Reviews February 2011 week four

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

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