Archive for October, 2011

October Previews for December 2011

Monday, October 31st, 2011

A reminder of your two options: my highlights below, often with external links to previews or interviews followed by a link to where you can pre-order the books from us online (unavailable for UK books, I’m afraid.) Alternatively you can read the whole of Diamond’s own comic and graphic novel PREVIEWS here.

Can’t believe DC is finally collecting Grant Morrison’s FLEX MENTALLO!

Graphic Novels For December 2011 onwards

Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot.

“Claims about men being unable to express emotion irritate me no end. My father did anger very well.”

The next graphic novel from the legendary Bryan Talbot is to be DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES written by media, communications, language and gender author Dr. Mary Talbot. I’ve read the entire book, cover to virtual cover, and I can confirm unequivocally that the brilliances of it are manifold.

DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES is a personal memoir of Mary growing up under the fiery gaze of her “feary father” James S. Atherton, a renowned Joycean scholar, and draws remarkable parallels and striking contrasts with James Joyce’s relationship with his own titular “dotter” on whom he doted.

The segues between the two colour-coded narratives are fluid and deft, the parallels between the two time frames perfectly accentuated. The art captures the chic of the period if you were privileged as well as the dowdiness if you weren’t, and the cream-on-watercolour texture is gorgeous. There are superb visual portraits of Joyce himself, and pages 37 and 83 are magnificent in every way.

It kicks off one morning on February 2nd when Mary, at home, stumbles upon the ration book and social security card of her now deceased father. This catalyses a day’s reverie illustrated by husband and visual chameleon Bryan Talbot who has shifted styles yet again from the multi-media, photo-montage of ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, the slick, computer-coloured anthropomorphic steampunk of GRANDVILLE and the watercolour Lake District landscapes of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT accentuated by black lines on an acetate overlay, to soft washes over pencil and ink in two distinct, colour-coded palettes representing very different past periods in time.

What unites them is what I loved most about Raymond Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST: the candour and humanity which will resonate with readers. There’s an eternal and – I would have thought – ubiquitous fascination in the relationships between parents and offspring, and of school life often suffered under duress: everyone makes comparisons to their own. Like ETHEL & ERNEST it’s also an infectious double-dose of vital social history brought alive for those of us who take so much for granted these days, like contraception and birth before marriage. So many of my friends have children without bothering to get married and we think nothing of it but go back but a couple of decades and it was a very real social stigma. Did you know that James Joyce left it years into his daughter’s life to even consider marrying Lucia’s mother? I didn’t. Very brave of them both and almost certainly why they swiftly eloped from Dublin.

There’s one halting sequence in which Mary gives Caesarean birth which I was first presented with in portfolio form by Bryan and Mary over dinner. Also present: Jonathan whose wife was due to give birth within the month. I tucked those pages back into Bryan’s bag very swiftly indeed while outwardly smiling, “Nothing to see here!” Please, please don’t read this book if you are about to give birth until after the stork has delivered.

But it is as well to remember these things: sectarian divides still far from united, gender segregation, and the suffocating sway that any family can have over you. Like the LOGICOMIX graphic novel about Bertrand Russell which sold out of its first UK printing in under a week, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES will strike chords far beyond those interested in James Joyce and his own creativity; but it will be additionally fascinating both for those devotees and followers of Bryan Talbot, for there are insights to be gleaned into the comic creator’s teenage years when first meeting Mary, and their shared trepidation of life under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES is to be published by Jonathan Cape on February 2nd 2012. It’s a significant date, being the 130th anniversary of Irish author James Joyce’s birthday and the 90th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses.

In the meantime I’ll be “In Conversation With Bryan Talbot” at Thought Bubble in Leeds on Saturday 19th November at the Bury Theatre in Leeds from 2.15pm to 3pm, and we will definitely be discussing this book!

Pre-order Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes h/c and read Page 45’s preview with interior art here. Yes, interior art you can enlarge. Looks so beautiful!

Due: 02/02/12

 

Flex Mentallo: Man Of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Ed h/c (£16-99, Vertigo/DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.

Quick! Before the Charles Atlas foundation protests once more and DC get cold feet, pre-order this missing comicbook legend! From the pages of DOOM PATROL and out of legal limbo strides the old advertisement’s Hero of the Beach to investigate The Fact. Is truth stranger than fiction? In Grant Morrison’s eyes it probably is, but little is stranger than Grant Morrison’s fiction!

Pre-order Flex Mentallo: Man Of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Ed h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 01/02/12

 

Criminal vol 6: The Last Of The Innocent (£10-99, Icon/Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Sixth self-contained series of my favourite crime comic bar none, so you can start right here or, if you prefer, read Page 45’s review of CRIMINAL VOL 1: COWARD with interior art here. This was me extolling the virtues of the first issue…

It’s all about the humanity and – crucially for noir – the first-person narratives are compelling, convincing and full of flawed individuality. For any successful first-person narrative you have got to want to spend time and then more time in the self-absorbed heads of these particular protagonists and that’s where Brubaker excels. That the intricate plots are so devious, the delivery so adroit (Brubaker knows how to write a great punchline) is of course icing on a multi-layered cake, and – you can check my reviews of CRIMINAL vol 5, SLEEPER, INCOGNITO etc – I have for over a decade pronounced Sean Phillips the finest draughtsman in this most twilight of genres. His faces stay cast and masked in a permanent semi-shadow. You’ll never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips, so do not ask Sean to sketch you: you’ll be riddled with self-doubt for years.

Momentarily, however, it’s all very different for Riley Richards is feeling nostalgic.

Summoned home by his father’s illness, he has ditched the city of his sins which have begun to cost him dear, and travelled back to the town of his youth. It was a sunlit life immersed in the relatively innocent pleasures of comics with his best friend Freakout; meeting down the diner where a stoned Freakout with monumental munchies would break records for scoffing ice cream. Then there was sweet Lizzie Gordon, the girl who lived literally next door: the girl all assumed he would marry…

But his life changed course dramatically upon the arrival of Felicity Doolittle, bringing with her the alluring, honey-pot cocktail of novelty, sophistication, self-confidence and sexual availability. Riley succumbed and then he made a mistake: he married her.

Now he is a man who witnesses the world around him at a remove, as if it’s not his own life at all. He’s become so detached that he doesn’t know how to feel at his father’s funeral; he just calculates what’s expected of him. He’s become so detached that when he caught his wife shagging Teddy, the man he loathes most, he concludes that it simply makes sense. He’s almost immune to his father-in-law’s long-voiced contempt.

But returning home has reminded him of how promising it all once looked. No one can reload their life and choose a different path like we can on PS3. Yet that doesn’t mean mistakes can’t be rectified, that they cannot be fixed, and it occurs to Riley now as he surveys what his life has become, that there may well be a way to reverse all his fortunes in one single swoop and set his life back on a course that actually means something to him.

Allowed for once to play in the suburban sunlight rather than the metropolitan grime, Sean Phillips appears to have had much fun not only in capturing a much younger, less tainted crowd, but also in the flashback sequences: snapshots (as they always are) of memory rendered here in Archie Comics innocence, even when the style beautifully belies the content under Felicity’s prom-night gown. You’ll note how Teddy’s also pictured alongside Riley when Felicity first flies into town.

Attention to detail: another of Brubaker’s and Phillips’ fortes.

Pre-order Criminal vol 6: The Last Of The Innocent from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

Kramers Ergot Vol 8 h/c (£22-50, Picturebox) by various, edited by Sammy Harkham.

The last edition of this fridge-fresh anthology wasn’t one of those coffee table art books – pop a few bricks underneath and it was a coffee table! Enormous! This edition is somewhat smaller than the average soccer pitch, measuring 6”x9” and includes some of our favourite creators: Kevin Huizenga, Gary Panter, Gabrielle Bell, C.F., Ben Jones, Jason T. Miles, Sammy Harkham, Leon Sadler, Johnny Ryan, Frank Santoro, Dash Shaw, Anya Davidson, Ron Regé Jr., Ron Embleton, Frederic Mullally and more.

Pre-order Kramers Ergot Vol 8 h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 21/12/11

 

The Life & Death Of Fritz The Cat h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Robert Crumb.

Bravo, Fantagraphics’ for beginning to build a more coherent Robert Crumb library. We already have THE BOOK OF GENESIS and THE BOOK OF MR. NATURAL while you’ll also find him. Here every single Fritz story is reprinted along with sketchbook pages and an introduction by Crumb. These certainly aren’t your Dad’s anthropomorphics. Oh wait – yesthey are!

Pre-order The Life & Death Of Fritz The Cat h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 28/12/11

 

Keep Our Secrets Board Book (£11-99, McSweeneys) by Jordan Crane.

Oh, heat-sensitive ink which reveals secrets when you rub the black spaces! Here’s video footage of KEEP OUR SECRETS being tested on a toddler!

From the creator of THE LAST LONELY SATURDAY, THE CLOUDS ABOVE and Uptight, a children’s book that can’t fail to delight from the publishers who brought you the magnificent MCSWEENEYS anthology:

“Two young children tour their noisy house with fresh eyes, discovering along the way that all is not as it seems. Featuring heat-sensitive, colour-changing ink on every page, this book contains dozens of delightful surprises. Among them: a giant dog slumbering in a piano, a wishing puddle full of dimes, a raccoon that is actually a robot, and a camera that is secretly made of cheese.”

Pre-order Keep Our Secrets Board Book from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

Same Difference Special Edition h/c (£12-99) by Derek Kirk Kim.

“Kim captures the ups and downs of early adulthood with sensitivity and gentle wit…. (And also) captures the small but significant moments that define young adult personalities.”

- The Comics Journal

“No American cartoonist has more promise in 2003 than Derek Kirk Kim.”

- Scott McCloud

Of its original printing Mark wrote:

The main story has two friends who should really get together, they’ve got such a good spark. Simon tells of an almost-romance he had with a blind girl at school and how he bottled it at the last moment. Nancy has been misleading a guy through a postal romance after opening a letter meant for a previous tenant. The two Korean-Americans decide to set off to sneak a peek at the deceived Romeo. Derek keeps the beautifully toned artwork simple and direct, taking some cues from manga without straying near the amerimanga that I’ve seen too much of recently.

You can read an extract of SAME DIFFERENCE here.

Pre-order Same Difference Special Edition h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

The Muse h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Denis Pierre Filippi & Terry Dodson.

From the writer of JOHN LORD and the artist of UNCANNY X-MEN: BREAKING POINT etc., and there’s an absolutely gorgeous preview online here: LINK

“The sexy, dreamy adventures of one Coraline, a beautiful young lady who serves as governess to wealthy and always mysterious homeowners. Muse is a lyrical and titillating ride through reverie and nostalgia.”

Pre-order The Muse h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 28/12/11

 

Before The Incal Deluxe, ltd ed. (£75-00, Humanoids) by Jodorowsky & Janjetov.

Now that THE INCAL with Jonathan’s monumental review is finally available at a more affordable price, here’s its prequel at a price that isn’t!

Pre-order Before The Incal Deluxe, ltd ed. from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 28/12/11

 

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary h/c (£13-99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Keshni Kashyap & Mari Araki.

“Tina M., sophomore, is a wry and endearing observer of the cliques and mores of Yarborough Academy. (‘The name makes it sound fancier than all the public schools in the area. You’d really think the Prince of Wales attended.’) And of the foibles of her Southern California intellectual Indian family. She’s on a first-name basis with Jean-Paul Sartre, the result of an English honours class assignment to keep an ‘existential diary.’ From Tina getting dumped by her smart-girl ally to a kiss on the mouth from a cute skateboarder, Neil Strumminger, Tina’s Mouth answers the pressing question: Can an English honours assignment be one fifteen-year-old girl’s path to enlightenment?”

Couldn’t find specific pages online but Sonia Saraiya writes about it here while this is Mari Araki’s website.

Pre-order Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 04/01/12

 

Polly & The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of the Dragonfish (£8-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh.

Hugely successful and beautifully drawn high-seas skulduggery, VOLUME ONE was reviewed by Tom with relish.

Polly Pringle reunites with her pirate crew at long last! Honour-bound to rescue Emperor Norton from his unfair imprisonment, Polly escapes her cosy boarding school and returns to the high seas! But Polly and the Emperor have stumbled onto the fiendish plot of a foreign power, which endangers not only their own lives, but everyone in the Americas!

Pre-order Polly & The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of the Dragonfish from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 25/01/12

 

The Intrepid Escape Goat (£9-99, Th3rd World) by Brian Smith.

From the co-writer of THE STUFF OF LEGEND (vol 3 also available in December Here), an all-ages adventure featuring a goat. Who escapes! See full-colour illustrations with this interview: LINK.

Pre-order The Intrepid Escape Goat from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 21/12/11

 

The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2 (£13-50, Hill & Wang) by Yoram Bauman & Grady Klein.

Yoo-hoo! *waves*

Yep, you were going to skip right past this, weren’t you? Don’t! THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS VOLUME ONE was riveting, funny, accessible and applicable to us all in practice. Unlikely, I know, but I promise.

Pre-order The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2 from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 21/12/11

 

Mush! Sled Dogs With Issues h/c (£13-50, First Second) by Glenn Eichler & Joe Infumiari.

“Venus wants Buddy to quit asking her to ‘make puppies.’ Buddy wants Winston’s help wooing Venus. Winston wants Guy’s respect. Guy wants Dolly’s job. Dolly wants to know the meaning of it all. Nobody knows what Fiddler really wants, not even Fiddler. But mostly, these sled dogs just want to run. Sounds simple? It should be, but even dogs have their problems. From Colbert Report writer Glenn Eichler comes a post-modern tale of heroism on the tundra, epic romance, and yellow snow.”

You can read an excerpt of MUSH here.

Pre-order Mush! Sled Dogs With Issues h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

Ningen’s Nightmares (£9-99, Dark Horse) by J. P. Kalonji.

From the creator of 365 SAMURAI AND A FEW BOWLS OF RICE:

In ancient Japan, a witch seeks to use the warrior-monk Ningen’s enlightened body and spirit to resurrect a demon-samurai and unleash an era of chaos on an already-troubled country. After leaving the safety of his temple to protect poor commoners who are caught in bloody battles between feuding warlords, Ningen soon finds that several colourful bounty hunters are on his trail-seeking his head and his very lifeblood for the witch’s twisted spells!

Pre-order Ningen’s Nightmares from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 15/02/11

 

Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo.

There be rubble! Oh, so much rubble! And the best stairwell in comics. Concludes Fegredo’s magnificent stint on the book.

Pre-order Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/03/11

 

American Vampire vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Sean Murphy, Danijel Zezelj.

Vampires come to World War II in this series which constantly surprises from the writer who’s just had the most monumental hits with DC’s relaunch of BATMAN and SWAMP THING. Sean Murphy you may know from Si Spencer’s exceptional HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS. Unbelievably this contains both AMERICAN VAMPIRE #12-18 and the 5-issue mini-series, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. Page 45 Review Of America Vampire vol 1 Complete With Interior Art.

Pre-order American Vampire vol 3 h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 01/02/12

 

Unwritten vol 5: On To Genesis (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross.

Mind-boggling series from the author of the ten LUCIFER books. From Jonathan’s review of UNWRITTEN vol one (yes, now with interior art!)…

“Tom Taylor’s father is responsible for the best ever selling series of fantasy novels (making Harry Potter look like small change) featuring a boy wizard called Tommy Taylor. Unfortunately for Tom, the fictional Tommy has been so closely modelled on him that obsessed fans have decided to virtually worship him as though he actually were the boy-wizard Tommy Taylor, something Tom professes to find particularly embarrassing and excruciating. Unfortunately for Tom, the circumstances surrounding his father’s mysterious disappearance a few years previously mean he’s not been able to touch a penny of his father’s vast wealth, hence he’s reduced to scratching a living touting himself round fan conventions, signing autographs and glad-handing fans as Tommy Taylor. Although, his reluctance to get a proper job which actually seems like a little too much effort for him, suggests perhaps deep down Tom is actually slightly addicted to his Z-list fame. However, when a sequence of strange occurrences begins to cause some fans on internet forums to suggest that Tom might really be the boy-wizard made flesh in our world, he begins to find himself drawn into a sinister conspiracy that reaches back far further than we can imagine…”

Pre-order Unwritten vol 5: On To Genesis from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due 11/01/12

 

Sweet Tooth vol 4: Endangered Species (£12-99, Vertigo/DC) by Jeff Lemire.

Ah-hah, the Page 45 review of SWEET TOOTH vol 1 now has interior art!

At the same babies have been born with animal characteristics, America has been hit by some sort of plague which has ravaged its population and turned those that remain into pretty brutal bastards. Sweet Tooth himself has the antlers of a deer but is unique, so far as we know, in missing one key body part: a belly button. He’s neither an innie nor outie, so what does that mean? His parents might know but they’re now both dead. Fortunately they left behind clues to a life Sweet Tooth knew nothing about.

Pre-order Sweet Tooth vol 4: Endangered Species from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 25/01/12

 

 The Walking Dead vol 15: We Find Ourselves (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn.

Monster zombie hit which was enormous here long before the TV series, so I really don’t need to tell you any more than that it’ll be in on Wednesday 7th December. Yes, before Christmas!

Pre-order The Walking Dead vol 15: We Find Ourselves from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

Spontaneous h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Joe Harris & Brett Weldele.

From the artist responsible for the luminous zombie book THE LIGHT, Antony Johnston’s JULIUS and SURROGATES etc., another thriller:

“Phenomenon, conspiracy, or delusion? ‘Kelvin’ Melvin Reyes was only three years old when Spontaneous Human Combustion took his father from him. He’s since devoted his life to exploring the mystery behind the phenomenon, searching for a pattern and predictors so that he might save others from that same fiery fate. But the closer he gets to his goal, the further things lead down a well of secrets, horrors, and terrible truths? Is SHC real? And, if so, can it be stopped?”

Pre-order Spontaneous h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 29/02/12!

 

The Red Wing (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra.

From the creator of NIGHTLY NEWS and current writer of Shield and FANTASTIC FOUR, a science fiction series and a second stab at time travel, this one with far more space and lighter on the text. Here we’ve jumped back to the Tithonian Age where the slim ships have to navigate past vast, feeding dinosaurs:

“Just look at that, Captain. Over twenty tons of vegetarian monster the likes of which the world has never seen again… I wonder what they taste like.”

So much for evolution.

“Time travel should have ushered in the golden age of scientific discovery — It should have ushered in the golden age of MAN. Instead, we were reduced to using it for war. And in war total victory is not defined by simple dominance of the battlefield. Overcoming the enemy is not enough. In many ways, victory simply means bitterness and bile for the defeated — The genesis on a deep-seated hatred that is always seen again.”

That’s certainly how WWI turned into WWII, and there’s plenty more to give you pause for thought in the first chapter alone, for if you can wage war in four dimensions – if a battle really isn’t over until you say it’s over as long as you can cling to the technology to travel back in time and change its outcome repeatedly – when do you stop? At what point do you decide enough is enough for any given battle and at which point of time do you begin or go back to start your temporal chain reaction? Also, if your enemy is similarly equipped, surely the only option is to bomb them back into the Stone Age or obliterate them completely or they’ll just reboot things themselves? That’s a whole new frontier you’d need to constantly patrol: you’d need to defend not just your finite, physical borders but an almost limitless number of chronological borders too.

As it transpired, the series ran in a different direction I never foresaw. The focus is on Dominic, a new recruit flying in the wake of his father who went missing in action and so presumed dead, for no one has survived a shield failure during time travel. Mathematically it is so improbable as to be practically impossible.

“But ask yourself: isn’t a statistical improbability a massive number when standing in contrast to all of space-time?”

So what happened to Dominic’s father?

Pre-order from The Red Wing Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 14/12/11

 

Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev vol 1 h/c (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“Oh, my God. Put your gun away.”
“You take your gun out.”
“If you show them your gun, that is a declaration of –“
“It’s a declaration that I have a big gun.”

From the creative team behind the best-ever run on DAREDEVIL, plus SCARLET (ooh look, interior art there – cracking book), ALIAS (nothing to do with the TV series) and SPIDER-WOMAN too, a 7,205th attempt at Moon Knight to coincide with the number of personalities battling away in his nocturnal noggin. You can definitely add three more, and they’ll be readily familiar to you.

Finally after 50-odd years of Marvel continuity, some of the supervillains have figured out that if 963 superheroes have chosen to live in Manhattan and only one in Los Angeles, they’d be 963 times less likely to get busted if they relocated to L.A.. Marc Spector happens to be in L.A. now, overseeing the launch of his Legend Of Khonshu TV show, so the Avengers call on him to scare the bejeezus out of the criminal community there… IN HIS MIND!

Lo and behold, however, a new Kingpin has indeed set himself up – one with a power level that makes Mr. Hyde’s look puny. That’s pretty unfortunate for Marc because Moon Knight barely survives a dust-up with Hyde. Instead he’s deep under Hyde’s yacht when the two villains confront each other, and when they do there’s little left of Hyde or the yacht, so Spector retreats with the prize he’s salvaged from the boat: the head of an Ultron. Obviously Moon Knight is way out of his league – this is going to take a whole team of Avengers. Shame, then, that they’re ALL IN HIS MIND!!!

A clever new twist in Marc’s long-standing mental illness and whilst Maleev is being far more economical with the art here than he is in SCARLET, there are some exceptional light effects under the water and high above the smoking remains of the yacht.

Pre-order Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev vol 1 h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 14/12/11

 

Fear Itself h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen.

“People are mad right now, and broke and they’ve been lied to and ripped off – And when people who’re already mad get scared then all hell kinda breaks loose.”

After enduring a United States under Norman Osborn (or George W. Bush – read it how you will), and with the economy in freefall catalysing mass unemployment and the repossession of homes, the American people are fractious. They’re raw and hurting. When Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are caught in the middle of a riot they cannot control, they’re alarmed to discover there’s no foul play involved: no unusual energy signatures, no enchantments, nothing toxic in the air or water. It’s just how the temperature is.

So what will happen, do you think, when the Serpent arises? When the Red Skull’s daughter lifts the hidden Asgardian hammer her father could not, is transformed into something else, and frees the ancient Skadi, the real All-Father, from the mystic bonds of Odin? What will happen when The Worthy summoned by Skadi touch down in Pacific Ocean, Brazil, China, Manhattan and the small town of Broxton where Asgard lies in rubble?

That’s where the Avengers – both overt teams – are gathered today, to launch a new Stark initiative to further the bond between Gods and man and put 5,000 Americans back to work by designing and then building a new Asgard here on Earth. But Odin isn’t happy. Disdainful of the creatures he is more used to being worshipped by, he is adamant that Asgard should be rebuilt by enchantment far from this blue and green marble. And when he senses that Skadi is loose upon the world, he orders it so, even if it means dragging Thor behind them in chains.

With robust and shiny art – like John Buscema inked by Jimmy Cheung – this is something rather different from recent superhero events. SIEGE, SECRET INVASION, Blackest Night and even CIVIL WAR to a certain extent, had all been brewing for a while. But this is about to hit our heroes out of nowhere and they don’t even know it yet. All they know is that the Gods have left them to fend for themselves, and if that wasn’t enough, Odin is prepared to destroy the whole of planet Earth just to get rid of the threat. As their fear rises, Skadi grows stronger fuelling further panic.

This year’s Marvel blockbuster includes major Avengers fatalities and the prelude by Ed Brubaker & Scot Eaton.

Pre-order Fear Itself h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 04/01/12

 

Spider-Man by Mark Millar Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Terry Dodson, Frank Cho.

The complete Mark Millar saga which amply answered J. Jonah Jameson’s broken record of a question: “If he’s such a great guy, why does he need to wear a mask?” Because the mafia like to know where your family live.

Aunt May has been abducted by someone who obviously knows who Spider-Man is, but there’s a limit as to who could or should have known and what they could possibly gain. The most obvious culprit is Norman Osborn, The Green Goblin, but he’s under lock and key and swears he has nothing to do with it.

Hampering Peter in his desperate search – harrying him, it seems, at every juncture – is a virtual “Who’s Who” of his worst and oldest enemies, some of them remarkably enhanced since their last encounters. Is this a coincidence, or part of a larger scheme? And could Peter’s worst mistake have been to put his greatest threat behind bars? Because if the stakes are that high, don’t you make contingency plans? If you’re a businessman, don’t you take out insurance, especially when your own life is in danger? It all goes back to control, to the early days of the first superheroes, when those were used to being in charge – politicians and businessmen alike – found these self-appointed crusaders for justice getting just a little too close for comfort, and a little too enthusiastic about their moral crusade. They’re not going to take it lying down, they’re going to provide… distractions.

Sexily drawn by the Dodsons, Millar pushes all the fanboy buttons whilst delivering on the entertainment rather than just stuffing the stocking for the sake of it. It’s the classic Spider-Man tale so far. If you like your Spider-Man you will love this: a rollicking good read with moments of true emotional rather than just splash-page drama, and some clever, logical thought behind it.

Pre-order Spider-Man by Mark Millar Ultimate Collection from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 14/12/11

 

Stormwatch vol 1 h/c (£29-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Tom Raney, Jim Lee, more.

THE AUTHORITY in gestation. Oh yes! Unavailable for a very long time now, this is where Ellis first came alive, remaking a rubbish Wildstorm/Image series in his own iconoclastic image, slowly replacing the team’s ranks with Apollo, Midnighter, Jenny Sparks, Rose Tattoo et al. See one of comics’ undeniable giants do for clapped-out superheroes what Alan Moore did for DC horror with SWAMP THING, sowing all the original seeds for Vertigo. It takes a while to work out, but work out it did and, if you ask me, Warren was far more of an influence on Mark Millar than Morrison ever was, whatever Grant may say.

Pre-order Stormwatch vol 1 h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 08/02/12

 

Catwoman vol 1 (£22-50, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke & Darwyn Cooke, Michael Allred, more.

Hopefully the beginning of a concerted effort to reprint all the Ed Brubaker CATWOMAN material. Someone asked for it just the other day. Reprints CATWOMAN #1-9, DETECTIVE COMICS #759-762 and CATWOMAN: SELINA’S BIG SCORE about which I wrote:

The first person to bring some serious style to Catwoman since Siouxsie Sioux donned a black skin-tight leather leotard for the Banshees’ Batman II single, Cooke also has an eye for crime somewhere between Bruce BATMAN ANIMATED Timm and David STRAY BULLETS Lapham. It’s a heist affair as Selina finds herself presumed dead, and so cut off from her fortune. Her desperation for money compromises both her judgement and her scruples.

Pre-order Catwoman vol 1 from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 25/01/12

Cartoons, Art Books etc.

Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons h/c (£16-9, Fantagraphics) by Flannery O’Connor.

One of America’s great Southern writers of the 20th Century once sought a career as a newspaper cartoonist, and there’s an excellent article from The Guardian anticipating this collection here: LINK

Fantagraphics says:

“Flannery O’Connor was among the greatest American writers of the 2nd half of the 20th century; she was a writer in the Southern tradition of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Carson McCullers, who wrote such classic novels and short stories as Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She is perhaps as well known for her tantalizing brand of Southern Gothic humour as she is for her Catholicism. That these tendencies should be so happily married in her fiction is no longer a surprise. The real surprise is learning that this much beloved icon of American literature did not set out to be a fiction writer, but a cartoonist. This seems to be the last well-kept secret of her creative life.

Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons, the first book devoted to the author’s work in the visual arts, emphasizes O’Connor’s most prolific period as a cartoonist, drawing for her high school and college publications in the early 1940s. While many of these images lampoon student life and the impact of World War II on the home front, something much more is happening. Her cartoons are a creative threshing floor for experimenting and trying out techniques that are deployed later with such great success in her fiction.

O’Connor learns how to set up and carry a joke visually, how to write a good one-liner and set it off against a background of complex visual narration. She develops and asserts her taste for a stock set of character types, attitudes, situations, exaggerations, and grotesques, and she learns how to present them not to distort the truth, but to expose her vision of it.

She worked in both pen & ink and linoleum cuts, and her rough-hewn technique combined with her acidic observations to form a visual precursor to her prose. Fantagraphics is honoured to bring the early cartoons of this American literary treasure to a 21st century readership.

For an audience resistant to your views, O’Connor once wrote, “draw large and startling figures.” In her fiction, as in her cartoons, these shocks to the system never come without a laugh.”

Pre-order Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons h/c from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 28/12/11

 

Terry Moore Sketchbook vol 1: Hot Girls & Cold Feet (£8-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

From the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO. Black and white, swoon at will. Terry Moore’s sketches are gorgeous.

Pre-order Terry Moore Sketchbook vol 1: Hot Girls & Cold Feet from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 28/12/11

Comics For December 2011 onwards

Berlin #18 (£350, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jason Lutes.

One of comics’ greatest accomplishments, and I do believe this is Jonathan’s personal favourite. He certainly went to great lengths eloquently reviewing BERLIN VOL 1 and BERLIN VOL 2. Anyway, historical fiction with one heck of a backdrop.

“A new chapter of Berlin: City of Light, the final volume of Jason Lutes’ epic trilogy. Confronted by the hatred and fear that has begun to seep through the cracks in the Weimar Republic, Kurt Severing retreats into drink and despondency. Across the city, Silvia Braun has fallen in with a gang of young Communists, who are dumbstruck when she single-handedly attacks two Nazis in the street. Meanwhile, the idyllic nocturnal escapades of Marthe Müller and Anna Albrecht are shattered by a police raid on one of their favourite nightclubs, which leaves their relationship in ruins.”

Pre-order Berlin #18 from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

Streakers (£4-99, Mean Dog Comics) by Nick Maandag.

Comedy about three friends determined to accomplish the “perfect streak”! Illustrated interview here: LINK. Preorder here:

Pre-order Streakers from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due 07/12/11

 

The Defenders #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson.

I can’t believe I just typed that! Top-tier team on this supergroup of oddities, The Hulk, Dr. Strange, The Silver Surfer, Namor, now with added Iron Fist and whoever that Red She-Hulk turned out to be. Was it Betty Banner? I’m sorry, I couldn’t endure Loeb’s HULK beyond book one. I very much hope it’ll be played for laughs.

Pre-order The Defenders #1 from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 07/12/11

 

The Strain #1 of 11 (80 pence, Dark Horse) by Guillermo del Toro, adapted by David Lapham & Mike Huddleston.

“When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centre for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event: an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness.”

Better than covering it in Marmite.

Pre-order The Strain #1 from Page 45 and read the publisher’s preview here

Due: 14/12/11


Page 45 Previews written by Stephen. Thank you for reading!

Reviews October 2011 week four

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Slight change in format this week: instead of the word ‘LINK’ taking you to the Page 45 shopping area, there’s something a little more descriptive. Devised by Dominique, it’s to boost our Google ranking (we want more hits!) but it will take you to a page which boasts the cover and often interior art. You don’t have to buy, just swoon!

The Frank Book s/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

Jim Woodring, the creator of CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS and WEATHERCRAFT, delivers 352 pages of both black and white and full-colour stories crafted prior to those books, plus loads of the original comic covers and more.

Frank is an anthropomorphic, purple-and-cream-furred, white gloved, buck-toothed… bear of sorts. (Mark said cat, I say bear, though now that I think about it…) He’s a fallible being given to temptation and insatiable curiosity, but defended at every juncture by his loyal companions Pupshaw and Pushpaw. The stories are fantastical, phantasmagorical fables full of transmogrification, mostly silent so that you can bring to them what you will and interpret them as you like, and if you were to sit down with someone else and discuss any given piece you’d find it very revealing – both of yourself and of your friend. I often describe them as “mind-altering, yet legal”. Enlightening too, as I say.

Just don’t be taken in by how kid-friendly it looks on the surface: it isn’t. There are some horrific mutilations, and all the cruelty that can come with real life made even worse by the unsettling strangeness of dreams. The man is a visionary, a veritable shaman with a love of Persian architecture and that rare ability to communicate wisdom – and folly (umm, yes,  mostly folly!) – with skill. As a visual craftsman he totally floors me, his wrinkled-line textures placed just-so, leaving each panel on the page a perfect composition. A beautiful, beautiful book.

SLH

Buy The Frank Book and read the Page 45 review here

Vertigo Resurrected: The Eaters (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & Dean Ormston, Duncan Fegredo, Sylvain Savonia, Eduardo Risso.

“You promised me that Chuck would be the last boyfriend we ate… How am I ever going to form a long-term, meaningful relationship that might develop into great sex if we keep preying on my dates?”

Readers of CHEW will want to chow down on this prime Peter Milligan with four back-up stories including added seasoning from Duncan ‘Last Seen Passed Out On My Couch’ Fegredo.

The main course sees dinner walk right through the door of a family of cannibals (now that’s what I call self-service!) who’ve won this year’s Apple Pie Inc. award for Best American Family. The prizes include a trophy, a winnebago and, once the salesman is given a good roasting, free lunch! The winnebago gives them the idea of taking their unique brand of self-sufficiency on the road, which is a recipe for disaster, and woe betide any hitch-hikers…

“I’m headed south.”
“I guess you are son. I guess you are.”

No less appetising is ‘War + Peas’, a poignant tale with a killer punchline of a WWII veteran married to a woman he never really loved purely because the man he loved loved her too, but died on the battlefield instead. His name was Tommy, and the old man is sitting on his memorial.

“She never mentioned your name, Tommy. Not after our wedding night. She was pissed… we both were… Her Dad had knocked off these crates of pale ale and… and afterwards she said… “I bet Tommy would’ve been better than that.””

Crushing.

I adore Duncan Fegredo’s HELLBOY (volumes 8, 9 and 10) with its epic stairwells and crumbling ruins, but it’s his human beings I love best. He’s a master of dynamic gesticulation and subtle portraiture (see Kevin Smith’s TALES FROM THE CLERKS), and here he really goes to town with the old couple’s wrinkled foreheads, saggy jowls, withered lips and beaten spirits. Fegredo’s also on hand for What A Man’s Gotta Do as a henpecked husband and downtrodden employee is inspired by a Western to reassert himself as a swaggering cowboy with liberating results. Unfortunately he’s not alone!

‘Partners’ is yet example of Milligan at his cleverest involving two friends, one of whom is far from what he seems. But which one is it? Not even they know that, and are terrified of finding out which is why they’ve spent five years camped out and living off the land well away from any human contact. I thought perhaps one was gay with a crush on the other, but it’s not that at all. You’ll smile, especially when the balance shifts.

The only piece that has recently seen print is here Peter Milligan and Eduardo Risso’s ‘The Death Of A Romantic’ (in VERTIGO RESURRECTED #1) but for sheer inventiveness it really  takes the biscuit. A woman whose job is to research the Romantics and rescue writers from obscurity is ditched by her boyfriend, losing every last shred of dignity by begging him to stay. Her friends say they always knew he was a rotter. But as she begins investigating a seemingly unpromising poet called Adrian Fury who died in 1829 aged twenty-five she discovers he really was a romantic and died a virgin on account of idolising women. Gradually as she uncovers more of the mysterious man’s history she starts falling in love with him and talks to her friends as if they were really dating. Ah, but just you wait… Nothing supernatural about it all, I promise you, but she’ll handle being disappointment in love by the unfairer sex much, much better this time round.

SLH

Buy Vertigo Resurrected: The Eaters and read the Page 45 review

Freakangels vol 6 (£14-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield with Kate Brown on colours.

“There’s no redemption for me. I can’t undo what I did, just like we can’t undo what we did six years ago. On my best days, I know I was sometimes hard to like. And I haven’t had a best day in a very long time. Now I’m just a prick who exists in a constant state of rabid, existential panic and infantile pants-shitting greed.”

This was not the ending I saw coming. I love a series that surprises me and this has done so at every juncture, not least because it’s been a complete shift in tone from everything else I’ve read by Warren Ellis. One day I’d like to see him write a romance. With tenderness. Oh wait, he just has in way, and it’s a very beautiful thing.

Rituals and revelations. Six years ago twelve fearful children broke the world. Or at least they thought they had: the truth, as it transpires, is decidedly more specific. Now the small community they’ve helped rebuild on their Whitechapel island has been assaulted by not one but two of their own, and it’s time to radically rethink their strategy as adult human beings. Adult human beings with some almighty upgrades.

Artists Paul Duffield and Kate Brown have once more surpassed themselves with the space and the light and the colouring, for you’ll finally get to see a lot more of this Britain than you have until now and witness what these Freakangels are truly capable when they put their creative minds to it.

“We did it. It’s over.
“It’s over.”

Rarely for a series, we’ve reviewed every single FREAKANGELS book, so if yet to begin please take a look around.

SLH

Buy Freakangels vol 6 and read the Page 45 review here

Nursery Rhyme Comics 50 Timeless Rhymes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Abadzis, Kate Beaton, Vera Brosgol, Lilli Carre, Jordan Crane, Rebecca Dart, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth, Jules Feiffer, Ben Hatke, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Lucy Knisley, Patrick McDonnell, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Aaron Renier, Dave Roman, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, James Sturm, Craig Thompson, Sara Varon, Jen Wang, Gahan Wilson, Gene Luen Yang, more!

Nursery Rhymes: so much playful nonsense to make the young ‘uns laugh! But collect so many into close proximity and one’s reminded just how naughty or macabre they can be. There’s snake-mistake kissing queasiness, birds baked alive, mice diced thrice, wholesale whipping for want of anything better to do, and one poor maid loses her nose in a scene straight from a Daphne Du Maurier novel! As it happens Lucy Knisley finds a more ‘entertaining’ angle on illustrating There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe which avoids the need to alert social services.

Craig Thompson ups the anthropomorphism inherent in The Owl And The Pussycat so that you’ve never seen a sleeker, chic-er kitty cat, and as you’d expect from the creator of HABIBI and BLANKETS, it’s an absolute beauty. Patrick McDonnell’s one-page The Donkey is an effortless delight which ensures that one none-too-early bird still catches its worm, Vanessa Davis presents us with a riot of colour as Cinderella rocks her fella, while Eleanor Davis embellishes The Queen Of Hearts so excitedly it becomes a veritable epic of tart-toting crime and punishment.

In fact if there’s one thing this beautiful album makes abundantly clear it’s that our most dearly beloved comicbook creators are the least lazy artists on this planet. James Sturm doesn’t simply illustrate Jack Be Nimble, he provides a laugh-out-loud re-butt-al, while the toe-tickling excuse called  This Little Piggy is expanded by Cyril Pedrosa into a tasty two-page treat which shows you exactly what those five little porkers got up to after opting to shop or not in the company of wolves: clever, contemporary, with a cracking punchline.

Each artist has been married perfectly to the right rhyme – Sala to Three Blind Mice, Mignola to Solomon Grundy – and there should be one emphatic tip of the hat to Theo Ellsworth’s take on the bucolic bigamist quitting the confines of St. Ives to travel with kits, cats, sacks and wives (many) which comes off all mediaeval wool trade. Gorgeously coloured.

Nursery Rhymes, with their outlandish imagery and ‘this, that, then the other happened’ lend themselves perfectly to the medium of comics, and this top-tier bunch have truly gone to town. Full creator listing on the shopping page.

SLH

Buy Nursery Rhyme Comics 50 Timeless Rhymes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Tank Tankuro slipcased h/c (£22-50, Presspop) by Gajo Sakamoto, designed by Chris Ware.

“Oh no, this is a pond of syrup. The syrup is sweet but the situation is bitter. We’ve been licked!”

Ba-dum ba-dum ba-baaa!

Believe it or not, Japanese comics did exist before Osamu Tezuka, it’s just that they’ve since been lost to history like so much early television, or obscured by the great man’s shadow. Created for children between January 1932 and December 1934, these eye-popping adventures certainly pre-date ASTRO BOY and may well be an influence, but I wouldn’t linger o’er long on too many comparisons. A closer comparison would be to computer games like Sonic The Hedgehog.

For a start Tank Tankuro is not a robot, but a sort of sumo wrestler poking out from a combat-ready iron ball with weapons at the ready for any occasion: guns, missiles, err… broom sticks! The ball sprouts wings or tyres as required as Tank Tankuro constantly adapts to take on an endless succession of hostiles including arch-enemy Kuro-Kabuto whose head is so sunk into his giant black helmet he looks like a puppet from Michael Bentine’s Potty Time.

Secondly, stylistically, it seemed instinctively to me far more like BEANO strips, right down to the black, white and red, for Tank Takuro is a bit of a bungler, just as likely to squish an ally as quash the opposition. Everyone is constantly screaming “Banzai!” and there’s a frantic urgency and indeed anarchy that kids must have loved (Sakamoto writes, “To children, he must have looked like a chest full of toys.”), but which parents ultimately disapproved of and his publishing house, Kodansha, which initially greeted him with instant, exclamatory excitement, soon started to scupper the project so Sakamoto took it elsewhere.

Chris Ware provides the slipcase design. It’s drawn, appropriately enough, in the same style as the early pages of ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20.

SLH

Buy Tank Tankuro slipcased hardcover and read the Page 45 review here

Gate 7 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by CLAMP ~

High schooler Chikahito had always wanted to visit the untouched beauty of Kyoto’s many historical shrines and tea houses, and after pleading with his over-protective mother for years he finally finds himself before the Kitano Temangu shrine. But after he pays his respects to the god of studies, he finds himself enveloped into a world quite unlike ours. A stark landscape of monotone where three robed figures watch him from a tree. The two older men are Sakura and Tachibana who have domain over the light and the shadow respectively, while the shorter, cuter one (by Chikahito’s vote) is Hana the conduit for the others’ energies. Together they care for the shrines and historical monuments by purging the spiritual manifestations which build up around the shrines; often in intense battles in the ‘other world’ Chikahito has somehow found himself.

And then it all goes black and Chikahito wakes to find himself in a dorm with the three enigmatic strangers, now in civilian clothes, offering the first of many bowls of udon and openly discussing the mystery of how Chikahito was able to find himself in the other world. And while the group soon discover he isn’t in possession of power like they are, he also seems immune to their attempts to burn the memories of their encounter from his mind. Only Hana seems to trust Chikahito, and kissing him when he leaves, Hana remains mysterious and androgynous, while planting a spell for him to return someday.

Somehow I don’t think his mother will be too happy about how that turns out! CLAMP have done it again. Adding to a pantheon of other tales in the CLAMP universe, GATE 7 is one of the freshest books they’ve made since Tsubasa and Xxxholic started their entwining sagas. But this feels lighter somehow, maybe because in the end I felt those two series felt constricted by their tangential involvement with each other. However, this series draws heavily from Kyoto’s local history for the grand foundations of GATE 7’s supernatural fantasy, while managing to tie it to others in the retinue with fun little nods to Xxxholic (a blink and you’ll miss it reference to Kimihiro’s school) for the Manga studios ardent fans.

Not since CLAMP’s breakout series, RG VEDA, have they delved into Shonan Ai (literally meaning boy love, a considerably less steamy genre than Yaoi usually concerning unrequited attraction) so heavily, and there are distinct comparisons to the RG VEDA formula. The servant/master relationship between Chikahito and Hana (respectively), and the latter’s childish demeanour and androgynous features is strikingly similar to Yasha-o and Ashura’s dynamic from RG VEDA. Only the muscle-bound fantasy of CLAMP’s earlier work has matured to a gently paced spectral mystery concerning a comparatively frail teenager! Still the art is as iconic as ever, drawing influence from the floating world as well the distinct style of Alphonse Mucha, only with sword fights.

TR

Buy Gate 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Mutts: Our Little Kat King (£12-50, AMP) by Patrick McDonnell.

“Ahh… Three months of hibernation finally over! … I could use a cup of coffee.”

One of my favourite non-political syndicated comic strips since Charles Schulz’s PEANUTS, we have a wealth of MUTTS comic collections and the set-up is simple: Earl the pup and Mooch the cat with his Sean Connery “Yes” (“Yesh”) patrol their territories, bewilder their owners, confound their fellow creatures and… well, they sleep a lot. They have very long weekends. See your world from their perspective; some of it’s all too familiar!

Does your dog ignore you when you throw a ball? She’s exercising you by making you fetch it yourself. (Yep, and mine was a flat-coated retriever.) Does your cat peer over the side of your bath? “There’s never any fish in there.” Here Mooch has set himself up under a tree, a tea towel draped over his head to look like the Sphinx. He is accepting questions:

“O Shphinx, what is your opinion of my new novel?”
“It’s worthless!”
“I know… But I’d like to hear it anyway.”

That’s one for us wretched reviewers!

“All-knowing Shphinx…”
“Yesh?”
“If you try to fail, and succeed… which have you done?”
“!”

SLH

Buy Mutts: Our Little Kat King and read the Page 45 review here

Jean: Rebus h/c (£29-99, Chronicle) by James Jean.

Orgasmic.

This crackles as you open up its pages – it literally does!

Strange fruit hatching, butterfly-brilliant petals, mythological beasts, quizzical encounters, children at play with hammers and scissors and staves (there’s some pretty macabre shit going down), and one boy chewing a wax crayon as his head buzzes open in a frenzy of sexual imagery scribbled in that very same medium. The whole book is bursting with desire. Huge Chinese influences too.

This is James Jeans’ lushest art book to date, on another level entirely from his FABLES COVERS collection, and although I try to steer clear of the hard sell, just Google PROCESS RECESS and see what the first book fetches online now! Don’t dally! They go straight out of print. James joins you occasionally with some illuminating paragraphs and some photographs of his work as exhibited. Two hundred and fifty pages.

SLH

Buy Jean: Rebus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Alan Moore: Conversations (£18-99, UPM) by Alan Moore and edited by Eric L. Berlatsky.

Interviews with Alan Moore. He writes stuff.

“To me, the basic technology is the word.”

And a lot of us hang off every one.

“If I ever write a book on writing, it will probably be called Real Men Don’t Use Thesauri, because no, don’t touch ‘em. I think they’re cheating. What’s wrong with having an enormous vocabulary? What’s wrong with thinking: “Oh, there should be a word that means this or that, could it be this, could it be…” – making up a word and checking in the dictionary and seeing if there is such a word and if it meant what you thought it did. That’s better, and alright you can waste an hour trying to get the exact right word that’s got the right kind of sound, the right flavour, the right colour… that fits just perfectly.”

Reach for your own dictionary as Uncle Alan discusses synaesthesia, his favourite Grimoire (Random House Dictionary, of course, but why that one, eh?), some of the most complex page compositions in comics (BIG NUMBERS, the Greyshirt sequence in TOMMOROW STORIES #2), art viewed as magic in the bardic tradition, thought dismissed by science as a non-real event, Wittgenstein, Vladimir Nabokov, and sex as the gatepost between childhood and maturity. In fact there’s a great section in which Moore talks about his collaboration with now-wife Melinda Gebbie on LOST GIRLS to create a book of eroticism specifically designed to appeal to women as much as men (successfully so: our own reviewer of LOST GIRLS is all-woman), why that was an unusual move historically and how they anticipated it being received, perhaps with fire and brimstone. Also, as he does in 25,000 YEARS OF EROTIC FREEDOM, Moore considers our attitudes to sex both as an act in itself and as a subject for art.

Any given couple of pages will give you plenty to ponder for a month or more. It’s an incredible resource for kick-starting your own creativity or just giving your brain a good work-out, so here’s just two sentences that made me laugh out loud on account of that:

“As an intellectual, I’m incredibly lazy, and also something of a dilettante. I tend to pick an idea out of a book, hypothesise the rest, and fake it.”

Here’s to hypothesis and faking it, then!

SLH

Buy Alan Moore: Conversations and read the Page 45 review here

Immortals: Gods And Heroes h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by various including Paul Tobin, Jock, Ben Templesmith, Trevor Hairsine, Scott Hampton.

When Two Tribes Go To War!

Beautifully packaged collection of comicbook prequels to the rather epic-looking film decked with gold and silver which frame a very fine painting from KABUKI’s David Mack.

It’s one big book of increasingly bitter and bloody feuding between the Olympians and Titans as they set about squaring off, assembling various weapons of war and champions to wield them.

In the beginning, Kronos basically butchered his dad to take the Titian throne for his own, then dumped each of his sons as they were born into a bottomless pit to avoid the somewhat unsettling prophecy that one of them would do for him what he did to his own pappy. Learned Behaviour – that’s all I’m saying. If I was that fussed about being gutted by my offspring, I’d probably stop making babies. Kronos’ missus, by the way, starts seriously wondering what point is of enduring nine months pregnancy and painful labour only to have her little ones lobbed down the world’s worst well. So she surreptitiously saves one (I don’t quite know how) who is brought up among humans, earning them his empathy. That’d be Zeus, by the way, who fulfils the prophecy with a certain degree of relish, frees his brothers and kick-starts one enormous and enduring Greek cult. These Olympians (based on a big hill – the postman really hated delivering there on foot) then take it upon themselves to defend humanity from the Titans’ sadistic torture, thuggery and mass destruction. Bob’s your uncle: war!

The mythological material these writers and artists have to draw on is one of the richest known to man, and some of these pages will get your hearts pounding in anticipation of the film. Very much depends on what your eyeballs like, as long as they like blood. I think my favourites come from Dennis Calero which is all a bit Jae Lee. Did I mention the sumptuous cover?

SLH

Immortals: Gods

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 4: Death Of Spider-Man h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley.

“May? It’s Doris – from across the street. Where are you?”
“I’m in my car”
“You’re not home?”
“No.”
“Oh, thank God!”
“What happened?”
“I don’t know how to say this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s Peter.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s – “
“What?”
“He’s… I think he’s Spider-Man.”
“What’s happening? Tell me exactly what’s happening!!”
“There – there are these men. I’m – I’m oh God – I’m sorry, May. I don’t know how else to say this. They’re killing him.”

Throughout this book’s release as a heart-racing, furiously paced periodical riddled with catastrophe after explosive catastrophe, we were trying to interpret the title, convinced that Bendis must still mean it metaphorically: that it would be the death of Peter’s career as Spider-Man. Or, given Captain America’s warning that he just wasn’t ready, that Peter might inadvertently end up killing someone. Anything, really, other than that Peter Parker would end up dying in his loved ones’ arms.

Maybe you don’t know yourself yet which way it goes, and I’m not about to confirm or deny because I am a professional, congenital tease.

I can, however, promise you this: carnage on an increasing massive scale, some of the most bludgeoning, kinetically charged fight scenes in superhero comics – one after the other – with the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Electro, Kraven, the Sandman and the Vulture finally tasting blood, sensing the seriousness of poor Peter’s wounds and moving in for the kill.

In addition, at the centre, there is a game-changing moment which crosses over with immaculately with Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man in a way I’ve never quite seen done before. Yet as much as anything else, it’s Aunt May who forms the emotional core of the book, and most of the finest moments are hers.

Mark Bagley, meanwhile, surpasses himself both inside and out.

Quite the cover, eh?

SLH

Buy Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 4: Death Of Spider-Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max: Born s/c (£10-50, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson.

1972, and Captain Frank Castle enjoying his third tour in Vietnam. If “enjoying” is too strong a term, he’s certainly deriving a grim satisfaction from doing his job; a job he’s spectacularly good at. Firebase Valley Forge is lucky to have him, for the Marine garrison stands, undermanned and ineffectually led by an alcoholic Colonel, as a look-out against enemy infiltration. And the enemy will come, in hoards. That Castle will eventually embark on a relentless, remorseless crusade of violence back home, against gangsters and crime lords and dealers, or anyone he considers unfit for life, and that this vocation will be triggered by the slaughter of his wife and children… this knowledge is key to an understanding of the particular story being told here. It’s what lends it the ominous air of a crossroads being approached – a crossroads which explains his reaction to the death of his family – and which makes the punchline a killer.

Two scenes stand out for me: Frank’s reaction to the order to close down the camp, thereby leaving American positions elsewhere vulnerable to attack (and, by the by, depriving Castle of the action and adrenaline he thrives upon), and the attempted gang rape by the men under his command. I’m not going to spoil either for you, but the first reaction shows a level of cold-blooded ingenuity, the second a warped sense of what constitutes helping someone out. Neither are predictable, and both leave you somewhat ambivalent, torn between despising and grudgingly respecting the man – which is how the character works best when he’s worked at all.

Robertson’s art is the best of his career so far. Whilst reviewing the first issue I was swift to sing Tom Palmer’s praises, and although I don’t retract a word I said, I’ve now seen the pencils themselves which make it clearer how much of a leap Darick has made since TRANSMETROPOLITAN.

SLH

Buy Punisher Max: Born s/c and read the Page 45 review

DC Comics Presents Superman: Secret Identity #1 of 2 (£5-99, DC) by Kurt Buisek & Stuart Immonen.

Until Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley produced the note-perfect ALL-STAR SUPERMAN four years later, I wrote that if you were ever going to buy any Superman book, this should be it. Even though (or perhaps because) it’s not about Superman at all.

It’s about a boy called Clark Kent who grows up in Kansas and whose parents really weren’t thinking when they christened him. All his life he’s had to endure jibes about his name and birthday/Christmas presents focussing almost exclusively on the Superman theme just because he shares the comicbook character’s name. It’s not as if he has superstrength; he can’t hear whispers several miles away; he can’t even fly. Or at least he couldn’t. Then one night, much to Clark’s teenage surprise, he finds that he can.

So what you have here is a clean slate with someone whose powers echo Superman’s, but who then has to navigate his way through a real-world context of education, careers and relationships, and a real-world context of the CIA and American military who you just know would do anything to lay their hands on someone they would consider either an asset or a direct threat to their national and geopolitical interests. Either/or. “There ain’t no neutral ground”. They cannot just leave him alone, they’re constantly trying to track and trick him, but Clark doesn’t want to end up their pawn and cannot afford to endanger his family, and you really do spend most of the series anxious about the consequences.

There are some writers who perhaps don’t always fare well in standard superhero comics but who consistently shine on their own pet projects, and Kurt is one of them. This harbours all the affection and thought that he pours into Astro City, and I think much of that has to do with the fact that if there’s no continuity, no context other than that of his own choosing, and he’s particularly interested in the perspective of ordinary human beings when confronted with the extraordinary, which is where this succeeds.

What do you tell your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife? And at what stage of the relationship? What, if anything, do you ever tell your family? How would any of these people react? And what would you do with your gifts? What would it actually be like, to suddenly discover you could fly?

I think Immonen gives you a pretty fine description, visually, with some awesome midnight scenes above the Kansas countryside, and this is leagues above anything I’ve seen him submit before. He’s on colouring duty as well, and uses that to soften the forms, retaining as much pencil as possible.

Available to order by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing page45@page45.com

SLH

Gotham Central Book 3: On The Freak Beat s/c (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark, Jason Alexander, Stefano Gaudiano.

My mistake: I thought this would be two more softcovers combined but it’s the softcover of the previous volume four with its two absent issues, #26 and 27, reinstated. Yes, I’m sorry guys, but the previous softcovers left out some issues. Together they are ‘The Freak Beat’ and I cannot believe they were omitted, as Detective Marcus Driver joins his partner Detective Josie McDonald at the 45th-floor, two-million-dollar Penthouse apartment where there’s been both a burglary and a murder:

“Meet the late Reverend Burford Pressman.”
“Wait, the televangelist guy?”
“Got it in one.”
“I hate that guy.”
“Cool, got my first suspect already.”

The crime scene seems straightforward: the Reverend’s been shot, his safe’s been broken into and there’s an emerald necklace on the floor. Oh yes, and he has three claw marks down the side of his cheek. Catwoman…? Only thing is, Catwoman is a professional cat burglar and she’d know the apartment was sound-proofed, so she’s not about to take fright and flee without the necklace she came for in the first place. If that’s what she came for. No, Josie is convinced the necklace was planted. Is this gut instinct, or is it something else?

These two issues are slapped out with real panache by Jason Alexander (ABE SAPIEN etc.) although you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Kent Williams (BLOOD, THE FOUNTAIN etc.). At least, I hope so, because I thought it was him! But as ever with GOTHAM CENTRAL it’s the time spent setting up the personal lives of the precinct’s various detectives that sets this apart: evening meals that seem inconsequential to the plot but tell you more than you know about what to expect from whom, either now or later on.

As to the meat of the book, it’s one of the finest sequences of all from Rucka and Brubaker’s gripping precinct drama: three stories focussing on Detectives Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya, the poor woman so atrociously written in 52 that it’s easy to forget that here she’s probably the most compelling woman in DC Universe history. Think of her as Bendis’ Jessica Jones in uniform but instead of a drinks problem, she’s increasingly prone to rage. Oh wait, and booze.

In the first, Crispus is subjected to an internal enquiry when two thugs he didn’t shoot claim that he did after he tore off a couple of rounds to save Renee’s life. The problem is that one of those rounds has gone missing. There’s a market for them.

In the middle chapter Gotham’s latest Police Commissioner has finally had enough of Batman after all the recent casualties, and takes the signal off the precinct’s roof, smashing it in the process. Expect harsh words.

And in the final, grimmest of grim stories, a police officer trying to save a young boy falls prey to an alchemical trap courtesy of a conscienceless criminal holed up in a Keystone city jail, turning him into a rampaging monster. Batman insists they cannot negotiate but Allen and Montoya negotiate. They then wish they hadn’t. Here’s some of that ‘negotiating’:

“I think I’ll ask the screw to return me to my cell.”
“Do that and you lose your chance to prove how much smarter than us you are.”
“Oh, very good. You’ve kept me in the room, well done. Quid pro quo, something for something. But that doesn’t buy you answers.”
“Then what does?”
“You ask your questions, then I’ll ask mine. Honesty breeds trust, detectives. But you lie to me, and I’ll lie to you. And I will know if you are lying, believe me. You go first.”
“The experiment of transformation or whatever you want to call it… Can it be undone? Can you undo it?”
“That’s two questions, detective. The answer to both is yes. Hmm… Look at you… Fresh scar tissue on your knuckles and around your eye… You seem to have developed a taste — if not a delight — for violence recently, detective. I also note the double Venus pendant you’re wearing at your throat… Gay pride is such a wonderful thing…”
“Just ask your damn question.”
“It’s a known fact that incidences of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is quite high. It’s also quite high amongst police officers. So my question is this: do you beat her, detective dyke?”

The reason I quote so extensively from the so-called superhero books I like is that I’m not remotely interested in the fights, just the depth and dialogue and it’s only in the last ten years that there’s been much of the former and any of the latter worth quoting. The domestic piece in the first story, for example, where Crispus’ family come round to lunch at Renee and Dee’s, is both natural and touching, and makes what’s to come down the road all the more awful.

SLH

Buy Gotham Central Book 3: On The Freak Beat s/c and read Page 45 review here

There’s definitely interior art!

Rage: After The Impact s/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Arvid Nelson & Andrea Mutti.

From the creator of Rex Mundi, this introduces the forthcoming console game from the developers of Doom and Quake, both of which I grew so addicted to that my dreams became one long obsession with pressing everything in sight in order to reveal secret areas. Tombraider’s effect on my Mum was even worse: we spent a whole holiday in Venice in full philistinic throttle determining which rooftops where single jumps and which were “running jumps”. Unfortunately when we moved on to Florence my mother took a running jump off a curb and promptly broke her wrist.

Anyway, the joy of Doom some twenty years ago (warning: memory fail) was the sheer, lurid spectacle of it all with red and green and blue amped up to the max and fighting each other inside your eyeballs. You weren’t even on an alien planet, but a series of demonic realms bridged by teleporting flashes, surrounded by toxic seas and patrolled by creatures so foul that you’ve rarely encountered the likes outside the ‘80s Tory government. Pants-wettingly terrifying and fast. Oh, but you had to use your invisibility spheres wisely!

Quake’s majesty lay in its arsenal, with weapons that could melt through enemies like a white-hot samurai sword through butter – and at a distance. Then when I found my first BFG (Big Fucking Gun), oh how I cackled as it crackled before going nova. The environments were more industrial and the beasts this time round were increasingly well armed and preposterous cyborgs of sorts – but it was still all very exotic and certainly not the sort of holiday destination you’d let small children run around unsupervised.

Clearly, then, Rage will be no Shangri-La but if this comic is anything to go by it’s hardly going to be worse than Mansfield city centre on a Saturday night. Things have moved on in console games: mere mutations of human beings aren’t going to cut it anymore, and that’s all I see here.

Earth has been hit by an asteroid. Five billion people died within 24 hours. In preparation the military elite bundled the science bods up in safety pods then thrust them underground. They sequestered themselves similarly but made sure they would awake from cryogenic suspension first. Now the scientists are resurfacing too to find the military in charge of a broken world roamed by mutations catalysed by Feltrite found in the alien debris. I’ve seen it all before.

Of course the gaming experience could prove far more thrilling; in which case authorising this comic as advance publicity is a severe miscalculation. You might want to try Dead Space: Salvage instead by Antony Johnston and Christopher Shy, an artist perfect for maximum fear. I’ll read it when I’ve finished making myself cry playing Dead Space II.

SLH

Buy Rage: After The Impact s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Tower vol 4: Fall Of Gilead s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Robin Furth, Peter David, Stephen King & Richard Isanove.

Someone missing from the credits…? Yes, I’m afraid it’s the series’ original penciller, Jae Lee, but although regular colour artist Richard Isanove doesn’t possess Jae’s perfect sense of composition nor chiaroscuro, he does a damn fine job of maintaining the overall look and tone since it was his very palette that set it. It really is as consistent as you could hope for in Lee’s absence, and if the faces are slightly crude by comparison, well the series is populated by grotesques anyway.

So… the title to this fourth instalment doesn’t bode well, does it? The crows are gathering. Gathering for the carrion below…

SLH

Buy Dark Tower vol 4: Fall Of Gilead s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re softcover of hardcovers. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their titles.

The Manara Library vol 1 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara

Charley’s War vol 8: Hitler’s Youth h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

The Courtyard (Signed By Jacen Burrows) (£5-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore, Antony Johnston & Jacen Burrows

Neonomicon s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

The Green Woman s/c (£13-50, Vertigo) by Peter Straub, Michael Easton & John Bolton

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? vol 6 h/c (£18-99, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker

Flashpoint hardcover (£16-99, DC by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope

Superman/Batman: Sorcerer Kings hardcover (£14-99, DC) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Roberson, Joe Kelly, Jack Kelly, Amanda McMurray & ChrisCross, Jesus Merino, Ed Benes, Brett Booth, Marc Deering

Wolverine: Wolverine’S Revenge hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Renato Guedes

Ultimate Comics X: Origins hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Arthur Adams

Venom s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10.99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Tony Moore

Fantastic Four vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta, Mark Brooks

From The Marvel Vault softcover (£10-99, Marvel) by Roger Stern, Fabian Nicieza, Jack C. Harris, Kurt Busiek, Scott Lobdell & Neil Vokes, Derec Aucoin, Steve Ditko, Mark Bagley, George Tuska

Venom: Lethal Protector s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by David Michelinie & Mark Bagley, Ron Lim

Daken: Dark Wolverine vol 2: Big Break hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Rob Williams & Ron Garney, Matteo Buffagni

Spider-Man: The Complete Ben Reilly Epic vol 2 (£29-99, Marvel) by Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie, Evan Skolnick, Todd Dezago, Tom Lyle, Larry Hama, Glenn Greenberg, Dan Jurgens & Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Paris Karounos, Patrick Zircher, Sal Buscema, Shawn McManus, Mike Harris, Mike Manley, Dick Giordano, Joe Bennett, Joe St. Pierre, Tom Grindberg, Dan Jurgens,  Tom Morgan, Kevin McGuire, Chris Gardner

Captain America: The Trial Of Captain America s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuna, Jackson Guice, Mitch Breitweiser

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 7 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Mardock Scramble vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Tow Ubukata & Yoshitoki Oima

Chi’s Sweet Home vol 7 (£10-50, Vertical) by Kanata Konami

Blade Of The Immortal vol 24: Massacre (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol 11 (£8-50, Vertical) by Koji Kumeta

The Drops Of God vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Tadashi Agi

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 16 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa


Many thanks to my fellow best man, Ross Holloway, for his extremely generous time donated for free analysing our SEO trials and tribulations! Brilliant advice too, mate.

Also, thanks to everyone who came along to the Anders Nilsen signing for so many beeeeautiful sketches, the slide show and casual chit-chat down the pub. Thanks to Anders for coming along too. Would have been a bit weird without him.

Cheers,

Stephen

Reviews October 2011 week three

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011


We launch this week with a heartfelt preview from Jonathan of a book due out on October 27th which you can pre-order now by clicking on the link at the bottom as usual.

Billy, Me & You (£12-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten…

The most profoundly moving graphic novel I personally have ever read bar none. Tears were rolling down my face continuously whilst I read it (yes, on the bloody tram again!), and for a good twenty minutes afterwards. Upon finishing it I was actually shaking and felt physically sick. Indeed, even as I start to type this review I can feel the tears welling up once more.

An autobiographical story about the death of a young child is clearly difficult subject matter to tackle, and I don’t doubt a considerable part of my immediate personal reaction to it, is due to recently becoming a Dad to the beautiful Isabella, who seemingly every day manages to steal another little piece of my heart that I didn’t even know existed prior to that moment.

I therefore admire Nicola Streeten massively just simply for having the courage to create this work, which describes the heartbreaking death of her first child Billy aged two during heart surgery, a mere ten days after his condition was diagnosed. I admire her even more for creating a work which is not simply an outpouring of her grief, but instead an acutely insightful look into the nature of such a loss, and an equally insightful portrayal of the reactions of the world around her to it.

Firstly, I simply can’t imagine what it must be like to experience the loss that Nicola did. Even now, just thinking about such a thing happening to my daughter is causing my hands to shake as I type and my eyes to prickle again. Her clarity in explaining the sequence of events and her initial emotional turmoil is just astonishing and so very touching. From there we then move onto her and her partner John’s attempts to come to terms with what has happened, and just exactly how their lives have been so completely shattered in such a devastatingly short space of time. The black and white photograph of some of Billy’s toys, left where he last played with them, taken by John and included here, is unbelievably powerful in this context.

I do suspect anyone who has been through the loss of a loved one, even an older person as my wife has relatively recently with the loss of her much beloved father from cancer, will identify completely with the extreme range of emotional experiences Nicola and John endured. But there is actually also a considerable amount of humour in this section of the work, as we are frequently treated to her thoughts in response to the comments of others, which range from the truly caring to the completely unhelpful, and indeed the occasionally utterly bizarre and inane. Their comments – not her thoughts, I probably should just clarify! It’s an odd thing to find yourself chuckling whilst crying, but I did so on several occasions as Nicola’s thought bubbles uncannily reproduced my wife’s own thoughts in several similar social encounters with, on the face of it, entirely well meaning individuals who seemingly just managed to continually make matters worse with their attempts at consoling her.

When I read Phoebe Potts’ graphic memoir about infertility Good Eggs, I found myself struggling to have compassion for her, despite my wife and I going through a similar ordeal ourselves, albeit with a happier outcome as we were eventually blessed with Isabella, simply because I (and also my wife) couldn’t warm to Phoebe remotely as she portrayed herself in that work. Here though, much like Rosalind Penfold’s DRAGONSLIPPERS, which tells the autobiographical story of an abusive relationship, I found myself in complete empathy with Nicola, simply because of the matter of fact portrayal of her story, which has the important quality of feeling like it has been written with a desire to help others who might be experiencing such a horror, as opposed to Good Eggs, which feels to me more like Phoebe Potts just wanted to write a comic all about herself and was using her infertility as subject matter to that end. Probably a harsh statement, but in writing an autobiographical work, it’s as important to be clear about why you’re writing it, as in the presentation of the material, in my opinion. At no point in BILLY, ME & YOU did I ever feel that Nicola was attempting to elicit sympathy from the reader. Rather I felt, much like Rosalind achieves with DRAGONSLIPPERS, that there is a genuine sense of the author wanting to reach out to others similarly afflicted and say “You are not alone. Nothing I say can actually make things better for you personally, but I do understand what you are going through.”

I don’t doubt that writing this work some thirteen years on (plus also having been fortunate enough to have another child, and her depiction of the inevitable emotional turmoil the arrival of her daughter Sally engendered in her and John is again in equal parts illuminating and moving) has been a cathartic experience. It’s just I genuinely think achieving such a catharsis wasn’t her primary motivation in doing so. Nor I’m sure was writing a comic about herself.

This caring approach is not the only thing Nicola shares with Rosalind’s DRAGONSLIPPERS, as she also chooses to employ a relatively simplistic, dare I say it, primitive art style here. Now I have no idea whether Nicola is actually as accomplished an artist as Rosalind is (click here – four down, left – for her portrait of Stephen in his ‘distressed’ leather trenchcoat overlooking the Trent in suitably regal manner); I’m sure she probably is, but I think her choice of art style for this work is inspired, as the illustrations have a childlike feel to them which really helps ground the work and lets the emotional content roar off the pages, and I do also think when you are dealing with such serious subject matter as this, that picking a less ‘serious’ art style really does help.

This is a work you should read. It’s not an easy read, but you should read it nonetheless. This is probably one of the very few works out there, like Brick’s painfully honest account of his struggles with depression in DEPRESSO, that not only has the power to heal,  but also the power to inform people how best to practically help and support someone suffering such from overwhelming emotional trauma.

Pre-order Billy, Me & You and read Page 45’s preview here

JR

Stargazing Dog (£8-99, NBM) by Takashi Murakami…

After the heartwrenching BILLY, ME & YOU I felt like I needed a bit of light relief, so I picked up this work, which from the title and the front cover featuring a very content-looking dog in a gloriously radiant field of sunflowers you might think would be a light-hearted little manga in the vein of something like YOTSUBA&!. Err… no, instead I was biting my lip fighting back the tears again at the story of Happie the dog and his luckless owner Daddy.

Initially things started off brightly enough with an abandoned pup being found by a young girl and adopted by a fairly typical Japanese family living in the suburbs. Over the years we see the family change through Happie’s eyes as the daughter grows up, rebels, and leaves home, Mummy starts to become more distant from everyone, and the initially reluctant Daddy grows ever fonder of his little faithful companion, who provides him with some much needed unconditional love. When Mummy decides to divorce Daddy after he has lost his job, forcing him to leave the family house, he takes Happie with him, and it’s there the second half of the story begins with their on the road life, which eventually progresses into full-blown homelessness as the money inevitably runs out. But throughout it all Daddy never stops showing Happie affection and love, and always ensuring he’s fed and looked after, even at the expense of his own well-being, both financial and physical.

I don’t want to give too much more away save to say another character, Okutsu the social worker, belatedly enters the story, and it is his life, particularly his reflections upon his less than perfect treatment of his own childhood dog, that gradually brings the story to a fitting conclusion.

This work is very moving in its portrayal of relationships and also humankind’s ability or inability to demonstrate affection and love. I can quite understand why this has been a best-seller in Japan and is now being made into a movie. Ultimately this is a work which wants to make you stop and think about one’s own relationships, and one’s ability to love unconditionally, and I believe it certainly succeeds in that respect. Definitely one for fans of SOLANIN to have a look at, I think.

Buy Stargazing Dog and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Judge Dredd Casefiles 18 (£21-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis & Greg Staples, Peter Doherty, Carlos Ezquerra, Colin MacNeil, John Burns, John McCrea, John Higgins, John Hicklenton…

So being absolutely desperate for some escapism by this point, I picked this up and immersed myself fully in some righteous law dispensing. You know what you’re getting by now surely creeps? No? Well go report to your local sector house immediately and get put straight with the aid of a swinging daystick on your bonce then! This collection is a relatively unspectacular collection of single issue shorts, albeit great fun, mostly from Ennis and Wagner, aside from the always welcome return of everyone’s favourite teenage psycho P.J. Maybe, and the two Mechanismo stories where robotic Judges based on Dredd’s personality template are running amok in Mega-City One. And this collection also features Mark Millar’s first Dredd story too. I’ll sign off with a bit of classic Ennis though.

“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for now… but come back next prog, when we’ll be showing you how to ice six muties with a round of hi-ex. Bye for now!”

Buy Judge Dredd Casefiles 18 and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Presents: Liberty Annual 2011 (£3-50, Image) by various.

HABIBI’s Craig Thompson is the chief among many attractions in this cracking anthology which hits harder than ever in its pursuit of liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and freedom to love.

Freedom to love! How fucked up are we as a species that we would even question the positive value of love? Yet historically both apartheid and organised religion have kept couples apart, vilifying (not frowning upon, but vilifying and legislating against) those whose profound adoration of each other ignores the superficiality of skin pigmentation (that’s all it fucking is – a hereditary tan or lack thereof) or gender. I may be about to ‘go off on one’ here but bless these creators for doing so too, and for doing it with both eloquence and empathy, and a determined solidarity.

I don’t recall anything in the solicitation copy about this being a queer-centric edition (and I use “queer” in its empowering sense, batting for the other side as I do*), so it was an arresting surprise to find so much of this castigating homophobia whatever its source and celebrating that love which –unfortunately still often – “dare not speak its name”.

In rare full colour, Craig Thompson illustrates Kazin Ali’s seven-page self-doubt with an empathy that astonishes. Craig has more than paid his dues in presenting the positive sides of the Qur’an in HABIBI and is therefore more than qualified than most to question the license so many infer from almost all organised religions for hating those who love. Towards the end it is erotically sublime. Steve Niles speaks truth (though it may well be fiction), Matt Wagner gives hope in a GRENDEL tale, and Dave Cooper illustrates a typically filthy one-pager by Kyle McCulloch.

That single page, by the way, may land you in deep shit if you cross the Canadian border with it. Not kidding you. In this day and age a guy was actually arrested for carrying certain comics through customs. That’s what the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is all about, and that’s where the profits from this issue go: defending victims from prosecution just because of the comics they read. Nothing to do with being gay, those particular comics, just sex which is obviously horrific compared to the current level of violence in comics.

Nor, I should make clear, is this much fatter and phatter edition of the annual anthology all about sex. Straczynski and Kevin Sacco give you all the pertinent arguments you’ll need to argue about the separation of church and state, Dara Naragi and Christopher Mitten lament Dara’s experience under Iran’s version of the Spanish Inquisition, while FINDER’s Carla Speed McNeil just wants to talk about her son with Down’s Syndrome in the way she wants to without coming a cropper of the language police. Everyone here deserves credit but there should at least be one final tip of the hat to J.H. Williams III – he of PROMETHEA and BATWOMAN fame – for shuffling in a card trick which proves he’s all heart.

* Well, I say “batting for the other side” but these days I’m confined to the pavilion and it’s a very long time since I scored. Let’s just say it’s a long time since I’ve had a maiden over.

[Cricket analogy done to death. You’re out. – Umpire Ed.]

SLH

Troop 142 (£14-99, SA) by Mike Dawson…

“I am disgusted! Scouts of your seniority should have better heads on their shoulders. How many times have you been at camp. Four? Five? You should know better.”
“Big Bear is right. You all knew the rules. There’s no excuse.”
“This is the second time boys from your troop have caused problems Bill. What’s going on at your camp?”

What indeed? Despite the ever watchful eye of hard-ass scout master Mr. Demaria, who also happens to be the dad of the least popular boy in camp, Chuck, the boys are getting up to plenty, from goofing off to the waterfalls, playing some pretty mean tricks on each other (though Chuck definitely gets the brunt of it) and even dropping LSD round the campfire. Suffice to say, not all of the boys’ bad behaviour comes to light, but there’s sufficient of it to arouse the ire of the scout leader Big Bear.

This work is a fun expedition into the mores and mindset of adolescent boys, and their often ridiculous antics, set against the backdrop of Pinewood Forest Summer Camp for scouts. Whilst it’s not exactly Lord of the Flies, it certainly reminded me how unpleasant teenage boys can be to each other, including their close friends given half an opportunity, all under the auspices of merely having a laugh. Preferably at someone’s expense, of course. Which is exactly how I came to receive one of my childhood nicknames I suppose, that of Evil Rigby! There’s also a few pointed digs at their elders too, but by and large it’s the boys’ boisterous antics that provide the often excruciating hilarity of this work.

The art style reminded me of Nate Powell at times, and Mike Dawson does some great facial expressions. Even without the dialogue, it’s pretty easy to work out that Mr. Demaria is a bit of a cock. I’m not wholly sure if the creator intended this work to have any great message, I think it’s just intended as good fun, and perhaps a warning as to what can happen if you go into the woods unprepared!

LINK

JR

The Incal h/c (£29-99, SelfMadeHero) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius…

I suspect if you were to ask comic book creators what they regarded as their top three favourite science fiction works, THE INCAL would feature in most, if not all of their selections. And rightfully so, as it is most definitely a seminal work for both writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Moebius. Indeed Mark Millar has commented that THE INCAL is “quite simply one of the most perfect comics ever conceived and probably the most beautiful piece of graphic literature ever drawn.”

That’s an extremely bold statement, and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily espouse exactly the same view, it is certainly a big favourite of mine too. I, like most of you, I would imagine, have a handful of books that I like to pull off the shelf and reread from time to time and this is certainly one of them. I remember devouring it when I discovered it, in its original six-album edition format, and I’d completely agree with the following comment from Bendis that “To those of you who are about to read this for the very first time: I’m truly jealous.”

So, I probably should tell you a little bit about it, I guess. It was written between 1980 and 1988, shortly after the collapse of Jodorowsky’s ambitious proposed film adaptation of Dune, on which Moebius also worked producing storyboards and set design concept art. I could easily write an essay about just that project, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest films never made, such was the scope of his vision for it. It isn’t perhaps surprising therefore that from the ashes of that aborted project some four years later sprung THE INCAL, which I suspect gave Jodorowsky the chance to create the expansive universe (indeed known as the Jodverse which also later gave birth to The Metabarons and THE TECHNOPRIESTS sagas) that he’d always dreamed of creating.

Moebius meanwhile was working on what, retrospectively, is regarded as another of his greatest works, THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE. This was actually my own first personal experience of Moebius and I’d never come across anything quite like it before, with an almost complete absence of plot detail, merely feeling like I was being guided through some impossible abstract futuristic habitat. It is actually to this day, one of the very few books I can think of that despite such a paucity of actual plot, is a veritable triumph of storytelling.

And so they came to THE INCAL. Critics will and indeed do choose to say it’s rambling, that at times its nonsensical storyline has no real coherency, whereas I believe there is a very clear story being told. It’s just the characters, even the supposed main character are merely tiny cogs in Jodoroswky’s larger creation. Indeed, it’s readily apparent that the main characters are all representative of various aspects of a Tarot set. And undoubtedly, as those who are familiar with his films like El Topo will recognise, the overall story is meant to be that of the struggle for spiritual enlightenment, the goal being one of arriving at a state of greater awareness. Or perhaps more precisely the realisation that such a state was within one all along, one merely had to understand how to access it.

Which all makes it sound rather airy and highbrow, when in fact this particular quest is told in the style of an all-action adventure, with plenty of punch-ups, shoot-outs and space battles. In fact, it’s pretty much non-stop action! But I can certainly see why Jodorowsky and Moebius chose to sue Luc Besson claiming he’d plagiarised various elements of their story in making the film The Fifth Element. They didn’t win the case, and actually to compare the two is to do THE INCAL a great disservice, because if you were to make it into a feature film, it would probably run for about two days rather than two hours. In the aftermath of the case whilst giving an interview, probably trying to save face and possibly still smarting slightly, Jodorowsky  informed the interviewer that he considered it an honour that somebody stole his ideas, taking care not to name Besson in person, of course. And that in any event, nobody creates stories as such, a writer is merely extracting common themes from our shared collective unconscious and bringing them to life, so how can there being any such thing as plagiarism? Hmm.

In fact there’s all manner of anecdotes I could digress into regarding the creation of this work. For example they apparently didn’t even work with a script, instead Jodorowsky would act out each scene to Moebius, who’d dash out a storyboard during each impromptu performance, and then they’d both subsequently apply the dialogue, but only after Moebius was happy with his final pencils. It’s an unusual way of working but it actually serves, in my opinion to allow the visuals to steer the narrative, much like in THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE, except here Jodorowsky is then able to overlay the dialogue elements which comprise the metaphysical aspects of the journey. The art itself does change slightly throughout the work too, as each of the original six volumes had a subtle yet specific difference in terms of panel layout and direction. But unlike the final third of another collaboration Mad Woman Of The Sacred Heart, it isn’t sufficiently dramatic a change to unbalance the overall work, but in fact adds another layer to it, which I think is meant to represent the change or spiritual evolution in the central characters, and helps create a sense that the whole story is going somewhere, not in a narrative sense, but again, perhaps in a more metaphysical sense.

There’s also a surprising amount of humour in the work as well, which I also think is key in ensuring the whole thing doesn’t descend into some high space operatic jumble. Certainly the buffoonish, almost slightly odious main character, the cowardly private investigator John DiFool, has an almost Clouseau-esque element to him at times with his unfortunate ability to find himself in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. And readers will certainly pick out much biting satire, particularly aimed at organised religious institutions and politicians and dispensed with much pie-in-the-face gusto.

I note at this point I also haven’t mentioned any real plot specifics, which I probably I should! Okay, very briefly then… Idiot investigator John DiFool who lives in a vast and squalid labyrinthine pit-city (think an inverted Mega-City One on a bad day), quite accidently comes into possession of the Light Incal (he has no idea what it is, of course), a venerated object which various competing factions such as the alien Bergs, the guerrilla rebel group AMOK, the Church of the Industrial Saints (also known as THE TECHNOPRIESTS), the city government themselves and various other idiots are all desperate to get their hands on. Their motivations for doing so, and their particular beliefs about what the Light Incal is are all rather different. John, looking for a safe hiding place for it whilst initially being pursued by pretty much all of the above, in a moment of apparent lunatic inspiration, hides it inside Deepo, his pet seagull, who is safely at home in John’s apartment. Things then begin to take a rather more surreal and unexpected turn when Deepo, empowered by ingesting the Light Incal,  gains the power of speech and starts to preach to the other residents in John’s apartment block. Word quickly spreads about this mystic bird, causing a near-riot, and John is once again forced on the lam as all and sundry come after him with all guns, and indeed lasers and missiles blazing. That’s probably sums up just the first few pages, and really is just the absolute tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer grandiose absurdity that follows.

An exciting note, for me at least, to finish on. There were also a subsequent series of prequels called collectively Before The Incal, which were released in English at the time. They’re also pretty good, but weren’t perhaps exactly what fans of THE INCAL were hankering after as such, well at least that’s my recollection of them. I note there is a deluxe collection of them due in December so presumably a more reasonably priced hardback to follow at some point too. There were, however, also two sequels called After The Incal and Final Incal, which were never released in English, and I haven’t read those at all. I am led to believe that Humanoids will be publishing them in 2012 in English which is fantastic news!

LINK

JR

Orchid #1 of 12 (80 pence, Dark Horse) by Tom Morello & Scott Hepburn.

Avoid the ticket touts’ inevitable price gouging and snap up the brand new gig by Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello at a mere 80 pence now!

“Know Your Role.”

That’s the message branded onto Orchid’s inner forearm, “PROPERTY” tattooed above her chest like all the other street prostitutes.

Welcome to what’s left of the world which, in the wake of a second, self-inflicted flood, has reverted to feudal tyranny, abject poverty and wholesale slavery. The rich occupy the high ground in fiercely defended fortresses while the majority barely subsist below crumbling bridges in swampland shantytowns surrounded by even more desolate wildernesses. If life wasn’t grim enough, there’s the constant threat of being hunted both by the feral creatures mutated by the polluted seas which rose and sunk the cities, or by human slave traffickers.

Oh, there have been attempts at rebellion but even the grandest has failed leaving little hope – just one relic of the past: a black and scarlet hood once worn by resistance leader General China before it was ripped from his corpse by local tyrant Tomo Wolfe. The hood is rumoured to be both blessed and cursed depending on who dares to wear it and, as the story opens, that is the prize sought by a young band of rebels ill-equipped to successfully steal it. Unsurprisingly they fail. But then the least likely of them suddenly snatches one small shard of victory from the jaws of defeat, and the game may well be on…

For those who’ve missed Matt Wagner’s more futuristic GRENDEL tales, this should prove the perfect substitute, and I’ll give Morello this: the well trodden road to environmental ruin aside, it’s far from predictable and so far it’s looking particularly grim. The hood’s fabled properties, for all we still know, may be mere propaganda – he’s kept that bit deliberately ambiguous. Scott Hepburn’s shantytowns also come with an element of surprise: it’s not all squalor for the hillside street where the prostitutes ply their trade boasts a beautiful giant orchid. Also there’s more than a hint of Tim Sale in the titular Orchid’s eyes. How she fits into all of this, you’ll have to discover for yourselves.

We don’t have this online (except, at the time of typing as a pre-order so you could try that), but you can order it all the same by a very quick email or phone call. Just don’t hang around because the last couple of times that musicians of Tom Morello’s stature ventured into comics the prices soon rocketed: I wasn’t kidding about the ticket touts.

SLH

John Lord s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Denis-Pierre Filippi & Patrick Laumond…

Grisly, pulp tale set in 1920s New York and various other locales including a desert island. The head of the special investigative unit the UPI has been murdered in a particularly gruesome manner, and it falls upon John Lord to track down his mentor’s killer. There’s a pretty sophisticated plot which commences with the simultaneously telling of two separate tales, that of John Lord’s return to the Big Apple from the front after a spell in the forces, an appearance that seems to provoke an ambivalent response in pretty much everyone, and that of a group of castaways, marooned on an island after a rather brutal act of piracy. This second tale, entirely wordless, would appear to reveal all about the identity of the murderer almost immediately, or is it in fact just a very clever red herring? I shall say no more! The art is also most definitely up to the usual high standards of a Humanoids imprint release. Yet another highly recommended crime release! If you read and enjoyed THE BOMBYCE NETWORK, this will also appeal.

LINK

JR

The Unexpected one-shot (£5-99, Vertigo/DC) by Dave Gibbons, Brian Wood, Josh Dysart, Mat Johnson &Jill Thompson, Farel Dalrymple, David Lapham, Emily Carrol, more.

America does not consider the future with much optimism right now.

SLH

Pope Hats #2 (£4-99) by Ethan Rilly.

All sold out at the moment, but we still have the first issue which I reviewed thus:

Seth describes it as “the most impressive debut comic I’ve seen in years” even though it’s thoroughly modern. I absolutely loved it.

Two girls, Vicky and Frances, share a flat and although both evidence a certain degree of… fuck-uppery… they’re surprisingly well adjusted to it. Actress Vicky likes to binge-drink, finding her hangovers comfortingly familiar. She wonders what the chances are of developing a full-blown problem.

“How often do you black out?”
“I can’t remember. What are you doing out there?”
“Mulling over various disappointments. Listen, can we move out?”

It’s all a bit WHY I HATE SATURN, which is a very good thing indeed. Here’s Vicky down the pub:

“I would have made an awesome boy. I would just date and hurt so many girls. And as a bonus I would be ‘emotionally unavailable’ Ha ha.”

That’s the best description I’ve heard of almost every one of Anita’s and Ryz’s exes. As for Frances, she has a special friend:

“Good evening Frances Scarland. I mean, good morning. I have taken the innocent soul of your cat. I am ruthless! One by one I will destroy every single thing you care for.”
“Come on! You again?”
“But I — ”
“That’s not even my cat! That’s Spoons, my sweet old neighbour’s cat. You are honestly the worst ghost ever! You are basically a subpar stalker.”

He is, actually. Also, dopey.

“You should be ashamed. Don’t ask me to haul you out of trouble if Mr. Kowalski dies of a broken heart and his ghost starts haunting you.”
“No, does that really happen?”

The lettering is so neat and tidy I almost wept with joy, whilst the art is trim and attractive. I can see a little bit of Ware, and perhaps some Chester Brown in the ghost who has bags under his eyes. He should really get some rest. Above all, Ethan isn’t trying too hard to impress, just telling a story with natural, effortless grace and an impressive ratio of neat one-liners per page.

LINK

SLH

Black Metal vol 2 (£8-99, Oni) by Rick Spears & Chuck BB.

“Shawn and Sam Stronghand. You are twins, right? Equal halves, yes?”
“Yeah. … Yes.”
“Then why does Shawn always get the Sword Of Atoll?”
“He lets me use it… Sometimes.”
“But you don’t have your own?”
“No, but it’s cool.”
“Is it? I don’t know, it doesn’t seem just somehow. Are you not great enough, strong enough? Does he think himself your better?”
“He is my brother.”
“Yes, of course. I’m sure he is true and unselfish. It’s just, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem right. I’d say you deserve a sword of your very own.”
“My own sword…”
“It’s only fair.”

Ah, wicked girl, poisoning one twin against the other! She’s also sowing the seeds of a sneaky sub-plot too but shhh….

Following the revelations of BLACK METAL VOL ONE (pun possibly intended), it transpires that our identical twelve-year-old twins obsessed with heavy metal music are two halves of the ancient Roth and part of Satan’s grand plan, for Hell is growing and Heaven isn’t happy. Nor is Heaven all sweetness and light as one poor pawn will find out, and is perfectly capable of a little infiltration of its own. Meanwhile Sam’s confidence and unquestioning loyalty towards his brother is slowly being eroded, not just by the bitch of a witch in their midst but by Shawn’s clearer understanding of their past and predicament which, buffeted about Hell, is tempestuous at best. Which is just the way they like it!

It’s a comedy, of course, the dialogue pumped full of hilarious posturing enhanced no end by Chuck BB’s gleefully manic eyes which slap from side to side like a ventriloquist’s doll’s as their teeth gnash together or grit themselves senseless. One more book to come!

LINK

SLH

Victorian Undead vol 2: Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri…

“Perhaps you will now turn your talent to another pressing conundrum, namely that of our living expenses?! I know for a fact you have recently turned down at least three cases.”
“You’re talking about the matter of the laughing dog, the garrulous mute and the amorous apparition?
“The first was clearly an insurance fraud employing a ventriloquist and a taciturn Jack Russell. The second LeStrade could have fathomed. Whilst the third was merely cheap chicanery to gull us into endorsing a wretched series of gothic romantic novels.
“However, that being said… I sense our imminent caller shows great promise.”
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

The world’s foremost know-it-all is back, and this time around he warms up with a quick case involving Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde before sinking his teeth into the main course, Dracula. If you read the first volume involving zombies you’ll know what to expect, as Holmes once again brings his mighty intellect to bear in the pursuit of a supernatural foe. Expect cameos galore from various other characters from Bram Stoker’s novel as this particular mash-up quickly gets bloodier than a Saturday night in A&E.

LINK

JR

Punisher Max: Frank h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon…

“I don’t know at exactly what point I first became what it is that I am now.
“Maybe it was Vietnam. Maybe it was that day in the park.
“Or maybe I’d been that way all along.
“All I know is, once I finally embraced it, I quickly realised…
“… I was never going to stop.”

Okay it is official, in my eyes at least, that Jason Aaron has now matched Garth Ennis’ previously peerless PUNISHER MAX run. This, the third book in Jason’s run, follows straight on from last volume’s epic physical and psychological confrontation with Bullseye and sees a battered and broken Frank cooling his heels in the State Penitentiary. As he’s laid up in the hospital wing, word spreads of his incapacitated condition and all the cons start sharpening their shivs and daring to dream about becoming a living legend by claiming the biggest scalp of all.

Meanwhile, as Frank’s body heals, he finds his mind wandering to his last days in ‘Nam after the climatic end to his third tour of duty in the hellhole of Valley Forge, and his subsequent attempt to return to civvy life before he lost his entire family in Central Park. As intense as Ennis’s PUNISHER MAX: BORN, this is Aaron’s attempt to further add to the mystery behind the transmogrification of Frank Castle into the killing machine feared, and maybe even a little revered, by the underworld. There’s a truly shocking moment too when, just before the fateful carnage in the park begins, we hear Frank’s final words to his wife. Highly recommended, and you could certainly jump straight in with this volume, then go back and read the previous two.

JR

New X-Men vol 6 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo.

I spent a good hour reviewing volume five which received a blast of unadulterated praise reserved for those bits featuring Quitely on art. So it’s a quickie this time as I congratulate Jimenez on being a fine substitute for Quitely, and Bachalo on being bonkers: brilliant design, superb nightclub scenes, but couldn’t work out what the fuck was happening thereafter.

So things are not going well at the Xavier Institute for gifted misfits. The professor’s come out as a mutant (he is), the Beast has come out as gay (he’s not) and they’ve given a former enemy, Miss Frost, the keys to the school supplies cupboard, inviting her on board as a teacher. Unfortunately she’s a bit of a femme fatale (as her previous students all found out, moments before receiving a commemorative set of toe tags) and she’s since set her sybaritic sights on Cyclops (Mr. Repressed 1963-2011 inclusive) who’s supposed to be married to Jean (I’ll Show You Tetchy) Grey. Now Jean’s caught them in a flagrantly delicate moment together and, as you may recall, she’s already destroyed an entire solar system just for looking at her funny. Minutes later Emma Frost’s dead and it’s a messy case of whodunnit. Unfortunately even after that’s cleared up there’s a mystery lurking behind the mystery which only be revealed next volume but when it is, I have to say, it was the best superhero slight of hand I had ever witnessed until Joss Whedon’s run on ASTONISHING X-MEN, and it took me completely by surprise. Yet it’s all there. Morrison must have been chuckling for two years solid.

On top of all that Wolverine’s been told that Weapon X (the covert military programme which gave him the biggest dental filling in history) isn’t the letter X but the Roman numeral for ten: there were several experiments before and after him. One quest later, and you start to find out who, why and where.

SLH

Absolute Identity Crisis (£75-00, DC) by Brad Metzler & Rags Morales.

Also available as a softcover, this is one of my immediate go-to books for anyone asking about cracking DC superhero stories, and one of the few in which Batman actually has to do some detecting in the way detectives do. Here it’s finally given the accolade it deserves by being turned into one of their monstrously large slipcased hardcovers. Extras this time round include the script to the first issues and – always more interesting for me – a page-by-page commentary at the back by Meltzer and Morales, point out stuff they snuck in that you may not have spotted. As to the story…

It’s all about what binds people together: love, family, friendship, loyalty and loss.

It’s only once every three years or so that a superhero graphic novel tops the Page 45 Mailshot. This one did, and I think that tells you all you need to know not only about this book’s quality but also its accessibility – a contention which I know is going to sound all the more ridiculous for the size of the cast, which is enormous. But if you can find it within yourself to trust me, you will, I assure you, not only bear witness to (not “be told”, but “bear witness to” – that’s very important) all you need to know about the individuals involved, but you will actually begin to care from the first few pages onwards.

How does Brad do this? By quickly but gently building a superb, thematically coherent context through a series of snap-shots, showing various individuals and their loved ones talking to each other about their loved ones, be they alive and well or long-since buried.

For example, on a stakeout seventeen minutes before his life falls apart – before his wife is slaughtered in her own home leaving no clues behind – Ralph Dibny begins telling novice Lorraine about how he first met his wife, Sue, and why he loves her with a passion. Every year she tries to surprise him on his birthday – no easy task when your husband’s a detective – and every year he guesses but acts surprised, because if she’s going to go to all that trouble to make him happy, he’s not going to ruin it by letting on he knows. This year?

“Antique magnifying glass circa 1860 — sterling silver, parasol handle — very nice. We passed one in an antiques shop in Belgium. I stopped to look; Sue followed my eye. She tried to stay in front, but I could see her reflection. She was working hard to memorise the name of the shop.”
“See, that’s why I won’t date detectives. A friend of mine once dated The Question. Nightmare. Anticipated everything, including the break-up. Plus, all those Nietzsche quotes gave her a headache.”

But they’re also talking about the fact that unlike so many superheroes, Ralph doesn’t wear a mask:

“Even if you can stretch yourself through a hail of bullets, Sue is…”
“Sue’s a target. You can say it. Anyone who puts on a costume paints a bull’s eye on his family’s chests.”
“And doesn’t that terrify you?”
“Why do you think I had her live in the Justice League Embassy all those years?”

Now they live in an apartment, but it has state-of-the-art security – a combination of technologies from all the Justice League members’ homeworlds – because, as Ralph’s said, Sue’s lived with them for years, and of course they care for her greatly. And that’s where she is now, jauntily packing away his present in a box…

“My honey thinks he’s so clever. And he is. Which is exactly why he’ll guess the magnifying glass.”

Ah-hah.

“But what I add to the box… Even Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a chance of guessing.”

And what she does pack away in that box, circled with a ribbon and bow, renders in retrospect the next five minutes – and that final panel-within-a-panel of the first chapter’s bludgeoning end – all the more horrible.

Now, what I’ve tried to convey here is that this isn’t about superheroes – it’s far more universal than that – but it is about secrets as much as it’s about love. It’s about protecting your loved ones, and what lengths you might be prepared to go to in order to do that. Because it’s not the first time Sue’s been attacked. Up in the Justice League Watchtower, we learn, she was once raped by one of their enemies, and the members of the League who were there at the time had to think fast but hard about what they were prepared to do, there and then, about all those people who knew their identities. And they did something harsh. Very harsh. And that’s something else they’ve had to keep secret for a very long time… from some of their own.

I’ve actually been a lot more restrained here than I was going to be. It doesn’t make sense to give all the other bits away just to prove how clever Meltzer’s been. But with the aid of artist Morales, whose clarity is almost up there with Gibbons, he’s crafted a rare superhero book will something to say to you about your lives, as well as delivering a mystery that works from every angle and is in keeping with the thematic core. For when, during my review of the first issue, I wrote, “It’s all about what binds people together: love, family, friendship, loyalty and loss,” I had absolutely no idea how spot-on that statement actually was, right up until the dénouement. I mean, it seemed an accurate enough assessment of what was on offer, but it’s also the key to the mystery: who killed Sue Dibny?

As Batman insists: “It’s the first rule of solving a crime. If you want to know who did it, you need to find out who benefits.” Also, I would suggest… in what way?

LINK

SLH

Batman: Arkham City h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Dini, Derek Fridolfs & Carlos D’Anda, Dustin Nguyen, more.

“Be careful, Selina. This isn’t a game.”

Ho ho! The graphic novel which bridges the gap between the two console extravaganzas, the first of which proved that if you actually put some thought and money into a licensed game, it would totally rock. I loved the slick grapple-gun action, gliding over the graveyard from on high, the drop-down abduction gameplay, the riddles, the secrets and the batvision. The only thing wrong with it was that you couldn’t garrotte the grating Harley Quinn and put her whining voice out of your misery. Thankfully this is silent.

Following the destruction of Gotham’s new City Hall by the Trask twins tanked up on the steroid juice Titan, Mayor Sharp declares martial law, severing one half of Gotham from the other, walling it off and declaring it an open-air prison: one vast expansion of Arkham Asylum where the inmates are free to roam. He also brings in one of those private security firms so beloved by America, effectively marginalising Gotham City Police Department. As Batman soon discovers, the whole thing’s a set-up with someone in the shadows pulling Sharp’s strings. The question which remains for the game players to solve is why.

In terms of the game franchise itself it’s the perfect set-up, effectively expanding what was already an impressively vast and varied playground into fresh new territory. It’s also, of course, one big advertisement, written specifically to appeal to those who relished the first game by including its gadgets and peppering it with the same sort of mocking broadcasts. The Joker is centre-stage, naturally, but now vying for territory with the Penguin, and there are plenty of cameos by Catwoman, Harley Quinn <shudder>, The Riddler, Robin (no idea which one – he looks like an S&M rent boy on steroids), Two-Face, Poison Ivy, letting you know where each one stands at the start of round two. Ding ding!

The art’s fair enough, coming across in places like Chaykin inked by Terry Austin, but honesty dictates that I concede that as a standalone graphic novel it’s a far cry from satisfying. There’s really very little meat to the mystery let alone any conclusion, and the dialogue is purely perfunctory (dull). If you want a Batman graphic novel that is structured like a console game (end-level bosses etc.) but will genuinely thrill with the spectacle you expect from gaming and an involving mystery to boot, that would be the full-colour BATMAN: HUSH, also now available as BATMAN: HUSH UNWRAPPED in black-and-white pencils.

Note: as well as the printed periodical, this edition includes all the digital episodes and a bunch of character concept art by Carlos D’Anda and Brandon Badeaux.

LINK

SLH

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Other Stories h/c (£12-99, IDW) by Edgar Allan Poe & Sam Kieth.

Two hundred pages of prose and poetry illustrated by Sam Kieth in colour. The Raven, Lenore, The Bells, The Black Cat, The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Masque Of The Red Death… everything you’d expect, really. The original classic texts, by the way.

LINK

SLH

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

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

Freakangels vol 6 (£14-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield

Alan Moore: Conversations (£18-99, UPM) by Alan Moore and edited by Eric L. Berlatsky

Jean: Rebus h/c (£29-99, Chronicle) by James Jean

The Frank Book s/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring

Bubbles And Gondola h/c (£12-99, NBM) by Renaud Dillies

Marzi: A Memoir (£13-50, Vertigo) by Marzena Sowa & Sylvain Savoia

The Unwritten vol 4: Leviathan (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, Vince Locke, Al Davison

Dark Tower vol 4: Fall Of Gilead s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Robin Furth, Peter David, Stephen King & Richard Isanove

Mutts: Our Little Kat King (£12-50, AMP) by Patrick McDonnell

Nursery Rhyme Comics 50 Timeless Rhymes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by various

The Walking Dead Novel vol 1 Rise Of The Governor h/c (£18-99, Thomas Dunne) by Robert Kirkman, Jay Bosinga

Rage: After The Impact s/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Arvid Nelson, & Andrea Mutti

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago vol 4 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various

Sherlock Holmes: Year One s/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Scott Beatty & Daniel Indro

Amory Wars: The Second Stage Turbine Blade Ultimate Edition hardcover (£22-50, Dynamite) by Claudio Sanchez & Mike Miller, Gus Vasquez

Gotham Central Book 3: On The Freak Beat s/c (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark, Jason Alexander, Stefano Gaudiano

X-23 vol 1: Killing Dream s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Various

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 4: Death Of Spider-Man h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1: Architects Of Forever s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver

Invincible Iron Man vol 7: My Monsters s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Howard Chaykin, more

Tezuka: Black Jack vol 16 (£12-99, Vertical) by Osama Tezuka

Kingyo Used Books vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Seimu Yoshizaki

Vanilla vol 1 (£9-99, June) by Riyu Yamakami

Sakura Hime: The Legend Of Princess Sakura vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura

Sakura Hime: The Legend Of Princess Sakura vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura

Vampire Knight vol 13 (£7-50, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Higurashi vol 14: Eye Opening Arc vol 4 (£7-99, Yen) by Yutori Houjyou & Ryukishi07

Gon vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Masashi Tanaka

Gantz vol 19 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Oku Hiroya

Gate 7 vol 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Psyren vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

Full Metal Alchemist Omnibus vols 7-9 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiromu Arakawa

Reviews October 2011 week two

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011


Reed Richards isn’t just brooding, he’s hooked up to his machines like some reclusive techno-junky, leaving his wife to feed fake fish, his careless, callous brother-in-law to preen and party, and Ben Grimm, the most insecure of the lot, in temptation’s way.

– Stephen on Fantastic Four 1234 by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee. It really is exceptional

The Show Must Go On (£14-99, Boom!) by Roger Langridge.

“Spud, I could kiss you if I hadn’t diagnosed your hepatitis personally!”

Welcome to Professor Langridge’s Theatre of the Absurd (otherwise known as Mugwhump’s Palace of Varieties), here to teach you muppets how to steal the show, play on words and make a total farce of yourself while treading the boards and making them squeak. It’s one long pantomime starring pug-ugly numbskulls including Fred The Clown, Knuckles The Malevolent Nun, Frankenstein’s Monster and Shirley Temple. Also Franz Kafka:

“I never metamorphosis I didn’t like!”

Journey to Hell and back with Jack Shit, the devil in the detail and dissembler supreme! (Please note: he lied about the “back”.) Shield your fury from Doc Spin, Agent of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. as he dances dangerously close to Marvel Comics copyright infringement while saving its comicbook universe from the dreaded Continuity Bomb!

“Look, Spingirl, he’s making his escape through that hole in the plot!”

Then betide your woe at Doctor Sputnik’s faithless assistant Spud:

“I had a kitten once but I broke it.”

From the pratfall punster behind FRED THE CLOWN and ART D’ECCO, it’s one big cacophony of cartoon craft and background clatter. Exuberance and euphoria are just two words I know beginning with the letter ‘e’. This artist exhibits more!

Buy The Show Must Go On by Roger Langridge and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Daniel Clowes’ The Death-Ray h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes.

“Who’s this?”
“My Mom.”
“I didn’t know you had a Mom.”
“How could I not have a Mom?”
“Where is she?”
“Dead from a blood clot in the brain.”
“So then is Pappy your Dad?”
“Nope – my Grandpa.”
“Where’s your real Dad?”
“Dead too. Dead from cancer.”
“…”
“…”
“I wish my parents were dead.”

From the creator GHOST WORLD, WILSON, MISTER WONDERFUL, DAVID BORING, ICE HAVEN etc., album-sized and in full colour, this is familiar, old-skool Clowes before that crack of optimism crept in, but it’s been considerably enhanced since its appearance as EIGHTBALL #23. For example, directly inside the front cover you’ll find a bespectacled bod with a horrible hair-don’t shouting, “PENIS!”

Delightful.

That would be the first young gentleman here called Louie, best friend of the main protagonist Andy, and a total dickhead. Almost all of Andy’s actions are triggered in one form or another by Louie – usually by direct request. They’re both school outcasts but Andy is as resigned to that as he is to everything else. After the death of his mother then father then grandmother, Andy is pretty much left to his own devices because his Pappy’s mind strays and he doesn’t look long for this world, either. His girlfriend’s in California and hasn’t written to him for so long that his letters to her are embarrassingly limp affairs signed (as if reminding her), “Your boyfriend, Andy”. “I guess that’s just the way it is,” could almost be his motto.

No, it’s Louie who mumbles and grumbles and then starts provoking and not from any moral high ground, either. I’d punch the toe rag too. But when he goads Andy into his first cigarette, the effects are immediate: he pukes. No, no, the wider effects are less immediate but far more substantial: self-confidence and super-strength. It transpires that his father, the famous scientist who died from cancer, once gave Andy a serum which ensures that whenever he smokes a cigarette he gains superstrength! What’s more, he’s bequeathed him a gun synchronised specifically to Andy which will eradicate anything on anyone in his path. So, with great power, will there come great responsibility? There really won’t, especially with Louie around:

“You’re lucky to have me around, Andy. I’ll keep you honest.”

Hmmm. See, Louie loves picking fight: at the dinner table, with complete strangers in the street, and once with a squirrel. He even lies down on the ground in front of school bullies just to get the shit kicked out of him in the hope that Andy will use his gun to obliterate them once and for all: the epitome of passive aggressive!

Now, as Mark once pointed out, the origin itself isn’t that far from Marvel’s traditional routine: radiation, a killer, giving you superpowers. It’s something Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen addressed in IT’S A BIRD. But unlike the pumped-up protagonists of Marvel Comics, Andy has absolutely no ambition and the ambition of those around him stretches no further than immediate grudges and gratification. No, with Andy’s great power comes even greater mediocrity. Twenty years later you’ll find him, vaguely misanthropic, sitting on benches and walking the dog. But at least he’s given up smoking.

In spite of the cover you won’t get much of a costume here. Apart from one hilarious, superhero-style double-page spread, it’s a decidedly downbeat affair told in a series of snap-shot set pieces with a palette that swerves from the more vividly modern to stark flesh and blue, as if faded under sunlight. I can see the title sequences having been an enormous influence on Chris Ware (“What Do You Think Of Andy?” They really don’t care. “Thank You.”) while the “Choose Your Own Adventure. How Will Our Story End?? You Decide!” is the perfect anti-climax to the story of a man whose opinions rarely exceed “I guess”.

Buy Daniel Clowes’ The Death-Ray h/c by Daniel Clowes and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

The Armed Garden And Other Stories h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by David B.

War and disorder from the creator of the much-admired EPILEPTIC and, more recently, BLACK PATHS, visually styled to each story’s setting. The first was my favourite to look at: a forest of spears, a torrent of arrows and a swirling sandstorm of bleached bones and skulls against a velvety, light mushroom brown – a tremendous sense of space.

In it ‘The Veiled Prophet’ manifests himself in the form of a humble dyer of cloth who’s visited by an enormous floating bed sheet which glues itself to the poor man’s mug like a face-hugger from Alien. Holy men debate seeing various prophets in its folds – blokes like Jesus and Mohammed – so immediately he acquires followers (it’s always about followers) and a reputation for being a bit of a basilisk should anyone dare to peak under his veil. The Caliph’s a bit miffed about this latest shift in the local hegemony so it’s not long before an army is raised, but the Prophet has one of his own… Nice twist at the end.

‘The Armed Garden’ is Paradise supposedly rediscovered by a blacksmith in Prague whose mental furnace evidently overheats because he believes himself host to Adam then Eve who invites him to chow down on that apple from Eden and then get a taste for Paradise between her thighs. Who out there thinks this is going to end well? Immediately he sets off, naked as the day he was born, in search of the old Eden acquiring equally naked followers (I told you it was all about followers) as he goes. Once more it’s the number of followers which proves the bone of contention between the religious leader and a military one, this time one Jan Zizka of the Taborites who are working “toward the establishment of God on Earth by massacring their enemies”. Which does seem to have been something of a tradition, doesn’t it? The Adamites escape, convince themselves they’ve found Paradise, then promptly go off their rockers in an orgy of rape and pillaging and self-gratification, the blacksmith justifying it all thus:

“We are now one with God; we are no longer held to observe the commandments. We have the right to satisfy all our desires! If you refuse me, I shall kill you but you will be the one at fault!”

It doesn’t end well for them, no.

The third and final episode, ‘The Drum Who Fell In Love’ revisits the Taborites after Jan Zizka has popped his armoured clogs. So much do they love their leader that they bully a knacker, a tanner and a musical instrument maker into fashioning his skin into a drum: a drum they beat which compels them to set about more of that massacring they’ve acquired a taste for while they wait for Christ. Zizka’s spirit, you see, is very much alive but it’s not before long that his very followers (those fickle followers!) turn on him and chase the drum and his hon’ up and down dale and yes, you guessed it: a massacre. Jesus turns up, by the way, just in time to be too late: no one is waiting for him anymore.

So there you have it: religion, jealousy, conflict and a great deal of transmogrification. Oh yes, death; a great deal of death too. Discuss. I’m all discussed out after HABIBI.

Buy The Armed Garden And Other Stories h/c by David B and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Best American Comics 2011 (£18-99, HMH) by Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Mutch, Gabby Schulz, John Pham, Michael Deforge, Angie Wang, Robert Sergel, Joe Sacco, Dash Shaw, Joey Alison Sayers, David Lasky, Maired Case, Sabrina Jones, Chris Ware, Jillian Tamaki, Jaime Hernandez, Julia Gfrorer, Dave Lapp, Kate Beaton, Noah Van Sciver, Peter Hoey, Maria Hoey, Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Brendan Leach, Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy, James Ponsoldt, Kevin Huizenga, Eric Orner, David Lasky.

Annual introduction to some of the best – and often elusive comics – on offer. Some are one-page shorts, some are longer and some are extracts from extant works you may be curious about. Either way, it’s always an illuminating sampler, necessarily reflecting the delightfully eclectic tastes of Matt Madden (99 WAYS TO TELL A STORY), Jessica Abel (LA PERDIDA) and their guest-curator.

This year’s curator is Alison Bechdel (FUN HOME, DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR and, soon, ARE YOU MY MOTHER?) who provides an illustrated introduction and overview (you’ll also find notes from contributors at the back). Understandably then, you’re in for material of the Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and similarly independent nature.

Visually styles vary from the delirious colour dreamscape of Angie “Fruit Loop” Wang through the experimental tripiness of Dash Shaw (it’s a chapter from BODYWORLD) to the monochromatic washes of Brendan Leach and the black and white Rotring precision of Robert Sergel.

Although you may (you may not) be familiar with the material from GANGES, RASL and Footnotes In Gaza a lot of this was completely new to me or new to print. Gabrielle Bell’s contribution’s ‘Manifestation’ from her website, and it’s a great big basket of mischief which will make feminists and comicbook creators, I think, smile broadly. Maybe even her mother!

I loved every second of Peter and Maria Hoey’s ‘Anatomy of a Pratfall’. Six silent pages a few seconds apart of a single street divided into 12 separate panels. In each grey and peach panel something significant is happening, and after disaster strikes in a domino effect you’ll want to go back and laugh yourself senseless at the window cleaner’s seemingly unfinished artistry.

Finally – for I’m still reading this, dipping in and out – Gabby Schulz manages to put down on paper everything I love about New Year’s Eve parties (scoring potential goes through the roof – that’s about it, frankly) and everything I loathe about them (it’s just a random day of the year, the desperately drunken bollocks being trotted out and, of course, the morning after). Here Rory (I assume) introduces a ridiculous ceremonial cleansing with a bottle of whiskey:

“I’m going to pass around these papers and on them you can write down the worst thing that happened to you this year. And then you can take a sip of the Magical Elixir of Renewal…”
“Unless you have herpes.”
“Ha ha.”
“Uh, yes… unless you have herpes!”
“Then – without showing anyone… toss your paper into the fire! … And this will ensure that 2005 will be the best year ever!”
& so
“Psst – Ken – what’d you put?”
“It’s a secret – Hey!”

The note reads “I gave Rory herpes”!

Best American Comics 2011

SLH

The Magic Of Reality h/c (£20-00, Bantam Press) by Richard Dawkins & Dave McKean.

You remember that advertisement with an amphitheatre full of children asking seemingly simple questions you’d actually have difficulty answering with any degree of conviction or coherence?

“Why is the sky blue?”
“Why do bad things happen?”
“Why must we study trigonometry?”
“If the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, what will happen in the next ten seconds after I flick Mary-Beth’s pigtails?”

Now Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean have teamed up for a book of scientific enlightenment both for those of school age and those of us who failed to pay close enough attention in class. Dawkins proposes that reality is even more magical than myth, although McKean does have enormous fun illustrating both. Yes, he’s brought the entire contents of his usual bag of tricks into play from line and colour to photo-collage. You wait until you meet your 170,000,000-greats-grandmother (she so scaly!).

The myths themselves are pretty special, like the origin of the rainbow. Those of a Christian, Jewish or Islamic persuasion will know the story of Noah well, the rainbow appearing post-flood as a promise from God not to get so tetchy on our asses in future. But this is actually just a retelling of a Sumerian legend from Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago: part of the epic of Gilgamesh. It’s almost identical apart from God’s wrath stemming from us being absolutely beastly on all fronts, whereas the multiple gods in the first version were merely kept await at night because we all kept our tellies on too late and too loud.

Anyway, I love refraction and Dawkins explains not only the real truth behind rainbows (both refraction and then reflection within each drop of rain which is why you need the sun behind you; also, each rainbow is a circle – it’s just that half of it is ‘underground’ – and it’s a lot more complicated than I thought), but also the steps behind Newton’s ingenious series of experiments to prove that white light is composed of a spectrum of colours using multiple prisms, a lens and a very thin slit. Am I the only person who still uses ROYGBIV to remember the order of the colours?

He also talks about evolution and the definition of species in a way I do now recall (to be part of the same species you must be able to breed and produce fertile offspring; a horse and donkey can produce offspring but the resultant mule/hinnie is infertile, whereas poodles and spaniels successfully interbreed all the time – poor spaniels!). He explains the sun, the seasons and what things are made of… earthquakes and aliens… and there really is a chapter called “Why do bad things happen?” That’s a bit existential for science book, isn’t it? Coming back to the possibility of life on other planets, the man makes a very good case for why – if they’re there – they may well look familiar, and it’s not just a lack of imagination on our part.

Perhaps most fascinating for me was the introduction in which Dawkins talks about telescopes and time and three definitions of magic: ‘supernatural magic’, ‘stage magic’ and ‘poetic magic’. He’s delightfully blunt about charlatans. Above all, although the two creators here have made the book thoroughly entertaining and accessible to those a third of my age, do not expect as an adult to be given a free pass. Concentration will be required by you all! It’s pretty complex stuff, reality.

Buy The Magic Of Reality h/c by Richard Dawkins & Dave McKean and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Undying Love vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Tomm Coker, Daniel Freedman & Tomm Coker.

Hong Kong. Tong’s Medicinal Remedies and Herbs.

“Let me guess. Boy meets girl, falls in love. But boy can’t take a vampire home to meet Mom. So what does he do? He loads his guns and fills the gas tank. Heads to a foreign land with the hopes of killing the vamp that made her – setting her free so the two of you can be together? Forgive my tone, Mr. Sargent, but the story is nothing new.”

No, but the execution is all, and this is gorgeous.

For a start, there’s exquisite nocturnal art from BLOOD + WATER’s Tomm Coker. It’s like Tim Bradstreet inked by DEATH’s Chris Bachalo or HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS’ Sean Murphy: slick, glossy and mesmerising. For love-struck former mercenary John Sargent, think John Constantine spliced with Garth Ennis’s Punisher heading straight into the den of one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in China. He wants to get his attention.

“Sir, if you wouldn’t mind… These are VIP guests and I must not permit you – -“
“Return to your post.”
“It’s not for me to decide, sir. This is my job. What would you have me do?”
“I’d have you alert your staff that an evacuation is imminent.”

It really is imminent!

Deceptively young-looking Tong has pretty much summed it up at the top, by the way: whilst on duty working for a US-employed security firm in Syria, John Sargent freed the beautiful Mei from being sold into sexual slavery. Now they’re heading back to where Mei’s immortal path began, but there’s a foxy lady (she’s both fox and foxy) surrounded by samurai desperate to keep them away and she’s more ally than enemy! No, their real opponents are fiercer, feathery, obsidian shapeshifters, more vampires than you can shake a stake at, and Shang-Ji himself, Mei’s own maker who is very much surprised to discover she’s alive.

Superb action sequences and a sympathetic design including chapter breaks which masterfully maintain the mood, plus much mirth from young Tong and a permanently drunken reprobate singing Elvis Presley in a slurred Chinese accent.

“Buh-eye-can-herp-fra-ring-in-ruvwit-you….”

Vertigo missed a trick with this; can’t wait for volume two! As Duncan Fegredo pointed out, “great storyboards/commentary by Coker” in the back.

Buy Undying Love vol 1 by Tomm Coker, Daniel Freedman & Tomm Coker and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

All Star Superman s/c (Complete) (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.

Hands up how many of you have actually read a Superman comic? I know when I did read one when I much younger, the awful Death Of Superman, I was aghast and utterly confused. Having grown up loving the films, I just could not recognise the mindless caped atrocity fighting Doomsday for what seemed like ever. Who was this guy? Where was the soul of the icon I knew?

Because although Superman was created for comics, he became an icon through other media. A phenomenon which spread through radio, cinema serials and later TV and film, that’s why everyone knows the character, the “S”, why people refer to their weaknesses as Kryptonite rather than Achilles Heel, and why bald men are inherently evil geniuses. (Sorry, Stephen, but it’s true!)

But how many of you have read the comics? And to be honest why would you? Superman and his real power have been diluted with each incarnation until he was nothing more than a wholesome mascot for the American way. To the cynical he is a naive, empty character because of this, and attempts in comics to balance that perception with numerous gritty storylines over the years have only alienated and/or confused potential fans. It’s a crisis of identity for a seventy-one-year-old character, clearly suffering from some form of dementia, a parallel Steven T. Seagle makes in his book IT’S A BIRD…, one of a very few other Superman books we would recommend.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have unequivocally grasped the essence of Superman, what makes him work, and his real power: to inspire. Grant’s love for the character is utterly apparent to the point where it’s obvious he has managed to restrain himself just enough to deliver a story that has its moments of genius bordering on mad but never loses his focus. Balancing a character that more often fights with his wit and intelligence than his fists, Grant lets Superman reflect humanity with an outsider’s eye. Being the ultimate immigrant aspiring to better understand his adoptive home, faults and all, while his own failings become increasingly pertinent now that his life is drawing to an untimely end.

For after being exposed to a lethal overdose of solar rays in volume one, Superman has gained awesome and unpredictable new powers. Unfortunately the same overdose placed too much strain upon his body’s ability to process the yellow sunlight, giving him scant months to live. Having accomplished seven of the twelve labours he was retro-prophesised to complete, Superman tries to find a way to save himself, but not before escaping from Bizarro Earth, coping with being replaced by some unexpected survivors from Krypton, growing a parallel dimension, and seeing Lex Luthor to the electric chair. All of which sounds rather ambiguous and standard silly I grant you, but I promise it comes together in the most amazing way. Besides that’s not what makes this series so perfect. It’s the little moments like when Superman prevents the suicide of a girl. There’s no fall or dramatic swooping in to catch her in the nick of time, because that would still be too late. Superman just does what anyone would do, and helps her find strength.

This complete edition collects both previous volumes in one.

Buy All Star Superman s/c by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely and read the Page 45 review here

TF

Fantastic Four 1234 h/c (£14-99) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee.

Oh this was good. It was so, so good and having read the FF part of Grant Morrison’s SUPERGODS I now feel better informed. Ten years or so ago, I wrote…

“Sue. It shouldn’t sound like that. It’s not raining outside…”

“That’s not thunder, is it…? It’s under the ground….”

“Johnny, I love what you do to me, but these are third degree burns…!”

“Shut up. Stop trying to hurt us, you stupid, lonely, ignorant man!”

There’s a storm brewing over Manhattan, and Marvel’s most dysfunctional family, wandering through the echoing chambers of their soulless, high-tech skyscraper, are coming apart at the seams. Someone’s playing a game of chess with their lives. It’s rigged, of course, with a scattering of rogue pawns lying in wait across the board. One by one husband and wife, brother and friend are being isolated and taken down by their own hopes, fears and inadequacies. Reed Richards isn’t just brooding, he’s hooked up to his machines like some reclusive techno-junky, leaving his wife to feed fake fish, his careless, callous brother-in-law to preen and party, and Ben Grimm, the most insecure of the lot, in temptation’s way.

Morrison and Lee strip away all comfortable elements of this superhero family team title, with its preposterous dialogue and garish colours, leaving some vulnerable, emotional individuals to crash and burn by their own hands. Once again, it’s time to ignore the publisher and trust the creators, for, like the INHUMANS, this is far more Vertiginous in style and content, and you’re going to kick yourself if you let the title dissuade you from grabbing another slice of prime Grant Morrison. Jae Lee has once more risen to the challenge of adapting his art to the task at hand. The backgrounds are relentlessly slate or green-grey, with a mass of sharp, angular blacks, crumbling sympathetically with its occupants. It’s a miserable, neo-Gothic environment for miserable, 21st Century people.

“Richards. In one short evening, I’ve taken everything. The boy is blinded, crippled and enslaved. The monster is shattered, lost, his lover now the Mole Man’s bride in his kingdom of filth. Your wife is drowning in the deep fathoms of her adulterous frenzy. And all that remains… is Doom. While you’ve been locked away, I’ve been busy destroying the life and loves of your family forever, Richards. Tell me… what have you been doing?”
“Well, Victor… I’ve been thinking.”

It’s cold out there. Get ready to shiver.

Buy Fantastic Four 1234 h/c by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Spider-Man: The Return Of Anti-Venom h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Barry Kitson, Lee Garbett, Emma Rios.

It’s all about the two-tone: Anti-Venom and Mr. Negative are back in black and white, and things are about to change for both! Anti is the original Venom by the way, Eddie Brock, but he’s the only one who knows who Mr. Negative is. Can he convince a sceptical Spider-Man to give him the time of day let alone listen to him for five minutes? Given Aunt May’s daily proximity to Mr. Negative, it’s quite excruciating. Meanwhile Eddie Brock appears to have a new ally also determined to say no to Mr. Negative: The Wraith AKA Captain Jean DeWolff RIP. As in dead, quite dead. Is she a ghost?

An Additional story guest-stars Spider-Woman and Shang-Chi, then there’s a very bad day for Betty Brant. FYI Anti-Venom made his first appearance in SPIDER-MAN: NEW WAYS TO DIE which was rather fine.

Spider-Man: The Return Of Anti-Venom hardcover By Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Barry Kitson, Lee Garbett, Emma Rios

SLH

The Stand: Captain Trips s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins.

Gripping adaptation of the Stephen King classic, in which a man and his wife narrowly escape an emergency lock-down on a top-secret Californian military base before its gates can close and quarantine them. You’ll soon wish they never made it through, as will all those swigging beer in the remote Texan petrol station which the car crashes into. What they find within will shorten their life-spans considerably. All across North America, meanwhile, individuals continue to lead their own lives oblivious to the fact that their current problems – romantic, financial, and relationships with their family – are going to seem utterly trivial by comparison when the viral strain catches up with them. And it will. All the same, there’s one particular conversation that will leave you shaking your head with horror and/or dismay in the Goldsmith’s family lounge between a young woman who’s learned that she’s pregnant but won’t marry her boyfriend because of it, her sympathetic father, and a mother whose grief for her dead son has left her cold to the family still living.

Earthy art from Perkins keeps what could so easily become a reality very real indeed. It’s soft, sympathetic and then by contrast truly repulsive when required. The unstoppable pandemic’s progress is cleverly conveyed by following the intricate details of some individuals’ transmissions, and you’ll start washing your hands more, I can tell you. Also the military is never going to own up to its actions but takes every step to cover its tracks, no matter how draconian. You’ll be surprised how different America looks after this first volume.

Interior art here:

Buy The Stand: Captain Trips s/c by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Axe Cop vol 2: Bad Guy Earth (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle, Dirk Erik Schulz.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

That’s Dark Horse’s selling sentence right there, and it works. For more about how it was written – at play with Malachi and his brother bouncing off the walls and each other – please see my review of the original AXE COP collection. This is the Dark Horse mini-series which will be new to those who only seen this online.

Breathlessly, then…

Earth is in danger of being squished by the Bad Guy Planet, but Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier have forgotten all that because they’ve just found a machine that turns Bad Guys into Good Guys and turned a crook into Handcuff Man who can throw handcuffs on a bad guy and electrocute him. Then they get their car fixed using Uni-Man’s Unicorn Horn and put Handcuff Man to bed because it’s night time. The Psychic Bad Guys from the Psychic Planet sneak in and decide to kill Handcuff man and steal the Good Guy machine, so one of them turns into a scorpion. After changing the Good Guy Machine into a Bad Guy Machine they turn into giants to steal the whole of the Earth’s army while they’re asleep and make them Bad Guys. Frustrated, Axe Cop lies down and takes his daily two-minute nap. He dreams about a T. Rex… that’s crying.

“The dinosaurs are in trouble! The need our help! We have to go back in time!”

Meanwhile, on a chicken farm…

It’s almost impossible to transcribe but I think I’ve done it justice enough: the way the story veers off on A.D.D. tangents and anything can happen. Did I think the storytelling was inventive, captivating, thrilling? Was I wowed by the art? No, no, no and no…

The story was inventive. Highly inventive. The project is inventive too. As an exercise and a reminder of all things six-year-old, it’s highly amusing and even informative for those studying psychology. And in any case, as a bit of fun – to put your playtime adventures with your younger brother up on the web for you both to chortle over and entertain passers-by – it’s not just utterly harmless, it’s positively sweet. If you’re looking to me for permission to buy it then you’re just plain weird; on the other hand, if you’re looking to me to dissuade you from buying it then you’ve come to the wrong guy.

Something that proclaims itself to be a ground-breaking work of art that falls dismally short of being even mediocre is what gets my goat. Cynical huckstering by comicbook corporations of yet another formulaic, barely literate load of same-old junk is what pisses me off. Neither Dark Horse nor the brothers themselves have done any such thing.

“Written by a six-year-old and drawn by his thirty-year-old brother!”

It does exactly what is said of the kin.

Buy Axe Cop vol 2: Bad Guy Earth by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle, Dirk Erik Schulz and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

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

The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists h/c (£18-99, D&Q) by Seth

Billy, Me & You (£12-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten (actually not on sale until 27/10/11)

Pope Hats #2 (£4-99) by Ethan Rilly

Troop 142 (£14-99, SA) by Mike Dawson

World Of Warcraft: Curse Of The Worgen h/c (£16-99, DC) by Micky Neilson, James Waugh & Ludo Lullabi, Tony Washington

Immortals: Gods And Heroes hardcover (£14-99, Archaia) by various including Paul Tobin, Jock, Ben Templesmith

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Other Stories h/c (£12-99, IDW) by Edgar Allan Poe & Sam Kieth

Victorian Undead 2: Sherlock Holmes Vs Dracula s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri

Black Metal vol 2 (£8-99, Oni) by Rick Spears & Chuck BB

Twilight: The Graphic Novel vol 2 hardcover (£14-99, Yen) by Stephenie Meyer & Young Kim

Absolute Identity Crisis (£75-00, DC) by Brad Metzler & Rags Morales, Michael Blair

Batman: Arkham City h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Dini, Derek Fridolfs & Carlos D’Anda, Dustin Nguyen, more

Batman: Life After Death s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tony S Daniel & Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Flarea

Carnage: Family Feud softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£10-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain

X-Men Legacy: Lost Legions h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mike Carey & Khoi Pham

Punisher Max: Frank hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon

Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 3: Blade Vs. The Avengers s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve Dillon

New X-Men vol 6 (Digest) (£10-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo

Battle Angel Alita Last Order vol 15 (£7-50, Viz) by Yukito Kishiro

Cross Game vol 5 VIZBIG Edition (£10-99, Viz) by Mitsuru Adachi

I really must blog about being on stage with Bryan Talbot at Thought Bubble in November. Let’s just get this Sunday’s Anders Nilsen signing and slide-show fully accomodated first: LINK.

Also, does anyone actually read these bits in the end? Just curious.

– Stephen

Reviews October 2011 week one

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011


War: what is it therefore good for? Absolutely nothing. Pray say it again.

– Stephen on Frank Miller’s Holy Terror

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

“My name is Nancy Burns, this is Trudy Densch beside me. On behalf of all the concerned parents in “Keep Faith In Christ”, we present our petition to remove the Apathea Ravenchilde series from the Americus library. These books are scientifically proven to be harmful to children. A simple search on the internet would lead to literally thousands of sites that document the terrible influence of the Ravenchilde series, through its promotion of occult and satanic witchcraft to impressionable young Christians.”
“?!”
“Every day, kids who read these books learn magic spells, and other evil sorcery, against the word of God! They’re damning their immortal souls, ignorant to the eternity of torment that awaits them. To support this madness is… it’s madness!!”

I approached AMERICUS with some trepidation, I have to admit, as I didn’t think a book about a young boy called Neil trying to stop his favourite series of fantasy novels being banned from his local library would be to my tastes, especially as my first flick inside the book revealed various illustrated sequences from the Ravenchilde series in question. However, my preconceptions were almost immediately confounded when I began reading, because as you might have gleaned from the pull quote, Americus is in fact a searing indictment of those small-minded bigots and puritans who would censor our entertainment media in the name of God.

And when Mrs. Nancy Burns isn’t busy trying to shout louder than the reasoned arguments in favour of allowing perfectly harmless contemporary fantasy fiction into the local library, she’s near continuously brow-beating her teenage son Danny, who just so happens to be Neil’s best friend. They both love their books and are rock-solid friends, despite all their female schoolmates fancying the dishy Danny whilst completely ignoring the shy Neil, so Mrs. Burns’ antagonistic attitude towards their favourite reading material makes for some unpleasant and uncomfortable moments. Indeed, whereas Neil’s single mum encourages his avid reading, poor old Danny is forced to read in secret under the covers with the lights out.

It’s not the only secret he’s keeping, mind you, and when Mrs. Burns finally catches him in the act with a copy of the latest Ravenchilde book and starts berating him, again, his revenge is to come out to her in front of the whole family. The spluttering face of Mrs. Burns is an absolute joy to behold. Suffice to say, Danny’s moment of triumph is short-lived as he’s immediately packed off to military school to straighten him out, leaving Neil to cut a rather forlorn, lonely figure. But all that’s about to change as his friendship with the local librarian causes the pair of them to lead the fight against the imperious Mrs. Burns culminating at the council meeting, where the fate of the continuing position of the Ravenchilde series on the local libraries shelves is due to be debated and voted upon. It’s time for Neil to find the courage to lead the forces of common sense against the braying hordes of complete ignorance. Perhaps he can find some inspiration from within the pages of a Ravenchilde book…?

This whole work is one long, intelligent discussion about such creeping attempts at censorship by narrow-minded bigots versus the power of fiction, even fantasy fiction, perhaps especially fantasy fiction, to uplift, educate and indeed even enlighten individuals in need of emotional, intellectual sustenance, or just some good old fashioned plain escapism in their lives. Goodness only knows what the strident Mrs. Burns makes of comics – I dread to think!

I loved AMERICUS for all it says, and for all it wisely leaves unsaid. It never preaches, never proselytises, thus singularly and cleverly pointing out that this approach is always inherently doomed to fail. After all, you can never really bullying someone into changing their minds, or indeed their sexuality for that matter; you can only suppress them, can’t you? And, whilst it’s possible a bully might even appear to succeed in their zealotry, for a time at least, the real joke is they can’t understand why people don’t love them. But as Mrs. Burns is all too keen to point out, she’s not doing it to be loved; she’ll get her rewards in heaven, whilst the sinners go to hell. Which is rather scary, quite simply because so many people, of many different religious persuasions, really do have a worldview exactly like her.

Finishing with a digression and going way back to when Marvel decided that, somewhat belatedly, one of their characters really ought to be gay, and rather bravely picking such a mainstream character as Alpha Flight’s Northstar (note sarcasm), what sticks in my mind from an altogether otherwise unremarkable issue is the first two fairly identical letters that Marvel printed in a special column devoted to the subject, both of which took rather derogatory positions. Now obviously that was before the issue had even been printed, so what these two people in question were actually objecting to… was Marvel even having a gay superhero at all, and of course demanding Marvel cease and desist from such a perversion immediately before it adversely affected the youth of America. The first letter was from the Grand Wizard of the US branch of the Ku Klux Klan decrying it because it was un-Christian. The second letter was from the president of the Concerned Mothers of America… decrying it because it was un-Christian…

Buy Americus by MK Reed & Jonathan Hill and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

Sublime science fiction much beloved by Warren Ellis. For a substantial overview of the series, please see THE FINDER LIBRARY VOL 1. Meanwhile here’s Mark on two significant chapters in this, the second half of the original series before the all-new FINDER: VOICE.

FINDER: DREAM SEQUENCE

A worker arrives at his office, puts a box over his head, joins up with, maybe, twenty of his co-workers and they all stand there in a small room. The scene cuts to what they’re seeing: the perfect office environment of the future with enough room for everyone to stretch out, no claustrophobia, clean air and sunlight, but the company doesn’t have to buy anymore floorspace. If the city is running out of room it builds more virtual space.

Games are played this way as well even though they’ve taken on new realms. Instead of an objective, in ‘Elsewhere’ you’ve got a complete land to roam around in and you yourself are changed. The writer is Magri White, once a gifted child, now the cash-cow for a major company. All this pressure and spending most of his time ‘Elsewhere’ haven’t been good for him. He’s hardly there, mentally or physically, and that’s a problem. Something is wrong in his mind and that means that something terrible is happening in the game. People are coming back changed. Or broken.

This is the darkest of the books so far and stands alone very well if you’re up for a bit of cerebral science fiction horror.

FINDER: MYSTERY DATE:

“Ever had a crush on a teacher? Ever had a crush on two teachers at once? Remember what it was like to be young enough to think it’s love and not just hormones? Got fond memories of college life after having been sold as a child to a pleasure garden? No? Vary does.”

And Vary dances, and Vary charms, and Vary is right in the centre of this book.

Buy The Finder Library vol 2 by Carla Speed McNeil and read the Page 45 review here

MAS

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

“Robbie!
“Ah Robbie!”
“You’re not leaving are you?”
Yeah I am!”
“STAY!”
“STAY!”
“Yes, stay with us!”
“Dance with us, drink with us, tell us tales!”
Okay, hold on, hold on! Let’s dance… the Groviglia di Figa!
“Yes!”
“The…”
“What?”
It goes like this… We all squeeze in together like a pack of spaghetti.
“Yay, spaghetti!”
“Yes, hooray!”
Then the water begins to boil and our legs go all limp!
“Like spaghetti!”
“Hooray!”
“We’re cooking!”
And slowly… that’s right, you’ve got it!
“We’re cooked!”
And now we’re just about al dente…
“No, a bit longer!”
Two coats please… I mean ‘our coats’.”
“Coming right up Robbie!”

Have you ever had a friend, who on the face of it, your friendship with them is utterly incongruous in every single way, with whom you don’t really have a single thing in common, and yet you’re just simply firm friends? So it is for the somewhat dull and dreary Gary, whose childhood chum Robbie is now the brightest, shining star in the nightlife firmament. A veritable social supernova, beloved and much lusted after by women, and admired and envied in equal measure by men, he’s the absolute centre of attention wherever he goes. Everyone, but everyone has a story or three to tell about Robbie, and he’s even inspired a cult of wannabe imitators who dress like him, hang out in all the same places, and even try and act exactly like him. Gary on the other hand is just… rather boring, and you certainly get the impression that everyone who’s turned up to his flat to party has only done so because he’s told them Robbie will be there.

THE WRONG PLACE is all about contrasts, that is for certain, but it’s not the sort of book that requires much analysis of the underlying narrative to provide its entertainment, because this story is all about the flow of the festivities, the recounting of the anecdote, the telling of the yarn, the surviving of the evening’s debaucheries. And much like everyone at Gary’s flat who are absolutely desperate for Robbie to finally arrive to get the party started, so too are we the readers chomping at the bit to finally meet this larger than life character. And when we do, he certainly doesn’t disappoint as we’re eventually taken on a hedonistic, bacchanalian night out to the club which Robbie has made into his very own pleasure palace, and where he is the King. Poor old Gary is like a fish out of water by this point, of course, but nonetheless his gregarious chum treats him with a tender kindness reserved for those true friends who will always have a special place in our hearts.

Hmm. Hey Gary, come here!
“What?”
Come to Daddy.
“Seriously?”
Yes.
“On your lap?! Um. I’m quite comfortable here thanks.”
Come on!
“No, um…”
What?
“People are looking.”
Yeah.
“Thanks for the offer though. Really.”
Thanks for the… Ha ha. Don’t worry Gary. I’ll dump my surplus affection elsewhere.
“Sorry, I, it’s… stupid.”
Nooo, someone in your position… news spreads like wildfire in the playground.

I suppose it’s inevitable whilst reading THE WRONG PLACE that you might ponder whether you are / were more of a Gary than a Robbie, or vice versa, and also whether you have or have had just such an unlikely friendship which, despite all the apparent social differences, has flourished. This work is great fun and I have to say I also adored the entirely borderless coloured pencils and watercolour art. At times, it strongly put me in mind of some of my favourite bits of James Jean’s PROCESS RECESS 3 sketchbook, such is the vibrancy and freedom of it, which probably seems a strange connection to make, but hopefully indicates the level of artistic ability that I believe Brecht Evans brings to his storytelling.

Buy The Wrong Place by Brecht Evans and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

The bastard love-child of Jim Woodring and Tony Millionaire, Marc Bell returns with another selection of zany shorts following on from his mental monogram that was HOT POTATOE {sic}. Best described perhaps as stream-of-consciousness comics, a particular fetid stream – deviating into an ox-bow lake of delirium suggesting you’d best check yourself in to a mental hospital – of consciousness that is, Bell continues to confound all notions of attempting any semblance of sensible story-telling, and bravo to him for it!

My favourite strip was ‘Marc’s Dream Of Cartoonist Camp’ where out in the American wilds he frets as to whether a turnip-headed Ron Regé Jr. (complete with “Actual Ron Regé may not appear as shown” disclaimer!) has just given him a free copy of his latest book, or is he going to be expected to pay for it?! You see, therein lies the secret to Marc’s madness. Take a grain of truth, preferably something absurdly paranoid, and construct an utterly nonsensical delight around it.

Long-time fans will find much joy at the return of many classic characters here including Pure Pajamas himself who is rather distressed to find he has no mouth to slake his raging thirst with. As ever Marc himself is on hand to be wracked with guilt about this artistic oversight causing his creation such discomfort.

Buy Pure Pajamas h/c by Marc Bell and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

“Launch the acid jet!! NOW!!”
“Hey! Stop there!”
“Aim for the bride and groom!”

Not since C.F.’s POWR MASTRS have I read such a riotous construction of an elaborately nonsensical world, filled with the most truly bizarre and grotesque, yet well imagined characters. The book begins with a double-page spread of our menagerie of freaks proudly entitled ‘Dramatis Personae.’ It’s an accurate description to be sure, and let me recount a few of them, purely for your delectation and to begin to realign your imagination with the deranged Matthew Thurber’s…

Doctor Vial: dentist and death-cultist who directs the creosote gang.
Nakaja Peril: the mutated cat who chairs the woodworking guild of ‘dapper chaps’.
The Great Partaker: Banjo Shogunate member #3 and the most ruthless of all – banished to space.
Chlorie Kxylb: half-human, half-tree, the betrothed of Officer Nabb in an arranged marriage… but who is she really?

You’re probably getting the picture by now, but there are twenty-four such dramatis personae to try and get your head around before you even turn the page to enter a world of utterly surreal adventures set in the city of Volcano Park, where danger and intrigue seem to lurk around every corner. And yet, much like POWR MASTRS, and I guess also John Allison’s collection of kookie oddballs who inhabit Tackleford in his Scary Go Round collections, these adventures, in their own encapsulated way, make perfect sense. You’ve no idea what’s coming next, mind you, but in an age where wizened, world-weary comic readers like myself can predict exactly what’s going to happen on the turn of almost every page of Marvel and DC’s output with tedious regularity, isn’t it nice just to be surprised, bemused, and indeed a little aghast once in a while?

Much like Larry Marder’s BEANWORLD, the best thing you can do here is just strap yourself in for the ride. Unlike Larry’s easy-on-the-eye, family-friendly epic, though, the art here is a rather different affair, and has much more in common with C.F.’s absurdist style; it also reminded me of another surreal oddity I read just last week, The Man Who Grew His Beard, as once again arch-mentalist David Shrigley would undoubtedly nod approvingly at the antics occurring in Volcano Park.

I can’t really see this appealing to readers new to comics, this is more for those of you who know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for when you pick this work up, or perhaps those of you ready to take your first steps off the beaten path to a rather different place altogether. Just be warned, you might not come back the sane – I mean same – person.

Note to Thurber fans, there is a great slice of his stuff in the COMICS JOURNAL WINTER 2003 SPECIAL of which we still have a solitary copy left in stock…

Buy 1-800-Mice h/c by Matthew Thurber and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

We cannot commend LOVE & ROCKETS to you highly enough but as far as newcomers go if you want something recent then we heartily encourage you to hop on board with either the ESPERANZA collection or NEW STORIES #1. Here, however, is what you have to look forward to:

“Maggie started spending more time at Sal’s. I guess fixing cars took her mind off her problems. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted so much to help her. Even if her life was becoming more fucked up at least she would have me there to –“

What?

‘Return For Me’ will not disappoint. It will initially perplex, returning as it does in a self-contained story to mainstay Maggie’s childhood with an earnest, unusual and youthful perspective. But it when it comes to the crunch it won’t disappoint, and I was left speechless for hours. Okay, minutes: I had company, right? There’s far more of Maggie in parts three, four and five of ‘The Love Bunglers’, and I could begin almost any review of a Jaime Hernandez story with my “Poor Maggie” refrain. Still, poor Maggie…

Then there’s the delightfully mannered dance and dual from Gilbert Hernandez of ‘And Then Reality Kicks In’. No one does comics like Gilbert. Sometimes it’s as if he’s never read another comic in his life (other than maybe his brothers’) and so invents an unprecedented comicbook performance. Time and again Gilbert turns your expectations right on their heads, especially here in ‘King Vampire’, the most unusual fang-fest you could ever imagine!

“I didn’t join up, Cecil.”
“You didn’t – But why? You were as good as in there!”
“Well… they were more interested in being in me.”

Warning/commendation: there be boobage, and at least one willy too.

Buy Love And Rockets: New Stories #4 by Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Williams: Eklektikos h/c (£37-99, ASFA) by Kent Williams.

Art book. Oil on linen is Kent’s current preference, and critic Alex Ross (not that Alex Ross) is on hand to explain the specific Japanese influences and traditions (ukiyo-e, bijinga etc.) now coming to the fore in this fresh batch of embellished portraits. The tortured limbs have settled down (I liked them) but I do detect a new trend of bisecting the forms with flashes/slashes and on one occasion a flood of pale cream-on-green light.

It’s a very far cry from BLOOD and MOONSHADOW (he helped out there) but then the only recent comicbook work which Williams has done was THE FOUNTAIN, and that was a good half a dozen years ago!

Tom and I are both enormous fans.

Williams: Eklektikos hardcover By Kent Williams

SLH

The Book Of Human Insects h/c (£16-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka…

Translated into English for the first time, this relatively late period work (1970) from Tezuka immediately captivated me, and I have to say I enjoyed this considerably more as a work of fiction than AYAKO, even as good as that was. It’s just that this work has far more engaging a premise as we have the story of the ultimate social chameleon, the beautiful Toshiko Tomura, able to observe and then almost instantly imitate the skills of others, be they actors, designers, writers, photographers or indeed even hitmen, then cuckolding them out of their professional positions or plagiarising their work and beating them to prestigious awards.

But that’s not our pernicious central character’s only talent, as she’s also able to make her victims fall hopelessly in love with her, so even though they’re all too aware of her parasitic behaviour, they are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Only one person seems immune to her amorous charms, though he too has suffered professionally at her hands, and given his choice of subsequent spouse, you have to question whether he has managed to completely break the spell he was under. But what drives such an unusual creature, one who seems to pay scant regard to the rules of society? What could they possibly want from life? Or are they driven to flit from character to character like a restless actor, seeking the role that will ultimately define their life?

I must just pass comment upon the art too. Tezuka is clearly at the polished peak of his powers here, employing his regular style which we’ve come to know and love. But also he does some things stylistically I’ve never seen him do anywhere else, so far at least. There’s a three-page sequence in a jazz club where he illustrates some black musicians (bearing in mind the retrospective slating he gets for his portrayal of black characters in many of his early works) with a realism that captures the soul of the performance. They are some incredible panels, and so utterly, utterly un-Tezuka-like I could scarcely believe my eyes. It’s a shame he didn’t let himself go beyond the boundaries of his usual style more often if that’s what he was capable of, though that rarely seems to be the Japanese mangaka way, particular with that generation. Such touches only add to the appeal of this work for me, and it’s certainly another essential addition to the Tezuka canon now available in English.

The Book Of Human Insects hardcover By Osamu Tezuka

JR

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

How much damage can one diminutive Tyrannosaurus Rex cause when left to his own devices in the modern-day natural world? The answer: unlimited. This isn’t David Attenborough on a cosy Sunday evening; it’s survival of the angriest. This little puppy is take-no-prisoners brutal!

But it’s also very funny and often quite touching in the moments when Gon steps out of his default surly-mode to stand square in front of the vulnerable or the underdog. Most of the time he just frowns, fights and trashes things, though. No words, just pictures in texture-heavy, photorealistic detail. Oh, the detail!

You may have fought as Gon in the Tekken 3 beat-em-up. I know I did. His cyclone tail swing was flippin’ lethal.

Buy Gon vol 1 Kodansha edition by Masashi Tanaka and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

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

Ahh… I think I might have just found a new guilty pleasure to rival even my love of YOTSUBA&! in SAILOR MOON. I can’t really explain why a manga about a slightly air-headed teenage girl, who has her destiny to save not just the planet Earth but indeed the entire galaxy revealed to her by a talking cat, should be so appealing, but it just has a… certain charm. Usagi, our heroine is informed she is in fact the warrior Sailor Moon and must now protect Earth from the Dark Kingdom and find the Moon Princess and have lots of high-jinks adventures on the way. That in honesty, is pretty much all you need to know about the plot to SAILOR MOON, as the real magic is provided by the epically sized cast of characters who all seem to have mysterious hidden pasts and secret identities, and seem to discover new secrets about themselves with pretty much every chapter.

It would be fair to say SAILOR MOON has become somewhat of a media franchise these days with the requisite anime series (plural), but also live action series (plural), console games (about thirty or so in Japan) and even a stage show. Indeed a certain Paul Gravett, according to Wikipedia anyway, apparently credits the series with revitalizing the ‘magical girl genre’. Err… it perhaps had passed me by that that particular genre needed revitalising as I thought Zatanna had it all (not so) covered… Still, from a neophyte’s perspective it all seems rather good fun and neatly illustrated to boot by creator Naoko Takeuchi. I await volume two with much guilty anticipation…

Buy Sailor Moon vol 1 by Naoko Takeuchi and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

Subsequent prequel to SAILOR MOON featuring just one particular Sailor rather than the whole cast of thousands. Not sure there’s really anything else you need to know!

Buy Codename Sailor V vol 1 by Naoko Takeuchi and read the Page 45 review here

JR

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

Quite horrific eldritch Victorian fiction, part penned by WITCHFINDER and BALTIMORE PLAGUE SHIPS’ period fear-maestro Mike Mignola, and part illustrated by the artist of probably the finest Marvel superhero book you’ve never read, Omega The Unknown, Farel Dalrymple. The other creator who shares the writing and actually takes on three-quarters of the art duties is horror film director Troy Nixey.

It will, however, despite a wonderful spooky cover from Mignola probably get completely overlooked by his devotees I suspect, primarily because it’s in black and white (and published by Boom! rather than Dark Horse). Now, for a horror book, being in black and white isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that there seems to be rather a lot of stark white background and the resultant effect is of something that seems unfinished, as though we’re looking at the pencils before the inks are applied. And therefore just not physically dark enough for a horror book.

Also the change from Nixey’s excellent fine lines (he’s a very good artist, I must say) to Dalrymple’s somewhat thicker penmanship for the final quarter is rather distracting. I can’t imagine why Nixey didn’t do the final bit himself, because you would think as a film director, he more than most would appreciate the importance of continuity. It is really crying out for some subdued colouring and toning a la WITCHFINDER and BALTIMORE PLAGUE SHIPS, though. It’s a shame, because the story and dialogue is wickedly excellent. Yes, there’s a well trodden Lovecraftian feel to it with tentacled monsters and secret societies lurking around almost every corner, but it’s extremely well written.

Buy Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah by Mike Mignola, Troy Nixey & Troy Nixey, Farel Dalrymple and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Feeding Ground h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski.

“Once you’re gone, you can’t turn back.”

Far from the traditional schlock horror of prowling werewolves and peasants with pitchforks or those-in-the-know-it-all with shotguns and silver, this takes place in the blistering desert of the Mexican border which is far from forgiving in the first place. It’s through this Devils’ Highway that Diego Busqueda has been driving his dying town’s inhabitants in search of a better life. Halfway across, at the point where either pressing on or going back look equally disastrous on the dehydration front, they are met by millionaire Senor Blackwell’s men and offered safe transport to his estate in Arizona. It’s an enticing offer that most accept. The border patrols have known this for years, but it’s good for their stats. They even know what fate awaits those who accept Senor Blackwell’s lavish hospitality, and have kept their mouths shut because while there was a balance they felt the arrangement mutually beneficial, the townsfolk kept safe from what is being bred. But when they retrieve the corpse of a man who went mad in the desert, his ribcage torn open or exploded from within but somehow alive, some think things have gone too far and the truth – hidden for generations – must be confronted.

Meanwhile every time that Diego embarks on one of his hazardous journeys it leaves his family vulnerable to stray dogs and local politics, both equally lethal. By the time he returns both his daughter and wife have been attacked, while his son has taken desperate measures. Looks like they too must now cross the desert for America in spite of what might be waiting there… or what, unknowingly, they are bringing along with them.

Set against a background of poverty and desperation, there’s a degree of ingenuity too in the role of the waterman in each Highway crossing. There’s certainly plenty of gristle to satisfy gorehounds – increasingly so as the wolves really let rip – but the true horror lies in a family torn apart from each other and from within. Blackwell himself is after something very specific, but I have to confess that in spite of his protestations, I’m still unclear as to how he’s achieved it except by chance, for the storytelling here at several key junctures could be a great deal clearer. I very much enjoyed Lipinski’s incorporation of Mexican iconography into the covers and what he’s done with the colours. The figure work too is fine: he just needs to relax a little and let them all act more naturally then smooth the transitions between panels.

Feeding Ground hardcover By Swifty Lang and Michael Lapinski

SLH

Greek Street vol 3: Medea’s Luck (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Peter Milligan & Dell’Edera, Gianfelice.

The final act of Milligan’s ridiculously clever incorporation of the Greek tragedies into a contemporary London crime-fest /gang war/ fucked-up family feuding. Lovely, rich colouring from Patricia Mulvihill.

For more details please see the full reviews of volumes one and Two.

Buy Greek Street vol 3: Medea’s Luck by Peter Milligan & Dell’Edera, Gianfelice here

SLH

Emma h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jane Austen, Nancy Butler & Janet Lee.

Wow. Nancy Butler & Janet Lee I take my bonnet off to you! In fact, if you ask me to eat it, I almost certainly will.

Previewing the very first issue of this, sight unseen – and do bear with this reviewer, a snob of the most dismissive and contemptible kind – I wrote:

Dear God, no. Another of Jane Austen’s masterpieces reduced to another twee atrocity. There are over 450 pages of densely typed prose in this comedic masterpiece of marriage and mis-matchmaking, yet Nancy will reduce it to five short issues of tiny word balloons.

Emma Woodhouse is rich, exuberant and mischievous with a wit unchecked by social niceties or the wisdom of years. This makes her popular company and a little too influential for her charges’ own good because, in her self-assured assessment of character good or ill, she is as blind as a bat wearing blinkers. Lots of secrets will out by the end but also one too many jibes for one of the finest sequences here is when overwhelmingly kind-hearted Emma fails to recognise the fine line between a good-hearted ribbing and the sort of knock-‘em-when-they’re-down public humiliation which constitutes unintentional bullying. A picnic party has been assembled including Frank Churchill and Emma who are flirting madly, and modest Miss Bates, long established as a bit of an old prattler. Here Frank takes over from Emma to encourage some light-hearted banter from all, claiming that Emma…

“…only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose of verse, original or repeated – or two things moderately clever – or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all.”
“Oh! Very well,” exclaimed Miss Bates, “then I need not be uneasy. “Three things very dull indeed.” That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan’t I? – (looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body’s assent) – Do not you all think I shall?”
Emma could not resist.
“Ah! ma’am, but there may be some difficulty. Pardon me – but you will be limited as to number – only three at once.”
… “Ah! – well – to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend.”

Genuinely upsetting, that. One private remonstrance from Mr. Knightley later and Emma is going to have to have a long, hard look at herself.

… So, the first thing I look for in any adaptation of this work is whether the director/writer/artist has paid attention to that key moment. In this instance, yes! It’s reproduced to perfection: Miss Bates’ tears are only shared with Mr. Knightley, shielding them from everyone else, whilst the party carries merrily, obliviously – nay delightedly – on. Very, very important.

I far prefer Janet Lee’s art here which eschews the obvious approach and goes for something much more direct than the horrific Americanization (rare, intentional ‘zee’ there) of Pride And Prejudice. It is – as the expression goes – cartoony but communicative. I thought her colouring terribly brave for some would deem it crude and not slick enough for today – wait, they’d actually call it “unfinished” – but for goodness sake give me playfulness, daintiness and dabbling instead.

Emma hardcover By Jane Austen, Nancy Butler and Janet Lee

SLH

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

“This is Aspirin calling for Vector. Condition Red.”
“Aspirin?”
“He tells me he takes three of them every time I call.”

Haha! Good ol’ Frank. This is exactly what you’ll have been expecting by now. Exactly!

Almost immediately after the attacks on 9/11 Frank Miller, creator of SIN CITY, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, declared that he was up for producing a graphic novel in which Batman took on al-Qaida in no uncertain terms. DC would never have been down with that but his editor evidently was for that is precisely what lies in front of me but with one key improvement: it’s set in New York not Gotham City, as made abundantly clear on the very first page with the Statue of Liberty (of Liberty, mind) raising her scales of justice high into the snow-swept sky. The rest is just tinkering. Our Batman has been given a minor Midnighter makeover to re-emerge as The Fixer, while love-interest Catwoman is Natalie Stack, either cat burglar or Cat Burglar depending. It’s difficult to tell when it’s all in upper case. And – believe you me – this hardcover comes to you entirely in upper case!

It opens in a blizzard of white-out as The Fixer pursues our curvaceous kleptomaniac across town in a bombastic ballet of S&M foreplay complete with handcuffs and split lips before getting their rocks off on a rooftop. Mere moments later the sky bursts wide open in a bomb blast of nails, followed soon by a second, and then a third explosion of black-on-white, old-skool razor blades.

It’s so very effectively done – the chaos, the carnage and the surprise. Miller is at his most expressionistic here, only more restrained compared to THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN in that the palette has been reduced to stark black and white occasionally enhanced by spots of green, pink and blue, with a napalm orange that finally ignites at the end. The obliteration effect of lives being extinguished – hundreds and hundreds of them going out all at once – is conveyed by a series of small silent portraits which then fade to grey leaving nothing in their wake but four halting grids of small, empty oblongs across an entire landscape, double-page spread. It’s all very big: big images, big iconic images, cartoons of recognisable politicians amongst the silent witnesses and a particularly chilling close-up portrait of a terrorist’s eyes glaring out from the folds of his close-wrapped keffiyeh. Once The Fixer has tortured his way to the truth and the terrorists’ main cell you can also expect excerpts from ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN and a dash of ol’ RONIN to boot.

On the other hand, ‘nuanced’ is not a word I’d use in conjunction with this. Nor even ‘considered’, although there was one glimmer of hope for ‘balanced’ when our main man of action reflects on the terrorists’ target:

“Empire City. Cold. Wet. Noisy. Haughty. Arrogant. Always building itself up bigger, taller, like some mad gaggle of robots. Always climbing. Its towers stab into the sky like sharpened sticks aimed at the eyes of God.
“Empire City. America.”

But to be honest, that’s about it. Also, I lied: the first two pages carry this proclamation without quotation marks:

“If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel.”

The first half’s in white, the second in red. It’s assigned to Mohammed and I don’t doubt its source or efficacy given terrorists’ very real and vile perpetrations, but as an opening gambit it is, therefore, somewhat incendiary. I’m not going to embark on a discussion about the incitement, either, because Frank’s left no room for one here. Instead he’s set about conveying the terror each attack causes and set about condensing an episode of 24 hours into 24 minutes with added, bone-crunching boots. But if I were to give you a reasonable impression of what is on offer, it would be moments of posturing dialogue like this:

“A nail. A goddamn nail. What the hell’s a goddamn nail doing in my goddamn leg? What’s with that?”
“It’s war, darling. It’s war.”

Also: “Not on my turf!”

War: what is it therefore good for? Absolutely nothing. Pray say it again.

Buy Holy Terror h/c by Frank Miller and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

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

A second sumptuous art book to go with The Art Of Brian Bolland, with a full-page image, often without typography, on every other page while opposite sit another three with their relevant sketches, alternate versions, and Mr. Bolland himself dishing out behind-the-scenes anecdotes, history lessons, art lessons and amusing bons mots.

His ANIMAL MAN stretch – 63 consecutive covers – was both a bonanza for wildlife fanatics and a treasure trove of visual wit and wonder. Here you will learn (for they’re not easy to discern) exactly what the newspaper headlines were typed across the Front Page as he embarks on a bar room blitz in #28: “Cover artist seeks significant pay rise!” “Editor in dude-ranch scandal!” “Cover artist goes berserk!” “Cover artist quits!”

See Buddy Baker’s left buttock before Tom Peyer asked for its removal! Learn about the Blue Line colouring process also used by Bryan Talbot in the TALE OF ONE BAD RAT! Recall that when the Vertigo brand first came to town it demanded painted covers and a vertical stripe on the left-hand side.

Some of my other favourites were the INVISIBLES covers when Bolland was really getting to grips with the possibilities in computer colouring. Brian reveals the first stage behind the APOCALIPSTICK cover before the skull is Photoshopped in, the ridiculous details hidden on vol 3 #1 (the final issue – vol 3 counted backwards), and he’s perfectly candid about his initial struggle with his brand new beast (£9,000 worth of equipment!) and the hand-holding required from his long-suffering friends which some of my fellow Luddites may find comforting – and our very own Jonathan will find painfully familiar!

At over 200 pages long there’s an excess of 500 images, and for the sheer wealth of extra information embedded here with its accompanying entertainment value, it has to be one of the most enjoyable art books I’ve ever bought.

Buy Bolland: Cover Story: The DC Comics Art Of Brian Bolland h/c by Brian Bolland and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

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

Over two decades in the making, this by now almost mythical graphic novel from the title’s most famous creative team was originally intended to be their final word on the characters, and for those who love the detail in George Perez’s art, it’s album-sized too!

“They call him the Gamesmaster. Who he really is remains a mystery, but what the government knows about him is enough to have them terrified. His goal is simple: attack society at its weakest point, outthinking and outplaying every opponent.”

It’s the classic line-up starring Nightwing, Cyborg, Troia, Starfire, Raven and Changeling. I’d actually love to read this but don’t have the time this week. It opens in a snowstorm, I got an enormous kiddie thrill seeing Titan’s Tower again from above, and there are even some pages of black and white watercolour! The interiors in particularly are magnificent, there are three allotted inkers and I cannot tell their pages apart.

Bonus material: Marv Wolfman’s 1988 plot and commentary from Wolfman on what later changed and why; an afterword from George Perez.

The New Teen Titans: Games hardcover By Marv Wolfman and George Perez

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

From some 15 years ago: the core DC superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash) were finally lifted to the epic status they were supposed to possess all along. The rookies pay deference to their seniors as they learn to accept their own merits for it’s a young Kyle Rayner who’s Green Lantern here, Batman scares the hell out of them, Superman they find difficult to relate to, and Wonder Woman blows them away. Bold and bombastic with some classic lines, ingenious plots, extraordinary concepts and moments of knowing melodrama. The best this book has ever been.

The slimmer versions are out of print, replaced by this which reprints the whole of NEW WORLD ORDER and AMERICAN DREAMS plus JLA SECRET FILES #1.

Buy JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 s/c by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Howard Porter, John Dell, Oscar Jimenez, Don Hillsman and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

Brilliant #1 (£2-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley.

Albert returns after a semester away to discover that his fellow Ivy League colleague students have become very excited and at least one of them very rich. They’ve set about cracking the secret of superpowers… and succeeded. Whether Amadeus has tested this success on a personal, self-serving escapade without their knowledge is at this point unknown. I suspect some of them are in on it, some of them aren’t, and as to those who have since quit the project… hmmm.

To be honest the first issue wasn’t all that brilliant and so far this much-delayed, creator-owned series set outside the Marvel Universe seems a very far cry from SCARLET or POWERS. But even the finest of writers can drop the first-issue ball once. I know I’ll be back for the second instalment and almost certainly here because that punchline, if you don’t get it at first, merits a second full reading while keeping a look out for methods of transport, and certainly begs some questions.

The art’s from Bagley’s cohort on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN; his Amadeus looking just like an adult Peter Parker.

University joke: Why don’t students stare out of the window in the morning? Because there’d be nothing left to do in the afternoon.

SLH

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

Surprise! Mark Millar’s had a huge sub-plot brewing all this time, and I never saw it stew.

The fourth and final book in Mark Millar’s second run on the series following ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS vols one, two and Three, this feels far more like Millar’s ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE & TWO than anything since partly because, although stylistically worlds apart from Bryan Hitch, Leinil Yu still has a breath-taking sense of scale which you will enjoy to its full in the grand finale, and has grown completely at ease with the quieter, tender moments in people’s personal lives, which we haven’t seen anything of during the last three mini-series.

Previously: Carol Danvers has taken over the public Ultimates team while Nick Fury’s been working his way back up with a covert group. They’ve been at each other’s throats. Now each is being implicated by two different factions caught fuelling the international Super-Soldier race by smuggling live human cargo out to the Chinese, and financial records prove it’s Nick Fury. Has Danvers set him up? Time for our teams to choose sides.

Meanwhile Tony Stark’s brain tumour has finally caught up with him, the Triskelion is still stuck in Iran causing something of an international incident (“They might as well have beamed the Pentagon over here.” “If we’re not gone in five days I’m pretty much assured this entire region is going full Jihad on us.”) and a young Peter Parker is about to be caught right in the middle. It’s an absolute car crash.

“This is a disaster. You see them fighting on TV, it looks like they’re professionals. But they aren’t. They just make this up as they go along. It’s terrifying.”

The title, however, is misleading for that’s merely the middle course. A far grander game is being played on a much bigger stage, and if you think Mark’s done with the Middle East you are very much mistaken. Still time for Millar to have a little dig at the way Loeb’s written Thor, though! Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America, Giant-Man, Black Widow, Blade, War Machine, the original Hulk, Carol Danvers, Nick Fury and the Punisher: what could possibly go wrong?

“I said secure the place, Frank, not blow them away.”
“Looks pretty secure to me.”

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man hardcover By Mark Millar and Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

SLH

Also, straight to UK s/c @ £12-99!

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

Launching straight out of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOL 6, this comes from the creator much admired here for EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0, Forgetless, Morning Glories etc, as Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, former Iron Man and current War Machine, is foisted on General Babbage at McElroy army base to keep an eye on him for Maria Hill. Do they get on? They do not.

“I wish I could court-martial you. That’s really the only thing missing right now.”

Also, Rhodes has actually attacked that base in the past!

“You got any idea what the economic impact of levelling a U.S. military base in a small town is? How many jobs were lost? How many lives ruined? The night after you bombed this place we had good soldiers sleeping in tents on burnt tarmac.”
“I did what I though was right, General.”
“I bet. That’s kind of your deal, though, isn’t it? Loyal soldier until you don’t like the orders given. That’s why I’m stationing you here.”
“I figured that, sir.”

Six months ago a scientist working as part of a Darpa deep immersion program (“Researchers live on-site, no outside communication, security filters on everything”) put a bullet in his own head. An expert on nanotech, high productivity computing, surveillance technology and biosciences, Palmer Addley’s initiatives then started crashing yet reappearing across the globe in perfect functioning order. Functioning as acts of terrorism committed by an improbably disparate number of individuals. There’s no question that Palmer Addley is dead. There’s no question that his work stayed on site: it couldn’t be leaked. How then, is it resurfacing now, everywhere other than it was intended?

The art improves dramatically once Ariel Olivetti steps in for a team-up with Iron Fist during FEAR ITSELF that takes a turn for the curse. Next: PALMER ADDLEY LIVES.

Buy Iron Man 20: Palmer Addley Is Dead s/c by Nick Spencer & Barry Kitson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Kano, Ariel Olivetti and read the Page 45 review here

SLH

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

The most recent A.B.C. material penned as ever by Pat Mills and rendered limb from fleshy limb in fully painted ‘Mek-Quake love big job’ glory, albeit with the odd photoshopped face <sigh> by Clint Langley. Not sure it was wholly necessary to split it into four slim volumes, but I think it originally came out as four portions in 2000AD, starting in 2007, so that probably seemed like as good a reason as any to ‘increase the pieces’. Sorry… A.B.C. Warriors in-joke there, which if you’ve not read any before will mean absolutely nothing to you. Anyway, nice to see Mills can do still something fresh with the metallic men of war. This time around it involves a particularly brutal conflict on Mars, where a certain follower of the Church of Judas is about to finally betray his long-time comrades-in-arms, interspersed with memories of the Warriors’ various individual battles back in the Volgan War. And, not in this particular volume mind you, but also pleasing to see the long overdue return of my own personal favourite member of the meknificent seven, old motor-mouth himself, Ro-Jaws.

Buy ABC Warriors: The Volgan War vol 1 s/c by Pat Mills & Clint Langley and read the Page 45 review here

JR

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews to follow or already up if they’re s/cs of h/cs (plus Stephen King’s THE STAND, for example, now has interior art). Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their names (where it seems THE INCAL already has interior art!).


The Show Must Go On (£14-99, Boom!) by Roger Langridge

The Incal h/c (£29-99, SelfMadeHero) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

The Stand: Captain Trips s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins

American Vampire vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque

Best American Comics 2011 (£18-99, HMH) by Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Mutch, Gabby Schulz, John Pham, Michael Deforge, Angie Wang, Robert Sergel, Joe Sacco, Dash Shaw, Joey Alison Sayers, David Lasky, Maired Case, Sabrina Jones, Chris Ware, Jillian Tamaki, Jaime Hernandez, Julia Gfrorer, Dave Lapp, Kate Beaton, Noah Van Sciver, Peter Hoey, Maria Hoey, Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Brendan Leach, Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy, James Ponsoldt, Kevin Huizenga, Eric Orner, David Lasky

Judge Dredd Casefiles 18 (£21-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis & Greg Staples, Peter Doherty, Carlos Ezquerra, Colin MacNeil, John Burns, John McCrea, John Higgins, John Hicklenton

Farscape vol 5: Red Sky At Morning s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon, Keith R.A. Decandido & Will Sliney

Axe Cop vol 2: Bad Guy Earth (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle, Dirk Erik Schulz

Undying Love vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman

The Savage Sword Of Kull vol 2 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Dixon, William Johnson, John Arcudi, Dave Simons & Val Semeiks, Ernie Chan, Fraja Bator, Vince Colletta, Vince Giarrano, Dale Eaglesham, Mark Pacella, Jim Valentino, Tony Salmons

Sonic The Hedgehog Archives vol 16 (£5-99, Sega)by Sega

Batman: Eye Of The Beholder h/c (£16-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel & Tony S. Daniel, various

Batman: The Long Halloween (New Ed’n) (£18-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

All Star Superman s/c (Complete) (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Jamie Grant

Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 6 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

Red Hulk: Planet Red Hulk s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Patch Zircher, Tim Seeley

Fantastic Four: 1234 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee

Spider-Man: The Return Of Anti-Venom hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Guiseppe Camuncoli, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, Barry Kitson, Lee Garbett, Emma Rios

Stargazing Dog (£8-99, NBM) by Takashi Murakami

Higurashi: Demon Exposing Arc (£12-99, Yen) by Ryukishi07 & En Kito

Negima! Omnibus 2: vols 4-6 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Death Note Black Edition vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Ninja Girls vol 7 (£8-50, Kondansha) by Hosana Tanaka

Bleach vol 36 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Naruto Omnibus vols 7-9 (£9-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Fairy Tail vol 15 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Naruto vol 52 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Sakura Hime: The Legend Of Princess Sakura vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Arina Tanemura


Back now from Scotland where I was one of four best men at a wedding. I drank champagne in the churchyard, then read from Percy Bysshe Shelley. The reception was held at Cleish Castle, an hour north of Edinburgh, nor was the castle hired: the bride’s parents own it.

Somehow I failed to disgrace myself.

To Simon and Leonie, all my love.

– Stephen