Reviews March 2013 week four

Urgent!

STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS SLIPCASED EDITION by Terry Moore due in June will be £75-00 plus £4-99 shipping within the UK.

We desperately need your pre-orders now, so I wrote a blog, linked to above, explaining why, how you can do it online, with links to Terry Moore’s own coverage and how to order direct from Terry in the US.

STRANGERS IN PARADISE is very, very important to me and this new edition, with pages restored to their uncensored form for the first time ever needs your support not later but now, please. Any dissemination would be gratefully received.

 - Stephen

The Massive vol 1: Black Pacific s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Gary Brown, Kristian Donaldson, Dave Stewart

The Kapital is crewed by normal people. Some of them are perhaps not the kind of people you would meet in everyday life (ex-mercenaries, freedom fighters) but they are still just people, human beings. And many of them are exactly the sort of people you do meet every day: idealists, students, environmentalists, people who volunteer to build houses or dig wells in Africa. They don’t have a massive arsenal of guns, they’re not mega-geniuses, they are simply a group of people who feared for the way the world was headed and decided to attempt to do something about it.

And then the world really did go to hell in a handbag. The icecaps have disintegrated, the earth’s magnetic field has collapsed, sea levels have risen, sea chemistry has fundamentally changed, tectonic plates are on the move and cities are swamped beneath tsunamis. Land becomes sea, farmland becomes desert, inland becomes port. It could be the work of some outside force, a coordinated act, or perhaps a rebellion of nature herself. Or it could just be what happens when you ignore the facts and carry on burning carbon. Either way, the world is still here but not in the way it once was. Money is becoming an artifact of the past. What matters now is fuel, food, clean water and staying out of trouble.

So what are the crew of the Kapital to do? What’s the role of a “Direct Action Conservationist Ship” when there are no more governments or corporations to oppose? When the whaling ships have nothing left to hunt and the drilling platforms are in flames? When the indigenous fishermen they used to fight for are now heavily armed pirates? Is it now just about survival; roaming the seas and staying alive? Or does their self-appointed mission still stand; to protect the environment which, now more than ever, is endangered by an increasingly desperate and lawless human race? After years of futile protest from the outside they have a chance to take control and reshape society; will they take it? And where is their sister ship, The Massive? Presumably she is crewed by a similar bunch facing a similar dilemma. We don’t know yet because so far we haven’t managed to locate her. Save for a few tantalizing Radar contacts she is lost somewhere out there and the Kapital is desperate to find her.

So once again we have a work of speculative fiction from Brian Wood which is moored very firmly in reality. The things depicted in the book could happen or indeed have happened already. He shows us a world in the grip of a slow apocalypse; not a deadly nuclear war or alien invasion with a do-or-die winner-takes-all climax, but a steady cascade of failures, gathering pace, becoming inexorable before our eyes. From man-made systems like government and finance to real world systems like weather and sea currents, everything shifts and leaves the human race off balance. But of course, being a Brian Wood book, this isn’t a grim, depressing diatribe, it’s an exhilarating, eye-opening first volume to a story which, hopefully, will run to many books. The depictions of the disasters and their wake are vivid and fascinating and the characters (along with their varied and interesting back-stories) are intriguing. From the ruined nuclear power plant at Fukushima to the abandoned science stations of the Antarctic we are given a little glimpse of the world to come and all the perils and opportunities it holds for people brave enough to explore it. The old world is abandoned, ghostly, left for salvage as the new world is taking shape.

So what will the crew of the Kapital do? I don’t know; I don’t even know what I think they should do! I certainly don’t know what I would do in the same situation. I absolutely cannot wait to see where this goes.

Please note: this book contains #1-6 plus the three eight-page stories from DARK HORSE PRESENTS.

DK

Buy Massive vol 1: Black Pacific s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Joe The Barbarian s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy.

“You heard all that, right? Make sure you eat your candy.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Wish me luck. And say hi to your father for me. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be happening.”

In the Veteran’s Cemetery, where his father lies buried:

“Hey, Dad. You suck.”

Joe’s Mum is on her way to see if they can somehow keep the house. Joe is drawing in his sketchbook. The Veteran’s Cemetery is the location of the school field trip, and the double-page spread from Sean Murphy – with its senescent, desiccated leaves swept across the stormy sky, over the regimented rows of simple white crosses between the white Palladian monuments – will have you tucking your scarf back in. I love what he does in several scenic panels with the autumn trees themselves, the leaves all jagged and crinkled and brittle.

Sean Murphy (HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS) was a revelation. I’ve compared him to Chris Bachalo circa mid-SHADE or DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, but here he proves to be entirely his own man when Morrison grants him as much space as he could want to delineate in uncluttered detail Joe’s well-appointed attic bedroom reached through a rope ladder, then the deluge outside, and those tell-tale beads of sweat on the sleepy boy who emphatically didn’t eat his candy. What follows is a delirium which anyone who’s woken to a disconcerting semi-consciousness will be able to relate to; when you’re not sure how much you dreamed is your current condition. Is Jack shifting between reality and a dimension populated by his toys made animate? Or is it just his hypoglycaemia kicking in?

Sean Murphy switches effortlessly between young Joe’s flight from danger in his fevered imagination, and his real plight alone at home as he stumbles from his attic bedroom in order to find the fridge, to find something, anything with glucose in it. It’s deliberately, excruciatingly slow: by the end of the second chapter he’s only made it as far as the bathroom. On his back is the white mouse he let out of its cage; in his less lucid moments it’s a battle-clad, anthropomorphic warrior he’s freed from his dangling prison and who’s engaged in a war between Joe’s toys made animate. Anyway, he’s running his head under a bath tap. The bath is filling up, and it’s having a knock-on effect on the battle within…

Dave Stewart brings bright dashes of colour to Murphy’s beautiful silver birches. The fantasy landscapes are dotted with the white crosses from the real-world cemetery, and if you look closely at the buildings, they’re made out of Lego bricks! Also, half the fun is spotting exactly which toys are being referenced and I did laugh when he received a Star Trek phaser (possibly a centimetre in real-life length) for protection. The final few pages are beltingly well orchestrated, the worlds merging on the page for one final moment of pure serendipity.

There are scripts in the back, sketchpad ideas, character designs, and Sean Murphy takes you on a guided tour of the house, what he designed, how he drew it and why. For me, the architecture itself was the star of the show and well worth the price of admission; for any aspiring artist those notes are golden.

SLH

Buy Joe The Barbarian s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Barry’s Best Buddy h/c (£9-99, Random House) by Renée French.

“Barry, wake up! It’s me, Polardog! I have a surprise for you!”
“Polardog! I was having a lovely nap!”
“Your house puts me to sleep! What colour is it? Snooze?
“It’s grey.”
Bor-ring!”

Brilliant, and there translated into English from American. America: when will you learn to spell?!

Barry is a bird with no time for fun. With his perpetually sceptical, half-awake, hooded eyes, he is like The Herb Garden’s Sage The Owl. He doesn’t like hats, he doesn’t like chats, he doesn’t like anything much. Barry is your proverbial stick-in-the-mud. Boy, but you have to put the effort in!

Fortunately that is just what Barry’s best friend is about to do, distracting the obdurately frivole-free bird [new word: frivole] with hats and iced lollies. But, oh! did you see Barry licking his lips? No, Barry hates iced lollies! Grump, grump grump! Meanwhile a small army of ants crossing the bottom of each page have been charged with giving Barry’s house a makeover with all the self-restraint of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. There’s even a random flag featuring a steaming pile of poo. (That will make the kids cackle!)

And, wouldn’t you know it? Barry loves it! He’ll still pass on the hat, mind.

Hmm. How much of a problem actually is American spelling for Early Learning books in the UK? I’ve been thinking about that with all the manga we supply to schools.

SLH

Buy Barry’s Best Buddy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Severed s/c (£10-99, Image) by Scott Snyder & Attila Futaki.

Nasty, nasty, nasty.

A crafty placement of raised spot-varnish creates quite the chilling 3-D effect as a gnarled hand, dripping with blood, tears through the cover and its unsuspecting city of Chicago to reveal a set of eyes staring right at you that definitely don’t have your best interests at heart.

In BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR (softcover out now), American Vampire’s Scott Snyder proved he could successfully mess with our minds, playing upon our expectations to keep us guessing as to the protagonist’s much maligned innocence or psychopathic guilt. Here, along with co-writer Scott Tuft, he plays upon our fears, our worst nightmares of being lost and alone a long way from home, helpless and hopelessly trapped. Then there’s the matter of trust, and the sinking, hollow horror of finding it most misplaced.

One year ago young, aspiring musician Jack Garron stumbled upon evidenced that he was adopted, ever since when he’s been gripped by the secret hope of finding his father. Instead of confiding in his loving, adoptive mother he managed to make contact, and the last letter he received mentioned a fiddle-playing gig in the city of Chicago. That’s where Jack’s heading now, having run away from home to stow away on a freight train. But the freight train’s occupants are far from friendly, while what’s waiting for him in Chicago is even worse. What follows is a cruel breadcrumb trail that will take Jack further from home still; what’s so damnably clever is how that trail was laid.

Unlike BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR this isn’t an “Is he or isn’t he?” – we know right for the beginning that there’s a murderous, cannibalistic monster waiting in the wings, adopting a succession of seemingly beneficent guises and preying on the young and vulnerable, so when Jack strays too close for comfort the dramatic irony racks up a tension so taut it’s not true. As to his new friend Sam(antha), found on the freight train, just… don’t go there.

Attila Futaki’s art has a fine period feel while the colours are suitably dowdy, for this is all told in retrospect. Even the countryside is low-lit and earthy. It’s a far from comfortable read set in series of uncomfortable, bleak or outright hostile environments: bedsits and bars, hotels and motels and shacks in the middle of nowhere.

SLH

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

Batman vol 2: The City Of Owls h/c (JUST £12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Various, Greg Capullo…

“…To all allies of the Bat presently in Gotham… I send this with the greatest urgency.
“Tonight, the Court Of Owls has sent their assassins to kill nearly forty people across the city.
“The Court’s targets are all Gotham leaders, people who shape this city.
“I have uploaded a list of the targets’ names, here.
“The Court’s assassin, The Talons, are already en route to their targets.
“They are highly trained killers… with extraordinary regenerative abilities. For many of their targets, I fear it may already be too late to…”
*BANG!* *BANG!*

Misdirection. Yes, there’s been plenty of that about in Gotham City ever since its inception, as the Court Of Owls has managed to hide its sinister controlling presence virtually undetected for several hundred years, maintaining the illusion it was nothing more than a whimsical reference in a child’s nursery rhyme. Not any more, as following the events of BATMAN: THE NIGHT OF THE OWLS (some of which you’ll see reproduced here – see editorial note below) the Court’s full flock of Talon assassins are abroad at dusk to feed, wrecking deadly havoc amongst the luminaries of Gotham. Can the Bat-family save them? Some of them, yes. All of them, no. Read BATMAN: THE NIGHT OF THE OWLS for the full scorecard.

This volume, however, focuses entirely on Bruce and his own issues with the Court, both in terms of his immediate physical wellbeing as he too comes under attack in the Batcave by not one but several Talons, necessitating an immediate and seriously heavyweight suit upgrade to a rather less breathable number; and also those unresolved issues of a rather more personal nature as he finally begins the unravel the Owls’ involvement in not just his parents, but also his younger brother’s, demise.

I will say no more on that particular sibling-related matter to protect those of you who have yet to read any of Scott Snyder’s run, as the adjuncts and revelations he has made to the established Bat-canon during his tenure have been nothing short of genius. If Grant Morrison Bat-magic is all smoke and mirrors which gets you clapping and cheering, then Snyder is subtle, jaw dropping, sleight of hand to leave one astonished. No less amazing, perhaps more so. I also love the fact that whilst we are made privy to certain crucial moments, Bruce is not, ensuring that whilst we are left with an extremely satisfactory ending to this ornithological extravaganza, it is most assuredly not a conclusion…

[Editor’s note: Because DC released BATMAN: NIGHT OF OWLS first, containing BATMAN #8, 9, ANNUAL #1 as well as the rest of the crossover, a lot of readers thought it *was* BATMAN VOL 2 and bought it in good faith. Now those readers will need to buy BATMAN VOL 2 too if they want the rest of the story, effectively paying for 3 issues twice. I won't *have* Page 45's customers ripped off, so we've reduced the cost of BATMAN VOL 2 from £18-99 to £12-99. Ethical retail: it's not just possible and desirable, it is vital for generating goodwill and loyalty. We'll happily take this hit.]

JR

Buy Batman vol 2: The City Of Owls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd Year One #1 (£2-99) by Matthew J. Smith & Simon Coleby…

Dredd had been on the streets close to a year. The academy had prepared him as best it could, but it was here where he’d learn what the city would throw at him, in all its strange varieties.

“Quite a haul, and it’s not even nine o’clock.”
“I’m an early riser.”
“Convenient. You can be in a cube by midday. Two years.”

Yes, this much more like it. After my disappointment at the rather tepid other recent IDW Judge Dredd title, it seems I am going to get what I wanted after all. A no-nonsense, not remotely played for laughs, sci-fi/crime mash up with a young Joe taking names and busting heads. I say not played for laughs, but as ever Dredd’s laid back, Jack Dee deadpan delivery of his lines always makes me chuckle. Instantly I am gripped like I’ve been sprayed with a can of Boing by the story Matt Smith has opened with, of normal juves suddenly exhibiting telekinetic powers, some of whom then deciding to take advantage of their new found abilities for the sort of behaviour you just don’t expect from fine upstanding citizens of the big Meg! Good job we’ve got a fresh, well marginally less granite faced, Dredd, only just out of the academy determined to take down any and all perps as hard as humanely possible.

As he starts to investigate in conjunction with the newly formed Psi Division, it becomes clear there’s something most strange indeed going on, and despite his intense distrust of anything outside his comfort zone, i.e. punching distance or Lawgiver range, he’ll grudgingly admit the Psi Judges’ unusual methods are going to be very necessary in his burgeoning crusade to clean up the streets.

This title, if it stays like this, is going to appeal to Dredd purists and sci-fi / crime buffs alike. I would have liked to see an even more lean, sinewy Dredd, as I remember from the very early days of 2000AD, but at least Simon Coleby hasn’t gone for the steroid abuser look you so often see Dredd portrayed as these days. He looks like he means business though, and when that business is cracking heads with your daystick, you certainly do need to look tough! An excellent first issue, no need to dispatch a Rigelian hotshot to IDW just yet…

JR

Buy Judge Dredd Year One #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Constantine #1 (£2-25, DC) by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes & Renato Guedes.

I came to praise CONSTANTINE, not to bury him.

Alas, I am left with no alternative. The very first paragraph is a raging non-sequitur:

“This is how the world is supposed to work: you give and you take. Cause and effect.”

No, you can give and you can take; you can give or you can take. But neither action affects the other. They may amount to some nebulous equilibrium if sagely balanced, but there is no cause and effect at work what-so-fucking-ever.

Sloppy. John Constantine (rhymes with wine; emphatically not Constan-teen) would know better. And we have only just begun.

Against all American odds, I was dearly hoping that my beloved creators of ONE SOUL, MERCY, ESSEX COUNTY, THE NOBODY, Sweet Tooth, LOST DOGS, ANIMAL MAN and THE UNDERWATER WELDER might know, perchance, what they were bloody doing. They do not. This is so peculiar – so singular – for Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire that I am going to blame editorial interference.

This isn’t just a bad HELLBLAZER book, it’s a bad comic.

As far as a John Constantine chronicle is concerned, it is awful: gone are the socio-political commentaries, the dry, wry mockery, the ingenuity, the wit and the spirit of place. There is almost always a spirit of place. In their stead: superpowers! Yay! Just look at the cover: John can now zap you with a blue-tinged pentangle or some sort of shit. There is also a godalmighty cleavage cock-up here: I may be queer but I know a woman’s breasts (quite intimately, thank you) and they do not look like that, six pages from the end, bottom panel.

Also pathetic: the climax after which John walks away as cockily as he used to BUT SHE CAN BLOW UP TAXIS! How is John getting away?!

HELLBLAZER played by some rules, even when John busied himself bending them. That was what the book was about: guile. But without rules, you have no boundaries. Without boundaries, you have no tension. Without tension you have no reason to invest in a comic emotionally.

I have stopped caring, yes.

SLH

Buy Constantine #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Winter Soldier vol 3: Black Widow Hunt s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice.

“I like the rain… The way it sounds on the umbrella… The way the air feels.”

With which Ed Brubaker’s triumphant, epic stint on the world of CAPTAIN AMERICA which began with CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER comes to a devastating end. There are things worse than death, you know, and this is one of worst I can imagine. It is not what you think, no.

If for some reason you have failed to follow through on WINTER SOLDIER VOL 1 and WINTER SOLDIER VOL 2, you are hereby exhorted to do so. Butch Guice has been on blistering form with the mood-esque atmosphere enhanced no end by colour artist Bettie Breiweiser who made some very brave choices in volume one which paid off to perfection. Here they are better than ever, with rain than will soak you to your tear-stained skin and, boy, there are some neat Gene Colan riffs! Perfectly apposite as you will see, but I will not tell you why.

I have to be very careful what I type here so as not to spoil those books – particularly the second one – however…

“Here’s the thing about being under mind-control, the part nobody talks about… That you’re still in there… Some small piece‘a you is awake… watching. Like bein’ a passenger in your own body. You struggle to break free… but you lose… Over and over again… you lose… And it makes whatever you’re forced to do that much worse…”

The Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s loyal partner from WWII who went missing in action towards its close, presumed dead. He wasn’t. He was whisked away by the Soviet Union and brainwashed into becoming their deadliest covert assassin during the Cold War. Rescued from their clutches, he was finally de-conditioned, since when he filled in as Captain America when Rogers was lost in time, but was prosecuted for treason and convicted.

Then extradited to Russia for good measure.

Steve Rogers never lost faith. Nor did Bucky’s lover, the deadly Black Widow, who managed to extract him from the Russian Gulag. The Black Widow is Natasha Romanov, herself a former Soviet spy since turned Avenger, and former lover of both Hawkeye then Daredevil. The woman is lethal, possibly the finest hand-to-hand-combat fighter the world has ever seen. And now she has been kidnapped, brainwashed yet again, and sent on one final mission.

Oh dear.

SLH

Buy Winter Soldier vol 3: Black Widow Hunt s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Various.

It’s basically AVENGERS: THE KORVAC SAGA with the additional hangover that was Henry Gyrich kicking the Guardians out of Avengers Mansion along with most of the Avengers themselves.

Collects THOR ANNUAL #6; AVENGERS #167-168, #170-177 and #181; MS. MARVEL #23; MARVEL TEAM-UP #86; and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #61-63 and #69.

Do you think there’s a film on its way?

Buy Guardians Of Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol 2 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.

 
Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c (£14-99, Oni Press Inc.) by John Allison

Dave Sim: Conversations h/c (£29-99, UPM) by Dave Sim, Eric Hoffman, Dominick Grace

Darth Vader And Son Journal (£7-99, Chronicle Books) by Jeffrey Brown

Darth Vader And Son 30 Postcards (£7-99, Chronicle Books) by Jeffrey Brown

All New X-Men vol 1: Yesterday’s X-Men h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

American Vampire vol 5 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Dustin Nguyen

Angelic Layer Book vol 2 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Higurashi vol 21: Massacre vol 3 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Ryukishio7 & Hinase Momoyama

Husbands h/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Espenson, Brad Bell, Ron Chan & Various, Ron Chan

Mighty Thor vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Barry Kitson

Soul Eater vol 13 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Spider-Man: Lizard – No Turning Back s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Giuseppe Camuncoli

The Unwritten vol 7: The Wound (£10-99, DC) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl h/c (£16-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Superior s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu

Is This A Zombie? vol 2 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Sacchi
Look! Children’s Comics Festival in Oxford Saturday 4th May! Photographs galore featuring some of your favourite comicbook creators like Philippa Rice, Lizz Lunney, John Allison and Sarah herself in this ebullient blog by the amazing Sarah McIntyre (VERN & LETTUCE).

Interview with Eddie Campbell about the forthcoming FROM HELL COMPANION. You can pre-order the FROM HELL COMPANION here!

Kieron Gillen is interviewed about his new historical series THREE drawn by Ryan Kelly.

BATTLING BOY by Paul Pope – 12-page interview AND preview. Make sure you click on the blue page numbers!

Warren Ellis has written an original AVENGERS graphic novel – which is unexpected.

Doctor Who returns on Saturday. Here is the prologue. Not a preview, an actual Doctor Who prologue!

One of the key ingredients Matt Smith brings to Doctor Who is glee! Even when sad, he is full of glee. And enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. It keeps us young. I once saw an octogenerian couple ascend a set of stairs, discussing a book they both loved. Their eyes lit up.

Forever Young by Madness. Go on, crank up the speakers! You’ll thank yourself.

 - Stephen

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