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.
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.””
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.
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.
Rarely for a series, we’ve reviewed every single FREAKANGELS book, so if yet to begin please take a look around.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“I know… But I’d like to hear it anyway.”
That’s one for us wretched reviewers!
“If you try to fail, and succeed… which have you done?”
Jean: Rebus h/c (£29-99, Chronicle) by James Jean.
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.
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!
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?
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?”
“Oh, thank God!”
“I don’t know how to say this.”
“What is it?”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s – “
“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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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…
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.