Reviews February 2011 week three

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!

One Response to “Reviews February 2011 week three”

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