Featuring Pushwagner’s Soft City, Sarah Glidden’s rolling blackouts, Shaun Tan, Junjo Ito and explosions.
Rolling Blackouts h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Sarah Glidden.
Sarah Glidden and her fellow journalists are on a train travelling through Turkey on its way to Tehran. They’re making friends in its dining car which has become the train’s social hub. One young Iranian who is affable and far from brainwashed (having already disavowed much of what Ahmandinejad proclaimed) shows them his mobile phone.
This isn’t fiction.
“This is my wife.”
“Oh, she’s very pretty! Do you have any kids?”
“I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.”
In his mind the possibility that America could bomb Iran is so strong, and so very real, that he’s forgoing the pleasure of children lest that joy turn into bereavement.
There’s a great deal of bereavement in this level-headed, searching, thought-provoking and richly informative first-hand account of Glidden’s two months in Iraq and Syria in 2010, for most of those whom she meets are in one way or another displaced refugees, all eager to tell their individual stories, previously unheard because no one has cared to listen.
They’re interviewed by her companions, Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill of the Seattle Globalist independent collective, for what would turn into fourteen different published features – some of them very high profile – even if they weren’t entirely sure what they were looking for initially. Glidden’s role in the form of this substantial graphic novel is to document that journey – geographical, personal and professional – and the crystallization of their ideas and angles through former contacts and chance encounters as they all wrestle with discoveries, self-doubts, set-backs, successes and the very notion of what constitutes ethical journalism.
Invaluably humanising the de-humanised and abandoned (sometimes left for a decade or more in what are always intended to be temporary, transitory refugee camps), this is measured, well researched, but increasingly sobering stuff. However, I believe above all that you’ll be surprised.
For a start, this is a very beautiful book.
I can quite easily conceive that many may buy it purely for the joy of bathing in Glidden’s delicate but warm, full-colour washes over confident, clean lines. There are so very many striking landscapes with wet-wash horizons, and she captures the spirit of place in extraordinary detail for such compact panels. There’s Damascus both old and new; the epic open road to Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah with its golden plains and distant indigo mountains; the extraordinary and unexpected spectacle of vast verdant parks in Sulaymaniyah itself, dense in trees, built on what used to be training grounds for Saddam Hussein’s troops.
But essentially this is 300 hundred pages of talking heads told in that most accessible of structures which is the three-tiered, nine-panel grid. It’s immaculately composed and it is riveting, partly because its subject matter is so fascinating, partly because those whom she meets are so compelling, partly because its editing from hundreds of hours of tapes is so judicious and – to no small extent – because Glidden has made every single page beautiful to behold and utterly clutter-free without demanding you stop, stare and acknowledge that. Instead you move swiftly on to the very next nugget of eye-opening observation and recollection.
They’re joined on their journey by Dan, one of Sarah Stuteville’s childhood friends and a former Marine who for a year was deployed in Iraq during the aftermath of the invasion whose cataclysmic side-effects – in the rise of the militia – displaced most of the refugees whom they meet later on in Syria. Dan is there to make blogs of his own, but also as part of Stuteville’s project: she interviews him on each stage of their travels to see if – no, in the hope that – his initial equanimity with his role as a soldier might falter.
It’s is an odd thing to want for a friend, but it’s that sort of a warts-and-all account.
Dan was in many ways one of those least likely to sign up. His parents were “classic Seattle hippies”, his mother co-founding an organisation called Families For Peace who campaigned to end the sale of violent toys like plastic guns. Dan even joined the anti-war protests and is still adamant that the invasion should never have occurred. However, Dan joined once he saw the resultant carnage – the militia’s bombings and kidnappings and murders – in order to help put an end to it. He believes he made a concrete, constructive difference, so feels no guilt. He also maintains that he’s suffered no lasting trauma in spite of what he experienced. And that increasingly frustrates Stuteville. I’ll leave you to learn how that pans out.
One of the party’s main focuses in Sulaymaniyah are the prisons and abandoned barracks now repurposed as residences for poverty-stricken Kurds from Kirkuk who lost their livelihoods, houses and cars when they fled their homes for fear of the killings. They refuse to return because of the violence, but won’t be helped by the KRG government until they do so, because the KRG government wants to use their presence in Kirkuk to lay claim to its oil fields.
Their other focus is Sam Malkandi whose full history, once revealed, is extraordinary. They discover the heartbreaking details gradually in a series of interviews for which they’ve only a certain amount of allotted time. One of the chief tensions in ROLLING BLACKOUTS is whether the journalists will ever achieve the breakthrough moments which will turn their investigation into a complete, verifiable or at least credible, sellable story. So I’m going to allow those most of those astonishing details to unfold naturally as you read, but essentially Sam went from carefree drama student in tree-lined Baghdad to fleeing frontline duty in the Iran-Iraq War, to a relatively happy reprieve in his hometown of Sulay with his newly-wedded then pregnant wife… to fleeing Iraq for Iran to escape door-to-door searches for Kurdish deserters… thence Pakistan before finally making it to America. Along the way he experienced destitution, desolation and oh, I can’t even tell you. Awful. But he also made a critical mistake in one of those applications, was visited by ridiculous misfortune while rebuilding his life in America at which point that initial mistake came to light and… unbelievable. Involves terrorism in America.
Sam’s love of America is undiminished and his English is excellent so there’s no need for translators. When they are employed, Glidden cleverly superimposes the interpreter’s speech balloons over the interviewee’s, leaving just a little ‘shadow’ over the original behind it.
In Syria they need interpreters almost everywhere and the love of America is abruptly lost as we begin to understand exactly what has happened to the two million Iraqis who fled the country following America’s (and Britain’s) illegal invasion of this tyrannically ruled country on deliberately falsified grounds (my statement, not Glidden’s; let’s keep this clean) – on top of the 1 million Iraqi civilians estimated to have been killed because of it.
First, through a former Ba’athist colonel, there are introduced to a sitting room full of teachers, doctors, dentists and lawyers. As Glidden notes:
“Since the invasion 80% of the middles class – precisely those who the US hoped would rebuild a new Iraq – have fled the country.”
They are now stranded in Damascus having escaped the violence between the Sunni and Shia and, in doing so, lost everything:
“I lost my pharmacy, I lost my house, I lost my opinions.
“I lost everything. I lost my life.”
Another woman lost 25 family members in a single day.
They’re living in city apartments rather than tents and their children receive free education up to secondary school but nothing beyond. In addition they aren’t allowed to work legally, so become increasingly impoverished. They are without hope, especially for their children who cannot finish their education and won’t be allowed to work either. Their disgust at America is so strong they refuse to be resettled there and the final interviewee that night is so blunt that even Dan is unsettled. But wait until you meet those who aren’t middle class.
Glidden captures every nuance in their expressions – their anger, desperation and dignity – and in Sarah Stuteville’s pained receptiveness too. It is delicately done.
I’ve run out of time, which is a shame because I have another page of notes on their discussions about journalism itself, which occur throughout their mission. What one forgets while cheering on these committed investigative reporters – whose ethics are so strict that they will never promise help nor even to spread their subjects’ stories unless they know can – is that the wider industry is held in such contempt. Journalism is apparently the second-most hated profession in the US, just after lawyers but, astonishingly, before politicians. I foresee that being reversed shortly. Stuteville:
“There are so many things that are contributing to the decline of journalism as we know it. And much of that has to do with the internet and economic models and so forth.
“But a lot of it has to do with elitism and arrogance and people losing trust in journalists and news outlets. Obviously the lead-up to the Iraq war didn’t help with that.
“And the rise of cable news and their style of gotcha journalism, and journalism being really politicized so here’s Left outlets and Right outlets…
“There are a lot of reasons it fell apart and most of them don’t reflect particularly well on the industry.”
She concludes with a statement which reflects my own view distinctly separate view of the US/UK comics industry and medium:
“But I feel like that’s the industry, not the profession. It’s hard for people to make that distinction, but it’s important.”
Like I say, I have another page of notes on journalism alone and what I’ve covered in other areas is but a small fraction of this 300-page graphic novel: things they discover like women reporting domestic violence being consigned to prisons full of criminals because there are no safe refuges for them; the wonderful work of the Iraqi Student Project run out of a couple’s apartment in Damascus, providing further education for a handful of youngsters to gain internationally recognised certificates and then university places outside of Syria.
Nor is this just about their interviewees, but also about the roaming quartet later joined by fellow journalist Jessica, their relationship as it develops over the two months and the practicalities of recording and the not inconsiderable effort that must go in to securing an outlet for any proposed feature.
Glidden is never judgemental except about herself, and that extends to her art. Her visual portraits could so easily have been judgemental, but they’re restrained, almost neutral without ever being bland. Her palette is exquisite on every page: lots of cool-colour backgrounds so often warmed by Alex’s and Sarah S’s auburn hair. But her night scenes are truly extraordinary in their depth and detail, like the one depicting their travel by taxi from Beirut to Damascus, counting the vainglorious portraits of chinless death-dealer President Bashar al-Assad, all spot-lit even all the way out in the rich brown countryside.
The greatest compliment I can perhaps pay to ROLLING BLACKOUTS is that Glidden – along with the Globalist – furthers the work of Will Eisner in fiction and Joe Sacco in reportage, in giving a voice to those otherwise without one and that, like Marjane Satrapi in PERSEPOLIS, Art Spiegleman in MAUS and Belle Yang in FORGET SORROW, Sarah Glidden’s book is decidedly non-didactic for you’re learning as they’re all learning – and I Iearned loads.
Maps provided, you’ll be pleased to hear.
Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, New York Review Comics) by Hariton Pushwagner.
The succession of Metropolitan vanishing points is dazzling, relentless, hypnotic.
All is symmetry in this neat, pristine, hollow, factory-farm existence, both on the page and in the narrative as a whole.
After the grandiose, Apollo-like launch of the sun on this brand-new day with its great sense of expectation, of anticipation, the very first perspective is that of a baby’s; the very first vanishing point, appropriately enough, that of its cot, of its cage.
There are an almost infinite number of cages within this boxed-in existence, whether they are the grid-locked cars or the identikit flats with their nigh-identical furnishings identically arranged. Each identical husband in his uniform suit, tie and bowler hat exits his identikit flat at exactly the same time with exactly the same march, although a woman’s slipped in to the elevator and one man day-dreams of a bodybuilder stripped down to his underpants, admiring himself in the mirror.
The monumentalism truly begins once outside, although there is no sky to speak of. Instead it’s more windows, more boxes disappearing into the distance as your eyes are sucked out of their sockets and into the succession of vanishing points behind a seemingly infinite number of impossibly long, impossibly broad and impossibly tall sky-scrapers.
If you think your commute’s bad, this one’s a bummer.
Impressive as all that is, the multi-storey car parks are breath-taking: an infinite number of bays for an infinite number of cars seen through the yawning, cavernous entrance. That bit’s more Matrix than Metropolis, the regression into the distance enhanced by each storey’s ceiling strip lights.
And what of the women? Well, this work was begun in 1965 and completed in 1975 which was four years before RAW so obviously well ahead of its time, but I can’t help but wonder if the shopping sequence, being three-quarters of the way through, wasn’t inspired by the French hypermarchés which began to emerge in the late 1960s. My first sight of one those blew my tiny little mind. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that the endless shelves simply sprang from Pushwagner’s singular vision.
At this point I should mention that I can see no evidence whatsoever of a ruler. It don’t think it would work so well if all the lines where actually straight. That they wobble a bit is part of the wonder. Each composed by hand.
Nevertheless it is, as I say, a regimented existence which makes the proliferation of the word “soft” in this otherwise sparsely scripted graphic novel all the funnier.
The father reads the Soft Times, its harsh news juxtaposed against fluffy-puppy adverts. Soft Electric is the brand of the cacophonous alarm clock which wakes him to hard work and immediately his wife insists he takes a Soft Pill to get through the bitter pill of his clock-in, clock-out life.
And wouldn’t you just know what “soft” product Soft Inc manufactures?
You won’t be surprised to discover Chris Ware’s a fan and contributes a substantial introduction. Biographical details – a history of this once-lost work and its origins – are provided by Martin Herbert in the back.
The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c (£17-99, Arthur A Levine Books) by Shaun Tan.
“Some are exercises to simply keep fit as an artist, where the practice of drawing is about learning to see, a study that never ends.”
“Nevertheless, interesting or profound ideas can emerge of their own accord, not so much in the form of a ‘message’, but rather a strangely articulated question.”
From the creator of THE ARRIVAL and THE SINGING BONES etc. comes a highly illuminating insight into one artist’s driving passions and thought processes. You’ll discover unusual artefacts, sketches and page layouts which eventually found themselves included in some of Shaun’s finished graphic novels, experiments with the language of the sea and curious creatures which themselves suggest stories so far untold. Some of the preliminaries have brief notes jotted in their margins, like the series of interconnected, roofless rooms arranged like a stage set, one evidently a water tank containing an octopus tentatively exploring the next; another, hilariously, on fire. Tiny figures look in on others. “Are we just moving from room to room?” he asks to one side.
Better still Shaun introduces each segment with some extended, eloquently expressed and inspirational thoughts. On doodling, he writes:
“This always reminds me of fishing – casting loose lines into a random sea, trying to hook something substantial. It’s surprising what sense can emerge from nonsense, and how the juxtaposition of odd images on a page can have a serendipitous effect, catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden by the waves.”
It’s the perfect cure for ‘artist’s block’: “just start drawing,” he suggests, quoting Paul Klee’s description of “taking a line for a walk”.
“Klee has a second good metaphor: the artist as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience – things seen, read, told and dreamt – in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit… Artists do not create so much as transform.”
Hence all the observational sketches and the section entitled ‘drawings from life’, a lot of them in colour, where Sean explores “the relationship between individuals and their respective environments”, a theme found throughout the artist’s graphic novels. Likewise “the tensions between natural and manmade forms”. I think ‘tensions’ is underplaying it somewhat! THE RABBITS, THE LOST THING and TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA are all littered with visual and narrative commentaries on what man has made of his natural environment, as a quick glance of any of those reviews will make abundantly clear!
Rarely have I had as much fun absorbing an art book, or come away so galvanised. It’s a neat little package, and I’d pay good money to see any one of those ‘untold stories’ come to full, expansive life.
Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito –
Here’s our Mark:
It’s rare than a comic artist will really turn my stomach as Ito has managed to.
These tales are precursors to UZUMAKI, sharing the same themes of life being poisoned by demonic exaggeration of a human failing. Tomie inspires horrible devotion in all who find her attractive. The attraction turns to fixation, then jealousy ending in her murder. Then she comes back. Some time each hacked piece grows into another Tomie. An organ is transplanted and the host is taken over. Really quite disturbing.
This was our Tom:
Tomie was your usual manipulative two-faced High School girl. Until one day while on a field trip, her class – including the teacher – finally had enough of her seductive scheming, and killed her. Sharing the responsibility of their actions, each class member took a piece of her body to dispose of it. But their actions haunted them in a truly strange way as each piece of Tomie grew into a new Tomie. These new Tomies manipulate their victims into doing anything for her, even kill. Until they finally have enough and kill her again, repeating the vicious cycle, over and over.
Junji constantly finds new and ever more gruesome ways for Tomie to orchestrate her own downfall as this true urban horror spreads like a weed across the country.
MAS / TR
Star Wars: Han Solo (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Mark Brooks…
“After I’d paid off my mark I kept thinking Chewie and I would get in the Falcon and keep going.
“But I didn’t.
“Maybe I’m as dumb as she says I look.
“Or maybe something’s changed.”
It would take a Sith-like heart not to feel a certain degree of poignancy reading this following the untimely deaths of Carrie Fisher and a certain other fictional character. Or maybe I’m just getting sentimental, a bit like Han in this <ahem> solo romp set shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Seems like the penny is finally dropping as to why he’s agreeing to undertake yet another suicide mission on behalf of the feisty Princess Leia…
This time all Han needs to do is escort the three surviving Rebel informants from a previously extensive network of spies in a nearby star system back to base. Simple, right? Well, not exactly, as one of them is probably the Imperial mole that’s been bumping all the others off. Also, Han is going to need a cover story as to why he’s visiting that star system. So it’s a good job the Dragon Void race, the oldest, most dangerous race in the galaxy, just so happens to be taking place there!
Now that sounds like a challenge Solo could get on board with… But as Leia is only too keen to point out, right before punching him in the face, just for good measure you understand, under the auspices of adding to his story about why he’s quitting the Rebellion to go racing, Han had better remember the Dragon Void is his cover, not the objective. Han being Han, though, figures he can probably manage to win the race, blah blah Millennium Falcon… Kessel Run… twelve parsecs… blah blah blah and rescue the spies, plus expose the double agent. All because he’s just a great guy, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with trying to impress a Princess…
Marjorie MONSTRESS Liu pens this hilarious, hokey yarn, throwing in a hidden smuggling compartment’s worth of trademark sarcastic Solo dialogue, ridiculous bum-twitching seat-of-the-pants flying, seasoned with enough sizzling romantic tension between our loggerheaded leads to fry a Hutt. An entire one… Thus she captures the various characters perfectly and provides us with a very entertaining galactic jaunt. Nice clean and straightforward art from Mark Brooks, which seems to be a pre-requisite for pencilling a STAR WARS comic these days. I’d happily read a second arc from this pair.
New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch, Alex Maleev various.
This is the starting point for everything Avengers-related which JESSICA JONES’ Brian Michael Bendis wrote with exceptional wit and verve, and it lasted something like a decade.
Outside of THE ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and THE ULTIMATES SEASON TWO by Millar and Hitch, it represents the very finest run on The Avengers, and this is coming from the wizened remains of what used to be a 12-year-old boy absolutely in awe of Roy Thomas’ 1960s’ run alongside John Buscema and Neal Adams as represented by the AVENGERS KREE/ SKRULL WAR.
It begins with ‘Avengers Disassembled’ during which Bendis and Finch tore the team apart – one of them quite literally – in order to build something brilliant from scratch. It is joined in this bumper edition with those first two volumes of NEW AVENGERS.
Alas, I was so enamoured that I wrote the worst review I’ve ever written.
For a start I forgot the artist, which is unforgivable, and Finch is unforgettable. His neo-classical figure work is so impressive that I could stare at the sturdy neck muscles for hours; his expressions here are appropriately pained and he executes two successive, 4-tier, 360-degree rotations round a cast of four in conversation which I’ve never seen done before. Lots of neck muscles there.
Additionally, his sense of scale is right up there with Hitch’s – and it needs to be, given the carnage that follows – and his ability to halt you by interrupting a quiet conversation of jaunty, toast-and-marmalade teasing with an explosion which rips through the breakfast room walls is unparalleled thanks in equal amounts to Frank D’Armata’s abrupt switch from blue-sky, verdant to volcanic colouring.
The review’s eloquent, I hope, but it was an all-too heart-felt, sentimental elegy which gives everything away. Everything.
At Page 45 we pride ourselves on avoiding SPOILERS. If it’s a review of the fourth book of a series we love like LAZARUS we avoid SPOILERS even of volume one. Instead we want to intrigue you to start at the beginning. That said, given that there is a decade of material to follow, perhaps this could be considered a review of its prologue. I leave that to you.
Do you love the SCARLET WITCH? This is where you begin.
“For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.”
– Stephen, 200 times on a blackboard after falling asleep during Physics.
That, for me, is the key to why this storyline really worked. For all these years one member of this fluctuating team of superhuman powerhouses has been bending the laws of physics with no obviously equal nor opposite reaction. At no seeming cost. When Iron Man flies, fuel is burned. When Hawkeye spends an arrow, he must make another. And when I write a disproportionately long and po-faced superhero fanboy review, I’m punished with a terrible headache and the nagging suspicion that my LOVE AND ROCKETS credibility has finally been depleted.
Yet all these years, one amongst The Avengers’ ranks has been using her reality-altering powers to break the laws of physics, manipulate probability, and turn a bad situation into good fortune. It wasn’t a magic she had learned, it was a gift she was born with. As she grew older, as she wielded her powers with increasing confidence, so the feats she performed became increasingly spectacular. What, for example, are the chances that a woman could give birth to two baby boys when her husband was an infertile android?
The chances are nil. You’d have to be insane to believe it was possible.
Wanda Maximoff had never had what you might call an easy life. She was brought up by gypsies after being abandoned by her mother. Her father didn’t even know she or her brother existed, which is just as well because he was a mutant terrorist calling himself Magneto – the same mutant terrorist who in her late teens manipulated her into joining his crusade as The Scarlet Witch by preying on her deep fears and past persecution. Throughout her childhood she and her brother Pietro had been hounded by those who hated mutants just because they existed. So any offer of a home was a godsend.
Her brother was a superior son of a bitch, but he doted on her, fulfilling a paternal as much as a fraternal role. You might say he smothered her. Whatever the case, when fortune suddenly changed and salvation appeared – in the form of an offer of membership on an internationally renowned and domestically adulated, government-sanctioned team of American superheroes – she was, perhaps, a little naive. But then these were the early years, and everyone was a little naive.
Her fellow Avengers (Hawkeye, Captain America and her brother Quicksilver) didn’t question how she performed minor miracles using what she called ‘hexes’, they were just glad to have the gentle soul on their side. They became her new family, and over the years they all came to love her, whilst the archer Clint Barton grew particularly close, always there to lift her spirits with a lame joke or a stupid arrowhead exploding into a bouquet of flowers. He too was a criminal made good, and to a certain extent he understood her perspective. It’s not everyone who’s given a second chance.
The Vision was.
An android created by Ultron (an insane, sentient, almost indestructible robot), the Vision was conceived as the means of the team’s destruction, but his programming was based on the brain patterns of a human, and that flaw proved Ultron’s undoing. It also allowed the Vision to fall in love with Wanda. Well, that didn’t go down well with the public. An android and a mutant…? “Blasphemy!” they cried, and they reacted to their love with hatred. Still, the stoical Vision became a rock to her emotional fragility, and they even got married.
Knowing little more than that that her powers were based in magic, Wanda went looking for help and took training from Franklin Richards’ part-time governess and full-time witch, Agatha Harkness. But soon magic came looking for Wanda, possessing her body, infusing it with a level of power she had never encountered and used the woman against her friends. She recovered, of course, or she seemed to. She had those two little boys I mentioned earlier, delivered by surgeon/sorcerer Doctor Strange. But then her husband was abducted and dismembered by the government, only to be rebuilt with none of his previous empathy, and Agatha Harkness discovered that Wanda’s twin children weren’t even real – just an illusion, a maternal comfort blanket conjured out of thin air by Wanda herself, and she had. A. Nervous. Breakdown.
It was then that a fatal mistake was made. They thought they were doing her a kindness. They thought they were putting the genie back into its bottle. They allowed Agatha Harkness to use her own magical gifts on Wanda to erase the children from her memory. In hindsight it would have been wiser to erase them from everyone’s. Here’s Wanda and the Wasp by the poolside, one day before this kicks off.
“Wow, did I need this. I am so crazy in my head today.”
“What’s going on, Janet?”
“I — listen, Wanda, I’ll tell you… But you can’t tell anyone.”
“I had a… bit of a scare.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sshh, I’m fine. It’s just — my little friend came a little late, and I thought I might be — you know…”
“You thought you were pregnant?”
“Sshh! Hey, sshh! I’m not. I just thought I was. I was really freaked out because that is the last thing I need. With all the crap in my life right now… That’s what the world needs… a little Clint Barton walking around.”
[Jan waves at Hawkeye, Hawkeye waves back]
“Are you two still seeing each other?”
“That would entail the two of us having an adult conversation about our feelings, which, clearly, is not either of our strong suits. Ugh, can you imagine? Me with a kid? Like a kid could grow up normal in this environment. Avengers should not have kids. Superheroes should not have kids. That should be the rule. And you thought you could have two?”
“What does that mean? Two of what?”
* * *
“Wanda Maximoff. You gave me a bit of a turn just now. Come sit. We haven’t spoken in a good time.”
“Agatha, I — Why do people think I once had two children?”
* * *
What are the chances that a dead man could appear out of nowhere and blow up in their faces, immolating Scott Lang? What are the chances that within seconds the Vision would answer their distress call by crashing a plane into the mansion and spawning half a dozen versions of the insane robot that gave birth to him? What are the chances of a rational She-Hulk losing her temper and ripping the Vision clean in two? Smacking Jan into a coma? Slamming a lorry down on Captain America’s head? Of Iron Man being drunk without drinking a drop? Of the alien Kree launching a full-on invasion directly over the spot where everyone’s assembled, and slaughtering another Avenger right in front of them? All in the space of an hour…?!
The chances are nil.
For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.
So for all these years, while Wanda’s been warping reality for the good of others… what has been happening to her?
“Do you know what you’ve done?!
“You killed the Vision, Wanda! Your own husband! Do you know that? Do you?!
“You killed Scott Lang! You killed Hawkeye! Janet’s in a coma!
“You’ve destroyed The Avengers!
“All of it, it’s gone!”
* * *
“Stay away from my children.”
* * *
New Avengers: Breakout
The Avengers no longer exist.
Their centre of operations, their funding, their reputation and their very lives were all torn apart by a broken friend whom they loved very dearly but who didn’t know what she was doing.
Nature may abhor a vacuum, but for the criminal fraternity it’s a singular opportunity.
So I ask you: how many superpowered psychopaths would you deem it safe to house in the same place? And if there was a jailbreak, how many superpowered soldiers or civilians do you think it would take to contain it? You pick your number, go on. It’s not enough.
Welcome to Ryker’s Island, maximum security penitentiary for the supercriminally insane where, on this very nasty night, several dozen of the most homicidal maniacs in the world are about to be let loose on it courtesy of a single C-list electrical villain who’s about to, heh, “discharge” himself.
With so many of these genetic freaks still on the loose, Captain America attempts to recruit those who happened to be on hand to help out during the jailbreak (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and The Sentry) for a fresh team of Avengers that he hesitates from announcing to the world but, with Iron Man’s help, secretly locates them in a vast tower rising above Manhattan. Their first mission is to find out who caused the jailbreak, how they succeeded, and return all the creeps to custody.
And you know, if that’s all they had to contend with, it might have been do-able. Instead, the ubiquitous international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to be involved in several clandestine operations: enslaving the Savage Land’s indigenous population as slave labour, stockpiling vibranium reserves to make internationally condemned weapons, and detaining supposedly dead supercriminals for their own purposes. Worse still, it looks as if the new team is compromised before they’ve even started.
Bendis’ unusual choice of team-mates makes for some delicious exchanges, particularly between hard-ass Luke Cage and the dartingly irreverent Spider-Man. There’s a particularly fine scene involving the latter webbing up the former’s fists without quite explaining how long that’ll last, and if you’ve read the four ALIAS books starring Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, there’s a horrible pay-off here involving the Purple Man. Wolverine also finds himself dragged in, but for the moment, and as they regain consciousness in The Savage Land, this unlikely new team of relative strangers find themselves revealing more about themselves than they would perhaps have liked, as Peter Parker explains to Jessica Drew…
“Yep. We’re naked.”
“They couldn’t leave our underwear on?”
“I wasn’t wearing any.”
“Why wouldn’t you be wearing underwear?”
“… I want off the team.”
The New Avengers have coalesced by chance, but one of their new members – who happened to be there when everything kicked off in the superhuman penitentiary – is Robert Reynolds, The Sentry. Possibly the most powerful man on the planet, he’s an emotional wreck with a memory that comes and goes. Captain America and Iron Man attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the X-Men’s telepath Emma Frost and the comicbook writer Paul Jenkins who invented The Sentry in the first place.
Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Dough Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez, various.
– Edmund Burke
Under any circumstances that is a mighty fine sentence and indeed sentiment: stand up and be counted or stay sitting still in the shadows while you wait for the bigots and other assorted bastards to come for you next.
But as an explanation of the altruistic intervention of costumed superheroes at their own peril, it is exceptional. Gold stars to Tomasi and / or Gleason for selecting it to kick off this collection; gravitational black stars for failing to credit the statesman. It’s common courtesy, yes?
Both bigotry and a degree of black-star gravitational pull will be exerting their influence here in the form of a once-familiar irritant from the days of THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN immediately following THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. Indeed it’s that very era from nearly 25 years ago that is most referenced in the prologue. And it did my head in.
This is the first collection of the brand-new, original DC superhero universe, reborn now that the four-year ‘DC New 52’ sabbatical is no more. Did you understand that sentence? No. That is why superhero comics will never be Mainstream.
Supposedly, this is DC starting once again from scratch so that new readers who may be that way inclined may decide to jump in and jump on. Perhaps this one worked on new readers but I – admittedly only a casual visitor to the DC Universes – was left shaking my head, bewildered. This is a shame because once you’ve skipped the first chapter of mind-frazzling continuity mish-mash there is a brand-new dynamic with plenty of potential.
Superman is dead. I don’t think it was the original Superman. I think the original Superman is the bloke with the beard hoping that the last one will spring back to life. He doesn’t. We move on.
Clark Kent is now living a quietly concealed, bucolic life on a farm similar to the one Ma and Pa Kent raised him on. He is married to Lois Lane who’s still a journalist but working from home under a pseudonym. Quite how much investigation this investigative journalist can accomplish from the cornfields is uncertain but that need not concern us now. They have a son called Jonathan (half-human, half-Kryptonian) whose existence or at least nature he has concealed from Batman and Wonder Woman. Basically, they are deeper undercover than ever.
The boy is in his very early teens and exhibiting all the lethal powers that his Dad possesses without the fine-tuning to target them with finesse. That is something which both Lois and Clark are determined to teach him in time with due care and attention. But in superhero comics there is never the time, care nor due attention – only emergencies.
There is a domestic emergency which back-fires on the boy painfully, then there is one bursting inconveniently from their past to scour them: more precisely, to scour the dirty human heritage from their child’s genetic makeup. I told you there was bigotry to behold.
On the plus side: the art by many was surprisingly consistent with a very neat panel in which young Jon, when embarrassed / ashamed, hides most of his face under his sweatshirt, pulling it up over his mouth and nose. It’s a psychological thing, very well observed, which I do, subconsciously, protectively, on occasion: it feels safer when you sink your soul beneath cotton.
I also loved the harrowing image of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman when congregating in secret on the equivalent of the rustic farm’s stoop, glimpsed by a young Jon through his window at night. The whites of their eyes are like tiny skulls: terrifying, threatening, alien and other.
And when Superman, Lois and Jonathan weren’t smacking seven shades of shit out of their most rude intruder (oh yes, Lois proves inventive / adaptive) in a surprising environment not of their own making, the family dynamic and its desire to nurture their son’s nature is heart-warming.
It’s just a shame about the repetitive, seven-shades-of-shit-smacking which goes on for eons and interests me not one jot.
More family, please!
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.
King-Cat #76 (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino
Beowulf h/c (£26-99, Image) by Santiago Garcia & David Rubin
Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c (£8-50, Image) by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cameron Stewart
Over The Garden Wall vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Pat McHale & Jim Campbell
Prometheus: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Andrea Mutti
Regular Show vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by KC Green & Allison Strejlau
Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching (£13-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly
Aquaman vol 1: The Drowning s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & various
Batman vol 1: I Am Gotham s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King, Scott Snyder & David Finch, various
Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Two Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor, Marguerite Bennett & various
Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide vol 4 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Javi Garron
Black Panther vol 2: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Chris Sprouse
Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna
Another Year Closer To Bingo And A Blue Rinse Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Congrats On Whatever It Was You Did Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Congrats! It’s Gonna Be Relentless Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Let’s Get Drunk And Pretend We Can Dance Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Mini Lined Notepad – Write That Shit Down (£4-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Party Till You’re Passed Out With Marker On Your Face Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Thanks ‘N’ All That Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Thinking Of You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
You Make Me So Happy Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
You May Be Old Now But You’re Still Cute Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
ITEM! We were contacted by one Emma Patching, a student at Trent University, asking us for some input on her interview with Philippa Rice who – with typical generosity – had made a point of mentioning us as keen promoters of new comics talent. I thought my response might amuse you.
“Discovering new talent is what keeps Page 45 fresh; nurturing it keeps the medium alive. It’s all very well promoting someone’s work when they’re already thriving; it’s far more important to help them when they need it the most, to introduce their work to a substantial new audience. Page 45 isn’t just local: our reviews’ reach is enormous and We Ship Worldwide.™
“Philippa introduced herself to us years ago, we fell in love, promoted her self-published comics like ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON, begged her to fill our window one year, then she discovered that Page 45 appeared – purely by accident – on page 45 of Philippa’s Nottingham-based photo-comic WE’RE OUT! Once SOPPY went global and stratospheric (hailed by the likes of George Takei) Philippa no longer needed us but, being Philippa, instead of linking to Amazon on her website, she thoughtfully and generously linked to Page 45’s website instead, so we made a fortune. You see, it pays to invest in someone’s talent. You get what you give etcetera.
“Before that, though, when SOPPY was first published we invited Philippa and her SOPPY co-star Luke Pearson to sign with Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015. Luke was already massive thanks to his stellar all-ages graphic novel series HILDA, and the two of them combined pulled such a big crowd… including her own mother! How many mothers queue to get a book signed by their daughter and son-in-law? It was ridiculously cute. So cute that – in order to level out the karmic balance – we had to start culling kittens.
“I had a bag of them under the counter, and every 15 minutes or so I’d whip one out and wring its neck.
“It was a Good Day.”
Thanks ever so much, Emma!