Reviews October 2011 week three

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

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

spacer
spacer
spacer