“It stole everything from me. But it was worth it. I was worth everything. It proved that the future could be called forward into the present. All we had to do was think hard and care enough.”
- Warren Ellis’ Captain Swing.
The Fracture Of The Universal Boy h/c (£20-99, Eidolon Fine Arts) by Michael Zulli.
“You all have to walk so far in illusion, hoping one path will be the right one. And, my friend, you will have to walk them all, and walk them alone.”
A middle-aged man sees his relationship fail and his wife drive off for good, leaving him alone with his thoughts. This we discover at the centre of a far more delirious journey as an old man remembers a baby being born, growing swiftly into boyhood then waking up in the grass as an adult. Harried by Harpies, lured by a she-leopard into the hope that love brings, then, clambering towards the heavens but rejected for his whining self-pity, he is cast from the mountain. Still he stumbles on through a swamp filled with grasping hands, threatening to drag him down and drown him. He’s running. All his life he his running, pursued by his angels, his demons, his fears, his past and futures selves.
“Oh God,” thinks the artist, labouring under lamplight, “this is all getting away from me.”
And the truth is that Michael Zulli, the esteemed and much-loved artist on PUMA BLUES, SANDMAN and so many more Neil Gaiman projects like CREATURES OF THE NIGHT, LAST TEMPTATION and THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF THE DEPARTURE OF MISS FINCH, felt very much the same thing, almost crumbling under the weight of this six-year project and throwing in the towel. There’s a couplet in David Sylvian’s ‘Orpheus’ that goes…
“I struggle with all the same worries as most,
The temptation to leave or to give up the ghost”
… and that, for me is what this book is about: the universality of self-doubt. It’s about isolation, loss, feeling lost and bewildered, fear, sorrow, regret; self-recrimination and an anger that one’s faith in the promise of life and love in particular love is ill-matched by its actuality, yet finding the strength, the resolve to forge on. It’s a purge. Some will consider that the narrative has indeed gotten away from Zulli, others will find empathy in its tortuous path and perhaps derive hope in a life stripped down to a more peaceful simplicity and tranquillity towards the end.
But above all is it is a book bursting with beauty in the vein of Barry Windsor-Smith: neo-classical forms embellished with supple lines modelled to muscle, glades of grass where every blade counts, roses, tombstones, fields of poppies and tree-trunks whose bark has never been more knotted. Early on there’s an impeccable, full-page composition whose left, facing page is rightly left blank, in which a well worn path of light leads the eye up through the sylvan shadows to a boy silhouetted against the horizon, an aperture in the boughs and branches and banks of wild grass and the canopy of leaves above. Towards the bottom the question is asked,
“How small can you be and still have your heart broken?”
Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives (£6-99) by Lizz Lunney.
Tweet: “Have been watching daytime TV all day in my pants… I sicken myself.”
The Twitter sensation that is @depressed_cat comes to comics as I knew it inevitably would given the mini-comic sensation at Page 45 that is Lizz Lunney. Little has made me titter on Twitter quite as much as Depressed Cat’s avalanche of gloom and doom as Ms. Lizz transposes our own shortcomings and self-pity onto this moribund moggie for who even the most radiant sunrise is a cause for deep-seated despair. Mind you, he’s no stranger to misfortune, either.
At the shop:
“Right, where did I put my shopping list?”
At home: shopping list.
“ACH! Well, I need milk for sure. Chicken, fish. Oooh, catfood on offer!”
“That’ll be £29.65.”
“Hmm. Where is my wallet?”
At home: wallet.
He’s constantly drawing a lemon, as is Lizz; so sit back, set your course to destination doldrums and soak in this kitty’s serial self-pity. You know it’s no different to your own.
Tweet: “Got fleas again.”
Captain Swing And The Electrical Pirates Of Cindery Island s/c (£13-50, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Raulo Caceres.
“It stole everything from me. But it was worth it. I was worth everything. It proved that the future could be called forward into the present. All we had to do was think hard and care enough.”
Words to live by in any sphere, including the comicbook industry where I honestly think we’ve made significant progress.
It’s another gem for the steampunk buffs in which Warren reminds us that few relinquish power voluntarily. Take our esteemed Magistrates of the early 19th Century and their Bow Street Runners, mercenaries whom aggrieved parties would dispatch to track down other thieves and recover stolen valuables (an optimum C.V. should include casual murder, artful extortion, and “general experience in nicking stuff myself”). They weren’t exactly happy when Sir Robert Peel founded the London Metropolitan Police. However shambolic and ill-equipped the Peelers were (no walkie-talkies, just a football rattle!), they still posed a threat in that they were not answerable to the Magistrates, and those who weren’t hopelessly drunk might even care enough to do their job properly and see justice done.
All of which we learn in short breaks between the action which sees the dark London nights of 1930 crackling with electrical energy in the form of a flying rowboat, the boots of a roof-hopping Captain Swing whom they’ve dubbed Spring-Heeled Jack, and the bullets he fires, tipped with tiny lightbulbs. The police want to catch him for a murder he didn’t commit and one Bow Street Runner in particular wants him dead. The Magistrates, you see, have in their possession an object of power and with it the means of limiting the future and ensuring it stays in their hands. Captain Swing, on the other hand, has formed a cooperative of craftsmen he’s taught to fashion revolutionary scientific devices far in advance of their times which threaten the hegemony of the ruling elite, and the ruling elite are not happy.
Digikore’s rich green and electric blue colours over Raulo Caceres heavily rendered, midnight inks are an impressive combo, and Cindery Island hidden in the densely wooded Essex creeks – as seen from above the floating pirate ship – is the sort of thing that would make early Bernie Wrightson horror fans weep with awestruck joy. An elaborate, telescopic contraption scans the skies above. Towering pylons and windmill arms crackle with live electricity while chimneys billow smoke atop the tiled roofs of workshops on stilts whose windows glow orange from the raging furnaces within. Meanwhile the slate-blue waters of the twisting creeks ripple round tiny islands and under the bridges which link them.
This is the legend of Captain Swing: who he was and who he came to be. It is the sacrifice of one man to liberate the future for the many and from the past, and the determination of another to ensure that does not come to pass.
“The future is whatever in this world I have decided not to kill.”
Wasteland vol 6: Enemy Within (£10-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Remington Veteto.
Oh, the shrieks of disbelieving delight when I announced on Twitter that this sixth volume was finally out. One of those surprised was Antony Johnston himself, but he was completely outnumbered by his readership here.
Post-apocalyptic visions of our future are two-a-penny these days, but not one of them matches this, set during the biggest hosepipe ban in history.
You’ll find far more in Page 45’s review of WASTELAND VOL 1, but there’s a constant dread of danger in this catastrophically damaged world. The various factions and indeed a whole semi-industrialised, mountainous city teeter precariously on the verge of violence, under threat as they are from ruthless political power-play, religious intolerance, and the very terrain which is barren and broken. Whether it’s the environmental Armageddon we currently face, the lorry loads of immigrants smuggled then sold into slavery, the destructive politics of tyrants like Mugabe or wilfully ignorant racism that doesn’t even bother to lurk beneath the surface of our societies, Johnston has found novel ways of building them into his depraved new world, giving it far more bite than most.
Scalped vol 8: You Gotta Sin To Get Saved (£13-50, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera, Jason LaTour, Davide Furno.
And there’s a whole lotta sinning going on here, like the sheriff who – far from living the dream – is living all kinds of lie. A sorry specimen indeed. But as ever with SCALPED it’s the structure that satisfies with another one of those stories told from different perspectives which cross-cross, climax and then conclude with a single page which will inevitably make you smile. The murder of Gina Bad Horse continues to loom large just as Chief Red Crow – formally and formerly the villain – continues to surprise. Jason Latour’s chapter was more than a little frustrating (I couldn’t tell what was going on in places) but R.M. Guera continues to delight, especially his day out with young Dino and Carol. Poor lad.
Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 6 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Alan Moore & John Totleben, Rick Veitch.
Cast out from Earth, the Swamp Thing drifts from planet to planet trying to find a way home through all the strange races and customs that he meets. Moore casts his magic over the home of Adam Strange, another man far from home, and we look again at various Hawkmen and women as life & hope begin again. John Totleben takes over art & writing for one extraordinary issue that looks at a very alien mindset of biomechanical reproduction.
Hip Flask vol 1: Unnatural Selection h/c (£22-50, Gold) by Richard Starkings, Joe Casey & Ladrönn.
A secret world of scientific excess in which anthropomorphised animals are being bred to serve their human masters, blindly, unquestioningly and, if necessary, violently. It’s surprisingly brutal and the art really does match any sci-fi you’ll currently find in Europe. It’s meticulous, solid, absurdly detailed, with vast spaces and epic interiors, all splendidly lit and coloured. Lush, album-sized reprint.
Hip Flask vol 2: Concrete Jungle h/c (£22-50, Image) by Richard Starkings, Joe Casey & Ladrönn.
HIP FLASK vol 1 told of animals being bred, educated and brainwashed into becoming anthropomorphic killing machines, to fight for their human masters. This takes the story into the realms of anthropomorphic detective science-fiction twenty years on, as the liberated survivors are still trying to integrate themselves into society. The draw, if you’ll excuse the pun, lies in Ladronn managing to deliver the clarity of Cassady in the realms of Moebius, and those waiting for more BLACKSAD, NORDGUARD and GRANDVILLE (volume three due pre-Christmas 2012 and, let me tell, it is gorgeous!) could do a great deal worse than to look here.
Note: further stories in this series went under the umbrella title of ELEPHANTMEN.
Unhuman h/c: The Elephantmen Art Of Ladrönn (£22-50, Image) by Richard Starkings & Ladrönn
Elephantmen vol 1: Wounded Animals Revised Ed s/c (£14-99, Image) by Richard Starkings & various
Elephantmen vol 2: Fatal Diseases s/c (£18-99, Image) by Richard Starkings & various
Elephantmen vol 3: Dangerous Liaisons s/c (£18-99, Image) by Richard Starkings & various
Elephantmen vol 4: Questionable Things s/c (£18-99, Image) by Richard Starkings & various
Mazeworld (£17-99, Rebellion) by Alan Grant & Arthur Ranson…
Late ‘90s meld of sci-fi and fantasy from Messrs. Grant and Ranson, which I do remember rather enjoying at the time it was being serialised in 2000AD. Our anti-hero Adam Cadman finds himself at the wrong end of a hangman’s noose after murdering his brother in a drunken rage, but unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, his execution doesn’t quite go as smoothly as intended and Adam wakes to find himself in Mazeworld, a labyrinthine mélange of mazes, jammed together, with a few pyramids for good measure, on top of what appears to be a huge floating rock. It’s populated by a much put upon rebellious rabble who find themselves being quite literally lorded over by a handful of Mazelords, in the absence of the much loved Emperor who decided to brave the mysterious maze at the very centre of Mazeworld and promptly vanished without such much as a trace. However, the appearance of Adam, complete with hood and noose he can’t remove, causes much consternation as there is a prophecy foretelling the return of just such a hooded man spelling much trouble for the Mazelords naturally. Meanwhile, back in our world, Adam’s unconscious body is now at the mercy of some rather unscrupulous medical professionals who plan to run some off-the-books experiments on him, as the authorities have decided it’d be rather less paperwork for them if they pretended his execution had been successful.
Which all sounds like complete hokum obviously, yet in the hands of Grant and Ranson actually turns into a very compelling and intriguing story. I was fascinated by Grant’s foreword in which he comments that he had the original intention of Mazeworld being a computer game, but after asking Ranson to do some concept sketches for him, and being blown away by an amazing double-page spread (which actually was included in the first episode), he was persuaded to make it into a strip for inclusion in 2000AD. I can well understand why as that spread, which is our very first glimpse of Mazeworld, is an absolute beauty. I’m a big fan of Ranson, and absolutely loved his work on the first three volumes of Wagner’s BUTTON MAN, also from 2000AD. So it’s always a pleasure when other less known work of his gets a well deserved reprint.
Who Is Jake Ellis? vol 1 (£12-99, Image) by Nathan Edmondson & Tonci Zonjic.
Action espionage thriller with a psychic twist which means you don’t get the full picture, as it were, until page four when they rewind fifteen seconds and all becomes much clearer – to us! Very, very clever.
That was Barcelona, Spain, late at night on board an enormous yacht infested with criminales. Probably best if Jon Moore doesn’t go back there for a while. If nothing else they’ll be pretty pissed off about that terrible waste of whisky. Then we’re in Strasbourg, two days later, and you might be well be asking not just who is Jake Ellis, where is he? Because whilst drinking coffee over a copy of El Pays news, only Jon appears to be able to see or hear him. Handy for that hasty aquatic retreat and vital if he’s going escape those who’ve already tracked him to France. But are they Spanish or American – and what do the Americans want with him anyway? Chased from a waitress’ bed then trapped on a train, there’s been precious little time to find out, but Jon better figure it all out fast, including who else Ellis is speaking to.
Edmondson made a fine start with Brett Weldele on his combustible zombie graphic novel THE LIGHT and you may well know Zonjic from DAREDEVIL: LADY BULLSEYE. Here Zonjic shows he’s as much of a master of glorious sunlit aerial views as he is a Cathedral lamp-lit at night, and I love his economy of line. He does sunglasses as well as Mazzucchelli. I don’t quite know why Moore didn’t steal a cassock when he was down to his boxer shorts there – would have made a much better disguise at the station – but maybe he was a little distracted by the men with shotguns, the invisible man at his side and, err, being down to his boxers.
Sadly, whether it was the time it took to come out combined with my woefully bad memory, the book’s early promise wasn’t well served by the sort of satisfying resolutions Nick Spenser supplied with EXISTENCE 2.0/3.0 and Peter Milligan always pulled out of his hat with HUMAN TARGET.
Mangaman vol 1 h/c (£13-99, Houghton Mifflin) by Barry Lyga & Colleen Doran…
I really thought I was going to love MANGAMAN, based on the conceit that a manga character called Ryoko has somehow become trapped in our real world, but it just didn’t really quite work for me sadly. The art from Colleen Doran is certainly fantastic, and she really captures the essence of both worlds and their unexpected juxtaposition. Unfortunately it was the story which I just found somewhat weak. Even though it borrows many typical manga clichés, and employs them to relatively humorous effect at times, the whole idea that the US Government would let a visitor from another dimension, with his various unknown abilities, attend the local high school, is just so utterly preposterous that I found myself struggling to get into the requisite state of suspended disbelief to enjoy this.
Plus, as mentioned, all the situations the character gets into, including stealing the heart of the most beautiful popular girl at school, Marissa, who just happens to be going out with the captain of the football team, have been done so, so many times in manga, I just found it all a little dull. I get that perhaps those references are probably meant to be part of the appeal, but it just seemed a bit lazy really. Some of the sequences where Ryoko shows Marissa how to break the fourth wall of her own universe, surmising that perhaps she also lives in a comic universe, just a western-style one where no one has actually realised they live in a two-dimensional world yet, are novel, and indeed fun, but overall, I think the premise has been wasted. Nice art though.
The Legend Of Zelda Box Set (£49-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa.
Ten books in a special edition that saves you just nine pence shy of ten quid. Plus you get a box. What a great word. ‘Box’.
The Legend Of Zelda Box Set
Batman & Robin vol 2: Batman Vs. Robin s/c (£13-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart, Andy Clarke…
“…That was for trying to blow up London. And this is for Batwoman. We’ve got a cell waiting for you, right across the way from your old mate Pearly Charlie English.”
“You heard him.”
“Squire and Knight! But… how did you track us doon? Through 400 feet of solid rock? Ah nivvor mind, I’ll tek the paira yez like! Just divennt tell wor missus aboot the lasses, that’s aal I’m saying.”
“Come on, mate. That’s just asking for it.”
Another volume of consternating costumed capery from Mr. Morrison who once again pulls off that most difficult of tricks, writing overtly ridiculous yet hilariously clever superhero nonsense. It literally makes no sense in places, except probably to Grant, and yet it’s so, so dangerously addictive you won’t let a little thing like that stop you from turning the pages as fast as you possibly can. Even the bright red and yellow Frank Quitely cover reeks of E numbers somehow imbued into the pages to make your mind twitch and whirr ever more egregiously as you try to follow the frantic paced action to and fro.
It’s a genuine credit to Morrison that’s he so capably manages to capture the loveable camp fun of the old sixties Saturday morning TV show, whilst making it feel like you’re only one twirl of Pennyworth’s whiskers away from it all toppling into the total dada-esque cut-up insanity of his DOOM PATROL run. You get the sense he’s really letting himself go here in fabulous fizzing crescendo mode darlings, possibly before he has to rein himself in a touch on the new BATMAN INC. title. Mind you, given the first page of the first issue of that particular title starts with someone waking up to find their hands have been melted off with acid possibly not… Excellent art throughout, in turn slightly loony cartoony and then cuttingly crisp from Cameron Stewart and Andy Clarke.
I’ll leave the last word to Oberon Sexton the gravedigger, who is most definitely hiding an amusing little secret of his own.
“Well now. Would you pantomime poseurs like to introduce yourselves before we beat the sod out of you?”
Batman: A Death In The Family s/c (New Edition) (£18-99, DC) by Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman & George Perez, Jim Aparo, Tom Grummett.
The book whose marketing inspired Rick Veitch’s gloriously diseased BRATPACK when DC readers were encouraged to vote on whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, should live or die. The result was overwhelming – particularly for poor Jason – for it was a resounding thumbs-up!* Fans of BATMAN: HUSH may want to check out the resurrected Robin’s beef (which isn’t as rude as it sounds) for this is where he copped it and Batman singularly failed to avenge him eye-for-an-eye-stylee. The culprit’s the Joker and this extended edition reprints BATMAN #426-429, 440-442 and NEW TITANS #60-61.
* Fact: Roman emperors never used the thumbs-down gesture to dole out death to gladiators. It was a thumbs-up gesture, which makes you wonder what Paul McCartney really thought of photographers.
Flash: The Road To Flashpoint h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul.
Effectively volume two of the last FLASH series (volume one was DASTARDLY DEATH OF THE ROGUES), this is as it says the road to Flashpoint which itself was where everything changed in preparation of DC’s New 52.
It’s a one-way street with heavy congestion, and there are some pretty hefty roadworks ahead. By the time they’re over, traffic will be flowing in a whole new direction. Please note: parking restrictions apply and the wardens are on commission.
Err… I haven’t read it, no.
Flash: The Road To Flashpoint hardcover
Green Lantern: War Of The Green Lanterns h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard, Peter J. Tomasi & Doug Mahnke, Tyler Kirkham, Fernando Pasarin, Ed Benes …
“All we have to do is choose.”
“Everyone knows the rings are the ones that do the choosing, Jordan.”
“I’ve used the yellow ring before, Guy… by my choice.”
“I thought you could tap into that power because you had experience with Parallax.”
“It’s because I have experience with fear, John.”
“I’m not saying this’ll be easy. Hell, we might not even get them to work but we have to try. To light them up, we just need to acknowledge our feelings. I know it’s not in our nature, but…”
“Tell that to Mr. Thoughtful over here.”
“Gee, thanks, Guy.”
“Relax Kyle, it’s a compliment mostly. All right, if we’re choosing I’m going first. I don’t wanna get stuck wearing a crystal thong. Pink ain’t my colour.”
So, once you’ve fought absolutely everyone else in every other Corps including the Black Lanterns, and made it through the BLACKEST NIGHT and BRIGHTEST DAY, what’s there left for our four favourite human Green Lanterns to do? Fight each other obviously!! Hence the title of this volume! Well, technically it’s actually them fighting the rest of the mentally enslaved Green Lantern Corps but Hal and Guy do find time for a quick mano-a-mano throwdown between the two of them as well just for good measure.
This is still top-notch stuff from Geoff Johns as a very old and very familiar enemy of the Guardians returns to wreak havoc one last time before everything gets wrapped in time for the DC reboot. (That isn’t a reboot of course…) Despite the title of this particular volume there aren’t endless pointless panels of fighting which rather marred the conclusion of BLACKEST NIGHT for me, instead there’s just lots of high-octane plot and snappy dialogue as the nefarious scheme is unfurled bit by bit and the dastardly villain revealed. Also, I have to say, this storyline which ran through the Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Emerald Warriors monthly titles has one of the most unexpected endings I’ve ever read in a superhero comic, I just didn’t see it coming at all! And thus neatly sets up the new Green Lantern #1!
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy
Reviews to follow or already up if they’re softcover of hardcovers. Regardless, you can now go straight to these books in the shopping area simply by clicking on their titles! Hurrah!
Milk & Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin
Solipsistic Pop #4 (£10-00) by Takayo Akiyama, Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Blann, Stephen Collins, Rob Davis, Paul Harrison Davis, Joe Decie, John Cei Douglas, Oliver East, Nick Edwards, Marc Ellerby, Paul Francis, Katie Green, Isabel Greenberg, Howard Hardiman, Ste Hitchen, Tom Humberstone, Joe List, Lizz Lunney, John Miers, Kathryn Newman, Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice, Jenny Robins, Edward Ross, Alison Sampson, Anna Saunders, Matthew Sheret
The Adventures Of Hergé h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental & Stanislas Barthelemy
Strumpet #1 (£5-00, self-published) by Kripa Joshi, Patrice Aggs, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg, Tanya Meditzky, Mardou, Katie Haegele, Ellen Lindner, Maartje Schalkx, Jeremy Day, Lucy Sweet, Emily Ryan Lerner, Megan Kelso
Derek The Sheep hardcover (£7-99, Bloomfield) by Gary Northfield
Everything vol 1: Comics From Around 1978-81 hardcover (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry
Aliens: Fast Track To Heaven h/c (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Liam Sharp
1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (£20-00, Octopus) by various and edited by Paul Gravett
Gotham City Sirens vol 2: Song Of The Sirens softcover (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Marc Andreyko & Guillem March, Andres Guinaldo
Batman: The Black Mirror h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesco Francavilla
Uncanny X-Force vol 3: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 1 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Billy Tan, Mark Brooks
The Mighty Thor vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Oliver Coipel
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Death Of Spider-Man Fallout h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Mark Bagley, Bryan Hitch, Eric Nguyen, Sara Pichelli, Salvador Larroca, Clayton Crain, Billy Tan
Ultimate Comics Captain America s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney
5 Ronin s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Tomm Coker, Dalibor Talaji, Laurence Campbell, Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez
Marvel Masterworks: X-Men vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & Roy Thomas, Don Heck
Doctor Who series 2 vol 1: The Ripper (£13-50, IDW) by Tony Lee & Andrew Currie, Tim Hamilton, Richard Piers Rayner, Horacio Domingues
Star Wars Omnibus: At War With The Empire vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by various
Simpsons Comics Meltdown (£9-99, Titan) by various
Tesoro (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono
Codename Sailor V vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi
Sailor Moon vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi
Ninja Girls vol 8 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hosana Tanaka