Two out of three ain’t bad, says Tony Fyler.
Penguins of Madagascar, volume one, When In Rome is a collection of three stories with the Dreamworks penguins, and a very mixed bag they are too.
The Great Drain Robbery, with Jai Nitz on scripting duties and Lawrence Etherington on artwork is probably the most successful of the three, with Etherington’s world and characterisation feeling precise enough to adequately deliver in two dimensions the penguins you remember from the movie screen, and Nitz’s script being nicely nutty and having a strong narrative thrust as the penguin troopers launch an operation, bring consequences on themselves, battle through and reap the benefits in an enjoyable ending. There are fun elements of potential parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here – an underground sewer base, a giant talking rat, and some serious ass-kickery (the fight sequence here is particularly well rendered by Etherington). The ending is particularly pleasing, taking advantage of the penguins’ unique abilities to defeat the giant rat and his acolytes.
When In Rome, the second story in the collection, has an equally strong, but rather more epic plot from Alex Matthews. That said, it relies more occasionally than you’d like on the cheapest trick in the storytelling book – the picking of nits to comic effect – to keep its momentum going (there’s an ongoing bat joke here that is lame the first time you read it, and gets progressively less effective every time it’s regurgitated. There’s also a slightly odd ker-chunk of gear change between the first two stories – in the first, the penguins are in full military mode, with a secret base and so on. In the second, they’re concerned mostly with getting bums on seats for their Afro Circus. There’s a slight character-shift too, with Skipper, the leader of the squad, coming across as more of a bumbling idiot who never listens to anyone. What’s more, the second story’s artwork by Grant Perkins takes a radical turn towards the simplistic, seeming to aim at a younger audience, while simultaneously delivering the most complicated plot of the three stories in this collection. It does deliver a more credibly silly Dangermousey arch-villain than the first story though, which is the sort of thing you hope for from a Penguins of Madagascar comic. The giant talking rat in The Great Drain Robbery (which I for one kept thinking of as ‘Roland’ despite its more classic origins) is not bad by any means, and it’s rather more logical, but it’s precisely the wackiness of When In Rome’s central idea that makes up for the tedious nit-picking and the simplistic artwork, to make the story overall seem stronger than it actually is.
Meanwhile the third story, with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning apparently collaborating on the script, seems plotwise the most phoned-in, giving the penguins a night off from their military exercises and vaguely riffing on 80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The point about which of course is that if you take the penguins off duty, they could be any collection of anarchic trouble-finding comic-book birds, and you lose the essential Penguins of Madagascar vibe that made you pick up the collection in the first place. Anthony Williams’ artwork draws more towards the animated originals than Perkins’, so while the story of A Night Off might be absolutely nothing special, it is at least pretty – and funny – to look at, and the gags are delivered with a faithful-feeling flair that allow them to raise a chuckle by evocation of the Dreamworks originals.
Overall, this collection of penguin antics from Titan Comics is a little hit and miss, and while there are technically more hits than misses, it’s difficult to escape the sensation that with a little more scripting rigour, the misses could have been avoided altogether.
The Penguins of Madagascar Volume One is out now.
To find your local comic store visit: http://www.comicshoplocator.com/
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk