Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2019 week three

Featuring Navie, Carole Maurel, Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, Kristyna Baczynski , Dave Sim, Gerhard, Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Simini Blocker, Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Jason Aaron, Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino

Horizontal Collaboration h/c (£16-99, Korero Press) by Navie & Carole Maurel…

“Mark… we can’t be friends. It’s too dangerous, too serious. Can’t you see what it would mean?”
“That I’m going to have to marry you? Kidnap you… willingly?”
“…”
“I’m too afraid, Mark.”
“You needn’t be afraid.”
“How?”
“We aren’t friends, Rose.”
“…”

And then Mark kissed Rose passionately on a busy Paris street…

Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that this is occupied Paris, 1942, and whilst Rose is a Parisian through and through, Mark is not. No, Mark is an officer in the German army, specifically tasked with locating Jews hiding amongst the populace…

Unfortunately for both of them they’ve fallen in love at first sight when Mark came to check on an anonymous tip-off regarding Jews hiding in Rose’s block of apartments.

 

 

Rose isn’t Jewish, but one of her dear neighbours is, and whilst she’s strong enough to protect them, it seems she isn’t quite tough enough to save herself from Mark’s ardent advances. Not that she wants to stop them, but given her situation, as a young mother with an unloved husband away at war, she might have been wise to.

Their affair starts off as the clandestine type, of course, just one secret of many amongst our extended cast of Rose’s family, friends and neighbours in wartime Paris, but it doesn’t stay hidden forever. Certainly not with Mark’s carefree public displays of affection.

 

 

But when the tide of the conflict begins to turn and the Allies begin to advance, the reality of their relationship bites hard.

This is a very moving war-torn romance indeed from writer Navie, though Rose and Mark’s tryst is just one of several stories woven into the hardship of daily existence under an oppressive regime.

 

 

 

Thus whilst they may have the main billing there are other tragic heroes, certainly some quite despicable villains, plus one character whose morally ambiguous actions, whilst certainly well-intentioned, are catastrophic to say the least. There is also a particularly painful irony at play there too which makes it even more devastating…

This work concludes with two letters, one of which is actually a separate loose sheaf of folded paper, barely stuck down to the inside rear cover, which could very easily slip out and be lost… One letter may very well confirm your suspicions regarding a certain individual, the other, well, the other might just break your heart completely.

Told in retrospect in modern day, by an elder Rose to her lovestruck granddaughter Virginie, this haunting look back in time is beautifully and tenderly illustrated by Carole Maurel.

 

 

Our leading duo simply cannot contain their love, evident from the expressions on their faces, even whilst apart, and wartime Paris still feels like a vibrant, buzzing city, albeit populated by people aware their every move is being watched and controlled. Still, our cast of characters do mostly try and keep their secrets, some much more successfully than others. Even so, life and love goes on. Until they don’t.

JR

Buy Horizontal Collaboration h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) (£35-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim & Gerhard.

Re-shot and printed on much crisper paper.

A little like this review.

Almost all of our CEREBUS reviews were written from memory in a single sweep, immediately prior to the launch of Page 45’s website in 2010, because the collections had come out long before we’d been writing reviews but I wasn’t going to let such an innovative (albeit occasionally problematic) body of work like this (300 issues plus attendant extras) sit there in a void. But the “single sweep” is important because – even though I’ve embellished this for 2019 – each review relied to some extent for context upon what I’d written of the series so far, while omitting certain elements to avoid repetition.

You might, therefore, want to start reading the reviews from the very first book, but this volume is where I’d recommend you start buying unless you’d prefer something more sensationally satirical in the vein of Black Adder or Yes, Prime Minister, in which case you can hop all the way back to the second book, HIGH SOCIETY.

A complete change of place after the social, political, religious and even cosmic cataclysm of CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE, and a completely self-contained read recommended as anyone’s starting point so long as it’s not your first-ever comic. By now Sim is experimenting in so many ways with storytelling in this particular medium that novices may find the devices disorientating. But it’s where I started to read CEREBUS, I was hooked in the space of two or three pages, and for the next twenty years until the arrival of ASTERIOS POLYP, THE NAO OF BROWN and the ALEC OMNIBUS et al, I considered the series to be the finest work in comics.

Half the book focuses on the tensions of quiet domesticity, the dancer Jaka living with her new husband Rick halfway up a mountain next to a few other domiciles and a tavern. The other half is about freedom of artistic expression and a woman’s right to choose. But it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

 

 

Cerebus has been away.

As an anthropomorphic aardvark in a pre-industrial world otherwise populated by humans Cerebus is the ultimate outsider, but his seemingly unique physiology (on top of the odd prophecy) has also made him a source of speculation and a magnet for power. He’s already been Prime Minister and Pope.

But in his male papal absence he’s been dethroned, and the matriarchal Cirinists have taken over. Their religious belief in motherhood is absolute, but don’t imagine they’re feminists. A woman only has the right to choose so long as her choice is to become a mother. Dancing, for example, is illegal. Men are regarded as second-class citizens and Cerebus as the former religious leader of men is very much on the run.

 

 

Having materialised by ‘coincidence’ on Rick and Jaka’s doorstep, Cerebus is offered sanctuary there, but given that Cerebus was, is, or perceives himself to be in love with Jaka, it’s hilariously awkward.

In the meantime Oscar Wilde turns up. He’s writing a story – the story within this story about Jaka’s childhood. He’s also eyeing up Rick, but he’s open and honest about it, even if Rick’s too dim to understand those tentative advances.

Far, far more ominous are the constantly revised conversations which tavern owner Pud is having with Jaka in his head. Dancing is illegal and his patrons are few, yet in spite of his poor remuneration Pud still pays her to dance in very revealing outfits. One of the ways I sell JAKA’S STORY on the shop floor goes like this: do you ever try to anticipate conversations in advance? You know, if I say this, they may come back to me with that, so I’ll counter with… Hmmm. But what if I said that instead, how would it steer things? Throughout JAKA’S STORY Pud is secretly and silently obsessing over Jaka, stopping and restarting his premeditated, seemingly innocent overtures, but each new strand of calculated conversation in Pud’s head grows increasingly worrying…

Three-quarters of the way through the rug is pulled out from under everyone’s feet and the rest is even darker. How could it not be? Margaret Thatcher materialises. Her speech is reproduced phonetically, its rhythm and cadence as perfectly rendered as the words are chilling.

 

 

Before even commencing this story, landscape artist Gerhard built a three-dimensional model of Jaka’s house so that he could envisage exactly how each character moved through it, how to ‘shoot’ exterior sequences with consistency, and then how to represent each time of day’s subsequent shadows. Some superhero artists can’t even spell the word ‘background’ let alone draw it. They replace it instead with nominal silhouettes or speed lines: it’s not an artistic decision like Kojima’s in some sequences of LONE WOLF & CUB, but sheer laziness instead. Conversely, the very concept of laziness is an anathema to Gerhard, and his intricate, cross-hatched textures I rate right up there with Gustav Dore.

Our product pages can’t reproduce accents, sorry.

2019’s Stephen Says: Hello! Were I reading then writing about this today then you’d receive a relative epic. But I can’t. I just can’t. There are so many new books every week which demand our full concentration. And with that, I redact twenty-two more imaginary paragraphs of unequivocal praise, but also a couple of qualms involving authorial intention versus actual execution and so readers’ reception, very much in the vein of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ which was supposed to represent Catholicism in a positive light but which [snip, for which we’re all very grateful – ed.]

SLH

Buy Cerebus vol 5: Jaka’s Story (Remastered Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Grass Kings vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Boom! Studios) by Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins.

“Ain’t no law says I can’t be here.”
“There’s written laws, and then there’s the other kind.”

The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you shall see. He’s taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the paper this is printed on.

I’m generally quite sceptical about publishers’ comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them (see Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth’s jaw-dropping INDEH). You will, however, have to infer what you will, for I’ve already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.

 

 

It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.

“The lake holds the whole history of the place.
“Entire generations…
“The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.
“It cost me a niece… and a sister-in law.”

Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?

“The land… the water…? It sets the toll and takes what it will.”

 

 

 

What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi’s flap and staking his claim.

“This land has been fought for.
“This patch on earth has been earned.
“And lost… over and over again.”

We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow  until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms  and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..

“And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
“They ain’t about to give it up.”

 

 

Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman’s uniform. Apparently the boy isn’t welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn’t legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that – according to the Sheriff in Cargill – they’re all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.

Which is where, I believe, we came in.

“Shelly! How goes it?”
“S’all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself.”

 

 

We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let’s first talk about Tyler Jenkins.

There’s such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner’s DROPSIE AVENUE which you’ll also find within Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner’s town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.

The Grass Kingdom is far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.

All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It’s akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you’ll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.

 

 

It’s phenomenally well structured too: there’s a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green – trees to the north, the lake to the south – while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend’s experience.

Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce’s older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king – one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It’s made very clear to the youth that he’s lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.

Then he sees something else.

 

 

I mentioned attention to detail, didn’t I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly, at which point you may want to rethink.

For a completely different but equally unexpected take on autonomous communities living off the grid, please see Brian Wood and Mack Chater’s woefully underexposed BRIGGS LAND.

SLH

Buy Grass Kings vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer & Simini Blocker…

“You have released me from the magic lamp. As a reward, I will grant you three wishes.
“Not four or five or six. THREE.
“Those are the rules.
“What is your first wish?”

HOP HOP HOP HOP HOP

“Would you like a treasure chest filled with gold?
“That’s a popular wish.”

In fact, we have been granted four fabulous fairy tales, rather than three or indeed four, five or six wishes. Not that the bemused frog in the opening ‘Hop Hop Wish’ would probably know what to do with those either… Although, he does quickly catch on and come up with an ingenious idea for dealing with the pesky genie.

 

 

In addition to our ambivalent amphibian we also have our titular crooning pebble, a pair of squabbling sorcerers and also a very perturbed portrait artist.

 

 

Each story, scribed by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer is full of joy and snarky humour, as foolish follies are committed aplenty by all and sundry before happy endings finally ensue.

Simini Blocker’s colourful art is equally full of life and frivolity. There’s a real gentle glee and exuberance and most definitely an air of ever-present mischief which contributes to the fun.

I think my favourite story was probably the wiz-biz battle of wits involving the quiet, studious Athesius and the king’s lazy sorcerer Warthius, who being a pretty talentless magician, hatches a nefarious if fairly transparent scheme to steal Athesius’ spells by gifting him a parrot.

Athesius of course, is not remotely fooled as Warthius gamely blunders on…

“What is it?”
“It’s called a parrot.”
“Isn’t that the tropical bird that can repeat everything that people say?”
“Did I say parrot? It’s… an ostrich.”
“I thought ostriches were supposed to be enormous.”
“It’s a pygmy ostrich.”
“A pygmy ostrich? They must be very rare.”
“They are.”

 

 

I think you can probably guess where this tail is going to go and what the moral of the story might be!

JR

Buy The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Read All About It! (£12-99, King) by Kristyna Baczynski ~

Krystyna Baczynski, the queen of zines, is here to drop some knowledge and ignite imaginations with a gloriously engaging activity book.

With pull out pages and easy to follow instructions, this book is ready and raring to go! Whether you’re out adventuring in the sunshine or stuck on the sofa during a typically British rainy day, all you need is a pen and a bucket load of creativity! Though if we want to get really into it, some scissors and glue would go a long way to making your zines super extra special.

With ten zines on different themes, there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy and spark some imagination. Ranging from a week in the life, to a dream journal, to a magnificently made-up menagerie of monsters.  But as everyday as some of the themes may be at first glance, they really are a fantastic base to have some fun with. Who says the food zine should be about how to make marshmallow topped rice crispy squares? Why shouldn’t it be a how-to of your best recipe for purple flavoured grumwumple cake, filled with Inkleberry Jam and topped with a mountain of chocolate sprinkles so high that you would need a Sherpa to help you scale to the top! Suitable for both the realist and the fantasist, everyone is bound to get a kick out of these colourful zines.

Speaking of colour, Krystyna has gone full on-trend with the contrasting, highlighter colour aesthetics of risograph printing. Combo that with a lavish use of pop-retro stylings, eye-popping patterns and, of course, her charming illustrations and characters, you’re in for playful feast for the eyes so enticingly delicious that you won’t be able to stop those creative juices from flowing.

Off-white, soft textured paper not only adds to the home-made, design-trend look, it’s also particularly great for pencils and crayons! And pretty much everything else, though I maybe wouldn’t go too heavy on the markers.

As a kid, I know that this book would have been an absolute favourite of mine. Packed full of tutorials from lettering (dotty lettering was always a staple), to character creating from old magazines and newspapers (pro-tip, give old birthday cards a try too!), this book is bound to keep any creative entertained for hours, even days on end! And what is great is that this is only a starting point. Once you’re equip with the know-how, you’re encouraged to keep on making, drawing, cutting and sticking, to make the best zines you can think of! And what’s more there’s an option to get collaborative. So for all you parents itching to join in on the fun, you can! Get stuck in! Get the friends involved and really get fun going.

As an adult (lol), I’m gonna get stuck in anyway! Now, if only I can remember where I kept my best jumbo Crayolas…

JP

Buy Read All About It! and read the Page 45 review here

Joker s/c (£13-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo.

Crikey! This originally appeared as a hardcover in 2008. There’s never been a softcover until now. With a few additional, very necessary updates, this was written back then….

“When I was a kid, my scumbag stepfather once — only once — took us camping. I’d never been out in the woods before, and I haven’t been there since, really. But the time with my stepfather I caught a toad, and I took him home in a box. I fed him bugs that I’d catch… roaches mostly, since that’s what we had, mostly.
“After it rained, I’d take him up on the roof of our building too. Seein’ it was outside, I figured he’d like to hop around up there, and I think he really did. I like to think that. But this one time… there were older kids up there, and they saw what I had… And they said they were going to throw my toad off the roof. And I knew they were, I knew it. And also knew I could let them do that. To me.
“So I did it myself.”

And that’s not even The Joker. That’s Johnny Frost, the Joker’s chauffeur and right-hand man. Nice chap, Johnny. Bit of a clot for taking the job, mind: never trust a psychopath.

 

 

 

We have a new top tier Bat-book, ladies and gentlemen, something approaching KILLING JOKE, GOTHAM CENTRAL, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, Except you’ll only see half a dozen pages with Batman in them. This is squarely and fairly about Johnny and the Joker. They’ve dropped the cartoon features in favour of mouth-slit-with-razor-blade, entirely appropriate for this take on The Joker who doesn’t even attempt to pun his way into your black, black hearts (only ever successfully achieved by Moore in KILLING JOKE and Tom King’s Rebirth run on BATMAN) but keeps everyone perpetually off balance and thoroughly unnerved with his verbal u-turns, intense, unpredictable mood swings and complete disregard for the sanctity of anything including himself.

Under a veneer of charm, he is menace personified, your very worst nightmare and he’s just discharged himself from Arkham Asylum: that’s bad news for you if you carved up his territory and took it for your own in his absence.

 

 

It’s like no other take so far, though I imagine its imitators are waiting in the wings, and the same goes for Killer Croc, Harley Quinn (wisely and thankfully silent entirely throughout), The Riddler and up to a certain extent The Penguin and Two-Face.

Bermejo has excelled himself, as has Mick Gray on inks. They take Joker’s jagged mouth and extend it to everyone else on the page, their features half-shadowed and crinkle-cut like THE INHUMANS and FANTASTIC FOUR 1234’s Jae Lee on a pneumatic drill. What is slightly odd is that Bermejo’s elected to ink himself on his favourite pages, although you may not notice it until the final scene on the bridge where the far softer treatment on alternate pages doesn’t exactly jar but seems unnecessary. His Joker is alternately wild and hooded-eyed, chipped toothed and a mess of scar tissue.

So are some of his victims once he’s finished with them.

 

 

 

Evidently he feels the Injury To Eye Motif is just too limiting… and the Joker’s never been good at self-restraint.

SLH

Buy Joker s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c (£22-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Liam Sharp.

Original 2000AD run through with Douglas Adams – that’s how I’d characterise so much of this.

It’s highly inventive and very, very funny. Even mid-mass-arrest, there are so many stop-for-a-moment-to-laughs.

“Ye’ll never catch us now, copper!” boasts an 8-legged fiend.
“I won’t have to. My partner, Green Lantern Floozle Flem, is a super-intelligent all-purpose virus. Replicating in your bloodstream as we speak. Floozle Flem doesn’t catch you… You catch Floozle Flem.”

The police-patrol Green Lantern Corps’ pro-diversity recruitment drive knows no blinkers. You can’t expect to patrol then control the full range of a cosmos’s criminal manifestations if you don’t have an equally unorthodox armoury of agents. So yes, one Green Lantern is a virulent, sentient flu germ; another is a walking, talking, bi-pedal volcano.

No more a superhero series than Hickman and Aja’s HAWKEYE – which was instead a slickly designed, contemporary comedy of manners, therefore infinitely more accessible to a far broader audience – this is cosmic cop-crime whose precinct and jurisdiction are both set in space.

 

 

You can tell by its structure, which begins with a disciplined demand for a sit-rep update from HQ (a great big green-lantern-shaped space station) while at ground-level (somewhere similarly suspended but less lime-coloured) all is barely contained chaos. A spider’s just bitten a Green Lantern’s ring off.

“That was my favourite finger, you savage!
“Arachno-Sapiens! So bitey all the time!”

 

 

So yes, bursting with playful mischief to be sure, but if fingers can be cropped then so can entire individuals as – this being crime an’ all – it also comes with abrupt, contrasting (and so much more arresting) casualties.

You need know nothing of this title’s past to enjoy the opener to this first season (because that is what I sense this is, very much mapped out like a television show), for I’ve read fewer than dozen GREEN LANTERN issues in my life; only enough to recognise this as hilariously faithful yet totally fresh, with Liam Sharp art that is ridiculously detailed and full of authority.

 

 

To tell you more, plot-wise, would be to spoil the surprise, while the same goes for its structure which isn’t above slipping in memories like a meandering and meditative road journey.

Liam Sharp has brought his all – which is considerable – and I do hope he’s on double time for all the detail. The following need mean nothing to you, it is merely an observational self-indulgence based on my own historical comics-history bias:

On different pages yet sometimes in the same panels, I sensed serious amounts of neo-classical Neal Adams in the figure work, forearms and faces, enough Alan Davis to keep me amused in the background Glaswegian gamblers betting on a battle’s outcome, HR Giger – appropriately enough – in the mechanics during the discovery of a crashed spaceship, Jim Starlin rendering attending Hal’s ribcage and stomach muscles, bites of early Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe in the biceps, Herb Trimpe female faces and forearms, a sizzle of Bill Sienkiewicz during an arm-spread lift-off, and Jim Steranko during what I’d call “assembly”, reciting the customary bright / night / sight / might / light riff.

 

 

I’d only add that if you like your heroes not necessarily anti- but perhaps more ambivalent, then Hal Jordan will prove as pragmatic as he is dogmatic and determined in his Green Lantern role, unintimidated when going up against an entity bearing a suspicious resemblance to the Biblical God (and all cops are inherently suspicious – it’s part of their job description and arsenal), not above some judicious deception of his own, and never comes close to dropping his guard by turning the other cheek.

“Nurse, I’d call a doctor if I were you.
“But tell them this man killed 2.5 billion people.
“Tell them there’s no need to hurry.”

Also, since I did mention 2000AD in my first paragraph, does this ambition and audacity remind you of Judge Dredd?

“Planet Earth – you are gamma-intoxicated and clearly no longer in control of your decisions or actions.
“I’m placing all of you under arrest until you come to your senses.”

Are we all allowed one phone call each?

 

 

SLH

Buy Green Lantern vol 1: Intergalactic Lawman h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Mahmud Asrar, Gerardo Zaffino…

“The mine closed for the day so everyone in Red Tree Hill could be there to watch the Cimmerian die.
“People even came from other towns. Families picnicked on the mountain. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Until they brought him out.
“Then things got dark.”

Good old Conan, always getting himself into a right old pickle before promptly slashing his way out of it. Though if there ever were a character basically entirely responsible for every single bit of trouble he gets himself into…

Anyway, this time he is about to be hung for stealing gold. Well, he was going to be hung, but slight problem, he pulled down and pulverised the tree that the villagers had been hanging people from for decades during their first attempt to kill him. So after a brief reprieve they’ve decided to chain him to the fallen trunk and chop him into little pieces with an axe. Because, you know, that’s bound to work.

Here is the publisher soothsayer to sing us the tale of precisely what Conan is up to now he’s rejoined the Merry Marvel Marching Society…

“The greatest sword-and-sorcery hero of all returns… From an age undreamed… hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.

Conan’s travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unknown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. But as his fighting prowess lets him carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! And few are more deadly than the Crimson Witch.

 

 

Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian stars in an all-new ages-spanning saga as the destiny of Conan – and King Conan – are forever changed!”

‘Nuff said? Okay, maybe I do need to add a few thoughts of my own…

Firstly, the Conan comics material that emanated from Marvel first time around set a very high benchmark that wasn’t, to my mind, bettered or even really approached in quality by what followed during his many subsequent Dark Horse wanderings.

The original series ran for 275 issues starting in 1970 through to 1993. Roy Thomas, then Marvel’s associate editor, was the one who was really keen for Marvel to licence the character, seeing the potential unlike Stan Lee, and ended up writing the first 115 issues himself before returning for the final 36.

Thomas ended up offering the Howard estate the princely sum of $200 per issue, rather than the $150 he had been told to budget for it, which meant he then couldn’t justify getting John Buscema on board initially as artist (though Buscema did end up pencilling most of #25-190) thus allowing Barry Windsor-Smith to forge his own legend on the opening 24 issues.

I mention all that because, for me, I hold that material in as high regard and with as much affection as I do much of Marvel’s classic superhero output. So I was sceptical that they could manage to reignite such interest and induce such acclaim in the character’s exploits this time around.

But so far, so bloody good. Jason Aaron, currently still in the midst of his own epoch-length run with the THOR character(s) –  the current volume being THOR VOL 1: GOD OF THUNDER REBORN S/C and they are now recollecting his run in chunkier volumes right from the start with THOR: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BY JASON AARON VOL 1  – clearly has a strong handle on the somewhat psychotic psyche of the ever-bored barbarous man-child.

 

 

Strong, bold sword-swinging, curse-screaming art from Mahmud Asrar and Gerard Zaffino, who clearly both understand the character too.

 

 

The overarching story in this first volume moves around in time, strung through with the bloody thread of the Crimson Witch, so Asrar handles the first three issues which each tell a different adventure from Conan’s more excitable younger days, before Zaffino tackles a weary King Conan still struggling to make sense of his place in the world once his throne has been claimed.

 

 

It is of course, far too early to say if this run can match the heady errr… head-chopping heights of the original. It is certainly off to a cracking and bone-crunching start though.

 

 

Marvel, being Marvel of course, can’t leave it there. So there is also a companion SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN title, the first volume of which penned by Gerry DEADPOOL Duggan will be out very shortly. Having flicked through the issues for that, I have to say it does look just as intensely brutally carved chaos out as well.

Now Marvel, being Marvel of course, really, really just couldn’t leave it there, could they? So Conan was actually reintroduced into the Marvel Universe with the surprisingly entertaining AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME by Al Ewing (which was a because-you-didn’t-demand-it follow-up to the utterly insipid (to me) AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER event).

Now, the thing about Marvel is… that they are convinced you just can’t have too much of a good thing, so clearly, they needed to create another Avengers title, just so they could semi-permanently shoehorn Conan into modern day. Thus we have the SAVAGE AVENGERS with Wolverine, Venom, Elektra, Punisher and Doctor Druid… sigh… I have no idea if he is going to stay there…

JR

Buy Conan The Barbarian vol 1: The Life And Death Of Conan Book One s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

 New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

 Kramers Ergot vol 10 s/c (£26-99, Fantagraphics) by Sammy Harkham, Robert Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell

 That’s honestly added this time!

They Called Us Enemy s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by George Takei, various & Harmony Becker

Bags Or A Story Thereof s/c (£9-99, Archaia) by Pat McHale & Gavin Fullerton

BPRD Devil You Know vol 3 – Ragna Rok (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Laurence Campbell, Christopher Mitten, Dave Stewart

By Night vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Christine Larson

Die! Die! Die! vol 1 (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Scott M. Gimple & Chris Burnham

Our Super Adventure vol 2: Video Games And Pizza Parties h/c (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley, Stef Purenins

Justice League vol 3: Hawkworld s/c (£15-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Cheung, various

Havok And Wolverine: Meltdown s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson & Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth

Miles Morales vol 1: Straight Out Of Brooklyn s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Javi Garron

Candy Color Paradox vol 2 (£8-99, Sublime) by Isaku Natsume

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