Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Asterix in Britain – René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

When Close Encounters posted on the Books With Pictures Facebook group page that we were going to be reading an Asterix book, I’m not going to lie, I had two thoughts, the first was “but isn’t that a kids book”, then it was “wow, I’ve not read one of those since Year 8” and it was at that point I became genuinely excited to read it. You see I loved Asterix as a kid. I was never big into comics back then, but on visits to the library I’d always check if any Asterix books had been added to their kids section, usually though it was the same three or four titles, but it was those plus comic adaptations of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and Stingray that were my introduction to comic books. Friends would by the Dandy and Beano and I’d had a read of those, I’d also flick through them whilst waiting for my Dad to make his picks on library visits, but they never really grabbed me.

Then in Year 7 and 8 my form tutor, who happened to look like a cross between Henry VIII and Obelix, was also my languages teacher and in order to help us learn sentence structure for French he’d often photocopy pages from his French language editions of Asterix comics and give us panels to translate (as best as we could for students in one of the worst schools in that area), funnily enough, during that time, French was one of my strongest subjects. However I changed schools (to a much better school) for year 9, found myself behind on everything and I struggled with my French teachers teaching methods from then on, plus hormones intervened and she happened to be a very attractive blonde woman who had a preference for fitted blouses (hell, on a fundraising day she wore a French Maid’s outfit). My marks should have gone up, in hindsight, but, well, I was 13…

As you can imagine, once I picked up my copy of Asterix in Britain, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, all of the above came flooding back to me. If I’d actually read this volume before then it didn’t feel like it, but my immediate reaction was delight at just how colourful and detailed each and every panel was. When compared to something from the big American comic houses in the 60s and even its competitors in the form of the Beano and Dandy, every panel is lovingly created and doesn’t feel like Albert Uderzo has skimped at all.

Characters are full of life, colour and detail, and I’m not just talking the key cast here, but side characters too are given plenty of attention. Of course these being caricatures there are things that tie them all together, every Englishman here has an extravagant moustache and prominent nose, but these make the artwork endearing more than anything else.

The story is full of amusing moments, culminating in a rather violent game of Rugby, though my favourite moment takes part towards the end of the book when the potion Asterix and Obelix had supposed to have provided for the British to help them fight off the Roman’s, actually ends up in a river, an unsuspecting angler thinks he’s caught a big fish, only for it to pull him off the banks of the river due to the added strength it has received from the Gaul’s special potion.

 

Books, Uncategorized

The Colony – Nicolas Debon

When we think of Anarchism in the world of comics (or graphic novels, whichever you prefer), we often turn to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and tales of attempts to overthrow those in power due to corruption, however, theres actually alot more to the ideals behind anarchism than explosions, aggression and sticking ones finger up at politicians and its this other side that Nicolas Debon tries to teach us as he tells of the true story of Fortune Henry and the colony of L’Essai he founded, for a brief period of time, in the early 1900’s before the world fell into chaos as the Great War fell upon us.

The book opens with a man taking ownership of a plot of land, thought to be inhabitable and unworkable, he begins to transform it. The locals treat him with suspicion, often talking of the devil or wild man in the woods. But before long a small handful of people begin to take an interest in what he is doing and ultimately join him, as the colony grows, the workload also increases, they build settlements, work the land and sell produce at local markets.

However, its not enough for Henry, he strives for change, people believe in what they feel he is trying to do and his ideals of breaking down social constructs, promoting communism (or socialism, though its definetly the former that he says he is trying to bring to fruition, even to the extent of his first born having “no known parents” on his birth certificate as he “belongs to the colony”). He sets up a printing press, first selling flyers to promote the colony and the ideals it was founded upon, though as ever with such things he begins to take ownership, of his responsibility within the colony and also of his partner, acting jealous when she is around other men and resorting to violence when she questions his motives.

As his message spreads, his views become more damaging to the establishment and he is ultimately imprisoned, once free he finds that, without him, L’Essai has fallen apart and the colonists have moved on.

At around 80 pages, this is a short tale, covering the basics, additional information about Fortune Henry is provided at the back of the book, but you’re given a sort of one sided, almost diary like telling of the foundation and falling of L’Essai, albeit told alongside some beautiful art work that looks hand-painted, the earthy tones used give the impression of the book being hand-crafted and fit in perfectly with both the tale being told and the time period it is taken from and Debon does a wonderful job of just allowing the story to work towards its natural end, picking the exact moments to tell, be it the work and turmoil the colonists go through as the seasons and years progress, or the emotional challenges Henry faces. We’re never forced to endure anything particularly long, instead being given a snippet of the tale of L’Essai told in simple panels, though when Debon does give us a full page panel its always a wonderful piece of art work.

That said, this isn’t for every one. I can easily see people wanting some real history feeling like there’s not enough here, likewise, there’s not alot of incident or action to speak of to excite, its not that kind of tale. But if you want to read something that tells a true story that you hadn’t known of, The Colony will fit that brief absolutely perfectly.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

We3 – Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely

This month’s Books WITH Pictures pick was We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely through Vertigo. It’s a book I’ll honestly admit I’ve never even heard of so my expectations going in were all over the place, especially as I flicked through it on the bus home before I sat down to read through it properly.

First off, its not a very long book and there’s not a lot of text to absorb, instead Morrison provides the script to allow Quitely’s art to tell the story. A picture tells a thousand words and all that. That tale is one of three animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, that have been given cybernetic suits of armour that turn them into military weapons. After a senator visits the research facility that holds them and reveals to the staff there that the future for creatures is to have them decommissioned, one of the scientists (who happens to have closer bonds to animals than she does humans) engineers their escape and what follows is an ultra-violent version of Homeward Bound.

I mean there is dialogue, the humans obviously talk and the three animals have some very basic speech thanks to implants (the dog, referred to as 1, uses behaviour based commands that you and I would use to interact with him if he were our pet, so he responds to things like “good dog” and “home”), and its this sparse use of dialogue that really drives home the emotional aspect of the book, especially when 2 (the cat) asks “?HOME IS?” and 1 responds “HOME? IS RUN NO MORE”. This is driven home by the use of the original 3 issue run using Lost Pet posters as each of the three covers, all of which are replicated at the proper interval here, giving the 3 companions they’re true names whilst giving weight to the senators command that future projects will need to use animals specially bred for such purpose, so not only is “Bandit” (1, the dog) looking for a home, he already had one, as did  “Tinker” (2, the cat) and “Pirate” (3, the rabbit).

It’s not just the art itself that tells the story, throughout they use panels intelligently, this is most notable, in my opinion, in two particular sequences. The first is a 4 page series of panels where, rather than use the standard 9-panel format, the duo cram 12 panels onto each page, showing a variety of CCTV images that reveal the means of “Weapon 3″‘s escape. In another moment Tinker is on the offensive (and when that cat begins an attack there’s definitely only ever going to be one outcome, it’s one bad kitty) and the panels skew and contort giving the impression of a flicker book. There are other moments throughout that really play with the medium in this way and gives the action the kinetic energy that I’ve not often seen in western comics but certainly know from Manga (especially Shonen Manga). This point also applies to the level of gore on show, which at times reaches similar levels to that of Akira.

We3, as a whole, is something I’ve had to really think on, I’ve actually now read it twice and will probably read it again as I think the work that Quitely has put into the action element of the book is more likely to stand out as I return to it again and again and it’s for that reason I think I’d say I enjoyed it. The story itself is, I think, fairly easy to get to grips with and as I’ve mentioned, its hardly dialogue-heavy, but its definitely worth a go.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Akira Volume 1 – Katsuhiro Otomo

Way back in July I wrote about the reasons I was glad that the Hollywood movie of Akira had been put on hold (though it’s still in the works), this time out I’m taking a direct look at volume 1 of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga as its the book we’ve discussed in “Books with Pictures” this month.

Despite Akira being one of my favourite stories, both from the collection of manga’s and the movie, I’m going to try and remain unbiased, it’ll be tough, but let’s see how it goes.

For those who have never read the manga nor watched the movie, the basic plot is as follows. Tetsuo Shima is a teenage boy, part of a biker gang in a post World War III Japan in the city of Neo-Tokyo. After being involved in an accident, Tetsuo develops psychokinetic powers and is then thrown into the centre of a political and military based human experiment. The leader of the gang Tetsuo belongs to, Kaneda, gets pulled into a political resistance group as he tries to find answers regarding what has happened to his friend.

Flicking from page to page, looking at each and every panel, its astounding the level of detail that Otomo has put into each and every image, take the second bike sequence for example. Every action in every panel is clear and concise, the energy flows through the page and you really get a sense of the chaos of the running battle between Kaneda’s gang and their opponents the Clowns. In this volume there’s not a huge amount of dialogue, at times it often feels like Otomo is story-boarding for a movie (though the movie wouldn’t be released for another six years after the first chapter of the manga was released)

I’ve read through all six volumes many times, though it’s been a few years since I returned to them. So the one thing that surprises me is just how little of the story volume 1 actually covers. Within this book we are introduced to a few members of Kaneda’s gang (Kaneda, Tetsuo and Yamagata), Tetsuo has his accident and begins to develop powers that he struggles to control, we get more time with the Clowns than we people coming from the movie will have expected, Kaneda spends some time with the resistance group though Ryu is quite distant and Kei is reluctant to be around him and lastly we have moments with Colonel Shikishima, Doctor Onishi, Takashi (#26), Masaru (#27) and Kiyoko (#25). Other characters appear but aren’t named at this point in the tale (the key ones being gang member Kaisuke and the member of parliament Nezu).

So Volume 1 is a combination of world-building, setting up the factions that will feature in coming volumes and the beginnings of Tetsuo’s story. We see that Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang, though based upon his behaviour its unclear how he has gotten to that position, and my only conclusion is the sheer amount of self-confidence he has earns him the respect of the others. Tetsuo is only a minor member of the gang, and really looks up to Kaneda, but once his powers are unlocked he begins to challenge this position and we begin to see a different side of the boy, namely his incredibly short temper which are exacerbated by the side effects that his powers bring upon him if he’s not medicated properly, he later tries to control this using a cocktail of drugs that the Clown gang get for him with the manga closing after Colonel Shikishima offers him the help to unlock his potential and keep the negative effects his powers have on his body in check.

What volume 1 does offer us though is some interesting insights. For me, this particular volume is Otomo’s response to post-war Japan that he grew up in. Due to the treaties that were signed after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (which are kind of referenced by the image of an atomic like explosion that started World War III in this world), the US-occupied Japan throughout the years from 1945 to 1952 (and referred to as Operation Blacklist), despite Otomo not being born until 1953 the American occupation (the only time in Japans history that it had been occupied by foreign powers) had some major impacts on Japanese culture. The youth of the country began looking to Western media and behaviours, this saw the rise of the Bosozoku movement, teenagers began purchasing motorcycles and gathering in gangs, wearing colours and patches to state which gangs they belonged to. It comes as no surprise that these gangs reached their heights around the time that Otomo began writing Akira.

There’s also elements of the human experimentation programs from around the second World War and into the sixties with Japans Unit 731 and the US’ MK Ultra programs feeling like they could have been key influences on Otomo’s writing.

Going back to Kaneda for a moment, there is one worrying aspect to his character whilst reading this in 2019 and that’s his attitude towards women. Early on it’s established, he has had a sexual relationship with the girl who works in his schools’ infirmary, she tells him she thinks she might be pregnant with her basically telling him that the baby would be his. He couldn’t be more disinterested if he tried, his only interest is in her getting his gang their next batch of drugs for him (and testing the drug he snatched after the gang’s first altercation with Colonel Shikishima). Later on, he’s constantly trying to get it on with Kei, though she brushes him off at every turn. Now, this is admittedly typical teenage boy behaviour, and in fairness, he is something like 15 or 16 in the book, but it’s still a little disconcerting seeing the lengths he’ll go to to try and get what he wants from Kei.

Movies

How the Joker plays his ultimate joke

Like everybody else, I recently visited my local cinema to watch Todd Phillips’ “Joker”, I decided to make some notes on the bus home and then return them a few days later once I’d had time to think on them. I’ll get this right out there by stating that I really quite liked the movie, sure it hangs off of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, but thats why you hire an actor of Phoenix’s calibre, its rare he phones in a performance and the majority of the time you find yourself watching him rather than everyone else in the film, I for one think Gladiator would have been a much poorer film without his casting.

I think it goes without saying that from this point on there are alot of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading now.

There’s a widely held belief that Joker is about a man who suffers from a variety of mental health issues and potentially has a personality disorder that is pushed over the edge and becomes The Joker. I can see exactly why people think that, its the story thats being told throughout the film, but I put it to you, who is telling the story? Is it Arthur Fleck or is it The Joker?

I think its the latter.

Whilst this is a standalone movie at this point, and this can often be the case with the medium the character is taken from, with many different writers and film makers over the decades offering their own take on The Clown Prince of Crime. However one constant is that we have never really been told the characters origins. Sure there are parallels with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. A guy, down on his luck anyway, struggling to cut out a career as a comedian, goes through a period of time where things get worse and worse for him. In the case of The Killing Joke its one bad day, with Joker its prolonged over a few days or weeks.

So why do I think its The Joker himself telling this story and how do I think this is revealed.

There are a few things that contribute to this. The most obvious point is his relationship with his neighbour Sophie, as everyone is aware, there is no relationship, as we see when Arthur lets himself into her apartment and when she discovers him there she (justifiably) freaks out. The one sided element of this relationship is really driven (or heavily hammered) home later in the film when we are shown a few scenes where the two had been together which would then flick to show she wasn’t in those moments with Arthur at all.

There’s alot of serial killer tropes being ticked here too: Lives at home with his Mother, has no friends, people at work creeped out by him, his job isn’t a Regular Joe kind of job, a history of mental health issues; one of which weirds people out, abused as a child, no Father figure, obsesses over false idols, creates false relationships and fantasy scenarios.

There’s a sense that he over embellishes. I’ve seen a few complaints that the scene on the TV show goes on too long and I think thats entirely the point, he quite clearly likes telling a tale and the longer he can keep this going the more attention he gets.

Then we get onto his history and the tie in to the DC Universe, Arthur Fleck is the illegitimate love child of Thomas Wayne and one of his employee’s (Penny Fleck) thus making him the half brother of his ultimate nemesis, Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Add in that the final riot just so happens to take place, and is kind of the cover for, the murder of the Waynes and it places the Joker’s story as being “aah thats why he and Batman were destined to face off against each other time and again”, some have labelled this as a lazy tie in to the rest of this particular universe and I totally get that, I think its a lazy embellishment on The Jokers part.

So, how did I come to this conclusion? Mostly due to the final scenes where The Joker is talking to a psychiatrist in what I presume is Arkham State Hospital, we cut to this at the moment The Joker is being worshipped by a mass of people in clown masks, he tells a joke that the psychiatrist thinks is awful whilst the viewer is tricked into believing that she is the Social Worker we saw Arthur talking to repeatedly earlier in the film (though it is two different actresses who do look very different from each other).

All of this shows us that Phoenix’s Joker, like Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s Joker, is an unreliable story teller, the inconsistencies, fabrications and embellishments create a tale that from very early on feels incredibly surreal, that it shares a similar tone to Martin Scorsese’s Robert De Niro vehicle Taxi Driver only further cements my feelings in this regard, and I kind of feel that the casting of De Niro as Fleck’s idol/father figure in this whole scenario is purposefully done.

Of course, I could be giving Todd Phillips too much credit with all of this.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore, David Lloyd

Once a month for the past few months I’ve been attending a book club at my local comic book store, it’s called “Books Without Pictures” and has focused on novels, now they’ve started up another club, called “Books With Pictures” we’re we read a comic book/graphic novel/whatever you want to call them. Our first meeting centred around Alan Moore and David Lloyds “V for Vendetta”.

Both David Lloyd and Alan Moore provide an introduction to the book and its hard not to look at the political climate we currently find ourselves. They mention tabloids voicing ideas of concentration camps in order to deal with the aids epidemic of the 80s (when V for Vendetta was written), now we have a climate where the US are seperating families they don’t want living within their borders and where, in the UK, the atmosphere is such that everyone is turning on each other dependent on whether you voted Remain or Leave and the disinformation we are fed from our politicians and media is such that once you delve into the content of V for Vendetta itself, its not difficult to see that the world Moore and Lloyd have created becoming a reality, even without a third World War to create it.

It’s literally impossible to not hear the broadcasts of Fate ending with the line “Make Britain Great again”, and not immediately think of Brexit, UKIP, Farage. Of course it was Margaret Thatchers electoral campaign slogan long before the European Referendum was even a twinkling in the eyes of our politicians, and of course V was written as a response to Thatchers Britain.

Very early into the book V blows up the Houses of Parliament whilst reciting the nursery rhyme “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November”, as the events take place between 5th November 1997 and 5th November 1998. The Houses of Parliament, underneath where Guy Fawkes was discovered protecting barrels of gunpowder intended to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I as part of the Gunpowder Plot. My thoughts during this moment in the book turned to how we see those events now, I always felt the way I was taught about it at school was a little confusing and my memory of those lessons is very shady, however, I wonder how relevant it is now? Halloween seems to be the focal Autumnal celebration now and Bonfire Night has fallen down the pecking order, though when I was a kid it was most certainly the other way round. Kids would pull Guy’s along on their sisters toy prams or go-karts and call out “Penny for the Guy” and families and neighbourhoods would have big gatherings to let off fireworks, now those firework displays are extravagant but authority run affairs and I wonder, has its lost its meaning? Also, what was its meaning, was we supposed to be celebrating the discovery and failure of the plot or is it a celebration of a right to protest? I’m not entirely sure it would have been i. originally allowed or ii. celebrated quite as long as it were (from 1605 to present) if it was the latter, but it does seem to me that Alan Moore wonders this very thing in the article printed in the back of the book.

There’s alot of uncomfortable moments within these pages, the treatment of Evey throughout the book borders on abuse, she eventually takes up the mantle of V during the closing moments, but her journey to get there is rather tortuous. First she’s rescued from an attempted rape by V, he takes her back to his “Shadow Gallery” but provides her with no answers and it does feel like she’s kept prisoner by her grattitude towards him saving her, she then offers to help his cause and is put in a position where her youth and sexuality is used in order to lure a bishop whom V has an agenda against into a false sense of security.

Later she questions his methods, unhappy that she has been used in order for V to kill the Lilliman (the bishop) and is then abandoned by V. She finds herself in the company of Gordon Deitrich who takes her in, the pair live together for some months and eventually form a relationship that is short lived when Gordon is murdered. She tries to take revenge on Gordon’s murderer but is caught before she can enact her plan and imprisoned and tortured for information on V, which she refuses to give. When ultimately, after months of physical and mental torture, a threat is made on her life, she states she’d rather lose her life than her beliefs, it is revealed that it had been V doing this to her all along in order for her to learn the ordeal he was put through at the hands of the people who ran the Larkhill Resettlement Camp where he had been experimented on (and where the people he has murdered all worked).

It’s during this time that I really began to wonder just what V is up to, everything that comes from his mouth is hidden in riddles, rhymes and quotes, he gives the impression that he wants to overthrow the current government and bring about his view of Anarchy (wherein people rule themselves), but his actions are born of revenge and mirror those of the very people he is fighting against. The character, and our worlds adoptation of his mask, would have you believe he is a freedom fighter, but he himself is not above imprisoning, torturing and killing people to get whatever it is he wants, not to mention him spying on people using the governments own monitoring systems.

Once the bigger elements of V’s plans are put into place there are some really excellent moments, during this period The Eyes (video surveillance), The Ears (audio surveillance) and The Mouth (radio broadcasts) are all nullified and the people of Britain are given three days where they are able to do whatever they please. Of course, this leads to rioting and looting, but there’s one moment amongst all of this, where a young girl, out delivering newspapers, utters the word “bollocks” out loud, her parents are around to hear her and she knows that The Ears cannot hear her, she can’t get into trouble, and feeling free she begins to repeat the word louder and louder, amongst all of the oppression prior to this moment and the chaos that comes from V’s actions, this one little girl has that moment we all have when we’re younger where we suddenly realise that we can swear outside of our parents earshot and not get in to trouble for it. Maybe thats Freedom.

 

Books

Sea of Stars #1 – Jason Aaron, Dennis Hallum, Stephen Green, Rico Renzi, Jared K. Fletcher

Sea of Stars immediately catches the attention with its heavy use of the colour purple, and that striking appearance continues throughout the pages of this first issue, albeit other sharp colours come in to play. It paints space as this wonderfully colourful expanse that is wonderful to look at, not that you would believe it based upon the comments of Kadyn, the son of a space trucker who is aboard his fathers ship for his latest job and is apparently bored with a capital “Boo”.

His father tries to explain that he had no choice to bring him along with him, the job he’s doing required him to be away from home for too long for him to leave his “almost nine” year old son behind with one of the neighbours. Kadyn is of the belief he could have “baby-sitted” himself. Then heads off into the hold to look at the museum exhibits his father was tasked with couriering back to Earth after the museum they were being held in was damaged in a meteor shower. Kadyn just wants excitement, whether its seeing a black hole, exploding stars or “Quarksharks” and uses his absent mother (presumed deceased) as a crux to try and manipulate his father “Momma would let me.”.

Once in the hold and looking (and touching, despite instructions not to) at the exhibits, his father notices a large ship coming into range on the scanner and tries to open comms with them “This is Gil Starx The Star Ducking sailing the Porkchop Comet for the Intergalactic Parcel Service. I see you out there, Big Rigger. What’s your handle, come on back?” It’s this wonderful American Trucker language that really grounds Gil as a character, we now know he’s a single father, possibly a widower, and that hes been space-trucking for some time.

However there is no response and as the ship soon gets closer, its revealed its not a ship but a huge creature that decimates the ship and splitting father and son up, casting them off into space. Kadyn awakes to be confronted with two more strange creatures, who plan to eat him as they presume he is dead due to the condition of his “breathing suit”. To the surprise of all, it seems he can breath in space without his suit and he can also communicate with these creatures. One of whom still wants to eat him but the other states they can’t as their witnessing a miracle.

We then cut to Gil and his promise to find his son, somewhere in the vastness of space.

Sea of Stars essentially then, throws the reader straight into the action in this first issue, and along the way we are treated to some excellent visual design, the (now destroyed) Porkchop Comet is a wonderful looking craft with solar sails, who’s overall appearance is reminiscent of Chinese Junk ships, inside there’s blue neon screens with readouts dotted around with open views of the beautiful purple space outside, all this is offset by the bright orange garb the characters wear that allow them to stand out against the backgrounds, but its the page with what I’m going to call the Space Whale that really pop off the page, and its not until all the alerts are going off and the Porkchop is being pulled apart that the hues all change to dangerous reds and blacks and then ultimately the characters being cast off into space/eaten.

As the issue ends, theres the hint of something more, we’re going to learn more about why Kadyn can do stuff humans shouldnt be able to do and there’s definetly danger ahead for Gil. I can’t wait for issue 2 of this five part series..

Books

Sandman Overture – Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart

I’ve said already that I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman binge this year. The first thing I read by him was American Gods, which I read back in 2017 but more recently, as part of my book club, I’ve read through Norse Mythology and Neverwhere, both of which I’ve really enjoyed. Sandman Overture is my first Gaiman comic, and as a prequel to this work it seemed like an excellent place to start.

It’s also an excellent place to finish if you aren’t new to Sandman. The plot, or how I’ve interpreted it, is about the end and the beginning of creation, the universe and all thats in it both burns out and is created anew, and its not until the final issue that all the strands and characters ramblings begin to make sense.

I’ll state now that its not the easiest of graphic novels to read, possibly due to needing to know who some of the characters are beyond how they present here and some of the relationships between Morpheus and his “family”, although the feeling is that knowing these things would be beneficial in only understanding the reasons for the actions of those who Morpheus interacts with and how they feel about the central figure of the book. Another reason its difficult to read is that its creators have decided to play with the medium available to them, there are foldouts in a few places, completely blank pages and even a double spread where you have to turn the book through 180 degrees in order to follow what happens.

All of which can be a bit overwhelming, add in the sheer amount of artwork available on (almost) every page and the detail within those pages and you’d be forgiven for taking the book in in smaller chunks in order to appreciate the work that has gone into it fully. It really is an utterly beautiful piece of work, J.H. Williams III’s art and Dave Stewarts’ colours really pop off the page and the way in which each character has their own style of speech bubble, complete with unique coloured background/text. I realise none of this is unique to this particular piece of work or the creators here but the combination of all of the above makes Sandman Overture one of the most visually striking comic books I’ve ever read.

As a concept its definetly gotten me interested in exploring the character further so its yet another series I’ve now started that I feel compelled to complete (with two of Alan Moore’s works, Swamp Thing and Promethea, also being among that list) and I look forward to reading obtaining Sandman Vol.1 at some point in the future (although its not like I have a lack of books to read!)

Books

Tales from the Border – Andrew Sztehlo

Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border” is unlike any comic I’ve ever read before. Admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot as my comic book knowledge isn’t the most in depth and its such a huge medium anyway that most of us have barely scratched the surface of whats out there. The book harkens back to an era where authors would write short or serialised stories for genre based publications like Science Fiction Quarterly or Tales from the Crypt. However whilst publications such as those would collect together works from different creators, “Tales from the Border” is predominantly the work of Sztehlo, although he does borrow here and there.

Sztehlo borrows from Emily Bronte and Oscar Wilde at times to put words to his monochrome illustrations, however its not the text that push the majority of these stories along but his monochrome work really drives home the tales he is trying to tell. The form of the book, which is larger than a standard comic book, and the often full page images make you study every single line and shadow, and every crack and wrinkle of his characters faces. There’s been an effort here not to tale the tales of people, but of the worlds that they live in, which Sztehlo acknowledges in his closing comments.

He’s also not afraid to bring in his own experiences, there’s a lovely tale of the love he shares with his father for Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s and how his appreciation for Cave’s work has evolved over time alongside his understanding of the music and lyrics. Music plays a key part in this first issue of Tales from the Border, as not only are we treated to the above personalised story, but Sztehlo also lists the songs that helped him create this issue and not only does Nick Cave make an appearance there too but we also are introduced to legendary Blues performer Robert Johnson, firstly by the track “Love in Vain” appearing in said track list but also by the inclusion of a story from a moment in ?Johnson’s life that gives an insight into the particular song listed in the opening pages but also the mind of a man who has loved and lost and has to battle his inner demons, it certainly makes a chance from yet another retelling of Johnson visiting the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil and gives the man a little more humanity, albeit that of a tortured soul.

Whilst reading this issue of Tales from the Border I couldn’t help thinking that my reading environment wasn’t a suitable setting for these stories. Instead of a room lit by daylight, albeit a rather grey and wet day, slouched on my sofa with a mug of coffee to hand, the tales being told here somehow feel better suited to a high-backed chair in a dark room lit only by a roaring fire, the night time wind and rain battering the windows whilst the reader nurses a double whisky and I think that should tell you everything you need to know about Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border”.

To see more of Andrew Sztehlo’s work you can find his blog at Tales from the Border and you can buy a copy of Tales from the Border #1 from his Etsy page.

Books

What “Solo” could have been

I quite liked last years “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. I genuinely thought it was a fun little story, however, and you’ll notice this is a bug bear of mine, I feel it bogs itself down in fan service too much. Do we need to know how he got his gun or see him winning the Falcon from Lando? And the Kessel Run being included was always going to be on the cards. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, again, about Star Wars and that I’m not a fan. I assure you I am, but I’ve just read Marvel’s “Han Solo” by Marjorie Liu and Mark Brooks and genuinely think it could have made for a great standalone movie for the character.

We’re re-introduced to Han and Chewbacca after the events of Star Wars, Han is trying to pay off Jabba but turning down job after job (much to Chewie’s concern) because “they dont feel right). He’s ultimately coaxed into a job for the Rebellion, mostly as he doesn’t want someone else to use the Falcon, which involves retrieving some informants, using an inter-planetary race as a disguise. Its the perfect setup for an excellent adventure featuring Han and Chewbacca, and whilst Leia appears at points throughout (plus gives Han the job anyway), it doesn’t feel the need to name drop characters from the movies at all (Luke gets mentioned once, Jedi aren’t mentioned at all).

So, instead of having a story that feels the need to nudge and wink at its audience on a regular basis, as we got with Solo, what we have is a race across space in the Falcon, with occassional planetary visits that help move the mission along. Han meets some characters from his and Chewie’s own past along the way, and like with our introduction to Lando in Empire, we’re given just enough information to understand the relationships between these characters. The Empire play a large part in proceedings, indeed, they pursue Han (and the other members of the race he is taking part in) throughout the journey and its only down to Hans wile and (typically) alot of luck (all part of the plan!) that Han achieves his mission unscathed with the closing panels giving us a nice pathway into Han and Leia’s relationship, plus Han’s further involvement in the Rebellion, at the beginning of Empire.

So, as good as the comic book is, and as fun as Solo: A Star Wars Story is, I think the two would have better served the franchise as a whole of their creation was switched. A chase movie featuring Han questioning his own morals and beliefs, new characters that don’t shrink the Universe plus some familiar sights (Stormtroopers, Twi’leks, a Dug) that all help tie its involvement into the Star Wars Universe beyond it being a story featuring Han Solo, plus the growth of the Rebellion and how hard its key leaders have had to work in secret, for me, would have made an incredibly compelling movie. Instead, I urge you to pick up Han Solo from your local comic store, it contains a second story but that one spends alot of time with Luke and Leia too.