Saturday, March 14, 2009

Trade Waiting - Transhuman and Apparat Vol 1

This time around, I'm taking a look at another Jonathan Hickman book from Image (be sure to check out my previous review of his The Nightly News trade) plus a creator owned book by Warren Ellis from Avatar. Both books cover new territory that neither Marvel or DC would even consider delving into. Hit the jump to find out more.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by J.M. Ringuet
Collects Transhuman #1-4

Transhuman is a mockumentary about the corporate war to become more than human. That doesn't sound like the most exciting concept but Jonathan Hickman does a great job with it for one reason, monkeys. Okay, its more than that but there are some awesome monkeys in Transhuman.

As I said above, Transhuman is a mockumentary so how much enjoyment you get out of that genre is going to effect how much enjoyment you get out of this book. Hickman doesn't really do anything ground breaking with the genre or story telling here, so a lot of the success of the book is going to be dependent on how much enjoyment you get out of the story, which worked great for me. I'm something of a nerd, though, even beyond simply reading comics, so the whole concept of Transhuman appeals to me since I a) enjoy science and b) watch stuff like the Discovery and Science Channels. However, Transhuman isn't overly complicated or that technical to begin with, so don't let my nerd talk scare you.

Instead, Hickman focuses on the people and events involved in the race to become something more than human. The characters are compelling, but not likable, which makes them work better in my opinion, given the story. The story itself it basically a narrative about what happened and Hickman does add some nice details and concepts into the story to help it along.

However, it doesn't really work on its own until issue four, which is an issue the series is completely dependent on and makes or breaks most people's enjoyment thereof. Issue four is the "message" issue that makes the whole story work and puts the previous issues into context. It's not an overtly social commentary type of message, but there is some of that in there. It's also pretty subtle up until the ending, which I loved. The ending is actually telegraphed, to a degree and only if you pay attention. But it also sets up a sequel, which would be nice but not exactly necessary either.

The art is well suited for the book as well. However, it's not that visually appealing, from an aesthetic standpoint, which is not to say it's bad either, but it fits the tone of the book perfectly, which is all that really matters.

Verdict - Must Read. Although Transhuman deals with a subject of a nature with probable limited appeal, it is an intriguing and compelling compelling story.

Written Warren Ellis
Art by Jacen Burrows, Lauren McCubbin, Carla Speed McNeil, and Juan Jose Ryp
Collects Angel Stomp Future, Frank Ironwine, Quit City, Simon Spector

Apparat is Warren Ellis' attempt at creating a series of comics as if a variety of different genres had risen to the top of the heap instead of the standard super hero stories that dominate the American market today. In that vein, Apparat contains four stories and covers the genres of sci-fi, detective, aviator, and vigilante(of the non-superhero variety).

All of the stories are strong and well done. They all deliver on some level and generally entertain as well. Going in, I would have said Angel Stomp Future, the sci-fi issue, would be my favorite read, but it actually ended up being Frank Ironwine, the detective story, which is odd, for me, since I love sci-fi and am generally disinterested in the detective genre.

Frank Ironwine is that increasingly rare comic that just leaps off the page and drags you into the story. It was oddly compelling with an equally odd lead that just worked for me. Simple, yet it had a certain depth to it. While Angel Stomp Future was great, too, it was mostly a series of interesting ideas lumped into a narrative with a twist ending that refers back to the beginning of the story. Not bad, in and of itself, but it does lack that something extra that Ironwine had. However, ASF did have the best art of the bunch. While it was great in black and white, personally, I would have loved to have seen it coloured.

Simone Spector
, which was the title of the vigilante tale, is a lot like ASF in that it has a lot of great ideas, but never fleshes them out. However, where ASF seemed to be doing too much in too little space, Simone Spector just didn't take enough time to give these ideas the space they needed to grow.

Furthermore, Ellis kind of "fast forwards" through Spector's story at times, which does hurt the action a bit. Spector is an intriguing character and Ellis does a good job establishing him in so few pages. A strong effort that could have used just a few more pages.

The final story, Quit City, was my least favourite and was the one set in the aviator genre. It simply wasn't quite what I expected going in, which led to my disappointments. Normally I'd like that unknown quality, but Quit City simply doesn't work as a story for me. However, it's not a bad story, as it is fundamentally sound. It's just something that I, personally, did not enjoy. It does have a nice twist in the story, though, which Ellis explains in more detail in his notes on that particular story.

One thing that helps Apparat be a successful experimental book is that Ellis explains his thinking behind the stories. It provides a nice look into what he was thinking, what he hoped to accomplish and adds an extra layer of understanding and enjoyment to these stories.

Verdict - Must Read. An enjoyable and intriguing book that imagines what the comic book world would be like without Marvel and DC.

Like these reviews? Interested in these books? Purchase Transhuman or Apparat, The Singles Collection Vol 1 from and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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Matt Ampersand said...

Apparat sounds interesting, I might pick it up in the future.

Jono said...

Havent read or even heard of Transhuman, but loved Apparat.

Anonymous said...

I wish Hickman had actually did the art for Transhuman. I love his writing and thought the unique style he used for Nightly news would have fit Transhuman so much better than what Ringet did. Good writing, weak art though.

Eric Rupe said...

Anonymous - I'm the opposite. Hickman's art is too refined and clean for the tone he was going for in Transhuman.

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