I Love This Part (£8-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.
“Can we ever tell anybody?”
Simple, subtle, sublime.
Two girls share experiences, confide in each other and reassure each other gently.
They explore landscapes together, looking out, over or nestling within them. This is the sweet languor of youth when you still have time to rest supine and stare at the sky up above you.
There’s an intimacy right from the start in the way they inhabit those landscapes, absorbing a song, one ear-bud each, or crouched under a duvet in front of a laptop with a night-time cityscape rising behind them, its tiny, square, skyscraper windows brightly lit while their monumental silhouettes stand out, crisp and bold, against white and purple-tinged clouds.
“I got an ipod Shuffle once for Hanukkah and it really stressed me out that I never knew what song was next.”
That made me smile. It’s true, isn’t it, that we enjoy the segue from one song to another on an album we love, subconsciously anticipating what we know will come next as the final chords on the current one fade or when it concludes in a blistering crescendo? It’s the same with any mix-tape you’ve made.
So here’s the thing: the story is told in single-panel pages and if the landscapes are so often majestic – mountains, canyons, valleys – then the two girls are equally epic and so completely at one with them.
Their positioning is perfect and the sense of scale is breathtaking. Tillie Walden already demonstrated an adoration of Windsor McCay’s LITTLE NEMO in THE END OF SUMMER; here she takes that influence and makes of it something uniquely her own. Winsor thought like this, but he never did this. There’s also that dreamlike comfort to it. Or at least there is to begin with.
Initially each full-page panel features both girls in synch, either side by side or opposite each other, but then there’s a brief falling-out over a photo uploaded onto social media without the expressed consent of the other. It’s still gentle and the kindness – the reassurance – remains. But there follows a telling page in which they’re no longer completely as one but staring in different directions and, oh, the art is exquisite as one girl’s swimsuit hugs tight while the other’s dress billows carefree in a breeze.
Gradually there encroach pages in which only one or neither girl features, silence falls and texting begins instead.
Never forever, I promise you, for this is far from linear but it’s in marked contrast to what went before when their relationship morphs as they tentatively explores new territories, not necessarily successfully.
Aaaaaand we’re still only a fraction of a way in.
The comic’s not long but it’s still substantial, begging you to linger and rewarding you if you do.
It’s fiercely well observed with incredible understanding and empathy but without demanding you recognise that, for so much is left to be said by the silences. I’m in awe of that confidence. And if it isn’t confidence then it’s one massive leap of faith in an approach which is an unequivocal success.
I could type ten more paragraphs precisely proving in which ways Walden has achieved that – I honestly could – but I’m here to intrigue you to discover the rest for yourselves rather present evidence for my assertions once again for the university examining board.
That’s part-relief, part-frustration but if I’m invited back onto the panel of judges for the British Comics Awards 2016 then they’ll get that dissertation, in full, later this year.
I love that part.
Jessica Jones: Alias vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Benidis & Michael Gaydos with Mark Bagley, Rick Mays.
This the big pay-off, the climax and conclusion to JESSICA JONES: ALIAS, the finest series Marvel has ever published. Why has Jessica Jones, private investigator, been wandering around from bar to bar drinking whatever she can lay her hands on and fucking whoever will have her? Why is she caught in this self-perpetuating spiral of self-loathing?
It’s far from simple or straightforward. It’s not a single event but a conglomeration of blows upon bruises which began in childhood. But yes, there was one final, painfully extended trauma which tipped the scales right over and it’s finally going to come out.
“Young maiden of Midgard, thy language leaves something to be desired.”
Oh dear. Jessica’s has just thrown up all over Thor’s yellow boots. Well, I say “just” but that was back in her teens after she first found out she could fly. But not very well. She came splashing down in the Hudson River and almost ended up drowning. Hence throwing up on those boots.
Now: she’s woken up once again in a strange bed with a chronic hangover.
“Where the fuck am I? Seriously. Where the fuck – I have no idea where I – ah! Fffgod damn it! Where are my clothes?
“Oohh… Please tell me I didn’t fuck someone I don’t know.”
It’s then that she spots the man’s enormous, familiar, trademark yellow shirt.
“Shit. Seriously, shit.”
Way back in JESSICA JONES ALIAS VOL 1 she ended up shagging Luke Cage: one more drunken misdemeanour in a succession of many before and since. Thing is, Luke was an adult about it; Jessica wasn’t. Thing is, Jones is now supposed to be dating Scott Lang. And the final thing is, she doesn’t seem overly keen about it… or on him.
“You can’t be my sidekick if that’s what the shirt’s about.”
“Should I even ask where my clothes are or what I am doing here?”
“You don’t remember?”
“It was some wild shit. We had a big freak on. You gang-banged the New Warriors and then –“
Jessica gives him the evil eye. I love Michael Gaydos’ art – it’s so expressive. In a single, subtly nuanced expression you can see her not finding that remotely funny, albeit she has no moral high ground to stand on.
“Do you remember calling me?”
“You don’t remember calling me drunk out of your fucking mind and telling me that I’m not half the man Matt Murdock is and that I could go fuck myself?”
“Yeah. And then, about fifteen minutes later or so, you flew into my window and crashed into my fridge.”
Exhibit A: a seriously trashed window. Exhibit B: a severely dented fridge. Guilty as charged.
Luke was a gentleman last night and, once more this morning, he is a complete but no-nonsense adult about it. And she was doing so well. She hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. So what made her come undone?
It was a job: a job involving a callously, carelessly but still calculatingly manipulative bastard whom she had prior history with. Oh, our Jessica is far from a pushover and decides to face up to her past in order to lay it to rest while helping others and finally get some closure. But I’m afraid it doesn’t go well.
I cannot begin to tell you how well written – how well structured – and how well drawn this all is. Bendis takes what was once a relatively throwaway, c-list supervillain whose specific ability had been used previously by other writers as little more than a plot-point for pugilism and makes of it the most horrific essay in emotional abuse. And then he plays with it, and – in doing so – allows the playa to play a little longer too. There’s no fourth wall breach here but there is the illusion of it as cast so jauntily by the self-involved, egomaniacal wretch himself.
Before you get anywhere near that, however, this volume opens with two whole chapters of flashbacks far further into Jessica’s past than you would have anticipated – into to her teen years at High School. Initially it looks like an improbable, throwaway joke tying in to not one but two major superheroes’ established – *gasp* – secret origins. The art there is a delicious, delirious, accomplished and apposite evocation of Steve Ditko for the extended cast and of romance-era Jack Kirby for Jessica Jones herself. As time passes and Jessica ages the style morphs closer and closer to Gaydos’ own.
Additionally there are some hilariously bouffant, Farah Fawcett hairdos.
So when the first real trauma which will catalyse so much of the deep-seated guilt kicks in, you will be watching it as incredulously as any catastrophe you can think of. Then you can see young Jones beginning to build those insurmountable walls brick by godawful brick.
Then we return to the present; then we return to the really nasty shit.
But, do you know what? Way back when I promised you a journey and I promised you a miracle. Not a Deus Ex Machina, but a brilliant, broad beam of hope.
And – with subtle foreshadowing but subsequent misdirection – Brian Michael Bendis typically leaves it until the very last minute. What a lovely, lovely man.
Unlike almost every Marvel Comic series which quite rightfully has its specific sort of fans, I recommend this almost unequivocally to the Real Mainstream – the average person on the street who enjoys non-genre, contemporary fiction – so long as you’re over fifteen.
The Abaddon (£18-99, Z2 Comics) by Koren Shadmi.
The closest nightmare in comics I can conjure up is Si Spencer & DIX’s KLAXON: things are eaten which should not be eaten and the neighbours aren’t very nice.
Let’s get ‘Abaddon’ out of the way first: in Hebrew terms it’s a bottomless pit and Koren Shadmi has successfully created just such an eternal, cyclical torture. It’s also something else, but that might constitute spoilers.
The opening page is a cracker: a man knocks on a green door, wondering what lies behind it.
It’s a surprisingly well appointed and spacious living room populated by tenants who seem quite agreeable even if every single name has been hideously abbreviated to Shel, Vic, Bet and Nor. Even our protagonist’s called Ter. It’s as if no one can remember the second syllables. Certainly our man Ter with the bandaged head can’t remember much of who he is or why he’s here except in search of lodgings. The room Bet shows him is far less palatial: cramped with cracked walls and a single bed, its ceiling is one of those horrible whorled-plaster affairs and the overhead light won’t switch off.
On the other hand, when he asks how much the rent is, Bet replies, “Oh, we’re very flexible, whatever you can pay is fine. We don’t even have a lease here as far as I know.”
It seems too good to be true.
Because it is.
Without giving too much away the publisher does mention that this is loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Huis Clos’, a play whose various English translations (Behind Closed Doors’ or ‘No Exit’, ‘Dead End’) all fit the bill. But it’s only that scenario they have in common, so I’d say more “inspired by” than “based on” – there’s not a great deal of existentialism going down.
Instead after hostilities open with a startling non-bluff by Vic, Ter finds himself trapped in an apartment of mismatched flatmates constantly in conflict for he finds that he cannot leave. The apartment door is locked and not only is there no key, there’s no keyhole. It only opens when Bern comes calling and no one except Ter seems remotely interested in leaving or the fact that there is no way out. There are not clocks, either, and things have a habit of resetting themselves, so maybe the lack of consequences is some sort of comment on existentialism after all.
Oh, and the windows are all bricked up.
That’s only the set-up and the set-up of the first act at that. I haven’t even mention the substantial side-bar when Ter’s memories slowly return.
I’m not quite sure what the fly motif as all about, but there’s a real spirit of decay about the place. Stuff starts oozing out of cracked piping which Nor then sculpts to please Shel who’s far more interested in vamp-like Bet and because of the colouring when Bet begins to bathe in a free-standing bath the water is as red and gloopy as the ooze – it might even be the same stuff.
Like KLAXON this made me feel queasy and thoroughly unsettled. I don’t want to read it again, thanks!
Low Moon (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.
Finally it’s back! Coming in at over 200 full-colour pages, this was at the time Jason’s thickest work to date: 200 pages of thwarted passion and murderous intent divided into five stories of varying degrees of absurdity. Jason is a master of suspense, building expectation with repetition and unanswered questions as his anthropomorphic black and white bears and beaked ones solemnly go about their business, their expressions seldom giving anything away. Wide-eyed and often clueless yet determined, half of them are dapper but a surprising number are dowdy. It’s comedic enough in itself.
‘Emily Says Hello’ sees an awkward suitor murder a series of men for a skinny woman in exchange for an escalation of sexual favours only to experience the ultimate in anticlimax.
‘Low Moon’ takes place in a West which is so very far from Wild that its inhabitants are more likely to die of ennui than anything else. Their equivalent of duelling is a game of Extreme Chess as Bob McGill returns to town for a rematch, bringing with him some killer moves.
The incongruities may make you smile.
‘&’ follows two separate stories on opposite sides of the page as one man takes to crime in order to pay for his mother’s operation, whilst another persists in trying to obtain his loved one’s hand in marriage whatever the barriers.
The comedy is ratcheted up each time the same process is repeated in accelerating fashion, Jason employing the shorthand of eliminating increasingly unnecessary panels just as he does in ‘Proto Film Noir’. There the adulterous lovers’ persistence in successfully offing the woman’s husband each day is matched only by the husband’s insistence on returning home each morning for breakfast, delighted at the prospect of another sunny day in the garden. So predictable does this become to them that when a policeman calls in search of the victim after another grisly deed, they confidently tell him to come back in the morning.
Lastly I can assure you that ‘You Are Here’ only sounds familiar because it’s the title of a Kyle Baker graphic novel, and not to be confused with another Jason book, YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE, whose name alone still causes me much mirth.
Buttertubs (£7-00, Avery Hill) by Donya Todd.
“Sob sob sob,” she boo hoo hoos.
I don’t know why, she lives in Pretty Land above the Sparkle Sea beyond the comparative dowdy Plain Plains. Oh wait, no she doesn’t – that’s where Princess Puppy known to her friends as PeePee lives, and she’s throwing a party. Unfortunately I think the stomping stroppy thing has had her invitation nabbed by the Hotdog Queen and “It’s not bloody fair!”
“Oh hush ya royal little wibble shit!”
Yes, just in case you were taken in by pretty cover and the equally colourful My Little Pony pageantry inside, the weenie witch Hotdog Queen sure has a potty mouth and there’s going to be a race through this bizarre, fantastical quagmire of danger to see who’ll get to the party first: the sweary one and her flying pet Booboo or Hester and her friction-free Buttertubs.
Buttertubs, you see, is a great big ball of butter-blubber, constantly dripping and slipping and sliding all over the place. On the very first page it’s clearly too close to the camp fire on which Hester’s having an eggs and sausage fry up.
I can actually smell the black, soporific clouds of fatty fumes floating above the frying pan, and I can almost feel the greasy sweet-sweat being constantly exuded by Buttertubs.
I’m not sure what else to tell you. It’s all very loud and very energetic with thunder, lightning and mustard rain, plus the most enormously dilated pupils and weird, floppy fronds filling the pages to what must surely be maximum capacity.
American Jesus (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Peter Gross.
“Can I ask you something, Father?”
“Of course you can. That’s what I’m here for, right?”
“Nah, you’ll just think I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t even be here. My mom and dad aren’t even Catholics.”
“Well, neither’s Muhammad Ali, but I’d still give him five minutes of my precious time. Just tell me what you want to know.”
“Do you think it’s possible I’m the returned Jesus Christ?”
Jodie’s a normal kid who’s been living the normal life a normal kid does – comics, salvaged porn and average grades at school. Then one day a truck careers off a bridge and lands right on top of his noggin, but Jodie walks away without a scratch – just a fresh fluency in any known language, an intuitive understanding of all forms of science and a complete encyclopaedia of history on tap in his head.
When his mother tells him she’s never had sex, he begins to entertain the idea that he’s the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, as do many of those around him with the emphatic exception of the local priest. As the priest explains, it’s common for people Jodie’s age to think they’re a little different, especially after they’ve survived some sort of accident. It’s tempting to give in to grandiose presumptions of being special. Tempting, and dangerous.
Gross keeps suburban life real, whilst Millar keeps the suspense simmering, exploring what a young boy like Jodie might make of the situation. I loved the extended comparison Jodie comes up with between the Bible Testaments and the Star Wars Trilogy. Not only does it work, it’s just what a kid might do if they were suddenly that bright. As for what’s really at work, well, Jodie’s thirty-three as he looks back at these difficult days, so he’s evidently come to terms with how things have turned out.
One way, or the other…
Planet Hulk: Warzones s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Sam Humphries & Marc Laming.
But for the moment, seldom has an artist filled every conceivable inch on the page with big, bold forms without it for one second feeling cluttered or crowded.
And that’s what you want from a HULK comic: big, bold forms! Especially when there are multiple Hulks of so many sizes, hues and varying degrees of semi-sentience. Regardless of whether or not they’re given dialogue, each is imbued by our monkey Marc with a distinct personality, some even less friendly than others. I’ll be back with you in a second…
Previously on SECRET WARS #1 and SECRET WARS #2 (both reviewed): the Marvel Universe was destroyed, Earth ceased to exist and almost everyone on it perished. In its wake a new world appeared populated by those who will be familiar to you but in oh so different circumstances. This Battleworld was divided into kingdoms or Warzones between which trespass was strictly forbidden by God above, the lord and master of all he surveys, ****** ****** *** ****. Let’s play Hang Man, shall we? It wouldn’t be inapposite.
SECRET WARS, then, was the central title around which were launched satellite series like this, most of which focussed on a distinct kingdom or zone to which the curiously titled WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN VOL 00: WARZONES! proved a hitch-hiker’s guide because Logan can’t even spell ‘verboten’. Here an incursion is actually authorised – but by whom? Who is it sitting there scowling implacably on his throne? He’s a lot less loquacious than usual, I’ll tell you.
As the comic commences a blonde warrior called The Captain is hailed as victor in the latest Killiseum combat tournament transmitted throughout Battleworld. Huge jubilation to the non-existent rafters etc.
His chain-mail, cloth and leather garb combo is a fusion of warrior-race soldiers many moons ago, although its icons and arrangement are strangely reminiscent of a certain Steve Rogers. He has triumphed with the aid of an axe, a star-striped shield and a bellicose, bi-pedal, Cretaceous-era chappie whom we’ll simply call Tall, Red And Toothsome.
Recognise him, anyone?
The Captain’s not done this for fame; he’s not done it for fortune. He’s done if for information about his missing companion, Bucky, and for this single moment when the vainglorious master of ceremonies, Arcade, strides forth to commend his accomplishment and when Steve Rogers springs his trap which is ready and waiting and right by his side. When you realise where Arcade’s been imprisoned, I promise you will roar with laughter!
What does any of this have to do with multiple Hulks? They’re subsisting in a barbaric environment similar to the original PLANET HULK, ruled by the Red Hulk and under attack by the Hammers of God whom we call Thors. According to ****** ****** *** **** this is where The Captain will find his companion. Now why do you think he would impart this much-prized information to someone who has royally pissed him off?
Sam Humphries provides lies, treachery and slights of hand and a Captain America who’s wracked with guilt and goaded by Doc Green into getting in touch with his gamma side. I did wonder why but I shouldn’t have doubted – I just didn’t see that particular twist coming.
But the big draw for me was the art. As he proved in KINGS WATCH Laming’s sense of scale is jaw-dropping and here he has delivered something long lacking from Marvel: a truly monumental monster comic! That’s what classic HULK tales under the late, great Herb Trimpe were always about.
They were the comicbook equivalent of Godzilla movies: the military versus the monsters. General Talbot Ross and his cronies supplied the former while the latter came in all shapes and sizes (but basically big) from familiar Marvel villains like The Rhino, The Juggernaut and Wendigo to tailor-made gamma-goons like the Abomination and the Harpy. Finally there were the really off-the-wall – literally, in the case of the Hulk’s shadow. Yes, even the Hulk’s shadow couldn’t be depended upon for loyalty. It was also a case of crossed wires when it came to Zzzax, the big ball of humanoid electrical fizz/ fuzz who spoke like he had a mouth full of wasps.
“Zzzax feedzz on energy from humanzzz’ brainzz!”
Zzzaz was a zombie. He must be the only zombie who ever got that apostrophe right.
Muck-monsters like the Glob and the Man-Thing were a staple diet in HULK comics, but for sheer quantity in a single story you couldn’t beat THE INCREDIBLE HULK KING-SIZE ANNUAL #5. There the terrifying bundle of white fluff known as Xemnu had replicated aliens from the old TALES FROM SUSPENSE and WHERE MONSTERS DWELL like Groot, the talking tree trunk (oh yes, he’s not new) and Blip – although given that he was from the junior generation, I guess he was just a minor Blip.
Then came Goom and Taboo and Diablo:
“Hulk has never seen smoke-thing before — why does smoke-thing want to kill Hulk?”
It’s on every packet of 20, you viridian vacuum!
But I digress (as Peter David used to say).
This is a monster comic. That’s what HULK comics were and I’d be bloody delighted if that’s what they became once again. As long as Marc Laming or someone like David Finch is on board.
I laugh heartily at the very idea that I may once more be able to bellow: “I am Taboo!”
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.
There will be more here on Thursday. Yes, Thursday which is New Comics Day this week once again for reasons we cannot possibly fathom!
Revival vol 6: Thy Loyal Sons & Daughters (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton, Jenny Frison
Superior Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Yildiray Cinar, Laura Braga
Silver Surfer vol 3: Last Days s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred
Jessica Jones: Alias vol 4 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos
Copra Round Three s/c (£14-99, Bergen Street Press) by Michel Fiffe
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 2 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki
Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni (£18-99, 2000AD) by Gordon Rennie & Patrick Goddard, Leigh Gallagher
The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa
Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 6 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki
Fairy Tail Ice Trail vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Yuusuke Shirato & Hiro Mashima
Die Wergelder vol 1 (£14-99, Kodansha Comics) by Hiroaki Samura
Uncanny X-Men vol 5: The Omega Mutant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka
Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Two: Primordial h/c (£16-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Simon Davies
Judge Dredd Casefiles 26 (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Mark Millar, various & John Burns, Henry Flint, various
will return next week once I am sober. Thank yoooooooooooo!