WHEN THE WIND BLOWS by Raymond Briggs, new Dylan Horrocks plus Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky, Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon, Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Warren Ellis & Colton Worley, Mark Millar & John Romita, Peter Milligan & Jordan Crain.
Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (£14-99, Knockabout) by Dylan Horrocks…
“One day he hears a word that sticks… “Anhedonia.”
The absence of pleasure, of joy.
He tries to remember the last time he really enjoyed something…
After all, what’s to enjoy?
Comics feel like work.
Novels feel pretentious and contrived.
Movies are all the same.
Food tastes stale.
As for writing and drawing…
That’s where I live now (thinks Sam)…
Given that HICKSVILLE was published back in 1998 (can it really be that long ago?) and the main character in this work, Sam Zabel, is credited with having published a comic called Pickle (in which Dylan first serialised HICKSVILLE), I wonder to what degree the aspect of this work pertaining to writer’s block is auto-biographical? Possibly not at all, but I am intrigued nonetheless. I mean, HICKSVILLE in part was a karmic missive on the perils and pitfalls of someone enriching themselves through plagiarism and I’m not aware it’s something Dylan has ever suffered from, or indeed indulged in!
Indulgence. Now there’s a word that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of the fraught emotional mindset of Sam Zabel, either, but in one sense that’s precisely why he’s in the fragile state he is. Having taken the cushy number of the regular corporate paycheck to write and illustrate the adventures of Lady Night for a large publisher, he’s gradually lost his creative spark, even the will to work on his own projects. Indeed he’s reached the stage where he doesn’t even feel he’s honouring the spirit of the original classic Lady Night comics from 1954 drawn by Lou Goldman, which were existential, metaphysical musings by a character with genuine emotional depth, as opposed to the repetitive beatdowns by a buxom babe in a skimpy outfit Sam’s now peddling. It’s a situation which has caused Sam to drift into a spiralling self-defeating loop of guilt and ennui.
Dealing with the topic of writer’s block alone would be sufficient material enough to make an extremely compelling graphic novel, but Horrocks takes it considerably further with the titular conceit of the magic pen, in essence a wish-fulfilment device which enables the holder to draw comics that become realities it is then possible for people to enter, and indeed characters to switch between.
Now comics, being comics, are occasionally written with, perhaps putting it unkindly, a certain audience in mind, thus Sam, having begun an epic odyssey to locate the pen, and solve his particular problem, finds himself experiencing the fantasy realms of other people’s minds. Some of the characters of certain realms, are, shall we say, somewhat predisposed to removing their already skimpy clothes and indulging in carnal acts.
I have to say, bravo to Dylan for tackling such a thorny issue within our beloved medium. I was actually slightly uncomfortable reading it when the story started to go in a certain direction, which is probably exactly the sort of response he wanted to engender in his readers. It makes perfect sense in the context of the story, and it neatly foreshadows a rather dark turn in the plot later on, highlighting a particularly unwholesome sub-genre of manga, which gives the topic a certain sense of gravity, and indeed perspective. But you can’t tackle wish fulfilment in comics without heading into the murky world of sexual gratification, which at the thinnest edge of the wedge rears its head in the typically insalubrious form of the female superhero costume…
Thus bringing us neatly back to Lady Night, for the original was penned by Lou Goldman using the magic pen, allowing Sam to meet the character who ought to be his muse. It’s a pivotal, touching scene, which ultimately allows Sam to reconnect with himself, and in turn what’s most important to him, his family and his art. It also provides a comment on what comics, even superhero comics, can be at their finest. Food for thought, even nourishment for the soul. Not that they need to be, not all of them, obviously. Not even the majority. It’s perfectly fine for them to be merely entertaining too, even purely about wish fulfillment perhaps, provided they fall within what’s morally acceptable.
I’m not making the call about what is and what isn’t morally acceptable, by the way, and ultimately that isn’t what this story is about, but it is extremely clever to weave that discussion into the fabric of your graphic novel in a manner that’s both intelligent and humorous. This is definitely one of those works that stays with you for a little while after you put it down, pondering a few things, having a reflection pop into your head about it unexpectedly.
Art-wise, you can see Dylan has moved on since HICKSVILLE. It is very interesting flicking back through it now, how relatively raw that work looks in comparison. I don’t make that observation pejoratively, but this is certainly the work of a far more accomplished, experienced professional. Yes, you can tell it is the same basic style, but he’s clearly put a few hours in drawing over the years, real or fictional writer’s block or not! He’s certainly learnt a few compositional tricks too, and obviously this work is coloured, very nicely as it happens, which is I think is a pre-requisite for selling the somewhat considerable suspension of disbelief conceit that is required for us to accept that a magic pen is taking a grown man on an adventure through the pages of various comics.
I am delighted to say it was well worth the long wait for this, and I am quite sure SAM ZABEL AND THE MAGIC PEN is a work that would even get included in the legendary Hicksville town library for posterity!
When The Wind Blows (£8-99, Penguin) by Raymond Briggs.
Jim and Hilda have just heard the Prime Minister warn of an imminent nuclear attack on the radio. Fortunately Jim’s found some leaflets from the Council on how to make ready. There’ll be perfectly safe, then – it’ll be just like The Blitz.
Did you ever watch The War Game by Peter Watkins? Originally scheduled to be screened on BBC1 in 1965 on the anniversary of Hiroshima, the chilling pseudo-documentary depicted the derisible domestic preparations for – then the horrific repercussions of – a nuclear strike on Britain. It was brutal, and I don’t just mean people at the epicentre being vaporised or the slower necrosis of those further out: I mean socially. It was banned for 20 years. Self-censorship, press pressure or a government which knew it would cause a countrywide mental meltdown?
I saw it in 1985, two decades on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I still wet myself.
All of which means that this graphic novel, published in 1982, hit the public first.
A scathing diatribe on “govern-mental” advice on how to prepare for a nuclear attack disguised as a tender comedy, this was the first time that the British Mainstream Press had been confronted by a comic they weren’t sure was for kids. Okay, which they were pretty damned sure wasn’t for kids. MAUS wouldn’t be collected and then hit some headlines for many years to come and in any case, you could simply ignore that if you fancied. But the British Press could not ignore this because Raymond Briggs was a household name and I defy you to think of another British comicbook creator to whom that applies. Not even Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman are household names, nor Posy Simmonds. To make things more problematic for them Raymond Briggs was a childhood favourite (FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN, THE SNOWMAN, GENTLEMAN JIM) and it would be many years before he released something so obviously adult-orientated as the biography of his parents, ETHEL & ERNEST.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the British Press reacted spectacularly well from the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph right now to the Daily Mail. And I’ll bet you being a childhood – and so sacrosanct – favourite made all the difference.
It begins with a relatively large landscape panel with elderly Jim being dropped off on a quiet country lane in the heart of the British Countryside with rolling, green-grass hills and big fluffy cumulus clouds. The sun is out, the sky is blue, nature is in full, colourful bloom. Colours are very important here.
He’s greeted by his wife Hilda in a clean white apron and headscarf tied in a knot.
“You do seem a bit down, dear.”
“Yes, well – been reading the papers in the Public Library all the morning.”
“Oh those things! Full of rubbish. I never look at them. Except The Stars.”
Now, I want to make one thing clear before we go any further: what is not being poked fun at is Jim and Hilda’s class; it is their age and their particular generation, increasingly bewildered by the world shifting so fast around them. You’ll see exactly the same thing throughout Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST. As you’ll discover they simply don’t get the scale of an atomic detonation. Nor is it that Hilda’s a woman; because Jim for all his reading hasn’t quite understood what he’s read and what he has understand he’s got the wrong words for. Here he is building his bomb shelter in the living room:
“It says here “The-Inner-Core-or-Refuge-should-be-place-at-an-angle-of-60º-for-maximum-strength.”
“I should place it up against the wall if I were you, dear.”
“Yes, but which are the degrees? We haven’t got any angles… unless it means in the corner… I think we did it at school… with degrees in… only I can’t remember properly… I’ll ring our Ron. He’ll know.”
He rings their son.
“Yes, Ron says I need a protactor. He says I can get one at Willis’s. He was killing himself laughing. I can’t understand it. I think it’s nerves. He’s gone a bit hysteriacal.”
To me it reads like Alan Bennett.
Jim’s optimism – his complete and unfaltering faith no matter what in Doing The Correct Thing as directed by The Powers That Be in order to achieve The Best Results – is as touching as it is painful. And I do love the A.A. Milne use of Capital Letters. Jim goes through lists and lists of emergency items they’re supposed to stock up on but nobody has any and so they make do. They improvise. If any exchange demonstrates the conspicuously wretched inadequacy of the UK government’s official instructions released purely to placate – to fool the populace from comprehending the futility of it all – it’s when Jim starts painting the glass in the windows white:
“It’s for the Radiation, I think. Like you do greenhouses to keep out the sun. It’s the correct thing.”
“It won’t be that hot, surely?”
“Well, I don’t know – they say the one at Hiroshima was equal to one thousands suns. So it is quite hot…”
As Jim busies himself being the motivator and practical man-about-house, Hilda is all about propriety and the paintwork. We don’t want that getting scratched in all the kerfuffle of an atomic bomb!
The panels are dense with dialogue and the pages are dense with panels: seven tiers of them with up to four panels per tier. And yes, there is the sense of them being boxed in and unable to escape what’s coming, but also Jim and Hilda are just little people going about their insignificant little lives in their tiny little panels and doing so ineffectually for every few pages there are, in the starkest of contrasts, giant double-page spreads in bleakest blue and murkiest brown:
“Meanwhile, on a distant plain….”
“Meanwhile, in the distant sky….”
“Meanwhile, in a distant ocean….”
And then, unexpectedly, halfway down a page as Jim and Hilda discuss which shirts would be best to wear (“You’re not going to wear that nice new one I gave you for Christmas! I don’t want that spoiled. You can wear your old clothes for The Bomb and save your best for afterwards.”) the consistently, reliably, small and orderly, densely packed panels cease being so orderly or densely packed.
As I read this again for the first time in thirty years I was as sure as I was confident the first time round that half the humour was going to be how unnecessary Jim’s preparations had been. That he had made his missus go through the rigmarole of it all only for it to be yet another false alarm! A closer shave than most, to be sure, but kind old Uncle Briggs would not make you care for such a loving if dotty couple then actually put them through a nuclear strike, would he?
Remember what I said about colour.
The Surface #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Jordie Bellaire…
“…our war against the hackers and digital pirates… the true heirs to the damaged brand of terrorism perpetrated by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS… has reached its final stage..”
People don’t usually do that these days. Turn off the lifelogs, I mean.
“… it is true that most of their leaders are locked up… but new, even more cunning, cold-blooded worshipers of terror stand in their place…”
The popularity of lifelogging exploded fast. Wear a few tiny unobtrusive camera chips and microphones at all time. Log your life.
“… as we know, most of these hacker terrorists are… known spies…”
The ‘share’ buttons became the ‘no-share’ buttons. Privacy as an opt-in. Sharing as default.
“…I refuse to give them but an inch of our civilisation… our land, our data, our capital…”
Embrace interconnectivity. Have a memory you can access any time, a complete account of your life, and more than that.
Best bit of cyberpunk I’ve read for a while, this, combining as it does cutting-edge technology and a chaotic society either on the brink of dystopian collapse, or evolving apace in ever more unpredictable ways, depending on how you look at it. And all the while the great and good try and cling on to their power and wealth through whatever nefarious quasi-legal means are at their disposal.
I think we can agree that the premise of lifelogging is almost certainly going to come to pass en masse in some form or other in the not-too-distant future. It’s not that far a remove from how some people seem to use Facebook right now, frankly. In THE SURFACE, the people in charge would have you believe it’s only a boon, after all, how you can you ever be accused of a crime you didn’t commit if your entire life is documented for all to see? Or looking at the flipside, how can you ever get away with doing anything at all they don’t like? Particularly something that might upset the status quo.
Which is where our main characters Gomez, Nasa and Mark come in.
Mark, by the way, is the disowned son of the President of the Three State Union, that chap who was spinning bile about hackers and pirates above on television, whilst Mark provided the counterpoint narrative. Mark has some rather interesting ideas about the nature of reality itself – dangerous ideas, some like his dad might argue – and he’s decided it’s time to test his theory. Believing that the universe is a holographic projection which we inhabit, he’s posited a VERY BIG question. If that theory is correct, then precisely where is it projected from?
Which is where the title of this comic and the quote on the rear cover of this issue… “A surface separates inside from out and belongs no less to one than the other.”… comes in presumably. That’s from Don Delillo by the way, an American author who has himself been referred to as the ‘chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction’. But as Delillo also said, not quoted here… ‘Writers must oppose systems. It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments… I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us’. He’s got a point. I think it’s a school of thought Ales subscribes to.
I am intrigued by where this opener is going to go. Much like Ales’ previous works (WILD CHILDREN, CHANGE, ZERO) it’s chock full of current scientific theories and ideas, designed to make you stop and think. Plus there’s a lot going on in this first issue even on top of the incredibly rich plot itself, from the infovercial on the interior cover (love the three seditious lines in tiny yellow type right at the bottom of the page), the mysterious prologue, fake adverts, the odd page of scientific concept presented in essay form, and a three-part interview with the ‘elusive writer’ which may or may not be a real interview with Ales himself.
Whilst this is no way the same sort of story as TRANSMETROPOLITAN, it does have the archetypical idiotic corrupt politicians, which combined with the technological shenanigans did bring it to mind. Also, there is great a little nod to Spider Jerusalem in the background of a panel which made me chuckle. I can well imagine fans of that title might get a kick of this.
Where is it going? I have no idea. None at all. I do like that about Ales’ writing. To whatever or wherever ‘the surface’ is I would hazard a guess. But precisely what Mark and his friends will find when they get there, well, your guess is as good as mine at this stage, it really is.
Nice art from Langdon Foss, which reminds me of Brandon Graham, particularly KING CITY (and I think it is probably the speculative fiction context driving that connection), which combined with the lurid colours employed by Jordie Bellaire (whom Ales has worked with before to great effect on ZERO) serve to create a real sense of a future permeated with data feeds and flows, bursting to capacity, headed somewhere, probably not the right direction, at breakneck speed.
[Editor's note: not actual cover. Another reason variants suck.]
Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky…
Hmm… almost certainly a bad idea, that.
SEX CRIMINALS VOL 1 is still available if this is your first time.
Volume two opens up with Suzie and Jon having just got away from Kegelface and the Sex Police. Given they’ve worked out they’re not the only ones who can manipulate time through the power of orgasm, you might think they’d be a little more paranoid about their criminally charitable funding of the local library, ensuring a stay of execution on its foreclosure through the cash they appropriated from financial institutions. Once Jon has a not-so-chance encounter in real time with Kegelface however, which he keeps to himself, his paranoia kicks in with a vengeance, rapidly turning in him into a dribbling mess, necessitating some serious medication which in turn doesn’t do much for his libido. Oh dear.
Suzie on the other hand is just feeling relieved that they’ve seemingly got away with it, and reconnecting with best friend Rachel. She’s clearly concerned for Jon and what he’s going through but perhaps also a touch relieved to get away from the madness their lives had become. Jon meanwhile in his deranged state decides it would be a good idea to indulge in a little breaking and entering of Kegelface’s house. Given Kegelface’s response is to arrange the demolition of the library they’d worked so hard to save, it’s not surprising Suzie is a teensy-weensie bit upset. So, as you do, they decide to enlist the help of a former porn star turned professor who also shares their peculiar ability, to try and take the fight to the enemy. I’m not entirely sure if they could get away with it, but I am half expecting volume three to be subtitled Fuck The Sex Police.
That brief synopsis barely scratches the surface of the contents of this second volume, by the way. Every issue is just non-stop conversations and inner monologues recounting the most bizarre scenarios, frequently sexual, of a hilarious nature from our various characters to drive the plot along. It is just so, so much fun to read. For a title based on such a ridiculous single premise it’s amazing what comedy gold Fraction is managing to craft. For example, the sequence where Ana (the porn professor) is recounting her first time-stopping orgasm just so happens to be on the set of a porn shoot… a WICKED + THE DIVINE-themed porn shoot… Really.
Chip Zdarsky, meanwhile, continues to draw, colour and letter this title to climax-inducing perfection. Beautiful panel and page composition, tremendous design work, amazing delicate and detailed lines, brilliant colouring. This title is actually my current monthly favourite both in terms of storytelling and the artwork at the moment. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Zdarsky to visualise and render such an unusual story. He really does contribute just as much as Fraction to the success of this unique title. Indeed as Matt comments in his heartfelt and touching dedication…
“To Chip’s mom and dad
Thank you for fucking
And making my Chipper
He is my everything.”
Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon.
And to a certain extent it is – apart from the “cute” because if the blood on the cover didn’t give the game away then the bolted, industrial iron should have. Much of this actually happened. As Brian K. Vaughan (SAGA, EX MACHINA, Y- THE LAST MAN) wrote in his original proposal for Vertigo (reprinted in this new deluxe edition along with later, fleshed-out additions and dozens of original thumbnails by Henrichon including over 30 designs for the cover):
“In April of 2003, a pride of starving lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo during the American bombing of Iraq… only to be shot and killed by U.S. soldiers.
“Surprisingly, this dramatic true story was hardly covered by the American media.
“Then again, few Iraqi casualties were.”
So yes, on one level it is about the pride’s sorry fate.
But beyond that and man’s ill-treatment of animals, this book is about all innocents caught in a conflict not of their making, and – more specifically – this is about the people of Iraq who were catapulted into civil war following the vacuum left when we broke Iraq’s back then failed to fix it fast enough. It’s about the individual factions who may well have cooperated if they had created their own freedom but, having it had it thrust upon them by outside forces, used it instead to settle old scores or fight for control for themselves.
Here Noor, the mother of the lion pride – strong and passionate and burning for freedom – tries to engage with a Cantaloupe long before the sky fills with noise and bombs up above them:
“You, me, the camels, the mountain goats, all of us… we’ve spent too long bickering with each other when we only have one real enemy — the keepers. If we work together, I think we can take them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Here me out. The keepers know that if they ever set foot in our pit, my group would slaughter them. But the humans are foolish enough to lower their defences around your kind. It would be a simple matter for one of you to gore a keeper, take his keys –”
“And do what with them? Assuming we’d be willing to risk our lives for something so insane, what would we do with the keys?”
“That’s where the monkeys come in.”
“Monkeys? You’ve been sitting in the sun too long, Noor.”
“They’re already on board! They’ve even promised to open both our cages first.”
“And why do I get the feeling that the first thing you’d open would be my jugular?”
The Cantaloupe’s proven wrong about Noor, but she is right about the monkeys who break their promise the second they’re free and steal Noor’s cub.
The parallels are so poignant it’s painful, and if you think this is going to be cloyingly sweet or twee your first rude awakening will be the giraffes’ necks exploding in a bloody spray of pulped flesh and shredded bone.
Maybe it’ll be the second, actually, for the lions each have a different perspective on all this. Old Safa, for example, remembers her life before the zoo when she was raped in the wild, and Vaughan manages not so much a balanced perspective on “before and after Saddam” but instead a catalogue of “before and after and after that” horrors (wait until you discover what lies within the palace), whilst in order to keep your attention firmly on the animals’ perspective, you don’t encounter any living humans until right at the gut-wrenching end.
As to Niko, his creatures are fierce, lithe and muscular with the anthropomorphism kept to a minimum. When they reach the deserted, inhospitable city centre the air fills with a lung-choking, deep orange dust. But around the leafier outskirts across the Tigris a bright sandy light is cast by the far from obvious choice of hazy sea-green sky and it dapples the path, lions and turtle’s backs to the extent that you can almost feel the difference in temperature when padding from full shade into sunlight, however patchy.
Also, he draws the most frightening tanks I’ve seen, erupting over a listing horizon and splintering the tree trunks in their path.
I think this is going to surprise you; it certainly surprised me, and it’ll upset any young children no end so please do be warned. It has all the power and beauty of an early piece of feature-length Disney animation, but none of its sentimentality – just its heartbreak and suffering.
Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill…
Thus completes the Nemo Jr. trilogy, with a high body count of buxom blonde robotic Nazis and the satisfaction of scores finally settled. After the events of volume two set in Berlin, Nemo is chasing Nazis, and the apparently dead Ayesha, to that traditional holiday hidey-hole of Swastika-abusing idiots, South America.
Much like the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY material I have personally found this run a bit up and down. Or more precisely yet again I’ve loved two volumes out of the three and been considerably less fussed about one. This volume I thought was great fun, with Alan once again working in various parodies of classic 20th century literary characters, which has always been a key facet of the appeal of this material.
This storyline of this particular volume just felt much stronger than the previous one, but taken as a whole I do concede the two together do form one excellent story. Wonderful art from Kevin O’Neill as always, crammed full of lovely conceits, such as Nemo’s octopus-sucker-styled armour. Overall I have enjoyed this trilogy, but I think if Alan decides to return to the League again, I would prefer him to do another team-based romp: I have missed the relentless verbal jousting and interplay between a wider cast of characters that raised the original two books (now compiled in this OMNIBUS) to its considerable heights.
Southern Cross #1 (£2-25, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger.
Congratulations to artist Andy Belanger: he made me stare into Alex’s eyes on pages one and two for a good 15 minutes, trying to find the precise right words to describe the look of not-love she is giving the officious pen-pusher at customs.
Combined with an arched eyebrow which puts even my ceiling-scraper’s to shame, it’s this: contempt, cool-steel rage, come-on-then-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough and you’ll-never-know.
He’s stopped her before boarding the Southern Cross tanker flight 73 to Titan currently docked at a space ring. That’s space ring’s scale is pretty impressive but you wait for the Herb Trimpe space-tanker in hyperdrive just before the staples!
Oh yeah, Belanger has got to be the most enormous Herb Trimpe fan (and there aren’t that many about these days): look at those faces – the hair and the eyes from afar!
Megacorporation Zemi’s bought a lot of billboard advertising around that space ring. Zemi’s also bought some ships, like the one Alex is about to travel on. If you’re not sure why that’s worrying then let me explain…
Titan is the Saturn’s largest moon, second only to Jupiter’s Ganymede in the entire solar system. It’s the only one to have an atmosphere though it isn’t quite comparable to ours. It does, however, have a whole lot of ice. And oil – that’s what Zemi’s interested in, although drilling for it is dangerous.
Alex’s sister Amber used to work for Zemi but Amber’s now dead which is why Alex is flying to Titan: to collect her sister’s effects. She’d also like some answers because the thing is, however dangerous the job drilling for oil, that’s not how Amber died. Amber worked in admin.
I was as immediately suspicious as Alex of almost everyone I met here. I wouldn’t let my guard down, not even for affable Doctor Lon Wells or over-accommodating Captain Mori Tetsuya. He has a fulsome beard and that Herb Trimpe look in his eyes, but still I don’t know. First mate St Martin I can at least empathise with because she’s bloody busy and doesn’t have time for this.
The interesting one is the cabin mate Alex has been lumbered with. Fractious Alex is not a people person at the best of times but I think Erin McKenna’s 2013 successful revival of the ‘80s asymmetrical haircut is getting on Alex’s wick because she’s gone for the bouffant-flopping-over-headband look and that was always wrong! I don’t think it has anything to do with discovering that Erin’s in ***** of the ******* into *****’* *****.
I have idea what the panel above’s all about!
Blackcross #1 of 6 (£2-99, Dynamite Entertainment) by Warren Ellis & Colton Worley.
It’s very early evening as the clear blue of the sky behind tall, craggy mountains becomes tinged with a pale yellow. A young, unshaven man drives to the silent shore of Lake Nedor. There’s not a soul in sight to see him strip naked, soak himself in gasoline then take a flare from his bag.
“Please,” he repeats.
Some great textures over the next three pages as the man soundlessly erupts like a human torch before sleepwalking slowly into the water aflame.
Cut to a crime scene in a forest where the few leaves still clinging to the trees appear to have been transmuted into fragile, ultra-thin slithers of something crystalline, brittle. The body of a man lies in the centre of a scorched-earth circle, his shirt torn open, a representation of the Stars & Stripes carved into the flesh of his chest. He’s not the first.
They called the killer The American Spirit. “Do we always have to give these bastards names?”
A fraudulent medium is drinking alone, at least when her old man will let her. Three nights she’s been at it, this self-styled Lady Satan, knocking back the booze and staring into the mirror. This evening the mirror stares back. First it’s a woman, then something else.
“I am you and you are me. And this is how we escape.”
Supernatural crime-capes, the cover suggests. I really don’t fancy any of the remaining cast’s chances.
Speaking of covers, there were Q of them for this. Q!
That’s 17 if I’ve countered my fingers correctly (some more than once, I’ll have you know). What sort of series needs 17 covers and what sort of publisher prints them?
Kick-Ass 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
“There’s a prisoner in the east wing goes by the name of Schutz. I understand he’s been dealing heroin to some of the other inmates when I explicitly forbade all forms of drug abuse in my prison.”
“Tell him he’s new and that buys him one warning. But if he makes another sale I’m going to slice his junk off. I run a nice, clean joint since taking over the gangs. Drug abuse, like molestation, is now a capital offence.”
That’s Hit-Girl talking from her maximum security prison cell to her state-appointed psychiatrist. She’s, like, fourteen or something.
This is the fourth and final volume of KICK-ASS (don’t forget the KICK-ASS 2 PREQUEL, HIT-GIRL) in which everything by now should be thoroughly predictable. It couldn’t be much less predictable had it been published as a liquid and guest-starred the colourful cast of MY LITTLE PONY.
Previously in KICK-ASS (and I’m going to do this without any spoilers, I promise you): a school boy called Dave Lizewski decided it would be cool to emulate his favourite comicbook heroes, dress up in a green gimp suit and fight crime on the streets with two truncheons, no powers and zero hours of training. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to suggest that if you attempted that in real life things would not go well for you.
Then he met Hit-Girl who was even smaller but had been trained by her somewhat driven Dad in almost every combat discipline known to man, the use of every weapon in every imaginable environment etcetera. She would have been turned down by the SAS as overqualified. The contrast between this dispassionate, foul-mouthed, ruthless and relentlessly efficient underage weapon and meticulously polite, compassionate and considerate Dave (even when trying to intimidate gangstas) was part of the comedy, as was the whole tender age / extreme violence marriage.
Still things did not go well. I mean, Hit-Girl is being marched into prison on the opening page in the pouring rain and in serious need of some surgery; and although Dave has access to all her resources the bravado of his fellow crime fighters is as fragile as a freshly boiled egg. Essentially they’re all cosplayers, living out their idols’ stories as close as they can, even if that includes the emotional indulgence of taking photos at a parent’s graveside like a recently heartbroken teen playing their favourite power ballad.
“It’s so much cooler when you’re brooding in a big, black coat. I tried this in my jeans last week, but it all just looked so inappropriately casual.”
“I want to try some shots of me kneeling down with my head bowed like a Batman cover. Does this look good?”
“Dude, you look spectacular.”
Anyway, with Hit-Girl in prison and the police in his pocket, mafia boss Rocco Genovese returns from Sicily to take command not only of his own family but everyone else’s and merge every gang from Maine to Florida.
Nothing about that scenario will play out as you predict, not even the police on the take, and Rocco Genovese’s particular predilection will only dawn on you slowly, at which point his remarks to a young, unfamiliar policeman will prove even more chilling. Millar seems to have found a new angle for almost everything. When was the last time you saw things from the perspective of a supervillain’s mother? Here’s Angela, mother of the last book’s brutal little bastard being stopped in the street by a woman:
“My brother was one of the people your son murdered last year when he and his friends shot up our neighbourhood. Now my sister-in-law doesn’t have a husband and my two little nephews don’t have a father… all because you shat out the Antichrist.”
That’s perfectly played by Romita: Chris’ mum has a very lived-in face from having had to move house over and again after her photo was published in the papers. She looks genuinely appalled for the woman, then broken when spat on. Ideally she’d like to move much further away, but feels she cannot while Chris is in prison. She is, after all, a mother.
And if you think at least that part will prove predictable… wrong!
As to John Romita Jr, while looking for interior art for my BLACK PANTHER review the other day I did wonder what it must be like to have drawn so many spectacularly beautiful pages of comics – ten thousand or more – and know that they wouldn’t have existed without you. Because no one does John Romita Jr: it’s the representation of physical mass and weight rather than the photorealistic depiction of it. Not everyone could have pulled off the tender age / extreme violence marriage like Romita. Others would have audiences baulking and I think the representational short-hand of his style is key: when I caught 30 minutes of the film on TV I winced because, umm, it doesn’t get more photorealistic than photography!
Having Dave’s blonde hair flop out from under his mask was a defining, amateur-hour touch: imagine it without and it’s oh so generic and not at all what this book’s about.
So yes, this is it, it’s emphatically the end but you’ll have to discover why for yourselves. But at least before then Dave is afforded some genuine happiness for once in the form of his first-ever girlfriend, Valerie.
“I take it all the fantasy busts are yours?”
“Yeah, my guilty secret. I started out reading Harry Potter and then graduated onto anything with elves or vampires. You know, all those big, global franchises the internet hates because it makes female writers rich?”
Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Matteo Lolli, Jacopo Camagni.
There was quite a funny joke in here but it took three issues to set up, all from the improbable notion that someone requiring a hearing aid wouldn’t put it in when they had plenty of opportunity to do so. I don’t wander round the shop with my glasses off when I’ve no contract lenses in!
In between there were approximately 100 other attempts at humour which failed.
So let’s nail our colours to the mast!
We adore the current series of HAWKEYE (three books so far, one on its way) to the improbable extent that it’s the only superhero series we have ever let in our window. The other week’s ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 was equally chic and contemporary with some watercolour flashbacks which merged with the present panes at the climax. So that was clever.
And we are enormous fans of the sales of DEADPOOL. We are so grateful and if you’re having a riot we’ll be the last to bring water cannons.
But it’s a title that has seemed to suffer during each of its incarnations from some sort of editor’s edict commanding that Deadpool himself crack a joke or issue a rejoinder in every single panel. What are the chances of them all being funny unless your name is Evan MILK & CHEESE Dorkin? In fact what are the chances of any of the jokes being funny if you’re commanded to be funny at such a rapid rate of knots?
Oh wait, I’ve just realised: this is Jim Carrey’s The Mask done badly.
Venom Vs. Carnage s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crain.
If I’ve got this right then Carnage (white-eyed, crimson monstrosity with very sharp teeth who looks like he’s made up of multiple, prehensile entrails) is the offspring of Venom (white-eyed, blue-black monstrosity with very sharp teeth who used to be bonded to Spider-Man), and Carnage is currently pregnant. He cannot abort or stop its gestation, but is determined to kill his child the second it’s born. First he needs to find it a host then kill the host, so he pops it into a policeman whose wife is pregnant and then tries to off said policeman.
I’m not sure I understand this at all; it wasn’t covered in Biology A Level.
Milligan (HUMAN TARGET, ENIGMA) fills the dialogue with punning reversals (“Carnage, I’ve loathed you like a son.”), Crain fills the pages with the slick-as-you like, computer generation protagonists (humans look wonky, but the creatures look cool), and together they cash-fill our till. Hurrah!
Not what Mr. Milligan was born for, though.
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. Neat, huh?
Lazarus vol 3: Conclave s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark, Tyler Boss
Criminal Special Edition #1 Magazine Sized (£4-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
The Tea Collection (£12-99, ) by A. J. Poyiadgi
Ant Colony h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge
Baltimore vol 5: The Apostle And The Witch Of Harju h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting, Ben Stenbeck
BPRD Hell On Earth vol 10 - The Devil’s Wings s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell, Joe Querio, Tyler Crook
Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh
Deadly Class vol 2: Kids Of The Black Hole s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig
Fables: The Complete Covers h/c (£37-99, Vertigo) by James Jean
Oink: Heaven’s Butcher s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by John Mueller
Pablo (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by J. Birmant & C. Oubrerie
Prophet vol 4: Joining (£13-50, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly & various
United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai
Justice League Of America vol 2: Survivors Of Evil s/c (£12-99, DC) by Matt Kindt & Doug Mahnke, various, Ken Lashley
Deadpool’s Art Of War s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Scott Koblish
Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Original Sin h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ed McGuinness, Valerio Schiti, David Lopez
Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Jake Wyatt, Adrian Alphona
Attack On Titan vol 15 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama
ITEM! Preview of Mark Millar & Sean Murphy’s CHRONONAUTS #1 on Page 45’s shelves! Also on our website: CHRONONAUTS #1. There’s an optical illusion embedded in the CHRONONAUTS cover – Sean Murphy explains.
ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival announces new Canadian Guests for October 2015! Includes Kate Beaton (HARK! A VAGRANT), Seth (PALOOKAVILLE, WIMBELDON GREEN, GEORGE SPROTT, THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS – that’s emphatically fiction!) and Stuart Immonen (SECRET IDENTITY, ALL-NEW X-MEN, NEXTWAVE etc) and more! Also, some Brits there are off to TCAF and I am not remotely jealous. *cries*
ITEM! The ART SCHOOLED graphic novel has gone down so well here! OFFLIFE interviews ART SCHOOLED’s Jamie Coe about that and future plans.
ITEM! New Page 45 interview about the British Comics Industry conducted by Sophie studying at Lincoln University. She’d certainly done her research and makes me sound far more eloquent than I am!
ITEM! Colourful Kickstarter for BEAST WAGON by Owen Michael Johnson & John Pearson. Black comicbook comedy set it a zoo. Love the performance of it all! Owen Michael Johnson wrote RAYGUN ROADS which was a sort of Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy TANK GIRL car crash.