Reviews August 2011 week two

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.

LINK

JR

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.

LINK

SLH

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?

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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.

LINK

JR

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.

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

SLH

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.

LINK

MAS

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!):  http://www.page45.com/world/stay-in-touch/

 – Stephen

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