I was recently posted a copy of James Hereth, Rhonda Smiley, Kev Hopgood, Charlie Kirchoff's graphic novel BLOWBACK to review.
For starters the concept behind the book is inspired. A team of US Marines fall into a wormhole and fight pirates in the American Revolution against a "Punk My Ride" style British navy destroyer from World War Two. If that doesn't immediate grab your attention then there is something wrong with you. It sounds to me like a perfect movie pitch for Disney to replace The Pirates of Caribbean franchise (and given the issues surrounding the future of that franchise) I think they really should.
Without giving anything away I would say the storyline is quite high concept, but with plenty of battles with fully loaded muskets at high seas and on land action fans will not feel let down at all. Blowback feels feel like it really ought to have been presented within the pages of 2000AD because it is that good.
Beyond James Hereth and Rhonda Smiley's considered story and lively dialogue what makes the book utterly engaging is Kev Hopgood's artwork and lettering. It must be said that Hopgood's lettering is pitch perfect. It often helps with storytelling if the artist can direct the reader's eyes for the writers' dialogue. On this occasion I can state without a doubt that Hopgood was unquestionably successful.
With Kev Hopgood's pencils and inks the whole endeavour has a terrific retro feel about it. The glorious pages that are so expertly coloured by Charlie Kirchoff's hands are truly reminiscent of the early Action Force Comics of the 1980s. To make such a statement is to praise the title indeed. Comics like this have long been missed as a part of the UK marketplace and it is no surprise Blowback has won a small handful of awards already.
Blowback is actually a little hard to categorize. If it was a movie it would be rated as a 15 I suspect. There is some slight nudity and some mild language that is entirely appropriate for characters that are Marines. To the title's credit there is no gore or blatant bloodshed on display.
I would argue that this is precisely the type of publication that the comic industry needs right now. It is rare to find a comic that is ideal to give to children, but also treats them like an adult. Threading that fine line between making a project not too overly complex and yet not juvenile in its simplicity is not an easy task.
The comic industry truly needs to attract new and younger fans. 2000AD have attempted this with their Regened stories of Judge Dredd etc but the efforts put on display here with Blowback are more effective and I would say it precisely pinpoints how very awkward that very tricky formula can be to perfect.
Another aspect of Hereth and Smiley's balanced writing is how they gently touch upon some of the gender politics, and the obvious issues of slavery, that were significant for the era they cover. By deploying a light touch with these subjects, without becoming overtly "preachy" with their dialogue, the two writers don't distract for terribly long from the main storyline. With that said it is clear both writers recognising those issues and it was clearly important to them both.
The production values of the book and the choice of paper stock make flicking through the pages enjoyable and offer a robust finished product that could easily fit on the shelves of any library in the UK or America for children and teenagers to experience their first taste of comics and crucially why comics really are superior to computer games, Youtube and other such distractions.
I would also like to point out that Blowback is reasonably priced and available on Amazon. If you read at an average rate and take the time to appreciate the sublime artwork on display it is a perfect read for a one hour train or bus journey. The only problem is you may require a return ticket to read it again.
I am giving this comic 5 out of 5 stars. If I had one problem with meeting all the characters reading the story would be that I'll rather miss them. I hope there might be a sequel in the works at some stage.