Ceej Says… Amazing & Fantastic Tales #3 review

10334359_10204143778904072_8588533313518057072_nCreators: Jim Alexander, John McShane, Lynsey May, Fin Cramb, Luke Cooper, Glenn Fleming, Graeme McLeod

Amazing & Fantastic Tales is an anthology of short comic strips and prose stories from the fine folks at Planet Jimbot, and features a mixture of stand-alone stories and continuing, serialised tales. This third issue features five individual stories of varying length and subject matter, but in spite of the wide variety of genres and styles on display, the book manages to avoid coming across as disjointed or erratic.

The first story, “Kroom” by Jim Alexander and Glenn Fleming, is a three-page comic strip which has also opened each of the preceding two issues, and I’m afraid to say, it just isn’t grabbing me. There’s clearly an interesting story to be told here, a tale of a trans-dimensional adventurer with a hidden agenda, but unfortunately, the chapters are so brief and condensed that it’s difficult for the story to gain much in the way of traction before the page count runs out and we’re left wondering what exactly just happened. I’m sure this premise would work well in its own comic, but within the confines of the anthology format, I’m sad to say that it just didn’t work for me.

However, things rapidly take a turn for the amazing (and indeed the fantastic), with the second story, “The Last Posse” by Jim Alexander.  Undoubtedly my personal highlight of the first two issues, that trend continues here as part three of this ‘Western-with-a-twist’ steals the show yet again.  Alexander has done a great job of building things up slowly to this point, introducing all these instantly recognisable Western icons (Wyatt Earp, The Cisco Kid, Belle Starr, etc.) but doing it in such an inventive way while thrusting them into a truly unpredictable situation.  After three chapters of this prose tale, I can honestly say I have literally no idea where the story is heading, but all I know is that I’ve been completely and utterly drawn in my the storytelling and characterisation, and find myself simply needing to know what happens next.  A complement for the episodic storytelling medium if ever there was one.

Up next, we have “Love and Asbestos“, a charming one-page comic strip from Jim Alexander and the fantastic Will Pickering that toys with our preconceptions in a way that I can’t really say much about without spoiling, sadly. Pickering’s straightforward artwork here is all about the expression of the main character, and in that respect, he sells the self-contained story perfectly.

And, after this smile-raising palate cleanser, we dive right back into the next course with “Paradise Lost” by John McShane. Following on from McShane’s ‘Flat Champagne’ in A&FT #2, this beautifully written chunk of sci-f prose takes a wonderfully inventive look at Milton’s most famous work, transferring it into the realms of space exploration and doing so in a brilliantly ‘meta’ fashion. Like Alexander, McShane displays a strong gift for characterisation and dry humour, and the intelligence of the ‘tale within a tale’ is difficult not to get a kick out of. Also, it bears mentioning that while it’s unusual to see written prose short stories within a quote-unquote “comic book anthology”, the decision actually works extremely well here in breaking up the narrative style and providing something truly different to the (seemingly endless) parade of anthologies that seem to to be hitting the shelves in recent months.

The Bounty Hunter” by Luke Cooper is a terrific showcase of everything that is unique and eye-catching about Cooper’s artistic style.  His minimalist, ‘art deco’ approach works perfectly in this short, five-page comic strip, and his clear affection for the supernatural (as displayed in his previous work such as The Dark Gospel and Hollow Girl) really comes to the fore here as he tells the tale of a Bounty Hunter who may not be quite what she appears.

And finally, as an epilogue of sorts, we have chapter three of “The Roustabout” from Lynsey May & Fin Cramb.  A dark, disorienting tale that has managed to surprise me in each of its one-page chapters so far, this installment ramps up both the action and the atmosphere, and features an ominous ending that – I hope – will be followed up on in the issues to come.

Overall, there’s some truly great stuff in this issue of the anthology, although I’d firmly advise picking up the previous two issues before reading this one in order to get the full effect of the ongoing stories.  The prose portions definitely eclipse the illustrated work, although any book that includes Luke Cooper’s artwork is definitely worth a few quid in my opinion.  Managing to flow smoothly while using such disparate styles and genres is an accomplishment in itself, and I truly applaud such a creative take on the ‘anthology’ format.  A showcase of all that’s great about the Planet Jimbot stable of creators, and one that’s definitely well worth a look.

You can pick up this issue for just £3.50 including delivery, or – as I’d highly recommend – grab all three issues for just £9.  Simply drop Jim Alexander an email for more information.

The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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