Reviews February 2013 week two

“This way. Her ladyship is in the drawing room, applying her tears.”

 - Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard’s The New Deadwardians.

Snapshot #1 of 4 (£2-25, Image) by Andy Diggle & Jock.

You can rely on Jock for the some of the most striking covers on the shelves, and these are no exception. As outside, so within: the black shadows gleaming on the top-quality stock and – haha! – someone is wearing a Zenith t-shirt! There are some stunning angles, looming silhouettes, hunched shoulders wishing for the womb, and streaming tears of terrified desperation.

“He – hello…?”
“Who is this?”
“This is, uh, this is Jake Dobson. Who, uh… Who are you… trying to reach…?”
“This is Detective Warren, S.F.P.D. homicide. The phone you’re speaking on is part of an ongoing investigation.”
“Homicide — ? Oh my God, there’s like pictures of dead people on this phone! A dead person — ! I swear it’s not mine, I just found it in the park, I swear to God I was gonna hand it in — !”
“Easy, son. You’re not in any trouble. Just tell me where you are.”

Oh, smart-arse Jake is in one hell of a lot of trouble.

From the creative team behind the two-volume LOSERS, the writer of the immaculate John Constantine trilogy beginning with HELLBLAZER: JOYRIDE, and the artist we all gasped at in BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR comes a thriller set in San Francisco which plays to one of my darkest fears: not being believed.

On his way to work young Jake Dobson has gleefully picked up a mobile phone dropped in Golden Gate Park. There is only one number on it: Bravura Acquisitions. But there are a great many photos: of a dead man shot through the forehead, the little finger of his left hand chopped off. Imagine Jake’s surprise when that same man, Jonathan Twain, walks into the local police station to retrieve his mobile phone, claiming it was part of a murder mystery evening he was throwing for his new work colleagues. That’s all right then. No corpse, no murder. So why is Jake sweating? Detective Warren does not exist, and the man who came to collect the phone – the man Jake fled from – had a gun.

“One of my colleagues was playing the detective. He must have taken the role to heart. Again, I can only apologise.”
“This is insane…”

Case closed. Except that they all know where Jake works now, and they’re going to return. Of course, Jake also knows where Jonathan Twain lives – he told the detective at the police station – and Jake’s Zenith-fan friend, whose wife is organising a protest march, eggs him on to check the address out.

“C’mon, man-up! Self-reliance! I’ll totally back you up. And if he tries anything funny, I’ll drop the sucker like a bad habit.”
“Sure you will. This is just to get you out of making placards, isn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you’re even saying to me right now.”

1. You will not believe what they find at the apartment.
2. You will wish to God that they’d never gone there.
3. You will wonder what the fuck that final page portends.

Diggle gone done it again.

SLH

Buy Snapshot #1 on your cellular phone by ringing three times on 0115 9508045 then hanging up or emailing page45@page45.com some very worrying images. PS. Please don’t.

The New Deadwardians (£10-99, Vertigo) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard.

“How are you this month, Chief Inspector?”
“Very well.”
“Do you require any dental attention?”
“I had them filed back the week before last.”
“Good, good. So… have you been having any tendencies?”

Haha! Aristocrats are vampires, the lower classes are mindless zombies, and the British are all prone to “tendencies”: that everyone’s prejudices satisfied, then.

There are so many veins of dry humour mined here – some perfectly poised rejoinders – but under its wink-wink-nudge-nudge surface and the crowd-pleasing capitalisation on the current trend for all things shambling, there is one hell of a heart and much to be said.

It’s London 1910, fifty years after the Memorial War. In 1961 Prince Albert died and a monarch and country in mourning were suddenly faced with a proletariat turned Restless. That’s what they call the hoards of mindless zombies spontaneously raised from the dead – The Restless – and although the British army with its aristocratic officers fought hard in murderous campaigns reminiscent of the Zulu wars, the country is still under siege. Whole zones are barricaded off to keep out the ravenous riff-raff, and quite right too.

Zones designated ‘A’ like Marylebone and the Houses of Parliament are the safest havens well patrolled by police. There the aristos live, the so-called Young who age not one jot for they are now vampires – albeit well heeled, genteel and successfully resisting their neck-nibbling thirst with a stiff upper lip that has killed them inside. They have servants, of course, who are mere mortals called The Bright. Most of those live in Zone Bs: areas like the East End where you’ll find artists and poets and prostitutes – those still alive to what their limited life-spans have to offer. I loved this joke at a checkpoint:

“YOU ARE NOW ENTERING ZONE A. PLEASE MIND YOUR LANGUAGE.”

You wait until you see Zone D.

Unfortunately Chief Inspector George Suttle of Marylebone has had a break-in and lost one member of his household staff to a zombie, with another bitten and in danger of turning. To save her, Suttle takes the socially unheard-of step of bringing young Louisa with him to receive The Cure, which will turn her into a vampire, while he receives a booster of blood which is where we came in.

Meanwhile overnight a body has washed up on the banks of the Thames. Or, more specifically, it’s been dumped on the mud right in front of the Houses of Parliament and the Albert Memorial Tower. Is someone making a statement, do you think? The body is male, naked, had his right hand chopped off and in his mid-forties. Well, he might be, or he might not, because he’s recently had his teeth filed too. His name is Lord Hinchcliffe, an advisor to Queen Victoria, and his corpse bears three additional markings of note: burn marks to the neck, another which looks like a quite specific brand, and a wearing of the gums which suggests he wore false dentition. It suggests he had… tendencies. But he’s a vampire immune to but three causes of death, so here’s a quick conundrum:

“That’s not possible, Chief Inspector. For a fatal case, there are none of the three causes present: impalement of the heart, decapitation, incineration. None of them.”
“Quite so. I didn’t say I could explain it, Doctor. But somehow, someone has managed to murder that which was not alive.”

What has Lord Hinchcliffe been up to?

Those familiar with Ian Culbard’s work (his several Sherlock Holmes adaptations like THE VALLEY OF FEAR and his Lovecraft book such as THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD) are in for a bit of a surprise: his lines here are far slimmer and crisper than usual. There is so much space. His tour de force is George’s bedridden, ancient mother, whose hooded eyes and pursed lips in one silent panel of what-on-earth-does-that-matter disdain are an absolute scream. It’s my single favourite Culbard moment so far.

“My breakfast is inordinately overdue, George.”
“I’m sorry, mother. There was an incident below stairs this morning.”

Cue silent panel, mentioned above.

“I am quite beside myself with hunger. I think I may perish.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever perish, mother.”

Throughout, however, Culbard’s consistent application of Victorian implacability in George’s countenance fits perfectly with what Abnett returns to over and again: the death of the spirit on acquisition of life ever-lasting. The deadening of the senses too: even when his investigations take George to a brothel, he finds he has no sex drive, but he may have hit upon a lead. She’s certainly hitting on him.

“I don’t know about telephones, George. But if you want to ask anything else, you can always come back this way and pump me for information.
“Just so you know, I like to protect my confidences, so you might have to pump me quite strenuously.
“Am I stirring anything yet, George?”
“We’ll see. But your perseverance is awfully sporting.”

Patricia Mulvihill’s colours are clean, soft and bright – the very antithesis of what Vertigo was renowned for. They’re classy, if you like, while Culbard’s forms and compositions are so full of decorum that it’s startling when all hell breaks loose.

Abnett find ingenious ways of weaving in all manner of social issues from patriarchal repression and women’s suffrage to what might happen in the matter of inheritance when no one is a family is ever going to die. Propriety was always highly valued by the toffs in Victorian England – good manners over good will – and there is a moment here that is pure Oscar Wilde when George visits Lord Hinchcliffe’s estate to pay his respects to the victim’s grieving widow.

“This way. Her ladyship is in the drawing room, applying her tears.”

SLH

Buy The New Deadwardians and read the Page 45 review here

Daybreak (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brian Ralph.

Welcome to a most unusual narrative. It begins thus:

“Hello.
“It’ll be dark soon. Better come with me.
“Down here. Make sure to close this lid once you’re in.
“This way.
“It’s been some time since I’ve had a visitor.
“Where are my manners? You must be thirsty. Please, make yourself at home.”

He’s talking to you, by the way, and it’s around this point you’d normally break off to inspect your surroundings: to garner some clues as to your current condition; scout round for scant supplies you know you will need later: a bandage, a medipack, bits of dried armadillo, a bag of nails you won’t learn how to use for another thirty hours game-play or even a crowbar if you’re lucky. You may need a crowbar: there be zombies.

And so it is that your new companion – who’s seen better days and once owned at least one more limb – shows you round his make-shift sanctuary, hidden from the slothful shamblers above. You’ll probably want to ask him some questions when you wake up. Where is the drop-down menu?

Yes, it’s just like a video game! Not a first-person shooter, per se, but something more akin to those point-and-click experiences like Riven and Myst. Except obviously you have no control over anything! It’s just an illusion. But, boy, is it engaging. “Total immersion comics,” was how Tom once described it.

I love how there’s only one panel between “Good night” and “Morning!” just as there would when resting on Fallout 3 or Skyrim. You’ll go scavenging for items, make sneaky escapes, seek out shelter and set-off booby traps which will knock you out only for you to wake up later in very different company. And, oh, those sudden attacks. All the more terrifying because you can’t do anything about them! I cannot begin to tell you how chilling the flashlight scene is where you can only see a few yards ahead of you and, oh dear, what’s that up ahead?

Ralph has done this so, so well. You don’t get to say a thing, yet your companions do answer the questions you’ve never asked, just as if you had. He then plays with that later on when a far less hospitable host starts answering other people’s questions… Maybe they didn’t ask them, either. There’s a puppy-ish dog that bounds into view, nuzzling your nose, then retreats just as he would in your limited field of vision on screen. As to cooperative gameplay, the moment when you realise you have to help drive the car because… Funny!

In other ways too this is the most unusual zombie comic you’ll ever read, for the art is endearingly sweet. For a start its chief protagonist is the cutest amputee in the world, all tufty-haired, bare-chested, in shorts. Then there’s that dog you’ll come across later. It’s nice to have company, isn’t it?

It’s printed in a dark-chocolate brown rather than hard black-and-white and there’s so much glee in the cartooning. Anyway, settle back (though don’t relax), safe in the knowledge that Brian will take care of any sudden button mashing.

“Take off your clothes.
“Hurry – I’ve got any idea.
“Not your underwear! Leave that on.”

Yes, don’t get too carried away.

SLH

Buy Daybreak and read the Page 45 review here

7 Miles A Second h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by David Wojnarowicz & James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook.

“I am amazed at how perfectly your body fits to the curves of my hands. It makes me weep to feel the history of your flesh beneath my hands at a time of so much loss.”

“I am a prisoner of language that doesn’t have a letter of a sign or a gesture that approximates what I’m sensing.”

You wouldn’t believe that from reading this. Written with a breathless, angry and eloquent urgency, this is a raw and bitter socio-political scream originally published by Vertigo in 1996 and told ten years into the AIDS epidemic which robbed Wojnarowicz or his health, then life, after it had taken away all his friends. This is what we forget: that AIDS was swift, it was lethal and there was no hope at all; that it was the grimmest of deaths as the body decayed, relentless in its pain, the drugs and their consequent nausea; that individuals could lose their entire circle of friends while being rejected by relatives, stigmatised by society and vilified in the media by politicians, policemen, those of the cloth and even health care officials in language we’d do well to remember.

“The man on the TV has a replaceable head. He can have the face of a doctor or a politician, of a research scientist or a priest with a swastika tattooed on his heart…”

““If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers” says the governor of Texas and his press secretary later claims he was only joking and didn’t know the microphone was on and besides they didn’t think it would hurt his chances for re-election anyway and I’ve been looking all my life at the signs surrounding us in the media or on people’s lips; the religious types outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral shouting to men and women in the gay parade “You won’t be here next year you’ll all get AIDS and die ha ha.””

The crescendo is such that punctuation is swallowed in its cascade of meticulously phrased anger, and Romberger rises to the occasion, delivering a knock-out blow as a 370-foot tall Wojnarowicz punches St. Patrick’s to pieces. Romberger painfully captures the frailty of forms and tenderness of touch, but equally the delirium of David’s mad fucking visions and dreams. Marguerite Van Cook’s colours are virtually toxic – greens and oranges all over the place – while the crimson blood and white, shattered ribs spewing out of David’s blue, bed-ridden frame as he bursts in David’s arms is jaw-slackening. That may be Romberger’s finest-ever page, the panel insert bringing home the heart.

All this while the writer’s on AZT with its increased mental activity, making him even more aware of what he’s enduring. “Some days I don’t think about this disease for hours,” he notes; the implications of which are halting.

“I’m sick of being sick and it aggravates me to speak to people who have a degree of normalcy in their lives,” he confesses. “I can’t deal with another “But you look good”. It’s not affecting me too much in how I look but it’s Hell in how I feel.”

Sorry, I’ve gone straight for the jugular. Before all this Wojnarowicz reflects on his teens, hustling on the streets and picking up older men for a pittance. One drones on about his wife and son whom he says he loves but doesn’t seem to like very much. Then lack of sleep and lack of food compromises his common sense so that turning one trick in particular proves infinitely more dangerous when David ditches his savvier, streetwise mate and, just like the client, Romberger pulls no punches.

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard James’ name before, it may be BRONX KILL written by Peter Milligan.

This is not a beautiful book; it’s an ugly book, a brilliant book, a Last Will & Testament which I hope you will hear. It reminded me of similar diatribes from the merciless Diamanda Galas, and of Nick Cave’s Do You Love Me? but neither of them endured this.

The language employed in the first half is far calmer than the climax but no less considered, and it’s to this that David returns on the final few pages before signing of in New York City, 1993.

“I am waving. I am waving my hands. I am disappearing. I am disappearing but not fast enough.”

SLH

Buy 7 Miles A Second h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Chu’s Day h/c (£10-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex.

A book which one can’t help suspect span out of its titular pun.

Chu is a tiny Giant Panda susceptible to sneezing. No, that’s not it; it’s just that “bad things happen” whenever he does so.

His mother takes him to a library where there’s too much dust from the musty old books. His father takes him to lunch at a diner where they are worryingly liberal with the pepper. Finally they all visit the circus where there are all sorts of nose-niggling things in the air. Will Chu sneeze, and what will happen if he does? Clue: duck and cover!

Neil’s youngest-reader book yet, built on the classic one-two-three, and the sort which you will read to the little-un’s so half the fun will be acting out the drama, the anticipation as Chu goes…

“AAH-
“AAAAH-
“AAAAAH—“

And while the kids’ eyes gleam like shiny marbles, darting from one animal to the next (you can have fun together identifying them all later on), adults and older children can amuse themselves with the background jokes like the mice on miniature computers, performing database searches in those old, wooden index-card draws or the chef’s hat perched over a whale’s blow hole in the shape of its spray.

It’s colourfully painted in acrylics, I think, but who even knows these days. The father’s expressions made me smile, especially post-sternutation when he discovers he’s somehow acquired a slightly startled hitch-hiker.

“Oops,” said Chu.

SLH

Buy Chu’s Day h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: The Death Of Captain America (Complete) s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, others.

Yowsa! Four previous softcovers in one, this reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and all three DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA books. As such it is book three of Brubaker’s CAPTAIN AMERICA run following CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER then CAPTAIN AMERICA: RED MENACE which turned a tedious superhero series into a taut international espionage action-thriller with layers of conspiracy and a long-term game plan from a dead Red Skull inhabiting the mind of Russian General turned corporate businessman, Aleksander Lukin. What’s more Steve Rogers became a complex individual with a vivid and intricate past which has come back to haunt him in the form of his wartime partner, Bucky, since brainwashed into becoming a covert assassin, and a credible love-life in the form of Sharon Carter who is in for a world of pain here.

The undermining of Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers’ on/off lover, fellow SHIELD agent and unwitting instrument of his assassination, begins on the very first page, and it’s gripping stuff.

In the first chapter the Superhero Registration Act is discussed passionately by those supposed to enforce the law, and it stars its own supporting cast while the good Captain fights the fight in the pages of the CIVIL WAR itself, so setting the stage perfectly for the next act here which featured that now-famous death. My notes asked, “What is the device – good for one use only – supplied by Victor von Doom for services rendered?” Get me, I’m prescient!

The involvement of Armin Zola confirmed my suspicions about where the storyline was heading, and he’s not the only old adversary to play his unique part in this gradually unfurling, devious long-term plan. Most interesting for those following the fortunes of former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (SECRET WAR etc.) is the tactically brilliant way in which he inserts himself back into the main frame without emerging from hiding except in very plain sight. And that’s not as cryptic as you might think, if you read it carefully. Gorgeous, shadowy art, like Sean Phillips bathed in milk. Hell, I know what I mean.

Then we kick into the titular death itself. Arrested after his surrender at the end of the CIVIL WAR, Captain America becomes an easy target for the Red Skull’s allies who take aim and fire. But that’s all a distraction, for his killer is closer to home. With the Captain pronounced dead on arrival, those left behind – Sharon, The Winter Soldier, The Falcon, The Black Widow and Iron Man – are at each others’ throats, effectively crippling their ability to round on the real culprits and work out what’s behind their manoeuvres. Steve Epting and Mike Perkins deliver spectacular art with such a depth that one wonders how this remains monthly.

Chapter three: possibly the cleverest and most fortuitously timed pages of the exceptional run so far as The Red Skull goes after America through its economy. Mortgage foreclosures? They’re the headlines today. Guest-stars The Black Widow, the black Falcon, America’s own Black Wednesday, and Iron Man.

Chapter four finale: keep it contemporary! The Red Skull, Armin Zola and Dr. Faustus bite through America’s jugular vein: its economy. That’s how you subjugate a country. Then they field their own Presidential candidate. Meanwhile ever since the very first issue of this series, the Red Skull has been trapped in the body of General Lukin who himself is still in there (it’s nice to know they can share), but geneticist Zola has a plan. Oh, and a contingency plan in case that one fails. It fails, resulting in a truly satisfying last-page epilogue as this first major story arc – all 42 issues of it – concludes.

Stunning stuff and Steve Epting has done the nigh-impossible: make Captain America look cool, even in the rubbish new costume for Bucky designed by Alex Ross. His action sequences are spectacular, and when in quiet contemplation Epting’s characters ooze humanity. Like Sean Phillips’ art, everyone’s almost permanently in half-shadow, and he’s comfortable in the big city centres as he is on a country road or in a laboratory: everyone is perfectly, physically in place in their environment, which is no mean feat.

SLH

Buy Captain America: The Death Of Captain America (Complete) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 
Chu’s Day (£10-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three (£8-50, Scholastic) by Tom Sniegoski

The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c (£22-50, NBM Comics) by Etienne Davodeau

Assassin’s Creed: The Chain (£14-99, UBI Workshop) by Karl Kerschl, Cameron Stewart

The Manara Library vol 4 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara

Dead Space: Liberation h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Ian Edginton & Christopher Shy

Alabaster Wolves h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Steve Lieber

King Conan vol 4: The Prince Is Dead (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Alan Zelenetz & Marc Silvestri, John Buscema, Rudy Nebres

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation Squared vol 2 (£13-50, IDW) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton & J.K. Woodward

Batman vol 2: Night Of The Owls h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Suicide Squad vol 2: Basilisk Rising s/c (£12-99, DC) by Adam Glass & Fernando Dagnino

Batman: Arkham Unhinged h/c (£16-99, DC) by various inc. Paul Dini & Juan Ryp

Scarlet Spider vol 1: Life After Death s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Chris Yost & Ryan Stegman, Neil Edwards

Uncanny X-Force vol 7: Final Execution Book 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Phil Noto, David Williams

Marvel Universe: Ultimate Spider-Man vol 2 Digest (£7-50, Marvel) by various

Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 (£9-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Emerald And Other Stories (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Naruto vol 60 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Paul Has A Summer Job restocks (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati
Sally-Anne’s brilliant and beautiful report on the Angoulême comic festival in comic form. Some strikingly fine portraits like Chester Brown!

 Marvel ranks its own characters circa 1973. Ain’t retrospect a bitch? Interesting how highly they prize characters they didn’t create (Dracula) and no longer publish (Conan, Doc Savage). Also, what did poor Quicksilver ever do wrong? You can tell its pre-X-Men relaunch: the Beast has evidently just gone blue, furry and solo in Marvel Premiere.

Bookshops could charge for browsing says CEO of HarperCollins. From the confines of a padded room in a mental health institute.

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