What this proves as much as anything is that there are more than two aspects to every argument just as there are more than two sides to a coin: there are three, if your balance is up to it.
My advice is this: if ever you go into conflict to defend people’s safety from whatever threat, remember: that’s why you did it. Do not become that threat.
– Stephen on Boxers & Saints.
Celeste h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by I.N.J. Culbard…
I’ll return to that line…
Ah, I do like Ian’s intro sequences and this is his most expansive yet, featuring us approaching first the Milky Way, then our solar system, passing by the various planets and asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars before eventually arriving, via a sumptuous satellite-graced double-page spread, on Earth. Upon reaching the surface of our planet we find what appears to be a pink blossom petal, drifting serenely past Mount Fuji, before settling at the foot of a Japanese man sat at the open window of his bedroom. Then we see a second petal on a bedside table by a ringing phone, its owner in the shower. The fact the petal then migrates to the floor is the first hint something strange is going on, though perhaps the now-whirring hairdryer was responsible for that. Perhaps. Then finally we see a man asleep in his car in the desert, a blossom petal drifting in through his open window and into his slightly agape mouth, causing a near choking fit that reminded me of a very scary childhood incident I once had with a moth…
Having revisited this opening sequence a fair few times, purely to marvel at it, I’ve found myself wondering what the appropriate accompanying music score would be, were this the opening scene of a film. Something slow and mysterious I think, though in retrospect arguably Planet Earth by Duran Duran would be very appropriate… “Look now, look all around, there’s no sign of life, voices, another sound, can you hear me now?” … because shortly thereafter virtually the entire population of the Earth just vanishes. I presume this may be where the title of the book comes from, an allusion to the not-so-jolly ship Marie Celeste.
As to the how and the why, well, don’t expect the explanation to be made clear for you. There are some possible interpretations that spring to mind, but I am very sure Ian intended this to be a thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction. What we have are three very mysterious and very different stories. None of our three characters is completely alone, mind you, which I will leave you to reflect upon, and I am choosing my words carefully there.
There are several lines of dialogue which seem particularly weighted with hidden meaning for the observant reader to pick up upon, such as the quote above. Taken in the context of what is happening, it provides some very subtle hints as to what may really be going on. But it’s not until the final page almost, when those petal blossoms return, that provide the biggest clue. That particular closing sequence put me in mind of a little sequence in the film version of 2010 actually, which is something I must quiz Ian about. Intrigued? Curious? Perturbed? Good, then my work here is done, much like the petal blossoms…
Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy h/c (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by Abel Lanzac (Antonin Baudry) & Christophe Blain.
So declares Alexandre Taillard De Vorms, the French Foreign Minister, who is full of it.
Don’t get me wrong, his heart is largely in the right place but his mind forgets to listen to it, racing faster than a supersonic Concorde from premature retirement. A pin-up posher for Attention Deficit Disorder, De Vorms can’t even spell “consistent”, moving his goal posts so fast that he pulls the rug from under his advisors’ and speechwriter’s feet.
“We must address Lebanon.”
“It’s on page 8, Minister.”
“We must address it. I told you: structure! Legitimacy, Lucidity, Efficacy!”
“You said “Responsibility, Unity, Efficacy.””
It’s at this point that his maddeningly calm and so-dry-he’s-droll Chief of Staff, Claude Maupas, murmurs in:
“Yes, well, Alexandre, that’s sort of what we did. If you look at page 1 – there’s legitimacy. Pages 5 and 6 are unity. And the end really addresses efficacy, you see.”
“Yes! I mean no! It needs hammering in! With this Khemed crisis, ever Head of State will be there. Blockheads of State. I have to drive our points through their thick skulls! These people are morons. They don’t have time to think.
“Efficacy. KABOOM KABOOM KABOOM”
His priority is peace.
This is post-9/11, you see, and De Vorms knows he may be drowned out by the bellowing battle cry of America, but is determined that France will have its say too. To that effect he hires our beleaguered protagonist, Arthur Vlaminck, whether he likes it or not, and finishes with a fanatical flourish.
“I’m entrusting you with the most important part. The word.”
Yes, words are very important to Alexandre Taillard De Vorms. Well, his own words. The windbag doesn’t listen to anyone else’s apart from the banal, pseudo-cerebral bollocks he spouts from 6th-Century-B.C. philosopher Heraclitus. He wants a speech for every occasion. He even demands Arthur write him something to say to his luncheon guest, Nobel Prize winning author Molly Hutchinson who hears as Arthur hands over his notes.
“Oh, so you have words for me.”
“Why no, not at all! Those aren’t words! I don’t need words! I hate words. I’m a great admirer of poetry.”
I rest my case.
To compound Arthur’s problem each speech he is tasked with is subject not only to the pretentious abstractions of De Vorms himself, but to the unsolicited input of half a dozen advisors including self-serving poets who want to be quoted as “great”. As one colleague observes, “This isn’t a speech anymore, it’s a Frankenstein’s Monster”.
WEAPONS OF MASS DIPLOMACY won the Best Graphic Novel at Angoulême in 2013 and I can see why it would be much loved there. For a start it is written by Antonin Baudry under the pseudonym of Abel Lanzac, and Antonin was an actual advisor to the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in the run up to the illegal invasion of Iraq.
It’s like BBC’s Yes, Minister on methedrine because, after all, there was a deadline to be averted and, bless them, the French did their best just Blaire in Britain did his worst. But the satire here is wider than that. There is the Anchovy War with Spain (think our own Fishing War with Iceland but anchovies are funnier) and every time an international incident flares up, the crises are met neither with resolute actions nor even coherent rhetoric but territorial grandstanding and credit-hugging within the government itself.
The volcanic script is delirious and its lettering forms part of the comedy. Christophe presents De Vorms as a human, cyclonic whirlwind, whooshing about the page with stop-and-start ferocity while seeing nothing that lies under his considerable nose. He sits down only to steam and flashes daggers of lightning at anyone interjecting or embarrassing him in public. He slaps piles of documents down on a desk so hard that dust erupts. He is passionate, fervent, loquacious and contagious – so much so that Vlaminck is infected immediately, his initial diffidence swept away by the storm as he glares, fired up, into his bathroom mirror at the end of chapter one. Let’s see how he’s doing by the end of chapter six, shall we?
There are way more than six chapters for this is a book of considerable length as well as density. It’s peppered with references to music and film and comics. Darth Vader’s appearance I can understand: I think we can consider him iconic. What baffled me was the inclusion of a minor Marvel character lost laid to rust called Rom the Space Knight. Is he an especially big thing in France? Because he’s not cropped up in any conversation I’ve had in two and half decades, and I work in comics!
Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Ulli Lust…
Okay, so now I know exactly what to give my daughter when she wants to start backpacking around Europe as a teenager to hopefully dissuade her from doing so. Unless of course my plan to ensure she is a master of multiple martial arts has come to fruition by then. This brick of an autobiographical work is a brutally honest, endearing, cringe-worthy, joyful, upsetting account of Ulli’s travels with new best friend Edi to Sicily from Vienna back in 1984.
Ulli is a punk, in a society which at best tolerates her, and at worst, tries pretty hard to oppress her. It’s easy to forget that Austria in the early ‘80s wasn’t all Falco rocking Amadeus (or being rocked by him), but in fact a rather conservative, east-leaning country, that wasn’t yet part of the European Union.
So, Ulli and Edi’s first task is to get across the Austrian-Italian border without any papers, which involves a rather circuitous and somewhat painful route. Not so much joyful alpine hike as cross-country assault course. Once in Italy, the girls set out on their voyage of discovery with rather different agendas. Edi just wants to shag her way to Sicily, whereas Ulli would actually like to take in some scenery and sights along the way. It’s a cocktail for conflict and it’s surprising it takes as long to eventually come to a head as it does. Before that, though, we have precisely what you would expect when two teenage girls without papers or cash try and beg, borrow and occasionally steal their way down the full length of Italy. Carnage and chaos, but a whole heap of fun.
Having done a bit of travelling around myself, albeit with the aid of identification and currency to bolster my fortunes, this certainly is an accurate observation of the less romantic side of backpacking. It’s bloody hard work at times, but it is liberating and enjoyable. However… as the girls head further south, the typical Italian <ahem > gentleman’s ever aware appreciation of the female form starts to become more than a little irritating to Ulli, whereas Edi is simply in her element.
Southern Italy in the ‘80s was a strange place awash with cheap, uncut heroin and the Cosa Nostra was in near-complete control. It’s not quite Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness territory but as the girls arrive in Sicily, ostensibly for the winter, events start to take a more sinister turn as they start to fall into the orbit of some particularly dubious characters.
This is a wonderfully well documented travelogue. Ulli really captures the sense of time and place through the people they encounter, though she does a pretty mean background too, particularly when the girls are spending the summer in the rather more tourist-orientated environment of Rome. It’s the character studies that drive the book forward, from encounter to encounter with fellow travellers, street dwellers, pimps, pushers and criminals, plus a few well meaning good Samaritans too. I am also impressed at how honest Ulli has been portraying herself in this work; I would be very interested in having a conversation with her about precisely what she thinks now about the seventeen-year-old Ulli.
Boxers & Saints Boxed Set (£24-99, First Second) by Gene Luen Yen.
Actually Four-Girl has just been invited to join the Christian church. The SAINTS half of this boxed set is riddled with such ironies but it’s all about context and we will get to that in a bit.
What this twin-book boxed set proves as much as anything is that there are more than two aspects to every argument just as there are more than two sides to a coin: there are three, if your balance is up to it.
So well constructed and affecting is this that, if you read either BOXERS or SAINTS outside of each other’s parallel context, you can’t help but fall passionately on their respective protagonists’ sides even though one is in direct opposition to the other. The stories both take place in the Chinese countryside towards the end of the 19th Century and criss-cross at key moments. The former’s chapters are marked by date, the latter’s by Four-Girl’s age, implying that the first is a history, the second an autobiography. Both are, of course, mytholigically infused fictions played out against very real historical events.
BOXERS follows Little Bao from wide-eyed childhood to young rebel leader as part of The Boxer Revolution against the “foreign devils” who have all but invaded China, asserting imperial control and bringing with them missionaries to convert the Chinese to Christianity. SAINTS follows Four-Girl from a childhood of rejection to a life with the only people kind enough to care about her: a Chinese couple converted to Christianity (“secondary devils”) and the (“foreign devil”) priest who converted them.
Both boast attractively restrained palettes – BOXERS plays with the pale colours of nature, of the earth, air and water; SAINTS has a more muted antler and sandy grey as befits her morose nature – until their dazzling saviours make their appearance, Joan of Arc glowing in her golden armour. The clear-line cartooning is expressive, often comically so like Lu Pai’s wonky and wrinkled three strands of hair and Four-Girl’s early face-pulling.
I read BOXERS first in which a very young Bao sits entranced in front of the annual operas before which a china statuette of Tu Di Gong, the local earth god, is brought out from the modest temple to overlook the festivities from his seat of honour. So enthralled is Bao that the characters then follow him round in his head for a full season:
“Sun Wu-Kong, the Monkey King, comes with me to fetch water.
“Guan Yu, the God of War, tends crops with me.
“And the Lady in the Moon sings me lullabies as I drift off to sleep.”
But the following year Bao’s father steps in when a visiting bully beats on Grandma Crooked and defends her. Two weeks later the bully returns with armed back-up wearing crosses and a bearded, foreign priest. He extracts compensation from Bao’s dad and smashes Tu Di Gong to bits in front of the villagers.
“Worship only one God! One God only! This is Good News of Jesus Christ!”
So powerfully is this portrayed by Yang – so well has he set up Bao’s adulation of his father and local customs – that I was vicariously apoplectic with horror and rage. If there’s one thing worse than foreign forces imposing themselves on sovereign land, then it’s when they impose their religion on it too at the expense of the local population’s long cherished customs and beliefs. But such is the stranglehold that the pale westerners already have on the country with the complicity of the Chinese authorities that there is no hope of recompense, no hope of fighting back… until a mysterious but seemingly ordinary man calling himself Red Lantern appears. Asking for nothing in return, he proves to be a healer first, then a martial arts instructor and finally a provider. Gradually he is building a small coalition of similarly put-upon villagers to defend each other in crisis and although Bao is told he is too young to train, he does so covertly, copying their martial arts moves from afar.
When finally they move out Red Lantern refuses to allow Bao to accompany them, but he does leave him a map through fields of corner, between a cleaved stone, past a small volcanic outlet to a cloud-shrouded mountain beyond. What Bao discovers there changes everything.
A newly enabled Bao thenceforth gathers a growing army of acolytes and a woman he falls in love with. As they travel, they struggle to live up to their commendably compassionate Edicts while Bao is troubled by more militant commands from the first Emperor of China in his dreams. What have I left out? Oh, everything!
The beauty of this is that Yang takes you on your own journey of sympathy and allegiance. In wars and rebellions involving territory, sovereignty and religion a lot of innocent people get caught in the middle. This comes to quite a head. However, Gene Luen Yang has hardly begun.
SAINTS will show these events from the other side of the suffering and this half doesn’t end well, either. But to begin with – believe it or not – it’s a comedy.
“I am my mother’s fourth daughter, born on the fourth day of the fourth month and the only one of her children to survive past a year. When my mother approached her father-in-law for my name, he refused. Four, after all, is a homonym of “death” and Grandfather had had enough of death. Eventually, the family took to calling me by my birth order. Four-Girl. Death-Girl.”
Dismissed by her mother as continuously dilly-dallying, our narrator attempts to win the family’s affections with feats of prowess to equal her male cousins’ – like wood-chopping. What follows had me howling with laughter, and it too involves an unfortunate fate for Tu Di Gong right above Grandfather’s head. Had Tu Di Gong’s fate not been foreshadowed in BOXERS I doubt I would have found it half so funny.
Unfortunately it provokes the final, pivotal act of what was already tragically bad nurturing which really rubs off on our eight-year-old: her grandfather declares her a devil and she embraces that role, first with the face-pulling referred to earlier then with a hex. Have I mentioned the talking racoon yet? Top tip: if a racoon starts talking to you then try not to listen.
All of which in a roundabout way lands her in the hands of a kindly acupuncturist who is also a Chinese Christian or “secondary devil”. And devils are now an attractive proposition for Four-Girl. She wants to learn more about Jesus who died on the cross with a tragically hands-on knowledge of acupuncture.
Actually she’s much more interested in the cookies which accompany the acupuncturist’s sermons; it becomes a recurring joke. This in turn brings her into contact with the foreign-devil priest who smashed Little Bao’s beloved statue of Tu Di Gong (I told you these tales criss-crossed) and beautifully brings us back to where we came in: she is invited to join the church.
Already rejected repeatedly by her non-Christian family this proves to be the ultimate schism and it sets her on a similar course to Little Bao’s but on the other side of the theological and increasingly blood-thirsty divide.
With nearly five hundred pages spinning out of this (trust me) very brief set-up synopsis, you can expect much to make you think. Friendships are tested; values are too. Caring for others is conflict’s only redeeming feature and both sides desperately want to do that. Gene Luen Yang invites you to play the blame-game then makes you ponder whether the conclusions you have jumped to have overstepped the instinctively hop-scotched mark.
The two covers, once set aside each other, have been designed to reflect both the parallel nature of the twin stories but also their divide. Although now that I come to do precisely that, I wonder if one is more emotively weighted against the other: one more militant aggressor, the other more pacifistic victim. The irony, of course, is that just as Joan of Arc’s vocation was to repel foreign intrusion so as to restore the Dauphine’s sovereignty for France… so it Little Bao’s for his Empress in China.
My advice is this: if ever you go into conflict to defend people’s safety from whatever threat, remember: that’s why you did it. Do not become that threat.
Over Easy h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Mimi Pond…
Propriety probably dictates I shouldn’t repeat the joke itself, but suffice to say Mimi gets hired to work as a dishwasher at the Imperial Cafe by the implausibly named Lazlo Meringue. What follows – and indeed precedes – this particular scene is a humorous, fictionalised memoir of life at the lower-income end of the scale as art student Madge struggles to adjust to the realities of the working world, not to mention the peculiarities and peccadilloes of her new colleagues.
After serving her time in the greasy kitchen – there is one particularly horrific scene when she’s cleaning up after her first shift which nearly turned my stomach – and working her way up to the stellar front of house position of waitress, the fun really begins as Mimi starts to reinvent herself in a period of late ‘70s social upheaval, as the hippy dream finally came to an end and the wake up clarion call of punk began. She’s all at sea at first under the ever watchful eyes of the regular customers, but soon finds her groove.
Great fun, intelligently observed and nicely illustrated, it’s a cheeky peek through one person’s eyes to a time and place when there was as much pogoing as public poetry readings happening and no one was really sure where it was all going to end. Highly appropriate set and setting for what is, basically, a coming of age story.
May Contain Sharks (£4-99, self-published) by Jess Bradley.
Back in the Olden Days times were tough, the smooth was rough, and everything was in black and white. I know: I’ve seen photographic evidence!
Here too Jess amassed photographic evidence for this painstakingly researched investigation into history, mother nature and scientific endeavour containing “32% Stoopid, 27% Colours, 24% Fibre, 3% Sharks and 0% Fleas”. She then jettisoned the lot and drew brightly coloured cartoons instead. Which is just as well because dressing a dog up in the gear of the ‘80s complete with a Flock Of Seagulls quiff would be cruel. Funny, though. And spot-on here.
Yes, it’s the triumphant return of the blindingly bonkers in the shiniest A5 comic alive including angry pandas, random clams and a beetle on its back. Poor beetle! Also: watch what happens when you give The Smartest Bear In The World the most complex quadratic equation ever created and a crayon!
The only way this comic could have been better is if the back cover to this laminated lovely was made out of stickers.
Abandoned Cars (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Tim Lane…
“I don’t know the metamorphosis that’s taking place. Nor do I know the danger I am in. That too comes later.
“Right now, I’m flying low and fast over the midnight whitecapped waves of the Atlantic. I’m flying invisibly, I’ve been here for centuries.
“I am the dark romantic, is the voice that surfaces from deep within my subconscious. It boils up through me, from the churning belly of a deep vat of diabolical acid… a tortured voice; not yet quite dead, but not living either.
“To the cars waiting at the railroad crossings, to the little homes partly defined by light, to the moon that isn’t there… to God, to everything…
“… I say with simmering elation… I AM THE DARK ROMANTIC!”
Like Charles Burns channelling Kerouac, with more than a dash of early Burrows, Tim Lane transports us to a brooding time, of a man on a journey, both external and internal, possibly spiritual, certainly a touch existential. He’s jumping freight trains, travelling through small town America, searching for something ineffable, though possibly he doesn’t realise that yet. It’s October 1994, and that man is Tim Lane.
I loved this autobiographical work, bookended and interspersed as it is with grim fictional vignettes. I think there may well be some elements of fact even in those, actually, given the bold legend that the book contains ‘168 pages of “not exactly” all-true adventurous stories about the Great American Mythological Drama!’ I can see precisely where he is coming from with that assertion though, having spent some time in the seedy underbelly of small town America myself, it is a funny old place.
If you are in the mood for something a little downbeat, mildly surreal at times, akin in flavour to say, BLACK HOLE, this is for you. You’ll certainly come away feeling slightly more angst-ridden by osmosis than before you started, but possibly less depressed about your own life! A second volume THE LONESOME GO, also published by Fantagraphics, is due in July.
Gantz vol 31 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku…
Once upon a time there was a manga that simply began with two Japanese teenagers getting mown down by a subway train while trying to save someone on the tracks… Then promptly being resurrected in a unfamiliar room by a strange black sphere called Gantz that tooled them up them with futuristic weapons and armour, then told them to shoot hidden aliens for points… Points making prizes, of course, which could be better weapons: the power to resurrect someone else, or the choice to leave the game completely with any memories of it wiped from your mind. It was fun, daft fun, and a lot of it. Then it started getting very serious indeed…
Fast forward another thirty volumes and the world has virtually come to an end thanks to an all-out alien invasion by huge ten-metre-high humanoids, also armed to the hilt, flying spaceships the size of cities, and generally being complete and utter bastards. They’re happily harvesting humans for food, keeping a few as pets in goldfish bowls, intent on colonising the planet, and all that stands in their way is a rag tag collection of hardened Gantz survivors from around the globe intent on saving humanity and taking back the planet. It’s almost as though they were being trained for just such a scenario all along…
Where the Gantz team of vampires, one of whom is apparently related to one of the main characters, fits in by this point I have no idea, as they seem to have vanished completely. Yes, you read that right, vampires. Anyway, the assault on the alien motherships has begun and there’s just one additional tiny problem to ramp up the sheer impossibility of the odds the Gantz warriors are facing to near infinite levels, their resurrection facility has stopped working… Oh dear.
Yes, this is arguably a battle manga, but it is so, so much more than that, though the fact that it is published by Dark Horse and spawned two hugely popular Japanese live action films should be a clue. Slick science fiction, a zany, eclectic cast characters, plus more twists and turns than Chubby Checker. If you want something relentlessly filled with action, packed with humour, and well, just plain mental, do give it a try! There are only a handful of volumes left to come out, and this is one of the very few ongoing manga I read as soon as a new volume is available. It will go down as a classic of the genre, trust me.
24 #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Ed Brisson & Michael Gaydos.
I once watched an entire season of 24 in 23 hours thanks to my mate editing out all the adverts. It would have been 22 hours but for toilet brakes and fridge-bound, fresh-wine field trips. My point is that I am an expert and this is what you need for a successful series of 24:
1) Jack Bauer. And by Jack Bauer I mean Kiefer Sutherland. No one else has that perpetually squinting Clint Eastwood look and cute little overbite which is such a killer combo when he’s killing colleagues. Or when they’re killing him.
2) Colleagues to kill. Colleagues to kill him. Colleagues to be killed then come back from the dead.
3) Chloe. This is the last specific character / actor. Chloe stole my heart with her sour-faced, miserabilist pouting. She has all the scowls. Looking both suspicious and suspect for every second on screen, Chloe actually has a heart of gold, albeit of the three-carat “crap” variety once sold at Ratner’s. She will go out of her way to help you so long as you don’t ask. Ask for a favour and Three Little Pigs will go homeless.* Look, she’s busy. Busy being officious. Ask Chloe to choose between following a recipe and free-styling for famine, the only thing likely to get cooked is your books.
4) We’re still in CTU HQ here. We need an anti-authoritarian. Someone brilliant (in their own mind) who puts the super into supercilious and likes to get everything off of a chest whose t-shirt bears the slogan “I never said a word!”
5) An authoritarian. A careerist authoritarian who never listens, especially not to Jack because Jack’s been right on every previous occasion.
6) An American President to love or to loathe. In either instance publicly disowning Jack Bauer – or even activity sabotaging his one-man attempts to save an ungrateful America from Armageddon – is essential. If your name is Charles Logan you now throw a double and go up that snake rather down it. Throw your wife to the wolves for good measure! That her name wasn’t Sue Ellen astounded me.
7) A potential Armageddon. Start off small-time by assassinating married members of CTU or an American President by the end of episode one, then make sure you have at least three slights-of-hand up your sleeve and a member of Jack’s family in your campervan before revealing your final goal, which is to make this last 24 hours.
10) Wayward family members in every conceivable camp.
11) A ticking clock.
12) The weekly recap. If the following didn’t take place between time A and time B, it is not 24.
So, how does this measure up?
It doesn’t. None of the above is incorporated here. We haven’t even got Kiefer Sutherland except on the cover because it turns out that the brilliant Michael Gaydos whose work I adore cannot do Kiefer’s likeness.
The dialogue doesn’t resemble Bauer’s in any way, shape or form and all the bad guys initially want is a little bit of lolly. They go from loan sharks to terrorists just like that.
There’s a new series coming up and I am excited. Just not by this.
*huffing and puffing joke
Justice League United #0 (£2-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Mike McKone…
In which the Justice League enter a team into the Blue Square North football conference and gradually work their way up into the heady environs of the Premier League. See them squabble over who has to wash the kit this week! See them engage in training ground bust-ups over who has to wear the luminous bibs resulting in a fine of two weeks wages! See them… <sigh>… it’s no use, I can’t keep this up, but then I never was very good at keepie-uppies…
I am willing to give this title a chance given it is written by Jeff THE COMPLETE ESSEX COUNTY, SWEET TOOTH, THE UNDERWATER WELDER Lemire, but the problem whenever they try and do any Justice League International reboot, under whatever name they come up with this time, is that Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis set the bar very high at times, as Dan Jurgens found out with the dreadful JLI title that was one of the initial DC New 52s.
Thus I was somewhat underwhelmed by this opener, I have to say, to the point where I actually thought I had finished it… until I picked it up again to do this review and realised I hadn’t read the last six or so pages. JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000, though, which absolutely no one is reading, is the perfect example of how you can do something witty, clever, completely different and thus a very interesting read, if you think outside the box a bit. The writers on that title? A certain Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis…
Next month, relegation from the New 52 looms unless JL Utd can secure all three points at a tricky away trip to Accrington Stanley…
Brilliant vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley.
I recommend Kurt Busiek’s and Stuart Immonen’s SECRET IDENTITY. It was quiet and thoughtful and beauuuuuutifully drawn. Actually I recommend Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’ MARVELS. I also recommend Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s ASTRO CITY seen, like MARVELS, from human individuals’ perspectives trapped at ground-level.
All three books or series are quiet and considered and answer that question. Shared key component: Kurt Busiek.
This one is more like SECRET IDENTITY in that it’s the authorities’ reaction to the first emergence of superpowers, and the investigative authorities react with utter incredulity. You would, wouldn’t you? Even when such freaks were caught on camera – and especially in this day and age – you would assume it was special effects even when verified by your collar-shirted colleagues and even when your colleagues had collaborative eye-witnesses. That is so very well evoked here.
Most of this, however, is seen from the perspective of the culprits: the college kids who have somehow solved the mystery of superpowers. Using magnets an’ shit. Brain electricity. Whatever.
Albert has returned to a university he’d spurned in favour of love. That didn’t work out. Once back on campus he learns what his peers have been up to and is horrified when they confess that Amadeus, the most charismatic of the crew, has already experimented on himself. And then come into a great deal of money. He’s been arrogant, reckless and caught on camera committing a crime. He seems to believe he’s untouchable. As his friends try to persuade Albert to help fix the glitches the FBI start to close in…
There’d be lots of surprises ahead if they were actually surprising. I’m afraid to report I could predict every one. Well, apart from the reaction of Albert’s mother. I’m also way past board of repetition being passed of as realism, as when the kids are interviewed: page after page of repetition in lieu of moving the story forward. The larger Marvel Universe titles are equally guilty of this now and their comics aren’t cheap. I really think it’s time value for money was considered.
Bagley is fab at representing innocence – even innocence lost or trounced upon – and his work with Bendis on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN was a joy. So here, his college kids are great and Albert’s exasperation on the phone to his mother was made crushingly clear as the camera pulls back. There are also big moments of boom. It’s just… when you’re asking a question like “What if super-powers actually existed in the real world, you need something closer to photorealism representing that real world. It’s no coincidence that of his many styles Stuart Immonen chose photorealism for SECRET IDENTITY.
*winces apologetically* Sorry!
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.
Alabaster vol 2: Grimmer Tales h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Steve Lieber
Alice In Comicland h/c (£22-50, IDW) by Walt Kelly, Charles Schultz, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, many more
Doctor Grordbort Present Triumph (£14-99, Random House / Vertical) by Greg Broadmore
Flex Mentallo, Man Of Muscle Mystery s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Hate: Buddy Buys A Dump (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge
The Love Bunglers h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez
Pretty Deadly vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios
Secret vol 1: Never Get Caught s/c (£12-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim
Unlovable vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Esther Pearl Watson
Batman Superman vol 1: Cross World h/c (£16-99, DC) by Greg Pak & Jae Lee
Suicide Squad vol 4: Discipline And Punish s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ales Kot, Matt Kindt & Patrick Zircher, others
All New X-Men vol 4: All Different h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Brandon Peterson
Deadpool: Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & various
Marvel Masterworks: Captain America vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko
X-Men vol 2: Muertas s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Wood & Terry Dodson, Kris Anka
Attack On Titan vol 12 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama
Vinland Saga Book 3 h/c (£14-99, Kodansha) by Makato Yukimura
ITEM! Brilliant news for all comicbook retailers! ComiXology has eliminated the frictionless digital consumption of comics so you have to visit a ComiXology store front each time you want to buy digital. Even better news for Page 45 is that we have a ComiXology store front so it’s just as easy to buy from us, no more expensive yet we make a cut. Here: http://www.page45.com/world/digitalcomics/
ITEM! New comic by Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell online: THURSDAYS, SIX TO EIGHT P.M. Although I am getting REALLY sick of this “Novelists do comics” crap. Comicbook creators have been writing them just fine of a century, and novelists and artists who didn’t understand the medium ballsed it up something chronic for us all twenty years ago. Also, Audrey is a long-standing comicbook creator as well as a prose novelist. Anyway.
ITEM! It may look so simple, but this thumbnail by THE RINSE’s Marc Laming shows a perfect understanding of pivotal mechanics much overlooked by many. Seriously: study the distribution of weight there! Algebra? Fine! Geometry? Hit me! But mechanics is what finally did my maths in.
ITEM! The Comics Grid reviews The Guardian Comics Weekend Special with links to its online features and the exhibition at the British Museum.
ITEM! Wonderful to see University Of Nottingham Research covering comics and spreading the word to students following Kieron Gillen’s visit there discussing the research involved in classics-driven THREE set in Sparta. Oooh, Page 45 receives big love on the blog too! Bless you, Tara!
ITEM! Andy Oliver writes an exceptionally useful column on self-publishers selling their comics to retailers. Well, the few of us who treasure them. He’s covered almost every aspect I would have – including no, we don’t want self-published superhero comics: there are way too many superhero comics already, cheers! – and several I’d have overlooked. I would only add they we love to see hardcopies because it is vital for us to see the printed format and production values, which are two reasons we sell so many of Dan Berry’s CAT ISLAND etc.
ITEM! Speaking of selling comics, here I am!
It’s a ticketed talk which means you should book ASAP, please as there are limited places!
ITEM! Here’s the overall Programme for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – go on, click! It is massive this year! All very clearly laid out with colour-coding and everything!
Have a shortcut to the other ticketed talks, panels and workshops for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 including Scott McCloud, Glyn Dillon, Jeff Smith, Sean Phillips, Rian Hughes, Becky Cloonan, Bryan Talbot, Felt Mistress, Fumio Obata, Neill Cameron, Gary Northfield, Mark Buckingham, Dave Gibbons, Jock, Emma Vieceli Nick Abadzis, Gary Erskine, Joe List, Darryl Cunningham, Page 45 and so many more!
ITEM! Finally, lest we forget, your guide to Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We will be updating with more info soon and a great big surprise. I was surprised! Hurrah!