Collecting Sticks h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie.
Three things you should know about Joe Decie: he’s extremely decisive, fiercely practical, and always learns his lesson.
Glastonbury Festival 2003, 6:00am in the rain:
“I never want to go camping again.”
Cornwall 2012, 6:00am after a sleepless night of nocturnal, outdoor ablutions:
“I never want to go camping again.”
Back home in Hove, they’ve decided to go camping again.
This time it will be the entire Decie household – Joe, Steph and their young son, Sam – but they’re going to do it differently because not enough water has gone under the bridge for Steph. Too much of it went over the tarpaulin sheets. No, this time they are going to go “glamping”: glamorous camping sequestered in the woods, with real beds in a wooden shack with a wooden shed adjacent for those necessary nocturnal ablutions. It may or may not have a lock.
“Oh it is… It costs more than a hotel.”
“Ah well maybe we should have a think.”
“I’ve booked it.”
Right, so it’s Steph who’s decisive.
Sam, meanwhile, has inherited his Dad’s DNA when it comes to preparation and practicality. Charged with packing his own town-bound suitcase for a stint in the countryside, top of the list is sticks. Lots of sticks. In the countryside, you will need sticks.
It’s time to come clean: Joe Decie is the most impractical man alive. You’ll discover this later when he’s building a fire, but they’ve got to get there first and you should see him navigating. Not for Joe, the dictatorial directions of an AA Route Planner. Oh, he’ll print it out, but when lost in its precision at a critical juncture, why not resort to the hard-science roll of D-20 die? It’s better than asking the locals: that would be publicly admitting private incompetence.
But never say Joe doesn’t come fully prepared with precisely the right equipment: he’s brought along graph paper and a very specific edition of a D&D rule book called ‘Lost In The Countryside’. They’ll be there by next Tuesday, latest.
Welcome to the uniquely mischievous, autobiographical world of Joe Decie, creator of previous Page 45 best-sellers POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and most recently DOGS DISCO which was packed so full of joyous sleights of hand that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. When I heralded that last one as “the return of the pint-sized prankster”, Joe immediately fired back to his followers on Twitter, “I’m really quite tall, you know”.
He’d fit comfortably into your pocket.
Verisimilitude is Joe Decie’s forte.
His pen and ink-wash passion is for portraits which are so instantly recognisable from panel to panel as such individual, living, breathing human beings that you are conned into what becomes a joyfully shared connivance that everything you see on the page actually occurs.
Normally I wouldn’t dream of pulling back the proverbial curtain like this, for so often what is seen cannot be unseen and what is learned cannot be unlearned. But Decie’s ever so wicked stream of seemingly limitless conjuring tricks is so seamless, so involving, that however many times I have been fooled before by the first three panels of a four-panel, confessional, family-orientated gag strip, I still accept every word of what he writes in the next one as absolute truth, because there is so much of it in there.
Who knew that Coney Island was so close to Kendal?
I promise, however, that you will still read this ridiculous, extended family dysfunction as straight-up fact, then smile in hilarious hindsight, so here is another thing: I’ve met Joe Decie on several occasions and it still all seems just as plausible. He is a buffoon, a mischievous imp with constantly twinkling eyes. It doesn’t hurt, however, that he hits every single nail of behavioural observation on its universally recognisable head. From The Dance of the Wasp Attack to treating reality like it’s the virtual reality of a console game and the side effects of social media.
My closest comparison would be Eddie Campbell’s equally impractical ALEC. Make what you will of the fact that I’ve previously declared that particular book the greatest body of work in comics.
Just as when Eddie Campbell begins a family in ALEC, his kids start providing so much of the material, so attention-span-lacking Sam’s obsession with sticks and Star Wars and his wonderfully wonky worldview – jettisoned liberally and seemingly apropos nothing – are mined for maximum mirth.
“Do you believe in the olden days?” is a gem in its own right.
But the confident follow-up that “In the ‘80s they used spears” tells you everything you need to know about a youngster’s sense of scale. Anyway, it’s time for bed.
“Daddy doesn’t like Jango Fett but I do.”
“Sam, you need to start thinking about things other than Star Wars.”
“There’s more to life than Star Wars.”
“Yes. So tomorrow I will play Star Wars and make a blaster out of…”
“There are other things you can enjoy.”
On the following page Steph brings a bottle of wine outside to Joe: “That boy. He’s a one.”
Joe: “I know. Jango Fett! Honestly.”
As a result of the discipline involved in previously producing so many one-page punchline comics – often preceded by multiple other winks and parenthetical asides – COLLECTING STICKS has more comedy beats than almost any other graphic novel in existence. I’m not even sure about the “almost” but John Allison’s work, much of which was similarly created for daily, on-line dissemination in page-sized bites, is probably the closest contender. In addition, this longer form allows Decie to vary the beats and reprise jokes throughout, and he’s littered this book with cumulative comedy like his penchant for cluttering up any and every spare space with foraged bits and bobs (the more broken the better) and his constant, incurable worrying:
“You should give it a try. Stop reading this for a bit, and have a go, have a worry.”
Four pages of lunch-orientated ‘live action’ later:
“Oh, how was your worrying? Did you manage to make a mountain out of a mole hill? Amazing, eh?”
This conversational commentary – either on his own funny foibles or directly engaging the reader – forms a secondary, parallel narrative dancing about outside of the panels, never once tripping over or intruding too far. It’s like a DVD extra, except that those audio commentaries eclipse the dialogue, interrupting your ability to hear what is said and so follow the thread, whereas here they are in complementary harmony in the wonderful world of comics.
Oh yes, it’s all part of the rich and intricate language unique to this medium of comics, and although others might garble their words or jabber on way too long, Joe Decie is effortlessly fluent.
Everything here is so well judged, from when to let a line linger on its own merits to the balance of light and dark on a twin set of pages. And they are all exquisitely beautiful pages which will compel you if not to go glamping then to at least seek out your nearest beach, stream or woodland in order to follow its trails and forage for vintage goods like discarded candy-bar wrappers which might make you a mint in the future on e-bay.
As my book of the year – yes, my book of the year – this is going to take some beating.
So I’d snap up those signed bookplates ASAP.
Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton.
Rich in the warmest of colours and with a superb sense of scale, HILDA fans are going to lap this up; ZELDA fans too because young Arthur is essentially an Icelandic Zelda, addicted to exploration and a certain degree of pilfering, forever adding artefacts to his arsenal of treasured possessions.
This includes the Hand of Time, an actual hand (a bit creepy!) which Arthur once discovered high up in an ancient tower, sat on an ancient stone column at the top of some ancient stone steps and bathed from behind in moonlight cascading though a window in the shape of a stopped clock. I imagine Arthur must have successfully interpreted this clue before whipping it away, for the Hand of Time has the power to freeze anyone who touches it – which is a neat piece of self-defence, when you think about it.
It’s probably best to use gloves.
Arthur’s also adept at making friends in high places, like the mighty red rooster Wind Weaver, nested towards the top of even more ancient, tall, craggy cliffs. Such was Arthur’s fortitude and determination that he managed to climb that nigh-vertical escarpment and return to Wind Weaver her missing egg, against all odds unbroken.
He also once rescued a cat from a tree.
Arthur is going to need to summon all his courage and command his quickest of wits, however, in this daring quest to restore fire to his otherwise frozen town after its gigantic brazier is knocked down and extinguished by Fenrir. I told you it had a bad temper.
To be honest, the townsfolk aren’t that much better, especially the adults. They scowled at Arthur and his adventures, his trophies and trinkets and the little goblin folk who followed him in rootin’, tootin’ celebration after he mediated an end to their war with the fairies. But, battered by Fenrir’s assault, the citizens are sure going to need our young Arthur now, for the only way to restore fire to the town’s brazier is to curry the favour of Thor, and the only way to curry Thor’s favour is to help him defeat the five-hundred-foot Fenrir.
For this meticulous Arthur will need three things: to capture a cat’s footfall, to snip off the roots of a mountain, and remember old lessons learned.
The Asgardians have tried to vanquish the beast by themselves, but Fenrir nearly squished Frejja, barely missed breaking Baldr between its teeth and successfully bit poor Tyr’s arm off. Can frail Arthur triumph where the mighty gods have failed?
In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.
Oh, you tut at the term “rules” but I didn’t write that they couldn’t be broken! What I mean is that a child will see through any gaps in narrative logic just as easily as an adult would, and might even be far less forgiving. They are ever so astute! This is a beauty, so casually foreshadowing whatever will follow so that its pay-off is perfect and caught me completely by surprise. But it’s all there! All of it!
The wit lies both in the background details, the denouement above, and in the keep-them-guessing intrigue which is scattered throughout. How can Arthur possibly capture a cat’s footfall? It’s insane! And a mountain doesn’t have any roots: that had me stumped.
As to the eye-candy, there are maps – yes, maps! – and so many pages which reward real inspection, from old-duffer Brownstone’s armchair introduction contrasted with his hours-later adieu (look at what’s happened to those bookshelves behind him in the intervening time!) to the mapped-out meandering’s of Arthur’s double-page sea-voyage. There tiny fingers will love to trace the serpentine path of our diminutive hero’s trials and tribulations past pirate ships and old beardy Neptune, through the coils of undulating sea monsters and battling a giant squid which is ever so intent on wrestling Arthur’s oars from him.
Then there’s beardy Brownstone’s initial, proud appearance inside his family vault of exotic heirlooms bathed in a spotlight. Young eyes are immediately invited to scan every shadow-strewn corner for curiosities: there are chests and chalices, a deep-sea diving suit, skulls and statues, a one-eyed owl, things floating in jars, swords, stones, and swords in stones. Oh wait – I think the second one is stuck in a giant eyeball!
There are swords stuck everywhere in Valhalla’s hall. Can you find them all?
I mentioned Todd-Stanton’s sense of scale – vital for making a quest like this seem as daunting as possible – and it’s everywhere from the fearsome Fenrir who towers over the brazier, and the brazier itself, so vast that it looms large in comparison to the rest of the town when seen from afar. On that very same shot, so high in the sky, you’ll spy that ancient tower which housed The Hand of Time and, on the mountainside opposite, Wind Weaver perched on her nest. Furthermore, Arthur may be small when standing beside adults and smaller still in Thor’s imposing presence, but compared to the goblin folk he’s a giant.
Finally we come to the gods’ hall library and it is as vast as vast can be. Poor Arthur most read every dusty tome in his research for find the roots of a mountain. You can see him scampering up ladders, balancing books on his head, receiving a nasty surprise, but if you look really, really carefully…
I love it. I love this to bits.
The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop…
“Eagle slowly rose toward Columbia. Collins and Aldrin coordinated the approach whilst Armstrong piloted Eagle.
“They came back together at about the same altitude where they had separated, in a stable orbit 60 miles above the moon’s surface.
“Collins and Armstrong had just pulled off a flight manoeuvre that no one in history had ever done before.
“NASA Mission Control read them congratulations from leaders all over the world, but the only thing Collins cared about was seeing Armstrong and Aldrin getting back into Columbia.
“There would be time for congratulations and reflections later.”
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Two names you will have almost certainly heard of. But can you name the third man in the Apollo 11 crew? Who orbited round and round the moon all by his lonesome, another first in itself, completely out of contact from the rest of humanity for long swathes of time whilst the dynamic duo forever placed their footprints in history on July 20, 1969. Probably not. Well, this is Michael Collins’ story and an insight into his unique perspective on the Apollo 11 mission.
Firstly, he never regarded himself as history’s nearly man, despite admitting he ‘didn’t have the best seat’ in the Apollo 11 module. Possibly partly because he wasn’t even initially on the rotation for Apollo 11, but he ended up getting a seat due to getting bumped from an earlier launch, as he required neck surgery to correct an injury sustained during Gemini 10’s splashdown. (A mission during which he also made history by becoming the first person to spacewalk to another orbiting vehicle.) I have no idea which astronaut he in turn effectively replaced from the intended rotation for Apollo 11, but they probably have more to feel aggrieved about!
Still, given the 1967 disaster that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White in a fire during a launch test of the Apollo capsule, Collins, like most astronauts, was well aware of the inherent risks of their chosen profession. Which almost certainly factored into his surprising, if circumspect, decision to not return to space after piloting Apollo 11 safely back to terra firma. Well a splashdown in the ocean, but you get my point. Even given that he would have been assured of a lead seat on a subsequent moon mission meaning he would have finally got his chance to walk on the lunar surface.
He simply decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children and have a normal life again. Given the subsequent dramatic events of the Apollo 13 mission, I’m sure both he and his family felt he’d made the right decision! After briefly dabbling in politics he settled into his new dream job as Director Of The Smithsonian Air And Space Museum. Where a certain capsule occupied pride of place in the museum’s collection, right inside the front door!
The facts are very nicely presented, if a touch perfunctorily, in this small landscape hardcover edition. The cover art, all black interstellar background punctuated with splashes of white stars and purple shading of a suited-up astronaut, with a bit of explicative overlaid narration, is exactly what you’ll get throughout. It’s a really clean, simple style entirely appropriate for this historical / biographical snapshot. Where you get a bit a technical explanation it’s often presented as white on a purple background which gives it the feel of old-school technical drawings.
This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone who has experienced an entirely different perspective on our planet that very few others have. As he surmises below, perhaps a little naively though entirely well intentioned, it’s a vista that inevitably and irrevocably widens one’s philosophical and political outlook…
“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its sub-divisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogenous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears; blue and white, not Capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue or white, not envious or envied.”
Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage, Art Baltazar…
Haha, that is so wonderfully meta. Probably my favourite strip from this collection, both artistically and in terms of the story, sees Finn and Billy (BIIILLLLYYY!!!) teaming up to rescue Princess Bubblegum from the Lich. The reveal is that it is in fact the first issue of the very homemade Savage Sword Of Finn! Not sure that Jake’s particularly impressed, mind! Also, when we finally catch a glimpse of one of Finn’s own crayoned panels, it certainly isn’t up to the real Greg Smallwood’s standards who actually created this particular strip!
This is a most mathematical selection of shorts from a truly wide spread of talent in terms of artistic sensibilities. Actually, Finn’s upping-the-base-ante comment “Hexadecimal!” in one strip did make me chuckle. But then given practically everyone in the world is an ADVENTURE TIME fan, and one million years dungeon for you if you’re not, I’m sure they didn’t have any problems getting people to work on this gig. Thus we have the likes of Tony SOCK MONKEY Millionaire, Box TETRIS Brown, Art SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES Baltazar and Marguerite DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS Sauvage giving us their take on Ooo’s finest.
I’ll have to come clean at this point, though, I actually started this anthology with only mild enthusiasm, just because I much prefer the long-form original Adventure Time graphic novels, or OGNs in comics parlance, like PIXEL PRINCESSES, MASKED MAYHEM, FOUR CASTLES, PLAYING WITH FIRE, BRAIN ROBBERS, BITTER SWEETS and GRAYBLES SCHMAYBLES over the ongoing title and thus I foolishly thought this would be an inferior offering. Instead, it’s like getting a whopping 16, count ‘em, 16 graybles!! The parsimonious Cuber only ever gives us five at a time, so this was a real treat!
The tales mainly feature Finn & Jake, BMO, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline but there are of course many an appearance from the likes of Lumpy Space Princess and Ice King. Still waiting for Lemongrab to squeeze in his acerbic moment of glory in the comics but maybe he’ll get his own OGN at some point!
Some of the yarns are as totally daft as a clapped-out toilet brush, others very sweet and moving, just like the show can be. A very well rounded selection, my compliments to the editors. It probably won’t win any new Adventure Time fans, but with the sad news of the impending end of the show, hopefully the comics will keep on flowing for some time to come.
Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston…
Jeff! Why did I doubt you?! This is the best opening salvo to a superhero series I have read in a very long time. At least two Marvel non-reboots and a DC existential Crisis… I guess perhaps I was just a touch underwhelmed by PLUTONA which never really seemed to find its feet and I foolishly expected this to be more of the same. I’m currently enjoying his OLD MAN LOGAN and finding his MOON KNIGHT brilliantly baffling for Marvel, but this is on an entirely different level.
Basically because he’s entirely freed from their corporate constraints to get really out there with the capes and tights genre in terms of his typical cast of emotionally tortured characters á la ESSEX COUNTY, DESCENDER and his new monthly ROYAL CITY. It therefore has far more in comparison with the likes of Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY with Jeff’s own prodigious talent for writing imperfectly formed people whisked into the mix. I note Charles Soule has commented in a pull quote on the rear cover that this “… feels like a superhero story through an X-Files lens: it’s strange and melancholy and real.” I think that’s an excellent, very accurate summation.
Here Jeff’s constructed a team of dysfunctional superheroes and villains stuck out in the literal, metaphorical and possibly metaphysical boondocks on a tiny farm on the outskirts of a remote, rural American small town. Well, town is pushing it, frankly. It’s little more than a farming community. And when I say stuck, I really mean stuck, STRANGEHAVEN-style. Our gang of bickering chums have been desperately trying to leave for the last ten years without success, mysteriously confined to their utterly dull locale, forced to live entirely in their secret identities. Well, those of them that can pass for human, that is; the others are forced to spend their days cooped out of sight in the barn…
So who are they and how did they land there from their hallowed home of Spiral City? Well, each one of them is a pastiche of / homage to a classic character, or composites thereof. Golden Gail, now pension age, but forever young as a nine-year-old girl having to go to school to keep up appearances is a nod to Mary Batson of the Shazam family. Markkon Markken the Barbalien, Warlord from Mars, firmly in the closet and masquerading as a human police detective will be instantly recognisable as the classic original J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter. Puny Abraham Slam, transformed into a Super Soldier by allied scientists, well I bet you can guess… And so it goes roguishly, lovingly on.
How they got to the back of beyond, and then some, was as a result of yet another selfless act of daring-do, facing down the near omnipotent Anti-God (think Darkseid, basically!) in a climatic showdown in the very heart of Spiral City. During which they – and several villains who, realising the seriousness of the situation, also pitched in to help – were presumed to have been totally obliterated. Including their leader, Joseph Weber, the titular Black Hammer… However, there are those in Spiral City who steadfastly believe the supes are merely missing and haven’t given up hope of their eventual triumphant return. Not all of our gang of exiles share their confidence, mind you, which isn’t perhaps surprising after a decade of despair.
Thus for most of them, it’s like being trapped in a living hell, though some like Abraham Slam, playing the grandfatherly role of the head of household, are even beginning to find some degree of happiness within the confines of their current existence. What is a total puzzle, mind, is the whereabouts of Black Hammer himself, who is neither with his colleagues nor in Spiral City. Now given he is clearly meant to be a homage to Thor, and thinking very specifically about one of mighty Mjölnir’s powers, let’s just say I have a theory about precisely where he, and they, might be…
Barnsley’s finest, Dean BODIES / NORTHLANDERS / LUCIFER Ormston, is apparently someone Jeff has wanted to work with for a while since seeing his stint on BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME (really would like that to be recollected). His fine, flicky lines, which in my sliding scale of artists seems to sit somewhere just between Faryl THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple and Guy BPRD Davis, are perfect for this unsettling tale. As ever, colourist Dave Stewart, then applies his own vibrant brand of spectral genius to finish the pages off to perfection. I’m tempted to go as far as to say, if you only read one superhero title currently, make it this one.
We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.
The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.
Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. Talk about Fake News! We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so there’s convenient, eh?
Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one.
During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs are blown off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…
“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”
Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.
She’s all alone in the Canadian, snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper, but she’s about to have company, not necessarily any of it good.
I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable. But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit within their environment.
What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.
Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… It brings the horror all home, hopefully.
So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.
What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, and will come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.
Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others.
Previously: CIVIL WAR. Wow, that was succinct.
Now that the team of Avengers which Iron Man used to finance have gone underground, hiding from the law that’s made them illegal (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3 for their constant harassment by Stark), he’s building his own team afresh, overtly to fight the good fight but also to undercut any claim to the name that the others might have, thereby undermining their legitimacy.
It’s exactly what Andrew von Eldritch did with the 1986 ‘Sisterhood’ LP, snatching the name from under the noses of his ex-bandmates before legally reclaiming the Sisters Of Mercy moniker for himself.
Unfortunately within five seconds of assembling the new team from its more conservative veterans, Iron Man has his firewalls breached by A.I. enemy Ultron, and is transformed into a metallic facsimile of The Wasp (it’s all in their somewhat Oedipal history) which then proceeds to weaponise the weather, detonate an EMP and distract the individually effective but collectively unaccustomed-to-each-other Avengers into confronting it head-on.
Ares, God of War and the very essence of male pride / presumption, needs little such goading, but in the end it is he who nudges things in a more production direction which – thanks to the Wasp’s ex-husband and Ultron-creator Hank Pym – involves a Commodore Sixty-Four.
Yes, this was Bendis’ version of old-school AVENGERS, which is to say it was about the wider dysfunctional family that has grown over the years, but with a modern sensibility and dry, caustic wit.
He even brought back the thought bubbles which are cleverly employed for dramatic and often comedic purposes to contradict what individuals’ internal editors actually let out of their mouths.
Frank Cho’s art is sleek and sexy, particularly his seamlessly jointed Iron Man armours (there will be many), but not so sexy as to be overly objectifying. Evidently as this point he still listened to editors.
It took him forever, however, to draw so by the time ‘Venom Bomb’ came along the book was running so far behind its sister title, NEW AVENGERS that the SECRET INVASION was rapidly approaching, its sub-plot boiling over, and I’m going to be careful what I adapt or redact from previous reviews for what follows.
‘Venom Bomb’ was drawn by Mark Bagely.
What is a Venom Bomb, I hear you ask? It’s a biological weapon that turns everyone into raging Symbiotes. It went off by mistake, but it came from Latveria.
Iron Man: “You are a horror.”
Dr. Doom: “A lot more people hate you than hate me.”
Not far from the truth at the time for, post-CIVIL WAR, Tony Stark had become commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. aka S.I.N.K.I.N.G.S.H.I.P. and the futurist had become damned as an untrustworthy reactionary.
In some ways Bagley’s style seemed too plastic for this title, but there were some very clever tricks when Iron Man and Doom start time travelling. It’s a tradition they share when on the same page. Just as you might meet a particular friend and decide that it has to be tapas because that’s what you do together, every time Tony and Victor von D find themselves in the same panel it inevitably ends on Doom’s Time Platform.
In this instance they end up in Manhattan during a period when Marvel comics were coloured with Ben-Day dots and advertised their other titles at the bottom of each page with sentences like “What’s it like to be a living vampire? Find out in the pages of FEAR – because only Morbius knows”. Each of these pages, then, is coloured in Ben-Day dots (a trick Kaare Andrews went on to incorporate in the raging RENATO JONES), features similar slogans and a nod to Bob Layton’s Iron Man inking over John Romita Jr. circa those original time-travelling travails (to Camelot!).
Also, the exposition in Doom’s thought bubbles neatly takes the piss out traditional exposition in the word balloons, whereby a villain reveals all and so gives their adversaries the upper hand.
The second half of this all-in-one-edition consists of short stories taking place during, after or even before SECRET INVASION (for extra, painful dramatic irony). They were drawn by the likes of Maleev, Cheung and John Romita Jr. before Marvel ran out of adequate artists and printed pap instead.
There was, however, an elegy in an epilogue which by far the finest chapter in this half, as a funeral is held for one of the original Avengers who fell during SECRET INVASION.
Regrets, recriminations and for one bad man an uncharacteristically quiet satisfaction that he finally has everyone exactly where he’s long wanted them: under his heel or his thumb.
X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein with Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford & Dave Cockrum, John Byrne with Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga.
Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Sunfire and Warpath join Cyclops as a new team of mutants is coerced by Professor X into rescuing the other original members of the X-Men who left on a school outing without proper adult supervision and ended up in a terrible accident on an island. Well, in an island.
It was hungry.
Actually the original X-Men are adults by this point, as are ex-X-villain Banshee, Sunfire (who promptly flounces out with a pout of Japanese nationalistic pride), and of course Wolverine who was already pushing 100, though looking remarkably spry on it. Alas, in those 100 years he had yet to learn any social skills whatsofuckingever.
Of the originals only Cyclops remains, wailing about responsibility of wearing spectacles, though Jean will be back pretty pronto and regret it almost immediately.
This 500-page, full-colour whopper reprints GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1, X-MEN #94 to #110, IRON FIST #14-15, MARVEL TEAM-UP #53, 69-70, ANNUAL #1 with Wolverine only appearing on six of those eighteen X-MEN covers.
That’s an extraordinary observation from a current perspective, but back then it was Cockrum on covers, as well as most of the insides, and Cockrum was all about Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler who here discovers that he has the ability to blend into shadows. Cockrum wasn’t remotely interested in Wolverine, a character so new to readers that they knew nothing of his back-story, let alone that there was a century of it to come.
As far as Logan’s concerned these are the first friends he’s ever had, and he doesn’t even like them very much. He certainly doesn’t know how to react to friendship. He’s curt, very defensive and quick to rise to any bait. But Wolverine’s sometimes right on the money as witnessed when he reaches out, quite uncharacteristically, by announcing his intention to join Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira McTaggart on a countryside picnic so that he can hunt. Here’s Storm:
“You would take the lives of innocent animals — not for survival but merely for sport?!”
“Even if I would, broad, what flamin’ business is it of yours?! I said huntin’, honeybunch — I said nothin’ about killin’. It takes no skill t’kill. What takes skill is sneakin’ up close enough to a skittish doe t’touch her…”
“Wolverine, I am sorry. I… misjudged you.”
“I could care less, ‘Roro. You’ve all been misjudgin’ me since the day I joined this turkey outfit!”
This is issue #109, the first truly accomplished issue which will settle in to become the classic run on UNCANNY X-MEN when Logan’s past first comes back to haunt him in the form of James Hudson and Alpha Flight. But the issues leading up to that are still vitally important in terms of sub-plot and context, kicking off with the death of Jean Grey in the space-shuttle crash, her rise from the river as the nigh-omnipotent Phoenix, and the first signs of Logan’s burning desire for her.
Also revealed is Storm’s past as a petty thief in Cairo following the death of her parents in such a manner as to catalyse a profound claustrophobia. Plus there’s this new team’s first confrontation with Magneto on Muir Island, and a hint of the Proteus story to follow in a couple of dozen issues’ times. Finally, Professor X is haunted by dreams that will lead to Lilandra’s first appearance (along with the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard) and the first, worrying hint that Jean Grey is not in control of her new powers nor comprehends the true extent of them as she becomes transfigured into a creature of pure, burning energy and knits together an entire neutron galaxy.
Scott Summers immediately spots the problem but Claremont and Byrne cleverly contrive to keep the couple apart often enough and long enough over the next several months so that there’s little time for them to talk, and it will be Jason Wyngarde who gets there first.
Cockrum’s art was sturdier the more space he was afforded: his splash pages and double-page spreads had real weight, balance and eye-popping power as did most of his covers including the one above, which, I have only just realised thanks to Jonathan, features Xavier standing in the form of a cross. How is he standing? Oh come, I’ve given far too much away already.
Whereas Claremont’s figures tended to become toy dolls when cramped, Byrne, on the other hand, could make the most of the tiniest of panels. He had the ability to draw in miniature and there’s more of his art here than you might think as – for the first time – Marvel editorial has elected to fill in the mutants’ appearances in other titles.
It doesn’t actually benefit the story, but completists will thrill at all the missing links.
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.
Thunder Brother Special (£4-50, ) by Paul Rainey
Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell
World Of Tanks vol 1: Roll Out s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra & P.J. Holden
Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu
The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray
Collecting Sticks (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie
Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos
The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber
Aliens: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Moritat
Rick And Morty vol 4 (£17-99, Oni) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby, CJ Cannon
Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 3 s/c (£11-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela
Steven Universe And The Crystal Gems s/c (£11-99, Titan) by Josceline Fenton & Chrystin Garland
Batman vol 2: I Am Suicide s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Hugo Petrus
Batman: Legacy vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant & various
Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 2: The Trial Of Maria Hill s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz
Toppu GP vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima
Attack On Titan Adventure – Year 850: Last Stand At Wall Rose (£9-99, Kodansha) by Tomoyuki Fujinami
Fairy Tail vol 59 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
ITEM! I went back to school!
I did, and I brought a grand’s worth of graphic novels with me for a regional School Librarians’ show-and-tell. I brought them all in a suitcase, packed to perfection and ever so heavy. Pulped, dead tree is truly heavy! Thank goodness for suitcases with wheels, I thought. Then I realised that I still needed to lift it into the boot of my car.
School librarians, prison librarians, gen-pop librarians, this is how Page 45 can help you:
We’ve been doing it for 22 years!
With four days this coming week to rest up (by which I mean write more reviews), I’m hoping to update Page 45’s 2014 easy-link secondary Library Page aimed specifically at schools to include all these new graphic novels and more, so I’m saving most of my photos for then. But you can find them right now on Twitter by following us @pagefortyfive for I formed a thread which I’m adding to even today.
If you like what you see then please retweet because otherwise school can fall in thrall to corporate agents of mediocrity and minimal diversity. And diversity is what we do best!
Here ends the self-serving sermon.
ITEM! So, yes, Easter opening hours!
We are open as always on Good Friday and this Sunshine Saturday (9am-6pm) but closed on Easter Sunday (on regular Sundays we are open from 11am-4pm) and closed yet again on Bank Holiday Monday. Good grief, what is wrong with us layabouts?!
If ever in doubt: Page 45: Where We Are And When We Are Open.