Reviewed: Inio Asano, John Allison, Brecht Evens, Sophie Campbell, Samuel C. Williams, Francesca Sanna, Mark Crilley, Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay, Neil Gaiman & Mike Zulli, Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, Nick Spencer & more!
Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens…
“ROOAARR…. Oh! Are you the little girl I heard crying?”
“What’s troubling your heart, my child?”
“Lucy… my kitty… she’s dead.”
“Rooaarr, how dreadful! Was it some kind of automobile?”
“Sniff. No. The vet…”
“Those quacks! I am so sorry… Here, take my handkerchief.”
“Sniff. Who are you?”
“Ah! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland! But you can call me Panther!”
“How did you get into my dresser?”
“Rooaarr! We Panthers go wherever we please!”
“But Pantherland… That’s not a real country, is it?”
“Not a real country? Christine, how dare you?”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you my name.”
Well… this wasn’t what I expected… and yet reflecting back to Brecht’s first work, the now-out-of-print NIGHT ANIMALS, it makes much sense. I was expecting something hilariously farcical akin to his two most recent works, THE WRONG PLACE and THE MAKING OF. This does have a lot of ridiculous humour in places, but there’s a very dark undercurrent here that left me feeling rather unsettled and uneasy upon its conclusion. Which, I should add, will be entirely what Brecht Evens intended.
Casting my mind back to NIGHT ANIMALS, where a young girl suddenly spontaneously matures physically, experiences her first period, and is whisked away from her soft toy strewn bed by the Devil to a wild orgy full of terrifying creatures in a forest, before she vanishes forever inside a strange birdman, there are clearly some parallels here. Askance ones at least.
For whilst the titular Panther may on the surface appear to be a captivating, charismatic, magical creature, who only appears to a young girl called Christine, living alone with just her father, her mother having left for reasons unknown and mourning the recent loss of her dead cat Lucy, by the time you finish this work, you’ll have a hard time not concluding that in fact the Panther is a sexual predator, grooming Christine. You might also find it difficult not to conclude that the Panther is her father… I have on the other hand heard it suggested that this is a story of initial sexual awakening, emergence from adolescence, and the Panther is indeed merely an internal representative figure. Much like NIGHT ANIMALS, then. But, as I say, it’s all very ambiguous, right to the very end…
What isn’t in doubt is that this is another Evens masterpiece, both in terms of storytelling and the art. You will find yourself squirming in your seat as Panther ingratiates himself further into Christine’s life, appearing as he only does in her bedroom, presenting himself as an understanding ear to bend and furry friend to play with. You can always tell, though, that he is being somewhat parsimonious with the truth. When not being downright evasive…
Art-wise, well, wow! The cover is an extremely accurate representation of the kaleidoscopic illustrations you will find within. Already one of the most unique and inventive artists out there, Brecht has taken it to new levels here. What also furthers the discomfort regarding the identity of the Panther is his amorphous features, indeed his entire head, and also sometimes even his body. They are constantly changing, transforming completely, to perfectly fit the moment in terms of expression and emotion, usually to evoke a reaction from Christine, and sometimes slipping quite perturbingly when he knows she can’t see. Occasionally it’s even three or four times within a single illustration in a kind of time lapse movement that’s quite the accomplished visual treat.
Once again Brecht also eschews the need for panel or page borders, indeed even pencils, just getting his watercolours straight down on the page. It adds a certain fairytale quality here in places. Overall, between the psychedelic art and the frenetic, fluid, false showman that is the Panther, there is a real Alice In Wonderland feel to this work. I closed the book feeling disturbed and delighted in equal measure. I have no idea what drove Brecht to write this particular work, but I can’t deny it’s a compellingly cruel story.
Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison…
“Lottie, put that yogurt away.”
“Street yogurt’s the best Shauna, well nang.”
“You’re not even using a spoon? You’re using the lid?”
Hahahaha, I read that page very shortly after a quick lunch on the hoof in Market Square, where upon discovering I hadn’t picked up a disposable spoon for my coconut milk yogurt, I was forced to fashion a makeshift one from the foil lid… It was, indeed, well nang! Not sure what it says about me that the BAD MACHINERY character I seem to have most in common with is Charlotte Grote, though!
So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, all the whilst attempting to crack another confounding case. This time around Sonny is besotted with a mysterious new girl who has just arrived at school, and possibly on land… Mildred, meanwhile, is falling for the charms of bad boy Lee Chaplin, though there’s the slight problem of a not-quite-yet-ex who is ready to fight Mildred to the death for her man! Good job Grandpa Joe is on hand to dispense some pearls of hard-won pensioner wisdom on the subject of romance and ill-advised beachcombing…
“Mildred, if the first thing a lad tells you is a lie, you’ve no reason to ever trust him.”
“But he’s so handsome and strong.”
“Lies are like a flower, the truth’s like a brick.”
“What about you Sonny?”
“I saw a girl swimming in the sea one day. I couldn’t stop dreaming about her. Think she… I think she… turned up at school and sat next to me.”
“You’ve flummoxed him. “Girls who come out of the sea are like… are like a… like…””
“Sonny, listen to me carefully. Did you take anything from the beach?”
“An… unshakeable sense of melancholy?”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of.”
This is British farce at its finest. John sets up verbal punchline after punchline, page after page. I think possibly the episodic nature of BAD MACHINERY’s initial release in webcomic form, one page at a time, has finely honed John’s ability to be able to deliver pugilistic punctuation to world heavyweight championship standards. Not sure if that makes him the Rocky Balboa of British humour comics, but I do know that there are at least three more rounds of BAD MACHINERY material already out there on t’interweb for Oni to collect. Knockout!
What really makes BAD MACHINERY (and John’s university-based GIANT DAYS) such a gleeful pleasure to read, though, over and above the bonkers Scooby Doo-style sleuthery, is it will transport you back in time, to when all you really had to worry about was the sheer terror of working out just how to talk to the object of your erupting adolescent desires without dying of shame, avoiding flailing fisticuffs and torment at the hands of psychotic bullies who are probably now practising corporate law, and coming up with ever more imaginative excuses as to precisely why your homework seemed to have mysteriously not accompanied you to your seat of learning yet again…
John must have an eidetic memory of his formative years, though, because there’s so much I had forgotten about that comes flooding back every time I read BAD MACHINERY. Truly was life ever once so simple but simultaneously so fantastically complicated in such an emotionally jumbled up hormone infused manner? Indeed it was and what a pleasure it is to vicariously read all about it without actually having to go through it all again!
In terms of his art, I continue to marvel at how deceptively simple it looks. He’s refined it to an amazing degree now, it’s so smooth on the eye, yet packed with expression and detail, plus random hilarious visual background gags. (I truly want to believe there is an arcade game called King Beaver in which it is possible to enter Beavergeddon Mode!) It would be fair to say his style has attracted more than a few imitators in recent years, yet they are mere contenders compared to John. Whereas his art feels seamlessly put together, the wannabes are going to need to put in a lot more hours in the illustrative ring before they’re ready to take him on. Cue training montage. Or not.
Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.
He really doesn’t. He doesn’t understand any of it: God, girls, crushes, friendship, promises, life, death by environmental disaster, dreams… Why his father decided to smack his mother into the middle of next week and then blame a burglar… That was particularly flimsy.
He doesn’t understand and it makes him so anxious that he frets and sweats and his little legs go jiggling about, nineteen to the dozen. Also, it renders him mute. He doesn’t say a word directly throughout the entire graphic novel. His friends and relatives tend to interpret how tongue-tied Punpun is coping with the world by asking him questions for him to respond to with vigorous nodding, timorous, alarmed eyes, a hastily beaten retreat or full-on floods of tears.
On the other hand, the world as presented to him is all kinds of crackers.
His melodramatic teacher’s down-with-the kids “Psych!” winks are wince-worthy and his headmaster and principal, also rendered in terrifying detail, appear to be engaged in a Vitally Important if childlike game of hide and seek. In addition, his uncle taught him an infantile rhyme about God in order to bolster the boy’s confidence, but now God appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a gormless, grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out that’s sod-all use to anyone. In any case, his uncle doesn’t even believe in God.
“Dream big, everyone!” commands his teacher. “Because dreams are free!”
He then adds, “But don’t forget to be realistic about your abilities and financial needs. Otherwise you’re in for some serious disappointments in life!”
There’s no shortage of disappointment here, but from this mixed message Punpun draws enough encouragement to write in his homework about studying space, becoming a professor and discovering a planet on which everyone can live once this one’s resources have been drained dry. His inspiration comes from a telescope his Dad won while gambling – a bribe to distract Punpun from the family breakdown in front of him – while his motivation is to impress school newcomer Aiko whose first words to Punpun are “In a few years we’ll run out of oil, the environment will be destroyed and Earth will be uninhabitable” right after “Why are you following me? I’ll call the cops!”
So there’s a right one to develop the most almighty crush on.
The essay would have impressed Aiko, except that at the last minute Punpun must have remembered his teacher’s more cautionary note and baulked, replacing ambition with the mediocrity of “My dream is to work in an average office and have an average family”. Then he ran away.
Did I mention that Punpun is drawn as a sort of cartoon bird-ghost with little stick legs..?
Strangely enough you’ll get used to it quite quickly, but it emphasises Punpun’s timidity, fragility, distance and alienation from the world which baffles him, and the surreality of it all. His entire family’s drawn like that. Perhaps it’s because they’re all living in a shared cloud-cuckoo-land – including his uncle whose eyes behind his glasses on occasion widen from black dots to the photorealistic when shit, as they say, gets real. However much he strives to keep it at bay. (“Whatever! I’m taking a nap! I’m napping!”)
Different things seem real or credible to a kid than to an adult. At one point Aiko declares:
“If you break this promise…
“If you betray me again…
“Next time I’ll kill you.”
And he believes her. It doesn’t dilute his adoration or his desperation to please her, but he fully believes she will kill him. Worse still, he cannot bear to disappoint her and that’s largely what’s running through his mind even when the kids are off to an abandoned miso-making factory in search of corpses and cash as alluded to by a murderer confessing his fratricidal, matricidal and patricidal sins on some doctored porn video-cassette they found in the street.
Sorry…? Which bit about “all kinds of crackers” did you not understand?
From the creator of A GIRL ON THE SHORE, NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, SOLANIN, and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD comes a new series I cannot compare to any of the above, each of Asano’s projects being a marked departure from the last.
In many ways it put me more in mind of SUNNY for, beyond the messed up family, the “Yup yup!” lawyer and Punpun’s internalised infatuation and stress, it’s another astute portrait of how twelve-year-olds operate: how they behave towards each other in a group and behind each other’s backs, their body language on meeting in the street, and even how they sit or kneel on public transport, a sandal dangling loosely from one boy’s foot.
I loved the way some marched from time to time just to heighten the adventure of a journey as you do (or did), and the boys’ expressions when caught with porn by a gang of girls is absolutely priceless!
Shimi, Seki, Komatsu and Harumi are as individualistic as you like. Seki’s family fortunes are connected to those of the miso factory, Shimi’s snot streams as freely as any of the orphans’ in SUNNY, Asano correctly observing that within any group of similarly aged children some will still look older than others. One of the lads – not named as far as I could spot – is drawn, hilariously, with exactly the same expression in every single panel no matter what the context, snake-like eyebrows frowning away, his permanently shocked gap-toothed mouth agape.
As you may have inferred by now like A GIRL ON THE SHORE there is a certain degree of sexual exploration in evidence – albeit entirely solo, but then it’s only the first volume – and like NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH there is a sequence of such protracted terror that I’m still not sure how Asano recovered from it except by deploying some Terry Gilliam collages as absurd as hipster God’s disembodied solo manifestations. It’s a trigger for an extended sequence of flashbacks to things Punpun never understood, particularly his parents’ marital breakdown, culminating in gormless God “looking unusually serious” declaring:
“Humans, as long as they live, have an emptiness inside them that can never be filled. If, no matter how much people need each other and hurt each other, there’s still no such thing as perfect understanding, then what on earth can you believe in? Just kidding – lighten up!”
I have no idea where this is going – to be fair, I’ve no idea where some of this went – but it kept me wide-eyed in wonder at all the traumas, bottom-of-the-same-steps accidents, and complete confusion.
I think as much as anything this is indeed about isolation, for Punpun experiences everything at a remove by dint of his appearance, his reticence and his silence. Every dozen or so pages there’s a single small panel set apart at the far end of a blank page depicting two-dimensional Punpun small and alone in a detailed suburban city scene.
Isolation and family as a disappointment, perhaps – one’s stable refuge proving to be otherwise. There’s a heartbreaking scene against a sunset later on followed by a legal manoeuvre that’s cold. But don’t think that cassette-tape confession is irrelevant, either.
“The suspect further testified, “We argued about work and I lost control and I killed them”.”
Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.
“If you can’t judge a comic by its cover, then it’s not the right cover,” I began ten years ago. “This is the right cover.”
It was a different cover!
“Framed in black, a young, tubby gothstress with a fag in her mouth, looks up uncertainly over her black-rimmed glasses… The cover says GHOST WORLD with piercings and pvc, and that’s pretty much what the contents deliver.”
Do you know what? They still do to a certain extent. That WET MOON developed into something far more chilling in its six volumes (so far) obviously colours a re-read but I saw some of that coming too. I simply failed to spot its simmering source. As, I’m afraid, do the cast.
I like the new cover. It speaks of a more profound melancholy, a deeper malaise than the comparatively fashionable original. This is someone alone with the thoughts while nobody’s watching, rather than someone perhaps being photographed.
The forms inside will become a great deal softer, kinder, plumper, doe-eyed, love-struck and a lot less abrasive and tired over the six books, but that note aside, I’ll leave the original review pretty much as it stood…
Term’s about to kick off for a cast of young college girls, all unsure of themselves and their relationships, most of them awkward.
Audrey – black, pretty and gay – is the exception, but Trilby – pale, freckled, Tank-Girl hair falling over a nose-ring and braces – provides a weighty counterbalance to Audrey by being hideously ugly, both inside and out. It’s not that she’s intent on turning her face into a human curtain rail – so many others are too – it’s that she’s relentlessly and remorselessly selfish, callous, moody, bitchy, and disloyal, dismissing anyone’s misgivings with “Who cares?” and “Whatever” while caring very much that no one walks in her watching Star Trek: Next Generation. She’s so two-faced she can be briefing against a friend five seconds before flashing a smile in their very direction.
Fortunately the focus of this first book (and it does look as if it will be quite the saga) is Trilby’s friend Cleo Lovedrop, the girl on the front who is far more honest and open and therefore vulnerable and seems fascinatingly complex to me. Ross gives her pages and pages of silent panels, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in her head, even though diary pages full of insecurity verging on paranoia are provided, as she stares at the moon, vulnerable and troubled, her hand over her belly. What’s going on when she turns tail in terror each time she bumps into a particular, tall fellow student called Vincent? (Have they had a relationship? a bad meeting? or is she just being weird?)
While working on Antony Johnston’s SPOOKED, Campbell proved she was one of those rare artists who, refreshingly, refrain from making everyone and everything LCD-perfect i.e. bland. It’s obvious she relishes more individualistic body forms. Here, however, she has managed to make some seductive art of it. The lines are far cleaner, the forms bolder and the grey tones reproduce the balmy atmosphere of the bayou. There’s some real subtlety in the expressions, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but I loved the way that it wasn’t until later on I realised that Cleo was so remarkably short.
I mentioned the bayou, and there’s an awful lot of water here, most of it decidedly ominous. As yet I haven’t decided whether the ‘Wet Moon’ in question is the reflection of the lunar sphere on the lapping lakes, or has more to do with the menstrual cycle, mentioned throughout, perhaps tying in with those belly rubs and Vincent.
What I do suspect is that this will end up containing an element of horror, because there’s a brooding Charles Burns something-or-other going on with slack-jawed, drooling residents.
[For the record, that wasn’t where the horror ended up coming from! You could try to cheat by clicking ahead to my reviews of the other volumes but even there you’ll find me tantalisingly evasive.]
At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams…
“Well there definitely things I identified as triggers later on. (Sit!) But I didn’t understand what was happening at the time.”
That was Matt, a former soldier, answering a question from the creator Samuel C. Williams whilst they take a walk in the park together. I should probably add the command to assume a recumbent position wasn’t aimed at Samuel, but Matt’s dog!
Okay, that’s my one jokey aside regarding PTSD, which clearly isn’t a laughing matter for sufferers. This work, the latest in the series of excellent medicinal prescriptions from Singing Dragon publishers, aims to prime people regarding PTSD’s causes and symptoms.
Samuel, as he strolls with Matt, talks us through what the medical profession currently know regarding PTSD. As a member of the military, Matt is clearly amongst the most well known demographic of PTSD sufferers, along with people working in emergency response, but the general public is gradually beginning to realise the causes of PTSD, from both one-off events and also cumulative trauma, and therefore those who can suffer from it, are considerably more widespread and varied than initially appreciated.
As they perambulate along peacefully Matt also gradually takes Samuel though his own diagnosis to the treatment he received and at the same time recounts his own harrowing trauma, plus some unintentionally humorous experiences that occurred at unexpected and inconvenient moments. As someone trained in counter surveillance, Matt would occasionally become convinced a car was following him and his wife whilst out driving, resulting in some awkward instances when he suddenly took a few random turns to try and shake them off! There are only so many times you can pull the old “I’ve just taken a wrong turn, darling…” excuse whilst trying to covertly evade pursuit!
Matt makes the very salient point that his experiences are always going to be with him, so it was necessary to learn how to live with them, and how to manage his PTSD. It’s nice to see there’s been a happy outcome for him and his family, and he rightly pays tribute to his wife for her part in that. Though as we clearly know, that’s sadly not the case for everyone because frequently people are too scared or self-conscious to seek help. Often with ultimately tragic consequences.
I have commented before with Singing Dragon publications that this is exactly the sort of material that should be sat in GPs’ waiting rooms for potential patients to read. It’s far more inviting, and dare I say it, informative, for someone who is already experiencing extreme trepidation about talking to a medical professional, than some glossy prose pamphlet filled with jargon. I think the relatively simple illustration style, just as with Alex Demetris’ DAD’S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE, will work to great advantage in appealing to the non-comic public. These works looks intriguing and most importantly feel like something that is extremely accessible to everyone. They would definitely be picked up and absorbed.
The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.
Much has been made recently about teaching empathy in the classroom – promoting kindness and compassion through understanding. Quite right too, and to further that goal, this has just shot to the top of my list.
It begins on the pristine sands of an enormous, open beach, mother in her modest swimsuit reading away, son exploring the shore and a tiny, tentative fish nearby, father and daughter building sandcastles so ornate that they are indistinguishable from the exotic city close to the sea. Then on the very next page war breaks out, the ocean becoming an enormous black leviathan of chaos and cruelty sweeping lives and all those castles so carefully constructed aside.
“And one day the war took my father.” It is a very stark page.
“Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried.”
The mother envelopes her children, one of whom is weeping, protecting them from the multiple, encroaching, black hands of danger and despair. Drawing a book from their extensive bookcase, the mother she shows her children pictures of “strange cities, strange forests and strange animals”, reassuring them that is a safe place, that they will go there and not be frightened anymore.
“We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.”
Everything. Everyone. Devastating enough but there is much worse to come.
At first they journey under their own steam in the family car, suitcases strapped on top. They still have a certain degree of control over their lives. Almost immediately, however, they find themselves in the back of a man’s van, squeezed between urns of olive oil…
…Then amongst the produce of a fruit seller, with no room for the possessions they have had to jettison along the way. Then, with nothing left, they arrive at the border, its enormous wall, and an angry guard who demands they turn back.
Where? They have nowhere to go.
And it’s here that we come to the pages which most put me in mind of Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD in which Moominmamma is the ultimate mother, reassuring Moomintroll in their journey through the dark forest even when worried herself. The mother has already done plenty of this, of course, proclaiming that their migration will be “a great adventure” and protecting them from the shadowy hands of her own dark fears. It is here, however, at their most vulnerable that the mother surpasses herself and the art comes into its own, entirely at odds with the narrator’s knowledge.
“In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me.”
Once again the mother embraces her children, nestling them in her thick, black hair amongst the forest’s foliage.
“But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.”
“Never scared…”? She is petrified. While they’re awake she meets her children’ wide-eyed gazes; once they’re asleep she cries her eyes out. And there is a long, long way to go yet.
That this is told in the present tense keeps the future uncertain – as it is for this family every step of the way – right up to and beyond the conclusion. This is vital to keep readers walking every exhausting mile in their shoes, and to avoid the falsehood that endings are easily attained. This doesn’t have a “happily ever after”, but it does have the aspiration for one.
It is perfectly pitched.
Equally I wondered for a while whether this book with all its warm colours wasn’t too beautiful, but then I slapped myself for being so silly. Terrifying children out of their tiny minds is no use to anyone, and the beauty and fantasy of this book acts as the mother within, turning it into an adventure which will keep their shiny eyes utterly engrossed while they learn how the other half lives.
Which is obviously where Shaun Tan comes in, and so very often.
Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley.
Big fat, omnibus edition of the little pocketbooks of joy from the creator of all-ages AKIKO and the seasonal MIKI FALLS. This collects all six slimmer black and white volumes and some full-colour short stories which I imagine originally appeared in DARK HORSE PRESENTS, online or otherwise.
It also collects the various annotations which were substantial and will be of enormous use to nascent creators, being considerable and considered process pieces involving the development of certain looks, concepts, characters and confrontations – particularly the confrontations! Vitally Crilley supplies the alternative art which was later ditched in favour of what was finally printed so you can compare and contrast. When you get to it, the observation that rounded corners turned what looked inescapably like a dull function room into a dramatically extended tunnel is spot-on.
There’s a shift in art style since MIKI FALLS (and obviously AKIKO!) for he’s gone all Chynna Clugston on us. The hair is feathery and brightly grey-toned art is crisp as crisp can be. Space, there is aplenty.
Crilley’s always had an epic sense of space and texture, and the dilapidated city – whose sky is snaked with girdered monorails and concrete overpasses that are mossed-over with shops and hoardings – is no exception. There’ll be plenty more where that came from. The equally decrepit Japanese temple is a wonder as well but, apart from that, Crilley keeps the pages free from clutter for maximum action and turning.
Brody is broke. A part-time busker, he’s taken being a slob to a professional extreme. And maybe the hunger’s got to him because after a game of blink with a pretty young lady in the ramen noodle van opposite him, the girl makes her move… right through its roof!
I cannot tell you how well weighted that extended, silent sequence is: immaculate choreography, immaculate timing. It has to be: it’s the entire hook for the following five hundred and fifty + pages. That, and his dumbstruck disbelief and her dumbfounded disappointment that – having waited for over five years – Brody is what she’s been lumbered with.
So it’s match postponed until Brody can pick his jaw off the floor. It may take some time because so far he’s run a mile, and even tried to lock Talia out of a staff room.
“I go through stuff, Brody. I thought we’d established that.”
In some ways the dry disdain put me in mind of Terry Moore, some of whose characters secrete sass through their skin. Add in Talia’s lapsed relationship with the land of the living and RACHEL RISING is a very fine fit.
“Let’s get this over with. I’m Talia. I’ve been dead for about five years now.
“Very depressing story. Don’t make me go into it.
“All you need to know is this.
“I’m locked out of heaven.
“They say I can’t move on to the afterlife until I’ve done, like, a super good deed.”
The mission she has chosen to accept for herself is to identify, track town and stop the Penny Murders serial killer, but for one thing physically disabling someone isn’t so easy when your hands are intangible. That’s where Brody comes in if he can stop freaking out. Not only can do the physical stuff, but he’s evidently something of a psychic given what he’s witnessing right now. And that’s what Talia needs:
“Someone who’s capable of seeing ghosts… hearing ghosts… and talking to ghosts.”
“Obviously we’re still working on the “talking” part.”
With five hundred and fifty pages still to go, what have I failed to fill you in on?
Well, when the truth about the Penny Murders Serial Killer is finally revealed hundreds of pages later – the initial catalyst followed by her or his subsequent (consequent?) motivations – it makes a chilling sort of sick sense.
Talia may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but you try being disembodied for five years and being unable to affect or effect anything. This is her one chance and what she’ll be prepared to put Brody through you will not believe. I can promise you this: she doesn’t bluff.
Also, Brody’s mourning a death of his own – that of his two-year-relationship with Nicole. It’s been over for six months but Brody, like Talia, cannot move on and with Nicole dating again I’m afraid Brody’s in very great danger of making matters worse.
His psychic skills will need honing, hence the haunted Japanese temple, as will his aptitude for combat because he’s just has his ass kicked by a gang’s pet twelve-year-old.
Oh, and his morals will almost certainly need diluting because Talia is lying to his face about many things. Here’s one for a start:
Talia emphatically did not die of leukaemia.
The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.
At Page 45 we have dragons for all from the sublime (IN SEARCH OF LOST DRAGONS) to the ridiculous (ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON) with the hunted and the harried in between. If you despise cockfighting and the setting of mastiffs upon one another, the recently reprinted FOUR EYES will get you proper riled. Poor dragons! It rarely goes well for them, does it?
This is a much more traditional setting for our scaly serpents / ancient wyrms and here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted through the islands to extinction.
But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.
Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.
That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.
Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t “do” opaque is merely a personal preference. As a hardcover this went down a storm.
Heart-warming autobiographical introduction / tribute by Neil Gaiman.
The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli.
And it is most definitely Neil, just as it’s Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane sitting down with him over sushi to recall the events leading up to the strange disappearance of Miss Finch – which was not her real name. No one would believe them if recounted, but recount them Neil does.
It begins when Neil holes himself up in a London hotel to finish off a script that’s been eluding him. No one should have known he was there, but Jonathan Ross has his ways and means and off they all go out to the theatre with Miss Finch, if only to dilute the horror that is Miss Finch – which was not her real name.
That Miss Finch is a horror as becomes immediately apparent when she arrives at Jonathan’s door to his elaborate home. An austere and pedantic bio-geologist, Miss Finch is an abrupt, humourless, supercilious and sanctimonious cow.
What, then, will they as a party make of the pseudo-phantasmagorical freak-show down in the warren of cellars that stretches under the train tracks of London’s rainy night? Is it really a fake? And what becomes of the stone-cold-hearted Miss Finch? It’s quite the transformation.
Neil keeps the tension racked, whilst Zulli (PUMA BLUES COMPLETE SAGA, SANDMAN: THE WAKE etc.) provides rich watercolour art which to begin with is overly busy, but burst out halfway though with cleaner ink lines before the lushest of light in the final tropical jungle scenes.
Oh, and Ross is depicted as a slim Oscar Wilde, which I imagine went down well with the fop!
Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette…
“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”
“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.
So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…
Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.
On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.
No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.
Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.
You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”
It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.
Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.
So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals based on experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.
And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!
“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”
“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”
Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.
Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett.
“The first thing I’d like to tell you is this: you are not bad people.
“I read the same headlines you do. The greed of the one percent. Corporate bailouts, corporate handouts, corporate welfare, Malfeasance. Corruption.
“We’re sure not in the eighties anymore, are we?”
This isn’t the first collection with former Falcon Sam Wilson as Captain America – that was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen’s ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA VO 1: HYDRA ASCENDANT whose review will stand you in good stead for context – but it is a fresh new satirical start.
Gone is the straight white male Steve Rogers who believes that when the chips are down his country will do what’s right; here instead is African American Sam Wilson who just hopes it will because he’s seen it do the opposite so very often.
As America faces a Presidential Election in which Barrack Obama could very easily be replaced by Donald Trump – a disingenuous, racist, corporation-friendly, multi-millionaire fuckwit who wants to wall off Mexico – THIEF OF THIEVES’ and THE FIX’s Nick Spencer throws immigration and that specific border crossing unflinchingly in your face along with post-SNOWDEN whistle-blowing and post-SUPERCRASH continued corporate greed, its complicit media collaborators and political enablers.
If this were British I would have expected Tory darling Sir Philip Green to have made a personal appearance, so direct is this.
We’re back in the boardroom again, with captive audience and socialist Sam Wilson being given a grilling.
“You think you’re helping – with your coddling, your welfare state, your demands for equality.
“Whatever happened to exceptionalism? Whatever happened to rewarding hard work? Instead we punish success!
“Today’s businesses face unfair and oppressive regulation at the hands of an overreaching government. I mean, where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air, anyhow? Sounds to me like free market demand for filtration systems and gas masks.
“Someone has to stand for the job creators and innovators that we’ve bound up in red tape. Someone has to make America marvellous again…
“And I say I’m just the super villain in a snake suit to do it.”
The live media coverage endorsing the Viper and his Serpent Solutions as pro-profit pioneers even as they’re attempting to murder Sam Wilson outside the Stock Exchange as is as outlandish as Grand Theft Auto’s Weasel News. Except of course that Weasel News barely constituted satire: it was Fox news with barely a tweak and by any other name!
Somehow each of the artists manages to keep a straight superheroic face, even on the golf course, but to give you an additional indication of where to place this in the scale of po-faced punch-em’-ups and comedies like HAWKEYE, Sam spends most of his time here on a plane in passenger class sandwiched between two Twitter-obsessed idiots… or as a bipedal wolf, licking plates, scratching fleas and barking territorially at anyone attempting to read the metre.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.
Oh wait, it was a Bank Holiday! Books to follow!
ITEM! Comics! How To Make A Quill Pen by Tom Morgan-Jones. Instructional and hysterical!
Here’s Page 45’s review of Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER written two years earlier. Relieved to read I was on the right tracks!
ITEM! An eye-opening read for anyone interested in this creative industry. ‘Can you illustrate my book?’ Some tips for writers approaching illustrators by Sarah McIntyre is well worth a read before you start sending out unsolicited emails. Illustrators, I feel for you all!
ITEM! STRANGEHAVEN’s Gary Spencer Millidge reviews The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition at the Cartoon Museum open right now and including work by Gary, Nabiel Kanan, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons and – ooh, look! – here’s a map by Hunt Emerson! Fabulous!