Three more gaphic novels that I’ve read recently.
Batman – Arkham Unhinged
By Diverse Hands
This is based on the video game Batman: Arkham City, which I guess was based on ideas found in the Batman/Detective comic books, so think of a snake swallowing its own tale. With the mayor and the rest of the political establishment in his pocket, Hugo Strange has turned an area of Gotham into a self-contained state in which all the city’s major criminals are imprisoned. While his elite enforcers try to capture the remaining criminals, such as Catwoman and Two Face, Strange is focused on Batman, who manages to stay just ahead of him. In a second story we learn the back history between the Joker and the Penguin, and how it opened up into a feud between the two crimelords. There are some interesting ideas here, but within the context of the book the idea of Arkham City and the influence exercised by Strange is just not made convincing, which introduces an element of artificiality to all the rest, so that while individual stories are entertaining enough the overall arc that contains them seems to have feet of clay. What makes the book special is the artwork, which is simply sumptuous, with vibrant imagery and use of colour throughout. It’s not compulsive reading, but it most definitely is compulsive viewing. From the sexy rendition of Catwoman in the opening sequence, right through to the pictures of circus sideshow freaks turned mob enforcers with which we close, this book was a treat for the eyes.
Supernatural – Rising Son
Written by Peter Johnson & Rebecca Dessertine, illustrated by Diego Olmos
This is a prequel to the popular TV series, set in the early days of the Winchester brothers, when they were just children being cared for by their dad John, for whom raising children, holding down a job, and dealing with various supernatural threats is all proving a bit much. With demons on the one hand and Hunters who believe that Sam and Dean pose a threat on the other, John has his hands full, but the biggest menace of all is a female demon who wants to raise Sam as her son. With some striking artwork and a plot that keeps throwing up surprises, this was a decent piece of work. It gives us larger than life villains, a healthy dose of treachery, and a credible background to the story’s supernatural elements, in as far as that is possible. And it adds some depth to the TV series’ back story, giving us details on how Sam and Dean were raised by their single father to become the Hunters they are, while the hints of a great darkness contained within Sam add an element of moral choice, with John having to decide if he should kill his son in the name of some greater good. There’s a bonus story that I found wholly risible and thought detracted from the tone of the enterprise, but it was only four pages and easy to flip past. I haven’t watched Supernatural for a while, and this book left me wanting to get reacquainted with it, though I probably won’t follow through on the feeling.
Written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
Now this is something nicely different, a twisty little thriller in which various clandestine groups tackle each other in the quest to get away with the motherlode of all slush funds. It has about it the feel of authenticity, with bad people doing bad things to each other, and heroes who get the job simply by virtue of not being as corrupt as the other guys. The characters are all well-drawn, with enough back story to make them believable, childhood incidents that show how and why they turned out as they did, and the overarching plotline takes in the Cold War and security protocols, with plenty of background information on cyber security. Presented in short, pithy chapters, it’s a book that keeps you guessing while at the same time building up a ferocious head of steam. The muted colour scheme used throughout is very effective, with some vicious imagery and superb work on the body poses and facial expressions of all the characters. Overall it was a lot of fun, reminiscent of nothing so much as a Mission Impossible film, albeit one in which the good guys are more than a tad tarnished. I liked it a lot, and of these three books it was my favourite, the only one I might consider reading again.