In which an ancient Neil Gaiman project is resurrected for the first time in over 21 years. Also: SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6 is out this week!
Wild’s End: The Enemy Within #1 (£2-99, Boom) by Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard…
“Mr. Cornfelt, I have little liking for the current trends in the genre. I am a man of science. Everything I write is based upon rigorous speculation as to what might be conceivable in terms of scientific fact.”
“Well, indeed, but…”
“I believe the extrapolation of science is the cornerstone of science fiction. Informed speculation, sir. Your prose is very fine, sir, but it is your content…”
“My, uh, content?”
““Scientific romance” is a poor cousin of the genre, and sadly seems to appeal to the masses. To call it science fiction tarnishes the credibility of proper science fiction.”
““Proper science fiction? ” Sir, I take offense… ”
“Then take it, Mr. Cornfelt. What you peddle is fanciful juvenilia.”
Ha ha, I suspect Lewis Cornfelt and the somewhat acerbic Herbert Runciman, both very successful in their <ahem> respective fields, are going to be my two favourites in this second series of the anthropomorphic homage to the War of the Worlds. The first series, very shortly to be collected, WILD’S END VOL 1: FIRST LIGHT, was already chock full of colourful characters, most of which survived the aliens’ failed attempt at establishing a beachhead on Earth, and they also make their return as our two literary giants arrive at the village of Lower Crowchurch.
They believe they’ve been invited to be speakers at a literary conference, but in fact the army, who have quarantined the area and managed to prevent word getting out to the world at large, are quietly trying to assemble people who might have some ideas, any ideas, however outlandish, regarding alien life, which means the most pre-eminent minds on the subject are, of course, science fiction writers…
The army has also quarantined our heroes from the first series: the doughty Mr. Slipaway, grumpy recluse Susan Peardew, Alphred the piglet who saw his mother so spectacularly turned into pork scratching in the first series, Mr. Minks and sly old Fawkes the Fox. Mr Minks has a theory that the army are worried the aliens could be shapeshifters, which makes all of them suspects. Contrary to the military opinion, though, our heroes believe that the world needs to know about the first invasion as soon as possible, forewarned being forearmed. Simply because the army would have zero chance of preventing a full-scale assault from the technologically advanced aliens. And so our heroes decide to mount an escape which is where shifty Mr. Fawkes is going to come into his own…
What a brilliant opening issue! Sometimes you don’t realise just how much you’ve missed something until it’s back again. Just like death-dealing invading aliens, obviously! The new major characters including the otherwise severe sci-fi fangirl Warrant Officer Upton are all hilarious additions. The bumptious Brigadier (a deer obviously) Winterbottom in particular has some excellent scene-stealing one liners and putdowns. So far, however, the aliens are very conspicuous by their absence… Which, whilst I initially thought Mr. Minks’ theories were a tad paranoid, has now set me wondering…
Lovely art as before from Ian. It’s the facial mannerisms of the various characters that crack me up. He definitely seems to be adopting a slightly finer line these days. Also, it amused me greatly that Mr. Runciman and Mr. Cornfelt are a cat and dog respectively. No wonder they don’t get on! I’m expecting more fur to fly between these two as the series continues!
Tommysaurus Rex (£8-50, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel.
I am, I concede, quite easy to reduce if not to tears… then at least to swallowing hard in a bid to stave off such embarrassing soppiness when it comes to films, TV shows and graphic novels. However, pets are going to hit me where it hurts, particularly if the pet gets hurt, and sure enough within the first few pages young Ely’s beloved dog lies six feet under.
To try to mitigate his son’s distress, Dad sends Ely to stay on his grandfather’s farm.
“I thought you said I was too young to go work for Grandpa!”
“When a boy loses his dog he gets a lot older,” replies Dad with perception.
There Ely stumbles first upon a bully and then upon a living, breathing and improbably cute T-Rex, drawn in beautiful Bill Watterson fashion (see CALVIN & HOBBES). The beast is loyal, playful and stupid but also, unexpectedly, petrified of fire. Why? Well, there’s a great sequence later on involving real or genetic memory (depending on where you think the T-Rex came from), in which fire sends our Tommysaurus Rex into another blind frenzy as the reader sees what the dinosaur sees in its mind’s eye: flaming meteors and lava.
It’s an all-ages coming of age story in which Ely learns the painful extent to which a pet may prove both tenacious and loyal (those last dozen pages really put me through the wringer – I’m such a big boy’s blouse!), plus the nature, power and true value of forgiveness.
The bully’s well evoked and his portrayal well judged: he really pisses you off, then you begin to understand why he does what he does… and then he pisses you off even further. As bullies do.
There’s a cameo by Ray Harryhausen (he of stop-motion film fame) and those final forest-fire scenes are nothing short of blistering, particularly the light playing on the big lizard’s form.
Doug’s cartooning is an expressive joy throughout, his T-Rex top notch, and I’d surmise from the greatly improved reproduction that every page has been reshot. The blacks are now black rather than a grainy grey so that the inverse silhouettes are crisp and clean greatly enhanced by the new colours which are rich and warm and thrilling. It’s like the whole thing’s been reborn.
P.S. Sorry the interior art is a bit wonky. I could only find two early images in colour online, so had to photograph these myself, holding the book open and at the only angle which would minimise a reflective shine on the paper. Worth it, though. Aren’t the colours fabulous?
Fires Above Hyperion (£10-99, NBM) by Patrick Atangan…
Now, both Stephen and myself were sufficiently intrigued by the strapline amongst the publisher blurb which read, “Imagine if Sex And The City were written by a gay Charlie Brown” to get this in. Having read it, I have come to the conclusion the most apt Peanuts analogy is when Lucy keeps offering to hold the American football upright for Charlie Brown to kick, despite his protestations that he knows she is going to whisk it away, which, sure enough she does every time, sending him flat on his back.
That rather appears to be the theme of this work, in which the author seemingly contrives to find himself involved with, or trying to be involved with, people who just are not marrying material. There has to come a point when you would think – and as the creator comments, “One day I woke up and realised I had been dating for twenty years. Twenty years…” – that you’re simply going about it all the wrong way.
Which ought therefore to be the source of some darkly rich comedic material, and it is, to a degree, but I did find it a touch “o, woe is me” in places. Much like Sex And The City, thinking about it. There is a definite distinction between self-deprecation and touting for sympathy, and I do think this strays into the latter, albeit fractionally.
Anyway, what is fantastic about this work is the art. It very, very strongly minded me of Shag, whom we used to have the odd art book of, and if you want to see his work to make the comparison you can do so at his website, www.shag.com. This has a very similar style of illustration and warm palette, and it does create a very cosy feel to the proceedings. Disturbed only by Patrick’s awkward attempts at social couplings!
Something else that work extremely well in this instance, which I’m not normally a fan of, is the complete absence of speech bubbles. Instead the text is simply placed at the top of each panel. It works, probably because 99% of it is narration rather than conversation, with the odd bit of reported speech. It really lets the poster-style art stand out and shine through. The pedant in me feels compelled to inform you I spotted not one, not two, but three spelling errors. So a minor slap on the wrist to the editor for proof reading with their spellchecker turned off… Possibly a disgruntled ex- of Patrick’s getting the final misspelt word in…
Free Country: A Tale Of The Children’s Crusade h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, Toby Litt, Alisa Kwitney & Peter Gross, Peter Snejbjerg, Al Davison, Chris Bachalo…
“Mostly grown-ups don’t notice you.
“Mostly grown-ups don’t notice other people’s children anyway. I mean they see us, but they don’t see us. We walk in their blind spots.
“When you’re dead it’s just more so.”
My memory of this material from the first time around in 1993-1994, (when I was buying comics from Stephen and Mark in their pre-Page 45 days!) is that it was a rather discombulated affair; that whilst all the individual parts were rather enjoyable, it just seemed a somewhat… uneven read. The introduction from Neil Gaiman, therefore, explaining how this most unlikely crossover came about and how it all subsequently came together, of a fashion, was a most illuminating explanation. In short, pretty much all of the creators involved felt the same way about the finished whole. Thus it was never collected into one book, until now.
What I didn’t realise, until again Neil enlightened me, was that this edition has been substantially reworked by Peter THE UNWRITTEN & LUCIFER Gross and Toby Litt, to create a whole new bridging middle section and open out the final third. The result is something wonderful: a real testament to energy, enthusiasm and talent of the creators who helped to build that wonderful Vertigo imprint without any sort of road map in those early days. So what we now have is a complete, flowing narrative with a very defined structure that works perfectly as one book.
As Neil says, he’s still not entirely convinced that Vertigo all those years ago was the right time and place for a crossover. I think he is right, it does still feel like the various characters of the Black Orchid siblings, Tefe (the offspring of Swamp Thing), Maxine (Animal Man’s daughter) and Timothy Hunter have been somewhat shoehorned in, but you don’t mind because it is always lovely to see appearances by them, and they do provide some fun and frivolity in what is actually a very dark tale about the disappearance of an entire village of children.
So you can’t compare this, say, to Neil’s seamless epic Vertigo- (and DC)-spanning THE BOOKS OF MAGIC. You can definitely still see the joins here but, if you are prepared to overlook those and appreciate the endeavour, it is well worth it for there are some wonderful moments in here. The Dead Boy Detectives, Charles Rowland and Edward Paine, hired to investigate the disappearances by a distraught sibling, are the stars of the show. Their naive otherworldliness, born of a different time, made me chuckle on several occasions. In many ways, this reads like one of the more esoteric arcs of SANDMAN, or THE UNWRITTEN, you can definitely see both Neil’s and Peter’s hands in here, plus also a dash or three of dark Delano. I would be intrigued to know whether certain lines of dialogue or narrative were penned by Jamie. I have a sneaking suspicion I can pick some of them right out.
It’s possibly one for completists, this, or just those with very fond memories of the early days of Vertigo. It certainly made me reminisce and wish that that they hadn’t let the imprint go to seed in recent years. It’s a decision that looks stranger and stranger with every decent new Image title that comes out.
Y – The Last Man Book vol 3 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra.
Gripping premise in which everyone on the planet in possession of a Y chromosome haemorrhaged in an instant. Now every male on the planet is dead except escape artist Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. What happened and why?
I love a premise you can précis so succinctly.
From the writer of SAGA, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD etc come a series whose ramifications have been so well thought through as I explained in our review of Y – THE LAST MAN BOOK 1 so if this is new to you I suggest you start there.
Y – THE LAST MAN originally ran for ten shorter volumes now being repacking as thicker books so if you want the thicker editions look for “book” on our site rather than “vol”. This collects vols 5 and 6.
Here’s Dr. Mann who can explain things in much longer words than I:
“For the last few months, I’ve been looking for an external source that allowed both you and your pet to escape whatever killed all the other males. Environmental exposures, your nutritional intake, shared fucking belongings, whatever… I’ve been insanely careful to study your biological samples independently, in order to isolate whatever the x-factor might be. But then it hit me, what if one of you is the x-factor? What if an internal variable somehow shielded both of you.”
“So… you think I’m what kept Ampersand alive?”
“No, I think he’s what kept you alive.”
“Oh. Wait. Huh?”
“I finally started combining different samples from you two, and observing the reactions with immune electron miscroscopy. At first there was nothing, but then I used purification immune adherence hemagglutination, and ran those results through microtiter solid-phase -”
“Doc, when I tried to build one of those baking soda volcanoes for the second-grade science fair, I nearly blew off my own testicle. Is there any chance we can dumb down the technobabble about a thousand percent?”
“It’s a bit like the trivalent antitoxin I doped you up with to protect you from any further exposure to botulism…but on a much different scale. When I compared your altered cells to my male embryonic specimens that were destroyed during the genderside, I founds yours synthesized proteins differently than -”
“Something inside of Ampersand masked you to the effects of the plague.”
“Inside? Then… how did it get inside me? ‘Cause if you’re accusing me of blowing this thing…”
She’s not. So what did save Yorick and how did it get inside him? It’s got a great punchline. And rather a pungent smell.
So. Having trecked across an America populated by militant, self-styled “Amazons” (amongst whose number is Yorick’s own sister), communities of escaped prisoners, warring intelligence agencies, rogue factions and a thespian outfit, Dr. Mann thinks she’s found the answer and therein a potential longshot of a solution: Ampersand himself – or at least the bits he likes to fling across the room.
But the monkey’s manky biological by-products have gone missing along with Ampersand himself, so Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr. Mann have to follow the trail of his abduction across the Pacific to Japan where they find themselves in a war between smugglers and a trigger-happy Australian navy. Plus, those are very small cabins, so who knows what will happen?
Also: Yorick’s sister’s back, she’s armed to the teeth, and she has Agent 355 in her sights. She’s not the only one.
The strengths of this series lie in Vaughan constantly thinking up new ramifications of the gender fallout, and Yorick’s vulnerability which he masks under a veneer of banter. Being a much earlier work than SAGA and EX MACHINA that banter’s not as polished, I concede, but it begins to really hit its stride. The twists are all here, though. *zips mouth tightly shut*
Pia Guerra’s art is sympathetically soft and gentle, her characterisation ensuring a sense of the ordinary so grounding these individuals within the extraordinary that envelopes them. Even Agent 355 – she’s very much an individual human being who once learned to knit. There’s plenty of downtime spent lounging on beds in jim-jams.
Don’t think this means there aren’t sequences so harsh you won’t wince, but when one of our posse picks up a great big sword, for example, they don’t transform into the ultimate warrior unless they already are. They’re shown to be precisely who they are: someone unused to wielding a sword in self-defence.
Finally, for the moment, and this is a thing: people’s hair grows. It gets messed up. It gets tied back or otherwise tidied up. It gets cut. Honestly, look around you: this happens, and so it does here.
Something At The Window Is Scratching h/c (£13-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that LENORE Roman Dirge is an enormous Tim Burton fan and, just like Burton’s THE MELANCHOLY DEATH OF OYSTER BOY, this a collection of illustrated nonsense rhymes in the vein of Edward Gorey’s earlier AMPHIGOREY antics which I adore.
On each left-hand page you’re given a brief burst of verse; on the facing page, a cuddly moment of mock-macabre art which is undeniably lovely.
You can call it ”inspired” by Burton if you like… or you can be a little less charitable because titles like ‘The Guy With A Thing On His Head’ and ‘Pear Head Man And Bread Boy’ are so similar to Burton’s own silliness that they verge on copyright infringement.
‘Pear Head Man And Bread Boy’:
“Nature did not have a plan
when it created
the Pear Head Man.
He had one friend
who was made of bread,
but the birdies ate him.
Now he’s dead.”
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the transparency’s a virtue.
Orphan Black (£14-99, IDW) by John Fawcett, Graeme Manson, Jody Houser & Szymon Kudranski, Alan Quah, Cat Staggs…
“I don’t think the study…”
“No, you don’t think. You leave it up to the people who actually know how. Like it or not, you’re a tiny cog in a machine, the importance of which you can’t even begin to comprehend.”
Now, I will confess at this point, I haven’t seen the titular TV show. I know our Dominique is a huge fan, as are several customers whose televisual tastes I do trust quite implicitly. So I have therefore been trying to work out exactly how this material fits in with the show. As far as I can see, it isn’t new material per se, more a slightly expanded retelling of certain major characters’ stories and the main plot points from, I think, the first season.
I suspect therefore this work is intended as a primer to get new people, comics fans, into watching the show, rather than a companion or continuation work like, say, the excellent SERENITY graphic novels. I do question precisely how wide an appeal this gives it, I would have personally thought brand new material aimed at people who love the show would have been a better approach.
It is, however, excellent speculative fiction penned by the creators of the show and, having read this, I am now determined to watch the show! The basic premise is that a group of scientists calling themselves Neolutionists, operating out of the Dyad Institute, undertook an illegal human cloning programme some thirty years ago which proved very successful indeed. The resultant clones, all of one woman, are being now covertly monitored by people strategically inserted into their very different lives. There is a wider next phase of the plan hinted at, hence the monitoring.
Some, however, have worked out that they are clones and begun to communicate with each other. One, a con artist called Sarah, has taken on the identity of another, a policewoman called Beth who committed suicide in front of her. There is also a cult-like religious organisation called the Proletheans who somehow know of the clones and, viewing them as aberrations, are determined to eliminate them all. That their chief assassin is one of the clones is merely a further level of intrigue.
From what I can gather, it seems like the show features a different clone week by week, with the story of recurring important characters and groups also being developed, and this comic series follows the same premise with each of the five issues being titled after a different clone. It is extremely well written and the art is competent enough, but nothing to get excited about.
[Editor's note: I respectfully disagree. I've only seen these two pages but - middle tier below aside, and I liked that too - I think they're pretty decent stabs at Tony Harris circa Brian K. Vaughan's magnificent EX MACHINA.]
The show and comics do also raise some genuinely interesting questions surrounding the moral implications of human cloning. Because let’s not kid ourselves if we seriously think that various nations around the globe aren’t undertaking precisely such research in direct contravention of the global treaty banning it. I think only an idiot would seriously believe the various superpowers and their militaries aren’t conducting human cloning experiments on the quiet. So perhaps this isn’t quite as speculative a premise as one would initially think…
Flash: Season Zero s/c (£14-99, DC) by various.
All twelve issues coming in at little more than a quid each! And only a couple of weeks after the release of the last one.
FAQ: I have no idea how publishers price their collected editions. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to it other than, at times, what they think they can get away with. Certainly there’s no consistency in terms of page count.
I do love that almost every first volume published by Image is just £7-50, though: that’s a very attractive entry point and shows confidence in their material – confidence that you’ll enjoy the first book enough to come back for the second.
There, I think I’ve typed enough paragraphs to fit the cover art in.
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.
Wizards N Stuff (£2-99) by Stanley Miller
Bad Island (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel
Becoming Unbecoming (£14-99, Myriad) by Una
Cardboard (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel
Dressing (£14-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge
Ghostopolis (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel
It Will All Hurt #2 (£5-99, Study Group Comics) by Farel Dalrymple
Lose #7 (£7-50, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge
MAD’s “Original Idiots” Complete Collection Slipcase Edition (£33-99, Mad Books) by Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder
Material vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Ales Kot & Will Tempest
Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game h/c (£25-99, Archaia) by Luke Crane & David Petersen
Northern Lights: The Graphic Novel vol 1 (£12-99, Doubleday) by Philip Pullman, Stephanie Melchior & Clement Oubrerie
Palefire (£8-99, Secret Acres) by M. K. Reed & Farel Dalrymple
Rachel Rising vol 6: Secrets Kept (£12-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore
Showa 1953 – 1989: A History Of Japan vol 4 (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki
Smoke (£10-99, Alternative) by Gregory Benton
Arrow Season 2.5 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marc Guggenheim, Keto Shimizu & various
Batman vol 6: Graveyard Shift s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Moon Knight vol 3: In The Night s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Ron Ackins, German Peralta
A Silent Voice vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima
Fairy Tail vol 50 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Vinland Saga Book 6 h/c (£16-99, Kodansha) by Makato Yukimura
Will return next week, hopefully.
Here’s a preview: I’ll have been teaching comics in Kendal and you will have missed Page 45′s 21st Birthday Party on Saturday 3rd October including our all-night booze bash after the magnificent Simone Lia & Hannah Berry had been Signing & Sketching for free!
You won’t really, though, will you? You’ll have been here with us all day long!
You are so loved!
- Stephen x