Reviews February 2011 week one

 

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

2 Responses to “Reviews February 2011 week one”

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