Reviews April 2014 week one

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood by Jeffrey Brown. After reading Jonathan’s review I can now imagine Jonathan telling his daughter that there *are* monster under the bed just to keep her there.

 – Stephen on Jonathan’s parenting techniques. Oh, the stories I could tell!

The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn & Dave Gibbons.

GARY is in
again. Really
need UR help X”

What if James Bond came from Peckham?

Don’t know Peckham? Chap on the left of the cover: that’s Gary. He plays a lot of video games, drinks while driving stolen cars and cannot abide his Mum’s current boyfriend, Dean, who’s constantly belittling the pair of them. For a party trick he’s taught Gary’s young brother Ryan to roll spliffs. It’s something to show off to his friends. Sometimes Dean gets violent.

Uncle Jack’s on the right. He too came from Peckham but has done considerably better for himself. They think Uncle Jack’s in the Fraud Squad. He isn’t. He’s Britain’s highest-ranking Secret Service agent specialising in overseas threats. There’s one bubbling below the service right now and it’s about to go global.

But first… Gary’s got himself nicked by the coppers again. Time for Jack to pay one of his rare visits to neglected sister Sharon and sort it all out. Again.

From the writer of SUPERIOR and a great many more of the sharpest superhero books on the shelves, and the artist on another one: WATCHMEN. Dave Gibbons is the perfect choice for something so quintessentially British and does “reserved” to crisp, sharp-suited perfection while delivering the balls-out action to boot.

Millar, meanwhile, has plenty to say about class, its portrayal in the media and the practical ramifications of poverty both on the street and behind closed doors. I don’t just mean nuts-and-bolts poverty, either, but poverty of aspiration and poverty of opportunity.

Uncle Jack has neglected his family but he’s about to make amends: he’s going to give Jack the opportunity to join the Secret Service. He believes in Gary. It’s a shame that no one’s ever taught Gary to believe in himself.

The training missions are a complete departure from anything you’d expect but all make perfect sense. Begging for bus fare on the streets of London, for example. Successful coercion and blending in: observing exactly who told you to piss off and get a job, plus what they were wearing when they did so.

Yes, Jack can shoot like nobody’s business and GTA proves his forte. That’s video games for you. But he’s lived in a cultural vacuum and social cul de sac so his powers of persuasion leave much to be desired and his seduction techniques are lame. It’s not a straightforward trajectory at all. He was far more comfortable in his own skin back in Peckham, so there’s every chance he’ll give up and give in to the familiar.

Meanwhile, like all James Bond scenarios, there must be one godalmighty threat to fend off with specialised weaponry and ad hoc ingenuity. This one is epic in scale and topical both in its motivation and deployment. There is, however, something a little odd and oh so Mark Millar about the early warnings.

“Anything new on the kidnappings?”
“Nothing we can figure out. That’s six cast and crew from the Star Wars films, four from Doctor Who, eight from Battlestar Galactica and five from Star Trek.”
“The original or the JJ Abrams version?”
“Oh, the originals, of course. But Lady Hunt and I watched the new one on pay-per-view last weekend and I have to say I was very impressed. I resisted the idea of a remake at first, but the chap playing the doctor was practically channelling De Forrest Kelly.”

The threat is not to sci-fi celebrities. Believe it or not the kidnapper is doing them a favour. He honestly believes he is doing the entire, over-populated world a favour.

Features the worst wedding fight ever, no matter how much you hate your in-laws.


Buy The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“Don’t get too excited, they’re mostly review copies. Younger writers are always looking for “blurbs”, one of the few words that sounds exactly as awful as the crime it’s describing.”

Our fastest-selling graphic novel to date!

It’s beautiful, funny and completely unpredictable. Unlike this intro. New readers, I present you with… previously in SAGA:

Alana and Marko are in love. She’s from the planet Landfall; he’s from its moon. Unfortunately their people have been at war for as long as anyone can recall. But both factions soon realised that either world’s destruction would cause the other to spin out of orbit. Such an assault would be suicidal.

So what they’ve kindly done is they’ve taken their fight to other people’s worlds. Which is nice.

Marko was sent to the frontline, didn’t like what he saw and surrendered. Alana was his captor and freed him. Each, therefore, is now on the run from their respective species for treachery, desertion… and blasphemy. Because, worst of all, they’ve successfully mated to produce a beautiful baby called Hazel. This unholy union is despised by all sides and for morale’s sake – to ensure no one else gets the wretched idea that love might be better than hatred – all traces of it must be eradicated.

Marko’s people have dispatched The Will, a phenomenal assassin with a Lying Cat. It is a cat that can tell if you’re lying. Problematically, it has Tourette’s Syndrome so it is likely to say so right in the middle of your poker-faced bluff. Alana’s people have dispatched Prince Robot IV from a race of walking, talking, fornicating television sets. You’ll be surprised what pops up on his screen.

But Marko and Alana have at least found sanctuary in a semi-sentient, wood-based rocketship along with an impromptu babysitter from what’s left of Cleave’s indigenous population. She’s a floating, glowing, pink ghost of a girl with her lower half missing, trailing her intestines behind her.

Now they arrive with Marko’s abrasive mother at the doorstep of monocular D. Oswald Heist, the avuncular author of the subversive romance novel that first brought the couple together. He has much to impart: wisdom, wit and cunning ways to win at board games.

He’s singularly smart at ensuring hot heads see eye to eye with him, even winning over Marko’s mother by being candid when it counts.

“They say it’s the worst pain imaginable, losing a child. But that wasn’t my experience. Don’t get me wrong, my son’s death just about destroyed me. But if I’m being honest, nothing will ever hurt quite so deeply as the moment I heard the first person I ever really loved was gone. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?”
“I wear it that plainly?”
“I’m guessing you lost him recently. For what it’s worth, your son will get better with time. And maybe you will, too. But if your spouse was anything like mine, I regret to inform you that the rest of your days will be, by and large, kind of shit.”

Vaughan has enormous fun using this author scenario to poke fun at himself via Heist who first presents himself to the family outside his lighthouse lurching under the influence with a gun in one hand, a bottle in the other, and urine-stained Y-fronts splayed between a dressing gown whose loose belt trails over the rocks beneath his pink-slippered feet.

“Over the years, we met every kind of person imaginable. But no one makes worse first impressions than writers.”

I cannot even quote what Heist says to earn that accolade, but you will guffaw. Like everything here it is handled with delicate – or even indelicate – aplomb by Staples, as is a later scene in which Alana has managed to strike the fear of God into Heist to the extent that his hands close weakly in tentative terror, held up almost in supplication. How has she done this?

“If you like kids’ books so much, why haven’t you ever written one?”
“Because it requires collaborating with an artist. And artists… terrify me.”

The Will, meanwhile, is nursing his ship’s wounds on a planet that seems like paradise, even if its flying fish are sharks which circle overhead. The age-old problem with paradise, of course, is that you have to be very careful what you eat. Haunted and taunted by his dead ex-girlfriend, The Will also has to contend with Marko’s ex-fiancée who doesn’t handle rejection very well. Nor unsolicited attention, for that matter. I really wouldn’t do that, The Will.

They have with them a girl whom The Will rescued from sexual slavery in SAGA VOL 1. She is bright, optimistic, yet suffering from the scars of what she was once made to do. In related news: the best-ever use of the Lying Cat which will elicit the biggest of “Awwws” from each of you.

All our protagonists will converge before the end of this chapter which, I would suggest, concludes Act One. As surprising as anything and everything that precedes it, I think you will love the punchline.


Buy Saga vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c (£10-99, Image) by Simon Roy.

Whimsical slithers of lo-fi sci-fi from the co-writer and artist on Brandon Graham’s PROPHET.

You’ll hear some of the critters chittering round the crowded bar but don’t presume that just because you don’t understand them, they cannot understand you. And don’t presume that just because you haven’t been open and honest about your neo-imperialist expansion plan that these simple, insectoid souls didn’t get the measure of you the second you stepped foot on their arid, infertile soil.

Most of the aliens and animals are fully conversant in English, however. This includes a Gorilla called Dan who has resigned himself to life marooned on a tranquil dessert island rich in the fruits of the sea, whereas Brian remains restless:

“Five fucking planes fly over this goddamn island every day. One pilot has to look down.”
“Let it go, Brian. If someone was coming…”
“Yeah. A fella can hope, though…”
“Aww, I shouldn’ta said anything. We’ve got a little while until the next fly-over. Let’s go smash open some crabs with rocks.”

Because they can. They don’t eat them or anything – just pulverise them, before growing bored.

It’s a sweet tale, and I loved that last panel I quoted in which Dan the gorilla casts a comforting arm around Brian’s shoulder. Later they’ll get drunk and shoot bottles. I wonder what will happen when a yacht washes up on the shore…

‘Homeward Bound’ stars two magpies who’ve also discovered a wreck, this one from the stars, and I can’t help but think that Simon has read Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS as one pair of birds wonders about what they discovered while a second has altogether more practical priorities.

Violence is never too far round the corner, but that’s the problem with male egos. Some people just cannot let it lie, no matter the risk of escalation, and the title ‘Bar Fight’ says it all. It’s also the problem with territorial lines (which are basically male egos on a military scale), hence ‘Good Business’ and the longest story here, the titular ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’. Following a car crash, Jan’s medical insurance company has paid for him to be housed temporarily in a robotic body. It’s an old model and Jan is experiencing problems.

“Getting dressed this morning was like trying to force a t-shirt on an oil drum. That’s why I’m wearing these fucking sweats – they’re all I could get on.”

Of course you’d still want to get dressed in the morning – it’s part of your identity! Unlike the opening salvo which was so slight that it should never have been included for fear of putting potential readers off, ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’ is a deviously well written number. Reading it through a second time with hindsight is a revelation. What looks like casual conversation – or even exposition – is anything but.

Simon’s art also takes a massive leap between the two stories and continues to evolve into something far more recognisable to readers of PROPHET, first incorporating washes then the more bulbous features and finally the distinct form of aliens he favours.

No mere curiosity, I enjoyed this both for the comedy and for the recognition factor: human behaviour.


Buy Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood (£9-99, Chronicle) by Jeffrey Brown…

“Why can’t I go outside and play?”
“Oscar, it’s past your bedtime. Plus there’s a curfew for kids.”
“What’s a curfew?”
“It means that kids all have to be inside at night or the police come. If we let you play outside the police would take Mommy and Daddy to jail.”
“But that’s not fair to me or the police.”

Ha ha, yes, the police card. Most played in our household to get my daughter to stay sat in her car seat. She is rapidly starting to get suspicious of the number of unmarked police vehicles and undercover policemen that seem to be patrolling the streets though. I keep expecting her to ask if we are living in a totalitarian state. Still, I suspect most toddlers and kids feel that is the case at least some of the time. Let me tell you though, being an absolute dictator, albeit benevolent, is far harder work than you’d believe!

I think it would be fair to say that this is basically a mash-up of Jeff’s excellent autobiographical material, especially the more recent stuff featuring Oscar such as A MATTER OF LIFE, and his humour material like DARTH VADER AND SON. Fans of both should be appeased and indeed amused though I suspect only those with kids themselves will know just exactly how on the money this observational humour is.

It was probably the same for cat lovers and his CATS ARE WEIRD and CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG books.

Great fun.


Buy Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood and read the Page 45 review here

Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c (£18-99, Image) by Paul Pope…

This collection of original art and process material, accompanied by the thoughts of Paul Pope, is an excellent companion piece to the BATTLING BOY graphic novel. Art heads will undoubtedly love pouring over the deconstructed pen and ink work without the colour of the finished pages, plus all the character sketches which forms the bulk of this book. But I actually enjoyed reading Paul’s take on the characters and the storyline: I found it insightful into his mind as much as the creation process itself, and I would have liked a lot more of it. I do think the whole thing feels a bit light for the money, but I am sure Pope fans will probably buy it regardless.

Meanwhile for those who didn’t pick it up first time around all those years ago, ESCAPO gets re-released next month. I’ll probably pick it up myself actually, given it is now coloured, has an additional ten page strip, the alternate two page French ending, and all sorts of other goodies included. Makes you believe THB might actually get finished one of these years. I do have it on good authority he is working on it, but I’ll believe it when I see it.


Buy Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cradlegrave (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Smith & Edmund Bagwell…

“Callum! Shit! I didn’t notice you there…”
“Blanking me, more like. When’d you get out then? I thought first thing you’d do is ring your bezzy mate Callum.”
“Well, I woulda done, wouldn’t I, but I’ve been banged up for eight months so me battery’s a bit low, like, y’know?”
“Sarky git. Ey, we’re getting mashed round at Tozzer’s while his mum and dad’s out if you wanna come round. Your Craig’s there too. Come down with us, man. We’ll get a bucket going and get you monged out your case.”

Buckets… yes… the less said the better I suppose, you either completely understand that particular reference or you don’t. I remember leafing through 2000AD whilst this story was running and being intrigued. Sometimes they do run a story that’s a change from the norm, like MAZEWORLD, for example, that just perfectly hits the spot. I’d like it if they did a bit more of this sort of material instead of playing safe with the rote of established characters, but I guess they know their readership. And it’s possibly also a slightly unfair criticism as I don’t read it week on week.

So, after eight months inside in a young offenders’ institution for arson, young Shane is back on his shithole of an estate. His mates haven’t changed much, and there’s still absolutely nothing else to do except get off your head. Cue the creeping suburban horror lurking inside an elderly neighbour’s home, which is precisely the sort of thing you might be paranoid enough to imagine after a few buckets… but it’s all too real. Quintessentially British horror, I think it manages to capture both the depressing flavour of modern-day life for many of today’s inner city kids and also the B-movie feel of a low-budget cult horror classic. A modern day Quatermass is how it struck me.


Buy Cradlegrave and read the Page 45 review here

Real Heroes #1 (£2-99, Image) by Bryan Hitch.

“Why the faces? I was just giving a member of our public some one-on-me time. Twice… She’s bringing friends later.”
“I can make my own friends, thanks.”
“I hadn’t heard that.”
“Shall we go?”

Yes, go and meet your adoring public! Thousands of them are outside squealing their tits off after the Los Angeles world première of Olympians 2: Devastation, the superhero movie to end all superhero movies and now officially the world’s biggest film franchise. Yowsa! Do you think its cast get along fine behind the fire curtain? They do not!

Is this Bryan Hitch’s first script? It certainly doesn’t show: complete confidence, snappy banter and much referential mischief that turns it into a sort of multimedia, superheroic ouroboros.

Oh, I can only begin to imagine how many reviews are making comparisons to Galaxy Quest but for me this is infinitely more interesting in that. It kicks off like SUPERIOR in the middle of some high-octane film footage complete with cheesy dialogue to pull back to those watching themselves on screen, some more absorbed than others. There’s an arch reference to what many comicbook creators perceived as the last Superman film’s biggest (of many) flaws and eventually there will be a moment of pure Doctor Who.

But it is, of course, the film Avengers Assemble – and indeed its cast as interviewed for television on the red carpet – whose leg is principally being pulled with affection. Avengers Assemble was based stylistically on Bryan Hitch’s own four ULTIMATES books during the course of whose reviews I compared his monumental art to Hollywood special effects, and starred those Avengers assembled there by Mark Millar including a Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson long before Samuel L. Jackson signed up to play Nick Fury. You see where I’m going with the ouroboros?

I don’t find this derivative, I find it inspired. Plus I always get a big, sexy feeling when drooling over Hitch’s neo-classical art. This has little to do with fist-fights and costumes. Hitch’s eye for sharp suits (actual suits, not battle suits – although he’s no slacker there) and slick, sleek dresses makes me clamour for a comic in which they take centre-stage. I would love to see Bryan do something without the science fiction element – like crime – so that a completely different audience could feast its eyes on his talent and enjoy his work as much as I do.

He’s been lucky enough to snag Laura Martin on colours and let us never take embellisher Paul Neary for granted who keeps Hitch’s forms soft, pliant and therefore human when other pencillers aren’t half so lucky. I do wonder, however, if ZENITH artist Steve Yeowell popped round for tea when the last panel of the penultimate page was ready for inking. I’m absolutely serious. Loved it.

Back to the world première of Olympians 2 and its cast, some more sober than others, are about to greet their adoring fans, some of whom have cosplayed all day. As the event is broadcast live all over the world, the movie company has promised an extra surprise. There’s a surprise all right – for everyone. Then in the midst of the carnage our various protagonists start to show their true, un-pre-prepped colours.

I love the contrast in body language between the covers to #1 and #2. Body language: Bryan’s pretty damn good at that too.


Buy Real Heroes #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Matt Kindt & Marco Rudy.

Rarely do you see anything like this in a Marvel Comic!

It is delirious, with an expressionistic interior monologue and art coloured to eye-popping perfection by Val Staples.

There’s an eye-leading deployment of black and white during both the intricately cross-hatched panels and the smoke-ridden segues, Marco Rudy veering drunkenly from J.H. Williams III (PROMETHEA, BATMAN AND SON) to Jae Lee (INHUMANS, FANTASTIC FOUR F 1 2 3 4) and even Bill Sienkiewicz (ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, STRAY TOASTERS) complete with triangles, side-bar instructions and Gustav Klimt. Plus the double-page spread whose lettering forms the Spider-Man chest symbol with its stream-of-barely-consciousness is brilliant! Should we credit letter artist Clayton Cowles there? I don’t know, because this is very much an ensemble effort and a virtuoso performance even if Peter appears boss-eyed on one page and looks nothing like Parker anyway. Minor snafu.

What the hell is actually going on you won’t find out until the end, which is perfectly apposite because neither will Peter. He has been lured to a neo-gothic, three-storey house by way of a low-grade photo assignment. Within he finds psychic Madame Web – the old crone version – who predicts he will die unless he can solve the fabled riddle of the Ninety-Nine problems while the exploding girls beg, “Help me!”

The rest is like one long, disorientating, underwater acid trip as ninety-nine foes assault him with gas, taunt him with pills (which he may have already taken) and who even knows if they are real or not? It’s a bit disconcerting to suddenly find yourself in the aisle of a passenger jet without so much as a boarding card and a racially profiled strip-search at customs.

You’re already guessing that this is one mass illusion by Mysterio. If it was then some of the very brief pauses for thought might make sense, but it isn’t, so they don’t. The plot itself does once finally revealed with its extra generational twist, but being allowed to pass out on a desert island beach unmolested by a javelin does not.

Never mind, if the evocation of chaos and exhaustion is your thing, this is done to perfection.

One thing I should clear up before you even begin is that this has no ties to current continuity. Like the SPIDER-MAN: MARK MILLAR COLLECTION, which I always recommend as the single finest standalone Spider-Man book, it takes place during the vaguely classic period when Peter is either married to or at least dating Mary Jane Watson.


Buy Spider-Man: Marvel Knights – 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land.

“Synchronicities are the canaries in the mines of magic, my friend. If fate is bringing us together like this…”
“Then we’re running out of time.”

Written by the author of the current LOKI series and drawn by photo-realist Greg Land whose art I happen to find very sexy indeed, this will be a breath of fresh air for those muttering that the current AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS runs are nothing more than convoluted and over-extended science lessons. This is a far more traditional Avengers affair – or at least the tradition established by Bendis over the last decade which involves snappy dialogue and the obligatory “Who even is this Ronin dude?”

I think I know who he is this time given his specific areas of expertise (the nunchucks are always a red herring – that too is part of the tradition), personal connections and former geographical assignation. So obviously “he” will turn out to be a “she” again and I will look even more stupid than usual.

It kicks off during INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 and then deals with its fallout, Attilan-wise. If you wondered where the Doctor Strange sub-plot in those two books went, it landed here, splat in the middle of New York City which comes under assault first from Thanos’ minion called Midnight and then from a giant, tentacular, trans-dimensional beastie summoned by dear Doctor Strange possessed by the Ebony Maw. No one ever finds out about that, do they?

Al Ewing has borrowed Kieron Gillen’s introductory power-set boxes – which I think were themselves kind of borrowed from Bryan Lee O’Malley’ SCOTT PILGRIM – so  you know who’s who, what’s what and whether you should worry:

“The Superior Spider-Man: Delicious Doc Ock In A Crispy Spidey Shell.”
“Luke Cage: Runs The Show. Dresses The Part.”
“Barbara McDevitt, A.K.A. Quickfire: Corporate Superspy. Has Powers. Doesn’t Need Them.”
“Jason Quantrell, C.E.O. Of Cortex Inc: Wants It All. Wants It Now.”

The line-up’s in flux but there’s a much greater racial diversity including black and Hispanic characters which isn’t as important as whether they’re interesting. They are. Led by Luke Cage (missus Jessica Jones and baby Danielle are very much in evidence, Danielle offering many a pithy “out of the mouths of babes” pearl of wisdom), they are:

Spectrum (Monica Rambeau, formerly Photon, formerly Captain Marvel, now without silly mask but with hair straighteners instead – upgrade!)

Power Man (who’s more of an Iron Fist)
Falcon (Captain America And The…)
Superior Spider-Man (until everyone is sick of the supercilious motherfucker)
White Tiger (see Bendis’ DAREDEVIL)
Spider Hero (no hyphen; deliberately gaudy ad-hoc costume and our man of mystery who will become Ronin)
Blue Marvel (who never existed until now but has been around for years)

There are some great jokes, a public which refuses to be intimidated, a wider subplot involving our man of mystery, and vitally Ewing has a pitch-perfect handle on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones otherwise it wouldn’t work at all.


Buy Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c and read the Page 45 review here

World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c new printing (£22-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross.

A reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales in one infinitely more manageable, won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume which, a little taller and broader than the standard American comic size. Pretty good value for money it is too.

Alex Ross (MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE) has a unique take on DC superheroes in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey.

In addition to the stories reviewed below, this also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out. Are you ready?

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. Gorgeously painted, quiet, thoughtful and dignified. Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man.

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic. Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing. What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics.

Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a photo-realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the very real aisle.

Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and conversely in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical or otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook, it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems. Ta-da!

The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he choose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.

SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’ triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens the father, physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural desire but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN once handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here. A tad irresponsible.

WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH was the fourth giant-sized annual and like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH the premise is a good one: that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and suped-up they may be. Wonderwoman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those she seeks to help. So she talks to Clark Kent who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly, and that she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them. So she does. She goes on protest marches and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve, and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling, blows up the truck and then frees the women.

If the idea of this story is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, then that’s admirable. Unfortunately the solutions are distracting, for not only would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage, but each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower which we don’t possess. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because, superheroes not actually existing, the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

All of which explains why I still rate the SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH as the best of this beautiful bunch.


Buy World’s Greatest Superheroes 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.


Brody’s Ghost vol 5 (£4-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond s/c (£10-99, DC) by Adam Beechen, various & various

Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli

Justice League vol 3: Throne Of Atlantis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, Tony S. Daniel

Justice League vol 4: The Grid h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

Superman: Red Son (New Edition) s/c (£13-50, DC) by Mark Millar & Dave Johnson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo s/c (£18-99, DC) by Denise Mina & Leonardo Manco, Andrea Mutti, Lee Bermejo

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land

Uncanny Avengers vol 3: Ragnarok Now h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Salvador Larroca, Steve McNiven, Daniel Acuna

Dragonar Academy vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Sea) by Shiki Mizuchi & Ran

Dragon Ball Full Colour Saiyan Arc vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

One Piece vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Kingdom Hearts II vol 2 (£13-99, Yen Press) by Shiro Amano


ITEM! How To Stand Out On The Shelves! Stunning cover to Mark Millar’s MPH #2 by Duncan Fegredo – bold, bright and contemporary! Looks nothing like the mass of other covers which will be crowding the rows of superheroic fisticuffs.

ITEM! Preview of Millar & Parlov’s STARLIGHT #2 out this week! We still have some copies of STARLIGHT #1 reviewed by Jonathan here.

ITEM! Submissions Guides for a range of comicbook publishers. Don’t be put off by the icons at the top, the likes of Nobrow are down below too.

ITEM! THE KEY by Grant Morrison & Rian Hughes created for BBC’s Freedom 2014 season.

ITEM! Page 45’s PREVIEWS for comics coming June 2014 is up online. All orders placed before 14th April 2014 are guaranteed. Orders placed the night before publication in June: not so much.

Includes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel SECONDS.

If you have a Standing Order with us, then don’t feel you have to order online, you can just phone us on 0115 9508045 or email and ask for the book or series to be added to your pull list.

If you do want to order online then you don’t get charged until the book actually arrives and is shipped straight off to you. Within 24 hours, yes. Dominique runs the most efficient mail order service in the business.


– Stephen

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