Archive for December, 2010

Reviews December 2010 week five

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Undertow (£7-99, Little White Bird) by Ellen Lindner…

Ahh, partly due to being a massive fan of Walter Hill’s seminal classic film The Warriors, I’m a guaranteed sucker for all things Coney Island-related. And here we have a glimpse of what life was actually like for 1950s poor working class New York youth whose only respite from a pretty austere and rather tough existence was to head to the beaches and amusement parks of Coney every weekend and cut loose. Hard drugs, gang fights, unsafe sex all helped to temporarily assuage a general feeling of pointlessness to their lives. They could see the rich kids with all their advantages making good and moving onwards and upwards whilst they got left further behind and stuck, usually for life, in the poorest boroughs of New York with little real prospects of their own.

UNDERTOW’s main character is the sassy Rhonda, a smart girl already suffering emotionally and physically at the hands of her alcoholic parents, and on top of that now struggling to come to terms with the unexpected death of her best friend. At this uncertain time she finds herself strangely attracted to the rich Chuck who has come down to her neighbourhood to do some social work as part of his college education. It provides a stark contrast between the lives of the haves and have-nots at the time, and a poignant example that despite what successive governments throughout the ages may trumpet out, social mobility has never been an easy thing to achieve and if you really want to better yourself, it’s up to you to do something about it. Others may be able to provide help, albeit slightly pious and perhaps self-serving, if well meaning help, but you have to believe you can make the change for yourself. Rhonda is a typical example of someone smart enough to be able to help herself but, beaten down continuously by her surroundings, she’s finding it hard to believe she can actually do it. But as Rhonda’s budding romance with Chuck shows hints of blossoming further, is one of them perhaps using the other, or are they actually falling for each other across the social divide? Can a romance started on such shifting ground ever succeed at all or will the inevitable tides of class and money pull them apart again before it even really begins?

I loved UNDERTOW; this is great piece of period fiction, where the main protagonists all perfectly fit the time and place without feeling the slightest bit stereotyped or caricatured. Lindner expertly captures the simultaneously bleak and grubbily hedonistic feel of lower working class ‘50s New York. UNDERTOW isn’t merely a romance story, although it does deliver that key aspect of a good romance – you willing the characters to get together whilst they ebb and flow to and fro, towards then away from each other – but it’s also a great piece of social history too. Her art style is perfect for this story, as these characters aren’t people who hide their emotions but display them for all to see. She certainly does an excellent angry girlfriend and sheepish boyfriend! I loved the attention to period detail too, with the huge cars, the hair styles, the boys’ leather jackets and the girls’ skirts, and the ever-present, slightly worn but kitsch interiors. The palette of black and white with very light blue tones helps to convey the ‘50s Coney Island mood perfectly.

JR

How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Sarah Glidden…

Quite simply, this is a work that anyone who has an opinion, informed or just shooting from the lip, on the ‘Palestinian situation’ ought to read. It’s a brilliant work for several reasons, underpinned by the fact that the author finds herself in a position familiar to many modern American Jews of a liberal (i.e. sane) political persuasion. She feels she should inherently be pro-Israeli because she’s Jewish, yet quite correctly believes that the average Palestinian is getting an extremely rough deal at the hands of the Israeli state. But like the vast majority of people who’ve never been to Israeli, Jews and non-Jews alike, she’s aware that her viewpoints are inevitably informed by the political spin and media she’s exposed to constantly, and that she therefore can’t really comprehend the day to day realities of life for Palestinians and Israelis, much less make a definitive judgement on who exactly is to blame for the lack of resolution of the ‘situation.’

As a young Jewish person she’s entitled to make a ten-day ‘Birthright Israel’ trip, wholly funded by the Israeli government, ostensibly to deepen the Jewish identity of Jews living outside Israel, and strengthen their ties to their religious homeland. Sarah’s expectations beforehand are that it’ll be a full-on propaganda blitz designed to convince her that all Palestinians are evil, but in fact the trip provides a rather balanced exploration of the history of the founding of Israeli with some subtle and, yes, a little not-so-subtle propaganda thrown in. Consequently she finds her prejudices challenged and the need to revise her preconceptions on more than one occasion.

This book works on several different levels. Aside from anything else, it’s an excellent autobiographical travel memoir comparable to works by Guy Delisle or Joe Sacco, which is humorously written and wonderfully illustrated. It pokes fun at Israelis (as most definitely distinct from Jews), some of whose youth – if you’ve ever done any backpacking yourself you will know – can be some of the most abrasive individuals you could ever wish not to meet. And certainly, not more than once in any event. I was personally greatly amused that Sarah took the time to highlight this little, yet rather widely observed, national idiosyncrasy.

Secondly, it’s an honest and factually accurate lesson in the history of the formation and early years of the state of Israel. The early Israeli politicians like David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, were not your run of the mill two-faced politicos of the type we have to endure in most countries around the world today. They were first and foremost nation-builders who, as Ben-Gurion was actually brave enough to publicly state, quite regretfully knew what they were taking away from the Palestinians, and therefore knew what the likely consequences would be for generations to come. But to ensure the continued survival of the Jewish race, they simply didn’t believe they had another choice. Compared to some of the ‘difficult’ decisions our so-called politicians claim they have to make on a near daily basis these days, you can’t imagine the burden of having to make such a momentous decision as to found the state of Israel, knowing you were in effect declaring war on all your neighbours and also people living within your own borders.

The warm and even-handed presentation of Sarah’s own journey of discovery about the history of Israel would have actually been enough to make a great travel memoir, but then we also get something else which elevates this work even further in my opinion. Having presented the perceived rights and wrongs of both sides’ cases through the people she meets and talks with during her time in Israel, we then get shown the case for hope, real genuine hope that there are at least some people on both sides of the divide who want to put the conflict behind them. And that there is a way of looking at the conflict that is neither solely Israeli nor Palestinian. Although, unfortunately this clarity of vision for those concerned has come about through very painful and personal losses…

“One Day we got a call from the leader of Family Forum. He asked if he could come to speak to us at our new home.
“For us it was new to hear from an Israeli Jew. When he came it was shocking because he was religious but when he started talking about how his son was killed it didn’t matter than he was Jewish and we were Arab. We just saw that he was human and had our same pain.
“Now through activities with the Family Forum in Palestine we spread our messages of peace and reconciliation. We have to rehumanize the others. The main idea is that you have to talk to someone on the other side.
“We ask only one thing of you and that is not to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestine, but to be pro-peace. And when you go back to your country explain to your friends about what we do here and help them be pro-peace too.
“Thank you.”

JR

Depresso (£12-99, Knockabout) by Brick…

DEPRESSO is best summed up as a very brutally honestly documented chapter in one man’s life. Unfortunately for Brick, or Tom Freeman as he’s called here, the period of his life he’s chosen to share with us pertains to some rather dark days indeed, during which there were times when he was figuratively and literally crippled with depression. On the one hand this is great for us, because it makes for a very fascinating and personal insight into the nightmarish depths where depression can take a person; on the other hand it was obviously not so good for Brick. Not so good at all…

I was rather unsure after the first few pages whether I was going to enjoy DEPRESSO as relatively little seems to happen initially, but I actually realised in retrospect what Brick is doing is providing an overview of himself before the disease strikes, which for those readers who’ve never come across him or his work before is actually quite essential in understanding just how much he is reduced by his illness, in so many different ways. Similarly, it took a few pages for me to warm to his art style and layouts which are heavily influenced by his years of political cartooning and lampooning of public figures. It’s an unusual style for a graphic novel for sure, but once you’ve settled into it, the energy and unreal elements one associates with a more cartoonish style in fact work extremely well in keeping the overall tone of the work light and humorous, even the when material is anything but. But rest assured, there’s plenty of genuine laughs in here too, primarily provided at Brick’s own expense.

Once Brick begins to document his downward descent into depression, initially being convinced by a rather strange psychosomatic pain in his testicles that he is suffering from cancer I was immediately engaged by his frankness, and obviously sympathetic to his suffering and sharing his frustration in his battles with the NHS to obtain any form of meaningful or helpful treatment. Why this book succeeds so well is because it is a very typical story, told without hyperbole or embellishment, of a struggle with an intangible and in many ways inexplicable disease, which blights a considerable number of us at some point during our lives. If you have ever personally experienced, or are close to someone who has or is experiencing this level of extreme depression, DEPRESSO will ring very true.

Brick captures the feeling of helplessness, both in terms of coping with the ups and more frequent downs of depression day to day, and the vagaries of the medicine-focused NHS system. But as mentioned it is done with a dark humour, expressed particularly well in the sequences showing his regular visits with physicians, all too keen to try a different medication.  And encounters with various counsellors, who with the odd exception, seem to have no great wisdom to bring to bear on his plight except trotting out well worn refrains, that again will make this all too familiar to those in the know, and also probably not shock those who aren’t!

This is a very different book from Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales, but in my mind succeeds just as admirably in humanising the suffering that mental illness brings. And not just to the individuals in question, but those around them too. Brick pays tremendous tribute to his partner Judy by objectively showing her side of the story too. She’s a tower of strength to him throughout his struggles, even though he can’t necessarily appreciate it or her at the time, you have to question whether he could have made it through to the better place he’s in now without her. As much as anything else to survive depression people need completely non-judgemental and compassionate support, and Brick is clearly very fortunate to have someone like that in Judy.

So, is there a happy ending to DEPRESSO? Yes of sorts, but as Brick very truthfully illustrates, escaping from depression and staying in a happier place is an ongoing process for sufferers.  Actually the first thing that sprang immediately to my mind upon finishing DEPRESSO was the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, ‘Life is a journey, not a destination.’ For people who are prone to bouts of depression, that’s particularly true; it’s just their journeys can be rather more arduous than most.

LINK

JR

Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Moebius…

“Before you pass any further judgement on me, I’ll give you a quote, the author of which you’re not worthy to learn: “There is no good or evil, only the divine presence under this or that trapping.”
“?!!”
“Those are the words of a saint!”
“?”
“Enough, you guys, this is a University not a temple.”
“Yeah, shut up, you ass-kissers.”

Finally Jodorowsky and Moebius’ masterpiece of religious and philosophical satire is available in its complete form in English. When Dark Horse first published this work in the UK many years ago, they only collected the first two-thirds (and then only in black and white), which culminated in a rather odd and abrupt ending. Given the nature of the work I personally – like many others at the time having chatted with a few customers about it – just assumed it was a deliberately oblique ending which possibly I hadn’t grasped the full meaning of. I now believe the only reason behind not publishing the third part at the time was it simply it hadn’t been translated yet.

Anyway, enough preamble. How best to describe MADWOMAN to those unfamiliar with the work?! Professor Alan Mangel is a charismatic and eminent Professor of Philosophy at Paris’ Sorbonne University. Whilst beloved by his students, some of whom have taken to wearing purple in reverence of him, Mangel’s private life is somewhat less successful, with a rather bitter (very soon to be ex-) wife who berates him for his impotence and inability to impregnate her. He’s somewhat ambivalent about the whole situation preferring to take solace in, and perhaps also hiding behind, his spiritual practice, until she actually leaves him taking every single possession he owns with her. This precipitates a crisis of confidence and his loyal students soon desert him in droves.

The only student who still believes in Alan in the beautiful Elisabeth, who appears to be completely insane in her belief that she has been chosen for a divine mission, to be impregnated by Alan and thus bring about the reincarnation of John the Baptist. And that’s just the beginning! What follows is a delightfully farcical and satirical romp as Alan, seemingly unable to take control of the situation and sensibly just bring things to a halt, gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble.

He soon finds himself on the run for a murder he didn’t commit which occurs in the course of helping a local drug dealer spring a girl from a Parisian asylum. Elisabeth is convinced they are the reincarnations of Joseph and Mary respectively, and that they will produce a child who will be the second coming of Jesus. Just to make things a little more complicated for Alan the girl in question is the daughter of a Columbian cocaine baron, who promptly dispatches a hit squad to track down his beloved child and deal with the people responsible for her disappearance. If that weren’t enough to deal with, Alan is also finding himself troubled by a rather lustful inner demon in the shape of his younger self, who chides him for not grasping the moment and making the most of his current situation, whilst continually making some distinctly suggestive suggestions. Oh, and the slightest bit of stress is now causing Alan bouts of uncontrollable, explosive diarrhoea.

I’m not going to go into any analysis of precisely what J & M are satirising with this work. That’s one of the pleasures of reading it in depth for yourself. Not that it is remotely heavy going, and can be enjoyed entirely for its farcical content which comes across in places like a surreal cross-over between Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and a particularly bawdy Carry On film. And I do genuinely mean that in a good way, I really do!!

The final third of MADWOMAN changes in tone as the humour is reined in considerably and things take an even more metaphysical turn out in the jungles of Colombia. It’s a path Jodorowsky has us taken down before in his various comic and cinematic works, perhaps once too often for it to have the same impact for me in all honesty, and it probably reveals more about himself and his own beliefs than simply continuing to entertain the reader with the same bonhomie as the first two-thirds of the work. Still, it doesn’t spoil the book and the plot is definitely still drawn to a very satisfactory conclusion. I do wonder whether there is a deliberate parallel to be drawn in terms of Mangel’s physical and psychological state at the very end of MADWOMAN, with the ending of the soon-to-be-reprinted THE INCAL material and its main protagonist John Difool, but maybe that’s me reading too much into it. I think I understand the point that’s being made, if there is a point that’s actually being made – and that the great thing about MADWOMAN: it will certainly get you thinking!

And of course we have the unique art style that we’ve come to know and love from Moebius, plus there is the added bonus of the truly wonderful conceit that he’s used Jodorowsky’s likeness for Professor Alan Mangel (unbeknownst to Jodorowsky at the time) which continually adds to the amusement as Alan’s circumstances get ever more ridiculous and fraught with danger. This is a genuine classic that stands reading and re-reading. It never fails to raise a smile for me, and still a quizzical eyebrow or two.

JR

The Summit Of The Gods vol 2 (£14-99, Fanfare) by Yumemakura Baku & Jiro Taniguchi…

“An image comes into my mind of me trapped like a piece of garbage in the middle of an endless rock wall. Here in this space between heaven and earth I live isolated, alone.”

Quite simply my favourite book of the year. A bold statement I know, but I’ve waited a whole year for this second volume of five to come out, due to a delay in the translation. I know it’s a year because customer Thomas Ranshaw, being one of the customers I eulogised about the first volume to when it came out initially, pointed out he bought that volume particular volume on his way home for Christmas last year. I’ve even pestered our contact at the publisher from time to time during 2010 for status updates, chuckling because he too was desperate to read the next instalment as well. It was worth the wait. In this volume we learn even more of the complex, intertwined back-histories of obsessed mountaineer Jouji Habu and his rival Tsuneo Hase, as the photographer Fukamachi plans his return to Kathmandu to relocate what may be George Mallory’s camera, which could finally reveal if he was the first man to conquer Everest, long before Edmund Hillary. Storytelling at its finest.

LINK

JR

Koko Be Good (£13-99, First Second) by Jen Wang…

Ah, a real heart warming story of a most unlikely platonic friendship between the shy, introverted Jon and the wild, impulsive Koko.

“S-so! I uh… I was at the bar last ni-”
“Listen STALKER, I don’t play intimidation games so whatever you’ve got you better believe I’m ready for it. Got it?”
“Oh good, you remember me. No need to introduce myself then.”
“Of course I remember you. Look at you.”
“Hey, all right, you know I came here to bargain nicely for something that’s mine, but maybe it’s not worth it.
“Bargain?!?”
“Look, I’m not looking for trouble. I don’t even care if you want to keep the player. I just want that particular tape back. Look, I’ll trade you for a new one.”
“This thing? What’s going on in here, your little espionage secrets?”
“It’s a recording someone – my girlfriend – sent me. She lives on the East Coast. I don’t get to see her often so it’s important for me to have it. What?”

Except of course Koko, whilst making an imaginary podcast with the tape recorder she stole from Jon, has taped over most of the recording…

And so begins our story proper. In reality it’s the same story told from two very different perspectives… what should I do with my life? In Jon’s case, it’s the decision whether to give everything else up and follow his heart to Peru to be with his older girlfriend as she goes off to work with a charity there, and for Koko it’s to try and find any sort of direction for her life at all! Koko’s flighty, effervescent character in particular amuses greatly as, in her own head at least, she’s already a legend in several different fields of entertainment, with the serious balance and counterpoint being provided to the story by Jon’s continuous worries about if he’s going to do the wrong thing and ruin his life.

As I say, on the face of it, Koko and Jon make for an extremely unlikely friendship, but perhaps they recognise in other a kindred spirit of uncertainty, and therefore someone in whom they can confide. I think the real heart to this book perhaps, is that many of us have had unexpected friendships at some point in our lives, often passing, maybe even fleeting like Koko and Jon’s, but we remember those people with great and fond affection many years later, even long after we’ve lost touch with them. That’s exactly how reading KOKO BE GOOD made me feel!

LINK

JR

Genkaku Picasso vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Usamaru Furuya.

“Hey, Picasso. Draw a picture of my heart.”
“I can’t draw something I can’t see.”
“I think your beloved Da Vinci drew some things the eye can’t see. Isn’t that what an artist’s eye is supposed to do?”

Nicknamed Picasso after a shoe-writing accident (personally I think it’s a bit Special Needs to write your name across the tops of your trainers aged 17, let alone to misspell it) Hikari Hamura is a boy so dim he doesn’t realise that his artistic skills are the perfect draw for new friends at school even when the beautiful Chiaki takes him under her wing. Like so many Japanese schoolgirls Chiaki is blonde (the last thing manga characters look is Japanese); she’s also the only other member of his after-school Riverside Club, studying psychology while Hikari noodles on about his hero Da Vinci. When he denies he can draw what lies inside, she sticks her heart in his top jacket pocket for later, just in time for a helicopter accident. A little bit random, yes. A helicopter crashes their teenage tête à tête, and only Hikari survives – or appears to. In actual fact he’s really quite dead, his right arm rotting in a state of putrefaction which can only be staved off through helping others with the aid of Chiaki’s pint-sized ghost found dawdling in his top jacket pocket. Specifically he must help them by venturing into the metaphysical: drawing what he sees in his classmates’ auras, decrypting these elaborate tableaux, then striving to help his subject sort his or her life out.

It’s not always easy when the patients are reluctant, Hikari’s interpretations prove too hasty and on approaching whichever subject he displays all the social skills of a Young Conservative at a Star Trek convention.

“Do you have any hobbies besides manga? Like S&M, maybe?”

A bit of a leap, that. In spite of his best efforts to alienated all and sundry, our pipsqueak Picasso does manage many a good turn whilst making new friends into the bargain. Whom he promptly ignores. Some people, you just can’t help.

LINK

SLH

Dodgem Logic #7 (£3-50, Knockabout) by various including Alan Moore.

Back strip and Christmas cover by Kevin O’Neil (LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) plus interior articles by Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Melinda Gebbie (LOST GIRLS), Savage Pencil etc.

LINK

SLH

Chopper: Surf’s Up (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Garth Ennis, Alan McKenzie & Colin MacNeil, John McCrea, John Higgins, Martin Emond, Patrick Goddard…

“The old half-man had taught him a lot. He’d shown him how to survive, how to wring a living from the grudging heart of the radback. But there was one thing Smokie couldn’t teach him… and that was how to live with failure.
“A few surfers are still skylarking in the updraught from the city wall. No searchlights on them. No crack of laser streaking up. Oz Judges are more lax, he knows. Live and let live. Pity they couldn’t have been more like that in the Big Meg. Then he might have been living in a class hab like Jug McKenzie, beer and barbies on the terrace, laughing at the world.
“Might. He’d had his chance… he’d funked it.
“Bright lights, noise… a hustle and bustle all around… the city envelops him, rekindles memories… another time… another place…
“A boy, high above the streets, wind clawing at him, eager to rip him from his perch… defying the elements, the city… life itself.
“A young man… teeth gritted, eyes darting, body poised, twisting like a salmon through a torrent of traffic. Still flying in the face of the world. The voice of the city in his ears, calling HIS name.

“CHOPPER! CHOPPER! CHOPPER! CHOPPER!”
“You can cage me but you’ll never beat me! I’ll never lie down and die for you!”

“It seemed then that he was invulnerable, that nothing they could do could ever crush his spirit. But he was young then, he’d never tasted defeat…
“Moonlight glints on the water in the bay. Harbour bridge alive with traffic. He stands unseen above the flow. Anonymous. Nobody notices a loser.”

So for those of you that don’t know already I guess I have to confess in advance that Marlon ‘Chopper’ Shakespeare is hands-down my favourite 2000AD character ever. And his triumph in Supersurf 7 (told in JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASE FILES VOL 9) is one of my all-time favourite comics. Similarly his epic voyage to Oz on only a powerboard and subsequent narrow defeat in Supersurf 10 by loud mouth Australian Jug McKenzie (in JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASE FILES VOL 11) is undoubtedly one of the great 2000AD epic-length storylines. Where critics are divided, however, is by much of the Chopper material that followed, and indeed whether some of it should even be regarded as canon. This is a collection of all that subsequent material, written by John Wagner, Garth Ennis and Alan McKenzie and illustrated by a host of 2000AD regulars.

I can remember very well indeed the amazing 4-parter ‘Soul On Fire’ that opens this collection when it initially came out in 2000AD, from the first issue of which the above long excerpt is lifted, telling the story of a disillusioned and disheartened Chopper hiding out in the radback, having been forced to leave Oz in a hurry to escape Judge Dredd’s gun sight at the climax of Supersurf 10. On an occasional late night visit back into Oz for supplies, he unexpectedly encounters Jug and persuades him to re-enact Supersurf 10. Whilst things don’t exactly go as Chopper intended, it’s an encounter that enables him to finally put the events of Supersurf 10 behind him, if not fully move on with his life. For me, it’s one of John Wagner’s best-ever 2000AD-related scripts, and Colin MacNeil’s solemn black and white art more than does justice to it. Thereafter follows Supersurf 11, also written by Wagner and rather more colourfully drawn once again by MacNeil, where the sponsoring, villainous Stig corporation and its eponymous chairman re-introduce a few obstacles more familiar to the early illegal Supersurf races… like snipers and laser cannons. This is much more of a full throttle action tale and, again, another very very worthy addition to the Chopper stories.

Much of what followed I can remember being rather disappointed by at the time it came out, however whilst they don’t hit the heady heights of previous material, I can happily say I enjoyed them considerably more this time around. I think what is greatly apparent is this material benefits from being read in such a collection, and in doing so it’s apparent Garth Ennis and then Alan MacKenzie, and finally Wagner once more have chosen to bring other aspects of the character to the fore and tell some rather different stories. The essence of what makes Chopper who he is remains the same though… he’s never, ever going to allow ‘the man’ to beat him down. And the final story in this collection, penned by Wagner, which I actually hadn’t read before, finishes with an amusing little internal monologue from Chopper which did rather made me chuckle. Even now, with the accumulated wisdom of a few more years under my belt, he still represents a character I’d secretly love to be!

LINK

JR

Hitman vol 3: Local Heroes (£13-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea.

Third volume of Ennis’s lesser known work for DC in the mid ‘90s, irreverently tackling their superhero universe with shades and a sawn-off shotgun. This time Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner, in one of the worst superhero costumes ever) receives the unorthodox treatment when he’s duped by the government into bringing the Hitman in. Idiot. Also featuring an aquarium full of zombie seals, dolphins and penguins being blown (and clubbed) to bits. 

LINK

SLH

Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry & Goran Parlov

Had no intention of reading this: it had the Marvel cast slavering like zombies on its cover and I’d grown bored of that years ago. But then Maberry wrote the Doomwar mini and contributed to the magnificent PUNISHER: NAKED KILLS collection, whilst Goran excelled himself on all things BARRACUDA-related including Garth Ennis’ mini-series and his appearances in Garth’s PUNISHER MAX books.

And it’s good.

Frank Castle is pretty much alone in the world. What happened beyond America, he’s not overly sure. The same thing that happened to NYC, he expects. After all, the pathogen stayed dormant for months before manifesting itself and that’s plenty of time for airplane passengers to spread it far and wide. No one knew there was a problem so no one attempted to arrest its development. Certainly it was spotted in blood tests but it wasn’t the cause of any illness being diagnosed – it seemed completely benign. That is, until the day that it wasn’t.

Like The Omega Man and so many other derivatives, the scenario is heavily based on Matheson’s I Am Legend, so unlike MARVEL ZOMBIES, this isn’t played for laughs. It’s told from The Punisher’s perspective which is rarely an optimistic one, but here he’s without any hope at all. The human population have long since brutalised then eaten each other, whilst the superhuman fraternity fractured, fornicated and then formed their own tribes. One by one Frank’s attempted to limit the damage he unwittingly unleashed on the planet by culling the last dregs of the infected. But who is still alive, baiting and setting traps for him?

SLH

Black Widow: The Name Of The Rose h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Daniel Acuna

Possibly a better review of this to follow since I need to finish the book myself. But for the moment the first issue proved as slick as any spy thriller should be, and painful too as Natasha experiences the unthinkable: someone actually getting the drop on her. He then slices her open and surgically removes something. We don’t yet know what, nor does Natasha, but during the entire procedure and the subsequent exploratory operation she lay awake without painkillers – and let me tell you, that was excruciating to read so bravo to Acuna and Liu! James Buchanan is on hand (they may actually be falling in love), as are Tony Stark and Logan (on hand that is, not falling in love with each other), the last one appearing to know exactly who the assailant was:

“She’s going to find you. Natasha doesn’t give up.”
“I am counting on that.”

Infinitely superior to either recent mini-series in art and word and deed.

SLH

Good Dog, Bad Dog Book 1 h/c (£9-99, David Fickling) by Dave Shelton.

Slapstick sleuthing for two pedigree police officers, Bergman and McBoo, whose collars are more accidental than hard-won or slyly stalked. Full colour and an absolute hoot for younger readers, but there is, I concede, little of the depth, wit or sophistication required to make it a genuine all-ages book. If there was, I’d be quoting it.

LINK

SLH

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Steve Leialoha.

In the beginning, a long, long time ago, there was a sentence so twee it was sickening.
Then there was a moment of foreshadowing so blindingly obvious it was like being poked in the eye by a sparkler.
Somewhere in New York City, there’s a deathly dull explanation of what the comicbook series is about but since reading that is the only reason you’ll have been tempted to pick up the novel, it’s redundant.
Now for a sentence with “love”, “quaint”, “cosy” and “cottage” in it. Do have a muffin; here’s jam…

LINK

SLH

Also arrived:

(Reviews may still follow or be up there already in the case of s/c versions of h/cs)

The Lodger (£14-99, KSA) by Karl Stevens. Count on it.
Jeffrey Jones: A Life In Art (£37-99, IDW) by Jeffrey Jones
Viking vol 1: The Long Cold Fire s/c (£12-99, Image) by Ivan Brandon & Nic Klein
Sinfest: Viva La Resistance (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Tatsuya Ishida
Star Wars Omnibus: Quinlan Vos – Jedi In Darkness (£19-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema
Edible Secrets: A Food Tour Of Classified US History (£7-50, Microcosm) by Michael Hoerger & Mia Partlow
Marvels: Eye Of The Camera s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern & Jay Anacleto
Invincible Iron Man vol 4: Stark Disassembled s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
X-Men Noir: Mark Of Cain s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Dennis Calero
Peepo Choo vol 3 (£9-99, Vertical) by Felipe Smith
Chi’s Sweet Home vol 4 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata
Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 12 (£9-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Shunju Aono
Children Of The Sea vol 4 (£10-99, Viz) by Daisuke Igarashi
A Single Match h/c (£18-99, D&Q) by Oji Suzuki
Stop Bullying Me (£9-99, June) by Natsuho Shino
Higurashi vol 9: Beyond Midnight Arc vol 1 (£8-50, Yen) by Ryukishio7 & Yoshiki Tonogai
Vampire Knight vol 11 (£7-50, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

 - And that’s all for reviews in 2010. Good going, J-boy!

Reviews December 2010 week four

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The Man Of Glass (£3-50, Accent UK) by Martin Flink.

“Page 45 Award of the Month for Flawless Reader and Retailer Resources goes to Martin Flink,” I wrote in the preview.

Those online pages were all I needed to buy in a bunch but the proof of the comic is in its consumption. Readers, it couldn’t be more palatable nor accessible to new readers. The layout is clear, the segues spot-on, the colouring warm and sympathetic.

Like Jordan Crane’s tiny masterpiece LAST LONELY SATURDAY, there must by necessity be little I can tell you, but it’s an equally poigant piece free from maudlin melodrama, about a young boxer who has it all: genuine friendships, a loving relationship full of tactile tenderness and a beautiful boy as a consequence. What, then, is his connection to the broken old man who drinks cheap beer in the park and carries his belongings in two plastic carrier bags?

It’s like a small holding of ESSEX COUNTY, highly recommended, with an improbably dignified ending.

Shop link:

Outside preview link: LINK

Odds And Sods (For Comics Bods) by D’Israeli D’Emon Draughtsman A.K.A. Matt Brooker.

Page 45’s copies of this are signed and sketched in at no extra cost!

From the creator of Timularo (the first print run of Page 45’s exclusive edition sold out in under a minute), the artist on Warren Ellis’ LAZARUS CHURCHYARD, and so much of Ian Edginton’s work (KINGDOM OF THE WICKED, SCARLET TRACES I and II etc.), this is a collection of rare gems which you’d otherwise struggle to encounter without actually hacking into D’Israeli’s computer. (Access code: fishpaste.)

Features include private commissions, covers and stories for various convention booklets (Oxford’s annual Caption gathering led by Jeremy Dennis features prominently), the five-page story for SPEAKEASY, house-moving calling cards (he does like his unicycles, does our Matt) and jokes galore like the 2000AD spoof 1900AD starring Constable Dredd:

“I is the law, if’n I might make so bold, Guv’nor.”

There are two pages of that. There’s a very fine single-page short called 2001: A Lot Of Faffing About, four whole pages of The Frightwig Factor: Space 1999 in which central Oxford finds itself blasted into space along with its convention attendees (note: “Jeremy Dennis’ hair is subject to change without notice”) and lots of notes about the creative process including Self-Portrait As A DIY Enthusiast in which the artist takes you through its several working steps.

By far the finest two pieces, however, are the full-colour, four-page silent strips commissioned by the Spanish Semana Negra gathering which book-end this collection. The second is a ludicriously ambitious yet wholly successful precis of the history of the Weimar republic from the close of WWI to the rise of the Nazis preceding WWII. In each successive panel two different Germans move slowly across the page sometimes in collusion, sometimes in opposition. The first piece, Reflector, is a devastating indictment of war across the ages or, more specifically, the bombing of innocent civilians inspired by and using some of the stylings of Picasso’s Guernica in angry reds and incendiary yellows before exposing the culprits in command, sheltered safely away from the preceeding obliteration.

Dresden, Coventry, Srebrenica, Halabja, Dafur… Such is the signpost and so it goes, I’m very much afraid.

LINK

SLH

Vertigo Resurrected Winter’s Edge #1 (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan & Paul Pope, Dave Gibbons, Sean Phillips, Duncan Fegredo, Mike Zulli, Kent Williams, John Bolton and others.

“No thorn goes as deep as the rose’s,
 And love is more cruel than lust.”

Highly recommended 100 pages collecting VERTIGO WINTER’s EDGE #1-3 including the three original Endless stories by Neil Gaiman which were only reprinted in the ABSOLUTE SANDMAN editions, not the regular softcovers. Two star Desire, although all three feature Death or death in one form or another. What are you trying to say, Neil?

The first laments the wane of the very embodiment of desire, the Greek God Pan. Once the hooved one strutted and rutted to his libido’s content with all manner of women, naiads and dryads on an island of lush fertility. Now he is old, his horns are cracked and island is barren and cold. He craves one last boon from one of Morpheus’ sisters before another comes to collect him, and is granted his wish. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I have a thing for satyrs.

Death: A Winter’s Tale explains the whys and the wherefores of Death’s decision to become mortal once every one hundred years and is sparsely, delicately illustrated by Jeff Jones with Jon. J. Muth on colours, whereas Zulli’s on board for the third in which a nineteenth-century woman (Lizzie Siddal) overdoses on laudanum, and is shown the true heart’s desire of her husband (Dante Gabriel Rossetti). It’s not Lizzie, no.

There are at least three Constantine stories, one written by Ellis and, no, you won’t have those if you never bought WINTER’S EDGE. None of these stories appeared in their regular titles either as periodicals or trade paperbacks.

There’s a BOOKS OF MAGIC entry, a SWAMP THING tale, whilst Duncan Fegredo’s exhuberance ensures that quizzical dragon Gregory steals the show from Abel and Cain even whilst in the background. Fancy depriving the beast of his lollypop! Poor Gregory! Such a mean old Scrooge, our Cain.

Winter’S Edge

SLH

Vertigo Resurrected Hellblazer #1 (£5-99, Vertigo) by Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon, Sean Murphy.

Two 2-part Constantine stories from HELLBLAZER #57-58 and 245-246 never previously reprinted. Both are deliciously sick and twisted, the latter even more than the former; if I tell you that the first one features grave-robbing so some weapons technician can, in the name of ballistics research, get his rocks off watching his subordinates splatter their ill-gained cadavers with machine-gun fire, then I think you can glean some idea about just how gruesome the second one is.

A low-budget television crew documenting Mucous Membrane break into the out-of-bounds club where the band once played and to which they later, fatefully, returned in HELLBLAZER: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW. It was Constantine’s arrogance then that landed him in Ravenscar, well and truly sectioned. How well do you think a group of novice film makers are going to fare. Introduces a brand-new meaning to ‘dogging’.

SLH

Greek Street vol 2: Cassandra Complex (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & Davide Gianfelice.

“Maybe oracles do not so much foresee the future – as create it.”

Brilliant, and here’s where it all pays off: here, on the final five pages all the disparate elements come together in the most unpredictable fashion to cement this work as a tragedy in its truest sense: inescapable and full of the most wretched irony. Almost every exchange is so loaded/laden here that it’s eminently quotable, such are its implications.

Milligan has gone for the far from obvious, carving out a modern disaster from traditional Greek Tragedy in the same fashion as Sir Jonathan Miller, only Milligan isn’t just directing a work extant, he’s creating a totally new cloth. He’s also taken one of Greek tragedy’s most enduring elements and woven it even more tightly together. I can’t think of another work where ‘keeping it in the family’ is so completely incorporated.

Also – and excuse me – but Muslim Detective Constable Rashid really is the star of the show, knocking Detective Inspector Dedalus off his unsustainable perch.

Meanwhile Gianfelice, an artist who sacrifices spectacular for downright spectacular-if-you-can-be-arsed-to-pay-attention knocks out libraries to make you wilt with envy, women’s curves to have you screaming with lust, and just-above-pubic male torsos which would have me rushing to the restroom if I even knew what that strange phrase meant.

“Take it easy! Jesus, where did you learn to smoke phatties like that?”
“Oh, Mummy and I used to get mashed and watch Eastenders together. That’s when my visions weren’t too bad and she wasn’t in one of her merry strops.”
“Didn’t think you posh types did things like that.”
“Get mashed? Or watch Eastenders?”
“Both.”

Trust me: we watch Eastenders. ;)

For an overview, please read the review of volume one.

SLH

Hellboy/Beasts Of Burden one-shot (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin, Mike Mignola & Jill Thompson.

Perfect, self-contained stocking-filler featuring Hellboy during daylight! Hellboy in a verdant pasture and winter’s wood on a beautiful, sunshiny day! No graveyards! No Nazis! It’s Hellboy like you’ve never seen him before, and Jill Thompson nails him.

There is, however, an abandonned tunnel, a great many rats, Skull Golems, a meeting of minds between the big, red supernatural investigator and his new feline and canine compadres. Also a really poignant scene lesser writers and artists wouldn’t have even bothered with after Pugs grumbles once too often:

“God, would you quit bitchin’ already? No wonder your keeper got a new puppy…”

There follows a single panel cut across the page of Pugs’ face juxtaposed against a skull embedded in the wall wherein you can tell just how much that has cut him to the core, and just how long he’s been feeling the rejection himself.

Can’t buy it on-line so here’s the BEASTS OF BURDEN book instead back in stock now! (For more Jill Thompson this week, please see the MAGIC TRIXIE books below; they’re splendid!)

LINK

SLH

The Light (£12-99, Image) by Nathan Edmondson & Brett Weldele.

“To hell with this day.”

Survivalist nightmare from the artist on SURROGATES, SURROGATES: FLESH & BONE, SOUTHLAND TALES, Antony Johnston’s JULIUS and Brian Wood’s COUSCOUS EXPRESS, yet another gorgeously illustrated book whose quality of light, for me, surpasses Ben Templesmith’s. The mist in the trees is beautiful.

What happens inside is not.

Coyle is a useless father and was a goddawful husband until his wife left him. Now he’s just been fired (again), but then he’s a rubbish welder drunk or sober. Are you getting the impression he’s a tit?

Yet the worst can bring out the best in us and when he’s accosted at night by a friend sprinting down the street, screaming about the lights… when his neighbours begin glowing, burning up from inside, their smouldering skeletons slumping to the asphalt… when his mother catches fire, and every single bulb from a bedside lamp to sodium street light to a television screen becomes a catalyst for combustion… He grabs his daughter and runs.

From thereon in wearing goggles and blindfolds they career down highways, evade planes crashing from the skies, and even those who’ve yet to succumb to the light prove as hazardous as the victims who left to their own devices explode. But when the crows on the powerlines start dropping like flies, that’s when the penny drops.

In the afterward Nathan Edmondson writes about the sort of issues he wanted to consider here, and it’s a shame he didn’t! Don’t get me wrong, his central proposition comes clearly to the fore and I find no fault at all with the writing which is perfectly naturalistic in its frenzy, fear and repetition. There’s just not much more going on underneath. Instead you’re buying it for the art which boasts composition after composition so perfectly positioned and gorgeously rendered and the covers are reproduced here in their full glory without any of the typography to distract you.

Recommended to pyromaniacs who like skeletons, crows and skeletons, and crows with 200,000 volts running through them.

LINK

SLH

Two-Step (£14-99, Wildstorm/DC) by Warren Ellis & Amanda Conner.

“Oh my God. It’s playing music.”
“The Ride Of The Valkyries. The Quarrys have a pathological need to be the best-endowed gang in town. The smaller their equipment, the quieter they are.”
“And the people who paid you like them quiet.”

That’s quite the endowment policy the Quarrys have going, ordering custom-made, preternaturally large penises. If you look closely there’s male tackle everywhere: buildings, monuments, cars, vases, lamps, pictures and chairs… Particularly in this book.

“You never ever ever shoot a Quarry man in the trousersnake.”
“Because they explode?”
“Because they explode. Delicate and volatile penile machinery and all that. And we are standing on ice in the middle of the Thames.”

So guess what Rosi Blade’s just done?

TWO-STEP is one long cock-up as the mismatched duo of Zen gangster Tony Ling and Rosi Blades, broadcasting all that she sees, desperately are chased, shot at and threatened with an unusual form of colonic irrigation after making off with a Quarry man’s member, an act which Rosi broadcast.

Amanda has enormous fun with the multicultural mayhem, its opening scene setting the tone with Bollywood chorus girls dancing through the streets in Kali blue, and the covers themselves tell a mini-narrative of as Ling and Blade slowly come to terms with one another.

It’s not Ellis’ most profound nor substantial work. In fact @ £14-99 for three issues padded with script and sketches, it’s the worst value for money I’ve come across in a very long time. Should surely have been another DC PRESENTS @ £5-99? Still, the decision had nothing to do with Warren, there are a lot of Ellis completists out there, and we love you all very much indeed.

LINK

SLH

Magic Trixie vol 2: Magic Trixie Sleeps Over (£5-99, Harper Collins) by Jill Thompson.

Fact: playing catch with a werewolf leaves both your ball and fingers all covered in slobber. Frisbees may be frazzled.

From the creator of SCARY GODMOTHER and the artist on BEASTS OF BURDEN, a further helping of hyperactivity as Trixie does what all kids do: avoids a bath, delays bedtime as long as she can, watches spell-vision programmes she really shouldn’t, and makes a mess of everything!

The first volume amused but this and volume 3 had me grinning from ear to ear and this one may in addition help parents in their sometimes seemingly uphill struggle securing a clean, tooth-brushed and bed-bound urchin of love. For Trixie, she just ain’t having it, and when she discovers that none of her friends have to go through the same nightly rituals she does, she unilaterally declares that she’s going to sleep-over elsewhere. Much to her surprise, however, Mum and Dad are all in favour. In fact, they seem a little too eager to be rid of her.

Thing is, she hasn’t thought it through. Her friends are Stitch, the Frankenstein’s boy-monster who keeps coming undone, the Egyptian daughter (kind of like an Egyptian mummy, only younger), Loupie the werewolf, and the albino twins with their tufty white hair and vampire milk-teeth dressed like little bats.

So why does Loupie not have to brush her teeth? Where does Naifi sleep? And what does Stitch soak in overnight? It’s the evening with the albino twins that really sends Trixie scuttling for home and straight to a big, comfy bed.

The watercolours here are to die for. The big stone bridge on page twenty-three, lit from below from the setting sun’s reflection and the houses above it bathing in that golden summer glow are gorgeous. Extra details like the cobbled path in the foreground are just magical. Highly, highly recommended to single-figure young ‘uns – oh, and to their parents, obviously!

LINK

SLH

Magic Trixie vol 3: Magic Trixie And The Dragon (£5-99, Harper Collins) by Jill Thompson.

“Dear Magic Trixie,
   I am sorry that I am just a plain old kitten. I really liked being your pet and I didn’t mean to get boring to you.
   I am running away to join the circus.
   Good-bye forever…
   Love,
   Scratches”

How much do I love Jill Thompson? Not just as a writer of wit and a watercolour artist of indescribable skill, but as a beautiful person full of love in her heart. She is kindness personified and her joie de vie tumbles out onto the page as exuberantly as Mimi beams from beneath her feathers, frills and those trademark sunglasses sitting on her hat.

‘Mimi’, you see, is Americanese for a grandmother that doesn’t like to hear the ‘g’-word for fear of feeling old. I met one in the shop just a fortnight ago and she absolutely rocked: pillarbox hair, post-punk t-shirt, leather jacket and the fountain of youth running through her veins. The secret to immortality is actually very obvious: enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm isn’t something that young Trixie could be accused of lacking; judgement, on the other hand, is something she’s have to learn. A trip to the circus – the only one I’ve ever enjoyed with its carnival of fish-bowled mermaids, big chick in an egg-mobile, yeti dangling from the tent top in its elevator of ice – really fires her up; specifically, the live Chinese dragons. So when she learns that her older cousin Tansy is dating a man who works at the Crypto-Zoological Institute Of Atlantis where they study such creatures, it sparks in her an obsession to own one herself regardless of domestic considerations or the feelings of her pet cat Scratches which packs up its playthings in a plain white handkerchief and sets off to see if it’s wanted elsewhere.

Trixie, you see has succeeded in obtaining a dragon, but it’s her baby sister transformed by a spell cast under distraction, and she is in one heck of a lot of trouble.

Much stands out from the anodyne crowd for safety-first parents and children here. Firstly Jill’s world is one in which granddads still smoke pipes even with a child in the room and the children are still allowed to eat both cakes and candy and actually enjoy themselves. Radical. Oh, don’t get me wrong, discipline is enforced in a reasonable and reasoned fashion. Have you seen some of the brats on Supernanny USA? Well, take a look at their parents. No resolve, no patience, and the quest for an easy life results in the very opposite. Oh yes, and Jill uses long words! One of my favourites, in fact, as regular readers will know: transmogrification. Literacy in children’s books – brilliant! But I digress.

My favourite scenes here involved the giant baby/dragon sleeping in the tiger’s cage, arms wrapped round the beast, the ferocious feline reduced to a smothered smoulder.

The lessons here, obviously, involve not taking your pets (or indeed friends) for granted – showing your appreciation – and as it happened I read this at home with the voracious Mr. Bob-san curled up on my lap, purring away as I tried to turn pages and vocally cursed the greedy gut-bucket for getting in the way. Also, don’t think of dragons while trying to change your baby’s nappy using magic!

Now you’ll never be able to get that thought out of your head, will you? Good luck with all the poop.

LINK

SLH

Adventures Into Mindless Self-Indulgence one-shot (£2-99, Image) by Jimmy Urine, Kitty, Lyn-z, Steve Righ?, Jess Fink & Jess Fink.

Jess Fink – always loved her art. Think Jill Thomspon at her most angular in penline.

So what have we here? True stories of on-the-road horror as told to Jess Fink by the band themselves: a catalogue of anarchic behaviour, on and off-stage, like flashing your dick and setting fire to your pubes (does not smell nice – I was caught naked in a house fire once), subsequently being charged for sex crimes, getting thrown out of your own gig by a bouncer (not for misbehaviour but through being sized up as a part of the audience rather than the drummer!), stage diving, sticking fireworks up yer arse and lighting ‘em, and cursin’ on live radio. Some of it’s puerile, some of it made me laugh (err, the puerile bits maybe) but all of it’s rendered with glee by Ms. Jess Fink. Here’s Kitty keeping it clean on daytime radio:

“So Kitty, how do you play such awesome drums with such crazing electronics? It’s like you’re the Bionic Woman!”
“Ha ha! Yeah, I fuckin’ Lindsay Wagner that shit!”

SLH

Superman: Secret Origin h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank.

Gary Frank: always a hallmark of quality. No one can do weightless yet physically present quite like Gary, and Geoff Johns has written the perfect vehicle for him. Another book then to add to the relatively short list in answer the customer’s question, “Which SUPERMAN books do you recommend?” Like Geoff and Gary’s SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES it’s a book about belonging; about being accepted for who you are and what you do, not where you come from.

“Why are you here?”
“To help people.”
“And do you expect us to bow down before you in return?”

And it’s a classic case of transposition there as Lex Luthor attributes his own motivations of self-interested hegemony to the most altruistic, benevolent being on the planet.

For when a young Clark Kent first arrives in Metropolis he finds the city in thrall to Lex Luthor, and its citizens beholden to him either because he’s already picked them from each morning’s crowd gathered outside his gates desperately begging to be aided, or because they’re still part of that crowd praying beneath him that they’re next. 78% of Metropolis’ real estate is owned by Lexcorp, the American military has derived most of its new hardware from the man, and the media is in his pocket and under his thumb. No wonder The Daily Globe is on the brink of bankruptcy: Lois Lane won’t let the real story go.

So when Superman finally reveals himself and the city’s focus shifts from Lex Luthor’s inventions and seeming philanthropy to the genuine beneficence of a flying man in a big red cape, the two are set on a collision course from here to eternity for as long as they both shall live. It’s personal.

It has nothing to do with Luthor’s overt protestations that the man is an alien, although that is precisely what’s been troubling Clark since childhood. As the story opens Clark’s powers are emerging in parallel with puberty. Indeed he almost sets fire to the school in a sudden spurt of heat vision catalysed by a kiss. It’s comically clear what that alludes to! But he feels so guilty about breaking the arm of a friend during American football that he makes all manner of lame excuses to avoid a rematch, and it’s his very consideration for them that alienates his once-tight circle of friends. As David S. Goyer perceptively identifies in the introduction there is a deeply affecting key scene which would both warm and break the heart of any father, adoptive or otherwise, after Clark is told the truth of his lineage and recoils, fleeing to the cornfield in under abjection. Joined by Pa Kent, he struggles through his tears.

“I don’t want to be someone else. I don’t want to be different. I want to be Clark Kent.
“I want to be your son.”

It’s something he’s going to have to live with, work his way through, then find a way to be both. Thankfully he has nothing to prove to his parents.

“Clark… you are my son.”

Old film fans will get a kick out of seeing Christopher Reeves resurrected by Frank in the bumbling reporter and his dopey, disarming smile (the ultimate in feigned innocence), whilst the young Lex Luthor’s optimism, confidence and ambition is every bit as inspiring as his supercilious superiority is repugnant. Other origins embellished here include Metallo and Parasite.

SLH

Powers vol 13: Z (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Oeming.

It’s ba-ack. Back with a new dynamic in the form of a new homicide partner for Detective Walker, Enki Sunrise from Internal Affairs who investigated his former partner. Just as much sex and swearing, however, so not one for you nippers no matter how much it may look like a Saturday morning cartoon.

Detective Christian Walker has lost Detective Deena Pilgrim to a powers virus that fucked her up no end. Instead he and Sunrise now work homicide, in particular crimes involving those with powers in a world where powers are illegal. Don’t tell anyone, but Walker has powers. He’s always had powers, in fact he’s an immortal who evolved from a grunting ape – which is vaguely Darwinian, except for the procreation/generation thing. He doesn’t remember everything from his past, which is kind of fortunate because you wouldn’t want to remember having sex with a monkey, now would you?

However, he is forced into reflection by the death of an old comrade called Z. Together they were part of the superhero Ratpack of the ’50s, living it loud and large and using their status as World War II veterans to lord it over diners and get their table of choice. Men behaving badly, basically. No one has seen Z in years. He wasn’t a particularly pleasant individual.

What emerges is the most bizarre mother/daughter relationship, the daughter I think goading Walker into confrontation with the mother in order to try to get her killed. But are either of them involved in the murder of Z? Also, is Enki Sunrise still working for Internal Affairs or someone else? Where do her loyalties lie now?

This chops along at a right old pace before it becomes readily apparent that the death of Z is just the first act in a book whose scope is about to grow a great deal bigger.

“I’m feeling very metaphysical tonight, detectives. Maybe it’s because I still haven’t gotten over the fact that we as a society had found ways to kill our heroes. But now, it seems, we know how to kill God.”

LINK

SLH

Excalibur Visionaries: Warren Ellis vol 3 (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Casey Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti, Randy Green, Rob Haynes.

“Ssssh! Be very quiet. I’m hunting flying rats.”

In which Alistaire Stuart of W.H.O. runs from Black Air, Brian Braddock infiltrates the Hellfire Club of London simply by turning up, and a young Warren Ellis actually writes the phrase, “And nothing will ever be the same again”. More importantly Lockheed, the small purple dragon Kitty Pryde mistakenly believes to be her pet, is not at all happy that she’s dating Pete Wisdom. Cue increasingly funny running joke as Lockheed steals his clothes then cigarettes.

“First chance I get, I’m flushing you down a toilet.”

EXCALIBUR #s 96-103 are also informed by events leading up to the ONSLAUGHT saga so the X-Men will be popping round for tea and sympathy, then the book finishes off with the PRYDE & WISDOM mini-series with infinitely more palatable art from Terry Dodson and a rather disturbing premise involving a serial killer who believes he’s the son of Adam (as in Eve, figuratively speaking) writing a letter to God.

SLH

Uncanny X-Men: The Birth Of Generation Hope (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Allan Heinberg & Whilce Portacio, Steve Sanders, Jamie McKelvie, Oliver Coipel, Leonard Kirk, Harvey Tolibao. 

Exceptional reboot post-Second Coming as Hope journeys to Alaska in search of her heritage and discovers her mother is dead (we kinda figured that since the entire town was razed to the ground in X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX) but her father is unnamed on her birth certificate… More immediately, there appears to be a problem with the first five mutants mutating since Hope was born: they’re doing it later in life, it’s a traumatic process and their signatures appear different to others’ on Cerebro. I’m not surprised given the punchline to X-MEN: SECOND COMING. How did you interpret that, eh? Fortunately Hope appears to be able to ease their transmogrification, leading directly into GENERATION HOPE itself written by Kieron Gillen who will shortly be joining Fraction here.

Whilce Portacio isn’t quite so in-your-face as he used to be, thanks perhaps to inker Ed Tadeo. And hello, Olivier Coipel’s here delivering the second half’s art chores on the prologue to AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE written by that series’ scribe, in which Magneto first learns of the possibility that his grandchildren are alive and well in the form of Wiccan and Speed. Heinberg writes the X-Men rather well too.

Guest-stars Steve Rogers (pep talk and Presidential leg-up for Cyclops) whilst the Beast makes a forthright exit to join the Secret Avengers instead.

LINK

SLH

Generation X Classic vol 1 (£22-50, Marvel) by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza & Joe Madureira, Andy Kubert, Roger Cruz, Chris Bachalo.

Begins with that Phalanx Imperative crossover in the X-Books before culminating in Bachalo’s GENERATION X #1-4.

There Bachalo’s design work elevated what had previously been twee explorations of new mutants joining the School For Gifted Youngsters into something far alluring and mysterious. I seem to recall a great deal of leaves here or a little later, and you know what we’re like with leaves.

LINK

SLH

Fat Chunk Volume 1: Robot restocks (£9-99 SLG, Publishing) by Various…

“Finally after months of hard work, my creation is complete.”
“Urm… actually, it looks a little camp to me.”

A staggering 84 different strips, mostly one- or two-pagers, from different writers and artists all about robots. Ranging from straight sci-fi to farcical, really out there (and I mean really out there!) humour. If robots are your thing – and why not if you have no friends? – this is for you. I think my joint-favourites were probably ‘B.U.M. 5000 The Robo Hobo’ on page 50 and ‘Stalkerville, Fury of the Robotbastardmenance’ on page 90.

LINK

JR

Mystery Society (£14-99, IDW) by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples.

“A symbol should never be a cymbal,” wrote Edward Albee once.

Nor should you ever be able to see a writer at his keyboard nor an artist at her easel/drawing board/tablet, no matter how wonky, yet I saw both through this thin and transparent claptrap.

“Intruder. You have three seconds to surrender or you will be terminated.”
“Really? Terminated? Who wrote your program? A comic book writer?”

Ah-ha ha ha. Ah-ha ha ha. Ah-ha. Ah ha. Ha.

That during an early Metal Gear Solid moment of such undisguised, unaugmented obviousness that I nearly threw the book across the room and knocked my cat out from under its cardboard box. Think you can stealth your way to the kitty cupboard and help yourself to Felix pouches unscathed, mate? Think again! That’s what IDW trade paperbacks are for.

[Editor’s note: here come the publisher rebukes. Again. Do you never learn, Stephen?]

So listen, a couple who investigate paranormal shit want new members. The Secret Skull A.K.A. Samantha Brooks applies, asks to wait for the man of the house/leader of the pack and his wife consequently bashes her into the living room mirror. Fight!

Remind me never to go round to Jonathan’s house while he’s out, smile sweetly to his beloved Joanna yet have the temerity to suggest that I wait until J-boy is back before explaining a glitch in Page 45’s HTML website coding. Joanna is a goddess (she really is, actually) but even she would be the first to concede that it’s not really her area of expertise and would be more likely to offer me a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio while I wait for her husband than force my face onto the electric stove while its rings are on 9.

Fiona Staples is not a bad artist but whoever is at fault – Steve or Fiona – the timing here sucks, and the faces – particularly the lead male’s – are hopelessly unconvincing, his jagged jumble of angular lines sitting so awkwardly upon his neck that it bears little approximation to animate tissue.

At the risk of coming on all Tom Paulin, this is awful. Simply dreadful.

Lovely cover, though. Seriously.

SLH

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(Shove ‘em in our search engine etc.)

Big Questions #15 (£5-99) by Anders Nielsen
Chopper: Surf’s Up (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Garth Ennis, Alan McKenzie & Colin MacNeil, John McCrea, John Higgins, Martin Emond, Patrick Goddard
Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Moebius
Sonic The Hedgehog Archives vol 14 (£5-99, Archie) by various
Mystery Society (£14-99, IDW) by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples
Bear vol 2: Demons restocks (£10-99, SLG) by Jamie Smart
X-Necrosha s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Mike Carey, Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain, Ibraim Roberson, Laurence Campbell, Clay Mann, Yanick Paquette, Diogenes Neves, more
X-Campus (£14-99, Marvel) by Francesco Artibani, Marco Failla & Denis Medri, Roberto Di Salvo, Alessandro Vitti, Gianluca Gugliotta, Marco Failla
Rob Zombie Presents El Superbeasto (£14-99, Image) by Rob Zombie & Kieron Dwyer
Street Fighter Legends vol 3: Ibuki (£10-99, Udon) by Capcom
Dark Stalkers vol 2: The Night Warriors (£9-99, Udon) by Capcom
Slam Dunk vol 13 (£7-50, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue
Arata The Legend vol 4 (£7-50, Viz) by Yuu Watase
Yotsuba&! vol 9  (£8-50, Yen) by Kiyohiko Azuma
Kamisama Kiss (£7-50, Viz) by Julietta Suzuki
Higurashi vol 10: Beyond Midknight Arc vol 2 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryukishio7 & Yoshiki Tonogai
Togainu No Chi vol 6 (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Suguro Chayamachi & Nitro+ CHiRAL
Seiho Boys High School vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Kaneyoshi Izumi
Honey Hunt vol 6 (£7-50, Viz) by Miki Aihara
Swans In Space vol 3 (£6-99, Udon) by Lun Lun Yamamoto
Detroit Metal City vol 7 (£9-99, Viz) by Kiminori Wakasugi
The Summit Of The Gods vol 2 (£14-99, Fanfare) by Yumemakura Baku & Jiro Taniguchi

Wishing you a ridiculously Merry Christmas, folks! Thanks for reading,

 

 - Stephen

News & Letters December 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Welcome back to the All-New, All-Improved Page 45 News & Letter Column! Punctual, friendly and accessible to all.

“Stephen’s no longer hosting it, then?”

Welcome back to the Page 45 News & Letter Column.

Bastards.

Here’s our first caller, a Mr. Richard Fortey from the publisher Simons & Schuster, responsible for introducing me to JESUS ON THYFACE and thereby solving half my Christmas presents this year in one fell swoop. 

Hi Stephen

Just wanted to thank you for your review but also pass on the thanks from the creators of the book – they’ve officially thanked you, well blessed you, on their FaceBook page:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Jesus-on-Thyface-Social-Networking-for-the-Modern-Messiah/118221661563280

R

Truly Page 45 art bless-ed. Thank you, Jesus. I changed my Facebook status immediately. Can you put in a good word with your Dad? Only I’m not convinced that simply blocking Satan from my Bookface is actually going to do the trick in the hereafter. Talk about shutting the stable door…

Dear Tom,

Someone just sent me the link to your review of my book WALKER BEAN, and it made me so so happy. I’m trying to make the next one better than the first, so I hope you’ll enjoy it. I love how much attention you paid to the details of my book. Just knowing SOMEONE cares is all that is needed to keep going.

I hope you have a great weekend.

Aaron [Renier]

Aaron, you’re very welcome indeed. Tom’s been evangelising about the book ever since it first appeared, spent a lot of time making sure his review did your book justice (it did), and now that it’s back in print (and Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month) we’ve been power-selling it like crazy to individual customers and schools etc. I think I might have even snuck it into a local prison library!

More letters in a second, but the biggest news this month is that on week ending Saturday 18th December (our financial week finishes on a Saturday) Page 45 broke the four-figure mark for weekly web sales for the first time. By Wednesday the 15th…! Goodness knows what the final weekly figure looks like but that’s pretty good going less than two months in for a small, independent retailer so thank you for spending, thank you for blogging, thank you for linking to our store, and thank you for any mentions on Twitter. All very kind. Each and every one is very much appreciated.

What I’m particularly loving is how the website is also driving new people into the shop. One guy announced he’d come from Northampton, home of Uncle Alan Moore, simply because he’d seen our site and wanted to know what the shop looked like. Err, it looks like the website! One woman, a Muslim totally new to comics came in the first weekend because she’d seen Joe Sacco’s PALESTINE reviewed by Mark on the site and wanted to read it for herself. The next weekend she brought in a friend who’d come all the way from Leeds to show him the shop.

“Ask this gentleman anything you like and he will show you around,” she encouraged him (strangely misidentifying my true social standing in the process). What a brilliant new ambassador! If you’re reading this, dear lady, you made my calendar month with either visit.

Though actually neither of those items is the biggest news this month. The biggest news is the Page 45 exclusive edition of Timularo reprinting D’Israeli’s Timulo strips from DEADLINE MAGAZINE. Our first printing with its unique cover set outside this very shop was strictly limited to ten copies, signed and sketched in at no extra cost (ten quid!). I posted a link on Twitter and it sold out within a single minute. A single minute. Jonathan was remotely viewing the website from home at the time and saw the stock disappear POINK! POINK! POINK! in swift succession. [Note: our stock system doesn’t really have sound effects... Asst. Ed.]

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “I’m not following you on Twitter! I missed out, you bastards!”

Firstly, umm, follow us on Twitter…?

Secondly I have not yet Tweeted about the following, so if you are a loyal member of our Mailshots or check in on the website often enough to read this Letter Column first, you will have advance notice of this:

1. There will be a second printing of the Page 45 exclusive edition of Timularo expanded to 45 copies shortly (45: see what we did there?) which, ridiculously, D’Israeli has agreed to sign and sketch in once more. Different colour scheme to differentiate it from the first run, and a brand new selection of individual sketches. But strictly limited to 45 copies and although we will of course request a third printing when those run out, this new printing will be the very, very last one that comes with original sketches. The last edition sold out in less than a minute because quality comics sell at Page 45. I’d seriously pre-order, if I were you, and you can do so – as you can for everything else – by sending an email to page45@page45.com saying “Please reserve me a copy of [insert title] and email me as soon as it’s in!”

2. We also now have copies of D’Israeli’s self-published ODDS AND SODS (FOR COMICBOOK BODS) collection of commissioned art and rare strips like the one based on Picasso’s Guernica in stock and although there isn’t a Page 45 exclusive cover edition, they are all signed and sketched in at no extra cost. LINK.
 
I just want to take this opportunity to thank D’Israeli for all the craft, graft and sheer inspiration he brought to providing Page 45 with its first-ever exclusive edition of a graphic novel. That it was something of the much sought-after calibre as the wit-riddled Timulo strips… Well, I can’t tell you how proud we were of having that book on our front-of-store plinth. For all of one bloody minute…

Coming soon by Warren Ellis & D’Israeli: SVK! Now all we need is a reprint of their LAZARUS CHURCHYARD.

Here’s Mark’s Dad:

Hi Stephen,

Thank you so much for your e-mail and the information about your new website.  Thank you too for attributing so much to Mark, he would be very honoured, pleased and humble to think that he was able to have so much influence.  You will have already had a card from Pearl.  She needs a little help with computers but once I got her going she was able to view much the website and appreciate, as I do, what you and Jonathon have done, including Mark’s caricature.  I can just see him smiling at it as he would!  Give our thanks to Jonathon too, please.

Sorry it has taken a while to get back to you.  I must admit, I put you on hold for a while, then I had to have a hip replacement which put me out of action for a while. I couldn’t drive, had crutches, a raised toilet seat, etc.  I am afraid age is catching up with us.  I was fine till I retired – perhaps I shall go back to work!

Though I miss the patients, it is nice to look at the weather and decide to stay in if it is wet or even snowing, play golf on a nice day or have retail therapy and lunch.  I do hope you are all well and though I can imagine business is a bit thin in this weather, hopefully it will pick up when the thaw comes.  Give our regards to Dominique and Tom. We will drop by sometime soon.

With kindest regards,

Don

Business is actually pretty sweet, Don. We are in awe of our customers coming in looking like Frosty The Snowman during this veritable Ice Age. To some of you though: wearing that carrot was a step too far.

Also, readers please note: there’s no VAT attached to comics. It’s reading material and although Thatcher contemplated putting VAT on books it was swiftly made obvious that taxing news and education was political suicide even for her. So when VAT rises to 20% on January 1st 2011 it will have no affect on the price of comics and graphic novels. Yay!

Customers now:

Your new website is superlative.  Absolutely gorgeous yet functional.  A pet hate of mine has always been websites that dazzle you with their beauty and then do fuck all useful when it comes to actually purchasing things.  If I want to stare at something without understanding it I’ll go look at the cover of the Daily Mail.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eBT6OSr1TI

Alexandra Willsher

Hahahahahahahahahahaha! Best link I’ve ever been sent, and the best song I’ve heard all year.

Although there is Grant Morrison (We3 etc.) starring in My Chemical Romance’s Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na): LINK. It really is him! Oh, and the bleeped out word is “drugs”, a commodity I suspect is readilly familiar to the following correspondent who wrote in with the subject line, “Two questions and an aperçu”.

Dear Stephen and fellow alleged sentients, (preferably one who isn’t stricken by the same viral debility as myself)

1:  What’s new? (Apart from the gorgeous but strangely quiet website, that is).

2.  What can you do for me? As I know you like clues, I am happy to furnish the following details:

Please can you locate and secure the following comics for me:

Amazing Science Fantasy issues 3 & 4 (assuming you were successful in finding issue 1, as previously requested, or at least maintain a reasonable hope of doing so).

Scarlet
issue 2

Regards,

Andrew [McGuire]

P.S. I’ve just checked and found out that Amazing should be Strange.  But then, isn’t it always?  (I am the first to admit that the reverse does not necessarily follow, and in indeed feel obliged to adduce that, of the many acquaintances who would readily bestow the latter attribute to me, I am unable to think of a single one who would honour me with the former).

Anyone who can fit “aperçu” into a Subject header is a superstar.

I don’t know how much more activity you want than a weekly review column, monthly previews and one form or another of entertainment blog a week. The Forums are go, but join our Twitter if you’re addicted to information. Although “information” is perhaps stretching it.

Brian Manton commented:

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”)

That’s a good point, mate. This is exactly the sort of feedback we’re looking for.

Our Previews still contain those sorts of links to help you decide if you want to preorder (heartily encouraged), but the Prime Directive of any website with a shopping cart is to avoid linking to outside sources for fear of diverting your hard-earned money from our voracious till. Dominique tries to load interior art for important books as soon as she can but sometimes our reviews come in earlier. It’s something we’d like more of.

I did make an exception for WHORES OF MENSA because I very much liked the trailer. You can find that preview ink within November 2010 Reviews week four.

so … is the weekly-reviews-on-the-website going to completely replace the monthly-roundup-in-your inbox ? Or is there a magic option whereby I can sign up to go on receiving all your lovely reviews in one big bumper issue by email? somehow the email seems easier on the eye – and I liked being able to look at the whole lot in one go. 

not that i’m set in my ways you understand …

jo

You’re not alone in missing the great big all-in-one monster. One reader commented that it was easier to pretend they were working when browsing an email rather than a site. But reducing the size of the Mailshots from 10,000 words to some 500 has meant twice as many people open them and there’s a much reduced risk of one of my actual reviews setting off a spam filter or a profanity alarm (“Jesus Christ” is a big one for both – a bit problematic in terms of networking for a modern messiah). Surely it can’t be too much hassle to click on four links, man?

On the other hand you’ve hopefully seen that we’re still sending out Mailshots twice a month as always: 1) every time we publish a previews 2) at the end of each month for reviews just to jog you. The difference is that instead of having to wait a whole month for a book that came out at the beginning of December (and so not even knowing about it until after Christmas) you can just pop along to the website and see what we’ve reviewed each week.

Also, neither are held up any longer by my completing a letter column like this, and when there’s urgent news like the Mark Millar signing at Plan B we can just rattle that off as an entertainments blog – as I did.

Now, I have of late had to nudge a few customers with an email which read like this:

Subject: Bing bong! Comics now fossilized!

This is your annual wake-up call!

On excavating Nottingham city centre your comics file was found several strata beneath the local drug addicts. Could you purchase perchance? Thank you!

Stephen

Some very good-humoured responses like…

Stephen

I trust no-one was injured in the excavations and that Lord Lucan was discovered tucked beneath an old copy of the Hotspur…

Hit me with the figures, m’friend, and let’s get it sorted…

Love

Tony

It’s good to see we’re not the only ones benefiting from the Page 45 website:

Is volume 3 of The Killer out yet? Getting old, memory is now a sieve :)

If so can I have that and Grandville Mon Amour please. In fact can you put me down for these as when new books of it turns up.

A friend from NYC is in London about to go shopping at Gosh and has just asked me for some recommendations, oh he’s going to spend a load of cash as I pretty much listed the CBOTM stuff I have got recently :)

Thanks

Marcus

We are fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. (Zen saying)

Photos : http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcusc
Blog : http://marcusbrain.blogspot.com
Music : http://www.last.fm/user/fmwt

Marcus is one of our most prolific visitors to the Page 45 Forums, and I wasn’t being sarcastic when I wrote that I’m delighted that his friend was shopping at Gosh! Had we launched on time my very first blog, written in advance, would have paid homage to Josh @ Gosh! in London opposite the British Museum. After Christmas I may even shove it out there anyway but we’ve kept the entertainment blogs to a minimum before Christmas so as not to let the important notices disappear into the Archives.

As to KILLER vol 3, no, no sign of that yet, but do try the same writer’s BULLET TO THE HEAD as previewed here: LINK.

GRANDVILLE MON AMOUR has been in stock for over a fortnight and is currently in our Spotlight section, whilst our current copies of the first GRANDVILLE hardcover are all signed at no extra cost.

Calm now my foreshortened aide-de-camp [one’s campness should always be aided] while I inform those Page 45 Pop Culture Gawds that their mysterious and ever so slightly dry ice exuding box has troubled the postman to arrive at our door.

No, the llama may not chew the corner, you know better than that.

So.

Yon eagle has well and truly landed O merry lads, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now to hide it from my starving family.

They think they need shoes!

Shoes!

I ask you.

Indeed.

It’s a brand new sparkly world of interwobble tomfoolery.

I think I’ve deduced that I might want …

Vertigo Resurrected #1

Could I have that please?

Toodlewhatsit

Mme T

Mintyweb madness, Madame Trellis!

Consider Vertigo Resurrected. Wait, which one? There had been three VERTIGO RESURRECTED #1s so far. The reviews of the second two go up on Wednesday, here’s the first.

Tattybye.

Hello again Stephen. I know it’s still November, and I’m really sorry to be a nuisance, but I can’t log onto the website (which probably wouldn’t worry you too much, except that this means I’m unable to get drunk and Buy More Product).  Can I therefore leave my response here? Please say yes. In anticipation thereof, here is, more or less, what I wanted to post:

Firstly, thank you again for your kind words about my writing.  If only you knew how I’ve tried.  But anyway, the competition (no, not other would-be writers, but the one you set last month) Soft Cell indeed. How ironic that this should be the answer to a question which is all about the hard sell.  And do you really imagine we’re unaware that in posing this question, while ostensibly promoting your distrust of subliminal advertising, you were nevertheless planting the phrase Buy More Product in our minds, and thus, ever so subtly, extolling us to … Buy More Product? 

Run out of time, luckily for you.

A M

Yay! I caught a break. And oh yeah, I do plan these things meticulously.

Hi

I was in store and mentioned the following [online] Serenity comics so here are the links. Credit for finding the second one goes to my friend Richard Jackson (I don’t think he’d want me to take all the credit lol).

http://www.myspace.com/darkhorsepresents?issuenum=13&storynum=1

http://www.usatoday.com/life/comics/2010-11-08-serenity08_ST_N.htm

I personally think the second one is better than the Shepard’s tale but I’ll let others judge that. Anyway hope you enjoy reading them.

Regards,

Jonathan [Nunn]

Cheers for taking the time and trouble, mate.

Item! Congratulations to customer PC Gareth Houghton on his commendation. Saved the life of a guy hanging himself from Lady Bay Bridge (he was actually hanging at the time). He’s mates with another PC Gareth who helped us out with a little… ‘problem’… we had a few years ago. Cheers to the pair o’ yers.

Item! All our copies of Ellen Lindner’s Undertow are sketched in and they are the most beautiful of sketches. Loose portraits in two colours. <swoon> J-boy is working on a review.

Item! Many thanks to Diamond UK for making us their first-ever Comic Shop Of The Month, and in December too! http://twitpic.com/3bwsup <ker-ching!>

Item! Announcing the reprint of Dan Clowes’ last-ever EIGHTBALL as a book called DEATH RAY. I hope this is the right link: Drawn and Quarterly.

Item! I know I’ve now talked about this in our December Previews, but we’re infering from DC’s recent announcements r.e. HELLBLAZER that they are letting the old editions all go out of print in order to make way for a complete overhaul of the line, repackaged as thicker books with a new trade dress and actually reprinting the lot in numbered editions.  Numbered editions! Finally they’ve got the message. Blessed relief after all those gaps. You couldn’t even read Ennis’ run in its entirety.

Item! A big thank you to my ex-house-monkey Ossian Hawkes for sacrificing his personal copy of BEASTS OF BURDEN so that a mail order customer could give it as a Christmas present. Getting a copy of the new printing to Ireland in time to be given away to someone else for Christmas would have been cutting it ludicrously fine.

Ossian has always been an absolute star. When he married Kate they held a ceremony outside in a wood because Kate likes fairies, but it was so windy (rustling trees can make a lot of noise!) that I had to bellow my reading like Brian blessed Blessed. I’m usually a total disgrace at weddings ["You're a total disgrace full stop!"] having before now drunk my present to a bride and groom before giving it to them, and presented rings to a groom and groom during their celebration with the rings in one hand, a glass of champagne in the other and a lit ciggie dangling from my mouth. But I can at least project. More importantly Ossian and Kate’s three best men, Paul, Luke and Jeff, performed the funniest speech I have ever heard in my life. It was like an episode of The Goon Show or I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again. Most of it was extemporised too, because they’d only written it an hour in advance.

I’d like to reassure said mail order customer that the copy is in prime condition because my ex-house monkey washes his hands each and every time after he flings his own poo round the room.

Item! This was once new in from John Porcellino of KING-CAT fame when I thought I could get this letter column out early December:

Hi Everyone,
 
Just wanted to let you know a few things:
 
–The newly updated SPIT AND A HALF website is up now, with over 30 cool new zines, books, and comix recently added, so please check it out at www.spitandahalf.blogspot.com, and do us both a favor–  buy some comix!
 
–There are still some handpainted “King-Cat” mugs and dishes available at http://www.goestores.com/storename/thomassedwards/ViewDept-266496.aspx.  Need I mention that they make great gifts for that Special King-Cat fan in your life?
 
–And information on more artwork of mine, including some very affordable handmade fridge mag
nets, is available at: 
http://www.facebook.com/?sk=messages#!/album.php?aid=44040&id=1808283852
and
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?id=1808283852&pid=620668#!/album.php?aid=43684&id=1808283852

Hope all is well, thanks everyone!
 
John P.

King-Cat Comics and Stories

Spit and a Half Distribution Co.

P.O. Box 18888Denver, CO / 80218 / U.S.A.

website:  www.king-cat.net

Item! And I know everyone is still recovering from the manic joy that is Thought Bubble in Leeds (next year, next year we will attend) but here’s another event for next year:

Writing East Midlands’ Alt.Fiction, the East Midlands‘ leading event in science-fiction, fantasy and horror. 25th-26th June 2011. Ink it into your calendar now: http://altfiction.co.uk.

Recently added FAQs:

Q: I’m local, I’m reading one of your reviews, I love the sound of the book and I want to buy it now. Much easier than trying to remember it when I’m in the shop, but I don’t want to pay postage to have it sent to me.

A: Please select “pick up in store” as the shipping method. It’s then already yours and postage-free for when you want to come in and collect it!

Q: I see you are now posting reviews on a weekly basis. When do they go up?

A: Ideally they’re blogged in the Page 45 News Reviews early on each Wednesday evening. So far so good!

Q: Sometimes you blog without that blog appearing immediately or at all on Page 45 website’s front page!

A: True, that. This isn’t an automatic feature. We have wrestled control of it for ourselves so that we can prioritise which blogs fit in our maximum window of five. Sometimes Stephen may just be wittering on about some asinine occurrence that takes his fancy so it’s hardly leading news. Or we may want to keep something important up longer. If in doubt, just click on the Page 45 News icon and everything blogged will indeed be revealed.

Item! Couldn’t find the Page 45 advert filmed earlier this year within the maze of Cerebus TV? Missed the witless posho here pontificating as if he had a clue what he was talking about? There’s been a development I knew nothing about (in addition to the somewhat skewed Latin):

Subject: Forget the Queen’s Speech, Listen to Stephen the Semi-Legendary Holland this Christmas!

Hi Sir Stephen / all,

One always to choses to reflect on the year just gone this time of year and it was most certainly not a “anniblus horribus” (or even a number 49 bus but I digress)

But rather than me make a speech about it, I thought why not have Sir Stephen Semi-Legendary Holland take the honours ?

Yes the Page 45 advert is now available to watch in full and on its own all as way of wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a big thank you for everything,

So throw your web browser over here, and you can even watch Sir Stephen the Semi-Legendary Holland while eating turkey (and drinking wine), if so you should so wish…

http://cerebus.tv/P45

A big thank you to Max Southall for making this all possible

And to all a Merry Christmas and a good night,

Robin Barnard

There’s something at the very least ironic about the subject header, don’t you think?

Once again, thanks to Robin, Max, and to James Holland & co. for the soundtrack. Jonathan thinks he’s found a way of embedding this permanently within our website. I’m afraid.

Okay, so.

Every year we make a point of thanking you for your custom. Even for your attention if you read our reviews and then buy those comics elsewhere. We don’t mind at all, we’re just grateful you do us the honour of reading and then buy those prime comics so that the best creators can make a better living and perhaps create more often rather than having to take day jobs instead which distract them from their craft.

But this year we opened a second shop. It’s called www.page45.com and there was no guarantee you would like it. In terms of paid man-hours, contracts and hardware it cost us an exorbitant amount of money, before you figure in all the additional evenings and weekends Jonathan and I put in to constructing and populating it times-wise.

It was even more of a gamble than opening Page 45 was in the first place on a budget of a mere £30,000 but we knew that it had to be done to continue moving forwards. Whenever we’re thanked on the shop floor for recommendations or taking the time to show people round, I respond with something like, “Our pleasure. We understand, and that’s what we’re here for. There’s no decent information on comics out there.” It’s either elitist, self-serving nonsense or thumb-sucking men-children who’ve lost their dummies and scream. Neither, to my mind, represents an attractive introduction to comics to the average person on the street.

Now I like to think that the information is out there in the form of our website, there is much, much more to come next year and, in addition to thanking you for your regular attention and custom, can I just thank you from the bottom of whatever passes for my black, black heart for embracing www.page45.com as well. Please continue to promote it whenever it occurs to you, but shop with your local bricks-and-mortar retailer if you have one you enjoy.

Use them or lose them. Seriously. Not every retailer can afford a website like this.

Lastly, ever since I first read Jonathan’s review of HELLBLAZER: INDIA, I thought that as a key piece of Page 45 history in and of itself, it really should be spotlighted. The synchronicity is extraordinary.

Jonathan, it seems, was always meant to be here working alongside us.

And I’m really rather grateful he is!

You’ll see what I mean: LINK

 - Greazon’s Seatings from Stephen, Dominique, Tom and Jonathan x

December Previews for Feb 2011

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Growing up, my Ma was awesome. We’d see three meals a day, a vacuumed dog, damson gin in winter, banana bread all year round, pocket money for fairs, an elaborately planted garden, a garden dug up elaborately by the dog and Adam Ant played 24 hours a day. Then, after she’d tucked us in at night, she took out her derringers, Uzis, nail guns, plasma rifles and hand-held cruise missiles to violate the Cheshire countryside (and livestock) in a vigilante rampage that made Judge Dredd look like Bonnie Langford.

 - Stephen on Jennifer Blood #1 by Garth Ennis & Adriano Batista.

Books for February 2011 onwards

Email page45@page45.com to reserve your copies and we’ll let you know when they’re in. Scottaholics please note: SCOTT PILGRIM ACTION FIGURES!


Demo vol 2 (£13-50, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan.

Six self-contained stories readers of LOCAL will love. Two examples. First:

A young woman is in therapy for an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which drives her to write post-it notes for each and every aspect of her life. You’d think this would be a depressing tale, but Brian Wood is never about the obvious. It’s quite the opposite of depressing or obvious thanks in no small part to Cloonan thinking long and hard about body language – in particular the posture of hands. Superb panel composition with excellent sense of light, it’s a story driven creatively on Brian’s part largely through the post-it notes themselves.

Secondly:

Now that’s what I call an eating disorder! I could make you all buy this with the use of a single word, but that would ruin the experience for which ‘unsettling’ is merely a starting point. Cloonan’s art is sweaty, claustrophobic and as bleak as a derelict bathhouse as a young, nail-biting loner rations himself on carefully parcelled food, then tries one last time to reconnect himself with other human beings by dating a girl at a restaurant, but finds he no longer has the stomach for what’s on offer.

Here’s a preview for the first of those stories:

LINK

Stumptown vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth.

From the writer of Queen and Country and half of GOTHAM CENTRAL (see vol 1 s/c below), and if you liked Lark’s art you will love Southworth’s. Of #1 I wrote:

Been looking forward to this for months now, and it does not disappoint!

Something more for CRIMINAL readers to get their teeth stuck into, even the art bears a resemblance to Sean Phillips’, only with a little more light and a few ruled lines. It’s not noir but it is fine contemporary crime set around Portland starring a P.I. called Dex who’s smart on a case but dumb in a casino. The truth is she just can’t quit, a trait that’s going to land her in so much trouble tonight when she agrees to look for Charlotte, the granddaughter of the all-seeing owner of the casino, who is prepared to write off Dex’s 18K in return for her services. Charlotte’s taken her clothes and toiletries but not her car. And she is still alive but Dex’s investigations are hampered by two additional but very different parties also after Charlotte.

As with GOTHAM CENTRAL, Rucka’s created a cast with more than a little heart – everyone asks after Dex’s younger brother Ansel, no matter which side they’re on – and done so in a single issue. The dialogue is a free-flowing naturalistic joy, clues are dotted all over the place if you care to scan the panels properly, and as I said in the preview, you need to see the double-page spread of the bridge at night where Dex is taken out.

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Bullet To The Head (£14-99, D.E.) by Matz & Colin Wilson.

From the writer of THE KILLER (Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), and the artist on Ed Brubaker’s POINT BLANK, the series kicks off with a hit on Senator Sterling having sex with a girl whom Detectives Perry and Philip suspect is underage. Not from where I’m standing – is the U.S. Age of Consent 25? Anyway, she’s dead too, as is her poodle who yapped in protest. It wasn’t his fault one of the killers had just stepped in some dog shit.

We know all this because that isn’t how the series kicks off at all, but with the two assassins, Jimmy and Louis, arguing about Europe and America, sex, girls and trainers. Louis, you see, is very pleased with himself and his new pair of shoes. $2,000 buys you something unique. You’re not going to bump into some other asshole wearing the same design. That’s important to Louis. It shows class. And that’s when he steps out of the car and straight into dog shit.  

I leave you to discover the whys and wherefores of the hit, the shit and the run (or at least amble nonchalantly away still arguing about sex, shrinks and sneakers) but Colin is on fine clear-line form, lambently coloured by Chris Blythe.

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Wandering Son Book One h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Shiumura Takako.

Two friends, two loving homes, one shared secret: Suichi is boy who wants to be a girl, Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy, and this isn’t some RANMA ½ rom-com (nowt wrong with them) but a work of affection, sensitivity and by all accounts sophistication. The blog’s in Japanese but I promise you it’s Shiumura’s and there are some beautiful drawings there:

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The Cardboard Valise h/c (£19-50, Pantheon) by Ben Katchor.

From the creator of JULIUS KNIPL so beloved by Mark, something which sounds almost as bonkers as Forest’s and Tardi’s YOU ARE THERE. Emile Delilah is addicted to travelling, such is his love of foreign climes and their inhabitants. The government of Outer Canthus even pays him a monthly stipend just to visit. He lives in the same tenement as Boreal Rince, its exiled king, and Elijah Salamis, a man determined to heal the wounds of the world’s divided citizens by erasing all national boundaries. “Their lives intertwine through the elaborate fictions they construct and inhabit.” What, like national boundaries?

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The Arctic Marauder h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi.

From the creator of WEST COAST BLUES etc., the French creator who refuses to limit himself to genres or style, comes this ripping steampunk adventure (and parody thereof) in which a vessel is found abandoned on an iceberg. It’s not long before the mad scientists and sea monsters appear!

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The Sky Over The Louvre (£14-99, NBM) by Bernard Yslaire & Jean-Claude Carriere.

Third in NBM’s graphic novels published in conjunction with Paris’ mighty Louvre museum (see GLACIAL PERIOD and ON THE ODD HOURS), goes back “to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution”. It’s the story of a painting of the Supreme Being, ordered by Robespierre from the famous painter David. A painting which was never made. It’s also the story of another painting, that of the young Bara, a 13-year-old martyr of the Republic. From the inauguration of the Louvre, former royal palace, as the museum for the people, to the death of Robespierre, this is also the portrayal of the face to face of two major actors of a revolution in a great hurry. Robespierre appears equally enlightened and lost while David accomplishes his destiny: a painter torn between political engagement and artistic ambition.”

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Kiki De Montparnasse (£14-99) by Catel & José-Louis Bocquet.

First translation on this French biography of one of the most emancipated women of 1920s Paris! You’d recognise the Man Ray photos of her nude in an instant. Can’t find interior art, sorry, so instead here’s an interview on the book with Catel, lauréate du prix Fnac/SNCF at the Festival International de la BD d’Angoulême 2008. She’s speaking in tongues, I’m afraid. Oh wait, it’s French.

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Mid-Life (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Joe Ollman.

“Mid-Life is the story of a 40-year-old man, John, who becomes a father again with his much-younger second wife which results in a slow, painful attack by flowered baby bags and front facing baby carriers on his former virility and self identity. John always believed that age is a state of mind, however, his adult daughters, baby son, energetic wife, stressful job, house full of cats, and flabby body complete with bloated stomach and sagging bosom all lead John reluctantly to admit that he is having a midlife crisis. The crisis drives John to yell at his wife, pick fights with his daughters and miss deadlines at work that put his job on the line.”

Do hope that doesn’t sound overly familiar to anyone!

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Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter! (£11-99, Top Shelf) by Andy Runton.

Andy’s all-ages life lessons are a wordless family treat, using symbols that require interpretation. Great for father/daughter/mother/son interaction in a way the Financial Times is not. Here Owly and Wormy want butterflies and so must learn about metamorphosis – histolysis and histogenesis in holometabolous insects – although not in so many words.

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Aaron & Ahmed h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jay Cantor & James Romberger.

“What causes terrorism?”

After his fiancée dies on 9/11, Dr. Aaron Goodman gives up practising medicine in pursuit of that question which inevitably leads him to Guantanamo Bay to interrogate prisoners there. Thence it leads him and prisoner Ahmed to the jihadist camps in Pakistan and back to Ground Zero itself. The interior art in PREVIEWS put me in mind of a young Guy Davis. Cover, decompressed solicitation and qualifications here:

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Hellblazer vol 1: Original Sins New Edition (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jamie Delano with Rick Veitch & John Ridgeway with Rick Veitch, more.

As we were about to speculate in the forthcoming letter column, Vertigo is letting all the old HELLBLAZER books go out of print. Why? Because it’s a mess. It’s an incomplete, uneven patchwork jumble. Also, book stores prefer bigger chunks and broader spines. Far, far better to start again like this with a brand-new trade dress with numbers on the spines and incorporate SWAMP THING #76-77 along with HELLBLAZER #1-9. Finally you will be able to read the whole of Garth Ennis’ run and presumably Warren Ellis’ ‘Shoot’ will now be included. Here’s a preview to book one:

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Unwritten vol 3: Dead Man’s Knock (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly.

From the writer of LUCIFER another volume of truth being stranger than fiction. Excellent review of book one by Jonathan:

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iZombie vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Chris Roberson.

Of the first issue Tom wrote ~

Gwen Dylan’s life stinks. Well it would if she had one, so I guess she’s just stinky. After all she is undead and not even in a glamorous pointy teethed way. And instead of drinking blood, once a month she has to get some head cheese or face the prospect of becoming a stupefied strutter shambling around the graveyard. Luckily as a grave digger, she doesn’t have to kill just bring home a doggy bag. Along with the relief of holding back the rot for another month, eating brains gives her a taste of the recently deceased’s life, and in some cases an unfortunate quest for vengeance! Although the narration is pure soft-boiled rambling, and the ideas are lifted from various horror cliques, this is exactly the kind of unashamed pulp-pop that Allred has made effortlessly fresh his entire career.

Angeltown h/c (£14-99, Moonstone) by Gary Phillips & Shawn Martinbrough.

Old Vertigo mini-series, now in black and white, from the artist who recently brought you LUKE CAGE: NOIR and which kicked off in November 2004 when I wrote this:

I so didn’t want to read this, the colouring alone looked like it would land me with a six-hour depression, but you know what? Right now DC are home to some excellent crime fiction (HUMAN TARGET, 100 BULLETS, GOTHAM CENTRAL [see below for new s/c edition – ed.] and IDENTITY CRISIS, which let me tell you – having just read issue six of seven this afternoon – is even more clever than I was expecting; dastardly clever with extra clever ice and a slice of clever on the rim of the glass), and from the looks of this first issue, ANGELTOWN is no exception.

A basketball star’s estranged wife is found murdered the same evening he busted a guard in the chops at her tell-all book signing. Burnett, the player, has now gone missing, and it looks to Nate like an O.J. special. Curiously Burnett already has one of L.A.’s sharpest criminal defence attorneys looking out for him before he’s even been charged and, more curiously still, she doesn’t know where he is and sends Nate – that’s the star of the piece – on a manhunt. Nate’s a P.I. – and an old flame of the attorney’s. But now someone’s on Nate’s tail, perhaps more than one person, and there are flowers on Nate’s father’s grave which neither he nor his grandfather put there. Nate’s father was a cop. A bent cop. Did I mention a female bounty hunter who has a honey of a girlfriend? Very dark art – not in Risso’s league by any means, but to similar effect.

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Heartburst & Other Pleasures (£12-99, King Hell) by Rick Veitch.

From the creator of BRATPACK, the anti-superhero superhero comic which makes THE BOYS look tame, and the man who took over SWAMP THING once Alan Moore left until DC pulled his crucifixion story… a collection containing Veitch’s sci-fi tale of interspecies love plus, thrown in the good measure, Alan Moore & Steve Bissette’s Mirror Of Love as it originally appeared in A.A.R.G.H. (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) when Alan took umbrage at Clause 28. As did we all.

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Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta.

Back to nature and indeed feudal Japan (absolutely bursting with feuds, it was) and I think you’re going to like these watercolour studies – lots of wild animals in the snow:

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Dungeon Quest vol 2 (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly.

This’ll make Jonathan very happy. Further misadventures of a motley crew of misfits living their lives as an R.P.G. including level-ups etc. J-Boy explains it better (he always picks the sweary quotes, doesn’t he?) here:

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Krazy Kat & Ignatz 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent And Amiable Brick (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by George Herriman.

I love Jonathan’s design for our Fun & Resources section with Ignatz throwing a brick at Scott McCloud’s head! It is, of course, a kind and benevolent brick just as Ignatz’s always were and you’ll find far more of them in this, Fantagraphics’ penultimate volume along with a real love of language.

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21: The Story Of Roberto Clemente h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Wilfred Santiago.

Biographer of black baseball player facing the inevitable prejudice until he died in a plane crash in 1972. Preview:

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Evolution: The Story Of Life On Earth h/c (£13-99, Hill & Wang) by Jay Hosler & Kevin Cannon, Zander Cannon.

From the creator of the much missed CLAN APIS and drawn by one of the two artists on Alan Moore’s hilarious TOP TEN to put a comedic spin on the Professor of Biology’s equally informed waltz down memory lane. It’s a very long lane indeed. The reviews look good!

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The Plane Story (£14-99, IDW) by Kevin Sacco.

An unusual home, IDW, for this period autobiography set in the 1970s. It’s marketed as Mad Men meets A CONTRACT WITH GOD as Kevin makes his way into the New York commercial art scene.

I can actually see elements of Eisner in the flashback sequences but the opening scenes set on the plane in full colour are dominated to their detriment by text, and I’m simply not a fan of that sort of art style. It’s too crammed and it’s a shame because if you look elsewhere on Kevin’s website his crowd scenes are terrific – much looser art style and fantastic sense of space. You can read previews here by scrolling down then clicking on ‘Plane Story 2’etc. Please persevere until you get to the flashbacks!

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Phoenix Without Ashes h/c (£16-50, IDW) by Harlan Ellison & Alan Robinson.

Harlan Ellison is the acclaimed science fiction veteran of shows like the original Star Trek. 2785 A.D. and religion’s still a killjoy of fire and brimstone, crushing innocence, joy, love and independent thought beneath its self-righteous and self-serving disapproval. Creator control isn’t half so desirable outside the realm of comics, but the population of Cypress Corners is in thrall to a less than ethereal God, even if its preacher-propagandists spout the same suppressive sermons, thee, thou and thying their congregation into a frenzied mob to drive out young Devon. He has questions, you see. Why must they live within a diameter of fifty miles only? Why must his Rachel marry a man she doesn’t love? And where is the sky made of metal? It’s all very familiar, including the most pious presuming to put words into the mouth of their God. Can there be a bigger blasphemy?

The Outlaw Prince (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Hughes & Thomas Yeates, Michael Wm. Kaluta.

Medieval Edgar Rice Burroughs novel set in the Derbyshire dales (or here “rugged mountains” adapted to comics.

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The Adventures Of Dr. McNinja: Night Powers (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Hastings, Benito Cereno & Les McClaine.

Full-colour action adventure thriller with one unique selling point: little action, no adventure, few thrills. Ten out of ten for clarity; minus seventy-six for anything remotely resembling movement, intrigue or style. I read only read one page, this page, but it was an elegant sufficiency.

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Emily The Strange vol 3: The 13th Hour (£14-99, dark Horse) by Rob Reger & Buzz Parker.

Return of the scowling goth brat, six years after the last person stopped caring.

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Haha, there was no link.

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To Teach (£11-99, Teachers College Press) by William Ayers, Ryan Alexander-Tanner & Ryan Alexander-Tanner.

Before we come to Nick Spencer’s lesson on everything a teacher really shouldn’t be (see below), here’s a comicbook adaptation of Ayers’ best-selling education text. Is it any good? I’m not a teacher. Teachers, please let us know. What I’ve seen it do from the preview is emphasise the importance of debunking myths about the profession and question the traditional classroom layout.

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Morning Glories vol 1: For A Better Future (£7-50, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

Hunter: “So I guess we’re going to be roommates and all that, we should probably get to know each other, right? Where are you from?”
Jun: “Tokyo.”
Hunter: “Wow, seriously, Tokyo? That’s gotta be cool. I’m from Toronto, which they say is like New York without all the stuff to do, you know?”
Jun: “No.”
Hunter: “Sorry, I’m probably just rambling my ass off, aren’t I? I think I’m a little nervous, new school and all that –”
Jun: “If anything happens, just stay close to me, you’ll be fine.”
Hunter: “Wow. Uhh… thanks?”
Ike: “It’s Brokeback Bunk Beds!”

Jun: “And you stay away from me.”

How did school work out for you? We used to joke about prep school being a concentration camp, and made plans to escape. Some of those plans weren’t even jokes and the police had to be called at least half a dozen times when one of us breached the walls at night and tried to make it home on foot. Sounds quite ambitious when it was a two-hour car journey, but you never went to Packwood Haugh. My older cousin Nick still refuses to even talk about it to this day.

Uber-prestigious Morning Glory Academy, however, makes Packwood look like a holiday camp. Don’t get me wrong, it looks magnificent on the outside, but once inside things grow increasingly disturbing for our new batch of fresh-faced pupils. In fact all six of them somehow dozed off on the chauffeured journey there, so they haven’t a clue where they are and when one of them phones home, her Dad grows increasingly irate at what he takes to be prank calls because he doesn’t even have a daughter. Oh, and it’s everyone’s sixteenth birthday. Weird. As to the more seasoned students, it’s always pupils versus staff, I know, but not by way of blackboards primed with explosives. Why are they so desperate to escape?

I doubt it was planned this way but there’s a certain degree of misdirection in the interior art that works to the book’s advantage. It’s the sort of light, bright style you’d associate with light, bright superheroes for a light, bright and wealthy school with all the mod cons. But scratch beneath the satin sheen of respectability and there’s rather a lot that’s Not Quite Right. There’s one hell of a lot that’s not quite right with some of the freshers. There’s a funny sequence as Zoe says good-bye to her boyfriend in San Diego (“All I want to do is just be here with you. Can you wait for me?”)… then the next boyfriend, the other one and the other after that! As to Ike, his last supper, eight empty chairs away from his mother at opposite ends of the rosewood dining table, is somewhat strained:

“I still don’t believe it. How in heaven’s name did you trick them?”
“Trick them, mother? Honestly…”
“Ike, please. You depart in two hours. Let’s skip the feigned innocence. A five-star academy accepts you after you’ve been kicked out of seven straight schools, and doesn’t ask for a contribution –”
“Perhaps they just see my potential. Did you consider that?”
“Everyone sees your potential, darling. You sixth grade teacher thought you had the potential to be the next unibomber. That military school general said you were potentially the next Hitler. Why, the archbishop said you could potentially be the… Well, we won’t –”
“I prefer to think I’m misunderstood.”
“And I suppose it’s a misunderstanding that has me paying child care support to six mothers after you switched out their birth control pills for sugar pills?!!”
“Well, I happen to know for a fact that the investors behind placebohotties.com greatly appreciate you doing that.”
“Thank God your father isn’t alive to see this. And really, I know you enjoy being coy about it, but for the sake of the closure I so richly deserve — Did you kill him?”

See IRON 2.0 in the comic section for more Nick Spencer

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Archie Archives vol 1 h/c (£37-99, Dark Horse) by various.

By the anodyne, for the anodyne, lest anyone be offended.

A ridiculously cute customer recently ordered a copy of VERONICA because it featured Archie Comics’ first ever gay character. This is December 2010. Do I even have to type the next sentence…?

Gotham Central Book One: In The Line Of Duty s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

Batman is always billed as the world’s greatest detective but until IDENTITY CRISIS I’d yet to read a satisfying good mystery there that readers could take an active part is solving alongside the caped crusader. GOTHAM CENTRAL however, delivers. It delivers on every front: superb characterisation, underplayed dialogue, deft timing, and a convincingly uneasy relationship with Gotham’s most famous denizen.

Brubaker and Rucka provide alternate story arcs on this title and the transitions are seamless: you really can’t tell the difference. It’s partially about how ordinary cops might cope with living in a city which is infested with enough maladjusted meta-dudes to keep Batman in three titles a month. How are they supposed to react when their paths cross and all they have is a pistol, how does it feel to know that a vigilante often ends up having to do your job for you, that you cannot look after your own, and have to go lighting that Bat Signal every five minutes in what amounts to an admission of inadequacy? It doesn’t feel great. It’s emasculating.

However, the presence of either heroes or villains of the super variety is kept firmly as background – they’re never the heart of the case. Instead it’s tense, dramatic and absorbing crime precinct fiction which just happens to take place in Gotham.

Lark does for this book what Risso does for 100 BULLETS or what Guy Davis did for SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE – he anchors the action firmly in its environment, replete with its own atmosphere, which in this case consists of street-level activity of a predominantly dark and dangerous American city. The regular cast are all members of the MCU (Major Crimes Unit), who tend to deal with crimes that don’t predispose them all to be as kindly as you might like. I don’t mean they’re just tough, they’re also rough – as often as not to each other – and they don’t get much help from the regular cops on the beat either. But they’re human, and they have lives of their own, even if some of them would prefer to leave them at home.

Case in point: officer Renée Montoya. She’s actually one of the most approachable and dedicated officers they have. But she’s being stalked by Marty Lipari, a man who got off on an easy rape case because the evidence “went missing”. Hell, he’s even suing her for damages to the tune of ten million dollars, and he’s hired a Private Eye to take photographs of her. Now the Private Eye is dead, Lipari is missing, and the photographs have found their way onto the precinct walls and beyond. Soon Lipari will be dead, Montoya’s gun will be found at the crime scene, and a stash of coke in her home. Of course it’s a set-up, but why? What’s on those photographs? And how much worse is Renée’s life going to get before she even begins to understand the trouble she’s in?

This arc won the 2004 Eisner Award for best story. Now for my money the Eisner judges are way too disposed towards corporate fare at the expense of the truly remarkable, but this is one award I won’t begrudge, because I was on the edge of my seat throughout. You’ll love Montoya, you’ll feel for her, and if you think I’ve given stuff away, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

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Batman & Robin vol 1: Batman Reborn s/c (£10-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Philip Tan.

“And so begins in earnest your first week as Batman.”
“Yeah. I wish I could shake the feeling I’m wearing a shroud.”

“That’s better. There’s always pain when the ugliness is burned away. But pain is the beginning of perfection. You’ve been a bad man, Niko, but that’s all over now. Pyg will make you perfect. And then your daughter.”

“It’s an aerosol narcotic! It’s spread like a flu! Addiction you can catch!”

“So… whose neck do I break first?”

What a gloriously coloured cover, like a tangy, double-layered lemon and orange mousse!

Two blistering new chapters in Morrison’s Batman run see the all-new duo with a different dynamic follow a domino trail from Toad to Professor Pyg, the surgeon with a buzzsaw and drill, ringmaster of The Circus Of Strange. This affords Quitely all the opportunity he needs to indulge in grotesqueries from conjoined kung fu triplets, to a very fat, hairy man in a pink, white-frilled tutu. Also, a chap with his head on fire.

It also allows Morrison to revel in his love of language, in this case circus slang. The base of operations is in fact, that same funfair of horrors that Commissioner Gordon knows all too well from BATMAN: KILLING JOKE (a book reprised several times later on in this volume), and indeed it’s Dick Grayson’s roots in the circus that provides the key to overcoming his early self-doubts about his new role as Batman, for try as he might he cannot be the same Batman that his mentor Bruce ever was. Here’s Alfred doing a Yorick with Batman’s mask:

“Try to think of your Batman not as a memorial — you and I know he’d hate that — but as a performance. Think of Batman as a great role, like Hamlet, or Willie Loman… or even James Bond. And play it to your strengths. Master Damian will undoubtedly be racing towards trouble as we speak. Curtain’s up. And the spotlight is on you now.”

Damian is indeed a handful as the new Robin, but then he is only ten and was raised by assassins and master criminals. To him Dick seems like that unwanted step-father, usurping the role of his real parent, Bruce. He’s a mechanical genius as well as an effective athlete, though: you wait ’til you see the new flying Batmobile! It’s introduced on the first double-splash page pursuing Toad and co. in a Wind In The Willows-style high-speed car chase through an underground tunnel. Quitely delivers several of these key spectacles: Batman and Robin crashing through their first skylight together, or sky-diving through the Batsignal cast on a cloud! Philip Tan’s no slouch either, taking the even darker second half here into brutal territories as Jason Todd (Robin mark II) returns as the Red Hood with a Scarlet he picked up in part one, determined to make the punishment fit the crime, and whose escalation of vigilante justice attracts the attention of even worse crime.

I’ll just add that there are so many fine touches here, including Damian being the first to treat Alfred like the beck-and-call butler he’s hired to be (“That will be all, Pennyworth.”). Plus there are some illustrated notes from Grant himself in the back wherein he reveals that Professor Pyg’s name is indeed a tip of the hat to Pygmalion, but via Momus’ ‘Pygmalism’ track. We love Momus!

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Astro City: Shining Stars h/c (£18-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson.

We love ASTRO CITY.

It was the first self-contained superhero series/universe outside of WATCHMEN to be literate, humane, thought-provoking, witty, moving and thinking completely outside the (sand)box.

This reprints the ASTRA, SILVER AGENT and BEAUTIE issues outside the regular series. You better believe there’s a

Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond (£10-99, DC) by Adam Beechen & Ryan Benjamin, John Stanisci.

The Batman of the future (and indeed animated cartoon) and an elderly Bruce Wayne star in this recent six-issue mini-series.

Justice League: Generation Lost vol 1 h/c (£29-99, DC) by Judd Winnick & many.

First 12 issues of the BRIGHTEST DAY tie-in. Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Fire and Ice.

Showcase Presents: The Witching Hour vol 1 (£14-99, DC) by the likes of Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Gil Kane.

And that is a pretty fierce line-up, I’m sure you’ll agree. Over 500 black and white pages of Witch? magazine. That’s probably the lamest joke I have made. “Oh no, it’s not!” It really isn’t, is it?

The Tick: The Edlund Epic Complete Works vol 1 (£22-50, New England) by Ben Edlund.

Think CEREBUS’ Roach in his earliest incarnation (Ben Edlund did!), and to begin with just as funny. Ninjas, flagpoles and Clark Kent’s secret identity mocked with glee. Battle cry: “Spoon!”

Takio h/c (£7-50, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming.

96-page all-ages hardcover for £7-50. Not bad! From the creators of POWERS and inspired by ideas from Bendis’ own daughter, this stars a multi-racial adoptive family driving each other insane. Then the two sisters develop super-powers, and with few years comes squat responsibility. Recommended to all fans of POWERPACK – as is therapy.

Endure the advert, here and I swear Bendis starts talking about the book soon. He’s quite camp, actually.

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Shadowland h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Billy Tan.

The five-issue climax to Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston’s run on DAREDEVIL which runs in parallel with SHADOWLAND: DAREDEVIL which contains the DAREDEVIL issues themselves.

Matt Murdock sought leadership of the ninja-stuffed Hand in order to prevent the Kingpin from seizing control and to subvert the organisation from within: to bring light to its less than jocular fist. Unfortunately the reaction was equal and opposite. A demon has seized control of both Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen’s residents. A riot erupts, Foggy Nelson and Dakota North are caught in its centre and poor Becky Blake, bound to a wheelchair, is trapped in a Brownstone in flames. Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist and Elektra do what they can, but it doesn’t end well, I can tell you.

Shadowland: Daredevil h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston & Roberto de la Torre, Marco Checchetto.

The DAREDEVIL issues themselves – five of them – plus SHADOWLAND: AFTER THE FALL. More pages than SHADOWLAND, yet strangely four quid cheaper. In Bendis’ run Matt Murdock found himself jailed for perjury; in Brubaker’s run he ended up leading The Hand. How much worse will his life end up under Diggle and Johnston…? Clue: the series now changes its title to BLACK PANTHER, MAN WITHOUT FEAR. For further tie-ins see ‘Also Scheduled’.

Captain America Omnibus vol 1 (£75-00, Marvel) by Stan Lee with Roy Thomas & Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, more.

For pity’s sake if you order this book, make sure you order the variant cover, the original Jack Kirby design for CAPTAIN AMERICA #100. Ron Garney is such a solid artist that I’m convinced they’re lying here because what we are shown is the sort of hideous amateurism I should have been embarrassed about when I was drawing superhero comics aged 15. Anyway, 856 pages following Steve Rogers’ defrosting, a lot of which involve das Red Skull, der M.O.D.O.K. unt Fraulein Sharon Carpenter. Ich sprecke keine Deutsche. Jim Steranko’s pages are deliriously good.

Ultimate Thor h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco.

“Hello.”
“And you must be the man they have sent to help me. You’re a doctor of psychiatry, I presume?”
“Among other things.”
“Then be forewarned. It is not a delusion of madness you’ll find here, doctor, but purpose and destiny. Professor Braddock will have told you that I am Thorlief Golmen — this is incorrect. I am Thor, God of Thunder, and I will be called the name my father gave me.”
“Of course, and I am only here to help you, Thor. Why don’t you tell me how I can do that?”
“May I have your pen? This one is almost empty and I’m almost finished.”
“Certainly. It looks incomplete.”
“It’s all I can remember.”
“A rather ominous place to leave off, don’t you think?”
“You can read this?”
“I can.”
“Then do so.”
“‘There is a storm coming.’”
“Yes… Yes, there is.”

Nice touch that, having Dr. Donald Blake translate the sequence of the Norse Poetic Edda written on the observation room’s floor. It allows that final extra line of quiet and genuinely concerned worry perfectly in keeping with Mark Millar’s version of Thor (props to Pacheco). Now, why is it that we don’t get a proper look at Dr. Donald Blake’s face, do you think? In the regular Marvel universe Dr. Donald Blake is the tag-team partner to Thor, exchanging places with a tap of the cane or a smash of the hammer Mjolnir. But the Ultimate Universe is renowned for its sly departures and I somehow suspect this will be one of them, especially since it’s written by the creator of THE NIGHTLY NEWS and the author of Marvel’s most original book in years, the current series of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Set in Germany 1939, Asgard a great deal earlier than that, and current day in the Dome of the European Super-Soldier Initiative, Brussels (as seen in Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES Seasons one and two, presumably immediately prior to them), it’s evidently going to involve Mjolnir, and follows the pursuit of mystic weaponry in service to the Fuhrer by plundering Asgard. Baron Zemo has been assigned one hundred thousand men by Reichsfurher Himmler, found a gateway near Niebull to any of the Seven Realms and the twenty-four sacred runes which will, if correctly partnered, activate various sequences of the legendary Rainbow Bridge. The Aesir sequence, for example, is how they’ll reach Asgard but first another, lower sequence will dramatically improve their chances of success… I particularly enjoyed the resurrection of the stone circle near Niebull, and the early appearance of the Schutzstaffel symbol amongst the ancient runes.

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor vol 10 h/c (£40-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee with Gerry Conway & John Buscema.

“Caution! Read only as directed! Grandeur such as this may be habit-forming!”

But once again, Stan, not your most feminist of writing. Here we have the warrior Sif, Thor’s betroth-ed, doing little more than throw herself over his hunky shoulders and weep. Whatever the peril she cries like the devil – it’s like there’s a washer worn out inside of her.

This contains the first-ever comic I chose and paid for myself, THE MIGHTY THOR #189 with Hela, Goddess Of Death on the cover. A dozen years later and I’d be spiking my jet-black hair, dusting on cheek-bones and kohling my eyes before smouldering on the dance floor to Bauhaus. Connection…? I think not!

Stan Lee’s Hela is a somewhat colder creature than Neil Gaiman’s perky post-punk gothstress, being aloof, magisterial and not above desiccating a band of brave fire-fighters in order to lure out her chosen victim, Thor. Neil Gaiman’s Death, you feel, would have instead asked how their families were doing (possibly with a hint of dramatic irony after claiming one of their number’s daughters during a lesbian suicide pact involving heroin and a small communal swimming pool) or at the very least offered them each a cup of tea. But no, our Hela (from number sixty-two – have you seen the dust and cobwebs on her net curtains?) is determined to root out then snuff out the Norse God of Thunder, having been denied his old man Odin. For his part, Odin has ordered his son to Earth disguised as Dr. Donald Blake to evade Hela’s icy clutches, but A) Loki’s only gone and given Hela the heads-up, and B) Don spends far too little time doing the rounds and far too much listening to Virgin FM. So he hears the late-breaking news of the thirsty fire-fighters, conks his cane on the concrete and whisks himself valiantly off to his doom.

To his credit, Odin does try to stave off his son’s certain fate, not by negotiating exactly, but by killing Death herself (he’s very much a smite first/ask questions later kind of a guy), but that just leaves the whole human race suffering from a plague of infinite life-spans: their own, their household flies’, and the otherwise D.D.T.d. Earth gets verily crowded mightily swiftly. Thor understands that this will never do, so offers himself once more to Hela’s icy clutches and Odin relents, revives Hela but then determines that in Thor’s final seconds he should have his beloved Sif by his side, and then Sif — oh, off she goes again. She’ll dehydrate if she’s not careful. She’s like customer Chris Craven in drag. But — and this is the genius bit — it may be that Sif holds the key to save the day! I won’t tell you what it is, but I will tell you that… Oh, now you’ve got me going too <sniff>.

That bit’s beautifully written and tenderly drawn, and Hela’s answer isn’t all that obvious actually. Nor is any of the above that I’ve made cheap mockery of!

But while everyone’s been bumbling about our mortal coil (Midgard plc), Loki’s usurped the Asgardian throne and now bears the Odin-Ring. This – to them – means that the battle’s all o’er bar shoutin’ for whoever bears/wears or even swears by the Odin-Ring is indisputably top dog and there’s nowt to be done. Personally I’d have just twatted him one, chopped the feigner’s finger off, and have done with it. But no, the omnipotent Odin, whose Odin-Thoughts were already troubled by the Odin-Suspicions is commanded by Loki to sleep the Odin-Sleep, and in a rare act of Odin-Obeisance he takes a quick nap. How will they get out of that?!

Damn, I think I failed at the first directive and didn’t read as instructed. I did bring the review round full-circle, though, didn’t I?

LINK

Marvel Masterworks: the Mighty Thor vol 2 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Oh, go and read some more ESSENTIAL reviews or something.

Invincible Iron Man vol 6: Stark Resilient Book 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.

This just gets better and better. Stark’s determined to supply the world with free, environmentally neutral energy using his repulsor technology but first it’s time to get all Jeremy Clarkeson and build a fast car. Meanwhile the daughter and granddaughter of Justin Hammer have some upgrades their own, sending armed aerial drones piloted remotely by innocent gamers believing it’s just a combat scenario on their latest mobile phone app.. Here’s the first volume:

LINK

X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina.

First six issues of the fourth regular X-MEN title running alongside ASTONISHING X-MEN, UNCANNY X-MEN and X-MEN: LEGACY. Vampires.

Namor: The First Mutant vol 1: Curse Of The Mutants s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Stuart Moore & Ariel Olivetti

Ties into X-MEN: CURSE OF THE MUTANTS as do other books in ‘Also scheduled’.

X-Men Legacy: Collision h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Clay Mann.

Follows straight on from X-MEN: SECOND COMING.

The Thanos Imperative h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Miguel Sepulveda, Brad Walker.

Includes ‘Ignition’ about which I wrote:

Not so much the launch for a new mini-series (THE THANOS IMPERATIVE) as a bridge between prior developments and the next lot, out in the far reaches of space. And it does successfully fill you in on the titular, craggy-chinned demi-god of death whilst apprising you of the current status of an enormous cast of characters from the new Guardians of the Galaxy (Moondragon, Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax The Destroyer etc.) and the Inhumans (Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak & co.) to Nova (Richard Rider), Quasar and… oh, dear… The Magus. Or Adam Magus as he’s now being written to call himself. The “oh dear” stems from the fact that Jim Starlin did such a perfect job beginning, middling then ending that storyline (see MARVEL MASTERWORKS: WARLOCK vol 2 h/c – complete and very highly recommended) that it should never have been meddled with again. Find yourself a new villain!

To be fair, I think he’s a counterpart, for there’s a vast tear in time and space between our own universe and a parallel one nicknamed the Cancerverse and the Magus has positioned his Templeships of Universal Church Of Truth around it. Also, he’s brought some the worlds he’s converted to his Church and he’s about to explode the lot of them right on the fault line. Someone’s coming through…

Ultimatum Companion h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by various.

Everything ULTIMATUM-related in one big bag of poo.

New Ultimates: Thor Reborn UK s/c (£11-99, Panini) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho.

Of #1 I wrote:

Gorgeous neo-Perez cover from Cho which folds out thirty-six times and can be used as a dado strip right round a small boy’s bedroom. Because Frank Cho doesn’t have a problem with monthly schedules, does he? It’s a nod to Bryan Hitch’s panorama in ULTIMATES 2 volume 2 for once more Loki is leading a hoard of ogres on an attack on American soil, this time Central Park where T’Challa, Ka-Zar and Shanna are walking the tigers. Meanwhile Thor is stuck in Valhalla whose queen of the dead, Hela, wants an heir to her throne and she wants it from Thor. That’s the deal if he wants to escape and since she’s much, much hotter than her regular Marvel Universe counterpart I can’t see that being much of a sacrifice. Elsewhere, the remaining members of the Ultimates have shacked up with S.H.I.E.L.D., whilst Tony Stark has shacked up with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s commander Carol Danvers, and they’ve all been attacked by the Defenders now souped-up to snap up Thor’s mallet. With painful predictability Hawkeye bemoans the loss of his son by the end of the very first page, but the whole thing is rescued by an eloquent essay on the horrors of chemotherapy courtesy of Tony Stark’s voiceover. In fact it actually has a theme, this: death and sex and procreation.

A vast improvement on ULTIMATES 3, not just because you can actually see what’s going on without the aid of an industrial searchlight but because the figures you can see are so sexily drawn.

X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants UK s/c (£12-99, Panini) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina.

First six issues of the 31st new ongoing mutant title this year. Vampires. <yawn>

Captain America: To Serve & Protect h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Ron Garney, Dale Eaglesham.

Or buy for £12-99 here:

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine UK s/c (£12-99, Panini) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert.

Spider-Man & Wolverine appear to have been bombed into Pre-History. Remember how the dinosaurs died out? Here comes a meteor!

Marvelman Classics vol 2 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mick Anglo & Don Lawrence, Mick Anglo, James Bleach.

Don Lawrence?!?!?!

Marvelman Family’s Finest h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mick Anglo & Mick Anglo, Norman Light, George Parlett, Don Lawrence.

Don Lawrence?!?!?!

The Stand: Hardcases h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stephen King adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins.

Don Lawrence?!?!?! Oh, okay, no.

Don Lawrence Westerns: Wells Fargo & Pony Express Ltd. Edition h/c (£25-00, Book Palace) by Kelman D. Frost, Don Lawrence & Don Lawrence.

From the creator of TRIGAN EMPIRE, 208 pages that look like this (scroll down):

LINK

God Of War (£10-99) by Marv Wolfman & Andrea Sorrentino.

Kratos the Spartan in Console Game Adaptation Inevitability Shock! Experience the Greek mythology without calloused thumbs. Or the nagging suspicion that you’ve missed three vital secrets because you can just turn back the pages. Someone please tell me: what precisely do I have to do to activate all those extra devices I picked up first time round? Play it again at the same level or play it at a higher level and risk never being able to lift up that first fucking tree trunk? Also, is it my imagination or is he voiced by Star Trek’s Worf?

True Blood vol 1: Altogether Now h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Alan Ball, David Tischman & David Messina.

Tom assures me that the TV series is full of what Anita used to refer to as “wallop” (Leeds goth-speak for male crumpet) getting their kit off. Since Anita was a veritable child of the night herself – and quite the classiest I’ve ever met – I can only begin to imagine how glued to the screen she’d be! We still have a couple of dozen copies of the first printing of the first issue at cover price. I’ve seen what they’re going for online. Don’t pay it! Ours are cover price.

Fraggle Rock vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by various.

Prediction: bought by parents for themselves under the guise of giving it to their kids!

LINK

Art & Prose for February 2011

Bone: Quest For the Spark novel (£8-50, Graphix) by Tom Sniegoski.

First in a trilogy of BONE novels from Jeff’s Smith’s collaborator on BONE: TALL TALES with covers at least by Jeff Smith. There may be interior illustrations too, I can’t recall. Here’s a big illustrated interview for you.

LINK

Seduction Of The Innocent h/c (£11-99, Kettledrummer) by Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Dylan Horrocks, Richard Sala, Sam Henderson, Johnny Ryan, more.

No not the Frederic Wertham disgrace, but a project so off the wall I’ve been chuckling as I find you sample pages. Basically the comicbook artists least likely to bring you cheesecake bring you cheesecake: pin-ups of pretty girls reading comics. Scroll down here:

LINK

Comics for February 2011

Uptight #4 (£2-99, Fantagraphics) by Jordan Crane.

Reprieve for a periodical we thought long lost to Diamond’s minimum threshold policy. Hurrah! Infidelity, a spat over cooking oil, and the second instalment of the sequel to THE CLOUDS ABOVE from the creator of LAST LONELY SATURDAY. One of the most versatile and exciting creators currently in comics. Link to #3:

Jennifer Blood #1 (£2-99, D.E.) by Garth Ennis & Adriano Batista.

Growing up, my Ma was awesome. We’d see three meals a day, a vacuumed dog, damson gin in winter, banana bread all year round, pocket money for fairs, an elaborately planted garden, a garden dug up elaborately by the dog and Adam Ant played 24 hours a day. Then, after she’d tucked us in at night, she took out her derringers, Uzis, nail guns, plasma rifles and hand-held cruise missiles to violate the Cheshire countryside (and livestock) in a vigilante rampage that made Judge Dredd look like Bonnie Langford.

Such, I kid you not, is the premise to this latest outrage from the writer of PREACHER, PUNISHER and THE BOYS: a mother by day, vigilante by night. Can’t wait.

Crossed: Psychopath #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Raulo Caceres.

WALKING DEAD alert! Third CROSSED series featuring zombies taken to deeply disturbing extremes. Also available in Feb: complete set of the second series, CROSSED: FAMILY values @ £19-50. The first series written by Garth Ennis is already available as a book here:

LINK

Witchfinder: Lost And Gone Forever #1 of 5 (£2-25, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & John Severin.

Yay! John Severin! Marvel veteran woefully underutilised these days (or misused on RAWHIDE KIND) who has lost none of his power nor texture. In fact, he’s better than ever as evidenced in PUNISHER MAX: FIRST LAST. Can’t find you an interior page, sorry. 19th Century Wild West tie-in to HELLBOY. First volume here:

LINK

Daomu #1 (£2-25, Image) by Kennedy Xu & Scott Chou, Ken Chou.

Chinese horror (this is from China) about raiding tombs and fighting the creatures unleashed. It’s a bit of a faff, but if you go to the gallery ‘the sequentials’ and click on the final image here, that’s the sort of fully-painted  interior art I’ve seen on offer only with better textures.

LINK

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #1 (£2-25, Vertigo/DC) by Chris Roberson & Shawn McManus.

From the artist on SANDMAN: A GAME OF YOU and the famous Pogo tribute by Alan Moore in SWAMP THING VOL 2 (h/c or s/c, take your pick) a second CINDERELLA mini-series spinning out of FABLES. Secret agent Cinderella faces a threat from her past. Here’s the first book – if you enjoyed it, why not write a review? We never read it.

LINK

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #153 (£2-99, Marvel) by Bendis & Pichelli, LaFuente.

Prelude to ‘Death Of Spider-Man’ storyline.

Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1 of 6 (£2-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu.

Marvel’s minimal information mode again this month, but given the tension between Fury and Danvers this was inevitable and thank God it’s Millar writing rather than Loeb. For a while there have been two teams, only one of which knows what the other’s been up to because Fury’s is black ops. Automatic for whoever’s down for the Millar mini-series; everyone else, feel free to hop on board.

Iron Man 2.0 #1 & 2 (£2-29, £2-25 respectively, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barry Kitson.

From the writer of Forgetless and EXISTENCE 2.0 /3.0 which rank right up there with anything Jonathan Hickman’s put out, so I would seriously attend. War Machine by any other name.

Invincible Iron Man #500.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.

Not content to bugger about with switching numbers and titles around to confuse all and sundry, Marvel this month are releasing three titles with “.1” in their numbers as self-contained jumping-on points. The others are AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654.1 and UNCANNY X-FORCE #5.1 even though both those titles have just undergone a storyline relaunch. Can you see the problems yet? Firstly, the titles will still go on to readdress subplots begun earlier so these aren’t really fresh starts at all, and someone picking up IRON MAN #501 (no longer INVINCIBLE, so that don’t bode well for our Tone, does it?) won’t know they’ve missed an issue between #500 and 501. I recommend a standing order so you don’t miss out on issues. Possibly with Page 45. ;)

Onslaught #1 of 4 (£2-99, Marvel) by Sean McKeever & Filipe Andrade.

From the writer of WAITING PLACE, the return of the purple helmet-head first seen here:

LINK

Silver Surfer #1 of 5 (£2-25, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Stephen Segovia.

From the writer of PLANET HULK and guest-starring the High Evolutionary (he evolves stuff – though I’m not sure ‘evolve’ is a transitive verb).

Astonishing X-Men #36 (£2-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Jason Pearson.

Do let us know if you only want the Warren Ellis mini-series.

DC Universe Online Legends #1, 2 of 26 (£2-25, DC) by Tony Bedard, Marv Wolfman & Howard Porter, more.

Howard Porter: where has he been since embellishing Grant Morrison’s excellent JLA ten years ago?  Coinciding with the release of the new console game, behold: the latest DCU 26-issue bi-weakly series (sic). “The Lex Luthor of a post-apocalyptic future scrambles to escape Brainiac’s invasion of Earth, but he must gather an army to stop the invasion.” An army of DCU heroes and villains.

I’ve just reached the third and final peninsula on Red Dead Redemption. Brief reprieve for the Wild West’s cougar population (virtually extinct two centuries ahead of its time), but the World Wildlife Fund will almost certainly find the Grizzly Bear coming to their attention shortly.

Green Lantern #63 (£2-25, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke.

Prologue of War Of The Green Lanterns: Hal Jordan, Sinestro, Parallax. Book now!

Props to Geoff Johns for such a very long run on a single superhero title. Outside of Brian Michael Bendis (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and multiple AVENGERS), it’s virtually unheard of these days. When you figure in the original GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH miniseries in which he successfully resurrected Hal Jordan to the overwhelming delight of some notoriously difficult-to-please devotees and the Blackest Night miniseries too, Johns has now written some 80 consecutive issues. Thank you, Geoff Johns, for the consistency, the rise in sales by some 1,000% (not kidding) and therefore all that lovely, filthy lucre. You da man.

DC Comics Presents Green Lantern: Fear Itself (£5-99, DC) by Ron Marz & Brad Parker.

Reprint of the entire graphic novel for six quid. Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and a Nazi-controlled Justice Society.

DC Comics Presents Batman: Conspiracy (£5-99, DC) by Doug Moench, Paul Dini & JH Williams III

From the artist on Promethea and Batwoman, LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #86-88 and DETECTIVE COMICS #821.

Outsiders #37 (£2-25, DC) by Dan Didio & Keith Giffen, Mick Gray.

“Reign Of Doomsday” part two. Part one is in January’s STEEL #1. Doomsday was the grey guy in serious need of a pumice stone who briefly killed Superman in The Death Of Superman until he returned in THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN after there was a cooling off period with a world without Superman in A WORLD WITHOUT SUPERMAN. Now he is back to reign on your parade.

LINK

Fathom Primer #1 (75 pence, Aspen) by Scott Lobdell & Michael Turner, Koi Turnbull.

32-page sampler of subaquatic boobage drawn by one of the most popular superhero artists.

LINK

Merchandise for Whenever 2011

Scott Pilgrim Action Figures (£14-99 each) by Bryan Lee O’Malley(ish)

Two designs, each with 8 points of articulation which is considerably more than Scott himself has (I loved the fact that the Jimmy Corrigan figure was completely inarticulate!). Both designs are of Scott, he’s just wearing different clobber. Each comes both with a guitar and a Flaming Sword Of Love. Lighter fluid not included.

LINK

Also Scheduled:

Judge Dredd Complete Case Files vol 17 (£19-99, Rebellion) by various
Time Bomb vol 1 (£10-99, Radical) by Palmiotti, Gray & Paul Gulacy
Technopriests vol 3 (£13-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov.
Possessions Book Two: The Ghost Table (£3-99, Oni) by Ray Fawkes
Bronx Kill s/c (£9-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & James Romberger
Y – The Last Man deluxe ed. book five h/c (£22-50, Vertigo/DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra
Ex Machina deluxe ed. book five h/c (£22-50, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris, John Paul Leon
Steve Canyon: Complete Comicbook Series h/c (£37-99, Hermes) by Milton Caniff
Melvin Monster vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by John Stanley
X-9 Secret Agent Corrigan vol 2 h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Archie Goodwin & Al Williamson
Poseurs (£12-99, Image) by Deborah Vankin & Rick Mays
Husk s/c (£12-99, Soleil/Marvel) by L’Homme, Louis & Boudoiron
Daffodil s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Bremaud & Rigano
Dark Tower: Treachery s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Furth, David & Lee
Namor Visionaries: John Byrne vol 1 (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne
Astonishing X-Men vol 6: Exogenetic s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez
Invincible Iron Man vol 5: Stark Resilient Book 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larocca
Spider-Man: The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt s/cs (£10-99 each, Marvel) by various
Vampire tales vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by various
Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth – Head Trip s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Gischler & several
Spider-Woman: Agent Of SWORD s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Bendis & Maleev
Young Allies s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by McKeever & Baldeon, Rios
Shadowland: Street Fighters h/c (£18-9, Marvel) by various
Shadowland: Thunderbolts h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Parker & Walker
X-Factor: Happenings In Las Vegas h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Fiumara, De Landro
Daken: Dark Wolverine – Empire h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Way, Liu, Camuncoli, Pierfederici
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants – Mutants vs. Vampires h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various
Wolverine: Wolverine Goes To Hell h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Renato Guedes
New Avengers vol 6 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Bendis & various. #48-54 and some specials.
Wildcats Version 3.0 Year Two (£18-99, DC) by Joe Casey & Sean Philips, Dustin Nguyen, more
Spirit: Angel Smerti (£13-50, DC) by Mark Shultz, David Hine & Moritat
Superman: New Krypton vol 3 s/c (£13-50, DC) by James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Richard Donner, Geoff Johns & Pete Woods, Rags Morales, Mark Farmer.
Titans: Villains For Hire (£10-99, DC) by Eric Wallace & Fabrizio Fiorentino
Zatanna: Mistress Of Magic (£13-50, DC) by luaP iniDi & ynam
Azrael: Killer Of Saints (£13-50, DC) by Fabian Nicieza, David Hine & Ramon Bachs, more
Legion Of Superheroes: The Choice h/c (£18-99, DC) by Paul Levitz & Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher
Conan vol 10: Iron Shadows In The Moon (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Tim Truman & Tomás Giorello
Chronicles Of Conan vol 21: Blood Of The Titan And Other Stories (£13-50, Dark Horse) by various
Star Wars Invasion vol 2: Rescues (£13-50, Dark horse) by Tom Taylor & Colin Wilson
Star Wars Omnibus: At War With The Empire vol 1 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by various
Flash Gordon Comicbook Archives vol 3 h/c (£37-99, Dark Horse) by Pearson, Boyette & Jones, Crandall
Dawn: Behind The Scenes art book (£10-99, Image) by JM Linsner
Broken Trinity vol 2: Pandora’s Box (£14-99, Top Cow/Image) by Hill, Levin & Vitti, Percio
28 Days Later vol 3: Hot Zone (£9-99, BOOM!) by Michael Alan Nelson & Shalvey, Manco
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Vol 4 h/c (£18-99, BOOM!) by Philip K. Dick (unabridged) & Tony Parker.
Farscape vol 3: Gone & Bacdk s/c (£9-99, BOOM!) by O’Bannon, DeCandidio & Patterson
Farscape: Scorpius vol 2 s/c (£9-999, BOOM!) by O’Bannon, David Alan Mack & Gordon Purcell
The Iron Moon (£12-99) by Stephen Walsh & Keith Page

 - Page 45 Previews written by Stephen. He has no life. Resolicitations were left to their own devices.

Reviews December 2010 week three

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Special Exits h/c (£19-99) by Joyce Farmer…

“It’s good to be alive.”

Make no mistake, whilst SPECIAL EXITS is ostensibly a work of fiction it is very much based on Joyce Farmer’s personal experiences, and all the more emotionally powerful for it. No punches are pulled, this is life, specifically the twilight years and subsequent demise of elderly parents, told with such honesty, candour and compassion that I actually find myself welling up again as I’m typing this. If we are extremely fortunate our parents will live long and happy lives and enjoy peaceful passings. But even if that is the case, undoubtedly there will be an inevitable degradation of faculties, certainly physical and perhaps also mental.

This is one such story, tenderly telling the gradual decline in health of elderly Lars and Rachel. The story though is as much about Lars’ daughter Laura and her tireless efforts to support her father and step-mother in remaining independent in their own house in southern central Los Angeles. The various relationships between the three main characters reveal a genuine depth of heart-felt emotion as memories are relived, and the various trials and tribulations of getting older faced for the most part with good grace, humour and equanimity. Even during the 1992 Rodney King riots, when the by then blind Rachel and rather unwell Lars find themselves cut off from the outside world without power, they deal with the situation in a considerably calmer manner than Laura, frantically trying, and failing, to get hold of her father.

Actually one of the most difficult sequences for me emotionally was when Rachel goes blind from glaucoma, primarily because the somewhat laissez faire Lars has neglected to mention to his daughter that Rachel hasn’t been taking her eyedrops because they mislaid the (expired) bottle some time ago. He clearly feels somewhat guilty over the loss of Rachel’s sight and with it, her ability to undertake her only hobby making and embroidering exquisite dolls. Mind you, the bags of unprocessed uranium ore he’s been keeping in the garage as a souvenir of his time working on the railroad might yet come back to haunt him…

As the end approaches for Rachel, and with Lars now unable to care safely for his wife at home, it becomes necessary for her to move into a care facility. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the care she receives is less than adequate at times, and actually hastens her eventual death, thus making Laura even more determined to keep her father at home as long as possible, as he too begins to become gradually more frail.

What underpins this entire work and makes it bearable emotionally, is the love that all the characters clearly have for each other. Given the fact that there were probably, undoubtedly, times of frayed tempers, tears and tantrums, Farmer wisely in my opinion chooses not to document these, instead concentrating on the positive moments, which are what ultimately, after the passing of a loved one, remain as memories. And so SPECIAL EXITS becomes a testament to the human spirit and the value of a positive outlook on life, especially in one’s latter years when faced with failing health.

This is a really, really moving work, which minded me at times for various reasons of Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME and Harvey Pekar’s OUR CANCER YEAR. It stayed with me for several days, not least because it vividly brought back all too recent memories of watching my wife struggle with losing her beloved father over three very painful years. Also because I have this yet to come with my own parents, whom I hope I can care for with the same compassion and patience that Laura shows for hers, and finally because it all too pointedly highlights the manner in which we all ultimately exit this world. Not an easy read, but one which will certainly make you pause and think.

LINK

JR

Timularo: The Complete Collected Timulo (Page 45 Special Edition, Signed) (£10-00, lulu.com) by Molly Eyre & D’Israeli D’Emon Draughtsman A.K.A. Matt Brooker.

Oh, my days!

I suspect much of this first paragraph won’t survive intact on the internet for long because, by the time you read this, the first run of this special edition exclusive to Page 45 and limited to ten copies will almost certainly be sold out. If it’s not, hit buy NOW! There will be further print runs, but this is the first and I cannot guarantee sketches in subsequent ones.

Exclusive to us: a brand-new variant cover set outside this very shop with Page 45 logos hidden all over the place. Inside, each signed and numbered copy comes with an original, hand-drawn sketch, and they are beautiful! I said to Matt, “Three lines approximating a face would be awesome” but Matt doesn’t actually do short-cuts, it seems. Let me repeat: a full-page, original sketch. D’Israeli D’one us proud and at no extra cost to you.

As to the contents, this the first-ever collection of the classic, wit-ridden TIMULO strips that graced DEADLINE MAGAZINE some 20 years ago and helped it impress upon a music-loving world previously unused to comics exactly what they were missing out on. Possibly the finest reach-out programme of all time, DEADLINE was the indie music monthly which first played host to TANK GIRL, plus Nabiel Kanan’s EXIT also featured there.

For me TIMULO was in a world of its own – as, it seems, was Matt ‘D’Israeli’ Brooker, for there are so many comedic and sly slights of hand here which I will leave you to discover for yourselves. But right from the go it warned readers that it was blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, offering the surreal adventures of a doubtful Sheffield-based comicbook writer who’d retreated from the real world to one of his own imagination. There he was set at odds with Jehovah’s Witnesses visiting at 5am in his dreams then 7am in reality (charred) but backed up by a certain Mark E. DeSade (his pugilistic male power fantasy) and a Grim Reaper called Edgar who had “Here Is My Sting” engraved on his scythe in Runes.

Also in sporadic attendance: Hewie, Dewey and Glenys Nietzche, the same sort of Dadaist do-badders rendered in Cubism which would play so well for Grant Morrison in DOOM PATROL. They were destined to replace humanity, and dispatched only by extra-special delivery courtesy of a gun bearing the label, “In case of Darwinism, pull trigger!”

It’s like Roger Langridge (ART D’ECCO) meeting Paul Grist (KANE) in a Yorkshire coffee shop where they discover Grant Morrison serving Battenberg and that biting on a Bakewell Tart opens up an absurdist genie that no one can stuff back into the bottle. Thank God D’Israeli never cut back on the grilled cheese before bed time.

The strips are riddled with mischief, including extra text which circumscribes each individual page: first-hand advice from the artist to his individual readers making them aware of the fact that rotating the magazine (or here book) on a bus in order to read the inscriptions would make fellow passengers suspect that they were looking at pornography. Or lying about the eighth original sin. D’Israeli was a wealth of knowledge/disinformation again preying on the fine line between fact and fabrication and his own readers’ potential gulliblility.

Also, who can forget the puns? Even the earlier, cruder and previously unpublished strips (do bear with it!) before the main event boast characters like Daffers D’Maurier and a planet called Dandeyre. I mean, who can argue with a title called ‘A Fistful Of Fingers’? Exhuberance is all, and this is that personified.

At £10-00 in any format this is ridiculously good value for your entertainment money: complete with so much previously unpublished material, it is dense rather than thick, bright whilst still being stoopid, and so many years ahead of its time at the time only readers of DEADLINE would get it, but got it they did. I got it then but I’ve got this too now. Now get it, got it?

Many, many thanks to D’Israeli for making Page 45 home to this special edition. It is everything we love: playing around with what comics can do, messing about with the minds of one’s readers, and doing so with a fiercely informed intelligence we sincerely wish we exhibited ourselves.

Mr. D’Israeli, you very much are d’a man!

[Editor’s note: I’m afraid this edition is indeed already sold out. Took less than a minute after I Tweeted it as promised on Monday night. New version ASAP with a longer print run, still signed at the very least and at no extra cost.]

SLH

Ex Machina vol 10: Term Limits (£10-99, Wildstorm/DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris.

The finale to my favourite superhero series since ULTIMATES Seasons One and Two, and my favourite piece of political comicbook fiction of all time.

Hundred may find his tenure as Mayor Of New York City coming to a close more abrupt than he’d planned. He’s already declared he won’t stand for a second term so that he can concentrate on finishing his job rather than campaigning for reelection. But the power of the media is demonstrated in an unexpected fashion when a radio show compels the citizens of the city to rise up en masse and it’s not very pretty.

All of that is as nothing compared to the final issue set several months later where we witness the separate fates of Bradbury, Kremlin and Hundred himself. Not one of them will you see coming. I almost dropped the book when reading the Bradbury scene, I did drop it during the Kremlin confrontation and my mouth gaped wide after my mind had fully processed the final page and its preceding phone call.

LINK

SLH

Ayako h/c (£19-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka…

Written in 1972, it will be immediately apparent to Tezuka fans from the developed art style that this is a work from the latter stages of Tezuka’s career. Along with several other works from that period it is centred on the real world, and in particular the aftermath of World War Two and the impact on Japanese society that ensued.

Here the story starts with the return home from an internment camp of Jiro Tenge, second son of the previously wealthy land-owning Tenge family who are starting to suffer from the mandatory land redistribution programme instigated during the end days of the war and continued during the period of American occupation. As their lands are distributed off to tenants who previously paid them substantial rents, the tensions within the extended Tenge family start to show. The patriarch of the family sets the tone for the moral degeneration present throughout this work, as in exchange for leaving virtually all his remaining wealth to eldest son Ichiro, he demands the right to sleep with Ichiro’s wife. At first just the once, but then he begins to get a taste for it. So upon arriving home it doesn’t take Jiro, regarded as a traitor to his country by his father for being a prisoner of war, to work out that his new baby sister might in fact actually be his niece. To avoid a scandal, it is decided at a family meeting that Ayako will be declared dead, but in fact closeted away to grow up unseen and alone in the cellar of an out-building on the family estate.

Jiro meanwhile agreed to undertake certain espionage activities for the powers that be in exchange for his freedom, and helps facilitate the murder and subsequent disposal of the body of a socialist political activist, who also happens to be his older sister’s boyfriend. Things don’t go completely to plan however, and he’s forced to go on the run to avoid the attentions of a surprisingly diligent policeman.

Over a period of many years, whilst Ayako grows up in total solitude aside from an occasional incestuous relationship with the youngest Tenge brother Shiro, Jiro re-invents himself with a different name and gradually establishes himself as a big boss in the Japanese underworld, with strong political connections. Jiro’s never completely got over the guilt of his complicity in the family decision to hide Ayako away, and has been putting money aside for her. When circumstances conspire to allow her to make her escape, she heads for Tokyo to find out who her mysterious benefactor is.

Unfortunately her time spent in isolation has rather damaged her, particularly sexually, and it is apparent her chances of adjusting to normal life are fairly slim. I don’t really want to reveal any more of the plot (we’re about half way in by this point) suffice to say, things begin to implode for the Tenge family, little by little at first, then gathering pace rapidly as all their dirty secrets, kept from each other and the world at large, begin to surface.

Clearly this is a dark work in several senses, and I could easily spend several hours analysing what Tezuka was intending to portray in AYAKO. Without getting into great detail, it’s clear he wanted to explore the effect that societies in radical flux have upon individuals and families, and their relationships. He obviously believed that such trauma could be a cause of deviant, including sexual, behaviour in people otherwise indisposed to such behaviour, and that being exposed to such behaviour could very easily result in its further perpetuation upon others. It’s a very engaging read, probably more similar to MW than any other of Tezuka’s works, in that he’s trying to express sentiments about the darker side of the human condition, whilst telling a very entertaining story. It actually reminded me very much in places of the prose book Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace, and I would love to know if that work was at all inspired by AYAKO. I suspect so.

LINK

JR

7 Billion Needles vol 2 (£8-50) by Nobuaki Tadano…

“Let’s make a bet. The terms: the winner lives on, and the loser must self-destruct.”
“A bet? So you may slay all life with no one to stop you?”
“The rules will be simple. If I can trap Hikaru with fear in my imaginary world, I win. If you manage to extricate Hikaru, you win.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”

So, somehow evil alien Maelstrom survived the cataclysmic confrontation in the school gym at the climax of volume one, and has gone looking for a new host to continue its dastardly plans of world destruction. However, now knowing the identity of the body hosting its extraterrestrial arch-foe, Japanese schoolgirl Hikaru, Maelstrom’s choice of new host is an inspired one. Meanwhile, reluctant Hikaru and her inner passenger are unaware of Maelstrom’s survival and so rather unprepared when it makes its next move and reveals itself once more. More great sci-fi fun and much like BIOMEGA is very capable of producing plot twists you’re most unlikely to see coming.

LINK

JR

Sweet Tooth vol 2: In Captivity (£9-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jeff Lemire.

“I still don’t know why we gotta leave, Tommy.”
“I told you before the TV went off, they said they were setting up a safe zone in Chicago. We can’t stay here, Louise…  We’re gonna run out of food soon, and allt he doctors and stuff are gonna be going there.”
“But we ain’t sick yet, and there ain’t gonna be no one around to get us sick!”
“They don’t even know how it spreads, baby. Could be in the air or the water… We gotta try. Louise?”
“This is our home, Tommy… I don’t wanna leave it.”
“Louise, we’ll be back.”
“I don’t think we’re ever coming back, Tommy.”
“I promise, baby… No matter what… when this is all over… I’ll bring you home.”

Hmmm… guess that title gives the ending to the first book away!

So yes, young Gus’ protector Tommy Jepperd sold him out to the scientists so desperate to work out what happened to the human race that they’re prepared to dissect living human-animal hybrids like Gus who appeared around the same time as the plague. There’s a pen full of them here, but Gus is slightly different to the others: he’s missing something.

Also, we finally begin to learn more about Jepperd, the man who took young, antler-crowned Gus under his eagle’s wing and saw off those other ugly parties trying to capture the boy and turn him in for money because, it seems, he wanted it for himself. Until now we’ve known nothing of Jepperd’s past nor the history and nature of the pathogen which swept America and supposedly catalysed the birth of children like Gus with animal characteristics in the first place. I say “supposedly” because Gus might be the first such hybrid old enough to contradict those claims.

Anyway, when news of the outbreak began appearing on the national news, it certainly knocked Jepperd’s disgrace that night off the top spot (he beat up a certain Jeffrey Brown during an ice hockey match!) and terrified his wife along with the rest of the American population. In spite of Louise’s tearful protestations that they were safer out in the prairies of Minnesota than journeying to the Safe Zone set up in Chicago, Jepperd packed their belongings and set them both on the road. But now they’re both back. He promised Louise and now he makes good on that promise in an opening chapter that will utterly floor you. After that, it’s an exploration of what they endured inbetween.

Utterly horrific, all of this, the very worst humanity has to offer; and so fragile some of the individuals Jeff Lemire depicts caught in the middle. I think I’ve written this before, but I’ve given up reading this while bagging and taping on the shop floor because it’s too affecting to be guarantee my composure. From the creator of ESSEX COUNTY and THE NOBODY.

LINK

SLH

Gonzo: A Graphic Biography Of Hunter S. Thompson (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Will Bingley & Anthony Hope-Smith…

“Men without politics. Who know that it hardly matters what they believe. As long as they’re on top, and laughing… fuck us all.
“They’re laughing under a darkening sky. While we wait.
“For the shitrain that is coming to drown us.”

I did briefly consider attempting a Gonzo-style review of GONZO, but as long-time Thompson collaborator Alan Rinzler comments in the foreword, literally reams of awful, intoxicated, first-draft prose are submitted to him almost daily. Quite simply Hunter Thompson was Gonzo, and for anyone else to even attempt to recreate it, merely results in parody. In fact, arguably once the drugs and the booze had rendered Thompson artistically near-impotent his writing became a sad parody of itself, before he entered a painfully long fallow period where he produced very little of real merit at all. Something which Thompson fully recognized and probably rather significantly contributed to his decision to blow his own brains out. Whilst GONZO is barely more than a brilliant primer on the man and his work, it’s enough to make you realise, if you didn’t already know it, that there was probably only one way Hunter S. Thompson was going to check out of this world. By his own hand, and in an impulsive manner.

What GONZO does is raise the whole debate once more about how much Thompson’s best work was really just his creative genius given full rein, and how much of it the result of the frenetic state of mind that he fuelled with a never ending intake of booze and pills. It’s genuinely difficult to say, the answer is certainly both to some extent. What is certainly true is that he is one of the very, very few reporters who managed to break the maxim that you yourself must never become the story.

The story here never lingers overlong on any chapter or event in Thompson’s life and the dynamic art similarly conveys the restless nature of a man who was always on the move. Indeed the ‘80s, ‘90s & ‘00s are dealt with by three near-identical panels which very brutually capture the creative impasse he found himself in before deciding once and for all that enough was enough. When he was on the road he clearly longed for home, his farm in Aspen, and when at the farm he clearly felt the itch to get back on the road.

GONZO doesn’t really seek to explore what made Hunter S. Thompson tick like a bomb set to explode with bare seconds left on the timer. It doesn’t even really begin to hint at it, we just get given the impression that in the main he always was that way, which clearly can’t be the case. In that sense GONZO really is just a primer. Those that come away from this fascinated by this extraordinary character will undoubtedly want to learn more about him.

LINK

JR

Captain America: No Escape h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice.

Bucky Barnes remains Captain America but what the general public don’t know is that between being ‘killed’ aboard an intercontinental missile launched by the original Baron Zemo in WWII and assuming Steve Rogers’ role as Captain America in his absence, Bucky Barnes was the brainwashed assassin known (by very, very few) as The Winter Soldier. Baron Zemo Jr. plans to have some fun with that and the Falcon, Black Widow and Steve Rogers are all caught in the middle. The final issue saw Guice pull off some stunning Steranko nods (well, more like full-on genuflections and they worked for me) in the final confrontation in which Barnes doesn’t win even the battle let alone the war. The next volume ain’t going to be pretty.

LINK

SLH

Brightest Day vol 1 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Fernando Pasarin, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado…

“I’m sorry about your son.”
“Welcome to the family business, eh?”
“Out of all the people that were buried six feet under, you get to live again. And I wish I could say you’ll turn over a new leaf, but I know you. I know what you’re going to do so I came here to tell you not to bother.
“Bother doin’ what, mate?”
“Trying to escape. To pull more jobs. To hurt more people. To make me run after you.”
“Why me and not my son, or Cold’s sister or your ridiculous friend the Elongated Man? Hell if I know, but I’m not going to sit in here letting that rot my brain.
“Is that a threat?”
“Naw, mate. It’s a Flash fact.”

Hmm, after the rather ridiculous slug-fest finale of Blackest Night I can’t say that what I needed next was another ‘event’, so it is a positive that BRIGHTEST DAY is most definitely not an ‘event’. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal going on at all. But… that is actually what is intriguing about this title. In a way BRIGHTEST DAY is a throwback to the old team-up titles where you never really knew who was going to be in it from month to month. This is like that, but there is a fine plot thread running throughout, mostly hidden, which is very gradually starting to be revealed.

It involves an unusual selection of post-Blackest Night resurrectees, heroes like and villains alike, and a disembodied White Lantern voice directing and cajoling the various characters, but particularly the now-human Boston Brand, to perform either very specific actions, some seemingly very random, or follow very vague orders. And that, really, sums up BRIGHTEST DAY so far. It works well in that there is a genuine sense of mystery as to what is going on (I think perhaps DC learnt from Trinity that espousing the whole plot in the first few issues of a year-long event is not a good idea), but it would be nice to have a little more sense that the writers actually do perhaps have a definitive plot in mind. Having read a few issues beyond this volume already, happily I think perhaps they do.

LINK

JR

Batman: The Widening Gyre h/c (£14-99, DC) by Kevin Smith & Walter Flanagan…

“So… Alfred said a girl came over this morning. Anyone I…?”
“No one you know.”
“Alfred says she calls you Deedee. What’s all that about?”
“Business, Robin, mind it.”
“Did you guys… y’knowww…”
“If I was interested in smutty innuendo, I’d partner up with Eel O’Brian.”
“Fair enough. But if you have any questions about the feelings you’re having… or just questions about girls in general… you can always come and ask me. Okay, sport?”
“Alfred and his big mouth…”

Hmm, okay, so I am now forced to completely revise my opinions about Kevin Smith as a Batman writer because THE WIDENING GYRE is absolutely everything a great Bat-book should be: packed with action, intrigue, witty dialogue and a brooding Bruce. I’m not completely sure that Mr Smith is halfway to an Absolute edition as he coyly suggests in the afterword, but it’s certainly a major stride and flying kick to the side of the head forward from the relatively one dimensional Cacophony. I was rather puzzled why this is billed as a sequel to that book. I wasn’t by the end, but it would be somewhat churlish of me to say any more, and it’s certainly forced me to revise my opinion about Cacophony. Seen as an appetiser to the main course, it’s a rather different dish, much less bland than it first seemed.

Once again we get a look into an unknown chapter of Bruce Wayne’s past, as old flame Silver St. Cloud, aware of his true identity, unexpectedly comes back into his life, and completely prepared to share him by night with the streets of Gotham. And there’s another significant new arrival in the form of the vigilante Baphomet, who’s got all the makings of a possible ally, and whom, over a significant period of time, Bruce is seriously considering bringing into the inner Bat-fold as a trusted working associate. It’s well written stuff as we see Bruce / Batman struggling with trust issues about allowing a new person gradually into the different aspects of his life. The big difference of course is that Silver St. Cloud is already aware that Bruce is Batman, whereas Baphomet is of course unaware that Batman is Bruce. Eventually, won over by his discovery of a very significant tragedy in Baphomet’s past, he decides to bring him fully into the fold…

I can’t explain why, this is just one of those books that you have to read before someone else tells you too much about it. It is destined to become a minor classic I think, and with the impending publication of a third book which will conclude the wider arc (which becomes apparent) it is actually definitely in with a chance of achieving an Absolute collected edition.

JR

 

Metal (£22-50, Humanoids) by Jerrold E. Brown, Paul Alexander & Butch Guice…

“Really? Who am I?”
“My guess is you’re some sort of vestigial consciousness. A ghost pattern left over from a faulty memory purge.”
“So I’m a machine with a bad memory?”
“The technical term is personality echo. Usually doesn’t last more than a few seconds. But the 72 hour limit is unbreakable. Your mind would’ve been incinerated.”
“I know who I am.”
“You can call yourself whatever you want. But a human consciousness can’t survive in an artificial vessel for more than three days. That’s a fact.”

Why is it I can never think of any book published by Humanoids without the video for 1988 acid house anthem Stakker Humanoid by Humanoid popping into my head? It is just one of those random associations that no matter how hard I try not to think about, it always appears. Still, it was a classic.

Anyway, Emperor Elias, ruler in name at least, of a rather rowdy bunch of nobles each with their own planets, armies, space armadas and of course ideas on how things should be run, is unexpectedly confronted with the energy-conscious aliens, the Prime. Energy conscious in the sense that they’d prefer all matter to be reduced to a homogenous state so absolutely nothing is wasted. Gives making sure the lights are turned out a whole new meaning!

It’s up to Elias to unite his forces and repel the threat. So with the aid of their trusty combat armour into which their consciousness is projected from a safe distance, nobles go forth to engage the Prime in a surprise assault. Unfortunately for Elias, there’s a snake in his midst, and his real body is murdered by his human betrayer whilst his combat armour is nearly destroyed by the Prime who’ve been forewarned of the surprise attack. If your combat armour is destroyed in battle, then as long as you’ve got a body to return to, it’s no great hardship, akin to losing a horse, say. If you haven’t got a body to return to, then you’ve got a serious problem because in theory a consciousness can only remain housed in combat armour for up to 72 hours before it simply ceases to exist. But somehow, perhaps through sheer willpower, or let’s face it, because he’s the Emperor and he’s got better armour than everyone else, Elias ends up fused with his armour permanently, and on the run. Can he survive long enough to rally the remnants of his forces for a final desperate suicidal attack on the Prime? Possibly, but first he’s got to convince his allies he’s more than just a ghost in the machine.

I really enjoyed METAL. People who liked Universal War One, Scourge Of The Gods and of course Metabarons will definitely enjoy this. Butch Guice’s art, whilst not being the same exceptional standard as Denis Bajram’s on Universal War One, is definitely worthy of the Humanoids imprint. Overall METAL has a real epic space opera feel to it, with more than enough sci-fi to appeal to purists, and the ending definitely leaves it open for further volumes.

In fact I’ve just heard there is going to be a sequel entitled LEATHER, about a comic shop owner doomed to spend all of eternity battling his evil business partner whilst permanently bonded to his damaged… sorry distressed, leather jacket…

LINK

JR

Also Arrived:

(Shove ‘em in our search engine etc.)

The Chronicles Of Conan vol 20: Night Of The Wolf And Other Stories  (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleisher, John Buscema & John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Gary Kwapisz, Bob Camp, Steve Leialoha, Rudy Nebres
Hack Slash Omnibus vol 3 (£25-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Emily Stone, Kevin Mellon, Ross Campbell, Mike Dimayuga, Bryan Baugh, Dan Parent, Daniel Leister, Chris Burnham, Drew Edwards, Ken Haeser
Orc Stain vol 1 (£13-50, Image) by James Stokoe
Nemi vol 4 (£9-99, Titan) by Lise Myhre
Magic Trixie vol 2: Magic Trixie Sleeps Over (£5-99, Harper) by Jill Thompson
Superman / Batman: Big Noise s/c (£10-99, DC) by Joe Casey & Adrian Saf, Scott Kolins
X-Force: Sex + Violence h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost & Gabriele Dell’Otto
Vengeance Of The Moon Knight vol 2: Killed, Not Dead s/c (£10-50, Marvel) by Gregg Hurwitz & Tan Eng Huat, Juan Jose Ryp
Excalibur Visionaires: Warren Ellis vol 3 (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Casey Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti, Randy Green, Rob Haynes
Irreedeemable vol 5 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Peter Krause
Sgt Frog vol 20 (£7-99, Tokyopop) by Mine Yoshizaki
Vampire Hunter D vol 5 (£10-50, DMP) by Saiko Takaki
Genkaku Picasso vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Usamaru Furuya

I was about to tell you which books I just bought friends and relatives for Christmas, then realised the could be reading. It’s all so different on the mintyweb, isn’t it?

 

 - Stephen

Reviews December 2010 week two

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Grandville: Mon Amour h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Bryan Talbot.

“The sewer system is a damned maze. He could have emerged anywhere in London. And you don’t leave tracks in water – if you can call that water.”
“Perhaps he drowned.”
“Not him. He’s harder to kill than a cockroach. Believe me, I’ve tried. So there’s no one you suspect of passing him the derringer? He had no visitors?”
“None. Not allowed. This is a maximum security building. You could keep crown jewels in here. If Britain had any.”

This, of course, is the Tower of London in another of Talbot’s skewed worlds. He’s rather fond of alternate histories, our Bryan, but whereas THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT and HEART OF EMPIRE were fiercely political epics, GRANDVILLE and its sequel here, whilst still political, are far brighter entertainments, Christmas annuals for adults starring walking, talking, bi-pedal animals drawn with relish and coloured to perfection with a love of light which manifests itself subtly throughout in streams of sunshine filtering through barred windows or a shimmering, lamp-lit fog at the feet of Montmartre. Although, the serial slaughter of Parisian prostitutes isn’t everyone’s idea of walk in the Jardin de Tuilleries.

Edward ‘Mad Dog’ Mastock was once a national hero, a member of the English Resistance struggling against French occupation. But his particular cell turned to extremism, executing acts of terrorism akin to the IRA’s without regard to French civilians. Now he’s escaped the Tower of London on the very eve of his execution en route to Madame Guillotine and three days before the bulldog Drummond, P.M., is due to be sworn in as British President for life. Within days Mad Dog’s in France… and he hates the French. But what does he have against their ladies of the night?

Against the explicit orders of his commander, Brigadier Belier, ex-Inspector LeBrock and his monocled side-kick Ratzi return once more to Grandville (Paris), scene of the last volume’s tragedy, where Mastock appears to be hunting for something. What is he after? How did he escape when muzzled, in a straightjacket and fed gruel from a long wooden spoon? A lot of painful personal history will be dredged up during badger LeBrock’s big long bluff before the connections are made and the truth behind the Brick Lane Massacre is uncovered.

As always the architecture is monumental, the action impeccably choreographed, and the body language a hoot. The bordello’s Madame Riverhorse is a glorious convergence of an overweight brothel mistress and a lipsticked hippopotamus. A certain barking aardvark tries to take credit for the crimes, and if I’d come up with the following during the bulldog’s inauguration I’d have been chuckling to myself for days:

“Are you prepared to take the oath, Prime Minister?”
Oh *yus*.”

From the classily embossed cover and the very first page looking up at the Tower (guarded by gun-wielding ravens!) as the storm clouds threaten to block out the sun, this second steampunk thriller canters along at a cracking pace, but Bryan and son Alwyn, who coloured the final three pages, save the finest till last in a real choker of a sun setting slowly over love.

LINK

SLH

12 Postcards By Tom Gauld (£4-99) by Tom Gauld.

And each is a full-colour comic! Brilliant for stocking fillers, Tragedy At Sea (Conveyed Using The International Code Of Signals For Flags And Pennants) was hilarious and I’m hoping we can get it up on the site, meanwhile the cover art here will give you some idea of what the future holds.

SLH

Forgetless (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & W. Scott Forbes, Marley Zarcone, Jorge Coelho.

“You are making this up. This is just like that time you said you had sex with our gym teacher.”
“Okay, for real, Darla-sober powers activate.”
“Don’t worry, I puked myself lucid while you were at the bar.”
“We are about to DJ at Forgetless!”
“You seem surprised.”
“This is terrifying.”
“Forward slash awesome.”

PHONOGRAM fans, sit up, pay attention and stop stroking Gillen. You’ll catch something.

“I had sex with a building!”

Jason and Derrick take ‘unsafe sex’ to a whole new level. Part-time hypnotist Jason films for their live-action website “I’m Gonna Fuck It!” while Derrick has sex with inanimate objects in varying degrees of the public gaze. He’s just taken on a hole in the Empire State Building, but now they’ve hustled themselves into the home of a couple who have recently adopted a daughter whose brand new father has asked them to hypnotise him against the sins of gay pornography because he’s a born-again straight guy. Thing is, Derrick has just found their ‘daughter’: she’s a life-size inanimate life model with working lady parts. Guess it’s time to whip out the camera again for a very special edition of “I’m Gonna — !”

I love a book with ambition! From the author of the magnificently mind-melting EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0, a book with a time-shifting structure so ingenious that it will have you cackling. For the above takes place several pages after – yet three days before –  the main action where Derrick finds himself in the arms of a beautiful girl called Sonia at the last ever night of Forgetless. The Forgetless is the New York City event and everyone’s determined to be there for the DJ set or just for the record. Or, in Sonia’s case, to shoot Derrick’s head off.

Scott Forbes has a pretty good stab at Joshua Middleton/ the Luna  Brothers (GIRLS, SWORDULTRA) and I loved the nonchalant treatment of this outrageous premise. Spencer goes further and further back in time until you discover how a couple of small time models became contract killers and how Sara learned how to handle herself.

“I went to an all-boys school.”

Here she’s standing over a guy in a giant, blue koala bear she thinks Sonia’s shot by mistake:

“…And then she ate all my peanut butter Oreos! I mean, what kind of a friend does that anyway?”
“Heeeeeelp me…”
“She’s always been likes this. Everything’s about her all the time. She doesn’t care about killing that guy, she just cares what people will think of her if she does. It drives me nuts! You know anyone looking for a roommate?”
“Please, for God’s sake, call an ambulance, I’m –“
“Call a what? And get arrested for animal cruelty of something? No wa – — oop, text message. [From: James. Status?] Look, I’m really sorry. We shoulda put you out of your misery earlier, but Sonia’s got the gun right now, and I find the whole strangulation thing to be just way too erotic. So you’re either gonna have to be patient here or start moving towards the light.”

Meanwhile Marley Zarcone takes on another story that ties into that night and she reads a lot of Paul Pope (who doesn’t?) and probably Becky Cloonan as well. She’s awesome! There a trio of underage South Jersey friends, desperate to get to their first and last Forgetless, take an inventive approach to acquiring the cash that may land them all the fake I.D.s they need. All I’ll say is that they’re not walking *my* dog…

[You don't have a dog - ed.]

They’re not walking *my* cat…

SLH

Burma Chronicles s/c (£12-99) by Guy Delisle.

An even more entertaining eye-opener than PYONG YANG and SHENZHEN, this sees animator Delisle once more take up residence in one of the world’s most isolationist dictatorship nations where the winner with 80% of the vote of its 1990 elections (and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize), Aung San Suu Kyi, has been living under house arrest largely ever since.

This time, however, it’s his wife Nadège who’s been sent abroad for she works for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), so Guy has plenty of time during the year to draw, explore and go for leisurely strolls with his baby son round the capital Rangoon. Well, I say capital but, while he was there, they were in the process of moving the capital from coastal Rangoon to the middle of absolutely nowhere! Who moves capitals and why? To avoid bombing from ocean-based US aircraft carriers? Hmm, possibly, but no one knows for sure because anything coming out of the mouth of the Junta is pure propaganda.

The absurdities of censorship are amongst the numerous things Guy discovers here, although past practices of post-publication censorship were even more bonkers, with editors required to take scissors or paint to every single copy already printed. Some of the editions would look like paper doilies. Think of the ramifications – what if you’d advertised on the other side of the offending excised article? As for the internet and email screening, you won’t be able to receive this foul-mouthed fiasco, the Page 45 Mailshot. In all likelihood in fact, you’d have your whole system twatted just as MSF’s was. Here’s “The People’s Desires” as posted absolutely everywhere – books, DVDS, and even at the entrance to parks – written of the people, for the people, by the peo — oh, no, wait…

“Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views
Oppose those trying to jeopardise stability of the state and progress of the nation
Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the state
Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy”

It’s a wonder MSF or any other aid workers are allowed to even operate, although the barmy restrictions which mount during Nadège’s time there do scupper most of the work they’re attempting – work which is so vitally needed. Eye-openers: Guy’s experience of one of three HIV/AIDS clinics in Rangoon alone (beautifully situated on a lake, but harrowing to visit); the clinics trying to treat drug addiction in outlying villages because the jade mine workers are paid in shots of heroin; and Delisle’s close shave with malaria (the medical benefits of travelling with doctors!). In absurd contrast to all this poverty is the gem museum packed full of very precious stones, but whose wiring is covered by strips taped across the floor. Why not sell the gems?

Absurdity as always is what Delisle does best – that and the social customs we may find somewhat peculiar. Like the nation’s obsession with betelnut whose betel juice turns your smile bright black, and having an even more marked impact on the streets than our spat-out slabs of chewing gum. Or a currency issued out of superstition in denominations of 15 (i.e. 15 Kyat, 45 Kyat, 90 Kyat notes; you do the maths – if you can!). Building houses with no air flow in a country whose weather ranges from scorchio! to volcanico! Rebellious teenagers wearing army combats in a country where there are probably enough army uniforms already, I’d have thought. Alternatively there are things we take for granted here that blow Guy’s mind, like walking into a bank and seeing not computers, but everything recorded on ledger. You’ll enjoy the traffic system as well!

This and so much more you can discover alongside Delisle in yet another priceless but far more expansive book (250 pages), delightfully with no dustjacket. The man’s cartooning is always a joy and this time comes with more tone. His landscapes are immediately recognisable according to seasoned traveller Jonathan, and there are temples to visit, downpours to shelter from and even monks with performing cats, jumping through hoops. Oh yes, and several handy-dandy maps for those of us who can spend a fortnight abroad and still not know quite where we’ve been.

LINK

SLH

Echo vol 5: Black Hole (£11-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

Top-tier science fiction with a wit that’s rare.

Previously on ECHO: Julie was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, underneath the wrong detonation. Now her breast is bonded to a semi-sentient metal alloy with the power to heal and the capacity to kill. This is the Phi Project and its developers want it back. They want to shove it in a Hadron Collider of their own to see what happens. Prediction: black hole.

For days Julie, Ivy and Dillon have been pursued by Cain, a brutal old man bonded both to the bible and to Alloy 618. Now it’s time to take the fight back.

“Ivy, what’s your take on Cain?”
“I think he’s a crazy guy with a tattoo on his face. And if you’re looking for a Biblical link, you’re out of luck.”
“Because…”
“Because our Cain is white.”
“So?”
“Adam and Eve were black.”
“What?! The Bible doesn’t say that.”
“I know. Doesn’t say they weren’t, either. Which is a point in its favour, actually. But, if you’re going to claim all the people on the planet came from one pair, then simple genetics dictates that pair had to be black. No other combination can produce the variations we have today, but a black pair can produce all the basic types in just seven generations.”
“You’re talking about race?”
“I’m talking about science. Race is an offensive 18th Century idea.”

Meanwhile something new is happening to Julie’s body, and something strange to Ivy’s.

Can’t think of a single periodical comic coming out right now that I need to read as immediately as this. Julie and Ivy positively bounce off each other with quick-fire chatter even funnier than Francine and Katchoo’s in STRANGERS IN PARADISE. Terry’s also long been one of my favourite artists with a line that is kind to his characters without ever reducing them to bombshell clichés. Be warned, though: this is pretty damn brutal in places.

LINK

SLH

Secret Warriors vol 4: Last Ride Of The Howling Commandos h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti.

“See, you are all going to have to get with the program if you have any chance of dealing with this in a reasonable fashion…
“There is a shadow war going on between organisations that have no allegiance to anything but themselves.
“They have no nation to defend, so they don’t worry about sanctions or retribution. They have no borders, so they can’t be boxed in or contained. Your rules… your laws… mean nothing to them.”

Jonathan Hickman, political animal, telling it like it is.

In terms of SECRET WARRIORS, however, Mr. Thaddeus “Dum Dum” Dugan is, of course, referring to Leviathan and Hydra and is being held to account here in a closed session of the United Nations Security Council for the Howling Commandos’ recent attack on one of their terrorist bases in China. China is enraged. Yet China knew the base was there and did nothing about it themselves.

With Dugan sits Sitwell. Jasper Sitwell, chief technical officer of HC PMC, and another ex-agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Neither of them will be leaving containment today. Instead they will be questioned tirelessly and respond unapologetically for a mission that saw most of their men laid waste mere days after a reunion in which the Howling Commandos got together for some serious drinking and a recollection of those lost during WWII. Steve Rogers to Fury:

“I wanted to talk to you alone before I left.”
“Somethin’ you need to get off your chest?”
“Just something that’s been bothering me… something I’ve been noticing about you today that finally snapped into place when Gabe was up there calling the roll… Are you in over your head, Nicholas?”

Perfectly grizzled art from Alessandro Vitti. I fear for volume five.

SLH

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee with Don Rico & Steve Ditko.

Still tripping on the transdimensional trials and tribulations of Doctor Strange in Mr. McCarthy’s SPIDER-MAN: FEVER? Here, true believer, are the original occult-orientated offerings which inspired the brain-bothered Brendan to such lurid lunacy!

[You can quit with the Stan Lee shtick any time you fancy, mate - ed.]

Witness the Dread Dormammu berate Baron Mordo for his mere-mortal impudence! Hear Doctor Strange alliterate himself into a coma! Listen as the white-wigged Clea pleads from her trap-of-the-day! And sweat in fear as the Mindless Ones approach…

“Do you have any ESSENTIAL DAZZLERs in stock?”

Thirty-one STRANGE TALES of the Sorcerer Supreme complete with the Wand of Watoom, the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth and the Eye of Agowhatthehey. Correct spelling not necessarily guaranteed.

LINK

SLH

Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1: Power & Responsibility (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley.

Crikey, I find we have no review of this slightly key title!

Consistent, witty and thoroughly modern revamp for the 21st Century. At the time of writing Bendis has scribed over 150 consecutive issues of this title. Admittedly Dave Sim’s achievement dwarves that (300 consecutive issues of CEREBUS plus extra material like the Young Cerebus series in EPIC ILLUSTRATED), but it’s nothing to sneeze at and otherwise unparalleled in American comics.

So. Back when Marvel began releasing their Spider-Man and X-Men films they decided that 60-odd years of convoluted continuity might put potential new readers off. In order to welcome them in, they relaunched certain titles in an ‘Ultimate’ universe as if they were just now appearing in the 21st Century. Radically they hired writers rather than gibbons.

Peter Parker is a young man at high school. Wedgies are part of his daily diet, whilst roughage means something else altogether. Fortunately his best friend is a good friend: Mary Jane Watson. Oh look, here comes that spider…

Of the many notable improvements is Aunt May, no longer a frail and out-of-touch heart attack addict, but something out of the Golden Girls instead. Bendis also rethought the fears of the 1960s (Cold War, the Atomic Bomb, intolerance towards anything or anyone different) and reorientated this series instead to current concerns (genetics, government, intolerance towards anything or anyone different). Artist Mark Bagley meanwhile - whose work I had never previously enjoyed -excelled himself with a Peter Parker capable of looking both exuberant and dejected, the perfect early teen going through the least perfect experiences. Between the two creators they made me grin, cackle and, umm, cry. Pretty neat going for an old cynic like myself. Welcome on board. It’s going to be one hell of a bloody ride.

LINK

SLH

Batwoman #0 (£2-25) JH Williams III, W. Haden Blackman & HH Williams III, Amy Reeder.

Well, it seems my fears about BATWOMAN post-Rucka may yet prove to be completely unfounded if this first, sorry zeroth, issue is anything to go by. J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman share the scripting duties and they pick up right where Rucka left off, as Dick Grayson covertly observes both Batwoman and Katy Kane to test his hypothesis that they are in fact one and the same person. As he silently watches, both from the rooftops with a variety of hi-tech surveillance equipment, and somewhat more firsthand at street level in a number of disguises, we get his deductive thoughts narrated as he attempts to confirm his theory. In doing so we also get a nice little recap of the Katy Kane’s back-story and analysis of Batwoman’s combat capabilities.

In addition it appears Williams is going to remain on art, at least the bulk of it, for a while too, and in conjunction with Dave Stewart on colours once more he’s continued here in exactly the same rich, venal red and dramatic form he used to such good effect in BATWOMAN: ELEGY. Although, where Amy Reeder is employed on the Katy Kane sections, often in split sections with Williams on the same pages for dynamic contrast, she more than holds her own. In fact, it further adds to the dualistic aspect that ought to be present zig-zagging right through the pounding heart of any good Bat title. I actually enjoyed this even more than the first issue of BATMAN INC. which is saying something.

LINK

JR

Heroes For Hire #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker.

Having spent some time at DC, Dan and Andy realised that Marvel didn’t have a BIRDS OF PREY title so wrote one with Misty Knight as Oracle and the Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Punisher and Iron Fist among her rotating roster of operatives. (Although the last three appear on the cover with Elektra because they sell more comics, honesty dictates I impart that saw neither hide nor hair of them inside). Each handles separate parts of a coordinated ambush/attack in exchange of information, the currency of any vigilante worth their sea salt dredged up here in the form of Atlantean narcotics. It’s a pretty standard painting-by-numbers superhero series but wait until you see who’s pulling Misty’s strings.

Wolverine: The Best There Is #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Charlie Huston & Juan Jose Ryp.

For from standard Marvel fare, it’s not just Ryp who makes this feel like a hardcore Avatar series, it’s the script which is pretty sadistic, sexual and chemical, a fact Marvel advertise on the cover with “PARENTAL ASDVISORY! NOT FOR THE KIDS!” which will sell a lot more copies than the more responsible option of making it a Marvel Max title. There are several strands being on the go at the mo’, and at the risk of being patronising I honestly believe the average Marvel fan’s chief reaction will be “???”.

All the detail you’d expect from the modern Geoff Darrow. Is it just me, or does every woman here look like a post-operative transsexual?

Also arrived:

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

Ex Machina vol 10: Term Limits (£10-99, Wildstorm) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris
Angel: After The Fall h/c vol 1 (£18-99, IDW) by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch & Franco Urru, Alex Garner
Magic Trixie vol 3: Magic Trixie & The Dragon (£4-99) by Jill Thompson
Man Of Glass (£3-99, Accent) by Martin Flink
Vertigo Resurrected Winters Edge #1 (£5-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis & Paul Pope, Dave Gibbons, Sean Phillips and others
I Am Here vol 1 (£12-99) by Ema Toyama
Guild vol 1 (£9-99) by Felicia Day & Jim Rugg
Special Exits h/c (£19-99) by Joyce Farmer
Sky Doll: pace Ship h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa & Matteo De Longis, Claudio Acciari, Pierre-Mony Chan
Fables vol 14: Witches (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
Batman: Dead To Rights s/c (£10-99, DC) by Andrew Kreisberg & Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens
Brightest Day vol 1 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Fernando Pasarin, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado
Avengers Initiative: Siege s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage, Dan Slott & Rafa Sandoval, Jorge Molina, Mahmud Asrar, Steve Uy.
Angel vol 2: Crown Prince Syndrome h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Bill Willingham & Brian Denham, Elena Casagrande
Spike: The Devil You Know vol 1 s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Bill Williams & Chris Cross, Franco Urru
Street Fighter: Gaiden vol 1 (£9-99, Capcom) by Itou Mami
Deadpool Team-Up vol 1: Good Buddies s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Stuart Moore, Mike Benso, Adam Glass, Ivan Brandon, Christopher Long & Dalibor Talajic, Carlo Barberi, Chris Staggs, Shawn Crystal, Sanford Greene
The Incredible Hercules: New Prince Of Power (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Reilly Brown, Ariel Olivetti
Iron Man: War Of Iron Men h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Steve Kurth
Spider-Man 2099 vol 1 s/c (£7-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Rick Leonardi, Kelley Jones
Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without A Face s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky & Carmine Di Giandomenico
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol 8 (£8-50) by Koji Kumeta
7 Billion Needles vol 2 (£8-50) by Nobuaki Tadano
Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle vol 28 (£8-50) by Clamp
Ayako h/c (£19-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

Previews probably still a week away, I’m afraid: I’m at the shop this Sunday 11am to 4pm!

 

 - Stephen

Reviews December 2010 week one

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Just in! GRANDVILLE: MON AMOUR and Tom Gauld Postcards!

Acme Novelty Library No. 20: Lint h/c (£17-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chris Ware.

Blood will out, as they say, and so much of Ware’s work is about nurture, isn’t it?

JIMMY CORRIGAN followed the timid end-product of a line of increasingly negligent, fucked-up fathers, gradually revealing how each generation ‘benefited’ from their childhood upbringing. Rusty Brown, whose life-span in snippets revealed the most physically and spiritually repulsive comicbook creation ever to sully our shelves during the big, red ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, is the cretin whose paternal lineage is currently being examined, and much to everyone’s confusion this is indeed part of that, although you wouldn’t necessarily gather it from the self-contained contents which tell the story of one Jordan Wellington Lint from the cradle to the grave.

I’ll repeat that, then: this is a self-contained read with a beginning, middle and decidedly final end.

Under the most heavenly cloth-bound cover, gold-embossed and designed at a misted-memory guess to mimic those tiny slabs of Lindt Swiss chocolate, we are as ever with Ware confronted by a couple of maps in the form of a diagrammatical narrative and a family tree. Rusty Brown and his Dad do indeed form part of the former, as does Chris Ware drawing the family home which bookends this saga. Yet none of them appear in the family tree which instead reveals the dynastic origins of the Lint family at whose centre lies Jordan (1958-2023). What, dear reader, is up?

It is winter.

In what would in any other season be a leafy suburb, a mock-Tudor, three-story home lies cold, still and empty. The light is fading as the window frame’s shadow rises over a formal family portrait which one supposes to be of a mother, father and son. Evidence suggests that either the house has lain empty for some considerable time, or has lately been ill-maintained. Cut.

Now we’re presented with a complex series of basic images: impressions on the mind of a child. The father’s there to the bottom-right, but it’s the mother who’s most distinct and dominates the page with giant hands, a contentedly smiling face, eyes, nipple, mouth (repeatedly) and a bottle. Gradually the images grow more complex and detailed as the boy’s comprehension of his environment improves. The mother panics over a poo and Jordan fiddling with himself. But now come three key scenes, each involving violence. In the first the toddler has just learned to assign labels to the basic elements that make up his life: house, tree, sun, ant; Momma, Dad. “Dad hitting Momma. Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad.” By the second it evidently doesn’t seem so bad as it’s Jordan hitting a black play-friend over the innocent possession of a bright red brick (yes, I think race is relevant here). The third… the third’s truth will only be revealed later on, but for now let us say that it’s Jordan outside with his mother and an ant he picks up from an unopened flower.

“Nono… Jordan… don’t kill it… Black ants are good for flowers…. We don’t want to hurt them… besides, it might be a Momma ant and then what would her children do?”

But alas, it’s too late. The ant has stopped moving and Jordan has a vision of a family of ants at the Pearly Gates. As a black maid (ditto) lays the kitchen table in the background, Jordan becomes increasingly distressed, unconvinced that it’s merely asleep and so his mother goes out of her way, tenderly, to take it back outside and put it on a leaf.

“We’ll leave it there so when it wakes up, it can find its way home, okay?”
“…”
“…”!
“Really?”
“Really.”
“…”
“…”

On the next page his mother is dead. Jordan is inconsolable, running upstairs to smell and cling to her clothes.

On the next page his father is remarrying, but as the wedding vows are recited all Jordan hears is (sic), “Two love and two cherish… two love and two cherish… Until death do us part… until death do us part…” He’s picking at a hang-nail.

Now without giving the game away these are all memories and memories are, at best, selective. Chris Ware is meticulous in his detail. Nothing is misplaced but not everything is as it initially seems. But from there onwards – from internalised obsessing then exploding in class; from early coveting, bullying, and defiant, raging, macho self-image mixed with sexual arousal and disregard for his own personal safety – the life of Jordan / Jason (the perpetually deluded) is one long car crash of intoxication, misappropriation, greed, stupidity, vanity, disloyalty and rancour. Groundless rancour at that, looking back in anger on events that didn’t necessarily play themselves out in the way he chooses to rewind them in his mind.

There are also memories he has chosen to erase completely and hide. But blood will out, as I say, as will the truth, tumbling onto the page in a series of images you would never imagine coming from the pen of Chris Ware as the quiet precision explodes in one child’s terror at being trapped, and the most ferocious, malevolent, expressionistic savagery in pursuit.

Please: it’s not what you think. I know what you’re thinking, and it is not that. That would make me a very poor reviewer. But it will change what you have read up until that point completely.

Suffer the children, eh?

LINK

SLH

Jesus on ThyFace: Social Networking For The Modern Messiah h/c (£9-99, Simon & Schuster) by Denise Haskew, Steve W. Parker.

“Loggeth in, signeth up.”

Once a year Page 45 sells out completely and promotes a book we find hysterically funny but which – although image and design play a central element – doesn’t have the remotest connection to comics. Last year it was A IS FOR ARMAGEDDON, this year it’s both parody and parable which manifests itself in Thy-Face messaging, begat.com family trees (“Begat.com. Who doth you think thou art?”) The Lonely Known World (Guide To The Wilderness: “Restaurants: none. Bars: none. Hotels: none. Places Of Interest: none. Entertainment: none. Best time to visit: never.”), online lyric sheets (“That’s Why Herodias Art A Tramp”) and a Law of Moses Cheat Sheet scroll:

Offence: smiteth a man. Punishment: death.
Offence: curseth a parent. Punishment: yes, death.
Offence: ox slayeth man. Punishment: ox stoned – to death.
Offence: lieth with a beast. Punishment: death (both parties).
Offence: lieth with a sibling. Punishment: death (both parties).
Offence: being a false prophet. Punishment: death, of course.
Offence: blasphemeth. Punishment: stoned to death by everyone.
Offence: man lieth with man. Punishment: take a wild stab -
Offence: sacrifice to other God. Punishment: totally f—ing obliterated.

But it’s the ThyFace postings that take the leavened bread:

Herod Philip: :( art sorrowful.
Jesus Christ: :( art sorrowful on Herod Philip’s behalf. What’s wrong, Herod Philip?
Herod Philip: My wife Herodias hath left me, and taken my daughter Salome with her.
John The Baptist: That brazen harlot strumpet! Satan hath taken your wife and doth indulge his vile and perverted lust on her! She and the devil doth couple in carnal sin and make the very Earth a bed for wanton caresses and unnatural rutting!
John Zebedee: :) is feeling horny!
Herod Philip: Actually, she’s run off with Antipas.
James Zebedee: Whoah, dude! Let’s get this straight. You marry your own niece, then she dumps you for your brother? Your family tree must be horizontal!
John Zebedee: Don’t worry, Philip, you’ll find love again. I hear your granny’s still single! lol!
John The Baptist: The Whore of Babylon doth couple with the Beast of the Apocalypse, and the strumpet Herodias doth proffer nipples that drippeth with the blood of Israel, and Herod Antipas doth commit sodomy in the Temple and fornicate with her to the baying of nine hundred tiny demons. And they shall burn for all eternity in the fiery pits of Hell for their wretched adultery!
John Zebedee: Dude, seriously, get a girlfriend.

I cannot tell you how loud I have roared over this and I should point out that all these entries are brilliantly designed to mimic the tiniest details of Bookface to perfection. You can:

View Mine icons (15)
Edit Mine Profile
Join groups like Cooking With Locusts
Rate this hottie!! Liketh / Despiseth (it’s a camel)

Plus there’s a post-Wilderness, tempt-tastic exchange that finally ends with “Jesus Christ hath blocked Satan”. And guess how many Friends Judas Iscariot has by the end?

“I dedicate this book to my Father, without whom – well, everything really…”

LXXXVIII pages of Gentile jollity for every hell-bound heathen!

LINK

SLH

Elmer (£9-99, SLG) by Gerry Alanguilan…

“… In the end, our decision was unanimous. On behalf of all the countries represented in this joint international emergency commission on human rights, I have the authority to announce that all members of the species Gallus Gallus are now declared to be the newest members of the human race. From this time forward, they are protected by all laws that govern all members of the human race on this planet.”
“Chickens are HUMANS? Are they INSANE? They’re CHICKENS!!”

Originally self-published as four issues, about which no less a luminary than Neil Gaiman commented, “I find Gerry Alanguilan’s ELMER is one of my favourite comics. It’s just heartbreaking and funny and so beautifully drawn.”

So it’s nice to see this in wider print as a collection at last. It’s taken a while surprisingly for a publisher to pick this up, but congratulations to SLG for doing so as Gerry Alanguilan’s insightful look at how bigotry can split societies completely asunder is a very well written observational piece. One that has as much to say about the value of family as it does as it does about the painstakingly slow evolution of modern societies towards genuine multi-culturalism, and the hard-won victories against every type of prejudice in our own world to date.

All this is presented in the form of some darkly humorous speculative fiction, with the wonderfully ridiculous conceit whereby chickens gain the level of human intelligence and therefore shortly thereafter speech, literally overnight. As you would expect, it’s somewhat of a shocker to the world at large, whose main relationship with the species Gallus Gallus prior to this point has been confined to the ever-crispy conundrum of grilled or roasted. Things are clearly going to have to change, and as per usual, more than a few people aren’t too happy about it.

There’s much to be amused about, frequently in the form of main protagonist Jake, who is, it would be fair to say, a chicken with an attitude. There’s also much to nod about wisely, and as Mr. Gaiman points out, more than a little sadly about as Gerry explores man’s innate fear of change and anything different in a way that all too successfully highlights the lack of tolerance in our supposedly enlightened age, and in many of us as individuals to a greater or lesser degree.

I think one of the main reasons this book works so well is the constant grounding of the narrative in Jake’s difficult relationships with family, entirely his own fault, both with his siblings including the up-and-coming movie star Francis who the family secretly fret may be gay, and his elderly parents. Jake, for all his anger about the brave new world, really has no idea exactly what his parents went through during the time that everything was changing, until he reads his recently passed away father’s (the titular Elmer) diary. And Jake also starts to talk with his parents’ oldest human friend Farmer Ben, who saved their lives more than once, at great risk to his own, and begins to realise in fact it’s only his own prejudices that are holding him back from being happy.

I’d also just like to quote a comment from Gerry himself regarding the art on ELMER to give you an idea of the level of diligence he’s put into this work.

“By this time I had already read things like David B’s EPILEPTIC and David Mazzucchelli’s City Of Glass, two works which have inspired Elmer to a great extent. The discipline to do the nine panel grid came from CITY OF GLASS, while the placement of the words and balloons came from both EPILEPTIC and CITY OF GLASS.”

He’s clearly a student of comics himself and it’s evident from the effort you can see he’s put into the art here. One of my favourite sequences is early on where Jake goes for an interview for a job he’s obviously not going to get, (mind you his attitude doesn’t do him any favours whatsoever either) and he’s stealthily approached from behind mid-rant by some gentlemen who escort him none too gently out of the building. ELMER is definitely a fun read, as well as a serious one, and it’s always great to see a creator really thinking about how to make something work on very different levels.

LINK

JR

The Littlest Pirate King (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Pierre Mac Orlan & David B….

“Why are you so different from me? And you smell funny, too… and you don’t eat or drink as I do!”
“That is because you are in the kingdom of the dead. Aboard this ship we are all of us dead.”
“What does it mean to be dead?”
“Mmm… you wouldn’t understand.”
“I want to be dead like you!”

Shiver me timbers, David B. is back with a dark and stormy swashbuckling adaptation of a Mac Orlan short story. Ah, this is a haunting little sea shanty to be sure, telling the tale of an orphaned baby who grows up on an undead pirate ship after his parents have been killed by the accursed crew. The quite literally skeleton crew long for release from their cruel fate of endlessly sailing the high seas, trying every means imaginable to die a second and final time without merciful success. So despite their best efforts to dash their ship upon razor-sharp rocks or be crushed by gargantuan leviathans of the deep, it seems they’re going to have to wait for their date with Davey Jones and his locker a while longer yet.

Their cruelness really does know no bounds though, and they intend to rear the innocent child until the day of his first Communion, and then slay him to provide them with an undead cabin-boy to torment for all eternity. Of course the little boy grows up wanting nothing more than to be an undead pirate, and loves his creepy crew mates wholeheartedly. And they in turn grow to be rather fond of him, ransacking food from other ships to keep him alive. Over time the Captain begins to sense perhaps their only chance at redemption may in fact lie in sparing this most innocent of souls, and thus decides to take a rather different tack.

The author Mac Orlan, or Pierre Dumarchey to give him his real name, was famed as the Bohemian’s Bohemian in the pre-WWI Parisian set. As well as being a prolific fictional writer he also composed many a song for French chanseurs who were popular at the time, and wrote well-regarded essays on a number of topics. This story is very different from his usually more sexualised output, but lends itself very well to graphic adaptation, particularly with David B.’s unique, stripped back style. You can almost hear the jangling of the bones of the crew as they chase the giggling little boy around their ship. David easily manages to convey the genuinely horrific crew of skeletal pirates rather comically without going overboard (sorry) on the darker elements of the tale. The end result therefore is something which has a real Brothers Grimm fairy tale flavour to it. It’s certainly not a children’s book per se but something which children, especially little boys, would be genuinely enchanted and probably more than a little bit scared by.

LINK

JR

Parker: The Outfit h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Salsa was a stick-up man from Cuba. He’d been a revolutionary, a gigolo and was now an armed robber. When he saw the call come through he keyed his Dodge. He’d been stalking out the gas station since Parker’s letter. Two years ago he’d stopped for gas and made it as a layoff dump. As he roared towards the station he pulled on his mask. The two clowns didn’t know what hit them. All they’d remember was that they were robbed by Frankenstein.”

This, the second Darwyn Cooke adaptation of a Richard Stark ‘Parker’ novel is a direct sequel to the first, PARKER: THE HUNTER. As mentioned in my previous review, with crime it’s all about the plot for me, but Cooke’s art on the first book just took my breath away literally right from the moment I opened the book. THE OUTFIT, if anything, is even more beautiful for reasons I’ll come to, and once again we begin with a panoramic double-page splash of the locale, this time Miami Beach c.1963.

Following the events of THE HUNTER Parker knows he’s made some serious enemies in the shape of the Outfit having taken them for $45,000, which sure isn’t chump change, but that’s how they’ve been made to feel, and it’s sure how they’re choosing to take it. The Outfit are coming after Parker so repeatedly now he decides the only option is to change his face as well as his scenery. But easy living costs money, and after an armed robbery heist to generate some quick cash goes slightly awry, all thanks to a good old-fashioned double crossing at the hands of a greedy dame, the Outfit learns just why it is they’ve been unable to spot Parker recently. And, so the chase begins again.

Parker, a smarter wit than all the bosses put together, surmises the only way he’s going to be able to get them to stop coming after him for good is if he keeps hitting them hard, where it hurts them the most… in their wallets, so that they’ll have no choice but to make peace with him. Of course, Parker being Parker, he has a few more angles to his plan than that, but he’s certainly not one to show his hand until it’s time to claim the whole pot. And so, with the aid of some long standing friends scattered across the States, who might not exactly be adverse to some easy scores against the Outfit themselves, he starts a co-ordinated campaign of action, having forewarned the Outfit this is just a taste of what they can expect if they don’t leave him alone.

One key addition to Cooke’s glorious armoury of endeavour this time around is the use of devices relatively atypical to sequential art, such as floating narrative text-excerpts to build extra vital detail and background information into the plot. Often when this device is used in comics, it makes the work feel text-heavy, but here it’s so punchily done in a breezily staccato manner, it really adds to the action. And in a particularly delightful conceit, when Parker’s extended gang of colleagues launch their concerted series of heists all aimed at interests of the Outfit, he employs a completely different art style to chronicle each heist, switching from illustrated magazine article to Pink Panther-esque cartoon style, to panelled newspaper strip, to ligne claire, further adding to the gloriously period ‘60s feel of the whole joint. It also neatly provides a very clever mid-book interval in true old-school cinema style, before Parker takes central stage once again to bring the hidden elements of his master plan to a concussive conclusion.

LINK

JR

Maakies: Little Maakies On The Prairie (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionaire…

“Merry Fuckmas!”

Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the story but is instead the bold legend emblazoned in capitals a good 80 or so times on the inside front cover, just to make completely sure before you go any further that you realise this is NOT a children’s book. It’s almost as though from the cute packaging Tony Millionaire’s just mentally willing young children to pick this up in the shops and be scarred for life. Hmm, knowing Tony Millionaire, that is actually quite possible. Also nice to see he’s giving a nod to the seasonal timing of this new release.

So let’s get down to business and start the review proper with a quote from the first actual page of antics.

“I’d like two mentally retarded dogs, please.”

Ah, silly me. That’s actually a single panel preface opposite the first page apropos absolutely nothing. Right, let’s try once more. Here’s Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow…

“Ooh, oo! Oo, ooo, aah, aah ooh oho oo! Oo!”
“Uncle Gabby! What are you doing?”
“I am finally consummating my long marriage to the sea!”

You have now firmly got the idea this is emphatically NOT a children’s book right?

[Have a rare exterior link for MAAKIES strips – ed.]

JR

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2: Chameleons h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente, Takeshi Miyazawa.

Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and Bobby Drake (Iceman) are now living with Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Gwen Stacy (Peter’s new girlfriend) and Aunt May (poor woman). Kitty Pryde may be there too, I forget. She’s Peter’s ex-girlfriend. Certainly it is a ménage à many. Bobby needs a job so joins Peter at Burger Frog where he’s labelled a Tadpole and forced to wear Kermit the Frog on his head. Johnny Storm is amused:

“Oh. My. God.”
“Can I take your order?”
“Let’s see… Do you have any dignity? No, it looks like you’re all out.”

Other than that it’s a scenario similar to recent events in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RED-HEADED STRANGER, both of which are very well done.

Here the shape-shifting Chameleon kidnaps Peter and assumes his civilian identity without knowing his secret one. And then he finds out and, boy, does he fuck things up for Peter’s private life. The sort of dramatic irony that has you shouting “Noooooo!” Did I mention there are two chameleons? Also, kidnapped alongside him is J. Jonah Jameson. He learns things. Big things. What will he do with them?

Also, also, Rick Jones from ULTIMATE ORIGINS resurfaces, and Federal Agents come looking for Kitty Pryde. In class. With guns. What follows is one of the most impassioned speeches Bendis has ever written delivered by/from a most unexpected source, the Principal, to a theatre of worried parents so desperate for their own children’s safety that they’re happy to hand a little girl over to an effectively fascist government purely because of what’s in her genes. Because she’s a mutant.

Normally I quote 50 lines of Bendis, but no, you’re going to have to buy the book. I’ll just give you the closing passage which reiterates a theme Bendis has explored throughout this title’s previous incarnation – and indeed within his periodical SCARLETT – about injustice and differences between tolerating it, condoning it by default, whining about it, and doing something about it. The Principal has just resigned – on principle:

“So the question I ask… is what are you going to do? Because if you think that is over… you are highly mistaken. All it takes is someone, anyone, to point the finger… maybe at you. At your child.
“And no matter how special or good you think your child is… you’re allowing others to decide for you. Is that the world you want? You’re so angry. At me? Be angry at yourselves!! These children deserve better than what we’ve given them.
“They deserve better than what we let happen to this world.”

Lafuente’s expressions as Aunt May listens are the epitome of harrowed. I will brook no further criticism of the man.

SLH

The Boys vol 7: The Innocents (£14-99, D.E.) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson, Russ Braun, John McCrea with Keith Burns.

You’ve got to worry with a title like that and I’ve been worrying about Wee Hughie and Starlight for a while now. Against all odds and following some serious personal nightmares, these two angels in a world full of self-interested, power-hungry and sexually depraved horrors have finally found love in each other’s arms. But they haven’t been straight with each other.

Starlight hasn’t told Wee Hughie that she’s a superhero in the top-tier team called The Seven. Wee Hughie hasn’t told her that he’s one of Billy Butcher’s boys whose sole purpose it is to expose superheroes as the degenerate bastards they mostly are, or that The Seven are top of their quite literal hit list. Wee Hughie has told Starlight that his last girlfriend was slaughtered by a member of The Seven (hit-and-run-at-superspeed); she hasn’t told him that she was forced to give that very member’s, err, member a servicing of sorts in order to join the Seven.

No one has told Billy Butcher anything, but he’s about to find out. ‘Traumatic’ is the word I’d use to describe this instalment.

Meanwhile Starlight and The Seven’s supercilious Homelander are press-ganged into appearing at Believe, a farcical faith festival designed purely to exploit gullible Americans’ religious beliefs in order to extract money from them. Lord knows where Ennis dreamt that one up from.

LINK

SLH

Battlefields vol 5: Firefly & His Majesty (£8-99, D.E.) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra.

Sequel to BATTLEFIELDS: TANKIES. I do apologise for that original review. I’ve seen more coherence in The House Of Commons. Try this new, improved version. Washes whiter than white and won’t ruin your appetite, neither:

Garth Ennis is fast becoming a war veteran himself, the BATTLEFIELDS books being amongst his best, but this couldn’t be further from DEAR BILLY. While that BATTLEFIELDS volume dug deep into the scarred psyche of one young nurse traumatised by her treatment by the Japanese, this pulls back to observe the command and coordination - or lack of thereof – in Eastern Normandy post-D-Day, as the British infantry and scattered tanks desperately tried to inch their way through a German army supported by a blockade of infinitely superior Panther and Tiger Tanks hidden in dense woodland, waiting just around the corner.

I’ve not seen better storytelling from Ezquerra. To depict manoeuvres like this – ensuring that the reader instinctively comprehends where each vehicle is in relation to the others and so understands the immediate the threat they face - is no easy job, and Ennis manages the supporting history lesson here in much the same manner as Ellis did in CRÉCY: through a monologue, in this case issued by a determined corporal with a fierce Geordie accent taking blunt command of a Churchill made late for its rendez-vous with the infantry by its Lieutenant’s decapitation. Although the dialect is kept to a minimum to avoid bewilderment the accent is nevertheless note-perfect and entrancing, whilst the officers’ relative dispassion voiced in aristocratic Queen’s English sets them as far apart from the immediate action as they are geographically. A certain degree of caricature seems unavoidable when Ezquerra joins forces with Ennis, but that doesn’t make this a comedy (indeed the only element of that comes from Cassady on the cover to chapter two). In this instance it contributes to conflict within the Churchill tank which could at any moment be turned into a locked coffin of blazing hot metal, and in spite of the fact that I am by no means a war junkie, Ennis has me gripped yet again.

That was a review of the TANKIES, not this book. You got that, right? This is its sequel.

LINK

SLH

Box Man h/c (£18-99, D&Q) by Imiri Sakabashira ~

This spectacular book is probably best described as a sequential tone poem ruminating on the continuous abandonment of the previous generation and a rebellion against their morals. Heavy-sounding stuff, but I assure you it’s told in the very best humour with sequences so disturbing and bizarre, both referencing and debasing ukiyo-e woodblock prints and 20th century Japanese pop culture.

A plain-clothed man delivers a box, by moped, through a strange landscape before picking up a peculiar passenger, a small turtle creature whom he does not acknowledge, and setting off through a claustrophobic complex of wooden row houses, so dense that light is only a memory. It’s in the deepest recesses of this place where the steady beat of the panels breaks to a slow pounding series of full-page illustrations. Each page depicts a room with depraved perversion being performed upon a man or woman by some grotesque effigy of pop. The audience in each case is a peculiar bald man with Dame Edna specs and bare monkey feet writhing in ecstasy. In the background the delivery man and his little monster peep at these forbidden pleasures, before being discovered themselves.

Speeding up the beat once again, the Box Man leads us on a frenzied chase from this foreboding place. The meaning of all this is clearly open to interpretation but the contents of the box and its eventual destination shed some light on the matter. The overall message resonates with the final words of Kaneda in AKIRA as well as the attitude of Ono’s daughters in Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist Of The Floating World, eager to forget the previous generation’s mistakes and forge ahead in an endless Möbius strip of estrangement.

LINK

TR

Saturn Apartments vol 2 (£9-99, Viz/Sigikki) by Hisae Iwaoka ~

This is fast becoming my favourite manga ever. Talking to customer Simon Ghent (credited with suggesting the Comic Book Of The Month Club) and he made the very good point that the ring satellite that Mitsu and co. work and live in resembles The Hoop from Alan Moore’s abandoned 2000AD classic THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES, but the comparison doesn’t end there. The hook customers often tell us they liked most about the series was HALO JONES’ focus on the mundane task of going to the shops becoming a gauntlet in the future, encapsulated in the series’ famous tagline, “Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything.” After that though, HALO JONES loses my interest as her adventures become even more fantastic and stray further into heavily trodden paths of traditional SF.

SATURN APARTMENTS, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on intergalactic war or building the legend as Moore and Gibson began with Halo Jones in books two and three. Instead Iwaoka puts effort into rendering Mitsu’s environment as realistically as possible, but pushes it into the background so that her characters emerge as the driving force of the story.

After putting his own life at risk to save a customer, Mitsu is forced to take some holiday. The actions surrounding his absence cause some within the guild to compare him to Aki’s compulsiveness. While others berate him for his foolishness, Damage Inspector (and total lush) Sachi supports Mitsu’s actions and tells him about a time when Aki saved her life while she was a newbie, shedding light on her unrequited feelings. I’m sure we all remember the first time we went for a drink with the guys from work, and Mitsu probably won’t forget this either, as he was the only one to remain sober! But sipping tea all night does nothing to release his nerves as he gets into an awkward conversation with his late father’s work partner, Tamachi, about eggs. Poor Mitsu can’t seem to sway him from this subject, such is Tamachi’s passion!

[Extraordinarily beautiful gatefold cover with the most stunning, high-rise perspective. Wish we could show you it in its full, fold-out glory – ed.]

LINK

TR

House Of Five Leaves vol 1 (£9-99, Viz/Ikki) by Natsume Ono ~

Criminal intrigue replaces the epic battles you’ll be used to in this refreshing samurai manga set in Edo Japan.

Timid Ronin Akitsu finds himself unemployable as a Yojimbo. Despite his size and considerable skill, his sensitivity renders him considerably unthreatening for a bodyguard. In steps Yaichi who wants to hire Akitsu for protection while he makes a dubious exchange. Akitsu’s naive and scrupulous nature leads him to assume Yaichi is the innocent party in this transaction, but nothing could be future from the truth. Yaichi is the head of a kidnapping racket called the Five Leaves, who ransom family members of corrupt officials and merchants. An air of mutual wrong-doing prevents the victims from reporting the small gang’s activity, but the gang still takes no chances, meticulously planning each campaign. As Akitsu is drawn into a life of crime through Yaichi’s manipulation, the black and white morality which fuels his sense of honour becomes increasingly less defined. Yaichi makes no claims of moral high standing, he’s robbing the rich and corrupt because they’re easy targets. But the other three members of the gang, Ume, a restaurant/safe house owner, Otake, his charming daughter, and Matsukichi, a skilled artist, allude to more personal motivations.

Natsume Ono crafts some of the best samurai dramas I’ve ever read. For once it’s not about a tired quest for revenge or some foolish feudal lord, but charismatic characters in a compelling set up. Presenting an unsentimental view of the floating world of period Japan, yet remaining contemporary without peppering it (and therefore aging it) with pop culture references.

LINK

TR

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Mack & Pascal Alixe ~

Garson Poole’s life as a high-flying exec at a large corporation is the modern ideal, until a car accident lands him in hospital with an untreatable condition: he’s a robot. Specifically an “Electric Ant” planted to keep his job, “his” company running smoothly. Upon realizing he’s nothing more than a glorified marionette, Garson begins to pull the strings. Opening his chest he begins to effect his perceptions of reality by tampering with the micro-punched tape informing his senses. Adding new holes and cutting sections out of the tape he appears to effect more than just his perceptions, but reality itself. And I’m pretty sure that’s not covered in the warranty.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this adaptation since Mack first mentioned it in the back of KABUKI, pointing me towards the original short story (which is in Human Is, ISBN 9780575085831, by the way). Easily the most mind-bending story of Dick’s I’ve read so far, Mack is perfectly qualified to adapt this story to comics, as it touches on themes of identity, and the deconstruction of identity explored in his own stories.

It’s a shame then that Pascal Alixe is illustrating this as I’m constantly revolted by his lack of proportion, inappropriate expressions and off-putting character designs like the “Carry On” Doctor and Nurse in #1. Quite disappointing that a story so reliant on its abstract imagery must be handed to an artist who can’t leave the shadow of Blade Runner, just what the hell is Electric Sheep Productions thinking? How does this homogenising of a name synonymous with imagination help their brand at all? They need to adjust their perception filter.

LINK

TR

Also Arrived:

 

Okay, we’re on a slightly different (ahead of!) schedule this week so instead of a list of stuff we hope to review next week, for the most immediate arrivals this Wednesday and Thursday, scroll down and click on 1st & 2nd December 2010 here: LINK.