Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Reviews: Buffy, Hunter & Painter, Jack Staff, Viz

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, issue 1: “The Long Way Home”, part 1 by Joss Whedon (script), Georges Jeanty (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), Dave Stewart (colours), Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy (letters), Scott Allie (editor); cover by Jo Chen. Dark Horse Comics, March 2007, 24 pages of strip, US$2.99

Yes, it’s Buffy by Whedon, so you already know if you like this recipe or not. This is setting up a 4-issue story, and has the pacing, incident and patter you’d expect. The only drawbacks – Great Muppety Odin aside – are Whedon’s use of homebrew-phonetic spelling for some of the Slayerettes (after some pondering, I decided to read Leah as Irish and the other girl as Danish, but who knows?) and the return of the “US military versus Buffy” trope. Because the Initiative didn’t give us quite enough hours of dullness back in Season 4, I suppose.

What I really want to draw attention to is Georges Jeanty’s artwork. His compositions are spot on: there were no occasions anywhere in reading this issue when I felt myself having consciously to decide where my eye should go next, either within a panel or across a page. He has managed to incorporate likenesses of the TV actors without making them either unrecognisable or obvious tracings of photographs. A good test is that the one new character who gets significant face-time, General Voll, looks neither more nor less real and fully-rendered than Buffy, Xander and Dawn. Jeanty has a solid command of anatomy, facial expression and perspective; and with inker Andy Owens he provides craggy lines and shadows that give bite to the finish. Top stuff.

Dark Horse lets the package down a little by printing a Jo Chen cover which depicts Buffy as at least six feet tall, and by putting four successive pages of adverts in the middle of an action sequence.

Hunter & Painter by Tom Gauld. Buenaventura Press 2007, 18 pages of strip, US$4.95

The eccentricities of this little booklet start with its format – 24cm wide by 10cm high, bound on the short side – but don’t end there. Gauld gives us the story of a caveman who has hunted every animal he knows, and a caveman who has painted every hunting scene he can think of. The tone is mundane, mixing the cheerful and the melancholy. The art is as lumpy and stylised as cave art itself. Here is Painter, trying something new:

But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. A very engaging oddity.

Jack Staff volume 2 issue 13 by Paul Grist (writer/artist) and numerous colourists. Image Comics, February 2007, 27 pages of strip, US$3.50

This is an all-cliché issue: a parallel world where the good guys are bad guys, characters stepping outside the panel borders, a chimp, undead versions of British sit-com characters (what? that isn’t a cliché? Well, it should be!); but Grist handles proceedings with his customary grace, charm and good humour, and the chimp has his own theme song, so I’m happy enough.

Viz issue 163, with contributions by Alex Collier, Simon Ecob, John Fardell, Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris & Joel Morris, Paul Palmer, Cat Sullivan, Barney Farmer & Lee Healey, Christina Martin & James MacDougall, Will Freeman, Tony Coffey and Robert Doyle. Dennis Publishing, March 2007. 21 pages of strip (out of 52), £2.60.

Viz has now been around long enough to be easily overlooked – and, indeed, sales have fallen from its million-plus heyday to a circulation of about 150,000 or 250,000 depending on who you talk to. But Viz’s contents have a consistent reliability about them: it’s the same mix of crude sexual and scatological humour and sharply topical social and cultural references, served up in the style of Beano-esque comic strips and pastiche tabloid articles.

The highlight of this issue is “Jack Black and the Crack Continuum”, in which Jack and his dog Silver spend their summer holiday in the countryside, helping Aunt Meg defend her class-A drug dealership from an unwelcome intruder. Pedallos, a submarine, a bullet to the head and almond and sultana cake all feature in this parody of cozy boy’s adventure stories.

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