Comics Review: The Week in Comics (31/08/11) – Flashpoint #5, Locke and Key: Clockworks #2, Secret Avengers #16, Angel & Faith #1

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

Flashpoint 5 cover Andy Kubert Geoff JohnsFLASHPOINT issue 5
Writer: Geoff Johns ~ Artist: Andy Kubert ~ Publisher: DC Comics

Hard as it is to believe, there were other comics than Justice League #1 published this week – like Flashpoint #5, the finale to the timeline-altering crossover miniseries which has never quite managed to be as interesting as all the tie-in Elseworld-style action going on around it. Naturally, it all comes down to family, and Geoff Johns ends the story in a way that will surprise nobody who’s ever seen a ‘Dangers of altering time’ tale, but does at least provide the right levels of colourful melodrama. It’s an average comic that doesn’t really deserve the weight of being the final comic published by DC as part of the ‘regular’ universe (although the big change happens here) – Flashpoint #5 isn’t actually bad, but it also isn’t quite the world-shattering conclusion that we might have expected, even if the often-used promise that ‘things will never be the same again’ does at least seem to be partially true now…

[xrr rating=3/5]

locke and key clockworks issue 2 gabriel rodriguez joe hillLOCKE AND KEY: CLOCKWORKS issue 2
Writer: Joe Hill ~ Artists: Gabriel Rodriguez ~ Publisher: IDW Comics

Another Locke and Key issue, another home run, and another example of what’s probably the most consistent and inventive comic currently being published. It’s a kooky, deliriously twisted mix of dark fantasy, emotional drama and outright horror that’s continuing to excel – this is one of the quieter instalments, but one which builds to a powerful finale, as Hill starts pulling all the storytelling strands together. There’s still time for some gorgeous visual moments and off-kilter wit, while one particular revelation arrives a hell of lot sooner than I expected. There’s only ten issues of the overall story left following this, and while I don’t know where Hill is taking the characters, I’m sure it’s going to be (a) traumatic and (b) unmissable.

[xrr rating=5/5]

Secret Avengers 16 cover John Cassady Warren Ellis Jamie McKelvieSECRET AVENGERS issue 16
Writer: Warren Ellis ~ Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson ~ Publisher: Marvel

Now, that’s the kind of creative team that gets me reading a comic simply to see what they’ll do, and it doesn’t disappoint. Ellis does fast, whip-smart action combined with sarcastic one-liners better than anyone, and combine that with Jamie McKelvie’s clean, crisp artwork and you’ve got a witty, wild and hugely entertaining romp. Okay, I barely had an idea of what had gone before in the series (which follows Steve Rogers and various other characters on ‘black ops’-style missions), but by the end of it I was having so much fun that I didn’t care. Worth it, simply for lines like: “Relax. I’m too borderline psychotic to feel pain.”

[xrr rating=4/5]

Angel and Faith cover issue 1 Christos Gage Rebekah Isaacs Joss WhedonANGEL & FAITH issue 1
Christos Gage ~ Artist: Rebekah Isaacs ~ Publisher: Dark Horse

Biggest surprise of the week was how much I enjoyed this – the first issue in the next phase of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s comics-bound afterlife. The 40-issue long Buffy Season 8 was fun in parts, but arguably got out of control and certainly went on a bit too long; now that Dark Horse has the rights to Angel back from IDW comics, they’re now going to be running parallel series dealing with the new Buffyverse reality, where the world’s been sealed off from magic (thanks to Buffy’s actions at the end of season 8), and where Angel is now having to deal with the repercussions of his actions as Twilight, including the murder (while he was possessed) of longtime character and ex-Watcher Rupert Giles. Briskly written, entertaining and packing a hell of a lot into its 22 pages, this is everything you’d want from a spin-off comic, while the art from Rebekah Isaacs carefully rides the line between cartoony and capturing decent likenesses of the cast. It’s no classic, but it does look like this latest arrival from the Buffyverse is going to be worth keeping up with…

Comics Review – Phonogram : Rue Britannia

Writer: Kieron Gillen ~ Art: Jamie McKelvie ~ Publisher: Image ~ Year: 2006

Phonogram - Rue Britannia Cover - Jamie McKelvie

[xrr rating=4/5]

The Low-Down: A low-key but surprisingly engaging urban fantasy that blends mythology with the NME, this characterful comics miniseries takes a wonderfully left-field look at pop music and what it does to us.

The Backstory: Everybody knows about Phonomancy, right? The way you can use music to do magic? One of the simplest tricks in the books. Used correctly, music can do anything, touch on any emotions and unlock all kinds of doors…

What’s it About?: It’s 2006 and David Kohl, Phonomancer and egotist, is having a bad day. A one-night stand has come back to haunt him, and now he’s got a mystery to unravel. Someone is interfering with Britannia – the spiritual godhead of Britpop, dead these past ten years – and both his memory and reality itself are starting to alter and unravel…

The Story: Comics can do anything. You want proof? Look at Phonogram, a brilliantly oddball exploration of music and myth that dances along the edge between fantasy and music journalism without ever quite toppling either way. It’s the kind of work that’d feel too slight or too laboured in any other medium, but sits perfectly in comics, taking you on a quiet and characterful fantasy journey through Britpop. One of the best things about it is simply the way it plays the magic and fantasy as completely matter-of-fact and ordinary – because of course it isn’t about the magic, it’s about pop music, memory, and the way nostalgia can be both a comfort and your worst enemy. The word ‘urban’ springs to mind, and Phonogram is a genuinely urban fantasy that, even four years after being first published, does something fresh and inventive with a sub-genre that’s still mired in werewolf-shagging and winsome vampires.

Phonogram - Internal Art - Jamie McKelviePhonogram is something else altogether – a world of memory kingdoms and rituals, where ghosts are still mourning the absence of Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards and whole lives can be defined by the music people listen to. Comparisons have been made to the long-running Vertigo series Hellblazer (starring breathlessly cynical magician/bastard John Constantine), and there are definite echoes in the landscape and atmosphere of the comic – but Phonogram has a weirdness and a sense of playfulness all of its own. The whole thing was a labour of love for writer Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Gillen has already said in interviews that thanks to making so little money on Phonogram, the chances of any return visits after the brilliant second volume The Singles Club is unlikely), and making a comic-book voyage through the mythic landscape of Britpop is certainly one of those endeavours that qualifies as heroic. Like all the best music journalism, Phonogram flirts occasionally with pretension and isn’t afraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve. It’s also not afraid of throwing in references or unexpectedly mythic cameos that its audience might not get (there’s a detailed four-page glossary in the back of the book for anyone who didn’t live through the Britpop years), and certainly doesn’t go for attention-grabbing tactics of action, sex or gore. This is a late-night wander of a graphic novel, the kind of story that’ll strike a chord with anyone who’s ever lost themselves in a song or experienced that one grand pop passion that somehow sums up a period of your life.

Phonogram art - Jamie McKelvieIt’s also wickedly funny, with the entertainingly cynical Kohl acting as a brilliantly engaging (and occasionally foul-mouthed) protagonist. Gillen’s characterisation here is top notch, creating a rich cast of characters, especially the ascerbic and spiky Phonomancer Emily Aster, and delivering a whole series of finely crafted one-liners. A comic series that knows it isn’t for everyone (and isn’t trying to be), Rue Britannia is a little rough around the edges, but like all good pop, it’s the flaws and imperfections that make the moments of brilliance worthwhile.

The Art: Printed in black-and-white, Jamie McKelvie’s art style here is deceptively simple – he’s got a very clean-lined approach that’s almost the exact opposite of modern-day superhero comic art. Take a single panel, and it might look a little too simple – but place it in context, and you get a gorgeously easy visual ride that guides you through the story. He’s also brilliant at capturing characters – not many artists can handle making lengthy conversations visually interesting – and gives the whole series an off-beat, expressive and unique atmosphere.

The Verdict: Weird. Wonderful. Verging on essential. An excellent example of the kind of strange and unusual territory comics can explore – and the follow-up, The Singles Club, is even better.

[amtap book:isbn=1582406944]