“Think for yourself and question authority.”
– Very sound advice issued by Warren Ellis in Stormwatch vol 2
The Suitcase h/c (£8-99, Blank Slate Books) by Dan Berry.
Also the best dead bunnies. Here black cat Jerry stands proud yet insouciant over his latest conquest which he has just dragged through a hedge backwards and into Mark’s kitchen. Mark is on the phone to his missus:
“I think Jerry got next door’s rabbit…
“(Jerry! Get Inside!)
“Richard is going to go flipping mental.
“Poor thing must have died of fright. Jerry barely left a mark on her.
Richard’s mental anyway – it’s his default setting. A huffing and puffing volcano of pot-bellied, middle-aged rage, Richard is the very last self-righteous, self-centred git you’d want as a neighbour. Snow-haired Helen, however, is a lovely, but she is in a bit of a quandary. Before Mark’s return from holiday, you see, she was tasked with looking after their black cat Jerry and aging canine Cruncher. And Cruncher’s just bitten the dust.
Helen dutifully rings Mark, and then the vets, but there is still the question of transport. Elderly Helen doesn’t drive. Thankfully Richard does and has just pulled up in his driveway, slamming the car door shut.
“Good morning, Richard!”
“Not really, if I’m honest, Helen.”
“I’m sorry to hear that… I’m not having a good day myself. You see – “
“Whatever it is that you want, it can WAIT.
“I am in the middle of an EMERGENCY today.
“A FAMILY emergency.
“So you’ll forgive me if I don’t suddenly DROP everything an come running. <coff!> <coff!>”
“Well ok. I’m sorry.”
“Helen – WAIT!”
“Can you still do Wednesday afternoon?”
“Well, of course I can.”
“Good. Don’t be late this time.”
Which is nice.
So, what’s Helen to do? Cruncher isn’t a small, yappy-type dog. But, if curled up, he might just about fit in Helen’s big trolley-suitcase. It’s going to be bit of a job hauling it up onto the bus, but hopefully some kind sole will give her a helping hand. As long as they don’t ask what’s in it…
There are your component parts, then: a dead rabbit, a dead dog, a suitcase; an angry neighbour with a fixation on Top Gear, a put-upon Helen and a slightly dazed Mark. What more could possibly go wrong?
A prime suburban comedy in three acts, THE SUITCASE is exquisitely structured for maximum satisfaction and laugh-out-loud comedy.
Moreover, Dan Berry’s cartooning – the body language, baggy eyes, and explosions of crimson-faced, misanthropic anger – is delicious. Oh yes, the colours: russet leaves of early autumn still hugging the hedges and trees between crisp, white houses over warm, grey asphalt. I even fell in love with the chequered linoleum in Mark’s two-tone kitchen.
100 Bullets: Brother Lono #1 of 8 (£2-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.
El Hombre Respira!
Oh, yes indeed. After the blood-bath finale of 100 BULLETS (every single one of those books reviewed!) Brother Lono was himself left gasping for air with a great big bullet in his guts, yet here he is in a mass and potentially make-shift Mexican graveyard, at sunset, shoveling the arid earth onto a coffin. Prologue or epilogue? Only time will tell. Also: maybe it’s sunrise and he’s been at it all night…
Either way, the entire team behind 100 BULLETS is back with a wit-ridden vengeance, verbal sabres and all, including colour artist Trish Mulvihill whose rich tones are, as ever, the perfect complement to Risso’s sharp silhouettes. So real is the feel of the heat that you’ll be reaching for your Factor 5,000.
Equally palpable – excruciatingly so – is the post-preamble torture scene. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that comics is a silent medium without the sort of sound effects that come, say, with the hatching of an Alien egg. Its final panel will haunt you with that precise, glutinous crackling all the same. I think we can consider the information fully extracted.
Cut to Father Manny who runs a remote mission full of orphans funded, whether he likes it or not, by Las Torres Gemales – the twin Towers in whose name the above information was being extracted. So that’s awkward. It’s there that a young nun called Sister June is to be escorted by Brother Lono* but the bus she’s travelled in on also carried a D.E.A. about to be fingered by a thug recently released, much to his horror, from jail. Whether he’ll have any fingers left to do that fingering with is doubtful, because he’s being held very much against his will in a smoke-glassed car opposite by the overzealous torturer.
That pick-up scene is so tense there’s barely any air to breathe, Brother Lono and Sister June oblivious to what’s going on around them. Given the cliffhanger, however, I am not at all sure that our Tower twins’ are oblivious to them.
*Brother Lono, it should be noted, is far from clerical and rarely on the side of the angels.
Manara Library vol 5 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara.
Gorgeous production values once more on these 250 pages of exotic, erotic adventure as evidenced by the switch from matt to gloss for ‘To See Once More The Stars’ in which Manara, the classiest of the Eurotitty crew, deploys the most beguiling of wet washes in stormy blues and purples.
The stygian crags (think Gustave Doré) swirling in mist are phenomenal, while the sequestered isle, shrouded in cloud and surrounded by still, inky waters which ripple as the rowing boat approaches, is a compact ruin with poplars reaching for the sky like some detail from a Claude Lorrain landscape after a Biblical flood.
The textures on the early, matte pages will mind you of Moebius; later this gives way to even crisper art with ethereally outlined clouds or, when the wind gets up out at sea, skies depicted in a manner akin to the contour lines on an Ordinance Survey Map when those mountains are at their steepest!
The publisher writes:
“Giuseppe Bergman is still looking for adventure in all the wrong places: from Africa to the Aegean, Manara’s signature character stars in a film with a vanished director; re-creates the legendary voyage of Ulysses; and babysits a woman whose urge to reenact classic paintings lands her in Dante’s hell! Manara’s artwork and satirical voice are both in top form, and these stories, spanning two decades, are among his funniest, sexiest, and most beautiful! Collects the classic An Author in Search of Six Characters and Dies Irae, along with Bergman’s Odyssey and The Urban Adventures.”
For an introduction to Giuseppe Bergman adventures, please see my more extensive review of the MANARA LIBRARY VOL 4 while I covered Manara’s work in general in MANARA LIBRARY VOL 1 – and indeed the other volumes, all in stock at the time of typing.
Avalon Chronicles vol 2: The Girl And The Unicorn h/c (£14-99, Oni) by Nunzio DeFillipis & Emma Vieceli.
Previously in AVALON CHRONICLES VOL 1:
There is a book called Once In A Blue Moon being written by a certain Will Redding. Its chief protagonist is a young woman called Aeslin, a princess and Dragon Knight, heir to the throne of Avalon. Her father, the King, is missing, his throne usurped by Lord Khrom. The strange thing is that this is all happening right now around Will – he’s virtually taking dictation! As for Aeslin Finn, she’s only just arrived in the book. She’s got a maths exam next Tuesday – she wasn’t really planning on becoming a princess or communing telepathically with a strangely colloquial, sardonic dragon.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Aeslin’s best friend Meg makes a startling discovery after being startled when discovered by an Avalon mage working for Lord Khrom.
Lord Khrom is not a nice man. He’s slaughtered the father of the elves’ young unicorn who must now find a mare to make him a man – or a stud at least – and father a male unicorn of his own. To search for a mate it requires a fair maiden true. Will it choose one of the elven ladies-in-waiting or Princess Aeslin, being trained in gentility by a Duchess of dubious allegiance, who might thereby gain the reluctant support of the reclusive elves in discovering what happened to her Dad?
It is not that obvious!
Politics and powerplay – there is so much of it at work here, and I rather think that the young ladies which this book is squarely aimed at will recognise so much it in the world they see around them. I haven’t even touched on the dwarves (much to their relief, I’m sure).
From the writers of THREE STRIKES and the artist on VAMPIRE ACADEMY, FROSTBITE and sole creator of DRAGON HEIR, the first half is, I confess, a slow-burner but nothing will prepare you for the ceremony itself in which Tresselon, the prematurely orphaned unicorn, makes its move in a sequence so arresting it took my breath away. Moreover, it kicks off with a perfectly composed piece semi-symmetry spread across two opposing pages which is to die for.
From there on in everything accelerates at a rapid rate of knots enveloping characters you may have been tricked into considering extraneous. Oh no! As for the cliffhanger, it will k –
Romantic Bison #1(£2-00, self-published) by Lizz Lunney.
“She loves me… she loves me not…”
There are two petals left.
“One days she’ll notice me.”
The object of our bovine beau’s affection is Sylvia. Sylvia is a rabbit, almost as cute as FLUFFY. She’s currently having a quiet afternoon picnic with Sweary Cat, and she’s not at all sure what the bison in the bushes wants – he just sits staring at them. Still, he’s not doing any harm…
“What a beaut of a day!” says Sylvia the next morning.
“Like vets it is!
“Oh my fleas!! Doom-face bison is in the bushes again. I’m going over to tell him to hiss off!”
“Sweary Cat, no!”
Sweary Cat, yes! Sweary Cat is a real sourpuss, a mardy old moggee not prepared to share her friendship with Sylvia. Why, if Romantic Bison were to ask her to pass on a love letter, Sweary Cat would be a right bag of jealousy, and probably just claim it was a bill. She might even pretend to be Sylvia’s boyfriend. Boy/girl – it’s so hard to tell with cats. What a to-do!
I love seeing mini-queen Lizz do long-form comics. Well, relatively speaking. I wish she’d do more. This is positively Shakespearean in scope, replete with those mistaken gender identities which keep lovers apart and really ram home the dramatic irony.
As to the art, Lunney has for once forsaken the school of neo-classical, photorealism which she employs on all her mini-comics, tote bags, cards and notebooks and settled for a sort of post-Cocteau minimalism which sits perfectly with this format, a 23x11cm landscape booklet containing staples, a speck of dust and 12 pages of comics, the reverse sides of each sheaf left blank.
There you can perhaps make salient annotations, jotting down your appraisal of the story so far, it’s tragic twists and potential for trysts (not looking good!), or perhaps any dating tips you may glean from the proceedings. I learned a lot about friendship, and the next time Jonathan goes upstairs to “pay a bill” I will know for certain that he has run off with yet another of those Valentine’s cards which never seem to reach me. *sob*
7 String vol 1 new, larger format (£10-99, Zetabella ) by Nich Angell.
I’ll start with the art because it’s very, very pretty. In fact we decided to stock the book almost as soon as we saw it just on that basis. Nich’s art is “manga-inspired” along with the big shoes pointy and hair lines, and is very clean and crisp; satisfying to look at on the page. The style of colouring would probably be too bright on shiny paper and in a traditional palette, but the matte paper and pastel shades give it a really gorgeous look. There are some fairly intense chunks of background details in some places which put me in mind of KING CITY and even some Paul Pope panels. Nich clearly has a good grasp on the mechanics of comic books in terms of layouts, well timed splash pages and storytelling.
The story is pretty cool with some classic fantasy-epic elements: a young hero finding his way, factions heading for war and a very bad dude manipulating all behind the scenes. What lifts it up above the average could-be-an-installment-of-final-fantasy story, though, is the musical allegory which runs through the universe and defines everything from the names of the factions to the weaponry and fighting styles they use.
The universe, we are told, is suffused with and sustained by an overarching melody which, when played right, keeps everything in balance. Sounds silly when I explain it but, when described in the first part of the book it makes for an intriguing backdrop, an interesting reframing of the human condition which is, after all, what so many of our fantasy stories are. I was particularly impressed with this prologue-y, narrated part of the book. It’s a device which is often used so badly it sets my teeth on edge, but here I though it worked well, setting the groundwork for the story and helping to explain the strange universe it is set in.
There was the odd bit of bad punctuation and on a couple of occasions the language skirted on the grandiose but I have seen far worse sins committed by much more experienced writers so it’s pretty hard to hold those few minor blips against Nich. In fact the whole book is so big hearted and engaging that I hesitate to pick fault because I am so looking forward to the next installment.
I would say this is a good book for fans of fantasy, fighty manga, SCOTT PILGRIM… which I think covers pretty much everyone so that’s good news! Also did I mention very, very pretty?
Stormwatch vol 2 h/c (£22-50, DC) by Warren Ellis & Tom Raney, Bryan Hitch.
That is the single best piece of advice that was ever given to me, by a maths master when I was twelve. Actually, he instructed, “Always ask why”.
Stormwatch are the UN-sanctioned international, satellite-stationed, superhuman taskforce orbiting the world in order to keep an eye on it and, using that eye, keep it in order. Its leader is called The Weatherman and its current Weatherman is Henry Bendix. Henry Bendix is pathologically insane.
In this second half Ellis’ run on STORMWATCH which runs smoothly into THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 by Ellis & Hitch (you will hear much mention of the word “authority” right from the get-go), Stormwatch finds itself stymied again and again by an America with vested geopolitical interests. They will also find themselves stifled, for Henry Bendix has vested interests of his own.
First they encounter The High who has been contemplating the human condition for decades. An anti-establishment superman who loathed those who preyed on the poor, he once engaged in liberating tennants from corrupt landlords etc. Indeed he once dallied with Stormwatch Black’s Jenny Sparks, now almost a century old but looking a little under thirty (the bitch!). But he left to meditate, to cogitate on what more he could do than to save but a few. Now he has gathered cohorts around him and the man has a plan as broadcast to the globe thus:
“Fighting crime is no good unless you look past crime, to its root. Saving the world is no good if we leave it the way we found it. It is our intent to hand you a saved world, to offer you tools that will make you great. And then – you will never see us again.
“When we are done, you will be able to provide for yourselves, for free. You will want for nothing. All of your society’s structures will be removed. No laws, no authoritarian structures, no crime, no war. In a few hours it will begin.”
He offer us a Utopia, and the freedom which comes with it. It’s the ultimate in altruism and The High genuinely means it. He seeks no control, only to assist. Here’s what’s on offer:
“The Engineer will seed nanotechnological oases across the planet, and inform you of their use. These will be your horns of plenty.”
Oh dear, he’s anti-capitalist.
“The Doctor will initiate a program of education about the natural resources of this world, its plants and magic. He’ll show you the door to a whole new world just sideways to this one.”
Uh-oh, he’s pro-personal-enlightenment.
“And I’ll talk to you. We’ll share ideas I’ve had. Use, them, ignore them, whatever. During the coming days you may see some of my friends in your cities, towns and villages. They’ll speak your language. Talk to them.”
Now he’s about breaking down borders and instilling worldwide cooperation.
“One final message. There are those of you who will seek to stop us. Don’t. Please.”
Under Ellis STORMWATCH began changing the landscape of superhero comics: its potential, political emphases, its wit, its sexual mischief and its periodical installments’ structure. He even found novel ways of explication without insulting the intelligence. With THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 Warren Ellis terraformed it, so paving the way for Millar & Hitch’s THE ULTIMATES, the very pinnacle of the superhero science-fiction subgenre including – I kid you not – WATCHMEN. But the changes, they begin here and it is fascinating to watch.
It is a series packed full of political intrigue, international espionage, strategy, subterfuge and personal betrayal. In The High, Henry Bendix has met his match in terms of second-guessing, precautionary measures and indeed ruthlessness. Without Bendix I confess that the series does falter, not least because Rayner is replaced by an artist so insipid we cannot even be arsed to name him.
But wait! THE AUTHORITY’s Bryan Hitch is on the horizon and he brings with him Apollo and Midnighter, first seen post-coitally pulling their clothes back on even though no one spotted that at the time. No one! It’s not just Hitch’s neo-classical figure work which will wow, either: his storytelling transforms the series, injecting a kinetic awe, and you wait until you see his dazzling cityscapes at sunrise as enhanced by Laura DePuy.
Appropriately this book begins and ends with blonde Brit iconoclast Jenny Sparks whose middle name is so evidently Attitude. Along the way you will pick up hints of what is to come: an Engineer (male), a Doctor (black), Apollo and Midnighter in the buff (I may have mentioned that), plus Swift and Jack Hawksmoor because I can promise you that – other than them – there is no one left alive at the end of this series.
An asteroid threatens to enter Earth’s orbit, so a team of two shuttles is dispatched to land and lay explosives so sending its trajectory into the sun. Two problems: a) it isn’t just an asteroid, there’s a spaceship within; b) one of the shuttles successfully makes it back home…
There is an episode missing from this, yes. There’s not much that even DC owned by Time Warner can do about that. Lord knows what price they paid for publishing the periodical in the first place. Still, at least Jenny Sparks and co. thereby discover the transdimensional Bleed.
Next: THE AUTHORITY VOL 1. You will all buy that now!
“There has to be someone left to save the world.”
The Extinction Parade #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by Max Brooks & Raulo Caceres.
“Among our kind there is a saying, “You’re only really hunting when your prey is a predator”.”
From the writer of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z plus the artist on Warren Ellis’ CAPTAIN SWING and CRECY etc., I present you with a grizzly, gristle-strewn gorefest full of lobbed-off limbs and putrescent shamblers the likes of which you’ve rarely seen outside of Mansfield on a Saturday night.
Caceres shoves them right in your face, with many an urban, double-page spread that’s splattered with matter and several transport systems that have seen infinitely better days. What is it with zombies and up-turned buses anyway?
While the zombies are busy busting our guts, a somewhat aloof but curious trio of modern-day vampires set off on a sight-seeing mission to the latest outbreak and, smelling blood, can’t resist a quick neck-nibble, either. Yum-yum!
Our vampiric narrator then sets her sights on the sorry old sub-dead only to find herself ignored, for they can’t even smell her. And you know what they say about a woman scorned…
So, as I say, zombies versus vampires round one, and it’s all looking a little one-sided.
“Now I understood why we considered zombies to be a joke. But I had no idea that soon the joke would be on us.”
Next: round two.
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.
Fatale vol 3: West Of Hell (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Prophet vol 2: Brothers (£10-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple
Winter’s Knight Day One (£5-99, Great Beast Comics) by Robert M. Ball
Odd Duck h/c (£10-99, St. Martins Press) by Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon
New School h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw
Change s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Morgan Jeske
The Strange Tale Of Panorama Island (£18-99, Last Gasp) by Suehiro Maruo
Clockwerx h/c (£22-50, Humanoids Inc) by Jason Henderson & Jean-Baptiste Hostache
The Eyes Of The Cat Yellow Edition h/c (£25-99, Humanoids Inc) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius
A Game Of Thrones vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Random House) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson
Hellblazer: Death And Cigarettes (£14-99, DC ) by Peter Milligan & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Simon Bisley
Judge Dredd Casefiles 20 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Grant Morrison, John Smith, Mark Millar, Alan McKenzie, Gordon Rennie & Greg Staples, Carlos Ezquerra, Ron Smith, Mick Austin, Clint Langley, Peter Doherty, Mick McMahon, John Higgins
A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 3 s/c (£16-50, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley
The Sky: The Art Of Final Fantasy Slipcase Ed (£65-00, Dark Horse) by Yoshitaka Amano
Before Watchmen: Ozymandias & Crimson Corsair h/c (£22-50, DC ) by Len Wein, John Higgins & Jae Lee, Steve Rude, John Higgins
Before Watchmen: Minutemen & Silk Spectre h/c (£22-50, DC ) by Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner
Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 2: Starfire s/c (£10-99, DC ) by Scott Lobdell & Kenneth Rocafort
Superman Family Adventures vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC ) by Art Baltazar, Franco & Art Baltazar
Batgirl / Robin: Year One s/c (£18-99, DC ) by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon & Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido
Fantastic Four vol 6 s/c (£18-99, Marvel ) by Jonathan Hickman & Mike Choi, Ron Garney, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Sam Humphries & Dale Eaglesham
Wolverine And The X-Men vol 5 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steven Sanders, Nick Bradshaw
Marvel Masterworks Avengers vol 5 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & John Buscema, Don Heck
Ultimate Comics Wolverine: Legacies s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & David Messina
Wolverine vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Larry Hama, Walter Simonson, Alan Davis & Marc Silvestri, Mike Mignola, Alan Davis
Utsubora: The Story Of A Novelist (£13-99, Random House) by Asumiko Nakamura
Usagi Yojimbo vol 27: A Town Called Hell (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai
Psyren vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro
Fairy Tail vol 4 (£8-50, Del Rey) by Hiro Mashima
Fairy Tail vol 11 (£8-50, Del Rey) by Hiro Mashima
Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 1-3 (£10-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama
Oreimo vol 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Tsukasa Fushimi & Sakura Ikeda
BAD, BAD NEWS, sorry. Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson RIP. I was overwhelmed so fiercely and so unexpectedly last Wednesday night and I still can’t fully articulate why. I didn’t know him; I never even corresponded with him – my Fantagraphics contact was always sweetheart Eric Reynolds. But as I told both Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly only a few months ago, both those publishers blazed the trail for the likes of Top Shelf etc to come along later and we are forever in their debt. Page 45 probably wouldn’t have ever have opened without them.
ITEM! Comics and graphic novels at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August! Chris Ware, Posy Simmonds, Joe Sacco, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Hannah Berry, Neil Gaiman, Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot… Oh, go look for yourself! Dozens of comicbook events!
ITEM! One of the most profoundly moving comics we have ever sold, you can read the whole of Jordan Crane’s THE LAST LONELY SATURDAY online for free. It’s not very long; you’ll thank yourself.
ITEM! Swoonaway comics, beautifully designed for the internet by Emily Carroll. I particularly recommend ANU-ANULAN.
ITEM! Photos galore! Gorgeously illustrated blog on Gary Northfield’s TEENYTINYSAURS party including nom-nom biscuits.
ITEM! The history of creator rights at 2000AD (I was just about as shameful as everywhere else back then!) plus the story of Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell’s ZENITH in particular. Meticulously researched and entertaining executed by Laura Sneddon – lots of quotes from Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell etc.
ITEM! Bitter Orange, a short film written and directed by Hope Larson, creator of CHIGGERS, MERCURY, illustrator of A WRINKLE IN TIME and writer of WHO IS AC?
We still have a few copies of Page 45’s exclusive Hope Larson / Bryan Lee O’Malley print signed by Hope herself! No extra cost, just £4-99.
ITEM! Lastly, I was gobsmacked to see this outrageous sexualisation of men in console games. I would like to see some more.