Review: Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth – Perker and Kristensen

Review: Todd, The Ugliest Kid On EarthThis new release from Image comics is something a little outside the superhero schtick to say the least. The central character, Todd (surprise!), is a kid who’s constantly bullied and is considered so ugly by his mother that he’s forced to wear a bag on his head. Add a ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ mother, a heavy drinking father, a neighbourhood bully and a child serial killer and you have the foundation for an interesting comic series.

This is a story that has the potential to veer solidly into Archie / Dennis The Menace neighbourhood sitcom territory but it manages to achieve exactly the opposite – an edgy, funny, adult comic. Sure, there are some low moments where the story skids into stereotypes but they are far outweighed by the dark humour and a pretty stark portrayal of Todd’s day-to-day life. M.K. Perker’s art is a great match for the story and Kristensen’s writing is more than solid, including a handful of actual laugh out loud moments, something I don’t experience very much in comics.

Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth is now on my monthly pull list – kudos to Image Comics for giving series like this a platform to grow. You can buy the digital version here, otherwise hit up your nearest comic shop for a copy. I have a feeling I’ll be sorry to see this title end after its slated four issues.

Webcomic Wednesday: Nimona

Hello and welcome to Webcomic Wednesday! Each Wednesday I’ll highlight a new webcomic, and let you know why I like it so. This week I’m taking a look at Nimona, an ongoing series by Noelle Stevenson, about the exploits of super villain Balister Blackheart, and his devious apprentice Nimona.

nimona image

Nimona is an interesting beast. The tales of Balister Blackheart and Nimona are somewhat different from usual villain based comics. Each prove themselves quite likeable, despite being villains – but that’s how Noelle Stevenson wants you to feel. Blackheart is an honourable man, was once a hero in training, falls victim to betrayal, and finds himself on the other side of the law. He’s surprisingly compelling and deep, and for a short weekly comic strip to get that point across is no mean feat.

Nimona on the other hand is mischievous and childish. She’s a shapeshifter, and upon convincing Blackheart to let her be his sidekick, revels in being a villain. She’s somewhat murderous, but still manages to have heart. Blackheart is a paternal figure in her life, and while she wants to let chaos loose, adheres to Blackheart’s no kill rule. It’s a neat mechanic that makes the villains feel like heroes.

Nimona’s art is also pretty neat. It’s simple and quirky, but compliments the tone nicely. Plus there is an awesome panel in a later strip that has some cool pop culture stars hidden in the background.

There is one little downside that isn’t really a downside. It’s a bit of a wait each week for the next instalment, and it reads better when read as a complete chapter, but that speaks volumes to how often I do end up checking it.

Noelle’s little captions also really complete the package. It’s totally awesome. Nimona is updated every Monday and Thursday. You can check it out here.

Have any webcomics you want me to check out? Let me know on my twitter @Pipes815, or send me a message via our contact form.

Review: Thunderbolts # 1 – Daniel Way & Steve Dillon

Review: Thunderbolts # 1Okay, stop me if you have heard this one.

A retired military general recruits a rag tag band of heroes to do what normal people can’t – to kill threats instead of  merely subdue them. They work above the law to bring down their targets any way they can. No, they’re not the A-Team. It’s Marvel NOW!’s new Thunderbolts, courtesy of writer Daniel Way and artist Steve Dillon – and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Thunderbolts #1 sees General Thaddeus Ross, A.K.A Red Hulk, recruit an elite team of killers: Deadpool, Venom, Elektra and the Punisher, to take down threats in ways that the other heroes wont condone. That’s it. There aren’t any other events that occur in this issue; no real motivations, no hint at what is to come – it’s just plain boring, and doesn’t do well to set up the series to come.

The character “interviews” – Ross finding the recruits as they are on their own jobs – set up the meat of this issue, and while the dialogue is good at times, what they have to say isn’t all that interesting. Having Deadpool fight a gang of mimes is suitably Deadpool-y, and the Punisher gets some good time, being suitably brooding and angry, but everything else is just there.

Steve Dillon’s art really doesn’t sell the issue either. I don’t mind Dillon usually, but he isn’t working at his strengths this time. The faces look like someone hit them with a frying pan, and in one panel, Ross looks exactly like the Punisher just with grey hair and a beard. I’m a bit upset that Dillon chose to forget Marco Checchetto’s badass Punisher design, and instead went with a more classic approach akin to his previous run on the Punisher, but that’s a minor quibble, especially in comparison to his rendition of Red Hulk. It looks like an abomination, and not in the right way.

Thunderbolts comes out of the gate very poorly. It’s clichéd, boring and not very good looking . Needless to say, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series, and unless the next issue sets up some interesting plot threads, it’s not going to be getting too excited.

Review: FF#2 – Matt Fraction & Mike Allred

ff2“For the next two hundred and forty seconds, we are the Fantastic Four.”

Oh Scott Lang, you could not be more wrong. But it’s ok, the ride turns out awesome anyway.

FF#2 picks up right after the second issue of Matt Fraction’s other tie-in, Fantastic Four, as Marvel’s First Family begin their trip to the unknown universes. Events make a turn for the worse back on Earth, as Scott Lang and the Future Foundation learn that the new Fantastic Four’s stint will be a lot longer than expected. Fortunately for us, it makes for a fun story.

Fraction’s biggest strength in his other acclaimed series Hawkeye, the dialogue, carries over into FF. From Scott’s slight horror when he realises that the Fantastic Four aren’t coming back, to She-Hulk lamenting the loss of her Stella McCartney outfit; each of the character interactions are brilliantly handled. Without spoiling anything, if you aren’t laughing at a few of the excellent lines in this book, you need to check your pulse.

Dana Deering’s transformation to Ms Thing also comes to a head within this issue, and while the marketing seems to be building her up to act a bit like a bimbo, she often comes across as less like a an airhead, and more of an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary events. While it seems that Fraction is trying to make her likeable, she doesn’t come across as even remotely annoying – just a bit naive.

Once again the art pairing of Mike Allred and wife Laura looks as great as ever. There is a particularly stunning moment when the Mole Man and his beast appear to take on the Future Foundation, which shows that the Allreds know a thing or two on how to create fantastic looking monsters. The series so far harkens back to old Silver-Age comics, and is a treat to read.

One other problem that plagues this issue is that it almost requires you to read the Fantastic Four as well, as the events pick up immediately after the second issue of that series. Hopefully that is something that will change in the coming issues, with the Fantastic Four embarking on their journey, but readers of only the FF series will have a harder time following what is going on.

Despite issues regarding extra reading, FF  again continues to impress, both in story and in visuals. If Fraction and the Allred’s can keep this momentum going, while allowing FF to stand on its own, this book will be one to watch in the coming months.

Webcomic Wednesday: JL8

Hello and welcome to Webcomic Wednesday! Each Wednesday I’ll highlight a new webcomic, and let you know why I like it so. For our inaugural week I’d thought I would introduce you to a personal favourite of mine: JL8

JL-8 Image

Imagine your favourite Justice League characters, but they’re eight-years-old. That is JL8 in it’s most basic form. What that doesn’t tell you is how well realised each of these children are. They’re the Justice League, in all their heroic glory, but they also are just kids who deal with school in such a way that doesn’t detract from their adult counterparts. Batman is still a brooding paranoid kid, and Superman is a morally upstanding citizen, but they still have to deal with bullies, girls, and family. It constantly references the DC universe, while also giving out great moral lessons, making the comic feel like a great Saturday morning cartoon for kids, but with just enough referential humour to appeal to the parent. It’s fun that isn’t observed enough in the DC line-up these days, which makes it a nice change from the usual serious business that our heroes have to face.

Plus it is just so gawd dammed cute.

Check out JL8 here, it’s updated every Monday and Thursday.

Have any webcomics you want me to check out? Let me know on my twitter @Pipes815, or send me a message via our contact form.

Oceanic Gamer’s Best Comics of 2012

2012 was a pretty awesome year for comics. Well, every year is an awesome year for comics, but 2012 felt really special. And although our Comics section here at Oceanic Gamer has only been up for a month, we thought that we’d celebrate the year that was and give you our personal picks for our favourite titles, across a range of categories, from 2012. So without further ado, here are our picks for 2012

Favourite Single Issue

Hawkeye #3Sean: HAWKEYE #3 “Cherry” – Matt Fraction & David Aja

Hawkeye is something of a god-send in my eyes. It’s funny, it’s got action, it’s got heart, and it has phenomenal art, and you know what they say about the third outing. Hawkeye #3 is the perfect representation of the series itself, and my pick for best single issue this year. Framed by Clint Barton’s nine terrible ideas, it has the pace and charm of a great James Bond film, complete with a car chase and beautiful women. It’s as close to perfect as a single issue can get, with a complete story that doesn’t need any more explaining past the 24 pages it inhabits. This is the definitive Hawkeye.

Honourable Mentions: FF #2, Walking Dead #100, Justice League Dark #0, Wolverine & the X-Men #17

David: This isn’t necessarily a negative, but I don’t have a single favourite issue from this year. What I’ve read I’ve enjoyed on the whole, but nothing stood out strongly enough for me to make a call on this. Yes, I’m a fence-sitter!

 

Favourite New Series

Saga coverSean: SAGA – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples 

I admit to not really knowing Brian K. Vaughan before this year. I’d never read Y: The Last Man, and although I loved Lost, never remembered his name. However Saga has suceeded in making sure I will never forget him ever again. It’s a space epic that wouldn’t feel out of place if it were an HBO show- it follows the lives of baby Hazel and her parents Marko and Alana, people from both sides of the war whose love sparks an intergalactic manhunt. From the stellar cast, to Fiona Staples’ perfect art, every part of this series, that dips it’s toes into what appears to be every genre, is great. This is one to watch in the coming year.

Honourable Mentions: Hawkeye, FF, All New X-Men

hoax-huntersDavidHOAX HUNTERS - Michael Moreci, Steve Seeley and JM Ringuet

Image Comics’ Hoax Hunters get’s my gong as it’s got a great combination of interesting characters and a nicely paced story. It’s easy to be cynical about comics at times but this one is original enough to keep the cynic at bay so far. Who doesn’t like a spooky guy in a spacesuit??

Honourable Mention: G.I. Combat

 

Favourite Ongoing Series

Batman coverSean: BATMAN – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

I know what you’re thinking- how original. Scott Snyder’s Batman probably has featured on a lot of “Best Of” lists this year, but there’s a reason why- it is just that good. 2012 was especially awesome for the Dark Knight- from his wrap up of “Night of the Owls”, to the new classic that is “The Death of the Family”. Snyder shows no inkling that his run on Batman is losing momentum any time soon. Bruce Wayne’s own abilities, and his faith in them, are constantly put to the test, as Snyder breaks him down, only to build him back up in time for the next villain to appear. It’s humanizing Bruce, making him just as fallible as you or I, and coupled with Capullo’s art, this book is a real winner.

Honourable Mentions: Rachel Rising, Wolverine and the X-Men, Daredevil

daredevilDavid: DAREDEVIL: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

I’m a Marvel fan through and through, although a much more cynical one than I used to be. The current Daredevil run is one of the highest quality offerings on the market today and it takes the red-horned one back to golden runs like that during the 1980s with Frank Miller. If you have the dosh, buy the first 5 issues of this volume and you won’t be disappointed. One disclaimer though: as a comic collector this is the one character I’m attempting to be a completist with, so I’m a little biased.

Honourable Mention: Winter City (an independent Australian release – my review here)

 

Favourite Miniseries/ Graphic Novel

Welder coverSean:  THE UNDERWATER WELDER – Jeff Lemire

Jeff Lemire is the king of making me feel for his characters. His other solo work, Sweet Tooth, also manages to make me tear up every once and a while, but The Underwater Welder really takes the cake in the water-works department. The story of an underwater welder that tackles his marital and family problems in a Twilight Zone-esque tone. Its weird, but it has this strong emotional core of a man trying to piece together his past, only so he can move on with his future. Jack’s story is truly original, and something you shouldn’t miss this year. [Read Sean's full review here]

Honourable Mentions: Think Tank, Batman: Earth One, Punk Rock Jesus

David: HABIBI – Craig Thompson

habibiThis isn’t a 2012 release but one I read during 2012 and I can safely say it’s in the Top 5 of graphic novels I’ve ever read (with Thompson’s other masterpiece Blankets in that Top 5 too probably). It’s a huge tome and worth every cent you spend on it. Go find out more about it.

It’s the type of graphic novel that totally destroys the idea of comics as a juvenile pursuit – as sad as it is that such a stereotype is still alive and kicking.

 

 

Favourite Story Arc

batman cour owlsSean: “THE COURT OF OWLS” – BATMAN – Scott Snyder & Greg Capulo

 “The Court of Owls” was something pretty special. It took Bruce Wayne and his firm belief he really truly understood Gotham City, and flip it on his head. The Court of Owls had been operating long before Batman was an idea, and for Bruce to repeatedly deny their existence, only for him to be completely and utterly wrong, gives him a layer of hubris that is something not really tackled before. It takes a strong creative team to make Bruce be blatantly wrong, and Snyder and Capulo nailed it. From a section that requires you to turn the book in your hands to read as Batman descends into madness, to bringing forth a new character that may shake his faith in his parents, “The Court of Owls” was an impressive debut for the New52 Batman, and is a fantastic herald for things to come.

Honourable Mentions: Hawkeye – “The Tape”, Batman and Robin – “Born to Kill”

 

Favourite Overall Series

sga best of finalSean: SAGA – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

There were plenty of fantastic titles in 2012. I spent about half an hour breaking down about 20 separate titles into a final 5, and then it felt like choosing between children. But in the end, Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga was the clear winner for my favourite title of the year. It’s everything I love in comic books, and even storytelling in general. It’ s a genre-bending science-fiction epic that can be hilarious on one panel, but then incredibly sad in the next, only to turn so sweet. Vaughan’s masterful story-telling is only accentuated by Fiona Staples’ artwork, that is fantastically expressive, and well detailed. Every single aspect of this series is so brilliantly done, and shows no signs of slowing down. Saga is a work that everyone should experience, and it is my favourite comic of 2012

David: I got nothin’ here except to repeat what I said about Daredevil above. Sorry ;)

So that’s it! The year of the best in comics, whittled down into an easy to read list.

What were your favourite comics this year? Sound off in the comments below!

Review: Wolverine #49 – Rob Williams & Laurence Campbell

Wolverine #49My favourite Christmas movie of all time would have to be Die Hard. While it may not have the wholesome family fun and good morals that make up a typical Christmas film, it’s still a film set on Christmas Day and most people would agree that qualifies it. So when I heard that the current (Volume 3) series of Wolverine had an issue that was often described as Wolverine meets Die Hard, I got pretty darn excited. How hard would it be to mess that up? As it turns out, it’s not hard to mess up at all.

Wolverine #49 opens with Logan being forced to Christmas shop at the behest of Kitty Pryde as he makes a stopover in New York. The mall he chooses to shop at also is being visited by Toulouse Lexington, the daughter of a very wealthy man, who is then kidnapped by a gang masquerading as a Santa act. Usual kidnapping antics ensue, as Wolverine attempts to save the day.

If that description sounds derivative and clichéd to you, it’s because it is. Nothing here is even remotely unique to Wolverine’s character, and he could have easily been replaced by any number of superheroes within Marvel’s catalogue, or even John McClane himself. We barely see him, and his powers only become handy twice in the entire comic – even then a number of other heroes could have dealt with it too. It almost seems that writer Rob Williams had a basic story ready for whenever he had the chance to fit in a hero he was working on at the time.

That’s not to say any other parts of his by-the-book hostage story are particularly good either. The gang who are clad in Santa and Elf outfits have the privilege of having the stupidest name a gang could have: “the Black Christmess”. They jump from having one motive to a completely different one later in the story, and any attempt at making them even remotely sympathetic is lost. There is even a small sub-plot regarding the heiress and her relationship with her estranged father that is picked up, and then promptly forgotten. Nothing here feels particularly fleshed out, despite the fact that most of the issue is characters explaining themselves, leaving the action in the back seat.

Laurence Campbell’s art isn’t too bad – the environments are well detailed, and he has some fairly cool action shots thanks in part to Kris Justice’s colours. But the side cast all look like fairly generic stock characters, except for the heiress Toulouse, who actually looks like a librarian rather than the daughter of a wealthy business man.

Wolverine #49 is a poor attempt at making an action story set during Christmas. There is little action to keep you entertained in the mess of a story that could easily have its characters switched out without you even realising it. If you want to watch a man kill hundreds of terrorists on Christmas, stick to Die Hard. Wolverine #49 is definitely not worth your time.

Review: Hawkeye #6 – Matt Fraction & David Aja

Hawkeye6I once told a friend regarding Hawkeye that if Matt Fraction spent an entire issue dealing with Clint Barton doing the laundry I’d love every minute of it. It seems I almost got my wish in the special Christmas themed Hawkeye #6, which, for half the issue, is Clint trying to get his DVR to work. But that is the beauty of Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye -  although this issue also deals with the Russian Mafia and a crisis of faith, the best parts of this issue, and in this series in general, isn’t always the action. It’s the heart.

It’s almost Christmas time in the apartment that Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye lives. Over the next six days, he will deal with with a broken satellite dish, A.I.M., the Tracksuit Mafia and his own DVR.  As he deals with the issues of owning his own apartment (reluctantly bought off the Russian Mafia back in issue #1), Clint must also ask the question: can a man who is trying to do good, still end up making things worse?

This is how the heart makes its way  into Hawkeye. Clint Barton is a normal, regular human being. Granted; a regular human being who is also the greatest sharpshooter alive, but Matt Fraction taps into the human side of his psyche, stripping away the “heroic” traits of a super hero comic, and drawing on the more everyday experiences of this Avenger. We see him desperately try to avoid spoilers to his favourite television show, convince a neighbour his name isn’t Hawkguy, and try to clean his apartment. It is these moments that give the issue its charm – Clint is a normal human being, and acts like so. Even the cameos from other famous Marvel heroes give them more grounding features that most other writers gloss over.

That’s not to say that this issue skips over the heroic. The Tracksuit Mafia (or as I like to call them the “Bro Mafia”) return, intent on reclaiming their lot back. We meet their leader this issue, after a few surprisingly unsettling panels, which prompts Clint’s crisis of faith.

David Aja’s art, combined with Matt Hollingsworth’s colours look absolutely sublime. The wonderfully expressive faces thanks to a simple art style, combined with the flat colour palette and striking purples, make this one of the best looking comics all year. The layout also looks absolutely stunning, as Aja manages to fit more panels than one would think possible on a single page. It also helps that there is a nod to the old X-Men Arcade game that looks fantastic. Aja’s work on Hawkeye just looks brilliant overall.

If you haven’t picked up Hawkeye yet, let me ask you a question: what is wrong with you? Go and pick up the first six issues and get lost in the world of Clint Barton. Give these people money to make more comics – just so I can see that laundry issue.

Review: Batman #13 – Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman #13Ask any fan of Batman comics who they think the Dark Knight’s greatest nemesis is, and you’ll be sure to hear The Joker’s name more than once. The quintessential Batman villain, The Joker has always been the other side of the same coin, a product of similar tragedy that turned him into a murderous madman. So when it was announced that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were bringing a new story featuring The Joker, especially on the heels of his fantastic character study of Bruce Wayne in his previous arc “The Court of Owls”, it wasn’t hard to be intrigued.

The stage for Batman #13, which marks the beginning of his new story arc “Death of the Family”, takes place a year after the events of Detective Comics #1. The Joker had allowed his face to be removed by another villain known as The Dollmaker, and he returns a year later beginning a series of ‘greatest hits’ – previous crimes that were perpetrated in famous Batman stories of the past. As we soon learn though, his motives are much more sinister. These events don’t end up as Bruce expects, and it hurtles towards a fantastic cliff-hanger at the issue’s end.

Snyder creates a wonderfully dark entrance for the Clown Prince. The inner monologue of the Batman, combined with his uncanny ability to channel The Joker’s demented dialogue to a tee, helps create a truly dark and twisted story. Snyder manages to instil a true sense of dread and horror within the pages of Batman #13, especially in a chilling assault of the Gotham P.D. at the onset of the issue. The horror isn’t merely blood and gore either, as the Joker’s dialogue throughout the sequence is truly evil and terrifying. Without spoiling anything, you’re going to want to look under your bed. While many of the stunts resemble fairly “standard” (whatever that term may mean in this case) Joker crimes, it sets the mood for how the arc will play out, and still leaves the reader guessing where the action will end up next.

Synder also works in a subtle character moment for the Dark Knight in this issue. As he communicates with the rest of the Bat-family about The Joker’s return, you learn that he intends to keep details, and even the investigation itself, between him and his nemesis. It is a moment where you realise that Bruce either wants to protect the ones he loves, or is willing to bank on his own skills and hubris to bring The Joker down, which is an important theme tackled in the “The Court of Owls” arc. It’s interesting that Snyder chose to revisit this theme, considering that Bruce Wayne should have learned his lesson in “The Court of Owls”, and it will be interesting to see how it will play out.

Greg Capullo’s pencils combined with Jonathan Glapion’s colours gives the art in the issue a strong resemblance to the Batman: The Animated Series of the late 1990s. It’s suitably graphic without relying too much on gore, and when The Joker’s face is finally revealed, it will give you chills down your spine. Its dark and twisted, and it really works.

It should also be worth mentioning that picking up Batman #13 without any previous interaction with Snyder’s run will be of no real detriment to the story he is writing here. While it may drop in a couple of references to his previous encounters with The Joker, it only requires a base understanding of how the villain works.

When Scott Snyder’s run on Batman moved towards the event “Death of the Family”, and the inevitable return of the Clown Prince of Gotham,  the questions were asked regarding whether this new take on this villain would live up to the standard set by The Killing Joke, and other Joker tales of times gone by. After Batman #13 perhaps we should begin to ask a new question:

What if the “Death of the Family” is better?

Review: All New X-Men #1 – Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

X-Men #1I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. Most of my favourite works of fiction deal with the concept of time travel, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So when Marvel announced as part of their Marvel NOW! relaunch that All New X-Men would find the original five X-Men; Beast, Angel, Iceman, Jean Grey and Cyclops, taken from the past and brought to the future to help talk down one of their own from committing mutant genocide, my interest piqued. Fortunately for everyone,  Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for what will be one of the most interesting titles in coming months.

All New X-Men #1 picks up right after the events of the Avengers vs. X-Men event earlier this year. Professor Xavier is dead, murdered by a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops. This leaves the school renamed as the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning under the leadership of Wolverine. New mutants have been popping up all over the globe, as Cyclops’ X-Men move to start the “mutant revolution”, leaving a trail of regular human-beings in their wake. Wolverine’s X-Men soon discover that desperate times call for desperate measures, as they are forced to retrieve the original X-Men in hopes they would be able to save the mutant race from once again being caught under the prejudices that the series was built on.

Bendis brings the feelings of prejudice and fear for the mutant race back on to the table easily. While not allowing humans to be outright  assaulting the new mutants, the sense of fear and dread, even to one mutant who can save lives with his touch, is palpable throughout the book. This title may say New X-Men, but these are classic X-Men themes.

The characterisation takes a back seat for the first issue, as Bendis first seeks to set up the world post AvX. The only character who is given any real spotlight  is Beast. With his opening monologue, we learn that the idea of travelling the space-time continuum was not something he has taken lightly. The rest of the characters take a back seat to action and story – with the notable exclusion of Wolverine, this initial outing seeks to set up events to come rather than showing the characters who will take part.

Stuart Immomen’s art, coupled with Marte Garcia’s colouring, gives the entire issue an animated feel. The action panels have a sense of momentum, and his art in the more talking moments gives each event their proper due. While his work may not necessarily stand out, it still looks fantastic, and suits the tone of the book well.

All New X-Men #1 succeeds fully in introducing the new status-quo for our favourite mutant family. While the first issue is light on character, its heavy themes, and the set up for the time travelling X-Men gives the coming months much promise for the title.

Plus did I mention that it has time travel?

Review: The Underwater Welder – Jeff Lemire

Review: The Underwater WelderIt isn’t often that I find myself crying after being told a sad story. In fact, only three times this year have I actually full blown shed tears because of a story. First was in a very devastating episode of Supernatural, and the second time was after watching the documentary Dear Zachary. The third time was just last Sunday afternoon reading Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder.

The Underwater Welder is a different take on a study of a family and of a man coming to terms with life, as it is a ghost story of sorts. It’s a story of a father and son, of a husband and wife, of a couple and their new child. It follows Jack Joseph, a man who works on an oil rig as a deep-sea welder in Nova Scotia. After finding a piece of his past while diving one day, his world begins to change. Through visions and dreams, Jack’s life takes a strange turn, as he finds himself part of a series of weird supernatural events that forces him to come to terms with his past. This culminates in various realisations that will ensure that many a tear will be shed in Jack’s quest to come to terms with his past, and ultimately his future.

Lemire manages to create a strong cast of characters in Jack’s life. Jack is a loving husband, but is all too often vague and distant with his wife, Susan. She is caring, but borders on overbearing and nagging at times, as Jack attempts to figure out what is going on in his life. Alongside Susan, Jack’s father Peter plays an important role. Often unreliable, Peter still wishes to maintain a good relationship with his son throughout the book. Despite each of these characters’ flaws, Lemire succeeds in making you truly care about the people in Jack’s life. Emotions and interactions between the cast is the heart of The Underwater Welder, and is where it shines the most.

Lemire also takes art duties in his graphic novel, as he utilises rough pencil along with grey tones to help accentuate the setting and tone of the story. His art-style can be divisive, as it is often surreal and very odd, but it has this strange sense of beauty behind it. It works wonderfully within the confines of the story, as there are at least a few pages that split a larger image into many panels that give a fantastic effect.

If you are looking for an original story this year, then pick up this odd book. Let the story of Jack and his quest draw you in, because The Underwater Welder is one of the best graphic novels this year, and should not be missed.

Review: ‘Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits’ – Garth Ennis and William Simpson

(Note: The Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits TPB collects Hellblazer issues 41-46)

Dangerous Habits is the one of the best character studies of John Constantine. It deals with all elements of his flawed character: his hard alcohol and cigarette abuse, his exploitative use of friends, and his con-man status to the many ethereal beings of our universe, from both heaven and hell. It also shows the progression of the often morally grey anti-hero, as he deals with coming to terms with his eventual death at the hand of one of his many vices: his much loved pack of silk cut cigarettes.

For the uninitiated, John Constantine (pronounced Con-stan-tyne, as in fine) is a British occult magician/con-man/ arsehole who is modelled after the famous musician Sting. Known for his drinking and smoking habits, as well as his dry wit, he has been a mainstay of Vertigo Comics for well over twenty years. Dangerous Habits marks the entry of Garth Ennis to the series in 1991, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hellblazer storylines since the series’ inception. It deals with Constantine’s newfound knowledge of his terminal lung cancer, and as he says goodbye to the ones he loves, he formulates a plan that will at the very least, see him die swinging.

This story arc is Hellblazer at its most poignant. Constantine’s quest for redemption with what little friends he has left sees him backed into a corner as he fights for what little time he and his dying allies have. From the liver cancer-stricken Matt, to his old friend Brendan Finn, each allow Ennis to delve into the tortured mind of our anti-hero as he comes to terms with his mistakes, and all the friends whose deaths he blames himself for. John Constantine is a person hiding behind the con-man persona – too afraid to get close to anyone he cares about for fear of their safety. This story breaks down Constantine to his bare minimum: a man who despite his sins, wants to leave with having done more good in the world than wrong.

It is also to Garth Ennis’ credit that he chose lung cancer as Constantine’s downfall over a more supernatural curse as it both humanises and undermines his place in the world. Here is a man who deals with some of the most powerful beings in the universe, only to be taken under by one of the most basic of diseases. It allows Constantine to reflect on one of the of the most interesting issues faced in life:  this is not how, and when, I planned to go.

Ennis also allows Constantine to show off his expertise as a con-artist, as the final stages of the story arc culminate in potentially one of the most badass displays of arrogance ever witnessed in comic form. He manages to pull off the most impressive cons I have seen in potentially any medium, and it leaves the series in an interesting place by the arc’s end.

The art in this arc is merely serviceable to the story presented here. On one hand, William Simpson’s drawings can be equally weird and fitting, as Constantine’s world is one part disgusting to two parts dark. On the other hand, certain panels that focus solely on characters look plain bad – their distorted faces resemble closely those of demonic caricatures, as odd angles and stretched faces lead the reader to often be looking up the nostrils of Constantine.

As mentioned, Dangerous Habits marks Garth Ennis’ entrance into the series and it is heralded by a bang, as he systematically sets up the title character to die, exploring Constantine’s own demons, while allowing him to battle some monsters as well. While Simpson’s art may not be up to par with the writing; the Dangerous Habits storyline manages to create not only a powerful part of John Constantine’s own story, but a classic in comic books overall.