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Because this is going to press too far in advance to review one of this week's comics, this will be a special 'hardcopy' version of Speech Bubble Burst! Instead of a review of the best of this week's comics, this column will focus upon two of the best comics collections to be found on the shelves of your local comics shop: Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze and Alan Moore's V FOR VENDETTA.

Age Of Bronze: A Thousand Ships

  • Published by Image Comics, written and illustrated by Eric Shanower.
  • £14.99 / $19.95

It's a common complaint about comics that all they ever feature is boring old superheroes, a load of walking, talking adolescent power fantasies clad in spandex. Sadly enough, this complaint cannot easily be dismissed. However, if musclebound oafs who wear their pants over their tights is the 'wrong' way of portraying comic-book heroics, then what is the 'right' way?

Eric Shanower's epic project Age Of Bronze is a detailed comic-book adaptation of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and so features characters who are the literal origin of the term 'hero'. The myths surrounding the Trojan War, of Achilles, Paris and Odysseus are lovingly detailed in this book, which boasts a bibliography some eight or nine pages long. How many comics can you name that have a bibliography?

What is even more commendable about this book is its commitment to accuracy. Down to the smallest costume or custom, Shanower has attempted to be as faithful to existing relevant archaeological data as possible.This also means that the 'silly' bits of the myth, with the Gods appearing in person and other such supernatural legends, are explained away by superstition, so the whole thing becomes much more of a human drama between believable characters.

Complimenting this exhaustively-researched story is the similarly detailed artwork, which portrays an utterly convincing vision of the classical civilisations of the Aegean. One particularly nice touch is the use of much more 'cartoony' caricature to visualise a flashback to the larger-than-life adventures of Hercules. If there's one gripe about the art, though, it would be that there is such a huge variety of characters to portray, they sometimes are a little difficult to distinguish from one another.

A Thousand Ships is the first volume of this ambitious and epic story, and it is a wonderful book for scholars and those seeking a pleasant read alike. Highly recommended.

V For Vendetta

  • Published by DC Vertigo, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd.
  • £14.99 / $19.95

Alan Moore is acknowledged as one of the greatest writers who has ever graced the comics medium. V For Vendetta is one of his earliest works, and it makes fascinating reading to observe the first stirrings of Moore's talents.

A product of late 1970s and early 1980s paranoia, V... is a cautionary tale about a bleak version of a 1997 where the threat of nuclear conflict has plunged Great Britain into an Orwellian totalitarian fascist state. Opposing the state is a mysterious anarchist, known only as 'V', who uses guerilla tactics to try to bring this oppressive society to its knees. However, is this enigmatic figure all that he seems, or could he be even more malevolent than the government himself?

A masterpiece of incredibly tightly-plotted structure, V... remains an incredibly powerful book about freedom and identity, even over a decade since its completion. Although some of the concepts have dated somewhat, the underlying anti-establishment rage and the exquisite craftsmanship mean that this book is still thought-provoking and intelligent.

The artwork is moody and atmospheric, with the central character of 'V' being particularly well-realised as a kind of modern-day Guy Fawkes, complete with a painted Fawkes mask and stovepipe hat. Rarely does the comics industry produce such a sinister and morally ambiguous character, and although the supporting cast are less eye-catching visually and conceptually, Moore and Lloyd have instilled genuine humanity in their portrayal.

Put quite simply, V For Vendetta is a work of literature that contains 265 pages of stunningly-executed ideas that rank alongside the likes of 1984 in terms of creating a believably nightmarish alternate reality. This is a comic that everyone should read, if not own, and in my opinion has only been surpassed by a handful of other comic-book stories. Unmissable.


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