Reviews August 2012 week four


Scott Pilgrim Colour Edition reviewed below! Yowsa!

Meanwhile, I wrote a blog about our regular column in the Nottingham Post, the BBC Radio Nottingham programme on Page 45 recorded this very morning and a certain award! Lots of links to the articles themselves and a great big bundle of mischief to boot. Please click on the headline below!

 Page 45 Wins Award For Best Independent Retailer in Nottingham!

The Red Diary and The Re(a)d Diary h/c (£22-50, Image) by Teddy Kristiansen, Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen.

“This is the story of a painting.”

Well, THE RED DIARY is. Written and drawn by Teddy Kristiansen, it’s a bereaved biographer as private detective, and ridiculously clever in its own right. It was published in France and then Denmark.

But then Steven T. Seagle – Teddy’s collaborator on IT’S  A BIRD – went and wrote THE RE[A]D DIARY based solely on Teddy’s images, because he needed an excuse to publish it via Image and speaks neither French nor Danish. He thought it might be a fun exercise.

It is a brilliant exercise and I swear that when you get to page 53 your jaw will drop on the floor! Meanwhile I give you a masterclass in black humour as Teddy goes all left-field on us in the flooded French trenches of World War I:

“Faldy’s ear rested on the ground, listening… Weldon’s eye watched from a tree stump… Could I make my declaration of cowardice to Lieutenant Hughes, who lies in halves shouting, “God! God! God!”? Should I own up to the mound of meat that was the rest of McQueen?
“I don’t know how long I talked to them. To whatever was left of them that might hear my apology. They seemed to take it as well as could be expected.
“Smyth stared straight up at me like he had words on the tip of his tongue… Wherever that had wound up.”

Let’s pull back to THE RED DIARY, though, in which a writer is researching the life of poet William Miller and is sent a small package by Harriet Birkin claiming to have been Miller’s lover in 1920 and that her brother, Philip Marnham had been his close friend before Marnham’s lonely death in the trenches. The parcel contains Philip’s Blue Diary which begins in Paris in 1910 and ends there in 1914. And at this point the biographer’s research takes a most unexpected turn and becomes something of a paper chase involving a Green Diary written in France between 1915 and 1917 and finally the Red Diary itself which fills in the gaps between Paris and England in 1915.

Philip Marnham, you see, was a painter. A painter who swiftly attracted the patronage of a mysterious M who commissioned painting after painting which made Marnham wealthy enough to indulge himself in opium but which, by his own account, sapped away his own soul and light. Why, then, did he suddenly have to disappear, fleeing France for England? And why is there absolutely no record – not even a footnote – about him in the art world?

I adore Kristiansen’s painting. Have done ever since the BACCHUS COLOUR special, and IT’S A BIRD is a tour de force employing so many different styles apposite to each subsection. Here too the style shifts between the present and the recorded, the biographer depicted in gentle pencil and rich red jumper against colours more fragile and pale, while the WWI scenes immediately put me in mind of George Pratt’s ENEMY ACE. I also love what he does with the panel borders in the final sequence, which become six far crisper frames for reasons I’d better not say.

As to Seagle, you’ll be surprised how closely some of the sequences mirror what Teddy had in mind, albeit seen from a skewed angle – particularly the patron who in each tale finds himself the victim of theft; it’s just that what’s stolen is completely different! – but then he’s paying close attention to the art.

It is however, a completely different story wherein it’s the WWI scenes that count. I cannot tell you any more for fear of spoiling the show, but I want to talk to each and every one of you after you’ve grinned yourselves senseless.


Buy The Re[a]D Diary h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Comic Book History Of Comics (£16-50, IDW) by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey.

“Stan Lee found himself assigned to the army’s training film division, where he served with such luminaries as director Frank Capra and great New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Addams. Lee wrote short films, posters and pamphlets on such topics as army finance and venereal disease.”

It’s amazing what you can pick up here. Did you know that Terry Gilliam preceded Robert Crumb as assistant editor of Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP, and that John Cleese modelled for one of its photo comics?

Yes, I’ll tell you right now what I love about this: its breadth and above all sense of context, be it personal, historical, social, economic and even international. Tom Spurgeon wrote the introduction, and he’ll not put his name to any old tripe.

It’s also very, very funny in places. At first it rankled with me that this was comics and not prose, especially since Dunlavey’s style of cartooning isn’t my natural comfort zone. UNDERSTANDING COMICS was perfect because as a graphic novel it was self-demonstrative, and the two CARTOON GUIDE TO ECONOMICS books (yes, there was a second!) worked well because the images made the abstract comprehensibly concrete. Here I wondered at first why we couldn’t just have photographs of the people and reproductions of the covers – until the jokes kicked in, and I realised that Dunlavey was drawing in short-hand what Van Lente would have had to labour over in prose. A bit like I’m about to here!

“Though through our allegedly more “enlightened” modern eyes, romance comics may be seen as simply reinscribing the more patriarchal aspects of American society (as 99.9% of them were written and drawn by men)…

“Oh, John… I’m so happy you allowed me to drop my career to pop out babies for you until you throw me aside for you secretary in two decades!”
“Me too, sugar plum! Now shut your yap and go fix me a sandwich!”

… they almost always encouraged marrying for love rather than any other consideration, and tried to steer heroines away from the wrong kind of man, the template for whom remains basically the same in our day.

Mr. Right: working-class Joe
Mr. Wrong: Well-heeled sharpie
Mr. Right: Wants 2.5 kids
Mr Wrong: Wants in your pants
Mr. Right: 1-beer-a-day guy
Mr. Wrong: drunk right now.”

Every genre and movement is dealt with in detail as well as they’re unexpected impacts on each other, and never have I seen the whole Wertham / Bill Gaines / Senate hearing / Comics Code Authority debacle dealt with in such great depth yet so swiftly. Actually I’ve never seen anyone trying to salvage Wertham’s reputation before, and Van Lente points out precisely why. You’ll be surprised at what good he did do. The connections between comics and the two big animation studios gave me some nuggets on Disney I had no idea about – like the fact that Bambi was a bust and they were only saved by the Pentagon. And speaking of WWII poor Jack Kirby is as down on his luck as ever!

“So you can draw?”
“Yes sir, of course I can draw.”
“I was thinking, ‘Great, some officer wants me to draw his portrait’,” Kirby remembered.

Instead he was sent ahead into live combat zones as a scout to draw maps and pictures. I learned that Archie Comics’ Archie Andrews was based on the “mercilessly wholesome screen persona of Mickey Rooney, 50 US States tried to regulate crime comics and Canada managed to ban them. Why does everyone consider Canada so liberal? You try crossing their border with a suitcase of yaoi. The whole of EC Comics’ horror line makes far more sense when you learn about Bill Gaines’ unresolved parental issues, and there are statistics here to make you weep:

“Industry studies showed that in 1947, a stunning 95% of American boys and 91% of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 were habitual comics readers… along with 87% of teenaged men and 81% of teen women; and a still-impressive 41% of men aged 18-30 and – before romance comics – 28% of women the same age read comics regularly.”

In case you don’t know, today 1% of both genders combined would be an over-optimistic estimate.


Buy The Comic Book History Of Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley.


Our biggest-selling series of all time now in full colour…? Full colour that’s entirely in-synch with its source…? With subtle tweaks here and there and a big bundle of extras in the back…? Why am I typing in American?!

“Shut up, Stephen! What more do we get?!”

The secrets of Bryan Lee O’Malley. The origin of the title, the initial reception of the series, early character designs, seconds of satori, moments of mis-step and who’s based on whom in his head; photo-references like Scott and Wallace’s flat entrance – that bizarre little door in the wall that really and truly is there. Also: the original Oni Press pitch in full!

Best of all you get the perfect excuse to re-read this in full for the fifty-sixth time! I did myself this last Thursday morning and you know how some series need to find their feet and settle themselves in before setting the world on fire? Nope, not this one. It is the bomb from volume one, and I resisted that hyphen and echo. Cue customary overview!

Scott is a clot. He really is. He’s a total dumpling, and in terms of a Chinese take-away, dim doesn’t even begin to sum the lad up.

He is kinda cute, though, and as the series kicks off Scott is living with gay housemate Wallace for whom sly, dry mockery is a default setting. They’re so poor they even share the same bed. But Scott sleeps soundly until this girl called Ramona comes skating through his dreams – she’s a delivery girl and as you well know the quickest way from A to B is to skate through someone else’s dreams, right? Then Scott meets Ramona in his waking life, falls head over heals in whatever the hell that thing is (he may figure it out eventually) but is casually informed that if he wants her as a girlfriend he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes in combat!

Truly a unique series with a heart of gold, and a wit and a Nintendo logic all of its own. There is not a single comic reader who could fail to fall in love with Scott, Wallace, Ramona or Bryan himself. O’Malley isn’t even close to running out of innovative ideas: his visual gags keep tumbling onto the page, and so convinced are we that this book is for everyone that if you try the first SCOTT PILGRIM black and white softcover at least and aren’t immediately hooked, we’ll give you your money back and even pay return postage.

You will, on the other hand, have totally failed to earn The Power Of Love, so no power-up of a flaming sword for you guys!


Buy Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition and read the Page 45 review here

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 2 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & John Paul Leon, Igor Kordey, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Keron Grant, Frank Quitely.

Emma Frost: “Hypercortisone D. They call it “Kick,” God bless the little dears. It makes them feel like movie stars, being directed by God, on location in Heaven… We found this dispenser outside the Common Room window. I’ve tried it, of course… in the interests of science. I felt angelic and violently insane for five hours. I foresee trouble if this becomes widespread.”
Quentin Quire: “You’re always encouraging us to dream… I just wondered what would happen if one of us had a dream you didn’t like?”
Charles Xavier: “These clothes, the angry slogans, are just the outward signs… he’s developing a small cult following. With a dangerous anti-human undercurrent. If any of our students were found to be involved in these latest killings… I’ve always feared something like this – trouble from within.”
When Jumbo Carnation, flamboyant clothes designer and mutant cause célèbre, becomes the latest victim of anti-mutant hatred, it’s one last nail in the coffin of tolerance for some of the younger students at Professor Xavier’s school. They’ve seen 16,000 mutants massacred in Genosha with human technology, their self-proclaimed mentor has been trying to win the battle for integration and peaceful co-existence for years, and to Quentin Quire, a bitter teenage with all the dopamine that comes with those years, the goal is no nearer to being accomplished than it was when Xavier began. All it takes is one profound emotional trauma and a blast of Kick, and it’s going to grow nastier than any of the students or teachers can imagine.

Morrison’s brilliance throughout this series has been to refine the spectacle, mechanics and melodrama of the superpowered mutant as outsider, and marry them to historical and contemporary social issues, popular youth trends, and throw in a lot of style while he’s at it. For the Genoshan genocide, read Holocaust; for the assault on Jumbo, read queer bashing; and then there’s always been that logic-defying racism within the football and music camp, when key players in both are quite patently black. All this and so much more – from reclaiming the language and imagery of bigotry, to recreational drugs, globalisation and modern evolutionary theory – has been tailored to fit this mutant soap opera and turn it into something refreshingly relevant and deliciously witty. And the icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the pun, has to be the sybaritic Emma Frost, perpetually detached, self-important and superficial, whose complacent calm in the heart of the bloody storm is rendered by Quitely with total panache:

“It looks like you were right about Master Quire and his band of bad haircuts. This is quite appalling!”
“We told you, Miss Frost! We knew he’d ruin our Open Day! He wants to make a mess of everything.”
“I’m sure it’s just another petulant cry for help, girls. I don’t know what it is with young people these days, but I do miss the imagination and verve of the little zealots I used to teach. There was a wild, romantic light in their eyes and they threw themselves into the fray at every turn. Now it’s all bored stares, vague demands and a few broken windows. Hardly the stuff of mutant legend.”
“But weren’t they all killed, Miss Frost? The students you used to teach?”
“There were one or two fatalities, yes… but for heaven’s sake, Esme. Let’s try not to dwell on the down side.”

Imagination, flair and a keen fashion sense – when they’re on top form Quitely and Morrison have made reading the X-Men a chic thrill for grown-ups rather than a guilty addiction for the undemanding.


Buy New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, Marc Silvestri.

“Xorn… why is that map upside down?”
“It’s a picture of the future, Charles… I call it Planet X.  I’m teaching my students to imagine tomorrow, and giving them the tools to take them there…”

The final volume of Grant’s inspired run on a previously brain-dead title before Joss Whedon takes over in ASTONISHING X-MEN and raises the game even further.

Previously: the human race is dying out, replaced by mutants which themselves are evolving further; Cassandra Nova, Xavier’s twin, sends mutant-killing Sentinels to commit genocide in Genosha, wiping out Magneto in an instant; the school acquires a new teacher in iron-masked Xorn; Jean Grey begins manifesting the power of the Phoenix once more; Cyclops succumbs to the sexual charms of the Emma Frost; Wolverine learns more about the Weapon X programme (it’s the Roman numeral ten); Xavier comes out as a mutant – he is – the Beast comes out as gay – he isn’t; a new power-enhancing, lethally addictive drug surfaces; there’s a riot, a girl dies, and Xorn takes off his helmet…

I don’t think anyone could accuse Grant of being dull. Here the final catastrophe causes Scott Summers to lose heart. He abandons the school, and through that single action rather than the death itself a terrible chain of events is set in motion which lead to the worst of possible futures. Morrison binds much that he has created into what at first appears a confusing few issues. It’s super-charged with long words – high pronouncements and  loud protestations – and slashed onto the page through the busiest of hyperactive art. It will need re-reading, it’s so well disguised. But that’s good, and when you finally begin to understand just what has happened it makes perfect sense and provides a very satisfying wrap. Majestic, creative and bursting with energy. It is, in fact, Sublime.


Buy New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 3 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 Manara Library vol 3 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara

Only Skin: New Tales Of The Slow Apocalypse (£16-50, LOC) by Sean Ford

Peanuts, Complete: vol 18 1985-1986 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles M. Schultz

Swamp Thing vol 1: Raise Them Bones s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy

Sonic The Hedgehog vol 17 (£5-99, Sega) by various

Kill Audio s/c (£13-50, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Chondra Echert & Mr. Sheldon

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Rick Burchett, Brian Hurtt

Batman: The Brave And The Bold vol 2: Help Wanted (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & various

Fear Itself s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen, Scot Eaton

Fear Itself: Avengers s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato, Chris Bachalo

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 2 hardcover (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw, Chris Bachalo

Dorohedoro vol 7 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

I’ve Seen It All (£9-99, June) by Shoko Takaku

Itazura Na Kiss vol 9 (£12-99, DMP) by Kaoru Tada

The Man I Picked Up (£9-99, June) by CJ Michalski

Gate 7 vol 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 24 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 8 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great

Naruto vol 58 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Soul Eater vol 10 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Bleach vol 46 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bleach vol 47 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Bakuman vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Rin-Ne vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi

Moebius drawing and colouring live. Astonishing recordings!

And speaking of those lately lamented, yesterday Sergio Toppi passed away just before the release of SHARAZ-DE. Look at this dazzling Sergio Toppi gallery!

What an atrocious year. We’re losing so many greats.

Here, this’ll cheer you up: photo of me, twenty years ago, passed out. Moment recorded and ‘kindly’ disseminated via Twitter by @Mannaz otherwise known as Nigel Brunsdon, whom I worked with at Fantastic Store Birmingham FOR WAY TOO LONG!

Big love, Nigel, and thanks for putting up with me.

– Stephen

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