Reviews August 2011 week four

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

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