Reviews March 2011 week five

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.]

LINK

MAS

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+.

LINK

JR

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.

JR

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.

SLH

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!

LINK

SLH

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.”
“Weird!”

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?”

LINK

JR

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…

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JR

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:

LINK

Here’s THE NEW YORK FOUR:

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SLH

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.

“Cool.”
“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:

LINK LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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?

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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!

LINK

SLH

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.]

LINK

SLH

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!

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