Too serious about comics.


30 Days of Comics #2: A comic that made you laugh

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sword4I’ve always thought that the way comics work, it’s hard to execute a proper laugh-out-loud joke. The timing seems too difficult. As a medium, comics is unusual in that it’s very easy to read forwards and backwards from your current position, even peripherally, and that means you can potentially comprehend a punchline before you’ve even read the joke. It takes a special level of skill for a writer and artist to execute a joke as powerfully as any stand-up routine or sitcom, and when you combine that with the need to get all that right AND intersect with the reader’s sense of humour, the odds of getting genuine laughter drop even further.

Either way, there are a lot of comics with jokes that have made me smirk. Plenty that have elicited a small, internal chuckle. Loads that I’ve quoted or repeated because they were funny. But right now, only one springs which actually made me laugh, and that’s S.W.O.R.D. #4

Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Stephen Sanders, S.W.O.R.D. was, as Gillen himself described it, “His Girl Friday, in space” – a sci-fi relationship comedy. Ostensibly, it span out of Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men run and starred Beast and his girlfriend Agent Brand, a superhero comic disguised as as indie comic disguised as a superhero comic. It even co-starred Death’s Head, if you’re into that. Unfortunately, despite being one of the best Marvel comics of this/last year, it was only read by about 6 people. I don’t have full access to the economics, but I suspect it needed at least double that to survive.

The reason I remember that this comic, specifically, made me laugh is because of where I was when it happened. I was on the tube back home, after buying the week’s comics. Hunched up in the corner, working my way through my  pile and trying not to draw too many puzzling stares (which, as a 27-year-old reading comics on the train, is never easy) and then I go to the joke. And I laughed. Out loud. On the train. My cover was well and truly blown, and an entire carriage of people got the confirmation they needed that the reason I was reading comics on public transport was because I was, as they had suspected, mentally subnormal, because only someone mentally subnormal would be comfortable laughing that loud, to no-one but themselves, while on public transport. But I don’t care. In life, I’ll take a laugh over anything else (which, genuinely, has been a problem at funerals in the past).

I don’t want to spoil the joke itself, but suffice to say, in writing terms it was like watching Chekov’s gun being fired, only to discover that instead of a bullet, there was a little flag inside with the word “bang” on. And “bang” was deliberately mispelled. Not only did I not see the punchline coming, I didn’t even realise I was reading the lead-in until it was too late. The line, for those of you that know or have the issue, was “Stop everyone! We’ve made enormous mistake!”. The rest of you, do yourselves a favour and buy the collection. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read in years, and I mean that in the best possible way.

James Hunt | 2nd October, 2010

S.W.O.R.D. T.R.A.D.E.

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Just a quickie, but as one of the voices that championed Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders’ S.W.O.R.D. online for its all-too-brief run, it behoves me to mention the fact that the trade paperback comes out this week. It was a lovely little series – funny and sharp as well as packed with rip-roaring action and quotable dialogue. As we’ve said before, in being a character-driven comedic action series by an up-and-coming British writer and a sorely underexposed North American artist and edited by Nick Lowe, it was basically the new Captain Britain and MI13 – and it sadly went the same way, even more quickly. But the five issues that it made it to are well worth a read (it’s arguably Gillen’s finest Marvel work yet), especially in valuerific trade form, so I heartily recommend picking it up, yes?

Although reading this from Gillen did make me a little sad:

Go pick it up. When do so, pass on my hellos to Beast and Brand, because I kinda miss the pair of them.

Interesting to note, also, that it’s been rebranded as X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. in this form. Perhaps in an attempt to actually, you know, sell some copies?

Seb Patrick | 23rd June, 2010

Capsule Reviews: w/e 16th March 2010

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One of the things that often presented a challenge to our “review a day” format at Comics Daily was the sheer inconsistency of comics shipping – the fact that, although there should really ostensibly be a fairly even spread of comics worth reviewing (whether a book we’re buying anyway, or one we wouldn’t if we weren’t reviewing but considered worth trying to say something about) over the four (or sometimes five) shipping weeks of each month. But that often wouldn’t tend to be the case, and we were frequently left scrabbling over B- or C-list main superhero universe titles that – and no disrespect to the creators involved – aren’t always the easiest thing to find an angle on if you’re not a fan.

Conversely, we’d often find ourselves with a week where there were lots of books we fancied covering, but simply didn’t have the time between us. Often, a lot of my favourite books – from Phonogram to Batman and Robin, Captain Britain to Ultimate Spider-Man – end up coming out in the same week, which makes for a fun visit to Forbidden Planet, but a difficult quandary when working out what to write about. Our “Sunday Pages” capsule review posts would help with this, obviously – and both James and I have also tended to find of late that these shorter reviews are quite enjoyable to put together. With that scheduled series of posts temporarily on hold, however (I, or we, may revisit it at some point – but for the moment one of the things we’re exploring with the new format is not having a specific schedule to stick to beyond “something every day”), there won’t be a regular set of capsules each week, but every so often a week may come along in which I feel the urge to ramble on about a handful of books. This is just such a week, so read on for brief reviews of Powers, Ex Machina, S.W.O.R.D. and more…

Read the rest of this entry »

The Sunday Pages #94

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This week: Reviews of Dark X-Men #4, Daytripper #3, SWORD #4 and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #7! Read the rest of this entry »

The Sunday Pages #90

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This week: Reviews of Adventure Comics #6, Amazing Spider-Man #617 and Buffy #31, and a reaction to the SWORD cancellation. Read the rest of this entry »

Alternate Cover Team | 17th January, 2010

S.W.O.R.D. #3


sword3We do tend to have our “pet” series here at Comics Daily, it must be said. But when we genuinely enjoy the likes of Captain Britain and MI13 and Phonogram (or, in Julian’s case, X-Force) more than most other things out there, and we feel they’re not getting the attention or sales they deserve, then it can feel like a duty to try and communicate that enthusiasm, in the hope that one or two people pay attention to it. So if you feel we’re giving undue prominence to Kieron Gillen’s writing at the moment, then sorry – but he’s really on form at the moment, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we really like his recent comics.

And truth be told, if what you want from a mainstream superhero comic is glorious, fun, witty, gripping, clever escapism, then S.W.O.R.D. ticks all the boxes. It’s just full of those little “Cor, yes!” moments, whether it’s an endless stream of quotable dialogue (“That’s the problem with these superheroic overcompensating altruists”; “Is it because of the long hair? Ah, the forces of the man do assail us freedom-loving hippies, libertines and similar”) or plot moments such as Lockheed (yes, Lockheed) kicking arse or Beast’s quite, quite brilliant escape plan (one that also, in an unexpected way, calls back a plot point from the previous two issues). And then there’s the characterisation – it’s just spot on throughout – Beast’s transformation into a loveable, wisecracking leading man has been just fantastic (best version of the character for years, even possibly superseding Morrison’s. See, the good writers just get Hank), and if there’s any justice, the idea that he can carry a series will be this book’s greatest legacy. But then you’ve got the layers of Brand being, against her resistance, quietly peeled away; a (potential) origin story and (potential) set of origins for Unit, depending on how much you’re willing to believe him; and the fact that Gillen is savvy – and brave – enough to actually go behind the motivations of Gyrich and almost give him a sympathetic moment or two.

And that’s part of the reason why the plot of this works. You don’t agree with what Gyrich is doing, obviously – but you can see why it’s happening, in the paranoid, Osborn-influenced state Marvel’s USA is in the tail end of at the moment (good to see direct reference, too, to HAMMER having an unseen influence on the book’s events). It’s not entirely dissimilar, of course, to the “no Kryptonians!” setup over in the Superman books at the moment, but… well, less irritating, for a start. But truth be told, the fun in this book is less about what’s happening, and more how it does. It breezes along on a wave of effortless confidence and sharp humour, with Sanders’ zesty artwork striking the right balance between cartoonish humour and energetic action. In a couple of years of reviewing comics for this site, I think I’ve revealed a a clear pattern in the things I like to see in my superhero books – attributes exemplified by the likes of Blue Beetle, Captain Britain and Ultimate Spider-Man. S.W.O.R.D. has most of them in spades, and I’m very glad it’s around – for however long.

Seb Patrick | 15th January, 2010



sword2We’ve been waiting for a successor to Captain Britain and MI13 since… well, ever since Captain Britain and MI13 ended, frankly; and I’m pleased to report that in SWORD, it looks (at this early stage at least) like we’ve found it. There’s just something about British writers going over and taking a handful of not-quite-A-list Marvel characters, setting them up in their own little corner of the universe (whether it’s the UK, or… Earth’s near-orbit) and infusing them with a healthy dose of wit and characterisation – not to mention throwing in appearances by Death’s Head – that makes these books appealing to people like us.

But then, I look at a comic like this and wonder who wouldn’t find it appealing. It’s just so much bloody fun. Not to mention densely packed – the amount that goes on in a single issue puts books that cost a dollar or two more than it to shame, and yet it never feels overly crammed in. Gillen simply has a strong enough grasp of pacing and concise storytelling to give you a complete adventure in a single issue while still making it part of a wider, trade-friendly storyarc. It’s always gratifying to see a writer simply cutting loose and having a good time, and he’s learned from contemporaries such as Fraction and Cornell by setting out to make escapism that’s glorious in its immediate simplicity yet still supremely solidy constructed beneath the surface. What really makes it work, too, is the way the lighter elements are deliberately used to offset the serious ones. For the most part, Beast and Brand’s relationship has been charming and amusing – but that simply makes it all the more striking when he’s angry at her perceived involvement in Gyrich’s schemes. And an opening sequence that quite deliciously parody’s Morrison’s Marvel Boy simultaneously serves to show the immediate extent and devastating effectiveness of said plot.

The whole thing is lent sparky energy by Steven Sanders’ uncharacteristic (for this sort of book) yet strangely fitting artwork. You can make the “Beast looks too much like a cartoon character” argument if you like, but what’s undeniable is that the style serves the tone of the story perfectly – and that the blue fuzzy one is given more immediate visual character than in some time. Meanwhile, where Sanders utterly shines is in the Death’s Head sequences – the character design used (while not the later, smaller version recognisable to most readers) is instantly striking, and only adds to the feeling that it’d be quite nice if this team were to give him his own series, please. Although, of course, that would probably mean having to divert Gillen’s attention away from this title – and given that SWORD has already marked itself out after two issues (in fact, it did it with the first) as the most purely enjoyable mainstream title out there, I’d really rather that didn’t happen for some time. The only worry is that the lessons of Captain Britain won’t have been learned, so I’ll spell it out clearly: this damned book needs buying. And similar exclamations.

Seb Patrick | 15th December, 2009



sword1It’s rare that the X-verse produces a genuinely new spinoff book, let alone one so far-flung from the core concept. While the Men-In-Black inspired set up of Joss Whedon’s alien-hunting agency felt like an unwelcome imposition on the “persecuted minority” themes of the X-books, it functions far better once allowed to fly free. What should be a entertaining book, however, is pushed into the realm of the extraordinary by a constant stream of perfectly-judged comedy.

The reconceptulisation of SWORD into something you’d want to read about has been a gradual process. When first introduced in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, the organisation was a fairly transparent plot device, only gradually fleshed out in order to play an active part in the storytelling during the writer’s final arc. Warren Ellis has since injected a dose of action-hero into the set-up. His take on Agent Brand may owe more than a little to his signature character Jenny Sparks, but by showing the character on the front line, he took a significant step towards the finished article which ‘No Time to Breathe’ delivers. There’s more than a little of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next in Kieron Gillen’s take on Brand. She’s clearly in charge, but constantly rushing from crisis to crisis, frantically deploying new and entertaining resources in a bid to stay on top of the situation. Like Next, her main enemy is a bureaucrat, with a minor X-Men character dusted off in an attempt to spoil all the fun. Given the one-dimensional nature of the character in question, the drafting-in of such an obscure figure gets a free pass in the way that an original creation would raise eyebrows.

It’s the sheer pace which makes the book something extraordinary, with the writer often not even bothering to deliver the punch line to his jokes before diving into the next situation. Where Whedon played the revelation of Lockheed’s intelligence and maturity as a significant revelation, Gillen feels confident enough to deploy it as an off-panel gag, confident in the art’s ability to imply what follows. Despite the faithfulness to John Cassaday’s designs and the presence of Jamie McKelvie in a supporting capacity, Stephen Sanders makes his mark with an absolute tour-de-force of pencilling. Without once stepping away from the deliberately inexpressive shades-and-leather design which matched Brand’s role in her original appearance, the artist imbues every single panel with characterisation. His radical take on Beast is a similar success, and it’s impossible to pick out any failing in the work. Even the dragon-like Sydren gets a laugh through facial expression at one point.

In one sense, Gillen has his cake and eats it here. He allows Brand to retain her commander status, keeping the story moving with her authority, while allowing limitations on her power through Gyrich’s machinations. There’s arguably a similar instance of cheating in the way the writer shunts a lot of the dull exposition from the agency’s defining X-storyline into the back-up strip. When the result is a book drenched in the freewheeling joy that you occasionally find in the very best issues of Matt Fraction’s Uncanny, however, it’s impossible to take offence. SWORD trumps both Batman & Robin and the writer’s own Phonogram to deliver this week’s essential purchase.

Julian Hazeldine | 13th November, 2009