Bryan Lee O’Malley News! Also: Jonathan does the heavy lifting with Dan Clowes’ Patience and Sony Liew’s Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, we unearth a review by our Mark for the reprint of Through The Habitrails while I’m all about Tony Cliff’s new Delilah Dirk and Jeremy A. Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl plus Hickman & Ribic’s Secret Wars. Finally! It’s actually very good.
The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c (£22-50, Pantheon) by Sonny Liew…
“In the beginning, there was Tezuka. They called him the God of manga.”
“I’ve got that book of his over here…
“As for me, I was born in the year of nothing. 1938.
“Well, as far as Singapore’s history is concerned, anyway… 1938… It was before the war, not a year of any particular significance…
“But it was the year that The Beano first appeared in the UK…
“… and Superman made his debut in the United States.”
I never knew that. Perhaps someone needs to organise a Dennis The Menace vs. Superman centennial crossover for 2038? I can just imagine the put-upon Clark Kent being best chums with Weedy Walter. It wouldn’t be the weirdest match up, surely; I mean SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMED ALI was pretty odd, though I would contend BJORN BORG VS. PLUG of The Bash Street Kids, with the toothsome teen thrashing the great tennis maestro, is probably more bizarre still.
Hmm… not sure if one can technically have said to digressed before you’ve actually started something, but I’d best get on with the review! Or at least provide some background first…
Singapore, the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire”, is arguably the most successful former colonial territory, of any of the ‘great’ 19th and 20th Century European empires, in terms of its transition to independence. It’s economic prosperity and increased living standards enjoyed by its citizens were the envy of all its Asian neighbours in the latter half of the 20th Century. Most of the plaudits for that progress can be laid at the feet of The People’s Action Party which has formed the democratically elected and re-elected incumbent government since 1959, and its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who actually held the position until 1990.
That progress, guided by Lee who is regarded as the founding father of modern Singapore, from “third world to first world in a single generation”, is clearly impressive. As ever, of course, along the way, there were certain dissenting voices who were, shall we say, removed as obstacles, by a combination of political chicanery, state abuse of power (particularly in the sphere of silencing dissenting journalists) and a disturbing use of extended internment without charge for certain radicals. It is probably testament to the relatively small scale and generally bloodless nature of these measures, that the vast majority of Singaporeans regard them as having been a necessary evil.
That moral conundrum, plus the history of this island from colonial trading outpost to fully fledged Asian tiger and much more besides is explored through the eyes, and art, of Singapore’s greatest comics artist: Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Except… such a person never existed…
Sonny Liew has created a truly fascinating proxy to allow him to take us on the Singaporean independence journey, warts and all. That story in and of itself is immaculately laid out, very objectively, without shying away from any of the darker elements. But it’s the retrospective of the faux career of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, shown in snippets of chapters and sketches, à la mode of Seth’s THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS, which elevates this to a work of genius. Because Charlie Chan Hock Chye was always a man who expressed himself through his comics, and was someone who had much to say. With the arm’s length remove of anthropomorphic satirical gag strips or a speculative fiction premise about a fascistic future regime of hegemonistic alien overlords, his comics allowed him far more freedom of speech than the oppressed journalistic press itself enjoyed.
Thus Sonny Liew is very neatly able to provide a much more personal and subjective commentary on the never changing political landscape and various tumultuous events as they affected the typical man in the street. As with Seth’s masterpiece, you’ll be left wishing that some of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s works actually existed because you’ll be wanting to read them in full!
There is an additional comedic level revolving around Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s entirely self-appointed status as “Singapore’s greatest comics artist” and his complete lack of any substantial commercial success, including his attempts to crack America, which is almost certainly a bit of personal commentary on Sonny’s part on working as a comics creator I would imagine, but which only serves to season our appreciation of this fake master even further.
Sonny employs a truly enormous range of art styles throughout this work, which is undoubtedly his magnum opus, demonstrating the various creative twists and turns (and cul-de-sacs) a comics artist might take during such an extensive and varied career. Fake or not, he’s had to draw them all! I seriously hope this work serves as a springboard to greater widespread recognition and rewards for Sonny though, because he truly deserves it. I can’t imagine how he can top this creatively, mind you, but I’m fascinated to see how he’ll try.
Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff.
We are certainly not at home here to Comrade Cliché who has been sent packing back to his identical twins, Praetor Predictable and Father Formulaic. Instead entire households have the capacity to surprise with their absence of snobbery, racism and chauvinism even if certain less oppressive formalities must be maintained for the sake of one’s reputation.
Ah, reputation, very much at the heart of this tale and on the front cover, dichotomous Delilah having more than one to uphold.
Set in Portugal and Britain during 1809, this quick-witted action-adventure is my fav all-ages read of the year so far. And I do mean all-ages, just like AMULET whose Kazu Kibuishi is an enormous fan. It’s easy to see why: just as AMULET is bursting with fantastical Hayao Miyazaki flourishes, Tony Cliff delivers landscape after landscape with perfect perspectives and period detail:
Lisbon harbour with its exotic, early 16th Century Belém Tower; galleons setting sail; and at least three English, aristocratic mansions from the homely and rustic Nichols estate, late on a moonlit night with a solitary room’s windows shining ever so bright, to the more grandiose and Palladian on the evening of a ball.
We are indeed talking Jane Austen’s era of etiquette-ribbing match-making and I can assure you this is equally iconoclastic, only with a great many more swords and some balletic, fight-scene choreography worthy of Frank Miller circa DAREDEVIL.
We first meet wall-climbing, roof-hopping, sword-flashing Delilah Dirk during a rescue mission / child-abduction in Portugal. It depends on your sense of perspective – something Delilah’s long-suffering side-kick Mister Selim has far more command of than she does. Selim offers a constant, cautionary and pragmatic counsel to his more hot-headed counterpart. Where Delilah sees revenge, Selim would rather seek justice; where Delilah would rather protect her legendary reputation as fearsome and formidable even with an arm wound so debilitating than she could not possibly succeed, Selim suggests strategy. Lovers of nail-biting tension will be delighted to learn that, obstinate to the end, she never listens, even to an obvious admonition to avoid Spanish soil overrun with warring French and English redcoats.
“We should leave. I don’t like all this red. It reminds me of blood; specifically mine, and specifically not where it should be.”
It’s there that they first come afoul of ambitious aristo-git Major Jason Merrick who has the most god almighty chip on his shoulder on account of feeling unappreciated by his father, Colonel Phillip Merrick. Not knowing whom he has in his clutches, Major Merrick drags Dirk in as a French spy. This goes somewhat unappreciated by his father who knows Dirk by reputation and where her loyalties lie, so he dismisses both the charges as unsubstantiated and his son as ignorant. This is not appreciated by his son who swiftly plants evidence and so now Delilah Dirk has a reputation – for treason! This is not appreciated by Delilah.
Over and over again, this single-minded mule’s deceit will make your blood boil, but that’s as nothing when you find out his true ambitions.
As I say, reputation is central, whether it’s London’s reputation as glorified throughout the wider world, Delilah’s now that she needs to clear her name and ensure no further opportunists believe that they can win a fight against her… and then there is the Nichols family reputation back in England. Who? Oh, for someone who seems to be so concerned about the truth, Delilah has been far from forthcoming herself, especially when it comes to poor Mister Selim.
What makes this for me is the actual wit – the dry humour – evidenced by Mister Selim. On the very first page there’s some positively parched humour when he attempts to start a small, distracting fire while observing that the grass is far from green; later he’s asked when he would expect out of a British reception. “Nothing extravagant,” he shrugs, eyeing his double-page, imperialistic, triumphalist fantasy which is too funny to behold. I also love the running gag about British tea, the last one I clocked being visual.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and, for the facial expressions and general relationships you might feel towards the characters, make a comparison to Kate Brown (TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, FISH + CHOCOLATE, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3).
I’m also delighted to have found my final illustration online, for I marvelled at this early page on which Tony Cliff thought to add this extra detail of one of the sheets (drawn down to protect the Portuguese patio from the searing midday sun) either having been taken by a breeze and got itself hooked on the railings or never having quite made it to the floor in the first place!
Now that is classy.
Patience h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes…
“And this is where my story begins.
“The pain was beyond anything you could imagine, a fucking cannon hole in the chest.
“I couldn’t move for what seemed like hours, like I was stuck in drying concrete. Probably just a trick by my DNA to keep me from bashing my brains in.
“The fact is, I didn’t want to kill myself. My memories were all that was left of her. I couldn’t bear to snuff those out too.
“And even though this event had demonstrated the total absence of order in the universe, I couldn’t stand to think of some inhuman demon walking free while the cops pinned the whole thing on me.
“But I’ll be fucked if that isn’t exactly what happened.”
It would be fair to say that 2012 wasn’t a good year for Jack Barlow. I mean, coming home and finding your pregnant wife murdered will do that to you.
When the cops seem more interested in trying to pin it on him rather than conducting a serious investigation into the titular Patience’s death, Jack decides he’ll need to try and find the culprit himself. However, fast forward to 2029 and no matter how many spurious tips he’s run down and flimsy leads he’s followed up…
“… That one fizzled out like all the rest. More pointless bullshit. And so, here we are.”
Indeed. Here we are. At least for now…
Meanwhile the fact that the more time passes it becomes ever less likely Jack will be able to find his wife’s killer is not lost on him. In fact, it’s all he can think about, so obsessed and all-consumed is Jack with what has been taken from him. Not just his wife, but the potential of a being a father, a future of being all together as one happy family. That Jack is utterly convinced the killer is someone from Patience’s shadowy past only adds to his agony.
So when a prostitute Jack saves from a beating lets slip that she has a client who mentioned something about trying to invent a time machine, he’s desperate enough to track the guy down. He knows it’s going to be just one more kick in the teeth, but when it turns out to be true, he’s headed straight back to 2006 to try and learn the identity of Patience’s killer and alter the course of history by stopping her murder.
Of course, Daniel Clowes isn’t going to let it be that simple for Jack, now, is he?! No, what follows as Jack is put through the emotional and temporal wringer, quite literally time after time, is as darkly comedic as it is disturbing. Jack is determined to be the discreet unseen observer, yet completely unable to stop himself from intervening as he sees his wife getting into various horrific scrapes she’s only ever alluded to with various local scroatbags and ends up changing events in ways he could never have envisaged. He’s convinced he can correct matters and still save the day of course, but as events start to spiral further out of his control, and the effects of repeated time hops starts to play havoc with his body and his mind, who knows where, or indeed when, it will all end up.
As ever a note-perfect construction story-wise across the decades, blending complex brooding story-telling with farcical comedy to superb effect once more, just as he did with WILSON. It takes real skill to make a reader want to laugh and cry at the same time, with a fair amount of wincing thrown in for good measure. I frequently found myself shaking my head at Jack’s latest catastrophic transgression whilst simultaneously egging him on.
Art-wise, Clowes is on top form as ever. I particularly loved the grey-haired older version of Jack who looks every inch the bad ass, in complete contrast to the sweet, innocent 2016 version. It’s also quite amusing and revealing when he goes to visit the younger version of his own mother (yet another line he wasn’t going to cross…) and we find she bares more than a passing resemblance to Patience. No idea whether Mrs. Clowes looks like his mother did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it was so! Plus there are some great surreal timestream sequences near the end as things start to get very messy indeed. Finally, the absolute last double-page spread, after the story has finished, I could stare at for hours. Purely as a piece of modern art in its own right I think it is one of the most enticing / intriguing / strangely comforting images I’ve ever seen.
Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles (£10-99, Dover Publications Inc.) by Jeff Nicholson –
Includes a new epilogue by Jeff, new foreword and intro by Fraction & Bissette, and fresh, shiny new paper for crisp, pitch blacks and zero ink-bleed. To be honest, it looks as if it’s been completely reshot.
It’s one of our favourites. Review from 2001 by our beardly beloved Mark:
The unnamed narrator works in the illustration department of a large advertising agency, hacking out pictures of happy pizza delivery and pointless mail order trash. He has dreams of producing his own work but the sales force and their little taps that drain the creative juices from his system leave him numb and desolate at the end of the day.
He shows us his colleagues: The Doomed One (his dreaded future), destined to toil there forever, complaining and bitching, trapped at her work station; The Infiltrator, possibly an agent of the bosses, spying on the workforce; the writer who returns after an illness with a great novel but loses his nerve to publish it, sinking back into the soft, easy life.
Metaphors are pushed to the surface. The creative juice is literally drained from the workers. This is then fed to the maze of gerbils which run round the office in an elaborate tunnel network. The workers – always shown without a mouth – can kill the creatures to relieve stress thus making them feel less helpless.
‘Jar Head’ deals with his descent into alcoholism:
“The act of drinking beer became cumbersome, and I drank in such quantity that it became more practical to fashion a large pickle jar around my head. In time, the air seemed less important, and the carbonation from the beer was enough to sustain me.”
It’s probably the most grotesque chapter and the page with the scalpels and the insects is not something that I care to think about too often.
Throughout the book, he searches for escape whether it is in relationships, travel or his own projects.
This is horror: one guy quit his job after reading it.
Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastian.
“What business does one so small have afloat those dark waves?”
“You may think me a spring shower, sir. But I’ve a hurricane in this heart that’d sink the Royal Fleet. So if your old bones would be so kind there’s a pirate here that needs to be squeezed through yer pretty door.”
What a thunderous, exuberant and intoxicating read! Jeremy A. Bastian, as if giddy on grog, liberates himself from all constraints to deliver a fantastical romp both above and below the Caribbean high seas.
It is so rich in detail that you’ll be scanning its nautical nooks and pirate-cabin crannies for hours. The lines are ridiculously fine yet as smooth as silk, as shrimp-strewn seaweed swirls to frame the pages or when the Pirate Girl is lowered down the hull of a galleon in a cage which is fashioned in the form of one enormous, ornate teapot. It’s not just ornate, this is bursting with inspiration and imagination, the pages populated by James Gillray grotesques and Sir John Tenniel hybrid creatures.
And yes, while I’m think about it, there is more than a little of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical mischief here combined with the anarchy of Tony Millionaire (SOCK MONKEY, MAAKIES), whilst the cluttered galleys and captain’s quarters o’erbrimming with jewel-encrusted treasures are delineated with lines as classy and intricate as Bernie Wrightson’s or Franklin Booth’s.
Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, David Petersen and Gerard Way line up to praise the book’s originality as the Cursed Pirate Girl and parrot Pepper Dice take a deep breath and dive underwater past squabbling swordfish siblings to rise in search of the girl’s missing father, one of five Captains sailing under the Jolly Roger flag in the Omerta Seas. Each ship they board presents a different challenge with new friends or foes, but the Cursed Pirate girl has boundless energy, a quick wit and at least one keen eye, while by the end of this first foray ‘x’ will mark the spot of the other.
There’s an extensive gallery of previous covers, maps and head-dressed skulls, additional fantasies like the Lands of the Lions whose crowned Kings Castle rises above the forest tree tops and a moat patrolled by gunships like the grandest Indian temple never constructed. Guest artists galore include David Peterson, Katie Cook, Stephano Gaudiano, Mike Mignola and Moritat, they’re portraits coming complete with in-character commentary.
It’s almost as if Archaia doesn’t want to stop giving you stuff but, alas, they have when it comes to the paper stock which was previously deckled – crisply crinkled as if pressed from older pulp slurry – but is now a smooth, silky cream. French flaps, though!
Continued in CURSED PIRATE GIRL 2015 ANNUAL.
Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall…
“Yeah well… look I was just wondering… this is a little awkward… but it’s just we saw one of your old posters… and I couldn’t help but notice one of the faces and look just… do you know anything about that girl who died?”
“You know, the gymnast or contortionist or whatever?”
“It’s just we saw this old poster and she was on it and…”
“Anyway I was just curious…
“CURIOUS! About a dead woman? A dead woman you’ve never met?”
As main character Malorey Hassan said herself, awkward! Quite why Mal has got such a bee in her bonnet about a deceased performer of Parvati’s Circus I don’t know. But it is certainly going to get Mal and her friend Eddie into some increasingly exciting social situations, that’s for sure, as they start to investigate precisely what it is that the carnies are covering up. Oh, and some trouble, of course, obviously!
This is the second self-published graphic novella from Verity LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL Hall, and it’s lovely to see her continued development both in terms of storytelling and art. This work is the first volume in an ongoing series, so it’s also great to see there are no limits to her ambition too! By the end of this first instalment I was sufficiently hooked from what juicy details Mal and Eddie have uncovered in their investigations so far – plus some other reveals regarding the characters including one huge reveal regarding Mal herself – to want to know more!
Verity has created some characters with real heart and depth here. I found myself beginning to care as much about them as I was intrigued about just what’s really going on underneath the big top… Fortunately for me, Madame Parvati’s mysterious decision that the circus will stay in their sleepy back water town indefinitely should ensure I get some answers…
In terms of the art, I think it is pretty fair to make the comparison to John Allison’s very early SCARY GO ROUND material. If you look at what John is producing today, you can see how much progress he has made in the meantime, and I don’t doubt Verity has the same intent. This is very colourful, very expressive. It perhaps feels a touch too much so in places, occasionally I found myself noticing I was observing why the construction of a panel had broken my concentration on the story for example.
I think Verity just needs to continue naturally softening her style, which I can see has happened already from LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL. But overall this is an excellent example of the level, in terms of the story, art and production values, that just starting out self-publishers today need to be aspiring to. Verity evens includes a pack of four prints and two stickers featuring the cast as a little bonus.
Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Dougie Braithwaite & Leandro Fernandez.
“Later on, she told me the whole story.
“About the way she left her village. About the old man, about Cristu and Vera.
“About the thing her father said.
“About her baby.
“When she was done, I knew a lot of men would have to die.”
The second of four thick volumes reprinting the original ten adult-orientated PUNISHER MAX books plus attendant mini-series, this is a far cry from Ennis and Dillon’s PREACHER-lite burlesque of WELCOME BACK, FRANK. Don’t get me wrong, that book made me chuckle heartily, but any humour here is much, much blacker as Castle confronts real-world politics and sexual slavery.
Following the slaughter or his wife and kids, Frank Castle is a man with one mission: to kill those he believes prey on others, particularly on women and children. As he made resoundingly clear in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1, Frank is not a gun for hire. He accepts no one else’s authority and no one else’s instructions.
The only man in the Marvel universe who boasts the same self-assured, dogged determination is Nick Fury, which is possibly why he’s one of the few people Castle will listen to.
In ‘Mother Russia’ Castle is told that the Russians have developed a virus; one which – if it made its way onto the black market like other arms from that crumbling military monolith – could prove lethal to the rest of the world. It’s locked in an underground nuclear solo… inside the body of a young girl.
Nick needs the girl safely out, and only Frank would be both insane enough to attempt the mission and ruthless enough to accomplish it. Unbeknownst to Nick Fury, however, there’s a more cowardly form of ruthlessness in action behind the desks of the Pentagon, where they’re prepared to sacrifice innocents to cover their tracks, even if it means doing to others what was done to America on September 11th, 2001.
That was of Ennis’ best performances to date – you may find yourself punching the air when you hear Castle’s uncompromising ultimatum at the end of chapter five, delivered deadpan to the Russian command. And do you honestly need me to tell you how great Braithwaite’s pencils are (see JUSTICE)? He brings a gnarled and brutal physicality to the proceedings. You can almost feel the bruised, puff-eyed swellings throb and hear the headache behind them. The Russian leaders’ faces are weary, drained of all life and humour. There are a lot of hard stares, and if I had to describe Travino’s colour palette it would be winter gulag green – at midnight.
However, after ‘Up Is Down And Back Is White’ – which I confess I don’t remember – we come to ‘The Slavers’ also illustrated by Leandro Fernandez and its bite is even harder. It deals with the all too real horror of international sex-slave trafficking: of young women from the Balkans being tricked into believing they have a future in the West, then being sold into sexual slavery here.
It’s usually a family business, believe it or not, but you can forget any cuddly connotations that may spring to mind. I remember seeing a couple of undercover investigations into this – and a TV dramatisation – a few years back, and one of the many things that hit me hardest were the madams: the wives of the abductors, the women who would treat other women like meat, offering them up to be gang raped in order to break them early on. It’s all here, barely diluted (“An unbeaten woman is like an untidy house”), and the Punisher realises early on that those he’s up against are more hardened than his regular mafia targets. They’re the father-and-son Romanian leaders of a Serb militia outfit, the results of whose genocidal campaigns had been reported by the papers:
“In the space of two years, they’d taken out a dozen villages.
“The last four places that they hit were different. Same streets of corpses as before, a total of over eighteen hundred. But men, kids and older women only in the last four. All the girls were gone.
“Someone must have had a brainwave. More profit in slavery than massacre. You already run a death squad: all the recruits you’ll need when you join the private sector. And when NATO takes a hand and it isn’t quite so easy doing business, what else do you do but move out West?
“One way or another, the badlands of Eastern Europe have been at war forever.
“They give their world its hardest soldiers. Always have. Men who play soccer with severed heads in kindergarten yards; who wire their captives with explosives, drug them, then send them staggering back to unsuspecting families.
“The things I’d have to do to break those men – to make them talk…
“Would be extreme.”
By the Punisher’s standards.
Once you meet the father-and-son war-versus-commerce contingent you will understand just how extreme those measures and must be and what an uphill task it will be deploying them without the women being whisked off somewhere else or caught in the crossfire. Because Ennis makes it personal, about individuals, you’ll be rooting from Frank harder than you have done before – unlike the police who are doing fuck all about the traffickers themselves. Instead they’re distracted by one corrupt Detective Westin to lie outright to the media during high-profile press conferences about how Castle is coming undone and assaulting officers, thereby hindering (and in one instance thwarting) Frank’s best efforts to free the women before even worse goes down.
I have to confess that I’m more of a Braithwaite fan than Fernandez, but it’s still powerful stuff and almost every panel the vile old man appears in is suitably grotesque and appalling.
Next? Believe it or not there will be a little light relieve courtesy of a bloke called Barracuda and – depending what order Marvel choose to reprint things – Christopher Walken as well.
Secret Wars (£16-99, UK Ed. s/c; £37-99, US h/c, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.
“Everything dies” we were told over and over again as the cabal called the Illuminati – Reed Richards, the Black Panther, Iron Man, Beast, Namor, Black Bolt and Dr. Stephen Strange – witnessed a series of Incursions: intrusions of planet Earth from one parallel universe to another. There could only be two outcomes: one of those Earths was destroyed / sacrificed to save the other… or everything died in both.
As the book opens there are now only two Marvel universes left: the regular and the Ultimate. The Earth of each appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations were terrified and their respective superhuman populations went straight on the attack without knowing for the most part that they were essentially up against themselves.
The good news is that Reed Richards, having seen this coming for months and failed to find an acceptable solution, came up with a contingency plan instead and, along with his equally erudite daughter Valeria (still aged seven or something!), constructed a life raft they believe could withstand the death of the universe. It could contain no more than 60 individuals – Reed’s immediate family, some, scientists and superheroes.
The bad news is that as existence blinked there was a catastrophic hull breach and only a handful of heroes made it through. The others simply ceased to exist.
“Quarantine is for things that cause doubt.”
A new day, a new dawn, and if there are fewer stars then at least there are a lot more Thors, each wielding an enchanted hammer forged from one of the missing celestial bodies. (Got to love legend! Ignorance is the mother of invention!). They are the keepers of the law, the Hammers of God. They kneel below their omnipotent deity. Is it the All-Father, Odin?
It is not.
It is Doom.
By sheer force of unflinching will – and a certain source of power – Doom has salvaged from both universes what he can and created a composite world of multiple kingdoms from incursion point remnants between which access is verboten unless strictly authorised or summoned for judgement. Judgement proves swift and rarely merciful. Beware which kingdom you’re banished to! Many are key Marvel events playing themselves out differently; others are populated by superhero or supervillain zombies, the seasonally migrating Annihilation Wave or Ultron A.I.s kept at bay by the enormous Shield.
At the centre sits Lord God Doom on his throne, the World Tree Yggdrasil.
His right hand of justice is Sheriff Stephen Strange who baulked at the prospect of so much power but is the only one other than Doom to remember the past and know this world’s secret: that it is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a construct. To say so is heresy.
To his left is Valeria, daughter of Doom’s wife Susan Storm and head of The Foundation of science and discovery. What they have discovered is this: an anomaly. A thing which might cause doubt: something which must be quarantined. What do you suppose that is, eh?
Okay, I’ve given you enough, I hope, to raise your eyebrows. Half the fun – very much like Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert’s MARVEL 1602 – will be discovering for yourselves you favourite characters cast in a new light under utterly alien circumstances but with a considerable degree of logic in their new assignations based on their past shared history.
This is far more complex than your average summer event, and prettier too with sweeping Euro-sci-fi sequences like Minister Powers’ investigations, and vast Ribic landscapes like the Isle Of Agamotto, its epic hidden chambers boasting beasts bearing secrets and gifts on their tongues.
Ribic delivers the best portrayal of Sinister I’ve ever seen. His expressions are so priceless you’ll find yourself acting out the dialogue in your head. Sinister is jubilant, aloof, dismissive and cross; he’s mock-cross, goading and gleeful. He’s basically Tim Currie. In one panel he positively dances his way to a judgement whose authority he’d never recognise nor submit to in a million years. Don’t know who Sinister is? It really won’t matter.
Towards the end a major battles between two individuals goes representational, totemic, and Ribic pulls that off with aplomb.
I loved that Doom is omnipotent but not omniscient, for his power may have expanded, but not his mind. I like Stephen and Valeria as Doom’s “duelling ideologies” and adored how the survivors interacted with the salvaged, tentatively testing each other out for truth. Other little things like Advanced Idea Mechanics becoming the equally seditious Advanced Idea Mythologies; the Black Panther’s role as king of the dead finally coming into play and line like this from Namor when a weapon makes itself known: “Don’t look at me. We both know I can’t be trusted.”
The epilogue sequences revisiting the genesis of this storyline were enormously satisfying and the final sentence, answering a much older one, note-perfect. I’ve a feeling Hickman had that planned from the start.
Smart move to use capital letters for the regular Marvel Universe castaways and lower case for those washed ashore from the Ultimate Universe whose comics have always used lower case. “I’m sorry…? There are survivors from the Ultimate Universe?!” Why yes. For if one Reed Richards has a contingency plan, then surely the other would too?
The UK softcover and US hardcover both include the prologue originally published after the first issue, but while the softcover leads with this, the hardcover incorporates it as a bonus in the back. Both editions contain vast quantities of cover / pin-up material. The softcover, since it comes from Panini, inevitably has ugly design flaws between chapters which wake you up from your reverie, but is half the price and – and at over 9 longer-than-usual chapters long – exceptional value for money.
Thors: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka.
Includes Walt Simonson’s MIGHTY THOR #364 and #365 from – what? – three decades ago in which Thor has been transformed into a bullfrog and attempts without success to make his plight known to the Avengers’ butler Jarvis and co. Waaaaay out there, yes, but Simonson’s run on THOR was for me the definitive one, he was firing on all thrusters, and the dramatic irony was pretty gripping!
I don’t think he was given the name Throg at the time, but he is here.
“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible?”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”
It is now!
In SECRET WARS the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors. This was, therefore, a pantheonic police-procedure crime comic and it began intriguingly enough.
It starred every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor), Beta Ray Bill (he had the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog – keep up, we’ve covered that). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.
The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an Allthing by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.
So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what aren’t different are their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.
What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too, amongst which we’ve reviewed OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES and PLANET HULK: WARZONES) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:
“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”
A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!
The art initially was by Chris Sprouse so it was big and bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal – and then it wasn’t by Chris and to be honest I fell asleep halfway through. If you get to the end and it’s awesome, please shake me and wake and let me know.
Rivers Of London: Body Of Work (£10-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan…
I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the Rivers Of London prose books penned by Ben Aaronovitch, but I have had a fair few customers recommend them, so that probably explains why this series was relatively popular in comics form. So much so in fact, it has been expanded from a mini-series into an ongoing one. In a nutshell it’s basically Inspector Morse meets HELLBLAZER. Dapper grizzled humourless veteran cop Inspector Nightingale and his amusing, hardworking sidekick Peter Grant fight crime in the big smoke. Except the twist is the crimes are all of the supernatural variety. They even have their own division, the Special Assessment Unit, known colloquially within the Met, and viewed with equally measures of suspicion and derision by the rank and file plod, as ‘Falcon’ or ‘The Folly.’
This case starts with a drowning in the Thames, a poor unfortunate unable to get out of their car in time after it careered through the barriers. It is, on the face of it, an open and shut case of accidental death. But once Grant receives a tip-off from the daughter of the Goddesses of the River Thames that magic may be involved, our dynamic duo get to work working out who or what is responsible for our victim taking the plunge. Inspector Nightingale’s mystical prowess is comparable to one John Constantine, with some impressive, show-stopping, indeed life-saving displays of legerdemain. Peter Grant, well, he’s more of a Tommy Cooper standard.
I really enjoyed this work. For a start off, the plot is a relatively involved affair, the main characters have some genuine depth, so Aaronovitch is clearly a decent writer, though when you have a co-author as with Andrew Cartmel here, you’re never quite sure just how much the prose author has contributed. The art is pretty decent fare too from Lee Sullivan. It very strongly minded me of Chris THE TWELVE / MINISTRY OF SPACE Weston, which is never a bad thing. Definitely one for fans of the prose books, but perhaps also HELLBLAZER fans needing an extra mystical fix.
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.
100 Bullets Book 5 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 12: Smoke And Shadow Part 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru
Clan Apis (£18-99, Active Synapse) by Jay Hosler
East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly (£10-50, June) by Kou Yoneda
Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale (£5-99, Piccadilly) by Robin Etherington & Jan Bielecki
Golem (£14-99, Magnetic Press) by Lorenzo Ceccotti
The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c (£15-99, Abrams Comics) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Purvis
Octopus Pie vol 2 (£8-50, Image) by Meredith Gran
Paper Girls vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang
Von Doogan And The Great Air Race (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Lorenzo Etherington
Walking Dead vol 25: No Turning Back (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Justice League vol 7: Darkseid War Part 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok
Red Hood Arsenal vol 1: Open For Business s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & Denis Medri
Wonder Woman: War Of The Gods s/c (£18-99, DC) by George Perez & various
The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven
Attack On Titan vol 18 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama
Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 4 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko
The Seven Deadly Sins vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki
ITEM! You will now be coming to Kendal!
It is indeed an exclusive!
Bryan will not be signing anywhere else in the country this time except with Page 45 in our regular Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower (to which entrance is always free!), in addition to which there will be other events in Kendal yet to be announced.
Of course Page 45 will be bringing Bryan’s books to Kendal, but – guess what? – as well as ordering any of our 7,000 graphic novels from www.page45.com to be sent anywhere in the world, you can now also select “Collect for free from Kendal at LICAF 2016 £0.00)” no matter how many comics you order, guaranteeing you whatever you want when you get there!
You see that there internet? You’ll find hotels you can book right now!