Review: Lightning Strike #4

As part of their new reprinting move (Lightning Strike #1 and #2 now come in slightly smaller paperback editions, a more pleasant presentation than the bulky saddle bound ‘cartridge’ paper version of #2 I picked up over a year ago), the fourth anthology from the team at Lightning Strike Comics is in a smaller saddle bound format, and like issue #3 it has chosen to stick to five stories at a time. The smaller five story format seems to be working out for the anthology, as there’s been a bump in quality since the weaker stories have been since edited out (or simply biding their time) – LS #2 was an endless dumb guns-and-action fest in comparison to the excellent range of stories and art that appeared in LS #3.

LS #4 is also aiming for that sweet balance of worthy content and experimentation, and is showing signs of finally earning its own identity in the kinds of stories its devoting time to. This is why having an editor (or editorial team) who understands the vision for a title, and do some quality control for the stories within, is important – editing doesn’t stop at presentation, as a fifth installment of Lightning Strike is already advertised within the pages, so there’s already a promise being kept here.

Lightning Strike 4 (img source: http://www.followingthenerd.com/)

Lightning Strike 4 (img source: http://www.followingthenerd.com/)

Some of #4’s stories are continuations from issue #2, namely Canon Law (which I initially found really confusing and without a lot of context, until this issue finally explains that Canon Law is the lead character’s name), Monkey of Oz, and my personal favourite from that collection, Nightmare ScenarioCustoms also makes a welcome return from Lightning Strike #3, and there is a new science fiction story called A Dame to 1101011 For.

Canon Law (written by James Looney) had an unfortunate placement in Lightning Strike #2: my experience of that anthology was truly soured after, what felt like running a gauntlet through several Dudebros With Guns stories, this truly capped it off with a contextless shootout scene in a church. What this newest installment tells me is that Canon Law is the name of a hired detective, and the title character. (I still haven’t got issue 1, bear with me.) The shootout in issue #2 occurred right after the murder of a priest, so Law travels from Rome to Istanbul via boat and infiltrates a criminal hoi-polloi party dressed in a tuxedo. He recognises some shady characters within this nest of vipers, before being called aside by the security chairman, who has a vital clue for Law regarding the death of the priest – a new violent target is responsible. Law is required to investigate and finish them off so other criminals will stop looking for his blood.

Thankfully Canon Law has some plot to enlighten me this time – art duties have since swapped to newcomer Amrit Birdi, with colours by Eoin Hurrell. The layouts are clear and neat, but more practise could be used on the figure drawing, as facial features tend to shrink and squash when a character tilts their head, with little variance on proportions. The colours are competent but quite dull with very little value range, and yell for some brightness and drama, while all skin tones are alarmingly the same beige-brown colour throughout.

Customs is back! An officer named Talin is responsible for shooting an uncooperative alien at the end of the last episode, and her superior rants at her for losing months of investigative work. Talin, along with the customs officer and her police partner, travels to West Haven Labs to mop up the poisonous seeds’ toxin left behind by the shot alien. Driscoll is still drunk and comatose, with his blue ape superior dunking whiskey on him and telling him to get going to a meeting. Driscoll already has plans to open a new wormhole, while the police crew at the laboratory suddenly find themselves in trouble. The story is cruising along nicely and the colours have vastly improved from the previous issue. Weldon’s art has tightened up greatly, with more detail in characters, backgrounds and layouts.

I’m still not sure what to make of Monkey of Oz. It has an interesting potential but at this point it’s starting to unravel in places. The Monkey and Petunia huddle around a campfire (having tied up the nearby guards, which Monkey has shown some mercy to) before setting off through the woods and up a mountain to shelter in a cave. They are soon chased out when Petunia disturbs a family of rockmen. It cuts to a scene in the Winkie Kingdom where a green hooded flying monkey examines the remains of what could be the Wicked Witch, looking for something.

The lineart has carried over the same problems from last time: the top-third horizon line of trees drawn in every panel to convey Bad Depth is back, and it’s unclean and timidly rendered. There are weak and often overshot layouts, some not focusing on the ‘point’ or moment of a scene – rather than break up the action with closeups for speaking parts and areas of attention, everyone is in a scene at once doing the bit the script tells them to and often rendered in tiny, tiny panels. Oddly enough, Monkey of Oz has no sound effects, which renders action scenes in a void of miming. The colouring has changed up a notch, but like with Canon Law it needs a more refined palette.

Petunia seems like an infantile and utterly witless character despite her trauma – even though she is drawn as a fifteen year old young woman, it feels like no one has decided how to present her with this clash in dialogue and visuals. In one saccharine but weird scene, Monkey has to cuddle her to sleep. Monkey is shown as a Noble Demon type, always ready to atone for his past actions, but a combination of all this is making Monkey of Oz pretty blinkered and boring in comparison to how the other stories have grown and spread their wings. As a spinoff, Wicked it ain’t.

Nightmare Scenario has matured outright: rather than another madcap scenario, Mr. Right comes to the rescue of a woman with a broken self esteem and battles a mirror themed ghoul or Tormentor in a corridor of mirrors. There’s very brief glimpses into Mr. Night’s past, however this episode of Nightmare Scenario is actually deep and nightmarish in the end, with whatever the hell is hiding behind Mr. Night’s shades and how ‘it’ can bend dreams to his will.

A Dame to 1101011 For opens with a fugitive called Bella on the run from the authorities in a neon cyborg future. Her lover Quinn makes his last stand as she flees, both evading and battling the police force of The C.O.R.T.E.X., a totalitarian state that keeps the part-cyborg population electronically in check. Bella is on a mission to bring The C.O.R.T.E.X. down, with a surprising incentive. The story seems interesting enough to continue following, plus the limited neon palette for the art really does work wonders for the genre and tone. The colours are rendered in a very soft airbrush style, whereas a more solid anime style cel shaded look would truly lift the setting into a neat 1984/Blade Runner homage.

Lightning Strike is still on a good road. It’s focusing on a broader range of stories to tell, and it’s more evident since the extra strips were cut out. It’s got a bit to go before it totally works out its flaws, and the number of female contributors to the anthology have swiftly dropped to one, a sole letterer for many of the stories. Since LS is proving itself having more to offer than ‘more shoot, too much think’ stories with male leads, surely an incentive could be made to broaden the demographic of not just the readers but also its staff members too, as the anthology is slowly getting stronger in quality and showcasing broader talents.