Tag: Avatar Press

Cinema Purgatorio

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Anthology comics are a distinctly tricky beast , the first issue of a regular comic will give a creative team 20 odd pages to sell their ideas,characters, world and story to a reader in the hopes that they will come back for more, anthologies on the other hand offer 5 or 6 pages.

Trying to capture a reader with only 5 or 6 pages isn’t easy, combine that with being collected with a bunch of other 5 or 6 page initial instalments of other stories  and it’s easy to see why anthologies, aside from the established ones like long running British institution 2000AD and America’s Heavy Metal, are few and far between .

Acclaimed writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill wanted to change that and together with indie publisher Avatar (and a host of other well known names in the comics field) pitched Cinema Purgatorio via Kickstarter and promptly got considerably more than they asked for. The campaign goal was just over $9,000 but ended with over $110,000.

The success of the campaign shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise given Moore’s name is still one of the most recognisable and high profile in comics despite distancing himself from his earlier acclaimed works (like Watchmen and The Killing Joke) and now happily doing his own thing for years via various creative outlets. Moore has worked with Avatar on several occasions though, from his nightmarish Lovecraft inspired titles Neonomicon and its follow up of sorts the currently on-going Providence, to his take on Garth Ennis’ Crossed which took place in the future reworking Ennis’ original ideas.

Cinema Purgatorio consists of a brief intro story by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill in the style of old silent films and the first parts of four distinctly different stories by different creative teams,

Code Pru is blackly comical horror by Garth Ennis and Raulo Caceres about Pru who joins the FDNY as a paramedic and ends up being assigned to a special unit that deals with various supernatural creatures living in modern day New York.

Whilst it’s not really clear where this will go it definitely has potential and Caceres’ detailed art definitely makes an impression.

Modded by Kieron Gillen and Ignacio Calero is a bit like a post apocalyptic nightmarish take on Pokemon which introduces the rather timid Fringe and Fluffbumble, the unhinged Tommy Zero and the badass Bloody Susan and Mister Boom.

Probably the best of the offerings here Gillen’s ideas together with Calero’s excellent art make for a good combination and it’s always good to have a new kickass female character. I can see Bloody Susan and Mister Boom becoming the iconic characters of Cinema Purgatorio. The characters here would make for great action figures/statues too because the designs are so great.

A More Perfect Union by Max Brooks and Michael DiPascale is an alternate take on 19th century American history.

Brooks’ story stands out because it’s so different to the other offerings here both setting and storywise and art wise. DiPascale’s art contrasts massively with the hyper detailed offerings elsewhere, not that it’s bad it’s just different and the story whilst is probably the least appealing initially could definitely have potential when it gets going.

The Vast by Christos Gage and Gabriel Andrade is a story about mankind fighting gigantic kaiju style creatures.

The Vast is the shortest offering here so has little space to work with but Andrade’s art definitely sells the appeal of giant creatures rampaging through cities as seen in classic monster movies like Godzilla and Pacific Rim.

Cinema Purgatorio is definitely worth checking out the stylistic approach to have black and white art throughout is interesting and reminds me of 2000AD in the early days. I’m curious as to what the future holds, hopefully this will be a hit for Avatar and have other creative teams approaching them with ideas for future stories to be included but only time will tell.

Why Uber is one of the best on going comics right now.

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Uber created by writer Kieron Gillen with art from Canaan White, Daniel Gete and Gabriel Andrade first appeared in early 2013 and since then has consistently been one of the best written, engrossing and thought provoking on-going comics around.

A million miles away from the superhero antics of Marvel and DC Uber from indie publisher Avatar is a dark tale of an alternate history which starts in April 1945 days before the fall of Berlin and collapse of the Third Reich. The Germans have been hard at work with a secret programme to develop enhanced soldiers, a breakthrough leads to certain defeat becoming an unlikely victory opening a new chapter of the war.

The story is in essence an arms race between the various different factions on the world stage, only instead of munitions, the arms in question are super powered soldiers. Gillen’s writing has a depth that makes this far more engrossing than some throwaway “what if Nazi’s had superpowers?” escapism. The tone and approach is just as serious as if this was a historically accurate retelling of the story of World War II. The story is packed with historical detail with Gillen doing plenty of research along with hashing out the underlying framework for the narrative before even beginning the story.

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The story features a large cast of characters including historical figures like Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin amongst others as the scene of the action shifts from various locations in the global conflict. Some of the various other characters include Freya (real name Stephanie) a deep cover British agent who has been working on the Nazi’s top secret Projekt U, Maria a Russian sniper and the three Nazi Ubermensch or “Battleships” Klaudia, Markus and Werner who have the codenames Sieglinde, Siegfried and Siegmund.

Projekt U has resulted in various different manifestations for the Nazi’s varying in levels of power. The Ubermensch or Battleships Siegmund, Siegfried and Sieglinde are the most powerful and change the course of the war. The trio are capable of decimating whole platoons of soldiers , demonstrating invulnerability being able to shrug off gun fire and heavy artillery, massively enhanced strength being able to pick up tanks and the ability to project devastating energy blasts which shred flesh and bone with ease. The trio are walking weapons of mass destruction with the Nazi’s on a seemingly unstoppable path.

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Projekt U, the Germans top secret project is derived from resources of unknown (alien) origin, a text which has only been partly translated. This is a move which leaves plenty of potential for future developments narratively and mirrors the constantly changing reality of war with trying to develop new weapons, distribution methods and tactics being part of any war effort.

Unlike most stories though this isn’t a narrative based around protagonists and antagonists and there aren’t really any main characters as such with the narrative shifting from location to location initially focussing on the Germans and the British before shifting to look at other nations in the conflict. There’s a moral ambiguity which permeates throughout about the costs of war, Stephanie for example is party to horrendous and horrific experiments working on Projekt U to gather intel for the British war effort whilst the Nazi’s after being portrayed as stock villains or harmless bogeymen in countless stories are terrifying.

As a result of not really having a main character for the narrative to hinge on the story becomes completely unpredictable and shifts, twists and turns to impressive effect. The dynamic between the three battleships and the power plays within the higher echelons of the Nazi forces drive the narrative in Germany. One of the best narrative feats that Gillen has achieved is managing to craft a story which makes the Nazi’s a genuinely terrifying threat but also renders them as people rather than just “evil”.

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The 3 distinct battleships are a great example, whilst initially they are rendered somewhat distantly as the human tanks they are for the war effort later their characters emerge more, Klaudia is haunted by her past and fuelled by vengeance but takes little pleasure in the slaughter of innocents and is all too aware that they can never win the war merely ensure everyone loses, Markus by contrast is a psychopathic hardcore fanatic steadfastly loyal to the Nazi cause and revels in the slaughter and carnage he wreaks on the battlefield which puts him at odds with his fellow battleships, Werner meanwhile despite being a loyal and patriotic soldier like Klaudia doesn’t enjoy the carnage and as the first battleship deployed experiences first hand how the people actually see him and the other battleships – as the stuff of nightmares.

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Combat in Uber is just as grim and brutal as you might expect with unwary allied forces being slaughtered in initial encounters with the battleships. Later cities and civilians become collateral as the German battleships fight against allied enhanced soldiers and regular forces. This sweeping carnage plays to Klaudia’s idea of nobody winning and everybody losing in a race towards mutually assured destruction. Avatar has built a reputation for “no holds barred” titles aimed at adult readers and this is fundamental to Uber’s success. Free from editorial constraints the story is as grim, brutal and horrifying as any story rooted in World War II is only more so. Uber has been accused of being morally and ethically questionable (Gillen has written addressing these concerns and how he struggles with them himself) some have even accused Gillen and co of being Nazi sympathisers which considering Canaan White has created most of the art for Uber is pretty ignorant.

The story, like any war story, is just as much about the manoeuvring and tactics of war far from the battlefields as it is about the actual battles themselves with scenes in the Cabinet War Rooms of London, Bletchley Park and various other places as things unfold.

The art throughout Uber is impressive from the claustrophobic confines of Churchill’s War Rooms to rubble and corpse strewn streets and much more besides. Uber is definitely not for the squeamish with stunningly visceral art throughout which never loses its punch and is just as endlessly surprising as the narrative itself.

The first three volumes of Uber collecting together the first 17 issues are on indie comic shop shelves now, go buy them there they’ll appreciate the business.

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in a somewhat different form over at Backseatmafia.com

Horror comics you should be checking out.

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In recent years horror comics have had a resurgence here are a few you can pick up right now.

Based on Clive Barker’s film and his book Cabal ,on which the notoriously butchered film is based ( sidenote a long awaited Director’s Cut is set to arriveNightbreed01_PRESS-5 soon, if you’re in the U.S anyways) Nightbreed from BOOM! Studios is story of a race of “monsters” that have lived in the shadows alongside man since the dawn of time.

Now though they are fewer in number and scattered.

With a story from Barker and written by Marc Andreyko the first issue has several narratives in different time periods playing out concurrently. As the story unfolds it introduces several of the characters, Lylesberg is an elder of the Nightbreed and is seen talking to someone out of frame in the present day, back in 1845 we’re introduced to Peloquin who finds himself entangled with a lynch mob chasing some runaway slaves in Louisiana, whilst in 1940’s Boston it’s revealed that Shuna is working in a high end brothel providing services for select clients like Senator Emery.

Nightbreed_02_PRESS-8This narrative continues to unwind with the various different threads coming together for a great final image.

From the start the story introduces the very different members of the Nightbreed, both in appearance and mannerism. Lylesberg’s beard and robes indicating his status of an elder of some sort who is relaying the past of the Nightbreed and their struggles to find their home Midian a vast Necropolis hidden underground. Peloquin meanwhile has a somewhat reptilian appearance sporting dreadlock like tendrils rather than hair, he is the most visibly hostile too brutally attacking his assailants with no mercy and mocking their cries to God as he disembowels them. The third character Shuna is an example of how some find the Nightbreed exotic, intoxicating and attractive rather than repulsive creatures to be shunned. A humanoid with porcupine like quills along her body Shuna is the secret of the high end brothel she works in.

The art from Piotr Kowalski captures the various different moods of the narrative well, Lylesburg’s story is all flickering flames, shadows and tranquillity, Peloquin’s however is one of savage action with a frenetic pace and well utilised full page images. Both of these contrast with Shuna’s story with Kowalski capturing her sensuality (a key element of much of Barker’s work) vulnerability and fear as she realises what jealousy can do to a man.

Nightbreed is a brilliant example of intelligent horror, it’s not without its share of viscera but it all works in the narrative context rather than just catering to the gorehound contingent and it’s rare to see a comic with such potential and it isn’t just recycling tired old hackneyed tropes.

Originally appearing in the 70’s Vampirella was created by Forest J Ackerman with an iconic look designed by Trina Robbins. The first Vampirella magazine from Warren Publishing featured an iconic cover by world renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta.

Flash forward a few decades and Dynamite is publishing Vampirella.

The publisher’s approach to the title seems to be similar to that of one of their other titles, Red Sonja , which was somewhat unfairly overlooked until Layout 1acclaimed writer Gail Simone took over writing duties. Since then the perception of the title has changed with Simone’s writing gaining critical acclaim.

For Vampirella, another title often perceived as a sexist throwback to the comics of yesteryear due to the characters skimpy attire (despite it being designed by influential comics artist and writer Robbins) the publisher opted to ask acclaimed horror writer Nancy A Collins to write the new series for Vampirella’s 45th anniversary.

Collins take on the character is definitely one worth checking out, a modern take on the character which still embraces the character’s inherently pulpy horror roots.

 Layout 1Vampirella finds herself charged by the Vatican to investigate the kidnapping of a young girl by the nefarious Cult Of Chaos, lead by a figure from Vampirella’s past, only things don’t exactly to plan and Vampirella finds her world is thrown into turmoil. Suddenly friends become enemies and enemies become friends as she has to face a Vatican wet works team with help coming from the most unlikely of sources.

There’s lots to like about Collins’ take on the iconic character, there’s some great dialogue noting that if you can’t escape your past you should embrace it. This works both narratively for the situation Vampirella finds herself in and is also a knowing wink to the reader about her costume as we see her wardrobe is full of other “normal” clothes too. Also her wearing her costume under a trenchcoat is a neat practical touch and avoids things becoming too T & A which is one of things unfairly associated with the character and its proto Bad Girl roots. A good example of how this take on the character is set in the modern world is the way she finds herself evicted from her lush appartment and it also establishes that she’s living under an assumed name rather than having the name Vampirella on the paperwork, which would be a bit ridiculous.

Collins doesn’t waste time with stodgy exposition either, the narrative hits the ground running and things in Vampirella’s world just unfold and happen without clunky explanations as to who Vampirella is, why she isn’t like other vampires and why she’s working for the Vatican. Some might see these as glaring and confusing omissions but rather they are questions left to be answered to make space for the unfolding plot, this makes for a much better and more fluid reading experience.

Patrick Berkenkotter’s art matches the tone well too handling everyday real world elements like the young girls bedroom with its stuffed animals and the more pulpy elements like dark rituals in graveyards. The character designs are good too with Father Nicodemus, the leader of The Vatican’s wet works squad looking like a grizzled scarred war veteran.

Vampirella is probably better known as a pin up character, especially considering Frazetta’s famous painting but this shows there’s actually a story to go with the character.

Caliban from Avatar Press is the latest of several titles that acclaimed writer Garth Ennis has written for the publisher, an atmospheric sci-fi horror based 7b8205fd547ec5fd1037e37f092c5552around the titular space faring mining/exploration vessel and its crew.

The vast majority of the ships personnel, miners, scientists and more are in cryosleep leaving just a small crew to run the ship as it flies through warp. Things take an unexpected turn when the Caliban collides with an alien craft and fuses with it whilst in Warp.

One of the best things about Caliban is it takes its time to go places, slowly building up atmosphere and leaving plenty of space for character work. Early on tech whizz Nomi establishes that travelling through space and the warp is actually pretty mind numbingly tedious, to the point that it can actually have adverse effects on the crew despite undergoing rigorous screening and testing before they can join. This is told through a diary of sorts that she is writing whilst characters interact around her. Nomi’s right hand woman is San who fixes the tech, or as Nomi puts it “I only talk to them, you fix them”.

-012Whilst the crew is made up of a host of characters, Nomi and San are the main focus.

The story focusses more on a creeping sense of dread as the crew have to deal with an escalating series of events rather than high octane action pieces. It’s the way that characters react to these situations that makes much of the narrative as underlying sentiments come to the surface as the situation changes, like one of the crew members ranting at San “you and the other dyke get on with your jobs”, which the naïve and oblivious Nomi is confused by not even suspecting that her friend is actually a “dyke”.

Ennis utilises classic narrative elements well, exploring an alien environment, an unreliable communications system, a crew that has to split up, mysterious deaths. There’s a constant sense that something is going to happen but not really knowing what in a similar vein as Ridley Scott’s cinema classic Alien or Paul Andersen’s Event Horizon.

This atmosphere and creeping sense of menace is aided by Facundo Percio’s evocative and moody art which is also incredibly detailed, capturing both characters expressions and the various monitors, banks of buttons and various other functional looking tech that makes up the interior of the Caliban. The inks and colour palette colour from Sebastian Cabrol and Hernan Cabrera further add to the ominous atmosphere.    Later issues give an epic sense of scale too as the crew find themsevles having to venture out and explore.

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