A History of the scene
Tale-Trader The Legend of Twarin
Hellblazers Delano and Ennis
A Review by David Carroll, 2001
At ComicFest this year -- the September one, that is -- Christopher Sequeira unveiled his latest plan for world domination, a series of comics put out under the imprint of Sequence Productions. With an initial selection of eight titles, and some pretty decent distribution, this plan just might work. But it does beg the question -- are any of the comics any good?
It shouldn't surprise you to know that eight comics just don't appear. A lot of these characters have been seen before in one incarnation or another, starting in the Phantastique anthology in the mid-80s, in the two titles Pulse of Darkness and Rattlebone which have now been revived, and various odd places like the late lamented Bloodsongs magazine. Some of the work in the new comics is indeed reprinted, though unless I'm greatly mistaken quite a bit is unpublished. Nonetheless, I'll try not to dwell on the past, and simply cover whether the current lot are worth buying.
Bold Action is a good place to start, being an anthology that introduces a couple of the characters in the other books, and a few of its own. It also displays the general feeling of most of the range, featuring a heavy dose of pulp and film noir conventions, with supernatural horror and a healthy amount of irreverence mixed in.
Sneakily, the first story -- The Deathsman by Chris, drawn by Neil Walpole -- also looks like it is going to veer into a twisted version of superhero territory, before all that is dispelled by the second story, The Gargoyle Club Gambit. This was co-written by Leigh Blackmore (art by Igor Spajic and Kurt Stone) and is Cthulhu mythos with the 'twist' that the detectives in question don't go mad at the revelations. All in a day's work. There's also a vignette featuring Mister Blood (somewhat misleading, since there is no supernatural content at all), the origin story of Rattlebone, and a great little photo-comic (!) showing the origin of Deadlocke and Doc Morton, the two detectives from the Gargoyle Club story.
Pretty obviously, none of this is to be taken too seriously. Despite the appearance of Cthulhu (or rather, Choronzon) this is not a horror comic in the way that Christian Read's Dunwich is. Again the first story is deceptive in that it evokes a more sombre mood, which is then subverted (some people might say discarded) by the remaining. But there's more than enough blood, deception and down-right bastardry to fit its niche, the writing flows well throughout, and the art is varied and interesting. It does a good job of introducing the other titles, and I would definitely recommend it if you want a taste of the range.
Rattlebone and Jonny Flathead are familiar characters if you've been following the scene, and their return is welcome. The first title presents a complete adventure of the 'hero', which also happens to cover his origin story -- somewhat strangely, one that disagrees with the story in Bold Action. Rattlebone is a detective scarred by a fire (set by somebody or other), and now works the seamier side of the business. Written by Chris, with art by Kurt Stone, it's an effective story that manages to show the various aspects of the character, from his detective work to his thoughts of vengeance, and even a more human side (although the 'is my face red' line jars somewhat badly, I thought). The art is a little murky but works well for the story. None of it is particularly revolutionary, but it is comfortable in its genre and should appeal to fans.
Jonny Flathead is quite a different thing, and Bold Action will not prepare you for it. Though I'm generally more interested in good writing, I have to say the best thing about this comic is its art -- but that's not meant to be disparaging. In fact, as drawn by Jonathan Sequeira and Gavin O'Keefe, it achieves a wonderfully appropriate and unique style that is instantly recognisable. Jonathan also wrote the story, with Christopher doing the script. This one follows its title character through his rather nonsensical adventures as a psychedelic werewolf and agent of MONSTA. Over the course of the title he is joined by Max Feratu and Edstone the Bass Monster to complete their band, Jonny Flathead and the Dudes -- and there's a few insane rampages along the way. The writing does strike the right note of insanity, and I really do love the art. Great stuff.
Boss Beat and the Ray Guns! is the odd one out of the bunch -- that and Dig This! anyway, which isn't even a comic (but we'll get to that). Boss Beat is written by Dominic Walsh with art by a couple of people including Dominic himself. It's about the members of a band who apparently fight crime between gigs, and I'll have to admit it didn't appeal. There was nothing particularly wrong with it -- it was all pleasant enough, and the funny bits were actually quite funny, but it passed by without leaving much of an impression. Maybe that was just the format, or lack thereof. There was an adventure, some vignettes, a fake ad, practical jokes, band profiles and more. I think it was a good idea to do something different to broaden the range, but this one wasn't for me.
Still on a sour note, we come to Pulse of Darkness. I said I was trying to ignore the past history of these comics, but I'm finding that hard for this one -- let me explain. Pulse of Darkness 1 of 6 first appeared in 1988, an ambitious attempt by Chris Sequeira to cover the broad range of the vampire genre. Because of financial concerns, only four issues ever appeared of the six, but it was a fascinating experiment. Now he is starting again with issue 1, obviously hoping to complete the series. This is a great idea (the originals are all but impossible to find nowadays), especially since it is not just a reprint, it is a whole new go at the same story. The page by page and even panel by panel story flow is largely unchanged, but the often voluminous dialogue and captions from the original have been shortened somewhat. Less successfully, the art has also been redone, and it is not only inferior -- often very rough -- but even the layout is less effective. The artist in both cases is Kurt Stone, although David Richardson inked the original. Kurt on his own has done a lot better than this before, so I'm not really sure what happened. Several possibilities occur, most of them just the side-effects of Australia's limited size, but I do feel a little cheated.
Is the new issue any good, though? Well, yeah, it is actually. The ambition is still there, the shortened word count makes it flow, and the art is occasionally effective (the last page is good, and certainly the characters are all distinctive). It is yet another story about a ruthless protagonist, who does various horrible things which we come to understand a little better, and is possibly the most successful rendition of that theme in the current releases. So do check it out (but find the original if you can).
Speaking of ruthless protagonists, they don't come much more so than Mister Blood. To explain too much about his methods would take away most of the point of the first issue, however. It's certainly an interesting format -- a number of short stories that show you the character's MO, followed by one that points out the pattern and then twists it. Yet another Christopher Sequeira creation, this time Jan Scherpenhuizen does the art, and although the character has appeared before, only the first story (a whole three pages) rings a bell. This has a rather more cheerful 'hero', as befits his status as hit man -- in this genre anyway -- and the stories have a very wide streak of the supernatural. Good non-wholesome fun.
Finally, we come to The Borderlander. This one was a surprise to me, both because it hasn't appeared before, as far as I know, and it's also a damn good story. Written by Steve Proposch as well as the ubiquitous Chris, it's an actual superhero tale involving strange sigils and multiple dimensions, reluctant heroes and the occasional fight scene (although no fisticuffs are evident). The art is by W. Chew Chan and, although busy, is always clear. The story is structured well, and deftly introduces its character and his predicament, with a fine ending. The characters and the magic are interesting. It's probably got the best cover of the current run (Bold Action, Mister Blood and perhaps Rattlebone are also contenders), all of which leaves me with little to say but to recommend it to you.
So those are the comics, although there is more than that on offer. As I mentioned, Dig This! isn't actually a comic, but is being released as part of the set, and contains various articles and reviews of pop culture. I haven't read it all, but it looks pretty good (I particularly liked Josephine Hawkins and Georgina Charies' overview of Australian characters in US comics) if, again, not really my thing. Maybe I'm just out of sorts because I scored ½ out of ten in the Pop Culture Quiz. Some of the other comics have short prose fiction, and there is an ad for an illustrated collection of poetry also available, which I haven't seen a copy of as yet.
So is it going to work? It certainly should. As a range of comics it has ambition, scope and flare, and from what I've seen Chris, Dominic and the others are putting their all into it. It's also widely available, as pretty much every newsagent I've checked has some if not all the issues, a marked contrast to some previous distributions I could name. Not everything will appeal to everybody -- but that's hardly likely to happen regardless. I guess the question will be if they can keep putting things out. Releasing eight issues at once creates an expectation of similar volumes in the future. So here's hoping -- for a start I want to see how some of the stories turn out.
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