Ted Rall explores American surveillance and whistleblower Edward Snowden, there are top-notch superheroes too, but we open with a wealth of All-Ages brilliance including new Craig Thompson, Adam Murphy and the latest Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntryre triumph, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH!
Space Dumplins (£10-99, Scholastic) by Craig Thompson…
You have to admire Craig Thompson for, much like Bryan Talbot, he is a man who’s not remotely afraid to tackle something completely different for each project rather than ploughing the same, albeit highly successful award-winning furrows. It’s difficult to think of five more disparate works from the same creator than GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE, BLANKETS, CARNET DE VOYAGE, HABIBI and now SPACE DUMPLINS. One could easily imagine that if he told his agents his next work was going to be a gore-filled slasher horror they’d probably just say, “Okay Craig, sounds great, same terms, alright?”
This is a perfect example of how to do a gripping all-ages read. Whilst on one level, for the younger kids, it’s the madcap adventures of plucky Violet Marlocke, searching the galaxy for her missing father who’s been swallowed by a planet-eating whale, on other levels there is much social commentary and satire about the ills of modern society for adults to digest.
Particularly the snobbery of those, adults and kids alike, who think they are a cut above Violet and her hard-working parents, who despite their best efforts are constantly struggling financially and battling against a system that seems determined to keep them in their place. Which is on a battered old space ship moored up in the equivalent of a trailer park. Well away from the gleaming space stations with all the luxury mod cons which the hoi polloi can’t even board without a work permit, and even then only allows them day visitor status. But also environmentally, as the colloidal collection of space stations and asteroids, inhabited by more kinds of aliens than you’d see in an entire series of Star Trek, are coming under attack from space-whale diarrhoea which has already flooded eighty percent of the asteroid belts, destroying the homes of many poor species and rendering the areas uninhabitable…
Happily for Violet, her dad is proving far less digestible to the blubbery behemoth in question so a happy ending is assured, but not before Violet and her collection of odd-ball cohorts, all social outcasts in their own ways, have several perilous escapades en route to rescuing him! It’s not often you come across something, for kids, all ages or adults alone where the secondary and even tertiary characters and their machinations and motivations are so well fleshed out. I lauded THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN for just such depth of characterisation and this is exactly the same. The rich, vibrant storytelling is a delight to immerse yourself in. And this is before we’ve even got onto the art!
For this to my mind is just as much of an artistic masterpiece as HABIBI. There is not a millimetre of space wasted. For example, the backgrounds on space station are filled with gantries, walkways, airlocks, random aliens of every shape and size! In terms of panel composition and some of the crazy tricks he pulls, it is just as sophisticated as HABIBI, but then why should we expect anything less just because it’s a comedy / fantasy all-ages graphic novel? What comes across so strongly is just how much Craig must love drawing, because the sense of fun and glee apparent in practically every panel is, again, a pleasure to observe. You could not put as much effort into your illustrations as this if you weren’t having a blast drawing them. If all kids’ graphic novels were as brilliant as SPACE DUMPLINS, the term “reluctant reader” wouldn’t even exist.
Pugs Of The Frozen North (£8-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre.
Young Sika knows the Night of the Seawigs is real because she’s almost certainly read this Team Supreme’s award-winning OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, that Richard Attenborough-style natural history documentary on the migratory lives of the Rambling Isles and the Night of the Seawigs itself. You couldn’t make it up – though they have.
Effortlessly inventive – like Reeve’s and McIntyre’s CAKES IN SPACE – it has a lovely lilt to its language fully integrated into sweeping landscapes of sneaky Sea Monkeys, sarcastic seaweed and semi-sentient islands with a penchant for beautifying their barnets with shipwrecks and submarines then entering annual competitions to see who brings the best bling.
The competition is equally fierce here and the imagination brought to bear on the book no less thrilling. For if you thought that the Arctic was a vast expanse of featureless, flat ice, oh no! This is a True Winter in which waves flash-freeze in a second and Sarah had created the most luminous icescapes out of giant, white, jagged and crystalline shards juxtaposed against backdrops of majestic, sweeping curves and aquamarines which manage to be both warm and sub-zero at once. It’s like the most modern, outdoor cathedral!
Likewise I swear you have seen nothing like this particular Icicle Palace which lies at the heart of the book and competition, but I’m not about to spoil the surprise. If you’re imagining traditionally pointed spires or castellated walls or really walls or any sort at all, you are going to be out-invented. This is the land of the Northern Lights, remember, so light plays a significant part in its aspect. And in any case truly magical monuments don’t conform to mundane laws of physics.
We’ll encounter the Yetis later on (as will Shen and Sika!) but McIntyre’s monsters are always amazing, and when her Kraken awakes chaos is unleashed. Its eyes glare up from beneath the frigid depths as tentacles thrash across the page, tossing the yip-yapping sixty-six pugs this way and that as they gamely chomp down on its octopoid extremities.
I think I need to pull back.
Cabin-boy Shen is abandoned in the Arctic by his captain when his ship, Lucky Star, proves unequal to its name by becoming frozen in the North. He’s left on the ice with its cargo of sixty-six pugs and a package of pullovers whose sleeves Shen snips off to slip over the excitable pooches like body muffs.
Without food or shelter their prospects look ever so bleak, but somehow they make it to the ‘Po Of Ice’ outpost whose sign is missing an ‘s’ next to a ‘t’ then an ‘f’. It is a very convenient store, just like all our own used to be. (Ooh, countryside politics!)
There he finds Sika living with her Mum and her ancient, bed-ridden Grandpa who once knew a True Winter just like this. They only come round once in a lifetime and when they do they catalyse a now legendary race to the North Pole where materialises a magical Icicle Palace with its kindly Snowfather granting the contest’s winner their heart’s desire.
Sika’s grandfather took part in the last one and came back with a treasure trove of stories, but unfortunately he didn’t come first and he’s not fit to ride again. So now it’s up to Sika and Shen, her grandfather’s whalebone sledge and their sixty-six yip-yipping pugs. If Sika wins she would wish her Grandpa another lifetime. Shen’s not sure what he wants because he’s never had anything to call his own – not even a family. He was discovered, lost at sea, in an upturned umbrella. It could only have been worse if it had been a handbag, buoyancy factor zero.
So what of their competition? It’s high-tech, low-tech and downright dastardly, but some are more kindly than others.
Take Helga Hammerfest with her two pet polar bears, Snowdrop and Slushpuppy. That’s some serious, indigenous pulling power for you! She’s grown a beard just to keep warm and that’s seems admirably practical to me. Our tongue-poking pugs will be grateful now and then. Awwww!
You’ve already met Professor Shackleton Jones whose faithful assistant and robot SNOBOT are pulled in his slick, sleek, scientifically sourced sledge by a crew of equally inorganic Woof-O-Tron 2000s. Then there’s Mitzi Von Primm with her pack of four pink-dyed poodles who reminded me of Penelope Pitstop. Those poor poodles are so embarrassed!
There are many more besides, but the Arctic is a land so freezing that if you twirl your Machiavellian moustache it’s likely to snap off in your fingers. That’s precisely what happens to wicked Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling, so determined to win this Wackiest of Races that he comes off like Dick Dastardly. How low will he go? So low!
Reeve as ever brings his natural, lateral thinking to bear for it’s not just Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling’s moustache that feels the polar pinch:
“The night grew so cold that pieces of the Northern Lights froze and fell out of the sky. They lay strewn about on the ice, glowing gently.”
Of course they did! And you know how they say that Inuits have 52 different words for snow and ice? (They don’t.) Here Sika and Shen discover 50 different sorts of snow!
“They crossed patches of blindsnow and patches of echosnow. They plunged through warbling drifts of songsnow and screaming mounds of screechsnow. They crossed a broad, rolling plain of slumbersnow, which snored and mumbled and farted like someone asleep under a huge white eiderdown.”
Brilliant! Why not make your own snow up? I vote for nosnow in which a consonant is swapped and instead of turning up for work on time I lie peacefully home in bed.
There’ll be werensnow, smelly stinksnow and THERE WILL BE YETIS!
Yetis play a big, big, big, big part in this book! I don’t want to give too much away but once again McIntyre excels herself by ensuring that each Yeti is an individual with different hair styles, banded beards, headgear and waistcoats. There may be a good reason why!
Reeve’s even written them a song for you to sing along to, and I’ve already composed my own tune and rhythm. This is a book that demands to be read aloud at night to children – there are so many different voices to do!
Oh, but this has a big heart of gold and a finale that’s far from obvious which draws on much that has been so subtly introduced along the way. I leave you with this; infer what you will.
“All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born.”
P.S. This year Sarah McIntyre has been campaigning for illustrators to receive their rightful credits within the books and on their covers, but also in databases which retailers use to gauge potential sales when ordering etc.. Shamefully so often only the writer is credited. On Twitter Sarah (@jabberworks) has been using the hashtage #PicturesMeanBusiness. In PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH Reeve and McIntyre have come up with the perfect template for others to adopt which shows their mutual respect and reflects their equal contribution. I thought it worth reproducing here.
There’s much more from Sarah in the News section below!
Little Robot (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Ben Hatke.
Two panels later, it isn’t.
From the creator of the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy, a book of newfound friendship for a slightly younger audience which touches briefly on identity and belonging and comes with one moment of quite unexpected, jealous betrayal which is echoed towards the end with a much more sanguine outcome.
Both worked for me. I think the possessive jealously will be widely recognised and we’re none of us above making mistakes. I foresee this as a graphic novel being read together and wondered at by families, perhaps discussing what’s happening for the first twenty pages are silent and quite a lot too later on.
There’s some spectacular lighting for both midday and night and one double-page spread at sunset seen across a small, leaf-lined lake which lets so much light through that it’s surely executed either in coloured inks or very wet watercolours indeed. We’ll come back to the cracking design work for the robots in a bit. Oh, our titular Little Robot is far from alone, I promise you!
It begins late one crescent-mooned night with traffic speeding across a bridge for a city. A lorry loses a box which tumbles out of its back and into the river below. It’s discovered way downstream the next morning by a young girl who’s cautious but ever so curious and a dab hand with her back-slung tool kit. That will come in very handy indeed later on!
In it is she finds a metal object which at first resembles a giant silver yoyo, but on a press of a button on top of its bonce expands into a wobbly-legged, cylindrical, two-eyed, bipedal robot. Initially frightened, the young girl can see that it’s struggling, floundering on its back with its legs in the air like a beetle. Instinctively she breaks cover to help.
“That’s it,” she says supporting new friend like a crutch. “One step at a time.”
Interlude: meanwhile back at a factory so automated it might even have conceivably been built by robots – there’s not a human in sight – an alarm goes off.
“Missing Unit 00012. Locate and recover.”
The robot dispatched looks a lot less human and a lot less friendly.
Although a bright, clean yellow it has an angrily red Cyclops eye over which frowns a black triangle pointing down; it scuttles slowly out on six, segmented, scorpion-like legs, boasts two sharp, pincered claws, a weaponised bum and a big, broad, flat mouth you could easily fit a little robot into.
“ZOM!” it will say, and that’s not a sound to make you feel safe, is it? Sensors running, it picks up speed in search of its prey…
Oh, it’s all been very well thought through, including other elements which immediately flash danger signs like a chain-link fence which you’ve always been told you’re not supposed to go past or through trampled into the ground, its boundary breached.
There are many more robots to come, huge battle action, rain, lightning and learning curves.
Corpse Talk Season 2 (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy.
“This week, one of history’s feistiest fighting females! It’s the Tudor Tigress, the lean, mean Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I!
“Elizabeth, you might be the world record holder for the most insane family drama of all time!”
Our cadaver-questioning host then catalogues what is probably the most insane family drama of all time by hailing two Marys (sister and cousin) a furious father bent on beheading (Henry VIII – amongst those on the chopping block, Liz’s own mum), family fights over the throne, further bumpings-off and finally Philip II of Spain, former husband to her dead sister, asking for Betty’s hand in marriage and not taking rejection too well. Most young men would have slunk off sheepishly and ordered in pizza. Philip II ordered out the Spanish bloody Armada!
“First we blasted them with cannons! Then we sailed shops of fire into them! Then God got in on the action, and stormed them to death! Don’t mess with The Bess – she gon’ open up a can of whoop-ass!”
Was history ever this energetic?! I love how Adam Murphy introduces his victims (well, they’re all dead) like Kermit The Frog or potential pugilists in a boxing ring. He does give some of them what-for, mocking Guy Fawkes’ chronic incompetence like nobody’s business.
I wasn’t going to review this purely because with the best will in the world I can’t review multiple volumes and every single series and sales of CORPSE TALK SEASON 1 have been so spectacular here that this will be snapped off our shelves as fast as we can stock them. Then I made the mistake of reading at random the headstone-like headlines of a couple of these corpses and couldn’t put it down.
There’s an annotated poster postscript to Queen Elizabeth I’s interview which is equally riotous, revealing the domino effect which began with smallpox and was escalated by her decision to cover up the scars with her trademark, trowelled-on white slap which contained poisonous lead which robbed her of her hair and possibly even her life. Who knew that she wore a dress embroidered with fantastical sea monsters to declare that she ruled the waves? (Those sea monsters are worthy of fellow PHOENIX funster Gary Northfield, by the way.) There’s also a fab Fire Of London double-page spread.
Please see my review of CORPSE TALK SEASON 1 for a more detailed exhumation of this grave old world, but let me remind you of this: like Simon Schama, Adam Murphy – with arms admittedly more flailing; oh dear me, but the exuberant cartooning is exquisite – proves that history isn’t inherently dull. It’s only tarnished by those already worn out themselves.
Don’t think it’s dumbed-down, either. Entertainment and accuracy aren’t incompatible, and high scores are always achieved by getting straight to the points. The amount of information Murphy can cram into two comicbook pages with unerring coherence (not just eloquence, but by joining up the thematic dots) is masterful and provides a vivid snapshot of at least one aspect of these celebrities who have long ceased to be.
Also this volume: Laurel & Hardy, Sir Christopher Wren, Pocahontas, Billy Shakespeare, Vlad The Impaler, Henri Matisse, Oliver Cromwell and Maria Sibylla Merian. Who? Well, that’s part of the point. Let’s keep these living legends alive! Umm…
Nimona s/c (£9-99, Harper Collins) by Noelle Stevenson…
“Video games are a waste of time.”
“And board games aren’t? Why do you even have these? No one lives here but you!”
“I used to have some henchmen. Game night was a big hit.”
“Henchmen? What happened to them?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Available again at last! The first edition disappeared out of print practically before it had even hit the shelves back in May, such was the advance buzz surrounding this work by the co-creator of the LUMBERJANES. In the interim whilst we’ve been waiting for the second printing, it’s been announced that 20th Century Fox are going to make an animated version. Which doesn’t surprise me at all because when I read it, I was immediately struck by how wonderfully daft it was, in the exact same vein of bonkers as the ADVENTURE TIME cartoon.
The titular character Nimona is a brash young shapeshifter who’s desperately trying to impress – and thus become the sidekick of – the not-so-dastardly Lord Ballister Blackheart. He’s the boo-hiss villain of the piece, seemingly at irreconcilable odds with his one-time best friend turned arch-nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. But is anything or anyone what it seems in this crazy, mediaeval town?! No, in a word.
The Institution would have everyone believe that Ballister is evil personified, but actually he seems a rather misunderstood knight turned mad scientist, with a soft spot for his young wannabe charge. He’s not convinced he needs or even wants a teen henchperson, but gradually Nimone’s infectious personality and prodigious polymorphic powers, handy for implementing many a mischievous masterplan and performing those vital in-the-nick-of-time rescues, begin to win him round. By the time he learns the sad secret behind Nimona’s abilities and those dark, dirty secrets of the Institution he’s already three-quarters of the way down the road to knightly redemption!
This is possibly one of the best comedy fantasy graphic novels I have ever read, the intricate, witty storytelling is just wonderful. It is real heart-warming stuff too, as we quickly work out Lord Ballister’s been framed and cast in the role of public enemy number one by the devious Institution for their own nefarious spin-doctoring ends. Don’t fret, though, they’ll get their justly come-uppance in a truly riotous finale.
Great artwork too from Noelle, who’s clearly as talented an artist as she is a writer. She’s like a neat and tidy Kate Beaton, if that makes any sense!
Snowden (£12-99, Seven Stories) by Ted Rall…
“In [George Orwell’s] 1984 the telescreen could never be turned off. The NSA brought that dystopia to life. The agency can use your smartphone to track your movements and listen to conversations in your home, even if your phone is powered down to ‘off’. Program name: Captivated Audience.”
Just digest that fact for a moment. You can be monitored inside your own house, in fact anywhere, by the security services using your own phone, even whilst it is completely turned off…
But surely, they aren’t doing this to everyone, right? So it doesn’t matter, it’s just an extremely useful tool in the war on terror.
“A program called ‘Mystic’ records 100% of the audio content of phone calls in some countries. Some say it captures 80% of U.S. calls as well. NSA programs called ‘Blarney’, ‘Fairview’, ‘Oakstar’, ‘Lithium’ and ‘Stormbrew’ can intercept and store 75% of all internet traffic in the US: e-mail, text messages, web browsing, app activity, voice over internet phone calls, online banking, video.” In fact the NSA also “intercepts and stores 99% of the metadata (number called from, number called to, duration of call, location of caller, and recipient) of Americans’ phone calls.”
Hmm… you can begin to see why people might be mildly perturbed by this information, the NSA being authorised by its charter to spy on people only overseas, but not domestically. That is in fact illegal without the expressed permission of a judge. And yet it is still happening. And let us not kid ourselves that this isn’t going on in the UK, to the same extent, by our security services too. Of course it is.
So, why did Edward Snowden choose to whistleblow (or betray his country, depending on your perspective)? He had from the outside a fairly idyllic life living in Hawaii with an extremely well paid job, an attractive girlfriend. Why did he decide that he needed to inform the people of what the US government was doing?
This is an excellent, insightful piece of graphic journalism, piecing together the Edward Snowden story from the beginning and simply presenting the facts, much like Darryl Cunningham’s SUPERCRASH did with the global financial crisis. It opens with a few pages recounting the fictional totalitarian world that George Orwell created in 1984, the degree of surveillance that population was subject to, and then invites us to draw the comparison with what the US security services are up to now. It’s extremely unsettling that the fiction Orwell created can now be held up as a near perfect allegory to what is occurring today.
Ted Rall (SILK ROAD TO RUIN) forensically examines the early life and upbringing of Edward Snowden searching for the clues as to what made him different from virtually every other employee or contractor of the US security services. Why was he prepared to throw away his perfect life when all the others were content to simply carry on being cogs in the machine? Especially knowing as he did that whistleblowing and working within the system to achieve change wasn’t a serious option, because those who had tried to do so in recent US political history were inevitably destroyed by the system.
So, if he was really determined to reveal the truth, it would then leave him no option but to go on the run and spend the rest of his life as an outcast. Even now, his asylum status in Russia is anything but certain and could be revoked at any moment. If he ever does end up back in the US, lifelong imprisonment with little chance of parole would be extremely likely. So why do it? What in his makeup or upbringing made Edward Snowden take such a momentous, life-changing decision?
Ted Rall does an extremely good job of trying to answer that question, painting a portrait of a good and honest man tormented by what he has learned. I find myself wondering whether I would have had his courage were I in the same position. It is undoubtedly true that the world needs people like Edward Snowden, who are prepared to stand up and be counted, and make those impossible decisions. How much difference his sacrifice will ultimately make is debatable. The cynic in me suspects none at all, but still, I’m glad he did what he did.
I think we do have a right to know what our governments are doing. I do accept there are specific facts that need to be kept secret, but not the means and mechanisms and reach of their surveillance capabilities, not when it affects us so directly. Undoubtedly every government’s response to that would be, “Well if you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s the problem?” I think I’ll leave the last word to Ted on that, who towards the conclusion of the book posits an extremely interesting observation that shows just how radically different people’s perception of Edward Snowden and – to some degree, by extension – the United States government, both from an international and domestic perspective, can be…
“Where you stand on Snowden tends to be linked to how much you trust the government. If you see the U.S. Government as a flawed institution that employs patriotic people trying to do their best to keep the country safe and strong, you’re likely to take politicians at their word when they say they don’t abuse their power, that their surveillance targets are all terrorists.
“If on the other hand, you see the United States as a militaristic empire out to conquer most of the world and dominate the rest, defined by a long history of genocide, systemic racism, and ruthless suppression of dissent, then you probably think that the government can’t be trusted.”
C.O.W.L. vol 2: The Greater Good s/c (£10-99, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis.
Just remember as you read this that Geoffrey Warner said that.
Every time I think I’m done with superheroes along comes something genuinely fresh and thrilling like JUPITER’S LEGACY and, yes, I rank this right alongside Mark Millar.
Usually it has to involve politics for me, like Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris’ EX MACHINA but whereas that’s as contemporary as it’s possible to be, this, set in the 1960s, has a deliciously period feel complete with wallpaper designs, carpets, dining-room decor and those Eero Aarnio-designed Ball Chairs. Even the lipsticks are pale.
In C.O.W.L. VOL 1 I made much of the Bill Sienkiewizc-inspired art with its pale palette. I love the way Rod Reis uses circles to denote points of pain like a sprained or broken ankle but here he does something I’ve never seen done before except as a brief break-the-fourth-wall gag.
There’s a nasty, contemptuous masked man called Doppler whose preternatural ability is to manipulate sound: to divert, rework and amplify it. This is represented on the page as the curve of someone’s scream being redirected so that the sound effect clobbers someone upside the head. Or, on another page, when a hostage shouts “Oh thank GOD!” Doppler grabs the giant ‘D’ out of the speech balloon and whacks his assailant across the face with it. Purely representational because it’s actually the sonic boom that’s done that, but it’s all the cleverer for it.
As to the politics, they’re city-hall, Mayor-level and if you want a comparison point it’s very much TV’s ‘The Wire’. In fact, if you’re bored with the corporate-superhero machinations of Marvel and DC, well, this is about the machinations of a superhero corporation called C.O.W.L.. Only it’s not a publisher; it’s a private, professional, for-profit law enforcement agency run by a master manipulator Geoffrey Warner whose unpowered detectives and powered patrolmen and women don’t even own their code names. They’re very much employees just as C.O.W.L. itself is employed by the city of Chicago.
Or rather, it was. As the second volume opens, C.O.W.L.’s contact is up for renewal but the Mayor’s playing hardball because there are no more super-powered villains to protect Chicago from: by one means or another C.O.W.L. has contained them all, effectively succeeding itself out of a job.
As the negotiations stall C.O.W.L. goes on strike. But the problem with striking is that the public has got to miss you. People have to notice that their lives are worse off without you. For Geoffrey Warner losing that contract is not an option. So he’s gone and done the unthinkable.
This wouldn’t work if the C.O.W.L. employees weren’t individuals first and foremost, some with families, all with different perspectives on what’s right and wrong. Some are more complicit than others. Unpowered detective John Pierce of its Investigations Division has already been murdered leaving a wife behind, and a behind-the-scenes cover-up and misdirection is already in full swing.
Some are prepared to break the picket line in order do the job they’re on the verge of losing which only weakens Warner’s hand and so potentially work themselves even further out of a job.
It’s so well observed, Higgins and Siegel having paid very close attention to when teachers and particularly firemen go on strike. It is riddled with complex manoeuvres and just when you think Geoffrey Warner’s run out of options, oh but he’s a devious, quick-witted devil.
Whether or not there’s more on the way you can consider these two volumes, taken together, as a complete and singularly satisfying story with a beginning, a tense and unpredictable middle, and an end.
Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E. Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen.
The second NEXTWAVE book was called ‘I Kick Your Face’, officially the finest title to any book in the world. This contains both.
Highly recommended to readers of Fraction and Aja’s HAWKEYE, this is cartoon comedy violence in which Ellis gets to indulge his love of fine timing without having to bother with anything like a serious attempt at characterisation. You couldn’t get more two-dimensional character traits, yet once Ellis sets up those two dimensions they’re all he needs to wring line after line from them, whilst Stuart Immonen – one of comics’ finest chameleons – pulls off the visual gags with relish and apolmb. The result is a monkey house of anarchic, pugilistic pageantry, as a bunch of C-list superheroes make things ‘splode.
It hardly matters why.
Here they take on the giant, green, purple-panted dragon called Fin Fang Foom:
“FIN FANG FOOM! Mommy was a slut-lizard that did the bad thing with suggestively-shaped piles of nuclear waste, and nine months later –
“FIN FANG FOOM! Has been burning with the need to mate since 1956!
“FIN FANG FOOM! Has absolutely no genitals whatsoever!
“FIN FANG FOOM! Oh, you cannot imagine how annoyed he is.”
It’s basically Warren Ellis cackling to himself and it reaches its apogee of insanity in six outrageous double-page spreads as the team silently smack their way across the page and down the corridor through waves of ludicrous foes from gladiatorial wheelchairs, through apes dressed as Wolverine, to spitfire-flying serpents, each accompanied by single-sentence proclamations like:
“NEXT WAVE are in your room and touching your stuff.”
“NEXT WAVE should only be taken in 100 mg doses and never through your urethra.”
“NEXT WAVE blatantly wasting your money since 2006.”
Blatantly. And all in blazing Kaleidoscopicolour.
Inhumans s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee.
So begins what was the single most intelligent and engrossing work published by Marvel some fifteen years ago, and the closest you would have found there in tone to Neil Gaiman; although now you’ll find Neil himself there with MARVEL 1602.
Black Bolt, Medusa, Triton, Gorgon, Karnak and Crystal are the Royal Family of the Inhumans, a race of beings so diverse that each individual is a sub-species of one. In Attilan, a city isolated from humanity with deliberate intent, diversity is admired and prized above all else: to be different is to prove invaluable. So at an age when we hit puberty, the ostensibly ordinary children enter the Terrigen Mists in a daunting ceremony which resembles confirmation or graduation and they emerge, their genetic codes catalysed, as strange and wonderful creatures, as ugly to our eyes as they are beautiful to their parents.
If they’re lucky. Because, you see, in this perfect society ruled by an ideal regent, there is an unpleasant secret, a tacit agreement to something tantamount to slavery. And – in the defences which keep these powerful Inhumans remote and safe from our toxic society – there is a flaw. One which is about to be expoited…
Within this sweeping catastrophe Jenkins delivers a series of considered, poignant and contrasting perspectives, sometimes with a quiet irony, but always with a tenderness and compassion greatly enhanced by Jae Lee’s perfectly posed and gently poised figures. Each group or single panel is a triumph of chiaroscuro.
Silent panels add weight and timing to a deceptively simple but remarkably clever script. And of course Dave Kemp and Avalon Studios deserve as much attention as anyone else for their rich, lambent colouring, which keeps the whole thing alive.
The interlude featuring the Inhumans’ giant, teleporting hound, Lockjaw, is worth the price of admission alone. He cannot comprehend the scale of the disaster desperately being staved off by alll those around him and why he isn’t being played with or fed; but he takes instant delight in rediscovering a plastic doll of Ben Grimm, the Thing.
“Toy! Oh toy! Toy! Toy! Toy!”
It’s funny, but also deeply affecting.
In addition the role of male regent and indeed masculinity are explored using the very epitome of the strong-but-necessarily-silent-type for if the Inhumans’ king Black Bolt speaks, mountains are levelled in his wake.
I never expected to see such an astonishingly moving work from what used to be such a predictably crass company. I suspect its tainted provenance may prove fatally repulsive to so many who would, with an act of faith, adore it. Had this been it’s first edition I would almost certainly have made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and I’m not even ruling that out. So thanks to all of you who trusted me enough to buy it in its earlier incarnations, and thanks for your overwhelmingly positive feedback. I hope newcomers enjoy it as much as I am on my fourth reading.
This expansive edition comes with preliminary sketch designs, process pieces wherein you can see individual pages evolve for pencils to inks, an interview, and the script to the complete first chapter. £25-99 may sound like a lot but it’s twelve chapters long with exquisite reproduction values. That’s less expensive than buying the individual issues separately.
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.
(In A Sense) Lost & Found (£12-99, Nobrow) by Roman Muradov
aama vol 4: You Will Be Glorious, My Daughter h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters
Democracy (£18-99, Bloomsbury) by Abraham Kawa & Alecos Papadatos
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 1: After Life (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Al Ewing, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Boo Cook
Gigant h/c (£10-99, AdHouse Books) by Rune Ryberg
It Will All Hurt #1 (£5-99, Study Group Comics) by Farel Dalrymple
Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Guy Delisle
Lady Killer vol 1 (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich
Mad Max: Fury Road s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by George Miller, Mark Sexton & Riccardo Burchielli
Mean Girls Club (£6-50, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka
One Year Wiser: 365 Illustrated Meditations (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Mike Medaglia
Sacred Heart (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez
Flash vol 5: History Lessons s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato, Christos N. Gage, Nicole Dubuc & Patrick Zircher, various
The New 52: Futures End vol 3 s/c (£22-50, DC) by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen & various
Wonder Woman vol 6: Bones s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang
Jessica Jones: Alias vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos, Bill Sienkiewicz
Please click on that link for details! Our Jodie Paterson’s created the most beautiful poster for the shop! (Art by Simone Lia.)
ITEM! A little off-topic, but Neil Gaiman reveals the ending his dear friend Terry Pratchett wanted for ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’. It would have been so appropriate! Gaiman & Buckingham’s MIRACLEMAN #1 is out today, by the way. We’re still in reprint territory, but they’ll be finishing their story soon, I promise you.
ITEM! I liked this a lot! It’s addressed to those who look at abstract art and say “I could do that!” Neither dismissive nor patronising, the presenter / curator is thoughtful, eloquent and enthusiastic. But yes, you probably couldn’t – and you certainly didn’t!
ITEM! Did you enjoy Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, THE BLACK PROJECT? It was about a young lad with little understanding of the world around him creating his own girlfriend from scraps. It will make you laugh and wince all at the same time, so get ready to gurn!
ITEM! From the creator of TRICKED and TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN, here’s an 8-page preview of Alex Robinson’s OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE graphic novel on parenthood.