Reviews December 2010 week one

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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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

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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.

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