This weeks’ new books and extensive, illustrated News underneath!
The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) (£7-99, self-published) by Rozenn Grosjean.
“You cannot go on living in ignorance.
“It will never bring you happiness.”
An exquisitely beautiful comic whose English-language edition we’ve imported directly from Rozenn in France.
If the colours aren’t enough to make you weep with joy – and I believe they will be – Grosjean has been kind enough to sketch Ansuz, its white raven, in every single copy.
The cover displays a complete command of space as well as weather conditions. I adore the contrast between the wet watercolours bleeding softly beyond the further reaches of the tree – its canopy receding into the mist high above the forest – and the rich, crisp, plumb of the nearest branch and leaves. Between the two Ansuz descends, its equally crisp inverse silhouette quite evidently not of this world.
It’s a cover defined by shapes rather than lines, and the same can be said of much of the interior: the white raven with its yolk-yellow eyes and soft, fleshy pink tongue; its mortal, black brethren perched in the wintry trees later on; the young girl’s fingers and forearms; and the ghostly apparition of Elhaz, the guardian stag-spirit whose pure white glow shimmers in the shallow waters.
On the following page, I love how the ripples of the young lady’s tears, fallen into the mere, are reflected in the expanding, circular light of the stars.
“Ansuz, the forest has been dwindling for almost a year. What is happening among the spirits?”
It begins with the all-too human girl cupping an onyx-coloured egg ever so gently in her hands, her soft fingers wrapped protectively around its shell. The natural cycle is about to renew. It doesn’t, but why?
This is a haunting story told in three short acts whose middle season with its glacial white snow and frozen greens is juxtaposed with the warmest of purples on either side, the times of transition. The ending is an enigmatic ellipsis whose spectral execution reminded me of the videogame Ico.
Touched on within is our historical interest in omens – in Oracles and other soothsayers – with which the raven has long been associated.
The rest, I leave to you, adding only that the raven’s smile made me do the same, as did Grosjean’s glorious preparatory sketches of the bird in the back, after which follows the original 4-page, black and white story which inspired THE MYSTIC WOODS.
Rozenn’s own magnificent website is linked to in the News section at the bottom of this blog.
Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Omar Francia, Nahuel Lopez.
“Mercury’s sun-facing side is hot enough to melt lead. The other is cold enough to liquify oxygen.
“At the border between the two, there is a zone with a survivable temperature.
“It rotates so slowly that its solar day is twice as long as its year.
“On Mercury, you can outrun dawn.”
Gillen’s a dab hand at the 60-second pitch as anyone who’s read the back cover to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels knows full well. He’s also quite neat at leaving a beat.
“Just as long as you can keep moving.”
There are ever so many approaches to science fiction, even when set in space. That SAGA is set in space at all is almost is almost tangential to its central core comedy, family, war and romance – except, of course for the diversity of species. Much of THE FUSE, on the other hand, is very much informed by the fact that its police procedural takes place on a gigantic solar panel orbiting Earth, yet one of its delights is its familiarity: space-shuttle interiors resembling aircrafts’ for they serve much the same function; town shop fronts and pavements in what is effectively an indoor city centre.
MERCURY RISING, however, is not only about what might happen specifically on a colonised Mercury and why we’d be there, but the technology we’d develop for – and as a consequence of – a post-skill-set economy. It relishes its cyberpunk elements.
We’d be there for the solar energy: it’s the planet closest to our sun. Far from post-apocalyptic, an enlightened humanity here has achieved much, proudly reversing our environmental apathy / devastation upon Earth and taking it to another planet instead. Hurrah! You might detect a conflict there. You would be right.
As to the skills which we currently learn in order to earn – during years of soul-destroying, entertainment-free education often followed by a three-year, booze-addled chaser – these can now be plugged in using memory crystals, along with any further top-ups required for specific purposes or locations like learning a language. Kieron has extrapolated further from this. Instead of being recorded in your cranium, one could choose to store specific memories on these crystals, acting effectively as external hard-drives and so jettisoned if proving troublesome. I can think of many social blunders I’d delight in deleting along with a few exes, but there are repercussions. There would also be downsides to deploying emotional dampeners. There are some fairly sound reasons for these emotions, you know.
Gillen’s inventiveness doesn’t stop there: colour-coding memories – for example false ones, downloaded, so you know they’re not yours – and inserting tabs, little footnotes for future reference or in lieu of what you’ve dispensed with. You’ll see.
Why yes, there would be a black market for memory crystals too; a big one for more sensitive stuff.
So if you can acquire any skill set, what might determine your suitability for a job? Personality types. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that a tendency towards murderous rage might make one a poor match for babysitting, or an overabundance of empathy less than ideal for a seat on the Tory side of our Commons.
At which point I give you what makes much of this even less obvious: our protagonist, Luiza Bora, whose personality was assessed at a tender age and determined to be 57b. Not an ‘a’ or an ‘f’, to be fair, but a 57 all the same.
“I don’t want to hurt people,” she protested when young. She wanted to help people. She wanted to police.
Unfortunately personality class 57 is not conducive to kindness, nor acceptable for police work on Earth. So a life as a soldier, it was! Until Luiza realised this: 57b ruled out policing on Earth… but not on Mercury.
I’ll leave you to discover the specifics of the career aspects here – no one works under contract any longer; you have to sell yourself on a daily basis via the Grapevine and the tendering process is ingenious – but this is Luiza’s first day on Mercury, she doesn’t have form, so she has to take what she can get. All she can get, for a minimal fee, is a seemingly simple case most would sign off on: the death of one Waldo Burgess separated on the artificial solar belt and burnt up when dawn came upon him. Ouch. I guess he ran out of breath and stopped running. But there’s an anonymous message attached to the case and all of a sudden Luiza’s intrigued.
“While advancing the case to primary will increase your fee,” warns the Grapevine, “initiating unnecessary investigation will negatively affect your Grapevine status.”
I think you can imagine, given that we’re only on page 10, that the investigation will prove just a tad necessary and will encompass almost every aspect of the world I have typed up to date. That impressed me no end.
It wouldn’t be Gillen if there wasn’t some ‘sploding and there’s plenty of that – this is an action comic – but refreshingly Luiza never did want to hurt anybody, and if the lethal force required impresses individuals then she’s less than impressed with them. These more “tactile” sequences are enhanced with the help of combat upgrades reminiscent of video game-play (Kieron cut his writing skills in games journalism) whose not inexhaustible capacity is monitored by tabs which keep the tension taught while letting the fists and ammo fly.
Nor would it be Kieron without comedy, much of which comes in the less than classy class of technician whom Luiza is lumped with given her limited funds. Oh, and this is emphatically not an all-ages comic.
Omar Francia has dealt with the design work with relish and handles high-octane with aplomb. But when she’s not thrusting her fist in a face, Luiza stands tall, never once thrusting her derrière in your face as is the wont of some artists when given action-orientated lady-leads.
Better still, there’s a great deal of subtle reaction going on between Luiza and Lucas, and I don’t mean merely reacting to what’s threatening to do them some damage, but to each others’ reactions to what’s threatening to do them some damage. Study those two early pages (above and below) which involve the first act of sabotage, knuckle-crushing metal-wrenching and a beam of extreme heat: over and again, Lucas is reacting to Luiza for she is essential to his survival. It’s a lot less common in illustrated action sequences than you might expect.
There’s also a delightful and marked softening of lines when it comes to memories of the past – artificial or otherwise.
Don’t think I’m no fan of Lopez – I barely noticed the transition halfway through at the time – but when Francia returns for the ‘Interlude’ (which was original the FCBD edition distributed in advance of the series itself) those forms do surely soften again.
Given how this uses the future to comment on the present and the often robust exchange of ideas (which we call insults), I’d recommend this heartily to fans of Ellis and Robertson’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN – except that this comes with a genuinely Filthy Assistant.
Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy…
“A psychopathic narcissist and millennial nostalgist who got his mind trapped in the net.
“As soon as we grab one o’ his geeks, Davey shuts them down.
“The world’s a video game to Davey. He can control anyone with a nanopac in ’em.
“Everyone except me. Straight edge perks.”
Rick Remender seems to be on a one-man mission to demonstrate the many possible flavours of speculative and science fiction these days. After his turns doing comedic / weird: BLACK SCIENCE, post-apocalyptic / aquatic: LOW, plus super-heroic: UNCANNY X-FORCE, UNCANNY AVENGERS, and even his CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAST AWAY IN DIMENSION Z involved Steve Rogers being castaway into a dimension where time travelled at a far faster rate to our own (possibly meant metaphorically as well as literally as he did adopt a child whilst there. I feel like I have spent considerable time in Dimension Z, wearing out and aging rapidly, over the last four years since Whackers was born…), he’s now crafted something that is straight-up cyberpunk.
The year is 2089, the location the Isles of Los Angeles. Society has most definitely polarised even further between the haves and have-nots, to the degree that the streets are basically one big floating cesspool of humanity, tranquilised on cerebral implants pumping out endless entertainment programmes directly into their vision, and nano-tech continuously adjusting and maintaining their emotional states, and even their physical appearances. All at a punitive financial cost, of course.
That vicious cycle of consumption, addiction and consequent fiscal slavery is not the worst of the population’s problems right now, though, at least for the duration of the opening issue. No, that would be Davey Trauma. When Constable Debbie Decay says the world’s a video game to him, she’s not kidding. To Davey, the Isles Of Los Angeles right now is like his own personal Grand Theft Auto as he goes crashing, smashing and spree-murdering his way to fame and high-score glory. Davey has his own twisted gaming rules, however, such as not taking control of Debbie’s police partner and lover, Led, who is practically catatonic in real-world terms, being permanently immersed in the virtual world, plus utterly addicted to – and superjacked up on – steroids, bone growth stimulators, adrenaline and various other physical enhancers. He’s not above taunting her about the fact he could, though – or with his theories about why she’s involved with Led. Ouch.
This series is as much about Debbie and Led’s peculiar relationship of co-dependence as the central conceit of technology warping the behavioural mores of the individual and wider society. In fact our bipolar duo are just about to be given a mission that will take them to the last straight edge country on the planet: The Garden Nation of Tokyo. For Debbie that’s her idea of heaven. As for how on earth Led will cope getting back to basics and living the good life like Felicity Kendal, well, going organic is going to be a rather more trying experience for him as the narcotic and technological withdrawals really start kicking in. I can well imagine it would be exactly the same if I turned off the wife’s white wine supply and restricted her access to Facebook…
I have commented before that Rick’s artist cohort on BLACK SCIENCE, Matteo Scalera, has a style very similar to Sean Murphy. I do wonder if the choice of Sean for this title is based entirely on Rick’s personal artistic preferences? Plus I’m sure he saw the speculative fiction gold Sean wrought with his own PUNK ROCK JESUS. Combined with the choice of Greg Tocchini for his aquatic artistic endeavours on LOW, messers. Jerome Opena and Daniel Acuna on the Uncanny X&A material, plus Romita Jr. doing a damn fine and trademark distinctive Cap’n A., I can see Greg really seems to appreciate an artist that stands out from the crowd.
Here Sean’s typically dense use of ultra-fine, myriad, parallel black lines and complex yet distinct detailing is perfect for rendering the frenetic hyper-speed streets and angular lunatics of the not so Angelic Isles. Those delicate touches are equally well-employed to produce some astoundingly beautiful and tranquil landscapes in rather more salubriously well swept streets of the Garden Nation of Tokyo. The phenomenal amount of line work Sean puts in to create some of even the apparently more simple panels and sequences is very deceptive. If you allow your eye to linger and start to deconstruct the art you’ll realise just how much effort goes into every single panel. No short cuts. Such dedication to the craft is what makes him of outstanding illustrative talents of his generation.
Agony (£9-99, New York Review Comics) by Mark Beyer…
“The way I see it, Amy, you’ve either got to conform to people’s expectations or pay the penalty, though sometimes there’s a difference between acceptable behaviour and what you can acceptably get away with.”
Wise words there from Jordan towards his long-standing and equally long-suffering companion Amy, not that that particular maxim is going to do either of them the slightest bit of good. Unfortunately for these two, regardless of their good actions and their fervent desire to conform to society’s norms and have some sort of moderately peaceful and undisturbed existence, Mark Beyer seems determined to put them through the wringer in all manner of horrifically surreal ways you can’t even begin to imagine, trust me.
In fact, let me name a few: being decapitated by a ghost, having your legs bitten off by a fish, being menaced by a bear, surviving nuclear fallout, being abducted by subterranean dwellers and so it goes on and on…
It seems like Amy and Jordan are forever doomed to suffer their own peculiar brand of urban despair to an extent that would undoubtedly destroy the resolve of anyone to overcome such travails. Anyone except our ever-optimistic duo, that is! Yes, they’ll frequently have their moments of existential crisis when they wonder how the world can possibly be so cruel, but then they’ll find some ingenious method of escaping one particular torment only to fall headlong into the next. Mark Beyer, you are one hilariously cruel bastard!
The art will undoubtedly perplex and confound many being as simple and surrealistic and just plain stoopid as it is. Most simply won’t like it, some might even assume it’s the deranged doodling of a demented nine year old. It actually really does remind me of the crazy shit a former school friend named Adam Buckle used to draw back in junior school. Last I heard he was a comedy writer which doesn’t surprise me at all. Besides, a ‘story’ this insane wouldn’t work with sensible art, it needs something this deranged to work and frankly I feel the art only adds to the crackpot appeal of it all.
To my mind it’s just fantastic to see this lost classic from thirty years ago on the shelves again. It feels as fresh and contemporary as it did back then which is testament to the powers of humankind to be endlessly titillated by safely watching the fictional adventures of other people enduring abjectly horrific and perilous situations. Or as the publisher blurb quite rightly states, “Enjoy the ecstasy of agony.” And before you say I’m one sick puppy, I’ll bet you used to laugh at Laurel and Hardy as a kid, you know you did…
The Opportunity (£14-99, Myriad) by Will Volley…
“You need an asset, you need to own something of value, and I’m telling you, this is the only company that will give you the opportunity to own your own business within two years.”
“Be a sales manager?”
“No, this isn’t a sales job. If you want to do sales you can go and work at Burger King down the road for five pounds an hour, okay?
“This is an opportunity.
“And you, Ashley, are going to make it big. I guarantee it.
“You have all the potential. You’re a complete natural, but you have to have a goal… something to work towards…”
A searing indictment of the sales companies which are little more than glorified quasi-legal pyramid schemes, preying on graduates insufficiently worldly-wise enough to realise, initially at least, it is all one massive con at their expense. Anyone who has ever been unfortunate to agree to work for one of these companies, on a commission-only, door-to-door basis, trying to sign people up on direct debits for various charities and other things will undoubtedly shudder at the recollection. I think even anyone who has ever spent some time working at a call centre, the next marginal step up on the modern day slave-labour ladder of pain, will probably grimace in sympathy.
This is the story of Colin, one of those people seemingly on the very brink of making it big, becoming a manager, being given his own sales office, finally starting to reap those huge financial rewards apparently always just around the corner… provided he can continue to keep his sales team motivated for just that little bit longer, to keep hitting those all important targets week after week. So he, sorry they, can all, start to achieve those elusive personal goals.
Colin, of course, is rapidly heading for a nervous breakdown. As the emotional and physical pressures of worshipping Mammon and marshalling his mesmerised sales team continues to build ever more intently (plus the promised promotion seems simultaneously finally within his grasp… but slipping through his very fingers at the same time), something has clearly got to give. Colin can’t see that, so fixated is he on his belief in his proximity to that ever elusive personal goal…
This is one of those gleefully painful reads. On the one hand, I felt myself feeling rather sorry for the increasingly desperate Colin, yet at the same time revelling in the torments of such a completely self-centred egomaniac. We all know people like Colin, I think that’s the point, so deluded in their get-rich schemes and dreams that they are utterly unable to see how the levers of cause and effect truly work, either on in the real world or on an internal basis. Self-delusion, compounded by greed, it’s not usually a recipe for a happy life. But it does make for great comics!
The black and white art, with additional grey tone shading, reminds me a tiny bit of early Steve ZENITH Yeowell in places. Colin in particular, when in full fiscal proselytising mode to one of his minions has a wonderfully manic look that, were it come from a random stranger, rather than your trusted boss and mentor, would have you running for the hills.
One of Will’s self-confessed biggest inspirations is David V FOR VENDETTA Lloyd – and you can definitely see that very strongly as well – which possibly also gives this work a slightly false sense of period, oddly enough. If someone had told me this was published in the nineties I would have completely believed them. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. There are also some great little dissociations in pencilling style near the end as Colin’s mental collapse really takes hold that made me think of the A-Ha video for Take On Me, which again, probably helped create some strange faux-period association in my mind! I do think for a debut graphic novel this is tremendously accomplished illustration.
Embroidered Cancer Comic (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin…
Now, just to clear up any potential misunderstanding, this was not the scene in the Rigby household when I settled down to read this latest work from the publishers of medical-based comics Singing Dragon, following from the excellent works: PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE, WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, DAD’S NOT THERE ANY MORE, TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE, BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY: AN ASPERGER ADVENTURE and TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT. Nor indeed, just in case the wife is reading, do I possess any Victorian erotica…
No, this is in fact a conversation that takes place between the creator, Elizabeth, and her husband Bob, who has been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prior to that particular bombshell it seems like they used to enjoy a fair degree of cuddling and canoodling between the sheets, but clearly the stress of worrying over which medical pathway to proceed with and the effects of the testosterone-blocking tablets he commenced to help prevent tumour growth are having a decidedly negative effect on his ardour.
There are a number of wonderful things about this work that tickled me greatly, despite the inevitable emotional impact of the topic itself. The first being that this is indeed a comic where all the illustrations are scans of embroidery! For Elizabeth Shefrin is a textile artist and it once again goes to show that whilst the output of a sequential-art-based comic is the same ultimate end point, the means and techniques of illustration of getting there are virtually without limit. The only other comic that I could think of employing embroidery, albeit as an embellishment rather than the main approach, is Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT.
But what completely got me was the humour, and indeed the love. Throughout, there are some lovely visual gags such as when Bob grapples with the conundrum of radiotherapy or surgery. It’ll not surprise you to learn that depending on whether you consult a radiation oncologist or a surgeon, you’re going to get a different answer. The punchline, though, is when Bob decides to consult a shoemaker…
“I recommend a new pair of shoes.”
As Elizabeth comments, cheekily breaking the fourth wall in the next panel, lest we fear that Bob’s cracked mentally and decided to put his faith in some extreme form of alternative medicine… “Of course, that didn’t really happen.”
So this then is a snapshot of their journey from unexpected diagnosis to where they are today. I found it very affecting and actually quite uplifting. Happily Bob is still with us. As he and Elizabeth both touch on in their separate afterwords, they have had some dark times, but keeping the communication flowing between each other has been paramount. This comic also forms part of the wider conversation about cancer that needs to happen with the public at large, which is obviously an element of the vital mission of Singing Dragon and bless them for that.
I had almost made it through tear-free, when I read the concluding afterword from Dr. Peter Black, Bob’s surgeon at Vancouver Prostate Centre, about how there are a few different versions of the prostate cancer journey. How for many it’s not a particularly threatening disease, if caught early. But for others, treatment is started knowing that a cure is not possible.
That was unfortunately the case for my much loved and much missed father-in-law, Michael, who was diagnosed after his prostate cancer had already metastasised and spread to his bones. So anything which helps raise the awareness and therefore hopefully early detection and treatment of prostate cancer can only be a good thing. If this was in a doctor’s waiting room, I am quite sure it’s far more likely to be picked up and read cover to cover by a pensive man than yet another nondescript leaflet. The sad and poignant thing is I can perfectly picture Michael chuckling at the jokes in this work in my mind’s eye. But as Elizabeth quite correctly concludes her afterword… “It is so important that we laugh as well as cry.”
Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen & John Cassaday, Jae Lee, Trevor Hairsine.
“Ninety percent of the casualties of World War I were soldiers, fraulein. But half of the people who died in World War II were civilians.”
“Half of sixty-one million. I know what I’m fighting for. I don’t want to see World War III.”
No. I think we can all agree that a great many more than 50% of casualties during and since 9/11 have been civilian. My best guess? 95%.
For me the first third of this graphic novel is the best work of Cassady’s career so far. He put so much thought into the pacing and compositions which are far from melodramatic. They’re stark and even solemn at times, with a lot of eyes being looked into, unflinchingly.
The opening sequence is almost bereft of colour, hauntingly so, reflecting the ash everywhere after the Twin Towers had fallen. The first flash of primary cover from Dave Stewart is a shield and only a shield against which a knife shatters, held by a hand with murderous intent in a startling flash of anger, revenge-seeking and racist.
Pre-ULTIMATES, this was the first time that Captain America’s mask was drawn with some substance, a leathery thickness, and his chain mail delineated as more than mere patterns but with a solid, pound-coin physicality, indicating their practical, protective functionality.
This appeared a decade and a half ago following the events of 9/11 and America’s reaction to it. It is full of that understandable grief but also informed by a resolute opposition to the well of anger which was so alarmingly prevalent at the time.
It is not the flag-waving piece of patriotic neo-imperialism the cover might suggest, but a hard, heartfelt and unyieldingly diatribe against war and its terrible consequences.
In a peaceful town now strewn with land mines, in a pew in a church now laced with tripwires (one up against a child’s fallen teddy bear) the hostages held by terrorists are told why and a wife turns to her husband:
“This is how you feed our baby? With bombs? You make bombs?”
“No! Components – We make components.”
He says, holding his toddler’s hand.
“Land mines outlast wars – aren’t disarmed by treaties. Cluster bomblets fall without detonating – but explode at a touch. Any touch.”
Elsewhen, elsewhere, Nick Fury defends S.H.I.E.L.D.S.’s deployment of terrorist technology.
“They’re the edge that our enemies have, damn it – if we don’t have them too.”
“I know all about your edge. That’s where I’m from. I am military technology. But that’s not all I am.”
Captain America looks him straight in the eye.
As I said, this is quiet. I’ve seen this sort of thing bloated with grandstanding verbosity but Rieber’s self-control makes every word count and Cassady has grasped his intentions to perfection. I re-read ‘Enemy’ and ‘Warlords’ today for the sake of review with unequivocal admiration.
After those tales Chuck Austen took hold of the reins with Trevor Hairsine then Jae Lee in the artistic saddles with Rieber popping round for tea whenever he could. I haven’t re-read ‘The Extremists’ or ‘Ice’ which bring this up to a chunky 16 issues, but I remember enjoying them. To a lesser greater, I concede, but what’s not to love about Harisine’s sturdy forms and crunchy textures and Jae Lee’s spiky, shadow-strewn neo-gothic art? It’s all brooding, angular and monumental, and his original Avengers – Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and The Wasp – as coloured by the great Jose Villarrubia, dark-and-stormy-night-stylee, are utterly thrilling.
What I have done is found an old review from fifteen years ago for the second half, but it’s a complete change in tone – thoroughly flip – and contains the most MASSIVE SPOILERS. It did, however, make me laugh, so it’s entirely up to you whether you should stay or you should go now.
Previously in CAPTAIN AMERICA:
World War II: Cap and his perky partner Bucky are battling the evil Baron Zemo, the bloke with the tea towel fixed to his face. Zemo launches a whopping great missile and Buck and Cappy spring on top and try to diffuse the puppy. Oh no! It’s about to explode! Jump, Bucky, jump!
Cap falls off but Bucky is blown to tiny teenage pieces, testosterone all over the place. And that’s it for World War II. The next thing Steve Rogers knows is it’s the 1960s and it’s all a bit chilly on the willy on account of having been thawed from a big block of ice found floating in the Arctic, tossed into the ocean by Prince Namor of Atlantis (postcode unknown).
So there you have it, the established story for the last 40 years. Turns out it’s not the truth, the whole truth nor anything like the truth, so help you God.
Say you were the US of A and – with your super-soldier goody-two-shoes keeping your heads above water – you were struggling against the Nazis and their allies, particularly those sneaky ones who redecorated Pearl Harbour without so much as a fabric or colour consultation. And say you finally managed to develop a great big bomb with Enola Gay written all over it, and you decided to drop it on Japan. Well, you don’t think the upstanding Captain would be very pleased about that. In fact, he’d almost certainly attempt to stop you, and nothing much has got in his way before so it’s time for the ultimate decommission.
Put the man on ice, so to speak.
And that’s what they did. It wasn’t some freak accident that saw the Captain spend the 50s in suspended animation. It was the government. The same one he’d been fighting for fearlessly, tirelessly before and ever since.
So upset is Mr. Steve “The Clean” Rogers that he contemplates casual sex. Good grief!
I don’t think this is canon any longer.
Civil War (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.
It’s nothing remotely like the film, imminent, but that is why the graphic novel’s tie-ins are being re-released – some of which we’ll cover, briefly – but it seems stupid do so without republishing an edited edition of the central series’ review.
The Super Hero Registration Act was brought forward after a bunch of attention-seeking, vigilante, not-so-super-powered children bit off more than they could chew whilst filming for a Reality TV show, causing the devastation of an entire neighbourhood in Stamford and the mass slaughter of its inhabitants. Of course action is demanded, and action is taken: all so-called superheroes are now legally obliged to register with the government, surrender their identities, and accept both instruction and instructions in order to minimise loss of life and the destruction of property whilst maximising a coherent fight against crime.
For some, like Captain America, this is an issue of privacy and independence. Those arguments are compellingly made. For others, like Iron Man, it’s the only way to preserve their existence as well as the only responsible option under the circumstances. And on a second read through, those arguments are not just compelling but pretty irrefutable.
One reason why this works is that between the eruptions of consequent, catastrophic combat, Millar allows the sharing of perspectives in a spectrum of colours, whilst those eruptions themselves force the combatants’ hands. Before they know where they are, it’s completely out of control, and already enraged passions give way to blind self-justification, treachery and death.
I don’t know if any other commentators have remarked on this, but the other main reason this works is the current political climate – in America and Great Britain at least. If we lived in countries where we actually admired, had faith in or remotely trusted our governments and their corporate sponsors to do the right thing with our personal information, our money and our armies, Captain America’s arguments would resonate with us not one jot. Look at reasonable people’s reactions to Columbine and this latest campus terror: restrict arms sales! If these acts of callous brutality had been committed by psychopaths with frightening abilities, you’d want this legislation too. You’d see it as the safest, most practical and progressive improvement in law enforcement which only a coordinated, professional strike team of superheroes could bring. But we don’t trust our governments precisely because they do send their soldiers into illegal wars, they do use them to conquer foreign oil fields, and they do hand over the reconstruction contracts to their business buddies. And they don’t half fuck up with their computer systems, dissemination of private information leading to identity theft.
That, I think, is why so many readers including myself instinctively sided with Captain America: not because Millar puts better arguments into his mouth, but because we feel an instinctive disgust and distrust for our current governments, most forms of control, and corporate figure-heads like Tony Stark. Although there’s plenty later on to justify our suspicions, including the unnatural cloning and technological enhancement of a missing Marvel character (that’s another of our worries: scientists playing God, in this case playing God with a God, and that turns out to be a wretched mistake indeed), and Hank Pym loftily declaring, “The public needs super-people they can count on,” whilst popping a pill down his gormless gullet.
Emotive moments include little lines like the Black Panther’s: “Word of advice, Reed. Call Susan.”
Which brings us to McNiven who doesn’t blow those scenes with melodramatic expressions (he gets plenty of release throughout the course of this book, don’t you worry!). He’s softened up considerably since his NEW AVENGERS run: his body language and faces have improved enormously, whilst Morry Hollowell’s colouring keeps the pages warm and atmospheric.
It’s not perfect, and I would heartily recommend picking up CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA next so that the story moves on even further for you, but conversely I’d also recommend you shy away from most of the tie-in collections to this tome except (maybe – only maybe) for ROAD TO CIVIL WAR.
I’m not going to go to do an INHUMANS, an IDENTITY CRISIS, an ALIAS a SLEEPER, a GOTHAM CENTRAL, an ULTIMATES or a HAWKEYE on you, and claim that this is one of those very rare instances of a superhero book that those who normally distance themselves from this genre should overcome their prejudices to pick up. In spite of the politics, this doesn’t have quite that broad an appeal, I don’t think. On the other hand, it’s not too esoteric, either, and I think Millar was wise not to bother explaining who half these people are on the occasions when it didn’t really matter.
Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Christos N. Gage, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, various.
A very mixed bag which unfortunately contains the only reprint of ‘The Confession’ by Bendis and Maleev, a poignant two-part reprise in which Iron Man addressed Captain America, and Captain America addresses Iron Man under very specific circumstances which I cannot impart for fear of spoiling the first half’s punchline or the end to CIVIL WAR itself.
All I will say is it was typical of Bendis’ instinct for unorthodox storytelling that they are presented in the order they are, and quite rightly so for hindsight is a very cruel mistress courting dramatic irony like she or he was the last lady or gent in town.
DAREDEVIL ’s Alex Maleev delivers it directly and you’ll note that although in the first half – the actual, honest, titular Confession – Stark takes off his helmet, in the second sequence Iron Man keeps his mask on throughout even though the two former friends are alone.
The effect is a stony silence, Captain America’s words effectively bouncing back off the intransigent, impassive metal as if unheard or at least unfelt.
I can’t say any more but, given that £18-99 is a steep price to pay for twenty pages, however well worded – King Pyrrhus is referenced with good reason – and however effectively and affectingly drawn, we really won’t mind if you just skip to the end of the volume whilst in the shop and read it from start to finish.
The Brubaker & Tim Perkins / Lee Weeks CAPTAIN AMERICA chapters which precede it, you can pick up in that title’s regular run of graphic novels: you won’t need this for that.
It’s another sci-spy instalment in which the undermining of Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers’ on/off lover, fellow SH.I.E.L.D. agent and unwitting instrument of [REDACTED] begins on the very first page, and it’s gripping stuff.
It’s a book in which the Superhero Registration Act is discussed passionately by those supposed to enforce the law, and stars its own supporting cast while the good Captain fights the good, bad and the ugly fight in the pages of the CIVIL WAR itself.
Most interesting for those following the fortunes of former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (SECRET WAR singular etc.), is the tactically brilliant way in which he inserts himself back into the main frame without emerging from hiding, except in very plain sight. And that’s not as cryptic as you might think, if you read it carefully. Gorgeous, shadowy art, like Sean Phillips bathed in milk. Hell, I know what I mean.
The rest of this is utterly banal fluff in which Captain America and Iron Man meet mid-hostilities to spell out the bleeding obvious to stoopids, so ruining Mark Millar’s subtleties completely.
Reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA (2005) #22-24, WINTER SOLDIER: WINTER KILLS #1, IRON MAN (2005) #13-14, IRON MAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA: CASUALTIES OF WAR #1 and CIVIL WAR: THE CONFESSION #1.
Civil War: Wolverine s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Humberto Ramos.
Follow the fortunes of Nitro if you want – it really wasn’t the point of CIVIL WAR – but nine years ago I wrote:
“Complete and utter pants.
“I cannot believe that the man responsible for the substantial mini-series HYPERION VS. NIGHTHAWK, currently playing its political self out, wrote this melodramatic piece of claptrap.
“Ramos’ awkward, posturing figure work doesn’t help, and between them they came out with the very worst example of superficial drivel I have had the misfortunate to endure since… well, Wednesday, actually.”
Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & Tony S. Daniel, various…
“Wait, are you a superhero too? How many costumed teens are running around Gotham these days?”
“Back away from my roommate or… Spoiler alert! You’re gonna gargle teeth!”
“They giving out costumes in cereal boxes now?”
The ‘joke’ being that it is Harper Row aka Bluebird being ‘rescued’ from Dick Grayson by Stephanie Brown aka the Spoiler. Also, as the original costumed pre-teen, what right does Dick have to criticise anyone, especially in the area of sartorial elegance, for running around rooftops in ludicrous garb. This story takes place during the current run of Scott Snyder’s BATMAN, whilst Bruce is taking an amnesia induced break from bashing heads and believes himself to be merely a philanthropic businessman, and Jim Gordon is standing in as the new state-sponsored, head-smashing caped detective over in DETECTIVE COMICS.
So when someone starts coming after all of the Batman’s considerable cadre of sidekicks, it’s up to the various Robins, past and present, to look into matters and take care of their own. What they uncover is a shadowy people trafficker code-named Mother who has some rather disturbing historical links to the Dark Knight himself. But with Bruce being, well quite literally just Bruce, they can’t turn to their former mentor, either with accusations, or for answers. And with secret agents, double agents and sleeper agents seemingly lurking everywhere, Dick and his chums seemingly can’t trust anyone… especially the newsagents. Because, as everyone knows, if you want to make sure of getting your regular standing order, particularly for a weekly title like this one, you need to find a comic shop you can trust. Oh, seem to have slipped in retailer rather than reviewer mode there…
Following on from the rather enjoyable weekly romp BATMAN ETERNAL that was also joint penned by Snyder and James Tynion IV, this self-contained story is clearly going to add another typically Snyder-esque layer of ret-conned complexity to the Bat-mythos. There are some lovely little flashbacks to Dick Grayson as the young Robin, joking and messing around in a manner Neil BATMAN: ODYSSEY Adams would heartily approve of, if not Bruce…
There’s a staggering array of Bat-characters, heroes and villains, in this first volume alone, matched only by the numbers of artists DC have employed: 18 pencillers, 6 colourists and err… 15 letterers, in producing this work. There are also 7 people credited with scripting duties! I understand it must be rather a push to get a weekly title out, but it does seem a trifle excessive to me. Anyway, it perhaps surprisingly doesn’t suffer remotely for keeping the entirety of the DC Bullpen in gainful employment. The story feels tighter than young Dick’s neon green tights riding up his bumcrack and the slew of art styles works rather well with the constant switching and shifting of characters and time periods. So far so good.
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.
Uptight #5 (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Jordan Crane
Eyelash Out (£3-00, Retrofit) by Ben Sea
Future Shock Zero (£12-00, Retrofit) by various
Ikebana (£4-00, Retrofit) by Yumi Sakugawa
Mowgli’s Mirror (£6-00, Retrofit) by Oliver Schrauwen
Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed (£3-00, Retrofit) by Kate Leth
The Unmentionables (£4-50, Retrofit) by Jack Teagle
Judge Dredd: America (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil
Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography restocks (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown
Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall
Nameless h/c (£18-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham
Phonogram vol 3: The Immaterial Girl (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
The Beauty vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley
Pocket Full Of Coffee (£5-00) by Joe Decie
Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c (£22-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith
Batman vol 7: Endgame s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Batman vol 8: Superheavy h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Gotham Academy vol 2: Calamity s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Msassyk
Captain America And Falcon: Complete Christopher Priest Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest & various
Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Mike McKone, Paul Pope
Civil War: Front Line s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & various
Civil War: X-Men s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Fabien Nicieza, Peter David & various
Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic
Secret Wars h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic
Superior Iron Man vol 2: Stark Contrast s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Laura Braga, Yildiray Cinar, Felipe Watanabe
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor vol 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction (£10-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott
Birthday Wishes To A Magnificent Chap Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Birthday Wishes To A Truly Wonderful Lady (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Bees Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Ladybird Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
You Did Good! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson
ITEM! It’s raining Trinder teapots!
Laura Trinder AKA @xbirdyblue – artist on Benjamin Read / Improper Books’ NIGHT POST – tweeted her glorious design the other day, I retweeted then my Tweetdeck Notifications column became a cascade of porcelain as others’ followed retweeted my retweet!
ITEM! Speaking of Improper Books, the finale to PORCELAIN VOL 1 and PORCELAIN VOL 2 (Page 45’s biggest selling graphic novel of 2015) is called PORCELAIN IVORY and Chris Wildgoose is already working on its inks, above.
ITEM! Jillian Tamaki’s Subway Poster now available as prints. Beautiful!
This is SO worth supporting. Above is a batch of Retrofit Comics we got in today, online and linked to under Also Arrived.
All the characters in DESTINATION KENDAL were created by FeltMistress based on Jonathan Edward’s designs, then photographed by Sean Phillips, all in aid of annual Lakes International Comics Art Festival in Kendal. So funny, so beautiful! Guest-stars Sean Phillips himself! Poor Sean!
ITEM! Creators: Lerner Books calls for submissions of graphic novels in the middle-grade to Young Adult range. Clear submission guidelines included. I have no illustrative image, sorry!
Well deserved too – oh, how I adored Malik Sajad’s MUNNU, a thinly designed graphic memoir about growing up in Kashmir and another Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month in 2015. Lovers of Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS will adore it!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Rozenn with all my heart for her original sketches in each and every copy of THE MYSTIC WOODS which she sent us from France (I don’t think it’s available anywhere else in the UK) and for sacrificing her last 28 copies of this English translation which will be on their way to us in a week if you see “out of stock” on our website. At the time of typing we still have half a dozen of our original batch left, but do order now please, whatever it says, because we sold half our original stock in a single day when I started tweeting, and once those 28 restocks are gone, they are gone until Rozenn reprints!
Thanks ever so much!