Night Fever HC Review

(W) Ed Brubaker (a) Sean Phillips

The most consistently brilliant creative team in comics are back.

And again, they continue to break new ground, eschewing the traditional single issue format of release, and they serve us up a fully formed, original graphic novel.  And it may be a break from their excellent Reckless series, but it is every bit as engrossing and atmospheric as the adventures of Ethan Reckless.

I should also state, that I’m a big fan of listening to movie scores while reading books, and this just screamed the Blue Velvet soundtrack to me from the one and only Angelo Badalamenti.  Suffice to say, it was a marriage made in heaven.

In Europe on a business trip, Jonathan Webb can’t sleep. Instead, he finds himself wandering the night in a strange foreign city with his new friend, the mysterious and violent Rainer, as his guide. Rainer shows Jonathan the hidden world of the night, a world without rules or limits.

If I were to compare Night Fever to any of Brubaker & Phillips other work, it would be Fatale.  The reason being is that Night Fever doesn’t conform to any one genre.  It’s a voyeuristic thriller.  It has hints of the Supernatural.  It’s a mid life crisis story.  It’s a detective story.  It’s a murder mystery.  It’s a journey into the unknown.

And it’s utterly compelling.  Brubaker has always been a master of pacing, and keeping you turning the pages. There’s great character work here, with our point of view character (I hesitate to call him a protagonist given everything he gets up to in the book) perhaps the most flawed of all, and there’s an intriguing mystery that you just want to get to the bottom of.  You want to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes that Webb has fallen down, and you’re also unsure the whole way through if he will make it out.

Phillips art (that’s both Sean on pencils and Jacob on colours) is up there with the best work these guys have produced.  There are brilliant panel layouts, detailed characters, lush colours and dread and atmosphere dripping off of every page.

They paint a world beyond our own.  Not quite otherworldly, but definitely layers that only the rich and beautiful can access.  It evokes comparisons with Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, another tale where we follow the woefully unprepared into the darkness, where their curiosity may just destroy them.

Given Reckless is Brubaker and Phillips current odyssey, Night Fever could easily be viewed as a lesser work.  A palate cleanser in between the arcs of Reckless, to reset and recharge the creative juices.  But it is absolutely nothing of the sort, and is arguably up there with the best work they have ever produced.  The sense of dread and tension falls off every page, and this is the type of book delivered by absolute masters of their craft.

Batman #136 Review

(W) Chip Zdarsky (A) Belén Ortega

Since Chip Zdarsky Came onto Batman at issue 125, it has been a title that has moved at a breakneck pace.  From alternative Gotham, to Batman falling from Space (something of course he has a contingency plan for), it has been a blockbuster series that has barely paused for breath.  Until now.  With Issue 136, Zdarsky slows the pace down, and manages to catch readers up on everything that has happened in his run so far.

In other words, this is a perfect jumping on point for new readers.

Batman #135 was a love letter to all things The Dark Knight from the last 80 years (it was a legacy #900 oversized issue), and it was largely a lot of fun to read, despite the high stakes.  It was almost light-hearted in places.

Well, Batman #136 is the opposite of that as Zdarsky starts to weave all those threads he’s been playing with so far together.  We find The Dark Knight at one of his worst points.  He’s lost his hand, Zur-en-Arrh is still there as a backup in his mind, and worst of all, he is keeping all this information to himself.  Batman has always been a loner, no matter how many allies he surrounds himself with, but keeping everything to himself puts everyone around him in f danger.

With Zur-en-Arrh, it’s impossible as a Naruto fan not to draw comparisons with the Jinchuriki sealed inside of Naruto.  The 9 tails beast gives Naruto extreme powers and also the ability to push him further and faster than he ever should.  However, the 9 tails is also dangerous and it’s possible at any point that Naruto could lose himself completely to the tailed beast.  This is what Zur-en-Arrh’s function is.  It is a more dangerous version of Batman.  He even has a conversation with Bruce within his head, that he knows he can’t destroy him, because he’s going to need him for what’s coming.  Zur-en-arrh is even locked behind bars in the same way as the 9 tails.  This cannot be coincidence…

Bruce is filled with doubts as to his effectiveness as a Hero as he has returned to his Gotham.  So of course, he overcompensates and attacks Penguins minions, as well as confronting a Catwoman who has broken out of jail and is a on the run.  But despite this, she is bringing a form of peace to her area of Gotham.  Maybe her methods are more effective than Bruces?  These are the kind of questions rattling around Bruce’s mind as he continues to doubt himself.

This leads to Bruce being tricked into a family dinner, which gives us some wholesome imagery of the Bat-Family being together, beautifully drawn by Ortega, and I may have already ordered a print of it….but even amongst all the laughter and this seemingly positive moment, it’s clear that Bruce is racked with guilt, self doubt and has never appeared so alone.

Knight Terrors really interrupted these titles at the wrong time, I can’t wait for #137, and to jump back into the excellent run that Zdarsky and the likes of Jorge Jimenez, Mike Hawthorne and Belen Ortega have been serving up.

Fantastic Four #1 Review

Fantastic Four #1

(W) Ryan North (A) Iban Coello

First up, a confession.  I have never found a Fantastic Four run that has engaged me enough to see all the way through.  It’s not that Marvel’s first family haven’t had loads of great talent involved over the years – heck, the likes of Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Dan Slott have all taken the reins at one point or another. But I just haven’t found that run just yet.

But if the rest of this series lives up to the quality of this first issue, then they may have their hooks in me at long last.  For me, this is up there with the best single issues of the year.

Ryan North has gone on the record, that after Slott’s large cosmic, universe spanning run, he was interested in starting small, with self contained stories for each of the heroes.  And Fantastic Four #1 kicks off with an absolutely doozy, as we follow The Thing and his wife Alicia.

The story is straightforward enough.  The Thing and Alicia are on a trip and they end up pulling up at a motel for the night.  Some of the locals don’t take kindly to Ben Grimm’s appearance, and they attempt to harm him by driving a truck into their room as they sleep.  But alas, the truck disappears into thin air.  And despite all the noise and commotion, no one has any recollection of what happened the night before.

They take a walk around the town, only to find out they’ve somehow ended up in the middle of small town America in the 1940’s.  Not only that, but they are stuck relieving the same day over and over!  So a mystery begins as they try to figure out why this is happening and how they can escape it.

Knowing the Fantastic Four was starting fresh from #1, I would never have guessed that the titles biggest influence would be Groundhog Day.  But that’s exactly what we have here.  We have Ben getting to know the townspeople, and even the ones who feared him in the beginning, become his best friends.  Alicia shows how charming and thoughtful she can be.  And you’re reminded over and over just how much heart these characters bring to the Marvel Universe.

The art is vibrant and clean the whole way through it, with detailed expressions and plenty of humour to be found in the imagery.  There’s also repeating imagery with subtle differences as we’re stuck in this time loop with the characters.  I actually read this issue out loud to my son, who hung on my every word (Probably nothing to do with the quality of the story admittedly…), and I wondered at the start if the first few pages were mistakenly reprinted over and over!

The reason why this timeloop has been created and where the story goes is so endearing and genuinely affecting by the end.  To go into too much detail would spoil it somewhat, but some of the last few pages had me welling up a little.

And then we get a few pages added to the end which while separate from the Ben and Alicia story, go somewhat towards letting us know what the conflict is going to be for the series moving forward.  Absolutely incredible first issue and count me all in on this run on Marvel’s first family.