Saturday, 26 March 2016

Swords of Sorrow: The Complete Saga TPB

I have reviewed books before on my blog (mainly novels) but I have never before reviewed a Graphic Novel (GN) or Trade Paperback (TPB). Until now. Some of you may know that I'm comic collecting geek, although my tastes are far from mainstream. Naturally, my favourite comic heroine is Vampirella. I tend to prefer comics featuring the so called "bad girls" of the comics industry - Bomb Queen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Chastity, Harley Quinn, Lady Death, Purgatori, She-Hulk and Zombie Tramp, being the main ones. I'm also a huge fan of the 2000AD comic and almost all of their stories. And for sheer quirkiness I love the Girl Genius books. The hugely popular comic heroes such as Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine, X-Men and the big franchises like Star Wars and Transformers have little to no appeal to me, although I am aware of them. I have often thought of doing a blog about comics and graphic novels that I like in much the same way as Blaxkleric does so superbly with The Brown Bag but I fear it would attract even fewer readers than Simon's. All of this is just a preamble to let you know where I stand when it comes to comics, GNs and TPBs. I like them a lot!
Swords of Sorrow: The Complete Saga is an epic book, and I do mean EPIC! It runs to 530 pages, of which 503 is story, and features all 21 issues of Dynamite Entertainment's biggest crossover event to date. The actual Swords of Sorrow story itself only took up six issues but it also featured many spin-off mini-series and one-shots. I only collected the six issue main series and the four issue mini-series featuring Vampirella. So, much of this TPB was new to me. It was written by Gail Simone with help on the mini-series and one-shots from Emma Bebby, Nancy A. Collins, Mikki Kendall, Leah Moore, Erica Schultz, Mairghread Scott and G. Willow Wilson, and featuring artwork by Sergio Davila (main series), Dave Acosta, Mirka Andolfo, Ronilson Freire, Francesco Manna, Rod Rodolfo, Noah Salonga and Crizam Zamora!
The good trio - Dejah Thoris, Red Sonja and Vampirella
THE STORY. A mysterious woman known only as The Traveller journeys across time, space and dimensions, bestowing magical ebony blades (the eponymous Swords of Sorrow) to a trio of female adventurers - Dejah Thoris, Red Sonja and Vampirella. Her mission is to prepare a last line of defence against the Prince of All Universes, a lovelorn despot with the power to shatter realities. To further aid the heroic trio, the Traveller also enlists the aid of other mighty women such as Athena, Black Sparrow, Eva (Daughter of Dracula), Irene Adler, Jane Porter (aka Lady Greystoke), Jennifer Blood, Jana the Jungle Girl, Kato, Lady Rawhide, Lady Zorro, Masquerade, Miss Fury, Pantha, Red Riding Hood and Voodoo Childe. These women were also given magical blades. United by the Swords of Sorrow, these spirited women must face not only the Prince's powerful Shard Men, but such agents of Chaos as Bad Kitty, Chastity, Mistress Hel and Purgatori.
The heroines are recruited in diverse pairs, which we as readers get to know more about through the one-shot issues and mini-series. These teams-ups feature in alphabetical order, Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro (one-shot), the Chaos Quartet prequel (one shot), Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler (3 part mini-series), Masquerade and Kato (one-shot), Miss Fury and Lady Rawhide (one-shot), Pantha and Jane Porter (one-shot), Red Sonja and Jungle Girl (3 part mini-series) and Vampirella and Jennifer Blood (4 part mini-series).
The bad quartet - Bad Kitty, Purgatori, Mistress Hel and Chastity
From the introduction to the book, Gail Simone writes, "You will notice these stories run concurrently and some issues take place in small moments during others. So you may ask: How do I go about reading this? We have presented the saga in the order that the issues were published to preserve continuity. This way, you will read the story as it originally unfolded, and won't come to the end of one series and have to backtrack by starting another. This is how we recommend reading this story... at least the first time." This works perfectly fine for me although I have read some folk criticising the book for being too confusing. Nah! It isn't!
THE VERDICT. I bloody well loved it! Yes, every single page! In fact, I'd go so far to say that this is one of the best TPBs I have ever read! Obviously, my main focus was upon Vampirella and she was well served in terms of screen time, scripting and artwork. The team up between Vampi and Jennifer Blood worked extremely well. Jennifer, by the way, is very much a female version of the Punisher from Marvel Comics. Some of the team-ups seemed a little odd, like Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler, but worked surprisingly well. What made this series work so brilliantly was the quality of the writing. Gail collected the best female writers in the business and got them to pull out all the stops, making full use of their talent and energy. Obviously with so many artists working on the series the artwork varies but thankfully, none of it is sub-standard. Overall, the quality is good to very good. Going back to Gail's introduction, she wrote, "for THIS crossover, I didn't want the usual boring stuff. I wanted a rough and tumble, fun and sexy, scary and action-packed classic epic. Subtlety be damned. I wanted something that felt like the creators of all these characters got together in a room after a three-day bender and just JAMMED. So that's what we did. We assembled a team of the best writers and artists we could find and just threw every firecracker we could right into the gunpowder factory. I hope you like it." Oh, I did! I liked it very much! In fact I like it enough to award it a 9 out of 10 rating. Why not a 10 out of 10? The artwork, whilst uniformly good, could have been improved by a higher calibre of artists. That said, I have no hesitation in recommending this TPB to any one with even a passing interest in comics. Ultimately though, how much you will want to buy this will depend very much on how you feel about the characters portrayed within its pages and also your feelings on "girl power." This book is ALL about girl power and I certainly don't have a problem with that!
Swords of Sorrow: The Complete Saga costs £22.50 from Amazon UK but I suggest you do what I did and check out the list of sellers offering new or old copies on behalf of Amazon. I got a new copy for just £12, saving me over a tenner from the official Amazon price. That was an absolute bargain for such a hefty tome!

14 comments:

  1. Not so into comic as all that. But happy others are. As for the types I do like. "Boris the Bear!" Akira (Graphic novels as opposed to film) RED FOX and of course 2000AD. And I agree about checking the other traders on eBay as they can have bargains!

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    1. Thanks, Clint. Comics aren't for everyone but I do love them.

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  2. An excellent posting Bryan, and many thanks for the plug for "The Brown Bag" too. I'm actually in awe of both the enthusiasm you impart for this particular tpb and that fact that its a "Dynamite Entertainment" publication which you're raving about. As you know I've reviewed a far few of their more recent issues, predominantly "Vampirella" related, and... well... um... not been terribly impressed tbh. I'm therefore overjoyed that you have given this graphic novel such a huge thumbs up.

    Personally I would thoroughly enjoy a Vampifan's World of Comics blog. But as you highlight it is very hard to compete with so very many professional websites which review, preview and arguably spoil the latest comics day-in-day-out. Certainly I could never hope to have the success something like the Comic Book Resources site enjoys, with teams of reviewers etc posting continually. However I do get a certain sense of satisfaction reviewing only comics which I physically own; Although a handful of hits for the highly-sought after "Tomb Of Dracula" #1 can be a bit demoralising...

    I'd certainly consider doing more reviews such as this for World of the Undead, Bryan, and to make things simpler, limited yourself to just 350 words or something. That way you'll hopefully have room enough to get your thoughts/feelings across and still have time for plenty of drinks ;-)

    Excelsior!!!

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    1. Much appreciated, Simon. I really LOVED this TPB. Story and artwork came together in perfect harmony.

      Regarding the Vampirella comics you've reviewed, not all the mini-series are good (Army of Darkness/Vampirella was dire, as we both agree) but others like Vampirella/Aliens are excellent and the ongoing series (which you haven't read) is consistently great.

      I am still undecided about whether to include comic reviews on my blog but TPBs are fair game and I'd love to do more reviews of them. The gaming hobby is very much a niche market but the comic hobby is even more so, especially if you aren't concentrating on the big name heroes. I know for a fact that my audience for the comics I like would be desperately low. It's a shame but true. I do feel for you, my friend, because I always think "The Brown Bag" should have more followers and more people commenting on your posts.

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    2. Well I'd certainly be happy to comment upon any of the books you like to read, Bryan, especially as not being in the gore-hound league like you are, I probably won't have even heard of them ;-)

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    3. That's real kind of you, Simon. Some of my TPBs that I like were bought after reading your reviews. "Uber" and "Wytches" immediately spring to mind.

      Others, you will know about, like '68 and The Walking Dead. Indeed, most of my TPBS are zombie related - Crossed, Empire of the Dead, Marvel Zombies, Night of the Living Dead and Zombie Tales.

      But the series that makes me smile the most is a hidden gem, and that is Girl Genius. This is a series that is so easy to fall in love with. Given its almost total lack of gore and subject matter (it's steampunk) it's hard to imagine me liking it so much. But I do! The series is crying out for a review on my blog and I promise, I will post one.

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  3. Hardcore ladies in this collection Bryan most of whom I've had no contact with or inkling they existed! But may just have to have a little nose about next time I'm out and about.

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    1. A lot of the women in this story will be unknown to all but the most ardent comics geeks, like me, Andy. No shame in not knowing who they are.

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  4. Sounds excellent and what a collection of such iconic characters on both sides :)

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    1. Absolutely, Simon. Good team-ups on both sides.

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  5. Great review Bryan. I can see why you'd like this one, nothing like the sight of Amazonian women running around in bikinis to stir the blood.
    Totally agree about not paying the full Amazon price too Dude!
    TPB reviews would be an excellent regular or semi-regular feature on your blog, especially as you have so many zombie related ones.

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    1. Cheers. Bob. TPB reviews will happen, even if I do retrospective reviews of stuff that is years old. If they're still available, as most are, that makes any review relevant. Plus, zombies - you can't go wrong, can you?

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  6. Ah, another Girl Genius fan, hurrah!

    Hmm, I'm mildly surprised that you haven't mentioned "Empowered"; seems to me that would be right up your street...

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    1. You like Girl Genius, Hugh? Oh wow! I thought I was the only one. Right then, I'll definitely be reviewing her TPBs.

      Sorry to sound like a total doofus, but I have never heard of "Empowered"! I had to look it up on Google. Now that I'm enlightened, I have to agree with you - it does look like it'll be right up my street.

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