Reviews March 2012 week one

If I were to coin a phrase to describe her art – with its babyish dwarves, its kohl-eyed animals and waspish witch – it would be Nursery Gothic; and if I were to chew on a chapter I suspect it would taste of liquorice.

 – Stephen on Camille Rose Garcia’s Snow White

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

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL.

“I played with the thing for most of the afternoon. It was great fun, yet I couldn’t help feeling that something wasn’t quite right. As the hours slouched by, it seemed less and less likely that anybody was coming to take the thing home. There was no denying the unhappy truth of the situation. It was lost.”

Bless. There’s so much heart and humanity in Shaun Tan’s work – an enormous amount of design work, and quite a lot of mischief as well. For a start he resolutely refuses to inform his readership what the book is about on the French flaps, and his postcard to Pete on the back (from Greater Suburbia) is equally playful. There are plenty of clues, though, in the form of commands: strict instructions to “INSERT MESSAGE”, “MAIL THIS WAY”, “print clearly”, and you’re told exactly how to shelve the book. I’d make sure it’s filed under fiction. You don’t want it mixed up with the autobiography or politics.

We’ll get to the story in a bit (I believe that we must: it’s what proper reviews do), but first we’re informed that “This book is intended to serve as an introduction text-book for students preparing for the first examination in the subject of hear engines and applied thermodynamics”. Well perhaps, but someone’s gone and torn the mechanical diagrams, algebra and mathematical tables into strips, seemingly soaked them in tea than pasted them higgledy-piggledy on top of each other forming a collage of margins and gutters on which the main story sits. They probably weren’t meant to do that. Fortunately Shaun is much more orderly, having arranged his bottle-top collection very neatly indeed on the inside front-cover.

It was while strolling past the beach one afternoon, scanning the pavement for those treasured bottle-tops that the young lad looked up (purely by chance) and first spied the Lost Thing “looking out of place” on the sand. I couldn’t really tell you what it was; nor could Shaun. It looked like some sort of giant cephalopod housed in a big iron boiler vaguely the shape of a teapot. A bit like an industrialised hermit crab. Anyway, since no one came to claim it, and no one else seemed to notice or care, Shaun took it to his friend Pete, but Pete didn’t know what it was, either. His parents didn’t even want to know and if it hadn’t been for the advertisement on the back of the newspaper, Shaun would have been at a complete loss as to what he was supposed to do with it. Fortunately the advertisers knew exactly what to do with things like that, so off the next morning they dutifully trot…

So many of Shaun’s familiar themes manifest themselves here, including the man-made overshadowing nature (see TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA and THE RABBITS). The beach, for example, is a thin strip cluttered with industrial this, that and the other (the life guard is hilarious) lying not below chalky cliffs or a dune-strewn grassland, but a gigantic concrete dam thrust-through with iron pipes which have stained it with rust. And above? A vast city packed tight with skyscrapers crammed so close together the sky doesn’t get a look in. Tan’s work always rewards scrutiny: so many background details! Signs prohibiting stuff, advertisements for Red Tape (no self-respecting bureaucracy should be without it), public service announcements like “Know Your Diodes”, Homogenous Equation notice boards, telling statues and a big banner proclaiming, “TODAY IS THE TOMORROW YOU WERE PROMISED YESTERDAY” (originally Victor Burgin). And the paintings themselves are beautiful and often quite absurd, like Shaun, Pete and the Lost Thing perched on Pete’s small suburban rooftop.

It’s funny, it’s wondrous and it’s yet another celebration of the diverse, the different – a fun-poking finger-wagging on how we like to arrange things, compartmentalise things, categorise things, pigeon-hole things, file things away then forget about them. And by “things”, of course, I mean “people”.


Buy The Lost Thing and read the Page 45 review here

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

Arrestingly powerful piece written simply, concisely and directly by John Marsden and brought to anthropomorphic, all-ages life by Shaun Tan. And I do mean all ages. It’s an exceptionally fine book to give to young adults increasingly concerned about the environment but also – post-Iraq – war, but I would suggest that just as many copies have been snapped up by adults for exactly the same reason. That and the sheer majesty of Shaun Tan’s expressionistic execution.

For if THE ARRIVAL was a heartfelt rallying cry against racism in compassionate support of those who have no option but to leave their loved ones behind to go in search of safety abroad… if  THE ARRIVAL was about opening our arms and the doors of more prosperous and peaceful nations as a refuge for those facing very real physical danger, then integrating them into a magnificently diverse population, then THE RABBITS is a scathing satire on so-called civilisation and an attack on wholesale invasion. Specifically it’s a barely disguised allegory of what happened toAustralia and its ecology – its land, natural resources, its indigenous population and indeed species – when the white man came to town and obliterated them all. You know, with more than a little help from those cute little bunny-wunnies we blithely brought with us. We didn’t half breed like them too.

I can see Shaun Tan absolutely jumping at the chance to hop on board here. This is everything he’s passionate about, and he’s brought with him his usual sense of scale, the leviathan of a serpentine liner with its dragon-like prow looming over the land on the cover. The anthropomorphic rabbits are grotesquely bunched-up beasts, narrowed eyes peering through ocular apparatuses from under stiff, starched collars like malignant toads. They scrutinise and categorise whatever they plunder. Everything about them and everything they do and bring with them is an alien antithesis to the natural environment – all regimented right-angles, straight lines and lots and lots of industrial gauges, smoke-belching chimneys, and soulless, gargantuan factories with clocks all dictating precisely the same time. There are so many exceptional set-pieces here, but I particularly relished the double-page spread in which the uniformed and indeed uniform rabbits first set about imprinting their pre-conceived notions of perfection on the landscape, matching it precisely to a painting they’ve brought with them, an essay in ruled perspective and unwavering symmetry. Talk about prefabrication. Wittily the painting itself is imposed on the landscape behind it which begins to echo exact its lines of radiating perspective as the hutch-like houses are built according to plan.

For similar sentiments on how rubbish a balanced life of peaceful and harmonious coexistence with nature is, please see Eric Drooker’s BLOOD SONG. We even have interior art up there and it’s gorgeous!


Buy The Rabbits and read the Page 45 review here

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

You know, I rather suspect that Shaun Tan has a bottle-top collection. Maybe not quite as weird as the one in THE LOST THING but they do tend to pop up in his books. Or maybe the foreign student who once came to live with his family began one. And I’m fairly confident a foreign student did once come to live with them: this is far too astutely observed for it to be otherwise. I wonder if he came from China? My mate David had a Chinese student living with him for a while, and this is precisely what he experienced!

“Secretly I had been looking forward to having a foreign visitor – I had so many things to show him. For once I could be a local expert, a fountain of interesting facts and opinions. Fortunately, Eric was very curious and always had plenty of questions. However, they weren’t the kind of questions I had been expecting. Most of the time I could only say, “I’m not really sure,” or, “That’s just how it is.” I didn’t feel helpful at all.”

Just like Eric, he too amassed a seemingly odd collection of things – mundane bits and pieces we take for granted and would ordinarily trash, but which to him were cultural novelties. Ah, but Eric isn’t simply collecting objects for their innate curiosity value, for Eric is full of surprises…

All of which brings me to the salient observation that although this looks like illustrated prose, it is essentially comics, because apart from when Eric takes up residence in the kitchen pantry perhaps (and only perhaps!), if you stripped away the images here it’s a very different read indeed. Once you see Eric himself, especially in his environment, his interest in plugholes, bottle-tops and sweet wrappers (“small things he discovered on the ground”) becomes a lot less strange for they’re all at eye level but, conversely, the story becomes infinitely more fantastical and, crucially, the punchline is purely visual. Absolutely magical too. Lastly, it’s only just occurred to me that Eric’s singular method of “leaving” might well be a visual pun.

Anyway, a family takes in a strange and wonderful visitor who prefers residence in their kitchen pantry, and it proves quite the revelation. Short story from the TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA collection.


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

Feeble Attempts restocks (£3-50, Top Shelf) by Jeffrey Brown ~

This unbelievably dense collection of stray works touches just about every aspect of Jeffrey’s style thus far. From the most base sketchbook scratchings to full-colour strips encompassing bad jobs, childhood, superheroes, Jesus, politics and a slab of relationship drama are all represented. If for some mind-boggling reason you haven’t picked up any of Jeff’s stuff yet – and it better be a really good, far-fetched excuse – this is a perfect intro to one of the best cartoonists of today.


Buy Feeble Attempts and read the Page 45 review here

Optic Nerve: Sleepwalk restocks (£13-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.

Real-life, short-story fiction in which a deceptively tender narrative exposes internal and external conflicts – often romantic ones – as well as some pretty shoddy and often petty behaviour.

“I loved GHOST WORLD. What else would you recommend?”

We’re asked that at least once a week, and the answer always starts with Tomine. There’s nothing glamorised here and it’s all so credible, like the young girl obsessing over an “I Saw You…” personal ad, and wondering if it’s her.

“It had become part of her daily routine to read the personals on her lunch hour. Aside from the horoscope and the comics, it was the only part of the paper that held her interest. Reading the ads was like eavesdropping for Cheryl… she liked to study the brief lines and try to imagine the people and circumstances involved. The “I Saw You…” section was especially intriguing to her. She was fascinated by the idea that someone could see you once and become so enamoured that they place an ad in the classifieds, hoping you’ll spot it amongst the thousands of others…”

Just in case the one she spotted was about her, she sits for hours in the cafe at the table she supposed she’d been spied at, staring at the people around her. I won’t tell you how that two-pager goes, but don’t you think that’s indescribably sad? I don’t mean pathetic; I do mean sad. Tomine’s balance is beautiful, a lot more compassionate than Dan Clowes’ early works, and if you’re at all intrigued, there are four collections to choose from in chronological order (of publication only – they’re completely self-contained) starting with the 32 STORIES facsimile edition of material Adrian created aged sixteen onwards. Then there is this, the SUMMER BLONDE collection and the SHORTCOMINGS graphic novel which is one of my go-to books whenever newcomers ask for prime, well observed comicbook fiction. You’ll recognise so many individuals from your own lives and smile. Or sigh.

Lastly, at the time of typing, there’s OPTIC NERVE #12. Oh, and the OPTIC NERVE SCRAPBOOK.


Buy Optic Nerve: Sleepwalk and read the Page 45 review here

Polly And The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of The Dragonfish (£8-99, Oni Press) by Ted Naifeh and Robbi Rodriguez ~

Polly Pringle sits daydreaming in Mistress Lovejoy’s School For Proper Young Ladies while all around St. Helvetia rumours of the Pirate Queen’s daring adventures set the taverns and gossip columns alight. But Polly knows they’re all nonsense, as there’s only ever been two Pirate Queens: her mother and her! And the world doesn’t need a real Pirate Queen, just as a young lady doesn’t need a proper education. A proper boring education. But all that is about to change. In the back allies of St. Helvetia a frail old Chinese man is rescued from a mugging by the benevolent, self-proclaimed monarch of theAmericas, Emperor Norton. But his kindly act lands him in a political bind as the man, Mr. Shoe, is wanted for apparently treasonous acts against a foreign power, and Norton finds himself behind bars by offering asylum to the poor soul. In fact Mr. Shoe is wanted for his terrible genius, and the blueprint of experimental submersible gunboat he carries. Whoever possesses such a contraption would rule the sea, but none of this is known to Polly, all she knows is a dear old friend has been imprisoned and only the Pirate Queen could dare spring him. Cue epic adventure on land, sea, and even air as nothing is beyond Ted’s Pirate Queen.

Robbi Rodriguez expertly takes the helm in the art department. Following on from Ted’s impeccable style in Polly’s first adventure, Robbi adds a kinetic flare to the action, yet still manages to add gleam to a cutlass in the dark. It puts me in mind of Chris Bachalo’s solid art without the sequential clutter that Chris tends to fill his images up with nowadays. But that doesn’t mean Ted has been slack, this is the densest, complex, and riveting tale he’s written yet. And it’s fulfilling in the way TINTIN or ASTERIX were to me as a child, and still are today. The plot is not a patronizing route from A to B, but a twisting creature; it’s positively writhing, and demands your attention. If you were to start a child on a comic I think anything less would insult them, they need this sense of challenge from a comic that Ted Naifeh captures time and again. As much as we’re privy to the overall schemes of all parties, there are little plot points which although the characters are well aware of, we are completely oblivious to. It amounts to a clever and underhanded mystery alongside that of the Dragonfish: just who the hell is Polly’s father? Ted and Robbi sneak little hints in here and there which only serve to puzzle the reader, while seemingly insurmountable obstacles are cleared from the path of the Pirates by his non-presence. And I really couldn’t put it clearer than that, I think it’s best you discover that particular treasure yourself.


Buy Polly And The Pirates vol 2: Mystery Of The Dragonfish and read the Page 45 review here

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

Vanity, pride, envy and spite; the preening queen here is the epitome of the evil step-mother, unable to bear the sight of the beautiful daughter she inherits from the king’s first marriage. So it’s hello, huntsman, and bye-bye, baby; bring me her lungs and liver! To eat. Yes, the nineteenth-century Brothers were very Grimm indeed as this unabridged translation makes clear: not just multiple attempts at murder but barely thwarted cannibalism to boot. But it’s the depth of the queen’s obsession that staggers (and ultimately becomes her undoing) for, even after being effectively exiled from the court and living far out of sight with seven beardy blokes of diminutive stature, Snow White is still very much on the mind of this infanticidal maniac, thanks to the tittle-tattle of a tell-tale mirror that cannot keep its gob shut.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
“Still ain’t you, bitch.”

So off to the woods this self-regarding sadist goes, disguised each time enough to fool a dozy Snow White who simply won’t be told, each time letting the old woman over the threshold to suffocate or poison her. Snow White’s role, in fact, is entirely passive throughout. She doesn’t actively do anything other than accept gifts from strangers – including a hand in marriage.

Camille has had an absolute ball here, predominantly in black, red, purples and green. The script is elaborately printed in multiple cases in a manner much favoured by McKean and is embellished with gold throughout. If were to coin a phrase to describe her art – with its babyish dwarves, its kohl-eyed animals and waspish witch – it would be Nursery Gothic; and if I were to chew on a chapter I suspect it would taste of liquorice.


Buy Snow White h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

I had high hopes for this work by husband and wife team about two boys, Sei and Oishi, that fall in love with a dying girl called Yuko, but it left me sighing slightly rather than breathing deeply, I’m afraid. Yuko, it seems, has an incurable heart condition which realistically means that only a transplant could save her life. Sadly, no suitable donor is found and Yuko passes away and whilst Yuko herself seems at peace with her fate, the boys are left bereft and quite unable to get past the loss of their friend.

Most of the work is told some fifteen years later, with the occasional flashback to their childhood, as Sei and Oishi, who were never really friends themselves, more rivals for Yuko’s affections, have both become research scientists, looking to tackle the problem of heart conditions in completely different ways, one from the perspective of stem cells, the other by constructing an artificial heart which has all the characteristics of a biological one. What follows is at times a rather confusing drama revolving around the two men and various other academics.

I think my main problem is I couldn’t really warm to either of the protagonists, plus the rather choppy nature of the story, and somewhat sketchy nature of the art too, all combined to make me feel rather indifferent to the whole thing. And that’s before things move completely into the realms of the utterly implausible as it’s revealed that Yuko never in fact died, but was hidden and has been in a persistent vegetative state for the last fifteen years. Cue frantic attempts to bring her back to life…

I have a feeling the creators wanted to try and do something different with this work, and in that respect they certainly succeed despite my negative comments above, but I think they’re also shooting for some profundity too, albeit to their credit in an oblique rather than overt manner, but I just don’t really feel they manage that. In terms of art and meandering story telling I was actually minded a little bit of Frederic Boilet’s YUKIKO’S SPINACH and TOKYO IS MY GARDEN. But if you want to read something entertaining and thought provoking (and satirical) about competing routes that modern medicine might be taking us all down in the not too distant future, then read TRANSHUMAN penned by Jonathan Hickman instead.


Buy Breathe Deeply and read the Page 45 review here

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

“A query for wisdom, Quorum.”
“Is something wrong, City?”
“No, First Builder, I grow at my desired rate of one kilometre per hour, but an anomaly has been encountered by the Sixth Geneticist.”
“Yes, First Judge. Human… but not.”
“Show us.”
“Hmmmmm. What is this? He’s unlike any man…”
“Oh that is no man… One thousand years have passed but I’d remember your face anywhere, son of thunder. It’s a god. His name is… Thor.”
“God. Defined as a supreme being, to be worshipped; a deity. Maker… that’s absurd.”
“Your whole experience has been here, in the City… a millennium inside the Dome. I warned each of you before we dropped the walls… the world out there is wild and unforgiving. Geneticist…”
“Yes, Maker?”
“Evolve. Grow new eyes, to better see this so-different world.”
“Ahhhhhh… charged with some sort of exotic power… a chaotic energy. This one is a vessel, Maker, attached to some larger source. There, in the sky. The tethering tunnelling through space and time to always keep him connected. There are two sources. One small… shape of a man, and one very large… a great tree. Both are significant. These… things… they have the potential to hurt us. You offer wisdom, Maker?”
“Discard the vessels. De-power the gods.”

And so Jonathan (FF and S.H.I.E.L.D.) Hickman continues his one-man crusade to bring full-on, hard-edged speculative fiction to every last part of the Marvel universe, including the Ultimate version this time around. Building on his excellent ULTIMATE COMICS THOR (and this story itself being supplemented by his Ultimate Comics Hawkeye), this takes the Ultimates in an entirely different direction again, after Millar’s political (Ultimates vols 1 and 2 And Ultimates 2 vols 1 and 2) and then more recent, frankly balls-out full-on pure superheroics, with ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS vols 1-4. Neatly circumventing ULTIMATES 3 by Jeph Loeb which just needs to be avoided at all costs… (Though he has redeemed himself a little recently with ULTIMATE X ORIGINS to be fair.)

This also builds on Bendis’ ULTIMATE COMICS DOOMSDAY… for the Maker of the City and father to the very powerful beings within is extremely well known to us, and all the Ultimate Universe superheroes. In fact, he used to be one himself… But after creating the City and accelerating time inside it so his evolutionary shenanigans have far, far outpaced the real world, he’s decided it’s time to pay his old friends a visit and promptly parked his vast City slap-bang on top of what used to be Western Europe. Used to be… in the sense of right until he dropped his City of top of it…

Obviously, events like that tend to cause Nick Fury some consternation. So he promptly assembles his A-team, minus CaptainAmericawho is still wandering metaphorically and literally in the desert, and sends them to investigate, and of course, confront the inhabitants of the city. When they get their asses summarily spanked, he has no choice to pull back and attempt to regroup as best he can. Cue much head-scratching as what the hell to do next.

So imagine what happens to Fury’s blood pressure when two other cities with completely different beings of equally unimaginable  power also pop out of nowhere in the middle of Asia (as detailed in Ultimate Comics Hawkeye and currently continuing in the next arc of ULTIMATES) after some ill-advised eugenic meddling by one particular government there. Yes, this may not have the political satire of the original Ultimates run, but it is undoubtedly superb superhero fiction of the highest quality, with an immense sci-fi bent. I suspect if Jack Kirby is picking up comics from his local shop in the sky, his favourite writer might well be Jonathan Hickman…


Ultimate Comics Ultimates vol 1 hardcover

The Punisher vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto…

Hopefully this reboot of the non-Max Punisher title means we’ve finally seen the last of ill-advised arcs such as Franken-Castle etc. because whilst what we want from Frank is a high body count and so many spent casings you could drown in them, what we also want is crime. More specifically crime fiction, and at long last in the hands of Greg (GOTHAM CENTRAL) Rucka we’re going to get it.

I’ve often thought that Punisher would be the perfect vehicle for something which focused on the bad guys and the cops as much as Frank himself, to provide us with something that has real depth. Much like Bendis and Brubaker did on Daredevil for so long, Punisher is prime ground for an ongoing longer-form narrative. A true war of crime, seen from all sides: the good, the bad, and the very soon to be deceased.

This opening salvo, then, offers high promise, as a wedding-day massacre inadvertently reveals a gang war simmering just below the surface and about to boil over. With innocents caught in the cross-fire, it seems like something worth Frank’s time to investigate more thoroughly, especially given it was a cop’s wedding. And investigate is what he does. Yes, we have the obligatory punch-ups and shoot-ups to punctuate the tension, but what I think is going to set this title apart, is everything that comes in-between. As Frank shows it takes a whole lot more than a big gun to take down the bad guys, and applies the sort of intelligence required to survive four tours ofVietnamto track down his prey and manoeuvre them neatly into his sights.


The Punisher vol 1 hardcover

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

Can I please implore all this series’ readers to try a copy of GOTHAM CENTRAL as well? You’ll love it. Here I’m just going to reprint the preview, whilst adding that the cast of Matt’s mortal enemies that I give away below is incomplete. Two others will join him for a prison riot like no other. Oh, yes, they’re very big guns: one gets himself incarcerated on purpose, whilst the other doesn’t even need a gun in order to hit his target…

If I was to name this book, I’d call it “Immaculate Deception”. Not only was Bendis’ act virtually impossible to follow, the hole he left Murdock/Daredevil in was going to be almost impossible to extract him from. So, guess what? Brubaker hasn’t: he’s dug the sucker deeper.

Thrown in jail for crimes he did commit (blind attorney Matt Murdock is Daredevil, he did commit perjury by defending someone masquerading as himself in court…), Murdock has to somehow survive a penitentiary full of people he’s put there whilst still pretending he’s blind and defenceless, without all the heightened senses of smell, touch and hearing that are currently overwhelming him in this bedlam of anger and violence. To make matters worse, the authorities have ensured that he’s in the open pool with no special protection, and that Hammerhead, The Owl and The Kingpin are in there with him. Against his fervent advice, though, his beleaguered law partner Foggy Nelson refuses to give up on him and refuses to stop visiting.

He should have listened to Matt. Because, helpless in his cell, Matt now hears Foggy mercilessly assaulted and slaughtered. He hears every blow, he hears every scream, he hears Foggie’s heartbeat slow down then stop. With his oldest friend dead, Matt’s insatiable fury threatens to get the better of him as he strives to find out who did it and why, and the allies he chooses turn him into everything he hates.

For once I don’t mind giving a key moment away because that is just the starting point in a book crammed with stunners, both inside and outside the jail, huge twists, personal grudges that will play their way out, and Lark — Lark is just formidable. Superb sense of claustrophobia and danger throughout. Perfect pacing.


Buy Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

Public Service Announcement: I am informed by a follower on Twitter that theUKmonthly FANTASTIC FOUR reprints have stopped at just the point where this volume kicks off. So here you go, this is what you need next!

“And then I began to wonder why exactly all those villains are in my house. What would scare them as much as it would scare us…? What have you been hiding from me?”
“Oh Susan…”
“What’s happened, Reed?”
“I’ve done something terrible.”

So many secrets. So much left half-said!

The curtain rises for a fresh start, but in so many ways it’s merely the second act of a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre whose first four books were bursting with dramatic irony which now plays itself out as each family member finally comes clean, but only when they’re finally found out! By that time, of course, it’s a little too late to mend as four familiar forces have been unleashed upon this world and set about acquiring the resources they need to leave it – not in one piece, either.

The Fantastic Four are no more. The family is one man down, and some of them are coping better than others. Wracked with guilt, Ben Grimm has shut himself inside his room, cradling Johnny Storm’s nephew and niece against his orange-rocked hide. But as the famous ‘4’ emblem is taken solemnly from their wall, Reed Richards takes Johnny’s holographic Last Will & Testament to heart and asks Spider-Man to join their endless quest to build a better world.

It’s Johnny’s sister Sue who beckons Peter inside and shows him around. Things have changed. For a start they’re now called The Future Foundation with an extended family of waifs and strays, some more clever than others, studying under Reed Richards and brainstorming to solve problems with their fresh new perspectives. For that Peter’s perfect, and Reed’s child-prodigy daughter Valeria has a knack of not only finding solutions but identifying the problems in the first place. And then she just causes some more. She’s discovered what her bad Dad’s been up to (see FANTASTIC FOUR volumes one, two, three and four), exacerbated his mistake and so made a deal with the devil, Victor von D himself. Doom can’t resist either her singular challenge (once more, the irony!) nor her offer of assistance for he has lost a part of his mind. Fortunately his brain is at least structurally sound, so what they need is a backup.

I can’t tell you how cleverly that’s played – Valeria and ‘Uncle’ Doom are an exquisite double-act; she fearless, he constantly surprised – because it requires Steve Epting’s superb, deadpan comedic timing. His art is a considered joy. The enormous gargoyle Dragon Man cross-legged on a comfy sofa and studying a book, spectacles perched on his purple beak looking like Sage The Owl, is an absolute hoot.

Also, the costumes have changed and change further still, third-generation unstable molecules creating variations on a black and white theme of three honeycomb hexagons or, in Peter’s case, a spider. He’s very much a guest. He’s not the only guest, either. Richards’ father has resurfaced from the timestream thereby altering the family dynamic further still, and then there are those invited by Reed to Doctor Doom’s unprecedented symposium in the Baxter building. Each attendee has been psychologically enhanced by Hickman, one for example with a born-again fervour and another, the Mad Thinker, finally living up to his name. Here he is doing Spider-Man’s nut in:

“An invitation. An invitation! It’s the opening move of the greatest of games – Ask yourself, who’s the opponent, what does he want? Is this his first move, or simply an orchestration to reveal who his opponents are… Oh, so very tricky. An invitation… what could it possibly mean?”
“I think it means you’re invited.”
“Mmmmmaahhhh! No. No. No. No! Foolish pawn. Foolish pawn that doesn’t even know that he’s a piece… Oh, oh… Or maybe you’re something more. Maybe so. Yes, maybe I can use this. You’re probably not even aware of how much he’s given away by sending you… So, reveal all. Tell me – and don’t try and think it over, as I need an untainted, primary response – tell me, what should I do?”
“Oh… I would prefer that you stay at home. Maybe take a bath… Maybe brush your teeth.”
“That’s it! That’s it – I accept the invitation!!”
“… Of course you do.”

You can spot a Jonathan Hickman design element in everything he writes, regardless of whether he’s the artist as he was on NIGHTLY NEWS. So it’s been with Secret Warriors, S.H.I.E.L.D., and now the double-page credit sequence here of a sun rising behind planet Earth, radiating its white light across the vast blue reaches of space inside the new FF logo. There’s also a deliriously beautiful cover perfectly capturing the spirit of high adventure.


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


Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

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. Apparently next week I will be reviewing gift vouchers.

£5 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£10 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£20 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

£50 Online Gift Voucher (for use on our webstore)

King City (£14-99, Image) by Brandon Graham

The Boys vol 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker (£14-99, Dynamite) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson

Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola &Duncan Fegredo

Silent Partner: The Graphic Novel h/c (£16-99, Villard) by Jonathan Kellerman,AndeParks & Michael Gaydos

Emitown vol 2 (£18-99, Image) by Emi Lenox

Blue hardcover (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Pat Grant

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

It’S Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by many includingWoodrow Phoenix, Josh Appignanesi, Neil Gaiman, Graeme Gordon, Alexei Sayle, Chris Webster, Steve Bell, Stella Duffy, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, Carol Swain, Chris Petit, Tony Grisoni, Ilya, Yana Stajno, Stewart Home, Warren Pleece, Dix, Carl Flint,Melinda Gebbie, Dave McKean, Garry Mashall, Chris Hogg, Jonathan Edwards, Oscar Zarate

Nemesis s/c (UK Ed’n) (£10-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Superior h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu

Batman: Birth Of The Demon s/c (£22-50, DC ) by Mike W. Barr, Dennis O’Neil & Jerry Bingham, Eva Grindberg, Norm Breyfogle

Gotham City Sirens vol 4: Division softcover (£10-99, DC) by Peter Calloway & Andres Guinaldo

Flashpoint s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert

Fear Itself: Avengers Academy h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Christos N. Gage,& Sean Chen, Tom Raney, Andrea Di Vito

Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction &Salvador Larocca

Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, George Perez, David Micheline, Bill Mantlo & George Perez, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel

Hulk: World War Hulk s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.

Avengers 1959 softcover (£12-99, Marvel) by Howard Chaykin

One Piece Colour Walk vol 2 (£14-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Bunny Drop vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita

Naruto vol 55 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

One Piece vol 61 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Psyren vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro

Hana-Kimi Omnibus vols 1-3 (£10-99, Viz) by Hisaya Nakajo

Skip Beat! Omnibus vols 1-3 (£10-99, Viz) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Chi’s Sweet Home vol 8 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

A Devil And Her Long Song vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Miyoshi Tomori

Durarara!! vol 1 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryohgo Narita & Akiyo Satorigi

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll vol 2 (£5-99, Viz) by Yumi Tsukirino

Shaun Tan’s THE BIRD KING AND OTHER SKETCHES will also follow next week.

 – Stephen

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