Archive for February, 2011

Reviews February 2011 week four

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011


Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 (£14-99, Olympia) by Jeremy A. Bastian.

“What business does one so small have afloat those dark waves?”
“What was that? You may think me a spring shower, sir. But I’ve a hurricane in this heart that’d sink the Royal Fleet. So if your old bones would be so kind there’s a pirate here that needs to be squeezed through yer pretty door.”

What a refreshing, exuberant and intoxicating read! Jeremy A. Bastian, as if giddy on grog, liberates himself from all constraints – be they the laws of physics or so many comicbook formulae – to deliver a fantastical romp both above and below the Caribbean high seas which is so rich in detail that you’ll be scanning its nooks and crannies for hours. The lines are ridiculously fine yet as smooth as silk, as shrimp-strewn seaweed swirls to frame the pages or the Pirate Girl is lowered down the starboard hull of a galleon in a cage fashioned in the form of an enormous, ornate teapot. It’s not just ornate, this is bursting with inspiration and imagination, the pages populated by James Gillray grotesques, Sir John Tenniel hybrid creatures; and yes, while I’m think about it, there is more than a little of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical mischief here combined with the anarchy of Tony Millionaire (Maakies etc.), whilst the cluttered galleys and captain’s quarters o’erbrimming with jewel-encrusted treasures are delineated with fine lines as classy as Bernie Wrightson’s FRANKENSTEIN.

Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, David Petersen and Gary Gianni line up to praise the book’s originality as the Cursed Pirate Girl and parrot Pepper Dice take a deep breath and dive onto and into a fish, respectively, to journey underwater past fish made from whicker and squabbling swordfish siblings to rise in search of the girl’s missing father, one of five Captains sailing under the Jolly Roger flag in the Omerta Seas. Each ship they board presents a different challenge with new friends or foes, but the Cursed Pirate girl has boundless energy, a quick wit and at least one keen eye, while by the end of this first foray ‘x’ will mark the spot of the other.

SLH

Human Target vol 2: Second Chances (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & Cliff Chiang, Javier Pulido.

Christopher Chance is The Human Target, a man who lives other people’s lives in order to save them. If you’ve got a price on your head he’ll assume your identity just long enough to take out any striking hitman.

So lost is he in his work now that he has to use his not inconsiderable skills of impersonation – and a lot of prosthetics – to even look like Christopher Chance, because underneath it all he now has the face and wife of dead Frank White (see volume one).

Here he stumbles on a man who faked his own death in the chaos of September 11th, but who now wants his life back, his wife back, and to expose his old employers as the fraudsters they are. Messy. Chance is then persuaded to investigate the suicide of a baseball player who was being blackmailed into throwing games by high-stakes gamblers. To this end he has to take the identity of another baseball player, and although Chris is a crack actor, he’s never swung a bat in his life.

Complicating things even further he’s then persuaded into looking like Charlie Rivers who’s posing as John Charles and thinks Christopher Chance is actually Molloy, an active terrorist left-over from The Weathermen cell. Chance’s mission? Catch Molloy!

Yes, that is the sound of your brain shutting down. In terms of ingenuity of plot and slights of hand, this is one of the cleverest books on the market recommended to all fans of 100 BULLETS, THE KILLER and CRIMINAL. The final issue here played me for a fool. It’s a sly and subtle short in which Jim Grace escapes from prison, and Christopher agrees to buy him five days of freedom by keeping the cops chasing the wrong man while Jim gets some conjugal. And some extra-marital. And then some more. Guess prison makes you horny, eh? You have just been misdirected.

Bonus: art lesson from Cliff Chiang in the back.

LINK

SLH

Tyranny (£8-50, Tundra Books) by Lesley Fairfield.

An autobiographical account of one woman’s debilitating battle with anorexia and bulimia, there will be much here, I’m sure, to provide empathy to fellow suffers and explanations to their friends. It seems an almost hopeless, never-ending struggle once the conditioning and consequent condition sets in, and one thing that stood out for me amongst many was that it’s more about self-image – a misperception of what one’s own body actually looks like – than a desperate desire to impress potential suitors with one’s look. Even when Lesley’s emaciation, her basic lack of nutrition and energy, causes her to pass out and become painfully ill, it is only because of the kindness of strangers or persistent counselling that any progress is made in raising her self-awareness and then self-control, and even then there are setbacks aplenty.

The art is equally frail with thin lines and the faintest of shading, and the stark depiction of Lesley’s withered and sore existence, teetering on the edge of total collapse whilst desperately trying to keep up appearances and keep hold of her job, is startling.

Unlike Rosalind Penfold’s DRAGONSLIPPERS: THIS IS WHAT AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE, I’m not sure how much I learned from this, except that the warping of one’s self-image seems to start to take hold when the body changes during puberty and the natural, accompanying growth spurt is exaggerated by the eye of its beholder. Teenagers are pretty private people in the first place, parents’ strictures perceived as being unreasonable and out of all proportion, and here parental concern is met with an increasingly furtive determination to stave off the young body’s development. Tragically, she even manages to move out on her own.

“Catch it early on” is the advice for every medical condition, and I really do wish I’d read this before this week’s trip to advise 30 school librarians on stocking their shelves with graphic novels; this should be bought in all over the country and as soon as humanly possible because what it does share with DRAGONSLIPPERS is the same effect of holding up a mirror to those potentially unaware of their own plight, or the plight of their sons, daughters or pupils.

LINK

SLH

On The Line h/c (£9-99, Image) by Rick Wright & Rian Hughes.

“E-mail… multimedia…on-line shopping… the Internet… and now the World Wide Web. At last! I’m well and truly wired… Better put another 50p in the meter.”

Can you even imagine a world without Broadband now? It was almost like putting another 50p in the electricity meter. What I certainly cannot recall let alone imagine is what Page 45 was doing by way of online activity back in 1995 and 1996. I’ll have to ask Dominique. That’s the era this is from, by the way, in the form of four-panel advertisements for Compuserve disguised as gag strips for The Guardian newspaper. Compuserve was never mentioned by name, just the services it offered.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys…”

I can only imagine Compuserve paid through its nose, then, for never has there been such exquisite design work lavished on the gag strip than here, by font inventor, one-time Grant Morrison collaborator (DARE) and the man responsible for so many comicbook logos it’s not true. The characters themselves are determinedly flat, black, angular silhouettes with wide, expressive eyes; the male’s mouth scooped out in profile, his wife’s represented by a circle shot through with a curve. Everything’s been reduced to its purest, chic, almost symbolic self, putting me very much in mind of Woodrow Phoenix (SUGAR BUZZ, RUMBLE STRIP, both highly recommended, the first for insane laughs, the second for sober reflection on the way we drive our cars) with a dash of Shag. It’s exuberant, manic and colludes with its readership. Really, it’s as much of a social history document as anything else from; a time when googling was something that babies did and parents instantly imitated, and when most people thought that an e-mail was a man who hugged every stranger in town.

It’s small, it’s short, but thoroughly sweet with a two-page introduction by Rian Hughes himself.

SLH

5 Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth (£10-99, Andrews McMeel) by Matthew Inman.

“Did I mention I can juggle live animals? It’s quite a sight, especially when I do it with a bunch of pissed off wolverines.”

Working in this industry, it’s almost impossible to type ‘wolverine’ without a capital ‘w’. Go on, try it yourself. I had to correct that three times!

Another graphics-heavy but not-really-a-comic-at-all volume which Page 45 is happy to endorse given that it made me weep with recognition; laughter too, but also recognition.

It wasn’t so much ‘How To Tell If Your Velociraptor Is Having Pre-Marital Sex’ or ‘7 Reasons To Keep Your Tyrannosaur off Crack Cocaine’ (which is basic common sense) but ‘The 8 Phases Of Employment’, ‘ Six Types Of Crappy Hugs’, ‘How to Suck At Facebook’ and ‘Why I’d Rather Be Punched In The Testicles Than Call Customer Service’.

Jonathan in particular will be shaking his head in pained solidarity at ‘Why It’s Better To Pretend You Don’t Know Anything About Computers’ given what his father manages to do each time within minutes of owning one himself. Matthew speaks from experience as the small favours requested by relatives turn into larger ones:

“My computer is SO slow. Can you make it go faster? I’ve downloaded everything I’ve ever found on the internet, never once uninstalled a program, and my porn collection extends into the terabytes – but I think it’s all Microsoft’s fault.” Also, “Hey so this thing popped up and asked me if I wanted to download super_silly_funtime_and_free_tacos.exe. I installed it, of course! Who wouldn’t install that? But now I’ve got all these pop-ups and my mouse cursor is shaped like a can of refried beans – can you fix this?”

But I happen to know that Matthew used to be a website designer and having spent much time in conversation with our own genius, Chris Dicken, I can believe everything Inman says in ‘How A Web Design Goes Straight To Hell’. The first three steps from enthusiasm and recognition of a previous design’s shortcomings result in a brand-new, slick and fully functioning re-design… and are then systematically sabotaged by the client:

“So this design is perfect, but I’m CEO so I feel obligated to make changes to feel like I’ve done my job properly. Also, I’ll use phrases like “user experience” and “conversation orientated” to sound smart even though I barely know how to use a computer.” It gets a great deal worse before, “I’ve looped my mother into this conversation. She designed a bake sale flyer back in 1982, so you could say she has an “eye” for design.” “The design you put together needs some brighter colours; it’s too gloomy. Perhaps a little pink. Throw in a kitten, too. Everyone loves kittens!”

Even this Matthew did not make up:

“OK so my dog, Miffles, is a big deal. He’s basically the most important part of my life. I want you to add “stream of consciousness” copy to the web page, where it’s like Miffles is talking to the user. I’ll send you a few pages of narration of what Miffles is probably thinking about, such as I love tasty treats!” and “Hello, welcome to my website! I am a god and you should shake my paw! LOL.”

Originally posted on http://theoatmeal.com/, some sections are curiously informative with grammar lessons, spelling lessons, talks about cheese (learn why lactose intolerance is not another form of bigotry) and… what is it with everyone and Nikola Tesla at the moment? No, I’m with them – everyone should know about Tesla – but why now all of a sudden? Inman uses lots of different visual styles to keep it appealing. As a bonus there’s a big fold-out poster we can all relate to called ‘Why I Believe Printers Were Sent From Hell to Make Us Miserable’. Amongst the very many reasons:

“All printers come with a bonus feature where they’ll not only print on paper, but crunch it up for you as well. You’re lured in by the fact that the printer is so cheap. It probably has sleek surfaces and every feature is described with an exclamation point.
PRINTAMAX INKJET 2000!
IT PRINTS ON PAPER!
HAS A POWER BUTTON!
HAS A THING THAT LIGHTS UP!
You may even buy one of those scanner/printer fax combos, which means it will suck really hard at three things rather than just one.
Error Messages. I’ve come to believe that my printer produces cryptic error messages simply by using words like “load” and “tray” and arranging them randomly.
SPOOL ERROR: LOAD TRAY ERROR 2 UR MOM’S MOUTH HAHAHAHA.
Ink Cartridges. Either printer ink is made from unicorn blood or we’re all getting screwed. Biro (ink contained in plastic) $0.15. Ink Cartridge (ink contained in plastic) $25.
Ink Colours. Aside from getting gouged by ink cartridges that cost more than the printers themselves, what’s really aggravating is when your printer refuses to work unless all the colours are fully stocked.
ERROR Unable to print SomeBlackAndWhiteDocument.doc
Because your printer is currently out of Cyan.”

Aaaarrrrggghhhhh!

LINK

SLH

Big Nate: From The Top (£7-50, Andrews McMeel) by Lincoln Pierce.

“Teddy! Where were you this morning during homeroom?”
“What? Wait a minute! You can’t think I stole Francis’ money?”
“Everyone’s a suspect! Why, the very first person I interviewed was myself! … And I must say, I found me fascinating.”
“I think we knew that already.”

He’s nailed me, hasn’t he?

Just like PEANUTS and BOONDOCKS, this is a syndicated newspaper strip whose focus is on precociously world-wise tykes in infant school for whom self-awareness either strikes like lightning with disastrous results or fails to make an appearance at all. Arguments with teachers, a battle of wits in the playground, and the overriding codes of youthful honour. Here we are on the school bus:

“Good morn –“
“Dibs.”
“Huh?”
“I called dibs.”
“On what?”
“On everything. Forever.”
Wait a minute!”
“You’re in my seat.”

Not something we’d have bought in ourselves as I don’t know the strip from Adam, but Richard Fortey from Simon & Schuster who has done wonders for us otherwise (he gave me JESUS ON THYFACE, for example, and now we art bless-ed by the Son of God himself!) offered me a copy and we thought we’d try it out to see if anyone bites. If you do, we can quickly stock up on prior volumes, then I will pretend that I was always an expert.

SLH

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

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

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

Uber-prestigious Morning Glory Academy, however, makes Packwood look like a holiday camp. It looks magnificent on the outside, but once inside things grow increasingly disturbing for our new batch of fresh-faced pupils. In fact all six of them somehow dozed off on the chauffeured journey there, so they haven’t a clue where they are and when one of them phones home, her Dad grows increasingly irate at what he takes to be a prank because he doesn’t even have a daughter. Oh, and it’s everyone’s sixteenth birthday. Weird. Now the phones have stopped working, there is no internet access and although one of the pupils does see her parents once more, she won’t be doing so again.

I love everything Nick Spencer’s done to this point: Forgetless, EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0, SHUDDERTOWN and especially INFINITE VACATION #1 (restocks in), but although there’s a lot going on here and so much still left hanging for us to discover, this is his first project which hasn’t entirely convinced me yet. I’m not convinced by the children’s reactions to the terrors inflicted upon them (near-drowning, being chased by goons with guns, electric torture…) which seem relatively equanimous (equanimous: new word learned from Madness’ Dust Devil track!); I’m not convinced by the two-dimensionally wicked teachers and nurses, their behaviour towards the pupils or to each other; and I’m not overly convinced by the timing of and between certain sequences. It… meanders.

We are, however, dealing with some sort of reality shifts and it may all come together including the brief sequence set in 1490 where someone who looks just like Zoe or Julie is incarcerated in Spain – or at least somewhere they speak Spanish. And given the final revelation which took me by surprise at the very end of this first volume it may be that Zoe, Julie and the 15th Century girl are supposed to look identical. Or it may be that the artist has a limited range in hair and faces. I just don’t know, because it’s the first time my faith has faltered.

I’ll be back, of course, because this is Nick Spencer and this appears to be his first long-form project. How long it will be, I don’t know, but I suspect the pupils may be getting their hopes up if they believe that “The hour of our release draws near.”

SLH

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers oversized h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Esad Ribic.

“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? …I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”
 - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

Loki the Deceiver wasn’t so much Thor’s half-brother as adopted sibling. All he craved was affection; what he received instead were careless dismissals or, from others, outright hostility. Tragically, defensively, the young boy reacted in kind and so began a vicious, accelerating cycle which he tried to reach out from and break, but something always went wrong.

Even now that he has conquered all of Asgard and enslaved the God of Thunder, when Hela, Goddess of Death, demands Thor’s execution Loki risks all to thwart her, but history has a habit of repeating itself…
Surprisingly affecting insight into the heart and soul of the embittered trickster god, accompanied by speeches that successfully evoke the required sense of the arcane as opposed to the traditional Marvel Norse hogwash. Add to this the ultimate in post-Frazetta fantasy art, and you have a book tailor-made for the mythologists, role-players and Hobbit-botherers out there. The scenery is monumental and Loki’s twisted, gnarled, and constantly snarling face comes with bloodshot eyes and a goblin-like, gap-toothed mouth that’s exquisitely repulsive.

But crucially there are the moments of quiet introspection like Loki rising in the cold light of dawn on the day of Thor’s execution to reflect with regret on what he has lost.

“Over all the millennia, only you have ever loved me, Thor, only you have ever looked at me with affection in place of condescension. Why, then, am I killing you, and not the others?

“Because you stopped.”

It’s possibly the best Thor story out there and heartily recommended to anyone looking forward to Kieron Gillen’s new series of JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY starting in April 2011.

This new, oversized incarnation comes with extra material including the original series pitch, full-colour character studies, unused cover sketches (they really should release a pencils-only version of this because Ribic’s shading is a joy) and the relatively recent THOR #12 ‘Diversions And Misdirections’ by Straczynski & Coipel, then JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY #85 and a bit of #112, both by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

SLH

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 5 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

“Reed Richards, the only man in the world ever to defeat me, getting married today! This is my greatest chance for revenge – now, when he will least expect it! My attack must be foolproof, irresistible, all-powerful! Only by scoring the greatest victory of all time can I wipe out the humiliation of the past!”

God, it was only a game of Tiddlywinks. Or was it strip-Tiddlywinks? Was your winkle tiddly, Victor?

Weddings: always some trouble and strife. Traditionally that is the end result unless you’re left at the altar. What’s the cockney for left at the altar? Rocked in Gibraltar?

“Sue – my darling!”
“We’re married at last! And nothing will ever part us, my beloved!”

Yeah, not so much really. It’s not the supervillains who get in the way, although an awful lot of them try on the big day itself: Mr. Hyde, the Mandarin, the Mole Man, the Skrulls; the Red Ghost, the Black Knight, the Grey Gargoyle, the Pink Panther; the Puppet Master, the Mad Thinker, the Human Top, the Alien Bottom; Kang The Conqueror, Attuma the tuna and the pungent Masters Of Evil. Each and every one is “summoned” by Vicky Von Doom only to be dispatched by the most dysfunctionally dressed guest list in marital history consisting of the Avengers, the X-Men, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Daredevil and Spider-Man. At least Nick Fury and Charles Xavier bring their tuxedos. No, the real culprit, as we will discover over the next five decades, is Reed “I’ve got a test tube and I’m not afraid to let it obsess me for months before I actually get around to using it” Richards.

“Don’t get too near them, darling – !”
“Stop sounding like a wife and find me that gun, lady!”

“Reed! Look at you! You haven’t even shaved! And you must be starved!” 
“For the love of Pete, girl! Is that what you disturbed me for?”

So much for the honeymoon period.

The wedding aside this is one long epic which begins with magenta-maned Medusa of the Frightful Four being frightfully forward with Ben then awfully backward in addressing her roots. By which I mean her brethren, the Inhumans, revealed here for the first time and determined that they should all return whence they came, sequestered away in the Himalayan Great Refuge. But netting the human hairdo means venturing out themselves which is when Johnny Storm first spies Crystal and promptly falls head over heels in love with the one woman he can’t have… for now.

It’s one of the most fertile FF eras with the introduction also of the Silver Surfer, Galactus and even Wyatt Wingfoot, and it’s here you will learn how the Surfer comes to be stranded in exile on Earth, how he attracts the attention of The Thing’s girlfriend Alicia, and what the true nature of the Ultimate Nullifier is other than a device evidently used on an infant Johnny Storm’s brain.

On a visual front it’s immediately striking whenever Joe Sinnott’s on inks, and there are some cracking covers including a sunset scene anticipating Galactus and a most unusual choice in browns on #50’s. Also, although Galactus’ now traditional purple attire is adopted in #49, moments earlier in #58 he’s clad more like an early Wonderman at a Transformers fancy dress party. Colour coordination is so very important.

LINK

SLH

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

“They put the Green Goblin in charge of national security! They made Bullseye an Avenger! They spat on everything we ever fought for. And now I’m the bad guy?!”
“Yes.”

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

Matt Murdock sought leadership of the ninja-stuffed Hand in order to prevent the Kingpin from seizing control and to subvert the organisation from within: to bring light to its less than jocular fist. Unfortunately the reaction was equal and opposite.

A demon has seized control of both Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen’s residents. A riot erupts, Foggy Nelson and Dakota North are caught in its centre and poor Becky Blake, bound to a wheelchair, is trapped in a Brownstone in flames. Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Moon Knight, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Shang-Chi and Elektra do what they can for Matt and for sales, but it doesn’t end well, I can tell you.

The bifurcation of a storyline to this degree is a relatively new (unwise and unwelcome) development in these superhero soap operas. In the past ‘events’ like CIVIL WAR have worked differently. Other books like Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War may experience their own repercussions, whilst ROAD TO CIVIL WAR might give you a little more perspective, but CIVIL WAR itself was completely self-contained. I’ve not read Blackest Night and Green Lantern: Blackest Night, so can’t tell you with any authority whether they can be read separately, but I suspect not. I can tell you for certain that HULK VOL 5: FALL OF THE HULKS and INCREDIBLE HULK VOL 2: FALL OF THE HULKS was an unintelligible mess.

So here is the good news: SHADOWLAND works on its own. Sure, you won’t witness Murdock’s gradual disintegration over Bendis and Brubaker’s sterling runs on DAREDEVIL, nor the way he’s been pushed to the limits by Osborn in Diggle and Johnston’s DAREDEVIL:  THE DEVIL’S HAND. Plus there are bits missing, like Foggy Nelson’s ascension of the castle and the whole heart of the matter (“A riot erupts, Foggy Nelson and Dakota North are caught in its centre and poor Becky Blake, bound to a wheelchair, is trapped in a Brownstone in flames.”) which is the plight of Matt’s former friends under his illegitimate, unilateral declaration of martial law on Hell’s Kitchen. For that – and indeed for art far more in keeping with the last decade’s tone – you’ll need Antony Johnston’s imminent DAREDEVIL: SHADOWLAND. But if you’re a fighting woman or man and you want front seats to the key events here like the final fate of Bullseye and the Kingpin playing that hidden ace up his sleeve, you’ll do perfectly fine with this. A neat trick under the circumstances.

SLH

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

“We always have choices, Foggy. And Matt just threw all of his away.”

The final few issues to Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston’s stint on DAREDEVIL which run in parallel with Shadowland itself.

It kicks off straight after the Shadowland’s opening shocker as Foggy Nelson, Dakota North and Becky witness CCTV footage of their best friend doing the unthinkable, albeit to his worst enemy. Desperately Foggy flails around, trying to find something – anything – that would at least explain if not excuse Matt’s actions. The man has faith and no friend could ask for more; but for the others it may prove too much.

Recap: Matt Murdock sought leadership of the ninja-stuffed Hand in order to prevent the Kingpin from seizing control and to subvert the organisation from within: to bring light to its less than jocular fist. Unfortunately the reaction was equal and opposite. A demon has seized control of both Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen’s residents. A riot erupts, Foggy Nelson and Dakota North are caught in its centre and poor Becky Blake, bound to a wheelchair, is trapped in a Brownstone in flames.

This is the view from street level, just as it should be, and as such the book as a whole – its perspective, dialogue and art – is so much more in keeping with Bendis’ and Brubaker’s contribution. It’s about the impact on Matt’s nearest and dearest, and the most extraordinary thing is that this too can be read with complete coherence on its own. Its ingenuity is astonishing: the CCTV footage was exactly right, whilst the mystery left in the wake of the climax and Matt’s subsequent fate, unseen here, is perfect. They’re lost, they’re bewildered and they’re battered beyond belief. They have taken such a bloody knocking and this is the final straw. All that remains is for Ben Urich, the reporter whom Murdock first made privy to his secret, to hear Matt’s final confession.

Crucially you’ll discover exactly how Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Master Izo, Elektra and even Typhoid Mary came to be where they were during the big bust-up. Meanwhile, once more, the artists have done ‘em proud. Some scenes are truly haunting, like the mist-enshrouded, moonlit Japanese castle in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen towering up in the midnight sky as glimpsed between the confines of hard metal railings below; or the toxic double-page spread of the fallen heroes, worthy of Alex Maleev himself.

In all honesty, how brave would it have been simply to print this book on its own, so that you never do know like the protagonists here, exactly what finally befell the man without fear? That would have been enormously cool.

Please read this first. Reprinting SHADOWLANDS: AFTER THE FALL one-shot, it is also the final word on a title that has now ceased to be.

SLH

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

Yes, this is more like it! This feels far more like ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE & TWO than anything since, partly because it’s Millar writing from the original team’s point of view rather than the Black Ops unit now headed by Fury. Also, although stylistically worlds apart from Bryan Hitch, Leinil Yu still has a breath-taking sense of scale and has grown completely at ease with the quieter, tender moments in people’s personal lives, which we haven’t seen anything of during the last three mini-series. Or, you know, ULTIMATES 3 (ugh!).

The international Super-Soldier race is now truly on, and there appears to be a traitor in their midst because there’s human cargo being exchanged. Oh yes, and the Triskelion has been teleported into Iran.

“What about the locals? Do they realise this was an accident?”
“Are you kidding? The Triskelion is the ultimate symbol of American power. They might as well have beamed the Pentagon over here. They’re declaring this an act of war. We’ve got ten days to get out.”

This, according to Bendis, is the flip-side to ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN’s ‘Death of Spider-Man’ storyline. Don’t know how it ties in yet – it seems like something else entirely. I’m just pleased my favourite superhero comic is back.

SLH

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

“Treated myself to a manicure (toes only for obvious reasons). I was reading Guns + Ammo in the nail bar and it struck me how many articles were about 9mm weapons. Beretta, Glock, Sig-Sauer, Heckler + Koch – it was 9mm this, 9mm that, there wasn’t a single mention of a .34 or .45. What on earth’s the point of having twice as many bullets it you have to use three times as many to actually put someone down? Honestly.”

I think a garage mechanic may recently have enraged Mr. Ennis, either by leching over his wife or else overcharging them for some minor pimpage. For such is the second target here of model housewife Jennifer who tucks her kids in at night before donning a wig and going off like a grenade in whichever backyard she fancies, introducing local criminals to Mr. MP5 and his 10mm children. Her own kids are sedated, of course, but that’s de rigueur these days, helping to make Prozac a household name.

The art, like Robertson’s on Garth Ennis’ BOYS, is appropriately sturdy, though Ennis insists that compared to THE BOYS, this is just a bit of fun. What distinguishes this from the average lethal vigilante series is the voice, a series of diary entries in which Jennifer mulls over her methods with ridiculously reasonable detachment and a signature shrug of mild despair.

Honestly.

SLH

Mistress Fortune (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura.

“Why are girls always dieting?! Kisaki’s boobs… Her cup size… IS NEARLY HALF AN INCH SMALLER THAN BEFORE!!”

Good grief, that this should arrive the same week as TYRANNY

Pink. This is very, very pink. If the insides weren’t black and white they too would be the colour of wedding-cake frosting. You know, if the wedding cake frosting was pink.

Fourteen-year-old Kisaki is a PSI agent partnered to Giniro, taking on aliens (read: Pokemon) using their psychic powers. Together they are Mistress Fortune! Kisaki’s attention, however, is firmly focussed on Giniro whom she adores, but with whom she’s not allowed to share personal information like phone numbers or email addresses. Because. Just because. Giniro’s also pretty focussed on Kisaki – or at least two aspects of her – so she really needn’t worry unless she wants to be loved for what passes for her mind.

So what does this have to recommend it? Next question, please!

Actually, in spite of the relatively innocent ogling of boobage, this might give a youngster a bit of a sugar-buzz thrill. They shout enough when they go into battle. I could have done without the constantly irritating Pikachu substitute, though, who even gets his own short story in the back, trying to keep down a job without blowing up entire city blocks.

LINK

SLH

I’m not proud to put my name to that review.

Also arrived:

(Usual rules apply: s/c reviews may already be up, others will follow next week!)

The Man Who Clapped (£5-00) by Tanya Meditzky & Matt Abbiss
The Chronicles Of Kull vol 4 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Alan Zelenetz, Doug Moench, Bruce Jones, April Campbell & John Buscema, Danny Bulanadi, John Bolton, Bob Wiacek, Dan Green, Joe Chiodo
Scalped vol 7: Rez Blues (£13-50, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & Danijel Zezelj, Davide Furno, R.M. Guera
Grimm Fairy Tales: Different Seasons (£13-50, Zenescope) by Joe Brusha, Raven Gregory, Ralph Tedesco & Axel Machain
Judge Dredd Casefiles 17 (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Garth Ennis & Greg Staples, Ian Gibson, Steve Dillon, Simon Coleby, Peter Doherty, Carlos Ezquerra, Sean Phillips, Yan Shimony, Chris Halls, Dean Ormston
Hellblazer: Pandemonium s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano & Jock
Ghost Projekt vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston
The Stand: Hardcases h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins, Laura Martin
Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago vol 3 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by Archie Goodwin, David Michelinie, Chris Claremont & Walter Simonson, Tom Palmer, Carmine Infantino, more
Zita The Spacegirl (£8-50, FirstSecond) by Ben Hatke
Freakangels vol 5 (£14-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield
Tank Girl: The Royal Escape (£12-99, IDW) by Alan Martin & Rufus Dayglo
Shadowland: Thunderbolts h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Declan Shalvey, Kev Walker
Astonishing X-Men vol 6: Exogenetic s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez
Spider-Woman: Agent Of S.W.O.R.D. s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants: Mutants vs. Vampires h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Chuck Kim, Simon Spurrier, Duane Swierczynski, James Asmus, Christopher Sequeira, Peter David, Rob Williams, Mike Benson, Howard Chaykin, Mike W. Barr, Chris Claremont & Chris Bachalo, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Tim Green, Tom Raney, Sana Takeda, Mick Bertilorenzi, Doug Braithwaite, Mark Texeira, Howard Chaykin, Agustin Padilla, Bill Sienkiewicz
Shadowland: Street Heroes h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Layman, Zeb Wells, Rob Williams, Jason Henderson, Dan Slott & Sean Chen, Emma Rios, Clayton Crain, Ivan Rodriguez, Paulo Siqueira
X-Men Legacy: Collision h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Tom Raney
Invincible Iron Man vol 5: Stark Resilient Book 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
Justice League: Rise And Fall h/c (£18-99, DC) by J.T.Krul & Federico Dallocchio, Geraldo Borges
Warcraft: Shadow Wing vol 2: Nexus Point (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Richard A. Knaak & Jae-Hwan Kim
Starcraft: Ghost Academy vol 3 (£8-50,Tokyopop) by David Gerrold & Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Dragon Heir: Reborn vol 1 (£7-00, Sweatdrop Studios) by Emma Vieceli
7 Billion Needles vol 3 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano
Crimson Snow (£10-99, Blu) by Hori Tomoki
Unknown Soldier vol 3: Dry Season (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli

Quick note: next week’s reviews for once will almost certainly go up on Thursday rather than Wednesday around 8pm. On Wednesday Jonathan and I will be out on the piss with Dame Bryan of Talbotshire following this:

Nottingham Wednesday 2nd March 5.00pm 

“Grandville and the Anthropomorphic Tradition.”

Slide-show presentation by Bryan Talbot followed by signing and sketching for free! We will be there with books, don’t you worry; you just bring your lovely lolly. Open to the public and free of charge. Room A46 of the Trent Building at the University of Nottingham on the University Park campus, NG7. The Trent Building is the great big white jobbie with the clock tower, overlooking the lake and next to the Student Union building. If in doubt, ask: everyone’s very friendly there since Tom Paulin left.

Directions and maps: LINK.

GRANDVILLE volumes one and two: LINK & LINK

If you have any questions about that at all, please ask!

 - Stephen

2010: Look Left

Sunday, February 20th, 2011


How was 2010 for you, then?

It’s one thing to finally get rid of a Prime Minister who was the epitome of anticlimax after craving the position for so long, who squandered his reputation for prudence with a predisposition for dithering and displeasing all, and who traded his sterling accomplishments like the minimum wage for lingering overlong in a limelight he so evidently loathed… or which startled him… or which he was so ill-equipped for…

But to have seen what looked overwhelmingly in the polls like the prospect of a sane Liberal leadership (“I really think that tuition fees are wrong”) turn into another lapdog to pudding-faced Cameron like Blair was to Bush…. it is to weep. Especially if you’re a student.

Please don’t get me wrong, Los Bros Miliband are a refreshing pair far more into love than rockets as Ed’s unequivocal statements condemning the illegal invasion of Iraq makes almost astonishingly clear. But neither of them is in power. One’s walked away, and the other won’t be with us in time to save thousands of jobs, most of them in the public sector here after Nottingham City Council squandered its time and money on a vanity project that is the moderately modified new Market Square.

“This money isn’t local money screwed out of local people,” became their worried mantra.

A) Don’t believe you, and B) Regardless it could still have been spent in Africa, you unbelievable tossers. It was actual money that must have actually existed so it could have been spent on something a little less superficial than bulldozing an award-winning Market Square to minimal effect. Oh wait, it got rid of the skateboarders. And now Citizen Advice Bureaus are set to close (pity poor Birmingham where they’re all for the chop), and they claim they can’t afford to pay those looking after our most vulnerable citizens who have forked their horrendously high Council Tax the whole of their adult lives.

£13,669 per annum, by the way. That’s the size of our business rates and we don’t even get our refuse collected for that. We have to pay extra. What exactly do we get for our thirteen and a half k? Oh yes, letters threatening to take us to court for someone else’s graffiti under the Health And Safety Act. Fucking toxic, that.

Anyway

Anyway, 2010 was at least another stonking year here for comics.

Lizz Lunney’s sales went into orbit, Scott Pilgrim climaxed, Nick Spencer triumphed, PHONOGRAM’s Kieron Gillen made it large, and arch-conservative Paul Levitz finally fucked off from DC head office. Also, Page 45 got its act together and launched its new website. Hello again!

So I called out to all our friends on Twitter the other week, asking what their favourite comics and graphic novels were during the year 2010. I kinda meant favourite comics and graphic novels published in 2010 rather than read, but some of our correspondents have a will of their own. Which is an outrage, I know.

Each one is reprinted here in their original form, the book reviews linked to wherever possible.

Greythorne:

I loved Elmer by Gerry Alangulian. A graphic novel about sentient chickens. Made me cry. Thank you @PageFortyFive for the recommendation.

Marcus Nyahoe

@PageFortyFive a good year, but Eddie Campbell‘s Alec: The Years Have Pants has the edge for me. #bestcomic2020

Lizz Lunney (I said she’d win!)

@PageFortyFive aw shucks I wish! I vote for all @thatlukeperson comics this year- Hildafolk, Dull Ache and Some People, can’t choose one!

Ian Craig

@PageFortyFive – My vote goes to Transmetropolitan, because it’s the best comic of EVERY YEAR.

Katie Green

@PageFortyFive Ooooh tough call….I think I’d go for @DarrylToon‘s masterpiece Psychiatric Tales.

Timothy Winchester

@PageFortyFive I know I won’t be the first but Scott Pilgrim 6 wins 2010.

Aaron Lee

@PageFortyFive Resident Evil (by @rickzilla) gets my vote for best comic series.

Craig Dawson

@PageFortyFive Best of 2010 – Phonogram – the Singles Club by those two reprobates, @McKelvie and @kierongillen. Atomic!

They are reprobates, aren’t they?

Any idea what our Twitter name is yet? Follow us! I’ve been stuck on 444 followers for a fortnight which Lizz Lunney tells me is a veritable curse in China. Still, she was stuck on 666 for a couple of months.

I also asked for email responses, but most of you have stopped emailing now that you have our Twitter and Forums. Makes my life easier in some ways but a bugger when it comes to filling letter columns. Do you not love me no more?

Ivan Towlson

Pablo Holmberg’s “Eden” joins “Hicksville” and “Bone” in the exclusive club of “comics I inflict on people as presents.”  Beautiful lines, natural imagery, scripts that fuse melancholy with joy: graphic haiku. Thank you for all the recommendations in 2010, and all the best for 2011.

Chris Craven

In case you couldn’t tell by my post on the forums in my opinion the best read of last year was Ex-Machina 50, reason … that last page. Never have I read a comic and felt like i’ve been punched in the gut like that book did. 

Jonathan’s favourite book of 2010 was THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS VOL 2, whilst Tom’s was THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN.

My own favourites published or at least reviewed during 2010 include (in chronological order only and excluding a good one hundred other books that I absolutely adored and whose exclusion will only get me into trouble, I know):

ALEC: THE YEARS HAVEPANTS
THE KILLER
PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB
BODYWORLD
KING OF THE FLIES
PLANETARY VOL 4
WILSON
THE HIPLESS BOY
THE PLAYWRIGHT
SAN FRANCISCO PANORAMA COMIC SECTION 
Psychiatric Tales
THE WILD KINGDOM
EX MACHINA VOL 10
PALOOKAVILLE #20
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20
Timularo
Forgetless

DAYTRIPPER was my favourite series of 2011, finally reprinted as a book and I cannot commend it to you all highly enough because, already in February, I have to declare with customarily premature passion that the collection will take some beating when it comes to my favourite book of 2011.

Best moments for me included a woman in a burqa reading LOVE AND ROCKETS on the opposite side of the counter, Bryan Lee O’Malley sacrificing so much of his UK time to sign and sketch for as many of you as humanly possible during the Scott Pilgrim film frenzy, my friends David and Rich getting married outside a windmill, seeing all my Bristol mates at one point or another, some of whom had helped out with the Page 45 Cerebus TV soundtrack… the relief of hearing that soundtrack in place of what otherwise-ace director Robin Barnard had popped there as a place holder … A boy aged 7 throwing himself into the shop asking if we sold condoms (“…’Cause… ‘Cause… I’m gonna have under-safe sex!”) then rushing back out again, chortling with glee, into the arms of a man I am sure was his father…

… and the launch of that Page 45 website. Thank goodness! I still haven’t published our original blog written in case we had launched on target rather than three days late. Maybe I’ll save that for our first anniversary.

We’d have launched some months earlier if I hadn’t been interviewed 386 times about comics on websites and Kindle. I rather think most of those interviews were paid advertisements: I’ve yet to see anyone on our bus using a Kindle. But then I’ve yet to see anyone on our bus read a graphic novel, so…

FAQ: What do you think of comics on the internet? Answer: It’s great advertising for the printed page, cheers. Also, it circumnavigates those comic shops who fail to stock the best books on offer, which serves them bloody well right.

I can’t imagine trying to order in graphic novels now without being able to look at some of their contents online. Many thanks to all those publishers (Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf and most self-publishers) who manage to pop previews online in time for me to write my own then order accordingly. Can Fantagraphics get its act together, please? Lovely books, so I’d like to show them off in time. (I’d say also Image, but I really don’t care. Their few decent creators know what to do, so if I find nothing on line I ignore the titles completely.)

Speaking of Drawn & Quarterly, 2010 saw them pull the plug on periodical pamphlets, a move met with gentle dignity by Seth in the preface to PALOOKAVILLE #20 whose form and contents adjusted themselves beautifully to the industry’s new climate. I hear that 2011 sees the last of Drawn & Quarterly publishing hardcovers but I doubt that it’s true: Lord knows what they’d be publishing in 2012.

Was it last year that saw IDW jump to the front of PREVIEWS, slotted between DC and Image? That was a relief: another 20 pages I can just skim-read early on then virtually ignore on the order form. They’re the modern Calibre whose sole attractions were BAKER STREET and EXIT volume 2 by Nabiel Kanan. With IDW I can just tick the box marked Ashley Wood then move confidently on.

On the superhero front, can I just thank Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, Garth Ennis and Mark Millar for so much bloody money? Thank you. We made far more from Bryan Lee O’Malley, and have been doing so for over five years, whilst Warren Ellis is like an industry unto himself. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t recommend something or other that Warren’s inflicted on us. The irascible bastard.

Now, although it’s not like me to back up my opinionated claptrap with facts, since Page 45 finally has a fully functioning Electronic Point Of Sale system, I thought it’d be fun to ask Jonathan which books sold the most copies here in 2010. I thought it might also be useful for other retailers curious about expanding their range. I haven’t time to link them all so please pop any you’re curious about in our search engine.

Please bear in mind that, to a certain extent, this list is virtually meaningless. So much depends on when any given title is published. A book arriving in January has a much greater chance of hitting the top spots than one published mid-year (SCOTT PILGRIM volume 6 – ha!) and especially in December (GRANDVILLE: MON AMOUR). In fact it’s a double whammy for Sir Bryan of Talbotshire’s GRANDVILLE, because the first book’s first 100 copies had already gone by Christmas 2009.

Ideally we’d be able to provide you with a chart for each graphic novel’s first 12 months’ sales instead. That would make sense but would be impossible to organise. So this is a load of rubbish.

Take this as you will, then, the top 75 graphic novels at Page 45 during 2010 out of our total of 7,500 different titles: 1%, smaller than the tip of the average iceberg. Or bigger, depending on how you look at it!

Scott Pilgrim vol 6
Scott Pilgrim vol 1
Scott Pilgrim Poster 2009
Scott Pilgrim vol 2
Scott Pilgrim vol 3
Scott Pilgrim vol 5
Scott Pilgrim vol 4
Kick Ass s/c
Wilson h/c
Walking Dead vol 1
Meanwhile
Cats Are Weird And More Observations
Crossed vol 1
The Boys vol 6
Walking Dead vol 11
Blacksad h/c
Psychiatric Tales h/c
Scott Pilgrim Exclusive Page 45 Signing 2006 Poster
Grandville
The Walking Dead vol 12
Naruto vol 47
The Unwritten vol 1
The Killer vol 2 h/c
Cat Getting Out Of A Bag And Other Observations
Lost At Sea
The Playwright h/c
Walking Dead vol 2
X’ed Out h/c
The Boys vol 5
The Boys vol 7
The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Weathercraft h/c
Fables vol 13
Asterios Polyp
Naruto vol 48
Phonogram vol 2: The Singles Club
Biomega vol 1
Pluto vol 7
Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle
Tamara Drewe s/c
No Hero – How Much Do You Want To Be A Hero
Alice In Sunderland
Grandville vol 2: Mon Amour
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
Pluto vol 8
Bodyworld
The Boys vol 1
Naruto vol 49
Walking Dead vol 13
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152
Superman: Earth One h/c
Hellboy vol 9: The Wild Hunt
Planetary vol 4: Spacetime Archaeology
The Unclothed Man In The 35th Century
Bakuman vol 1
Freakangels vol 4
Hotwire: Requiem For The Dead
Beasts Of Burden h/c
The Amazing Screw-On Head…
Batman: The Killing Joke
Death Note vol 1
Final Crisis s/c
One Piece vol 1
Ex Machina vol 9
Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn
Walking Dead vol 4
Logicomix – An Epic Search For Truth
A Is For Armageddon
Blackest Night h/c
The Arrival
Walking Dead vol 3
Alec: The Years Have Pants
Amulet vol 1: The Stonekeeper
The Boys vol 4
Bleach vol 31

If you’re wondering about ONE PIECE VOL 1, that’s down to school libraries. We sell a lot of books to libraries.

How old is ALICE IN SUNDERLAND now?! Yet still it comes in at 42.

The two cat books: Jeffrey Brown done us proud, as always!

In spite of how it looks on the website, PHONOGRAM 2 was not a CBOTM. The first issue was. So that puppy got itself way up there all by itself! (Okay, I pushed it. Hard!)

Many thanks to Bryan Lee O’Malley for both SCOTT PILGRIM posters. The 2009 edition’s were his own personal copies so exclusive to us in Europe; the 2006 he jammed on with the magnificent Hope Larson for his signing here way back then and so exclusive to us everywhere in the world. First prints too! Yes, we invest. That volume 6 beat volume 1…? We’d put the groundwork into that title years ago, and SCOTT PILGRIM was already our biggest seller in 2006 long before any idea of a film.

So, what you do you think of them apples, eh? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email page45@page45.com. You will be heard!

- Stephen

Clearly this was a column that should have been completed over a month ago, but you know how it is: stuff gets in the way. Stuff that comes in tall green bottles marked ‘Produce of Chile’ or France, Italy and New Zealand. Some evenings I type with two fingers, slowly, with one eye squinting.

This column’s twin,’ 2011 Look Right’, will follow almost as soon as everything I’m looking forward to has already arrived. <sigh>

Reviews February 2011 week three

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Ivy h/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by Sarah Oleksyk.

“Those guys, you know, they’re not really my friends. I hang out with them now and then because Marco used to play D&D with me in middle school, but now…”
“I know. Sometimes I wonder about my friends, too. I don’t even know who they are anymore, really.”

But then Ivy hasn’t really been paying attention. She’s been distracted.

Recommended by GRAY HORSES’ Hope Larson, and I can see exactly why. Just as CHIGGERS’ dealt not only with the bonds of young friendship but also the pain when it becomes competitive or treacherous, this too explores of a group of teens, a few years older, thinking ahead to college and so already on their way to diverging geographically. But some are already growing apart as they discover new things about themselves and each other that shifts the focus of their natural sympathies and therefore loyalties. Trapped in an environment they’ve outgrown, tempers boil over, harsh words are said and small fallings-out inevitably stack up into larger grudges or mutual hostility. Plus our protagonist is several sketches short of a full portfolio when it comes to being lovable herself.

Ivy is an aspiring artist, but her mother’s determined she’ll go to business school and learn skills more likely to earn her a steady income instead. It’s understandable given her mother’s own circumstances, abandonned by a husband in search of his dreams, but there’s no give, just take, and Ivy has to get her mother’s signature forged for permission to visit a Boston campus and then apply to an art college in secret. Meanwhile she spends most of her time resenting the talent of a fellow student, seething with jealousy at any friends’ experiences not shared with herself, and perceiving slights almost everywhere when none were intended. Even when Brad’s beaten by his Dad, Ivy’s more interested in why Marisa knew first.

But then everything changes when at the end of the Boston trip, dejected by all the rejections, Ivy bumps into an eighteen-year-old boy whose bag badges intrigue her (“Partnership for a Workfree Drugplace”) and, exchanged letters later, it’s not long before Josh comes to visit and they share an afternoon down by derelict railway overpass which Ivy’s made her own personal sanctuary then ducking in the woods from the rain.

“This is great! I can’t see any houses or buildings from here. We could be living at any point in time right now, any place in history.”
“We’re completely outside of society!”
“Like exiles, cast to the wolves. We’ll live as primitives!”
“We’ll become like the wolves to survive.”

Unfortunately what seems so liberating as a spontaneous joke doesn’t live up to the dream in reality, and their early illusion that these two metaphorical orphans sheltering from the storm have somehow bonded instantly and know everything about each other in one afternoon is shattered when old patterns repeat themselves on the road, and Ivy is in for a very rude awakening. But after burning so many bridges at home, are there any options left for Ivy at all?

Well, I’m impressed. I’m impressed by the delicate art with its line, compositions and tone. Obviously I’m impressed with the leaves which blow through the introduction then spread out between chapters. But more than anything, I’m impressed with the recollection and observation here and I can tick so many of the boxes as both the offending party and the aggrieved. If only we could all look at ourselves with such clarity when we need to the most.

On a single cautionary note, please be warned that, unlike Hope’s own material so far, there are moments – and one visual in particular – which make this unsuitable for school libraries. Not unsuitable for older teens, but schools could run into trouble. Just trying to be responsible.

LINK

SLH

Kiki De Montparnasse (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Jose-Louis Bocquet & Catel…

Kiki, or just plain Alice Prin as she was born in 1901 in Châtillon-sur-Seine, was an illegitimate child who was raised in somewhat difficult and deprived circumstances, though clearly with much love, by her grandmother. Judging from this work, she seems to have had a happy enough childhood, though it can’t have been easy to see her real and rather more well-to-do father wandering around the village with his legitimate daughter on a near-daily basis. Aged twelve, and with her grandmother no longer able to financially support her, she arrives in Paris to find work and live with her mother, whom it’s quite clear isn’t particularly interested in acting as much of a parent to her either.

After a few years working as a domestic, and in shops and bakeries, Alice discovers a somewhat easier method of making money, by posing nude for sculptors. Given how little interest she’d taken in young Alice so far, it’s surprising how much of a problem her mother had with this new career direction. You gain the impression that her mother was actually far more bothered about how much it would tarnish her own reputation in her arrondissement of Paris to have a daughter working as an artist’s model, and consequently she promptly disowns her and leaves her to fend for herself, rather compounding Alice’s precarious financial situation and thus her career path.

This work glides forwardly elegant through her life, from her early childhood, through the tough years finding her feet in Paris as a teenager, her adoption of her single name ‘Kiki’ and more bohemian approach to life, then her gradual rise to the position of the social Queen of Montparnasse and her turbulent on-off relationship with the photographer Man Ray (amongst many others), enjoying what would turn out to be the peak of her career throughout Europe in the late ‘20s and ‘30s whilst still finding time to court trouble and controversy, managing to survive the less glamorous war years of WW2, before her subsequent and rather rapid demise into ill heath and premature death at the age of 52 in the early’ 50s.

What I love about Bocquet’s presentation of her life is that it is extremely even-handed, and it’s clear from reading this work that the only thing that ever stopped Kiki being a bigger star than she was – a true global mega-star perhaps – was herself. She had as much talent for painting as many of her male contemporaries but never really pursued it, and had opportunities to break into Hollywood films but let her ego get the better of her and missed her chance. She did enjoy some success as a recording artist later on in her career, but she could have easily achieved so much more had she not been continually indulging in truly prodigious amounts of drink and drugs, which in turn often led to the ill-advised and occasionally incredibly disastrous and destructive romantic liaisons that punctuated her life.

I can just about see the claim for Kiki as an early feminist icon though it’s clear the emancipation she was enjoying was entirely of the sexual variety rather than contributing anything more significant to society. You could, arguably and perhaps a little uncharitably, make more of a case for her being a proto-version of the modern ladette, given her insatiable appetite for drink, drugs and uninhibited sex. In the early Parisian days if she could obtain the former, and her next meal, in exchange for a few nights and days of the latter, then typically she was satisfied enough. Still, she was merely enjoying the freedoms that bohemian society in Montparnasse provided at that time, full as it was of artists, sculptors, poets, film makers, and more than a few hard drinkers and drug addicts; and with little formal education behind her, and a near complete absence of real parental role models throughout her life, it’s not entirely surprising she became embroiled in such a hedonistic and ultimately nihilistic and destructive lifestyle.

Whilst she certainly appeared to have a great lust for life and could certainly find joy in the moment, it’s apparent her addictions kept her from being truly happy and content, and perhaps also resulted in her inability to conceive, which was a source of great sadness to her at the time. You can’t help but feel that had she been able to have the child she craved so badly with Man Ray, the rest of her life might possibly have turned out rather differently. And whilst she certainly tried several times to kick her addictions during her lifetime it was unfortunately to no avail.

Catel’s black and white artwork perfectly captures the precocious energy of the young Alice, the emerging sexuality of her early Paris years, the glamour and sophistication of Kiki, Queen of Montparnasse whilst in her pomp, and also her descent into ill health, against a backdrop of rural and urban France from the countryside to the capital to the coast. Overall it’s easy to see why this comprehensive and charming work won the People’s Choice Award at Angoulême in 2008. Recommended reading particularly for anyone who’d like to know more about some of the leading lights of Montparnasse society crème whilst the area itself was in its glorious decadent heyday know as les Années Folles.

LINK

JR

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

First in a trilogy of BONE novels from Jeff’s Smith’s collaborator on BONE: TALL TALES with plenty of full-colour illustratrions by Jeff Smith himself. I spy flying ships, Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures, and someone very familiar making a surprise appearance right at the end. Don’t actually have time to read it, sorry!

LINK

Nemesis h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.

“Holy shit. I’m covered in old person.”

Like KICK-ASS this is set well clear of the Marvel Universe. There are no superheroes in this world, just one man in white with a great deal of money and time to kill. Time to kill people, specifically the finest Chiefs of police around the globe. He’s an inverse Batman relishing the suffering and humiliation he inflicts on the mighty or noble with meticulous timing for maximum death and destruction by toppling over metaphorical dominoes of explosive set piece disasters set at precisely the right angle to each other. Here Tokyo is in for but a taster of what he has planned for America, its President and Washington DC’s Chief Blake Morrow. Nevertheless it’s a taster of the proportions compelling enough to convince Morrow to take him seriously, to take every conceivable precaution to outwit the man. Waste of time, actually.

A master strategist, every conceivable countermeasure has been anticipated days, months, years in advance, and every eventuality catered for. Everything they glean turns out to be fabrication, every hard-won advantage but a poisonous joker in Nemesis’ perfectly played hand – or at least proof that he was right all along. It’s relentless.

There is a tradition in superhero comics that the villain is unerringly outwitted by the hero of superior intellect, ingenuity or perspicacity, nowhere more so than in Batman’s last minute fat/fryer extractions. But this is a Batman who in addition has the luxury of acting rather than reacting, and on plans made laid at leisure leaving others to repent their haste.

Truly I would advise you to steer clear of any other publicity concerning this title if you want to be surprised by the sheer scale of the spectacle ahead of you because even in the short space of the opening chapter your jaw will drop not once, not twice and not even thrice. It’s an experience replicated by the number of reversals later on. Don’t flick ahead, basically.

Is it over the top? Of course. There’s more than a moment that’s pure Frank Miller. Is it gratuitous? Umm, it’s a superhero comic. Is it any good? Well, McNiven you may know as Millar’s artist on CIVIL WAR and WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN. It’s not a team generally known to disappoint.

Jonathan’s even found some interior art for you.

Daken Dark Wolverine vol 1: Empire h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Giuseppe Camuncoli…

<DEET DEET>
“Hey. Oh fine. And you?
“Funny man. I hope Ben doesn’t catch up with you.
“And no. You set his underwear on fire while he was making his move on a woman. Did you really expect a different response?
“What would I have done? Oh, Johnny. We’ll have to talk about that later.
“I’m going to have to hang up now. Someone’s about to kill me.”

So Marvel’s sauciest super-villain finally gets his own series. And when he’s not trying to wiggle his way into Johnny Storm’s jumpsuit, or indeed even Ben Grimm’s tight blue trunks, he’s slicing, dicing and salsa-ing his way through the usual assortment of low-lives, and oh yes, dealing with Daddy issues. Because, above all else, Daken would like to be the best at what Daddy does, though he’s not quite ready to knock Wolverine off the top of the pile just yet. Although, he’s got more than a few long-term plans bubbling away in the background with a view to achieving that very aim. In the meanwhile he just needs to make his mind up whether he wants to be a hero rather than a villain, but much like his sexual proclivities he seems to keep swinging one way then the other, without being in too much of a rush to make up his mind as he enjoys himself along the way.

The character of Daken, with all his baggage and salacious bravado, has definitely got the potential to be one of the Marvel Universe’s more ambiguous and interesting characters. This first volume of his own titular ye not series is a pretty reasonable start at building on that.

LINK

JR

Spider-Man: Big Time h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos with Stefano Caselli.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Oh look, you’ve just broken it.

I was waiting for something to give the game away; some sort of explanation after a run post-One More Day which was surprisingly consistent given how many cooks were cluttering up the kitchen (it wasn’t consistent, but it was surprisingly consistent under the circumstances; on occasions like AMERICAN SON it was even inspired) as to why this second relaunch was awkward, so unconvincingly manoeuvred – in short so badly written – when it was still Dan Slott at the helm. Then when Spider-Man dons yet another new set of threads and asks, “How do I look?”, it all became a great deal clearer:

“Honestly? Like an ad for the new Tron movie.”

The new Tron movie from Walt Disney Studios. Remind me: who owns Marvel now?

It’s transparently contrived. If you navigate backwards from “We need a new costume that advertises the Tron movie” then you can plainly see why key plot points involving the Hobgoblin were wedged in regardless of the gaping holes left behind and the water pouring into the editorial engine room. I’ll try not to give the game away but… The Kingpin hires the Hobgoblin to perform a certain task, yet it’s a second Hobgoblin that completes it and then reports back in spite of the fact that he had no knowledge – and no access to the knowledge – that the first Hobgoblin one was even on a mission, let alone its nature or origin.

None of this is credible, especially not the Kingpin’s dialogue, his sudden lack of strategic savvy nor the simultaneous reversal in everyone’s fortune.

Let’s see if I can summarise: Peter lands a new job, apartment and working space. Suddenly he’s rich. The Daily Bugle is back up and running just like that. May Parker is no longer under the influence of… oh, whoever (maybe I did miss the resolution of that somewhere along the line? Did I?). Then there’s the whole Hobgoblin thing I’m trying to keep partially under my hat but it involves a power he doesn’t have but which he’s required to have in order to prompt Spider-Man to don a costume resistant to said power or there’ll be no advertisement for Tron… plus a supervillain who, over the last few years, has undergone quite the shift in status but is suddenly back where he started so that another can be freed up for business. I’m not kidding when I say I can see exactly who’s going to receive that upgrade! Up until this point we’d pretty much agreed that Marvel and DC tend to treat disability with a tad more respect than death, presumably because trivialising the plight of the dead falls on deaf ears. And eyes wriggling with maggots. So there goes that, now. Please don’t get me started on Peter’s new working conditions: clock in and out whenever you want, and everyone’s given a secret working space that not even the boss has access to (except that it’s overridden almost immediately so, you know, he does have access except when it’s important he doesn’t so that Spider-Man can stash his costume and someone else can secretly develop a future plot point).

Finally, I have to confess that I’m not much of a Ramos fan anymore. Sometimes I can’t even tell what’s happening. Oh wait, that’s what the explicatory dialogue’s for.

Clunk

SLH

The Flash: The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues h/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul & Scott Kolins…

So in effect this is volume 1 of John’s new series of Flash after the rather decent Rebirth mini. This sadly though… is far less entertaining. There’s the current obligatory, if tenuous, BRIGHTEST DAY connection which provides a modicum of additional interest, but overall I found the storyline pretty weak stuff indeed. Johns will need to step it up considerably if I’m going to bother reading this title for much longer.

With that said, the most recent issue, number #8 (which isn’t is this volume), was by far the best issue of Flash I’ve read in a very long time, featuring a hilariously ingenious retelling and retelling and retelling and retelling and retelling of the Reverse Flash’s origin story. I should add – for those of you who were wondering whether I was just hitting copy and paste on the keyboard like a depowered Gorilla Grodd during that last sentence – that Reverse Flash can travel in time at will without the aid of a cosmic treadmill. Consequently he’s not above fine-tuning his own past until it’s exactly as he’d like to remember it.

So despite this weak opener, which also features time travel in the shape of a future police force composed of law-abiding descendants of the Rogues come to arrest Barry for a murder he hasn’t yet committed, things do seem to be improving, albeit at a snail’s pace. (Almost made it through without a speed-related pun, ah well.)

LINK

JR

Lost Boys: Reign Of Frogs (£9-99, Wildstorm) by Hans Rodionoff & Joel Gomez…

Moderately entertaining little link book between the new (straight to the DVD bargain bin) film Lost Boys: The Tribe and the original 1987 classic film The Lost Boys, which featured surely one of the finest coup de grace lines of all time, as the sadly recently departed Corey Haim exclaims “Death by stereo!” I note this line actually came #36 in Empire Magazine’s recent list of the ‘fifty finest cinematic finishing moves’ and I’d certainly agree with that.

I don’t really want to give too much away about REIGN OF FROGS except to say it finally resolves, for me at least, perhaps one of the great unanswered cinematic questions of all time, or at least 1987, which we’re left with at the end of the first film… as to precisely why Grandpa was so anal about people not drinking his Doctor Pepper. I bloody well knew it!

JR

Recently unearthed reviews newly added to the website:

Don’t know why this first one was missing.

Transmetropolitan vol 2: Lust For Life new edition (10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson.

Although most readers become instantly addicted to the profane ragings of the easily antagonised political columnist Spider Jerusalem, there are some who come away bewildered by the bombast. Here, however, the first three issues are an emphatic change of style and pace as Jerusalem – against all odds – shows that he has a heart. Each self-contained chapter is bursting with speculative science about where humanity and the societies it inhabits might potentially go from here.

In the first Spider’s assistant finds herself nursing a broken heart as the boyfriend Spider never liked ditches her in order to die. At least, that’s how she sees it, but Jerusalem has prior experience of the transfiguration: a friend who’s already successfully ”downloaded” himself into a billion tiny machines, self-sustaining and strung together by lightning, so leaving his mortality behind. In attempt to give her closure he explains the process as they travel by a horse-drawn cab through the open parks of the future city, introduces his friend and then arranges for her to witness the event itself. Unfortunately the final moments are so traumatic that she ends up quitting to join a nunnery.

That’s followed by two of Spider’s columns. The second sees the journalist experiencing firsthand some of the reservations built to preserve ancient societies, whilst the first follows the story of one woman’s attempt to preserve herself by electing to be cryogenically frozen, then revived when technology had advanced far enough to create for her a new artificial body. And it has. But society hasn’t advanced far enough to care. She’s dutifully revived as per contract — then left to fend for herself in a traumatically alien world. It’s touchingly done, Jerusalem/Ellis juxtaposing each remarkable feat of science involved in recreating her brain for a new body not only with the less than clinical conditions it’s performed in, but also the less than impressed performances of those executing it in-between petty office politics, casual drinking and sex in the toilets. Oh yes, and when her husband died three years after Mary he was too far from America to be frozen himself, so Mary wakes up alone.

After that… it’s back to the bombast as Spider finds himself the target of a death threat conspiracy involving the theft of his ex-wife’s cryogenically frozen head, a longstanding French vendetta, a disgruntled target of Jerusalem’s journalism and an apoplectic British Bulldog whom Spider once relieved of his prodigious wanger.

Tip of the hat to artist Robertson, not just for making the burlesque great fun, but also for the most gorgeous landscape portrait of a contemporary San Francisco Bay swathed in fog under the crystalline light of an early morning sun.

It may be one of those series like 100 BULLETS and CEREBUS where it’s actually better to start on the second book than the first. It’s more rounded with a wider range, more light and a little more compassion. A little more compassion:

“Yesterday, here in the middle of the City, I saw a wolf turn into a Russian ex-gymnast and hand over a business card that read YOUR OWN PERSONAL TRANSHUMAN SECURITY WHORE! STERILIZED INNARDS! ACCEPTS ALL CREDIT CARDS to a large man who wore trained attack cancers on his face and possessed seventy-five indentured Komodo Dragons instead of legs. And they had sex. In front of me. And six of the Komodo Dragons spat napalm on my shoes.
“Now listen. I’m told I’m a FAMOUS JOURNALIST these days. I’m told the five years I spend away from the City have vanished like the name of the guy you picked up last night, and that it’s like I never left. (I was driven away, let me tell you, by things like Sickness, Hate and The Death Of Truth.)
“So why do I have to put up with this shabby crap on my doorstep? Now my beautiful new apartment stinks of wet fur and burning dragon spit, and I think one of the cancers mated with the doormat. It keeps cursing at me in a thick Mexican accent. I may have to have it shot.
“If you loved me, you’d all kill yourselves today.”

LINK

SLH

Mail Order Bride (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Mark Kalesniko –

A mail order bride, a girl who sold herself into slavery. A suitor with fixed ideas of the role of a wife and the attributes of Asian women. Nothing is as black and white as it seems in this convenient marriage of east and west. Kalesniko shows how both sides have been seduced by the imagery of the faraway land, tacking their hopes and dreams onto an exotic other that is set up only to let them down.

The fake relationship pretty soon becomes an all too real one, a dark, hopeless union brim full of resentment, jealousy and mechanical routine. The author refuses to give either party an easy ride as they both wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

LINK

MAS

Also arrived…

Softcover versions of hardcovers will already have reviews up, others will follow next week!

Finder: Voice (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil
Uptight #4 (£2-99) by Jordan CraneFinder
Noche Roja h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Simon Oliver & Jason Latour
Farscape vol 3: Gone And Back s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Rockne  S. O’Bannon, Keith A. Decandido & Tommy Patterson
Human Target vol 2: Second Chances (£14-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Javier Pulido, Cliff Chiang
Trueblood vol 1: All Together Now h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Alan Ball, David Tischman, Mariah Huehner & David Messina
Gears Of War vol 2 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Michael Capps, Josh Ortega & Liam Sharp, Simon Bisley, Jim Lee
DMZ vol 9: M.I.A. (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli, Lee Bermejo, Philip Bond, Riccardo Burchielli, Fabio Moon, Dave Gibbons, Rebekah Isaacs, Ryan Kelly, Jim Lee, John Paul Leon, Eduardo Risso
Morning Glories vol 1 (£7-50, IDW) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma
Spider-Man: The Gauntlet vol 5: Lizard s/c(£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Wells & Chris Bachalo, Emma Rios, Jefte Paolo, Xurxo Penalta
Wolverine: The Reckoning s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Majorie Liu & Scot Eaton, Will Conrad, Stephen Segovia, Mirco Pierfederici
Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth: Head Trip s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Bong Dazo, Rob Liefield, Das Pastoras
Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Esad Ribic

Sorry the list above was a day late. Computers, eh? Don’t ask!

February Previews for April 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

This draws on new and previously unpublished interviews and is written by Gary Spencer Millidge who is eminently qualified being a personal friend of Alan’s, one of his favourite comicbook creators (STRANGEHAVEN) and the author of the exceptional COMICBOOK DESIGN.

 - Stephen on Alan Moore: Storyteller h/c & cd

Books for April onwards

Yossel (£10-99, DC) by Joe Kubert.

At last a reprint, and nothing to do with the DC universe.

Subtitled “April 19, 1943,” I started reading this late in the evening after it arrived (26/11/03), and, although utterly exhausted I could not and would not put this down until Joe had finished. At which point I wasn’t sure I wanted to read anything else for quite some time. Not, you understand, because it had put me off reading, but because that there seemed little else so worth hearing, absorbing, and thinking about.

How many books, films, documentaries have there been on The Holocaust? How many have you read and seen? Myself, probably fewer than many, but enough to make me wonder what more there is to say, until I see or read another one. Some things bear repeating, because some things do not bear repeating.

Joe Kubert moved to America with his Jewish parents and sister when the boy was only a couple of months old. They’d tried earlier when his mother was pregnant, and in spite of being rebuffed then, they persisted.  As soon as he was able to hold anything, he began to draw, and during the events of April 1943 he was a teenager making more money than his father, through his obsessively honed craft. You’re most likely to know him from his thirty-year stint on Sgt. Rock, or through two of his five children, Adam and Andy.  It could all have been so different.

In YOSSEL Joe puts himself in the place of a boy the same age as he would have been during the Nazi invasion of Poland, but one who never managed to leave his country. His parents are the same, he has a sister too, and he spends every spare moment drawing out his fantasies imported from America: giant dinosaurs, barbarian warriors, girls in space. Even whilst studying for his Bar Mitzvah, he couldn’t resist a cartoon of the Rebbe, who smacked him for his sins. It’s a close and loving family, which Kubert makes real with the odd anecdotal quirk:

“Mama was always in the kitchen, unless she was helping Papa in the store. If he was alone and an attractive woman customer came in the store, she would join papa. He would look sideways at Mama, in mock anger. He loved it that Mama felt he was attractive.”

News of Germany begins to filter through, of Kristallnacht and Hitler’s wider policies towards Jews – preventing them from attending school, owning shops, shipping them out of Europe.  But the adult world is not a preoccupation for a young, imaginative boy, and in any case, no one could believe the stories were true.

This is a concept one now finds difficult to grasp, because we know – however unthinkable - that what was about to happen to millions of individuals could happen because it did happen.  Before it did, who could believe it? Not Yossel nor his parents, and this is something Joe returns to over again, when, although things have grown desperate beyond my personal imagination in the Warsaw Ghetto, they hear of worse from the labour camps. And it is not credible.

But begin it does, first with a knock on the door, and orders to leave. Whole towns and villages moved to a walled, dilapidated city. The Germans attempt to seem reasonable during the unreasonable. Starvation, deprivation – of comforts, communication, heating or clothes – a freezing endurance test without either hope or respite. And then it gets worse.

I could fill this e-shot with this single review, and it’s difficult to know which praises to sing.

The pictures, I suppose, because the entire book is drawn by Yossel, on whatever scraps of paper come to hand, and to evoke the immediacy, the roughness, the rawness of the experience Kubert has refrained from any inking. The sketches aren’t even fully realised in places, but boy can the man draw. If you want nothing more than a masterclass in pencils, you won’t see finer than here. Similarly the paper is off-white and thick, like the cartridge paper we used during life classes at school, and Kubert cleverly helps the lettering to sit well with the graphite by demarking the borders in lead.

It seems silly to pick out just one instance where Kubert has got it so right when there isn’t a wrong move in the book, but he manages to convey the humanity – if such is the right word – of the German soldiers whilst engaged in the very definition of inhumanity, with their unique affection for Yossel as a draughtsman. In spite of the remorseless cruelty they inflict upon an entire people, the security police watch, fascinated as Yossel sketches supermen for them, swastikas branded on their muscular arms. They praise him, “spoil” him, give him food and free pass – then send his family off to die.

This book begins at the end, as the resistance makes a brave but futile stand during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings. It ends moments after the beginning, with two final pages which are both thematically brilliant and completely harrowing.

Out May 11th. Illustrated interview:

LINK

Don Xoai, Vietnam 1965 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Joe Kubert.

The true face of war. Out May 18th. Jonathan’s review of the hardcover here:

LINK

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki.

“Shigeru Mizuki is the preeminent figure of gekiga/manga and one of the most famous working cartoonists in Japan today–a true living legend. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, is his first book to be translated into English and is a semi-autobiographical account of the desperate final weeks of a Japanese infantry unit at the end of World War Two. The soldiers are instructed that they must go into battle and die for the honour of their country, with certain execution facing them if they return alive. Mizuki was a soldier himself (he was severely injured and lost an arm) and uses his experiences to convey the devastating consequences and moral depravity of the war.” See link for ridiculously long list of awards and cover:

LINK

Congress Of The Animals h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

Truly, we are spoiled: two graphic novels from fable-spinning master craftsman Woodring in 12 months. Frank, the dubious meddler returns to the spotlight. We now have interior art online for WEATHERCRAFT, so have a gander at that and the review here:

LINK

Hairshirt (£14-99, Self-Made Hero) by Pat McEown.

“John and Naomi were childhood sweethearts whose lives took them in different directions. As adults, they are reunited by accident and love takes hold again. But the painful memories, secrets and nightmares return. Fragile form an unexpected (as least to him) break-up, he sees the chance encounter with his childhood crush as a sign that things are looking up at last. What he finds instead is that he is tormented by memories from their youth and he battles to understand his own feelings while dealing with a young girl whose damage infects and affects everyone around her.” I have total faith:

LINK

Isle Of 100,000 Graves h/c (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Fabien Vehlmann & Jason.

Same anthropomorphic visuals as “a girl in search of her father leads a shipful of pirates to an island with a terrible secret: a school for executioners.” From the writer of 7 PSYCHOPATHS, curiously. Interior art here (cheers, J-Lo!):

LINK

Citizen Rex h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Gilbert Hernandez, Mario Hernandez & Gilbert Hernandez.

“Twenty years ago, the most famous, lifelike robot in the world was engulfed in scandal, arrested, and deactivated. Since then, an anti-robot movement has developed, while body modification is in and prosthetic limbs have become hot black-market items. Stories like these are the stock in trade of gossip blogger Sergio Bauntin, whose startling revelations earn him the constant scrutiny of both the mob and the city’s mysterious investigators, the Truth Takers. When Sergio catches wind of sightings of the long-missing robot celebrity CTZ-RX-1, all of these interests will collide in violence and intrigue.” Out June 29th. Plenty of previews:

LINK

Hellblazer: City Of Demons (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Si Spencer & Sean Murphy.

“’Smoking while pregnant may seriously harm your baby’s health.’
“I make a point of only buying packets with this warning… I figure the odds are it won’t affect me.
“Though with my lifestyle, I can’t rule it out.”

Si Spencer writes the best John Constantine outside of Moore, Ennis, Ellis or Diggle. It’s steeped in contemporary socio-politics whilst he’s impetuous, self-deprecating but doesn’t do intimidated. Not even with a knife to his throat. He’s had to pop outside the boozer for a fag on account of cirrhosis being more politically marketable (though no less taxable) than cancer. Here come a couple o’ hoodies:

“Yo blood, you got folding? Or do me and the Jizzman got to shiv you, innit?”
They talk Jamockney, that horrible bastard hybrid of all the laziest and worst of every culture. They’re wearing man-bhurkas, masking shame – dumb snot-nose kids brought up to believe they’re tenth-rate citizens. They’re not hard – they’re afraid.
“You on these man’s corner, you gotta pay Carlos and the Jizzman.”
“While I’d deeply love to adhere to your excise system, I’m afraid I’ve got a three-way planned with both your momma’s arses – but when I’m done you can collect the three pounds change.”
Right now they’ve got every right to be. Jesus, when did I become such a grumpy old man?
“That’s disrespec’, innit? You gonna get cut a squazillion ways now.”
“I’m thinking not, actually.”

No, but he does get smacked over the bonnet of a 4×4 by a woman driven to distraction by the ghost of her recently deceased daughter, and I cannot begin to tell you how clever that page as subtly interpreted by Sean Murphy is (see Grant Morrison’s JOE THE BARBARIAN), because John doesn’t realise to begin with just how serious it is. Nor can I tell you how clever Si Spencer’s plot is – how impressively each and every element folds in together – or it will ruin the whole out-of-body experience for you. Still, you may look around you with a new eye if ever you wait outside a hospital again.

Spencer has packed into the first issue more ideas and wit than most writers do in their entire runs, because that’s just the beginning when the repercussions of John’s stay in hospital – as his blood sample is analysed then utilised – grow very brutal indeed.

Injury To Eye Motif? Frederick Wertham would turn in his E.C.-free grave.

Out May 18th. Interior art:

LINK

Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 5 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Alan Moore & Rick Veitch, John Totleben, Alfredo Alcala.

Alec, the tender, passionate plant elemental known to outsiders as the Swamp Thing, finds his girlfriend Abby abducted then incarcerated by the police and facing prosecution for immoral acts – namely, having sex with what the legal system considers a monster. No amount of reasoning seems able to halt proceedings and free her, so an enraged and frustrated Alec embarks on a last resort, a tumultuous act of terrorism turning the city into a jungle. Mains are burst, buildings toppled, the subways blocked, insects invading in swarms. Oh, and the city’s name? Gotham.

A profoundly affecting indictment of the contemporary sex laws in the US, UK and further afield, where love and justice held – and often still hold – no sway, this blew me away at the time. There are shocks galore, there’ll be tears before bedtime, and I so wish I could quote my favourite lines, but it’d be giving too much away. Plus: an appalling tale of marital abuse, and one of the finest appearances by John Constantine Esq..

Out June 22. Softcover already available here:

LINK

WE3 Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.

New story pages, apparently.

Not for the first time Morrison questions man’s less than honourable relationship with animals, and this time goes for the jugular as a dog, a cat and a rabbit – household pets on which we as a civilised species traditionally lavish profound affection in the home, yet which we are perfectly content to have experimented upon in order that shampoo should taste like tropical fruit juice – are converted into abominable military hardware, their brains drilled deep with wires, their limbs encased in weapon-stuffed armour, their instincts vocalised as simplistic text messages. Then the project is threatened with termination. One scientist finds sympathy (not when she was sawing skulls off, this may be vanity speaking instead) and unwittingly unleashes three ferocious killing machines who won’t be stopped in their quest to find their way back to their original homes and owners.

Every now and then a comic comes along that’s so different it takes your breath away, and this is the latest. Morrison and Quitely have a long history and a big reputation, yet here, staggeringly, they hit overdrive on what is at heart a simple tale, but in execution a riveting, emotionally traumatic, visually mind-blowing tour de force which will swiftly head your list of “Comics To Buy My Friends Who Don’t Read Comics”. Quitely’s panels-within-panels are insanely detailed, perfectly positioned and merciless in their content. I cannot think of a single customer who wouldn’t be thoroughly affected by this. You might not thank me for the recommendation when you start reading, but I recommend it all the same, if only to leave you feeling distressed, disgusted and perhaps a little ashamed. That’s okay, I’m with you on that.

Out June 15th. Softcover still available here:

DMZ vol 10: Collective Punishment (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & David Lapham, Danijel Zezelj, Andrea Mutti, Nathan Fox.

“Shock and awe” bombing comes to Manhattan, the demilitarised zone of the modern American Civil War. Out May 4th. Here’s my favourite volume so far:

LINK

99 Days h/c (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Matteo Casali & Kristian Donaldson.

African American women are being stalked and murdered. Murdered with a machete in Los Angeles where Antoine Boshoso Davis is a rookie homicide detective. But he’s all too familiar with machetes. He grew up as a young Hutu in Rwanda, and we all know what happened there. Has Antoine’s past as a child soldier come back to haunt him? Out June 1st. Interior pages:

LINK

Liar’s Kiss h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Eric Skillman & Jhomar Soriano.

Oh, I can see why Sean CRIMINAL Phillips is such a fan. He writes: “Skillman and Soriano weave a twisted tale of classic noir. The story keeps you guessing until the end, and the art delivers the right blend of pitch-black shadows and crisp, sexy line work.”

Top Shelf writes:

“THE WAY HE INVESTIGATES IS A CRIME IN ITSELF. Nick Archer isn’t much of a detective, but he’s managed to get himself one pretty sweet surveillance gig: once a week he sends a jealous millionaire the photos that prove his wife is faithful, leaving Nick plenty of free nights to spend making a liar of both himself and the client’s wife. But when the client turns up dead, his cheating wife is the prime suspect and it’s up to Nick to clear her—except Nick has an agenda of his own, and connections to this case that go deeper than anyone realizes.”

Preview here with some exceptional art. Imagine 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso fused with a European clarity and chic:

LINK

Jinx h/c (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis.

Yup, straight crime written and drawn by Brian Michael Bendis. Here’s David Hart’s original Page 45 review from 2001 when the softcover cost £18-99:

Long before Bendis was officially pronounced hot by Wizard Magazine, he was cutting his teeth on a series of creator-owned crime projects. JINX, the third in his ‘Cleveland trilogy’, is a (very) loose sequel to GOLDFISH, sharing a common setting and a main character. Goldfish, a grifter with yearnings for a better life, crosses paths with Jinx, a bounty hunter pissed off with the job’s casual sexism and the way her dreams have gradually been ground down under the foot of everyday life.

The MacGuffin of the plot is a race for three million dollars of missing mob money; in the end, however, Bendis seems to have less interest in the actual plot mechanics, preferring instead to focus on the characters. A showdown in a mall is interrupted by an extended sequence resembling late period Altman in which the camera floats from table to table, eavesdropping on snatches of lives. Although the cinematic influences on Bendis’ work are clearly visible – the fast cuts, the dialogue riffs that makes you check just how long after Pulp Fiction this came out, the incorporation of photos and photo references into the art – the book also showcases Bendis’ continuing fascination with formal and structural experimentation. Pages of strict grids are followed by loose open panelling; photo-referenced art glides to impressionism; story recaps come in the form of ‘70s Marvel comics with one-page gags parodying Hostess Cup Cake adverts.

While Bendis’ art is more suited to cartoony works like FORTUNE AND GLORY, his heavy inks and strong placing of black help to ensure that there’s none more noir. Where JINX is distinguished from, say, SIN CITY is that Bendis grasps intuitively the soft underbelly of the noir genre. Although the grease on the axle of this world is money, the story turns out to be, as it always is, about two people trying to connect and find purpose in a world neither of them wants any part of. Both Jinx and Goldfish have made bad decisions in the past; key flashbacks see them both reflexively grab onto something that either drags them down or highlights the depths to which they have sunk. JINX is the attempt of two people to slough off the dead skin of the past and start again. And if they manage to get hold of three million dollars worth of dead presidents to help them do this, well, that’d be cool.

Bulletproof Coffin (£13-50, Image) by David Hine & Shaky Kane.

Best thing I’ve read from Hine since STRANGE EMBRACE, as a man whose job it is to collect each deceased’s possessions for a local council is allowed the perk of picking up some odds and sods for himself.

“I guess you could call me a collector. A culture vulture.”

Here he comes home to his freakish family with a ten-cent comic that shouldn’t exist. It’s The Unforgiving Eye #198, a horror story of revelation and retribution. To Steve Newman it looks just like the work of both Hine and Kane even though Shaky Kane left the title when Big 2 took over the company and swore he’d never draw another comic again. He certainly swore never to work with David Hine again, calling him a sell-out for knuckling down and churning out lacklustre junk for Big 2. Oh, yes and there’s one other little discrepancy: the last published issue of The Unforgiving Eye was #127.

The comic within the comic was witty enough in itself, as was the mischief-making back-matter account of Hine and Kane’s secret career, but there’s more to the deceased than an Unforgiving Eye. There’s a Vendo-vision TV set that takes quarters, and a very peculiar programme starts playing… Heh.

Preview: LINK

Kate & William: A Very Public Love Story (£7-99, AAM Markosia) by Rich Johnston & Gary Erskine, Mike Collins.

Dear God in Heaven, there is a Royal Wedding comic. (Actually, there’s more than one but I’d rather Rich and Gary saw your money if you’re absolutely determined.) I found out about it via the magnificent Peter Stanbury, co-author with Paul Gravett of GREAT BRITISH COMICS, then – please forgive me – actually visited the Daily Mail website. I feel so unclean. And in so many ways too.

LINK

Dungeon: Monstres vol 4: Night Of The Ladykiller (£10-99, NBM) by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim & J.E. Vermot-Desroches, Yoann.

We had a husband-and-wife team of French teachers at school whom we called Le Monstre and Monsterella. Or, because of his gigantic beard, Pubes and Pubella. Their children were known as the Pre-Pubescents. As, I hope, they were all blissfully unaware until now.

Anyway, here’s as good a summary of this series which that I wrote a while back:

“Welcome to the DUNGEON, it has everything you need: dim-witted monsters as colourful as giant muppets, vampire shadows, killer mushrooms, combat skeletons, and the most eco-friendly back-up lighting system in the world (gelatinous green cephalopods). It’s a 24-hour business run by a ratty old cockatoo in beatnik sunglasses, and constantly imperilled by Herbert the Timorous, an act-now/think-later duck in constant need of rescue by Marvin the vegetarian barbarian dragon.” Read the rest and start collecting here:

Reunion (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard.

Noooo, don’t do it! How can any school reunion result in joy?!

From the creator of affectingly confessional Nicolas about losing a brother when young, more autobiography as Pascal is lured against his better judgement to a high school reunion by an email from a girl he once fancied there. He jogs to lost weight, the big day finally arrives and then the actual conversations with former classmates begin. Oh dear.

LINK

Remake Special (£7-50, Adhouse) by Lamar Abrams.

Of REMAKE VOL 1 Tom wrote:

Ah sweet! For those wishing Kochalka would go back to his lurid funny comics like SUPERF*CKERS, say hello to Max Guy, Robot Boy. More adolescent than Astro Boy, he is none the less revered by the public in much the same way as Tezuka’s famous creation. And even though he is known to fry your legs off with his gun, the Max Blaster, it always kind of turns out in his favour, so no one’s the wiser about what a vibrator-head he really is.

It comes across like an underground Japanese gag comic, in fact I would expect to see it chowing down in the same left field as HEARTBROKEN ANGELS or TOKYO ZOMBIES. But Lamar also utilises the somewhat annoying tradition in older American comics of having the characters exclaim about events clearly illustrated in the panels, pushing that quite pointless narrative tool for comedic effect. Making even the most mundane of actions – like rolling eyes in annoyance – something Max Guy must accentuate with commentary. And like his contemporaries, Corey Lewis, Brandon Graham and Bryan Lee O’Malley, Lamar’s world is unapologetically random, and full of cats. Without a doubt, REMAKE contains some of the best cats anywhere in comics. Like some twisted regurgitation of the old saying “you are what you eat”, Max Guy is constantly munching on cute miniature mewling marshmallow cats until he spews forth (literally) a cat equal in monstrosity to the amount he ate. It’s actually a lot more endearing to see than it is to write about, and the cute little cat that appears the second time he does triggers the most realistic and poignant story about a cat trying to play Nintendo ever.

Preview the Hope Larson endorsed first book here:

LINK

Francis Sharp In The Grip Of The Uncanny (£7-50, Black Bottle) by Brittney Sabo, Anna Bratton & Brittney Sabo.

Oh, okay. There’s an avalanche of kids’ books solicited these days, but the vast majority are vapid and bland. They’re dull, and that is a cardinal sin because kids don’t do dull. But I loved the cartooning here, and the cover is a flourish of fire-like briar while the interior art boasts some rustic evening skies with so much space up above.

Francis has a vivid imagination fuelled by his favourite radio plays. He acts them out, all derring-do, even when he should be watching his father’s herd of cows for fear they escape and eat the neighbour’s crops. They escape. And eat the neighbour’s crops. Now the family, already suffering from a cashflow crisis, look like they’ll have to sell off treasured family heirlooms, and it’s all Francis’ fault.

Set during the 1930s, the preview’s too brief to show me exactly where this is going, but I’ve a suspicion things are going to grow a great deal stranger.

LINK

Lucille (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Ludovic Debeurne.

Yowsa! 544 pages.

“Winner of the René Goscinny Prize and the Angoulême Essential Award, this rich and intimate story follows two teenagers, Lucille and Arthur, as they struggle with the complex legacies inherited from their families: legacies of illness and pride, of despair and hope. Somehow two lonely misfits form an instant connection, and with the intoxicating boldness of youth, they journey together across Europe, discovering each other, discovering themselves, and hoping against all odds to make their own destiny. Lucille is more than a story about anorexia, alcoholism, and adolescence. It’s a story of love amidst tragedy, full of the halting awkwardness of life and the operatic grandeur of teenage emotion.” Preview here:

LINK

Rime Of The Modern Mariner h/c (£18-99, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes.

In which Coleridge’s albatross is man’s pollution of the seas. I was sent a rough preview but really want to see what they’ve done with the full package. Martin Rowson (Guardian cartoonist, creator of the Tristram Shandy adaptation) heaps praise here:

LINK

Bloom County vol 4 h/c (£29-99, IDW) by Berkley Breathed

Anthropomorphic syndicated satire. Here’s book one:

LINK

The Tooth h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee & Matt Kindt.

More comedy horror as illustrated by the creator of Super Spy, Revolver and 3 Story: The Secret History Of The Giant Man. Unfortunately I got bored looking for contents. Try this at least:

LINK

Tenken (£12-99, One Peace) by Yumiko Shirai.

“Drawn heavily from the Shinto religion and Japanese culture Shirai weaves a beautiful tale steeped in Japanese mythology, but at the same time pretty accessible for those who are new. There’s something mysterious, but at the same time familiar. The tale is about birth, death and rebirth, truly focusing on cycles.  This is a modern day myth and something I want to see more of.” … Summarises one reviewer after more in-depth coverage. He’s even managed to find some interior art for you. Cheers, Brett:

LINK

Hounds Of Hell (£14-99, Humanoids) by Phillippe Thirault & Christian Hojgaard, Kovacevic, Surshenko.

Byzantine battle involving swords and treasure. Not guaranteeing any of this is from this particular book, but it’s definitely that sort of thing:

LINK

The Lovecraft Anthology vol 1 (£12-99, Selfmade Hero) by various.

Following their roaring success with AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, Selfmade Hero goes the anthology route.

LINK

Baltimore vol 1: The Plague Ships h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck.

Months after a devastating plague ends World War I, Europe is suddenly flooded with deadly vampires. Lord Henry Baltimore, a soldier determined to wipe out the monsters, is on the hunt for the creature responsible for this chaos and his own personal tragedy. What he uncovers is a terror as horrific and frightening as any he’s seen on the battlefield. Preview:

LINK

The Raven h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Poe, Lou Reed & Lorenzo Mattotti.

Lou Reed’s take on Edgar Allan Poe as interpreted by Lorenzo Mattotti. More here:

LINK

Buffy Season 8 vol 8: Last Gleaming (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Scott Allie & Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline.

Season 8 concludes in a seriously controversial fashion!

Blood-Stained Sword (£13-50, IDW) by Dan Wickline, Amber Benson & Ben Templesmith.

More horror from the artist on 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE etc.

Stuff Of Legend vol 2 (£12-99, Th3rd World) by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith & Charles Paul Wilson III.

Toys at war. But hold your horses, for here’s Jonathan:

“Certainly on one level it’s a children’s story, but there’s definite allegory and oblique reference to the real world of the period, and perhaps even modern times and our own society with its innate struggles for power, the corruption and the lies. Again the story could be easily perceived as though it’s perhaps merely a game being played, albeit a dark and deadly one, in which the rules are ever shifting, changing, bent and sometimes outright broken, but again on another level it’s also clearly a narrative about courage, sacrifice and loss, and fighting against overwhelming odds to do what’s right, regardless of the chances of success, and personal safety.” Read the rest of Jonathan’s extensive review here:

LINK

Boys vol 8: Highland Laddie (£14-9, D.E.) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea, Keith Burns.

Wee Hughie (Simon Pegg) heads home. Sex, superheroes and carnage from the writer of PREACHERCHRONICLES OF WORMWOOD etc. Try vol 1:

LINK

S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects Of Forever h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver.

“Behind everything we do, there is a purpose — a structure — for achieving what is necessary… We are the engineers of change.”
“Everything begins with an IDEA.”

From the writer of SECRET WARRIORS and the most recent FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote of the first issue, comes the resurrection of the all-singing, all-dancing, not-totally-locking-up-every-superhero S.H.I.E.L.D.! But did you know that Nick Fury wasn’t the first Agent Of SHIELD? Oh, no. That institution was built on this one, far more ancient and housed during 1953 in the Immortal City deep under the city of Rome. It’s there that Leonid is taken to witness the dawn of civilisation as former agent Imhotep takes his stand against the hordes of the alien Brood; to see Leonardo Da Vinci create a golden sphere whose properties we don’t yet know, and Galileo make his stand against Galactus. But Leonid’s role is as yet uncertain. All that we know is that he shines with the stars of the night, and that his electrically armoured father too has a purpose in mind for him.

It’s written with perfect assurance by Hickman – in fact here are his finest linguistic turns since NIGHTLY NEWS – and it is like no other Marvel Comic I have ever read. Quite where it came from, I have no idea. It’s more speculative fiction than superhero shenanigans, although there are a couple of names here that will be very familiar to Marvel readers used in a startlingly different context — well, in a startlingly different time. I haven’t a clue what it all means.

But everything here is exquisitely drawn by Dustin Weaver with crystal-clear lines showcasing the most extraordinary architecture I have seen in quite some time in any comic at all – you might have to go all the way over to Schuiten in Belgium. The towering Palace of Zhang Heng is only matched by “the endless majesty of a Celestial woman” whose bronze and golden form rises high enough to meets Heng’s gaze on the tower’s very pinnacle high above the rooftops below.

Across the centuries then, these agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bearing as their crest the same stylised eagle, have stood up against adversity no matter how overwhelming it might seem. They’ve stood up to be counted and make themselves count for one reason and one reason only:

“This is not how the world ends.”

If you look around the rest of Weaver’s site you’ll find plenty more images, but for the moment here’s his Leonardo:

LINK

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman vol 4 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta.

<gasp> Who’s next through the revolving door of death?

Will it be Sue, who hasn’t died in over two years? Will it be Ben, Johnny or Reed? I really don’t know, I haven’t read that issue and don’t visit the sort of websites that’d spoil it for me. It really should be Reed, though, because there are loads more of him waiting to take his place from the Council Of Infinite Reed Richardseseses. Maybe it’s one of them instead, and they can close the door behind them and lock it for once. And maybe the rest of the family think it’s the real Reed Richards because he’s been abducted or something? No, I’m sure Hickman’s come up with something far more fascinating. Seriously, I’ve not read a single chapter in this book. Very excited, though.

The climax to Hickman’s first run on Fantastic Four but by no means the end as it kicks off again any second now with FF #1.

Marvel Masterworks: FF vol 6 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

First appearance of the Black Panther and several other classic tales like Doom relieving the Silver Surfer of his Power Cosmic (“I’ll just borrow this, if you don’t mind. I’ll bring it back on Sunday after church”) and a far more introverted affair which readers were led to believe would focus on Ben Grimm’s plight as a man of deep feeling trapped in a body of bricks that made touching his girlfriend a somewhat abrasive affair. This Man, This Monster kicked off with what was quite literally a splash page as The Thing is caught in a New York rainstorm at night. A couple of policemen in a patrol car offer him a lift, but instead he chooses to be alone with his soggy old thoughts until accosted by a bald-bonced Billy No Mates who lures him inside for a cuppa. God knows how much ketamine the cuppa was cut with, but Ben’s instantly out like a light, then it’s the old switcheroo with Ben reverting to human and the real monster of the story out to destroy the Fantastic Four disguised as the Thing. It is, however, a story of that monster’s redemption as a moment of crisis leads to another of heroism and Billy suddenly realises why he had no mates: he was a bitter and selfish old plonker.

It is a classic, but it’s also completely ridiculous. Somehow Billy No Mates (no, it’s not his real name) is familiar enough with everyone to know their nicknames and even who Aunt Petunia is, but gives the game away immediately by “forgetting” how much he can lift. Neither Reed nor Sue raises an eyebrow even when their beloved Ben bursts in to confront the impostor. Instead they send Ben packing and immediately Reed puts his life in the imitator’s hands. No pause for thought there. No, “Err, I think I’ll let Sue handle this one while you’re on the other side of the planet just to be on the safe side. You know, given that it’s 50/50 as to which one of you is trying to get one over on me.” Instead it’s straight into sub-space for a space-time experiment clearly marked “DANGER!” with the evil doppelganger on duty as his life-line. Do you think it’s all going to go horribly wrong, dear reader? Well, let me put it like this: Dr. Victor Von Doom doesn’t even go to church. He lies in on a Sunday eating crumpets and jam.

Captain America: The Trial Of Captain America h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser.

Ever since Steve Rogers seemingly died, his old side-kick Bucky has taken up the shield as Captain America. Only close friends have known that in the years since WWII when Bucky was thought dead, he himself lay cryogenically frozen only to be reanimated from time to time as the Winter Soldier, brainwashed into assassination and sundry other acts of terrorism.

But now news has leaked out to the world thanks to Sin, daughter of the original Red Skull, and although Steve and his friends are doing their best, the trial is going catastrophically badly and Sin is about to strike again just when they need it the least.

Dr. Faustus is particularly well written here and fans of the Mike Zeck era will be pleasantly surprised to see the return of former love interest Bernie Rosenthal. Prospective readers of the FEAR ITSELF event (see comics, below) might also want to hop on board here since it almost certainly leads into its Brubaker-penned prologue.

Thor: For Asgard h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi.

From the artist on Ellis’ ASTONISHING X-MEN: GHOST BOX, a tale of Asgard in armed revolt and battered by a years-long winter. I did like the punchline to the first issue, until when I hadn’t even noticed that Thor was wielding an axe. Very much looking forward to reading the rest. See ‘also scheduled’ for the stuff I’m not.

Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena.

New series following Cyclops’ firm and final decision to disband the team once authorised to use lethal force. Instead Logan stuck his fingers in his ears. “Nanananana can’t hear you!” Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Deadpool and Phantomex. Oh yes, and Apocalypse.

Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 3: Blade Vs The Avengers h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve Dillon.

I love Steve Dillon – were I ever to write a comic he’d be in my top three artists to illustrate it – but not on big-action superheroes. Makes it seem like a sort of WHAT IF? comedy cartoon.

Here it’s what if vampires actually exist in the Ultimate Universe; and they do, although skepticism runs high. Unfortunately they’ve gone straight for the jugular by infecting the Hulk clone first and no one will let Blade, Vampire Hunter, do his job properly. As the Ultimate Avengers prove their own worst enemy, thousands become infected swelling the plague which takes the fight straight to the Triskelion before Fury can even begin his counter-assault.

Someone recently asked what happened to Perun, The Liberators’ version of Thor from ULTIMATES SEASON 2 vol 2. Find out here. Also features the Ultimate version of Stick, a younger Daredevil, and a highly inventive solution.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 3 UK version (£10-99, Panini) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli.

Available way ahead of any US softcover so far, and I personally prefer Pichelli’s art to anything else in this second series. I’ll remind myself of the exact contents on arrival.

X-Men: Lifedeath h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Arnold Drake & Barry Windsor-Smith.

Reprint of the five UNCANNY X-MEN issues drawn, inked and a couple of ‘em coloured by Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe. You won’t recognise it as him in #53 – all big blocks of Kirby – but by #186 it was beautiful stuff about Storm with her mohawk. It was Fantagraphics who finally published the third story in the Lifedeath trilogy (the first two being here) in the form of the ADASTRA IN AFRICA h/c we used to stock and that went from beautiful to exquisite. Like fellow Pre-Raphaelite fan Zulli, you could stare at a W-S blade of grass for hours.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills h/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson.

An original, album-sized softcover from around the time UNCANNY X-MEN was in its late 100s, this was the first time Magneto was treated as anything other than a megalomaniacal supervillain. The helmet came off, the POV was reversed, and Claremont took a hard look at the very foundation of the series: what it was like not just to be rejected but persecuted for who you were, how God made you, and killed because of it.

It opens, if I recall, with two murdered children strung up on swings, with placards bearing the accusation of “Mutant” or “Mutie”. They’re found in the night and freed from their chains by Magneto who then tracks the source of the hate-mongering to its predictably Christian source: Reverend William Stryker. Hence the title, a direct retort to those religious leaders conveniently forgetting that there was no sub-clause to God’s Commandment “Love Thy Neighbour” – no specific exceptions like “Unless they be verily queer”.

With overt parallels to racist lynching and violent homophobia, it was an effecting piece for a young superhero reader to be introduced to, drawn with much restrained humanity by Brent Anderson, one of Neal Adams’ many successors who went on to breathe equal humanity and life into Kurt Busiek’s magnificent Astro City series.

Chaos War (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Pham, Brown.

Giddy Gotterdammerung which Gillen is threatening to explore a little further as part of JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY. Hercules is back and people smite each other. Also this month: CHAOS WAR: AVENGERS @ £14-99 by various in which the fight is joined by Avengers resurrected like Captain Marvel, Swordsman, The Vision, Dr. Druid (not a good idea) and the female Yellowjacket).

Spider-Man: One Moment In Time s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada & Joe Quesada, Paolo Rivera.

“Oh God — Why didn’t you just let me forget too? I just wanted to forget.”

Far more imaginative and complex than anyone had anticipated, the past is finally revealed post-ONE MORE DAY.

In that final Straczynski story arc now reprinted in SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOL 5 Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker agreed to sacrifice their marriage to Mephisto in order to save Aunt May, and in the blink of an eye history rewrote itself: they had never been married. Instead they were estranged, and no one wanted to talk about what happened. Over the course of the year it became clear that no one other than Mary Jane remembered that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Yet, as is revealed here, CIVIL WAR still happened, Peter had unmasked on television and Aunt May was, as a direct consequence, shot and hospitalised, fighting a losing battle for her life. In fact, at one point, she lost.

Mephisto, it transpired, changed none of that. So what actually happened? What happened to prevent their marriage? (I swear it is not the first, obvious hindrance so bear with it…) Who brought Aunt May back to life? (I swear, it is not some hocus pocus voodoo shit…) How is it that no one in the world remembers that Spider-Man is Peter Parker? (Err, that may be some hocus pocus voodoo stuff…) But more importantly why is Mary Jane the sole exception? That one… that one, and their subsequent conversation take the biscuit for heart-wrenching irony.

I wish Quesada could have found time to draw the entire book but that simply wouldn’t be practical as editor-in-chief of a now-bloated Marvel Comics. It was barely practical when Quesada had the company lean, healthy and under control. But at least he found time to write it, and at least he made the wise decision to be on hand to draw the present and the key conversation in the past just after Peter makes the wrong decision for all the right reasons (truth and love, not living a lie) because he nails the staccato timing in the dialogue and the awful silences as the implications dawn on the couple.

There are a few better writers at Marvel but only a few and only because Quesada invited them personally. But this is a triumph and a most unlikely one at that.

Captain America Vs. The Red Skull (£18-99, Marvel) by various.

Reprints 14 issues throughout the ages as the man with the worst skin complaint in Marvel history takes it out on one of the worst dressed. Oh, he is! Expect a swarm of ‘v’s, a great many guttural sounds unt der brief bursts of Schadenfreude before the Nazi nincompoop inevitably ends up shaking his fist in defiance while falling off a cliff or something.

Punisher: Franken-Castle s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by many.

Reprints #11-21, the relevant issue of THE LIST and DARK WOLVERINE #88-89.

Sensational She-Hulk by John Byrne (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne.

Successfully played for mischief with lots of fourth-wall breaches back when they were relatively novel.

Invaders Now! h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Christos Gage, Alex Ross & Caio Reis.

Regurgitation alert! I know it’s by Christos Gage, Alex Ross & Caio Reis because they refer to them as the writers and artist. Respectfully I think ‘artist’ is pushing it, and whilst whilst words were undeniably written, they weren’t very well chosen nor ordered in anything close to an attractive manner.

Thanks to some recent mini-series, the World War II Invaders are almost all alive and well although in Toro and the original Human Torch’s cases, they’re a little bewildered by modern methods of living. Then there’s catastrophe in a Dutch university hospital, Steve Rogers recognises the assailant’s symptoms and decides to call in the Avengers, only for the WWII Vision to materialise with a better idea.

“No, send the Invaders instead! it must be the original Invaders!”
“Why?”
“Because otherwise there will be grave repercussions for the balance of… something.”
“Something?”
“…Or other.”
“…”
“Look, I for one don’t stand a chance of being back on the printed page if you call in the Avengers. There are already seven Avengers titles and you’ve got two Captain America series of your own. This original Invaders shtick is all I got going, and no one even remembers me as it is.”
“<sigh> Okay. You do you realise how atrociously you’re drawn, right? That colour scheme is horrible.”
“Invaders Invade!”
“Jesus suffering %&*$.”

Planetary/Batman h/c (£16-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassady.

One-third of PLANETARY: CROSSING WORLDS still available to buy here @ £10-99. You do get Ellis’ script, though.

Tom Strong And the Robots Of Doom (£13-50, DC) by Peter Hogan & Chris Sprouse, Karl Story.

More recent mini-series in which Tom’s reality suddenly shifts to a world conquered by Nazis and ruled by Strong’s own son.

First Wave h/c (£22-50, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Rags Morales, Phil Noto.

Reprints the BATMAN/DOC SAVAGE one-shot and FIRST WAVE #1-6. Of the former, I wrote: Set in much earlier age where human skills and individual excellence were your ‘super-powers’ (we’re talking Doc Savage, The Spirit, Black Canary, Justice Inc., The Blackhawks and Rima The Jungle Girl) and their opponents come in the form of crime organisations like the global Golden Tree, hinted at here as Doc Savage comes to Gotham and takes issue with Batman’s methods, particularly those twin guns. The press are all over him, but he’s in a city he doesn’t understand, its layers of corruption far further up and lower down than he’s used to. But if Doc Savage is naive, this Batman is greener than we’re used to as well and he underestimates Savage at almost every juncture, cocking up left, right and centre. The lines are as clean as Chris Sprouse’s (I’m just not a fan of this sort of opaque colouring), and 100 BULLETS‘ Azzarello has clearly relished returning to a lower-tech world, the best bits coming in the form of a high society gala where Bruce Wayne plays his part and gets the information he’s looking for: which fist Doc Savage leads with.

Of FIRST WAVE #1: Doc Savage, Man Of Bronze, is just in time to be too late for his father’s own funeral so a second one is held during which an exhumation is ordered. Not quite sure what authority Doc Savage has to demand such a service but since no one bothered to look inside the coffin beforehand, it’s probably just as well. The Spirit, meanwhile, himself dead for a week or so recently, has taken to sleeping in an open grave and so feels quite comfortable having a nap in the back of a meat truck which may or may not contain that very same coffin. We’ll have to see how all that joins up, as well as the events on Anton Colossi’s Island project as related to a Mr. Sunlight who’s a ray of Russian ‘shine, very happy with how events are unfolding even though William Littlejohn has gone AWOL on the aforementioned island, stolen some secrets, got a right eyeful and then landed the natives there in deep, deep dung owing to their compassion.

All this and the cliffhanger may make more sense to long-time Doc Savage readers a lot earlier than to the rest of us, but that’s fine by me. I like a writer making me work to join up the dots while being given just enough information to start guessing at the possibilities. Rags (IDENTITY CRISIS) Morales provides plenty of atmosphere from the rain-sodden cemetery to the jungle night, and although SPIRIT readers may (may) be outraged by the loss of its more cartoon sensibilities, I can’t see that Morales had any choice in a project like this, and at least Dolan still has a mighty chin.

LINK

Deadman vol 1 (£14-99, DC) by Arnold Drake, Jack Miller, Neal Adams & Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, George Roussos.

First adventures of assassinated high-wire performer from when comics cost 12 cents. Thank you, thank you to DC for a) not releasing any new superhero comics or crossovers I need to cover this month and b) de-cluttering your website.

LINK

Green Lantern: Brightest Day h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke, Shane Davis, Christian Alamy.

First GREEN LANTERN issues post-Blackest Night.

Wonder Woman: Odyssey vol 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Straczynski, Hester & many.

Who destroyed Paradise Island? #600-606.

Batman: Long Shadows s/c (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winnick & Ed Benes, Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter.

Reprints BATMAN #687-691 post-BATMAN: R.I.P.. Two-Face and the Penguin are still battling it out to become Gotham’s new crime lord.

Infinity Inc.: The Generations Saga h/c (£29-99, DC) by many

Early Todd McFarlane (that’s a warning, not an advertisement) in adventures following the children of the JSA like Huntress, Jade, Power Girl etc.

Batman: Brave And the Bold: Emerald Night (£9-99, DC) by Landry Walker, Sholly Fisch & Eric Jones, Robert Pope.

Kid-friendly adventures of Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman etc. drawn in the style of the animated cartoons.

Tiny Titans: Field Trippin’ (£9-99, DC) by Art Baltazar.

Kid-friendly and played for laughs from the creator of PATRICK THE WOLF BOY.

LINK

Silent Hill: Past Life (£13-50, IDW) by Tom Waltz & Menton.

Bludgeoned nurses, elusive, sinister children and packs of live ammo left inexplicably behind domestic refuse bins; bewildered strangers, rabid dogs and stuff that drips from the wall. That’s my neighbourhood, anyway.

For further daftness please see SILENT HILL OMNIBUS review:

LINK

Dark Age Dominion (£14-99, Hayeshayes) by Mada Shaye, Vin Shaye.

Popped down here on account of the creators’ connections to games design, dystopia here we come. A whole bunch of visuals and a few more words here:

LINK

Marijuanaman h/c (£18-99, Image) by Ziggy Marley, Joe Casey & Jim Mahfood.

Oh dear Lord. “A noble champion has arrived on Earth…” etc. 48 pages for £18-99. What the fuck are they smoking?!

LINK

Art, Criticism & Prose for April

Alan Moore: Storyteller h/c & cd (£25-00) by Gary Spencer Millidge.

Many are the books on Moore, some of them swimming in student pretension, others, when they have access to the beard, far more enlightening (Eddie Campbell’s A DISEASE OF LANGUAGE and the EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE). This draws on new and previously unpublished interviews and is written by Gary Spencer Millidge who is eminently qualified being a personal friend of Alan’s, one of his favourite comicbook creators (STRANGEHAVEN) and the author of the exceptional COMICBOOK DESIGN.  Here Gary tells you all about the book and the CD accompanying it:

LINK

Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy And Practice (£9-99) by Ivan Brunetti.

From the creator of HO! (caution when visiting that review – though it’s a great deal tamer than the contents themselves!) fifteen lessons delivered with a trademark Brunetti… directness. Originally available with a copy of COMIC ART… for about five seconds. 

Little Endless portfolio set (£29-99, DC) by Jill Thompson.

Twelve watercolour prints. Destiny’s brilliant! On sale September 28th

LINK

Supernatural Noir (£14-99, Dark Horse) by various.

Prose: LINK

The Marvel Art Of Mike Deodato h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Mike Deodato.

240-page landscape hardcover from the artist of Warren Ellis’ THUNDERBOLTS, DARK AVENGERS, SECRET AVENGERS etc. There’ll be plenty here you haven’t seen plus a commentary.

Comics For April

Dark Horse Presents vol II #1 (£5-99, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Harlan Ellison, Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, David Chelsea, Richard Corben, Randy Stradley, Patrick Alexander, Howard Chaykin.

Return of the anthology that first spawned SIN CITY. Features new CONCRETE and Finder stories in colour, and a preview of Frank Miller’s 300 prequel, XERXES. 80 pages. New FINDER site here:

LINK

Nobrow new releases:

There are some exquisite comics available from Nobrow like PEBBLE ISLAND which we have, and anything and everything by Ben Newman. The design is usually perfect and production quality exceptional. But they’re expensive. I understand why they’re expensive, but they’re too expensive to sell here considering how short they are. Instead I commend their website to you for a really good browse:

LINK

Hate Annual #9 (£3-50, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge.

The first full-length Buddy Bradley story in ten years. For those unfamiliar with the basic HATE set-up, it’s a book to make you feel better about your own life, as a parade of argumentative, competitive and lying losers talk total bullshit before fucking up whatever it is they’ve decide to do. Or avoid doing. A family crisis propels Lisa back to her Seattle-based parents, at which point Buddy discovers why she’s been avoiding them for two decades. Annual #8 still available to order, on the subject of which, here’s that year’s quick Q & A:

LINK

Vertigo Resurrected: Bad Blood (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jamie Delano & Philip Bond, Warren Pleece.

Four-part mini-series I don’t even remember! Still, Philip Bond on art, eh?

“It’s the year 2025. The British monarchy is on its last legs, and John Constantine is still alive and kicking, though he has forsaken the world of magic. But that’s all about to change when John’s friend Dolly finds herself held captive on a reality TV show about how she’s the last surviving heir to the throne. Various pro- and anti-royalist forces plot out the show’s cliffhanger ending with Dolly’s life hanging in the balance. But Constantine is in for an even bigger surprise when he finds out that Dolly is pregnant with his child, and it’s up to the old mage to decide the course of England’s future – and whether to crown his own offspring.”

Fear Itself #1 of 7 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen.

Marvel’s main event in 2011, and you’re in for some spectacle if the interior art I’ve seen is anything to by as Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers – a good one and a half dozen of them – hold a press conference under what I take to be the ruins of Asgard. Certainly Thor’s looking worried. Something’s coming back…

As mentioned last month, Ed Brubaker provides the prologue, already retitled FEAR ITSELF: BOOK OF THE SKULL as Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, uncovers something lying buried in the past. We’ve already got Phobos, the Greek God of Fear, running around in SECRET WARRIORS; I wonder if there’s a Norse one?

Sin’s been appearing on and off throughout Ed Brubaker’s Captain America which has proved infinitely more enthralling than any previous run, being far more of an action/espionage affair. The main events leading up to this, however, can be traced to a single volume, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN AMERICA h/c solicited in the book section above, and also due out in April.

Have a trailer. Wish it had more interior art.

LINK

Fear Itself: The Home Front #1 of 7 (£2-99, Marvel) by many & more.

What do you fear the most? Nuclear Armageddon? Conflict in the Middle East or North Africa? A Tory government? Economic meltdown? A £25,000 debt at the end of your university degree? Or another wallet-crushing overkill of FEAR ITSELF tie-in titles? Well, don’t order them, then. Stick to FEAR ITSELF and the Brubaker PROLOGUE, and email us at page45@page45.com to reserve them. Or – should you want – you can indeed order all connected mini-series and tie-ins. We have a system for sorting that for you. This one looks like being short stories, the first of which stars Speedball, blamed for the six hundred deaths at Stamford which kicked off Marvel’s CIVIL WAR. He’s just been uncovered doing charity work in Stamford. Other tie-ins this month are a reprint of irrelevant Sin material (stick to Brubaker’s) and Matt Fraction’s IRON MAN #503. Oh yes, and this little number…

Journey Into Mystery #622 (£299, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite.

THOR reverts to its original title in time to tie-in to FEAR ITSELF with the return of Loki. But this is Loki as a young boy who only now finds out what his elder self was up to. After years as a trickster and revolutionary, no one in Asgard trusts him, so when he discovers what’s really happening in FEAR ITSELF he’s going to have a hard time convincing anyone he’s telling the truth. Gillen has some seriously surprising plans for the book. Interview:

LINK

The Mighty Thor #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Oliver Coipel.

THOR splits into two separate series in time for a film.

Uncanny X-Men #354.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco.

Uncanny X-Men #355 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Terry Dodson.

A return to more self-contained story arcs beginning with one focussed on Kitty Pryde and Colossus whose relationship has endured either one of them, on separate occasions, dead or presumed so, lost in the outer reaches of space. Rekindling both the heart of story from Joss Whedon’s exceptional four-volume run on ASTONISHING X-MEN, then.

“Since they both went through periods where they grieved over the loss of each other, Kitty and Colossus’s relationship has become incredibly intense. Even though they can’t touch they’re spending a lot of time together. So there’s a poignancy and a desperation to it,” Gillen explained. “They’re essentially the classic star-crossed lovers in that they can’t really catch a break. If they said, ‘Hey let’s go away for the weekend together,’ one of them would probably have been blown up. So that makes things intense. The only times they have been able to touch is when Kitty is in her solidity suit which makes things better, but it’s still not like a normal relationship. The X-Men don’t really have normal relationships though, do they?”

Gillen’s solo run, however, kicks off with a single issue dealing with how you go about spin-doctoring a world-renowned supervillain and species separatist called Magneto whom the world once saw levelling New York under Morrison’s run, now that he’s living with the X-Men in San Francisco. Okay, it wasn’t actually Magneto in New York, but you try telling New Yorkers that. The terrorist’s certainly responsible for plenty more.

From the fiercely intelligent writer of PHONOGRAM, DARK AVENGERS: ARES and THOR etc, here’s the rest of that substantial interview about Kieron Gillen’s extended plans:

LINK

Marvel Annuals 2011 (£2-99 each) by various.

The return of one of Marvel’s worst-ever ideas: annuals that feed from one title to another, written and drawn by no one connected to them and having no bearing whatsoever on each title’s storylines. Example: X-MEN, STEVE ROGERS, NAMOR. A three-parter by no one you know culminating in a title nobody reads. Brilliant! So we won’t be foisting these on those down for each series. Please order separately should you so desire.

Nonplayer #1 of 6 (£2-25, Image) by Nate Simpson.

Dana Stevens lives out her fantasies in the online world of Jarvath where she’s an elite warrior. But then she goes and slays the wife of game character King Heremoth, at which point the game spins totally out of control.

Devin Grayson once wrote a rather good Vertigo series about online gaming, while Corey Doctorow’s first story in his FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW was exceptional. I don’t know whether this will have anything to say, but I do wish he’d used anything from the first three pages rather than the cover he finally chose. Here’s that preview plus far more info if you click elsewhere on the site.

LINK

Walking Dead Survivors’ Guide #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by Tim Daniel, Robert Kirkman & Adlard, Rathburn.

As it says, a guide rather than a comic.

Also Scheduled:

Jew Gangster s/c (£10-99, DC) by Joe Kubert
Willie & Joe: The WWII Years and Willie & Joe: Back Home h/cs (£39-99, £29-99 respectively, Fantagraphics) by Bill Maudlin
My Favourite Martian vol 1 h/C (£37-99, Hermes) by Paul S. Newman & Russ Manning, Dan Spiegel, Mike Arens
The Executor s/c (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jon Evans & Andrea Mutti
House Of Mystery vol 6: Safe As Houses (£13-50, Vertigo/DC) by Matthew Sturges & Brendan McCarthy, many more
Unknown Soldier vol 4: Beautiful World (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Joshua Dysart & Albertoi Ponticelli, Rick Veitch
Preacher book four h/c (£29-99, Vertigo/DC) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, guests
After Dark (£10-99, Radical) by Peter Milligan & Leonardo Manco, Jeff Nentrup
Slaine: Lord Of Misrule (£14-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Greg Staples, Clint Langley
Metal Hurlant vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by various
Deep Sleeper h/c (£16-50, IDW) by Phil Hester & Mike Huddlestone
Zombies Vs Robots Aventure (sic) (£13-50, IDW) by Chris Ryall & various
Miss Fury h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Tarpé Mills
Male Call, Complete Newspaper Strips 1942-46 h/c (£29-99, Hermes) by Milton Caniff
Winterworld (£14-99, IDW) by Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino
Battle Of Destiny (£10-99, Ape) by Chuck Dixon & Aaron Minier
Amity Blamity vol 1 (£8-50, Amaze Ink/SLG) by Mike White
Seeds (£6-99, Com.X) by Ross Mackintosh
Dean Motter’s Mister X: The Brides Of Mister X And Other Stories h/c (£37-99, Dark Horse) by Dean Motter, Peter Milligan, Jeffrey Morgan & Shane Oakley, D’Israeli, Brett Ewins
Aliens V Predator: Three World War (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Randy Stradley & Rick Leonardi
The Terminator: 2029-1984 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Zack Whedon & Andy MacDonald
Chronicles Of King Conan vol 2 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Roy Thomas, Doug Moench & John Buscema, Ernie Chan
Spike vol 1 h/c (£16-50, IDW) by Brian Lynch & Urru, Zanni
Galactica 1980 (£12-99, D.E.) by Marc Guggenheim & Cezar Razek
Starcraft (£10-99, DC) by Simon Furman & many
Bleedout h/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Mike Kennedy & various
Lucid h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Michael McMillan & Anna Wieszcyk
Kid K-Os Vol 1: The Agents Of Doom (£16-99, Art House 7) by Kaja Blackley & Alex Hawley
Batgirl: The Flood (£10-99, DC) by Bryan Q Miller & Lee Garbett, Trevor Scott
Batman: The Streets Of Gotham – Hush Money s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs
Superboy: The Boy Of Steel (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul
Superboy And The Legion Of Superheroes: The Early Years (£10-99, DC) by Paul Levitz & Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza
Legion Lost h/c (£29-99, DC) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Olivier Coipel, Pascal Alixe
Jonah Hex: No Way Back (£10-99, DC) by Gray, Palmiotti & DeZuniga
Justice League International vol 6 (£18-99, DC) by Giffen, DeMatteis, Loebs & Adam Hughes, more
Secret Six: Reptile Brain (£10-99, DC) by Simone, Cornell & Calafiore, Woods
JSA All-Stars: Glory Days (£13-50, DC) by Matthew Sturges & Freddie E. Williams III, Howard Porter, Art Thibert
Doomwar s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry & Scot Eaton
Ultimate Comics Avengers: Crime & Punishment s/c (£14-99, marvel) by Garth Ennis & Leinil Francis Yu
Marvel Masterworks: the Avengers vol 11 h/c (£40-99, Marvel) by various & sundry
Dark Avengers h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Bendis & Deodato, more. Reprints #1-6, 9-16 and the annual.
Thor/Iron Man: God Complex h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Abnett, Lanning & Scot Eaton
Warriors Three: Dog Day Afternoon h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Bill Willingham & Neil Edwards
The Death Of Jean DeWolff h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema
X-23 vol 1: The Killing Dream h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Will Conrad. Current series.
Tron: Original Movie Adaptation (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter David & Mirco Pierfederici
Deadpool Corps vol 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now (£12-99, Marvel) by Gischler & Liefeld, Michaels
Red Hulk: Scorched Earth (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Hardman, Robinson, McGuiness. HULK #25-30.
Thunderbolt Classics vol 1 (£22-50, Marvel) by Kurt Busiek with Peter David & many, oh so many
Essential Thor vol 5 (£14-99, Marvel) by Conway, Wein & John Buscema, Don Perlin, Jim Mooney
Invincible vol 14: The Viltrumite War (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Otley
Artifacts vol 2 (£10-99, Top Cow/Image) by Ron Marz & Whilce Portacio
Magdalena Origins vol 2 (£14-99, Top Cow/Image) by Holguin, Chen & Basaldua, Ching
Die Hard: Year One vol 2 (£9-99, Boom!) by Howard Chaykin & Gabriel Andrade
Zombie Tales Omnibus (£14-99, Boom!) by Waid, Giffen, Niles, more
The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles vol 1 (£14-99, Buymetoys.com) by Ben Avery, Casey Heying, & Casey Heying

Page 45 previews researched and written by Stephen. It really is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Reviews February 2011 week two

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

 

Scenes From An Impending Marriage h/c (£7-50, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine…

“Haha haha, he’s just like you.”

Not a quote, but in fact my wife’s chortling comment after reaching the part where Adrian decides to walk home to save a few bucks rather than get a taxi whilst laden down with several boxes of freshly printed ‘authentic hand-set type and letter press printed’ wedding stationary. In my defence I am from Yorkshire, a county renowned for producing fiscally prudent individuals perhaps second only to Scotland in that particular respect. I’m not exactly sure whether Adrian’s home state has the same reputation for parsimony, but I personally applaud his financial sensibilities nonetheless. Weddings are not cheap.

Actually after finishing reading, my wife did remark Adrian actually reminded her of me all the way through the book, and I heartily concur with that cheeky observation. From choosing a venue, to caterers, to music, to attire, to guest lists (particularly guest lists) I found myself nodding in agreement with Adrian, and in memory of my own travails. People who read this work will thus fall into two distinct camps: those who have been through the stress-inducing, blood-pressure-raising, three-ring circus that is otherwise known as getting married, and those who have not yet had that particular pleasure. Consequently whilst the force-ten farrago that ensues in the run up to the said ‘big day’ will be all too familiar to those of us in the former camp, however at least we’ve been through it and hopefully won’t have to endure it again. Hopefully the rest of you will have to, I mean get to, experience all that it entails at some point…

Indeed literally every single page of this book brought back some teeth gritting memories regarding my own (well, to be precisely accurate my wife’s) wedding preparations, and even Mr. and Mrs. Tomine’s post-nuptial comments in their hotel room afterwards about not even getting chance to enjoy the delicious looking food served up to their guests rang all too true.

About the only thing we didn’t seem to have had in common with our wedding preparations was having a priest of my wife’s religion (Catholic) ever so politely point out my religion of choice (Buddhism) was regarded as a cult rather than a bona fide religion by the Catholic Church, and thus we wouldn’t be able to have a full Catholic mass on the day in addition to our wedding ceremony. It would also be remiss of me not to point out I was absolutely delighted by that. I also like to think Adrian would have been equally amused / bemused had it happened to him.

And I’m also quite sure that every man who has been through the experience of preparing to get married has made exactly the same jokey comment Adrian makes to his fiancé on the prologue page of “Any chance you’d want to elope?” Sadly, he got met with the same response I did when I too asked that impertinent if somewhat hopeful question right at the beginning of proceedings… a rather stern stare.

LINK

JR

Daytripper (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon.

“In order to go after your dreams, you must live your life. Wake up, before it’s too late.”

Quiet, contemplative and so beautiful to behold, this is the most startlingly original book from Vertigo since Paul Pope’s HEAVY LIQUID. Every fluid stroke is steeped in humanity or the living world bustling around it, and it’s so full of grace I could cry.

From the Brazilian brothers who brought us DE TALES and the artists on books like UMBRELLA ACADEMY and CASANOVA, a book about family, fatherhood and friendship; an outlook on life and the mortality that defines it; twelve separate yet integrated stories about the life and different deaths of aspiring novelist Brás de Oliva Domingos.

Aged merely 32, Brás is feeling old. His father is such a successful Brazilian author that the literary community is throwing a great gala in his honour tonight, while he’s stuck writing obituaries for a newspaper. Oh yes, and neither his father nor mother appear to have remembered his birthday. So he’s feeling a bit morbid, he’s feeling a little dejected and he’s… well, he’s sulking. Nevertheless he hoists on the tuxedo and makes his way to the Theatro Municipal just early enough to grab some smokes and a beer from a local bar. Which is where a different family’s argument ensures that his family will never forget his birthday again.

It’s quite the startling conclusion to the first chapter of a twelve issue mini-series – the death of its lead character. But make no mistake, Brás is the main protagonist and successive instalments unveil what might have happened if Brás had died earlier or lived a lot longer, chosen different paths and come to understand what really matters. He makes bad decisions and stagnates; he finds true love at last and marries. He lives to see some give birth, others die, and this best friend run away in terror. In one instance he respects Jorge’s decision, in another he drives long into the night to find him.

“Jorge was his best friend, and that’s what friends do. They care. They find each other and stick together when things get rough. Friends are worth every effort. Friends matter.”

Twice Brás dies because he believes in friendship, but as young Jorge says, “If it weren’t for people, life would be a fuckin’ desert”. Indeed on almost every page there’s an exchange to give one pause for thought and there’s some very sound advice for a Brás who so often wants to shut out life altogether, particularly from his writing, from the very source of his ambition, his father, who here speaks of his mother:

“I remember when we first met. I told her I wanted to be a writer and that I knew a great romance was waiting for me to write it. She smiled and said that she hoped a great romance was waiting for me to live it.”

The most affecting chapter for me was the one in which an older, wiser and more successful Brás is away from his wife and son on a book tour, yet still there in every corner of the house. He sends letters and texts and emails every day and his son could not be more proud of him. His wife smiles at a mobile phone call or messages left on the answering machine, telling her he misses them, seeing them mirrored in a happy couple, but always reassuring her he’ll be back home soon. His son carries his father’s books with him to school even though he’s too young to understand them and, during a disquieting bout of bullying, more eagerly awaits his return. We know from the start that Brás will never be home again, but it’s so well crafted with those messages received that the illusion is maintained throughout that he will. So reliable is he that when there are “no new messages” it’s assumed that the internet server is broken. It isn’t.

The book’s as close as I’ve found to an exploration and distillation about the secrets to love, life and happiness outside of Kahlil Gibran: comprehending, appreciating and enjoying what you have before something goes so catastrophically wrong that you yearn for the past; not dwelling on others’ perceived greater fortune or resenting what’s missing, but acknowledging and embracing what you do have in front of you. Because there’s nothing like death to put life into perspective.

 “Wake up, dude. You’re missing it.”

Full colour sketchbook in the back. The brothers write, “The most difficult thing wasn’t trying to create a world that would look real. No, the hardest thing was creating a world that would feel real.”

It certainly resonated with me, whilst Paul Pope, Jeff Smith and Gerard Way line up to sing its praises. Terry Moore of STRANGERS IN PARADISE writes:

“DAYTRIPPER is the most engaging story I’ve read all year. [This] tale of the life and deaths of a writer is the creative love-child of Eisner and Fellini at their best; a love story grounded in stark reality, yet awash in the magic of circumstance. DAYTRIPPER is a fascinating puzzle I will be contemplating for the rest of my life.”

Illustrated introduction by Craig Thompson of BLANKETS.

LINK

SLH

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey h/c (£22-50, Villard) by GB Train…

For a certain American generation there is a word which perhaps inevitably carries more emotional baggage than any other, that word being Vietnam. This work, VIETNAMERICA is most certainly not a war story however, but a fascinating look at one (very) extended Vietnamese family’s history spread across several generations now living both in Vietnam and America. It’s documented and drawn by Tran Huu Gia-Bao (or GB Tran as he’s more commonly known) who himself was born in South Carolina in 1976 a year after his parents fled Vietnam leaving several family members behind them.

VIETNAMERICA immediately draws comparisons with FORGET SORROW: AN ANCESTRAL TALE, as the focus is firmly on family with a dash of politics and history thrown in for good measure. Such is the complicated nature of GB’s family, and the segmented way he’s chosen to tell his story, moving backwards and forward through time from the present to the past and back again, I did initially find myself getting slightly confused as to who was who, and thinking I could really do with a family tree, when lo and behold, up one popped on page 62.  

Once you have the various characters’ relationships with each other a bit more firmly fixed in your mind, the work immediately becomes much more engaging, and you start to more fully understand some of the very difficult choices, and their attendant consequences, that were forced upon different generations of family members at times by the continuous political and social upheaval in Vietnam during various struggles against French colonialism, occupation during WW2 by Japan, the American war against the Communists, and finally the difficult period of internal unrest and uncertainty following that last conflict. GB manages to capture the flavour of ‘normal’ life for typical Vietnamese against such a continuous melodrama, without detracting from the central drama of the family history.

He also, wisely in my opinion, decides just to tell the family’s story, rather than bringing himself and his own views on events into the work. When he does pop up from time to time it’s usually providing a bit of light comic relief at his own expense, about his naivety concerning life and culture in modern Vietnam compared to the USA. Or providing a counterpoint for his mother to further elucidate some long-forgotten or hidden story, usually about his somewhat taciturn father. GB’s actually an extremely good story teller, having obviously learnt that most vital of lessons regarding the depiction of true life events, just let the story tell itself. 

The art is wonderful too, containing a seemingly never-ending host of clever visual devices such as panels spiralling out of his father’s cigarette smoke as he grudgingly recounts another story, and a truly vibrant palette of colours, occasionally switching into black and white, and even combining the two on occasion for further effect. It seems the family play a lot of Scrabble too, and one of my favourite bits of art is the double-page spread of a Scrabble board inlaid with various panels depicting GB’s parents early days in their newly adopted country. My absolute favourite artwork though, is the actual cover of the book (hidden under the none-too-shabby itself dust jacket) which features a partially constructed jigsaw puzzle of a face, made up from pieces taken from the faces of several different family members. The message, running throughout this work, is abundantly clear: you can separate people by continents, oceans and thousands of miles, but can you ever really separate a family? 

LINK 

JR

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

Light, bright, concise and precise history of life’s rich tapestry here on planet Earth, and the science behind it all right down to the specific single-celled organisms that grew more ambitious, and the bacteria that stayed still or became breakfast instead.

As a Professor of Biology the creator of the much missed CLAN APIS is eminently qualified to talk about DNA, RNA, proteins and animo acids, whilst his natural skill as a communicator turn it into a remarkable fusion of education and entertainment in the form of one long conversation between a monocular, professorial starfish and its alien prince and king. Even Charles Darwin pops up at a gig to explain his own theories…

“Natural Selection is the name of the evolutionary mechanism I proposed. It’s the process by which favourable traits are preserved in a group of organisms and harmful traits die out. Some also refer to this as “survival of the fittest”.”

… before expounding on the four basic conditions that must be met for the process to occur, how it occurs, and how he observed it occurring in a succession of phenotypes before the genotypes behind them – the unique set of genes in an individual’s DNA chromosomes that dictate their individual traits – were unveiled later on.

Each biological and evolutionary mechanism is backed up with such evidence and the history of its discovery which is vital in refuting the head-in-the-sand stupidity of Creationists who maintain that man was created from scratch last Thursday, and woman from his elbow or something.

Moreover what could have been an unwieldy tangle has been streamlined to perfection with room for recaps, and – this is the killer – the fact that this a comic rather than prose means that each step is easy to digest and you can refer back to previous panels for a quick recap because you’ll have an associated image for that key information already stored in your head. I used this myself when I needed to remind myself about the cellular differences between those three types of single-celled organisms – bacteria, eukaryote and archaea – and I knew exactly which image I was looking for. Can you imagine how much easier this would have been to revise for at school? It’s like a series of illustrated flashcards linked with a narrative thread!

And it’s funny! Just like the CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS, the cartooning hits just the right note of parenthetical asides (fungal-infected ant: “I think there’s a fungus among us”) whilst never distracting you from the information they pertain to (the difference between plants, fungi and animals when generating energy).

Over the subsequent chapters life on this planet is explored through fossils (a potential source of legendary creatures like the griffin and cyclops too?) as the notochords of chordates evolve into the backbones of vertebrates; and arthropods, with their supporting structure on the outside, develop eight jointed legs just to terrify Charlie Brooker in the bath. Plants start growing, insects start buzzing and hungry fish like the look of them so flop on the shore while those that see their brothers promptly expire decide it’d be better to wait until they actually breathed air first. Oh yes, and grow legs for non-flopping-about-ness. Amphibians, eh? Some decide to leave home altogether because their parents won’t let them smoke weed and then change their name by deed poll to reptiles just to have the last laugh. Just the sort of hubris that invites a mass extinction, which is what happens next.

Hosler entertains, but without the sort of buffoonery above that would make a mockery of his sound knowledge and expertise. There’s no disinformation to distract you for one second from the detail of what actual happens, how, why and when. He’s meticulous like that, right down to the evolution of insects which, unlike dragonflies, could fold their wings back after flight and so climb into crevices… and how the Permian Extinction, wiping out one-third of all insects, gave them a better fighting chance against the previously dominant species to the extent that 98% on all insect species can now fold their wings back.

I’ll leave you to learn of reptiles’ return to the seas (“Evolution is not a progressive march. Life has no destination, no ultimate goal. It evolves to take advantage of new ways of getting resources”), the emergence of mammals then birds and how their endothermy later proved a literal life-saver. But there’s nothing I have seen here that wouldn’t make this a perfect set text for schools – nothing that would be judged inaccurate or inadequate in an exam. As adult entertainment I know we’re now spoiled by David Attenborough and his successors on television, but I also like to retain knowledge and can rarely do so without the printed word which makes this the perfect medium, especially with its glossary at the back.

SLH

Stigmata h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Claudio Piersanti & Lorenzo Mattotti…

I have to say I was a little nonplussed by STIGMATA upon finishing it. I thought it started off very, very strongly indeed, taking the nameless main protagonist and plot very dramatically in some unexpected directions, and then it just rather trailed off, albeit gracefully, to its conclusion. Very much a book of two halves, then. The ending as it pertains to our nameless stigmartyr martyr (sorry, little Bauhaus joke, couldn’t resist) does make perfect sense, and it is emotionally satisfying in some ways, but after the barnstorming start to the first half of the book it all seemed rather tame and to an extent, passionless.

I guess what I don’t understand upon reflection is why the main character has the stigmata initially, and why, given that they briefly disappear when he falls in love with his wife, he then still has them at the end of the book. Despite the apparent resolution, it seems as though nothing at all actually has been. I feel as though I’m missing something fundamental about the ending, which I possibly am. With that said it’s still a powerful work, and perhaps I shouldn’t try and see meaning where maybe there isn’t intended to be one, at least not a clear-cut one, I’m not sure. What I am in no doubt about is the quality of the swirlingly mesmerising black and white art which at times put me in mind of Renee French and Craig Thompson, amongst others.

There is apparently a 2009 black and white Spanish film adaptation of this work called Estigmas. I can completely see that this type of story would make for an excellent art-house film, and despite my reservations – or perhaps lack of perception – about the work, I’d certainly be interested in seeing the film. If only to see if it sheds a little more light on the story as a whole for me.

JR

Johnny Red vol 1: Falcon’s First Flight (£14-99, Titan) by Tony Tully & Joe Colquhoun…

Ah this takes me back to my youth, when after my mother had kindly cancelled my subscription to 2000AD (I suspect a belated peak inside had convinced her that the thrill power contained within was likely to melt my tender pre-teen mind – too late, Mum!) I managed to ensure I got my weekly comic kicks by persuading her to get me BATTLE ACTION instead. Never mind the body count was about a hundred times higher every week than 2000AD, at least to her it was recognisable human bodies getting blown apart, I suspect.

And Johnny Red Redburn was indeed by far one of my favourite characters, the scouse merchant navy deserter waging his own personal war against the Germans after having seconded himself to a frontline Russian air squadron called the Falcons, which seemed to be a somewhat motley collection indeed of pilots and ground crew, and have a rather brutal, never ending supply of commandants and secret police officers who always seemed to be two minutes away from shooting someone, often Johnny, for some trumped up reason or other.

Reading it again after all these years, it’s still great fun, fantastically well written by Tom Tully (as much appreciated in the foreword by war freak himself Garth Ennis) and illustrated by CHARLEY’S WAR artist Joe Colquhoun in a suitably all-action manner. When Johnny is piloting yet another obscure Russian crate through the trees at low level to escape a better equipped Messerschmitt, you can practically feel the branches taking off the tops of your ears! Whilst I’m not sure I could sit through 13 years worth of Johnny’s aerial antics, which is how long the strip actually ran for, longer than even CHARLEY’S WAR in fact, I’ll certainly enjoy reading the next few volumes at least.

Fans of Garth Ennis’s BATTLEFIELDS and WAR STORIES really should take a look at JOHNNY RED – it will most certainly appeal – and I’m sure aficionados of CHARLEY’S WAR will be doing so anyway.

More BATTLE ACTION action in the form of DARKIE’S MOB and MAJOR EAZY is apparently still coming out, just much later on this year.

LINK

JR

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

Contemporary Chinese horror based on the roaringly successful novels of Xu “Kennedy” Lei with fully painted art (albeit on a computer, I’d have thought) by Ken Chou.

Sean Wu is not his real name.

Until he was ten the young man lived in China as Wu Xie but, after a rift with his wealthy father, his mother took him across the sea to Detroit where they made ends meet – barely – in a basement studio flat. But now, after a decade of silence, his father has sought Sean out for a reunion which lasts little more than a minute of bottled up resentment before a hooded figure emerges from the evening’s urban downpour, his face covered by a demonic Chinese mask. Umm… it’s not a mask.

Originally I wondered why the first issue kicked off with a full page of prose setting the far broader scene about elaborate tomb systems all over the globe and three factions of Chinese tomb robbers who plunder their targets either with respect or rapacious greed or, in the case of the Daomu, some sort of custodial protection. We’re also told that the Daomu have been corrupted, their prodigal son having defected, and that the Daomu legacy is currently left without an heir, while the shady, military-funded conglomerate called Coral do shady things in shady places, and I bet there’s a shady lady waiting somewhere in the wings.

It read exactly like the title sequence to a console game and I was unsurprised to find some brief biographical stats at the back as compiled by Coral Incorporated. This is, as I say, based on a series of novels but I bet you anything you like that the novels were partly inspired by Tombraider et al for, sure enough, following the armed ambush (check) and last-minute intervention by unknown field agents (check), Sean heeds his father’s dying words (check) by taking the hastily bequeathed key to his great, great grandfather’s opulent Chinese palace full of antiques (check-check) and unlocking its subterranean vault where the black stone coffin opens to reveal… (check, checkity check)

No, the real reason for the opening page, is that it gives you a far broader sense of the scope potentially on offer here than the first issue suggests. Well, it’s almost certainly also designed to appeal to us console addicts, but at least I haven’t played this game first so it may have something to offer me.

The human figures and faces are a little ropey but I’m relishing the landscapes so have some interior art. The fourth page is definitely worth enlarging:

LINK

SLH

Aftermath (£14-99, Humanoids) by James Hudnall & Mark Vigouroux…

I was so very disappointed with AFTERMATH, both in terms of the story and even more so the art. Overall it has the feel of a back-up strip from early 2000AD, and a weak one at that. It takes an interesting enough premise, concerning a now defunct military unit of weaponised individuals who defeated a (very) alien invasion, which has left the gradually recovering Earth with various xeno-contaminated no-go zones, but then fails to do anything else much with it, though are one or two neat little nods to some hard sci-fi gadgets and contraptions.

The story, such as it is, then involves a double-cross as team members and the scientists who helped create them starting being murdered, but despite the obvious attempt at misdirection it was pretty apparent fairly immediately to me who was behind it all. The art is so painfully basic in places, with faces being drawn particularly badly on several occasions to horribly jarring effect, it rather spoilt the whole work. If you want some quality Euro sci-fi just check out Universal War, Scourge Of The Gods or METAL instead. Not one of the Humanoids imprint’s finest moments I’m afraid.

JR

Pandora’s Eyes h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Vincenzo Cermai & Milo Manara…

Astonishingly low tittie count this time around from the master of Eurotica art fiction. Unless I missed a few I think we literally have just the one bare breast, which is quite unusual for the great man. Maybe the author just asked him to tone it down a bit. So here we have an action-packed, if somewhat brief crime story, featuring the kidnapping of the beautiful Pandora, secret daughter of the crimelord Castex. Everyone thinks it’s Castex who has kidnapped her, having finally found out she exists, but as Interpol pursue the apparent kidnappers it becomes clear there’s someone with a rather different agenda in mind behind Pandora’s abduction. This is a great little story from Cermai, with the usual vigorous and energetic art we’ve come to expect from Manara, the only drawback being it does feel like just a very short story rather than a full-blooded thriller you can really get your teeth into, which makes it seems pricey at £14-99. It is a hardcover I suppose though.

JR

Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne h/c (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett, Andy Kubert…

Hmm, much like FINAL CRISIS you may find this needs a couple of readings to completely understand what’s going on, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as this is also a most enjoyable romp. Without giving too much away it seems that far from being killed by Darkseid’s Omega Beams at the climax of FINAL CRISIS, Bruce was in fact contaminated with Omega Energy and quite intentionally thrown back through history to Palaeolithic times. As he gradually slips forward through different time eras he’s accumulating more Omega Energy than Stephen does caffeine on a Wednesday sorting the customer orders, until he reaches the modern era where Darkseid intends him to detonate like a bomb wiping out all existence. Still Bruce being Bruce, and despite suffering from nearly complete amnesia, he’ll undoubtedly come up with a plan to save himself, and everyone else. As Superman observes, surviving is what Batman does.

What follows then is a reverse detective story in a sense, as clues Bruce has left for himself (how he’s done this finally becomes clear in the last part of the story) to find throughout time gradually restoring his memories, and allowing him to come up with a very ingenious way to foil Darkseid’s plan. Along the way we have cameos from Vandall Savage (twice, in different time eras), Blackbeard the Pirate, Jonah Hex, Doctor Simon Hurt of the Black Glove, and most of the JLA who are trying to understand where – or more precisely when – Bruce is, so they can help rescue their friend without him destroying everything. This last point is key, because there comes a moment when Bruce has to remember the first truth of Batman in order to finally save himself, that in fact he was never alone.

Morrison mixes in some nice little touches of hard sci-fi to the story for good measure, particularly when the heroes are gathered looking for clues of Batman’s whenabouts (more unabashed neology I’m afraid, Morrison tends to have that effect on me) at Vanishing Point, the temporal space station moored at the end of all time (no, there isn’t a restaurant) operated by the Linear Men.

And the distinctly different art contributions from everyone helping delineate the different time periods are all excellent, my favourite probably being Frazer Irving’s in puritan times which very much reminded me of his contribution to parts of Morrison’s outstanding Seven Soldiers Of Victory.

Overall it’s another very good Bat-book from Morrison, which has some of the zany feel of his BATMAN & ROBIN works in places as Grant has fun with some of the characters, but is actually much closer in tone to his BATMAN R.I.P. and the other immediately preceding books.

JR

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

Cynically conceived advertisement for (and cash-in on) the new online computer game which scores a double own goal on account of being atrocious. It’s dull, turgid and – the first page aside – I can see little of Porter’s flair. It’s the worst possible advertisement for the game and the worst advertisement imaginable for comics. Come back, Death Of Superman, all is forgiven.

SLH

Also shipped:

(Reviews may follow, softcovers of hardcovers may already be online…)

Lost Boys: Reign Of Frogs (£9-99, Wildstorm) by Hans Rodionoff & Joel Gomez
On The Line (£9-99, Device) by Rick Wright & Ryan Hughes
Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book One (£8-50, Scholastic) by Tom Sneigoski
Sonic Select vol 3 (£8-99, Archie) by Various
Kiki De Montparnasse (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Jose-Louis Bocquet & Catel
Big Nate From The Top (£7-50, Comic.com) by Lincoln Pierce
Air vol 4: A History Of The Future (£10-99, Vertigo) by G. Willow Wilson & M.K. Perker
d’Errico: Femina & Fauna (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Camilla d’Errico
The Flash: The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues h/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul & Scott Kolins
Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 5 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Shadowland h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Billy Tan
Spider-Man: Big Time h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos
Namor: The First Mutant vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Stuart Moore & Ariel Olivetti, Andres Guinaldo
Invincible Iron Man vol 5: Stark Resilient s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
Daken Dark Wolverine vol 1: Empire h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Giuseppe Camuncoli
Biomega vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei
Naruto vol 50 (£7-50, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
InuYasha vol 6 VIZBIG Edition (£14-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Mistress Fortune (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura
Kimi Ni Todoke vol 7 (£7-50, Viz) by Karuho Shiina
Gin Tama vol 21 (£7-50, Viz) by Hideaki Sorachi
Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 4 (£7-50, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada
Slam Dunk vol 14 (£7-50, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue
Genkaku Picasso vol 2 (£7-50, Viz) by Usamaru Furuya
Doctor Who vol 3: Final Sacrifice (£14-99, IDW) by Tony Lee, Jonathan L. Davis, Matthew Dow Smith, Al Davison & Matthew Dow Smith, Kelly Yates, Matthew Dow Smith, Al Davison
Ben 10 Alien Force / The Secret Saturdays (£9-99, CN) by Matt Wayne, Charlotte Fullerton, Amy Wolfram, Jason Hall & Rob Haynes, Mike Cavallaro, Mike DeCarlo, Min S. Ku
One Piece vol 56 (£7-50, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

 

Happy Birthday to Gosh! comic shop opposite the British Museum in London. 25 years old this week! Drop them a birthday greeting: info@goshlondon.com

Go on, it won’t cost you anything, and they deserve all the love in the world.

- Stephen

Reviews February 2011 week one

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

 

New York Five #1 (£2-25, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly.

From the creators of LOCAL, this self-contained sequel to NEW YORK FOUR returns us to the lives of five young women handling life in the Big Apple with varying degrees of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence.

Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. She also has a boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie’s no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn’t speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn’t done using Angie to speak to Riley as this issue’s cliffhanger makes clear.

Riley’s attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa’s stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona’s less outgoing but still going out: she seems to be stalking her professor. We’re talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking. I really don’t know what Ren’s problem is. No really, I don’t. She doesn’t seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?

Like LOCAL, there’s an exceptional spirit of place here whether it’s the civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night or the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn’t find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that, at 31 pages of story this is one hell of a lot of Ryan Kelly for your £2-25.

For me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts.

Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, “Noooo, don’t do it!” moments.

Interior art: LINK

SLH

The Killer Vol 3: Modus Vivendi h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon

“Poor Mexico – so far from God and so close to the USA.”

 - Diaz Ordiz, Mexican President 1860

And so we start afresh with the titular assassin three years into retirement, lazing on the beaches of Venezuela. Lazing – that really doesn’t sound like him, does it? On the other hand he might well have stayed there had Mariano not sent fresh clients his way. Maybe they were the itch he couldn’t help scratching as they fed him a succession of contracts, one after the other. The first seemed relatively straightforward: a Spanish oil broker living in Venezuela but thankfully staying in Mexico. Then an assistant manager of the Venezuelan National Bank: a little close to home but another easy target because riding a scooter in Caracas is tantamount to suicide anyway. But it’s the third target which begins to rattle our unflappable killer who hasn’t been as calculating as he should have been. Her name is Madre Luisa, much loved in Latin America as a nun working the shunned slums of Columbia. He’s basically been asked to off Mother Teresa. Why?

With the help of Mariano and his Padrino, the connections become as clear and as they prove crude. This is Venezuela, after all, the third-largest supplier of the USA’s oil whose President Hugo Chavez is determined to nationalise the industry. Unfortunately that doesn’t change anything except the likely identity of his clients and their potential reach: if he doesn’t kill Madre Luisa someone else will, and then they’ll come looking for him.

As topical right now as I’m afraid it’s likely to prove for quite some time, events spiral out of control on a national level and when Cuba’s interest is revealed the cold cogitations inevitably take a turn for the political. Here’s our man in Havana:

“There were fewer people sleeping outside and dying of hunger in the streets of Havana than in New York or Bombay. Not bad for a country strangled by American embargos for more than forty years. They weren’t rolling in dough and might not eat their fill every day, but they weren’t America’s whore or flunky, or anyone else’s and they knew it.
“Why is Fidel criticised? ‘Cause Cuba isn’t a democracy? What country is? The USA and Europe are in name only. And they impose their so-called superiority on the rest of the world. Easy enough when you rape and pillage, when you grow rich off other men’s work, when you don’t respect the rules you force on them. Bolivar said in 1823: “Providence seems to have destined the United States to rain all sorts of calamities on South America in the name of liberty.” Seeing that far ahead is really something…
“Castro’s funny too. He once said Christ’s sermons would make for good radical socialism, whether or not you were a believer. At the UN, 184 out of 192 countries voted to lift the embargo on Cuba. Only Israel, the US, the Marshall Islands, and Palau voted no… and won. Democracy in action.”

There’s plenty more where that came from in a thriller whose killer has much more to say about foreign intervention and genocide throughout the ages and across the globe. You might say it’s his specialist subject and once more it’s that part of his nature he denies having that lands him in trouble: he can’t help but question everything he’s told, everything he sees around him, and in spite of his protestations he does actually care. In his line of work, nobody likes a troublemaker.

One of the most popular series of graphic novels here, it’s the light that readers comment on most. Whether it’s the dappled shade at a corner café or looking up from the forest floor to the canopy above, the foliage growing fainter as more sunlight shines through, the colouring’s a joy. Plenty of Cuban sunsets this time round as well as our nameless protagonist attempts to broaden his increasingly narrow options, and by the time this volume ends it’s quite the tangled web of international intrigue. Meanwhile, as well as taking a turn for the political, the internal monologue ponders paternal issues too…

“We believe, or pretend to, that fathers love their children and fatherhood makes better men of them, that guys with kids are inevitably good guys, more or less: respectable, wiser, more mature… Another made-up notion that just won’t quit. Lots of dads are the same filthy sons of bitches they were before they had kids. Otherwise the atrocities that punctuate history with depressing regularity would’ve stopped long ago.
“In the 20th Century, 170 million people died in wars, genocides and massacres. That’s a big heap of dead people. Most of them were killed by kindly heads of households, sure of their might and right, sometimes in their children’s name.”

Did I mention that he now has a son?

LINK

SLH

Temperance h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Cathy Malkasian —

From the author of PERCY GLOOM, TEMPERANCE is a beautifully composed and affecting fable which weaves together complex social and moral ideas. Despite the episodes of violence that are scattered throughout the story, the prevailing mood is hope; the young Minerva is abused and witness to abuse, which sets events in motion that will not be resolved for another thirty years. During that time she constructs an imaginary world for herself and her fellow travellers, forever running from an unseen enemy, while concealing the truth of their situation from the only other person who knows; she suffers in the knowledge that if he were to remember, their boat would surely sink.

In a world where Chicken Little meets Yggdrassil, people wear hats to ensure the sky doesn’t fall on their heads, birds are enemy spies and the moon has to be chased away every night. The question is, will the ‘violence of purpose’ bring the people together or drive them apart? The themes of temperance and duplicity of language run through the book, giving multiple meanings to simple words like ‘hunger’ and ‘seeds’ (Final Fantasy 8? Anyone?). This tale made me keenly aware that there are always a range of perspectives for any event that occurs, and never before have I felt such empathy for a piece of wood.

This is a difficult book full of complex themes but is hugely rewarding: the entire work is held together by fluid, textured pencil lines and sparse backgrounds, yet you never fail to grasp the complexity of the world you are involved in. Cathy Malkasian deserves all the praise and plaudits she receives for this extraordinary piece of work.

Jhelisa Taylor

King Of The Flies vol 2: The Origin Of The World h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Pirus & Mezzo…

Eric, replete with his oversized fly mask, is back for the middle instalment of Pirus & Mezzos’ dark and twisted small-town soap opera. It just so happens that the small town in question makes Twin Peaks look like a haven of normality, mind you. And the king of the flies is certainly no happier than before. It’s not that Eric’s unhappy; he’s just becoming rapidly more aware that his life isn’t turning out to be quite what he’d hoped for…

“I think I was starting to realise that I’d never do anything meaningful in my life. That I’d never be as big as my heroes. I was giving up on my dreams. I’d thought I was hot shit, nailing a couple of girls at a time, but that’s like not doing any of ‘em. You might as well be fucking the wind.”

Several characters like the ten pin bowling obsessive Ringo, the bequiffed thug who now seems to have taken a strangely distorted, indeed almost paternal, interest in Eric, make a return, along with plenty of equally unbalanced new characters who further serve to muddy the already sewer-like waters of what passes for civilised society in these parts.

We also rather unexpectedly see the return of Damien, last seen dressed in a skeleton costume and bouncing off the front of a drunk driver’s car, whilst Eric was screwing his girlfriend Sal in the nearby bushes. Except now he’s an invisible ghost forever dressed in his fluorescent skeleton outfit, but free to pass through walls, observe everyone’s dirty little secrets, and thus provide us with his own unique narrative on the various comings and goings. More coming than going that is for sure…

And he’ll have some confused company from another character familiar to us from volume one on the other side, before too long as well. One whose absence Eric wastes no time in taking advantage of. For all his above protestations of seeing the error of his carnal ways, he’s certainly not one to pass up an opportunity – well any opportunity, it seems.

Once more the main plot is moved on by several short stories which, as before, initially at least appear to be wholly unconnected, before the intricately tangled and tawdry web of deceit, obsession, anger and general all-round nihilism is further exposed. Again there are mind-bending drugs and explicit sex aplenty, in fact once again there’s scant sobriety or heartfelt love to be found. I honestly have no idea how volume three will conclude the stories of our ensemble cast, I really don’t, though I’m expecting suitably disturbing endings for at least half our dystopian protagonists, and genuinely hoping for it in Ringo’s case, though I am fervently wishing he’ll help Eric finally see off his mother’s evil boyfriend Francis first…

Volume three is expected right at the end of 2011.

LINK

JR

The Technopriests vol 1 (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov.

“You have the most important skill in business: knowing how to cheat!”

A visual treat for fans of space-faring science fiction here with all the detail of HIP FLASK’s Ladronn and face and figure work not dissimilar to Frank Quitely’s. In fact Beltran’s moulded colouring with its metallic sheens and aqueous effects is so rich that it’s easy to lose sight of Janjetov’s meticulous cross-hatching on the ceilings and arched walls of a battleship’s bedrooms or the curved hull of the vast Verdant Fury. And if you likes yer monsters, do we have a menagerie for you! Diablodactyls, epidragons, drooling anthropomorphic sharks and enough different cybersaurs to fill a fantastical bestiary.

Yes, cybersaurs. Because actually this is as much about the gaming industry as anything else, and a not inconsiderable chunk of it is spent in the malleable world of virtual reality like the Technodojo where your greatest weapons are your wits and imagination. Games protégé Albino has both in abundance matched only by his driving ambition to create. To create games of unparalleled imagination, thinking so far outside the box that they transcend the traditional or the formulaic thereby raising the experience to another level. Commercially it’s seen as suicide.

“My boy, you see here a representative sample of our public… like the lambda consumers, with their neuroses and cherished complexes… who wish to be entertained, without ever rising above their feeble mental capacity.
“Fifty morons! A perfect cross-section of average consumers, drawn from all planetary systems… who will contribute their greed to your games. Any game which doesn’t please them will have to be remade, until they consent to enter your creations… which will be their creations more than your own, for they will be conceived specifically for their limited souls…
“The fifty morons love to fly spaceships, shooting at enemy vessels that use multi-directional propulsion systems to evade them… and all the manoeuvres have the same goal: chase your enemy while staying on his trail.”

It’s this sort of creation by consumer consent, pandering to the lowest common denominator and appeasing their minimal expectations by giving the public more of what they already know that almost crushes our protagonist’s dreams under the weight of its stifling mediocrity. His genius is recognised by the Pan-Techno Organisation but it’s either punished or at least bridled because their original goal of enlightenment has long since been warped by man’s base desire for money which has now become theirs. It’s all about the bottom line. Here are some of the sacredly held tenets of the Guild’s first credo:

“Fifty-three: never expect anything from someone in power. Only the disadvantaged can make the first move.
“Seventy: without greed and capitalist spirit, without strength and ambition, without trickery and shrewd business sense, the Technoguild would not exist,”
“One hundred and twenty-five: endeavouring to trap one’s stronger adversaries is the spider’s strategy. Remember that a Technopriest’s web is his network of contracts.”

It’s dense. Not quite as dense as LUTHER ARKWIGHT nor half as clever, but it still gave me plenty to think about… until it switched to the other more traditional half of the European sci-fi plot involving the rest of Albino’s fractured family whose fortunes are reversed time and time again during his mother’s quest to avenge herself of the rape which spawned her three children. Quite simply, she wants to cut off their balls. Whilst not as explicit as the works of Luis Royo, Manara and co. the themes are all there: sexual slavery, degradation, humiliation, revenge. The revenge cycle plays itself within the fucked-up family until but also spirals out in a series of rejections which I’ll leave you to discover yourself because this review is quite long enough as it is.

I will just add that I was taken aback by the startling similarity in some panels of Albino’s Jiminy Cricket shoulder-size side-kick, to Jim Woodring’s Frank!

LINK

SLH

The Technopriests vol 2 (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov.

Less talk and more epic action in this second instalment of inner and outer space science-fiction with vast armadas in space, cat people and slightly more opaque colouring.

Discover the fate of the third space pirate who raped Albino’s mother, witness the expanding schism between herself and her once-cherished first son Almagro, and see her almost reconciled with her four-armed, blood-red daughter. Until they both give birth.

LINK

SLH

Good Eggs h/c (£17-99, Harper Collins) by Phoebe Potts…

“I don’t think of myself as an infertile person who wanted to share her story. I’m an artist who happened to be going through infertility. I love to draw and tell funny stories in which I am the star.”

Phoebe Potts talking whimsically (I hope, rather than ironically) about this work.

I so, so wanted to love this book given the apparent subject matter: it being an autobiographical work about the trials and tribulations that Phoebe and her husband Jeff go through, unsuccessfully as it very sadly turns out in the end, in trying to conceive, first naturally and then using artificial insemination techniques. Indeed every portion of this book that focuses on that struggle and their warm and tender, enduring relationship that makes the continuing anguish bearable, is extremely enjoyable, informative and, from both my wife’s and my own experience, all too accurate.

Struggling to conceive is like riding an emotional roller coaster over which you have absolutely no control or ability to get off, even as all those around you seem to be falling pregnant and giving birth at the drop of a hat, whilst you, invariably, inexplicably in most couples’ cases, rather than for any specific medical reason, struggle on and on and on. Unexplained infertility is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating and emotionally demanding things for a couple, and in particular for a woman, to have to endure. On that level GOOD EGGS is most definitely a triumph. Unfortunately, despite what the title might lead you to conclude, the issue of infertility and all the attendant drama only forms a small portion of the book’s content.

Much like C.T. Tyler in her book YOU’LL NEVER KNOW: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR VOL 1 which is ostensibly about her father’s war experiences, far, far too much of GOOD EGGS is spent regurgitating Phoebe’s battle with depression ad nauseam, which started way back before she started trying for a baby, in fact way back before she met her husband Jeff. Also, you won’t be in any doubt that Phoebe is from a ‘partly Jewish’ family by the end of the book either, such is the repetition of this information.

If I’d wanted an insight into the life of a depressive non-practising Jew who just happened to be undergoing infertility treatment, then GOOD EGGS would have been an ideal work, but I didn’t.

I realise that sounds really harsh, because I get the impression that working on this book has been excellent therapy (a word used rather a lot in GOOD EGGS too) for Phoebe, both in terms of her battle with depression and also not in being able to conceive or maintain a pregnancy, and I absolutely don’t wish to belittle either of those issues. It’s just that I (and also my wife who was really keen to read this) found my natural sympathy and compassion for her being gradually eroded away after yet another round of crying, visits to therapy, and scenes from another partly Jewish family gathering.

Because in terms of examining the issue of her depression it’s just not on the same level as the excellent DEPRESSO and Psychiatric Tales, not even remotely close. And in terms of exploring what Jewish identity means in our modern world certainly nothing like the truly brilliant How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less by Sarah Glidden which I can’t recommend highly enough.

I just feel the really important issue of infertility is lost amongst a morass of background noise regarding other elements of Phoebe’s life. Personally I think a really good, truncating edit, or indeed maybe just a title more representative of the actual content, would have worked wonders for GOOD EGGS. Still, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review, where it does focus on the ordeal of infertility and merry-go-round of treatment it’s an excellent piece of work; it’s just a shame that focus is somewhat diluted by the rest of it.

JR

The Last Unicorn h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Peter S. Beagle, Peter Gillis & Renae DeLiz.

“Damn you, why won’t you help me? Why must you speak in riddles?”
“Because no cat anywhere ever gave a straight answer. That’s why.”

There’s no arguing with that.

All my instincts were to simply regurgitate my review of the first issue because doe-eyed unicorns that glow like irradiated My Little Ponies are unlikely to appeal to this haggard old brute. I’m far from a fan of this vein of fantasy – many a minstrel in Assassin’s Creed II has now been dispatched leaving behind widows and orphans whom I envisage gratefully removing plugs from their ears – and although the forests are great these doughy faces in which I find traces of Todd McFarlane are my idea of a medieval nightmare.

But, I found myself swept along by the jaunty rhythm and dialogue, began to understand the way it was embracing and examining conventions like the band of anti-establishment thieves, smiled at the occasional anachronism, then laughed out loud at the ultimate tree-hugging moment when Schmendrick, tied face-forward to a trunk, is addressed by its leafy owner thus:

“Always, always, faithfulness beyond any man’s deserving. I will keep the colour of your eyes when no other in the world remembers your name. There is no immortality but a tree’s love.”
“Sorry… m’engaged… to a larch.”

Then, before I knew it, the night air was crackling with a ferocious red bull, its molten core spitting through fissures in its leathery hide to hiss round its horns, hooves and flanks, and I couldn’t believe I was staring at the same artist’s work. I’d even started loving the language:

“… And all around her was a light as impossible as snow set afire… “

That comes later.

Unicorns are immortal. They live solitary lives in single places, usually a sequestered forest. But if they are immortal then why does this one believe she is alone – the last unicorn in existence – and why against her strongest, most primal instincts, is she driven to leave the sanctuary of the pines and waterfalls in search of her own kind?

Instinctively one fears for the potential trophy of that rarest of beasts out of its natural habitat in a land full of men, and those fears are realized almost immediately. But some hearts can be swayed like that of young Schmendrick (literally “somebody of out his depths, the boy sent to do a man’s job”) who bluffs and bungles his way through most of the book until it really counts and, buoyed on by the words of a barely coherent butterfly able to speak only in snatches of old songs and poetry, they begin to understand where they are going and what they must do, at least until love rears its distracting head then its temptation time.

But it’s not as straightforward as I’d dismissively presumed and there’s much here to make you think. As I say, certain traditions are lovingly observed. What’s a fairy tale without a tyrant and cursed castle to live in and loom over the land? Plus a town below it cursed in conjunction, its people living as a direct result in self-imposed celibacy, if not as barren as the land exactly then certainly without issue? But that’s not the curse, that’s their reaction to it. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. As to other traditions, here’s our Robin Hood counterpart, self-publicist supreme:

“Robin Hood’s a classic example of the heroic folk figures synthesized out of need, Mr. Child. John Henry is another. Men have to have heroes, but no man can ever be as big as the need, and so a legend grows round a grain of truth, like a pearl. Not that it isn’t a remarkable trick, of course…
“…Robin Hood is the fable and I am the reality. No ballads will accumulate around my name unless I write them myself; no children will read of my adventures in their schoolbooks and play at being me after school. I mean, you can’t leave epic events to the people. They get things wrong.” 

Inevitably in such an adaptation there are chunks missing. I haven’t read the original but you can occasional discern a disconcerting leap or two. But it does its job well enough for anyone missing the old Crossgen line and of its original prose author Neil Gaiman writes:

“For over forty years, Peter S. Beagle has been the gold standard of fantasy, one of the most elegant and genuine writers of fantastic fiction out there. His short stories are jewels. In Japan they declare their finest, most irreplaceable artists national treasures, and if there was any justice in this world Peter S. Beagle would be declared a national treasure and be left alone to get on with making magic.”

SLH

Three Thieves Book One: Tower Of Treasure (£6-99, Kids Can Press) by Scott Chantler.

From the creator of NORTHWEST PASSAGE and a publisher dedicated to prose and graphic novels for kids, this is a full-colour medieval fantasy of one young acrobat’s quest to find her missing brother snatched when they were children… with one our two detours for daylight robbery and nocturnal theft.

From the state of the starving beggars, the royal city of Kingsbridge has obviously seen better days. Certainly the late King Roderick is still revered by the likes of the one-eyed Captain Drake as a ruler who never let his subjects go hungry, but the bloated Queen Magda exhibits no such compassion, sitting instead on a treasury overflowing with gold. At least that’s the rumour. Bright blue pickpocket Topper has found himself a map and persuaded dim purple strongman Fisk to help loot the vast tower but Dessa has other things on her mind. She remembers little about her brother’s abduction, just snippets here and there, but when her travelling circus first rolled into patrolled by its Queen’s armed guards, their all-too familiar livery triggered a startling flashback of a similarly garbed guard grabbing her brother in hiding after his lord and master commanded their home be burned to the ground. And she thinks she’s just spotted the culprit.

This is a trilogy, I think, so it’s more scene-setting than anything else. There’s a degree of tension in the court and more to the Queen’s chamberlain Maarten Greyfalcon than first meets the eye. Seems he has a few things in common with Leonardo Da Vinci. The book meanwhile has more than a few things in common with Tomb Raider. Okay, there are direct steals – which I guess is appropriate enough. There’s a certain similarity outside the central cast to the art of Jeff Smith and the storytelling’s fine insofar as it goes. It just doesn’t yet go anywhere particularly surprising yet. It’s also a short read – far shorter than, say, a volume of AMULET – but I leave it for the youngsters themselves or even their parents to judge whether this will appeal. Please let us know.

LINK

SLH

No Touching At All (£9-99, June) by Kou Yoneda.

I promise you there’s touching. Honest! What kind of Yaoi would this be without some furtive fondling up against a wall and a couple of blanked-out areas populated with mildly implicit pen lines?

That there’s a little less of it here is down to boyish Shima being congenitally shy. Reticence personified, tentative is a word he’d hesitate to use if hesitation wasn’t such a scarily dynamic enterprise suggesting way too much purpose and resolve.

Yet opposites attract and Shima’s self-effacing silence intrigues his new team leader and booze hound Togawa, who determines to bring Shima out of himself and then out of his trousers even though Togawa the sour-smelling chain-smoker is straight. Shima isn’t straight. In fact the reason he left his last job was a relationship with a previous co-worker that went hideously wrong when everyone else in the office caught wind of it and his supposed lover backed out swiftly with all the courage and honour of a gelded Judas Iscariot:

“To clear his name, the guy was pretty hard on Shima, I guess. He started saying that Shima was hitting on him and it was a problem. He blamed work mistakes on Shima and basically made it hard for him to stay at the company.”

So you can kinda see where Shima’s coming from even though his immediate superiors are infinitely more liberal and Togawa himself is so uninhibited he’ll happily tongue young Shima in public. No, there’s something more going on in Shima’s head, as evidenced by the memorised snatches of conversation that echo throughout, and it’s a selfless concern based on Togawa’s past and stated ambition that’s actually very touching indeed. See, it’s all about family. That, and Shima’s low self-esteem which leads him to constantly question the strength of Togawa’s possible commitment when he must surely grow bored of him soon.

Will Shima’s bashfulness remain unblemished or will Togawa start to rub off on him? He’s certainly persistent right from the start:

“Shima, lunch!”
“It’s not lunchtime yet.”
“Shima, how about a smoke break?”
“You know I don’t smoke, right?”
“Shima, come to the meeting room for a sec.”
“Is it about work?”
“Shima-chan, toilet break!”
I go alone!”

The only problem I had with this book was the balloon placement, often so random that I hadn’t clue who was saying what, or in some cases what it was they were saying. So, err, some of the balloons’ content too. Still, I got the main thrust. Will Shima?

LINK

SLH

Exterminators vol 1 restocks (£7-50, Vertigo/DC) by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore. 

You might know artist Tony Moore from early WALKING DEAD.

You think squirrels are cute, with their big, bushy tails, bouncing from branch to branch then perching on pagodas to nibble their nuts? Well sure, they are. But I’ve seen the permanent scars left on one guy in pest control who found himself trapped in an attic infested with squirrels, and they weren’t about to go down without a fight. There’s a similar scene in this first book, only with a racoon. And its mother. And the upshot is, if you don’t like rats – or cockroaches – you’re going to want to maintain a safe perimeter between yourself and this title because this is pest control on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where veteran A.J. shows Henry the ropes, his honed techniques (which are somewhat unorthodox) and his personal prejudices (which are manifold). He’s a rat of man himself. But the story begins with a miniature dissertation on the fall of the Roman Empire, whose punchline is not without resonance today:

“Cultural imperialism right up till 164 A.D. when the Empire slipped upon a banana skin. Nature’s banana skin. The army had returned from conquering Iraq and unwittingly carried home black rats… and with them the Black Death which wiped out over 100 million people in 16 years.”

What’s his point?

“Where’s our banana skin?”

SLH

 

Exterminators vol 2: Insurgency restocks (£9-99, Vertigo) by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore, Andy Parks, Sean Parsons, Chris Samnee.

If you don’t like cockroaches, this is probably best avoided. If you do like cockroaches, then it’s you who’s probably best avoided.

SLH

Avengers vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr.

Not so much a temporal anomaly as a temporal catastrophe.

Far in the future the Avengers have had children but the world they have inhabited has been devastated first by Hank Pym’s Ultron (an artificial intelligence housed in nigh-impenetrable metal with an Oedipal Complex like you wouldn’t believe) and then by a war between Ultron and Kang. As always Kang The Conqueror lost (obviously, it’s there in his name) but being a time traveler and a really, really sore loser he simply presses the temporal reset, travels back in time and tries again bringing increasingly vast armies with him. Over and over again. But the thing is, everything has an expiry date: carpets wear thin and metal fatigues – as Uri Geller will be happy to show you. And eventually, groaning at the strain of Kang’s relentless, bludgeoning misuse, time… simply… snaps.

That’s what lies at the heart of this devious time-traveling tale with ominous foreshadowing for the life, times and in particular the inventions of Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man, the fate of Bucky Barnes and a whole spread of imminent developments if you care to analyze the bizarrely child-like scrawl on the wall as drawn by a future counterpart of one of the Avengers who has already witnessed what Bendis and others have in store for the Marvel Universe.

But it all kicks off on the first day of this central team’s reformation high in Avengers Tower, and it’s a semi-classic line-up as dictated by Commander Steve Rogers and potential sales figures: Thor, Iron Man, Bucky as Captain America, Hawkeye as Hawkeye (at last), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Kree warrior Nor-Varr all led by ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill. Not the brightest day, you’d have thought, for Kang to show his purple puss, but he has an ace up his sleeve as conceived by Tony Stark.

“But I haven’t even built that yet.”
“But you will.”
“I won’t.”
“You did.”

He did. He went and built a doomsday device and now it belongs to Kang. The how and the why will fall into place later on for Kang is not there to conquer (quite fortunate given his 50-year score card) but to ask for their help. Funny how he doesn’t mention the time fracture.

As I say, this is far more devious that it first appears because there are a whole heap of surprises awaiting them in the eye of the temporal storm: strange alliances whose members aren’t necessarily being straight with each other let alone our assembled Avengers. But then one Avenger doesn’t necessarily end up being straight with the others. Habit of a life-time, really.

Art on a scale of huge from John Romita Jr. as befits a title whose very nature is dealing with the big stuff. That’s what this central book is: the big stuff. Here we have Ultron, Kang, time-travel and Apocalypse whose name I have mentioned just to boost sales. Next we have the Infinity Gems, the Illuminati and a cast of 5,312. Are Tony and Steve going to fall out again?!*

Lastly, there’s one other ex-Avenger Steve Rogers wanted for the team but he’s refused point-blank. In fact he seems determined to do everything he can to thwart the reformation. Do you sense a sub-plot*?

*Yes.

 

SLH

Avengers #9 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr.

“I can’t believe you, Tony.”
“It isn’t personal, Steve.”
“I’m in charge of the security of the free world. Something like this, you tell me.”
“I’m sorry your feelings are hurt.”
“My feelings?! You think this about my feelings?”
“This part, here, yes.”
“The ego on you. The astronomical ego. I told you that Congress wanted to hold you responsible for all of Norman Osborn’s actions! I told you that I convinced them not to go forward… And you told me that you would behave. That you would be a model Avenger. And so you just decide that you should have a secret group with a hidden agenda.”

The Illuminati outed. Boy, is Steve Rogers pissed.

Some very funny visual gags and a great line about Reed Richards, Namor and Sue. Here’s the background:

LINK

Incredible Hulks: Dark Son h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed & Tom Raney, Barry Kitson, Brian Ching…

Proving that the gamma family that plays together stays together. There are just too many Hulks and other monstrous Hulk sidekicks of every hue and texture to keep track of now, even without grandpappy Red Hulk, who doesn’t appear in this volume being otherwise enraged, sorry engaged, in the AVENGERS at the moment. Instead to keep us ahem… entertained… we have Hulk, She-Hulk, Red She-Hulk (Betty Ross), Savage She-Hulk (Hulk’s daughter from an alternative universe), A-Bomb (Rick Jones), Korg (sort of an alien conehead lookalike of the Thing) Skaar (Hulk’s sulky tweenie with tattoos and sword), and Hiro-Kala who happens to be Skaar’s twin and thus Hulk’s other son, whom no one knew anything about at all right up until now, as he arrives hurtling towards Earth on a planet he’s moving through space using his not inconsiderable powers.

Obviously being the fine, dysfunctional, gamma-irradiated family that they are, this particular first contact isn’t all hugs and kisses, rather it’s smash first and get to know you later. Where are the social workers when you need them?! Well, we do have a brief cameo from Steve Rogers who of course wants to stick his oar in (err, I mean help) but he’s soon sent packing by Bruce who feels a little tough love is probably more what’s required for his errant son.

The few various issues that have featured Hiro-Kala to date before now, with him battling Galactus in outer space, being visited by the ghost of his dead mother who kindly disfigured half his face, and generally having a fairly tough stuff start to life, were actually reasonably entertaining, but did lead one to conclude the inevitable family reunion was probably going to get off to a fairly seismic start. Cue the smashing before emotional bonding all round and everyone, just about, kisses and makes up at the end. Spoiler alert: one character is, if not quite killed off in the grand finale, otherwise detained in a manner which means you won’t see them again until the Hulk writers are short of a decent plot. Sometime later this year then, probably…

LINK

JR

Hulk: The End s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Peter David & George Perez, Dale Keown.

Future stories of your favourite Marvel characters have met with varying degrees of acclaim and indifference. Quite how the Spider-Man 2099 line lasted as long as it did 18 years or so ago is beyond me. On the other hand Byrne and Claremont’s ‘Days Of Future Past’ which capped their collaboration on UNCANNY X-MEN, and in which most mutants have finally fallen victim to man’s love affair with genocide and concentration camps, is single-handedly responsible for so many homages and follow-ups that it’s easy to forget what a neat little self-contained number it originally was. We’ve seen the Punisher take on (and out) the Marvel Universe, we’ve seen the final days of the Avengers. There are so many variations that nothing is definitive – indeed they’ll only have aged another year or so by 2099 anyway, so putting a date on them seems somewhat foolish.

SPIDER-MAN: REIGN was a belter with more than a whiff to it of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (a book so ancient that at the time of typing we don’t even have a review of it) but by far my favourite – which took us all by surprise at Page 45 – was Mark Millar’s WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN. In it we discover that something so atrocious has befallen the crested Canadian that he’s sworn to the cause of pacificism no matter the provocation. And it’s quite provoking having the inbred, redneck offspring of Bruce Banner as your landlords. Actually they’re just collecting the rent because Daddy dearest is very much alive and well and so many people have evidently made him so very angry over the years that nobody likes him at all anymore.

Which brings us to Peter David’s future counterpart of the Hulk as seen in this collection of FUTURE IMPERFECT from 1992 drawn by George Perez, and THE END as envisaged by Dale Keown in 2002 where we discover that the Hulk has finally got what he said he always wanted – to be left alone. By necessity, then, that’s a somewhat bleak and ruminative affair which has its origins in a short prose story called The Last Titan. But back in FUTURE IMPERFECT there were still plenty of people to give the giant grief because he hasn’t aged well. He’s outlived almost everyone whom he could ever have considered his friend and, in their absence, succumbed to his own worst aspects. As the Maestro he’s ruler of all he surveys. There’s only one relic from his past remaining who he sits in a trophy room of broken helmets, shredded capes, abandoned armour, fractured shields… and a poster of the Phoenix saying “Dead… Again!” He’s lived far too long – it’s over ninety years since we last saw him – but he’s determined to be reunited with the Hulk he once knew, even if it means bringing him forward through time, so that Banner can look himself in the eye and see what he’s become.

Originally written with a specific but unidentified European artist in mind, you could not have found a more apposite replacement back then than George Perez, an American master of ligne claire, so distinctly European-looking it remains. That trophy room (“Needs a giant penny. Pretty complete otherwise”) is full of tiny details – even at the back of a bookcase you can make out the Serpent Crown – some of which may prove useful or even fatal later on.

LINK

SLH

Also arrived:

(All the below are on sale now. Reviews will follow for many, whilst some may already exist if they were originally h/cs. Just use our search engine!)

Scenes From An Impending Marriage h/c (£7-50, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine
Daytripper (£14-99, Vertigo) by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba
Cursed Pirate Girl: Collected Edition vol 1 (£14-99, Olympian) by Jeremy A. Bastian
Pandora’s Eyes h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Vincenzo Cermai & Milo Manara
Johnny Red vol 1: Falcon’s First Flight (£14-99, Titan) by Tony Tully & Joe Colquhoun
Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey h/c (£22-50, Villard) by GB Train
Evolution: The Story Of Life On Earth h/c (£13-99, Novel) by Jay Hosler & Kevin Cannon, Zander Cannon
Charmed vol 1 (£9-99, Zenescope) by Paul Ruditis & Dave Hoover, Marcio Abreu, Novo Malgapo
Aftermath (£14-99, Humanoids) by James Hudnall & Mark Vigouroux
Ivy h/c (£14-99, Oni) by Sarah Oleksyk
Tezuka: Black Jack vol 13 (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Iron Man: Noir s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Scott Snyder & Manuel Garcia
Superman: War Of The Supermen h/c (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson & Sterling Gates
Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne h/c (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett, Andy Kubert
The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 9 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleischer, John Buscema, Steve Skeates, Jim Owsley, Larry Yakata & Vince Colletta, Val Mayerik, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Pablo Marcos, Rudy Nebres, Gary Kwapisz, Stan Woch, Ned Sonntag, June Brigman, Armando Gil
Blade Of The Immortal vol 23: Scarlet Swords (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura
Black Butler vol 4 (£8-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso
Ghost Talker’s Daydream vol 5 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Saki Okuse & Sankichi Meguro
Exterminators vol 5: Bug Brothers Forever restocks (£10-99, Vertigo) by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore, Ty Templeton, John Lucas

Can I just say that although we have waited on Jhelisa’s review of TEMPERANCE above for some six months, it was worth every second delayed? Some words are worth the wait, and so are some people. Jhelisa is one of those people. I’ll sort the lady out with her new reviewer credit as soon as possible as well as a COMICS JOURNAL award for behind-the-times brilliance. For the moment the link takes you to her Staff Profile instead.

- Stephen