Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Bad Company, Goodbye Krool World

Bad Company: Goodbye, Krool World
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy and Steve Dillon
Published by 2000AD/DC Comics

Bad Company is a war comic. Yes, it may be dressed up in science fiction trappings (there’s a big green guy on the cover with a ludicrous gun), but it’s really just a war comic in space. They may be fighting dehumanised (well, never humanized) aliens who are killing for no apparent reason, but in British war comics the Germans (or whoever was being fought) were shown the same way.

In Bad Company Humanity is fighting the Krool, an alien species who delight in torture and killing, and who are attempting to wipe out all humans. If the Krool take the planet Ararat they’ll have a staging ground to attack Earth from, and the war on Ararat is going badly for Earth.

Danny Franks is a soldier on the planet Ararat. He and his fellow troops have already seen untold horrors and some are on the verge of giving up. Then the Krool unleash war zombies, humanity’s own dead turned into fighting machines for the Krool. The Earthians don’t want to shoot their friends and fellow soldiers, dead or not, so it looks like they’re finally going to be wiped out.

Then Kano and Bad Company appear. They’re the roughest, toughest soldiers that exist. Fighting behind enemy lines without official support they still do more damage then all the other Earth soldiers. They’re feared by the Krool, but they’re also feared by the Earth soldiers. Kano is a monster, incredibly tall, green (or possibly blue) skin and he doesn’t seem to feel any pain, only give it out. The rest of Bad Company aren’t much better, there’s a robot, a werewolf creature, a guy that looks like a ghoul, a guy with a carnivorous plant for an arm and more. Even those that at least look human are insane and think they’re fighting the nazis or who knows what.

Kano recruits Franks and the rest of the surviving soldiers with him. They’re part of Bad Company now. Kano leads them into Krool territory, testing them, using them as bait, throwing their lives away to advance his own plans. A lot of them die, but Kano doesn’t care, those that survive will replace the dead members of Bad Company.

Franks becomes friends with a member of Bad Company named Malcolm. He doesn’t seem to be as monstrous as Kano and the rest, but he’s still worse than the soldiers Franks is used to interacting with. Malcolm explains he’s been with Bad Company for less time than the others. He has yet to embrace the nihilistic death wish the others seem to carry.

So the question is: what will happen to Franks? Will he die (for this seems like a distinct possibility)? Will he escape Bad Company with at least some of his sanity intact? Or will he too become as bad as those he at first fears?

Bad Company is one of Peter Milligan’s first comics and it doesn’t disappoint. Milligan wrote an engaging and interesting comic with Bad Company. Are there problems? Yeah, the fact that each chapter is only four to seven pages long (as it was originally published in the anthology comic 2000AD) means it’s hard to develop all of the characters fully, meaning that with the high death count you know who some of those that die are going to be (ie. those that aren’t developed). Similarly being thrown into a story after it’s already started (who is Kano? Why are these people in Bad Company?) means that the story can be confusing at times. I think this confusion may have been created on purpose to put the reader into the place of Franks who doesn’t know what’s going on either.

Storywise Bad Company follows at least one (and perhaps several) older British war comics pretty closely. One of the most famous of the British war comics is Darkie’s Mob which was about a group of soldiers in Japanese occupied Burma in World War Two. The story is the same as Bad Company really, a group of soldiers are afraid they’re about to get killed when Darkie shows up. He crazy and impossibly strong and leads them on impossible and suicidal missions to harden them and kill a bunch of “Japs.” It’s even narrated by journal entries the same way Bad Company is. So was the idea of Bad Company stolen? I don’t know, perhaps all British war comics were written the same way and Bad Company just stole from all of them. Maybe it’s an homage. It’s still good though.

However, all of the previous is about Bad Company, what of the sequel Bad Company II also included in this volume? To put it bluntly, it’s not as good. Bad Company II takes the opposite approach from the first story in that it takes a long time to introduce the new characters. However, despite spending the time to introduce the characters, it still felt like I didn’t know who most of these characters were. Also whereas the first story was more of a “ohmyshitwhatishappeningarewegoingtosurvive?” story this one has more of a plot and goal, a plot and goal I find sort of boring.

The artwork is good in both parts, though I think I liked the art in part one better (one site said the art in part one had been stretched, if this is indeed the case, though I’m not sure if it is, I guess I like the stretched artwork better). Ewins and McCarthy make the monsters seem monstrous (including some nice homages to Frankenstein’s monster) and the humans seem humany. The storytelling is clear and the action sequences are well illustrated.

There’re a few things with the art that are pretty interesting. There’s a use of photocopied panels that’s used to zoom in or out of certain shots, giving the comic a cinematic style. While this is pretty common these days, I don’t know how common it was back when this comic was originally published in 1980s. There’s also the use of splashes at the beginning of each strip. Whereas in longer comics you might get a full page or double page splash at the beginning of the comic, Bad Company (which had only four to seven pages per chapter) usually has a half page or so splash. Sometimes they’re just pinups of one or more characters, and other times they’re part of the story, but generally I thought they worked well and helped create a consistency between each chapter of the story.

One last thing, this isn’t all of the Bad Company stories. There’re a few shorts and text stories that were published in annuals and specials around the same time as the original series (one of them is actually listed in the indicia, but not included in the actual book). Most (all) of these can be tracked down in an issue of the 2000ad Megazine from a few years ago. There was also a Kano solo series at some point in the 1990s that I don’t think has been reprinted anywhere, and there was a Bad Company 2002 story that was, apparently, terrible.

Despite the second part not being as good, overall I’d say Bad Company, Goodbye Krool World is worth picking up if you’re into war or sci-fi comics. It’s not as weird as other Milligan comics (though there is a scene where some of the characters get drunk after eating alcoholic mud…), but it still has solid storytelling and good art.

You can read Darkie’s Mob (and some other old British comics) here.

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Friday, January 13, 2006



Written by Warren Ellis
Artwork by Jacen Burrows

Scars was Warren Ellis’ attempt to write something disturbing. Not disturbing in the “look at these horrible monsters from outer space” but in the “look at these horrible monsters who are your next door neighbours and aren’t aliens or anything, but just humans.” He succeeds.

John Cain is a cop. A not horrible and corrupt cop, but a good cop (as most cops in fiction are). He’s just gotten back from leave involving something horrible about his wife/girlfriend and daughter. What? We’re not told.

He works on homicide cases. And he can deal with dead bodies. Or at least not vomit every time he sees them. Same thing maybe. Though throwing up is one way to deal with things.

So he’s okay. He’s dealing with his life. His job. What’s happened. Maybe a bit highly strung, but it’s okay.

And then a girl’s body shows up. In a box. In several boxes. In pieces. And once the pieces are put back together there’s evidence of torture and rape. Cain wants to catch the guy that did it. He promises the girl’s family he will. And he’s not going to let the law stop him.

Scars is Cain spirally out of control as he tries to find a murderer.

The story’s good, though things happen a bit too conveniently at times. It is horrible. And scary. It makes me hate being a teacher and the position of trust I’m in. Not because of anything I could ever do, but because there’s the chance that someone else could get a similar job to mine and do something horrible easily.

The horror is aided by Jacen Burrows art. It makes the gruesome things gruesome. It’s pretty realistic for the most part, there are a few more cartoony moments but these don’t detract from the details. There’s a few points where it reminds of Rob G’s art a bit, though I think that’s more down to the design of one of the characters then anything. There’s some nice greytones by Nimbus Studios that helps to give the art some nice depth.

One thing I found a bit annoying was the lack of sound effects. Ellis apparently hates sound effects and doing a comic without them can work, but there’s a few times where I think they would have helped create mode and maybe even helped the flow of the comic a bit.

This is an otherwise minor quibble for a pretty good crime graphic novel. It’s not the type of thing I’d want to read everyday, but if you’re into um, gross crime stuff I’d say pick it up.


Saturday, January 07, 2006


Sekai Trilogy: Crest of the Stars and Planetes

Seikai Trilogy vol. 1: Crest of the Stars
Original Story by Hiroyuki Morioka
Composition by Aya Youshinaga
Art by Toshihiro Ono
Published by Tokyopop

Planetes vols. 3, 4.1 and 4.2
By Makoto Yukimura
Published by Tokyopop

It’s taken me a while to write this one as I had to read four different graphic novels. Plus, you know, being late is procrastislicious.

So here’s reviews of two Japanese science fiction comics. Sekai Trilogy seems to be more space opera-y, while Planetes is more hard sci fi-y. (They’re both good though.)

Sekai Trilogy is interesting if only because as opposed to most manga, or at least most manga published in North America, it isn’t an original idea, nor is it based on a cartoon. Instead it is an adaptation of a series of novels. There’s also an anime adaptation of the novels which I think, though I’m not positive, came first, influencing the character designs for this book.

As Crest of the Stars begins the Abh, a race of genetically engineered humans, have just taken over the Hyde star system. Jinto’s father was the ruler of the system and has surrendered instead of fighting the far superior Abh. By giving up total autonomous rule in this way Jinto and his father become Abh themselves, not in the genetically modified sense, but in regards to their status and positions. Jinto then finds himself sent off to boarding school for his own protection. The people of his homeworld now hate him and his father

Seven years later and Jinto is heading off to Abh officer school. He’s picked up at the spaceport by Lafiel, a girl who at first seems to have major personality problems. Jinto is brought up to the ship he’ll be travelling through space on and discovers the weird girl is actually a princess. After ignoring his Abh “heritage” for years, Jinto is probably the only person around who couldn’t identify her. This pleases her greatly as he’s the only one who doesn’t treat her like, well, a princess, while all she wants is to be treated according to her (not very high) military rank.

There’s soon a big space battle (a war has been declared) and Jinto and Lafiel are jettisoned out so that they don’t die horribly in space. Jinto is rather happy about this, but Lafiel, rightly, believes that she’s being given custody of Jinto to get her out of harms way. Nobody, even after they’ve died in a horrible space battle, wants to be blamed for killing the princess.

Jinto and Lafiel then spend a while trying to get somewhere where they can tell people they’re not dead. They visit a tiny kingdom on an asteroid (complete with semi-pointless fanservice) and a planet now under enemy control. There’s a lot of running around and disguises and cultural misunderstanding. Eventually they hook up with a rebel faction that doesn’t like the Abh empire, but also doesn’t like their enemy. It’s honestly better then I’m making it sound.

The art is nothing special really, though I suppose the artist was restricted by having to use the designs for the characters and vehicles that were created in the cartoon. Still, it tells the story effectively and is never actually bad.

One of the downfalls of the Sekai Trilogy is the huge amount of made up words in it. Now I expect a certain amount of made up words in any book I read, and you’ll catch on to some right away, and a few others after a while, but with the sheer number in this book I couldn’t get them all. There’s over one hundred listed in the glossary in the back, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t get them all. (The glossary itself is a mixed blessing because you keep flipping to the back and trying to find words. It really interrupts the flow of the story.)

So what’s the deal with all the fake words? Apparently Hiroyuki Morioka, who wrote the original novels, is a big fan of constructed languages. I think that in some cases this can be used pretty well. You can create words to express things that can’t be expressed in English (or Japanese or whatever). It can reflect differences in society. But why create a new word for car (usiya)? Or roses (bara)? Or others. It just doesn’t really make sense to me…

The language is however just one facet of the entire world (or worlds) that have been created here. The other comics, cartoons and books probably help flesh them out even more, and I’m interested enough to go looking for them (maybe I’ll even pick up a bit more of the language!).

Okay, now for the next sci-fi comic from Japan.

Planetes is set in the 2070s. Humankind has reached beyond the bounds of Earth. There are colonies on the Moon and Mars and piles of astronauts and spaceships going into space all the time. (It also seems to be a fully, awesomely, multicultural society. The main characters come from countries all over the world and of different ethnicities. Russian, Japanese, American, English. Black, white, Asian. It’s a world where these things don’t matter.)

Volume one of Planetes followed the debris collection spaceship Toybox and it’s crew of Fee, Hachimaki and Yuri. The stories were about the group as a whole and the members individually. Volume two was about Hachimaki and his attempts to become one of the crew of the first manned spaceship being sent to Jupiter.

Volume three continues to focus on Hachimaki as he trains and prepares for the upcoming mission to Jupiter. And by “prepare” I mean “goes insane.” Despite this being everything Hachimaki’s dreamed of he doesn’t really seem to be able to deal with it. He keeps blanking out and almost dies after a strange “vision quest” thing on the surface of the moon. His crewmates for the mission worry about this, some because they don’t want something bad to happen to him, and some because they don’t want to deal with a nutcase on a seven year mission to Jupiter. (Which is, you know, understandable.)

Tanabe, the replacement for Hachimaki onboard the Toybox, also gets feature fairly prominently in this volume. We learn about her past (her adoptive father is an aging rocker with an inverted cross tattooed on his face, awesome!) and about her and what she thinks and feels.

Volumes 4.1 and 4.2 again focus on Fee and Yuri as Hachimaki is off on his seven year voyage. I think I prefer these stories of…working class astronauts and how they deal with their lives and their families to the big awesome space project. About people trying to do their job for themselves and their families. Trying to do their best to stop the stupidity of space war in whatever small way they can. The characters try to figure out who they are and what they stand for.

The stories at time have a dreamlike quality to them. Maybe. They seem slow moving. Both meandering and purposeful (even when they feature explosions). The characters act like, well, possibly how I would act if I lived in the future. I love space and space exploration. I think it’s really cool. I wish everyday that I could go up there at some point. I would jump at the chance to be a garbage collector in space.

The problem is that I’m both a slacker and a pessimist. Could I become an astronaut? The possibility does exist, I’m young, fairly intelligent and pretty healthy. I could go back to university, get engineering and science degrees, master Russian, join the air force (or something) and get flight training. I could do it all.

But…the pessimism. Even if I did this I don’t think I’d cut it. I’d do something that would get me cut from the running to be an astronaut. Either I wouldn’t be good enough or my morals and ethics wouldn’t allow me to do something. Something. If I was promised a place in space would I do it? Would I drop everything and spend ten years (or more) studying and training and everything? I don’t know. I think so. Maybe I’d be too scared to do so. Maybe I’m not tough enough to do it.

Not good enough.

This is what Planetes does to me. It makes me think. It makes me hopeful. It makes me sad.

(This review sucks.)

The art in Planetes is really good too. Makoto Yukimura manages to capture the grandeur and the emptiness of space. The loneliness and the silence. These comics sound quiet to me. When they’re in space (where there is no sound) I sometimes have a hard time playing music because I don’t think I should hear anything either. The characters emotions are also captured beautifully and you’re able to tell what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling.

Volume three has a beautiful cover that reminds me of Russian science fiction movies (like Solaris and this weird soviet cartoon).

(Click for cover.)

Volumes 4.1 and 4.2 have had a lot of care put into their production. As you may know many manga have their first few pages printed in painted colour (sometimes when a new storyline stars they’ll get another few pages in colour). Usually when these are collected they turned to gray tones and you get a few pages that look odd. Sometimes you’ll get the colour pages bound in at the beginning of the volume, but not always.

With Planetes 4.1 and 4.2 you not only have the colour stuff bound at the beginning of the volume, but bound throughout the book, wherever it appeared. Okay, so admittedly the colours don’t look that good (though whether that’s down to reproduction or the original colours I don’t know), but nonetheless it’s a cool thing to do.

The backs of 4.1 and 4.2 also have piles of text material. This is partially to bulk up the pagecount (4.1 is only about 160 pages, while 4.2 doesn’t hit 180), but also because the likelihood of Tokyopop reprinting the text book talking about science and history from now until the 2070s is pretty slim. (Hell, I wouldn’t even buy it.) I guess they might as well print some of it somewhere.

(Why are they numbered 4.1 and 4.2? Well that’s how they’re numbered in Japan. And there’s the possibility that the author will come back and do a new volume. It seems sort of unlikely though, as while the ending is incredibly open (to the point of not really resolving everything/anything) he’s working on another comic now. About a viking.)

Planetes got a fair number of reviews with its first volume. A hard sci-fi comic about garbage collectors in Earth orbit is not what most people expect from manga. The second volume received a fair amount of backlash as it changed tack slightly. I still liked it, and I like these volumes as well. Though I don’t think they’re as strong as that first volume.

I honestly can’t say I was expecting much from Crest of the Stars, but I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from a bit of fan service it was a pretty solid Sci-Fi comic. Not as good as Planetes, but still pretty good and I’m interested in reading more.

Planetes on the other hand is just so good. I wish I had the first two volumes here so that I could reread them. Even though I don’t think these volumes stand up as well as the first two they’re still excellent comics. Thoughtful and thought provoking. Full of science and dreams. (I could only wish this was my life.) It’s realistic science fiction (with an emphasis on the science part) that is more about the people then the world they inhabit and the technology they use.

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