, it's not difficult to see why so many people stole my copy (yes stole, because I'd never willingly give anything this good away to anyone).

Origin stories are always tough to get right. Die-hard comic fans will always grumble and moan if someone comes in and interferes with an established character's genesis and it's always puzzled me why any new 'Superhero' movie or reboot feels the need to shove origin stories down your throat time and time again (please, spare us from ever seeing Peter Parker's uncle murdered, or Bruce Wayne's parents buying the farm in a dark alley).

But the Joker's origins? That's something that's been lightly touched on in movies (not difficult to see how Tim Burton used a few ideas from "The Killing Joke" in his first Batman flick) but never with a note that makes you feel sympathetic to the gibbering lunatic's plight.

Starting out with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham, and finding out that someone's pulled a switch and the Joker has escaped, we're soon spiralling on a rollercoaster ride of madness and violence courtesy of the clown prince of crime.

I think the main reason I love this graphic novel so much is because Batman takes a back seat. He's there briefly in scenes where he is merely a foil to the Joker's chaotic and directionless psychotic behaviour, gunning down Barbara Gordon (that scene is one of the most brutal I've ever seen in a comic but you'll probably argue I don't read the right comics) and kidnapping Commissioner Gordon for no better reason than to lure Batman to his doom.

In the present day this plotline is fairly cliched and throwaway (Oh look, the Joker's found yet another dismantled Amusement Park to turn into a criminal base!) but it's when the story digs right into the Joker's early life as a failed comedian turning to crime to support his pregnant wife, his emergence as "The Red Hood" and his eventual transformation into the Joker after falling into a chemical pit that lifts this story right up there into the higher echelons of Bat-legend.

After almost 20 years without a copy, it's been refreshing to see Bolland's work restored in this way, with all the original colouring by John (Watchmen) Higgins removed, linework subtly improved and new digital colours added by Brian himself. Flashback scenes feel vastly improved with highlights picked out in stark contrasting colours to compliment the fantastic character artwork (Bolland's Joker is by far the ideal image of the character, closely resembling the mania and pure evil of 1940s Joker from the old Batman comics). Though many will argue the backstory doesn't fit with whatever sprawling and disjointed universal arc the Batman mythology has crawled on its guts through, this really depicts why The Joker is the way he is, why he doesn't care, and why no holds are barred when it comes to his pure evil because he really doesn't have anything to lose and really couldn't care less what he gains.

The 20th Anniversary edition also contains a short story reuniting Bolland with Batman for an imagined would-be assassin's fantasy of killing Batman. "The Man with No Name" shows that Bolland could've carried on producing the definitive version of Batman ad infinitim (but then again you could say the same of anything he's ever been involved in, his work is that good and I sorely miss his superior versions of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson / The Dark Judges).

Coming back to this has made me realise why I kept lending it out though, why I wanted to convince people it was worth reading and why it never came back. It's astonishingly good and if you've never read it you might as well give up comics and take up fly fishing instead.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is still in print and if you want the definitive version of this masterpiece, this is it.
Read More

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"World of Trouble" (The Last Policeman III) by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

No comments:

So it all comes down to this. Ben H. Winters' brilliant trilogy comes to a cataclysmic end with "World of Trouble", the third in "The Last Policeman" series.

I received the book for my birthday from my mother in law and I was almost too scared to start it. How could Ben possibly end the tale in a satisfying way?

 For those new to the series, the world is about to end. A giant asteroid is on a collision course with the planet and there's nothing we can do about it. No last-ditch attempt to blow it to smithereens with nukes, no plucky team of miners landing on it in a pimped up space rover. Nothing, just the inevitability of the catastrophic event and the gradual erosion of civilisation as people attempt to bunker down and somehow survive. People except Henry "Hank" Palace, our dogged and determined hero who is still playing detective even as the world around him descends further into chaos. In the third book Hank is on the trail of his wayward sister Nico, who has fallen in with a survivalist cult and disappeared. Hank is driven to finding her, perhaps through family loyalty or just the need to be close to someone you know at the end. But the path ahead is dark, even darker than the forthcoming cosmic event which will inevitably wipe away humanity as easy as swatting a fly.

 Hank is not alone. With his faithful hound by his side, and a not-so-faithful nefarious criminal in tow, Nico is tracked to an abandoned basement, reinforced with a huge concrete floor to cover...what? Time is running out, but partially to preserve his own sanity and partially to find out what has happened to Nico, Hank continues his own methodical investigation but will there be time to wrap up this one last final case before the end? Ben H. Winters has pulled off the achievement of maintaining the momentum of the series right to the very last page of this final book (which, obviously, I'm not going to spoil for you).

With each plot twist and turn, the book has you asking of yourself the same questions Hank asks. What do we, as humans, hold dear to us? What drives us? Why do we do the things we do? The grand backdrop on which this story plays out is the distraction for what becomes, in essence, a story not about the cataclysmic collision but about humanity itself as each character we encounter in the story describes a particular human frailty.

Obsession, greed, mistrust, envy and above all the essence of self preservation that each of us has right up until the very end, sometimes but not exclusively at the cost of others. So now there's a huge gaping asteroid-sized hole in my life now the series has come to a close. If you want to experience a three-book-journey into the darkest corners of your own character, then "The Last Policeman" and its two stable mates will deliver that in spades.
Read More

Friday, 3 October 2014

Heads up on "Strong Female Protagonist" by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)

No comments:
"Strong Female Protagonist" Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Comics)
The over-long reign of male-dominated cardboard cutout comicbook heroes seems to be dribbling to an end, and it's about time too. For a while, there has been a definite shift in the typical demographic associated with the creation of comics, away from those sexist boob-window-obsessed rags towards intelligent thought provoking stuff. Comics such as "Strong Female Protagonist" - a title in itself that's bound to raise howls of derision from an industry that still has an awful lot of growing up to do.

Alison Green is the titular protagonist, a tough and uncompromising superhero mixing strength and invulnerability with a brain the size of a planet. Life as a superhero is fairly sweet until a showdown with a mind-reading supervillain shows Alison that things aren't quite as straight-cut as they seem. Alison - also known as Mega Girl - gives up the superhero gig for a life of study, riding under the radar in order to affect change from within. But sometimes there's no route back from being at the top of your game, and Alison's past catches up with her all too quickly while she hides in plain sight as a student at a local college.

 Will Alison need to become Mega Girl again? Is someone playing mind-tricks? Just how far down does the rabbit hole of conspiracy and mistrust go?

 Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's web comic comes to vibrant life collected together as the first volume of a graphic novel series, recalling intelligent and grown-up strips like "The New Statesmen" and even with shades of the better parts of "Watchmen" bubbling under thought-provoking and smart storytelling.

 It's strictly for grown ups (hence why it's being reviewed here at DaddyAfterDark rather than on ReadItDaddy, our sister blog) but it's utterly fantastic and engrossing stuff. Top Shelf's latest run of titles is hitting all the right notes, gathering together an enviable catalogue of cool stuff to dive into.

 Follow the web comic over at http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com or drop by the Top Shelf Website for more excellent comics in this vein.
Read More

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

No comments:
Saga Volume III by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
With a whoop of glee, I tore the packaging off the latest book to drop through the "Daddy After Dark" mail slot. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are exquisite torturers, drip feeding us "Saga" addicts with their collected graphic novels one volume at a time and we gladly sign up for this sort of abuse because Saga is flipping brilliant.

 Sweary, sexy, uber-violent but ultra-intelligent, we left Alana and Marko embarking on a completely bonkers quest (along with their wistful daughter Hazel, the "not-quite-mother-in-law-from-hell", and a ghostly babysitter with half of her guts hanging out). They're seeking out a novelist on a long-dead world, in order to find some twisted wisdom in his words. Hotly pursued by just about everyone, including Prince Robot IV, Marko's ex-girlfriend with a serious case of heartbreak, and "The Will" - a violent psychopathic mercenary with a buzz-cut, a heart of gold and size 11 doc martens.

 On meeting their idol, Alana and Marko find that danger is close, but just as we think we're about to see one cataclysmic finale, Brian and Fi yank the rug out from under us and we're left hanging off the edge of a precipice (or should that be lighthouse) again. Saga's appeal is in the way it balances fast-paced sweary dialogue with mind-meltingly gorgeous art. It reminds me of fabulous 'out-there' sci fi like Farscape, but with a serious adult edge to it that will have you wincing in places.

 Saga is so satisfyingly sprawling that coming in at Volume 3 will blow your mind. Best to pick up Volume 1 and 2 though and seriously treat yourself as you meet an eclectic and dangerous bunch of comic misfits, peripheral characters that are filthy as well as sexy, and two journalists who could almost double for DR and Quinch.
Read More

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

No comments:
Beautiful Darkness. Do not judge this one by its cover, this is definitely not kids stuff!


My children's book-reviewing alter ego is quite used to seeing books that feature magical folk or princesses, anthropomorphic animals and other cutesy-pie stuff. For a brief moment, from the corner of your eye or your peripheral vision you might mistakenly believe that "Beautiful Darkness" is a book that belongs on my daughter's shelf rather than mine. Aside, that is, from that David Lynch-like presence sharing the cover with Aurora, the tiny hero of this tale. A corpse. A human corpse.

Worst of all, the corpse of a little girl. "Beautiful Darkness" (recently reviewed enticingly on BoingBoing) takes all the traditional fairy-tale tropes, puts them in a washing machine with a ton of barbed wire and some animal guts, and puts the whole lot on a high spin-speed. The result is one of the darkest and most visceral fairy tales I've ever read.

 The graphic novel starts with idyllic scenes of Aurora, and the rather annoying and uppity Prince Hector enjoying an afternoon tea party. Aurora is dreaming, but when she awakes we see her world unfold. The aforementioned corpse is relegated to little more than a backdrop, a scenery prop and as harrowing as this sounds, it's actually this aspect of the novel that would have me hiding it away in a cupboard so my own little girl didn't see it until she's a moody teen.

Seeing a human being featuring in this way is quite startling and disturbing, particularly when you see the lives of the tiny folk who accompany Aurora happening in complete oblivion to this tragic set of circumstances. Vehlmann and Kerascoet boil the bones of fairy tales until the rich gelatine is extracted and spread thickly like an opaque haze over the story as it emerges.

Aurora's 'friends' are definitely not cute in any way, preoccupied with the more human-like struggles for sustenance and peer acceptance. Aurora's main rival in love is the bitch queen from hell, a doll-like would-be princess who is as predatory and vicious as any of the wildlife living in the woodland glade where the story takes place.

Dialogue is purposely child-like, fairy-tale-like - but all the urges and passions of this tiny group of characters are as dark and blood red as the human world's. Aurora is also misleadingly sweet and the book leads to a conclusion that will simultaneously fill you with the urge to shout "YESSSS!" at the top of your voice, but will also fill you with dark horror as revenge is exacted in a brutal way. I cannot recommend "Beautiful Darkness" highly enough if you're looking for something that feels wholly original, desperately darkly tinged and extremely grown up without resorting to the usual graphic novel excesses of sex and violence (though don't get me wrong - it most certainly is quite icky in places).

 Please though, if you have an inquisitive 6 year old kicking around at home, don't let them loose on this unless you want to spend the next few weeks dealing with their nightmares. Title: Beautiful Darkness Author(s): Vehlmann and Kerascoet Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Format: Graphic Novel / Hardback
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