Comic Review – Trees #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

This week I read Trees #1 by Warren Ellis, with art by Jason Howard and letters from Fonografiks, published by Image Comics. This was another case of not hearing about a new series, seeing a nice shiny number one issue on the rack with a well known writer’s name on the front, judging whether or not the stack of comics in my hand is already too much (it probably was) and picking it up anyway*. I must admit I haven’t read as much Warren Ellis as I would have liked, his Transmetropolitan seemingly a permanent fixture on my ‘to buy’ list of collections.

Trees takes place ten years after first alien contact with Earth, in the form of huge monolithic ‘trees’ that suddenly landed across the globe, devastating communities in the cities they struck. Even years later, mankind seems to have accepted the presence of the trees despite knowing almost nothing about them. No beings have emerged, no communication has come through, they just sit there. And they very occasionally “dump waste” which appears to mean “crap acid over everyone, melting people and buildings”, which apparently has happened six times now. Why anyone would live anywhere near one if there is the slightest potential of that happening is beyond insane, but then again I’ve visited Naples in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius where we were cheerfully told that it could erupt at any time, and there definitely wouldn’t be enough time to evacuate the whole city. So aside from the horror of this, the alien interlopers are a total mystery. We are introduced to an array of different and seemingly unconnected characters – a man running for New York mayor, a young aspiring artist moving as close as he can to the trees, and some scientists studying one in Norway. None of them immediately jump out as the lead, but all are compelling for different reasons.

The writing is strong, with perhaps only the dialogue between the mayoral hopeful Vince and his friend/advisor Del feeling a touch exposition-heavy. It reads well enough, it could be passed off as rhetoric from Vince to explain why he wants to run for mayor, and we need this information somehow, it just feels a bit stark. The prologue got me invested enough in the story, and the bleakness of an enemy that doesn’t seem to know or even care that we are here, with some very brief narration over the action. I think I would have preferred some of the details of the original landing to unfurl more organically over a couple of issues. That really is nit-picking though, and it wasn’t really a problem at all. The pacing of the issue itself is really where the story shines, giving very little away but showing the scope of the world as it is now. This scope is illustrated very effectively by Jason Howard (as ‘artist’ I assume he did colours and all), showcasing each locale with a different colour palate to contrast them perfectly. My favourite panel was probably the iconic vista of Rio de Janeiro marred by trees dumping their waste into the city at the start.

This was another great first issue of a new creator-owned series, and again I will definitely be keeping up with it as the characters are fleshed out and Ellis explores the mystery of the trees and why they are here, largely dormant and uncommunicative, and what they are going to do. I fully recommend picking this one up from your local comic book shop or online retailer with your tablet/smart phone/internet-linked cyberbrain.

Score: 8.5 Weird Robot Police Dogs out of 10

 

* The delay of Batman #31 over here in the UK to next week (due to a printing error or something I equally don’t understand) helped reduce my costs this week, but I wasn’t overly happy about that.

Comic Review – Forever Evil #7

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers. 

Probably more than ‘minor’ this week, including spoilers for the whole event and the end of Trinity War.

This was a fairly expensive trip to the comics shop! This week I’ve decided to review the finale of the DC event comic Forever Evil (the first time I’ve reviewed an issue that wasn’t a #1), not because it was necessarily my favourite or the best but because it was worth talking about, I think anyway. Forever Evil #7 was written by Geoff Johns, with pencils by David Finch, inks by Richard Friend, colours from Sonia Oback and letters by Rob Leigh. Forever Evil started back in September last year during the Villain’s Month, and was due to finish two months ago in March. I had mistakenly (and unfairly) assumed that this was due to art delays and wanting to maintain consistency rather than rushing out the ending with a replacement, but it turns out Johns realised he wanted the end to be longer so we ended up getting a 40-page, slightly more expensive, finale. Quite why this meant the delay was two months I’m not sure, but we’ve got it now.

For those who don’t know, Forever Evil followed hot on the heels of the previous DC event ‘Trinity War’, which saw the Crime Syndicate (basically evil alternate universe versions of the Justice League) turn up in the main DC universe having escaped their own crumbling reality. Forever Evil starts with them having totally defeated the League, all of whom are presumed dead, and the Syndicate organising the villains of the DCU to take over and basically destroy the world. This doesn’t sit well with a few of the bad guys, who decide to band together to fight back against these extra-dimensional intruders. Lex Luthor joins up with with Bizzaro, Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Sinestro, and a few others including Batman (who survived when all his super-powered friends were “killed” by the Syndicate, because he is Batman) to give us a nice villains Vs. villains tale, which is a good change of pace from the usual heroes Vs. heroes we have been used to of late in superhero comics.

The finale, which is pretty action-packed, starts with Luthor saving Nightwing. Spoiler I guess, but DC already started previewing their new ‘Grayson’ comic weeks before this issue came out. It was fairly obvious from the set up that this is how it would go down anyway. Batman hugs Nightwing, Luthor notices in some foreshadowing for something that comes later. Bizzarro then hugs Lex, which is definitely my favourite moment of the book. A large part of the rest of the issue is various villains fighting the remaining Crime Syndicate members Ultraman and Superwoman, and everyone fighting the alternate universe Alexander Luthor, who is a sort of reverse Shazam that steals the powers from people he kills. He has killed a lot of people apparently, because he is crazy powerful. I must admit I didn’t see the end of the fight coming, but I’m glad it went down like it did. It felt like it was earned, and even though the Justice League were pretty much simultaneously freed from their predicament by Batman and Cyborg, it was the villains that won the day and saved the planet. Basically, if none of that made any sense, it was all pretty awesome.

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I really like Johns’ writing, and never more so than when he is writing villains. He continues to do a great job here, the only complaint I have is really more an issue I’ve found a lot recently in the new 52, being hinting at events that have occurred in the 5 year time span of the continuity that we haven’t seen and may not ever see. It makes things feel unearned. The main instance I mean involved Batman and the lasso of truth. The only other problem I’ve had with the event was the inclusion of Sinestro in the story, which I am conflicted over anyway because he has been excellent in it. I really enjoyed how Sinestro ended up at the end of Johns’ Green Lantern run, and didn’t want him back so soon as it lessened the impact. But I have no idea whose call it was to bring him in. The art team do a good job here too, dynamic fights in great looking surroundings with colours really suiting the tone of a big thunderous finale.

This was a damn good piece of superhero comics, involving very few actual superheroes. It sets up a really interesting new status quo, with Lex Luthor actually seemingly reflecting on events and improving himself (though not as clear cut as a full redemption, and he is clearly going to use some new information to his advantage soon), and the reveal of who chased the Crime Syndicate out of their own reality (and may be coming to the main DCU next). If you haven’t been reading this event, I wouldn’t recommend the finale as a jumping on point but definitely check out the collection when DC releases it. If you have been reading it, you dropped off the series because you weren’t into it or lost interest due to the delays, I would recommend jumping back on as it is a satisfying conclusion to what I found to be one of the best event books I have read in a while. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or digitally online if you have one of those new fangled tablet thingys.

Score: 7.5 MAZAHS! out of 10

 

* Definitely check out Saga #19 and American Vampire: Second Cycle #3 this week. They were both fantastic.

Comic Review – The United States of Murder Inc. #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Of the limited number of comics I did read this week*, the book I enjoyed the most was The United State of Murder Inc. #1 from Brian Michael Bendis and art by Michael Avon Oeming, with colours from Taki Soma and letters by Chris Eliopoulos, published by the Icon imprint from Marvel comics. I have read very little of Bendis’s work so far, mainly because everything I see him writing is Marvel. I briefly tried getting into Marvel, but I was already invested in the DC universe fairly heavily and was trying to buy more independent stuff too, so couldn’t afford to keep it up. I am a PhD student living in London after all, and I don’t think “I can’t afford rent because I bought too many comics” will go down well as a good excuse for why I have started sleeping at my desk and using the emergency shower in the lab every day. I dropped nearly all the Marvel books I was picking up, choosing to wait for trades that looked really good instead, along with a fair few DC books so I could still grab new creator-owned series that caught my eye. That said, I did read about 7 issues of Uncanny X-Men last year from Bendis, and I enjoyed it. That is a series that I’m planning to keep up with in trades.

Anyway, The United States of Murder Inc. takes place in an alternate USA where the Mob continued to be a dominant force rather than dying out in the early 20th century, to the extent that they actually own the East Coast (“the territories”). Our protagonist is Valentine Gallo, and we meet him just as he becomes a made man and is inducted into one of the major crime families. He is soon sent on his first job, out of the territories to Washington DC. On the way he is joined by a veteran member of the crime family, Jagger Rose, a sultry redhead sent to guide him (or emasculate him, whatever). I really enjoyed the back-and-forth dialogue between the pair on the train, it felt genuine and I didn’t find it to be over the top despite it feeling very much like a noir film. Things take an unexpected turn during the job, leading Valentine to confront more senior members of the family towards the end of the issue. This builds to what should be a particularly interesting plot as we go forward with the series.

At this point I must confess I made a pretty stupid error. I was going to give the book a lower score than I have, because I felt that the ending felt rushed. I felt that it should have been the end of the second issue, and the first issue should entirely be concerned with establishing this interesting alternate world. I think it probably ends up to the credit of the writing because I must have been so engrossed in the story that I did not notice that this was an oversized first issue, so what transpires in the last pages essentially is the end of a normal issue #2. So I retracted that complaint before I even made it. What I’m saying is I liked the story, and I liked the writing.

The art is really interesting, and I mean that to be a compliment. It is fairly cartoony, but in a very dark way.  Lots of thick, bold lines, with a toned down almost unimportant use of background to really emphasise the characters as being the most distinct aspect of each shot. The colours really back this up, with a different but basic shades flooding the background of each scene. Most of the characters tend to be a stark black and white against this background, except Jagger who really stands out with red hair and clothes in every scene (blood and fire incidentally also stand out). As usual, I am a total sucker for double page splashes. Give me two in a row, first of an explosion and then the same explosion reflected in someone’s sunglasses? I’m in.

I enjoyed this comic a great deal, and I seem to be paying so little attention of late that I didn’t even realise it was coming out. I just saw it on the rack at the comic book shop and thought “I’d like to read more Bendis, and this doesn’t require loads of pre existing knowledge of what came before it!”. I’m glad I did (see kids, acting on impulse works out sometimes), I found a really different looking book from anything else I’m reading, and in a setting that I did not know I wanted a comic about. It turns out I did. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or digitally online if you have one of those new fangled tablet thingys.

Score: 8 Coronation Pins out of 10

 

* This week I actually mostly bought DC comics, only to find out that a lot of it is now taking place post-Forever Evil, the finale of which was delayed for about a month and doesn’t come out until next week. So I didn’t read most of what I bought as I am still pointlessly trying to avoid any form of spoilers, even though I have heard snippets of what does happen (and I did read Futures End #2, in which a throw away line did also indicate other things that obviously happen in Forever Evil #7 that I didn’t know). I would of course rather the book was completed properly with delays than get in fill-in artists or whatever to get it out on schedule, and I also get that it’s not like DC can postpone a huge number of comics for a month that have already been solicited, but this still feels a bit ridiculous. Frustrating, but there we go.

Comic Review – The Woods #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

I’ve been gradually trying to pick up more creator-owned titles as they tend to have more original and interesting stories than the usual superhero comics I pick up (which doesn’t mean I’m getting sick of superheroes, it just means I’m cutting down on food to afford more comics). The Woods wasn’t really on my radar until I saw Scott Snyder tweet about it (odd considering I’ve chosen it over his latest issue of The Wake as my favourite comic this week). It is a new creator-owned title written by James Tynion IV, with art by Michael Dialynas, colours from Josan Gonzalez and letters by Ed Dukeshire, published by Boom! Studios.

The Woods takes place in a seemingly innocuous American high school in Milwaukee, allowing us a brief but effective introduction to our key players in the story in the form of tiny captions that tells us all we really need to know about them. Suddenly a flash of light transports the entire school to a world drenched in an oppressive darkness, surrounded by a thick wooded area and populated by various frightening beasts that begin to terrorise the unsuspecting students and staff. Everyone panics, most try to hole up inside the school, but a rag tag group decide that the only way to survive their predicament is to head into the woods to look for answers as to what happened to them and why they are there.

All I’ve read from James Tynion IV so far has been his work on Talon, the backups in the main Batman series and recently the new weekly series Batman Eternal, all of which I enjoyed. The writing here is really engaging. It is easy to care for all of these characters fairly rapidly, as the gravity of the situation sets in and the more headstrong try to deal with it as best they can. The art team does a great job creating a dark and terrifying environment too, and the fear is palpable. The double page splash in the middle in particular is gorgeous.

I’m really interested to see how this series develops and what lies ahead for Karen, Adrian, Isaac, Ben and Calder as they venture into The Woods. I especially liked how the mysterious first page takes on an intriguing meaning as we approach the end of the issue. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this series, and I suggest you do too. Check it out at your local comic book shop or digitally.

Score: 9 Hockey Sticks out of 10

 

*It was a tough call to review this or the equally excellent ‘The Wake’ issue 8 from Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy , Matt Hollingsworth and Jared K. Fletcher (which you should also definitely buy). I ended up choosing The Woods because it is new, and I’m almost certainly going to do a full review of the whole of The Wake when it comes out in trade paperback.

Comic Review – Dredd: Underbelly

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Sometimes he will review them, with potential minor spoilers.

This week I picked up the second printing of the Dredd: Underbelly one-shot comic from 2000 AD and Rebellion. This originally came out back in January, but I was a bit slow on the uptake (and it also sold out pretty much before it even came out). Lucky for me, such high demand meant a further printing (with a very nice variant cover by Jock no less), so I grabbed it on my usual visit to the comic book shop.

Dredd: Underbelly was written by Arthur Wyatt, with art by Henry Flint, colours by Chris Blythe and letters by Ellie De Ville. This works as a sequel to the film, set at an unknown duration of time later. The story is fast paced, bringing in elements I recognise from the limited amount of old Judge Dredd I have read (slowly working my way through the Complete Casefiles collections) and mixing them into the movie universe. With parallels to illegal immigration and abuse of people in such a vulnerable position, mutants (or ‘muties’) are brought into Mega-City One from the Cursed Earth radioactive wastelands that surround the mega-city, to find work and send money back to their families, or just to escape the harsh conditions outside the city walls. These people are lied to, and effectively sold into prostitution or slavery to be worked to death producing drugs. The main thrust of the story comes from a Judge raid on the arrival of a truck load of muties, where Anderson (now a member of the Psi division) encounters a woman who has followed her son to the city and is trying to find him. The case is brought to Dredd, and a brief interaction with Anderson (along with the fact that Anderson is actually listened to as a member of the Justice Department) is the only real indication of how much time has passed “I hear your arrests are up to quota. Good.”. The rest of the one-shot follows the case through to the end.

The book is a very quick read, and at times the story feels a bit rushed. There are all sorts of interesting elements introduced, but we don’t get a huge amount of time to get to grips with much of it. I think that this is very much more an issue with the format of being a one-shot story, rather than with the writing itself which is solid and in line with the Judge Dredd we saw in the film. I feel that this could have benefited from being a 3-5 issue mini series, to make it feel more like a sequel and a complete story in itself. As it stands, it feels like an episode of a procedural cop show in its pacing and conclusion. In fact I think that a Judge Dredd series like that, with stand-alone cases (and possibly an overarching plot brewing in the background) would work really well, either as a comic book series or as a live action show. I found it impossible to read all of Dredd’s dialogue without hearing Karl Urban’s gruff tones, especially when selecting ammo (“ricochet!”). The art is dark, gritty and ugly in the best way, as it completely suits the bleakness of both the Cursed Earth and it’s denizens, and Mega-City One itself. I particularly enjoyed the double splash page near the end involving multiple Judges raiding a compound, and the representations of Olivia Thirlby and Karl Urban’s chin work well.

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I really enjoyed this comic, but it was all over too quickly for me. I’d be really interested to see an ongoing or a mini series as a sequel. If you liked the Dredd movie, or Judge Dredd in general, I would recommend this book (available in all decent comic book shops, and if it sells out again I’m sure a 3rd printing will come out). We here at TLL were pretty big fans of Dredd, and would welcome a sequel. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the film didn’t perform brilliantly at the cinema (be it bad marketing, lack of interest/laziness on the part of those interested etc.), though it has seen more success on home release. There is an official 2000 AD ongoing campaign to get a sequel made (and there is a full page advert for it inside the comic), so you should definitely sign the official ‘Make A Dredd Sequel‘ petition if you haven’t already. The campaign sounds like it is actually making some real headway with 100,000+ signed already and Judge Dredd himself Karl Urban actively pursuing it. So fingers crossed!

If you didn’t like Dredd, I recommend getting the hell off our website.

Score – 8 Judges out of 10

Some Motherf*****s Are Always Trying To Ice Skate Uphill

Adam takes a look back on one of his favourite action trilogies for no apparent reason.

After re-watching the Blade trilogy recently, I decided to do a very timely retrospective about why I enjoy it so much, because this website is all about bleeding edge stories and breaking news. Blade II was one of the first comic book films I saw and really responded to. My Dad and I rented it from Blockbuster (remember when that was a thing?) when I was about 14 on a weekend when my Mum was away visiting her folks, and as an 18-rated film that really reflects my Dad’s approach to parenting (he also bought me Doom II when I was about 7). We both loved it.

So I obviously watched them out of order, but I got hold of Blade very soon after so lets start there. I am of the opinion that the first Blade film has one of the best opening scenes in any film. It opens with some clueless moron being lured into a secret club which turns out to be full of vampires. The sprinklers start spraying blood all over the revellers, and their intended victim is knocked to the ground. Things are looking bad for him as he crawls through the blood, when he arrives at a pair of unblemished boots. Everyone backs off from this newcomer, as the camera pans up to the only man who has ever managed to wear sunglasses indoors without looking like a d**k. It being fairly clear that this is our titular character Blade (Wesley Snipes), we are then treated to an excellent action scene in which he dispatches half of the clubgoers with a dizzying array of fantastic weapons, including a badass sword and a throwing glaive. Even if the rest of the film was s**t it wouldn’t matter.

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We are soon introduced to several other characters, including Blade’s friend and mentor Whistler (played for some reason by country singer Kris Kristofferson) and the big bad Deacon Frost who is trying to turn himself into a vampire god. The film culminates with another pretty decent fight, with some now pretty shonky looking special effects (it was 1998 admittedly) and an excellent victory line of “Some motherf*****s are always trying to ice skate uphill”.  Everyone should check out the alternate scene in the DVD extras “La Magra”, in which Blade basically fights a blood tornado with Frost’s face occasionally poking out to taunt him. They claim it is unfinished, but I can’t think of any “finishing” that would make it not s**t.

Blade II came out in 2002, and starts off again with a great couple of scenes, one with Blade hunting down vamps to discover the whereabouts of Whistler, and another setting up the threat of the film,“Reapers”, which are a new breed of vampires who hunt other the normal kind and have faces that are a terrifying combination of the Sarlac and very aggressive female genitalia. The vampires panic and recruit Blade to help them kill the reapers for reasons, teaming him up with a squad trained to hunt him that includes Ron Perlman and Danny John Jules which is excellent. Blade also picks up a new tech sidekick played by Norman Reedus, long before he became a one man zombie killing machine. Shockingly they betray him, even though he says “You obviously… do not know… who you are F*****G WITH!”. Also somewhat predictably, the vampires plans go to s**t because they were idiotic anyway, Blade takes a swim in a pool of very thin blood and once again kicks all sorts of ass (throwing a suplex into one of the fights for good measure). The special effects are considerably better, but seem to be overused in the last fight and don’t quite look right, but it is still a fun smack down.

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Blade Trinity then came out in 2004. Despite some issues with plot holes (and a weird scene introducing a really cool weapon that is never used in the film), I saw it a couple of times in the cinema. 17 year old me thought it was a brilliant film, and to be honest 25 year old me still enjoys the hell out of it. The film opens with another hunt, with Blade getting filmed killing a human. The FBI rock up and arrest him, then he gets sprung by a group called the Nightstalkers. The only two properly fleshed out members are the ones on the posters, Jessica Biel playing Abigail Whistler (sponsored by Apple) and Ryan Reynolds playing Hannibal King. Reynolds gets a lot of flak for some of the poor films he’s been in, but he is the best part of this film (also one of the only good things in the Green Lantern film, and before the film goes to shit he plays a great Wade Wilson in X Men Origins: Wolverine). Consistently funny, has a great brawling fight with Triple H (who is not terrible in this) and he delivers with excellent venom what remains my favourite ever insult – “you c**k-juggling thunderc**t!”. The films plays out with Blade fighting Dracula (or Drake, whatever) because why not, when asked “are you ready to die?” responds with “I was born ready motherf****r”, then we get a keep fighting the good fight sort of ending. Definitely the weakest of the three, but a very easy watch.

So there are some thoughts on a trilogy that I have always had a lot of time for. They may be a bit cheesy and predictable, but they are brilliantly stylish and violent vampire flicks that were some of my favourite action films growing up, and even now I think they are incredibly fun to watch.

Don’t Bother Mate

Batman is hands down my favourite superhero, possibly my favourite character in fiction, and I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in thinking that. Most people that have met me know that. I once drunkenly gave my very patient girlfriend what can only be described as a 45 minute lecture on why Batman is so brilliant. Lucky girl.

It all started when I was very young, watching Batman the Animated Series (I still hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill when reading the comics). I was so taken with the show, that for a piece of early classwork that I recently dug out from around age 7 I basically state that I prefer the Dark Knight to my parents. Priorities. Then for a while I must have become more interested in something else, being a fickle child (I think it was Power Rangers), until about 10 years ago when I started getting into the comics and films in a big way.

I remember soon after Batman Begins came out, making the character credible in the cinema again, standing in line to see one of my favourite bands. The lead singer was hanging around outside chatting to people he knew behind us, including us along too, and he had just bought a book with a photo of Bale’s Batman on the front. He pointed out that Batman doesn’t really need to do anything because he looks so badass, then held up the photo in front of his own face and said “Don’t bother mate.”

I think the main appeal of the character comes from the distinction between Bats and his superhero counterparts, in that Bruce Wayne is ostensibly just a man, and yet he fights crime and often super-powered villains just as well as any big blue boy scout, Amazonian princess or power ring wielding arsehole. This is captured well in one of my favourite moments in Grant Morrison’s huge run in the comics following the events of ‘Batman R.I.P.’. He gets a priority call from the Justice League (leading up to the series ‘Final Crisis’), despite having just been buried alive, nearly drowned and forced to rely on a back-up personality he prepared in advance just in case he was mentally compromised. Just before heading out to an even worse fate, he tells the readers that ‘I’ve worked so hard to gain their respect, they sometimes forget I’m flesh and blood’.

That’s the crux of it, being mortal somehow makes being Batman an attainable thing, even though it absolutely isn’t. People (yes, I am people) like to think that if they had preposterous wealth, took a gap year or two to train to be a ninja, replaced sleep with working out and read a f**kload of Sherlock Holmes that they could be Batman. The same can’t be said about Superman, even though the characters are equally fictitious. This is of course ridiculous, but it does make the character more appealing. You would also have to be a lunatic to dress like a bat and want to be a vigilante every night and day.

DC comics have clearly realised that Batman is their main money maker. The Nolan films were hugely successful (even if the third one was a bit of a mess), and they certainly seem keen to get a new iteration on the big screen as soon as possible. It certainly helps that the main Batman title from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is f*****g great every month, and tends to outsell most other titles on the stands. There seems to be a lot more going on this year too, being the 75th anniversary of the character’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 way back in 1939 (just a year after Superman). That’s a hell of a long legacy for any character.

So there are some reasons why I love Batman. To the extent that I got a tattoo of the symbol 2 years ago, and have yet to regret that decision at all. Maybe someday I will stop enjoying the comics so much, and I’ll look at it and think ‘what a moron’. But I hope not, because that would be boring.

Also, the animated series completely holds up on rewatching. It is f*****g brilliant.

Adam