Reviews May 2011 week one

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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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…?

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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

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