Reviews September 2011 week two

 In anticipation of our Anders Nilsen signing and slide show on Sunday October 16th (details here: LINK), it’s an absolute privilege to have his masterful BIG QUESTIONS reviewed by one of Page 45’s original team and current website wonder, our very own Dominique Kidd!

Big Questions s/c (£33-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen -

“… that’s nonsense. It’s some sort of house – like a human nest, sort of. They can’t fly themselves so they figured out a way to build a house that can. I mean, it only makes sense, if you couldn’t fly on your own, you’d have to figure out something.”

What a beautiful book! I read many individual issues of this story over the years, but to see them put together like this is something else entirely.

I don’t know about you but the reason I like to read is to take myself off into another life for a bit. Stories give access to a whole different world that you can live in for a while, that stays in your head after you have stopped reading. A place where you can think about things in a different light, similar to a dream but more defined. When people make books, if they do it right, they give us a whole other place to wander about in and that is certainly what Anders Nilsen has achieved here with his expressive little birds and expansive, supernaturally serene landscapes.

Drawn over the course of 15 years (!) these little strips in sometimes contrasting styles have somehow been put together to make one arcing, engaging whole. A light-hearted beginning leads us nicely into the story, introducing all the elements, dipping in and out of different parts, lulling us and drawing us into the worlds of the different players. We start to meet the birds, animals and humans who live on this patch of land and as we do we start to note the little differences in the personalities of the birds; curious, philosophical, nervous, distinctly average, self-important, each bird has their own take on things. And as we meet the birds we start to see our own world reflected in theirs.

When a plane drops an unexploded bomb and it lands with a thud in their territory, to some the answer is simple: it is hard, so it must be an egg, hence we should look after it until it hatches. To others it is just a big heavy thing that fell to earth and almost squished them; it is dangerous and should be left well alone. Like humans arguing over whether the earth is round or flat the birds are limited by their frame of reference: bird, egg, hatchling, predator, food. Almost immediately each one sets themselves a position and sticks to it, the narrow-minded and self-important taking it upon themselves to declare the “egg” a Gift and Sacred Responsibility, the argumentative and disdainful declaring that to be nonsense. And in the middle, the thoughtful and open-minded asking questions to which no-one will give them a straight answer, thus stranding them in a powerless no-mans land.

This is repeated when the pilot crash lands his plane (a featherless bird? a flying nest which malfunctioned?) and sets up camp. Is he dangerous, special or uninteresting? Should we bring him food or ignore him and eat it ourselves? And what of the plane? Why is it that as soon as someone takes it upon themselves to guard the wreck they feel they have the right to give orders, set up hierarchies, start with the “if you are not for us you are against us” speeches? Why is curiosity and investigation so frowned upon? The birds who set themselves up in roles slowly become defined by them: Charlotte the Evangelist, Betty the guilty gatherer of bones, Bayle, obsessed by the idea of being grasped by human hands, Algernon, haunted by the loss of his mate, searching. Even the dead stick around: skeletal birds who describe death as similar to life, just a bit “less”.

So now we can see what the title is all about: big questions. It’s a heavy-sounding one which contrasts gloriously with the inherent lightness I found the book to have. Yes the space is deep and wide, but Nilsen has made it so easy to travel, so engaging and beautiful. The word I keep coming back to is pleasurable; it is a pleasure to read and a joy to look at, full of air and light and room. Plot-wise I have barely touched on many aspects of the story; I made pages and pages of notes as I read and a list of the themes (the inscrutable swans) and nuances (the shadow of the plane overhead) could go on for paragraphs. But I fear saying too much in my enthusiasm; I don’t want to suck the life out of such a vibrant work with my interpretations, I want you to read it for yourself because I could never do it justice in a review.

But what I can wax lyrical about it the art, the production values and the sheer gorgeousness of the book! At just shy of 600 pages it is massive. Little fold-out flaps inside the front and back covers show portraits and profiles of all the main players, bomb and plane included. Full-page title panels abound, as do white-on-black spirograph patterns (remember spirograph?!) adding to the sense of space and acting like little rest stops along the journey, pacing the book beautifully. Art-wise the inevitable comparison is with John Porcellino, so simple and naive are many of Nilsen’s strips. However, other parts of the book are more detailed, some fine-art-esque. Here is a guy who definitely “can draw” and just chooses to do so in different ways at different times. This helps to keep the book fresh and lively and works wonderfully with the different arcs and themes of the story. There’s some Chris Ware in there too in some of the layouts and title pages and in some of the landscapes and more spacious panels I saw elements of Jiro Taniguchi. Being from Drawn & Quarterly the production values are great, of course: the cover and spine matte white, embossed and delicately coloured, the pages crisp black and white; there’s even a fold-out page part way through; just lovely.

So yeah, when I read a book I like it to absorb me and to stay with me for a time. I recently read a couple of prose books, hefty things by acclaimed authors and pretty good they were too. They engaged me, they stayed with me, but with this book I was able to wander; to sink into it and to want to go back. To have not just words but images and landscapes floating about my head long after I put the book aside; to have a simple line drawing of a worm express as much to me about life and loss as a paragraph of words. I suppose there we have it: the beauty of comics.

LINK

DK

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

“It was winter, and it was night time. An icy wind, having blown straight down from the Arctic, funnelled into the Irish Sea, swept over Liverpool, and raced across the Cheshire Plain, where cats flattened their ears, shivering, upon hearing it rumble in the chimneys.
The wind blew over the small Bedford van’s lowered window, straight into the eyes of the man sitting within.
The man did not blink.
POOF!
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…”
He stepped out of the van, pushed the silencer against the girl’s heart, and squeezed the trigger once.
POOF!
“…AAA”
The girl flew backwards, the sound of her bowels emptying, and fell onto her back dead. The man climbed into the Bedford and drove off.”

Another brilliant adaptation of a Jean-Patrick Manchette crime novel by Jacques Tardi. If you liked WEST COAST BLUES, well, you absolutely will love this. If you are a crime fan and haven’t read that work yet, you really must as for whatever reason, it is something that tends to get overlooked. Yes, Tardi’s art style is completely unique and can take a little adjusting to if you’re only used to conventional American / UK styles, but give it a go because he brings gritty crime to brutal, realistic life – and indeed equally cold, hard unpleasant death – like few others can. He also employs a very different style, with thicker lines and much more black-ink shadowing to the altogether much more breezy, colourful, typically ligne claire style he employs for his own more fantastical and nonsensical works like THE ARCTIC MARAUDER and THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC. But for these crime pieces and also his distinctly anti-war WW1 opus IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, this darker style is entirely appropriate.

Extremely unusual for me to start a review talking about the art, I suppose, but I am a big Tardi fan and would love more of you to try his work. I am also most definitely a Manchette fan. This is no-nonsense, hard-hitting, right-across-the-bridge-of-your-nose-with-the-butt-of-a-gun action, chock full of characters you wouldn’t want to cross, let alone double-cross. All Martin Terrier, hitman for hire, wants to do is retire peacefully, but of course those who have made use of his services over the years aren’t about to let him go into his dotage that easily now, are they? And so it is that Terrier finds the relatives of one of his previous, more nefarious victims hot on his tail for revenge, preferably of the slow and painful kind. Can Martin turn the tables before all his friends and lovers are bumped off in an attempt to draw him out into the open? Maybe. But, the other thing I love about Manchette is you don’t get the ending you expect, and I’ll leave things on that slightly mysterious note!

LINK

JR

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

Isn’t the creative process fascinating? I no longer have access to what Fantagraphics actually wrote, but this was my summary of the solicitation in October 2010:

“Eight people stranded by snow at a diner, their phones picking up mere shards of conversation. The static-ridden radio announces some global catastrophe in bursts. The already jittery customers decided it would be a good idea to freak each other out with dreams and anecdotes that don’t end well. Oh, and a dangerous inmate has just discharged himself from hospital.”

Not a single element survives except the static-ridden radio announcement now heard by Colleen and Tom who are driving down the mountains at night, but it’s definitely the end of the world! The first town they found was empty and obliterated, cars abandoned, girders toppled over rubble. There’s no food, no working cars, just a guy they’ve found lost in a cave who somehow feels responsible. As they make their way to the remote desert diner the bearded man is convinced lies but a day away, they’re spotted by Sally and Glen who’ve just finished catering for a millionaire media mogul and his gathering of the rich and famous at a secret party also in the middle of nowhere. They stepped outside for a cigarette at just the right moment. What they heard next was disturbing; what happened next was horrific. What lies in wait for them at the diner? Dinner or disaster?

There be monsters; monsters of man’s own making.

This is Sala’s second book in colour, rich in red and orange, but it’s the first, I believe, to dispense with all hope and humour – apart from the man with the Marty Feldman eyes. He’s taken the Edward out of Gorey and the tongue from his cheek, replacing it there with shovels, hatchets and stakes!

By far the finest scenes for me were Glen and Sally’s recollection of the media mogul’s coterie: bloated, wizened, corporate grotesques in suits and ties, guzzling smugly away on free fine wine which soon sends them barking. It’s an orgy of blood, tissue and mass mutilation as they tear each other to pieces, each page coming off as the most savage of satirical, political cartoons. Successfully, I might add.

LINK

SLH

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

On a grassy river bed a scruffy-looking blonde girl lies in an abandoned tank, delusional from hunger. Her ‘friend’ Mandala isn’t faring any better. Despite managing to always have food she is also demented beyond all reasoning, breaking down at the most inconvenient times and repeating “Tape Recorder.” Each day a cargo plane flies overhead and drops dead bodies, which are then swarmed by ladybirds. Not too far off in a shabby cabin a teenage boy called ‘The Super’ loads his gun and gets ready to tag the dead. But the girls just wish he would put some trousers on, and once night falls and the recently dead wake up again, he’ll wish he had.

Velveteen’s world is an affront to reality, it’s positively Lynchian. Dreams and premonitions blend into her reality in an almost nonsensical way, until a very sly twist in the last few pages snaps together this surreal puzzle. But what a wonderful picture it makes. This book is full of references to pop-culture, and like SCOTT PILGRIM and KING CITY, at times they become integral story telling tools. And there’s something about blatant references to Final Fantasy in other media that I find slightly edifying, particularly the use of attack menu. Ask anyone who’s clocked up serious hours playing SquareEnix games over the years, and they say they walk around with a little menu interface popping up in their minds like Velveteen does. You’ll have to squint to spot the references to Evangelion, but Miyazaki’s films are used as common reference describing the situation and as a result they don’t feel shoehorned in for the sake of it.  This is particularly strange and affecting when Velveteen, who at this point is far from being sane, tries to play a tragic rendition of the theme from My Neighbour Totoro, arguably Miyazaki’s greatest children’s film, on the piano. Even the setting is a nod to the Sanzu River (Japanese Buddhist river of the dead), though far more toxic and indiscriminately punishing to all who find themselves on its banks. This comes together beautifully, but like the aforementioned David Lynch, Jiro’s demented world may be too abrasive for some, but just saying that is like a challenge to others (you know who you are!).

LINK

TR

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

I spent a mirthful morning in bed with these ten errant Chaffies whose fellow white fluffy-folk have a knack for getting lost. All over the country these meeping maniacs have been spotted and photographed straying perilously close to coastal cliffs and lawnmowers. With an appetite for… well, eating… they’re impetuous, easily distracted and prone to getting lost in a crowd. Some of them are masters of disguise and it certainly doesn’t help that they’re small enough to squeeze themselves into a jam jar. With jam in it!

Do you think you have what it takes to spot these mischief makers in the crowds of cats, ghosts, dinosaurs, and octopuses? Can you chase out Chaffy from the ninja quest for the rare green lotus before it actually eats the rare green lotus? (Answer: no, you can’t.) It’s actually quite the challenge!

Long-time Jamie Smart fans will be delighted to see the return of the Angry Robots: Dorkin-esque design triumphs with their waddling petulance and arm-waving exasperation. There’s no shortage of fun to be had in the details here; so much happening on each double-page spread populated with hundreds of pandas, sheep, pigs and bears – each given that distinctive Jamie Smart treatment – that you may be so distracted yourselves that you fail to hand it onto to whichever young reader you bought it for. It’s not just about finding the Chaffies, either: there’s the journey itself which will have you chuckling away at Smart’s stupidity which – I can tell you – is infinite.

From the creator of SPACE RAOUL, BEAR and UBU BUBU, as well as the curator of FAT CHUNK: ROBOT and Fat Chunk: Zombies. Secret ingredient: glee.

Please note: SPACE RAOUL is also suitable for younger, more impressionable minds as long as you don’t mind them being impressed. The others, definitely not for the younger ones!

LINK

SLH

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

Eggplant is an aubergine, Cupcake is a cupcake, and this is another tale of friendship from the creator of ROBOT DREAMS. But whereas ROBOT DREAMS was built on an early twist so unexpectedly harsh that ninety-five percent of its sales here have gone to adults (I think we’ve each of us at some point in our lives has felt left on the proverbial beach), this one is aimed squarely at younger, wide-eyed readers with a love of soft sponge and sugar frosting.

Cupcake runs a small bakery by day, then practises drumming in his band by night. Life’s pretty good and looks even better when Eggplant invites him to visit Aunt Aubergine, a world-renowned cook in Turkey. But how to afford the air fare? Reluctantly Cupcake gives up his role in the band so he can take his tasty produce on the road and diligently develops new fondant fancies, each themed according to the festival he attends. He’s slightly dismayed to discover himself so quickly replaced on drums by a potato (“A potato?! Everyone knows potatoes have no rhythm!”) but soldiers on like a trooper until Eggplant breaks the disastrous news that he’s out of work and can’t afford the ticket himself. Having sacrificed so much for the opportunity to benefit from Aunt Aubergine’s inspiration, what is Cupcake to do? Like any good friend, instead of flying to Turkey himself he buys Eggplant’s ticket for him.

Gamely he waves Eggplant off but his motivation has waned and things start to unravel when he finds himself late for work then settling for second-best with two-day old coffee, stale cakes and brownies. As for the blackboard behind the counter, instead of a long list of freshly baked Specialities Of The Day, it simply reads, “Nothing is special today”. When he goes to watch his old band parade through the streets and clapped on without him, it’s a physical disaster. Whatever will be left of Cupcake and his customers on Eggplant’s return?

I knew it couldn’t be all sweetness and light with Sara Varon at the helm, but eventually things start to look up again and there’s a life lesson worth learning very early on: there’s no substitute for giving less than 100%. You know it when you do it, and it’ll just make you unhappy. Note to self: your customers will know it too.

Don’t fret about being unable to read the full recipes over Cupcake’s shoulders as he embarks on a new mouth-watering experiment: they’re all printed in full at the back!

SLH

Chimichanga h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell…

“We’ve done it!”
“I want this wall torn down and this stuff thrown out.”
“Sir, what’s going on?”
“We’re shutting down your research and development wing, Dr. Lundy, to make way for our new Gas-xxxtream product.”
“But sir, I’ve done it! I just discovered the cure for cancer! Not a trace of malignant cells can be found in these rats! We just need to start human testing!”
“Can’t be helped. You’re out.”
“B-but… the cure for cancer!!!”
“Doctor! Do you know how many millions suffer from painful dehabilitating explosive gas every day?! You would deny them treatment?! Have you no soul?!”
“You’re scrapping the cure for cancer so people won’t have explosive farts?”
“Harvey, transfer the doctor to our Siberian facility.”
…….
“DOSVIDANIA!”

Can I actually make a confession at this point? I’ve never read any GOON which Eric Powell is renowned for writing, though I did read the Goon / Dethlok crossover which was collected as a backup strip in the recent METALOCALYPSE DETHKLOK trade and was mightily amused. I can’t therefore say how typical this particular work is of his output generally, but I did find it a hoot.

Enter little Lula, bearded girl at Wrinkle’s Travelling Circus, and all she wanted was a chimichanga, but after a trading a lock of her beard with a passing witch for a pretty rock, it turns out to be an egg which promptly hatches into a rather boisterous monster with gargantuan strength (and appetite). Naming it Chimichanga in tribute to her favourite snack, Lula quite naturally thinks it would make a marvellous new attraction for her grandfather’s circus, even if <ahem> strongman Randy, “with the strength of a slightly larger man” feels more than a little put out by the new arrival.

Meanwhile, back at the witch’s house the wrinkled old crone has managed, with the aid of Lula’s hair, to create a potion that temporarily cures the taker of any painful trapped gas. The fact that it’s only temporary is extremely important to the greedy pharmaceutical boss, who of course wouldn’t ever want to cure anyone of anything permanently now would he, as that would be a complete disaster for his business! Unfortunately, the witch only has enough of her secret ingredient for a small production run, necessitating Lula’s kidnapping to ensure a continuous supply of bearded lady’s shavings for the dastardly scheme. So it’s up to Uncle Wrinkle, Chimichanga and various other associated members of the travelling circus to save the day and put the evil capitalist scumbag in his place.

This is great all-ages fun that definitely isn’t just for kids, much of the story is squarely aimed at more cynical adult sensibilities, albeit done with great humour, and I found it very entertaining, certainly enough so to convince me to have a look at THE GOON.

LINK

JR

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

Listen to them, the children of the night: bickering, back-stabbing and muck-racking; spreading the sordid sort of schoolyard rumours that are impossible to quash. Blood will out – even more so in a cooped-up college of young vampires and dhampirs – as will some secrets but not before the temptations of the flesh and social manoeuvring have seen the damage done.

Drawn by the creator of DRAGON HEIR (so here you go, you voracious Vieceli fans), this full-colour adaptation by Leigh Dragoon of the prose phenomenon shot straight to number four in the NYT bestseller list. I’m a Vampire Academy virgin so the mythology was all new to me; the boarding school rat race, horribly familiar.

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir share a rare bond born of a long, involved history but socially they couldn’t stand further apart. Not only is Rose but a dhampir – half-human, half-vampire – of unknown paternal descent, but Lissa is both a fully-fledged Moroi and of royal line to boot. The Moroi are mortal vampires who need human blood to survive. They’re under constant threat from the ravenous Strigoi vampires who crave Moroi blood not to survive but to increase their immortal power. That makes Lissa a prime target and the Academy’s role educating dhampirs to protect her vital. You’d have thought then that Rose’s empathic gift of being able to feel what Lisa feels would make her indispensable, but her position at the Academy is purely probationary: she’s seen as far too impetuous and ill-disciplined. They’re not wrong. She’s also struggling with the strength of her bond and a secret she shares with Lissa, while Lissa is struggling with more than one secret she’s keeping from everyone! With so many lies, so many overt physical and psychological threats where there should be sanctuary, the more covert enemies find it easy to nudge their traps into place; but when they finally strike it’s with a ruthlessness that will break all codes of conduct and with an ambition far larger than one vulnerable girl.

It’s… complicated!

Vieceli’s strengths lie in her eyes, the lingering looks, and the hair she so evidently loves drawing, while the manifold tensions – the jealousies, temptations and whom-do-you-trusts – are almost painful. Again, there’s so much more going on behind Vieceli’s faces than they ever let on, so much left unspoken. Don’t expect either protagonist to be a paragon of virtue – few of us are at that age – but I suspect that if we could win friends and influence people Miss Dragomir’s way, most of us probably would.

Best hair goes to Christian, by the way. Not that I’m obsessed with Vieceli’s hair.

LINK

SLH

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

“You sure you don’t want to go outside Scott? You’ve been in here reading funny books for hours.”

Normally I’m not a fan of comedy horror comics as the storylines and jokes tend to be pretty weak; I’d rather watch an old Hammer Horror film instead for the unintended laughs, but IZOMBIE is most definitely an exception. There are giggles aplenty as Chris Roberson takes some time out in this second volume to explore the back stories of our three main characters. Zombie Gwen is finding she’s starting to lose her memories of her previous real life, exactly as predicted by the suave mummy Amon, but still finds time to make a date playing crazy golf with unsuspecting monster hunter Horatio. Scott the Were-Terrier, always pining unrequitedly, and quite hopelessly, for Gwen, finds an unexpected opportunity to belatedly make up with a recently deceased relative from beyond the grave, as his granddad’s soul gets stuck in a chimpanzee. And guest artist Gilbert Hernandez (yes really!) brings his own inimitable L n’ R art style to bring to life Ellie the swinging sixties Ghost’s not-so-happy childhood. Meanwhile, the paintballing vampire femme fatales decide it’s time to point Horatio and his vampire-slaying partner in the direction of the ‘real’ menace in Eugene, Oregon… zombies. Uh oh! And as if that weren’t enough, an old mad scientist pal of Amon’s has got plans of her own to call down one of the dark gods and bind them in human form for her own nefarious schemes. There’s never a dull moment in Eugene, Oregon, that is for sure!

LINK

JR

Button Man vol 4: The Hitman’s Daughter (£14-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner & Frazer Irving…

Not new, but new to me as I wasn’t reading 2000AD at this particular point and this trade has been unavailable for a while. The first of the BUTTON MAN series not illustrated by Arthur Ranson, I was slightly sceptical that Frazer Irving could match the master artiste, but he certainly succeeds with a bomb, errr… aplomb. There are bombs though, of course, and indeed bullets, knives, throwing stars and some good old fashioned fisticuffs, for all these things and more besides are the stock in trade of Mr Harry Exton. Do not fuck with him, or he will, most assuredly, sort you out good and proper in a most final and unpleasant manner, leaving you crying for your mummy as you bleed to death in several pieces on the floor.

The enigmatic Voices, organisers and avid covert viewers of The Game (wherein hitmen would fight it out; the victor taking the loser’s finger as a winning marker) are perhaps not wholly surprised when Harry, presumed dead at the end of volume three, pops up very much alive and kicking again. This time around he’s let loose in the Big Brother house with orders to dispatch as many contestants as possible. Sadly not really, though here’s hoping for volume five. In fact, he’s matched up against the daughter of one of his previous victims, who’s grown from a traumatised little girl into a veritable killing machine.

Except for the small fact that Harry had nothing whatsoever to with her father’s murder… Is he being set up? Again? You think he might be a little more suspicious by now. Unless, of course, he’s just getting everyone exactly where he’d like them before starting to have some fun? But are the Voices really that stupid either? One thing is for sure, the body count will be high, and more than a few people will be missing fingers – and much more besides – before the final page is turned. And I shouldn’t have worried because Irving’s art turns out to be a perfect foil for Wagner’s writing and indeed as I have said elsewhere, his portions of art in Morrison’s four volume miasma of mentalism that was Seven Soldiers Of Victory were my favourites.

LINK

JR

Swamp Thing #1 (£2-25, DC) by Scott Snyder & Yanick Paquette.

One Of Our Mastodons Is Missing.

The natural balance is out of kilter. Weather systems run riot and creatures are being culled: pigeons by day and bats by night falling lifeless from the skies; in the ocean the fish are dying.

A former botanist whose life’s work was a bio-restorative formula capable growing vegetation in the driest regions of a planet, Alec Holland died in an explosion only to wake up six weeks ago in a swamp with memories of being a muck monster and intense, romantic feelings for a woman he’s never met. He’s tried to resume his work and got as far as he did last time round, but found the manual labour on a construction site infinitely less troubling. He receives two visitors: Superman urging him to resume his prior calling and help; someone – or something – he may find infinitely more persuasive.

The art’s a bit Kevin Nowlan in places.

Reboot status: not a reboot but definitely a different dynamic, which is half its draw. How will AMERICAN VAMPIRE’s Scott Snyder incorporate the Alan Moore SWAMP years? So far, successfully. THING

Doctor Alec Holland says: if you have an inflamed knee, wrap it in cabbage leaves and cellophane. Cabbage leaves contain a natural anti-inflammatory amino acid.

Doctor Stephen Holland says: if you have an inflamed cabbage, for Pete’s sake keep John Constantine at a distance. He’ll only provoke it further.

SLH

Action Comics #1 (£2-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales.

“You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect a visit from me.”

Those who’ve read Grant Morrison’s SUPERGODS will recognise Morrison’s approach here, a very different take from his All-Star Superman with its clue in the title: ACTION COMICS #1.

Of the original version Morrison commented on Superman’s socialist role as champion of the people, of the underdog as opposed to the rich and powerful. Also, a man so unafraid to throw his weight about that the public run screaming in a panic on its cover. So it is here, tying in with last week’s JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 as a much younger, brasher and flashier Superman defies the corrupt authorities who’ve decided to distrust him and – egged on by Lex Luthor, of course – perfectly prepared to endanger the public in order to catch their man. This Superman takes a barely disguised glee in flexing his muscles and his targets are both white-collar criminals protected by the law and neo-Nazis he’s reported to have dumped down the sewers and a wife-beater he threw out of a window and left with broken bones.

Crucially it’s far better structured and scripted than JUSTICE LEAGUE, giving you a satisfyingly full first chapter, and readers of IDENTITY CRISIS will love the return of Rags Morales to a title befitting his stature. Speaking of stature, the pragmatic workman-like builders’ boots and knee-patched jeans look one hell of a lot better than scarlet overoos of yore.

Key ingredients: faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and almost stronger than a locomotive. Almost. Locomotive 1, Superman 0.

Reboot status: reboot

SLH

Batwing #1 (£2-25, DC) by Judd Winnick & Ben Oliver.

Shiny, full-blooded art in the vein of Simone Bianchi as a man called Massacre butchers his way through a police precinct in Africa. Different.

Reboot status: not necessarily a reboot.

SLH

Animal Man #1 (£2-25, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman.

Bad dreams in the night – in  black, white and red. Now that’s what I call capillary action! They’re almost the best pages of art here too – which is in any case refreshingly fine-lined without being thin – until you get to the final-page punchline which is horrific. In a good way.

There’s something wrong with Buddy Baker, but there’s something even wronger with his daughter Maxine. She want pets. She gets what she wants. Just don’t ask where she got them from.

Reboot status: not necessarily but then not necessary.

SLH

Batgirl #1 (£2-25, DC) by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf.

Lovely, detailed art. In fact the art overall this week is stronger than one’s come to expect from the majority of DC books. Here think Phil Jimenez, and Barbara Gordon looks great in her reclaimed role as Batgirl. Don’t worry, she’s very much aware of her spine-shattering fate at the hands of the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s KILLING JOKE. She may be stretching her legs now (we know not how but it’s coming) but if she’s healed physically it’s still left its scars on her psyche. And at one critical moment she freezes.

Reboot status: not a reboot

SLH

Stormwatch #1 (£2-25, DC) by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda.

Reboots status: most definitely a reboot!

A very different dynamic from the old days of STORMWATCH and the subsequent AUTHORITY. The Engineer remains firmly at the helm and Jack Hawksmoor in charge. Jenny Q is still new but JLA’s Martian Manhunter has now joined them along with a few extras I’m unfamiliar with. The Moon is attacking Earth, there’s a giant horn in the Himalayas, and it references SUPERMAN #1 due at the end of the month. So where are Apollo and the Midnighter? Apollo is a determined loner they’re finding it difficult to recruit. Recruiting the Midnight, on the other hand, will be murder.

Art: not quite Phil Jimenez, but getting there.

SLH

Annihilators h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Tan Eng Huat, Timothy Green II…

The main story featuring heavy hitters Gladiator, Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, Ronan the Accuser and The Silver Surfer was all a bit by the numbers for me, the odd bit of snappy dialogue and appearance of personal favourite Cosmo the telepathic dog aside. Maybe Dan and Andy are still smarting at Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy getting put on indefinite hiatus (i.e. cancelled), which I don’t understand either, as both were extremely well written and far more entertaining than some of the woeful earth-bound pap many other Marvel writers were churning out at the time. Still, cosmic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I suppose.

What is pure top-drawer stuff, however, is the back-up strip that ran in all the issues featuring former Guardians Rocket Racoon and Groot, also by Dan and Andy. It’s just one long hilarious comedy caper from start to finish and reprises an old Adam Warlock villain, who standing order customer and international – well Scottish – man of mystery Gordon Davidson and I (on one of the rare occasions he visited the shop in person instead of sending one of his Legion of MinionsTM to pick up his comics) had only just been idly conversing about, and wondering as to why Marvel had never used him since his original appearance. Yes, the baddest persistent-vegetative-state coma patient Barry Bauman a.k.a. The Star-Thief is back! A mental villain for an appropriately mental story, and I sincerely hope that the next upcoming Annihilators mini-series will have another Rocket Racoon and Groot back-up too, or I probably won’t even bother reading it, cosmic or not! Oh get me, I’m soooo fickle!

LINK

JR

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

Spinning out of SPIDER-MAN: GRIM HUNT, there’s a familiar face under this brand-new Spider-Girl’s mask. Nothing to do with those future SPIDER-GIRL digests, this is emphatically part of Peter Parker’s present world.

LINK

SLH

Spider-Man: Grim Hunt s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly, Zeb Wells, J.M. DeMatteis & Phillipe Briones, Phil Jimenez, Michael Lark, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Gaudiano, Max Fiumara.

Michael Lark: everything he touches is made more compelling for his presence. Brubaker and Rucka benefited enormously for his work on GOTHAM CENTRAL, and so does Joe Kelly here.

The main meat of this book is by Kelly and Lark, the culmination of a long game played over the previous year with the help of her daughter Ana by Sasha Kraven, wife of the deceased Kraven The Hunter. THE GAUNTLET was her doing: foe after Spider-foe nudged in Spider-Man’s direction, knocking the stuffing out of Peter so softening him up for this. With the Chameleon at their side they’ve already captured the precognitive Madame Web and young Mattie Franklin, and now they’re after the other spiders: Arachne, clone Kaine, Arana and, of course, Spider-Man himself. They’re quite literally out for his blood in order to resurrect Kraven Sr., but given that the Russian hunter shot himself in the head with a gun, what are the chances that he actually wants to come back?

The early chaos and consequent confusion is very well played, after which the roles are then neatly reversed. Plenty of twists in store. There’ll be more than one resurrection, several severances, and you know the old cliché which Marvel keep trotting out so irritatingly often that you no longer believe a word one of their hype-monkeys says: that “Nothing will be the same again”? Well I can’t recall the last time that so much did change in a single storyline. Not in Peter’s personal life, but right across his fellow spiders’.

Lark does his best to keep it moody and he would have succeeded, but through no fault of his own Marvel editorial has, not for the first time recently, made the insane decision of diluting the power of this climax by interspersing each chapter here with a dozen or so pages each of extraneous flashback by J.M. DeMatteis and Max Fiumara. It makes for a much longer read but a far less satisfying one and I humbly suggest you exercise some editorial control of your own and skip those chapters then, if you really want to, go back and read them later. Pretend they’re at the back of the book as they should have been.

LINK

SLH

Honesty Dictates

Given the stature of Jonathan Cape, I originally intended to run this fourth, but its abrupt change of tone halted me physically and I couldn’t bear to puncture our own enthusiasm. Unfortunately I have to run it somewhere if only as a buoy to warn you off the lurking sandbank, and to prove that we’re not indiscriminately obsequious. Oh well.

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

It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to savage one man’s earnest endeavour but this is unequivocally awful, without a single saving grace other than it ends.

Dear God, I hope it ends.

There is a back cover so one presumes that – just prior to the blessed relief – this unmitigated comicbook disaster ceases to bore one to sky-ridden death with its repetitive drone of ill-chosen camera angles and compositions so thuddingly awkward and ugly that any Japanese pilot would have downed his own plane and committed hara-kiri on the dam-ned spot. Worse than that, I recognise the same lack of ambition I exhibited when drawing my own comics aged eleven: this-will-do, barely communicative, crude compositional cop-outs because I was incapable of drawing any more than a head and a fist in each panel. That’s exactly what I spy in the schoolyard bullying scenes: “Okay, I can get away with this; it almost looks like someone’s pulling his hair”. Furthermore the shadows are clumsy and the gutters go missing disastrously.

So rarely have I failed to finish a prose book or comic that I can only think of two: C.S. Lewis’ Surprised By Joy and WALKING THE DOG, another very rare lapse in judgement from the UK’s leading light in graphic novels, Jonathan Cape. They’ve given us Bryan Talbot’s ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, Posy Simmonds’ TAMARA DREWE and Raymond Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST (surely three of the finest graphic novels from any country) plus the award-winning French album A TASTE OF CHLORINE (perfect summer reading!) and the exceptional RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER which we made Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month and which my mother devoured when she found it left on my coffee table last weekend and asked for a copy herself. In summary, Dan Franklin and Alex Bowler know their stuff, so it’s a genuine shock that something like this ever gets through their commissioning process. Or maybe they were on holiday at the time, I don’t know.

“In the Korean War [Yefgenii Yeremin] is the legendary ace dubbed ‘Ivan The Terrible’, shooting down more American jets than any other pilot in history. But the Soviet Union’s involvement in Korea must be kept a secret, so Yefgenii is exiled to a remote Arctic bases, his name unknown, his victories uncelebrated. Years later, and long forgotten, [he] is called upon one final time. With America about to launch Apollo 11, he is sent on the most perilous mission of all. At last he has the chance to write his name in history…”

I think what actually upsets me about this is that, being an adaptation of critically acclaimed prose, it will inevitably reach readers I wish that it wouldn’t. Just like Heart Of Darkness it will be some readers’ first ever comic, and so – potentially – put them off this medium for life.

LINK

SLH

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs etc. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names.

Optic Nerve #12 (£4-25, D&Q) by Adrian Tomine

Drawing From Memory h/c (£13-50, Scholastic Press) by Allen Say

Amulet vol 4: The Last Council (£8-50, Scholastic Press) by Kazu Kibuishi

Wonder Struck h/c (£22-50, Scholastic Press) by Brian Selznick

Ps Magazine: The Best Of Preventive Mainenance Monthly H/c (£13-99, Abrams Comicart) by Will Eisner

Supergod (£13-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny

The Bento Bestiary hardcover (£12-00, Nobrow) by Scott Donaldson & Ben Newman

Hildafolk (£6-50, Nobrow) by Luke Pearson

Birchfield Close h/c (£9-00, Nobrow) by Jon McNaught

Ouroboros (£6-50, Nobrow) by Ben Newman

Everything We Miss h/c (£12-00, Nobrow) by Luke Pearson

Pilot and Huxley: The Next Adventure (£5-99, Scholastic) by Dan McGuiness

Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story (£10-99, Image) by Kody Chamberlain

Zombies Christmas Carol h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim McCann & David Baldeon, Jeremy Treece

Moriarty vol 1: The Dark Chamber (£10-99, Image) by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue

Charmed vol 2 (£13-50, Zenescope) by Paul Ruditis & Tess Fowler, Marco Abreu, Carlos Granda, Dean Kotz, Reno Maniquis

Greek Street vol 3: Medea’S Luck (£10-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Werther Dell’edera, Davide Gianfelice

Stormbreaker vol 1 (£8-99, Walker) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako, Yuzuru

Crossed vol 2: Family Values (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Javier Barreno

Carbon Grey vol 1: Sisters At War (£7-50, Image) by various

Superman: The Black Ring vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods

Marvel Zombies: Supreme h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Frank Marraffino & Fernando Blanco

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine softcover (Uk E’Dn) (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Adam Kubert

Secret Warriors vol 6: Wheels Within Wheels hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Alessandro Vitti

Fantastic Four: The Overthrow Of Doom hardcover (£22-50, Marvel) by Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Keith Pollard, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman & George Perez, Keith Pollard

The Thanos Imperative s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Brad Walker, Miguel Sepulveda

Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen &Carlos Pacheco, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson

New X-Men vol 5 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Keron Grant, Frank Quitely

Marvel Adventures: Avengers: Thor And Captain America (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin, Todd Dezago & Ronan Cliquet, Ron Lim, Lou Kang

The Infinity Gauntlet (New Ptg) (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & George Perez, Ron Lim

Blood Blockade Battlefront vol 1 (£8-99, Dark Horse) by Yasuhiro Nightow

Dorohedoro vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

Twin Spica vol 9 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma

The Art Of Vampire Knight h/c (£18-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

 

At the time of typing we’ve just sailed past the 1,000 sympathisers front on Twitter. By the time you read this I could well be back down to 999. Or 969. Who knows? I languished there for a fortnight. Thank you for sympathising (if you do). I hope I make you smile, groan or at least occasionally crack open your wallets with breaking news.

Now if you could all just create an extra shadow account and follow me there as well then it would help Page 45 not one jot. My self-esteem, however, would go through the roof. Alternatively, just recommend us to friends, family and wine merchants.

Stay In Touch: http://www.page45.com/world/stay-in-touch/

 - Stephen

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