Monday, December 29, 2014

Hawken: Genesis

Written by Dan Jevons, Miles Williams, Khang Le, and Jeremy Barlow
Art by Fracisco Ruiz Velasco, Alex Sanchez, Kody Chamberlain, Sid Kotian, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bagus Hutomo, Michael Gaydos, Federico Dallocchio, Nathan Fox, and Christopher Moeller

I picked up two issues of Archaia's Hawken: Melee mini-series, because they featured work by Jim Mahfood and Nathan Fox, both of whom are on my buy-on-site list.  I was impressed with the depth of the Hawken world, and its celebration of war-suit pilots on a level we reserve for athletes, pop singers, and actors.

I don't play video games, and have no knowledge of Hawken outside of those two comics, but Hawken: Genesis caught my eye because of the lovely design work by Archaia, and because of the list of artists associated with the project.  It explains why the planet of Illal, a resource-rich colony planet controlled by various corporations, has become a blasted war zone, infected by a nano-virus that is taking over the surface.

The writers of this book focus the story around two men, Rion Lazlo, a ruthless corporate spy with unbridled ambition, and James Hawken, a brilliant scientist responsible for the best and worst advancements on the planet.  When the book opens, Hawkens is toiling away in obscurity for Sentium, one of the two big corporations that run everything on the planet.  Lazlo has defected to Prosk, Sentium's rival, and he manages to bring his friend over.

Eventually, Hawken develops the technology that allows for lightweight and fast mech devices, which are of course, immediately put into warfare.  As relations between the two corporations worsen, and as resource scarcity makes war more profitable, things just keep getting worse on Illal, although the depth of the problems take a while to be revealed.

This book follows these two characters over a few decades, setting up what I assume is the environment and rationale for the game to exist in.  The writers do a good job of covering the human and business reasons, and make good use of text pages to fill in some backstory.

The big draw to this book is the art, which is provided by comics artists as well as game design types.  Each chapter and interlude has been drawn or painted by somebody different, although there is decent visual stability throughout the book.  This was an impressive project, and I hope it's something that Archaia revisits.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Grandville Bête Noire

by Bryan Talbot

Bryan Talbot's Grandville stories are always a delight, and the third in the series, Bête Noir, is no exception.

These large graphic albums could have easily gone off the rails, buried under the weight of Tablot's central concept, but instead, these books are very well realized, gripping and beautiful adventure stories.

In the world of Grandville, Paris is the most important city in the world.  It has recently shaken off Napoleonic control, and is moving towards democracy.  England has been independent of French control for only about twenty years.  Talking animals are the ruling class, while humans (not so affectionately called 'doughfaces') make up a servant underclass, although they are beginning to advocate for their rights.  Oh, Talbot has embraced 'steampunk' ideals in designing this world.

Into this mix, we get the machinations of Baron Krapaud, an immensely rich toad, who would like very much to see democracy not gain a foothold in Paris.  He has a plan involving discrediting representational fine arts in favour of the abstract, and in placing automaton soldiers throughout the city to do his bidding.  I know that those two things don't really go together, but Talbot makes it all make sense, rather wonderfully.

Inspector LeBrock, our usual hero, gets involved when a French detective comes to him for help in solving a closed-door mystery, the murder of an artist set to design an important mural.  LeBrock and his associate, Roderick, make their way to Grandville, and waste little time in getting involved in the intrigue.

Talbot pays homage to James Bond films in this volume, as well as to the Wind in the Willows, through his choice of villain.  I enjoyed the depth of thought put into this book, as well as Talbot's always amazing artwork.  For such a short book, Talbot packs in a lot of information, and character development, by way of finally giving us a closer look at LeBrock's past, as he and the high-class prostitute Billie.  Talbot sets up the next volume (presumably) by letting us know that his greatest enemy is about to be released from prison.

I cannot recommend this book, and this series in general, enough.  It is a very solid read.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Richard Stark's Parker: The Score

Written by Donald Westlake
Adapted by Darwyn Cooke

As I've said before, I have no connection to Richard Stark's writing, or to the character of Parker, a gruff master thief.  I am, however, a big fan of Darwyn Cooke's art and writing, and so I am always happy to pick up one of his Parker graphic novels.

The Score is the third in his series of adaptations, and I think it is the best one I've read to date.  Cooke (or Stark; I'm not sure if he's taking liberties with pacing) wastes no time setting up the plot of this story.  A man has gathered a group of criminals to help him execute a really big job.

This guy, Edgars, wants Parker to organize a heist which will take out an entire town - Copper Canyon, North Dakota.  The entire town is surrounded by cliffs, and is attached to a large mining operation.  Edgars has it all figured out - the group can take the mine's payroll, and knock off the two banks and the various stores in one night, and take off with a large score (at least for the time - the notion of doing all this for only a quarter of a million dollars is a little laughable now).

I like stories that concern themselves as much with the set-up of jobs like this as they do the actual mission itself, and Cooke balances the story nicely.  When the job goes down, it goes without saying that something goes wrong, but Stark doesn't seem all that interested in including moral lessons in his work, so the town has a pretty bad night.

What really makes these books work is the great period detail in Cooke's art.  The story has moved beyond feeling outdated to feeling vintage.  A story like this could never be told in our modern time, and Cooke wallows in nostalgia for a simpler, better-looking time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Concrete Park Vol. 1: You Send Me

Written by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
Art by Tony Puryear

I first read Concrete Park when it appeared in the 80-page run of Dark Horse Presents, and I was immediately impressed by what I saw.  Tony Puryear and his collaborators Erika Alexander and Robert Alexander (who is given a co-creator credit) have put together a very complete and interesting science fiction story, and each eight-page story only scratched the surface of the depth of planning and intent conveyed on each page.  It also left me wanting more, and kept me buying the anthology for longer than I'd intended.

Concrete Park was recently given its own limited series, although unfortunately that's been stealth-canceled by Dark Horse, with the last two issues to be printed as part of the second hardcover.  Just days before learning that, I'd picked up this first volume because I wanted to read these chapters again, and was curious to see how the story played out in a different format, with everything read together.

Basically, Concrete Park is about a whole bunch of people who were sent to a prison mining colony planet, who either escaped from custody, or were released on the surface, where they coalesced into Scare City, a gang-dominated warren of homes and businesses.  There are two main characters, so far as the reader is concerned.  Isaac was a gang-banger whose actions got his little sister killed.  We journey with him to the planet, where his prison 'bus' crashes on the surface.  Luca is the leader of the M-80s, a female gang.  Her territory has been targeted by other gang leaders, and when we meet her, she is in the middle of being set up by an ally.

Over the course of this short book, Puryear and company introduce a number of other interesting characters, like Monkfish the shape changer, and Silas, a gang leader who is really an alien.  The complexity of Scare City and its various factions is pretty fascinating, and Puryear's bold sense of graphic design and figure work really makes this book look nice.  His characters are all visually distinct, while he captures perfectly the sun-drenched environment they live in.

There has been a real resurgence in terms of quality science fiction comics over the last five years or so, and I would put this book among the best of them.  Puryear has developed and extensive vocabulary for his world, often blending Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and other languages to come up with a vibrant slang argot.  Everything about this comic feels like it was considered carefully and has a purpose.

I'm not happy that the second volume had its plans shifted, but having read this book in this format, I know I'm not going to complain when I pick up the second volume and get to read through it in one sitting.