Reviews April 2013 week one

John writes his stories with such apparent carefree glee and obviously really understands the inner workings of the juvenile mind because, over and above the chortling fruitloopy storylines, it’s the interaction between all the kids that make this such a total hoot.

 – Jonathan on Bad Machinery.

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

“Well now, you have a good day at school.”
“Aw Mum, don’t cry.”
“Snif, I can’t help it, sorry love.”
“Bye then.”
“Aren’t you going to give your mummy a kiss?”
“Do those boys not have mothers too? Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, my little baby boy!”

“Linton, you really ought to catch the kisses your mum is blowing. They’re for you, it’s only right.”

Yes! Finally John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus is seeing print, in a gloriously over-sized, floppy landscape fashion. Not ideal for our, or indeed your shelves, frankly, but who cares when something looks as gloriously technicolour-widescreen-amazing as this! If I had to name one person in comics whose art style is the very definition of illustration, I personally would immediately say John. To see his work laid out like this, really is like watching an exquisitely produced animation, his linework is so consistent and the colours so eye-strainingly vibrant.

It’s also clear John really does have a love for sleuthery, mysteries and general all around weirdness, as seen in his SCARY GO ROUND material, and his shorts featuring the slightly ditzy children’s author and part-time detective Shelley Winters, THAT! and MURDER SHE WRITES. Fans of that last work will be delighted to learn, if they didn’t know already, that Charlotte the tween sleuth is one of the six young stars of the show here, as the boys and girls of Tackleford form their very own Blyton-esque numerical investigative unit to find out who or what is behind the apparent curse on the mega-rich owner of local football club Tackleford FC. Results haven’t been going well recently and the one boy who is actually bothered about football is concerned that their benevolent oligarch will up sticks and leave. I needn’t add that all is not as it seems I’m sure! It did amuse me greatly too that I didn’t guess who the ultimate culprit was! I also suspect Surreal may well be John’s middle name, as along with his brilliant art, this type of off the wall humorous fiction really has become his trademark.

John writes his stories with such apparent carefree glee and obviously really understands the inner workings of the juvenile mind because, over and above the chortling fruitloopy storylines, it’s the interaction between all the kids that make this such a total hoot. It really does take me back to the more inane aspects of schoolyard humour, and the dashes of ribald cruelty too, which I had mostly forgotten about. For me John’s star has been steadily rising, and I do hope, and think, this could be the work that really breaks him through to a considerably wider audience. Well worth building a tidily landscaped extension onto your shelves for!


Buy Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West #1 (£2-75, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta…

“He should be here.”
“And you are sure that..?.”
“Yes! He was dead on his feet. Something must have gone wrong… more wrong.”
“So we roll, and find out the truth.”
“The eye… the feather… the bullet… the bone… No mistaking those. He’s really left us. We were four, but now it’s just us three.”
“Well… that settles it then. We kill him.”

And so EAST OF WEST opens, with some children whom we soon learn are apparently three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, performing a divination ritual using animal bones, to see what has happened to their headlining colleague, Death. Their location? A huge stone circle in the desert, right in the centre of what we know as the United States of America. In this world, however, it’s also the site of a huge comet strike, a seismic event that perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, marked the end of the American Civil War, and also the war with the native Indians, resulting in the formation of the Seven Nations of America, with an armistice signed at the site.

The comet strike and resulting armistice also may or may not have caused the Prophet Elijah Longstreet, a former soldier, to write the Second Book of Revelations, whilst at exactly the same moment Red Cloud, leader of the Endless Indian Nation, was having a waking vision which he recounted to his council of elders. Upon the conclusion of these two apparently unconnected events, both men promptly collapsed and died. Except it seems these two events were connected, as their respective words were in fact interlocking apocrypha, forming what would become known as The Message, a mystery that remained unsolved for another half century. Until the missing third portion of The Message was inadvertently (I think) provided by a very surprising person indeed, Mao Zedong.

Fast forward back to the current day, well 2064 actually, and the location of the errant Death (if indeed that is what he is) and it seems he’s out for revenge, cowboy style pilgrim. Dressed as an albino gunslinger, so presumably he has been drinking his milk as the real Mr. Wayne suggested, and also an adult rather than a child, I note, which upon reflection makes the tiniest bit of, I suspect, very significant sense and, oh, he’s looking for those who did him wrong. Precisely how and what they did, we don’t know at this point, but there are some very well known names on the list, very well known and politically connected, right to the very, very top of the establishment. Death would have those luminaries on his shit list believe the End Times are a coming and I can’t honestly say at this point he’s not telling the truth. Eek!

What a set up! And I really have only untangled a few of the miasma of strands Hickman has thrown out for us to ponder in this first issue. I think, upon reflection, he’s given absolutely nothing away at this point either, at what is really going on. This could easily prove to be his most comprehensive piece of speculative fiction yet. This first issue reads very, very much like the opening chapter to a prose novel, it is that rich with detailed promise of what is yet to come, and also to be revealed, of what precisely has transpired in the distant past to bring us to such an… unusual… time and place.

The closest comparisons to previous Hickman works so far would be PAX ROMANA for the intriguing premise, but also S.H.I.E.L.D.: ARCHITECTS OF FOREVER for the beautifully bizarre cast of characters and insane, pacy action. Excellent art from sometime FF compadre Nick Dragotta too, though no Hickman-penned work is really complete without a cheeky page or panel designed and illustrated by the man himself, in this case a map of north America simply entitled “The World As It Is” laying out the various territories of the seven nations.

[Please note: any restocks we receive are unlikely to be first prints. If you really don’t care which printing you receive, please add note saying so when ordering. A) You are infinitely more likely to receive a copy and B) we will understand you to be a balanced human being – ed.]


Buy East Of West #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Time Warp one-shot (£5-99, Vertigo) by Dan Abnett, Damon Lindelof, Tom King, Simon Spurrier, more & Ian Culbard, Jeff Lemire, Tom Fowler, Michael Dowling, more.

I thought I’d start at the end because, well, Dan Abnett and I.N.G. Culbard, basically. In ‘The Principle’ the creators of THE NEW DEADWARDIANS offer us the almost inevitable result of commercially affordable time travel: a pretty fractured time stream in dire need of Elastoplasts in order to preserve the present from interfering amateurs. And we all know exactly which eras would be most eagerly subject to change – one is the most bandied-about hypothetical ever.

‘It’s Full Of Demons’ shows what could happen if that principle was flaunted, but from a completely unexpected angle. In 1901 a girl witnesses her brother being shot through the head by someone dressed in an umbilically attached space suit who promptly disappears through the crackling portal he or she opened. To our young protagonist it can only be a demon. She is disbelieved by her father and thrashed for it. As the century moves on her plight proves increasingly dire while history as we know it unravels.

‘R.I.P.’ resurrects time traveller Rip Hunter for one final transtemporal outing. No, make that two. Or actually three. Wait – it would have to be four. With multiple time spheres and a very hungry dinosaur. Clever!

My favourite, however, is ‘The Grudge’. It takes the form of a lecture delivered by Dr. Zachary Penge on the history of his one-upmanship with a fellow scientist, each striving to embarrass the other in public using puerile sexual slurs delivered via ridiculously high-tech science. That driving necessity is their mother of invention. Written by Si Spurrier, you will be unsurprised to learn that it is the filthiest thing ever published by DC by a factor of fifty.


Buy Time Warp and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Let us hope that one of us is as smart as the other one thinks he is.”

“This isn’t the future. This is Planet Backwards!”

“We played with fire and got burnt.”

Dr Henry McCoy was the first of his species to undergo a secondary mutation, years before his peers. It turned him blue and furry. Regrettably, it was self-inflicted: he tinkered with his own genetic code. His actual next-generation mutation brought with it no problems, but now his early meddling is coming back to bite him, for with yet another mutation hitting him hard, it’s as much as his body can handle. He’s dying.

Meanwhile, in AVENGERS VS X-MEN, original X-Man Cyclops succumbed to the temptation which the Phoenix Force brings with it, the temptation of virtually limitless power. The first time it killed his beloved Jean Grey; this time it killed their mentor, Professor Charles Xavier. Or rather, Cyclops did.

Now he’s gone underground, setting up a rival school for gifted youngsters in the Weapon X base where Wolverine was tortured and – with Magneto, Emma Frost and Illyana – he’s begun a Mutant Revolution. There are new mutants popping up all over the place and, to Storm and Kitty Pryde’s alarm, Cyclops is beating their own to team to tag them, rescuing them from potential harm at the hands of humans but doing so with violence and on camera. He’s destroying all their hard work for peaceful coexistence, threatening a mutant civil war and running the risk of provoking mutant genocide.

The Cyclops they grew up with would be appalled – of that Ice-Man Bobby Drake is certain. And that gives Dr. Henry McCoy an idea, a last, desperate attempt to set things right before he dies. He’s going to go back in time and bring the original X-Men back with him to the present: to confront Cyclops face to face with his younger, peace-focussed self; to shock and shame him into retreating. And then there’s the matter of the young Jean Grey…

Well, this is brave and quite brilliant. Nor is it going to be brief. The X-Men of the past discovering the most alarming changes both in themselves and the world around them is the very premise not just of this volume but of the title itself. Although, typically, Booby Drake (oh, sic, why not?) is more interested in the size of modern television screens. His are the funniest lines by far. Young Hank McCoy is the clear-headed and capable one, young Scott Summers/Cyclops is like a deer caught in the headlights, The Angel is increasingly disturbed that no one will tell him what’s become of him now, while Jean Grey… She’s going to be ruthless. She didn’t learn to read minds until later, but bringing her to the present has catalysed that latent talent early. Perhaps too early, and there’s no Charles Xavier to train and gently nurture that talent. You wait until she finds out what happened to her.

Equally, there’s plenty going on in the other camp. You think it’s all forgive and forget? Think again, as Cyclops and Magneto rescue Emma Frost from internment.

“Damn it! Why’d you even bother?”
“All things considered, it’s the least we could do.”
“All things considered? Does that include the fact that everything we built together – everything we were working towards is over? Does that include the fact that you ruined my life by leaving me in the hands of the humans after stealing my Phoenix Force?”
“It wasn’t me, Emma.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“You know that wasn’t me. You know the Phoenix was making us crazy.”
“So it wasn’t you who betrayed me and left me for dead? It wasn’t you that murdered Charles Xavier in front of all of us?!”
“It wasn’t me.”

Yeah, it was you, mate. As for Magneto, he’s far from equanimous, either.

“You stripped me of my God-given power.”

God-given. God loves, man kills.

Anyway, apart from Illyana who feels quantifiably better, their powers are fucked. You should see Cyclops’ optic rays now: Marte Gracia has done a mean job colouring those to spectacular effect, while Stuart Immonen has brought all sorts of tricks to the table. The first confrontation between the two Scott Summers is blistering, while you can actually see young Henry McCoy in the older one and vice-versa for the first time I can recall. It’s not just in the eyes, but the musculature of the face. I love the Art Nouveau panel corners during the sequence in which the older (if not wiser) Henry and Jean are in telepathic communion (let us remember his time-travel reservations in Ellis’ SECRET AVENGERS VOL 3, the best time-travel episode anywhere in comics).

Bonuses in the back include Bendis’ original proposal for the series written long before the decision was made to kill Professor X (there are some sneaky redactions, but hey) and a gallery of alternative covers plus a few process pages (seeing the artist at work, thinking through their creative decisions).


Buy All New X-Men vol 1: Yesterday’s X-Men h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“OMG. Look at her revolting hair! I mean, I know her mom isn’t used to dressing kids, but seriously! Those bangs make her look like a drag queen.”
“You’re terrible, Debbie Forman.”

“Daddy, you taught me how to blind a man with my thumbs, build a bomb with the contents of a kitchen cabinet, and skin a wolf with my bare hands. I’ve shot people, choked people, even drowned a motherfucker… why can’t I handle these bitches?”

All Mindy ever wanted was not to be normal. Since the passing of her vigilante father, Big Daddy, who taught her everything she knew about fighting crime, and her subsequent promise to her adoptive dad, Marcus, to give all that up, she’s been finding it rather hard to fit in. When you know a thousand ways to disable someone, it’s kind of difficult to suck it up when the mean girls at school are giving you grief.

So, when you need advice on how to be to be the very epitome of normal, to know what clothes to wear, what TV shows kids are watching, what bands to listen to, who can she turn to? Why Kick-Ass of course! And in return, Mindy is going to officially swear him in as her sidekick and teach him to be a proper crimefighter instead of a fancy-dress-wearing liability! Now she’s realised she just needs to treat being Mindy as her secret identity, to make sure no one ever suspects her of being Hit-Girl so her family is protected; well, it’s just another essential crime fighting skill to learn. Except… those bitches really do deserve some sort of covert payback, right?

I howled with laughter in several places throughout this! Anyone who doubts Millar is a great writer should read it, they really should. His dialogue throughout is utterly hilarious, and serves to compliment the beautifully ludicrous and preposterous plot. Clearly the whole concept of KICK-ASS is a just one-trick pony joke, but when the ride is so enjoyable, what does it matter? Romita Jr. provides suitably gruesome, quite literally eye-popping, art. And, rest assured, Debbie Forman is well and truly going to get hers…


Buy Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Oh, baby. I know it’s embarrassing. But the hospital said we need to get used to it. You can’t just have baths when your dad’s around.”

The Mark Millar project I was most worried about turns out to be one of his finest. Like MARVEL 1985 it has so much heart, and Millar has a knack for writing young boys: how they perceive the real world around them. It’s also dazzlingly drawn in breath-taking detail, whether it be a quiet afternoon secluded under the fiery canopy of the woods in autumn or during the epic scenes of colossal devastation. Yu can be tender and intimate as during the mother-and-son bath scene above, yet impressively bold. Some of his forms and compositions reminded me of Travis Charest.

Set in a world where superheroes are mere fiction, the province of comics and films, twelve-year-old Simon Pooni and his best pal Chris have just been to see Tad Scott star in the latest Superior movie. The special effects are stunning, but in all honesty the franchise is tired. And now they’ve been ambushed by the all-too-familiar school bullies who always kick hardest when someone is down.

“Hey, homos. You have a nice time making out in the back row?”
“Just ignore him, Chris. I hear the basketball team’s really missing you these days, Pooni. Still, the way these guys play, they might as well have a cripple up front.”
“You’re an asshole, Sharpie, and you’ve always been an asshole. If I wasn’t in this chair, I’d kick your ass all over the mall.”
“Yeah, well. I got news for you, Simon… you kinda are in that chair.”

Yeah, Simon kinda is in that chair.

Multiple Sclerosis snuck on him with particular aggression; he’s even lost the sight of one eye and on bad days he can barely talk. There are days of remission, weeks even, but nothing permanent. Once a basketball player of promise, sometimes Simon’s on sticks but mostly confined to a wheel chair so his muscles have gradually atrophied through lack of use. It’s unlikely to get any better. Until, late one night…

“Simon? Wake up, Simon. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“I’m here to make a serious proposition.”
“HOLY SHIT! Mom! Dad! There’s a monkey in the room!”

There really is a monkey in his room; a monkey in a spacesuit who has selected Simon as the “most appropriate” out of six billion candidates to be turned into the adult, post-human powerhouse Superior: the fictional character as played by Tad Scott. Now that would take some explaining to his mother.


Now, I don’t really want to tell you what happens next, I just want to reassure you that it is far from obvious, right up to the end. My one worry was that this, Millar’s riff on Superman/Shazam, ran the risk of insulting the plight of those who can’t call “Kimota!” and transform into perfect superhuman specimens but have indeed lost the use of one side of their body or their peripheral vision, rendering them unable to scan more than one word at a time. (Parenthetically, comics – with few words per line – are far more accessible to those without peripheral vision. I’m told by dyslexics that they’re a much easier read too.) My best friend had Multiple Sclerosis and – by far the finest dancer I’ve ever had the pleasure of filling the floor with – that’s exactly what happened to her.

I would have been livid, but Millar doesn’t fall into that trap for this is far less straightforward than it initially appears, being more a Faustian pact with some serious twists, some serious bait, and some seriously hard decisions ahead. Not just for Simon, either, but for the Lois Lane counterpart. And that really is where we have to leave it with just one observational note that a talking monkey at the bottom of your bed is hardly conducive to an easy night’s sleep.

“You gonna tell [your Mom] about the space monkey?”
“Sure. Especially now I’ve figured out who he really is.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I prayed every night that my Multiple Sclerosis would go away and Mom was always praying that America would get fixed again too. So what if that magic wish was the answer to both our prayers? What if Ormon was an angel? Did he turn me into a superhero because America really needed one right now?”
“I dunno, man. I’m twelve years old. I struggle with friggin’ long division.”

The scene pulls back to a rooftop opposite where Ormon, the cute little spacemonkey sits, wide-eyed, staring at them from a distance.

“An angel? That’s hilarious.”

The monkey bears his teeth: two rows of sharp enamel spikes like a dental mantrap.

“I’m afraid I’m actually quite the opposite.”


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

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

Interviews from 1982-2006 with Dave Sim – Gerhard occasionally present – along with a convention panel during the CEREBUS UK TOUR ‘93. One of ‘em is conducted by Stephen R. Bissette, another by Tom Spurgeon and – at a glance – it seems thankfully CEREBUS-centric rather than veering of at <ahem> Tangents. I mean, really getting to the meat of the matter, its creation and though processes behind it.

The first question Jonathan asked on its arrival was, “Are you in it?” I am not. And, so far as I know, no one other than Mark ever heard the interview I conducted with Dave and Ger, all four of us stoned and drunk, even though a C90 cassette tape of that debacle does exist. Please note: no one makes a fool of themselves in that interview except me, and I emphatically do. One day we may release it as a podcast – maybe to raise money for Children In Need – I certainly come away with red cheeks if not a red nose, and I seem to recall Sim beginning to say, “You’re losing points, Stephen…”

The risotto portofino I cooked was fucking amazing, though.


Buy Dave Sim: Conversations h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Dad, why is it called a ‘Death Star’?”

Haha, excellent.

Spinning out of the mirth-making DARTH VADER AND SON from Jeffrey Brown, the creator of CLUMSY, FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY, the two INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS books, CATS ARE WEIRD…,  CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG and so much more, this reprints so many of those cartoons in postal-ready form that I thought I could get away with reprinting the old review verbatim, but it seems the-powers-that-be have chosen mostly different images to the ones I referenced.

It’s full colour comedy in which our Jeff captures the contrariness of childhood to perfection, along with its nagging and needs, while Darth dotes on his darling boy like any other proud father. It’s the humour of incongruity, the joke being that the dastardly Darth isn’t really renowned for his kindness and compassion.

The recognition factor will keep you chuckling throughout: Darth with a dead arm, cradling a slumbering son he doesn’t want to disturb; puddle-splashing, tittle-tattle and, oh, why do they always do this…?

“Luke, do you need to go potty?”
“Well, you’re kind of doing a little dance.”
“I don’t have to go.”

He really has to go!

Also: some highly unorthodox uses for the Force, but you just know that you would if you could. You need know nothing about Star Wars to yuk it up here – I don’t. Still, it does make you wonder about nature and nurture.


Such a rebellious child.


Buy Darth Vader And Son 30 Postcards and read the Page 45 review here

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

Cashing in on / spinning out of the chortle-inducing DARTH VADER AND SON book of cartoons by autobio darling Jeffrey Brown (CLUMSY, FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY etc.), this is a journal of blank pages decorated with small images of the troublesome tyke and doting dad.

Little more needs to be said, but I’ve somehow got to type enough words so that the cover image fits on the blog without bleeding into the next book.

Oh, I know, I’ll pop this at the bottom of the reviews then it won’t even matter. Although maybe I’ve written enough now.

Imminent, I promise: VADER’S LITTLE PRINCESS.


Buy Darth Vader And Son Journal 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.


Hey You! (And Other Stories) (£6-00, ) by Dan Berry

Brody’s Ghost vol 4 (£4-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Julio’s Day h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics vol 4 (£14-99, IDW) by various

The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 13 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Charles Dixon, Larry Yakata, Don Kraar & Gary Kwapisz, Ernie Chan, Dave Simons, Andy Kubert

DC Universe by Alan Moore (£18-99, DC) by Alan Moore & various

Batman: Detective Comics vol 1: Faces Of Death s/c (£12-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel & various

Iron Man vol 1: Believe h/c (£18-99, Marvel) byKieronGillen & GregLand

Iron Man: Extremis s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov

Fantastic Four vol 1: New Departure, New Arrivals s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Mark Bagley, Michael Allred

Kick-Ass 2 s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Umineko vol 2: Legend Of The Golden Witch vol 2 (£13-99, Yen) by Ryukishi07 & Kei Natsumi

Limit vol 4 (£8-50, Vertical) by Keiko Suenobu

GTO: 14 Days In Shonan vol 8 (£8-50, Vertical) by Tohru Fujisawa

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 1: Activation (£22-50, Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Hajime Yatate

Blue Exorcist vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Bleach vol 56 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Until Death Do Us Part vol 3 (£13-99, Yen) by Hiroshi Takashige & Double-S

Naoki Urasawa’s 21st Century Boys vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Urusawa


Alas, as promised, PUNK ROCK JESUS is not amongst them, but when it does arrive, there will be extra, previously unpublished story pages within. Oh yes! Have a PUNK ROCK JESUS double-page spread preview.

 – Stephen

One Response to “Reviews April 2013 week one”

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