Reviews January 2011 week two


Pebble Island h/c (£10-00, Nobrow Press) by Jon McNaught.


Jonathan stole this from me, the bastard, but promises to review it properly next week.

Silent, serene, see for yourselves why I was excited and decide whether you’re £10 excited yourself from this rare exterior link: LINK


Oh, hold on:

Pebble Island h/c (£10-00, Nobrow Press) by Jon McNaught…

I thought the name Pebble Island rang a bell. Back in 1982 as a ten-year old-boy reading – amongst other things – my weekly slice of BATTLE ACTION, and being generally fascinated with all things war-related, I remember Pebble Island being on the television as part of the Falkland Islands. This, then, is a 38-page wordless graphic novel on some of author Jon McNaught’s memories of growing up there. Nothing whatsoever to do with the war, I should add, instead two rather genteel stories (excepting one firework) about life on a very quiet island.

The art is truly beautiful, perfectly capturing the scenery and isolation, in black and primarily light shades of red and blue. A mixture of solid shading, dots and fine lines which make the simplicity of a bicycle ride through a sunny shower of rain just pure joy to witness.

The downside is the price. If it were £4.99 I’d be encouraging people to snap it up, but however lovely this book most certainly is, it’s a bit difficult to justify the price for 38 pages.

[Objet d’art, darling, objet d’art – ed.]

Shop link: LINK


The Girl And The Gorilla (£7-99, Blank Slate) by Madéleine Flores.

“My story was rejected. I worked so hard on it. And in return I get a letter saying: Your submission was dreadful. Refrain from ever contacting us again.”

Which is less than encouraging, I grant you, but some times it’s unavoidable. You can’t go round publishing books just because the author is pretty.

Aurelie is an aspiring writer who’s just had a knock and is having a little wallow. Neil is a Gorilla unimpressed with self-pity. He is, in fact, a writing Gorilla from the town of Creativity where Aurelie now finds herself under the tutelage of Leonardo Da Vinci. In order to rekindle her courage and set her back on track it’s decided that a book hunting party is in order as part of a tour of the Literary Forest.

It’s at this point I should be describing Creativity in all its multi-faceted magnificence, and I would have been delighted to had Madéleine displayed any. This isn’t Lucien’s Library.

Instead it’s all so painfully thin and woefully lacklustre in execution. We meet but one writer and one artist briefly from the thousands Flores could have played with and a whole page, for example, is given over to a map of the Literary Forest which contains no more than Classic Forest, Short-Story Thicket, Poetry Lake, Fantasy Mountains and Mystery Jungle. That appears to be your lot for literature, I’m afraid; the names aren’t even alluring. There’s an ABC plot whereby Neil is supposed to have been kidnapped (he has been, but we’re given no evidence to back up the assertion – he could have just gone off in another huff) which we’re told spells doom for the town, and the culprit is quickly identified as Herr Schnurbad from The Artist Block which begins to take over, growing a whole inch tall. Terrifying.

There’s simply no grasp here of how to use the medium: how to attract the eye, impress the mind – even a little mind – or stoke the imagination. Would it have been too much trouble to show what should have been Writer’s Block looming large and eating up the page? Apparently so.

I regret writing a review so far from encouraging, but some times it’s unavoidable. You can’t go round publishing books just because the author is pretty.


Skibber Bee-Bye restocks (£12-99) by Ron Regé Jr –

One of those books that get tagged as the first great graphic novel of the new millennium, something that will still hold up in a decade’s time. His idiosyncratic renderings kow-tow to no style except his own.

It’s a chunky little book, about six inches square and about an inch thick, mostly black & white but with a couple of excursions into simple, pencilled colour for a few sections. Siblings housed high up in an extravagant treehouse are visited by a cake-baking pachyderm, intent on winning the affections of the highly inventive sister. She dreams up inventions for the apparently harmless, cycloptic fairies who populate the woods. Regé sticks with his formal design, allowing no space between the panel borders, and his monofilament clear-line style can take a while to penetrate as your eyes get used to the rhythm of his simple circle and square imagery. Regé, a happy resident of the space between Panter and Beyer without too much of the (here, unnecessary) edgy claustrophobia those two titans draw, has produced an unnerving tale that threatens to go anywhere but where you will it to. 

“One of a handful of cartoonists in the history of the medium to not only reinvent comics to suit his own idiosyncratic impulses and inspirations as an artist, but to also imbue it with his own peculiar, ever-changing emotional energy” – Chris Ware

“Lucid, meticulous, ‘authentic’, beautifully designed and slightly nuts” – Daniel Clowes

“This has left grown men feeling like steak under that tenderising mallet: raw.” – Tom Rosin



Dodgem Logic #7 (£3-50)

“Spawned from his hometown of Northampton in the English Midlands, based upon the reasoning that one recession-hit and rundown urban disaster area is much the same as any other, Alan Moore proudly presents his bi-monthly and counter-cultural extravaganza DODGEM LOGIC. Bringing the subterranean vitality and colour of last century’s underground press into the present day, each issue is a lovingly-produced haphazard masterpiece of seventy-two content-crammed full colour pages with no ads and no restraints imposed on its illustrious contributors. These include a number of expansive articles, new writings and even laboriously-rendered comic art from Moore himself, along with regular delights from more accomplished visual luminaries such as Kevin O’Neill, Savage Pencil, ace photographer Mitch Jenkins, psychedelic sybarites John Coulthart and Melinda Gebbie, and a host of others. The latest issue is scheduled to include Dick Foreman discussing the musician Michael Furley, The Alabama 3 covering R.D. Laing and his eccentric Therapy practices, Kurt Amacker talking about homelessness in New Orleans plus a whole lot more as well as contributions from regulars Josie Long, Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Steve Aylett, Melinda Gebbie and Robin Ince. You cannot afford to miss a single issue.”


SLH (sort of!)

Buffy The Vampire: Tales oversized h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Becky Cloonan, Jane Espenson, more & P. Craig Russell, Leinil Francis Yu, Gene Colan, Tim Sale, Ted Naifeh, Vasilis Lolos, Sean Phillips, more.

Huge, heavy, bigger-than-A-4 hardcover collection of stories featuring vampires and Slayers throughout the ages, written and drawn by some not inconsiderable talent.

Joss Whedon pops up everywhere, for example, his short story ‘Stacy’ illustrated by Cameron Stuart, wittily elevating the Orcs of fiction from mindless brutes to hive-minded brothers as seen from the newly awakened perspective of a similarly connected young vampire.

Gene Colan’s pages in pencil, coloured by Dave Stewart, are among some of the finest I’ve seen whilst Vatche Mavlian as coloured with a refreshing restraint by Michelle Madsen presents us with a Jack The Ripper tale that’s positively Wrightson-esque.

But the first of two stand-out pieces for me comes from Jane Espenson and P. Craig Russell (Sandman: Dream Hunters, Gaiman’s MURDER MYSTERIES, and his swoonaway art book). Russell’s perfect for the stately home of lace, stucco and stuck-up aristos as a grand ball is held in Somersetshire, England, in 1813. It’s a pretty sharp stab at Jane Austen (certainly more successful than any of the actual adaptations!) complete with social boundaries, negotiated etiquette, precision dialogue (like precision bombing, devastatingly delivered) and, necessarily, the presumptions of character which turn out to be entirely at odds with what eventually transpires.

The second, scripted by Becky Cloonan and illustrated by Vasilis Lolos (half of the team behind the nightmarish PIXU), is set very much in the present or at least the near future when, post-SEASON EIGHT, vampires have been revealed to the public to the extent that one is a reality TV star! ‘The Thrill’ refers to the only kicks young Jacob can get in his black-hole town, getting sucked off (at the neck) by the local vampire gang. “I just want to feel something”.

There’s a neatly played opening scene in which you’re initially unsure whether Jacob is referring to the arcade game he’s playing or a real ass-kicking, but it’s another ass-kicking that’s going to change his life, perspective and part in the pecking order.

Overwhelmingly the tales here are far from obvious and, just so you know, the book reprints TALES OF THE SLAYERS trade paperback, TALES OF THE VAMPIRES #1-5, the BROKEN DJINN one-shot, ‘Dames’ from the DRAWING ON YOUR NIGHTMARES HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, THE THRILL one-shot and ‘Carpe Noctem’ from Myspace DHP.


Greysuit: Project Monarch (£13-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & John Higgins…

Hmm, I never read this first time around in 2000AD (from 2007-9), but it’s not bad actually, albeit a little rough around the edges as weekly serialised material can sometimes be. Essentially MACH 1 updated for our über-cynical, conspiracy-theory era, as we uncover the barbarity, and depravity, behind the British Government’s covert operative program. The Greysuits, as they are known, are emotionally damaged people plucked from the streets, and then damaged considerably further through a cocktail of drugs complimented by extreme psychological torture, all with the aim of inducing heightened physical and mental abilities. Oh, and also ensuring complete brainwashed obedience, of course. Except in our hero’s case, he’s starting to remember certain things his handlers would rather he didn’t. And he’s not too happy about it. Cue much destruction and payback all round etc. It’s Jason Bourne-esque, non-stop action throughout, though even more unbelievable, and occasionally reminded me in places of THE INVISIBLES and 100 BULLETS, though it certainly isn’t of that calibre. If 2000AD was more consistently full of strips like this, though, I’d certainly be reading it much more avidly.


Zomnibus (£18-99, IDW) by Shane McCarthy, El Torres, Chris Ryall & Chris Bolton, Enrique Lopez Lorenzana, Yair Herrera, Ashley Wood…

Three rather different zombie tales making for an interesting if somewhat eclectic omnibus. The first story features a group of cops and chain-ganged-up bad guys forced to seek refuge in a sleepy town when their transport bus overturns in an accident. Cue zombies. I’m not sure who I’d rather have to bump into in a dark alley if I had to choose to be honest, the zombies or this bunch of bad guys: they’re both equally vile albeit in different ways. There’s one white-power prisoner in particular, replete with forehead swastika tattoo, who is so odious you’re just willing him to get munched on with every turn of every single page.

Story two features life in a survivor’s camp, post-zombie apocalypse. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, being one step away from anarchy and mob rule despite the presence of a few token soldiers. Inevitably zombies attack the camp and the soldiers decide to look after themselves making a very sharp exit indeed, leaving a most incongruous bunch of people to try and stop arguing long enough to make good their own escape.

And then we have the 150 pages of so of mayhem that is Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood’s COMPLETE ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS. This omnibus is worth it for these pieces alone, rendered in Wood’s unique style. Obviously one can’t ever take zombies stories too seriously, but these definitely aren’t meant to be, as Ryall pits brainless undead versus surprisingly stupid artificial intelligence. And there are some very naive Amazons later on too just for good measure! Overall £18-99 represents excellent value for 380 pages of full colour horror with a good amount of black humour thrown in.


Spider-Man: Origin Of the Species h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Paul Azaceta.

“You talk too much.”
“You should see my Twitter feed.”

Waid and Azaceta have already proved themselves fine collaborators on the BRAND NEW DAY series (THE GAUNTLET: ELECTRO) and this too swings along at an electrifying pace as Dr. Octopus and a Sinister man in silhouette hire a rogue’s gallery of spider-foes to abduct the newborn baby of Norman Osborn and his son’s girlfriend in order to extract its DNA.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Osborn fell in love with Lily unaware that his father had already got his hooks into her when she stumbled on a secret stash of the Green Goblin formula that turned her into a societal Menace. Less inadvertently Norman Osborn then sank his teeth in too by getting her pregnant: he shagged the woman due to marry Harry, which isn’t generally the role occupied by a loving father. (See SPIDER-MAN: AMERICAN SON.)

Now: Harry and Mary Jane are merrily embarrassing Peter in front of his potential new girlfriend when a heavily pregnant Lily in the form of Menace (think grey Green Goblin in desperate need of a pumice stone) crashes into the coffee shop followed by Electro, Sandman, Tombstone, the Rhino, Shocker, Mysterio, the Vulture and more. Not one of them gets served. Instead Doc Ock duly delivers the baby (hey, you’d go into labour too at that point, even if you’re a guy) which Spider-Man snatches and runs.

With New York’s finest under the impression that he’s kidnapped the child, Spidey spends exhausting hours mere seconds ahead of the posse in pursuit, desperately trying to place the kid into safer hands then lure the villains away with a decoy. Reversal after reversal as each super-creep uses their unique abilities in ways that fool Peter – and I suspect will fool you – each and every time. It’s excruciatingly tense, diabolically clever, and I have deliberately omitted one key villain who’s played a major role over the last year, who’ll really yank your chain now. Also, one key revelation.

Visually there are either conscious or sub-conscious nods to Ross Andru’s art, or maybe it’s pure coincidence. I always loved Ross Andru so I really don’t care. There’s also a Little Red Riding Hood riff on The Lizard that you’re left to spot on your own. Or maybe I’m really imagining things today.

For a reading order of all AMAZING SPIDER-MAN books post-Straczysnki, please see use the family tree by clicking on ‘superheroes’, ‘Marvel’, ‘Spider-Man’, then the relevant alphabetical pages. On the other hand all those previous books are summarized in thirty-two illustrated pages at the back, should you wish to make this your first. Also, big bunch o’ covers.


Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne.

“If that was a fist that hit me, I don’t think I want to see the body it’s attached to.”

Reprinting #111-121 in full, affordable colour, this is the real beginning of the finest X-MEN run until Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis hit town mere years ago. It’s where I started on the new team, anyway.

Finding the Mansion abandoned like the Marie Celeste, The Beast deserts his post at Avengers Mansion to discover that Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and the Banshee have been brainwashed into working at a Carny. Defeated and finally abducted by their worst nightmare whom they’re completely unready for, the whole team finds itself trapped under a volcano in the Savage Land. Jean Grey and the Beast are then separated from the rest whom they believe to be dead, whilst the core team tries to make its way across the globe via Japan and Canada. Unfortunately this journey, forever impeded along the way, separates Scott and Jean for far too long, and someone starts getting a hold on her heart, mind and soul just when she’s at her most vulnerable. And powerful.

Byrne’s art is glorious here (give or take a zip-a-tone visor imposed on him by inker Terry Austin). He’s now fully absorbed his early influences (Neal Adams etc.), making him peerless at the time for neo-classical figure work. He also begins to incorporate the titles into ever more imaginative opening pages like Eisner (and later Cooke) did in THE SPIRIT and Bissette in SWAMP THING.

This new group of X-Men is still getting to know each other, work with each other and Logan in particular has a few secrets revealed in Canada whilst the extent of Jean’s capabilities grows increasingly worrying. The issue set under the volcano with the team unable to even speak let alone move or use their powers, humiliated by a mechanical nurse who treats them like babies, is torturingly tense, especially after each set-back; but when it explodes, it really explodes just like the volcano itself. What’s more Claremont had more subtlety and self-control back then, some scenes being left to speak for themselves as when Jean breaks the bad news to Charles. First appearance of Logan’s lady-love, Mariko. Also, guess who in Canada? Those surprises were beautifully played.

The only disappointing moments were the covers Byrne was passed over on in favour of Dave Cockrum, especially when Byrne drew covers like this one.



Essential Iron Man vol 2 reprint (£14-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin & Gene Colan, Johnny Craig, George Tuska.

The original Kirby design was a classic, wasn’t it? Broad tubes of metal and a bucket on the head. Quickly it went a bit spazmo with that yellow, twin-pointed, rivet-ridden faceplate, but here Colan presents a succession of villains with an Iron Man who really does look as if he’s made out of girders. It’s those thick, red shoulder hoops. The sheer weight of Colan’s figures leant the impression that he could probably lift or even eat steel girders if required.

And then there’s George Tuska… Unfortunately.



Avengers Assemble vol 1 (£25-99, Marvel) by Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, John Ostrander, Joe Edkins, Len Kaminski & George Perez, Sean Chen, Andy Kubert, Derec Aucoin, Carlos Pacheco.

Mostly it’s Busiek & Perez, though.

Sorcery, secrets and sub-plots. Big rosters, big names, big villains, and a few friends falling out very early on. There’s a roll call in public, subtle shifts in the line-up, and then there is George Perez, the definitive AVENGERS artist – alongside John Buscema – of its classic, bygone era.

Clearly, there couldn’t have been a heartier attempt to rekindle the finest elements in Avengers history back in 1997 until Brian Michael Bendis came along several years later and rewrote the rule book completely in AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED. Marvel even gave it a new #1, which was somewhat more of a novelty back then.

The older fanboys squealed. In fact I recall Gordon Davidson declaring at the counter that if there was anyone on the planet who didn’t think this was genius, then they were almost certainly gay. Oh, how we laughed! We did actually, though I’m not sure Gordon knew why.

So no, not exactly genius (!), but still I did admire its fun and the flash of George Perez’s insanely detailed, brightly coloured costumes because I too am a fanboy and, in particular, an Avengers fanboy. Its early Ultron storyline was actually pretty intense but that’s further down the line. For the moment I give you way too much at once in the midst of which:

The resurrection of Wonder Man in ionic form, consequent marital strife between an involuntarily intangible Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye disgruntled by the chain of command, Ms. Marvel disgraced by her secrets and lies, Squadron Supreme, Morgan Le Fay, Ultron’s head as an ashtray, a big Kree crossover and Agatha Harnkess’ house in Whisper Hill. Yes, this first book’s focus is most definitely on Wanda, the extent of her powers and their origins. Beside her stand Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Firestar and Vance Astro. And, for the first few issues, almost every single Avenger other than the Hulk. As Henry McCoy asks, “What are we going to do with 39 Avengers?”

Sold like crazy back then.



Also arrived:

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

Emitown (£18-99, Image) by Emi Lenox. Autobiographical diary entries. Lovin’ it! Jeffrey Brown, Jeff Lemire and Mike Allred all agree. Afterword by KING CITY’s Brandon Graham. More next week!
Salvatore vol 1: Transports Of Love (£10-99, NBM) by Nicolas De Crecy
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2: Chameleons s/c (UK Ed’n) (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente, Takeshi Miyazawa
Deadpool Team-Up vol 2: Special Relationship h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rob Williams, David Lapham, Frank Tieri, James Asmus, Jeff Parker & Matteo Scalera, Shawn Crystal, Chris Staggs, Micah Gunnell, Steve Sanders
Deadpool Corps: Prelude s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Victor  Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jaime Mendoza, Phillip Bond, Kyle Baker, Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco
Thor: Siege s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Billy Tan, Rich Elson, Doug Braithwaite, Jamie McKelvie, Niko Henrichon
Spawn: Endgame vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane, Brian Hoguin & Whilce Portacio
Magdalena: Origins vol 1 (£10-99, Top Cow) by Malachy Coney & Joe Benitez
Junjo Romantica vol 12 (£10-99, Blu) by Shungiku Nakamura
Gantz vol 15 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Starcraft: Ghost Academy vol 1 (£8-50,Tokyopop) by Keith R.A. Decandido & Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Starcraft: Ghost Academy vol 2 (£8-50,Tokyopop) by David Gerrold & Fernando Heinz Furukawa

Next week’s reviews to including brand-new second series of CASANOVA by Matt Fraction. Order #1 now direct from Err, please.


 – Stephen

One Response to “Reviews January 2011 week two”

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