The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Helheim, World War Kaiju, The Portent: Ashes, and I Was The Cat

REVIEWS | Helheim, World War Kaiju, The Portent: Ashes, and I Was The Cat
Published on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by
Looking for a trade paperback or hardcover to read? Check out our reviews of Helheim Book 1: The Witch Wars, The Portent: Ashes, World War Kaiju, Book One: The Cold War Years, and I Was The Cat for some ideas.

[Reviewer’s note: Unless otherwise specified, all reviewed titles were provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers or creative team personnel or sourced from public libraries. Click here to read more of our trade paperback and hardcover reviews.]

Helheim, Book 1: The Witch War (Oni Press)

  • helheimvol1prev0StoryCullen Bunn
  • Illustrations: Joëlle Jones
  • Colors: Nick Filardi
  • Format: 164 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 26 March 2014
  • Publisher’s description: “Once the threshold of Helheim is crossed, not even gods can escape.” The age of Vikings. Savage wild men, dark creatures, and hideous undead are pawns in the war between witches. A hero named Rikard, pays the ultimate price in this conflict… but his fight is far from over. Raised as a draugr—an undead killing machine—Rikard is meant to be used as a weapon in the supernatural conflict. But Rikard will not be controlled. And where the draugr treads, death follows. Collects issues #1–6 of the Oni Press series Helheim.

Originally billed in the solicitation for the series’ first issue as “a Gothic horror story of witchcraft, night creatures, and the undead,” Cullen Bunn and Joëlle Jones’ Helheim: The Witch War also owes a narrative debt to Elizabethan drama and early and mid-20th century noir fiction. The medieval Scandinavian setting and quirks like the use of ghost symbolism calls to mind Hamlet while protagonist Rikard—a Viking swordsman killed during a conflict between two rival witches only to be resurrected by his witch-lover as an undead warrior slave—is cast from the mold of noir fiction’s victim-hero, laboring under the thrall of a femme fatale. The premise that has Rikard and the surviving members of his village doomed regardless of the outcome of the “witch war” is reminiscent of the work of James M. Cain in its cynicism.

It takes a while before Helheim‘s narrative really starts to gain steam—there’s a fair bit of faffing about in the first two chapters—but when it does, the result is a rather enjoyable genre-bender of an action-horror tale. “Viking demon-zombie Frankenstein monster” sounds like the product of a random high concept generator, but the creative team is actually able to infuse the whole affair with a surprising degree of pathos through both Bunn’s dialogue and Jones’ expressive work on faces and figures. The way Rikard’s tragic circumstances are used to provide a reasonable amount of depth to both the character and supporting players like his family elevates the title from the B-movie schlock some may expect it to be. Helheim‘s character development isn’t at the level of Bunn’s acclaimed The Sixth Gun at this early stage, but its ending leaves the door open for a sequel or an ongoing series spin-off, and it will be interesting to see where else Bunn and Jones can take the book in the future.

The Portent: Ashes (Dark Horse Books)

  • portentashesp0Story & artPeter Bergting
  • Format: 144 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $17.99
  • Sale date: 18 June 2014
  • Publisher’s description: A wood nymph has returned alone from the realm of the dead to find her dying world overwhelmed with powerful warlocks, vengeful spirits, demons, and witches.
  • Click here to read our review of Domovoi.

Peter Bergting’s The Portent: Ashes is a true sequel to the 2006 Image Comics miniseries The Portent, unlike last year’s excellent Domovoi, which really only shared The Portent‘s premise that there exist parallel planes of existence—one for the living, and one for ancestral spirits and other supernatural creatures—and that there are those select individuals who are not only able to travel between the planes, but also possess the power to defend the denizens of the living world from the encroachments of the realm of the dead.

As such, anybody unfamiliar with the events of The Portent will find themselves a little lost in Ashes‘ early going. Bergting provides a quick recap of the original miniseries a few pages into the book, but it is purely functional—it doesn’t really do much to explain the emotional substance of the returning villains and supporting characters and why they mean so much to the book’s protagonist Lin, a wood nymph trained to protect the worlds from all manner of demonic threats. Those who have read The Portent (the original Image Comics trade paperback seems to be out-of-print but the Stranger Comics edition is available on Amazon.com) will find in Ashes a story that picks up right where the original narrative left off. There are indications that both Alkuin—Lin’s former mentor possessed by the demon Guishen and the villain of the first series—and Milo—Lin’s friend and lover who sacrificed himself in order to defeat the demon-possessed Alkuin—have survived the events of the previous adventure. Lin is determined to find them both, but in her search, she finds herself caught in a larger conflict involving her former coven and a rival faction of warlocks. The book ends on something of a cliffhanger, but enough major plot threads are resolved so that the reader doesn’t come away from the experience unsatisfied.

The book’s pacing is quite deliberate and decompressed, although I would describe Ashes as “atmospheric” rather than “slow,” primarily because a lot of the sequences where there isn’t much plot advancement provide opportunities for Bergting to showcase his Mike Mignola-by-way-of-Paul Smith art. It’s beautiful stuff, clean and thoughtfully restrained, but not at all bland.

World War Kaiju, Book One: The Cold War Years (01Publishing)

  • WWKaijuStory: Josh Finney
  • Art: Patrick McEvoy
  • Script assist: Michael Colbert
  • Additional character and creature designs: Kat Rocha
  • Format: 112 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 05 August 2014 (per Amazon.com)
  • Publisher’s description: World War Kaiju is the story of an alternate history, one in which the atom bomb was never created and the ultimate weapon of mass destruction is the kaiju—fifty foot tall radioactive beasts spawned from the mysterious KAI-235 isotope. Follow the journey of one journalist as he teams up with a retired CIA operative to uncover the truth about the conspiracy behind the monsters.

An unabashed love letter to the classic kaiju films of the last century, Josh Finney and Patrick McEvoy’s World War Kaiju features off-brand recreations of Toho Studios icons Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, and other giant monsters (including a giant rabbit that is almost surely inspired by the eponymous beast in 1972’s Night of the Lepus) engaged in all manner of city-crushing hijinks.

Passion projects like World War Kaiju can be tricky. In many cases, the fun the creative team has in making the work doesn’t translate to the page and reading it is akin to listening in on an inside joke. That isn’t the case here, as the team’s fondness for the source material makes itself felt through the attention to detail evident in the book’s pastiches and the sense of glee that emanates from the volume’s multiple action set pieces.

If I have a major misgiving with the execution, it is in the choice to use extended text pieces in the form of captions featuring the transcripts of recorded conversations as the primary exposition device. The captions are very dense and somewhat disruptive of the book’s otherwise steady pacing.  The extent Finney goes to flesh out the alternative history setting of World War Kaiju is impressive, but the worldbuilding minutiae is overwhelming at times. Fortunately, readers can gloss over these sections to little detriment—the detail they provide fills out the backstory, but is not necessarily essential to the basic enjoyment of the book.

A lot of that is due to Patrick McEvoy’s art. “Painterly” rendering (whether it is actual painting or a digital simulation) isn’t my favorite approach to comics art, but McEvoy successfully avoids the many pitfalls associated with the style—the indistinct textures, stiff figures, and fuzzy colors. At its best, World War Kaiju looks flat-out gorgeous. There are also a couple of sequences in the book where McEvoy shifts to a more traditional comics art approach to indicate a shift in time and setting. It’s not too spectacular a technique in visual storytelling contrast, but it is very effective all the same.

All in all, World War Kaiju, Book One: The Cold War Years compares very favorably with the officially licensed Godzilla comics from IDW Publishing. It’s not exactly on the level of James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half-Century War (the gold standard, in my opinion, of modern Godzilla and Godzilla-inspired Western comics) or Chris Mowry and Matt Frank’s Godzilla: Rulers of Earth in terms of consistent craft, but it shares the same infectious enthusiasm for the source material and its surrounding culture that can be appreciated by any reader, regardless of their level of familiarity with the classic Toho films.

I Was The Cat (Oni Press)

  • I Was the Cat-001Story: Paul Tobin
  • Art: Benjamin Dewey
  • Format: 160 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $24.99
  • Sale date: 06 August 2014
  • Publisher’s description: Allison Breaking is a talented journalist with her own blog and a lot of bills to pay, so when she receives an offer from a mysterious stranger named Burma to write his memoirs, it’s an offer she can’t refuse, not even with all the red flags popping up. But Burma is quite literally unlike any man Allison’s ever known—because he’s a cat. And this cat has stories to tell about how he (over the course of a few lifetimes) has shaped the world— and another, darker story that Allison must risk all to uncover… a story of what this particular cat has been doing with the LAST of his nine lives.

Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey’s I Was The Cat might remind readers of a certain age of the 1984 book Garfield: His 9 Lives (or its 1988 animated TV special adaptation) with its use of a cat’s experiences in its past lives to depict different periods of human history, although it ultimately does more with the conceit.

I Was The Cat features multiple parallel narratives: There’s the overarching present-day frame story that has blogger Allison Breaking interviewing (and eventually investigating) the mysterious talking cat Burma for a ghost-written autobiography, and then there are the various historical vignettes that Burma shares with Allison and her friend Reggie in the telling of the story of his previous eight lives.

The flashbacks to Burma’s previous incarnations are entertaining for the most part. The chatty feline’s exploits through the centuries always involve some plot to take over the world—he instituted a theocracy in Ancient Egypt, ingratiated himself with Queen Elizabeth I, helped Napoleon conquer Europe with his expert strategizing, allied himself with the notorious 18th century London underworld figure Jonathan Wild, and so on and so forth—although all these campaigns invariably failed. The idea of a talking cat profoundly influencing the history of human civilization in his repeated bids to conquer the planet is hilarious in its absurdity (Burma on Napoleon’s Russian debacle: “Russia! In the winter! That idiot! I still haven’t forgiven him!”), and the humor is further reinforced by the way Burma’s plans for world domination are repeatedly thwarted in terribly ignominious fashion. Dewey’s choice of art style greatly helps with the book’s idiosyncratic comedy, in that the contrast between his relatively naturalistic renderings and the book’s bizarre premise serves to highlight the incongruity of it all.

It is in the frame story that the work falters somewhat. Tobin introduces a modern-day, James Bond-inspired cloak-and-dagger subplot early in the book—the “darker story” referred to in the publisher’s blurb quoted above—involving Burma’s current designs on conquest that doesn’t really go anywhere. A late-game attempt to spin a criticism of the modern-day corpocracy out of the whole thing is a bit jarring as well. It’s not totally out of left field—looking back, it’s possible to see Tobin working in the theme at least halfway through the proceedings and in fairness, it is in the spirit of the work’s absurdist bent. It is still the oddest turn in a comic that already features a tycoon cat, and gives the book’s conclusion a bit of a rushed and incomplete feel.

 

2 Responses
    • Thanks for the great review of World War Kaiju! It was indeed a labor of love, and it’s makes my dangerously atomic-powered heart beat faster to hear so much excitement for our project.

      So, the shipment from the printer has been delayed again (a dock strike in China – can you believe it??) but the book will be available from Amazon and directly from 01Publishing.com in just a couple more weeks from this writing. Thanks to everyone for their patience and incredible enthusiasm. :)

    • […] first issue of a sequel series to last year’s Helheim (trade paperback collection reviewed here), Brides of Helheim #1 has the Helheim creative team of writer Cullen Bunn, illustrator Joëlle […]

Advertisements

Connect With Us!
The Geeksverse on Instagram
Recent Comments