“#i!” COMICS! Sometimes Tenderness Is A Weakness.

There now follows a change to our scheduled programme. Settle back as our Argentinian chums Eduardo Risso and the late Carlos Trillo take us on a trip to the near future where everything is awful; simply awful. Just dreadful, darlings. Ugh. (Oh, And I realise Argentina isn't in Europe but the book was originally published in Italy(?), which is in Europe so check and mate!)  photo BgunC_zpsyncjb0oc.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

BORDERLINE Vol. 1 Art by Eduardo Risso Written by Carlos Trillo Translated by Ivan Brandon Dynamite, $19.99 (1995/2007)

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BORDERLINE is set in a future dystopia and involves a sexy lady assassin and a troubled gruff male loner facing off in a world lit by the klieg lights of glaring subtext…oh no. OHO! Fret not, Euro-fan, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact it’s pretty neat. Usually that would be wholly down to the art, but the writing’s not half bad either; although it took me a bit to twig to that. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  I mean, “sexy lady assassin”! Not my favourite genre; the bulk of it being composed of any number of trite shite titles in the North American Mainstream. The whole “Men damaged her but now she’s damaging back! But not at the expense of her femininity! You can still be strong in a thong!” gets creepy pretty quick, particularly when it’s written by some dude you just know is rubbing himself against the underside of the desk as he writes, because, damn, this is some progressive shit. Whoooo, man writes Strong! Female! Protagonist! damn, gonna be statues of him in the streets! With every scissor kick and poisoned kiss sexism dies another death! But people obviously buy lots of “sexy lady kill” books; because if they didn’t they wouldn’t make them. So as genres go someone likes it.

 photo BgymB_zpsorzvsi5h.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

Which is fine. I mean, I’m not a big fan of the whole “nurse passive aggressively hounds doctor in a borderline psychotic manner until he marries her” genre, but I hear Mills & Boon are still going.  Spoiler: I’m not a woman so you know maybe I don’t have the right to react to this stuff. Or maybe I’m not reacting in the right way? I don’t know. I mean, I get that these sexy killin’ ladies have to be toned and limber; you can’t be lugging a load of excess weight about if you’re a top assassin. I like the occasional pie, and the odds of me rolling across any car bonnets with twin pistols flaring without there being a lot of ungainly sprawling and sliding, and not a few hefty grunts, are kind of on the poor side. And I’m not being sizeist there; I’m just trying to save you some grief on Careers Day.  These are tricky times; lots of toes to be trodden on. Should I just say it’s the creepy way the whole “sisters with pistols!” thing slyly panders to men under the femme friendly surface? Because it is. But that’s okay, because BORDERLINE knows that too.

 photo BcarB_zps6qtajp2x.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

BORDERLINE shows that Risso and Trilllo know the genre and, better, they know how to toy with it. Games are very definitely being played here. First, and most obviously, you need a sexy lady assassin. Accordingly Risso’s heroine, Lisa, is a combination of sinew and pulchritude, topped by a black flare of Goth hair. The Sisters of Mercy, despite this sister having little of said quality, spring to mind and !bang! the viscous tang of “snakebite and black” springs to the throat as a Proustian moment flings you back to Bradford and a billion gigs of collapsed hair and sweat streaked eyeshadow. (Ask your parents.) Anyway, think an inhumanly aerobicized ‘80s era Beatrice Dalle draped in a leather rhino-shouldered jacket and sporting sprayed on jeans and you’d be in the right (erogenous) zone. Risso’s art has always been able to sell sex like the First Prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, Second Prize is a set of steak knives and Third Prize is you’re fired! But he never sells it cheap. Lisa is supposed to look ridiculously stimulating, so that she contrasts sharply with everything around her, because BORDERLINE is all about sharp contrasts. (It’s not an accident the book is in B&W.)

 photo BstrutB_zps0vhgb8g2.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

In keeping with the whole contrasts thing there is what Lisa looks like and what Lisa is. What she is is a piece of lethal meat exploited by everyone around her. Usually deadly ladies are all about their agency (for everyone born prior to 1990: this is their capacity to make choices, not who handles their bookings and headshots) and how they still have it goin’ on. Not Lisa. The only choice she has is not to pull the trigger, and that choice is fraught with the dangers of repercussion. Tradition dictates Lisa be damaged and tradition is fulfilled to a parodic degree here. Amongst other things (see below) Lisa is deaf. Since a deaf assassin would last about as long as a Raspberry Mivvi on a log fire I think we can safely identify some satirical intent here. She has so little agency that BORDERLINE makes the usual subtext text. Not only are her skills exploited, but so is her hawt body. During her down-time she is either being peeped on or pawed by Jack (or Mike) one of a pair of identical men (or women) whose race is as unfixed as their gender.

 photo BhopeB_zps0lyhvooa.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

Usually this sexually predatory role would be filled by a fat sweaty, Caucasian male but BORDERLINE opens it up and recasts that character as both racially and sexually ambiguous; one who is also in a  loving relationship, just to really mix it up . Now the defining aspect of the abuse has shifted; it is authority. Which is correct. Abuse is a consequence of the possession of power over another, not the possession of a penis. This is usually muddied by the fact most of the powerful people have penises (usually just one each) and false conclusions are then drawn. But it’s power that corrupts not the penis. (Except in ZARDOZ (1974) where “the penis is”, indeed, “evil.”) There’s a reason that no one says, “Penis corrupts and absolute penis corrupts absolutely.”  Well, except for the occasional tipsy feminist in any Polytechnic Biko Bar circa 1990.

 photo BbodyB_zpsvcej4goo.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

Speaking of penises, Lisa’s opposite number, the stubbled, moody male loner, Blue(!), is slightly less interesting because stubbled, moody male loners are mostly uninteresting; with the exception of me, because I am intrinsically fascinating. Also, it’s an overdone trope. Luckily for your reading pleasure Trillo and Risso kick the legs out from under this tedious trope pretty swiftly. It’s okay him mooning about (i.e. being “blue”; geddit!) after Lisa and spray-painting her face on walls (not a euphemism) and being all sad inside because, sure,  all that’s super dreamy and romantic, but he’s still six feet of shit stuffed in distressed denim. (SPOILER: Turns out he turned out his chick for a hit. Pretty hard to walk back from that one, no matter how sexy you find troubled loners. Before we rush to judgement, ladies and gents, let’s not forget troubled loners like raunchy Richard Speck and dreamy David Berkowitz. Whoo! Is it hot in here, or is it just me?)

 photo BGraffB_zpsyvavzt1e.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

Look, the dude Blue didn’t just miss her birthday or have someone else’s knickers in his pocket, he traded her for a fix and, even better (i.e. even worse), Lisa was then harvested for organs before being rescued and having her organs replaced so she could be trained as an attractive assassin. So she’s traumatised beyond comprehension and deaf to boot. This pair of lovelorn killers dance the dance of death around each other, while their orbits threaten to collide with all the dramatic inevitability of any decent pulp fiction. Whereupon he looks at her with puppy eyes and then she forgives him and they get married and live in Mytholmroyd, where she looks after the house while he has a succession of joyless affairs at the Estate Agents where he works. No, not really because this isn’t real - it’s fiction! So you’ll just have to see what happens. On the understanding that a lot of it will happen in later volumes, since this is volume 1 of 6.

 photo BBlueB_zpsmqiugz6a.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

It being the first volume there’s a lot of world building but it’s a very simple world; there are two sides: one side controls its people by telling them there’s a reward after death, the other side is more materialistic. Both sides are ruled by bumbling chucklefucks boiling with psychological buboes, but society persists in functioning after a fashion, nevertheless. There are cities and subways and a civilisation of sorts. (Visually all this involves a lot of Besson’ing about; the tuxedoed thugs in the subway seem like a doff of the cap to SUBWAY (1985) and the refuse laden outlands strongly suggest  LE DERNIER COMBAT (1983). Thankfully, there are no underage girls dancing to Madonna in their scanties.) People with money live in the cities and the people without money don’t. If you don’t live in the city you have to scavenge in the ruins of a world crumpled by an (as yet) undefined Event. The poor are twisted, crippled things with a tendency to throw themselves off high things such is the horror of life without Wi-Fi. Practically enough the poor are kept around so the monied can live off them; literally - by harvesting their organs, because fuck the poor, right? Damn straight. And everyone is controlled by drugs, particularly a drug called Hope which instils in the user a belief that everything will turn out okay. That’s right, there’s the key; it’s not really a world but a joke. The punchline being us.

 photo BcrashB_zpsq8hscklf.jpg BORDERLINE by Risso & Trillo and Brandon

It’s a good joke; a smart joke and Trillo’s writing here is a lot cleverer than I first thought. Narration and dialogue is sparse and this being comics Risso takes the brunt of the weight. But then why waste Eduardo Risso? What’s important is the writing you do is good not that you do a lot of it. And here Trillo pulls off an exceptionally nice trick. His narration addresses the reader directly, giving proceedings a nicely informal, chatty, air, and occasionally it shrugs past things or draws your attention to things. It’s the kind of device North American comic creators get all giggly about doing ,and think Grant Morrison invented. This is because they have no sense of history and mistake it for modern. But then if your highest ambition in writing is to end up as a fucking TV show then you are unlikely to use a mode customary in the 19th Century novel (e.g. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862)) and if you did, you’d probably think it was first used on BJ AND THE BEAR (1979-81). Yeah, shit musical adaptations be damned, class lasts. Not content with being a classy bastard, Trillo occasionally, and whimsically, allows his “voice” to interact with the characters. It took me two reads to notice, because he doesn’t start waving his hands about and going “OOO! Look at me!” and thus critically kneecapping the suspension of disbelief along the way. No, he just smoothly  slides it past you. And lest we forget, the fact that any of this good stuff strikes home is in part due to the translation skills of Ivan Brandon, who retains a tone at once formal and chatty in equal measure. Which can’t have been an easy gig. Via Brandon, Trillo’s done his job and done it well, the rest is up to you; if you notice, you notice…

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What you can’t help but notice is the phenomenal art of Eduardo Risso, unless some rich sod has made off with your eyes. Risso builds a world of desolation punctured by clusters of degradation. In keeping with the almost comical overtness of its themes the book is, I remind you, drawn in black and white; stunningly so, natch. Robbed of the crutch of colour Risso’s art soars rather than falls. Which comes as no shock to keen Risso readers, since both his (originally coloured) work on LOGAN for Marvel©™® and Batman for DC Comics©™® were made available in B&W editions. Colour might enhance Risso’s work but it isn’t essential. That’s a sure sign of art soaked with structural integrity. The key of course is Risso’s high contrast approach, which here leaves great swathes of pages untouched; colour can be accommodated but so can its absence. Outside everything seems lit by a merciless sun, while inside it’s the unflinching glare of neon, and everywhere shadows as black as a banker’s heart anchor it all. It’s not without precedent of course; the cowboy boots embellished with swastikas are as much a giveaway as the detail bleaching; someone’s been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City. Actually, lots of people have been studying their Frank Miller circa Sin City, but no one has managed to subsume it into their style as flawlessly as Risso. As dumbly fun as the stories were, the real story in Sin City was Frank Miller’s courageous shearing of detail right up to the brink of sense. The lessons Miller’s pages contained were not lost on Eduardo Risso. He isn’t copying, he’s picking up the baton and haring off in his own direction; which is no way to win a race, but I’m not very good with sports metaphors; I’m sure you know what I meant. There is so much absent from the pages of BORDERLINE another, lesser artist would have some serious explaining to do. But Risso is a better, greater artist and so his art explains everything. Less may well be more but only because Risso works the balls off what little there is.


NEXT TIME: Maybe get back on schedule with a bit of Dredd, or maybe something random again. I don’t know about you but I’m getting that Chaykin feeling. Anyway, something, sometime from the wacky world of – COMICS!!!

"I Guess You Could Call It An EYEFUL SORE!" COMICS! Sometimes That Joke Isn't Punny Anymore!

Bit of a hybrid this time out. It’s a little bit European and a little bit American. Something for everyone! Also, Batman! Everyone loves Batman! Unfortunately it’s kind of terrible. But, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself…  photo BMEbossB_zpsloq7avqs.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Parel, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

Anyway, this…

BATMAN:EUROPA #1-4 Art by Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Gerald Parel Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli Written by Brian Azzarello and Matteo Cassali Coloured by Alex Sinclair Lettered by Pat Brosseau BATMAN created by Bill Finger with Bob Kane DC COMICS,$3.99 each (2015-2016)

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Tellingly the most interesting thing about BATMAN: EUROPA is its appearance some ten years and change late. Announced in 2004, the series finally slouched out in 2015. What? Yes, Jim Lee is involved. However did you guess, Holmes! I guess Jim Lee struggled to find the time to draw an actual comic in between his high level corporate gig of wearing baseball caps and smiling his sunshiney smile. Maybe it’s unfair to blame Jim Lee though, maybe it was Brian Azzarello who was busy earning more money than I’ll ever see, vigorously, and ill-fatedly, palping the withered dugs of Frank Miller and Alan Moore in an attempt to express one last squirt of milky, milky cash; all for a company so bereft of ideas they mistake having Batman fight Rorschach for creativity. Or maybe it was one of the other folk involved that we’re not interested in because they sound a bit foreign and haven’t made awesome comics like, uh, that one that’s only any good because Eduardo Risso drew it, or whatever comic it is that makes people like Jim Lee’s scratchy tedium. (If you really need to like an artist who works at the pace of tectonic shift then I still think Barry “Windsor” Smith’s your best bet.) I don’t really know Matteo Casali but I hear Matteo Casali has written some Dylan Dog comics I’ve never read, so maybe he’s a byword for tardiness; maybe our continental chums are all like, “Dylan Dog would be a good comic if only it ever came out. Damn Matteo Casali’s eyes! That Mateo Casali makes Jim Lee look like a Japanese Rocket Train. Mateo Casali! Pah!” Ah, but do you want it now or do you want it right, someone who thinks I don’t know a diversionary tactic when I hear one is saying. Look, the Sistine Chapel ceiling took Michelangelo four years. Four years. Therefore it took DC Comics six years longer  than it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling to produce a comic about Batman in Europe. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a Batman in Europe comic that takes 10 years had better be some brand new high in Batman comics, if not a fresh peak for the very medium of comics itself. It isn’t.

 photo BMEmime_zpsbbrd5z15.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

Unsurprisingly BATMAN: EUROPA is mostly set in Europe. And so it’s called EUROPA, which sounds a bit like Europe. But I don’t know why it’s specifically called “EUROPA”, since that’s the website for the European Union (which we aren’t to speak of lest we be hung, drawn and quartered for Treason against Brexit Britain. TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!!) Or maybe Brian Azzarello thinks people in Europe all put ‘a’ on the end of words; like Italians in an old Chris Claremont comic (“I-a welcome-a you-a to-a Europe-a, Bat-a man-a! Bella! Bella!”) Anyway, whatever, as the kids are wont to spout. Or maybe it’s one of Brian Azzarello’s “amazing” puns (e.g. it’s Brian Azzarello on Batman, he probably got paid a shitload so EUROPA it’s good. Geddit! EUROPA it’s good! Diamonds, baby! Diamonds.) I should probably move on now, since I don’t get to be ten years and then some late; you know, like professionals do. BATMAN: EUROPA  is  four issues, each set in a different European city (Chisinau, Podgorica, Heidelberg and Chichester; no not really, it’s Berlin, Prague, Paris and Rome), each has a different European artist and, uh, that’s it. Well, except for the first issue which starts in Gotham, which is in America, which is not part of Europe, (also, it's not real) and so has Jim Lee tepidly involved before the series flings itself across the Atlantic to Berlin where Camuncoli picks up his pen. The premise, or the (inch) high-concept if you must, is: The Batman and The Joker are both infected by a deadly virus and have to team up and travel round Europe for a cure. And so EUROPA starts off with Batman and The Joker rolling about on the floor all bloody and kind of weightlessly sketched in that way Jim Lee will continue to do for the rest of his stint on the book. Hey, Jim Lee fans, does Jim Lee have some kind of clinical aversion to suggesting weight in his art? I’m just asking; he’s clearly talented, but everything looks too samey, and this together with the failure to allot weight to any of his visual elements just leaves his work looking like half-hearted sketches. I don’t mind Jim Lee’s art, but I’m not all that excited by it, basically. I see a picture of Jim Lee smiling in his latest baseball cap and I don’t begrudge him, you know. Equally though, I don’t get all tingly round the prepuce when I see his name.  Despite Lee’s signature dreariness Azzarello/Casali try to create a mood of finality about this opener as though this time Batman will have to do the ultimate and…smash cut to splash page flashback! Ooh! What could it be? Four very disappointingly written issues will have to pass before you find out. And it’s not a bad punchline, but really four issues of set up require a punchline with a lot more, uh, punch.

 photo BMEcroc_zpsisrzrw84.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Lee, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello, Sinclair and Brosseau

You heard me right, pilgrim, four issues! Four issues this bumptious thing is! Four whole issues! Back when you could hate women openly in the street, this whole Batman and The Joker in Europe device would be the kind of throwaway gimmick Bob Haney would do in 22 poorly coloured pages of The Brave And The Bold, probably with some Jim Aparo goodness to boot. You know the kind of goofy borderline racist awesome that would result, but let’s go through it anyway because I’m fighting off sleep just thinking about this Mogadon® of a comic. In a better world, in a Haney world, in Paris they would face stripy jumpered, beret sporting thugs armed with onion bolas ; in Rome they would be homicidally wooed by stiletto armed lotharios; in Berlin they would attend an Einstürzende Neubauten concert (Blixa would be felled by a rogue blow and The Joker would have to chip in on “Keine Schönheit (ohne Gefahr)” to thunderous applause) and foil the cloning of Hitler’s dog, Blondi; in London they would discover it had all been a plot by Oliver Cromwell’s great, great, great, great, grandson, Barry; and it would all end with Buckingham Palace being attacked by bowler hat helicopters, the narrow averting of the assassination of King Henry XXIV and the escape of Barry Cromwell into a sudden pea-souper, only for him to be killed in a bitterly ironic last panel by a passing Jack the Ripper. The antidote would turn out to be a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, and all the while the Joker would go “Hoo! Hoo!” a lot. It would in short be very silly, not a little casually racist, and a ton of fun. Because Bob Haney comics were very silly and a lot of fun. Bob Haney not only survived the battle of Okinawa (01 April 1945), he also wrote the best Batman: Brave And The Bold comics ever; talk about The Greatest Generation! But Bob Haney was Then and this is Now, and North American genre comics are nothing if not needlessly po-faced, drab and kind of, well, insipidly joyless these days. Say, I bet Bob Haney wished he’d been 10 years late to Okinawa, but he didn’t get that option. Not everyone gets to be 10 years late. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying today’s comics writers would benefit from passing through the fiery hell of Okinawa. Mind you, I’m not exactly ruling it out either.

 photo BMEbrute_zpsjkma6dr6.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Latorre, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

We’re all busy people so let’s not beat about the bush here; the writing is just bloody poor. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing and the actual events clinging weakly to it are so deeply unthrilling that they barely register. At one point there’s a giant robot for not much of a reason, and all it makes you think is, I wish Bob Haney was writing this. I love me some Bob Haney but I shouldn’t be missing him so hard in 2017. I mean, I won’t lie, I can’t even remember what happened in this comic it’s so relentlessly leaden. I remember a human plot shortcut in the form of a lady hacker. She hasn’t got any character as such but I remember her because at one point she is wounded and Batman leaves the Joker to tend to her. Guess how that works out. I guess they never bill him as “Batman – The World’s Greatest Judge of Character”  with good reason. Ooh, there’s a mystery villain behind it all! Yeah, that reveal had all the dramatic weight of a meringue in space. I thought it was KGBeast, but I just checked (professionalism!) and it wasn’t. That’s how exciting it was. I’ve forgotten who it was again. As for motivation, well, I don’t know. Sure, killing Batman is kind of on any decent Bat-villains to-do list, but The Joker? You’d hand feed Cujo before you got that looney tune involved. And why such a needlessly protracted and highly unlikely method? I think the idea is the virus gives them a reason to follow a trail of, cough, clues so that by the end that are all tuckered out and the Guest Villain can best them. It’s a Bob Haney plan in its unlikely roundaboutness but it’s played like it’s Shakespeare. Bob Haney’s Macbeth, now there’s a thought to conjure with. Probably about a jillion times more entertaining than Azzarello/Casali’s Batman. But it’s not just Batman, it’s Batman and The Joker! “Hoo!” and indeed “Hoo!” Yes! Batman and The Joker together! Like Bing and Bob in on The Road To Europa! What a gift to a writer. Think of the cracklin’ dialogue and sinister mind games you could fill the pages with. Having to trust your life to a man who can’t even trust himself! It’s the very stuff isn’t it? The premise practically comes with a bow tied round it. Time to get your Shane Black on. More like bloody Shane Ritchie. Predictably enough nothing memorable occurs and it’s all largely page wasting, occasionally enlivened by a coughed up furball of facts about whichever city the undynamic duo are in. Basically the interaction is about as vibrant and electric as that of a long-married couple on a lengthy coach trip. Odd, isn’t it what with all these master dialogists in comics that there’s very little masterful dialogue around. Some people have an ear for dialogue, but most people in comics seem to have an arse for it; and more than one of those people are called Brian. But I digress.  Frequently and with great vigour.

 photo BMEgravesB_zpssjqvrzrh.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

The art’s okay, sometimes it’s even really, really good; these guys are all Eurotalents after all; and I don’t want to upset anyone in North American genre comics, but the bar for art seems a bit higher abroad. True, I don’t want to upset anyone, but since it’s true I don’t actually mind upsetting anyone. Giuseppe Camuncoli is a known known since he drew much of Peter Milligan’s underrated run on Hellblazer. As ever his art here has a pinched and repressed air which I enjoy, and everyone looks hungry on a really deeply unpleasant level that goes way beyond the appetite for food. Creepy, in sum. His colours are a bit heavy and rob his images of energy but as individual images they are certainly pretty. But comics is all about the sequential image and he dips a bit there with a lack of flow. Diego Latorre is, sadly, not the Argentinian footballer known as the “New Maradonna”, but is still impressive in a murky way. Maybe too murky. He makes up for the murk with an experimental brio that makes it look like he's running a sizeable charge of electricity through his panels. Alas, I was more impressed than seduced by the effect. If you've ever had a migraine (no not a headache, a migraine!) then you'll probably agree that Latorre has successfully represented that visually here. Arresting stuff but maybe a bit too much so. Gerald Parel is less than fresh to me as he also illustrated the original Iron Man graphic novel I looked at HERE. He’s gone for a really lush and soft edged look. It’s a kind of accumulation of colours blossoming across the page without the hindrance of holding lines. I liked this smeary expressionism just fine, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this is what sight is like when cataracts start to kick in. He gets some real beauty going though, I'll give him that. And then there’s stolid old Jim Lee, cap at a jaunty angle and smiles for miles. His art’s boring though. Yet what does it matter how good any of these artists are when the writing’s as weak as a politician’s excuses. Your eyes feast on an image only to be brought up short by the Joker alluding to pissing on a woman (my, how edgey!) or a pun as poor as it is predictable (“Vaud-Villain.” Yeah, really). Here's the big secret about puns: they should be used sparingly, otherwise it's like reading a lushly illustrated Christmas cracker joke.

 photo BMEmlisa_zpsvwffvsvu.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Latorre, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

BATMAN: EUROPA is not a good comic. The first three post-splash pages (or whatever; I’m not checking) consist entirely of Batman smacking Killer Croc about. This is excellent stuff, but only if the script directions asked for as unengaging a depiction of violence as possible, and the artist was asked also to ensure that the location was never identified beyond some rudimentary lines suggesting bricks, maybe a wall if needs must, a trash can if absolutely necessary. I think they are fighting in an alley in this scene, but if so, it’s an alley with remarkably elastic dimensions. Azzarello/Casali seem to think alleys are odd in a city based on a grid, and they draw special attention to this in the reliably problematic narration. However, alleys are only odd in a grid based city if the city in question is New York; a city notable for its scarcity of alleys due to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 omitting rear service alleys. Gotham is often taken as a stand in for New York sooooooooooo, okay, but I’m not sure many people have any clue about the distinctive absence of alleys in New York City, and this is Gotham so it could have loads of alleys, you know, what with it not being real and people making up its geography on the fly; so I don’t know why it needs special mention, particularly as by way of contrast no mention whatsoever is made of why Batman is smacking Croc about. What I’m getting at is, the storytelling priorities here are all skew-iff, basically. Sure, there’s mention, as Croc is loaded into an ambulance, of “victims” but of what? Usually Azzarello has Croc eating people because – EDGY! And sometimes crocodiles eat people or something. Christ alone knows what Croc’s been up to this time because Azzarello/Casali don’t deign to tell us, despite having had three pages to do so. Instead they keep telling us the same thing: Batman is off his game. It’s a good job they tell us, mind you, because there’s no particular visual indication of this fight being any tougher than any other Killer Croc and Batman fight. It’s not good comics, in essence. Unusually for comics where the art often picks up the writer’s/writers' slack all parties are at fault here; it’s  a failure on two fronts. I don't know exactly what's happening and I have no idea why it is happening. It's like being at work! Presented with a visual spectacle as tedious as this a writer might attempt to punch things up with captions; maybe give it some context, some stakes, at a bare minimum some reason for the scene to be occurring. I guess that’s beneath Azzarello/Casali as what they supply instead is a load of sub-Miller tough-guy guff, which takes a whole lot of space to say very little indeed. It’s difficult not to imagine that the Azzarello/Casali team isn’t itself undermined by Azzarello’s compulsive need to avoid crafting a clear sentence, so much so here that it occasionally makes you think it’s a particularly poor translation from another language (any other language). That’s the first few pages, I’m not going on through the rest of the comic but, be warned, I could do because it’s not very good.

 photo BMEreally_zpsnioiysik.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Lee, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello, Sinclair and Brosseau

BATMAN: EUROPA, then. Bit like that time you went inter-railing round Europe with your mate, but you both got the trots and fell out just past Rouen after someone (naming no names, Terry Blesdoe) was sick on your copy of Camus’ The Outsider (US: The Stranger), and you had to suffer each other’s sulky presence for the remainder of the trip because you’d booked everything in advance. And your train was ten years late. Yeah, a bit like that, but BATMAN: EUROPA is, quite possibly, if anything even less thrilling. I’ve read some of them there European comics and, while there is a variety, mostly I think I’m safe in generalising wildly and saying that European comics can tend towards the grandiose, with large pictures and outsized ideas which kind of sweep past in a lustrous rush, one you have to plumb for meaning at a later date. It’s this kind of Euro comic BATMAN: EUROPA seems to seek to emulate. But Batman isn’t The Metabaron. And Brian Azzarello/Casali aren’t Jodorowsky. And Moebius is dead, baby. Moebius is dead. Four issues of big pictures and tiny ideas is what you get. Um, but some of the pictures are nice. I’m uttering a very Continental – “EH!”

 photo BMEnotB_zpssfxnl4pr.jpg BATMAN: EUROPA by Parel, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau

NEXT TIME: We talk about the elephant in the…road? Ah, it must be the how you say – COMICS!!!

“My Diabetes Prevents Me.” COMICS! Sometimes It's A Theatre of Blood!

Hey kids! Who’s up for a heroically opaque fable about a vengeful castrato, illustrated in a darkly twisted melange of Gustav Klimt and José Muñoz! Okay, howabout if I describe it as CH Greenblatt’s Chowder via E.T.A. Hoffman? Ooooh, your little ears perked right up! Yes! It’s Euro-comic time! Everybody loves The Eurocomics!  photo FolCastB_zpsjuxgskav.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

Anyway, this…

FOLIGATTO Art by Nicolas de Crécy Written by Alexios Tjoyas Translated by Quinn and Katia Donoghue HUMANOIDS, $24.99 (2013)

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I think it’s only fair to state at the outset of the clueless drivel which follows that Foligatto, illustrated by Nicolas de Crécy and written by Alexios Tjoyas, is way out of my intellectual weight-class. It’s one thing to be able to dance nimbly around some tawdry work-for-hire featuring a character invented by men seemingly high on cough syrup, laying on the odd low blow and pretending something of worth has been achieved, but quite another thing to unwrap this gleefully fetid bon-bon. See the critic quail before the might of actual Art! See him run behind the skirts of Batman!  Ah, not quite, or at least not quite yet. Because while I may come off like Tom Waits in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stokers’ Dracula (phew!), all unctuously hunched and servilely importuning as regards the imminent arrival of the masssster (de Crécy, not Dracula) while in fact only hastening my own ignominious end, it’s worth the risk if someone picks up this masterpiece, this Foligatto. Hopefully everyone will buy Foligatto, because only when De Crecy and Tjoyas are choking on gold can this world have the slightest claim to being Just.

 photo FolCarB_zps0e8byz7s.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

I’m not propelling a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air (typically one emitted from a combusting substance) up your posterior when I claim Foligatto is a masterpiece. Seeing may be deceiving, but not today! Your eyes don’t lie! You can tell just by looking at Foligatto that it’s a different class of comic altogether. It’s the artwork that hits you first and hardest, pummelling your fragile skull with the capital “A” of Art. It is classy stuff, you might want to comb your hair and polish your shoes for this one. It’s the art you’ll hold hardest to your heart but, hopefully, not at the expense of the script. Tjoyas’ script is undeniably erudite and imbued with a cultural intelligence lacking from the average Spider-man comic, which is a shame as I’m more intellectually equipped for Spider-Man comics. Still, failure is my sweetheart so I’ll press on.  Spiritually Foligatto’s art and story are saturated with German Romanticism. Alas, this does not mean there are crowds of Teutonic men proffering flowers and holding doors open for ladies in big hats, it refers instead to the European Romanticism which developed in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries in opposition to the typically dourer English Romanticism and the Enlightenment as a whole. The Enlightenment being known to close personal friends as “The Age of Reason”, German Romanticism naturally  pushed back with an emphasis on the unnatural, the fantastic. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (E. T. A. Hoffmann) is the go-to-guy for examples of the fantastic as a burgeoning genre, and his work fits right into the Foligatto attitude.

 photo FolKidB_zpsfsdrt27i.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

I’ll not fib, being a low class act I am primarily familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman via Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 cinematic adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann (1879/1881). The handy link is that Offenbach’s opera is based three Hoffman tales: Der Sandmanon (The, er, Sandman), Rath Krespel (Councillor Krespel/The Cremona Violin) and Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (A New Year's Eve Adventure). At the risk of spoiling your next trip to the opera, the uncanny shenanigans include a man falling in love with a female automaton, a woman who risks death if she sings too much and the attempted theft of a reflection from a mirror. Fun stuff, kind of thing we all like to read about, because opera (“A bunch of fat people who got dressed in the dark, shouting.” said my Dad) might make most of us scarper sharpish but it turns out we’re just talking about the fantasy genre after all. Basically, Opera is just comics for fops. Who knew? Probably Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas. They mayhap overtly reference the Offenbach influence by having Foligatto be a castrato Opera singer, and the Hoffmann influence by, well, having a world where absurdity and surrealism are the norm. The astonishing trick Tjoyas and De Crecy pull is they make the multitude of nonsensical aberrations on show credible. While reading Foligatto you will accept the fact that a man can pick up his severed head and trot off with it as easily as you do the fact of  gravity. In fact gravity seems much less convincing on reflection because it isn’t drawn by Nicolas de Crécy.

 photo FolSongB_zpsoaa5y2hd.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

On the showing of Foligatto alone de Crécy’s art seems capable of anything. This is incredible stuff. Fully painted with maybe a touch of mixed media, this is art worthy of display to the public in one of those places. You know, one of those places Angie Dickinson sits looking at pictures in while being sex stalked in Dressed to Kill (1980). Gallery! Gallery, that’s what I’m getting at! Thanks, Brian De Palma. As it is the Art World is a closed shop, so every panel will have to settle for hanging in the gallery of your mind. They’ll hang Gustav Klimt but not de Crécy! Bah, their loss. De Crécy is clearly working in an allegorical mode with a hefty undercurrent of symbolism, but just as Klimt did he’s bringing his own themes and preoccupations. Whatever they are.  Klimt was blessed with an audience cultivated and educated enough to decode his work. De Crécy isn’t that lucky; I have no idea what he’s on about, beyond the delightfully twisted surface narrative. However, I may lack cultivation and education but I do have WiFi, so who’s laughing now? Don’t worry though, unlike Klimt there’s not a sniff of the pornographic. The only way Foligatto will make the bald man cry is if you hit Brian Bendis on the head with it. (Legal Note: I’m in no way condoning this course of action.)

 photo FolCityB_zpsutx4eguj.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

I jest there, but I jest not about the quality of the art; every panel is a little miracle, a joyful tweak of the possible, where the sheer delight of the artistry on show is the only threat to the ceaselessly downbeat tone of the work as a whole. This is bleak stuff, m’dears. The city setting of Eccenihilo resembles a nightmare vision of 19th Century Italy. Grand, arresting buildings of dense stone loom over a warren of snaking streets populated by hunched, skittering, grotesques. Characters have faces so deeply quarried by life they resemble hangdog golems, except for Foligatto whose tautly rounded face is gravid with malevolence, a boil on the cusp of explosion. Life in the world of Foligatto is miserable and confounding even before the portly nightmare starts throwing people out of windows like perplexed puppets. The sky is a bleakly toned miasma and everything beneath it has the air of a fairy tale, but one spoiled and corrupted. Like a tale once told filled with gold and innocence has grown up along with us, and become as venal, baffled and lost as our adult selves. Think Andre Maurois’ Fattypuffs and Thinifers (1930) with illustrations by a depressive Raymond Briggs working largely in shades of faeces. That’s a comparison and as such short-changes the work, this Foligatto; the actuality is purely and wholly original, and purely and wholly the result of the ridiculously skilled pair, de Crécy and Tjoyas.

tl;dr: Foligatto is EXCELLENT!

 photo FolCrowdB_zpscnejbocj.jpg FOLIGATTO by Nicolas de Crécy and Alexios Tjoyas

NEXT TIME:  I scamper back to my Comfort Zone of English – COMICS!!!

“We Must Allow None of These DIBBUKS To Escape!” COMICS! Sometimes God Loves a Trier.

A funny thing happened on the way to The Reichstag….  photo SPplanB_zpspuoahpzo.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

Anyway, this...

7 PSYCHOPATHS #1-3 Art by Sean Phillips Written by Fabien Vehlmann Translated by Dan Heching Coloured by Hubert Lettered by Troy Peteri BOOM! Studios, $3.99 each (2010)

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Despite sharing a name this 3 issue comic book series published by BOOM! Studios in 2010 is nothing to do with Martin McDonagh’s 2012 ridiculously overstuffed (but still wildly enjoyable) movie. Also, despite it involving an attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life by a bunch of ne’er do wells any similarities with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Bastards” (2009) will have to come from you, because I don’t watch Quentin Tarantino movies anymore. I’d rather watch the movies he rips off, uh, repurposes. Hey, you watch what you want and I’ll watch what I want, nobody’s judging anyone here. Going on the brief text piece provide by Sean Phillips in the back of #3 this was initially published as a 1 volume hardback in that there Europe in 2007. Which explains why each issue feels weirdly paced, particularly the first one where they don’t even finish introducing the cast before you hit the back cover. Still, no one’s going to be reading it in monthly instalments in 2017 so it’s not really a concern. I’m sorry I brought it up. Alright, alright, don’t go on about it. ♫♬♩ Let it go, let it go, let it gooooooooooooooo! ♫♬♩.

 photo SPShotB_zpsyriwrffq.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

So the high concept is set a nutter to kill a nutter. Or 7 nutters, for as Joshua Goldschmidt, the plan’s instigator and principal nutter, points out, 7 in the Kabbalah (קַבָּלָה) symbolises completeness. I remember this from R.E. lessons myself; you know, all that business about 7 days to create the world, Exodus telling you how to make a 7 candle menorah, er, 7 brides for 7 brothers all that. 40 was a pretty popular number in the Bible or Torah (תּוֹרָה) (from which the Kabbalah is derived) as well, maybe Joshua Goldschmidt would have been better with 40 psychopaths. He would certainly have been better with 40 days, because he also specifies the mission has to take 7 days. It’s a bit of a tight deadline that but, hey, he’s not the full shilling is he? He’s all about the number 7 this guy. But why people with, uh, issues. Look, okay, I apologise for using the term “nutters” back there, I did so on the understanding that we’re all here to have  a bit of light hearted fun, and that when I use the term I’m kind of just indicating how exaggerated and cartoonish the mental health issues on show are. Life is hard and we’re all built differently, and it takes its toll on us all in different ways. You know, my compos isn’t exactly totally mentis either but, yeah, I hear you, words matter. Duly noted. Even Goldschmidt pitches a fit when he catches his Special Executive Operations (SEO) liaison calling the project “7 Psychopaths”, even though there are 7 of them and they are all…

 photo SPCoarseB_zpspjzfzbf6.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

…talented in their own ways. Willy Wright just wants to be loved and to this end can transform himself into anyone you like with a bit of bootblack and a comb, like that “Ooo will buy mah steecks!” guy off the Fast Show or (my Bronze Age DC fave) The Unknown Soldier, but without the hideous facial scarring. I guess that’s because there was no scarring left to go round because "The Warlord" is a hulking crust of scar tissues with tendencies of a decidedly pyromaniacal stripe. He’s a mute, unlike the voice in Erik Starken’s head which is that of the Berlin paperhanger himself and which stridently orates about intense visions of possible futures, with a worrying rate of accuracy. Our female member, Susan, would be worried about that but she’s too busy worrying about everything else, she’s the best shot in the forces but her tendency towards catastrophic thinking keeps shooting her concentration to shit. In the shit is where Captain Stewart finds himself after a bit of murdering but who better to turn his murder on than the architect of mass murder himself, the failed painter, Hitler. James Smith is so sane he’s insane and Joshua Goldschmidt we’ve already met. That’s 7, yeah? Phew! Goldschmidt reckons his plan will succeed because his crew’s unpredictability will make it impossible for the enemy to anticipate them. He’s not wrong. If anything he’s too right, because the unpredictability takes a terrible toll on the plan early in the game. Pretty much precisely at the series’ half way mark in fact.

 photo SPCalmB_zpsj2m6tgdp.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

Which, unless you’ve just read a review which spoils it for you, comes pretty much out of left field. But don’t worry because that inept (and most likely aged and balding) reviewer has left plenty of other “!” moments unrevealed. See, the big thing about 7 Psychopaths is how refreshing the storytelling is. It doesn’t go where you think, and it doesn’t get to where it’s going the way you expect. It’s kind of bracing not to have the same old trex from the same old guys who’ve all read the same old books on “How To Sell Tepid Undemanding Shit To Hollywood” without realising (or caring, let’s be honest) how stultifying and homogenous most genre entertainment has become as a consequence. Three Act Structure! Meet the mentor! The Hero’s Journey! No room at his inn, pal! Yup, the best thing about 7 Psychopaths is that Joseph Campbell’s dead and withered balls haven’t been rubbed all over it so hard all the individuality’s been erased. I don’t know whether that’s because European comics have a whole different set of genre conventions, or Fabien Vehlmann is some kind of Gallic genius, but what I know is 7 Psychopaths wrong footed me throughout. It’s also pretty funny in a dark way. Just saying.

 photo SPShoutB_zpsjfclratr.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

Of course this BOOM! Edition was aimed at an Engish or American audience so being healthily xenophobic we don’t care about Fabien Vehlmann with his, ugh, Frenchness, no matter how well he’s written this; no, we’re probably drawn to this because it was, uh, drawn by Sean Phillips. Mostly Sean Phillips spends his time making Ed Brubaker comics far more interesting than they have any right to be, so it’s nice to see him do something else. He does a pretty good job here; he’s Sean Phillips after all, so even on a bad day he’s still got some sweet chops. The panels are quite small, Euro-style, and he never gets a full splash, yank style, so he seizes by the scruff the few three quarter splashes he does get. Yeah, he has some fun with those showing the prophetic pantomime show going on in Starken's head. The stained glass Hitler warning us of the Cuban Missile Crisis was my favourite. Although the bit where they open the door to meet Hitler hits its hilarious mark spot on as well. Spoilt for choice, really. It’s a war book so by necessity it’s a reference heavy book and Sean Phillips does okay. I didn’t check any of it, but the German uniforms look like German uniforms and the Jerry tank is a Tiger instead of a Russki T-34, the British look British etc. The physical locations all look present and correct, largely because he seems to have drawn over photos so well they should be. There’s a bit too much “Sean’s Smile” going on (look at his work long enough and you soon recognise “Sean’s Smile”) and some problems getting the distinctive German helmet right, but all my carps are small carps. It’s Sean Phillips stretching himself so, you know, it’s solid with the odd burst of spectacular. On reflection I’m probably just being overly picky because he doesn’t find room for his signature “white shirts with creases”, which I enjoy seeing so much.

 photo SPBerlinB_zpsg8ody2uo.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

7 Psychopaths is inventively written and nicely drawn stuff so I’m going to give it a GOOD!

OI! Where do you think you're swanning off to? No one said you could go. Sit back down. Right...Now look, it’s a sad reflection on the depths our collective psyche has plumbed that I feel the need to point out that in this series Hitler is the bad guy. Further, and it kind of pains me to have to spell this out, in real life Hitler was the bad guy. He was a “bad dude”, in the parlance of today’s POTUS. Previously that could go unspoken, but apparently some of you out there these days don’t really get the whole Nazi thing. Even I in my blithely middle-aged caveman no Facebook, no Twitter life picked up on the recent furore over whether it was right to punch Nazis. I really don’t know what’s so hard about that question. Was everyone just stuck for moral dilemmas that week? Had everyone forgotten their history? Have you all lost your furshluginner minds! The Nazis were a blight on humanity. They still are. They always will be. The evil is built in. Nazism is a giant filthy ideological cancer that will metastasize like mad given half a chance. So you don’t give it that chance. Oy! What’s hard about this, I ask you?!? Say you go to your doctor and he or she pulls a funny face and orders some X-rays, and later finds some shadows on your lungs, okay? He or she doesn’t go “Gee, we should maybe encourage that. Maybe you should take up smoking, eat a lot of burnt toast? Smoke more if you already smoke, get some Genetically modified food into your diet, put your head in the microwave if you can. Y’know, a lot of people talk cancer down, but, you know, maybe if we encourage it, give it chance to grow it’ll make you shit gold bars and bring a Heaven on earth.”  No, he or she gets zapping that crap as fast as he or she can.

 photo SPTrueB_zpsc6fhf8mp.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

Fucking Nazis. What’s up with you all out there? Try turning off MR fucking ROBOT and picking up a book. If you ever find yourself going, “Hmm. You know, maybe those Nazis have a point.” Something’s gone wrong in your head. There’s no “shades of grey” here. It is simply black and white. Or black with silver piping and a natty little skull to boot. Nazis! Their “philosophy” was/is childish horseshit. A load of half understood crap science and mindrot mythology, about being descended from a race of people who live in the earth’s core. That’s a 1970s Edgar Rice Burroughs movie starring Doug McClure and Caroline Munro not a workable philosophy! Some of those evil goofballs were actually, really, truly, looking for Biblical nonsense like The Ark of The Covenant and The Spear of Destiny. That was in the 1940s, Kirk Brandon didn’t even form Spear of Destiny until 1983! That’s how fucking smart Nazis are. But John, they are smart, they’ve read Nietzsche! Don’t give me that Nietzsche stuff, unlike most Nazis I’ve read Nietzsche, and as problematic as a big woolly humanist like me finds him, Nietzsche would have spat in their faces. Of course they’d have bested his more subtle ratiocinations by catching him in an alley and kicking him to death en masse, or maybe throwing a Molotov through his window while he slept, you know, in that brave way Nazis have. And they’re always the injured party! O! So badly done to! Nazis! Always the fucking underdogs, even when they’re shoving bayonets through barbed wire at your emaciated frame. It’s still your fault! Why are you making them do this! Can’t you see the tears in their eyes as they bundle you into that van with the hose leading from the exhaust into the air vent! You heartless untermensch! The poor wickle Nazi lambs.

 photo SPTrueC_zps0y5bv0rv.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

They have to do all this rank shit because, well, er, the Treaty of Versailles went too far. That’s it. That’s their rationale. Look, the Treaty of Versailles was in 1919 and had to do with Germany’s reparations for WW1. ♫♬♩ Let it go, let it go, let it gooooooooooooooo! ♫♬♩. I don’t know what earthly reason an American Nazi has to feel badly done to. Particularly as the average American Nazi would probably look at you gone out if you even mentioned the Treaty of Versailles. I imagine they aren’t too tight on the whole WW1 deal either. I guess it must just be terrible living in the richest country in the world. Is it that there’s too many black people? Too many Jews? Too Many Hispanics? Too  many cooks? Have you seen how big America is! No, if there’s too many of anything there’s too many Nazis. If there’s one Nazi there’s too many Nazis. Even if (and it’s a pretty big if) American Nazis were still sore about the Treaty of Versailles, or whatever’s hurt their sensitive Nazi feelings in America (Black people being able to drink from water fountains? ALF getting cancelled?), what are they working towards? The most successful Nazi ever was Hitler and Hitler’s Germany ended up (and these are just the highlights you understand) shooting the mentally ill and shoving people in ovens. That wasn’t a mistake; things didn’t just get a little bit out of hand; that was the plan. That. Was. The. Plan. I don’t know, call me a snowflake, but that’s not an ideal outcome to my mind. But to Nazis it is. That’s what they are working towards. That’s still the plan. Building giant autobahns with concrete mixed with your ashes. Something to aim for there. Really worthwhile stuff. Making the world a better place, yeah? Seriously, Nazis have nothing to offer humanity. Sit round the negotiating table with a Nazi and you’ll soon find they have nothing to offer. It’s never long before they start on the old “ethnic cleansing” tip. Dead giveaway really, that. I find the whole “ethnic cleansing” thing a bit of a deal breaker, speaking personally. I’m just funny like that.

 photo SPTrueD_zpsqunhchxe.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

Remember that bit in The Dead Zone where Johnny Smith asks Dr Sam Weizak if it would be right to go back in time and kill Hitler? He doesn’t ask if it is okay to go back and punch Hitler, does he? No, he cuts straight to the chase. And the Doc does too: “I'm a man of medicine. I'm expected to save lives and ease suffering. I love people. Therefore, I would have no choice but to kill the son of a bitch.” Christ, I got my moral instruction from Original Star Trek, 2000AD, a second hand illustrated Bible and my ol' Mum’s Stephen King novels, and even I know whether or not to punch a Nazi is the wrong question. The right question is why are there still Nazis? Sort yourselves out, you’re a disgrace. It’s 2017 not 1939; sort it.

 photo SPTrueE_zps3pttts0o.jpg 7 PSYCHOPATHS by Phillips, Vehlmann, Heching, Hubert & Peteri

NEXT TIME: Maybe something else from that there Europe because whatever the original language they are all – COMICS!!!

“Scream Twice If You Still Understand Anything I'm Saying.” COMICS! Sometimes It's The Worst of All Worlds!

It’s 2017! To start us off I cravenly pander to the swing of things to the Right Wing by looking at a comic with a Alt-Right Nazi as the good guy. Because only in Hell...  photo VKFaceB_zpsqun7mx7n.jpg REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin

Anyway this...

REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT VOL.1: RESURRECTION Art by Olivier Ledroit Written by Pat Mills Lettered by Jacques Collin Nickel Editions, Comixology:£2.49 (2000) Requiem Chevalier Vampire created by Olivier Ledroit and Pat Mills

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Personally I blame Pat Mills. For my entrenched amour de la bande dessinée that is, not the parlous state of the world as we settle in for the long, long slog through 2017. Christ, nigh on forty years back now, in 1977, Pat Mills broke my juvenile mind with the first issue of 2000AD; oh, he’d been experimentally tapping it with a creative cudgel earlier via Action and Battle, but 2000AD did the trick. I never did put my mind back together, there was always a bit missing, a bit the comics would fill from now on. Ah, lovely, lovely Pat Mills. The day Pat Mills is no longer around to pursue his quirky herd of hobby horses with his unfashionably fiery passion Comics will be a smaller, dumber place. I may not agree with everything he’s caught up in (Réincarnation? Je ne vois pas de quoi que ce soit pire!) but I like the cut of that man’s jib. Fucker’s got fire, and I like that. That’s a quick refresher on my default position on Pat Mills, so how magical to have it confirmed so thrillingly with Requiem Chevalier Vampire, a comic I never even knew existed until it went on sale on the ’Ology.

 photo VKDoccoB_zpsennmejdz.jpg REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin

While I was familiar enough with Pat Mills I’d never heard of Nickel Editions, which is no surprise as after a bit of research (AKA le googling) it transpires that Nickel Editions make Fantagraphics look like Marvel©®. Or they did when Requiem Chevalier Vampire started back in the year 2000. Nickel was formed by Pat Mills, Olivier Ledriot and Jacques Collin in order to get Pat Mills into that sweet, sweet French comics market by publishing (Prenez une proposition! Rapidement!) Requiem Chevalier Vampire (Aw, trop lent!) Since Mills and Olivier created the actual comic I’m guessing Collin handled the (lettering and) business bits, and since Wikipedia tells me Collin had previously founded Zenda Editions I’m upgrading that guess to a hesitant certainty. Founded in 1987 Zenda’s catalogue of DC, Dark Horse and British reprints, together with original works by budding French talents, had proved successful enough for it to be snapped up by Jacques Glénat in 1994. While still an independent entity Zenda had handled Marshal Law, Slaine and A.B.C Warriors reprints dans la belle France, all of which series most of you will know were co-created by one Pat Mills, additionally Zenda also first published the work of one Olivier Ledriot. Mills & Ledroit had also worked together on Sha (1995-7) for Zenda. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, it looks like everyone got on despite their different nationalities! Collaborating with Johnny Foreigner! This chappy Pat Mills needs a refresher in good old British Xenophobia. Report to your nearest Conditioning Centre, citizen Mills! Wait, one comic? I mean I know roughly shit squared about publishing but surely that’s some heavily swinging balls right there; you publish one comic you’ve got precisely one chance, so you better have the right comic. I guess  Requiem Chevalier Vampire was the right comic because after being on hiatus since 2011, it’s due to end in either 2017 or 2018 when the final two volumes will be released. Traditional as a Sunday roast, I started at the beginning and took a look at Requiem Chevalier Vampire Vol 1: Résurrection, or Requiem Vampire Knight Vol.1: Resurrection, as it is in the language of Shakespeare. Forsooth!

 photo VKHeadsB_zpstrfclnml.jpg REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin

Ledroit and Mills’ begin as they mean to go on, leaving subtlety to slumber and splashing a honking great swastika at the top of the first page. And, Buddhists be damned, there’s nothing lucky about that spiritually devalued sign for Heinrich Augsburg, a German soldier whom we first meet splayed in the Russian snow unconscious from a headwound. Roughly awakened from his chilly torpor by a thoroughly uncouth Russki looter, Augsburg tries to save  a picture of his sweetheart, Rebecca, and succeeds instead in catching a bullet with his forehead. A wound he won’t be waking up on this earth from any time soon. Luckily anyone worried that they’ve just bought a very expensive and very, very short comic about the inadequacy of love to trump the inadvisability of invading Russia in winter, finds instead that in the world of Requiem Vampire Knight death is not the end. Ausburg does wake up from his wound but not in this world but the next. Résurrection, to give that world a name. Although “Hell” is used interchangeably with “Résurrection” throughout, despite it acting a bit more like Purgatory than the conventional Hell. Still it’s not like we’re talking about a real place, rather a fictional construct so whatever Pat Mills says goes, and he can call it “Betty” if he wants. Anyway, the setting is definitely where (most of) the dead are dumped before going anywhere else. Mills has time run backwards in “Hell”, probably as a wee nod to the Dresden chapter in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, or the entirety of Amis fils’ Time’s Arrow; both of which go on about WW2, and the latter of which is specifically about Nazi death camp atrocities. Fret not, Mills spares the reader the headache of actually writing the comic in reverse. Mostly then we get the odd caption like “yesterday”, which essentially means “the next day”, or “two years earlier” which means…ah, you’ve got it. The upshot is that (most) characters age backwards, losing memories as they do so until they wink out of existence or move on to wherever. The topsy turviness doesn’t stop there though! There’s a physical inversion for the revivified dead to contend with. The landmasses and the seas are also reversed, so America in “Hell” is a big sea of blood while the Pacific is a landmass of fiery offal, etc.  I think Mills is pushing for “Hell”, as does war, distorts reality so far out of the normal human frame of reference, that only by reversing it, or some similar mental gymnastics, can any sanity be clawed back. Oh, and here war is “Hell”, literally. Wars require factions and Mills serves up plenty of them; a great squirming mass of unsavoury types. I'll not go into them because the comic does that, but I will say I liked the Yoda mentor who was a big evil baby with skin like a verruca and teeth like a diseased dog.

 photo VKHallB_zpsjag39npu.jpg REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin

While it would be unfair to say that if you’ve read one Pat Mills comic then you’ve read them all, it’s probably okay to say that if you’ve read one Pat Mills comic you’ve read bits of them all. And Requiem Vampire Knight is nothing if not a big hot comics pudding studded with the currants of Pat Mills’ anger misted mind’s eye. Thrill to the appearance of a rag tag bunch of cannon fodder misfits with comically distorted familiar names. (Al a Gangreen in Marshal Law. )  A hero who isn’t one, and by the end of the series can practically be guaranteed to be as big a shit as his Big Bad. (We all loved edgy alien terrorist Nemesis, but by the end he and Torquemada deserved each other. Power corrupts. Absolutely!) A smart arsed sidekick of reduced stature. (Ukko, ok?) Physical manifestation of the protagonist’s inner savagery. (Slaine’s warp spasm.) A less than chivalrous romantic relationship. (Too many past examples to mention. I fear for Pat Mils' bruised heart.) Satirical blunderpussing of whatever the patented Pat Mills Wheel of Disgust stopped at on that particular day. (Authority! Hypocrisy! Complacency! Mrs Brown’s Boys! Etc etc.) It would be wrong to put this down to a lack of, well, anything other than intention. Mills’s pursues these recurring themes and aspects so assertively across so many series that it can’t be anything but intentional.  As a result Mills’ work is very Moorcockian with the same people and concepts seemingly being reborn across all the disparate Millsverses, forever entwined in the Eternal Conflict. At a first cursory glance Mills might come off as Manichean, but he’s smarter than that. When he sets up Good and Evil you can be sure each is tainted by the other. Ah, tthe ‘shades of grey’ so beloved of folk who don’t want to commit themselves to a course of action, one might think. But not so, rather an acknowledgement that there is Good and there is Evil, but you have to keep your eye on the ball, people, or before you know it a, say, harmless bit of politically expedient scapegoating of minorities can quickly turn into industrialised mass murder. And it’s kind of hard to walk back from that one. (Not that there’s likely to be any politically expedient scapegoating of minorities in 2017, after all we all know better now after Nazi Germany. We sure don’t need people to point out that that is wrong. Right?) There’s subtlety and nuance in Mills work, but, yes,  it lurks under all the gaudy grand guignol and bombastic polemics. Or maybe he’s just saying people are dicks and ever will be dicks. He probably wouldn’t be wrong.

 photo VKHorsesB_zpsd4ezinvx.jpg REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT by Ledroit, Mills & Collin

Even if you find Pat Mills' hectoring tone a turn-off there's still the attraction of Ledroit's art. Art which is kind of eye boggling in its intensity and clarity of detail. Here Ledroit’s art assaults the reader with a blend of fully painted images and mixed media mayhem, with a bit of technological jiggery-pokery to boot, I bet. Panels float atop sheets of sigils, maggots and gore, with cryptic backlit script making much of the book resemble an illuminated manuscript penned by the very Devil himself! In short it looks a lot like the work of Dave McKean’s troubled nephew, the one who plays Motörhead too loud and can’t be trusted around pets and sharp objects. It’s atmospheric stuff, imagine the world of Elric set in an abattoir; no, belay that, it’s a sword and sorcery comic set inside the mind of a serial killer, I don’t know, it’s a child playing soldiers with mismatched action figures on a carpet of something red wet and steaming that just ceased screaming; you’re getting the gist of the thing, yes? The art may be heavily redolent of offal but the result is very far from awful. There’s a gory grandeur to the thing with the soaring cathedrals of black stone and the mammoth air galleons pushing your belief capacitors to the limit. Think of the floating heads of Zardoz flensed to the skull and plated in chrome with a shine as sharp as a razor, now picture them scooting over a landscape resembling an untended butcher's shop window at the height of summer, firing blasts of  disco-hued energy at a chaotic riot of screaming rot. There's a bit of Enki Bilal in Ledroit's chalk skinned and razor cheek-boned Nazis, a bit of Clint Langley in the fusion of flesh and metal, but ultimately the bulk of the wide screen insanity is Ledroit's alone. Nice. All of which is a long-winded way of saying REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT VOL.1: RESURRECTION is as crazy as it is entertaining which can only be VERY GOOD!

Ultimately you can tell it's set in Hell because there aren't any - COMICS!!!

“Would You Like A Waffle With Chestnut Butter?” COMICS! Sometimes It's Safer In The Asylum.

Bonjour mesdames et messieurs! Une tasse de thé sans lait, veuillez. Beaucoup merde! Or for those who lack the class I has, and thus do not speak the language of The French: This week John read a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, who is not Jacques Tati but who is French. Luckily someone had the foresight to translate the book into The Beautiful Tongue or else this would have been a bit of a nonstarter.  You know, what with John being an enormous monolingual xenophobe and all.   photo TardiSirB_zpsailbt7vi.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Anyway this…

RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL Adapted by Jacques Tardi Translated by Doug Headline Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette Fantagraphics, $19.99,H/B, B&W (2015)

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RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL is a comics adaptation by Jacques Tardi of the 1972 French crime novel "Ô Dingos! Ô Châteaux!" by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Manchette (1942-1995) himself was a bit of a fan of the, how you say, comics and translated Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN for the French market. I haven’t read the original novel, so how this book works as an adaptation is a question for people who take writing about comics a lot more seriously than I do. As a graphic novel, however, I am able to tell you that RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL works excellently. But then it would, since it’s by Jacques Tardi. Tardi is an acknowledged master of the comics form with his deceptively loose style able to encompass various genres with equal aplomb. Yeah, I know, I know, a French artist and blah, blah, blah, aren’t I just special for reading foreign comics and, well, it’s all starting to feel a bit like homework, right? Relax. All you need to know is that this is a balls to the wall neo-noir chase caper with more violence and surprises than when your family gets drunk at Christmas. Or as Howard Victor Chaykin says on the back cover, “To put it simply, this shit kicks ass.” He may have a mouth like a sailor but the man does know his comics.

 photo TardiOopsB_zpsznmffwaf.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

The premise is simple: Ex-architect Michael Hartog is a philanthropic moneybags whose benevolence is fuelled by guilt over the fact that his current wealth resulted from the tragic deaths of his brother and his wife, and Hartog’s consequent guardianship of their behaviourally troubled son. In line with his charitable tendency to employ the damaged and neglected, Hartog hires a woman, Julie, from an asylum to care for the child, Peter. Swiftly targeted by a  bunch of reprobates led by the ailment plagued assassin, Thompson, the less than stable duo are kidnapped. Basically, like my Dad says, no violent kidnapping plan ever survives first contact with a mentally troubled woman and her emotionally wayward ward. Hijinks découlent.

 photo TardiRocksB_zpsu7rfifmv.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

The cast are all distinctively portrayed by Tardi as individuals, but they all share various levels of facial bloat and sag which lends the art a cartoony amiability which alternately enhances or ameliorates the morally wayward proceedings. (There’s an inadvertent extra level of comical dissonance for British readers as the kid, Peter, with his unruly hair, saucer face and air of detached entitlement resembles a pint-sized version of the malignantly calculating Tory blight, Boris Johnson.)

 photo TardiBorisB_zps3ikz9lcm.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Things get pretty wayward indeed, and as if to prepare the reader RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL opens with the slaying of a pederast which is both matter-of-factly  presented and narrated with an apparently eerie detachment, but one which is undercut by an unsavoury eye for detail. All the narrative text is similarly lean and constantly belies its apparent neutrality via applying its callously clipped tone regardless of the emotional content of the scene. I guess this is carried across from Manchette’s source novel , but the fact it works in English is due to Doug Headline's translation. It’s the kind of writing that looks easy but isn’t, and if it goes awry even a talent like, say, Sean Phillips' wonderfully ruckled shirts won’t stave off ennui for long. The dialogue is similarly unadorned with an absence of the showboating monologue which tarnishes so much crime fiction. Although we never do discover anyone's favourite Alan Ladd movie or which pizza topping they prefer, the funky verve of Tardi's art manages to soften the blow. Sometimes events reach such a hectic pitch that language fails completely and all that’s left is a wildly expressive exclamation, strikingly depicted by Tardi as a kind of wobbly “A”.

 photo TardiOwchB_zpsimgkgev3.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

With its familiar crime premise it would be easy to mistake RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL for yet another hacky trek through Homage Town (twinned with Lazyville). Thankfully it’s nothing of the kind. Not only is the setting (France) a nice change of pace, but it’s surprising how much Tardi gets out of depicting everyday normality. Tardi’s use of pure scribbles to denote reflections, moustaches and shadows is just amazing; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any comic artist achieve so much with so little. The mundane made magical is a neat trick but Tardi goes one better by subtly upping the weirdness quotient as the book progresses. Sometimes it's isolated but repeated imagery,  such as when our vicious Brit repeatedly folds at the waist to emit a viscous sheet of vomit. Or it’s the showpiece set-to in the supermarket which degenerates into absurd violence and potentially deadly slapstick as consumer durables are set aflame by our resourceful Scary Poppins, and then brought into play as weaponry.  While the scene ends in fiery farce, with a scorched reprobate fleeing sans trousers, Tardi (& Manchette) quickly pop their brass knuckles back on and slap the smile off your face with a brutally one sided street slaughter. And even here Tardi manages to somehow soften into something lightly comical the catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of a human head in the blast of a shotgun. This is a book that keeps fiercely lunging into absurdity, but is restrained from topppling over the edge by Tardi's quirky realism.

 photo TardiCarB_zpseceohgr5.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Hollywood will probably adapt RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL with Sandra Bullock (in a late career-rescuing Troubled But Capable Lady role) being pursued by Tom Hanks (in an Against Type Older Male role) and with a CGI child (motion captured by Andy Serkis) but some things are just better on paper. Particularly if that paper has ink slapped on it by the mighty Jacques Tardi. VERY GOOD! 

Apres moi, Les – COMICS!!!

"MY HAND!" COMICS! Sometimes They Go UP! Diddley Om Pom! Sometimes They Go Down!

Oh! Good Day! Here’s a thrilling feature for your perusement and entertattlement right fine and glissome, no mistakers. Hmm. Bit rusty. Pokkita-Pokkita-Pokkita! Rum bugger’s coming at us out of the sun! Don’t worry it’ll all be over by Christmas. Or in three minutes. Depends what we’re talking about, you big dreamweasel, you! C hocks away..!  photo RBLandB_zpsmcrho34b.jpg

The Red Baron by Puerta, Veys & Bence

Anyway, this... THE RED BARON 1. The Machine Gunners' Ball Art by Carlos Puerta Written by Pierre Veys Coloured by Carlos Puerta Translated by Mark Bence Cinebook, 6.99(UK)/11.95(US) (2014) Originally published as Baron Rouge – Le Bal De Mitrailleuses, Zephyr Editions (2012)

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This, the first of a series of three slim graphic novels, is about The Red Baron. Yes, like in Peanuts, but this is the real one not a dog on a kennel indulging in violent fantasies. The Red Baron was the name given to a real-life WW1 German ace (christened Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen; phew!) because he flew a big red plane and was a sort-of-kinda-Baron (Wikipedia tells me “Baron” here is really a slightly fudged translation of “Feiherr” which has stuck, despite the more accurate German names for him being "The Red Battle Flyer" or "The Red Fighter Pilot", because the German language hadn’t quite picked up on the 20th Century revelation that tedious precision is the death of sexy brevity.) Despite being a stranger to the concept of camouflage von Richtofen racked up 80 confirmed kills in a variety of planes, not all of which were his famous triplane or as red as a hooker’s lippy. He was also an interesting occurrence of the cult of celebrity when that kind of thing was a rarity rather than the norm. His fame even transcended battle lines and his (propagandistically ghost polished) autobiography (Der rote Kampfflieger (1917)) was a big success even in England, where most of the men he killed were born. Von Richtofen himself disowned the book shortly before dying under circumstances which people with time on their hands still argue about to this day.

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The Red Baron by Puerta, Veys & Bence

All that's not just by way of impressing on you how good I am at looking stuff up, but also to briefly hint at the fact that the guy was pretty interesting and his life provides multiple opportunities for fictional representation. Unfortunately Puerta and Veys seem to have picked a singularly dull, and for this reader, unrewarding approach. The first 8 pages are promising as a dogfight unfolds as the Baron (for brevity) muses on war. There's a quick juxtaposition of nature vs man-made predation, some successfully cinematically staged aerial shenanigans, and at the last a wrong footing of expectations as the Baron declares war is pretty tip-top, thanks. “War is a fabulous thing”, he thinks and I think that's interesting; that we might be going to interesting places. Someone who likes what he does might be enlightening. A nice little counterweight to Kubert & Kanigher's Enemy Ace who, also based on the Baron, represented the man of war who was born to it but regretted his birthright bitterly. Rather than a man trapped by war, why not a man freed by war; that's interesting. But it turns out it isn't. Apparently that would just be a psychopath, not in the medical sense but in the pulp nonsense sense; the James Patterson sense. Dismayingly soon the Baron is revealed via flashbacks to have voices in his head which allow him to predict his enemies movements, and he relaxes of an evening by smashing people's heads in with his walking stick like Edward Hyde in full flight. It's around this point I start to suspect that historical veracity might not be of paramount importance to the authors.

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The Red Baron by Puerta, Veys & Bence

Which is odd because it's clearly at the forefront of Carlos Puerta's thoughts. Now, as irritating as I may find the usage of photos in lieu of actual drawing I can usually concede some point in favour of their use. Here that point is that through this visual remix, this arftificial collation of actual moments of recorded history, Puerta does deliver a striking visual approximation of the time and place. Obviously that time has gone but, also obviously, so has that place, There’s no little value in faithfully depicting a time when Europe looked like a the picture on an organic bread wrapper, what with its mills, stone bridges and horses and carts. No one can deny, not even a churl such as I, that Puerta goes all in on trying to convincingly conjure up a phantom land long churned under by two world wars. and firmly replaced by urban sprawl, McDonalds, hypermarkets and arguable planning decisions. He does a good job too, despite photo sourcing always seeming stiff to me; the hand of the artist clear in every considered combination of elements. He does a good job but he doesn't do a great job, because his admirable visual resurrection of Europe has people in it and people are the bane of photo referencing. The first time we meet the Baron he removes his headgear to reveal the face of Christian Bale, while in the school flashbacks he wears the face of Jude Law. This is confusing as people tend to keep the same face throughout their life, rather than change them like haircuts. To be fair the the Baron appears as Jude Law in scenes where he is unutterably smug, so at least Puerta's choices are spot on. Not to sound too misanthropic but Puerta's world would be great if it wasn't for the people in it.

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The Red Baron by Puerta, Veys & Bence

It's a decent comic but I didn't like it. While Puerta strains for historical accuracy Veys undoes him by being vague on dates and places, and the stink of anti-semitism (which was everywhere) is notable by its absence. To his credit, however, the clear class divisions are well presented with the Baron drawing short of kicking the bullies' ringleader apart because he's of a higher social caste, and the apparent impunity with which the Baron sprays the cobbles of Berlin with paupers' brains rings true. But if it's supposed to be a psychological portrait of a sky borne serial killer it falls fall short of being anything but comic booky. At one point the Baron even declares “I know which moves they'll make the minute their moronic brains dream up the idea.” which is far too close to Midnighter for comfort. And since his fantastic brain is so predictive it is bizarre indeed that he hurts his hand by sticking it in a propellor (even more bizarre is that this sequence is presented with redundant repetition in a style more 1970s Roy Thomas than anything else(!)). In this strange age where loyalty comes with a card I was hoping to find something (anything) in here about how the whole honour, loyalty, duty schtick drove these long gone people to throw themselves into Hell. I left the book no wiser on that score, but it was pretty enough so, OKAY!

Okay, that's a start but now I need to catch up on some - COMICS!!!

"...Until You Flood Me In A Milky Way of Pleasure!" Comics! Sometimes I Spend The Weekend At Bernet’s!

And then I talk about some European comics illustrated by Jordi Bernet and the room gets blue quite quick. It’s not an appealing prospect I know so: Contains traces of adult subjects. NSFW. Danger, Will Robinson! DANGER! For the sake of The Children, turn back NOW! Photobucket

(This being The Internet I’m sure this will work out just great but just in case: I believe you’ll be able to visit me on Wednesdays but they will frisk you and no physical contact will be allowed. I may also be sedated but don’t worry it’ll be for my own good. Bring cigarettes.)

BERNET Edited by Manuel Auad Introduction by Will Eisner Foreword by Joe Kubert Art by Jordi Bernet Words by various European writers (Auad Publishing, 2003, $24.95, B/W)


This handsome book is like one of those dinners where everyone dresses in tux’n’tails and one by one steps up to the podium to talk about how swell the guy at the front table is. Over here that usually happens when someone's dead but Europe values its artists so this was published while Jordi Bernet was still alive. Which he still is unless I missed something.  These celebratory text pieces punctuate the visually splendid stories, sketches, spot illos., advertisements and book covers reproduced here in a valiant attempt to suggest the massive talent whose name is on the front.

Now, I know as much about Spanish comics as they do about me but on this evidence they are very varied. The full stories reprinted here cover cowboys, war, crime, sword & sorcery fantasy, smutty gag strips, sci-fi and each of these has either a horrific or comical aspect which points to a healthy disrespect for conventions. There’s one page here with Batman on and that’s from the U.S. BATMAN:BLACK&WHITE series (words: Howard Victor Chaykin). just in case a super-hero fan wandered in by mistake and was looking for something familiar to cling on to. Truly, all comers are catered for here. If you're looking for an "in" on the whole Bernet thing this book is the best place to start and if you just like great comic art you should be halfway to your LCS already.


That’s Jordi Bernet up there. Isn't he just the cutest little rascal! That picture is taken from the brief bio of The Bernet at the front of the book. After some facts it pretty much settles into a list of what comics he's drawn because apparently sitting in a chair drawing isn't really the stuff of high adventure. It still manages to be revealing about the great man despite this. As we can see Jordi Bernet grew up when people dressed their kids like it was Awesome Time all of the time. Or at least kids dressed more like grown-ups than grown ups do today. (Ha! You hated that!) When Jordi Bernet was 15 his father, one Jorge Bernet  a successful newspaper cartoonist, died and the the bereaved child took over the strip in order to support his family. This tells us three things; unlike me at 15 Jordi Bernet had better things to do than stick pictures of Sybil Danning inside his underpants with nature’s solvent, child labour laws in Spain were quite lax and Jordi Bernet certainly had the motivation and talent to become great. Just how great he became is the whole point of this book as is some idea of how long it took him to become so. Turns out it didn't take him long at all. There’s work here from 1966 which is good and then he just gets better and better. Once he reaches a certain point (tough to pinpoint but I'll say the late '70s?) though the improvements take longer and are harder to see because by that point he is Bernet and improving on perfection is tougher work than achieving it.


Bernet is great and I think I can demonstrate that best by talking about hair. Obviously. Now, hair in most comics is just stuff on somebody's head. Sometimes it's black, sometimes it's not. On the whole about as much attention is paid to hair as there is hair on my bonce (not a lot). When you notice how Bernet draws hair you notice how little care most artists take. I love the way Bernet draws hair. Bernet understands that there are different kinds of hair. There isn’t just Woman hair (long) and Man hair (short). Hair has different textures and qualities depending on the head upon which it resides. If you use products on it hair appears different again. Sometimes Bernet will give his women’s hair a great bold holding line with just the tiniest touch of detailing meant to represent it being blow-dried and lacquered.You don't see that attention to detail a lot.


When people sweat their hair gets spiky and sticks up and out, when people are active their hair is active too, and, yes, less so if it is lacquered and blow-dried. There is a picture in the book (p.16) of Bernet, Frank Robbins and Bertha Robbins on a beach which might as well be captioned “When Comb-overs Were King!” Bernet knows that it's important to capture what is important about life if you are going to try and represent it on the page. Hair is important and Bernet is good at the hair but he’s good at everything else. Bernet’s drapery, lighting and staging are all fantastic, informed by his decades of experience. He might be able to just toss that stuff off now but as I’m sure someone more intelligent commented about someone else; that particular picture didn't take him 5 minutes to draw it took him decades plus the five minutes. (N.B. If someone knows the quote, who it's from and who it's about let me know and I'll edit it in so it looks like I actually worked on this thing properly) Bernet’s great. Don't get me started on his dry brushing.

Bernet’s realism is concrete enough to apprehend the realistic qualities of the worlds he builds but also elastic enough to accommodate cartoony exaggeration without undermining the ever important verisimilitude. But Bernet never gets bogged down in detail. He manages to solve the problem of continuity which (generalisation) plagues European artists. This is a different continuity problem to the one which plagues American genre comics. It isn't the one about how every time I see Luke Cage the seedy vision of him having bum fun with Jessica Jones rears up like a terrible recovered memory. No, the European continuity problem involves the continuity from panel to panel. Bernet gives just enough detail to convince but not so much detail that the eye stops and derails the viewing momentum. But then again Bernet’s learned from the best, which of course means he learned from Alex Toth amongst others. Bernet’s kineticism, inventive staging and just damn good storytelling are very reminiscent of Toth. There’s a TORPEDO sequence atop a half constructed building ("I Spit On Your Cards" ,p.83-92) and a whole story involving a plane ("Number One Joe", p.150-154) which are so Toth-heavy the influence is undeniable. It’s still just an influence though, strong as it is, Bernet’s no copyist; he takes the influence and makes it work with his own talent to produce better work. No, calm down, I'm not saying he's better than Toth I'm saying he's better than he would otherwise be for having studied Toth.


Bernet probably had to go out of his way to study American artists like Toth but he certainly never had to go out of his way to study America. Because America is everywhere. Being Spanish and thus lacking a common language Bernet’s impressions of America naturally resort to the primarily visual. And of course his visuals of America are those America provides in the form of its entertainments. Bernet’s America-set work gives you back a reflection of the reflection of America. He sells you back your (you Americans that is) own dream and improves it while he’s at it. Western, crime, sci-fi are all here, all of them set in America, which is The Dream America all we non-Americans mistake for the reality. Well they’re set in America unless there are different parts of Spain that look like America at various points in history. I don’t know I've never been.


So good, so fine are Bernet’s individual panels that he can produce work for advertising and book covers that look exactly like panels pulled from a narrative and they still work as individual illustrations. Bernet is able to pick the precise frozen moment in time to capture all the information required of a scene. In a comic narrative that’s skillful enough but to pick the exact moment when Jim Thompson’s Savage Night turns into a book that is going to eternally squat in the dark corners of your mind without actually giving anything away is either genius or chance at work. I'll give you some help; it isn't chance where Bernet's concerned.


Ah, Europe with your sex and your violence, your sexy violence and your violent sex. Now it’s probably in all our interests if I ignore these aspects, yes, that would certainly be healthy but why deny myself the delightful opportunity to be labelled a misogynist or have someone wish that I die in a fire. Ah, Internet. Oh, Europe. Ah. Oh. Ah. Oh. Ohohoh. Ah. O. ! So violence first. Everyone loves violence in their entertainment but not everyone loves violent violence. On these Euro-pages, violence happens a lot just as in American genre comics but although sometimes it’s no less stylized it is less fetishised. Violence in American genre comics is pretty much just presented as action.


Which makes sense as they started out as children’s entertainments and, despite what insecure adults who spend their lives writing about people in pajamas hitting each other (for reasons!) would wish you to think, this largely remains the case. Over in Europe, however they appear to have been producing comics material aimed at a wide range of ages since, well, since they started. As a result in European comics, certainly these European comics at least, violence remains fanged and retains its tang. Unlike most American genre comics which are content to provide nothing more challenging than a gummy nip. Which may be why American genre comics are more comfortable with representations of violence than of sex.


And, yes, there is some sexy stuff in this book. Again, like the violence, it’s a very European sexiness. Looking at the sexy stuff, mostly pin-ups and sketches but some of the stories have “mature” encounters also, here I think it’s presented honestly and openly. There’s just a real pleasure in the human form being communicated by Bernet’s lines on paper and that’s a nice thing I think. I believe there’s a very real difference between a drawing which says, isn’t that nice? and when it is saying hurr, hurr, boobz! One is healthy and one is just bloody tiresome. Bernet’s gaze come across as lusty rather than leering. Sometimes everyone’s two favourite subjects collide and result in a subject very few people enjoy; sexual violence. But don't worry because there is male on male sexual violence as well as the usual sort so at least they don't play favourites over in that there Europe. Sex and violence, they seem to nonchalantly inform you, are just parts of life’s sick pageant; so it’s all grist for the mill. I don't think European comics' attitudes to these areas is condoning or endorsing anything horrible. At worst it may just be reflecting aspects of our lives we might want to examine. You don't usually solve a problem by ignoring it after all.

That's all in the general though. Here's some specific Bernet books containing either sex, violence or sexy violence:

THE BEST OF JORDI BERNET'S CLARA Drawn by Jordi Bernet , written by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Maicas (Big Wow Art and Auad Publishing, 2006, $24.95)


This is a lovely volume that contains a selection of strips from the long running (1992 -?) strip Clara de Noche. These are three-pagers that explore the lighter side of working in the sex industry as we follow the impossibly attractive Clara on her day to day business and learn to laugh with people selling their bodies like bags of crisps. It's is cheeky fun presented in a looser cartoony style; it’s very Sergio Aragones so it’s no surprise he’s a fan. Even though there are plenty of panels of people at it at no point does it ever look anything less than cute or at least amusing. There’s a sense of humour about the whole sex thing; a vigorous acceptance of the ridiculousness of the whole business. The fact that Clara has a kid might seem to be a tonal mis-step but at least it indicates an attempt to deal with sex-workers on human terms rather than as robotic orgasm dispensers. Okay, the actual jokes aren't that hot but, y’know, senses of humour are very different from person to person never mind between countries. Mostly it's humour about what utter tools men are. Which is fair enough.


According to the informative text in the book some people got offended by the kid, but they were probably just upset that they'd have to consider a streetwalker as a mother too, possibly even as a human being, and that might ruin their jollies next time they visited one. I don't know.  I don’t think the actual contents would upset anyone unless they were actually gynophobic or just really poor company to be in generally. Clara’s pretty healthy, I think. Sure, she looks like a straight male fantasy made, er, ink but she does have a personality and a range of emotions far beyond the blow up dolls of North American genre fiction’s female characters. Underneath the unspectacular humour there’s some good character work but I think the best joke is that an unsuspecting reader might be crouched over it enjoying themselves only to have their quiet moment of self satisfaction derailed by a sad eyed kid bemoaning the fact his mother is a prostitute. Clara is titillating stuff with more sensitivity and empathy than you'd expect from the premise. It's a tricky one to pull of but they've got Bernet and Bernet? Bernet makes it look easy.


CHICA Vol.1 and 2. Drawn by Jordi Bernet, written by Carlos Trillo (Eurotica, $10.95 ea)


Chica on the other hand is quite clearly a spank mag so to expect it to be anything else would be foolish but, astonishingly, it turns out sometimes fools win because Chica is also an exciting period piece adventure strip. It starts out circa 1929 and proceeds to graphically display the misadventures of our lusty lady with the lust for life whose lust perpetually saves her life. The actual adventure story is pretty engaging and, excuse me while I put on my tall buckled hat, the bits where people start sticking bits of themselves into each other just irritated me by interrupting the narrative. But, as I say this material is for those who enjoy feeling their pants move around like a small warm animal is slowly coming awake in them as they read. Actually that’s being coy, this is definitely for those who prefer to combine friction with fiction. It’s also quite straight stuff there’s plenty of ladies who like ladies because straight men like ladies who like ladies (but really like men) and not a lot of men who like men and when there are this is usually used for comic effect; because straight men also like men liking men dressed as ladies but only if it is a mistake. There’s no poo or wee involved and it’s clearly just nonsense designed to get a reaction; the reaction porn requires you to have. Yes, that one. So I didn't have a problem with it, really. It’s porn so that’s what it does. It’s nice that it bothers to do something else as well.Bernet doesn't slack a jot, this is as good as his (excellent) work on Torpedo. It's just that amongst all the fantastically accomplished and immersive art there's a lot of genitals and people making monkey noises. I'd attempt to convince you it's worth reading just for the art but it'd sound like I'm the kind of guy who buys Razzle for the articles.


Now, whether it is crude, exploitative, misogynistic or sleazy that’s purely due to the response of the reader. The response of the reader is neither right nor wrong but it is purely the response of that individual reader. The stuff you’re responding to is just the facts, Ma’am. Or, just the f*cks, ma’am, anyway. And the fact is that some stuff is just sexy and how you react to that is on your head. Or in your head. In the case of this stuff you need to be prepared to be responsible for your own reactions. Porn is a problematic thing and this is porn so don’t bother with it if you’re going to have problems with it. Otherwise have at it, but remember; when there’s just dust coming out it’s probably time to stop. I’m a professional so don’t try this at home unless you want to end up with stacks of soggy paper in your wet right hand (Ding! Ding! WhooOOOOooo!). That’s right, I’m a professional idiot. I've heard shame is a natural part of porn but there’s nothing shameful about Bernet’s work here and the only real shame is that the fact it is porn will prevent people from appreciating his usual technical excellence, period detail and smooth storytelling. And dry brushing.


So, there's some comics adorned by Jordi Bernet's art. I wouldn't have read them had they not been but after reading them I think the least I can say is that it’s to the benefit of the entire comics medium and its audience that Jordi Bernet has graced comics with his majestic talents. Talents which are on display in each of these volumes, talents large enough to encompass a wide range of genres and styles and large enough again to meet each of these challenges and both defy and exceed expectations. Judging by the stuff on these pages Jordi Bernet isn't really a comic book artist he’s an Artist. His presence in comics elevates the entire medium and as such he, his work and all these book are EXCELLENT! Yes, even the ones with tits and dicks in.

Have a good weekend everyone and remember to read some COMICS!

(Christ, that took some doing. I might have next week off.)

"Okay, Let's Go." Comics! Sometimes They Contain Cowboys!

I hear tell there's no call for Western comics no more. I reckon folks don't know diddly squat. One's I read made me more than partial to 'em. Photobucket

Hunker down a spell why doncha and hear me jaw about a couple of Western comics. WESTERN By Grzegorz Rosiński (a) and Jean Van Hamme (w) Cinebook, 2011, $15.95/£7.99

In the year 1868 Ambrosius Van Deer’s reunion with his long lost nephew goes badly wrong. Blood is spilled, secrets are revealed and Destiny sets a course for tragedy that will be years in the shaping.


WESTERN is a tale of love, revenge, identity and destiny that spans the period of 1868-1922 over its 64 pages of densely packed story. It is the product of the w/a team behind the Belgian comic series THORGAL which is a series I have not read but is apparently one of the most popular French language comics there is. Look, I can’t read everything and since I am mono-lingual (if that) I’ll just have to take Wikipedia’s word. Also, if WESTERN is any indication then the popularity of THORGAL is understandable; for this is a very good comic indeed.


To my uneducated eyes European comics seem primarily artist driven (Rosinski is credited first on the book cover) as opposed to the current state of American affairs where the writer is king (or if not king then architect). Certainly this book is noteworthy primarily for the art. As is no doubt obvious this book is my first exposure to Rosinski’s work but I have to say that Rosinski work is pretty stellar. Characters are easily identifiable, settings are convincing, staging is clear, actions are active and all these things are to be applauded rather than taken for granted. Rosinski knows what he is doing and he does it very well indeed. Over the top of all this understated excellence Rosinski applies a lovely faded wash of colour, sometimes even dropping lines out entirely leaving only the soft hues to carry the image. Rosinski is obviously talented with colour and that’s most in evidence in the full-colour paintings that punctuate the episodic narrative. These are things of greatness. If I could scan one in I would but I can’t so take my word if you do pick the book up it’s worth the cover price for these evocative and enduring images alone.


Of course if you do buy it you’ll probably read it so it’s fortunate that Van Hamme doesn't let the side down on writing duties. Given the chronological scope, episodic nature and the limited page count Van Hamme has it all on to keep his narrative successful. Wisely Van Hamme maximises the information provided to the reader by tripling up on the dialogue (effective but blunt as is common with translations) and visual information (gorgeous and invaluable) with the third device of narration. Clearly at home with words beyond dialogue (it’s called writing) Van Hamme doesn't use his narrative voice to merely utilitarian ends. In fact Van Hamme bookends the tale with two nice pieces of misdirection. The first is clever but the second and final occasion is cleverer as it defies expectations in a way which is truly surprising and emotionally affecting. That’s real writing and, yes, it is hard. The actual story doesn't lack for incident, excitement or drama provided you can stand a healthy dose of coincidence and the accept the fact that a one-armed man can be such a crack shot. But coincidence is ever melodrama’s companion and a Western without a crack-shot protagonist would be a very short comic indeed. The melodramatic momentum together with the eventful occurrences keep the thing moving towards its fateful end quite smoothly and the artful efficiency of the storytelling combined with the sepia washed beauty of the art results in WESTERN being VERY GOOD!


TEX: The Lonesome Rider By Joe Kubert (a) and Claudio Nizzi (w) SAF Comics, 2005, $15.95/£9.50

Tex visits some old friends only to find them slaughtered by a gang of “rascals”. Saddling up and heading out Tex vows to bring them to justice Texas Marshal style!

 TEX: The Lonesome Rider is an attempt to introduce the long running (since 1948!) Italian comics series to the nation in which it is set; that’s you, America. To do so they chose the immaculate Joe Kubert to do the art chores. This process together with the history of Tex is detailed in introductory front matter in the volume. The best part of this is an interview with Joe Kubert in which he gives new dimensions to the word “concise”. A man of few words our Joe Kubert is, prefers to speak with his brush, I guess. A bit like old timey cowboy heroes who were tight lipped and let action speak louder than words. (Yes, my segues do require more work, thanks for noticing). And TEX is certainly nothing if not old-timey.


While WESTERN is clearly, and convincingly, set in a realistic approximation of the Old West the action in TEX is set in a kind of shared popular memory of the West. It’s a world of white hats and black hats (literally), bad men, good men and weak men that find the strength to be good, the hidden nobility of the savage, saloon brawls and stage coach hijacks. Rather than some clever post modern device I’d imagine this is merely the result of basing a series on popular culture and the changeover from Tex’s “papa” Giovanni Luigi Bonelli to other hands. It’s probable that since TEX worked there seemed little reason to change it so the revisionism of the Western since The Searchers (maybe? The Wild Bunch? you choose.) has had little impact on this book. Which isn't to say it is bad but is to warn you that it is all quite familiar and not terribly concerned with realism. It’s a yarn really and it does what yarns are supposed to do; it entertains. Actually it does more than entertain it delights but it only delights because of the presence of Joe Kubert.


Joe Kubert. There’s a name to conjure with and with TEX that name conjures up 240 pages of Black & White magic. Seriously, 240 B&W pages of Joe Kubert art and you aren't already haranguing your LCS to get you a copy? I have to say more? Okay then. Joe Kubert’s work on these pages elevates the whole thing not just one level, but maybe two or three. Which is fortunate as the dialogue is bland (it’s translated) and the plot is solid but perfunctory. There are just so many Joe Kubert joys on these pages it’s almost indecent.


The big thing about Joe Kubert is he’s a pen and ink prestidigitator par excellence. He fools your eye into thinking you are witnessing perfection; into thinking that line is in the only place it could be. Whereas a Toth would fuss and worry over actually finding the right line Joe Kubert can approximate that line with such confidence that he doesn't have to actually find that line. That’s not a back handed compliment there’s more art and skill in such suggestion than I can verbalise. He does practically nothing with the landscapes in this book but he does everything needed to make them practically a character unto themselves. The best panels in this book are the panels where Joe Kubert’s art is free of words and there are many such panels in this book.  Comics may be a marriage of words and images but the greatest artists can make those images speak with words finer than the finest writer. Joe Kubert is one such artist and his presence makes TEX VERY GOOD!

Both these books are worth your eye-time, both these books are Westerns I’d suggest you don’t let the latter blind you to the former. But that’s just me. And me? I’m gone like the American West.