Friday, 13 July 2012

Comics You Should Be Reading Part 2

(Warning - this post contains some spoilers)

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Lienil Yu

I was a late-comer to Mark Millar’s work. I read Civil War but missed some of his less mainstream work. It wasn’t until last year that I caught up on almost everything the man has written. And almost everything I’ve read I have enjoyed immensely. Which is why it’s really exciting that Millarworld is producing so many new, great comics in 2012.

One of those books is Supercrooks, which introduces the protagonist Johnny Bolt, on the run from superhero The Gladiator. Bolt is a criminal with powers, a Supercrook. Unfortunately, as we see in the first few pages, his powers aren’t enough to keep him out of the clutches of The Gladiator and, not for the first time, a high security prison.

This leads us to the main premise of the comic – what happens when super villains get fed up of being caught by the heroes all the time? They go to Europe where there are no superheroes. In this case Johnny rounds up his old crew and they travel to Spain, with the intention of making big bucks, to help out their old mentor. It’s a really interesting idea and I’m really looking forward to seeing where Millar goes with it. In Johnny Bolt, Millar has created a mischievous, likeable character who, even though he’s a ‘baddie’, I’m rooting for.

Just a quick word on Leinil Yu’s art in this comic. Wow.

Seriously, I could look at Yu’s stunning pages for hours. I love the detail in his panels and I find his drawing style enables him to render emotion better than most other artists working today. Simply gorgeous. 

Interior panel - Supercrooks #1 - Leinil Yu

The Secret Service
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

So, Mark Millar writes a comic book about spies and super criminals, in which a kidnapped Mark Hamill is killed in a snow-mobile crash in the first few pages. Oh, and it’s drawn by Dave Gibbons. Yes, the Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame.

What? You need more than that?

Okay. The story starts in a snowy Switzerland where Mark Hamill is discussing the relative merits of the Star Wars prequels with his kidnappers. He is rescued by a member of the British Secret Service who quickly dispatches the kidnappers. Unfortunately there are many more kidnappers and a snow-mobile chase ensues. The pursuit ends in the afore-mentioned snow-mobile accident and the death of Luke Skywalker. This leads me to imagine all sorts of “Mark Millar kills Luke Skywalker” fanboy outrage on the internet. But man, it’s funny as Hell.

Interior art The Secret Service #1 - Dave Gibbons

After that audacious opening sequence we are dropped straight into a high-rise flat in Peckham, amid scenes that visualise all sorts of middle-class preconceptions and judgements of people who reside in high-rise flats. Here we’re introduced to the main character Gary, a clearly intelligent teenager kicking against his depressingly chaotic, impoverished upbringing. Gary gets in to trouble with the police, and his Uncle Jack is called upon to get him out jail free once again. Jack happens to be one of the best secret agents in the country and his reach is enough to get Gary out of jail. But as Jack watches his nephew from afar it becomes clear that he has bigger plans for Gary. The first issue ends with Jack putting a call in to a contact at “Spy School”, and we know Gary’s life is set to change immeasurably.

There is so much going on in this comic: great writing; breathtaking art; tonnes of action; hilarious set-pieces; believable characters; and an interesting story. And all for $2.99. It’s an absolute bargain, and it should be on your list. 


The Massive
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

Brian Wood’s new on-going series, published by Dark Horse Comics takes place on a planet Earth that has recently been ravaged by a cataclysmic environmental disaster. In the first issue we are shown a series of flashback images chronicling the events and their terrible aftermath, culminating in a quietly stunning image of Hong Kong “drowning under ten stories of water.”

Most of the action in this first issue takes place on Kapital, a ship commandeered by the Ninth Wave, an environmental direct-action group. We learn that the group’s sister vessel The Massive has gone missing in heavy seas and they are searching for any sign that it is still afloat.

There is a lot to absorb in this first issue and Wood, artist Kristian Donaldson – whose illustrations are wonderful – together with colourist Dave Stewart, do a great job of setting things up, giving the reader enough information to get them interested. 

Beautiful cover art - The Massive #1

It was always going to be interesting to see what Wood did after the epic, fantastic Northlanders and it seems he has embarked on a project similar in themes and scope. Similar in themes you ask? Northlanders was a historical series focusing mainly on the Viking age. (This is a terribly simplistic description of a wonderful comic book series and I apologise to Mr Wood. If you haven’t read Northlanders I urge you to check out the trades). The Massive is contemporary and asks the question “What does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended?” At first it may seem the two comics have little in common. However, both comics focus on small groups of people facing challenges in a new, unfamiliar environment and I think what Wood is carrying through from his writing on Northlanders is a sense of characters isolated, navigating their way through a life thrust upon them. 

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker is one of my favourite comic book creators. For my money, together with George Pelecanos, he is one of the best writers working today. Throw Dennis Lehane into the mix and you’ve got a Goddamn writing power trio right there. But forgive me, I digress.

If you know the comic book work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips then you’ll know what to expect from Fatale. In many ways you’d be wrong. It’s got the noir elements of Criminal and the supernatural elements of Sleeper. But it’s not a straight crime comic, or a noir comic. The first story arc, running through the first five issues centres on the mysterious Josephine. At first you may think she’s a typical femme fatale, but it soon becomes apparent that she is much more complex than that. The effect she has on men, typical of femme fatales, is more a product of her slowly revealed history/origin than the way she acts around them.

As the story progresses we are also introduced to rumpled journalist Hank Raines, who falls under the spell of Josephine, and crooked cop Walter Booker, who also has a history with her. The story also features a frightening antagonist in the shape of Bishop, and a centuries old satanic cult.

Brubaker brings all these elements together in a dizzying story which has several threads, all expertly brought together over the first five issues.

As ever, Sean Phillips does a fantastic job of bringing the ideas of this comic to life visually. I love his drawing style and it’s perfectly suited to the story elements here; and the cars, clothes and architecture of the place and times the comic is set in.

The extra content that we’ve come to expect from Brubaker and Phillips' comics is present, and each issue features a back-up essay written by passionate, knowledgeable people including Stephen Blackmore and Charles Kelly.

Stunning variant cover #1 Fatale


  1. Thanks for the overview of Miller's less well known work. Nice job!

    1. No worries Maurice. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for stopping by. I haven't been updating this blog much recently. I'm writing a lot of comic news, reviews etc. for Check it out if you like comics and geek culture.