Reviews August 2011 week five

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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.

SLH

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!

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

JR

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.”
“Pardon?”
“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…

LINK

JR

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.

LINK

JR

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.

LINK

SLH

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: http://www.page45.com/store/cerebus.html. Cheers!]

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

JR

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.

JR

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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

LINK LINK LINK

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.

SLH

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.

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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.”

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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:

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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!

LINK

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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

2 Responses to “Reviews August 2011 week five”

  1. BrianTM says:

    The also arrived list can be hard to read through when the credits extend onto the next line. Could the titles be bolded or an extra line break be added between books?

    Also, the links for the three signed books are broken.

    (I’m not all complaints! I appreciate all the work that goes into these reviews.)

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