Reviews February 2012 week five

Just when you thought the near-death experience begins to border on cliché, Simone Guglielmini hits you in the face with a double-page spread that would be anyone’s wake-up call. No one at that point is going to hit ‘snooze’.

 – Stephen on Jay Faerber & Simone Guglielmini’s Near Death.

Goliath h/c (£14-99, D&Q) by Tom Gauld.

And lo, there came a stand-off of Biblical proportions. High upon one mountain stood the mighty armies of Israel, massed in the Vale of Elah. Camped upon another, and sore strong in numbers, were the Philistines’ forces for war. Below and between them lay a lifeless valley of stone and sand, and into that valley strode the Philistine Goliath from Gath. He wore a brass helmet and armour weighing five thousand shekels. Almost twice the size of a normal man, he issued a dire challenge which shook and dismayed the Israelites. For Goliath of Gath was a giant of a man, and the king’s chosen champion.

“Are you sure this isn’t a mistake? I mainly do admin.”

Poor old Goliath. His size has singled him out for a cunning plan devised by an excitable Captain and approved by a king far too preoccupied to read it through carefully. Now he’s been given his instructions, a fine suit of armour and his very own shield-bearer. He’s even had his script written for him. It’s pretty incendiary; it might take a little practice. Thankfully no one seems to be biting…

Exceptional work from one of Britain’s finest cartoonists whom you’ll find every week in The Guardian. He’s taken one of the world’s most famous confrontations – the triumph of one barely armed lad over seemingly insuperable strength and aggression – and not so much turned it on its head as tossed its coin to show the other side. For the Book of Samuel is seen solely from the Israelites’ perspective. Nothing here contradicts it. It’s far more of a “Meanwhile, back at the Philistines…” and the comedy lies in confounding your expectations, and the silence which surrounds the gentle giant. It’s all so still.

I love the rhythm and the crisp, white space which surrounds the sand-coloured, meticulously hatched rocks, tents and protagonists. Space equals time in comics and, I would suggest, not just between the panels. Both the silence and the space here stretch the moments. It’s far from a raging arena of testosterone, but a masterpiece of quiet, uncomplaining bewilderment and absurdity. That a boy aged nine is commanded to lug around a giant’s mighty shield!

“Are you ok with that?”
“Sort of.”

The story opens one moonlit evening with a thirsty Goliath popping down for a drink from rippling brook dangerously close to the Israelites’ army. And there he finds a pebble.

“D’you want it?”
“Why would I want it?”

Goliath contemplates the pebble for a moment then tosses it back in the water. “Plop.” He’ll be seeing that again shortly.

SLH

Buy Goliath h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Gum Girl: Catastrophe Calling (£6-99, Walker Books) by Andi Watson.

Schoolgirl Grace is having a bad hair day – in more ways than one! First she forgot to take her plaits out so her silky-smooth hair is a frazzle that dazzles, and now her new school is being attacked by The Follicle Fiend and its super-strong thatch of evil, prehensile hair. Good job she brought a big batch of chemically altered bubblegum to school. This looks like a job for Gum Girl!

Welcome to Catastrophe: with disaster on the doorstep it’s an accident waiting to happen, and Grace’s family have just gone and moved there! It has an active volcano called Mount Misfortune, meteors falling from the sky, and a primary school called Calamity with a giant, marauding robot raiding the Pick’n’Mix and picking on poor Billy Fisher because he forgot to return a ruler. And no one wants to help!

“It certainly sounds like their science and engineering is awfully good, Grace.”
“What! It’s the weirdest, craziest, most dangerous place I’ve ever been and that’s not including the volcano.”
“Then it’s up to us to make it better. You can’t spend your life hiding with your head in the sand; someone has to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.”

And that’s where Grace, her bubble gum and an old chemistry set found in the attic come in. You know, after another disaster! And it’s a brand-new bedroom!

“Uh. Oh. This better not stain.”

Over the course of three bubble-blowing, action-packed episodes Gum Girl must unearth the secrets behind the Bad Brains Trust at Wertham’s Asylum for Crafty Criminals, the Junior Evil Genius After-School Club responsible for the explosive bog roll incident, their plans for Operation Number Two and the sinister truth behind TV super-chef Oliver Ramsay’s healthy school dinners. That salad of things for one girl to cope with!

Puns aplenty in this bright and colourful new series aimed at 7-9-year-olds. Fortunately they’re better than mine. From the tongue-in-cheek Andi Watson, creator of LITTLE STAR, SLOW NEWS DAY and the all-ages GLISTER.

SLH

Buy Gum Girl: Catastrophe Calling and read the Page 45 review here

Near Death vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jay Faerber & Simone Guglielmini.

“It’s a great twist on the hitman genre that I wish I’d thought of.”
 – Ed Brubaker (CRIMINAL, FATALE etc.)

I certainly sense Simone is a Sean Phillips fan: the shadows cast across the faces are evidence enough, and there’s some fine figure work where the clothes hang naturally. I like the exterior daylight with just enough detail and there’s one extended sequence where the morning mist hangs above the leafy suburbs eroding the roofs and tree-tops beautifully. Ron Riley’s colours are admirably restrained as well.

Our main man Markham has just had a near-death experience. A dispassionate hitman who kills without compunction, he’s come face to face with the lives lost at his more than capable hands. He’s come to a life-altering decision: not only does he desperately need to redress the balance – to save more lives than he’s taken – but he now has to do it without the best weapon in his arsenal. He cannot and will not kill again. For an assassin that’s like operating with one hand tied behind your back, but it’s far from Markham’s only skill. He’s been in the business for so long that he knows how his former peers and now new opponents think so – with a little lateral thinking – it’s time to get creative…

That, I think, is the twist Brubaker’s referring to, and what’s fascinating here is seeing a man unused to weighing up even the most minor moral arguments finally having to engage in the rights or wrongs of his immediate actions and their long-terms repercussions as well. In his efforts to balance the books, he is now compelled now to balance the scales of justice and some of his solutions are poetic indeed. Take the sex offender (oh, let’s not beat about the bush – the rapist) who’s served his time but found himself threatened by the victim’s brother and father. They’re out for blood, geared up to kill the culpable cretin which makes Markham the pig in the middle. But it’s not just for the abhorrent, abominable act itself. Oh no, they have one more specific issue which givesMarkham the leeway and inspiration he needs.

That’s just one scenario of the several so far. Others are a direct result of Markham’s former contracts and, satisfyingly, almost every tangled thread woven within this opening salvo comes back to bite him in the final two chapters. They hit him where it hurts most.

All of which, especially the new, self-imposed commandment of Thou Shalt Not Kill has required Jay Faerber to get creative as well. I’ll be honest: there were moments where I was thinking ho-hum, how predictable. I’d seen it before. But each time Faerber found a new angle, and I will never smoke while sniping again. Just when you thought the near-death experience begins to border on cliché, for example, Simone Guglielmini hits you in the face with a double-page spread that would be anyone’s wake-up call. No one at that point is going to hit ‘snooze’.

SLH

Buy Near Death vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Clutch #19 The Lost Years (2003 – 2006) (£7-99, Tugboat Press) by Clutch McBastard ~

Understated yet pedantically detailed, Clutch’s daily diary comics can be in an essay in ennui in places, but more often than not surprises with profoundly funny circumstance. The obsessive compulsive desire to not only write but draw about your day must wire your head a certain way, but Clutch isn’t nearly as big a weirdo as he thinks and cameos by some of Portland’s finest comic creators fill his stories with a certain awe from this fanboy’s point of view.

TR

Buy Clutch #19 The Lost Years (2003 – 2006) and read the Page 45 review here

You Don’t Get The From Here #15 – 20 (£1-99 each) by Carrie McNinch ~

Carrie’s Mini’s are just about the most accessible mini-comics going, they’re dense, detailed, pocket-sized and, most importantly, cheap! Plus she has the skill to play a melodious tune on the heart strings in just three panels or build to a crescendo over many entries (trip to Japan!). Jump in anywhere, reading these for the first time is like meeting a new old friend.

TR

Buy You Don’t Get The From Here #15 and read the Page 45 review here

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes (£8-50, Amulet Books) by Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telegemeier, Dave Roman, Jason Caffoe, Rad Sechrist, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte…

Excellent anthology of seven stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of the enormously popular AMULET series, who also writes the final tale here. These seven stories – very different in tone as well as art style and indeed also plot and setting – are all connected by the premise of a mysterious box, itself featured in rather varied ways. Despite not being a particular fan of short stories as regular review readers may know, I actually enjoyed all seven. Mr Kibuishi has definitely picked his cohorts wisely for this work.

I’m sure it’s not easy to pen a tale that hooks the reader when you have so few pages to work with, and that’s probably even more true in our preferred medium as compared to prose perhaps. What is also nice is that the art styles are all sufficiently distinct from each other than you can admire the flavours each artist adds to this particular selection box. It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but ‘Spring Cleaning’ by Dave Roman & Raina (SMILE) Telgemeier amused me greatly as did ‘The Butter Thief by Rad Sechrist’, which was probably just my pick in terms of the art. There’s a definite humorous element to all the stories which is what makes it ideal as an all-ages read, rather than just being suitable for a younger audience.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the striking cover illustration, also by Kibuishi, which features a lone hiker in a tranquil forest setting, a cascading waterfall on the opposite bank of the river with a huge mystery box looming ominously UFO-like overhead. It’s actually connected to his story, the tale which concludes the book, but I couldn’t help think the particular box looked like something from Hellraiser which Cenobites might pop out of at any moment threatening to tear everyone’s souls apart… before realising they’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in a national park. HELLRAISER and AMULET: now there would be a literary mash-up that would make PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES look somewhat boring, I suspect. There are of course, no Cenobites in this particular box. Now, aliens on the other hand…

JR

Buy Explorer: The Mystery Boxes and read the Page 45 review here

Torso h/c new edition (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Marc Andreyko & Brian Michael Bendis.

1935 and Cleveland’s determined to renew itself both economically and socially, hiring Elliot Ness, fresh from busting Capone if only for tax evasion to weed out officers on the take. Unfortunately that means ploughing up the entire flower bed, leaving a skeleton force to investigate a serial killer who begins leaving methodically dismembered torsos scattered around the bay. Without their hands and heads they prove virtually impossible to identify, having neither finger prints to check nor teeth to compare with dental records. Even when heads do begin floating to the surface, financial optimism has created such an influx of new hopefuls seeking employment that the city has grown a whole shantytown of unrecorded migrants, making identification even more problematic. As the crisis deepens hard decisions have to be made, and personal loyalties are tested to the point of breaking.

If I recall correctly TORSO, based on a true story, was Bendis’ last major work before moving to SAM & TWITCH then POWERS. And once you’ve broken into the book you’re rewarded with a thoroughly compelling drama full of hunter/prey psychology, political manoeuvring and some very scary postcards. There’s even a moment which is pure Alan Moore (“You find anything resembling a decapitated kisser yet?” – you’ll see what I mean when you turn over the page). But – you knew there was a “but”, didn’t you? – Bendis was at this point illustrating his own work. And he can do it. Some of the spreads towards the end prove that. An initial, fundamental misjudgement, however, makes the book exceedingly difficult to cut into: he uses photography (to make matters worse, both photocopied and full-tone) for some of his backgrounds which jar horribly with the panels surrounding them, breaking your connection to the work emotionally and distracting your attention from the narrative itself. I can only surmise that the choice was deliberate in order to impress upon the reader that this is a true story: “Look, this happened here – right here!” But whereas the press clippings scattered about the book serve the story well, the photographs prove a massive mistake. Similarly many of the page layouts smack of trying to be clever for its own sake without much thought for their impact. Fortunately I found my eyes beginning to adapt (or at least filter the flaws out) and it’s certainly worth the attempt because the investigation is both well-paced and well-defined, the final hunt is gripping, and the climax is absolutely breath-taking.

SLH

Buy Torso h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Men h/c (£14-99, Marvel) byKieron Gillen & GregLand.

The Juggernaut: a hulking mass of mystically enhanced muscle cased in armour several inches thick. Single-minded and driven to destruction, even before the Serpent arose from Asgard’s arcane past to enhance its chosen servants, the Juggernaut was a terrifying leviathan and a Thor-class threat all by himself. But his might has been magnified beyond all comprehension, he now wields a hammer like the God of Thunder’s, and he’s marching towards San Franciscoto divide, conquer and crush. Relentless, inexorable, truly nothing can now stop the Juggernaut.

“Oh God, I’m going to be Mayor of the flattest demographic groups in the U.S.”

Far more than a mere tie-in to the Fear Itself blockbuster, this is a monumental finale to the original series of UNCANNY X-MEN, as the physical threat necessitates the desperate deployment of as many combinations of power sets as Cyclops can come up with, some equally perilous snap decisions result in significant, long-term repercussions, while the Serpent’s real purpose – the division of mankind from mutant through fear itself – threatens to finally overturn Mayor Sadie’s previously unwavering support for Utopia’s inhabitants, and with it, Cyclops’ own tolerance for diplomacy. The final few pages are full of things that can never be unsaid and come with an ominous, unspoken threat that comes in the form of one waiting man and a lie.

Very well played there both by Gillen and Land, those are the final few pages before the epilogue, anyway. That’s the ultimate issue of UNCANNY X-MEN before the post-Schism relaunch and will give you much to ponder about what’s coming next. Oh, yes, there’s a family tree and everything.

For those whose eyes glow at the prospect of one almighty slugfest, you will not be disappointed: the glossy Greg Land is on magnificent form. But the way Gillen’s written it is far superior to most: wave after wave of X-Men, both old and new, are thrown in the Juggernauts’ path, but each deployment proves ineffective or worse inflammatory in ways Gillen details both precisely and concisely while that desperate measure I spoke of is… negotiated.

SLH

Buy Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Men h/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Oooh, a whole new spread of Shaun Tan! Reviews to follow or already up. You can check by clicking on whichever you’re curious about: all the titles have been linked to their relevant product pages.

The Lost Thing (£7-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan

The Red Tree (£7-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan

The Viewer (£7-99, Lothian) by Gary Crew & Shaun Tan

The Rabbit (£7-99, Lothian) by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

The Bird King And Other Sketches h/c (£14-99, Templar) by Shaun Tan

Eric h/c (£5-99, Templar) by Shaun Tan

The Goon vol 5: Wicked Inclinations new edition (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

Snow White h/c (£9-99, Harper) by The Brothers Grimm & Camille Rose Garcia

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files vol 2 (£19-99, 2000AD) by Alan Grant, John Wagner & Arthur Ranson, David Roach, Siku, Kevin Walker, Mark Wilkinson, Steve Sampson, Tony Luke, Charles Gillespie, Xuasus, Ian Gibson, Enric Romero, Mike Collins

The Punisher vol 1 hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by  Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto

Uncanny X-Force vol 4: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 2 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 1 (£22-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, & Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, David Aja

Ultimate Comics Ultimates vol 1 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic, Brandon Peterson

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye softcover (Uk Ed’N) (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Rafa Sandoval

Invincible Iron Man vol 8: Unfixable s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Salvador Larocca, John Romita Jr., Andrea Mutti

FF vol 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson

Spider-Man: The Fantastic Spider-Man hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Christos Gage, Rob Williams, Paul Benjamin, Frank Tieri & Stefano Caselli, Javier Pulido, Reilly Brown, Mike McKone, Lee Garbett, Javier Rodriguez

Carnage: Family Feud s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain

Breathe Deeply (£12-99, One Peace Books)Yamaki Doton

Gon vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Masashi Tanaka

Cage Of Eden vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshinobu Yamada

Air Gear vol 22 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great

Gate 7 vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 21 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Xxxholic vol 19 (£8-50, Clamp) by Clamp

GTO: The Early Years vol 11 (£9-99, Vertical) by Toru Fujisawa

 
Thanks to Alex ‘Velveteen’ Sarll for pointing out an embarrassing error in my original review of BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT – GOLDEN DAWN. Contrary to my initial complaint it isn’t the only place you’ll find the one-shot Grant Morrison wrote called BATMAN: THE RETURN which sets up the whole Leviathan epic to be continued in the forthcoming BATMAN INCORPORATED h/c. You’ll also find it in Batman and Robin vol 3: Batman and Robin Must Die.

Corrected now, and apologies.

 – Stephen (World’s Worst Detective)

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