James Bond: VARGR (Warren Ellis/Jason Masters)
Bond, James Bond and Book, Comic Book haven’t often met on good terms. From the serialized adaptations of Ian Fleming’s original work, to new Bond tales brought to the graphic format, there’s been something missing in the translation in nearly every case. Not so with VARGR, the first issue of Dynamite’s ongoing Bond title currently helmed by the Warren Ellis.
Much has been made of Ellis saying that he’s wanted to write the character for a while, and while that tends to be the company line for any franchise book, Ellis’ anticipation is evident here. From the first (almost shockingly) violent pages of VARGR, there’s a good blend of 007 charm and modern grit. There’s no first act flashy stunt work here, a trademark of the EON films, instead replaced by the cold acts of a cold spy, doing his bloody job (bloody) well. From there Ellis and Masters tend more towards Fleming’s Bond, including a nice nod to Geoffrey Boothroy, a holster enthusiast whose advice on 007’s now iconic firearm can and should be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuO34MDezzU.
A strong start for a strong team writing a strong man with a weakness for strong drinks, VARGR is strongly advised for Bond fans both shaken and stirred.
Klaus (Grant Morrison/Dan Mora)
This is some silly stuff. Morrison’s “Santa Claus: Year One” comes just in time for the coming Yule, and approaches with Conan-like barbarism and Morrison-like weird-shit-ism.
Functioning in the same general wheelhouse as “Happy!,” “Joe the Barbarian,” and to a lesser extent, “Flex Mentallo,” Morrison brings Santa a kind of magic not generally associated with the guy who brought you your PS4 last year. This would be, in just about anyone else’s hands, a capital-D DUMB idea for most authors, but Morrison’s strength here is in his unabashed, unwavering storytelling. While the story functions much like your average Conan adventure, when it veers into the strange, it does so in full measure, without batting an eye at it. This sells something that would otherwise be a hard stop for many readers, a success for any writer, but a feat to be witnessed for Klaus’ generally absurd plot.
However, it’s worth mention that without a word on the page, Dan Mora could sell this thing on his pencil work alone. The pencil work here is detailed, but not cluttered, and the movement, both in character and panel layout, is clearly defined and immediately readable.
Throw this one under your Wednesday Tree, but make sure to bag and board it. Comics rip easily and there are no refunds. Maybe set it under the Wednesday Tree.
Monstress (Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda)
A double sized first issue of brutal hard fantasy, “Monstress” is a rough read in the best way.
There is not a moment of preamble here, as the reader is immediately thrust into the lush post-war fantasy world that Marjorie Lie and Sana Takeda create; terminology, background and all. With that, is a shocking level of brutality. Liu makes a point in the afterword of talking about her background and cultural history of dealing with violence and war, and it is laid bare on the page in “Monstress.”
Like most encompassing fantasy, there is a bit of a learning curve so far as the whys and wherefores of the world, but not so much that it becomes impenetrable. Takeda’s clear, Manga influenced artwork is a sight to be seen here as well, the world of her pencils further elucidating the fantastical nature of Liu’s writing. A sequence centered on the ghost of a dead god is particularly impressive.
This one is a bit heady, and may be a bit opaque for readers not generally geared towards fantasy. That said, it absolutely deserves a read.
Johnny Red (Garth Ennis/Keith Burns)
It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never read the Johnny Red Titan series, so I’m coming in blind in that regard. That said, any readers familiar with Garth Ennis, and in particular, his war books, know what to expect.
Well researched, well written, and well-paced work is the game here, aptly drawn by artist Keith Burns. Ennis is the best war comic author working today, possibly ever, and any series he takes on is always a pleasure to be on the business end of.
Past that, the story itself is solid. Focusing on a British ace on the Russian front of World War II, “Johnny Red” takes on the war front through the eyes of a survivor and wealthy plane collector, balancing reverence and grit, without ever getting schmaltzy.
Garth Ennis’ name on the cover should put this in your pull list, but beyond that, this is a solidly set up story, and worthy of any war or Ennis fan.
War. Huh. This is what it’s good for.