Recently I made a visit to my local comic store for a little look see. Then I remembered why I stopped doing this - it takes an age and costs an absolute fortune!
Anyway, among my purchases were the first three issues of a new title on offer, Dark Gods from Avatar Press. I decided to have a look at this as the front cover artwork was good, and a quick read in the shop didn't put me off, so I thought I'd get all the issues and see if it was worth the effort.
As a writer I appreciate that the first line of a book has to hook the reader, so too with the first line of a comic. The first line of this comic is:
"This is how the world ends"That's a fairly powerful hook don't you think?
One of the things that I like about comics that I don't get from books is the instant impact of the scene.
Being a writer I spend ages carefully crafting just what I will or won't put into character descriptions, but of course, the reader will always put their own spin on things anyway. My interpretation of how a character looks won't be yours. A friend and I were discussing a character I'd written and he said he was imagining a young Owen Teale, while I was thinking more along the lines of Karl Urban. Same description, different interpretation.
You can't get that with comics. The lengthy description, not the hours of crafting, I know drawing takes time too. The instant a comic book character appears, you know exactly what they look like because the face, the shape, the hairstyle, the manner of dress, how they hold themselves, it's all there in front of you.
The story line of Dark Gods is equally fast paced. So for issue #1 here's a quick break down of what this instant impact gives the story:
Page 1 - Cracking opening line, but imagery is 'all's normal here'
Page 2 - Foreboding text message, everything definitely isn't all normal here...
Page 3 - Menace abounds
Page 4 and 5 - double page spread green tinged and all Hell breaks loose, well a lot of demonic action including disemboweling and cannibalism of the various spilt long-pig offal.
From there it goes on to a daring rescue/escape and the initial overview explanation of why this is happening and is going to continue to happen, introducing our heroes and their motivations for being where they are.
What's graphically interesting through the narrative of panels, is that there are a number of revealing flashbacks to help the reader understand the mythology and character backgrounds, and there are distinctly different style to these flashbacks. The past is shown, as the past is often viewed, with a gentler hand than the present. While the 'now' scenes are jagged and harsh, the 'past' is soft graduated, the violence is every bit as visceral but the graphics aren't. Art in the past is like the 'real' art I loved as a kid, compared to the flatter anime my kids love. Like the difference between proper Victorian ecclesiastic stain glass and modern abstract block colour piece.
I'm pretty sure no one's going to be shocked to learn that the artwork is, rather on the sexist side. I've never come across a comic where the artwork wasn't, but who can blame the artists? Hourglass woman look better than those of use who conform more to the Michelin Man silhouette. Every woman is hourglass and has big gravity defying boobs, but at least in this one the lead girl, Marian (stop it now, don't go there with the Robin Hood thing), has courage and strength - not to mention a bloody big gun. Oh and a knife to put Crocodile Dundee to shame. And a cracking leather jacket in her opening scenes. What's more interesting is that she also has a decent back story that comes out rather well in issue 2 tying in nicely to the rescue performed at the end of that issue.
We also have Resnick, who is obviously highly intelligent, knows something is going on but just doesn't know what. He also doesn't seem overly prepared for what happens in issue 3, but who can blame him for that? In a very short time frame (three issues) he goes from being an office worker to being on the menu, to defender of Order against Chaos. But he deals, so there's hope for growth in the character.
I don't know what the real influences of the writer and artists are, but I will be very surprised if the works of H P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos wasn't in there. Some of the of the artwork is very much in that vein, and in this comic it's probably the only thing in veins, there's blood everywhere.
There are a variety of limited edition covers for each of these first issues, some of them really rather beautiful in a sick and twisted way, I have only the regular cover versions because that's generally all I ever buy - a decision I or my kids may come to regret one day - as it's the contents that particularly interest me, not the cover. Also, cover variants tend not to be drawn by the same artist who did the rest of the comic and can thus give you a very different look to what's inside the issue.
There is an oddity on the cover of Issue #3, this features a rather gorgeous mermaid / fish-lady. Being of the Piscean persuasion, this lass isn't wearing any clothes. (No! Really? What a surprise!) To be honest, that doesn't bother me, what bothers me is she looks like she has a human groin area, and that the tail in the background doesn't quite follow the line from where her hips disappear behind a rock, so either this lady has a serious deformed tail or the tail we see belongs to another. Her lips are closed, but she looks the sort to have barracuda teeth too. Yet even this isn't what bothers me the most. What really gets under my skin is that she at no point appears in the story. I have no problem with eye candy covers, after all the comic book market is still a male dominated one so these things must seek to appeal to the wider readership, but please artists, keep the totty on the outside the same characters as the totty on the inside. They could have done a bathing suit shot of Marian for instance, you know, leather bikini and Beretta in hand and that bloody great knife strapped to her perfect thigh.
So if you're looking for a joyous romp where the violence is less graphic and covered by onomatopoeic stars, and your heroes always win without getting a scratch, go look at Marvel or DC, but if you like your escapism a whole lot darker and rougher, if Lovecraftian demons do it for you, I can highly recommend Dark Gods.
All images from Avatar Press.
Gail lives in her own private dungeon populated with all the weird and the wonderful she can imagine. Some of it’s very weird, and the odd bits and pieces are a bit wonderful. Well okay, she lives in Swansea with her husband and daughter. And the world’s most demanding cat. To find out more about Gail, check out www.gailbwilliams.co.uk - Dare you!