At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that…
– The Flowers Of Evil, as reviewed here by Ronnie Corbett. Thanks, Ronnie.
Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 5: The Happy Prince h/c (£12-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell.
One of the most affecting short stories of all time brought to poignantly pencilled life by one of the true masters of comics: P. Craig Russell of Neil Gaiman’s MURDER MYSTERIES, Sandman: Dream Hunters and so much more. I first read the prose in my late teens and it’s stayed in my heart ever since. Here P. Craig Russell has done wonders with the work, his fine, clean line lit with lambent colours. I even love what he’s done with the speech bubbles linked to their square-boxed, qualifying commentary. More than anything, though, his art here is the ultimate essay in tenderness.
A gilded statue of The Happy Prince stands much admired, a large red ruby glowing on his sword-hilt, while his two eyes are clear, bright sapphires. Alive, he enjoyed a life of privileged pleasure and opulence in a rarefied, snowglobe existence entirely detached from the wider world outside the sequestered court. He was indeed very happy. But now as a statue raised high above the city, he can finally see the misery endured by the sick and the impoverished, the industrious yet ill-rewarded, while the rich who have so much think so little of those who serve them. It makes him weep, and his tears fall like pure drops of rain onto a tiny swallow below. The swallow should have migrated to Africa with his friends many moons ago, but the prince begs him to tarry a while longer and act as his courier. For there are those in dire need – a seamstress with a sick child, a playwright struggling to stay warm and meet his deadline, a matchgirl whose matches have fallen into drain water and will be beaten by her father – and the prince has much of himself to give.
It’s a story of iniquity and inequality, self-sacrifice and true love, no matter the consequences. It’s about countries and councils who throw so much of their wealth into useless, vainglorious monuments and enterprises, while failing to meet the most basic needs of those they would govern. Almost every panel has something satirical to say about people’s priorities in life or their position and disposition in society. Even the swallow’s fanciful dalliance with a slender reed says so much when thrown into contrast with its fateful falling in love with The Happy Prince. This is the same Oscar Wilde of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but here his boisterous wit is quietly contained, concentrated and considered; the tone no less passionate, but the passion – along with his supreme command of the English language – is harnessed to a quiet, dignified indictment of the superficial few who squander so much, a celebration of the redistribution of wealth, and a relevant reminder that as far as poverty goes there is always more to be done. It’s also a tribute to true, selfless love and, once again, it made me cry.
The Flowers Of Evil vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi…
I was somewhat intrigued by the synopsis for this manga, wondering how the French poet Charles Baudelaire could possibly fit in with a high school romance / coming of age tale which might well also have some mild sado-masochistic elements. After reading this first volume I see exactly how so now, and it proved a mildly titillating read, I must say!
Our story begins as the hero, on the face of it just a very typical high school student, Takao, flunks his maths test. However, he then already begins to prove himself slightly deviated from the standard norm as his deep obsession with literature becomes clear and – at this particular moment – his utterly rapt absorption with Charles Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil.
(At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that whilst by no means being a connoisseur of poetry – in fact finding much of it rather dreary except from a good slap to the head style haiku – Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil is one of the few ‘worthy’ traditional works of poetry I did enjoy reading at school. Beaudelaire was a bit of a louche character, it must be said, loving his opium, drink and loose women, but what made his work interesting was much of his output revolved around the rapidly changing pace of life taking place in the ‘modern’ urban world of the big cities like Paris at the time, and how an individual was inevitably no more than merely a tiny fleeting part of that. It was probably the first poetry I was exposed to that didn’t involve copious amount of vales, hills and daffodils etc. etc. and thus was of infinitely more interest to myself. Right, digression over.)
So, after demonstrating his complete lack of interest in long division, Takao, possibly moved by Beaudelaire’s heady words, has a moment of madness and pinches the gym kit of his attractive classmate Nanako, whom he secretly has the hots for, of course! Unfortunately for him, his perverted pilfering is observed by the class outsider Nakamura, who begins to blackmail him into a distinctly one-sided friendship, which also appears to have some as yet unclear sexual element to it, culminating in making Takao wear the gym kit under his clothes when he takes the demure Nanako out on a date. It’s well written stuff and rather slyly amusing in places as Takao is increasingly put through the wringer by the delightfully devious Nakamura, when all he wants to do is forget his indiscretion ever happened; particularly now it appears he might actually be able to start a relationship with the girl of his dreams.
Guaranteed to remind anyone of what their early teenage years were probably like when it comes to the often excruciating subject of burgeoning sexual attraction. I’ll definitely be reading the next volume as I’m keen to find out exactly what nightmares Nakamura has got lined up next for Takao – if he actually makes it through his first date with Nanako unscathed and unexposed, that is!
Cerebus The Barbarian Messiah: Essays (£29-99) by various, edited by Eric Hoffman.
Over two hundred pages of essays and illustration on and from the 6,000-page magnum opus that is Dave Sim and Gerhard’s CEREBUS. It’s a work of such importance to the medium and industry that I reviewed every single one of the collected editions before the Page 45 website launched. For a start, lest we forget, it was Dave Sim who invented the collected edition in America (or Canada, whatever) and which Diamond Distributors initially rejected before capitulating in the wake of HIGH SOCIETY’s sales direct from Aardvark-Vanaheim.
Effortlessly inventive, right down to the lettering, for an overview of CEREBUS, please see my review of CEREBUS VOL 1 but, as I say, each subsequent volume has been given its own treatment, some mercifully shorter than others. I’ve addressed its few flaws as well, and I should add that each review comes with an increasing level of spoiler warning!
This collection of criticism, meanwhile, covers every era and addresses such topics as ‘Incorporating Oscar Wilde’, ‘Seeing Sound’, ‘Negative Space and Guttural Noise’, ‘Gender Politics’ and, of course, ‘Anti-Feminist Aardvark’. Whether it does so successfully I have no time to find out, but my confidence is high.
You’ll find an interview with Eric Hoffman, exquisitely illustrated with Dave Sim and Gerhard art, conducted by Tim Webber on his A Moment Of Cerebus website here: http://www.momentofcerebus.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/q-with-eric-hoffman.html
Fables vol 1: Legends In Exile (New Ed’n) (£9-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Lan Medina…
It has taken a mere ten years before I’ve finally cracked and read what is now (I think) Vertigo’s second longest running title after HELLBLAZER. Don’t ask me why it’s taken so long, there’s no particular reason, especially given the how popular this titles remains with its devotees. Maybe I’m just not that fussed about fairy tales. Anyway, given volume one has just been republished in this new edition (minor bits of very average extra content included at the back and a new cover, sadly not by James Jean, are the only differences I can see: no grand recolouring or better paper stock like the new SANDMAN editions), I thought I ought to finally have a look.
So, pretty much every fairy tale character that has ever existed now appears to be living in exile in a small part of New York known to its inhabitants as Fabletown, having been driven out by the sinister Adversary who now holds dominion over all their homelands. Fortunately most Fables can pass for human, or with the assistance of various shape-changing abilities and spells at least, and so the normal inhabitants of the Big Apple have no idea that the Fables walk amongst them. Consequently they have to govern themselves and it’s up to Deputy Mayor Snow White to try her best to keep them all in line, under cover, and avoid any of the bad blood and myriad old feuds breaking out again. But when her sister, the hard-partying Rose Red, appears to have been murdered, possibly by her on-off boyfriend Jack (yes, he of the beanstalk fame, and frankly somewhat of a chancer), it’s up to the sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby, aka the Big Bad Wolf, happily reformed and now on the right side of the law, to try and crack the case.
I can see why people do enjoy this title, actually, as it is just good fun, playing around with the long established characters and doing something completely different with them. Okay, I’m sold; time to read the next fifteen volumes, and various spin-offs.
Green Lantern vol 1: Sinestro h/c (£16-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke…
As easily one of the best pre-New 52 titles, it’s perhaps no surprise that DC decided not to bother rewriting history completely with the post-reboot title (or indeed any of the Lantern mythos, instead adding the RED LANTERNS and NEW GUARDIANS titles) and just continued on as though the whole thing had never happened. Reboot, what reboot?! Except, of course, there was a brilliant surprise in the final pre-New 52 issue as grizzled Corps stalwart and occasional ( well, okay, full-time) maverick Hal Jordan was profusely thanked by the Guardians for saving the (just after the BRIGHTEST) day yet again then promptly stripped of his ring and dumped unceremoniously back on Earth, resulting in one rather bruised ego. Still, makes a refreshing change for Hal to actually be the one dumped rather than the other way around as usual, which is a realisation that isn’t entirely lost on him. So obviously he’s straight on the phone to Carol for a rebound fling…
Meanwhile, given the Guardians decided that Hal was too much of a rulebook bender and general all-around wild card to entrust with the continued protection of Sector 2814, who could they possibly choose instead? How about the only person more likely to lose the plot and destroy half the galaxy in a fit of peucescent pique, that good old moustachio-twirler himself, Sinestro? What a fine piece of recruitment that’ll turn out to be in the end, I’m sure! In fairness, he’s none too happy about it either, given the extremely tight strings his new working relationship with the Guardians comes with, which is probably why, in part, he decides to take it out on Hal by making him string along on his first mission. Just one snag: Hal hasn’t got a ring anymore, so Sinestro has to create one for him, which of course in turn, being an extension of Sinestro’s will, can’t be used against him. Cue much wise-cracking and head-cracking as our most un-dynamic duo get themselves in several heaps of bother, which of course is always the other one’s fault.
New Avengers vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Neal Adams.
“Jessica Jones… How have you been?”
“Better than you.”
“How is motherhood treating you?”
“Yeah, that’s what I want to do: talk to your about my kid.”
“You know I’m going to kill that baby.”
It’s all about the baby.
During the Dark Reign while Norman Osborn was in charge of American security (see DARK AVENGERS volume one to DARK AVENGERS: SIEGE and the first series of NEW AVENGERS volume ten to NEW AVENGERS SIEGE plus SIEGE itself), he hounded this team of then-illegal superheroes until his psychopathic megalomania finally got the better of him. He overplayed his hand with an assault on Asgard against the President’s express wishes. It landed him in prison where, as this book opens, he remains.
The H.A.M.M.E.R. organisation he put together in place of S.H.I.E.L.D. was disbanded, but they never went away. They believed in what Osborn was doing so they slipped underground instead. Now they are back, and Osborn is soon free, drawing in the combined resources of Hydra, the Hand and A.I.M. and building a new, more powerful team of Dark Avengers with one extra secret weapon. Now he’s using the very corporate-owned media Madame Hydra despises to destroy the Avengers’ reputation. And for me it works infinitely better than AVENGERS VOL 3 because instead of telling the world what he wants it to believe – that he is the put-upon hero, and the Avengers the irresponsible villains – he shows the world on TV, baiting an angry Luke Cage into doing his work for him.
It’s also far more successful than AVENGERS VOL 3 because a) you have the neo-classical art of Neal Adams and Mike Deodato which is impossible to take your eyes off, b) this is where the sub-plot’s been brewing all along with the suspect loyalties of Victoria Hand finally revealed. This is the family with the most at stake. This is where the heart is. The good news is that is can be read without AVENGERS VOL 3 if you can just accept Captain America having got himself into a certain predicament when he appears.
The best lines throughout the book go to a Madame Hydra biding her time, and choosing her words with care. Here Gorgon speaks first:
“I’m wondering what drives Norman Osborn.”
“Same thing that drives us, no? We know the world should be different. We know our place in the world is being withheld from us. So we fight the tides.”
“But what you’re asking yourself… Is Norman a narcissist with multiple personalities, or does he have multiple personalities and one of them is a narcissist?”
“I wonder the same thing about you.”
“No, I am a narcissist. But I’m a self-aware narcissist.”
“The most dangerous kind.”
“All true leaders are.”
“Especially you. Death couldn’t kill you, Gorgon. That’s the narcissist’s dream.”
But if you think this is all talk, I can assure you otherwise: the new Dark Avengers gathered from existing villains are pretty impressive (no clues) and then there’s that secret weapon (CIVIL WAR?). Fight after fight after monumental Mike Deodato fight scene, all orchestrated to show the New Avengers doing more damage to property then they preserve. The public’s pretty pissed, Jessica Jones is scared witless and Brian Michael Bendis is even naughtier than ever.
“Always wondered what would happen if I Iron-Fisted a Hulk.”
Moon Knight Vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.
“I don’t understand…”
“What’s to understand? It doesn’t matter who you say you are… Steven Grant… Marc Spector… Moon Knight… You ruin everything you touch. Everything and everybody.”
Uh-oh. Now Captain Crazyhead really loses the plot, and someone pays the price. Never saw that coming.
“Commander Hill, we have an incoming communiqué.”
“Don’t we get a lot of those?”
“This is from someone saying they’re Moon Knight. They’re using one of Captain America’s secure lines.”
“It’s coming from the Los Angeles area. He’s using old codes. From a discharge agent by the name of Buck Lime.”
“Okay, well, put him through. (This should be annoying.) Mister Moon Knight. How can I help you?”
“Which one are you?”
“I was just about to ask the same question.”
From the creative team behind SCARLET (ooh, look, interior art!), ALIAS (nothing to do with the TV series but possibly the best thing ever from Marvel), SPIDER-WOMAN and definitely the best-ever run on DAREDEVIL… a 7,205th attempt at Moon Knight to coincide with the number of personalities battling away in his nocturnal noggin. You can add three more here, and they’ll be readily familiar to you.
In Moon Knight vol 1, finally after half a century of modern Marvel continuity, some of the supervillains have figured out that if 963 superheroes have chosen to live in Manhattan and only one in Los Angeles, they’d be 963 times less likely to get busted if they relocated to L.A… Marc Spector also happens to be in L.A., overseeing the launch of his Legend Of Khonshu TV show, so the Avengers call on him to scare the bejeezus out of the criminal community there… IN HIS MIND!
Lo and behold, a new Kingpin has indeed set himself up: Count Nefaria, a man with a power level way off the scale, bent on reclaiming the gleaming head of the genocidal robot Ultron snatched from under his nose by Moon Knight. Obviously he’s way out of his depth – this is going to take a whole team full of Avengers. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that THEY’RE ALL IN HIS MIND!!!
This is the second and final volume with gorgeous, twilight art, the closest yet to Bill Sienkiewicz’s (see Essential Moon Knight vol 2 with bits on either side). There’s a cover I initially thought was indeed by Billy The Sink! Some truly brutal bust-ups leading to an explosive finale with some serious firepower and I’m really not kidding about the awful consequences. On the other hand, it was also deliriously funny.
“I’m sorry I was a bad boss.”
“Are you kidding me? You were never around, barely cared and I got to come and go as I pleased. You were the best boss I ever had.”
To be continued in THE AGE OF ULTRON, a great big AVENGERS event by Bendis and Bryan Hitch. So you will want these two books very badly indeed.
Generation Hope: The End Of A Generation (£11-99, Marvel) by James Asmus & Ibraim Roberson, Tim Green II.
Third and final volume.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy
Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.
Sleaze Castle Etcetera h/c (£29-99, Markosia) by Dave McKinnon & Terry Wiley, Adrian Kermode
The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward: A Graphic Novel (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by H.P. Lovecraft & I.N.J. Culbard
Vampire Academy vol 2: Frostbite (£9-99, Razorbill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli
Caligula vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile
The Cape vol 1 h/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella & Zach Howard
The Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 vol 2 (£10-99, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Peter David & Chris Burnham, Kyle Strahm, Aaron Kuder
Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 1 restocks/reprint (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Leandro Fernandez, Christine Norrie,Bryan Lee O’Malley, Stan Sakai
Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 2 restocks (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Jason Shawn Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil, Mike Hawthorne
Batman: Knightfall vol 2 (New Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy & Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Mike Manley, Barry Kitson, Jim Balent, Bret Blkevins, Tom Grummett
Stormwatch (New 52) vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Death Of Spider-Man Fallout s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Mark Bagley, Bryan Hitch, Eric Nguyen, Sara Pichelli, Salvador Larroca, Clayton Crain, Billy Tan
Deadpool Max vol 2: Involuntary Armageddon s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker, Shawn Crystal
Venom: Circle Of Four h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Rick Remender, Rob Williams, Jeff Parker & Tony Moore, Lee Garbett, Sana Takeda, Julian Tedesco, LanMedina, Nelson DeCastro, Terry Pallot
Uncanny X-Force vol 3: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Billy Tan, Mark Brooks
Uncanny X-Force vol 5: Otherworld h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini, Billy Tan, Phil Noto, Dean White
The Mighty Thor vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry, Adam Kubert, Pepe Larraz
The Mighty Thor vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Oliver Coipel
Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 7 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita
Alison Bechdel’s ARE YOU MY MOTHER is released on May 29th from Jonathan Cape. Here’s a Comic’s Journal interview with Alison Bechdel from 2007 after Tom and I both declared her FUN HOME to be our favourite comic of 2006.
Also: Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES is going to be monumental. Look at all those beautiful photos! Out October 2012.