Reviews July 2011 week four

 
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.

LINK

SLH

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.

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TR

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.

SLH

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.”

LINK

SLH

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]

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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.

LINK

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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.

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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.

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SLH

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.

SLH

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.

 LINK

 SLH

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

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