Reviews May 2011 week two

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 (, 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.



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.



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.


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.



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.



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.”



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.



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?



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…


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:



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…


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!]



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.”



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:



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…?



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.



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!”
“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.



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 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

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