Reviews August 2012 week one

Another majestic piece of storytelling from Jeff, and I was hooked immediately. And whilst there are some superbly surreal dream sequences and hallucinatory segments that captivate and beguile this really is a story all about people at its heart.

 – Jonathan on Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire.

 

Adamtine s/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry.

“Right, then. Let’s go and talk to the driver. Staying here is frankly more tedious than I’m prepared to tolerate. And I’ve been to Basingstoke.”

They’re not going to find a driver.

Two years ago a man called Rodney Moon was acquitted of abducting strangers. At the trial, however, he admitted to the judge and jury that he had passed on notes to each and every one of them: cold, clinical letters that were found in their stead, detailing moments of misjudgement. He claimed they were given to him by the real kidnapper – a monster, he said – but no one believed him. Certainly not the victims’ families, or their friends, or the newspapers. Still, he got off. Though no one is quite sure what happened next.

Now four passengers who took the last train home are stranded in their carriage in the middle of the night. The train hasn’t moved for two hours. Presumably there are leaves on the line. Their cell phones are dead and the intercom is just a fuzz of static punctuated by brief bursts of strangely familiar words. Outside all is black, though there may have been a man outside…

Hannah Berry is back and on rollicking form. The painted art with its pallid pallet save for one rich red jacket is perfect for this eerie echo of a book. The panels are framed in an endless inky black for the present and stark white for the past. The huge noses put me in mind of Beryl Cook.

There are some absolutely cracking exchanges, but the creator of the singularly British BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY is far from having a laugh. This is a chilling read, as disorientating at first as it is for the four seeming strangers; but their secrets do give themselves up, eventually. Ridiculously clever once the connections are made, you’ll want it read it once, twice, thrice like I did, and then possibly never again. It really is that disturbing. Just leave a little note in its place, but don’t ever take the last train home.

SLH

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

The Underwater Welder (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jeff Lemire…

“You don’t have to keep doing this you know. You don’t have to go in there.”
“Yes. I do.”

“Jackie? There’s one hell of a storm rolling in… What’re you doing down here?”
“I’m looking for my dad. Have you seen him? I thought maybe he was here.”
“Oh I seen him all right… Was sitting there all afternoon, shooting his mouth off about God knows what. All that treasure he finds. Yer dad still couldn’t pay his damn.”
“Cool it, Gerry! Yer dad said he was off to pick you up, Jackie. Just need to find something for you first.”
“Find something?”
“Yep, that’s what he said.”
“Okay… thanks.”

Occasionally you read a comic or graphic novel at just the right moment in your life so that it touches you in a different way to if you had read it at another time, the circumstances of your life right then causing you to make some personal connection, profound or even just mildly tenuous to the events, which wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Thus in my case if I hadn’t read KICK-ASS I wouldn’t have become a costumed crime fighter…

Joking aside, that synchronous element, true of all media obviously – prose books, music, film, television etcetera – was certainly present for me here as Jack Joseph, the underwater welder of the title, working off the coast of chilly Nova Scotia, is preparing to become a father for the first time and his life is therefore about to dramatically change*. There is then already the element of flux, of change, of the profoundest possible sense that things cannot possibly remain the way they were eating away at Jack…

And so, already a solitudinous sort of cove, in part due to the nature of his work, he finds himself drawn even further inward reflecting upon the nature of parenthood, his own relationship with his divorced parents, in particular his wayward father, who vanished mysteriously on Halloween when Jack was just a lad*. Jack had been expecting him to turn up to take him treat or treating, which in itself was to make up for not picking him up from his hockey game the day before. After that particular occasion, subsequently finding his dad in the local tavern where he spent most of his time when not vainly diving for sunken treasure, a disappointed Jack heads to pub again on Halloween evening to confront his father, fully expecting to find his dad holding court, but instead is left with a puzzle that will eat away at him for many years to come.

I do wonder whether this work – and SWEET TOOTH as well now I come to think about it, and you can certainly throw ESSEX COUNTY in there too – is informed by Jeff’s personal experiences of family and fatherhood. I’m not suggesting that anything he’s written is in any way strongly autobiographical, but it’s certainly interesting to see themes running through much of his work, that of familial and filial relationships being foremost amongst them. It certainly always provides a powerful undercurrent for the direction of his narrative and characters, and so it is here once again.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jack’s heavily pregnant wife Susan is becoming increasing upset with his distant attitude as they rapidly approach full term, and certainly extremely unimpressed with his decision to take two last weeks of work welding underwater at an offshore rig, right before the birth of their son. So when Jack has a most peculiar experience under the waves which requires him to be rescued, she fervently hopes that this event will finally force him to start thinking seriously about their future. Instead, of course, it has precisely the opposite effect, making him evermore obsessed with his own father, and the unusual circumstances of his disappearance. As the birth approaches, and Jack seems to be sinking further and further into the past, Susan begins to wonder if they even have any sort of future together. I must admit at this point, I was practically yelling at the page telling Jack to sort himself out!

Another majestic piece of storytelling from Jeff, and I was hooked immediately. And whilst there are some superbly surreal dream sequences and hallucinatory segments that captivate and beguile, this really is a story all about people at its heart. The art style is the typically loose yet incredibly detailed penmanship we’ve come to know and love from Lemire and there’s really clever use of page design too throughout: some lovely composite panel pages and also some delightful full-page underwater spreads. Recommended, therefore.

* Just to add for the easily confused that a) no, my wife and I are not expecting again, once is more than enough thank you very much, and b) my dad was not a diver hunting for sunken and treasure and has most definitely not vanished. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if one day he revealed he was an undercover agent spying for a foreign power but that’s a whole other digression for a different review…

JR

Buy The Underwater Welder and read the Page 45 review here

American Elf vol 4 (£18-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka.

Oh, this is so addictive! Kittens, cats and minor mishaps. Dancing to Der Komissar in a washroom mirror – brilliant!

Four whole years of daily diaries honed to two, three or four succinct panels at most: glimpses into the domestic life or professional strife of comicbook creator James Kochalka Esq. Feel free to reverse those adjectives. He’s father to both Eli and Oliver, now both old enough to add extra entertainment value for money, with wife Amy always at the ready to gently puncture the pretentious or self-absorbed. I love her inordinately. Warning: it’s a wee bit rude in places! Anyway, here’s James after flossing his young son’s teeth. Poor Eli is in tears:

“There, all done. Sorry I yelled at you.”
“You yelled as LOUD as you possibly COULD! I’m not that naughty. I’m GOOD. You have no idea how LOUD that was!”

That’s reasoned resistance! There’s also some astonishingly touching stuff which in other hands would be sickly but Kochalka handles it brilliantly with a plane in freefall on fire, one panel of black with feint, scratches of white, and then James emerging from the darkness stretching out one hand to his family:

“If I die… give me one year.
“I will try to come back to life. I think I can do it.
“Because I love you.”

SLH

American Elf vol 4

The Art of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details s/c (£9-99, IDW) by Molly Crabapple.

From the founder of Dr. Sketchy, the Not Up Its Arse Art Class whose Nottingham branch and burlesque brilliance Page 45 is ridiculously proud to play sponsor to, this is another luxurious art book.

“Feminist but feminine” is how Margaret Cho describes Molly’s delicately detailed penmanship. I’m down with that. Also: “daring”. There is indeed something saucy to the sea side of it, but I would also add “rude but not lewd” and “naughty yet nice” plus with something to say on top of that. There’s a rare male modelling here in the form of blonde Dusty Limits, and he’s presented in his bare chest and striped, blue-and-white long johns, ever so slightly preening like Donna Barr’s gay but not fey DESERT PEACH. He is self-regarding, but only to stave off the ravages of time which is the death of any old performer, sadly.

Unlike the first book, WEEK IN HELL, with its black and white beauty built upon walls which Molly mystifyingly made herself prisoner to, there’s actual colour here. It’s the colour of glazed, fine china.

Shifting its focus to the more cabaret-inclined, it is quite the performance with staged sets as thrilling as the Restoration Theatre’s. Porn star Stoya stalks the cover, but take a look inside for the devil is in the… ah, yes. Love her painted face! It’s all very 18th Century France – Marie Antoinette etc – yet really, really look at that nose and those lips: I’m getting Sam Kieth, aren’t you?

Lastly, it’s all so stupidly beautiful in spite of its piercing intelligence that I never even noticed that the woman suspended as the tarot’s Hanged Man has her throat soundly slashed. Not to begin with. Her blood defies gravity, cascading upwards as a flurry of florid, crimson butterflies.

Here’s something to say and the skill with which to say it. She says so in pictures, so interpret at will.

SLH

The Art Of Molly Crabapple vol 2: Devil In The Details softcover

Blood Blokes #2 (£2-99) by Adam Cadwell.

Waiting in a graveyard in the middle of the night:

“Are you not going to ask why we’re doing this?”
“I’m sure you have your reasons and if you’re wrong I’ll be here to mock you.”
“You’re a good friend.”

Previously in BLOOD BLOKES #1

It’s New Year’s Eve 2000, and young quitter Vincent is having a very bad day: four hours sleep, a freezing flat, a shower that refused to heat up and he’s late for a shift selling tickets at the Odeon which he swapped with co-worker Andrew. Still, at least that means Andrew will cover for him later so Vince can meet up with his girlfriend. Wrong! Andrew has just pulled a sickie, effectively pulling the rug from under young Vincent who’ll now have to work a double shift and miss his date – unless, of course, he quits. You know, just like he quit his Philosophy course at university where he first met his girlfriend Jane. But as far as Jane is concerned the quitter quit one time too many and it’s time to call it quits.

New Year’s Eve 2000: what a total pisser! It could only get worse if here were bitten by a bat then woke up in a dress…

Now: it’s still New Year’s Eve 2000, and the sun is only just setting on a typically tatty student flat: porn videos strewn on the floor, bottles between boots and curtains tagged together with masking tape. Mike has just fallen out of bed, Ariana’s rubbing her eyes and Douglas… Douglas has a bad case of bed hair. No, wait – the 5,000-volt look is intentional. Or inevitable. Anyway, deadpan Doug is back with breakfast.

“The corner shop proprietor said he didn’t have any blood.
“I hastened to disagree.”

Nothing I type can do the visual gags justice here – so, so many and each delivered with devilish timing. Deadpan Douglas in particular with his implacable expression, eight-foot stature, fright-wig hair and eyes glowering through inch-wide eyeliner is comedy gold, especially as offset by his mordant wit. Mike too with his long, lank hair, black-rimmed spectacles and mouth that goes “Ooh!” – a lot – is a scream. You have never read a vampire comic remotely like this, but you really, really should. How can you resist a title like “BLOOD BLOKES”?

I also love the narrative shift here: the same hours as issue #1, but seen from the vampires’ perspective as they too celebrate New Year’s Eve with its novelty 2001 glasses, and Mike spies Vincent storming out of the pub towards his date with disaster…

So how did our Vince wake up with fangs in a dress, eh? It’s not what you think at all.

SLH

Buy Blood Blokes #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me (£18-99, Hill & Wang) by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman.

Great title and premise – even some great history to make us all think – but no, no, no.

“Harvey, there’s a thin line between genius and crazy and you’ve crossed it.”

Harvey, there’s also a yawning chasm between examining something from a personal perspective and smothering it with your own presence. This is the very opposite of Joe Sacco who steps aside in his own work to give a voice to those who have never been heard and let them tell the world what they saw. Instead Harvey is ubiquitous here – way too many portraits and irrelevant interjections as he lounges round libraries with his artist in tow – and I seriously doubt that the equivalent of his Sunday School teacher ever came close to claiming he was a genius. Harvey’s heart is in the right place, but while the opinionated everyman of original AMERICAN SPLENDOUR worked perfectly for dealing with the ordinary and everyday, it’s ill-suited to issues of such import as these. Waldman’s done his best given the scripts he’s been given: some really imaginative page layouts, and even an Italian Foods supermarket interior stands out as a thing of grey-toned beauty. Unfortunately the script he’s been given is unsalvageable in style – in its meandering nature and constant distractions – and the result is a bad graphic novel.

Now that’s been said, let’s see if we can rescue some sales because it’s the execution of the project I have problems with, not the project itself: a critical examination of the catastrophe that has been Israel’s relationship with its neighbours since the day it was created from the perspective of a man who was brought up by Zionist parents to be a particularly orthodox Jew, but became disillusioned not with his heritage but the country called Israel as soon as he started to think for himself. Just as JUDENHASS – in support of the Jewish people and damning the atrocities committed against them over the millennia – carried added weight through being written and drawn by a non-Jewish creator, Dave Sim, so this criticism on the political and military actions of Israel may have more impact coming a man who is proud to be Jewish, but not blindly nationalist.

And you know what? I think he nails it here:

“It was and still is the practice of nations to take advantage of other countries after they’ve defeated them in war.”

How do you lose a war? By being thoroughly broken. But instead of being magnanimous in victory to countries clearly no longer a threat and thereby securing the prospect of lasting peace through mutual good will, we have throughout history taken advantage of them instead. Harvey continues:

“But I thought the Jews were different, straight shooters who would never grab more than what they deserved.”

Or, I would add, needed. Unfortunately, as Harvey demonstrates, he was wrong: the Jewish politicians and religious leaders were no different at all.

In 1967 Egypt in the form of Gamal Abdel Nasser launched an attack on Israel with Jordan and Syria, and got thoroughly twatted for their sins by the Israeli army military in just six days.

“They then went on to take the Golan Heights from Syria… the west bank of the Jordan river from Jordan… and most of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. All in less than a week. Well, I gotta say I was proud of Israel then. They’d taken on huge odds and beat them. A whole lot of Jews were happy about that, happy and relieved.” But. “What was Israel going to do with all this land and the new Arabs they’d have to govern?” Trade the land back for lasting peace? Nope, here come the Settlers onto land which they don’t even need, which is where, for me, it all went horribly, unnecessarily wrong.

Some might say being the victim of aggression gives you the right to punish the aggressor, but surely in terms of national prosperity it is the result that count most? It doesn’t matter who starts a war; it matters who ends it, how it is ended and what you do next. That by definition is how the future gets made; and it’s what you do next which defines that future.

Pekar covers much more ground than this, obviously: there are thousands of years of history to be explored, his own upbringing and then rude awakenings and his previous attempts to raise these well reasoned issues in print only to be shot down dismissively by those disinterested in reason or debate. That his arguments are so cogent makes it all the more regrettable that his personal appearances as narrator – wandering around town and wandering off-topic – aren’t.

SLH

Buy Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me and read the Page 45 review here

A Distant Soil vol 1: The Gathering (£14-99, Image) by Colleen Doran.

Classic science-fiction fantasy so beloved by Neil Gaiman that he wrote the introduction and nails the key quality: an overwhelming sense of joy matched by the ambition of a truly epic, empire-spanning adventure and crisp, clean lines. It’s like P. Craig Russell as inked by Terry Austen, and just as erotically charged and beautiful to behold!

I wish, I wish, I wish I had time to re-read this today and do the book justice, for we owe it a great deal. Twenty years ago there was so little like this to put on our shelves back at Fantastic Store and sell to the less corporately inclined. A particularly personal project, it’s bursting with individuality, embracing both Arthurian sword and sorcery and contemporary metropolitan life. And you wait until the two collide as they do, quite dramatically (and, yes, literally) when you’ll wonder about the true meaning of horse power!

I know several long-term customers for whom this is their favourite-ever series. Maybe you’ll find that it’s yours.

SLH

Buy A Distant Soil vol 1: The Gathering and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Barberi, Medina.

“Nick, this is – you’re brainwashing an entire planet here!”
“Well, yeah, but it’s cheaper than finding another universe-level telepath”

Prepare to have your minds messed with. What you see is not necessarily what you get. The question is, will you get what you’ll see?

With America incarcerating its mutant population in concentration camps guarded by Sentinels in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nevada, Xorn has offered all mutants safe haven on the floating island of Tian – if they can get there. Three such mutants have done so, including Karen Grant… except that one of them hasn’t. Karen, you see, is really Jean Grey, dispatched Nick Fury’s eyes on the inside while pulling the telepathic wool over everyone else’s: she’s still in his office. Unless she’s actually on Tian and pulling the wool over Nick’s.

Meanwhile word has reached the camp where Storm is detained and Colossus is being tortured that mutants were created by man. As weapons. I do predict I riot, but then no one could predict what happens next, for Quicksilver’s been moving fast on the President persuading him to link the lethal Nimrod fleet to the mutant-tracking Cerebra and it’s all gone horribly wrong. Now he’s no longer the cocky son of a bitch he seemed but running back home to Wanda. I wonder who’s waiting in Egypt?

As I say, prepare to have your minds messed with: the final chapter changes everything. Maybe. There’s some clean and glossy art going on with a few magnificent full-page spreads, but it’s the complexity of what’s been woven both here and in Ultimate Comics Ultimates that really takes my breath away, and I do recommend picking up ULTIMATE COMICS HAWKEYE and maybe even ULTIMATE COMICS FALLOUT first, which is where all this kicked off.

SLH

Ultimate Comics: X-Men vol 2 hardcover

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

Everyone’s favourite second-stringer gets his take to take a bow… and fire it repeatedly…

Indeed, in the hands of Jonathan Hickman (ULTIMATE COMICS THOR and current run of the ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES), this squarely hits the mark. From a peripheral book, this a vital piece of the larger jigsaw puzzle now being built in the current run of both ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN and ULIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES, providing considerable extra recon and intel on the current goings-on in the Southeast Asian Republic where, if it weren’t enough trouble for Nick Fury that Reed Richards has returned with his very super-powered ‘children’ in eastern Europe, there’s another bunch of amped-up interlopers – well, two in fact – inhabiting twin cities that have suddenly popped into existence on the other side of the planet.

Backed up by the gang from Ultimate Comics X including the Hulk, it’s up to Clint Barton to make all nicey nice and play the diplomat with the newcomers (hmm… sensing a teeny weeny snag with that part of the plan)  whilst working out what they’re really up to. Hickman also provides an extremely credible sci-fi secret origin for Hawkeye and reveals a little more back story about the Ultimate version of the bespectacled bowman than we’ve known to date.

JR

Buy Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Please note: this isn’t actually SECRET AVENGERS VOL 1, it’s the fifth book because Marvel care nought ‘bout confounding. They didn’t even bother to number FEAR ITSELF: SECRET AVENGERS. Seriously, it is to sigh.

“Picking up a large blast of organically magnified energy in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Pakistan, resulting in several hundred civilian casualties. No mutants detected on a sweep of the area.”
“Who will we vilify in their absence?”

Well done, Rick: another masterfully written McCoy. The Art Adams cover to this new creative team’s take on Steve Rogers’ covert Avengers screams, “Look! You can come back kids! This is no longer that odd Avengers title Nick Spencer made thought-provoking and Warren Ellis turned into GLOBAL FREQUENCY II (see volume 3). This is much, much safer with colourful costumes, Hawkeye at the helm and even a brand-new Avenger in the form of Captain Gaudy-Pants Britain himself!”

All of which does Remender, Hardman and ace-colourist Bettie Breitweiser (see WINTER SOLDIER) a huge disservice for – the scenes featuring Captain Britain aside – the first chapter proved plenty interesting with a startlingly unusual set-up beginning with a suicide bombing in a Pakistani market place. There a young woman and her infant son have been shopping for cumrin, turmeric and bay leaves to prepare a small feast for Papa’s return. They believe they’ll eat well, but when the bomb goes off it’s the explosion she devours in an instinctive act to protect her child. It would have worked too, except when the soldiers crowd round, only concerned for her safety, the bewildered mother reacts once more, entirely against her will, expelling the inferno she absorbed through her mouth. If that wasn’t startling enough, the act appears to trigger reactions in four other individuals around the world, the nature of which I still haven’t quite figured out yet, let alone the punchline which appears to feature some pretty major Marvel characters a most unlikely meeting.

So basically stick around, at least for a while, if only to laugh at the idea that you could send someone dressed like Captain Britain into any arena and still remain covert. I bet his underpants are an absolute riot.

SLH

Buy Secret Avengers vol 1 h/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.

 
Flossbook: The Story Of A Social Network (£2-99, Inky Little Fingers) by Tanya Meditzky & David O’Connell

The Recruit (£9-99, Hodder) by Robert Muchamore, Ian Edginton & John Aggs

Ellipsis (£4-99, SPB) by Tom Humberstone

Gum Girl: The Tentacles Of Doom! (£6-99, Walker) by Andi Watson

Monocyte h/c (£37-99, IDW) by Kasra Ghanbari

Sonic Universe vol 3: Knuckles Returns (£8-99, ArchieComics) by various

Lenore vol 4: Swirlies h/c Colour Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge

The Beatles In Comic Strips h/c (£25-00, Skira) by Enzo Gentile, Fabio Schiavo

House Of Mystery vol 8: Desolation (£10-99, Vertigo) by Matthew Sturges & Luca Rossi and many others

Superman Action Comics vol 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel h/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales, Andy Kubert

Batman: No Man’s Land vol 3 (£25-99, DC) by Ian Edginton, Janet Harvey, Larry Hama, Chuck Dixon, Bronwyn Carlton Taggart, Steven Barnes, Dennis J. O’Neil, Devin Grayson, Alisa Kwitney & various

Hitman vol 7: Closing Time (£22-50, DC) by Garth Ennis & John McCrea

The Punisher vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto

X-Men: FF s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Jorge Molina, Mirco Pierfederici, Will Conrad

Blade Of The Immortal vol 25: Snowfall At Dawn (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Air Gear vol 23 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great

Air Gear vol 24 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Oh!Great

Negima! vol 34 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Negima! vol 35 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Drifters vol 2 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano

Vampire Knight vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Sailor Moon vol 6 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuhci

Olympos (£12-99, Yen) by Aki

D Gray Man vol 22 (£6-99, Viz) by Katsura Hoshino

Claymore vol 20 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

 
If you’ve not seen it: the most beautifully appointed comic shop in the world (Japan). As Dominique pointed out, it’s exactly the sort of thing our beardy beloved Mark Simpson would have constructed from cardboard! Make sure you stick around for the entire slide-show here

Also, in celebration of last weekend’s Nottingham Gay Pride, here is a very, very funny one-page comic strip by the naughty Neill Cameron!

Lastly, Paul Duffield’s SIGNAL is now free online and is one of the most beautiful and uplifting comics you will ever read in your life.

 – Stephen

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