Crickets #3 (£5-99) by Sammy Harkham…
“Awesome how much privacy we get in this house.”
“I said shut up you big baby.”
“Weird… I got three gray hairs.”
“My dad was gray by the time he was thirty…”
“I’m only twenty-seven!”
“Sigh. He’s up.”
“EEGAH! What kind of kid is this? He wakes up at 4.30 for an hour then naps for forty-five minutes? He’s cursed.”
“It’s your turn.”
The first thing you notice with CRICKETS #3 is that, in a sense, it’s almost completely in reverse. Not in a manga right-to-left way, but the first page is actually a letters or more precisely letter page, also featuring an obituary of sorts to “Good Cartoonists Gone” with a thumbnail of which publication they were last seen in and when. Also, a brief gag strip. The letter is actually quite hilarious, from someone who seems to have had his mind blown by CRICKETS #2 and went from wanting to rip it up after the first read (“What the hell is wrong with this book? Why does it exist? Where did it come from? Whose fucking depths of subconscious were plunged to create something like this?”)… to absolutely worshipping it after a second subsequent read… (“I love this book now. It has confounded me, eluded my every attempt to understand, to even classify it as a traditional narrative. I don’t know what in the name of Christ it actually is… I probably never will.”).
Then we have two supplementary strips, firstly an excellent four-pager about a philandering professor, and then a one-pager about Sammy meeting fellow comics creator Frank S. Santoro, before we finally get to the main forty-two page story. Seems a strange way to me to go about laying out a comic, but who am I to argue with Mr. Harkham, the editor of arguably the most avant-garde comics anthology series in KRAMER’S ERGOT, volume 7 of which was so large it had to be hand-bound… and also required a bin bag to carry it in. Good grief, the man even persuaded Chris Ware to write a happy ending!! Well, sort of. There are rumours that volume 8, which I’m neither going to confirm nor deny starting, will come with fold-out legs to double as the world’s first true coffee-table book…
Hmm, I seem to be digressing like Ronnie Corbett on speed now, so I’d better get back to the review of the main story, which is entitled Blood Of The Virgin and features Seymour who works for the mildly odious Val Reed, owner of Reverie Inter Films, making very, very low-budget horror films indeed. There’s the first neat flourish of many as Sammy works the story-title splash-panel, featuring the film title, into the third page of the story, exactly as it would appear to a cinema-goer.
Seymour longs to be allowed to direct a film, any film, but deep down he knows Val’s promises of a bright future are hollow, and he’s going to be stuck splicing together bits of ad hoc footage for some time to come unless something drastic changes. Meanwhile his first child, born a fervent insomniac it would appear, seems to be causing friction aplenty in the marital household. Consequently relations are a little strained between Seymour and his wife, but that still doesn’t excuse his somewhat laissez-faire approach to his marriage vows. He has an eye for the ladies and it would seem at least one or two of them have an eye for him, despite his rather dodgy moustache. Still, it is 1973’s L.A. so I guess we can forgive him that, if nothing else.
CRICKETS is absolutely everything outstanding contemporary fiction should be: completely believable characters with understandable motivations, and also the situations that bring out the best and worst in them. And in the hands of a great writer like Sammy, all he needs is the everyday and indeed outright banality of a life (just a little bit) less lived and unfulfilled in Seymour, which is redolent of much of the world population’s I’m sure, to create a riveting story. Plus he artfully weaves in little frissons of the bitchiness and seediness of the movie world, particularly on its rather tattered fringes where Seymour operates. After all, horror this low-grade is barely one step up from porn in the cinematic pecking order.
I really like Sammy’s art style which reminds me in places of Chester Brown and also Daniel Clowes with its warmth and ever so slightly cartoonish aspect, particularly visible in people’s features. It demonstrates that you really don’t need that much detail to express every conceivable emotion. LOUIS RIEL in particular sprang to mind as a comparison with Chester Brown. He also masterfully shows other elements of compositional technique such as how changing the size of panels over a two-page sequence can really add an extra layer to the sense and pace of the narrative. Indeed one of my favourite sequences is Seymour quickly whipping up a chicken dish shown in miniature panels right at the bottom of a page, after having carrying his exhausted wife through to the kitchen, starting from a really large panel splash-scene of her lying near comatose on the lounge couch, in the midst of total toddler-related devastation on the opposing page.
The relative simplicity of the art means you frequently spot these devices as he’s employing them whereas sometimes with more complex art styles your attention is entirely focused on the pen and ink work. And I mean this as a compliment because it’s great to see someone so visibly expressing the story and bringing apparently mundane sequences to life and not just flatly presenting it panel by panel. Great stuff. I finished CRICKETS #3 wanting much more of Seymour’s story. I have no idea whether Sammy plans to continue it in future issues at some point but I rather hope so. We still have in stock POOR SAILOR by the same creator too.
Tricked h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Alex Robinson.
Warning: once you dive in, you won’t come up for air until it’s all over. It won’t let you, however hard you kick.
Ray, an ex-member of The Tricks, seems to be surfing on a wave of critical acclaim that has only swelled since the band dissolved and his solo album rocketed to the top of the charts. His fame is at an all-time high, and he has more money than he knows what to do with. But although his management guilefully plays the press to shroud Ray in tantalising secrecy, the stark truth is that he hasn’t written a decent song in five years, and any talk of a second album is a lie. Caprice is a lovely sort of girl working in a diner owned and run by Richard and Frank. She deserves a better class of boyfriend. Someone who’d really look after her, because that last guy was a nightmare, as everyone knows. Phoebe is a young girl embarking on a journey to find someone she barely remembers, but her fear almost forces her to turn back prematurely. Every morning, Nick leaves his wife and child to go to work. They think he’s rising up a corporate ladder, but he’s actually working at a small collectors’ shop dealing in signed sports merchandise, grubbily forging those signatures on demand, in the back. His boss isn’t all he appears to be, either, and what looks merely seedy is about to become dangerous. Steve’s one of those nightmare muso obsessives, who works in an office whilst secretly sneering at his peers. But behind his elitism is an altogether more worrying temperament, a complete lack of self-awareness, and a medical condition you’ll soon wish he took more seriously. And Lily works for the record company Ray is signed up to – and speaking of signing, Nick’s not the only forger. She works a machine which mechanically replicates Ray’s autograph on all the photos the team sends out to fans. But when the machine breaks down, a chance encounter with Ray outside his manager’s office will change everyone’s lives, one way or the other.
Fifty chapters count down to collision, as six seemingly separate threads tangle themselves in falsehood, bad decisions and, in one case, outright misanthropy. It’s a huge book (incredible value for money), orchestrated to perfection, with some clever visual tricks and far more surprises than I’ve even begun to let on. Plus we have a new contender for the most convincingly hateful character in comics, to vie with Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown from ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY.
Recommended to anyone who likes to see real relationships in play, and from the creator of BOX OFFICE POISON and MORE BOX OFFICE POISON, this brand-new cover is the best of three yet.
Orc Stain vol 1 (£13-50, Image) by James Stokoe ~
There’s the general consensus that Scott Pilgrim was the forerunner of a new wave of American comics and that his peers, Reyyy, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, etc. were riding in the wake of Bryan’s success. But that just doesn’t wash with me, I prefer to think of Scott Pilgrim as the first hit in a powerful combo and if that’s the case then be ready for a pummelling with ORC STAIN. James’ art defies conventional analysis. I am aghast at the level of detail here, I don’t think I’ve ever read an artist’s work that can match the scale of this yet retain the nuances needed to distinguish his characters. James does, and with concepts which rip up the conventional trappings of fantasy genre. In fact there is little to relate James’ work to that of his peers until you read the dialogue, which is as fast-paced, imaginative, and rife with inventive references as anything by Brandon Graham or Bryan Lee O’Malley. If KING CITY was Hard Boiled Hip Hop, then ORC STAIN is a Spaghetti Conan by way of Terry Gilliam with a script by an early John Carpenter.
In the beginning there were Orc; an indomitable convulsing infection on the world. In a constant state of war and looting they were their own worst enemy, too motivated by base greed and lust for nymphs to be organized into a lasting empire. Until now. In the southern jungles an Orc with a bigger Gronch than any other has risen to unify the tribes and rule the world. He is the Orc Tzar, and he searches for the Ganga Gronch, a lost organ of a forgotten god, to ensure his dominance over all Orc kind. In the northern mountains a skilled thief called One Eye literally cracks safes with his unique skill to see the fault line in anything, wrecking untold damage with his small (yet perfectly crafted) hammer. And while he’s used to the double-crossing ways of his less gifted ilk, when a blood feud over a few chits descends into a rampaging mob cutting into his bath time, and mysterious, bearded ninjas begin throwing every one-eyed Orc in the Mountains into living death camps, One Eye’s salvation may lie in the biggest threat to his Gronch of all: Bowie Enocraz Yaramund, Poison Thrower, Swamp Ramba, She-Devil. You’re probably wondering what the hell Gronch and chits are. Well if it isn’t completely evident with the first few pages James has included a wonderful, illustrated glossary of Orc terms. Complete with a stomach-churning depiction of how chits are made from an Orc’s Gronch. You will wince.
Casanova vol 1: Luxuria new printing (£10-99, Icon/Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba.
“Fire up that Space Gas of yours — I want to get seriously abstract.”
Family squabbles overwhelm any attempt to maintain international law and order at the very top of the law-and-order chain, in a sci-fi/wry-guy/spy-die bacchanal that involves time, space, mail order brides (3) plus a lost relic of World War II in the form of a giant Japanese robot, its original creators and their horny young grandson.
In black, white and khaki, CASANOVA is a Morrison-esque monstrosity of bonkers plot-play if you can keep up. It’s a nuts and bolts, transdimensional, infiltration fire-fight with most of those bolts either missing or screw-loose. In effect, then: nuts.
The first chapter was like six issues of Ellis’ NEXTWAVE compressed into one: bombastic, breathless, and without a care in the world for being credible – just clever and conceited, just like its protagonists. Brilliant, and he does still write them like he used to. Also: rude. Here’s the Japanese couple’s grandson, defending his honour, and that of his three brides:
“Ah-ah. my love. A man must be able to defend his wife.”
“That’s right. All these women will be my brides. I met them on the internet and traded them my family robot for their maiden-heads.”
“Hope you kept the receipt, guy. Only Manhattan has bigger tunnels.”
He’s talking about his sister!
New series now started: see January Reviews week three.
Infinite Vacation #1 (£2-75, Image) by Nick Spencer & Christian Ward.
“Not gonna lie… Going to one’s own funeral is a pretty fucked up experience. Especially when you don’t know anyone there.”
It’s that third sentence that clinches it. From the writer of Forgetless, EXISTENCE 2.0 / 3.0 and SHUDDERTOWN, yet another series rammed to the rafters with ideas. So often I’ve seen an intriguing concept let down by a failure to follow through, to extrapolate from that central conceit, but not here.
Mark lives in a world where you can buy your way into an infinite number of realities by trading with unlimited variations of yourself. You don’t change your body like you can in SURROGATES, you change its existence, its life: your environment, history and so potentially future, and Mark is a bit of an addict. He averages 9.7 life changes per day. He’s restless, thoughtless and indeed feckless, always ending up in the same dead-end job with ruined relationships and feels the need to press the virtual reset button again and so start afresh.
The only version of him that has ever found happiness is the one who ditched college to start a surf shop in Fiji, and even that was on his roommate’s advice. Mark knows this because he’s now met him on a ‘lifeshare’ – an Infinite Vacation where you don’t take over your counterpart’s life, you visit for a nose around and maybe a confab. Here they are, lying on the beach in front of the most spectacular sunset:
“I know what your problem is, dude.”
“Yeah, all you guys, it’s the same thing. I mean, hell, man, when’s it gonna be enough? You got yourself so hooked on infinity, this bullshit they feed you about how you can ‘have anything – live everything’. Fuck that, man – you’re so obsessed with having everything, you can’t enjoy anything! My advice? Just find one thing, dude. Find that one thing that makes your life worth more than you can put up for sale on your phone, and give that everything you got. You hearin’ me?”
“Ah, fuck it, man. What do I know? Come on, let’s hit a wave.”
Two days later, he’s dead, shot in a robbery gone wrong. You can’t take an Infinite Vacation from death, but one doubts that that version of Mark would have wanted to. At least he died happy. Unfortunately that single Mark is not alone. A lot of Marks seem to be winding up dead. You can keep track of that, you know.
“Google makes this really nice RSS news aggregator that helps you keep rack of what happens to you everywhere.”
Of course it does! However fascinating it may be keeping up to date on news fed from other people’s websites, you’d be riveted keeping track of what’s happening in your counterparts’ lives! Yeah, you would. They’re essentially you. And that’s what I mean about extrapolation. That and the fact that your ideal therapist would be a version of yourself (“No one knows you like you, right?”).
There’s so much going on here. I haven’t even mentioned the Deadenders – that rare 3% of the world’s population who haven’t given in to giving in and jettisoning the lives they’ve worked so hard at for the sake of any easy fix and a brand new existence they played no part in building. I love a work of art that makes me think: that makes me question its society and characters in a way that has implications for my own. And I admire the mind that can make me do that. I’m also a sucker for a ridiculously complex mystery like the film Memento, and when you hit the final page here I think you’ll be hooked as well.
I spotted Nick Spencer in the very first preview of EXISTENCE 2.0 long, long ago, but as I wrote up above, you just don’t know if someone can actually deliver on their promise. This is his finest, most sophisticated conceit yet and, several projects completed, I now trust Nick Spencer 100%.
Watercolour washes with a break for a photographic marketing pitch.
Age Of Reptiles Omnibus vol 1 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.
Ah, the beauty of these beasts! And in full, lambent colour too!
Ever since I can recall dinosaurs have seemed to me the coolest, most thrilling creatures imaginable, and they actually existed! They weren’t invented by Giger, Ray Harryhausen or the Ancient Egyptians. Okay, some were invented by Victorian fraudsters but we know about those now. We’re not short of the exotic here in the present – though Lord knows we’re doing our best to fix that fast – but the creatures back then of land, air and sea were wondrous and majestic and scary as all get out. Bloody enormous too.
Here they’re brought to animated life and set at each others throats by Ricardo Delgado who choreographs the stories in a series of silent ballets over 350 clean-lined pages. The eagle-eyed predators hunt solo or swarm in vast packs, skittering and scampering and launching themselves in the air. Their eyes blaze with hunger, guile and the certainty that they are superior to their prey. Pterodactyls dive in dog-fights through clouds. Fully aquatic crocodiles of the deep rise to the surface to thrash it out against ambitious intruders, and Delgado’s keen eye for drama ensures that there are shocks aplenty.
The environments are awe-inspiring as well, and if my geology was better I could describe its variety in greater detail: giant arches throwing afternoon shadows, vast sandstone towers rising in front of a mushrooming cloud, or a gigantic, skeletal rib cage turned into a last-stand arena.
This isn’t Steve Bissette’s TYRANT. There’s no attempt to say anything more profound than dog eat dog, survival of the fittest or it sucks to be a herbivore. But there are few graphic novels which you can open up on any page – any page at all – and come away so immediately impressed. It’s basically a great big bag of shiny, multicoloured marbles. Take just one look and your eyes will be shiny too.
Pilot & Huxley vol 1 (£5-99, Scholastic) by Dan McGuiness.
All-ages iconoclasm or – if I really wanted to worry you – South Park for kids.
Huxley thinks his parents have gone missing; actually they just forgot to take him on holiday. Pilot thinks he has a hole in his wardrobe that leads to a fantastical dimension; actually he just has a hole in his wardrobe and bedroom wall. The aliens running the videogame rental store think they have an impenetrable disguise; actually they wouldn’t even pass as scarecrows. Also: they’ve accidentally downloaded the secret code to their Deadly Device Of Doom into one of their games. Guess who rented it out?
Pilot and Huxley are in for one hell of a journey and a whole lot of snot as the Grim Reaper is dispatched to collect their fine for being a week overdue, whilst they are dispatched to another dimension swamping with bees (sic) where Huxley is the ultimate swearword, sea monsters cough up stray pirates and it’s possible to die of birth.
“Ignore my friend, he suffers from Stupid.”
So does this book – the kids will love it.
Battlefields vol 6: Motherland (£9-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun…
Following on from the reprise of the crew of volume 2’s TANKIES in BATTLEFIELDS VOL 5: THE FIREFLY AND HIS MAJESTY here we have a second outing for volume 1’s Night Witches, which despite sounding like it could be an yet another Andrew Eldritch side-project, refers to the female Russian pilots who became much feared by the German Luftwaffe for their daring exploits on late-night bombing raids often using slow moving, indeed near obsolete aeroplanes whose sole advantage was their manoeuvrability and stealth.
This volume follows the further exploits of Lieutenant Anna Borisnova Kharkova, one of the few survivors from volume one, as she adjusts to life in a new all-male regiment having been booted out of her own. The only things she seems have brought with her are the voice of a dearly departed comrade talking to her in her few quiet moments, and a near death-wish whilst up in the skies. The objective remains the same though: kill as many Germans as she can and defend the motherland at all cost. Still, as she warms to the kindly nature of her widowed commanding officer, who in turn gently rebuffs her advances saying he can’t think of romance until the war is over, and the Nazis who murdered his wife driven from the motherland’s soil, she finally seems to have a reason to take a little more care for her own wellbeing.
The inevitable of course happens, leaving Anna with more hate than ever in her heart for the Nazis. I could be wrong but I get the feeling there may well be another volume of BATTLEFIELDS featuring our fearsome female flyer yet to come, as this volume has more the tone of a bridging story rather than a concluding one. Top-notch war comics once again from Ennis, who understands a good story is mainly about the characters, not merely the action.
Rat Catcher h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Andy Diggle & Victor Ibanez…
“They think you killed their friends. Waving that gun around isn’t likely to convince them otherwise.”
“I didn’t kill any anybody. I was set up. It was an inside job. That’s why I ran, went underground. Tried to dig out the truth.”
“Then you’re talking to the right guy, but you know as well as I do, son, this thing isn’t going to get resolved right here and now. Come in with me. There’s a hot cup of coffee and a change of clothes for you in Washington. What do you say?”
“Honestly? I’ll be glad to stop running.”
“Attaboy. Now let’s get you…”
That was the sound of the FBI boss’ head exploding in case you’re wondering, courtesy of a high velocity sniper rifle which ensures Agent Lynch’s problems are going to continue for a little while longer at least. This is the ninth offering on Vertigo’s Crime imprint which still continues to baffle me like a clueless cop based on the inconsistency of the evidence presented to me so far.
After the truly excellent and original A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY here we have a run-of-the-mill crime story from Andy Diggle about a mythical criminal figure talked about in law enforcement circles, called the Rat Catcher. This shadowy figure, who most people don’t believe actually exists, may well be responsible for several apparently ordinary deaths of various turncoats in the witness protection programme.
Of course the Rat Catcher is all too real and in fact he’s been covertly whacking people with the stealth and guile worthy of a master ninja for decades, but sadly we never get any real suspense built up because the perpetrator is revealed to us, the readers, all too quickly. Obviously it has to be an inside job, and clearly it’s not Agent Lynch whose been conveniently fingered by the real rotten apple when an attempt to silence yet another blabbermouth goes somewhat awry.
Diggle provides a competent plot, but given the pointlessly early reveal it’s become no more than the usual consequent set pieces, albeit stitched together neatly enough. So… good guy gets set up, good guy goes on the run, good guy tries to turn himself in but it all goes horribly wrong requiring him to go on the run again (see above); good guy realises he needs to confront the only person who conveniently has something on the Rat Catcher, brief interlude where disposable additional cop character realises who the Rat Catcher is and gets whacked, and then the final confrontation between the various parties.
It’s all right, but I know Diggle can write so much better stuff than this. And with a few more twists and turns and some rat-like stealth, this could have been great. Still, I think Vertigo has finally realised the ‘crime’ of its imprint shouldn’t actually refer to its quality of art, for Ibanez’s stands up very well compared to some of the truly awful work in one or two of the earlier volumes.
Dark Ivory vol 1: Blue Blood (£10-99, Image) by Joseph Michael Linsner, Eva Hopkins & Linsner.
“Tranq you for the music!”
That one’s sat in drafts page for a good two or three years.
New work from Dawn’s Jo Michael Linsner. Let’s take a look at the warning signs which 17-year-old Ivory Fontaine, fluent in French, ignored:
1. He calls himself Xander. And it’s at that point you tell someone to piss off, but still…
2. They met in a Goth nightclub where instead of kissing her hand, he licked it.
3. He gave her an exclusive pass to a club called La Petite Mort which no one has ever heard of.
4. He takes her upstairs at La Petite Mort and offers her a pill.
It’s at this point in the create-your-own-story book which is your life that you either decline and move on to page 40, or you swallow the pill and skip to its tattered appendices. Ivory swallows the pill.
It’s only then that she notices there’s a disproportionate amount of neck-biting in evidence, but instead of Xander leaping on Ivory like a parched Klaus Kinski, he lets her bite him. A couple of days later and Ivory wakes from her nightmarish visions to find blood on her hands, blood on her face, and blood on the carpet. Along with her mother. Good job her best friend’s boyf is a vampire. He’ll know what to do.
Yeah, that leap lurched out at me too. Time for a secret origin, a chat about relative ethics and a drive back to La Petite Mort because Sally’s boyf, Esque, thinks it’s the key to his own vampire visions. It is, but he’s in for a big disappointment, whereas Ivory discovers that nothing in her life – including the last few days – has been anything like what it seemed.
Linsner fans know what they like, and what they like is Jo Michael Linsner’s art. The paint and pastels doesn’t rock my own Stygian rowboat but I can see its appeal, so there you merrily go. The dialogue, on the other hand, is in a melodramatic class of its own. It’s called 12b English, and you’ll find it three doors down from the Principal’s office.
Dawn vol 3: Three Tiers (£12-99, Image) by Joseph Michael Linsner.
“In a post-apocalyptic Europa, Dawn leads New York warrior through wars, disasters and fire. His dangerous liaisons bring him up against the three faces of the Goddess. Is Dawn a virgin, queen or whore? Is Darrian the earthly manifestation of Death, the Horned God? On his quest for Dawn, Darrian faces dragons, duels and shatters mirrors.”
He could probably get into trouble trying to find marmalade in Asda. Fully painted rock goth fantasy, with a whole heap of soul searching.
Secret Avengers vol 1: Mission To Mars h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Deodato.
The dark reign of Osborn is over. In the wake of SIEGE, former Captain America, Commander Steve Rogers, has been given carte blanche over U.S. national security and set up three teams of Avengers. This is the one he’s chosen to lead himself. With tactical operations run by former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and love interest Sharon Carter, this is the covert squad using stealth tactics for pre-emptive strikes, for taking out threats before they become unmanageable and removing items from the board before they are turned into Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Given the Avengers’ history with Roxxon Inc. that’s where Steve starts looking, sending the Black Widow and Valkyrie to infiltrate their Dubai operations by posing as call girls. In the past Roxxon’s wrecked havoc, particularly whenever they’ve gotten their hands on The Serpent Crown. Oh dear god, they’ve just got their hands on a Serpent Crown, and it may be part of a set.
Time to assemble a much larger squad for a trip to Mars where Roxxon’s been drilling. The last Administration sold them mineral rights to the planet, but that’s not what they’ve been mining for. The operation went dead a month ago, their employees disappearing off the payroll without being made redundant. But someone else is there now, the Shadow Council, and one of those dressed in their dragon-decked uniform looks awfully familiar. What is the Shadow Council after? Why has Nova whom Steve sent ahead suddenly gone radio silent? Did he find what they were looking for first?
With his links to Captain America and his experience with superhero espionage (SLEEPER) it’s perfect that Brubaker’s on board. Plus Deodato (DARK AVENGERS) likes his shadows as much as his close-ups and there are plenty of both in evidence here. Their Beast in particular is a joy (“Once an Avenger and all that, right?”), and Steve, Sharon, Valkyrie and the Black Widow are backed up by Moon Knight, War Machine and the current Antman so Brubaker is following Bendis’ lead by giving us a fresh dynamic for a story absolutely steeped in Marvel history without getting bogged down by it, instead moving it along several stages.
Finally there’s a much wider mystery, a much longer game being played, as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s and Steve’s own histories comes back to haunt them in the form of someone or something who knows far too much.
Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham.
So Steve Rogers has leapt back through the revolving door that is Marvel and DC’s death portal – largely through not being dead in the first place (see CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN) – but he’s not about to take back the uniform of Captain America from Bucky Barnes yet. Instead he’s caught up in a mystery leaked by Pete Wisdom involving the supposed abuse of the super-soldier serum that was lost when its creator died and never worked on anyone else again. But it seems the legacy lives on in the form of Professor Jacob Erskine, grandson of the formula’s original inventor, and Steve fights desperately to avoid the serum found in the bloodstream of Erskine’s bodyguards falling into the hands of the likes of Al Qaeda as it’s put on sale to the highest overseas bidder.
“Shall we start the bidding at one hundred million per vial?”
What is Jacob Erksine even thinking of? How is his young wife a dead ringer for one of Rogers’ old flames from WWII?
I’ll tell you this much (which I rarely do): it’s a set-up. But its mechanics and main goal are cleverer than you can conceive. With help from SECRET AVENGERS’ Sharon Carter and the Beast, Steve leaves this mini-series thinking he’s won. He hasn’t, and I will bet you anything you like that this is a pivotal part of Brubaker’s extended Steve Rogers storyline either in Captain America or SECRET AVENGERS themselves. I never place bets with an empty hand.
Daredevil Reborn #1 of 4 (£2-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Davide Gianfelice.
From the writer of Daredevil comes more DAREDEVIL. Shouldn’t this be in DAREDEVIL?
Oh wait, Marvel have changed that to BLACK PANTHER, MAN WITHOUT FEAR, a move met with unanimous derision and contempt. Shame (and I really do mean, the shame!) because this is perfectly fine with a final page laid out like Frank Miller might have.
Matthew Murdock has fallen from grace, in his own eyes especially. He inflicted huge pain on a community he swore he’d protect so has left Hell’s Kitchen and the city altogether to wander The Badlands. Obviously (obviously) the town we now join him in is simmering with secrets and they don’t take kindly to strangers. Cue conflict and a quick internet search to discover the FBI is convinced Matthew’s Daredevil. They’ve just never been able to prove it.
Gianfelice bring a Vertigo sensibility to the art. I do like his waves of hair and as I say the final page silhouetted against a full moon leaps out at you. Whether Diggle can turn perfectly fine into anything new I don’t yet know.
Leviathan s/c (£13-99, 2000AD) by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli >
Even by 2000AD’s standards, the basic set-up for this one is ludicrous – the Leviathan is a ship several times bigger than the Titanic, from around the same period; essentially a floating city, which doesn’t just sink, but disappears. It has of course sailed into some form of Hell-dimension, and if the various upper crust caricatures in the luxury accommodation weren’t already scared of the lower orders, well, they’d have good reason to be now the forces of this dimension have started changing them.
And in so far as the writing addresses the class system, well, it seems to have come from My First Book Of Marxism. Proceedings are salvaged by glimmers of wit and bloodthirsty humour, and most of all by D’Israeli’s black & white art, which has the perfect blend of solidity and spookiness. He makes you believe in the impossible ship, the absurd characters, the predictable predicament, and more than that, he makes you care. Still a good job that they wrapped this one up, though; it worked as a one-off, but had it become an unnecessarily ongoing series, no artist on Earth could have rescued it.
Usagi Yojimbo Special Edition Boxed Set (£75-00, Fantagraphics) by Stan Sakai.
All seven of Fantagraphics’ softcovers collecting Stan Sakai’s earliest work in two big hardcovers set in a slipcase.
High-quality paper and printing, an extensive, illustrated interview, plus a complete cover gallery including those for ALEBEDO and CRITTERS. Also far cheaper than buying the softcovers separately which are rarely in print at the same time.
Usagi Yojimbo is a ronin rabbit wandering the feudal Japanese countryside and fighting for what’s right. I’m reliably informed by dojo botherers that it’s remarkably authentic in both terminology and tradition, except for the fact that feudal Japan wasn’t full of walking, talking bunnies, hippos and pigs.
One introduction by Stan Lee, the other from Stan Sakai.
Death Note Black Edition vol 1 (£10-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata.
First two books in one wider, taller, broader, better-value-for-money edition with a gorgeous new cover and black-stained fore-edge for maximum mortality!
Bored and pampered ace student Light Yagami takes it upon himself to clean up the world when he happens upon a demonic notebook – the Death Note. All he has to do is write down the name of his victim and picture them in his mind and within 40 seconds they die of cardiac arrest. A prospect that at first sickens him, but which he soon relishes as he starts a “righteous” crusade, offing hundreds of criminals in days. Which of course attracts the attention of Interpol who send their best agent to investigate, a man known only as “L”.
Life and death in the hands of a mere teenage boy, but how can Light guard against an enemy out to stop him if he doesn’t know his true name? Crisp art and a simple, solid concept make this horror-come-espionage twist the most original vigilante-themed series in a good long time.
Shaman King vol 32 (£7-50, Viz) by Hiroyuki Takei.
Last in the series.
(Hey, I’ll take credit for anything.)
(Oh, reviews will indeed follow for many of these, whilst some may already exist if they were originally hardcovers. Or, in the case of SWAMP THING, if they were originally softcovers. Just use our search engine!)
King Of The Flies vol 2: The Origin Of The World h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Pirus & Mezzo
The Technopriests vol 1 (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov
The Technopriests vol 2 (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov
Sandman vol 4: Season Of Mists (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones, Harlan Ellison, Mike Dringenberg, Kelley Jones
The Killer vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon
The Last Unicorn h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Peter S. Beagle, Peter B. Gillis & Renae De Liz
Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Stan Woch, Rick Veitch, Ron Randall, Alfredo Alcala, Tom Mandrake
Jack Of Fables vol 8: The Fulminate Blade (£10-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Tony Akins, Jim Fern
Blecky Yuckerella: Fuc* **u, *ss**le (£8-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan
Stigmata h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Claudio Piersanti & Lorenzo Mattotti
Graveyard Book s/c (£5-99, Harper) by Neil Gaiman
Good Eggs h/c (£17-99, Harper Collins) by Phoebe Potts
Hulk: The End s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown
New Avengers: Siege s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike McKone, Bryan Hitch, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic, more
Secret Warriors vol 3: Wake The Beast s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti, Gianluca Gugliotta
Avengers vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr.
Avengers Academy vol 1: Permanent Record h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike McKone, Jorge Molina
Incredible Hulks: Dark Son h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed & Tom Raney, Barry Kitson, Brian Ching
Spider-Man: The Gauntlet vol 4: Juggernaut s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, Fred Van Lente & Michael Gaydos, Lee Weeks
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man: Spectacular (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Roberto Di Salvo, Jacopo Camagni, Ronan Cliquet
Batman Vs. The Undead (£10-99, DC) by Kevin VanHook & Tom Mandrake
Superman: Last Stand Of New Krypton vol 2 h/c (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson & Sterling Gates
Star Wars: Dark Times vol 4: Blue Harvest (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mick Harrison & Douglas Wheatley
Spice & Wolf vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Isuna Hasekura & Keito Koume
No Touching At All (£9-99, Yen) by Kou Yoneda
XOXO Hugs and Kisses: 30 Postcards restocks (£7-50, Chronicle) by James Jean
Batgirl: Redemption (£14-99, DC) by Adam Beechen & J. Calafiore
Tank Girl: The Odyssey Remastered (£10-99, Titan) by Jamie Hewlett & Peter Milligan
Stargazer vol 1 (£10-99, Von Allan) by Von Allan
Bakuman vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
D. Gray-Man vol 20 (£7-50, Viz) by Katsura HoshinoBlack Cat vol 2 (£5-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 3 (£5-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Highschool Of The Dead vol 1 (£10-50, Yen) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato
Bit of a treat next week as we have a review from the most erudite amongst us, young Jhelisa Taylor. Took her six bloody months, mind! Ah, that first year at university…