Reviews June 2011 week four

 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

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