Reviews July 2010 week two

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.

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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 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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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MAS

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.

SLH

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…

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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.

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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.

SLH

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?

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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!

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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.

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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:

http://www.comic-covers.com/Marvel/MarvelF-J/FantasticFour/imagepages/image26.html

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.

Caravaggio:

http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edavicara.htm

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.

LINK

SLH

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

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