Reviews March 2013 week three

Loads of news and links below the new books this week, right at the bottom of the blog.

Pure coincidence (you could say synchronicity) but this week’s reviews seem to be a chorus of social satire. Oscar Wilde, Andi Watson, the manga… even MOOMIN is in on the act. Still, let’s launch with a laff. I bloody love this book.

 – Stephen

Hawkeye – My Life As Weapon vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja with Javier Pulido, Alan Davis.

“Okay… This looks bad. Really… really bad. But believe it or not, it’s only the third most-terrible idea I’ve had today and today I have had exactly nine terrible ideas.”

Oh, Clint. Every idea you have is terrible.

Comedy crime with an eye for design so sharp that this is the first superhero book we have ever allowed in our window. Partly because it’s not even a superhero book, but mostly it’s Aja’s design.

There’s a charming use of flesh and purple tones, and a thrilling deployment of stark black and white with plenty of wide-open space. In one instance a newspaper clipping smuggles in the creator credits; in another the only mask in this entire series so far (apart from a certain gold-plated façade) makes for a belly-laugh moment you may have heard whisper of. I’m not going to steal the fun from you. Here’s a Daily Bugle headline instead:


Oh God Somebody Do Something

Fraction’s timing is immaculate. At least three of these stories kick off in the middle, at the height of yet another monumental disaster, the one quoted above then proceeding to count down through each of Clint’s nine increasingly idiotic ideas. Thank goodness for Kate Bishop, then – the younger, female Hawkeye – who’s smarter, sassier and infinitely more savvy, so often left to pull Clint’s fat (and occasionally naked) ass out of the fryer.

“Tell you what, if I die, you can have the case. It’s good for travel.”
“Think I have quite enough of your baggage already, thanks.”

Here’s some of what I wrote of the first issue before the spying, the lying and the videotapes arrived. Before Clint’s sex-drive got him into the coolest comic car chase I can recall, complete with some old trick arrows he really should have found time to label before dipping his wick. Bring on the tracksuit Draculas, bro!

By his own admission Clint Barton can be more than a little juvenile. The man with the hair-trigger temper and mouth to match has a long history of knee-jerk reactions. But for all his sins, this totally blonde bowman and relative outsider has a heart of gold and a social conscience to boot. So when those who have taken him in – the neighbours he shares communal barbeques with on hot summer nights on the roof of their tenement building – fall under threat of mass eviction, Clint can’t help but act on impulse, and you just know it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s a first-person narrative with a grin-inducing degree of critical, objective detachment. It dashes frantically, nay recklessly, backwards and forwards in time with little-to-no hand-holding, as Clint watches yet another badly laid plan precipitate a cycle of ill-aimed, flailing thuggery. At its centre lies the plight of a battered mongrel which Barton fed pizza to in order to win the dog over. But now it’s in trouble.

“What kinda man throws a dog into traffic – seriously, I ask you – traffic right now – rain – cabs – nobody watching out for sideways demon pizza mutts – c’mon, Clint – c’mon – nobody – nobody watching out – Can’t watch oh God…”

Now, there is a natural affinity if ever I read one.


Buy Hawkeye – My Life As Weapon vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Gum Girl: Countdown To Destruction (£6-99, Walker Books) by Andi Watson.

Fabulous third instalment of Andi Watson’s pageant of pundemonium, in which Grace Gibson attempts a week’s Work Experience at Page 45…

“It’s not about politics or a popularity contest, Grace. It’s about learning to be a team player.”
“I can be a team player. Just not on a team of idiots.”
“Sulking doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Try persuasion, flattery or charm.”

Fancy having your headmaster as Dad! He doesn’t half bring his homilies home with him.

Still, he’s much worse at school. Here they have finally extracted the space probe which crashed through Calamity Primary’s roof long before Andi’s comicbook records began, and it turns the pupils into a bunch of space cadets, fuelling and programming a relaunch. Young Neil Aldrin, perpetually in a space suit (they don’t seem to enforce school uniform), has always wanted to walk on the moon but gets car-sick, sea-sick and space-sick. So he’s rigged the satellite to help him manage the nearest equivalent. He just hasn’t understood the gravity of the situation. Pigs might actually fly. A stray cow as well. It’s a good job that Gum Girl has her feet firmly on the ground – thanks to sticking power of her superpower.

Anyway, back to the headmaster’s speech. He’s your motivational conference’s worst nightmare:

Oh, this is so much fun: so much fun to read and so much fun to look at! The cartooning is exquisite and seemingly effortless with forms and compositions to frazzle and bedazzle along with the colouring. But it takes a ridiculous amount of behind-the-scenes skill to render such blistering bombast without cluttering the page or cloying the eye. Its colours are as bright as you like, and coordinated to evoke your favourite sweet chews, but have you noticed how much white Andi employs? Not just white, either, but dotted-tone zones where others wouldn’t even dream of employing them. It lets everything breathe, a bit like throwing your duvet over in the morning, and the result is as fresh as a mountain spring. As to the production values, there’s interior spot-varnish for all the outlines. Interior spot-varnish – I ask you!

There are also sneaky little homages to prior super-powered pugilism, like Gum Girl sticking to the ceiling when her Dad pokes his nose round her bedroom door. Note the cobweb and spider beside her: that’s what Spider-Man used to do!

Also this outing: a roller derby dereliction debacle in which a certain someone takes Paris-envy to extremes and attempts to give the town of Catastrophe a monumental make-over so that everything can be skated over, under and round-about; and Doctor Tick Tock whose crime is to steal time from school. Typically he nicks it from breaks and lunches – never the bloody boredom of maths or French.


Buy Gum Girl: Countdown To Destruction and read the Page 45 review here

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 4: The Devoted Friend, The Nightingale And The Rose s/c (£5-99, NBM) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell.

My Mum’s favourite graphic novel of all time is P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s THE HAPPY PRINCE, so beautifully does it evoke unconditional love, self-sacrifice and caring for others. So impressed was she by its beauty, its dignity and its poignancy that she asked for the rest in the series. This, at the time of typing, is all that remains in print.

It’s heartbreaking. Both tales once more involve self-sacrifice, but in the first one struggling young man’s generosity is abused horrifically and in the second a bird’s goes unacknowledged. Worse still, the pain that is endured to help a love-struck student secure a dance is excruciating as a nightingale seeks a single red rose and alights upon a bush whose veins have been chilled by winter and whose buds have been nipped by frost. There will be no blooms this year, unless…

“If you want a red rose you must build it out of music by moon light, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins and become mine.”
“Death is a great price to pay for a read rose and life is very dear to all,” considers the nightingale. “Yet love is better than life… and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?”

What follows is absolutely shattering – the student’s dismissive oblivion, the nightingale’s excruciating trial and the fate of the rose itself – all the more so on account of Russell’s fine judgement over what to depict and how.

As to ‘The Devoted Friend’, it is the story of a poor but industrious gardener called Hans whose rich, idle, self-regarding neighbour preaches high-mindedly about the duties of friendship whilst practising all the altruism of a common thief. The miller’s sermons are full of self-justification in denying Hans hospitality or credit for flour, while emotionally blackmailing young Hans to give more of himself than he can possibly afford. Most affectingly of all, Hans would do anything to please and couldn’t bear to be thought of falling short in friendship. No, it’s not that: he couldn’t bear to fall short in friendship, regardless of what others might think.

“It is certainly a great privilege to hear you talk. But I am afraid I shall never have such beautiful ideas as you have.”
“Oh! They will come to you. At present you have only the practice of friendship. Some day you will have the theory also.”

Oscar Wilde: utterly charming whilst effortlessly scathing.


Buy The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 4: The Devoted Friend, The Nightingale And The Rose s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin Builds A House (£7-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

“Pappa? There is some villain outside!”
“How exciting!”

That’s no villain, that’s Mymble’s mother and her seventeen new brothers and sisters! Oh wait, it is a villain because she’s invited herself to stay with no warning at all and no plans to leave until Midsummer. Also, she’s oblivious to the wretched monsters’ chaos and destruction.

“Don’t they fight each other?”
“Of course. But I don’t like to keep scolding them. I just… pour some water over them… or lemonade.”

Little My is the worst, rousing the rabble into abducting Mrs. Fillyjonk’s offspring and tying them to totem poles. She’s relentless and remorseless in terrorising the Moomin household, while her mother takes a positive pride in what she sees as skills. Poor Moomins: always the victims of their own goodwill and hospitality! In the end, they can only persuade Little My to behave by abiding by her harsh ultimatum: she wants Moomintroll’s bedroom all to herself.

And that’s why he has to build a house for himself and Snorkmaiden. He’s… not very good at it.

Another full-colour slice from the MOOMIN black and white albums, presenting the ultimate in poor parenting and the dangers of D.I.Y.. Which is why I don’t do any. Parenting or D.I.Y.. See also: dusting, vacuuming, washing up… We could be here all day.


Buy Moomin Builds A House and read the Page 45 review here

Tokyo Babylon vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by CLAMP.

“Ghost and monsters? They’re no match for human selfishness. Nothing is.”

Well now, this was a surprise. My first-ever CLAMP and it turns out to be a searing indictment of human greed, selfishness, anger, hypocrisy, superficiality, resentment and the abuse of power in the form of rapists, brainwashing senseis and celebrity child molesters. Pertinent, much?

Ingeniously it is wrapped in the more pleasurable and so palatable cloth of both a dark occult thriller and a light as a feather boa ‘will-the-won’t-they?’ rom-com. It’s also a vehicle for the CLAMP collective to show off their love of outlandish haute couture with ditzy match-maker Hokuto wearing a succession of improbable outfits from what looks like a giant hosta to butterfly wings, gauze and a custom-crumpled, velveteen top hat.

Indeed the very first episode is played almost entirely for satirical laughs, as young Subaru is summoned to exorcise a fashion victim whose Chanel suit has become possessed by the grudges of those who eyed it enviously in the shop window then the rival customer the woman physically fought with for it on the department store floor. All of which inspires Subaru’s sister Hokuto-chan to deliver a deliriously vapid self-defence for refusing to boycott freon-formed cosmetics. You leave her hair mousse alone!

Hokuto is at her best when teasing her brother about his relationship with smouldering Seishiro, twenty-five-year old devotee of dapper suits and, as it happens, heir to the Sakurazukamori clan of assassins. He seems far too adorable for that – he’s a vet. Teenage Subaru, meanwhile, is the master of the 13th generation of the Sumeragi clan. They are both onmyoji, hence Subaru being called in to exorcise the likes of Tokyo Tower. There a failed actress who committed suicide is haunting the special observation deck. After years of struggling, alone and hungry in Tokyo, she finally landed a small speaking part in a major film but the diva lead, after weeks of stropping, pulled out at the last minute thereby causing its cancellation. This they are discussing as casual as you like on the window sill, and Subaru is sympathetic but Seishiro is adamant: the actress’s suicide also caused pain to those she left behind.

That’s one of the things I love about this series: you’ll get your omens and casting of spells, but at its heart it’s about how we treat each other, just as you’ll discover in the next chapter with the coma patient.

The other thing played to perfection is the love affair between unflappable Seishiro and easily embarrassed Subaru. For the most part Seishiro is respectfully hands-off but then with perfect comedic timing he breaks into mischievous mode to casually enquire whether Subaru finds him “Hot or not hot?” Right on queue, every time, Subaru is so flustered he faints.

However, everything changes when the subplot kicks in, catalysed by a vision in which Subaru encounters an enigmatic young man beneath a cherry tree, his eyes obscured by a flop of dark hair. And he tells Subaru that beneath every cherry tree is a corpse, which is why every year they bloom so beautifully.

“You see, once the blossoms of the tree were white. Pure white… like snow. So… how do you think that cherry blossoms turned that pale crimson? It’s because they drank the blood from the corpse underneath the tree.”

Now seemingly spurious elements take on new weight, like Sieishiro’s heritage. Also, Hokuto joked that Subaru had to wear gloves so she coordinated his flamboyant wardrobe around them! But it turns out that this was an edict, not a wilful fashion statement, issued by his grandmother, master of the preceding generation of the Sumeragi clan who had trained him in the occult arts since infancy. Subaru must never take off his gloves, even in his sister’s presence.

Towards the end of this first omnibus edition, Subaru’s grandmother travels all the way to Tokyo to speak to him.

“On the ninth day of every month, we perform a fire augury to predict the future. And I did a reading on you, Subaru.”
“What? On me…? Was it… bad…?”
“The Sakura… It said that the cherry blossoms are planning to steal you away, Subaru.”
“You haven’t taken off your gloves, have you?”


Buy Tokyo Babylon vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Crossed vol 5 s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by David Lapham, David Hine & Jacen Burrows, Georges Duarte…

I’ll freely admit I picked up this volume of CROSSED with some trepidation, noting that Lapham was back on the writing duties for an arc, after the unremitting, and frankly plain unenjoyable, incest and torture porn storylines that formed his two previous CROSSED volumes, being VOL 2 and VOL 3 respectively. Happily though he seems to have noted such an extreme scenario as the world of the Crossed does actually require some levity to make the extreme horror palatable.

Set in the early days of the outbreak this tale features a cowardly character named Edmund, always the butt of pretty much any high school prank due to his craven ways. Yet, ironically enough, it’s his hard-wired flight or flight-faster mechanism that’s managed to ensure he’s kept one step ahead of the nightmare. So far, at least! What we have here is actually a very entertaining story as Edmund careens from one horrific scenario to other, always escaping by the very skin of his teeth, usually at someone else’s expense, whilst fainting in total terror at what is going on around him. Yes, those not-so-chummy school chums don’t seem to be having the last laugh now! Well, actually they are because they’re all hysterical, flesh-eating, corpse-shagging maniacs, but you get what I mean. Nice cameo from the torture-porn titular psychopath star of volume 3 too, which goes to show Lapham can get this type of story absolutely bang on, surprising no one.

The other arc, penned by David (BULLETPROOF COFFIN and STRANGE EMBRACE) Hine is an equally amusing and of course gruesome number. Set at a writers’ retreat, hosted by a rather odd character who seemingly wants his guests so fully immersed in their deviant roles he’s given them that they might as well be in an end of the world scenario. Which indeed they are, they just don’t know it yet! Equally as enjoyable as CROSSED VOL 4, penned by Ennis and Delano, and the Si Spurrier penned CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE ongoing title, I think we can now pretty confidently state this franchise is back on track.


Buy Crossed vol 5 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Earth 2: The Gathering h/c (£16-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott…

It did seem slightly superfluous of DC, post-FINAL CRISIS, post-FLASHPOINT, with the all new versions of the various main characters inhabiting Earth 0 or New Earth as I believe we are now supposed to refer to it as (plus not forgetting the SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE and BATMAN: EARTH ONE stories), to even bother with an Earth 2 series. (I do remember reading somewhere that Morrison was supposed to be doing a series which was going to feature a story from all the different Earths (52 in total), but I’m not sure whether that’s been canned, put on the shelf or what.)

Anyway, DC has decided to do it, and I have to say, it’s reasonably good so far. The basic original premise of Earth 2 was to allow the Golden Age version of the characters to keep existing alongside the Silver Age ones, whereas this reboot has taken a different more modern approach. All set in the current day, this Universe’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman died fighting the invasion from Apokolips, which I think is meant to be roughly analogous to the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL 1.

Consequently other heroes need to step up in absence of the big three, but these characters, primarily Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkgirl, and Green Lantern (Alan Scott), are not the versions we are familiar with. (Also, expect the appearance of Earth 0 Mister Terrific before too long apparently. and not forgetting Earth 2 characters Power Girl and Huntress have their own series set on Earth 0, WORLD’S FINEST.) Anyway, this first volume is pretty much what you’d expect, exploring the new origins a little, having the requisite punch up amongst themselves, before settling down to have their first adventure together. I’m being slightly blasé about it all, but it is well put together by James Robinson whose run on STARMAN I enjoyed immensely. Basically, think of it as the current Justice Society of America title in all but name, and you get the idea.

I’m not sure if it’s even worth mentioning the brief bit of publicity DC, possibly a touch shamelessly, generated by rumouring they were going to out a truly major character as gay, then making it Alan Scott, the Earth 2 Green Lantern. I can’t decide whether that’s a touch cynical on their part, slightly gutless by not making it a really big mainstream character (listen, if you’re rebooting your entire set of Universes, plural note, clearly anything is possible) or just a wise decision, as actually James Robinson has just handled it in the most perfect manner, by not making a fuss about it. It feels perfectly natural, which is exactly as it should be, rather than being a tokenist stunt. Now we’re just left wondering who else is left in the very crowded capes and tights closet.

In summary, I am going to keep reading this title myself, as along with JUSTICE LEAGUE and the new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, it seems as though DC have got the approach to their big name team books spot on for the moment.


Buy Earth 2: The Gathering h/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.

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

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

Eagle Strike: The Graphic Novel (£9-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Anthony Johnston & Kanako

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

Batman vol 1: The Court Of Owls s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Daredevil vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Khoi Pham

Gambit vol 1: Once A Thief s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by James Asmus & Clay Mann, various

Invincible Iron Man vol 10: Long Way Down s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca

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

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 4: The Search Part 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Vampire Knight vol 16 (£7-50, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Bakuman vol 18 (£7-50, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Pandora Hearts vol 13 (£8-99, Yen) by Jun Mochizuki

Negima! Omnibus 2: vols 4-6 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 9 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great

Tenjo Tenge 2-in-1 Edition vol 10 (£10-99, Viz) by Oh!Great
Breaking news!

More rounds fired off in a 100 BULLETS reprise: 8-issue BROTHER LONO mini-series!

Drawn & Quarterly’s Autumn Catalogue includes RAGE OF POSEIDON from Anders Nilsen.

Dan Berry interviews Ian Culbard on another Make It Then Tell Everybody. Dan Berry has the best interviewing voice and technique in the world. Ian Culbard drew our current Comicbook Of The Month, THE NEW DEADWARDIANS amongst so much more. Stick him in our search engine! Just… leave the doors open, please – he has deadlines to meet.

THE PRIVATE EYE, a new digital comic from Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin, absolutely free (but please donate)!

And finally, this! Video of Lizz Lunney at work. Brilliant!

Could someone – anyone – just tweet me that they read this stuff at the bottom, please , or I’ll stop?


 – Stephen

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