Reviews March 2011 week one

 

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:

http://www.freakangels.com/?p=378

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

TR / JR

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

“Ubiquitous,
 Like shoe polish!
 Ubiquitous,
 Like brine!
 Ubiquitous,
 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!

LINK

SLH

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.”
“Ow.”
“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.”
“Dino…”
“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.”

LINK

SLH

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!”
“…”
“What.”
“That was BAD news, Jerry.”
>plink!<

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!

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

TR

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.

LINK

JR

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.

SLH

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.

SLH

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.]

LINK

JR

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.

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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

Follows straight on from X-Men: Second Coming.

SLH

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…!

JR

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.

LINK

JR

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.

LINK

JR

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]

LINK

SLH

 

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

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