Profanity, hot bullets and blue Brony action!
– Stephen on Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson’s Happy.
Montague Terrace (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Gary Pleece & Warren Pleece.
The silk-finish cover makes Montague Terrace look a most attractive prospect for potential residents. Shame it was built over what was once a verdant, urban square – and you wait until you meet its architect!
You’ll have to, for it’s the building’s current occupants you’re introduced to first, and if they’re at all representative then you probably wouldn’t sign a lease yourself. Apart from old Mrs. Greene – a WWII spy once interrogated by the Nazis in much the same threatening, dissembling fashion as the tyrannical council do now – they are each of them broken and, now that I think of it, all of them including the octogenarian are haunted, either by prior failure, success or indeed war. It’s driven its fair share of them mad.
Paul Gregory was once touted by the likes of Melody Maker as the next Scott Walker. He wasn’t. He was a feckless and faithless husband and now he sits in his flat, half-naked and playing his own single to death. T.C.P. DeBoyne was hailed as the modern D.J. Salinger, but his difficult second novel proves too much for the easily distracted, pleasure-seeking wastrel who resorts to disparaging others on the equivalent of the Late Show simply to replenish what little’s left of his advance after this girlfriend’s gone shoe-shopping with all the self-restraint of Imelda Marcos. If I was his publisher, I’d punch him. Then there’s the scientist whose ecological innovations were sabotaged by the government, corporations and an ever-collusive media when detrimental to the “interests of enterprise”. Oh, and the charisma-free conjurer expelled from the Magic Circle who resorts to turning tricks at parties for spoiled, middle-class brats, one of whom gets his come-uppance thanks to a giant, rabid rabbit. Instant catharsis!
The Pleece Brothers have plenty to say, much of it eminently worth saying, and the opening sequence of the modern flat’s erection gave me hope that this might prove a modern equivalent of Will Eisner’s monumental DROPSIE AVENUE or at least THE BUILDING. I loved Mrs. Greene’s reply to any and all neighbourly enquiries as to her health (“I’m not dead yet!”) which resonates all the more affectingly when you come to comprehend its origin; I positively grinned at the tagline for Trendé magazine: “tasteful, high brow trash for the twittering masses”; and the well-meaning interference of the teacher in the domestic well-being of two Iraqi school children was harrowing.
However – although you may love, love, love it – I hated the dénouement, the reveal which to me seemed like something which Vertigo or Warrior Magazine might have editorially insisted on twenty or thirty years ago. The only unifying factor required was the terrace itself, as evidenced by both Eisner books above. Also, on reflection, the format itself is a retrograde step: an A4 softcover albeit with infinitely better production values than those we endured two decades ago. I can’t think of any other books which have recently opted for that format abandoned even by LOVE AND ROCKETS a ways back, and Jonathan Cape have bounded their previous A4 offerings in something much sturdier. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the format; it’s just that the US and UK market have proved resistant to it over the years. Perhaps Cape weren’t aware of that.
Anyway, I can’t bear to conclude as a Debbie Downer where the Pleece Brothers are concerned because a) The Pleece Brothers, b) the black and white art is even more refined than ever with an atmosphere which both anchors you consistently in the day-to-day doings of the tenants, whilst terrifying the reader during the more surrealist nightmare sequences, and c) if the destination didn’t do it for me, the journey itself more than made up for it. I therefore commend to you also Warren Pleece’s exceptional work on Mat Johnson’s INCOGNEGRO.
Happy s/c (£9-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson.
Many sarcastic thanks to whichever of my sympathisers on Twitter explained the term ‘Brony’ to me some months ago following a flock of five fellows, in a single swoop, signing up to the MY LITTLE PONY #1 COMPLETE BOXED SET at £18-99 each. I cannot unlearn what I now know to be true, so may never fully recover. What I learned was this:
There has been a surge what could loosely be called of man-love for that saccharine pink pony, and those guilty of such a wayward cultural misalignment are called Bronies. Now, I’m hardly the butchest boy in the box and obviously Page 45 is an all-inclusive, non-judgemental love-in for all manner of diverse penchants and pleasures… but there are fucking limits.
By which I mean: “That’ll be £18-99, please. Thank you!”
Anyway, Happy here is a feathered blue pony with big, bulbous, bright shiny eyes, a purple unicorn horn and accentuated, goofy front teeth. Knowing Grant Morrison you may seriously doubt this, but potentially he’s the product of a delirious imagination as ex-Detective Nick Sax is sped across town in an ambulance after receiving several gunshot wounds in part-exchange for having murdered the four Fratelli brothers. They thought they were on a mission to axe our Sax, but it was no-nonsense Nick who hired them in the first place. The police are swift to the scene but that’s good news for no one except the Fratellis’ Uncle Stefano who’s determined to keep it all in the family – “it” being the Fratelli fortune. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell him the password and the only person still alive who knows that now is Nick.
Corruption is the order of the day on the snowy streets of God Only Knows and torture/interrogation will follow, all kindly overseen and endorsed by New Jersey’s Finest in the form of Maireadh McCarthy who’s firmly in Uncle Stefano’s pockets. Time to send in arch-information extractor Mr. Smoothie.
“I feel like the ghost of a hard-on that will not die.”
Along the way we meet a drunken paedophile dressed up as Santa (you’ll meet again – and after Nick knows where, you’ll know when), while Sax quite casually and coincidentally dispatches a serial murderer in a prawn costume smoking a spliff from a back end of a hammer which was five seconds away from coming down on the head of a prostitute blowing him to blissful oblivion. Did I mention it’s Christmas?
From the writer of WE3, JOE THE BARBARIAN and BATMAN INCORPORATED etc. comes something akin to THE FILTH only without the giant, flying spermatozoa. Profanity abounds and he’s set out to sully the holiday season whilst lobbing in the incongruity of bright-eyed chirpy-pants Happy The Horse who claims to be Hailey’s imaginary friend sent to Sax to rescue her from the plastered paedo.
TRANSMETROPOLITAN’s Darick Robertson is on his best form ever with masterfully slick choreography, the sturdiest of figure work and eye-popping street scenes all beautifully lit and then coloured to perfection by Richard P. Clark.
Vader’s Little Princess h/c (£9-99, Chronicle) by Jeffrey Brown.
From the creator of the fragile, autobiographal comics CLUMSY, UNLIKELY, FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY etc, the two INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS books and so much more, comes a sister title to DARTH VADER AND SON with Luke replaced by pretzel-haired Princess Leia.
Having played out most of the infant jokes (with considerable aplomb, though there are a few more here which only a daughter could deliver), Jeff swiftly moves to those difficult teenage years when being a single Dad proves problematic – especially with a daughter in danger of dating. Alas, most of the gags are image-specific so quotation is difficult, however…
“Nothing is wrong,” she tells Hans Solo, arms tightly folded and looking away. “I just…”
Hans, arms outstretched to hug her, looks back at his prospective father-in-law enquiringly as if to ask, “What does she mean? Is this what she wants?” Darth simply shrugs, as clueless as the rest of us.
Then there’s the age-old chestnut of getting kids to tidy their rooms. In my case it was miniature cars I used to imagine playing out my private Whacky Races: perfect for a parental pratfall. In this case it’s a clothes-strewn carpet. Also: clothes-strewn bookshelves, clothes-strewn bedside cabinet and clothes-strewn lampshades…
“AND NOW, YOUR HIGHNESS, WE WILL DISCUSS THE LOCATION OF YOUR HIDDEN LAUNDRY BASKET.”
Once more half the humour resides in our cold, calculating, rasping and ruthless, obsidian-orientated, empire-eliminating egomaniac being reduced to a helpless parent, totally in thrall to the whims and wishes of his titular little princess who blithely interrupts his latest death-decree by hugging him at the hip (and so putting him off his sadistic stride) or, conversely, taking paternal interrogation twenty-two steps too far.
The second half of the equation is the familiarity: of Darth, for example, being as behind the times and out of date as all Dads.
“THIS CONCERT YOU WANT TO GO TO… ‘MAX REBO’? WHAT KIND OF MUSIC IS IT, EVEN?”
“It’s good, Dad, you’d like it.”
He’d hate it. And so do you.
However, my favourite cartoon this time round (it’s a book of cartoons, not comics – did I mention that?) is one which I think we can all empathise with and dearly wish we had a Dad like Darth to dish out the well deserved punitive measures on our infuriated behalf.
“I think it’s telemarketers calling…”
“LEAVE THEM TO ME, I WILL DEAL WITH THIS MYSELF.”
Let it be lethal.
The Manhattan Projects vol s/c (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra…
“Grave news… we’re going to have to postpone the orgy.
“Seems those fiends in Los Alamos have decided they no longer need to recognise the authority of the government.
“How’s a President supposed to perform sexually under that kind of pressure?”
Utterly insane! Now the question is, am I referring to pretty much all of the cast of characters, or the plot? Errr… well both, actually. It takes real talent to produce something as completely bonkers yet seamlessly coherent as this title is. And crackers fun, in huge megaton payloads-full!
Following on from the events of MANHATTAN PROJECTS VOL 1, where our eclectic bunch of super-genii defeated an entire alien race intent on world domination / destruction, it is perhaps no great surprise they’ve decided they don’t really need the dubious benefits of <ahem> executive oversight from the President and his chums anymore. It’s not that they’ve come out and said so, you understand; it’s just they don’t feel they need to ask permission. After all, when you’ve developed your own nuclear devices and have acquired teleportation technology so you can drop them exactly where you want, Washington DC for example, who is likely to quibble with you? Stupid politicians of course! Cue the smackdown!
In the meanwhile, given the boys from Los Alamos have decided to concentrate on… bigger things… their first step is to reach out to their Russian scientific brethren ensconced in their own technological complex at Star City to see if they’d like to join in the fun, which gives Jonathan Hickman chance to introduce another wonderful set of oddballs and maniacs! Not that he’s neglecting the megalomania of several of our original cast as the Einstein from another dimension, having covertly replaced the original, continues to hatch his own dastardly scheme, and Joseph Oppenheimer, whom everyone presumes is Robert after he murdered and ate him many years previously, is about to get a rather unpleasant psychic surprise courtesy of his subsumed sibling. Like I said, completely utterly insane all round!
Point Of Impact (£10-99, Image) by Jay Faerber & Koray Kuranel.
1. A young couple in a car is saying goodnight, and arranging a dinner for Saturday. Something smashes onto the roof with such ferocity they’re almost killed in the crash. It’s the body of a beautiful blonde woman, smartly dressed, and she is quite, quite dead.
2. Journalist Mitchell Rafferty is working late, putting a piece to bed. Thankfully his wife, Nicole, has made plans with her sister because he knows she can’t cook to save her life. When he finally gets home, he is knackered. Unfortunately his wife’s not there, but someone else is, rifling furiously through his draws. It’s someone in a mask with a military tattoo. It gets very violent very quickly until there’s a knock on the door. It’s detective Abby Warren with very bad news: his wife is dead. The intruder escapes with a laptop.
3. Simon from technical calls Abby Warren: they were working on Nicole Rafferty’s cell phone when a call came in. They traced it. The caller was one Patrick Boone, ex-army with a record and – yes – that very same tattoo.
Oh, you think it’s that obvious? Now read the comic itself: specifically the bits I missed out like, oh, I don’t know… that voicemail.
Full marks to the artist for the very first panel showing the crime scene under investigation. Immediately I jotted down a note: “How can someone falling from a rooftop land on a car parked that far away from the building?” She’d have had to have taken a running jump, which is a wee bit difficult in stilettos. It certainly wasn’t suicide. You get exactly the same sense of improbability when Abby’s looking down from above.
Full marks also for the art itself, reminiscent in places of Klaus Janson – especially the faces – and Frank Miller’s SIN CITY style when it came to the bed linen. Clean, crisp architecture too. As to the cover… that’s an instant seller and, unusually, an additional clue to the story.
So. That is what I wrote of the first of four chapters, at least. In addition I had always intended to mention that there was a hint of HULK artist Herb Trimpe to the visual proceedings, as inked perhaps by Terry ‘clean line’ Austin.
Alas, although our journalist does look suitable frazzled throughout, I have to come clean and confess that, having now read the whole shebang, it turns out to be way too transparent. I could even see the keyboard being tapped in my mind’s eye as the script slots everything together way too easily and the protagonists reach the requisite revelations or make all their mistakes bang on cue.
Avengers vol 1: Avengers World h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Adam Kubert, Jerome Opena.
“We have to get bigger.
“We have held for so long, but there is something looming just past the horizon. We can’t see it, but it’s coming. It’s going to be too much, and too soon – and we have to get ready now.
“We’ll keep this quiet until they’re needed – you and I will do most of the recruiting. Specific people for specific needs. But they’ll be out there. Ready… Waiting…
“And then, when that day comes, all you have to do is say the words… Wake The World.”
Oh, it’s coming all right: I can assure you it all pays off next volume. Well, at the end of this one once they decrypt the Builder Machine Code. How good’s your Warren Ellis?
Speaking of Ellis, I know Tony Stark is sounding all Miranda Zero, but don’t expect their new operatives’ deployment to be quite as select as within GLOBAL FREQUENCY: it’s more like banging a global gong, inviting everyone and their mother to dinner.
Hickman’s written a very different AVENGERS book here: it’s no longer a tightly knit family affair, but a military assault reacting to worldwide catastrophe as a group of god-like gardeners plant themselves firmly on Mars and set about weeding out the weaklings on Earth by introducing their own strains – like anyone with green fingers does when they move into a house and discover that their new back garden is blighted by dozens of hideous hydrangeas. What…? Horrible flower, the hydrangea.
Anyway, that’s one bloody big battle, but what they’re left with is an enigmatic being whose language they can’t comprehend – one who appears to have a very important message for mankind if only the Avengers can interpret it in time…
As with all things Jonathan ‘NIGHTLY NEWS’ Hickman, there is some seriously stylish design going on in each chapter break – he does like his symbols, does Hickman, and has a penchant for blue too – including the Builder Machine Code supplied right at the end. Personally I’d read the whole thing without it first time round, thereby walking a mile in the Avengers’ mystified shoes. After that, by all means get your pen and paper out, decrypt like crazy and keep for posterity.
Please note: if you’re wondering why Spider-Man is so hilariously rude right now – I don’t mean cheeky as he’s always been; I mean downright supercilious – you may wish to catch up on events in his own title, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. Clue: that isn’t exactly Peter Parker under that mask. It may look like him, but someone’s rented a room in his noggin’ and eviction is proving problematic.
Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£37-99, DC) by Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill.
450 pages of smear and loathing, designed to make your mouth curl at the very same time you’re chortling your toes off. You’ll be gurning and groaning, like the Elephantman being given a blowjob.
Before Veitch delivered pretty much the last word worth saying on the pervy nature of superheroes in BRATPACK (although we’ve since been treated to Garth Ennis’ sustained sexual assault in THE BOYS), Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill voiced their own distaste in their ultra-violent, iconoclastic, joke-in-every-corner MARSHAL LAW books. All things establishment and status quo get a jack-booted kick to the crotch, from Reagan and the Church to the Justice League of America and theme parks. It’s kind of like MAD on crack (I did not just type “it’s kind of like” – you never read that), though I don’t mean Kurtzman-esque, for you won’t find too much social dissection going on. That was left, as previous mentioned, to Rick Veitch.
What you will witness is a gross-out ejaculation of repressed sexuality; of sadism, masochism and self-loathing. Maximum punnage is the order of the day and they keep it coming, thick and fast, spawning now-familiar slogans like “Nuke Me Gently.”
It’s not quite as slick as I recall – the voice-overs don’t half interrupt the flow – but it’s still the work of two men having the grimmest of laughs while firing on all cylinders.
This whopping volume, heavy enough to cave in the cranium of anyone in a kinky costume or cape, reprints MARSHAL LAW #1-6, MARSHAL LAW: FEAR AND LOATHING, MARSHAL LAW TAKES MANHATTAN, MARSHAL LAW: KINGDOM OF THE BLIND and MARSHAL LAW: THE HATEFUL DEAD, MARSHAL LAW: SUPER BABYLON and MARSHAL LAW: SECRET TRIBUNAL #1-2. Gallery section, and an introduction by Jonathan Ross.
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.
Marble Season h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Gilbert Hernandez
Courtney Crumrin Spec Ed h/c vol 3 (£18-99, Oni Press) by Naifeh, Ted & Naifeh, Ted
Morning Glories s/c vol 4 Truants (£10-99, Image) by Spencer, Nick & Eisma, Joe
A Boy and a Bear in a Boat s/c (£5-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton
Charles Burns Library s/c vol 2 Big Baby (New Ptg) (£12-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Charles Burns
Dark Tower Gunslinger s/c Battle Of Tull (£14-99, Marvel) by David, Peter & Lark, Michael
Who Is Ac s/c (£10-99, Other A-Z) by Larson, Hope & Pantoia, Tintin
Flowers Of Evil vol 5 (£8-50, Random House / Vertical) by Oshimi, Shuzo & Oshimi, Shuzo
Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams s/c vol 2 (£18-99, DC) by Haney, Bob & Adams, Neal
Uncanny Avengers Prem h/c vol 1 Red Shadow Now (£18-99, Marvel) by Remender, Rick & Cassaday, John
MMW Incredible Hulk h/c vol 7 (£52-99, Marvel) by Various, Herb Trimpe
Fairy Tail vol 23 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Hiro Mashima
Fairy Tail vol 24 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Hiro Mashima
I am Here vol 1 (£12-99, Del Ray) by Ema Toyama
Doctor Who vol 1 The Hypothetical Gentleman (£13-50, IDW) by Andy Diggle, Brandon Seifert & Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond, Ilias Kyriazis
Ningens Nightmares s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kalonji, J. P. & Kalonji, J. P.
Gantz s/c vol 27 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Oku, Hiroya & Oku, Hiroya
Excel Saga s/c vol 25 (£7-50, Viz) by Koshi, Rikdo & Koshi, Rikdo
Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING has been snapped up for TV! Yay!
Also: The Eisner Nominations 2013. I think there may actually be progress in this traditionally mediocre institution (the British Comic Awards 2012 showed everyone how it should be done) but where the hell is the best book of the year? THE NAO OF BROWN is not mentioned once!