Review: Lightning Strike #2

Almost a decade ago, Irish comic ventures were still as ambitious as today, and saw a nice debut of creators who sadly have seem to all but almost vanished from the comics scene. The publisher Atomic Diner was still in its early days, but with its quality output others had tried following its publishing model. Alongside that, we had independent creators like Bob Byrne bringing his crazy but funny ideas to the fore. With a small pool of published talent at the time, interested Irish creators often teamed up and made anthology works as a quick means to get their stories out there, and thus came comics such as Small Axe, Mbleh!, Naked Lunch and Havoc 21. (I’d produced artwork for the latter publication when I was still in my early days at college.) From the looks of things, the tradition is still continuing today, from experimental and diverse publications like Stray Lines, to the pop culture aspirations of Lightning Strike.

Lighting Strike #2 (my scan)

Lightning Strike #2 (my scan)

Lightning Strike sprung up sometime in 2012 with a team of writers and artists eager to take on a successful anthology format, akin to the five to seven page serials found in the long running 2000AD comics. With a strong campaign and acknowledgement in Irish comic circles, Lightning Strike #1 sold out, and saw its second issue released this year, with plans for a third one ready for sale this summer.

Please note: I am basing this review in that I only own issue #2 and have no prior knowledge of the content of issue #1, with the hope this issue would bring me up to speed on the stories (there are at least ten here).

With such a strong camaraderie behind the project, Lightning Strike ought to be an outstanding example of Irish comics. Instead, the results are a very mixed bag.

One of the problems I faced with publishing Finn & Fish on a yearly basis was to keep it fresh, interesting, and have each story self contained in each small issue until it found its feet. The collection I’d done, The Wash Cycle, is a mish mash of styles and experimentation I’d done with just four comics, but I had sought to tie up loose ends with my first comic in both writing and art during the three years I’d created it.

Lightning Strike #2 is an example of its creators still trying to find their own niche within a short page span, at varying degrees of presentation. There are ten short comics vying for my attention without a fixed genre of ‘tone’ per se (which is always a good thing, but fantasy/sci-fi is a close enough description for now), but the difficulty here is trying to describe them one by one on equal levels, which is something I can’t fairly do. The stories within, in brief, are as follows (again, no prior knowledge of stories continued from issue one):

A Clockwork Universe (writing: Ciaran Marcantonio, art: Cormac Hughes) – Baron Thaddeus Thistlewick Thornbridge III, his assistant Miss Penelope Von Meowinstein and the ghost of his father Lord Claydon Horatio Thornbridge bounce across time and space in this steampunk story. After travelling to Texas in 1892 they intercept a train which has a MacGuffin for the Baron’s Q.U.A.S.A.R. device (a wristband with said time travelling powers) that activates on their arrival. Marcantonio’s writing is interesting but dialogue is dense, leading to some space waste and pacing problems in Hughes’ art as a result of accommodating giant speech bubbles. Smaller, chopped up panels to complement dialogue and move the story along would solve future problems.

Apocalypse Whispers (writing: Scarlett Hopper, art: Peter Mason) – a rather nice short story about homeless people living in some wastelands, relaying their versions of ‘The Legend of Yao’ with varied results and some arguing about who Yao was, what his animal companion actually is and what daring acts of heroism he’s done. The art is distinctive and expressive, and I’d like to see more of this, but the speech bubbles are overly large and glaring.

Bloodless (writer: Richard Evans, art: Robert Carey) – a vigilante (?) called Robert Pierce deals with a hostage situation on a bridge armed with a bow and arrows, a hostage dies just before a spandexed bow-wielder steps in to save everyone, and Pierce is being taken by the Gardaí for questioning. Some of the scenes are quite implausible however (two of the terrorists are felled by Pierce by having multiple arrows shot at them, but at the same time?) which feels like throwaway action.

Monkey of Oz (writer: Liam Browne, art: Daryl Cox) – an very interesting take about one of the Winged Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and his life after the Wicked Witch of the West’s death, which has created some political turmoil. After reliving the hunt in a forest, the Monkey sees some of the Witch’s former soldiers taking some villagers hostage and threatening their lives. Protecting a girl called Petunia, he whoops the soldiers after demanding to see their officer in charge. The concept is interesting, but the art has a couple of grievances – many of the forest backgrounds are drawn at at the same perspective height with little variety. The colouring for these panels are overloaded with texture that does not suit, or need tightening up, with a result that is messy and muddy. These are easily fixable however, and hopefully rectified by the third issue.

Villainous (writer: Pete Hernandez, art: Graham Howard) – three abusive thugs hop on a train and get on the wrong side of a hooded, grinning nameless vigilante. Art looks good, but this is part one of a series so we’ve yet to learn more about the guy to care for him.

Cannon Law (writer: James Looney, art: Robert Carey) – second part of a story that doesn’t tell me much. The protagonist enters a grim church in Tuscany and shoots his armed assailants hiding there. At the end he produces a razor (with ‘OCCAM’ inscribed on the blade) to cut himself and find ‘the most simple of explanations’. This story is an example of not explaining enough within a five page count.

Nightmare Scenario (writer: Stephen Carey, art: Kevin Wheldon) – perhaps my favourite strip in Lightning Strike, it’s about a character called Mr. Night who saves people from their own manifestations during dreams, in this case he rescues a guy called Edward from a sadistic psychologist called Tri-Face. The settings are very random and often colourful in Edward’s dream state as he escapes Tri-Face, and the story itself is solidly told and humourous within the small pagecount. More like this, please.

Relos (writer: Stephen Carey, art: Monty Borror) – the titular knight of this story wields a shield that commands the dead, namely the monsters and enemies he has defeated in battle, but he is trying to return it in the hopes he will get his lover back. The art is very competent and the writing feels genuine in context – both remind me of 70’s era fantasy comics, but Relos is overall a gloomy work that needs more breathing room.

Brian Boru (writer: Richmond Clements, art: Cormac Hughes) – the Irish high king from the Dark Ages battles Vikings on his home turf after they raid a village, and lies in wait to trounce them, leaving a message for their people. Hughes’ layouts are much improved from A Clockwork Universe, but the colouring work is something to be desired, with a lot of nervous brushwork rendering textures such as fur and stone of the same consistency. Clements’ script however is solid, emphasizing Boru’s ‘badassery’ and the seriousness of the situation he dealt with.

Reality Watch (writer: Stephen Carey, art: Robert Carey) – Nate is a reality warping agent with control of matter, but within a short time limit in appropriate situations. He strolls on a beach telling his female companion Hailey about his gifts, the details of his last mission dealing with a violent alien character and defeating him within certain limitations of his powers while being chucked around. Hailey, through expository dialogue is Nate’s best friend, coos at his story and powers, and (possibly) offers Nate sex at the end. Narration aside, Carey’s artwork makes its third appearance in the book, but with strange warping and perspective the panels look as if they’re too closely referenced from a 3D modelling program. While such a technique is completely fine to use for reference, it suffers as a constant crutch, and leaves some of the figures stiff and unnaturally posed at times within an odd camera.

Lightning Strike #2 is not a perfect product. It is indeed ambitious, but feels in places that it’s still shackled by the downsides of independent publishing – it is not printed regularly, the staffers work part time on it, and might need more editing for it to survive in the long term. Some of the stories and art need work and fine tuning in many respects, in order to live up to the hype, and in some cases remove anything that feels very throwaway for people to wait too long for. A mixed bag with some goodies, but right now not something I want to delve back into soon.