Published By Lightning Strike Comics.
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Neil Gaiman
The problem with Anthology books is if you do not stick with an overall theme it can be a very disjointed experience for the reader. Bouncing from Spy thriller to sci-fi is a format that demands the reader’s concentration and flexibility. Not to mention one misstep could result in the reader’s dissatisfaction bleeding over into the next story. The growing pains of the entertaining but somewhat bloated issues 1&2 are now gone and both Writers and Artists are setting about their work with a self confidence that only experience can bring. Managing editor (and 2dcast and Pubcast regular) Ciaran Marcantonio deserves great credit for stripping the book down from 10 stories to 5. The reader is given more time to absorb and digest each section as opposed to being overwhelmed with a multitude of very different stories and artwork. That being said none of the superficial changes matter a jot if the content is not up to a high standard. It is here were issue 4 really excels, stories that had been simmering nicely are now being brought to the boil.
Cannon Law written by James Looney is a finely crafted, man on a mission spy thriller that has consistently been one of the best narratives of the Lightning Strike series. I must confess to having some trepidation when I noticed that regular artist Robert Carey was no longer on the run, but Amrit Birdi and colourist Eoin Hurrell have side stepped the temptation to imitate what has gone before and instead inject their own distinct style into proceedings without ever looking out of place with the pre-established run. Birdi’s artwork is spectacular and is undoubtedly the best in the book, with beautifully detailed character’s and scenery that comes alive on the page. A common problem with such detailed art work is that it is often at the detriment of empathy to the characters as the polished look makes them appear impervious to any damage or feeling. Here is where Hurrell’s work shines as each blow is given purpose and heft, with one panel of a pistol whipping looking particularly painful.
Customs Pt2 written by Mike and David Lynch is nice mix of Men in Black and Doop as a mild mannered civil servant is forced to go out on a call with an eclectic mix of creatures. The story nicely jumps between the mundane of the everyday aspect of the job with the fantastical nature of the various non-human characters in the story. This is one of the stories that seem hamstrung by the brevity afforded with an anthology format as there is little time to develop both the story and the number of weird and wonderful creatures. But wanting more as a story draws to a close is hardly the worst complaint to have.
The Monkey of Oz is a cracking story and has been the one I have been most excited about with each passing issue. Focusing on what one of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz does now that ding dong the wicked witch is dead. It is a brilliant concept and immediately sets your mind racing as to what seemingly incidental characters get up to once the book is closed on the main story. Did Al from Die Hard open a donut shop with his kid? Did the guy who cried when the Rancor died in Return of the Jedi turn to a life of drink and drugs? Liam Browne’s story is more than a fanciful high concept as he grounds the titular character- figuratively and literally to show an interesting and fully formed character that you feel a surprising amount of empathy for considering the creature’s origins. The rich vibrant artwork of Daryl Cox is complemented nicely by James Sharkey who brings the otherworldly colours of Oz to life. The Technicolor background is wonderfully at odds with the dark nature of the story.
Nightmare Scenario written by Stephen Carey is an eerie story that sees a downtrodden young woman pulled through her mirror to face off against a demonic tormentor. The story is well written and gives a nice commentary on people’s perceptions of themselves as opposed to how they are actually seen, in both good and bad lights. My issue with the story is that the artwork in the nightmare world is far too restrained and bright- one beautifully vicious panel aside. Artist Kevin Weldon as he shows earlier in the book with “Customs” can create wonderful creatures and worlds, but here I felt there was a real missed opportunity to create something memorably dark and hellish. The one moment were it feels he has let himself of the leash is the stories highpoint and it is a shame that there were not more moments like that.
A Dame to 1101011 For is by far the most ambitious segment of the book. With writer Ciaran Marcantonio crafting a dystopian world that is a mixture of everything from Blade Runner, Fritz Langs’s Metropolis and The Matrix. The story itself is simply massive in scale and is almost bursting out from its confines of the all too few pages it is afforded. Marcantonio has grown in leaps and bounds throughout each issue of the series; his previous story A Clockwork Universe was a beautiful time travel adventure story. Here he has turned everything up to 11, creating an entire world as opposed to his earlier more singular stories. Artist Kevin Keane’s work here is nothing short of stunning, creating a truly unique vision of the future each panel glowing with a beautiful purple and green hue. It is truly a sight to behold and I am looking forward to seeing how he expands on other facets of this world. Special mention must go to Miriam Abuin, whose distinct lettering gives personality to the non-human characters with enough subtlety and restraint that it doesn’t distract from both the art and the story. This is perfectly demonstrated during a nice little Star Trek nod.
Overall Lightning Strike Issue 4 is a great read, with everyone upping their game with each passing issue. Some stories work better than others constrained to such brief page time. Were as there are others I would love to see expanded into their own titles. At times they can feel like a coiled spring ready to explode from the page. With the Irish comic scene growing at an incredible rate with Ireland producing genuine top level talent like Stephen Mooney (Nightwing) Will Sliney (Spider-Man) and Declan Shalvey(Moon Knight) who are-pardon the pun, drawing the eyes of the world to the local scene. Books like this are finding audiences previously not afforded to self-published titles and we are starting to see and emergence of talent that could lead to Ireland having its own “Wildstorm” era. It is an exciting time to be an Irish comic book fan and it looks to be only getting better. Long may it continue.
The book is being launched at ArcadeCon in The Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin which runs from the 11th to the 13th of July.
4 out of 5 Nerds