By Mignola, Arcudi, Davis & Crook
Publisher: Dark Horse
It's not looking too good on Earth as more and more demonic monstrosities appear and cities fall to their ravaging. Huge populations of refugees are on the move and there's a real sense that humanity is losing the war. As the outside word crumbles, the BPRD appear to be falling apart too with internal conflicts and the general overwhelming situation.
The book's divided into two parts, with Abe Sapien and team trying to track down a precognitive teenager who appears to be keeping a small group one step ahead of the calamity unfolding in Texas, while Liz Sherman is holed up in a trailer park with a bunch of sinister hillbillies.
BPRD has, to date, been one of my favourite series, with continuous high quality story and art, but I have to say this volume felt a little bit flat. It's a mixture of Abe Sapien operating out of character and the overall apocalyptic situation appearing too sudden and, at the same time, distant from the snippets of adventure taking place. It's as if it's taken a step too far away from what has kept it consistently fascinating and inventive. I can only hope that the following volume draws the threads together and gives the plot a firmer grounding. Not saying it's awful by any means, just didn't fulfil it's usual promise.
And if you liked that: The Hellboy collections are still going strong
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Volume 2: Gods and Monsters (Book)
By Vance and Van Hamme
The latest episode in this intricately involved and exciting thriller is possibly the most daring yet, with an audacious kidnapping of the President of the United States by one of the leading characters from the series.
The aim is to expose the President's seedy and sinister past by putting him on public trial, but the US establishment aren't going to just sit by and let this happen, especially as they're not even ware of the allegations against him, so a convoluted and daring plan is hatched to achieve it, and once again McLane is unwittingly pulled in to be part of it.
I wouldn't advocate you pick this up as your first dip into the tale of XIII as it covers a lot ground from past issues. Characters, plot lines, settings and conspiracies from previous volumes crop up on every page, expertly woven by Van Hamme into this intricate thriller.
And where this story ties up so many threads, its conclusion suggests that the biggest questions are to be answered soon too - that's until Van Hamme gives things another twist; but perhaps, by now, I should have seen that coming.
This series deserves all the praise it gets - you should be reading it.
And if you enjoyed that: You may well enjoy Van Hamme's Lady S
By Loeb & Adams
Go on then, let's do a superhero book. Must be all that Avengers success.
If there's one comic artist who'll make you sit up and take notice then it's Arthur Adams, whose phenomenally detailed and utterly brilliant artwork are an absolute joy to take in. He recently teamed up with Jeff Loeb to bring us Ultimate X: Origins (or Ultimate Comics X: Origins, depending where on the book you're reading).
It's all set in the alternative Marvel Universe that gave birth to the re-imagining of the Avengers as the Ultimates, the highly successful (critically, artistically and financially) series that acted as a template for the Avengers movie, including a Nick Fury illustrated to look like Samuel L Jackson long before any casting had taken place. The whole Ultimate universe is a little grittier, a little bloodier, and a lot more likely for the status quo to change, so generally the creators get to do things here that they can't do in the regular Marvel Universe.
Ultimate X follows on from the Ultimatum storyline where many of the heroes were wiped out. All mutants are now required by law to hand themselves in despite the sacrifices they've made in the past, and the book opens with a young mutant involved in a reckless piece of racing that sees him crashing his car and his mangled body slowly put itself back together again. He later receives a visit and learns that his father isn't who he thought he was, throwing his whole life off kilter. What follows is a series of chapters where we're introduced to new characters with similar secrets who are slowly added to form a small band of misfits. The only oddity here is the Utimate Universe's version of the Hulk, who feels a little bit of an afterthought, but I'm sure the idea is to set the ball rolling with this opening series and then let someone else roll with the results should it be deemed a success.
Is it a success, though? Well, it's a nicely done multi-character piece, it weaves in the familiar with the new, and it's got page after page, panel after panel, of the seriously sensational artwork, so even if it never goes beyond these few chapters it's a wonderfully presented self-contained book that you can't help but enjoy. Without these two creators at the helm it may well end up a different kettle of fish, but that's not really a concern here. It's a good read and worth the money for the artwork alone.
And if you enjoyed that: Look out for Modern Masters: Arthur Adams
By Tome & Janry
I may have mentioned this before (apologies if I have) but I taught a cartoon course a couple of years ago aimed at adults, and one of the attendees was a student over from Portugal. He implored me to check out Spirou and Fantasio which, for him, was the greatest cartoon book in the market, but, alas, there simply wasn't an English translation available. That's all changed now, and we're already up to the third of Cinebook's volumes.
Spirou and Fantasio sits, artistically and narratively, somewhere between the fluid detail of Asterix and the adventure of Tintin, but it certainly has a voice very much of its own. Spirou himself is a reporter with a taste for adventure, and goes everywhere with his best friend Fantasio and a pet squirrel called Pip.
The heroes want to take an expedition to the border of Nepal to investigate the disappearance of two explorers who may or may not have stumbled upon a hidden valley thought to be the place a Mongol horde were banished to. However, they don't have the money to undertake it until they meet a scientist named Dr Placebo who is willing to fund it on the condition they take some of his apparently incurable patients suffering from the hiccups. The idea is that the scrapes Spirou and Fantasio get in will be enough to scare the hiccups out of them.
Reluctantly Spirou and Fantasio agree and head off into an area now dominated by a war between the army and rebels, where any incursion by westerners is considered an act of espionage, and it isn't long before they come to the attention of the military powers there.
This is an impressive mix of globe-trotting adventure, fantastic art and witty story, making it an engrossing and entertaining read from cover to cover. What's more, this is just the first part, so we get to look forward to a frantic conclusion in the coming months.
Unlike my Portuguese student, I don't think this is the greatest cartoon book out there (each to his own after all) but it's certainly in the premier league.