Friday, December 12, 2014

Comics Review: Fatale and Gunnerkrigg Court

And so we come back to the sporadic round-up of things we bought at Thoughtbubble, but seem to be taking forever to read through. Indeed, a month on, there are still two or three things left to read, sat up on the sideboard with my 2000AD backlog, which is at least a sign that I got good value for money in terms of buying "stuff" this year. Part of the joys of cons is discovering new things - ongoing series you know you want you can pickup any time, really, but usually when at a con I try and focus on small press stuff, which doesn't get the exposure it often deserves, or more off-beat stuff a natural conservatism would pass over in, say, an actual shop. These two however were things we went intending to buy, so I guess count in neither of those categories. Hmmm. 

Fatate (Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Dave Stewart)
I bought the first volume of Fatale last year at Thoughtbubble on a friends recommendation, and I guess it says something about the series that a year later I was buying the fifth and final volume. The series follows Josephine, a woman of uncertain origin who never ages, and has the ability to entrance men into becoming obsessed with her, usually the detriment of all concerned. Its not a power she fully controls, or is ever really comfortable with wielding, but as the series progresses we see her at different stages of her life, with different degrees of sympathy. Through all of this she is hunted by some sort of demonic cult, determined to turn her power to their own ends. 

Fatale is consciously riffing off the noir tradition, fused with the Lovecraftian Weird Fiction/Horror  vibe that seems to get everywhere these days, and the art is a great match for it - dark and oppressive, and when it needs to be, covered in vibrant reds. Reading it in collected editions, it zips along in discreet arcs, and the final story, just finished, ties everything up pretty neatly. It's actually nice when that happens, and feels organic to the earlier volumes. Pretty cool stuff. 

Gunnerkrigg Court (Tom Siddell) 
The handsome published volumes of the webcomic, Gunnerkrigg Court is actually Z's main purchase of the con, where she picked up volumes 3 and 4. Its actually fairly hard to describe without sounding like it's pretty derivative - there is this special school where lots of people have powers, and a magic forest, and robots, and spirits, and independantly minded pupils with more secretive, authoritarian teachers. There a whole mystery about the kids' parents generation, and as the story goes on they start to discover their own special powers as they grow through adolescence. Stop rolling your eyes at the back! 

The secret special power of Gunnerkrigg Court isn't that, at heart, its doing any strikingly original, its that it's putting these elements together in interesting ways, and doing it in an effortlessly charming way. The characters especially are likeable - and highly shippable, if that's your sort of thing - and gradually unfurl over the run of the books without ever feeling like you've got an overstuffed ensemble. It also manages to handle its array of central mysteries well, gradually answering one set of questions in a way that poses more, although I'm not convinced that some of these answers aren't just being made up on the fly. But certainly worth your time.