Reviews June 2011 week two

 

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

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