Reviews November 2010 week four

ACME #20, PLANETARY VOL 4, WALKING DEAD VOL 13? It’s a very good week indeed!

 

Whores Of Mensa #5 (£6-99, self-published) by Sarah McIntyre, Tanya Milkkitten Meditzky, Jeremy Dennis Day, Francesca Cassavetti, Patrice Aggs, Ellen Lindner, Cliodhna Lyons, Maartje Schalkx, Howard John Arey, Emily Ryan Lerner, Peter Lally, John Harris Dunning, Richard Cowdry, Mardou.

Another very sharp package from one of Page 45’s previous Comicbooks Of The Month, this is the party issue whose wraparound cover comes complete with a Peter Blake-style bacchanal tagged inside so you can see who’s who, and it’s cool to see that after all these years Jeremy Dennis Day still has blue hair! ‘Larderella’ inside is yet another example of her inspired and deftly dealt lunacy, a riff on Cinderella with an Oyster Card for transport and a more swiftly slippered Prince Charming.

Francesca Cassavetti evokes pre-teen birthday parties to perfection (along with the hots for a French boy), Cliodhna Lyons is too pooped from preparation to party, and Tanya MILKKITTEN Meditzky (another of our previous CBOTMs there) is so convincing about the twin origins of the conga line and Speakers Corner at Hyde Park that I must inevitably call her bluff. The game is given away by this little known nugget of geophysical history:

“Interesting fact – Hyde Park used to contain many inactive volcanoes but these were all flattened at the behest of Queen Victoria.”

Ellen Lindner (our copies of Undertow are usually signed and sketched in for free – and believe me, the sketches are gorgeous!) made me reach for the Oxford English Dictionary to learn what an incunabulum might be and my French/English dictionary in order to translate the title ‘Scaphandre’. It’s a diving bell and I suspect its 1928 heroine might be the titular butterfly of the relevant book/film (Le Scaphandre et Le Papillion).

The stand-out piece for me, however, was Patrice Aggs’ ‘Grace Jones Has Left The Building’. How many times in comics or film do you hear conversations running in parallel? Patrice pulls it off with an almost casual dexterity down at the hairdressers as rumours of Grace Jones attending a party which they’ve all been invited to in three hours time spiral out of control at the expense of a bride-to-be’s hairdo and wedding dress. The portraits, body-language and line are all absolutely gorgeous.

Plus: what exactly lies within the adults-only Sachet Of Salaciousness? The sachet and my lips are both sealed.

Preview here (Jeremy Dennis Day is top right).

SHOP LINK

SLH

A Disease Of Language s/c (£11-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell.

What did school do for you, then? We’ve one hell of a lot of teachers signed up to the Page 45 Mailshot – several of them personal friends – and I wish to God I’d been taught by them. But school as an institution – our education system itself…? I think Alan pretty much nails it:

“The flow of vital youth along school corridors like sheep towards a shearing. Frisking, unaware. The real curriculum is punctuality, obedience and the acceptance of monotony… those skills we shall require later in life. Oblique aversion therapy to cure us of our thirst for information and condition us so that thereafter we forge an association between indolence and pleasure. We confuse rebellion with a hairstyle.”

“A disease of language” was Aleister Crowley’s personal description of magic, an act of which has somehow allowed my original review of The Birth Caul, long lost, to resurface in time for this new softcover printing.

From the creative team of FROM HELL, then, this collects Eddie Campbell’s interpretations of Alan Moore’s classic stand-up performances, The Birth Caul and Snakes And Ladders, along with the enormously entertaining interview that originally appeared in EGOMANIA plus a new sketchbook.

The Birth Caul was staged at the Old County Court in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on 18th November 1995, Alan reading to music written especially for the event by Tim Perkins and David J of Bauhaus. Now we too have access to the performance, for one of the most remarkable aspects of Eddie’s work here is the context – the degree to which one feels oneself part of the original audience sitting in that Courthouse with the bearded shaman looming out of the darkness from the judicial throne, delivering his judgement. The balance between these atmospheric anchors and Eddie’s own visual interpretation of the words is perfect. The structure of each page is fresh and varied, with spots of photography amongst the grey wash well-chosen for relevant impact, and the whole thing charges ahead with a dynamism I could never have anticipated. Alan springs from personal reflections thrown up by his mother’s death, to ruminations on the various phases of an appallingly ordered and preordained cradle-to-grave experience, identifying those individual checkpoints with startling accuracy, then (with the aid Campbell’s familiar flair for humanity – for visual clue, cue and association) evoking them with a tenderness and poetry which brings both immediate recognition and empathy. Superb use of a child’s thought-language towards the end.

Meanwhile of Snakes And Ladders, my mate David Hart wrote this:

“Like the earlier collaboration, The Birth Caul, the roots of this book lie in a one-off performance given by Alan Moore, this time at Conway Hall on the subject of ‘Real Magic’. Covering a vaguely similar postcode at times as PROMETHEA, the book circles easily around the established compass of Moore’s poetic – the interinanimation of history and geography; the primacy of the symbol over the deed; the fact that snakes are really cool – before settling into an essay on the transformative and redemptive power of the imagination, loosely grounded in the life of early 20th Century fantastical writer Arthur Machen. Like The Birth Caul, the genesis of the book in a public performance helps lend a propulsive rhythm to the words, one that’s carefully choreographed and marshalled by Eddie Campbell. If anything, Campbell’s work here is better than ever before. Pages and sequences are built up by layer, collage grooved next to watercolour, photographs and sampled art tessellated with ink caricatures. At the centre of the book is a four page sequence of a woman dancing with a snake. The art here is possibly the best figure work Campbell’s ever done, and successfully fails to bring to mind Britney Spears at the MTV Music Awards. Where the book is most winning is when Moore leavens his essentially Romantic vision with historical and personal detail, earthing his flights of fancy. The space between Oliver Cromwell and Dante Rossetti, Windsor McCay and James Watson, a Westminster sandwich bar and Machen’s Baghdad, is broached to reveal previously hidden comparisons. While Moore’s language sparkles and binds as much ever, the book really comes alive when he focuses in on the brushstrokes rather than the picture, and more of this would be welcome. If the destination is one that’s been visited before, the interest of the book lies in the journey. Although perhaps neither quite as ambitious or as successful as The Birth Caul, Snakes And Ladders still provokes and prods in all the right places. As a primer to the mind of Northampton’s Greatest Ever Comic Book Writer, Snakes And Ladders rolls a six. I thank yew.”

In addition, this is what I made of the interview during a month which saw us flooded with more Alan than we thought possible:
None of these books, magazines or CDs were scheduled to appear at the same time, but since becoming a magician Alan Moore appears to have become one big nexus of serendipity as detailed here in the vast, faxed interview by Eddie Campbell. Having adapted two of Alan’s stage performances as well as working with him on FROM HELL, Eddie is particularly interested in discussing the former as they relate to Moore’s personal journey into magic, and the account their construction – or should I say, evolution – is as fascinating as you’d expect.

An eloquent communicator of even the most complex metaphysical concepts, Moore elucidates on his notion of a shared Ideaspace and its topography of hot-linked associated thoughts, as explored in PROMETHEA and which he convincingly offers as a possible explanation not only for telepathy, but for ghosts and the otherwise inexplicably synchronous arrival of thoughts or inventions in ostensibly unconnected minds like steam propulsion. Staying with the PROMETHEA title, Moore also details how #12 came together, where the history of existence and humanity is mapped onto the major Arcana of the Tarot whilst simultaneously having Aleister Crowley tell a joke beginning in his infancy and ending in old age, and – improbably – finding twenty-two anagrams from the word ‘Promethea’ pertinent to each particular page:
“I’d have to say that if someone were to put a gun to my head (Americans: note that this is a figure of speech and not an example of acceptable social behaviour) and demand to know what I thought was my single cleverest piece of work, I’d have to say PROMETHEA #12. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my exaggerated sense of self-satisfaction with everyone else.”

And in case you’d been thinking that this whole discussion was way too dry for you, Alan is similarly mischievous and entertaining throughout, as demonstrated when discussing stage magician James Randi’s desperate attempts to discredit Uri Geller:

“Having failed to do this by his preferred strictly rational means, Randi switched to the scientifically unusual tactic of branding Geller a paedophile for which, I understand, he was subsequently successfully sued by the psychic. And probably got his cutlery drawer thoroughly twatted into the bargain.”

Moore also displays a cheeky glee in knocking those for whom he has the greatest affection. On the subject of the Angel Passage performance/CD:

“I think Tim wanted to do something more epic and musically structured for the Blake piece, probably because he’d been mortally stung by a review of The Highbury Working that referred to his contribution as “fizzy ’80s electropop.” And if I’m honest, I probably didn’t help by constantly taunting him about it and saying that we should change our name to The Northampton Yazoo and become a tribute band, with me as the bulky yet somehow sultry Alison Moyet figure and Tim as the possibly-gay fizzy ’80s electropop keyboard wizard Vince Clarke type. So, in embittered revenge, he goes into the studio and concocts this fucking five-storey Jacobean wedding cake of a thing that I’m expected to put words to. No wonder Alison Moyet went solo.”

LINK

SLH / DH

Two CDs in stock here: and .

The Best American Comics 2010 (£16-99, HMH) by Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple, Gary Panter, Peter Kuper, Gabrielle Bell, Lilli Carre, Ben Katchor, James Kochalka, Jonathan Ames, Dean Haspiel, John Pham, David Mazzucchelli, Gilbert Hernandez, Mario Hernandez, Chris Ware, Derf, Jesse Reklaw, Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Fred Chao, Todd Brewer, Steve MacIsaac, Theo Elseworth, Michael Cho, Bryan Lee O’ Malley, Josh Neufeld, Lauren Weinstein, C. Tyler and edited by Neil Gaiman

Curated this year by SANDMAN’s Neil Gaiman, this annual anthology never lets us down. Fresh and eclectic, it’s all reprints to be sure, but a superb primer for those wishing to expand their horizons in search of comicbook excellence.

Some of stories you’re unlikely to have seen, like ‘Ceci n’est pas une comic’ from the Virginia Quarterly Review by political animal Peter Kuper (Stop Forgetting To Remember) based on Magrite’s famous ‘Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe’ already used with great wit by Scott McCloud in UNDERSTANDING COMICS but here taken right out of the garage and accelerated down the leftfield highway in a devastating indictment of the legacy left by George W. Bush. It’s an art gallery full of denials decidedly less convincing than Magrite’s:

“This is not a stolen election.
“This is not unimaginable [Twin Towers]
“This is not fear-mongering…
“This is not an invasion.
“This is not a lie.
“This is not torture.
“This is not for oil…”

Et cetera.

Whereas most of the Chris Ware material here is from Acme Novelty Library #19, Fiction Versus Non-Fiction has thankfully been plucked for posterity from Bookforum. In it Ware presents us with an autobiographical account of how he found a way to liberate himself from strict demands of historical detail in order to more accurately present his grandmother on the page using fiction. Typically Chris then messes with us by including an almost certainly fictional conversation with his very real wife about that very subject!

And if the majority of this anthology contains excerpts gleaned from works we’ve already promoted over the course of the year (Mazzucchelli’s ASTERIOS POLYP, Crumb’s BOOK OF GENESIS, Bagge’s EVERYBODY IS STUPID EXCEPT FOR ME – pop any of those creators into our search engine and see), it is as I say a grand introduction, as is Neil Gaiman’s during which he takes apart the title’s constituent parts (‘best’ ‘American’ ‘2010’) and confesses just how far he’s stretched the rules of selection… all as part of an undrawn comic script, of course, and a fiction posing as autobiography!

SLH

100 Months h/c (£19-99, Cutting Edge) by John Hicklenton.

“It’s beautiful and powerful and strong” – Neil Gaiman

Pat Mills joins Neil with an eloquent and impassioned tribute to his late friend and collaborator on 2000AD, comparing this bloody, brutal yet beautifully illuminated battle with man, beast and death itself to J.M. DeMatteis & Kent Williams’ BLOOD and I couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly what I was put in mind of during the very first pages and there’s little else like it out there. Words, there are few for it’s as close to poetry as BLOOD came for me when I was a teenager, but these are infinitely more palatable to my adult self.

I’ll tell you what this also is: it’s a dance. It’s a ballet choreographed meticulously across hundreds of full-colour landscape pages. The final act by a man liberated from the confines of a weekly work-for-hire comic, however much fun, by the fanboys who never got him.

Mills rightly rails against those early mediocre critics who failed to appreciate John’s vision, preferring instead more “insipid, dumbed-down, comic muzak to wild, intoxicating visual extravaganzas” and so pushed Hicklenton off the very books he would probably have stuck with, such was his love of JUDGE DREDD. Pat says they went for “Monoto-vision” instead, and this is certainly a far cry from the goth-o-vision of ASCEND whose parodied pretensions still make me smile.

In spite of the carnage it remains above all ebullient. Not even defiant though defiance there is. No, if you’ll forgive me, I think I got it right the first time: it’s a liberation.

SLH

If… Bursts Out h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Steve Bell.

Thatcher on the doorstep of No. 10:

“Where there is disco, may we bring New Romantic shit…
“Where there is error, may we bring a smacked bottom…
“Where there is doubt, may we bring foghorns
“Where there is despair, may we bring destitution.”

Mission accomplished, Mrs. T.

Steve Bell is one of our great political cartoonists, often found sharing a platform with TAMARA DREWE’s Posy Simmonds – literally one year when a train was so late they had took to the stage together for a unique performance at the Lowdham Book Festival I would give an original Caxton to have seen.

This stonking full-colour hardcover of strips from 2006 to 2010 comes in at exactly 400 pages and takes on the very worst of New Labour like the Department for Work and Pensions’ scare-mongering seen down a camera lens (“Ugly, low class people… We’re closing in. Royalty… We’re backing off” or first here the Speaker of the House of Commons and then Tony Blair: “Sad, useless old jocks…. We’re closing in. Simpering war criminals… Keep up the good work sir!”), Obama’s struggle with American Healthcare, the Royal Family (love the phonetics following the Lady Di inquest: “Fack me sideways. I’m in the clear!” “Philip! This is State Benquet. We dane’t read the papers and talk common at a State Benqet!” “But it’s official! I never done the slag in to stop ‘er shaggin’ Muslims!”) and, of course, George Dubya Bush:

Fancy! A goddamned tonguewart manages to write a book!
“So many words. So much paper. It says here in black and white that I ain’t stupid!
“It says I’m incurious. What does incurious mean?
“ …Do I give a shit?”

SLH

Percy Jackson & The Olympians Book One: The Lightning Thief (£7-50, Hyperion) by Rick Riordan, Robert Venditti & Attila Futaki.

Ridiculously affordable, this dense, witty and complex full-colour adaptation took me hours to read. Robert Venditti’s obviously had to make some hard decisions of what to leave on the cutting room floor, and he’s done a fine job of keeping it clipped and to the point so that it canters along at a cracking pace without once throwing you out of the saddle.

There be centaurs and satyrs, oracles spewing poisonous predictions, minotaurs to battle and petty rivalries to overcome; our young hero’s going to have to grow up very fast if he’s to survive not just the mythological threats to his contemporary life but the loss of his mother and revelations regarding his lineage.

“You should never have been born.”
“You really need to work on your delivery.”

Percy Jackson is a young man who should never have been born. His very existence threatens everyone around him. His mother was mortal – all too mortal – but his father was Poseidon, Greek God of the Ocean, giving him elemental control over water. Unfortunately Poseidon had sworn an oath on the River Styx with his brothers Zeus and Hades not to sire any more demi-gods after the catastrophes of WWII. Zeus being Zeus, of course, simply couldn’t keep it in his pants and soon fell off the good wagon Chastity. His new daughter paid the price.

All of which leaves Percy very vulnerable indeed. Hades has already dispatched a fury, the three Fates have cut the line, and there’s more than meets the eye to the rivalry between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Someone else is pulling some strings. Now he, Grover and Annabeth have to race across a modern-day America littered with treachery and traps before the Solstice is upon them to reach the entrance to the Underworld (current location: D.O.A. Records, Los Angeles!) and retrieve Zeus’ stolen thunderbolt. The outlook’s somewhat overcast:

“You shall go Wessst, and face the God who has turned.
“You shall find what was stolen, and sssee it safely returned.
“You shall be betrayed by one who callsss you friend.
“And you shall fail to sssave what matters mossst in the end.”

Perfectly suitable for early teens, this couldn’t be less patronising, making it a riot for adults as well. I honestly think fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods would get a blast. Some very funny unbelaboured visual gags like half-goat Grover’s diet, and the promise of Pan appearing further down the line…? You know I’m there! Also, Ares turns up on a motorcycle.

“Um… Deus Ex Machina, anyone?”

SLH

Howl: A Graphic Novel (£14-99, Harper Pernennial) by Allen Ginsberg & Eric Drooker.

Frames taken from the animated adaptation of Ginsberg’s howl against a dehumanising society, so you can see why the creator of BLOOD SONG, one of my favourite graphic novels of all time, would immediately hop on board.

Understandably the Ginsberg name has already drawn a lot of new people into the shop for their first graphic novel, but this has been conducted in a completely different style using computerised modelling and, personally speaking, I cannot bear to even look at it.

SLH

At The Mountains Of Madness (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by H.P. Lovecraft & Ian Culbard…

“Do you have a name for them yet?”
“Yes I do. Remember the book that Professor Armitage kept under lock and key in the university library? The Necronomicon?”
“I… I do.”
“Then you’ll understand when I speak of Elder Things.”
“Bill?”
“I’m here.”
“I think… err… think we should tone down reports to the outside world for now… until at least until we’ve substantiated these findings.”

Another title I’ve been very eagerly awaiting. On the face of it Ian Culbard’s well rounded style of art so ably demonstrated on the three recent SHERLOCK HOLMES adaptations is not perhaps the most obvious for adapting a classic horror story, probably one of the two finest works within Lovecraft’s Cthulhu canon along with (in my opinion) The Silver Key. Except in fact in this case, it is absolutely perfect, because MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is nothing to do with gore and everything to do with a very unsettling story that moves the reader inch by imperceptible inch nearer to an uneasy psychological state. This is classic horror, in that fear of the unknown, “What exactly is it lurking in the hidden depths?”-type horror. Or in this case, within the Mountains Of Madness, a virtually impenetrable mountain range right in the heart of the frozen Antarctic wastes.

I can certainly understand why they’ve picked this particular work for adaptation as it is in some ways the most straightforward and comprehensible of Lovecraft’s books, simply because whatever else it is, it’s also a great Boy’s Own adventure tale. To set the scene it’s September 1930 and an expedition from Miskatonic University is in the Antarctic taking deep geological samples when they make some rather puzzling and shocking finds. These inexplicable discoveries quickly change the planned intent and indeed course of the expedition, taking the learned explorers into hitherto unexplored and inaccessible territories. Discoveries and geography which start to seem disturbingly familiar to some of the explorers who have read the fabled Necronomicon, kept safely under lock and key by a colleague back at the university.

Indeed the marked similarities of what they find, compared to the widely considered fictional rantings of a madman suggest the world may have a rather longer, darker and most disturbing pre-history than current academic wisdom would opine. As things take a sinister and even more suspenseful turn with the disappearance of part of the exploration party, those that remain at base camp feel compelled, against all good sense and reason, ever nearer the soaring jagged mountain range ahead.

If you like clever horror, do take a look at this. It’s been very cleverly adapted by Culbard who works in the more fantastical elements in a manner than never seems completely outlandish or utterly unbelievable. Indeed his warm art style and vibrant colours perfectly counterpoint the bleak locale of the situation, where it’s all too easy to believe, in a time where the world still had some unexplored and remote regions, that such a place could just possibly exist. More good news for Lovecraft fans, as apparently Guillermo del Toro has confirmed he will be making a movie of this particular tale!

LINK

JR

My New York Diary (new edition) (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Doucet.

As namechecked by Le Tigre on ‘Hot Topics’, Julie Doucet is one of the most acclaimed women who, uh, used to be in comics! There’s a full-colour, four-panel signed and numbered print hanging in our office right above our computer. Mark wrote:

“The ink seems to hang from the page as Doucet illustrates her dreams and wayward imagination. Her style develops through tales of periods, alcohol and sex. Backgrounds shimmer from panel to panel and household objects beg for attention. Powerful & disturbing.”

Here Julie packs her Canadian bags and moves to New York but is pursued by a jealous boyfriend. Insecurity about her own creative talent isn’t exactly helped by her propensity to self-medicate on alcohol and drugs.

LINK

SLH

What I Did h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

Reprints SSHHHH!, THE IRON WAGON and HEY WAIT…, that third book being one of the most affecting things I have ever read in comics. Like Shiga’s DOUBLE HAPPINESS, to speak about it at all would ruin any reading of it for you but, my word, what an incredible distillation of everything that is heartstopping about Moments That Matter. Perfect title. Mark reviewed it to perfection, giving nothing away, thus:

“Careful – think twice before you read this book. It is very, very beautiful, but it will utterly break your heart.” – Dylan Horrocks (HICKSVILLE)

And I didn’t expect it to because I can be a little arrogant when it comes to a new work. But it did. The first half tells of a pair of friends during their childhood without any of the sub-Spielberg mawk that’s been endemic over the past couple of years. The second instalment is the aftermath of an occurrence and the distance between your initial belief in the world and the outcome. Both parts use single pages to show little incidences, painting pictures of blissful innocence or blank daily trudge. Jason uses anthropomorphic figures to tell the story and strange little details are changed from our reality but, like Gilbert Hernandez’s similar devices in his later autobio tales, this never distances us from the emotions of the lead.

LINK

MS / SLH

h day (£22-50, Picturebox) by Renee French

Renée is definitely more at the abstract rather than adorable end of her approach to comics here, probably due to the fact that this work represents a period of time when she was struggling with bad migraine headaches and err… an Argentine ant infestation. As a consequence it’s actually a story told wholly in metaphor in two distinct parts, though in reality it is the same wordless story, told on opposing pages throughout the book. That it’s one story isn’t completely apparent though until the final page, when you realise you’ve been reading one of the two stories in reverse and in fact the correct reading order is to read half the pages forward, then the other half backwards. Oh, and rather cleverly it works as an illustrated flick-book too so you can, if you’re impatient enough, get the basic concept of the story in about 10 seconds in total.

Understanding precisely what it all actually means is likely to take you considerably longer though, and much thumbing back and forth of individual pages, to grasp the narrative behind the structure of metaphors that Renée is simultaneously building and dismantling, and stretching and distorting for that matter. The left-hand pages show a being that has some sort of growth or mass inside its head, which is gradually escaping and winding its way around a bed. The right-hand pages are much more elaborate with strange blank buildings and junctions that seem interspersed with tiny forms and beset by swirling winds that change shape. Plus there’s an interim sequence with some extremely odd creatures and cages that is genuinely disturbing. I’ll be honest, knowing the migraines and ants background provides some insight into interpreting what Renée has drawn, but if I didn’t know about the ants and the migraines, I’m not sure I’d really have a clue.

LINK

JR

Hatter M vol 3: The Nature Of Wonder s/c (£10-99, Automatic) by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier & Sami Makkonen…

Hmm, strangely my enjoyment of this series is diminishing apace with each passing volume, and I’m not sure completely why really. It’s well written enough, the art is rather good, but I just feel the story has completely lost its way somehow. It’s all got a little abstract on the one hand, and bogged down on unnecessary detail on the other. I also thought it was the concluding volume which it turns out it isn’t, this volume mainly just seeming to consist of well, plot filler really, without anything of any importance being added to the story, with the effect of it losing all steam. The ‘wonder’ is fast dissipating for me sadly.

JR

B.P.R.D. vol 14: King Of Fear (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis…

Finally, the conclusion to the Scorched Earth trilogy began in vols 10 & 11! Everything is brought full circle and we end with a new beginning… Other than that, I don’t really want to give anything at all away for those of you that haven’t yet embarked upon reading this, the most expansive BPRD story arc to date.

One word of advice though for folks who are up to date in your Mignolan monitorings, for maximum enjoyment go back and read at least vols 10 & 11 before reading this one. There are so many secondary characters and villains who get their little respective nods here and there, small half-forgotten sub-plots getting tied-in, -up or nudged along, and just outright oblique references to myriad minor matters in this volume, as the main plot itself also comes to a conclusion, that I found myself struggling to coherently remember everything that had gone before, which was rather a shame, given the amount of effort that’s clearly gone into the writing of this concluding part.

BPRD is still getting better and better for me in its storytelling, and there are plenty of hints dropped, some probably deliberately to mislead and misdirect I think, of what is to come next.

LINK

JR

Tim Burton: MoMa (£14-99, Museum Of Modern Art) by Tim Burton etc.

A couple of substantial essays precede the works exhibited at the Museum Of Modern Art which show the distinct influence of Gerald Scarfe. So don’t be thinking this is going to be all MELANCHOLY DEATH OF OYSTER BOY or NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. They’re here, but there’s also a great deal of more elaborate work in a variety of media from pastel and acrylic, oil and acrylic, pen, ink, watercolour and colour pencil. Polaroid too.

SLH

The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy And Other Stories (£8-99) by Tim Burton.

Well, I‘ve had a copy knocking about my house for a good ten years, but I can’t lay my scissorhands upon it today.

Why do we stock these illustrated nonsense rhymes when Tim has nothing to do with comics? Because Page 45 shamelessly panders to a public that can’t get enough Tim Burton, and it’s in the same mischievously macabre tradition as those beloved AMPHIGOREY books by the mid-century master himself, Edward Gorey.

Here then are the original and overwhelmingly doomed adventures of Oyster Boy, Stain Boy, Toxic Boy etc. who spawned a thousand models, Mugs and playing cards. My favourite was the Tragic Thoughts Journal which arrived one Christmas. I wrote, “Fully festive, this journal features tiny coloured lights on the cover concealed in the Pin Cushion Queen’s Crown which you can turn on and off up to 1,000 times. After that they stop working, like most things in life, and it’ll be just you and your thoughts all alone in the dark.” It’s really very good.

LINK

SLH

Superman: Earth One h/c (£14-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis…

“I have spent the last twenty years searching for something. More accurately someone.
“My journey has taken us to a dozen worlds, but I still have not found the target.
“If he is hiding here, I will continue the attack until he is provoked into revealing himself…
“If it turns out he is not here, then I will leave your world and try elsewhere.
“But only after several million of you are dead, so that I will know that I have done everything possible to provoke a response…
“To my target, if you are listening, those are the terms. Reveal yourself and surrender. Or watch your world die around you.”

Free from the constraints of mainstream continuity J. Michael Straczynski has turned in a genuine epic with SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE. This work most definitely has the feel of a blockbuster film, in all the positive senses one can mean that, in stark contrast to the last actual Superman film, which began with a fine action set-piece and then was utterly boring drivel throughout its remainder.

Here we start with a familiar premise, Clark Kent leaving the comfort of Smallville and the bosom of Ma Kent and heading for the big smoke that is Metropolis. But then we’re presented with a rather different story to the one we’re used to, as instead of immediately assuming the persona of a mild-mannered reporter Clark investigates a number of different career options from American football to research scientist, and seems rather less reticent about using his abilities in everyday life, even in a low-key manner, than we’ve become used to. He does visit the Daily Planet, but leaves initially rather unimpressed with the bullpen and its cast of characters including the paternal Perry white, a rather abrasive Lois Lane and a somewhat more genial shutterbug Jimmy Olsen. Good to see Straczynski hasn’t changed everything! We even get the revealing information that Ma and Pa Kent always saw their adopted son as a hero that could inspire the world, even providing him with his costume, yet this Clark Kent seems very reluctant to consider, never mind embrace his eventual destiny. Or even try on his tights. So what’s going to change that then, I wonder?

Well, here again Straczynski takes a completely different route from the time-worn approach. No low-key introduction to hero-dom here for our reluctant youth, instead we’re thrown into the middle of a full-on alien invasion of Earth. It seems the invasion force is looking for a certain individual, the last survivor of Krypton, to complete their genocidal assassination contract to wipe out the entire Kryptonian race. What follows thereafter is an epic finale that would worthily grace any cinematic adaptation of old red-and-blue, as the villains get spanked and vanquished, and Clark realises that taking a considerably more low profile approach to civilian life, and a somewhat more flexible job, might be rather useful in maintaining a secret identity. Now, if only some genial editor had offered him a job as a reporter…

LINK

JR

Batman & Robin vol 2: Batman vs. Robin: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart, Andy Clarke…

“…That was for trying to blow up London. And this is for Batwoman. We’ve got a cell waiting for you, right across the way from your old mate Pearly Charlie English.”
“You heard him.”
“Squire and Knight! But… how did you track us doon? Through 400 feet of solid rock? Ah nivvor mind, I’ll tek the paira yez like! Just divennt tell wor missus aboot the lasses, that’s aal I’m saying.”
“Come on mate. That’s just asking for it.”

Another volume of consternating costumed capery from Mr. Morrison who once again pulls off that most difficult of tricks, writing overtly ridiculous yet hilariously clever superhero nonsense. It literally makes no sense in places, except probably to Grant, and yet it’s so, so dangerously addictive you won’t let a little thing like that stop you from turning the pages as fast as you possibly can. Even the bright red and yellow Frank Quitely cover reeks of E numbers somehow imbued into the pages to make your mind twitch and whirr ever more egregiously as you try to follow the frantic paced action to and fro.

It’s a genuine credit to Morrison that’s he so capably manages to capture the loveable camp fun of the old sixties Saturday morning TV show, whilst making it feel like you’re only one twirl of Pennyworth’s whiskers away from it all toppling into the total dada-esque cut-up insanity of his DOOM PATROL run. You get the sense he’s really letting himself go here in fabulous fizzing crescendo mode darlings, possibly before he has to rein himself in a touch on the new BATMAN INC. title. Mind you, given the first page of the first issue of that particular title starts with someone waking up to find their hands have been melted off with acid possibly not… Excellent art throughout, in turn slightly loony cartoony and then cuttingly crisp from Cameron Stewart and Andy Clarke.

I’ll leave the last word to Oberon Sexton the gravedigger, who is most definitely hiding an amusing little secret of his own.

“Well now. Would you pantomime poseurs like to introduce yourselves before we beat the sod out of you?”

JR

Batman: The Return one-shot (£3-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & David Finch.

Exceptional. The finest piece of writing on BATMAN by Morrison yet, and easily the most accessible.

David Finch, as you’d expect from the artist on NEW AVENGERS: BREAK OUT, does it full justice making it the finest-looking Batbook ever. And let’s face it, there’s some pretty impressive competition out there, especially since Bolland went and recoloured KILLING JOKE.

Bruce Wayne is back in residence and gathered his cohorts together at the manor. This the beginning of something new, fighting ideas with better ones and constructing a more coherent campaign against crime on a number of carefully coordinated fronts technologically, geographically, corporately. Just as well because Leviathan is rising from the deep and I don’t think it bodes well for Damian if the Yemen incursion is anything to go by.

Some great new designs (Grayson gets to keep the old costume, Bruce has upgraded), speaking of which there’s over a dozen pages of extra material from script to pencils and inks. Meanwhile early in Yemen a grateful father hugs his child rescued from a terrorist:

“The boy is my life. Take money… cars… j-jewels…”
“You have nothing I want, Farouk. What Hussain knows will destroy you.
“And I know what Hussain knows.
“You’re next.”

Not wrong.

Order from page45@page45.com

SLH

Batman Incorporated #1 (£2-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette.

Hilarious. And pretty horrific too.

Here Grant Morrison is going for the old-skool Batman with its giant robot rats and death traps as Bruce hires Selina Kyle to slink alongside him and burgle a criminal mastermind. Then it’s on to Japan to find and train a new Batman but the man he’s set his sights on is dead, his hands and face melted away by nitro-hydrochloric acid by Lord Death Man, a sadist in a skeletal Halloween costume who seems one step ahead of everyone including the boy who escaped him earlier. Maybe Batman will have to settle for a Japanese Robin. You know, if Catwoman survives the giant, carnivorous octopus!

Sexy art under a stand-out cover of national flags. Is that JH Williams III? Love the way Grant and Yanick have threaded the climax through with teasers for next issue. Never seen it done quite like that before and it works like a dream.

Order from page45@page45.com

SLH

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali h/c (£14-99, DC) by Denny O’ Neil, Neil Adams & Neil Adams…

“Okay alien… you want a prediction, you got one!
“He’ll hit the floor in four! He’ll hit the floor in four! An’ furthermore… they’re all gonna tell me after this fight… Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time-and-space!”

Well, there are a few different things that spring to mind upon re-reading this story which was first released back in 1978. Firstly I remember it being trailed very, very heavily for months ahead in every random DC publication that came into my local newsagents back then as a tender six-year-old. Obviously it was a massive ‘event’ at the time. Readers of a certain age will probably recall there really was no rhyme nor reason what particular comics you would find on the shelves of local newsagents back in the day, and absolutely no chance of there being any sort of consistent run of the same title. I mention this because I remember asking said newsagent about the possibility of getting this particular comic in, which looked like it was just going to be the most amazing story. Sadly it was to be a few more years before I actually got my hands on a dog-eared copy via a stall on Leeds market.

What I also remembered very vividly was the cover which appears to have a giggling Jimmy Carter sat in the front row next to Batman and Lex Luthor, who is stuffing his face with popcorn or something, whilst an alien armada is floating high above a battling Superman and Muhammad Ali in the ring. Quite what’s so amusing when the fate of the entire human race is at stake I’m not sure, but it probably pays to keep a sense of humour about these things in the face of such adversity eh?

I do also remember not being particularly impressed when I finally got to read it. I can’t honestly think of a single instance – and please enlighten me otherwise if you can, readers – where inserting a contemporary real-life person into a fictional work, even one as charismatic as Ali, has actually made for a decent story in any medium. Horrific examples such as the BA Baracus (okay, I know he’s fictional but it’s basically Mister T, let’s be honest) Saturday cartoon show where he had some kid side-kicks, or the equally horrific and ill-advised Space Jam featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny are all that come to mind. I’m sure there is an example where the conceit works, but I just can’t think of one off the top of my head.

Primarily though in this instance it’s because the whole premise of this story is so ridiculous, in so many aspects, it’s just completely unbelievable, even for a superhero comic. Yet strangely for that reason it’s actually a really hilarious retro-read, because we know that Neal Adams clearly knows he’s working with such a turkey of an idea passed across to him mid-project by Denny O’ Neil that he’s decided to go so far over the top it’s not true. At least I think he knows… Ali’s dialogue in particular is absolutely cringe-worthy, but always good entertainment value in that car-crash kind of way. 

In some ways this work is actually almost a perfect time capsule of what superhero comics writing was frequently like at the time, in terms of pure one-dimensional plotting, with some totally preposterous method of saving the day thrown in right at the end. Still, it would be churlish not to recognise this for what it was at the time, which was a genuine comics ‘event’ featuring a true superstar, and the art from Adams is very, very good. I particularly liked the sequences where Ali’s powerful punches are battering and distorting Superman’s face.

Actually those of you who are currently reading the bafflingly and brilliantly bonkers BATMAN ODYSSEY mini-series being penned by Neal Adams will immediately recognise the full-on writing (and art) style he’s employed here. It’s just with ODYSSEY the plot is several orders of magnitude more complex, sophisticated and gripping.

LINK or

JR

Thor: Siege Aftermath (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Stan Lee & Richard Elson, Doug Braithwaite, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby.

Conclusion to Gillen’s run in which Mephisto, Loki and Hela haggle their way into contracts before wriggling out of them via loopholes. They’d be brilliant at tax evasion. Expect a lot of red, demons and deceit.

Also reprints THOR #179-181 from 1970 with much the same cast only a lot less red.

SLH

Daredevil Ultimate Collection vol 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, Michael Lark, Bill Sienkiewicz.

With which Bendis wraps up the emotional rollercoaster ride that has been the tearing down of Matt Murdock’s public life, leaving him with no privacy at all.

THE GOLDEN AGE:

Alexander Bont is ninety-three years old. He’s finally just got out of prison to find that everything’s changed. His restaurant is a video rental, his wife Lucy is now a tombstone in the snow, Matt Murdock has been outed as Daredevil… and taken over as Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen. It was because of Daredevil that Bont was sent away for so many years in the first place – indeed he’s had unpleasant dealings with Murdock as well. Before that, he used to run Hell’s Kitchen. All of it was his, built on a reputation he gained from the blood of one masked man. If he wants it back, he’s going to have to spill the blood of another and kill two birds with one stone. And lord, does he want it back!

Bendis, who several books ago stole Frank Miller’s crown as the finest writer to work on this series, returns to the format of his first proper stint and sends readers backwards and forwards in time in a way that seamlessly links all the components while Murdock is beaten to a pulp. There’s a superb moment of transition towards the end of the second issue where Bont takes current revenge in a single punch for several pages of grief he suffered under Murdock’s caustic wit many years ago. Two panels, beautifully played.

And if that’s not enough the ramifications of the disastrous White Tiger trial finally come into play as one of the deceased’s relatives – an FBI agent on the case to prove Murdock’s identity and guilt – seeks answers and Melvin Potter, the reformed Gladiator, finds himself between yet another rock and a hard place.

Alex Maleev has been so lucky to find a writer with enough skill to make him shine, but Bendis has been equally fortunate to find an artist for this series who will make him look even better than he is. The rain, the architecture, the nigh-impenetrable shadows and low-lit glows… Superb texture, superb pacing. Great positioning of the “Dead End” sign. Things like that.

DECALOGUE:

A local priest offers some Hell’s Kitchen residents the opportunity to discuss in confidence their year-long lives in a district over which Daredevil has declared himself in charge, much like the Kingpin had, albeit with the opposite intentions. Gradually a connection emerges between some of the stories they tell involving a demonic baby/dwarf and a man who’s sitting amongst them, smirking. There aren’t many writers and artists who could fill six issues (of a title from which the majority of its readers expect at least some action) with one long conversation in a single room and still see the same number of copies sold, but that’s what happened, even though one customer suggested that they should, in all honesty, change the comic’s title to “Matt Murdock”. And I wish they would, because then perhaps a few of those potential readers who would lap up this sharp urban crime might actually forget that it ever had anything to do with spandex, and take the plunge. Although in this book, as it happens, it’s more of a chilling horror story. Here’s that entrance I promised you, towards the end, albeit without the timing which the art carefully affords, as anticipated by the sadist who’s been sitting quietly in corner, and is now trying to goad them with his potentially insane beliefs:

“There are religions and powers in this world that are tens of thousands of years old.  Hundreds of thousands of years old. Millions of years old.
“Matt Murdock? You were right to be scared of him. You should be scared of him. He’s a ninja. You know that? You know what a ninja is? Really? The dark arts of the ancient shadow warriors. You know how many people are left on this planet that know what Matt Murdock knows?
“Five. Maybe.
“And his master died with more secrets than he even told Matt Murdock. But Matt knows a lot more than he’s letting on.
“He knows aaaall kinds of ninja secrets and tricks. Like… he can sit in a room and he can make it so no one actually notices him. He can sit right next to you. And you wouldn’t notice him… until you noticed him.
“Isn’t that right, Matthew?”
“….”
“….”
“….”
Murdock: “And you are?”

THE MURDOCK PAPERS:

It all began with Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, and that’s how it ends as the absolute bastard manoeuvres everyone from haggard Ben Urich (Daily Bugle reporter and Matt’s long-time confidant) and the FBI to Matthew himself into precisely the position he wants them: one with no possible exit.

For months now the public, the authorities and the press have “known” that Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer, is somehow Daredevil. But they’ve never been able to prove it. If they did, he’d go straight to jail for perjury. It’s not just that he’s another of those vigilantes in tights who are constantly taking and breaking the law, it’s the fact that during one particular trial he had the brazen gall to stand up and defend “Daredevil” whilst an impostor stood right there in the witness stand. Also, he’s counter-sued a newspaper for claiming he’s Daredevil. But now, in front of the press and the FBI, the Kingpin announces the existence of the Murdoch papers – the irrefutable evidence of Matt’s dark secret.

Two chapters and a single, seemingly innocuous gun wound later, Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin, pulls the rug out from under everyone’s feet. I can assure you, there are no happy endings for anyone, and only Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark could have followed Bendis and Maleev into the hole they’ve dug the title character into. Only they could have made things even worse. And they have, you know. You’ll be buying those books as well.

P.S. Also includes the three issues of ULTIMATE TEAM-UP so difficult to get hold of drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz.

LINK

SLH

X-Men: Siege s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu, Kieron Gillen & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Niko Henrichon.

Really? Which bit did Gillen contribute to? I snoozed, I losed obviously [NEW MUTANTS – Ed.]. Anyway: the siege that was never a siege not even from the X-Men’s point of view for this features no X-Men, merely the NEW MUTANTS and Wolverine’s son Daken from DARK WOLVERINE.

How do you feel about being lied to, by the way? Does it impress you? Does your loyalty to such a company actually increase because they have successfully hoodwinked you out of money when they could have been honest instead?

LINK

SLH

Siege: Battlefield s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed, Sean McKeever, Kieron Gillen, Chris Gage, Jonathan Hickman & Marco Santucci, Mahmud Asar, Jamie McKelvie, Federico Dallocchio, Alessandro Vitti.

Individuals’ perspective on the SIEGE that was never a siege. They didn’t do any siegeing, either. They just sort of smacked each other around. Reprints the one-shot tie-ins.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

(Use our search engine – reviews will still follow for some; most softcover editions of previous hardcovers will already have reviews up.)

Acme Novelty Library #20 (£17-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chris Ware
Walking Dead vol 13: Too Far Gone (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Good Dog, Bad Dog Book 1 (£9-99, DFC) by Dave Shelton
Jesus On ThyFace: Social Networking For The Modern Messiah (£9-99, S&S) by Denise Haskew, Steve W. Parker
Greek Street vol 2: Cassandra Complex (£10-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & David Gianfelice
Elmer (£9-99, SLG) by Gerry Alanguilan
Castle Waiting vol 2 h/c (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Linda Medley
The Metabarons vol 2: Aghnar & Oda (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Juan Giminez
The Metabarons vol 4: Aghora & The Last Metabaron (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Juan Giminez
Depresso (£12-99, Knockabout) by Brick
The Darkness / Pitt (£10-99, Top Cow) by Paul Jenkins, Phil Hester & Dale Keown, various
Witchblade: Redemption (£3-99, Top Cow) by Ron Marz & Stjepan Sejic
The Hunting Of The Snark h/c (£10-99, Melville) by Lewis Carroll & Mahendra Singh
Echo vol 5: Black Hole (£11-99, Abstract) by Terry Moore
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Mack & Pascal Alixe
Chew vol 3: Just Desserts (£9-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory
Luna Park s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Kevin Baker & Daniel Zezelj
Dead Space: Salvage (£13-50, IDW) by Antony Johnson & Christopher Shy
Planetary vol 4: Spacetime Archaeology s/c (£13-50, Wildstorm) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
Thor: Across All Worlds (£22-50, Marvel) by Dan Jurgens & Andy Kubert, Eric Larsen, Stuart Immonen
Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski & Jason Pearson
Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Realm Of Kings s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Wesley Craig
Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2: Chameleons h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente, Takeshi Miyazawa
Gotham City Sirens vol 2: Songs Of The Sirens h/c (£14-99, DC) by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Marc Andreyko & Guillem March, Andres Guinaldo
Sock Monkey: Little Maakies On The Prairie (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionnaire
Charley’s War vol 7: The Great Mutiny (£14-99, Titan) by Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun
Farscape vol 2: Strange Detractors s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon, Keith R.A. Decandido & Will Sliney
The Littlest Pirate King (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Perre Mac Orlan & David B.
Taro And The Magic Pencil (£5-99, Viz) by Sango Morimoto
The Last Days Of American Crime (£10-99, Radical) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini
The Savage Sword Of Kull vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Roy Thomas, Glenn Lord, Steve Englehart, Lin Carter, Robert E. Howard, Fred Blosser, Gerry Conway, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Bernie Wrightson, Glenn Lord, Howard Chaykin, Lin Carter, Barry Windsor-Smith, Ross Andru, Wally Wood, Marie Severin, John Severin, Roy G. Krenkel, Jess Jodloman, Walt Simonsen, Vicente Alcazar, Sonny Trinidad, Rick Hoberg, Bill Wray, Mike Ploog, David Wenzel, Sal Buscema, Tony de Zuniga, Jim Neal, Alfredo Alcala, John Bolton, Geof Isherwood, Val Semeiks, Art Nichols, Fraja Bator, Pablo Marcos
Powers vol 13: Z (£18-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
Deadpool vol 4: Monkey Business h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi, Dalibor Talajic
Realm Of Kings s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Scott Reed & Leonardo Manco, Mahmud Asrar, Pablo Raimondi, Wellinton Alves, Tim Seeley, Kevin Walker, Miguel Munera
Spectrum vol 17 (£22-50, Underwood) by various
Superman: Last Stand Of New Krypton vol 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by James Robinson, Sterling Gates & Travis Moore. Julian Lopez, Pete Woods, Jamal Igle, Javier Pina, Bernard Chang, Eduardo Pansica
Batman: The Brave And The Bold: The Fearsome Fangs Strike Again (£9-99, DC) by J. Torres, Landry Walker & J. Bone, Eric Jones, Carlo Barberi
Marvel 1602: Spider-Man (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Ramon Rosanas
Fantastic Four vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham
Hetalia Axis Powers vol 1 (£8-50, Tokyopop) by Hidekaz Himaruya
Ninja Girls vol 4 (£8-50, Del Rey) by Hosana Tanaka
Real vol 9 (£9-99, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue
Vagabond vol 9 VIZBIG (£14-99, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue
Gantz vol 14 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Saturn Apartments vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Hisade Iwaoka

Oh, I think Tom will be reviewing that last one! The fold-out cover is magnificent! LINK

 – Stephen

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