Archive for June, 2011

June Previews for August 2011

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

 

Page 45 up-grade: you now have three options!

1) Read my own previews on this very page complete with external links to blogs, interviews and interior art, plus interior links to reviews of the books I mention in passing.

2) Read my own previews without links (we can’t link on that part of the site, sorry) but separated into digestible ‘bubbles’ with cover art instead:

3) Read Diamond’s own previews of comics and graphic novels in full and complete with cover art (that’d be 3,277 Marvel comics I’m not covering):

We’d be very, very interested to hear what you think of these options. Please, please, please tweet me or email us at page45@page45.com

Books For August 2011 Onwards

Habibi h/c (£25-99, Pantheon) by Craig Thompson.

From the creator of BLANKETS, the most eagerly awaiting release in the last couple of years in a cloth-bound, gold-stamped hardcover. If £25-99 sounds expensive, the book is 672 pages long! So no, not that expensive.

“Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fuelled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth – and frailty – of their connection. At once contemporary and timeless, HABIBI gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

These are the covers that didn’t make the final cut, each one as exquisite as the others:

LINK

Due: 20/09/11

Blankets h/c (£29-99, Top shelf) by Craig Thompson.

New hardcover to coincide with HABIBI’s release, with yet another gorgeous design. BLANKETS still freely available as a softcover @ £22-50, in stock right now. Mark wrote:

Slightly overwrought but technically excellent autobiographical work from the creator of GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE.

Growing up in the Wisconsin countryside, Craig and his brother seem to be the only friends for each other but even then Craig, the older one, doesn’t keep his sibling safe as he should. The father is overbearing, occasionally violent and when the winter is around them the only sanctuary they have is a blank sheet of paper for their imaginations to go wild on. College and Christian winter camp prove to be problematic; Craig is too weak a flower amongst the sports-heads but there’s a chink of light in the form of Raina, a poet who turns to be his muse.

The art is just stunning. He’s studied Will Eisner and pushed it a little further, at times reminding me of a looser version of David B’s THE EPILEPTIC with all the fantastic metaphors coming to the surface and interacting with the characters. The blankets turn up as physical objects (the one the brothers sleep under, a gift from Raina, the snow that obliterates the landscape) and as the safety of religion, family and love.

A few pull quotes for you:

“I thought it was moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest, and probably the most important graphic novel since JIMMY CORRIGAN.” – Neil Gaiman

“Blankets officially confirms Craig Thompson’s place in the world of graphic novels as one of the true greats.” – Brian Michael Bendis

“In this book, Craig Thompson emerges as a young comics master. In the purest narrative form he tells a highly charged personal story, crammed with pain, discovery, hi-jinx, penance, religious conviction and its loss … and along comes self-loathing. In this story of family and first love, that which goes awry in life, goes well as art. Mr. Thompson is slyly self-effacing as he bowls us over with his mix of skills. His expert blending of words and pictures and resonant silences makes for a transcendent kind of story-telling that grabs you as you read it and stays with you after you put it down. I’d call that literature.” – Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer Prize-Winner

“Craig has documented his youth in the most honest of ways. Not too warm and fuzzy nor too harsh and cold, showing us the insecurities of growing up in what is often a strange and sometimes painful world. The perfect marriage of words and pictures. It’s as if François Truffaut had written and drawn his own comic with the artistry of Will Eisner. His sense of timing is impeccable, always knowing when not to hit you with a heavy hand. It’s the genuine article.” – Bob Schreck, Group Editor, DC Comics.

LINK

Due: August

New York Five (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly.

From the creators of LOCAL, this self-contained sequel to NEW YORK FOUR returns us to the lives of five young women handling life in the Big Apple with varying degrees of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence.

Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. She also has a boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie’s no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn’t speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn’t done using Angie to speak to Riley as the first chapter’s cliffhanger makes clear.

Riley’s attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa’s stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona’s less outgoing but still going out, if only to stalk her professor. We’re talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking, dumpster-diving for dirt, and her boyfriend’s unimpressed. I really don’t know what Ren’s problem is. She doesn’t seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?

Like LOCAL, there’s an exceptional spirit of place here whether it’s the civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night or the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn’t find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that…

Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and she asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. This would make the perfect guide, dotted as it is with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark’s Place in The East Village:

“NY 101: St. Mark’s Place, as iconic and compelling as SF’s Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author’s most-missed: the St. Mark’s Cinema.”

For me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals – females with foibles, individuals with issues – gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts. Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, “Noooo, don’t do it!” moments.

Here’s NEW YORK FOUR:

LINK

Due 21/09/11

Frank Book reprint (£25-99 s/c £33-99 h/c, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

From the creator of CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS and WEATHERCRAFT, 352 pages of both black and white and full-colour stories prior to those books, plus loads of the original comic covers and more.

Frank is an anthropomorphic, purple-and-cream-skinned, white gloved, buck-toothed… bear of sorts. (Mark said cat, I say bear, though now that I think about it…) He’s a fallible being given to temptation and insatiable curiosity, but defended at every juncture by his loyal companions Pupshaw and Pushpaw. The stories are fantastical, phantasmagorical fables, mostly silent so that you can bring to them what you will and interpret them as you like, and if you were to sit down with someone else and discuss any given piece you might find it revealing – both of yourself and of your friend. I often describe them as “mind-altering, yet legal”. Enlightening too, as I say. Just don’t be taken in by how kid-friendly it looks on the surface: it isn’t. There’s all the cruelty that comes with real life, and all the unsettling strangeness of dreams. The man is a visionary, a veritable shaman with that rare ability to communicate with wisdom and skill.

Mark once wrote, and I completely agree, “I think the only quibble here is the inclusion of language. You’ve got the introduction by Francis Ford Coppola and an afterword by Jim, a little copyright information and so on. To keep the purity of the book it should have been on a separate booklet, something that would come with the book but you could keep in a drawer for reference. Then you’d have a somnambulant Rosetta Stone or maybe a Bible-thick version of one of those air-safety cards. Pure communication.“

Jim Woodring’s website:

LINK

Due: August

Oil & Water (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Steve Duin & Shannon Wheeler.

More than a little topical as it will be, in all inevitably, about once every other year.

“OIL & WATER “follows 10 people into the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill. The contradictions of a disaster caused by the very industry that is the economic foundation of a community forces beliefs to be questioned when the volunteer clean-up workers come face-to-face with the diverse and pragmatic locals.”

Interior art:

LINK

SLH

The Crow special edition (£12-99, Titan) by James O’Barr.

Pain, Fear, Irony, Despair, Death. James O’Barr’s poetic tale of love and revenge: remorselessly bleak, deeply melancholic, it remains a beautiful book… I wrote over 15 years ago. Since when I have advised removing all razor blades from your household before even attempting this harrowing original to a film that was comparatively jaunty. Yes, it’s that grim. It’s over twenty years since I’ve read the single issues but, if I recall correctly, The Crow is a post-punk youngster who rises from the grave to avenge his fiancée’s murder which he failed to prevent. Cue Joy Division lyrics and maybe The Cure. As I say, it’s been a while.

This edition contains sixty pages of previously unseen material.

LINK

Due: August.

Horror Hospital Unplugged (£16-99, Harper) by Dennis Cooper & Keith Mayerson.

New edition of a book I confess I’ve never scene. Yes, it’s a gay coming-of-age story (I am trying to hold back to the puns) starring an L.A. indie rock band on the rise just as its lead singer is too. He confused! In spite of an art style I would imagine quite challenging to the Real Mainstream (love it myself) it managed to garner considerable and highly informed critical acclaim back in 1996 from the likes of Publisher’s Weekly. That, I have read. Well done, New York, by the way on the whole gay marriage thing! (The divorce lawyers are rubbing their hands already.)

Loads more info and a preview too here:

LINK

Killing Velazquez (£14-99, Conundrum Press) by Phillippe Girard.

Sounds frighteningly like WHY I KILLED PETER.

“On hearing a radio report of an accused priest, Philippe is thrown back to a difficult time in his youth. He is faced with his parents’ impending divorce, moves to a new city, goes to a new school, and needs to make new friends. To help him adapt to his new surroundings his mother urges him to join the “Snow Geese,” a youth group led by a nonconformist priest who challenges Philippe to rethink his values. But as Philippe becomes more acquainted with the group and its charismatic leader, masks begin to slip, and he finds himself plunged into the centre of an unexpected drama. With his life turned upside-down, he seeks comfort in reading, and manages to find his bearings again when he discovers the old-fashioned adventure series of Jack Bowmore. Killing Velazquez is an autobiographical tale that gives us a glimpse into the complexities of manipulation and reminds us that sometimes an old book can actually save a life.”

LINK

SLH

Supergod s/c (£13-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny.

Gripping. Considering this is one long monologue – an elegy for the world and a post-mortem on the death sentence it imposed on itself – this is absolutely gripping, whilst Gastonny’s Krishna, the blue Messiah India built to save their country, is one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve seen.

What’s left of London is a choking mass of fire and smoke. A man in a lab coat sits on the steps of the Thames below the Houses of Parliament, lights a spliff and records the history of humanity’s meddling in evolution. Intelligent Design? Not so intelligent, no. Humanity, he recounts, has always been obsessed with religion but never before the last century has it attempted to build its own God. A God in man’s image. A superhuman like India’s, designed with the express and single purpose of saving their country.

“The one question no-one asked themselves was: How exactly would he do that?”

Let Warren have the pleasure of surprising you. It’s not an original premise (what if superhumans really existed?) but it is a completely different approach informed with the sort of recondite trivia that Ellis soaks up (mushroom spores can survive in space) and the geopolitical thoughts that occupy his mind. I preferred NO HERO to BLACK SUMMER myself (I relished the first issue of B.S. but lost a little interest after that) but this I have no reservations about at all.

Preview: LINK.

Due: August

Sanctum restocks (£14-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Christophe Bec.

Remember when the Alien property was still terrifying? When the crew set out, as tiny as dolls and so vulnerable in their environmental suits, to explore the ship so vast their lights could barely catch its ceilings? The hook was the half-seen, the completely unknown, and the claustrophobia of a limited air supply. Well, they’ve captured it here in the depths of an underwater cavern deep beneath the Syrian coast, where the crew of the U.S.S. Nebraska discover a 70-year-old Soviet submarine which shouldn’t have the capability to dive that far. It’s not the only thing down there.

Bec’s artwork boasts an awesome sense of scale. The temple they stray into is absolutely enormous, and there’s page after page of ancient, underground architecture that’s as vast as anything imagined by Giger or the creative crew behind the early Tombraider games. Before its potency was frittered away on several half-arsed outings and too much hand-holding, the Tombraider franchise was full of the most spectacular and exotic settings, from Escher-like labyrinths of staircases so high up I came down with vertigo, and treacherous stone temples with secret passages, hidden traps and demonic creatures lurking in the shadows… to rusting tankers abandoned under the ocean. That’s the scale we’re talking here, and that’s the sort of enemy we’re talking too: not the physical, but the demonic.

Almost from the outset things start to go wrong on the Nebraska, and Dorison manages to juggle several crises at once, all dependent on not enough time, keeping the tension taut and the crew confused. Readers too are kept in suspense for the length of the book as it’s never quite clear what the exact source of the plagues and insanity is, who will be next to succumb to them, and whether any of the very desperate measures on board the submarine will actually work out. In addition, this is no Hollywood ending.

There are, I concede, a couple of minor problems. Several of the cast look way too similar, and you can’t afford that in a medium without audible voices for identification. In addition, I swear a couple of the speeches are assigned to the wrong people or, if not, the artist wasn’t careful enough with the stripes on the sleeves denoting rank. Yeah, like I’m a military expert.

LINK

Due: shortly

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus h/c (£37-99, DC) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

Deliciously clever exercise in literary collage wherein Moore raids the library of Victorian fiction, steals what he wants and splices it back together to form a world of his own – a world where nothing exists but that which was invented.

In volume one, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin and Allan Quartermain follow Mina Murray’s lead in saving Blighty from the threat of foreigners, giving Moore an excellent excuse to pay homage to and parody not only nineteenth-century fiction, but also the imperialist, patriarchal yet scientifically adventurous society which spawned it. This time: Mars attacks! Hawley Griffin is nowhere to be seen! And Mr. Hyde knows why…

Indeed the best realised character in this book is Mr. Hyde. He is the essence of animal distilled from Dr. Jekyll, and yet Moore imbues him with a certain sense of honour:

“Why are you ‘ere, anyway? You don’t strike me as the museum sort.”
“Huhuh. You’re wrong. Why, I’m obsessed with the past. I simply can’t let things go. Do you know what I mean?”

He will.

Includes scenes of invisible sodomy and Rupert The Bear – though not in the same panels.

The two original softcovers reprinted in one are available separately here along with their full reviews.

LINK and LINK

Due 26/10/11

Greek Street vol 3: Medea’s Luck (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & Davide Gianfelice.

“Sex, death, ambition, revenge and a reminder that some stories are too true and too dangerous to ever die… Crackles with Promethean fire.” – Grant Morrison

It’s also a reminder that as individuals we’re still all prone to the same vices, the same desires and the very same character flaws that made their way into Greek tragedies. Fate may not be on our side, but we’re more than capable of fucking things up for ourselves.

Onto the gang-ridden streets of sleazy Soho stroll a cast of characters you may find familiar. It’s not important that you do, for they each have their own stories ahead of them. Our modern Oedipus is Eddie, abandoned to a children’s home by his mother when he was five. Now a minor thief, he picks her up in a bar and before she discovers who Eddie is – before the morning after when she reads the letter which falls out of his pocket – there’s the night before during which they have sex. Then there’s an accident which propels Eddie into the arms of the Fureys, a gangland family caught in a self-fulfilling cycle of bloodlust and revenge. Lord Menon’s caught up in that too following the murder of his ex-lover whose body was found washed up on the banks of Thames. Investigating Inspector Dedalus appears to have lost an ‘a’ but gained a new monster of his own making: his labyrinthine closet. Meanwhile the prophet Cassandra here comes in the form of Lord Menon’s daughter Sandy, a fifteen-year-old girl hidden in the stately home’s attic and tormented by visions which no one believes. One nightmare in particular seems to grow increasingly vivid and urgent: Inspector Dedalus torn to shreds in a church. Now a new spate of murders has begun as an unholy creature shreds her victims leaving pages of a Greek text in their hearts: pages from Euripides’ Medea, “a play about arguably the bloodiest woman in all tragedy”.

Milligan’s reconfigurations here of already established conventions are as ingenious as they are semi-faithful (for example, Sandy’s prophecies are taken no more seriously than Cassandra’s were), and if you’re ever in danger of losing the plot each chapter is handily introduced by a modern Greek chorus in the form of a highly delectable stripper whom Gianfelice really goes to town on. Conversely his creature of vengeance is terrifying, her eyes burning with hellfire. It’s almost comical watching Dedalus trying to make pragmatic sense of what’s happening around him, unaware that the laws of physics have given way to the terrifying traps and trappings of Greek tragedy.

That was my review of volume one. Vol 2 here:

Due: 14/09/11

Saga Of The Swamp Thing Book 6 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Alan Moore & Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, John Totleben.

Cast out from Earth, the Swamp Thing drifts from planet to planet trying to find a way home through all the strange races and customs that he meets. Moore casts his magic over the home of Adam Strange, another man far from home, and we look again at various hawkmen and women as life & hope begin again. John Totleben takes over art & writing for one extraordinary issue that looks at a very alien mindset of biomechanical reproduction.

Softcover still available:

LINK

Due: 19/10/11

Feeding Ground vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski.

I love what Lapinksi’s done with both form and colour here for the series covers and interior art, incorporating Mexican iconography. Not your traditional schlock horror at all. And this is horror, for there be wolves in the dessert. Werewolves.

LINK

Due: August

Crossed vol 2: Family Values (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Jacen Burrows.

Sequel to Garth’s Ennis’ CROSSED volume one which I described as “The worst nightmare you’ve never had” and which I read between my fingers, making turning the pages somewhat problematic. The zombies there were but a reflection of man’s basest desires untethered from the prospect of retribution. They weren’t after brainz but loinz, and no one was safe. Here a remote family-run horse ranch is invaded en masse with no warning, but it transpires that there was plenty of horror at home in the first place. Truly repulsive.

Here’s the 3-D one-shot:

LINK

Due: August

The Raven And Other Stories h/c (12-99, IDW) by Edgar Allan Poe & Sam Kieth.

THE MAXX’s Sam Kieth doing Poe? That’s got to be good. Kieth created one of the most terrifying comics I have ever read, FOUR WOMEN, and yes we have it in stock. Also, other books by Poe.

LINK

Due: August

Malinky Robot: Collected Stories & Other Bits (£12-99) by Sonny Liew.

From the artist on RE-GIFTERS and WONDERLAND, five short stories. Here’s two of Tom’s reviews conflated:

Long-suffering street urchins Atari and Oliver ”borrow” a pair of bikes and cycle far out of town to visit their friend Misha. Over Mcdonell’s (sic), conversation turns to local character Mr. Bon Bon. Each of the kids’ version of events surrounding Bon Bon is depicted as a different genre of comic, each reflecting not just the kids’ different stages of maturity but also their understanding of events. Misha’s tale of a shrill hack who built his success on the back of Mr. Bon Bon’s invention, the cantilever gear system, is like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil if it was published in Japanese underground comic GARU. Atari views him as a bike-riding, corporation-smashing vigilante DOCTOR MIDNITE, dishing out sage advice whilst pummelling corporate muscle. Oliver’s side is told as a children’s newspaper comics supplement. Underneath the parodies of CALVIN & HOBBES (Ming & Mange) and THE FARSIDE (a chicken on one side of a road shouts to a kid on a bike on the other “Oh Yeah? Why don’t you come on over and make me?!”) we learn why Mr. Bon Bon isn’t married anymore, and the tragic part he played in his own son’s death. 

Liew keeps this all pinned down with a dark humoured but child-like sensibility. If Marc Hempel and Miyazaki collaborated, it would feel very much like this. His pencils jump around the page, vigorously pulling your eye from panel to panel with an energy and charm that lends his creations a vitality which ink simply couldn’t. His central characters, Atari and Oliver, take life one day at a time and if it doesn’t work out – hey, there’s always tomorrow. The back cover states “money buys things”. A sound revelation if ever I heard one.

Beautifully coloured solicitation art here:

LINK

Due: August

Gon vol 1 Kodansha edition (£8-50, Kodansha) by Masashi Tanaka.

How much damage can one diminutive Tyrannosaurus Rex cause when left to his own devices in the modern-day natural world? The answer: unlimited. This isn’t David Attenborough on a cosy Sunday evening; it’s survival of the angriest. But it is also very funny and often quite touching in the moments when Gon steps out of his default surly-mode to stand square in front of the vulnerable or the underdog. Most of the time he just frowns, fights and trashes things, though. No words, just pictures in texture-heavy, photorealistic detail.

You may have fought as Gon in the Tekken 3 beat-em-up. I know I did. His tail swing was lethal.

LINK

Due: August

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

That’s Dark Horse’s selling sentence right there, and it works. Customer Andrew Jadowski – otherwise known to me as Tigger – bought it on the spot based purely on that sentence! Of course the fact that it’s been such a successful web strip reprinted now in the AXE COP trade paperback doesn’t hurt.

So what is the attraction? Witnessing the crazy, all-over-the-place result of a fertile imagination unfettered by any desire for artistic success, egged on by his brother at play and loving every second off it! That’s what’s transcribed here: hours of interactive play. It’s not actually ‘written’ as a comic by Ethan, but written up and then illustrated by his brother.

Of course it bounces off the wall! Ethan is bouncing off the wall and inventing on the fly – as did we all as we turned paving stones into imaginary transmats or time platforms; when plastic guns suddenly assumed new capabilities in the heat of the moment when put on the spot by our friends; or when one of us spontaneously came up with a new ‘plot’ development that turned the five-inch Aerofix spitfire model into an intangible space rocket and brought that big pile of bricks into fifty-foot life!

“No! No! Dracula’s behind you now, run!”
“But – but – I have a lolly stick and I stab him through the heart!”
“That’s his leg!”
“He knelt down to bite me!”
“And I chop off his head with my karate chop!”
“Ya!”

We were only playing Doctors & Nurses that day.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

It does exactly what is said by the kin.

Preview:

LINK

Due: 12/10/11

Morning Glories vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

From the writer of EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0, so clever you’d think you were reading Peter Milligan’s HUMAN TARGET, and Forgetless, one of the funniest books of last year, a second instalment of kids trapped in High School hell. More than usual, I mean. When I reviewed book one I had no idea this series was going to be so expansive, so forgive any doubts I had then. Spencer has yet to put a foot wrong.

Due: summer vacation.

JLA vol 1 (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Howard Porter, more.

From some 15 years ago, the core DC superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash) were finally lifted to the epic status they were supposed to possess all along. The rookies pay deference to their seniors as they learn to accept their own merits for it’s a young Kyle Rayner who’s Green Lantern here, Batman scares the hell out of them, Superman they find difficult to relate to, and Wonder Woman blows them away. Bold and bombastic with some classic lines, extraordinary concepts and moments of knowing melodrama.

The slimmer versions are going out of print, replaced by this which reprints the whole of NEW WORLD ORDER and AMERICAN DREAMS plus JLA SECRET FILES #1.

Due: 28/09/11

Batman: Arkham City h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Carlos D’Anda, more.

Bridges the gap between the two console games, the first of which proved that if you actually put some thought and money into a licensed game, it would rock. The only thing wrong with it was that you couldn’t garrotte Harley Quinn and put her out of your misery. Voice worse than a minstrel’s.

Preview (click on arrows):

LINK

Due: 12/10/11

Batman: Death In The Family new expanded edition s/c (£18-99, DC) by Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman & Jim Aparo, George Perez.

The book whose marketing inspired Rick Veitch’s gloriously diseased BRATPACK. How? DC readers were asked to vote on whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, should die! The result was overwhelming, particularly for poor Jason Todd! Fans of BATMAN: HUSH may want to check out the resurrected Robin’s beef (which isn’t as rude as it sounds) for this is where he copped it. Stars the Joker and reprints BATMAN #426-429, 440-442 and NEW TITANS #60-61.

Due: 21/09/11

Thunderbolts by Warren Ellis Ultimate Collection (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato.

“All that matters are politics, psychology and ratings.”

Fortunately I rate the politics and psychology on offer here very highly indeed. It’s more chilling than a fridge which whiffs of rotting meat and whose light won’t work.

A government-sanctioned group of criminal super-psychopaths are coerced into joining a field team whose missions, post-CIVIL WAR, are to locate, capture and contain (or maybe even kill) any superheroes who for some reason or other don’t fancy working for a government that would endorse such a policy. Instead they still insist on defending the helpless from thieves, rapists and murderers in spite of the risks that now puts them under. Those volatile operatives (Venom, Moonstone, Penance, Radioactive Man, Swordsman and Bullseye – the last one unleashed only in extreme circumstances and beyond the public gaze) are, along with comparative angel Songbird, held in check by the manipulative cunning of one Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn, a bi-polar control freak inadvisably mixing his own medication, and only just managing to keep it together himself. He sweats, he mutters, he obsesses, but his grasp on spin is note-perfect, lying like crazy to a national media interested merely in story rather than truth or education.

Moonstone is equally manipulative, herself a fully qualified psychiatrist, and thanks to Deodato’ s darker, sultry and more textured artwork (along with Rainier Breed’s colours), she oozes coquettish charm when sidling up to her team mates, like a cat playing with its catch. You can almost smell the pheromones. Osborne, meanwhile, never more frightening than when almost in control of himself, is creased in close-up with age lines, as subtle and worrying expressions flicker across his leathery face.

There’s plenty of plot in the pot as the series simmers along, but when it’s brought to the boil in the second half reprinted here in this double edition, they’re going to get badly scalded. Of that second book I wrote…

“I’m going to be in therapy for the rest of my life.”

Second half of Ellis’ warren of wrong, wherein half a dozen of the world’s most fucked up psychopaths have been given Presidential license to subjugate unregistered superhumans and hold them for questioning in the twilight bowls of Thunderbolts mountain. They have… issues. Norman Osborn is in command – of the others if not himself – the neo-Nazi is in love with his dead sister, the alien symbiote is feeling hungry, and Bullseye’s been starved of target practice. Recently four previously unknown miscreants have more or less handed themselves in. Are they all telepaths?

I predict a riot.

Due: 31/08/11

FF Vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, more.

You can spot a Jonathan Hickman design element in everything he writes, regardless of whether he’s the main artist as he was on NIGHTLY NEWS. So it’s been with SECRET WARRIORS, S.H.I.E.L.D., and now the double-page credit sequence of a sun rising behind planet Earth, radiating its white light across the vast blue reaches of space inside the new FF logo.

The Fantastic Four are no more. They have a man down, and some of them are coping better than others. The Thing has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm’s nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But Reed is taking Johnny’s holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and has asked Spider-Man to join their quest to build a better world:

“Franklin would love it, and Spider-Man is, after all, like the second-best superhero ever.”

It’s Johnny’s sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they’re now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards. Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter’s case, a spider. He’s very much a guest.

He’s not the only guest, either. Richards’ father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, as evidenced over dinner when Reed proposes they terraform the moon.

“Cool.”
“If you think that’s the right thing to do.”
“Sounds great.”
“Well, I think it’s a terrible idea.”
“…”
“What, we don’t do dissenting opinions here? Reed just normally says something and everyone automatically agrees? That’s ridiculous.”
“… How refreshing. I’m glad you’re home Dad.”
“Clean your plate, son.”

He’s also brought with him knowledge from the future which has given Reed and Sue’s child-prodigy daughter a certain sense of purpose, of what she is meant to do. What she believes she is meant to do is introduce one further member to the family unit, and it’s the very last person you’d expect!

Epting’s art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot. But it’s clear that in spite of the relaunch Hickman has barely begun. You can hop aboard here quite easily – I’ve not read book four myself yet – but so many of the pieces he’s carefully position across the board are now coming back into play, and it’s as ominous as ever.

Here are Hickman’s four previous books in the series:

LINK LINK LINK

Due: 24/08/11

Invincible Iron Man vol 8: Unfixable h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Salvador Larroca with John Romita Jr., Andrea Mutti.

Doctor Octopus attempts to settle an old grudge by testing Stark’s scientific resourcefulness: can he repair the damage done to Otto’s wasted body? Warning: contains a great deal of extraneous material not in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.

Due: 31/08/11

X-Men: Prelude To Schism h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Robert De La Torre & Laurence Campbell.

In which nothing happens.

Cyclops stares at out of window, but that’s not something happening because he’s staring out the window as the book opens and almost certainly still staring out of it when the book ends. I don’t know for sure because I only read the first two issues in which, respectively, the X-Men asked each other why Cyclops was staring out of the window, then why they had spent the first issue asking each other why Cyclops was staring out of the window instead of doing something – like pushing his head through it. I don’t think he’s bird watching.

Something is approaching. They won’t say what. Just that it’s really not very nice and they wonder if they should do something about it. Like join Cyclops at the window.

Is that coal tit?

Due: At Ye Ende Of Dayes.

Silver Surfer: Devolution s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Segovia, Talibao, Coello.

“A brand new direction for Galactus’ former herald as he campaigns for Cornwall’s autonomy. But can a county whose income is generated solely from harbourside paintings and clotted cream teas really sustain itself in a such fractured economy? The answers may surprise you.”

Due: 24/08/11

Shadowland: Daredevil s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston & De La Torre, Checchetto.

“We always have choices, Foggy. And Matt just threw all of his away.”

The final few issues to Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston’s stint on DAREDEVIL which run in parallel with SHADOWLAND itself.

It kicks off straight after the SHADOWLAND’s opening shocker as Foggy Nelson, Dakota North and Becky witness CCTV footage of their best friend doing the unthinkable, albeit to his worst enemy. Desperately Foggy flails around, trying to find something – anything – that would at least explain if not excuse Matt’s actions. The man has faith and no friend could ask for more; but for the others it may prove too much.

Full review of hardcover, still in stock, here:

Due: 10/08/11

New Avengers By Brian Michael Bendis Just Like The Old Series Was So This Title Clarifies Nothing h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Mike Deodato, Daniel Acuna & Howard Chaykin.

The jokes stop abruptly halfway through the book as something for the team goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile back in Cuba, 1959… Was it Cuba? I think so. Anyway, Nick Fury’s hunting Nazis and enlists the aid of a frankly bizarre mob including Sabretooth. The connection between the two storylines? Eludes me so far.

Due: 17/08/11

Captain America: Prisoner Of War (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, guests & Jackson Guice, guests.

Don’t want to give away the previous book’s ending, so let’s focus on Steve Rogers and Henry Peter Gyrich, bane of both X-Men and Avengers, occupying the same room for the first time in years. That never goes well, does it? (See Avengers: Nights Of Wundagore.) So what did happen to Bucky Barnes and what did Gyrich have to do with it.

Due: 24/08/11

Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (£9-99, Razorbill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli.

“After two years on the run, best friends Rose and Lissa are caught and returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a private high school for vampires and half-bloods. It’s filled with intrigue, danger – and even romance. Enter their dark, fascinating world through a new series of 144-page full-color graphic novels. The entire first Vampire Academy novel has been adapted for book one by Leigh Dragoon and overseen by Richelle Mead, while the beautiful art of acclaimed British illustrator Emma Vieceli brings the story to life.”

Not something I have a clue about but here’s Emma’s DRAGON HEIR – which I do! – with the added bonus that we have six copies signed for free! Always end a section on a high note.

LINK

Due: August

Prose & Art Books

Dracula illustrated novel h/c (£13-50) by Bram Stoker & Becky Cloonan.

Yes, it’s La Cloonan of DEMO, AMERICAN VIRGIN, PIXU, Wolves and Minis fame. We sold more copies of Becky Cloonan’s work last Thursday than we have of any other creator in a single day without a signing. The prose is unabridged.

Here’s some preparatory work including <gasp> naughty bits:

LINK

Have a gander at Becky’s original art exhibition. <swoon>

LINK

Due: Autumn

The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man (£13-50, Balzer + Bray) by Michael Cabon & Jake Parker.

From the writer of the winning Kavalier And Clay, the inspiration behind Brian K. Vaughan’s equally inspired THE ESCAPISTS, a comedy superhero picture book for kids. Shame it’s not a graphic novel. I love Jake Parker’s pencil art.

LINK

Due: August

Comics for August 2011

Optic Nerve #12 (£4-25, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.

Retailer gold, unequivocally recommended to everyone.

Against all expectations OPTIC NERVE returns as an affordable, self-contained, short story comic of beautifully observed straight fiction. It was so many of our customers’ first-ever comic, while the SHORTCOMINGS collection is in our Always Recommended section and was one of our Comicbooks Of The Month. This issue includes a “disconcertingly modern tale of mistaken identity”. All the books on Tomine’s site link to Drawn & Quarterly previews: LINK

Here are our own Tomine reviews:

LINK

Due: August

Ganges #4 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga.

From the creator of THE WILD KINGDOM, the one Ignatz series we have managed to keep permanently in stock. Here’s Tom’s review of GANGES #1 ~

The most outstanding title so far from Fantagraphics’ Ignatz line, the purpose of which is to showcase some of the best, underrated or unheard of artists from around the world in a lavish, oversized, dust-jacketed comic. We need more lavish. Lavish is good.

Glen Ganges is to Kevin Huizenga what Alec was to Eddie Campbell – that’s no throwaway association. Both Glen and Alec are pseudonyms for each author to play and interact with the world created within their comics. Both deal with everyday life in a slow, evolving way. Where Alec reflects Eddie’s down-the-pub nonchalant view on life, Glen is Kevin’s hyperactive and overtly analytical coffee-shop casualty. Moments are stretched and replayed, tangents form around why things have come about, the way things could go. His body in the present, his mind jumping in and out of puddles of memories, through rainfalls of imagination. The comic closes on Glen, over-stimulated from a mix of caffeine and prose, climbing into bed long after his wife Wendy left for the Land Of Nod. He’s still going at 100 words a minute, stirring her from sleep as he attempts to get her attention with playful exuberance. Which fails, as he notes her breathing change back to the steady momentum of sleep, an empty white speech bubble punctuating the sound of her breathing in the dark still room, a blue hue accentuating the shapes of objects, that moment when your eyes begin to adjust to the darkness, perfectly capturing the ambience of a bedroom in the middle of the night. His brain unable to just turn off, he lies awake, the tangents of before becoming intrusive thoughts as he lies motionless, missing her when she’s right there.

Here’s the man’s blog.

LINK

Due: August

Vertigo Resurrected: Jonny Double (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

From the creators of the outstanding 100 BULLETS, this is everything SIN CITY never quite became, a jaw-dropping urban crime thriller in which the paranoia becomes as infectious as the adrenaline rush.

Low-rent P.I. Jonny Double signs on to check up on Faith, the wayward daughter of Mr. Hart. He doesn’t mind that she won’t conform, but to him her recent decisions seem to have been made with the sole intention of pissing him off. When Jonny finds her drinking at a bar, the crowd she’s hanging with turn out to be both ambitious and stupid, which is a dangerous combination. Through the internet they’ve found a dormant account with $300,000 inside, belonging to an Al Brown, one of Al Capone’s aliases. And he’s dead. They’ve also been able to electronically forge all the credentials necessary for an Al Brown Jr. to walk through the door and relieve the bank of its duty. Naturally Jonny has absolutely no intention of being this Al Brown Jr., but Faith is very… persuasive.

Okay, so far, so good. You don’t expect it to work, though, do you? It works. It works better than they’d imagined, because Jonny comes out with a suitcase containing seven million bucks. Only one problem: the account was active.

The next three quarters of the book spiral out of control as the group disintegrates. People start turning up dead, Jonny receives threatening photographs of him and Faith, and then some severed hands in a brown paper bag, before getting the crap kicked out of him in a nightclub toilet. Apart from the consistently stylish renderings of Mr. Risso, the best thing about this book is Azzarello’s cunningly persuasive monologue through which you can’t help but see everything from Double’s knowing perspective.

Due: 10/08/11

Damaged #1 (£2-99, Radical) by David Lapham & Leonardo Manco.

Obligatory opening sentence reminds you that this is STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH’s David Lapham on writing duties, while Manco provided half the gritty fun on Andy Diggle’s exceptional HELLBLAZER trilogy beginning with HELLBLAZER: JOYRIDE. A perfect combo for a title whose solicitation begins in familiar territory than grows increasingly tantalising…

“After brutally massacring a criminal ring traditional lawmen have failed to stop, the lives of two policemen, brothers Frank and Henry Lincoln, are forced to diverge. Torn by conflicting reactions to the event, one brother, Frank, chooses to uphold justice through the law; the other sets out on a shady path to enforce the sort of justice the law cannot stomach. 35 years later, Frank Lincoln, now a veteran of the San Francisco PD and about to retire, takes his final case, investigating a string of vigilante killings that stir memories of his long-estranged brother. Meanwhile, Henry, too, approaches retirement, as he finds himself becoming too old to continue his violent lifestyle. With the ends of both brothers’ careers approaching, each attempts to train his replacement, hoping to remake his protégé‚ in his own image; however, the world around them has changed in ways neither could have foreseen, leaving them utterly unprepared for the true lawlessness and corruption they will soon be forced to face.”

Here’s Leonardo’s website:

LINK

Due: August

Dark Horse Presents #3 (£5-99, Dark Horse) by Dave Gibbons, Carla Speed McNeil, Jim Steranko, Paul Chadwick, David Chelsea, more.

Brand new Dave Gibbons story plus more FINDER, CONCRETE etc. They also promise a preview of Jim Steranko’s RED TIDE (new version) but after 35 solicitations, five years waiting and even a Jonathan Ross interview in the Guardian two years ago, I have given up raising my hopes!

LINK

Due: 24/08/11

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #1 (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck.

Post-WWI vampiric fiction and the sequel to Baltimore: The Plague Ships which went straight of print a day after publication, though at the time of typing we still have copies.

Preview of book one here:

LINK

Due: 10/08/11

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

BANG! BOOM! SCHHLWIP! That was the sound of a universe unwinding.

Unless you’ve been living in the real world, you cannot have helped hearing by now that in September DC is being rebooted. For days all I heard was “DC reboot”, “DC reboot”. I hoped that meant Obama disbanding Congress and filling the Houses with actual human beings, but alas it had nothing to do with Washington at all. Instead as a result of Flashpoint #5, the DC Universe will unravel and the vast majority of their comics will kick off again with 52 new #1s featuring new costumes, new hairdos, new neuroses and new secret origins in a whole new ‘continuity’. Apart from the ridiculous quantity of #1s – fifty-two in a single month! – I really don’t give a damn, but rest assured you will continue to receive the titles you’re down for unless you say otherwise, though you may want to order Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA right now at least!

The only thing I was deeply disappointed about was the news that Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Oracle, wheelchair-bound ever since the Joker shot her in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s magnificent KILLING JOKE, will now walk again. As I wrote in SPIDER-MAN: THE GAUNTLET vol 3 that sort of miracle is deeply insulting to those who don’t walk freely and never will, a sentiment expressed so much more eloquently by Jill Pantozzi here: LINK. She knows what she’s talking about. Page 45 was designed from the start to have maximum wheelchair access (no steps, broad aisles), possibly because my oldest friend Anita suffered from multiple sclerosis for years. I like to think I was enlightened in the first place but I just don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve no idea yet which DC titles will be immune but you’d hope BATMAN INC. at least given how much work Grant Morrison has put into setting up its premise. I do hear he’s getting a new SUPERMAN title. [Ten minutes after typing that sentence I actually did some research and BATMAN INCORPORATED will go on hiatus after #10 then return a few month’s later with a new #1.] There’s a tonne of announcements on DC’s blog here:

LINK

Due: 31/08/11

The Spirit #17 (£2-25, DC) by Chaykin, Pfeiffer, Levitz & Brian Bolland, P. Craig Russell, Jose Luis Farcia-Lopez.

Rarely does Bolland venture beneath the covers these days! Self-contained, I believe, and in black and white.

Due: 10/08/11

DC Comics Presents JLA: Heavens Ladder (£5-99, DC) by Mark Waid, Ron Marz & Bryan Hitch.

If you prefer your comics standard-size, fair enough. Please note that this new version’s a floppy not a tpb, but at the time of typing we still have one copy left of the huge edition from 10 or so years ago, spectacularly showing off the sheer scale of Hitch’s extraordinary art:

Due: 24/08/11

Ultimate Fallout #1-6 of 6 (£2-99, Marvel) by Bendis, Hickman, Spencer & Bagley, Pichelli, more.

Once more the ULTIMATE line is in for an upheaval, its old titles swept aside in the wake of recent events and as the title suggests this is the book pulling the threads together to tie up loose ends from Millar and Bendis’ series.

Due: weekly until 17/08/11

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

The writer of Ultimate Thor, NIGHTLY NEWS, S.H.I.E.L.D. and FANTASTIC FOUR is the perfect choice for this new incarnation with the heart of the team missing.

Due: 24/08/11

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Rafa Sandoval.

Okay, cool. Gimp suit gone. Don’t mention the wife and kids in the first ten pages and you’ll be fine.

Due: 30/08/11

Spider-Island: Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu #1 of 3 (£2-25, Marvel) by Antony Johnston & Sebastian Fiumara.

Over in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN New York City’s citizens have all developed spider-powers, which means scuttling about in their baths and frightening grown men who have to call on their wives or daughters to remove them. I’ve seen that in action. Here, however, Shang-Chi stumbles on a ”deadly mystery” (all Marvel mysteries are deadly; it’s not like “Which neighbour left that snarky note on my car windshield about my inability to park straight?”) involving Iron Fist and the Bride of Nine Spiders!” From the writer of post-apocalyptic WASTELAND, about the most severe hose-pipe ban in history.

Have an interview in with Antony:

LINK

Due: 31/08/11

Secret Avengers #16 (£2-99. Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Jamie McKelvie.

First of six self-contained stories by Ellis, this one featuring the Beast, Black Widow and Steve Rogers himself. From the writer of FREAKANGELS and the artist on PHONOGRAM, whose first volume’s copies are, at the time of typing, all signed here.

Ellis is on top form here, illustrated by ‘Kelvie:

LINK

Due: 24/08/11

Punisher #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto.

Now this could be good: one half of the GOTHAM CENTRAL writing team hopefully bringing the same sense of street-level crime to the Punisher.

Here’s the artist. You like?

LINK

Driver: Crossing The Line one-shot (£2-25, DC) by David Lapham, & Greg Scott.

Okay, it’s another console game tie-in but it is STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH’s David Lapham on writing duties, so… A driver crosses the line in San Francisco. What lines are there left to cross there?!

Due: 24/08/11

The Bionic Man #1 (£29-99, D.E.) by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester & Jonathan Lau.

Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man: the TV programme single-handedly responsible for me going by the name of ‘Steve’ for fifteen years before realising that I wasn’t and never would be an all-American action hero. We spent hours when we were ten fist-fighting in slow motion while we juddered out “er-er-er-er-errrr…” to mimic the series’ sound effects. It would probably have only lasted minutes without the slo-mo. Anyway, here’s hoping the interior art is one hell of a lot better than the covers because they look nothing like Lee Majors.

Boy, theme tunes took a while to get going in those days:

LINK

Due: 40 years ago.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz & Eastman, Duncan.

Dear God, they’re back. Why?

Due: way too soon.

Also scheduled:

Finally, I no longer have to type out a long list of all the other books! In fact you can find out which other books and comics and softcovers of old hardcovers are scheduled for August 2011 onwards (and pre-preorder them too!) right here:

However, you might like to note the impending existence of…

Love & Rockets New Stories vol 4 (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Los Bros Hernandez. (August)

Mark’s Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010 (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Michael Kupperman (August)

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land h/c (£22-50, Abram) by Harvey Pekar & Paul Buhle

Hellboy Volume 11: The Bride Of Hell (14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton (12/10/11)

iZombie vol 2: uVampire (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Chris Roberson & Michael Allred (07/09/11)

Fables: Werewolves Of The Heartland original graphic novel h/c (£16-99, Vertigo/DC) by Bill Willingham & Jim Fern, Craig Hamilton (05/10/11)

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales vol 2 (£13-50, DC) by Alan Moore, Steve Moore & Chris Weston, more (28/09/11)

Gate 7 vol 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp. (12/10/11)

Oz: Ozma Of Oz h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Eric Shanowe & Skottie Young (07/09/11

Previews researched then written by Stephen. Hopefully a lot earlier next month!Please note: the only reason Drawn & Quarterly does not have its own book section this month is that there are no new books, but you’ll find Adrian Tomine’s brand-new OPTIC NERVE #12 at the top of the comic sections here. My summer is made!

 - Stephen

Reviews June 2011 week five

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Journalism at its best is a window on the world, and journalists at their best are constantly peering through it, pointing at things and learning from their experiences.

 - Stephen on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 3: Death Of Spider-Man Prelude.

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Ian Edginton & Ian Culbard.

“I have been in the Valley of Fear. I am not out of it yet. Sometimes I think I never shall be.”

THE VALLEY OF FEAR, THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS…It’s all about fucked up geology for Ian Culbard, isn’t it? Don’t you think he should mellow out a little? I’m thinking The Glacier of Gloom, The Estuary of Ennui, or The Meadows of Mild Malaise.

I read this on a sunny Sunday afternoon in my Garden Of Ineffable Joy, and the book matched the setting perfectly. I was thirteen the last time I read Sherlock Holmes and this brought back its brilliance indescribably well. The mere mechanics of the mystery alone are compelling enough – truly it’s a devilish plot with plenty of misdirection and false assumptions – but Edginton has distilled the prose to a gripping perfection whilst abandoning none of its original language. A note is scrawled “rudely” rather than crudely and the murder is reported by a “much excited” Cecil Barker rather than one agitated or alarmed as we might say now.

Moreover artist Ian Culbard has choreographed Sherlock Holmes’ confident performance with a quiet intensity, focussing on the eyes and the knowledge behind them, so that he is imbued as much charisma as any actor I’m aware of that has taken the role to date. Holmes immerses himself in the tiniest details and revels in any mystery that successfully challenges his wits. To Holmes it is the perfect opportunity for a piece of theatre he can direct which is why he insists that it plays itself out in front of his captive audience of fellow detectives as they lie in wait for one of the cast to walk on stage and make his telling move:

“Watson insists that I am a dramatist in real life. Some touch of the artist wells up within me and calls insistently for a well-staged performance! Surely our profession would be a drab and sordid one if we did not set the scene so as to glorify the results. The blunt accusation, the tap on the shoulder – what can one make of such a dénouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories – are these not the pride and justification of our life’s work?”

Importantly throughout that speech, far from gesticulating melodramatically like some self-obsessed lovie, he stares straight ahead from under hooded eyes watching eagle-eyed for his prey, for it is the prize itself – the solving of the riddle and that way that it plays itself out – which absorbs him.

Similarly I will allow the mystery to present itself to your own good selves in the way it was intended by Mssrs Edginton and Culbard, with but a note that the central murder is framed by Holmes’ earliest insistence on the culpability of Professor Moriarty who lies waiting patiently in the wings without one single line, but with a presence all the same which makes itself felt.

Sherlock Holmes is an enduring creation, part of whose allure is his smiling conceit: he knows he will get there first. Privately, I was amused to find our merchant of mischief employing a phrase I’m inordinately fond of myself:

“Exactly so!”

LINK

SLH

Echo vol 6: The Last Day (£11-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

Northern California overlooking the coast:

“You’ve been in a funny mood today. Cancelling your appointments, staying home with me and the dogs. Is everything okay?”
“What time is it?”
“Almost six.”
“So, five in Alaska.”
“What’s in Alaska?”
“Nothing. Cold people.”
“Are you hungry? Do you want me to start dinner?”
“No thanks, Casey. Just… sit with me. Watch the sunset. It may be spectacular tonight.”

Oh, it will be.

Final volume and possibly the last day on Earth as the morons in charge of the Phi Project and the military backing them are on the brink of activating their super-collider deep down under the snow. They’re going to accelerate Alloy 618, the metal our Julie is now virtually covered in.

“Don’t worry – you’re in no danger, the alloy is completely safe… in the right hands.”

Uh-oh.

“Think of Alloy 618 as a key, a harmless tool… capable of unlocking the universe itself. There are even early indications of medical benefits to mankind. The future is limitless. Alloy 618 opens many doors, gentlemen. Today the bead in your hand will open a black hole and hold it open… for as long as we dare to play chicken with nature.”

You don’t want to play chicken with nature – it has a habit of snapping back – and the climax here is no cop-out, I can assure you. That’s simply not Terry’s style. It’s fast and it’s furious and as funny as always until there’s no time left for laughter; only survival.

Entertainingly Terry Moore asked readers recently if they’d prefer a sequel to ECHO or to STRANGERS IN PARADISE, and some shouted for a crossover. Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but SiP readers who haven’t been reading Echo are really going to regret that. Who do you think Casey is talking to?

Terry’s new series Rachel Rising is due very soon indeed. Place your reservations now!

LINK

SLH

New York: The Big City (£13-50, Norton) by Will Eisner.

Will Eisner Instils Writer’s Block Shock!

When confronted with a book as beautiful as this, it’s difficult not to be daunted. It was a massive relief to have thought myself done, having reviewed every Will Eisner book out there and come close, I would hope, to having done most of them justice. Type “Eisner” in our search engine and see for yourself. You can search by creator as well as title, you know, and you don’t have to use their full names.

Eisner’s architecture has always been phenomenal and here it is lit with a soft, hazy light that throws bridges into silhouette, evokes a quiet early morning before the tenement stone stoops are crowded with city-life spectators, and illuminates that receptacle of lost or jettisoned treasure, the city’s grated drains.

“From the beginning when it first became the main arterial connecting the East Side with the West Side, Avenue ‘C’ carried the mainstream of the city – a channel in a sea of concrete.
“Over its asphalt surface moved the traffic afoot – or in wheeled galleons.
“Then came the subways and their grated air shafts pocking the surface with grimy crevices that caught the droppings and the inevitable wreckage of countless collisions in the flow of life.
“There to lie for countless years awaiting the treasure hunters.”

As you can tell immediately this is a very different book for Eisner. They’re generally longform (hence his term, the “graphic novel”) and normally driven by dialogue, punctuated rarely with prose, but here he has achieved poetry.

This is a book of themed impressions, vignettes or miniature plays which wouldn’t be out of place, most of them, in the finest of comedy sketch shows. Until you’re hit with an encounter that’s too moving for words. Together they paint a portrait of a living city, specifically New York, populated by lovers, losers, the rich and the poor, those co-dependent and others cut off from the outside world either by their own fear or volition, or a great big fucking skyscraper that rises abruptly between you and your much-prized sea-view.

The sheer wit of a day in the life of a civic bin! The deafening din of traffic or boomboxes making nuanced courtship impossible, just like a nightclub. The dance of a drunkard. Gentrification. Age and the comforting familiarity of long-loved surroundings so much more vital than the isolating exclusion that comes with a move, too late in life, no matter how much more affluent the environs.

Eisner shines prismatic light from so many angles on the life we all lead today, not just the life of one particular city in one specific time zone, although it is yet another perfectly preserved piece of social history. We don’t have fire hydrants per se in this country, so you may need to stop and think on those occasions, but how cool is that? I love a little learnin’.

Bits, as I say, may break your heart for Eisner was forever perceiving, acknowledging and then spotlighting the plight of those mostly ignored, but that works particularly well when juxtaposed against pithy comedy, just as when Spitting Image once concluded yet another bombastically satirical episode with the song Walk On By, played without puppets, with a straightforward film montage of individuals crouched rough on the streets as the well-heeled brogues of city bankers did indeed pass by, oblivious.

Eisner was always about inclusion. His work is the very epitome of “multi-cultural” long before the term, I imagine, was ever invented. In works like DROPSIE AVENUE that element is obviously sign-posted on each of its city street corners, but so often here the great man manages it with only his ear for dialect and the space that is shared on one city block or the single page that portrays it.

Fucking genius, our Will, and if there is one comicbook creator in the history of this medium that I will forever regret not being able to thank in person – not just for his craft, but for his abundance of love – it is he.

LINK

SLH

Compleat Moonshadow restocks (£29-99, Vertigo/DC) by J. M. DeMatteis & Jon J. Muth with Kent Williams.

I am so fond of this fully painted, coming-of-age fantasy, not least because when young Moonshadow originally grew up, he turned into my musical guru, Dame David Sylvian..

Now that Jonathan has loaded up the interior art I scanned for the site – vital for comparisons I make – could I possibly ask you to read the rest of the review in situ as you can for all of our weekly posted reviews by clicking on…

LINK

Cheers!

SLH

Scary Godmother Comic Book Stories (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jill Thompson.

Over 300 pages of all-ages comicbook mischief with a whimsy that’s witty and design that’s divine. If a Young Adults graphic novel isn’t lapped up by adults, then it’ll be rubbish for kids. I’ve lapped up SCARY GODMOTHER since Sirius first published it a dozen or so years ago and most the copies sold here have been to adults for adults.

You can tell when an artist is having a ball, and the sheer exuberance of the cartooning – with its lithe, snaking forms, exotic creatures, and undead denizens positively buzzing with life – is an infectious joy. You’ll meet two aristocratic vampires steeped in tradition reacting to modern amenities with varying degrees of curiosity / bewilderment; their be-spectacled son Orson with his craving for chocolate spiders; a big, multi-bug-eyed purple hairy monster who couldn’t be any less scary; a walking, talking skeleton with a keen eye for fashion; Scary Godmother (or Jill Thompson herself!); and a boyish Werewolf still living in his human mother’s horse-driven caravan and addicted to internet chat-room point-scoring. Like any teenager’s bedroom, It’s a little… musky in there!

Add to that all the Addams Family reversals of taste and an unending avalanche of Frightside punnage and it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy classic, a superb present for the younger generation and a real heartwarmer for us pension-aged children. This monstrous collection with its enormously tactile embossed cover reprints everything to date that isn’t in the fully painted SCARY GODMOTHER hardcover: the ACTIVITY BOOK full of recipes, mazes, crossword puzzles, word games and instructions on making comics, SCARY GODMOTHER #1-6, GHOUL’S OUT FOR SUMMER, HOLIDAY SPOOKTACULAR, BLOODY VALENTINE, WILD ABOUT HARRY #1-3, the SCARY GODMOTHER & FRIENDS ASHCAN, Six Feet South Of The Border from ACTION GIRL and a 19-page full-colour sketch section annotated by Jill herself!

Of GHOUL’S OUT FOR SUMMER I wrote:

The regular cast disperse on their various holiday activities, some more reluctantly than others. Whilst Mr. Pettibone, the skeleton, sun-bleaches himself in the desert, Hannah is forced to endure teenage love crushes at summer camp as everyone falls for the activity coordinator Jane (including an amphibious nightmare), Bug-A-Boo visits his nagging parents, Orson is shipped off to Summer Ghoul where it transpires that the most important lesson on offer is how to avoid being eaten by the Dark Master, and Scary Godmother is kidnapped and impersonated at the Witches Around The World conference.

My favourite line still comes from Chicken Little: “Is that a support beam?”

LINK

SLH

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 3: Death Of Spider-Man Prelude h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli with David Lafuente, Jamie McKelvie, Chris Samnee, more.

“I feel there’s something between us, you and I. I hope that doesn’t sound odd. You baffle me. I’ve been in the centre of the city for my entire life. I have met drug dealers and kings and everything in between. But I have never met anyone like you.”

I adore Sara Pichelli’s art. She is perfect for this title, keeping it young, sprightly and chic. Indeed each of the artists here is on top form but there’s one unassuming show-stealer: Chris Samnee whose subtle expressions do total justice to a scene I never thought I’d see, for the final chapter in this book contains the most surprising yet convincing, fully thought-through portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson since the newspaper publisher was first created fifty years ago. The quiet conversation – the exceedingly frank discussion – he has with young Peter breathes a real life and humanity into a character used in the regular Marvel Universe as nothing more than a two-dimension foil, a bellicose bully, and a very thick man. No one who has achieved what J. Jonah Jameson has achieved in newspaper publishing could possibly be as incessantly stupid as that human hurricane of expletives, that Ian Paisley of pejoratives.

Journalism at its best is a window on the world, and journalists at their best are constantly peering through it, pointing at things and learning from their experiences. Over the past 150+ issues, J. Jonah Jameson has seen a lot he never thought he’d see – a great deal he hoped he’d never see – and his experiences have indeed shaped him. They have changed the man; he has learned stuff. Specifically, he has learned who Peter is and what he really does, and why.

“I know I just said this two minutes ago… but I have never ever met anyone like you before in my entire life.”

J. Jonah Jameson could have outed Peter as Spider-Man weeks ago, and it would have sold him a million newspapers. He hasn’t. He’s thought about it long and hard, but he hasn’t. Here we learn why.

Before that, however, there’s a knock on Aunt May’s door. The government-sanctioned peace keepers, The Ultimates, have had a discussion of their own and some of them are adamant that Spider-Man needs locking up, shutting down or at the very least training. The destruction he leaves in his wake has been enormous (you can expect a great deal of destruction during this particular instalment with the return of the Black Cat and Mysterio hot on her tail). He’s young, relatively inexperienced and been going it solo with no one to advise or in anyway temper him. Up until now, they believe, luck has played no small part in Spider-Man’s survival, let alone his often pyrrhic victories. As to Aunt May, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane… well, prices have already been paid and it’s a miracle that any one of them is still standing. And one day, they are sure… one day Peter’s luck will finally run out and there will be casualties.

Next: Peter’s luck finally runs out.

LINK

SLH

Secret Avengers vol 2: Eyes Of The Dragon (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Deodato Jr., Will Conrad.

Steve Rogers. The Beast. Black Widow. Sharon Carter. Valkyrie. Moon Knight. Ant-Man. War Machine.

“Am I supposed to be scared or something? I mean, I know who you are… Captain America isn’t going to torture a captive.”
“That may be true…”
“But my friend Agent 13 and me…?”
“We’ve got no such qualms.”
“And I’m not Captain America anymore.”

Mike Deodato makes this book, just like he did Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts and Bendis’ DARK AVENGERS. The silence of his shadows and the roar of his explosions tearing through concrete, plate glass and personnel… plus so much of this series seems set at after dark which is perfect for his propensity towards half-lit faces, disguising their true thoughts.

Ed Brubaker, of course, is the man who completely reinvented the Captain America title as an espionage thriller rather than the gaudiest superhero comic of all time, and Steve Rogers here, now head of national security as well as this covert ops team, has learned how to cheat. He’ll need to.

Shang-Chi’s ancient, murderous Chinese father is back, albeit in a somewhat cadaverous form. To be fully resurrected and achieve immortality he’ll need to drain the life force of a family member – his son’s. Eternity versus paternity: what a very bad Dad.

SLH

Rage #1 of 3 (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Arvid Nelson & Andrea Mutti.

From the creator of Rex Mundi, this introduces the forthcoming console game from the developers of Doom and Quake, both of which I grew so addicted to that my dreams became one long obsession with pressing everything in sight in order to reveal secret areas. I can’t be alone, surely?

(Tombraider’s effect on my Mum was even worse: we spent a whole holiday in Venice in full philistinic throttle determining which rooftops where single jumps and which were “running jumps”. Unfortunately when we moved on to Florence my mother took a running jump off a curb and promptly broke her wrist.)

The joy of Doom some twenty years ago (warning: memory fail) was the sheer, lurid spectacle of it all with red and green and blue amped up to the max and fighting each other inside your eyeballs. You weren’t even on an alien planet, but a series of demonic realms bridged by teleporting flashes, surrounded by toxic seas and patrolled by creatures so foul that you’ve rarely encountered the likes outside the ‘80s Tory government. Pants-wettingly terrifying and fast. Oh, but you had to use your invisibility spheres wisely!

Quake’s majesty lay in its arsenal, with weapons that could melt through enemies like a white-hot samurai sword through butter – and at a distance. Then when I found my first BFG (Big Fucking Gun), oh how I cackled as it crackled before going nova. The environments were more industrial and the beasts this time round were increasingly well armed and preposterous cyborgs of sorts – but it was still all very exotic and certainly not the sort of holiday destination you’d let small children run around unsupervised.

Clearly, then, Rage will be no Shangri-La but if this comic is anything to go by it’s hardly going to be worse than Mansfield city centre on a Saturday night. Things have moved on in console games: mere mutations of human beings aren’t going to cut it any more, and that’s all I see here.

Earth has been hit by an asteroid. Five billion people died within 24 hours. In preparation the military elite bundled the science bods up in safety pods then thrust them underground. They sequestered themselves similarly but made sure they would awake from cryogenic suspension first. Now the scientists are resurfacing too to find the military in charge of a broken world roamed by mutations catalysed by Feltrite found in the alien debris. I’ve seen it all before.

Of course the gaming experience could prove far more thrilling; in which case authorising this comic as advance publicity is a severe miscalculation. You might want to try DEAD SPACE: SALVAGE instead by a writer closely attached to the project and an artist perfect for maximum fear. I’ll read it when I’ve finished making myself cry playing DEAD SPACE II:

SLH

Rare Softcover Review Of Previous Hardcover.

Fans of Marjane Satrapi’s PERSPEPOLIS, this one’s for you. Its review is equally long-winded but then the book is equally enlightening.

Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale s/c (£11-99, Norton) by Belle Yang.

“If your soul achieves peace, you can attain your goals.”

Belle Yang was born on Taiwan in 1960 where her father and mother were teaching. He named her Xuan which means “Forget Sorrow”, and he did so because it was nothing short of a miracle that he made it from China to Taiwan alive: there was an awful lot of sorrow to forget.

As the subtitle suggests, this is only autobiography in the same sense as MAUS, for it’s more about her father’s story than Yang’s. As the book opens Belle is living with her parents in Carmel, California, sheltering from an abusive ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker, and she’s at constant loggerheads with her father. Yang isn’t entirely safe where she is, either. Her ex knows where they live, he’s gone through their bins before and when I say ‘abusive’ and ‘stalker’ I mean that he shot up the offices of a lawyer who’d befriended her, at which point, fearing for their lives, almost all their friends deserted them. From graduating at the top of her class Belle Yang’s life was obliterated: she lost her car, she lost her path, she lost everything. However, it’s at this point that Belle takes more than a passing interest in her family’s history so, as their cat Chairman Mao listens in, her father Baba begins to expound. And slowly, ever so slowly as Belle becomes inspired to transcribe this ancestral tale, they begin to bond until finally, aged 30, Belle Yang starts to live up to her name, achieve her own peace and so attain her goals.

It’s the most extraordinary revelation to me, this history; for it’s another of those periods I’ve been hazy on, full of traditions new to me. The art is representational in a style completely different to PERSEPOLIS with landscapes, I assume, harking back to a Chinese tradition (I’m not going to bluff that, I really don’t know, but they feel so right for the story being told) and heads constantly cocked at delightful angles.

It begins with the Japanese invasion of China in 1931, after which they used Manchuria as a spring-board to attack China south of the Great Wall in 1937. But when in 1943 the Americans began bombing Shenyang city where two of Baba’s uncles lived, they fled with their families to the countryside village of Xinmin, seat of power of their House of Yang, so reuniting Baba, his father, his three uncles and his grandfather for the first time in years. It’s between Xinmin where Baba’s grandfather held power, the neighbouring hillside Shantouzi which was the Yang clan’s ancestral place of birth, and the sub-provincial city of Shenyang that the story oscillates. First, however, Baba’s grandfather tells him of the House of Yang’s origins as their ancestor Yang takes exception to a tax inspector, knocks him off with a hoe, then flees east to Shantouzi where they farmed long enough to lay claim to the land.

But the main focus here is on Baba’s life in Xinmin with his taoist grandfather, sour old grandmother, a father who is abrasively strict outside of his meditations, his mother, his six brothers and his father’s three brothers. His father is the oldest of these (and therefore First Uncle, if you like), and it’s to him that his grandfather usually listens. Second Uncle is a carefree charmer and a bit of a dandy if it weren’t for the fag burns in his clothes. His cross-eyed wife, however, is a cantankerous cow. Both refuse to control their children, Second Uncle’s opinion being that they’re born perfect spheres which would only be scratched if disciplined. Fourth Uncle is a musician with a passion for expensive instruments and a radio whose speaker he installs in grandfather’s house along with a microphone to eavesdrop! It’s Third Uncle, however, who’s the real problem and it’s his greedy machinations which will cause the ultimate downfall of the prosperous House Of Yang. And I mean its complete obliteration. It’s barely credible, as I said, that Belle Yang’s Baba made it alive to Taiwan. For yet to come is Third Uncle’s acquisition of the Yang farmland, the looting of the Soviet Red Army under the guise of liberating the country, the rise of the Nationalists in the cities, the rise of the Communists/bandits in the countryside, then the clash of those two warring factions until the ultimate victory of the Communists which results in reprisals, destitution, and a famine that starves 30 million people. Almost every member of the family will die in dire circumstances, but the fate of the itinerant grandfather, rejected, truly beggars belief.

There’s an interesting conversation in the middle of all this between Baba, returned to Xinmin on a visit from Shenyang, and his Second Uncle who’s eschewed material things in favour of a low-maintenance lifestyle of selling watermelons when in season then writing poetry in winter, using pages torn from books as rolled spills with which to light the tobacco in his water pipe. This horrifies Baba.

“Why would you do such a thing?”
“Aiya. These are valuable books, but if you hold on to them, you’re always worried about bookworms chewing on them. My nephew, a book of one hundred pages – you’re lucking to read ten pages of truth in it. Think of it – ten – that’s a damn good book. Most of the time, you get only a couple of useful sentences. The rest are simply wasted words.”

He has a point, but if 10 pages of truth is a damn good book, what does it make a 250-page graphic novel with at least 220 pages going for it?

“I spent the Chinese New Year with my grandparents,” writes Belle early on. “Their heads were frosted with memories.”

Did I mention she can really turn a phrase?

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Reviews to follow except for softcover versions of h/cs like I AM LEGION which will aleady be up on the shopping area.

Signal (£7-99) by Paul Duffield (they’re signed! For free!)
Pinocchio h/c (£19-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss
Angel Omnibus (£18-99, Dark Horse) by various
Ratchet & Clank (£13-50, DC) by T. J. Fixman & Adam Archer
Angel vol 3: The Wolf, The Ram, And The Heart h/c (£18-99, IDW) by David Tischman, Mariah Huchner & Elena Casagrande, Jason Armstrong, Stephen Mooney
Lucille (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Ludovic Debeurme
Chester 5000 XYV (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Jess Fink
I Am Legion s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by John Cassaday & Fabien Nury
Yakuza Moon (£11-99, Kodansha) by Shoko Tendo, Sean Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa
Red Robin: Hit List (£13-50, DC) by Fabian Nicieza & Marcus To
Batman: Knight And Squire (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton
X-Force: Sex + Violence s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Grant Morrison & Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Leinil Francis Yu
Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga  (£29-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo & Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney, Frank Miller, Frank Springer, Sal Buscema, Mark Bagley
Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry & Goran Parlov
X-Men: Second Coming Revelations s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski, Simon Spurrier, Chris Yost, Peter David &Steve Dillon, Paul Davidson, Harvey Tolibao, Tom Raney, Valentine De Landro
Young Avengers Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Andrea Divito, Michael Gaydos, Neal Adams, Gene Ha, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pasqual Ferry
Deadpool: Dead Head Redemption s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by various
Daredevil: Yellow s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Essential Spider-Man vol 10 (£14-99, Marvel) by various
Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Daredevil: Reborn h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Davide Gianfelice

Congratulations to my car on passing its MOT. I haven’t, and suspect that my bodywork alone would be enough to consign me to the scrap heap.

Also, big love to Emma Vieceli, husband Pud, Kate Brown, Paul Duffied, Lisa and Dan for an awesome afternoon down the Canal House on Sunday afternoon. I opened Page 45 especially for them as they dropped off signed copies of their DRAGON HEIR, Fish+Chocolate and  Signal books. I paid them accordingly, took back more than they earned when they spent, and then made Paul (artist) and Kate (colourist on vols 3 onwards) sign multiple copies of Warren Ellis’ FREAKANGELS.

Because that’s the kind of tyrant I am. I’d move fast if I were you.

 - Stephen

Reviews June 2011 week four

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

 It is astonishingly beautiful, with grey tones so warm they are purple, and again my nearest point of reference would be Hope Larson. The wide-eyed wonder, scowls and glares light up the page and the body language is supple, subtle, expressive and spot-on.

 - Stephen on Anya’s Ghost.

The Game (£4-99, self-published) by Anders Nilsen ~

Sent direct to us from Anders himself.

Two angels – a woman toting an AK47 and a small boy carrying a school bag – swoop upon an unsuspecting group for a bit of murder and pillage. But who they encounter has an unexpected outcome. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Originally appearing in the broadsheet-sized KRAMER’S ERGOT 7, Anders has expanded upon the original three-page story, adding a fourth page which gives a sense of context I feel the original lacked. This double-sided poster contains two pages per side and measures 495mm x 710mm and comes with a trading card featuring a character from Big Questions.

LINK

TR

Monolinguist Paper Update (£5-99, self-published) by Anders Nilsen ~

Sent direct to us from Anders himself!

As with his MONOLOGUE collections, Anders’ reticent art creates a visual paradox in relation to his desultory verse. In comparison to those door-stop books, this facsimile collection of his sketchbooks contains vignettes of his friends, coupling the abstract silhouette style of his monologues with detailed illustrations. This is a beautiful package, little surprises like stickers and trading cards featuring the ornithological illustrations of the birds from his upcoming Big Questions collection tumble out when you remove the comic from its sealed bag. And six large postcards featuring raw photographs of his choice sketchbook pages and rusted sculpture demand space on your wall.

TR

Anya’s Ghost (£12-99, First Second) by Vera Brosgol.

“ANYA’S GHOST is a masterpiece, of Y.A. and of comics.” – Neil Gaiman

“You’re no saint, Anya. You’re just like me.”
“I’m not! I would never hurt anyone.”
“You just haven’t had the chance.”

Anya’s like any other schoolgirl or boy: unhappy with her appearance, too concerned about whom she is seen with, and worried about what people think of her. She’s had to compromise in order to fit in, and she’s pretty much succeeded though she’s still fretting that she hasn’t. Gym class is a nightmare – one long prosepect of ritual humiliation – and her best efforts to evade the school tests she fears most rarely succeeed. On top of it all her best friend with whom she smokes to look cool teases her, not unkindly, but Anya takes it to heart. We take so much to heart at that age, don’t we? And let’s face it, even though we hated being teased or ostracised by some, most of us did the same thing to others just to consider ourselves one-up in the constantly scurrying rat race that is school life.

Anya is no worse yet no better than any of us even though she has a doting mother and a relatively bareable kid brother. The older boy she harbours an unrealistic crush on doesn’t look down on her disdainfully nor is his girlfriend suspciously jealous of her – which is odd. Things really aren’t as bad as they seem… until Anya takes a dive down a hole in a remote piece of parkland and finds herself next to a skeleton: the skeleton and the ghost of a girl who fell down that very same whole ninety years previously.

What happens next is far from predictable in spite of appearances – because you know what they say about appearances – as Anya finds a way to free both herself and the ghost from their trap by accidentally brushing one of its tiniest bones into her satchel. Voila, she has a brand new friend with useful abilities! But even a ghost has desires of its own and Anya is in for an education.

This is refreshing far from the sanitised or anodyne fare that would alienate anyone of a similar age. Take the smoking, for example. Like Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS, which I cannot recommend strongly enough, there is so much well observed behaviour here which will resonate with those who are either still at school, or mercifully released from it long since.

Moreover it is astonishingly beautiful, with grey tones so warm they are purple, and again my nearest point of reference would be Hope Larson. The wide-eyed wonder, scowls and glares light up the page and the body language is supple, subtle, expressive and spot-on.

It’s also funny. There’s a scene which made me laugh out loud on the bus as Anya daydreams about her prospective beau dancing with his pretty blonde girlfriend like so…

“Oh girlfriend… you’re so hot and nice and good-looking. But I need something more. You do not complete me. I need someone more… negative.
“Hark! Who is that stone cold fox before me! I could lose myself forever in that dark hair and those sweet love handles. Oh Anya, let’s have an intense spiritual relationship for no believable reason!”

Hope Larson recognises this for the smart and snappy writing it is, while Scott McCloud of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, the book so brilliant we named our shop after its 45th page, writes:

“More than a year and a half ago, I wrote about four upcoming books and promised to post updates as each became available. Those books were David Small’s Stitches, David Mazzucchelli’s ASTERIOS POLYP, Hope Larson’s MERCURY and Vera Brosgol’s then-untitled graphic novel for First Second. Well, the first three came out to well-deserved acclaim, and now at last that fourth one—quite possibly my favorite of the whole bunch—is finally available for pre-order. And it has a name: ANYA’S GHOST.”

LINK

SLH

Page By Paige (£7-50, Amulet) by Laura Lee Gulledge…

Definitely one for the art junkies out there. Page By Paige is certainly a visual feast of illustrative devices, literally page after page of them (no pun intended), and from that perspective almost evokes a sketchbook, and also put me in mind of UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud, oddly enough. However, I found myself strangely disinterested by the actual story of a girl fitting in with new friends and a new city, albeit seamlessly enough. It’s no MERCURY or THE PLAIN JANES, though perhaps it’s my particular sensibilities at fault in part, as even the most beautiful of art is not enough on its own for me; I need a gripping story too. Also, did the main character really need to be called Paige Turner…?

JR

Yeah! (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez ~

Krazy, Honey, and Woo-Woo are Yeah! They’re the biggest group in the galaxy, adored on every planet. That is, except Earth, which sucks when it’s your home turf!

Whether you take this to be Peter’s un-self-conscious love letter to the pop comics of his youth or a sincerely soft poke at the conventions of the music industry, he pretty much succeeds on every level. Gilbert’s art bounces across the pages in pure Archie style and as hokey as the stories should be, in the hands of these two they’re pure pop gems. Play it again!

LINK

TR

Level Up (£11-99, First Second) by Gene Luen Yang & Thien Pham…

I saw my first arcade video game when I six. It was a beat-up old Pac-Man coin-op and it sat in the lobby of a Chinese restaurant just down the street from our home.
“Come on Dennis. Our table’s ready.”
“In a minute, Ma.”
“Dennis!”
“Be right there, Ma!”
“Father says NOW.”
From then on, I dreamed in pixels.

So the opening few pages in conjunction with the title – and the fact that the book cover looks like a Nintendo Game Boy – might lead one to conclude this was a work about obsessive computer gaming, whereas in fact those elements are relatively peripheral. This misdirection is a shame, because whilst this is a decent enough work, it isn’t really what I was expecting.

Instead this is much more of a work about family, and in particular the weight of family expectations, as the lead character Denis Ouyang struggles to come to terms with his Father’s obsession with him becoming a Doctor, and in particular a gastroenterologist! Denis has always done what his father told him to, and whereas you might think upon his father’s demise, Denis would choose to forge a different path, instead he finds himself compelled through the years of conditioning to carry on. Until it all becomes too much for him, and he retreats to find solace in the one thing he always loved, video games. Even then though, it’s not too long before the internal guilt tripping starts again…

And then there are the four Angels, apparently sent by his father from beyond to keep an eye on him and make him study ever harder, who are quite literally permanently on his case, chiding him if he even misses an evening studying. But are they really Angels, and does the fact that there are four of them hold any greater significance? Actually as I’m typing this review up, I have to admit I did actually rather enjoy reading Level Up as I have Gene Luen Yang’s other works (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, THE ETERNAL SMILE, PRIME BABY) though I personally prefer his own art to his collaborator’s here, Thien Pham, which seems a little bland in comparison. Fans of Gene’s would enjoy this though I’m sure, just please bear in mind it’s most definitely not about gaming.

JR

Walking Dead vol 14: No Way Out (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn.

Collects #79-84 amongst which was the issue Tom reacted to while bagging and taping your customer orders with more horror than I have ever seen on his face. I hear Tom chortling all the time, and he buzzes like crazy when he’s opening boxes of fresh comics and graphic novels but I have never, ever seen him react like this. So, you know, enjoy!!!

LINK

SLH

Tenjo Tenje 2-in-1 Edition vol 1 (£10-99, Viz/Sigikki) by OH!Great ~

Soichiro Nagi and Bob are the toughest brawlers their streets have ever seen, but that was before they entered Todo High. Battling their way up the clique-chain for the pure joy of the fight, they bite off more than they can chew when they attract the attention of Juken Fight Club and its strange and weedy-looking members. This club plays for keeps and if they know what’s good for them they’ll keep an eye on the small child with the enormous sword.

This starts off as quite the most ridiculous Battle-Manga, but really sets itself apart from the plot-less pretenders, Battle Vixens and Battle Club, despite having a very similar set up. The gratuitous sexual content is introduced in the token fan-service manner we’ve come to expect from this style of comic. This then shifts quickly into a more adult tone when Bob and his girlfriend Chiaki are getting sexy in their downtime, then quickly again in the same act when Chiaki is attacked in a dry cleaners. It’s an extremely brutal scene, so much so that when DC’s CMX manga line originally released this they censored it, cropping the images into a more tasteful arrangement, allegedly against OH!Great’s wishes. And yes, the scene is really quite horrid: it is rape. You can’t soften it with a tasteful crop, anything less would undermine the severity of it.

All credit to OHGreat as, gratuitous as his art is, the aftermath of this incident is dealt with in a surprisingly sensitive manner. Soichiro and Bob do jump in to rescue Chiaki, but are both too late and utterly defeated. As is Aya who was led to the fight by her clairvoyant powers, likening the sickening feeling of her premonition to the one she received the night before her brother’s death. So it’s not a trivial event, and Chiaki’s attempts to play it down to Bob and Soichiro later are quite heartbreaking as there is clearly nothing that can be said which is anything less than denial.

The tone shifts at that point, like in Neon Genesis Evangelion when the first strange Angel attack cuts to a shot of Shinji in a hospital bed, and this scene sets a tone for the remainder of the series. It’s a strange mix combining ridiculous fights, over-the-top fan service and proclamations of gaining strength with an uncomfortable reality which I’m glad I’ll never get used to.

TR

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Episode 1 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Yu Kinutani ~

Manga based on the anime series which attempted to be more faithful to Shirow’s manga masterpiece than the films were. Only that show was pretty bland, Shirow’s weird cybersexed and perpetually vexed Major Kusanagi was translated into a cold and emotionless hard woman lacking humanity under her cybernetic shell, which side-steps her dynamic entirely.

Similarly Yu Kinutani is no Shirow, the cases tackled are not complex techno-crimes, rather familiar SF staples Columbo could crack with a ZX Spectrum. In fact the only case Major Kusanagi and Section 9 seem to be having a problem with is a case of diminished returns.

Without Shirow – or at least someone of equal capability – this is empty. Yu’s art is rushed, as beautifully rendered the occasional wiry innards are, your suspension of disbelief is shattered at every available opportunity. You can forgive Shirow for having Kusanagi running around in little but a bathing suit as his style carries that, and his figure work is solid even if it’s gratuitous. It’s a little harder to take the Major seriously here, even in full Kevlar, if her eyes are looking in two directions, or Yu’s sense of perspective merges her with Batu, un-intentionally creating a whole other kind of cyber-spider. That its sole redeeming factor is the inclusion of comedy shorts starring Section 9’s sentient spider-tanks shows just how dire this is.

TR

Bride’s Story vol 1 h/c (£12-99, Yen) by Kaoru Mori…

Life on the nineteenth-century Silk Road for a twenty-year-old woman married off to a twelve-year-old boy in a different nomadic tribe, as she begins to come to terms with her new life, a new role as wife and generally ingratiating herself with her new extended family. It’s all done in a rather heart-warming fashion actually, and concentrates on the characters and their lives rather than any great dramatic events – well so far at least, as there’s one potential spot of trouble on the horizon. Nice art too, with the exotic landscapes and the hustle and bustle of the trading centres portrayed neatly. I probably will pick up vol 2 when it comes in for a look. Not sure if it really needed to be a hardcover edition though.

JR

The Complete Bad Company (£19-99, 2000AD) by Peter Milligan & Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Steve Dillon…

“What’s that? A man?”
“Dunno, but it’s moving fast. Better get the big gun.”

Errr… that’d be Kano, and I’m not sure you’ve got a gun big enough, mate.

So it’s Peter Milligan’s 2000AD future-war barrage of insanity’s turn for collection and reprinting, then. Included we have the two original Bad Company stories featuring Kano and the most bizarre selection of killers you could ever wish to avoid on the battlefield taking out all and sundry but in particular the gruesome alien Krool, who are determined to wipe out all of humanity, and making a pretty good job of it too.

And these two stories, told through the device of Danny Frank’s battlefield diary (a possible homage to DARKIE’S MOB which may actually have been an inspiration for BAD COMPANY now I think about it in retrospect) are what I consider to be the true-canon BAD COMPANY material, for whilst we also have two subsequent shorter stories included as well, and even though one of these is intended to be a definitive epilogue to the two main stories, they don’t really add much.

This work predates Milligan’s SHADE THE CHANGING MAN by a few years, but you can clearly see already his interest in the concept of functioning insanity. The two main stories are classic thrill-powered future-fiction material, the second in particular being memorable for some of the craziest characters ever to the grace the pages of a 2000AD Prog, even to this day. I enjoyed re-reading this material after all these years immensely, and even knowing the secret of Kano’s little black box that he carries around with him everywhere didn’t spoil it for me. For once you know what is inside that box, well Kano’s craziness all starts to make much more sense. Excellent – almost rabid in places – art from Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy that perfectly captures the absolute insanity of the most insane of wars.

LINK

JR

Uncanny X-Force vol 2: Deathlok Nation h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Esad Ribic, Rafael Albuquerque…

“That what I think it is?”
“Yes, I’ve got the whole world in my hand.”

Volume two of the finest X-title out there at the moment* picks up right where volume one left off, with relentless action and pithy dialogue aplenty. Someone seems to have taken particular umbrage with the faux French dandy Fantomex and has sent a whole host of cyborg supertroupers in the shape of Deathlok-upgraded Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man et al back in time to punch his clock and help themselves to The World, the time-dilating laboratory responsible for housing the Weapon programme that birthed Fantomex, Wolverine, Deadpool and a whole host of other nutjobs.

These bionic bad guys are from a Utopian future where superheroes have been converted into the perfect police force with no free will of their own, and in doing so humanity has flourished ushering in an era of total peace. Unfortunately though, there’s always someone out to spoil it for everyone else eh, and Apocalypse manages to cause the collapse of this future society, resulting in those in charge sending their forces back in time to prevent it happening. So why then, would they try to take out the one person who has apparently just eliminated Apocalypse in volume one…?

Once again, Remender has crafted an excellent piece of speculative fiction here, and is still getting the best out of his cast of characters. Deadpool does of course steal the show in true inimitably hilarious fashion when he faces off alone against ‘Father’, the villain behind Fantomex’s travails, but again, Remender is wisely very judicious in his use of the character. The one liners when they come though are absolutely killer so why not climb aboard and join our Deathlok nation?

[* My choice would be Kieron Gillen’s UNCANNY X-MEN – interjecting ed.]

JR

Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen & Greg Land.

“To me, my investors!”

An artificially cultivated flu-like virus has been introduced to the X-Men’s supposedly safe haven, Utopia, off the coast of San Francisco. Hyperinfectious to mutants, it targets their immune system while robbing them of their powers. To most it’s devastating but to Wolverine it may prove fatal because if you thought lead poisoning was bad, try having your entire body threaded with adamantium. Without proof that humans are immune, Cyclops imposes a quarantine just as five new, new mutants appear mimicking the original X-Men. But their genetic evolution too is artificial: a means of marketing the bottled mutant genome and the powers that come with it as a leisure activity to the far from idle rich.

With only Angel, Northstar, Storm, Pixie and Dazzler on the mainland, will it be possible to force the genie back in that bottle or is there another, more ingenious solution for someone focussing on the problem from exactly the right angle?

This is where CASANOVA’s Fraction first hands over the main mutant mantle to PHONOGRAM’s Gillen, and it’s a joy seeing the more minor members of the regular cast getting a little banter with their battle action, as well as a resolution to Emma Frost’s sequestration of Sebastian Shaw. Also, Greg Land has come in for some criticism in the last year or so for using photo references… This bemuses me. For a start, so do artists as disparate as Alex Ross and Gary Spencer Millidge and, secondly, the end result is slick, glossy, beautiful and charming.

Speaking of charming, why don’t we ask Pixie what’s it like being Welsh?

“Tidy!”

LINK

SLH

Hulk: Gray s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Loeb & Tim Sale.

I thought we were going to spell in English, Jonathan?

No matter. I never wrote a review this particular colour-coded Year One reminding you that originally the Hulk was grey, and don’t have the heart for it now. Sketches and commentary in the back. See also Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue which I enjoyed very much at the time, Loeb being infinitely better at nostalgia than contemporary comics. I mean, infinitely!

LINK

SLH

Secret Warriors vol 5: Night h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Mirko Colak, Alessandro Vitti, David Marquez.

At one point it looked as if master strategist Nick Fury had the entire war between himself, Hydra and Leviathan mapped out in his head, his pieces in place to cause maximum chaos and confusion long before the first move was made. He had not one team, not two teams but a veritable third one hidden in the wings. The results have been spectacular but his resources aren’t infinite, immortal nor, it would seem, entirely reliable. You’ve been waiting quite some time.

Now: the damage is done. But to which side?

Hate to tell you this, but you’re just going to have to endure the art.

LINK

SLH

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Purple-Shirted Scott (£12-99)

Two designs, each with 8 points of articulation which is considerably more than Scott himself has (I loved the fact that the Jimmy Corrigan figure was completely inarticulate!). Both designs are of Scott, he’s just wearing different clobber. Each comes both with a guitar and a Flaming Sword Of Love. Lighter fluid not included.

SLH

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Green-Shirted Scott (£12-99)

Two designs, each with 8 points of articulation which is considerably more than Scott himself has (I loved the fact that the Jimmy Corrigan figure was completely inarticulate!). Both designs are of Scott, he’s just wearing different clobber. Each comes both with a guitar and a Flaming Sword Of Love. Lighter fluid not included.

SLH

Restocks Finally Arrived!

We’ve been out of this for several years. Didn’t stop us making the second volume Comicbook Of The Month…

The Killer vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon.

“Trust and friendship are a little bit like money… If you make a bad investment, you have a hell of a lot to lose. Much more than what you’ve invested, if you invest them right…”

Slick and intense European hitman thriller which lives up to its promise, as we get inside the head of a singularly ordinary looking man who’s so disengaged from humanity that it’s all facts and figures, an endless stream of self-justification for being a cool-hearted killer without a care in the world.

“Don’t talk to me about Justice or Morals. Even God himself I wouldn’t listen to. Not with His track record. I take orders from no one. I report to no one. I have a single motive for what I’m doing: money… I help rich people kill one another. Poor people, they can’t afford me. They handle it themselves. And they end up in jail for life.”

Normally he researches then executes his assignments calmly, methodically, all around the world. Patience is the one virtue he would own to possessing, but this time his target hasn’t even shown, and it’s starting to unsettle him…

Like CRIMINAL, this gets right under the skin of the individual in question who makes more than a few valid points about our own culpabilities, whilst the art is lush with jagged jungle leaves, classily coloured, and splinters expressionistically as the pressure builds to force this most dispassionate of men to make a critical blunder. At which point everything unravels, and he’s forced from his natural comfort zone into an environment he does not control.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Reviews to follow next week or, in the case of softcovers of previous hardcovers like X-MEN SECOND COMING or BLACK WIDOW, their reviews will already be up.

Scary Godmother: Comic Book Stories s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jill Thompson
Echo vol 6: The Last Day (£11-99, Abstract) by Terry Moore
Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures (£10-99, Dark Horse) by various
Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & Ian Culbard
Gingerbread Girl (£9-99, Top Shelf) by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover
Red Hood: The Lost Days (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winick & Pablo Raimondi, Jerermy Haun
Black Widow: The Name Of The Rose s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Daniel Acuna
Secret Avengers vol 2: Eyes Of The Shadow h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Deodato with Will Conrad
X-Factor vol 11: Happenings In Vegas s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Sebastian Fiumara, Valentine De Landro, Emanuela Lupacchino
X-Men: Second Coming s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey, Zeb Wells, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen, Ibraim Roberson, Lan Medina, Nathan Fox, Esad Ribic, David Finch, Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Mike Choi
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 3: Death Of Spider-Man Prelude h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli, David LaFuente, Lan Medina, Ed Tadeo, Elena Casagrande, Chris Samnee, Justin Ponsor, Joleele Jones, Sunny Gho, Sakti Yuwono, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Scottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu
X-Men: Age Of X h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Mike Carey, Simon Spurrier, Jim McCann, Chuck Kim & Mirco Pierfederici, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong, Paco Diaz, Paul Davidson, Clay Mann, Steve Kurth, Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer
X-Men: With Great Power h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Chris Bachalo
Negima! Omnibus vols 1-3 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu
NGE: Campus Apocalypse vol 4 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Mingming

Big love to Nigel Brunsdon whom I used to work with <ahem> eighteen years ago at Fantastic Store in Birmingham before Page 45 and after we routed its previous, devious manager for being devious and previous. Awesome days.

Nigel’s just got back in contact and, brilliantly, is now a harm reduction worker. Pleased to see the Pop Will Eat Itself fan has got a fucking hair cut, mind.

PWEI rocked. Shut up.

 - Stephen

Reviews June 2011 week three

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

 

There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking.

 - Stephen on Fish + Chocolate

 

Congress Of The Animals h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

I was going to read the latest Jim Woodring in the garden this fine Sunday morning until the weather rebelled and the seven a.m. sunshine turned into yet another grey and drizzly day. So I went back to bed instead. Bed is a fine place to read Jim’s work, especially if you doze off and let the imagery percolate through your brain. I once dreamed in Jim Woodring: huge, hollow, cylindrical clouds made out of black lattice: wrought iron rotating in the sky.

Woodring’s fables are overwhelmingly voyages of discovery either for the incurably curious Frank or – in the case of WEATHERCRAFT – Manhog. Manhog usually discovers that the world is cruel, but then Manhog’s not the best example of kindly altruism himself. Frank usually discovers he shouldn’t have meddled yet never learns his lesson. On consideration you hope he never will.

Here, however, he is propelled into his latest dream journey through Whim (bright blue and crescent-headed) taking exception to a fellow creature sticking his tongue out at him from a barrage balloon drifting up above. You don’t goad Whim. Whim retaliates with a rock that punctures the balloon whose contents are jettisoned in the vain hope of remaining aloft, and that’s how Frank finds a full croquet set landing on his lawn. What happens next is so devastating it makes your worst nightmares about subsidence at home sound like a laughter track. There follows as ever a series of cause-and-effects, initially driven by the bad influence of the beast from the balloon, which results in the one ending I never expected to see. It feels, in fact, like a fond farewell.

But just as Woodring’s wordless walkabouts are voyages of discovery for his anthropomorphic protagonists, so they should be for each of us. Wonders wait around every corner, so I’ll leave you to wonder what wonders they’ll be.

What I can promise you is the same, exquisite level of craftsmanship you’ll have become accustomed to. It wasn’t simply based on Mark’s adoration of this master’s oeuvre that we made WEATHERCRAFT Comicbook Of the Month.

The gondola sequence may be my favourite because I love it when Woodring draws water. There his trademark wavy lines with their subtle gradations are employed to maximum effect with rippled reflections gently broken by the wake. There’s a beautiful blue jungle underneath the dust jacket, while the dust jacket itself features a spot-varnish cameo framed in shiny bronze on a cover the colour of a speckled green egg shell.

You can tell I’m in love, can’t you?

LINK

SLH

Fish + Chocolate (Signed) (£9-99) by Kate Brown.

A sublime confluence of words and pictures with the palette of Paul Duffield and Josh Middleton; if you love the art on FREAKANGELS or SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES you will adore these three stories, each of which is in its way is about parenthood.

The first two feature single mothers: the first with two boys, the second with a young girl perfectly content to play round their countryside cottage and its gently sloping Garden of new Earthly Delights. There she finds a cherry tree laden with fruit. She picks one. Her mother composes on the piano upstairs.

The boys miss their father whom they haven’t seen in months, and the oldest wants a television in his room. Their mother argues with her editor but meets up with a friend. It’s a perfectly lovely day and they have much to discuss. There’s an odd-looking man with barely any eyebrows sitting on his lawn by the path. He whistles through a split blade of grass. The boys are curious.

The tunes may not come easily especially when distracted and the man is a little unnerving, but everything on the surface seems pretty much serene. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons buried and sudden trauma in store, as the tranquility of sleepy suburbia and that bucolic beauty are shredded by shrieks of wholly unexpected violence. I’m not even going to touch on the third tale (although sneakily I have) but the cover’s stark warning of “explicit content” is far from alarmist.

Oh, but this artist can write! Nothing here is predictable or simplistic, and it’s a joy to discover a brand new voice unlike any I’ve encountered before, yet the art will sell itself to you all on its own. There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking. Moreover we have another contender for best rain ever in comics as the sky bursts open, the water cascades and the downpour drowns the cherry tree in a curtain of spray.

Oh yes, and our copies are signed.

SLH

Celluloid h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave McKean.

There’s a surprising paucity of genuine erotica in contemporary British and American comics. Europe’s positively engorged with it.

There’s LOST GIRLS by husband-and-wife team Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, as reviewed on our site by the delectable Ryz Glover in exactly the spirit the book was intended and, of course, Uncle Alan wrote the joyful and often hilarious 25,000 YEARS OF EROTIC FREEDOM. Fantagraphics have an entire imprint called Eros, but there’s nothing there that really appeals to me, and – I’ve just realised – there’s certainly a history of it because we stock both volumes of the EROTIC COMICS hardcovers!

In a surprise move, then, along comes the creator of NARCOLEPSY, PICTURES THAT TICK, CAGES, all those SANDMAN covers and so much more (stick “McKean” in our search engine), with a spectacularly lush, surreal and expressionistic affair which engages the mind as well as refreshing the parts which other beers fail to reach.

“A woman arrives at an apartment, but her partner can’t get away from work. She is disappointed and settles in for a night alone, but finds a film projector with a reel of film loaded. The film is scratched and blurry, but she can make out a couple making love. When the film burns out, a door is revealed which leads to a misty town square… and a series of fantastical sexual encounters.”

Here’s McKean himself:

“There are so many comics about violence. I’m not entertained or amused by violence, and I’d rather not have it in my life. Sex, on the other hand, is something the vast majority of us enjoy, yet it rarely seems to be the subject of comics.”

The opening sequence set in the apartment is delicately drawn in pen and ink with very light, sandy washes, but as soon as our Alice steps through the door or slips down the proverbial rabbit hole, all manner of media are employed in a writhing frenzy of groin and loin with a heavy emphasis on oral pleasuring. It’s at its best when closest to Picasso, and it does come close indeed. What I didn’t like at all were the relatively untreated photo sequences. They felt a little tawdry to me, and dated. But for all I know they’ll be others’ favourites.

Gorgeous cover, beautiful production values!

LINK

SLH

Isle Of 100,000 Graves (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Fabien Vehlmann & Jason.

“I need me some sailors to find a treasure.”
“Get lost.”
“It’s the treasure of the isle of 100,000 graves.”
“The legendary treasure… The isle of 100,000 graves. Many have sought it but none has ever returned.”
“I found a map that shows where the island is. I’ll guide you if take me with you.”
“Have you got this map on you?”
“No. I ate it.”
“How long ago?”
“Couple of days.”
“Oh well. How do I know you aren’t making this up?”
“Here’s a scrap of the map I kept as proof.”
“Alright then, we’ll go with the ugly little girl.”
“My name’s Gwenny.”
“Ha, ha. You’re plucky. I like that. Three cheers for Gwenny, me hearties!”

Of course the pirate Captain has absolutely no intention of sharing the treasure with Gwenny, he’s every intention of feeding her to the sharks once she’s led them to the fabled isle. However, Gwenny is already at least five steps ahead of him, and everyone else for that matter. She’s not even looking for treasure, instead she’s actually on the trail of her father, who left home looking for the mythical treasure himself several years previously after finding a mysterious bottle with a map to the isle inside, and has never been seen since. Gwenny always believed her father was still alive, and one day finds a similar bottle. Believing it’s a message from her father that he’s alive and well, and in need of rescuing, she decides it’s up to her to lead the attempt.

Except… except… the isle isn’t quite what it seems, and the message she received most definitely didn’t come from her father, for the isle is a sinister, sinful place, perhaps not too surprising given its name, hiding a dark and unexpected secret of its own… in addition to the 100,000 graves that is… and it’s most definitely not treasure. Will Gwenny be able to outwit the pirates to get passage to the isle, and outfox the evil opponents she encounters there?

This is an absolutely hilarious adventure romp from Vehlmann and Jason, which minded me of (and really made me want to re-read) Tintin and also Lewis Trondheim’s BOURBON ISLAND and previous Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month WALKER BEAN. Fans of Vehlmann’s previous bonkers collaboration 7 PSYCHOPATHS with Sean Phillips will already know he can write a good ‘off-the-wall and cartwheeling down the cliff behind’ tale and Jason’s hangdog art style perfectly complements the deadpan humour he’s penned here. A child running rings round all and sundry is a tale that’s oft been told, but rarely with the panache and wit displayed you’ll find within these pages.

LINK

JR

Baltimore The Plague Ships h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck.

“Is someone there?”
“You’ve made a terrible mistake…”

Regular Page 45 review readers will know I am an unabashed Mignola fan, and love my HELLBOY and BPRD. What is fantastic about Mignola, though, is rather than just continue endlessly with the same characters which does inevitably get old irrespective of the quality of the writing, he’s also producing wonderful new works like this one and also spin-offs using less exposed characters like LOBSTER JOHNSON and WITCHFINDER which, albeit stemming from the same twisted occult mythos, provide a way of telling yet more complex, classic stories in a genre he really is the modern master of.

BALTIMORE PLAGUE SHIPS gives us the pustulent story of Lord Henry Baltimore, a man with more stiff upper lip than the troutiest, poutiest cosmetic surgery victim could ever wish for, and a never-say-die attitude to match. And it’s precisely that sort of British bulldog resilience that’s landed him in the living nightmare he now finds himself. Knocked unconscious on the field of battle in WW1 during a suicidal midnight over-the-top charge, ordered by the idiotic top brass safely tucked away behind the lines at HQ, he’s appalled to come round and find gigantic bat-like creatures with glowing red eyes literally draining the blood from his dead and dying comrades strewn around him.

When one particularly loathsome specimen notices the waking Lord Henry and decides to make him the next tasty treat, he manages to fend the creature off with a bayonet in a last-ditch, desperate act, gouging the creature’s eye out in the process. Even so, were it not for the fast approaching sunrise, he’d still have been easy pickings for the enraged creatures who seem unnerved by the rapidly increasing light levels and flee the battlefield.

Subsequently coming to in the middle of the night in a field hospital, minus an amputated leg, he’s approached by a cloak-clad fiend missing an eye who chillingly informs Lord Henry that whilst he and his vampiric brethren had previously been content to merely hide in the shadows, feeding on those who were dead and dying, that thanks to Lord Henry’s intervention, they are as of now at war with humanity.

And the visiting vampire who goes by the name of Haigus doesn’t just mean in the wider sense either; it’s a confrontation that’s soon taken to Lord Henry’s home front as his wife and all his family are massacred and turned into undead themselves after a rather unwelcome social call. Although, Haigus might well just have made a fatal mistake, errr… if that’s possible for the undead… as Lord Henry is not the sort of man you’d want to cross, particularly if you’re a vampire and he’s got a cross or two handy himself. From that point on, as far as Lord Henry’s concerned, he’s already living in hell and now has absolutely nothing to lose. He’s living solely for revenge, and he’s prepared to follow Haigus wherever it takes him as the vampire begins to beat a retreat to the Old World in an increasingly desperate attempt to shake off his pursuer.

Superb horror writing from Mignola and Christopher Golden, with appropriately atmospheric art from Ben Stenbeck, who appears to have followed the unwritten rule of illustrating a Mignola story, which is to evoke Mignola’s own art style. I do honestly wonder whether it is something that Mignola insists upon actually, but if he does, fair enough, because it really works and ensures these works feel like an addition to a literary canon. I’m already relishing the next instalment of BALTIMORE like a vampire plotting a trip to the blood bank.

JR

Sweet Tooth vol 3: Animal Armies (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire.

Strikingly coloured by ace Alan Moore photographer Jose Villarrubia, this is one almighty climax and conflagration as Jeppherd gathers an army of mixed allegiance and dubious loyalty to rescue the captive children.

And they are children first and foremost: human/animal hybrids, their eyes wide and tearful, their ears tagged like cattle. All of them were born after the pandemic that wiped out American civilisation except for young Gus, and he doesn’t even have a belly button. What will the captors’ scientist discover buried in the grave alongside Gus’s father? Not his mother, that’s for sure. How will the scientist react? It’s quite the revelation, and I do mean that in a Biblical sense.

From the creator of ESSEX COUNTY and THE NOBODY, this book is a joy to read, which is odd given how horrific, how cruel the contents are. I luxuriate in its free-flowing, expressionistic art and have enormous respect to its editors for letting Lemire do it his unusual way. The fate of Jeppherd’s son is staggeringly brutal, while Gus himself has begun to have new dreams of an older man with antlers: a hunter with a bow and full quiver striding out of the rocky plains with just two words:

“Not yet.”

LINK

SLH

Generation Hope vol 1: The Future’s A Four Letter Word s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salva Espin, Jamie McKelvie.

Translated from Japanese (I’ve been practising), someone is making an exhibition of himself:

“Mr. Kenji! Ah. I’m extraordinarily sorry I’ve disturbed you… I’m equally sorry if I’m stepping in your latest masterwork. ‘Black Noxious Goo’ certainly is a new direction. Everyone is going to be thrilled. What is it, actually? No, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know what taboo the enfant terrible of the Tokyo art scene is violating. But I do need to know when it’ll be ready. ‘The Future Is A Four-Letter Word’ has been booked for months. You promised new work. Major work…”
“Almost done. Almost ready. Almost finished. Everything finished everything finished. Becoming art. Art ideas. Ideas not real. Becoming art. Ideas aren’t real. Therefore: are you real? Is anything real?”
“Kenji… Are you all right?”
“I am becoming art. Want… a preview?”

Ugh. Someone just got a private viewing, and they didn’t even get a glass of wine first.

The first mutant born since HOUSE OF M, Hope, has returned from the future and her presence in our present appears to have catalysed five further manifestations. Each has been violently unstable until Hope’s laying-on-of-hands and now the first four have joined her to track down the fifth in Tokyo, Japan, where Cyclops and Wolverine are about to see life hall-of-mirror art in a truly fucked up fashion. Because so far they’ve been lucky: so far these new mutants – these new Lights as Hope calls them – have just been physically unstable. This Light she might want to switch off then rip out its fuse box altogether.

It was an unusually fine first issue for a mutant superhero series, each of the Lights on their way to Tokyo giving thought to their predicament. Although Teon is more instinct than thought, for unlike Hank McCoy he really has been reduced to a beast (“When no one’s watching, he rubs himself against the furniture in a way I’m sure is improper.”) and when it comes to combat it’s all fight, flight or mate. Yes, there’s plenty of combat on offer because what they encounter on landing comes in the form of a great many tentacles, a self-made cyborg of muscle and metal then a massive purple-black dome of explosion.

Has someone been reading AKIRA? I fully expected to see Logan on a turbo-charged scarlet motorcycle.

The art is a far cry from the neoclassical photorealism of Hitch, Finch or Lee. It’s closer to Cloonan or Kelly on a superficial level. But Espin does the horror particularly well and when you finally see Kenji in his full mutated glory… you’ll think AKIRA again! On the other hand when you see McKelvie’s final chapter with its tilted heads, enquiring minds and oh so subtle expressions, you will rue the day he was passed over to draw the series from scratch. We’d have sold five times the number of copies with Jamie on board.

So yes, the final issue back on Utopia is by far my favourite. As you’ll already know now that he’s taken over UNCANNY X-MEN, Gillen writes a mean Magneto and is able to articulate arguments with eloquence and precision. Here’s Hope’s fresh perspective on mutant/human relationships as she gives Professor X a drumming – in Magneto’s presence – for calling the old academy a “School For Gifted Youngsters”:

“The problem isn’t humans. The problem’s prejudice. That hurts everyone.
“I mean, I’ve known aliens, robots, post-humans, walking, talking insecty things… cyborgs.
“Thinking we’re the “gifted” ones… we need to be able to get past that. We’re all just people, they’re all just people. And people who don’t see that… they’re part of the problem. The “gifted and the ungifted” is just “us and them”. That’s what’s wrong.”

She has real fire in her eyes, that one.

LINK

SLH

New Reviews For Older Books

Milk And Cheese (£8-99, Amaze Ink/SLG) by Evan Dorkin.

Love them with money or they’ll hate you with hammers. These dairy products gone bad are educating America – one moron at a time!

This isn’t a review, it’s a misappropriation of Dorkin’s own comedy. If you love Jamie Smart (BEAR, UBU BUBU) then you need this book published long before we even opened: scathing satire, mass destruction, and if you’re an old-skool comic shop then you are in for a kicking. Dozens of short strips which are effortlessly insane with comedy. We’re talking ART D’ECCO on amphetamines, SUGAR BUZZ on a sugar buzz.

We used to have the gorgeous vinyl figure set in stock which included implements of devastation. On the back was the first new Milk & Cheese strips in yoinks although you could probably guess what happened (see “implements of devastation”).

You should also follow the man on Twitter. Two of my favourites:

“Oh, comic book industry. You’ve gained so much experience, when will you level up?”

“Wizard ceasing publication is the End of an Error.”

Amen.

LINK

SLH

Old Reviews New To The Website

Bear vol 2: Demons (£10-99, Amaze Ink) by Jamie Smart.

“Giggle like a kidney!! A second bounty of carnage, profanity and friendship hugs (lie), as our furry tyke romps through a world filled with TV, idiots, and a certain homicidal cat.”

The best pieces are always the most off-the-wall, like the court scenes here I couldn’t possibly describe, requiring (as all the best comics should) that you see the art that complements, contradicts or otherwise puts a spin on the dialogue. But at his best I maintain that Smart is Evan Dorkin’s successor (MILK & CHEESE introduction by Evan Dorkin: “Christ! I don’t know whether to hug it or kill it!” “This is America. We can do both.”), might even give some of the Bryan Lee O’Malley crowd a laugh, and at his worst still manages to satisfy the appetite of our till. How else can I describe it? FLUFFY for very sick people. Go and take a look when you’re next in the shop.

LINK

SLH

Bourbon Island (£10-99, First Second) by Apollo, Lewis Trondheim…

“I have to tell you Mr. Despentes, I’m not going to follow you into the mountains to hunt birds. I’m going away Mr. Despenstes, because I’m going to join the pirates who are my true brothers.”
“Don’t be silly Raphael, there are no more pirates. And in any event, there is no way you’d be able to drink enough rum to follow one of their conversations.”

What a delightful treasure trove of a book, much like the one Raphael the ornithologist’s assistant dreams of finding to the dismissive amusement of Mr. Despentes, who also has his own dreams of finding the now presumed extinct dodo and making himself a timeless legend in naturalist circles. Set on Bourbon Island, a tropical paradise already lost to corrupt officials as the end of the age of piracy gives way to rampant colonialism. The last of the pirate captains have all been executed or laid down their arms except for the notorious Captain Buzzard who rumour has it has been recently captured and is being held on the island. Will his legendary treasure be lost forever? Will his former crew give up their newfound legitimate status as colonists to rescue him? Or will the villainous colonial officials manage to get their hands on the loot?

Everything about this book is beautiful. Apollo and Trondheim’s writing evokes memories of bygone times where people could still make a name for themselves as adventurers, and everything is just so wonderfully observed and articulated. From the patient paternal relationship between Mr. Despentes and the headstrong Raphael to the dastardly scheming and plotting of the greedy Governor.

Trondheim’s artwork is just amazing here, I’ve seldom seen inking of this deliberately untidy type convey such incredible three-dimensional depth to some of the panels. I found myself really studying the artwork to understand exactly how he was doing it. My conclusion? He’s just very, very good. And even the paper of the book itself is a masterstroke with its yellowed parchment-esque look and deliberately rough-cut edging immediately putting you in mind of treasure maps before you’ve even started reading. Brilliant stuff and it’s made me want to check out Trondheim’s other works.

LINK

JR

Also Arrived:

Some books to be reviewed next week. Softcover versions of books previously out in hardcover may be already up in the shopping area. Please use our search engine.

The Game (£4-99) by Anders Nilsen
The Monolinguist (£5-99) by Anders Nilsen
Anya’s Ghost (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol
Level Up (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gene Luen Yang & Thien Pham
Page By Paige (£7-50, Amulet) by Laura Lee Gulledge
Bad Company (£19-99, 2000AD) by Peter Milligan & Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Steve Dillon
5 Is The Perfect Number (£12-99, Jonathan Cape) by Igort
New York: The Big City (£13-50, Norton) by Will Eisner
Walking Dead vol 14: No Way Out (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
Star Wars: Invasion vol 2: Rescues (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Tom Taylor & Colin Wilson
Star Wars: The Old Republic vol 2: Threat Of Peace (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Chesney & Alex Sanchez
Arkham Asylum: Madness s/c (£10-99, DC) by Sam Kieth
Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen & Greg Land
Hulk: Gray s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Loeb & Tim Sale
Secret Warriors vol 5: Night h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickmann & Mirko Colak, Alessandro Vitti, David Marquez
Deadpool vol 7: Space Oddity h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi, Sheldon Vella, Bong Dazo
Uncanny X-Force vol 2: Deathlok Nation h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Esad Ribic, Rafael Alburquerque
Spawn Origins vol 11 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo
Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol 1 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol 2 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Geijutsuka Art Design Class vol 3 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Spice & Wolf vol 4 (£7-99, Yen) by Isuna Hasekura & Keito Koume
Maoh: Juvenile Remix vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Kotaro Isaka & Megumi Osuga
Bride’s Story vol 1 h/c (£12-99, Yen) by Kaoru Mori

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Purple Shirted Scott (£12-99)
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Green Shirted Scott (£12-99)

The Hieronymus Bosch reference in MILK + CHOCOLATE was far from idle, I promise.

 - Stephen

Reviews June 2011 week two

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

 

No, not my forthcoming autobiography referring to working alongside Stephen, but a new work from Page 45 firm-favourite Paul Hornschemeier!

 - Jonathan on Life With Mr. Dangerous. The bastard.

Luchadoras (£12-99, Blank Slate) by Peggy Adam…

This fictional work from Peggy Adam, who has been working extensively in the French comics scene for the last ten years, is ostensibly to highlight the horrific and literally murderous violence occurring toward women on a everyday basis in the border town of Cuidad Juárez in Mexico. And in addition to providing a compelling work of fiction (it completely succeeds in that respect, much like the recent Vertigo Crime work NOCHE ROJA set in the same locale does), it does succeed in drawing our attention to a wave of crime which seems almost ludicrous that it could even be happening on such a scale in a supposedly developed country.

I’m sure the Mexican authorities wouldn’t welcome this comparison, but to me personally, the truly sickening violence perpetuated towards women in that town and region is merely a hair’s breadth away from the worst misogynist excesses at the nadir of the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan. But this is precisely the sort of cruel anarchy which ensues when the rule of legitimate law and order completely breaks down. It’s deeply disappointing that we, as a wider slice of society – not just the unavoidably tiny hardcore criminal / mentally ill element – still clearly need to be actively policed to not resort to this type of immorality given the opportunity… but that’s a different discussion for another time.

I like Adam’s art style here too, which very much put me in mind of Belle Yang’s FORGET SORROW. It’s expressive and vivid, capturing the desperate hardships of life for many in this particular hellhole. The characters all ring true for me also, with the sole exception of the male American tourist Jean, who is backpacking around the region and decides to stay around for awhile longer, charmed by the main female character Alma. Now, I appreciate Jean is primarily being used here as a narrative device for Alma to explain to him – and therefore us –  the brutal realities of life for women in Cuidad Juárez, of which Jean appears to be blissfully unaware, but it just doesn’t seem credible and is thus a bit jarring. No one of sound mind goes backpacking to that region, and I doubt there is anyone in the US, particular those that are sufficiently broadminded enough to have actually left the country at any time to do some travelling, that aren’t acutely aware of exactly what’s going on just over that particular part of the border with Mexico. It’s a small gripe though, for those of you out there who aren’t aware of this terrible ongoing travesty, you would be in Jean’s shoes, I guess.

If you’d like more hard facts and personal testimonies, mixed in with some comics regarding precisely what is happening in Cuidad Juárez (and three other particularly blighted spots around the world) you should check out the excellent I LIVE HERE which I don’t think any other shop in the UK stocks. It’s certainly never been offered by Diamond in spite of containing work by Joe Sacco. If on the other hand, you’d like something of a Mexican flavour that’s not on the heavy side, though certainly liberally soused in tequila, then you should certainly check out Jessica Abel’s tale LA PERDIDA about an American girl who decides to live in Mexico for a while to experience the positives of its rich culture firsthand.

LINK

JR

Chico & Rita h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal…

Ahh, a delightful will-they-won’t-they love story that begins against the backdrop of late ‘40s pre-revolutionary Cuba and New York, then gradually meanders forward through time as talented jazz pianist Chico and sexy soul singer Rita spurn evermore opportunities to find lasting happiness in each others’ arms.

It’s partly Chico’s fault initially at least, as he does have a roving eye (and hands) for the ladies, though circumstances do also comically and tragically conspire against them at times too. But as Rita’s star rises, courted first by music execs and then Hollywood, and they become increasingly separated by success as well as distance, it seems even less likely they’ll end up together. Mind you, Chico’s not doing too bad career-wise either, touring Europe with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, but is it really coincidence that he got that gig, which would take him so far away from the object of his affections, or perhaps there are other forces at work keeping our two potential lovebirds apart?

Based on an animated film from 2010, the lush, vibrantly coloured illustrations will take you back to a more colourful time, with larger than life characters, a buzzing post-war New York hot and jumping with the rising jazz music scene, and the more laid back hedonistic joie de vivre of pre-revolution Cuban island life.

So… do they, or don’t they? Will we get our happy ending, or are our two stars only ever going to end up orbiting endlessly around each other, never destined to be shining brightly side-by-side in the firmament together? Given the opening shot is of an elderly Chico in modern times, returning to his rundown Havanan apartment after a hard day shining shoes just to make ends meet, switching on his radio tuned to a golden oldies station and feeling all nostalgic and wistful when he hears a song he wrote for Rita back when they very first met playing over the airwaves, it doesn’t look too promising… though maybe I’m just playing with you dear reader…

LINK

JR

Life With Mr. Dangerous h/c (£16-50, Villard) by Paul Hornschemeier…

“That’s bullshit and you know it! How many times do I have to explain this? The fucking tag fell off!”
“Sir, please. There’s no need for that kind of language. If there’s…
“She’s trying to overcharge me! I know the price: the tag fell off and she’s trying to overcharge me! And I don’t need some preschool bitch helping out in the scam! I know what’s…”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
What did you just say to me?
“I said get out.”
“You’re telling me to get out?! Who the fuck do you think you’re… go get the manager!”
“Who I’m getting is security, Rambo. Now get out and don’t even think of coming back! Go turn somebody else’s day to shit, but get the fuck out of our store.
“Hello? Yeah. Can you… McSutter’s. Right. Thanks.”
“Bitch. I’m gonna get you fired.”
“Go for it. Security’s on its way. Fight club. Your call.”

No, not my forthcoming autobiography referring to working alongside Stephen, but a new work from Page 45 firm-favourite Paul Hornschemeier! If you liked last month’s Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month EMPIRE STATE then you’ll absolutely love this slow-burning tale of a life less lived featuring 26-year-old Amy; well spent mostly rotating aimlessly between her crappy job at a clothes store, having very awkward, casual sexual encounters after finally dumping her disinterested boyfriend and enduring turgid lunch dates with her Mum – just generally living a very mundane, very dull existence.

There are only two things that can snap her out of her funk, albeit temporarily, and put some pleasure in her life it seems; well, four at a push if you include her cat Mr. Moritz and ice cream, and those are talking to her best friend Michael who now lives in San Francisco on the telephone and being sat on her sofa watching endless re-runs of her favourite cartoon Mr. Dangerous, though even Amy is starting to get fed up of the anti-matter episode…

She desperately wants to start living life, the cafeteria conversations with her Mother about her own life having passed her by have certainly convinced Amy of that, but where to begin? Eventually the penny drops that she’s going to have to confront her own feelings for Michael if she’s ever going to begin that process, but as she asks Mr. Moritz, how come she can sleep with the ice cream guy who she doesn’t even know, but is too scared to tell her best friend how she feels about him?!

This is exquisitely anguished writing from Hornschemeier, I’d doubt there’s a single one of us out there who can’t identify with some aspect of Amy’s life or other. And I wouldn’t normally quote someone else’s review but I just think the quote from Time magazine on the rear of the book sums up this work – and Hornschemeier’s others – beautifully.

“If other comics are easy chairs, his work offers the pleasure, and the pain, of reclining on a psychiatrist’s couch.”

And make no mistake, this is also a visually beautiful work, though if you have read any of Paul’s previous works (such as THE THREE PARADOXES, LET US BE PERFECTLY CLEAR & MOTHER, COME HOME) you’ll not be remotely surprised about that. It just seems absolutely seamless on the eye with lots and lots of symmetrical straight lines virtually omnipresent in every background and softly, gently, in fact lovingly illustrated characters inhabiting the foreground with real presence. It’s a potent blend which, along with a colour palette that Chris Ware would heartily approve of, just causes you to invest emotionally deeper and deeper into a story which Adrian Tomine or Daniel Clowes would have been proud to pen.

Two happily ever after endings in one week of reviews… is it really even possible? I shed a single tear at the end of LIFE WITH MR. DANGEROUS, I really did – I was that moved – that’s all I’m saying…

LINK

JR

Citizen Rex h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mario Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez…

Love the foreword by brother Mario…

During the early stages of this project, I mulled over an encounter with a science fiction fan at a convention. The fan introduced me to a friend as “one of the Love and Rockets brothers”. The other friend snorted, “Love and Rockets is nothing but a soap opera.” I gave him my friendliest smile and said, “But it’s a well-drawn soap opera!”

What I meant to say was, “So is most science fiction, really.”

So true, so true, and that is why for me there is indeed a marked difference in genre between science fiction and speculative fiction. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who (all things the ‘science fiction fan’ in question probably creams himself, or herself I suppose – but let’s be honest it was probably himself – over) et al fall squarely into the former category (and nothing wrong with them by the way – I too am a sci-fi geek), but speculative fiction is a different beast altogether – look just read BIOMEGA and I promise to stop banging on about it every week! Anyway, hadn’t the geek in question ever heard of the term space opera?

So digression dealt with, let me state this is most definitely science fiction, as the plot has all the razzmatazz and right-rollicking frolics we’ve come to expect from the lighter works of Los Bros H. Twenty years on from the arrest and deactivation of the most famous robot in the world, CTZ-RX-1, after a scandalous dalliance with the socialite wife of a mobster, it would seem that somehow rumours are spreading that he has returned from the electronic beyond.

Could the rise in body modification and robotic replacement limbs be somehow connected with all the sporadic sightings of CTZ-RX-1? Eccentric gossip blogger and spurious rumour monger Sergio has got a whiff of this story of the century and is determined to investigate in his own inimitable haphazard happy-go-lucky fashion, yet various shady well-connected characters are equally determined he’s not going to get chance to break the story.

Ha ha, this is about as polar an opposite as you can get from SURROGATES, again underscoring my point about science vs. speculative fiction. CITIZEN REX is pure hilarious over the top melodrama, with truly ridiculous bad guys, and even more ridiculous dialogue…

“Please excuse me, Sigi. May I have a dance when I return?”
“If there’s no line. We can’t do the hand jive of course.”

LINK

JR

Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent #1 of 4 (£2-75, Icon/Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Sixth self-contained series of my favourite crime comic bar none. You can start right here for there’s nothing you need to know. My memory’s so bad I don’t have a clue if anyone in this issue has even been mentioned before.

It’s all about the humanity and – crucially for noir – the first-person narratives are compelling, convincing and full of flawed individuality. For any successful first-person narrative you have got to want to spend time and then more time in the self-absorbed heads of these particular protagonists and that’s where Brubaker excels. That the intricate plots are so devious, the delivery so adroit (Brubaker knows how to write a great punchline) is of course icing on a multi-layered cake, and – you can check my reviews of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER, INCOGNITO etc – I have for over a decade pronounced Sean Phillips the finest draughtsman in this most twilight of genres. His faces stay cast and masked in a permanent semi-shadow. You’ll never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips, so do not ask Sean to sketch you: you’ll be riddled with self-doubt for years.

Momentarily, however, it’s all very different for Riley Richards is feeling nostalgic.

Summoned home by his father’s illness, he has ditched the city of his sins which have begun to cost him dear, and travelled back to the town of his youth. It was a sunlit life immersed in the relatively innocent pleasures of comics with his best friend Freakout; meeting down the diner where a stoned Freakout with monumental munchies would break records for scoffing ice cream. Then there was sweet Lizzie Gordon, the girl who lived literally next door: the girl all assumed he would marry…

But his life changed course dramatically upon the arrival of Felicity Doolittle, bringing with her the alluring, honeypot cocktail of novelty, sophistication, self-confidence and sexual availability. Riley succumbed and then he made a mistake: he married her.

Now he is a man who witnesses the world around him at a remove, as if it’s not his own life at all. He’s become so detached that he doesn’t know how to feel at his father’s funeral; he just calculates what’s expected of him. He’s become so detached that when he caught his wife shagging Teddy, the man he loathes most, he concludes that it simply makes sense. He’s almost immune to his father-in-law’s long-voiced contempt.

But returning home has reminded him of how promising it all once looked. No one can reload their life and choose a different path like we can on PS3. Yet that doesn’t mean mistakes can’t be rectified, that they cannot be fixed, and it occurs to Riley now as he surveys what his life has become, that there may well be a way to reverse all his fortunes in one single swoop and set his life back on a course that actually means something to him.

Allowed for once to play in the suburban sunlight rather than the metropolitan grime, Sean Phillips appears to have had much fun not only in capturing a much younger, less tainted crowd, but also in the flashback sequences: snapshots (as they always are) of memory rendered here in Archie Comics innocence, even when the style beautifully belies the content under Felicity’s prom-night gown. You’ll note how Teddy’s also pictured alongside Riley when Felicity first flies into town.

Attention to detail: another of Brubaker’s and Phillips’ fortes.

Here’s volume one:

LINK

Even The Giants (£7-50, Adhouse) by Jesse Jacobs.

Swoon / Sigh.

How beautiful is the main attraction here, a tender, crystal-clear love story between two gigantic carnivorous beasts, as pure as the driven Arctic snow. The food chain’s certainly changed since I last visited.

An Eskimo catches a seal, feeding its intestines to his Arctic fox; one beast catches the fox and feeds it to its mate; the same simian creature snatches a killer whale, leaving nought but its skeletal remains for a pair of patient polar bears; and, oh, that’s the Eskimo population in decline! Actually, it’s as much about man’s relationship with nature as anything else: cohabitation. A village of igloos is assaulted from the icy depths below, repelling the intruder by bows, arrows and the strength of numbers; but a boat bearing crates of cheese graters, telephones and one single stowaway is scooped from the sea and upended. The stowaway’s fate is unexpected.

Told in slate grey, ice white and eggshell blue, it’s a dreamlike affair of polar opposites, one of the beasts being so white that it’s almost ethereal but far from immune to shotgun shells. I wonder what the native population of snow-white hares are going to make of the dark chocolate bunnies newly introduced to their environment? I wonder why telephones and cheese graters are in such steep demand in a land somewhat short on electricity and suitable grazing pastures? I don’t really, it’s just funny, and the book would have been a gem if the silent story had been allowed to unfold unfouled by the rest of its contents.

Instead – Hayley Campbell is precisely right – it’s a game of two halves which would have been infinitely better presented as such separate entities rather than delivered in alternating, jarring and disruptive segments. It’s like being presented with the traditional half-time orange and finding grapefruit in the mix as well, for the other shorts are sour affairs, stylistically at odds, as Jacobs has a go at his landlord etc.

I thought about it long and hard but have yet to discern any possible benefit to breaking up the floe. (sic)

LINK

SLH

Osborn: Evil Incarcerated (£12-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios with Warren Ellis & Jamie McKelvie.

Yup, there’s a back-up by Warren Ellis and PHONOGRAM’s Jamie McKelvie.

“I’m being transferred. Someplace… unsavoury.”
“How — ?”
“That you’re here together says you mean to share responsibility for having made the call. That you’re here at all says you want to satisfy your consciences that you’re doing the right thing.”
“My conscience is satisfied. You are a psychotic – - “
“I am a political prisoner, Senator! But that’s all right… Great men before me have ascended from prison cells to Presidencies.”
“Did you just compare yourself to Nelson Mandela?”

Love the titular pun. And while we’re directly underneath the quotation, I should add that Osborn’s two visitors to The Raft (maximum security federal penitentiary for super-powered psychopaths) don’t mean to share anything. Or at least one of them doesn’t.

Intense political power-play, then, as politicians conspire to send Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin to an even safer location so secret that even the vice president doesn’t know it exists. He’s been detained without charges, and they’re so scared that the maniac who declared war on Asgard against the explicit command of the America President in SIEGE might somehow or some day walk free that they’re prepared to disappear him. There may be no paper trail to follow but unfortunately Norah Winters, Front Line reporter, is so loaded with guilt from the time she backed down from an Osborn exposé that her renewed tenacity makes her the perfect person to lure into a lair where the creatures are stirring, and the ultimate alpha male is about to start beating his chest.

Suffused with animal imagery – and a particularly well argued speech from Senator Sondra Muffoletto on leadership skills within a pride of lions – this is a refreshingly odd beast for a Marvel comic. There are no superheroes nor any traditional supervillains: instead there’s a menagerie of maniacal misfits seething with pent-up malice, caged by those on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

Equally the art style is of a sort you’re more likely to see at Vertigo with shades of David Lapham and Becky Cloonan perfect for a sweaty, festering tension which erupts when the alarm is sounded and those dark red pages are so well drawn that the cacophony’s genuinely deafening.

Under Kelly Sue DeConnick, Osborn steals the show. It’s a masterful performance of sneering, dismissive condescension and contempt from a man whose charisma and command stems from an unflinching self-confidence. The art of rhetoric is far from dead.

“Men, minions, miscreants! If you will excuse me, I must take my leave of you to attend our strategy. I trust you can amuse yourselves.”

LINK

SLH

Green Lantern: Brightest Day h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke.

“Hal, stop digging yourself into this hole. It’s going to turn into a grave.”

Ring out your dead!

Dawn has risen over THE BLACKEST NIGHT and a truce has been called across the Lanterns’ full spectrum. Wounds are being licked, bodies are being buried, while Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris – this sector’s Green Lantern and Star Sapphire – even manage to snatch a few minutes to begin sorting out their relationship. It’s a shame Hal’s not as in touch with his emotions as Carol is with both hers and his, but then she does wields the power of love and you will see a Lantern turn green with envy.

It’s the briefest of respites, however, for already old forces are stirring within the Lost Sector – very old forces indeed – while new, improbable and desperate alliances are being forged that do not bode well for the war ahead. Oh yes, and someone’s discovered a White Lantern. In spite of the individual efforts Hal, Carol and Sinestro it refuses to budge like the legendary sword in the stone. So who’s its King Arthur, and what does it want with our knights?

An enormous cast gathers for an almighty quest to tether and tame the emotional the Entities let loose on Earth before they find human hosts or someone far worse than Atrocitus finds them first. Brilliantly, however, the key doesn’t like in defeating the Entities but in understanding them. It’s brilliant because it’s eloquently argued.

I never realised this title was so complicated now. That’s by no means a criticism in this context: I love a book which demands I engage what’s left of my pitiful brain, and the good news is that the last time I read GREEN LANTERN was way back at the beginning of Geoff Johns’ tenure, GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. If I can get to grips with a run this far on that’s created then makes maximum use of such a wealthy treasure trove of lore, anyone can. Plus at ten chapters long with surprise guest-stars galore, you are not going to be short-changed on action. Parallax is back, I’ll tell you that much, but it’s after a different host now, and Hal’s worst fear for his friends comes true.

Love, Hope, Fear, Rage, Compassion, Avarice: it’s gonna be emotional.

“Carol Ferris of Earth, you have retrieved The Predator. Come home. Love is unstable.”

You gotta have faith.

SLH

Ziggy: 40 Years h/c (£18-99, Andrews McMeel) by Tom Wilson.

“Ziggy is really popular in North America! I used to read it in the paper everyday when I was a kid!”

… wrote Su-Min Lee to our confounded twit on Twitter* when initially this drew a blank. Since then I’ve taken a proper look and though they’re simple cartoons for simpler times, you’d be surprised how relevant they remain!

There’s the man at the cash machine in the wall who’s obviously asked for a fiver or statement: “Since when did they install the laugh track?”

I think it’s only a matter of time before I take my squeals on wheels to the local garage to get it fixed and the mechanic says, “Actually what I think your car needs is a new driver”.

But I’m still waiting for the day when the waiter returns with this: “… I sent your compliments to the chef, and he thinks you’re pretty cute, too.” I know exactly which restaurant that daydreams’s about.

* @pagefortyfive in case you were wondering – and yes, that’s me at the other end, I’m afraid!

SLH

Buffy The Vampire Slayer vol 8: Last Gleaming (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Scott Allie & George Jeanty.

That’s it: end of the official Season 8. There’ll be another season eventually, once more exclusive to the medium of comics, and I do believe that ANGEL and SPIKE have both been reclaimed by Whedon so he can supervise their stories directly at Dark Horse.

LINK

SLH

Aliens Vs. Predator: Three World War (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Randy Stradley & Rick Leonardi, Mark Pennington.

There’s a new strain of Predator which now hunts without honour using tamed Aliens as hounds. On leashes.

LINK

SLH

Also arrived:

Lots of these reviewed next week but softcovers of former hardcovers like CAPTAIN AMERICA: NO ESCAPE may already have reviews up in the shopping area. Pop ‘em in our search engine!

Fish + Chocolate (Signed) (£9-99) by Kate Brown
Congress Of The Animals h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring
Celluloid h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave McKean
Isle Of 100,000 Graves (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Fabien Vehlmann & Jason
Dark Tower vol 7: The Little Sisters Of Eluria h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Richard Isanove, Luke Ross
Baltimore The Plague Ships h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck
Sweet Tooth vol 3: Animal Armies (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire
Deadpool Team-Up vol 2: Special Relationship h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rob Williams, David Lapham, Frank Tieri, James Asmus, Jeff Parker & Matteo Scalera, Shawn Crystal, Chris Staggs, Micah Gunnell, Steve SandersRob Williams, David Lapham, Frank Tieri, James Asmus, Jeff Parker & Matteo Scalera, Shawn Crystal, Chris Staggs, Micah Gunnell, Steve Sanders
Batwoman: Elegy s/c (£13-50, DC) by Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams III
Generation Hope vol 1: The Future’s A Four Letter Word s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salva Espin, Jamie McKelvie
Captain America: No Escape s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Jackson “Butch” Guice, Mitch BreitweiserEd Brubaker & Jackson “Butch” Guice, Mitch Breitweiser
Full Metal Alchemist Omnibus vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiromu Arakawa
Bleach Omnibus vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Rave Master Omnibus vols 33-35 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 15 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa
Detroit Metal City vol 9 (£8-99, Viz) by Kiminori Wakasugi
Vampire Knight vol 12 (£7-50, Viz) by Matsuri Hino
Naruto vol 51 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
Ninja Girls vol 5 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hosana Tanaka
Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex Episode 1 Section 9 vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yu Kinutani
Tezuka: Black Jack vol 14 (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

Mere days away from announcing our big signing mid-October for our anniversary with added pub get together where you can meet him and us in a more relaxed (“You mean less professional!”) manner.

Clues: the creator is not British, does not live in Britain, and one of his graphic novels was a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. “His” is a new, previously unannounced clue.

 - Stephen

Reviews June 2011 week one

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

One of the biggest biases is the thirst to report first rather than accurately; and how we react to later corrections – and truth and lies – is fascinating. She also explores the whole sorry saga of the US government’s and UK parliamentary hostility towards a free press… While we’re here, did you know that truth used to be no defence against libel?

 - Stephen on The Influencing Machine.

The Influencing Machine h/c (£17-99, W.W. Norton) by Brooke Gladstone & Josh Neufeld.

“The media do not control you. They pander to you.”

So true. The Daily Mail panders to its readers’ base prejudices by confirming their worst fears with histrionic fiction, whilst The Guardian panders to our moral outrage by decrying the Daily Mail as histrionic fiction. They’re all equally biased, just like me, as I’ve more than ably demonstrated there! The key is to recognise that, for this too is true:

“News consumers say they want objectivity, but they choose news outlets that reflect their views.”

No? I for one would only watch Fox News for comedy value – as indeed I did as Weazel News in Grand Theft Auto. This is why the outlets pander. They want the biggest possible audience so that they can attract more advertising, hence the media milestone in 1833 when the New York Sun slashed its price to a penny. It meant less revenue per copy but the circulation rocketed. Suddenly a whole new, less affluent readership had access to news, actual news! Well, advertising anyway.

This is the kind of material which Brooke Gladstone, eminently qualified to talk about, is in total command of here, and as illustrated by Josh Neufeld I was gripped from cover to cover. That’s no mean trick for what is essentially one long talking-head piece. The compositions are clear as Scott McCloud’s and as equally inventive, allowing Gladstone to concentrate on the salient facts backed up by case studies and quotations which she does with an admirable humour, coherence and brevity. So much here you may half-know, but never in my experience has it been evaluated in such a comprehensive yet accessible manner. In this instance its chosen medium helped me absorb what could otherwise have been information overload which, coincidentally, is something Brooke discusses towards the end: the fear that modern technology risks presenting us with Too Much Information. It’s been that way for centuries, going right back to the Gutenberg Press and revisited ever since during each technological advance! TV was decried as the enemy of the brain, and radio before it. At which point Gladstone quotes this pertinent observation by Douglas Adams:

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

Not so much now, perhaps – we stay young a little longer – but he knew what he was talking about. There are of course dangers in modern technology, but not necessarily the most obvious ones:

“The big threat of photoshopification is not that we will believe documents and photos that are fake. It’s that we’ll find it easier to disbelieve documents and photos that are real. When it’s convenient,” she writes… against a back-drop of tortured Iraqi prisoners.

Here you will learn of the origins of the political leak, press pass, press release, by-lines and the emerging distrust of journalists post-WWI as soldiers returned from the frontline with very different accounts to those force-fed to the public by papers during the war itself. Indeed there’s an extensive section devoted to war-time journalism, and it’s pretty damning. It takes in Vietnam, WWI, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the invasion of Iraq (the whole Saddam Hussein statue-toppling affair was a journalistic travesty orchestrated by US soldiers) and indeed Kuwait where being embedded with the troops had severe limitations:

“They could see where the missiles were launched… not where they landed.”

But Gladstone explains how easily war-time reporting is compromised for, having investigated the various biases affecting journalism (commercial, bad news, status quo, access, visual, narrative and fairness), almost every one shows up during war.

Access bias? The military can bar, expel, and jail reporters. It can also – this goes without saying – save their lives. Without friends in uniform, war reporters are more at risk.”

One of the biggest biases is the thirst to report first rather than accurately, and how we react to later corrections – and truth and lies – is fascinating. She also explores the whole sorry saga of the US government’s and UK parliamentary hostility towards a free press. In England newspapers were actually banned for six years then aggressively censored (though not as comically as detailed in Burma Chronicles) while even the First Amendment was effectively overwritten by President John Adams in his Sedition Act just a few years later. While we’re here, did you know that truth used to be no defence against libel? You want to read about Super-Injunctions? Try Nixon here.

If I were to pick out one section of so many (which in spite of my long-windedness I still don’t have room to discuss here) it’s on objectivity which at least brings us full circle. Not only does Gladstone explore whether such a thing is even possible as the “naïve empiricists” hoped, but also the ways that its failings has been or can be balanced either by self-awareness or full disclosure. There’s a very good reason beyond entertainment or vanity that we have a Staff Profiles section on our website: if you’re aware of our own biases you can judge for yourselves how much of what we say is coloured, and so filter our commentary accordingly!

“U.S. newspapers try to build a wall between the editorial pages and the news pages. They have different editors. In the twentieth century, it was a fundamental principle of journalism. Not so much in the twenty-first century.”

It’s all editorial here!

LINK

SLH

The Little Prince h/c (£15-00, Walker Books) by Anitone De Saint-Exupéry & Joann Sfar.

“You can only see clearly with the heart. What matters most is invisible to the eye.”

A beautiful, poignant and often very funny book as you’d expect from the creator of RABBI’S CAT, this adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic won the Youth Essential Prize 2009 at Angoulême, and deservedly so.

A pilot struggling to repair his aircraft which has gone down in the dessert is joined by a wide-eyed boy who’s travelled far across the stars from a planet so tiny it has but three waist-high volcanoes, which he dutifully swept, and a flower he found too demanding. He came in search of friends and the pair of them bond over the pilot’s drawings and the Little Prince’s ability to see beyond their surface. The Little Prince wants a sheep but the pilot draws a box, telling him the sheep is inside. Instead of complaining, the boy understands.

“That’s just how I wanted him. …Do you think this sheep will need a lot of grass?”
“Why?”
“Because it’s very small where I come from.”
“I’m sure there’ll be enough grass. I’ve given you a very small sheep.”
“He’s not that small… Look! He’s fallen asleep!”

The final panel in that sequence above is a perfect use of the comicbook medium, Sfar lighting up the child’s eye in stark contrast to the night, evoking the imaginative mind ticking over behind it, as the drawing he’s fixated on remains but a box!

As I say, the Prince has travelled a long, long way to be there today. In his travels he’d grown baffled at the absurd ways of adults and their warped priorities. There was a vain man demanding to be admired, a business man busied in counting the stars in an effort to own them. (Why are they his? “I thought of it first!” Territorially that has been the way, hasn’t it?!) He met a geographer recording the travels of others without once setting out to explore for himself, and another man trapped in the circular logic of a dysfunctional alcoholic.

“Why are you drinking?”
“To forget.”
“To forget what?”
“To forget I’m ashamed.”
“Ashamed of what?”
“Ashamed of drinking.”

My favourite by far was the king, however, who contrived to have every one of his royal degrees obeyed by tailoring them to his surroundings and adapting accordingly:

“It’s not polite to yawn in front of a king. Don’t yawn I tell you.”
“But I can’t can’t help it.”
“If that’s the case, I command you to yawn. What matters is that nobody disobeys my commands. Go on! Yawn again!”
“You’re intimidating me. Now I can’t do it.”
“In that case, you can yawn from time to time, but you have to stop once in a while.”
“Yes sir. Can I sit down now?”
“Sit down, I command you.”
“Your Highness… do you mind if I ask you some questions.”
“I command you to ask me some questions.”

Gradually, as the Little Prince meets more people, more flowers and a fox (drawn very much as the ethereal spirit of the creature with ludicrously long ears and the bushiest of tails that blow in the breeze), and he learns about the importance of rituals and reliability, it begins to dawn on him what he has left behind and starts to consider a return journey with the help – if you could call it that – of a venomous snake. There’s usually some darkness in the best children’s books, but this took me completely by surprise.

There’s too much here to distil into a single pronouncement of what this is about, I can only tell you how it spoke to me: about responsibility, creativity and nurture; caring for others in spite of their foibles for we each have plenty of our own, and cherishing what you have without losing the sparkle of youth to the mundane concerns of the purely practical:

“You’d be better off focussing on the serious stuff.”
“That’s what people used to say to me, when I was a child. I gave up drawing because of remarks like that.”

Instantly I thought of Lynda Barry and WHAT IT IS there!

It’s also a lesson in bereavement and the pain of separation – inevitable in any friendship on one side or the other, but the necessary price worth paying for love – delivered with warmth, tenderness and a little humour, with an emphasis on the consolation of shared experiences and memory. Here’s how the Little Prince says farewell to the pilot.

“When you gaze at the sky at night, I’ll be living on one of those stars, I’ll be laughing on one of those stars, and you’ll feel as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that know how to laugh. And when you’re feeling better (we always find consolation in the end) you’ll be glad you knew me. You’ll always be my friend.
“And your friends will be astonished to see you laughing when you look at the sky. I’ll have played a right old trick on you.”

Like Winnie The Pooh or Alice In Wonderland, this is a book full of wonder for children that will be read very differently by adults: a gentle reminder to some of us if we’ve perhaps lost our way in what can be a punishing adult world, of what is and isn’t important.

“It’s much more difficult to judge yourself than it is to judge other people. If you can judge yourself fairly, you’re truly a wise man.”

SLH

The Accidental Salad (£5-99, Blank Slate) by Joe Decie.

”You know those old signs and adverts you sometimes see painted on walls? I like ’em. Windows into the past and all that. It’s not really the history that’s important to me. It’s just those hand-painted letters were so much better than the generic die-cut stuff you see today.
“Guess I’m an imperfectionist.”

A triumph of autobiographical observation and absurdity much loved by Jeffrey Brown with a warmth, wit and gentle self-mockery that puts me in mind of Eddie Campbell’s ALEC – or at least the more family-orientated episodes.

Never more than two pages long, impossibly not one of them fails to elicit a smile of recognition or plain admiration for a man of many strange rituals, some of them to be taken with no more than a pinch of the posh salt which Joe steals from restaurants, wrapped like cocaine in £20 notes. All of us surely have found ourselves lost in the aisles of a supermarket without a clue what we came for; but not even Joe would pick up someone else’s shopping list, discarded on the floor, and take home a stranger’s ingredients instead. His girlfriend: “Oh Joe. Not again.” Funny, though.

His son is a sweetheart (“I love you, Granny!” “I love you, Mummy!” “I love you, broom!”) and so is Joe. I particularly liked the scene in which he’s walking down the road with a young man whom I take to be one of his students with learning difficulties, instructing Toby to stop before crossing the road, not to talk to strangers and emphatically not to push to button at the crossing. They’re not even going that way. “Yes, Joe. Yes, Joe. … Sorry, Joe.”

“Maybe Toby just likes pushing buttons or maybe it’s about asserting power in a world where he has little. Get it where you can.”

The production values on this lavish, over-sized package are impeccable with French flaps and quality paper stock perfect for the loose ink washes. Think Fantagraphics’ Ignatz line. Decie has a great eye for architecture as well as his son’s subtle expressions, and as for the compositions, they’re a constant surprise for there’s an epilogue after the broom-loving incident above.

Personal favourites apart from those quoted include ‘Small Print’ as Joe and his girlfriend curl up in bed, ‘Tokyo Onions’ wherein enthusiasm takes Joe a step too far, ‘Parenting Tips No. 19: T-Shirt Monsters’ and ‘It’s More Than OK, It’s Compulsory’:

“Goodnight then boyo!”
“Daddy!”
“Yes?”

Seconds pass as Joe pauses on the stairs.

“Is it OK if I dream about space missions?”
“That’s fine.”

LINK

SLH

Crossed 3D vol 1 (£6-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Gianluca Pagliarani…

How to make the sickest comic of all even sicker? Well, apart from rampant paedophilia and incest amongst the survivors (no really, that is coming in volume two of the main series) there’s really only one way… make it 3-D…

Gimmicks aside, this mini graphic novel from the same creative team who took over the reins from Ennis and Burrows after CROSSED VOLUME ONE is sufficiently grim and disturbed enough that you probably won’t even notice the changeover. Probably because you’ll be too busy recoiling in horrific – yet morbidly fascinated – disgust…

I should also add this is actually the first graphic novel I didn’t feel comfortable getting out and reading on the tram to/from work, which is my usual transitorial habit. Mainly because I didn’t want to put the 3-D glasses on, which themselves have a graphic of the open sore of a Crossed on the front of them, to further draw attention to the depraved filth I was reading! Plus you can guarantee if I had done so, it would have been a delightful old granny that would have sat down next to me and probably had a heart attack on the spot. Or starting screaming for the police…

LINK

JR

Nonplayer #1 (£2-25, Image) by Nate Simpson.

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful! The lines, the dappled shadows and the lambent colouring, so rich and warm, evoke a fantasy land you really wouldn’t want to leave. There’s a giant cat whose chin nuzzles over the side of a horizontal tree trunk and gigantic, armour-plated dinosaurs along with their woollier, mammalian successors carrying the local aristocracy in a caravan whose warriors our heroine and her compadre are about to ambush for maximum XP points.

Yup, it’s all just a game you plug yourself into, an elaborate virtual reality Dana’s so addicted to, she’s constantly late for work. It’s a subject which Devin Grayson explored some time ago, and very successfully too, while Cory Doctorow gave me much pause for thought in his FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW. This isn’t just a retread of Devin’s old mini-series, though, and there are a couple of twists in store when Dana first exits the game and then sets out on her scooter through the grotty, concrete urban jungle to work: just a little something to make that journey more pleasant. I can’t say I blame her if such tech were possible, but it does raise a few questions about acknowledging, absorbing or escaping your environment. Also put me mind of Woodrow Phoenix’s thoughts on getting lost in your own little world while driving (see RUMMBLE STRIP).

Unfortunately I fear we may have discovered the new Josh Middleton both in terms of talent and schedule for this single issue took a whole year to create, he’s being courted by the comicbook corps, and ten years on we have yet to see the follow-up to SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES #0. Fingers crossed, though.

SLH

Approximate Continuum Comics (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Lewis Trondheim…

“Whoa! I’m all screwed up!
“Get ahold of yourself.
“The door! Finally I reach the door.
“I can’t even grab onto the door handle.
“I’ve got to do something… I can’t breathe.
“I’m going to unbutton my pants a little. And I’m going to sit down.
“I feel awful. Really awful. No! I’ve got to tell myself I’m feeling better.
“It’s not letting up. I’m going to die.
“I should throw up. I’ll feel better after that.
“Ah shit. Moebius is looking at me. I must look really stupid.”

Reprinting material originally published in 1993-94 this is in essence LITTLE NOTHINGS vol 0, and fans of that series will indeed love this early work. If you’re unfamiliar with Lewis’ anthropomorphic autobiographical musings, this is possibly not a bad place to start, though the usual caveats, exemplified by the title of the later material, apply. Basically when he concentrates on actual events, such as panic attacks witnessed by the great and good of the bande dessinée crowd as above, wild parties thrown at his studio involving arooga-ing white rastas, or even just the minutiae of moving house, then it’s hilarious and engrossing stuff, but he does has a tendency to over-elaborate what’s going on in his seemingly never ending ‘glass half-empty’ thoughts the rest of the time for me, which I personally find far less interesting.

LINK

JR

American Vampire vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Mateus Santolouco.

Whoa! If you thought the first book had bite – and it did – this is on another level altogether: two tales so taut that a tourniquet would make no difference. Same goes for the blood-letting actually.

Las Vegas 1936: building the Boulder Dam has flooded the population with a sudden surge of 3,000 workers. Catering for them – and profiting from their presence – has tempted the local government to legalise prostitution and gambling. Temporarily, of course!

But the dam’s created a crime wave and Police Chief McCogin has been afforded no extra resources to help bail him out. Even the father he was deputy to was murdered a mere two months ago right outside The Frontier brothel managed by a certain Jim Smoke… who used to be known as Skinner Sweet.

Finally two Federal Agents have arrived to investigate, but they’re not who they seem. They have connections to The Vassals Of The Morning Star, a covert organisation with personal grudges against vampires, and they’re here just in time because, one by one, the four head honchos of the cartel building the dam are being desanguinated – which is a somewhat clinical term for ‘slaughtered’ but no less accurate for it. They’re just not here by coincidence.

I cannot begin to tell you how cleverly, how surprisingly and how satisfyingly the various interwoven elements within the first of these two stories evolve, but also how neatly they tie in to book one. Then you wait until you get to the second sequence!

Cracking art too: the aerial view of the dam is as monumental as the project itself.

Vampire books have seemed far too anaemic to me since BLOOD + WATER (although I did love LIFE SUCKS for its mischief) but unlike so many others, this doesn’t rely on the mere spectacle or gimmick, if you will, of the vampire, but is a fully fledged crime graphic novel that just happen to revolves around those orthodontically challenged.

LINK

SLH

5 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Tomm Coker, Dalibor Talajić, Laurence Campbell, Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez.

“My nobles, you are aware of the situation. The ongoing campaign in Korea drained the coffers of the Shogun and his loyal Daimyos… Therefore I give you all a supreme honour. I shall raise your rice tax to forty-five percent. Are there any… objections?”
“N-no, great lord. Th-the Daimyo is generous…”
“And wise. Extremely wise.”

Good. Now get out of my sight.”

Landlords, eh? But if you think yours is a bastard try living in these feudal times where honour is scarce and treachery runs rampant across the Japanese province in question. Four men and a woman fall victim to the Daimyo in different ways and death and revenge become fixations. Which of them will find satisfaction first leaving the others to brood in the ruins of their lives?

There’s some magnificently moody art here from Coker, Campbell and Fernandez, so it’s a shame the atmosphere is breached in the Psylocke episode so abruptly. Yup, these are five short stories repositioning established Marvel characters in a single new setting without any powers, and a completely different take on Wolverine’s seeming indestructibility. In all honesty, though, Milligan has zoned himself into the project so effectively that it can be read as another samurai set-up without any knowledge whatsoever of the Marvel characters in question, so recommended to those who’ve enjoyed the likes of VAGABOND, Samurai Executioner, Path Of The Assassin, COLOUR OF RAGE, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, SAMURAI: LEGEND or LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES. Although that last one would be my pick of the bunch.

LINK

SLH

Invincible Iron Man vol 7: My Monsters h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca…

“Ridiculous. Next.”
“He didn’t even read…”
“I said no. Next.”
“No.”
“Too intelligent.”
“Blah.”
“Not sinister.”
“Mm.”
“Surely the real actors must be coming in soon, yes?”
“Nah.”
“Definite maybe.”
“No gravitas.”
“Too evil.”
“Yes! Yes! This is what Tony Stark looks like.”

I’m absolutely delighted the Iron Man annual has been collected in with this volume because it is one of the finest, and most hilarious villain-led Marvel stories, possibly the finest ever. The Mandarin has decided he would like to have a film made about his life – and what the Mandarin wants, the Mandarin gets – so he’s kidnapped a famous director to ensure a true blockbuster entails. With money no object you’d think it’d be a pretty easy project for a hot, talented creative to complete smoothly, except a certain executive producer keeps insisting on script alterations and last minute re-writes, usual to re-write history, in fact, erasing minor historical details like repeated defeats at the hands of one metallic meddler. And then there’s the casting, with the role of arch-villain Tony Stark proving particularly troublesome, though in the end the Mandarin finally finds someone dowdy and dweebish enough, in his eyes at least, for the role.

The rest of this volume is brilliant too as Fraction continues his peerless run, with Larocca as ever ensuring the 21st century Iron Man actually looks the part, rather than a flying tin can. Also included is a neat backup story from the Iron Man #500 issue involving a rather bleak dystopian future reality that Tony has inadvertently brought to pass. And it’s up to his descendants, including one rather red-headed young lady in particular (possibly suggesting her maternal lineage, methinks) called Ginny Stark to save the day. Always nice to see a hard edged speculative fiction yarn, even in this, the most technological of Marvel titles.

JR

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil vol 2 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr., Gene Colan.

Reprints #12 to 21 featuring classic DD villains The Owl, The Gladiator, The Masked Marauder and… errr, The Little Shop Of Horrors:

“Killer plant waits… ready to strike! Ka-Zar must seize ju-ju berries with speed of serpent… with arm strong as mastodon.”

Yes, seize those berries and make Ju-Ju Juice, the breakfast drink that stutters.

That’s Ka-Zar, by the way, addressing himself in Hulk mode. I thought he was a rich lord or something. Spider-Man also guest-stars in a two-parter wherein he has Foggy Nelson pegged as Daredevil. Not so much a costume as a corset, then.

Gene Colan’s arrival gives the book a completely different atmosphere – well it gives it atmosphere – dark, menacing and claustrophobic with a certain degree of vertigo. Massively underrated, our Gene. Tomb Of Dracula would have been rubbish without him.

LINK

SLH

Ultimate Comics Captain America h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney.

Excellent and unexpected. Not unexpectedly excellent, for this is Jason Aaron, just full of surprises and a great big bite.

After the first issue it turned out to be a very different sort of Marvel Comic – more about one man’s unconditional faith in his country and another’s total disillusionment. Same country: America. Of the more traditional first issue I wrote…

In which the author of Vertigo’s SCALPED and the modern John Buscema play beautifully with a certain DAREDEVIL storyline I deliberately haven’t linked to by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli because I want you to experience the surprise for yourselves!

Pyongyang, North Korea, and there appears to be a highly successful Super Soldier Project on the go. With all the trouble Banner’s team had before they found Captain America on ice in ULTIMATES VOL 1, how is that even possible? Time for a little international intervention courtesy of the S.A.S. and the Triskelion’s finest. Who will they find when they get there?

“Subject A-17 is showing no signs of cellular degeneration. This serum appears to be a vast improvement over your previous batch. Dear Leader will be pleased.”
“Just make sure Dear Leader remembers the rules. First sign of aggression he shows toward his neighbours to the south, I cut off his supply. I’m not setting him up with Super Soldiers so he can conquer South Korea.”

“Ah, then way are you doing it, my American friend?”
“That’s my business.”

Ron Garney’s always been reliable for the physical stuff and beefs it up further here, with a brilliantly timed reveal.

“I’ll show you what America really stands for.”

Uh-oh.

LINK

SLH

Deadpool Max: Nutjob h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker.

Not one for the younger readers, no.

The creator of SILVERFISH joins forces with that of WHY I HATE SATURN and SPECIAL FORCES for something akin to Christopher Priest’s Black Panther: The Client and Black Panther: Enemy Of The State as Special Agent Bob checks in with his superiors over Operation Deadhead, which he was ordered to undertake in spite of his grave reservations regarding fellow field operative Deadpool. The aim was to assassinate Maggia boss Hammerhead by stealth and infiltration. Bob would infiltrate the bed of Bruno, whilst Deadpool… Deadpool can’t keep his trap shut for more than four seconds, so stealth was never going to happen. All of Bob’s hard knocks (Bruno’s a sadist) and creativity (the staff uniforms in Hammerhead’s tower consist of little more than a g-string or posing pouch to avoid concealing anything on their person, so copying the key to Hammerhead’s suite required a certain degree of lateral thinking) appear to lie in pieces – pieces of Deadpool’s corpse, as it happens – because of Deadpool’s reckless grandstanding and a craving for toasted crumpets, but this is a series not a one-shot so how do they get out of that?

This is Kyle Baker so the brutality in this Marvel MAX comic is actually more akin to cartoon violence than its myriad other series. The MAX label instead is used for the nudity, sex and the sexual content of the dialogue which isn’t a patch on Priest’s I’m afraid, but still infinitely preferable to anything else I’ve read in association with this character.

SLH

New Reviews For Classic Comics

Death: The High Cost Of Living (£9-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Bachalo.

She’s funny, she’s sweet, she’s gorgeous and gothic. Death becomes human once every hundred years, to glimpse mortality from the other side of Charon’s coins.

Neil Gaiman takes his most popular SANDMAN creation on the first of two solo outings as a nihilistic sixteen-year-old contemplates suicide inevitably attracting a certain someone’s attention. Meanwhile Death herself attracts the attention of 250-year-old Mad Hettie who missed her last century and desperately needs her help:

“I want you to find me heart for me. Will you? Will you please find it? I’ve tried ever so hard, and I can’t do it on me own. I want you to find me heart.”
“And if I say no?”
“Then I cut the bonny boy’s nose off.”

Yep, I’d say that heart was missing, all right. Over the three chapters where Bachalo was at his peak – his is the definite Death – our disenfranchised teenager is shown the simple riches that life has to offer along with its grubbiness by the most ebullient guide imaginable.

“Get in, Sexton.”
“But we don’t know where we’re going.”
“Ah, that’s just part of the human condition. Isn’t it neat?”

LINK

SLH

I Feel Sick #1 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez.

“Crystal meth wearing off… personality fading.”

From the creator of JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC and SQUEE, a reprint of the 1999 classic whose finest scenes were set down a nightclub full of cheek-sucking, po-faced goths.

“Greetings. I am a vampire.”
“Really? How’d you do that smoke?”
“What I am is answer enough.”
“Are those smoke bombs?”
“Umm… yes.”

The gesticulations are a joy, as is the blank-faced timing here:

“You’re not gonna laugh are you?”
“What do you mean by “laugh”?”

My favourite is boss-eyed Oblivia, she of the crystal meth, with her purple hair buns and a mouth much in debt to Matt Groenig’s Simpsons:

“Devi, this unholy beauty is my friend, Oblivia. Oblivia, your hair looks really cool tonight.”
“I’m so fuckin’ high.”
“Hi. So, Oblivia, are you a vampire too?”
“No. Too trendy. I’m a mummy!”
“Ehh… okay. Do you do special effects like your friend Eric here?”
“Oh, no. None of that smoke bomb stuff for me. That’s vampire fare. I’m a mummy. I use BEES!”
“Mmm…. The honey of the night.”

I realise this is less of a review and more of a series of quotations. In for a penny, in for a pound:

“I think the lumps of assmeat poking out from between the wrapping are actually falling off.”
“Yes, but they are darklumps.”

SLH

I Feel Sick #2 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez.

Finale to the cheekily satirical comic containing an exquisitely funny and devastatingly accurate club scene where the teeny-goths get by on drugs in lieu of personalities. I know! I was there!

“You mean it was you!”

Shut up.

LINK

SLH

Also Arrived:

Softcovers of hardcovers may already have reviews in our shopping section; others may be reviewed next week.

Life With Mr. Dangerous h/c (£16-50, Villard) by Paul Hornschemeier
Luchadoras (£12-99, Blank Slate) by Peggy Adam
Citizen Rex h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mario Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez
Chico & Rita h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal
Buffy The Vampire Slayer vol 8: Last Gleaming (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Joss Whedon, Scott Allie & George Jeanty
Ziggy: 40 Years h/c (£18-99, Andrews McMeel) by Tom Wilson
Aliens Vs. Predator: Three World War (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Randy Stradley & Rick Leonardi, Mark Pennington
Green Lantern: Brightest Day h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke
Superman: New Krypton vol 4 s/c (£13-50, DC) by Greg Rucka  & Pete Woods, Ron Randall
Thor: For Asgard s/c (UK Ed’n) (£12-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi
Avengers Prime s/c (UK Ed’n) (£11-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis
Osborn: Evil Incarcerated (£12-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios
Deadpool Classic vol 5 (£22-50, Marvel) by Joe Kelly, James Felder & Pete Woods, Walter McDaniel, David Brewer, Joe Cooper, Brian Smith, Mark Powers

Customers have asked me all day about the DC reboot. I hoped they meant Obama expelling Congress and starting again with human beings.

Alas, it was something to do with superheroes

 - Stephen