Although do bear in mind that some suspect God was but a pseudonym for Science.
– Stephen on John Porcellino’s Thumb
The Black Project (£12-99, Myriad) by Gareth Brookes…
No, this isn’t the prelude to some Weird Science-esque fantasy whereby a buxom Kelly LeBrock mysteriously appears out of thin air, but a farcical piece of contemporary fiction which is all the more disturbing for its complete believability. If he survives his adolescent years, there’s a very good chance Richard might go on to be a world class prop designer but, in the meantime, he’s more concerned about the survival of his succession of lovingly assembled girl friends. Some people have luck with the ladies, but Richard definitely isn’t one of them…
Note: some will find Gareth’s woodcut / iconography art style rather challenging (he actually uses linocuts and does actually embroider some sections!), but after being initially unsure, before commencing, I found I loved it. It’s actually very clever, packed with lots of detail, and incredibly well executed.
Tropic Of The Sea (£10-99, Random House / Vertical) by Satoshi Kon.
As exquisitely beautiful as anything drawn by Jiro Taniguchi (A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD etc), I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this creator before. I had: he directed the anime Perfect Blue. So that made sense.
He shares the same fine line as Taniguchi, as well as an immaculate eye for rich, detailed and beautiful, bucolic landscapes, of which there are many here, threatened though they are by the concrete and steel of the Ozaki Group who are “developing” the rural fishing town of Ade into a vast holiday resort which has already resulted in the closure of many a local market shop. The fishermen are livid, adamant that their livelihoods are threatened.
However gobsmackingly gorgeous the dry-land scenery – like the verdant climb to the Hiratsu Shrine – the tour de force here lurks underwater: the shadow early on and late at night of what may or may not be a giant mermaid tail, glimpsed from above by falling torchlight. It ripples under the gentle waves. Later on young Yosuke will fall in, and never have I seen subaquatic suspension judged and then drawn with such precision: by which I mean, the degree of resistance water exerts on a body and the eruption of consequent bubbles below and on the surface. Sublime.
Yosuke Yashiro is a handsome teenager one year away from leaving home for university. His family have been entrusted with the Hiratsu Shrine for generations. The shrine houses what is reputed to be a mermaid’s egg, the most recent one discovered almost sixty years ago on the shore by his grandfather and custom dictates it be returned to the sea whence it came on that sixtieth anniversary and not a day later. Its tank is regularly refreshed with seawater, and prayers of gratitude are given to the mermaid for the fecundity of the ocean and the subsequent livelihoods of the local fishermen.
The media has never been allowed access before, but Yosuke’s father has just broken this bond for the sake of publicity for the resort’s development and Mr Kenji Ozaki himself of the Ozaki corporation has arrived for the occasion, dressed to impress in suit and shades. Yosuke’s father has been championing this urbanisation as vital to local commerce and does not believe in the legend of the mermaid, but Yosuke’s devout grandfather does, and is so furious that he has discharged himself from hospital. The next morning the mermaid egg is gone.
What follows is such a rapid page-turner that you may experience paper cuts. You will discover an underwater shrine on an off-shore island – one destined to be covered in concrete as part of the mariner linked to the mainland by a giant harbour. Yosuke will begin questioning his own resistance to the mermaid myth and discover what really happened on the day his mother drowned. You’ll learn why the introspective Rami has returned from Tokyo without her fiancé, and just how ruthless the Ozaki corporation can be in their faithless dealings with the local lobbies and in pursuit of whatever Ozaki sets his sights on.
I can promise you action, reaction and a palpitating heart. Above all, I promise you wonder under a perfect blue sea.
The Best Of Milligan & McCarthy h/c(£18-99, Dark Horse) by Peter Milligan & Brendan McCarthy with Carol Swain.
It must be pretty depressing being a newsreader.
I had forgotten.
Mea culpa, for I own almost everything within in its original form, but I had forgotten just how brilliant, brave, vital and way ahead their time this team was. This collection, bursting with raw passion and fierce creativity, will ram that home page after page.
Long before Grant Morrison’s ZENITH there was PARADAX; indeed long before Grant Morrison’s VINAMARAMA there was ROGAN GOSH, while the cover to STRANGE DAYS #1 invented Marilyn Manson, contact lenses and all. That SKIN was ever printed was a miracle – printers objected and publishers rejected it, once right at the very last minute, until Tundra came to the rescue – so uncompromising is the violence of its content and language, with the great Carol Swain embellishing McCarthy’s line work with the best deployment of pastels I’ve ever seen.
SKIN is the story of Martin ‘Atchet Atchitson, a skinhead and thalidomide victim, told in the lurid vernacular of its time (“snot rag” “you dirty Arab”) by one of his mates, and if you are of a delicate disposition you may want to look away now.
“The wankers had a word for it.
“We saw it in a book Crosseyed Ruby showed us. Phocomelia. Ruby said that’s Greek and means seal limb. Fukkin’ Seal Limb!
“Poxy little flippers sticking out the side of his body. But seals can clap their flippers and that, can’t they? Martin couldn’t.
“Martin was once of those thalidomide babies. His mum took a pill to stop herself puking when she was pregnant. Bet she puked enough when she saw Martin.
“Martin looked like a wanker but of course he couldn’t even do that. Wank, I mean. Couldn’t shakes his own knob, wipe his arse, comb his hair. But he didn’t need to comb his hair.
“Martin Achitson might have looked like a wanker who couldn’t wank, he might have been a Seal Boy, but he was one of us. We called him Martin ‘Atchet.
“HE WAS A SKIN.”
You can hear the snarling accent, can’t you?
Martin is as uncompromising as the contents, telling every wanker to fukk off even when they showed him kindness. Crosseyed Ruby gets the worst of it. He doesn’t actually nut her, though he does nut the hippy bird that gets him stoned then gets his rocks off. Martin reckoned they were laughing at him, even the bird and the bloke that were having sex right in front of him.
And a lot of people did laugh at Martin, even the skins that were supposed to be his mates. There are a lot of fights. What Martin isn’t interested in, initially, is the rich wankers at Maxichem still riding around in their Rolls Royces while resisting all calls for compensation – and that, my dear readers, is a true story. Still, there’s no telling what Martin will do.
PARADAX couldn’t be more different. Milligan and McCarthy’s earliest collaboration, it is everything you might love about ZENITH without the alternate dimensions, though there’s plenty of bonkers. It’s about a young, naïve taxi driver called Al Cooper who finds a book in the back of his cab with a bright yellow bodysuit in it. Weird things start to happen, though he still spends most of his time slouched in front of the TV with a brew.
“Never in the field of human vanity, has so much madness been bestowed upon such a non-entity.”
That pretty much sums it up. He gets duffed in a bar by a redneck who comes round eventually when Al gets shafted in his rashly signed contract, and later stories veer into DOOM PATROL territory (goodness, how Morrison had a field day “sampling” all this).
There’s lots of additional material I don’t have time to go into here including those gorgeous SHADE THE CHANGING MAN covers, for now we come to ROGAN GOSH, the most immediately recognisable of the creative team’s back catalogue stylistically.
ROGAN GOSH comicbook is opiate: psychedelic art with glowing colours matching the delirious, transcendental proceedings involving a curry house, its exceptional fit waiter, one of its dozier customers, a very naughty imperialist in India, a search for karmic severance, and what was at the time a startling amount of unexpected gay sex. Brilliant!
The language is rich and gleeful in its word-play:
“In Dean Cripps’ life the unpredictable played little part. A mere fingered and forgotten sliver of Bombay Duck: more fish than fowl, more foul than finished. He left school uncurried by learning or ambition, he got a job, he got a car, he fucked the first girl that let him… (Though his sexual hunger has been sadly stunted by an unordered helping of premature Prawn Sag)…”
And you know how a lot of my reviews are little less than silly jokes and a summary of the story? I couldn’t even tell you the exact plot to this – certainly not what it’s about! I feel rather like the man answering the phone here, called by a man who may be on the metaphorical way out.
“Oh, we have an exquisite and extensive menu, sir, using only fresh herbs and spices to create authentic Indian delicacies.”
“That’s nice… but I’m not really hungry. I just want… to talk to someone… Listen… could you tell me.. is this the way the dream begins… or… is this the way… is this the way… the dream… ends…?”
“I’m very sorry, sir, but this is just a simple, albeit exquisite curry house… I’m afraid you’re going to have to find that one out for yourself.”
The Complete Don Quixote h/c (£19-99, Self Made Hero) by Miguel De Cervantes & Rob Davis.
“Is it just me who finds bearded women attractive?”
DON QUIXOTE is the epic tale of a delusory knight and his bumbling squire as propagated by Rob Davis from an account by Cervantes of a Moor’s translation of the true and faithful biography as recorded by one Cide Hamete Benengeli. Even though the Don, the squire, the Moor, Side Hamete Benengeli and – for all I know – Rob Davis never even existed.
It is far from a hagiography.
It is instead one massive slight of hand delivered with winks, nudges and infinite wit by both authors concerned.* It is one long fabrication about those who deceive others and those who lie to themselves. Indeed between volumes one and two of Cervantes’ original literary prank, some bastard impostor brought out his own sequel which Cervantes, with due dignity, declined to even acknowledge, let alone criticise.
“I will not waste my breath insulting this dribbling, pibbling, milk-livered, craven welp, who shall go unnamed; I will not stoop to the level of the wretched, thrasonical codpiece who sought to steal the tales of our errant knight. His idiocy can be witnessed by any who has had the misfortune to read this shitty book and his folly is in assuring that I will let nothing come between me and completing the true account of Don Quixote’s adventures that you now hold in your hands.
“Pah! What a tit – let his folly be its own punishment, and let us speak of him no more.”
He speaks of him some more.
When Don Quixote discovers that his earlier exploits have been preserved for posterity by far less pissant peasants and asks how they’ve been received, he is answered thus:
“The world smiles at your escapades and marvels at the book. No less than Señior Hunter Emerson says his wife laughed so hard when reading your adventures that her tits came right off. Meanwhile Señior Gravett in the London comedy papers says the adaptor has “a savvy awareness of what comics can really do…”
“Laughter?! A comic?! The adventures of Don Quixote are no comedy!”
At the risk of belabouring Rob’s joke: for those not in the know, neither UK comicbook comedy king Hunt Emerson nor the medium’s Man At The Crossroads Paul Gravett were around in 1604 (they would thank me for pointing that out). If the brilliance of THE MAN WHO LAUGHS was that it didn’t just illustrate the original but interpreted it, the joy here is that Davis has gone one step further and, as I say, propagated the original’s intent.
So let’s pull back.
Don Quixote is a figment of his own imagination. Well, no: he is a kindly, aging man with a gallant goatee, a matching moustache and a prodigious – nay prestigious – pair of snowy white eyebrows to boot. He’s just read waaaaaaay too much chivalrous fiction. This has inspired him to jettison all grip on reality in favour of roaming the lands and setting right wrongs, no matter what the cost to his personal safety, his public dignity or the likely outcome. R.e. the likely outcome: he’s not very good at it.
He sets off with long-suffering squire Sancho on a series of meandering quests at the centre of which is always the honour of his beauteous, dear Dulcinea. I mentioned that he was delusional, right? You wait until you meet her. Squire Sancho becomes so addicted to these escapades that he enables his easily led leader by fuelling his fantasies further, then swiftly gets sucked up into the nonsense too! This is no longer the blind leading the blinded, nor the fool merely following foolish: it is two nincompoops in mutually validating, self-perpetuating buffoonery. Hurrah!
Their reputation having preceded them in print, the pair are embraced by a bored Duke and Duchess and truly taken in for their own private amusement. Prank after prank is played at their expense, firstly getting the Don to draw his Dulcinea then using that child-like portrait in the most elaborate, torch-lit ploy imaginable. Then there’s the flying wooden horse (it doesn’t really fly), the curse of the bearded women (they are not really bearded), and the hell-bound unrequited love. It’s not just that Quixote and Sancho are gullible; it’s much worse than that! They are now so addicted to embracing anything that will extend, embellish or facilitate their next quest that, whenever they suspect something may be awry, they fill in the plot pot-holes for them!
This is comicbook comedy gold – right up there with anything by Roger Langridge – and the very best interpretation of any prose to comics that I am aware of. And since I am aware of almost everything that exists in comicbook form, I think we can dispense of that last qualifier and simply conclude that you need this fucking book.
Davis’ cartooning throughout is a gesticulating, ebullient joy. It’s not just Quixote’s grumpy furrowed brows, his apoplectic outrage or his narrowed, eyes-to-one-side when you suspect he may suspect something’s up (hilariously, he really doesn’t!). It is his mastery of insouciance, his rodeo-riding of those two runaway eyebrows, but above all Rob’s exceptional understanding of the exact degree of caricature this literary farce requires. It’s all about the mischief.
And then, just when you think you’ve had it all, you are delivered blinding visual flourishes like the full-page portrait of the Knight Of The Mirrors, which blazes like a partially stained-glass window during the brightest day on record.
However, I’d be lying if I said anything I’ve written so far were my favourite bits. No. Cervantes’ book was naughty, clever, and knowing. It was beyond contemporary for its day. How about if Rob Davis introduces a bit of contemporary too, just at the right moment?
“Ah, look! We don’t need to seek Dulcinea’s palace, here she comes riding towards us on her horse!”
“Are you sure, my squire? I see only the scrofulous peasant riding her mule this way.”
“What?! Are your Grace’s eyes in the back of your head? Is that why you cannot see her? O Queen and Princess of Beauty, I present your knight. See, he is struck dumb by the magnificence of your presence.”
Don Quixote is quite alarmed. Buck-toothed Dulcinea is far from charmed.
“Outta the way, fat boy!”
* It transpires that Rob Davis does exist: you may have read NELSON – former Page 45 Comicbook Of Month and winner of the inaugural British Comics Awards 2012 – which Rob Davis instigated, co-created and edited. It’s pretty special.
Sex Criminals #1 (£2-75, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky.
It’s like Bonnie & Clyde with orgasms – orgasms during which time stops more than figuratively and the world goes completely silent. Do you see stars when you come? Sorry, that was a bit personal. Suzanne sees swirling colours and flashes of light which linger longer than you’d expect. Or maybe you wouldn’t. You lucky thing.
All of this Suzanne discovers during her first, unplanned episode with her head underwater and the taps still running… in just the right place. She had her head underwater and the taps still running to drown out the sound of her mother crying. Her mother was crying because Suzanne’s father was killed by a git with a gun under cocaine psychosis went postal after the stock market crashed and decided accountants were to blame, or something. It didn’t bring them together; it opened a yawning chasm of silence between them.
None of which makes it clear that this is a comedy.
“The jokes are coming. I promise.”
So imagine what sex would be like if you were Suzanne: you orgasm, and the earth may move for you – and the colours may come – but the world itself stops and goes silent. You have to extricate yourself from your partner who’s paralyzed. That’s not… completely satisfying. You might feel slightly isolated. Then imagine that, after years and years of this, you met someone else just like you and you could finally enjoy post-coital bliss together.
“Jon… is your dick glowing?”
None of which makes it clear why I wrote my second sentence, but you’ll see.
This is absolutely magnificent – if you’re eighteen or over. If you’re under eighteen, it’s rubbish, I swear. You really won’t want it. Please don’t try to buy it, we could get into trouble. I never did learn about reverse psychology. *sigh*
Chip Zdarsky is the perfect choice of artist for he draws a bit like Michael Avon Oeming, so whilst explicit, it isn’t titillating [good recovery, Stephen – ed.]. It’s sexy art, don’t get me wrong, but sexy as in stylish, engaging and thoroughly attractive, non-titillating way.
This is all told by Suzanne in flashback for now, and Chip “I’ll have another vowel please” Zdarksy places older narrator Suzanne in the same shot as younger, often bewildered Suzanne beautifully – a task not necessarily as easy as you might imagine. The multiple, highly imaginative sex acts graffitied with a marker pen on the toilet cubicle wall by Rachelle (“the biggest ho-bag in Eastview Middle School history”) are hilarious.
As you may have gathered, this whisks backwards and forwards in time throughout, and its script is full of mirth-making winks. Moreover, however much of a Matt Fraction fan I already am (and I am: please see HAWKEYE VOL 1 which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and HAWKEYE VOL 2, both of whose reviews come with orgasmic art of their own by David Aja), this is like nothing he has written before. It has a completely different voice, tailor-made for his new perky, self-confident but slightly apologetic first-person female narrator.
Cleverly – I‘ve just realised – this first chapter is perfectly structured in accordance with its hook, for it opens with Suzanne and her newly found sex-partner Jon being caught in the act in a loo. At which point, obviously, time stands still. At which point there is all the time in the world for Suzanne to take you down to her river of life and see what lies at its sauce. [sic] Aaaaaand then we crash back to where we began and I wonder what happens next?
“Don’t freak out. It’ll all be okay. We just stick to the plan and it’ll all be okay.”
“What about this looks okay to you?”
None of which – oh, you’ll see!
Wu Wei: A Spiritual Comics Anthology (£6-00) by various…
Thus spake the presumably not so depressed cat. Yes, Lizz Lunney is but one of the wise contributors to this very eclectic selection of material. Some serious, some most assuredly not so, some abstract, some straight down the line, the only thread neatly pulling it all together is the mainly Buddhist spiritual element. The art styles are equally disparate from some relatively fine art orientated pieces to… a levitating cat. The serious stuff is all pretty good, worthy in a good way I should add, but it’s the humorous material that really hit the spot for me. I’ll leave you with some dialogue from ‘Mediation Stops You Going Mental’ by Alex Potts, a philosophy I can most definitely espouse myself…
“Meditation is great because it stops you going mental.”
“How does that work? If you’re going mental it’s because you’ve got a disease.”
“It’s like when everything in your head is getting too intense, meditating kind of sets everything back to normal.”
“Hmm… sorry, no that doesn’t sound right to me.”
Later (thinking to himself during meditation)…
“I bet he’s never even tried it…
“I never liked him anyway…
“… daft hair cut.”
Mimi And The Wolves (£10-99) by Alabaster >>
With a first glance at this book you would be forgiven for thinking that it is going to be a cute, girly tale with its woodland creature characters living amongst a whimsical backdrop, but give this a read and you will soon find there is much more than meets the eye.
Like a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale it begins all rather lovely and innocent, with Mimi making garlands in her tree house. However, there is a much darker side to this story lurking just below the depths. Mimi is having a recurrent dream that she longs to understand, and with the gift of a lucid sleep potion made from Feverfew, Saint John’s Heart and orange rind she gets to understand its secrets, which change her life, for better or for worse.
‘The Dream’ may only be the first instalment: small yet perfectly formed, it will leave you eager for the next. And with its beautifully hand-screen-printed cover how could you say no to this little self-published gem?
John Porcellino’s Thumb (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino’s Mum and Dad.
It boasts all the basic requirements: opposable, four fingers to oppose, and hand still attached for maximum opposition.
In addition it is clean and healthy with no evident signs of necrosis.
The real treasure and star attraction, however, is the thumb nail which is perfectly formed and diligently clipped. Its keratin is shiny and its cuticle kept at bay, revealing a perfect, pale lunula.
This nail is also naturally translucent whereas many come covered in an opaque, albeit glossy colouring which is sometimes a bonus but rarely on men – the male finger and thumb are ill-designed for such a varnish, being relatively stumpy. This is a subjective aesthetic assessment, of course, but it comes irrespective of societal judgementalism which is as much of an anathema to me as variant covers. Please note: there are no variant covers to JOHN PORCELLINO’S THUMB.
In summary, Mrs. and Mr. Porcellino are to be commended for their remarkably good-looking genes and impeccable design sense which harks back to the early work of God. Although do bear in mind that some suspect God – a bit like Shakespeare – was but a pseudonym for Science.
Zero #1 (£2-25, Image) by Ales Kot & Michael Walsh.
2038 AD. Atop the white cliffs of Dover sits a battered but buff military man, a bottle in his hand. Behind the man stands a boy about twelve, and in his hand is a gun. It is pointed directly at the back of the bruiser’s head.
“You sure this is a decision you want to make, kid?
“I killed my first man when I was ten. The Agency wanted to make sure we were all ready early on. The point being, killing is easy. You can do it. I won’t try to stop you…”
The boy hesitates, uncertain.
“… Just got a story to tell first.”
And this is the story he tells…
“A warzone. A mission. A target.
“A thing to steal. A place to use. A person to kill.”
The warzone is the Gaza Strip, 2018. The mission is an extraction. The target is a Hamas soldier, biomodified with a unit in his chest using tech stolen from The Agency’s lab. That is what he is there to steal: he is going to extract that unit. Unfortunately there is a complication: Israeli soldiers after the very same thing. His progress is being monitored.
Can’t begin to tell you how quick and slick this is, narrated with total authority backed up by hard research, and punched onto the page by Michael Walsh in gruesome glory using broad brush strokes uncluttered by extraneous detail. Jordie Bellaire’s palette is a minimal mix of sand and blood – although there is an awful lot of that, along with shards of broken glass.
It’s far more direct than Kot’s two previous books, WILD CHILDREN and CHANGE (whose first chapter, I confess, lost me, so thanks to Jonathan for taking that review on!) and it ends on a figurative ellipsis which has me panting for more. Judging from the final sentence, I don’t think there will be any let up.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy h/c (£8-99, Scholastic) by Jeffrey Brown…
Ah, hopefully this material – which is actually proper comics – is going to be as popular as the one page gag books Darth Vader And Son and Vader’s Little Princess. It deserves to be, as it has exactly the same sensibilities, but obviously has less novelty value for the general public. Actually though, I can well imagine this being some youngster’s first experience with comics, bought as a stocking-filler by a well meaning relative, which is a nice thought. The Force does indeed work in mysterious ways…
Anyway, our hapless hero Roan, having failed to get into the Pilot Academy like all his friends is faced with the unenviable prospect of attending Tatooine Agricultural Academy, to… errr… learn how to make crops grow better. Obviously, it’s not a career path he is relishing, so when an invitation to attend Jedi Academy drops completely unexpectedly onto the doormat, courteous of a certain Master Yoda, he decides to take the plunge.
Cue the laughs, told in true Jeffrey Brown journal style, of a very eventual freshman year. Great fun.
Salsa Invertebraxa h/c (£20-00, Pecksniff Press) by Mozchops.
This, you see, is buzzing with insects. It’s an entomologist’s heaven but hell for anyone who squirms at the up-turn of a stone and what you’ll find creepy-crawling underneath. In a jungle. And in close-up, with your nose in the soil.
It’s also a exuberant song, if you like, bursting with slick and witty rhymes, its music a visual feast of hot, frantic, mandible action as ravenous predators catch each other on the fly. It’s glossy, ridiculously detailed with huge landscape flourishes as when a swarm of diverse, exotic and colourfully winged wonders take to the air, viewed from below, the backdrop a seemingly infinite blue sky. That one is pure Alex Ross, if Alex Ross was a lover of bugs.
Have a drole death toll:
“A constant din of witless nits, and sap whose senses lapse,
Of scrotes who idly scratch their sacs, and croakers who collapse
A host of jokers and chokers,
All will pay their tax.
Taxpayers emit a familiar scream
That rolls around the photosynthescene;
Give thanks for Darwin’s de-selected,
They take one for the team.”
Not quite sure about the scansion, but that last line was a killer.
All New X-Men vol 3: Out Of Their Depth (£10-99 s/c, £18-99 h/c, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen.
Dr Henry McCoy AKA The Beast has brought the original X-Men forward through time in order to shock Scott Summers AKA Cyclops out of declaring a mutant revolution and so risk a civil war and its potential, genocidal backlash. The first confrontation between Uncanny teams old and new was explosive and the time-rush has triggered young Jean Grey’s latent telepathic powers way too early. She’s discovered how they lived and how she died. She has determined that they will stay, and she is not above using her new-found, mind-bending abilities to ensure that this happens.
One of the original X-Men leaves the school in disgust for Cyclops’ renegade UNCANNY X-MEN team just as everyone starts to discuss whether the younger incarnation should even be in the present. That argument only escalates in the next book when time-travelers from the future arrive.
Here, however, we concentrate of Jean Grey herself, who simply won’t learn her lesson and is imposing her will on others and bursting through her telepathic and telekinetic upgrades with temper tantrums like nobody’s business – and nobody likes that business. Too much power too soon is what turned her into DARK PHOENIX, don’t forget.
Kitty Pryde is possibly the kindest X-Man ever, but as both school headmistress and its conscience / unwavering moral compass she will not brook such mind-control and gives Jean the most unflinching ultimatum during a private pep talk. And Jean takes it exactly the right way, understands, concedes and even agrees. She tentatively reaches out.
“I think I’m going to hug you now.”
This one of the many reasons why I adore artist Stuart Immonen: Jean is offering the hug, but it is subtly clear from the body language of that hug that it is Kitty who retakes the initiative, is in command of that hug, so relieved to have been offered it and determined to reaffirm her affection. And this is one of the many reasons I adore writer Brian Michael Bendis: he lets Stuart handle this solo. There is no verbal sign-posting. He leaves it for you to infer.
One of the many reasons I adore Stuart Immonen part II: there are four hilarious panels later on in which Bobby Drake AKA the ever-immature Iceman (Jr, as it were) fails to listen to Kitty Pryde and he lobs a snowball at a Thor he believes to be fake. Let me repeat that: he aces the Norse god Thor on the kisser. The expressions on Thor and Captain America’s speechless, incredulous faces are to die for. I laughed and I laughed then I laughed once more. Bobby Drake’s expression – on realising his error – is a pantomime of repentant horror / contrition.
There is also a thoroughly moving speech by Kitty Pryde about being proud of your heritage in the wake of bigoted adversity which, in the self-indulgent old days of my Bendis reviews, I would have typed up at length and in full. Suffice to say, it is about her being Jewish but not having a “quote unquote Jewish sounding same” nor looking or sounding Jewish “whatever that looks or sounds like” and having had the most enormous crush on a boy who then makes an anti-Semitic remark so appalling she cannot and will not repeat it. And it broke her heart
“I realised I was… maybe for the first time ever…. I was really proud of myself.
“I am Jewish.
“I am a mutant.
“And I want people to know who and what I am.
“I tell people because, hey, if we’re going to have a problem with it… I’d like to know.”
Hello, my name is Stephen. I’m both very stoopid and I am gay. I do act stoopid but I don’t act gay – largely because I don’t act. But if we’re going to have a problem with either of those things, I would like to know now.
Marvel 1985 s/c (UK Ed’n) (£11-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Tommy Lee Edwards.
It’s 1985, and young Toby is starting to see things out of the corner of his eye. He swears blind they’re the supervillains from his favourite comic books, but no one believes them because this is the real world. The real world in which his perfectly lovely but daydreaming Dad, down on his luck financially, has been shunted aside by Toby’s mother for another man who’s perfectly all right but not Toby’s Dad whom Toby loves with all his heart.
“He says I need to get my head out of the clouds and start making an effort in school.”
“Well, you know what? Hart’s probably right. There ain’t a job in the world where you need to know Giant-Man’s secret identity, and you don’t want to end up dumb and broke like your stupid old man. He’s good to you and he’s good to your Mom, Toby. You don’t need to hate him to please me.”
Toby’s right, though: somehow the villains have made their way into our world where there are no superheroes to stop their rampage, so they’re going to have a field day. Can Toby’s knowledge of the comics help save the world? Yes it can – very clever.
The art’s fantastic too with well defined, individualistic faces and some boyish features pouting to perfection, like Duncan Fegredo with a big, thick brush. Works very well for when the worlds collide and Galactus finally turns up.
Also features a comic shop scene which had me in stitches as I found myself split into two, the owner talking to Toby about the wonder of Marvel which is what young Toby loves, and the other guy wearing a CEREBUS t-shirt butting in thus:
“And so the Marvel zombies enlist another brainless wonder. Why don’t you spend your money on something that’s actually gonna advance the medium a little? You never heard of Love And Rockets? You never heard of Cerebus?”
“Pardon me, Mister Gary-Groth-In-Training, but I believe you have shelves to stack, and this store is not the letters page of the much-acclaimed Comics Journal.”
Shazam vol 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank…
Another reboot yarn this time featuring Billy Batson, here updated for the 21st century as a right royal pain in the arse. A problem child who is unwanted and unloved, stuck in foster homes for most of his life, and consequently has a gargantuan chip to carry on his young shoulders. If only he could turn into someone super-strong to take the weight of all his woes… Gosh, that’d be magic wouldn’t it?
It works though, because the character of Billy is given real depth by Johns and there is an excellent supporting cast of goodies and baddies that flesh the story out perfectly. Excellent art from Gary Frank, who as usual has provided a masterclass of exactly how superhero books can and should be drawn. Every single face he has drawn here shows emotional content which adds an extra dimension to the storytelling.
[Editor’s note: collects the back-up strips from JUSTICE LEAGUE New 52 #7-11, 0, 14-16 and 18-21. I love Gary Frank. He makes you believe a 15-stone man can fly – or even hover, mid-air.]
Justice League vol 3: The Throne Of Atlantis h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, Tony S. Daniel…
Odd really, because it features Aquaman in the starring role, and Johns’ run on that title has been excellent, a really good example of how you can make a weak character interesting.
This is more like throw a dozen characters in a bag, or fishing net, shake it about, and see what comes out. A mess, really.
[Editor’s note: what a shame, I quite enjoyed the first two volumes. This reprints JUSTICE LEAGUE #13-17 and AQUAMAN #15-16.]
Lost Mark review rediscovered:
Queen of the Black Black (£5-99) by Megan Kelso –
Megan’s art style has changed and refined over the six or so years since the earliest of these strips were published, and that in itself makes this book fascinating to read. Watching ideas evolve, changes in lettering and line and her varied and beautiful attempts at depicting music give insights into the shifting ways one artist has found to tell her stories. The subjects vary widely, from low key ‘slice of life’ tales to atmospheric dream scenes, and musings on the nature of art and the motivation of the artist are never far from the surface.
My favourites? The colour-washed title piece, (maybe a warning or a prophecy on the consuming need to ‘create’ to the exclusion of all else) and ‘Glamour’: isolation, paranoia, closure and rebirth all played out in a piece conceived by the author so she could ‘learn how to draw bikes’. Exciting and moving as a comic book, and incredibly engaging as a piece of art.
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.
Looking Out (£3-99, Hic & Hoc) by Philippa Rice
Show Me The Map To Your Heart (£4-99) by John Cei Douglas
Holding Patterns (£4-99) by John Cei Douglas
The Hic & Hic Illustrated Journal Of Humour vol 2: The United Kingdom (£9-99, Hic & Hoc) by various including Lizz Lunney, Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice, Joe List, Joe Decie, Timothy Winchester, Dan Berry, Gary Northfield, Gareth Brookes, many more
Smoke / Ashes h/c Signed Slipcase Edition (£39-99, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & Igor Kordey, Felipe Sobreiro, Carla Speed McNeil, Richard Pace, Dan McDaid, Mack Chater, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alice Duke, Alem Curin, Jesse Hamm, James Smith, R. M. Guera, Tim Durning
Eisner: Comics And Sequential Art (£16-99, Norton) by Will Eisner
Fortunately, The Milk h/c (US Ed’n) (£10-99, Harper) by Neil Gaiman & Skottie Young
Dark Tower vol 11: The Gunslinger – Last Shots s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David, Robin Furth & Richard Isanove
The Unexpected s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by various including Paul Pope, David Lapham, Dave Gibbons, Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire, Brian Wood, Jill Thompson, Gilbert Hernandez, many more
Fables: Werewolves Of The Heartland s/c (£10-99, DC) by Bill Willingham & Jim Fern, Craig Hamilton, Jim Fern
Mutts Treasury: Cat Crazy (£14-99, Andrews McNeel Publishing) by Patrick McDonnell
Carbon Grey vol 2: Daughter Of Stones (£10-99, Image) by Hoang Nguyen, Paul Gardner & Khari Evans, various, Hoang Nguyen, various
Batman: Odyssey s/c (£14-99, DC) by Neal Adams
Earth 2 vol 1: The Gathering s/c (£10-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott
Earth 2 vol 2: The Tower Of Fate h/c (£18-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott
Avengers: Endless Wartime h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Mike McKone
Psyren vol 12 (£7-50, Viz) by Toshiaki Iwashiro
Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 4-6 (£10-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama
One Piece vol 68 (£7-50, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda
Midnight Secretary vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Tomu Ohmi
Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 3: Ramba Ral (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Vinland Saga Book 1 h/c (£14-99, Kodansha) by Makoto Yukimura
ITEM! TURNS OUT WE COULD WIN £10,000! Who even knew? (Not me!) NOTTINGHAM INDEPENDENTS AWARD 2013 IS GO, GO, GO! PLEASE VOTE FOR PAGE 45!
You know, by clicking on that link! Page 45 won Best Independent Retailer 2012 and the publicity was phenomenal. So we would be enormously grateful if you could help us win again. You don’t have to be local, it’s about what you love most in Nottingham – and it’s unlikely to be the weekend puke in the doorways!
ITEM! Contemporary comic called SWALLOW by Liz Greenfield. You never had a hangover? Once it’s printed, it will be massive here!
ITEM! MIMI & THE WOLVES review is by comicbook creator and occasional Page 45 stellar support, Jodie Paterson Click on that link for her Tumblr!
ITEM! Preview of Antony Johnston’s new comic UMBRAL! We wish you would pre-order comics. It helps us gauge their potential sales, and it helps you get what you actually want. You can pre-order Antony Johnston’s UMBRAL here.
ITEM! Page 45 reveals comics’ own Eddie Campbell’s set designs for Michael Eaton’s new play Charlie Peace at Nottingham Playhouse! Big blog there including the actual projection designs! Also, links to loads of Eddie’s glorious graphic novels. You know we made most of them Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month? More than any other single creator.
ITEM! And while we’re at it, that DUNCAN FEGREDO IS SIGNING HERE ON OCTOBER 23RD FOR THE LAUNCH OF HELLBOY MIDNIGHT CIRCUS! It’s the very day of publication and Page 45 has the graphic novel’s EXCLUSIVE BOOK MARK EDITION!