By Gustavo Duarte
Publisher: Dark Horse
I bought this one based on some sample illustrations accompanying the promotion, and was rather pleased to see it had a thoughtful introduction from Sergio Aragones. The reason Aragones was asked is that both artists produce wordless comic strips, and while Aragones is the veteran master, Gustavo Duarte is relatively new on the scene.
Duarteís has an incredibly lovely, fluid style incorporating considered minimal brushstrokes, great comedic pacing and some oddball twists and turns to keep you fully engaged. Essentially, you donít ever really think that youíve read something like this before.
The book features three tales, each told with nothing more than pictures, so the characters reactions, movements and motivations all have to be captured in their wordless pantomime performance. On the couple of occasions word balloons are used Duarte manages to cleverly use pictures instead, even designing them in such a way that they become part of the scene. A beautiful touch. I donít really want to give too much away about the individual stories as that will steal the fun, but, in a nutshell, one is about an alien abduction at a pig farm, one involves two anthropomorphic birds in an office attempting to out-run fate and the final, most ambitious, one is a Godzilla-style rampage where an elderly master of Fortean phenomena takes it upon himself to tackle the threat single-handed. Because the books donít use words the humour is all drawn out through the exaggerated movements, expressions and situations, and the stories unfold with a grace and timing that borders on perfection.
A really lovely, and genuinely well executed, example of the medium at its finest.
And if you liked that: Then youíll love anything by Sergio Aragones
By Aymond & Van Hamme
Youíve got to feel a little sorry for Lady S, or Suzan, as weíve come to know her. Her lifeís been a huge upheaval and sheís found herself manipulated by others to their own ends, but despite it all sheís found a sense of normality and stability as her adopted fatherís assistant. Heís the USAís roving ambassador and is currently in a secretive relationship with the first female US President. Itís time for the political parties to choose their candidates for the upcoming presidential elections and normal procedure would see the incumbent be the natural choice for the party in power, although thereís a power hungry Senator who wants that nomination for himself and heís managed to put the pieces together about some of Suzanís past. Knowing she also works for her father who in turn is a special advisor to the President he realises he can discredit them all and take the nomination for himself.
In order for the plan to work he needs the assistance of the young State Departmentís Deputy Director for Eastern Europe, someone he helped to achieve the post. Feeling beholden to the unscrupulous Senator he becomes drawn in and all of the elements are now in place to topple a President, discredit an ambassador and ruin the life of Suzan. What they donít count on is Suzanís resourcefulness, so although she canít correct the mistakes of her earlier life, nor the shady adoption process that brought her to the US, she can expose the man who has set about ruining so many lives.
Itís a bit a tear-jerker, this one, so be warned for some daring unsettling of the status quo. As always, Van Hamme delivers an intelligent and exciting story that relies on your ability to think rather than just blindly follow - surely the most adaptable, diverse and competent writers in comics today.
By Jamie Smart
Publisher: David Fickling Books
If ever a modern strip struck a chord with kids, itís Bunny vs Monkey. While there are plenty of worthy contenders, particularly from the pages of the Phoenix, this is the one I hear most enthused about when I talk to kids.
Itís not an overtly difficult plot. Bunny and his buddies Pig and Weenie have their peaceful woodland home disturbed when scientists crash land a spacecraft containing a monkey just a short distance from the launch site. The monkey, believing heís arrived on a new world, declares it Monkeyopia, and sets about being a general nuisance, either attempting to destroy the woods, obliterate nature in general, or just be a flippiní great pest. Along the way Monkey teams up with the diabolical genius that is Skunky, the somewhat cerebrally deficient Action Beaver and the powerful Metal Steve, while Bunny, Pig and Weenie make a reluctant friend in Le Fox. Each strip, typically, involves Monkey using an invention of Skunkyís to wreak havoc and Bunny and gang having to deal with the consequences.
Thereís a little hint of Happy Tree Friends in the ensuing chaos (albeit not so bloody) but it certainly thrums with a voice of its own, largely because of Jamie Smartís comedic talents, well-paced storytelling, and outlandish plots. Whether itís the utter stupidity of Pig and Weenie, the ruthless certainty of Monkeyís plotting or the plain weirdness of the situations, itís pretty obvious why the humour is so appealing to kids, but itís also going to have a lot to do with the cast all being so darn cute.
As this is a collection of the strips from the beginning you can appreciate how the scenarios and stories become bolder and more confident with the subject matter as time goes by, from the absurd quest for the Whuppabaloo to the rather adorable moustachioed-and-top-hat-wearing monkey attempting to buy the woods whilst in disguise. Thereís something here to tickle your funny bone whatever your age.
And if you liked that: Head on over to the Phoenix bookshop at www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk and quote the code FIRST15OFF you'll get a massive 15% off!
Bunny vs Monkey: Book 1 (The Phoenix Presents) (Book)
By Mignola, Arcudi, Harren & Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse
Since the Hell On Earth run began BPRD, once one of my firm favourites, has felt very much a hit and miss exercise with a lack of direction. However, the previous volume was certainly an improvement and then along comes this one - a stupendous return to form, with a firm sense of place, great character set pieces and challenges, some terrific monsters and some exceptional art.
Two BPRD teams are attempting to break into Manhattan, somehow sealed off from the outside world and crawling with hellish beasties. Fenixís premonition is able to guide one team past the hideous monstrosities, but the second team, led by the undead Iosif, have to face them head on, but fortunately have the firepower to do so. Once inside Manhattan their job is to observe, understand, and then get out, but of course they get side-tracked by the horrors and the unexpected machinations of Zinco, the global company with a very dark agenda who appear to be thriving amongst this hellish backdrop. So things naturally fall apart as Iosif decides to take on Zinco while the newly returned Liz Sherman finds her inner-strength as she strives for a re-match against an incredibly powerful and altered Black Flame.
This is much better, largely because of the incredible artwork and designs of James Harren. His intricate illustrations of New York buildings, nasty-looking demonic creatures and the main cast and crew ground the book firmly in the moment and give it a weight that some of the previous volumes have been lacking. Also, the writing appears to have found a more solid direction now and thereís a sense of progress, albeit small steps. Iosif in particular is heroic and sensitive, and the book could have featured him alone and still been an excellent read. Iíll gladly have more from Mr Harren, please.
And if you liked that: Follow the Hellboy books too for a parallel tale
BPRD Hell On Earth Volume 9: The Reign of The Black Flame (Book)