Saturday, April 3, 2010

Underground - Jeff Parker & Steve Lieber

On Valentines day I received an email from Steve Lieber. Last week I actually got off my figurative butt and read the comics he had sent a link for. I understand that this was probably not exclusively for me, and that perhaps everyone else in the world with a blog may have received the same thing, but guess what doesn't matter one bit to me...

Underground, a graphic novel in 5 issues, is written by Jeff Parker, and illustrated by Steve Lieber. If that alone doesn't get your interest up then you are reading comics wrong in my opinion. The really good news is that this comic is very good, and really pretty different as well. You would expect solid writing, good characterization and an underlying sense of humor to be found, given that Parker is a master of that. You would expect the art to be solid, with a good deal of comic realism without seeming heavy or stiff or overly photo referenced, etc., because Lieber is pretty great at that. You would expect those things, and you would not be disappointed. Where there is different for me, is that this is a very small, self-contained story set in a park in Kentucky, and it is, for lack of a better word, a thriller.

I use the word small here, but only to describe the relative scope and timeline of the story. It takes place within a day, and is mostly limited to a relatively closed environment. It has a solid beginning, middle, and end, and shows us for the most part, rather than just telling us, but pretty much everything is explained and resolved within the five issues.

This is a cinematic sort of work, and could make for an excellent movie. The sort of surprising thing is that as a comic that features two park rangers in a mostly unexplored cave system, running from a group of men that need to stop them from getting out of the caves, it works brilliantly as a comic.

I really don't want to spoil one bit of this thing, so I won't give away much more than what I have said already. This title does something that is really difficult in my opinion to do in comics. I have said before that horror is something that is difficult to pull off in this medium, but another thing that I think is equally difficult, perhaps more so, is suspense. This series, manages to create edge or your seat, uncomfortable suspense expertly as it draws toward the climax. As uncomfortable as it was, is a testament to the quality and abilities of the creators on this.

It accomplishes this in a story that contains no particularly extraordinary people or situations. There are people with specialized skills, and the awesome wonder and unpredictability of nature is present, but this is all real world stuff in the claustrophobic confines of a real world setting.

This is a title well worth picking up. The base concept is not really a new one, but this isn't exactly 'Die Hard in a Cave" either.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Release The... Robot 13 !!

R13 - Colossus (Thomas Hall, Daniel Bradford) Blacklist Studios: I received an email in late February from Thomas Hall. I had received one from him some time earlier and stupidly had not given it the attention I should have. I had access to a digital version of Robot 13 #1 since June of last year, and I had looked at it, but not really tried to read it. By the time I got the second email, There were three issues available to me, the entire first story arc, and I decided I really needed to read it.

A bit of my issue, I guess, was probably that it looked absolutely beautiful, but absolutely looked like something Mike Mignola had done. This is not a bad thing, as I am not sure i have met anything Mignola has done that didn't range from 'very good' to 'brilliant' in my opinion. Whatever my feeble reason was (probably laziness), it was a dumb one, and my loss for not having dived into it sooner.
Issue 1 starts with a fishing boat off the coast of Spain. They pull a metal, man-shaped object out of the water, It turns out to be a robot of sorts with a skull inside of a glass dome for a head. This is also something that we have seen before more or less, but that doesn't preclude this from being original or good, in the same way that it doesn't guarantee it will be as cool as that concept sounds. (This comic is every bit as cool as the concept of a 'being with a skull floating in a glass dome for a head' sounds.) 13 Doesn't remember anything or know where he is at first, but it doesn't take long for him to figure out he is pretty adept at the fighting of giant monsters. He is also immediately sympathetic. His interactions with people are all done in such a way that you know that despite the evil looking floating skull thing, this is a hero of some sort, and a decent sort of character that you are dealing with. Fortunately he is not exclusively met with fear, and in the course of these three issues you learn a good bit about his history while still leaving vast amounts that can be filled in, and limitless questions that can be answered.
In reading interviews and things that are available out there, it is a fact that the story changed somewhere between the character design and actually getting things on paper. I think the direction that Hall and Bradford took with this is really perfect. There is a heavy Greek mythology tie in, with big monsters of greek mythology tie-ing in to the story as the villains (at least so far), and I thought it worked really well. I am a big fan of mythology and the creatures and characters that figure into the myths of various cultures, etc. and I like it when things are put together that use those things in a neat way.
The art as I said is beautiful. It really is perfectly done within the style it is done in. Like the cover to issue 1 that I have posted, there are pages from the first issue of tentacles that are absolutely stunning. I am not necessarily a big tentacle fan or anything, but the color and design and layout are really just perfect.
It is extremely fortunate that this project has an artist as capable as Bradford on it, as Hall's writing is excellent graphic narrative writing. This series does not shy away from dialog when it is needed, but it uses it efficiently, and the story is successfully told in the panels more than in the balloons and boxes. There are plenty of pages that are nearly wordless, and even if you don't read the dialog, and focus just on the images presented, you can have a good sense of what is going on, and a strong feel for the emotion and pacing, etc.
I almost passed up reading this, and certainly didn't go into it predisposed to like it, but I am very glad that I did read it, and it certainly ranks among the best comics I have read this year.