“Oh, Stephen! You’re not going to define comics again, are you? Eddie Campbell will kill you!”
– Just about everyone. I live to confound.
The Eyes Of The Cat h/c (£27-99, Humanoid) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius.
Oh, this is a beauty, but what a terrible beauty to behold! You have been warned.
The first-ever collaboration between master storytellers Jodorowsky & Moebius, it is reprinted now in crispest black and white rather than its original yolk-yellow, and whatever the aesthetic reasons behind the first format, it benefits enormously both from the detoxification and the superior modern printing process. Created in the late 1970s, it was given away free to loyal fans of Les Humanoides Associés then pirated like crazy. My first encounter was in 1990, just as I joined the comicbook industry, when Stephen Bissette incorporated it into the fourth volume of his blistering horror anthology, TABOO, accompanied by a cracking essay he wrote himself and a couple of interviews too.
That it appeared in a horror anthology should give you a clue to my caveat: this is isn’t a cute little kitty comic. It is, instead, an eerily spacious and semi-silent narrative and I can almost hear each sparse sentence being delivered in a quiet, considered monotone. It is intense; the ancient, empty buildings of eastern origin rendered in all their crumbling detail, and told with what Bissette so aptly described as “hypnotic, metronomic pacing”.
On each left-hand page a boy stands with his back to us, silhouetted against the sky. He watches through a window and waits. To the right a single, razor-sharp shaft of light pierces the endless clouds that clog up the sky and block out the sun, like the sooty fall-out from a volcanic disaster. It falls onto the cracked paving of a lifeless street littered with rubble and cable and cogs. A black cat emerges, and steps into the circle. An eagle soars high above.
Truly this is the stuff of dreams (Moebius: “Alejandro is a professional dreamer”) but it suddenly explodes on a page of horrific black beauty that will sear itself into your brain with its curves, claws and jaws. This is so well composed, and gorgeously delineated. When you finally see the boy facing front, he’s like a weather-worn statue, his arm muscles moulded with sort of contoured rendering you’ve since come to expect from Barry Windsor-Smith. As Moebius explained to Bissette, he was always a fan of Gustav Doré.
It’s not a long read, I concede right now, and although way more affordable than Humanoids’ previous edition, the price is pretty steep. It is, however, an absolute classic for any connoisseur of comics, and its production values are impeccable with a matt black, green and cream cover and perfectly placed spot-varnish.
The Recruit (£9-99, Hodder) by Robert Muchamore, Ian Edginton & John Aggs.
“OK, I get the point. What does CHERUBS stand for anyway?”
“Good question. Our first chairman made up the initials and had a batch of stationary printed. Unfortunately he had a stormy relationship with his wife and she shot him before he told anyone what it meant. It was wartime and you couldn’t waste six thousand sheets of headed notepaper, so CHERUB stuck. If you ever think of what it might stand for, let me know. It gets quite embarrassing sometimes.”
Promise: this will exceed your expectations!
Published by Hodder Children’s Books, its back cover declares, “NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS” and it really isn’t: it is shockingly and unflinchingly violent for the first dozen pages, young James Choke losing his temper with devastating results, then being bullied back in return. I love what Aggs has done with the black, white and blood-red splatters that expressionistically introduce or curtail some scenes depending on what’s been depicted, and what’s being depicted is devastating in places, like the death, early on, of James’ mother.
Bereft, distraught and taken in to care, James is more scared for his sister. Her Dad – his step-father – is a violent man who drinks and she’d be better off joining James. Unfortunately there’s nothing that can done. But although James is landed right in at the deep end with a new, potentially hostile environment and even worse company, he is nothing if not resilient and resourceful. It’s not gone unnoticed. So imagine how startled he is to wake up one morning somewhere else entirely, naked, in bed, with a new set of threads. And the academy outside is palatial. It’s a clandestine, military academy which trains promising recruits to infiltrate, investigate and if necessary close terrorist networks down: extreme force sanctioned. Welcome to CHERUB, James: hope you survive the experience. You’ve already been drugged once.
“Criminals use children all the time. For example, imagine a grown man knocking on an old lady’s door in the middle of the night, saying he’d been in an accident. Most people would be suspicious. She’d call an ambulance but still wouldn’t let him in.
“Now image the same lady comes to the door and finds a young boy crying on the doorstep. “My daddy’s car crashed. He’s not moving. Please help me!” The instant she opens the door, the boy’s dad jumps out of hiding, clobbers the old dear and legs it with her cash.
“Criminals have used this for years. At CHERUB we turn the tables on them.”
With smartly paced storytelling throughout and a real power in places from relative newcomer, John Aggs, this all far more complex and clever than you’d imagine. The training is intense, relentless and gruelling, the initial aptitude tests and James’ performances far from predictable, never mind their final analyses. That’s when I really started to become impressed. Take this one, after James was given a pen and ordered to kill a chicken by severing the main artery and cutting through the windpipe with a pen. “This is sick.” Did he do it?
“How do you think you did on the third test?”
“I killed the chicken…”
“Does that mean you passed?”
“I… thought you wanted me to kill it.”
“The chicken was a test of your moral courage. You pass well if you kill it straight away or if you flatly refuse on moral grounds. I thought you performed poorly. You didn’t want to kill the chicken but you let me bully you into it. You made a decision and saw it through, so get a low pass. If you’d dithered or got upset, you’d have failed.”
All of which precedes James’ first mission with swimming trainer Amy pretending to be brother and sister. It doesn’t go quite to plan.
Each of the friendship dynamics are different here and I relished every one. I don’t know how much more strongly I can emphasise my admiration for the original script and adaptation, both Edginton’s and Aggs’ except to say I cannot think of a better action graphic novel for early-to-mid-teen boys, and there’s plenty for young ladies here too.
Hope you enjoyed the review. From tomorrow half of it will be translated into Russian, half into Japanese. You’ll need to cooperate to decode it.
Beasts Of Burden: Neighbourhood Watch (£2-75, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson.
“When the end comes, and you leave this place… won’t you miss your friend, if his path takes him somewhere else?”
“It’s time for us to go. I hope your friend feels better.”
“I’m sorry what he saw upset him so.”
Holy Lamb Of God! You are never safe with BEASTS OF BURDEN, as anyone who’s read that hardcover can tell you.
Evan Dorkin will make you care too deeply and Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolours of the cat and canine companions are so utterly endearing. But peer below the surface, scratch just a little for those buried bones, and the dead will rise and freak the fuck right out of you.
So it is when a goblin family set their gluttonous eyes on a hen coop, only to be hounded out of town – and you don’t have a problem with dismemberment, do you? You will feel sorry for their failure. But the real killer here is the third of three stories involving a flock of sheep being herded cross-country by their loyal and faithful sheepdog Ben. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but if you could see through Jack’s eyes, you’d probably pass out too.
I positively baulked. I think I shouted “HO!” on the shop floor, which is why our Tom daren’t even look.
Buy and befriend the Beasts Of Burden by joining the livestock auction here on the shop floor, or send your bids in via 0115 9508045 or firstname.lastname@example.org
RASL vol 4: The Lost Journals Of Nikola Tesla (£14-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith…
“Sal needs the journals to continue work on the array, but that’s not going to happen. I’m going to destroy the journals.”
“Destroy them? Why?”
“Because I have the only copies. On ever y world I’ve visited, Tesla died in a train crash on his way home from Colorado Springs. His most profound insights never happened. The journals and the array exist in only one Universe – mine.”
Ah poor Robert Johnson a.k.a. RASL, Agent Crow seemingly has him finally boxed into the veritable corner, as much as you can box someone into a corner that can teleport between Universes mind you, and the end game is well and truly afoot. The bad guys, i.e. the military-industrial complex, want his discoveries entirely for their own selfish ends and Robert has long since realised his naive desires to help usher in a utopian age are never going to happen. In fact, it’s all he can do to stay one step ahead of the opposition and keep himself alive. He’s got a plan though, and despite the fact it’s certainly a long shot, it might just work…
I’m quite sure now Jeff’s sci-fi adventure is complete, in four volumes, it’s going to find an even bigger audience than it has to date, and keep selling for a long, long time, exactly like BONE. This is the type of story that you’ll want and need to devour quickly, as the story moves fluidly on from one action packed scene to the next, interspersed with a gripping biography of the Tesla of RASL’s world, a man with a frighteningly powerful intellect and utterly determined to master the elemental power of electricity and then begin to unlock the hidden secrets of creation itself.
I also love how in RASL Jeff has created a real hybrid scientist action hero, who with a nose that looks like it’s gone more than a few rounds in the ring, is certainly no lab coat nerd. He’s a genuine tough guy, but with real heart, which might well cause him a few problems along the way too, but he’s a character you can’t help but take a genuine liking to, and really root for. And that is in no small part due to Jeff’s superlative art.
I’ll admit, I was slightly sceptical when I first heard he was going to do something so different content-wise from BONE, such is lasting appeal of those roguish, loveable characters, but I shouldn’t have doubted him. For example there’s a particular panel in this volume where Agent Crow cruelly taunts RASL with a certain piece of information and the half page close-up of RASL’s face is an absolute master class in how to convey emotion, several at once in fact, as you can clearly see shock, disbelief, anger, plus a steely determine to try not to let anything show, all battling for control just beneath the surface. I could stare at that panel for hours, it’s absolutely magnificent!
Jeff has paced this work perfectly from start to finish, feeding us tantalising pieces of luxuriously detailed Tesla back story which slot in neatly between the frenetic break-necked pace of RASL’s relentless attempts to evade the odious Agent Crow, whilst desperately trying to devise a strategy to come out on top. This is speculative fiction at its most ingenious and entertaining, and I wholeheartedly urge those of you who haven’t taken a look already to do so, you won’t be disappointed.
Godzilla Half Century War #1 (£2-99, IDW) by James Stokoe ~
With most artists you can say, for example, “no one does smoke like Eisner”, or “no one does black tones like Jaime Hernandez.” Well to be blunt, no one does ANYTHING like James Stokoe! Your pupils will dilate, forced to bask in the hyper-detailed wonder that is Stokoe Vision. His rubble crumbles under foot, glowing smoke billows from twisted pylons, and Godzilla’s famous unearthly roar is a jagged burst of red noise.
The fact that he’s so prolific despite the labour-intensive art must be quite irksome to his peers. Plus the guy writes like John Carpenter, and he clearly has too much fun doing both!
HALF CENTURY WAR is told in retrospect by Lt. Otta Murakami whose first encounter with a 150-foot radioactive Megalosaurus armed with a practically useless Sherman Tank cements his career with a certain special task force. The first issue echoes the original ‘50s film, and I’m hoping the subsequent issues do the same, but frankly as long as I get to look at more of this wondrous art, they could introduce Baby Godzilla for all I care.
From the creator of ORC STAIN.
Buy Godzilla: Half Century War by trampling you way to Page 45, roaring down 0115 9508045 or beating your keyboard thus: email@example.com Preview below new books!
Thomas Flintham’s Super-Fantastic Puzzles (£6-99, Scholastic) by Thomas Flintham.
You know what? This is actually comics!
“Oh, Stephen! You’re not going to define comics again, are you? Eddie Campbell will kill you!”
Yes! The visual puzzles are all integral to the story without which you wouldn’t have a clue what was happening. It’s even interactive comics because some of the pictures you’ll have to paint for yourself by joining up the dot-to-dots! It’s very much a journey through Flintham’s fantasy land populated by cute little creatures, horrible hybrids, some far happier hybrids, giants, dragons and eggmen.
Thomas is your travel guide, but you’ll have to do all the legwork yourself! Negotiate mazes, follow the threads and avoid the cracks in the pavement! I still haven’t grown out of that. I haven’t! Spotting the differences and matching up pairs at a picnic crowded with twins is a superb test of young readers’s observational skills, and some of them are pretty tricky!
At one point you’ll need to track a greedy old gold thief, locate a small bloodhound in a bag full of bits, bobs and… I’ve no idea what those are… then unleash it into the labyrinthine burrows before summoning a most unlikely ride to a castle in the clouds!
This is just magical, with Flintham coming off like a gentler Jamie Smart (FIND CHAFFY – highly recommended), with a dash of Animal Crossing to boot. Hurrah, huzzah and etcetera!
I’m forty-six years old, and I loved it to bits. Damn you, Thomas, for making me type that sentence. As a result we are no longer friends, though I love you. x
White Cloud Worlds h/c (£22-50, Harper) by various, edited by Paul Tobin…
Wow, it takes a look to get me excited about an art book, particularly what is primarily a fantasy art book, but I think this work might just have succeeded in destroying my preconceptions about said genre. First up, the title is a play on the Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, which roughly translates as ‘the land of the long white cloud’ and for those of you who’ve been fortunate enough to travel to that far-flung land and be dazzled by the amazing scenery, making it one of the beautiful countries on Earth, I have to say the artwork contained within the volume is of a comparable quality.
I think all the contributors may well be involved with Weta Workshop somehow, that’s the impression I got, who are themselves a conceptual design and manufacturing facility servicing the entertainment and creative industries. They’ve been involved with design, effects and props on The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Avatar amongst many, many other well known productions. In other words, they’re a top notch outfit, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that they employ such fine artists.
If this type of art book is your thing, you’re going to be in absolute heaven. The standard of the illustration, painting and occasional sculptures is truly incredible and amazingly diverse in scope. I can’t honestly remember ever being so impressed over and over again by artwork like I was with this book.
I also really enjoyed the lengthy self penned biographies and mini-essays which accompanies each of the 27 artists work, in particular Greg Broadmore’s genius one which reduced me to tears in places, so much so that I really must finish this review with the opening few paragraphs of it…
Greg Broadmore – artist, writer, professional naked downhill mountain biker, competitive hair stylist, breeder of guinea pigs and so much more. What didn’t he do? It’s hard to say really, as he was such a whirlwind force of nature – always pushing the boundaries of life and love. An Adonis of a man and an athlete of immeasurable skill, his presence in any room was felt and witnessed with awe and respect.
His chiselled abs could tent-pole the trousers of the hardest homophobe and a cursory glance from his green sultry eyes, welling deep with unfathomable emotion, could melt the vagina of the most glacial ice queen.
He took on life as a starving great white takes on a fat scuba-diver covered in delicious fish paste, and he left few morsels.
And then there was his art.
New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Book 1 (£25-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & Igor Kordey Ethan Van Sciver, Frank Quitely, Leinil Francis Yu >
Deep within South America, a baldy headed woman with a more than passing resemblance to Professor X reactivates a hidden Sentinel project. Bearing in mind she really really hates mutants, this spells genocide, ‘splosions and large metallic objects flying into skyscrapers. After numerous deaths and resurrections, Scott and Jean find themselves further apart than ever before; Prof. X doesn’t seem quite himself and has taken to carrying a gun; teenagers can’t spend their pocket money fast enough on the latest mutant fashions and pop music; outside the school gates, meanwhile, the mob begins to howl…
Like the rest of Morrison’s recent work, NEW X-MEN dances to a choppy, syncopated rhythm, shifting scene and viewpoint in creating a world soaked in corporatism, media trends, fear, loathing and good old fashioned sex. What makes this a spangly great book, however, are the spangly great moments; this is how a the best-selling superhero comic should be done: hip and flip, so pop it hurts. Cyclops, preparing to hit the insurers with another claim on a top-notch airplane reassures his passengers: “Relax. I’ve survived more jet aircraft crashes than any other mutant.” Rather than digging out Magneto for a “Charles, are our are dreams so very different?” scene, the X-Men’s eternal bête noire gets dispatched in a single panel, martyred as a mutant Che Guevara, his face on a t-shirt becoming the latest meme. Dominatrix school teacher Emma Frost sets out her lesson plan:
“I propose we spend today’s telepathy period hacking into the minds of some of our favourite screen idols. A gold star to the first girl to discover the awful truth about Tom and Nicole.”
Ideas fly out at a rate of knots and the comic reeks of the now. Where Morrison’s JLA saw him tangle with the monolithic icons of the DC Universe and reinvent them as latter-day saints, here he gets to play with the pop idols and sex symbols of the Marvel sandpit. Most of the art in this volume is by Frank Quitely and bears the familiar hallmarks of his work: fantastic choreography and a real sense of heft and gravity combined with the odd distorted limb and the unfortunate fact the females could also go under the nom de heroine of Giraffe Neck Woman. On very few occasions, the book reads like a Fisher Price version of THE INVISIBLES (especially when the Beast says stuff like “I feel like a Hindu sex god”), but mostly it’s the best superhero book on the stands by a country mile, wired to the present and ready to play. Leave your coat at the door and dance to the new.
– David Hart
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.
Scott Pilgrim vol 1 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni) by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Coraline 10Th Anniversary Limited Signed Slipcase hardcover Edition (£25-00, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman
BPRD Hell On Earth vol 3 – Russia (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Dave Stewart, Tyler Crook
The Making Of h/c (£22-50, D&Q) by Brecht Evens
A Chinese Life (£16-99, Self Made Hero) by Philippe Otie, Li Kunwu & Li Kunwu
The RE[a]D Diary h/c (£22-50, Image) by Teddy Kristiansen
Conan: The Daughters Of Midora And Other Stories (£10-99, Dark Horse) by various
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Classics vol 1 (£13-50, IDW) by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird plus various others
Uncanny X-Force vol 4: The Dark Angel Saga Book vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Billy Tan, Mark Brooks
Batman: Streets Of Gotham vol 3: The House Of Hush softcover (£13-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen
Elektra: Assassin s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli
Essential Warlock vol 1 (£14-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin & Jim Starlin, John Byrne plus more
Doubting Thomas? Get an eye full of James Stokoe’s GODZILLA!
Sadly, Joe Kubert is dead. A legendary artist in comics, here’s what I consider the best testament. It’s a short and very honest piece, profoundly moving and acknowledging what one man can do for another. It’s written by another industry legend, Stephen Bissette. It won’t take long.