Reviews July 2012 week four

If Jason Aaron has some sort of topographical map of this on his wall, it must look like a cat’s cradle of doom.

 – Stephen on Scalped volume 9.


The Silence (£14-99, A&U) by Bruce Mutard.

Here lie some of the crispest black lines and glossy black shadows you are likely to come across in comics. It’s very striking indeed, particularly the Australian landscapes, beautifully framed, once more, in black.

While reviewing a client’s inventory for sale, gallery manager Choosy McBride discovers an anonymous work of art which takes her breath away. Its only hint of provenance is that it came from a remote area of North Queensland close to where Choosy is due to meet Fred Merriweather, an aging and ailing artist due to exhibit for the first time in twenty years. With her boyfriend Dmitri in tow she follows the trail of the enigmatic art to The Prayer House, an elusive gallery up on a hill, accessible only by foot. There they find all four walls covered in similarly mind-blowing masterpieces, but still no evidence of the artist’s identity, existence or even any curators. It’s entirely deserted and open to public plunder. Half-suspecting it’s Fred himself, Choosy is surprised to discover a radiant example on his own wall – and is even more surprised to discover that he simply took it for free. Uncannily, everyone she encounters has taken a single specimen down from the walls for free, and no one considers it theft. What is the artist playing at when there’s serious money to be made?

The eerie and the everyday have been impeccably joined by Bruce Mutard here, in a book which asks questions about the value of art aesthetically and commercially. Both Fred and Dmitri have become cynical about the commerce which has built itself up around what should essentially be about communication rather than interior decoration or speculation. Oh yes, that word I despise along with everyone in comics practising it: ‘speculation’. As I am wont to repeat (perhaps ad nauseam): “This is an art form, not a stock exchange”. So it is in Fine Art too: parasites spending money to acquire more money – straight from exhibition to auction – without regard to the intrinsic merit of what they buy or the fact that the artist makes no money from its resale. This is very much on Fred and Dmitri’s minds with Choosy caught not in the middle – for she’s a gallery manager not an auctioneer – but to one side, desperate to discover and represent this ethereal artist who seems determined not to be discovered, represented nor indeed recompensed. It leads to a most unexpected finale…

Critically, of course, you never see these works of art. That’s left entirely to your imagination.

Meanwhile the arguments on each side are well made, Choosy frustrated that while she operates in the real world where she successfully earns a living by promoting art she loves, live-in lover Dmitri seems to demand instant recognition for his talent without having to ‘sully’ himself with the day-to-day transactions that would keep a roof over anyone else’s head. Basically, “Get over it!” and “Get over yourself!” Fred, on the other hand, is jaded about his own work and a substantial reputation he doesn’t necessarily believe he deserves. There’s plenty to ponder, for sure.

If you’re anything like me, Dmitri’s negativity will drive you up the wall to begin with, just like he does Choosy, and there are many moments of silence which place the lovers so far apart. But Mutard may make you rethink.

My only criticism is that the conversations themselves occasionally verge on the contrived. In an effort to be clear, the sentences are sometimes too complete. I’m also naturally more drawn to somewhat softer artwork than the regimented and the rulered, but the forms inside each panel are far from stiff, and Bruce has made such an attractive job of it, I am completely won over. I can’t stop flicking through, just to make sure!


Buy The Silence and read the Page 45 review here

God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez ~

Okay, I’m biased. It is my favourite series ever, so gimmie a break, ‘k? But seriously: any day I can read some L&R is a good day, and after thirty years Jaime and Gilbert still have more verve than 95% of the pap that we’re bombarded with on a monthly basis. The only thing better than reading the comic would be being in it, which is kind of what happens to Maggie, Penny, and Angel in TI-GIRLS as they somehow become embroiled in a cosmic slugfest straight out of Maggie’s secret stash of comic books. They’ll have to do some serious thinking outside the panels to get out of this one.

In a dingy apartment complex, Maggie and Angel clock on to the true identity of Maggie’s mysterious and ridiculously tall neighbour, Alarma… Call her crazy, but Maggie is convinced Alarma, the shy and retiring Alarma from the Fenomenons comics series, are one and the same! Easily duped, Angel dons her wrestling gear and goes out on the roof top to catch Alarma in the cape. But, as it turns out, Alarma’s staking out the apartment for any sign of Maggie’s insane and stunning friend Penny Century who’s life-long dream to have super powers has finally and completly unexpectedly borne fruit. Now the whole universe is in peril! Will Angel wear the domino mask and save us from hyperbole and third person rhetoric with the help of aged Mexican super-team, The Ti-Girls?!

This is possibly the most outlandish of Jaime’s stories since the early ‘80s and he brings some old favourites out of retirement for the occasion like super-droid Cheatre Torpedo, and Retro Rocky (last seen in AMOR Y COHETES). But it’s Penny’s long-lamanted need for superpowers, one of the longest running themes in Jaime’s carear, finally explored and delivered with an ironic right hook, which still manages to be quinessential LOVE AND ROCKETS despite shakking off the oft-lauded ‘realistic’ trappings of his art.


Buy God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Adventures of Venus (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez ~

Wow! I actually forgot quite how bizarre these stories are. Originally The Adventures Of Venus were the lead story in MEASLES, a short-lived children’s comic from Fantagraphics. Surely a comic for only the most precocious of children? And as fun and completely suitable as these stories are for younger readers, their association with Gilbert’s mature work (everything Gilbert writes is in the same “universe”) would leave most parents running. Which is a shame, but understandable.

AOV is really very odd, the stories are a mix of self-assertion, romantic innocence, and frankly psychedelic weirdness. Gilbert’s approach here was to write a comic full of inventive wonder like the children’s comics he grew up with, and he excelled at this. These stories have heart.

Venus likes football, fried chicken, comics, and Miguel Mendoza, the cutest boy in class. And against all stereotypes, she is quite the little fashionista, top of her class, athletic, and incredibly confused by this big weird world. Well it’s not surprising when fig-eating monster-babies are bothering you and your dreams are straight out of a KRAZY & IGNATZ Tijuana comic strip.


The Adventures Of Venus

Scalped: Knuckle Up (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera.

The snaking series of sub-plots, subterfuge and far from straightforward agendas which Aarob and Guera have built up and laid down so successfully now explodes in this penultimate catalogue of role reversals and almost redemptions as no one does anyone else any favours, and if the plots thickens further, the cast thins dramatically! Everyone is coming at each other from so many different directions it’s remarkable that anyone is left alive. If Jason Aaron has some sort of topographical map of this on his wall, it must look like a cat’s cradle of doom.

We’ve reviewed SCALPED so extensively in the past, I have little more to say that won’t give every game away, but this particular volume kicks off with a handy, grim guide to actually scalping people. The final book is scheduled to arrive on October 31st 2012.


Buy Scalped: Knuckle Up and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Hickman & Ribic, Humphries, Ross, more.

“You are Death, the first and last of a generation.
 Where there is life, you will end it.
 Where there is hope, it will die.
 You are the last days… The end of an era…
The boy who killed America.”

At which point the unthinkable happens.

Reed Richards is back, and not in a good way. The smartest man on Earth has created The Children Of Tomorrow, housing them in The City, a vast, unassailable fortress which has taken the place ofEurope. Asgard lies in ruins, America is at war and nothing Nick Fury and his Ultimates can concoct between them to thwart Richards’ rise has worked. Exasperated, the President of the United States now takes matters into his own hands. First he enacts the Winter Protocols which demand the immediate detention of Fury, Falcon, Hawkeye, Tony Stark, Thor – the lot of them – and authorises the launch of tactical nuclear weapons. He has just informed a horrified closed session of Congress.

“Excuse me, Mr. President. But I was in those intelligence briefings. When S.H.I.E.L.D. first engaged The City, a nuke was used. The Children simply absorbed the released energy.”
“That’s correct, Senator Ralston. Which is why we’ll be using more than one.”
“How many? How many did you launch?”
“All of them.”

Which, I’m very much afraid, is where we came in.

There are way too many artists involved, but they do at least share similarities in style to the extent you won’t notice the transitions too often. Most strikingly, however, Hickman here has successfully raised the stakes on what was already a formidable series to the extent that anything – anything at all – could happen, and it is a very different county which America will wake up to tomorrow. Also: plenty of surprises, at least one of which you couldn’t possibly see coming.


Buy Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

World War Hulk s/c UK Edition (£14-99, Marvel) by Pak & Romita Jr.

With the US edition completely out of print, I’ve no idea what took us so long to think of reverting to US supplies, but still: all five issues plus the prologue and WHAT IF: PLANET HULK?

The first thing you’ll notice is the size of the panels (or maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll just sit, jaw agape at Romita’s massive and magnificent art, but trust me, the size of the panels is important). Unlike the wretched gimmick employed during THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN whereby one panel per page was removed in the countdown until the final issue was composed entirely of full-page spreads thereby turning it into a static slide show with absolutely no flexibility, fluidity or power, John knows how to tell a story with nuance and power.

That story is the return of The Hulk to Earth, hell-bent on revenge against the Illuminati (Iron Man, Xavier, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Namor, Dr. Strange) who flung him into space and – he thinks – did so using a duff spaceship which ultimately exploded, destroying everything he had struggled to build in exile and slaughtering all those he’d come to love there.

There’s something he doesn’t know. Before he finds out, though, it’s one long rampage of utter, blazing, monumental destruction as he takes on The Inhumans, The Avengers both Mighty and New, the Fantastic Four and anyone else who gets in the way – like Rick Jones.

Whether this will rock your boat depends on how much more you require than that. Because, to be honest, there aint that much more on offer. Best-selling HULK trade we’ve ever experienced, that’s for sure: “Hulk Smash!” indeed.

Buy World War Hulk s/c UK Edition 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.

Adamantine softcover (£14-99,JonathanCape) by Hannah Berry

Disrepute s/c (£8-00, Graphic Medicine) by Thom Ferrier

The Underwater Welder s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) byJeff Lemire

The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details softcover (£9-99, IDW) by Molly Crabapple

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 hardcover (£18-99, Marvel) byNick Spencer & Barberi,Medina

Secret Avengers vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) byRick Remender & Hardman, Zircher

Daredevil vol 1 s/c (£11-99, Marvel) byMark Waid & Rivera, Martin

Red Hulk: Haunted s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Parker & Casagrande, Pagulayan

Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Hickman & Sandoval

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic  Four vol 8 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Wolverine And The X-Men: Regenesis s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Aaron & Bachalo, Rouleau, Scalera, Bradshaw

Green Arrow: Into The Woods softcover (£10-99, DC) by Krull & Neves, Cifuentes

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand s/c (£15-99, Panini) by Dan McDaid & Martin Geraghty, Mike Collins

Dragon Age vol 1: The Silent Grove h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) byDavid Gaider & AlexanderFreed,Chad Hardin

A Game Of Thrones vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Bantam) by Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Pandora Hearts vol 11 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Jun Mochizuki

Sakuran (£12-99, Vertical) by Moyoco Anno

Souleater Not! Vol 1 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Many apologies of the brevity this week: J-Lo’s away and I screwed up on American Elf volume 4 which is exceptional, but I just couldn’t complete an adequate review on time. In recompense, know ye that we will be having signed bookplates to go with our first six copies of Adamtine (top of the list above), so if you already love Hannah Berry’s brilliant BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY, now would be a good time to reserve a copy!

– Stephen

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