We kick-off with a couple of previews this week. I do love comp copies! If you order now they’ll be dispatched immediately upon arrival and you never pay in advance, only when books arrive.
Plenty more to buy right now underneath. Daredevil: End Of Days s/c is a belter.
Sally Heathcote: Suffragette h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary Talbot & Kate Charlesworth, Bryan Talbot.
There’s a well dressed woman on a Huddersfield High Street, July 1908, hand-selling the progressive paper ‘Votes For Women’. She’s approached by the sort of angry, flushed-faced battle axe you’d expect from Sir John Tenniel.
“The truth for a penny! The truth for a penny!”
“No, thank you!”
“What? Don’t you like the truth?
This is nothing short of a masterpiece: a most affecting piece of personalised fiction so steeped in British social history – at specific times, in specific places – that I was under the constant illusion of reading a biography. Most of the individuals surrounding Sally Heathcote were very real, well documented campaigners for women’s suffrage and wider rights, while all the events so meticulously researched here actually happened.
Moreover it is primed with a punchline which, when detonated after so much assiduously laid groundwork of sacrifice and suffering, will ring in your ears for years.
From the creative team behind the 2012 Costa Book Award winner for best biography, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES, with the addition of Kate Charlesworth’s period pencils and washes so soft until a staggering level of violence erupts catastrophically across the page, it is another arresting reminder from Dr. Mary Talbot of things that must never be taken for granted and should never be forgotten.
It seems barely conceivable now that women were ever denied the right to vote: on average that would mean half your friends and relatives and potentially yourself. The word is “absurd”.
What this graphic novel impresses upon one above all is both the sheer teeth-gritting tenacity of these determined individuals in pursuit of nothing more than basic humanity which we call equality, and the dissemblance, the callousness and the viciousness they were met with by a dogmatic establishment determined to hoard power for themselves, plus the obstruction and resentment they faced from their peers who jeered at them in the street. The threat of personal assault was constant, its level prohibitively intimidating to most.
Under circumstances such these it would take a saint to remain pacifistic. Under circumstances such as these, militancy was inevitable while to others it betrayed everything they believed in. But when words fail to work yet actions ignite headlines, well, what would your strategy be? Here’s the indomitable Mrs. Pankhurst after her daughter Christabel had sent her followers on a mass window-shattering campaign on November 21, 1911:
“Why should women go to Parliament Square and be battered about and insulted, when it produces less effect than when they throw stones?”
Sally Heathcote is caught in the middle and swept up in the moment.
It is in 1912, during this first moment of most extreme schism, that Sally’s recollections begin.
Fred and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence are returning to Britain. Old-school philanthropists, it was they who originally launched the newspaper ‘Votes For Women’ and who, as loyal supporters and bankrollers of The Women’s Social and Political Union, have been so badly hit by the government for compensation for that evening of extensive property damage that they nearly lost their house. And it is at this, their most vulnerable hour, that Mrs. Pankhurst severs her ties with the couple (as she would later her own daughter Sylvia) by expelling them for the W.S.P.U.. Which is nice.
But we are fewer than a dozen pages into the graphic novel before being pulled back even further to Spring 1898 when Sally, a pauper-prisoner of the workhouse, is first taken in by a younger, gentler Mrs. Pankhurst who employs her as a maid-of-all-work while aiding her seamstress skills. She is treated well and, while waiting on the family in Manchester, is privy to many a conversation on the current campaigns of Mrs. Pankhurst, her daughters, and their fellow activists. Unless provoked by the crowds they are relatively peaceful. The arrests and hunger strikes, brutal force-feedings and governmental cat-and-mouse games have yet to begin. Reason will win the day, surely.
But when Mrs. Pankhurst is lured down to London by the early successes of her more interventionist actions Sally is cast aside and is referred instead as a domestic servant to a Huddersfield household which is much less enlightened both upstairs and downstairs. It is a very rude awakening. Off her own bat she attends joyous, regional rallies – for the women’s movement is far less centralised as yet – but this lands her in even more trouble with the men of the house. So it is that Sally Heathcote too finds herself drawn to London and, through curiosity and the kindness of strangers, finds herself at the doorstep of the Pethick-Lawrences and back on the Pankhursts’ radar. Her journey has only begun.
Rarely have I found myself leafing through a graphic novel on first, cursory inspection and found myself absorbed in such an attractive or consistent atmosphere. As you would expect from the creator of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT, Bryan Talbot’s layouts are an immaculate essay in clarity, accessibility and restraint, his architectural panoramas quite breath-taking, redolent of their precise time and place. Charlesworth’s treatment of these is enticing and sumptuous, bursting with humanity. There’s a gentleness in Sally and her future beau Arthur which reflects their vulnerability both as individuals and to the exterior forces which threaten to envelop them.
We’re not just talking about the suffrage movement, its escalating violence and its backlash: we’re talking about the game-changing eruption of the first World War. So much of this book’s success lies in evoking the multiplicity and complexity and contradictory nature of the societal pressures at this pivotal point in history and I am frankly agog at Dr. Mary Talbot’s inclusion and balance which allows us to ponder, equally bewildered, which stance we’d take.
Seriously: the Liberal government (which was anything but) obstinately and vehemently denies women the right to participate in national life with the right to vote, yet emotionally blackmails them into persuading their men to enlist for the sake of that self-same country:
“TO THE WOMEN OF LONDON
“Is your “Best Boy” wearing Khaki? If not don’t YOU THINK he should be?
“If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for – do you think he is WORTHY of you?
“If your young man neglects his duty to the King and Country, the time may come when he will NEGLECT YOU!”
These and so many more contemporary clippings are included by the Talbots at judicious intervals then annotated at the back, but never once did they rip me from the story at hand. Instead they made me feel that I was walking in Sally’s shoes and so living this life for myself: battered by headlines over tea and toast before wondering what on earth the day would bring next.
I cannot overemphasise how critical the art is to this absorbing atmosphere, predominantly washed in warm antler-greys and so reflecting the period as modern readers perceive it in photographic sepia or newsreel black and white, but with canny colour-coding for Sally’s ginger hair and Mrs. Pankhurst in purple.
In addition the marches and protests are brought alive with their respective union colours: red, white and green for the National Union Of Women’s Suffrage and purple, white and green for the National Women’s Social and Political Union. A lush bunch of flowers is given a very rare, multi-coloured array, concealing as it does an axe buried within.
Equally startling in its stark and shocking departure is the sequence involving outright terrorism which, I put it to you (I have not consulted with either Talbot nor Kate Charlesworth), is either a deliberate or subconscious throwback to David Lloyd’s work, appropriately enough, on V FOR VENDETTA.
Nothing, however, will prepare you for the grotesque scenes in Holloway Gaol which Sally has read about happening to others in the papers. Nothing we read in the papers can prepare us for anything like that happening to us, but it is now that they happen to Sally.
None of this would work half so well if all three members of the creative team hadn’t built up our personal, involved relationship with Sally the erstwhile seamstress for page upon succinct page. To some a straight biography, hagiography or historical account would have appeared the natural route to take. And that way I would have sat there, semi-educated, shaking my head dolefully and muttering “tut tut”.
This way I was enraged.
Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 of 5 (£5-00, Inky Little Paws) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.
A brand-new, break-neck adventure for Young Readers which has a lot more layered beneath its furry surface than you might initially suspect.
Here learned linguist Professor Wrenfew explains the mystery of the third pictorial Incan language which our intrepid mice have discovered carved on an ancient stone and sandwiched between two surprisingly similar Egyptian and Greek accounts of their gods venting wrath on unfaithful worshippers.
“It was Viracochia who created the sun, the moon, and the stars, and set them all in motion, thus beginning time.
“From the stones of the earth, he sculpted the first race and breathed life into them.
“Brainless giants that they were, they disobeyed and displeased him, so he punished them with a great darkness and floods.”
And that’s when my smiles – catalysed by something I’d already spotted back at the Egyptian dig – turned into a big, fat grin! I give you no more clues, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in an anthropomorphic story before.
It is a perfect comicbook moment because you’ll only be able to put two and two together by spotting what’s implied visually in the Mayan Mouse mythology, harking back as it does to the arid excavation site.
“As the waters cleared, he set about making a second race from the smaller stones, more intelligent than the first. When they emerged, he divided them into groups and taught them different customs, languages, and songs.”
That one, I’ll tell you: they’re mice.
These mice have now evolved to the equivalent of our Victorian era and this has a delightfully period feel, Sara Dunkerton’s eye for fashion and body language matched by her eye for colour which is consistently dry and sandy both back in Egypt and then in London, before bursting into something young eyes will find wondrous when the secrets of the stone are revealed!
Unfortunately our mice are in trouble.
It was Professor Harvest-Scott who made the astonishing finds in his archaeological dig, but first his camp was ransacked by rogues then, less than a week later, his fellow researcher Sellsey went missing along with many of his notes. Summoned by his old friend Cornelius Field, the dashing Jack Redpath flies into Cairo just as Victoria Jones of the London Guardian newspaper is due to report both on the unearthed [redacted] and on the mysterious stone carvings.
But en route to the site Jack and Cornelius are ambushed by a sniper, delaying them just long enough for a third party to make its Machiavellian move. It seems they know more about the stone than Professor Harvest-Scott himself, and they’re crafty enough to extract its meaning by any means necessary…
This has all the elements of a classic kids’ adventure like TINTIN itself: secrets and experts and exotic locations; infiltration, reputation and ducking for cover.
Moreover, more than a little lateral thinking gone into it. Most of the mice may scoot about on off-track motorbikes and slink about London in sexy Hispano Suizas, but where humans would hump up on a camel then our dessert rats use spiky African Armadillo Lizards as steeds. Better still, for the heavy lifting they employ beetles who can in real life carry umpteen times their own body weight about. Clever!
Right, so you have bought your daughter, son, nephew or niece this thrilling adventure. Well done, you! And you bought another copy for yourself. Well, quite right too! But I bet you never expected the Sara Dunkerton sketchbook in the back whose pencil work is a veritable masterclass in pistol-packing, punch-throwing pugilism. The eager young artists in your family will be copying and learning from those poses for hours!
To Afghanistan And Back (£7-50, NBM) by Ted Rall.
Originally released and reviewed so long ago that things will have changed but, oh, have they really? From the creator of the equally essential SILK ROAD TO RUIN…
Think you’ve been following the news pretty thoroughly and are totally clued up on the military action over there? Reckon you’ve got all the background you need to reach a considered opinion on its legitimacy, its effectiveness and its motivations? Do you trust the BBC to be honest, thorough, and objective? Think again. This book seared through my skull with more concussive force than a car full of fertilised semtex.
Well, no, obviously it didn’t or Mark would’ve found this terminal splattered in a rainbow of head-jelly; but hyperbolae aside I wasn’t remotely prepared for the revelations here, reported by cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall, who has a background in the surrounding region and was there on the frontline covering the initial conflict for the Village Voice and KFI radio in LA.
It’s a tendentious piece of journalism, to be sure, but his arguments are persuasive, beginning with an assessment of just what can be accomplished (the escalating options he proposes still don’t bring much light), why it’s being attempted (Kazakhstan’s oil, anyone? A pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistani ports prevents the Russians helping themselves, and would avoid Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev from incurring the wrath of the US by negotiating with Iran), and a reminder that because it was politically expedient, it was the US with Pakistan who ushered in the Taliban with funds and ammunition, and that as late as 1999 US taxpayers were paying the annual salaries of each and every one of its officials.
As Ted moves into the heart of the action he witnesses entire Northern Alliance towns being obliterated when 5,000-pound precision-guided missiles hit precisely the wrong target, or the US simply throws its artillery around indiscriminately. The journalist death count escalates well beyond the reported figures as some are blown to pieces, have their skin ripped off them by prisoners or are murdered in their accommodation by opportunistic thieves. As the Taliban leave each area women sensibly leave their Burqas on (after a quick $1 shot for western television with them off) because they believed, often correctly, that their persecutors would return as the Afghans changed sides back and forth more often than they bothered to pray to Allah. And without the Taliban’s order, Rall witnesses Afghanistan’s society teetering on the brink of murderous, hedonistic anarchy. Having read his accounts, I’m surprised he got out alive; there’s no help coming from the US if you’re a journalist (or if you’re a local, for Rall saw not one single drop of those much vaunted food parcels), only from the occasional act of unwarranted and barely affordable kindness on the part of poverty stricken Afghanis.
Half the book is prose, half of it sequential art with more than a nod to Groenig’s style on AKBAR & JEFF, and if some of the sequences mirror each other, reading something twice gave me double the opportunity to absorb it – and I can tell you, it took some absorbing. I can’t say I agree with absolutely all of Rall’s conclusions, but this is certainly what he saw, and it’s more worth watching than the sanitised, feel-good dross I just saw this morning on BBC Breakfast. After which “Some readers may find these images disturbing”…
Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World s/c (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli, Greg Tocchini.
Many thanks to Francesco for that nicely played, beautifully drawn page of male nudity. Nice poster collection you’ve got there too, Angus.
It is only now that I type this that I realise that this not inconsiderable body-issue involving teenage Angus Chung has yet to resolved, one’s most immediate supposition confounded by the true nature of the Hinterkind later on. I think fans of FABLES will be delighted. I’m not one of them, but I was delighted anyway. We’ll get to that.
In the meantime, thanks also to Francesco Trifogli, this is the most beautiful post-apocalypse you will ever behold, and well worth the sacrifice of what we laughably call “humanity”. Nature has reclaimed even New York City: verdant, fully formed trees blooming atop its tallest skyscrapers in vast, billowing clouds of lush, leafy green. There’s been some structural damage, but then roots are like that.
“Calling it the end of the world was a conceit. The world kept ticking on just fine, it was humanity that took the hit. Seven months from top of the food chain to endangered species.
“Mother Nature breathed a sigh of relief. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Fish and house guests smell after three days”. By extension, after three hundred thousand years, we’d really stunk up the place.”
There are still some of us left, though, hunting with bows and arrows, loin cloths thankfully absent. Small numbers of survivors have built a village in Central Park, its relatively formal parkland repurposed for agriculture. There are also stockades scattered across America in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis – or at least, there were. They’ve recently gone radio silent, though their channels are still open.
Against everyone else’s better judgement Asa, their resident, grey-bearded doctor, is determined to make the two-month round-trip to one of those outposts in Albany to find out what became of their friends. No one from Manhattan has left the island for years so there’s really no telling what’s out there. Something is stirring, that’s for sure.
Young Angus has also decided he’s better off out there lest the village discovers his secret, and in case his sister Sophie is tarred with the same brush and suffers for it. He’s feeling pretty wretched. Not one to abandon her childhood friend (or resist the opportunity to tease), Asa’s grand-daughter, Prosper Monday, catches up with him but as the pair prepare to cross the bridge they are attacked first by a pride of ligers and then by something much, much bigger with six arms, tattoos, and a strangely familiar vocabulary.
I enjoyed this thoroughly from the offset thanks in no small part to the affections established early on with witty word play by writer Ian Edginton, Culbard’s collaborator on SHERLOCK HOLMES and D’Israeli’s on SCARLET TRACES. Then the Hinterkind are introduced and although I don’t want to give too much away, they are not a single race but a collective of colourful, diverse and perpetually hungry omnivores who are most emphatically not a mutation of mankind but victims of it.
“You’ve never been good at accepting anything other than yourselves. You even turn on each other – black, gay, Jew, Muslim. You look for any excuse to grind someone else under your boot heel!”
Whatever you think this means, it’s a speech proved all too true when yet another faction rears its exceeding ugly head, plus you wait until you meet the monarchy and if that wasn’t enough… Jeepers, how big is this going to get?!
In short, things aren’t looking good for what’s left of humanity, but at least the world’s forests are enjoying a well earned respite.
Caliban #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio.
Love the cover which positively glows and informs you immediately that you’re in OCEAN and ‘Alien’ territory. In space no one can hear you lose your shit.
The Caliban is a mining ship navigating warpspace with a small, somewhat fractious crew of conscious officers.
“The miners sleep down below along with the cargo. That’s so they don’t spend too long gazing at infinity that they step outside to get a better look at it.”
There’s an officious, unresponsive navigator called Karien who looks a lot like Hitler minus the Charlie Chaplin moustache; a man named McCartney who doesn’t respond well to officiousness; a timid and doting young man called Canny; sharp-tongued San, the woman who can (and they’ll be bloody grateful for that later on), and finally our Nomi the note-maker.
“One hundred nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable. Suits of rebreathers, every time. Life: forget it. An orange mould they found on an asteroid. Some kind of mollusc on somebody’s moon, that lives inside its own excrement.
“So it’s stations, ships, recycled air. Fake light. Suns too bright to look at. Your body adapting in ways you don’t dwell on. Stillborn things that go straight in the trash.
“But all those dead rocks have yielded up a ton of treasure. Ore and oil and gas and water. The megatonnage is immense: you see the figures on a screen and the zeroes just go on forever.
“And because almost no one wants to live out here, everything goes back to feed the industries on earth. Which, last time I saw it, looked like a tumour breathing through a smokestack.”
Oh wait, I forgot the Captain. We haven’t seen him. He’s been too busy “banging the shit out of his executive officer”. We haven’t met the executive officer, either, who could be bloke for all we know. One doesn’t like to presume.
I’m not sure we’ll ever find out, either, because – wham! – out of nowhere in warpspace where they shouldn’t even be able to touch anything, they do. It’s big, it’s beautiful, almost ancient Egyptian in design, it’s just fused with Caliban inside and out, the sleeper pods are venting into the void and – oh. Poor Canny. That had to hurt.
Okay, so far I haven’t really read or seen anything I haven’t encountered before, but the script was mightily enjoyable and there were several flourishes from Facundo Percio which were very impressive.
It’s Garth Ennis. I trust him.
Daredevil: End Of Days s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack & Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, David Mack.
Matt Murdock is dead. He was beaten to death in full view of the public, and the ugly images were transmitted uncensored across the nation, across the world, to an audience transfixed by their grotesque brutality. And I do warn you right now that Klaus and Billy have ensured that it is very uncomfortable viewing. It’s supposed to be.
But if you were to listen closely on playback, if you were to turn up the volume and really, really concentrate, you would hear a single word muttered by Murdock as his last breath passed his lips. Bugle veteran Ben Urich, once one of Matt’s sole confidants, heard what was said and will not let it lie. Disgusted by the sensationalism, he is equally confounded by the circumstances of Matt’s death and the events leading up to it during which Matt killed the Kingpin, alienating all of his peers, then completely fell off the radar. But Ben is nothing if not dogged and determined to do his old friend one last kindness. He wants to tell the world what Murdock was doing before he died.
Unfortunately no one is pleased to see him.
As Urich begins to revisit Murdock’s past and those who populated it you’ll begin to see the depth and scope of this story gradually unfurl and then comprehend – like Urich himself – the extent of the silence he’s up against. It’s not a wall as such, but a void. An evasion. And a secret almost nobody knows.
Out of the shadows steps someone who should know what happened; someone who is old and angry and claiming that Urich’s best lead – Matt’s former lover, the Black Widow – is dead. Then into the shadows steps Urich when he tracks the license plate of an SUV from Matt’s funeral, ill-attended apart from the media vultures, to a park where children are playing soccer and one particular mother is watching, missing nothing.
“It’s very brave of you to come here, Mister Urich. You remember me when I had nothing to lose… Imagine what I’m like now.”
Oh yes, almost everyone you would expect to see makes most unexpected appearances. The strange fate of Typhoid Mary, for example, is both surprising and delightful but packed with poignancy. Oh, her final panel!
The art is absolutely extraordinary throughout and grows increasingly refined as everyone settles in, with additional bursts of David Mack splendour when appropriate. But right from the beginning there is the sheer sense of space in the Daily Bugle office in a double-page spread whose interior windows I stared at for ages; the breathtaking, Sienkiewicz-solo of the Kingpin at night, brooding as he stares out at the neon-blazed city he owns, or two separate panels of gritted teeth in the second chapter’s dark, dank, behind-the-bar alley – the first coming off like Byrne at his best, the second perfectly recapturing the glory days of Frank Miller as inked by our good Klaus Janson, present and correct on pencils.
What you see here are artists at one – no egos – each working in unison in service to the story, and there’s a considerable gallery of process pieces in the back which will show you Janson’s original pencils for that Daily Bugle spread, Bill Sienkiewicz’s sketches and inimitable inks (and I used the word “inimitable” with precision), David Mack washes you can bathe your sore eyes in, plus a host of unused covers.
Meanwhile, Bullseye himself is discovered dead in a rented room, a bullet blown straight through his skull. Above him, scrawled in his own blood, is the last word Matt Murdock ever uttered: “Mapone”.
What does that mean?
You will find out, right at the end. There are no anti-climaxes here.
Inhuman #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Joe Madureira.
“You really need to think about a change.”
A change, you say? Did you know there is a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans?
“Change. Pfft. Easy to say. Hard to do.”
Not when there’s a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.
“I’m on a track, with no way off. I know it’s not what I’m supposed to be. I can feel something better for me, I just can’t find it.”
Don’t worry, it’s heading your way, sweeping across the world as a cloud of Terrigen mist. Look, it’s on the TV in the next panel, and it’ll be with you on the next page. That’s, like, so ironic.
As to the art: horrible.
Especially the colours by Marte Gracia who has made this as impenetrably murky as ULTIMATUM.
Cover’s okay, mind.
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.
New York Postcards (£11-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Andrian Tomine
100 Bullets: Brother Lono (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James (£12-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams
Celeste h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by I.N.J. Culbard
East Of West vol 2: We Are All One (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
Number Cruncher h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & PJ Holden
Three (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire
The Undertaking Of Lily Chen (£20-99, First Second) by Danica Novgorodoff
A Game Of Thrones vol 3 h/c UK Edition (£18-99, Random House / Vertical) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson
Astro City: Shining Stars s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson
Daredevil vol 5 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Earth 2 vol 2: The Tower Of Fate s/c (£12-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, various
Soul Eater vol 19 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo
ITEM! Monumental page by Colleen Doran, previously unseen, on a project with Warren Ellis currently on the back burner.
ITEM! Hair trouble! Unused CHLOE NOONAN pages by Marc Ellerby. What a shame!
ITEM! A reminder of the magic that was ZENITH and is Steve Yeowell, one of Britain’s all-time greatest artists. There is a retail collection coming, yes! I don’t quite know when, no.
ITEM! Short interview with Kate Brown about her new serial Tamsin And The Deep in PHOENIX, written by Neill Cameron and set in Cornwall.
ITEM! Do you love shadows and silhouettes? THE HOUND, a Celtic Myth set in Ancient Ireland, by Hugh Welchman. Some truly gorgeous images there and its support appears to double each time I look.
ITEM! A thrillingly animated French-language feature on Michel Rabagliati, Canada’s answer to our Andi Watson.