Reviews October 2012 week two

These are not the idle musings of a dilettante, but the compressed result of fierce consideration both of the ideas themselves and how they’d be best expressed. It’s not a comic you’ll be flicking through before tossing aside for the next. Almost every sentence demands you linger gently and attentively, soaking it all in, and if I were to pin-point one quality that best described Thomas Herpich it would be as an aritst and writer with a real sense of purpose.

– Stephen on White Clay

A Wrinkle In Time h/c (£14-99, FSG) by Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larson…

“But how could we have gotten here? Even travelling at the speed of light it would take us years and years.”
“Oh, we don’t travel at the speed of anything. We tesser. Or as you might say, we wrinkle.”

Nice to be completely unfamiliar with the original material for a comics adaptation for a rare change, as I don’t recall even hearing about the prose version of this as a kid, which is a little surprising given how much sci-fi and fantasy I read in my childhood days. The story itself actually reminded me of Philip Pulman’s more recent Dark Materials Trilogy (for several reasons, and I would be very surprised if he hasn’t read this work) plus also the works of C.S. Lewis given some of the Christian references and allusion to the real identities of certain characters, but also children’s books like the Captain Cobweb series and Milo and The Phantom Toolbooth for their vast sense of surreal adventure.

Originally written in 1962 – and rejected by about fifty publishers before someone picked it up, primarily because they felt the time wasn’t right to have a female lead character in a science fiction work (really) – the central plot revolves around feisty young Meg Murray and her search for her missing father, who apparently vanished whilst researching something mysterious for the government. That mysterious something turns out to be instantaneous travel across space by means of bending space-time using the tesseract principle, or ‘tessering’ for short.

Unfortunately for Meg’s father it seems that there is a dark force abroad in the Universe, seeking to enslave whole planets at a time, and during an early explorative tesser he has been captured. How, precisely, has Meg found out this extremely top secret information, given the government haven’t been willing to tell them anything for months? Well, by means of her super-intelligent younger brother Charles equally mysterious friends, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which who, initially at least, appear to be witches, but in fact may be rather more than that. Fortunately for Meg and her brother, the three W’s also have the power to ‘tesser’ them and thus launch an expedition to find and rescue their father.

Okay, that’s probably enough of a synopsis to give you the general idea of what to expect plot-wise, so let’s talk about the adaptation itself, because that is for me the highlight here. This is an exceptionally beautifully illustrated book which is, I feel, Hope’s finest work to date. I get the impression from the art that this was certainly no chore, but probably rather a labour of love, such is the consistency and fluidity of the illustration. CHIGGERS and MERCURY are absolutely wonderful works in their own rights, but in terms of the art A WRINKLE IN TIME has that little something extra, the sense of touch that someone who had already fully realised and harnessed their exceptional talents has, however improbably, been inspired to surge one step further. I found an almost seamless sense of continuity from panel to panel, page to page, the whole work moving onwards with an almost animation-like quality in my mind’s eye. In other words, near perfection.

There were in fact several pages where I almost unconsciously slowed down my reading pace to better take in all the exquisite background details, which always gently embellish the scene, adding real depth and warmth. And without question Hope has completely succeeded in capturing every nuance of the emotional wringer that Meg is put through on her quest, and indeed her whole family at the anguish they feel over the continued absence of Mr. Murray. Just flicking back through looking at the art (again!) you could easily get a complete sense of the story without even needing to read the speech bubbles, just from observing the myriad expressions on the various character’s faces, particularly that of Meg and her brother Charles who go on such an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows during the course of their travels!

Definitely one for fans of Hope, absolutely one for children who love action-packed adventures, but also a great all-ages read in the vein of AMULET and MOUSE GUARD as adults will also be captivated by the surreal world that Madeleine L’Engle has created and which Hope brings so vividly to life to furnish us with a genuine magical mystery tour.

JR

Buy A Wrinkle In Time h/c and read the Page 45 review here

White Clay (£3-50, AdHouse Books) by Thomas Herpich.

An arrestingly accomplished collection of short stories, formidably intelligent and linguistically astonishing, this is bursting with ideas and insights communicated in ways which are from obvious, and in such an astonishing variety of styles that you’d swear blind they were drawn by different artists.

It kicks off with ‘Robinson Crusoe’, a succinct piece of sage advice involving islands and the rescuing therefrom. Actually it’s adapted from Franz Kafka so it’s all a wee bit more metaphorical than that, and I love the quality of ink in the bird silhouette splodge.

‘Doppelganger’ will give you a far more substantial pause for thought: there a lot of big questions in this tale but five pages long which will, unexpectedly, be reprised later on and in a way which proves Thomas Herpich is far from afraid taking even the most complex and searching of actions and consequences then seeing the ramifications through.

A man is forged with the sole purpose of keeping his original template – his identical twin – out of prison. This man is a wanted man with a price on his head, and to remain at liberty, to head off those hunting for him and so stop the search, he must sacrifice his doppelganger and sentence him effectively to a life behind bars. It’s hauntingly drawn with eyes wide, as the original man strives to take in the enormity of what he intends and comprehend what this act of betrayal will mean for – and also to – his doppelganger who will soon be sentient. It creates a completely new meaning to the concept of turning yourself in, and would be worth the price of admission alone. But just you wait for the reprise.

‘The Wedding Cauldron’ brings with it a more impish element of fantasy, and I’ll have to ponder a little long about exactly when it means, while ‘Mensch’ is drawn in a more comical style as a somewhat goofy and reluctant alien warrior defending god knows what it the middle of a barren god-only-knows-where is given the push by his Captain. Right off a cliff. Much to his surprise he wakes up believing he’s had a near-death experience. He’s almost there.

‘Should I’ and ‘Should II’ are simply astounding, but the absolute belter comes in the form of the final sentence of ‘Jumping’. As to the language, this is from the titular ‘White Clay’:

“Imagine:
projected in an empty theatre,
a truck silently scrapes a guardrail at night,
erupting a healthy torrent of white sparks and light.
The sparks are stars.
The stars are snowflakes.
Imagine them floating together patiently towards Earth
like a school of very slow fish…
Now they are passing, like apparitions, through your ceiling.
Feel the cold specks across the breadth of our back.
Feel them melting on the tops of your ears.
Breathe deeply.”

These are not the idle musings of a dilettante, but the compressed result of fierce consideration both of the ideas themselves and how they’d be best expressed. It’s not a comic you’ll be flicking through before tossing aside for the next. Almost every sentence demands you linger gently and attentively, soaking it all in, and if I were to pin-point one quality that best described Thomas Herpich it would be as an artist and writer with a real sense of purpose.

SLH

Buy White Clay and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin: Comic Strips vol 7 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson.

“We can’t build the new Palace with forced labour.”
“No, they wouldn’t like that. Look, I think the democratic way would be first to impose heavy taxes… and then pay them back as wages!”
“Oh… beautiful!”

Are you crying with laughter or just crying right now? Either way, I’ll wager you’re crying with recognition.

Welcome to the world of nation building, MOOMIN-style. It’s no more absurd than the reality of politics – just a lot less painful to laugh at. It all begins like this. Imagine…

You’re wiped out after an exacting day of long hours and hard graft, but finally the blessed bed beckons. Ah, how soft the sheets, how snug the blankets and how gratefully your weary limbs luxuriate in the soft, soothing give of a mattress! And slowly you sink off to sleep… Now imagine that instead of a single day’s exhaustion it’s been three long seasons, you haven’t hibernated properly in years and three seconds later Moominpappa bellows from the foot of the stairs…

“Family!”
“What is it?”
“No another guest again?”
“Wake up, everybody!”
“Thank you – we have!”

Ah, the scowl on Snork Maiden’s face! Love the put-upon frown: Lars totally nails ‘tired and tetchy’.

So what is it now? It’s not a new guest, it’s young Moomin’s bed-time reading: a new continent has been discovered and Moominpappa, ever the pioneer, is determined to colonise it first! It is, however, winter, so the oceans’s frozen over and are they really going to have to all skate their way there? No, an ice-raft is built big enough to fit the Moomins, Mymble, and Mrs. Fillyjonk… but probably not her heifer. Or potted plants. Maybe her children. But definitely not her enormous Queen Doris Pier-Glass dresser.

Naturally within panels it all goes pear-shaped when the ice starts to melt and then they are all at sea. However, more by luck than navigational prowess our intrepid party finally lubber their way to land and set about settling in, each in their inimitable style. For Moominpappa this means a paper crown and declaring himself Viceroy; for Mrs. Fillyjonk it’s all about culture, tradition and getting one over on Gaffsie, whom she is determined to make jealous with the novelty she notes in the diary which she’ll probably leave for Gaffsie to read one future coffee morning. The problem is, the problem is… they may not have got there first, and some of their neighbours might not be new.

What follows in this first of four stories is both a cracking comedy of manners and piss-take of priorities, with politics skewered into the bargain. Like CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY condensed twenty-five-fold, this is all so familiar but accomplished with a feather-light touch, especially currency, committees and the pomp, protocol and preparations for state visits which we know all too well to be white-washes. First the trappings of empire then the affectation of democracy is lambasted, followed, post-disaffection, by totalitarianism and a much-needed bucket of freezing-cold water. Mothers know best.

Then there are the take-over bids whether it’s mass state-seizure or incorporation by stealth then placating your not-so-much-willing-as-bewildered coalition partners with something of seeming substance.

“We’ve elected you into the Cabinet.”
“You have?”
“As Minister Without Portfolio.”
“Why without?”
“Well, have you got a portfolio?”
“No.”
“There you are.”

Poor Moominpappa! I’m going to go out and buy a folder. Just in case.

SLH

Buy Moomin: Comic Strips vol 7 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin Valley Turns Jungle (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson.

“Ooh, look! Shall we have him for lunch?”
“Darling, you know botanists give you indigestion. But I got a declious whiff of Moomins just then!”

Uh-oh, someone’s just upset the indigenous food chain!

Full-colour landscape booklet reprinting a tale from MOOMIN VOL 3 in which Moominmamma plants tropical seeds washed up in a crate on the shore and finds that the lawnmower simply isn’t up to the task of maintaining a tidy jungle. Moomin and Snork Maiden play Tarzan and Jane, but where are the wild animals? In the zoo. Stinky takes it upon to liberate a few including a pair of tigers. Which is rather where we came in.

“I smell Moomins!”

SLH

Buy Moomin Valley Turns Jungle and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin’s Winter Follies (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson.

“I do think the behaviour of the human male very strange.”
“Yes. But they are wonderful.”

Hmm. Another full-colour landscape booklet, this time reprinting a tale from MOOMIN VOL 2 in which the family Moomin first break their tradition of winter hibernation to discover the joys of a snowswept Moominvalley, only to be roped into winter sports by the officious Mr. Brisk of the Great Outdoors Association. Ever so swiftly it grows way too competitive and people’s feelings get hurt. Especially Mymble’s: she’s only gone and fallen in love… again!

Includes what is possibly the only snowball fight ever to be thrown.

SLH

Buy Moomin’s Winter Follies and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£37-99, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Another beautiful big hardcover, this collects the softcovers of CRIMINAL: BAD NIGHT, CRIMINAL: BAD SINNERS and CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT along, as ever, with some delicious extras.

Each landscape cover comes in its full, logo-less glory, there’s the two-page trailer for CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT and the portrait paintings that accompanied each of the essays including Guy Pearce from The Proposition. *swoon*

Preparatory sketchwork abounds but excitingly – and unexpectedly – there’s also the first-ever colour version of the CRIMINAL short story which originally appeared only in Dark Horse’s NOIR. I think you need this. I know that I have it. Haha!

SLH

Buy Criminal: The Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Crusades h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Izu Nikolavitch, Alex Nikolavitch & Zhang Xiaoyu…

“It is the end. Without them we are lost!”
“Stop your weeping Giancarlo, you are better than that! To die in combat is the fate of men like us!”
“That may be but we aren’t there yet… this tunnel has to lead somewhere!”

Oh it certainly does! I started off thinking this was a slightly dry, if enjoyable enough, offering for the Humanoids imprint, regaling us as it does initially with a battle between the Catholics and the Moors in the 13th Century era. Then the zombies arrive, rapidly followed by an elite squad of the Knights Templar on a covert mission. And… if that were not enough, then it all goes a bit TURF, and I’m not talking about vampires, either. Kind of reluctant to elucidate upon precisely what I mean by that comparison as it was such a mid-book revelation that I did not see coming at all! I started to get rather excited then, so it was a touch disappointing that the conclusion felt rather anti-climatic and slightly thin in comparison, like the writer had used up his one big idea and then didn’t quite know exactly how to finish things off. Ah well, this was still certainly yet another enjoyable piece of Euro-mentalism when considered in the round. Lovely art obviously as you would expect of a Humanoids book of course.

JR

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

Paradise Kiss vol 1 (£14-99, Vertical) by Ai Yazawa ~

There is a pressure in Japanese society to conform. To not stand out. The best you can hope for is to knuckle down, get good results, graduate, get a dead-end job, get married, raise a few kids and not disappoint your parents who have worked so hard so that you can get to exactly where they are now.

This is just how Yukari feels until a suave young man asks her to be in his fashion show. The dapper fellow in question is George, an “equal-opportunities lover” – I’ll let yourselves decipher that – who is as ruthless and manipulative as you could expect from a fashion student. Helping him put his show together are his fellow students, Issabella, a transvestite with excellent culinary skill and a fondness for long gowns who is the den mother always lending an ear for her friends’ problems as well as wise words, Arashi, rough punk with violent tendencies and a heart of crushed velvet, and his super-cute girlfriend Miwako who is following in her older sister’s platformed footsteps to be a fashion designer (well, Miwako’s trying but she’s really much better at being very cute). Renamed Caroline by Miwako, Yukari’s new-found aspiration rises uncontrollably and she becomes obsessed with the show and even skips school and risks disownment to help make the frocks at Paradise Kiss, the studio they create their line at. Problem is Caroline is useless with textiles, her grades at school have taken a dive, so now the only person that can prevent this fall from grace is guru George. But does he want to save or devour her?

With characters like these this book writes itself, taking the story down unpredictable avenues I could not foresee, and is still in my mind superior to Yazawa’s Nana. But that probably has more to do with ParaKiss being my first Yazawa experience than a difference in quality between the series, because as Yukari can no doubt attest, your first love always burns brighter.

TR

Buy Paradise Kiss vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Clockwork Sky vol 1 (£8-50, Tor) by Madeline Rosca.

Lovely crisp lines, bold forms and great big battle action manga-stylee down in the sewers of Victorian London.

Thanks to the mechanical inventions of Erasmus Crouch the British mines are no longer manned by sooty-faced riff-raff but strong and sturdy steambots. Similarly the city gentry are no longer forced to mingle with the distastefully common, silly little girls who used to wait on them hand and foot: now they are served by sophisticated automatons which can actually remember “one lump or two” when distinguished visitors call. Oh, yes, London has seen quite the transformation in the last couple of years. Strangely, though, the city streets are still cluttered with rabble who’ve no longer got any jobs to go to and so cannot afford bikes to get on. Now they’re revolting so the police send in the childlike, dutiful Sky who bears more than a passing resemblance to ASTRO BOY. Nice manners:

“Greetings, citizens of London’s poorer and grubbier locations! I hope you are enjoying your apparently self-guided tour of our upper-crust neighbourhood! It has come to the attention of London’s metropolitan police force that some of your are employing incendiary devices and armour-clad tanks as you take in the air on your leisurely stroll down Oxford Street.
“The police force kindly asks that you turn in all explosive devices and kindly remove yourselves from this vicinity.
“The exits from Oxford Street can be found in front of you here, here and two to each side behind you over there.”

Quite the little trolley dolly, he. Meanwhile, sequestered high up above old London town behind locked doors and windows is twelve-year-old Sally Pepper whose parents have despaired of her after being expelled from a private school after stealing her principal’s velocipede – with the principal in it – and tearing through the school dining hall. She’s been sent to Uncle Erasmus for education in etiquette and the family robotics trade but she’d rather be racing round London. Soon: she’s racing round London. Specifically its sewers, with Sky sent in swift pursuit, although neither know they are on a collision course, physically, emotionally, and with a terrible family secret.

Is the robotic Sky really beginning to dream like a human? And why, when Sally dreams of reaching out to be rescued, does she find her outstretched arms to be made out of pistons and cogs?

It’s all just a little too obvious but nonetheless a visually attractive and really rather jolly read, what, for the younger generation.

SLH

Buy The Clockwork Sky vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 1: Knight Terrors h/c (£18-99, DC) by David Finch, Paul Jenkins & David Finch…

I didn’t read any of the individual issues past the first one for this title, mainly because I found the first rather odd in parts, I just didn’t completely buy into the initial story set up. I should have stuck with it, and not doubted David Finch, because this is really great fun!

Someone is powering up various villains, including most of Arkham Asylum (resulting in yet another mass breakout, of course) with a hybrid cocktail of the Venom drug laced with some of the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, thus removing all sense of danger from the recipients and turning them into berserkers. Cue much trouble for Batman and chums as Two-Face, Mad Hatter, Clayface et al go on the rampage round Gotham, scarcely leaving enough time for Bruce to track down who he believes to be the source of the new drug. He gets it wrong, actually, before the real villain is revealed and the inevitable final punch-up begins.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Guest starring Flash, Superman and Wonder Woman at various points.

JR

Buy Batman: The Dark Knight vol 1: Knight Terrors h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 3 (£25-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, & Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, David Aja.

The two gaze out to sea in the downpour, the tiny girl and the big burly man barely covered by her umbrella.

“It’s beautiful… no? But it does require you to appreciate the rain sometimes as well. Here… please… take it. I have, myself, personally always loved the rain. See? Beautiful.”
“Yes… I suppose it is.”
“I knew you could not actually be sneering at the ocean. I’m sorry, my English is not yet too good.”
“You do just fine, actually.”
“I’m Marta. I saw you in the village the previous week.”
“Call me Wilson.”
“Wilson? You are American, yes?”
“I was, but don’t hold it against me. I never voted.”
“Well, shame on you, then, Mister Wilson.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”

Lord, but David Aja and Michael Lark do a mean coastal rain. Here’s a voice-over:

“Happiness is always so fragile. The unhappy aren’t raised knowing this, of course, and the happy simply forget. But you know. Because it feels foreign, just like its companion… fear. Walking hand in hand. That’s how you know you’re happy. Because every evening as you walk to Marta’s house, you worry… You walk faster as you go… You expect to see flames… You expect death… You expect a squad of mafia soldiers… You expect the worst… And every night you are wrong.”
“”What is it, Wilson? Did you run here?”

All Wilson Fisk wanted to do was disappear. He promised to do so and now more than ever that he has found love in Spain, he does not want to be found. But someone just has to go and wake the giant up, don’t they?

The first chapter here was the finest issue in Brubaker’s run, and this is its conclusion which leaves the status quo as radically redefined as Bendis did.

Matt’s made some crazy decisions of late, but not as crazy as the way in which he greets Wilson Fisk’s return to America. He didn’t have many friends left and now he has one fewer. But perhaps he’s gained a new ally in Mister Izo, the long-lived associate of Matt’s sensei Stick, a boozy but brilliant practitioner of the martial arts and the perfect puncture to Matt’s self-pity. Over the rooftops in the snow they will now wage a war. A final war between The Hand and Lady Bullseye, The Kingpin and The Owl, with Iron Fist, Dakota North, the new Tarantula and White Tiger all caught in the middle. And then there is the not inconsiderable matter of Matt’s wife Milla:

“I’m sorry I loved you… Sorry you loved me…”

Everyone’s going to be sorry in the end.

SLH

Buy Daredevil: Ultimate Brubaker Collection vol 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.
Saga vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Sarah Glidden

Crossed vol 4 s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano & Jacen Burrows, Leandro Rizzo

Powers vol 14: Gods (£14-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming

Hipster Hitler (£12-99, Feralhouse) by James Carr, Archana Kumar

The Understanding Monster h/c (£16-50, Secret Acres) by Theo Ellsworth

Valentine vol 1 : The Secret Death (£18-99, Image) by Alex de Campi & Christine Lampi

Adolfsson: Mattias Unfiltered: The Sketchbook Art Of Mattias Adolfsson (£12-99, Boom!) by Mattias Adolfsson

Justice League Dark vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Peter Milligan & Mikel Janin

Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat (£12-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini

Blue Estate vol 3: Preserves (£9-99, Image) by Viktor Kalvachev & Kosta Yanev

Nightwing vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins & Eddy Barrows

Batman: Odyssey h/c (£22-50, DC) by Neal Adams

Birds Of Prey vol 1 s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gail Simone, Marc Andreyko, Adrian Syaf, Guillem March, Inaki Miranda, Jesus Saiz, Pere Perz

Essential Thor vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Roy Thomas & John Buscema

Fear Itself: Invincible Iron Man s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung, Alan Davis, Olivier Coipel

Captain America vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Patch Zircher, Mike Deodato

Sailor Moon vol 7 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

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