Review: James Bond, Vol. 2: Eidolon by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

9781524102722_p0_v2_s192x300Despite the exemplary creative team attached, the first volume of Dynamite Entertainment’s James Bond relaunch flattered to deceive. It was  packed with the staples Bond fans expect — shoot-ups, car chases, deadly cybernetically-enhanced henchmen, to name but a few — but lacked that special something. Less akin to Casino Royale, and more like Spectre. Thankfully volume 2 — produced by the same creative partnership of Warren Ellis and Jason Masters — rectifies the first’s missteps, and outdoes its predecessor in every way.

As dirty money is being laundered through MI5 — the United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency — the Secret Intelligence Service has been neutered and disarmed. ‘Eidolon’ — another word for ghost, or spectre — has infiltrated the highest levels of British intelligence, and it’s up to Bond to terminate their operation. It’s a simple set-up, as the Bond novel plots have been since day dot, when Fleming wrote Casino Royale; but it means the creators get to focus on perfectly-choreographed, wide-screen action sequences, including one terrifically rendered car chase. There’s a dash of sex, plenty of thrills, and even features a visit to Q Branch, although there’s a distinct lack of high-tech gadgetry.

Ellis lets Masters take charge during the action scenes, limiting dialogue, allowing  these blockbuster moments to occur in silence. Masters pulls it all off with aplomb. It is brutal and visceral, but not gratuitous. But when Ellis does have the characters interacting, he nails their repartee. This is a tight script, full of great one-liners and scything commentary. One moment in particular had me chuckling, when Bond dumps a gun in a bin during an escape, and his companion asks: “You’re going to leave a loaded gun in a bin?” Bond’s reply is perfect: “It’s America. I don’t have time to give it to a child or a mentally ill person, so I’m leaving it in a bin for them to find.”

It is a shame, then, that with Eidolon, Ellis and Masters bid adieu. Just as they hit their stride and manufactured the perfect contemporary James Bond adventure, they’re gone. Still, what an exit. Any comic book reader with even a remote interest in 007 will dig this volume; so, too, any readers looking for a standalone action thriller.

ISBN: 9781524102722
Format: Hardback (267mm x 178mm x 19mm)
Pages: 152
Imprint: Dynamite Entertainment
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Publish Date: 14-Mar-2017

Review: The Sheriff of Babylon, Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. by Tom King King & Mitch Gerads

 

Babylon02.jpgThe Sheriff of Babylon is far more than the sum of its parts. It would be easy to label it as a crime story set in post-9/11 Middle East — and you wouldn’t be wrong, because at a fundamental level, that’s what it is: a whodunit set in unfamiliar terrain — but its pointed political subtext, and its creators’ willingness to explore wider issues, makes The Sheriff of Babylon a far more provocative tale.

In post-Saddam Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city has been devastated, and is without a police force to keep its citizens safe. Former Florida police officer Chris Henry is now a US military consultant, and has been assigned to train the city’s future law enforcement personnel. But when one of his trainees is found dead, Henry is forced to take the mantle of investigator, and partners with Nassir — a former Baghdad detective — to unravel the mystery. Naturally it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as that. Nassir has his own secrets; the dead American soldiers in his basement is merely the exclamation on his troubles — and Henry’s sometime lover, Sofia — an American-born Iraqi — is convening with disparate factions to seize control over her country.

The Sheriff of Babylon is appropriately gritty and layered with authenticity thanks to writer Tom King’s experience in the CIA. Together with artist Mitch Gerads, they perfectly encapsulate the sense of a city, and entire nation, perched on the abyss. Everyone – from the civilians to the military personnel – are paranoid, and cognizant that they are a hair trigger’s moment from complete capitulation and anarchy. Chris Henry is a fabulous protagonist – as determined to uncover the truth as he is reluctant to shake too many trees – and King’s aversion to cluttered caption boxes means readers get to know the character exclusively through his dialogue and actions. It’s nice to not have his every thought and inclination spelled out – nuance is increasingly rare in comics, and it’s even rarer for creators to not baby their readers with voluminous explication.

King and Gerads have created an important work that conveys the culture clashes and inner-workings of post-Saddam Iraq. But just as it highlights the cultural differences, it underlines the kinship that unites all humans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or place of birth. Nothing is black and white in this world, and The Sheriff of Babylon is not afraid to expose the grays. This first volume concludes with plot threads left dangling, and like any great season finale, ends with a deserving (and devastating) cliffhanger that’ll leave readers emotionally drained, and desperate for the next installment. I’d say this is as good as comics get, but I wouldn’t put it past this creative team to one-up themselves in the next volume . . . which can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

ISBN: 9781401264666
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 27-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Patience by Daniel Clowes

9781910702451In Daniel Clowes’s Patience, things go terribly awry when Jack Barlow attempts to travel through time to circumvent his wife’s murder.

In 2012, mere days after discovering he is going to be a father, Jack returns home from his dead-end job and finds Patience sprawled out on their living room floor. Immediately the police’s number one suspect, when Jack is eventually cleared of the crime, he makes it his life’s mission to avenge his wife’s death. Patience was the one good thing in life. Without her, he has nothing.

But things don’t quite go as Jack planned. When the book smash-cuts to 2029 we find a much harder, far more jaded – and older, obviously – Jack Barlow sitting in a futuristic bar, relaying his crapped out life to a barman. He never avenged Patience – though he tried, the crime remains unsolved – and the passing of time has only further sullied his soul. A chance encounter with a hooker leads to his discovery of a time machine, and the concoction of a new plan: why take vengeance when he can eradicate the entire event from the timeline?

Like everything else Jack touches though, he ends up making more of a mess of things. As he bears witness to key events in Patience’s teenage years – learning about the multiple hardships and abusers she encountered – his incessant interventions start affecting the timeline. And veteran science fiction readers, and those schooled on time travel will know: it’s not a good idea to mess with what’s come before, because there’s no telling where the new chips might fall.

Part science fiction epic, part love story, Patience brims with heart and soul. Clowes’s focus on the emotions of his characters rather than the physics of time travel elevates the book above stories of a similar ilk. While Jack’s quest to change the timeline is the book’s driving force, it’s the insights into Patience’s youth that proves the most captivating aspect. Truly a stunning graphic novel, and a worthy addition to Daniel Clowes’s collection of stunning masterworks. This sits proudly alongside Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying as one of the best graphic novels of the year.

ISBN: 9781910702451
ISBN-10: 1910702455
Format: Hardback (255mm x 198mm x 21mm)
Pages: 180
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 24-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Black Magick Vol. 1 – Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

9781632156754Part police procedural, part supernatural thriller, the first volume of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Black Magick is a standout on every level — possibly the best work of their careers — and will leave readers eagerly waiting the follow-up.

Rowan Black is a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department — and a practicing witch. Not the type that dons a black hat and flies on a broomstick; no, contemporary witchcraft is a tad subtler than that. Still, Rowan has always struggled to keep both aspects of her life separate, and when she becomes the target of a mysterious organisation with a keen interest in the supernatural, everything she holds dear comes under threat.

Nicola Scott’s art is the true highlight of Black Magick — which takes nothing away from Rucka’s script, his characterisations, or the overarching plot, all of which are truly stellar — it’s just … wow. Superlatives are reserved for work like this. Scott utilises a unique grey wash, with only slight traces of colour, to great effect; and her panels are hyper-detailed, and her pages effectively constructed, to make this a real pleasure to read. It’s hyperbolic sure, but there’s no question: these pages confirm Nicola Scott’s status as the best artist working in comics.

A gripping page-turner from beginning to end, Rucka and Scott’s first instalment in their “witch noir” series is an absolute blast. They might not have created a new genre, but they sure as hell have redefined it. Forgive the pun, but Black Magick is absolutely spellbinding, and one of the best things I’ve read all year.

Boom

ISBN: 9781632156754
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
Imprint: Image Comics
Publisher: Image Comics
Publish Date: 3-May-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Velvet, Volume 1 – Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet Before the Living EndBesides her most recent incarnation in Skyfall, the Miss Moneypenny who has existed in more than 60 years of James Bond continuity has been entirely deskbound; a pining secretary, who absorbed 007’s innuendo and traded witticisms with the licensed-to-kill agent. For the most part, the character has been entirely disposable, save for the occasional stinging rejoinder at Bond’s expense; moments to saviour, for they were few and far between. But what if there was more to Moneypenny than the insipid qualities she routinely brandished? Skyfall opened the door to an alternative take on the secretary, and we’ll see where that goes in the franchise’s next installment – but Ed Brunaker and Steve Epting latch onto that notion and run with it full throttle. The result, this first volume of their monthly comic series Velvet, titled BEFORE THE LIVING END, is a fantastic spy-thriller, with shades of Ian Fleming’s inimitable protagonist, but stands comfortably apart on its own pedestal.

The creative partnership of Brubaker and Epting resonates in comics. Together, the writer and artist redefined Captain America, and their long run on the title has become definitive; for the foreseeable future, every creator’s take on the shield-wielding patriot will be paralleled to theirs. But VELVET allows Brubaker and Epting to break from the confines of corporate characters – there’s no holding back. Storytelling choices, both artistic and regarding script, are executed in magnificent tandem. The plot unravels with the deftness of a John le Carré novel, but punctuated with the adrenaline-fueled bursts of a Robert Ludlum or Matthew Reilly thriller, while Brubaker keeps the dialog succinct, his trademark noir vibe permeating the necessary exposition. Epting’s artwork has never looked better, his layouts carefully considered, allowing for a seamless reading experience. Character interactions are embellished with incredibly detail; emotions play across their faces with unparalleled finesse. And the action is choreographed to perfection, whether it’s hand-to-hand combat or a 007-esque car chase scene, you won’t find better execution elsewhere in comics.

BEFORE THE LIVING END throws all the elements of a successful spy story into the mix, but it never feels overtly derivative, beyond the connotations Brubaker and Epting purposefully highlight.  Set in 1973 (but with plenty of flashbacks) Velvet Templeton is an ex field agent (or “X-Operative”) turned personal assistant to the Director of the clandestine agency ARC-7. When one of the agency’s top X-Operative is killed in Paris, Velvet sits in on the debrief, and decides to personally investigate the murder – which ends up seeing her marked as the killer and a traitor. Velvet flip-flops from inactive to active in the space of twenty pages, and BEFORE THE LIVING END is propelled by her determination to find out who set her up and murdered her fellow agent.

Velvet is not the young buxom blonde one might associate with a super-spy heroine. For one thing, she’s older than that stereotype suggests – closer to her forties than her twenties – and she’s not infallible. Despite the theatrics – and there are many – Velvet is a normal-bodied agent, out of touch, and slower than she once was. As the story flits from present to past, the changes in her body and mind are demonstrated through Epting’s art. Velvet remains beautiful throughout, but the slight changes highlights the attention to detail this creative team has taken with this project.

VELVET is a fantastic new series from Image Comics, and merely the foundation of something brilliant from Brubaker and Epting. This volume’s finale has me waiting with baited breath for the next; in the interim, I guarantee I’ll enjoy more than a few re-reads of BEFORE THE LIVING END.