Reviews February 2012 week one

Once you realise it’s more hot boy-on-boy action, you’d be forgiven for suspecting the whole thing was set in a Japanese toilet.

 - Stephen on Mr. Convenience.

 

Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes h/c (£14-99,JonathanCape) by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot.

“Claims about men being unable to express emotion irritate me no end. My father did anger very well.”

A remarkable piece of British social history brought vividly alive by the legendaryBryan Talbot, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES is a personal memoir of Dr.Mary Talbot growing up under the fiery gaze of her “feary father” James S. Atherton – a renowned Joycean scholar – and draws remarkable parallels and striking contrasts with James Joyce’s relationship with his own titular “dotter” on whom he doted. For me it’s already a strong contender for the finest graphic novel of 2012 for its brilliances are manifold:

The segues between the narratives are fluid and deft, the parallels between the two time frames perfectly accentuated. The art captures the chic of the period if you were privileged as well as the dowdiness if you weren’t. There are superb portraits of James Joyce himself, the visual flourishes on pages 37 and 83 are magnificent in every way, and the production values are superb, the rich paper stock doing full justice to the cream-coloured pages with their watercolour texture.

It kicks off one morning on February 2nd when Mary, at home, stumbles upon the ration book and social security card of her now-deceased father. This catalyses a day’s reverie illustrated by husband and visual chameleon Bryan Talbot who has shifted styles yet again from the multi-media, photo-montage of ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, the slick, computer-coloured anthropomorphic steampunk of GRANDVILLE and the watercolour Lake District landscapes of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT accentuated by black lines on an acetate overlay, to soft washes over pencil and ink in two distinct, colour-coded palettes representing very different past periods in time.

What unites them is what I loved most about Raymond Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST: the candour and humanity which will resonate with readers. There’s an eternal and – I would have thought – ubiquitous fascination in the relationships between parents and offspring and of school life often suffered under duress: everyone makes comparisons to their own. Like ETHEL & ERNEST it’s also an infectious double-dose of vital social history brought alive for those of us who take so much for granted these days, like contraception and birth before marriage. So many of my friends have children without bothering to get married and we think nothing of it but go back but a couple of decades and it was a very real social stigma. Did you know that James Joyce left it years into his daughter’s life to even consider marrying Lucia’s mother? I didn’t. Very brave of them both and almost certainly why they swiftly eloped fromDublin.

There’s one halting sequence in which Mary gives birth enduring an extreme episiotomy which I was first presented with in portfolio form by Bryan and Mary over dinner. Also present: our own Jonathan whose wife was due to give birth within the month. I tucked those pages back into Bryan’s bag very swiftly indeed while outwardly smiling: “Nothing to see here!” Please, please don’t read this book if you are about to give birth until after the stork has delivered.

But it is as well to remember these things: sectarian divides still far from united, gender segregation, and the suffocating sway that any family can have over you. Like the LOGICOMIX graphic novel about Bertrand Russell which sold out of its first UK printing in under a week, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES will strike chords far beyond those interested in James Joyce and his own creativity; but it will be additionally fascinating both for those devotees and followers of Bryan Talbot, for there are insights to be gleaned into the comic creator’s teenage years when first meeting Mary, and their shared trepidation of life under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES is published by Jonathan Cape on February 2nd 2012. It’s a significant date, being the 130th anniversary of Irish author James Joyce’s birthday and the 90th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses.

SLH

Buy Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Best Of Girl (£14-99, Prion) by various.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”.
 - The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

Born in Britainin 1951, GIRL was the self-styled “Sister Paper To The Eagle”, and like my time spent with the EAGLE ANNUAL: BEST OF THE 1950s and EAGLE ANNUAL: BEST OF THE 1960s, I was all set to sit back and make a little light mockery of its naivety. In actual fact, and in almost every way, it’s infinitely superior to much that has superseded it to this day – for the target audience in magazine form.

A collection of one-page comic instalments, announcements, advice columns and top-tip health and beauty strips, even the How To Make Your Bed provides a few sage words most of us scruffy merchants would do well to embrace. Roll back the duvet! Open the window! Turn over the mattress occasionally! If you think I’m making a hospital corner, though, you are very much mistaken. Look, you just shove the sheet under, and preferably before you pass out. What’s wrong with learning how to waltz? Also, yes, great hair tip: however tempting, “it’s inadvisable to change your hairstyle before a big date. Give yourself time to get used to it – and forget it.”

A regular feature was ‘What’s Your Worry?’ At first most of them seemed like the ageless anxieties we all still suffer at school to this day to which few have found satisfactory answers. But there was a whole batch later on which I actually applauded. I did. I put the book down, clapped my hands and knocked over my mug of tea.

“Q. We are four friends, all 14. One of us likes classical music only. We like classical music and jazz. She says we have no minds of her own. What do you think?”
“A. We think the appreciation of music is a very personal matter. We should all respect each other’s likes and dislikes, without feeling superior or inferior about our particular choice. Our view is that it is a good idea to have broad musical tastes, but you just wait until rap comes along. Your parents will take an axe to your iPod and quite right too!”

That’s one and a half sentences shy of the real answer, but I hate smug bastards who think their taste in music, books and comics makes them superior to others, especially their friends. Frankly, I should be shot. One girl writes in worried that although her parents don’t mind that she and her friend hang out with two boys, she’s worried that other tongues may wag. This is the 1950s, remember, so you may be expecting a cautionary or admonishing reply. Nope.

“A. We cannot see any reason why other people should criticize you, and we think you should go on enjoying your friendship together.”

Best of all, though, in an era when racism was rife and B&Bs were legally allowed to hang signs in their windows saying “No Coloureds” (ugh!), this is what up-ended my china cup and saucer (I don’t really drink from mugs). Forgive the girl’s fourth word – again it’s the era and she has been trying to make friends:

“Q. There is a coloured girl who has come to live in our street. She seems afraid of us and hardly says anything but ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when we speak to her. Would it be best to leave her alone?”
“A. No, don’t leave her to be lonely. It is natural that she should feel rather shy and out of things at first. Invite her to your home and also ask one or two friends who would be particularly interested in making friends with her.”

An article like ‘The Art Of Conversation’ you might also presume to be either laughably redundant or full of conventions more likely to produce something stilted. Far from it. Best advice ever, and especially for those who find themselves self-consciously tongued-tied. Stop gabbing, tying to impress or (if applicable) worrying about your hesitancy: ask questions instead and then concentrate on listening. Brilliant! That sort of advice must have been invaluable to young readers – it still is to us antediluvians. Conversations are infinitely better than pontification. It’s no use me just telling you what I think the best graphic novels in the shop are. If you ask me for recommendations, I’ll ask you what you really enjoy first, listen, learn more about you and then tailor my suggestions to your personal tastes. Yay, conversation! Yay, a more likely-to-buy-and-then-satisfied customer!

And so onto the comic sections, and again there are several impressive surprises. The ‘Lettice Leefe: The Greenest Girl In School’ strips are the odd ones out, being short comedy capers relying for their punchlines on slapstick and so drawn accordingly. But the long-form serials like ‘Belle Of The Ballet’, ‘Angela Air Hostess’, ‘Kay Of The Courier’ etc. boast deceptively skilful narratives. For a start it’s not easy fitting enough into a single-page weekly instalment to cultivate and then satisfy a craving mind. Secondly, it wasn’t immediately obvious to my modern mind what you can do with such subject matter. But these were dream jobs which back then, and being an air hostess was terribly exotic, something both the writer and artist capitalised on as the story progressed with rivalry, romance, a plane crash (!) and a flight to Grodnik to ferry some scientists which nearly (or may have – the serials reprinted here are far from complete) turned into an espionage thriller and international incident!

But here’s what impressed me most: Angela initially had trouble getting off the ground because her single working mother (yes, single working mother – albeit as a result of being widowed) couldn’t afford to lose her daughter’s help making ends meet as a B&B landlady. She’s a sour-faced… sorry, she’s rushed off her feet… and I admired enormously the concentration on day-to-day financial practicalities (including the ramifications of a freeloading son much admired by mother but basically stealing from his sister) rather than pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It brought with it a real tension. Conversely ‘Wendy And Jinx’ begins as an all-too chummy and privileged boarding-school pash-in (oh no, their beds have been separated and Wendy has always slept right next to Jinx!) but there soon evolve strains of alienation based misunderstandings because one of them is secretly working (concentrating on earning hard money) to help out a debt-ridden cousin.

In his introduction Steve Holland (no relation nor clone: Steve is a renowned expert on British comics right up there with Paul Gravett; I am an ill-informed, drunken baboon) astutely observes that, unlike the EAGLE, most of these series relied less on cliffhangers involving physical danger but more on emotional crises instead. To every predisposition there is by definition a wayward exception (including a few instances in the strips above) and ‘Vicky And The Vengeance Of  The Incas’ as the title suggests is very much that. It’s full-colour action adventure in foreign climes drawn by Dudley Spout starring Vicky and her pipe-puffing father, Professor Curtis. Which brings me neatly full circle for a more modern smile. Bearing in mind that I am a committed smoker of sixty a day who is utterly frustrated when I can’t puff in pubs or round my friends’ houses, here’s a final instalment of ‘ace’ advice column ‘What’s Your Worry?’

“Q. For some reason, I hate tobacco and always have. Now I am older it sometimes leads to embarrassment, because I don’t like passing a packet of cigarettes from one person to another. Can you help me with this stupid habit?”
“A. First of all, give up thinking of it as stupid. We all have some queer little fear or other. We expect that you unconsciously associate tobacco with something you dislike, and this makes your feelings rather acute. You can help yourself get over this dislike by accepting it and learning to live with it. Keep a cigarette or two in your room. This will help you make friends with your enemy!”

Something she dislikes?! Yes, cigarette smoke! And it’s not queer to fear cancer. You certainly don’t want to make friends with an enemy like that. She’s probably dead now, cheers! In this modern age, we would sue.

*Lights a JPS White*

SLH

The Best Of Girl

You Are A Cat! Pick A Plot Book 1 (£12-99, Conundrum Press) by Sherwin Tija.

WARNING: most certainly not suitable for kids!

Oh, I know it looks as if it should be: for a start it’s a cat, secondly it’s riffing off and indeed mimicking your childhood favourites where you controlled the narrative (to a certain, illusory extent) by becoming the protagonist, making her or his decision for them, and then turning backwards or forwards to the duly prescribed page. Based on your decision, the story dictates your fate…

“A strange man is offering you a grape. Do you run screaming down London’s dank alleys or get into the coach and become a victim in Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell’s FROM HELL? If your senses are intact, turn to Page 45. If you have lost all raisin [sorry], turn to Page… look, it really doesn’t matter. THE END.”

Obviously the ramifications back then weren’t half so severe; but the point I’m making is that these are! Like Jason Shiga’s MEANWHILE, which wittily translates the prose concept into true comicbook genius (this is pure prose with spot illustrations), YOU ARE A CAT boasts few happy endings, either for the titular cat or indeed its owners. Giving this to a small child will traumatise them for life. You will also have to answer questions about what cats do when they “fuck”.

You might not expect such mischief from the creator of THE HIPLESS BOY but read the same man’s Pedigree Girls and it all becomes infinitely clearer. Turn to the back of the book and it becomes clearer still, for proposed further volumes include PICK A PLOT! YOU ARE DOING 20 TO LIFE; PICK A PLOT! YOU ARE COMMITTING SUICIDE; PICK A PLOT! YOU ARE A CULT LEADER and PICK A PLOT! YOU ARE A CONCENTRATION CAMP COP. We don’t know how far Tija’s tongue is in his cheek there – he may have absolutely no intention of producing those books – but what a great way to test demand! Also, each resume is hilarious.

The main meat itself is monumentally subversive, partly because it’s delivered so dead-pan. So what are your domestic servants actually up to while you’re grooming yourself, battering flies and wondering whether to square up to the tom down the road? Don’t take your eye off the ball, but turn to page one and find out.

Oh, look! There’s a squirrel!

SLH

Buy You Are A Cat! Pick A Plot Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Manara Library vol 2 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Hugo Pratt, Mino Milani & Milo Manara.

Another weighty wonder, we’ll get to the lavish, full-colour saga that is EL GAUCHO in a second.

For the moment, however, here’s something completely different. I had no idea, but early in Manara’s career he was hired by Boys’ magazine Il Corriere dei Ragazzi to illustrate ten ‘Trials By Jury’, predominantly in black and white, in which historical and literary figures were taken to court, the cases for and against them outlined as dispassionately as possible by the magazine’s editor Mino Milani. Their actions are told in comic form, interspersed with prose pronouncements from the prosecution and defence, while their innocence or guilt was left for the reader to determine. In the dock you’ll find George Armstrong Custer, Hernán Cortés, Attila The Hun, Robespierre, Oppenheiemer, Emperor Nero, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (the commander-in-chief of the Japanese fleet said to have conceived and then launched the attack on Pearl Harbor) and even Alfred Nobel, he of the illustrious prize. Helen Of Troy, bless her, is put through the wringer twice!

It’s a magnificent concept and should be reinstigated immediately so that we can take out our frustration on those who have so far managed to escape criminal justice. If anyone deserves the Helen Of Troy treatment it’s George W. Bush, first for the coup d’état and then for his illegal invasion of Iraq. Prior indictments for drink driving etc. will, of course, be kept from the jury – unless it’s me on art duty. I’ll squirrel it into the backgrounds somewhere.

Aaaanyway, the main attraction here is EL GAUCHO in which a wizened old white man is discovered by the Spanish army in South Americaliving with Indians. They call him Paraun, but his real name was Tom Browne of the Highland71st Infantry, a sixteen-year-old drummer back in 1806 when a combined invasion force of the Royal Navy and British Army had gathered off the coast of Buenos Aires to goad each other senseless, rodger the cabin boys and ultimately invade. For the officers’ rest and relaxation they’d brought with them a bevy of beauties including one Molly Malone, a Dublin fishmonger purchased with her mother from debtors’ prison. Neither Tom nor Molly are in for a good time at the hands of either military side especially as events move inland, but they have one guardian angel in the form the compassionate young hunchback, Matthew. But what exactly became of them all? What drove drummer Tom to go native?

War and cruelty is familiar territory for Pratt and Manara (see THE MANARA LIBRARY VOL 1), and so it is here. There are moments which are top-shelf explicit with exposed lady-bits, but it is as ever mesmerisingly beautiful, particularly the lush inland waterways of tangled tree roots and flocking birds, and the English galleons with their huge stern galleries, vast masts and intricate rigging. As well as sensual, wistful women, Manara’s drawn some of the best clothes in the business. Molly’s dress, drawn up in her hands, dances to perfection when she does and, depending on how it hangs, you can feel the exact thickness of each uniform’s cloth. He also goes light on the colouring where others would overdo it, keeping the light bright and the landscapes spacious.

New translations by Kim Thompson.

SLH

Buy The Manara Library vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Atmospherics colour edition (£4-99) by Warren Ellis & Ken Meyer Jr.

“She’s in a hospital. Except it may be a police station. She’s been traumatised. Or she’s been arrested. She’s the only living witness of a cattle-mutilation style attack on humans. Or she’s a multiple killer who has a psychotic reaction to heroin use.”

The answer, of course, is not quite so simple, for this is Mr. Ellis who keeps us guessing then polishes the story off with a few words of his own on cattle mutilation and alien abduction, which reads like an excerpt from his Bad World:

“All these things happen in banjo country, and are usually reported by people half-blind from moonshine saying that there are strange bright lights in the sky when it happens, that have nothing at all to do with dynamiting Cousin Betty Mae for looking at a black man.”

Originally published in 2002 in black and white, just like this review (Lord, I was lazy back then) this is its first appearance in colour.

SLH

Buy Atmospherics colour edition and read the Page 45 review here

Mr. Convenience (£9-99, June) by Nase Yamato.

A title like that would sound perfectly innocent in any genre other than yaoi. Once you realise it’s more hot boy-on-boy action, you’d be forgiven for suspecting the whole thing was set in a Japanese toilet. And Takashi does indeed work for what could loosely be termed a cottage industry. With his older brother and a few other pretty young things he’s part of a cooperative working from a street corner which renders its diverse services out at local customers’ convenience. If a shop’s having a rush hour they call on our boys. If someone needs a lightbulb changing, they just pick up the phone. It obviously doesn’t pay that well, at least not until Takashi receives a drunken email from one Aki Kirigaya.

As President of his father’s successful big business Aki is finding it hard at work. He doesn’t like to look weak. So now he’s called Takashi round to offload on him (oh puh-lease… that doesn’t happen until later…), but only once. He doesn’t want Takashi getting attached and coming round his flat all the time. But of course that’s precisely what Takashi wants to do, and soon he does. And so does Aki. And it pays very well indeed thank you.

I don’t think I’ve spoiled anything there. Yaoi pretends to be a will-they/won’t-they subgenre but it’s never more than a matter of time before all their clothes fall off.

In the second instalment another of our street-corner servants finds himself under investigation by a private detective, and a most thorough investigation it is. No nook nor cranny is left uninspected. Ryuichi’s family are concerned that their son’s line of work may lead him into compromising positions. Well, it wasn’t until the private detective started poking about, and now he’s reported back that their son will do anything for a buck, but he didn’t. Ryuichi didn’t do it for the money, he did it because he wanted to and now he’s love and, oh, the heartache!

Features lots of frustration, internal turmoil, disjointed monologues, explicit shenanigans and hilarious sound effects.

SLH

Buy Mr. Convenience or indeed the book and read the Page 45 review here

Replica vol 1 (£9-99, DMP) by Karakara Kemuri…

Aside from the relentless speculative fiction magnificence that is GANTZ, battle manga really isn’t my thing, but actually I found REPLICA pretty entertaining. There’s enough intrigue and intricacies about the plot involving towns being attacked by rogue toys, and the main character, the half-cocked Yojimbo known as Red Dog, plus the shadowy organisation CARDS dedicated to destroying the toys and tracking down their maker, to make me interested enough to pick up volume two when it comes in. It is more straightforward than the delightful weirdness which is DOROHEDORO, which is also a battle manga of sorts, I suppose, but it has enough about it to elevate above the usual battle manga chaff.

JR

Replica vol 1

A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Douglas Rushkoff & Goran Sudzuka…

“I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Thus spake Danny Glover ad infinitum in many a Lethal Weapon flick, and in a way perhaps he reflects my sentiments regarding this book too. Maybe given the title it is aimed at pimple-faced teens, but it’s actually meant to be a clever byte (sic) of dystopian speculative fiction about computer games, media manipulation, corporate greed etcetera etcetera. I understand why they’ve used a pull quote from Grant Morrison as the initial premise of young adolescents being sequestered away and… altered… reminded me of the school for bad boys in THE INVISIBLES.

But I just couldn’t really get too hot under the collar about the plot of A.D.D. generally. All the little plot devices and tricks dropped in here and there have been used many, many times before from Max Headroom to Jonathan Hickman’s TRANSHUMAN. There’s just nothing new here, which given the author, Douglas Rushkoff, has apparently written over a dozen books on technology and culture, and originated terms like “viral media”, “screenagers” and “social currency”, is somewhat surprising. The author was also supposedly mates with Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson, so he must be of a certain… post-adolescent age, shall we say… not that that is any bar to writing good comics.

I also found some of the dialogue rather irritating, and the solitary invented word, which seems to get repeated far too frequently to indicate what jolly cutting-edge times these teenagers are living in, is ‘dekh’, used in the sense of looking at something. Well, presumably Mr. Rushkoff wasn’t aware that the phrase ‘let’s have a dek at it’ was something used by teenagers in Yorkshire some twenty five years ago… If you want to see future slang done to perfection in comics, look no further than Brian Azzarello’s SPACEMAN, which absolutely nails it. If you want to see speculative fiction done well in comics, don’t bother wasting your time reading this.

JR

Buy A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sweet Tooth vol 4: Endangered Species (£12-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire.

From the creator of ESSEX COUNTY, THE NOBODY and the current run on ANIMAL MAN. If you want to avoid SPOILERS, read the review of SWEET TOOTH VOL 1 instead!

The young, antlered, human/animal hybrid called Gus senses the secret to the sickness that has wiped out billions lies to the north in Alaska. The militia’s chief scientist believes this too, having stumbled on a secret ‘bible’ written by Gus’ father. But for some of the group the prospect of a safe and unexpectedly comfortable safe haven in the form of an abandoned hydro-electric dam may prove too tempting. But was the dam ever truly abandoned, and is it really safe?

Who can Gus trust? Jepperd, the man who betrayed him by selling him to the militia? Singh, the chief scientist who experimented on him and countless others? Or the dam’s sole caretaker who offers them all sanctuary? Stories are told, the visions intensify and tempers begin to fray. But I really would dawdle, folks.

SLH

Buy Sweet Tooth vol 4: Endangered Species and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve McNiven.

“They’re the worst kind of enemy… They think they’ve been betrayed… And maybe they have…”

A shiny new start for Steve Rogers as Captain Americawith the ever-attractive, clean-cut, lotsa-light Steve McNiven (CIVIL WAR, NEMESIS, WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN) only interrupted for a few brief pages by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Don’t worry; you’ll barely register it, like a one-second power cut. New readers will find no prior subplots carried over, so there’s nothing to confound.

Steve Rogers is once more feeling his age. A soldier during World War II, he should by all rights be an old man by now, but his time in suspended animation and the anti-agapic effects of the supersoldier serum – the world’s ultimate moisturiser – have kept him relatively young, physically at least. Former fellow combatants have not been so lucky and today, in Paris, Nick Fury, “Dum Dum” Dugan, Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter have gathered together to bury Peggy Carter, Sharon’s aunt and Steve’s former girlfriend. Her work in the French Resistance was legendary but not all of their missions together were made public and some were more successful than others. When a sniper almost succeeds in targeting Duggan, CaptainAmericagives chase only to recognise the would-be assassin as Codename: Bravo, missing in action since WWII.

Codename: Bravo was part of a covert attempt to thwart an allegiance between Baron Zemo and a new SS off-shoot called Hydra. To enter the Hydra base they were to use Jimmy Jancovicz, a bright young lad who had access to Slipstream Space, a dimension between layers of reality which he could enter, manipulate, and exit at will bringing whatever he wanted with him. For nearly seventy years now Jimmy’s been in a coma, but Bravo’s return can mean only one thing: Jimmy has just woken up.

Why is that exactly? What went wrong with the mission? And what does Bravo want now?

It’s a clever little number relevant to our times and perfectly accessible to newcomers. But for readers of Ed Brubaker’s early books (differentiated from this series with their subtitles) and veterans older still there’ll be some familiar faces and a blast from the past in the form of a ‘giant’ surprise. Refreshingly, some of the motives are far from obvious and the same could said of the objectives: they’re sowing the seeds of self-doubt. And doing so quite effectively.

SLH

Captain America vol 1 hardcover

FF vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Greg Tocchini.

“So… I think it’s time we had a chat.”
“What’s on your mind, Susan?”
“First, I’m happy you’re here, Nathaniel. We all are. But, while Reed may trust you implicitly, I don’t care that you come from the future… I find myself struggling with just doing what you say ‘needs to be done’.”
“Like?”
“Unbelievable… There’s a gang of supervillains in the next room cleaning out my refrigerator. How about we start there?”

I love Steve Epting’s Susan Storm: she looks so calmly, completely in control. She really isn’t. Almost everyone’s been going behind her back: her husband, her father-in-law, even her daughter Valeria – and Reed has most decidedly cocked up.

With Doom on their side, Black Bolt resurrected, the Inhumans up in arms, three multiversal Reed Richardses still on the loose and the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence sowing a Supremor Seed which will take root in some most unexpected soil… all the disparate plot lines which ran through Hickman’s first four FANTASTIC FOUR books then FF VOL 1… the Moleman Man, High Evolutionary, The Cult Of The Negative Zone, the prophecy that “All hope lies in Doom”… continue to converge as I predicted they would for what I can promise you will be one almighty conflagration following the cliffhanger here. Hell/handbag, handbag/hell. It’s all-our war!

I just wish it was all Steve Epting. Barry Kitson’s a most able substitute but I’m simply no big fan of the muddiness Tocchini tramples over the comicbook carpet. Still, it was only the first two chapters setting the Kree and Inhumans at loggerheads. Good news, by the way, if you like your guest-stars: Ben Grimm’s about to return, and you know who he’s been holed up with lately, don’t you?

SLH

Buy FF vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Iron Man: Extremis h/c (UK Ed’n) (£9-99, Marvel) byWarren Ellis & Adi Granov.

Absolutely first-rate. So well written that it bored the pants off a lot of Marvel readers as a series. They didn’t like what they saw as its verbosity, but which I enjoyed as a fierce intelligence really bearing down on its subject matter: technology, its funding, its application, and the future. And isn’t that what a book starring a guy in the most advanced technology on the planet should be about? Technology! What took them so long?!

Tony Stark has built for himself one of the richest and most successful technology corporations in the world, but in order to do so – in order to kick-start the company and finance future ideas with medical applications and mass-market commercial uses – he developed military weapons. During a critical interview (with John Pilger – it’s definitely the real-life John Pilger!), we flash back to see Stark critically wounded out in Afghanistan by one of his own landmines. With less than a week to live – with shrapnel digging further and further into his heart – he is forced by his captors to develop arms for them, but instead desperately sets about constructing an armour which can serve the dual purpose of saving his life and killing his captors.

Ellis makes the Iron Man armour the very centre of Tony’s inner struggle, as well as the wider debate about technology and its deployment for military and medical purposes. It’s a debate which continues right into the action when the Extremis Project is stolen by a small cell of anti-establishment militiamen heading to Washington DC to cause as much damage as possible. What is the Extremis Project…?

“It’s a bio-electronic package, fitted into a few billion graphic nanotubes and suspended in a carrier fluid. A magic bullet, like the original Super-Soldier Serum — all in a single injection. It hacks the body’s repair centre — the part of the brain that keeps a complete blueprint of the human body. When we’re injured, we refer to that area of the brain in order to heal properly. Extremis rewrites the repair centre. In the first stage, the body essentially becomes an open wound. The normal human blueprint is being replaced with the Extremis blueprint, you see? The brain is being told that the body is wrong. Extremis Protocol dictates that the subject be put on life support and intravenously fed nutrients at this point. For the next two or three days, the subject remains unconscious within a cocoon of scabs. It’s pretty gross, as you can imagine. Extremis uses the nutrients and body mass to build new organs. Better ones. We loaded in everything we could think of. The hypothetical we were given was to build a three-man team would could take Fallujah on their own.”

And now it’s been injected into a domestic terrorist who has murder in mind, and the body with which to commit it. Can Stark’s exterior armour keep up with this madman’s inbuilt capabilities, or is it time for the ultimate upgrade?

This is overwhelmingly a boy’s book. I don’t mean it’s a book for children (please, no, there are exploding heads!), and I don’t mean that no women will necessarily enjoy it. That’d be enormously sexist of me. But it really is a book for boys who like toys – new tech gadgets like ipods and cell phones and PS3s and shiny, flying armour that can rip a car in two (oh, god, how I want some!).

The art is shiny too. I still can’t find a better comparison than TRIGAN EMPIRE, and it’ll take very good care of you in the all-out action sequences, most of which are full-page or horizontal, slipped in cleverly between the vertical conversation pieces.

SLH

Iron Man: Extremis hardcover (Uk Ed’N)

Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont & John Byrne with George Perez.

Finally the X-Men are home! For far too long they’ve been trying to get back toAmericaafter being abducted by Magneto and stuffed under a volcano in the Savage Land. Thought long dead by Professor X and Jean Grey, the professor has left the planet while Jean retired with Moira MacTaggert toMuir Island. There she’s been running some tests on Jean’s ever-increasing psi-powers. They should be draining, utterly exhausting but instead they make Jean sing with new life. Moira is worried. She should be.

Includes guest appearances by the Beast, Jamie Madrox, Havok, Banshee, plus an assault fromArcade, Proteus on the loose on Muir Island, Scott and Jean’s tentative reunion, more insidious infiltration of Jean Grey’s mind by the aristocratic ‘Jason Wyngarde’, and the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, the Dazzler and Emma Frost, the White Queen. Pretty key stuff, then! It also features some of John Byrne’s sexist, most thrilling art, and the paper stock here keeps it clean whereas originally it bled badly, plus Glynis Wein’s colours are brighter than ever but far from gaudy.

Reprints UNCANNY X-MEN #122-131 and ANNUAL #3, leading into (and incorporating some of) the Dark Phoenix Saga.

SLH

Buy Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight h/c (£16-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Scott McDaniel, Christopher Jones…

“What am I late for?”
“A new production of Das Rheingold sponsored by the Martha Wayne Arts Foundation Master Richard.”
“Will I like it?”
“Did you enjoy Bugs Bunny in ‘What’s Opera Doc?’ as a boy?”
“Yep.”
“Then I assume you will enjoy this tremendously.”
“Alfred, did you bring…”
“Your shoes, sir.”

As so we head into the P.M. era of BATMAN & ROBIN (post-Morrison that is), we get not one but three different writers in the form of Paul Cornell, Peter J. Tomasi and Judd Winick. And consequently three rather different stories. Now, I am a big Cornell fan but I really didn’t care for his three-issue story at all, I found the villain just too ludicrous to be even remotely believable, which may or may not be a result of him writing this shortly after the hilarious bat-spin-off KNIGHT & SQUIRE. It just had the feel of some filler dashed off rather too quickly.

So… moving swiftly on, we then have a nicely thought out and well crafted three-parter from Peter J. Tomasi featuring another new villain, the altogether more sinister White Knight, who turns out to be behind the rash of particularly garish ‘suicides’ of an apparently random set of law-abiding Gotham citizens. There’s a connection between the victims of course, and we get some real detective work for a change as Dick and Damian try to piece together the clues before the White Knight gets the chance to complete his master plan for a brighter future for Gotham.

And concluding this volume we have a four-parter featuring the return of the Red Hood penned by Judd Winick, who of course has history with Jason Todd in BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD. And after the veritably theatrical Morrison version not so long ago, here Winick returns to his concept of Todd as a much more measured, calculating nutjob. Winick’s Todd sees himself as the natural successor to Batman, the only person prepared to do precisely whatever it takes to further the mission. And of course, that’s going to bring him into direct conflict with Bruce’s anointed successor Dick. Fight! Fight! Fight!

Overall, the excellent second two-thirds of this volume more than make up for the weak opener. Decent, if completely different, art for each part, with Patrick Gleason on the middle story being my pick of the bunch.

JR

Buy Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution (£12-99, DC) by Adam Beechen & Ryan Benjamin…

“Okay, we’ve trained for this. You know how to beat the Justice League. You’ve got to strike first.”

Of course, after the usual fist-à-tête, Neo-Gotham’s Batman, Terry McGinnis, is clearly going to team-up with the Justice League to take down the bad guy, the Matter Master, despite the reservations of mentor and constant bellowing presence in his ear, Bruce Wayne. This volume is another most excellent adventure for the future caped crusader, which DC have managed to establish into a character well worth reading, as opposed to Marvel’s ill-conceived and best forgotten set of 2099 debacles.

I must confess I’ve never seen any of the animated series, so I have no idea how similar the art is, but I do like Benjamin’s angular yet cartoonish pencils, and also the vibrant – again relatively cartoonish – colourful inking from Stanisci. As I think I might have mentioned in my review of the previous volume that if you’re burnt out on the current-era Bat-books and fancy trying something a little different, then the BATMAN BEYOND stories are definitely worth a look.

JR

Buy Batman Beyond: Industrial Revolution and read the Page 45 review here

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Big thanks to John Porcellino for most of the below. Some beautiful books and comics. 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!


Good Minnesotan #4 (£4-99) by Zak Sally, Kevin Cannon, Will Dinski, Tom K., Nic Breutzman, King Mini, Toby Jones, Sean Lynch, Ed Choy Moorman and many more, totalling 32 artists

L.A. Diary (£3-99) by Gabrielle Bell

San Diego Diary (£3-99) by Gabrielle Bell

Bound And Gagged (£9-99, I Will Destroy You) by Andrice Arp, Marc Bell, Elijah Brubaker, Shawn Cheng, Chris Cilla, Michael Deforge, Kim Deitch, J.T. Dockery, Theo Ellsworth, Austin English, Eamon Espey, Julia Gfrorer, Robert Goodin, Levon Juhanian, Julaicks, Kaz, David King, Tom Neely, Anders Nilsen, Scot Nobles, Jason Overby, John Porcellino, Jesse Reklaw, Tim Root, Zak Sally, Gabby Schulz, Josh Simmons, Ryan Standfest, Kaz Strzepek, Matthew Thurber, Noah Van Sciver, Dylan Williams, and Chris Wright.

Clutch Nineteen: The Lost Years (£7-99, Tugboat) by Greg Means

Dark Tomato #1 (£4-99) by Sakura Maku

Lose #2 (£4-99) by Michael DeForge

Lose #3 (£4-99) by Michael DeForge

Spotting Deer (£4-99) by Michael DeForge

Okay? Okay! (£4-99) by Melinda Boyce, Aaron Whitaker

Clutch #22 / Invincible Summer #19 (£1-99) by Greg Means, Nicole Georges

Sleeper Car (£5-99) by Theo Ellsworth

You Don’t Get There From Here #15 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

You Don’t Get There From Here #16 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

You Don’t Get There From Here #17 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

You Don’t Get There From Here #18 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

You Don’t Get There From Here #19 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

You Don’t Get There From Here #20 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch

The Wolf (£25-00) by Tom McNeely

Not My Small Diary #16 (Double Pack) (£5-99) by Trevor Alixopulos, Donna Barr, Buzz Buzzizyk, Max Clotfelter, Jaime Crespo, Joe Decie, Brad Foster, Kelly Froh, Andrew Goldfarb, Roberta Gregory, Ayun Halliday, Dave Kiersh, Patty Leidy, MariNaomi, Carrie McNinch, Dan Moynihan, Joel Orff, John Porcellino, Patrick Porter, Liz Prince, Jim Siergey, Jerry Sims, Sam Spina, Noah Van Sciver, Julia Wertz, Jenny Zervakis, and, incredibly, MANY MANY more

Paper Cutter #10 (£3-99) by Damien Jay, Jesse Reklaw, Minty Lewis

Paper Cutter #11 (£3-99) by Amy Adoyzie, Jon Sukarangsan, Dustin Harbin, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg
Paper Cutter #13 (£3-99) by Matt Weigle, Col. Tim Root, Jonas Madden-Connor, Nate Beaty

Paper Cutter #14 (£3-99) by Dave Rocke,Nate Beaty, Jim Rugg ,Brian Maruca, Farel Dalrymple, Nate Beaty

Paper Cutter #16 (£3-99) by Joey Alison Sayers, Liz Prince, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Nate Beaty

Paper Cutter #17 (£3-99) by Jesse Reklaw, Calvin Wong, Corinne Mucha, Francois Vigneault, Sarah Oleksyk, Hellen Jo, Vanessa Davis, Nate Beaty

King-Cat Comics & Stories #72 (£2-99) by John Porcellino

Polly And The Pirates vol 2 (£8-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh & Robbi Rodriguez

American Vampire vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Sean Murphy

Kramers Ergot vol 8 hardcover (£24-99, PictureBox) by Anya Davidson, Leon Sadler, Ben Jones, CF, Sammy Harkham, Tim Hensley, Kevin Huizenga, Johnny Ryan, Takeshi Murata, Robert Beatty, Chris Cilla, Gabrielle Bell, Frank Santoro, Dash Shaw, Gary Panter, Ian Svenonius

Fractured Fables softcover (£14-99, Image) by Dara Naraghi, Ben Templesmith, Bryan Talbot, Terry Moore, Kristen K. Simon, Shannon Wheeler, Marie Cruz, Shane White, Doug TenNapel, Bill Alger, Bill Morrison, Phil Hester, Royden Lepp, Neil Kleid, Nikki Dy-Liacco, Len Strazewski, Alexander Grecian, Joshua Williamson, Jill Thompson, Scott Morse, Jeremy R. Scott, Peter David, Brian Haberlin, Laini Taylor, Joel Valentino, Derek McCulloch, Larry Marder, Ted McKeever, Nick Spencer & many of the aforementioned plus Grant Bond, Camilla d’Errico, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, Mike Laughead, Fernando Pinto, May Ann Licudine, Paul Fricke, Christian Ward, Vicente Navarrete, S. Damoose, Juan Ferreyra, Jim Di Bartolo, Anthony Peruzzo, Robin Esquejo, Mike Allred

Jennifer Blood vol 1: A Woman’s Work Is Never Done s/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Adriano Batista, Marcos Marz, Kewber Baal

Jim Henson’s Tale Of Sand h/c (£22-50, Archaia) by Ramon K. Perez

The Art Of Carbon Grey h/c (£22-50, Image) by various

Batman: Gates Of Gotham s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrot & Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan, Dustin Nguyen, Derec Donovan

Superman: Reign Of Doomsday h/c (£16-99, DC Comics) by Paul Cornell, Geoff Johns, Paul Dini, Damon Lindelof & Axel Gimenez, Pete Woods, Kenneth Rocafort, Jesus Merino, Ronan Cliquet, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal, Gary Frank


Big love to Jonathan for linking those this week, huge apologies that we’ve only just spotted last week’s new blog links were duff. They were fine in Word…

I’m off to Gosh! in London this weekend (1, Berwick Street, Soho, W1F ODR) to drool over their shop and hug Hayley, Anne and Eddie Campbell. Poor, beautiful Hayley done come off her bike this week after pirouetting on its handlebars, and there will be much kissing her better. Anne and Eddie both hate London so there will be much kissing them better too.

Please buy Eddie Campbell’s ALEC OMNIBUS. Or FATE OF THE ARTIST. Hayley and Anne feature prominently in both. For more, just pop the man in our search engine.

 - Stephen (back in the shop a week tomorrow)

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