Category Archives: Graphic Novels
What happens when Mega City 1′s coldest, fiercest lawman comes in contact with the galaxy’s coldest, fiercest alien? A winning combination for a story. This graphic novel is not an attempt to say that Mega City 1 somehow exists in the past history of the Alien movies; that would be absurd. But why not take a creature from a popular movie series and drop it into a different mythos? It’s fun.
We begin with a citizen stuck in a traffic jam, desperate to get to hospital because he knows he’s going to die. It’s how he’s going to die that’s the surprising part – at least for the Judges, and those unfamiliar with the Alien movies. The creature bursts from its host’s chest and is on the loose, rapidly growing to adulthood. Where did it come from? How did the man get impregnated? Are there any more of the creatures? The answers come from an old foe of Dredd’s – someone he banished to the Cursed Earth, but who eventually found his way on to a starship. And now he’s brought something back to Earth.
“Incubus” is the name given to the Alien species here. It’s the first time I’ve heard it called this, and it’s a perfect fit, when you consider the historical meaning of the term: a spirit that comes to your bed in the middle of the night and has sex with you against you will. Not dissimilar to a run-in with a face-hugger. And after all, the Alien uses the human host as an incubator.
Incubus was first published as a four-issue comic, and can also now be obtained as a graphic novel. A highly enjoyable rollercoaster ride for fans of either Alien or Dredd. A mixture that’s likely to create a few new fans on opposite sides.
The new Dredd movie resurrected my interest this old comic book anti-hero from my childhood. In the late 21st century, America is a radiaoctive ruin known as the Cursed Earth. In the middle of this wasteland lie three vast sealed cities, one of which is Mega City 1. It’s an overpopulated dystopia of technology and squalour, where unemployment rates are high and crime runs rampant. Order is maintained by the Judges, police officers who act as arresting officer, judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Crime is far too big a problem for the time-consuming procedures of democracy and trial-by-jury. These elite trained and heavily armoured Judges patrol the streets on bikes (known as Lawmasters). Their main weapon is a side-arm (Lawgiver) that is capable of being switched to a variety of firing modes, including “hi-ex” (high explosive). Judge Dredd is the fiercest and most uncompomising Judge of them all, utterly devoted to keeping the law. In the 30+ years of this character’s existence, from his origin in the early issues of the 2000 AD comic in the late 1970s, no one has yet seen his face (a boundary overstepped thoughtlessly in the the Stallone movie). All that is visible beneath his dark helmet visor is a permanent scowl – an expression that never changes. Fans of the comic will love the new movie, as it maintains the authenticity of the character to a tee.
Judge Dredd is basically a fascist and a fundamentalist in his thinking – traits that would ordinarily cause us to hate a character. But there is just something about Dredd that makes you root for him, and I’m not sure what it is. For whatever reason, the character has endured phenomenally. Perhaps it has something to do with the appeal of westerns. Dredd is basically the sheriff, and there are few, if any, romanticised outlaws in his world. People fit very obvious categories of good and evil. Law-breakers are greedy, murderous, and trigger-happy, while the Judges are an uncompromising force protecting civilisation. They represent a definition of good that is not weak and gentle and fawning. Although Mega City 1 is essentially a police state (which is not the most desirable thing), it’s the sort of place that we know would be hell on earth without the Judges. I’m reminded of the quote: “Evil reigns when good men do nothing.” I think we love Judge Dredd because he represents form of ethics that is happy to justify kicking your ass into next week without a qualm of conscience. Dredd is Lex Talionis, the jaw of the jungle, manifested on the side of civilisation rather than against it.
This volume contains repints of the earliest Dredd stories. There are over 300 pages of short stand-alone tales and multi-issue serials to enjoy, from the first years of 2000 AD. There’s so much material that you inevitably forget a great deal of it quickly after reading. A main highlight is the Robot War, which introduced the frequently recurring character of Walter. We also meet Judge Giant for the first time, graduating from the Academy. And Dredd encounters his clone brother Rico. Highly enjoyable reading, and merely the tip of the iceberg. There are at eighteen subsequent volumes, not to mention many graphic novels in the Dredd universe.
Firefly was an excellent television series. It was created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame and was essentially a western in space – literally, not metaphorically. The captain of the ship Serenity, Mal Reynolds, actually wears braces, and in one episode the cargo bay is full of cows, no less. Firefly didn’t make an impact on television and was cancelled after one season, without the season being shown in its entirety. However, it made a big impact on DVD, so big that it spawned a big-budget movie: Serenity. Firefly‘s great strength was the diverse characters of the ship’s crew – from a thief to a preacher. Essentially it’s a ship full of outlaws, runaways, or people trying to make a difference – well, one anyway. Their aim is to try and stay alive, making a dishonest living and steering clear of a corrupt galactic Federation. In theme, I was reminded very much of an old British series from the 1970s called Blake’s 7.
Watching Firefly was a romance that was sweet but all too short, and I was quickly left wanting more. Serenity filled that gap for a while. And now, some comics have arrived to keep the fans happy. Those Left Behind was a mixed experience. In terms of characters, the writer nailed it. So often the crew of Serenity said something that made me smile and think, “Yep. That’s exactly the sort of thing that X would say.” The artwork is also beautifully drawn. The let-down is the story itself. There’s just not enough going on. I don’t think there was a single uninteresting episode of the Firefly series, but this graphic novel reads just like filler material. In fact, it’s clear from the story that it’s set in the time between the series and the movie, and shows how the characters ended up where they were at the start of the movie. As for the content, it’s essentially a case of an old enemy of Mal’s coming after him; fisticuffs; the end. Aside from a sub-plot that descends into the same territory, that’s it.
A vaguely interesting average read and no more.
Strontium Dog was one of my favourite characters from the pages of the weekly British sci-fi comic 2000 A.D., which originated in the early 1980s and continues to flourish today. I read the comic erratically in my youth, so until now I’ve only been scratching the surface of the amount of Strontium Dog strips that have been published. In fact, you could say I’m still only scratching the surface, since this mammoth 330-page tome is merely one of four.
The comic is set in the 22nd century, some years after an atomic war on earth – a war that left many people mutated because of a radioactive isotope in the fallout called Strontium 90. Fear of mutants became the new racism among “norms.” Mutants lived in poverty, unable to get jobs. As a solution, the government offered one job to all mutants – a job that no norm would take: Search-Destroy Agent. SD Agents are bounty hunters, scouring the galaxy for the the worst of humanity – sometimes to arrest and sometimes to terminate. But the public don’t call the bounty hunters SD Agents; they call them Strontium Dogs.
Johnny Alpha is one. His mutation left him with the ability to see into men’s minds. He also carries an assortment of weaponry, including a blaster that can fire bullets through solid matter, set to detonate at a specific range, and a range of bombs that can manipulate time itself. Johnny works with a partner, Wulf, a viking warrior from the past.
The stories are wild and wacky, even going as far as sending Johnny on a mission to earth’s past, to bring back Hitler to pay for his crimes against humanity. The one thing I noticed, as an adult, reading this stuff, is how unafraid the writer was to wreak havoc. Often, the innocent are slaughtered along with the guilty, with reckless abandon. If memory serves, I think that’s something you would rarely see in 2000 A.D.‘s 1980s rival The Eagle. Heroes were also allowed to have a darker side, seen in Johnny’s willingness to fulfill a contract without asking too many questions about the target.
The writing credits in this volume go to T.B. Grover and Alan Grant (I’m assuming T.B. Grover is a pseudonym for John Wagner). Both writers are highly imaginative. Carlos Ezquerra quickly finds his feet as the principal artist. (I think this trio are also responsible for a lot of early Judge Dredd, too.) The only place the volume falters is with the inclusion of a few Strontium Dog strips that came from 2000 A.D. annuals of the period. These were written and illustrated by outsiders, and are amateur by comparison. But I guess they had to be included for the sake of completeness.
I wasn’t awed by Strontium Dog, but it was an entertaining and imaginative set of stories, worth reading.
Another enjoyable volume in The Walking Dead saga, although not quite on par with the first one. For me, there was far too much dialogue. Some frames had speech bubbles that were overloaded, the characters constantly pausing to express their feelings about life in the wake of the apocalypse. I get that the author wants to tell a story with emotion as well as action, but there’s such a thing as overkill. And frankly, we’ve heard it all before, and more succinctly, in George Romero’s movies.
Although The Walking Dead was first published in serialized comic form, there are definite story arcs that fit tidily into the graphic novel format. Volume 2 tells the tale of the survivors in their camper van hooking up with a small farming family, only to discover that the father has gone a bit batty. Chaos ensues. The thrust of the story covers similar ground to themes already expressed in Night of the Living Dead (being unwilling to kill your zombified loved ones) and Dawn of the Dead (storing the undead instead of killing theme). Although entertaining, it all felt a bit like filler material between volumes 1 and 3. Although I’ve never read 3, I think I can say this because 2 ends on a note of promise that leaves you wanting more.
Little did we know that while Arnold Schwarzenegger was wreaking havoc in the first Terminator movie, there was another Terminator on the loose in another part of town. This Terminator is a huge hulking woman, and her mission is just like Arnie’s: seek and destroy everyone called Sarah Conner. And although she’s unwittingly tracking the wrong Sarah, the story is still pretty interesting.
The Sarah Conner in this comic is cheating on her husband, Michael. She plans to have her new lover murder Michael so that she can inherit her husband’s wealth. But when the Terminator shows up with guns blasting, she assumes Michael has found out about her plans and hired an assassin to kill her. Meanwhile, an old man from the future has been living in his time for decades, waiting for the Terminator to show up. He has developed a special weapon with which to fight. One shot is all it takes to bring a Terminator down, but one shot is all the weapon is capable of.
The artwork is done like an oil painting. It’s very atmospheric, but somewhat sloppy. Occasionally, I had trouble making out what was going on in the panes.
This is a little too long to be considered a comic, and a little too short to be a traditional graphic novel, but I thought I’d review it anyway. It’s an amusing side story in the Terminator saga.
This graphic novel (originally a four-issue comic) hails from the early 1990s. I’ve a feeling it was released prior to the Terminator 2: Judgment Day movie. It reads like an alternate sequel to the first movie, with notable differences. The comic, not having any advantage to featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (since it would only be his likeness, and not him) takes the story in possibly a more logical direction. Instead of superior Terminator technology (i.e. the liquid-like remouldable Terminator) heading back through time, we have a whole team of basic Terminators, all of them different. The aim this time is not to track down Sarah Conner (or her son John, as in the movie), but to make sure that artificial intelligence technology gets into the hands of the scientists who would unwittingly bring about the end of the world. The Terminators do this by the most direct means possible: tracking down the main scientist and giving him the goods. The Terminators are opposed, not by one lone crusader, but by a team of humans who come back in time to stop them.
Sequels generally up the ante. You either get more of the enemy, or you get an enhanced, harder to beat enemy. The comic fits the former, while the movie fits the latter. Somewhat predictable, but the comic still makes an interesting addition to the Terminator saga. It’s a pacy, high octane story that holds the attention on every page, featuring very nice artwork.
The artwork in this graphic novel was so beautiful that it called to me from the library shelf. I had never heard of the Rising Stars, mythology but it seems that each tale works in a standalone fashion. The two in this volume are concerned with two different characters. The common thread that unites the whole series is that each protagonist is a “Special.” Here’s what that means (from the back cover):
In the sixties, a fireball struck Pederson, Illinois granting all the children who were in utero at the time fantastic powers – 113 in all. Dubbed “Specials,” these children grew into adulthood cloistered together, forming rivalries, friendships and enmities. Some became heroes, some criminals, and others simply lived out an ordinary existence. After years of petty fights, squabbles and grabs for power, a new unifying mission became clear, a purpose for their existence that they had all been unable to see before … to change the world.
Somebody’s been watching The 4400 methinks. Well, I decided to disgregard the unoriginal concept, since the superhero genre offers plenty of scope for diversity of superpowers. Unfortunately, the two stories aren’t terribly original in that regard, either.
Voices of the Dead is about a man called Lionel Zerb whose power is an ability to see ghosts. Lionel’s obsession is to discover whether there really is an afterlife. You’d think that fact would be obvious to someone like Lionel, but unfortunately it’s not strictly true that he sees actual ghosts. He sees “afterimages” of a person. So, he goes from ghost hunt to ghost hunt, hoping one day to find “the real thing.” It all gets ultra weird after a while, and I found myself a bit confused by the end of it all.
Bright is the shorter (and better) of the two stories in the volume. This one is about a Special, Matthew Bright, who takes on a false identity in order to pursue his dream of being a police officer (a position of responsibility that a Special would not be permitted to fulfill; think X-Men and all the fear of “mutants”). Right in the middle of an important case, his identity is compromised, and things get sticky. The ending of the story involves Bright getting a “costume” as a gift. This is the only point where the story got a little silly.
It’s an above average read, but there are certainly better graphic novels out there. I’ll heap plenty of praise on the artwork, but not so much on the writing.
Zombies are very much in vogue these days, whether it’s computer games or movies, you don’t have far to go before coming across rotting flesh that gets up and walks. The Walking Dead is a graphic novel, and title has to be one of the least imaginative titles of any zombie product. But don’t let that fool you, because the blurb on the back is the biggest attention grabber I’ve ever seen on any zombie story. I quote:
How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we WANTED? The world we knew is gone … No government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV. In a world ruled by the dead, we are finally forced to start living.
Now, you zombie fans, doesn’t that just knock the pants off about 90% of the zombie movies you’ve seen. Well, the blurb is only the promise of things to come. How does the story deliver?
We get off to a fairly unoriginal start, in a scene reminiscent of the start of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, with an injured police officer (Rick) waking up in a hospital bed only to discover the place is deserted. Of course, it’s not long before Rick has his first encounter with a flesh-hungry walking corpse. The bulk of the story concerns a bunch of people who have formed a small community in the woods, and their initial struggle to survive. There’s a strong human element, with friendships, romance, grief, betrayal, etc. Most interesting was the struggle to change – to let go of the old way of living and embrace a way of life that demands more courage. The zombie battles are there too, but the story is thankfully never allowed to degenerate into a typical gore fest with no greater aim than the highest body-count.
I thoroughly enjoyed this volume and am looking forward to reading the next one.