Reviews October 2011 week one


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

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