Reviews November 2010 week three

Solipsistic Pop #3 (£11-99) by Kristyna Baczynski, Becky Barnicoat, Adam Cadwell, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Francesca Cassavetti, Faz Choudhury, David O’Connell, Darryl Cunningham, Rob Davis, Joe Decie, John Cei Douglas, Marc Ellerby, Sarah Gordon, Anne Holiday, Tom Humberstone, Daniel Locke, Lizz Lunney, Luke Pearson, Octavia Raitt, Edward Ross, Philippa Rice, Anna Saunders, Julia , Andrew Waugh.

Tom will be back with a full review of this shortly, but for now can I just say that this is a third very cool package indeed. Love the Beano-like cover with its free pencil and stickers; good old Ellerby – never puts a foot wrong. Apart from bearing his pubes in public.

Of course they get the top spot this week: individualistic, heartfelt, professionally organised, thinking outside the box and beautifully printed and packaged. This and BIRDSONG confound all the idle and ignorant stigmatic preconceptions that some old fanboys (fanmen? Makes them sound like gay fluffers!) have about self-published material: that it’s drawn in biro and printed on toilet paper. No, that was the suicide note you wrote to your mother which you tore up the next morning when sober.

Editions one and two back in stock as of the time of typing.

LINK

SLH

The Unsinkable Walker Bean vol 1 (£10-50, First Second) by Aaron Renier ~

Of course it starts as any really awesome adventure does, with a map and a legend, but from then on WALKER BEAN astounds with an unpredictable vitality rarely experienced let alone bound in a book. Jeff Smith’s BONE condensed that feeling, as does Kazu Kibuishi with AMULET, and I love those series but neither compress so much action, mystery and life into any one of their books as Aaron does in Walker Bean’s odyssey.

It seemed like only yesterday that Walker’s Grandpa put him to bed with incredible stories of Merwitches, Atlantean sailors and briny graves. Now Walker sits at his sick Grandpa’s bedside, and if half of what he says is true then the stories that used to keep Walker awake long at night might be what keep him out of a watery grave.

In a sack at home is irrefutable proof that the legend of Atlantis and its downfall at the claws of two sinister Merwitches is all true, for in that sack is a huge pearl in the shape of a skull that bestows infinite knowledge for anyone with thick enough blood. And, as Grandpa Bean found out, anyone who stares at it soon dies cursed by the knowledge that the pearl’s monstrous owners are hunting them down. The only cure is to return the terrible thing. Walker’s father, a Naval Captain, is less convinced by the skull’s power, but sure of its wealth. He finds a possible buyer through the creepy Doctor Patches, and together they plot to sail north and meet the Doctor’s benefactor. But Walker has other ideas. On the lam with the skull in tow, Walker (who initially is something of a milksop) has to evade every pirate, brigand, and even Captain Bean, his own greedy father, to deliver the skull pearl back to the watery prison in the Mango Island trench. But things go from bad to worse to catastrophic before he even gets to the sea! First he’s robbed by a funny-looking, pointy-eared girl then he’s captured by his father and the weird Doctor Patches, before Captain Bean’s ship is blown up by pirates and Walker, presumed dead, becomes a stowaway on the pirate ship.

And that’s only a very brief summary of the first thirty-five pages! Poor Walker, although he clearly hasn’t much in the wits department yet, a rather special box his Grandpa bestowed upon him before he left port makes up for it, and he has another 160 pages to get it together.

After decades of playing this kind of adventure in computer games the thought of ever finding one as immersive as the many outings of LEGEND OF ZELDA or as hilarious and clever as MONKEY ISLAND became unlikely, but the world Aaron’s created here is so watertight you’d think he inked it with tar! It’s an intensely detailed world. Even bit-characters are given unique motivation and history. Fanciful inventions play a huge role in the story as Walker in a pure A-Team moment combines a Steamer and a Galleon to create a walking land ship Hayao Miyazaki would be impressed by. And in order to create such brilliant things Aaron’s clearly thought long and hard about how this world works: the Pirate ship itself is a microcosmic society wherein each crew member has a role, whether it be agitator or footstool. The complexity of Walker’s relationship with his father and in turn his grandpa is as sticky and conflicted as anything Philip Pullman created for His Dark Materials, while the subtle clues he drops into the art beg to be interacted with. Throughout the book appear rune-like glyphs, and along his travels Walker finds the means and the help to decipher them, and by proxy so do you.

Hoards of sinister manipulators do nothing to reduce the impact of seeing the almost Harryhausen-esque, 100-foot Merwitches rising from the waves, but it’s the flickering shadows in the creaky bowels of the nautical vessels which really set the tone for this accomplished adventure which rewards with each reread.

LINK

TR

Tonoharu vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Pliant) by Lars Martinson…

Seems forever since TONOHARU PART ONE came out but, dear reader, do take that as a measure of just how long I’ve been looking forward to part two! Dan Wells, teaching assistant on a Japanese placement programme in the rural village of Tonoharu is well, totally bored, quite frankly. Given that he doesn’t actually speak Japanese particularly well, he finds himself living a rather lonely existence, as his Japanese colleagues have, in his eyes at least, all but given up trying to communicate with him. His main social interactions are provided by a couple of ex-pats he’s made acquaintances with, and the rather odd older foreigners who inhabit the converted Buddhist temple, throwing the occasional arty party. In reality though he’s probably the one that’s given up trying to interact with the locals and even life itself as well somewhat, judging from the shoddy, unclean state of his flat, and just how long it even takes him to get around to changing a light bulb – i.e. not at all.

Part Two opens with Dan continuing his sporadic attempts to pursue his unrequited crush on American ex-pat Constance, who seems far more interested in the hard-drinking artist John Darley. Mr. Darley already has a Japanese girlfriend, although he does appear to be interested in Constance, in fact there might something going on between the two of them, Dan isn’t really sure. But who it is that Constance is planning a vacation to India with, if it’s not John? All Dan knows is, he feels like the third wheel whenever the three of them go out together.

Meanwhile there’s also Steve, the rather annoying chap who only seems interested in one thing to the point of bordering on obsession: Japanese girls. He’s absolutely the last person Dan should be getting advice on his social life from, not that Dan has a lot of choice as Steve seems particularly keen on imparting his own particular brand of wisdom over a drink or two, usually at Dan’s expense. This unsolicited advice leads Dan into a rather unexpected relationship with one of his Japanese teaching colleagues who, it turns out in no great surprise, are actually quite sociable once he actually starts making an effort. But is she just a sensitive girl, or a potential emotional basketcase he’s going to wish he hadn’t got involved with?

The motivations of the mysterious older foreigners for being in Tonoharu are also becoming clearer… they’ve just got more money than sense, given the way they’re handing out grants for chancers like John Darley to make art, and generally swanning around the village acting like slightly snobbish if extremely polite patrons.

TONOHARU is extremely well crafted storytelling, with engaging characters, plus the precise parallel and occasionally hatched, black-lined, pale blue-toned art has a real depth and weighty feel to it, frequently making you pause to take in the intricately simple detailing. My favourite panel probably being the bizarre parade float the well-to-do foreigners have sponsored the creation of, which I think is probably one of only the two or three times the equally regimented format of four boundless panels per page is broken in the entire book. Great stuff and once again, as soon as I’d finished this volume I wanted more! I don’t know how long it’s going to take Lars Martinson to get out the concluding volume, but I’m eagerly anticipating it already.

LINK

JR

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec vol 1: Pterror Over Paris & The Eiffel Tower h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…

“I have just noticed something both extraordinary and troubling which I would prefer to disbelieve… Yesterday, walking through the museum, I paused before this 136-million-year-old pterodactyl egg, which I know as if I had laid it myself, and I realised it had hatched! Yes, hatched! Incredible as it may seem! Scientifically impossible, but the evidence is incontrovertible: it has hatched. Observe the hole in the roof.”

“Heavens! Might this have anything to do with the pterodactyl that is all over the papers? What do you think?”

I’d hazard a guess it’s quite likely, myself. Nice to see Fantagraphics going slightly off the wall with their next tranche of Tardi material. Apparently ADELE BLANC-SEC is one of Tardi’s own favourite creations and you can see just from this first volume, collecting together the first two of the nine published works featuring the character, that he’s really thrown himself into creating some wonderfully complex and bizarre stories for the eponymous and somewhat cynical protagonist Miss Blanc-Sec.

Indeed the series editor at Fantagraphics has commented that they were deliberately holding back on (re-)translating and releasing this material until after they’d put out what they perceived to be some of the more accessible Tardi material (for the American market) such as IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES and WEST COAST BLUES. I can understand why they would have taken that route, but I’m pleased that this material is getting its turn, although that is very probably due to the well received Luc Besson-helmed movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec already released across most of Europe this year, and very shortly to be released in the UK and US.

The Adele Blanc-Sec material has some common themes running throughout with occultism, mysticism, mentalism and pseudo science-fiction of the Houdini-esque type prevalent in the pre-WWI era, frequently being the driving force behind the stories, but Tardi also takes the opportunity to take a few satirical swipes and occasionally make a serious point about themes such as corruption and nationalism. He also continues the great French theme in comics of portraying the police as a bunch of bumbling idiots which, let’s be honest, is always good amusement value when done well.

What is really great about this particular Fantagraphics release is we get Tardi in colour again for the first time, with a rather eclectic palette of colours (I’m not sure pterodactyls really were burgundy*) enriching some outstanding fine line penmanship. The ligne claire school of artistry, including the typically detailed backgrounds and slightly cartoonish aspect to the characters, is therefore considerably more evident here than on the more heavily penned black and white material released by Fantagraphics before now.

I’m not making a statement that one style is better than the other, far from it. What it does demonstrate though is that Tardi is obviously an extremely accomplished artist as well as writer. Still, one could spot his hand at a distance of a thousand yards, irrespective of the particular stylistic approach he has chosen to employ. The nice thing though for those of us who’ve come to appreciate his work, is that we know it to be the hallmark of quality.

* I was merely middle-aged at the time, but I can assure you that pterodactyls were indeed burgundy, as was my choice of vino – Ed. (Partial to a little of the blanc-sec myself.)

LINK

JR

Gravel vol 3: The Last King Of England (£14-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer & Mike Wolfer…

“So… the case?”

“Look Bull, I’m not a criminal investigator. I wasn’t even comfortable calling myself an occult detective when I was in the Minor Seven. I can’t tell you why people do what they do. I’m just the chap you come to when you need to know how to pull a bloke’s larynx out with one thumb.”

The body count continues apace, and in ever-more inventive and unpleasant manners. Just to recap… so far in volumes one and two Gravel killed off the original Minor Seven magicians who were charged with overseeing the day-to-day magic-related matters of the United Kingdom, then the Major Seven who were involved in rather more esoteric matters, and then he set about replacing the Minor Seven with his own hand-picked new recruits. So far, so good. So maybe now he can take a rest from killing people and enjoy his new position as the King of British Magicians, and have a well earned pint or two?

Well, it seems someone isn’t happy with the new pecking order at all, because now they’ve decided to start the whole process again by killing off the Minor Seven. Blimey, there’s never a dull moment around Sgt. Major Gravel is there? I’m enjoying GRAVEL more and more with each volume now. I think I’ve finally adjusted mentally to the fact it’s not intended to be a HELLBLAZER clone per se, and thus not really to be compared to that title at all. GRAVEL is a more frenetic type of story, simply because William Gravel is a full-on in your face combat magician, not an occult investigator, or whatever the hell John Constantine actually is, besides being the sneakiest and most duplicitous bastard around. Gravel mind you, isn’t too shabby on that front, as the unofficial representative of Buckingham Palace, who’s ‘just popped in to make acquaintances’ with the new magician King might be in danger of finding out if he doesn’t behave himself.

There’s not quite as much intrigue and machinations as in HELLBLAZER for sure, but there’s certainly a lot more in-your-face magic going on here, which is great fun to read. Once again, I note there is a film in the offing, and apparently Warren is doing the screenplay himself, which has got to be good news. Oh and Michael Cera has apparently been signed up to play Gravel. Well, not really. No news on that particular piece of casting (see what I did there?) as of yet.

LINK

JR

Bad World reprint (£8-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Jacen Burrows.

Highly entertaining, illustrated discourse on the skewed ways in which various manic-obsessive and strangely unsectioned members of the population interpret then react to the world around them. From those who would resurrect Christ using cloning techniques on DNA they hope to scrape off holy relics, to suicide cults planning to evacuate their bodies in order to board a spaceship to The Next Level; from The Christian’s Guide To Small Arms, to a man who considers America to be a desecration of God’s authority and whose secession movement would give the country three choices: ”1) Return to God’s plan for government; (2) allow a State or States to secede from the presently united States of America; or (3) enter a period of nuclear civil war”; and from Dennis Nilsen to Issei Sagawa, all these individuals, sects and manifestos Warren has researched before serving them up with a half-horrified, half-amused commentary and his usual flair for put-downs. Here’s one at random:

“Sometimes, the world goes bad for people through no fault of their own. They’re just born with bad wiring. I don’t know if there’s a better explanation for the sexual preference of the macroherpetophile. There’s a macroherpetophile community on the web. They seem like imaginative, pleasant, harmless people. But, well… a herpetophile is sexually attracted to lizards. Macro, of course, indicates great size.

“Macroherpetophiles want to f**k Godzilla.”

Bestiality is currently legal in 254 states of the U.S., apparently.

“These are not just funny stories. These are snapshots of life as it is actually lived. For them to be somehow unusual would indicate that they don’t happen often. And guess what? If they were rare, I wouldn’t have such a choice to cull from to write about to fill this book.”

SLH

RASL Pocket Book 1 (£13-50, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith.

The first thing to note is that this repacking of the first two album-sized editions of RASL isn’t really pocketbook-sized at all, just slightly smaller than the standard American comicbook size. You don’t appear to like the idea of album-sized editions because they haven’t sold half as fast as I would expect a book to sell from the creator of the magnificent BONE.

Although really the first thing to note is that this is excellent, transdimensional speculative fiction firmly informed by science which Tom and I fight over reviewing. Does the name Tesla mean anything to you? He experimented with electricity and, some would say in hushed whispers, with more. So here we go with our original reviews of both books!

Ah, le comicbook duet! Here’s Tom on issue one ~

Blistering new sci-fi series from the creator of BONE. Rasl is a pan-dimensional art thief. Want a Mona Lisa of your very own? For a price Rasl will use his spectral immersion suit to ride the light into a parallel dimension and nab one for you. Just be patient though, travelling at the speed of light between worlds is quite painful, so he’ll take a few days of drinking, gambling and womanising before he may get back to you. Inspired by the popular science theories of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Brian Green, Smith’s new series sounds like something Grant Morrison might come up with, and looks more Paul Pope than his now familiar BONE style. The complete lack of anything cuddly isn’t a bad point though. As anyone who stuck with BONE to the end knows, Smith is almost too good at mixing dark and moody with pure pop. In short, this rocks.

Now here is me after issue three:

“No” is the answer to that most commonly asked question, “This is nothing like BONE“. You had nine books of that, so don’t you think it’s well past time for something completely different? This is about as refreshingly far from the brilliant BONE as Dave Sim’s JUDENHASS is different to GLAMOURPUSS. One-trick ponies there are aplenty, but Jeff Smith isn’t one of them.

This is a brutally noir piece of extrapolated science set over several fictional worlds in which the art-thief hero, I infer, stole the technology he’s been using to hop between dimensions because it could have been used as an electromagnetic weapon. Unfortunately someone or something is hot on his tail, has murdered his girlfriend and is on verge of murdering her counterpart if Robert can’t take the fight back to them. There’s a real physicality to the protagonist with slightly simian looks, his big mop of hair, his compacted, body-builder physique and the fountain of sweat that sprays off his face. Even the way he pulls up his slacks is sexually charged. You imagine he might have a growl like Tom Waits, and he sure likes his liquor bars and strip joints.

It’s too early to judge where this is going yet, but where it’s coming from involves parallel universes, conspiracy, Native American symbolism/spirituality and knowing your Bob Dylan. Well, it does for “Rasl” Robert, which is why he knows he made the wrong turning at the pandimensional traffic lights. Some clever scenes where he’s caught off his guard by the seemingly familiar, and finds it not so.

Now add this to the mix after issue six:

“Siberia. June 30, 1908, 7:14 AM.
“The villagers of this remote region near the Tunguska River are awakened by a huge ball of fire. Witnesses report a column of light brighter than the sun splitting the sky in two. The explosion that followed was a thousand times more powerful than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima.
“A century later, and scientists are still trying to figure out what caused the Tunguska Event. Most believe it was a comet that cleaved the atmosphere, bursting mid-air a few miles above the ground. Some believe the radiation found in the area can only be explained by the explosion of a nuclear powered UFO.
“Me? Even as a kid, I knew Nikola Tesla did it.”

When this was solicited I wrote that it was worth musing over the fact that both Jeff and Terry Moore have chosen to go the science route, here and in ECHO, that they seemed to be in-synch. As it happens both this and ECHO vol 4 turned up on the very same day.

Rarely have I been so fascinated by science, either. They’re both science-fiction thrillers involving potentially catastrophic experimental research the protagonists are trying to thwart, and both backed up with substantial research of the hard science and history they’re extrapolated from. Here the concentration is on Nikola Tesla and his former friend turned ruthless and vengeful enemy Thomas Edison, and Tesla’s monumental achievements in alternating current followed by the obsession and deception which proved his downfall and sent him down a different road altogether. All this from Robert’s early love of 1931’s Frankenstein film and its electrical divergence from Mary Shelley’s novel. An increasingly worn out Rob, in the meantime, successfully steals another Picasso from an alternate dimension and then gets careless.

LINK

SLH

Make Me A Woman h/c by (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Vanessa Davis…

“… And then I ran away, crying, and I tripped, and kind of tumbled down the mountain aways!”

“I swear, Vanessa. You tell the best stories, no one tells stories like you! You are always in the funniest situations! The craziest things happen to you!”

“Eh, funny stuff happens to everyone. I just remember it more.”

“No, I don’t forget stuff! I just think you have a cooler life than most people, where more fun things happen!

“Ha! Okay!”

I genuinely love autobiographical comics with a passion; they are in fact consistently my favourite genre in the entire medium. Biographical works far less so interestingly enough, but that’s an aside. So perhaps it’s the insight into other peoples’ lives, to see exactly what scurrilous details they’re prepared to reveal about themselves, or just humiliate themselves in Joe Matt’s case, their relationships to friends, family and significant others like in Chester Brown’s work, and usually for creators though not always, how they actually approach their own comics, both practically and emotionally, no one capturing this sometime tortuous process more imaginatively and engagingly than Eddie Campbell.

However, however, there is of course one major proviso… it has to be interesting. And this is where I just can’t understand the quote above. I really admire Vanessa Davis’ pencils and watercolours. She is a fine artist with a very nice style of her own. She does capture moments or conversations very well, conveying the content and emotion present in a situation. It’s just that as a whole this work reads like a rather bland diary, a presentation of rather mundane events with very little of interest actually happening to retain the reader’s attention. In fact upon finishing it, I couldn’t really tell you one significant thing that actually happened to her.

So in that respect this work doesn’t really succeed for me, but I am aware that is most definitely a personal opinion, as I imagine fans of John Porcellino’s easy-going style of autobiography will probably love this. It’s just for me there doesn’t seem to be any actual ongoing thread of narrative, unlike say Seth’s IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN, which despite hardly being a thrill-a-minute action-packed read, has a rather gently meandering and intriguing undercurrent of a story that pulls you along with him as he investigates an element of his past. On the other hand if you want to read a truly ridiculous diary narrative packed full of humour, (which is actually fictional but nonetheless utterly completely believably) you should check out UNLOVEABLE vols 1 and 2.

LINK

JR

Bent h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave Cooper.

Guillermo del Toro provides an exceptional two-page introduction I could never hope to match for linguistic dexterity or even accuracy as he nails the contents of this art book from the creator of CRUMPLE. My only regret is that Cooper does appear to have left the medium of comics for the lofty, more lucrative heights of Lowbrow. Here’s del Toro:

“The salient feature of all the artists I truly admire is one: compulsion – the feeling that whatever images pour out of them, ooze from a place that pulsates with unholy need…

“I am utterly convinced that, in the past, Dave Cooper mixed his oils with night sweat, and teeth grindings, the guilt monkey on his back riding him mercilessly, forcing him to stack his paintings like sandbags against the flood…

“These new landscapes remain unprecedented and hypnotic. At play here are both the innocence and wholesomeness of plastic toys and the sweaty, adult realities of desire.

“Polymorphic nymphs tempt or acquiesce to each other as they transform, pupate and ooze onto each other, fusing their bodies, contorting them in a never-ending search for pleasure.”

Dave Cooper has a very, very cool beard.

LINK

SLH

Fables Covers h/c new printing (£37-99, Vertigo/DC) by James Jean.

Covers and wraparounds from one of the most sought-after artists accompanied by preparatory work, alternative earlier visions and experimentations, and annotations by James Jean himself on his research, reasoning and compositions.

LINK

SLH

Naruto Illustration Book (£14-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto.

The boy who made orange curiously cool. Album-sized, this boasts loads of full-page, full-colour illustrations, ‘The Tailed Beasts Scroll Unsealed’ revealing the name and home village of all nine hosts, and a whole sheet of stickers too.

LINK

SLH

7 Billion Needles vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano…

“You died once.

“After I rebuilt your body, before you regained consciousness, I studied everything about this heavenly body, the Earth. I can only survive in the bloodstream of an Earthling.

“That’s why I cannot leave you.”

More finest-gauge, hard sci-fi, this time based on Hal Clement’s 1950’s seminal classic Needle. The basic premise is really quite simple, there’s a covert invasion afoot by a single alien of the body-snatching variety, but one with the potential capabilities for destroying the entire human race if left to get on with his dastardly mission unchecked.

Fortunately for all humanity the lifeform, known as Maelstrom, was being tracked across space by another alien deadly intent on stopping them. Unfortunately, however for our friendly extra-terrestrial, he has absolutely no idea which body the bad guy has taken over. And rather more unfortunately for all concerned, due to a somewhat untidy crash-landing on Earth, he’s stuck inside the body of a Japanese high school girl Hikaru Takabe he killed upon impact, and has been forced to reconstruct molecule by molecule and inhabit just to keep her alive. The only difference which somewhat comprises the urgency of his mission is that his moral code won’t allow him to simply take control of Hikaru, and she, in true difficult teenager style, is doing her utmost to just ignore him, and even deny he’s there at all inside her head.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as both extra-terrestrial beings try and work out which body is hosting their arch-foe in order to strike the decisive blow first, and poor old Hikaru just tries to come to terms with her new state of being. People enjoying BIOMEGA should definitely take a look, even though this isn’t as out-there as that title; mind you what could be!

LINK

JR

Serenity vol 3: The Shepherd’s Tale h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon,

Zack Whedon & Chris Samnee.

Right, according to our Tom (he knows stuff), this is the story you’ve all been clamouring for: how Shepherd Book found God in a bowl of soup. Apparently it was hinted throughout the Firefly series that there was more to the pastor than was actually revealed… and then in the film they killed him. Whoops. Now they’re killing me with the price they’re charging for 56 pages – such jokers. Hasn’t stopped it shooting out, though.

LINK

SLH

Lenore vol 3: Cooties h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge

Cute-but-dead was a thriving industry six years ago: LENORE, THE CAT WITH A REALLY BIG HEAD AND ONE OTHER STORY THAT ISN’T AS GOOD, SQUEE, JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC and, best by far, Jamie Smart’s BEAR.

The shop used be packed on a Saturday with Tweeny Goths (third-generation mascara addicts who added a fluff of pink to the night and actually smiled and laughed rather than morosed their way through the melancholy minefield that is life*). Dirge’s toys were always packaged with a magnificent wit to the extent that Mark even allowed them to pop up in the window.

So yes, Lenore: the cute-but-dead girl in comedy cartoon violence. A new issue and a reprint of the last one not included in the books is due from Titan in January 2011.

* New verb: morose. Probably best avoided in GSCE exams as anything other than an adjective.

LINK

SLH

Spider-Man Ultimate Collection vol 5 (£25-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski, Joe Quesada & Ron Garney, Tyler Kirkham, Joe Quesada

Final repackaged Straczynski volume containing the CIVIL WAR issues, BACK IN BLACK and ONE MORE DAY. Tony Stark convinces a doubtful Peter to unmask on television as part of his pro-Registration Act campaign. At which point Peter swiftly decides he’s backed the wrong horse and ends up on the run. Without any legal or physical protection, and every one of his enemies now knowing his identity, it’s only a matter of time before his worst fears come true. Here are the individual components’ original reviews:

CIVIL WAR:

Well, it gave me a lump in my throat, but maybe I should have chewed first.

This adds some extra heart to the CIVIL WAR proceedings. Some humour as well when Peter gives up following reactions to his “big reveal” and puts the two phones together so that he doesn’t have to pass messages between Reed and Sue Richards on one line, and Mary Jane and Aunt May on the other. It makes the civil rights argument far more forcefully, for it’s here that Peter learns that internment is for life without trial: the only way out is to capitulate and sign the Superhuman Registration Act, and the internment in question isn’t on some off-shore legal loophole but in another dimension altogether.

I really don’t want to say much more, except that if anyone’s journey through the CIVIL WAR is the most troubling and complex, difficult and dangerous, it’s Peter Parker’s. I’d recommend you read this after CIVIL WAR and as well as, and I don’t often say that, do I?

BACK IN BLACK:

With Peter’s identity exposed to the world, his loved ones lie exposed to his enemies, one of whom follows the opportunity through with a bullet. Because Peter ended up on the losing side of the Civil War, he is legally now a criminal. That means he’s on the run with frozen assets, the medical fees are mounting just as Mary Jane’s money is dwindling, and every action he takes in a costume either to save his Aunt or to seek retribution adds to his tally of crimes – and this time they’re actual rather than merely perceived crimes. Add to that the number of felonies he starts to commit out of costume just to keep his dying Aunt in care but undetected by the authorities… I know it’s been done before, but never this “thoroughly” I don’t think: the gradual erosion of hope in a succession of false starts or failures and then a visit from a priest and…

Ron Garney shows a knack for the tired and the brittle as things grow increasingly bleak. As I wrote about the storyline currently following this, I don’t know how things work out yet, but it looks to me as if Straczynski’s setting up a tension here between Peter and Mary Jane which at the moment looks like mutual support – MJ with her love and instant generosity, Peter with his fervent optimism – but it boils down to MJ being realistic about the prospects while Peter remains in complete denial.

ONE MORE DAY:

Oh my God! Is that Bobby Ewing in the shower, being editorially interfered with?!

Emotional stuff, this, and darkity dark, dark, dark. Hardly a punch thrown either – it’s all about that terrible final kiss before you must say good-bye, and then some. No offence to Straczynski, because the script is smashing, but the finest sequences are the awful, silent ones as Joe Q tugs on your heart strings like nobody’s business.

Previously on Planet Parker: Peter unmasks on TV in CIVIL WAR. He then swaps sides, goes on the run, and fails to stop a sniper’s bullet from hitting Aunt May. It’s not a graze, either. Only one more day for little Aunt May whose life signs are faltering fast. Peter will do anything – absolutely anything – to save her, even if it means making a deal with the devil himself. But what is the deal that Mephisto is offering in exchange for Aunt May’s life, and why does Mary Jane have to agree to it as well?

As I say, emotional stuff, but not half as emotional as fans’ reactions until some of them actually read the subsequent BRAND NEW DAY episodes and realised that some of them are an enormous amount of fun.

Forty to fifty pages of extras include covers, annotated sketches, pencil work and interviews with JMS and Joe Q.

LINK

SLH

Spider-Man: One Moment In Time h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada & Joe Quesada, Paolo Riveria.

“Oh God — Why didn’t you just let me forget too? I just wanted to forget.”

Far more imaginative and complex than anyone had anticipated, the past is finally revealed post-ONE MORE DAY.

In that final Straczynski story arc now reprinted in SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOL 5 Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker agreed to sacrifice their marriage to Mephisto in order to save Aunt May, and in the blink of an eye history rewrote itself: they had never been married. Instead they were estranged, and no one wanted to talk about what happened. Over the course of the year it became clear that no one other than Mary Jane remembered that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Yet, as is revealed here, CIVIL WAR still happened, Peter had unmasked on television and Aunt May was, as a direct consequence, shot and hospitalised, fighting a losing battle for her life. In fact, at one point, she lost.

Mephisto, it transpired, changed none of that. So what actually happened? What happened to prevent their marriage? (I swear it is not the first, obvious hindrance so bear with it…) Who brought Aunt May back to life? (I swear, it is not some hocus pocus voodoo shit…) How is it that no one in the world remembers that Spider-Man is Peter Parker? (Err, that may be some hocus pocus voodoo stuff…) But more importantly why is Mary Jane the sole exception? That one… that one, and their subsequent conversation take the biscuit for heart-wrenching irony.

I wish Quesada could have found time to draw the entire book but that simply wouldn’t be practical as editor-in-chief of a now-bloated Marvel Comics. It was barely practical when Quesada had the company lean, healthy and under control. But at least he found time to write it, and at least he made the wise decision to be on hand to draw the present and the key conversation in the past just after Peter makes the wrong decision for all the right reasons (truth and love, not living a lie) because he nails the staccato timing in the dialogue and the awful silences as the implications dawn on the couple.

There are a few better writers at Marvel but only a few and only because Quesada invited them personally. But this is a triumph and a most unlikely one at that.

LINK

SLH

Siege: Embedded s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed & Samnee.

With Fox News and their shout-a-likes egging on Osborn, the few Americans who could still be considered journalists are prohibited from covering the assault on Asgard. But when Ben Urich bumps into an old friend/anchorman and they both bump into a dazed Volstagg (and bounce back a couple of blocks), they decide to go on a road trip to Oklahoma. Don’t you think it’s a little strange that Volstagg’s been left to wander round Chicago unarrested?

Character studies, roughs, pencils and inks in the back. Urich oscillates from being anything from a smoker at sixty to a fit-as-fiddle forty, but that’s fine.

LINK

SLH

Generation Hope #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Espin.

Translated from Japanese (I’ve been practising), someone is making an exhibition of himself:

“I am becoming art. Art is ideas. Ideas aren’t real. Therefore… I am becoming art. Art is ideas. Ideas aren’t real. Therefore…”

“Mr. Kenji! Ah. I’m extraordinarily sorry I’ve disturbed you… I’m equally sorry if I’m stepping in you latest masterwork. ‘Black Noxious Goo’ certainly is a new direction. Everyone is going to be thrilled. What is it, actually? No, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know what taboo the enfant terrible of the Tokyo art scene is violating. But I do need to know when it’ll be ready. ‘The Future Is A Four-Letter Word’ has been booked for months. You promised new work. Major work…”

“Almost done. Almost ready. Almost finished. Everything finished everything finished. Becoming art. Art ideas. Ideas not real. Becoming art. Ideas aren’t real. Therefore: are you real? Is anything real?”

“Kenji… Are you all right?”

“I am becoming art. Want… a preview?”

Ugh. Someone just got a private viewing, and they didn’t even get a glass of wine first.

The first mutant born since HOUSE OF M, Hope has returned from the future and her presence in our present appears to have catalysed five further manifestations. Each has been violently unstable until Hope’s laying-on-of-hands and now the first four have joined her to track down the fifth in Tokyo, Japan, where Cyclops and Wolverine are about to see life hall-of-mirror art in a truly fucked up fashion. Because so far they’ve been lucky: so far these new mutants – these new Lights as Hope calls them – have just been physically unstable. This Light she might want to switch off then rip out its fuse box altogether.

It’s an unusually fine first issue for a mutant superhero series, each of the Lights on their way to Tokyo giving thought to their predicament. Although Teon is more instinct than thought for unlike Hank McCoy he really has been reduced to a beast (“When no one’s watching, he rubs himself against the furniture in a way I’m sure is improper.”) and when it comes to combat it’s all fight, flight or mate. Yes, there’s plenty of combat on offer because what they encounter on landing comes in the form of a great many tentacles, a self-made cyborg of muscle and metal then a massive purple-black dome of explosion.

Has someone been reading AKIRA? I fully expect to see Logan on a turbo-charged scarlet motorcycle next issue.

The art is a far cry from the neoclassical photorealism of Hitch, Finch or Lee. It’s closer to Cloonan or Kelly on a superficial level. But Espin does the horror particularly well and when you finally see Kenji in his full mutated glory… you’ll think AKIRA again!

LINK

SLH

Ultimate Thor #2 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco.

Oh. My. God. We don’t do second-issue reviews at Page 45. I’ve always thought it absurd that all those amateur sites like Newsarama and Comicbook Resources reviewed every single issue of every single Marvel Comic just so some fanboy can hope they get noticed by their favourite creator. We’ve got more important things to do. I, for example, have a button so sew back onto my cream summer jacket. But also reviewing ever so slightly more important books like DRAGONSLIPPERS or Psychiatric Tales which won’t even get a look-in there.

But almost everything Hickman (NIGHTLY NEWS, S.H.I.E.L.D., SECRET WARRIORS) touches turns to gold – even the least likely material – and although I enjoyed the first issue here, it was as nothing compared to the second which showed more cunning than Loki himself. Well, as much anyway for he makes an appearance here in a most unexpected guise (err, Loki, not Hickman, although I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if the creator of NIGHTLY NEWS did turn out to be Loki. Read the review – you’ll see what I mean.

Meanwhile the real source of discontent in Asgard is revealed, and that took me by surprise too. So who, we’re still wondering, is the Dr. Donald Blake of the Ultimate universe, here proclaiming that the man calling himself the Norse God of Thunder, and so sectioned in Europe, is neither lying nor deluded. MRI scans show activity in both the hippocampus and the neocortex: he’s remembering.

As in ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS VOL 1, Pacheco proves himself once more to be a worthy successor to Bryan Hitch, nailing Thor’s modern-day dejection as well as his Asgardian days’ humility.

SLH

Also Arrived:

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

At The Mountains Of Madness (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by H.P. Lovecraft & Ian Culbard
Hatter M vol 3: The Nature Of Wonder s/c (£10-99, Automatic) by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier & Sami Makkonen
Forgetless (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & W. Scott Forbes, Jorge Coelho
Mice Templar vol 2: Destiny Part 2 s/c (£13-50, Image) by Brian J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming & Michael Avon Oeming, Victor Santos
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali h/c Facsimile Edition (£14-99, DC) by Denny O’ Neil, Neil Adams & Neil Adams
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali h/c (£14-99, DC) by Denny O’ Neil, Neil Adams & Neil Adams
Green Lantern Corps: Emerald Eclipse  (£10-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Thor vol 5: Siege Aftermath (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson
Captain America: Two Americas s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Luke Ross, Jackson Guice
Spawn Origins vol 7 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo, Tony Daniel
Shaun Of The Dead new edition (£10-99, Titan) by Chris Ryall & Zack Howard
Black Butler vol 3 (£7-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso
Twin Spica vol 4 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma
Soul Eater vol 4 (£8-50, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

2 Responses to “Reviews November 2010 week three”

  1. BrianTM says:

    These weekly reviews are much easier to get through than the monthly.

    One thing I miss is the external links to interior art or interviews that often accompanied entries.

    Are these sort of links likely to return?

    I find myself clicking the links after certain comics, forgetting that it leads to the shop page with the same review I just read. (perhaps that link should be renamed “shop” or “buy”)

  2. admin says:

    Hmm.

    You have a point, mate… which I will swiftly forget in the morning. I’ve flagged it for the next letter column, though.

    For the moment, I still use tonnes of external links (interviews/interior art) in our monthly Previews whilst trying to keep everything on-site for Reviews (we’d quite like the money).

    But I will re-think the whole thing, particularly when it comes to calling them LINK or BUY. Let me sleep on it. (Oh, wait, I’ve just got up at 4am. Must be my copy of GRANDVILLE: MON AMOUR. Ooooh.)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

spacer
spacer
spacer