Reviews January 2014 week three

What follows starts off as aggressive and confrontational part-psychoanalysis, part-interrogation of the subject, before turning distinctly philosophical and metaphysical through very close examination of the power of the cathode ray tube and a Chris Ware-esque, double-page, gaming walk-through interlude.

– Jonathan on Other Stories And The Horse You Rode In On 

Complete Multiple Warheads s/c (£13-50, Image) by Brandon Graham.

“Drawn with fire because paper burns.”

Design heaven and pun-haters’ hell, I’ve rarely read a comic in which its creator is having so much unapologetic, delirious, rip-roaring fun. Like Evan Dorkin, Brandon dashes off more ideas per page than most can muster in an entire mini-series. And, look, here is an entire mini-series!

From the creator of KING CITY, WALRUS and the writer of PROPHET, this a clean-lined, brightly coloured beauty which bleeds right to the ends of each page before crashing through your window and skewering your eye with its sword.

“I love the taste of drama.”

It’s lo-fi sci-fi with sweeping landscapes, toppled statues, call-a-flower seeds (whistle and they grow), mini-marts infested with strange little critters scampering ‘cross aisles, self-heating root vegetables like Turnip The Heat, a palace born on the back of a six-legged ‘saurus (its face a feudal façade) and, waiting within, a dandy of a duke who’s decadent, dotty and divine!

“Is this going to be a ransom sort of a thing, then?”
“I’m going to sell your body.”
“oOOOOoh. Prostitution!”
*clap-claps*

It’s all so very sexy – and I do mean sexy, for the original black-and-white one-shot has been inserted and it’s not the only thing! Adults only, please.

It has two main strands: a blue-haired bounty hunter called Nura out on the frozen plains, lobbing off heads whenever something sticks its neck out; and – negotiating the Northlandz, Southlands and Neither Landz in between – ex-organ smuggler Sexica and her wolf-tailed boyfriend / mechanic called Nikoli. By “tail”, I mean, you know… Yes, he has two, but we’ll get that. He also has very strange dreams.

At the centre of all this lies the Red or Dead City whose propaganda is direct and to the point:

“We are right!! You are wrong!! (and fat)”
“Also, don’t be too smart – Nobody likes that!!”

It is here that Nura brings her dragon’s head to trader Pumpkin Patch in the liver pool. She split opened a god-possessed Shov Puppet to harvest its lucrative organs, but a dragon gobbled them up so she cut off its head before it could swallow them. She’s been carrying it around ever since. Now she forces it to regurgitate the Shov Puppet’s organs and, boy, there are loads!

“The kid had a lot of heart. heh.”

Sexica and Nikoli, meanwhile, wend their way towards the Whaling Wall in their Mini-like Lenin powered by its Royal Boiler. Along a steep mountain pass they encounter a toll. I’ll spare you the pun about the So Be It Union.

“30 chips for just passing through. Mostly that’s the tacks tax. If no one pays us then we cover the road in tacks.”
“These mountain monks each pay 30 just to die?”
“They pay to jump off our cliff. If they jump anywhere else it’s punishable by death. We also take jars of magic or fingers as payment.”
“Do they give you the finger a lot?”
“No, but people like to flip us off. Just drive around these grateful dead. Pay the high hat at the booth. He only speaks alphabet.”

The heart of the book lies in Sexica and Nikoli, lolling about naked in hotel rooms, bottoms or boobs-up, ordering exotic room service, fetishising about food and discussing comics. It’s such a warm, gentle yet enthusiastic relationship. There aren’t many girlfriends who would smuggle a wolf’s willy for your birthday then sew it on you themselves.

There are diagrams, maps and menus, all riddled with wordplay, and the free-roaming narrative goes wherever it pleases. Its many excursions take in all manner of visual feasts. I don’t know which I loved most: the network of sky-high plumbing with its invisible “disbelief suspension bridge” or the semi-futuristic, medieval mountainside town where fur-snouted kitchen porter Moontoone dreams bad dreams about delivering food to the haunted Humming Tower while wrapped in the arms of his slumbering boyf who likes nothing more than repurposing magazine photos, snipping them out with scissors to make up stories then popping the best ones in his heart-shaped locket.

“I want to be tougher.”
“poo. you’re so tough. My Moontoone is the toughest. Let’s find some tough pictures you can wear in my heart to remind you.”
“I think that’d be nice.”

Aww. For maximum pleasure, read at leisure and soak in this eye-bath for hours. Marinade your minds!

SLH

Buy Complete Multiple Warheads s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Other Stories And The Horse You Rode In On (£13-50, Conundrum) by Dakota McFadzean…

“But how am I supposed to play the game when I am this close to the TV?”
“Are you sure you really just want to play a game? Anyone can do that. It is a trivial matter. Hopscotch is a game. Tag is a game. This is more.”
“I’m not sure if I understand. Aren’t I trying to finish the game? To beat it? To win?”
“If you like. Or you can realise that you are given extra lives in this game. And lives are meant to be lived.”

And thus a star is born. Make no mistake, if you are not already familiar with his work, I am sure before too long you will be, because this boy has talent in abundance. This collection of shorts, a mixture of contemporary fiction revolving around several characters in a dead-end town and other more surreal works shows exceptional promise. Dakota draws comics every day and it shows, both in his art and his storytelling. I know this fact because his website told me, and also because he posts what he draws pretty much every single day. They tend to be Tom Gauld-style gag strips and you can see them for yourself HERE.

Before I talk about the shorts in this book in a little more detail, I must just talk about his art style. You will undoubtedly see, as I did, influences from and subtle nods to, a number of modern masters: Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Adrian Tomine, Peter Bagge, Jason Lutes, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I could go on, but there really is no need because ultimately his style is his own, he is that good. He manages to blend and vary such subtleties so smoothly into his default baseline style that they merely seem like masterful finishing touches and flourishes. Very impressive. Even the cover is a triumph, showing a fiery figure on the end of a jetty, flames reflected in the slightly choppy water of the lake.

Right, onto the stories themselves. I did enjoy the contemporary pieces revolving around small-town banality, he clearly has a handle on characters and interaction, but the more surreal ones involving such oddities as a ghost rabbit, a man with two birds nesting in the space where his face used to be, and a werewolf mask that seems to freeze time, show real imagination. Not as surreal as say, Hans Rickheit, but weird enough to give you pause for thought and disturb. The fractionally downbeat, slightly pessimistic tone to many of the works, straight and surreal alike, reminded me of things like Jeff Nicholson’s THROUGH THE HABITRAILS and Seth’s IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN. I really feel Dakota has a longer form masterpiece just around the corner if he can draw a lot of these elements together à la Pirus and Mezzo’s KING OF THE FLIES, say.

In fact, you can see it already in what is for me (and Dominique) the standout story in this book, Leave Luck To Heaven, from which I took the quote above. A man arrives at a doorway and begins what we initially think might be a drug deal with the inhabitant of the room. It quickly becomes apparent that a Nintendo cartridge is involved, but this isn’t going to be a simple gaming session, no sir. What follows starts off as aggressive and confrontational part-psychoanalysis, part-interrogation of the subject, before turning distinctly philosophical and metaphysical through very close examination of the power of the cathode ray tube and a Chris Ware-esque, double-page spread, gaming walk-through interlude. Musings on the value of console versus contemplation of art push us further into uncertain mental territory, before the subject, who has possibly just been hypnotised or brainwashed, to unknown ends, is brought back to consciousness by his questioner, leaving him confused as whether what he just experienced was even real.

“Did you dream?”
“N-no. I don’t think so.”
“Did you make it to the end of the game?”
“N-no.”
“Ah. It’s just as well, I suppose. The ending reveals that the whole thing was just a dream. Some people are disappointed.
“On the other hand, all you did today was move your thumbs back and forth over a piece of plastic. But you won’t remember it that way, will you?
“If you return next week, make sure to bring further payment.”

If psychoanalysis was an entertaining as that, I’d be signing myself up, let me tell you!

JR

Buy Other Stories And The Horse You Rode In On and read the Page 45 review here

Ex Machina Book 1 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris.

Every bit as witty, pithy and compelling as the same author’s SAGA, I give you the finest political fiction infected with a nasty science-fiction virus and drawn with a smooth and sexy neo-classical realism with big, bold forms and the most voluptuous shadows.

This repackages the first two original softcovers with, umm, the first chapter of volume three. Which is weird. And unhelpful. Still, a long time has passed since I reviewed the first two books and I’ve since learned to enthuse about this series slightly differently (plus I now know how it ends – one of the most unexpected dénouements in comics’ history!) so it is time for a substantial rewrite.

I loved The West Wing: one of my three all-time favourite television series with snap-snap, deadpan dialogue and prices to be paid. But I am a liberal-leftie-feminist and The West Wing – let us be honest – was a liberal-leftie-feminist’s wet dream. President Bartlett and his fiercely intelligent, movingly compassionate, education-orientated speech writers, however flawed, had all the best lines. The corporate cronies on the right were a bunch of smug, initiative-stifling weasels. Or were they? Just like The West Wing, EX MACHINA gives some of the best lines and arguments to random Republicans and I love that; plus Mayor Mitchell Hundred is far from squeaky-clean.

The present:

Mitchell Hundred can talk to mechanical objects – he can order them about. He can make guns backfire, lights switch off, and disable bugging devices with a word. Which is handy if you’re a politician. Quite how this process came about, we don’t yet know. What we do know is that Mitchell decided that he could make a bigger difference to people’s lives as Mayor of New York City rather than some sort of superhero. He could make them easier. Unfortunately it’s making his life more difficult.

Here he is at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, subsidised by grants from his office, standing in front of an imposing painting of President Abraham Lincoln (the “Great Emancipator”) upon whose portrait has been stencilled the word “nigger”. It’s not graffiti; it’s the artist’s own statement. In that situation, what is the first question you would ask yourself?

“This artist. Is she…?”
“Is she what, Mr. Mayor?”
“Is she, you know…?”
“Is she black?”

Meanwhile, as a snowstorm threatens to engulf the city and bring it to a halt (since its snow ploughs and ploughmen are being targeted by a terrorist), we are given glimpses into how Mayor Hundred got elected in the first place, who stood in his way and the methods they used to do so. Also, I made mention of the nasty science-fiction strain and some really vicious horror comes home to roost even closer than you might expect.

But my favourite bits are the politics and the humour. As promised there are arguments here during which each side sounds equally convincing, and not everyone you’d expect to be cool is quite the cucumber you’d hope and not every lemon is as sour. For example, progressive Mayor Mitchell Hundred is determined to marry his right-hand-man Wylie’s equally black brother Todd to Todd’s white Republican boyfriend Bill in spite of the potential public and legal backlash. But Bill isn’t necessarily as grateful as you might imagine…

“Sometimes, you can be so hopelessly fucking naive.”
“Believe what you want. I’ve met the Mayor a few times. He’s good people. Hell, anyone who can put up with my brother on a daily basis is a saint.”
“Hundred’s just another homophobe with a title. If he were serious about same-sex marriage, he’d let us meet in his office, not outdoors like friggin’ animals.”

Cue Mayor Hundred strolling onto the scene:

“Sorry, I thought you two’d be familiar with City Hall Park from all your late night “cruising”. Kidding, of course. Everyone knows you people stick to The Rambles for that.”

Lastly, dogmatic atheist and all-round sceptic Hundred comes down pretty damn hard on a fortune teller and exits in a cowardly fashion. Here’s why she claims she predicted 9/11 but only told one soul she saved, yet didn’t alert the authorities:

“Who would have listened to me, Mr. Hundred? All I would done is set up my family and myself for a lengthy detention by federal authorities.”

And she isn’t wrong, is she?

Next volume: we return to that same-sex marriage and I have repeatedly promised you that not everything here will be as black and white as it seems. Nor as rose-tinted. I may also have mentioned that I like that.

SLH

Buy Ex Machina Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Swamp Thing by Brian K. Vaughan vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & Roger Petersen, Phil Hale…

I must have missed this attempted reboot at the time, which is surprising given I was reading most of the Vertigo output around 2000, and I am a big SWAMP THING fan. It’s rather good, actually; not sure why it didn’t find an audience, which is I presume why it was cancelled. The basic premise is Tefé, the daughter of Swamp Thing, Abigail Arcane… and… John Constantine (see HELLBLAZER vol 1 for more on that particularly bizarre ménage à trois) is having an unexpected identity crisis, primarily due to her unusual parentage, and events are rapidly spiralling out of her ability to control or indeed, initially at least, even comprehend them.

The identity crisis is unexpected because Abigail, in conjunction with Constantine, had suppressed Tefé’s memories and given her a new identity by swapping her body with that of a terminally ill teenager, who then made a miraculous ‘recovery’. However, years later, a confused Tefé has now spontaneously recovered some of her memories and is once again at large in the world causing chaos. Cue Abby and Constantine’s attempts to stop her.

I rather enjoyed this. It’s a very dense read, and I wonder whether new readers just found it all a bit much, but it’s actually not dissimilar in tone to Alan Moore’s early SWAMP THING. Weird, contemporary horror, basically. Some lovely art in places, including four spectacular pages from Paul Pope I hadn’t ever seen before, plus five pages from Guy Davis that I liked too. I’d love to see either of those two illustrate a full run on SWAMP THING at some point.

JR

Buy Swamp Thing by Brian K. Vaughan vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Will O’ The Wisp h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Tom Hammock & Megan Hutchison.

Another Archaia tome with lavish production values, this comes with a brass clasp so you can lock the contents safely away lest prying eyes stray across its creepy contents or, worse still, whatever lurks within gets out! Perhaps you should hide it under your bed for good measure. No, wait…

Poor Aurora Grimeon has been orphaned after her parents’ death by massive mushroom poisoning. She only survived the pasta disaster because Aurora doesn’t like mushrooms and ate only the sauce. Also, some European thistle milk was chanced upon and turned out to be a cure. Who knew?

Her only living relative is grandfather Grimeon who didn’t get along with Aurora’s parents. Or was it vice-versa? He lives on Ossuary Isle, a cemetery island surrounded by swamps where the dead are buried just above water level. His house is ancient and foreboding, full of strange specimens, and in its cellar pit he buries bodies with beetles which eat off all the soft, dead tissue so cleaning the bones. He then makes casts of the skeletons for medical students and studies their causes of death. It’s a living.

The other inhabitants of the sprawling graveyard are elderly and superstitious, and although grandfather Grimeon is a man of science he knows well enough that they must be humoured for them all to get along. For guidance they look to Mama Nonnie, a kindly hoodoo practitioner with all sorts of potions and spells and a somewhat evasive dead husband.

“How is your husband today? That’s not really one of his bones, is it?”
“Of course it is! A chicken bone isn’t going to get me in touch with him on the other side. But thank you for asking. He wasn’t being very communicative. In fact, he hasn’t been communicative in quite a while, but no reason to stop trying.”
“How often do you two, umm, talk?”
“I haven’t found him on the other side yet, but it’s inevitable. He can’t hide from me forever. Willston, like many folk down here, was born talking.”

There’s a gentle humour early on before the horror hits in its full ferocity and Miss Prissy Mirabel – grandfather Grimeon’s pet raccoon – is Hutchison’s finest creation here. On their first night together Missy snatches a cob of corn from the communal dinner plate and hisses territorially before flipping off the table top and dashing off to the swamp to wash it.

“No food is right till it’s been washed, in her opinion.”

It’s beautifully directed, as is their second confrontation, nose to nose, as Missy helps herself to some jam.

“By sunset, I dare say you both will have learned something about this household. Aurora, you will know to keep a more vigilant eyes on your breakfast, and Missy is about to learn not to wash jam in the swamp before she eats it.”

Hutchison’s art is angular, spindly and spiky. Not all the action scenes are as convincing or easy to follow as you would hope but where she excels, ably assisted by colourist Adam Guzowski, is on the full-page landscapes which are eerie and lonely or spooky as hell when you discover the wrecked train and boat jutting out of the misty swamp waters.

 

 

As to the mystery, Hammock introduces all the elements early on without you necessarily noticing them. For there is something stirring in the swampland, something which Aurora caught but a glimpse of on her very first night, and which caught a glimpse of her: a ball of glowing blue fire which Dr Grimeon dismisses as spontaneously combusting methane. But as bodies begin washing up on the jetty or discovered trapped under sub-aquatic roots, the isle folk become jittery, suspecting Aurora’s new presence as the catalyst. Then the twin gravestones of Dr Gideon’s parents are found shattered, a trail of burnt grass leading towards the water. Like Aurora’s own parents, they too died on the very same date while grandfather Gideon was just a child. And it wasn’t through mushroom poisoning…

Returning to that brass clasp, I imagine it looked lovely in the production office and will be treasured by each of its owners. But it hasn’t been entirely thought through when it comes to the retailers racking it! The sharp nodule which sticks out is going to damage any books stacked on shelves to its right and if stored spine-on you do risk bending the metal and so locking the book forever. I don’t suppose Diamond Distributors were greatly amused when it came to packing copies en route to retailers, either!

Still, they’re here now and so come take a look, if you think you’re brave enough. You’ll find it racked in our young teens’ section, somewhere near BOO!, the horror anthology for even younger readers.

SLH

Buy Will O’ The Wisp h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cemetery Girl vol 1: The Pretenders h/c (£16-99, Inklit) by Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden & Don Kramer…

Okay, maybe you are aware of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and their author Charlaine Harris? I wasn’t, but even I have heard of their HBO TV adaptation, True Blood. I have to admit I wasn’t massively familiar with, according to the blurb “acclaimed comic book artist”, Don Kramer, either. I had to look up what stuff he’d worked on for, which is pretty much exclusively second-line titles for DC, and I did happen to see he’s mates with Christopher Golden, which is presumably how he got this gig, as the Golden one is co-writer on this book. Christopher Golden I am hugely familiar with from his excellent work on BALTIMORE and other Mignola tidbits, I should add, and he is a writer I rate very highly. Golly, this really is a rambling start to this review isn’t it?

I think where I am going with this is… in conjunction with the rather prose-novel looking cover, of which pretty much half is taken up by Harris and Golden’s names in huge orange and grey letters, my expectations were pretty low for this title. Yet actually, those expectations were at least partially confounded, I must say.

I presume Harris has provided the plot (and dialogue) which involves an amnesiac teenage girl, dumped and left for dead at some cemetery gates. Rather than go to the police for reasons which escaped me slightly, the girl decides to take refuge in a crypt, covertly stealing food from the cemetery caretakers and nearby residents, at least two of whom are aware of their nocturnal visitor, when she sees an occult murder. The ghost from this murder then enters into her body… I’ve just realised as I’m typing how slightly risible that all sounds… but it does actually work. I’m guessing perhaps Golden has then adapted it for comics, he’s done a sound job there if so, but I would expect no less. And Kramer supplied the art, which aside from looking a bit flat in places, is pretty decent, though I can see why I hadn’t heard of him.

Overall it is a decent story, told well, illustrated reasonably competently, but I’m not really sure what market the publisher is pitching this at. I’m guessing from the cover they’re thinking that name power alone is going to sell it, exactly like a new prose book from this author. It might, it might not. Probably not here, though maybe in a Waterstones propped up near her prose work, I guess. Which I surmise is exactly what the publisher had in their collective minds when they put this together.

JR

Buy Cemetery Girl vol 1: The Pretenders h/c and read the Page 45 review here

All-New Marvel Now.1 #1 ANMN (£4-25, Marvel) by various.

That, I kid you not, is its title.

It’s a one-off anthology and prologue to several new Marvel series including AVENGERS WORLD #1.

My favourite was the not-yet-solicited SILVER SURFER which I am on board for purely on the strength of this left-field outing which I suspect may be informed by relatively recent Doctor Who. It’s not just the fact that the Surfer has a human companion: it’s her bubble-bursting irreverence and broader perspective on the potential for space exploration… together! It is a complete departure from any previous treatment of the surfing silvered one which has always been somewhat portentous and, being illustrated by Michael Allred, I was convinced I was reading Matt Fraction. (Please see FF VOL 1: FANTASTIC FAUX and its successors; please seem them – they’re brilliant!) I was wrong: it’s Dan Slott. Well done, Dan!

Together she and he visit an outer-space Venice to witness a firework display composed of cosmic rays. I am not going to spoil Slott’s joke, but it’s a good one delivered with a deft slight of hand relying on Marvel readers’ inescapable knowledge of a certain phenomenon. (Truly and trust me: this one is inescapable.) Its ten pages are packed with wit and I wonder if this is Allred’s true calling as – via Kirby – one of Moebius’ most successful successors. Let’s see if he goes there.

Phil Noto on BLACK WIDOW is delightfully Bill Sienkiewicz minus the expressionism.

Plus both G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona made me smile on the MS. MARVEL prologue. That’s the other breath of fresh air here: MS. MARVEL. I can completely understand commentators’ advance criticisms that a Muslim Marvel superhero smacks of tokenism given the corporation’s previous history of, well, tokenism… but this is not that. It is witty and wise and it is young! I couldn’t give two hoots about the initial fight scene but as soon as the family aspect kicked in via a mobile phone call, I was hooked.

“Late-lateef bhangi!! Your cousin’s Mehndi started an hour ago!!”

That’s Kamala’s mother. Her first sentence translates as “chronically late scruffy person”. If you cannot hear the melodious Pakistani intonation in G. Willow Wilson’s acutely observed dialogue both here and subsequently, I cannot help you. Did I mention that this was young? Kamala is a teenager and – far more than the original or ultimate Spider-Man – if this continues to be played right, it will be all about family and the generation gap.

The big thrust here, however, is a prologue to the new series of LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett. It darts in and out of the others. Due to the structure of this issue I can’t quite tell which bits were theirs, but it’s very funny in places.

SLH

Buy All-New Marvel Now.1 #1 ANMN and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers World #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Stefano Caselli.

Respect to everyone who’s picked this up having picked it apart from both the free preview anthology and the free Marvel calendar on our shelves which bore nigh-identical covers. I salute you!

Does it not seem all kinds of crazy to you that Marvel apparently has so much spare art lying around that they print five different covers for the same comic, yet pick the same cover to three completely different products?

“Get on with the review!”

Then don’t give me lame-brained reasons to digress!

So if NEW AVENGERS is about death and parallel-dimension threats and its sister title, AVENGERS, is about life and cosmic invasion, what is its inbred off-spring, AVENGERS WORLD, all about? Judging by this opening issue, it’s about multiple global threats all kicking off at the same instant and attempting to juggle your responses with quick-snap decisions and practised, prioritised precision using the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D., while S.H.I.E.L.D. busies itself utilising the Avengers for PR purposes.

It also appears to be a nexus tying together all sorts of plot threads kicked off in (or left over from) SECRET AVENGERS and AVENGERS VOL 2. You can read this with no knowledge of either; it’s just a little more satisfying if you’ve seen that groundwork being laid.

Multiple global threats kick off at the same instant and Captain America, Bruce Banner and Director Maria Hill attempt to juggle their responses with quick-snap decisions and practised, prioritised precision using their shared resources. Fortunately due to Tony Stark’s initiative in AVENGERS VOL 1 they have those resources: gazillions of Avengers.

I cannot claim to be a massive fan of Caselli’s facial expressions (everyone looks constipated) but his three full-page landscapes featuring the transmogrification of Madripoor, a subterranean city of the dead, and what is clearly no longer A.I.M. Island as they knew it are, each of them, wondrous. And that’s not an adjective employed at random.

There’s a prologue to this in ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW.1 #1 ANMN if you fancy, involving Maria Hill, Captain America and a toaster. She picked it out specially.

SLH

Buy Avengers World #1 and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Battle Of The Atom h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by so, so many.

Marvel released two giant crossovers at the same time recently: INFINITY starring the Avengers which was powerful, thrilling and immaculately orchestrated; and, also, this.

Following the events of AVENGERS VS X-MEN and AVENGERS VS X-MEN: CONSEQUENCES scientist Dr Henry McCoy AKA The Beast decided in ALL-NEW X-MEN that he had no other choice but to bring the original X-Men including his younger self from the past to the present with the sole purpose of bringing the now-militant Cyclops into shocking contact with his earlier, idealistic self.

Many thought this a mistake – not least some of those now-disconcerted X-Men – but what no one had considered is what would happen to a young, telekinetic Jean Grey were her telepathy to kick in prematurely and so learn her fate. Her fate largely involved a great deal of dying.

Now a group of X-Men from the future have arrived including an even older Beast (mutated further and missing a ram’s horn), a barely sentient Iceman, an older Kitty Pryde, Deadpool, a certain bald telepath and, ummm, someone looking an awful lot like Xorn (who was at one point revealed to be Magneto… but then they decided otherwise and… I have no idea what the final score was with that). Can you spell “convoluted”? You just wait.

Although very cagey, they do reveal that the future is bobbins and that the blame lies with time-travelling X-Men: the time-travelling original X-Men, not the time-travelling X-Men that blame the time-travelling original X-Men for travelling through time. They demand that the original X-Men travel back through time.

No one stops to ask the original X-Men what they want. 

Some of the more suspicious X-Men then travel through time, because clearly not enough damage has been done. In the future they encounter a completely different group of mutants including… oh you’ll find out… who claim that they are the real X-Men and that the X-Men who travelled back in time are not who they appear to be. They all, therefore, travel back through time.

There are fights. There are more fights. There are commands and “belay that command”s as faction after faction of territorial X-Men splash-page themselves into multiple grand entrances, and then there are more fights. Those pages are awfully soggy.

The great bits: Immonen’s art, as ever; trying to work out who is the progeny of whom; the central reveal of what happened in the future that so broke the Beast’s heart. That was arresting. Quite why this was the original X-Men’s fault wasn’t ever explained. However, it finally sinks in to Hank McCoy’s genius scientific brain that his time-travelling medalling was a mistake. Which is why he does it again.

The bad bits: everything else. It’s a protracted and wearisome mess made worse by how many times the panels slide across a double-page spread without ample sign-posting so that you haven’t a clue whether to read down or across. Also the final battlefield seems to have been contrived merely to make a weak visual gag, clumsily inserted, which requires you to remember that Xorn was originally Magneto which is why I told you so. Quite where young Jean Grey’s original X-Men uniform came from on that battlefield is beyond me.

Collects X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM #1-2, ALL-NEW X-MEN #16-17, X-MEN (2013) #5-6, UNCANNY X-MEN (2013) #12-13 and WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #36-37.

I cannot wait to enthuse about INFINITY. That was quite brilliant.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Battle Of The Atom h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: The Judas Coin s/c (£10-99, DC) by Walter Simonson.

When Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he did it with a kiss, and it was for thirty pieces of silver.

Only when Jesus was tried and then sentenced to death did Judas attempt to return those shekels, but they were already seen as soiled: blood money, cursed. So Judas threw them on the temple floor and hanged himself. Good riddance.

Unfortunately there was no getting rid of the silver…

It’s a surprisingly short sequence in the New Testament but, oh, so powerful: the man who preached love betrayed by one his twelve closest confidants, and done so with the most intimate act of affection. No wonder the money which can’t buy you love was cursed – cursed to reappear like the proverbial penny and dooming all hell-bent on acquiring it. Simonson has taken that idea and run with it, fusing it with DC legend and lore: the Viking Prince, the pirate Captain Fear, cowboy and quick-thinking mischief-merchant Bat Lash, right through to Batman and beyond…

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Walt Simonson’s epic arc on THOR that the Viking sequence is one of the strongest here with massive visual flourishes like the giant Green Man statue carved from the most monumental living tree, but also the language:

“The susurration of the wind through the tree-tops is the only sound.”

The buccaneer episode is equally thrilling and frantically paced with great big Galleons and vast sails right from page one using the vertical axis for maximum, eye-piercing impact. On its last page alone the specific curse of the coin comes back into play several times over. Better still are Bat Lash’s multiple sleights-of-hand delivered with dexterity during “Ill-Gotten Gains” as an entire town sets off in hot-headed, post-poker pursuit of our man with the plan which he makes up on the hoof while admonishing the morons he fools. The colour art there is tinted with a sandy filter before arrestingly switching to stark black and white for the ‘Gotham Gazette’, an episode featuring Bruce Wayne, a newspaper seller and multiple broadsheet clippings.

There the silver shekel has resurfaced as part of a private collection exhibited in a public Museum and naturally one man above all others has set his skewed sights on acquiring it: one of Batman’s arch-enemies, Two-Face. Yet here’s the really clever bit: our coin-tossing criminal has spent his entire life understanding the odds – it’s what he does for an Obsessively Compulsive Disorderly living – and he’s the first to figure out the totem’s true nature. So the thin-skinned, fiery-tempered, dual-personality renowned for going postal does so in a different, more deliberate and deliberated way.

Oh, very well done, Mr. Simonson! I can’t say I cared for the Roman chapter or really the bit in the future whose comicbook context I didn’t understand because I can’t know everything, can I? But I approached this book with minimum interest and left laughing heartily. Also with a new word: susurration. Expect it, now acquired as my own, in a new review imminently.

SLH

Buy Batman: The Judas Coin s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Chloe Noonan #4.5 (£2-99, Great Beast) by Marc Ellerby

Jane, The Fox & Me h/c (£14-99, Groundwood) by Britt Fanny & Isabelle Arsenault

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 3: The Birthday Of The Infanta s/c (£6-99, Other A-Z) by P. Craig Russell

Ten Grand vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by J. Michael Straczynski & Ben Templesmith, C.P. Smith

Avengers vol 4: Infinity h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Leinil Yu

Green Arrow vol 2: Triple Threat s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ann Nocenti & Harvey Tolibao

Superior Spider-Man vol 4: Necessary Evil s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Ryan Stegman, Guiseppe Camuncoli

Avengers Arena vol 3: Boss Level s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Cristos Gage, Dennis Hopeless & Karl Moline, Kev Walker

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 3 – Mad h/c (£18-99, DC) by Gregg Hurwitz & Ethan Van Sciver, Szymon Kudranski

Attack On Titan vol 10 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

The Art Of Bioshock Infinite h/c (£29-99, Dark Horse) by various

Doctor Who series 3 vol 4: Dead Man’s Hand (£13-50, IDW) by Tony Lee & Mike Collins

Doctor Who series 3 vol 3: Sky Jacks! (£13-50, IDW) by Andy Diggle, Eddie Robson & Andy Kuhn

 

Oh, you don’t read down here, do you?

Do you?! Tweet me if you do!

It’s so lonely!

– Stephen

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