It boasted a strong socio-political context, a deft cultural awareness totally in touch with the zeitgeist (Zenith would reinvent himself during each phase depending on what was the musical movement du jour) and appeared on the page blessed by one of Britain’s best-ever artists, Steve Yeowell.
– Stephen on Zenith
Meanwhile #1 (£4-95, Soaring Penguin Press) by Gary Spencer Millidge, Sally Jane Thompson, Chris Geary, Yuko Rabbit, David Hine, Mark Stafford.
That certainly sums up STRANGEHAVEN to perfection!
A true British classic beloved by Bryan Talbot, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and JH Williams III amongst many, many creators, STRANGEHAVEN sadly stalled ten years ago at three volumes with one more to come, but now it is back with a vengeance!
It’s also now in full colour: colours which are so warm and rich against a crisp, cloudy sky and as British as the oak tree itself. As the village’s vicar takes a stroll round the countryside (and swift swig of whisky straight from the bottle) he reflects on how far his beloved flock have gone astray: on the arrival of Alex Hunter “literally by accident – when he crashed his car into a tree” since when Alex has felt unable to leave, his coercion into the masked Masonic Lodge and all the subsequent deaths and disappearances.
“George gave in to the temptation of an illicit affair with the doctor’s wife Maureen. So much for brotherly love.
“But he’s in a better place now.
“In the ground, decomposing.”
I didn’t say “consequent”, I said “subsequent”. Let’s see how it all plays out first, shall we?
It’s a fluent introduction, deftly done with real character, so new readers are embraced and some of us old-timers are provided with a far from boring, much-needed refresher course on just how much is Not Quite Right in this secluded parish of Strangehaven.
Speaking of Not At All Right, there are further Masonic manoeuvrings including temptation and even deeper induction, while one village member’s playing truant. That doesn’t go down well. That doesn’t go down well at all…
MEANWHILE is a fresh UK anthology with something for everyone and almost all of it for me.
I adored Sally Jane Thompson’s self-contained short story told in the same bilberry blues as THIS ONE SUMMER. Their gloss here is so attractive. In it a young woman makes or takes a phone call. We don’t know what she says but to begin with she’s quite quiet, subdued, then annoyed then despondent. When you see how Sally accomplishes that in her speech bubbles, I rather think you will smile. It concludes on a magical note of determined resolve thanks to a blackbird’s feather found on the floor.
Sean Bright’s ‘Peas In Our Time’ one-page, nine-panel nonsense made me laugh and it’s not often that politics makes one laugh at the moment, is it? A bag of frozen peas wins the UK General Election. The effects prove efficacious. And then we go and blow it all in the final panel’s punchline which made me howl!!!!
There’s a burst of black and white sci-fi, a Kate Brown-influenced episode of black and white fantasy from Yuko Rabbit whose external townscape on the final page took my breath away, and then there’s the first instalment of ‘The Bad Place’ by THE MAN WHO LAUGHS’ David Hine and Mark Stafford.
A girl call Jenny is warned away from the fabled perfect new town of Faraway Hills by its Town Crier. He is its only resident remaining. The town was built on the site of Crouch Heath with its tavern, The Horned Man. That too was deserted and had fallen into dereliction but everything was knocked down and built back up apart from the Castavette estate. Nought was left there but a wasteland of tipped rubbish yet with no known descendents, still it could not be compulsory-purchased.
Then overnight the Castavette mansion rematerialised in all its hideous, Victorian, four-storey splendour and that’s when things began to go seriously awry…
The Wake h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy.
“Now the creature, the noise it’s making, it sounds a lot like a section of the whale’s song that’s urgent, a section that comes right before a response.”
“What kind of response?”
“A massive response. Because the creature isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to them.”
At which point Sean Murphy will send the mother of all shivers up your spine…
Sub-aquatic, ice-cold horror from the writer of AMERICAN VAMPIRE, SEVERED, BATMAN: BLACK MIRROR, and the current run on BATMAN and the glorious, gawp-worthy writer/artist of PUNK ROCK JESUS, JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS.
In 200 years’ time: a wet-suited woman glides over the narrow waterways between what were once dry-land skyscrapers, one of which is leaning precariously. A dolphin harnessed with sonic and survey equipment surfaces from the water lapping gently against a brownstone’s roof. And then there’s another tidal wave!
Now: marine biologist Lee Archer, sacked from NOAA and on the Department of Homeland Security’s shit-list for her marine biology conservation is contacted by Agent Cruz and coerced into flying to Alaska’s South Slope to analyze an eerie, underwater call they cannot explain. Base camp is thousands of feet below sea level:
“Jesus, what is that?”
“It’s called a Ghost Rig. It’s a prototype. Yes, it’s a secret. No, it’s not legal. But it has the potential to extract nearly two hundred barrels a day, so there it is.”
Lee discovers she is not alone. There’s Dr. Marin, successfully published professor of folklore and mythology has been summoned to study an ‘artefact’, and the enigmatic yet supremely capable Leonard Meeks – an infamous poacher of very rare species – to study tissue samples. He looks like a vulture. And where do you think these sounds and tissue samples are coming from? Oh dear, that’s never a good idea…
On one level this is classic Doctor Who: illegal and environmentally disastrous strip-mining of Earth’s natural resources while invading the home territory of an ancient and previously undiscovered species. Exacerbate situation by capturing a creature and then belatedly bring in the experts before all hell breaks loose in a half-lit and confined environment in this case flooded with water. It won’t help that the Merman sprays hallucinogenic toxins from glands in its eye sacks.
But wait: that’s just the first half. In part two we swoop to the future 200 years later which has born the brunt – the repercussions – of the first half’s actions, and the world has surely changed in so many ways. Rarely have I encountered a future so thoroughly thought-through by its writer with some genuine shockers in store. This graphic novel is so much bigger and so much more brilliant than it appears on the sea’s choppy surface.
For a start, it is all about eyes: what we perceive and what we persuade others to perceive. And it’s all about ears: what we hear and that which we desperately hope will be listened to.
It stretches back thousands, nay millions of years. There is a key sequence involving the hunting of a giant white shark by hundreds with spears just like we used to hunt mammoths; and they actually use a downed mammoth as bait.
On the surface this is a beyond-worrying horror story, yes: it will make you go “Brrrrrrr!” But it will also make you think.
In the back of what I consider a very good value-for-money hardcover (£18-99 for 10 chapters) are additional process pieces full of sketch pages, the thought that’s gone into the colouring by the great Matt Hollingsworth and the ridiculous amount of consideration given to the lettering by Jared K. Fletcher.
Now, what is a Raindrop?
“It means the real-life referent that inspires a system of folklore. The raindrop hits the water, and concentric rings of lore spread from the point of impact. Like the Asiatic Bear in Tibet, its habit of walking on its hind legs. Now that inspired legends of Yetis.
“There’s no telling how many legends this creature inspired. From the Mermaids of Assyria, to the Sirens of Greece, with that call it’s making.”
The call that goes out to millions.
The Complete New York Four (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly.
There’s a lot of new back-up material including full-colour paintings of the cast, like Ren in a comic shop – that one is so warm and detailed! – and this hefty edition collecting both the original NEW YORK FOUR and THE NEW YORK FIVE is incredible value for money!
As you might expect from the creators of LOCAL this as much about location as those inhabiting it. Kelly proved he could nail so many different urban environments as that series sailed across the States, and evoke their unique ambience as well as physical architecture. Here he fills every single page with hair whose weight and body you can almost hold, masonry you could lean on and gusts of wind and snow in the parks that you can feel against your cheek.
Riley is a resident of Park Slope (“NY 101: As good as Brooklyn gets.”) who’s just joined New York University with all the potential that offers in terms of new friends and is getting back in touch with Angie, her black sheep of a sister ostracised by her overbearing parents some years ago for crimes unknown – being far too much fun, by the looks of it. That shouldn’t happen to Riley: she’s a top-grade student, but her sister’s more worried about Riley’s addiction to texting.
She’s not wrong, either: Riley’s no dweeb by any stretch of the imagination, but her journeys are made to an iPod soundtrack and her social life is virtually all virtual, interrupting even the most personal or important conversations to answer messages that could so easily wait. She’s insular to say the least, and she only meets her three new friends by accident through the need for employment and somewhere to live outside campus dorms.
Angie introduces Riley to adult social life in the form of gigs and with the aid of her warm, cool and gregarious boyfriend. And it’s at one of these gigs, the night of Riley’s life, that someone there slips an email address into her pocket, at which point the texts really begin to fly much to the annoyance of anyone trying to get a real-world word in edgeways. As well as the bizarre priority Riley gives to someone she doesn’t know over those she should be caring about, there’s also the very real worry that Riley has no idea who she’s in communication with – an imbalance of power over which she has no control.
Do you think it will all go horribly wrong? It all goes horribly wrong.
I now issue a very rare SPOILER ALERT for the much longer, more substantial sequel hinges on who Riley’s mysterious admirer was.
By now Angie Wilder has her own band which has just struck it big on the gig circuit. But she still has her boyfriend called Frank who is anything but: he anonymously seduced her younger sister Riley by text. Angie’s no longer speaking to Riley, Riley isn’t speaking to Frank, but Frank hasn’t done using Angie to speak to Riley as the first chapter’s cliffhanger makes clear.
Riley’s attending NYU with Merissa, Lona and Ren who all share an East Village flat roughly the size of a cupboard, their rent paid through part-time jobs evaluating PSAT/SAT tests. For this they need to undergo casual therapy sessions but the beautiful, outgoing Marissa’s stopped attending. In fact she seems to be spending an awful lot of time going back home to Queens. Lona’s less outgoing but still going out, if only to stalk her professor. We’re talking the breaking-and-entering end of stalking, dumpster-diving for dirt, and her boyfriend’s unimpressed. I really don’t know what Ren’s problem is. She doesn’t seem to have one right now. She likes older men. Is that a problem?
Here the ever-exceptional spirit of place comes in the form of civic parks in winter, the city skylines at night and the chunky tenements with street-level steps rising up to their doors. The gigs are perfectly populated while the pavement outside is teeming with individuals hanging out on bikes, checking their bags or checking out each other. You can tell when an artist is trying to avoid drawing something; I couldn’t find a single instance of that here. Even the iron fire escapes and scaffolding have been lavished with so much attention that they have as much weight and character as the pedestrians passing them by. When you stop to take in just how many cityscapes there are on top of that…
Someone was on their way to New York the other day, and she asked if we had any comics that would act as a good guide. This would make the perfect guide, dotted as it is with insider titbits on every location featured including The Strand (used book shop), Washington Square, the Ukrainian diner Veselka, and St. Mark’s Place in The East Village:
“NY 101: St. Mark’s Place, as iconic and compelling as SF’s Haight Astbury, this enduring hang-out block is way more seedy and has much cooler rock and roll roots. But, in the end, both succumbed to The Gap. This author’s most-missed: the St. Mark’s Cinema.”
As seen in LOCAL, for me this is what Brian Wood does best: compelling and thoroughly contemporary straight fiction with a young cast of real individuals – females with foibles, individuals with issues – gradually revealing bits of themselves as they contemplate, hesitate or override their better instincts. Because coming back to that cliffhanger, it really is one of those, “Noooo, don’t do it!” moments.
Grey Area – From The City To The Sea (Signed) (£6-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tim Bird…
“A life lived in mud and clay… concrete and steel… manuscript and satellite signals…
“Wars fought between settlers along the marshy banks of the River. Ludgate, Tower Hill, Cornhill.
“Kings and Queens ruling far reaching empires.
“Wealth and poverty.
“Heroes and villains.
“New stories being written every minute.
“Constantly on the move.
“East… further east.
“Beneath the surface.”
Tim Bird undoubtedly has what breakbeat meisters the Stanton Warriors would refer to as the power of ‘uninterrupted flow’. Now, I will grant you on the face of it, that is an apparently incongruous analogy to begin a review with, but in fact, Tim’s work is all about and indeed composed of continuous transition, even in the face of the strange disruptive interfaces thrown up between man and nature. His worldview of our sceptred isle encompasses the epochs and the aeons, not ignoring the here and now, but understanding its transitory place astride the fixed topological canvas of the landscape.
One of the most powerful moments for me in his previous work, GREY AREA: THE OLD STRAIGHT TRACK, a testament to that most visible evidence of man’s dominion over vehicular time and space, the road, comes when the tarmac slices right by Stonehenge. Similarly, in this work detailing a trip from the centre of London out to the coast, first by underground and train, then on foot, Tim’s combination of observational illustration and poetic overview has a deeply resonating effect.
Often in our lives, we don’t have the time to think about the journeys we make, so concerned are we with simply getting from A to B as quickly as possible, for usually there is a purpose we need to fulfil that has necessitated our travels. Instead, Tim, wandering without an aim of his own, is able to consider all the journeys ever made along that route, resulting in the incremental changes over centuries from untamed wilderness to the measured, graduated, controlled environment of modernity that is the city of London and its suburbs. But we also see that in reverse, purely in modern day, as he finally ends up at the coast, or as he more romantically describes it…
“A terminus. A place where… the landscape… ceases.”
Then moving on to the sea, as a coda, where once again, we see the fingerprint of man indelibly altering nature, Tim reciting the hypnotic mantra of the shipping forecast sea areas which will be soothingly familiar to anyone who has ever spent much time listening to Radio 4, as a cargo vessel slips past a buoy against the backdrop of a dramatic red sunset. A suitably tranquil, composed ending to another splendid issue of thoughtful musing.
aama vol 2: The Invisible Throng h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters…
She’s not wrong. Verloc Nim and his secret agent – and irritatingly superior younger brother – Conrad have made it to the planet Ona(ji) to establish precisely what has become of the group of research scientists sent to test a potential genetic manipulation wonder agent called aama. They’ve discovered one group of the scientists holed up at their base awaiting rescue. The project leaders, as a result of an apparent ideological schism, have assumed control of the aama agent and decided to continue the experiment elsewhere on the planet.
You could say, in some senses, the experiment has been a resounding success, given the rapidly advanced flora and fauna which Verloc, Conrad, Churchill the robotic ape bodyguard and the scientists brave enough to accompany them encounter en route. It’s clear it has effected an evolutionary developmental process at a rate far beyond natural speeds. It’s also abundantly clear there have been some serious, unforeseen consequences as well. As the group progresses further into the evolutionary wilds, it seems that aama is increasingly aggressively trying to actively incorporate any and all genetic – and even inorganic materials – it can into its ever more rapid modifications. Cue the mad scientist caused horror…
Which still doesn’t bring us up to where we started AAMA VOLUME ONE: THE SMELL OF WARM DUST with a dazed and confused, amnesiac Verloc trying to piece together what the hell has happened to him and why he is alone. It gives me hope there is still much, much more to come from this prestigious Best Series of 2013 Angoulême prize winner, because it is as deliciously mysterious as it is spectacular. We also learn more of Verloc’s back story, his unusual desire for a genetically unmodified offspring ultimately causing his estrangement from his wife after their daughter was born with what seems to be a form of high-functioning autism.
How that is connected to the unexplained presence of a being with the exact physical appearance of his daughter on Ona(ji) has yet to be revealed, but I will bet that the increasingly unhinged Conrad, suffering an emotional disconnect from not being intrinsically subconsciously linked to the future version of Earth’s internet where everyone is part of a huge, permanent communications net (probably like seeing Facebook every time you close your eyes, which is a truly horrifying thought), almost certainly knows more than he is letting on. So, now I just have to patiently wait until March 2015 for volume three…
Zenith: Phase One h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell.
Perpetually preening, drunk and incorrigibly egotistical, ignorant and easily bored, I basically was young Zenith 25 years ago. I even had the quiff and studded leather jacket. Unfortunately I had none of Zenith’s powers nor musical prowess. Actually, I’m not sure Zenith had any musical prowess but as the first phase kicks off he is at number three in the pop charts.
This is even better than I remembered it to be, and I cherished it dearly back then.
On top of its horrific Neo-Nazi / Cthulu antagonists it boasted a strong socio-political context, a deft cultural awareness totally in touch with the zeitgeist (Zenith would reinvent himself during each phase depending on what was the musical movement du jour) and appeared on the page blessed by one of Britain’s best-ever artists, Steve Yeowell. His was the shiniest-ever superhero art, bathed in bold black which benefits enormously for the infinitely improved production values, printed on the crispest of paper preventing any bleed.
Trapped in legal hell for 20 years, it’s almost as surprising and wondrous to find it back on our shelves as STRAY BULLETS.
It kicks off during WWII with a broadcast of blinding hubris as Britain answers the German threat of Aryan meta-man Masterman with its own meta-human Maximan, himself a sort of blonde English Rose. By the very second page, however, it is clear that Britain has underestimated Masterman by misunderstanding his nature and Maximan lies broken in Berlin. At which point we drop The Bomb on them both. The Bomb, yes.
Cut straight to 1987 and pop star Zenith has been invited onto Good Morning Britain to discuss a book re-evaluating the reputation of Cloud 9 – “the group of British superhumans who were as much of the swinging ‘60s as The Beatles or Twiggy” – but he’s really only interested in flogging his new single. Instead it’s the more mature Ruby Fox, former model then known as Cloud 9’s own Voltage, who refutes the allegations of self-indulgence by maintaining that they were all ill-prepared victims of an experimental drug, including Zenith’s own parents, Dr. Beat and White Heat, who went missing in 1968.
Zenith is now the only known active superhuman and he’s only active in ways which enhance his lock-jawed, pop-star, thicker-than-pig-shit career; and only when his fluctuating, monthly biorhythm cycle allows. At its peak he can fly, crush ball bearings and is virtually invulnerable. Well, every 19-year-old feels that way, don’t they? Ruby Fox hasn’t manifested her electrical energy abilities in years, Siadwell Rhys AKA Wales’ pyrokinetic Red Dragon has put himself out with the demon drink and former turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out Peter St. John AKA Mandala has become a high-rising Tory MP destined almost inevitably for leadership. I wonder if he still has those powers of persuasion? It’s funny how former radicals become such reactionaries, isn’t it?
I told you this had a socio-political punch.
Meanwhile, as I say, Britain’s manufactured response to Nazi Germany’s Masterman misunderstood his true nature and Germany had a reputation for using twins. Fräulein Haas and Doctor Driesch have just succeeded in reviving Masterman’s twin and in summoning his true power from Overspace using the Ritual of Nine Angles: it has multiple eyes, many mouths, very sharp teeth and the sound of its wings flapping is something that would drive any man or woman insane.
Masterman has now flown to Great Britain, home to the National Front, and has his sights set first on Ruby Fox left all alone and defenceless in her flat…
What is so extraordinary about this work – other than its thoroughly entertaining, bright social commentary, good humour and space – is that it was serialised in such short segments in the UK’s iconic and enduring weekly comic 2000AD yet feels neither disjointed nor awkwardly compressed when read in this album-sized hardcover. It is as smooth as silk, as rich as Belgian chocolate and as beautiful to behold as anything offered more recently by the artistic masters of the superhero genre, Bryan Hitch, Steve Epting, Michael Larkin, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Deodato, John Romita Jr, Sara Pichelli or Steve Yeowell’s contemporary John Byrne.
Eyes, teeth and hair, folks; eyes, teeth and hair. Also, a fine line in fashion.
Herobear And The Kid vol 1: The Inheritance (£14-99, Kaboom) by Mike Kunkel.
An all-ages album of wonder and friendship which will really tug at your heartstrings, while leaving your eyes twinkling at the sheer spectacle, this new format is the size of the average American trade paperback.
A young boy is left an inheritance by his grandfather and initially he’s unimpressed:
“It was just an old stuffed bear and a broken pocket watch.”
There’s a painful sequence early on where he’s bullied by some bigger kids who snatch away the polar bear, after which Tyler rejects the stuffed toy, and flings it away in disappointment. And that’s when the magic starts.
Kunkel’s animation experience shines through the pages. The black, white and grey forms are softened by his canny decision not to erase the sketchlines underneath, so the figures flow and glide. Added to that the striking scarlet cape of the transformed polar bear, which cleverly enhances the creature’s definition.
The former sketchbook in the A4 is gone, I’m afraid, but it’s been replaced by two new stories so I’d call that a bonus!
The Leaning Girl s/c (£22-50, Alaxis Press) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten…
Mary has a condition, a very strange one indeed.
Ever since a ride on a most peculiar rollercoaster during a visit to a large World’s Fair-esque Exposition, she has leant at an angle of about twenty degrees. It is as if gravity, for her, were acting in an entirely different direction to everyone else. Despite the best attempts of doctors to establish the real or imagined cause of her malady, no one really has any clue whatsoever as to why she leans. It is a real condition, that much is apparent to us, but what connection does it have to the strange group of astronomers and physicists sequestered doing secretive research in a mountain-top observatory? And then what possible connection does any of it have to the photo-based chapter interludes featuring a lonely artist struggling to make sense of his life?
There is a foreword from Benoit Peeters which starts with a comment that he and his friend Francois Schuiten created this world purely for the purposes of exploring it. Now, that might mean they basically had no idea what story they were going to write when they started and just made it up as they went along, because I did get a slight sense of that, but even so, they have created something rather unusual which has genuine artistic merit. I’m not sure it works completely, but if you approach this from the sense that you are observing two undoubtedly talented creators undertaking a highly involved experiment, you will enjoy it.
Peeters then details in his foreword how during the long gestation of this work they received much correspondence from someone claiming to be the real Mary, so much so that they received a compiled book of it whilst at Angoulême. He states that most people presumed they were behind the correspondence, particularly because they also openly produced two pseudo-documentaries to publicise this work, but he claims this was not the case, and they are as baffled as anyone else as to the identity of the letter-writing ‘Mary’. Having read the whole of the work, but not wishing to give anything anyway, I would suspect that is complete and utter hogwash, and it was indeed them, and the correspondence is a device which mirrors an element of the plot revealed towards the end. Anyway…
What did really work for me was the art. Beautiful black and white ligne claire with seriously detailed line shading. Gorgeous city-scapes and vivid characters illustrated to a standard not far off Bernie Wrightson’s FRANKENSTEIN (which they really do need to get on with reprinting). I was also, oddly enough, minded of CEREBUS in places. The photo-story sections really didn’t work for me, they just seemed too jarring until I finished the work, understood the reason behind the conceit, and then I could readily accept them as part of the experimental whole. Overall, I can’t honestly see this work appealing to a wide audience, but certainly there will be those that think it is an exceptional piece.
Walking Dead vol 22: A New Beginning (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…
“I want you to know, I really do appreciate our little talks. It… really breaks up my days. Helps me… mark time. I think they’re good for you, too, having someone to talk to.”
“Sure. I’ll try and come back tomorrow.”
“Wait… before you go…”
“After all this time… all these talks… the things we’ve shared. Do you still want to kill me?”
“Yes… you know I do.”
I have deliberately left out who is talking to whom there for the benefit of those who are not completely up to date, but what I will clarify is time. Two years have passed since the events of ALL OUT WAR, and much has changed. It would seem there has been little in the way of confrontation since then, indeed the communities Rick is now fully in charge of are prospering, despite the ever-present threat of zombies. Often the device of shifting forward in time is done when a writer is running low on ideas, but here it is used to great effect to instantly set up several interesting new potential plot threads, and allow the mass introduction of several new characters, plus radical new haircuts and facial topiary on existing ones…
I am sure there will be some retrospective references that will allow us to fill in the blanks about what happened in the aftermath of the war, but after wondering how on earth Kirkman was going to follow that epic arc, and wondering if it was all going to go a bit flat for a while, I’m now reassured it will be quite the contrary.
Also, it does provide an excellent starting point for new readers in terms of the single issues. Alternatively, just start at the very beginning with WALKING DEAD VOL 1 or why not WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM VOL 1 if you’re feeling flush / want to have something really heavy to hand just in case the zombie apocalypse begins…
Black Orchid s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.
So many songs evoke a past much missed, misremembered or barely recalled at all.
There is a wreck of man out there called Carl; a drunken, washed up, one-time player full of hot-air and an acrid obsession with the ex-wife who had the audacity to leave him for another, less violent man, and then testify against him. Her name was Susan Linden and he killed her for it. Or he thought he had; he’s in for a bit of a surprise.
For then there was the other Susan. An effective, solitary agent, undercover and on the brink of exposing a criminal organisation and the mastermind behind it. They caught her, they shot her, they set her on fire and then bombed the inferno for good measure. She was the Black Orchid, named after a flower that doesn’t exist and she is quite, quite dead.
So who is this new Susan of radiant purple, grown in a greenhouse, and cast adrift in a world she’s had no time to comprehend? She has no idea. She doesn’t know who she is, what she is, or what she should do now. The only clues lie in a dead man’s past, in his contemporaries at college: Dr. Jason Woodrue, Pamela Isley and Alec Holland. Her only brief ally is a man in a mask who hides in the shadows of Gotham, and he says:
“Most of the things that “everyone knows” are wrong. The rest are merely unreliable.”
Now, several of those names may sound surprisingly familiar for a Neil Gaiman book. What one forgets is the Vertigo line originally had far stronger ties to the DC universe and its superhero community; what one may also have forgotten is that this was created long before the Vertigo line even existed. It’s a far more ethereal read than most DC Universe books – it’s far more of a child of Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING – but a DC Universe book it most certainly is. It’s just… going to do things differently.
“I’ve seen, y’know, the movies, James Bond, all that. I’ve read the comics. So you know what I’m not going to do? I’m not going to lock up in the basement before interrogating you. I’m not going to set up some kind of complicated laser beam death-trap, then leave you alone to escape. That stuff is so dumb. But you know what I am going to do? I’m going to kill you. Now.”
That was within the first six pages, and it was quite the arresting development.
Returning to the legacy of Alan Moore, the early segues and black humour owe much to THE KILLING JOKE. “You’re fired” was inspired. But it quickly establishes its own tone which, as I say, is far more ethereal, far more impressionistic, as our newly bloomed Orchid struggles with the genetically implanted memories she shares with her dead sister, and reacts to the world empathically. Here, for example, is Arkham.
“This is the bedlam. The jungle of despair. I watch their expressions: milky eyes peering from frozen faces, mouths unsmiling wounds in ruined flesh. I spy a skull-faced man who lies unsleeping; his nightmares pool and puddle on the floor around him. In a glass cell a blazing x-ray sits and smoulders and weeps. His tears burn as they fall… then his out on the pocked glass floor.”
Another marked departure from the superhero genre is that the only hunting being done apart from the peripheral predators – domestic and child abuse both play a part here – is by the antagonists and the only one out for revenge is the bitter ex-husband and resentful ex-employee. Some people really don’t handle rejection well. In other authors’ hands it would be the Black Orchid out to avenge her predecessors’ murders – particularly given their shared memories – but no, that is the instinct of the animal. A plant has quite different priorities.
It’s a beautiful book, rich in green and purples, by a Dave McKean in his photorealistic phase, much inspired at the time by Bill Sienkiewicz. The computer has yet to be embraced and the only element of photographic collage I registered was the psychotic grin. Instead it employs pencils – sometimes coloured – and paint, some chalk and maybe, I think, oil pastels. There’s a terrific sense of light. It’s also thoroughly accessible to new readers, McKean splitting the page in half horizontally then working with three or four columns across. The occasional break into tumbling panels and the larger compositions in the Amazon jungle are all the more spectacular for it.
This new deluxe edition also boasts those rarest of extras: handwritten early jottings from Neil Gaiman’s notebook, Karen Berger’s first, detailed reactions to Neil’s draft proposal, Neil’s own proposal and promotional marketing text, preliminary notes and dialogue sketches for the second of the three original issues, its page-by-page, one-line breakdowns and an excerpt from its draft script.
“Winter is coming. The leaves are beginning to fall.”
Batman: Arkham Asylum (25th Anniversary Edition) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Dave McKean.
The new, new 25th Anniversary edition comes packed with even more extras than last time. Still here: Morrison’s complete script and original notes, annotated by both himself and Karen Berger, many of Morrison’s original thumb-nail breakdowns (like Bendis and Moore, he’s not a bad artist, either), and lots of other behind-the-scenes tomfoolery. But now: all the different covers over the years including the Japanese hardcover, an illustration for The Face, another for UKCAC ’88, the clay mask used as the base for McKean’s photo-painterly jiggery-pokery and convention painted “sketches” in a completely different style. Good golly!
I loved this dark, sexually charged Bat tale in which The Joker taunts Batman into Arkham Asylum (where both of them belong) through sadism and psychology, then pinches his bottom.
“Loosen up, tight ass!”
McKean was still in his BLACK ORCHID post-Sienkiewicz stage, using both pencil and paint but little photography, and his exploded, expressionist artwork brings the Joker to cackling life, Day-Glo green hair flowing like sea-grass, his speeches slashed freely across the page in bright red ink, unconstrained by speech bubbles.
And all the other regular inmates are on hand to scare what passes for the daylight out of Batman including the Scarecrow, Two-Face and, here, the Hatter:
“I’m so glad you could make it. I have so many things to tell you. You must be feeling quite fragile by now, I expect. This house… does things to your mind.
“Now, where was I? Where am I? Where will I be?
“Ah yes, the apparent disorder of the universe is simply a higher order, an implicate order beyond comprehension. This why children… interest me. They’re all mad, you see. But in each of them is an implicate adult. Order out of chaos. Or is it the other way around? To know them is to know myself.
“Little girls especially. Little blonde girls. Little shameless bitches! Oh god. Gold help us all!
“Sometimes… sometimes I think the Asylum is a head. We’re inside a huge head that dreams us all into being. Perhaps it’s your head, Batman.
“Arkham is a looking glass. And we are you.”
Original Sin (UK Edition) s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, various & Mike Deodato Jr., various.
And £17-99’s not bad given that Marvel U.S. want you to fork out £37-99 for a hardcover. This UK softcover contains ORIGINAL SIN #0-8 and ORIGINAL SINS plural #1-5. Let’s stick with the original here.
From the writer of SCALPED.
For eons The Watcher has overseen Earth’s most seismic schisms.
His presence is a prescience born of pure instinct.
Whenever a crossroads has manifested itself requiring soul-searching and due diligence rather than desperate, knee-jerk reactions, Uatu has appeared. He is there not to counsel but to observe, for Uatu is forbidden to interfere. But his very materialisation has proved a welcome warning for all to think very carefully before the wrong road is taken in haste.
Can you imagine what The Watcher has seen, what his eyes have beheld? Such knowledge would be a most coveted prize.
But how do you ambush a being who sees what will be? Well. Ambushing a being like Uatu would be seismic schism in itself. He would surely, ineluctably, be drawn there. Not sure that’s what happened but that would be my merry Marvel No-Prize entry in case it needs be explained!
Instead what is concentrated on to begin with is the firepower needed to take the bald boy down for that is what’s happened: The Watcher is dead, shot point-blank in the head. Few know Uatu exists; fewer still have the wherewithal and weaponry to execute him. Most of them are on the side of the gods so if stones are upturned will it be a superhero seen scrambling from underneath?
Nick Fury is recalled from self-sequestration.
Some unlikely allegiances are formed amongst the superhero community (exemplary clue: Dr Strange and the Punisher?!).
And Mike Deodato has rendered it all in his exceptional, neo-classical demi-darkness.
How did play out? It was epic thanks in no small part to Mr Deodato whose sense of scale is breathtaking.
It was also a little turgid and utterly implausible but given that Marvel already has Wolverine on twenty-two teams and in thirty-six countries at once, you shouldn’t be surprised that someone here is revealed to have had more than two day jobs and for a very long time. Another character acquires another new job to boot.
Are you watching carefully?
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?
Expecting To Fly #2 (£3-00, Scary Go Round) by John Allison
Graveyard Book Graphic Novel vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
Jampires (£6-99, DFC Books) by Sarah McIntyre, David O’Connell
Luminae h/c (£18-99, Magnetic Press) by Bengal
Mouse Guard: Baldwin The Brave And Other Tales h/c (£10-99, Archaia) by David Petersen
Night Post h/c (£12-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Read & Laura Trinder
Robert Moses The Master Builder Of New York City (£15-99, Nobrow) by Pierre Christin & Olivier Balez
Sam Jamwitch And The Sad Wooden Ferrets (£2-50, ) by Kate Hazell, Ed Hawkesworth
Sam Jamwitch And The Snoozle Pigs (£2-50, ) by Kate Hazell, Ed Hawkesworth
Single Black Glove (£3-50, ) by Kate Hazell
Son Of The Gun h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess
Stickleback vol 2: Number Of The Beast (£14-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli
The Wicked & The Divine vol 1: The Faust Act s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Batman Adventures vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Kelley Puckett, Martin Pasko & Ty Templeton
Batman Superman vol 1: Cross World s/c (£10-99, DC) by Greg Pak & Jae Lee
Batman Superman vol 2: Game Over h/c (£18-99, DC) by Greg Pak, Paul Levitz & Brett Booth, Jae Lee
Avengers World vol 2: Ascension s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Al Ewing & Marco Checchetto, Stefano Caselli, Dale Keown
Deadpool Vs X-Force s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski & Pepe Larraz
Fantastic Four vol 2: Original Sin s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by James Robinson & Leonard Kirk
Original Sin: Thor And Loki – The Tenth Realm s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Al Ewing & Simone Bianchi, Lee Garbett
Invincible vol 20: Friends (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley
Deadman Wonderland vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka
Sword Art Online: Aincraid (£14-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tamako Nakamura
Gantz vol 32 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Samurai Executioner Omnibus vol 3 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima
Mistletoe Christmas Card (£3-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Orange British Bee Greetings Card With Seed Packet (£3-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Yellow British Bee Greetings Card With Seed Packet (£3-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Baby It’s Cold Outside Christmas Card (£3-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Top Shiba Inu Greetings Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Red Fox Greetings Card (£2-75, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Grey Fox Greetings Card (£2-75, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
ITEM! Ooooh, on sale NOW: the magical, silent, all-ages NIGHT POST by Ben Read (PORCELAIN, BUTTERFLY GATE) and Laura Trinder. This preview of NIGHT POST points to it being perfect for Christmas! There’s even an enchanting NIGHT POST trailer!
ITEM! Speaking of PORCELAIN, we have free copies of the PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA preview to give away in the shop – and why not ask for one when placing an order by mail? Isn’t it beautiful?!
ITEM! Harlan Coben’s all-time favourite Amazon one-star review. Funny! You know, if you’re not keen on Amazon you can buy discounted prose, CDs and DVDS via Hive, delivered to your door or even delivered to Page 45 for collection for free Either way, if you nominate Page 45 and we make a cut! Hurrah!
ITEM! SelfMadeHero’ Spring Catalogue 2015 includes Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR! SelfMadeHero is the publisher of Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, Rob Davis’ magnificent MOTHERLESS OVEN and currently all Page 45’s copies of THE MOTHERLESS OVEN come with a free, limited edition, signed bookplate.
ITEM! Preview of Matt Taylor’s THE GREAT SALT LAKE which looks stunning! Page 45 will be receiving copies very shortly indeed!
ITEM! Molly Crabapple’s 15 Rules For Creative Success – make perfect sense to me!
ITEM! Look at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival Poblin Award statuette! Isn’t he cute?
I don’t have any big announcements for you this week, sorry.
But I can tease you about one!
Be here on Valentine’s Day 2015 for something a bit special.