Reviews September 2011 week four

Wonderful news this week that Saudi Arabia will finally be giving its women the vote, and will also allow them to stand in future elections. Progress! Now if it legalised letting them drive without a male relative in the car, then they might actually be able to get to the ballot boxes…

Jonathan on Zahra’s Paradise h/c

Habibi h/c (£20-00, Faber & Faber) by Craig Thompson.

“From the Divine Pen fell the first drop of ink. And from a drop, a river.”

“Like a river has a spring, every story has a source.”

One of the most beautiful books that I have ever held in my life.

From its rich, russet cover embossed with gold and a smooth, raised cameo which one can’t help but stroke, to over 650 black and white pages threaded with Persian mythology, tales from the Qur’an and flooded throughout with patterns steeped in religious symbolism and curling, swirling, Arabic calligraphy, it is a work of wonder.

It’s also bursting with love and humanity – provision, protection, self-sacrifice and survival – but also degradation, desecration and defilement: the very worst we have to offer. Rape. Racism. Sexual slavery. The constant threat of death. Pollution. Oh yes, pollution. This work will surprise you and there are hints early on as tyres and plastic begin appearing anachronistically in the sewers, streams and desert. It takes an unexpectedly modern turn, I can tell you, and water is the key element here: water as a life source during drought, a killer during floods and a purifier too, because I also mean the pollution of innocence.

“The Prophet has said that every child is born with a natural disposition – perfect and lacking nothing – until marred by this world.”

Both Dodola and Cham / Zam / Habibi see far too much of the world far too early on.

When their land dried up with drought, Dodola’s parents sold her into marriage. That was the end of her purity. But it was also the beginning of her literary and religious education, for her husband copied manuscripts which she then learned to read. But her husband’s soon murdered, she is abducted and about to be sold into slavery when she finds a young baby bawling alone on the ground. Seizing her one opportunity she scoops him up and escapes, seeking refuge in a boat in the middle of the desert. It’s there we first find them, Zam and Dodola, three years later, “afloat” on the prow of their boat.

They survive safely for years, Dodola passing on the stories she’d learned from the Qur’an to soothe him to sleep, to bring them together, to motivate, educate and divert him. The boy was originally called Cham, the name of Noah’s third son who was born black then cursed, but to release them both from their past she renames him Zam (and calls him Habibi – “my beloved”) after the sacred well of Zamzam which gushed from the feet of young Ishmael when he and his mother were dying of thirst in the desert. It’s from this point on that Zam and water become inextricably linked in the story whether as a means of last-minute rescue, purification or as its provider. At first it’s the water they bathe naked in together.

“I wash and wash, but still my skin is darker than yours. Is it because I am dirty?”

Zam asks this quite innocently for when he was a mere three she was but twelve. But by the time he turns twelve, Dodola is twenty-one and he starts having entirely natural but, well, really dirty thoughts about her. Whereas they used to wash together, they can’t; whereas they used to share a bed together, Zam wrapped in Dodola’s arms… now it gives him an erection and it starts to tear them apart in a way which will have a profound, emasculatory effect on the boy after Dodola is abducted yet again and sold into sexual slavery in a Sultan’s harem, and he’s left to fend for himself in the nearby village, burning with desire and a fever born of starvation.

And that, I kid you not, is when their journeys really begin during years of tortuous separation.

I have four pages here crammed with notes and quotes but they give far too much away. What I hope I’ve established is the bond between our two metaphorical orphans left to nurture each other and fend for themselves in an environment poor in resources, rich only in predators. Male predators, it should be emphasised, imposing their lust on women, although there are a couple of exceptions (and not just the Eunuchs), most notably the “modern-day” Noah and literal fisher of men whose fishing ground is actually a squalid, disease-ridden river of effluence. It’s his turn to become the provider and that sequence is pure Will Eisner – positively effervescent – you’ll recognise that when you get there!

The biblical Noah also shows up in the one pure burst of comedy here as Dodola and Habibi imagine what life must really have been like on an Ark stuffed to capacity with animals picked in pairs for the purpose of breeding, yet obviously asked to forgo that pleasure for the duration of their stay: there’s just no room at the inn, as it were! The treatment of Noah’s atheistic wife, forbidden entry to the Ark is hilariously irreverent (“Next time, try believing in God!” he bellows from above as she stands in supplication, waste-deep in water.) and I laughed out loud as the animals went in two by two, male and female, the snails asking each other…

“Do we count? We’re hermaphroditic?”
“I’ll play ‘bottom’.”

There’s a superb sequence during which Dodola strives to earn her freedom from the Sultan during his challenge to turn water into gold. She sneaks into the all-male library (women not being trusted to decide for themselves which writings are safe and which are sinful) to study the ancient art of alchemy, but in the end finds a far more ingenious answer for herself, once more proving which of the two is more valuable.

But yes, on the whole, it’s a book about love and survival and although Dodola and Habibi endure against all odds and adversity, I don’t think Thompson is overly optimistic about the human race as a whole. We’re greedy, overpopulated and self-destructive.

“Why create man in the first place? Man forsakes his Creator. Man desecrates Creation.”

“We’ve poisoned the earth, and we’ve poisoned ourselves.”

We’ve also poisoned those life-sustaining waters to the extent that they become death-dealing cesspits of disease; we’ve raped the environment to the extent that modern-day floods of biblical proportion need no mythology to explain them, just global warming; and then we go and build dams in China etc. which actively flood out the plain-dwellers below. In fact, here’s a telling sentence given how much of the book is about slavery:

“Thanks to the dam, our home is no longer slave to flood or drought. We own the water instead of the other way round.”

Then we package it plastic bottles which end up where, precisely? It’s all here, trust me, including the water-bottling factory, the modern day ownership of water presaged well before by others selling what should be a universally commodity and a gift to all from God. I think that’s Thompson’s point.

This is my book of the year so far. We’ve anticipated it keenly for half a decade and for me it delivered on every single front. Better still, it surprised me. I relished its religious aspects – the sacred shapes, the magic squares, the calligraphic iconography, numerology and the way they all slotted together – because Craig married them both imaginatively and faithfully to the central narrative at each particular juncture and then finally, thematically, to love above fear. Structurally it’s astonishing, and it’d be very much surprised if many of these pages didn’t require a great deal of judicious juggling. Visually it is breath-takingly beautiful, each page alive with one flourish or another, and I don’t just mean the ridiculously detailed border frames, chapter pages, the Jinn, the dreams or the dives into the stream (although they were particularly stunning); I mean unexpected frames like the struggle three-thirds of the way down on page 199 between Dodola and the thieves, and some damn fine chase sequences too.

But above all I relished this thematically. It all ties together:

Temptation, torment, and feverish dreams.

“After battle the Prophet said, “We have returned from the Lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad.” When asked “What is the Greater Jihad?” he replied; “It is the struggle against oneself.”

Gender, race, sex, slavery and violence.

“It’s misogynistic, racist… vilifies the descendants of Cham,” sighs Dodola of the legend of the Sultan and the magical fish.

It’s about the power of words, a love of stories. Food and water. Life and death. It’s no coincidence that the Sultan’s gardener is his executioner too. Just look at that fountain with its water cascading from the skulls’ empty eye sockets!

But above all, it seems to me, it’s about protection, provision, sacrifice and survival – spiritual and biological – and a most unusual love story under conditions which seem determined to thwart it.

“Sweet dreams, little Zam. I hope that we’ll make it.”

From the creator of BLANKETS which is now available in hardcover and softcover.

Buy Habibi h/c by Craig Thompson and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

The Man Who Grew His Beard (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Oliver Schrauwen…

“Gentlemen, can I have your attention please? Today there’ll be no free drawing. Instead I’ll give you an assignment. You’ll make a drawing featuring the following items: a cat, a table, a bottle of milk, a mouse, a piece of cheese, Mr. Peters.
“Now these things shouldn’t be put on the page randomly. A storyline will give everything its place and purpose. Here’s a tip: imagine yourself in this room, witnessing events.”

Oddly enough, the title, its font and also the cover art of THE MAN WHO GREW HIS BEARD made me think of the 1985 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks describing the case histories of some of his patients, which given the completely insane collection of shorts in this book, both in terms of the stories and art, may not be entirely coincidental, I suspect. If surreal, single-panel humorist David Shrigley were ever to do comics, this is exactly what they would be like, to the point that I had to do a quick google search to check Olivier Schrauwen wasn’t a nom de plume for Mr. Shrigley. He isn’t.

Taking the story from which the above quote is pulled, The Assignment, and following the teacher’s instructions, one of the class has a rather peculiar and murderous sequences of events play out in his mind’s eye. Let’s see what happens when the teacher returns to see what he’s drawn…

“Now what is this? What happened to the cat?”
“It is dead.”
“And where is the mouse?”
“It’s in the cat.”
“And the cheese is…”
“… in…”
“…the mouse. I get it! That just won’t do, Mister! Get back to it!”

The teacher doesn’t remotely get it, believe you me.

The Man Who Grew His Beard By Oliver Schrauwen

JR

New York Five (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly.

From the creators of LOCAL, this self-contained sequel to NEW YORK FOUR returns us to the lives of five young women handling life in the Big Apple with varying degrees of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-confidence.

Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. She also has a boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie’s no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn’t speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn’t done using Angie to speak to Riley as the first chapter’s cliffhanger makes clear.

Riley’s attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa’s stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona’s less outgoing but still going out, if only to stalk her professor. We’re talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking, dumpster-diving for dirt, and her boyfriend’s unimpressed. I really don’t know what Ren’s problem is. She doesn’t seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?

Like LOCAL, there’s an exceptional spirit of place here whether it’s the civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night or the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn’t find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that…

Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and she asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. This would make the perfect guide, dotted as it is with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark’s Place in The East Village:

“NY 101: St. Mark’s Place, as iconic and compelling as SF’s Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author’s most-missed: the St. Mark’s Cinema.”

For me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals – females with foibles, individuals with issues – gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts. Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, “Noooo, don’t do it!” moments.

Buy New York Five by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Zahra’s Paradise h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Amir & Khalil…

Eloquently written work set in Tehran about a beloved missing son, presumed snatched by the state’s thugs during a protest against the mullahs stealing yet another ‘free and fair’ election. It first appeared as a webcomic, serialised in multiple languages, presumably with a view to disseminating the truth about the violence that is perpetrated towards the burgeoning new wave of political dissidents who have the temerity to protest. Consequently it’s a rather moving read, one which makes you all too glad we live in a free society. At least we merely have greedy, incompetent politicians to cope with, not murderous cowards besmirching religion whilst ruling the roost.

I won’t give any more away about the story, told from the perspective of the mother and brother of the missing young man, but I do sadly get the impression it’s an all too realistic portrayal of a heartbreakingly common scenario. It’s a personal opinion and I’m getting slightly off-topic again, but I can’t help but feel that more damage is done to the good name of Islam in the eyes of the rest of the world by the supposedly legitimate Iranian regime, than any number of deluded individual terrorists or small cells of nutjobs could ever manage to achieve.

The finely pencilled, occasionally sweeping art in this work, meanwhile, neatly compliments the intricately weaving story, and has an almost proto Craig Thompson / Hope Larson feel to it. Overall this is an essential read for anyone wanting to depress themselves a little more about how repressed certain countries’ populations still are in the twenty-first century, by the very people that are supposedly to be leading and inspiring them.

On a lighter note then, wonderful news this week that Saudi Arabia will finally be giving its women the vote, and will also allow them to stand in future elections. Progress! Now if it could just get around to legalising letting them drive without a male relative in the car to accompany them, then they might actually be able to get to the ballot boxes…

Buy Zahra’s Paradise h/c by Amir & Khalil and read the Page 45 review here
JR

Don Quixote vol 1 (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis…

“You’re mistaken, senõr. They are windmills.”

A rather chortle-worthy adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s enduring classic. Saavedra was a real character himself and had what could only be described as an extremely arduous yet adventurous life, including being captured by pirates and enslaved for five years on the way home from being maimed at the Battle of Lepanto, and later on spending nearly a decade in and out of debtors’ prisons. But despite it all, he managed to keep a positive outlook on life, and that certainly resonates throughout the absurdist adventures of his delusionary creation Don Quixote, and his long suffering squire Sancho Panza. This adaptation captures the surrealist nature of the material perfectly with an art style and editorial touch that at times put me in mind of Sergio Aragonés’ GROO, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo’s Astérix comics and indeed even the classic Pink Panther cartoons. Great fun, which proves once and for all that taking the piss out of Alzheimeic old people has been hilariously de rigueur since time immemorial.

Buy Don Quixote vol 1 by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale In Two Tomes (Slipcased Ed’n) (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Cynthia Von Buhler…

Faux autobiography of the conjoined twin musical duo (well they wouldn’t be a trio now would they?) as recounted / channelled to Amanda (Dresden Dolls) Palmer and Jason Webley. Forget the fact that Evelyn Evelyn in real life bare an uncanny resemblance to Palmer and Webley bewigged and frocked up, this is the true fictional story of the sisters’ horrific childhood as illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler in a wide-eyed gothic style which will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Roman Dirge, Jhonen Vasquez et al. It’s a dark and terrible tale, which probably entirely due to having just become a dad, I am tremendously pleased that the sisters didn’t actually have to endure. Neil Gaiman’s a fan apparently (though that’s probably just as well if he wants to avoid a divorce, Amanda being his wife) and provides a thoughtful afterword.

Buy Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale In Two Tomes by Amanda Palmer, Jason Webley & Cynthia Von Buhler and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Blue Estate vol 1 (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury…

“How to read Blue Estate by international acclaimed action film auteur, Jiu-Jitsu master & 9th level Bodhisattva Bruce Maddox.

In Tibet, Buddhist monks practice the art of dul-tson-kyil-khor, or mandala of coloured powders, using sand to create intricate patterns which are then swept away to symbolise the impermanence of life. When it comes to art, mandalas are the most Zen.

Music (like the original sitar ragas I composed for the soundtrack of my film Hunt To Kill 5: Power Fist may be equally transcendent… and the same can be said of certain motion pictures. For example, the entire Hunt To Kill franchise (which I star in, direct and stunt coordinate) is very spiritual (not to mention highly profitable in selected foreign markets).

Unfortunately comic books (and especially comic book collections) are nothing but frivolous distractions on the path to enlightenment, forever trapped in the physical plane. In other words: not so Zen.

However, whilst you may not experience nirvana while reading BLUE ESTATE, the following steps should at least help you to maintain a proper karmic balance:

  • Ensure your nether regions are clothed in loose-fitting garments to avoid a constricted yoni or pinched lingam.
  • Establish a “zone of tranquillity” where you drunken wife can’t find you.
  • Take a deep, cleansing breath. Then, close your eyes. Exhale through your nose. Open your third eye. Inhale through your third nose.
  • Visualise serenity.
  • Now visualise the opposite of serenity: a high-octane adrenalin shot of comic violence, violent comedy, tangled alliances, mistaken identities, desperate heroes, ruthless villains and maximum firepower.

You are now in the BLUE ESTATE state of mind.”

Not often I let one of the characters introduce a book but that probably gives a nice little hyperbolic flavour of exactly what this work is like, i.e. much humour and absolutely everything the final bullet point above promises. I realised pretty quickly this had to be a joke intro but once I actually started reading this crime caper I twigged the Bruce Maddox character, who features heavily within this story, is clearly a spoof of neck-chopping, flabby fantasist Stephen Seagal. I know I’ve bigged a lot of crime books up recently, simply because there have been so many great ones, but this too is brilliantly and hilariously written, full of LA egos, both cinematic and gangster playas (sic), and illustrated in a glorious technicolour style that definitely has hints of Paul Pope pencilling to it. Yet again I find myself saying that crime fans shouldn’t miss this one… or Stephen, I mean, Bruce will come and sort you out with a trademark neck-chop.

Buy Blue Estate vol 1 by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne & Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley, Paul Maybury and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Morning Glories vol 2 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma.

Oh me of little faith!

I had certain doubts about volume One, but each of these six chapters were riddled with revelations and reversals that had me slack-jawed at the implicit scope of what’s been crafted behind the curtain and yet to be unveiled. This is a completely new game, and I’m only just beginning to guess at the rules.

To recap: six new students have been selected to attend a prestigious boarding academy which will not let them go. There literally is no escape and whilst a semblance of regular routine is maintained in the corridors and curriculum, the overt threats from teachers and fellow classmates alike are almost as sinister as what’s not being said. There is a lot that’s not being said.

Here six interlocking short stories focussing on the past, present and potential future of each new Glory reveals them to have far more in common than their birth dates: they’re all so psychologically screwed up it’s just not true. Please don’t think that I know all the answers but… Why can’t Hunter tell the correct time? Where does Jade go each time she dies and why doesn’t she seem to mind? Did Ike really kill his Dad then hire an open-topped bus full of bimbos to jeer at the funeral? And if so, how did he get away with it? Did Jade’s parents die? Why does Jun seem to blow so hot and cold? What is Zoe’s earliest memory, how much is she capable off, and who the hell is David? Who is this Abraham that seems to have intervened in their early lives during crucial hours and what specific, completely unexpected connection does he have to one of them in particular? What do all these teachers actually want? Trust me when I tell you that those are some of the more pedestrian questions you’ll be asking yourself once this book has finished freaking you out.

“Faith isn’t about understanding. It’s about –“
“Putting your hand in someone else’s… and learning to take the good with the bad.”

Very much coming round to the art too: clean lines and a misty colouring.

Buy Morning Glories vol 2 by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Stormbreaker (£8-99, Walker books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako, Yuzuru.

We now have all three Alex Rider graphic novels in stock, each penned by WASTELAND’s Antony Johnston: Stormbreaker, POINT BLANC and Skeleton Key. No idea when I’ll have time to review them properly, but basically: full-colour espionage thrillers starring a fourteen-year-old schoolboy roped reluctantly into MI6 after his guardian uncle is killed on a covert mission. Alex had no idea the supposed banker was actually an undercover agent or that he’d been training Alex as a potential replacement for years. Martial arts, white water rafting, mountaineering, abseiling, scuba diving…? He thought they were hobbies! Learning those multiple languages…? Holidays! It’s only when his one remaining friend in the adult world is threatened with deportation that Alex agrees to join the club and embark on his first mission. Although… those gadgets are pretty cool!

My thirteen-year-old second cousin loved these books with their anime-inspired artwork, and he’s a reluctant reader. I’d say that was a pretty sound piece of market testing for you!

Stormbreaker By Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston and Kanako, Yuzuru

SLH

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Pursuit Of The Flesh (£7-50, Boom!) by Clive Barker & Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson.

Just a quick note to impress upon you that this is the new series from Boom Studios as opposed to the classic series from epic available once more as HELLRAISER MASTERPIECES. Also, fans of the recent DAMAGED series written by David Lapham or Andy Diggle’s magic, three-volume run on HELLBLAZER beginning with JOYRIDE will relish the grit and the gore which their artist Leonardo Manco has not skimped on here. He’s by no means slacking here, and neither is Stephen Thompson who’s all a bit Butch Guice.

Clive Barker’S Hellraiser: Pursuit Of The Flesh By Clive Barker and Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson

SLH

Marvel Illustrated: Dracula (£12-99, Marvel) by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano.

Formerly black and white, now full-colour.

Buy Marvel Illustrated: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano here

SLH

Art Of Metal Gear Solid h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood.

Breathlessly energetic and effortlessly poised full-page painting here. Huge weight on every mech and mercenary. If you can’t be bothered reading the graphic novels when you’ve already played the games (yup), you can just sit back and admire the formidably impressive artwork instead.

Buy Art Of Metal Gear Solid h/c by Ashley Wood here

SLH

The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man h/c (£13-50, B&B) by Michael Chabon & Jake Parker.

From the award-winning writer of Kavalier & Clay which later went on to inspire Brian K. Vaughn’s exceptional THE ESCAPISTS with art by Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander and Philip Bond, a bright and shiny young children’s book with a big broad grin that sparkles like those old tv ads for Colgate toothpaste. Packs an awesome punch(line).

Buy The Astonishing Secret Of Awesome Man h/c by Michael Chabon & Jake Parker here

SLH

Avengers Prime s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

“Hop on.”
“There’s got to be another horse running around here somewhere.”
“Hop on! Let’s go.”
“Any excuse to get me to hold you.”
“You see right through me.”
“Where’s Thor?”
“Don’t know exactly. I’m following the lightning.”

Not a single tower of the once mighty Asgard is standing. Amongst the stone ruins there are fires ablaze as the timbers and fine linen of the more opulent halls crackle and spit out flaming-hot cinders, and the night sky is clouded with smoke. Steve Rogers in combats and a black, polar-necked sweatshirt comes straight to the point:

“Thor, tell us what you need and you will have it.”
“Just seeing it like this… my Father’s kingdom in complete ruin.”
“Hey, anything can be rebuilt. Anything. Every time I’ve had to rebuild this armour, I’ve always made it better every time. Wait till you see my new stuff.”

Good old Tony look-at-me Stark: Mr. Sensitive 2010. No wonder Steve is pissed off.

“We’ll see.”
“We’ll see what?”
“I’m not convinced letting you keep that armour is in the best interests of the country, Iron Man. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Just in case you’ve been holidaying on the moon these last five years, the three core Avengers – Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – have issues with each other. Or at least Thor and Steve Rogers have issues with Iron Man, and have had ever since CIVIL WAR. Then Tony Stark took the government’s position on the Superhuman Registration Act and endorsed the construction of a cyborg clone from Thor’s cell tissues. It killed one of their friends. Then he had Steve Rogers locked up for good measure.

Anyway, the destruction of Asgard in SIEGE comes with additional hazards like the Rainbow Bridge, a portal to other dimensions, being broken. But before they can contain the gateway, the gateway contains them, sucking them through to three different, otherworldly locations, none of them particularly hospitable. Stark is deprived of his armour and runs around naked, desperately trying to hide his genitals with rejoinders (he has a sympathetic letterer) and trying to wise-crack his way back into his old friends’ hearts.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, Steve. I take back almost everything I have ever said.”
“Why are you naked?”
“It’s the new armour. It’s see-through.”
“Jokes? Really?”
“It’s very high-tech.”

He even finds time to mix up his Shakespeare, holding his helmet in his hand and paraphrasing Richard III.

A very old Avengers villain reappears in a radically different role, there are dragons, elves and ogres which for once don’t rankle with me at all, a romance snatched away at the last minute for Steve, and the most enormous art from the softest of artists, Alan Davis. What’s not to love?

Buy Avengers Prime s/c by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Batman: The Widening Gyre s/c (£13-50, DC) by Kevin Smith &Walter Flanagan, Art Thibert…

“So… Alfred said a girl came over this morning. Anyone I…?”
“No one you know.”
“Alfred says she calls you Deedee. What’s all that about?”
“Business, Robin, mind it.”
“Did you guys… y’knowww…”
“If I was interested in smutty innuendo, I’d partner up with Eel O’Brian.”
“Fair enough. But if you have any questions about the feelings you’re having… or just questions about girls in general… you can always come and ask me. Okay, sport?”
“Alfred and his big mouth…”

Hmm, okay, so I am now forced to completely revise my opinions about Kevin Smith as a Batman writer because THE WIDENING GYRE is absolutely everything a great Bat-book should be: packed with action, intrigue, witty dialogue and a brooding Bruce. I’m not completely sure that Mr Smith is halfway to an Absolute edition as he coyly suggests in the afterword, but it’s certainly a major stride and flying kick to the side of the head forward from the relatively one dimensional CACOPHONY. I was rather puzzled why this is billed as a sequel to that book. I wasn’t by the end, but it would be somewhat churlish of me to say any more, and it’s certainly forced me to revise my opinion about CACOPHONY. Seen as an appetiser to the main course, it’s a rather different dish, much less bland than it first seemed.

Once again we get a look into an unknown chapter of Bruce Wayne’s past, as old flame Silver St. Cloud, aware of his true identity, unexpectedly comes back into his life, and completely prepared to share him by night with the streets of Gotham. And there’s another significant new arrival in the form of the vigilante Baphomet, who’s got all the makings of a possible ally, and whom, over a significant period of time, Bruce is seriously considering bringing into the inner Bat-fold as a trusted working associate. It’s well written stuff as we see Bruce / Batman struggling with trust issues about allowing a new person gradually into the different aspects of his life. The big difference of course is that Silver St. Cloud is already aware that Bruce is Batman, whereas Baphomet is of course unaware that Batman is Bruce. Eventually, won over by his discovery of a very significant tragedy in Baphomet’s past, he decides to bring him fully into the fold…

I can’t explain why, this is just one of those books that you have to read before someone else tells you too much about it. It is destined to become a minor classic I think, and with the impending publication of a third book which will conclude the wider arc (which becomes apparent) it is actually definitely in with a chance of achieving an Absolute collected edition.

Buy Batman: The Widening Gyre s/c by Kevin Smith &Walter Flanagan, Art Thibert… and read the Page 45 review here

JR

DC New 52… mostly sold out last week before I had chance to even look. Well, they obviously don’t need me to promote them. Selected reprints due 19/10/11, the same day as their second issues, I think.

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs – and quite a lot this week are! Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names.

Love And Rockets: New Stories #4 (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez

The Finder Library vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Carla Speed McNeil

Pure Pajamas h/c (£16-99, D&Q) by Marc Bell

Feeding Ground hardcover (£18-99, Archaia) by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski

Hellboy vol 11: The Bride Of Hell And Others (£14-99, Dark Horse by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales Book 2 (£13-50, DC) by Alan Moore, Steve Moore & various

Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah (£10-99, Boom!) by Mike Mignola, Troy Nixey & Troy Nixey, Farel Dalrymple

The Wrong Place (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Brecht Evans

The Book Of Human Insects hardcover (£16-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

1-800-Mice h/c (£16-99, Picturebox) by Matthew Thurber

Holy Terror h/c (£22-50, Legendary) by Frank Miller

Emma hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jane Austen, Nancy Butler & Janet Lee

A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 1 s/c (£12-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 2 s/c (£12-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Ozma Of Oz h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

The New Teen Titans: Games hardcover (£18-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & George Perez

Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer hardcover (£16-99, DC) by Tony Bedard & Tyler Kirkham

JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Howard Porter, John Dell, Oscar Jimenez, Don Hillsman

Strange Tales vol 2 softcover (humour) (£14-99, Marvel) by various including Harvey Pekar, Jhonen Vasquez, Rafael Grampa, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Terry Moore, Jeff Lemire, James Stokoe, Nicholas Gurewitch, Dean Haspiel, Dash Shaw, Gene Luen Yang, Kate Beaton, Shannon Wheeler, Kevin Huizenga, Jeffrey Brown, Paul Mayberry, Paul Hornschemeier, Tony Millionaire, Farel Dalrymple, Jon Vermilyea, Benjamin Marra, Tim Hamilton, Michael Deforge, Alex Robinson, Eduardo Medeiros

Iron Man 2.0: Palmer Addley Is Dead s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barry Kitson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Kano, Ariel Olivetti

Essential Defenders vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel) by J.M. DeMatteis & Don Perlin, Sal Buscema

Ultimate Comics New Ultimates vol 1: Thor Reborn s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

Irredeemable vol 7 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Peter Krause, Diego Barreto

Spawn Origins vol 12 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo

Bloody Monday vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryou Ryumon & Kouji Megumi

Gon vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Masashi Tanaka

Arisa vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Natsumi Ando

Sailor Moon vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

Codename Sailor V vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

XXXholic vol 17 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Clamp

House Of Five Leaves vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

Negima! vol 31 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Berserk vol 35 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Rosario + Vampire Season II vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Akihisa Ikeda

The Moon And The Sandals vol 1 (£9-99, June) by Fumi Yoshinaga

The Moon And The Sandals vol 2 (£9-99, June) by Fumi Yoshinaga

Kabuki vol 1: Flower (£9-99, June) by Yukari Hashida

Mouse Guard Role Playing Game h/c (£25-99, Archaia) by Luke Crane & David Petersen

Bolland: Cover Story: The DC Comics Art Of Brian Bolland h/c (£29-99, DC) by Brian Bolland

Williams: Eklektikos hardcover (£37-99, ASFA) by Kent Williams

Vampire Art Now h/c (£22-50, Harper) by Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Matthew David Becket

Page 45 Facebook fans are now being deluged by a tenth of my tweets. Yes, that’s still a deluge. They seem to “like” them, though.

– Stephen

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