Reviews January 2014 week two

HELLBLAZER was always at its best when occult horror took second stage to real-life horror in the form of racism and the BNP, homophobia, poverty, homelessness, sickness and death; of hopelessness under crushingly callous governments and helplessness under intransigent authority. This is HELLBLAZER at its very best.

There aren’t many horror comics which can actually make you cry.

 - Stephen on Hellblazer vol 7 

Celebrated Summer s/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Forsman.

“I’d give anything not to be so scared.”

Beautifully drawn in a thin, fragile line with lots of intricate crosshatching and stylistic nods towards Trudeau (Mike’s profile) and Huizenga (Grandma’s profile), this is a very quiet book, sparse on dialogue.

This is partly because Mike has nothing to say (or nothing worth saying) while the enormous Wolf with his short-cropped mohican has retreated into himself ever since he accidentally broke a boy’s arm at school. Then he stopped playing and started watching instead. Now, increasingly placid, he’s virtually stopped speaking except when prompted. He’s timid, he’s isolated, and he’s scared. He can’t even pee in public. There’s a lot of nervous sweat.

It may also be because they’re concentrating on their trip: two tabs of acid each, and a drive to the beach. That adds a certain tension to the book: who’d take drugs and drive?!

It’s a black and white book, yet the two main instances of tripping far from suffer for it. Mike’s is short and sweet: a full page given over to single flower opening as if in stop-motion. The panel borders evaporate, leaving twelve clean images of the blossoming bud surrounded by identical leaves as if viewed though a fly’s eye. Wolf’s is more dramatic and – to him – disorientating / nauseating, as an arcade game’s screen morphs into some psychedelic optician’s test complete with a lot of circles.

James Sturm and Chester Brown are both fans, if that helps.

SLH

Buy Celebrated Summer s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 7 Tainted Love s/c (£14-99, DC) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“Friend of yours?”
“Must be. He’s dead.”

Please don’t judge this book by its hideous cover: Dillon’s art looks nothing like that. You have to be a wilfully stupid art director not to ask Steve Dillon for a new piece of art or at least reuse the original Glenn Fabry paintings which, as you’ll see within, were glorious.

HELLBLAZER was always at its best when occult horror took second stage to real-life horror in the form of racism and the BNP, homophobia, poverty, homelessness, sickness and death; of hopelessness under crushingly callous governments and helplessness under intransigent authority. This is HELLBLAZER at its very best.

When Alan Moore created John Constantine and introduced him in SWAMP THING, it became immediately clear that he was a very dangerous man: he was already pursued by the ghosts of friends who’d paid the price for even knowing him. So it is here, and one of Garth Ennis’ strengths was bringing friendship to the fore, thereby making the violence wrought against them all the more personal and so horrific. Dillon was no slacker in that department, either: there is a facial close-up here which is as abhorrent and as repulsive as it should be. Man’s inhumanity to man. So it is at the top of this review, with a rent boy John got to share a mattress with, and if you think John’s being glib then that’s a mask he wears or swiftly pulls back on whenever threatened, and a knee-jerk reaction to power: he cannot resist flipping the figurative bird.

It is friendship too which proves his undoing here – or actually fully fledged love. For the first time ever John drops his guard and lets someone in, and Kit was definitely worth waiting for. Over from Belfast, Kit was tender, tough and took no shit, giving as good as she got. But remember that occupational hazard? Remember John’s occupation: he’s a rake, he’s a rogue, he’s a trickster, and his victims come from both Heaven and Hell. In that line of work you make powerful enemies.

Constantine isn’t in the habit of losing: not to sexual, predatory priests; not to racists, vampires, demons or even archangels, all of which feature here. But just as he achieves one of his slickest, sickest and most vicious victories (which may yet prove his salvation in the dangerous long-game he is playing) Garth Ennis pulls the rug from right under him.

“There’s always somewhere lower you can go.”

My favourite chapter is ‘Heartland’. Set in Belfast in 1993 it’s essentially one long conversation between Kit and her wee sister with a big chunk in the middle down an Irish boozer with some mates reminiscing about the past and discussing the Provisional IRA. All of which was rather brave, but Ennis’ Irish accent and speech patterns had a lovely lilt and I can think of few comicbook artists other than Steve’s brother Glyn (THE NAO OF BROWN) who could have done such talking heads justice. Sean Phillips, Dave Sim, Fiona Staples perhaps. And you just wait for the visual punchline, as underplayed and heart-rending as anything else you will see in comics.

There aren’t many horror comics which can actually make you cry.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 7 Tainted Love s/c and read the Page 45 review here

You Are A Cat Pick A Plot vol 2 Zombie Apocalypse (£13-50, Conundrum Press) by Sherwin Tjia.

What was that sound?!

Imagine you’re curled up on lounge sofa, merrily moulting ginger cat hair all over your owners’ black cushions after having scratched several shades of shit out of their floor-length, velveteen curtains. It was exhausting – you deserved a nap.

But just as you’d settled down to doze, contemplating the decapitated frog you’d left beside the bed upstairs (exactly where the mother will soon place her naked foot), there’s a jangling of keys and the teenage girl of the house laughs her way through the front door accompanied by her new girlfriend. And that’s okay, but when her father staggers in a few minutes later and slumps like a drunk against the hall wall… that’s when your life changes forever.

Before we launch properly in I should emphasise that, unlike the two self-determining graphic novels we stock (KNIGHT & DRAGON and Jason Shiga’s enormously inventive MEANWHILE), this and YOU ARE A CAT VOL 1 are both illustrated prose brought to our comicbook attention on account of Tija’s magnificent short-story collection HIPLESS BOY which I described as “early Tomine if Adrian was an optimist.” Of the seemingly innocuous YOU ARE A CAT VOL 1 I wrote:

“WARNING: most certainly not suitable for kids! Oh, I know it looks as if it should be: for a start it’s a cat, secondly it’s riffing off and indeed mimicking your childhood favourites where you controlled the narrative by becoming the protagonist, making her or his decision for them, and then turning backwards or forwards to the duly prescribed page.”

What it actually contained was all manner of mischief involving moments of a dysfunctional family that only a cat would witness. This time the warning’s in the title and the cover, but nothing there could possibly prepare you for the true horror within. And we’re not even talking about the zombies: there are worse fates than getting your neck nibbled on by a bunch of hive-minded shamblers.

“The next two hours are awful.”

That, I promise you, is an understatement, for Sherwin Tija has put his thinking cap on sideways and come up with all manner of fucked-up futures for a cat caught in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, several strands involving you being bitten and infected yourself.

I am no expert in zombies, myself, but I consulted with Dominique and it appears that there are indeed very few strains which involve a zombie’s perspective, let alone a zombified cat, and Tija’s take is far from obvious because, to his mind, every animal would react differently. At one point when fresh human flesh is on offer you’re given three options, one of which is “Will you teach them your love?” * Funny.

There are a substantial two hundred and fifty pocket-sized pages here which Sherwin has packed with enormous fight-or-flight variety involving your bit of fluff down the road, her aging owner, a fenced-off enclave surrounded by snipers, a helicopter, outrageously ruthless scientists and some brand-new means of infection which I would have imagined in a million years. Hint: you may never breast-feed again.

As to the myriad of final fates, they are soooooooooooooo dark that the brightest is almost the opportunity to throw yourself off a roof without having even attempted to negotiate DC’s juddering, advert-stuffed website.

“But, Stephen, is there no hope of happiness?”

Maybe. Define “happiness”. Hahahahaha!

THE END.

* That was a written note and I can no longer find that page so it may not be verbatim. Also, I made the decapitated frog’s head up from a personal, cold, clammy and squelch-crunch experience.

SLH

Buy You Are A Cat Pick A Plot vol 2 Zombie Apocalypse and read the Page 45 review here

Caligula Vol 2: Heart Of Rome (£14-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile.

Here’s one for CROSSED fans, you sick, sick people.

Previously in CALIGULA VOL 1… Look, the clue’s in the title: Emperor Caligula wasn’t exactly a philanthrope. Not for him, the altruistic satisfaction of municipal benefaction, building orphanages for the wee ones and bearding-up as Santa Claus each Christmas. No, it was white-knuckle ride taking in the not-unexpected hamlets of Death and Depravity but with a surprise detour through the unhistoric town of Demonic Possession.

It basically went tits-up for everyone.

As the second book opens, Emperor Claudius has seized the city of Rome with his smothered son Britannicus due to succeed him, while Caligula’s ambitious sister Agrippina is living in exile with her son Nero. Since SILVERFISH’s David Lapham is playing fast but only a little loose with history, Nero can considered safe this round. Not so those around him, especially when you learn who Nero’s father is.

Tribune Laurentius, meanwhile, who saw Caligula for what he really was before sorting him good-and-proper-like, is hired by Agrippina, one of few who believe Laurentius’ claims of demonic possession and that Caligula’s spirit lives on. Laurentius is presumed to have gone a little mental ever since his own wife Julia was turned into the sort of modern art which even Damien Hirst would blanche at. And it’s been happening on a lot recently on the streets of Rome: grotesque “installations” using imaginatively repurposed body parts – it’s just the authorities have initiated a cover-up. Re-enter Junius, the vengeful olive farmer who endured so much in CALIGULA VOL 1 just to get close enough to Caligula to kill him. He now owns four gladiators including an unbeatable champion called Verraxis, and massive gambling debts.

There you go, that’s your basic line-up. Where resides the spirit of Caligula? Who’s vying for a Tate-Modern Turner Prize? What’s Agrippina really up to? How naughty is Nero, even as a child? He’s quite naughty. I hope no one is silly enough to give him some matches.

German Nobile is back to render all manner of sexual protrusions in a manner which, ordinarily, would send their owners straight down the Genito-Urinary Clinic. His colours are lurid, sordid and opaque, which is no bad thing in this instance – I don’t think Alex Ross would be quite right for this book. I wasn’t always entirely sure what was going on, but on occasions I was grateful. I think more of that may be due to a little too much happening off-screen, as if bits of the script had been excised due to space.

There will be a third volume at the very least as the conclusion will make clear. I imagine once Nero hits puberty everyone will be in a great deal of trouble.

SLH

Buy Caligula Vol 2: Heart Of Rome and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers vol 2: Infinity h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Mike Deodato Jr.

Scientifically sophisticated and philosophically exceptional for any genre in comics, this has only just begun. You wait for the linguistic punchline.

The Black Panther, Reed Richards, Iron Man, the Beast, Namor of Atlantis, Black Bolt of the Inhumans and Dr. Stephen Strange: they are the Illuminati, a cabal of Earth’s superhumans – some of them sovereign – who have been working behind the scenes to preserve all life as we know it. Now they have been told:

“Everything dies.”

In NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 they witnessed a series of Incursions: the intrusion of planet Earth from one parallel universe to another. From up in the sky it descends on a collision course, and there can only be two outcomes: one of those Earths is sacrificed in order to save those universes… or everything dies in both.

For years this has been happening all over the multiverse but now it has come home to roost and it is happening with alarming frequency: four Incursions right here in a single month.

The Illuminati are working on it, but this is their dilemma: they want to preserve this Earth that they live on with those they hold dear but, in order to do so, they must destroy another Earth equally as valid as theirs. They must commit global genocide – the obliteration of billions of individual human beings with loved ones of their own – and I’m afraid they have built the weapons to do so.

The Illuminati have fooled themselves that this will be a last resort, but so far they have been lucky: firstly events outside their control meant that they haven’t had to deploy this Final Solution yet, plus they have been dealing with physics which they have successfully stretched their collective and substantial scientific brains to just-about-comprehend. But 1) time is running out, and 2) prepare for a paradigm shift.

Seriously, when you read NEW AVENGERS #13 which immediately follows this book, you will begin to understand as I did what is meant by a “paradigm shift”.

Meanwhile, all is far from well between the individual members of the Illuminati with sub-plots not simmering but raging galore. Black Bolt is hiding something monumental; Dr. Strange has gone unilateral; Reed Richards and Iron Man have entrusted their own private plans to whom we don’t know; plus Namor’s Atlantis and Black Panther’s Wakanda are at war. Let’s not even talk about what they’ve done to Steve Rogers.

I wish we could have an artist as dark and brooding, as foreboding and neo-classically epic as Mike Deodato on board to make this as visually impressive as it deserves. Oh, wait – we do!

 

God, but he’s good, isn’t he?

SLH

Buy New Avengers vol 2 Infinity h/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.

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

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

Conan vol 14: The Death s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Declan Shalvey, Vasilis Lolos, Becky Cloonan

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

The Incal h/c (£29-99, SelfMadeHero) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

Other Stories And The Horse You Rode In On (£13-55, Conundrum) by Dakota McFadzean

Percy Jackson And The Titan’s Curse s/c (£9-99, Disney) by Rick Riordan, Robert Vendetti & Attila Futaki

Prison Pit vol 5 (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan

Quantum And Woody vol 1: The World’s Worst Superhero Team s/c (£7-50, Valiant) by James Asmus & Tom Fowler

Vampire Academy vol 3: Shadow Kiss (£9-99, Razorbill) by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon & Emma Vieceli

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

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 2 – Cycle Of Violence s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gregg Hurwitz & David Finch, Richard Friend

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

Green Arrow vol 3: Harrow s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ann Nocenti, various &  Freddie Williams II, various

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

All New X-Men / Indestructible Hulk / Superior Spider-Man – The Arms Of The Octopus s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by various

Superior Spider-Man vol 3: No Escape s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Humberto Ramos

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

Awkward Silence vol 4 (£8-99, Sublime) by Hinako Takanaga

Century Of Temptation s/c (£9-99, DMP) by Kairi Shimotsuki

Depression Of The Anti Romanticist vol 2 (£9-99, DMP) by Yasuna Suginuma & Riyu Yamakami

Dorohedoro vol 10 (£9-99, Viz) by Q Hayashida

Lies Are A Gentleman’s Manners (£9-99, DMP) by Marta Matsuo

Mr. Mini Mart (£9-99, DMP) by Junko

Sherlock Bones vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yuma Ando & Yuki Sato

ITEM! Brief comic: LIFE WITH / OUT A CAT by Rachel Dukes who bears an uncanny resemblance to our own Dominique!

ITEM! Gorgeously coloured New Year’s Resolution comic by BAD MACHINERY’s John Allison (oh, just stick him in our search engine – we’ve loads more comics and free stickers to go with them)!

ITEM! STRAY BULLETS is returning! (see Page 45 reviews January 2014 week one for deetz!) Nearly fifteen years ago its creator David Lapham printed a letter from Page 45 in STRAY BULLETS #10, and you may find its contents… familiar. Over the years, I’ve either scored on consistency or bored with repetition!

ITEM! I’m sick of hearing the ridiculous repetition that Alan Moore’s left comics! He’s just left DC, and who can fucking blame him after the way he’s been treated? Here’s a preview of the latest LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN coming in May 2014. Yes, I know it doesn’t say so on the cover, but it is, and you can pre-order NEMO: ROSES OF BERLIN here! You already have NEMO: HEART OF ICE, right?

ITEM! Batman’s Gotham City really does originate from a town outside Nottingham. Our J-Lo spotted that BBC report. For more on Gotham and its links to Batman, see this article at Dawn Of The Unread.

ITEM! Illustrated interview with Antony Johnston on his forthcoming sci-fi thriller THE FUSE. You can pre-order THE FUSE #1 here and pre-order THE FUSE #2 here or just tell us to add it to your standing order. Preferably before we order next week, please!

ITEM! Details on forthcoming BREAKS webcomic co-created by Emma Vieceli. Looks gorgeous! Did you catch her pages in YOUNG AVENGERS #14? I swooned. Pop Emma Vieceli in our search engine! (Copy and paste: otherwise you’ll only spell her name with an ‘a’ and two ‘l’s  – I always do!)

ITEM! New Dr Sketchy’s life drawing class on Saturday February 8th. It’s the Flirty Thirties! NOW AND THEN’s Sally Jane Thompson will be there along with our Jodie, and they’ve offered to lend me their pencils and pens so I’ll see if I can get some cover to come along too. You could win graphic novels donated by Page 45! We are proud official sponsors.

I always call Dr. Sketchy’s the “not-up-their-arse art class”. They are so welcoming and creativity is cool!

- Stephen

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