Wednesday, 31 October 2012

CowBoy Halloween Ashcan Special

Nate Cosby's and Chris Eliopoulus's CowBoy is definitely making it on to my best of year list (review here), and, I suspect, a few other peoples too. Until the second volume, Halloween sees the release of a special ashcan version of the comic, featuring a new story in which our titular hero, Boyd Linney, meets Billy the Kid. Really hope my comic book store has some of these left by the time I make it over there. Here's a mini, 3 page preview:



Monday, 29 October 2012

Batman: Death by Design

 
I still haven’t decided whether being a Batman fan makes me more discerning in analysing the books, or more readily pleased. Fair warning though: there’s definitely some positive bias towards a character I’ve been reading since a child, but that doesn’t mean I’m placated by anything that DC see fit to put out. And let’s be honest- in terms of comics and the Dark Knight, the last decade or so hasn’t been anything memorable, unless you’re a Grant Morrison fan. Ideally (DC permitting) the beauty of characters like Batman and Superman would be the free rein they allow a creator: you can put them in any kind of genre or situation, build a story of any scope and imagination around them, safe in the knowledge that ultimately they will return to conventional super-heroics. This experimental factor was something the Elseworld stories did particularly well- Gotham by Gaslight, Nine Lives, Red Son, Riddle of the Beast amongst others- albeit to varying degrees of success. I love Batman in Scott Snyder’s solid bread and butter tales, but I’m always open to any new interpretations, angles and approaches to Bats, which is where Kidd’s stand alone story comes in.
 
In the build up to the release of Death by Design, much of the focus was on Chip Kidd’s decision to write a Batman story about architecture. It’s not as tenuous as it perhaps initially sounds. Arguably if any superhero is defined by a place, Batman is defined by Gotham: the alley in which his parents died, his empty, palatial mansion, the caverns under it, the buildings from which he swings, the Gothic gargoyles from which he oversees, the sewers and tunnels he peruses and installs, Wayne Tower. Gotham is the Batman’s city, one inexorably tied to the other (nice article by Adam Rogers on the relationship between man and city here) . In this context, Kidd’s choice makes more sense.
 
 
Set in the 1920′s, Death by Design sees Bruce’s desire to continue his parents legacy via the regeneration of Gotham lead him to reluctantly okay the demolition of the old Wayne train station. Precariously unstable, he hires an innovative architect from abroad to oversee the design and building of a new one. The closure, however, is being met with opposition from those who see it as a heritage landmark, a symbol of the period when Gotham was on the ascendancy, of better times and people. As Bruce ponders the conflict, buildings around Gotham begin to collapse, accidents with construction equipment occur and the Joker spies an opportunity to wreak random havoc. In addition to untangling this mystery, Bruce also has to contend with the appearance of a mysterious new costumed individual on the scene.
 
Death by Design is a beautiful book: Dave Taylor’s pencilled artwork expressively captures a cinematic, black and white movie feel, and has a pleasant atmospheric ambiance that you can’t help but be swept up in. I loved the opening sequence: Batman testing his new grapple, recounting his hopes and doubts, the panelling, the silent concentration, Taylor really nailing that sense of movement and motion in Batman’s actions- it’s all so sweetly done. One of the things I have always loved about Batman is the manner in which he is a creature of his own construct: quite consciously a large foreboding presence, a tall, imposing figure with cape spread or swirling, unable to tell where he begins and the night ends- a facet that doesn’t translate well onto celluloid, but works fantastically on the page. I’m a contrary sort of person, however, and I do also like the retro slimline look he sports here, simply because it makes such a refreshing change from the hugely bulking, costume-bursting muscular frames of superheroes today.
 
 
Some minor quibbles: the Joker’s appearance felt unnecessary. While his characterisation is spot on, his showy theatrics ad psychotic faux gentleman air nicely suited to the era, any other villain could have stood in for the minor role he plays here and the substitution would have made no difference He’s one of comics greatest characters, but his impact is weakened by the continuous over-use of him in this manner- for nothing, bit part appearances. The use of simultaneous speech and thought bubbles for Bruce and Cyndia when they’re talking is cringe-worthy in both construction and execution and violates the basic principle of storytelling- show, don’t tell. It’s especially puzzling (and a little insulting) as the reader is perfectly capable of inferring their thoughts from what they’re saying.
 
Death by Design is an enjoyable Batman story, and one that’s easily accessible for non-fans to pick up and read without having any great deal of awareness of Batman’s mythos and background. As a fan, much of the satisfaction I gained from it came from what I bought to the story through previous knowledge and acquaintance: I enjoyed Batman being totally alone and without Robin: as much as I love Dick Grayson (the others I can give or take), I have more recently been appreciating Bats operating on his own, minus any member of the ever expanding ‘Bat-family’ and the burden of brooding angst, and grim introspection he’s been burdened with since the 80′s. Snyder has recently been taking a lighter approach with him in The Court of Owls, where Bruce seemed more ready with that occasional dry wit, and generally more comfortable with his, ahem, work/life balance. That clearer voice of an actual person and not solely ‘the Batman’ is used well here.
 
Overall, Kidd delivers a perfectly serviceable tale with some outstanding attributes- Dave Taylor’s art being one of them.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

August Moon by Diana Thung preview

 
Another great looking and sounding upcoming release: Diana Thung's debut comic, August Moon, which is out this month. It clocks in at 320 pages, which I love- comics read quick as it is, so I much prefer books with a higher page count: makes the goodness last longer. Synopsis and preview below, for more pages and information, head over to Top Shelf.

'The townspeople of Calico believe in family. In fact, some say that the souls of dead ancestors watch over this town, and on a clear night, you can see their "Soul Fires" dancing through the sky. But when young Fiona Gan comes to town with her father, she finds that the Soul Fires are just the beginning of Calico's mysteries. Strange graffiti appears all over town, a huge rabbit-like creature is found in an alley, and a peculiar street boy named Jaden claims to come from the moon.
 
Now time may be running out, because Fi and her dad are not the only newcomers to Calico. As the Soul Fire festival approaches and a creepy corporation starts to bulldoze the nearby forests, she finds herself drawn into Jaden's battle for the soul of a community.
 
Diana Thung's debut Top Shelf graphic novel is a true adventure, rooted in the diverse local traditions of Asia and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, with a modern sensibility and a hint of magic.'
 


Friday, 26 October 2012

Summer Pierre's 100 days 100 Stories

Artist Summer Pierre has been making one-page stories for over 6 years now, and is currently on a self-imposed challenge to create 100 stories in 100 days. She picks a random word from a large stack of nouns written on index cards and then builds a story with accompanying illustrations around that word. Today marked number 40 out of 100, so she's almost halfway there. Quite a few readers of her blog, An Accident of Hope, have expressed an interest in doing a similar activity and Summer's provided some tips, also mentioning how the inspiration for her stories came from Linda Barry:
 
'I make these stories by pulling a noun from a stack of index cards and writing and drawing the first memory that comes to me. It sounds sort of vague and unkempt, but it's actually--dare I say the word?--a practice that has become something so essential to keeping me grounded and focused as an artist.
 
The method was initially inspired by the cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry's idea of how a single word can illicit powerful memory associations and therefore specific stories. I remember Barry asking the question, "If you could only tell your life story through the couches you have known--what would that story be?" '
 
I may actually give this a try, but obviously on a much smaller scale; I like the idea of producing something every day, and also the free form, stream of consciousness feel of it.
 
 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

 
Did I mention I got the Complete Calvin and Hobbes a few months back? I'd been eyeballing it furiously for a while and just gave in one day when I was feeling particularly shitty. Its not a decision I regret in the slightest. For £50, you get three beautiful oversized, landscape format books, collected together in a matching slipcase cover (top picture). The binding is very solid and looks to be hard-wearing and the books themselves gather every single Calvin and Hobbes strip ever. If all trophy comics are of this level quality and prettiness, I can understand why people buy them. These are definitely the best-looking books on my shelf after my Hellboy Library editions.
 
Packaging aside, dipping into these after work or uni has been such a pleasure, I can't begin to tell you. There's not a lot of art that elicits a reaction from people, especially a positive one, but reading these provides a real and genuine feeling of happiness. Perhaps it has something to do with the way in which, despite discussing every horrible subject under the sun: war, politics, bullies, death, Watterson still retains his optimism in life and the world, largely due to the relationship between  Calvin and his cat. May write about these later at length, but just wanted to show off some pictures for the mean time.


 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: a journey and a micro-series

 
Okay. This article has been in the drafts section on the FPI  site for a very long time and for some reason I can't get it to quite pull together in the way I want, so I'm posting it on here, cos no-one reads this, and also, I have no standards to try and meet- I do hate to drag Joe and Richard's hard work down.
 
Earlier this year, on reading the praise for the newly relaunched Turtles comics and the release of the Ultimate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collecting the first half of Kevin Eastman's and Peter Lairds' original black and white run, I realised I'd never actually read a turtles comics. The Turtles have become one of those cultural phenomenons, with a lot of their mythos seeping over into the everyday, without people realising where it came from. Then there are others, like me, who have watched the movie or cartoons, aware that they're derivative of the comics, but have never read any of the books. Instead of shelling out on the ultimate edition, a scouring of ebay and Amazon led me to the Steve Lavigne coloured editions that Penguin published in the 90's. Armed with the first four books, I was ready to immerse myself in shell lore and perhaps emerge with a new obsession.
 
Needless to say, things didn't go quite to plan. I loved the first volume, but the adventures into space in the second and the Cerebus tie-in(!) in the third weren't my cup o' crazy. The fourth book was my favourite: the story building, building, as it cuts between Leonardo fighting at first a lone ninja, then a couple, until eventually he is besieged and overcome, Eastman's frenetic art showcased beautifully in the snowy fighting scenes. Oblivious to his trials, the rest are merrily decorating the house for Christmas, a idyll that is literally shattered as Leonardo is smashed through the window of their home. From there, the Turtles only option is to escape, which they barely manage to do. The book's second half has a slower, introspective pace as the reeling Turtles retreat from the returning Shredder's assault to regain their strength and face their insecurities, topped with Eastman's ponderous woodland scenes; it's simply a great comic.
 
 
All this is to say, I love the concept of the Turtles: mutated human-sized turtles trained as ninjas- it's a no-brainer. But I was slightly put off by those messy second and third books and unsure whether to continue reading further. Much has been made of Eastman's involvement in the 're-boot'of the series and it's good, but I don't want to make a judgement of it until I've read where the involvement of inter-galactic visitors goes, something it was approaching at the end of Enemies Old, Enemies new. The space element is the derailing point for me, so I'm interested to see how they deal with it. In the meantime, IDW released a new micro-series and unable to resist, I bought a copy. And wow. At last! A TMNT book i can love and recommend unreservedly.
 
The microseries works brilliantly giving us four stories featuring in turn, Donatello, Rafael, Michelangelo and Leonardo. Written by Brian Lynch, the stories highlight the turtle's distinct personalities, which when in a group are often reduced to certain catch phrases or fighting styles. It may seem like an obvious ploy to give each of turtles a singular platform, but that's what its designed to do and it works very well. What it does exceptionally well, is show how the each turtle functions within the family and group, realising his place and as individuals how they view as needing something different from the collective. Additionally, they all slot into the continuity of the rejuvenated TMNT series, referencing happenings directly, though it's till understandable to the novice reader (like me).
 
So here we go, a quick summation of each of the stories:


Raphael illustrated by Franco Urru
When TMNT was relaunched, it was re-launched with 3 turtles. Raphael was missing and unaware of the existence of his brothers who were searching for him. He was still fulfilling his hero credentials however, fighting crime with his human friend Casey Jones. This story of a night time patrol with Casey resulting in the discovery of another mutated animal who claims to have been at the same lab as the Turtles, focuses on Raphael adjusting to his new-found family whilst highlighting his bond with Casey. It also showcases his strength and physicality, as he works through his thoughts and problems with his fists rather than words.
 
 
Michelangelo illustrated by Andy Kuhn
How great is that cover by Andy Kuhn? I love it's mixture of homages to Bass and noir. Michelangelo is a bit of a day-dreamer- thinking isn't really his strong suit. So it's no surprise to see him going incognito in a cinema on New Year's Eve, watching some romantic tosh of a movie and eating popcorn and wondering why his life isn't more like celluloid (Mike, if only you knew). His impulsiveness leads him to crash a costume party he chances upon when making his exit: the perfect opportunity to inject his life with some of the fun he feels it's lacking. Unfortunately his spontaneous decision leads to a case of mistaken identity, as he finds himself smack in the middle of the kind of action he partakes in with his brothers on a regular basis, and with shrewd tactics and analysis not his field, he has to somehow eke a way out of trouble.


Donatello illustrated by Valerio Schiti
Donnatello's short is the highlight of this book, perhaps because he arguably the most interesting turtle of the bunch, as his passion and interest in science serves to really set him apart and define his personality a little more. A bit introvertive, with a love of computers and video games, he is basically geek-turtle. He appreciates his brother's attempts to indulge and try to share in his hobbies , but they're easily bored and The lure of a science expo with the best and brightest minds showcasing the latest technology and inventions results in a bizarre, rather bonkers series of events culminating in the facing of a familiar and all-too serious enemy. Brian Lynch really excels here, delivering a pithy and humorous story that serves Donnatello's particular traits well, whilst fitting into the larger narrative at play in the Turtle series.
 
 
Leonardo illustrated by Ross Campbell
There's a new element (as far as I can tell from the 'old' TMNT books) in the re-launch, that of reincarnation: that the turtles were four Japanese brothers raised by their father in ways of the ninja after the murder of first their mother and then the boys and their father. This is obviously mirrored in the turtles' relationship with Splinter. Leonardo's story here is more thoughtful and reflective and reminiscent of the original fourth Turtles book in his taking on of multiple assailants, albeit without the atmosphere of that book.
 
I really enjoyed this book: it was the first time I felt the Turtles really came together for me and that was partly due to this being the first time I've seen them depicted as distinct personalities, which is obviously what the whole function of the mini-series is, so it fulfils its remit very, very, well. On a final note, not only was the book great fun, the artwork is brilliant- particularly David Peterson's covers and Ross Campbell's sinewy, leather renderings. Read it if you can.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Evan Dorkin confirms new Beasts of Burden

 
I really wanted to put a smiley face and some exclamation marks after that title, but thought I'd try and at least attempt professionalism.That's because Evan Dorkin has confirmed via his blog that he will be penning more of his Jill Thompson illustrated, quite simply excellent, Beasts of Burden stories next year. My friend and I went into a comic store earlier on in the year and he asked the clerk for a recommendations. The clerk started telling him about this book featuring a Scooby Doo gang but with animals who investigate supernatural going ons and I began to zone out because honestly, it all sounded a bit fluffy to me. And then he pulled out Beasts of Burden and we spent a few minutes congratulating one another on our mutual great taste. To be fair, it's an accurate description, but it does a vast injustice to Dorkin's stories: the characterisation, humour, poignancy and sheer heart-twisty-ness he manages to achieve. Dark Horse have 39 pages of the original mini-series up to read for free here , which includes three stories: Stray, The Unfamiliar and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, which were collected into the first hardback, Animal Rites. Click through to the link- I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.
Although we didn't make a formal announcement, during the Dark Horse Comics horror panel we mentioned that Jill Thompson and I are working on a second Beasts of Burden mini-series. It'll be four issues, two of which I've written (one of which I co-wrote with Sarah). When we're finally done with it all the second series will cap a second hardcover collection, along with the Hellboy crossover and the Neighborhood Watch stories from Dark Horse Presents. As far as a schedule for the new series, I guess "sometime in 2013" is about all I can cough up. Anyway, at least it's underway, finally, and I'm glad we can start talking about it. Although I guess that's all there is to say right now.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Fantagraphics to publish new Herge book


Great news for Herge fans: Fantagraphics will be reprinting his 1934 work Peppy and Virginny in Lapinoland- the first English language translation of the work in over 50 years:  Tintin publishers Methuen  previously released a version which was distributed in the UK in the 1960s. Due sometime next year, this will mark the first American publication of the book, which will be given the full colour, hardback treatment and is 56 pages in length. I'll admit to never having heard of this before, but like many people, I'm a huge Tintin  and Herge buff, so really very excited about this news.
Peppy and Virginny, our protagonists and haberdashers, seek out new clientele in the Wild West with the aid of their horse, Bluebell. The pair have multiple run-ins with evil bandits, Indian tribes and much more as engaging funny-animal characters (rabbits and bulldogs and bears, oh my!). Hergé's clear line drawing style of the earliest vintage Tintin albums takes a walk on the farcical side that is hilarious and all-ages (as long as you explain the non-PC 1930s use of the word "Injuns").

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Please God, Find Me A Husband!

 
(review originally published over at FPI, but thought I'd post it up here)
 
Right. Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first. If you think Simone Lia’s latest book is about some desperate single woman frantically searching for a man against the ticking of her biological clock- it’s not. If you think this book is about some religious nut finding her freak in God- it’s not. Yes, it has themes of religion and faith, but it’s only about religion in the way Star Trek is about space or Alias is about superheroes. And yes, it is, (to a lesser extent), about her search for a husband, yet it’s not really a book about romantic love or relationships either. What it is about -without sounding all new-age and faffy- is Lia’s attempts to make sense of things during a difficult period of her life, the difference being that she uses her faith as a means to work through these issues. As with any subject matter, you don’t have to share the ideal in order to understand or empathise with the experience.
 
It begins with a dumping. Some toad of an ex boyfriend has just dumped Lia over e-mail which prompts her to question why her life isn’t where she wants it to be. Like we are all want to do at some point after life has relentlessly and unceremoniously dumped on you for a while, she decides a change is needed. Wandering along Leicester Square, Lia hears the strains of INXS’s Need You Tonight emanating from a nearby club and experiences one of those strange epiphanic moments where things seem to come together and speak directly to your specific situation. You know how you thought Ne Yo’s So Sick perfectly epitomised your breaking up with someone (so perfectly, in fact, you were pretty sure it was written just for you)? Well, as the words of Need You Tonight float out into the street, Lia feels as though God is trying to tell her something:
 
 
After she’s finished dancing with God, she feels a bit better and clearer about what to do next: devote time and thought to God and as fair exchange, receive His help in getting what she feels is lacking from her life: a husband. But how best to go about this? Luckily, Lia has a plan, which she lays out to God for approval: go somewhere new and exciting, like Australia, meet a hermit, come face-to-face with a few hazards and overcome them manfully, with perhaps a life changing, eye-opening, near-death experience chucked in. The hermit meeting in particular seems vital. Add to this mix, of course, a gorgeous hunk of a man. Notably, God is very quiet while Lia relates her plans to him; I love how Lia draws God’s expressions as He is being narrated this litany of requests- changing from doubtful to alarmed to incredulous to oh-you-sweet-fool. Delightful.
 
 
We soon learn the reason for God’s silence:
 
 
Lia arrives in Wales to spend some time in a convent in godly pursuits. There is a distinct lack of excitement and hunks in Wales, but she finds solace in the quiet routine of a nun’s life- making community visits, taking part in group reflections, away from the bustle and boister of London. And then she gets the chance to go to Australia and it looks like her wishes may yet be fulfilled. . .
 
The word religion alone has a plethora of negative association attached to it today, so I really admire Lia for making this book. Even though it’s not a sanctimonious tome on righteousness or remotely preachy in tone, it’s still a brave choice in a world of numbers and marketing (hence, presumably, the slightly misleading, albeit fantastic, title). It’s refreshing to see a positive depiction of religion and the role it actually plays in the majority of believers’ lives; a spiritual filter/coping mechanism. I know I found a lot to relate to, being religious myself, but there’s plenty here to enjoy regardless. Lia’s art is lovely- a perfect complement to her narrative: the simple, clean lines and limited colour palette allow the focus to be on the story without overpowering it.
 
 
It is sometimes a struggle to come to what others perceive as the simplest, most obvious realisations, and as the book progresses Lia’s husband-searching develops into a journey of self discovery and an internal exploration of deeper problems. Her religious and spiritual introspection result in her gaining what we all would ideally like to possess- a greater confidence, sense of worth, and self-belief. It may seem like a cliche conclusion, but what is a cliche if not a common truth? And facing truths, particularly in relation to oneself, requires honesty, courage and a sense of humour; all of which this book has in spades.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Northern Sequential Art Competition 2012

Believe in Yourself by David Parkinson

Entries for the Northern Sequential Art Competition, run in conjunction with ThoughtBubble were announced earlier today, you can see the full selection hereThe competition is divided into two categories: over 18's and 12-17 year olds and is open to both new and established artists and writers in the UK. A panel will choose the winning entries and announce them on the second day of the con- Sunday 18th November. Meanwhile, all entries will be displayed for viewing in a special exhibition at Leeds Central Library, which will run for the duration of the festival. Here's a few of the entries from the over 18 category that I liked.

The Tale of the Selkie by Sarah Fogg

Moving House by 'DAB'

Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray by Moira Garland

The Sinister Spinster by Jeanne McKenney


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Zac Gorman: gaming comics

 
I've just been writing a little piece for FPI about Zac Gorman's Halloween themed gifs, when I realised that I've never blogged about him here or there, which is a mid-level travesty. So to shamelessly regurgitate my own words : I'm not a gamer at all, but Gorman amalgamates comics and video games to great effect, creating something that stands on it's own in the process. Obviously, gaming has evolved vastly and so he has more of a narrative to work with, but I've not seen anyone else do this kind of thing: he's managed to create a niche of his own.

As mentioned, he's currently been making up some fantastic Halloween themed gifs over at his tumblr blog- some more subtle in movement than others. Gorman's got a gift for this kind of thing, he does it often with spectacular results (some favourites here, here and here)- I think his secret lies in choosing one unobtrusive aspect which to animate, like the rain lashing in the background, or the flickering of the torch above (it's usually elemental). Makes me yearn to see something similar in a long-form comic, just a little here and there, not a cartoon or animation. Obviously it would probably work fine with a digital comic, but not print.
 

Reading Rewards

 
It's okay- my vow to save money for ThoughtBubble remains resolute(ish). I haven't had much time to do a lot of reading, but have been lucky enough to be sent some great books I really want to get to once I have some of this MA bleurgh out of the way. First up: Mrs Weber's Omnibus, which collects all of Posy Simmonds' strips for the Guardian from 1977 until it finished up. Following 3 women and their households, I've been dipping into this in between essay writing as a kind of push incentive, and let's just say as a working class British Pakistani, I'm not really feeling it. 
 
 
The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing: kinda scary how time flies. Ewing's acclaimed series has been one of those that I've always had a view to picking up one day and now the complete edition is out- let's not think about it and just enjoy reading it instead. Adamtine: Hannah Berry's follow up to her amazing, sad and weird debut, Britten and Brulightly, is a different genre- I love it when authors are brave enough to try different things, especially early on in a career when you're trying to establish yourself and to have a 'signature' must be a comforting cushion. Berry's art is great, very distinctive- her people always look very sad for some reason. 
 
 
Once Upon A Time Machine, edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens. I've been following this book of futuristic fairy tales from early on in conception, so pretty ecstatic to finally have a copy (thanks, Andrew!). 400+ pages and boasting some phenomenal art. Finally, Melissa Mendes' Freddy Stories. Only recently became aware of Mendes- she published this book via a Xeric Grant, but she also publishes mini-comics through Oily Comics and there's a whole load of interesting stuff on her site too. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

British Comic Awards Nominations


The nominations for the very first British Comic Awards were announced this morning. They've organised it really well, keeping it nice and concise with just 5 categories, instead of having endless categories devoid of meaning. The Hall of Fame award is chosen exclusively by committee members and will be announced on the night. Richard is on the board of members, so for the full skinny, head on over to FPI, but for a quick rundown of all the nominees, scroll on down.


Best Book:


Best Comic:


Emerging Talent:


Young People's Comic Award: (winner chosen by local Leeds schools)
Dinopopolous, Nick EdwardsBlank Slate Publishing (Chalk Marks)
Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Luke PearsonNobrow Press
The Lost Boy, Kate BrownThe Phoenix Comic

Monday, 8 October 2012

Flywires: great sci-fi

 
I really enjoyed Flywires. Yes, it perpetuates genre conventions and tropes (largely from Minority Report and to a lesser extent, The Matrix *shudder*) but it’s a great example of high quality genre fulfillment. And that’s not to belittle it at all: it’s good, solid sci-fi entertainment with enough edge and difference from stock plot directions for it to avoid being trite. The familiar conventions help, but to Austen’s credit, he’s created a world and scenarios which are quickly gotten to grips with, allowing the reader quick and easy submersion in which the story can unfold.
 
Kelsey Fontine is an ex-cop floating through space in a giant globe sized ship – a Dyson sphere - with the last of mankind. The ship has been on course for so long, no-one really remembers when it set off, or the destination. All the inhabitants aboard the ship have been born there, such is the length of their journey. But this story isn’t about journeys or destinations. The ship, as with any vehicle, can only hold and provide for any given number of people at one time, creating a infrastructure that requires careful balance. To help maintain this balance, each and every person is fitted with a ‘flywire’, a device that is embedded into their necks at birth; births are strictly monitored. The flywire connects people to all the systems, databases and resources on the ship and allows them to converese telepathically. Take-aways can be ordered with just a thought. Libraries searched, accessed, read without a word being uttered. Calls made as quick as you can conjure the number in your mind. It’s a web of extreme connectivity that perhaps doesn’t seem as extreme in current times. Communication is king, conversation is minimal. For the ruling bodies, it also means, but of course, that their citizens are open to a perpetual state of constant vigilance
 
 
 
 
There are exceptions of course: some people, dubbed ‘frywires’ have malfunctioning flywires, due to accidents or disease, and a black-market for illegitimate births and installation has developed. Fontine is a frywire- injured on the job, forced into retirement and having problems remembering bits of his life. Bits that feel important but can’t quite be grasped. After the wall of his apartment is blown up by hit-men in pursuit of a 10-year old boy, his old boss prods his cop instincts reluctantly to the fore and he decides to reunite the boy with his mother. His main priority is to restore his life to the banal humdrum it was when he still had four walls. The boy’s mother , however, proves difficult to track down, his origins murky and the threads of conspiracy knotty and far-reaching.
 
I must admit to being surprised by Flywires -and very pleasantly. Firstly, by Matt Cossin’s art: the sleek stylised look is a perfect fit for the shiny new world that he’s created (a minor complaint is the line-work, which veers from thin to thick). Yet for all the glossy utopia and whizzy going-ons, Flywires never loses sight of the human element, honing character’s voices and personalities in a manner that belies the polished superficiality of the art style. I always gravitate towards the odder, strange characters and I loved Undetow here, who forcibly reminded me of a deeper and wiser version of Sontaran Commandar Strax from Doctor Who.
 
Twice, at crucial instances in the story, it took a totally unexpected turn (a good thing), so it’s by no means merely sci-fi by numbers. The second instance, in particular – and I won’t spoil it as it’s part of the resolution – I found myself impressed by and thinking over once I’d closed the book. At that point in the narrative, with all that has passed you feel sure of the outcome, but it ends up swinging the other way. Some may feel the choice made to deal with the repercussions of that outcome is a cheat, for me, it’s in keeping with the narrative and its ploys, again eliciting a chance moment of emotional poignancy that surpasses the confines of the tale. A book I’d happily recommend to any fan of sci-fi, mystery and comics.