Reviews November 2012 week three

Okay, let’s start with a bold statement, then slap a couple of caveats on, to thus produce an odd semantic sandwich to chew over whilst we get proceedings started.

This is now my favourite wordless comic ever.

 - Jonathan on Adventures Of A Japanese Business from Nobrow Press

Tomine: New York Drawings h/c (£16-99, Faber) by Adrian Tomine.

“Idea: pathetic introvert attends high-class party, but instead of enjoying himself, endures a series of awkward encounters while maintaining a neurotic internal monologue.”

So writes Tomine, alone in the toilet after three pages of addictively excruciating comics.

During these our successful author and artist reluctantly accepts his invitation to mix with the famed and the famous at a swanky New Yorker do, slinks in, frets, freaks out and fails to mix or even find somewhere to park his coat. My, how I empathised! Not a party person, me.

The internal monologue is hilarious in its own right, Tomine in constant circulation like a lost, anxiety-struck, toothless shark so as not to look lost or anxious or… gummy. On top of the bumbling there are confessional, asterisked annotations – acts of self-denigration worth of Chris Ware himself. Brilliant!

From the creator of OPTIC NERVE, some of the finest fiction in comics full of behaviour so acutely well observed, comes this beautiful art book with some pages of comics thrown in, including one about Kindle you can’t read on Kindle or at least I bloody well hope not. There our Adrian is besieged by digital fanatics who won’t let their love lie, even after he concedes defeat. And then there’s his daughter:

“I had these visions of taking Nora to book shops when she got older… watching her browse… letting her stumble upon her own discoveries…”
“Well, with this new random feature, it’s exactly the same thing! You never know what — “

Oh, just smack him, Adrian!

Predominantly, however, this is as an art book featuring all the man’s illustrations for The New Yorker and more. Most of them are portraits. He likes drawing people: people captured in quiet acts of daily routine like stamping library books out, circling newspaper ads, reading books on the bus or sizing up shoes in a shop. And as accurately as the author in Adrian observes speech patterns and behaviour, he’s also adept when it comes to body language. Some the sketches come with notes:

“Mother and daughter tourists. Daughter seemed mortified when Mom got out the map.”
“Sweating profusely. Deep in thought (or maybe just staring at his expensive-looking shoes.”

SLH

Buy Tomine: New York Drawings h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scene Of The Crime h/c (£18-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark with Sean Phillips.

Retrospect is a funny old thing, and what you have to remember is that this first appeared long before Brubaker and Lark’s GOTHAM CENTRAL, and indeed way before Brubaker and Phillips’ ultra-successful CRIMINAL enterprise. It first appeared when all we knew Ed Brubaker from was the autobiographical chronicle of youthful misdemeanours which was the COMPLETE LOWLIFE, Dark Horse’s ACCIDENTAL DEATH drawn by Eric Shanower and (maybe) THE FALL in collaboration with Jason Lutes, due for a colour-tinted resurrection soon.

It remains as fine as you’d expect – Bryan Talbot told me it was one of his favourite graphic novels of all time, and he’s quite choosy, our Bryan – but what may well surprise is the crispness of lines for both Lark and Phillips are better known now for their more textured, twilight styles. Glancing over the pencilled pages in the ‘extras’ section it seems to me that Phillips’ primary concern in inking here was fidelity to the originals rather than embellishment, and that’s fine – they really don’t need any – but of note all the same.

Also in the back, Brubaker casts his mind back both to this early stage in his career – quite the crossroads – and the development of the book itself, originally intended as a monthly series of three stories a year originally pitched as a revival of the HOUSE OF MYSTERY title. Some of those pitched pages are reproduced, as is the short story ‘God And Sinners’ which originally appeared in Vertigo Winter’s Edge” just prior to the mini-series itself.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote over a decade ago. The first sentence of the final paragraph does make me laugh now. Introduction by Bendis, about their days at Caliber.

Jack’s reasonably young for a private investigator, but he has a respected, veteran crime scene photographer as an uncle and plenty of contacts in the police force, some of which he’s loathe to use for personal reasons. Which is why he’s less than pleased to see Sergeant Paul Raymond (“We were like family, but in all the wrong ways”) who needs him to help a young woman with whom he’s having an affair. Her sister is missing, but she’s been advised not to involve the police; and excellent advice that turns out to be because, as the mystery unfolds, the entire family emerges as completely screwed, in more ways than two, by their involvement in a hedonistic cult which may not be as burned out as it looked.

Brubaker makes all the right moves: his protagonist is neither straight forward nor overly self-involved – he has a past but one which serves to enhance the story and its effect on the investigation, rather than drive it – and his conversational tone is both engaging, educational and entirely convincing on the subject of stake-outs etc.

The cast is wide and diverse and you just know that Ed hopes to write more. The extent of the connections aren’t remotely apparent until towards the conclusion, whilst along the way Brubaker and Lark manage to feed the clues and reveal the secrets (including some highly effective misdirection) with perfectly judged pace and timing.

SLH

Buy Scene Of The Crime h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Book One h/c (£14-99, vertigo) by Stieg Larsson, Denise Mina & Manco, Mutti, Brusco, Mulvihill, Wands, Bermejo.

Note: Fear not, people who have not read or seen this series yet, there will be no spoilers!

Adaptations, hmmm. Isn’t it almost always true that a story is most at home in its original medium? I think so but then again there can be something very exciting about seeing something familiar reworked by fresh eyes and hands. Or, yes, there can be something depressing about seeing something you loved distilled into an ever-less potent version of itself. So my first question when I saw the Millennium Trilogy solicited as a series of comic books was “I wonder if it will be shit?” Ever the optimist! The second question was “Where will they go with it?”, after all, we’ve had the books then two versions as films on top of that. And finally I thought, “Is there anything else left to say?” On reflection, knowing how utterly packed the Millennium Trilogy is with things to say, that last question was pretty stupid.

The more pertinent question is definitely “Where will they go with it?”  Compressing those three dense and fast-moving books into six average-sized trades must have been hard and I guess the first questions with any adaptation are: what do you keep, what do you streamline and what do you cut? Secondly, Larsson’s books (revolving as they do around an investigative journalism, murder, corruption and hacking) are packed with detail and intertwined plots. His writing guides us with ease and the comic book must live up to that.

And thirdly there is Lisbeth Salander, the very reason I resisted reading the Millennium Trilogy for so long and only came to it as a very late convert. Salander is a compelling character; damaged, awkward and reclusive but also moral, loyal and intelligent. She absolutely cannot be relied upon but there is no-one you would want at your side more in any kind of battle. She could be variously described as looking Post-Punk, Goth-Rock, Riot-Grrl, Queercore but she does not fit any label exactly, nor would she care to, or possibly even be able to if she tried. She is also skinny, uninhibited and pansexual… which was where the warning bells began to sound for me. I am so used to hearing that crap from publishers, film makers, whoever – “Check it out, she’s tough, she’s the hero, Girl Power, no really! “ – only to be presented with yet another story about a pretty, broken girl with Daddy issues who talks the talk for about fifteen minutes and then needs a kind, understanding, older man to come to her rescue. Cynical, I know, but it kept me away from the books for many a month. How glad I am then that I relented, because in Salander (and indeed in Blomkvist, the Vanger family and everyone that Larsson writes) we have a well defined, flawed, fascinating character with the power to make you care desperately about the outcome of the various stories.

So I read Book One with these questions at the front of my mind, interested to see how they turned out. In terms of “Where will they go with it?” Denise Mina seems to have done very well indeed, picking out the most compelling and important strands of the story and moving them on at a pace which is comfortable and engaging. The parts which are switched about or ditched altogether don’t jar, so if you know the story you are not going to be left annoyed and if you don’t know it you are not going to be left confused. It’s early days yet but so far the “changes” seem to follow the spirit of the original which bodes well.

With much less space for dialogue than in the prose the characters have nonetheless been given distinctive voices so you are able to quickly get a feel for them and where they fit in. The art is clear and attractive. There is no attempt to break comic art boundaries, sensibly, the art lets the story do the talking and only adds flourish where it is really needed. (As a side note I have to say they did themselves no favours at all with the cover, the pose is too garish and un-Salander like but thankfully things are much more subtle inside.) Salander is drawn well: rather than being an assembly of piercings, tattoos and kick-ass boots which might have been an easy trap to fall into, she is a human being with a spark in her eye which fits her character perfectly.

As for having something to say, the chapter breaks stay loyal to the original, listing some chilling statistics about violence against women in Sweden, so it seem that they will be sticking with this issue at least. There are a few other biggies explored in the books: corporate and financial fraud, society’s treatment of abuse victims, the vast holes in the mental health system; and how far we get into these remains to be seen. We may just stick with murder, family intrigue and violence which will still be enough to go on, I’m sure!

This feels like a good start to the six-part series and each book will certainly be towards the top of my reading pile. It perhaps doesn’t attempt to scale the heights of social and human commentary that the books did yet but it is still forming into a meaty and intelligent tale. Tempting though it is, I’m not going to say anything more about the story and what it holds for you, because what’s the point of a mystery if someone has already solved it for you? Suffice it to say, if you like a murder-mystery with a dose of conspiracy and politics (sexual and otherwise) thrown in, you will love this. Also, read the books, they’re awesome.

DK

Buy The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Adventures Of A Japanese Business h/c (£19-00, Nobrow) by Jose Domingo…

Okay, let’s start with a bold statement, then slap a couple of caveats on, to thus produce an odd semantic sandwich to chew over whilst we get proceedings started.

This is now my favourite wordless comic ever. Given that puts it in the company of works like Erik Drooker’s BLOOD SONG and Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, I realise that could raise a few arched eyebrows, but this is quite simply stunning, inventive, ingenious and also absolutely utterly and ridiculously hilarious. So whilst it might not end up being your favourite wordless comic ever (THE ARRIVAL does take some beating, let us be honest about it, in fact I might have to amend that to joint-favourite heh heh) I am pretty confident it could end up being your favourite comedic wordless comic.

Semantics is a good word to invoke around wordless comics, I feel, given one of its usages is in the meaning or interpretation of words, sentences, or other linguistic forms. Comics are one of those other linguistic forms obviously, and wordless comics a very particular subset again which, to truly succeed, need above all for the story to be clear to the reader. Not that events shouldn’t require some interpretation on behalf of the reader, for is that not the sheer beauty of THE ARRIVAL, putting yourself in the place of the émigré, who suddenly finds himself in a literally incomprehensible place, trying to make sense of the unfolding strange, new world around him?

ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN is not that dissimilar, as the poor unfortunate and unsuspecting salaryman, who we first meet quietly waiting to cross the road, is about to embark upon an unwilling expedition to weird and wonderful (plus several not-so-wonderful) realms, and various states of being, not to mention existence, which together will all make for the ultimate bad day at the office!

Things start off not relatively implausibly to begin with, partly to lull us into a false sense of security, I’m sure, as he gets caught in the crossfire of two Yakuza trading lead at each other from limousines on opposing sides of the road, and barely makes it past them intact. Unfortunately he walks straight into some sort of incident involving a raging customer at a sushi stand who promptly gets flattened by the giant sushi roll which falls off the roof when he starts shaking it, cue much panic and hysteria as passers-by frantically leap out of the way. As the businessman ducks to one side he inhales some escaping fumes from a nearby Biotech company and promptly starts hulking out into some weird blue monster and then goes on the rampage. And so on, and so forth… And if you think that sounds surreal, believe me, it’s the absolute powder-coated tip of the iceberg!

So, what makes this truly nonsensical adventure shine then? Well quite simply, it’s the construction of the work itself and Jose Domingo’s art. It’s done in a strict 2 x 2 grid, aside from the occasional whole-page splash. The book being a lovely outsize edition, by the way, so each individual panel is pretty huge in and of itself. Which is fantastic because they are all positively crammed with detail, and each page forms a little, well, gag strip in itself, I suppose, with the businessman frequently extricating himself from his current predicament only to be immediately dragged into the next situation in the final panel of each and almost every page. (I did wonder if the format was a little nod to the Japanese pre-modern-manga tradition, when comics in Japan were pretty much just that, just one-page gag strips, before people such as Tatsumi started producing ‘gegika’ like BLACK BLIZZARD, proper stories composed of literally ‘dramatic pictures’. )

The art itself put me in mind of a neat and tidy Marc (HOT POTATOE [sic]) Bell, but rendered in beautiful full colour. (I have included a few interior pages for you to have a look at.) You may also see hints of others like Jim (CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS) Woodring and Jason (ISLE OF 100,000 GRAVES) in there, though, not least because of the surreal nature of the tale puts them in mind. Each panel typically has the same viewpoint, perspective-wise, so the story really just seamlessly flow on from absurd scenario to even more absurd scenario, and just when you think you’ve reached the zenith, or nauseous nadir from the point of the businessman, something even more truly bizarre occurs. And yet, it always does make creditability-stretching sense in the context of what has immediately gone before, which is another genius element of this work.

The businessman does get a few brief moments of respite and false hope along the way to catch his breath, but they always turn out to be false dawns before the next nightmare swiftly commences! As absurdist fiction goes, I can’t think of anything comparable in terms of such a smooth, flowing read as this. The artwork is truly gorgeous as you would expect from a Nobrow book, of course, they really do seem to be managing to maintain a very high standard of output.

There’s even a hilarious little epilogue just to round things off nicely. Initially the businessman is firmly clenching his briefcase for dear life like a protective shield or talisman, but eventually he is parted from it. Just as I was finishing the story I was found myself wondering what had happened to it, and so was greatly amused to find its ultimate fate is revealed in said epilogue! Near perfection, this for me, which when it’s your wider comics debut, is clearly going to take some following up.

JR

Buy Adventures Of A Japanese Business h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Krent Able’s Big Book Of Mischief (£11-99, Knockabout) by Krent Able.

Be careful what you mutter in the sequestered confines of your living room, sweet readers, for there is a medical practitioner on the loose. He is high of brow and long of ‘tache, and as the sun doth surely set ’cross yonder blood-dimmed sky, a silhouette rides into town on a flea-bitten nag not long for the knacker’s yard. His name is Nick Cave M.D., and he is not above making house calls.

“Oooh! Me leg’s playing up again…”
“Poor thing…”
*DING DONG*
“Who could that be, at this hour? Doctor Cave! Oh, Lord ‘elp us…”
“God be with you, Madam… My crow tells me that there is an ailment in this house.. some poor soul a-sufferin’ and a-singing a sad song of woe… not unlike Lazarus.”

Lazarus: best running gag in the book, and Krent Able has nailed Saint Nick’s southern-gothic drawl. From the pages of the The Stool Pigeon, a free music rag I confess I’ve never read, stagger your favourite rock and pop stars, utterly desecrated for your delectation. If you have the stomach for it.

For this is far cruder than anything currently leaking from some ruptured oil tanker, although no animals were harmed in the making of these vile comic shorts – only within them. There’s Lou Reed having non-consensual monkey sex for a start. I’ve not seen so many vulvae since decorating my last boarding school study wall. (It was encouraged, by both parents and teachers alike; I am shitting you not.) On one page President Obama is using a winged one cloned from the DNA of Lady Gaga to communicate with Kayne West. Let us be plain: if the Venn Diagram depicting your sense of humour does not contain genitalia (male, female, animal, alien), excrement, dismemberment, bestiality, arseholes and body fluids of all flavours known to man, then this book is neither for you nor – I would suggest – your parents.

Victims include Iggy Pop, 20 Cent, Timberlake, Lily Allen, Brian Wilson, Pete Doherty, Kraftwerk and Morrissey whose hearing-impaired chauffeur takes him not, as requested, to see the film Avatar, but to an enthusiastically run and well weaponised abattoir.

SLH

Buy Krent Able’s Big Book Of Mischief and read the Page 45 review here

Building Stories: Multi Storey Building Model (Limited Edition – Signed & Numbered) (£99-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chris Ware.

Basically, PAPERTOY MONSTERS for adults in a gigantic package, signed and limited thereby ensuring you never actually make the model. Which you should. Then send us photographs.

I haven’t even opened ours, making any meaningful review impossible. Still, I’ve yet to write one of those in over twenty years of flailing about, so that makes no difference to me.

Based on the bumper boxed set of Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES (some assembly also required, but only in your mind), this is the sort of intricate, tab-tastic affair Chris Ware has been dotting throughout his works for years.

We only have one and are unlikely to secure any restocks, which I believe is called the “hard sell”.

SLH

Buy Building Stories: Multi Storey Building Model (Limited Edition – Signed & Numbered)  and read the Page 45 review here

Scalped vol 10: Trail’s End (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra.

In which this sordid epic of love, lust, redemption and revenge on the seedy, run-down, drugged-up, corrupt and contemporary Indian Reservation concludes in a hail of bullets, Molotov cocktails and a pack of slavering dogs. Oh wait, you can forget the redemption.

There’s a fantastic farewell section in the back showcasing some unseen art from mainstay R.M. Guéra. The composite character sketch of a smoking Red Crow and Carol in particular, in white and watered burgundy on black, is stunning but I love each and every one of the Serbian artist’s portraits. Throughout the series he has given us heart and humanity and true individuality in a procession of characters depicted as… well, physical meat and bones. You can sense the skulls – and even feel them – under the swarthy layers of wizened, leathery skin.

I’ve loved SCALPED so much I reviewed every single volume, although admittedly the first one was brief. One book reduced me to tears.

Saddest of all, amongst all the twisted, wretched plotlines of multiple fuck-ups coming at each other from multiple angles, is that there are moments here which offer brief, tantalising and genuine glimpses of pure hope – of real joy. The promise of a future.

Does anyone make it out of this clusterfuck alive? If so, define “alive”.

SLH

Buy Scalped vol 10: Trail’s End and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 4: The Family Man (£14-99, Vertigo) by Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Dick Foreman & various including Dave McKean, Sean Phillips, Timothy Bradstreet.

There really was nothing like Hellblazer when it first emerged as a spin-off from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Not in comics, not even on the television, really. It was like Billy Bragg writing Doctor Who for punks, Stephen King and Clive Barker readers. Vehemently anti-Thatcher during the years when, as Delano writes “the country — starving — ate out its own heart”, it was a rallying cry against the social ramifications of political callousness and thuggery, and against mass media manipulation of the truth. It felt like there was a war on and this was one of our weapons, albeit a plank of plywood with a rusty nail against a squadron of intransigent armoured tanks. It starred John Constantine, chain-smoking, mack-draped master manipulator, and dealt with the horrors of the occult against a backdrop of the horrors of real life.

Morrison’s two-parter is set in one of the many hundreds of social and economic graveyards which were once thriving local communities before coal became dole, and reflects the pervasive nuclear concerns of the day, along with America’s military foothold in what Matt Johnson called the “51st State of the USA”. He’s more economical with words than Delano, and the hideous procession of brain-fried villagers, enacting their latent desires like the diner scene in SANDMAN: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, is accompanied by a sort of primal poetry. And the villain of the piece? Microwaves. Lloyd’s smoky art leaves you feeling like you’ve watched the whole episode in the flickering light of a raging bonfire.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s ‘Hold Me’ was bursting with heart and ranks as one of my favourite Constantine sequences of all time. Mark hated it for the simple reason he’d had almost exactly the same story in mind to write himself! As to the meat of this book, ‘The Family Man’, I leave you in the hands of our Jonathan:

“An old German woman once told me that if you lie down in a field, cows will come and lick your feet. Seems they’re terrified but they just have to know. Futile old world, ennit?”

Sometimes when you read a trade paperback you’ve forgotten how good the original issues were, particularly if it’s taken such a long time for them to be collected. Jamie Delano really was on top form here in this harrowing tale of murder and revenge. And perhaps there was a novelty and freshness in the John Constantine character at that time that inevitably is no longer the case today. As ever, Constantine manages to stumble right into the middle of a full-blown shit-storm, which here isn’t even of the supernatural variety, but rather a brutal serial killer who specialises in murdering parents and children alike, earning him the somewhat ironic sobriquet of the Family Man. Constantine, of course, feels obliged to investigate, which unfortunately for him doesn’t go unnoticed by our protagonist, the consequences of which are more far reaching than even John could have anticipated.

Delano’s dissection of a chilling serial killer, his obsessions and his drives is impeccably written, and most disturbingly is completely believable. Similarly, his handling of Constantine, here out of his supernatural comfort zone but thinking quickly on his feet to stay just one step behind and sometimes only just one step ahead is compelling and riveting. As a bonus there are two more stand-alone issues as the end of the book, New Tricks about a junkyard with a particularly evil dog, and the aptly named Sundays Are Different where nothing is quite as it seems, only in a good way for a change!

SLH & JR

Buy Hellblazer vol 4: The Family Man and read the Page 45 review here

Fables: Werewolves Of The Heartland h/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Jim Fern, Craig Hamilton, Jim Fern…

“Can it really have been more than sixty years, Bigby? A lot of strange waters under the bridge since then, eh?”
“Sure. We’ve both led strange lives.”
“I wonder which of us has more blood on his hands in these long-lost years, though.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Fans of big bad wolf Bigby will probably lap this solo tale up, as he hits the road in search of a new location for Fabletown after recent ructions. Thus neatly informing us right at the beginning that this story takes place after the most recent events of FABLES VOL 17. What he unexpectedly finds has ties to his own past, when he fought on the side of the Allies in WW2, in the form of mundy (human) American special forces soldier Arthur Harp, who by rights ought to be very long in the tooth by now.

Well, he is… but only because he’s now a werewolf, whereas in his human form he doesn’t seem to have aged a day since Bigby last saw him, when they were on a covert mission together to blow up Castle Frankenstein and foil a fiendish Nazi plot. It turns out that the mortally wounded Harp received an accidental transfusion of Bigby’s own blood, which unbeknownst to either of them, restored the soldier to life amongst the ruins of the castle several days later, as a werewolf. Roll forward 60 years and there’s now a whole community of werewolves, living as humans in their own town, Story City, in the middle of nowhere.

Bigby’s first unwelcome discovery is that the lycanthropes were until recently receiving regular covert cash from Bluebeard to assist them, much like the Fables, in living hidden from the rest of humanity. But, absolutely no other Fables were remotely aware of them, so it’s clear it’s probably not going to be a happy get-to-know-the-family tale for Bigby and his by now somewhat extended family tree of over twenty thousand descendants, most of whom view him as a near-divine being.

Lovers of FABLES will undoubtedly enjoy this, despite the extremely – searching for the precise word here – cursory probably covers it best, art. It’s decent enough but just looks in several places like it could have done with some more inking over the pencils, it’s a bit sketchy is what I think I’m trying to say. Given one person has done the layouts, two others the pencils, four people the inks and finally someone else the colours, I am not wholly surprised that are some… disparities, despite I think, the intention being for it to be a continuous style throughout. Anyway, that grumble aside I also certainly don’t see the need or justification for Vertigo to put this out in a hardback, it could actually easily just have been another FABLES arc, but then Christmas is coming, I suppose.

JR

Buy Fables: Werewolves Of The Heartland h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Men h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli…

“Kid, tell me. Is Peter Parker dead?”

I’m welling up again! I shed a few tears reading THE DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN arc covering as it did the very sad and untimely demise of the Ultimate Universe’s Peter Parker, and I don’t mind admitting I was struggling to keep a dry eye during this too, in several places. Errr… pretty much throughout, if I’m honest.

I’ll freely admit that I winced when I initially saw this solicited in Previews. I figured it was going to be a textbook example of the typically pointless car crash ‘event’ that Marvel loves to wheel out up at least once a year, but actually it’s easily the best thing which Bendis has written recently. All you really need to know plot-wise is that the regular Marvel Universe Peter Parker unexpectedly finds himself in the Ultimate Universe, and quickly learns that his younger, Ultimate counterpart is no more. But this book really isn’t about what occurs to cause that dimensional hopping or indeed the stereo web-slinging action sequences that stem from it, entertaining as those are. No, this is all about the conversations which are inevitably going to arise from such an occurrence. Peter and Miles… Peter and Gwen Stacy… Peter and Aunt May.

It’s abundantly clear that the Ultimate Peter Parker and Miles Morales (as well as the regular Peter Parker whom Bendis just loves writing witty non sequitur dialogue for in NEW AVENGERS) have a very special place in Bendis’ heart. Here, he has crafted a tale that is all heart. We know, gimmicks aside, Marvel will never, ever kill off the mainstream Peter Parker. He is one of the bedrocks upon which Marvel itself is built, part of the veritable spandex firmament. I guess therefore we all presumed that the Ultimate Peter Parker would enjoy comparable safety of tenure.

During THE DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN arc, even after the Punisher had accidentally shot Peter, even as Osborn was ruthlessly beating him down, I figured there was going to be the inevitable happy ending. Or that the title would somehow mean that Peter would retire as Spider-Man, maybe continue as another character for a while, then probably come back. In other words, just another story arc. I never actually expected Bendis to kill him. Even now, I wonder, jaded as I am by the endless cycle of superhero death and inevitable resurrection, whether it is indeed the last we have seen of Peter. As much as I miss him, I hope we don’t, because Bendis achieved a gravitas and dignity, particularly covering the aftermath of Peter’s passing, that I just never expected to see in a superhero comic. He wrung emotion from the most unlikely and unexpected places, such as J. Jonah Jameson. But at the epicentre of all the grief, as you would expect, was Aunt May.

Ah, bless her, the Ultimate Universe Aunt May. If the mainstream one is a tough old bird, then the Ultimate one is a veritable battleship. Liberated by her knowledge of Peter’s arachnid activities in the Ultimate Universe, she always fought Peter’s (and her other charges’) corner like a ferocious tiger. Even so, when the Marvel Universe Peter – rocked by what he has learnt and not knowing where to turn – decides he needs to pay her a visit, it’s quite, quite understandable she’s more than a little disturbed and indeed initially disbelieving, about just who it is she sees before her. What follows as everyone sits down inside Aunt May’s house is so incredibly moving, as she finally gains some sort of closure, and begins to understand more than ever that her Peter was a very special person indeed. But that conversation wasn’t even the most tear jerking for me! No, that was reserved for Gwen’s over-excited grilling of an understandably wary Peter…

“Hey! Wait! Is there… is there a me…. a Gwen in your world??”
“Yes.”
“Is she cool?”
“Insanely. But…”
“But?”
“But… but older. You know, uh, my age.”
“Okay, well, wow. Can I ask a question without sounding weird? Are you dating her?”
“You didn’t let me answer if you could ask me something without sounding weird. And it’s… boy, uh, it’s a whole thing.”
“ You’re dating MJ aren’t you?”
“Is… is there an MJ here?”
“Oh you better believe it…”
“Like, your age?”
“Yeah.”
“Yikes. Is she a model yet?”
“A model?”
“In my world she’s kind of… a supermodel.”
“SUPERMODEL??!! Are you kidding me? A supermodel with red hair and glasses?”
“Well, she wears, y’know, contacts.”
“She gets to be a model? What am I then??”

Whew… In terms of dialogue this book is the perfect example of how to write engaging, moving, dare I say, profound conversations. Marvel really should hand this work out to every single new writer, and more than a few of the existing ones, as the example to follow. As I mentioned, whilst the real content of this book are the people, there is still a superhero story to be told, and Bendis tells it with aplomb and relish, working in Nick Fury and the Ultimates for good measure, plus even finding time to finish up with an absolute killer of a cliff-hanger that leaves no doubt whatsoever there will be a sequel to this tale. I’m looking forward to that already! I’ve just realised I haven’t even mentioned Sara Pichelli’s art, which is superb, just the perfect foil for Bendis on this title. I could easily wax lyrical about it for several paragraphs as well. Instead I’ll leave the final words to Peter and Miles who are of course, a natural comedy double act…

“Surprise!!”
“It’s your super villain retirement party!!”
“Good one.”
“Thank you.”

JR

Spider-Men hardcover

New Avengers vol 4 h/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”
- Stan Lee

If you’ve already forked out for the massive Avengers Vs X-Men hardcover, these were my favourite tie-in issues, exquisitely drawn by Mike Deodato. His ancient, elusive city of K’un-Lun is a mountainous marvel, its details like the pagoda-side pond and scrying pool so breath-takingly beautiful. But wait until you reach the half-way point where its full, sylvan tranquillity is revealed, surrounded by oriental awnings and ghostly, crisp-leafed Acers to die for.

Then there is the final sequence with sombre, shadow-strewn art like those rare pages of John Byrne inked by Kyle Baker, some of the very best seen in superhero comics. I cannot believe that’s a coincidence. And as to the pyrotechnics as psionic force takes on psionic force – the dragon and the phoenix – holy eye-blistering hell!

This title always seems to contain the real heart and soul of any such affairs, and although at the risk of lost revenue I habitually and quite actively warn you off most tie-ins to major events for fear of them diluting your enjoyment of the central storyline, in this instance I actively commend this to you, for it is where Hope receives her training in the mystical city K’un-Lun, physically from the likes of Lei Kung and Iron Fist, spiritually from the likes of Spider-Man (it works – it really, really works) and historically from Master Yu Ti. In fact without this I fail to comprehend how you will comprehend precisely how central Hope’s role is to proceedings.

I mentioned “heart” but I also meant personality: Luke Cage, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman incarcerated by the X-Men. Incarcerated by the X-Men: a very telling sequence. Do you know what the biggest difference is between the X-Men and the Avengers? One team has the monopoly – and an extensive one at that – on one particular attribute. Think on that.

There are also lovely little tie-in touches to Jonathan Hickman’s ultra-modern but oh-so-neoclassical S.H.I.E.L.D. but perhaps best of all is the desperate, dispirited and staggered meeting of what’s left of the Illuminati, almost all of whom at one point or another have been Avengers, who know they have lost the war. Against all other counsel Captain America maintains his faith in Namor: whatever the regent’s current affiliations to the mutant cause he will attend, for they have been brothers-in-arms both in recent history and during World War II.

And if not? Well, they have in their possession the Infinity Gems, you know.

“Power corrupts. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
- Lord Harold Acton

Oh dear. That’s what happened to Jean.

SLH

Buy New Avengers vol 4 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fantastic Four #1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Mark Bagley.

Communication is not this family’s strong suit, is it? Someone’s always failing to speak up, failing to listen and – frankly – failing to tell the truth. Also, Reed and Sue: worst parents ever! So far for Franklin they’ve hired a nanny who they knew was a witch, replaced her with a fleet of steel automatons and lobotomised the poor boy. By the looks of the opening salvo here they are about to do something else incredibly stupid… after failing to listen, failing to speak up and failing to tell the truth! Here’s Reed:

“Journal entry. Timestamp. Nth encryption on closing, please.
“There’s something very wrong with me. The unstable molecules that have created my elastic physiognomy seem to have reached some point of cellular entropy. They’re breaking apart – I’m breaking apart. At a molecular level. My concern is that the others are affected too – or will be very soon. My powers are dying, and they’re taking me with them.”

Six pages later: “Susan. I’m fine. Trust me.”

Funny, though. Not that bit, but Dragon Man’s muffins and Johnny Storm surpassing his own stupendous record for vacuous egomania. Here he is with girlfriend Darla, making up for his errant ways with a private candlelit dinner in the Negative Zone (while war rages all around them!) and talking at her about cars and bikes and fame and… oh, Johnny!

“Well, Jacques here owed me for saving his place during the last New-York-Gets-Levelled events…”
“’Allo.”
“He’s great. Italian, probably.”

Moving swiftly on…

“Baby, this is me now. Johnny Storm, not the Human Torch or the – Darla, I brought you all the way out here to the Negative Zone tonight so I could tell you that I… see, Darla, I don’t just like you, I…”
“Ohhh….”

He slips out a tiny jewellery box and opens it.

“Oh.”

It’s his phone number. *sigh*

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four #1 via Nth-encrypted email (page45@page45.com), communicator (0115 9508045) or visiting us in the Positive Zone.

All-New X-Men #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen.

SPOILERS: If you plan on reading Avengers Vs X-Men and then Gillen’s AVENGERS VS X-MEN: CONSEQUENCES, I would suggest you stop reading now. I’ll give you another paragraph for that to sink in.

I like this new dynamic: Ororo, Kitty Pryde, Bobby Drake and Hank McCoy feel like a family once more. And I like them as written by Bendis. I don’t know who the core team will be eventually, but so far this a refreshing combo of the more caring members of the first two generations of mutants to came to the original school for gifted children. And they will need all the compassion and level-headedness they can muster for in the wake of the titles above, things have gone decidedly pear-shaped.

Mutants are now feared and hated like never before, but to Cyclops’ mind the ends still justify his means; the ends being more mutants. They’re popping up all over the place and to Ororo’s alarm Cyclops is beating her own to team to tag them, rescuing them from potential harm at the hands of humans but doing so with violence, on camera and in the company of fellow renegades Magneto, Illyana and Emma Frost. They are on the run, yes, but they are far from worried about it. And that’s the other dynamic I like: this seems a perfectly natural trajectory for Scott Summers to have finally taken.

Bobby and Henry, of course, know exactly what the Scott Summers they first met would have thought of the man’s current actions: they were there at the beginning, and Hank is now desperate enough to complete one final act of atonement for the sins of his peers that he will break a law of science he knows should never be broken in order to set things right: he’s going to beg Scott Summers’ help – young Scott’s help, back in the original school for gifted mutants. That’s what the cover’s all about. Why is Hank desperate? I leave that for you to discover on the first few pages here. Oh dear.

See Warren Ellis’ SECRET AVENGERS VOL 3 for McCoy’s time-travel reticence.

SLH

Buy All-New X-Men #1 by teleporting via Limbo in gimp-suited person or through low-level telepathy/suggestion.

Lobster Johnson vol 2: The Burning Hand (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Tonci Zonjic, Dave Stewart…

“Yesterday we find dead gangsters dressed up as Indians, all of them with that claw mark on their heads. Today we got a couple of stiff gangsters dressed as gangsters, again, with the mark. Makes you wonder what we‘ll find tomorrow.”
“That’s easy. Dead Indians dressed as gangsters.”
“That’d be the logical progression all right.”

Beware the lobster’s claw! The enigmatic and supernatural crustacean fighter of crime is back. Well, he’s not actually part shellfish, but he certainly is scary, leaving as he does his mysterious mark singed on the forehead of deceased villains wherever he finds them. This time around it’s some straight-up gangsters he’s battling with, to begin with at least, before an equally spooky protagonist that might be at least partly familiar to readers of BPRD itself, makes a dramatic appearance.

Then the gloves are off – which is just as well as they do tend to get in the way of claws – as  the two face off to the death. Given Lobster’s foe isn’t exactly alive to begin with, that might just give him a somewhat unfair advantage! Still, a little thing like overwhelming odds isn’t something to get the Lobster in a lather, he’s used to finding himself in hot water and has the skills, gadgets and resourceful chums to help him save the day, and the damsel in distress of course.

I do like old Lobster, he’s got a hard exterior, but he’s just a big softie underneath it all. He’s clearly a blatant rip-off of THE SHADOW (check out Ennis’ recent reworking of said character, by the way) but Mignola and Arcudi throw in considerably more humour, plus the overall setting of the wider BPRD universe always adds a little something to the bubbling pot. With that said, it is the usual scenario for me personally, in that I do typically prefer the team dynamic of BPRD itself, where there’s just so much more going on, than these one-offs that focus on the individual characters, though there are some brilliant exceptions to that rule of claw… errr… I mean thumb… like the first volume of WITCHFINDER and now, the two BALTIMORE books.

JR

Buy Lobster Johnson vol 2: The Burning Hand 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 Adventures Of Leeroy And Popo (£8-50, Nobrow Press ) by Louis Roskosch

Tune vol 1: Vanishing Point (£12-99, FirstSecond ) by Derek Kirk Kim

Upside Down: A Vampire Tale (£7-50, Top Shelf ) by Jess Smart Smiley

Walking Dead vol 17: Something To Fear (£10-99, Image ) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Terry Moore’s How To Draw (£12-99, Abstract Studio ) by Terry Moore

Rachel Rising vol 2: Fear No Malus (£12-99, Abstract Studio ) by Terry Moore

Saucer Country vol 1: Run (£10-99, Vertigo ) by Paul Cornell & Ryan Kelly

Stitched vol 1 (£14-99, Avatar ) by Garth Ennis, Mike Wolfer & Mike Wolfer

Fairest vol 1: Wide Awake (£10-99, Vertigo ) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & various

Angel & Faith vol 2: Daddy Issues (£13-50, Dark Horse ) by Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Chris Samnee

The Marvelous Land Of Oz s/c  (£18-99, Marvel ) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Sonic The Hedgehog Legacy Series vol 2

Essential Wolverine vol 6 (£14-99, Marvel ) by Larry Hama, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont & Leinil Yu, various

Secret Avengers vol 2 h/c (£22-50, Marvel ) by Rick Remender & Renato Guedes, Matteo Scalera

Fear Itself: Deadpool & Fearsome Four s/c (£14-99, Marvel ) by Christopher Hastings, Brandon Montclare & Bong Dazo, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Ryan Bodenheim, Simon Bisley, Ray-Anthony Height, Tom Grummett, Henry Flint, Timothy Green

Uncanny X-Force vol 5: Otherworld s/c (£14-99, Marvel ) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini, Billy Tan, Phil Noto, Dean White

Captain America vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel ) by Ed Brubaker & Steve McNiven

Trigun Maximum Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, DMP ) by Yasuhiro Nightow

The Hentai Prince And The Stony Cat vol 1 (£9-99, DMP ) by Sou Sagara & Okomeken

Honey*Smile (£9-99, DMP ) by Yura Miyazawa

Saturn Apartments vol 6 (£9-99, Viz ) by Hisae Iwaoka

Bokurano Ours vol 7 (£9-99, Viz ) by Mohiro Kitoh
Congratulations to Luke Pearson whose Hilda And The Midnight Giant was voted best Young Readers’ graphic novel by actual young readers in Leeds at this year’s British Comics Awards Here’s Luke Pearson’s website rammed full of beautiful art including plenty of previews.

The other awards went to NELSON (hurrah!), John Allison (hurrah!) and Josceline Fenton (hurrah!) while the lifetime achievement went to Raymond Briggs. Magnificent nominations, faultless results!

Last note: the Lord Harold Acton quotation above? Chris Claremont – like so many others – misquoted him during the first Phoenix fandango – it really is “…tends to…”

- Stephen

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