Reviews December 2010 week two

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.



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.


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, SWORD,  ULTRA) 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…


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.



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 our Cain is white.”
“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.



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.


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.



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.



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.



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

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