Archive for August, 2011

Reviews August 2011 week five

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Pure nonsensical Kung Fu heavenly radiance with a decaying aftertaste.

 – Jonathan on Infinite Kung-Fu

Love And Rockets: Esperanza (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez.

If whatever you’re doing isn’t doing it for you, then drop what you’re doing and pick up a book by Jaime Hernandez instead. Open any book, anywhere, and bask in its humour, humanity and art. It really is that accessible and will work every time. This, for example, is the perfect introduction for if Maggie, Hopey and Ray have history, well, so does everyone you meet for the first time. The fun is in finding it out.

Poor, sweet, put-upon Maggie! So kind, so generous, and such a soft touch: the things she’s roped into, then has to endure. Surrounded by so many crazies, it’s no wonder she’s plagued by a crippling self-doubt when the truth is she’s admired from afar. All she wants is the love of a good woman, the woman in question being Hopey. Instead she’s pursued by loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed trouble magnet Viv, a total liability who won’t go away. Or shut up. Or give up. If there’s a bar fight, Viv causes it, and she’s the bit on the side of vicious local crime thug Sid whose apartment she breaks into and steals from. He threatens her with a knife right in front of Maggie yet Viv brushes it off with bravado. One suspects she just loves the attention for she shoves off in a huff if ever that falters or fails.

That’s what makes Maggie’s old fling Ray her perfect lapdog. He lusts after Viv while still pining for Maggie, but with Viv he’s fallen into the sexless category of trusted friend so if anything happens it will only be the by-product of the foghorn’s volcanic mood swings. What it will do is embroil him deeper and more dangerously than Maggie in Viv’s relationship with Sid.

Those are the two main narrative threads from separate, complementary perspectives – each with its distinctive narrative style – which are interwoven here along with the daily routines of the orbiting cast who constantly pop up in the backgrounds. And I like that. They’re not random itinerants, but those with very real lives of their own. In addition there are snippets from barmaid-turned-teacher’s-assistant Hopey’s point of view which are decidedly at odds with everyone’s adoration of the punkstress who’s constantly asked after wherever Maggie goes, catastrophically for Maggie’s ego.

Hopey and Maggie are like inseparable magnets whose polarities seemed doomed to reverse and attract the wrong attention instead. Hopey’s relationship with Rosie, for example, isn’t half as intimate as it is with Maggie and we witness its sparkless, perfunctory demise even during foreplay. It begins with a casual statement that sounds like little more than their usual timetable troubles before the knowing resignation sets in.

“I’ll be gone before you get up tomorrow.”
“That’s right. You got a full day.”
“I won’t be here when you come home either.”
“I figured.”
“I mean for good.”
“I know.”

Tellingly, like so many other key chapters, it ends with an evening phone call between Hopey and Maggie instead. They just never seem to find the right words these days.

What should be made clear is that no one is getting any younger nor growing much wiser or at least more confident. Maggie in particular is beginning to look her middle age whilst being as voluptuous as ever, and it’s a testament to Jaime’s love of curvaceous lines and highlighted lipstick that she remains as classically attractive as ever. I’d be much surprised if Terry Moore’s Francine wasn’t directly inspired by Hernandez.

Which brings us to the core of the book in which Maggie is propelled back home to Hoppers (from which they all hail) by the arrival on her doorstep of church-hating Izzy who still sees the devil in every detail. Long vilified back home as a witch-woman, her house a target of vandalism, she appears to be barking. But this is the thing with both Bros Hernandez: there’s always an element of the supernatural fuelled by traditional superstition. There are shadows lurking in the doorways and black dogs standing on their two hind feet. Even Hopey sees one. And that entire sequence culminates in a monstrous act of arson made all the more arresting by its profound effect on Maggie.

There are a lot of tiny tears in this book, hidden like their hearts from others; but Jaime offsets these with moments of pure comedy just when they’re needed the most: the utterly vapid daytime chat show; Izzy going off the deep end, screaming round the empty swimming pool before falling in, surrounded by flies.

“I do believe I’m quite ready to go home now.”

So much of this book is about going back home: family habits that never die; neighbourhoods and friendships changing out of all recognition. But if the past is a foreign place, memories know few frontiers. They can, in fact, be relentless.



Some People (signed for free) (£2-00, self-published) by Luke Pearson.

“Christ… What is the matter with some people?”

Learned behaviour: fears and prejudices instilled in youth, some outgrown, some sadly not. It’s a full-colour tale told with elegant ingenuity as an all-inclusive relay race in which each runner sprints through the years only to hand the baton on during key brief encounters. With one central exception each is a poignantly sad vignette in its own right; but the thing about some track races is that the finishing line also doubles up as the starter’s block.

Now read it backwards.

Be good to each other.


Dull Ache (signed for free) (£3-00, self-published) by Luke Pearson.

“I keep thinking that life is just a series of beds. Each day is the journey from current bed to future bed. Even if it’s the same bed.
“Obviously there are obstacles and things that need to be overcome and dealt with on the way. But you do what you can to get to that cosy checkpoint.
“Your daily save point. Home plate. ‘Den’.”

A collection of autobiographical comics, finished design work and exuberant sketchbook pages bursting with energy, enthusiasm and craft, it’s an early insight into Pearson’s own influences – Jordan Crane, Kevin Huizenga etc. – and I love the looseness of it all.

You may already know Luke from the cover to SOLIPSISTIC POP VOL 2.

Ever astute on the observational front, Luke’s right about the bed. Another base passed, I’m closer to my home plate now.


My Cardboard Life (signed for free) (£10-00, My Cardboard Books) by Philippa Rice.

Paper, scissors, stoned!

Who could fail to fall for a book as riddled with mischief as this? It’s a gloriously simple set up which plays with its raw materials with childlike glee, yet a lot of lateral thinking.

Basic ingredients: corrugated cardboard, paper, cloth, wool and the occasional piece of string; chocolate coins, real coins, tin foil and a sticking plaster. Nothing tricksier than that. Pen at the ready; Tippex on standby.

Recipe: take your basic materials, turn them into two-dimensional characters, then photograph the poor things as you put them through the wringer. Also through a hole puncher, and more emotional trauma than you can imagine. Poor Cardboard Colin gets his heart ripped out – quite literally at one point just so Pauline can make sweet music. Clever, clever, clever.

One of my favourite gags began, “Colin, I’m gonna punch your lights out.” Can you guess the next panel?

Bonus material includes a family tree (it’s where they all came from – ba-dum!), original layout sketches, and three-dimensional tableaux including a miniature comicbook convention alley and comics which will be very familiar to those shopping here!


Malinky Robot: Collected Stories & Other Bits (£12-99) by Sonny Liew.

Enchanting collection of whimsical street-urchin shenanigans now coloured in a distinctly Arthur Rackham fashion which works particularly well over pencils. Some of these originally appeared as one-shot periodicals, others in anthologies like Flight and Liquid City, and you if you knew Liew already from RE-GIFTERS or WONDERLAND, you’ve still not seen anything quite like this.

For a start the languid pacing is perfect for those idle days of youth spent shambling round the suburbs of a far from futuristic city still harbouring a sprawling conglomeration of densely packed, two-story, independently owned businesses decked with awnings, A-signs and fabric banners and linked by a cat’s cradle of telegraph wires. There’s plenty of concrete conurbation in evidence but the bullies and the bulldozers of Beijing have yet to arrive to flatten the fun and the fortunes of so many in favour of the high-rise and no skies. Even its more metropolitan hotspots are relatively subdued.

So it is that there are breaks, mid-chapter, for the occasional standalone snapshot: a pause like that for a landscape photograph; an asterisk between prose passages; a moment to straddle your bicycle while you unfold and check your map.

If there are any elements of sci-fi then they are decidedly lo-fi; and my favourite passages are those devoted to Mr. Nabisco’s diminutive domestic robot so quaint that Atari and Oliver – our two tykes in residence – demote him in status to that of a household appliance. He does seem so simple, but when abandoned at a bar in the outer skirts of town following the drunken revelry of a New Year’s Eve, he has to make his own way back. Onward he valiantly trundles, solo but stoical and pausing to ask for directions. He gets lost. He watches friends holding hands and acknowledges their love; he puzzles over landmarks, stops to head a football, and even pauses to admire the leafy reflections on a tranquil urban canal. It’s almost like Taniguchi’s WALKING MAN!

Here’s one of the book’s more involved constituent parts reviewed by Tom:

Long-suffering street urchins Atari and Oliver “borrow” a pair of bikes and cycle far out of town to visit their friend Misha. Over a McDonell’s (sic), conversation turns to local character Mr. Bon Bon. Each kid’s version of events surrounding Bon Bon is depicted as a different genre of comic, each reflecting not just the kids’ different stages of maturity but also their understanding of events. Misha’s tale of a shrill hack who built his success on the back of Mr. Bon Bon’s invention, the cantilever gear system, is like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil if it was published in Japanese underground comic GARU. Atari views him as a bike-riding, corporation-smashing vigilante DOCTOR MIDNITE, dishing out sage advice whilst pummelling corporate muscle. Oliver’s side is told as a children’s newspaper comics supplement. Underneath the parodies of CALVIN & HOBBES (Ming & Mange) and The Farside (a chicken on one side of a road shouts to a kid on a bike on the other “Oh Yeah? Why don’t you come on over and make me?!”) we learn why Mr. Bon Bon isn’t married anymore, and the tragic part he played in his own son’s death. 

Liew keeps this all pinned down with a dark-humoured but child-like sensibility. If Marc Hempel and Miyazaki collaborated, it would feel very much like this. His central characters, Atari and Oliver, take life one day at a time and if it doesn’t work out – hey, there’s always tomorrow.



Castro (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist…

Truly excellent biography of the Máximo Líder from Kleist, told using the conceit of it all being viewed through the eyes of the character Karl Mertens, a journalist who comes to Cuba in the Batista era to try and interview the then guerrilla Castro after reading an (historically real) interview by Herbert Matthews which appeared in the New York Times. Mertens quickly falls in love with Cuba, and also one of Castro’s fighters Lara, and thus is converted to the cause as easily as his heart is won over.

The work neatly and intelligently documents Castro’s younger years as a boy, showing the formative years that undoubtedly playing a massive part in shaping Castro the man. Then the early struggles fighting hit and run out of the jungle against the Batista regime propped up by the US, through to the heady heights of the early days of the revolution, and then the slow but steady decline of the communist state as US sanctions gradually destroyed Cuba’s economy little by little. And throughout all the armed struggles against the regime and then afterwards as proud leader of his country, Kleist highlights the unbowed resolve of Castro to stand up to the perceived tyranny of the giant on his doorstep.

A well balanced and objective work, complimented with passionate art, Kleist has succeeded in producing an appropriately captivating biography of one of the most charismatic and fascinating leaders of the 20th Century.



Infinite Kung Fu (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Kagan McLeod…

“What do you see?”
“Nothing, master! I’ve been blindfolded for days. I see nothing!”
“Of course you see nothing with your eyes. They’re covered. I’m asking you to see in a different way. What do you see?”
“Black! Just black!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, black. Black and small smears of colour. I’m finally losing my mind.”
“You have achieved your goal, turn around.”
“I’ve taught you to see with your Kung Fu… in addition to using your eyes.”

Pure nonsensical Kung Fu heavenly radiance with a decaying aftertaste. It’s martial arts mayhem meets zombie hordes meet blaxploitation funk in a fusion of more styles than you’ll find in the entire 36 chambers of Shaolin! Fans of TOKYO ZOMBIES, which had a similar-ish premise, will know exactly what they’re getting and no doubt whole (or half-eaten) heartedly approve. But whereas that was a mere novella this is a veritable Saturday afternoon triple-bill epic at over 450 pages. Indeed this work has exactly that unique and foolish charm of the truly outstanding Kung Fu comedy films like Kung Fu Hustle.

Yang Lei Kung is our archetypical naive Kung Fu hero, set an almost impossible quest by the eight Immortals to destroy the evil Emperor, whose use of the forbidden poison Kung Fu techniques to reanimate corpses makes him a near-impossible foe to defeat. Except for someone who is prepared to undergo an arduous ordeal whilst evermore growing in confidence and Kung Fu ability of course!

INFINITE KUNG FU is a truly fun work with glorious, almost calligraphic black and white art. It’s extremely well written too, with a real depth of plot, some hilarious heroes and of course the requisite cackling, posturing pantomime villains who are just begging for a Swaying Palm Slap to the side of the head…



Bouncer h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & François Boucq…

This is probably Jodorowsky’s finest work in comics outside of Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart and the soon to be re-released THE INCAL for me. And yet, because it’s not illustrated by Moebius it strangely doesn’t receive the same sort of acclaim. It’s certainly not metaphysical, psychological or even psychedelic in nature like those two works, or indeed his surreal cowboy film El Topo, but BOUNCER is definitely one of the finest Western genre stories in comic form.

More Deadwood in style then, full of ornery characters and insalubrious saloons, BOUNCER retells the classic cowboy story of a man of mysterious origins, standing apart from his fellow citizens, both by his choice and theirs. A man of few friends, but no shortage of enemies. A man of a certain moral compass, despite living a debauched whisky drenched life, that’s inevitably bound to point him firmly in the direction of trouble, sooner or later.

BOUNCER has all the required elements for the perfect Western story: of greed and wrongs to be righted, innocent victims suffering horrifically at the hands of swinish brutes, and above all, one man prepared to do whatever it takes, no matter the personal cost, to make sure evil doesn’t prevail. And as mentioned, whilst the art isn’t by Moebius, don’t be put off from taking a peak through these swinging saloon doors, because Francois Boucq’s ligne claire is equally as beautiful and lustily, dustily coloured too in an appropriately vibrant sun-drenched manner.



Spirit Of Hope (£14-99, The Comic Book Alliance) by various.

“Right now I’m not sure what to think.”

Benefit books, I would have thought, are tricky numbers to contribute to; the bigger the disaster the more difficult it must to convey your concern appropriately, and the devastation wrought by the Japanese tsunami on March 2011 was and remains on a scale barely conceivable before it actually happened.

So it’s Liam Sharp’s more oblique approach which for me is easily the finest contribution, set as it is around Finsbury Park, and one man’s several encounters with an old woman of Eastern origin, possibly homeless and certainly lost.

“Have you seen my children? They were amongst the trees…”

Over and again, in spite of his best efforts to avoid her by ducking in newsagents for cigarettes he doesn’t need, she calls after him:

“Please, they were amongst the trees…”

Told in a confessional first-person narrative with a sepia-tinted photorealism, it’s a haunting three-pager which proves Sharp to be every bit as fine a writer and he is an impressive artist.

Other contributors include Glenn Dakin, Gary Spencer Millidge, Donna Barr, Al Davison, Nick Abadzis, Darick Robertson, Si Spencer, Mark Buckingham, Chris Weston, Rich Johnston, Gary Erskine and so many generous souls more.



The Comics Journal #301 (£22-50, Fantagraphics) featuring Robert Crumb and much, much more.

“All my previous works look crude to me now.”

Over six hundred pages of interviews, reviews and overviews, and straight out of the starting block Robert Crumb is on top form.

The interview concentrates on his most recent achievement, THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED, but in doing so Crumb talks about his brand-new approach to storytelling there: illustrating the text straight yet without what he calls the “schmaltzy” flourishes of Michelangelo and Doré, and learning to draw figures for the very first time without faking it.

Crumb also talks about the, err, genesis of Genesis then its evolution in the oral tradition before being adopted as a sacred text and polluted, deadened by doctrine, to the point where so much of it is left unread. He rightly points out that this new illustrated version has helped some readers make it through the entire text for the first time, while he’s also received complaints from some quarters that illustrating the book has robbed its readers of the fun of using their own imagination. Okay, so read it in the Bible instead; at least you have the other option now. Crumb emphasises that there’s no snide visual commentary, nothing satirical at all: that he treated the text if not with reverence (for it’s the word of man – well, men; many men – not God) then at least with meticulous respect, before moving onto his own religious perspective and working practices.

Anyway, you don’t want to read me, you want to read Crumb: go for it.

The other big conversations here are between Joe Sacco and Gary Groth following Sacco’s magnificent Footnotes In Gaza – both Hardcover and Softcover still in print), and Al Jaffee (MAD MAGAZINE) and Michael Kupperman (TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE etc.), plus there’s a lovely Jim Woodring sketch section, and a lot of reviews.

I don’t read COMICS JOURNAL reviews, on the whole, because I either made up my own mind about a book two years previously when writing my own (boy, have their printed reviews been traditionally tardy!); or, when they’re now posted freshly online, because I still want to make my own mind up without pandering to popular opinion or risk being accused of plagiarism. But I did dip into the retrospective of CEREBUS which contained much of merit even when it became a retrospective of Dave Sim himself. I can sympathise with a lot of what was written but no I’m not going to go through it blow by blow because I do not have time and I’ve stated my own salient sentiments about the books’ brilliance and several shortcomings without meandering off-topic and into the realms of conjecture as this does.

But I do read COMICS JOURNAL because it’s almost always the receptacle for the finest interviews with each writer and artist in comics. Full of strangely old-fashioned advertisements, though.

[Editor’s note: if you want my own assessment of CEREBUS you can follow the trail here: Cheers!]



Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Charles Biro, Bob Wood, various…

Although it certainly did for Messrs. Lev Gleason, Charles Biro and Bob Wood with their long-running crime comic of the same name. By today’s standards of CRIMINAL etcetera, this does now inevitably look relatively unsophisticated and a touch tame, but at the time in the 40’s and 50’s it was easily the leader in the genre, and was much imitated by myriad competitors eager for a slice of the action.

Their formula was simple, cram in as much violence as acceptably possible whilst often aping current headlines for plots, and there’s no certainly doubt that their all-action style influenced the likes of Stan Lee. The art is again, very much of its time, with a colour palette that seems to consist almost entirely of primary colours, with just for the occasional change, the odd secondary colour thrown in for good measure. But that only serves to add to feverish intensity of the strips in a way.

This is possibly one purely for aficionados perhaps, but certainly of merit nonetheless. I probably should also add that for Bob Wood, life rather did begin to imitate art somewhat, for not long after serving time at Sing Sing for beating his lover to death with an iron after an eleven-day drinking binge, he himself was murdered and dumped by the roadside in New Jersey. So perhaps crime doesn’t pay after all.



Hellblazer: Bloody Carnations (£14-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Giuseppe Camuncoli & Stefano Landini, Simon Bisley…

“I wanted to know, why her? What’s so special?”
“Before we continue, I want you to remember that you’re the one that left me.”
“Aye, I remember.”
“All right. An illustration. The other day Epiphany found the decapitated head of a succubus in my fridge.”
“Oh my God.”
She didn’t flinch. She was interested. See, I don’t feel I have to… to hide anything from her.”
“You mean like you did with me?”
“Like I did with you. I love her. I loved you too… but I love her differently. More.”
“Break it to a girl gently why don’t you?”

And so the unthinkable finally comes to pass for John Constantine as there’s wedding bells in the air. Of course, John being John, it wouldn’t be quite so simple as for the bride and groom to show up on time, enjoy a beautiful day surrounded by friends and family, with the prospect of then living happily ever after would it now? No… in fact, it’s that last point that has the denizens of down below rather concerned as a happy Constantine would not be good for their business at all. And so it’s time for the first of many old acquaintances of John’s, friends and foes alike, to make an appearance in this volume, to set a delectably devious plan in motion to ensure Constantine won’t make it to the church on time. Well, not the right Constantine at least…

Milligan is still on fine form here as he runs John ragged in his attempts to understand what the hell, or maybe more precisely, who the hell is happening to him, and also gives Epiphany chance to get to know John a little better… the 1979 version that is, with a most unfortunate time travelling magic trip courtesy of another of those guest appearances (and Milligan creation soon to be seen in Justice League Dark) in the form of Shade the Changing Man. He’s mad, he is.


The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures h/c (£22-50, IDW) by Dave Stevens.

Aerial action-adventure with a pulpy core, and if you’ve enjoyed the recent revamp by the likes of Busiek and Cassady you will love the original. You can see exactly why Mike Allred would be such a fan: set in the late 1930s, it’s the sort of rocket-fuelled retro you used to find in the dailies but with the lushest of art as recently seen in STEVENS: COMPLETE STUDIES & SKETCHES h/c. Stevens was absolutely besotted with 1950s glamour model Bettie Page as much as Frank Cho was evidently besotted by her overt casting here as the Rocketeer Cliff Secord’s love interest, though it’s a very bumpy ride.

Constantly caught between the pressures of her career and the tempers of her suitors, she spends most of her time lost in torn contemplation as Cliff’s own actions or certainly reactions complicate things further. Cliff, you see, has a rocket-pack he’s only just learning how to handle, and that makes him a target of those who covet it most: those in want of weapons for impending war.

There’s a softness that sits on the top of Stevens’ exceptional figure work that I’d liken to mid-period Gary Frank, and I’d much surprised if Paul Chadwick wasn’t a fan as well. Laura Martin’s colours are, as always, perfect – so full of light – and you may be interested to learn that there was some early art assistance from Jaime Hernandez(!) as well as Geoff Darrow, Art Adams and Michael Kaluta amongst others.



Silver Surfer: Devolution s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Segovia, Talibao, Coello.

A brand new direction for Galactus’ former herald as he campaigns for Cornwall’s autonomy in the year 2017. But can a county whose income is generated solely from harbourside paintings and clotted cream teas really sustain itself in such a fractured economy?

Greg Pak has researched the Welsh and Scottish experiences meticulously – the Scottish idealism in particular informed by a deep-rooted resentment of Westminster rule which cannot help but rose-tint their glasses at the prospect of finally being free – and extrapolated from that a convincing scenario in which Cornwall discovers to its cost that the grass is not always greener on the other side of a newly formed national boundary.

Caution: there really are no skyscrapers in Porthtowan.



FF vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson.

“And then I began to wonder why exactly all those villains are in my house. What would scare them as much as it would scare us…? What have you been hiding from me?”
“Oh Susan…”
“What’s happened, Reed?”
“I’ve done something terrible.”

So many secrets. So much left half-said!

The curtain rises for a fresh start, but in so many ways it’s merely the second act of a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre whose first four books were bursting with dramatic irony which now plays itself out as each family member finally comes clean, but only when they’re finally found out! By that time, of course, it’s a little too late to mend as four familiar forces have been unleashed upon this world and set about acquiring the resources they need to leave it – not in one piece, either.

The Fantastic Four are no more. The family is one man down, and some of them are coping better than others. Wracked with guilt, Ben Grimm has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm’s nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But as the famous ‘4’ emblem is taken solemnly from their wall, Reed Richards takes Johnny’s holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and asks Spider-Man to join their endless quest to build a better world.

It’s Johnny’s sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they’re now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards and brainstorming to solve problems with their fresh new perspectives. For that Peter’s perfect, and Reed’s child-prodigy daughter Valeria has a knack of not only finding solutions but identifying the problems in the first place. And then she just causes some more. She’s discovered what her bad Dad’s been up to (see FANTASTIC FOUR volumes one, two, three and Four), exacerbated his mistake and so made a deal with the devil, Victor von D himself. Doom can’t resist either her singular challenge (once more, the irony!) nor her offer of assistance for he has lost a part of his mind. Fortunately his brain is at least structurally sound, so what they need is a backup.

I can’t tell you how cleverly that’s played – Valeria and ‘Uncle’ Doom are an exquisite double-act; she fearless, he constantly surprised – because it requires Steve Epting’s superb, deadpan comedic timing. His art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot.

Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, third-generation unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter’s case, a spider. He’s very much a guest. He’s not the only guest, either. Richards’ father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, and then there are those invited by Reed to Doctor Doom’s unprecedented symposium in the Baxter building. Each attendee has been psychologically enhanced by Hickman, one for example with a born-again fervour and another, the Mad Thinker, finally living up to his name. Here he is doing Spider-Man’s nut in:

“An invitation. An invitation! It’s the opening move of the greatest of games – Ask yourself, who’s the opponent, what does he want? Is this his first move, or simply an orchestration to reveal who his opponents are… Oh, so very tricky. An invitation… what could it possibly mean?”
“I think it means you’re invited.”
Mmmmmaahhhh! No. No. No. No! Foolish pawn. Foolish pawn that doesn’t even know that he’s a piece… Oh, oh… Or maybe you’re something more. Maybe so. Yes, maybe I can use this. You’re probably not even aware of how much he’s given away by sending you… So, reveal all. Tell me – and don’t try and think it over, as I need an untainted, primary response – tell me, what should I do?”
“Oh… I would prefer that you stay at home. Maybe take a bath… Maybe brush your teeth.”
“That’s it! That’s it – I accept the invitation!!”
“… Of course you do.”

You can spot a Jonathan Hickman design element in everything he writes, regardless of whether he’s the artist as he was on NIGHTLY NEWS. So it’s been with SECRET WARRIORS, S.H.I.E.L.D., and now the double-page credit sequence here of a sun rising behind planet Earth, radiating its white light across the vast blue reaches of space inside the new FF logo. There’s also a deliriously beautiful cover perfectly capturing the spirit of high adventure.


Here are Hickman’s four previous books in the series:


Captain America: Prisoner Of War h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, Chris Samnee, more.

The Trial Of Captain America didn’t pan out as anyone expected, leaving Bucky Barnes prisoner in a Russian Gulag and at the mercy of so many former foes he doesn’t even know he crossed paths with as the Winter Soldier. But it’s not just the freezing death matches he has to endure, performing for the sadistic pleasure of the other inmates: it’s a system and country so riddled with corruption that trying to follow the convoluted and compromised red tape back to its true source is proving a nightmare for Sharon Carter and the Black Widow. Natasha, however, has one key advantage: she herself is a product of Soviet training and deep-seated indoctrination, and she knows a lot of the players invisible to others on a board that doesn’t officially exist. But she herself is going to have to go off the radar to unravel the mystery and extricate Barnes to give Steve Rogers plausible deniability. And even then, he’d be a fugitive not just from Russia but from America itself.

So where does that leave Bucky Barnes? Where does it leave Steve Rogers?

Oh my word, but this one is a mind-melt of political and prison power play, never mind counter-espionage and it leads one massive time bomb in its wake: just like Wolverine wasn’t the only weapon built by Project X, the Winter Soldier isn’t the only agent sleeping in America.

The central artists do a cracking job of illustrating an environment so harsh it’s hellish, so cold and bleak you can almost feel your own skin tearing on the ice, and all power to Bettie Breitweiser on a colour palette that will give you frostbite. There are many more artists on the back-up strips like Pauls Grist and Azaceta, Howard Chaykin too, and an interview with Ed and Butch in the back.

To be continued… in FEAR ITSELF.


Carnage: Family Feud h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain.

Clayton Crain’s art, particularly but not exclusively on the symbiotes, resembles life after the skin’s been removed: all muscle and sinew rubbed in oil. It’d be awful for romance but perfect for carnage and Carnage is what you’ll eventually get. Before that it’s something else that’s in swinging pursuit of an armoured vehicle: something with six arms and eyes in a Spider-Man costume that attracts the attention of Iron Man and Spidey. Tom mentioned something about this harking back to MAXIMUM CARNAGE. I really couldn’t say.


New Avengers vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike Deodato, Howard Chaykin.

“Bobbi, can you hear me?! It’s Dr. Strange… Can you hear my voice?”

The casual and cackle-worthy jokes over breakfast halt abruptly halfway through this book as something for the team goes horribly wrong.

Parenthetically: back in Cuba 1959 then across the globe, Nick Fury’s hunting Nazi fugitives and scouting for aid in a Presidentially declared Avengers Initiative whose recruits are a frankly bizarre mob including Sabretooth. They’re after the Red Skull’s most recent innovation whose repercussions will be felt today and, I would have thought, in subsequent chapters too.

However, all eyes are focussed here on Victoria Hand, whom Steve Rogers handpicked as the team’s their liaison in spite of her previous role in Norman Osborn’s national security organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.. It’s a resurgent cell of that now quite illegal terrorist network which the team have been staking out, tipped off to it by Victoria herself. But if you thought the Spider-Woman subplot which ran from Bendis’ original NEW AVENGERS vol 1: BREAKOUT was sly, this is going to make your mind melt. Suspicious from the word go, the team is split as to whether to trust her with Steve Rogers’ word on the one side and Spider-Man’s understandable but overt prejudice on the other. Within this book alone there follows reversal after reversal. You really won’t know who is playing whom until the final punchline which is deftly delivered in a single image.

Meanwhile back on the bitumen:

“She’s not going to make it.”


DC Comics Presents JLA: Heaven’s Ladder (£5-99, DC) by Mark Waid & Bryan Hitch.

Long-lost treasure for fans of THE ULTIMATES with a space ship whose scale will stagger you! I can only begin to picture Paul Neary’s face when he received the pencils to the double-page spread of pages four and five. “Here, ink that!”

Some readers are going to prefer this new, regular American comic-sized format with its back-up bonus (as if one were necessary!) of GREEN LANTERN #1,000,000 at just £5-99 but I own the original at twice the size and we have, at the time of typing, one spectacular copy left here:


Resident Evil (£14-99, DC) by Ricardo Sanchez & Jheremy Raapack, Kevin Sharpe, Al Barrionuevo.

Can I just apologise to any customers I served with a croaky throat recently? Every time I said “Thank you” I sounded like the cowled arms dealer from Resident Evil 4. I hope you went away with suitable upgrades and not some enormous floppy fish. Where you stash your missile launcher and medicinal ‘erbs is entirely up to you.

This is RESIDENT EVIL vol 2, by the way, even though it’s mentioned nowhere on the cover. I’d ask J-Boy to change its title on our website, but then we’d just confuse ourselves when picking it from the shelves once you’ve bought it!



Fresh In & Online Right Now

Bone: 20th Anniversary Full Colour One Volume Collector’s Box Set (£250-00, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith
The Crow: Special Edition (£16-99, Titan) by James O’Barr
Any Empire h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Nate Powell
Chimichanga h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell
The Last Dragon h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay
Frazetta: The Definitive Frazetta Reference s/c (£22-50, Vanguard) by Frank Frazetta
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? vol 5 h/c (£18-99, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker
Infestation vol 2 (£14-99, IDW) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Erik Burnham, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Casey Maloney, Gary Eskine, Kyle Hotz, David Messina
Green River Killer h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case
Sandman vol 6: Fables & Reflections (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Kent Williams, P Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, John Watkiss, Shawn McManus
Turf h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Jonathan Ross & Tommy Lee Edwards
Batman: Mad Love And Other Stories s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini & various
Thunderbolts Ultimate Collection: Ellis & Deodato s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato
Annihilators h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Tan Eng Huat, Timothy Green II
Essential Web Of Spider-Man vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco, Peter David, David Michelinie, Ann Nocenti & Greg Larocque, Jim Mooney, Vince Colletta, Mike Harris Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Tony Salmons
Invincible Iron Man vol 8: Unfixable h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Salvador Larocca, John Romita Jr., Andrea Mutti
X-Men: Phoenix Rising s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Chris Claremont & John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Bolton, Mike Collins
Wolverine vol 1: Wolverine Goes To Hell s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Renato Guedea, Jason Latour, Steven Sanders, Michael Gaydos, Jamie McKelvie
Eden vol 13 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroki Endo
Drifters vol 1 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano
Itazura Na Kiss vol 6 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada
Full Metal Alchemist Omnibus vols 4-6 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiromu Arakawa
Monster Hunter Orage vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol 10 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Koji Kumeta
Airgear vol 19 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great
Vagabond vol 10 VIZBIG (£14-99, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue

Thank you for reading if you got this far. Bloody enormous this week, eh? Next week we have an exceptional review of the new book on Alan Moore by Gary Spencer Millidge from Matt Green who lectures at Nottingham University. I’d have published it this week, only he makes my own writing look rubbish – just like the spider in my bath.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 – the first of DC’s 52 new #1s – by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee also arrived today. Thankfully the speculators – those vile cretins who snap up multiple copies in order to minimise access and then charge a fortune themselves – failed to appear so we still have a few dozen for actual readers to give it a try, and bless those of you we saw today for doing so.

Are you a speculator? Please venture into the middle of the road to evaluate oncoming traffic.

 – Stephen

Reviews August 2011 week four

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Macabre and mysterious neo-Victorian fantasy, with speech balloons that glide and slide surreally round the panels. Think Donna Barr in a secret passage full of cobwebs and bats! Kate Bush or Danielle Dax lost alone in the woods!

– Stephen on Meatcake.

The Odyssey s/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gareth Hinds.

A summer sunshine joy, brought to watercolour light and rammed to the bucolic pens with so many of your favourite mythological beasts and best-avoided landmarks, this is by far the most faithful and engaging adaptation of Homer’s epic fantasy into comic form so far. Even though its source is an amalgam of prior translations merely consulted rather than adhered to, by maintaining the vast majority of its rhetorical devices and structure Hinds gives one a very keen sense of what it’s like to actually read the original, yet without the constant threat of being biffed about the head for misconstruing a salient subclause. Even with my wine-addled memory (compounded perhaps by said biffing and banging) I recognised the odd phrase like “pressed in on all sides” as an exact reproduction.

Following the events of the Ilyiad (see Eric Shanower’s remarkable Age Of Bronze), this kicks off right in the middle of things with Odysseus now missing for seventeen years while his son Telemachus impotently seethes at the jackals circling his mother Penelope. Convinced that Odysseus is dead, over a hundred of these overtly hostile and ill-mannered apes seek Penelope’s hand in marriage while eating her out of house and home. Odysseus, meanwhile, has been marooned on an island by Poseidon for poking his son’s singular eye out with a stick (the biggest injury to eye in any fiction) and, with no means of escape, has been lying in thrall to the sea-nymph Calypso.

If nature abhors a vaccuum then narrative abhors a lack of much happening; as does Zeus who gives the chessboard a good old godly nudge by dispatching Hermes to demand that Calypso free Odysseus and set him out to sea, while Athena journeys to Ithaca in the first of several guises to prompt Telemachus to sail off in search of his Dad. Alas, Odysseus’s make-shift raft is ill-equipped to endure the further wrath of Poseidon, but at least the pieces are once more in play and the journeys have once more begun.

For Homer, it’s all about the art of rhetoric: about telling stories and speaking well. Odysseus knows the rules and is well versed in its craft. He is therefore well received because of it. Also because he arrives in the form of a beggar which, as all civilised hosts understand, means he comes with the protection of Zeus. What damns the vulpine suitors back in Ithaca later on – in the eyes of both reader and gods – is that they fail to honour that tradition when Odysseus makes it home in disguise (oh yes, it’s all about disguise as well) as just such a beggar. But I digress.

With much still ahead of him, it is only now that Odysseus has a rapt audience in the form of King Alcinoos and his court that we begin to learn of the perils he endured before washing up on the beautiful shores of Calypso: the land of the Lotus Eaters; the cannabalism of the shepherd cyclops; the generosity of King Aeolus whose favourable wind almost got the crew home; the ram-headed Laestrygonians; the metamorphic enchantments of Queen Circe; the sirens, Scylla and Charybdis; and, just before them, one hell of a desperate journey in search of the great seer Tiresias who is, unfortunately, deceased. That’s not going to put a seasoned sailor like Odysseus off: next stop, Land of the Dead.

It’s there that Tiresias foretells two possible futures: if they muster enough self-restraint to leave the cattle of sun god Helios alone they will all return safely to Ithaca; or – or – in the unlikely event that one amongst them succumbs to temptation and kills a cow… well, let’s just say the repercussions are long, detailed, pretty damn dire and tie-in directly with everything we’ve learned to date. Guess what happens next? And once again, they’d almost made it home!

That’s another of the key themes here: discipline, self-restraint and honouring promises versus disloyalty, greed and self-serving hedonism. Also, not just good manners (though much esteemed) but the importance of genuine good will.

What you have to remember, of course, is that most of the above happened before the first page and there is a very long journey of faith and endurance yet to come if Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus are ever to be reunited and free from the ravages of the younger generation that have been feeding like locusts on Odysseus’s land in his absence.

My hat’s off to Hinds: the ancient Greek landscapes here are full of soft light, cool colour and so much space that you can almost breathe the pastoral air. I like the blue haze that surrounds Athena whatever form she takes, and his Odysseus is far from the two-dimensional grandstander he’d be cast as in Hollywood. In order to travel these nautical miles in his shoes you have to experience his fear, fragility, doubts and very real horror at what has become of his family and one particular household pet. The odds are stacked as far up against him as they were against Hinds when it came to gaining my favour; but I’m now going to be reading his Beowulf and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE as quick as I can, and maybe revisit KING LEAR.



Meatcake s/c restocks (16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dame Darcy with Alan Moore.

Macabre and mysterious neo-Victorian fantasy, with speech balloons that glide and slide surreally round the panels. Truly there are few creators as magnificently individualistic as Dame Darcy. Think Donna Barr in a secret passage full of cobwebs and bats! Kate Bush or Danielle Dax lost alone in the woods!

In 2003 Mark previewed this very collection in hardcover form thus:

“I love people who draw and write as if no one matters but themselves. Selfish storytelling, done for their own obsessions and somehow leaked out into the world for the occasional sympathetic eye to wander over. If Edward Gorey had a sickly daughter who refused to live in, and was possibly allergic to, the 20th Century (okay, she’s probably felt a little better in the last three years) she would look and draw like the singular Dame Darcy. Willowy, kohl-eyed waifs summoning up the energy to pine for a similarly insubstantial beau, identical twins, ghost girls, animal-headed ne’er-do-wells all live here in the woods. A keepsake collection of the best of the first decade including the collaboration with Alan Moore. Darcy followed in Melinda Gebbie’s tailored satin footwear by drawing the ever-slinky Cobweb stories for Alan’s TOMORROW STORIES. Here she brings more attic-creaky, two-headed girl freak stories littered with romantic Victorian prose and consumptive females. Characters named Perfida and Hindrance are not to be passed over.”

Speaking of Cobweb, here’s a one-page rhyme which is equally louche when you see the gorgeous tease of the final panel with its protagonist wagging her finger at you:

“Shocking, shocking, shocking!
 A mouse ran up my stocking!
 When it got to my knee, oh what did it see?!
 Shocking, shocking, shocking!”



WE3 Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.

I count ten brand-new story pages: four in the first chapter adding an unexpected angle to Doctor Berry’s immediate and very recent homelife; two in the final chapter before ***** bites the dust; and four more later on in the construction site which will have your heart pounding before you realise the act of aggression’s true intent. More on the extras in second after two paragraphs of actual content…

Not for the first time Morrison questions man’s less than honourable relationship with animals, and this time goes for the jugular as a dog, a cat and a rabbit – household pets on which we as a civilised species traditionally lavish profound affection in the home, yet which we are perfectly content to have experimented upon in order that shampoo should taste like tropical fruit juice – are converted into abominable military hardware, their brains drilled deep with wires, their limbs encased in weapon-stuffed armour, their instincts vocalised as simplistic text messages. Then the project is threatened with termination. One scientist finds sympathy (not when she was sawing skulls off, this may be vanity speaking instead) and unwittingly unleashes three ferocious killing machines who won’t be stopped in their quest to find their way back to their original homes and owners.

Every now and then a comic comes along that’s so different it takes your breath away, and this is the latest. Morrison and Quitely have a long history and a big reputation, yet here, staggeringly, they hit overdrive on what is at heart a simple tale, but in execution a riveting, emotionally traumatic, visually mind-blowing tour de force which will swiftly head your list of “Comics To Buy My Friends Who Don’t Read Comics”. Quitely’s panels-within-panels are insanely detailed, perfectly positioned and merciless in their content. I cannot think of a single customer who wouldn’t be thoroughly affected by this. You might not thank me for the recommendation when you start reading, but I recommend it all the same, if only to leave you feeling distressed, disgusted and perhaps a little ashamed. That’s okay, I’m with you on that.

In addition to the ten new story pages, this edition features a twenty-eight-page sketchbook in which Morrison & Quitely explain their reasoning and design work behind the logo (dog collar disc / military name-tag melting in an act of liberation), the insanely detailed “animal-time” panels, some of them suspended then rotated for the cat to jump through (that double-page spread is an innovation of pure beauty!), the armour itself, the three front covers, and the unique physical artefact behind the six-page surveillance camera sequence which Quitely’s family nearly binned by mistake! All of which are revelations that reaffirm one’s love of creators who think outside the box about what they’re putting on a page, why, and how.



Softcover still available here:


Vertigo Resurrected: Jonny Double (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

From the creators of the outstanding 100 BULLETS, this is everything SIN CITY never quite became, a jaw-dropping urban crime thriller in which the paranoia becomes as infectious as the adrenaline rush.

Low-rent P.I. Jonny Double signs on to check up on Faith, the wayward daughter of Mr. Hart. He doesn’t mind that she won’t conform, but to him her recent decisions seem to have been made with the sole intention of pissing him off. When Jonny finds her drinking at a bar, the crowd she’s hanging with turn out to be both ambitious and stupid, which is a dangerous combination. Through the internet they’ve found a dormant account with $300,000 inside, belonging to an Al Brown, one of Al Capone’s aliases. And he’s dead. They’ve also been able to electronically forge all the credentials necessary for an Al Brown Jr. to walk through the door and relieve the bank of its duty. Naturally Jonny has absolutely no intention of being this Al Brown Jr., but Faith is very… persuasive.

Okay, so far, so good. You don’t expect it to work, though, do you? It works. It works better than they’d imagined, because Jonny comes out with a suitcase containing seven million bucks. Only one problem: the account was active.

The next three quarters of the book spiral out of control as the group disintegrates. People start turning up dead, Jonny receives threatening photographs of him and Faith, and then some severed hands in a brown paper bag, before getting the crap kicked out of him in a nightclub toilet. Apart from the consistently stylish renderings of Mr. Risso, the best thing about this book is Azzarello’s cunningly persuasive monologue through which you can’t help but see everything from Double’s knowing perspective.

Originally a fully fledged graphic novel at over ten quid, this is exceptional value for money.



Transmetropolitan vol 10: One More Time new edition (£14-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson.

“Get me to a keyboard. I feel the power moving in me once more.”

And so we come to the final broadcast of this deliciously nasty little socio-political sci-fi satire. The sci-fi bit means it’s set in the future to comment on the present, extrapolate from it, and serve up a plethora of designer drugs, technological developments and foul-mouthed tirades. The socio-political aspect means it stars an activist in the future written by one of the finest in the present. It’s about the power of journalism, the necessity for rebellion, and the humour to be gleaned from a bowel disruptor.

It’s been packed with side-gags (“Ebola Cola — refreshment that devours”), mutants, misfits and molotovs – both literal and ideological – and it’s now all back in print in these brand-spanking-new editions. This, for example, collects both the old volume 10 along with the journalism specials I HATE IT HERE and FILTH OF THE CITY originally collected in the long-expired volume 0. Back to our regular programming, then:

Spider Jerusalem is dying. There is a debilitating disease eating away at his brain and motor functions, leaving him with a bleeding nose, vicious headaches, shaking hands and a narrow window in which to bring down the ruthlessly insincere President of the United States. Fortunately Spider has a few aces up his hard drive, and some Filthy Assistants to help disseminate them. It’s time to bite back.

“What do we do?”
“We go see him.”
“We’re going to go to him. In fact, I feel a… When you talk to people and they lie to you and you write about it.”
“Yeah. I feel an interview coming on.”



99 Days h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Matteo Casali & Kristian Donaldson.

Los Angeles, today: Estelle Brown is found in her house, dead, naked and hacked to death. A former girlfriend of local Crips gang leader, Caliphano, she was last known to be dating Sic-O from the Bloods. Her sister Ceyanna is less than cooperative: all she wants is the house – their mother’s – which they’d been arguing over for months. With no clear leads, just the constant incendiary baiting from a local radio shock jock who makes Daily Mail columnists look measured and informed, the simmering gang rivalry erupts into overt warfare. The only clue to the murder are the wounds inflicted which can only have come from one weapon: a machete. But is this a key to unlock the crime or atrocities buried deep in LAPD detective Antoine Davis’s mind? He’s seen this sort of senseless rivalry and bloodshed before, only on an unimaginably larger scale, as a child in Rwanda back in 1994…

By far the finest sequences are the flashbacks to Rwanda and it’s vital that you note that they’re unveiled out of chronological order. There Antoine, born to a Tutsi mother and  moderate Hutu father, is caught in the horrific bloodbath born of the Belgian colonists’ separation of the two ethnic groups, and the Hutus’ resentment of the Tutsis’ preferential treatment. It really was – and is shown to be – horrific. Words like ‘coercion’ swiftly lose their meaning, and how anyone could salvage a small vestige of sanity from the ordeals Antoine endures is beyond my ken.

Which brings us back to the present day and where the book falls lamentably short. Antoine simply isn’t angry enough, neither in the script nor visually on the page. I can almost see the words being typed and I’m far from convinced either by the investigation itself, the dialogue as it fails to progress except by accident, or the economic elements all of which were handled infinitely better in The Shield. It’s all way too flat.

As to Rwanda and the ramifications of those 99 days in which nearly a million Tutsis and Hutus were slaughtered, I cannot commend DEOGRATIAS to you in strong enough terms instead. No sanity salvaged there, I’m afraid. Superb.


Damaged #1 of 6 (£2-99, Radical) by David Lapham & Leonardo Manco.

For your crime fix this week, this is waaaay more engaging than 99 DAYS. I don’t care if all the other names on the cover scream “corporate comics developed for film”, this full-colour carnage comes courtesy of STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH’s David Lapham on writing duties, while Manco provided half the gritty fun on Andy Diggle’s exceptional HELLBLAZER trilogy beginning with HELLBLAZER: JOYRIDE. A perfect combo for a title which looks and sounds on the surface suspiciously like a Punisher comic, but if so it’s definitely Garth Ennis’s PUNISHER MAX. There’s political power play involved.

Lieutenant Jack Cassidy is a young rising star in San Francisco’s police department, earmarked by Commander Hackenbush as Captain Frank Lincoln’s replacement on the Special Task Force on organised crime. Admittedly close to retirement, Lincoln’s record has been little short of exceptional, engendering a rare loyalty amongst his men and Jack Cassidy’s own enormous respect. But recently two men were left to burn to death in a car accident while one of Frank’s men stood by. Regardless of the fact that the occupants were members of the Russian Mafiya, Mayor Deeley has found it politically expedient to remove Lincoln from command the very night that a mansion in Sausalito, over the Bay, goes up in flames killing twenty-two more members of the Russian Mafiya including its local head honcho. And this is where it gets interesting: they were all shot.

The scale of the assault leads young Jack Cassidy to make assumptions that are entirely understandable: multiple gunmen, for a start. To even imagine otherwise would sound deranged, but that’s not why veteran Frank Lincoln keeps his mouth shut. He keeps his mouth shut because he recognises the M.O. and knows perfectly well that there is one man both willing and able to pull off such a stunt when the police have proved ineffectual: his brother.

As readers we’ve already seen precisely how efficient this long-estranged brother can be. What we don’t yet know is the exact nature of their parting of ways thirty-five years ago. It certainly wasn’t legal.

Here’s Leonardo’s website. If you want an idea of what’s on offer in DAMAGED, look for the most fully rendered images.



Gotham Central vol 1: In The Line of Duty s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

First two softcovers in one book, and highly recommended to readers of pure crime fiction like Brubaker’s own CRIMINAL: there’s barely a bat in sight.

Batman is always billed as the world’s greatest detective but until IDENTITY CRISIS I’d yet to read a satisfying good mystery there that readers could take an active part is solving alongside the caped crusader. GOTHAM CENTRAL however, delivers. It delivers on every front: superb characterisation, underplayed dialogue, deft timing, and a convincingly uneasy relationship with Gotham’s most famous denizen.

Brubaker and Rucka provide alternate story arcs on this title, and the transitions are seamless: you really can’t tell the difference. It’s partially about how ordinary cops might cope with living in a city which is infested enough with maladjusted metadudes to keep Batman in three titles a month. How are they supposed to react when their paths cross and all they have is a pistol, how does it feel to know that a vigilante often ends up having to do your job for you, that you cannot look after your own, and have to go lighting that Bat Signal every five minutes in what amounts to an admission of inadequacy? It doesn’t feel great. It’s emasculating.

However, the presence of either heroes or villains of the super variety is kept firmly as background – they’re never the heart of the case. Instead it’s tense, dramatic and absorbing crime precinct fiction which just happens to take place in Gotham.

Lark does for this book what Risso does for 100 BULLETS or what Guy Davis did for SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE – he anchors the action firmly in its environment, replete with its own atmosphere, which in this case consists of street-level activity of a predominantly dark and dangerous American city. The regular cast are all members of the MCU (Major Crimes Unit), who tend to deal with crimes that don’t predispose them all to be as kindly as you might like. I don’t mean they’re just tough, they’re also rough – as often as not to each other – and they don’t get much help from the regular cops on the beat either. But they’re human, and they have lives of their own, even if some of them would prefer to leave them at home.

Case in point: officer Renée Montoya. She’s actually one of the most approachable and dedicated officers they have. But she’s being stalked by Marty Lipari, a man who got off on an easy rape case because the evidence “went missing”. Hell, he’s even suing her for damages to the tune of ten million dollars, and he’s hired a Private Eye to take photographs of her. Now the Private Eye is dead, Lipari is missing, and the photographs have found their way onto the precinct walls and beyond. Soon Lipari will be dead, Montoya’s gun will be found at the crime scene, and a stash of coke in her home. Of course it’s a set-up, but why? What’s on those photographs? And how much worse is Renée’s life going to get before she even begins to understand the trouble she’s in?

This arc won the 2004 Eisner Award for best story. Now for my money the Eisner judges are way too disposed towards corporate fare at the expense of the truly remarkable, but this is one award I won’t begrudge, because I was on the edge of my seat throughout. You’ll love Montoya, you’ll feel for her, and if you think I’ve given stuff away, I’ve barely scratched the surface.



Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon


In his very first volume (now collecting books 1 & 2 and nothing to do with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe) Brubaker has pulled off another unlikely mixed-genre success by choosing his ingredients carefully. Steve Rogers is first and foremost a soldier rather than a superhero, which is why Millar’s treatment in ULTIMATES is one of the very few palatable treatments in over 60 years of publication. Just as Brubaker’s SLEEPER is really a gripping espionage thriller and GOTHAM CENTRAL is an intelligent precinct drama, so this book is a complex military mystery with emphasis on contemporary anti-terrorist action delivered to your eyeball with incredible beauty by a Steve Epting so transformed from his Marvel days twelve years ago that he is barely recognisable. He’s that very rare breed of “realistic” artists to retain a fluid line. Epting has curves and deep, dark shadow which Frank D’Armata compliments gorgeously with his colouring.

It’s like 24 – which I happen to enjoy – minus the padding, the overwrought sentimentality and the constant hand-holding. Yeah, you’re going to have to read this at least twice, but here are a few clues. When you’ve been around since World War II, you’ve a lot of past that can come back to haunt you, and this goes back to an operation on the Russian Front in 1942 – a decidedly unsuccessful one, in spite of the presence of Captain America, Bucky and his other wartime allies, around a small village near Stalingrad called Kronas. The Captain’s command, shared uneasily with Colonel Vasily Karpov, results in the destruction of the village by The Red Skull, a Nazi whose face is… a red skull. Five years ago The Red Skull met another Russian officer, General Lukin, near the Kazakhstan Border to buy some… experimental devices from Karpov’s inventory. There he sees a bionically enhanced human form in suspended animation – a form the Skull recognises with incredulity.

“Ah, yes. I’ve been going over the paperwork Comrade Karpov left on this one. He was apparently very useful in the cold war. A secret weapon, of a sort, against the United States.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“I think not, Herr Skull. I have my own plans for that item. Unless, of course, you would be willing to exchange it for the Cosmic Cube, as it is known?”
“The Cube? What do you know of that?”
“We know of many things you hold close, Skull. And I would value this Cosmic Cube quite highly if it is what I have heard.”
“Oh, it is, believe me. But it’s not in my possession. Even if it was, you can’t think you’d have anything that would make me give it up. Though I can see why you’d desire it… you’d have the power to rebuild your socialist republic, wouldn’t you?”
“That is one possibility, among many.”
“Well, you can keep dreaming… My spies are combing the world for signs of it even as we speak. The cube will be mine, and no one else’s.”

As I say, that was five years ago. Today in New York City the Red Skull has the reality-altering Cube – or a weak, fractured version of it – and has set in motion a series of bombings around the globe intended to reinvest the reality-altering device with enough energy to restore its terrible glory. And it’s at that point a sniper takes the Red Skull out with a bullet through his chest. He’s dead. As Nick Fury dispatches Captain America across the world in search of the terrorist units still bent on carrying out the bombings, a classified document sits on his desk called “Winter Soldier”, and Steve Rogers begins unearthing memories which contradict this final hours of consciousness in World War II before he fell from the rocket and into suspended animation with the loss of his dear friend, patriot and partner Bucky.

Or not.

Here’s the Brubaker CAPTAIN AMERICA reading order at the time of typing:

And around the same time, also by Brubaker:



Captain America: Red Menace Ultimate Collection (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Perkins, Steve Epting, Javier Pulido, Masrcos Martin.

In previous reviews for this improbably gripping series, I’ve talked about how Brubaker successfully splices his genres to create hybrids – in this case (see also SLEEPER and INCOGNITO) a dark, international espionage thriller. Even the Captain’s costume ceases to be gaudy in this high-tech, twilight world thanks to Epting, Lark and Frank D’Armata on colours. But what really hits you in this title is the utter isolation of the man behind the mask. In spite of his new friendships since emerging from a twenty-year freeze – and he does treasure each for who they are – there is no one who quite understands him the way Bucky did back in the 1940s.

There’s a superbly sombre scene in WINTER SOLDIER set in Steve Rogers’ meticulously ordered flat where he remembers that fact, alone in the middle of his couch with his head in his hands. Bucky, you see, is the Winter Soldier. All these years that Bucky’s been thought dead, that Steve has spent mourning his young friend, Bucky was being used and abused and programmed to assassinate. He’s been working for the other side, and now Steve Rogers may well have to kill him.

Now hot in pursuit with Sharon Carter, Steve gets some action of the other variety. Which is nice.

This reprints both previous softcovers (now out of print) in a single volume.



Slaine: The Wanderer h/c (£16-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley, John Hicklenton…

Collecting various short stories from relatively recent 2000AD progs which apparently represent different aspects of Slaine’s character. To be honest, this isn’t Slaine material I’ve been waiting for, as I’ve personally always found the longer epic stories like the recent Books Of Invasion have been vastly superior to the shorter works, which have always felt rather throwaway filler material.

Also, this work uses the same art style as in Langley and Mills’ recent Books Of Invasion & Abc Warriors: The volgan War material, which is beautiful painted artwork combined with photographs of faces for the human characters. In the ABC Warriors stories it works completely because it is only done occasionally, obviously because most of the characters are robots. Here though, because it is virtually every single character, it just looks extremely incongruous.

Strangely, having just picked up the Books Of Invasion vol 1 to see how that compared, I notice that the characters there are always presented at much more of a distance with relatively few close ups, meaning the actual photographic aspect of the faces is far less, indeed often barely, discernable. Why these stories seem to involve virtually all close ups throughout though I don’t know. So here, instead of adding to the realism of the art and thus the story, it totally detracts from it, because a photograph is essentially the capture of a single instantaneous moment in time, whereas a comic panel more typically represents a sequence of action or a conversation, or indeed both.

Consequently, it gives all the various protagonists, in what are undoubtedly action packed stories, the look of startled, botox-ed to the hilt freaks. Which could make having a warp spasm rather painful if you can’t move your face, but Mr. Mac Roth manages it nonetheless of course at the appropriate moment to save the day once more. It’s a shame really, because when Langley actually uses his artistry painting characters’ faces, he is utterly brilliant. Ukko the Dwarf has never looked quite so repellently vile as he does here. Personally I think it’s time for the photo-faces experiment to conclude.



Taxidermied: The Art Of Roman Dirge h/c (£24-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.

Fans of LENORE, rejoice! And they do rejoice; I like that about them.

Have a hundred pages of gaily defiled animal-kingdom innocence as kittens come a cropper etc. Dirge is on hand to cast the odd comment, and included are some of the t-shirt designs that used to make me laugh (and us a mountain of moolah) like wide-and-shiney-eyed Little Bun Bun. “She’s just a little slice of precious,” reads the caption. “I’ll #@&*ing cut you!” she squeaks.



Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game Box Set (£52-99) by Luke Crane, David Petersen.

Oh, but some of you’ve been excited! Here’s a new deluxe format which as well as the book includes a new 32-page supplement, a GM deck of 12 Action Cards, two Player Decks of 12 Action Cards, Condition Cards, Character Sheets, GM sheets, a GM screen, Mice Dice (mice dice!) and a Map Of The Mouse Territories. Of the original hardcover I wrote:

MOUSE GUARD is such an enormous three-digit seller here that I can’t think why we resisted the original version of the role playing game for so long, especially since the series’ creator David Petersen actually role-plays himself and would therefore be able to gauge the quality of any such adaptation. It seems some of his early adventures may have partially inspired elements in the comics, particularly the fully realised world itself. And now that I have this 320-page hardcover in front of me, illustrated throughout with some lovely scenes of pastoral tranquillity and danger, I feel such a clot. Here’s Petersen:

“Luke Crane was masterfully able to take the things about MOUSE GUARD that are important at its core, and mould his Burning Wheel roleplaying system around them. His fresh techniques cast off the idea of characters driven by statistics and lucky rolls of the dice, and focus on true character building.”
The dice aren’t gone though – Lord, the anarchy! the self-determination! the arguments! – for you’ll need, says Crane, about 10 six-sided dice, two to six people, some pencils, paper and a copy of this book bought from Page 45 (apparently no other copies will work half as well).

I have absolutely no idea what to tell you about this because I haven’t a clue about what’s important to role playing but it really does look brilliant. The ‘Denizens of the Territories’ chapter was fascinating. Mystifying, but fascinating. There are Apiarists (“SKILLS: Apiarist 5, Loremouse 3, Queen-Bee-wise 4” – what does it mean?!), Archivists (“TRAITS: Nocturnal 1”), Beetle Wranglers (“CIRCLES: 4” – are circles good? I can’t remember my Zero Girl; was it squares that were bad?), Brewers (I’m sticking with them), Charlatans (I think I am one of them!), Muscles (don’t have many of them), Naturalists (I’m not one of them), Politicians (I’m considering it) and what I’d have thought was all your standard fare clearly defined in tables of stats.

Then there are the Weasels and other wild animals like Bullfrogs, Crabs, Crows, Great Horned Owls, Newts, Snakes (various), Porcupines and, err, Wolverines. Maybe that was inevitable. Anyway, they all have their own traits and I imagine you’ll stumble on them from time to time in your micely manoeuvres. It’s exactly the same size as the MOUSE GUARD volumes and printed on quality cream paper that’s been given an aged effect with some exceptional design work completely absent from books like the MARVEL ENCYCLOPAEDIA.
Sorry if I haven’t done a very good job of selling this to you. If one of you buys a copy (from us, remember, or you’ll probably end up eaten by newts in the first few throws) feel free to send us a more informed review – and a couple of paragraphs on one of your adventures. We’ll stick it up on the website and everything!


New This Week & Available Now!

Reviews of the following shortly, although softcovers of hardcovers where linked to below will already have their former reviews attached. I hope.

A Zoo In Winter h/c (£12-99, Fanfare / Pontent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi
Infinite King Fu (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Kagan McLeod
Malinky Robot (£12-99, Image) by Sonny Liew
Love And Rockets vol 9: Esperanza (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez
The Comics Journal #301 (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by featuring Robert Crumb and much, much more
Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken: Trouble With Frenemies h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Ray Friesen
Lions, Tigers & Bears vol 3: Greybeard’s Ghost (£9-99, Hermes) by Mike Bullock & Michael Metcalf
The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures h/c (£22-50, IDW) by Dave Stevens
World Of Warcraft vol 4 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Walter Simonsen, Louise Simonsen, Mike Costa & Mike Bowden, Tony Washington, Pop Mhan
John Lord s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Denis-Pierre Filippi & Patrick Laumond
How To Understand Israel In Sixty Days Or Less softcover (£14-99, Vertigo) by Sarah Glidden
Okie Dokie Donuts h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Chris Eliopoulos
Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Charles Biro, Bob Wood, various
Bouncer h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Francois Boucq
Shadowland s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle & Billy Tan
X-Men Legacy: Collision s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Clay Mann, Tom Raney
X-Men: Age Of X softcover (Uk Edition) (£15-99, 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
Shadowland: Thunderbolts s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Declan Shalvey, Kev Walker
Captain America: Prisoner Of War h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, Chris Samnee
FF vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson
Carnage: Family Feud h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain
Silver Surfer: Devolution s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Stephen Segovia, Harvey Tolibao, Iban Coello
Tenjo Tenje 2-in-1 Edition vol 2 (£13-50, Viz) by Oh!Great
K-ON! vol 3 (£7-99, Yen) by Kakifly

Bit of a retro edition this week with two-in-one repackages and I feel verrry stoopid it’s taken me this long to read ODYSSEY. Still, Jonathan promises to be back next week with a massive stash, and I’ve ordered three very special self-published works so hopefully they’ll come in soon too.

I think this is the first week in a month we’ve had nothing to review by Terry Moore. I’ll soon fix that, you wait and see.

 – Stephen

Reviews August 2011 week three

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

We’ve included the review of DARK RAIN this week because it was so long since the hardcover. Same goes for the BLANKETS actually, which Mark reviewed however many years ago it was! Check out either link at the end to read it with sexy new cover and interior art, then check out the link right at the end of this blog for news on Craig Thompson’s HABABI.

Blankets new edition (£22-50 s/c, £29-99 h/c, Top Shelf) by Craig Thompson –

Growing up in the Wisconsin countryside, Craig and his brother seem to be the only friends for each other but even then Craig, the older one, doesn’t keep his sibling safe as he should. The father is overbearing, occasionally violent and when the winter is around them the only sanctuary they have is a blank sheet of paper for their imaginations to go wild on. College and Christian winter camp prove to be problematic; Craig is too weak a flower amongst the sports-heads but there’s a chink of light in the form of Raina, a poet who turns to be his muse.

The art is just stunning. He’s studied Will Eisner and pushed it a little further, at times reminding me of a looser version of David B.’s THE EPILEPTIC with all the fantastic metaphors coming to the surface and interacting with the characters. The blankets turn up as physical objects (the one the brothers sleep under, a gift from Raina, the snow that obliterates the landscape) and as the safety of religion, family and love.

A few pull quotes for you:

“I thought it was moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest, and probably the most important graphic novel since JIMMY CORRIGAN.” – Neil Gaiman

“Blankets officially confirms Craig Thompson’s place in the world of graphic novels as one of the true greats.” – Brian Michael Bendis

“In this book, Craig Thompson emerges as a young comics master. In the purest narrative form he tells a highly charged personal story, crammed with pain, discovery, hi-jinx, penance, religious conviction and its loss … and along comes self-loathing. In this story of family and first love, that which goes awry in life, goes well as art. Mr. Thompson is slyly self-effacing as he bowls us over with his mix of skills. His expert blending of words and pictures and resonant silences makes for a transcendent kind of story-telling that grabs you as you read it and stays with you after you put it down. I’d call that literature.” – Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer Prize-Winner

“Craig has documented his youth in the most honest of ways. Not too warm and fuzzy nor too harsh and cold, showing us the insecurities of growing up in what is often a strange and sometimes painful world. The perfect marriage of words and pictures. It’s as if Francios Truffaut had written and drawn his own comic with the artistry Will Eisner. His sense of timing is impeccable, always knowing when not to hit you with a heavy hand. It’s the genuine article.” – Bob Schreck, former Group Editor, DC Comics

s/c LINK

h/c LINK


A History Of Violence s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by John Wagner & Vince Locke.

“What did you do to them? What did you do to bring this down on us? My God — All these years and I don’t even know you… Who are you, Tom?”

A domesticated family man’s criminal past finally catches up with him in small town America where he’s built for himself a perfect life of tranquil bliss. Grisly stuff which I relished when first released a dozen or so years ago. Fans of Guy Davis (the equally grisly SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE, HONOUR AMONGST PUNKS, THE MARQUIS, BPRD) will love the art.

[Contains the most personally disturbing single panel I have seen in comics ever. Forget Cronenberg’s immensely disappointing film which deviated massively from the Wagner’s story in the most ridiculously contrived and typically bastardising Hollywood manner, this is infinitely superior. Not for the faint-hearted. – asst. ed.]


Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Mat Johnson & Simon Gane.

“But….she’s dead.”
“Well, at least she has company.”
“This is unbelievable.”
“It’s not unbelievable. I saw stuff like this in Korea. I just never seen anything like this here. Usually when we fail this big, we do it on the other side of an ocean. You pay into society, pay taxes and fight for your country, and you don’t think it’ll be like this. But just because the country is treating us like we don’t matter, doesn’t mean we have to treat ourselves that way.”

Rarely do I start a review with a cover: you can’t judge a book by it, especially if it’s not from the interior artist. But you have got to hold this one in your hands: the city’s former grid mapped over the rising flood in spot-varnish Braille. Yes, even the softcover!

Nor will the interior art take long to impress and the double-page spread after young, pregnant Sarah battles her way through the roof of a dead friend’s house just in time to avoid being drowned will take your breath away: a blue flood of Biblical proportions stretching as far the white horizon, the stark black telegraphs poles listing in lines like crosses in a watery graveyard.

Plenty of politics here, as seen from the frontline when Hurricane Katrina struck several years ago and the poor, largely black population of New Orleans was left to fend for itself when the levees broke, 80% of the city was submerged, and “too little too late” became synonymous with the Bush administration. However, there’s lots of comedy too in this convoluted crime heist in which two minor ex-convicts seek to avail themselves of the contents of a bank from which one of them was summarily ejected then sent to prison for larceny. Unfortunately Dark Rain, one of the now-infamous American ‘security’ companies hired for the likes of Iraq, gets to the bank first and Emmit and Dabny show no signs of getting anywhere close. One of them is a loser and the other has a conscience, determined to rescue Sarah and co. even if the local law enforcement agencies are equally determined to keep the population contained in their crime-ridden, waterlogged ghetto. Will anyone be a winner and salvage so much as a single sodden bank note, or will man’s innate selfishness on full display here (along with a few epiphanies) lead to mutual destruction?

“He’s going to try and blow my black ass up.”
“Really, man, I don’t think it’s a race thing. My white ass is specifically threatened too.”

From one of my favourite artists (ALL FLEE! and Andi Watson’s PARIS) who has here forsaken his crinkle-cut, pinking-shears style in favour of something more rounded, and the author of Vertigo’s INCOGNEGRO. Mat gives you a far more involved tale than you might expect from its initial premise, and I wager you’ll enjoy each and every one of his myriad detours as much as I did – along with their attendant frustrations.


Echo: The Complete Collection (£29-99, Abstract) by Terry Moore.

“Think of Alloy 618 as a key, a harmless tool… capable of unlocking the universe itself. There are even early indications of medical benefits to mankind. The future is limitless. Alloy 618 opens many doors, gentlemen. Today the bead in your hand will open a black hole and hold it open… for as long as we dare to play chicken with nature.”

Six hundred pages of weapons-grade thriller in which one poor woman’s body has bonded with the remains of a brand-new bomb: an alloy now semi-sentient, housing the consciousness of physicist Annie who’d been test-piloting the beta suit only to be betrayed by its developers. They shot it clean out of the sky. One explosion later and the sky hails down a biting rain of tiny metallic beads which stick to Julie’s bare skin and won’t come off. Instead they merge like mercury into a chestplate which doesn’t react kindly to anyone else’s touch.

Now those same developers allied with US military want their Phi Project back, and they’re not the only ones hot on Julie’s trail: there’s a vicious old man with the Bible in his mouth, and a piece of the same puzzle on his hands, determined to destroy the metal on Julie’s chest — and her along with it.

“Ivy, what’s your take on Cain?”
“I think he’s a crazy guy with a tattoo on his face. And if you’re looking for a Biblical link, you’re out of luck.”
“Because our Cain is white.”
“Adam and Eve were black.”
“What?! The Bible doesn’t say that.”
“I know. Doesn’t say they weren’t, either. Which is a point in its favour, actually. But, if you’re going to claim all the people on the planet came from one pair, then simple genetics dictates that pair had to be black. No other combination can produce the variations we have today, but a black pair can produce all the basic types in just seven generations.”
“You’re talking about race?”
“I’m talking about science. Race is an offensive 18th Century idea.”

With the help of Annie’s boyfriend Dillon and his band of bikers, Julie has successfully evaded everyone, but now it just gets hot – 109 degrees in the Nevada desert – and uglier than Dillon may be prepared to put up with. Their last chance is Ivy Raven, the field agent with formidable tracking power originally hired by HeNRI, who’s growing increasingly disillusioned with her employers’ deception, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that her guarantees of safety are genuine or even practicable.

As they slowly begin to learn the true extent of corporate intent and the mathematics behind it, those in the know and willing to speak out about the lethal ramifications of Alloy 618 are being silenced – and we’re not talking about gagging orders. Boyfriend will kill boyfriend if he knows too much, and a new monster arises to seek retribution, its lower jaw missing.

I don’t know why anyone should be surprised at the violence here – the things Terry put Katchoo and co. through in STRANGERS IN PARADISE were pretty damn harsh. He also has a great grasp of forensics when it comes to Ivy Raven, as tender a line as ever when it comes to Julie’s traumatised face, and the thick-set build of his lead biker Dan is so well captured that I wished he’d once done a portrait of Mark!

Two last words, SiP readers: Tambi, Casey. It’s the same world, yes.

Black and white cover gallery with sketches in the back.



Madame Xanadu vol 4: Extra-Sensory (£13-50, Vertigo) by Matt Wagner & Marley Zarcone, Laurenn McCubbin, Chrissie Zullo, Celia Calle, Marian Churchland, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend, Guy Major…

If only the preceding three volumes had been as excellent as this concluding collection of shorts set in the 1960s, then this title wouldn’t have been cancelled. The overarching storyline regarding Madam Xanadu herself just wasn’t strong enough to carry things along, perhaps. It had its moments, particularly when focusing on the stories of unfortunate individuals seeking a reading, but anyway it’s not the last we’ll see of the good lady, as the Phantom Stranger neatly alludes in his final guest appearance, as she’s shortly to join Zatanna, Constantine, Shade et al as part of Justice League Dark. That’s certainly the most intriguing of the forthcoming DC Reboot titles, given it’s written by Peter Milligan, though as I don’t have a crystal ball, I’ve no way of knowing whether it’ll actually be any good.



Gunnerkrigg Court vol 3: Reason h/c (£19-99, Archaia) by Thomas Siddell >

[Just a quick note: there is no UK version of the second or third volumes. Now, here’s what my friend, the wonderfully wilful Miss Tassja Willsher, made of volume one – ed.]

Steampunk, technowhizz, myth, magic, political intrigue are woven together to form the backdrop of Gunnerkrigg Court. Although sometimes a bit clunky and heavy handed in its execution, the ensemble cast protagonist Antimony, her friends, her second shadow, her pet robot and a demon trapped in a little stuffed wolf toy are charming and affecting enough to pick up any slack. Essentially a coming of age story for the children attending Gunnerkrigg Court boarding school, the story is refreshing in that for once the main character is not the only one who is interesting. Sometimes clichéd, the overarching plot is nonetheless engaging and beautifully threaded through with one shots and neat side plots that range from hilarious to heart breaking. The artwork is pure eye candy the manipulation of angles, perspectives and effects, and the variation from classrooms to forests to space stations ensures it’s always stimulating.



Stevens: Complete Sketches & Studies h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Dave Stevens.

Best known for creating the Rocketeer, Dave Stevens long harboured a love of Bettie Page which shines through on so many of these pages devoted to period glamour. Exuberant and erotic, naughty but nice, they come in the form of loose pencil sketches (hello, Vampirella!), delicate inks (and kinks, with a nurse’s uniform), unfinished colour studies, and charcoal and chalk on tanned paper. There’s even the occasional, full-blown diner ad.

It’s not just about the ladies, though. It’s mostly about the ladies, but there are swashbuckling adventure sequences, E.C. grotesques, a comicbook basketball advert for Wheaties, portraits of the likes of Bruce Lee and Nosferatu, and some preliminary Rocketeer work to keep those customers happy too. 250 pages.



Batman: Impostors s/c (£10-99, DC) by David Hine & Scott McDaniel.

“Arm yourselves, citizens of Gotham! It’s time to take back the streets!”

Ever wonder what’s in the Joker Venom, the bright green gas that morphs its victims into spasming facsimiles of the mad mass murderer before killing them stone dead?

Well, there’s a new Joker Juice in town, with most of the same ingredients: the strychnodine which causes the muscle convulsions that produce the hallmark grin, the rictus sardonicus; plus methamphetamine, MDMA and nitrous oxide inducing euphoria, mild hallucinations, increased energy levels and uncontrolled hilarity. Psychologically it’s addictive after a single dose. There are just two elements missing from Formula Five: hydrogen cyanide and The Joker. This version’s non-lethal. Why?

When Oracle alerts Batman to a Mad Mob event – a gang of rampaging Joker clones – he fails to take it seriously enough in time, leaving the door open for a televised broadcast by someone impersonating Batman himself, exhorting the citizens of Gotham to rise up and defend their city.

“All it takes is a little imagination… and a very big gun.”

It proves inspirational. With enough Formula Five in production to satisfy the cravings of every man, woman and child in Gotham and an equal and opposite eruption of “community spirit” taking to the streets dressed as Batman with lethal force their first resort, the city descends into chaos, violence and fear.

From frequent Batman artist Scott McDaniel (Bruce Wayne, Murderer? etc.) and the writer of STRANGE EMBRACE, BULLETPROOF COFFIN and Daredevil Redemption, it’s a nightmare scenario catalysed by one man’s rescue many moons ago, and Batman’s failure to understand the garbled words that remained choked by the rictus sardonicus.

“You were lucky. Most don’t survive the Joker’s Venom.”
Lucky?! Don’t make me laugh!”



Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors h/c (£16-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin…

Guy Gardner, surely the veritable marmite of the DC Universe no? You either love him or hate him. Way back when he first appeared, frothing angrily at the mouth like a rabid dog, he was good amusement value if nothing else, particularly as he was sporting the worst haircut in the history of comicbook superherodom. Doesn’t matter if you’re the toughest, meanest, most bad-ass superhero on the block, if you have a haircut that looks like it was done by your mum with the aid of a bowl, you’re still going to look like a dick. Literally as well as metaphorically.

Over the years, he’s mellowed slightly in character from objectionable tosspot to hardman-with-a-heart, I guess. But here he’s back in eye-bulging, snarling, alpha-dog mode, not least because he’s still infected with Red Lantern rage, causing him to literally spew acidic, scarlet bile when something gets his dander up. I did think this title was going to be a classic example of unnecessary proliferation of a successful theme, but in fact I found EMERALD WARRIORS to be considerably more entertaining than GREEN LANTERN CORPS, which never really seems to add up to the sum of its parts to me. Odd given this is penned by former GL CORPS writer Peter Tomasi, but he’s got a really strong storyline here as Guy gets sent on a covert mission to investigate strange goings-on in the “Unknown Sectors”. Obviously no one ever gets up to anything positive in the “Unknown Sectors”, in fact there’s some rather complex unpleasantness going on, surprising no one. Cue much mouth-frothing…



Cloak & Dagger #1 of 3 (£2-25, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Emma Rios.

Ah, Emma, what a beautiful transformation you have wrought on this couple!

Dagger is now a beautiful, vulnerable young woman with eyes tired from study and the relentless adversity of dealing with city officials. Her hands are as expressive as Becky Cloonan’s, her hair all wispy and, thanks to colourist Javier Rodriguez, she’s constantly dusted with faint sparkles of light. The last thing she wants to do is join any fray today.

Cloak is… internalised. His semi-sentient, voluminous blue robes tumble over him almost comically now. You’d never manage to drape them over a clothes horse. But there’s a softness there too, in the gentleness, poise and mouth. I do wish he’d listen. Or ask. He’s so protective; and jealous.

Bravo, Nick Spencer. I had zero interest in this, but it’s deft and funny and tender, with brief snatches of thought counterposed in captions against reactions or dialogue. There is a thriller plot attached with Dagger seemingly destined to kill Mister Negative (don’t worry, you don’t need to have read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) when in fact she needs to catch up at college, but it’s more about the relationship… and keeping a roof over their heads.

“Tandy Bowen?”
“Um. Yeah. We met before, you were just here last week – “
“Got a Vacate Order on the building.”
“Our lawyer said – “
“You got a Stay?”
“Well, no…”
“Got a Vacate Order on the building.”
“Why do you want us out of here so badly anyway?”
“Is there a second means of egress in this place?”
“An exit. Is there a second exit.”
“Um… my partner can teleport.”
“Yeah. Got a Vacate Order on the building.”



Shadowland: Daredevil s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston & Roberto De La Torre.

“We always have choices, Foggy. And Matt just threw all of his away.”

The final few issues to Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston’s stint on DAREDEVIL which run in parallel with Shadowland itself.

It kicks off straight after the Shadowland’s opening shocker as Foggy Nelson, Dakota North and Becky witness CCTV footage of their best friend doing the unthinkable, albeit to his worst enemy. Desperately Foggy flails around, trying to find something – anything – that would at least explain if not excuse Matt’s actions. The man has faith and no friend could ask for more; but for the others it may prove too much.

Recap: Matt Murdock sought leadership of the ninja-stuffed Hand in order to prevent the Kingpin from seizing control and to subvert the organisation from within: to bring light to its less than jocular fist. Unfortunately the reaction was equal and opposite. A demon has seized control of both Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen’s residents. A riot erupts, Foggy Nelson and Dakota North are caught in its centre and poor Becky Blake, bound to a wheelchair, is trapped in a brownstone in flames.

This is the view from street level, just as it should be, and as such the book as a whole – its perspective, dialogue and art – is so much more in keeping with Bendis’ and Brubaker’s contribution. It’s about the impact on Matt’s nearest and dearest, and the most extraordinary thing is that this too can be read with complete coherence on its own. Its ingenuity is astonishing: the CCTV footage was exactly right, whilst the mystery left in the wake of the climax and Matt’s subsequent fate, unseen here, is perfect. They’re lost, they’re bewildered and they’re battered beyond belief. They have taken such a bloody knocking and this is the final straw. All that remains is for Ben Urich, the reporter whom Murdock first made privy to his secret, to hear Matt’s final confession.

Crucially you’ll discover exactly how Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Master Izo, Elektra and even Typhoid Mary came to be where they were during the big bust-up. Meanwhile, once more, the artists have done ‘em proud. Some scenes are truly haunting, like the mist-enshrouded, moonlit Japanese castle in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen towering up in the midnight sky as glimpsed between the confines of hard metal railings below; or the toxic double-page spread of the fallen heroes, worthy of Alex Maleev himself.

In all honesty, how brave would it have been simply to print this book on its own, so that you never do know like the protagonists here, exactly what finally befell the man without fear? That would have been enormously cool.

Please read this first. Reprinting SHADOWLANDS: AFTER THE FALL one-shot, it is also the final word on a title that has now ceased to be.



Hulk Visionaries: Peter David vol 8 s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Peter David & Dale Keown, Herb Trimpe, Andrew Wildman, Kevin Maguire, Tom Raney, Travis Charest, Kevin West.

An alternative title would be X-Factor Visionaries: Peter David vol 2, since this reprints not only THE INCREDIBLE HULK #390-396 (and ANNUAL #18) but X-FACTOR # 76 from 1992 wherein Rick Jones and the Hulk as part of The Pantheon (a family/organisation embarking on rescue missions and tackling injustices around the globe long before Mark Millar took over writing THE AUTHORITY) touch down in Trans-Sabal to take on the dictator there. Unfortunately that also means taking on the C.I.A., S.H.I.E.L.D. and X-Factor, all of whom work for the U.S. government which is supporting the oil-rich regime including supplying it with weapons used on the country’s own people. Hmmmm…..

For the above I applaud it. There’s also a shocking if unsatisfying simplistic and out-of-character solution, but along the way there are some genuine laughs, lovely art from Keown, and the sight of The Hulk wielding two enormous hand-held cannons whilst wearing pink bunny slippers.

Val Cooper: “Okay, no problem. We can handle The Hulk.”
Quicksilver: “Absolutely. We’ll use his stupidity against him.”
CIA guy: “Actually, he’s extremely smart and crafty now.”
Havok: “Oh, right. I heard. But he’s smaller, grey, and weaker than before.”
CIA guy: “Actually, he’s bigger, greener, and stronger than ever.”
Guido: “Ah, but we’re pure of heart, and so must always win.”
CIA Guy: “There you go.”

Also included: the 30th Anniversary issue, an early example of Travis Charest art during a comedy arm wrestling contest with The Thing, plus a two-part return for Joe Fixit to Las Vegas, guest-starring the Punisher. Meanwhile Rick Jones receives a visit from someone claiming to be his mother. Is she?


Spider-Man: The Fantastic Spider-Man h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Christos Gage, Rob Williams, Paul Benjamin, Frank Tieri & Stefano Caselli, Javier Pulido, Reilly Brown, Mike McKone, Lee Garbett, Javier Rodriguez.

With Spider-Man now filling Johnny Storm’s flame-flecked cowboy boots in the new FF (Future Foundation) the other three pay a reciprocal visit to boost sales here, and the cover made me smile when we had it on our wall: Franklin aping his hero; Valeria stretching Daddy’s patience (and face) to the limit.

So yes, the black and white costume is very much in evidence, and around the world they go. If nothing else, the family atmosphere is a boost to Peter’s morale. A second story co-stars Hank Pym and his Avengers Academy, while Ghost Rider guests in a third. Wasn’t really fussed, either way.


Infestation vol 1 s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mike Raicht & David Messina, Nick Roche, Giovanni Timpano.

I had an infestation once, and it was very embarrassing. Took me all sorts of creams and remedies to remove. Oooh, it weren’t half scratchy.

I’d settle for that any day over this contrived “because-we-own-the-licences” drivel. But do what you must, my lovelies, and if a zombie Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters crossover is your nettle of needs, then rub it on all over and we will happily dock you for it.

That’s me with Alan Titchmarsh in the long-leaved shrubbery then.

“Ooh, you can snatch a good cutting from that!”


Review We Think We Lost

Don’t know what happened here.

I Am Legion by Fabien Nury & John Cassady.

London, December 1942 and, in the extensive wine cellar of an expensive house, an important man called Wilkes sits tied to the chair. He’s on the inner circle of the war effort fighting the Nazis. A second man stands imperiously above him, drinking Cognac, then slits the belly of his own forearm, right down the length. Some time later the mansion is pulverised by an explosion from within, but the man who walks away looks uncommonly like Wilkes.

Romania, December 1942, and there’s a young girl overlooking the snow-crested mountains, recalling a battle between the Ottomans and her brother, during which her brother gathered all his prisoners – all 28,000 of them – and had them impaled on the ridge of one of those mountains. That took the wind out of the Sultan’s sails, and Ottomans fell back in retreat.

“And you were there?”
“Of course… I was there, beside the Sultan.”

There’s a war going on. Or are there two? Abroad there’s a resistance on one side, and a series of horrific experiments on the other. Back at home there’s an investigation into the body found in the burnt out mansion. It’s all connected, but the team sent to unravel the puzzle are only just beginning to scratch the sinister surface, and they have troubles within. Who knew that a safe combination could be so poignant?

Every time I review PLANETARY I keep meaning to include Laura in the credits because her colouring contributes so much to the beauty of the books, and does so equally here. Great script, well balanced, and the remarkable art of John Cassady.



Ancient Reviews New To Website

Eh, things get lost!

Sand Land (£5-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama ~

This is what the DRAGONBALL creator has to say about his latest work:

“This was supposed to be a short, simple manga about an old man and a tank which I made for my own enjoyment. But the tank was harder to draw than I expected, and I stubbornly insisted on drawing it all myself, so I came to regret ever getting involved with it. But the story was already plotted out to the end, so I couldn’t change anything, and I went through hell drawing the whole thing.”

The old man is Sheriff Rao (who looks like John Cleese in cricket gear and a safari hat) and he’s on a mission save the people of post-apocalyptic Earth from the King’s extortionate water. Which is only available in plastic bottles, and probably tastes as bad as Evian. Enlisting the help of Beelzebub, by bribing him with the last Playstation in existence, they steal a tank and go in search of the mystery lake in order to once again bring peace to the world.



Also Available To Buy Right Now:

Reviews to follow or up right now if softcovers of previous hardcovers .Those will be linked to below.

Transmetropolitan vol 10: One More Time (£14-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson
Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game Box Set (£52-99) by Luke Crane, David Petersen
Taxidermied: The Art of Roman Dirge h/c (£24-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge
Peanuts, Complete: vol 16 1981-1982 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Schultz
WE3: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
The Chronicles Of Conan vol 21: Blood Of The Titan And Other Stories (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Robert E. Howard, Michael Fleisher, Larry Yakata, Roy Thomas & Bob Camp, Armando Gil, John Buscema, Charles Vess, Gary Kwapisz, Geof Isherwood, Dave Simons, Danny Bulanadi, Ricardo Villamonte
99 Days h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Matteo Casali & Kristian Donaldson
Spirit Of Hope (£14-99, Comic Book Alliance) by various
Castro (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist
Vertigo Resurrected: Jonny Double (£5-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
Resident Evil (£14-99, DC) by Ricardo Sanchez & Jheremy Raapack, Kevin Sharpe, Al Barrionuevo
BPRD Hell On Earth vol 1 – New World  (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis
Hellblazer: Bloody Carnations (£14-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Giuseppe Camuncoli & Stefano Landini, Simon Bisley
Superman/Batman vol 9: Night And Day s/c (£13-50, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Peter Johnson, Matt Chernis, Scott Kolins & Francis Manapul, Rafael Albuquerque, more
Gotham City Sirens vol 3: Strange Fruit h/c (£16-99, DC) by Tony Bedard, Peter Calloway & Lorenzo Ruggiero, Jeremy Haun, Walden Wong
Gotham Central Book 1: In The Line Of Duty s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon
New Avengers vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike Deodato, Howard Chaykin
Avengers Academy vol 2: Will We Use This In The Real World? h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike McKone, Sean Chen, Tom Raney
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Paco Medina
X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants: Mutants vs. Vampires s/c (£14-99. Marvel) by Chuck Kim, Simon Spurrier, Duane Swierczynski, James Asmus, Christopher Sequeira, Peter David, Rob Williams, Mike Benson, Howard Chaykin, Mike W. Barr, Chris Claremont & Chris Bachalo, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Tim Green, Tom Raney, Sana Takeda, Mick Bertilorenzi, Doug Braithwaite, Mark Texeira, Howard Chaykin, Agustin Padilla, Bill Sienkiewicz
Avengers Academy: Arcade – Death Game s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Paul Tobin, Terry Kavanagh, Chris Claremont & David Baldeon, Chris Marrinan, Michael Nasser, Rich Buckler
Invincible Iron Man vol 6: Stark Resilient Book 2 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man: Friendly Neighbourhood (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Rob Di Salvo
Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada

Have you seen the new website dedicated to Craig Thompson’s new book, HABIBI? It’s going to be massive!

Get your pre-orders in now!

 – Stephen

Anders Nilsen Signing, Slide Show & Chat

Monday, August 15th, 2011


To celebrate the release of his magnum opus, BIG QUESTIONS , in one big, beautiful book, Anders Nilsen is touring the UK including stops at Gosh! in London & OK Comics in Leeds. More about them in a moment; this is about us.

The date: Sunday 16th October 2011

The time: 2pm to 3pm, then on to the slide show down t’pub.

The place: Page 45, Nottingham, then the pub in question.

How much do we love Anders Nilsen? We made DOGS & WATER a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

How to get here: LINK

Bring what you want; buy what you can.

First we’ll hold the signing at Page 45 itself where Anders will sketch in one book for free then scribble his signature in whatever else you fancy. It’s at that point we’ll tell where we’ve booked for the slide show.

That’s the only price of admission to Anders Nilsen’s slide-show then casual bar-room chit-chat: turning up to the free signing first. We’ve booked the room from 3pm onwards so you can hook up, drink and be merry amongst yourselves until we arrive with Anders in tow, probably around 3.30pm

Anders will present his slide-show, you can ask him big questions about that talk, and then we’ll all mingle for a couple of hours afterwards in a relaxed and friendly manner as I slide down the wall and Anders starts to wonder about dinner.

It’s Our Anniversary!

Well, almost, which is why we want to see you all down at the bar. It’s a tradition! Officially our 17th Anniversary will be 17th October, but this is the last day that Stephen L. Holland of Page 45 will be… 45 years old! Please come along and put him out of our misery.

Breaking news: more importantly we have just learned that Dominique Kidd, one of Page 45’s three original members and still signed on as our very own Oracle, will be in personal attendance! The best birthday present a boy could ever ask for!

“I can’t make that date!”

Fear not, for Anders will also be at:
Gosh! in London on Saturday 15th October.
OK Comics in Leeds on Monday 17th October.
Both now confirmed to start at 6pm.

See also Travelling Man dates throughout the north but, by gum, it’ll be chilly.

Please note: Gosh has moved! New address:
1 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DR
For more details, see: LINK

Please note: OK Comics hasn’t!
19 Thornton’s Arcade, Leeds, LS1 6LQ
Why not visit their website anyway? LINK

We Have:

 Click on the titles for reviews and purchasing power!:

The End
Big Questions #15

And Freshly Arrived!

 BIG QUESTIONS complete softcover

More About Anders:

Anders’ blog: LINK
Anders’ website: LINK
(reduce the scale to 75% and you’re away!

This is, I’d have thought, your one and only chance to see Anders sign in this country. He’s only touring the UK because he’s on loan to some Parisian university in France!



Page 45
9 Market Street
Tel: (0115) 9508045

Reviews August 2011 week two

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Straight in, no messing about, and really quite chilling. I can’t recall the last time I read a first issue this self-assured let alone this beautiful. I’m mesmerised.

 – Stephen on Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising #1

The Bombyce Network (£14-99, Humanoids) by Corbeyran & Cecil…

One of the finest works to come out on the Humanoids imprint for me, which when you consider that includes The Metabarons, Madwoman Of The Sacred Heart, I AM LEGION and the much awaited (by me at least!) collected edition reprint of THE INCAL, it’s a bold statement with which to begin this review. THE BOMBYCE NETWORK is a wonderfully nasty crime story set in early 20th century Paris, where the city’s ruling classes choose to satisfy their more dubious and sordid secret vices behind closed doors, whilst a certain duo of gentlemen thieves employ their own unique acrobatic talents to lighten the loaded pockets of those with more wealth than common sense.

When our debonair duo manage to pay an unannounced nocturnal visit to one of the last remaining challenges to the cream of the criminal classes, an elevated motorised glass pavilion belonging to a certain well connected aristocrat, they find a rather different reward to the rumoured riches they’d envisaged, of what appears to be a snuff film. After a possibly greedy and potentially foolhardy decision to try their hand at blackmail, what follows is a game of cat and mouse on the streets and across the rooftops of Paris that becomes ever more deadly as the threat of ruinous exposure makes the various interested parties increasingly determined to protect their dirty secrets. But one of our duo is keeping a secret of his own in hiding a far more personal motivation than money for wanting to engage in this perilous pursuit.

Corbeyran has penned a delightfully convoluted plot here as gripping in complexity and mystery as those in Canales’ BLACKSAD, and if I say Cecil’s art is almost as good as Guarnido’s on the same title, well surely that gives you a good idea about how highly I rate this work? For that reason, and I must mention this isn’t an anthropomorphic work by the way, fans of BLACKSAD would love THE BOMBYCE NETWORK, as also for the action-packed intrigue and steampunky period feel would those who enjoyed GRANDVILLE.



Rachel Rising #1 (£2-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

WALKING DEAD fans, do not miss out!

Straight in, no messing about, and really quite chilling. I can’t recall the last time I read a first issue this self-assured let alone this beautiful. I’m mesmerised.

From the creator of Echo and STRANGERS IN PARADISE, then…

High above a sleepy town, way beyond its verdant pastures lies a wood that is dense with ancient trees. In the early morning light a statuesque woman with long blonde hair, tied back at the top, strolls calmly through its lush, leafy undergrowth to wait patiently on the bank above a deep, dried-up riverbed. Four birds, silhouetted against the sky, take off through the canopy.

And then it happens: a solitary leaf lying in the middle of the dirt track spontaneously combusts. The soil starts to crumble. Fingers emerge, a body struggles free of its shallow grave, gasping for breath… and the tall woman watches impassively.

The pacing is masterful, the resurrection through dried chunks of clay so evidently arduous, and then those stricken eyes, the irises bright, as this second blonde woman in her short black dress starts to grasp where she is if not why… When she finally looks up there is no one to be seen. Instead she stumbles painfully up the furrow until the trees finally part and she emerges, exhausted, dirty and limp onto the grassy meadow beyond.

Oh, so many questions.

Again, it’s all in the pacing and the relative silence as Rachel makes her way home, showers, looks in the mirror, absorbs what she sees there and the flashbacks begin. Her memory is incomplete, but evidently whatever happened followed some sort of dinner with old High School friends on Tuesday night. It’s now Friday evening.

“You’re not Rachel.”

To order, please phone, visit, tweet or email.

Have a link to Terry’s Blog. You’ll love the covers.



Hero Comics 2011 (£2-99, IDW) by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Christopher Ivy, John Layman, Richard Starkings & Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth, Christopher Ivy, Rob Guillory, Dougie Braithwaite, more.

“I’ve heard we see the world not as it is but as we are. A saint sees a world full of saints, a killer sees only murderers and victims. I see the dead.”

A sumptuously illustrated, full-colour, new and spare short story from the original creators of SANDMAN kicks off this fund-raising anthology for creators now out of fashion, struggling without pensions and left behind in the dust. My Last Landlady put me immediately in mind of Chaz Brenchley’s BLOOD WATERS. It’s not just the maritime theme – the looking out to sea and what might be lost there – but the creeping realisation that all is not what it seems, either for the narrator himself or for the titular landlady who seems so far from at ease with her chosen location that she shuts it out with dusty lace, unwashed windows and curtains she will not have twitched.

“In this house, we do not look at the sea through the windows. It brings bad luck.”

Moreover one child’s playground full of hidden pools and aquatic treasures is a more troubled soul’s minefield of less innocent pastimes and possibilities:

“My landlady told me she would not willingly walk upon the beach, for it was littered with weapons: huge, hand-fitting rocks, each ripe for striking.”

The art is very much a collaborative, impressionistic but far from abstract affair in mixed media, swelling in and out of focus as if seen through drunk or drugged up eyes; certainly there is little to hold onto. A pier is seen in the distance, once on fire, enormous crabs loom as if over one’s face, while the landlady’s single, sharp materialisation is emphatically between the window and her tenant.

There’s a new CHEW short story, an ELEPHANTMEN piece about war veterans also left to fend for themselves, and occasionally those benefitting from the Hero Initiative chime in with their own perspective. Christopher Ivy in a single page demonstrates ably why he should still be in full-time employment, and as a fully fledged penciller too.

But the most enormous bonus comes once more from Sam Kieth who’s had the novel idea of documenting the creation of My Last Landlady as a nine-page comic starring Sam, Mike Dringenberg and Neil himself, each depicted by their chosen avatar. Neil is, of course, a black cat. The script is derived from a witty reconstitution of emails they sent each other during the genesis of the project and then its long journey to fruition. Towards the end it deftly changes track to focus on the piece Kieth’s currently engaged on as they each choose their avatars and you’ll be flicking swiftly back to see exactly how Sam accommodated Mike’s detailed request. Funny!

To order, please phone, visit, tweet or email.

Here are the first two pages to My Last Landlady. First page looks a bit MOONSHADOW, don’t you think?



Meta 4 (£10-99, Image) by Ted McKeever.

“What if God is like a Dutch exchange student and humanity is the translator broadcasting his holy radio waves incorrectly?”

“Please be advised… there is a Santa Claus…. And I am on the far side of the moon.”

Mentally speaking, anyway.

From the creator of METROPOL, Eddie Current etc. (though my favourite, PLASTIC FORKS, has yet to see print outside of its original Graphitti h/c), another uncompromisingly experimental work which Warren Ellis describes as “A weird, drifting science fiction Theatre of the Absurd, with probably the most gorgeous art McKeever’s ever produced.” Yes, McKeever’s switched styles yet again. Gone are the thick, industrial blacks smogging up the skies, for this is set on a beach then a desert, both sparsely populated with space aplenty for a bird or a plane to be shot down at leisure. And, as Warren implies, its narrative style if not structure is far from traditional. You know that reassuring refrain, that “it’ll all make sense in the end”? Well, a surprising amount of it will out at the Nevada Test Site in the fourth and fifth chapter, but there’s enough ambiguity here in the form of recurring symbols, stencilled graffiti and coils of rising smoke to leave much to your imagination and interpretation. That’s what our protagonist must do, after all.

An astronaut wakes up by the funfair on Coney Island, close to its Astroland Park, its open beach stretching in all directions. He has no idea who he is, how he got there or why. He is very much alone. Attacked by a hulking grotesque in a public toilet, our man from the moon is rescued by an even weightier woman in a Santa Claus outfit who speaks only in symbols the amnesiac comprehends with an immediate facility. Why is she wearing a Santa Claus outfit…?

“Her answer is… sublimely simple. And yet… as prophetically abstract as any sculpture.
“They were all out of chicken suits.”

She’s a tattoo artist working out of a shed called Gasoline Alley, and when a second couple of McKeever’s trademark weirdoes arrive to get inked, her choice of design strikes an immediate chord and kickstarts a memory of something he once drew in childhood. How is that even possible? How did his arm and torso come to resemble that of Frankenstein’s monster, crudely stitched together? Why is there an EXIT sign on the spaceman’s memory of the moon? And what about the armed female pilot with the astronaut keychain? The bullets broadcasting a police response to a violent crime scene? Okay, I’m not sure about that one myself, but the rest will become at least partially clearer and certainly connected as the tattooist burns her bridges, Gasoline Alley goes up in flames, and they both take a trip to their past.

There are some fascinating ideas here, not least the clarity of one’s immediate surroundings unclouded, uncomplicated by memory. That it’s not necessarily so important to join every single dot and unconstructive to live in or even in some cases to have access to the past.

“To keep the past alive, you have to work at it.”

True. Of course, a little judicious jettisoning might sometimes be a better idea.

“You are here.”

Now move on.


The Raven h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Lou Reed & Lorenzo Mattotti…

Well, this isn’t comics, but may be of interest to Lou Reed or Edgar Allan Poe obsessives, I guess. I would also surmise Reed himself must fall into the latter category given his concept album The Raven which was released in 2003. Basically the concept in question was to perform Poe stories and poems in a mix of spoken word and song. He also reworked some of his own songs in the same manner for the album both lyrically and musically. And more recently The Raven was transformed into a live performance piece called POEtry by acclaimed director Robert Wilson. This then, is the illustrated prose version, which contains all the stories, poems and lyrics as performed in the stage version, but also featuring a myriad beautiful illustrations by Italian maestro Lorenzo Mattotti, probably best known to the English reading world for Stigmata and an Eisner winning adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde which we used to stock. This is an art book then, and a rather pretty one at that I must say. You can see some of the interior art here.



Repulse (£4-99, Image) by Szymon Kudranksi.

Disappointingly thin and obvious take on a road already well travelled involving bent cops, artificial intelligence, the resuscitation of murder victims’ memories and the mystery of a missing child.

Please, please see PLUTO or CHEW instead.


Gotham Central Book 2: Jokers And Madmen s/c (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Greg Scott, Brian Hurtt.

Painfully aware that somehow we missed the s/c to vol 1. In stock any day now.

The first storyline opens with the Commissioner (not Gordon, he’s retired) desperately attempting to dissuade Gotham’s mayor from cutting overtime in the force. The city’s running a financial deficit and G.C.P.D. racks up too many extra hours without restraint, but without those hours crime is going to rocket. It’s a testament to Brubaker that the conversation is riveting enough itself without the sudden burst of a sniper’s bullet through the window. As Gotham Central strives to react, a superintendent is shot in a school playground, and as the officers then attempt to face off the media, secure the area then investigate the crime scene before fresh snow obliterates evidence, the stakes are upped again.

The fear and tension in this book are palpable. The political complexities aren’t skipped over, the dialogue is worthy of Silent Witness, and Brubaker offers up enough contradictory evidence to make you engage yourself in solving the anomalies.

Lark’s no slouch either, delivering page after page of uncomfortable urban environment and half-lit figures, making each flash of gunfire spark from the page in a couple of instances that almost make you jump. Which is quite the feat when the panel’s at the bottom of an open page. GOTHAM CENTRAL is a crime series that faltered not once in its run, in spite of it being (almost nominally) set in the DC Universe, being passed between the two writers, and going through a whole bunch of artists, each of whom managed to maintain that same feeling of street-level grime.

I say “almost nominally”, but there’s an increasing disillusionment at the precinct in their roles as Gotham City’s protectors when Batman, who barely communicates except through sideways glances, does nothing but leave unanswered questions and dead police officers in his wake – something beautifully evoked at the end of the first story here.

But it’s the third tale that brings home the bacon with an elaborately constructed crime involving the unsolved bombing that slaughtered an entire High School baseball team several years ago. It’s said that the vast majority of murders are crimes of passion (I don’t know where or by whom), and so is this one but in an oblique way, based on a lie, and without the knowledge of the person in whose name it’s carried out. I promise I’ve given little away there because the joy of a prime crime series on celluloid, tv, in prose or in comics (oh hell, at the opera possibly) is that the final reveal surprises the hell out of you at the time but makes perfect sense in retrospect.

As ever, the first and final words are left to the officers personally involved in their head-shaking bewilderment, frustration and anger. Highly recommended not just to superhero fans but to readers of Brubaker’s CRIMINAL etc.



Superman: Grounded h/c (£16-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski, G. Willow Wilson & Eddy Barrows, Leandro Oliveira, Wellington Dias, Amilcar Pinna, J.P. Mayer, Walden Wong, Eber Ferreira.

“All that I know is that we have to try. That’s what life is. We try.”

In which Superman goes for a walk and answers a lot of seemingly simple questions with metaphors, anecdotes and aphorisms.

They’re actually quite tricky questions, some of them, involving priorities and what Superman should actually be doing. The reason he’s gone walkabout in the first place is that he was accused, quite brutally and unreasonably, of having lost touch with the average American. Then when he tries to rectify that he’s told by some that he should be fighting crime instead and by others – including Batman – that he’s simply making them a target, a point hammered home when an entire town is obliterated in just such an attack. He does fight crime along the way when he encounters a no-go area for police populated by drug dealers, some illegal aliens (they are aliens, literally) and a contemptible loser regularly beating up his wife and child. That, by the way, is the new legal name for an unfunny joke of a so-called man who raises his hand to a wife or child: it’s “contemptible loser”. He plays baseball, corrects car trouble and helps transform the local economy of a Detroit no longer manufacturing cars.

The problem is that apart from the pull-quote above, his answers really aren’t that satisfactory and therein lies the rub. I don’t think there are any satisfactory answers in the scenario of a Superman on Earth; to the question of where Superman should or should not intervene and what should Superman make his priorities. Because there is no getting around the fact that for a man who can do almost anything except be everywhere, you have to prioritise. And that the only sane choice is to take pride in what you do rather than feel guilty about what, at the same time, you inevitably haven’t.

I don’t even think Pa Kent’s seemingly wise counsel works in this particular predicament.

“If you want to grow anything worthwhile, it’s all about the soil. That’s why you have to rotate crops from time to time. Anything that stays in the same soil too long withers and eventually dies. I think people are the same way. If we stay too long in the same soil we start to dry up inside. … If we do the same things, in the same way, over and over again, in time, we fall asleep in our lives.”

True for most of us, but how many more lives have been lost in Superman’s absence as he takes his eye off the big picture to… well, till the soil and tinker around the fringes? The whole raison d’être for his stroll down Apple Pie Lane is that the fringes complained on missing out and that the average man is every bit deserving of his attention as alien hostilities. But really?

“Good thing you came along, Superman. Otherwise we might never have known about any of this. It needed you to get to the bottom of it.”
“No, it didn’t. All it needed… all it really needed… was someone, anyone, with a pair of eyes, a voice, a phone – and ten cents’ worth of compassion.”

The art is a joy in Eddy Barrows’ presence but occasionally wonky in his absence with one key scene – a domestic squabble reflecting Superman’s own dilemma reduced to two toy dolls weakly arranged to the left of a kitchen table – for in the meantime Lois Lane has a mid-life crisis when she returns as part of this tour to her home town and wonders if she’s missing out on a family life, spending her career in her husband’s shadow or even needed at all. That soon sorts itself out, though.

“Thank God three quarters of what goes on in my head never makes it to print.”

Same here.


Marvel Masterworks: X-Men vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Werner Roth with Jack Sparling.

“Here are your pliers, Hank!”
“You’re a credit to your gender, Jeanie!”

It’s a screwdriver!

With villains consisting of the likes of The Locust, this is profoundly unremarkable stuff which meanders often incoherently round and around in circles. To his credit, this was only Roy Thomas’s first regular series and the one big boo-boo wasn’t his fault:

The Banshee, who makes his first appearance here on the wrong side of the law, was originally supposed to be female just as they are in Irish mythology. However, arch-feminist Stan Lee (see MARVEL MASTERWORKS: AVENGERS VOL 1) pronounced that female supervillains weren’t as popular as male ones (which is why he hadn’t written more than one so, you know, obv.) therefore Banshee had to be male. No trace of an Irish accent, mind, just a dilettante dalliance with fine art and a penchant for imported tobacco. Yes, he breaks cover just before a long-planned covert assault of Professor X and co. to raid a local tobacconist’s to stuff that in his pipe and smoke it.

I was, however, very disappointed to learn that my opening quote was a genuine mistake on Roy Thomas’ part, and that’d he’d meant to type “screwdriver” instead. From Stan Lee it would have been a scornful classic.

Collects X-MEN #22 to #31 from 1966 and 1967. Oh yes, the Mimic is a member. Of the X-Men as well.



Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert.

High up the night sky there’s a meteor approaching. It’s heading for Earth. It’s heading directly for Peter and Logan. Oh, and it’s the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Wolverine and Spider-Man have been stuck back in time for ages, ever since trying to foil a diamond heist – diamonds with very peculiar properties. Peter dreams obsessively of a woman, carving her face over and over on the rocks round his hideout. Logan’s become leader of the Small People, defending them from savage attacks by more predatory hominids. Peter’s been warning him about that: it might do catastrophic damage to the timeline. It does catastrophic damage to the time-line.

I’m going to leave you to discover the rest for yourselves, but Kubert’s art is as smart as you’d expect. Just one warning (you might want to print this review out now before you forget): pages 9 and 10 of the first chapter, plus pages 11 and 12, and 21 and 22 need to be read left-to-right across the breadth of each double-page spread. I’ve been reading comics for over three thousand two hundred and thirty-four years now and it caught me out completely.



Ancient Reviews New To Website

We used to be a lot briefer, yes!

Ghost World (£8-99, Jonathan Cape) by Dan Clowes –

Enid and Backy, two teenage friends face the end of their school life and the big leap into their future. Kitsch pop culture and the imagined lives of people they see in the coffee shop fascinate them as they grow apart and are slowly pulled in different directions. Clowes holds back the temptation to mock the girls’ fights and misunderstandings instead showing an objective tenderness.

I’ve known Becky and Enid many times, seen them searching for something they don’t quite understand that they’ve lost. This is the summer between school and college told in eight two-colour chapters. Here Clowes has shown us two likeable if frustrating characters unsure of their place. One is ready to break out, trying on new skins and ideas, the other stunted in the shadow of her friend. I guess that is what charms me: the study of a friendship and that last summer.



Also Available To Buy Right Now:

Reviews to follow or up right now if softcovers of previous hardcovers.

Alan Moore: Storyteller h/c (£25-00, ILEX) by Gary Spencer Millidge
Echo: The Complete Collection (£29-99, Abstract) by Terry Moore
Blankets h/c (£29-99, Top Shelf) by Craig Thompson
Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Mat Johnson & Simon Gane
Madame Xanadu vol 4: Extra-Sensory (£13-50, Vertigo) by Matt Waner & Marley Zarcone, Laurenn McCubbin, Chrissie Zullo, Celia Calle, Marian Churchland, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend, Guy Major
Gunnerkrigg Court vol 3: Reason h/c (£19-99, Archaia) by Thomas Siddell
Infestation vol 1 s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mike Raicht & David Messina, Nick Roche, Giovanni Timpano
A History Of Violence s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by John Wagner & Vince Locke
Slaine: The Wanderer h/c (£16-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley, John Hicklenton
Stevens: Complete Sketches & Studies h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Dave Stevens
Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors h/c (£16-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin
Batman: Imposters s/c (£10-99, DC) by David Hine & Scott McDaniel
Captain America: Red Menace Ultimate Collection (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Mike Perkins, Steve Epting, Javier Pulido, Masrcos Martin
Deadpool / Amazing Spider-Man / Hulk: Identity Wars h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by John Layman & Lee Garbett, Juan Doe, Al Barrionuevo
Spider-Man: The Fantastic Spider-Man h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Christos Gage, Rob Williams, Paul Benjamin, Frank Tieri & Stefano Caselli, Javier Pulido, Reilly Brown, Mike McKone, Lee Garbett, Javier Rodriguez
Incredible Hulks: Dark Son s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed & Tom Raney, Barry Kitson, Brian Ching
Daken: Dark Wolverine – Empire s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Giuseppe Camuncoli
Hulk Visionaries: Peter David vol 8 s/c (£22-50, arvel) by Peter David & Dale Keown, Herb Trimpe, Andrew Wildman, Kevin Maguire, Tom Raney, Travid Charest, Kevin West
Shadowland: Daredevil s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston & Roberto De La Torre
InuYasha vol 8 VIZBIG Edition (£14-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Tezuka: Black Jack vol 15 (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Deltora Quest vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Emily Rodda & Makoto Niwano
I Am Here vol 2 (£13-50, Kodansha) by Ema Toyama
Maoh: Juvenile Remix vol 6 (£7-50, Viz) by Kotaro Isaka & Megumi Osuga
Gantz vol 18 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Ikigami vol 7 (£8-99, Viz) by Motoro Mase

New Page 45 Mailshot going out tomorrow morning. We usually try to slip some exclusive stuff in there, and this time it’s me being mauled by a security dog to protect the solvency of the magnificent Linda and Rick Fuller. To join, see here (see here!):

 – Stephen

Reviews August 2011 week one

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011


Meet Cowboy Wally, the wobbling, gobbling disaster area and beer bucket that won’t shut up or – better still – go away. He’s a multi-talentless TV superstar, and has the incriminating photos to prove it.

 – Stephen on Kyle Baker’s Cowboy Wally Show.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 3: Century 1969 (£7-99, Top Shelf / Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

Ravaged by time, the once-mighty League is now down to three members: Mina Murray, preserved by her vampiric hickie, Allan Quartermain who is also a lot older than his aspect would suggest, and the immortal but far from immutable Orlando who is back on the turn and once more growing breasts.

In CENTURY: 1910 we learned of Tom Carnacki’s disturbing premonitions of a sect driven by Oliver Haddo preparing to create both an anti-Christ and a Moonchild to usher in a new age under his control. But Mina was warned off intervening by Norton, a man trapped physically in London but free to roam through time, and that their very investigation will precipitate and perhaps exacerbate exactly what they’re seeking to avert.

Now they’ve returned to London in 1969 and immediately set about investigating even though Oliver Haddo supposedly died in Hastings back in 1947. Well, someone did, and it’s a scene which Moore and O’Neill play to perfection. Who then is the mysterious Charles Felton courting vain and gullible pop star Terner of The Purple Orchestra whose front man, Basil Thomas, was drowned in his swimming pool by robed monks in front of his pilled-up boyfriend Wolfe Lovejoy?

It’s a special Same-Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll edition of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, as the once-prudish Mina strives to stay hip to the times but finds she’s not as au fait as they thinks. Indeed this second part of the third volume’s trilogy climaxes in a  stunningly bad trip by the Edward Hyde memorial statue surrounded by the art and artefacts of day from Spacehoppers and Daleks to Tony the Tiger and Robertson Jam golliwogs, after which Mina’s fate will genuinely shock you. Quite where Moore will now go with the conclusion set in 2009 I have no idea.

The title has always been a collage of borrowed fiction so although London does exist, none of its shops, clubs or inhabitants here have save in books, films, television programmes and songs. Half the fun is spotting what Moore has appropriated and where from, especially now that as the years progress the variety of media Moore can choose from expands. Michael Caine’s Jack Carter plays a pivotal role in tracking down Basil’s murderers, and although Get Carter didn’t actually appear at the cinema until 1970, cleverly here he has yet to head north on that family business in Newcastle. I’ll leave the rest of you to puzzle over yourselves, but I was particularly tickled to see Parker, Lady Penelope’s chauffeur from Thunderbirds as a petrol pump attendant.



The Cowboy Wally Show (£9-99) by Kyle Baker.

“Okay, I just got through talking to the judge about your case. I told him just what you said to. I go the judge and I say, “The evidence against my clients is circumstantial, and those girls brought their own drugs and Wally and Lenny didn’t know it was a Laundromat, and the pony was there when they arrived.”

From the creator of WHY I HATE SATURN, another piece of Quality Jollity ™ and, I believe, Kyle Baker’s first ever graphic novel which I first read some twenty years ago before Page 45 was even open, let alone reviewing comedy masterpieces.

Meet Cowboy Wally, the wobbling, gobbling disaster area and beer bucket that won’t shut up or – better still – go away. He’s a multi-talentless TV superstar, and has the incriminating photos to prove it. Basically, he blackmailed his way on stage. He’s recorded children’s programmes, game shows, soap operas, stand-up and news, each of them an unmitigated and inappropriate disaster. His early monster movie ‘Ed Smith, Lizard of Doom’ fared no better, and you should see his unique, digest version of Hamlet, filmed in prison with a certain degree of… improvisation. In fact you will see it. In full. Here.

He has his own brands of beer, beef and feminine hygiene products; also, an amusement park.

“I think the slow start was because of the bad press we got early on. People saying the park was too dangerous for children.”
“Well, is it?”
“No, no. Any permanent damage they suffer is usually just psychological.

Yes, he’s made it big. Very big. Belt-bustingly enormous.

“Not bad for someone who Dick Cavett once described as “the stupidest man on the face of this planet”.”
“Stupid? I don’t even know the meaning of the word.”

Now the legend that is Cowboy Wally is being interviewed for posterity, and this is that film, ‘The Cowboy Wally Legend’. Bonus extra: that special edition of Cowboy Wally’s Late Night Celebrity Showdown in which surprise guest stars attempt to exact their revenge, one by poisoning himself, the other with a gun pointed at Wally’s thick head and the actress he’s interviewing thinks it’s a skit.

“Is this a skit?”
“No, this is not a skit…. If this was a skit you would have just ruined it by asking if it was a skit.”
“Well, I was worried about you. Besides, if this were a skit, my ad-lib would have enhanced the realism of the bit.”
“Yes, and even if it were a skit, I would still have said, “No,” so as not to destroy the mood of the piece.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Now, Ed, you were saying?”
“I was saying that I have come to finally bring an end to your reign of hypocrisy! I…”
“So, Wally, is this a skit?”
“Come on guys. My arm’s getting tired.”

A man of many visual styles, this is similar to WHY I HATE SATURN only with the same inking techniques Baker used to employ so successfully on Marvel comics. It’s also one long gag-fest with clips from throughout Wally’s career including that daytime soap opera set in a hospital.

“Personally, I was shocked to discover our plastic surgeon was an alcoholic.”
“Yes, he raised quite a few eyebrows.”



Sanctum (£14-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Christophe Bec.

Remember when the Alien property was still terrifying? When the crew set out, as tiny as dolls and so vulnerable in their environmental suits, to explore the ship so vast their lights could barely catch its ceilings? The hook was the half-seen, the completely unknown, and the claustrophobia of a limited air supply. Well, they’ve captured it here in the depths of an underwater cavern deep beneath the Syrian coast, where the crew of the U.S.S. Nebraska discover a 70-year-old Soviet submarine which shouldn’t have the capability to dive that far. It’s not the only thing down there.

Bec’s artwork boasts an awesome sense of scale. The temple they stray into is absolutely enormous, and there’s page after page of ancient, underground architecture that’s as vast as anything imagined by Giger or the creative crew behind the early Tombraider games. Before its potency was frittered away on several half-arsed outings and too much hand-holding, the Tombraider franchise was full of the most spectacular and exotic settings, from Escher-like labyrinths of staircases so high up I came down with vertigo, and treacherous stone temples with secret passages, hidden traps and demonic creatures lurking in the shadows… to rusting tankers abandoned under the ocean. That’s the scale we’re talking here, and that’s the sort of enemy we’re talking too: not the physical, but the demonic.

Almost from the outset things start to go wrong on the Nebraska, and Dorison manages to juggle several crises at once, all dependent on not enough time, keeping the tension taut and the crew confused. Readers too are kept in suspense for the length of the book as it’s never quite clear what the exact source of the plagues and insanity is, who will be next to succumb to them, and whether any of the very desperate measures on board the submarine will actually work out. In addition, this is no Hollywood ending.

There are, I concede, a couple of minor problems. Several of the cast look way too similar, and you can’t afford that in a medium without audible voices for identification. In addition, I swear a couple of the speeches are assigned to the wrong people or, if not, the artist wasn’t careful enough with the stripes on the sleeves denoting rank. Yeah, like I’m a military expert.


Justice h/c (£29-99, DC) by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Dougie Braithwaite, Alex Ross.

With its constituent three softcovers out of print, this entire epic has been collected into a single mighty volume.

Superior to anything I was expecting, Braithwaite and Ross combine their singular skills to greater effect than the economy of having Ross paint over someone else’s art would suggest. Braithwaite has a different eye to Ross’ when it comes to layouts, so his pencils – including some epic double-page spreads that fully convey the awe of finding yourself for the first time inside or outside The Fortress Of Solitude – often come with angles that Ross wouldn’t ordinarily have considered. Ross remains on top translucent form while his pairing with Krueger on writing duties has produced a seasoned classic.

Lex Luthor has assembled a rogue’s gallery of supervillains plagued by the same nightmare of a Justice League defeated and their world ton apart. Individually they have incapacitated each key member of the team simultaneously to silence them, then together they have set about curing diseases, irrigating the deserts to form fertile land, and performing other acts of uncharacteristic benevolence like building utopian cities – doing things the supposed heroes had never even attempted before, and succeeding. Naturally Luthor is far from backwards in coming forwards.

“I know what you’re thinking. What can Lex Luthor of all people say to me? And is it true what I’m hearing? Are the world’s ills and humanity’s sicknesses being addressed and cured by known criminals and super-powered terrorists? This is being broadcast around the world, in every city, to every race, in every language. We know you’re wondering where the Justice League of America is right now. And so are we. But we’re also wondering why they never tried to do what we’ve been doing. Why they never attempted to use their powers and abilities to make this world a better place. I believe that their inaction is as criminal as those felonies we went to prison for. Preserving the world and not daring to change it means keeping food from the hungry. Keeping the crippled in wheelchairs. Bowing to the status quo of human suffering. And still they call us the villains.”

But there’s a slight chill in the air – in the Arabic deserts of all places – when Poison Ivy grants it the bounty of fresh fruit:

“Let spring come. Let the richness of summer reign… Until the arrival of the fall.”

You can safely assume that all is not what it seems and slowly the threads come together, but not in a linear fashion. What impressed me no end was how few of the Justice League’s predicaments are immediately solved. Instead they have to be revisited depending on which tools (knowledge, skill sets and powers) are available at any given time. In terms of superhero logic, it’s been very well thought through. I can’t give you specific examples without spoiling your fun, but some of those tools include Superman, Wonderwoman, his X-ray vision, her lasso; the sun, Shazam, and Batman.

You’ll see what I mean when they leave Batman where he is until one of those tools becomes available and why, later on, when Batman’s interrogating a prisoner he cannot be bluffing – indeed has no option to bluff – when he threatens to chop some of the guy’s fingers off. Also, lesser writers would have left Hal Jordan stranded on the outer reaches of space (so far out there are no stars to navigate home by) until the plot required his return, but as he retreats into his Green Lantern ring, its energy depleting, we’re constantly returned to his thoughts.

It seems I never reviewed the third and final segment but by the end of the second, things were looking rather worse than they did when it started. Each was substantial enough that I felt I’d read double the pages on offer and I – constantly carping, cynical old me – thoroughly enjoyed myself.


Ancient Reviews Recently Unearthed

We used to be so, so much briefer!

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth –

Seth weaves his obsession with the illustrations of an old ‘New Yorker’ gag cartoonist with a drift through his past observing places that are gone. This really affected me when it first arrived in collected form. There was something about the way he drifts back to sites of from his childhood, observing the way that his view of the surrounding landscape had changed as he grew older. I’m a sucker for trees and foliage (see any of our recent window displays to see what I mean) and he’s drawn some wonderful scenes of woods on the outskirts of town. The two-colour format just adds to the atmosphere.



Jar Of Fools (£12-99) by Jason Lutes –

Still haunted by his escapologist brother’s death, Ernie Wiess looks after his mentor, Al Flosso. Both are magicians, one learning, the other forgetting. After being thrown out of Ernie’s apartment they drift into the life of con artist Nathan Lender and his daughter, Claire. Over the book Lutes outlines each character’s view of life.

From the creator of BERLIN.



End Of The Century Club by Ilya –

“Where else are we meant to go? What the hell are we meant to do!? There’s fuck-all left in this shit-hole of a town..
“No decent gig venues…
“No rep cinema…
“No crust fests in the park.
“Without funding even the city farm ended up in the knackers!
“All our fave haunts in the ghost town, shut… or shut down!”

Compiling and completing the first chapter of the story from the now dead DEADLINE. Young Londoners with no future plan a club for their millennium party. White dreads, bike messengers, piercings, tattoos, homeless, dispossessed, it’s all here.



Appleseed vol 1 – 4 (£10-99 each, Dark Horse) by Shirow Masamune –

The cities of Earth have been rebuilt after the flames of war broke out simultaneously in every corner of the globe. They are now overseen by the central governing body, Aegis. If the people aren’t perfect technology can solve that. Deunan Knute, former member of the L.A.P.D SWAT team and her cybernetic companion Briaros deal with the malcontents in an increasingly violent world. Shirow’s cyberpunk epic details the problems of Utopia.


Also Available To Buy Right Now:

Reviews to follow or up right now if softcovers of previous hardcovers.Those will be linked to below.

Meta 4 (£10-99, Image) by Ted McKeever
Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files vol 3 (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Mark Millar, Peter Milligan, Simon Furman, Dan Abnett & Cam Kennedy, Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson, Colin MacNeil, John Burns, Ian Gibson
Repulse (£4-99, Image) by Szymon Kudranksi
The Marvelous Land Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young
The Stand: No Man’s Land h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins, Laura Martin
Superman: Grounded h/c (£16-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski, G. Willow Wilson  & Eddy Barrows, Leandro Oliveira, Wellington Dias, Amilcar Pinna, J.P. Mayer, Walden Wong, Eber Ferreira
Gotham Central Book 2: Jokers And Madmen s/c (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Greg Scott, Brian Hurtt
Avengers vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr.
X-Men Legacy: Aftermath h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Pal Davidson, Harvey Tolibao, Jorge Molina, Rafa Sandoval
Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert
Marvel Masterworks: X-Men vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Werner Roth
Spider-Man: Big Time s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos
Spider-Man: The Complete Ben Reilly Epic (£29-99, Marvel) by Tom DeFalco, Mike Lackey, Howard Mackie, Todd Dezago, Glenn Herdling, Evan Skolnick, Dan Jurgens & Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Dan Jurgens,  Gil Kane, Paris Karounos, Scott McDaniel, Tom Morgan, John Romita Jr., Tod Smith, Joe St. Pierre, Patrick Zircher
Spider-Man: Blue s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Avengers Academy vol 1: Permanent Record s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage & Mike McKone, Jorge Molina
Spawn: New Beginnings (£10-99, Image) by Will Carlton & Szymon Kudranski
Tank Tankuro: Pre-War Works h/c Slipcase Ed’n (£22-50, Pop Press) by Gajo Sakamoto
Arisa vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Natsumi Ando
Twin Spica vol 7 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma
Cross Game vol 4 VIZBIG Edition (£10-99, Viz) by Mitsuru Adachi
Negima! vol 30 (£8-50, Viz) by Ken Akamatsu
Naruto Omnibus vols 4-6 (£9-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
Kobato vol 4 (£7-99, Yen) by Clamp
Gin Tama vol 23 (£7-50, Viz) by Hideaki Sorachi
Blue Exorcist vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kazo
Cardcaptor Sakura Book 2 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Absolutely no idea why we don’t have GOTHAM CENTRAL vol 1 s/c but I can promise you I’m on it!

Bless you, Linda Fuller for treating me to this weekend’s open-air Madness gig in Norfolk. Exceptional. Surprise bonus: The Specials’ and Fun Boy Three’s Neville Staple’s new band complete with two trombones, a trumpet and sax which gleamed gold in the early evening light. Several steps beyond!

 – Stephen