Reviews March 2012 week two

“Moebius RIP. He died during the solar storms so it’s as if even the universe wept.”

 - Larry Marder

“Moebius isn’t gone. He’s just looped back to the beginning to start over. He is, and will be, forever.”

 - Kurt Busiek

There’s more from Matt Fraction, written months in advance, in Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man.

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

They say you can never go back. When Joe left King for California with nothing but some shell-toes and sick lock-picking skills, he never thought he would. But here he is years later, a Cat Master in charge of his own fate, at least that’s the idea. But this city has other ideas for him and his cat.

The cat’s name is Earthling and given the right injection he’s capable of anything. Need a second key, he’ll be a copy-cat, need a hover-board? A periscope? How about a Rubix Cube solved? All in one swipe of a claw, the cat has infinite uses, and in the right hands is the ultimate weapon. But that last part is just cats in general, right?

Joe’s only real friend left is the balaclava-clad Pete Taifighter, nicest guy in the world. Wouldn’t think he’s in this business of spies and thievery too, but he just about drowns in self pity when he’s asked to escort a beautiful, water-breathing alien to her fate at the Raquet Club, the seediest sex den in King City. Now he’ll do anything to get his finned fatale back. Joe has his own femme on his mind, memories of his ex, Anna, haunting these mean streets since he returned, but across town Anna has her own problems with her current beau, Joe. A vet in the Korean xombie war, Joe struggles with his addiction to Chalk: the drug that becomes you. It’s the only thing that holds back his PTSD; it got him through the war but with his whole squad succumbed to the drug’s dusty fate, and now his future with Anna looks set to crumble with his along with his body. And throughout these streets battle lines are being drawn, a new gang called the Owls are not what they seem, and creepy men in black take a special interest in Joe’s latest heist.

This book must have used all its nine lives to reach the shelves, and in spite of illness, emigration, publishers going belly-up and contractual hell, Brandon still managed to land on his feet. This isn’t merely a comic, but a hardboiled manifesto, a call out to everyone in this industry to raise your aim and up your game from a man who literally gave his left nut to finish this book. His first long-form work, Brandon took care to put his art first and just draw what he wanted. That isn’t to say this is needless indulgence, he clearly took from all his influences and challenged his ability to match their best work on every level and from character design to sequential layout, this is some of the most inventive and fun sequencing I’ve read all in one comic, yet it still comes off a concise, even succinct read!

The three story threads of Joe & Earthling, Pete and the water girl, and Anna and Joe wind around each other before coming together in a way you just don’t expect. So you’re safe to let your eyes wander round, immersing yourself in a string of visual puns and satirical asides. Lose yourself in a crowd scene, while the next chapter asks you to navigate a maze of streets set out like a board game. Literally, with cut-out pieces.

The city itself is very Moebius-esque at first glance but the more you see, the more its crowded shop fronts and dank back alleys open up and you see Brandon’s taken elements form Moebius’ style – its cinematic scope, the incredible cast of brilliant throwaway background cast, the never quite straight lines of his big blocky buildings – but other influences are bubbling in the brew. There’s a heavy Akira Toriyama (DRAGONBALL) influence in Joe’s flashbacks to the Cat Master training, the cat-shaped, domed houses are incredibly Capsule Corp. cute, but also the character inventory, and in fact whenever there are intricate pieces of junk to look at I’m reminded of early DRAGONBALL covers. When action calls for it, the scene will decompress and warp at the edges lending a kinetic energy to the movement reminiscent of Taiyo Matsumoto’s TEKKON KINKREET.

But I don’t want to give the impression Brandon’s style is without originality, I’m just emphasising how much he has clearly learnt from the very best and incorporates it into his own distinct vision. I suspect there’s a secret school somewhere like the comics version of the Cat Master training grounds. Clearly Brandon, James Stokoe, Marian Churchland and the handful of other contemporaries who contribute back-up stories and interludes to KING CITY are the class alumni.Brandon’s art is all swagger and cool charm, it breezes onto the page and lets you think it looks easy, just because it doesn’t boast; it doesn’t need to. The ideas are exploding off the page like a nerd-infused beat tract, and they speak for themselves, much like a cat.

TR

Buy King City and read the Page 45 review here

Murder She Writes (£4-00, ScaryGoRound) by John Allison…

All current copies are signed for free!

“SUSPECT ONE: the grievin’ young wife-to-be.”
“Lottie, I don’t think we should… she’s in no state.”
“Yeah WELL Shelley, she was gonna inherit ole Hugo’s cash… AND she found the body AND messed up the crime scene.”
“I want to be alone.”
“Oh I jus’ had a quick question. Were you marryin’ Hugo Nance for his money? Only I saw that Harald with his hand parked down the back of your tights.”
“Harald has REYNAULD’S! I was warming his fingers!”
“With your bum. Okay, wicked.”

The prolific Mr. Allison returns with a story featuring children’s writer Shelley E. Winters, famed for her stories about Tibkins the hedgehog (whose egg got a bit too hot before he hatched and so was born with chicken’s legs) and her intern, 12-year-old Charlotte. Shelley’s agent Barry wants to give her an early Christmas present so invites her to a writer’s retreat at a beautiful lodge in the Welsh mountains, along with the other children’s writers he represents. Shortly after arriving however, with Charlotte in tow, there’s a murder! Hugo Nance, writer of the massively popular Donald The Sheep books is found dead in his room. The only problem is that just about everybody present, with the exception of Shelley and Charlotte, seems to have a motive for wanting to pop Hugo off. Fortunately for all concerned Charlotte is a tween sleuth on the quiet, and here’s a little sample of her unique approach to investigation as all the guests are gathered round the body…

“HUGO NO NO NO NO NO!”
“Um, excuse me, if you can stop interferin’ with the corpse for a minute… maybe the crime scene won’t be COMPLETELY DESTROYED UP. Actually no, don’t worry. Because based on the number of bloody footprints you lot have done in the room… EVIDENCE SUGGESTS HE WAS MURDERED BY RIVERDANCE!”

Whilst I do love John’s utterly surreal Scarygoround Collections, it would seem based on this and his previous two shorts GHOST STORY and GIANT DAYS, that he’s writing more straightforward material these days, though no less hilarious. The character of Charlotte is just genius, with the complete lack of regard she shows at every turn to adult sensitivities. It’s clever actually, because the opening few pages make you think Shelley is likely to be the detective and Charlotte her comedy side-kick, whereas Charlotte steals the show in pretty much every scene she’s in as master detective and comedy genius, with Shelley in fact merely acting as her unwitting straight man.

I think this less surreal material is a great direction for John to go in at the moment actually in terms of building his fan base, and this could well be my favourite thing he’s done yet. As ever the art is masterfully illustrated with a light cartoonish touch and no less exquisitely coloured. This would be an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with John and his work. Highly recommended.

JR

Murder She Writes

Blue h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Pat Grant…

I think Pat Grant is certainly going to make a big splash with this work set in a small surf town in late twentieth century Australia; well, certainly at Page 45. Before I get into discussing the story however, I simply have to make mention of the art, and despite being rather remiss in putting up interior art recently I have found some for this work, because it’s a fabulous, stylish concoction with elements of Jim Woodring (FRANK, WEATHERCRAFT, CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS), Marc Bell (SHRIMPY AND PAUL AND FRIENDS, HOT POTATOE, PURE PAJAMAS) and also the classic Sega console game Toejam and Earl in Panic On Funkatron! It’s absolutely beautiful and I know it’s going to win Pat Grant lots of new fans.

I was initially puzzled by the first 24 or so pages which are comprised of a couple of short stories, some abstract pages, and a trail of various thumbnail images. I was starting to think it was going to be rather more abstract work than I thought when I realised this… sequential collage, I think might be an appropriate term… was in fact intended to serve as an introduction / character-primer to the main story. There is also an excellent twelve-page essay entitled ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images, Memory and Australian Surf Comics’ concluding the work, that is an excellent read for anyone like myself whose knowledge of antipodean comics is somewhat limited.

The main story tells the tale of three friends, of sorts, who skip school to go surfing, but when they realise the waves might even be a bit too big and rough for them, decide to walk along the train line outside of their small town to where someone has apparently been mown down on the tracks and various body parts left strewn around. This is all set against the backdrop of their small coastal town ofBolton, a one-factory town now gradually falling into a state of decline and disrepair, and about to succumb to an influx of immigrants, except the immigrants are blue, multi-legged aliens. Not aliens literally in the extra-terrestrials sense, but metaphorically in the sense of the Vietnamese arriving illegal en masse in boats, which was a hot topic at the time in the international media due to the Australian government’s tough stance, and still is at a national level today.

It’s fascinating in the context of this work, because the main character is clearly a bonehead, and there’s certainly the hint of nationalism, if not outright right-wing leanings in his overlying discourse reflecting back on things as an adult. It’s a sensitive one, this, because as the subject matter is presented here, one could conclude the underlying message of the work is that illegal immigrants are colonising and ruining small Australian towns for the people who’d always lived there. Yet one of the two short intro stories make it quite clear that this mentality was probably always present with respect to anyone who hadn’t grown up in a particular place, not just people arriving from overseas. And that’s something that’s true the world over to some extent.

I really don’t think Grant is making any bold personal political statements through this work, but I still think it’s necessary to bear in mind all the various social, historical, cultural and political differences in this particular discussion about illegal immigration between Western Europe and Australia. Which all serves to make this sound rather highbrow and hard work, when it fact it’s just a fun story about three friends, of sorts, skipping school and shooting the shit as they goof off.

JR

Blue hardcover

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.

Sitting outside on this sunny Sunday afternoon after mowing the moss, I was all buoyant. Then I made the mistake of reading this again and, let me tell you, it’s very, very dark in this particularLondon.

But I learned from Neil Gaiman what a rookery was: “a warren of houses jerrybuilt onto houses, lightless courts, alleys and dead ends; a true warren – you could enter through a door in one building, leave through a door in another, far away, which made a rookery a perfect place for people who did not wish to be arrested”. Alan Moore’s ‘Highbury’ anticipates his public proclamations of all history happening at once, and precedes the NEW DEADWARDIANS series by nearly 20 years: “It’s romanticism in a way, and you can read the disappointment in Karl Marx’s eyes: the haemoholics are traditionally drawn from a certain class, lisping around their fangs, where he would have preferred a proletarian commonality of zombies.” I also enjoyed seeing Chris Hogg’s art again. Do you remember KILLER FLY? We’ve a piece of original Chris Hogg art on our office wall. Lovely.

Woodrow Phoenix takes you on a silent stroll which is possibly the only crimeless comic here, whereas Stella Duffy & Melinda Gebbie’s short story may reduce your sodium chloride intake whilst simultaneously increasing your blood pressure. But I don’t know, it all seems so utterly joyless.London.

As I wrote back in 1997 (and it was all that I wrote on the book): “Nice place to visit…”

SLH

It’S Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories

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

“If the grass is greener on the other side, maybe that’s because you’re not taking care of your grass.”

More daily diary entries, this time drawn long after the fact and after Emi herself had started working for Image, published her first book there and begun sharing convention space with the likes of Brandon Graham, meeting James Jean, and occasionally hanging out with the Allreds etc. She’s bursting with enthusiasm, and it’s so sweet when Emi spies her first book in PREVIEWS, gets her very own ISBN then embarrasses herself on a panel. But the vast majority of the book is still spent living a life familiar to us all and, boy, does she amass parking tickets and speeding fines. But she also experiences tremendous mood swings she’s quite candid about and worries herself half to death:

“Sometimes, (a lot lately) I feel like I have to wear all these masks. I guess I don’t have to but I do. It gets to the point where I don’t remember which one is truly me. I mean, yeah, they are all me… but I mean the “me” that doesn’t feel forced.”

“Sometimes my worries lead to problems and then I worry I ruined something. Did I always worry so much? Sometimes I wonder if there is a deeper issue that is causing my worry.”

None of us are immune to self-doubt, and one of the reasons I love Lenox is her ability to help people recognise they’re not alone. The bit when she actually has to ask her beau Tim if they’re boyfriend-and-girlfriend or not made me laugh. Their gradual, tentatively blossoming romance is super-cute, and I wonder if at this point I should offer a SPOILER WARNING. Go on, then, have a SPOILER WARNING. Stop reading now.

The very best bits here are, I’m afraid, about their long, painful and protracted break-up. Not because I revel in another’s misery; far from it, I want to give last year’s Emi a great big hug. It’s because her bewilderment is so perfectly presented, and her awkward uncertainty as to what to do when they keep bumping into each other is horrifically familiar. She just can’t get a clean break and I thank God that most of my ghosts live a very long way away indeed.

P.S. There’s a short story by Jeff Lemire in the back! Yowsa!

SLH

Buy Emitown vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

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

With plenty of key sketches by Hayao Miyazaki himself, this new collection of full-colour preparatory work and fully finished paintings is as lush the others, particularly the garden landscapes which our leaf-sized heroin has to negotiate. Some two hundred and fifty album-sized pages long, this also contains creator commentary on artistic decisions and specific production processes, each song lyric and the complete voice-over script. The script is surprisingly short, but then there are so many silent sequences in these films which give the animation space to shine in its own right. So the overwhelming majority of this book is pure, visual craftsmanship, jaw-droppingly detailed.

Come Christmas especially all the Studio Ghibli books (which you can find on our site under art, criticism and creating comics > art books > manga & anime) outsell everything else in that category by a very wide margin. They’re not the cell-by-cell reproductions you can buy elsewhere which make me wonder why readers don’t just watch the films themselves with the pause button handy. You’re seeing the film from a very different angle, and some of the preparatory paintings are rendered in a far more expressionist fashion than you’d expect. A few are explorations of form, light and colour with a daubing of paint on the fronds that in one instance put me in mind of Paul Cézanne, helping to keep the finished frame as vibrant as you can imagine.

I should just take the opportunity to mention that if you’re reading this review as a young fan of Studio Ghibli, I think you’d get a massive kick out of Kazu Kibuishi’s AMULET series of all-ages fantasy graphic novels. Infused with the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki, they are stellar performers here, and every time I do a shop-floor show-and-tell making that specific comparison there is instant recognition followed by a purchase, and an almost immediate return-visit for book two!

SLH

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty

The Manhattan Projects #1 (£2-75, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra.

“This is America… everyone gets a gun.”

It’s 1942 on the day the War Department hired child-prodigy turned physics-genius Dr. Robert Oppenheimer to join its quest to ensure thatAmericais armed to the teeth. Officially tasked with building and deploying the world’s first atomic bomb, its actual avenues of exploration are far more esoteric:

“Dr. Seaborg and Mr. McMillan are currently mining something called pan-dimensional space for the fringe materials we need to build our impossible machines of expansion. For example – - We use divergence engines to recover mythological artefacts from discarded space. These are imaginary weapons made real through scientific exploration.”

That’d be the likes of Poseidon’s Trident. But they’re not the only ones who’ve been thinking outside the box, and as the War Department’s military commander enjoys giving thin, frail, white-haired Dr. Oppenheimer a tour of Base Zero (skipping swiftly past a familiar face locked in his own private laboratory), security is breached by a Red Torii gateway (“No doubt Zen-powered by Death Buddhists.”) delivered by a blazing Hinomaru and an automated invasion force sweeps in threatening to steal or destroy everything they’ve worked on so far. Entertainingly, however, the main action is intercut with the parallel lives of Robert and Joseph Oppenheimer, twins born six minutes apart, and their divergent paths through early study, experimentation and ‘areas of interest’ taking us right up to the present day. You’ll have to see why it’s so entertaining for yourselves. Neat punchline.

From the team behind RED WING, the art here displays a little bit of Frank Quitely, maybe a more fragile Geoff Darrow, while the terminology put me in mind of Matt Fraction’s CASANOVA. It’s not taking itself too seriously!

“Ever since the success of Pearl Harbour, the Emperor and his Warlords have gotten extremely aggressive. We’re even having to check every ream of paper that’s delivered to critical government offices after last month’s sentient origami incident. I saw the bodies, Doctor… Papercuts are no way for a man to meet his maker.”

True. If our Tom were a haemophiliac he’d be dead by now.

Buy The Manhattan Projects #1 by emailing page45@page45.com or phoning 0115 9508045.

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

“NIMUE!”
“Not anymore.”
“Guess I don’t really care who you are.”
“Ah, but you do know me! Rasputin tried to set me free the day you were born. He failed, but I forgave him. I held him close and guided his hand, and when he tried again he cracked the wall of my prison. Through that gap I’ve stretched my long arm back into the world, I cast my shadow over all, no light…”

As the sagely Kurgan himself rightly noted, it’s better to burn out than fade away, and whilst those slightly nihilistic words of wisdom, which are most appropriate for a son of the Devil, came from 1986, it’s somewhat hard to believe that Hellboy made his first appearance a mere 7 years later, and a staggering 19 years ago. But, as Mignola wisely notes in his foreword to Hellboy’s final appearance, inevitably over time all creations begin to succumb to character fatigue on the reader’s part, and if you are trying to maintain a sense of continuity or build any sort of coherent mythos, then the option of continuously rebooting/retreading/retooling characters whilst discarding much or all that has gone before à la recent DC reboot (that wasn’t a reboot of course – am I ever going to tire of saying that, probably not…?) isn’t possible.

Whilst one thing that has been a positive character trait of Hellboy’s through this entire run is his steadfast, indeed stubborn refusal, to accept his apparent destiny as the offspring of him down below, it has, over time, meant that Mignola has pretty much done everything he can possibly do with the character. I think a lot of people began to feel that the shark was well and truly in danger of getting jumped* when the final, Arthurian-related wider arc began, but I can state that the resolution to that is handled in a satisfying and suitably blunt manner.

So, preamble aside, here we have the final confrontation between Hellboy and the Dragon of Revelation, or as long-term readers will know it, the Ogdru Jahad. This story is set as the world is rapidly beginning to go to hell in a hand basket as detailed in B.P.R.D., as Hellboy himself begins to realise from the various news flashes shown on the television in a rather peculiar pub he unexpectedly finds himself in. Of course, it’s not the totality of the Ogdru Jahad Hellboy finds himself facing, but the fraction of which the evil wizard Rasputin managed to loose upon the Earth due to his magical meddling. I said earlier that this is the final appearance of Hellboy, but… without spoiling anything, it is certainly possible, but by no means certain that there yet may be a curtain call at some point in the future for the crimson curmudgeon, maybe even in the pages of B.P.R.D., now I come to think about it…

*(For those of you unfamiliar with the idiom ‘Jumping The Shark’ it was coined by an American radio personality Jon Hein in reference to the exact moment when popular television shows begin to go into decline. If you’re curious as to exactly what the expression originally refers to, just have a look here www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDthMGtZKa4)

JR

Buy Hellboy vol 12: The Storm And The Fury and read the Page 45 review here

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

In which we finally learn why Billy Butcher wants to end all superhuman activity on Earth. Finally, violently, and in public. Adults only, please.

You might want to start at the beginning with THE BOYS VOL 1. It’s certainly a lot funnier, but this isn’t a bad place to start, either, since it goes right back to Billy’s childhood in theEast End as the man we know today travels home for a heart-to-heart with his father. Who’s dead. And never had a heart in the first place.

It’s a brutal story of horrific violence as Billy and brother Lenny struggle with their father constantly beating the living snot out of their mother, and if you wonder why she stays with him then you really need to read DRAGONSLIPPERS: THIS IS WHAT AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE. Ennis understands perfectly, and it’s eloquently expressed by young Becky. Becky is the woman who saves Billy from himself: from becoming just like his Dad. He’s inherited his father’s volcanic temper which the stupid man only encourages. And, as happens, it grows even more explosive when soaked in alcohol. Billy’s service in the Falklands War provides a temporary release but on his return he’s just seen too much, done too much and… oh, I’ve seen this documented in real life, especially after some soldiers are released. He’s angry – angry at himself and everyone around him until the day he meets Becky, a woman of extraordinary compassion, unafraid either of Billy or of asking him gently to stop.

What’s so perfect about this chronicle is that there isn’t even a mention of superhumans existing for the first four chapters. Billy’s life was like anyone else’s in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the east End of London. It was all school yard fights then the cold practicalities of harsh economics, whether it be earning a living for a family to subsist on, or Thatcherite politics jettisoning those the state is supposed to care for into a community it had already demolished. There’s even a scene at the dinner table where Ennis explores the chasm between those middle class liberals condemning the destruction of the working class’s sense of community and the working class’s perspective and insight into it, as sat right in front of him in the form of Billy Butcher. Extraordinarily well written. My point is this: it could all have been so different. Against all odds Billy had found happiness with a woman in a part of the world superhumans had not impacted one single jot.

Then, towards the end of the book, something happens. Something so ghastly it actually makes Jessica Jones’ story in ALIAS VOLUMES ONE then TWO look lightweight. Some of you have pretty vivid imaginations. I like to think I do too. I never saw this coming.

Best book so far by a very wide margin. Now I’m really looking forward to the finale.

SLH

Buy The Boys vol 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Oh, baby. I know it’s embarrassing. But the hospital said we need to get used to it. You can’t just have baths when your dad’s around.”

The Mark Millar project I was most worried about turns out to be one of his finest. Like  MARVEL 1985 it has so much heart, and Millar has a knack for writing young boys: how they perceive the real world around them. It’s also dazzlingly drawn in breath-taking detail, whether it be a quiet afternoon secluded under the fiery canopy of the woods in autumn or during the epic scenes of colossal devastation. Yu can be tender and intimate as during the mother-and-son bath scene above, yet impressively bold. Some of his forms and compositions reminded me of Travis Charest.

Set in a world where superheroes are mere fiction, the province of comics and films, twelve-year-old Simon Pooni and his best pal Chris have just been to see Tad Scott star in the latest Superior movie. The special effects are stunning, but in all honesty the franchise is tired. And now they’ve been ambushed by the all-too-familiar school bullies who always kick hardest when someone is down.

“Hey, homos. You have a nice time making out in the back row?”
“Just ignore him, Chris. I hear the basketball team’s really missing you these days, Pooni. Still, the way these guys play, they might as well have a cripple up front.” 
“You’re an asshole, Sharpie, and you’ve always been an asshole. If I wasn’t in this chair, I’d kick your ass all over the mall.”
“Yeah, well. I got news for you, Simon… you kinda are in that chair.”

Yeah, Simon kinda is in that chair.

Multiple Sclerosis snuck on him with particular aggression; he’s even lost the sight of one eye and on bad days he can barely talk. There are days of remission, weeks even, but nothing permanent. Once a basketball player of promise, sometimes Simon’s on sticks but mostly confined to a wheel chair so his muscles have gradually atrophied through lack of use. It’s unlikely to get any better. Until, late one night…

“Simon? Wake up, Simon. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Huh?
“I’m here to make a serious proposition.”
“HOLY SHIT! Mom! Dad! There’s a monkey in the room!”

There really is a monkey in his room; a monkey in a spacesuit who has selected Simon as the “most appropriate” out of six billion candidates to be turned into the adult, post-human powerhouse Superior: the fictional character as played by Tad Scott. Now that would take some explaining to his mother.

Now, I don’t really want to tell you what happens next, I just want to reassure you that is far from obvious, right up to the end. My one worry was that this, Millar’s riff on Superman / Shazam, ran the risk of insulting the plight of those who can’t call “Kimota!” and transform into perfect superhuman specimens but have indeed lost the use of one side of their body or their peripheral vision, rendering them unable to scan more than one word at a time. (Parenthetically, comics – with few words per line – are far more accessible to those without peripheral vision. I’m told by dyslexics that they’re a much easier read too.) My best friend had Multiple Sclerosis and – by far the finest dancer I’ve ever had the pleasure of filling the floor with – that’s exactly what happened to her.

I would have been livid, but Millar doesn’t fall into that trap for this is far less straightforward than it initially appears, being more a Faustian pact with some serious twists, some serious bait, and some seriously hard decisions ahead. Not just for Simon, either, but for the Lois Lane counterpart. And that really is where we have to leave it with just one observational note that a talking monkey at the bottom of your bed is hardly conducive to an easy night’s sleep.

“You gonna tell [your Mom] about the space monkey?”
“Sure. Especially now I’ve figured out who he really is.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I prayed every night that my Multiple Sclerosis would go away and Mom was always praying that America would get fixed again too. So what if that magic wish was the answer to both our prayers? What if Ormon was an angel? Did he turn me into a superhero because America really needed one right now?”

“I dunno, man. I’m twelve years old. I struggle with friggin’ long division.”

The scene pulls back to a rooftop opposite where Ormon, the cute little spacemonkey sits, wide-eyed, staring at them from a distance.

“An angel? That’s hilarious.”

The monkey bears his teeth: two rows of sharp enamel spikes like a dental mantrap.

“I’m afraid I’m actually quite the opposite.”

SLH

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

Nemesis s/c (UK edition) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.

“Holy shit. I’m covered in old person.”

Like KICK-ASS this is set well clear of the Marvel Universe. There are no superheroes in this world, just one man in white with a great deal of money and time to kill. Time to kill people, specifically the finest Chiefs of police around the globe. He’s an inverse Batman relishing the suffering and humiliation he inflicts on the mighty or noble with meticulous timing for maximum death and destruction by toppling over metaphorical dominoes of explosive set piece disasters set at precisely the right angle to each other. HereTokyo is in for but a taster of what he has planned for America, its President and Washington DC’s Chief Blake Morrow. Nevertheless it’s a taster of the proportions compelling enough to convince Morrow to take him seriously, to take every conceivable precaution to outwit the man. Waste of time, actually.

A master strategist, every conceivable countermeasure has been anticipated days, months, years in advance, and every eventuality catered for. Everything they glean turns out to be fabrication, every hard-won advantage but a poisonous joker in Nemesis’ perfectly played hand – or at least proof that he was right all along. It’s relentless.

There is a tradition in superhero comics that the villain is unerringly outwitted by the hero of superior intellect, ingenuity or perspicacity, nowhere more so than in Batman’s last minute fat/fryer extractions. But this is a Batman who in addition has the luxury of acting rather than reacting, and on plans made laid at leisure leaving others to repent their haste.

Truly I would advise you to steer clear of any other publicity concerning this title if you want to be surprised by the sheer scale of the spectacle ahead of you because even in the short space of the opening chapter your jaw will drop not once, not twice and not even thrice. It’s an experience replicated by the number of reversals later on. Don’t flick ahead, basically.

Is it over the top? Of course. There’s more than a moment that’s pure Frank Miller. Is it gratuitous? Umm, it’s a superhero comic. Is it any good? Well, McNiven you may know as Millar’s artist on CIVIL WAR and WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN. It’s not a team generally known to disappoint.

Jonathan’s even found some interior art for you.

SLH

Buy Nemesis s/c (UK Ed’n) and read the Page 45 review here

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

“I figure Gods like it when you sacrifice things to them. At least this one always did, in the stories they tell about him. So I gave this one the two most valuable things I had… my sobriety… and my dignity.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Stark is over his limit. Caught in the worldwide grip of Fear Itself, the population of Paris is petrified. Truly petrified. Turned to stone by the Grey Gargoyle, they are the rubble that their city lies in. It’s a battle which Iron Man lost because the transmutational touch of the Grey Gargoyle had been enhanced beyond calculation by one of the weapons dispatched by the Asgardian God of Fear. But Tony Stark’s been designing weapons all his life – his very armour is a walking weapon – and he’s nothing if not logical. He just needs to catch someone’s attention and then take a leap of faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch there’s a power struggle brewing between Pepper Potts and Bethany Cabe, and with Iron Man absent someone else will have to fill his sizeable, soldered shoes inFrance.

Otherwise known as INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 9, this has already significant impact on whatever they actually call the next book: possibly INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 9, possibly INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOLUME 10. Either way, I can see we’re going to be explaining that on the shop floor forever. It also contains more swearing that any Marvel book I’ve ever read. Thankfully it’s all in Asgardian. Lastly, written months before the passing this weekend of one of comics’ own Gods, Moebius, Matt’s love of the man is evidenced here:

“Wait. What happened in Paris?”
“Where have you been? Tony was… There’s a… like a monster and it’s turning everyone to stone.”
“Is Moebius okay?”

Genuinely funny, and any comic lover’s immediate priority. Nice one, Fraction.

SLH

Buy Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers 1959 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Howard Chaykin…

“You broke that jaw?” – Ray Tango to Gabriel Cash from the finest action film of 1989 – not 1959 I realise, but hey, close enough – yes, it was Tango & Cash.

I have a sneaking theory that Howard Chaykin’s secret fantasy would be to draw Judge Dredd. Unless he has already and I’m just blissfully unaware of it? My reasoning behind that is his love of the redoubtable lantern jaw is now reaching truly ridiculous proportions. I absolutely loved this book, by the way, both the plot and the art, but literally everyone has a jaw, including the ladies, that not even Kurt Russell could have cracked, no matter how bad a day he was having.

Still, that minor quibble should not detract from what is an excellent yarn featuring one Nicholas Fury and his team of proto-Avengers battling various fascist leftovers intent on establishing a Fourth Reich. Or are they? Because who precisely is behind the reanimation, reactivation and redeployment of the myriad monsters, Übermenschen (und Damen) and what is the meaning of the numeral-embossed Skull they have taken as their new symbol? And how does the abduction of the young emperor of Wakanda by forces unknown factor into it all?

This book is great fun and the team of Kraven, Sabretooth, Dominic Fortune, the original Silver Sable and Namora (Subby’s cousin) is no less dysfunctional that the modern day bunch of Avengers that we’re more familiar with. Indeed Chaykin has just as much fun with the sparky interplay of the team’s members as Bendis does with the New variety. So if that particular title regularly tickles your fancy do give this a look, as it went criminally under the radar as single issues with only three takers here including one Colonel Gordon Davidson, Scotland’s answer to Nick Fury and a man whose been known to employ an Life Model Decoy upon occasion inside Page 45 to avoid talking to people from his mysterious past… and who regularly sends in one of his howling mad commando minions to pick up his comics for him when he’s too busy swooshing over the city in his helicarrier.

JR

Avengers 1959 softcover

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.

Ah, Marvel in the mid 1970s! What a thing to behold! Billowing capes, ballooning boots, those racial stereotypes and hilarious dialects, improbable team-ups and epic plots cascading over a dozen issues; melodrama on a scale rarely experienced since the days of Caligula! All epitomised by this very book, distilled into a concentrate so strong that it’s virtually toxic. This is the Dynasty of the superhero genre, where even the over-dub wears shoulder pads:

“On the plane of physical reality, Starhawk strikes first. ”For Aleta — for the Universe!” The Enemy tumbles backwards, the stunning impact of the blow ripping through the sum of his being. Somewhere in the depths of the cosmos within his mind, a planetshatters — and in unison, the billion billion souls who inhabit the sub-reality of The Enemy’s id scream in utter horror as their entire dimension trembles!”

Wow! Not just horror, but utter horror! Naturally I wasn’t around back then, having barely hit my teens last week [errrr... - ed.], but if I had been around to buy the originals I’d be able to tell you that I lapped it all up and then some. Almost every Avenger bar the Hulk appears, each being abducted one by one! The Guardians Of The Galaxy guest star! Everyone bickers! Henry Peter Gyrich makes his first appearance and promptly rescinds their national Priority Status! Yes, several dozen high-ranking superheroes have to take the bus into action! Hawkeye cracks some gags I swore blind were the funniest things I had ever heard back then, as Earth’s Mightiest attempt to locate their nigh-omnipotent enemy in leafy suburbia and fail to find more than some antique fittings (“Terrific. ’Avengers Attack Suburban Home! Defeated By Stylish Decor!’ The tabloids are going to love this!”). And then – then the really big fight happens!!! Had I been old enough, I would have spontaneously ejaculated.

Now, of course – now that I’ve reached double figures – the whole thing looks and sounds ludicrous. No, make that utterly ludicrous. The plots have holes in them so big that even I could whack a golf ball through them. The exchanges are hokey (“Hey! Wh-where do you get off, baldy? Treatin’ someone’s mind like a… bathtub with a ring! If you’ve hurt Quicksilver –!” ”No, Hawkeye, there was no pain. It was more like… insight!”), some of the battle scenes are just plain silly (“By Hela — what sorcery is this?! My hammer — I cannot withdraw it from the creature — or release my grip upon it!” ”It has passed into another dimension, Thunder God — where it is held fast by the dimensional interface — Should you succeed in pulling it free — the resultant temporal upheaval would doom billions of innocents inhabiting that far-flung other-verse!”), and the fact that you can just stroll into the Avengers’ Mansion off a little side-street does beggar belief. But some things are just so bad they’re brilliant, you know? And, hey, I just loved reliving that Yellowjacket costume.

Recommended for students who play Marvel vs Capcom on their games consoles in thrall to the mighty weed until3amin the morning. ”Seriously old-skool,” “Random” etc..

If you want to follow this up, go next to Avengers: Nights Of Wundagore where the Scarlet Witch first loses the plot. Or, to be fair, has it stolen from her.

Buy Avengers: The Korvac Saga s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Before we begin, hear me. I have knowledge which is alien to you, for I have tasted food fresh from dark fertile soil, and I have filled my lungs with untainted air, and I have quenched my thirst with water clear as the first day of creation, and you have not… because you cannot. Those things do not exist on this world any longer. They have been destroyed by man’s lust for dominance … a lust I know well, for at times it all but consumes me.

“All is corrupt, all is sick, all is dying.
“As am I. As are you.”
“Listen to him. He can halt the corruption. He can be our saviour.”
“By imposing his will on every single human being alive.”
“Is that so terrible?”
“Yes. I think it is.”

You tell ‘em Bruce! Collected trilogy of previously published material (BATMAN: SON OF THE DEMON, BATMAN: BRIDE OF THE DEMON and BATMAN: BIRTH OF THE DEMON from 1987, 1991 & 1993 respectively) which is touted by DC on the rear cover as being a prequel to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN & SON. That’s rather mis-leading because whilst the conclusion of the first story does indeed feature the first appearance of Damian in the last three panels, that is it. In fact, it’s never actually made overtly clear it is Damian, but it is clearly implied as the poor mite is abandoned in an orphanage before being adopted, all unbeknownst to Bruce who isn’t even aware he has a son. (Pedants please note, those of you who are about to ‘Ask the Answer Man’ – anyone else remember Bob Rozakis’ monthly column answering DC trivia that used to be in the back of each monthly title? – about the apparent differences with this story and Damian’s current established origin of him being grown in a test tube and raised by the League of Assassins, I have a nagging feeling that somehow it got ‘adjusted’ as a result of Infinite Crisis. Don’t quote me on that though.)

What this trilogy is really comprised of – and is definitely strong enough to sell it on its own merits – are two superb Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul match-ups and Ra’s al Ghul’s origin story. The first two stories are penned by Mike Barr and illustrated by Jerry Bingham and Tom Grindberg in very typical period-Neal-Adams-like style, which is a compliment by the way. No spoilers but as ever Ra’s has got his warped mind set on wiping mankind from the face of the earth and starting all over again, with himself in charge of course, and it’s up to Bruce to put the pieces together and stop him. What I do like about Ra’s al Ghul stories is you usually do get some detective work as well as the fisticuffs and so it is here. The third story is completely different, told primarily in flashback as Talia recounts her father’s life to Batman, who has been destroying Lazarus Pits around the world just before a dying Ra’s can make use of them, before Bruce and Ra’s have a quick punch-up to finish the story.

JR

Buy Batman: Birth Of The Demon 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.

 
McPherson: Bunny In The Moon: The Art Of Tara McPherson vol 3 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Tara McPherson

Martiniere: Velocity (£19-99, Titan) by Stephen Martiniere

Crabapple: Week In Hell: The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 1 (£7-50, IDW) by Molly Crabapple

The Complete Crumb Comics vol 1: The Early Years Of Bitter Struggle (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Robert Crumb

Crossed vol 3: Psychopath (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Raulo Caceres

Moriarty vol 2: The Lazarus Tree (£10-99, Image) by Daniel Corey & Anthony Diecidue, Mike Vosburg

Peanuts, Complete: vol 17 1983-1984 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles M. Schultz

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago vol 5 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various

The Intrepid Escape Goat vol 1: The Curse Of The Buddha’s Tooth (£9-99, Th3rd World Studios) by Brian Smith

Northlanders vol 6: Thor’s Daughter And Other Stories (£10-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Marian Churchland, Simon Gane, Matthew Woodson

Uncanny X-Men vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson

Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi & Whilce Portacio, Pasqual Ferry, Richard Elson

Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates: Death Of Spider-Man softcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia

X-Men: Season One h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Jamie McKelvie

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Chung, Alan David, Oliver Coipel

Essential Hulk vol 2 (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Essential X-Men vol 10 (£14-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonsen, Walt Simonsen & various including Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, Art Adams

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Batman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Brian Azzarello, J.T. Krul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Milligan & Eduardo Risso, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Mikel Janin, Alejandro Giraldo, Joe Bennett, Tony Shasteen, Alex Massacci, John Dell, George Perez, Fernando Blanco, Scott Koblish

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tony Bedard, James Robinson & Agustin Padilla, Scott Clark, Vicente Cifuentes, Adrian Syaf, Eddie Nunez, Gianluca Gugliotta, Christian Duce, Javi Fernandez

Flashpoint: The World Of Flashpoint Featuring Superman softcover (£13-50, DC) by Scott Snuder, Lowell Francis, Rex Ogle, Dan Jurgens, Mike Carlin & Gene Ha, Eduardo Francisco, Paulo Siqueira, Roland Paris, Dan Jurgens, Rick Leonard, Ig Guara, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant

Spawn Origins vol 14 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane, Brian Hoguin &  Greg Capullo

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Official Casebook vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Kenji Kuroda & Kazuo Maekawa

Higurashi vol 17: Atonement Arc vol 3 (£8-99, Yen) by Ryukishi07 7 Karin Suzuragi

Twin Spica vol 12 (£10-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma

Soul Eater vol 8 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Monster Hunter Orage vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Beast and Feast (£9-99, June) by Norikazu Akira

Depression Of The Anti-Romanticist (£9-99, June) by Yasuna Saginuma & Riyu Yamakami

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 5 (£9-99, June) by Makato Tateno

 
Sad, sad news this weekend.

Why we love Moebius and always will, with thanks for the link to esteemed publisher Picture Box: http://butdoesitfloat.com/filter/moebius

 - Stephen

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