As the synopsis suggests, we have a slight re-imagining of history going on here. The Great Fire was not started in Thomas Farriner's modest bakery inAs the synopsis suggests, we have a slight re-imagining of history going on here. The Great Fire was not started in Thomas Farriner's modest bakery in Pudding Lane, but instead was caused by a mighty comet. In the aftermath of the fire, the citizens of London were faced with a far more deadly threat - the corpses littering the burnt out streets started coming back to life. Yup..... zombie time! What a great concept. The book is named after its main character Titus Defoe, once a roundhead fighting in Cromwell's army, but now he leads the fight against the undead as the King's Zombie Hunter General of England. He is aided in this fight by a motley crew of 'soldiers', each with their own reasons for fighting, all equipped with various weapons created by none other than Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and even Leonardo da Vinci. Forget your Victorian era - this is steampunk long befre Queen Victoria came to the throne! They even ride around in a steam-powered vehicle known as the Papin Steam Chariot - "'...self-loading cannons. Tripod puckle machine gun: round bullets for christians, square bullets for zombies. More armour than a da Vinci horseless or a verbiest, and greater acceleration. We call it 'The Reek Reckoner'". Brilliant!
Steampunk is pretty popular at the moment. Zombies too, and Pat Mills has managed to meld the two together prefectly just as Cherie Priest did in her wonderful Boneshaker. This is a non-stop action story written by a master of the craft who has clearly had a great deal of fun in creating this. He has obviously researched the era well, as there are many references to real-life people and the post-plague society they lived in, albeit with a steampunk and "we're waging a war against zombies" twist to it. I don't know how Pat Mills came to be teamed up with artist Leigh Gallagher for this strip but the comic gods were obviously looking kindly on someone that day and I feel that Defoe deserves to be added to the canon of 2000AD greats, up there with the likes of Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper and Slaine. The stunning images throughout this book are incredibly intricate and rich with detail - so much so that this story would be ruined in colour, it simply doesn't need it and I hope no-one ever decides that it does. I strongy recommend you head over to Leigh Gallagher's blog to find out more about his work -this man is a genius!
I believe this volume covers the first two Defoe stories that appeared in 2000AD (1666 and Brethren of the Night), and that there has since been another story printed in the comic called (deliciously) Queen of the Zombies and a fourth one is planned for the future. If the idea of a comic strip full of the undead being torn apart by steampunk weapons wielded by a ruthless band of zombie hunters appeals to you then you really must go out and buy this now. If on the other hand if you are a school librarian then maybe best to think twice before spending public money as unfortunately there may be a few parents (and traditionalist teachers) out there who might feel the need to log a complaint with the Chair of Governors....more
Back at the beginning of October I had the pleasure of meeting someone I have followed on Twitter for some time, writer Tony Lee, at another author'sBack at the beginning of October I had the pleasure of meeting someone I have followed on Twitter for some time, writer Tony Lee, at another author's book launch in London. If you don't recognise the name then shame on you: Tony is a new York Times best selling writer, and has written for most of the big name comic publishers in the US and UK. He is also something of an expert at adapting other author's work for the graphic novel format, examples that immediately spring to mind including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the first in Anthony Hororwitz's Power of Five books, Raven's Gate. More exciting than anything for me though, he is currently working on a comic version of one of my all time favourite 80s TV shows - MacGyver.
During our conversation, we briefly touched on what was at that point the forthcoming release of Anthony Horowitz's new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. During that conversation we touched on Tony's own Sherlock Holmes related work, a series of four graphic novels for Franklin Watts' Edge, an imprint that specialises in books for reluctant readers. Tony's series does not focus on the activities of the great sleuth himself, but instead it follows the adventures of the infamous Baker Street Irregulars. For those of you who are not au fait with some of the plot details of the original Holmes stories, the Irregulars were a bunch of street urchins who Holmes occasionally employed to help him out.
The books, with illustrations by long-time Tony Lee collaborator Dan Boultwood, had been idling on my Amazon wishlist ever since I had first read about them here on the Geek Syndicate website, so on the way home on the train after the launch I used an app on my phone to treat myself to the first in this series, The Adventure of the Missing Detective. The story kicks off shortly after the events of the Sherlock Holmes short story, The Final Problem. Holmes is presumed dead, following his fight with Professor Moriarty, both seeming to have fallen to their death's at the Reichenbach Falls. There seems like there is nobody to take his place, neither Doctor Watson or Inspector Lestrade capable of filling those huge shoes. Nobody, that is, until Wiggins and his team of Irregulars step forward as volunteers, convinced that the great man isn't dead, and determined to carry on with his work in his absence. However, before they get a chance to investigate Holmes' disappearance, they are thrown headfirst into a case of their own.
At 46 pages, the uninitiated might assume that there is little meat to Tony Lake's story. They would, however, be sorely wrong. Dan Boultwood's illustrations are beautifully rendered, and perfectly portray the grimy atmosphere of the period, but I found myself so engrossed in following the words of Lee's story that I had to go back through them again once I had finished the book, to savour each panel one by one. I agree, 46 pages does not seem a great deal when the thin volume is placed next to some of the thick hardcover graphic novels that are published these days, but look instead towards the Asterix books. These are stories rich with plot and detailed graphics, and yet most of these only weight in at 48 pages, just showing that a book should not be judged by its thickness.
We have had a handful of Edge graphic novel adaptations of classic horror books (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc) on the school library shelves for some time and they have always been popular with the reluctant reader boys. I hope that these will soon be joined by the four Baker Street Irregulars books, whilst I will be digging into my pockets to complete by own personal collection - if the rest are as good as this first book then they are too good to miss....more
If there are any awards being given for Best New Publisher this year then based on their early output I would like to nominate Print Media ProductionsIf there are any awards being given for Best New Publisher this year then based on their early output I would like to nominate Print Media Productions. I really shouldn't need much more evidence than their second publication, the totally brilliant Mirabilis - Year Of Wonders: Winter Volume 1 (one of my favourite books of 2011). The company's debut publication (The Iron Moon by Stephen Walsh and Keith Page) makes another great piece of evidence for this nomination, but if the prize wasn't already in the bag then surely it must be now, following the January release of their third book, Frontier: Dealing With Demons by Jason Cobley and Andrew Wildman.
Frontier is another story that first saw the light of day as part of The DFC, the weekly comic that was published by Random House back in 2008/2009. David Fickling Books has since published some of those stories in hardcover collections (Mezolith, Monkey Nuts, Mo-Bot High, etc) and now Print Media are joining them. Both companies are treating these stories with the reverence they deserve - beautifully presented hardcover large-format editions, with high quality printing on high quality stock. My heart pretty much leapt when I first opened Frontier and my eyes took in the stunning artwork of Andrew Wildman.
Set in the Wild West (and this West is wilder than many you will have seen before) Frontier: Dealing With Demons introduces us to Sheriff Mitch Seeker and Daisy Adams, a young orphan girl. In an ideal world their paths would never have crossed, but a bandit called Hallam Brook shattered their respective worlds by murdering Daisy's parents and Mitch's father, and now both are hunting him down in order to get their revenge. The back story of how the duo first met is presented in the form of a diary (supposedly found amongst a hoard of old documents discovered in an old shack in a ghost town), and straight away we are given a sense that this is not the Old West that we know from John Wayne or Sergio Leone films (at least I don;t remember a glowing, moving skeleton in any of those movies).
The strangeness of their world becomes even more apparent as the comic format part of the story starts, with Mitch and Daisy pursuing a member of the Brooks Gang into a corn field that suddenly comes to life, a snippet of Daisy's diary telling us "The year is 1866. We're in Kansas, in the middle of what I call the Weird Wild West". It seems that every time that the pair get close to catching a member of the Brooks Gang something weird happens, as if the gang, or Hallam Brooks is somehow leaving a trail of supernatural weirdness behind them. As a result of this, as Daisy and Mitch continue their journey they find themselves up against werewolves, cave spirits (that consume human fat), and even a walking, talking cactus-monster-thing. This is True Grit meets Supernatural, and given the right amount of exposure Frontier could be the thing that makes Westerns cool again.
As the wordsmith, Jason Cobley masterfully spins a story that will have readers of all ages thirsting for more, and it is perfectly complimented by Wildman's stunning artwork. This is certainly not the case of the story being the poor relation to the illustrations as can happen in comics from time to time. Yes, it is the artwork that first caught my eye and made my heart soar, but the story is so good that an immediate second reading was called for. It has everything - great characters, a fast-paced plot, some cracking set pieces and a particularly nasty villain. I challenge anyone who reads this not to immediately pre-order the sequel (we are informed that Book 2, The Infernal Express, is coming soon)....more