Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Getting Graphic: Witchblade Vol 1 (2017)

Title: Witchblade Vol 1 (2017)
Author: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Robert Ingranata
Pages: 152
ISBN: 9781534306851
Collects issues #1-6
Publisher: Image Comics
Published: 17 July 2018
Genre: Comic & Graphic Novels / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Gunned down and left for dead on a New York rooftop, Alex Underwood's life should have ended there-but instead, at the moment of death, she became host to the Witchblade, a mystical artifact that grants the woman wielding it extraordinary powers. But the power comes with a heavy cost, and Alex finds herself thrust into the center of an unseen battle raging on the snowy streets of NYC. Demons are real and walking among humans, and every one of them is intent on taking out the Witchblade's newest host before she becomes too strong to kill. But the artifact chose Alex for a reason, and she's not going down without a fight.

My introduction to the Witchblade franchise came, not through the comics, but through the TV series from 2001 starring actress Yancy Butler. I was intrigued by the magical armor and the concept of the show and it has stuck with me since then. When I saw that a new reboot for the Witchblade comics was in the works I just had to give them a try.

The Witchblade reboot focuses on an entirely new protagonist, Alex Underwood, as she struggles with her own traumatic past while coming to grips with the fact that she is now the new vessel of the Witchblade, a mystical artifact that grants extraordinary powers to the woman that wields it. Dark forces are at work and with her newfound abilities still in their infancy she becomes a prime target.

Bits of Witchblade lore are revealed
The narrative is compelling and draws you in, but the various flashbacks can be jarring and there are times where it felt that the continuity was somewhat off.  Alex meets a mysterious man who acts as a guiding figure to her, he never introduces himself, yet in later panels she somehow calls him by name. You get flashbacks showcasing bits of Witchblade history, but you never get to know how Alex actually came to possess the artifact.

The artwork is stunning and has a dark, gritty vibe to it with vibrant colours adding a dash of visual magic. The facial features of some of the characters can be indistinct, making it difficult to differentiate between some of the male characters.

My major complaint is that the battle scenes lacked depth. Every conflict seemed to be resolved through magic without much real action taking place - whoosh, magic happens and the bad guy is defeated.

The armor lacks detail and definition.
I was also disappointed that the Witchblade is never depicted as a gauntlet or weapon; the armor Alex wields towards the end has no real detail and definition. A big draw for me was the promise of seeing an amazing magical artifact in action and the end result didn't quite deliver. Hopefully this is only the groundwork for greater things to come, perhaps, as Alex reconciles with and grows in power the Witchblade will take on more definition and form. They might just have a trick up their sleeve...

Despite the issues there's a lot to like here. I got a real kick from the ending - a veritable declaration of war!

The Verdict:
While I enjoyed reading Witchblade Vol 1, I felt that the story and artwork lacked detail and depth at times. I would have loved to have seen more Witchblade lore being revealed and the Witchblade itself being more of a focal point. The reboot certainly has promise and it will be interesting to see where the all-female creative team takes it next.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: The Soldier by Neal Asher

Title: The Soldier
Author: Neal Asher
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9781509862368
Series: Rise of the Jain #1
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 17 May 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

A hidden corner of space is swarming with lethal alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It’s guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained at any cost – as it has the power to destroy entire civilizations. She schemes from her state-of-the-art weapons station, with only an alien intelligence to share her vigil. But she doesn’t share everything with Dragon . . .

Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called the Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine’s defences.

Meanwhile, humanity and the alien prador empire keep a careful watch over this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed – and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.

The Soldier by Neal Asher is a mind-blowing start to the Rise of the Jain trilogy. Set in the expansive Polity universe many familiar characters make a welcome return. The focus this time around is on Orlandine and the enigmatic alien entity called Dragon as they stand guard against a threat that might very well destroy all sentient life. Long time readers know that wherever Dragon is involved things are bound to get interesting in the most chaotic of ways. And boy does it ever!

Neal Asher takes all the best elements from the Polity universe and weaves them together into a narrative that makes it feel as if everything that came before was only meant to set up the groundwork for this moment. Fans of the Polity universe will find everything they adore - incredible technology, weird alien creatures, sarcastic AI drones, gigantic space battles and the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance. Asher even manages to expand on the back-story of the Polity in some truly surprising ways, with far-reaching implications in the current conflict, making it hard to believe that everything wasn't meticulously planned from the very start. While newcomers will be able to follow most of what happens thanks to an extensive glossary and ample recounting of prior events, The Soldier is best experienced if you are familiar with the previous novels set in the universe otherwise you will deprive yourself from seeing how masterfully all the threads laid down throughout the prior series are brought to fruition.

The characters are engaging and you can't help but feel sympathy for them as they each struggle to reconcile with their own unique nature and identity. The addition of some snarky battle drones provide a lighter touch and The Client introduces a whole new element to the story as it goes in search of its own forbidden history.
'You stir the still pool of history,' said the Librarian. 'Terror you cannot comprehend will come up from the depths.' (p 232)
The last third of the novel sent my adrenaline levels through the roof. I devoured the pages at a blistering pace as beloved characters faced dire peril and unexpected revelations changed the entire dynamic of events up to the very last page. This is one heck of a start to the trilogy, I'm not even sure how the rest of the books will be able to top this, but I can't wait to find out!

The Verdict:
Just when you thought the Polity couldn't get more interesting Neal Asher manages to weave the most awe-inspiring elements of his universe together into an amazing narrative brimming with awesome technology, vast space battles, gigantic explosions and intricate machinations that are terrifying in their scope. This simply tops everything that has come before. Like a true master Asher hits this one out of the galactic plane and it's difficult to believe everything in the Polity universe wasn't plotted out from the very start to bring us to this very point. The Soldier is a truly mind-blowing start to a new trilogy and I definitely can't wait to see what happens next. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Thanks to Pan Macmillan S.A. for providing the review copy.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Getting Graphic: A Brief Terminology Primer

If you are a complete comic newbie like me you might find all the terminology a bit confusing. Here is a quick breakdown of common terms used in the world of comics:

Comic: A serialised story told in sequential graphical form.

Single Issue: A single installment of a serialised comic. Often published monthly. If you always want to be up to date with the latest events in the story then this is the way to go.

Trade Paperbacks (TPB): A collection of issues (normally around 4 - 6 issues) collected into one volume. Trades become available after individual issues are sold so you might not be up to date with the latest happenings. The flipside to this is that you get to experience a more complete story in one go. Trades are normally less expensive than buying the individual single issues. Trades are also known as a volumes and a complete comic run can consist of multiple volumes. (While trades are commonly referred to as graphic novels this is not technically correct. See below.)

Graphic novel: A single standalone story in book length. Graphic novels have never appeared in serialised form as single issues.

Digital comics: As you would expect it's the digital version of a comic and, as with their physical counterparts, they are available in both single issues, trades and omnibus editions. One of the most popular retailers of digital comics is Comixology. Digital comics can be read on PC or on tablets as well as some ereaders (if you don't mind sticking to greyscale images).

Now that we have the basics down, onward!

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