Reviews September 2011 week one

 “So you think money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?”

– Ayn Rand. Find out in The Rinse @ just 80 pence.

A Zoo In Winter h/c (£12-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi…

Ahh, Mr. Taniguchi you’ve done it again with this deeply thoughtful fictional work suffused throughout with gently beating veins of autobiography. Just how much of this work is purely fictional and how much is directly autobiographical I honestly have no idea, but I certainly read it with the strong sense that the portrayal of the main character Hamaguchi is perhaps very closely based on Taniguchi himself. And also certain specific events that take place within the book are direct representations of actual events, I suspect. Regardless of the emotional connection to Taniguchi’s own past though this is a really moving work, and certainly one that alongside QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL, A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD and THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS I will be recommending in perpetuity to people who inquire about more sophisticated manga.

The story opens with a young man at the beginning of a fairly typical salaryman’s career working for a textile manufacturer in Kyoto circa 1966, who then almost by chance falls into a new career as a mangaka’s (manga master) assistant in Tokyo. From then on the story focuses heavily on the trials and tribulations that a budding manga artist faces both in terms coping with the hectic working schedule and hitting the relentless weekly deadlines, but also adjusting to the social life of the more bohemian set. Along the way there’s just enough time for some romance too, both firsthand with a particularly frail young lady and also at a remove as a chaperone to the textile boss’s daughter.

As ever, Taniguchi’s art is impressively crisp and precise, with typically lavish attention paid to minute background details, without them ever becoming a distraction. I always feel that reading something illustrated by Taniguchi is a genuinely immersive experience, precisely because of such detailing. It draws you in deeply to the world he’s created as much as any well produced television programme or film does, and thus creates a seamless experience for the reader.

Much of the subtle poignancy of this work does come from wondering precisely which are Taniguchi’s own experiences, particularly when it comes to the romantic element, not least the slightly mysterious ending that’s not really an ending. I would love to know whether the frail young lady was a real person in Taniguchi’s life and, if so, precisely what did become of her. I have my suspicions, but no amount of googling has yet revealed any definitive answers! Maybe that’s for the best, as no answer is necessary really to receive the warm emotional message which Taniguchi would like you to take away from this work.

LINK

JR

Alan Moore: Storyteller h/c (£25-00, ILEX) by Gary Spencer Millidge >

“He spoke for us and offers us the symbols and stories reflecting how we felt. For me he does for fiction what Dylan does for music. He’s a Robert Johnson of the Age of Doubt; questioning, confronting, mourning and yearning, representing his readers in profound ways, an intellectual autodidact, one of my few true peers for whom I have limitless respect.”

 — Michael Moorcock

Moorcock’s forward raises the curtain on Gary Spencer Millidge’s lavish presentation of the life and works of Alan Moore, “a shaman…  a visionary.” Part biography, part audio-visual smorgasbord, the most accurate description of this book would be a literary life, except that, as Millidge amply demonstrates, Moore’s vocation as a storyteller takes him far beyond the printed word. The entirety of his work — in music, film, television, novels and short stories, as well as comics — is comprehensively recounted in Millidge’s commentary, quotes from Moore, and recollections from co-creators and friends.

The whole package is gorgeously illustrated in full colour on high-grade glossy paper and it displays a design sensibility that renders it an object of beauty in its own right. The large format (28.4 x 22 cm) coupled with the high-standard of production characteristic of ILEX (the people who brought us the two volumes of EROTIC COMICS) allow the visual elements of the book to shine, offering a tantalising glimpse of an alternate universe in which strips like ROSCOE MOSCOW and MAXWELL THE MAGIC CAT (whose scruffy mug graces the title page) have been codified into Absolute editions. Even as it affords an appropriate privilege to the visual elements, the format accords ample breathing space for Millidge’s engaging and knowledgeable prose, which is sure to provide new information for readers from all levels of initiation into Moore-ish esoterica. Alongside iconic images with which many readers will be familiar, such as the wedding photo of Alan and Melinda from 2007 and Mitch Jenkin’s portraits from Unearthing, are novelties such as the class photo from Moore’s penultimate year at Northampton grammar school, Eddie Campbell’s portrait of Johnny Depp in the style of FROM HELL, and an unlikely still of Moore in the company of Cliff Richard, Shakin’ Stevens, Alvin Stardust and Muppet the dog (taken from an episode of Get Fresh! in 1987).

With reprints of pages and panels from the most celebrated to the most arcane of Moore’s writings – as well as from the works that have most influenced him – this feels as much like a sourcebook or anthology as it does a conventional biography. Alongside representative reproductions from SWAMP THING, WATCHMEN and FROM HELLl, we find material from – to name but a few – ANON E. MOUSE, ST. PANCRAS PANDA, THE BOWING MACHINE and ASTOUNDING WEIRD PENISES, “the first and only comic book that Moore has ever entirely written and drawn himself”. The presentation of works whose origins lie in British comics, like V FOR VENDETTA and MARVELMAN, strikes a nice balance between facsimiles of the original black and white pages and the colourised reprints released into the American market. The inclusion of an extensive array of previously unpublished documents adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings and is enough to make the seasoned Moore aficionado quiver with delight. These include, in addition to photographic facsimiles of Moore’s notebooks and typescripts, items such as Moore’s certificate of baptism (“They spelt my fucking name wrong!”), the initial script to V FOR VENDETTA, chapter V (the only bit that, David Lloyd recalls, “failed to slot into place like the perfectly machined component I always expected him to manufacture”), and the “legendary” chart that plots the epic story of BIG NUMBERS on a single sheet of A1 paper (“one of the main reasons I did it was to frighten other writers. Just for the look on Neil Gaiman’s face”).

Indeed, if the inhabitants of that immaterial planet of fiction whose histories and geographies Moore and O’Neill have been mapping throughout THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN were to write books about the notables living among us, this is the sort of work they might produce. It’s the Black Dossier of biographies, culminating in a fold-out timeline and audio accompaniment in the form of a CD affixed to the back cover (no mean-spirited wranglings over copyright to plague this musical insert). Indeed, the nineteen-track collection contains an impressive selection from Moore’s back catalogue, extracted from a host of rare and previously unreleased recordings and post-mastered by Gary Lloyd. Of course, taking these songs and spoken-word performances out of context has its shortcomings – for example, the “Experience” section of the Blake tribute, Angel Passage, can only be fully appreciated when listening to the piece as a whole – but the CD successfully gives a flavour of Moore’s musical diversity and at the very least gives us a greatest hits collection that outstrips those of many contemporary pop acts. Queue the Sinister Ducks and Emperors of Ice Cream.

Proud owners of George Khoury’s THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE may note some similarities in editorial approach and scope, but the two volumes are doing fundamentally different things and both are essential reading for those serious about the study of the man and his works. Whereas THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE interweaves Khoury’s extended interviews with tributes from various writers and artists, STORYTELLER presents itself as the outcome of sustained and serious research by someone with a detailed working experience of the comics medium and significant access to Moore’s physical and mental spaces – one of the unexpected delights in the opening pages is an extended description of Moore’s house, yielding insight into his unique take on interior design (“starlight shines through holes drilled into a dropped ceiling and the walls are decorated with golden cherubs”) and his lost-calling as a property developer: “Moore admits that he’ll never be able to sell the house”. Millidge’s chronicle incorporates, it is true, a considerable amount of material from previously published interviews (meticulously documented in several pages of endnotes), but he has also undertaken his own interviews of Moore and others. There is, moreover, clear evidence of the researcher’s hand in the inclusion of new information and resources from many close to Moore and his work (including Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, David Lloyd, Eddie Campbell, John Coulthart, Stephen Bissette, Oscar Zarate and others).

Ultimately, Millidge imbues his book with a clear focus and a richness of detail that rewards careful attention. Quite simply this account of Moore and his oeuvre is more expansive, exhaustive and enjoyable than anything published to date.

LINK

Matt Green

Any Empire h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Nate Powell…

“WHAT?!”
“I know everything. Remember that.”

This is an intriguing new work from the creator of SWALLOW ME WHOLE, which clearly has much to say about war and its impact upon American society right down to the effect upon its kids. Which all serves to make this sound like quite heavy going when, in fact, it’s just the opposite. ANY EMPIRE is told through the lens of local children in a typical, non-descript small American town, including the likeable Lee with his Air Force dad, and the altogether less likeable fantasist Purdy, who claims his dad was a green beret, and Purdy’s sister Sarah, who loves animals and is a bit of a Nancy Drew fan on the quiet.

Someone is committing violence to baby turtles in the local cornfields with a baseball bat, and both Sarah and Lee, quite independently, have their suspicions as to who is behind it. Purdy, meanwhile just seems to be intent on being as obnoxious to Lee as possible whilst still maintaining a friendship with him. But just when I thought this was going to settle into a fairly standard piece of contemporary fiction, it skips forward in time a few years, then further again to graduation in rapid succession, when our characters then go their separate ways.

Purdy, perhaps not surprisingly for such an angry young man, joins up and gets to see some real action overseas, and then the story begins to deviate somewhat from plausible contemporary fiction into the realms of… well I’m not precisely sure what! Clearly much of what follows from this point on must be intended as metaphor and the somewhat surreal conclusion of Purdy’s homecoming and the mixing of various characters from different time periods have a deeper meaning or meanings. Some of that meaning was instantly apparent to me, but certainly not all, and I think therefore will require a second reading for me to comprehend it completely. Not that this spoilt the work for me at all. I loved the complete insanity of the conclusion which, in and of itself, is a statement about war and, as with SWALLOW ME WHOLE, Powell’s art is a triumph of expressive looseness, which allows him to get away with taking the story in such an abstract direction.

LINK

JR

The Rinse #1 (80 pence) by Gary Phillips & Marc Laming.

“There’s nothing like the air in the countryside.
“The smell of money is much sharper out there.”

Jeff Sinclair is a man who plans and keeps the map of any money trail hidden in his head. His job is to disperse vast sums of cash so that they can never be found, and certainly not traced. He is discreet, cautious, meticulous and methodical. Unfortunately for Jeff, not everyone he encounters is half so sage and in the space of one short day in sunny San Francisco three key encounters look likely to sully his otherwise clean bill of wealth. It’s about to get brutal.

Welcome back, Marc Laming! It’s been 15-odd years since he joined fourteen other artists here to sign at our second Independents Day, and if I knew he’d be returning in such fine form I’d have missed him even more. So many artists skimp on the details, leaving their figures stranded weightless and lifeless in limbo; but here every car, every bar, every single street awning is rich in texture and light, while each individual negotiating this living, breathing city must do so in step to its beat. I also happen to know that in the second or third issue Page 45 will find itself with a brand new branch in The Bay. Yes, apparently we’ve just opened in San Francisco, and that’s what I mean by detail! (Make a note for future reference: we feature in the same panel as a horse.)

There’s also a renewed softness to his forms, a love of deft smiles, and the way Jeff subtly adjusts his glasses or keeps close watch from beneath their upper frames makes all the difference in the world. As for his women, I offer you evidence on August 30th of precisely why you need this comic: Marc’s own blogspot:

LINK

SLH

Green River Killer h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case…

A fascinating memoir (and I use that word quite deliberately) penned by the son of the detective who helped finally crack the case of the most prolific serial killer in US history – responsible for the deaths of over forty-eight women and girls – the rather blandly named Green River Killer of Seattle. The non-fictional nature of the material and also its atypical presentation serves to make this work considerably different from the recent glut of crime books. It is then primarily a biographical work rather than crime per se, which I don’t mean at all in a pejorative way, I just merely want to be completely clear about exactly what genre of book this is.

So, we the readers, start with the knowledge of precisely who the killer is, one Gary Leon Ridgeway as this tale is told partly in flashback, and what follows is as much of an analysis of Detective Tom Jensen and his Seattle P.D. colleagues, as they struggle with their manhunt over a period of twenty years, as a presentation of the facts of the case. The portions in the present day focus on their interviews with Ridgeway, who with a view to avoiding the death penalty for the eight murders the cops are certain they can pin on him, has offered to disclose the locations and manner of deaths of all his other victims. It’s a fruitless process to begin with as Detective Jensen suspects Ridgeway is deliberately misleading them, which makes no sense whatsoever to the good detective as if Ridgeway can’t produce more bodies, the deal is off the table and he’ll be heading straight for the electric chair. When you get the revelation as to precisely why Ridgeway has been stalling the cops, your stomach will turn. The sequences in the past illuminate various key moments, turning points and indeed dead ends in the investigation over the years, and serve to highlight the arduous nature of cracking such a difficult and high-profile case, plus Jensen’s inability to kick his smoking habit.

The irony, much like with the UK’s own Yorkshire Ripper is that the cops had Ridgeway pegged as a prime suspect quite early on, but it’s not until significant advances in DNA technology allowing for the reconstruction of partial DNA evidence, that they are finally able to nail him. So, whilst this work may not necessarily appeal to crime fiction addicts, if you have any interest in a look at real behind-the-scenes police work and the humdrum private lives of ordinary cops, this will certainly appeal. I loved it.

JR

The Crow: Special Edition (£16-99, Titan) by James O’Barr.

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.”

 – Dante

“Every bullet has a bed. It just needs to be tucked in.”

 – The Crow

Pain, Fear, Irony, Despair, Death. James O’Barr’s poetic tale of love, loss, all-consuming guilt and an attempt to salvage redemption was both deeply melancholic and remorselessly bleak to the extent that I used to advise removing all razor blades from readers’ households before even opening it. The harrowing original to a film that was comparatively jaunty, it really was that grim, buried under the author’s own guilt about the death of friend which he felt responsible for. It’s still an angry, haunting and haunted read, but with the addition of thirty new pages here either rescued and recreated from the cutting room floor or enabled by the O’Barr’s more mature artistic prowess and a certain resolution to his troubles, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel (even if it’s to the other side) which is far from a cop-out, but an apposite ending the author could never have conceived of back then. It’s all explained in the new introduction.

“A year ago… a cold October night… a broken down car on a dirt road… A man… a girl… madness… pain… and shadows… My God, the shadows!!”
“… You?!? … T-Bird said you was dead.”
“Am I not?”

Cue Joy Division lyrics, tortured recollections and the growth of an artist in public. O’Barr’s initially limited, EC-style renderings in pitch-black pen and ink soon blossom into some seriously impressive figure work and iconic imagery, interspersed with pages of soft, whiter wash.

Twelve months after the murder of his fiancée at the hands of a gang he couldn’t fend off, Eric had risen from the dead, reborn as a post-punk preacher in black leather and kohl, to evangelise his way through the culprits one by one through the barrel of a gun. His motivation is revenge; his conscience is a crow; but his only hope lies in forgiveness.

“Are you mad?!! I could never forgive them!!”
“Not them, idiot! Yourself!!”

LINK

SLH

Bone: 20th Anniversary Full Colour One Volume Collector’s Box Set (£250-00, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith.

Limited to 2,000 copies worldwide, this enormous, gorgeously illustrated box with magnetic clasp contains:

The complete, 1344-page, full-colour BONE hardcover measuring 9 ½” x 7” x 3” decked with foil stamps and a satin ribbon bookmark.
A signed and numbered art print of previously unpublished concept art.
A 22k gold-plated coin with Phoney Bone’s head on one side (obviously!) and Phone Bone on the other dated July 1991 (when BONE #1 was first published and Mark’s eyes lit up like brightly coloured marbles) and July 2011.
Three pewter figures of the Bone cousins.
A miniature facsimile of BONE #1 with its original colour scheme.
A cover gallery and documentary book including a brand new essay by Jeff Smith himself, an illustrated, 20-year timeline, every single comic and collected edition cover, and an award-winning, feature-length documentary DVD, ‘The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE, and the Changing Face of Comics.

Click on the images here to enlarge them and see exactly what’s inside.

SLH

The Last Dragon h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

Dragons are a draw.

If we harbour so much love for creatures long lost – the giant lizards of yore whose haunting, hollow, excavated skeletons loom so impressively over our heads in natural history museums, catalysing the human imagination and a deep-seated regret – how much more romantic is our notion of the winged beasties which never existed? Freed from the confines of both biology and physics, these dazzlingly hued, fire-breathing, multiformed majesties have taken wing in our hearts and minds since mythologies began. However ferocious their threat, they’ve often been imbued with a certain nobility – hence perhaps the designated rank and heroic calibre of their various nemeses, and their pride of place on the Welsh national flag. There’s also occasionally an aspect of tragedy involved, perfectly evoked in the recent comic FOUR EYES.

Here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted by the isles to extinction. But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.

Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.

That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.

Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t do opaque is merely a personal preference. I honestly think this will go down a storm.

SLH

Drifters vol 1 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano.

“I have no idea where this is or what’s going on. I don’t even know if this is real or a dream. I only know… HOW TO RUN INTO THINGS HEAD ON!”

Fights, lamp posts, other people’s conversations… he’s not very specific, but you get the general gist: young O-Toyohisa is an impetuous warrior, one with a penchant for cleaving in twain. From the creator of Hellsing, the book’s original solicitation copy read:

“Imagine a world of magic, full of elves and hobbits and dragons and orcs.”

<shudder>

Fortunately that’s merely the arena whose gladiators have been gathered from all over the shop, the humble market stall, le supermarché (libre-service), and even the bartering barn before money was even invented. What do I mean? Flash back to feudal Japan where young O-Toyohisa is retreating, bloodied from the mother of all military maelstroms, and stumbles through a hole in the rain and into… an infinitely long, electrically lit corridor. On either side stretch doors upon doors. Some are bricked up, others are made of riveted iron, others sport whorled glass… and there, at a distance is a desk. A man in spectacles sits smoking behind it. Apparently he is “out to lunch”. Another door opens and O-Toyohisa dives through: “Next?”

Next is a 20th Century soldier.

When O-Toyohisa next awakes in any meaningful way he finds himself in the company of two more Japanese warriors: Nobunaga (hmmm… Onimusha?) and Yoichi. But Nobunaga was supposed to have died eighteen years ago and Yoichi… he’s the stuff of legend! Thankfully they find an attack on a local elf settlement settles their own differences in its defence… and all the while they are watched from afar.

Unknown parties are playing a game and in its pursuit they have snatched up prized champions from a multitude of temporal and geographical chess boards: Hannibal, Scipio, Anastasia Romanov, Joan Of Arc; cowboys, pilots, Japanese warriors. It’s all a bit Doctor Who: War Games.

“A melee of madness,” it promised and they did not lie; but I too promise you a melee of madness if you dare bring an elf anywhere fucking near me. I’d rather lick the back of Thatcher’s leathery neck.

LINK

SLH

Turf h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Jonathan Ross & Tommy Lee Edwards.

You’ve got to be curious, yes? Can the dapper dandy and self-confessed comicbook nerd jettisoned by the BBC actually write what he reads? Well, its first chapter was anything to go by, yes, he can.

New York City during the snow-swept February of 1929: a time of underground jazz clubs and speakeasies populated by high society and lowlifes alike, for ten years ago Prohibition put the money in the hands of those on the make and police and politicians on the take. Protected by the very law they are breaking and lord knows how many gunmen of their own, the gang bosses are virtually untouchable. So how come the Delancey family just disappeared overnight? Was it Don Mario Bava’s gang? Mmmm, probably not, no. Don Mario Bava, the Capo Di Tutti Capi, has just been slaughtered along with his mob high up on the 57th floor of the Baltimore Hotel in their private, unassailable penthouse suite. Strung from the ceiling, some of them with their throats ripped out. And the strange thing is that only one man got in its elevator that night: Stefan Dragonmir, young brother of Gregori. Four years ago the Dragonmir family arrived on the scene, all the way from Romania. They bought their way into society by lavishing money on charities, but there is tension between the two brothers, for one is more ambitious than the other.

Thanks to Edwards this is steeped in period atmosphere. He can do rakish (Stefan) as well as debonair (Gregori), sharp-dressed and sleazy too. His interior decor is as well researched as his exterior architecture, and Ross too knows his stuff. But you’ve seen so many mob films before, so what sets this apart? Is it the vampires? Yes, but we’ve seen that mixed with crime in comics too (BITE CLUB). No, what sets it apart, on top of all that, is that a bloody great spaceship has just crashed into Coney Island’s funfair! Both Edwards and Ross play that straight, making the incongruity even funnier. So if you thought this sounded just a little too familiar, I defy you to predict where on earth it goes next.

[Editor’s note: the periodical’s erratic publishing schedule meant that I missed the subsequent issues, so the rest will have to wait its turn. So many books, so little time…!]

LINK

SLH

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 1 – New World (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis…

And so begins the wider Hell On Earth arc, which sees Abe Sapien and his BPRD chums surrounded on all sides by horrific sub-human life forms and generally dealing with deviants intent on unseemly behaviour towards them… Yes, it’s the BPRD annual trip out to Yates Wine Lodge in Nottingham’s Market Square.

Well not really, but oddly enough following on from the literally earth-shattering events of BPRD vol 14: KING OF FEAR comes this enticingly titled vol 1 jumping-on point for potential new readers. And whilst you could indeed start reading BPRD here, at what is in reality vol 15, you would then almost certainly want to go back and read everything else that has led up to this dramatic point.

Why that wily Mr. Mignola, you’d almost think that’s exactly what he intended!?! Very clever of Dark Horse therefore to let BPRD vol 1: HOLLOW EARTH almost simultaneously go temporarily out of print…

LINK

JR

Invincible Iron Man vol 8: Unfixable h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Salvador Larocca, John Romita Jr., Andrea Mutti.

“They say, in certain rooms, that to compare is to despair. Your life is your own, judge it only by that measure.”

Sound advice.

Alas, Doctor Otto Octavius has so many chips on what’s left of his shoulders that he looks like a deep-fat fryer. He really does these days, and both the chips and the degenerative state of his body are the direct result of the years misdirecting his undeniable scientific skills towards increasingly bitter conflict. Here the source of his sour-faced grudge is an early encounter on the scientific circuit with a dismissive Tony Stark; his challenge – under duress – is to get Stark to fix him or else admit he can’t. He probably can’t, but he can pick the bad Doctor’s brains about his resident saboteur and appeals to his ego to do so. Nice touch. Will it help?

Another nice touch: Larocca dramatically shifting his inking style during the flashbacks to something a little more European complete with Moebius flecks of texture.

Meanwhile Stark Resilient continues its bid to rebuild Asgard, leading directly into FEAR ITSELF. Reprints INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #501-503, IRON MAN/THOR FCBD one-shot and RESCUE #1.

SLH

Thunderbolts Ultimate Collection: Ellis & Deodato s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato.

“All that matters are politics, psychology and ratings.”

Fortunately I rate the politics and psychology on offer here very highly indeed. It’s more chilling than a fridge which whiffs of rotting meat and whose light won’t work.

A government-sanctioned group of criminal super-psychopaths are coerced into joining a field team whose missions, post-CIVIL WAR, are to locate, capture and contain (or maybe even kill) any superheroes who for some reason or other don’t fancy working for a government that would endorse such a policy. Instead they still insist on defending the helpless from thieves, rapists and murderers in spite of the risks that now puts them under. Those volatile operatives (Venom, Moonstone, Penance, Radioactive Man, Swordsman and Bullseye – the last one unleashed only in extreme circumstances and beyond the public gaze) are, along with comparative angel Songbird, held in check by the manipulative cunning of one Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn, a bi-polar control freak inadvisably mixing his own medication, and only just managing to keep it together himself. He sweats, he mutters, he obsesses, but his grasp on spin is note-perfect, lying like crazy to a national media interested merely in story rather than truth or education.

Moonstone is equally manipulative, herself a fully qualified psychiatrist, and thanks to Deodato’ s darker, sultry and more textured artwork (along with Rainier Breed’s colours), she oozes coquettish charm when sidling up to her team mates, like a cat playing with its catch. You can almost smell the pheromones. Osborne, meanwhile, never more frightening than when almost in control of himself, is creased in close-up with age lines, as subtle and worrying expressions flicker across his leathery face.

There’s plenty of plot in the pot as the series simmers along, but when it’s brought to the boil in the second half reprinted here in this complete, double edition, they’re going to get badly scalded. Of that second book I wrote…

“I’m going to be in therapy for the rest of my life.”

Second half of Ellis’ warren of wrong, wherein half a dozen of the world’s most fucked up psychopaths have been given Presidential license to subjugate unregistered superhumans and hold them for questioning in the twilight bowels of Thunderbolts Mountain. They have… issues. Norman Osborn is in command – of the others if not himself – the neo-Nazi is in love with his dead sister, the alien symbiote is feeling hungry, and Bullseye’s been starved of target practice. Recently four previously unknown miscreants have more or less handed themselves in. Are they all telepaths?

I predict a riot.

LINK

SLH

Essential Web Of Spider-Man vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Danny Fingeroth, Tom DeFalco, Peter David, David Michelinie, Ann Nocenti & Greg Larocque, Jim Mooney, Vince Colletta, Mike Harris Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Tony Salmons.

It takes me mere seconds to point out / remind you that a) Marvel’s ESSENTIAL VOLUMES are black and white phone books reprinting some 25 issues or so each of older material, this being from roughly 25 years ago, b) we’ve recently moved all our ESSENTIAL volumes upstairs because although they sell like crazy online they don’t shift on the shop floor where they used to take up two whole shelves, so just ask and we’ll get what you want down, c) no one, but no one has ever produced inks at Marvel as beautiful as Kyle Baker’s. Here there’s more evidence of that. Not a lot, but enough to make me smile at them again.

LINK

SLH

X-Men: Phoenix Rising s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Chris Claremont & John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Bolton, Mike Collins…

“But do me a favour, would you? If you ever come up with a great idea for how Uncle Ben or Bucky could still be alive… keep it to yourself, okay?”

A short excerpt from one of the funniest forewords I’ve read for quite a while, written back in 1999 by Kurt Busiek, explaining how he in fact came up with the actual idea for bringing Jean Grey back to life, and only got a mis-spelt credit to show for it! Also to be fair to Kurt – and the killer last line I’ve appropriated above which made me chuckle out loud – he couldn’t have foreseen Brubaker’s masterful resurrection of Bucky Barnes as told in the CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLIDER ULTIMATE COLLECTION. Uncle Ben does need to stay dead though, I’m right with Kurt on that one.

Sadly, the execution of the idea, radical as it was at the time, left a lot to be desired and doesn’t really sit alongside the still-worthy Dark Phoenix Saga as a companion piece, as Marvel originally intended. In fact, that is possibly why they had two cracks at telling it, both of which are contained within this collection. The first attempt is the whole shooting match, starting from the discovery of a mysterious object submerged in Jamaica Bay where the X-Men previously crash-landed a space shuttle and the Phoenix first emerged from the waters, stretched tortuously out over an Avengers issue, an FF issue and X-Factor #1 (the first run), and is so, so heavy with exposition it’s actually quite painful to read. I reached the stage where if one more character were to tell me in great detail exactly what they were doing in that particular panel, I felt like I might start spontaneously combusting myself.

The second crack at telling the story – well basically just the dénouement – culled from Classic X-Men #8, is considerably better and actually quite disturbing and moving for its real-time portrayal of Jean’s imminent death from radiation poison, as she visibly deteriorates before our very eyes. The final piece of material in the collection from Classic X-Men #43 is easily the highlight though, as we get to visit The White Hot Room properly for the first time (last seen in Morrison’s New X-Men run. I think) where Phoenixes go after death whilst awaiting their rebirths, and Jean has a deep-and-meaningful with Death. Sadly the Marvel universe version of Death is not quite so glamorous as DC’s, and appears in the form of a hairy-arsed builder here. I’m not even sure if it’s meant to be the same cloaked lady Death who Thanos regularly frolics about with, but anyway, the fact that he’s a builder here does make sense in the context of the story I promise.

JR

Justice League #1 (£2-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee.

The first of DC’s 52 new #1s this month, a campaign originally billed as a reboot until their readers complained and they swiftly backpeddled. The truth, as far as I can glean from the multitude of mixed signals, is that some titles of the line will carry on just where they left off (BATMAN INC) whilst others have indeed been rebooted – i.e. gone back to the beginning and started all over again.

This is one of those. Think ALL-STAR BATMAN by Frank Miller and Jim Lee; I couldn’t think of anything else as I read this. It’s not just the Jim Lee connection, either. These are the characters’ early years and they’re only now about to meet each other. There’s a great deal of grandstanding and animosity: they neither trust nor like each other. The authorities don’t like or trust them either, here coming at Batman and Green Lantern in helicopters, guns blazing.

Once again, it’s like a return to the days of Image, only without Frank Miller chortling to himself in the background. I didn’t recognise Geoff Johns in the script and I suspect that his regular GREEN LANTERN fans – who are legion – will hate it. I know I did, and the worst thing is that it’s all been done before. It’s not new, it’s old and it feels tired before it’s even begun.

You can’t judge an entire line of comics written and drawn by different individuals, though, and I have every faith in Grant Morrison’s ACTION COMICS.

SLH

Batman: Mad Love And Other Stories s/c (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, more.

“The fact that Harley felt affection for the Joker was bizarre; adding the idea that she had once been his therapist made it tragic.”

 – Paul Dini from his introduction.

The origin of Harley Quinn, originally created for the animated series and here told in a similar visual style, plus a whole load more Dini and Timm collaborations. A consistently solid seller even in hardcover form, now in new, affordable flexi-form.

LINK

SLH

Okie Dokie Donuts h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Chris Eliopoulos.

Slightly perplexed by this children’s comic which seems to be auditioning for a Saturday morning animation slot complete with opening ode to the doughnut sung by a cast of sugar-saturated office workers, some of whom sport moustaches reminiscent of the scab of dried snot found under Crustache’s nose in Steven Weissman’s CHOCOLATE CHEEKS.

It’s set in Big Mama’s ‘Okie Dokie Donut’ shop where she prides herself on her tasty homemade recipes. In, then, strolls a prime example of what’s technically known as The Scum Of The Earth: an uninvited sales rep with an answer for everything except what you actually want to know, attempting to sell you the very thing you don’t need while you’re trying to serve customers. If you’re a member of that particular fraternity may I invite you to attempt the anatomically improbable and not come back until you’ve succeeded?

Alas, Big Mama buys into the automated baking facility and wouldn’t you just know, it goes horribly wrong; not because it’s rubbish, because Big M’s antediluvian floor sweeper fills it with rubbish. For all I know, kids will howl with laughter but I hated every single second apart from the relaxed cream and olive colouring. Don’t kids like bright and shiny colours?

Cold-call FAQ: “May I speak to the manager, please?”
Answer: “Certainly if you’d like to buy comics. Otherwise, no.”

LINK

SLH

Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken: Trouble With Frenemies h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Ray Friesen.

Party guests the morning after they stopped where they dropped.

“Urnk. Oh, howdy PP. Food in T minus Ten?”
“No. Food in Q divided by 37.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know. Just go away.”

Quick-fire, candy-coloured gag-fest aimed primarily at ages 7 to 13 which really hits its stride when the stars part ways to team up with Astronaut Armadillo and Ninja Squid, a googly-eyed, rambunctious calamari who offers Ninja Chicken his hotel bed for the night:

“Oh, um, that’s really nice, but I don’t really know you.”
“We went to Ninja College together for 17 years!”
“Are you sure that was me, and not one of my cousins? There are a lot of Ninja Chickens, you know…”
“Nope. Definitely you, you’re the cute one.”
“That’s both flattering and creepy.”
“Thanks! I’m multi-talented! And multi-tentacled.”

Space travel, fighting, culinary mishaps, and the most honest flight attendants ever:

“Rule #1. Everybody be extra safe. Way safer than usual. Seat 5Q – Safen up. Rule #2 No spitting. Rule #3. Seatbelts go around your middle. Seat 5Q, you’re doing it all wrong. Don’t make me come back there.”
“Now, if the plane crashes at all during the flight, that would be bad. Everybody cross your fingers that it doesn’t happen.”

It’s probably just as effective as anything else you can do.

LINK

SLH

Lions, Tigers & Bears vol 3: Greybeard’s Ghost (£9-99, Hermes) by Mike Bullock & Michael Metcalf.

Another self-contained adventure in which Courtney’s supercilious cousin Beth, full of herself for having turned thirteen and outgrown a child’s love of stuffed toys, is abducted by pirates and held on the high seas of the Stuffed Animal Kingdom. Naturally it’s Joey’s big cats that come to the rescue although Beth resolutely refuses to believe that it’s anything but a dream.

From the creative time behind TIMOTHY AND THE TRANSGALACTIC TOWEL. The ink lines are a little thin for my liking – I think they’d benefit from a brush – but Gail Simone is an enormous fan and provides the introduction.

SLH

Fresh In & Online Right Now

Big Questions s/c (£33-99, D&Q) by Anders Nielsen

Vampire Academy (£9-99, Razor Bill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli

The Hidden h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala

Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot h/c (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Jean-Patrick Manchette & Jacques Tardi

Find Chaffy (£5-99, Barrons) by Jamie Smart

Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (£11-99, Harper) by MariNaomi

Bake Sale (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

Ascent h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Jed Mercurio & Wesley Robins

Americus (£12-99, FirstSecond) by MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 10 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleischer, Don Kraar, Alan Rowlands, Jim Owsley, Bill Mantlo, Jim Neal & Dave Simons, William Johnson, Geoff Isherwood, Tony Salmons, Mike Docherty, Tim Burgard, Bob Camp, Val Mayerik, Pablo Marcos, Jim Neal, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Rudy Nebres, Gary Kwapisz

Skeleton Key: The Graphic Novel (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Point Blanc: The Graphic Novel (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Sonic Universe vol 1: The Shadow Saga (£8-99, Archie Comics) by Ian Flynn & Tracey Yardley

iZombie vol 2: uVampire (£10-99, Vertigo) by Chris Roberson & Michael Alred, Gilbert Hernandez

Cuba: My Revolution s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel

Astro City: Life In The Big City (New Ptg) (£13-50, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson

Brightest Day vol 3 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi & Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Joe Prado, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark

Thor: For Asgard s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Robert Rodi & Simone Bianchi

Spider-Girl vol 1: Family Values (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth

Cage Of Eden vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshinobu Yamada

Velveteen & Mandala (£12-99, Vertical) by Jiro Matsumoto

Mardock Scramble vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Tow Ubukata & Yoshitoki Oima

Star Wars: Knight Errant vol 1: Aflame (£14-99, Dark Horse) by John Jackson Miller & Federico Dallocchio, Ivan Rodriguez

The ASTRO CITY reprint has a beautiful new cover, by the way!

Huge thanks to Matt Green for the eloquent Alan Moore / Gary Spencer Millidge review. Next week, the gods providing, our very own Dominique will be gracing us with a headline review for Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS, a series she has championed from its inception. Dominique will also be in attendance for our Anders Nilsen signing, slideshow and pub chat on Sunday October 16th: LINK.

 – Stephen

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