Archive for March, 2011

Reviews March 2011 week five

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Please note: the following book isn’t on sale until April 7th but I needed to write about it the second I put the work down.

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

“I raised myself upon a bed
 Of pyroclastic stone…
 And felt four hundred million years
 Compacted in my bones.”

I’ll ask it again: what the hell have we done to our planet?

In the relatively short time we’ve been here we have covered 98.3% of dry land with asphalt and concrete*, hunted to extinction flightless birds who were sunning themselves quite happily on their idyllic tropical islands, turned rivers into sewers, Sherwood Forest into a tree, and pumped our bountiful and previously spotless oceans with carrier bags, condoms and lakes of crude oil. We’re not nature’s friend, basically. We are an abomination.

Such is Nick Hayes’ message, but it’s delivered with such beauty and such verbal dexterity that it is to swoon. Even a barren list of chemical constructs is transfigured by his craftsmanship as the Modern Mariner bears witness to our crimes: 

“Swathes of polystyrene bobbed with tonnes of neoprene
 And polymethyl methacrylate stretched across the scene.”

Or as Coleridge originally wrote:

“Water, water every where,
 Nor any drop to drink.”

No, it’s all so contaminated now that we bottle it in plastic… then throw that plastic into the sea for good measure.

THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER is inspired by the Coleridge classic The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner in which the titular character curses his crew by shooting a playful albatross out of the heavens with a crossbow. Immediately the wind drops and, well, it doesn’t go well for them. The Mariner is then compelled to tell his tale to all who will listen, and listen they do: he has a way with him. Moreover, in the Wedding-Guest’s case at least, they learn:

“He went like one that hath been stunned,
 And is of sense forlorn:
 A sadder and a wiser man,
 He rose the morrow morn.”

The Modern Mariner sets to sea specifically to hunt whales: he wants to carve their giant bones into tiny dominoes. Not even into great works of art, but into an idle gambling game. While he’s waiting he uses floating bottles as target practice before turning his attention nonchalantly skywards and, oh look, there’s a big white bird! Kapow!

“Its body burst upon the deck
 Its death seemed no great loss
 It looked as old as time itself
 … It was just an albatross.”

In both poems the word ‘albatross’ concludes Part I, and although I can’t give Hayes credit for matching Coleridge’s halting – truly devastating – reversal, I do think “Its body burst upon the deck” almost adequately compensates. The Modern Mariner’s crew are pretty soon for the chop while he himself is confronted by the results of man’s assault on Earth’s blue oceans in the form, for example, of a North Pacific drilling barge “split right down its spleen” and the least evolved sea-dwelling progenitors of man poisoned by their supposedly superior successors. But the sea isn’t finished with him yet, as he finds himself tossed around by a storm of Olympian proportions until he’s thrown into the waves and comes face to face with his quarry.

“Two hundred tonnes of living flesh, the queen of all creation,
 And me, this mote within its eye… too long above my station.”

It’s profoundly affecting stuff. The sort of language I imagine BLOOD SONG’s Erik Drooker using if ever he employed words (please take a look at BLOOD SONG – it’s eloquent enough, and along the same lines, without them).

As to the art, think the cover to Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS or his signed print we have on our wall: blindingly beautiful blues in a quality silkscreen print effect. There are swirls everywhere, even in the Mariner’s Ancient Greek beard. Also – tricky thing to pull of, this – the timing of the panels, often six or seven to the page, to the rhyme itself (often only half a line to the page, sometimes none) is note-perfect. Because, yes, this is sequential art, not an illustrated poem. Big difference.

Even more so than the original, THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER is a warning about hubris, and it’s a warning delivered here to a soulless, suited git sitting on a park bench during his lunch hour eating a rubber sandwich packed in plastic. He doesn’t pay attention, he’s more interested in his Blackberry, and he dismisses the Mariner’s eloquence like the crumbs he brushes off his knees. It’s the end of autumn, by the way, and you know what Page 45 is like about leaves, so I can’t resist four more lines from the beginning of the book, after which I knew I was in for a spell-binding read.

“Icy wind was rushing through the litter and the leaves…
 Whirling swirls of rusty pearls discarded by the trees.
The drowsy world of autumn, of overripe excess,
Was changing right before his eyes to hoary abjectness.”

I hope the suit has a long, hard winter.

* Actual percentage may differ. This isn’t a scientific paper, it’s a tirade.



Demo vol 2 (£13-50, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan.

Six self-contained stories which readers of LOCAL will love.

For a start, the strangest of dating games with the boy breaking in to leave Polaroids for Megan is reprised here as a young woman, driven to write herself post-it notes for each and every aspect of her life all round house and outdoors, suddenly discovers a note that isn’t hers. “Who are you?” and “Can we talk like this?” Initially perturbed, she misses a bus which breaks her routine and triggers a panic. But there on the bus shelter is stuck another note:

“I love that this is who you are.”

She smiles, a tear welling up. “…Really?”

That’s a beautiful panel. Cloonan’s thought long and hard about body language, in particular the posture of hands. It’s all so tenderly done, with a superb sense of light.

It’s also a story driven creatively on Brian’s part largely through the post-it notes themselves, for what follows is a playful coming together of minds (“It’s like your own private world all out in the open.”) followed by a breadcrumb trail of messages which finally lead to a café; but we never do see brings her coffee, only that she’s charmed.

The advantage of a long-form narrative as opposed to short stories is that you only need one knock-out punchline, yet here a good five of the six are electric (confession: I wasn’t too keen on the first chapter myself), whilst the stories themselves are dazzlingly imaginative, with Cloonan adapting her style for each. In addition to light, her ability to convey the sweaty claustrophobia of being caught on a gridlocked highway choked with exhaust fumes during a heat wave in ‘Waterbreather’ is matched only with the blessed relief of diving into a river below. After a flashback to the man’s unusual childhood sub-aquatic experiences, the resolution is surprisingly serene given where it leads him.

However, you’re going to need a much stronger stomach than the protagonist’s in ‘Pangs’ for which ‘unsettling’ is merely a starting point. Here Cloonan’s art is as bleak as a derelict bathhouse as a young, nail-biting loner rations himself on carefully parcelled frozen food then tries one last time to reconnect himself with those around him by dating a girl at a restaurant. It doesn’t go well so he returns home alone and resorts to measures so drastic they will make you wince. There’s also a tale about a couple who repel each other like inverted magnets yet can’t stay apart because it destroys their physical health – the ultimate in “Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em” but working both ways. There’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy and finally a time-travelling story which addresses the eternal question of what you would say to yourself in your early teens, and whether in fact you would listen.

“That’s me. That’s dinner every night. That’s my Mom, pretending my Dad isn’t calling me, his daughter, every filthy and demeaning name under the sun.
“How do you explain away something like that?
“How do you survive something like that? I should have an answer, but I don’t. Honestly, it’s a blur. But it’s an acutely painful blur. I can feel her pain, the embarrassment, the panic. I can hear her heart pounding from here.”

Whatever Elisabeth planned to say to herself, in whatever way she hoped her life would be changed, it’s when she bumps into her best friend waiting loyally outside for that dinner to be over, hiding behind the car, that she recognises the one fatal error she made.

We still have some of the individual issues in stock if you missed any; please feel free to email. They’re always backed with essays and artwork, whereas this collection is backed with a gallery of the covers reproduced in black, white and sensual grey tones.



Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter h/c (£11-99, Simon & Schuster) by Andy Runton.

Andy’s all-ages life lessons are a wordless family treat, using symbols that require interpretation. Great for father/daughter/mother/son interaction in a way the Financial Times is not.*

This time it’s a 10” x 9” full-colour hardcover and very refreshing the colours are too! Perfect for spring as butterflies take to the air in search of nectar. Unfortunately young Owly’s pots have barely sprouted so it’s time to take a trip to the local nursery where Wormy helps him pick out the perfect blooms. “For God’s sake, don’t let Stephen near them!” cries the Racoon. “He’s killed so many basil plants now that Sainsbury’s have banned him from that particular aisle, and his aspidistra is terrified!”**

The next morning the two friends awake and hurry from their tree top but, alas, there’s not even a Cabbage White in sight. Instead, the tender leaves have been given a good munching by a pair of hungry caterpillars. Will Owly evict the loved-up larvae, blithely unaware of histolysis and histogenesis in holometabolous insects… or will he play chess with them?

He really does play chess with them.

* See Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean’s THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH for that particular life-lesson!

** Not really. I mean I have been banned from the aisle because I have killed a ridiculous number of basil plants and my aspidistra is positively petrified. It’s just not in this book.



The Finder Library vol 1 (£18-99, Dark horse) by Carla Speed McNeil –

Born to a paranoid, over protective, ex-military father and a mother with tendencies to retreat to the safety of her imagination, Rachael looks after her sisters as best she can. Brigham’s still away, locked up after the kidnapping of his own family, just about to get out though. Emma’s just got a good commission so they can move to a better part of the city.

“Weird place is Anvard. Like any city.”

Under a dome of lost, crumbling technology sits Anvard, a busy metropolis with no sky, no day or night, hosting many different races and tribes. Re-entering its base walkways is Jaeger, the Finder of the title, armed only with his considerable charm and looking to pick up from where he left off.

“What you do… what you are… is a form of divination.”

Even though the city is an important player – in fact it’s the second character that we’re introduced to – the neo-Bladerunner atmosphere doesn’t detract from the human side. There’s enough Terry Gilliam in there with the Ridley Scott/Philip K. Dick.

McNeil draws some of the most sensual flesh I’ve seen in a long time – not overtly sexual just very warm, very human with great grace and poise. The politics between the different tribes (each with their own role in society) can, initially, be a little confusing, and the story is often shown in a non-linear fashion and hidden under a lot of surface noise, allegories presenting themselves for literal interpretation. Jaeger’s romantic, nomadic life gives him free reign to sway through the book, holding it all together, without bringing his morals up front and into question. You get to understand that McNeil, like Dave Sim, has the tapestry of the social history plotted out in her head and is (frustratingly) letting it out a piece at a time.

All in all a very difficult book to review and recommend because there’s so much going on.  Lots of invention, great little gadgets (Emma’s French-accented secretary/minder/Jiminy Cricket with binary digits as angel and devil on her shoulder springs immediately to mind).  The city feels lived in, at times halfway between San Francisco and Marrakech. Supporting characters breeze onstage fully realized. Background details in the art hint at other works in lots of different mediums. Quite dizzying, confusing and charming all in one.

[Editor’s note: this contains #1-22, an entire half of the older material, plus the covers and annotations. FINDER: VOICE is all-new material.]



To Teach: The Journey, In Comics (£11-99, TCP) by William Ayers & Ryan Alexander-Tanner…

There are – in  my, and probably most other pupils’ experiences – two types of teachers: the enthusiastic, ebullient educator whose classes were a pleasure to attend as the emphasis was as much on enjoyment as information, the former having a highly significant impact upon retention of the latter; and then there were those more moribund types, who really would have been better off shuffling some pointless paperwork in a dimly lit office somewhere, such was their distinct lack of passion and engagement with both their students and subject matter.

Happily William Ayers is most definitely the enthusiastic type, and with TO TEACH: THE JOURNEY, IN COMICS, he’s created a book which expresses the emotional rewards of a teaching career so well that it could probably increase teacher recruitment by 100% overnight, were it read widely enough. The maxim of getting out what you put in is clearly William’s motto, and in various chapters we get his – and various teaching acquaintances – takes on getting the best out of ‘difficult’ students, approaching lesson planning  with an open mind, dealing with statistic-obsessed administrators and many other less obvious aspects of the profession. And it’s all done with humour and wit.

It also helps that Ryan Alexander-Tanner’s minimal, slightly cartoonish art style puts one, perhaps deliberately so, in mind of Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS, in that the emphasis is on the content of the narrator’s dialogue rather than the narrator himself. The only time he breaks with this approach is in the initial panels introducing the other teachers whose experiences are being recounted, where the person in question each gets a slightly more in-depth talking head portrait, which actually works rather nicely as it gives the specific point being made a touch of gravitas.

This is an excellent work which would appeal to teachers and potential teachers alike, but also provides a fascinating insight for everyone into how a wonderful teacher views his pupils as individuals for all their unique traits and foibles, thinks how to make lessons fun first and foremost, and how to successfully navigate the sometimes maddening vagaries of the wider school system. Overall, an A+.



The Arctic Marauder h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…

“Captain! I understand you are sending a boat to the wreck. Might I find a berth on board? I am a medical student and…”
“Ah! Noble and generous lad! How comforting to know one may still encounter young men whose ardour burns with a hot flame in the chest. Thank you, sir! Shake me by the hand!”

And thus young Jerome Plumier finds himself plunged (not literally mind, that comes later) into an adventure of intrigue and espionage filled with a veritable ice tray full of chilling characters, and the typically baffling array of steampunk gadgetry which we’ve come to expect from the creator of THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC.

This work, originally published in French in 1974, is regarded by many as Tardi’s finest work in terms of the art, which I can understand given the exquisite attention to detail he’s applied to many of the elaborate mechanical devices and contraptions found within the pages, but the story too is hilariously told and equally compelling in its own right. Ships are sinking with a rather disturbing frequency in a particularly iceberg-laden corner of the Arctic, with survivors telling tales of a mysterious phosphorescent glow rising from the depths. Several expeditions have been sent to investigate, but so far none have return unscathed.

Will young Plumier get to the bottom of the mysterious goings-on in the Arctic, or find himself sunk without a trace? How precisely is his apparently deceased uncle, the mad inventor Chapoutier, involved? And what evil plan is the sinister Monsieur Gelati plotting? I’m astonished that unlike ADELE BLANC-SEC, Tardi has never plotted further adventures for Jerome Plumier, as this series seems primed for at least a direct sequel to me. Perhaps if this Fantagraphics edition sells well who knows? I hope so, because material as well written and beautifully drawn as this richly deserves it.


The Sky Over The Louvre h/c (£14-99, NBM/The Louvre) by Jean-Claude Carriere, Bernar Yslaire & Bernar Yslaire.

“What’s your name?”
“Jules Stern.”
“Whom do you wish to denounce?”
“My mother.”
“You’re not the first. What did your mother do?”
“She killed citizen Marat.”
“Another lunatic! Unbelievable…”
“You’re speaking nonsense, my boy. Marat was assassinated by a woman named Charlotte Corday. She denounced herself. She was a virgin.”
“… Why do you say your mother killed Marat?”
“Because she’s killing everyone. She’ll kill you too, citizen Robespierre!”
“Mine died when I was a child, and my father ran away, he abandoned me. I’m a child of the nation. She is my true mother.”
“That’s just what I was saying.”

Like ON THE ODD HOURS and the exceptionally witty GLACIAL PERIOD, this is a co-production by NBM in association with The Louvre museum in Paris. This time, however, it’s roughly 10” x 11” in hardcover, and traces the art gallery’s origins back to the time of the French Revolution where Jacques-Louis David is painting and Madame Guillotine is waiting. She is waiting for anyone, even for the young boy above chosen by David as his model for the ‘Death of Joseph Bara’, so that he has to finish the work using a corpse with its head stitched back on. Grim, eh?

The art is composed in pencil, pen, chalk and wash, with lots of the Louvre’s paintings photographed then integrated onto David’s studio walls. In fact I’m reasonably sure that the fourth page of story art depicting an upper gallery of masterpieces from Cuyp to Veronese is a direct tribute to François Joseph Heim’s ‘King giving away Prizes at the Salon of 1824’. It’s the way the paintings are jumbled up on top of each other and then tilted higher up. That’s in the Louvre as well.

Anyway, it’s all jolly homoerotic in a rather fey way. I’m not a fan of the ‘Death Of Joseph Bara’ – give me Caravaggio any day – but the model as represented here is even more effete. Robespierre obsesses about festivals while David dissembles something chronic before denouncing his former ally to save his own skin. There’s also a neat touch when painting the portrait of Madame Charles-Louis Trudaine, with David’s brush bisecting her neck as she wonders how long she’ll have a good head on her shoulders. Or any head for that matter.


Stumptown vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth.

From the writer of Queen and Country and half of Gotham Central, and if you liked Lark’s art you will love Southworth’s. I’ve been looking forward to this for months now, and it does not disappoint!

It’s something more for CRIMINAL readers to get their teeth stuck into; even the art bears a resemblance to Sean Phillips’, only with a little more light and a few ruled lines. It’s not noir but it is fine contemporary crime set around Portland starring a P.I. called Dex who’s smart on a case but dumb in a casino. The truth is she just can’t quit, a trait that’s going to land her in so much trouble tonight when she agrees to look for Charlotte, the granddaughter of the all-seeing owner of the casino, who is prepared to write off Dex’s 18K in return for her services. Charlotte’s taken her clothes and toiletries but not her car. And she is still alive but Dex’s investigations are hampered by two additional but very different parties also after Charlotte.

As with Gotham Central, Rucka’s created a cast with more than a little heart – everyone asks after Dex’s younger brother Ansel, no matter which side they’re on. The dialogue is a free-flowing naturalistic joy, clues are dotted all over the place if you care to scan the panels properly and, oh look, we even have interior art to show off!



Dungeon Quest Book Two (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly…

“You totally chopped up a whole bunch of spiders, dude! That was some sick shit man!”
“They were actually quite soft and brittle like they were made outta balsa wood or rice-cakes or something.”

The hilarious and frankly ridiculous adventures of Millennium Boy, Steven, Nerd Girl and Lash Penis continue as their search for the missing pieces of the Atlantean resonator guitar takes them even further into the dangerous wildlands surrounding their home town. But in volume two they’re more immediately concerned with completing their sub-quest to locate the wise sage Bromedes in the Fireburg Forest and return his penis sheath. Can they complete their task avoiding death at the hands of bridge trolls, leaf monsters and glo-babies, whilst accumulating ever more bizarre weapons and esoteric treasures like the gliding charger of the eel…?

“…It’s a rectal suppository capsule… It opens up like this and you can put money or maps or secret stuff in there… then you wear it up your ass for safe-keeping…”
“Can you also put your weed in there?”



The Unwritten vol 3: Dead Man’s Knock (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross…

‘Wherever it surfaces in London, the Thames wears a different face. Sees different sins. In Limehouse, it is as dark as treacle. As slow as a hearse. As jealous of its secrets as any miser. But the river had no secrets from Lizzie Hexam. From a thousand childhood days, she knew its hiding places, and its ambuscades. It had been a long time. That was why.’
“You understand your purpose now?”
“Yes sir, I do.”
‘She could be forgiven if some of her memories – some of her instincts had been dulled.’
“Because I send you back, if you’d prefer that.”
“No. No, sir. I would be useful in this world. I would fulfil my purpose.”
‘That was why she’d come back here. That was why she needed this. To be refreshed. Replenished. Made whole again.’
“Then study him. He is your purpose.”

The shadowy cabal have come up with a rather cunning new plan to lure Wilson Taylor out of hiding, by arranging for the publication of a new Tommy Taylor book, a fraudulent work so appallingly bad it will at a stroke destroy his literary legacy. Can his obligingly, perhaps blindly, dutiful son Tom prevent it from happening? Those familiar with Carey’s LUCIFER epic will not be remotely surprised that much of the machinations and motivations of the two warring sides of Wilson Taylor and the cabal are still obscured and as yet unrevealed to us the reader, and indeed also the increasingly less hapless Tom. THE UNWRITTEN is such a delight to read for precisely that reason, in that we do not really have a clue exactly what is going to happen next. And on that note this volume includes the ‘pick-a-story’ issue entitled The Many Lives Of Lizzie Hexam which neatly provides that character’s apparent origin in a format reminiscent of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s first Fighting Fantasy book from way back in 1982, The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain. Now there’s a title to conjure with…



The New York Five #3 of 4 (£2-25, Vertigo/DC) by Bryan Wood & Ryan Kelly.

Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. Every single one of these issues would make the perfect guide, dotted as they are with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark’s Place in The East Village:

“NY 101: St. Mark’s Place, as iconic and compelling as SF’s Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author’s most-missed: the St. Mark’s Cinema.”

From the creators of one of our all-time favourite books, LOCAL, this rare mention of a second or third chapter because it really deserves your fullest attention. As I noted in the review of #1, location has long been a forte of this writer and artist, but also female leads. Females with foibles, individuals with issues, and things have moved substantially on. Lona’s still stalking her tutor, dumpster-diving for dirt, but her boyfriend’s turned up to read her the riot act. Merissa’s home life has forced her to make a potentially life-changing decision; Riley’s relationship with her older sister looks like it’s on the up with there’s still the big problem of Frank’s machinations lurking in the wings; and Ren is about to drop one hell of a bombshell. Even Olive, homeless and constantly camped outside their apartment, has gradually begun to reveal how she got into such a mess.

Anyway, I was only going to mention the guide aspects this time round. Here’s the extensive review of the first issue:





F.F. #1 (£2-99, £2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting.

You can spot a Jonathan Hickman design element in everything he writes, regardless of whether he’s the main artist as he was on NIGHTLY NEWS. So it’s been with SECRET WARRIORS, S.H.I.E.L.D., and now the double-page credit sequence of a sun rising behind planet Earth, radiating its white light across the vast blue reaches of space inside the new FF logo.

The Fantastic Four are no more. They have a man down, and some of them are coping better than others. The Thing has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm’s nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But Reed is taking Johnny’s holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and has asked Spider-Man to join their quest to build a better world:

“Franklin would love it, and Spider-Man is, after all, like the second-best superhero ever.”

It’s Johnny’s sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they’re now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards. Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter’s case, a spider. He’s very much a guest.

He’s not the only guest, either. Richards’ father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, as evidenced over dinner when Reed proposes they terraform the moon.

“If you think that’s the right thing to do.”
“Sounds great.”
“Well, I think it’s a terrible idea.”
“What, we don’t do dissenting opinions here? Reed just normally says something and everyone automatically agrees? That’s ridiculous.”
“… How refreshing. I’m glad you’re home Dad.”
“Clean your plate, son.”

He’s also brought with him knowledge from the future which has given Reed and Sue’s child-prodigy daughter a certain sense of purpose, of what she is meant to do. What she believes she is meant to do is introduce one further member to the family unit, and it’s the very last person you’d expect!

Epting’s art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot. But it’s clear that in spite of the relaunch Hickman has barely begun. You can hop aboard here quite easily – I’ve not read book four myself yet – but so many of the pieces he’s carefully position across the board are now coming back into play, and it’s as ominous as ever.

Here are Hickman’s three previous books in the series with a fourth yet to come:



Iron Man: Rapture (£10-99, Marvel) by Alexander Irvine & Lan Medina.

How very peculiar.

Didn’t realise this going in but it’s the Marvel version of a DC Elseworlds book. And it took me some time to figure it out because following a heart attack on the opening page, Stark’s shown in bed with what one takes to be the repulsor technology shining through his shirt. It’s not, it’s a great big external pacemaker newly fitted in hospital.

Never one to take things lying down, Stark immediately discharges himself (madam), swiftly upgrades the technology at work then starts a little neural self-surgery for good measure. At which point it all goes a bit Pete Tong in a Cybermen sort of a way. The art’s painterly but with less sheen than Adi Granov and less light than Larroca for this is pretty much a horror comic with Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes caught in a locked-down Stark industries and Stark himself chained to a rock, his intestines being pulled from his stomach by a giant mechanical vulture. Prometheus, yes.

Alas, it’s all a bit arbitrary, especially the ending, and it takes its sweet time getting there.



Avengers Academy vol 1: Permanent Record h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike McKone, Jorge Molina.

“How’s Penance doing?”
“All right. And he wants us to go back to calling him Speedball.”
“Ah yes. Sorry. I keep doing that. Probably because he doesn’t act much like the Speedball I remember. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with how rough he’s being. I know Justice vouched for him, but do you really think he should be teaching kids?”
“Should any of us?”

Well, quite. Especially Hank ‘Who Even Am I Today?” Pym. It’s very much a case of “Do what I say; don’t do what I did!” with the lot of them.

Dr. Henry Pym (A.K.A. Giant Man, Ant Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket, The Wasp) created Ultron, a lethal living toaster with an Oedipus complex, then set about building the world’s biggest collection of nervous breakdowns. He also went on to drink too much Stella, if you know what I mean. Quicksilver used to be a terrorist and more recently a thief, stealing the crystals that give off the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mists. Justice killed his father, Speedball’s reckless attention-seeking lead to the Stamford Disaster which massacred hundreds, and Tigra slept with Tony Stark.

So here they’ve set about re-training the cream of Osborn’s crop, the elite of the Avengers Initiative, and amongst them is a big boy with a red, metallic skull for a face, a young woman whose body is gradually losing cohesion after Osborn induced too many transformations into thin air way too early for her body to cope with them, and another girl whose power is to unleash radiation, toxic waste and all manner of other lethal substances. So deadly are her sweat, saliva and even breath that her parents are sick, her boyfriend’s in hospital and her pet dog is dead. She lives in a containment suit.

Are these really the best the world has to offer? No, they’re being lied to.

It’s not normally the sort of superhero comic I’d read but the first issue was popped in the back of a recent issue of UNCANNY X-MEN, it was sunny outside and I thought, “What the hell”. I did like the lie, didn’t mind the art, and I believe Pym’s atrocity of a costume has already been ditched in favour of the old Giant Man look.


Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho.

Good news! As part of the bonus features in the back (pencils, preparatory work) there’s that gorgeous neo-Perez cover from #1 which folds out thirty-six times and can be used as a dado strip right round a small boy’s bedroom.

Because Frank Cho never has a problem with monthly schedules, does he? Plenty of time to expend on a luxury like that. Did you anticipate that this five-parter would take as long to come out as three of Mark Millar’s ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS mini-series?

Anyway, it’s here at last and the crazy-mad fold-out is a nod to Bryan Hitch’s panorama in ULTIMATES 2 volume 2, for once more Loki is leading a hoard of ogres on an attack on American soil, this time Central Park where the Black Panther, Ka-Zar and Shanna are taking a casual constitutional with their two tigers. Meanwhile, following Loeb’s ULTIMATUM as this does, Thor is stuck in Valhalla whose queen of the dead, Hela, wants an heir to her throne. And she very much wants it to be Thor’s. That’s the deal if he wants to escape and since she’s much, much hotter than her regular Marvel Universe counterpart I can’t see that being much of a sacrifice. The snag is that he’s supposed to be in love with Valkyrie, still in the land of the living – she’s certainly in love with him.

Elsewhere, the remaining members of the Ultimates have shacked up with S.H.I.E.L.D., whilst Tony Stark has shacked up with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s commander Carol Danvers, and they’ve all been attacked by the Defenders now souped-up to snap up Thor’s mallet. With painful predictability Hawkeye bemoans the loss of his son by the end of the very first page, but the whole thing is rescued by an eloquent essay on the horrors of chemotherapy courtesy of Tony Stark’s voiceover. In fact it actually has a theme, this: death, sex and procreation.

Each issue features a different internal monologue. Captain America’s up next. A man of honour ill at ease with times considers dishonourable, he muses on his former friends’ mortality, while Valkyrie reveals that her entire life has been a lie. Loki the Deceiver can at least appreciate that, whereas Thor isn’t very appreciative of anyone around him by the time he gets his voiceover.

A vast improvement on ULTIMATES 3, not just because you can actually see what’s going on without the aid of an industrial searchlight but because the figures you can see are so sexily drawn. Loving Millar’s fourth book in the ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS run which finally pits Carol Danvers and her team against Nick Fury and his. Someone’s been telling porkies. Or is everyone being deceived?


Essential Captain America vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel) by various.

Reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA #206 to 230, Annual #4 and INCREDIBLE HULK #232.

The cover suggests that the good Captain may not pass his audition for the Village People tribute band. Also, judging by Thor and the Red Skull’s reaction, I suspect he may have a hole in the seat of his pants and forgot to wear undies today.



Reviews That Never Made It To The Website

Dodgem Logic #1 (£2-50, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & as if you really care. It’s Alan Moore!

Mischievous musings welcome you in to the environs of Northampton-shire, as Uncle Alan and his cohorts let you know exactly what’s on their mind: underground publishing, urban guerrilla gardening and cooking with ingredients that cannot possibly exist. There’s a spoof newspaper section including puzzle corner…

“Mandelbrotu no. 1,346. Fill in the squares with the relevant letter, number of symbol so that each longitudinal and latitudinal string creates a perfect emotional singularity.”

… an instructional design page for dandies, and an attempt to get by without using that cancer of capitalism, money. Comics too, and a free music CD, including a track by Alan Moore, Downtown Joe Brown & The Retro Spankees!



Dodgem Logic #2 (£2-50) by Alan Moore & co.

As well as an essay on anarchy, Alan Moore has written and drawn a mini-comic insert this time round called ‘Astounding Weird Penises’. And that is why it comes polybagged.

Dave Hamilton contributes a couple of pages that made me smile; about how we all got so flared up about the proposed ID card on account of valuing our privacy yet so many of us – by which I mean you – are living our entire lives out on Facebook. There we give away our most intimate details for all and sundry including huge corporations to make of what they will.

I’m way too private for Facebook, cheers, which I know must sound odd given my role here as arch-self-publicity merchant, but that’s all in the aid of comics. Indeed Page 45 has a Facebook apparently, and I will be indoctrinated — sorry, introduced — to its dubious pleasures soon as part of our website launch. Facebook, myspace, twitter, website: all in the aid of spreading the informed word about comics.

[Editor’s note: Stephen does now own a Bookface account, but it’s pretty well hidden and he’s never there anyway. Page 45’s Facebook, on the other hand, would dearly love you to befriend it. See STAY IN TOUCH.]



Also Arrived:

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

Dodgem Logic #8 (£3-50) by various including Alan Moore
Hair Shirt h/c (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Patrick McEown
Peanuts, Complete: vol 15 1979-1980 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Schultz
R.I.P. Best Of 1985-2004 h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Thomas Ott
The Bronx Kill s/c (£9-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & James Romberger
Cartooning: Philosophy And Practice (£9-99, Yale Uni Press) by Ivan Brunetti
World Of Warcraft vol 3 s/c (£13-50) by DC) by Walter Simonsen, Louise Simonsen & Mike Bowden
Tales From Wonderland vol 3 (£9-99, Zenescope) by Raven Gregory, Troy Brownfield & Tommy Patterson, Mike DeBalfo, Martin Montiel, Ian Snyder
Superman: The Black Ring vol 1 h/c (£14-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods
Batman & Robin vol 1: Batman Reborn s/c (£10-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Phillip Tan
Strange Tales vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by various including Harvey Pekar, Jhonen Vasquez, Rafael Grampa, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Terry Moore, Jeff Lemire, James Stokoe, Nicholas Gurewitch, Dean Haspiel, Dash Shaw, Gene Luen Yang, Kate Beaton, Shannon Wheeler, Kevin Huizenga, Jeffrey Brown, Paul Mayberry, Paul Hornschemeier, Tony Millionaire, Farel Dalrymple, Jon Vermilyea, Benjamin Marra, Tim Hamilton, Michael Deforge, Alex Robinson, Eduardo Medeiros
Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jimmy Palmiotti & Steve Dillon
Tenken (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yumiko Shirai
NGE: Campus Apocalypse vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Mingming
dot hack slash slash link vol 3 (£8-50, Tokyopop) by Cyberconnect2 & Megane Kikuya

Next week’s reviews… will be a lot more manageable! Largely because I only have Sunday to read then write them!

Reviews March 2011 week four

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011


If you’re allergic to superheroes – and some of you can’t help it; it’s a chemical reaction – then please note the brand-new STRANGERS IN PARADISE review below them!


The Adventures Of Unemployed Man (£12-99, Little Brown) by Erich Origen, Gan Golan & Rick Veitch, Ramona Fradon, Michael Netzer.

“Up in the sky!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
“Nah – it’s just some dude getting fired.”

There’s a definitional difference between a cynic and a sceptic; I’m neither, though I doubt most agree.

The superhero genre is crammed full of characters that defy the cynic: altruists prepared to put themselves in harm’s way in order to help the helpless and challenge iniquity whenever they encounter it. That’s why books like THE BOYS and BRATPACK, full of vile, self-serving thugs marketed to the public as heroes cause such a stir: they turn reader’s expectations of the genre right on their heads and then, for good measure, throw the resultant depravity in their faces. And we love it!

However, it’s also what makes the superhero genre perfect as a vehicle to satirise the self-serving greed and callousness of real-world CEOs, banks and other corporate institutions which rake in an abominable amount of money at the expense of the wider population, and the sort of Republican policies that enable or even promote their agenda. In the current economic climate of sweeping redundancies and daily scandals over Chief Executives claiming obscene bonuses on top of bloated salaries even after being bailed out by governments using tax payers’ money, the timing here could not be more perfect.

But what about the execution? Many are the mockeries I’ve read of the superhero genre that fall flat on their faces on account of being thin on jokes, bereft of a talent for comedy or the jokes themselves are so esoteric they mean little to anyone.

Firstly – and most importantly – this is not a parody of the superhero genre. Instead it’s using the trappings of that genre in order to expose the cold reality of so much economic smoke-screening. Secondly, it’s done with a perfect understanding of those trappings whilst keeping it all iconic – no self-indulgence here – because it’s aimed squarely at the Real Mainstream interested in the broader joys of satire. Thirdly, it is not scattered but positively crammed full of jokes that nail each iniquity on its head.

The titular Unemployed Man is Bruce Pain, A.K.A. The Ultimatum, a masked missionary patrolling Hell’s Kitchenette in the American Dream Machine, crusading against the Dark Forces of Destitution he sees all around him by handing out self-help literature. Which isn’t much use when you’re homeless, except to throw on the fire. To him poverty is “another symptom of poor mental hygiene”. But he’s in for three harsh wake-up calls. As President of Paincorp he once teamed-up with The Firing Squad and “disbanded” 5,000 employees; he discovers another shameful secret at the heart of Paincorp contributing to wider economic misery; and then finds out that he’s merely a mascot and is promptly fired.

It’s only then that he experiences for himself what the majority of the population have had to years. There’s The Coming of… Kollectus followed by the arrival of the Fantastic Fourclosure and he just can’t get a job. He does manage an interview with FIAS CO (Financial Insurance, Analysis & Stuff) whose terrifying panel members consist of The Human Resource, Optimystique, the Silver Lining etc., each of whom dismiss his super power of “looking on the bright side” as redundant to their cause. One of my favourite sequences is his encounter with a family tied to rail tracks as “a streetcar named bankruptcy” thunders towards them. Super Lotto descends to save the day, but instead of untying them he force-feeds them false home in the form of lottery tickets as the ruinous economic train continues its untrammelled approach. One propaganda battle later and its only when Wonder Mother arrives (“Fighting for working mothers everywhere – in all that “spare time” she has!”) that Unemployed Man realises Super Lotto’s ruse:

“Wow. I gotta hand it to you, Super Lotto, you’re really good at distracting me from the real problem!”
“What can I say? That’s my job.”

Stylistically it’s very much in the more naïve vein of the superhero so-called Silver Age, with advertisements for Blind-O-Vision goggles and Self-Pulling Bootstraps, and hand-dandy recaps of the history of The Just Us League which helped increase the salaries of the corporate CEOs from merely 78 times those of minimum wage earners to 4,000 times more. The secret origins of the other heroes who’ve found themselves thrown on the societal scrapheap are scathing indictments of so many different financial impediments thrown in the way of those most likely to help others: teachers, librarians, policemen, social workers, and once more it is wit, wit, wit all the way. When a lethal overdose of Fox News Rays turns overworked Bruce Tanner into a rampaging beast of bigotry and self-destruction, he ends up helping to break things he needs himself  (universal health care, unemployment insurance, bank regulations, progressive tax and public transport) “ just to be sure they wouldn’t be shared with those I was told to hate.”

In all honesty I arrived at the table expecting an ill-informed, gagless gimmick, not an eloquent, pithy and piercing diatribe against American prison rates, a mendacious media and its power to divide. Not because I’m a sceptic, you understand, but I need proof of the pudding before passing it on. I have now eaten thereof. Bon appétit.



Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent And Amiable Brick (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by George Herriman.

The second of three years of the Sunday strips, annotated at the back with contextual explanations for more obscure references, an extra full-colour commission no one seems to know much about, an illustrated account of the characters’ early life by Bill Blackbeard and an account of George’s cartoons for the Los Angeles times (along with examples of those same cartoons) by Bob Callahan.

Here you’ll find the triangle as eternal as ever between Officer Pupp, Krazy the cat, and Ignatz, the brick-throwing mouse. Krazy is still convinced they’re tokens of affection, which is one way of coping with rejection. Here you’ll find Krazy moved to tears by the plight of a caged canary denied all the joys of free-flying fowl which he demonstrates one by one… outside of his cage. You’ll see him creep around on behalf of a pig begging for pennies after Ignatz dobs him in, the sneak. You’ll witness the sublime stupidity of Pupp and Ignatz investigating a dark cave with eyes, right under (or above) Krazy’s nose. But most of all, there’s them thar bricks aflyin’.

I’ve mentioned before my adoration of Herriman’s love of language. We share a similar passion for mischievous neologism but what may surprise some is that Herriman’s sounds so modern – or that our own neologisms may be no more than subconscious repetition! “Thumbage” was how Herriman described the action of sticking your hand out to hail a lift. He gleefully writes dialogue like “Maybe, I was mistooken” and “Golla, something has gotta be did”.

Here Ignatz discovers a brick (yes, “A brick!” – he’s so excited!) and finds a familiar home for it with dialogue that will defy your spellchecker, but I know what I type.

“What a beauty it is too, a black beauty, heavy and solid – I will lean every ounce of its ebony lovliness against that Krazy Kat’s koko. Fortune favours me, he comes to his doom.”
“There’s a lotta sand in Kaibito,
 And a lotta moon in Oljeto,
 And I’d give half of my bigto
 If I could be in Kaibito
 Either there, or Oljeto,
For I’m a hoopintootin Navajo yo-ho –“
“Ah, a ainjil’s wisitation – a message from cupid. A ‘black brick’. Golla, the l’il dahlink must be buying his ammunition from a new brick yard.
“Look, Offissa Pupp. Look at the swell black brick Ignatz has osculated me with just now. Aint he getting to be regla l’il dude?”
“Here’s a nice new dollar for you, Krazy – use it, and be happy you old dear.”

Regardless of gender, it’s probably the strangest love triangle in the world.

Osculate is a real word, by the way, meaning to “kiss”. So the next git who tries to tell you that comics are illiterate…? “Osculate” him with the hardcover version of this.



The Hunger Of The Seven Squat Bears h/c (£9-99, Yen) by Émile Bravo.

All-ages hardcover from an occasional contributor to MOME with some cute, wide-eyed cartooning which appropriates several riffs from other firm favourites which work best when they’re not sign-posted. It kicks off, for example, as the seven impecunious bears, having built themselves a house from wooden slats, grow bored of living off the milky produce of their sole possession and take the cow to market to sell her for butter.

“And some honey gingerbread to spread it on!” they call to the hapless cub assigned to the task.
“For crying out loud! Buy some bricks!!” warns their neighbour, not for the first time. He’s a pig; one suspects he has two little brothers somewhere who’ve already learned their lesson.

It’s told in a chatty style and yes, you’re right, the cow never makes it to market but is instead given away by the dopey bear under the assumption that he is being robbed by an old man. He isn’t.

“The old man told him an incredibly boring story about a giant bean, a castle with an ogre, and a lot of treasure and, honestly, I can’t even remember the rest… anyway, the bear wasn’t really listening. He was terrified.”

In spite of his traumatised incapacity, the bear returns to the fold with the magic bean but typically they fail to do anything with it. Instead the witless wonders are persuaded by a roving Puss In Boots to sacrifice their friend – to drag him out of bed and lose him in the snow white forest – in order to take his last bowl of milk. So Puss In Boots takes both the bear and the milk… and the magic bean for good measure. It’s only as part of the bread trail the cat leaves behind in order to find his way back that the bean is planted at all!

Thanks to Little Red Riding Hood the bear is indeed abandoned in the winter woodland only to be lured into a gingerbread house by a glutinous, lard-arsed Hansel and Gretel who in turn fall prey to Mister Wolf. This leaves the cub to stuff himself senseless on the candy-coated domicile then return home where he finds the giant beanstalk has grown way up into the sky. Have the six remaining bears climbed it to reap their rewards? Have they heckers-like. They’ve gorged themselves on bean stew instead.

As a tale of bumbling bewilderment this all ties together beautifully with more than a touch of Jeffrey Brown in its execution. The only thing that doesn’t work are the early references to Poucet which get lost in translation. I’m assuming he’s Le Petit Poucet, a character similar to Tom Thumb created by Charles Perrault (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) but only because I have access to the internet. Wouldn’t have had a clue otherwise.

Oh yeah, and not that it really, really matters, but what is the point of a dust jacket identical to the hardcover it wraps itself around? Superfluous, surely? Dust jackets: not a fan anyway.



Battle Royale : Ultimate Edition vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Tokyopop) by Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi –

Whew, high octane. Take the story you (might) know from the film, add extra character background including plenty of school memories, change a few things around and you’ve got an amazing read.

For those who haven’t seen the film, the idea is a reality show taken to extremes. A class of Japanese school children are forced to whittle their numbers down from 42 to 1 over the space of a few days. They’re set down on an island, given a random weapon each, a collar packed with explosives and told to get to it. Japan is disappointed with its youth, the traditional values are disintegrating rapidly so the lesson is shape up or we disown you. Different factions in the class react in different ways. Some band together and try to ignore the rule that if there’s more than one left at the end of the game all the collars explode. Some take to it naturally. The tagline for the film was something like “Could you kill your best friend?” It’ll be interesting to see how the manga tackles the lighthouse scene, one of the most intense pieces of celluloid I’ve witnessed.

Not sure if this is adapted from the original novel or taken from the film but Giffen does an excellent job with the English language version – well done to Tokyopop for drafting him in. Often in manga, an artist has a few different stock faces and he merely piles different hair and clothes around them. The kids all have the same uniform so Taguchi (I’m guessing) has made an almost Gilbert Hernandez-like stretch of keeping everyone separate. He manages to keep everything sharp and clear while still exaggerating the pupils’ faces so the sweet and innocent are distinct from the dangerous or damaged. His art is glossy and shiny and almost hyperreal, particularly during the – rather messy and close up – killings.

Also, this is quite a change from Western adaptations. If Dark Horse are doing an Aliens book it’s a four-issue mini series, probably coming out at under a hundred pages. If DC do a Batman, it’s less than that, got all the big fight scenes and you go away thinking “Well it looked like Michael Keaton” but that’s about it. Here we have the first two-hundred-page book of a fifteen-part series and it’s giving you more than the film, not less. Much more.

[Editor’s note: you actually get six-hundred pages here in a taller, wider format because this is the first three softcovers in one. The softcovers are going out of print, and I don’t anticipate a reversal in Tokyopop’s implosion so if you want this seriously I’d make it sooner rather than later.]


iZombie vol 1: Dead To The World (£10-99, Vertigo) by Chris Robinson & Michael Allred…

“You… what? But…”
“Quit stalling. Make with the trick or treat already.”

Part sitcom, part Scooby Doo, part Buffy, which makes iZOMBIE sounds like the veritable Frankenstein’s monster of a comic. Errr… well in fact, a Frankenstein’s monster would seem to be the only classic horror character that hasn’t shown up so far in Roberson & Allred’s kitsch supernatural detective comedy as we have Gwen, a zombie who daylights as a gravedigger, her bee-hived and mini-skirted ghostly friend Ellie, forever trapped in the ‘60s, Spot the were-terrier who has a very unrequited crush on Gwen, Amon the suave and mysterious mummy who lives in the creepy house at the end of the street, the paintballing vampire minxes who hang out in the clubs as well as the woods, and the bickering, white-suited monster hunters Horatio and Diogenes, who’ve started to realise that Eugene, Oregon is rather more interesting a place to visit than its boring name would first suggest. Yes, Roberson has certainly wasted no time in establishing a crazy cast of characters with which to craft his spooky tale.

I like the concept of this book a lot, and there’s certainly endless possibilities to be had exploiting these modern day versions of the horror archetypes we’ve all come to love (and perhaps not be so frightened by any more over the years) for comedic gain. Plus on a slightly more serious level we have the central character of the somewhat sardonic Gwen, and her attempting to come to terms with being undead, with a little assistance from the timeless Amon who has more than a millennium or two of firsthand experience of precisely what that entails. Then we also have the wider stories of the various nocturnal goings-on that need some investigation from Gwen and her friends, as well as the monster hunters of course. I can’t say for sure yet if iZOMBIE is going to hold my attention but it’s certainly off to a strong start, ably assisted by Allred’s colourful poppy art, which removes any last vestiges of sinister from the story and certainly ramps up the camp.



Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews.

Wolverine, Emma Frost, then Cyclops:

“How come we all have to wear your G.I. Joe uniform of the week and Emma gets to wear what she likes, Cyke?”
“Darling, if you were sleeping with the leader of the pack, I’m sure that you too could wear what you liked. Presumably a fresh animal skin of some kind.”
“There’s beer on the plane, Logan.”

The X-Men are off on a field trip to Mbangawi in Africa on the other side of Lake Victoria from the Serengeti plains where Ororo grew up. Her husband King T’Challa has reported a phenomenon of so-called mutant births, babies manifesting explosive powers straight out of the womb. Hospitals have been destroyed, mothers have been killed by their own children, and as for the children themselves, it is to weep. Even though it is scientific fact that the X-gene only powers up at puberty, Cyclops is in denial. There are no more mutants being born around the planet, and he’s desperate for that to change. But Dr. Henry McCoy a.k.a. the Beast is far more pragmatic, determined to be thorough, and something just pinged. It isn’t good news.

The final book in Ellis’ ASTONISHING trilogy in which we’re treated to a sobering history lesson courtesy of Logan and some magnificent African landscapes and balletic athletics by one the most versatile artists in comics. You are advised, however, to read the first of Ellis’s ASTONISHING X-MEN books, GHOST BOX first (at the time of typing we still have it in both h/c and s/c), because it’s what they’ve encountered there that has come back to bite them.

Storm, Wolverine, then the Beast:

“I’m taking him out of here. You deal with that. Try diplomacy first, please, but the issue is containing them.”
“You wanna try diplomacy, or do you want me to?”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you stab anyone diplomatically before.”

For those interested in the construction of comics, there’s the big bonus of the first issue’s original script at the back, and its startling execution in black and white inks and sandy tone before colouring. With no lettering at all, they are some of the most beautiful, crisp and clean art pages I’ve seen.

Also I think Ellis is the first person to amuse us with the blindingly obvious r.e. Emma Frost: her English accent is fake! Blindingly obvious now that he’s mentioned it, anyway.

Not to be confused with Ellis’ second in the trilogy Astonishing X-Men Exogenetic, also superb.


Fear Itself Prologue: Book Of The Skull one-shot (£2-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Scot Eaton.

Out in the Egyptian desert lies a secret fortress buried deep beneath the sands, and in it lies a book bound in pale blue skin carved from the backs of dying Atlanteans. Within the book lies another secret which, like the book and fortress itself, used to belong to the Red Skull, the hate-mongering Nazi now presumed dead. All three now belong to his twisted daughter whose appetite for terror is as repulsive as her father’s, her face even more so.

The secret is this: in February 1942 something was summoned from the heavens which landed in Antarctica; something the Red Skull craved. Had he been able to make use of it, WWII would have belonged to Germany. But he couldn’t, for he could not even lift it, this hammer that fell from the sky…

In all honesty – and quite unexpectedly – this was extremely dull. I didn’t know Brubaker could actually ‘do’ dull. I’ve been a keen reader of his from LOWLIFE through THE FALL (pencilled by Jason Lutes of BERLIN, JAR OF FOOLS and Houdini fame) to GOTHAM CENTRAL onwards. Apart from one book guest-starring Namor, his Captain America run has been sterling. This guest-stars Namor, and it’s not even much to look at, sorry.

I am, however, still very much looking forward to the FEAR ITSELF main event by Fraction and Immonen.


God Of War (£10-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & Andrea Sorrentino.

Barking blades and butchery game finally gets its own comicbook spin-off, and much “tohewen and toshrede” there be!

Also chains (two), Hellspawn (legion), and a goatee. I always assumed that Kratos was voiced by Star Trek: Next Generation’s Michael Dorn who played – and may even still play – Klingon growly-man Worf. When alone and at home. Or not alone, I don’t know.  “It… amuses me.” Turns out it was Terrence C. “TC” Carson.

Anyway, it all looks thoroughly Christopher Shy, he of Goth-O-Vision Inc. (see ASCEND etc.), there are great big brutes with sharp gnashing teeth for kohl-eyed Kratos to lay into, and I’ll slay he does. It’s a total mascara!

I was going to delve back in to the PS3 edition and type up some more console-game in-jokes but then realised that my pretty gay barista has singularly failed to return the copy I leant him. Still, if you can locate the head of Medusa on page twenty-three and point it at the break between panels two and three of Page 45 whilst pressing both R1 and O, you may find yourself gazing into the cavernous jaws of our till. I’d have at least one of Charon’s coins handy if I were you, or you may end up floating down River Penury without that proverbial paddle.

(The words “tohewen” and “toshrede” come to you courtesy The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. Hack and slash in modern mundane parlance.)



New Review For An Earlier Classic

Page 45 has been reviewing books on a monthly basis since 1999. Before that there was the occasional Recommended Reading list but earlier works had nothing archived for me to edit; I ended up writing a good dozen of the CEREBUS reviews a mere fortnight before the website launch, and from memory, because some works deserve more than a trite two-liner. STRANGERS IN PARADISE is definitely one of those. This one I am re-reading, though, starting here:

Strangers In Paradise Pocket Edition vol 1 of 6 (£13-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“I don’t know what to feel anymore. You confuse me.”

Rarely am I allowed the luxury of re-immersing myself in our one my favourite series of all time: there are so many new comics and graphic novels each week which demand fresh reviews. But occasionally a window appears and I defenestrate myself immediately. And that’s very much akin to what the cast experience here: free-falling in love and experiencing one hell of an emotional turbulence.

Twenty years ago there was a relative paucity of comicbook fiction in the US and therefore UK readily accessible to women. Of course there were exceptions – LOVE & ROCKETS, EXIT, SANDMAN, CONCRETE – but exceptions they were and I could show you one hundred women I know personally whose first experience of comics, followed by an immediate love affair with the medium, was STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

Drawn by an artist who loves women as women and not stick insects, who can see the beauty and grace in a curvaceous thigh, and written by a man unafraid to be kind (I’ll put that into context with volume two), it had a heart of untarnished gold, embracing love as the one thing worth living for – and, if necessary, dying for – when so many play games with affection instead. Don’t get me wrong: there are those who play games here, there are those who are proud and stupid and nasty. And what one tends to forget is that actually Terry was really pretty damn saucy. Seriously: lots and lots of sex jokes. Do not denude Terry of his naughtiness!

Indeed the first three-issue mini-series was very much a slapstick burlesque in which we find the main protagonists Francine and Katchoo renting a house together. Katchoo is quite evidently in love with Francine, but Francine is in love with Freddie. Freddie is in love with no one but himself and only after one thing: sex. Francine knows that, Francine tells him that, which is why she won’t sleep with him. Instead, aghast at Freddie’s philandering, she spends most of her time in the fridge. Katchoo meanwhile is so irascible she shoots alarm clocks. Imagine what she will do to Freddie Femur when she finds out he’s cheating on the absolute love of her life? It’s really quite cathartic.

But what arrested me on the Market Square the other morning whilst passing onto the main series itself, early morning coffee and a cigarette in hand, is that I had forgotten how utterly shocking it was when the real story first kicks in and the comedy is buried under the weight of the protagonists’ past. I’ve typed twelve sentences here already, but I just don’t want to spoil it for you. Instead I will simply tell you that the following scene takes place round a bed nursed by nuns as Katchoo visits the one person in the past that showed her kindness while they both worked as high-class call girls for a certain Mrs. Darcy Parker. Emma is dying of AIDS.

“How you doin’, Chewy? You okay?”
“I’m fine, Emmie. Looking forward to seeing Canada with you when you get out of here.”
“Then you better grow wings.”
“Shhh… don’t talk like that.”
“Really. It’s okay. I talked to God.”
“I’m worried about you, Chewy.”
“So much… anger. It’ll eat away at you till there’s nothing left. You need to let somebody… in here.”
“You’re there, Emmie. You’re there.”
“I mean somebody who’ll stay with you..”

Katchoo has boundaries and they’ve been built pretty high. The only person she’ll let in is Francine who, let’s remember, is slightly distracted by a) Freddie Femur and b) the fridge. She has no idea how Katchoo really feels. Then along come David; sweet, doting David; puppy-dog David with whom Katchoo has a little fun. They meet in an art gallery and then in the rain (always, always in the rain) and no matter how many times he’s rejected he won’t go away, he just will not give up. He’s fallen head over heals in love with Katchoo, and he believes.

Which brings us to another of this series’ exceptional qualities: the arguments are long. They’re played out in all their confused complexities then exhumed later on, whereas in so many other series they’re merely nodes in a simple plot device. And they almost always end in rage, remorse and tears. Nothing is linear here. When is life ever that straightforward? Here’s David and Francine when Katchoo suddenly sends herself straight off the radar.

“So what was the deal?”
“I don’t know! You tell me! You’re the one who was with her! You’re the one she’s buddy-buddy with these days! You’re the one she talked to about that whole Emma thing! I’m just her best friend! She doesn’t tell me squat!”
“Francine, the only reason Katchoo talked to me’s because I was there and she really needed someone to talk to.”
No sir! I’m not buying that! I’ve been here all along! She can talk to me!”
“She’s afraid to, okay?! She’s afraid if you find out what she’s done, you’ll hate her or something.”
“That’s absurd! I mean, we’re best friends! I could never…”
“I think that’s the whole point, Francine. Whether you want to admit it or not, what you two have goin’ on here is more than just friendship!”
“Of course it is! We… wait a minute! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“I mean I’ve tried to fit in here and believe me, there’s no room!”
“I told you Katchoo wasn’t interested in men! She’s gay! You idiot!”
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that, but I definitely know why she’s not interested in men or anybody else right not… She’s in love!”
“With who?!”
“With you, of course!”

So when I so casually used to type that David is in love with Katchoo who is in love with Francine who is in love with Freddie Femur, it never did justice to this title. Francine is jealous of David’s place in Katchoo’s life, and wonders for a while if she may even be in love with David herself. Katchoo is absolutely dedicated to Francine but David is like no other young man she’s ever met. He’s kind, he’s considerate and sensitive. But David… David is not who he seems. Which brought about what was quite possibly the finest-ever cliffhanger in comicbook history.


Please note: so many of the pre-PKT EDITIONS are now out of print that we’ll be discontinuing that line as soon as what we have has sold out. However, the POCKET EDITIONS are such incredibly good value for money we think you’ll prefer them anyway. This reprints the first three of those older books in their entirety with an extra short story to boot.



Also arrived:

Reviews next week for many of these fine publications! Definitely FINDER: it’ll be one from the vault from the magnificent Mark!

The Finder Library vol 1 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil
Demo vol 2 (£13-50, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan
Dungeon Quest Book Two (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly
The Unwritten vol 3: Dead Man’s Knock (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross
Stumptown vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth
To Teach: The Journey, In Comics (£11-99, TCP) by William Ayers & Ryan Alexander-Tanner
Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter h/c (£11-99, Atheneum) by Andy Runton
The Artic Marauder h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi
The Sky Over The Louvre h/c (£14-99, NBM) by Jean-Claude Carriere, Bernar Yslaire & Bernar Yslaire
Titans: Villains For Hire (£10-99, DC) by Eric Wallace & Fabrizio Fiorentino
Iron Man: Rapture (£10-99, Marvel) by Alexander Irvine & Lan Medina
Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho
Essential Captain America vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel) by Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Steve Gerber, , David Kraft, Peter Gillis, Roger McKenzie, Roger Stern & Jack Kirby, George Tusca, Dave Cockrum, Frank Giacoia, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Mike Zeck, Mike Esposito
Spawn Origins vol 10 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo
Twin Spica vol 6 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma
Tezuka: Black Jack vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka: Black Jack vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda
NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 7 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi

We’ve also just added some bits of pieces of old merchandise to the web. More on that next week. Also: THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER review in advance of publication on April 7th. It will knock your gorgeous socks off! (Warning: please wear socks or it may amputate your foot.)

Reviews March 2011 week three

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Please note: we’ve had HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM, X-MEN: EXOGENETIC and the SPIDER-WOMAN softcovers in for a month or so, and don’t normally reprint reviews of previous hardcovers; we simply list the books in “Also Arrived” and paste the reviews straight into the relevant books’ sections on the shopping side of the site. But the hardcovers of these three came out much earlier than the softcovers, and it was a very thin week!
Night Animals (£5-99, Top Shelf) by Brecht Evens.

One of the many things I love about our website is all the interior art, and the way Jonathan’s designed it to open up when you click on the images. The mere one-week time lag between a book’s arrival and its review (which is what we ideally aim for) isn’t always enough to grab interior art in time for the review’s initial publication in Page 45 News but I’m delighted to say that it’s already up in this instance and if I were you I’d stop reading right now and click on the link below instead. You can always read the review there!

Two silent stories, then.

First a middle-aged man in a business suit zips over it a bunny suit and waits for his date in the park. Evidently stood up, he doesn’t give up but rather gathers his bouquet, takes it to a bar and jumps down its toilet. Thereafter it’s a phantasmagorical, subaquatic journey through hell and high water down to the depths where only the angler fish see. Ride A White Shark is a song which Marc Bolan never quite sang, but he might have been tempted if he’d read this first; he did love comics, after all. Will our ardent lover’s determination pay off? I wasn’t sure if it would, but I adored the resolution.

There are hearts hidden all over the place in both stories: a nesting pair of vultures, their necks entwined; the snaking shape of a rabbit burrow, on clothes, at the bottom of a bed… Also an awful lot of bumholes, not so well hidden. In the second story there are four birds perched on a branch towards the top-left of a double-page spread, who seem to be signalling in semaphore. I can save you some time and tell you they’re not – there’s a ‘U’ there but nothing else, just the Beatles’ single cover never spelled ‘Help’ (it was intended too, but the photographer didn’t like the shape they made!).

Coming to that second story, then, a young girl changing after a P.E. lesson experiences her first period and flees school in shame to curl up in bed, pulling the covers up tight to her neck. Small spots of red trace her path up the stairs, past her puzzled parents. The dog has a lick. At night, however, the menstrual stain spreads over the page as a horned, hairy creature of the woods (Pan, to me, not the devil – though it would depend on your thoughts on female sexuality) sits at the bottom of the bed, playing its pipes, its legs in striped leggings, its feet in red, heeled shoes. She is dragged out the window and carried away to a Bacchanal where she’s gradually transfigured (or again, some would say corrupted), growing older, more comfortable, more exuberant by the second. There are some wonderful creatures flirting and rutting there as the red grows darker still, but the story has a far more ambiguous, sobering conclusion than the first which I enjoyed even more.

Something to make you think, then, and something to simply admire for all its individualistic craft.


Freeway (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Mark Kalesniko…

“Why is the traffic not moving?
“Why is this happening again?
“Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

Wow, Mark Kalesniko has really come on as a creator since MAIL ORDER BRIDE, a book I picked up myself on a recommendation from Mark and enjoyed back in 2001. FREEWAY is a rather clever and wonderfully illustrated work that literally takes us along for the ride as we endure and empathise with, and perhaps also chuckle at, the central character Alex’s truly horrific commute to work at Babbitt Jones Animation Studios in downtown L.A.

This day-in-the-life story is interspersed and enmeshed with memories from the slightly dishevelled Alex’s previous few months since moving to the big city and landing his dream job, as he falls in love with a co-worker, and also falls foul of his boss, but the story also weaves in flashbacks to another rather more dapper individual back in the 1940s, the Golden Era of animation, when L.A. was a rather different looking city. He too has landed his dream job at Babbitt Jones, falls in love with a co-worker, and then gradually falls out of love with his profession as the times start changing. These different elements, together with (I think) some dream sequences, blur and meld together, producing a truly captivating blend that really succeeded in drawing me deeper and deeper into the different stories.

This is such a well put together work, for example the sequences when we move from the present to the past are so gently handled, often by a three-panel sequence as a typically bustling modern L.A. street scene is literally rolled back in time in front of our eyes to a less urban, leafier and altogether calmer time. But one of my favourite sequences, where Kalesniko really showcases just how good an illustrator he is now, occurs when Alex takes his co-worker to the old part of L.A. on their first proper date, to see all the surviving beautiful pieces of classic architecture. There are art deco buildings, expansive, ornate period interiors, and even a funicular, and these surviving gems can’t help but make you feel wistful for some of the beautiful buildings that have disappeared from every city around the world over the years, to be criminally replaced with modern, soulless, high-rise slabs.

The aspects of the plot that take place within the conveyor-belt hothouse that is the modern day, entirely profit-driven Babbitt Jones machine are very entertaining too, and given that Kalesniko used to work for Disney as an animator, I suspect the elements revolving around office politics contain more than a few autobiographical moments reworked as fiction. And I also really enjoyed how the suspense builds during the truly epic commute as we’re pretty sure something climatic is going to happen, when or indeed if, Alex finally gets to work, but we’re just not sure what.



Lenore 2 issue #1 (£2-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.

“…And that is why I hate goats.”

“Whatever” is the lamest excuse for a sentence of all time. It doesn’t even contain a verb. If anyone utters, mutters or huffs that word in your vicinity then walk away immediately and never interact with the vacuous parrot again. There’s no point: they have no capacity for expression. It’s not a refusal; it’s not declining to think or reason; it’s just masking an inability to articulate a cogent response by mimicking something they heard in an atrocious American mooovie. “Whatev’s”, on the other hand, in response to personal discomfort or discombobulation seems perfectly stoical to me…

There’s a lot of personal discomfort in Roman Dirge’s LENORE. Something’s always getting poked, prodded or impaled, and it’s usually cute and fluffy. It kind of comes with the territory when the main protagonist is a ten-year-old girl who woke up halfway through her embalming process, and half the humour comes with the pervading shrug – the “whatev’s” in question, voice or unvoiced – with which each atrocity is greeted.

For this second series Dirge has switched shores to British publishers Titan and been given much better quality paper and a colouring budget. Works well, too, with a beautiful matt dawn ushering in the opening origin story and a Japanese sunset greeting the warriors charging up the mountain to do battle with the Samurai Sloth. Lightning reflexes? He’s a sloth! That one was positively Tom Gauld!



Lenore 2 issue #2 (£2-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.

Unrequited love Lenore-stylee. It’s really going to hurt. No, I mean, it will physically hurt.

Full colour with an old-skool, double-sided, pull-out poster.



I See The Promised Land: A Life Of Martin Luther King Jr. h/c (£12-99, Tara Books) by Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar, Gugliemo Rossi.

Beautiful art by Manu Chitrakar, who is apparently a scroll painter from Bengal, which vividly captures the momentous events of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., but the page design and general assembly of this work is just crying, nay screaming out, for someone who knows what they’re doing. The beautiful panels of art are just plonked on the pages with no thought whatsoever to layout. The speech bubbles too, or great breezeblock oblongs as they are here, only detract from the artwork too. This work was so nearly something wonderful, but instead merely serves as an example of how not to design a graphic novel. A shame.



Weapons Of The Metabarons h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Travis Charest, Zoran Janjetov…

“For a Metabaron, defeat is not an option.
“Victory or death. And if I die in battle, my death will be a triumph!”

Errr… not quite sure how that works, but there’s certainly no doubt the Metabaron with no name is a glass-half-full kinda guy. Still, when you’ve never been defeated by any foe, indeed when no Metabaron has ever been defeated, optimism is bound to be running high. And maybe a smidgeon of high-octane hubris to boot! This time around though, our wandering warrior has a tough task ahead of him if he’s to acquire the four secret weapons that will allow him to drive the reptilian Hulzgeminis back into their own Universe.

It’s been a while since the last new Metabaron material so was it worth the wait is the big question? For fans of the series almost certainly, as this work picks up right where the others left off, though special mention must be made of Travis Charest’s (and also Zoran Janjetov’s) exquisite and intricately detailed art. It’s hard to comprehend how this is the same artist who used to illustrate Jim Lee’s Wildcats back in the proverbial day, and it would remiss of me not to observe that his skills have clearly continued to improve in the interim to a now truly exceptional level, as evidenced by the panel of internal art displayed on the product page.

Those new to the whole Metabaron saga might be a little non-plussed by this work, especially given the somewhat thin nature of Jodorowsky’s plot, but that’s never really been the point with this series in many ways. If this piques your interest though, I do highly recommend checking out the first four volumes starting with The Metabarons vol 1: Othon and Honorata. However, if you’re looking for a little Euro sci-fi something that’s just as beautiful, but also more taxing on the grey matter, you really should look at Denis Barjam’s Universal War One.



Hellblazer: Pandemonium s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano & Jock.

“War. I never realised just how brutally fucking loud it is. How viciously its explosive claws disintegrate soft sackfuls of humanity. How shockingly instant, the violent obliteration of a life. And how absolutely alone you are in the chaotic lottery of death.”

It’s 25 years since John Constantine, mouthy wind-up merchant, began tormenting the Swamp Thing under Alan Moore and in celebration the original HELLBLAZER writer returns with a typically topical original graphic novel set first in London then, once suitably stitched up by the British Security Service, out in the desert of Iraq, once home to the magnificent Sumerian temples where John quickly starts sniffing a familiar scent which I’m about to throw you off:

“There’s no humour in the eyes that I unveil… Just a predator’s primal recognition of prey. A hot feline musk engulfs me. And suddenly I’m back in the Big Cat house at the London Zoo in the ‘fifties. Six years old. Stomach churned by tectonic growls, flinching from the tawny lash of tails… Lion teeth gnawing on the skull of my imagination. Forty-eight years later, it’s as much as I can do not to piss myself again.”

It’s some of the Delano’s finest writing to date, every page littered with his love of the English language, whilst Jock’s line and light casts the sun in your eyes as well as the grit of sand.

Definitive HELLBLAZER then, eloquently conjoining the real world horrors of extraordinary rendition and the war in Iraq with John’s long and bloody occult history, whilst making it abundantly clear that any demons involved are merely benefactors of human brutality, not its catalysts. It’s John the witness and John the player, hiding his hand with bluff and black humour right to the gates of the Iraqi detention centres:

“So which way to the Dr. Mengele suite, sport? And where can I charge up my cordless drill?”



Gotham Central Book Four: Corrigan h/c (£22-50, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber, Kano, Gaudiano.

“Hell, maybe it’s suicide. The kid worked for Batman after all.”
“Great. You want to ask him if Robin’s been feeling depressed recently? “How’s he been sleeping? Any signs of drug use? Trouble at school?””
“Aw, God… Can’t be sixteen, even. You realise that if this is actually him, then even if this is accidental, the Bat is at fault?”
“Endangering the life of a minor… unless the parents are in on it too, then they’re all to blame.”
“Maybe Batman is one of the parents.”
“There’s a scary thought.”

It’s also quite a scary Batman: Kano’s feral, spectral version all shadow and blur. When a boy who could well be Robin is found dead on the rain-sodden streets and the crime scene photography is leaked to press, the investigation follows all obvious lines of enquiry until the least obvious and in some ways sickest presents itself.

This is the final volume of GOTHAM CENTRAL, the superb police procedural drama in which the streets are made all the more dangerous by its more notorious inhabitants, and Batman, far from being embraced, is blamed for their existence and resented for the emasculation involved in having to fire up the spotlight and call for outside help. So they don’t tend to do that: they solve the crimes themselves. Like any precinct, it’s populated by a variety of individuals, and it’s as much about them as the crimes themselves, in particular Detectives Renée Montoya and Crispus Allen, whose stories don’t end well, for snaking his way through the pages has been bent forensics expert, Corrigan. It’s here that their paths finally converge and the subplot erupts to devastating effect, shattering the lives around it.

Psychologically this is so well written, every artist they’ve chosen has kept it firmly grounded at street level, and a big tip of the hat should go to colourist Lee Loughbridge’s part in all that. There’s also a terrifying sequence in which no mere battle but outright Armageddon erupts in the skies above them, anarchy is loosed below, and Allen and Montoya have no idea whether they will ever make it across the city to see their loved ones again.

“Metal tears as something crushes the engine block. The windshield explodes inwards, showering me with safety glass. I tumble out of the car and into air that stinks of sulphur and burning flesh. My sight catches on one word and a face… and I freeze for a moment, staring into the eyes of a sin.”



Ultimate Thor h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco.

“And you must be the man they have sent to help me. You’re a doctor of psychiatry, I presume?”
“Among other things.”
“Then be forewarned. It is not a delusion of madness you’ll find here, doctor, but purpose and destiny. Professor Braddock will have told you that I am Thorlief Golmen — this is incorrect. I am Thor, God of Thunder, and I will be called the name my father gave me.”
“Of course, and I am only here to help you, Thor. Why don’t you tell me how I can do that?”
“May I have your pen? This one is almost empty and I’m almost finished.”
“Certainly. It looks incomplete.”
“It’s all I can remember.”
“A rather ominous place to leave off, don’t you think?”
“You can read this?”
“I can.”
“Then do so.”
“‘There is a storm coming.’”
“Yes… Yes, there is.”

Nice touch that, having Dr. Donald Blake translate the sequence of the Norse Poetic Edda written on the observation room’s floor. It allows that final extra line of quiet and genuinely concerned worry perfectly in keeping with Mark Millar’s version of Thor. Now, why is it that we don’t get a proper look at Dr. Donald Blake’s face, do you think? In the regular Marvel universe Dr. Donald Blake is the tag-team partner to Thor, exchanging places with a tap of the cane or a smash of the mighty Mjolnir. But the Ultimate Universe is renowned for its sly departures and this is one of them written by the creator of THE NIGHTLY NEWS and the author of Marvel’s most original book in years, the current series of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Set in Germany 1939, in Asgard a great deal earlier than that, and in the Dome of the European Super-Soldier Initiative just prior to Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES, Hickman’s tale finally reveals the circumstances under which Loki was banished by Odin to The Room With No Doors, and those which overcame Thor’s reluctance to join Fury’s Ultimates just in time to join battle on the streets of Manhattan towards the end of the first volume.

So, Germany 1939, and Baron Zemo has been assigned one hundred thousand men by Reichsfurher Himmler, found a gateway near Niebull to any of the Seven Realms and the twenty-four sacred runes which will, if correctly partnered, activate various sequences of the legendary Rainbow Bridge. The Aesir sequence, for example, is how they’ll reach Asgard and plunder it in pursuit of mystic weaponry to use in service to the Furher; but first another sequence will dramatically improve their chances of success. Who is the Ultimate version of Baron Zemo, how has he come by his knowledge and when?

I particularly enjoyed the resurrection of the stone circle near Niebull, the early appearance of the Schutzstaffel symbol amongst the ancient runes and, the revelation about Dr. Donald Blake and – I didn’t see this coming – the origin of this Thor’s hammer. Pacheco you may already know from Ultimate Comics Avengers volume one, and his Thor is a perfect match for Hitch’s, as his Nick Fury.



Astonishing X-Men vol 6: Exogenetic s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez.

“They’re digging up mutants, Henry. They’re digging up dead mutants and making them into tools. They’ve got reanimated mutants as tools and they’ve engineered living missiles from alien DNA and they used your theoretical work to get there. That’s what I’ve been trying not to say.
“They’re using your work to try and exterminate you.”

Agent Abigail Brand, the Beast’s girlfriend, is back so you know this will end up in space, plus Ellis’s Beast is as delightfully loquacious to my adult self as David Michelinie’s was to the twelve-year-old me:

“Have you gone completely mad?”
“My viridian sweetheart, I went quite insane many years ago. I assumed it was one of my more attractive features.”
“This isn’t good.”
“We’re doing fine. This vessel was designed by the most expensive Japanese sadists working in engineering today. … Okay, that’s not so good.”
“Oh, you think? With engines blowing out and no weapons. You have hair growing inside your skull, don’t you?”
“We don’t need weapons, my little angel of death. We have science.”

Quick-fire carnage with lots of snappy banter as the X-Men find themselves under attack by tailor-made mutations of their former foes: the Brood (Aliens without the slime), semi-organic Sentinels (giant purple robots with trade-mark looming hands – seriously, show me a picture of a Sentinel with its hand not looming large) and that living island Krakoa whose appetite first caused Xavier to found the second wave of X-Men.

Phil Jimenez enjoys himself mightily, and so will you. He’s George Perez’s natural and exceptionally worthy successor, he’s upped his lithe game even further, and every single panel is worth waiting for, particularly the one wherein Cyclops grows bored of “faffing around” and lets rip on the Krakoa/Brood hybrid:

“Good grief, that’s a little Damien Hirst, isn’t it?”

Interview in the back.



Spider-Woman: Agent Of S.W.O.R.D. s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Psychological action-crime-thriller with a big thing for internal monologue, set on the seedy streets of Madripoor.

Jessica Drew is a woman whose life has been an unmitigated disaster since she first said the word “Da-da”. After all, her father was murdering her mother at the time. Her parents were scientists working for the terrorist organisation known as Hydra – working for Hydra on Jessica’s deliberately damaged DNA. But Hydra was good enough to at least give Jessica counselling (that is how you spell ‘brainwash’, right?) and send her out to kill Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Nick Fury then knocked her back over the net in order to return the favour. Talk about failing to carve out your own destiny! After a few years being badly drawn by an ageing Carmine Infantino, Jessica was then abducted by the shape-shifting Skrulls whose Empress went on to use her likeness as the vanguard for their infiltration of Earth in events leading up to SECRET INVASION.

Convinced that everyone in the world is now baulking at the very sight of her, she’s sitting in a comfortless hotel room with a fist to her head, contemplating suicide, when an envelope appears on the floor. It’s Abigail Brand, Agent of S.W.O.R.D., with an alternative offer to get it out of her system: use her past as a Private Eye to flush out the remaining Skrulls around the globe and execute them. First off, a nice little holiday in Miami.

No, not really. First stop: Madripoor, gutter of the world. Almost immediately the whole mission goes tits-up as the hunter becomes hunted by Hydra, the Thunderbolts, plus half of Madripoor’s police, and Spider-Woman becomes the kiss of death to everyone caught in the cross-fire.

For those who demand costumes, you’re going to have to be patient: two-thirds-of-the-way-through patient. For those who didn’t care and just relished the action, I hope to God you’re reading Bendis and Maleev’s SCARLET. This is told with a similar chatty charm, as Jessica engages readers directly with a dry, self-denigrating tally of just how much trouble she’s in (she’s in a lot of trouble) and runs like hell from her former mentor, Madame Hydra, high up on the tallest skyscraper in the city, launching herself off the top.

“I can’t be here. I can’t. No more.
“I can’t be one of those people who keeps making the same mistakes over and over and over again. Never learning. Never growing. I can’t let that be me, I can’t!
“I snap out of my panic just in time to remember I can’t fly. Crap.”

The attention to the environment here is magnificent, whether it’s Maleev’s breath-taking aerial vistas spread across page after page, or his London sky pelting so hard with rain that he nails the twilight that can be England around two o’clock in the late-Autumn afternoon. I don’t know why Iran’s bothering to construct uranium enrichment plants, either. The colouring’s so radioactive, they’d just need to shove half a dozen copies of this in their warheads. Bendis has a history of taking two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs and the naffest characters imaginable, then completely reinventing them, charging them with a personality and perspective of their own. He’s also very good at taking self-loathing victims and taking them on a journey of self-discovery in order to reclaim their lives back. So it was with Jessica Jones in ALIAS; so it is here with Jessica Drew.



Red Moon (£14-99, Cossack) by David McAdoo.

“I… I don’t know what to do… One day we’re laughing and playing and the next I’m getting thrown out for the night because his glove smelled like a chew toy…. I’m… just a little confused…”
“They’re all the same, Mox. And it won’t get any easier to figure out why they wanted you in the first place.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean they’ll spend less and less time with you the longer you’re with them.”

Mox, the back cover tells me, is a schnauzer; not a big dog, but not a yappy-type thing, either. Freed from his unhappy suburban existence by a larger dog, Daeden, himself liberated from being a household pet and since befriended by a coyote, he’s beset by terrifying visions of a big red moon burning in the sky. Together they seek The Colotal, a giant centipede-like creature presiding over a council of animals in a cave far away, in order to determine what the visions mean. Are they some dire warning of an approaching asteroid, and if so what can mere dogs do to alert the ungrateful humans to their impending doom?

There have been some outstanding books with similar premises: Morrison and Quitely’s We3 was a scathing diatribe about animal experimentation and our treatment of household pets, whilst Dorkin and Thompson’s BEASTS OF BURDEN blended some of the same themes into its anthropomorphic occult investigations. Far from being sweet, both series were genuinely horrific, and there was always potential here too. But the conclave of animals is a million miles from Alan Moore’s Parliament of Trees in SWAMP THING, and whatever was left broke down immediately the second Mox started telepathically imparting his vision to Earth’s scientists who can see big chunks of rocks and their trajectories light-years away. I don’t demand total credibility from a story and I don’t want to spoil the last fifty-odd pages for you – I’ll leave that to David McAdoo – but it’s excruciatingly simplistic and twee. We3 was never going to end in a military/animal kingdom love-in.

All of which is a shame because you tell McAdoo poured his heart into this, and the man can definitely draw. But the story was in definite need of a spine – not courage, but something solid to support it – or at the very least a carapace, an exoskeleton of sorts to stop all the squidgy bits flopping around so aimlessly.


Finally we have this, err, adapted from last week’s review of the new series!

Axe Cop vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

That’s Dark Horse’s selling sentence right there, and it works. Customer Andrew Jadowski – otherwise known to me as Tigger – bought it on the spot based purely on that sentence! Of course the fact that it’s been such a successful web strip doesn’t hurt.

So what is the attraction? Witnessing the crazy, all-over-the-place result of a fertile imagination unfettered by any desire for artistic success, egged on by his brother at play and loving every second off it! That’s what’s transcribed here: hours of interactive play. It’s not actually ‘written’ as a comic by Ethan, but written up and then illustrated by his brother.

Of course it bounces off the wall! Ethan is bouncing off the wall and inventing on the fly – as did we all as we turned paving stones into imaginary transmats or time platforms; when plastic guns suddenly assumed new capabilities in the heat of the moment when put on the spot by our friends; or when one of us spontaneously came up with a new ‘plot’ development that turned the five-inch Aerofix spitfire model into an intangible space rocket and brought that big pile of bricks into fifty-foot life!

“No! No! Dracula’s behind you now, run!”
“But – but – I have a lolly stick and I stab him through the heart!”
“That’s his leg!”
“He knelt down to bite me!”
“And I chop off his head with my karate chop!”

We were only playing Doctors & Nurses that day.

So it is in The Ultimate Battle, with Axe Cop called in to investigating the abduction of young Fishy Fish by a Zombie Dog Woman who has dog and zombie powers, and Axe Cop quickly narrows her current location right down to “up a tree”. With no time to find out which tree, Axe Cop, Ghost Cop, Dinosaur Soldier, Ralph Wrinkles and Sockarang jump straight into the Axe Cop Monster Truck and head straight there except that they stop to see if the Moon Warriors want help first and find Lobster Man who wants to be their leader but Axe Cop doesn’t want him to be leader because he’s leader and a Very Good Fighter and covers his forehead with lobster blood. Fortunately Ghost Cop has a gun which shoots bullets and unicorns and Axe Cop has a plunger because meanwhile in a park Babyman’s chasing a duck with exploding, projectile eggs…

It’s almost impossible to transcribe but I think I’ve done it justice enough: the way the story veers off on A.D.D. tangents and anything can happen. Did I think the storytelling was inventive, captivating, thrilling? Was I wowed by the art? No, no, no and no…

The stories are inventive. Highly inventive. The project is inventive too. As an exercise and a reminder of all things six-year-old, it’s highly amusing and even informative for those studying such psychology. And in any case, as a bit of fun – to put your playtime adventures with your kid brother up on the web for you both to chortle over and entertain passers-by – it’s not just utterly harmless, it’s positively sweet. If you’re looking to me for permission to buy it then you’re just plain weird; on the other hand, if you’re looking to me to dissuade you from buying it then you’ve come to the wrong guy.

Something that proclaims itself to be a ground-breaking work of art that falls dismally short of being even mediocre is what gets my goat. Cynical huckstering by comicbook corporations of yet another formulaic, barely literate load of same-old junk is what pisses me off. Neither Dark Horse nor the brothers themselves have done any such thing.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

It does exactly what is said of the kin.

Also arrived:

Reviews to follow or in some cases not.

The Adventures Of Unemployed Man (£10-99, Little Brown) by Erich Origen & Gan Golan
Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent And Amiable Brick (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by George Herriman
God Of War (£10-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & Andrea Sorrentino
Dragon Age  vol 1 (£14-99, IDW) by Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston & Mark Robinson, Anthony J. Tan
iZombie vol 1: Dead To The World (£10-99, Vertigo) by Chris Robinson & Michael Allred
Superman: New Krypton vol 3 s/c (£13-50, DC) by James Robinson, Greg Rucka & Pete Woods
Thunderbolts: Cage s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker
Deadpool: Pulp h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Adam Glass, Mike Benson & Laurence Campbell
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews
Neon Genesis Evangelion vol 12 (£7-50, Viz) by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Gantz vol 16 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Berserk vol 21 (£10-50, Dark Horse) byKentaro Miura
Berserk vol 22 (£10-50, Dark Horse) byKentaro Miura
Berserk vol 23 (£10-50, Dark Horse) byKentaro Miura
Berserk vol 24 (£10-50, Dark Horse) byKentaro Miura
… to fill in the gaps and
Battle Royale : Ultimate Edition vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Tokyopop) by Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi
… because it looks like the normal volume one is out of print. Contains vols 1, 2 and 3.

Hearty congratulations to writer Kieron Gillen, agent of SWORD, on his wedding this weekend! Apologies to any customers who picked up a copy of Kieron’s GENERATION HOPE #4 to find it had been infiltrated by SHIELD in the form of four of Hickman’s pages. I suspect foul play!

News & Letters March 2011

Friday, March 11th, 2011

It’s a little known truth that I went to Nottingham Girls’ High School.

Not when I was young, you understand – it’s not something I claim on my CV somewhere between Prep School and Nottingham University. But last month I was very kindly invited to address 30 or so school librarians there, and dutifully packed my trolley suitcase with 60-odd graphic novels I thought would prove enlightening in a show-and-tell for different age ranges and different environments (urban school libraries do tend to stock differently than those enjoying the fresh air and crows cawing in the countryside).

I did feel a bit like a travelling salesman and, let me tell you, security at the High School is pretty effective! I think I circumnavigated the main building twice before I found a suspicious cleaning lady lax enough to let me in.

Once inside, I couldn’t have asked for a more receptive crowd and after a brief introduction to dispel any fears that I was the comic shop guy off the Simpsons (I think that worked…), we all gathered round the tables to talk about the books themselves: some absolute beauties like CHIGGERS, AMULET, NEW YORK FOUR, BONE, CORALINE, Courtney Crumrin, GRANDVILLE, THE ARRIVAL, TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, MEANWHILE, PYONG YANG, PERSEPOLIS, ASTERIOS POLYP, 99 WAYS TO TELL A STORY, GRAPHIC NOVELS by Paul Gravett, MAKING COMICS by Scott McCloud, a big dollop of manga and a few of the cooler superhero titles.

Tearing myself away after an animated hour of exuberant chat was a mixed bag of elation and deflation – I just wanted to move straight on to another meeting. Lovely, then, to receive this the following day.

Hi Stephen,

Just a note to say thank you so much for your talk and display at the school librarians’ meeting on Monday.  They (and I) really enjoyed the session – your knowledge and enthusiasm were awe-inspiring and I’m sure that it will lead many of them to visit the bookshop!

If you have a digital copy of the list of books you brought along with you, can you please send me a copy and I’ll put it in with the minutes (no problem if you haven’t as I still have my printed copy and can post it to those who weren’t at the meeting).

Many thanks again

Best wishes


Janet Huffer
Principal Librarian Education Library Service
Children, Families and Cultural Services Department
Nottinghamshire County Council

Once more, I can’t thank you enough for the invitation, Janet, or the reception. Having had to forgo the pleasure for so long while we built the website etc., 2011 is the year I want to travel!

Oh, and here’s a tip for anyone embarking on a similar trip: always hand out lists of what you’re taking first so potential buyers can take notes on the day for future reference. We’ve already had a visit from Dayncourt School’s librarian for a hefty purchase and, sure enough, she had an annotated copy of that list with her.

Here’s our library page on the website, by the way: LINK.

More letters in a second, but first a burst of news picked up from Twitter etc.

Item! Vote for Page 45 as the comic shop “least likely to resemble an android’s dungeon”! Seriously, Rich Johnston’s hosting an alternative awards ceremony of mirth and mischief at Chicago’s Comic & Entertainment Expo, Page 45 is shortlisted, and at the time of typing, the lines were still open. We’re in the last category here: LINK.

Item! Bryan Lee O’Malley had a birthday recently and posted new and behind-the-scenes Scott Pilgrim images and script. &

Item! Excellent online comic from Tom Humberstone featuring students protesting over tuition fees. Gorgeously coloured, this man has everything I want in a comics creator: something to say, and the skill with which to say it. LINK.

Item! Wizard Magazine is dead, killed by the internet. A catastrophically popular mag some fifteen years ago, it represented everything wrong with the US and UK comicbook industry by covering nothing but superheroes, promoting speculation by reporting on perceived rise in ‘values’ (hilariously an early Todd McFarlane issue of SPIDER-MAN was supposed to be worth a fortune because it was misprinted) and pandering to the corporations’ every promotional whim, thereby compounding the problems. Its one saving grace some fifteen years ago was that it was genuinely funny. For a couple of years. But the internet leaks information faster than print and the corporations soon found they had equally willing collaborators online. Whoops. Evan Dorkin, “Wizard ceasing publication is the End of an Error.”

Item! Ellen Lindner, creator of Undertow (our copies signed and sketched in) and one of the many WHORES OF MENSA attended the Angoulême festival this year, and spent her time sketching in colour. And what colours they are! It’s like Linda Barry on absinthe: LINK

Item! There’s a readable copy of Frank Miller’s 1987 interview with Koike & Kojima for THE COMICS JOURNAL online. (Frank was drawing the American translations’ covers.) LINK

Item! Also, from THE COMICS JOURNAL, this on Jason Shiga, the creator of MEANWHILE, DOUBLE HAPPINESS etc.: LINK

Item! Occasionally, very occasionally when a customer’s been on a mad spending spree before going on another at Page 45, our credit card terminal asks us to pick up the phone and confirm the identity of whoever’s holding the card. In case the card’s stolen. In case something dodgy is afoot. And one of the first things we’re asked is the name on the card itself, and if the middle name is an initial, the credit card holder is then asked to confirm what his middle name is. Last month a jovial – and really quite genius – young man was asked what his middle initial D stood for. “Danger, “ he replied. The voice on the other end went quiet. “No really. Danger is my middle name.” He’d changed it by deed poll so he could proudly pronounce that Danger was his middle name. And get his credit card confiscated.

Item! New FINDER site here: LINK.

Item! Westminster Libraries wants submissions for Comics Art Exhibition in early April! LINK

Item! In my review celebrating the riotous triumph of ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, you may have read me agreeing Jamie Smart (SPACE RAOUL, UBU BUBU) about setting higher standards for children’s comics. Here’s his original blog on the subject: LINK

Item! Interview with ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY’s Chris Ware by Matthias Wivel on The Comics Journal website: LINK

Item! Debate goes on about the future of comic shops in the wake of all that is virtual. It’s a short but sweet article. The terrible thing is that it will actually be news to some: LINK

Item! There’s a new graphic novel by iconoclast Tom Gauld coming out from Drawn & Quarterly later this year. It’s called GOLIATH. LINK

Item! Author Philip Pullman recently wrote this of Bryan Talbot’s GRANDVILLE and GRANDVILLE MON AMOUR:

“I have indeed seen and greatly enjoyed your Grandville books. I think they’re superbly designed, beautifully conceived, admirably written,­ everything about them is terrific. They really show what the form can do. Comics is so rich a medium now that it can accommodate all kinds of wit and irony and self-referentiality without being arch about it. But the successful comic or graphic novel still has to build, just as film does, on the solid foundation of a strong story. I’m full of admiration for what you’ve achieved in these stories, and I hope we’ll see many more.”


Bryan will be signing and sketching at 4pm, 26th March, at Plan B Books, 5 Osborne St, Glasgow G1 5RB. Tel: 0141 2371137.

Item! We want to compile a resource for new or potential UK self-publishers including a list of printers they could use. Do you use UK printers for small runs of comics and graphic novels. Please email us at with details so we can pass them on and publish them elsewhere on this site.

Item! Two vital resources for any comic student or casual reader are Paul Gravett’s website with its attendant Comica! Events. LINK

Item! Every letter column should have some background music, so here are two exceptional cover versions from The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. Radiohead’s Creep: LINK. Morrissey’s Every Day Is Like Sunday: LINK

Now here’s a cracking question from customer Ben Read who, four months after the launch of the website, currently holds the record for biggest-ever online spending spree. You’ll have to go some way to beat it, but we’ll let you know if you do, and give you a great big public shout-out too!


Thank you (once again) for an extremely kind gift. The signed Locke & Key was a fantastic bonus. All the more so in fact, because it’s one of the comics that I’ve pressed on friends as a gift and had missing from my shelf. (I do that with I Kill Giants a lot too, which is why I keep re-ordering it). Truly thoughtful of you, thank you.

Been away for a week so only just got to my parcel. Completely blown away by Weathercraft. Amazing piece of work. Funnily enough, my next brain pick question was going to be – can you recommend any good examples of ‘silent’ comics? I’m looking to do a ridiculously ambitious, long-form, no-dialogue piece, and would very much like to (steal) research whatever storytelling methods have been used to do this previously. Any thoughts?

All the best,

Ben x

P.S. Teaser to project: LINK!

Many thoughts – and a quick scurry round the shelves and a scamper down Memory Lane – reminded me of some of my all-time favourite comics:

Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
The Portable Frank by Jim Woodring
BLOOD SONG by Eric Drooker
FLOOD by Eric Drooker
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Last Lonely Saturday by Jordan Crane
He Done Her Wrong by Milt Gross
Graphic Witness anthology 
CEREBUS ZERO by Dave Sim (2 out of the three stories)
CEREBUS WORLD TOUR contains at least one classic silent strip by Barry Windsor-Smith, and another game of consequences between Dave and Chester Brown.
ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon
AGE OF REPTILES by Ricardo Delgado
THE SAGA OF REX by Michel Gagné
WHAT I DID by Jason – (the SSHHHH! part)
FOX BUNNY FUNNY by Andy Hartzell
Notes Over Yonder by Scott Morse
New Engineering by Yuichi Yokayama
Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama
Actions Speak by Sergio Aragonés
H DAY by Renée French
Quimby The Mouse by Chris Ware (roughly half of the strips, anyway)
TRAGIC RELIEF by Colleen Frakes
METRONOME by Véronique Tanaka AKA Bryan Talbot
A.L.I.E.E.E.N. by Lewis Trondheim
MISTER I by Lewis Trondheim
Mister O by Lewis Trondheim
WALKING SHADOWS by Neil Bousfield
THE WALKING MAN by Jiro Taniguchi… 

… and, of course, every single one of Andy Runton’s OWLY books.

Alas Peter Kuper’s THE SYSTEM, a visual relay race through the heart of a city, is out of print at the time of typing, but there are massive chunks of CEREBUS that are silent, most notably the incarceration scenes in JAKA’S STORY. Reading it as a book, it’s easy to forget how radical it was as a periodical: page after page of barred prison doors barely lit from above.

Also, CATS ARE WEIRD and CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG by Jeffrey Brown are mostly silent short pieces, Top Shelf published at least one younger-readers KORGI book that was silent, every single GON was silent, and Marvel dedicated an entire month to silent comics with mixed results. Certainly Chris Claremont was somewhat taken aback.

If you can think of more (there are bound to be more) please do email us at and listen for the sound of me slapping my forehead at the other end. Chris ‘Waterworks’ Craven certainly wasn’t shy about sending us this:

First let me say one thing… Damn you, Stephen!!!!

It’s going to be one of those letters.

Right, glad I got that off my chest.

We all feel better for it.

The reason for the damning is due to Stephen’s choice for my annual “hey it’s christmas so i will treat myself to a graphic novel to read over the festive period and hope it doesn’t make me cry like Magneto: Testament did”. (By the way I am working on that name so I have something snappier for this year).

As he may remember he handed me a little book called Forgetless by a chap called Nick Spencer. To sell it me i’m sure he used some of the following words: your sense of humour, Bendis, Hickman and fractured narrative. Obviously I had to purchase this book and upon reading found that all of these words used to sell me this book were indeed present and correct. To cut a long story short I loved it, very funny and extremely well written.

This obviously lead to me googling this chap Nick Spencer to see what else he did, and the thing that kept popping up in the search engine were two words, Morning Glories. Hmmm I said to myself I wonder what that is, there seems to be a lot of articles about this book on CBR. So I went and had a look and read a little interview they did with Nick about the first two issues. Doing my best to avoid spoilers I skimmed through the article, saw some gorgeous artwork and kept seeing words such as Lost, Runaways and Battlestar Galactica. Again I thought, well I like those things (I would stretch to love for Battlestar) maybe I should give this book a go and then I remembered a little promise I made to El, that I would try and cut back on my comic spending due to our impending nuptials (as you can tell by my frequent visits every Thursday, that’s going well!!!) so to please the little lady I thought i would wait for the trade of the first arc and just stick to buying the trades.

Because you’re reeeeeaaaally good at comicbook self-control, aren’t you, Chris?

So last Thursday I purchased Morning Glories and left it to one side while I read that week’s new books and finished re-reading Preacher (which was as good if not better than I remembered). This takes us to last night when before bed I decided to have a read of the first issue of Morning Glories, expecting to leave the rest of the book when I got home from work today. That didn’t happen as I read the whole thing last night. 

The reason for this long and rather rambling email is that I really enjoyed it, no hang on I LOVED this book. At first I had it written off as a kind of x-men type book as clearly all the kids would have super powers right?? Wrong! What I got instead was a book with interesting characters, gorgeous artwork and one heck of a hook. Sciency stuff mixing with supernatural stuff, classic John Hughes esque school stuff and evil teachers… I’m on board with his book till the end. I’ve read that Nick Spencer has the book planned to go up to 75 issues at least with less of the short-term payoff story and more of the long-term story instead and I will be there with him.

Needless to say I cannot, nay will not wait for the trade so could you please add me for Morning Glories as of the latest issue which I think is 7 due this week?

All the best and see you Thursday


P.S That damn you Stephen is a thank you for introducing me to the wonderful writer Nick Spencer and Morning Glories. Now all I have to do is try and avoid buying Existence 2.0/3.0

Hahahaha. Yeah, good luck with that. Also, add SHUDDERTOWN to the list and the exceptional INFINITE VACATION #1 (reorders in) which I reviewed here: LINK.

Nick Spencer just blasted in from nowhere (well, he was certainly way off my radar until I caught the preview of EXISTENCE 2.0 #1) with a ridiculous number of books at once that have never failed to disappoint. I hadn’t realised Morning Glories was such a long-form project, so thanks for that.

A chap called Stuart wrote on our Bookface wall:

Hello Page 45. I was up in Nottingham last weekend (doing an exhibition at the Malt Cross Gallery – go have a look!) and i popped in and got a Chris Ware book – the one with the red cover, his more “lighthearted” stuff to supposedly distract himself from the bleak/sad stuff. It’s super good. Anyway, when I was in there I saw a Daniel Clowes “Wilson” promo poster and asked if you had any more. The guy behind the counter said that they were around and that if he found them he would send me one.

IT ARRIVED TODAY! So, I’d like to say thank you. THANK YOU! I REALLY appreciate you guys going beyond etc. I live in London now but my wife once lived in Nottingham and I spent considerable time and $£$£ in Page 45 about 6 years ago and it’s good to see that the place is still tip top and the staff are still super duper.

Thanks again.


You’re very welcome, mate. We gave those prints out free of charge with our first fifty WILSON sales, but I’d manage to hide (read: lose) a couple behind the counter.

Seeing as you live in London now, I hope you shop at Gosh! opposite the British Museum. They’ve just celebrated their 25th Anniversary which is mind-blowing for any independent retailer these days. I am in awe.

Anyone attending our own 10th or 15th Anniversary Booze Bashes may well have met the most loyal of the loyal, Ian Hunter and his wife Joanna. Ian writes:

Joanna & I brought her cousin, Jane, to see Page 45 on Saturday during a Nottingham tour. Having primed her for the visit during a lunch at The Malt Cross I awaited her response with the usual mixture of trepidation and excitement.

Jane swung immediately from: “I bet there aren’t any girls in there”…

50% female customer base.

Over half the Tweets we receive are from women!

We don’t resemble an android’s dungeon!!!

… to “I never realised there was such a range of material available” (I did point out that your fine establishment was quite unique in the range of material you have in store.) You also missed Joanna proudly marching Jane to the Posy Simmonds and Peanuts shelves…

Conversation continued throughout the rest of the day. Seeds have been sown…. Classic Page45 history in the making !

I also noticed Harker vol 2 was in stock – not really a detective fan per se, but I was drawn to the book because I am a long time regular visitor to Whitby.

What a surprise! – The artist has actually either been to Whitby and/or used actual photographic reference of the place. Judging by some of the scenes (e.g. the angles on the swing bridge) I suspect it is the former. Quite the contrast to some of the American artists who draw New York with red double decker buses as a stand-in for London. Seriously thinking of purchasing !

I’ll be in for my Iron Man fix next week regardless !

Best Regards.


Eur. Ing. Ian Hunter B.Eng, C.Eng, M.I.E.T.

Of course you will. Nowt wrong with that; we love Fraction’s IRON MAN.

However, Vince Danks’ Whitby is a joy to behold. Take a look at the cover and review here: LINK. His sunlit London suburbs, museums and pretty special too, as see in HARKER VOL ONE.

Right, gird yourselves for an epic dissertation on our recent selections for Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month Club.


I noticed in one of the blogs that the number of letters/emails had reduced since the website was revamped and relaunched, so I just thought I’d try to redress the balance and send some of my ramblings.

So tea in hand (I know – tea! Should really be red wine but I hit forty last year and came to the sudden realisation that my waist is just going to keep on growing if I don’t do something, so no booze in the week, when I’m at home is my sacrifice… the week being Mon- Wed).


(I just LOLled. Am I allowed to LOL or is it now frowned upon?)

Last FM on the laptop – incidentally is this one of the best things about Web 2.0. My own radio station playing stuff I have and stuff I may also like.

Anyway I digress. I had promised myself way back when the Comic Book of the Month club started that I would try to write about what I thought of each of them. Seemed only fair given the discount we get, but I have been a little remiss in this. Time to try and make up for it.

A quick mention for Walker Bean. It really didn’t catch me and, for me, was a rare miss for the CBOTM. I could see the attraction, and it was well executed, but the characters and story just did not manage to hook me. To be fair it may be the time of year. I was reading it in between Christmas and New Year, and it strikes me as a book to be read sat outside in the sun with some chilled white wine to hand. Could be worth another go in the summer.

Always works for me. Your young son will adore it in a few years time.

Having been a little negative about Walker Bean, I have to say that both Special Exits and Crickets were exceptional, the former being possibly one of the most affecting books I have read. As soon as I finished it I started making some notes on the effects, technique, context and possible meanings, which I meant to go back to on a reread. However on just flicking though it again to write this email, I found that it was too emotionally powerful, and I was not quite ready to go back and watch the sad deterioration of that elderly, infuriating, wonderful, human couple, especially Rachel whose journey from plump and pleasant old lady, to the emaciated being at the end brought tears to my eyes when I first read it, and does so now thinking about it and flicking through some of the images.

There is so much talent, skill and experience of the form implicit within the novel that it really deserves a proper, full essay-length analysis carried out on it. Maybe something I might put on my (rarely updated) blog when I get the chance to do it justice. As with all works of art, it enables the reader to view the world a little differently, and just maybe after Special Exits I may be a little more tolerant of the old people getting in the way in the supermarket, or driving so slowly in their cars. Maybe I’ll think, if only for a second, of Lars and Rachel and will have a little more empathy.

Following on from something so good could have been difficult, but Crickets manages it with aplomb. I have to agree with something I saw Jonathan post on the boards, that Sammy Harkham doesn’t put out enough work. I wanted more of the main story. I want to know what happens to these characters. I’ve only really associated Harkham with being the editor of Kramer’s Ergot and have never really taken any notice of his actual work. That’s a mistake I shall be rectifying. He has a style that reminds me of Kevin Huizenga, and he captures how mundane life can be perfectly, rendering it interesting. In particular his attempts at sex with his exhausted wife, and subsequent childish tantrum is something that a lot of fathers, if they are completely honest with themselves, have been guilty of at some point. Sammy Harkham does a good job of taking a subject that would seem beyond the experience of most people (a film editor, no matter how frustrated) and manages to make that into a mirror that reflects some part of the reader’s own existence and experience, even if it does show a part of us we would rather not look at too closely or too often.

Anyway, I’m confident that this month’s CBOTM [Daytripper] will maintain the high standards set. I’ve been meaning to check out something by those brothers since an excellent interview they did with the Comics Journal, so I am very much looking forward to it.

Thanks for listening/reading this long, rambling nonsense, and congratulations on such good February sales. Long may it continue.


Marcus [Nyahoe]

Marcus is referring to the news that we’ve just beaten our all-time February sales record by a staggering 12.57%. In the worst year so far of this recession. We beat the record on the shop floor alone, not just through new internet sales. Thanks for that, by the way.

And a big thank you for Marcus for taking the time and trouble to send such an erudite email. In spite of the fact that I spectacularly failed to provide a February letter column and so lost the plot with a correspondence between Jonathan and Alex Sarll about the bleed between Vertigo and DC’s superhero universe, please keep the emails coming.

I’ve always cherished the interaction here, be it on the shop floor or letter columns, and it’s so easy to let the immediacy of Twitter become the sole receptacle now when in fact it’s so very fleeting, not everyone’s cup of tea, and… well, I’m not at my most natural when restricted to 180 characters!

To Whom it May (or may not) Concern…

Shouldn’t really be emailed off my work account, but hey ho, what they don’t know can’t hurt them (unless it’s the fact they don’t know an out of control plane is headed in their general direction. There’s gotta be paid there somewhere).

Anyway, need to stop myself getting distracted, just a quick question really.

I’m a writer. I write all the time, day, night, the times between those two where its kinda darky-light and lighty-dark. I write short stories, novellas, scripts and just letters to clients (the most boring writing I do, of course).

My passion, however, is writing comics and graphic novels. I devote my time between writing to read as many things with pictures in as possible. Only thing is, I’m working on what I’m already calling my magnum opus to myself and the two people I talk to my work about. The whole thing is nearly done, I’m just ironing out any creases I find.

My problem is (drum roll please) I don’t and can’t draw. I have (what I think) is a really good piece of fiction, but with no images to go with it. In any other case I’d translate it into a short story, but this thing feels like it needs to be told in a graphic novel.

The question I need to ask is where can I go from here? Who can I send it to? Why does peanut butter go so well with bananas and jam?

That is all.

It’s enough.

Just in case the history of aviation changes dramatically for the worst and it’s all your fault, I’ve withheld your name but suggest a little trip to our forums if you haven’t already. There are at least two threads here about artists seeking writers or vice-versa: LINK

Or maybe you could meet someone at Writing East Midlands Alt.Fiction event on science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing on June 25th and June 26th 2011.

For Writing East Midlands, visit

I suggest you keep your thoughts on peanut butter to yourself, though, just as I have here in case there are people eating at the computer.


It’s been over a year since we lest sent a badly-disguised spam mail to you: as we write this mail we just happen to be chillin’ in a 17th century chateaux in the region of Angouleme, France – which just happens to be the host city of the largest comics festival in Europe. Thankfully, we’re not just here to drink good wine and eat stinky cheese – we’re here to represent Romanian comics: in fact, it’s our first ever Romanian participation at the festival.

We’ll be launching the BOOK OF GEORGE, a chunky almanac that presents some brand-new Romanian comic talent. We’ve searched far and wide to track down some Romanian comic artists who’ve never been involved with Hardcomics before, and have come up with some real surprises. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about the hot new kids on the comic block, you definitely ought to check out the book – and the site – Keep your peepers peeled for more information about the Romania launch-party for the book – that is, if we don’t decide to sack it all off and stay in France for the rest of our lives, making cheese and making unnecessarily effusive gesticulations whenever we speak!

The last important piece of information we have to impart is that we’ve changed our email address: due to spam, and the fact that loads of hottie girls have been bugging us non-stop to “hang” with them, we’re now operating via Drop us a line with all your personal problems! And don’t pass it onto you’re hottie sister!

That website is well worth a visit! BOOK OF GEORGE is a quality anthology, you can read each story with its own theme music by clicking on individual titles, but the video itself… Just… watch the hands….

Hi there!

First off, I just wanted to say congratulations on the new website. It took a while, but the wait was clearly worth it in the end! It really has the spirit of the store in it, which is a wonderful thing.

I’d also like to take a moment to say how much I love Page45. To an embarrassing degree. I fully intend to have my ashes scattered on your carpet when I pass on – please don’t hoover me up, ‘kay?  I run the small Graphic Novels section over at Waterstone’s in Derby, and your store is always an inspiration to me, so thank you.

Anyway, the main purpose of my email (other than to say nice things, which is probably reason enough, actually) is a quick query concerning comic back issues. For my sins, I have a big ol box of Image comics from the 90s (mainly the Homage studios stuff like Cyberforce and Wildcats) which I’m feeling a bit stuck with. I don’t really want them anymore, but I’m aware that they don’t really have enough individual value to try selling on ebay or some such site. And I’d feel bad just throwing them all in the recycling – pulping comics is Bad Thing.

I know you guys don’t really do back issues anymore, but do you know of any dealers or persons who might just take the bulk of them for a nominal fee (as I said, I’m well aware they’re not really valuable)? I’d appreciate any advice you can offer.

Anyway, thanks for your time, and all the best to you and the store in 2011.


Robert Leahy.

Anyone fancy giving Robert a nominal fee for some truly atrocious comics? Email us at and we’ll pass your offers on. Otherwise, Robert how about donating them to a school or library to aid their literacy projects? Oh wait, maybe not their literacy projects…

May you live a very long life, Robert: our Tom is allergic to dust.

I leave you now with two items of news. Okay, one advertisement and an item of news. Firstly, the Misfits TV show made me laugh, so…


MON 28 MARCH, 6.30PM
Duration: 90m

Misfits appeared like a supercharged lightning storm on E4 in 2009 and went on to win a BAFTA for Best Television Drama for its clever and complex tale of five young offenders who discover that having superhero powers isn’t so super. We are thrilled to welcome creator and writer Howard Overman to reveal where Misfits came from, how it’s written and, perhaps, where it’s going in 2011. The Q&A will be led by freelance script editor and development executive Kate Leys and will be illustrated with clips.

With thanks to Clerkenwell Films, BAFTA, and E4.

Tickets: £7.00 full / £5.50 concs.

BAFTA’s public events and online resources bring you closer to the creative talent behind your favourite games, films, and TV shows. Find out more at

To buy tickets:
0115 952 6611
in person at Broadway box office

Secondly I know so many friends who moved to Nottingham because of Selectadisc (R.I.P.), and that makes perfect sense to me.

But I just learned on Twitter that James Sharpe has paid Page 45 that ultimate compliment too:

The decision to move was based purely on the fact that Nottingham has a proper comic shop (@PageFortyFive).”


I sometimes struggle for a punchline, but that’s it.

Reviews March 2011 week two

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Hellblazer vol 1: Original Sins (£14-99, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano, Rick Veitch & John Ridgeway, Alfredo Alcala, Rick Veitch, Tom Mandrake, Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy.

“First, tell me about your strange friend. Have you known him long? Do you trust him?”
“I trust John with my life.”


John Constantine is a trouble magnet; the problem is that deep down he enjoys it. Brash, rash and cocky, this streetwise trickster, this Laughing Magician with his nicotine-stained fingers and trademark trenchcoat relishes the war of wits – the blag, the bluff and the quietly palmed ace up his sleeve – and his insatiable curiosity drives him to places where no soul should go. That he somehow returns to enjoy his next pint is a miracle; that his friends rarely do is inevitable. Worse still, as John will discover, there is no such thing as a clean break…

Created by Alan Moore for SWAMP THING, Constantine was never callous, just careless. If he didn’t cherish his friendships he’d never mourn their loss; nor would he be so susceptible to their haunting him. Furthermore, under his glib exterior with its wry wit and pithy putdowns lies a fierce determination and a horror of social injustice which he spies almost everywhere he goes, be it a starving Africa where “there are flies drinking from the eyes of children” or the rain-soaked streets of London strewn with the dispossessed.

Under Jamie Delano HELLBLAZER immediately established itself as anti-establishment, and the title’s always been at its best when it combines the trappings of the occult with everyday fears, all too human weaknesses and the very real horrors that surround us all: racism, homophobia, domestic violence and fear-mongering itself; cancer, drug addiction, homelessness and hospitalisation; police brutality, the trampling of the masses and political abuse of power. Jamie was never shy of making the title an unapologetic rallying cry against the unforgiveable ravages that Thatcherism wrought on our communities, our personal liberties and the individuals left on the rubbish tip piled up in its wake.

Above all he communicated exactly how it felt to live in England at the time, and I’m not just talking about pollution, rags soaked in petrol stuffed through letterboxes or tribal football hooliganism. (Delano has an imaginative sense of humour: you’ll find Arsenal and Chelsea fans here conjoined at the hip here, moronically beating the living shit out of each other. “Strewth, the ultimate fascist comes apart at the seams – talk about divided loyalties.”) I’m talking about the weather!

“The traffic is barely moving and the back of the taxi still smells vaguely of last night’s vomit. I decide to walk the rest of the way.
“The thin, Sunday afternoon drizzle greases the tired streets. Ignoring the queasiness which quakes my stomach like an uneasy swamp, I turn up my collar against the toothless gnawing of the early November wind… and merge into the welcome anonymity of the city.”

It was such a shock to read a voice of Britain being published in America, and a geuine one at that. I can’t imagine any artist other than Ridgeway at the time representing us so well, either. He managed what Lark later did for Gotham Central or Campbell for FROM HELL, stamping the series firmly on the unsafe streets as John strode down pavements past old, brick terraces and corner shops set on fire or looked up into the bleak, lightless flats above. Texture, texture, texture…

Finally DC are making up for lost time and not just patching the holes in the HELLBLAZER library – which would require an awful lot of cloth – but starting again with numbered volumes, the first of which contains not just HELLBLAZER #1-9 like the original version but also SWAMP THING #76 and 77 so that you no longer have to buy SWAMP THING VOL 8 and VOL 9 to read the story’s conclusion.

The book kicks off with an insect demon let loose on America by drug-addled Gary Lester who’s flown in from Morocco to crash out in Constantine’s bath. Crawling with bugs, he’s in for one hell of a come-down but it’s not the worst fate to befall some of John’s friends here and, as ever, the spectre of Newcastle looms large.

“Yeah, well. Never look back’s a good motto in our line of business. Too many bloody ghosts following.”

Hubris and karma, John. You’re far from immune yourself.



Slog’s Dad h/c (£11-99, Candelwick Press) by David Almond & Dave McKean.

“One day late in August, Slog’s dad caught me looking. He waved me to him. I went to him slowly. He winked.
“It’s alreet,” he whispered. “I know you divent want to come too close.”
He looked down to where his legs should be.
“They tell us if I get to Heaven, I’ll get them back again,” he said. “What d’you think of that, Davie?”
I shrugged.
“I dunno, Mr. Mickley.”
I started to back away.
“I’ll walk straight out them pearly gates,” he said. He laughed. “I’ll follow the smells. There’s no smells in Heaven. I’ll follow the bliddy smells right back here to the lovely earth.”

From the same team behind THE SAVAGE, another tale of two boys, this time dealing with bereavement rather than bullying, and for something so short it’s remarkably rich, complex, and ambiguous throughout.

For a start the words and pictures tell separate stories running in parallel, the latter interrupting the former in silent sequences made from McKean’s customary mixed media of line, wash, colour photography and collage. They show a boy at play with a paper cut-out of a man in a flat cap, reenacting the fate of his dad by chopping his legs into pieces with scissors. Later the boy grieves at night and dreams of his father’s return, embracing the jovial angel while his best friend stands to one side, dubious. In another the cut-out, his legs taped back together, grows to full size and the man and the boy embrace. There are even two pages of a comic in which Super Dad descends from the sky to be greeted by his son in an African Eden of giants, fauna and flora; there’s also a local newspaper which anticipates young Davie’s doubts with an article about a man evidently suffering from amnesia married to a woman called Anne.

But the book begins with a view of the Earth from space, closing in gradually in an urban park and an old man sat on a bench; the green and blue watercolours, perhaps, seeping into his skull from above. It’s all open to interpretation.

Slog’s Dad was a binman in a coal mining town. One day he developed a limp, then a black spot on his big toenail. First they amputated the toe, then the foot, then swiftly the leg. They fitted a tin leg. Then took away his other leg. All the while, until he died, his wife Mary looked after him. But the last words he said to Slog was that he’d be back, and to watch for him in the spring.

Now it’s spring and Slog’s Dad is indeed back. He’s that old man sitting on the park bench. The one with the long, tangled hair, tattered clothes and cap. Slog knows it’s him.

“He looks a bit different,” said Slog. “But that’s just cos he’s been…”
“Transfigured,” said the bloke.
“Aye,” said Slog. “Transfigured.”

Is this a book about faith? Hope? Conning a free meal or the balm of white lies? As I say, it’s all open to interpretation right until the end. And I like that. Not every question should be answered. Not every question has an answer.

“Do you believe in life after death?”
Billy laughed.
“Now there’s a question for a butcher!” he said.



Walking Shadows h/c (£14-99, Manic D Press) by Nick Bousfield.

Some twenty years ago The Godfathers put out a thundering single called ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’.

The same sort of preordained, cradle-to-grave experience, set in stone and barely budging was a theme Alan Moore explored in THE BIRTH CAUL, adapted for comics by Eddie Campbell and reprinted in A DISEASE OF LANGUAGE. So it is here in this wordless black and white hardcover harking back to the traditions of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward (Graphic Witness) as well as the Social Realism film movement.

Told in a series of full-page, expressionistic woodcut engravings, it’s a grim tale of two working class generations enduring a negative cycle of poverty, drudgery and hopelessness, devoid of opportunities that don’t come with a jail sentence, which turns into a downward spiral of misery, exhaustion, despair then death. Failing to endure, then.

The father works at Packit & Wrapit where his wife is a cleaner. An old brick building, three stories high and surrounded by industrial chimneys, it casts its own black shadow over the walled-in, cobbled courtyard as the workers trudge in through the iron gate then out and back home to their equally boxed in high-rise flats. When she’s not cleaning at work, the wife and mother is cleaning at home, heating meals for the kids who bicker and fight. So often the father returns home from the boozer to find his haggard wife passed out on the bed, the sofa, or right there at the kitchen table. She likes to drink too. They’re all bored out of their minds. At least crime comes with an adrenaline rush.

There’s a masterful consistency in the light or lack thereof, and a lot of work has gone into the various textures which never jar once. I can feel the thickness of the jumpers, the trousers and the bed blankets; I can feel the weight on their constantly stooped shoulders. The snarls and the sneers and the bags under their downcast eyes are as unremitting as the monotony of their daily existence.

I think I’m off for a walk down by the river now, over the fields to Holme Pierpoint. Thank God that I can. This work will stay with me, though.



The Lovecraft Anthology vol 1 (£12-99, SelfMade Hero) by Ian Edginton, Dan Lockwood, Rob Davis, David Hine, Leah Moore, John Reppion & D’Israeli, Shane Ivan Oakley, I.N.J. Culbard, Mark Stafford, Leigh Gallagher, David Hatrman, Alice Duke…

“The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents.
“We live on a placid island of ignorance amidst black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
“Yet, some day, the piercing together of disassociated knowledge will reveal such terrifying vistas of reality, we shall either go mad or flee in the sanctuary of a new dark age.”

No, not Stephen commenting on how re-editing over 16 years worth of Page 45 reviews (some 3,000 in total) for the website sent him further right round the veritable bend almost back to the starting point and yearning for simpler times, but the opening excerpt from the classic Lovecraft short story entitled simply ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’.

[Although aged 16 I did transcribe that first sentence into an exercise book at school. I was going through a difficult, and some may say definitive, period. – ed.]

After the fantastically successful and remarkably well done adaptation of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, it isn’t at all surprising I suppose that the publisher would want to get something else out there onto the shelves. And once again, they’ve made a wise selection of source material and choice of adapters and artists. They’ve chosen a selection of tales which form a well balanced and neatly ordered anthology, as one moves seamlessly from story to story, something which I don’t actually think has often been achieved with prose collections of H.P.’s work.

The adaptations are all deftly done achieving that classic Lovecraftian sense of building suspense and unease moving swiftly through burgeoning horror before culminating in unimaginable, sweat-inducing nightmare. Leah Moore and John Reppion’s ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ would probably be my pick of the bunch. And the full colour art for me is absolutely excellent for every single story, though I can’t really pick a favourite, as they’re all wonderfully illustrated. For people who enjoyed AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, this is an absolute must. For people who would like a Lovecraft primer, or indeed just some exceptional horror short stories, it is also highly commended.



Baby’s In Black (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Arne Bellstorf…

This is a rather affecting and moving biography of Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe, and their all too brief time together, from just before they first met in Hamburg whilst Stuart was touring with the Beatles in late 1960, through to his untimely demise in April 1962. You probably need at least a passing interest in the era, and also the Beatles, to really appreciate the careful nuanced reconstruction by Arne Bellstorf of the events that take place in this work, but it’s just a joy to read. Whilst we’re not learning anything new here of course, it does makes perfect emotional sense of Stuart’s decision to quit the band and pursue his art and a life with Astrid. And the rest of the Beatles – John, Paul, George and Pete (Best) as they were then –  are well rounded out and portrayed in their secondary roles that they rightfully have here, without detracting from the main story.

I did also on the whole love Bellstorf’s black and white, genteel, almost pastel-like art, though – and perhaps it is slightly churlish of me to mention it – there were a couple of minor things repeated in almost every panel of artwork which by the end somewhat did my head in. I won’t mention precisely what they were because I don’t want to plant seeds in anybody’s mind but it did detract from the work for me fractionally. Once anyone has read it, if you want to mention you have to me, I’ll reveal all and I would be intrigued to see whether you agree or disagree.



Ghost Projekt vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston…

I know it was only last week that I was bemoaning the paucity of decent speculative fiction from western authors, so I was absolutely delighted to read this fluorescent little beauty. Yes, before we go any further, I feel duty bound to point out for those of a more nervous disposition that the cover does indeed glow in the dark. Something I discovered when I woke up in the middle of the night to see ‘an entity’ glowing on my bedside table a mere two feet from my un-bespectacled, and thus half-blind, face. It was probably the quickest I have ever actually exited my bed, compared to my usual requisite 5 snoozes as the appointed hour of rising approaches and then passes. Mind you, the fact that I had just finished THE LOVECRAFT ANTHOLOGY VOL 1 before dropping off probably didn’t help me assess the situation in a calm and rational manner in the midst of my sleep-ridden myopic haze.

So, what is GHOST PROJEKT vol 1 all about? The more canny of you, or at least those that can spell, might detect from the title that it is set in Russia, and also that it has a supernatural thriller flavour to it. It reminded me of The X-Files in a few ways actually, all good I hasten to add, but not least because of the cleverly convoluted and utterly improbable plot, which blends sci-fi and the supernatural like a champion cocktail maker. The two main characters of American weapons inspector Will Haley and Russian police investigator Anya Romanova provide the Mulder and Scully / amiable geek and aloof eye-candy combo, but Joe Harris goes quite a bit further with the character development actually, and throws in a few extra teasers for both of them, that presumably he will return to in future volumes. And, much like X-Files, there is always someone or some other agency just one step ahead of them, either swiping evidence or trying to help in the most unhelpful ways possible.

Nice art from Steve Rolston who really captures the mood, be it the toxic aspects of remote, deserted Russian research bases practically dripping in WMD, or the spooky goings-on that seem to be haunting participants of the long-abandoned Dosvedanya project. He helps Harris carry off what could otherwise merely seem a rather far-fetched tale, but like all good speculative fiction keeps just about within the bounds of possibility. Looking forward to volume two.



Bokurano Ours vol 1, 2, 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Mohiro Kitoh…

“How would you like to play… a little game?”
“A game?”

There are some people who might suggest that after a group of bored children bump into a strange man whilst exploring a secluded cave and agree to ‘play a game’ with him… and then suddenly end up transported into the cockpit of a giant robot fighting against other giant robots of ever more insidious design whilst their city gets repeatedly trashed in the ensuing melees … and that one of the children will always die after each successful confrontation because their life force is required to power the robot… that they’ve got precisely what they deserved for speaking to a strange man in a secluded cave in the first place, the daft buggers. Oh, and they’ve agreed a verbal contract of sorts with the mysterious man which means there’s no get-out clause, not even after the fatal consequences of their hastily made deal become all too evident to their shock and horror.

More quality sci-fi on the Viz signature Ikki imprint. It might not be as mysterious as 20TH CENTURY BOYS, or as hard-edged as PLUTO, or indeed as break-necked-paced as BIOMEGA, but BOKURANO OURS has a little something all of its own whilst actually having a good measure of all three of those qualities anyway. If Japanese giant robots trashing cities for no apparent good reason whatsoever is your thing, you will absolutely love it, but there’s a lot more to it than that of course. The kids are the usual collection of odd-balls, geeks, goody two shoes and of course the token really annoying one, but whilst it’s a relatively straight forward premise, on the surface at least, there’s a surprising amount of emotion wrung from the various protagonists, and their unsuspecting friends and relatives, as they all wonder who will be called upon next to sacrifice themselves to try and save their city.



Twin Spica vol 1 to 5 (£8-50, Vertical Inc.) by Kou Yaginuma ~

In the not-too-distant future Japan restarts its manned space program after a terrible and traumatic accident. The pilots of tomorrow will be trained today in a selective school program. Anyone can apply, but only the strongest will make it through the gruelling psychological and physical pressure. While not everyone is pleased with this new initiative, a generation has grown up in the aftermath of the accident looking to the stars. One girl, Asumi, a little short, a little odd, with ambition and heart is an aspiring astronaut. More than anyone else, Asumi has an uphill struggle getting into this school and the first difficulty will be telling her Father she applied. Twelve years previously Japan’s first manned spacecraft “The Lion” exploded just after take-off and crashed into a highly populated area, killing all on board and many civilians. Among the civilian casualties was Asumi’s mother who shielded her baby from the ensuring fireball. Her father was an engineer working on the mission, now just a simple builder living hand to mouth; Asumi knows her dream could break his heart and his bank balance.

TWIN SPICA is a complex mix of tensions. The science of space simulations, psychological extremes of isolation with the drama school, and the politics of post-tragedy society would be more than enough for most stories but TWIN SPICA surprises with its spiritual side in the form of Asumi’s ‘imaginary’ friend Mr Lion, who’s been guiding and inspiring her throughout her life. Clothed in a dressed-down space suit with a large, cartoon mascot head derived from his namesake, the aforementioned spacecraft, he makes an odd thing for a young girl to imagine. But it’s fairly evident early on that he’s actually the ghost of The Lion’s pilot, left in limbo, to help Asumi and those touched by the disaster.

TWIN SPICA along with SATURN APARTMENTS astounded me with its original twists on a typically – in recent years – action-oriented genre of science fantasy. It has a gracefulness and warmth all its own, like a perpetual autumn. Kou’s art has a melancholy that grounds the characters, coupled with clarity to the stories’ settings, whether they’re technological, natural or habitual, that binds with realism. My only criticism doesn’t even come from me directly but a customer, who mentioned the covers looked old-fashioned, dissuading him from trying it. I actually love the covers, although I think Vertical missed a trick when you compare them with the design of their Tezuka reprints. A cover juxtaposing TWIN SPICA’s varied elements on an exercise book design – maybe schematics of rockets against doodles of the characters – could have advertised the contents better, but whatever. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.



Axe Cop #1 of 3 (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

That’s Dark Horse’s selling sentence right there, and it works. Customer Andrew Jadowski – otherwise known to me as Tigger – bought it on the spot based purely on that sentence! Of course the fact that it’s been such a successful web strip reprinted now in the AXE COP trade paperback doesn’t hurt.

So what is the attraction? Witnessing the crazy, all-over-the-place result of a fertile imagination unfettered by any desire for artistic success, egged on by his brother at play and loving every second off it! That’s what’s transcribed here: hours of interactive play. It’s not actually ‘written’ as a comic by Ethan, but written up and then illustrated by his brother.

Of course it bounces off the wall! Ethan is bouncing off the wall and inventing on the fly – as did we all as we turned paving stones into imaginary transmats or time platforms; when plastic guns suddenly assumed new capabilities in the heat of the moment when put on the spot by our friends; or when one of us spontaneously came up with a new ‘plot’ development that turned the five-inch Aerofix spitfire model into an intangible space rocket and brought that big pile of bricks into fifty-foot life!

“No! No! Dracula’s behind you now, run!”
“But – but – I have a lolly stick and I stab him through the heart!”
“That’s his leg!”
“He knelt down to bite me!”
“And I chop off his head with my karate chop!”

We were only playing Doctors & Nurses that day.

So it is here, with Earth in danger of being squished by the Bad Guy Planet, but Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier have forgotten all that because they’ve just found a machine that turns Bad Guys into Good Guys and turned a crook into Handcuff Man who can throw handcuffs on a bad guy and electrocute him. Then they get their car fixed using Uni-Man’s Unicorn Horn and put Handcuff Man to bed because it’s night time. The Psychic Bad Guys from the Psychic Planet sneak in and decide to kill Handcuff man and steal the Good Guy machine, so one of them turns into a scorpion. After changing the Good Guy Machine into a Bad Guy Machine they turn into giants to steal the whole of the Earth’s army while they’re asleep and make them Bad Guys. Frustrated, Axe Cop lies down and takes his daily two-minute nap. He dreams about a T. Rex… that’s crying.

“The dinosaurs are in trouble! The need our help! We have to go back in time!”

Meanwhile, on a chicken farm…

It’s almost impossible to transcribe but I think I’ve done it justice enough: the way the story veers off on A.D.D. tangents and anything can happen. Did I think the storytelling was inventive, captivating, thrilling? Was I wowed by the art? No, no, no and no…

The story was inventive. Highly inventive. The project is inventive too. As an exercise and a reminder of all things six-year-old, it’s highly amusing and even informative for those studying such psychology. And in any case, as a bit of fun – to put your playtime adventures with your younger brother up on the web for you both to chortle over and entertain passers-by – it’s not just utterly harmless, it’s positively sweet. If you’re looking to me for permission to buy it then you’re just plain weird; on the other hand, if you’re looking to me to dissuade you from buying it then you’ve come to the wrong guy.

Something that proclaims itself to be a ground-breaking work of art that falls dismally short of being even mediocre is what gets my goat. Cyncial huckstering by comicbook corporations of yet another formulaic, barely literate load of same-old junk is what pisses me off. Neither Dark Horse nor the brothers themselves have done any such thing.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

It does exactly what is said by the kin.

Here’s the book (review next week):


Carbon Grey #1 (£2-25, Image) by Hoang Nguyen, more & Hoang Nguyen, more.

Before reading the book it felt like the sort of material Humanoids or Games Workshop would be interested in: big, painted sky fights with Zeppelins, futuristic rifles, Germanic insignia and head-shots clean through the skull. Okay, messily through the skull and leaving little head on the shoulders. Shampoo is certainly redundant for some here.

In reality, although there is much barely contained boobage and a severing of heads, it is a murky melange of artists and writers working so at odds with each other that the end result is something barely decipherable without the aid of their solicitation copy, to wit:

“At the birth of the industrial age a great war rages. Into chaos twins are born Mathilde and Giselle, the Sisters Grey. Beautiful yet deadly the sisters are sworn to protect the Kaiser, ruler of Mitteleuropa. When the Kaiser is found dead Giselle is accused of his murder. Pursued by her sister and hunted by the enemy Giselle must clear her name and unravel the prophecy of the Carbon Grey before history itself is rewritten.”

Thank Christ there are no prophecies in my life. I don’t know about you but mine’s quite complicated enough as it is without turning it into a cryptic crossword puzzle and second-guessing my way round Sainsbury’s:

“Basil will be the bane of your life: all that you touch will wilt, wither then die. Buy it at leisure, you’ll repent your herb pleasure, then you’ll be barred from that aisle for life.”

Even green leaves have rights.

It does boast some impressive, painted art but also the most monstrously mixed storytelling whereby the voice-over persuades you that you’re looking at the protagonist being addressed rather than one waiting around the corner. It’s impossible to tell who’s who, what’s happening or how.

Basically, though: there should have been three Sisters Grey in any given generation but this one boasts four because the last to be born had a twin. That is Mathilde, and she stands for rebellion. Revolution, ahoy!

This is the sort of art you’re in for.



Batman: Time And The Batman h/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Fabian Nicieza & Tony Daniels, David Finch, Cliff Richards, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely…

“How am I supposed to follow your insane leaps of logic?”
“Exactly. Maybe when you do, you’ll be good enough to be Batman. Trust me. It’ll all make sense one day.”

Honestly it will. If Dick Grayson says so, I believe him anyway. Probably the superhero question we got asked most frequently in late 2008 / early 2009 was, “So how come if Batman dies when the helicopter blows up and sinks in the harbour at the end of BATMAN R.I.P. is he alive and well until he dies in FINAL CRISIS then?” Well, finally, all is revealed with the publication of the two-parter ‘R.I.P. – The Missing Chapter’ that explains exactly what happened to Bruce between those two events. Actually, Grant being Grant, it’s quite a bit cleverer than that, as we get some snippets of information, sly nods and cheeky winks here and there, that also make segments of FINAL CRISIS and The Return Of Bruce Wayne clearer and more coherent as a whole too, as well as finishing BATMAN R.I.P. off properly.

Of course Grant being Grant, those two issues are prefaced by a story called ‘Time And The Batman’, featuring Batmen of several eras past, present and future which I had to literally read three times to understand. It is most definitely a proper detective story though, with a classic ‘locked room’ case to crack… if you can follow it. The story as a whole is exceptionally well put together, with substantially different art from several quality contributors to help emphasise the jumps in time, and there are loads of amusing references for the Bat-literati to pick up on.

Oh, and yes, there’s a rather good Fabien Nicieza-penned story thrown in with this volume for good measure too.


Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond (£10-50, DC) by Adam Beechen & Ryan Benjamin, John Staniscl…
“Listen, did he say anything else?”
“Just one thing… I couldn’t stop crying… just… just before he raised the knife to cut my throat… he told me to hush…”

Okay, finally, I’m a convert to BATMAN BEYOND, because this is just really great fun! I can’t say I’m totally sold yet on McGinnis as Batman, a permanently angry Bruce as the somewhat unprofessional behind-the-scenes command figure, or indeed even Tim Drake and Dick Grayson as they are portrayed here, it’s just all a bit too different to what I’m used at the moment, but I suspect that is completely the point.

I felt much the same when I started reading Marvel Ultimate Universe material actually, until I made the mental separation between the two continuities, and I am sure that will happen with BATMAN BEYOND also. Because what it does do is allow the writers to create some unlikely scenarios and make use of a whole new set of future back histories for protagonists we are otherwise overly familiar with.

And speaking of characters we’re overly familiar with, you might think dredging up old Bat-villains fifty years past their prime might be a hackneyed plot device, but actually it works rather well as someone who bears a remarkable resemblance to Hush – not difficult given he’s swathed in bandages I suppose – is offing doddery old-schoolers such as Signalman, Armory and Calender Man purely just to send a message it would seem. A message intended for Bruce…

Given Bruce never definitively convinced himself that Hush a.k.a. Tommy Elliot was dead, even despite the presence of a body with all the right DNA, is it really possible Hush is still active and looking to cause problems for Bruce all over again? It’s not just old villains he’s looking to shuffle off to their graves either, he’s also after the new Catwoman, who despite being a rather different breed of feline from Selina Kyle, has this era’s Batman just as captivated by her as Bruce ever was by the original kitty-cat back in the day. If you’re an avid Bat-reader who is looking for some new material and hasn’t given any BATMAN BEYOND material a look yet, this would be a great starting point.



Takio vol 1 h/c (£7-50, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming…

“We don’t have super skin and strength powers… We have Kung Fu Karate mind powers.”
“Kung Fu Karate mind powers.”
“Kung Fu telli…co…netflix.”
“Kung Fu telekinesis.”
“Kung Fu telekinesis.”

You may well have ingrained in your brain by the end of TAKIO vol 1, that sisters Olivia (the younger, a motormouth, shares her name with Bendis’ daughter who was apparently involved with the creation of Takio) and Taki (adopted, Asian and I have absolutely no idea regarding her nomenclature) have the power of Kung Fu Telekinesis, as it is repeated rather a lot, usually by the somewhat excitable Olivia who is desperate to convince her older adoptive sibling that they should, of course, be superheroes. So, what to make of Bendis and Oeming’s new project then…

Well story-wise, it’s not really like their co-created title POWERS, at least yet, but neither is it really like the Bendis-penned ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN with which, on the face of it, TAKIO seems to closely share certain themes. e.g. superhero teens (and pre-teens). Instead at this point, it reminded me much more of Robert Kirkman’s INVINCIBLE, in its early stages, before that title got to the darker point it’s at today. (For those who don’t think INVINCIBLE gets darker in the later volumes, name me another title where someone gets superspeed head-butted to death by the main character over a multi-panelled double-page spread.)

My main issue is that after one volume of TAKIO, I don’t feel Bendis has done very much other than tell us the girls now have the power of err… Kung Fu telekinesis. There wasn’t much else in terms of character development or future plot setups, other than to show the mad professor / father of Taki’s friend, who loses his grip after getting fired from his research job, again, and inadvertently causes the explosion that gives the girls the power of… wait for it… Kung Fu telekinesis. The section of the story where the girls actually get their powers felt rather threadbare and glossed over in a couple of pages to me.

I’m probably being a little greedy and unrealistic in terms of what I expected from this first volume, purely because I love POWERS and ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN soooo much. I’m quite sure future volumes will indeed give me the plot development I’m looking for. And actually, what is brilliant most of the way through TAKIO is the dialogue, particularly between the two sisters, which gives glimpses of why this title could turn out to be yet another roaring success for Bendis. And I can already see the sisters’ relationship as dynamic teen and pre-teen duo being something Bendis can have a whole heap of fun messing around with in future stories.

Oeming’s art certainly will put you in mind of POWERS though, as he employs his trademark curving but jagged arcing power bolts to good effect to demonstrate the girls… here we go again… Kung Fu telekinesis. Trust me, you’ll be thinking the same by the time you’ve finished reading it. Though again, the sunny palette selection and general lightness of touch puts one more in mind of the sensibilities of early INVINCIBLE than POWERS. This, I should actually add I guess, is no bad thing to my mind.

Overall I did enjoy TAKIO considerably, but I can see how it is more squarely aimed at the ’all ages’ market than even say ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDERMAN.


The Thanos Imperative h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Miguel Sepulveda…

More cosmic calamity comes crawling out from the Cancerverse with the return of the darker alter-ego of Adam Warlock, the Magus, and also a villainous version of a certain someone else who turns out to be really pulling the strings. I loved that particular reveal and its attendant consequences for the Magus, a very nice bit of misdirection there indeed, boys.

But let’s start with a question, rhetorical mind you: why oh why have Marvel cancelled, sorry… put on hiatus… Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy? Sales, obviously, would be the reason presumably, but I just can’t understand why more people haven’t been picking up Abnett and Lanning’s excellent cosmic catalogue over the last few years compared to some of the Earth-based cack that apparently sells enough to warrant continue printing it.

Still, at least they get chance to finish things off with a big bang here if you see what I mean… before the ‘Cosmic Avengers by any other name’ spin-off mini-series THE ANNIHILATORS kicks off at least. It’s their version of SIEGE and unlike, for me anyway, that anticlimactic conclusion to the years of excellent build-up that had gone before, here we have a real chaotic crescendo with Nova, The Guardians Of The Galaxy, Quasar, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Celestials, and pretty much everyone else who was involved with THE WAR OF KINGS making an appearance too, in the final confrontation with the corrupted versions of the Marvel Universe’s finest that inhabit the reality trying to subsume ours, known as the Cancerverse. The only problem being that as there is no death in the Cancerverse, that universe’s particular Death entity having been destroyed, as soon as our heroes knock somebody down, they’re right back up on their feet quicker than you can say ‘so they’re sort of like a Marvel Zombie, but not quite eh?’

Yes, it is a throw-the-kitchen-sink-at it battle extravaganza, with hot and cold taps running on full bore and the plug vanished somewhere behind the microwave, but it’s being fought on several fronts, and whilst Galactus and the other ‘high abstracts’ are holding the line at the point where the Cancerverse is literally pouring into our reality, the rift in spacetime known as The Fault, it’s up to Nova and The Guardians to lead a covert mission behind enemy lines to insert the one thing, or more precisely person, who can make a difference just by his very presence there. That’d be Thanos, avatar of Death then, and always ready to share the love. So will all our heroes make it back alive in time to put the plates away and join THE ANNIHILATORS then? Given that a certain two titles have been cancelled… sorry, are on hiatus… I wouldn’t bet on it.


Captain Britain vol 5: End Game (£15-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Alan Davis, Steve Craddock, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison & Alan Davis.

The return of Captain Gaudypants for his final flight over the Britain’s brick terraces. Here he’s wearing those white jodhpurs which – combined with the Union Jack – make him look like royalty all set for a polo match.

Actually it’s Davis and Delano who return him to our own parochial shores after Alan Moore’s done melting his brain over parallel Earths, a multitude of Captain UKs, Captain Albions and a fascist Britain with curfews and concentration camps for the undesirables – mutants, aliens and punks with spikey hair – run by reality-warping Mad Jim Jaspers. The series then was rich in language and psychedelia, and introduced several characters now far more familiar like Meggan, Saturnyne and the Crazy Gang, and there was the occasional attempt to link the British series with its American parent by name-checking Lady Farnsworth (Spitfire), S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.

Meanwhile Alan Davis was working his way through his own early influences (page 10 for example is pure Jim Starlin in its forms, layout and texture which is no bad thing), and doing his best with the limited space available because they were very brief instalments. When let rip on the covers he was even more impressive.

But the series, beset over its several incarnations by mixed editorial messages and consequent shifts in direction, was always a bit of a mess. Alan Davis’ introduction is highly illuminating on that score. Really it should never have been – superheroes just aren’t British and the costumes were terrible, each and every one. We don’t bandy any of our flags about all over the place like America does.

Anyway, this was his Captain Britain’s solo swansong, taking you right up to Excalibur vol 1: The Sword Is Drawn.



Scott Pilgrim Mug – Level Complete (£8-99)

I am not reviewing a mug.


Also Arrived:

(Softcover reviews of h/cs will be already up; other reviews to follow.)

Freeway (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Mark Kalesniko
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker
Weapons Of The Metabarons h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Travis Charest, Zoran Janjetov
Axe Cop vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Malachi Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle
Death Note Black Edition vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Red Moon (£14-99, Cossack) by David McAdoo
Night Animals (£5-99, Top Shelf) by Brecht Evans
New Mutants vol 3: Fall Of The New Mutants h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Leonard Kirk
Deadpool vol 6: I Rule, You Suck h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlos Barberi, Bong Dazo
Deadpool vol 5: What Happened In Vegas s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi
Ultimate Comics Thor h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco
Hulk vol 6: World War Hulks s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuiness, John Romita Jr
Wolverine Weapon X vol 3: Tomorrow Dies Today s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney, Davide Gianfelice, Esad Ribic
Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor vol 1 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein & Jack Kirby, Al Hartley, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck
Gotham Central Book 4: Corrigan h/c (£22-50, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Gred Rucka & Kano, Stefano Gaudiano
Arata The Legend vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Yuu Watase
Hayate Combat Butler vol 17 (£6-99, Viz) by Kenjiro Hata
Rin-Ne vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 8 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi
Dogs – Bullets & Carnage vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Shirow Miwa
Detroit Metal City vol 8 (£8-99, Viz) by Kiminori Wakasugi
I See The Promised Land h/c (£12-99, Tara) by Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar, Guglielmo Rossi

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Humour me so that actual followers start to outnumber the drones. I’ve stopped deleting those so I look more popular than I actually am. (I share a drone with Becky Cloonan. Does that make me cool?)

– Stephen

Reviews March 2011 week one

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011


Freakangels vol 5 (£14-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield.

“Well, shit. That changes a few things.”

One of the most consistently engaging, entertaining and surprising books on the market, this volume is indeed a game-changer.

23 years ago, 12 children were born in England at exactly the same time: 12 children who discovered that they could do anything if they put their minds to it. In a moment of panic they did put their minds to it, and England was virtually lost.

It was Connor who decided they should atone for their mistake by helping the island residents of Whitechapel rebuild their community now dozens of feet underwater: to deal with its infrastructure, make it self-sustaining and generate electricity again. Caz and KK found they had a knack for construction and old-school science; Miki took over medical duties; Carl grew stuff, Jack scavenged, while Kaitlyn as a child read far too many Judge Dredd comics.

But not all of them have proved half so altruistic. Mark was the first to give in to temptation by using his mind to alter others’. For that they exiled him, although Kurt and Karl thought they’d killed him. Then it was Luke’s turn to start playing it fast and loose with their laws. That didn’t turn out well for him, either. Whatever they’ve done has come back to bite them, but they’ve been missing something. The key to it all is Arkady who overdosed when young and, well, you could say she lost the plot. But maybe she’s merely been taking a while to adjust, because ever since then she’s been able to do things the others haven’t…

Now, after some pretty steep and painful learning curves, they think they’ve figured it out and Connor is about to make the ultimate leap of faith, into the great unknown.

Reeeeeally can’t tell you anymore than that, so let’s concentrate on the art instead. Blending photography with line art, however well coloured, generally results in a catastrophe. Kirby used it to startling effect in THOR and the FANTASTIC FOUR but he never attempted to blend: the power lay in the contrast. Over the last decade, however, it has been attempted over and over again, but never so successfully as here in both the sky and the sea (I think we can pretty much consider what surrounds Whitechapel now as sea!). It’s dazzling.

Duffield’s command of space and light have always set this book apart, giving it a timing I have no other reference for. But by far my favourite sequence this volume was a monologue spread over a dozen pages delivered like a dance. It could easily have been the most boring sequence of the lot, especially since it’s all torso-upwards, but the angles and gesticulations flow across the page with all the grace and intensity of a blood-soaked flamenco. Until Kaitlyn brings it to an abrupt halt.

“One: he shot my helicopter and nearly killed me. I owed him that. Two: are you seriously telling me you didn’t want him to just shut up?”

Here’s the beginning of that ballet. SPOILERS, LANGUAGE, BRAIN TISSUE etc:



Finder: Voice (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil ~ …

Oh my days, brand-new FINDER! Here’s Tom’s preview first:

Carla’s world is enriched by the fantastic rules and traditions of her characters. Each ‘Family’ Clan and ethnicity comes complete with a complex array of customs and cultural quirks (like cross-dressing as a matter of course if you’re a girl in the masculine Medawar Clan, or a boy in the equally effeminate Llaveracs) all trampling upon the others and at the bottom of the scuffle are the Ascian. Meting out a pitiful life as servants, illegally in many cases and with the lack of protection and pay that entails, their culture is richest of all, full of superstitions and rituals, and although it may have worked in the nomadic plains, in the dilapidated, domed city of Anvard, they’re losing their children to the lures of the technology and ‘success’.

But to Rachael they’ll always have a spark of romanticism to them, due mainly to her mother dating Jaeger, an extremely hot Ascian man, when Rachael was just an audacious young girl, not the woman she has become, desperately climbing the social strata.

Jaeger is a Finder; a mystical, powerful man to his people, more like a force of nature than a man and so forced to live his life away from his people and commit to a solitary nomadic life. Not that he was lonely, mind, as Jaeger was the kind of guy who could beat the hell out of ten men before breakfast, and breakfast was Rachael’s mum! In VOICE, the first part of Carla’s ‘Ghost Quartet’, Rachael sinks into the seedy underbelly of Anvard’s delicate network of clan ties to uncover the key to her future as a Medawar/Llaverac child.

The world Carla has spent decades building is beautiful, challenging and in spite of the speculative elements and fantastic technology, instantly recognisable. The Clans are archetypes of masculinity, femininity, and other social divides, all blindly striving for anonymity in their mass generalisation. And yet, as similar certain characters appear, Carla peppers each one with subtle differences. And the city of Anvard is itself alive, built long ago using long-forgotten techniques and technology. Little distillations of modern pop, art, and ideas of today filter in, like the blur suit seen in TOUCH, which is directly ripped from Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, or the Totoro-esque sentries in earlier books. And Carla plants these cheeky references, which when spotted and recognized are fun, but deftly manage not to distract from the story or the mood.

And now, heeere’s Johnny!

So… brand new FINDER, then. At last! There is always the slight danger whenever a creator returns to a series with more material after a considerable pause between publications that, well, things have just moved on, and what once seemed fresh and invigorating to us readers no longer has the power to beguile and please, and tug at the heartstrings and wallets in the way it once did. Conversely, sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder and thus it is with FINDER.

And whilst we were all possibly wondering exactly the same thing – what might have happened to the enigmatic Jaeger since we saw him last – here Carla plays her first trick, by putting the main character of this particular work, Rachel, into exactly the same position. She’s got herself into a spot of bother by losing – through being mugged by persons as yet unknown – a unique and very, very valuable item. Not in terms of monetary value necessarily, but in terms of social climbing potential, as it’s an item which will help her gain acceptance into the Llaverac clan, and in the domed city of Anvard, as we know, one’s position in society is everything. Sounds like a job for someone who err… finds things perhaps?

Here Carla plays her trump card in toying with Rachel, and our emotions. For whilst frustratingly the only time we ever see Jaeger in this volume is in flashback, a lovely little moment which will mean everything to long-term FINDER readers, he’s certainly present. And those with a keen eye will notice the presence of certain symbols scattered around the city in the background.

But whilst just for once Jaeger can’t – or possibly won’t – find exactly what was lost, perhaps what he supplies instead ensures an altogether more desirable outcome for Rachel, something which Jaeger would be fully aware of now I come to think about it.

I so, so enjoyed being immersed in Carla’s world of intrigue and petty etiquette once again, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment already. The flowing black and white art which, as ever, captures the vivacity and variety of life in Anvard, is beautifully formed with the minimum of effort and indeed lines. Carla’s final trick is to make this volume a perfect jumping on point for new FINDER readers. There’s just enough back-story given for those who are new to this world, to be intrigued enough to want to find out more about what has gone before, and yet you don’t need to have read any previous FINDER to be absolutely captivated by this volume.

A reprint of the earlier material is imminent.



Vignettes Of Ystov (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by William Goldsmith.

 Like shoe polish!
 Like brine!
 Like a pigeon!
 This ubiquity
 Of mine!”

Above was the sort of poem read out on Eugene Tusk’s poetry nights when the occasional police raid or soccer brawl would precipitate a swift exit. He once left a briefcase behind stuffed full of his original poetry. I wonder what happened to that?

Ystov is a city as bleak as Bratislava yet with civic flourishes somewhat Russian in their monumentalism. It’s teaming with some very odd people: a janitor hoarding dustpan detritus swept up in the course of his job; young match breakers (not makers) on dutiful patrol, sabotaging courting couples in order to prevent future misery or stagnation; a pair of semi-scientists documenting the migration of battered furniture left out overnight for refuse collection the next morning, yet scavenged instead by a magpie community of thrifty old pensioners who would go on to claim they were family heirlooms. That same scientific team had previously investigated supposed coincidences in order to refute their existence, only to fall out over one. Yes it seems full of coincidence, does Ystov, but over the course of Goldsmith’s colour-coded two-page episodes which dip in and out of its inhabitants’ lives, a hidden trajectory of cause and effect is revealed in its stead through tiny glimpses of individuals criss-crossing each others’ paths.

Goldsmith originally came to editor Dan Franklin’s attention by entering the Observer’s annual Graphic Short Story Prize in association with Paul Gravett’s Comica and Jonathan Cape. I can’t recall whether he won, but it clearly pays to have a go!



Scalped vol 7: Rez Blues (£13-50, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & Danijel Zezelj, Davide Furno, R.M. Guera

“I like tending my garden. Like the sound of quiet. Some folks say it gets so quiet out here you can hear the Earth a-turning. I don’t know about no Earth turning, but it’s quiet enough for a man to hear himself think, and I like that.
“Not everyone feels the same. Some folks don’t like to hear themselves think. I guess because they ain’t got much worth hearing. Those folks would rather live closer to the noise, closer to town.
“Back when this Rez was formed, the only Indians lived near town were the ones who had given in, given up the fight, sold out completely. The real Indians lived out as far from town as they could get. The further out, the more real you were. These days, some folks still say you can tell a man’s make by how from town he lives.”

Six pages later I’m welling up again, as an ancient couple, battered by illness and living as far out of town as is imaginable, know they don’t have enough food for winter. They both think it, they both know it; they just don’t want to say it. It’s one of the tenderest sequences I’ve ever read in comics. The entire opening chapter is a triumph, and Zezelj, long one of my favourite artists, does full justice to the creased couple’s dignity and resilience in the face of ever-mounting adversity.

What follows fooled me every which way: a two-part paean, sung by a dead man, ousted as chief for outing himself as gay, then murdered for it in spite of the Indian tribes’ honoured tradition of same-sex love before good ol’ Christianity reared its missionary head. Of course, this is SCALPED where Jason Aaron has proved himself a master of story structure and narrative so don’t take anything for granted. For a start it forms part of Red Chief Crow’s struggles as owner of the Prairie Rose casino. He’s dispatched Shunka to ensure that the Potawatomi Palace stops badmouthing his establishment, so depriving him of cabaret acts, and Shunka’s never been less than effective. He’s certainly very effective here – some of the violence may make you wince – but it’s the unexpected bursts of honour in Aaron’s thugs that take you by surprise, and is so often their very undoing.

As to the meat of the book, the return of artist R.M. Guera and all those subtle expressions (all variations on the themes of worry, pain, desperation, mind!), it’s now at a tipping point with undercover agent Dashiell Badhorse and Chief Red Crow’s daughter secretly seeing each other, hooked on drugs and, in one of their cases, pregnant. Still some time to look back, however, at more of the parental history going all the way back to Saigon, one man’s trade in opium and then… Oh dear, not him too?

Best bit, though (apart from that opening chapter, mirrored at the end by a conversation that never happens)? Breakfast at Granny’s: a full house of barely controlled chaos scripted and choreographed to perfection.

“I don’t know how you get your gravy like this, Granny. Mine always comes out too runny.”
“Taste is in the pan. Ain’t nothing I do.”
“Can somebody pass me those grits?”
“C’mon Angie, eat your bacon.”
“Dino, go fetch your sister. Tell her to come eat somethin’.”
“Yes, ma’am. Krystal! Breakfast!”
“I said go fetch her, not wake the whole house. You forgettin’ we got a guest.”
“It’s okay, I was already up.”
“You all right? You hungry? Want me to fix you a plate?”
“I don’t know, I…”
“Granny! Granny, we’re outta formula. Maverick just drank the last of it.”
“Tell your brother. He’s going into town today.”
“I heard ya. Angie, don’t do that. God, look at you.”
“Ain’t nobody else gonna eat? Somebody pass me the rest of that gravy.”
“I don’t know how she gets it like that. Mine always comes out too runny.”
“Granny, did my uniform get washed yet? I gotta get to work.”
“It was hanging up last time I saw it. Lord, this baby needs changin’.”
“Dino, you going into town? Can you grab me a carton of smokes?”
“I ain’t going yet. I gotta get Angie cleaned up.”
“It snowed pretty good out there. You gonna take the truck, you better put some sandbags in the back.”
“You got any money for cigarettes? I don’t think I got any.”
“If he’s gonna take the truck, he better put some sandbags in the back. I better go tell him.”



Zita The Space Girl (£8-50, First Second) by Ben Hatke.

Exceptionally fine and funny all-ages romp which combines the wonder, weirdness and humour of Mark Crilley’s AKIKO with M’Oak’s shorthand faces. The colours are lovely, and there’s no hanging around as Zita and Joseph encounter a meteorite, a button attached and, hey presto, Joseph is pulled through a portal. Which is an interesting excuse for lost homework. Zita, obviously, is somewhat freaked-out; but wait until you see what’s on the other side…

I may even prefer this to AMULET on account of that humour, timed to perfection, and the genuinely freakish nature of this weird new world’s inhabitants: a walking wad of turf, crawling with spiders and buzzing with flies (there’s a bit of Simone Lia in there); Strong-Strong with the body and brain of wet clay; a Heavily Armoured Mobile Battle Orb called One whom I cannot help but hear voiced by Brian Blessed; a robot called Randy on his last legs (so Zita finds him a new pair that squeak); a giant mouse that communicates in symbols through a mechanical ticket dispenser tied round his neck; and a pair of maintenance vole-like men, drawn to dripping water, who seem to live in the plumbing and look like those crazy souls left in a dungeon too long. Here they find Zita crying alone by their pipes.

“I told you there was a leak! Saltwater too. That means rust.”
“RUST!?! What’re we gonna DO?”
“How many times I gotta explain it, Jerry?” To fix this sorta leak all you gotta go is tell it GOOD NEWS!”
“Oh, right! In three days time an asteroid is gonna EXPLODE IS ALL!”
“That was BAD news, Jerry.”

So the world is going to explode in three days and Joseph was last seen being swept away by the skittering Screed, all mechanised tendrils topped off by a diving helmet. They’re heading for the Scriptorians’ castle across the Rusted Wastes, the result of the Scriptorians’ attempt to blow up the approaching asteroid using a doomsday device (note: never use a doomsday device – it does what it says on the tin), because Joseph forms part of plan B.

Ben you may have already discovered either in some of the Flight anthologies or its all-ages counterpart, FLIGHT: EXPLORER. Like Jamie Smart (SPACE RAOUL etc.), I’m tired of comics that lack the requisite wit and flair to capture a child’s imagination – as if children are any less than demanding than adults. This captured mine and kept me chortling throughout: the expressions are a right giggle and the energy in the cartooning when Ben lets himself go is thrilling. To discover on top of that a climax which tied everything together… Bravo!



The Man Who Clapped (£4-99, self-published) by Tanya Meditzky & Matt Abbiss.

“The man who clapped arrived and clapped
At all he could behold.
He clapped with joy to see the sky;
To him it was pure gold.
His face was one of such delight,
All this was here for him!
He strode through lengthy grasses
And his clapping did not dim.”

Overexuberance takes its toll in this witty ditty about a man who can’t help expressing his admiration. Everything he encounters is greeted with the same resounding sound of one syllable: CLAP! The birds and the bees are soon scared away, as are his chances of getting any. But when an innocent pays the unexpected price, The Man Who Clapped stops clapping until a sight so spectacular towers above him that he just can’t resist…

Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but if this yo-yo went round the shop clapping at every comic we commend, I’d mace his face with furniture polish.

This cautionary tale from MILKKITTEN’s Tanya Meditzky is as mental as you’d expect, and illustrated with an endearing lunacy by Matt Abbiss in perfect time to the beat. And if the getting there is a joy, the best bit comes in the form of a genius punchline and reprise.

Measures roughly two-and-a-half inches squared, beautifully packaged, with a “Useful Key” at the end. It is, of course, functionally useless.


Dragon Heir: Reborn (£7-00, Sweatdrop) by Emma Vieceli.

“So, how do you like yours? Tall, dark and broody, or slim, fair and… well, broody?”
“Protus isn’t broody! He just feels a lot of responsibility!”
“That answers that question.”

One of the loveliest covers on our shelves, and a spine tastefully (and usefully) embossed with gold.

Thoughtbubble attendees might already have stumbled upon this fully fledged fantasy with its delicate curves, long, flowing linen, inventive horizons and the odd band of George Perez texture (ah, you’ll know it when you see it!). I also loved the recurring coiled serpent motif with its scales. I wrote a whole page of notes to make sure the intricate details were correct only to return to my preview where I found Emma had done it all for me! Back in a second, then…

“In this world, the Spirits govern all. You live by your spirit sign, you serve the Spirit World. Protus, one of four Dragon Heirs, sets out on a journey to gather the heirs and take them to the location chosen for Spiratu’s Ritual of Transcendence. This act will leave the four young men free of the dangerous dragon spirits they have harboured since they were born; free to begin their mortal lives with Spiratu’s blessing. However, in a world where fate has spawned not one but two sets of Dragon Heirs, what guarantee is there that a prophecy so ancient can be fulfilled at all? And just what could failure mean for the Dragon’s human hosts?”

Yeah, I can tell you right away that the paragraph above makes the journey inside look way easier than it actually is for our woefully young spirit-bearers. For a start, Protus the protector is the only one of them to have completed his training and even he is several sheaths short of so much they’ll require to navigate the threats ahead of them. His confidence and conviction is derived more from an unfaltering faith in his singular purpose than from any hard knowledge. On top of that he has to contend with Furose’s ill-disciplined rage and for all of Kalm’s empathic powers, well, he never even made it to his Guardians in the first place. Worst of all, the man sent to bind the four dragon heirs (and the opposing four since sprung upon them) is taken out of the equation so early on that his protégé, Ella, is left bereft with no clue at all what her real role is or how she is meant to perform it.

Vulnerability is Vieceli’s forte. That, and the eyes and hair! Those with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because this is far more about their spiritual journey than is about sticking it to ‘em. Even the torture is mental rather than physical, so when violence does finally break out, it’s genuinely quite shocking. No, this is so evidently Emma’s labour of love that she’ll do it her way, thank you very much indeed, with the odd flourishes of Japanese cartooning for the funny bits; and blow me down if she didn’t devote an entire page to reflecting my own thoughts on scripture so succinctly:

“So Nute, your people don’t believe in the Spirit Signs?”
“That’s right. We believe that people can choose their own path.”
“So if you don’t believe in Spiratu, why join the Heirs?”
“Oh, I never said I don’t believe in Spiratu. I just don’t agree with the human interpretation. What the Dragon Heirs have… that’s real. But don’t tell Protus. It’s much more fun letting him believe I’m a heathen!”

Al Davison (HOKUSAI: DEMONS, THE MINOTAUR’S TALE etc.) makes it clear in the introduction that he is no fan of this genre, and neither am I. What we both adore is unbridled enthusiasm and love poured into a project. Can’t fault Vieceli there.



Vern And Lettuce h/c (£9-99, DFC) by Sarah McIntyre ~ 

Vern is a park keeper, a job that doubles as an all-you-can-eat buffet when you’re a sheep, and all he really has to worry about are biker Moles wrecking his immaculate green. His neighbor, Lettuce, in the flat below is the oldest daughter in a huge family of bunny rabbits, who is lumbered with looking after her many excitable, poopin’ brothers and sisters. The early one-page comics here are brisk set-ups for puns, but quickly evolve into clever explorations of stereotypes and prejudices when a family of Polar Bears move into their block after their ice floe melted. It’s snow joke.

In ‘Lettuce And Vern’s Pop At Fame’ our bustling bunny becomes enthralled by Ricky Renard’s Barnyard Talent and convinces Vern to pick up a musical instrument and audition with her in the big city. All Vern can rustle up is a tuba, and together with Lettuce who is convinced her singing voice is magic, they get on the bus… in the wrong direction! Worse still than a night in the middle of the countryside are the stowaways in Vern’s tuba; good thing he’s down with the bunnies.

Sarah has a great talent for creating worlds full of amusing and topical embellishments. In much the same way Raymond Briggs stories will feature a telling book spine or newspaper headline casually in the background, the visual clutter – which we all know is half the fun when you’re a kid – intrigues and inspires questions from inquisitive young minds.



Noche Roja h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Simon Oliver & Jason Latour…

Hot on the veritable barely cooling heels of the previous Vertigo Crime offering The Rat Catcher, comes NOCHE ROJA, set in a dusty and dangerous Mexican border town where local women are being murdered and mutilated and their bodies dumped like garbage at the local refuse tip. This work, whose title literally translates as “red night”, is a classic ‘case within a case’ story, as burnt out American P.I. Jack Cohen (is there actually any other kind?!) decides against his better judgement, and common sense surely, to investigate the shady goings on over the border after being telephoned by a local Mexican woman championing rights for workers and women, who tells him she’d seen his advert in a US phone book and decided to call him out of sheer desperation.

That’s her story anyway, and there’s just one massively huge problem with it… Jack doesn’t have an advert in the phone book as he’s officially retired from P.I. work after a rather bad experience the last time he ventured to this particular little backwater. Seems someone would like him to return, but who? Someone who thinks he might be the only person who will give a damn enough to try and help, or someone who might just have a score to settle and would just love to set him up for a fall? This is definitely one of the better Vertigo Crime books, but all of them put together aren’t really a patch on the magnificent SCALPED which is surely destined to become a classic. If you want modern crime on the Vertigo imprint, with dirty deeds a plenty, just look no further than Jason Aaron’s masterpiece.



Invincible Iron Man vol 6: Stark Resilient Book 2 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca, Jamie McKelvie.

Pepper Potts has been re-fitted with the Iron Man Repulsor Tech chest unit Tony Stark uses to power Iron Man. It shines through her ball gown and she’s radiant.

“Ms. Potts, you look stellar.”
“I feel stellar, Mr. Stark, thank you. And you don’t actually look like a pimp.”
“Perfect. “Not-a-pimp” was exactly the look I was going for…”
“Well it works for you.”
“Seems an important message to send as we launch our new venture. Stark Resilient: we’re not pimps. In fact I –“
“Yes? In fact you what?”
“Ms. Potts, it appears I can’t – “
“Oh my God. It’s the — — there’s something happening with the R.T., rigs, Tony. I can’t –“
“We’ve got giant electromagnets in our chest, Pep. Smile and try to act like we don’t literally repulse each other and we’ll figure it out when there aren’t three hundred people watching us not-kiss…”

This just gets better and better. Stark’s determined to supply the world with free, environmentally neutral energy using his Repulsor Technology, but first it’s time to get all Jeremy Clarkeson and build a fast car. Not a bad way of demonstrating R.T.’s credentials – a practical application for every family or speed-freak. The question is, can the alpha model make it through the beta test? Because not everyone’ going to be happy with the concept of free energy, and the American military are still smarting that he turned down new weapons contracts.

Meanwhile, the daughter and granddaughter of Justin Hammer have some technological upgrades their own, dispatching armed aerial drones piloted remotely by innocent gamers believing it’s just a combat scenario on their latest mobile phone app…

Matt can’t help inventing new bits and pieces like the Repulsor Tech liquid lenses modelled on the human eyeball, spread all over Stark’s suit including his gauntlet’s knuckles. In fact, he’s even upgraded the human eyeball. As to the suit itself:

“Neurokinetic user-controlled morphologic nanoparticle bundles. A fibrous wetweb of iron and platinum. Nice to have actual iron back in the Iron Man again. All of it stored in my bones and charged to run by the R.T. in my chest. Surprisingly light, stronger than ever, and extraordinarily thin. It adds less than twenty-five pounds to my body mass and can stop a Howitzer shell if it has to. Science, Sasha? I’ve become science fiction.”

With sentences like those this remains the finest-ever IRON MAN series equal to Warren Ellis’ IRON MAN: EXTREMIS. Once more I wonder how it took 50-odd years for a title based on technology to actually address technology with any real conviction, imagination or drive.

There’s a big reveal at the end – a thought that may have been lurking in your head recently which you probably never pursued – and a couple of bright sequences from Monsieur McKelvie of PHONOGRAM fame.


Iron Man 2.0 #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barry Kitson, Kano, Giadomenico.

Launching straight out of Invincible Iron Man vol 6, this comes from the creator much admired here for EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0, Forgetless etc., as Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, former Iron Man and current War Machine, is foisted on General Babbage at Mackerlroy army base to keep an eye on him for Maria Hill. Do they get on? They do not. From Invincible Iron Man vol 6:

“I wish I could court-martial you. That’s really the only thing missing right now.”

Also, as War Machine Rhodes has actually attacked that base in the past.

“You got any idea what the economic impact of levelling a U.S. military base in a small town is? How many jobs were lost? How many lives ruined? The night after you bombed this place we had good soldiers sleeping in tents on burnt tarmac.”
“I did what I though was right, General.”
“I bet. That’s kind of your deal, though, isn’t it? Loyal soldier until you don’t like the orders given. That’s why I’m stationing you here.”
“I figured that, sir.”

The first few pages aside, this looks like it’s going to follow Fraction’s lead and concentrate on the technology and espionage side of things rather than a biff-bang-pow with each month’s supervillain (although I make that observation during the same week that IRON MAN #501, intriguingly, features Dr. Octopus’ degenerating plight). In fact the first few pages serve several purposes: to service the fight-fans with an Iron Man appearance, to emphasise the contrast between past and present thinking by deliberately dragging out an antiquated supervillain – or at least his legacy – for a quick slugfest, and to foreshadow the real mystery at hand later on involving life after death.

Six months ago a scientist working as part of a Darpa deep immersion program (“Researchers live on-site, no outside communication, security filters on everything”) puts a bullet in his head. An expert on nanotech, high productivity computing, surveillance technology and biosciences, Palmer Addley’s initiatives then started crashing, yet reappearing across the globe in perfect functioning order. Functioning as acts of terrorism committed by an improbably disparate number of individuals. There’s no question that Palmer Addley is dead. There’s no question that his work stayed on site: it couldn’t be leaked. How then, is it resurfacing now, everywhere other than it was intended?

I do wish the last three pages of hand-holding weren’t felt necessary because there’s a clue just earlier on that I got immediately. Maybe Nick, ferociously intelligent and experimental, was told to dumb it down slightly for the Marvel crowd? Our Marvel readers are perfectly intelligent, thank you. The art’s nothing to write home about whilst the colouring is decidedly murky, but I wouldn’t expend so much time reviewing a title like this (I have never in my life reviewed a WAR MACHINE book) if I wasn’t optimistic about what Nick might potentially pull out of his hat.

Oh yeah, go re-read that first page again.


X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina…

Honestly? Rather disappointing. I guessed how it was all going to end happily ever after (except for one X-character – hey, Marvel needs an epilogue spin-off mini out of this, you know!) the second I saw who gets infected and goes over to the baddies. C’mon, how do you get to be King of the Vampires and be that stupid? Really. Mind you, royalty and brains haven’t always historically gone hand in hand in the real world to be fair, and at least this particular King had to earn his right to rule.

Also, as Stephen points out in his review of the spin-off spurious sidebar stories collected in X-MEN: CURSE OF THE MUTANTS – MUTANTS VS. VAMPIRES, I didn’t understand why Scott felt it necessary to bring Dracula back from the dead, either. Or indeed, given I’m sure I saw Dracula get skewered and slain with the sword Excalibur at the end of Paul Cornell’s excellent but sadly all too short run on CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND M.I.13, I didn’t even understand the why, when or how his body was in two separate parts in supposedly inaccessible locations. And with a completely different hairstyle and no moustache either. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been explained anywhere in the interim – the separate body parts I mean, not the hirsute buffoonery – unless I’ve missed something. But you know what? I… just… don’t… care… This could have been a really good story arc, instead it’s just so, so average.

Sigh, I’m just going to continue my rant for a little bit longer… Clearly Marvel wanted to bring Dracula back for some reason, but given Scott Summers is supposed to be leading the X-Men for his tactical smarts, did he not just stop and think… “Hmm, I can’t really see how the ‘let’s bring back an even more powerful villain, in the vague hope he’ll help us’ play has ever turned out well before.” Come on, I’m prepared to suspend disbelief in exchange for enjoyment, that’s what superhero comics are all about, but let’s have some plot credibility on the supposed premier X-title.

And finally… why don’t you just read Millar’s ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS VOL 3: BLADE VERSUS THE AVENGERS when it’s collected instead? It doesn’t even try to take itself seriously and is all the better for it, even with a virtually identical save-the-day premise, albeit with a different character. I heard Millar had some sort of hissy fit (fangs will do that if you haven’t put them in properly – and presumably twirling his cloak around too) when he found out the mainstream continuity Marvel universe was going to have a vampire story running at the same time as his Ultimates one. He needn’t have worried…

[Editor’s note: this collects the first six issues of the fourth regular X-MEN title running alongside ASTONISHING X-MEN, UNCANNY X-MEN and X-MEN: LEGACY.]



Namor: The First Mutant vol 1: Curse Of The Mutants (£10-99, Marvel) by Stuart Moore & Ariel Olivetti.

Currently allied with the Uncanny team, Namor the Submariner does stuff tying into X-MEN: CURSE OF THE MUTANTS. Possibly underwater.


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.

Tying into X-MEN: CURSE OF THE MUTANTS, this contains all the attendant one-shots including Storm and Gambit’s search for the body of Count Dracula who forgot to keep his head on. It’s an oddly low-profile story for Chris Bachalo to expend his considerably stylish skills on but you’ll be grateful he did. Why are they in search of Count Dracula’s body? They’re bent on resurrecting him to fight off his son Xarus’ assault on the mutant population, figuring perhaps that Storm’s past association with Vlad the Impaler may make him sweet to a little mutant lovin’. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read the main series. Jonathan’s reviewing that.) Thankfully Storm and Gambit discover they have an unexpected ally – a person more prodigal than Xarus – to guide them in their mini-quest.

Other bits and pieces include Magneto’s encounter with a childhood friend he presumed lost to the WWII gas chambers, Blade The Vampire Hunter’s involvement, an Emma Frost piece and a reprint of UNCANNY X-MEN #159 by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz wherein Count Dracula first set his sights on Storm. This last effort is, I’m afraid, most notable for the most criminal destruction by an inker over any artist’s pencils that I have ever beheld. It’s not Sienkiewicz’s finest cover by any means but, liberated from Wiacek’s lumpen lines (perhaps he was commanded to make the forms look more like Cockrum’s?), like the single panel of untarnished pencils within, it serves as a damning contrast to the toy-doll art which made it onto the final printed page. Précis: Count Dracula turns Storm into a vampire complete with fearsome fangs, but she gets over it Tommy Cooper-stylee – just like that.



X-Men Legacy: Collision h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Clay Mann.

Follows straight on from X-Men: Second Coming.


Justice League: Rise And Fall h/c (£18-99, DC) by J.T.Krul & Federico Dallocchio, Geraldo Borges…

Is this really as good as DC can manage for their main team title? I felt less like I’d wasted an hour of my life watching the current episode of Smallville than after I’d read this dreary pile, and that’s saying something. With that said, as I am typing this someone just came in, asked specifically for it and bought it…!


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…

Includes the mega-epic Judgement Day, featuring Dredd reluctantly teaming up with Johnny Alpha to battle zombies in scenic apocalyptic settings, long before Robert Kirkman made it de rigor. Sorry, but I really could not resist that one. Writing duties shared between Wagner and Ennis in this volume, and a veritable kook cube full of artists.



7 Billion Needles vol 3 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano…

Who or what is the Evolution Monitor? No, I don’t know either! That was… unexpected. The plot just keeps going where you just couldn’t possibly predict it would in this, the penultimate volume of a very thorough and complete reworking of the 1950s classic prose work Needle. The great thing about 7 BILLION NEEDLES is that it will appeal to sci-fi purists and modern manga fans alike, whilst maintaining complete comprehensibility unlike the frenetic BIOMEGA, which just fries your synapses like popping candy loaded with TNT. Eagerly anticipating the final volume of both works with considerable relish – mustard and tabasco, mind you.

If I may beg your indulgence for a moment to make an aside, it is a familiar refrain of mine, but there is just not enough good sequential art of the sci-fi variety (speculative fiction yes, sci-fi no to make that distinction) coming out of the Western hemisphere, the notable exception of Warren Ellis almost single-handedly carrying that standard aside. But when our Japanese cousins are ably stepping into the breach with 7 BILLION NEEDLES, BIOMEGA, BOKURANO OURS, GANTZ, TWIN SPICA, SATURN APARTMENTS, PLUTO, 20TH CENTURY BOYS and even at a push CHILDREN OF THE SEA, who really cares? C’mon, if you’re a sci-fi fan and have never read any manga, just try reading something that goes right to left, it won’t damage your brain I promise… well… with the probable exception of BIOMEGA perhaps.



Crimson Snow (£10-99, Blu) by Hori Tomoki.

“Oh, I remember crimson snow,” I declared as the book was brought forth from the box. I realise now that I sounded like I was having an incriminating flashback to a crime scene. I wasn’t. But I had confused this with something else.

More sticky fingers, then, as hearts are stolen and those poles apart are soon drawn together in love.

[Bad boy. Top shelf. Now stop it. – ed]




Also Arrived:

Baby’s In Black (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Arne Bellstorf
Lenore 2 issue #1 (£2-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge
Lenore 2 issue #2 (£2-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge
2 Sisters restocks (£12-99, Top Shelf) by Matt Kindt
Star Wars: The Old Republic vol 1: Blood Of The Empire (£14-99, Titan) by Alexander Freed & David Ross
Hellblazer vol 1: Original Sins (£14-99, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano, Rick Veitch & John Ridgeway, Alfredo Alcala, Rick Veitch, Tom Mandrake, Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy
The Hunger Of The Seven Squat Bears (£9-99, Yen) by Emile Bravo
Takio h/c (£7-50, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Micahel Avon Oeming
Dark Tower vol 3: Treachery s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David, Stephen King &  Jae Lee
Popeye: Great Comic Book Tales… h/c (£22-50, Yoe) by Bud Sagendorf
Spider-Man: Grim Hunt s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly, Zeb Wells, J.M. DeMatteis & Phillipe Briones, Phil Jimenez, Michael Lark, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Gaudiano, Max Fiumara
Shadowland s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Billy Tan
Captain Britain vol 5 (£15-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Dave Thorpe, Steve Parkhouse & Alan Davis, Paul Neary, John Stokes
Wolverine vol 1: Wolverine Goes To Hell h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Renato Guedea, Jason Latour, Steven Sanders, Michael Gaydos, Jamie McKelvie
The Thanos Imperative h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Miguel Sepulveda
Batman: Time And The Batman h/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Tony Daniels, David Finch, Cliff Richards, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely, Fabian Nicieza
Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond s/c (£10-50, DC) by Adam Beechen & Ryan Benjamin, John Staniscl
Chi’s Sweet Home vol 5 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata
Soul Eater vol 5 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi OhkuboBokurano Ours vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Mohiro Kitoh
Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga vol 2 (£25-99, Marvel) by Tom DeFalco, J.M. Dematteis & Sal Buscema, Mark Bagley, more
Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga vol 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Tom DeFalco, J.M. Dematteis & Sal Buscema, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., more
Maoh: Juvenile Remix vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Kotaro Isaka & Megumi Osuga

Sorry: a bit late with that full list.

I was out on the town with my stoical ex-housemate Dr. Mary Talbot on Wednesday (she lasted a whole year, the saint!), which is why we blogged on Tuesday without that list. Bryan was there too, of course, and I will be giving the game away shortly about their new graphic novel, THE DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot. I’ve seen forty-odd pages. Radical.

 – Stephen