Archive for April, 2011

Reviews April 2011 week four

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

“He gets by with a little high from his friends.”

– Stephen on Ziggy Marley’s Marijuana

Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook h/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jill Thompson.

A watercolour wonder as exuberant as Delirium herself!

From the artist on BEASTS OF BURDEN and the creator of MAGIC TRIXIE, SCARY GODMOTHER etc, this sees the return of the diminutive versions of The Endless from the mythological majesty that is Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN: Dream, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium written and painted as children.

While settling down to bed one night with her pet pooch, Barnabas, Delirium is struck by the revelation that she has never seen one of her sisters smile: not Death, for she is always such kind and considerate company; nor Desire who smiles perhaps too much of the time and in very odd ways; but Despair! She has never seen Despair smile!

A poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder, once Delirium gets a bee in her bonnet she cannot stop buzzing and, undaunted by the pretty tall order, pulls out all the stops to plan and host a dazzling party for all her siblings to bring joy to heart of her sorrowful sister.

Delirium, as her name suggests, is totally crazy and you have to see the half-baked cake to believe it! Decorated in a flurry of whims with books and boats, garden plants and a doll’s house sticking out the side, I have no idea what flavours it might be. I really don’t think that’s sponge. Jill’s attention to detail throughout is staggering. Delirium’s get-up changes on every single page and I loved idea of representing Barnabas’ wish list of favourite things as paintings pinned to a cork board.

There’s even an art lesson in the back – a very useful art lesson if you enjoy using watercolours – and as the title suggests this is suitable for all ages, though I guarantee that 95% of the copies sold will be to adults, for adults.



Dark Horse Presents vol II #1 (£5-99, Dark Horse) by various.

“Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.” Russell Brand would find that a very familiar phenomenon.

Return of the anthology that first spawned SIN CITY, and indeed Miller returns here in not one but two capacities. There’s a two-page interview in which he talks in detail about the licenses he takes with meticulously researched history – or at least what’s reordered – in to better serve his story, and there’s a black and white preview of XERXES itself, his prequel to 300. I spent ages absorbing those pages, dreaming about what Lynn Varley will do to them with her colours.

Also: new Paul Chadwick CONCRETE and Carla Speed McNeil  FINDER stories in colour, Howard Chaykin on juggling armed robbery with marital mollification, Neal Adams on… I’m not sure what the hell Neal Adams is on these days… Richard Corben returning to his old DEN stylings for a black and white fantasy first-parter, a lovely David Chelsea story called ‘Snow Angel’, comedy strips from Patrick Alexander, somewhat incongruously a STAR WARS piece illustrated by Paul Gulacy, MR MONSTER which I confess I’ve never really ‘got’ from Michael T. Gilbert…

… And a Harlan Ellison prose short story from which my opening quote comes. It’s great. Of course it’s great, it’s Harlan Ellison. A scientist creates a tiny man, five inches tall. The tiny man is exceptionally bright, learning rapidly. The scientist asks a friend to make a few suits for him, and she is more than happy to do so. Everywhere he goes, the tiny man goes too, arms hanging out the side of the scientist’s pocket and everyone remarks, “How interesting: a tiny man.”

But “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved,” and public opinion reverses on the strength of one woman’s words:

“A woman I didn’t know started it. I didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. It didn’t have anything to do with her. Perhaps she was as mean spirited as everyone but her slavish audience said…
“She called him a monstrosity. Other words, some of which I had never heard before: abnormity, perversion of nature, a vile derision of what God had created first, a hideous crime of unnatural science.”

What happens next Ellison finds typical of human nature: the desire to be told what to think instead of trusting in one’s own considered opinion; the refusal to stand out from the crowd by sticking up for individuals against popular, media-fuelled outrage. The sort of thing that clogs the BBC switchboards: complaints from people who’ve not seen a programme or heard a particular radio show for themselves, but been incited to call by a tabloid’s skewed, self-serving propaganda. What happens is universal rejection and two radically different endings, one of which I never saw coming but makes so much sense. This time there’s no Ark.


2000AD Prog 1730 (£2-25, Rebellion) by Michael Carroll & Bryan Talbot, Alwyn Talbot; Ian Edginton & Steve Yeowell; more.

For the first time in many a moon Bryan Talbot has returned to Judge Dredd (and brought his son Alwyn along for good measure) for a single, self-contained story written by Michael Carroll called ‘Caterpillars’. Given that I can’t foresee where this would ever be collected, I’d get your orders in now. We certainly won’t have copies next time any of the Talbot clan come signing.

“There’s no life in the city. Most of us just crawl around like… like caterpillars. Mindlessly, eternally consuming… oblivious to the rest of the world. Focusing only on where that next meal is coming from. I’m as bad as everyone else – never get involved. Don’t stand out. Keep your head down.
“We’re all capable of creating outstanding beauty. But the mob mentality doesn’t permit that. Four hundred million people – each longing to be individual, and most of us too scared. And no one cares. Especially not the Judges…”

A young artist is standing on the roof of a skyscraper in the sprawling urban nightmare that is Mega-City One. She’s teetering on the edge, in every respect. She’s been slapped aside, tossed about and now her apartment’s been destroyed along with the mural she’d spent over a year on in a raid by the Judges on her neighbours.

“If I can’t be who I really am, if I can’t truly live – then I no longer want this pathetic excuse for a life.”

Now you may be wondering, given the accomplishments of Bryan Talbot himself (ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, the two GRANDVILLE books which are up for a Hugo Award, LUTHER ARKWRIGHT etc.)… you may be wondering why he’d want his son tinkering with his inks.

Alwyn Talbot does not tinker. Judging by the pages themselves he’s probably expended ten times as many hours as Talbot Sr. on both the inks and the fully rendered colours and he is perfect for this dystopian, post-apocalyptic future given how clearly influenced he is by console games like Dead Space. His Mega-City One is unbearably inhospitable, billowing with cold, toxic fumes and rank with refuse. No offence to Bryan, but it was a good call; neat punchline, by the way.

Given the nature of 2000AD you’re inevitably thrown into the middle of the other stories, but it’s always cool to catch up on what’s current, and obviously I enjoyed seeing more pages by one of my all-time favourites Steve Yeowell. James McCay was quite the revelation, though: his Tyrannosaurus Rex is formidable; you can almost hear it roar is it writhes and ruts. Yes, it’s copulating and I should also mention r.e. ‘Caterpillars’ that there be boobage. Boobage in 2000AD! Jonathan would have loved that when he started reading this aged 5…


Dylan Dog Case Files (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Tiziano Sclavi & Angelo Stano, Andrea Venturi, Giampiero Casertano, Luigi Piccatto, Bruno Brindisi.

“You know what’s wrong with being superstitious? It brings bad luck.”

680-page bonanza we should already have been stocking, translated from Italian yet set in our very own London.

Dylan Dog is a nightmare investigator – or investigative nightmare; depends on who you ask – frequently troubled by zombies but all-too human monsters as well. He’s dashing, he’s daring, he’s a womaniser; but he’s definitely a New Man as evidenced by the caring, compassion and tears.

In ‘Johnny Freak’, for example, he’s dragged through a hedge backwards by a feral canine determined to lead Dylan to a park where one of its pack has been beaten to death. There he finds a young boy, beaten too, deaf and dumb and traumatised. He’s just escaped from a tool shed set on fire – a tool shed he’d been imprisoned in for years, fed in a dog bowl through a small hatch in the door. He has no legs, only one liver and only one kidney. But he’s no freak of nature: each organ and appendage was surgically removed.

As Dylan strives to keep the press at bay for fear of labelling the young lad yet another Elephant Man, he’s caught between high-cost lawyers, beatings from a mob of means, and a new romantic interest already attached.

That one’s illustrated by Andrea Venturi who seriously knows his Neal Adams. Several others are equally enamoured by the photo-realistic neo-classicist, and also by 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso. Although that’s another of those arse-backwards comparisons Mark used to laugh at me for, because given the chronology Eduardo was far more likely to have been influenced by this than vice-versa!

Jonathan’s using the foreign-language version of a Dylan Dog casefile to help him learn Italian. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it’s the one about alien abduction. I don’t really see me being able to apply that sort of vocabulary on a daily basis.”

Don’t be so sure, matey. Don’t be so sure.



Transmetropolitan vol 9 new edition (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson.

“Where to, buddy?”
“Now there’s a question. First, I want to walk into a bar and drink it. And then I’m going to start a fight with five men and win. And then I am going to make use of a truly staggering number of prostitutes. Some of whom I may have once been married to. Following which, I will buy drugs. I will, in fact, show them a large pillowcase, and tell them to fill it with drugs. And I’m putting it all on the goddamn expense account.”

That’s not who you think it is. It’s another member of the cast getting their unexpected moment in the sun, and triumphing.

The penultimate volume of TRANSMET (as the Norwegians and the lazy reviewers know it) is finally here and Spider Jerusalem, outlaw journo, has been diagnosed with untreatable I-Pollen damage, a future version of Alzheimer’s, and has been given a year to live. Mortality is knocking on his door, but Spider is determined to take down the corrupt President, currently straddling the American people and pissing in their faces, before he checks out. But with time ticking away, Spider starts using extreme measures to get the information he needs to expose the President. Will he become as bad as his enemy before the end comes? Or will he forget his name and start flinging poo at his friends before he completes his crusade?

Ellis’ script is brimming with off-beat and off-colour humour and Robertson’s clear story-telling and background jokes make the future a fun place to be, even if there aren’t any flying cars.


Trickster: Native American Tales (£15-99, Fulcrum) by various.

One and a half dozen traditional Native American fables given the full-colour treatment in a variety of styles and aimed squarely at younger readers. That’s not to say they’re uninteresting to those of us masquerading as adults, but some a more than a little heavy-handed in their overt life lessons: don’t brag, do share your food and if you snooze you lose. Some also work better than others. The Trickster and the Great Chief’s moral, for example, is a non-sequitur: no one was turned into an owl regardless of whether they honoured or failed to honour the dead.

The tricksters here are mostly animals: ravens, racoons, and a great many rabbits. Some have a specific agenda; others see mischief as an end in itself. Interestingly, however, not all the stories here rely on the guile of the trickster or the gullibility of the victim. In so many instances it’s the victims’ ego or greed which gets the better of them. And so it very much goes.


Marijuanaman h/c (£18-99, Image) by Ziggy Marley, Joe Casey & Jim Mahfood.

48 pages for £18-99…? What the fuck are they smoking?!

Okay, it is an album-sized hardcover in full, trippy, Day-Glo colour as an alien with THC in place of DNA is woken by the weed to use the power of his Soul Almighty against a narcotics – sorry, pharmaceutical – corporation manufacturing medical practitioners’ favourite artificial drugs with much the same properties as ganja.

Inevitably blows are exchanged with a hired villain who resembles something out of Marshall Law, after which our main man is brought back with a blowback from love interest whatsherface. In other words he gets by with a little high from his friends.

The sage is called Wiggy as a tribute to Ziggy and I think I’m pretty much done with this review now.

There’s a point-by-point fact page in the back, which I am in no position to verify one way or the other, evangelising the beneficial properties of da ‘erb against those of the chalky pills which are not only legal but commercial gold-dust for big fat industrial giants. Heaven forfend farmers make any money from nurturing nature, eh?



Hitman vol 4: Ace Of Killers (£13-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea, Steve Pugh.

“’Tis true that I am whole once more, rhyming in the days of yore…And yes, I had my wicked fun, bargaining with an empty gun… Why, you ask? To settle a score, ‘gainst Monaghan from times before. ‘Tis because I owed the man… And ‘tis because I’m Etrigan.”

All Hell is about to break loose in Gotham in the form of a gun-toting demon fixated on offing our telepathic Hitman, so Monaghan enlists the aid of Etrigan’s other half, Jason Blood (and by ‘enlists’ I mean ‘blackmails’), as well as Catwoman. Monaghan’s cat version of the Batsignal is… interestingly improvised! Also to his rescue, Sixpack and his Section Eight, the most bizarre ensemble you ever did see, and special mention should go to Bueno Excellente who gleefully molests all and sundry in order to fight crime. There’s no escaping him.

“Okay, team, let’s get outta here! We’re taking the back passage!”
“Heh heh heh.. Bueno…”

John McCrea is on magnificent, burlesque form. It’s a ludicrous title full of ludicrous characters doing ludicrous things to each other. Totally liberated. But the surprise here is Steve Pugh coming on board for a truly tender love sequence. Bueno!



Essential Thor vol 5 (£14-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway & John Buscema.

Contains #196-220 and a pugilistic pantheon. Also The Absorbing Man, so you never have to buy kitchen towel again.



Avengers #12.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Bryan Hitch.

Ohhhh ho!

Prologue to something enormous a little later in the year. How enormous? I am dying to tell you, but pick this up and find out first-hand instead. It’s not the Intellencia, it’s what they’ve discovered which only becomes clear towards the end of the issue and only really becomes clear to Tony Stark. Because he’s already seen it happen.

Hopefully that’s cryptic enough. The real point of this review, however, is that there’s a preview online which I wanted to share: exceptional composition on the final double-page spread by Bryan Hitch, all lines including the spot-light sources converging on Jessica herself, and then the punchline text. This really is worthy of Caravaggio:


Wolverine: Enemy Of The State – Ultimate Collection restocks (£22-50, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr. with Kaare Andrews.

Certainly one of the best Wolverine stories out there, even if Millar struggles to invest the regular Marvel universe’s Nick Fury with quite as much charisma as his ULTIMATES’ version. And this is a vast-cast military battle. Lured into contact with a nefarious arm of The Hand by the kidnapping of an old friend’s son, Wolverine is taken down and out. They actually manage to kill him! Thing is, he’s not their target, he’s their weapon for they resurrect him (oh, see Elektra in Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL VOL 3) and send him out to find and kill their second weapon of choice, Elektra (really – see Elektra in Miller’s DAREDEVIL VOL 3). And then the real slaughter begins: hundreds and hundreds of b-list heroes and baddies, all zombified and under control of The Gorgon, throwing the Marvel mainstays into a nervous bunker mentality. Next stop? S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.

Romita rises to the task – there are some huge battle scenes on offer – whilst Millar throws in the odd sweet reference to previous X-Men storylines, like Northstar’s crush on an oblivious Iceman.

Also included, Millar’s self-contained change of pace which I read before the afterword that explained it all. And the funny thing is, the exact two elements that I picked out that made this so special weren’t Millar’s at all: they both came from Will Eisner. The issue is dedicated to Will, and what makes it so special is that the silhouette that is Wolverine says not a word, thereby turning him into something of a phantom and a witness. Set in a Nazi Death Camp during World War II, it really does feel like an EC ghost story with a new commandant, arriving to replace a predecessor who has committed suicide, haughtily sneering at the ineffectiveness of the camp and seeking to make an example of the man who just stares at him through the fence. Of course that man will prove decidedly more difficult to exterminate than the thousands of Jews who perish alongside him, and that way may lie madness…  Superb, blizzard colouring by Villarrubia and, unlike its original printing, there are no cheap and gaudy adverts to break the atmosphere.



Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic new edition (£10-99, Omnibus) by Barnaby Legg, Jim McCarthy & Flameboy –

I know that it’s wrong to dismiss a book without reading it but this one just begs for it. The cover uses the Marvel/DC depiction of grief. You know, when Superman is cradling his dead sister or any superhero is shown crying over the loss of a friend, it’s over the top, amplified to match the tone of the other emotions well you get the same thing here. On the cover, Kurt has wings (excessive Red Bull consumption?), kneeling in a pool of his own tears. How do we read this? Even in heaven he’s suffering for us? Inside the colourist has turned the yellow up to eleven, the artist has half a dozen facial expressions and good is good and bad is bad. Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill has turned into Vampirella. Or maybe that’s an allegory. Duh. Head hurting now.



Blood-Stained Sword (£13-50, IDW) by Jan Wickline, Amber Benson & Ben Templesmith.

New Ben Templesmith tome reprinting both the titular one-shot and ‘Demon Father John’s Pinwheel Blues’ instalments from SHUNT.

The latter’s a sort of vampire Oliver Twist with added maniacal monkey mimicking the cries of the psychopathic date in Japanese horror film The Audition, just as she gets out the cheese wire. (Warning: do not attempt to watch that film alone. It may start off as a sprightly comedy about finding your widowed Dad a date, but you will need someone to cling to later on!)

The former sees a Japanese martial arts trainee called Kenji journey to Seattle where his father used to work for Horigome Enterprises, a Fortune Fifty stockbroker company. They claim he committed seppuku after embezzling millions of dollars and being confronted with the theft. Naturally Kenji is suspicious – of everyone including the police – but thankfully finds a willing ally in his father’s temporary fill-in secretary. Together they delve in the murky depths of a corporate cover up with the aid of a samurai’s armour and sword.

Backgrounds are minimal but there’s nothing you need to see missing and you’ll canter right through the book at a jaunty speed.



Silent Hill: Past Life (£13-50, IDW) by Tom Waltz & Menton3.

Bludgeoned nurses, elusive, sinister children and packs of live ammo left inexplicably behind domestic refuse bins; bewildered strangers, rabid dogs and stuff that drips from the wall. That’s my neighbourhood, anyway.

It’s also a list of staple ingredients found in the Silent Hill series of console games. Ben Templesmith provides the requisite mist and ambience (though an Aphex Twin CD alternating with the dubbed recording of a police siren, slowed down by a factor of 50 wouldn’t hurt), and you probably couldn’t find a more appropriate artist.

What’s the plot? How would I know? I’m not sure I ever fully understood the games’ various scenarios. However, as with the original source, there are several alternate endings:

Read the book through once, save it on the shelf, then open again. Proceed to page 85 and instead of reading the incantation in the book provided, pick up the lighter at the bottom of the second panel and set fire to the comic. If you want to see the “House in Ashes” scenario, quit the room immediately and make your way to the local pub. If you want to see the “Ambulance Speeding through Congestion” scenario, wait until the “Time for a New Carpet” sequence kicks in, then attempt to put the combined items out with your bare hands. (As a special bonus there’ll then be a “Four Month Waiting List” feature ready to unfold, complete with a Wonky Diagnosis mini-game. Oh, if only this weren’t so true.)



Nobrow wrapping paper!

We’re not stocking this, I’m afraid – Nobrow are very expensive – but is gorgeous.

Take a look round the rest of their site too, then them pop it in your ‘favourites’. There’s some quality stuff there.



Old Reviews Newly Added To Website

This was a belter from my good mate David Hart who originally suggested our Want A Recommendation page.

The Metabarons vols 1, 2, 2 & 4 (£10-99, £14-99 variously, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Giminez >

Castration, mutilation, military prosthetics, whore-priestesses, vast space battles and barely suppressed Oedipal relationships: it’s fair to say that the defining motif for THE METABARONS is ‘excess’. Starting with former pirate Othon Von Salza, THE METABARONS tells the story of a line of technologically supercharged and murderous fucks with relationship problems, each page super-pumped full of more ideas than most comics use in a year, the hysteria dial well and truly turned up to eleven.

Any attempt to summarize the plot is going to make it sound bonkers; which it is, but that’s not the point. While the future medieval setting is as familiar as the space opera genre, what sets this apart is that the opera is very much of the Wagnerian variety. The sets, the gestures, the plots, the characters, all strain their sinews towards the epic. This is opera where the high notes shatter glass and where the fat lady is a psychic ninja cyborg who turns out to be a reincarnation of your mum.

Giminez’ painted art, meanwhile, is a superb match for Jodorowsky’s grandiose vision, grounding even the most outré of events in a human reality. He combines draughtsmanship with a dynamic sense of scale and storytelling, able to move in a flicker from Olympian-scale space battles to the smirk on a father’s face as he pulps his son’s feet in a macabre initiation ceremony.  Ignore the two robots who narrate the book and whose sub-C3P0 witterings litter the text (“What happens next! Do tell before I burst another diode!” Blah and, indeed, blegh). Instead sit back and watch the speed and variety of invention, as bigger and bigger ideas flash across the stage. This first volume ends with Othon and his freshly mutilated son setting off for a new land; it’s worth noting that it’s after this that things start to get really weird… 

David Hart

Also Arrived:

Remake Special (£7-50, Adhouse) by Lamar Abrams
Love From The Shadows h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez
Sandman vol 5: A Game Of You (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, Samuel R. Delany, Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran
Slaine vol 6: Lord Of Misrule (£14-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley, Greg Staples, Jim Murray
The Bulletproof Coffin (£13-50, Image) by David Hine & Shaky Kane
Red Sonja Omnibus vol 2 (£22-50, Dynamite) by Michael Avon Oeming, Brian Reed, Ron Marx, Christos Gage, Joshua Ortega, Luke Lieberman & Homs, Lee Moder, Pablo Marcos, Fabiano Neves, Mel Rubi
The Flash: Rebirth s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson
The Sensational She-Hulk s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne
Doomwar s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry & Scot Eaton
Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 6 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Fantastic Four vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting
Captain America: The Trial Of Captain America (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuna, Jackson Guice, Mitch Breitweiser
Invincible vol 14: The Viltrumite War (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley
Samurai Harem vol 8 (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Yu Minamoto
Kingyo Used Books vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Seimu Yoshizaki
House Of Five Leaves vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume OnoSgt Frog vol 21 (£8-50, Tokyopop) by Mine Yoshizaki
Astro City: Shining Stars h/c (£18-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson
Itazura Na Kiss vol 3 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada
Itazura Na Kiss vol 4 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada
Finder vol 1: Target In The Viewfinder (£10-50, Yen) by Ayano Yamane
Finder vol 2: Cage In The Viewfinder (£10-50, Yen) by Ayano Yamane

Page 45  is open as usual on Friday the Rich Kids Getting Married Day from 9am to 6pm, but always closed on Bank Holiday Mondays.

Reviews April 2011 week three

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

“A not unexpectedly chilling book about a lethal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that’s spread by telling its story. I am about to tell you its story.”

– Stephen on Stephen King’s N.

Mister Wonderful h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes.

“Dear God, could it be? Does she actually not loathe me?”

Almost an antidote to WILSON, this is a work from the great Dan Clowes which will confound your expectations. It’s as funny and acutely observed as ever, but for once it’s also very tender.

A hopelessly romantic, middle-aged divorcee, much out of touch with the dating game, awaits a blind date his mate’s set up for him. The thing is, she’s late… unless it’s that pretty young girl over there… nope! Marshall proceeds to wind himself up in advance, trying to guess who in the coffee shop might be his date, planning verbal strategies for retreat in case it’s one of its less attractive denizens. He does that a lot: practising conversational gambits in his head; also thinking when he should be listening because when his improbably attractive date does arrive, he barely hears a word she says, his boxed, internal monologue sitting squarely over Natalie’s speech balloons, obstructing her words so that we can’t hear either:

“Jesus, I’m plastered! Sober up!
“I really have to urinate, but I don’t dare leave the table. Mustn’t give her the chance to escape!
“My God, look at her. I don’t stand a chance.
“Most beautiful women turn so bitter when the realities of aging set in. Hard to blame them, I suppose. It must be kind of awful. But she seems so cheerful and good-natured and non-judgemental…. I wonder what Tim and Yuki told her about me?”

This is very familiar territory: Marshall spending his time second-guessing, trying so hard to judge how he’s coming across that he’s not necessarily giving the best first impression. He steels himself for her own strategic retreat, but no, it doesn’t come. This might actually be going somewhere…

As I said, this will confound you at almost every juncture, Clowes cleverly steering your expectations one way, playing on his reputation, only to surprise you.

There are a lot of neat tricks, like hiding parts of speech balloons in the panel gutters to reinforce the idea of Marshall operating on automatic pilot; the point in Nathalie’s marriage when she began to feel so alienated that her husband’s hollow, evasive laughter literally grows to fill the house so that she can no longer hear anything else; a moment of disappointment so profound that the world around Marshall on a double-spread landscape is reduced to small blocks of coloured light filtering through the street’s doors and windows in an otherwise total black-out.

One eventful evening in the life of a quiet man then, as well as the morning after.



Reunion (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard.

Car-crash comics you can’t help rubbernecking at as Pascal Girard is seduced to a school reunion he wouldn’t ordinarily attend but for an early crush who urges him there via email… but who never turns up herself!

Like John Cleese’s finest moments or Peter Sellers’ in The Party, Girard’s performance is excruciating to watch but compelling for that very same reason. And I cry “foul!” for he could not possibly be as socially inept as he’s portrayed himself here. Everything that could possibly go wrong does so. He dresses inappropriately then loses a shoe; he offends its organiser, those who casually enquire, and allows himself to be goaded into white lies that then turn far darker or at least impossible to extricate himself from.

He’s as uncomfortable throughout as Gordon Brown making small talk on meet-and-greet TV. Add in a gigantic wart on his thumb which Girard is at pains to hide, a jaw line his dentist makes him self-conscious about plus a genuine case of cramps, and you have a poor man vulnerable from the get-go before the competition sets in.

Even before reading this, you could not have paid me enough to go back: to attend a reunion at an over-privileged school which I loathe with a socialist passion; to hear so many ghosts define themselves by their stellar careers while I must appear to be making, still, plasticene dinosaurs in a playpen. I’m actually very proud of what Mark and I achieved here together with Dominique, Tom and Jonathan. So the last thing I’d welcome is a need to defend myself as Girard does here about his brilliant, self-effacing cartooning with the most fragile of lines.

But these aren’t even rich bitches or champagne charlies. Few of them are remotely offensive. It’s Girard who’s the madman, misjudging almost every encounter, and I want to give him a great big hug and slap him silly.

To read this graphic novel is to feel instantly better about your own life, as indeed you should. If you’re signed up to comics and Page 45 then you’re already infinitely more adventurous than 99% of the comics-decrying public who could be lurking in wait if ever you give in to your past. For that, and the merriment, and for Pascal Girard’s craft, we owe a great debt of thanks.


Incredible Change-Bots Two: The Vengeful Return Of The Broken! (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Jeffrey Brown ~

Three years after their pointless bickering nearly destroyed Earth, the broken and jerry-rigged Change-Bots crash-land back on our planet due not to fate, but pure incompetence. Much to the annoyance of Shootertron who, after falling to death at the end of book one, had actually only suffered from amnesia. Discovered and adopted by a farmer and his wife, his world conquest is inevitable once he discovers he can shoot laser beams out of the large pipe on his arm, and only Big-Rig and his band of amazing new Change-Bots stand in his way.

This goes beyond parody at its finest and transforms into a satire of the entire money-gobbling franchise of toys as consumer products.

See you might think that these are the same old Change-Bots, why do you need a second book? Well, you would be wrong: in true ‘80s toy-marketing fashion half the cast have had re-dos! Hoser actually looks just like a snazzy fire truck my brother had when we were kids, but other Change-Bots weren’t so lucky. As an ‘80s child who saw many of the Transformers first time round seemingly devolve from shiny metal and plastic toys with intricate methods of transformation, to shoddy blocks of plastic with nearly no moving parts or skill set needed to transform them, the resemblance here is extremely well observed, reaching its pinnacle of lazy transformation with Afterburnerbot who is now just a head, a solid unmoving block. But when he falls on his face he becomes a small plane. His joy at this Incredible-Change mirrors the hyperbole of the ‘80s toy marketing. Afterburnerbot’s wing-man, Extra Battle Damaged Arsonal (sic), falls victim to the other vice of toy marketing: ridiculous over-descriptive names.

Stinky the garbage truck has an ethical re-do, with a giant recycling emblem adorning his galvanised rump, while Eject (the tape player, the tape player was always the coolest toy) faces a fate worse than a re-do: a shameless rip-off. And it is shameless. The way Rejector ejected his cassette-shaped foils makes all involved quite dejected. My favourite though, is Microwave. He doesn’t even get a decent name, and being a kitchen appliance he does a Mediocre-Change rather than an incredible one. But he’s not the most pathetic, Microwave’s two companion Bots, Popper and Soupy get that accolade.

What I love about Jeffrey’s Transformers send-up is how accurately he not only plots them much like the cartoon itself – more holes and loose screws than Mechano – but as if he’s a seven-year-old more playing with toys. The battles and plot twists are as convoluted and dogged as any my brothers and I invented as a child. It’s that sense of endearment to that age as well as the acute cynicism as an adult which imbues this book and its predecessor with real humour.



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…

“My, uh, hamster escaped and it me a while to get him back into his cage… He’s temperamental.”
“I don’t care what sick perversions you get into on your own time, this is my time. You’re a blight on this city and it disgusts me to employ you.”

It’s extremely unusual indeed for any humour collection that every single strip or gag will hit the funny bone like an unrequited love-tap from Mjolnir, but so it proves with this second collection of oddball ribaldry from a stellar cast of contributors making merry with Marvel’s Finest. Truly, this is high quality amusement, with no filler whatsoever, whether it’s J. Jonah Jameson disbelieving Peter Parker’s continual excuses for showing up for work bruised and battered, Thor throwing a temper tantrum after failing to ring the bell at the test-your-strength stall at a circus, or the Watcher lying on the ground and just letting dogs eat biscuits off his face, the laughs just keep coming thick and fast. There are far too many brilliant pieces to mention them all here, just suffice to say, for those of you who think that Deadpool is Marvel doing humour, you seriously need to cut down on the E numbers and read this instead.



Darkie’s Mob h/c (£16-99, Titan) by John Wagner & Mike Western…

From the battle log of Private Richard Shortland…

“This is the story of a madman. A hard, cruel son of Satan who led us into the very pit of hell – and laughed about it. Then he began to turn us into animals – the most savage fighting force the Japs had ever known.”

This is some of Wagner’s finest ever writing, and as someone who specialises in creating anti-heroes, here we have perhaps his most enigmatic character of all, Captain Joe Darkie. A man who shows up unexpectedly in the midst of a demoralised group of British infantry lost deep in the Burmese jungle, surrounded by the enemy who are calling out to them that they will die that very night… He promises to lead them to the safety of allied-held territory over the nearby river, but instead merely leads them even deeper behind enemy lines. When the men realise this and confront him, he then calmly informs them that there’s a war on and no squad of his will ever turn away from the fight…

What follows is one of the finest pieces of psychological war dramatisation in any medium, as Joe Darkie begins to turn his men into a fearsome fighting force waging a continuous guerrilla war against the Japanese at every turn. No opportunity is lost to strike fear into the heart of the enemy who appear to quake at the very mention of Darkie’s name. Little by little we, through the eyes of his men, find out more about this mysterious marauder, such as the shocking revelation heard over the radio only by Private ‘Shorty’ Shortland just before it’s destroyed, that in fact military high command has never even heard of a Captain Joe Darkie. What could possibly be the motivation for one man’s all-consuming and obsessive crusade against the enemy?

This really does take me back to reading BATTLE ACTION as a kid and, much like CHARLEY’S WAR and JOHNNY RED, you forget just how much depth the stories actually had, and indeed the near-physical impact the writing actually had upon you. Quite simply, you would not want to be where these people were, having to endure what they endured, and that is most eminently conveyed by Wagner’s plotting and Mike Western’s art. One other great thing to note about this particular work is that it is complete in one volume, so unlike, perhaps, JOHNNY RED, it never gets anywhere near the point where you felt it was being continued in perpetuity just for the sake of it. (Johnny Red ran for 14 years in BATTLE ACTION weekly – that’s a lot of strips.)

No, instead it’s short, sharp and brutal, just like one of Darkie’s precision raids on the Nips. Ah yes, there’s also an excellent introduction by Garth Ennis on which he touches upon the fact that modern sensibilities could cause one, if one were so inclined, to consider much of this dialogue from the ‘70s to be racist. And arguably the art in places too, at a push. Well, yes, but so what? The dialogue is in places as brutal as the action for sure, but to my 8-year-old, and 38-year-old mind, war is absolute hell on earth and not the place for verbal niceties, so why not reflect that fully? There’s no place for respecting the enemy when you’re facing a certain and no doubt painfully prolonged death by torture if you’re caught, so why bother being even polite about them? And as Ennis alludes to in his introduction without giving anything away (as I won’t here, either) you really need to read the whole work, particularly the revelatory concluding chapters to put things, including Darkie’s dialogue, into a certain perspective.

DARKIE’S MOB is as powerful for me as CHARLEY’S WAR is, albeit illuminating a rather different aspect of war, one of how all-consuming it can be become in literally every sense.



Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki…

“But you know, isn’t that how life is?
“It’s the will of nature! Life is the will of the gods! Anything that gets in the way of that leap is no good. Whether it’s a system or what have you, it’s evil.
“No, the fact is, as senior officer, I am going to go to the General…”
“Don’t get so worked up Doctor. Doctor, that’s outrageous. They think of us as worms and nothing more.”
“… and plead for the lives of the surviving eighty-one men.
“Regardless, it is the will of the universe for all living things to live.
“It’s wrong to get in the way of that.”
“But this is the army.”
“Army? This army is the most diseased thing humanity has ever seen. This is not the way human beings should be.”

As much an insight into the Japanese WW2 military psyche as a fictionalised memoir of the creator’s time spent serving in the South Pacific during the war, this book is very much a searing critique of the perversion of the honourable way of Bushido that had become all-pervasive in the Japanese military structure at the time, most exemplified in the gyokusai dictate that one must die at any cost for Japan, either in battle or if that was not possible, then by suicide.

This work is a straightforward look, nay stare, at the absurdity of not just one country’s military misadventures, but also at the absolute horror of war itself. In terms of how it portrays that particular facet of warfare, it has most in common with Jacques Tardi’s very moving IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, though the South Pacific setting and constant attritional demise of the cast of characters put me most in mind of the prose fictionalised memoir The Thin Red Line by James Jones (who also penned From Here To Eternity) about the battle for Guadalcanal. (Note: the 1998 film of said book, despite in my opinion being the finest film to come out that particular year, bares little or no resemblance, oddly enough, to the actual prose work, just in case you’ve seen the film but not read the book.)

But as in Tardi’s work there is considerable black, indeed gallows humour here, to off-set the bleak, relentless, waking nightmare of warfare. And once again the words and actions of the top brass in charge of the Japanese troops on the island of Kokopo where the action is set, neatly prove that the military is most definitely not always a meritocracy. The art is a Tezuka-esque blend of exquisitely illustrated backdrops and landscapes, and cartoonish, almost lampooning, characters populating the foreground of the panels, which works well in providing depth and realism to the locale, yet gently dissembling the darker elements sufficiently to ensure they don’t distract from the overall ebbing and flowing emotional tides of the work.

This is a rather moving work, at times – were it not for the fact we know it to be all too true – stretching the credulity of what could, or rather should, actually be possible. Real life is indeed, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction and where war or large-scale conflict is concerned just infinitely more disturbing and gruesome than fiction could ever be. As several of the characters discuss amongst themselves, it’s hard for them to understand why they are expected to engage in such brutal battles in the middle of the South Pacific on such small spits of land at all, given Japan itself was by then already well on the way to being bombed into submission. But, to return to the initial point of this review, the concept of death before dishonour for the Japanese military high command was so all-pervading, it was insidious.



Stephen King’s N (£14-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Alex Maleev.

A not unexpectedly chilling book about a lethal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that’s spread by telling its story. I am about to tell you its story.

I’d advise you to look away now. But you can’t, can you, such is humanity’s unquenchable curiosity, and that’s what happens here as various individuals, connected professionally or through personal history, each learn of the last person to become mesmerised by a crop of Stone Circles numbering 7 to the naked eye but 8 through a lens of a camera. Each in turn finds this disparity compels them to count, to go round the circle and physically touch the stones in order to fix their physical quantity in their minds. Then there are 8 and all is well with their world… until there are 7 again.

King does an exceptional job of narrating the disease taking hold as the carriers gradually succumb to what they once doubted but feel compelled to verify for themselves as the last victim’s delusion. As they do so they reactivate a process that has been passed like a baton across countless generations of keeping at bay an awful, malignant force that keeps seeping through a crack in reality; of occluding the aperture by rebooting the 7 as 8.

It’s told with ingenuity – and adapted with terrifying beauty by DAREDEVIL’s Alex Maleev – through the use of documentation: letters, newspaper articles, cards of condolence and, at its heart, a psychiatric case study of a patient called ‘N’ buried in a box marked “Burn This!”

This arrived one week after AARON AND ACHMED. What is it with verbal viral memes these days? They seem to be spreading.



Francis Sharp: In The Grip Of the Uncanny vol 1 (£7-50, Black Bottle) by Brittney Sabo, Anna Bratton & Brittney Sabo.

There’s an avalanche of kids’ books solicited these days, but the vast majority are vapid and bland. They’re dull, and that is a cardinal sin because kids don’t do dull. But I loved the cartooning here, and the cover is a flourish of fire-like briar while the interior art boasts some rustic evening skies with so much space up above.

Young Francis is an artist with a vivid imagination fuelled by his favourite radio plays like the sinister Occultist. He acts them out, all derring-do, even when he should be watching his father’s herd of cows for fear they escape and eat the neighbour’s crops. They escape. And eat the neighbour’s crops. Now the family, already suffering from a cashflow crisis, will have to pay compensation so they set out for Westfield to sell off treasured family heirlooms, and it’s all Francis’ fault. He’s left at home with strict instructions for chores around the farm but almost immediately his friend Harry arrives and its time for some more re-enactment, this time with the aid of his grandfather’s pocket watch as The Eye Of Mithridates which Francis stole back from the truck.

That in itself will land Francis in trouble, but when he spies a shadowy creature – half-hare, half-fox in the woods surrounding the pastures – he abandons his friend to follow it further and further into the darkness until he’s accosted by a shrouded spectre with an old oil lantern and it becomes swiftly clear that he ain’t in Kansas any longer.

What follows is one of those Addams Family scenarios in which the furry goblin folk in the nearby market town (it sells mostly tubers!) find Francis just as weird as the terrified boy finds Valleyghast, but when he seeks sanctuary in a book shop he’s befriended by its reluctant librarian and his unflappable friend who offer to help him retrace his steps. Unfortunately home is no longer where Francis left it…



Undying Love #1 (£2-99, Image) by Tomm Coker, Daniel Freedman & Tomm Coker.

“Let me guess. Boy meets girl, falls in love. But boy can’t take a vampire home to meet Mom. So what does he do? He loads his guns and fills the gas tank. Heads to a foreign land with the hopes of killing the vamp that made her – setting her free so the two of you can be together?
“Forgive my tone, Mr. Sargent, but the story is nothing new.”

No, but execution is all, and this is lovely.

Exquisite nocturnal art from BLOOD + WATER’s Tomm Coker. It’s like CRIMINAL’s Sean Phillips inked by SANDMAN’s Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo or JOE THE BARBARIAN’s Sean Murphy (that was an external link, yes: he’s really that good). No, wait, as inked by Tim Bradstreet, maybe.

Young Tong has pretty much summed it up at the top there, except that Tong isn’t as young as he looks. He looks seven years old, hustling in a modern Hong Kong market which has quite the population of vampires. But there’s evidently a wider conflict at work as evidenced by the geisha, fox and samurai attempting to intercept the couple before they get anywhere near Hong Kong.

Interview with internal art here:


Dark Age vol 1: Dominion (£14-99, who knows?) by Mada Shaye, Vin Shaye & Mada Shaye.

Before we begin, caveat emptor: the pre-story pages are printed on black and if publishers aren’t careful that can destabilise the binding glue at the spine. Such is the case here.

Kicking off with the cover, it’s a snazzy affair with an embossed silver logo. Inside the opening credit section too is startlingly designed with yet more silver, black and yellow anti-trespassing stripes, biological hazard signs and I think this pair may well have read Hickman’s NIGHTLY NEWS. There’s a lot of scene-setting, a map and keys… in fact it reads a bit like a console game’s introductory sequence but typed too tiny for comfort.

“Knowledge and tech is everything! That’s why we, The Corp, banned it.”
“Remember, The Enforcers are your only protection. They maintain order and keep our civilisation safe.”
“Please note: we, The Corp, have exiled all undesirable humanity to the slums, to protect our civilization.”

Consider yourselves brought up to speed.

I did like the opening sequence with its burnished birds and spiralling galaxy, but then it lands on terra firma with a thud and although I appreciated the firelight colouring it immediately devolves into a cliché-ridden dystopian future with revolutionary gang members posturing laboriously on (and on) and angry Corp Colonels SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER endlessly. It’s so noisy even without all the side-captions and so very, very slow. I confess I gave up halfway through, defeated by the lack of any significant progress.


Journey Into Mystery #622 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Dougie Braithwaite.

A quiet and beautiful thing, this a sparklingly literate comic from a writer well versed in mythology and with such an evident love of storytelling that it put me in mind of Neil Gaiman. Loki’s quest, for example, to find himself – quite literally – was both wise and witty and far from obvious.

THOR reverts to its original title in time to tie-in to FEAR ITSELF, and ends at precisely the strange place as FEAR ITSELF #1, only with a more mischievous and strangely optimistic note. For this is Loki as a young boy who only now finds out what his elder self was up to after the last survivor of a flock of Magpies sets him on a most unusual treasure hunt. But after years as a trickster and revolutionary no one in Asgard trusts the young lad. Only Thor acts as his benefactor, his protector in a hostile environment. He’s like a kindly foster father and it’s this new dynamic which makes the book. Here Thor’s caught Loki texting on a Stark Phone he bought with the proceeds of gambling:

“… Were you cheating, Loki?”
“Yes! But they were too! Cheating was the game, and I triumphed unfairly most fairly.”
“I do not think I approve.”
“There was no harm! Unlike this! The humans of the internet are uncouth. When I said I was an Asgardian God, they called me a troll!”

Braithwaite’s judged the young lad’s expressions to perfection and Thor’s body language, leaning down conspiratorially as he points out Loki is a half-giant, is actually quite touching.

“Why did you buy a phone?”
“I want to learn. If Midgard is to be our home, I would know of it. I’ve primarily discovered that mortals like to rut, and chronicle the experience pictorially.”
“I’m not sure I approve of this eith – – “
“How do you know about Stark phones?”
“Stark is my comrade-in-arms. He does like to talk. While I play the stoic, some of it can’t help but sink in…”
“No matter how much you stare into the distance and imagine you’re smiting fire-giants.”

Thor ruffles the boy’s hair.

“You are not as wicked as they think.”
“I’d have to try terribly hard to be that terrible.”

From the writer of PHONOGRAM, Gillen has some seriously surprising plans for the book as evidenced by this interview:



Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 3: Blade Vs The Avengers h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve Dillon.

Sibling rivalry, eh?

“I see you’re flying last year’s helicopter, Tony. Has the credit crunch really bitten that hard?”
“No, I just gave my Chinook to a homeless man, Gregory. Because that’s the kind of guy I am. Now is it just me or have you lost a lot of hair since Uncle Freddie’s funeral?”
“Only because I donated the follicles to a cancer-stricken child. This is the cake she baked me as a thank you.”
“Ah, so that’s where those extra three pounds are coming from. Let’s hope my metabolism fares a little better when I’m as old as you.”
“I’m only older by twenty minutes as you very well know.”
“Still older.”
“Poor Tony. Even after all these years it stings that I won that race out of mother.”

I love Steve Dillon – were I ever to write a comic he’d be in my top three artists to illustrate it – but not on big-action superheroes. Makes it seem like a sort of WHAT IF? comedy cartoon, largely because Dillon’s comedic prowess is virtually unparalleled.

Here it’s what if vampires actually exist in the Ultimate Universe; and they do although skepticism runs high. Unfortunately they’ve gone straight for the jugular by infecting the Hulk clone first and no one will let Blade, Vampire Hunter, do his job properly. As the Ultimate Avengers prove their own worst enemy, thousands become infected and the fight is taken straight into the heart of the Triskelion before Fury can even begin his counter-assault.

Reminder: The Ultimate Avengers is Fury’s black-ops hit squad. He lost the Ultimates day team to Carol Danvers and Fury claims jurisdiction here on a mere technicality that infuriates her. Next volume their animosity takes on whole new proportions. In the meantime the Hulk clone is bored of being a secret but as Captain America tells him, “Going public with you would be endorsing illegal stem-cell activity”. In a teenage strop the Hulk jumps to the New York central anyway because his favourite comicbook writer’s in town. Guess who?

Someone recently asked what happened to Perun, The Liberators’ version of Thor from ULTIMATES SEASON 2 vol 2. Find out here. Also features the Ultimate version of Stick, Stone, a much younger Daredevil, and a highly inventive solution.


Uncanny X-Force vol 1: The Apocalypse Solution h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Leonardo Manco, Jerome Opena…

 “The game is on… probably has been for some time. Which means we’re already out of time. God as my witness, Logan, one way or another, no matter what the cost… I’m going to kill Apocalypse.”

Perhaps like me, at the conclusion of the excellent X-over Second Coming, you inwardly groaned at the prospect of yet another X-Force reboot (it’s never been the strongest X-title, let’s be honest, firstly because of the writing and secondly because of the art!) containing not only those hardy perennial fanboy favourites Wolverine, Deadpool, Archangel and Psylocke but also the – no doubt next to take the title of the most overexposed and overused X-character – Fantomex.

Happily though UNCANNY X-FORCE has completely confounded all my doubts and appears, at this very early stage, to have the potential to be a classic run in the making. The writing from Rick Remender is thankfully of the more speculative fiction approach successfully adopted by Ellis on his X-runs, with some delightfully choice splashes of dark Deadpool humour injected in suitably small doses here and there.

If future plot arcs compare to this first outing where the team decide that killing the recently reincarnated Apocalypse whilst he’s still an innocent, angelic schoolboy would be a rather sensible idea (albeit whilst he’s protected by his most extreme bunch of equine enforcers yet), then we could be in for a real treat. And gone too thankfully is the whirling dirge-ish art from the previous run. As I noted in X-NECROSHA, there were portions in the X-Force sequences where you really couldn’t tell who was who, it literally was so dark. Instead both Leonardo Manco and Jerome Opeña impress, and I should actually also compliment the two colourists whose choice of palette, in combination with the fine illustration, very much helps give this the feel of a different, more worthy X-title. Less superhero, more sci-fi. So far, so good.


Chaos War: Avengers (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Michael Avon Oeming, J.M. DeMatteis & Tom Grummett, Stephen Segovia, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Ching

Companion to the giddy Gotterdammerung which is CHAOS WAR itself. Here the fight is joined by Avengers resurrected like Captain Marvel, Swordsman, The Vision, Dr. Druid (never a good idea) and the female Yellowjacket.



Marvel Masterworks: Avengers vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Don Heck.

“It’s from Cap! He’s been imprisoned in a dungeon! Into your costume, Wanda… quickly!”
“Imprisoned, Pietro? By whom?”
“No time for that now!”

Or you could have just said “The Swordsman!”

Our Avenging Assemblers by now are Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, led by a Captain America wrestling with self-doubt under the weight of such responsibility, desperate for some of the original members to return. Good news, then, as both the Wasp and Hank Pym return halfway through this volume, the latter as Goliath in a blue and yellow costume which my child-eyes adored, the former in a swimsuit to resume her former career as professional prisoner/bait. With Hawkeye still green with envy at Captain America’s leadership, they’re bickering among themselves incessantly. It’s like Big Brother in fancy dress, the Diary Room located somewhere in Steve Rogers’ head.

“Hello, Steve. How are you feeling today?”
“Hello, Big Brother. I’m feeling a bit low, to be honest. Hawkeye hates me. He’s keeps calling me Methuselah.”
“I’m sure he loves you really.”
“Yes, I can read that in his thought bubbles but it’s demoralising when all he does out loud is bitch, bitch, bitch. I think the Scarlet Witch has a crush on me. If Quicksilver found out, he’d skin me alive before I could say the word ‘incest’.”
“They are close, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, but I’m going to have to wait until Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES for readers to realise that.”
“How are you feeling about this season’s weekly tasks?”
“Well, Powerman and The Enchantress have framed us for city-wide property damage, so I’m worried we might be up for eviction.* Conquering Kang The Besotted might prove difficult since he’s fallen in love with a Princess under threat of execution, so we may have to form an alliance and that won’t go well with the viewers. The Collector seems to hoard all the food, and both the Swordsman and Black Widow know Hawkeye from old so, really, I think everyone’s going to gang up on me. If only one of the original housemates would return! Oh, and Attuma the Tuna is back but if I have to go underwater again then this costume is going to shrink. And pinch! I still haven’t had my suitcase back from 1944.”
“Big Brother is looking into that. Is there anything else you want to discuss with Big Brother?”
“Ummm. Can I have a flag?”
“A flag…?”
“I’d just like something to wave.”
“To wave…?
“There could be Commies.”
“Thank you, Steve.”

What I’ve so far failed to mention is that amongst the household’s weekly tasks in order to ensure a shopping budget big enough to keep Hank Pym in Temazepam is getting Dr. Victor Von Doom struck off the medical practitioners’ list. His bedside manner is appalling and I swear to God, these are actual quotes:

“Here is a gold farthing for you, my boy! I, too, have known what it is to be… a cripple!”
“There is a great surgeon in the Zurich, across the border! He can cure our child! But he leaves for America soon!”
“We beg you, good master… open the dome, so we can bring our son the doctor before it is too late!”
“Impossible! It must remain sealed… until the four enemies of Latveria have been disposed of!”
“But what of the boy…?”
“Silence! This audience has ended!”

You’d ask for a second opinion, wouldn’t you? Frankly, I have no idea how Victor’s surgery remains open; he’s not exactly renowned for his patients, and his prescriptions are unorthodox to say the least. In FANTASTIC FOUR #57 he was even self-medicating: “Power Cosmic, 5 times daily.”

It’s all enormous fun, of course, as are the appliances of sciences: World-Wide Scanner-Scopes, Protecto-Shields, Vibra-Rays, Spectro-Waves, Visi-Projectors, Giant Plastithene Domes and a Temporal Assimilator which means it’s only taken you a tenth of the time to read this than I wasted in writing it.

* They really, really are.



Also Arrived:

Reviews to follow or may already be up if a s/c came out as a h/c

Duncan The Wonder Dog: Show One (£18-99, Adhouse) by Adam Hines
Dylan Dog Case Files (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Tiziano Sclavi & Angelo Stano, Andrea Venturi, Giampiero Casertano. Luigi Piccatto, Bruno Brindisi
Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook h/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jill Thompson
Marijuanaman (£18-99, Image) byZiggy Marley & JimMahfood, Joe Casey
Blood-Stained Sword (£13-50, IDW) by Jan Wickline, Amber Benson & Ben Templesmith
Bullet To The Head (£14-99, Dynamite) by Matz & Colin Wilson
Trickster: Native American Tales (£15-99, Fulcrum) by various
Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic new edition (£10-99, Omnibus) by Barnaby Legg, Jim Mcarthy & Flameboy.
Hitman vol 4: Ace Of Killers (£13-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea
Superman/Batman: Worship s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Levitz & Jerry Ordway, Renato Guedes
Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 2: Crime And Punishment s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Francis Yu
Red Hulk: Scorched Earth s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuiness
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man: Sensational (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Matteo Lolli, Rob Di Salvo, Colleen Coover
S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1: Architects Of Forever h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver
Wolverine: Enemy Of The State – Ultimate Collection restocks (£22-50, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr. with Kaare Andrews
Essential Thor vol 5 (£14-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway & John Buscema
Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (£8-50, Yen) by Fumi Yoshinaga
Silent Mobius Complete Edition vol 4 (£10-99, Tokuma) by Kia Asamiya
Neko Ramen vol 4: We’re Going Green! Kind Of… (£8-50, Tokyopop) by Kenji Sonishi
Highschool Of The Dead vol 2 (£10-50, Yen Press) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato

Congratulations to customers Paul & Sooz and Helen & Phil on your weddings this Saturday! And thank you for inviting me to your receptions. Also, thanks for holding them in the city centre so I could actually make them.  Weird how many other customers were there – I learned a lot!

Further congratulations to Dave & Rich on passing their adoption panel unanimously. Basically, the boys are now pregnant. But with an undetermined gestation period.

 – Stephen

Reviews April 2011 week two

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta.

“I think you still harbour feeling for Raido and myself, yet even so, you ordered his death and have deprived me of the sun. In reality, you are not fully aware of your actions. Do not be so sure that it is you who are the puppeteer.
“That, I never believed. I only cut my own strings and imprisoned the one who controlled them in this temple.”

Terrific surprise, this. I was expecting another SAMURAI: LEGEND, which was certainly very pretty but really little more than another Onimusha.

LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES, on the other hand, is breathtakingly beautiful with vast panoramas of snow-swept mountains and walls snaking up to them; Japanese temples and rooftops, Acer leaves in autumn, cherry blossom petals and birds taking flight; gigantic white wolves called Izuna with ears like the lynx… but it is also an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture, that spans two generations in feudal Japan whose revelations eventually connect almost every event to another and everyone to each other, even if few or even any of the players involved know it until quite near the end. Maybe the wolves know. Yes, maybe the wolves know…

Lone warrior Raido has lost his memory. He’s lost his arm, an eye, and something else – if only he could remember what. Instead he is plagued by voices so loud he can barely sleep. They’re calling to him. He has a tattoo whose symbols don’t bode well and he has a past more complicated than he can imagine which he inadvertently catches up with when he encounters young Meiki and suddenly there’s silence. He sweeps her away from the clutches of Captain Kawakimi, ordered to arrest the girl by Lady Ryin, Shogunai of all that surrounds her. He knows not who they are, but they definitely remember him, as does General Nobu Fudo, the man with three eyes, the man with three arms and the man with two Scarlet Blades. Raido is supposed to be dead.

The past is revealed slowly, subtly and in all the right places, for it’s not as straight forward as you’ll think. For example, does Nobu Fudo have Raido’s eye? He does not. He has an eye that was sacrificed to Raido after Raido as a boy sacrificed his own to feed his starving wolf cub. There’ll be repercussions there. Unfortunately Raido will repay that repayment of kindness with… Ouch. It’s actually pretty affecting in places.

There is a reason, by the way, why the seasons have stopped and the domain of Lady Fujiwara Ryan and Lord Totecu Fujiwara before her is besieged by ice and its raging white Izuna. There’s an explanation for why the Izuna are raging, and why Lady Ryin is such a bitter and cruel mistress. It’s not an excuse but a reason. The same goes for the three-armed Nobu Fudo’s enmity towards Raido.

I can promise you a substantial read and as much eye-candy as you could want whether your thing is majestic landscapes, fantastical wolves or dramatic blade action. It’s not easy painting driven snow, but the blue and purple lights dance off it here perfectly.



Aaron And Ahmed h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Jay Cantor & James Romberger.

Nothing DC wrote in their solicitation prepared me for this terrifying ordeal of manipulation, indoctrination and outright programming. It’s a book about power: the power of the word over the mind and even the body, especially when it’s backed up with the promise of an afterlife of carnal pleasure or, I don’t know, just not being tortured, really.

It’s also a book about trust, and right to the very end I had no idea whether Ahmed – a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay freed by his psychiatrist to help him infiltrate a jihadist organisation in Pakistan – was playing a long-game with Aaron in the cause of terrorism or genuinely trying to free him from his conditioning. I wasn’t even sure whether Aaron had been successfully programmed to kill or whether he’d been driven insane by the whole idea of a verbal viral meme. Nor does Aaron. But the tension as they’re wandering round New York City with their handlers, Aaron desperately trying to avoid the image trigger planted in his brain, is almost unbearable.

Oh yes, it’s also a love story as it says on the cover. It really is. Once I realised that I remembered where else I’d seen James Romberger’s art: back in the stunning SEVEN MILES A SECOND, also from Vertigo, some fifteen years ago. More recently he resembles a loose Guy Davis. His hidden Imam, The Old Man In The Mountains, is brilliantly unsettling – a ghostly, mummified corpse of a man – but we’ll get to him later.

Dr. Aaron Goodman, psychiatrist, was working in a veterans’ hospital on September 11th. The television was on when the first plane hit the Tower; by the time the second one hit he was desperately on the phone to his fiancée, Carol; because Carol was onboard.

Aaron’s desire to do something directly himself to stop the bombs leads him to Guantanamo Bay and the torture rooms and dog kennel cages. They don’t work. There’s no information extracted, but some of the soldiers get a kick out of the simple act of humiliation. So Dr. Goodman tries a different approach with his first subject, Aaron.

“I’m going to drug Ahmed’s food – a hormone cocktail, heavy on the oestrogen. …But I’m not doing it to humiliate him. It’s like in therapy – I want him to feel he loves me. Then I can really fuck him over.”

So it is that Aaron starts messing with Ahmed’s mind, and Ahmed starts talking:

“They’ve heard from someone that I was Bin Laden’s driver. I never admitted it, though, despite their… persuasions. But I tell you now: I was. And I’ll tell you this, too. I wasn’t important. But I do know something: I know that Bin Laden’s the same as all the other murderous leaders that have betrayed us over the decades. Bin Laden’s building an army, like Hussein’s – but even more ruthless. Why? Because whoever controls the guns controls the oil. It doesn’t matter what horrors a monster perpetrates to keep the masses in line. He can still cut a deal with the West for the oil. Or with the Chinese. Then he uses the oil money to buy factories and estates.
“But the Sheiks buy that property in Europe or North America. Not in the pristine land of Mohammed. The Sheiks and generals don’t want industry in Arabia. They don’t want a middle class with its own power base. They want everyone forever dependent on them and want they dole out from the oil tit.”

It’s then that Goodman’s colleague Dr. Negreponte introduces the concept of the meme as a possible way of conditioning suicide bombers:

“The brain is a computer. The meme is a program made of words that runs it. The body is a meat puppet… The memes that really hook into the meat computer, they’re embodied in just the right sounds and rhythms. Like jingles, songs, chants. Then, no other meme can dislodge them.”
“So poetry is the most dangerous substance known to humanity – just the way I thought in high school.”
“No, the most dangerous thing is a good poetic religious meme, one with the right sounds and meter. My studies show that repeated rhythmic chanting of that really hooks it into the neurons – and soon the pretty puppets talk all out of their heads… or bomb an abortion clinic.”

I like what Cantor did there.

So it’s back to Ahmed with the idea and he’s positive that Negreponte is right, that the chanters back home talked of getting the rhythm just right and that Bin Laden himself once said they were really programmers. He even offers to take Aaron to the source, so he can discover for him what words and images switch bombers on so that they can take the knowledge back to Guantanamo and switch bombers off.

But is Ahmed doing this because it has been successfully manipulated, is he saying these things because he believes them to be true, or is he just telling Dr. Goodman what the man wants to hear to buy his own freedom and return to Bin Laden? Even in the safety of Guantanamo Aaron is highly suspicious of Ahmed’s readiness to cooperate, but when they travel to Pakistan – and they do – and Aaron finds himself out of his comfort zone and out of his death, deep in the camp of the enemy, he starts going out of his mind with paranoia.

Those are the most powerful scenes, when the jihadists take Aaron in, when it’s too late to go back and he’s mostly separated from Ahmed. He’s unsure whether he has successfully conned them of his sincerity to join their cause and become a suicide bomber himself, or whether they’re going to execute him at any given moment. But The Old Man In The Mountains, ancient and seemingly ethereal, doesn’t actually care if Goodman is sincere: once he’s heard what he needs to hear and seen what he needed to see, he won’t be taking any secrets home, but he will be a carrier, sent back to New York in the very same cause he set out to thwart.

The book’s full of those sorts of ironies. In New York for example, you’re constantly wondering whether Ahmed has played Aaron in exactly the same way Aaron was intending to play Ahmed – by making him love him. Do you ever find out? Oh yes, you most certainly do.



From Hell h/c new edition (£32-00, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell.

On the surface (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s surface are most creators’ core) it’s the story of one sick bastard’s execution of a royal cover up, fuelled by his own personal Masonic obsession with carving a male sigil across the heart of London by slaughtering the women of the street who happen to have strayed too close to a blue-blooded Victorian’s philandering.

Madness and ceremony and the architecture of time play large parts in this gruelling masterpiece, as the women struggle hard enough to survive in their own unforgiving environment, let alone when they’re lured by grapes into the alien world of an upper class cab, and Dr. Gull has visions of the world as we know it, where his deeds are anything but forgotten.

Eddie Campbell’s intense visuals are inseparable from the experience, whether it’s the look in Dr. Gull’s eyes that see more than is there, or the bleak, unsanitised and dark and stark London which he scratches indelibly on your mind. How did anyone have the arrogance to believe that they could ever “film” that? And speaking of Hollywood, how typical of them to turn this into a Whodunnit. That we know the “who” from just after the prologue makes the investigation all the more frustrating, infuriating and painful to follow, so it was never about the “who” – it’s about the “why”. Why did Dr. Gull do it? Why was the case never solved? And why are we still studying these events then studying the studies of those who have studied the events?

This is a vast work of enormous power that will take you twice as long to read as almost any three other graphic novels combined.

This particular edition comes with archive-quality paper.



Hair Shirt h/c (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Patrick McEown…

“This city doesn’t exist. I mean, you couldn’t really call it a city. There’s no core, no centre, only periphery. It’s barely even a location so much as a circuit of routes without fixed destinations. More like an array of fleeting events linked by a longing for contact. People don’t live here, they just circulate, like lonely satellites orbiting a planet that never was.
“It’s a place made up almost entirely of intervals between things. Absences. Or possibilities…”

Hmm, it’s a difficult book to describe, this. The plot has the feel of an art-house film with typically semi-deconstructed characters, who certainly succeed in providing an entertaining story but without ever engaging one’s emotional sympathies towards them. Basically, it’s a pointed reminder of how fucked up people can be rather annoying to be around. And so it is with main character John and his new girlfriend Naomi, who has recently returned to the city to study after a long absence.

John and Naomi have a certain history. John and Naomi’s brother Chris used to be best friends in high school, until Chris turned into a complete dick. But by then John had realised he had far more in common with Naomi anyway, and their teenage friendship had the potential to blossom into something romantic. At least until the untimely death of Chris, the splitting up of Naomi’s parents, and her subsequently moving away to another city.

On the face of it, you’d think upon her return that the stage was set for a happy ending, but unfortunately her abundant neuroses, coupled with John having turned into a complete drip, ensure that their course of true love most definitely doesn’t run smoothly. Naomi seems intent on wrecking things for them at every turn with a level of passive-aggressiveness that I found absolutely infuriating to read, and John just seems emotionally paralysed, unable to steer their relationship into less choppy waters. It doesn’t help he’s having some rather disturbing dreams featuring a dog with Chris’s head either…

So, it’s an engrossing, if not uplifting story, because we can I’m sure all relate to the characters. Hopefully because we have come across people like that, rather than being them!

The art strangely enough reminded me of the altogether more joyful AYA OF YOP CITY, and equally oddly, of WALKER BEAN. You couldn’t get two books less like HAIR SHIRT in terms of emotional content, but I guess what I’m trying to say is art is excellent. This is definitely one for people who like things on the darker side of life.



K-On! Vols 1 and 2 (£8-50, Yen Press) by Kakifly ~

In an effort to save the Pop Music Club from being disbanded, tenacious Ritsu (drums) and the timid Mio (bass) scramble to recruit two more members. This desperate act brings to the fold a boon in the form of the rich, talented, and humble Tsumugi (keyboard), and a curse in the way of talentless slacker Yui (guitar, as soon as she buys one). But that’s okay as Rock’n’Roll is attitude first, talent a distant second, and if their teacher Miss Sawako (former PMC member, insane) has anything to do with it, the band will be all about frilly maid uniforms and big hair.

Like the immensely popular and surreal AZUMANGA DAIOH, K-ON! (or Keion, an abbreviation of keiongaku or “light music” which basically translates as pop in its shortened form) is a vertical four-panel strip. And like AZUMANGA, it revolves around a group of school girls going about their day, only while AZUMANGA explored the differences of its young ladies in humorous directionless ways, K-ON! has a distinct focus and an energy that’s familiar to anyone who’s picked up an instrument with absolutely no idea how to play, and reminiscent of Shojo Beat’s pop-rock masterpiece LINDA LINDA LINDA.



The Boys vol 8: Highland Laddie (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea, Keith Burns.

Change of pace and change of scenery for wee Hughie, who retreats home to the relatively tranquil Scottish seaside town of Auchterladle, in order to sort his head out.

His adoptive parents are both sound and doting and delighted to see him. His old friends too whisk him straight down the pub. Unfortunately Hughie soon realises that he’d idealised them in their absence* for they can’t resist resurrecting old humiliations and it rubs him up the wrong way. Fortunately as Hughie wanders down the beach on his first night, he discovers a man painting the simmer dim – the evening’s permanent summer twilight there – who turns out to be a very good listener, and as the days wander on Hughie finds he’s drawn to the sympathetic stranger who lets him offload. But what was done in New York doesn’t stay in New York and very soon there’s a visitor…

There are some truly touching scenes here, particularly those involving Hughie’s adoptive Dad, but also some early traumas as Hughie reflects not just on the circumstances of his leaving New York, but his childhood too. That’s quite the tapeworm! But if you think Ennis has left the burlesque behind, think again: a mad Scottish vicar, an enormous woman which gardening sheers who’s quite prepared to use them, a smuggling sub-plot and his two friends are… unusual individuals.

I’ve never seen art like this from McCrea: full of light and space and – thanks to Tony Avina – colour. He works well with Keith Burns. I wonder when Hughie’s deception is going to catch up with him?

* Distance makes the heart grow fonder: when my Father moved to the Isle Of Man, he could almost stand me; had he moved all the way to Barbados I might have been able to stand him.



The Technopriests vol 3 (£13-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov.

Wherein the art grows increasingly splendid with far more space to breathe. You’d buy any computer game designed by Janjetov. Huge sense of scale with water beings, translucent space birds, a gigantic bi-pedal, red-eyed rhino-bug, and a forest of monumental stalagmites, stretching as far as the eye can see, on either side of a pure blue river. The colouring is so lambent you’d think you were witnessing it all yourself outside on an early summer’s afternoon.

See TECHNOPRIESTS vol 1 for more.



Outlaw Prince s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Hughes & Thomas Yeates, Michael William Kaluta.

Medieval adventure set in nearby Derbyshire illustrated in exactly the sort of lavish, full-colour British fashion you’d have expected to see in Look and Learn etc.. Black knights, white steeds, sword fights; tunics, peacocks and anachronistic white, wooden benches. Oh, surely, they’re anachronistic!


Zombies vs Robots: Aventure s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Chris Ryall & Menton, Paul McCaffrey, Gabriel Hernandez.

“This… this doesn’t look good.”

Well, there’s no Ashley Wood apart from the covers reproduced in the back, but it looks perfectly decent to me. Not for the robots – they’re in for a kicking – but for fans of the series so far. You’ve three very different artists: Hernandez is the closest to Wood, especially in palette, whilst Menton’s very similar to John Bolton without the lurid colours; McCaffrey, on the other hand opens the whole thing up with clean lines, round forms and lots of sunlit colour. Refreshing.

What’s it about…? Umm, zombies versus robots.



Marvel Zombies vol 5 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Kano, Michael W. Kaluta, Felix Ruiz, Fernando Blanco, Frank Brunner.

Howard The Duck and Machine Man travel to five different Marvel universes in search of zombie ‘samples’. I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means.



Avengers: Prime h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

“Hop on.”
“There’s got to be another horse running around here somewhere.”
“Hop on! Let’s go.”
“Any excuse to get me to hold you.”
“You see right through me.”
“Where’s Thor?”
“Don’t know exactly. I’m following the lightning.”

Not a single tower of the once mighty Asgard is standing. Amongst the stone ruins there are fires ablaze as the timbers and fine linen of the more opulent halls crackle and spit out flaming-hot cinders, and the night sky is clouded with smoke. Steve Rogers in combats and a black, polar-necked sweatshirt comes straight to the point:

“Thor, tell us what you need and you will have it.”
“Just seeing it like this… my Father’s kingdom in complete ruin.”
“Hey, anything can be rebuilt. Anything. Every time I’ve had to rebuild this armour, I’ve always made it better every time. Wait till you see my new stuff.”

Good old Tony look-at-me Stark: Mr. Sensitive 2010. No wonder Steve is pissed off.

“We’ll see.”
“We’ll see what?”
“I’m not convinced letting you keep that armour is in the best interests of the country, Iron Man. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Just in case you’ve been holidaying on the moon these last five years, the three core Avengers – Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – have issues with each other. Or at least Thor and Steve Rogers have issues with Iron Man, and have had ever since CIVIL WAR. Then Tony Stark took the government’s position on the Superhuman Registration Act and endorsed the construction of a cyborg clone from Thor’s cell tissues. It killed one of their friends. Then he had Steve Rogers locked up for good measure.

Anyway, the destruction of Asgard in SIEGE comes with additional hazards like the Rainbow Bridge, a portal to other dimensions, being broken. But before they can contain the gateway, the gateway contains them, sucking them through to three different, otherworldly locations, none of them particularly hospitable. Stark is deprived of his armour and runs around naked, desperately trying to hide his genitals with rejoinders (he has a sympathetic letterer) and trying to wise-crack his way back into his old friends’ hearts.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, Steve. I take back almost everything I have ever said.”
“Why are you naked?”
“It’s the new armour. It’s see-through.”
“Jokes? Really?”
“It’s very high-tech.”

He even finds time to mix up his Shakespeare, holding his helmet in his hand and paraphrasing Richard III.

A very old Avengers villain reappears in a radically different role, there are dragons, elves and ogres which for once don’t rankle with me at all, a romance snatched away at the last minute for Steve, and the most enormous art from the softest of artists, Alan Davis. What’s not to love?


Chaos War s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Khoi Pham, Reilly Brown.

Giddy Gotterdammerung which Gillen is threatening to explore a little further as part of JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY. Hercules is back and Gods do verily people smite each other.



Spider-Man: One Moment In Time s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada & Joe Quesada, Paolo Rivera.

“Oh God — Why didn’t you just let me forget too? I just wanted to forget.”

Far more imaginative and complex than anyone had anticipated, the past is finally revealed post-One More Day.

In that final Straczynski story arc now reprinted in SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOL 5 Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker agreed to sacrifice their marriage to Mephisto in order to save Aunt May, and in the blink of an eye history rewrote itself: they had never been married. Instead they were estranged, and no one wanted to talk about what happened. Over the course of the year it became clear that no one other than Mary Jane remembered that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Yet, as is revealed here, CIVIL WAR still happened, Peter had unmasked on television and Aunt May was, as a direct consequence, shot and hospitalised, fighting a losing battle for her life. In fact, at one point, she lost.

Mephisto, it transpired, changed none of that. So what actually happened? What happened to prevent their marriage? (I swear it is not the first, obvious hindrance so bear with it…) Who brought Aunt May back to life? (I swear, it is not some hocus pocus voodoo shit…) How is it that no one in the world remembers that Spider-Man is Peter Parker? (Err, that may be some hocus pocus voodoo stuff…) But more importantly why is Mary Jane the sole exception? That one… that one, and their subsequent conversation take the biscuit for heart-wrenching irony.

I wish Quesada could have found time to draw the entire book but that simply wouldn’t be practical as editor-in-chief of a now-bloated Marvel Comics. It was barely practical when Quesada had the company lean, healthy and under control. But at least he found time to write it, and at least he made the wise decision to be on hand to draw the present and the key conversation in the past just after Peter makes the wrong decision for all the right reasons (truth and love, not living a lie) because he nails the staccato timing in the dialogue and the awful silences as the implications dawn on the couple.

There are a few better writers at Marvel but only a few and only because Quesada invited them personally. But this is a triumph and a most unlikely one at that.



Red: Better R.E.D. Than Dead s/c (£10-99, DC) by various.

Not a Warren Ellis in sight. Instead RED’s original artist, Cully Hamner, writes and draws one short story, and there are four more by others.

N.B. This isn’t a sequel to Warren Ellis’ RED, but five prequels to the film adaptation.


And remember, you can order by email or phone individual comics like:

Fear Itself #1 of 7 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen.

“People are mad right now, and broke and they’ve been lied to and ripped off – And when people who’re already mad get scared then all hell kinda breaks loose.”

After enduring a United States under Norman Osborn (or George W. Bush – read it how you will), and with the economy in freefall catalysing mass unemployment and the repossession of homes, the American people are fractious. They’re raw and hurting. When Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are caught in the middle of a riot they cannot control, they’re alarmed to discover there’s no foul play involved: no unusual energy signatures, no enchantments, nothing toxic in the air or water. It’s just how the temperature is.

So what will happen, do you think, when the Serpent arises? When the Red Skull’s daughter lifts the hidden Asgardian hammer her father could not, is transformed into something else, and frees the ancient Skadi, the real All-Father, from the mystic bonds of Odin? What will happen when The Worthy summoned by Skadi touch down in Pacific Ocean, Brazil, China, Manhattan and the small town of Broxton where Asgard lies in rubble?

That’s where the Avengers – both overt teams – are gathered today, to launch a new Stark initiative to further the bond between Gods and man and put 5,000 Americans back to work by designing and then building a new Asgard here on Earth. But Odin isn’t happy. Disdainful of the creatures he is more used to being worshipped by, he is adamant that Asgard should be rebuilt by enchantment far from this blue and green marble. And when he senses that Skadi is loose upon the world, he orders it so, even if it means dragging Thor behind them in chains.

With robust and shiny art – like John Buscema inked by Jimmy Cheung – this is something rather different from recent superhero events. SIEGE, SECRET INVASION, Blackest Night and even CIVIL WAR to a certain extent, had all been brewing for a while. But this is about to hit our heroes out of nowhere and they don’t even know it yet. All they know is that the Gods have left them… to fend for themselves.


Uncanny X-Men #354.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco.

“No, I think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ‘smile for the camera’.”

Gillen’s solo run kicks off with a single issue which deals with how you go about spin-doctoring a world-renowned supervillain and species separatist called Magneto whom the world once saw levelling New York under Morrison’s run, now that he’s living with the X-Men on an island off San Francisco. Okay, it wasn’t actually Magneto in New York, it was an impostor, but you try telling New Yorkers that. The terrorist’s certainly responsible for plenty more, and his sense of humour doesn’t do him any favours. If he’s actually joking.

Here’s Kate Kildare, a woman of quick wit who doesn’t do ‘intimidated’ in spite of Magneto’s distaste for the P.R. he calls propaganda. Or maybe he’s just irked that someone’s better at it than he’s tried to be. I like her already:

“’P.R.’ was coined by Edward Bernays in the ‘20s. ‘Propaganda’ had somehow picked up a bad reputation in the war. So he started calling it P.R. instead. Plain brilliant rebranding: something everyone with an ounce of sanity despises transformed into something just about palatable. Even necessary. That’s what we’ve got to do to you. We have to make this work. And if we don’t, you need to leave this island immediately. Because if you stay, everyone’s dead. Sooner or later, you’re going to attract something even you can’t stop.”

In all honesty rebranding Magneto would take a miracle: an Act of God, as insurers like to wriggle out of. An Act of God that only Magneto could prevent. Now remind me, what exactly is the tectonic history of San Francisco…?

If this opening salvo is anything to go by, we can immediately align Gillen with Morrison, Whedon and Ellis. It’s a pretty straight forward succession:

Morrison’s NEW X-MEN (three volumes)
Whedon’s ASTONISHING X-MEN (four books)
Ellis’ ASTONISHING X-MEN (three volumes)
And now this.

Here’s King Namor The Submariner getting pretty peeved at the thieves dressed as A.I.M. agents (hence the beekeeper put-down – they wear that sort of garb) extorting money from local corporations under threat of another earthquake:

“Your arrogance sickens me, beekeeper. Only Namor has the ability to make the earth move.
“And reserves that privilege for one woman at a time.
“Unless they have experimental friends.”

What an imperious rex.

From the fiercely intelligent writer of PHONOGRAM, DARK AVENGERS: ARES and THOR etc, here’s a substantial interview along with this issue’s cover at the top about Kieron Gillen’s extended plans for the title:



Also arrived:

A few here from last week because we published the list late:

Mister Wonderful h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes
Incredible Change-Bots Two: The Vengeful Return Of The Broken! (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Jeffrey Brown
Francis Sharp: In The Grip Of the Uncanny vol 1 (£7-50, Black Bottle) by Brittney Sabo, Anna Bratton & Brittney Sabo
Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 vol 2 (£10-99, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Peter David & Chris Burnham, Kyle Strahm, Aaron Kuder
Cable vol 4: Homecoming (£11-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski & Humberto Ramos, Paco Medina, Lan Medina, Paul Gulacy, Gabriel Guzman, Giancarlo Caracuzzo, Alejandro Garza, Denys Cowan, Robert Campanella, Mariano Taibo, Carlos Cuevas, Sandu Florea, Juan Vlasco
Darkie’s Mob h/c (£16.99, Titan) by John Wagner & Mike Western
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki
Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Leonardo Manco, Jerome Opena
Secret Warriors vol 4: Last Ride Of The Howling Commandos s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti
Gotham City Sirens: Union s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini, Scott Lobdell & Guillem March, David Lopez
Dark Age vol 1: Dominion (£14-99, who knows?) by Mada Shaye, Vin Shaye & Mada Shaye
Stephen King’s N (£14-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Alex Maleev
Chaos War: Avengers (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Michael Avon Oeming, J.M. DeMatteis & Tom Grummett, Stephen Segovia, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Ching
Marvel Masterworks: Avengers vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Don Heck
Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 3: Blade Vs. The Avengers h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve Dillon
Halo: Fall Of Reach – Bootcamp h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Reed & Felix Ruiz
Area 10 s/c (£9-99, Vertigo Crime/DC) by Christos N. Gage & Chris Samnee
Booster Gold: Past Imperfect (£13-50, DC) by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis & Chris Batista, Keith Giffen, Pat Olliffe
Grimm Fairy Tales: Different Seasons (£13-50, Zenescope) by various
Girls & Goddesses vol 1 (£18-99, Image) by Joseph Michael Linsner
20th Century Boys vol 14 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa
Bakuman vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Kimi No Todoke vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Karuho Shiina
Sakura Hime: The Legend Of Princess Sakura vol 1(£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura

Reunion s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard
Fables vol 15: Rose Red (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Inaki Miranda, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Chrissie Zullo, Dave Johnson, Kate McElroy, J.H. Williams III, Joao Ruas, Adam Hughes
Farscape Uncharted Tales: D’Argo’s Quest s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Keith R. A. Decandido & Caleb Cleveland
Star Wars Omnibus: At War With Empire vol 1 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various
Deadpool Corps vol 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels
Bunny Drop vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita
Robert Jordan’s New Spring s/c (£18-99, Tor) by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon & Mike Miller, Harvey Tolibao, Joseph Cooper
Fantastic Four vol 3 s/c  (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Neil Edwards
K-ON! vol 2  (£8-99, Yen Press) by Kakifly
Samurai Harem vol 7  (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Yu Minamoto
Incredible Hulk vol 3: World War Hulks s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed, Bill Mantlo  & Paul Pelletier, Miguel Munera, Mike Mignola, Gerry Talaoc
Green Lantern: Secret Origin (New Edition) s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

Apologies for the inordinately long review of AARON & AHMED. With only Sunday off to write this week, I think my internal editor broke! I may chop it down later. Don’t worry, Jonathan’s back on Monday.

 – Stephen

Reviews April 2011 week one

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011


R.I.P. Best Of 1985-2004 h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Thomas Ott.

“How far can too far go?”

 – Lux Interior, The Cramps

From the creator of THE NUMBER, more silent screams of worrying black-and-white misfortune.

You can tell by the cover that it bodes pretty badly for all those involved, from have-a-go-heroes, souped up for the occasion Charles Atlas-stylee, to those covering their murderous tracks, now newly addicted to cleanliness. Indeed both virtue and godliness play their part here, though neither is rewarded. These very short stories are like ten-second episodes of Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected and really challenge you to think, but they’re so concise and precise that it makes that a joy rather than a chore.

Take ‘A Wrinkled Tragedy’ in which a well-to-do woman employs the services of a plastic surgeon to remove those tell-tale signs of age from her face. No, don’t worry, it’s a perfect success so she instantly attracts the attention of a handsome young beau… only to discover that they’ve been thinking along the same laughter lines, and what lies beneath is neither young nor remotely beautiful.

‘Goodbye!’ cruel world is like one of those dreams I’ve had where you think you’ve woken up, but only done so in your dreams. The dreams in this case are of attempting to commit suicide, yet failing each and every time. The man jolts up in bed, alarmed at his mortality, and immediately stumbles upon a glass, snapping his neck. Thank goodness that too was but a dream! Unfortunately outside forces are far more likely to precipitate our sudden departure from this capricious mortal coil than our own inclinations or accidents. It’s a funny one, that!

‘Alice In Wonderland’ makes you really wonder what the hell Lewis Carroll was on when he recommended nibbling bits of an unknown pill seductively labelled “Eat me!” (did I just get a bit Daily Mail on your asses?), whilst ‘La Fiancée Du Lapin’ is an even darker Carroll reprise which moves in those self-fulfilling circles Ott is so enamoured with.

The medium employed – unless I am stupid, half-blind and an artistic dunderhead (yes, very funny) – is scratchboard: that blank-slate of black upon which you work in reverse, scratching out shivers of white with a needle, sharp compass or random sterilised murder weapon. It works enormously well for stories so penumbral, yet on occasions the panels break out as blindingly as the light which fills them.

I have to confess that however enamoured I am of The Cramps – and I have been ever since my late teens – I didn’t pull that opening quote out of my head. Rather, it was from the afterword by Martin Eric Ain about a Zurich gig both he and Ott attended. Big love to all three (although Lux, R.I.P.) in the spirit of which I leave you with another apposite Cramps quote:

“People ain’t no good.
 People ain’t no good.
 They never do what you think they should,
 So people ain’t no good.”

They are, they really really are, but not here.



Tenken (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yumiko Shirai.

Stilted. Horribly, horribly stilted.

And I really wanted to love this: there’s a double-page spread in the loosest of ink washes that mirrors the recent Japanese tsunami horror to perfection. I’ve factored in the fact that the original contents of the word balloons were written vertically and I have blinded myself to the consequent type-setting which is ugly. Still, it remains stilted.

A young woman joins a construction site.

“It’s a tough job, isn’t it? But you know, if you dressed nicely and put on some makeup…yes! You could be Princess Kushinada!”

Two panels later:

“They say that the Princess Kushinada for the mountain district has gone missing.”

Shit, I wonder where she is.



Cartooning: Philosophy And Practice (£9-99, Yale Uni Press) by Ivan Brunetti

“Cartooning is built upon the Five Cs: calligraphy, composition, clarity, consistency, and communication, each reinforcing the other.”

“What is most crucial is the desire, the need, to express oneself. The tools, or means, can be improvised from whatever is at one’s disposal.”

Ivan Brunetti like you’ve never read him before – well, unless you picked up a copy of COMIC ART #9, but this is a “revised and expanded edition”. Packed with insight, analysis and the most imaginative of exercises I’d never have considered, his own examples or solutions gave me moments of pure, sit-up satori. I’m but a comics critic, not a practitioner, so imagine its application to those learning to refine their own craft.

Like Lynda Barry’s two books, WHAT IT IS and PICTURE THIS, the emphasis lies on galvanising the eye to see and the mind to think, reconsider and experiment. For example, it’s not about the art of perspective, it’s about how perspective within a panel can affect how the eye reacts to it. It’s more about composition and practising that composition so that students come to “understand some basic aesthetic principals” rather than pick up “a few tips and tricks that encourage cleverness but not insight”.

There are also lessons in juxtaposition taught not just through experimentation but accident, and those really made me smile, as did condensing the essence of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye into a single cartoon. The exercise based on James Kochalka’s daily SKETCHBOOK DIARIES seemed enormous fun, but don’t be under the illusion that as a student this is something you can dip into and opt out of at will. Brunetti is at pains to point out that each session is built on principles learned in previous chapters and as well as the more playful exercises the stricter assignments must be adhered to or the benefit of the book will be lost.

Before kicking off Ivan talks about computers, correction (some forms of white-out are less suited than others for material you want to archive in perpetuity) and terminology: good on him for actively ditching two of my personal shudder-words, “alternative” and “independent”, to which I have always added the term “small press” whose use in my general vicinity normally elicits a swift kick to the crotch. (Once more: to call yourself “small press” only leads to your work being dismissed by the majority as irrelevant and less than lucrative when we’re actually making a considerable fortune from the likes of Lizz Lunney and Marc Ellerby.) His criticism of the political cartoon was unexpected but made a certain degree of sense (I do mean single-panel cartoon, though I suspect Brunetti includes strips at which point he loses my vote) so again it did at least make me think.

Importantly, he also talks about reproduction and reduction, and what that does to your own original art because that’s not what your punters will see. Given that they will encounter your work on a printed page, it’s crucial to consider that process and learn from it accordingly.



Dodgem Logic #8 (£3-50, Knockabout) by Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Melinda Gebbie, Kevin O’Neil, more.

“Great News For Readers Inside!”

Ah, how right Alan is. Whenever you read those words on the front of your favourite comic it spelled doom! Or, as Moore writes in the editorial:

“What this meant was that the publisher was an alcoholic bankrupt reduced to sleeping in his car, and that your favourite periodical (let’s say it was boy’s picture weekly SPURT) was being merged with something you wouldn’t read if they paid you to (perhaps the inferior publication for toddlers, DRIBBLE) and would henceforth be known as DRIBBLE & SPURT. It’d feature all the shittest characters from both comics, and after about six weeks someone would take this mutant hybrid that shouldn’t live out behind the cowshed and put it out of its misery with a shovel.”

Can you see where Alan is going with this? Yes, sadly this is the last issue of DODGEM LOGIC, at least for a while. Funded out of Alan’s own pocket, it has yet to break even; which is a shame because with each successive issue both the production values and the content have soared with Moore presiding over them in mock dictatorial mode, effortlessly entertaining us at his own expense. Moore’s quarterly “glog” this time sees him reminiscing about the arrival of issue #7 – all six thousand copies stacked on pallets outside on the pavement – during one of this winter’s many snowstorms. Unfortunately for our much-loved meta-man he miscalculated, and happened to be there at the time:

“I couldn’t just stand by and let [my friends] do all the work, or at least not out in the street with people passing by where it might look bad, so I moved a pack of two of the magazines inside and then pretended that I’d had a stroke so I could go for a sit-down.”

As for his massive new novel, Jerusalem, it’s finally nearing completion.

“I’ve since written another couple of chapters, so only seven more to go and then you can all tell me it’s not as good as D.R. & QUINCH.”

Calluz gives us a harrowing account of her run-in with Northampton Borough Council when they called the bailiffs in on her for missing two months of council tax payments, heaping extra charges on her even though she met the deadline they set her; Norman Adams rails at the injustice of sweeping service cuts at the same time that the government cancels Vodafone’s bill for £6 billion in unpaid taxes; and wonderfully there are comic pages too: a beautiful silent piece from Kevin LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN O’Neill, a witty repurposing by Steve Aylett of a fey old comic starring a boy so squeaky clean he thinks he’s made out of wax, and a one-page mockery by Lee Healey & Barney Farmer on readers of a certain xenophobic tabloid called ‘Mal De Mail’.

Anyway: A4, over 70 pages long, great value for money. All issues kept permanently in stock.


Caligula #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile.

Oookaaay, no sample copy on the shelves for this one! They’re all firmly bagged and tightly sealed: please bring to the counter if you want a gander within and your voice has actually broken.

How can one possibly match the depravity of sex-strewn zombie comic CROSSED? You get SILVERFISH’s David Lapham to write the fully authorised biography of Emperor Caligula, and you just ask him to tell it like it was.

No, that’s not what it is. No messing about with the lunatic’s formative years, it’s straight to gang-rape and pillage as teenaged Junius returns from selling his olive oil at market to find his homestead confiscated, his family mutilated and his mother… Look, did we really need to see that? Junius sets out in search of revenge, which is a pretty tall order if your target is the Emperor of Rome, so it’s time for some rest and reconnaissance. Following some guardsmen as they come off duty leads Junius to discovering them cumming off-duty down at the local bathhouse, but at least that gives Junius something to play with. By the time this opening episode closes his olive oil is no longer extra-virgin. Some of you are going to find this almost as hard to swallow as Junius does, whilst the slightly blurry painted art will also divide opinion.

What I can certainly say is that a) there has been no compromise on Avatar’s part on the explicit nature of the contents (okay, we didn’t see Junius’ four-year-old nephew raped either before or after he’d been decapitated, which is no small mercy) and 2) the cliffhanger was totally unexpected so I have absolutely no idea what to expect from issue two except sales.

Please don’t imagine that if you bring this to the counter that we’ll suspect you’re sick in the head. We’ll know it to be true. Thank God I can buy the beast after-hours while none of you are looking.

‘Caligula Syndrome’ is easily the best song Marc Almond’s sung since the days of The Willing Sinners. Switch on your speakers and crank it up loud:


Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this..!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi. For the creators of PREACHER, it’s one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque Ma Gnucci. Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank: imagine what he can do in a zoo.

And as with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with: Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of many piercings whom I’ve since described as a human curtain rail; Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway; and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection. It’s basically the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film but with a little less overacting and fewer plot holes.



Superman: The Black Ring vol 1 h/c (£14-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods.

“Lex Luthor! Kneel before GRODD! You have walked into my ambush! And I have brought my biggest Combat Spoon — to eat your tasty brains!”

Grodd, it should be pointed out, is a giant gorilla.

He slurps down cerebella like oysters from a shell in order to absorb their knowledge. But he’s about to bite off more than he can chew, just as Luthor is about to bite the proverbial dust and so meets his taker: Death of The Endless. Or does he? Well yes, he does meet Death but not under normal circumstances.

In or around Blackest Night, Lex Luthor came in possession of an Orange Lantern Ring and it gave him the power he’s always secretly craved: the power of a superman. Now that power is gone but the Ring’s left its mark of avarice and what he craves now is more: the power of the Black Ring energy which reanimates the dead and seemed to have dissipated as the Black Rings disintegrated. But surely it must have gone somewhere and left tracks in its wake?

The search takes Luthor from Antarctica and Uganda, and with him come assistants who are necessarily obsequious if they don’t want a hole in the head. Also: Deathstroke and Lois Lane. Sorry…? Yes, as the book kicks off Lex Luthor is shacked up with Lois. Or is he?

Cornell likes to hide things and mess around with chronology so that you only discover later what he set up long ago. Sometimes it’s eminently satisfying like the Grodd campaign, but it can also disorientate or even alienate so I’d urge you to perseve through the first chapter where little is what it seems except that Luthor’s desires – his needs – are getting the better of him.

I’m really not sure about the telepathic alien caterpillar and I wince at “quaint” speech patterns like that prick Yoda’s or the “Urgent Decision: emergency extraction! Exclamation: now!” shit here but, as I say, do bear with it because it’s no simple A to B to C fist-fight but something quite cleverly constructed, and only round one. The art’s not bad, though setting each chapter up with a David Finch cover doesn’t do poor Woods any favours because, Hitch and Cassady aside, it’s pretty difficult to match Finch in the superhero stakes.

Oh yes, sorry. Do beware: Superman doesn’t actually appear! It’s a Lex Luthor comic.



Batman & Robin vol 1: Batman Reborn s/c (£10-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Phillip Tan.

“And so begins in earnest your first week as Batman.”
“Yeah. I wish I could shake the feeling I’m wearing a shroud.”
“That’s better. There’s always pain when the ugliness is burned away. But pain is the beginning of perfection. You’ve been a bad man, Niko, but that’s all over now. Pyg will make you perfect. And then your daughter.”

“It’s an aerosol narcotic! It’s spread like a flu! Addiction you can catch!”

“So… whose neck do I break first?”

What a gloriously coloured cover, like a tangy, double-layered lemon and orange mousse!

Two blistering new chapters in Morrison’s Batman run see the all-new duo with a different dynamic follow a domino trail from Toad to Professor Pyg, the surgeon with a buzzsaw and drill, ringmaster of The Circus Of Strange. This affords Quitely all the opportunity he needs to indulge in grotesqueries from conjoined kung fu triplets, to a very fat, hairy man in a pink, white-frilled tutu. Also, chap with his head on fire.

It also allows Morrison to revel in his love of language, in this case circus slang. The base of operations is in fact, that same funfair of horrors that Commissioner Gordon knows all too well from BATMAN: KILLING JOKE (a book reprised several times later on in this volume), and indeed it’s Dick Grayson’s roots in the circus that provides the key to overcoming his early self-doubts about his new role as Batman, for try as he might he cannot be the same Batman that his mentor Bruce ever was. Here’s Alfred doing a Yorick with Batman’s mask:

“Try to think of your Batman not as a memorial — you and I know he’d hate that — but as a performance. Think of Batman as a great role, like Hamlet, or Willie Loman… or even James Bond. And play it to your strengths. Master Damian will undoubtedly be racing towards trouble as we speak. Curtain’s up. And the spotlight is on you now.”

Damian is indeed a handful as the new Robin, but then he is only ten and was raised by assassins and master criminals. To him Dick seems like that unwanted step-father, usurping the role of his real parent, Bruce. He’s a mechanical genius as well as an effective athlete, though: you wait ’til you see the new flying Batmobile! It’s introduced on the first double-splash page pursuing Toad and co. in a Wind In The Willows-style high-speed car chase through an underground tunnel. Quitely delivers several of these key spectacles: Batman and Robin crashing through their first skylight together, or sky-diving through the Batsignal cast on a cloud! Philip Tan’s no slouch either, taking the even darker second half here into brutal territories as Jason Todd (Robin mark II) returns as the Red Hood with a Scarlet he picked up in part one, determined to make the punishment fit the crime, and whose escalation of vigilante justice attracts the attention of even worse crime.

I’ll just add that there are so many fine touches here, including Damian being the first to treat Alfred like the beck-and-call butler he’s hired to be (“That will be all, Pennyworth.”). Plus there are some illustrated notes from Grant himself in the back wherein he reveals that Professor Pyg’s name is indeed a tip of the hat to Pygmalion, but via Momus’ ‘Pygmalism’ track. We love Momus!



Recently Added Merchandise:

Recently added to the website, that is, not stock. Some of these are ancient and nowhere near the shop floor which is almost strictly comics and graphic novels. In most cases we have but one copy so it’s first come, first and last served.

Dan Clowes’ Pogeybait Doll (£29-99)

In his underoos. Ut.



Jeff Smith’s ‘Warrior Thorn’ statue from BONE (£125-00)

This has got to be a total rarity now! Hand-painted and 1 of only 1,500.

I think we also have an inflatable Phoney Bone somewhere which is something like 4 foot tall. Email us at and I’ll look! If I can find it, I’ll sell it to you for 30 quid, or include it with this purchase for free.



Giant-Man & The Wasp Mini-Bust (£45-00).

Notice how zoned-out Hank ‘Who Even Am I Today?’ Pym is here. He’s certainly not interested in the winsome one, perched prettily ‘pon his shoulder.

Fact: at this stage in his career, Hank Pym popped pills to change size. As Ant-Man he sniffed gas. To become Goliath, he injected. …And that’s going to end well?!

No, as Yellow Jacket, Hank ‘Size Issues’ Pym hallucinated that he’d killed Goliath then ran off with the Wasp to marry his own girlfriend. He then turned to a certain brand of lager and the Wasp paid the black-eyed price.

Confession: at play with my friends aged 5 I too popped pills pretending to be Giant-Man. Thankfully they were Tic-Tacs which came in mint and orange at the time, so I could either grow or shrink at will. No, really I could…


Wolverine Weapon X Bust (£89-99).

Truly a life-lesson in sniffing your own armpits.


Ghost Rider Mini-Bust (£39-99)

This is what you look like immediately after your 60th series has been cancelled.


Frank, Pupshaw & Pushpaw Doll Set (£45-00)…

Frank, Pupshaw and Pushpaw are the three main characters from Jim Woodring’s classic fantasy comic FRANK, loved by fans all over the world. Now their soft-vinyl & PVC figures are available for the first time, as a three-in-one boxed set. Arms, hands, legs, feet, and neck move for Frank, and tails move for both Pupshaw and Pushpaw. Beautifully sculpted in Japan, the figures stand well-balanced next to each other. Frank is about 6 1-/2″ tall, Pushpaw is about 4″ tall, and Pupshaw is about 2 3/4″ tall. Comes in a special original art box designed by Jim Woodring. Limited edition of 1,000.

[We’ve already sold five – ed.]


Actually that last one sounds suspiciously like the producer’s own hype but it’s not inaccurate and in any case Jonathan is now on paternity leave following the birth of Isabella Sophia D’Arcy Rigby to Jonathan and Joanna on April 1st, 3.48am. Mother and child are doing very well indeed, cheers. The father is somewhat shell-shocked!

Congratulations, guys!

Also Arrived:

Except they haven’t! Our delivery ended up somewhere in Perthshire. They’ll all be in tomorrow morning and straight on the shelves, so please check back in tomorrow night and I should have added them.

Here we go, then (I’ll reprint next week):

vol 15: Rose Red (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Inaki Miranda, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Chrissie Zullo, Dave Johnson, Kate McElroy, J.H. Williams III, Joao Ruas, Adam Hughes
Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta
Farscape Uncharted Tales: D’Argo’s Quest s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Keith R. A. Decandido & Caleb Cleveland
Star Wars Omnibus: At War With Empire vol 1 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various
Marvel Zombies vol 5 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Kano, Michael W. Kaluta, Felix Ruiz, Fernando Blanco, Frank Brunner
Avengers: Avengers Prime h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis
Chaos War s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Khoi Pham, Reilly Brown,
Deadpool Corps vol 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels
Spider-Man: One Moment In Time s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada, David Michelinie & Joe Quesada, Paolo Riveria, Danny Mini, Richard Isanove, Paul Ryan
Bunny Drop vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita
Outlaw Prince s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Hughes & Thomas Yeates, Michael William Kaluta
Red: Better R.E.D. Than Dead s/c (£10-99, DC) by various
Reunion s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard
Robert Jordan’s New Spring s/c (£18-99, Tor) by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon & Mike Miller, Harvey Tolibao, Joseph Cooper
From Hell h/c (£32-00, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
Fantastic Four vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Neil Edwards
K-ON! vol 2 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Kakifly
Kindling (£24-99, Chronicle Books) by James Jean
Samurai Harem vol 7 (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Yu Minamoto
Incredible Hulk vol 3: World War Hulks s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed, Bill Mantlo & Paul Pelletier, Miguel Munera, Mike Mignola, Gerry Talaoc
Green Lantern: Secret Origin (New Edition) s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

And remember, you can order by email or phone individual comics like:

Fear Itself #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen
Uncanny X-Men #534.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco