Loads of lovely new comics and graphic novels from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half in America this week, all listed and linked to in between this week’s reviews and News underneath!
Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Néjib.
If any first or second line can make you smile, then you’ve already won over your audience. It gets better:
“The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
“I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me.”
Yes, like parts of Chris Ware’s great big chocolate box of comics, BUILDING STORIES, the narrator of this whimsical and delightfully dotty graphic novel – about the two years leading up to David Jones becoming David Bowie – is the personable building which David and Angie moved into in 1969, and then invited their friends.
Haddon Hall would come to consider its new occupants dearly beloved friends. They were quite the community, and you’ll have heard of many more of them than you might initially suspect.
The second and third pages are equally endearing as the old-fashioned villa, aware of its own shortcomings – being a bit dated and sparse – holds out hope that its “discreet decrepitude” will nonetheless prove its prime attraction, so securing the company it craves.
It is indeed discrete – surrounded by woods on the outskirts of London – so the perfect place for a party, both indoors and out, into whose Fashionista throngs strolls dear Marc Bolan. His band, T-Rex, had yet to find success in the form of the deep, groovy, grinding guitar and the celebratory wails across which Bolan would declare himself to be the ultimate 20th Century Boy or croon the most laid-back encouragement imaginable for us all to Get It On and so bang a gong while his cheeks glittered beneath kohl and his mouth – nay, his teeth – did that irresistibly sexy thing which David Sylvian became so found of. At this point he’s still strumming on about pixies. The man who would become Bowie, by the way, had already released ‘The Laughing Gnome’. Not many careers could survive such a thing.
The hair and the clothes of those suited and booted are delicious. No jeans in sight, of course, but boy are there bell bottoms! It was as if men were expressing a femininity which was nonetheless typically competitive by wearing two flaring skirts round their ankles.
Néjib eschews realistic colour throughout, using it expressively instead, here in livid salmon pink, a glowing sky blue and mustard yellow. These are blocks of flat colour without gradients which define the otherwise borderless panels and often the objects within, for sometimes their outlines are only partially drawn. On the second and third pages I mentioned earlier, these free-floating snapshots of the hall, stairs and landing in orange and purple surrounded by so much white-paper-space enhance Haddon Hall’s sense of emptiness as well as its dated decor.
This choice of compositions also gives the pages a free-flowing energy which matches the narrative, for however informed it is – and it really is – with historical detail, this is no laden, lumpen, po-faced, drudgery enslaved by its subject like AGATHA: THE REAL LIFE OF AGATHA CHRISTIE which I described as “one long, insultingly clunky, two-dimensional, expository mess”. At great length.
This is its very antithesis with no clunky exposition at all. When David and Angie watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’ you’re expected to recognise the film from Malcolm McDowell’s iconic asymmetrical make-up, and I didn’t think the surname ‘Visconti’ is ever attached to Tony nor ‘Ronson’ to Mick.
Parenthetically, did you know that straight Visconti was once propositioned by New York godfather Don Constanzo as the prospective “girlfriend” for his dandified gay son?
“I’d rather it be you. You’re a nice boy. Not some nutcase he picked up in a smutty club.”
Poor Tony’s face melts in horror.
“You don’t say ‘no’ to Don Constanzo.”
No wonder Visconti ended up in England – almost immediately afterwards.
That’s just the sort of flashback vignette you’ll be treated to here: whatever Néjib believes will amuse, like David and Tony rescuing Mick Ronson from rock’n’roll retirement as a gardener, catching up with him in a winter park raking up leaves. David dives gleefully into Mick’s wheelbarrow stuffed full of autumnal detritus with a large set of shears… to do what, exactly?
That’s what I mean by “dotty” – this is a joy!
There is, however, no small degree of turbulence. No career is a straight line or even inevitable, ever-upward curve to fame, and the same goes for personal fortune. Quite early on David manages to secure the release of his self-sectioned brother from Cane Hill asylum, but only on the condition that he take custody of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett too. Terry, his brother, gradually disappears into this own little world, dispersing into the air as multi-coloured butterflies.
There are so many more neat visual tricks and accomplishments: Hadden Hall’s secluded back garden in canary yellow and orange, with its urns and its foliage coming off like an overgrown Arcadian idyll; contrasting musical tastes, construction and orchestration represented visually, an auditioning guitarist’s as a maze-like mass (but not mess) of unbroken, fiddly, squiggly lines, David’s as more angular, meticulous composed and pictorial, like a free-range farmyard of Aztec chickens, to be honest.
Lastly, I think you will love the passage showing how Bowie is first taught to think outside the box. I believe I will be trying that one on so many people I know. Ask me, on the shop floor, and I will happily demonstrate with a pen and paper!
Thinking outside the box: you have never seen it done so demonstrably well.
You Might Be An Artist If… h/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Lauren Purje.
Autobiographical insight into what makes an artist tick, so beloved by Jeffrey Brown that we suspect he designed its spine.
As much as anything it’s an act of solidarity with other artists: comforting, consoling, encouraging, reassuring and commiserating with them in their doubts, fears, careers, artistic wrestling, financial struggling, ambitions, self-pity, deadlines and desperation for affirmation.
Note: these attributes are hardly restricted to artists, and Lauren makes the vital leap towards just enough universality for everyone to nod knowingly, sadly yet smilingly in communal, hands-held-up acknowledgement and perhaps a little guilt.
There’s a lot of light self-mockery but commendably Purje stands her ground with confidence when it comes to the stupidity of squabbles, labels and one-upmanship within the “art world” like looking down on illustration (and, of course comics) and the establishment’s longstanding disdain for humour as a subject inappropriate for High Art. See William Hogarth.
Her deployment of Magritte’s ‘The Treachery Of Images’ (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe”), repurposed to burst the pomposity of furrow-browed, Oxfordian tomb-dwellers was particularly witty: “This is not a joke”.
Then there are all the assumptions and presumptions which are understandably resented when they come from those not quite thinking things through, and one of my favourite pieces was the reverie catalysed by the innocent enough question, “How long did it take you to make this?” You can interpret the sequence that follows two ways (both of which defy what was meant) in its presentation of the multiple acts of discovery, research, experience, practice, study, confidence and indeed unlearning… all the time each of those elements took… both for one specific picture and throughout one’s learning life to gain the wider perspective required to create that image.
Writers don’t write a script in a vacuum, either, nor judges in the time taken to reach a verdict; doctors to diagnose, teachers to take a class, or monkeys to mash out a review.
That one was completely new to me, but some of these confessions you’ll have seen made before – like the obligatory page on procrastination – but that doesn’t make them any less true, “true” or True. (Those inverted commas and that capitalisation was itself borrowed from Dave Sim.) Quite the reverse, when you think about it.
“Fake It Until You Make It’ is another case in point, but it’s done so well. You know what I mean: everyone accepting their first job at a bar has to bluff their way in, because they all advertise “prior experience required”. Additionally a great many well respected writers and artists – and indeed individuals in so many walks of life – have to deal with Impostor’s Syndrome, occasionally (or perpetually) feeling a fraud and the fear of being found out.
“Honestly… Everyone feels like they’re holding a front for others and whispering prayers that their inner demons remain private for fear of what would surely be a cataclysmic fall from grace…
“Except for the true narcissistic assholes out there.”
You won’t find an ounce of such arrogance in any of these 135 pages. This is about sympathy and empathy and honesty instead.
‘Happy New Year’:
“Every year we set new goals and reflect on our past accomplishments.
“I always seem to come up with the same resolutions, though…
“1. Try again.
“2. Fail again.”
A slight smile flickers across Lauren’s face as she pours herself another glass of wine…
“3. Fail better.”
Snails (£1-25) by Jack Brougham.
Same! Do they come through the cat-flap?
“It’s pretty rare to see one indoors during the day.”
Same again! I seldom see the ninja-like, nocturnal culprits who presumably exit as stealthily as they come in, knowing exactly when I’m going to pop downstairs to make my morning cuppa. The only evidence of their existence / trespass is a shiny silver map of their uninvited transgression. Truly it is a mystery to me yet, I concede, I do love a mystery.
“Hello, little fella,” says Jack on the one rare sighting of his slow, slime-trailing intruder.
“Argh! Make a break for it!” thinks the startled but inherently sloth-like snail, and if that’s not pure Gary Northfield, then I don’t know what is. Instead of Gary’s bog-eyed brilliance, however, our meandering mollusc retains an exterior insouciance, something he probably picked up from Sun Tsu’s ‘Art Of War’.
Brougham does leave his artistic invertebrate a little light reading for its night-time “peregrinations” (good word!). Do you think it will be appreciatively absorbed?
This is great: a small, affordable, observational truth in the vein of Joe Decie (I BLAME GRANDMA et al – infer what you will) and just like the snail Jack has kindly squiggled inside all these copies too.
From the creator of THE LIBRARIAN, this is roughly the size of a starfish, depending on what size your starfish is.
The Librarian (£4-99) by Jack Brougham.
Far more clever and carefully structured than you might initially suspect, from the creator of SNAILS, comes a larger and longer work, also signed and sketched in at the back.
Brougham presents us with three intimate short stories told in a free-floating, six-panel ‘grid’ of neatly spaced cameos drawn with a fine line rich in detail and redolent of country village life. In his garden the lines are more orderly, neater, whilst out in the fields the textures of the undergrowth, hedges and trees grow wilder.
So, here’s that structure:
In the first story, of a morning when one is still fuzzy-headed, most of the thoughts and sensations are communicated as visual impressions.
There’s the back ache and the knee joint in need of much lubrication, then as he sets off to walk with his head in the clouds his head becomes increasingly cluttered with associated mental images, one catalysing another then another – things-to-do lists, computer screens and keyboards – all linked together and threatening to crowd out then overwhelm him until he steps over a wooden style onto a footpath… and emerges into wide-open fields, far more serene. Then something magical happens.
By noon, in the second, the Librarian is coherent enough to ruminate verbally on the present, visually cataloguing the component parts of his village – including those squat concrete fire hydrant markers I’d completely forgotten since leaving the countryside – which he imagines sending in a letter to I won’t tell you where.
Then finally at night, he is in the mood to reminisce and casts his mind back to the past.
That seems like the natural order of things to me.
I only have interior art for the first episode, but in that third it’s New Year’s Eve – ever a time of reflection – and he’s out for a stroll, the streetlights firing up, as they do, in no fixed order.
“Frost crackles underfoot.
“They’re getting them in at the Black Bull.”
I love that he perceives life through walls and via the smoke rising through canal-barge chimneys. What he becomes fixated on – of all things – is a zoo whose exotic animals had lived, breathed then died where now stands a Sainsbury’s roundabout. It’s quite an ornate one, full of foliage.
“He thinks of Rosie’s ghost out there on the periphery, stranded on the roundabout…
“And the rest of the zoo animals with her there, out on a herbaceous ark, floating through darkness.”
They make quite the racket too so, for those two panels at least, I was minded of ALEC’s Eddie Campbell.
Rosie was the zoo’s star attraction, by the way: an elephant with a heartbreaking history. She’s been long since forgotten, but Librarians look after the past, don’t they, making sure it’s accessible to the present. A gesture is required to record Rosie’s existence, so a specific sign is swapped…
Junji Ito’s Dissolving Classroom (£9-99, Vertical) by Junji Ito…
That’ll teach them to read comics… And indeed have children! A veritable double whammy of brain disintegration visited upon the fools!!
The master of absurdist horror returns with this selection of shorts featuring sicko siblings elder brother and arch-apologist Yuuma and “the worst sister in recorded history” Chizumi. She really is as well. No one is safe, not even you, dear reader, as you will find your sanity, and stomach, tested reading this material. But then I suppose that’s the point isn’t it?
Fans of UZUMAKI, GYO and TOMIE will know exactly what to expect, which is… people behaving strangely, then mass confusion arising, before epic levels of surreal carnage ensue. I will have to make a confession at this point; I’m not particularly a fan of Ito. I struggle to suspend my disbelief sufficiently with horror that is so patently, ridiculously unbelievable that it makes CROSSED look plausible. I mean, there really is a dissolving classroom, complete with dissolving kids and most definitely a dissolving teacher.
Which is harsh, because much like CROSSED, which perversely I love, there is so much dark humour in Ito’s works, that trying to even take it remotely seriously is as bonkers as the material itself. He knows full well just how crackpot it is too and even throws in a suitably bizarre, fourth-wall breaking, one-page afterword gag strip that I truly have no idea what to make of.
Also, I think Kengo Hanazawa’s I AM HERO, which is essentially THE WALKING DEAD with UZUMAKI-styled zombies, plus an additional sprinkle of mentalism in the form of a schizophrenic, shotgun-wielding manga creator as the lead survivor, is utterly brilliant, if just as equally preposterous.
I think the problem is that I initially struggled with UZUMAKI for the reasons above, and it has now become a sticking point, in my mind at least. Some might say it’s strange behaviour on my part, which will undoubtedly lead to mass confusion amongst Page 45’s many, many Ito fans before I flip my lid and go on a hysterical killing spree armed only with a gun. Price gun, that is. Well, and maybe a pack of comic bags to put all the body parts in. No, fuck it, let’s push the boat out, magazine-sized bags, and the sellotape dispenser… It’s a nasty little serrated swine…
Where was I…? Ah yes, strange behaviour and even stranger comics…
Prophet volumes 1 to 5 (£8-99, £13-99, £13-99, £15-99, £15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis and many, many others including Marian Churchland, Malachi Ward, James Stokoe, Lando and believe it or not, Rob Liefeld…
Well, I didn’t think I would be reviewing anything stranger than DISSOLVING CLASSROOM this week… But, having absorbed the concluding volume of Brandon KING CITY Graham and Simon HABITAT Roy’s epic psychedelic space opera (created with chums like Farel THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple and Giannis OLD CITY BLUES Milonogiannis), I felt sufficiently perturbed to pen a few lines on a series I have been gripped by from start to finish, and that has at times crushed my noggin like a walnut in a old school nutcracker.
I am genuinely intrigued how they went about scripting and plotting this whole shebang out, I really am. By all rights, it should have been an utterly unholy mess. There are those who would argue that it is. I would too, just in all the right ways…
Sometimes, when people write far-flung future sci-fi, you can feel yourselves thinking, “Oh lummy, I really hope everything doesn’t end up totally fucked like this.” Yep, this is one of those!
It clearly owes huge props to the likes of Jodorowsky and Moebius’ THE INCAL, plus actually, some of Moebius’ solo works like THE WORLD OF EDENA and the more dissolute AIRTIGHT GARAGE as well. I don’t really know what the term is for something that appears to be the most abstract thing you’ve ever read but is in fact an incredibly clever, intricately constructed labyrinthine action-fest, but this is it. Errm, and I now I think about it, there are elements of CONAN thrown in there too… Seriously.
It’s also a homage – a love letter more precisely, I suppose – to the early Image superhero-verse. Yep, multi-millennia in the future, John Prophet, who may or may not be the original Image supersoldier – it’s never made entirely clear, but I suspect it could be – is on a one-man mission to take down an evil Empire against overwhelming odds. An Empire composed of heavily mutated superclones of himself, controlled by even weirder entities. How heavily mutated? Well, some of them are gigantic spaceships that can travel at light speed… though most are just heavily weaponised cannon fodder of every conceivable genotype, and a few you won’t ever have conceived of. He has some of his clones on his side too, plus a few other allies, including some that may be familiar to very long-time Image readers.
Yes, we get cameos from the likes of Supreme (well, sort of, it really made me chuckle, but probably quite wise how they used him), Badrock and even Glory. Die Hard meanwhile, one of the original members of Youngblood, now a robotic being, is an integral part of Prophet’s inner circle of trusted lieutenants. There are several more blink-and-you’ll-miss ‘em appearances which only true Image superhero aficionados will probably spot but it really doesn’t matter, they are purely just the luminous icing on the cakey delight.
For delight it is. Much like BIOMEGA, perhaps don’t even worry about trying to understand or follow exactly what’s going on in this title, because no concessions to helping you do so will be made by the writers. Just sit back and enjoy the ride and the exquisite tag-team art with Brandon, Simon and their myriad mates taking it in turns to astonish.
However… going back to what I was saying about the writing right at the beginning… perhaps the most incredible feat is that they managed to tie it all up so neatly in the concluding chapter. I really did wonder if this was one of those titles that was going to go out in a spectacular supernova burst of nonsensically entropic plotting like THE INVISIBLES, but no, it all made perfect sense! Now, where’s the gaffer tape to patch up the old noggin…
So, what next? Well, the various creators have currently just successfully Kickstarted for a new sci-fi series called Cayrels Ring. Huzzah! You can find out more about that HERE.
Citizen Jack vol 1 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sam Humphries & Tommy Patterson.
This exceptionally eloquent critical analysis by Steff Humm originally appeared – with contextualising links – in the first issue of free online INK magazine which you can subscribe to by scroll down here: http://ink-mag.co.uk/ I loved it so much that I belatedly bought in the book. We are enormously grateful to Steff for her kind permission to publish this piece because anything I could come up with would look embarrassingly inadequate by comparison. It would have appeared much earlier in this blog had the book itself not appeared earlier too.
Umm, this is Steff Humm and I believe that you should subscribe.
The long and absurd adventure that has been the 2016 US presidential election will end this week, with Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th “leader of the free world” on Friday 20th January.
Among the smog of rhetoric that was blasted into the atmosphere during this campaign, there is one term that stands out for its deep irony and denial of public sensibility. “Generation Snowflake” is a reductionist umbrella for “hypersensitive” millennials (an already reductionist term for a generation spanning about 30 years) who have apparently been taught to believe they are “special”.
A stupid criticism for many reasons, the term has become a meme, broadly used to condemn groups as disparate as hipsters, students of the humanities, the mentally ill, and, shockingly, people who stand up to Trump’s nationalist rhetoric.
Putting aside the fact that those who taught the younger generations to think as individuals – through government mandated syllabi and the creation of pop culture that rewards protagonists for breaking free of the status quo – are the very same that now reprimand them for expressing their political opinion, the label itself is a dangerous one.
Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson explore just how dangerous in CITIZEN JACK, their satirical series about an immature and irredeemable man with little political achievement who sells his soul and runs for president of the United States. Getting ahead through flagrant demagoguery, Jack abuses the patriotism of his country to oppose the “political elite” and bring it back into the hands of “real Americans.”
Making America great again
Although the first issue was released in November 2015, Humphries has said that it was ready to ship in March of that year, pre-dating Donald Trump’s acceptance of the Republican candidacy by four months.
More a parody of the political system than any one person within it, Jack is not really like Trump in background or character, despite several freak accidents of similarity in their campaigns. A failing businessman in a pink dressing gown, a full head of luscious hair framing his fairly generic features, the character is a symbol of something bigger and scarier than Trump alone could hope to be.
The unplanned achievement of the book’s horrific premise is the eerie prescience that the creators show throughout a first volume that was planned and penned before the rabbit hole unfolded into the events of 2016. From the moment the world is introduced to Jack Northworthy as a presidential candidate via a sardonic analogue of Fox News, the book perfectly encapsulates a political climate that appeals to public emotion rather than rational thought.
Standing naked in the Minnesotan snow after voluntarily diving into a frozen lake, Jack declares to the camera that he is better suited to lead America than a “Washington insider” because he has the “stones” for such reckless and unnecessary behaviour. He ends his triumphant entrance into the public eye with the useless slogan, “It’s time for America to get Jacked!”
It’s never clear whether this banal rhetoric is intended to insult America or pump it up somehow, which is part of Humphries’ brilliance as a writer. The meaningless phrases he puts into Jack’s mouth show that this reprehensible man will say anything to stir people up. Jack isn’t clever – he has his campaign manager and the powers of a scary-ass demon to do the real graft for the election – but he knows what to say to get a reaction out of people.
And this is the hypocrisy of the special snowflake dig. The full quarter of the US and UK populations that fall into the millennial age group(s) are purported to be a bunch of emotional cry-babies by people who have had their hearts stolen by nonsense phrases coined to win elections. Individualism dismissed as infantile, the “mature” society must surely rely on tribes. Tribalism, also known as “we-thinking”, divides the population, whether local, global or national, into groups of “us” and “them”.
Us and them
In Marjane Satrapi’s (literally millennial) graphic memoir PERSEPOLIS, published in 2000, the creator bears witness to the nature of tribalism as she recounts her experience of national identity as a child growing up in wartime Iran.
Satrapi begins her story as a rebellious and precocious child trying to understand the new restrictions enforced on her public self at the start of the Islamic Revolution in 1980. As the daughter of radical Marxists and a direct descendant of Iran’s last emperor, she struggles to find a balance between the freedom to learn, question and discover that her parents make for her at home, and the strict regulations that she faces at school.
As revolution leads to war, language, both personal and political, becomes more important to Satrapi. With her French school closed and a veil enforced upon her and her female friends and relatives, she realises early on that there is dissonance between her understanding of religious faith and the interpretations being used for control. Whereas CITIZEN JACK’s titular character takes control of a nation through speech, Satrapi’s childhood is defined by her position on the receiving end of such power plays.
Rhetoric’s place in religion is well-established and young “Marji’s” emotional arc, complete in a way that is difficult to achieve in memoir, rests on her understanding that for many people, Muslim, Iranian or otherwise, must portray a different face in public than they do when they’re alone. Unlike the abstract danger of divisive language in CITIZEN JACK, the clashing interpretations of God’s word by religious extremists and Marxist socialism is often fatal in Satrapi’s world.
The book details many tragedies, which alone challenge the nationalist narratives of countries that have brought destruction upon innocent people in the attempt to rake in power and money, but this clearly isn’t the purpose of PERSEPOLIS. In detailing her flight from Iran to Austria and back again, our narrator tells the story of a nation that has been buried beneath the rhetoric of higher powers. The place and culture that created her comes to life in her description of its pleasures and pain, and shows what can be lost when we narrow our view to “us vs them”.
Perhaps behaviour as petty as name-calling shouldn’t be enough to trigger national division in countries where at least 14 years of education is mandatory. But when patriotism – pride in one’s country – becomes clouded by persuasive tribalism that promises to “make America great again”, urges Britain to “take back control”, or labels bilingual schools in Iran as “capitalist” and “decadent”, the gulf of cultural variation is widened.
“Generation snowflake” is essentially a meaningless term, but the emotion behind it is clear. The people throwing it about are really saying that whatever liberal views are offending them this week don’t matter because the Left lost the election. Unsportsmanlike indeed, the words that put a wall up along the Mexican border, or those that had an entire country regret that they voted to leave the European Union, create an animosity towards any kind of diversity, setting us all back decades of progress.
Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various.
Written by Mike Benson, ‘The Hunter’ is one of the most tense and unnerving PUNISHER short stories I’ve ever read thanks in no small part to its artists, Laurence Campbell (line) and Lee Loughbridge (colour).
There’s a sweaty, midnight intensity throughout, but the scenes set in the rain-slashed city were especially terrifying. The glaring yellow squares of high-rise window lights reflected on the streaming car window successfully erode the shadows in front of them so that the Punisher’s face looming out of the darkness comes as a sudden shock to the system.
And Eddie is terrified. He helped torch a tenement full of squatters using a bag of live rats soaked in petrol, and one by one Frank Castle, implacable, unstoppable, has taken the others to task. No one will give Eddie refuge now, it would be suicide.
By the same artists, ‘Girls In White Dresses’, written by Gregg Hurwitz, had a real Garth Ennis bite to it.
Castle travels south across the border to a town whose women are being bundled into vans in the middle of the night then dumped days later, destroyed. What’s been happening to them during their abduction? Castle finds himself cleverly played before finally putting the pieces together, only to discover he really doesn’t like the full puzzle picture.
Goran Parlov’s Punisher has always been a beefy delight (see PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 3 and VOL 4) and here he returns for Victor Gischler’s ‘Welcome To The Bayou’. He plays burlesque straighter than most and so, to my mind, far better. Here with the help once again of colourist Lee Loughbridge he renders a swamp that’s as dangerous in the dark as the road that rides past it during the day is innocuous.
Beautiful, bright colours on the verge as Frank Castle, en route to New Orleans to deliver a heavily sedated package, is passed by a crowd of loud students in an open-topped sports car. Both parties end up pulling over at a remote patrol shack – they for beer, Frank for petrol – and it seems like they’re already a little tipsy. Probably why they don’t notice the ogling and the distinctly dodgy decor (“My guess: this place doesn’t get a lot of repeat business”). Yep, there’s something not quite right about that there pit stop which is why, when the students fail to overtake Castle again, he pulls over to wait for them.
“I decide to give it ten minutes.
“Then I give it ten more minutes.
What follows is a perfect blend of Garth Ennis’ PREACHER and PUNISHER. In fact the locals during their hoe-down make Jesse’s clan look restrained. Castle’s beautifully succinct and, behind Parlov’s sunshades, as impassive as ever but he’s in for a rude awakening.
That, some dangling, and a great deal of wading.
Collects PUNISHER MAX ANNUAL 2007, PUNISHER: FORCE OF NATURE, PUNISHER: LITTLE BLACK BOOK, PUNISHER (2004) #61-65 and PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX #66-75.
Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Sean Izaakse, Andrea Sorrentino, Olivier Coipel.
Sometimes a collected edition reveals so many more layers, so many more component parts or exciting pieces of narrative language when read as a whole that my original, first issue’s review becomes redundant. Our review for BLACK MONDAY MURDERS had to be re-written from scratch with just a single paragraph retained, such was the wider picture and complexity of its construction.
This, on the other hand, whilst certainly thoughtful and reading infinitely better as a whole, looks relatively straightforward, especially if I’m to avoid spoilers of some substantial developments within, so let’s start with my review of #0 by Bendis & Coipel (rather than main artist Marquez), slightly pimped with a few choice observations, and see what merits adding later…
Elegantly drawn by Olivier Coipel and deliciously coloured by Justin Ponsor, Bendis really needed to surprise on the script if he was going to shed doubts that this wouldn’t follow the law of diminishing returns following the original, exceptional CIVIL WAR and accusations of being a mere cash-in on the substandard film.
Bravely, until the final four pages, this is a refreshingly quiet prologue culminating in the mini-series’ catalyst. In that moment a young man and woman – whom he’s been fond of from afar – are transformed by a cloud of Terrigen Mist into something other than they were. Neither transmogrification works well for them and the boy finds himself seeing something he shouldn’t. Or should he?
I’m now quite delighted with myself that I’ve managed to deliver the crux of the series without giving the game away: half of Marvel’s superheroes will come to believe he shouldn’t have seen it; the other half will be bloody delighted that he’s answered their prayers.
Thread one: Jennifer Walters, a defence attorney (who is, by the by, as tall as an Amazon and a gamma shade of green), commands attention in her closing statement not by her appearance but by her eloquence. Her client, a former supervillain, has been slightly stitched up by the local constabulary (NYPD) through entrapment. Worse still, it’s not as if they found anything worth charging him with but, seeking to justify their man-hour expenditure, they threw the book at him anyway and took him to court for speculating, idly. That’s all he did. He mused about the “good old days”, wondering what he might have done differently when he once wore a mask. Which he hasn’t – for yonks – and didn’t this time, either. He did nothing wrong, yet he was convicted. Jennifer Walters failed and the individual in question has been banged up to wrongs.
Later, high up in the sky aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, its commander Maria Hill speculates that he would have done it again:
“They always do.”
So that’s the person in charge of the U.N. Peacekeeping Task Force, then: not only presuming guilty until proven innocent, but resolutely blinkered when it comes to rehabilitation. Which is nice. And if you think that’s got Jennifer’s goat, you wait until you discover what happened during the innocent’s intervening hours.
I mention all this because I cannot see how this pertains to the coming storm in any way whatsoev – oh wait, now I do. Again, this is wonderfully underplayed by Coipel. There’s a look in Walters’ eyes which is almost an ellipsis. But it has nothing to do with the individual’s identity – only his conviction and Hill’s supposition.
Thread two: Colonel James Rhodes is summoned to the White House. Specifically, he is summoned to its Situation Room. There isn’t a situation. As War Machine (a sort of gun-metal-grey Iron Man stand-in / knock off) Colonel James Rhodes has just diffused the most recent situation in Latveria. No, he’s been called to the Situation Room because it’s far more private than the Oval Office, for a one-on-one private consultation with the President who makes Colonel Rhodes a most unexpected offer as well as a future trajectory which Rhodes could never have seen coming.
Ooh, I’m doing rather well in my crypticism, aren’t I? This time I really do not have a clue as to how this might impact on what looks likely to follow. Except… do you know who James’ best friend is? Ah, you won’t need to. Bendis is ever so brilliant and all will be laid clear within.
Thread three: Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel is back on deck, the deck belonging to The Triskelion, headquarters and home of the Ultimates, an arm of the Avengers which deals with extraterrestrial and planetary-wide threats. She receives a visitor, an old friend who wonders how she’s doing on zero-hours sleep. The thing is, you see, Carol has taken command of three separate superhero institutions, co-ordinating them in order to avoid the disaster which she sees as inevitable: the day that a situation arises which Earth’s metahumans will finally fail to react to in time.
So many of these so-called near-disasters are only narrowly averted every year in the Marvel Universe, lest the company begins publishing one long cholesterol-crazed picnic and Peter Parker porks-out something chronic. Even then, when I type “near-disasters” I mean complete catastrophes. During the recent SECRET WARS, for example, the Marvel Universe ceased to exist. Bit of a lose, really.
“The illusion of control. It’ll eat you alive,” predicts therapist Doc Samson.
I know exactly where that one’s going.
So in addition to its relative tranquillity and the space it has afforded Coipel to turn in a truly nuanced performance with slow, subtle reactions and the thoughts lingering behind the eyes of those in conversation, what I liked was this: relatively minor characters coming to the fore and providing their own current perspectives on their present circumstances and what they infer from them for the future.
Unfortunately as the legendary, much loved and now much missed Leonard Cohen once growled:
“I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.”
Now that I’ve read the whole book, that last line was pretty damn prescient.
So let’s just pop back to the beginning: the Terrigen mist catalyses nascent powers in any normal-looking individual who happens to have an Inhuman lineage. For more on that, please see the finest, self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, one of the most literate and lambently beautiful books that Marvel has ever published.
In this instance the individual in question appears to have been imbued with the ability to not only see the future, but to allow others to do the same.
Now, given the clearly stated predispositions of Carol Danvers and Maria Hill, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that both are determined to make the most of this gift. Their eyes, as they see it, are on the bigger picture, defending humanity at any cost. They are going to take those visions at their ‘word’ and assume that they will come to fruition if not interfered with: if not confronted right now, before they happen by contesting, arresting or fighting to the death anyone who is ‘seen’ committing said potential immolations in the future. Anyone, really, who leaves the bottle off the pop or the fridge door open.
To Tony Stark, that is a scientifically unproven and illogical, emotional leap of faith and a dangerous, unjustifiable, immoral course of action.
Why should you have the right to arrest someone for something they haven’t done? How can you assume any future will come to pass if not averted when all of them have been averted and so proven them to have been only possible futures? Plus, who is to say that what is envisaged isn’t done without bias – the personal history and current emotional state – of the Inhuman having them?
Worse still, when Stark works out how the seemingly precognitive ability functions, it opens up a whole new can of worms.
How do you feel about profiling?
I’ve still given away no specifics (nor will I below and I have been very careful with interior art) because that’s how we roll; but you can see the conundrum and that conundrum is compelling.
Both sides seek to convert others to their cause and, to Bendis’ credit, there are at least two sequences in which the opposing factions sit down with each other and debate – at length and in depth – the merits of their own arguments and the flaws in the other’s. Some switch sides because of those arguments halfway through. But Carol Danvers is too obstinate, too convinced in her own righteousness to listen and the emotional reaction, ironically and semi-understandably under the very specific circumstances, is Stark’s.
Communication gives way to confrontation when the threats are deemed imminent and those very threats become personal because they involve those close to home whom they love – not just as victims, either, but as the most unlikely perpetrators – and they constantly force each other’s hands.
It’s not without minor flaws (including Panini’s design – yet again). The big battles involve so many combatants that they’re actually quite boring. The individual plight of the protagonists and so your emotional involvement with them is lost in the mass spectacle and the booyah dialogue suffers in those scenarios too. But, like the original CIVIL WAR, the wider picture presented has something to say and Bendis has chosen both his significant victims of disaster and his equally significant victims of presumption very cleverly for maximum, honest-to-god dilemma.
Plus I perceive how one of these visions will wittily [REDACTED] a future development whose paving has already been laid, lo these recent months elsewhere.
Body count high, if that means much to you. And already we know that it does.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Note: all these beauties from Spit And A Half in America already have John Porcellino’s descriptions in their Page 45 product pages, so you won’t have to wait for our reviews. Isn’t our Jonathan a genius?
Amerika (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Réal Godbout
Black Rat (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Cole Closser
Blobby Boys 1 (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Alex Schubert
Blobby Boys 2 (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Alex Schubert
Bloggers (£4-50, IAMWAR) by Josh Bayer
Bug Boys (£11-99, Czap Books) by Laura Knetzger
A Cat Named Tim (£17-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz
Conditions on the Ground (£26-99, Floating World Comics) by Kevin Hooyman
Deep Woods (£4-50, 2D Cloud) by Noah Van Sciver, Nic Breutzman
Don’t Come in Here (£14-50, Koyama Press) by Patrick Kyle
Don’t Cry Wolfman (£8-99) by Nate Beaty
Doomin (£2-50, Uncivilised Books) by Derek Van Gieson
Drinking at the Movies (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Julia Wertz
Dumb 1+2 (£6-99, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Georgia Webber
Goodbye (£5-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore
Gorgeous (£8-99, Koyama Press) by Cathy G. Johnson
Hugh (£3-25, One Percent Press) by Alexis Frederick-Frost
Hollow Hollows (£4-99, One Percent Press) by Dakota McFadzean
Home and Away (£14-50, Blank Slate Books) by Mawil
Iranian Metamorphosis (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Mana Neyestani
Iron Bound (£19-99, Secret Acres) by Brendan Leach
Jaywalker (£13-99) by Lisa Carver with Dame Darcy
Jeremiah (£13-99, One Percent Press) by Cathy G. Johnson
Johnny Viable And His Terse Friends (£6-99, Floating World Comics) by Steve Aylett
Lose 4 (£6-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge
Lose 6 (£6-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge
Mini-KUŠ 43: Meat Locker (£5-50, KUŠ) by Michael DeForge
Men’s Feelings 1 (£4-99, Revival House Press) by Ted May
Men’s Feelings 2 (£4-99, Revival House Press) by Ted May
Mineshaft 33 (£7-99, Mineshaft) by Robert Crumb, Billy Chidish, Noah Van Sciver, Mary Fleener, Jay Lynch, Nina Bunjevac, Bill Griffith, Robert Armstrong, William Crook Jr and way more
Mini-KUŠ #10: OTSO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Mari Ahokoivu
Mini-KUŠ #19: INVERSO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Berliac
Mini-KUŠ #21: JUNGLE NIGHT (£4-99, KUŠ) by Renata Gasiorowska
Mini-KUŠ #22: LUCKY (£4-99, KUŠ) by Oskars Pavlovskis
Mini-KUŠ #23: DOMINO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Ruta & Anete Daubure
Mini-KUŠ #24: SWIMMING POOL (£4-99, KUŠ) by Anna Vaivare
Mini-KUŠ #27: MATHEMATICAL SOLUTIONS FOR A GLOBAL CRISIS (£4-99, KUŠ) by Jesse Jacobs
Mini-KUŠ #28: COLLECTOR (£4-99, KUŠ) by Zane Zlemeša
Mini-KUŠ #37: SNAKE IN THE NOSE (£4-99, KUŠ) by Tommi Musturi
Mini-KUŠ #42: ALIEN BEINGS (£4-99, KUŠ) by Laura Keninš
Miseryland (£8-99) by Keiler Roberts
Nasty Day (£2-99) by Kelly Froh
New Construction (£15-99, Uncivilised Books) by Sam Alden
Night Animals (£6-99, Top Shelf) by Brecht Evens
Only Skin (£19-99, Secret Acres) by Sean Ford
Powerman (£5-99, Kilgore Books) by Box Brown
Rough Age (£10-99, One Percent Press) by Max de Radiguès
Salad Days (£4-50, One Percent Press) by JP Coovert
Skyscrapers of the Midwest (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Joshua Cotter
Vile and Miserable (£19-99, Pow Pow Press) by Samuel Cantin
Also 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.
A Land Called Tarot h/c (£17-99, Image) by Gael Bertrand
Black History In Its Own Words h/c (£14-99, Image) by Ronald Wimberly
Chester 5000 XYV Book 2: Isabelle & George h/c (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Jess Fink
Empress h/c (£22-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen
Fuse vol 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions s/c (£13-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood
Hinges Book 3: Mechanical Men s/c (£14-50, Image) by Meredith McClaren
Invisibles Book 1 s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, Duncan Fegredo, others
My Neighbour’s Bikini (£11-99, BDANG) by Jimmy Beaulieu
Nameless s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham
Norse Mythology h/c (£20-00, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman
The Ring Of The Seven Worlds s/c (£17-99, Humanoids) by Gionvanni Gualdoni, Gabriele Clima & Matteo Piana
The Survivalist (£5-99, Chalk Marks) by Box Brown
Truth Is Fragmentary (£17-99, Uncivilized Books) by Gabrielle Bell
Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 1: Sinestro’s Law s/c (£15-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval
All New, All Different Avengers vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Adam Kubert
Uncanny X-Men: Superior vol 3 – Waking From The Dream s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Greg Land
Deadman Wonderland vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou
“It’s Important to Do Stuff that You Want to Do – That’s What Will Become the Best and Truest Work You’ll Create” – Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice and Jon McNaught on Their Comics Careers to Date
Huge congratulations to longstanding editor-in-chief Andy Oliver on becoming the new owner of Broken Frontier.
ITEM! You may have noticed we have a guest review this week by Steff Humm who is the creator, owner and head-writer of free, online INK magazine bursting with eloquent and insightful comicbook critical analysis. She certainly delves deeper than we do. TBH, a lot of our reviews are essentially sales pitches, though only when we believe in a book. I do, however, like to think we can at least tell a story and often show you how and why it works.
Sign up to receive free, fortnightly editions of INK magazine here: http://ink-mag.co.uk/
Additionally you can follow INK magazine on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK
ITEM! “People who don’t read are not stupid, but too often they have been made to feel that way.”
My take: so many who don’t read have been put off it by ossified books they were made to study too early on.
Random prose books I delighted in studying at the right age: Paul Scott’s ‘Staying On’ and every Evelyn Waugh masterpiece (both aged 15 upwards), every Jane Austen (13 upwards) and every Gerald Durrell (aged 11 upwards).
It’s about time we celebrated our extraordinary wealth of British culture on a daily, transactional basis.