Saturday, 9 April 2011


 Ever since Greg Rucka brought Renee Montoya to the forefront of Batman supporting characters in the brilliant ensemble series Gotham Central, outing her as a lesbian and continuing her changes from drunk unlicensed private eye to becoming the new Question in the excellent series 52 where he also established she once had a relationship with Kate Kane the new Batwoman, I've been a big fan of the character.

So I was looking forward to this collection which was originally published as a backup series in Detective Comics. Sadly it's a fairly by the numbers story. Helping out a Mexican immigrant who'd paid people to bring his sister over the border only to have her disappear, The Question finds herself on the trail of white slavers. The first half ends with her saving the girl. However, she also realises she can't take down the operation on her own and enlists a friend, another non-powered superhero, The Huntress. This second part is more interesting than the first an we meet a very powerful superhuman who is behind it all and a particular enemy of The Question's.

This is all okay but given Montoya's previous outings (pun not intended) under writer Greg Rucka, it's all very underwhelming and the words perfunctory and routine spring to mind. Cully Hamner's art is adequate without being inspiring which pretty much sums the whole thing up. 

Okay, basic setup: Magic users and magical creatures live in an enclave (or 'ghetto') in a corner of New York called Golgotham and have done for centuries with lots of mutual prejudice between them and humans 'numps'.

Our attractive artist and human heroine called Tate moves into a spacious apartment where she can create her metal sculptures in piece. Her handsome Kymeran (humanoid six-fingered magic user) landlord Hexe practices only right-hand (good magic) and therefore needs the extra cash as you can't live off your principles. She has secrets and so does he and you just know they are going to get together sometime.

This book is more of a scene-setting for this new series and is well enough done to make it interesting in its own right as we see a strong clash of cultures between human and Golgotham. There is action and mayhem towards the end when they have to rescue a teenage were-cougar from the clutches of the villain and there's a general adult (as in grown-up) feel to the novel. There is ample scope with this scenario to develop other new characters as protagonists rather than continue to have Tate and Hexe up front all the time and I hope Collins will follow this route rather than take the easy way out of having the happy couple face new challenges, break up, get together again, face...

All in all a nice start and I'll be looking out for the next one. 

 Essentially it's a prequel to the series and is set during the summer before they start at Roundview. It's easy to read with the narration switching between the various characters, frequently in a single scene which makes it easy to put down and pick up again.

It fills in some of the background of the characters but doesn't give away any major secrets though it does explain more clearly some of the motivations of some of them. Nick, for example, comes over as a nicer and less superficial person than you might imagine. We find out that Grace has just joined old friends of Mini and Liv shortly before the start of the book and is still getting to know them rather than them being a tight threesome as it first seemed in the opening episode of the new series. They also know who Alo and Rich are. Matty doesn't appear at all but we do find out what triggers Frankie's move to Bristol. Some other characters are introduced with one in particular whom it would be good to see in the next series. This is Rhodie, a likeable deaf girl who doesn't speak, and who makes Alo's few days in Newquay very memorable.

This is a light and quite amiable read, pretty much like Season 5 as a whole really, so if you liked that then... 
(Note: the author is the younger sister of the brains behind the TV series.)

This used to be one of my favourite team books back in the mid-80's but either it just isn't as good as I remembered it being or it took longer to get going than in just the first 8 issues + Secret Origins collected here. Or both.

But there's also something else. Comics should avoid dealing with real life political figures partly because it dates the book more than pop culture references which can easily be glossed over. I remember an early 80's X-team coming over with an anti-communist line as bad as anything from the 1950's McCarthy witch hunts. In an 80's Batman and the Outsiders, at least one of the team considers killing the evil Russian Premier Gorbachev. At least in the Suicide Squad story Gorbachev is seen as being more pragmatic but still upholding the core values of the 'Evil Empire'.

I also think times have moved on and that SS might have been cutting edge (insofar as a mainstream DC book of the time could be called that) back then, but compared to today's Secret Six, they're almost as wholesome as Archie. Perhaps that's a little bit of an exaggeration but you know what I mean.

It's okay, it's an entertaining competently done action book -pity there's no introduction to provide a sense of perspective. I just feel a little disappointed. 

This and the following book were both selected by me from the Amazon Vine freebie for review program. Please note that this does not automatically guarantee a good review. In fact, Vine items tend to be lower rated than my non-Vine (i.e. I paid for it) reviews.

Definitely a cut above the usual supernatural thriller, the story is narrated by an intelligent, sophisticated werewolf who is nearly two hundred years old. Tired of it all, he's readying himself for one last encounter with a cult of werewolf hunters where he intends to die. But life, as he discovers, isn't as simple as that and his entire world is changed when he's given a reason for living.

And I really don't want to say anything more than that about the story. Discover its delights for yourselves. I will add that it's a pleasure to have a refined and literate protagonist in a horror novel for a change. Jake the werewolf has a depth and perspective to his character which makes it a pleasure to be in his company. There is gore of course but it's never gratuitous or lurid which is quite remarkable given that the narrator revels in the killing and eating of a human being once a month.

For fans of the supernatural thriller (horror novel), this is a rare (allusion intended) treat. 

"Imagine The Bourne Identity rewritten by Neil Gaiman..."

So goes the first line of Amazon's synopsis. That sold me immediately. Now, however, permit to finish the sentence.

"...and it would be nothing like this novel." Gaiman's stories exploded with ideas, the Bourne novels are action-packed. This one is neither.

That isn't to say that it isn't without its own special charm but it is a sedate charm. Basically it has one idea and nearly two thirds of the length (and it is quite lengthy) pass before we begin to discover what it is. The story focuses on three characters who find their lives entertwining. The location is Lausanne and much of that is set within its cathedral. I can tell you that the characters are interesting -a British detective with memory loss who is manipulated by the Swiss police; an American courtesan who discovers, too late, her new life is not what it appears; and a sweet young man with special needs who has a rather unique job at the cathedral. I can tell that the author writes well and his descriptions of the environment are vivid. (Except for his jarring use of two words. I have never met anyone British who lights a 'smoke' rather than a cigarette, and the author also overuses the word 'fag' when cigarette would be better. Don't know why, but I found it jarring.) I can also tell you that this is a supernatural thriller but no more than that as to do so would be to spoil it. The author carefully involves the reader before revealing his hand.

It isn't for everyone and it is rather long for its substance, but those who do like it will like it a lot. I did. 

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