Archive for May, 2011

May Previews for July 2011

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

 

Random things I have learned so far: Namor is ‘Roman’ spelled backwards; Wonder Woman was created by the same man who invented the polygraph lie-detector test, hence the magic lasso of truth; there really are an awful lot of chemicals and psychiatric disorders in BATMAN. Two-Face = schizophrenia; Catwoman = kleptomania; The Scarecrow = the motherload!

- Stephen on Grant Morrison’s Supergods.

Books for July 2011 onwards

Big Questions s/c (£33-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen.

600 pages I cannot wait to get my hands on.

From the creator of Comicbook Of The Month DOGS & WATER, of #10 Tom succinctly wrote:

Latest instalment of Nilsen’s long running opus concerning the lives of a flock of birds after a plane crashes in their natural habitat. Viewing the plane as a massive bird and the pilot as a hatchling because they have no frame of reference for anything like this, the incident sends ripples through the birds’ delicate social strata. Often humorous, sometimes genuinely upsetting allegory of society encapsulated by Anders’ finest illustrations. 

LINK

Due: July

Finder Library vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil.

Warren Ellis, Mark, Tom and Jonathan have all evangelised at length about the humanity in this eloquent science-fiction, and coming in at a ridiculously affordable 640 pages each, complete with original covers, you would be insane not to take a chance on these two books which together form all Carla’s material prior to the original graphic novel FINDER: VOICE. Here’s Mark on volume one complete with interior art:

LINK

Due: 14/09/11

Joe The Barbarian deluxe h/c (£22-50, Vertigo/DC) by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy

“You heard all that, right? Make sure you eat your candy.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Wish me luck. And say hi to your father for me. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be happening.”

In the Veteran’s Cemetery, where his father lies buried:

“Hey, Dad. You suck.”

Joe’s Mum is on her way to see if they can somehow keep the house. Joe is drawing in his sketchbook. The Veteran’s Cemetery is the location of the school field trip, and the double-page spread from Sean Murphy – with its senescent, desiccated leaves swept across the stormy sky and over the regimented rows of simple white crosses between the white Palladian monuments - will have you tucking your scarf back in. I love what he does in several scenic panels with the autumn trees themselves, the leaves all jagged and crinkled and brittle.

Sean Murphy (HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS) was a revelation. I’ve compared him to Chris Bachalo circa mid-SHADE or DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, but here he proves to be entirely his own man when Morrison grants him as much space as he could want to delineate in uncluttered detail Joe’s well appointed attic bedroom reached through a rope ladder, the deluge outside, and then those tell-tale beads of sweat on the sleepy boy who emphatically didn’t eat his candy. What follows is a delirium which anyone who’s woken to a disconcerting semi-consciousness will be able to relate to, when you’re not sure how much you dreamt is your current condition. Is Jack shifting between reality and a dimension populated by his toys made animate? Or is it just his hypoglycaemia kicking in?

To begin with it was a refreshingly sparse script almost bereft of Morrison’s more ‘involved’ terminology, and if the scenes being bullied are pretty standard, well it’s an un-pretty standard experience. I only read the first couple of sentences here, but whoever wrote them nailed it, as well as reproducing one of Sean Murphy’s many glorious suburban landscapes as well as the fantasy:

LINK

Due 07/09/10

Infinite Kung-Fu (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Kagan McLeod.

Warren Ellis and Antony Johnston have been waiting on this for years! In fact Johnston’s pre-ordered it. You can too after reading it online for free, then returning for 464 pages of manic martial arts man-on-man mayhem.

LINK

Due: July

Casanova: Gula (£10-99, Icon/Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba.

“What the hell is “Zen Crime?””
“It’s like crime, only there’re no victims, and really, no crimes. It really just spreads a general sense of unrest.”

From the author of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and one of the two Brazilian brothers responsible for DE: TALES and DAYTRIPPER, another blast of bombast and badinage so ridiculously dense in ideas and nomenclatural horseplay that you expect arch-neologist Grant Morrison to turn up any moment with a lexical injunction. Here be jargon, by George!

“I am the Supreme Director of E.M.P.I.R.E. – that’s why you’re handcuffed at the moment. My name is Cornelius Quinn. My son Casanova went missing from Timeline 919 while on a mission two years, two weeks, and two days ago. I’ve devoted what is, frankly, a ridiculous amount of time and energy following the breadcrumbs that led out of his disappearance. Breadcrumbs that led us to you, Miss Lisi. Missus Lisi?”

“Doctor. I have a PhD in Catastrophic Temporal Entropy Manipulation Theory.”
“What?”
“I’m a time traveller that loves to step on butterflies.”
“M.O.T.T.  – define it for me.”
“We’re the spacetime protectorate. We monitor the whole of the way things are and manipulate it for optimal results.”
“On whose authority?”
“In both literal and philosophical interpretations, I don’t think I’m qualified to accurately answer your question.”
“Why are you here?”
“There is a mystery in time – when is Casanova Quinn? – that we can’t answer. This cannot stand.”

I think they’ve just told you the plot. It took Fraction most of the first issue to get there, though, so don’t expect to be hand-held or patronised. Meanwhile Casanova’s sister, Zephyr Quinn has been field tested by the bad guys (keep it simple, Stephen) for work on a hit list of everyone who knows of the H-Element Generator powered by the electromagnetic supercharge released upon dying, and the first issue ends quite literally with a “Dum! Dumm! Dahhhhhhhh!!!” that may lead her to reconsider the gig.

Moon is on prime, Pope-esque form whilst Cris Peter (sic – no ‘h’) reserves colour for when it really counts, making you sit up and take notice. Lots of swagger, sex and the shooting of things. But when, exactly, is Casanova Quinn…?

Review of vol one (back in stock!):

LINK

Due: 06/07/11

Any Empire h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Nate Powell.

From the creator of SWALLOW ME WHOLE, this examines war, violence and their effect on middle America as a gang of kids reunited in adulthood find their dark histories colliding. Just look at the light here!

LINK

Due: July

Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jacques Tardi.

Tardi in crime mode once more. See WEST COAST BLUES:

LINK

Due: July

Black Paths h/c (£14-99, Self-Made Hero) by David B.

From the creator of EPILPEPTIC.

“He tried to remain as invisible as possible in everything he did.”

“1919 – the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire is losing control of the city port of Fiume to pirates. A self-styled “Pirate King”, Gabriele d’Annunzio (poet, Italian war hero and Dadaist) storms the city with 3000 loyal Italian footsoldiers. He declares Fiume a free Republic: a utopian city-state, with himself as Commander. The city soon descends into looting and surreal decadence, reminiscent of the last days of Rome. Amid this chaos, the beautiful Mina, a black-haired young singer, is lost in this city gone mad, consumed by a love affair with a young soldier. Haunted by the horror of the trenches, a soldier, Lauriano, hunts Fiume’s alleys in vain for the ghost that haunts his dreams.” Interior art:

LINK

Due: July

Castro: A Graphic Biography Of Fidel Castro (£14-99, Self-Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist.

“Homeland or death! We will be triumphant!”

“In October 1958, Karl Mertens, a young journalist, arrives in Havana, Cuba. Having read an interview with Fidel Castro in the New York Times, he sets out on behalf of a German newspaper to meet and interview the young leader. When he arrives, he finds himself in a country plunged into revolution. Quickly he becomes involved in its events. From the viewpoint of this young journalist, Reinhard Kleist presents a detailed look at the life and the political motivations of the Cuban “Máximo Lider” Fidel Castro, from his childhood up until the present day.” Interior art:

LINK

Due: July

Shame vol 1: Conception (£7-50, Renegade Arts) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton.

From The Green Woman’s John Bolton, more macabre doings as a young woman called virtue gives birth to a demon’s child called Shame. Which is going to stand her in really good stead at school. Interior art:

LINK

Due: July

A History Of Violence new edition (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by John Wagner & Vince Locke.

A domesticated family man’s past finally catches up with him in small town America. Grisly stuff. Fans of Guy Davis (the equally grisly SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE) will love the art. Have a preview:

LINK

Due: 03/08/11

Dark Rain s/c (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Mat Johnson & Simon Gane.

From the writer of INCOGNEGRO and the artist on ALL-FLEE and Andi Watson’s PARIS.

Plenty of politics here, as seen from the frontline when Hurricane Katrina struck five years ago and the poor, largely black population of New Orleans was left to fend for itself when the levees broke, 80% of the city was submerged, and “too little too late” became synonymous with the Bush administration. However, there’s lots of comedy too in this convoluted crime heist in which two minor ex-convicts seek to avail themselves of the contents of a bank from which one of them was summarily ejected then sent to prison for larceny. My full review of the hardcover with its beautiful braille cover here:

LINK

Due: 10/08/11

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case.

The hunt for and interrogation of the 1980s serial killer written by the interrogator’s own son. Contents and cover:

LINK

Due:28/08/11

Parker: The Martini Edition slipcased h/c (£55-99, IDW) by Darwyn Cooke.

Both Richard Stark h/cs plus 65 extra pages including a brand new story plus art gallery in an oversized edition. Here’s Jonathan on book one:

LINK

Meta 4 (£10-99, Image) by Ted McKeever.

Meta-phor. Get it? From the creator of METROPOL, Eddie Current etc., an amnesiac astronaut travels to New York City with a muscular woman dressed as Santa Claus. Self-awareness, barriers, that sort of thing. Also, he’s changed his art style considerably. Digest-sized, BTW. Illustrated interview from 2008.

LINK

Chimichanga h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell.

“Step in my tent! I and my amazing two-eyed goat will tell you the future!”

From the creator of THE GOON, an all-ages comedy horror starring a black-eyed bearded girl and her frankly less than freakish Freak Show. Also, a flatulent witch and a bug-eyed monster hatched from an egg coughed up by an eagle. Think Roman Dirge for children. Which wasn’t a sentence I ever imagined typing.

Illustrated interview:

LINK

Due: 28/09/11

Everything Can Be Beaten h/c (£9-99) by Jhonen Vasquez & Crab Scrambly.

Larger reprint of the mini-comic which saw Vasquez is back and in top form, this being easily the most enjoyable nonsense he’d foisted on us so far. “What’s the plot?” – as if  you care.

ITs chief preoccupation and – for all we know – gainful employment, is to bash soft kittens with a substantial mallet, in a dark and rather messy room on his own. But in an RSPCA-endorsed twist of fate, curiosity this time serves to save the cats, as IT wonders  to himself, “Is this all there is?” and emerges to explore a bright new world full of colour and smiley-faced jelly-creatures, all soft and squidgy and puzzled at ITs sudden feelings of loneliness. Naturally they offer to play, and IT feels so overwhelmed with their love that it lifts him right off the ground, and down with his hammer onto the nearest pink little cutie. 

“The happy people of the valley look on in shock as their friend runs down their faces. ”Sweet whorish mother of merciless GOD!  What have you done?!” howls the happy cloud, not so happy anymore and offending our more religious readers. ”We welcomed you into our joyful land, and you bring pain and suffering and beatings!” And IT is no monster. He feels very bad for what he has done and…oh wait just a second…”

I think from the title you can hazard a guess at what ensues. Playful narration dips in and out of the story, addressing the reader, the cast, and the images alike. I thought it was funny. It even had a moral for a punchline, if you care to think about it. Have a Suicide Girls interview with Vasquez. Funny:

LINK

Due: July.

Last Dragon s/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

Dragon-based fully painted fantasy. Here’s Rebecca’s website – a little bit Arthur Rackham, don’t you think?

LINK

Due: 21/09/11

Turf h/c (£16-99, Titan) by Jonathan Ross & Tommy Lee Edwards.

Of #1 I wrote:

You’ve got to be curious, yes? Can the dapper dandy and self-confessed comicbook nerd recently jettisoned by the BBC actually write what he reads? Yes, he can.

New York City during the snow-swept February of 1929: a time of underground jazz clubs and speakeasies populated by high society and lowlifes alike, for ten years ago Prohibition put the money in the hands of those on the make and police and politicians on the take. Protected by the very law they are breaking and lord knows how many gunmen of their own, the gang bosses are virtually untouchable. So how come the Delancey family just disappeared overnight? Was it Don Mario Bava’s gang? Mmmm, probably not, no. Don Mario Bava, the Capo Di Tutti Capi, has just been been slaughtered along with his mob high up on the 57th floor of the Baltimore Hotel in their private, unassailable penthouse suite. Strung from the ceiling, some of them with their throats ripped out. And the strange thing is that only one man got in its elevator that night: Stefan Dragonmir, young brother of Gregori. Four years ago the Dragonmir family arrived on the scene, all the way from Romania. They bought their way into society by lavishing money on charities, but there is tension between the two brothers, for one is more ambitious than the other.

Thanks to Edwards this is steeped in period atmosphere. He can do rakish (Stefan) as well as debonair (Gregori), sharp-dressed and sleazy too. His interior decor is as well researched as his exterior architecture, and Ross too knows his stuff. But you’ve seen so many mob films before, so what sets this apart? Is it the vampires? Yes, but we’ve seen that mixed with crime in comics too (BITE CLUB). No, what sets it apart, on top of all that, is that a bloody great space ship has just crashed into Coney Island’s funfair! Both Edwards and Ross play that straight, making the incongruity even funnier. So if you thought this sounded just a little too familiar, I defy you to predict where on earth this is heading now.

Yeah, don’t think I’ll promise you a release date…!

LINK

Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Bernie Wrightson, more & Bernie Wrightson, Howard Chaykin, Carmine Infantino.

From the man who brought you that outstanding FRANKENSTEIN hardcover (think Gustave Doré, Franklin Booth) and Swamp Thing, all his CREEY and EERIE short stories plus frontispieces and colour illustrations from the 1970s and ‘80s. Have a cover:

LINK

Due: 01/09/11

B.P.R.D: Plague Of Frogs vol 2 h/c (£25-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis, John Severin.

Yup, they’re doing three-in-one h/c editions of this HELLBOY spin-off, so this contains THE DEAD, THE BLACK FLAME and WAR ON FROGS. Preview:

LINK

Due: 07/09/11

Fantastic Four 1234 (£7-50) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee.

Oh this was good. It was so, so good and having reached the FF part of Grant Morrison’s SUPERGODS (due in July, feel free to pre-order) I now feel better informed. Ten years or so ago, I began with this montage…

“Sue. It shouldn’t sound like that. It’s not raining outside…”
“That’s not thunder, is it…? It’s under the ground….”
“Johnny, I love what you do to me, but these are third degree burns…!”
“Shut up. Stop trying to hurt us, you stupid, lonely, ignorant man!”

There’s a storm brewing over Manhattan, and Marvel’s most dysfunctional family, wandering through the echoing chambers of their soulless, high-tech skyscraper, are coming apart at the seams. Someone’s playing a game of chess with their lives. It’s rigged, of course, with a scattering of rogue pawns lying in wait across the board. One by one husband and wife, brother and friend are being isolated and taken down by their own hopes, fears and inadequacies. Reed Richards isn’t just brooding, he’s hooked up to his machines like some reclusive techno-junky, leaving his wife to feed fake fish, his careless, callous brother-in-law to preen and party, and Ben Grimm, the most insecure of the lot, in temptation’s way.

Morrison and Lee strip away all comfortable elements of this superhero family team title, with its preposterous dialogue and garish colours, leaving some vulnerable, emotional individuals to crash and burn by their own hands. Once again, it’s time to ignore the publisher and trust the creators, for, like the INHUMANS, this is far more Vertiginous in style and content, and you’re going to kick yourself if you let the title dissuade you from grabbing another slice of prime Grant Morrison. Jae Lee has once more risen to the challenge of adapting his art to the task at hand. The backgrounds are relentlessly slate or green-grey, with a mass of sharp, angular blacks, crumbling sympathetically with its occupants. It’s a miserable, neo-Gothic environment for miserable, 21st Century people. 

“Richards. In one short evening, I’ve taken everything. The boy is blinded, crippled and enslaved. The monster is shattered, lost, his lover now the Mole Man’s bride in his kingdom of filth. Your wife is drowning in the deep fathoms of her adulterous frenzy. And all that remains… is Doom. While you’ve been locked away, I’ve been busy destroying the life and lives of your family forever, Richards. Tell me… what have you been doing?”
“Well, Victor…  I’ve been thinking.”

It’s cold out there. Get ready to shiver.

LINK

Due: 05/10/11 apparently!?

Avengers By Brian Michael Bendis vol 2 (£18-99, Marvel) by Bendis, John Romita Jr., Bryan Hitch.

The Infinity Gauntlet: a glove composed of Power Gems affecting space, time and reality, too powerful to be in the possession of any one man or woman. Years ago the Illuminati secretly split the gems between them then hid them. One of them’s just been found. And wherever the gems go Thanos always follows.

Massive cast including the Red Hulk here written somewhat differently. Most importantly, however, after Iron Man promised nor further secrets and best behaviour to Steve Rogers, his role in the Illuminati and its clandestine history comes out of a closet so capacious you could fit half the last century’s light entertainment stars in it.

The final issue was played ingeniously, plus this also contains #12.1 by Bryan Hitch featuring the jaw-dropping return of ******. AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI, containing their prior history with the Infinity Gauntlet, reviewed here:

LINK

X-Men: Executioner’s Song h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Lobdell, David, Nicieza & Jae Lee, Andy Kubert, Peterson, Capullo.

A softcover @ £18-99 sat on our shelves for six years. A hardcover @ £37-99…? You will need to order it in! Oh yes, sorry: APOCALYPSE!!!

Due: 05/10/11

X-Factor: Scar Tissue h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Peter David & De Landro, Lupacchino

Lupacchino?! Is that some sort of full-moon, lycanthropic latte?

Rahne and Rictor finally have it out over the identity of Rahne’s baby’s father and Major J. Jonah Jameson finds himself at the centre of the very murder investigation he initiated.

Due: 13/07/11

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert.

High up the night sky there’s a meteor approaching. It’s heading for Earth. It’s heading directly for Peter and Logan. Oh, and it’s the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Wolverine and Spider-Man have been stuck back in time for ages, ever since trying to foil a diamond heist - diamonds with very peculiar properties. Peter dreams obsessively of a woman, carving her face over and over on the rocks round his hideout. Logan’s become leader of the Small People, defending them from savage attacks by more predatory hominids. Peter’s been warning him about that: it might do catastrophic damage to the timeline. It does catastrophic damage to the time-line.

I’m going to leave you to discover the rest for yourselves, but Kubert’s art is as smart as you’d expect. Just one warning (you might want to print this review out now before you forget): pages 9 and 10 of the first chapter, plus pages 11 and 12, and 21 and 22 need to be read left-to-right across the breadth of each double-page spread. I’ve been reading comics for over three thousand two hundred and thirty-four years now and it caught me out completely.

Due:27/07/11

Avengers Academy vol 2: Will We Use This In The Real World? h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike McKone.

The return of Korvac. Who he? See here:

Due:27/07/11

Heroes For Hire s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Robert Atkins

Having spent some time at DC, Dan and Andy realised that Marvel didn’t have a BIRDS OF PREY title so wrote one with Misty Knight as Oracle and the Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Punisher and Iron Fist among her rotating roster of operatives. Each handles separate parts of a coordinated ambush/attack in exchange of information, the currency of any vigilante worth their sea salt dredged up here in the form of Atlantean narcotics. It’s a pretty standard painting-by-numbers superhero series but wait until you see who’s pulling Misty’s strings.

Due:06/07/11

Brightest Day vol 3 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, more.

The conclusion to DC’s latest blockbuster which you will never see coming in a million years: a cliff-hanger so close to the edge that it will put the fear of heights into you. Here’s Jonathan, a less cryptic critic than I:

LINK

Due: 07/09/11

Hitman vol 5: Who Dares Wins (£9-75) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea.

This is the sort of work which McCrea excels at: exaggerated, cartoon violence deep in urban shadow, with Garth Ennis reliving his 2000AD days in a different environment. Members of the SAS, fresh from infiltrating the IRA, have come to town. Tommy and Natt find themselves the target. Naturally there are complications. Here’s Alex Sarll, botherer of ponds and the dandy who dares, on volume one:

LINK

Due 31/09/11

Superman: The Black Ring vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Paul Cornell, Gail Simone & Ed Benes, more.

Orange is for avarice and Lex Luthor feels the need: the need for power which he has always secretly envied in Superman. His quest for Black Lantern energy and extra sales leads to an encounter with the Joker. Book one:

LINK

Due: 01/09/11
 

Art, Criticism, Prose etc. For July

Supergods h/c (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grant Morrison.

“The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism… If the dystopian nightmare visions of the age foresaw a dehumanized, mechanized world, Superman offered another possibility: an image of a fiercely human tomorrow that delivered the spectacle of triumphant individualism exercising its sovereignty over the implacable forces of industrial repression.”

A book on the superhero genre by one of its most imaginative practitioners. I have a proof of this in my possession, I’m one hundred pages in, and if you’re a Morrison fan it’s particularly illuminating when it comes to his own books like FANTASTIC FOUR: 1,2,3,4 above. Random things I have learned so far: Namor is ‘Roman’ spelled backwards; Wonder Woman was created by the same man who invented the polygraph lie-detector test, hence the magic lasso of truth; there really are an awful lot of chemicals and psychiatric disorders in BATMAN. Two-Face = schizophrenia; Catwoman = kleptomania; The Scarecrow = the motherload!

Also, a lot of really weird shit started happening to Superman, Lois Lane, Robin et al post-Frederick Wertham: everything he complained about which was never there suddenly manifested itself!

Taxidermied: The Art Of Roman Dirge h/c (£24-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.

The creator of LENORE tells you to get stuffed.

Comics for July 2011

Rachel Rising #1 (£2-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

The last issue of ECHO is yet to ship and already Terry’s straight out the gate with another filly set in the same universe. Yep, the cat’s out of the bag: RACHEL RISING, ECHO and STRANGERS IN PARADISE all take place in the same reality as you will discover all too well in ECHO volume six!

Rachel wakes up one morning on a shallow grave: it’s her own. There lies her body, murdered. So where’s her boyfriend, eh? I’m in!

Illustrated interview:

LINK

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen III: Century #2 (£7-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

London 1969. Look, you’re either reading this or you’re not. As it happens, you are. #1:

LINK

The Red Wing #1 (£2-75, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra, Rachelle Rosenberg.

From the creator of NIGHTLY NEWS and current writer of Shield and FANTASTIC FOUR, a new science fiction series. “To stay alive in the future, the best fighter pilots in the world not only have to perfect skills and master their aircraft, they also have to know how to travel through time.” Interview and interior art:

LINK

Wormwood: Bingo Night In Valhalla #1 of 4 (£2-99, IDW) by Ben Templesmith.

From the artist of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and FELL, a fourth investigative comedy horror story starring a sentient worm/maggot animating a dapperly dressed corpse to fend off supernatural disaster. Included here are Nordic Gods, nursing homes and a surly unicorn.

Spontaneous #1 (£2-99, Oni) by Joe Harris & Brett Weldele.

“Driven to discover the true regarding his father’s mysterious death years prior, Melvin Reyes seeks to prove the existence of Spontaneous Combustion after fresh outbreaks of the phenomenon reveal a pattern only he can see, a predictability model only he can read, and the terrifying realisation that whatever phenomenon consumed his father is also boiling inside of him, just waiting for release. Sounds like Weldele’s work on THE LIGHT!

Whole of the first issue here:

LINK

DC Comics Presents: Batman – Gotham Noir (£5-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Scott McDaniel.

Good grief! An Elseworlds book I cannot recall from the creative team behind CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO! Bat-fans, have you read SLEEPER? You’d need to read SLEEPER! Superb superhero noir: two books, beginning, middle and end. Here’s Sean’s blog.

LINK

Brilliant #1 (£2-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

They must be out of their brilliant minds. Ivy League colleague students set about cracking the secret of superpowers. Some are younger than others but none of them are old enough to realise how they themselves will react to the discovery or how the wider world will react to them. Set very much in the insular world of college campus – the outside world comes to them – I wouldn’t expect costumes but plain clothes and late starts… says the man who began typing today at 1pm.

University joke: Why don’t students stare out of the window in the morning? Because there’d be nothing left to do in the afternoon.

LINK

Captain America #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve McNiven.

Basically just a continuation of the current series, but with added McNiven which is always a wonderful thing. The current series also continues, obviously, this being today’s sprawling Marvel. <sigh>

On the other hand, Brubaker’s unbroken run some several years on has yielded but one duff book in an otherwise superlative stream of genre-splicing joy. Check it out from the beginning:

LINK

Red Skull #1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Mirko Colak.

Greg Pak returns to WWII following his exceptional MAGNETO: LAST TESTAMENT which I cannot commend highly enough to X-Men fans or indeed school libraries. You’ll see what I mean when you click on that link. Will this take the same approach to historical accuracy? I don’t know, but I’ve never been clear myself on the schweinhund’s origins so I may well be giving this a gander. #givingthisagander. I cannot converse any longer without Tweet-speak.

Daredevil #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Rivera, Martin.

Under Bendis, Brubaker, Diggle & Johnston (a most unlikely law practice) DAREDEVIL’s readership soared. We’re talking a 600% increase in periodical sales let alone the books. Bendis’ take beat Frank Miller’s formidable tenure over the head with a billy club, and here is why: LINK. But as much as I love some of Waid’s writing (particularly KINGDOM COME – oh, but you need KINGDOM COME; maybe even ABSOLUTE KINGDOM COME!) he has a radically different aesthetic. So, you know, give the man a chance but I am just not sure…

Sergio Aragonés Funnies #1 (£2-75, Bongo) by Sergio Aragonés.

From the creator of GROO, a self-explanatory new series.

Elric: The Balance Lost #1 (£2-99, Boom!) by Chris Roberson & Franceso Biagini.

The return of the Michael Moorcock legend with an afterword from Neil Gaiman. Interior art here:

LINK

Also scheduled:

Little Nothings vol 4 (£10-99, NBM) by Trondheim. No one bought volume 3!
Cruisin’ With The Hound: The Life And Times of Fred Tooté (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Spain Rodriguez
Nuts h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gahan Wilson
Complete Peanuts 19814-1982 h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Schultz
Even More Old Jewish Comedians (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Drew Friedman
Echo: The Complete Edition (£29-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore
Bouncer: The One-Armed Gunslinger vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & François Bouq
John Lord vol 1 (£14-99, Humanoids) by Denis Pierre Filipi & Patrick Laumond
Transmetropolitan vol 10: One More Time new edition (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson 10/08/11
Sandman vol 6: Fables & Reflections new edition (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, more 31/08/11
Madame Xanadu vol 4: Extra Sensory (£13-50, Vertigo/DC) by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder, more 10/08/11
Petrograd h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Phil Gelatt & Tyler Crook
Judge Dredd Restricted Files vol 3 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Wagner, Grant & Talbot, Ezquerra
Captain America: Red Glare h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Mark Wade & Andy Kubert, Lee Weeks
Wolverine: Wolverine Vs The X-Men h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Daniel Acuna
X-Men: Legacy Aftermath h/c (£14-99, marvel) by Carey & various
The Stand: No Man’s Land h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins
Avengers vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Bendis & Romita Jr
New Avengers vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Bendis & Immonen
Secret Avengers vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Deodato, more
Spider-Man: Complete Ben Reilly Travesty (£29-99, Marvel) by them poor bastards
Essential Peter Parker vol 5 (£14-99, Marvel) by various
Thunderbolts: Violent Rejection (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Walker, Shalvey
Incredible Hulks: Planet Savage s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Dale Eaglesham, Tom Grummett
X-Men: Age Of X s/c UK edition (£15-99, Panini) by Carey & co.
And so many, many more

Page 45 Previews researched and written by Stephen. Resolicitations ignored.

To order, please email page45@page45.com or phone 0115 9508045 and we’ll let you know when your books arrive. Information on setting up a regular standing order for comics as they come out, please see http://www.page45.com/world/about/standing-orders/

Reviews May 2011 week four

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011


Injury To Eye Motif? Frederick Wertham would turn in his E.C.-free grave.

– Stephen on Hellblazer: City Of Demons

Paying For It h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown…

“So, I had sex the other day.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“With who?”
“A prostitute.”
“No… I don’t believe it.”
“Like a street walker?”
“No, she was in a brothel.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“How did you find a brothel?”
“An ad in the back of Now.”
“This is a joke.”
“I’m not joking.”
I was supposed to be next.”
“What?”
“I’ve gone for sex for longer than you have. I’m the one who should’ve been next.
“That’s ridiculous.”
“You cheated. It’s not fair.”
“It’s not like I butted in line ahead of you.”
“It is like that.”
“I didn’t butt in front of you. I left the line you’re in… the free sex line… and I walked over to the paying for sex line. You could walk over to the paying for sex line too. It moves a lot faster.”
“There is no way I’m paying for sex. The disease factor alone is too scary.”
“Plus he’s too cheap.”

Ah, the wait was so, so worth it. I’m not talking about time spent in the free-sex or indeed paying-for-sex lines either, but for new autobiographical material from Chester Brown! It really has been a while as well, a lot longer than Chester’s free-sex drought that finally persuades him to take a more… shall we say… fiscally led approach to satisfying his desires.

The title of book pretty much gives the game away as to precisely what Chester’s been up to in the meantime to generate his new material for us, and indeed said carnal details form the majority of the work, meticulously ordered into chapters by individual prostitute as opposed to chronological order. But just as with Seth’s (IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN) and Joe Matt’s (SPENT) autobiographical material, it’s when two or three of the friends get together and start chewing the fat as in the excerpt above that the wit and humour of their writing really shines through.

I didn’t think it was actually possible for someone to illustratively humiliate themselves more than Joe Matt does in highlighting his own near-OCD obsession with pornography (a fact Chester and Seth have frequently teased him about) but I think Chester, in laying his paid-for sex life so brutally bare here, probably surpasses that. Whether you fundamental agree or disagree with prostitution in any or all of its various forms, and its attendant potential consequences for all involved – and I’m certainly not going to get into discussing that here – I strongly suspect you won’t find a more honest account of the ins and outs of frequenting brothels and engaging the services of escorts and prostitutes than this.

Not that there isn’t considerable emotion present in this work too and not just humorous banter either, for despite Chester’s protestations that romantic love is only for the foolish, and that paying for sex is a pragmatic, indeed completely sensible and practical way of obviating the possibilities of any unfortunate romantic entanglements, by the time you reach the end of PAYING FOR IT, you’ll realise that Chester isn’t anywhere near as shallow as people who haven’t read his previous autobiographical works I’VE NEVER LIKED YOU and THE PLAYBOY might suppose on approaching this book.

In fact rather the opposite, it’s his very mild-mannered, shy, retiring and pretty well hidden yet substantial emotional depths that, in his mind at least, have resulted in and justify him, paying for sex. Reading this work, it will be immediately apparent it is intended to be thought provoking in a cerebral manner, and not remotely titillating at all, but it is only in that respect that this book could said to be dispassionate. It’s pretty rare in my opinion for someone to present such a balanced account of something so controversial from the inside, and whilst Chester does perhaps take the opportunity to indulge in a little proselytising / justification of his position in the 50 or so pages of afterword and appendices featuring considerable quotes from academia, even there he provides a relatively balanced presentation of the arguments for and against prostitution. Above everything else PAYING FOR IT is an absolutely engrossing read illustrated exquisitely in a strict 2 x 4 panel per page grid by one of the finest illustrators alive today. Hopefully he won’t keep us waiting so long next time.

LINK

JR

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) h/c (£11-99, Abrahms) by Jason Shiga.

“What? It’s an Asian thing.”

From the creator of MEANWHILE and DOUBLE HAPPINESS comes a bittersweet tale about a young man called Jimmy who follows his friend to New York City with every intention of telling her much he misses her, and more.

Twenty-five and still living at home, Jimmy’s still unversed in the ways of the world, and he knows it. As an adult he feels like an imposter. Instead of a bank account he signs paychecks to his Mom in exchange for an allowance, and has yet to discover the difference between an espresso, cappuccino and latte. So when the more pragmatic and consistently less impressed Sara takes him to his first coffee shop, it’s an endearing moment of childlike glee for Jimmy which Shiga portrays to perfection.

But if that’s what passes Jimmy as a great big thrill for Jimmy, one wonders how he’d cope in wide world outside. Not well, as he discovers after choosing to travel by bus instead of plane:

“I thought it would be fun. But no. Sitting next to ex-convicts, going poo on a bus, and being called a ching chong is not fun.”
“What?! Who called you that?”
“Some tattooed redneck. Sara, I was so scared I wanted to scream like a girl.”
“What did you do?”
“I screamed like a girl.”

Shiga is a master of the super-deformed (Japanese term for squished), Jimmy wide-eyed and uncertain. His shoulders are hunched high as if in defence, while his face peers hesitantly out at the world from between them.

Instead of the pages being divided into a full grid of panels, the panels themselves are arranged sparingly on top of the page against its big, white space, giving them an unusual melody and affording Jimmy a degree of protection from what lies outside. These are then contrasted arrestingly with the occasional double-page landscape spread which bleeds right to the edges in which Jimmy is comparatively small and in awe.

Like ASTERIOS POLYP, the book is composed of past and present sequences, interwoven and beautifully colour-coded by SUBLIFE’s John Pham. And it’s important that they are interwoven for Jimmy’s determination to visit is directly informed by these memories, as is his optimism at how well he’ll be received. In one particular sequence Sara positively encourages him to up sticks and explore a world more commercially promising for his web work, so he bites the bullet and sends a letter on ahead, telling her to meet him atop of the Empire State Building. For him, this is the big romantic gesture inspired by films they’d discussed. But there are also warning signs in those rose-tinted recollections, for Sara’s attitude to romance – as to so much else – is dismissive, dispassionate and detached, and there is one subtle moment of stark revelation which we can only discuss once you’ve read the book for yourself: three panels, timed to perfection, as the implications of what Sara says sink in…

LINK

SLH

Glister: The Faerie Host (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.

“What’s the most important rule of Fairieland?”
“Don’t go there.”
“What are the three other rules of Faerieland?”
“Don’t eat anything. Don’t drink anything. Don’t touch anyone.”
“They can be good neighbours and they can be bad neighbours, but they’re the best neighbours when they’re left alone.”

The best and bravest GLISTER book so far which delves into the history of our young heroine’s missing mother, broaching the pain of separation and loss. For years now Glister has lived virtually alone with her father in Chilblain Hall but when its boundaries change so that its new neighbours are Faerie folk, Glister starts receiving messages from her mother in the mirror. Is this really her mother or the cruellest, most wicked practical joke in the world?

When they unearth a crude stick figure with a lock of her mother’s hair attached, buried in a newly manifested grave, against her better judgement Glister cannot help but follow its instructions – just in case – to cross the carefully demarcated boundary to the land of the Fey in pursuit of the truth. But will she be able to resist all the other temptations there? Turns into quite the adventure.

Please don’t expect Andi to insult those who’ve lost parents by presenting a glib, happily ever after ending. Instead he comes up with a scenario far more subtle and magical to bring a certain comfort, with a lovely little epilogue to boot.

As ever there’s the added value of an activity – in this case bake your own wizened Faerie head – and the language is far from simplistic, evoking a truly repugnant stench in the heart of the Faerie King’s court:

“The floor was a slippy carpet of rotten fruit, the air as thick as curdled milk with the stink of withering and dust.”

New word: “widdershins”.

LINK

SLH

If ‘N Oof (£22-50, Picturebox) by Brian Chippendale ~

If and Oof are a hapless pair, travelling through this collection of short, strange stories as if following tangents in dreams. These tales leap off the fringes of the medium and ask you to have the faith to do the same. You’ve got to learn the rules before you can break them; Chippendale has the edge over try-hard zinesters and scribbling bums hastily stapling their latest brain fart for precisely this reason. What at first appears to be random and ill-conceived, is in fact a structured, realised world by creating and adhering to a consistent law and logic all its own. If’n Oof create their own way out of their hallucinogenic experience, Brian as the artist is merely an enabler.

Marc Bell did this with SHRIMPY & PAUL, letting the same askew physics inform and reform his entire output. Picking up the beat from Gary Panter’s JIMBO, Chippendale joyously revels in the most colourful recesses of the imagination. And while you could criticise Panter for his lack of illustrative detail, Chippendale seems to produce rich visuals without losing any of that Panter vitality necessary for these delirious treats.

Ah! Just when you feel you know the beat, he drops it and switches style. Introducing your eyes to new delights. Tight little panels break into effective double-page spreads as our pair leave the confines of a blighted B&B for the wider arena. For a moment we see If saturated in light threatening to obliterate his simply illustrated frame which then switches to the first person for another double-page spread, If’s hand rendered in extreme silhouette against concentric circles, each a jagged frequency. An imaginative interpretation of the sun’s relentless might, almost as damaging on the eyes as the genuine article.

This is the book I’ve been waiting for from Brian, as intense and playful as his music.

LINK

TR

Hellblazer: City Of Demons (£10-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Sean Murphy.

“’Smoking while pregnant may seriously harm your baby’s health.’ I make a point of only buying packets with this warning… I figure the odds are it won’t affect me.Though with my lifestyle, I can’t rule it out.”

Si Spencer writes one of the finest John Constantine books yet. Totally self-contained, it’s steeped in contemporary socio-politics whilst John himself is impetuous, self-deprecating but doesn’t do intimidated – not even with a knife to his throat. He’s had to pop outside the boozer for a fag because cirrhosis is politically more marketable (though no less taxable) than cancer. Here come a couple o’ hoodies:

“Yo blood, you got folding? Or do me and the Jizzman got to shiv you, innit?”
They talk Jamockney, that horrible bastard hybrid of all the laziest and worst of every culture. They’re wearing man-bhurkas, masking shame – dumb snot-nose kids brought up to believe they’re tenth-rate citizens. They’re not hard – they’re afraid.
“You on these man’s corner, you gotta pay Carlos and the Jizzman.”
“While I’d deeply love to adhere to your excise system, I’m afraid I’ve got a three-way planned with both your momma’s arses – but when I’m done you can collect the three pounds change.”
Right now they’ve got every right to be. Jesus, when did I become such a grumpy old man?
“That’s disrespec’, innit? You gonna get cut a squazillion ways now.”
“I’m thinking not, actually.”

No, but he does get smacked over the bonnet of a 4×4 by a woman driven to distraction by the ghost of her recently deceased daughter, and I cannot begin to tell you how clever that page is, as subtly interpreted by JOE THE BARBARIAN’s Sean Murphy, because John doesn’t realise to begin with just how serious it is. Neither did I, but when I returned to it later after the penny had dropped, it worked to perfection. Nor can I tell you how clever Si Spencer’s plot is – how impressively each and every element folds in together – or it will ruin the whole out-of-body experience for you. Still, you may look around with a new eye if ever you wait outside a hospital again.

Spencer has packed into this mini-series more ideas and wit than most writers do in their entire runs, because that’s just the beginning when the repercussions of John’s stay in hospital – as his blood sample is analysed then utilised – grow very brutal indeed.

Injury To Eye Motif? Frederick Wertham would turn in his E.C.-free grave.

LINK

SLH

Liar’s Kiss h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Eric Skillman & Jhomar Soriano…

Slightly difficult to believe LIAR’S KISS isn’t a blatant attempt to copycat the Vertigo Crime imprint given the deliberately low-grade paper stock and stylised black and white art moderately reminiscent of Victor Santos’ work on the Azzarello penned Filthy Rich. Which is a good thing, I hasten to add. It’s okay plot-wise, comparable in quality to much of the Vertigo Crime output i.e. one-trick ponies fit but nothing special, and certainly not a patch on any of the CRIMINAL volumes or, more recently, hard-hitting crime books like STUMPTOWN, PARKER and BULLET TO THE HEAD. One for persistent offenders rather than someone looking to commit their first offense perhaps.

LINK

JR

Shadoweyes In Love (£9-99, SLG) by Ross Campbell.

Of volume one I wrote:

At first glance this is the cast of Ross Campbell’s WET MOON transplanted into a garbage-strewn, future metropolis whose only policing appears to be done by the Neighbourhood Watch – which isn’t the cosy little world of curtain twitchers we have here in the UK. No, it appears to involve balaclavas and truncheons. It’s no wonder that vagrants are abused by roaming gangs. Scout and Kyisha have been members of the Neighbourhood Watch, but Scout’s grown restless – she wants to do more.

Much more on volume one’s page.

SLH

Trouble h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Terry Dodson.

Uh-oh, they’re in trouble! Mary and May Parker (before she became an Aunt) take a summer job at a country hotel, serving lunch and working in the kitchen, as do brothers Ben and Richie. Within hours it’s hormones ahoy, condoms at dawn… and someone up the duff. It’s not half as naughty as Marvel are trying to make out, but it was a surprise move publishing a comic that has not even a hint of preternatural power in sight, nor a costume that wasn’t for bathing in. Terry Dodson was the perfect choice of artist – the pages really are lovely – and Millar used the opportunity to remind us all that we’re most of us radically different, braver although reckless and perhaps stupid people when we’re in our teens. Because it’s May who’s the raunchier, more worldly-wise one.

Impossible for me to separate this title from the Shampoo single.

SLH

Ultimate Comics Doomsday h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Rafa Sandoval.

“Now you know why God gave you two of almost everything. It’s so you get a second chance to answer the question.”

Ouch.

All twelve issues of the recent ULTIMATE ENEMY/MYSTERY/DOOM trilogy which undeservedly but understandably suffered a certain reader fatigue here after the whole ULTIMATUM farce. And it’s an explosive book vital to those following the fortunes of the Ultimate Universe’s Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Ultimates which sees some key and – I would have thought – pretty irreversible sea-changes in both fortune and allegiance.

The Fantastic Four – and indeed Reed and Sue – have split. Reed, the finest scientist in the world despite his tender years, has returned home where he is treated like a naughty schoolboy; Sue continues her research on the top five floors of the Baxter Building as Captain Benjamin Grimm returns on leave from the air force; Sue’s brother Johnny is now living with Peter Parker’s Aunt May. Aunt May now has many mouths to feed (and silence) for in addition to Peter and Johnny Storm there’s Gwen Stacy and Bobby Drake, Iceman. The Ultimate’s Nick Fury is supposed by all to be dead; instead the more easily flustered and irascible Carol Danvers is in command of the Triskelion.

It’s at this point that – out of the blue – several landmarks are targeted for attack either by a mute monstrosity or a rampaging organism whose growth spurts can be measured in city-blocks-per-second. Roxxon is targeted, the Baxter Building is breached, Peter’s home is assaulted, Reed’s home is obliterated, Project Pegasus is looted and Nick Fury, idly enjoying an open-air Chinese lunch, gets his cover well and truly blown. Why?

Wave after wave sees the combined forces of what’s left of our heroes – bolstered by Captain Marvel, Rick Jones, Jessica Drew and the somewhat unorthodox interrogational techniques of Hawkeye – split, recombine and generally run around like headless chickens until one of them makes the terrible discovery of not what but whom they are facing. And really, in all honesty, they don’t stand a chance.

There’s some fabulous, free-flowing dialogue between Peter and his female clone based on the idea that they basically share the same thought processes (only she has, uh, “lady parts” and is far more astute, emotionally intuitive and self-aware). The romantic complications between Ben and Sue are revisited, the power play between Danvers and Fury accelerates, plus there’s a big guest-villain who isn’t the villain whom I will keep schtum about.

Sandoval’s forte throughout is an epic Ben Grimm, especially when his transformation takes hold and he starts burning from within, the energy fizzling out of the cracks between his damaged, rocky hide. As an artist he grows across the year-long series. Unfortunately the first third is marred by a colouring which is deeply unsympathetic, diluting or even obscuring some compositions in way too much orange, yellow and red, all at the same time. Fortunately things on that front finally calm down in time for the sheer scale of the destruction to be given its due.

LINK

SLH

Thor: The World Eaters h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry, Salvador Larroca…

“Ah.”
“My word.”
“That’s not what usually happens…”
“Forget what usually happens… when did you get so old?”

And so Matt Fraction takes his turn at the winged helm with a story that builds upon the smouldering ruins of Asgard post-SIEGE, and also features the dramatic returns of a certain cantankerous All-Father and his mischievous, wayward son. Meanwhile, given that Asgard is currently plonked on Earth rather than residing in its usual, more resplendent celestial parking spot in the Nine Worlds, something – or more precisely someone – is approaching, determined to take advantage and fill that void. And speaking of voids, Volstagg is as ever suffering from one in the stomach region, which probably explains why the scientist who’s realised that the uninvited, titular, planet-munching guests are well and truly on their way is struggling to explain it to the concentration-challenged Voluminous One; without having to resort to mealtime metaphors that is…

“As Asgard’s most brilliant scientific mind, I, Doctor Volstagg, too have noticed many disturbing findings  in… my… in my findings, and they demand… Sit. And explain unto me your theories again, using perhaps pies…”
“Is there anyone else I can talk to…?”

Plot-wise, it’s a pretty solid start from Fraction whose current IRON MAN run is certainly a contender for the finest-ever on that particular title, but I do have to say he’s been most verily usurped with the pencil proving even mightier than the pen because Pasqual Ferry’s art is just breathtakingly beautiful and winsome throughout. It takes a lot in a superhero comic to make me really stop and appreciate the art, but this has to easily be Ferry’s finest work yet.

The sequences featuring the heartbroken goddess Kelda, grieving for Bill, the Broxton local who won her heart and then promptly died a noble death protecting Asgard in its direst hour thus ensuring his place in Valhalla alongside more godly warriors, are truly moving due to Ferry’s art, plus I am delighted to see Fraction has chosen to keep that particular little plot thread a-weaving yet. If Captain America, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, The Human Torch can (okay, not yet, but he will) return from the dead, I’m rooting squarely for Bill to rise again, hungover on mead from the Norse drinking halls, and mend Kelda’s broken heart. Huzzah! Or maybe not. And does anyone seriously think it was one of Thor’s brighter ideas to awaken the reincarnation of his younger brother? That is so, so going to end in tears for all concerned, you mark my words…

JR

X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse Prelude (£22-50, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, John Francis Moore, Todd Dezago, Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb & Andy Kubert, Jan Duursema, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Roger Cruz, Ron Garney, Ian Churchill.

The son of Professor X, Legion, travels back in time to kill Magneto and so brings about an alternate reality. Not by killing Magneto but by –

Spoilers!

Reprints X-FACTOR #108-109, UNCANNY X-MEN #319-321, X-MEN #38-41, CABLE #20, X-MEN: AGE OF APOCALYPSE ASHCAN EDITION.

LINK

SLH

Rocketeer Adventures #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Kurt Busiek, John Cassady, Mike Allred & Michael Kaluta, John Cassady, Mike Allred.

“Cliff Secord, where have you been?!”

Dave Stevens would be very proud.

Three short stories, each faithful in their own individual ways to different aspects of Dave Stevens’ rocket-fuelled retro with the luscious Betty centre-stage in each. Cassady’s lifts off right in the middle of a military heist/blackmail/kidnapping which feels very early-Superman complete with our Lois Lane substitute giving the Rocketeer a right roasting for being late/impulsive/accommodating. On top of that, being Cassady, it is as lush and shiny as hell. Allred’s is a breathless and far more romantic affair which takes full advantage of the Art Deco, star-themed crown of the Chrysler Building for its sense of wonder and air-born liberation. Busiek and Kaluta, however, as you might expect, go for heart as Betty, very much the successful stage star in her own right, eschews the superficial rewards fame lays on for her each and every night to immerse herself in letters sent from the frontline of WWII by her beloved Cliff Secord flying alongside an air force squadron who of course have Betty Page painted on most of their planes’ fuselages. He makes light of the danger but she sees right through him, and suddenly – for days, weeks then months – the post stops arriving and Betty starts to fear for the worst…

One of my favourite Alex Ross pieces in ages graces the front cover. The colours are rich, the perspective a perfect piece of foreshortening; and the different leather textures and metallic sheens all suggest a sunshine up above which fills the space before brightening up the green fields below.

There’s also an appeal for funds to fight Hairy Cell Leukemia which downed Dave Stevens in 2008 whose web address I am more than happy to pass on here: www.hairycellleukemia.org

Here’s that cover:

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Reviews of some to follow next week.

The Accidental Salad (£5-99, Blank Slate) by Joe Decie
Even The Giants (£7-50, Adhouse) by Jesse Jacobs
The Influencing Machine h/c (£17-99, Norton) by Brooke Gladstone & Josh Neufeld
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale s/c (£11-99, Norton) by Belle Yang
Yeah! (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge & Gilbert Hernandez
Angry Youth Comix vol 3: Take A Joke (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan
Approximate Continuum Comics (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Lewis Trondheim
Crossed 3D vol 1 (£6-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Gianluca Pagliarani
I Feel Sick #1 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez
I Feel Sick #2 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez
Nonplayer #1 reprint (£2-25, Image) by Nate Simpson
Atelier Series Official Chronicle (£29-99, Udon) by various
Unknown Soldier vol 4: Beautiful World (£10-99, Vertigo) by Joshua Dyart & Alberto Ponticelli, Rick Veitch
House Of Mystery vol 6: Safe As Houses (£10-99, Vertigo) by Matthew Sturges, Luca Rossi, Werther Dell’Edera & Jose Marzan Jr, Cristiano Cucina, Brendan McCarthy, Phil Noto, Esao Andrews, Carine Brancowitz
Dungeon: Monstres vol 4: Night Of The Lady Killer (£9-99, NBM) by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, others
American Vampire vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by
Batman: The Brave And The Bold: Emerald Knight (£9-99, DC) by
Green Lantern Corps: Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns h/c (£16-99, DC) by
Invincible Iron Man vol 7: My Monsters h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by
5 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Tomm Coker, Dalibor Talajić, Laurence Campbell, Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez
Ultimate Comics Captain America h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney
X-Men: Chaos War s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Jim McCann, Marc Sumerak, Brandon Montclare & Doug Braithwaite, Reilly Brown, Dan Panosian, Michael William Kaluta
Mystique Ultimate Collection (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian K. Vaughan & Jorge Lucas, Micahel Ryan, Manuel Garcia
The Marvels Project: Birth Of The Super Heroes s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting
Punisher: In The Blood (£12-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Roland Boschi, Mick Bertilorenzi
Marvel Masterworks Daredevil vol 2 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr., Gene Colan
Full Metal Alchemist vol 25 (£7-50, Viz) byHiromu Arakawa
Claymore vol 18 (£7-50, Viz) byNorihiro Yagi
Genkaku Picasso vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Usamaru Furuya
Bakuman vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
One Piece vol 57 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda
Bleach vol 35 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Ghost Talker’s Daydream vol 4 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by
Negima! vol 29 (£8-50, Del Rey) by
Fairy Tail vol 13 (£8-50, Kodansha) by
Gente: The People Of Restaurante Paradiso vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by

Looks like Jonathan lost interest at that point!

Congratulations to Craig Dawson whose wedding formed an episode of Steve’ll Fucking Fix It because, thanks to Clan Campbell (Eddie, Anne, Hayley), I managed to get his wedding blessed by Alan Moore.

But the congratulations are on another front entirely: today Craig broke the record for biggest ever single spending spree at Page 45: £1,536.79.

I did have to carry half the bags back to his car, yes.

Reviews May 2011 week three

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

The result is the most sublime swansong I’ve seen since Andi Watson’s SKELETON KEY: ROOTS. You can see the end is coming but it’s a bitter-sweet entanglement of threads coming together.

– Tom on Scary Go Round: Recklessly Yours.

Wolves (signed & numbered, ltd to 1,000) (£4-00, self-published) by Becky Cloonan.

A haunting tale of blood and lust that gives up its secrets slowly.

There is a naked man gone feral in the forest. A skilled hunter, he can down birds with a single stone then feast on them raw. But he is cursed – cursed by his king, cursed by what he has done, and cursed by its memory which won’t go away.

This is a lovingly hand-crafted, self-published mini-comic with 24 pages of black and white interior art under a swish, silk-screened, card-stock cover. From the creator of Minis (our copies also signed) and artist on DEMO, AMERICAN VIRGIN and PIXU etc., we have at the time of typing a mere 49 copies. ‘Cause I’ve just bought one myself.

It’s all in the eyes.

SLH

Minis (signed for free) (£11-99, self-published) by Becky Cloonan.

“You don’t understand. I’m stuck in a dead-end job at the age of seventeen.”
“You sound so jaded.”
“I try.”

Signed, hugged and kissed by Becky Cloonan with the occasional heart, this a collection of inspired mini-comics, previously unpublished shorts and ‘The Life And Death Of Corey Threats’, her 17-page try-out for Tokyopop in 2002.

Becky takes full advantage of the creative freedom which self-publishing enables her as well as its level of control, right down to choosing the paper stock. One of the many things I love about the woman is that, in spite of her huge commercial success with books like DEMO, AMERICAN VIRGIN and PIXU, she still self-publishes today, every single year. Wolves we have in stock right now, signed, numbered and limited to 1,000 copies (we have 50), but these are all drawn between 2000 and 2002.

Among Cloonan’s earliest published work, they’re full of sultry, disconsolate and iconoclastic young men in tight black t-shirts with coal-black eyes staring defiantly out from under a spiked mass of hair, or wistfully into space. But don’t mistake this for a tepid cauldron of teenage angst. These are witty, intelligent and often magical episodes infused with a revolutionary spirit. Shampoo Mohawk, with its perfectly poised skateboarders and mid-summer shadows, I found positively romantic.

There’s an autobiographical tale full of mischief as Becky sits bored in front of a computer for $7-50 an hour, empathising with a reluctant samurai who’d rather be fishing than become target practice for overenthusiastic archers. A vertical four-panel sequence guest-starring God made me grin my head off (samurai: “I hate flaming arrows”; God from the clouds: “I’ll get some water”).

It’s fascinating watching both the artist and writer experiment for the sheer joy of it on paper, the styles evolving towards some of several she uses today; but already by 2000 in ‘Something Perfect’ Cloonan was capable of drawing one of the best stomachs in comics and coming up with a sequence involving a marker pen and two pretty young women posing against high school lockers that is as startlingly unexpected as it is hilarious.

My favourite series, however, is the ‘Social Unrest’ single-page samples: miniature monologues from androgynous, maverick malcontent Johnny Awol. Towards the end I think Becky may have been drinking! Here’s a far earlier one I can relate to right now, having shaved a coin-sized hole in the back of my bonce last week. It’s called ‘Lightbulbs & Razorblades’ in which God unexpectedly answers through a shower curtain after Johnny nicks himself on the cheek and swears:

GOD!”
“Yes?”
“God, why do I always cut myself shaving?”
“Because I Hate You?”
“But… I thought you love all living creatures?”
“Uh… You’re The Exception.”
“That’s fucked up, God.”

Bless.

SLH

I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (£10-50, Secret Acres) by Joseph Lambert ~

Utterly beautiful, this.

Like Lucy Knisley, Joseph is a graduate from the Centre for Cartoon Studies and this, his debut book is largely a collection of his work leading up to and including his work at that esteemed academy. A rare mixed-bag with no duff flavours, Joseph’s style is loose. At times I’m reminded me of Al Columbia; others of Joann Sfar. But if those names mean zilch to you, that’s okay, what counts are the comics here, and the comics here count.

There’s a very fine common theme of duality throughout these stories, perhaps intentionally – I don’t know – but seemingly pointed as two of the stories deal with pairs of siblings. The eponymous opener is an abstract tale about a frustrated man-child biting everything and growling in thick, black scribbles; constantly overhead are the mocking presence of the Sun and the Moon, side by side, amused by the biter’s angst until he retaliates with fatal repercussions.

The tale feels old, even tribal. An urban Aboriginal tale of how the day and night find themselves as they are.

The first tale also has the moon play a part, when two hyperactive brothers distress an older sibling with their rambunctious escapades and bring the moon pressing against their house, bending it at a right angle. The second story, ‘Too Far’, turns a minor spat between too brothers into a dimensional incident wherein the older eats everything, and in his now-metaphysical body his family, and indeed the whole of creation, forge on.

But by far my favourite is his assignment from CSS to retell the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. ‘Turtle, Keep It Steady!’ has the animals as drummers competing for the beat, the turtle playing a straight, no-nonsense steady beat, while the hare plays Keith Moon/Mick Fleetwood-style with a bottle and a bunny occupying his paws, leaving his ears free to freestyle with predictable results.

This is some fine comics.

LINK

TR

Glister: The Family Tree (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.

Under a startlingly attractive plum and custard cover comes a further tale of all-ages anarchy erupting round the grounds of Chilblain Hall, the semi-sentient, shape-shifting mansion that has been the ancestral home of the Butterworths for many generations.

It’s seen better days. In fact when it’s in a particularly despondent mood it just lets itself go like a sulky teenager, making its maintenance a full-time occupation for Glister’s Dad. It does, however have a lot of history and it’s that which causes the kerfuffle when Glister gets it into her head that they should have more family around in spite of her Dad’s informed and prescient warning:

“Those idyllic family dinners you’re imagining never happened. At least, when they did, they never reached pudding without a row or some disaster.”

Unfortunately Glister has been sticking her baby teeth in the Family Tree – an actual ancient oak – swapping the bounty of the Tooth Fairy for a single potent wish: that one day the Family Tree would bloom again. And so it does, bearing the fruit of her ancestors who fall to earth with a <thunk> and proceed to cause chaos. There’s Eliza and her flock of ravenous bunnies, American Scotty and his guitar of discord, an aloof butler, a pair of brothers still congenitally at odds ever since the English Civil War, an etymologist… and Charles. Charles whom Glister cannot account for in the family’s ancient records.

In every GLISTER book there are things to make or bake – in this case the Butterworth Brothers’ cannon (yes, that’s how riotous the story grows!) – but what I really appreciate, apart from the immaculate cartooning with its incredibly sturdy architecture, is that the language is far from patronising with a vocabulary that puts most superhero comics to shame: words like ‘dyspeptic’, ‘dissonant’, ‘atonal’ and ‘philately’. Also there are many moments of parenthetical, throwaway wit as when the new crowd stumbles upon one of Chilblain Hall’s many unusual features:

“It’s the Abyss, whatever you do, don’t look into it.”

LINK

SLH

Garden (£18-99, Picturebox) by Yuichi Yokoyama.

And now for something completely different…

You may have seen Yuichi’s previous books NEW ENGINEERING and TRAVEL listed in March’s News & Letters column as part of a list of wordless comics and graphic novels. The occupants of the bizarre garden here aren’t half so silent but the terrain they explore is as bizarre as anything you’ll have seen from Yokoyama so far: vast and complex artificial structures celebrated for their man-made origins. Which, if you think about it, is entirely at odds with the current cry against wind farms etc. I’m all for it, myself. I love a great Henry Moore sculpture standing out resplendently in its designated environment.

Far from geomorphic, then, the shapes here are geometric in nature (or rather nurture), the lines precise and the level of control is breathtaking. Also, hilariously, there is no preamble whatsoever… except round the wall for one panel! To Yokoyama there is evidently no point to that: like his cast, he’s interested in the constructs and constructs alone, and I’ll bet you anything you like that when you first pick this up you’ll wonder if there are pages missing. Those with an aversion to old windbags like me will also find the dialogue refreshing, averaging out at something like five words per person restricted purely to observation and conjecture about what they discover and its possible purpose/mechanism.

The first garden feature our crazyheaded crowd encounters after breaking in through a hole in the wall is a river of rubber balls which they follow upstream to a cascading waterfall. Thereafter they find not a footbridge but a bottom-bridge full of chairs. These they must navigate by sitting on their seats then swivelling in each before moving on to the next. Throughout the journey our impatient, empirical adventurers must solve similar riddles before progress is possible, like the rooms full of cracks which are mostly drawn-on. There they need to discern which cracks disguise a moveable panel which acts as a portal to the next room or corridor. At another juncture a giant chain-link fence is cut off below, affording them no way down so instead they climb. Negotiating the obstacles – some of them decidedly perilous for they are, after all, intruders – is like early Tombraider and its ilk, only with an economy that yields far more imaginative environments, and I would kill for a first-person adventure game dreamed up by Yokoyama.

There are illusions, patrols to hide from, and some spectacular set pieces involving bubble distortion, camera flashes and a wave of wet photographs, plus the most bizarre bookcase imaginable: some books arranged open, others packed like a game of Tetris in odd configurations so that no single book can be moved. There’s even a furious climax which references previously passed checkpoints as the garden erupts into life – triggered, I think by all their actions to date – before an ending as abrupt as its kick-off.

This is one for those who relish a visual adventure, a treat for the eye from an artist who’s as much an inventor of objects and systems as anything else, and if console games really wanted to move into new territory, stylistically at least, they’d give this man a call right now.

LINK

SLH

Scary Go Round: Recklessly Yours (£10-99, Scary-Go-Round) by John Allison ~

School’s almost out and university beckons for Esther and The Boy. As Sarah Grote and Carrot Scruggs emerge from the periphery as fully realised characters, focus shifts from the mad-cap ramblings of previous SCARY GO ROUND stories, resting instead on relationship tomfoolery and even some form of social commentary. John’s developed here: temptations to escalate a ridiculous situation, throw in an even more outlandish deus ex machina and call it a story are quelled in favour of pacing, structure, and satisfying conclusions. The result is the most sublime swansong I’ve seen since Andi Watson’s SKELETON KEY: ROOTS. You can see the end is coming but it’s a bitter-sweet entanglement of threads coming together.

Even Des Fishman (he’s a fish-man), one of the more fantastic characters to find himself in Tackleford, finds a use for himself in this new way, inadvertently introducing the next generation of Tackleford tearaways in the foul-mouthed Charlotte Grote, tweeny-goth, and Shauna, estate urchin.

That particular story, ‘The Estate’, is a prime example of SGR’s magic. Des, dissatisfied with home life (being cared for by SGR mainstays, Amy and Shelley), runs away only to find himself in Swarbrick Estate after dark surrounded by hooded youths. I should point out that Des is little more than a man-child, illiterate, and really an amphibian. Lost, his fate unknown to Amy and Shelley, Des awakes to a life of chips for every meal and day-time TV, with Shauna’s mum quick to exploit the situation for the true-life gossip magazine circuit. Yes, that short greasy slide to the Jeremy Kyle Show. It’s a classic set-up with a ridiculous character, yet John manages to keep it vital and deliver some of my favourite moments from the series. I’ll never forget where ruses come from now.

As his self-depreciating chapter breaks attest, John was clearly wondering where he could go from this point. Although I think this volume, like Peloton before it, can be enjoyed independently, there were a lot of strange things in Tackleford’s past that, like Des Fishman, would be difficult to explain away, even on Jeremy Kyle. The last story here with its (un?)fortunately timed pastiche of Michael Jackson as the creepy villain neatly splits the SGR characters into three camps, with Shelley heading to London, the original cast settling down, the second generation heading for Uni, and the new set of pre-teens batting around the idea of solving mysteries as a viable way to pass the school holidays. The last scenario became John’s fantastic new web-comic BAD MACHINERY, while the adventures of Esther at Uni begin in GIANT DAYS, but I don’t think that’s the last we’ve seen of Shelley, you can’t keep a red-head down. That’s like a comic law or something.

TR

Giant Days (£4-99, Scary Go Round) by John Allison ~

Free from the shackles of school Esther Le Groot thought, like any young goth, that university might be a place to find like-minded people. A place to swap corpse paint-tips and exchange existential banter into the night. Unfortunately being a headgirl in school brings an altogether more sinister clique into play, as the legion of drunken preppies try to steal her away. Now it’s up to sheltered Enya fan Daisy and insomniac beatnik Susan to save her from becoming a bff in the hardcore Freshers crowd. Be warned, there will be boxing, tutus, and come-uppance. Ah, Esther, the second most beautiful woman in Tackleford comes into her own in this punchy off-shoot from John’s fantastic SCARY-GO-ROUND web comic. If you’ve ever been the new kid in town the empathy rays will be drawing you to this like a student to £1 drinks.

LINK

TR

Yossel s/c new edition/old review! (£10-99, DC) by Joe Kubert.

Subtitled “April 19, 1943,” I started reading this late in the evening after the first edition arrived in November 2003 and, although utterly exhausted, I could not and would not put this down until Joe had finished. At which point I wasn’t sure I wanted to read anything else for quite some time. Not, you understand, because it had put me off reading, but because that there seemed little else so worth hearing, absorbing, and thinking about.

How many books, films, documentaries have there been on The Holocaust? How many have you read and seen? Myself, probably fewer than many, but enough to make me wonder what more there is to say, until I see or read another one. Some things bear repeating, because some things do not bear repeating.

Joe Kubert moved to America with his Jewish parents and sister when the boy was only a couple of months old. They’d tried earlier when his mother was pregnant, and in spite of being rebuffed then, they persisted.  As soon as he was able to hold anything, he began to draw, and during the events of April 1943 he was a teenager making more money than his father, through his obsessively honed craft. You’re most likely to know him from his thirty-year stint on Sgt. Rock, or through two of his five children, Adam and Andy.  It could all have been so different.

In YOSSEL Joe puts himself in the place of a boy the same age as he would have been during the Nazi invasion of Poland, but one who never managed to leave his country. His parents are the same, he has a sister too, and he spends every spare moment drawing out his fantasies imported from America: giant dinosaurs, barbarian warriors, girls in space. Even whilst studying for his Bar Mitzvah, he couldn’t resist a cartoon of the Rebbe, who smacked him for his sins. It’s a close and loving family, which Kubert makes real with the odd anecdotal quirk:

“Mama was always in the kitchen, unless she was helping Papa in the store. If he was alone and an attractive woman customer came in the store, she would join papa. He would look sideways at Mama, in mock anger. He loved it that Mama felt he was attractive.”

News of Germany begins to filter through, of Kristallnacht and Hitler’s wider policies towards Jews – preventing them from attending school, owning shops, shipping them out of Europe.  But the adult world is not a preoccupation for a young, imaginative boy, and in any case, no one could believe the stories were true.

This is a concept one now finds difficult to grasp, because we know – however unthinkable – that what was about to happen to millions of individuals could happen because it did happen. Before it did, who could believe it? Not Yossel nor his parents, and this is something Joe returns to over again when, although things have grown desperate beyond my personal imagination in the Warsaw Ghetto, they hear of worse from the labour camps. And it is not credible.

But begin it does, first with a knock on the door, and orders to leave. Whole towns and villages moved to a walled, dilapidated city. The Germans attempt to seem reasonable during the unreasonable. Starvation, deprivation – of comforts, communication, heating or clothes – a freezing endurance test without either hope or respite. And then it gets worse.

I could fill this e-shot with this single review, and it’s difficult to know which praises to sing.

The pictures, I suppose, because the entire book is drawn by Yossel, on whatever scraps of paper come to hand, and to evoke the immediacy, the roughness, the rawness of the experience Kubert has refrained from any inking. The sketches aren’t even fully realised in places, but boy can the man draw. If you want nothing more than a masterclass in pencils, you won’t see finer than here. Similarly the paper is off-white and thick, like the cartridge paper we used during life classes at school, and Kubert cleverly helps the lettering to sit well with the graphite by demarking the borders in lead.

It seems silly to pick out just one instance where Kubert has got it so right when there isn’t a wrong move in the book, but he manages to convey the humanity – if such is the right word – of the German soldiers whilst engaged in the very definition of inhumanity, with their unique affection for Yossel as a draughtsman. In spite of the remorseless cruelty they inflict upon an entire people, the security police watch, fascinated as Yossel sketches supermen for them, swastikas branded on their muscular arms. They praise him, “spoil” him, give him food and free pass – then send his family off to die.

This book begins at the end, as the resistance makes a brave but futile stand during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings. It ends moments after the beginning, with two final pages which are both thematically brilliant and completely harrowing.

LINK

SLH

Farm 54 h/c (£13-99, Fanfare) by Galit Seliktar & Gilad Seliktar…

Neatly observed, semi-autobiographical fiction comprising of three tales set in rural Israel in 1981, ‘83 and ‘89 respectively, as we see the central character of Noga pass from adolescence into early adulthood. Sadly there’s not a great deal that happens really in terms of story, in fact it seems that despite the obvious dangers in the region and the then war in Lebanon, ensuring the army including her father was continuously on active duty both home and abroad, that Noga (Galit) had a relatively peaceful upbringing. Which is good for her, I guess, but I’m sure Galit must have had more interesting episodes occur in her younger years to fictionalise than those she’s chosen to share here. Mind you, I was pleased to note in the afterword that the death of an infant in a swimming pool in the first story was one of the fictional aspects of this work, and the child in question, actually her brother who illustrates these works, Gilad, in fact survived.

The stories are pleasant enough, touching lightly upon the maturing of emotions and growing responsibilities, and how the way in which we view the world changes as we come to engage with, and comprehend it in a more complete, adult way. Consequently it’s certainly no How To Understand Israel In 60 Days, in fact these stories could be set anywhere in the world really, and unfortunately I wasn’t particularly engaged by them unlike any of the equally mild-mannered but much more endearing semi-autobiographical PAUL stories by Michel Rabagliati.

What certainly does catch the attention, though, is brother Gilad’s art, almost entirely composed of three borderless landscape panels per page, illustrated with the lightest of touches and given a single colour wash of a gentle burgundy adding some real rich depth.  This gentle approach certainly complements the stories, and though the work as a whole is a pleasant enough read, I can’t say it’s something I’ll probably even remember in a year’s time it’s all so low key.

LINK

JR

Emily The Strange vol 3: The 13th Hour (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Reger & Buzz Parker.

Return of the scowling goth brat.

“I Want You TO LEAVE ME ALONE!” she once pouted, Lord Kitchener-stylee, on one of those things you used to hang outside hotel doors.

Since when almost everyone has.

LINK

SLH

Undying Love #2 (£2-25, Image) by Tomm Coker, Daniel Freedman & Tomm Coker.

“This is my job. What would you have me do?”
“I’d have you alert staff that an evacuation is imminent.”

Marvel’s vampire hunter Blade was never this cool. Gorgeous art with warm, flat colouring on glossy paper and highly recommended to fans of HELLBLAZER. Seriously: HELLBLAZER. Of # 1 I wrote:

“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:

LINK

SLH

Batman & Robin vol 3: Batman & Robin Must Die! h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving, David Finch, Cameron Stewart…

“Aow, that’s harsh. And all because my nail polish doesn’t match my eyeshadow? You don’t know how tough it can be to get the right shade of poison these days.”
“…cut me… nnnaaa… hkk. Nah-ha. Ha-ha.”
“A smiling Robin! A laughing young daredevil! That’s the way I like it!”
“NNGHHHAHAHAHAHA”
“I didn’t think you had the potential to be funny at all when we first met, but even an old pro can sometimes get the wrong first impression.
“A Robin who lets me manipulate him into a locked room situation?
“A Robin who even brings his own crowbar to the party?
“You might just be the funniest one yet.”

After the shocking revelation of masked detective Oberon Sexton’s true identity at the end of volume two (I didn’t see it coming even if Dick Grayson did), it looks like Batman & Robin are going to have to put their trust in the pasty hands of their most devious enemy if they want to prevent Doctor Hurt’s master plan from coming to ripe fruition. If I’ve understood things correctly, not always a given with Grant mind you, then Doctor Hurt, the leader of the Black Glove, isn’t actually Thomas Wayne at all despite appearances; in fact he’s far, far older than that, and it’s going to take more than Dick and Damien have got between them to prevail against him. Happily then, we see the return of a certain other Batman to lend a fist, appearing through a secret passage in a Wayne Mansion fireplace just in the nick of time, without any warning, in a manner that will make precisely no sense whatsoever if you haven’t read The Return Of Bruce Wayne.  For yes, it is Bruce, returned home at last from his temporal odyssey.

Two Batmen. Hh. What are we dealing with here?”
“99 fiends… cartel assassins… Doctor Hurt. You don’t even know about Professor Pyg yet.”
“We need all the Batmen we can get, father.”

This is a most worthy climax to Morrison’s caffeine-and-candy-laced run on this title, with sumptuous art provided once again from Frazer Irving, David Finch and Cameron Stewart (plus some awesome action covers from Frank Quitely). But don’t panic just yet, Bat-fans: as Damien’s plaintive comment above neatly foreshadows, the wrap-up to this volume leads full pelt into Morrison’s new title BATMAN, INC. in which Grant is already setting up his next epic overarching storyline. Mind you, they’ll need to be a bit more choosy who gets offered membership in their new Bat-club because, of course, a certain little helper this time around just can’t stop himself from trying to have the last laugh…

“Oh… and the Joker. He’s on our side, kinda.”
“Except for the nuclear bomb he left in the Bat-bunker…”

JR

Flashpoint #1 of 5 (£2-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert.

What has happened to Barry Allen and the world that suddenly surrounds him?

How is it that his mother’s alive, that Iris Allen is now Iris West, and that Atlantis and Amazonia are vying for control over the entire globe having already sunk Western Europe in the case of Emperor Aquaman or seized Great Britain as its own? 100 million people were killed during the former catastrophe after 32 million suffered under the hands of Wonder Woman et al.

How is it that Superman and the Justice League failed to intervene? Why has no one heard of the Flash? Above all, given the Batman who turns his back on the ragtag ensemble gathered together by Cyborg to draw the line under these atrocities, what happened to Bruce Wayne?

That one I now know the answer to, and so will you by the end of this opening salvo. The rest has yet to be made plain.

Not bad at all, and it may have meant more to me had I known anything of the Flash’s history. I don’t. There’s never anything to complain about when it comes to Andy Kubert’s art; just 21 forthcoming tie-ins, one-shots and mini-series, then being charged $3-99 after such a vociferous campaign during which DC swore they draw the line at $2-99. $3-99 is fine: just stop making promises you have no intention of keeping.

SLH

Birds Of Prey: End Run h/c (£16-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Alvin Lee.

First six issues of the recent relaunch starring Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress etc.

SLH

Punisher Max: Bullseye h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon…

“But, how did you…”
“Your Russians should’ve never let me through the front door. Doesn’t matter if I’m unarmed or not. Hell I could kill you with this
toothpick. See?”
“AAAH!”
“Don’t be an idiot. I can’t kill you with a toothpick. But I can with this…”

BANG!

After the über-intense retelling (thinking about the rats scene still gives me the shivers) of the rise to power of one Wilson Fisk in PUNISHER MAX: KINGPIN, this equally relentless and brutal volume opens with the new Kingpin of crime looking for some heavy firepower to take  Frank Castle out… before the Punisher gets the chance to take him out. Enter Bullseye, here reworked as an uncostumed and rather more disturbingly realistic – though no less psychotic – hitman for hire with a somewhat… unorthodox approach.

Rather like a method actor, Bullseye feels he can’t undertake the act of killing Frank until he understands what makes him tick, and to do so he needs to ‘become’ the Punisher. This includes kidnapping a mother and her two children (after having shot the father) and taking them to Central Park to be massacred by some of the Kingpin’s lackeys in front of his eyes whilst they’re all ‘enjoying’ a lovely picnic. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t work, and the Kingpin begins to increasingly question the wisdom of employing an even more unpredictable headcase to rid himself of the one who’s on his case. Mesmerised by Frank’s relentless killing ability, Bullseye begins to fall almost in spiritual love with his quarry, and becomes all the more determined he has to be the one to kill him.

Whilst no one should be surprised that someone writing something as downright mean and moody as the brilliant SCALPED can produce the incessant, ever more innovative violence that should always be on the menu for this title, it’s great to see Jason Aaron ladles out the sick humour with just as much gusto as Ennis ever did, which combined with the foil of Dillon’s artwork always serves to make Punisher Max a dish best served… from behind a bulletproof serving hatch.

JR

Spider-Man: Matters Of Life And Death h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente & Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati

Four, webbings and a funeral.

The Fantastic Four have suffered a casualty and it’s Spider-Man’s longest-standing friend in the superhero community. In a story much loved by readers, Peter visits the remaining members of Marvel’s First Family and they reminisce about the cheeky chappy’s mischievous pranks before listening to Johnny Storm’s Last Will & Testament. I wasn’t much enamoured myself – I preferred the new series of Jonathan Hickman’s FF in which you’re shown the situation from a different perspective in a very different tone – but it’s the best chapter in a book so far from amazing that it makes wall-crawling look pedestrian.

First there’s a singularly uninspired supervillains’ revenge in which J. Jonah Jameson and his nearest and dearest are all targeted by the son of the original Spider-Slayer (or the man Jameson first hired to build them) along with another of Jameson’s stooges, Mac Gargan AKA the Scorpion who’s returned to that role in a far less iconic costume after a stint as Venom. Blood is indeed drawn, hence the funeral, but the dialogue is so hackneyed and MJ’s reaction to Peter’s new girlfriend seems totally uninformed by Quesada’s script on the infinitely superior ONE MOMENT IN TIME. There is another casualty: Peter’s spider-sense, and the ramifications are far wider than you – or he – might initially anticipate. And then there is the Secret Origin By Numbers of the new Venom complete with added ordinance explication and oh my god but I’m bored.

Shame, because the cover, with its kneeling figure against so much white space, puts one in mind of one of Frank Miller’s from DAREDEVIL.

SLH

Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives (£14-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, Glenn Greenberg & Rob Frenz, Luke Ross.

Apparently there was a three-issue HOBGOBLIN LIVES mini-series. No how on earth could I have forgotten that?

Also reprinted here: PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #259-261.

Features one Green Goblin or another. No promises.

SLH

Back In Stock

Some of these have been away awhile!

Salem Brownstone: All Along The Watchtowers (£15-00, Walker) by John Harris Dunning & Nikhil Singh.

“Victorian noir” is what The Guardian reviewer called it, recommending it to Tim Burton and Edward Gorey fans, and anyone over 12 who grew up on Lemony Snicket books. There is a little Beardsley in there if you squint hard enough (as well as Dame Darcy who shares a penchant for that era), but the reviewer is very much mistaken when he says that Uncle Alan Moore doesn’t give out that many endorsements. This is yet another of them.

SLH

Book Of Lost Souls (£12-99, Icon/Marvel) by JMS & Colleen Doran.

Spurned by his mother, his father, and the woman he loves, a young man throws himself off a bridge whilst clutching a book offered by a stranger to give him some weight. That was several generations ago; when he resurfaces, there are cigarette butts in the water, the bridge is clogged with a modern traffic jam, and a cat is nestling cosily in a nearby rock formation, waiting to bemuse him to death. Looks like he has a mission, to tip the balance of those “in-between”, those who could turn out good, and those who could turn out bad.

“So where do we start?”
“We start with those who are lost.”
“Where do we find them?”
“Where do we not?”

Doran’s cat is a beautiful moggie and I did like that cigarette butt. On the other hand, Mr. Straczynski does have a persistent habit of recycling old material – even more so than Ryuichi Sakamoto or Lisa Gerrard in her film scores – so that once more it’s a matter of “Powers and Principalities” (third time out, that, at least) and, we are reminded, “All love is unrequited”.

That last bit, which a broken and bitter Susan Ivanova originally proffered in Babylon 5, appears to be the key to Jonathan’s salvation here, for in the Book Of Lost Souls itself he is asked to inscribe his name, what brought him here (the last thing on his mind, which is what his loved one told him, that “All love is unrequited”) and the words that will release him. ”You can leave the last line blank for now,” purrs the cat. “That one will have to come laterMuch later.”

Well, not that much later. Seems it all wrapped up sooner than expected. On account of reader tedium?

LINK

SLH

Bizarro World s/c (£12-99, DC) by the last people you’d expect.

The second volume of Tales To Demolish, in which the likes of Dylan Horrocks, Carol Lay, Asaf Hanuka, Tom Hart, Tony Millionaire and Andi Watson are let loose on DC’s superhero universe with exactly the sort grotesque or ridiculous results you’d anticipate. Elizabeth Glass and husband Kyle Baker, for example, answer the question about what happens when Batman totals his Batmobile: he sends his butler Alfred to the local garage for a replacement. Here the confused mechanic thinks he’s summarising the total list of specifications:

“All right, you want a 200 MPH bullet-proof car with flaming wheelies. I guess I could go a bit lighter on the frame, if the point is speed. I mean, you’re not going to have anything heavy mounted on it.”
“Are rocket launchers considered heavy?”

He’s only just begun.

Half the fun here is seeing unusual creator combos: Eddie Campbell writing for Paul Grist dashes out a ‘Day In The Life Of The Flash’ (sample diary entry: “Yt an’th’r dy n th lf o’th wrld’s fstst mn.”) whose point is its punchline, whilst Paul Grist composes a staged performance of ‘The Batman Operetta’ for Hunt Emerson to illustrate (and great fun it is too!). At the other end of the “indie” spectrum come Dave Cooper’s sweaty visuals for the Johnny Ryan romance (you heard me: Johnny Ryan romance) when Wonder Woman becomes infatuated with a comicbook nerd. Naturally he’s cheating on her… with Supergirl. Also, Peter Bagge writes for Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Duffy for Craig Thompson, and Evan Dorkin for Ivan Brunetti. I concede that I find it odd that many of these individuals even know enough about the DC universe to do this sort of thing, let alone want to, but there you go.

LINK

SLH

Lonely Heart: The Art Of Tara McPherson (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Tara McPherson ~

Her exquisite style is perfectly in tune with the legions of gothites and indie kids who have grown up with Faruza Balk and PJ Harvey as style icons, gaining notoriety from the tour poster she designed for the former. She has since done the odd comic strip, covers for Vertigo’s LUCIFER, SANDMAN PRESENTS: THESSALY and THE WITCHING series. And, of course, more astonishing posters for everyone from French audio recliners Air to hairy metallers Mastodon. Tara’s original and visually immediate “Lonely Heart” theme appears in much of her work – including a short comic strip in last year’s PROJECT SUPERIOR – and has become synonymous with her name.

LINK

TR

Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood (£9-99, Walker) by Tony Lee & Sam Hart…

For me everything Robin Hood related in any medium can be measured on a very simple scale from the nadir (see what I did there, knowledgeable Hood fans?) of the recent BBC pantomime version to the flaming arrow soaring zenith of the Praed/Connery version. So does this particular adaptation rate a tourney-winning arrow splitting dead-centre bulls-eye or stray wildly, killing an innocent passing peasant? Probably wise to check there’s no archer nearby if you’re planning a trip to the local tavern, in all honesty. Well, it’s nothing special but it’s not that bad either,’ I guess. The plotting and dialogue never strays anywhere particularly off the well beaten Sherwood track, but is quite amusing and witty in places and there’s no sign of Keith Allen, either. Although I would raise no great objection to seeing him mortally gut-wounded with a longsword and left to die for his crimes against acting. The art is okay too. All in all probably of interest if you’re the one person left on the planet who has never heard of Robin Hood.

JR

Lobo: Portrait Of A Bastich (£14-99, DC) by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant & Simon Bisley

LOBO and LOBO’S BACK in a single book. Love of dolphins, cruelty to teachers. Or is that of teachers? I seem to remember chuckling at the first book as the alien immolator suffers long the clucking of an old lady on the back of his space bike. I could be imagining things.

LINK

SLH

Lobo: Highway To Hell (£14-99, DC) by Ian Scott & Sam Kieth.

Easily the finest artist to have worked on this mischievous metal-mutha-mayhem.

The script, however, is so lamentably full of signposts (laugh at me, please!) that I am vicariously offended on Sam Kieth’s behalf, whether he’d like me to be or not. Sam Kieth is the man who brought us FOUR WOMEN, Zero Girl and THE MAXX. His ocean liner later on is a veritable leviathan.

I’ve just taken a third considered look and I reckon that if you removed the script completely this would be a silent short story worthy – actually worthy unlike most corporate drivel awarded such distinctions - of an Eisner. As it is, it’s hand-holding for the comedically challenged.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived

Several to be reviewed next week, s/cs of h/cs will already have their reviews up. Just pop parts of the title or creators into our search engine!

Glister: The Faerie Host (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson
Paying For It (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown
Hellblazer: City Of Demons (£10-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Sean Murphy
If ‘n Oof (£22-50, Picturebox) by Brian Chippendale
Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Joe Kubert
Liar’s Kiss h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Eric Skillman & Jhomar Soriano
Shadoweyes In Love (£9-99, SLG) by Ross Campbell
Sonic The Hedgehog Archives vol 15 (£5-99, Archie) by SegaSega
Commando: Rogue Raiders (£15-99, Carlton) by various
The Little Prince h/c (£15-00, Walker) by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry & Joann Sfar
Batgirl: The Flood (£10-99, DC) by Bryan Q. Miller & Lee Garbett, Pere Perez
Ultimate Comics Doomsday h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Rafa Sandoval
Deadpool Max vol 1: Nutjob h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker
Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 3: Blade Vs. The Avengers s/c (UK E’dn)  (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve Dillon
X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse Prelude (£22-50, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, John Francis Moore, Todd Dezago, Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb & Andy Kubert, Jan Duursema, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Roger Cruz, Ron Garney, Ian Churchill
Incredible Hulks: Chaos War s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Paul Pelletier
Trouble h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Terry Dodson
Deadpool Team-Up vol 3: BFFs h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Rob Williams, Shane McCarthy, Rick Spears, Tom Peyer, Skottie Young, Stuart Moore & Tom Fowler, Matteo Scalera, Nick Dragotta, Phil Bond, Jacob Chabot, Ramon Perez, Shawn Crystal
Thor: The World Eaters h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry, Salvador Larroca
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2: Chameleons s/c (UK Ed’n) (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente, Takeshi Miyazawa
Ultimate Comics Thor s/c (UK Ed’n) (£8-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Shunju Aono
Gantz vol 17 (£9.99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Higurashi vol 11: Eye Opening Arc vol 1 (£7-99, Yen) by Ryukishio7 & Yutori Houjyou
Higurashi vol 12: Eye Opening Arc vol 2 (£7-99, Yen) by Ryukishio7 & Yutori Houjyou
Black Butler vol 5 (£7-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso
Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski & Jason Pearson
Itazura Na Kiss vol 5 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada
Finder vol 3: One Wing In The Viewfinder (£10-99, Yen) by Ayano Yamane
Gunslinger Girl Omnibus vols 1-3 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Yu Aida
Gunslinger Girl Omnibus vols 4-6 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Yu Aida
Saturn Apartments vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Hisade Iwaoka
Naruto Omnibus vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
Biomega vol 6 (£8-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei
Black Cat vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 17 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 18 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki
Black Cat vol 20 (£6-99, Viz) by Kentaro Yabuki

Hey, it’s started to sell really well! Review of BLACK CAT volume one here: LINK

Reviews May 2011 week two

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

This, to him, was all part of his contract with God which Frimme honoured to the letter, to the very full-stop. But as the story opens he is returning alone to 55 Dropsie Avenue after having buried his daughter, and the weight of the water pouring from the heavens on the man’s hat, coat and shoulders is immeasurable. That single page, as he struggles to heave himself up the tenement’s stone steps, water streaming over the balustrade and obliterating all but a streetlight behind him, is one of Eisner’s finest ever illustrations.

 - Stephen on Will Eisner’s A Contract With God.

The Next Day (£11-99, POP Sandbox) by Paul Peterson, Jason Gilmore & John Porcellino.

“My thoughts kept repeating, “You’re worthless, you’ve wrecked your family, you’re broken…”
“I mean, if you break a glass, you throw it out.
“Who would ever want someone who’s been played with by someone else for 12 years?”

She’s talking about her uncle.

Illustrated by MAP OF MY HEART’s John Porcellino, this is a book that will stay with you for a very long time: four first-person accounts of four separate suicide attempts, the years leading up to them and what happened next. The title itself – THE NEXT DAY – is tremendously important.

It’s sobering stuff but highly recommended to those who’ve found much of merit in Psychiatric Tales and/or DEPRESSO. The words are taken from recorded interviews so you may find it odd that two writers are credited, but distilling those words into key snapshots is vital in communicating their stories with clarity, accuracy, empathy and power. The narrative structure may also appear a little unusual to begin with as you’re introduced to Tina, Ryan, Chantel and Jenn, four individuals each given but a brief page or two per chapter. It should be noted that in the online interactive version, not yet launched at the time of writing (http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/thenextday), you can choose your own way of navigating, but here it serves to lead one gradually through their histories in parallel so that the reader bears witness to four very different tales at similar stages, all of which lead up to the same deliberate decision to cauterise a life they can no longer endure by extinguishing it.

By extinguishing it.

For some it’s an act they have never consciously considered while for others it’s been brewing for a very long time, Porcellino accompanying each chapter with clouds that gather before the storm sets in and childhood swings are lashed violently into the air. Few could have delivered this like Porcellino. The perfect simplicity of his very few lines portrays the bruised and broken individuals with dignity and empathy while removing any trace of melodrama. Each is assigned a different style of ‘handwriting’ and I had no trouble keeping track of which story I was ‘listening to’. There are some terrifying moments like Ryan drink-driving with his kids in the car; a rape, and child sex abuse in two instances.

Each ‘Next Day’ is far from simple. There are no easy solutions, how could there be? But any beginning at some understanding has to be a first step well worth taking.

LINK

SLH

Cyclops vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon…

“I can’t help it if people just want more violence, more blood. If they need a hero, even a fake one; if they’ll believe anything… and if they want to copy what they see on TV, if ours is a society of voyeurs, lies and demagogues: it’s not my problem. No one made it easy for me. I make do with what I have, I seize my day. I’ll get out while the going’s good.”

The best speculative fiction without a doubt arises when an author takes a premise only one degree removed from current reality and shows us what may very well lie in our own not-too-distant futures, if indeed it’s not happening already to a certain degree. And here, the as ever magnificent Matz (THE KILLER VOLS 1, 2, 3 and BULLET TO THE HEAD) has crafted a tale of corporate greed, political corruption and our ever-escalating obsession with celebrity, all elements which are already rampant in today’s society, to craft an outstanding morality tale.

To disambiguate for a moment, back in 1970 Gil Scott Heron recorded the spoken-word track ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and whilst on face value given recent world events you could argue he was completely wrong about that in a purely literally sense, in fact the context of the song as a whole is that a revolution will not get at the root of the problems that big business, hand-in-hand with manipulative media, continually create within ourselves. Keeping that in mind and fast-forwarding to the 1991 Elvis Costello track Invasion Hit Parade, with its lyric, “Incidentally the revolution will be televised, with one head for business and another for good looks” and you start to have an accurately cynical starting point of what CYCLOPS is all about underneath the surface.

Violence captivates the attention of the public, nothing more than a ‘just’ and bloody war on someone else’s shores. With ruthless security conglomerates bidding for the very lucrative rights to enforce UN Security Council-issued resolutions, ostensibly designed to ameliorate, on the face of it at least, such conflicts, a business needs an edge to get ahead of its rivals like a dynamic and photogenic corporate figurehead, over and above bribing officials to win said contracts, of course.

Enter our hero, Doug Pistoia, a handsome and formerly rising Italian football starlet, before injury cruelly curtailed his career, now just looking for what work he can find in a tough economy to support himself and his wife. Multicorps Security Inc., spotting a potential golden PR opportunity take Doug on board and promote him to the forefront of their security operations in the field, starring heroically in triumphant mission footage, broadcast live from cameras mounted in the helmets of their ultra-highly equipped forces, consequently nicknamed ‘the Cyclops’.  

Though rapidly adored and increasingly feted by a avid global audience, Doug’s no idiot and appreciates that his relationship with his new benefactors is very much a two-way street, but as his personal fame and fortune soars into the stratosphere and he starts to attain almost A-list celebrity status, he begins to wonder just how much manipulation of almost every aspect of his life is going on behind the scenes, both on and off the battlefield. But is it really in his best interests to investigate too deeply into the methods of his corporate paymasters? Given that there’s even a reality TV show based around the Cyclops troops’ downtime complete with expensive advertising and even product placement opportunities for companies wanting to push their wares, all generating even more income for Multicorp, it’s fair to say they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their interests.

This is book one of four, of what has the potential to be a satirical, speculative fiction masterpiece, and Matz’s writing is of course more than ably matched on art by his trusty KILLER collaborator Luc Jacamon.

LINK

JR

Jinx h/c (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis.

Yup, straight crime written and drawn by Brian Michael Bendis.

Long before Bendis was officially pronounced hot by Wizard Magazine, he was cutting his teeth on a series of creator-owned crime projects. JINX, the third in his ‘Cleveland trilogy’, is a (very) loose sequel to GOLDFISH, sharing a common setting and a main character. Goldfish, a grifter with yearnings for a better life, crosses paths with Jinx, a bounty hunter pissed off with the job’s casual sexism and the way her dreams have gradually been ground down under the heel of everyday life.

The MacGuffin of the plot is a race for three million dollars of missing mob money; in the end, however, Bendis seems to have less interest in the actual plot mechanics, preferring instead to focus on the characters. A showdown in a mall is interrupted by an extended sequence resembling late period Altman in which the camera floats from table to table, eavesdropping on snatches of lives. Although the cinematic influences on Bendis’ work are clearly visible – the fast cuts, the dialogue riffs that makes you check just how long after Pulp Fiction this came out, the incorporation of photos and photo references into the art – the book also showcases Bendis’ continuing fascination with formal and structural experimentation. Pages of strict grids are followed by loose open panelling; photo-referenced art glides to impressionism; story recaps come in the form of ‘70s Marvel comics with one-page gags parodying Hostess Cup Cake adverts.

While Bendis’ art is more suited to cartoony works like FORTUNE AND GLORY, his heavy inks and strong placing of black help to ensure that there’s none more noir. Where JINX is distinguished from, say, SIN CITY is that Bendis grasps intuitively the soft underbelly of the noir genre. Although the grease on the axle of this world is money, the story turns out to be, as it always is, about two people trying to connect and find purpose in a world neither of them wants any part of. Both Jinx and Goldfish have made bad decisions in the past; key flashbacks see them both reflexively grab onto something that either drags them down or highlights the depths to which they have sunk. JINX is the attempt of two people to slough off the dead skin of the past and start again. And if they manage to get hold of three million dollars worth of dead presidents to help them do this, well, that’d be cool.

LINK

David Hart

DMZ vol 10: Collective Punishment (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti, Nathan Fox, Cliff Chang, Danijel Zezelj, David Lapham.

Which is quite the line-up of artists, I think you’ll agree.

LINK

SLH

Moomin Comic Strips vol 6 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson.

“I’ve suddenly realised my childhood’s gone!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, dear…”

Tove’s younger brother Lars takes over as Moominpappa and childhood friend Wimsy embark on a rose-tinted quest to reclaim their youth and turn into a couple of delinquents! First Moominpappa makes the mistake of revisiting the orphanage he once escaped and is sat down sternly to learn the algebra he missed. Then some spies enter the equation with a secret formula which is equal to or greater than their comprehension… so I do hope he paid close attention.

Before that Snorkmaiden learns to be careful what she wishes for when she and Moomin find a buried lamp and a less than genial genie obliges her desire for a diamond diadem by supplying a diamond necklace… which he’d stolen from a neighbour! Arrested and confined to the best-appointed police cell in the world (and the most accommodating: “I say, do you prefer strawberry or cranberry jam with pancakes?”) they remain convinced that they’re to be executed at dawn. There then follows the most haphazard interrogation and unorthodox trial imaginable, a stint on the lam and some truly cack-handed attempts at disguise.

It’s all so beautifully done, Moominvalley and its denizens operating under a bemused innocence which is both endearing and potty, and only a finer eye than mind would be able to tell that the cartooning was Lars’ rather than Tove’s. In fact his tenure on the title was twice the length of his older sister’s which is a testament to how well it was embraced.

Gorgeous, cream-coloured paper under a Fruit Salad-flavoured hardcover.

LINK

SLH

The Little Endless Storybook h/c (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jill Thompson.

A bright little children’s adventure in prose and pictures as the long-suffering pooch called Barnabas searches for his vague princess, Delirium, trying all her brothers’ and sisters’ realms as he goes. It’s also watercolour heaven. There’s sunshine and woods and tarpaulin shadow; grass that is green, bleached white statues, and waves that are flooded in watery blue. You can feel that ocean breeze in his ears.

All that and a doggie to die for. I’m so fey.

That’s all I wrote when this first appeared a decade ago when I could still spell the word ‘brevity’. Now that it’s back following the publication of DELIRIUM’S PARTY I should add that it’s the ultimate in a dog chasing its own tail, there’s a history in the back of Jill’s involvement in the evolution of these super-deformed SANDMAN characters (including her original plush toys), that Destiny’s infinite garden maze is magnificent, and it’s Barnabas’ bursting bladder that leads to the Distracted One’s wandering off in the first place.

“Um… listen, kiddo. I’ve gotta see a man about a tree… if you catch my drift.”

LINK

SLH

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Masterpieces vol 1 (£14-99, Boom!) by Larry Wachowski, Neil Gaiman, Dwayne McDuffie, Marc McLaurin, Malcom Smith, Clive Barker, Anna Miller, Malcom Smith, Fred Vicarel, D.G. Chichester, Mike Mignola, Jan Strnad, R.J.M. Lofficier & Mark Pacella, Dave McKean, Kevin O’Neill, Jorge Zaffino, Mike McMahon, Alex Ross, Mike Mignola, Mark Chiarello.

Nine full-colour stories from Epic’s old series including Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s ‘Wordsworth’ from the Hellbound Hearts anthology of which I wrote that it was “sicker than you’d anticipate from someone as lovely as Neil – truly grotesque – as a man’s pleasure in crossword puzzles is subverted and perverted by an outsider, leading him into some pretty grim research in order to solve the clues.” There you may have found its reduced reproduction in black on white on paper which bleeds to have been poor. Not so here, in lurid urine and electric-chair blue in full Barron Storey mode.

There’s early evidence of Alex Ross’ potential. The painting’s paler and more hesitant than you’ll be used to from MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, WORLD’S GREATEST HEROES and Uncle Sam, but there are more than a fewer flashes of the artist now so beloved by so many, and if you do like Ross you’ll also like Mark Chiarello’s work here. Mike McMahon we no longer see enough of, but the one I chose to re-read this time round was Mike Mignola’s ‘Dead Things Rot’ (they do) with its script by D.G. Chichester in which a serial killer has delusions of being Dr. Frankenstein.

“All those parts in the wrong places… with the wrong people… needing to be put together right!”

A far cry from Dexter, that.

LINK

SLH

7 Billion Needles vol 4 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano…

Events unfold at breakneck speed in this climatic volume as our body-sharing buddies Hikaru, Ciel and Maelstrom try and save Earth from an extinction reboot at the hands of the Evolution Monitor. It’s not quite the ending I expected in some respects, but then this story hasn’t been remotely predictable at all, so I probably shouldn’t be remotely surprised. But is it really possible for Hikaru to undo the damage to Earth’s species which has already occurred with the new found powers at her command and genetically engineer a happy ending for everyone?

LINK

JR

Lychee Light Club (£12-99, Vertical) by Usamaru Furuya…

“You like it?”
“I have no sense of taste. But… somehow… I sense that it tastes good.”

Hmm, perhaps I have no sense of taste either, because I found LYCHEE LIGHT CLUB rather bland and pointless. I like horror, I like odd, I like a bit of gratuitous sex and violence, but I just found myself completely unmoved by this work which seems like a mish-mash of half-formed, utterly implausible ideas performed by a complete cast of eminently dislikeable characters. It just seems to be trying so hard to be some slick and stylish ultra-violent art house-esque piece of fiction with something to say about the nature of humanity, and it just doesn’t work for me at all. Maybe I just couldn’t achieve the right amount of suspension of disbelief to enjoy this, or perhaps it really is just complete rubbish. I do like lychees though…

JR

Detective Comics #876 (£2-25, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock.

First time in years that we’ve had to restock DETECTIVE COMICS. As to why, you only need click on this LINK: page after page of stunning artwork meticulously composed that will blow your brains out and blend them in a Kenwood mixer before serving them back to you in a heady cocktail that is 99% proof and 1% circumstantial evidence. I mean it: not just that panels-within-a-panel, free-fall composition but an opening double-page Killer Whale shot that totally redefines the term ‘splash page’.

So. You love the company you work for and you turn up for work two hours early. It’s that kind of a bank (rare these days) that’s both beloved and a six-year success story. Then the doors finally open and you’re confronted with the gaping jaws of an oversized, dead female Orca, beached on marble and no longer swimming in its own saliva.

#badforbusiness as you’d say on Twitter.

It’s also an elaborate message to squeaky-clean bank chief Sonia Branch whose personal assistant flops from the Killer Whale’s belly. Talk about being consumed by your competitors. But is it the bank’s competitors or someone else entirely responsible for the sea-themed sabotage? Dick Grayson (still Batman alongside Bruce Wayne: hey, you do have to delegate) is called in to investigate by Commissioner Gordon only to be told that Sonia’s changed her name of late. She used to be Sonia Zucco, daughter of Anthony “Fats” Zucco.

That’s the man who killed Dick’s parents.

Rarely do I read the corporate superhero titles once they’ve grown this old, but this is totally fresh. Snyder’s even slipped in a sub-plot regarding Gordon’s Prodigal Son, supposedly reformed now that he’s on the right meds. Will Dick be able to keep his distance and react objectively for both their sakes, or is this too much of a red rag to the bull?

Some perfectly poised expressions during the initial investigation by Grayson and Gordon, both very troubled and vulnerable. Of course I love spectacle, but it’s any book’s heart that makes it for me, and this has plenty of both. From the artist on HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM, LOSERS and so much more.

Teaser for #877:

LINK

SLH

Brightest Day vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado…

“You’re dead, man.”
“You have no idea.”

Book two of three as Boston Brand and his freshly resurrected band of chums try and puzzle out precisely why the disembodied voice of the White Ring is having them run around performing various apparently random and unconnected tasks like an episode of the Crystal Maze. It’s just wonderful to see a superhero storyline that isn’t resolved instantly, or at least within the space of six issues, and with significant deviation into the various character’s stories for no other purpose sometimes than just to tell a great yarn, as is the case when the focus falls upon John Jones who appears to be living happily ever after on a verdantly restored and resplendently green Mars. He’s not of course, someone’s messing with his head, much like Johns continues to expertly mess with all the bemused and baffled resurrectees, and us as well to boot. I have to say having now read the final couple of issues as they’ve been coming out, there are some big clues dropped in this volume as to the identity of the ultimate champion of Life, but I would be very, very surprised indeed were anyone to correctly guess it at this point…

JR

Astro City: Shining Stars h/c (£18-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson…

“It went… well, I think. Hard to tell, with him. I might have made progress. And if I didn’t… well there’s always next year right?”

Another truly outstanding collection of shorts from Kurt and Brent in which we get two completely different origin stories, a satirical piece on the current vacuous obsession with celebrity, and the final fate of the altruistic but temporally challenged Silver Agent. Up first – and just shading it as my favourite story in the collection – is ‘The Eagle and The Mountain’ starring The Infidel, the only supervillain in the Astro City universe with the power to challenge the all-powerful (and total goody two-shoes) Samaritan on a regular basis.

In fact it would actually appear they both draw their rather considerable powers from the same source, which goes a long way to explaining why, after decades of tussling with considerable collateral damage (sometimes whole realities along the way), it’s become clear to the pair of them that one will probably never be able to definitively defeat the other. So instead they’ve come to an uneasy truce which involves a get-together for dinner once a year to discuss their differences in a civilised manner. Honestly. Are they still engaged in a battle of wills? Oh yes, most certainly; just much, much more subtly than before…

“And not for the first time, I wonder. Am I the eagle… or the mountain?”

Once again, Kurt triumphs in producing intelligent but humorous superhero fiction at its finest.

[Editor’s note: ASTRO CITY is one of the very few superhero series in the Essential Reading list that Grant Morrison prints at the rear of his SUPERGODS tome due out from Jonathan Cape in July 2011. For more… follow me on Twitter!]

LINK

JR

Thor: For Asgard h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi.

Epic and opulent. You’re going to love Simone’s art.

From the artist on Ellis’ ASTONISHING X-MEN: GHOST BOX and the writer of the exceptional Thor and Loki book, a tale of Asgard battered by a years-long freeze and assailed both from without and within during this winter of their discontent.

First Balder the Brave was murdered through an errant Loki’s trickery, then Odin himself left for Midgard to seek answers to their plight from his ancient wife whom some call Gaea. Now the golden apples which sustain the gods’ immortality are running low, there being no fertile ground to grow them in, and discord and rancour fill the halls and streets. Even Lady Sif is in open opposition to the focus of Thor’s attention and Thor… There is a reason why Thor wields an axe. Beset by dreams of failure, Thor must somehow make contact with Balder to learn his true path. It’s a journey that will take him to Valhalla where the very balance of the realms of the dead will be rent asunder casting its worthiest dead denizens into the barren pits of Niffelheim.

The forms are enormous filling every space available, the head- and figure-shaped panels slotting in with each other and their more traditional cousins like those wooden blocks in our Early Learning jigsaw puzzles. Thor’s dressed somewhat differently in a heavy metal fan’s wetsuit.

Like Thor and Loki, the language and delivery are more Shakespearian than Marvel’s traditional cod-Norse, whilst affairs of state are well argued even by those deliberately sowing the seeds of rebellion.

“The principal behind empire is that it is mutually beneficial: the imperial seat enjoys the rich resources of the subject lands, while bringing its higher culture to the subjected. Any empire worth the name begins in conquest, but endures through persuasion, and for many years the Frost Giants have been content to have it so… for they could see that our arts, our architecture, our medicine and music – All these things were worth our presence on their soil. That they reject us now is a sign that we have devalued ourselves in their eyes. They see us with a clarity we ourselves cannot, and they have realised we are grown decadent. Corrupt.”

Six monumental chapters, then, but a little fair warning: although the book has a conclusion it bears no resolution – or at least only a partial one. It’s definitely to be continued and I will investigate! While I do so I leave you with Balder’s words of wisdom:

“You strive to act as would your Father… But you were not meant to fill his place. Rather, his place was meant to accommodate you.”

LINK

SLH

Moon Knight vol 7,205 #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

SPOILERS: I’m going to give away far more about a first issue that is generally fair but I’d rather be grabbing you for the long-haul instead…

“Oh, my God. Put your gun away.”
“You take your gun out.”
“If you show them your gun, that is a declaration of –“
“It’s a declaration that I have a big gun.”

From the creative team behind the best-ever run on DAREDEVIL, SCARLET and SPIDER-WOMAN too, a 7,205th attempt at Moon Knight to coincide with the number of personalities battling away in his nocturnal noggin. You can definitely add three more, and they’ll be readily familiar to you.

Finally after 50-odd years of Marvel continuity, some of the supervillains have figured out that if 963 superheroes have chosen to live in Manhattan and only one in Los Angeles, they’d be 963 times less likely to get busted if they relocated to L.A.. Marc Spector happens to be in L.A. now, overseeing the launch of his Legend Of Khonshu TV show, so the Avengers call on him to scare the bejeezus out of the criminal community there… IN HIS MIND!

Lo and behold, however, a new Kingpin has indeed set himself up – one with a power level that makes Mr. Hyde’s look puny. That’s pretty unfortunate for Marc because Moon Knight barely survives a dust-up with Hyde. Instead he’s deep under Hyde’s yacht when the two villains confront each other, and when they do there’s little left of Hyde or the yacht, so Spector retreats with the prize he’s salvaged from the boat: the head of an Ultron. Obviously Moon Knight is way out of his league – this is going to take a whole team of Avengers. Shame, then, that they’re ALL IN HIS MIND!!!

A clever new twist in Marc’s long-standing mental illness and whilst Maleev is being far more economical with the art here than he is in SCARLET, there are some exceptional light effects under the water and high above the smoking remains of the yacht.

For those new to Moon Knight, try our review of Charlie Huston and David Finch’s interpretation:

LINK

SLH

Doomwar s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry & Scot Eaton.

X-Men / Black Panther / Fantastic Four team-up which I initially dismissed in advance as just another of the twenty new Marvel mini-series that month. I take a little of the blame for that but Marvel editorial must take most for the aforementioned, not remotely exaggerated reason.

It’s good, and Eaton’s art has a delicate, European flavour to it. Storm’s hair is particularly lovely. Storm’s predicament is not.

Wakanda, you see, the never-conquered nation at the heart of Africa ruled by T’Challa has been in receipt of a coup. Recorded delivery: they signed for it and everything. A revolution for the people by the people – that’s how they’re promoting it to the outside world. T’Challa’s bride, Wakanda’s deposed queen and astonishing X-Man Storm is on show-trial for her life. She’s convicted as a western poison. Let’s forget the fact that she’s African, and that the real power behind the coup is Doctor Victor Von Doom Esq., ruler of Latveria (black population nil). I wonder what he wants out of it. Can you spell Vibranium?

Maberry does a ridiculously good job of emphasising the heroes’ helplessness. T’Challa and the new Black Panther are stranded on the outside, desperately seeking the succour of a mutant strike force whose nation Utopia is so new and therefore fragile that they daren’t be seen to act like aggressors and illegally invade a foreign country (only old nations like America and England have that right, as well we all know), and in any case Wakanda has never been successfully invaded. That much was made abundantly, wittily and somewhat satisfyingly clear at the beginning of Reginald Hudlin’s first run of BLACK PANTHER, and is done so again. Storm, who was specifically on trial for attacking Wakandans, is forced by Doom to pick the Vibranium vault locks under Doom’s not-idle threat of slaughtering Wakandans, and Wakandan protestors are given no legitimacy because the new regime will not send in whatever passes for their tanks to suppress them.

Their names are taken, obviously, for when the protests subside. It would have been oh so obvious to many if not most writers to send in the shock troops because that’s what we see on the news. But no, Maberry decides that here it will be otherwise.

The first chapter’s last three pages displayed note-perfect timing from both writer and artist, utilising the one way possible to turn the tides in attempting to invade an unassailable country. I’m sorry…?

Doomwar

SLH

New Reviews for Older Books

Prompted by friend and customer David Hanks that out of Will Eisner’s THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C, only DROPSIE AVENUE was reviewed, here are its other two component parts all of which can be bought as separate softcovers.

A Contract With God s/c (£12-99, W.W. Norton) by Will Eisner.

“Born and brought up in New York City and having survived and thrived there, I carry with me a cargo of memories, some painful and some pleasant, which have remained locked in the hold of my mind. I have an ancient mariner’s need to share my accumulation of experience and observations. Call me, if you will, a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak and the never-ending struggle to prevail… or at least survive.”

 - Will Eisner from his Preface, December 2004

Hailed by some as the first American graphic novel, A CONTRACT OF GOD is actually four short stories set in the same tenement buildings in the Bronx as A LIFE FORCE and DROPSIE AVENUE. All of these have survival high on the agenda for a population pretty much trapped there by poverty, individuals’ personal fortunes waxing and waning with a complex interdependency.

Of the three books that make up THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C, this is the most personal, the most autobiographical, and it was only in 2004 that Will Eisner revealed that A Contract With God, the first short story here was “an exercise in personal agony” written and drawn eight angry years after his only daughter Alice died, aged sixteen, from leukaemia. The details have been changed but the essential raw sentiment remains the same, and it’s one I have seen in so many parents who have lost their children including my Uncle and Auntie and my best friend Anita’s no-longer-Catholic parents: a complete loss of faith in a God who could betray their trust so spectacularly as to deprive them of their child.

Here Frimme Hersch had been told over and over again as a child that he was “favoured by God” and that God would reward him for his many kindnesses. That’s not why he was kind; he was kind because he cared, and so when a baby girl was abandoned on Frimme’s doorstep he took her in and raised her as his own. This, to him, was all part of his contract with God which Frimme honoured to the letter, to the very full-stop. But as the story opens he is returning alone to 55 Dropsie Avenue after having buried his daughter, and the weight of the water pouring from the heavens on the man’s hat, coat and shoulders is immeasurable. That single page, as he struggles to heave himself up the tenement’s stone steps, water streaming over the balustrade and obliterating all but a streetlight behind him, is one of Eisner’s finest ever illustrations.

What happens next is typical of Eisner in that it involves property and finance which rarely benefits those who need money or accommodation the most. The fourth story here is also prime Eisner in that love, money, marriage and social standing become the seemingly inseparable issues (see NAME OF THE GAME for his ultimate word on the subject!) with infidelity also quite high on the agenda but it’s also a coming of age story involving the tradition amongst Bronx residents back then of going on holiday to farms which they would share with other families, do their own cooking and help out with the chores.

The Street Singer is also based on a phenomenon Eisner was familiar with: random individuals wandering the back alleys of the Bronx singing with some accomplishment in the hope of receiving loose change. A single woman becomes entranced by one of these singers and hopes to revive her own career in a partnership but in her vanity she is oblivious to the degree in which the self-fixated drunkard is using her while for him it’s an opportunity well and truly squandered. Domestic abuse is no stranger to Eisner’s works and so it is here, but I’ve a feeling the third story as well as some elements of the fourth will shock those who think of Eisner as but a kindly old gent. Eisner was full of humanity – bursting with it – but humanity has its atrocious sides which Eisner was all too aware of and never shied from addressing. It involves a tenement’s Super – its bully of a live-in, do-little custodian – who more than meets his match in a ten-year-old girl who uses his warped lust against him.

LINK

SLH

A Life Force (£9-75 for last DC Library edition) by Will Eisner.

“Staying alive seems to be the only thing on which everyone agrees.”

The second book available as part of THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C along with DROPSIE AVENUE and A CONTRACT WITH GOD, this is an intricate, interdependent affair gradually built and set around America’s Great Depression during which unemployment rocketed, wages crashed, starvation set in, Hunger Riots exploded and swarms of moths were apparently thick enough to stop New York traffic. Biblical!

No one is immune, not even the affluent Manhattan stockbroker whose fortune is wiped out and fine living obliterated as stocks tumble faster than those bankers decent enough to throw themselves out of windows. But the ordinary residents of Dropsie Avenue, already hard-pressed by penury, living figuratively (and visually on page 23) under the shadow of Manhattan island, find it even more difficult than ever. No one has these immigrants’ best interests at heart: not the mafia-like enablers who now call in their favours, the brutally bullying unions, and most certainly not the Nazis back in Germany or the American government seeking at the very same time to deny as much access as possible to Jewish refugees. Eisner knows his history and presents it occasionally in bursts of newspaper clippings to give events here their proper socio-political and historical context.

Each of these forces exerts itself on individuals in this book and it’s their particular, tightly interwoven stories that Eisner is telling. The sequence in which Jacob so generously, so desperately attempts to free Frieda and her family from Germany’s anti-Semitic claws and America’s red tape – when he himself has nothing – is agonising. At the same time, however, Jacob’s reaction to his own daughter’s romantic involvement mirrors that of the Nazis’ to mixed marriages:

“My daughter Rebecca is going to marry Elton Shaftsbury!”
“Mossletov!”
“But Elton is a… a… Goy!”
“So… it happens… My own daughter also married a Gentile in Europe… They were happy together… The Nazi business didn’t destroy their love!”
“I can’t accept such a marriage!! It puts an end to something… a… a tradition maybe… But for me, it has to do with surviving!! Love!!! It sounds nice but is it a reality in the business of living?”

This, from the married man to the woman whom he’s attempting to woo!

One of the many things I love about Eisner is his zero toleration for hypocrisy, exposing it whenever and wherever he sees it. Jacob’s wife, for example, proclaims that her children are her sole reason for living yet she refuses to meet her son’s fiancée whilst emotionally blackmailing him round for dinner. Neatly done!

Humanity in all its kindness and cruelty, that’s what Eisner’s about, as well its foibles and flaws. There’s an informed depiction well ahead of its time here of a mental illness that leads Aaron to recoil from reality, and it’s eloquently explained:

“Unhappily, somewhere in the divine cauldron where mysterious forces fabricate life, something went awry for Aaron, and in the soft circuitry of his brain an infinitesimal welding failed.”

Eisner is renowned for his expressive body language and a certain degree of overacting when the characters overreact themselves, but his mouths in particular can be ever so subtle. No one does glum or bewilderment quite like him. Also, there’s such a variety of panel structures here that you almost don’t notice it, panel borders and gutters often disappearing entirely without once confusing the reader, such is his impeccable sense of space. He really does make it all look so easy.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Reviews to follow!

Glister: The Faerie Host (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson
Glister: The Family Tree (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson
Empire State h/c (£11-99, Abrahms) by Jason Shiga
Yossel s/c (£10-99, DC) by Joe Kubert
The Chronicles Of King Conan vol 2: Vengeance From The Desert And Other Stories (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Roy Thomas, Doug Moench & John Buscema, Ernie Chan
Farm 54 h/c (£13-99, Fanfare) by Galit Seliktar & Gilad Seliktar
Emily The Strange vol 3: The 13th Hour (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Reger & Buzz Parker
Panda Man vs. Chiwanda (£5-99, Viz) by Sho Makura & Haruhi Kato
Scary Go Round Collection 8: Recklessly Yours (£10-99) by John Allison
Giant Days: A Scary Go Round Story (£4-00) by John Allison
Grimm Fairy Tales: Escape From Wonderland (£13-50, Zenescope) by Raven Gregory, Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco & Daniel Leister
Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood (£9-99, Walker) by Tony Lee & Sam Hart
Salem Brownstone: All Along The Watchtowers (£15-00, Walker) by John Harris Dunning & Nikhil Singh
Irredeemable vol 6 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Peter Krause
Lobo: Portrait Of A Bastich (£14-99, DC) by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant & Simon Bisley
Lobo: Highway To Hell (£14-99, DC) by Ian Scott & Sam Kieth
Batman: Streets Of Gotham vol 1: Hush Money s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridoles
Birds Of Prey: End Run h/c (£16-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Alvin Lee
Batman & Robin vol 3: Batman & Robin Must Die!: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving, David Finch
Deadpool Corps vol 2: You Say You Want A Revolution h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels
Spider-Man: Matters Of Life And Death h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente & Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati
Punisher Max: Bullseye h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon
Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives (£14-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, Glenn Greenberg & Rob Frenz, Luke Ross
Death Note Black Edition vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Cross Game vol 3 (£10-99, Viz) by Mitsuru Adachi
Garden (£18-99, Picturebox) by Yuichi Yokoyama
InuYasha vol 7 VIZBIG Edition (£15-00, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Kingyo Used Books vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Seimu Yoshizaki

If you’re considering a book we haven’t reviewed and you want to read what we think, just drop us a line at page45@page45.com and if we have something to say, we’ll say it! Curious coincidences like a writer being interested in purchasing one of his or her own books are best accompanied with a £50 note.

  – Stephen

Reviews May 2011 week one

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I don’t remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.

 - Stephen, from his original introduction to Strangers In Paradise: Love Me Tender as part of the new review to SiP Pocket Book vol 2.

Bullet To The Head (£14-99, Dynamite) by Matz & Colin Wilson…

“Two thousand dollars for a pair of shoes? You gotta be crazy Louis!”
“Yeah Jimmy, two thousand bucks at ‘Chez Jerome’ on Park Avenue. Imported from Italy. Handmade. Shoes like that, they’re almost like jewels. Like, you know, unique. Jerome only has a couple of each model sent over to him. This way, you’re pretty sure you’re not going to run into some asshole wearing the exact same shoes as you. Isn’t that cool?”

Cool it may be, but when you throw a $2,000 pair of near unique, handmade imported Italian shoes in a dumpster, in the alley directly outside the apartment where you’ve just whacked a Senator, in a fit of histrionic pique after getting dogshit on them, then that my friend, is a lead. But then, hitmen aren’t generally hired for their wisdom are they, keen though debonair Louis is on dispensing choice pearls of it, with amusing regularity to the semi-incredulous and rather more discrete, if less sartorially elegant Jimmy.

Certainly in terms of the dialogue this is my favourite piece of crime fiction to come out over the last few years bar none, with witty repartee reminiscent of The Sopranos and also The Wire, depending of the particular flavour of protagonist pontificating at any given moment. Given the provenance of the writer Matz, best known to date for his brilliant series THE KILLER, of which we made vol two a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, not even a moronic hitman. It’s not a bad case either as our two wisecracking detectives Carlisle and Perry attempt to puzzle out precisely who the perpetrators of the hit were… in direct contravention of their chief’s explicit orders, of course.  Someone wants it all hushed up it seems, but why? C’mon, that’s just like wrapping a red rag round a bull’s head and punching it in the face repeatedly for certain detectives…

[Editor’s note: see Also Arrived for brand new Matz graphic novel!]

LINK

JR

Love From The Shadows h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

“I’ve been catching up on my reading.”
“Catching up on your reading.”
“I heard there was going to be a test later.”
“Do me a favour, son.”
“Sure, father.”
“Don’t read any more of my writing.”

Totally liberated and as semi-surreal as a dream, this original graphic novel is as self-assured as it is self-indulgent, and mesmerising throughout. It’s mannered, it’s bonkers and it’s full of sexual submission and revenge. Forget the Injury To Eye motif, Saint Sebastian got off relatively light with those arrows: lads, you are going to wince.

As to said self-indulgence and mannered delivery, one has to remember that this is another of those films starring Luba’s half-sister Fritz actually written and directed by Johnny Tame and produced by Fritz’s girlfriend Pipo. Well, not actually; obviously the whole thing is written and drawn by Gilbert Hernandez but it’s a fiction within a fiction, a film made by and starring Hernandez’s comicbook characters with bugger all budget and, given the revelations in HIGH SOFT LISP, it could even be several films spliced together because they simply ran out of money. Who’s to say? I’m still not sure which of the stories surrounding Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’ I should believe. Are the black and white sequences there because he ran out of colour film, thereby making mockery of so much speculation, or is that the urban legend?

It’s an art house film one might even describe as porn. Certainly it’s erotica, and there are pendulous breasts, pendulous penises and even pudenda aplenty. Fritz has never been afraid of getting her kit off in real life or on screen, nor of having sex. Despite reading most of it in Nottingham’s sun-kissed Market Square where I could easily have been overlooked by “Oh, I say!” members of the public, I refused to put this down.

Like TROUBLEMAKERS it involves deception (in this case including a sex change that affords Fritz yet another of her several parts here) and flagrant scams which here prey on the gullibility of the ‘spiritual’ or bereaved. It’s a meandering journey for Fritz in particular who begins as a suburban housewife before falling down a rabbit hole and emerging as a sister to a gay brother, both of whom are held in contempt by their rather rich father whose inheritance they covet. Thereafter the ominous confine of a cave looms large in the proceedings as the cast’s various fortunes in relation to each other ebb and flow.

The whole thing is a visual pleasure. Its sales will inevitably suffer from not having “Love & Rockets” on its dustjacket but, make no mistake, it is a LOVE & ROCKETS book.

My one criticism is the baffling choice of cover whose relevance eludes me and whose style – fully painted – does a total disservice to the art inside. Not for the first time, either.

[I don’t know if there is a specific visual reference as such, but I do know the artist in question Steven Martinez painted the portrait of Uma Thurman that John Travolta is staring at so intently whilst he waits for her before they go out dancing in the film Pulp Fiction. – Asst. Ed.]

LINK

SLH

High Soft Lisp (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

A mischievous journey through the intertwined fortunes of Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez, former marriage guidance counsellor turned straight-to-DVD movie star and half-sister to Luba, and successful motivational speaker Mark Herrera. He is her first husband, she is his fourth wife. He has had six, and is broke.

“She wept when I asked her to marry me. I wept when she asked for a pre-nuptial agreement!”

Fritz is a voluptuous, gullible romantic with an appetite for sex which is so often taken advantage of. She also has a penchant for sci-fi conventions, dressing up, and guns.

“Most people prefer a cigarette or a sandwich after lovemaking, Fritz.”

She prefers target practice.

It’s very much a series of snapshots with Hernandez weaving in other lives in the background, like Petra’s memories of Joel whom we see first in person when they’re all very young, then later in a High School Yearbook, then later still in an obituary notice. A subtle scene closes that particular story in which Petra’s daughter finds what she assumes to be Petra’s High School jacket gathering dust in the closet. It isn’t, but Gilbert doesn’t rub it in.

Enrique too, so close to becoming Fritz’s third husband, has been simmering over the years with a rather unhealthy obsession, and I don’t think I even want to write about self-centred slob and husband number two, Scott “The Hog”, whom the punk rocker in Fritz adored. Meanwhile all bar one of Mark’s wives leave only to return in one role or another, often when he needs a favour, and it’s funny how so many of them end up writing children’s stories! You’ll also meet Pipo who becomes Fritz’s girlfriend and produces her films (see LOVE FROM THE SHADOWS, TROUBLEMAKERS and CHANCE IN HELL)

As ever with Gilbert there are elements of the surreal and supernatural and a lot of this is delivered as if to camera. Hernandez refuses to conform to any narrative rules except his own, liberating him to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it, and I admire that unequivocally – so, so refreshing. There’s also a great deal of sex that would once have set him at odds with British Customs & Excise, though thankfully not any longer. It’s kind of what adults do, or there’d never be any children for us to get so worried about.

Reprints pages from LOVE AND ROCKETS series 2 (we’re now on series 3) and LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES, with a few pages added and tweaked.

LINK

SLH

Duncan The Wonder Dog: Show One (£18-99, Adhouse) by Adam Hines…

A veritable doorstep-sized tome that’s book one of nine apparently, which is a pretty damn bold statement of intent, I’d say. And eminently justified, I believe, upon completion of ‘Show One’, for despite the complete non-appearance so far (I think!) of the titular canine character this is a work of some scope and grandeur. Yes, in many ways it shares a very similar premise to the thought-provoking and also excellent ELMER – here what if the entire animal kingdom could speak, not just chickens – but it takes the implementation and plotting so, so much further.

Unlike ELMER there doesn’t appear to have been any great spontaneous event that precipitated animal intelligence overnight, but instead it appears that in a world otherwise identical to our own, animals have had the power of speech for thousands of years at least. However, despite that, our own rather more rapid evolution has still ensured that humanity is very much the dominant force on the planet and, the odd concession to animal rights and one particular monkey who has made it in business and to a certain extent politics aside, humans are still treating animals at best like pets, and at worst using them as livestock, so basically very much as third class citizens.

Given that, perhaps it’s no surprise that despite gentle pressure and painfully gradual progress by liberal-minded pressure groups and politicians alike, albeit blocked wherever possible by those whose interests it would adversely financially affect of course, there are a group of animals called ORAPOST who’ve decided that more direct action is required to produce any real progress. That’s the most direct type of action in the form of bombs, kidnappings and generally any and all terrorist activities.

A decent chunk of volume one therefore focuses on the leader of ORAPOST, the psychotic tiny monkey Mrs. Pompei, and the attempts of the world-weary moustachioed F.B.I. agent Jack at co-ordinating the hunt to track her down after the latest bombing outrage at a college. What makes this such a compelling work is the variety of narrative forms and devices, and the whole plethora of art styles Adam Hines uses, to drive a very rich and deliberately complex story. Certain sections are repeatedly told ahead of others which preface them temporally, meaning we don’t have all the required information to interpret them fully, quite deliberately on Hine’s part, at the time. Consequently we are kept thinking and wondering, and our minds remain completely open for Hine to play even further with.

There is therefore a rather haunting sequence in which Mrs. Pompei, holed up in a rural house hiding out from the feds with her Gorilla accomplice, reads the diary, out of sheer boredom, of the woman whose whole family she’s just murdered, a diary mainly about her kids and beloved pet dog that recently died of cancer. Then there’s the political essay by a controversial animal ‘academic’ which is quite literally in the margins of some early pages arguing that every great work of literature created by a human was inspired by, if not outright plagiarised from, an oral tale told to them by an animal. Then there are altogether more ethereal and abstract silent sequences, or containing minimal conversations between various animals in the wilds all over the world, and scenes containing other characters, animal and human, some of whom no doubt will have a much more significant part to play in future volumes. It’s wonderful stuff, and I was at times extremely captivated by the diverse world that Hines has created for us to explore.

I only have one negative comment to make, which others may or may not of course disagree with, but I do feel I have to make it, and that is there are a significant number of pages where the art seems inexplicably dark to the point that I wondered if there was a printing error. Whole pages seem to have a shaded background wash that is barely one shade lighter than the pencilled foreground. It’s strange given it’s certainly not present right throughout the work; indeed there are several pages with an identical style of pencilling on a completely white background, and also several extremely modest shades of background tone, but it does really spoil portions of the book. I can’t understand why Hine has done it, or why whoever edited the book didn’t make sure it was changed. Hopefully this won’t continue in subsequent volumes. Still, this single negative point aside, DUNCAN THE WONDERDOG is a truly magnificent work.

LINK

JR

Remake Special (£7-50, AdHouse) by Lamar Abrams ~

In this extra-special long-player, rude robot boy Max Blaster comes a cropper to the Doo-Doo Monster, a horrific being who sneaks into the homes of surface dwellers and smears faeces on their faces as they sleep! What’s worse is his touch gives you the Doo-Doo Touch, turning everything you touch to poop! Okay, apparently robots can’t get the Doo-Doo Touch but it’s the principle of the thing, y’know? Max’s housemates Cardigan (also robot) and Cat (born from a sugar rush) deny Max any fraternal love so it’s up to his friends Magma-Boy and Sick-Rick to follow Max deep into the dankest, darkest sewer for revenge.

Sly references to TMNT and the Powerpuff Girls pepper this fantastic romp. And although I’m pretty sure the language is all ages, I’m aiming this squarely at fans of Pendleton Ward’s demented cartoons. Also cats playing retro games can do no wrong.

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TR

The Bulletproof Coffin (£13-50, Image) by David Hine & Shaky Kane.

Best thing I’ve read from Hine since STRANGE EMBRACE, as a man whose job it is to collect each deceased’s possessions for a local council is allowed the perk of picking up some odds and sods for himself.

“I guess you could call me a collector. A culture vulture.”

Here he comes home to his freakish family with a ten-cent comic that shouldn’t exist. It’s The Unforgiving Eye #198, a horror story of revelation and retribution. To Steve Newman it looks just like the work of both Hine and Kane even though Shaky Kane left the title when Big 2 took over the company and swore he’d never draw another comic again. He certainly swore never to work with David Hine again, calling him a sell-out for knuckling down and churning out lacklustre junk for Big 2. Oh, yes and there’s one other little discrepancy: the last published issue of The Unforgiving Eye was #127.

The comic within the comic was witty enough in itself, as was the mischief-making back-matter account of Hine and Kane’s secret career, but there’s more to the deceased than an Unforgiving Eye. There’s a Vendo-vision TV set that takes quarters, and a very peculiar programme starts playing… Heh.

LINK

SLH

S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1: Architects Of Forever h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver…

“Master, do you think what you attempt will work?”
“Yes. It has to… this is not how the world ends.”

Profound mental confusion and dilation of time, coupled with general difficulty comprehending what on earth is going on… yes, it’s certainly taking some adjusting to being a parent. Ah, you thought I was talking about reading S.H.I.E.L.D. VOL 1, eh? Well, that description could equally apply to perusing said graphic novel as it does to new-found fatherhood. Happily though, it is just as rewarding an experience, though 4 weeks and 6 issues later, I’m not really any the wiser in either department!

What I do know with some certainty is Jonathan Hickman is clearly a genius, and this is undoubtedly his finest work so far, which given how much I enjoyed his NIGHTLY NEWS, TRANSHUMAN, PAX ROMANA and his current FANTASTIC FOUR and SECRET WARRIORS material is saying something. I also have to acknowledge Marvel’s pluck in letting him put this series out at all, though perhaps given the success of some of the more leftfield pieces of relatively recent years like Earth X, THE INHUMANS, MARVEL 1602, WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN and MARVEL 1985, it’s probably no surprise S.H.I.E.L.D. has been such a revelation, both figuratively and literally.

You see the organisation currently known as S.H.I.E.L.D. is far, far older than we modern Marvelites were aware of, indeed it’s not even Silver or Golden age, at least in comic terms, as the Brotherhood of the Shield has been secretly protecting the world and covertly guiding civilisation for over 5,000 years against the likes of the Brood, Celestials and Galactus. Which if I were trying to continue this badly advised metallic metaphor would make it since the Bronze Age, I think! Prominent luminaries amongst the earlier ranks of brotherhood included Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, and it would seem that despite standing shoulder to shoulder against external threats, fraternal harmony was at times in rather short supply.

Thus when a threat called the Night Machine arises in the 1950s era which threatens to destroy the Brotherhood completely, it falls upon agents Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark to step into the breach and investigate whether the origin of this particular grave danger might for once be closer to home.

To reveal any more would be churlish of me, for much of the joy in this title is the bemusement and wonder you experience as you try and piece together precisely what is going on. Who is working against whom? And why? And which historical figure is going to be unveiled as a member of the brotherhood next, not to mention which side will they be on?! It would also seem that time travel is no limitation for certain learned historical scientists either, as members past and present machiavelliate (come on, that is such a beautifully appropriate piece of neology you have to let me get away with it!) and attempt to bolster their own agendas in all eras simultaneously.

S.H.I.E.L.D is already a modern Marvel masterpiece. I just hope Hickman can keep this up; actually I don’t doubt it whatsoever. Those reading FANTASTIC FOUR and SECRET WARRIORS in addition may well have noticed the more subtle and overt tie-ins respectively to those particular titles. You don’t need to read them to appreciate S.H.I.E.L.D. at all, but the little nods here and there do add a certain extra frisson and sly grin to the proceedings. Beautiful art from Weaver, particularly in the historical flashback sequences, that delight and embellish the intricately linked storytelling. Strap yourself down and prepare to be confused, but don’t worry, I have confidence that it will all make sense in the end…

“Master Galileo, how do you know your machine will be able to stop it?”
“Because it must… because it will. Haven’t you figured that out by now…? This is not how the world ends.”
“And that is the secret truth of the hidden history of the world. The final knowledge… the end of all things.”

JR

Fantastic Four vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting with Nick Dragotta, Mark Brooks.

“Since the birth of everything, all life writhes in anguish… The suffering of billions of years of prolonged decay – the scars sit deep within us. You know this is true, because the pain resonates… We all share that core dread… that small, still voice coming from the older, primal place in our minds… We are all dying.”

Well, he’s a glass-half-full kinda guy!

The final book in the first phase of Jonathan Hickman’s FANTASTIC FOUR ends in catastrophe for the family with the loss of one of their members. Knowing that as you read this makes for quite the poignant experience.

So many threads set up not just by Hickman but by Mark Millar in his own excellent run (WORLD’S GREATEST and THE MASTER OF DOOM) come back to haunt them whilst one remains far from resolved and is only now becoming clear in the second phase under the title FF (Future Foundation). Steve Epting has long been one of my favourite Marvel pencillers and his kids in particular are a just-so joy, though perhaps the finest panel is Sue Storm’s eyes rolling to the heavens under Namor’s admiration only after she shouts him down in public. He’s thrilling, subtle and his expressions carry weight. Quite why the final silent issue, the denouement, is given to someone else, I cannot comprehend.

Without giving too much away, Sue’s role as emissary between the old and new Atlantean factions takes a substantial turn for the unexpected, Galactus’ dead body which Reed Richards decided to bury is finally discovered, Ben swallows the serum Valeria and co. concocted to give him one week a year in his old human body… and that bloody Negative Zone portal never did anyone any good, did it?

Hickman, however, is master of the unexpected… like young prodigy Valeria casually teleporting into the throne room of Victor Von Doom who sits brooding about what he has lost.

“What’s up?”
“Young lady… Showing up unannounced is rash, unsuitable behaviour… even for a child. Does your father know where you are, Valeria?”
“Actually, he’s why I’m here.”
“And what has he done now?”
“Daddy went and built a very bad machine and forgot to tell anyone… Guess who just found it.”

Includes the script to silent issue #588.

SLH

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 6 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

First appearance of the Black Panther and several other classic tales like Doom relieving the Silver Surfer of his Power Cosmic (“I’ll just borrow this, if you don’t mind. I’ll bring it back on Sunday after church”) and a far more introverted affair which readers were led to believe would focus on Ben Grimm’s plight as a man of deep feeling trapped in a body of bricks that made touching his girlfriend a somewhat abrasive affair. This Man, This Monster kicked off with what was quite literally a splash page as The Thing is caught in a New York rainstorm at night. A couple of policemen in a patrol car offer him a lift, but instead he chooses to be alone with his soggy old thoughts until accosted by a bald-bonced Billy No Mates who lures him inside for a cuppa. God knows how much ketamine the cuppa was cut with but Ben’s instantly out like a light, then it’s the old switcheroo with Ben reverting to human and the real monster of the story out to destroy the Fantastic Four disguised as the Thing. It is, however, a story of that monster’s redemption since a moment of crisis leads to another of heroism and Billy suddenly realises why he had no mates: he was a bitter and selfish old plonker.

It is a classic, but it’s also completely ridiculous. Somehow Billy No Mates (no, it’s not his real name) is familiar enough with everyone to know their nicknames and even who Aunt Petunia is, but gives the game away immediately by “forgetting” how much he can lift. Neither Reed nor Sue raises an eyebrow even when their beloved Ben bursts in to confront the impostor. Instead they send Ben packing and immediately Reed puts his life in the imitator’s hands. No pause for thought there. No, “Err, I think I’ll let Sue handle this one while you’re on the other side of the planet just to be on the safe side. You know, given that it’s 50/50 as to which one of you is trying to get one over on me.” Instead it’s straight into sub-space for a space-time experiment clearly marked “DANGER!” with the evil doppelganger on duty as his life-line. Do you think it’s all going to go horribly wrong, dear reader? Well, let me put it like this: Victor Von Doom doesn’t even go to church. He lies in on a Sunday eating crumpets and jam.

LINK

SLH

The Sensational She-Hulk s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne.

Genuinely entertaining book of arched eyebrows from 1989 that broke the fourth wall by addressing readers, its editor, inker and even John Byrne himself as Louise “I know I’ll only be a supporting character” Mason struggles to keep Jennifer inside the panel borders:

“Boy! This is seriously embarrassing! I guess I wasn’t expecting the introduction of a romantic interest so soon.”
“Romantic interest? Mr. Towers? Don’t count on it, honey. Mr. Towers is married and has two daughters!”
“Married…?? Since when is he married??”
“Since now, I suppose. This it the first time it’s been mentioned.”
What?!? Byrne!! What kind of game are you playing?!?””
“Jennifer!! Control yourself! We’re inked and coloured! Printed! There’s a reader out there now!”

There’s a beautifully timed page that culminates in a flan being flung, and some of this is positively NEXT WAVE-ian like Dr. Bong and the cover to #7 in which the snow-white bundle of fur called Xemnu hoists She-Hulk above his head. The caption reads, “I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I AM MEAN!!” The villains are deliberately the lamest Byrne could dredge up, but the clothes were the sexiest (and often skimpiest – Byrne understood his audience) with excellent textures and, boy, could that man draw hair back then. I wouldn’t be averse to recommended this to some GLAMOURPUSS readers.

The jokes do eventually wear thin, but who’d have thought you could wring something genuinely moving out of this? Here’s Louise Mason again explaining her aged appearance. In the forties she fought crime but that sort of pulp fiction fell out of fashion in American comics.

“How old are you, Jennifer?”
“Old…? I’m thirty one. Why?”
“Thirty-one. And you’ll always be thirty-one, as long as you’re in the comics. That’s the way it works. But Mark and I weren’t in the comics any more. We were plain old Mr. and Mrs. Mark Mason. We settled down, had a couple of kids… started finding grey hairs and crow’s feet… Then it happened! One day, out of a clear blue sky, the Sub-Mariner returned! Not long after, Captain America was back in action, not a day older than he’d been in the war. Pretty soon all the old heroes started coming back. Mark and I were sure it wouldn’t be long before we were back in the harness, too! We waited. And we waited…”

There’s a one-panel funeral scene.

“I guess… we waited too long.”

LINK

SLH

Captain America: The Trial Of Captain America h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuna, Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser.

“And am I beautiful?”
“As beautiful as a mushroom cloud.”

Some superb rain and snowstorms combined with belting action sequences and the fiercest of arguments make this one of the best books of Brubaker’s run so far.

Ever since the “death” of Steve Rogers his old side-kick Bucky has taken up the shield as Captain America. Only close friends have known that in the years since WWII when Bucky was thought dead, he himself lay cryogenically frozen only to be reanimated from time to time as the Winter Soldier, brainwashed into assassination and sundry other acts of terrorism on behalf of the Soviet Union.

But now news has leaked out to the world, a media ravenous for ratings trying the American soldier in public before his case can even reach court. And just as the trial proper begins the Red Skull’s daughter escapes from custody and leaks her three-month-old psychiatric evaluation, pre-planned to hurt Bucky most, to the news channels. Unfortunately that’s but one component of a stratagem that’s been meticulously thought through and every angle, every ray of hope is part of the plan for Bucky to dig himself deeper.

“The primary thing is we want to keep you off the witness stand.”
“What are you saying, Bernie? Of course he’ll testify.”
“Steve, get real. He’s not going there. Have you even read the Winter Soldier file?”
“Of course I’ve read it. But he’s still got to defend himself… Tell them what was done to him… That’s your case, that he wasn’t in – “
“I know, Steve. But I’m still not opening that door. I can just see the Federal Prosecutor making him recount every Soviet mission… It’d be a disaster.”

Those who remember Brubaker’s run on Daredevil will already know he handles prison scenes with the harshness they deserve, whilst the trial itself is gripping. Mind-control expert and regular to this series, Dr. Faustus, is particularly well written and fans of the Mike Zeck era will be pleasantly surprised to see the return of former love interest Bernie Rosenthal as Bucky Barnes’ defence attorney. Unfortunately she’s accepted a poisoned chalice and I can assure you that the ending is anything but a conclusion.

“So, what do you really think, Bernie?”
“I think I don’t know… I mean, I’m looking to avoid worst case scenarios… Like your oldest friend spending twenty years in solitary. But I’m worrying that might not be good enough for the two of you.”
”What do you mean?”
“Our entire defence rests on proving Bucky was under mind-control. And that’s just to get reasonable doubt. If you want to really exonerate him… I’m not sure that’s going to happen. That man may never get his old life back… Do you understand that?”

He really, really doesn’t.

SLH

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson.

“We have done you no harm… Why are you doing this?”
“Because you exist. And that is an affront to the Lord.”

An original, album-sized softcover from around the time of UNCANNY X-MEN #170-ish, this was the first time Magneto was treated as anything other than a megalomaniacal supervillain. The helmet came off, the POV was reversed, and Claremont took a hard look at the very foundation of the series: what it was like not just to be rejected but persecuted for who you were, how God made you, and murdered because of it.

It opens with two children aged eleven and nine, hunted down, shot then strung up on swings, with placards bearing the accusation of “Mutie”. They’re found in the night and freed from their chains by Magneto who then tracks the source of the hate-mongering to its predictably evangelical source: creationist Reverend William Stryker. Hence the title, a direct retort to those religious leaders conveniently forgetting that there was no sub-clause to God’s Commandment “Love Thy Neighbour” – no specific exceptions like “Unless they verily be queer”.

With overt parallels to racist lynching and violent homophobia, it was an affecting piece for a young superhero reader to be introduced to, drawn with much restrained humanity by Brent Anderson, one of Neal Adams’ many successors who went on to breathe equal humanity and life into Kurt Busiek’s magnificent Astro City series.

In fact a substantially different version of this book was going to be drawn by Neal Adams himself, and his six pencilled pages are reprinted here along with a candid explanation for his departure along with interviews with Chris and Brent detailing the evolution of the book. Bits have aged better than others (we could do without yet another Danger Room training session) but never before had the series felt so grounded on a city’s roughest districts or been so direct about its message which alas has not dated at all.

“One more genocide in name of God. A story as old as the race.”

This book introduces the Purifiers for the very first time and you’ll surprised about how much of this made its way into the second X-Men film.

LINK

SLH

Superman/Batman: Worship s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Levitz & Jerry Ordway, Renato Guedes…

BATMAN BEYOND fans, of which I am a recent convert, please take note, for this volume features a team-up tale with future Batman Terry McGinnis, with the incredibly angry and continuously shouting Bruce Wayne on omnipresent, full-volume radio backup in his earhole, and an older Superman, who seems to have vanished leaving Metropolis to the oh so tenderising mercies of Lex Luthor. Or has he…?

LINK

JR

New Reviews for Older Books:

An odd coincidence that this review should appear during the same week as X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS, but a coincidence it is.

Strangers In Paradise Pocketbook vol 2 (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

There are very few comics on this planet with the power to move me like STRANGERS IN PARADISE. I could choose to quote from so many of these 350 pages. So much happens, so much is said. So much of it should never happen to anyone and so much of it should never have been said. That’s life.

“Hello… Katina? I hope this is still your number. This is Marie Peters. I know it’s been a long time… but remember you gave me your number when you moved to Hawaii and then Santa Fe, and asked me to call you if anything ever happened to Francine…? Well… I guess I’m making that call. I’m in Houston, I’m calling from Francine and Brad’s house…”
Luisa! Book me on a flight back to Houston!”
“But you just came from…”
“NOW, please.”
“Things aren’t right here, Katina. I’ve never seen Francine this way and I’m worried about her. She’s so sad all the time, she drinks and cries herself to sleep every night. She won’t talk to me about it, but tonight she said she wants to go home. I think she means you, Katina. Listen, I know it’s none of my business but I just can’t sit by and watch my daughter die like this. Please come back, Katina. Whatever happened between you two, let it go. Whatever I said about you and your relationship with Francine, I’m sorry. Please… come back.”

I remember my shock when Francine wakes from the dream at the beginning of this book and we see that she has aged a decade. Or is that the wear and tear of being a mother, married to a man who avoids her? After lunch at a restaurant for which Brad never shows up, she ventures onto the terrace with its garden gazebo and stares into the distance, the autumn wind tugging at her thick, dark hair. And she has a vision of a woman with long blonde hair, sitting with her back to her.

Sandwiched between those opening pages and the answer machine message above are events in the past far worse than the first volume, for Darcy Parker is back and this time she means business. She has every intention of getting one of her Parker girls into the White House and she will use Katchoo to do so. Also, something so monumental, so very final, happens which I had forgotten occurring so early.

But half the joy of this series is that Terry juxtaposes the tragic with the comedic and Francine’s stint as a model at a photoshoot is glorious.

“I want you to look into the camera and don’t say a word, don’t move a muscle… Just give me the look!”
“The look?”
“The look.”
“Give the camera a look.”
“Not a look… the look! You know, the one you women have that says, “I’m sexy but selective, demanding but worth it, aggressive… yet feminine! Seductive in my Anne Klein suit, irresistible in my Camry. Provocative as I make my own bread while closing a big contract on my mobilnet cell phone between reps on my Thigh-Master!”
“Oh yeah, that look. We have so many.”

But there was one particular new element that took some of Moore’s readers completely by surprise, as David makes another of his many attempts to connect with Katchoo only to have it backfire on him. Again.

“You can’t hide for the rest of your life, Katchoo.”
“I’m not hiding! I just… don’t know what else to do.”
“I know the feeling. You live like there’s no tomorrow, and one day you’re right… And it scares the hell out of you. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
“So… what did you do? How’d you get through it?”
“Jesus Christ.”

Brilliant.

Katchoo reacts with fury. Not because David is a Christian but because he kept it from her.

Yet a great many STRANGERS IN PARADISE fans reacted with fury exactly because David had come out as Christian swiftly followed by Terry himself. “How dare a man writing with love about same-sex relationships be Christian?” they appeared to demand. With confused animosity.

And I don’t know about you, but that just makes no sense to me at all. Here was someone who, unlike so many in the history of organised religion, actually followed Christ’s teachings to spread love and understanding wherever he went and was brave enough to do so in print when it occasionally put him at odds with friends and family. And he was being chastised for that.

Now, I cannot recall whether Terry had come all the way over from America to sign at Page 45 just before or just after that but when he asked me to write the introduction to STRANGERS IN PARADISE: LOVE ME TENDER, the original fourth book in the series that contained this very material, after faltering once I knew exactly what I wanted to write and I chose my words carefully as a subtle rebuttal.

This is what Terry printed. Err, minus the typo and a couple of grammatical errors on my part!

Strangers No More

Dear Terry,

Thank you so much for producing such a beautiful book. In addition to a personal bi-monthly joy Strangers In Paradise, like so much of the material emerging these days, makes our jobs as retailers so much easier. Without creators like yourself, brave and talented enough to produce a book which appeals to so many different people, we’d never be able to begin marketing comics to the general public. Believe me, there are retailers out there who leap with joy every time a new, quality title emerges which we can not only enjoy ourselves, but promote and sell to the rest of the world who’ve yet to find a comic they might enjoy…

Stephen L. Holland

Page 45, March 7th 1995.

So began a very lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership and a wonderful friendship now almost three years old between ourselves at Page 45 (Mark, Dominique and myself), and Terry and Robyn Moore, which I could characterise, succinctly, as a transatlantic, telephonic tennis rally, consisting from both sides almost exclusively of the phrase “thank you”.

Well, that’s not strictly true.

The lucrative, mutually-beneficial business partnership began the day we received our first issue of Terry’s life-breathing comic, and it was cemented but moments later when we sold the first of what have since turned into thousands of copies, to an audience at least 50% female and almost wholly new to comics.

Once we knew what we had in our hands it was relatively easy for us. We didn’t have to create the fiction, we just bought it in, promoted it, took the money, said “thank you very much”, and watched the broad, broad smiles of those returning for the very next issue, the next collection, or a further suggestion to add to their comicbook reading list.

It will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that this fine work of fiction, about two highly individual girls from Houston, has, for some time now, been our biggest single selling title. Particularly in this format, the collections. 

Early in 1997 Page 45 had the pleasure of playing host to Terry and Robyn for a Strangers In Paradise signing and Terry, four hours in (jet-lag no doubt playing havoc with his brain), had a hand so cramped from continuous sketching that… that he just continued to sign and sketch for another full hour.  No moans, no protestations, just pure glee and excitement that he was here, with those who cared about his stories as much as he did. Robyn and I caught him shaking that wrist beneath the counter to liven it up, and on he went.

The very last couple in line were a mother and daughter whose names, I regret, elude me during this, a very tight deadline. Neither had read a copy of Strangers previously, but had heard about Terry’s presence and the book, and were intrigued. The mother bought a copy of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful, watercolour re-interpretation of Dracula; the daughter, well under 16 and armed with some of her own spectacularly promising sketches, bought the first episode of the book you hold in your hands.

Do you know what they said, the very next week, was their favourite segment? The piece about the transsexual marriage. Oh, Terry Moore, the love you spread…

In a society bombarded with messages of hate, from the tabloid newspapers and self-serving politicians to the more vocal members of organised religions, it is so heart-warming to come across a book whose priorities lie firmly in what was always, to me, the key Christian doctrine: Love Thy Neighbour. I don’t remember any post-script, qualification or specific exceptions being made; seems a fairly clear and concise Commandment to me.

So, here we go again, Terry: “Thank you”.

Thank you for Francine, for David and Katchoo. Thank you for Darcy Parker, Louis and Phoebe, Freddie, Chuck, Rachel, Tambi and all the others. Thank you for such beautiful brush strokes, such moving poetry, and all the joie de vivre you pack into your work.

Stephen L. Holland
Page 45
Nottingham, England, 1997.

Ahem. This is where I put Terry’s altruism to the test, for I would be a lamentable retailer if I didn’t suggest that if you enjoyed this and other volumes of Strangers In Paradise, you will love Nabiel Kanan’s Exit, Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, Dave Sim & Gerhard’s Jaka’s StoryKyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, Bryan Talbot’s The Tale Of One Bad Rat, Will Eisner’s To The Heart Of The Storm or Dropsie Avenue, Donna Barr’s Desert Peach, Seth’s It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, and Jeremy Dennis’s 3InABed, all of which overflow with what I would call the tender narrative. Indeed, there are so many more that I could fill this entire book with suggestions, but I’m being presumptuous enough as it is. Talk to the comicbook retailer from whom you bought this collection; she or he will have suggestions of their own, and point you in the right direction.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Reviews to follow; reviews of former hardcovers now turned flaccid will already be up!

I Will Bite You! (£10-50, Secret Acres) by Joseph Lambert
The Next Day (£11-99, POP Sandbox) by Paul Peterson, Jason Gilmore & John Porcellino
Cyclops vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon
Jinx h/c (£18-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis
DMZ vol 10: Collective Punishment (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti, Nathan Fox, Cliff Chang, Danijel Zezelj, David Lapham
The Little Endless Storybook h/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jill Thompson
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Masterpieces vol 1 (£14-99, Boom!) by Larry Wachowski, Neil Gaiman, Dwayne McDuffie, Marc McLaurin, Malcom Smith, Clive Barker, Anna Miller, Malcom Smith, Fred Vicarel, D.G. Chichester, Mike Mignola, Jan Strnad, R.J.M. Lofficier & Mark Pacella, Dave McKean, Kevin O’Neill, Jorge Zaffino, Mike McMahon, Alex Ross, Mike Mignola, Mark Chiarello
Moomin Comic Strips vol 6 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson
The Executor s/c (£9-99, Vertigo) by Jon Evans & Andrea Mutti
Conan vol 10: Iron Shadows In The Moon and Other Stories (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Timothy Truman Darick Robertson & Paul Lee, Tomas Giorello, Darick Robertson, Cary Nord
Farscape vol 4: Tangled Roots s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon, Keith R.A. Decandido & Will Sliney
Ultimate Comics New Ultimates vol 1: Thor Reborn s/c (UK E’dn) (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho
Thor: Wolves Of The North (£9-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey, Alan Davis, Peter Milligan & Mike Perkins, Alan David, Tom Grindberg, Mico Suayan
Thor: For Asgard h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi
Batman: Long Shadows s/c (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winick & Mark Bagley, Ed Benes
Brightest Day vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark
We Were There vol 12 (£7-50, Viz) by Yuki Obata
Lychee Light Club (£12-99, Vertical) by Usamaru Furuya
7 Billion Needles vol 4 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano
Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 5 (£7-50, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada
Gin Tama vol 22 (£7-50, Viz) by Hideaki Sorachi

Absolutely stunned and delighted that the Lizzie Spratt, Walker Books’ editor of Andi Watson whose LITTLE STAR was our inaugural Comicbook Of The Month, has herself joined our Comicbook Of The Month Club! How very cool is that? New Andi Watson GLISTER books in shortly and more in next News & Letter column ASAP, I promise!

 - Stephen