Reviews June 2012 week three

There’s even a guide on fishing for pondlife which you can find lurking in stagnant streams or hiding behind copies of The Daily Mail.

 - Stephen on The Moomin Adventure Book

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Alison Bechdel.

“I told the clerk at the bookstore my daughter has a book coming out. She asked what it was about, and I said, “Me!” She said she could get me into a witness protection programme.”

Bechdel’s last book, FUN HOME, was my favourite book of 2006. It’s a literary, autobiographical work about an early Obsessive Compulsive Disorder regarding the truth in Bechdel’s childhood diaries, her deceased father’s predisposition towards artifice, and her relationship with her father who was secretly gay. Not the best idea, having secrets when your daughter is compelled towards truth. Her mother – still very much alive and with some justification – took exception to the private being made public: the exposure of their family life to her friends and neighbours. They didn’t have a tempestuous falling out, but the disapproval was there and was voiced.

So, um, guess what this one’s about?

Yup, in her quest to get to heart of all matters – and matters of the heart – Bechdel pursues the truth about her relationship with her mother, the underlying causes behind it and the effect it’s had upon Alison’s self-esteem and love life, this time with the aid of psychoanalysts’ therapy. Extraordinarily, she does so in the full knowledge of her mum who is given access to Bechdel’s script in time to comment on it. On that level, at least, I think Ma Bechdel is as forgiving as a saint.

Dr. Mary Talbot, expert in Critical Discourse Analysis and author of DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES (about two daughters’ relationships with their fathers), had plenty to say but summed one aspect of the book up beautifully with the word “reflexive”. It really is, and all the more fascinating for it. That it was ever completed at all, given its method of construction, let alone organised with such clarity and precision is a major miracle of creative instinct and discipline.

“Of course, the point at which I began to write the story is not the same as the point at which the story begins.” At the very least!

Visually it’s far more exhilarating than FUN HOME, for Bechdel’s loosened up on the layouts and lines, replacing the swimming-pool blues and greens with a rich, warmer plum, kicking off each chapter with a single image which bleeds right to the edge opposite a full page of said pleasurable plum, and concluding with a double-page spread with a thick frame of black. And, speaking of discipline, I cannot convey in strong enough terms my respect and appreciation for the trouble Alison has taken to reproduce by hand every map, photo, newspaper clipping and prose quotation rather than throw lazy, incongruous and therefore distracting photocopies at us which would have obliterated my immersion in the work.

Those opening sequences, by the way, are each one of them dreams which Alison and her analyst then proceed to interpret as part of their investigative process which also incorporates childhood, teenage and more recent memories and Bechdel’s own research into the infant-based, analytical works of Donald Winnicott and co. And this, I suspect, is where most British critics’ heckles will rise so uncontrollably that they’ll mistarget their ire, disappointment or disdain. As a stiff-lipped nation we have a low tolerance for psychotherapy, dream analysis and the numerology claptrap so enamoured or even obsessed over by our transatlantic cousins. I know I do. But I wince with worry that readers will take exception to the book, which is brilliant, purely because they have issues with Alison’s issues. If I shook my head at some of the conclusions drawn from, say, Alison’s third eye in one dream being hit by a stick, there were other instances, like the anxiety nightmare of a tumourous growth on her cheek, which struck home; plus I still found the surrounding jigsaw puzzle pieced together over the course of the book to be both fascinating and valid, never mind the wider issues of parenting and childhood.

Both Bechdels are fiercely intelligent and culturally versed women, passionate about books and art. However, instead of sharing their opinions in a conversation mutually appreciative of each others’ learning, Bechdel’s mother is instead given to pronounce while Alison’s predisposition is to rankle. It’s produced a certain degree of rivalry which also rears its head as professional jealousy whenever Bechdel hears of the success of others who make a succesful career out of being a feminist – and more specifically lesbian – writer or artist. For, let us be clear, Alison Bechdel is very much a ‘lesbian’ comicbook creator. I’d never define someone by their sexuality but Alison does, as is her right, so there you have it.

For someone who complains about a lack of communication with her mother, you might think it odd that they’re on the phone to each other virtually every day. But what actually happens is that Alison phones her mother in the desperate but vain hope of finally hearing some words of approbation, and then her mother talks at her, about her own current focus of interest while Alison just sits there, recording and acting as little more than punctuation marks in her mother’s self-absorbed discourse.

In keeping with making the private public, then, I can relate to that. On the rare instances my father would venture out of his Cheshire-based comfort zone to the sub-cultured city of Nottingham (once every other year for an hour and never staying over), he would bring with him an envelope; and on the back of that envelope would be detailed notes on the topics he wished to pontificate upon without pause to minimise the risk of discovering anything about my own life. He was a frightened (and so very angry) man, but that particular prospect terrified him, and so I fear it is with Alison and her mother who is far from homophobic but just wishes it wasn’t such a public part of Alison’s private life – i.e. in her comics.

“You’re not going to use your real name, are you? Couldn’t you use one of your funny names?”
“That would defeat the purpose!”
“I would love to see your name on a book. But not on a book of lesbian cartoons.”

None of those books, by the way, now collected as ESSENTIAL DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR would have likely seen the light of day without Ma Bechdel’s unconditional patronage in the form of cheques amounting to $5,200 to support her daughter’s creativity in a field she disapproved of. That, folks, is maternal altruism. Doubly unfortunate, then, that Alison’s moved into a second field her mother disapproves of: memoir, full of “inaccuracy, exhibitionism, narcissism”.

“The self has no place in good writing,” declares mother Bechdel. Or has her reaction to the genre been coloured by her inclusion within it? I certainly don’t believe it was an act of belligerence on Alison’s part as any reading of FUN HOME would make clear, and in any case inaccuracy is an anathema to her.

And so we come to the five A4 pages of notes I wrote while reading the proof copy, not one of which have I used here! “True Self”, “False Self”, and quotations like, “Patterns are my existence. Everything has significance. Everything must fit. It’s enough to drive you crazy.” But do you know what? They’re not for me to transcribe – let alone remember which pages they came from! – they’re for you to make for yourselves, or else why buy and enjoy the book for yourselves?

For the record, I like Ma Bechdel. She had a difficult life you’ll discover for yourself, and she has a genuine passion of her own for truth and discovery, even if some of those discoveries are at odds with what she believed:

“Wait, I just read something interesting about memoir, hang on. Are you there?”
“Uh huh.”
“It’s by Dorothy Gallagher. “The writer’s business is to find the shape in unruly life and to serve her story. Not, you may note, to serve her family, or to serve the truth, but to serve the story.””
“Wow.”
“I know! Family be damned!”
“Ha!”
“The story must be served!”

The story, I promise you, is very well served.

FUN HOME’s featured writer was Scott Fitzgerald; this one’s is Virginia Woolf. Excellent!

SLH

Buy Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama and read the Page 45 review here

Siegfried h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Alex Alice.

It begins with a crack of lightning and the wrath of Odin as witnessed by ethereal white knights. It begins with the death of the boy’s parents and a broken sword.

In the company of wolves a child is forged into a man fit to fight a dragon. Ignorant of his heritage, Siegfried is raised in the wintry forests by the exiled Nibelung Mimé, a blacksmith addicted to his anvil. But eventually their past catches up with them in the form of a one-eyed traveller determined that the boy’s fate find its rightful path.

Yet another sumptuous, full-colour production from Archaia Studios, this is the first of three books based on Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle previously adapted by P.Craig Russell as THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG which, at the time of typing, languishes woefully out of print. As Alex stresses, however, whereas Russell’s was an ingeniously faithful adaption, this is very much Alex’s own interpertation of the legend drawn from many sources both ancient and modern. That sixty-page interview in the back is illustrated by images taken from the animated feature, whereas the graphic novel is an altogether different visual affair.

With landscapes reminiscent of Charles Vess in places – particularly the aerial view of the vast, snow-swept, Nordic forest – it is a feast for the eyes with a sense of space worthy of Milo Manara and some figure work akin to Jeff Smith’s. The boy and cub hunting and at play in chase of a sprinting stag is a breath-taking sequence rich in sylvan detail, while the mossy carpet on the forest floor is dappled by the light streaming through the tree tops. There are also some of those early Disney, heart-stopping, throat-choking moments of sadness, and you can almost hear Wagner during the climactic thunderstorm.

THE VALKYRIE and TWILIGHT OF THE GODS can’t come too soon.

SLH

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

The Moomin Adventure Book h/c (£12-99, SelfMadehero) by Cally Law & Tove Jansson.

“Wait long enough and something interesting is sure to come along, flying, jumping, crawling, buzzing or biting its way out of the undergrowth or from behind the fridge.”

Dear Lord, not behind my fridge, please! It might as well shoot out of Sellafield!

Welcome to the Moomin equivalent of a Boy Scout’s book, full of fun things to do out and about the British countryside, and what to pack for your picnic first. Yes, just like the MOOMINS COOK BOOK this has some tasty treats and is dotted with quotations from Tove Jansson’s prose along with some illustrations. Honesty dictates, however, that I point out straightaway that unlike the Drawn & Quarterly MOOMIN graphic novels (six so far), WHO WILL COMFORT TOFFLE? and A BOOK ABOUT MOOMIN, MYMBLE AND LITTLE MY, this is neither comicbook nor illustrated prose fiction, but a series of handy hints on how to craft rafts, make fishing rods or build a butterfly bar and a hotel for bees. A hotel for bees!

There’s a guide on fishing for pondlife which you can find lurking in stagnant streams or hiding behind copies of The Daily Mail. Also: which British beaches boast the best stones, how to hunt minibeasts and then tell the difference between an insect and an arachnid (hint: count how many legs it has before your child’s pulled half of them off). In interests of anarchy there’s a make-your-own waterbomb suggestion, but in the interest of safety there’s a cautionary note on what not to eat when foraging for food. Personally I’d steer clear of worms, labernum seeds and most certainly baked beans – feral or otherwise.

Whatever you do, please remember this: “Treat the animals with respect, handle them carefully and put them back where you found them.” And be very careful about how you use your magnifying glass on them on a sunny summer’s day. Thank you.

SLH

Buy The Moomin Adventure Book h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Samnee, David Marquez, Sara Pichelli.

Text and pretext:

“Uncle Aaron: hey, little man.
Uncle Aaron: ready to meet?
Sir Miles: No.
Uncle Aaron: I’ll make a deal with you. You take care of one thing for me and I’ll leave you along forever.  1 thing.
Uncle Aaron: meet me on the roof of hotel le bleu.
one hour.”

Miles Morales was bitten by a genetically altered spider which stowed away in a bag of contraband nicked from Norman Osborn’s laboratories by dear Uncle Aaron. Said Uncle Aaron has already discovered what effect that’s had on Miles. Said Uncle Aaron isn’t stupid. He has instinct for body language that rivals artist Sara Pichelli’s and so worked out the young man behind the mask. He is, however, a tad mad and dangerous to know. Also: in deep doo-doo and determined to get Miles to fight his new fight for him. Also, also: as devious as hell. Will Miles succumb?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve loved almost every second of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man starring young Peter Parker – with a single writer of unusual wit and good will at the helm, it’s been a singularly spectacular and consistent ride. But this might even be better, with so much potential, and although I adore Sara Pichelli to an almost unhealthy degree, when you do see the join as the other artists join in you’ll love them too: magnificent, all three.

Don’t think you’ve seen the last of Aunt May, either, but you’ll just have to wait until volume three. In the meantime Uncle Aaron is so well played – as a confident, cheeky spiv – and knows precisely which buttons to press to push Miles away from confiding what he so desperately should to those who might help, so that his mom and dad have no idea why he’s so downcast and lost in thought at the dinner table. Exceptional, subtle gesticulations between his parents during the deafening silence before Ma Morales breaks it thus with a gentle hand on the young boy’s wrist:

“Hey… I love you.”
“Love you too, mom.”

He smiles, relieved at the connection but the shadow falls back again almost at once.

“Congratulations,” says his dad. “It’s a teenager.”

SLH

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 2 hardcover

Spider-Man: Perceptions h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Todd McFarlane.

Guest-starring Wolverine, this is more McFarlane amazing, sensational spectaculary just before he ditched Marvel in a huff over creator rights only to form Image where he promptly shat all over Neil Gaiman’s. Several years of litigation later and here’s the life lesson: don’t shit on someone wiser, richer and more legally savvy than you, just because you think you can. It’s “Do unto others as you would have done to you,” not “Do unto others as has been done to you”. What a hypocratic oaf.

SLH

Buy Spider-Man: Perceptions h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thor: Kieron Gillen Ultimate Collection (£25-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Billy Tan, Rich Elson, Doug Braithwaite, Jamie McKelvie, Niko Henrichon.

Collects what was previously in the THOR: LATEVERIAN PROMETHEUS, THOR: SIEGE and THOR: SIEGE AFTERMATH trades. Below are the mini-reviews for each of those three. Here we go…

In which Kieron Gillen (PHONOGRAM) picks up the mallet Straczynski dropped on Asgard’s head and does it total justice. Returning from exile to Asgard at last (postcode strangely Latverian), Thor is outraged to discover what Dr. Doom’s been doing to his fellow immortals, but Doom is curiously pleased to see him for Thor is just what the Doctor ordered – as is his thunderous rage.

Thor: “Enough, Doom. Enough. ENOUGH!”
Doom (and you can just see the smile on his face underneath the mask): “Quite enough.”

Billy Tan is on blistering form whilst Gillen’s script is indiscernible from Straczynski’s. You won’t notice the difference.

Then it’s SIEGE seen from the Asgardians’ point of view (rubble and dust, largely), and in particular Volstagg’s and Thor’s. Or is that actually Thor? Plus, Kelda visits the mortal parents of her murdered beloved and Loki makes further plans with Hela and Mephisto. Reprints NEW MUTANTS #11 in which de-powered Dani Moonstar learns the price of her pact with Hela made during the Dark Avengers’ attack onSan Francisco, and SIEGE: LOKI in which McKelvie’s Loki is the very embodiment of disarming, guileless guile. Lastly, when the battle is done, who will now rule what is left of the fallen kingdom?

Finally the conclusion to Gillen’s run in which Mephisto, Loki and Hela haggle their way into contracts before wriggling out of them via loopholes. They’d be brilliant at tax evasion. Expect a lot of red, demons and deceit.

Collects # 604-614, SIEGE: LOKI and NEW MUTANTS #11

SLH

Buy Thor: Kieron Gillen Ultimate Collection and read the Page 45 review here

Justice s/c (£22-50, DC) by Alex Ross, Jim Kreuger & Doug Braithwaite, Alex Ross.

With its constituent three softcovers out of print, this entire epic has been collected into a single mighty volume.

Superior to anything I was expecting, Braithwaite and Ross combine their singular skills to greater effect than the economy of having Ross paint over someone else’s art would suggest. Braithwaite has a different eye to Ross’ when it comes to layouts, so his pencils – including some epic double-page spreads that fully convey the awe of finding yourself for the first time inside or outside The Fortress Of Solitude – often come with angles that Ross wouldn’t ordinarily have considered. Ross remains on top translucent form while his pairing with Krueger on writing duties has produced a seasoned classic.

Lex Luthor has assembled a rogues’ gallery of supervillains plagued by the same nightmare of a Justice League defeated and their world ton apart. Individually they have incapacitated each key member of the team simultaneously to silence them, then together they have set about curing diseases, irrigating the deserts to form fertile land, and performing other acts of uncharacteristic benevolence like building utopian cities – doing things the supposed heroes had never even attempted before, and succeeding. Naturally Luthor is far from backwards in coming forwards.

“I know what you’re thinking. What can Lex Luthor of all people say to me? And is it true what I’m hearing? Are the world’s ills and humanity’s sicknesses being addressed and cured by known criminals and super-powered terrorists? This is being broadcast around the world, in every city, to every race, in every language. We know you’re wondering where the Justice League ofAmericais right now. And so are we. But we’re also wondering why they never tried to do what we’ve been doing. Why they never attempted to use their powers and abilities to make this world a better place. I believe that their inaction is as criminal as those felonies we went to prison for. Preserving the world and not daring to change it means keeping food from the hungry. Keeping the crippled in wheelchairs. Bowing to the status quo of human suffering. And still they call us the villains.”

But there’s a slight chill in the air – in the Arabic deserts of all places – when Poison Ivy grants it the bounty of fresh fruit:

“Let spring come. Let the richness of summer reign… Until the arrival of the fall.”

You can safely assume that all is not what it seems and slowly the threads come together, but not in a linear fashion. What impressed me no end was how few of the Justice League’s predicaments are immediately solved. Instead they have to be revisited depending on which tools (knowledge, skill sets and powers) are available at any given time. In terms of superhero logic, it’s been very well thought through. I can’t give you specific examples without spoiling your fun, but some of those tools include Superman, Wonderwoman, his X-ray vision, her lasso; the sun, Shazam, and Batman.

You’ll see what I mean when they leave Batman where he is until one of those tools becomes available and why, later on, when Batman’s interrogating a prisoner he cannot be bluffing – indeed has no option to bluff – when he threatens to chop some of the guy’s fingers off. Also, lesser writers would have left Hal Jordan stranded on the outer reaches of space (so far out there are no stars to navigate home by) until the plot required his return, but as he retreats into his Green Lantern ring, its energy depleting, we’re constantly returned to his thoughts.

It seems I never reviewed the third and final segment but by the end of the second, things were looking rather worse than they did when it started. Each was substantial enough that I felt I’d read double the pages on offer and I – constantly carping, cynical old me – thoroughly enjoyed myself.

SLH

Buy Justice s/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

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.

 

The Lovely Horrible Stuff h/c (£9-99, Top Shelf) by Eddie Campbell

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 3: Century 2009 (£7-99, Top Shelf) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Lost Dogs (£7-50, Top Shelf) by Jeff Lemire

New York Mon Amour h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Benjamin Legrand, Dominique Grange & Jacques Tardi

A Monster Calls (£8-99,Walker Books) by Patrick Ness & Jim Kay

I Want My Hat Back h/c (£11-99,Walker Books) by Jon Klassen

Hellblazer vol 3: The Fear Machine (£18-99, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano & Mark Buckingham, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Alfredo Alcala

Tanpopo vol 1 hardcover (£18-99, Boom!) by Camilla d’Errico

Dreams And Everyday Life (£7-99, Hedge) by Aviv Ratzin

Sonic The Hedgehog Archives vol 18 (£5-99, Sega) by various

Angel & Faith vol 1: Live Through This (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Phil Noto

Cow Boy: A Boy And His Horse h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos

The Eye Of The World: The Graphic Novel vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Tor) by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon & Andie Tong

Slaine vol 7: The Treasures Of Britain (£14-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Dermot Power, Stephen Tappin

Invincible Iron Man vol 9: Demon h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca

Spider-Man: Trouble On The Horizon hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Chris Yost & Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Matthew Clark

Wolverine: Back In Japan h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney, Steven Sanders, Billy Tan, Paco Diaz

The Twelve vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 2: Scorpion s/c (UK Ed’n) (£11-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Samnee, Sara Pichelli

The Incredible Hulk vol 1 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio

The All-new Batman: The Brave And The Bold s/c (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Rick Burchett

Batman: The Black Glove h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) (£22-50, DC) by Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams III, Tony S. Daniel

Until Death Do Us Part vol 1 (£12-99, Yen) by Hiroshi Takashige & Double-S

House Of Five Leaves vol 7 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono

Gantz vol 23 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

 

THE BOYS vol 11 is also in, but I’m not linking to that tonight because we still have the publisher’s Diamond preview up and there are some terrible SPOILERS in it!

- Stephen.

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