Archive for July, 2011

Reviews July 2011 week four

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I’ll let you read the rest for yourself: I’m too angry to type any more. It’s a deeply affecting book illustrated in pen and pencil by Caro Caron in a magical style exactly like that on the cover.

 – Stephen on Who Is Ana Mendieta?

One Soul oversized h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Ray Fawkes.

“I want to know… why.”

Brian Wood, Kieron Gillen, Jeff Lemire and J.H. Williams III have all lined up to lavish praise on this audacious enterprise with a narrative structure that’s like nothing you’ve encountered before: the staccato impressions of eighteen individuals at the same point in their lives,  separated by time and space across the globe but united in their attempts to understand their desires and duties, the external forces which shape their lives and the metaphysical implications of their very existence.

Each is allotted the same single panel on each double-page spread – a nine-panel grid on the left and another nine-panel grid on the right – so an additional eighteen immersions in those single panels will undoubtedly give you a more focussed read of those individuals’ trajectory but, apart from the occasional flick back and forth, I’ve not even attempted that. That’s not how it’s meant to be read. Instead it becomes swiftly apparent by the similarity of their reactions – not necessarily at exactly the same point – that but for their physical surroundings they could well be as one and, when those physical boundaries are removed in timeless death, they do indeed become so.

Even those separate circumstances throw up shared experiences: few escape war or desire – even if it’s the unholy desire of a molesting monk – and all apart from the nihilistic and indeed self-annihilating punkstress who rebels early on (“some people work”) find themselves caught up in a “career” even if it’s that of a slave. Mortality is omnipresent and, since it set itself up throughout the ages as both the arbiter of life and the answer to death, so is religion.

“I have two sticks on the wall to keep me to keep… to keep me… to keep me… angry”

The sticks form a wooden cross, so “safe” is the word you were expecting. Given the preceding deaths of thousands of plague victims in the healer’s era in spite of his palliative administrations, that “safe” would have rung bitterly hollow but the punchline flips the tone from doubt to defiant disillusionment with a God so evidently errant however large He looms over the eighteen lives here. This disillusionment is far from unique and “I’ll be goddamned!” is a phrase which recurs.

As time passes the cast’s lights inevitably go off one by one, the first in flash of “white-hot light” which appears to startle the others in a semi-symmetrical double-page spread of fear and suffering zooming in on the children’s eyes. Thereafter the panels of the deceased are panels rendered black, but don’t think that’s the end of their stories. White type flickers on and off sporadically as they begin to reflect on what went before. Some are self-recriminating, others self-centred but they all share a degree of bewilderment.

“I have to admit the possibility that I have failed in some way… that I am bad…”
“If I don’t admit that possibility… then I am too small to see the meaning…”
“or there is no fucking meaning…. there is no great good thing watching over us with a kind smile and goodness… because if there was, why would this shit happen to me?”

Fawkes has settled on a visual style that is both simple enough to extract maximum empathy yet detailed enough to make the lives travelled distinct and of their time. The attention to historical detail is not something I’m qualified to judge, but it’s telling that over a succession of engagements the warrior whose story unfolds in the bottom-left corner acquires new weapons and armour which eventually develops into that of a full-blown knight.

This really is remarkable. It’s an almost overpowering succession of punches: jabs at the powers buffeting them about and stabs at understanding the eternal “why”, all delivered in momentary snatches which eventually merge into a single inky lake of calm and quiet, and one final note of gratitude for the miracle of life.



Wandering Son h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Shimura Takako ~

“A diary full of diagrams
A boy, perhaps a girl
Embarrassing confessions
Of a strange, forbidden love”
– Summer Holiday 1999, Momus

Shuchi and his big sister, Maho, have just transferred to a new school, which at their age is an anxious situation even without added complications. But when Maho is involved in a minor cycle accident on the walk in, and Shuchi is mistaken for his sister when he runs to inform her teacher, the embarrassment of the situation marks his arrival at the new school which certain classmates are quick to capitalise on.

One is the handsome girl Takatsuki whom Shuchi develops a close relationship with; the other is with Saori, a popular and beautiful girl with something of a devious nature. Takatsuki is teased daily by the boys for being too masculine, while Shuchi is fawned over by the girls for being so effeminate, giving him an unfair reputation of a ladies’ man. But Takatsuki is largely okay with the comments. She has no desire to be girlie, and rejects her parents’ soft hints by giving Maho her dresses through Shuchi, but not before planting the seed in Shuchi’s head that maybe he would look better in them.

The seeds Takatsuki plants are only tended by Saori who, through a mixture of teasing and playing dress-up while in study group, piques Shuchi’s curiosity enough that he buys a hairband. While alone at home, tasked with waiting in to pay the newspaper man and the cleaners, Shuchi tries his hairband on in the mirror, admiring his change. He becomes so comfortable in it, he forgets all about it until he answers the door to pay for the cleaners and is mistaken for a little girl. He is dumbfounded at first, then in increments, he looks at the dress Takatsuki gave to Maho, then he holds it up; next he puts it on, and again the doorbell rings. Flustered and believing it to be the newspaper man, he opens the door a girl and is met with the astonishment of Saori!

This series is beautiful, perfectly capturing that time at the age of 10 or 11 where naivety and confusion meet in the formative years of your young identity. Where androgyny is a fine thing, defined by its ambiguity and as distinct as any sex. Which is why, I suppose, the androgynous nature of our pop stars, from Glam, through to Punk, New Romantics, and Brit Pop, and today’s various resurgences, become such distinct cyphers for our undefined selves; whether we’re pinning up pouting, make-up wearing men or ferocious short-haired women.

I particularly like that about Takatsuki here who, as the school year wears on, really matures. She is a little ahead of Shuchi, already dressing in her dad’s old high-school uniform and taking the train as far she can afford to spend a day as a boy, which Shuchi is envious of, being what he perceives to be an easy change for her. But when her periods start and she begins to really resent her body, the whole thing is made all the more tense as her usual idiot teasers take things a little to far, and she reacts very much as a boy: proud, defiant, and violent.



Who Is Ana Mendieta? (£13-99, Feminist Press) by Christine Redfern & Caro Caron

She’s an iconoclastic Cuban artist originally dispatched to America by her parents aged twelve in 1961 to avoid what they supposed were the last few years of Castro’s regime. She and her sister went through multiple foster parents and a fistful of nuns before Ana graduated at the University of Iowa with a Master’s in painting.

Luckily the times they were a changing, but as one of her early influences, feminist Carolee Schneeman, reported, “You know what my professor told me in 1958 when I was at school on scholarship? “OK kid, you are really gifted, but don’t set your heart on Art, you are a girl.”

Her Professor’s point being not necessarily that women have no place in the visual arts (though it might well have been), but that traditionally they haven’t had, as evidenced by the textbooks Schneeman and her peers studied which were bereft of a single female creator – not even Camille Claudel.

This is exactly the point which lies at the heart of Marian Churchland’s excellent and ethereal BEAST: the exclusion of women from the stiflingly patriarchal world of painting and sculpture both historically – women could acquire neither tuition, raw materials nor patronage – then in its documentation from which, having succeeded against the odds, they were excised.

Think about how many female writers have been lauded over the centuries: publication may have proved problematic (upon being sent a complimentary copy Dickens guessed immediately that George Elliot’s Amos Barton was written by a woman – but he did have to guess) but it was a relatively easier arena to compete in than one which for centuries was so cosily in bed with religion then royalty, which was basically a succession of kings.

Anyway, Ana started using her naked body in a series of “illicit art interventions” – which is a great term – to bring attention to sexual violence against women thereby making the personal political indeed. She then began using both film and photography to record sculptural work you could consider both naturalist and naturist before going both back to her roots and pan-cultural in her eclectic embrace of the Cuban and Caribbean. Unfortunately Mendieta ended up the victim of everything she railed against: the violence of men and yet another male-dominated establishment all too happy to gloss over it.

I’ll let you read the rest for yourself: I’m too angry to type any more. It’s a deeply affecting book illustrated in pen and pencil by Caro Caron in a magical style exactly like that on the cover. Unfortunately it is way too short: a mere twenty pages of sequential art bolstered to forty-seven of actual content by prose and source material reconstructed as newspaper articles… unless you include the Acknowledgements, endpapers and legal stuff.


Black Paths h/c (£14-99, Self-Made Hero) by David B.

“In our armour we became a pack of steel dogs.”

“It will be a Futurist war.”

From the creator of EPILPEPTIC, a beautifully coloured book whose military punch-ups form a visual motif referencing, I would have thought, Picasso’s Guernica.

But it’s at that point I leave you in the hands of its publishers because although I know that it must be very clever indeed, I couldn’t quite get into it. My bad.

“1919 – the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire is losing control of the city port of Fiume to pirates. A self-styled “Pirate King”, Gabriele d’Annunzio (poet, Italian war hero and Dadaist) storms the city with 3000 loyal Italian footsoldiers. He declares Fiume a free Republic: a utopian city-state, with himself as Commander. The city soon descends into looting and surreal decadence, reminiscent of the last days of Rome. Amid this chaos, the beautiful Mina, a black-haired young singer, is lost in this city gone mad, consumed by a love affair with a young soldier. Haunted by the horror of the trenches, a soldier, Lauriano, wanders Fiume’s alleys in vain for the ghost that haunts his dreams.”



Old City Blues h/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Giannis Milonogiannis ~

In 2048, from the ruins of Greece, New Athens’ halogen-lit skyscrapers dominate the once historic landscape, its streets crackle with the activity of millions trying to get their own way in an unforgiving new landscape. When the founder of a cutting-edge technology corporation, Hayashi, is found murdered, his cybernetically enhanced corpse provides an enigma for New Athens’ Special Police. Thermidor and Solano know what comes with the badge, and they’re used to dealing with the past but as all the clues lead to the no man’s land of Old Athens, are they prepared for the future?

There’s a particular flavour of late 80’s / early 90’s manga and anime which saturated the market off the back of AKIRA and Masamune Shirow’s addictive style. We were swimming in neon-drenched SF crime and I loved it. Somewhere along the way the term “Cyberpunk”* was coined, which unfortunately pooled these brilliant designs and ideas into a sub-genre where it grew fetid. But not before Hollywood scooped up bucket-loads of those themes and ran with them, spilling most of the good stuff on their way.

I would endure these dry years by watching Bubblegum Crisis, Domu, and reading as much Shirow as I could, but I thought the best of this style was behind us until I found Giannis Milonogiannis, who in OCB distilled the vital energy of those early Shirow stories and classic Bubblegum Crisis action into a potent brew, an immersive experience.

Yet clearly Giannis has his own artistic style, although the tech and architecture of New Athens could easily share the world of Olympus from Shirow’s Appleseed, New Athens is no Utopia. Giannis’ design has more in common with a European aesthetic, and there’s a distinctly Mediterranean sense of light, and the city feels as bustling and hot as Greece, and on close inspection the buildings have that sun-weathered look. And the same could be said of his characters, there’s an appreciated lack of Asian-stereotypes, or Shirow-esque proportions despite a clear Shirow influence on the pacing and character dynamics. The snippy hard-boiled banter between Thermidor and Solano wouldn’t be out of place in the squad cars of the A.D. Police or the wire noise from Section 9.

The dry manga adaptation of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is also in this month, but I implore you to check out this instead. It may be cyber, but it has heart.

*Strange seeing as most of the cybernetic characters would be cops, vigilantes, or terrorists. The only punks being the teenagers in Akira, who were psychic/telekinetic…

[The term Cyberpunk actually originates from a 1983 short story of the same name by Bruce Bethke, probably best known for his excellent later sci-fi novel Headcrash. – Asst. Ed]



Highschool Of The Dead vol 1, 2, 3 (£10-50 each) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato ~

Completely over the top survival horror. This series throws you right in the deep end with no explanations, which I kind of like, and cracks on with the, err, head-cracking. As a band of students and teachers – all ridiculously buxom and buff I may add, I guess the Glee Club was too slow – defend themselves against a school infested with the flesh-eating hordes. In the midst of all this terror childhood friends Takashi Komuro and Rei make an uneasy alliance with the creepy Sensei Shidou in order to escape in a school bus.



Cross Game vol 1, 2, 3 Vizbig editions (£14-99 each, Viz) by Mitsuro Adachi ~

This one is a real tear-jerker, which is something considering it’s essentially a baseball manga!

Ko lives next door to the three Tsukishima sisters, Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba, and Momiji. He and Wakaba were born on the same day in the same hospital, and as such Wakaba treats the tenacious Ko as her boyfriend, much to the annoyance of Aoba, her younger sister by a year. Aoba feels Ko is “stealing” Wakaba from her. Having grown up around sport due to Tsukishima family’s Batting Centre and Coffee Shop, Wakaba dreams of her little sister Aoba, an ace batter, and Ko, a formidable pitcher, playing together in the Highschool Championships at Koshien Stadium. In fact she dreams about what Ko will be like when he’s older almost constantly, so assured about their future together she writes him out a list of what she would like for each of her future birthdays so he doesn’t get it wrong! But that’s one of the things that make Wakaba so cute. She isn’t reserved her about affections, which brings Ko under fire from every other boy in town as she is cute to a fault. And just as dense Ko begins to realise this, something happens that’s so tragic, so perfectly timed, that it sets the tone and the drive for the rest of the series.

Not many books, even manga, can boast to having almost two hundred pages of prequel. Book two picks up the thread four years later with Ko in his third year of Junior High. He’s still playing ball, but his relationship with the Tsukishimas has almost completely broken down. Aoba’s childish jealousy of Ko has become something deeper now, and runs deeper than mere competition: an unspoken commitment they both made, that may yet see Wakaba’s dream come true.

Mitsuru Adachi has a distinct style which reminds me of the great ‘80s shonen manga. And although CROSS GAME lacks any fantasy edge we here usually associate with shonen, it is a beautiful and masterfully constructed piece of straight fiction, and he certainly deserves to be as lauded here as Rumiko Takahashi (RANMA ½, Inu Yasha) and Akira Toriyama (DRAGONBALL, DRAGONBALL Z).

Contains three of the Japanese volumes.



Wolverine Vs. The X-Men h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Daniel Acuna, Jefte Palo.

Second book in the current series following Wolverine Goes To Hell in which Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magneto and Namor attempt to free Logan from his demonic possession after Hellstorm’s best efforts fail. Oh yes, and while Wolverine is in hell, who do you think pops up there? Is that a sub-plot or misdirection? Dunno, the only bits of this I’ve actually read rather than skimmed came in the form of the surprise birthday party Logan’s new girlfriend throws for him in a remote Canadian snow-lodge. Unfortunately he’s distracted by Boyd and Bufford Buzzard, the local cannibals who own a functioning side-arm carved out of bone and loaded with teeth. The party scenes featuring those who’ve flow in – the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers (oh, and Deadpool) – did make me smile, along with the singular set of parked vehicles. Not many driveways look like that. Perfectly decent art throughout.



Daken: Dark Wolverine Vs. X-23 – Collision (£18-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Will Conrad, Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman, Matteo Buffagni.

Consider this book two of the current run of both DAKEN (#5-9) and X-23 (#7-9). Also contains the WOLVERIMNE: ROAD TO HELL one-shot.


Now you get this for the second time running because we have it up on our site! Cool!

DC Comics Presents Batman: Gotham Noir (£5-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Fans of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and/or INCOGNITO sit up and take note: DC’s print runs on these fulsome floppies is far from infinite so you need to pick this up now!

Originally appearing ten years ago as a DC Elseworlds one-shot (i.e. out of continuity), it’s a period piece with all the atmosphere you’ll have come to expect from this team supreme: a complex murder mystery which sees ex-police detective Jim Gordon carry the can for a crime he didn’t commit.

Boozed-up with a broken marriage, Gordon is now a Private Investigator who wanders around from bar to bar drinking whatever he can lay his hands on and sleeping wherever he falls. He’s haunted by an experience he shared with Bruce Wayne back in the war – a secret shame from which he has never recovered – and the unsolved disappearance on his watch three years ago of Judge Pitt.

Against her better judgement then, Selina ‘The Cat’ Kyle, a chanteuse at her own Kitty Kat Club, hires her ex-flame Gordon to bodyguard an old friend called Rachel now back in town after some time away. She won’t tell Jim why she fears for Rachel’s safety so he’s at a considerable disadvantage when he accompanies her to a High Society boat party and finds her the focus of everyone’s uneasy attention. Only one person seems perfectly relaxed in her company: Mayor DeHaven who’s currently making a play for Governor, a campaign backed by Bruce Wayne. Convinced the Mayor’s bent and in bed with the mob, Gordon quickly grows prickly after which the free booze is a disaster waiting to happen. He really isn’t good at making friends – or keeping them.

“Save it. You can have each other, and why don’t you take her, too? I’m sick of baby-sitting high-priced hookers…”
“What?! Well, I never — !”
“Like hell you haven’t.”

And the next thing a bleary-eyed Gordon is aware of is being found by the cops, lying in the low-tide mud next to Rachel’s dead body.

Half the fun in these alternate realities is seeing how the familiar elements of Batman’s world manifest themselves. Yes, you’ll get a Joker (and a strangely prescient one at that, given the recent film), Harvey Dent too, while Batman is considered no more than an urban legend. He’s drawn by Phillips as a jagged cloud of demonic smoke and plays his part very much like the Sandman in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE. The crisp lines here are first-rate while the blacks are glossy and Dave Stewart’s colouring is warm and wonderful.

As a ‘bonus’ there’s a back-up drawn by Scott McDaniel which revisits the evening Bruce’s parents were murdered. Yes, mother’s lost her pearls again.



Also Available To Buy Right Now:

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 3: Century 1969 (£7-99, Top Shelf / Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill
The Raven h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Lou Reed & Lorenzo Mattotti
Sanctum (£14-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Christophe Bec
The Bombyce Network (£14-99, Humanoids) by Corbeyran & Cecil
Batman: Streets Of Gotham: The House Of Hush h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen
Blackest Night: Rise Of The Black Lanterns s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard, Dan Didio, J.T. Krul, Dennis O’Neil, Grerg Rucka, James Robinson, Peter J. Tomasi, Eric Wallace & Renato Arlem, Michael Babinski, Vincente Cifuentes, Denys Cowan, Fernando Dagnino, Luciana Del Negro, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Don Kramer, Marcos Marz, Fernando Pasarin, Ibraim Roberson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ryan Sook, John Stanisci, Ardian Syaf, Diogenes Neves, Ruy Jose, Travis Moore, Dan Green, Keith Champagne, Bob Wiacek
Blackest Night: Tales Of The Corps s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Sterling Gates & Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee, Rags Morales, Eddy Barrows, Ruy Jose, Gene Ha, Tom Mandrake, Mike Mayhew, Bob Wiacek, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, Christian Alamy
Essential Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man vol 5 (£14-99, Marvel) by Al Milgrom, Cary Burkett, Peter David, Bill Mantlo, Jim Owsley, Len Kaminski & Herb Trimpe, Juan Alacantara, Larry Lieber, Rich Buckler, Vince Giarrano, Luke McDonnell, Mark Beachum, Rick Buckler, Bob McLeod, Joe Brozowsky
I Give To You (£9-99, June) by Ebishi Maki
Tonight’s Take-Out Night (£9-99, June) by Akira Minazuki
Entangled Circumstances (£9-99, June) by Kikuko Kikuya
Twin Spica vol 8 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma
Highschool Of The Dead vol 3 (£10-50, Yen) by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato
Bleach Omnibus vols 4-6 (£9-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Bakuman vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Blue Exorcist vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato
Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

Jonathan is back from Italy. We have had sashimi and a strategy meeting. I swear the sashimi was served by Gok Wan. Girlfriend.

 – Stephen

Reviews July 2011 week three

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011


The Homeland Directive (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston.

“You need to help us first, then we can talk about a phone call.”
“Help you with what? I don’t even know what I’m doing here.”
“You’re here because the United States government may be trying to kill you.”

Are you remotely concerned about all the personal details which a government or corporation may have gathered on you from your credit cards, loyalty cards, all the application forms you fill in, Facebook, medical records or – I don’t know – hacking into your phones? Ever wonder what they could or would do with all that private information?

Venditti and Huddleston have unleashed upon the public a gripping political conspiracy thriller, the mechanics of whose subterfuge – and the several ways it impacts on those struggling to expose the plot to save their very lives – is fiendishly clever. If I told you what I know, and in which ways three specific pages halfway through transformed what was already an irresistible page-turner into a “Holy Hell!” of an impressive set-up, you would snap this book out of my hands faster than I am wont to whip away your credit card.

Post-9/11, America is a country obsessed with national security, all too willing to jettison private liberties for the sake of public safety. Politically it is obsessed with being seen to do all it can to thwart acts of terrorism. But amongst those leaders for whom appearance is more important than conviction are those who burn with a passionate intensity and they’re generally the worst.

Homeland Security Secretary Albert Keene, disdainful of the strength and sincerity of his superiors, has taken it upon himself to issue a directive: to set in motion a plan that will once and for all leave terrorists’ trails transparent. That is, after all, his mandate. But in order to ensure its success two individuals need to be taken off the board: microbiologist Dr. Laura Regan and her research partner Ari. The latter is eliminated without difficulty but when Laura too is abducted after her keynote speech in New York, it’s by a rogue coalition and a race rapidly escalates to find the diabetic doctor, even if it means framing her for Ari’s murder. The media, as ever, are all too happy to help. Can Laura successfully disappear without a trace whilst constantly tracked using a profile so meticulously collated in advance? And how can she possibly hope to clear her name when she doesn’t even know why she’s a target?

Comparison points for the art would be Brett Weldele and early Ashley Wood, lithe figures sketched in ink on washed or spot-coloured backgrounds, but where Huddleston entertains is his eclectic choice of enhancements. Sure, we’ve seen Letratone used before by the likes of Eddie Campbell – that’s not uncommon at all – but there are patterns indicating flock wallpaper, photographs of buildings, graph-paper backgrounds and he’s even swiped some intricate line-illustrations from a Victorian bird book! That really made me smile, but the extraordinary thing is that, far from jarring, each trick works through the careful control of each page and its facing counterpart’s composition and colouring.

Recommended unequivocally to readers of THE KILLER, CRIMINAL and Venditti’s own SURROGATES, THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE is an all too pertinent graphic novel about the currency of information: its acquisition, utilisation and, above all, suppression.

“Tell me, Elliot. How will history judge me?”
“The goal is that history never knows there was anything to judge.”

What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

Information is power.



Cowboys h/c (£14-99, Vertigo Crime) by Gary Phillips & Brian Hurtt.

Race, religion and money laundering as two men are sent undercover by two separate agencies – the police and FBI – to infiltrate two different factions tied to the same white-collar crime. Both men have to sever themselves from a home life that desperately needs them, and neither is aware of the other’s movements or motivations. As each from their own angle finally starts to uncover the evidence they need, they creep increasingly closer to stepping on each others toes and blowing the case completely, culminating in the bloodbath, confrontation and recriminations that form the opening half-dozen pages. It’s ridiculously complicated as it is, but every single one of those parties is being played and there is no way this will work out anything like you’ll imagine.

Another black and white book from the artist on THREE STRIKES which I was really very fond of, and which Ed Brubaker bigged-up at the time. I won’t lie to you: concentration is required and there’s a lot of race language but AMERICAN VAMPIRE’s Scott Snyder commends it to you, as does Mark Waid.


5 Is The Perfect Number (£12-99, Jonathan Cape) by Igort…

“You’ve brought hell into the family. You know that?”

So, amidst the myriad beat-downs, drive-bys, robberies, rape, murder and general all round mayhem that’s been going on in the resurgent, nay blood-bubbling-out-of-the-mouth, effervescent crime genre recently, it’s nice to see the return of an old face. Well, the reprint of an older work actually, but you were probably semi-following my Colombo-esque, meandering drift, I’m sure. This work will no doubt go undetected to the vast majority of flat-foot plodders out there who insist on their crime being all American apple pie razzmatazz and full technicolour gloss, but there is still a vast and mostly undiscovered continent of comics to us versed in la lingua Inglese, from which, if one is prepared to put down the lollipop for a moment, you just might you find you’ll love it, baby. And when something as brilliant as this actually gets translated for us, the least we should do is perk up and pay attention.

Peppino is an aged Mafiosi hitman who never questioned the bosses’ orders, no matter what the personal cost. Somehow he’s made it safely through the years of blood and bullets to a peaceful retirement spent fishing. He’s certainly not wealthy, though, merely glad to be alive, and also happy to be getting the chance to spend a little more time with his own actual family. The loss of his son, however, might just stretch his blood oath to his other Family well past breaking point. As he hunts for his son’s murderers, it becomes apparent to Peppino that despite whatever else he’s lost over the years, he still has his faith, though it’s of cold comfort to him, and it’s certainly not going to stop him taking his revenge. But will time and slowing reflexes catch up with the greying gunster before he even gets a chance to avenge his son?

It’s hard to explain the understated passion within this work, it almost has the feel of a romance, such is the deeply-locked-within yet evidently apparent emotions of the main character Peppino. He loves his family, he loved his other Family. Now he’s faced with choices he never anticipated having to make. Igort portrays his main character perfectly as the archetypal flawed anti-hero. We can’t hope to love him, he’s a cold blooded murdered after all, but we love his heart and commitment to his nearest and dearest. He’s the sort of man you’d want beside you when the trouble is starting rather than staring you down from the other side of the room.

Majestically inked in a palette of black and pale blue against nicotine yellowy paper, 5 IS THE PERFECT NUMBER is an entirely believable crime story which asks tough questions, both of its characters and its readers. What would we do, were we so heinously wronged like Peppino? Would we turn the other cheek in true meek and mild Christian fashion, or decide to get all old (Testament) school and choose the eye for an eye option? If we had the courage and means to do so that is, despite knowing the latter choice would cost us absolutely everything? For that is the dilemma which Peppino faces. For him, though, it’s no choice at all if he wants to be able to live with himself, and perhaps it might mean he’s finally able to be at peace with all the harm he’s caused over the years on the orders of others who’ve preferred to keep their own hands clean.


Northlanders vol 5: Metal And Other Stories (£13-50, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli, Fiona Staples, Becky Cloonan…

Young lovers go on the run murdering all and sundry who disagree with their particular worldview under the pretence that they’d just like everyone to leave them alone. That’s NORTHLANDERS VOL 5: METAL in a hammer-obliterated priest’s nutshell for you. Consequently I wasn’t exactly getting the happy ending vibes as I began this fifth volume of what’s been an utterly engrossing series to date.

Young Erik who, looks-wise and possibly in the brains department too, seems to be a mix of Thor and err… Obelisk… isn’t feeling too well disposed towards the Christian priests who seem to be doing a remarkably good job of just breezing into village after village deep in the Norse heartlands, taking over with no more than the barely veiled threat of heavy cavalry lurking just over the horizon, should the locals fail to build them a church or two and generally put down the hammers and pick up the crosses. Well, after they’ve built the churches obviously… Still, getting Erik’s village elders to divert the nearby river so it runs immediately next to the newly built Church, just so the priests can wash themselves without having to be watched by heathens is probably taking the piss just a touch too much.

So Erik decides to do what any typical rebellious teen would do in the same position… take a shit load of drugs. Except, whilst Erik’s high on mushrooms, the Norse version of Mother Nature appears to tell him to turn up his satanic death metal internal soundtrack to eleven, and remove the Christians from her sacred lands. That he’s taken a shine to an albino nun who has clearly been forced to convert against her wishes probably tips the balance, and so he decides to tune up his axe and go on a rampage liberating Ingrid in the process, throwing in a few head banging solos along the way with his hammer for good measure.

In some ways this is the most overtly violent NORTHLANDERS story that Bryan has written yet, which is saying something in and of itself, but as ever it also delivers on the emotional content. For above all, that’s what this series has always had at its cold and frosty core in aplenty: fiery passion manifesting itself in deep loves and equally deep hatreds.



Incognito vol 2: Bad Influences (£13-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Second series of superhero noir this time dealing with the infiltration of a criminal organisation just like the creators’ magnificent SLEEPER. But the infiltrator here doesn’t have to switch sides. Actually he does, because Zack Overkill is now working for the good guys but before that he was idling in witness protection after switching sides from the bad guys. Now that he’s working for the good guys they’ve sent him to work for some other bad guys because the first person the good guys sent to spy on the bad guys switched sides. Will Zack switch sides too?

Meanwhile Zack’s now sleeping with the enemy (if you consider his original position, anyway) but it’s emphatically not a relationship so far as Zoe Zeppelin’s concerned. Oh, and Zack is targeted by an aged bomber who mistakes him for one of the other bad guys who once sent him undercover with another lot of bad guys who sussed out that he was indeed a bad guy but not once of theirs. He was a sleeper so they put him in a coma…

For sixty-six years! Can you even imagine? Going into a coma in your youth, then the next thing you know you’re waking up in a body that’s 80 years old?! That’d be such a dive that I’d start bombing too.



DC Comics Presents Batman: Gotham Noir (£5-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Fans of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and/or INCOGNITO sit up and take note: DC’s print runs on these fulsome floppies is far from infinite so you need to pick this up now!

Originally appearing ten years ago as a DC Elseworlds one-shot (i.e. out of continuity), it’s a period piece with all the atmosphere you’ll have come to expect from this team supreme: a complex murder mystery which sees ex-police detective Jim Gordon carry the can for a crime he didn’t commit.

Boozed-up with a broken marriage, Gordon is now a Private Investigator who wanders around from bar to bar drinking whatever he can lay his hands on and sleeping wherever he falls. He’s haunted by an experience he shared with Bruce Wayne back in the war – a secret shame from which he has never recovered – and the unsolved disappearance on his watch three years ago of Judge Pitt.

Against her better judgement, then, Selina ‘The Cat’ Kyle, a chanteuse at her own Kitty Kat Club, hires her ex-flame Gordon to bodyguard an old friend called Rachel, now back in town after some time away. She won’t tell Jim why she fears for Rachel’s safety so he’s at a considerable disadvantage when he accompanies her to a High Society boat party and finds her the focus of everyone’s uneasy attention. Only one person seems perfectly relaxed in her company: Mayor DeHaven who’s currently making a play for Governor, a campaign backed by Bruce Wayne. Convinced the Mayor’s bent and in bed with the mob, Gordon quickly grows prickly after which the free booze is a disaster waiting to happen. He really isn’t good at making friends – or keeping them.

“Save it. You can have each other, and why don’t you take her, too? I’m sick of baby-sitting high-priced hookers…”
“What?! Well, I never — !”
“Like hell you haven’t.”

And the next thing a bleary-eyed Gordon is aware of is being found by the cops, lying in the low-tide mud next to Rachel’s dead body.

Half the fun in these alternate realities is seeing how the familiar elements of Batman’s world manifest themselves. Yes, you’ll get a Joker (and a strangely prescient one at that, given the recent film), Harvey Dent too, while Batman is considered no more than an urban legend. He’s drawn by Phillips as a jagged cloud of demonic smoke and plays his part very much like the Sandman in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE. The crisp lines here are first-rate while the blacks are glossy and Dave Stewart’s colouring is warm and wonderful.

As a ‘bonus’ there’s a back-up drawn by Scott McDaniel which revisits the evening Bruce’s parents were murdered. Yes, mother’s lost her pearls again.


Casanova: Gula (£10-99, Icon/Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba.

“What the hell is “Zen Crime?””
“It’s like crime, only there’re no victims, and really, no crimes. It really just spreads a general sense of unrest.”

From the author of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and one of the two Brazilian brothers responsible for DE: TALES and DAYTRIPPER, another blast of bombast and badinage so ridiculously dense in ideas and nomenclatural horseplay that you expect arch-neologist Grant Morrison to turn up any moment with a lexical injunction. Here be jargon, by George!

“I am the Supreme Director of E.M.P.I.R.E. – that’s why you’re handcuffed at the moment. My name is Cornelius Quinn. My son Casanova went missing from Timeline 919 while on a mission two years, two weeks, and two days ago. I’ve devoted what is, frankly, a ridiculous amount of time and energy following the breadcrumbs that led out of his disappearance. Breadcrumbs that led us to you, Miss Lisi. Missus Lisi?”
“Doctor. I have a PhD in Catastrophic Temporal Entropy Manipulation Theory.”
“I’m a time traveller that loves to step on butterflies.”
“M.O.T.T.  – define it for me.”
“We’re the spacetime protectorate. We monitor the whole of the way things are and manipulate it for optimal results.”
“On whose authority?”
“In both literal and philosophical interpretations, I don’t think I’m qualified to accurately answer your question.”
“Why are you here?”
“There is a mystery in time – when is Casanova Quinn? – that we can’t answer. This cannot stand.”

I think they’ve just told you the plot. It took Fraction most of the first issue to get there, though, so don’t expect to be hand-held or patronised. Meanwhile Casanova’s sister, Zephyr Quinn has been field tested by the bad guys (keep it simple, Stephen) for work on a hit list of everyone who knows of the H-Element Generator powered by the electromagnetic supercharge released upon dying, and the first issue ends quite literally with a “Dum! Dumm! Dahhhhhhhh!!!” that may lead her to reconsider the gig.

Moon is on prime, Pope-esque form whilst Cris Peter (sic – no ‘h’) reserves colour for when it really counts, making you sit up and take notice. Lots of swagger, sex and the shooting of things. But when, exactly, is Casanova Quinn…?


The Red Wing #1 (£2-75, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra.

From the creator of NIGHTLY NEWS and current writer of Shield and FANTASTIC FOUR, a new science fiction series and a second stab at time travel, this one with far more space and lighter on the text. Here we’ve jumped back to the Tithonian Age where the slim ships have to navigate past vast, feeding dinosaurs:

“Just look at that, Captain. Over twenty tons of vegetarian monster the likes of which the world has never seen again… I wonder what they taste like.”

So much for evolution.

“Time travel should have ushered in the golden age of scientific discovery — It should have ushered in the golden age of MAN. Instead, we were reduced to using it for war. And in war total victory is not defined by simple dominance of the battlefield. Overcoming the enemy is not enough. In many ways, victory simply means bitterness and bile for the defeated — The genesis on a deep-seated hatred that is always seen again.”

That’s certainly how WWI turned into WWII, and there’s plenty more to give you pause for thought here in a series which promises some serious cleverness, for if you can wage war in four dimensions – if a battle really isn’t over until you say it’s over as long as you can cling to the technology to travel back in time and change its outcome repeatedly – when do you stop? At what point do you decide enough is enough for any given battle and at which point of time do you begin or go back to start your temporal chain reaction? Also, if your enemy is similarly equipped, surely the only option is to bomb them back into the Stone Age or obliterate them completely or they’ll just reboot things themselves? That’s a whole new frontier you’d need to constantly patrol: you’d need to defend not just your finite, physical borders but an almost limitless number of chronological borders too.

I don’t know if this series will end pursuing all these angles, but the concept alone has got me thinking wild thoughts that have never bothered my brain before. Instead the first issue’s focus is on Dominic, a new recruit flying in the wake of his father who went missing in action and so presumed dead, for no one has survived a shield failure during time travel. Mathematically it is so improbable as to be practically impossible.

“But ask yourself: isn’t a statistical improbability a massive number when standing in contrast to all of space-time?”

What happened to Dominic’s father? The clue’s in the review twice over.

Interview and art:



Avengers vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr. with Bryan Hitch.

“I know when someone knows how to fight. This guy didn’t know hand-to-hand combat. He had power but no moves. A guy with a nice car and no license to drive.”

And that’s the very last sort of person you want loose on the roads.

The Infinity Gauntlet: a glove composed of Power Gems affecting space, time and reality, too powerful to be in the possession of any one woman or man. Thanks to Thanos – the ultimate necrophiliac, the lover whose passion is for Death – they almost brought about the destruction of the whole wide wibbliverse. Some years ago, therefore, the clandestine Illuminati composed of Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Namor, Black Bolt and Reed Richards secretly split the gems up then hid them. One of them’s just been found, it’s the most lethal of the lot, and it will make pilfering the others far easier.

It’s a massive cast for an epic battle including the Red Hulk here written somewhat differently. As in, written well with both rhyme and reason, while Romita excels at such titanic action and big, brutal forms.

Most importantly, however, after Iron Man promised to be on best behaviour to Steve Rogers with no more secrets, his role in the Illuminati and its clandestine history comes out of a closet so capacious you could fit half the last century’s light entertainment stars in it.  There will be ructions, but also two very clever final pages.

If all that wasn’t enough, also included is the Bryan Hitch prologue to something enormous a little later this year. How enormous? I am dying to tell you, but pick this up and find out first-hand instead. It’s not the Intelligencia, it’s what they’ve discovered which only becomes clear towards the end and whose import only really becomes clear to Tony Stark… because he’s seen what will happen already.



X-Men: Schism #1 of 5(£3-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Carlos Pacheco.

Is an arms race fought on foot? You’d really have to gun it.

Cyclops has come to speak at the international arms control conference in Switzerland. The arms he would very much like to control are the mutant-murdering Sentinels: giant, genocidal robots conceived in hatred a long time ago by a scientist called Bolivar Trask. Since then, he believes, the technology has spread across the globe though every nation denies it, one even refuting the very existence of Sentinels even in America.

But then there’s a blast from the Grant Morrison past and delegates experience an uncontrollable telepathic compulsion to speak up. It’s a scene you’re unlikely to see in the House of Commons, but wouldn’t it be cathartic if even a couple of MPs were occasionally this honest?

“I beat my children. I do it quite often, in fact, I… I do it because… well, because I enjoy it.”
“If I may interrupt, I’d just like to say that I am currently cheating on my wife of 35 years while she slowly dies from leukemia. And in the interest of verification, I will be emailing various sexually explicit videos to all major news organisations.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to list the various ethnic minorities I despise…”
“I, for one, am currently under the influence of the following illegal substances…”
“I am personally responsible for the deaths of the following individuals…”
“My fortune was pillaged from the poor!”
“My election was fixed!”
“I married a Doombot!”
“I once shot a man just to watch him die!”
“I’ve never believed in God!”
“I actually love America!”

“Yes, this is Ms. Frost. I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel my 3:00 pedicure. On account of what? How about the supreme stupidity of everyone else in the world but me?”

It’s an assault designed to achieve the exact opposite of what Cyclops intended, and sure enough by the end of the day each and every nation activates its own variation of the Sentinel initiative: massive, humanoid killing machines flagrantly flying over the pyramids of Egypt, standing guard over Tianamen Square, looming over the Eiffel Tower and making military manoeuvres over North Korea and the Yellow Sea. But who is behind it, and why?

“Carlton Kilgore, as one of the world’s pre-eminent arms manufacturers, what is your reaction to today’s events?”
“I am outraged and appalled by such a cowardly terrorist attack. Hopefully we as a planet can come together and heal the wounds that were made here today. Until then, all Kilgore brand small arms are officially half-priced.”

In the car:

“Our website is processing a thousand orders a minute, and Kilgore stock has already gone up three points. Now that’s what I call an arms control conference. Here’s to the power of irrational fear! May the X-Men live forever!”
“I’ll drink to that.”

It’s not who you think. SCALPED’s Jason Aaron has played this magnificently, with a punchline that will please readers of Claremont and Byrne’s run no end, while Pacheco’s art is stronger yet softer than ever. Marvel have done themselves no favours with such a glut of supposedly life-shattering ‘events’ because I nearly didn’t read this at all. We will be reordering, yes.


Batman: Hush Unwrapped h/c (£29-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee.

An indulgence, to be sure, but well worth your consideration for this is Jim Lee at his finest: in black and white pencils and wash. It’s lettered, with the sound-effects coloured, but basically it’s what inker Scott Inker saw before him: some of the finest neo-classical artwork in comics with some soft legs, lush lips and just-so fingers set against an intricately drawn cityscape with dazzling perspectives.

Obviously if you’d prefer the book in full inks and colour, we stock the regular edition of BATMAN: HUSH too. This is its review.

In which The Bat kisses The Cat, kicks The Croc, gets lively with Ivy… and runs away from Superman like a Big Girl’s Blouse.

Structured like a console game with End-Level Bosses, almost every friend and foe of Bruce Wayne becomes embroiled in a 12-issue mystery which goes right back to the boy’s formative years.

The further the flashbacks go, the more monochromatic the washes used in their telling. These are my favourite bits of art here, where Jim loosens up, but there’s no denying the quality of his figure work throughout. Certainly enjoyed the subtle Neal Adams homage during the fight sequence with R’as Al Gh — Ra’s All– that ancient chappie what likes a good soak.

Against his better judgement, Batman has allowed himself to fall for Catwoman, just as his life is turned upside down by what can only be an orchestrated series of catastrophes from the death of a friend to the resurrection of the second Robin. But even when he’s getting his tonsils tickled the man can’t bring himself to smile. Bruce, those endorphins… you’d feel the benefit, I swear.



Green Arrow: Brightest Day – Into The Woods h/c (£16-99, DC) by J.T. Krul & Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew…

Well, I’ve lost track of just how many attempts DC have had at making Green Arrow interesting. A fair few, dare I say a quiver full? He’s had his moments, I suppose, including  Brad Meltzer’s DC debut GREEN ARROW: ARCHER’S QUEST and Andy Diggle and Jock’s origin story retelling GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE, and also the heady days of the ‘Olly and Hal on the road’ stories from my youth. But, by and large, he’s a character that doesn’t particularly interest me, and I suspect many others.

Consequently DC have really pulled out all the contrived plot arrows to change that with this most recent series set in the huge forest which has mysteriously appeared in the centre of the devastated Star City in the aftermath of the BLACKEST NIGHT. And within this star-shaped (such imagination…) forest, which appears to have myriad magical powers and properties, including ghostly apparitions of the ethereal ladylike variety and a major oak emblazoned with a White Lantern symbol, Olly has made his new home.  But despite the presence of umpteen BRIGHTEST DAY-related guest stars like Green Lantern, Deadman, The Martian Manhunter and even randomly having Sir Galahad (last seen not passing Go and heading directly for the loony bin in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers Of Victory) for a treehousemate, this volume doesn’t seem to be really get off the bowstring never mind heading towards the bullseye.

The major oak replete with lantern will prove most significant, but in BRIGHTEST DAY rather than in this title. In fact you most assuredly don’t need to read Green Arrow to follow those events, making this one something for obsessive pheasant – I  mean bow – pluckers only.



Batman: Bruce Wayne: The Road Home h/c (£18-99, DC) by Fabian Nicieza, Mike W. Barr, Bryan Q. Miller, Derek Fridolfs, Adam Beechen, Marc Andreyko & Cliff Richards, Ramon Bachs, John Lucas, Javier Saltares, Rebecca Buchman, Walden Wong, Pere Perez, Peter Nguyen, Ryan Winn, Szymon Kudranski, Agustin Padilla, Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens.

Not to be confused with Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne, this was a bunch of one-shots featuring the ancillary cast that preceded it. Not read ‘em, no.


Also Available To Buy Right Now:

Reviews to follow but s/cs of previous h/cs will already have their reviews on-site. You’ll find those particular titles in paler type below link to their shopping-page reviews. Cool, eh? I apologise for the lack of cover on most of the Marvel books below as of tonight. Be up shortly.

One Soul h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Ray Fawkes
Black Paths h/c (£14-99, SelfMade Hero) by David B
Who Is Ana Mendieta? (£13-99, Feminist Press) by Christine Redfern & Caro Caron
Ultimate Comics Captain America s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Marvel UK) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney
Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eagelsham
Secret Avengers vol 1: Mission To Mars s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Deodato Jr with Will Conrad
Deadpool: Pulp (digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Adam Glass, Mike Benson & Laurence Campbell
Thunderbolts: Violent Rejection (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker, Declan Shalvey
Incredible Hulks: Planet Savage (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Dale Eaglesham, Tom Grummett
Captain America: Man Out Of Time (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Marvel UK) by Mark Waid & Jorge Molina
Wolverine Vs. The X-Men h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Daniel Acuna, Jefte Palo
Daken: Dark Wolverine Vs. X-23 – Collision (£18-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Will Conrad, Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman, Matteo Buffagni
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson, Peter J. Tomasi, J.T. Krul & Ed Benes, Eddy Barrows, Ardian Syaf
Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps vol 2 softcover (£14-99, DC) by James Robinson, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka & Eddy Barrows, Scott Kolins, Nicola Scott
Old City Blues h/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Giannis Milonogiannis
La Quinta Camera (The Fifth Room) (£9-99, Viz) Natsume Ono
Meet Mameshiba! (£4-99, Viz Kids) by Carrie Shepherd & Gemma Correll
Mameshiba: On the Loose! (£4-99, Viz Kids) by James Turner. Gemma Correll & Jorge Monlongo, Gemma Correll
Taro And The Carnival Of Doom (£5-99, Viz Kids) by Sango Morimoto
Soul Eater vol 6 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Atsushi Ohkubo
Death Note Black Edition vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Nina Girls vol 6 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hosana Tanaka
Kimi Ni Todoke vol 9 (£7-50, Viz) by Karuho Shiina
Fairy Tail vol 14 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Arisa vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Natsumi Ando

Does anyone even read these hidden messages?

After dozens of years of self-denigration, I’m feeling unusually smug this evening on account of all the new books above and the reviews above them were added to our website’s shopping area by, err, me after but one training session ten days ago. I gleaned two thirds of the cover art in one go. Sorry about the bits missing. Jonathan will be back to sort that next week.

Now, if only someone could teach more how to use my new mobile phone, I wouldn’t feel such a technological moron. #technologicalmoron.

 – Stephen

Reviews July 2010 week two

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

It’s as if after twenty years of promoting beautiful comics by brilliant people I suddenly succumbed to the woeful desire that a comic of my own see print. I can assure you I have not, for the result would be an equal abomination: a true horror unleashed upon a world that deserves no such thing. Also because I am far from wanting the devil to pop down my chimney and poke me in the bottom.

 – Stephen on a development in Shame, not the book itself which is really rather good.

Pinocchio h/c (£19-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss.

Pinocchio seen through a glass very darkly indeed, this album-sized graphic novel was the Grand Prize winner at Angoulême 2009, now given what little translation it needs. Apart from the Jiminy Cockroach interludes it’s largely silent, but it’s the loudest silent graphic novel I’ve every read.

Updated for a toxic 21st Century, Pinocchio is a now a metallic weapon of war conceived out of greed by a conscienceless Geppetto who tries selling him to the military not once but twice with equally disastrous results. His wife’s the first victim of the automaton’s programming, taking full sexual advantage of Pinocchio’s traditionally large protuberance before coming a cropper of its explosive discharge. Sold into slavery by a couple of junkies, the mechanical man winds up making toys on a sweatshop assembly line but that only blows up in the fat cat’s face as well. Propelled from one situation not of his own making to another, Pinocchio proves to be every bit the weapon of mass destruction he was originally designed to be while Jiminy Cockroach, the world’s idlest tosspot, squats in his skull dreaming of fame, fortune and a literary glory he’s so pathetically incapable of achieving.

The whale which swallows Geppetto is now an ocean tiddler mutated to monstrous proportions by the dumping of radioactive waste, its digestive enzymes lethal enough to strip all skin from bone in seconds; The Enchanted Isle turns out to be a haven for revolutionary gun smugglers, its funfair a dilapidated ruin populated by begging monkeys and abandoned children. In fact everything and everyone in this gigantic journey of interconnected mishaps (apart from one poor penguin) is diseased and dying, decayed or depraved, dissolute and damned right down to Snow White and the Thieving Rapist Bastards.

It’s like Dan Best and Eddie Campbell’s THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD with less wonder and more malice. I’m not calling Winshluss a misanthrope; I’m calling his cast a sorry reflection on the world’s chief ills: greed, environmental irresponsibility and self-serving, state-sanctioned butchery. It’s all very funny, by the way; did I mention that?

It’s also very beautiful in its own seedy way with the occasional full-page painting giving you a glorious respite from the smoke and the grime. The squall of the ocean which carries Geppetto on his quest is terrifying, monstrous and gloriously coloured whilst the full-page evocations of the horrors of war, like Eric Drooker thrown in a vat of acid, will melt your eyes and char your brains.

The one sequence which may initially confound you is ‘Sad Sad Song’ for it appears apropos nothing whereas most of the other characters have several parts to play, but even that will be reprised eventually, and on exactly the right note. Poor, bewildered boy.



Everything Is Its Own Reward (£20-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna.

“In hard times, beauty can seem frivolous – but take it away, and all you’re left with is hard times.”

Too true.

“I’m quite aware,” she said, “of how oblivious I am.”

I was blissfully ignorant until then.

“There’s the flaw in hindsight’s lens: the view changes depending on where you’re looking from.”

It’s all a question of perspective, isn’t it? Here are two hundred or so more set in and around San Francisco with the odd trip to France in a second luxurious ALL OVER COFFEE book to make you swoon, smile or give you some pause for thought. The crisp, thick, off-white paper frames the watercolour textures as well as Paul’s antler grey washes to perfection. There’s so much more space now that he’s sticking to Sundays in the San Francisco Chronicle with some striking vertical shots in between predominantly horizontal portraits of buildings, streets, parks and bridges, landscapes he loves and good grief but he either lives in or has access to flats with very fine views of The Bay! This for me is architectural heaven. There are even some extended sequences this time round evidently carried over from one week to the next, like the wooden steps climbing into the wooded darkness with all the allure of the unknown. I’d never be able to resist following them up then round the corner and as it transpires I couldn’t: I’m positive I know where they are. Fortunately Paul satisfies your curiosity on the subsequent Sundays as the path opens out at the summit.

Each page also tells a story, some longer than other, though you will find none of their participants in the pictures. That third quotation, for example, wasn’t just left there to hang; it was part of a longer meditation on life’s journey and time. Paul is both philosopher and, at times, philosophical.

“I walked a few blocks, then, realising I’d forgotten something, turned around, and ran into you. It has been a while, but definitely not long enough. Surprised, suspicious and awkward, all we could do was laugh, then move on.”

On other occasions he’s simply on hand to entertain, though it’s often the seemingly throwaway exchanges that then make you think most.

“What what? I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to… you’re saying it in my head.”

There’s also a real wit in the artwork itself, like deep blue sky framed, looking up, by an arrangement of white wooden walls whose windows’ reflections make the houses look hollow. Lastly, I suppose, because it’s no use describing what you should see for yourselves, there’s a surprise addition tucked away in a pocket wallet at the back, and I love hidden extras, don’t you?



A Taste Of Chlorine h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Bastien Vivès.

“Beautiful book, bought it in Angoulême.”

– Sean Phillips (CRIMINAL etc.)

A tentative swimming-pool romance told in creams, greens and aquamarines. Truly a sublime experience, I lapped up my preview copy the other sunny afternoon. It won the ‘Essential Revelation’ prize at the Angoulême Festival in 2009 and I can see exactly why.

The physiotherapist of a teenage boy with curvature of the spine insists that he exercise weekly at the local piscine. The first week it’s a solitary affair, but on the second a beautiful, black-haired woman with exceptional swimming skills catches his eye. However, it’s only on the third week when his more extrovert mate accompanies him that they make any kind of contact at all. Gradually she helps him improve his style but both of them are shy and neither is sure about moving the conversation beyond simple swimming lessons.

The experience of being underwater in an environment where the physics are different, gazing up at the swimmers from below – the sheer magic and beauty of it all – is evoked to perfection, the bodies’ outlines underwater disappearing, leaving only their coloured shapes. The biting of lips is sweet, and there’s a touching scene where she mouths him a message underwater yet refuses to translate it later. I haven’t managed to decipher the sequence which is expanded on later on, so if you have, please let me know!



Shame vol 1 of 3: Conception (£7-50, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton.

Shame is a young girl, the result of an immaculate conception brought on by a silent prayer: one moment of weakness in an otherwise exemplary life of selfless benefaction on the part of Mother Virtue. Every day she has hobbled into town from her countryside cottage to ruffle the hair of small children and administer herbal remedies to the sick, the needy and the poor. She loves and is much loved for that, but one evening’s idle contemplation of a flower given in thanks unearths a deep-seated desire in Mother Virtue and, albeit briefly, she wishes for a child of her own.

“Sadly, as is so often the case, Mother Virtue’s selfish wish echoed like a dinner bell in the Heart of Darkness… where, waiting for such an opportunity, lay a dark, dark evil.”

I think “selfish” is a bit harsh, but all things are relative. It’s as if after twenty years of promoting beautiful comics by brilliant people I suddenly succumbed to the woeful desire that a comic of my own see print. I can assure you I have not, for the result would be an equal abomination: a true horror unleashed upon a world that deserves no such thing. Also because I am far from wanting the devil to pop down my chimney and poke me in the bottom.

That’s what happens here, more or less, only without the bottom-poking: Mother Virtue, in spite of her advanced years, finds herself pregnant and in fireside conversation with a demon called Slur:

“Oh yes, dear Mother Virtue! A black seed grows in your barren womb. Planted by your wish and quickened by my magick, for God would never hear such selfish words! Forget all thought of sweeping this off the hearth with your white meddling. The child’s soul is fixed and there is naught you can do about it. She even knows her name. It is Shame!”

Now, Mother Virtue could have risked exploring the possibilities of nature versus nurture but instead makes her mind up immediately. She lures dryads and nymphs to her rustic cottage and, binding them there to play nursemaid and nanny to her daughter, hoofs it lickety-split, sealing them all behind her in the Cradle she calls home. It is perhaps her very absence that confirms Shame’s fate because, thanks to a casual cruelty so prevalent in play and a chink opened in the spell by errant village children and their shadows, Slur manages to get his minions and message across and it all goes horribly wrong.

John Bolton you may know from Harelquin Valentine written by Neil Gaiman or, more recently, Peter Straub’s The Green Woman. Here his palette is far, far brighter, his dryads and nymphs glowing in the sun, and even when that’s eclipsed there remains a lot more light. Slur’s shadow servants are horrible, spindly creatures vaguely reminiscent of Richard Case’s Mr. Nobody from Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, nor is his Mother Virtue a sweet old lady, more closely resembling Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

It’s a book that’s sexually charged so I warn you of that right now: there be boobage and satanic shenanigans for Shame grows up and finds a novel and highly elaborate way of having her revenge on Mother Virtue. It’s certainly the strangest mother/daughter relationship I’ve come across, and quite where we’ll be going in books two and three is anyone’s guess.



Supergods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero h/c (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grant Morrison.

“The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism… If the dystopian nightmare visions of the age foresaw a dehumanized, mechanized world, Superman offered another possibility: an image of a fiercely human tomorrow that delivered the spectacle of triumphant individualism exercising its sovereignty over the implacable forces of industrial repression.”

Few writers have given more thought to the nature of narrative and history of the superhero than Grant Morrison. It informs so much of his own work wherein he attempts to capture the zeitgeist, constantly reappraising his novel approaches in accordance with the spirit of any particular time. Here Morrison takes you through the ages, eloquently contextualising the titles which each era or movement spawned, and in so doing provides unparalleled insight into his unique takes on individual characters and the medium itself.

Indeed one of the most fascinating aspects of this book is its autobiographical content. I don’t mean the revelation that Grant hadn’t even kissed a girl until he was eighteen – though that’s funny – or the extraordinary notion of Morrison ever being Straight Edge given the copious quantities of psychedelics he has since hungrily or, he might claim, dutifully consumed. There is, by the way, plenty of that from his days in a punk band to the ceremonial shaving of the head, but I mean more specifically where the man meets the medium and the genres: his early approach to superheroes as published in a Glaswegian newspaper, his formative years amongst fellow fantasy writers, the stories behind the publication of books like ARKHAM ASYLUM and in particular how Morrison approached each project like ZENITH (currently in legal limbo), DOOM PATROL and ANIMAL MAN.

“There were real superheroes, of course. They did exist. They lived in paper universes, suspended in a pulp continuum where they never aged or died unless it was to be reborn, better than ever, with a new costume. Real superheroes lived on the surface of the second dimension. The real lives of real superheroes could be contained in two hands.”

And manipulated by them on a typewriter.

Morrison is also an artist, so when he brings his eye to bear on the covers to ACTION COMICS #1, DETECTIVE COMICS #27, FANTASTIC FOUR #1 and NEW GODS #1, all reproduced here in black and white, it’s quite the revelation. He’s absolutely right about ACTION COMICS #1: it’s deeply ambiguous as to whether the rampaging protagonist – sending a civilian screaming in Munch-like “existential terror” – is friend or foe.

Similarly from that era I learned that Namor is ‘Roman’ spelled backwards; Wonder Woman was created by the same man who invented the polygraph lie-detector test (hence the magic lasso of truth); and there really are an awful lot of chemicals and psychiatric disorders in BATMAN. Two-Face = schizophrenia; Catwoman = kleptomania; The Scarecrow = the motherload!

Grant’s particularly fascinating on the early saga of DC’s infinite earths, and the publisher’s crazy phase of Jimmy Olsen dressing up in drag, wholesale transmogrifications and Superman as a victim of Lois Lane’s sexual sadism. A lot of really weird shit started happening post-Frederick Wertham: everything he complained about which was never there suddenly manifested itself! Also, having read Morrison’s appraisal of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early FANTASTIC FOUR, FANTASTIC FOUR 1234 makes even more sense; likewise his approach to FINAL CRISIS after his critical examination of Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS. He also dissects Frank Miller’s BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to perfection and examines WATCHMEN in critical depth (again he is visually astute, revealing far more about the covers than I wager you’re aware of already) and with a certain degree of awe before remembering that he made his early reputation by dissing Alan Moore and does so again, finding fault in one of its chief strengths: the complexity of its structure.

I don’t buy that: it’s just too personal. On the whole, however, Morrison is far from self-indulgent, and far more candid about his own occasional self-doubts than you’d expect. Instead he truly bears down upon his subject, a genre he refuses to apologise for or be embarrassed about and quite right too. As one of Page 45’s opening t-shirts proclaimed alongside its homage to Whistler’s Mother dressed as a nun reading comics, “Wear Your Habit With Pride”.

Whatever your views on Grant’s own creative output which I find both dazzling and, on occasions, daunting, no one can deny the man’s blistering intelligence and throughout his career he has never ceased from innovation. Each new project makes readers sit up and think and I imagine many of his peers have felt the same way. Similarly this 400-page history of and tribute to this medium’s meta-humans will give you much to ponder, and I don’t think any true fan of the genre, as I have been since five, can afford to be without its illuminating torch.



Scarlet vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“I’ve been watching so much internet porn I think I learned German.”

Few things anger most people I know more than the abuse of power. Racism, maybe, so South Africa under Apartheid was a double whammy. But when individuals, corporations or entire state institutions abuse their power and successfully get away with it through mass-media collusion or wholesale capitulation, most of us get pretty steamed.

Welcome to Scarlet’s world: it’s just come crashing down around her. A bent cop, high on drugs after money to buy more, stops and searches Scarlet and co. who are doing nothing more untoward than laughing and drinking coffee in an urban park in Portland. Wisely they attempt to deflect their own sense of violation and diffuse a volatile situation with humour, until the cop frisks Scarlet too personally and boyfriend Gabriel smacks him one. Unfortunately by that point the cop has Gabriel’s wallet.

“I’m in a lot of trouble.”

Days later when Scarlet wakes up in hospital, she reads the Portland Press front page. It’s not good.

“Everything is broken. Everything. Good people are victims. Bad people are heroes. Dumb is virtue, food is poison. Corruption is a national pastime. Rapists rape. The poor are left to rot. Religion is business. No one is safe, and everyone thinks that it’s funny.

“Why is the world allowed to be this way? Why doesn’t anyone do anything? Why don’t we fight back? Why is it like this? Why did it happen? And then it hit me. It doesn’t matter why. “Why” is the cloud. The redirect. The shell game. “Why” is bullshit. “Why” makes you feel better for just thinking the question. The question is… what am I going to do about it?”

Calmly, methodically and mercilessly, Scarlet sets about rectifying the situation. We’re not talking revenge; we’re talking revolution.

I’ve deliberately left key scenes from this review so you can share our horror and the writing itself will defy your expectations for a Bendis comic given its singular style and structure. There’s some exceptional start-stop, flash-title timing which wrings humour from even the direst of circumstances, and anyone can break off mid-action to talk to camera, not just Scarlet herself. You’ll also be satisfyingly surprised at the schisms within the systems as they wake up to the scale of Scarlet’s challenge and the public’s reaction both to it and to here.

There’s also some magnificent art from Maleev. That urban park scene with its pedestrians and skaters throwing long, long shadows is lit and coloured to perfection, whilst the watercolour washes round the Hawthorne highway lift bridge melted my heart. The expressions are beautiful, Scarlet’s fashion sense is immaculate, and I am so, so pleased that my ten-year dream has come true and Bendis has finally returned to crime fiction which we can all make a lot more money from than the spandex. I don’t resent his superhero work, I love most of it. But to concentrate on that at the expense of every other genre for so long has been a waste of the man’s true talents, and the same goes triple for Alex. I’m delighted to announce that Brubaker and Phillips now have some serious competition. If you’re reading CRIMINAL, this one’s for you.

Extras include Bendis’ script to issue #1 with its covering note to Maleev and the script to #2 with Maleev’s doodles upon it. For earlier Bendis crime, please see GOLDFISH, JINX and TORSO as well as POWERS, obviously.



Magic Knight Rayearth Omnibus Edition (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp.

Possibly more from Major Tom anon. For the moment, this is yet another of their ridiculously generous doorstops, weighing in at 640 pages. Somewhere around 2000 Mark wrote:

“From the same female manga team that bought you X/1999 comes three girls tumbled into a fantasy/rpg world of swords’n’spells. Hikaru, Fuu and Umi must save the magical child before they can return home. Astonishing, over the top, decorative artwork.”

I think you’ll see what he meant!



Yakuza Moon (£11-99, Kodansha) by Shoko Tendo, Sean Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa.

Lost In Translation.

Sub-titled ‘The True Story Of A Gangster’s Daughter’, for all I know the original prose was riveting.

A woman recounts her struggle towards self-sufficiency and peace after the most appalling start in life all because she was born to a Yakuza and never managed to shake its shadow. You might have thought the connection would act as protection at school, but it merely made her a target for violence. Nor was she safe at home where a colleague of her father’s sneaks into her bedroom and attempts to rape her. No matter that she fought him off, it scarred her for future relationships. It didn’t help that both she and her sister dated Yakuza, and what followed was one long succession of emotional blackmail, financial blackmail, bad debts and dishonourable conduct from almost everyone outside the immediate family; beatings, rape, miscarriages and one long string of abusive relationships and hopeless, horrible men. Let’s not even get into the police duplicity, early imprisonment and cocktail of conflicting drugs. It is horrific and to Shoko’s enormous credit that she did find the strength to endure then break free.

It is equally remarkable, therefore, just how boring this is.

I was riveted by Rosalind Penfold’s DRAGONSLIPPERS: THIS IS WHAT AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE, such was the craft of the storytelling. Far from sensationalist, it hit me over the head with all the concussive force of five tonne gavel which should be used to incarcerate all such manipulative monsters, male or female.

As I say, the original prose to YAKUZA MOON may well have been equally affecting but the undiscerning presentation of the events as a graphic novel is a dull and limp plod from one raw deal to another. It’s recounted with all the formality of a Japanese confession, and that would be no bad thing: a certain degree of objectivity on such emotive situations is vital. But this is simply weak. From the language to the art to the excruciating type-face, this is cold. I cannot believe it’s Kodansha.


X-Files / 30 Days Of Night (£13-50, DC) by Steve Niles, Adam Jones & Tom Mandrake.

I wrote half a dozen sentences before realising that I’d totally misread this as X-FILES / SILENT HILL. Damn. Waste not, want not, so here’s my scenario for X-FILES / SILENT HILL.

Brilliant! Let Smoulder and Skully get lost in the NHS after dark (waiting list for open-heart surgery: approximately 2.03 seconds) and figure the fucking plot out. I never could. I demand they find The Cancer Man’s head in a bureau draw, still puffing nonchalantly away. He could croak something cryptic before arching his eyebrows and closing his eyes with a rasping laugh as the office fills with smoke. Also, can we have an alternate ending in which they finally come off the fence and decide what the bloody hell the X-FILES was all about? I’m not sure what you’d have to do achieve that. You’d probably have to play the game on Otaku level for 371 times before being told that the hidden ending was just a myth after all. Alternately you could just tie Chris Carter to a chair then bludgeon him with your shotgun. In reality, mind…



New X-Men vol 1 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Ethan Van Sciver, Igor Kordey, Frank Quitely >

Deep within South America, a baldy headed woman with a more than passing resemblance to Professor X reactivates a hidden Sentinel project. Bearing in mind she really really hates mutants, this spells genocide, ‘splosions and large metallic objects flying into skyscrapers. After numerous deaths and resurrections, Scott and Jean find themselves further apart than ever before; Prof. X doesn’t seem quite himself and has taken to carrying a gun; teenagers can’t spend their pocket money fast enough on the latest mutant fashions and pop music; outside the school gates, meanwhile, the mob begins to howl…

Like the rest of Morrison’s recent work, NEW X-MEN dances to a choppy, syncopated rhythm, shifting scene and viewpoint in creating a world soaked in corporatism, media trends, fear, loathing and good old fashioned sex. What makes this a spangly great book, however, are the spangly great moments; this is how a best-selling superhero comic should be done: hip and flip, so pop it hurts. Cyclops, preparing to hit the insurers with another claim on a top-notch airplane reassures his passengers: “Relax. I’ve survived more jet aircraft crashes than any other mutant.” Rather than digging out Magneto for a “Charles, are our dreams so very different?” scene, the X-Men’s eternal bête noire gets dispatched in a single panel, martyred as a mutant Che Guevara, his face on a t-shirt becoming the latest meme. Dominatrix school teacher Emma Frost sets out her lesson plan:

“I propose we spend today’s telepathy period hacking into the minds of some of our favourite screen idols. A gold star to the first girl to discover the awful truth about Tom and Nicole.”

Ideas fly out at a rate of knots and the comic reeks of the now. Where Morrison’s JLA saw him tangle with the monolithic icons of the DC Universe and reinvent them as latter-day saints, here he gets to play with the pop idols and sex symbols of the Marvel sandpit. Most of the art in this volume is by Frank Quitely and bears the familiar hallmarks of his work: fantastic choreography and a real sense of heft and gravity combined with the odd distorted limb and the unfortunate fact the females could also go under the nom de heroine of Giraffe Neck Woman. On very few occasions, the book reads like a Fisher Price version of THE INVISIBLES (especially when the Beast says stuff like “I feel like a Hindu sex god”), but mostly it’s the best superhero book on the stands by a country mile, wired to the present and ready to play. Leave your coat at the door and dance to the new.


David Hart

New X-Men vol 2 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Ethan Van Sciver, Leinil Yu, Frank Quitely.

Another crackling ride full of Emma Frost bitching, breathless melodrama and a beautiful moment of anticlimax involving a desperate, last ditch attempt to warn Earth of its impending slaughter, and a midnight field full of cows. Also, some brutal revelations about Xavier in the womb, and a whole instalment in complete silence which amply demonstrates why Morrison and Quitely are so justly lauded. 

Finally, you will find the first chapter here rammed to the gills full of sex. More specifically, the word “SEX” which Quitely contrived to hide in the shrubbery, the purple telepathic ectoplasm, the Beast’s fur, the machinery hanging above the library, Jean Grey’s hair… it’s everywhere. Ask me to show you at the counter if you can’t find it yourself.


Daredevil: Yellow s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale.

Nostalgia merchants Loeb & Sale take blind lawyer and nocturnal superhero Daredevil back to his early years when his costume was black and yellow. In an effort to come to terms with the loss of his on/off girlfriend Karen Page, present-day Matt writes her a letter in which he talks about his relationship with his Father who was shot while Matt was at college for refusing to throw a boxing match he’d agreed to lose. He also relives his early years in law practice with pudgy partner Foggy Nelson, when they hired a beautiful young woman both men instantly fell in love with. This of course, is Karen Page.

It’s a similar treatment to their SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS and SPIDER-MAN: BLUE (in fact it’s exactly the same treatment as SPIDER-MAN: BLUE right down to lost parent figure and blonde girlfriend, both of whom were murdered in each case), with all the innocence and nostalgia of a by-gone era you’ve come to expect. Sale’s art is bold yet delicate, his thin ink lines washed with watercolour, particularly effective on the old Brooklyn brickwork. But his real coup, which I only spotted this morning on my re-read, is that although he does convincingly evoke the sense of period with mobster trilbies, drab offices and ’60s hair-dos, it’s all slight of hand, because there’s a computer hidden in the background on Karen Page’s desk. Why? Well, Jeff wants to evoke the era in which the original DAREDEVIL comics first came out… but knows that Marvel have only aged their characters ten years or so since they were first published. So what Sale’s done, the computer aside, is omit any modern settings or vehicles or newspaper references. Clever, eh?



Young Avengers Ultimate Collection restocks (£25-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Andrea Divito, Michael Gaydos, Neal Adams, Gene Ha, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pasqual Ferry.

Both previous collections of the original series plus the SPECIAL. Young men and women who strangely resemble the actual Avengers slip out of their bedroom windows to fight crime. But all is not as it seems, except for Wiccan and Hulkling holding hands. They lurrrve each other. Sweet. Here’s my review of the first half here:

Can’t help liking this title is spite of my enormous derision for the idea of teen superhero groups, and one of the reasons I like it is Allan’s acknowledgement of the lunacy – it is in fact, the whole crux of the first arc, which sees The Avengers Sr. come down on hard on their delinquent asses. But since when did teenagers obey adults?

The second reason’s the dialogue. Heinberg does a mean impression of Bendis on Jessica Jones (who appears throughout), whilst having his own voice for the determined but less than experienced or adept kids. It’s grounded.

The third reason (okay, probably the first – I might not have even read the first issue without his attachment to the title) is Jimmy Cheung. Coloured by Justin Ponsor, it’s a gleaming dream.

Fourthly, volume two starts getting mightily clever with just who these people are, and their unlikely resemblances to the original line-up of the original team. None of the boys are remotely who they seem in this book, but for that you’re just going to have to wait.

Fifthly? It has a heart of gold. I like Heinberg. Plus, he’s done a great job of balancing the young wilfulness and glee of the star-struck newcomers with the respect they have for their renowned adult counterparts, he’s done an intelligent job of presenting the converse view of authority, and he kept the time-travel plot all twisty-turny. He’s put in some graft, in other words, and there are worse reasons to go out a buy a book than that it’s well written by a warm-hearted man, and gloriously drawn by an undeniable star.
But honestly, teen superheroes…? You’re going to be justifying that to your mates for a lot longer than I’ve just done justifying it to myself!



Heroes For Hire vol 1: Control s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Robert Atkins.

Having spent some time at DC, Dan and Andy realised that Marvel didn’t have a BIRDS OF PREY title so wrote one with Misty Knight as Oracle and the Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Punisher and Iron Fist among her rotating roster of operatives. Each handles separate parts of a coordinated ambush/attack in exchange of information, the currency of any vigilante worth their sea salt dredged up here in the form of Atlantean narcotics. It’s a pretty standard painting-by-numbers superhero series but wait until you see who’s pulling Misty’s strings.



Old Review New To The Website:

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan ‘Not A New Man’ Lee & Jack Kirby.

Welcome back to ten more issues of very weird science!

See the Fantastic Four fly the Fantasti-car without first deciding on a designated driver… straight into a giant milk bottle! Gasp as Mr. Fantastic stretches high in the sky to pluck a couple of missiles off the bottom of a fighter plane going at, oh I don’t know, a thousand miles an hour!! Laugh as poor Johnny, the Human Torch who can melt through metal, is put out by a single vase of water (“I’ll never live it down!”)! And witness an alien infant’s first act on Earth: making himself an American ice-cream soda!

It’s key material here, with all the regulars from The Mole Man, Doctor Doom and Diablo to the Submariner making one of his many moves on Sue Storm. The X-Men guest star as does Dr. Strange, and even Nick Fury in what might be his first appearance as Colonel rather than Sergeant. He’s working for the C.I.A. rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. which hadn’t yet formed, and is mightily concerned about America’s investment in San Gusto, a “showplace of democracy” surrounded by commies into which the US has sunk billions. Apparently the citizens are revolting, so Fury enlists the Fantastic Four’s aid to interfere with another nation’s affairs because as he so righteously pronounces, “We couldn’t interfere in another nation’s affairs!” Not until the C.I.A. told him to, anyway. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this is all the result of the Hate Monger who has set up shop in San Gusto before travelling to New York to spread his racial hatred in mass rallies that incite the crowd to violence. This was Stan Lee’s first full issue tackling that most “un-American” of American sentiments upon which the country was founded and which it has systematically practised or endorsed ever since (in an overt nod to the KKK, the Hate Monger is wearing a purple version of their cowardly cowl).

Lee is, of course, to be unequivocally commended for this first and future attempts to liberate his readers from the predominant social attitudes around them by having his heroes vocally reject racism and other assorted bigotry for the poison that it is. It’s just a shame that it had to involve a hypnotic Hate Ray for the human race is perfectly capable of being swept away by the likes of Moseley and Hitler and the BNP as it stands, without anything more conducive that its own fear, ignorance and desperate desire for conformity.

Where Lee hasn’t yet seen the light, however, is with Women’s Lib. For although for the first time here Sue begins to discover and experiment with turning objects other than herself invisible and utilising an extended invisible force field, she is still in thrall to wigs and dresses and, well…

“You know, Reed, this measuring device to test my invisibility would make the kookiest hat!”
“Just as I thought! You have greater powers of vapidity than you suspect, Sue!”

Sorry, what he says is “invisibility”, although you can see what he’s thinking. In fact you can read what he’s thinking half a dozen pages later when he snaps at his go-to girlfriend:

“Just like a woman!! Everything I do is for your own good, but you’re too scatterbrained to realise it!”

But wait, perhaps Stan is having a go at the dismissive male, condemning him, Jane Austen-stylee, through words from his own mouth? No.

“That man!! I know he’s right… and that’s why I’m angry!”

The undoubted highlight of issues 21 to 30, however, is when the Hulk hits New York in a rage of rejected jealousy when he discovers a newspaper clipping Dr. Bob Banner has left crumpled in his giant purple pants: news that The Avengers have replaced him with Captain America for whom he’s been forsaken by Rick the dick Jones! If memory serves, the Hulk had actually told The Avengers to fuck off in no uncertain terms, but the Rick thing’s gotta sting. Unfortunately The Avengers are hunting the Hulk down in New Mexico, and as the Hulk hits town (and the town’s subway system, its subway trains, its skyscrapers, its news vendors, water hydrants and anything else that gets in his way), Reed Richards succumbs to a bout of man-flu. Neither the Human Torch nor the Invisible Girl survive long under the viridian vandal’s relentless assault, so the way is paved for the biggest one-on-one slug-athon so far to determine the answer to that immortalised question: “Who is stronger, the Thing or The Hulk?”

And it is truly massive. There’s a speedboat chase, a battle on top of the Washington Bridge, and buses, buildings and electric cables all play their part as hand-weapons as Ben valiantly soldiers on well into the second issue without a hope in hell of winning. It is, however, when The Avengers finally show up… that they get in each others’ way! Except Captain America who’s smart on tactics, quick on his wits and unlike the pill-popping Giant Man totally drug-free. Here’s the Hulk:

“Try to lecture me will ya?? I’ll — Hey!! How can you move so fast??”
“Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

Yes, the Captain is Straight Edge! I was so impressed with that pronouncement that I used it everywhere: in the playground, round The Rough with my mates… even when my Mum wondered how I could possibly eat so much ice-cream: “Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

Better still is the cover to that second issue (#26) set high on a nascent skyscraper’s skeletal girders, the Hulk at its apex and Rick holding on precariously to a corner, while all nine of our colourful combatants fly or climb towards them. Structurally it is magnificent, Giant Man no more than twice the size of the others for fear of tipping the balance of the composition too far in his favour and destroying the framing rhomboid which moves your eye around the piece in exactly the same way as the most famous of Caravaggio’s David With The Head Of Goliath paintings. I’m not making this shit up. *

Nor for once am I making this up when the raging hormone that is Johnny Storm, zapped by the Hate Ray mentioned earlier, gets his emotions confused after sister Sue Storm douses his flame:

“Try that again, and I’ll forget you’re my sister — which would be a pleasure!

Oh, Johnny…!

* I’m really not making this shit up!

F.F. #26 Cover:

Follow the Torch’s fiery trail from left to right, then right to left as he turns towards the Hulk; your eye then moves a little further along the girder the Hulk’s holding up before dropping down towards Rick Jones then further left along the girder falling diagonally towards the street; finally Thor completes the loop as your eye moves back towards the Torch’s trail and the artfully placed yellow-on-green caption at the bottom. Repeat – you won’t be able to help yourself.


Here it’s not quite a rhombus but certainly a right-angled quadrilateral similarly pitched. Follow the slant of the left-hand side of David’s head down to his shoulder and thence through the shadow to the shine of the sword at its hilt; then down the length of the sword, tellingly, to the crotch; up and to the right is the object of his victory and desire, Goliath’s head, then the shape is completed back up to the head via the length of the boy’s visible, outstretched arm.



Also Arrived

Reviews to follow but s/cs of previous h/cs will already have their reviews on-site. You’ll find those particular titles in paler type below link to their shopping-page reviews. Cool, eh?

 The Homeland Directive (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston
Cowboys h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Gary Phillips & Brian Hurtt
Usagi Yojimbo vol 25: Fox Hunt (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai
Incognito vol 2: Bad Influences (£13-50, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Casanova: Gula (£10-99, Icon) by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon
Jack Of Fables vol 9: The End (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy, Russ Braun
Metalocalypse Dethklok h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brendon Small, Jon Schnepp, Jeremy Barlow & Lucas Marangon
Batman: Bruce Wayne: The Road Home h/c (£18-99, DC) by Fabian Nicieza, Mike W. Barr, Bryan Q. Miller, Derek Fridolfs, Adam Beechen, Marc Andreyko & Cliff Richards, Ramon Bachs, John Lucas, Javier Saltares, Rebecca Buchman, Walden Wong, Pere Perez, Peter Nguyen, Ryan Winn, Szymon Kudranski, Agustin Padilla, Scott McDaniel, Andy Owens
Batman: Hush Unwrapped h/c (£29-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee
Blackest Night s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, Joe Prado
Green Lantern Corps: Blackest Night s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Green Lantern: Blackest Night s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke
Deadpool vol 6: I Rule, You Suck s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi, Bong Dazo
Spider-Man: Origin Of The Species s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Paul Azaceta
Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Alan Davis, Scott Lobdell & Alan Davis, Scott Kolins
New Avengers vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen
Avengers vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Bryan Hitch
Marvel Adventures: Avengers: Captain America (£7-50, Marvel) by various
Rin-Ne vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Black Butler vol 6 (£8-99, Yen) by Yana Toboso

Looks like it’ll be a bit thin next week, just like my hair.

– Stephen

Reviews July 2011 week one

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Great short story from Paul Tobin, beautifully illustrated by Collen Coover in a style which instantly put me in mind of Sully’s THE HIPLESS BOY with its energy and simple colour palette.

 – Jonathan on Gingerbread Girl.

Signal (£7-99, self-published) by Paul Duffield (all copies signed for free).

Transfiguration at its purest.

We are – and have always been – extraordinarily impressed by the space and light shone on Warren Ellis’ FREAKANGELS by its artist. There are virtually no comparison points in comics for its lambent, four-panel windows which open so often onto full-page landscapes outside. It presents itself to us with a timing that is utterly unique.

But nothing evidenced there can prepare you for the breath-taking, halting, nay silencing satori that is opening a copy of Paul Duffield’s SIGNAL. Liberated from the sheer practicalities of presenting FREAKANGELS online, Duffield has broken loose and then taken flight, much like the protagonist in the realms of his imagination and aspiration as he lays himself down on the cool carpet of grass, becomes one with the world and then soars into the lunar-lit sky as a majestically white and celestially-bound heron or crane.

There is much for you to interpret for yourselves.

Why are the tiles he leaves far behind slightly cracked, loose or broken? Why is the water he leaves in his wake now washed with a leaking of blood? I have my own, personal interpretation which means a great deal to me, but you may have your own.

Let us be clear: £7-99 for such a short story is a premium price to pay. But you have in your life surely been to one gig or another, and given in to buy a luxurious A4 programme with the highest production values imaginable, just like this, which you exhume from time to time and swoon over so blessedly relieved that you took the plunge during that once-in-a-lifetime experience and now own a copy yourself to have and to hold forever. How many of those are signed by the artists? These are, each and every one.

“It’s so lovely to hear that the work I put in is appreciated, even if the intention was mostly self-indulgence!” wrote Paul last week on my initial, slightly awe-struck reaction.

Paul says self-indulgence; I say art from the heart. And that’s precisely what we want from our favourite creators, is it not?

Paul is sending out signals. Are you receiving, over?


Chester 5000 h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Jess Fink.

“An erotic, robotic, Victorian romance.”

A delightfully playful piece of silent bedtime reading, this juicy, joyful, coital tale of mismatched marital blues presents the term ‘steampunk’ with a whole new meaning, as well as an apposite anagram.

An explicit yet tender celebration of the act of sexual foreplay, the book begins with a spent Victorian husband too easily exhausted by his wife’s more fulsome libido. He therefore sets about constructing a substitute in the form of a mechanical man, debonair, accommodating and anatomically outstanding. After trial and error and a brief flight in terror, the wife is grateful not only for the automaton’s attentions but also to her husband for the gift. But her husband, perhaps feeling his marital duty fulfilled, rebuffs her reinvigorated advances only to steal after the flesh and metal couple late one night to pleasure himself voyeuristically instead. It is only when he discovers a certain portrait locked in the robot’s chest cabinet that his male ego is aroused, and that usually spells trouble, doesn’t it?

Recommended to those who’ve enjoyed Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s LOST GIRLS or to those who simply don’t have that sort of “attention span” but want a genuinely beautiful piece of erotica so evidently drawn with love by a comicbook creator unafraid to concoct something that would arouse women like herself every bit as much as men. Its soft tones, sensual curves and exotic, erotic period costumes are embellished with floral panel borders which curl round the couples, then swirl into more vigorous waves which crest during climax.

Let’s hope the “vert” of attraction here swiftly replaces the “snikt” of aggression as one of the best known comicbook sound effects.



Lucille (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Ludovic Debeurme…

It is unfortunate that the name of such a relatively serious and worthy piece of fiction, indeed award-winning at Angoulême, instantly conjures up for me the pompadoured screeching architect of rock and roll himself, Little Richard. This has nothing whatsoever to do with my review or this book you understand, but if that association is well and truly stuck in my head, it seems only fair I try and stick it in yours.

Pressing on quickly… LUCILLE is a story of two troubled French teenagers living in a coastal town who could definitely do with a little of Richard’s joie de vivre, both firmly trapped in the circumstances of their lives by their families, who unexpectedly find in each other something their lives have been sadly lacking until now. Arthur is the son of Russian immigrants, whose father is a drunkard fisherman, as quick to raise his fists as he is a glass, and for whom tough love is the only kind he seems able to display, along with a complete contempt for his wife. Lucille is a shy anorexic, struggling with self-worth issues, as well as a somewhat distant relationship with her mother, who whilst not really falling into the category of an enabler for Lucille’s problems, isn’t really proactively helping either.

Upon meeting the two teens feel an immediate connection, it’s not love at first sight by any means, but it’s certainly something. Perhaps it’s a mutual recognition of each other’s unhappiness, but there also seems to be the potential for compassion and empathy towards each other, something that Arthur in particular seems to be singularly unable to display towards anyone else, with his penchant for terrifying oracular predictions of satanic doom for his ‘friends’. When a family tragedy befalls him, partly as a result of his own actions, he realises if he doesn’t leave their provincial coastal town immediately he probably never will, so implores Lucille to abscond with him, convincing her that a fresh start away from the emotional snares of her current environment might be beneficial to her also.

And so begins our story afresh, as the pair travel to rural Italy, seeking solace from their travails in each others’ arms at last, and beginning new lives as hired hands on a Tuscan vineyard. Of course, now if the rest of the world would just leave them alone to adapt and thrive in their new sunny surroundings and supportive circumstances like freshly planted vines, then perhaps true happiness might follow. Except of course, life isn’t always kind like that is it, particularly to people who need it to be…

I have to say, I was very unsure after the first few pages whether, purely due to personal sensibilities, I was going to enjoy LUCILLE, but I very quickly warmed to the characters, particularly Arthur, and also the story as a whole, and I can see easily see why it was a deserved prize winner at Angoulême. Debeurme has created characters of tremendous depth here, who succeeded in tugging on my heartstrings and drawing me in. The relatively simplistic art style, entirely without panels, and in particular the portrayal of the skinny Lucille, put me in mind of I NEVER LIKED YOU by Chester Brown. I ended up enjoying LUCILLE enormously, and look forward to the next volume.



Gingerbread Girl (£9-99, Top Shelf) by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover…

A tasty delight from start to frustratingly ambiguously finish. I could actually be describing the main character Anna herself actually, though in fact I am referring to the work as a whole. We begin with a cover which is a wonderful spectrum of curling colours whirling around a giant letter G that immediately put me in mind of the sort of doodling we all did as a child with felt tip pens; which again is appropriate on one level given Anna’s story: of someone who’s never quite grown up.

Whether you believe her story that it’s because her mad scientist father removed the part of her brain called the Penfield Homunculus – responsible for responding to the sense of touch – as a child, with which he grew a sister for Anna called Ginger; or, whether you merely conclude she’s just not all there in the head, thanks to the constant arguing of her parents which she was forced to endure growing up, this forms the charming premise of our story. For whilst you would think her theory is patently nonsense, there’s more than enough circumstantial evidence not to dismiss it out of hand completely…

So as Anna quite literally teases her way through life, it’s left to those who’d like to get a little closer to her and, errr… observant passing dogs and pigeons, plus various other random talking heads, to elucidate their own theories regarding Anna’s obsessive search for Ginger, who of course no one else has ever set eyes on. Nor indeed her father, either, who also disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Anna believes she spots Ginger from time to time around the city, always on the periphery of her sight, always just out of communication, and always exiting stage-right just in the nick of time, but others aren’t so sure. And she’s devised a rather unique way of searching for her sister which, again, viewed from the outside looks remarkably like the self-harming behaviour of someone who is more than a little unhinged…

Great short story from Paul Tobin, beautifully illustrated by Collen Coover in a style which instantly put me in mind of Sully’s THE HIPLESS BOY with its energy and simple colour palette. My opening sentence probably gives away a touch too much as to whether Anna is reunited with her sister, but Paul has certainly left himself an opening for a sequel… At least I hope he’s going to write a sequel.



Strangers In Paradise PKT edition vol 3 (£11-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“We’re not going to make it to Nashville, David. Even if we did, we couldn’t land it.”
“What are you talking about? How do you know?”
“Planes can’t fly without a rudder, David.”

The third volume of six begins once again in the present with Francine trapped in a debilitatingly unhappy marriage, and it becomes gradually clear that not everyone has survived the intervening years. For if you thought that the venomous presence of Darcy Parker in the lives of Francine, Katchoo and David was gone, think again. She’s left a legacy behind and a vacuum in her wake with a power struggle which is about to ignite and suck the poor girls in again.

“144 people died because they got on a plane with you. Are you at peace with that? …If you really do care about the girl and her family, you need to get them away from you – as soon as possible. Before they’re taken away. Permanently.”

And that’s the most horrific sequence in an already turbulent relationship where harsh words are said: after the plane crash when one of the cast jettisons the other in the most hurtful way imaginable in order to try to save her life. The dramatic irony is excruciatingly. Francine isn’t just pushed into the arms of her future husband who will cause her such pain, she is positively, literally punched there.

Unfortunately it’s not enough. Do you remember Darcy’s cousin, Veronica? Because Veronica certainly remembers Francine, and you’re in for a very brutal encounter.

It is this, of course, which makes the funny bits all the funnier back when they were safe and happy, and as well as snow and gales he evokes so well with our loved ones staring into the distance, Terry draws a glorious summer countryside where David and Francine once shared some lazy afternoons at Francine’s mother’s.

“You’re not sitting on a bughouse or anything, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Bugs? You down there?”
“No answer. Must be safe.”
“That’s what they want you to think. That’s how they trick you!”
“Francine… I think it’s safe.”
“I’m all about a bug-free bottom.”
“It’s a wonderful thing.”

Three hundred and fifty more pages in which we see Katchoo’s first break in the art world, its unexpected effect on Francine, David’s secret finally revealed, and Francine struggling with her feelings for Katchoo as their trajectories diverge and all that is left are the lonesome lights flashing in the evening sky.

“See that star… the one shining brighter than all the others? I know the girl who hung it there.”



Witch Doctor #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by Brandon Seifert & Lukas Ketner.

“You’re a witch doctor?”
“’Cunning man’ is the preferred term.”

This was described by Warren Ellis as ‘mental’ according to the publishers, but I hadn’t actually seen Warren write that nor in what context, so I took it with a pinch of salt.

This is mental.

“It’s not a demon.”
“What do you mean, it’s not a demon? We know it’s a demon! Of course it’s a demon!”
“But ‘demon’ means ‘one.’”

It’s fast, full of fury and dripping with demons (plural) in possession of a young boy. Fortunately Dr. Vincent Morrow M.D. is adept at adapting and able to make complex diagnoses very much on the run:

“No wonder the kid’s got an impossible aura – – He’s got Gerasene Syndrome!”
“He’s got what?”
“Super-parasitism! One host, more than one parasite!”
“So how do we treat it?”
“I don’t know! I’ve only seen one case this bad in the literature – – and that was in the Bible! Look, your soul isn’t this immortal car your personality drives around – – It’s your spiritual immune system! It’s what keeps magic pathogens from getting into you! An infection like this? There’s got to be something seriously wrong with the kid’s soul! … uh…”

Cleverly thought out terminology and treatments swiftly administered in the most entertainingly unexpected manner, this combines some of the pace and quirkiness of the current Doctor Who incarnation with a deep love of pink, slimy protuberances and, yes, a certain degree of Auntie Ellis.

“Go to the hospital and get a C.T. scan.”
“A Computed Tomography scan. A sciencey thing at the doctory place.”

Art? Try this external link.



Batman: Knight And Squire (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton…

“… If we get a few more like that lad ‘Face-Off’… One day he’ll have someone’s face off. Lord, that’s not even funny.”
“But, this being Britain, there’s a sense of moderation here. You could have been more like the original Joker.”
“Oh, I suppose. I do rather worship his style. I just can’t bring myself to commit crimes. Too dreary for me.”

The only way I can describe KNIGHT AND SQUIRE without giggling is as a mash-up of the Adam West ‘60s Batman TV show and the irreverently offensive British ‘comic’ Viz. With characters like Jarvis Poker the British Joker it’s a delightfully farcical romp featuring a ludicrously named cast of villains from our sceptred isle with the UK’s Dynamic Duo-alikes Knight and Squire playing the straight man and lady. Paul Cornell is on typically amusing form here, much like his Dark X-Men for Marvel.



Red Hood: The Lost Days (£10-99, DC) by Judd Winick & Pablo Raimondi, Jerermy Haun…

In which the Red Hood waits sadly for someone to collect him from the lost property office…

I’m still not completely clear about how Superboy Prime altering reality whilst trapped in another dimension brought Jason Todd back to life, but regardless, Judd Winick’s further elucidation of Jason’s post-death back-story, before he exploded like a loose circus cannon into Grant Morrison’s first arc of BATMAN & ROBIN is gritty stuff. In fact, in a way, the only slightly odd aspect is the incongruity of the two portrayals of the same character.

Morrison’s version is clearly barking padded-cell-in-Arkham mad, whereas Winick’s version is almost the exact opposite, completely cold and calculating as he undergoes the extensive training in armed and unarmed combat, demolition, espionage and detective work that he knows he’ll need for the personal war he’s planning to wage. But would that be against the Joker, the person responsible for his untimely demise, or against the Batman, the person who placed him in that vulnerable position? This is a great mini-series that will probably get overlooked amidst the myriad Bat-wash of books when it really shouldn’t. Purposeful art from Pablo Raimondi and Jeremy Haun contributes in producing something that has the feel of a slick action film along the lines of the Bourne trilogy.

Note: Jason gets his own series in the September, post-DC-reboot entitled RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS.



Daredevil: Reborn h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Davide Gianfelice.

Before we begin: if you loved Jock’s cover art then you will swoon over the cover concepts reprinted here in the back. I think I actually prefer the original to issue #1 with its simplicity even though its final incarnation, the cover you see here, is stunning. You also get the first issue’s script.

Matthew Murdock has fallen from grace, in his own eyes especially. The Man Without Fear has found the one thing he fears: himself. In Shadowland: Daredevil and Shadowland itself, Murdock inflicted huge pain and unspeakable turmoil on a community he swore he’d protect, so he’s left Hell’s Kitchen and the city altogether to wander The Badlands. Obviously (obviously) the town we now join him in is simmering with secrets and stifled in corruption, plus they don’t take kindly to strangers. Cue conflict and a quick internet search to discover the FBI is convinced Matthew’s Daredevil – they’ve just never been able to prove it – which they think will rob Murdock of his element of surprise.

Gianfelice brings a Vertigo sensibility to the art. I do like his waves of hair and that final page silhouetted against a full moon, composed just like Frank Miller might have in his more supple days, really leaps out at you. And if the whole point of the book is that Matt leaves the city to find himself far from its confines and noise, Davide’s art is also a breath of spacious fresh air.

Diggle and Gianfelice have also given some considerable thought as to how a man who’s trained himself to perfection in a high-rise urban environment, working thousands of feet in the air, would have to adapt his combat style and extemporise using the few bits of cover at his disposal. It’s certainly a learning curve but he soon gets the hang of it: you will be amused.


Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Conway, Goodwin, Mantlo & Andru, Kane, Mooney, Miller, Springer, Sal Buscema, Bagley.

The Day Of The Jackal.

More years ago than I care to remember a death was a death in the Marvel Universe, and Gwen Stacy’s was particularly poignant. Peter Parker’s first true love, she died after being thrown off a bridge and it was Spider-Man’s webbing which broke both her fall and her neck.

Yet here, a couple of years later, Peter starts catching glimpses of the sixties’ blonde beauty, alive and well, wandering around town. Convinced that he’s either going mad or it’s the cruellest trick played yet by Mysterio, it’s only when Aunt May experiences a similar, traumatically shocking encounter that they finally meet up in Peter’s flat. Peter’s confused and angry; Gwen is bewildered and scared. Her grave lies untouched yet her finger prints match those of Gwen Stacy’s on file to the tiniest detail.

Truly, we had no idea what was going on. It’s hardly the film Don’t Look Now, but back in 1974 before I had even heard of cloning and we had no idea it would be used in a Marvel comic it was a gripping sub-plot that today would have been played out for years. Thankfully one part of the mystery was resolved early on because the suspense was too much to bear. What took far, far longer to be revealed is who was behind the vendetta and why: whose face lay behind the mask of the Jackal. Because Peter is right about one thing: it is a vendetta, it’s aimed straight at him and it’s going to cause him maximum pain just when he’s starting to get over Gwen Stacy and getting it together with Mary Jane Watson instead.

The horror of wounds torn freshly open was well played indeed, as well as its traumatic effect on Peter and MJ’s relationship, but lesser creators would have failed to focus on the plight of Gwen Stacy herself. The title gives it away – she’s a clone of the original – yet to all intents and purposes she is Gwen Stacy unable to comprehend what he loved ones have been through immediately following her death.

There is far, far more to it than this with Peter constantly assailed by the Scorpion, Tarantula, the Grizzly as well as the Jackal himself, and they cleverly left a hint that all was not well at the end of the first sequence which was picked up years later in PETER PARKER for a brand new mystery, all of which you get here as well in nearly 500 pages of full-colour comics which represent key Marvel history.

Lovely, lithe art from Ross Andru and Gil Kane in the first half.




Essential Spider-Man vol 10 (£14-99, Marvel) by Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, guests & John Romita Jr, guests.

Another big, black and white slab on newspaper print with a remarkable consistency of writer and artist, this reprints AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #211-230 and ANNUAL #15.

Almost everything here represents early John Romita Jr, before he cut loose and whilst watered down by Jim Mooney’s inks: they’re just too soft, though it should be noted that Spider-Man in full costume is a perfect continuation of the honourable tradition as represented by John’s Dad, Gil Kane then Ross Andru.

The writing too is pretty traditional at a time when the tradition was far from innovative or had anything to us about our lives. Still, if it’s an exotic line-up of both new and high-profile foes doing battle on the streets of Manhattan, that’s what you’ll get, and you’ll find them recurring in different combinations throughout: Sandman, Hydroman, a Sandman/Hydroman composite the likes of which you’ve never built with a bucket and spade on the beaches of Haverford West, Namor, the Frightful Four, and some of the earliest appearances of Madame Web torn from her life-support chair by the Juggernaut.

Visually the annual is a dream with Frank Miller drawing Doc Ock and the Punisher sparring with the same fluid grace as he did on DAREDEVIL, and there’s attention to detail like the way the Punisher’s calves lose their definition below his boot-line, indicating the boots’ sturdier material.

Great cover.



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…

“Hi Mom, you came to see the walls go up?”
“Always m’love. Every day.”
“I worry about you, you know? Pouring your soul into those barriers, day after day, with no rest.”

I did sigh slightly when I saw Marvel was going straight into another X-over , complete with sidebar titles, directly after the excellent X-MEN: SECOND COMING, but actually this is great stuff. I probably shouldn’t be surprised given the bulk of it is written by Mike (MESSIAH COMPLEX) Carey. That’s one of the key books of recent years for jumping into all things X by the way for newcomers, not a statement regarding his ego, which I’m sure is perfectly normal and well rounded. After all, writing about costumed mutants all day isn’t going to warp your mind now is it?

And speaking of warping minds… we find our not-so-merry band of mutants holed up in a fortress (named Fortress X, of course) and assailed from literally all sides day after day, as humanity makes a final push to exterminate those pesky mutants once and for all. But is this an alternate reality we’re viewing, as most of our cast of characters are rather different from the regular versions we’re used to seeing, or has something else happened?

Despite the whopping clues I’ve dropped, it would be churlish of me to say any more, other than I don’t believe this is the last we’ve seen of the Age Of X. I must just add that all the sidebar stuff, collected here rather than in a separate book, is great fun, as various writers and artists flesh out the Age Of X universe a bit more.


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.

An add-on to X-MEN: SECOND COMING itself which was pretty impressive, this reprints X-MEN: HOPE set before Cable and his young charge make it back to the present, X-MEN: BLIND SCIENCE, X-MEN HELLBOUND #1-3 starring Illyana which blatantly nicks a line from Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES (it isn’t alone) and X-FACTOR #204-206.



X-Men: With Great Power h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Chris Bachalo…

…Comes responsibility for writing a decent story arc.

Did you learn nothing from Uncle Ben, Victor? Not even the appearance of the near omnipresent webbed wonder himself can save this story from being as dull as the sewers its set in. You know how sometimes you’ll read a story and it feels like the writer has trotted something out in two minutes flat as filler? Well, that’s kind of how all five issues of this felt to me. Even the Lizard, so compellingly written in the recent SPIDER-MAN: THE GAUNTLET VOL 5, is just completely one-dimensional here. This remains the weakest of X-titles for me by far.



Also Arrived

Reviews to follow but s/cs of previous h/cs like Revolver and h/cs of previous s/cs like SWAMP THING VOL 5 will already be up on site. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I finally got round to linking them so you can tell which they were? Brilliant! Only took me nine months and the last three seconds to think of that! If the typing goes pale, they are linked!

Oh, it’s only those two this week. Typical.

Everything Is Its Own Reward (£20-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna
Supergods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero h/c (£17-99, Jonathan Cape) by Grant Morrison
Shame vol 1: Conception (£7-50, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton
Scarlet vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 5 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala
Northlanders vol 5: Metal And Other Stories (£13-50, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli, Fiona Staples, Becky Cloonan
Revolver s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Matt Kindt
Fallen Angel: Return Of The Son (£13-50, IDW) by Peter David & J.K. Woodward
Flight vol 8 (£19-99, Villard) by various
Locke & Key vol 3: Crown Of Shadows s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key vol 4: Keys To The Kingdom h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Penny Arcade vol 7: Be Good, Little Puppy (£10-99, Del Rey) by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik
Kull vol 2: The Hate Witch (£11-99, Dark Horse) by David Lapham & Gabriel Guzman
X-Files / 30 Days Of Night (£13-50, DC) by Steve Niles, Adam Jones & Tom Mandrake
Halo: Blood Line s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Francis Portela
A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 4 (£14-99,  2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley
Green Arrow: Brightest Day – Into The Woods h/c (£16-99, DC) by J.T. Krul & Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew
Heroes For Hire vol 1: Control s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Robert Atkins
New X-Men vol 1 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Ethan Van Sciver, Igor Kordey, Frank Quitely
New X-Men vol 2 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Ethan Van Sciver, Leinil Yu, Frank Quitely
Wandering Son vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Shimura Takako
Monster Hunter Orage vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Negima!? Neo vol 7 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu & Takuya Fujima
Air Gear vol 18 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol 9 (£8-50) by Koji Kumeta & Koji Kumeta
Arata The Legend vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Yuu Watase
Chi’s Sweet Home vol 6 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata
Magic Knight Rayearth vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp
Blue Exorcist vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato
Higurashi vol 13: Eye Opening Arc vol 3 (£7-99, Yen) by Ryukishio7 & Yutori Houjyou

Currently undergoing what is technically known as New Mobile Phone Dysfunctionality Disorder. STOOPID for short. Jonathan took half an hour out of his life to tutor me today, but my former teachers in… well, every subject… will tell you just how much wasted effort that is.

Please don’t text me for 48 hours while I attempt to adjust.

 – Stephen x