“Even BABIES Got Scars.” COMICS! Sometimes I Recall My Mother Saying That Resorting to Profanity Indicated a Failure of Imagination Rather Than Being a Reliable Indicator of Toughness. Then She Bopped Me One in the Eye To Drive Her Point Home. One Tough Broad.

There was a sale on Image Comics on The Comixiology to celebrate comics creators saying awful things at some convention or other. Me, I hate Rosicrucians because someone once told someone who told me that they make their kids pee standing on their hands so it goes in their mouths. I could be wrong, but why check? Oh, also I bought some stuff. For starters I got four issues of THE GODDAMNED for £0.69 each. Then I wrote this. True story, bro. “In the beginning was The Word. And The Word was poo-poo-botty-stinker.” The Book of Aaron Ch1, v.1

 photo Gdamn01B_zpsfxd2pruo.jpg THE GODDAMNED by Guera, Aaron, Brusco & Fletcher

Anyway, this…

THE GODDAMNED #1-4 Art by R.M. Guera Written by Jason Aaron Coloured by Giulia Brusco Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher Image Comics, Inc, £0.69 on sale (2015-2016) THE GODDAMNED created by Guera & Aaron Based characters from The Bible by God (via 40 or so human vessels for His Word).

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Man-mountain (not man-mounting, cheeky!) Jason Aaron’s new cock-flicking comic is a fiercely oh-so-adult exercise in shit-fingered maturity. Swears adorn each funky page as flies bejewel turds, if you can’t take the swears get in the kitchen, weak-o! Rattle those pots and pans! Aaron’s jizz-caked high-concept is to set THE GODDAMNED after the bastard-felching Fall but before The donkey-fellating Flood. You know, as in The bum-truffling Bible. Because that’s mother-scatting Edgy, I guess. Some library haunting self-abusers might be disappointed to learn that this Bible stuff is just a swerve, a crotchless pair of sophisticated knickers, a sop for the four-eyes out there, but proper swinging dicks will delight in the fact that THE GODDAMNED, lacy Biblical guff aside, basically resembles a booger-snuggling Heavy Metal story; from back when The Metal had robot tits on the cover, you know, not now they have a materialist magician at the helm (“Hocus Pocus! Self-Promotion!”) Make no dog-fondling mistake THE GODDAMNED is all boob-kneadingly grim stuff, with sweaty men wielding axes made of babies’ femurs and folk calling God a cunt. Golly! Ear muffs, kids!

 photo Gdamn04B_zpsfxkotnqy.jpg THE GODDAMNED by Guera, Aaron, Brusco & Fletcher

Our protagonist aside (it’s Cain. Different spelling, no relation. Or is he? Eh?), everyone, even the ladies, even the kids, are all scarred and hairy. Not unlike my savaged groin after that orchiopexy. Yeah, I know it’s primarily a kid’s procedure, but my balls were so large and laden with swimming future Winners, they had to wait until I was manly enough to take the pain of the surgically assisted descent. And, yeah, it hurt because anaesthetic is for girlymen Liberals and pussyboy intellectuals, both of which can smoke my fat porker. But not in a gay way. In a manly way. Yeah, THE GODDAMNED is a comic for all us big balled fellas who sweat when we shit; who almost pass out when we pass stool, straining faces as swollen and empurpled as our members on the vinegar stroke because our diet, see, contains only red meat. Meat we have killed our bare hands, skinned with our filed down teeth, and smoked over a fire of burning titmags. THE GODDAMNED is studly stuff, engorged with hard won beefy truths about how a man can find the drive to live within a sad child’s eyes or a woman’s shrill neediness. It’s only slightly marred by the fact that having a protagonist who can’t be killed detracts from the suspense a bit, every fight thus becomes as one-sided as an arm-wrestling contest between a long-haul trucker and a Sociology major. Imagine The Outlaw Josey Wales set on John Norman’s Gor and written by someone overcompensating for the fact that his churchy family think writing is for the ladies. “With John Vernon as Noah”. Grrr! Woof! SAY MY NAME! SAY IT!

I photo Gdamn03B_zpsybrhau2d.jpg THE GODDAMNED by Guera, Aaron, Brusco & Fletcher

Damn, this comic is so butch it’ll whip you with its dick ‘til you start to like it. Pushing past the childish desire to outrage, as through the foresty pubes of a ‘70s pornstar, it is possible to see some cute pacing, decent characterisation and robust structural integrity in the writing. But it’s hard to give credit when the whole thing consistently mistakes infantile for audacious. Luckily for the soft sods out there, like moi,  who can’t take Jason Aaron’s burnt bacon brilliance, R. M. Guera draws the hot balls off everything in such a way as to actually make the ridiculous thing seem worth reading. Reading is for mulch-cuddling professors though, so make that “worth looking at”. R.M. Guera is just a goddamn (heh) joy to watch. Even when folk are face down in pools of shit, or guts are unspooling in red splashes from twisted and gnarled bodies, there’s a vein of feral splendour running through everything. Guera’s briefly glimpsed Eden is as pure and cold and distant as perfection itself, but his broken sin-stained earth is filled with vitality and a shockingly brutal beauty. Aided only by Brusco's apocalyptically lush colours Guera’s art is eloquent enough to make an unflinching and convincing case for humanity, flaws and downright shitty behaviour and all, while the script blithely rebels uselessly, stridently and foolishly against an empty sky. Because of R.M. Guera THE GODDAMNED is VERY GOOD! But only because of R.M. Guera. Otherwise it’s EH! (N.B. I didn’t really have a late life orchiopexy. So don’t send cards. Save the money and buy yourself something nice.)

 photo Gdamn02B_zpsbrl6yqds.jpg THE GODDAMNED by Guera, Aaron, Brusco & Fletcher

NEXT TIME: Hungry Like The…COMICS!!!

“...There Will Never Be a TRIumphteenth Time.” COMICS! Sometimes Comics Might Not Be For Kids Anymore But The People Who Make ‘Em Could Sure Do With Acting A Bit More Like Adults, Maybe?.

I sure hope everyone loves my unwieldy and turgid exercises in overkill, because here’s another one coming up right about now. But, hey, Batman’s in it. I know I said comics (plural) last time but this got out of hand so I’ve split the other bit for later, plus I couldn’t quite get that part to work. It’ll turn up though; nothing gets wasted. And now it’s over to…Batman!  photo TopB_zps8cwgl7oa.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins Anyway, this…

DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE Art by John Romita Jnr & Peter Steigerwald Written by Brian Azzarello & (yeah, right, whatever; if you say so:) Frank Miller Lettered by Clem Robins Coloured by Peter Steigerwald Cover by John Romita Jnr., Danny Miki & Dean White Variant covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee & Alex Sinclair, Lee Bermejo and Bill Sienkiewicz with John Vernon as "The Mayor" Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller - WITH KLAUS JANSON AND LYNN VARLEY (See, it's not that difficult is it DC? “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley”, that's all it takes. Try and put “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley” in the credits for The Dark Knight Returns before this slipshod cashgrab ends, ey? There's a good multinational corporation. Cheers, from your big pal, John.) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane The Joker created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Robin created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Jason Todd Robin created by Don Newton & Gerry Conway Killer Croc created by Don Newton, Gene “The Dean” Colan & Gerry Conway Poison Ivy created by Sheldon Moldoff & Robert “Bob” Kanigher DC Comics, $6.99/£4.99 (2016)

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We all know what happened to Jason Todd in The Dark Knight Returns timeline; we’ve known since 1986. Not precisely mayhap, but enough. So a comic in 2016 about what happened to Jason Todd in the Dark Knight Returns timeline seems about as necessary as a loblolly boy. Ah, but, luckily Brian Azzarello is on the case with his very special reverse Rumpelstiltskin (Nikstlitslepmur?) gold-into-straw magic. What he plumps for is to fill in some of the pre-history for The Batman and The Robin. Turns out that in this timeline Jason Todd is Commissioner Gordon’s nephew, and inspired by The Batman’s example the plucky young fellow takes to the roofs, vigilante style. One night the dynamic duo’s paths cross, and, senses heightened and inhibitions shattered by the visceral thrill of night time crime fighting, they fall upon one another in a throbbing heap of sweat, muscle and appetite. Alas, Batman gets post-coital regrets and blanks The Robin, who cries and is sad. Then the Joker jumps out and smashes his head in like an egg filled with mince and jam. Ha ha ha ha! Only joking. That would be stupid!  Not to mention monumentally crass. What kind of a dunderheaded poltroon would write something like that? Ha ha ha ha!  Might work with a chick though, huh, guys? Yeah, a chick would fit. Chicks are all emotional and needy, yeah? Chicks, huh, go figure. Okay, yeah, that doesn’t happen here but there’s enough dodgy stuff on show to suggest someone’s a bit confused about this whole sexuality lark; little things like men frequently being taken roughly from behind and the main female character manipulating men into giving her stuff without giving up her, uh, stuff, her, er, you know, her, uh uh uh, sexy nectar. Now I wouldn’t want to read too much into all that, Heaven forfend, but some people might imagine such a toxic combo of hostility towards the opposite sex and tortured self-loathing could, if unaddressed, manifest in later life. For example, in the tawdry sight of a grown man insulting someone much younger who has paid money to be in the same room, and has simply asked a question about the tired rehash of a better writer’s work our (hypothetical and wholly imaginary) adult individual is shilling; most likely by calling the innocent questioner a rude name, quite possibly a derogatory term for female genitalia more suited to the playground. In his 1953 paper “Repression and its Expression: Pundits and Pussies.”, the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner dubbed such conduct “classy”.

 photo frankB_zps4avqb0oe.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE alternate cover by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair (Sweet, huh?)

So that’s what Brian “Maturity” Azzarello doesn’t do, but what does he do? Stuck with pages to fill Azzarello does a nifty swerve around expectations, dodges the whole Joker business for the most part, and instead writes a fairly mediocre Batman comic primarily concerned with demonstrating Batman’s feet of clay. If anything Azzarello’s a bit too good at the feet of clay business, because throughout the comic Batman seems to be in the wrong job. Because throughout the comic Batman is basically a bit shit. Sure, he does his bit of detecting, but otherwise he should be renamed Bit Shit Man. I get that this is Batman losing a step just before he hangs his trunks up, but there’s losing a step and staggering about like a drunk who has just hopped off a roundabout going at full tilt. When he’s not being surprised from behind by big men in small rooms, Batman’s being pounded to paste and spectacularly failing as a mentor. There’s something wrong with Robin, see, but Batman just can’t quite put his (Bill) finger on it. Just little things, like literally disarming a man, or standing on a thug so that his face bubbles like cheese on the griddle of a burning car roof. Tiny cracks, hairline fractures, I trust you’ll agree. I’m a ridiculously liberal (i.e. lazy) parent (so I’ll be regretting that in a few years no doubt, officer) but even I might take Jason Todd aside for a talk after he’s just bataranged a guy’s arm off. Seriously, it comes right off in a whoosh, a gush, a sploosh even, of blood. I mean, the whole thing of what exactly a batarang is made of so that it can sever an arm aside, Batman just wrinkling his nose and basically going, “Bit much, old chum, don’t you think?”, seems a bit light on the old response stakes. Dude’s arm just comes off. SPLASH! Seriously. Best case scenario: that guy’s crippled for life, worst case: he just bled out all over his traumatised for life wife. Sweet crime fighting skillz, guys. The streets feel safer already. This, of course, is the kind of stupid horseshit you get when someone wants to be all realismy with something as unrealistic as Batman, and hasn’t got the skill to pull it off. Frank The Tank could pull it off, and that’s part of his genius. But this…Jesus. It’s all over the place, like vomit after a teenage party. Yeah, like a lot of modern North American genre comics THE LAST CRUSADE is sophistimacated stuff.

 photo actionB_zpspdd80pwa.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Because I made it up I should probably define that scholarly term a bit. Sophistimacated is when comics want to be sophisticated, but can’t be arsed to do the hard graft that sophisticated involves. There’s a lot of sophistimication about in comics these days, and Brian Azzarello is a dab hand at it here. In a deluded attempt to seem to be Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (Bop bop soo-be-do-wa!) there’s some silly business about whether or not Batman is guilty of child endangerment. Smack Frank The Tank up all you like, but the satire in THE DARK KNIGHT was genuinely funny and had a point. (Whoa, I didn’t say it was subtle. C’mon, It’s The Tank.) Azzarello tries his hammy hand at a similar thing but…Glycon preserve us! There’s a surfeit of stupid hooey running through the comic which I think is supposed to be satirical, but it isn’t. Satire doesn’t need to be funny, but it does need to have a point. This comic has no point to make about anything. It is squarely set in the la-la land of comics. It has no relevance whatsoever to anything in the real world. Look: A grown man dressed as a bat aided by a teenage acrobat dressed like he’s colour blind. Is it child endangerment? Golly, I better book a day off work just to mull that one over. Deep stuff, huh? No. Why are you even wasting my time with this shit? Is it child endangerment? Yes, yes it is. But it’s a comic; so it doesn’t matter. It not being real and all, you dig? In the real world disturbed American millionaires don’t fight crime dressed as nocturnal mammals, they run for the presidency and insult Mexicans. Ho ho ho! Topical me! Now, I don’t know about you, but I think one of the costs of writing about a young man dressed like a pantomime Peter Pan fighting crime with a grown man dressed as a bat, is that you don’t get to draw attention to that. And you don’t draw attention to that because it is fundamentally ridiculous. That's part of the appeal, genius.

 photo smileB_zpspd9lruuc.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Despite Christopher’s Nolan’s pompous cinematic attempts to convince us otherwise, the concept of Batman doesn’t work on any realistic level. The last thing a Batman writer wants to be doing is chucking that mutually agreed suspension of disbelief overboard, particularly for boneheaded point scoring about child endangerment shorn by its very context of any actual relevance whatsoever. Woken from slumber the reader starts to ask questions about this whole Batman deal. That’s the last thing you need.  Some smartarse asking questions. Better slap him down with a nasty sexual slur, right? But, alas, this reader isn’t in the same room, so your brave and manly verbal abuse won’t work. Nothing can stop the ungrateful fool of a reader now they have awoken. For starters how does Batman get anywhere? By Batmobile? Really? In the city? Have you tried driving around a city at speed? It’s not on is it? Even at night, even in, say, Chesterfield; chances are if you start haring about like your arse is on fire you’ll end up with a drunk smeared across your windshield. It’s simply not do-able. And Chesterfield’s no Gotham, and your family hatchback is no Batmobile. So major carnage is on the cards either way. (“Car”-nage and “car”-ds and, yes, I’m talking about – “car”s! Two can play at rubbish word games, Brian Azzarello! But only one of us gets paid a small fortune for it.) Maybe, you say, Batman travels by swinging about? He’d be Bat-knackered before he got anywhere near his destination. Then upon arrival (at the docks, or the reservoir, or the charity ball) he has a fist fight with a bunch of goons and has to swing back for a Bat-brood in his Bat-cave, before having a Bat-nap and then overseeing a successful multi-national Bat-corporation. Bat-Christ, my Mum’s a work-horse but Batman makes her look like a right Bat-slacker. All this is only possible because, and look, I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you (and I certainly don’t want to steal the thunder of that guy who studies Batman (the one in the 2000AD documentary who wears eyeliner and gels his hair like a fourteen year old on his way to his first Cure concert. Aw, bless.)) but…brace yourself…Batman isn’t real. Sorry about that. You know THE KILLING JOKE (which may not be Alan Moore’s finest hour (as he himself admits) but is a lot better than this addlepated guff) isn’t going to work as soon as you hit the panel of the “Bob Kane” signed picture on Batman’s Bat-Desk. In a world where The Joker dresses Commissioner Gordon as an S&M gimp and shoots Barbara Gordon before taking snaps of her in nude distress, there’s no room for an Ace The Bat-Hound or a Bat-Mite. Nor, crucially, is there any place for a gaily costumed child. Robin isn’t in THE KILLING JOKE. Did you notice that? Oh, I know you noticed all the stitches Alan Moore (self-confessedly) dropped in THE KILLING JOKE (Boo! Alan Moore! Boo! Yawn.) but did you notice what he got right? Robin isn’t in The Killing Joke. That’s not an accident. Even Alan Moore on a bad day got  that much right. Brian Azzarello? Not so much.

 photo smackB_zpsikicrevx.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

For the most part DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE isn’t even a Batman vs The Joker comic as you might expect. (You fool! Why do you persist with such notions!) No, bizarrely it’s a not wholly awful Batman and Robin versus Killer Croc & Poison Ivy comic. People familiar with Azzarello’s Bat-work have my sympathies, but they also have probably noticed his fondness for using Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Those uncharitably inclined might say that this is because Croc allows him to dabble with questionable racial stereotypes without risk, and because Ivy lets him have Batman slap a woman about. Which is all kinds of creepy but I think Azzarello often seems to mistake being creepy for being edgy, but then so do Mainstream North American Genre Comics as a whole, so there you go. I really liked the Killer Croc & Poison Ivy bits for the most part, not for themselves, mind; but because they were a throwback to those Gerry Conway, Dough Moench, Gene Colan, Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, Klaus Janson etc etc Batman comics of my squandered youth. You know, when Batman did a bit of detective work? Sure, here in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE all he does is find the common denominator between the victims, but credit where it's due, that’s Sherlock fucking Holmes compared to his usual modern day manoeuvres; where he just looks at a computer screen and then pulls stuff out of his Bat-backside. It’s getting to the point where I think Batman is only The World’s Greatest Detective because he exists in a world where his nearest competition is a chimp. And back then, in those old comics, he’d always have a girlfriend who would be thoroughly uninteresting and usually also part of some evil plot; her larger function being to avoid people going on about Batman and Robin having Bat-bum fun.  And here, again, in THE LAST CRUSADE  Batman has a girlfriend, although it’s Catwoman obvs, because then we can have a reference to them rutting in costume like sexy cosplayers. Yeah, there was a lot of Killer Croc and Poison Ivy back then, I think. My memory could err, but I’m pretty sure they popped up a lot. Black Mask was over everything like a rash, I remember that. Bloody Black Mask. Jesus, it got so it was like, why not just call it Black Mask Comics, people! I don’t even remember who Black Mask turned out to be. Harry Truman? Barbara Cartland? Sandra Bernhardt? A Dog Named Boo? Probably Tom bloody Hardy. Tom Hardy’s in everything. He was in my toilet yesterday; I told him to shut the door because no one wants to see that, Hollywood bigshot or no. Anyway, stop distracting me, so I went on The Comixology to check who made those old comics and found a listing which said DETECTIVE COMICS (1937 - 2011) #255 featured a “tiresome” encounter with Killer Croc. Seriously. “Tiresome”. I do not think that word means what you think it means, Comixiology Precis Writer. That was funny, but not as funny as the fact that the encounters with Killer Croc in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE are actually tiresome, as in “tiresome”. To be surprised from behind by Killer Croc once may be regarded as a misfortune, to be so surprised twice seems like you’re in the wrong job.

 photo tiresomeB_zpskebvoumt.jpg Comixology Precis courtesy of some poor overworked schlub.

Alas, if you bought this for the Joker you probably bought the wrong comic. Everyone bought this for The Joker, yeah? To see the penultimate donnybrook between Batman and his maniacal nemesis of murderous mirth. Well, tough titty to you. You don’t get that. What you get mostly, is a Killer Croc and Poison Ivy comic. As demonstrated at soul sapping length above. When Azzarello does deign to show The Joker it’s not even Miller’s creepily withered Camp Bowie, just a wearisome rehash of the old Silence of The Lambs business. You know, the bit where Multiple Miggs flicks man-fat at Clarice, and in return Hannibal induces Miggs to swallow his own tongue via loony whisperiness? That bit (the death by suggestion, not the flying man-fat) is strip-mined once again. More than once. Mrs Leeds in Human form – do you see? Mrs. Jacobi changing – do you see? Brian Azzarello – laughing all the way to the bank – DO YOU SEE? Man, remember when everyone was ripping off Thomas Harris? All those serial killers with their grand pianos and jones for Goethe?  Complete bullshit perhaps, but Harris (at least for two books) gave us chillingly well done stuff. Good serial killing times; and here they are again. Only rubbish. Oh, it’s not all stale sub Alex Cross (ugh!) guff though, Azzarello brings his celebrated wordplay to bear to his portrayal of the homicidally jocular one. Mind you, I’m not sure who celebrates Brian Azzarello’s wordplay at this late stage in the game; people who hate the English language? There’s some prime wordshittery on these pages; wordshittery which I’ll not spoil because recoiling in alarm at the latest word turd thrust at your face is one of the few pleasures (if pleasure that be) of this thing. And no, I don’t think I’m missing any subtleties here, thanks. This is a book where a psychiatrist says “You want to tell me why you PULLED OUT YOUR EYES?” And, yes, it is in ITALIC BOLD CAPS. Nice bedside manner there, pal. Credit to the profession. Yup, subtle has done a bunk, old chum. So, maybe you were wondering what the Joker’s madcap scheme is; the one which succeeds in catching the Boy Wonder? Get this strategic shit: he sits in a chair reading, with his gang outside. That’s it. A regular Rommel, eh? Robin tries to pick the lock, but the gang creep up behind him and smash his head in. Worth waiting around forty years, for, eh? That’s right, They sneak up behind Robin and smash his head in. BAM! POW! BIFF! Holy twaddle, Batman! Holy Hole-in-a-cranium, Batman! Azzarello leaves what happens afterwards to your imagination, which is awfully sweet of him, but this comic might have been a bit better if Brian Azzarello had stooped to using his own imagination a bit more, instead of relying on mine.

 photo WhumpB_zpsncdbrmq5.jpg DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins

Reading this book may well be a miserable experience, but looking at it is quite delightful. There’s something seriously bizarre about the art in this. I’m pretty sure the book was solicited as having inks from Battlin’ Bill Sienkiewicz, but there’s no sign of The Sink, or even of inks, at least not as I know them. It looks like John Romita Jnr did his chunky stuff in pencil form and then Steigerwald hurriedly smeared colours atop it all to give it some semblance of finish. Since the book was delayed, a cynic might think this was some rush job stuff to get it out. (Cynics are just awful, aren’t they just.) Wild and unfounded speculation aside, I don’t know why it looks like it does, but I know I like it. The soft haze of the colours blur everything into a dreamlike state; a bad dream to be sure, but one where the writing’s bad and the colours are dreamy.  People give Romita some stick these days but I don’t know, I think he’s pretty great. Look at how the smoke curls from the Joker’s mouth; how the blood swings from his nose as his head moves; how Romita repeatedly gets the shock of impact just so; it’s good stuff. And the colours may(?) be the result of desperation incarnate but, you know, sometimes art just happens; things just work. Because this is good looking stuff. I was particularly taken with how Steigerwald gives Joker skin tones with all the allure of a mixture of guano and fag ash, and the liquid chaos of the police lights/flares were another delight. Romita Jnr’s work deftly balances brutality and delicacy, giving the whole thing a visual conviction far in excess of anything the shambolic and self-satisfied mess of a script deserves. Like the kids whom comics are no longer for, the art’s alright; it’s the writing that drags DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE down to CRAP! Or Bat-CRAP! If you will.

NEXT TIME: It’s time to cheer the f*** up,  so up next is a bit of Howard Victor Chaykin during which we’ll discover how bananas changed history.

Or something else, because guess what just arrived in the post – COMICS!!!

“My WHOLE BODY experiences Disasters And It's—I'm WORRIED About It Getting To Me.” COMICS! Sometimes I Should Just Shake My Head And Leave The Room.

So…The biggest names in comics! The biggest comics in comics! Several thousand words which can be summed up as, “Seriously? You jest, right? THIS?” Break out the bunting because the world’s sourest man is back! Nothing is good enough for him! He’s a big old stinker and no mistake! Comics by beloved creators spat at by a man with not a fraction of their talent! Oh, it’s good to be back. (We are back, right?) The following is dedicated to OKOliver who left OKComics without me having the chance to say goodbye. Good luck in your new life as a space gigolo! M-Wah! M-Wah!

 photo CasTOP_zpsz1oiejkb.jpg CASANOVA: NO JACKET REQUIRED #1 by Moon, Fraction, Harbin & Peter

Anyway, this…

Someone must have been telling lies about John K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he found himself blocked from The Savage Critics… Ho ho ho, a little bit of Kaf-KA! there. Actually, I have no idea what happened. At first I thought Cap’n Hibbs had sacked me but…wait, he hasn’t has he? Anyway, I don’t know because I’m writing this while the site’s still down, so I don’t know what happened because as I type it’s still happening. If you’re reading this we’re BACK! If you’re not, then we’re NOT!

CASANOVA: SUSSUDIO#1 Art by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon Written by Matt Fraction & Michael Chabon Lettered by Dustin Harbin Coloured by Cris Peter Image Comics, £0.69 Digital (2015) CASANOVA created by Fraction, Moon & Ba

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I’m not really a Matt Fraction man, so if you are you might want to just skip this one. But, as little time as I can find for his work in my withered and bitter life I do have to give Fraction kudos for the unflinching portrayal of vacuous self-obsession embodied by the almost heroically oblivious buffoon, Jerry Cornelius, er, Casanova Quinn. Few are the authors who would dare be so upfront about the distasteful shallowness of their lead. We’re all grown-ups hereabouts (we skew “old” at the SavCrits, so I hear) so we all know that no one needs to actually like a lead character. Still to actually invite, nay, compel, readers to loathe so fiercely the focus of a work of fiction is a feat worthy of attention, nay, applause. Applause I imagine Mick Jagger, er, Casanova Quinn, would expect purely as his due for his mere existence. The book’s right upfront about it as well. So foolish a fop have we here that he openly declares himself to be “good at people” (and, oh, the attention that “at” so conceitedly coerces!) Obviously, it is a secret only to people who utter such self-serving bilge that people who feel they are good “at” people are never  anything of the sort, and that the people that they feel they are good “at” only endure their hilariously transparent horseshit (ugh, all that open body language, the direct gaze, the tilted head and, worst of all, the excessive interest in, no, really, you; how are you doing? Spare me.) with such forbearance because it would be cruel to just laugh in their patronising face as it swarms with smarm.

 photo Cas2B_zpsalzkep20.jpg CASANOVA: FACE VALUE by Moon, Fraction, Harbin & Peter

This total lack of self-awareness reaches a hilarious nadir when the book risks actually transmuting  into a substance composed of pure condescension as Casanova Quinn explains his own very poor joke about an elephant in case we missed how clever he was being. Like all his type Casanova Quinn understands that if you have to explain your own joke the fault is always (always) that of the audience.  There is no such thing as a bad joke just bad audiences. Just as there is no such thing as bad writing, just bad readers. Obviously. Cruelly, but understandably since he is so dulled by self-adoration, Quinn is made to inhabit a world as obsessed with surfaces as he himself is. His oleaginous self slithers through a slurry of outdated signifiers of alienation and joyless ostentation snipped from decades of pop culture (swimming pools, ladies flashing their knickers, gamines with balloons, joyless parties) all huddled together like confused refugees yanked without thought or feeling from other, better, works in the futile hope that their mere proximity will create fresh meaning. Casanova Quinn is the kind of person who has watched The Great Gatsby and thinks this is the same as reading The Great Gatsby. How can anyone know me, when I don’t even know myself?, thinks Casanova Quinn; so impressed with his own insight he practically shudders with the struggle not to climax. Casanova Quinn and his banal world are such flagrantly faux creations that it’s testament to the art of Ba and Moon and the muted citrus wash of Peters' colours that I kept coming back to the this series as long as I did. But enough. I shall find places where their art is better served, and inflict upon Casanova Quinn the, to him, ultimate insult of the snub. Postscript: Michael Chabon writes a strip in the back. This is a big deal because Michael Chabon not only won a Pulitzer Prize but, more importantly, wrote a whole book about old timey comics which was nice of him. Unfortunately his comic writing is very much exactly as good as you would expect someone his age trying to be H!pS@xyF*n would be. In short then, Casanova EH!

FCB: CIVIL WAR II©™ #1 Art by Jim Cheung & John Dell, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer Written by Brian Michael Bendis©™, Mark Waid Coloured by Justin Ponsor, Matt Hollingsworth Lettered by VC's Clayton Cowles, VC's Cory Petit Free! from Marvel Comics©™ All characters within created by human beings who had hopes, dreams and loves just like you, but they don't get a mention. You can look them up on Wikipedia if you want. I'm betting you don't want.

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This was sent unbidden by hands unknown, so don’t get the idea that I’ve gone out of my way to read this. It was stuck in the packing of an almost criminally flamboyant purchase, just in case you had the idea I had fans who send me stuff. I don’t have fans (boo fucking hoo), and if I did they’d have more sense than to give stuff away. Also, don’t get the idea that I have anything against Brian Michael Bendis©™ as a human being, as a sentient entity, as a carbon based lifeform. He seems like a nice enough man; he’s certainly a wonderful provider for his family and I don’t doubt he is a loving father, a rewarding partner, and I’m even willing to entertain (under duress) the notion that he’s a regular sexual tyrannosaur (although I think that’s his business really). He does use his exalted position to bring in talented new artists and he obviously has a lot of love for the medium of comics. He’s well into it isn’t he? What  with his perpetual tumbling  and incessant tweeting, and he’s dutifully repaid Marvel©™’s faith in him like a good little soldier. And who has a heart so hard that it can be failed to be moved by his child like glee when Marvel©™ put him, and a bunch of other White Hot Fan Favourites©™, in a room to harvest their brains for ideas, like they are interchangeable cogs in a hugely dull machine. Oh, I wish to be as happy as Brian Michael Bendis©™ is when he tweets a picture of himself holding a Name Brand Burger next to the literary colossus Matt Fraction. There, I say, there is a man who has built a life and is enjoying it. There, right there, is a successful human being. Unfortunately, having said all that I think his writing is terrible. Dreadful stuff. Quite disheartening. He is consistent though, to give him his due; with all his work running the gamut from gibberish to mediocre with much of it falling into that sweet spot of mediocre gibberish. However, we have a saying over here – tackle the ball not the man. Hopefully that’s what I’ll be doing. (Hopefully that’s what I always do, but I am a bit of a prick so sometimes I probably slip.) Know ye this then: I wish Brian Michael Bendis©™ no ill will; and anyway I have a sneaky suspicion that the millions of dollars in his bank account will soften the feathery blows from some anonymous dude who should really save his energy to provide for his own family one fiftieth as well as the tiny dynamo Brian Michael Bendis©™. But, uh, y’know, maybe, just maybe, I mean this, uh, comic, will make the preceding cowardly caveats redundant. (SPOILER: it doesn’t. It’s bloody awful.)

 photo CWAGHB_zpsbrhnc5tf.jpg FCBD 2016 (CIVIL WAR) No.1 by Cheung & Dell, Bendis, Ponsor and Cowles

Events, eh? Why are they so hard? You’d think it would be a slam dunk every time. A big threat, heroes band together, some character work, a few set pieces and a page shaking climax. I’m up for that, I was up for that from the first time they did it (because I am old, did I mention I was old?) but as bovine and intellectually listless as even I am,  the perpetually dreadful incarnations of this promising ideal soon withered my good will to naught. Tell you what, take a break from imagining punching  me in the face and let me know of a good Event comic. Whoa, hold up there, podna, not one you liked; one that was good. E.g. I liked FINAL CRISIS but it was not exactly good was it? So take your time – a good Event comic. In your own time. At your own pace. No rush. Ah, there they are: the sounds of silence. This time out the latest in the never-ending stream of comics to which the only sane reaction is to wonder, “Who is buying this crap?” comes CIVIL WAR 2©™ FCBD#1. In which Brian Michael Bendis©™ bring his intellect to bear on the thorny philosophical problem of if the market has been gamed to the extent that a comic is guaranteed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies no matter what’s in it, what does it matter what’s in it? Only joking, it’s really about the thorny philosophical problem of how to rip off Minority Report and sleep at night. Haw, Haw  I’m just joking! A regular jester I am with my fool’s cap jangling. Ting-a-ling! Ding-a-ling!

 photo CWUGHB_zps7wmihf5t.jpg FCBD 2016 (CIVIL WAR) No.1 by Cheung & Dell, Bendis, Ponsor and Cowles

Which is about all this…thing deserves. Because this…comic(?) is basically a bunch of painfully “cute” scenes which, uh, follow each other and kind of depend entirely on the generosity of the reader to pretend they are a coherent narrative. The first couple of pages set the tone as Brian Michael Bendis©™ takes a ridiculous amount of space to tell us that Cap’n Marvel©™ and War Machine©™ are an Item. Let me just pause to reassure any other crusty comics warhorses like myself that Cap’n Marvel©™ is now a lady. Marvel©™ may be chasing that progressive dollar like it made off with their car keys but they aren’t that progressive. Gays are a bit much, right? Sure, I mean a tip of the hat is in order for a white lady and a coloured man locking lips , but pernickety as ever I think this kind of Step Forward would be a lot better in a Good Comic. Call me Icarus, eh? Despite the fact that everyone in this scene is a grown-ass adult Cap’n Marvel©™ asks Black Panther©™ to turn round while she snogs War Machine©™. That’s not because adults behave like that but because Brian Michael Bendis©™ saw it in a TV programme, probably iCarly if I had to guess. Page wastage, “cute” scenes ported across from other media, adults acting like tweens, a narrative as taut as unset jelly (US: jello), so far so Brian Michael Bendis©™; all we need now is some of his Stellar Character Work©™ And whaddya know, as if on cue…Thanos©™ turns up! I know arguing about character consistency at this point in the history of North American genre comics just earns you pitying looks like you turned up at work with two jumpers on but sans trousers, but still…Thanos©™…Thanos™© just beams in bellowing and festooned with weaponry like he was just plucked from a particularly savage session of the new DOOM (VERY GOOD!) game. Does that sound like Thanos©™? Is that anyone’s idea of how Thanos©™ operates? Personally, and I’ve not really been paying attention so I could be wrong, I thought Thanos©™ was a master manipulator, a singular strategist, a regular Machiavelli of the Marvel©™ Universe. Apparently I was wrong, it seems that nowadays if Thanos©™ wants something Thanos©™ just covers himself in guns and bursts into view bellowing and fighting everything in sight until he gets what he wants. Stellar Character Work©™. Obviously, I’m guessing, this happens not because that behaviour is an accurate reflection of the established character of Thanos©™, but because that’s what the (ahem) plot demands. You could plug anyone into that role, you could even, maybe, and I’m just throwing this out there, plug someone suitable into that role. The only reason it’s Thanos©™ is because he appears for less time than it takes me to make sweet love, at the end of the credits of some Marvel©™ movie or other (I neither know nor care which, thanks). Of course it is possible behaving like a bear on fire might be Brian Michael Bendis©™’ idea of a regular Sun Tzu; I mean Brian Michael Bendis©™ is not exactly into that whole subtlety deal is he now. I mean, I know he thinks he is, but I think I’m fucking sunshine on legs so we can already see that self-perception isn’t always reliable.

 photo CWAGHB_zpsbrhnc5tf.jpg FCBD 2016 (CIVIL WAR) No.1 by Cheung & Dell, Bendis, Ponsor and Cowles

So, yeah, Thanos©™ is in it, but rather than have him act like Thanos™©, he just acts like a big violent idiot because the (cough) plot require someone to do that. Synergy’s on the whiteboard, so put The Thanos©™ in! Personally I don’t think this is pandering mindlessly enough at the cost of the internal consistency of the comic. They should have really blue-skied this one. I mean, sure people like Thanos©™ because he was at the end of that movie (nope, still don’t care), but they have also always liked chocolate, and even before chocolate they liked diddling themselves, so why not work that in? Have Thanos©™ turn up but instead of guns he could be studded with giant chocolate dildos. That should cover just about everybody. If you’re going to pander then don’t hold back, you know. Shame? Just a movie with Alan Ladd in, yeah? The Inhumans©™ are in it too, but the only interesting thing about The Imhumans©™ (outside of the work of Jack “The King” Kirby) is the big teleporting dog. Until Marvel©™ realise this The Inhumans©™ are just a dead loss. Al Ewing on LOCKJAW? I’d buy that! No, I wouldn’t, because I’m not paying Marvel prices. The fact this denies me access to Al Ewing’s work is a major thorn in my paw, but he’ll leave eventually. They all do. Except Brian Michael Bendis©™.  So, yeah, Thanos©™ shows up and there’s a regular wing-ding. So life-or-death, so savage, so brutal a fight is this that She-Hulk©™ comments on Thanos©™’ funny chin while they are whaling away at each other. I can’t be doing with these soul chafingly awful attempts at quippy humour which constantly puncture any sense of drama in modern comics. Worse yet, She-Hulk©™ upbraids Thanos©™ for his poor sentence structure. That’s right, Brian Michael Bendis©™ (BRIAN. MICHAEL. BENDIS.©™) writes a character that has the self-absorbed gall to criticise another character Brian Michael Bendis©™ is writing for their poor English which Brian Michael Bendis©™ has written. Let that sink in for a bit. Take your time. Christ, if She-Hulk©™ were really that keen on correcting the grammatical infelicities of everyone in Brian Michael Bendis©™ comics she…she’d be very, very busy, let’s just leave it at that. I mean, there’s irony and then there’s just heartbreakingly unaware. Of course why Thanos©™ is talking like The Hulk©™ (it’s almost as if it was The Hulk©™ in the first place but was ineptly changed to Thanos at short notice©™. As if!) anyway is not explained, because it’s all just so bloody hilarious, so who cares. Except it isn’t hilarious, it’s jarring. We get that all these writers want to work in TV and that they have a sense of humour apparently completely shaped by sub-par sit-coms but, look, Everybody Loves Raymond is not something to aspire to. I’m sorry, but there it is.

 photo HBeepsB_zpsuurtom75.jpg “Oh, Mr Robot!” is ©™ John K Inc.

Mind you I’m not exactly well disposed to the TV. This Golden Age of Television? Look, just because you can name three TV series you liked in the past 5 years doesn’t make it a Golden Age of anything, it means there’s some stuff you liked on Television. That’s kind of the whole raison d’etre for television: to put stuff on you like. I liked The Wire too but one program does not a Golden Age make. Because I have to work with people younger than I am (when you get to my age most people are younger than you are, except the dead) sometimes they puppyishly tell me to watch something. Well, setting my monocle firmly in place, I did just that: I had a pop at that there Mr. Robots people squeal so deliciously about. Alas, the charms of a program about a pill popping magic hacker who wants to fuck his sister and is haunted by Christian Slater eluded me. With a title like Mr. Robot it should be about Christian Slater made up like he’s in Heartbeeps moonwalking about a patently fake set, with his arms set at right angles and slowly turning his head, while learning important lessons about human behaviour from the wacky family of his scatty inventor with whom he lodges. The series’ catch phrase would be “Oh, Mr. Robot!”, at which the camera would unfailingly zoom in on Christian Slater in a tuxedo and slathered with silver paint, body popping in confusion at the latest mistake he’s made in aping these crazy humans. “Oh, Mr. Robot!” You’ll all be saying it tomorrow. Or you could just read that VISION comic. Ha ha ha! You didn’t like that punchline did you?!  No prisoners today! Oh, hey, thanks for sticking with this one; it’s gone a long way from the point hasn’t? It’s possible that the lack of focus was intentional and an indication of just how much serious critical consideration this comic(?) deserves, but on balance it’s more likely that I am a feckless twat. As a comic it was CRAP! Even as packing (remember that bit?) I think it was bettered by the polystyrene doohickeys it was stuffed in with. Nothing personal though, right? Oh, and it’s no good telling me it was free. So what? It should be shit? It’s supposed to be an enticement not a turn-off. Weirdly even if it's free I still turn my nose up at shit. Me and my high standards! Yes, the best thing about it was the art and we’re always told to say something about the art but why, seriously, why bother when the stench of the writing just makes any art at all an utter waste of talent. It’s pretty but unthrilling stuff, which given the stink of a script is a monumental testament to Cheung & Dell's professionalism. This is a flatulent jumble of dumb and it’s worth reiterating it’s CRAP! It’s like a poorly coded robot tried to write a comic – everything rings tinny and off. And cue:

 photo RoboBendisB_zpsquykx2nu.jpg “Oh, Mr. Bendis!” (Laughtrack annnnnnd roll CREDITS).

(N.B. There's also a story about The Wasp©™ by Waid and Davis & Farmer. I'm sure it's fine, but after the slackjawed pap I'd had just about enough of comics for a while.)

NEXT TIME: I burn even more bridges in "The Biz" as I take a “look” at some Brian Azzarello Bat-comics.

I was locked out in the dark but I never stopped loving – COMICS!!!

“...Even LIMP, That Bat's Too Much For ME.” COMICS! Sometimes It's The Cat Which is The Unnameable.

This time out: a lady werewolf, the slightly lighter side of Lovecraft and a drunk cuckold finds the vengeance trail's gone cold.  photo MotSTopB_zpspubovcvt.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

What's not to love about that, am I right or am I right?

Anyway, this... SHE WOLF #1 All by Rich Tommaso Image Comics, Inc., $3.99 (2016) She Wolf created by Rich Tommaso She Wolf © 2016 Rich Tommaso

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The slightly creepy theme (from my more than slightly creepy self) this week kicks off with Rich Tommaso's teenage werewolf comic. Pretty straightforward stuff you'd think, teenage werewolf comics; but you'd be wrong. Maybe. I mean she might be a werewolf, she might not, and if she is, well, she might have been bitten by one, or maybe a shape changing spell went wrong. Or she just doesn't like dogs and, uh, wait her boyfriend was a ...no, wait now she's fighting her priest but...maybe not. This hallucinatory narrative uncertainty is intentional, I would guess given that Tomasso's comic is a visually resplendent wonder indeed. You don't get the skill to draw something as phenomenally vital as this unless you know what you're doing. Of course, whether you want to let the reader in on what you are doing is another thing altogether.

 photo SWPicB_zps8clcxffl.png She Wolf by Rich Tommaso

Now as we have all noted on numerous occasions, I am terrible when it comes to colour in comics but even I can see that colours here are some kind of spectacular you'd do well not to miss. At first I thought the colour coding of scenes was the key (red for dreams, blue for night, various for daytime reality) but everything starts to get blurry, and reality and fantasy are all mucked about, and you soon don't know which end is up. Which, you might hazard should you be able to rememebr that far back, is what being a teenager is like. (The way I remember it is this: being a teenager is A!W!F!U!L!). Tomasso certainly draws his heroine as a true to teenhood gawky flail of elbows and knees, like a young Laura Dern; in gangly contrast to the smooth swoosh of movement personifying the animal identity. Then there's the great scene where the Principal is reassuring our heroine, but she can also see a black and red doppleganger Principal whose every word drips mistrust and belligerence. Yeah, adults say they want to help you but they LIE because they HATE you! Man, it's a great scene. But then there are a few of those here. More great scenes in one comic than most series manage in toto. Tomasso's cartoony style may bely the horror, particularly in a viscerally unsettling dream sequence, but this lends everything a kind of comedic undercurrent. Or maybe it's a comedy with a horrific undercurrent. I don't know, but what I do know is I'm sticking with this one because Rich Tomasso's SHE WOLF is VERY GOOD! AAAAARrrrrrrrrrrrroooOOOOOOOOOAAAAOOoooooHHHH! WEIRD DETECTIVE #1 (of 5) Art by Guiu Vilanova Written by Fred Van Lente Coloured by Mauricio Wallace & Josan Gonzalez Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot ® Dark Horse Comics Inc., $3.99 (2016) Weird Detective ™ created by Fred Van Lente & Guiu Vilanova Weird Detective ™ indebted to the work of H P Lovecraft Text and illustrations of Weird Detective ™ © 2016 Fred Van Lente & Guiu Vilanova

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Standing in stark contrast to Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows reverent and stately paced dark hymn to the majesty of HP Lovecraft, here we have Van Lente & Vilanova's somewhat more modern take. Mash-ups are still modern right? Because what WEIRD DETECTIVE ™ is is HP Lovecraft smushed up with the detective genre, hence the title. It's a lot of fun, whether it's more fun than PROVIDENCE I don't know, because anyone who measures fun is someone who isn't having any. Personally I had fun with both, just different kinds. WEIRD DETECTIVE is plump with cliches, but that's because the detective genre is filled with cliches rather than due to any lack on Van Lente's part. Van Lente in fact proves pretty smart at playing with the conventions and part of this smartness is displayed in his clever sense of humour. The scene where Greene watches TV detectives to get tips on behaviour almost buckles under all the referencing (Lovecraft, Rockford Files, Martian Manhunter, etc) but is instead impressive in both its levels of humour and intelligence. This undercurrent of drollery prevents things becoming too rote or too unpleasant. Because some of the book is pretty gross, there's the standout death by toilet but there are quieter horrors at play too. And all the horrors are derived from the Lovecraftian mythos and blatantly so. You won't be scratching your spade-like chin with this one trying to figure out the links, because the links come fast and blatant as Owen Smith's strings.

 photo WDRFPicB_zpsrhupicvf.png Weird Detective by Vilanova, Van Lente, Wallace & Gonzales, Piekos

I liked Vilanova's art, although it takes a dip near the middle of the book but swiftly recovers. His real world is realistic and his creatures are unpleasantly convincing. Let's face it, it takes no little talent to make unsettling some of Lovecraft's creations, which essentially resemble an overcooked carrot, some ping pong balls and a brace of drinking straws. The action is nicely done with a particularly good fall from a high place but Vilanova also keeps the quieter scenes interesting, such as the parts where our weird detective communicates with his cat through slight twitches of his facial muscles. Although any conversation with a surly cat is by definition interesting, I guess. WEIRD DETECTIVE is clever, funny, gross and GOOD!


MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #2 (of 4) Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Arbutov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, Inc., $3.50 (2016) Midnight of the Soul created by Howard Victor Chaykin Midnight of the Soul © Howard Victor Chaykin

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Lycanthropy and Lovecraft are creepy but the creepiest of all must be my fawning over the work of Howard Victor Chaykin. Occasionally some luckless naif will have the temerity to question why I like the work of Howard Victor Chaykin quite as much as I do. He, they often persist, always makes the same comic. This, and here is where their lucklessness comes in, spurs me to anecdotal reminiscence thusly: It was the 1990s and far too many people were taking Paul Weller seriously. One day I had a visitor who upon entering traversed the floor with the healthy, male clutter of batch (crispy tissues, ragged jazz mags, suffocated ashtrays, the glutinous residue of alcoholic frolics, etc etc) to the bookshelves.

 photo MotSPicB_zps0zebqrnq.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

Despite the variety and fine taste on show said visitor was evidently puzzled, breaking their silence with, “You have an awful lot of Elmore Leonard here.” I conceded the truth in this observation, yet couched within my tone was my evident uncertainty as to why precisely that might be so remarkable. “But doesn't he just write the same book all the time?” came the withering parry. “Yes”, I said “but it's a good one.” Then I started searching for a vein. (Not really.) VERY GOOD!

Remember: Stay on the road. Keep clear of the – COMICS!!!

“I Miss Having Tits.” COMICS! Sometimes I Have An Emotion.

It's very hot today. Oh, and I see the world continues to misbehave. Sigh. Only two comics this time out. They're pretty good though. Well I thought so, at least.  photo TETopB_zpsefxhfc4b.png The Experts by Sophie Franz

Anyway, this... BLACK HAMMER #1 Art by Dean Ormston Written by Jeff Lemire Coloured by Dave Stewart Lettered by Todd Klein Dark Horse Comics, Inc. DIGITAL: £1.99 (2016) Black Hammer created by Dean Ormston & Jeff Lemire Black Hammer © ™ 2016 171 Studios, Inc., and Dean Ormston

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This is one of those slightly cheeky comics in which all the characters are heavily reminiscent of popular superhero characters. Teeny tweaks have to be made so that Ormston and Lemire can use the archetypal aspects of the originals, but don't have to spend the rest of their lives in court rooms being sued by people who have only ever exercised creativity in their theft of the fruit of other people's talent. The upside of the Cheeky Tweak © ™ is the authors (writer and artist) can actually tell a real story with a point, during which the characters can change or even die; without every development being undermined by the knowledge that nothing too thrilling will stick, because the real money is in selling Captain Arsegrapes © ™ branded shit to kids. The downside is that, as here, changing C*****n M****l into a girl called Golden Gail means you don't get to be fellated on talk shows because, say, you have written The Tin Can © ™ as the same shit quipping character you always write but, crucially for World Peace, have instructed the artist to draw a black woman with a big afro like fucking Sheba, Baby (1975) just came out yesterday. AND THE WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN!!!!! Now, over to Patrice with a funny story about Tom Hardy's dogs. Patrice...

 photo BHPicB_zpslfsawcg8.png Black Hammer by Ormston. Lemire, Stewart & Klein

The first test of a Cheeky Tweak © ™ is how good are the names? Because I don't know about you (who does? Your Rabbi. So behave.) but I am astounded people can still come up with good super hero names. Here we have Abraham Slam, Col Weird, Talky-Walky, Barbalien, Golden Gail, Madame Dragonfly and Black Hammer. I think that's a pretty nifty range of names. I'll not go into who they all map across to, because that's part of the fun of a Cheeky Tweak © ™ too. However, I will say that we find most of them trapped in a Small Town America © ™ setting which is so cliched it must be so on purpose, which suggests that all is not...as it seems! (foreboding music)! Finding themselves confined to Norman Rockwellville since saving the world at great cost, they have each adapted to differing extents, and as a whole have formed a bickering and somewhat unstable parody of the family unit. This is the most enjoyable aspect of the issue; having the characters interact and seeing how their interactions define them. Obviously for that to work they actually all have to have different characters, and, you know, not all sound like the same middle aged white male speaking through multiple mouths. Jeff Lemire has a pretty good handle on character as far as I can tell, and the upshot of that is I'd quite happily spend more time with these folk. Dean Ormston's not really being pushed yet, but he brings a creepy vibe to the normalcy (which is so excessively so it just isn't normal). I'm used to his fully painted stuff so I'm enjoying the McKeever vibe of his stripped back work here. There's clearly bad times ahead, maybe good times too, probably a whole lot of trouble en route, and it'll be fun seeing this bunch get shoved through the wringer. Oh, there's emotional subtlety too, I nearly forgot that. There's a really nice bit of business with Adam Strange Col. Weird whose space sickness resembles a cosmic form of senile dementia. His interactions with his robot pal, Talky-Walky, are kind of...affecting. Hoo-HAH! Anyway, it's a promising start and I'll probably stay on board. GOOD!


THE EXPERTS #1 All by Sophie Franz Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, DIGITAL: £1.99 (2016) The Experts created by Sophie Franz The Experts © 2016 Sophie Franz

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This is an odd one. It's a done-in-oner, and the synopsis while perfectly true may lead you to expect some kind of ALIENS on a seabase action fest, with maybe some of the character stuff from John Carpenter's THE THING, but in a Indie Stylee art wise. Because you should always be expecting that, because that would be a great comic. It wouldn't be this comic though. No, this comic takes the set up for a creepy horror movie (three experts on an isolated sea base surrounded by weird creatures lose touch with the mainland and, slowly, themselves) and twists it into an evocative mood piece; one seemingly constructed of vaguely related emotional set pieces presented via an inscrutable system of symbols unique to the author but anchored in the mundane we all share. Look, I know what I mean! Clearly then, it's the kind of thing I have a hard time describing. It's the kind of comic where one of the characters has turned into a fish but no one mentions it for so long you start doubting the fact that it is indeed a big fish eating and kvetching at the dinner table; the kind of comic where things happen but don't seem to happen so barely do they disturb the narrative meniscus, and when they do happen it's left entirely to you as to whether they were a good thing or a bad thing; it's the kind of comic where a dog can't speak French but can understand it; it's the kind of comic that's only 28 pages long but every page works; it's the kind of comic we need more of.

 photo TEPicB_zpsty5tybf2.png The Experts by Sophie Franz

Since it's the creation of a single brain it would be a task beyond my limited capabilities to disentangle the writing from the art. So I won't. Sophie Franz' storytelling here is exceptional stuff. There are all kinds of approaches to the colouring, including pastels for the in-story sketches, plain flat for the characters, thick washes for the sea and sky, and even colour without any holding lines at all when Frankie flips out a bit. The actual linework is mostly in a lightly Clowesian mold, which Franz uses to deliver some absolutely spot-on posture work (check out the panel on p.21 of the feet walking away from us: The Sauce? C'est Awesome!) and it's just generally and genuinely a visual delight. Despite its brilliance it still isn't going to be for everyone. It is after all the kind of comic where a dog is set adrift in a rowboat with a shopping list tied to its head, and (thanks to Franz' skills) it isn't wacky or odd, it's just plain moving. Ultimately, THE EXPERTS is the kind of comic that can make you cry without you knowing why. EXCELLENT!

Superheroes and dogs that cant speak French, it's gotta be – COMICS!!!

“COURAGE! He Is But A MOLLUSCOID MOUNTEBANK!” COMICS! Sometimes We're Making Whoopee!

A samurai, a shadow and a sponge. It's either a further trudge through my pull list or the best pop band ever. Let's see!  photo TopPicB_zpsbt8qnwjr.jpg The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane by Wagner, Wagner & A Larger World Studios Anyway, this...

USAGI YOJIMBO #155 Art by Stan Sakai Written by Stan Sakai Lettered by Stan Sakai Cover by Stan Sakai Cover coloured by Tom Luth Dark Horse Comics, Inc., $3.99 (2016) Usagi Yojimbo created by Stan Sakai

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In which our roving ronin happens upon a murder most mysterious and is reunited with his old friend, Inspector Ishida, he of the emotively animated mono-brow. With more than enough suspects, both likely and unlikely, our anthropomorphic investigators could probably do without the uncanny and bloody additions to the notorious “Hell Screen”. Hurry Usagi, the game is a-paw! I mean, a foot! (Ouch!) So, yeah, another super-solid exercise in entertainment by the man who is quite possibly Comics' Most Undervalued Talent, Mr Stan Sakai. There is nothing that is not very good about Usagi Yojimbo, so much so that it remains somewhat galling that each issue receives little to no acknowledgment of its existence by the comics' press. This then is the reward for consistent brilliance: silence.

 photo UYpicB_zps4a5hnsv7.jpg Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Meanwhile, The Hulk got shot by an arrow made of Dumb and someone got all school marmy because Wonder Woman doesn't go commando, and, quite rightly, that's all anyone goes on about. Alas, Usagi Yojimbo has to get by on clever plotting, consistent characterisation, barbarous action and a general air of amiable excellence. And then, when you've read it you can go back and marvel at how simply Sakai depicts his rain, how he creates the illusion of depth via varying the heaviness of his line, and how he expertly employs cross hatching to evoke texture. Every panel of every page proves Stan Sakai remains implacable in his delivery of high levels of artistry and entertainment. But never mind that, someone drew The Hulk with his cock out! Or The Hulk got shot by a cock! Or something. Oh yeah, more often than not the estimable Mr. Sakai finds time (as he does here) to pen a wee pin-up on the back cover, which is nice. Also, the letter column is one of the healthiest I've read, with people just genuinely reacting with unfashionable (ugh!) affection for the book and its author both. There's none of that creepy and needy validate me! Validate my tastes! stuff you usually get in independent lettercols; just pure heart. The cosplayer highlighted this issue is impressive alright roo, but, and I have no idea why this is, she just made me imagine David Keith replaced by a large rabbit for the final scenes of WHITE OF THE EYE. Why is daddy wearing hot dogs, indeed. That's a reflection on me rather than the talented lady in question. Man, I don't know what's wrong with me but I sure know what's right – Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo. VERY GOOD!


SPONGEBOB COMICS #57 Art by Nate Neal, Vince DePorter, Derek Drymon, James Kochalka, Marc Hempel, Andrea Tsurumi, Maris Wicks, Hilary Barta, Jacob Chabot Written by Nate Neal, Vince DePorter, Derek Drymon, James Kochalka, Jay Lender, Robert Leighton, Maris Wicks, Chuck Dixon, Hilary Barta Lettered by Rob Leigh Coloured by Monica Kubina, Scott Roberts, Jason Millet Cover by Shawn Martinbrough (with thanks to Jacob Chabot) United Plankton Pictures Inc., $3.99 (2016) Spongebob Squarepants created by Stephen Hillenburg

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As you can see by the text on Martinbrough's Hitchcock indebted cover this issue's theme is “noir”! But only in the loosest possible sense of “crime stuff”; you know, before a bunch of tedious old men start flapping their gums about what noir is or isn't. Look, it's a comic for kids about a talking sponge, so get back worrying about whether noirs can be in colour or not. Yeah, you take care of the important stuff, while the world goes to Hell in a handbasket. Anyway, as is mostly (but not always) the case there's a bunch of smile raising shorts. Sometimes there's only a couple, or just one, but they are always smile raising. It isn't the smile raising that’s in doubt, it's the number of stories within. I trust that's clear: SPONGEBOB COMICS is funny stuff.

 photo SBCpicB_zpsl5aob5e4.jpg Spongebob Comics by Hempel, Lender, Roberts & Leigh

And those titter inducing tales herein? Our porous pal's life is complicated when he crosses paths with a larcenous double, the new fish in prison reflects back on how his life was ruined by a yellow terror as implacable as a guilty conscience, a hilariously learnedly loquacious Patrick eruditely narrates the terrible tale of “Doctor Calamari” in a suitably German Expressionistic stylee (which, no, isn't noir but it is the root from which noir sprang. So go back to sleep, tedious old men.), there's a trenchcoat and hat PI pastiche, and Mermaid Man reveals the terrible secret of his stylish cape. And! Maris Wicks gives a one page shoal of facts about hermit crabs while James Kochalka remains James Kochalka. VERY GOOD!


THE SHADOW: THE DEATH OF MARGO LANE #1 Art by Matt Wagner Written by Matt Wagner Coloured by Brennan Wagner Lettered by A Larger World Studios Cover by Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99 (2016) The Shadow created by Walter B. Gibson

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See! I told you about my LCS! They only went and sent me another Shadow comic! Again with The Shadow comics! I'm not old enough to remember The Pulps, people! I am old enough to remember Pulp though. In fact I'm old enough to have attended their final gig at the Magna Science Adventure Centre. Well, their first “final” gig. I'm also old enough to remember when words meant things, words like “final”. Grumble. Grumble. Mutter, mutter. So, The Shadow! Dynamite's Shadow stuff has been a bit variable, to be honest. There was that series which had a weird obsession with sinister Chinese laundries and had George Orwell fighting with El Shadder; it was okay and while the bit where George Orwell ended his adventure by going “Hmmm, ANIMAL FARM is catchy, but so is NINETEEN EIGHTYFOUR; which to write first?!?” was pretty hilarious, it was still nice to have a comic writer who knew about George Orwell. Then there was that one set in the present which was, well, terrible. After that it was all a bit patchy with Houdini cropping up and a Nazi car factory or something, but of late things seem to have settled down with Matt Wagner taking the reigns. And Matt Wagner? He can draw. Anyone who claims he cain't is all wet. And how!

 photo DMLpicB_zpsmj49bxfy.jpg The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane by Wagner, Wagner & A Larger World Studios

Now I ain't ladling out no applesauce saying that this guy's blotto on graphic design and knows his onions when it comes to page layouts. I must have been all turned around for the last forty odd years because Matt Wagner's excellence has somehow passed me by. Sure and I wasn't giving his stuff the high-hat, I just never crossed its path is all. From the first page of this Shadow joint I was crushing on this stuff so bad I had to check my cheaters were clean. Storytelling-wise this ruckus is the cat's pajamas , and I ain't laying down a line. Boffo stuff all round. It's swanky stuff, on the up and up, I tells ya. Maybe it is just meat'n'taters, just horsefeathers story-wise what with alla them shenanigans with hats, flivvers, gats, cocktails, luxury liners and death traps. But, hey it's a Shadow comic and alla that guff is why we came in the first place. A ragamuffin it may be, but it's a ragamuffin swanked up like Valentino. That's gotta be worth the scratch. So I'm a few decades late for this party but I'm tellin' youse, this Matt Wagner kid's got the goods. Heck, he's got the VERY GOOD!s

Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch – COMICS!!!

“I Myself Played A Zobo Kazoo.” COMICS! Sometimes Comedy Lurks In The Unlikeliest of Places!

Yeah, uh,  sorry. Didn't mean to be gone quite so long. Got distracted by the real world. Big Mistake. What an awful place the real world is. Simply dreadful. So, yeah, not a good year thus far for any of us, huh? Hey, I know what we need, some sweet, sweet COMICS!!! (DISCLAIMER: Contains words of praise for Alan Moore.)  photo MotTOP_zps8wymixgp.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

Anyway, this... MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Arbutov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, Inc., $3.50 (2016) Midnight of the Soul created by Howard Victor Chaykin

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So, yeah, at long damn last Howard Victor Chaykin's MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL strikes at your eyes like a comic book cobra! My son (“Gil”) wasn't even born when the coiner of the phrase “moral cripples” started talking this one up. You can't rush awesome though, so here we are. Fifteen hairline depleting years later, here we are. This time out Howard Victor Chaykin's dreamy doppelganger is one Joel Breakstone who as ever looks good, looks fine, maybe a little too good, a tad too fine for someone in Joel Breakstone's position. That being one of a man wallowing in a self medicated haze of booze following an as yet unrevealed incident while liberating the WW2 Death Camps.

We'll obviously be coming back to the Death Camps of WW2. Largely because Joel Breakstone keeps going back to the Death Camps of WW2. Because, as Joseph Heller might have it “something happened” in the Death Camps of WW2. Not just the stuff we all know went on in the Death Camps of WW2 but something particular to Joel Breakstone. Because Joel Breakstone helped liberate one and what occurred in The Death Camps of WW2 is the gift that keeps giving. But then don't judge the book too quickly, because there is such a thing as an unreliable narrator and a pretty good candidate for such a post would be a man whose spent five years coping with PTSD by self medicating himself with alcohol and refusing to leave his house. That's Joel Breakstone, not me. On the very first page turn Chaykin seamlessly entwines the past and the present via the images of chimneys and he keeps this high standard of storytelling up for the duration. He seems more than present, he seems engaged, and because Howard Victor Chaykin is engaged the words on the page matter and no word matters more than the first word here “Parallels.”

 photo MotS003B_zpsi7gbqzio.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

Art-wise it's looking good, it' s looking cleaner and smarter than a Howard Victor Chaykin joint has for a while. The big test of Chaykin art in 2016 is how is going with the cheeks'n'chins? I checked with my eyes and the cheeks and chins in MotS seem altogether more controlled than they have for awhile. Chaykin's reigning in his prognathous tendencies and no one is stylin' Jō Shishido cheeks,so that's good. His figure work's sweet, with a killer panel of Breakstone kicking his TV in. And that TV, like everything around it, seems period authentic so I guess he's as reliable as ever in that respect. There's still a little ghost-float where the images don't quite cohere ideally, but Jesus Arbutov's shadows attempt a corrective tethering. And Ken Bruzenak, lovely, lovely Ken Bruzenak continues his ridiculously innovative attempts to visually represent the purely audible; by now his constructions of visual onomatopoeia are as integral to the art as a whole as any pictures Chaykin lays down. It's a finely honed machine, is what I'm saying.

MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL is as ridiculously virile, as cheekily provocative, as visually intelligent and as resolutely “Chaykin” as anyone could wish. VERY GOOD!

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE SHADOW #3 Art by Dave Acosta Written by David Avallone Coloured by Omi Remalante Lettered by Taylor Esposito Cover by Francesco Francavilla Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99 (2016) The Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling The Shadow created by Walter B Gibson

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Here's a thing, my LCS just automatically sends me every comic about The Shadow. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but it is. Maybe they think I am so old I remember the pulps or something. Anyway, this isn't what I was expecting at all. I was hoping The Shadow would be maybe fixing Burgess Meredith's glasses, or leaning past William Shatner and firing his twin .45s through the plane window and blowing that thing to fuck and back, or maybe saving the world by saying, “For the Love of God, it's a cookbook, you blithering fools.” Nope, it's some kind of meta affair whereby Shads has entered The Twilight Zone and every issue he is plonked into some situation where The Shadow is a fictional construct (i.e. kind of our reality; last issue he was an Orson Welles doppler, this issue he's “Maxwell Grant”, and thus deucedely confused) and learns a lesson which brings him that bit closer back to the humanity he had been in the process of losing.

 photo TZSpicB_zpsycbpmhrg.jpg The Twilight Zone: The Shadow by Acosta, Avallone, Remalante & Esposito

It's a clever little set up and while David Avallone might have bitten off a little more than he can chew and the spindly art by Dave Acosta is more game than it is successful, it's neat enough stuff. The kind of thing Neil Gaiman makes such bloody heavy weather out of , but Avallone & Acosta keep it all light with just the right amount of humour and some inventive set pieces. What could be more Twilight Zone-y than The Shadow being attacked by giant typewriter keys spelling J-U-S-T-I-C-E? Not much, I trust you'll agree. GOOD! PROVIDENCE #9 Art by Jacen Burrows Written by Alan Moore Coloured by Juan Rodriguez Lettered by Kurt Hathaway Cover by Jacen Burrows Avatar Press Inc, $4.99 (2016) Providence created by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows Inspired by and indebted to the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft

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In which everyone's favourite ginger haired Jewish homosexual nebbish glides blithely nearer a Stygian fate swarming with noisome and gibbering cyclopean terrors whose preternatural forms possess angles in defiance of all mortal conceptions of GEOMETRY!!! It took a bit of getting into to be honest, this one. Burrows' art was a bit of an impediment to immersion until I figured it out. It's purposefully bland. Being, I think, the visual equivalent of Lovecraft's dense and willfully archaic texts, which softly lull you into a kind of waking stupor, allowing the horrors to encroach subtly but decisively even as your eyes glaze over. Thus leaving you ripe for the final unveiling of...no, no, it cannot be named! At first I thought the series could be improved by having, say, Cam Kennedy or Richard Corben draw over the, uh, unutterable aspects. But then they'd really stand out, which isn't what they're after, I think. Even the, uh, eldritch elements have to be visually contiguous so that our protagonist’s rationalising of the thoroughly irrational has some credence.

 photo ProvPicB_zpspf590exx.jpg Providence by Burrows, Moore, Rodriguez & Hathaway

Sure PROVIDENCE took some effort to read, but it repaid that work. Heck, I even started rereading Lovecraft hissownself, and I haven't touched the stuff since I was 15. Lovecraft that is, not the glue. Yes, I'm still merrily huffing into my forties. No, but, anyway re-reading Lovecraft? Hoo boy is he racist! It's right on the page as well. I missed that when I was fifteen, so either I was a bit thick or I was very racist myself, because seriously HP Lovecraft? Big racist. Just lays it right out there. Turns out he was the kind of racist who was anti-Semitic too. Lovely. Funny thing is though he was the kind of anti-Semite who marries a Jewish woman, because racists never make sense. (That's because racism doesn't make sense.) Anyway that marriage was less than successful (I know! SURPRISE!), but it does lend HP Lovecraft's jolly time with our Jewish friend herein a undercurrent of humour. Because there's a lot of humour in PROVIDENCE, some of it quite dark but some of it just plain funny. I mean, HP Lovecraft on these pages is a hilarious creation, seemingly inhabiting the century just prior to the one everyone else is living in. His erudite vocabulary set to task on the most mundane of conversational niceties is a proper hoot. He was actually a bit like that as well, so they say. Odd cove all round that HP Lovecraft. Say, did I mention the racism?

With PROVIDENCE Alan Moore brings a depth, intelligence and care to his writing which makes most everything surrounding it in the mainstream comics world seem as unto hurried mush, and Jacen Burrows acquits himself well r.e. his apparent brief to keep it real. The book repays the work you put in, basically. That dumpy looking washer woman staring balefully from the tower in this issue? It's not the first time she's appeared in the series. But to what end. To what...END!!! VERY GOOD!


That is not dead which still reads – COMICS!!!

"I Thought It Would Be FUN." COMICS! Sometimes They Take The Proverbial!

It's Bwana Hibbs' Birthday! Happy Birthday, Brian Hibbs! Emotion! Ugh. Enough sentimental nonsense and  back to things of far greater import: is DKIII: TMR improving? Find out below!  photo DKTMR01B_zpstkookxox.jpg DKIII: TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Miller, Anderson & Robins

Anyway this...

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #4 Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (Yes the FOURTH time out DC again only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Frank “The Tank” Miller Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson/Jim Lee Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Paul Pope & Shay Plummer, Rafael Albuquerque DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane

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Man, four issues in and it's clear now why Frank Miller thinks so highly of Brian Azzarello's writing. It seemed odd at first given the fact that the first three issues were so nonsensical (Batman's dead because I said so! Oh, wait some bad guys! No, he isn't dead! I was just fooling!) with pacing as taut as the knicker elastic of an inveterate boil washer. Yeah, because I can be a bit tardy on the old uptake, it resembled nothing less than an insultingly expensive slow motion fart in the face of anyone expecting a decent comic, but it seems there is method in their madness! Because after this sluggardly thing flops to a halt (we're half way through people!) the consensus concerning Frank Miller is due for a somewhat sunnier recalibration. Sure, he said those bad things about demonstrators, and, yeah, he did that thick-witted HOLY TERROR comic which made the entry level error of mistaking Islam for Islamism and thus, despite the savage visual beauty of the thing, kneed his rep right in the crackerjacks, and then there was the thing with the maid and the used tampon, which...um, anyway, even given all that Frank Miller can make better comics than this blasé slouch of vapid posturings. I've not been reading the reviews, but I have been reading the comic so I assume all the reviews are bad. (A little joke there.) However even someone as disconnected as my fair self noticed an uptick of interest with this issue, and the uptick of interest was all down to Frank Miller. To be precise it was all down to the mini comic for which he contributed art like this:

 photo DKTTankB_zpsjanqj6vn.jpg DKIII: TMR by Miller, Azzarello, Miller, Sinclair & Robins

Some people didn't like, some people liked it. (One poor bloke got into trouble for suggesting The Tank's art could have been better served by alternate methods of colouring. And then went on to show what he was talking about. Which was a big no-no because, fuck you very much for thinking seriously about this stuff! Ah, Comics!) Anyway, people were talking about Art! Comic art! And it was all down to Frank Miller. I don't know, but that seemed to me to be a refreshing change, certainly the only worthwhile thing about this cock-knockingly inept comic thus far. What? Oh, I liked Frank's art, I thought Frank's art was just peaches and cream, all grubby and energetic and altogether thrilling and everything absent from Kubert & Janson's overworked tedium in the main book. I read that mini comic and I knew that Frank's still got it, because it had never gone away. Who knew Frank Miller would be the most interesting thing about this truculently dumb thing? Who could ever have guessed? Frank “The Tank” would still, despite whatever the Hell happened to him, draw so astonishingly that comics folk would sit up and take note.

 photo DKTMR03B_zpsaq8s0cno.jpg DKIII: TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Miller, Anderson & Robins

When was the last time that happened? You know, comics folk talked about the comics art? Instead of about how “these waffles shaped like Captain America’s balls will melt in your mouth like creamy Freedom”, or how the latest Marvel variant covers showing the X-Men’s corpses being rudely violated by chat show hosts of today and yesteryear “will be available”, or how “this Groot shaped tumour makes cancer fun again”, or how some comic book editor has to be quarantined from 50% of the Earth’s population because he can’t help getting a bit handsy, or how he only gets a bit handsy with the ladies because he’s overcompensating for his homosexuality. So with treatment, God willing, he’ll be getting handsy with men, however, he won’t have to be isolated then because the men will just break his hands, which will solve the problem. But in the meantime there will surely be a point midway in his treatment when he’ll want to get handsy with men and women both, and so will have to be kept in space or at the centre of the earth, or, call me crazy, he could just take some fucking responsibility for his actions and change his ways. I don’t know, I can’t really comment as I don’t have daughters and only men with daughters understand you shouldn’t press your groin against ladies faces in the gym. I have a sister though, is that enough? No. Oh, if only I could understand why ladies don’t like uninvited hands roaming intrusively over them. I know we all turned a blind eye to those Nazi rocket scientists because we had to beat Russia into space but I’m not sure editing Superman comics is enough of a boon to civilisation to merit special treatment because you can’t keep it in your pants. Um, where were we?  Hey, I “know” The Tank hates the muslims and the poor and his cleaner has to be adroit at dodging flung used tampons and yadda yadda yadda. But, I don’t know,  I go to The Tank for art, pictures of Batman and that, not incisive and nuanced geo-political insights or advice on employee-employer relations. I wouldn’t ask “master storyteller” Tony S. Daniel his view on whether we should leave the EU (but then I wouldn’t want to look at his art either). And I’m not flush enough to have a cleaner, so all these tampons piled up around me will have to sit unthrown. Er, basically, The Tank wins again. (But Frank, as I’m sure you are reading this, seriously, ask someone the difference between Islam and Islamism. It’ll save you a lot of hearthache.)

 photo DKTMR02B_zps5pb4cixs.jpg DKIII: TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Miller, Anderson & Robins

The rest of the comic? Oh, it's terrible. Simply awful, darlings. Were it not for the price and prestige of this project it would be hilarious in its failure. As it is it's dismayingly poor. Mostly, Superman's daughter beats Superman up, and Brian Azzarello's whimsical ideas about pacing trip up his story so badly it ends up not only with with scabby knees but also a scabby chin. It does not add up, is what I'm saying. For some reason Superman lets his kid smack him about “for hours” (and many, many thoroughly dull pages). I'm sure Superman has a reason why he does this but alas, I am not as sophistimicated as Brian Azzarello so it just seemed stupid to me. Anyway, what's Batman's response. Batman, the master tactician, Batman the guerrilla genius, what does he do with all this time Superman has bought him? He sits and watches Supes get slapped silly by his kid "for hours" on the TV. Like it's Downton fucking Abbey or something. Christ, over the four issues extant of this regrettable mess Batman has 1) walked to The Fortress of Solitude with a big hammer and 2) snuck into Carrie Kelley's bedroom to caress her sleeping face while telling himself how awesome she is (which might be normal behavior to Superman editors, but strikes old-fashioned me as a bit creepy). He's not exactly pushing himself is he now?

 photo DKTMR05B_zpsp5m8mayt.jpg DKIII: TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Miller, Anderson & Robins

But John what does Wonder Woman do? Wonder Woman gets a call from Batman (probably, “Ur husbnd is gtting crap smcked out of hm! LOL!” and she just...crushes her phone. I know people who have survived apocalyptic divorces who still would lend a hand were their despised partner being kicked to death. Not Wonder Woman, though. Not the Princess of Peace! Fantastic stuff there. It's okay, you might think, because The Flash is around. Get this: Superman's daughter beats Supes up “for hours” and it is playing on every television on earth and The Flash...shows up when it's all over. I'm not exactly Geoff Johns when it comes to the minutiae of DC Comics characters but isn't the whole thing about The Flash that he's very fast? I know there's a bow tie involved, but unless you're a big Bing Crosby fan it's the whole “very fast” thing which defines The Flash. What the crepuscular fuck has The Flash been doing all this time? Brian Azzarello's pacing is so slow even The Flash can't fight it! Brian Azzarello is The Reverse Flash and I claim my five pounds! The Flash! The fucking Crap more like. Oh, and then there's The Atom who has been shrinking since, what, issue two? At what rate is he shrinking? Surely he should have shrunk out of existence by now. But, no, there Ray is, clinging grimly to a molecule, or an (heh) atom or something sciencey like that. “Maybe I can fix this...”, The Atom says. Apparently The Atom not only shrinks but is super-optimistic. More optimistic than I am. The only way to fix this pile of comic book bumblefuckery would be to have let Frank Miller write and draw it all in the first place. As it is DKIII: TMR remains consistently and flagrantly CRAP! Mind you, it's probably all Alan Moore's fault, right DC Comics?

NEXT TIME: Maybe a bit of Howard Victor Chaykin to cleanse the palate. There's a man who does good COMICS!!!

"Bedlam In Bug's Back Yard!" Sometimes The Visual Tribute To Battlin' Bill Mantlo Has A Second Part!

Yes! The post no one demanded! All the visual ephemera I could find within my battered back-issues of Battlin' Bill Mantlo and Michael "is" Golden's fizzy kid's comic confection THE MICRONAUTS. I may have missed one or two, but even so here is art from Michael Golden, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Butch Guice etc.. which may very well be shortly lost to time. Not on this old fool's watch! Feast your eyes! BONUS: Is MICRONAUTS #39 the "Rosebud" to Citizen Hibbs? Wilder things have happened, pilgrim! Have a happy Bank Holiday, from your pugnacious pal Jabberin' John K of the UK! EXCELSIOR!  photo HibbsB_zpsvpcxcwpl.jpg MICRONAUTS#39 by Steve Ditko, Danny Bulandi, Bill Mantlo, Jim Novak & Bob Sharen

Anyway, this...

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Thanks, Battlin' Bill and all your artistic partners! This kid appreciated it!

NEXT TIME: Words about COMICS!!!

"Take Him To The BODY BANKS!" COMICS! Sometimes It's The Little Things...

Um, here's a gallery of comic book covers from a series that Marvel published from 1979 - 1984 as a tie-in to a terrible line of toys. It was also, as of issue 38, part of Marvel's first tender dalliances with Direct Market only comics (see also MOON KNIGHT and KA-ZAR). The unfortunate Bill Mantlo scripted the series solidly (as was his wont) for its duration, but the real attraction was the cavalcade of artistic talent who put food on their table drawing this stuff. Michael Golden! Gil Kane! Steve Ditko! (Howard Victor Chaykin even did some innards but, alas, no covers). Because of legal what have you, and the fact it was so heavily intertwined with the Marvel Universe it's unlikely the series will ever be reprinted, so here for your baffled perusment I present without words and purely in pictures, the mighty MICRONAUTS...  photo Atop_zps4dm6mtgh.jpg MICRONAUTS by Michael Golden, Josef Rubinstein, Bill Mantlo, Tom Orzexhowski & Glynis Wein.

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They are old and they are yellowed but, by Dallan, they are - COMICS!!!

“And I Did What I Do.” COMICS! Sometimes Petey's Right Off His Wheaties! 

So, Marvel Universe Versus The Punisher? Pretty self-explanatory I'd have thought. (Abhay's below this one. Go read that!)  photo MUVP06B_zpsbksgvzdp.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

Anway, this...

MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER Art by Goran Parlov Written by Jonathan Maberry Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Petit Originally published as MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER #1-4 Marvel, (£4.99, Digital), (2010) The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway

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“The Last Man Alive Is Not Alone!” hooted the tagline for The Omega Man (1971) and such remains the case in Parlov & Maberry’s spiritual cousin set in the Marvel U. This time out the last man alive isn’t the brawny melancholic Charlton Heston but comics’ favourite armed meltdown Frank Castle, and he has all the ordnance in the world. This is good for Frank because his opponents aren’t a bunch of disgruntled anaemics with flaky faces and frightwigs but your very own childhood favourite superheroes gone cannibal and crazy. The appetites of these long pig crazy super mentals are vast but probably not as vast as the modern appetite for seeing our four colour chums degraded and subjected to the basest of instincts. Which is fine, as long as it’s done well.  Mostly it isn’t, that’s my beef. This stuff appeals to the misanthropic adolescent within us all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s little point railing against the inevitable and inarguable components of human nature. Particularly the shitty bits. After all, if I may mangle Voltaire for a moment, if the misanthropic adolescent within us all didn’t exist then Mark Millar would have had to invent it. We all like to get a little nasty is what I’m getting at. But you’ve got have standards. Because, well, if we don’t have standards, then where are we? Hmm? Hmm? At this point having begun sounding like Richard Liberty losing his mind in Day of The Dead (1985) it can only mean it’s time to segue silkily into the next paragraph.  photo MUVP08B_zpsyxdgv2ol.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

The crux then, as ever, is whatever the comic is, is it done well? Oh, I’m supposed to tell you? Well, okay then, if I must. We all know The Punisher (the man who is to picnics as Thomas Wayne is to shortcuts; comic book dads are a feckless bunch are they not?) and I know I’m familiar enough with the work of Goran Parlov (the master of the Alex Toth and landscape panel one-two punch) for his work to be the reason I bought this book, but I know not of this Jonathan Maberry. So I had a look, and it turns out Jonathan Maberry writes books I don’t read. In a somewhat grudging and definitely perfunctory spirit of fairness I looked at some of the covers. These prominently featured sweaty men with shaved heads and muscles like subcutaneous melons grimacing as they clutched big guns like someone was going to snatch them away and also, zombies. Lots of zombies. The titles were peppered with words such as ghost, blues, dead, moon, bad, kittens, plague, patient, zero etc. like so much butch literary buckshot. It’s a genre unto itself it seems and it’s called Military Horror apparently, and its heavy balls swing deep and low. Or so I’d guess having not read any of it. It’s probably pretty fun stuff; everyone likes reading about ball swingers killing the shit out of shit as the clock ticks down. Even effete old berks like me. And he’s won a few Bram Stoker Awards this Maberry fellow, so, you know, we probably aren’t talking about some ungodly toxic male trash the rapists keep stealing from the prison library. No, that’s the Hugo Awards.

 photo MUVP05B_zpsyqlvd86t.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

What I’m getting at is I wasn’t expecting much, something for my eyes at least; I can always depend on the pared down but still beefy stylings of Goran Parlov to give me my money’s worth. But as you’ve probably guessed by now, turns out this book’s premise is well within the quarantine area of Jonathan Maberry’s sweet spot of Sweaty Cock Gun Horror. The end result being that not only were my eyes entertained by Parlov’s thrillingly sparse art but Maberry’s darkly fun mangasm of violence engaged my adrenal glands throughout. Which is obvious in retrospect, given his literary oeuvre and the fact that this comic is about comics’ foremost swinger of balls killing the shit out of shit while the clock ticks. And there’s a lot of shit to kill the shit out of this time out. Someone, probably not Voltaire, once said that when seeking revenge one should first dig two graves; in MARVEL UNIVERSE VS PUNISHER they may have underestimated that by about six billion.

 photo MUVP04B_zpsdsgykf0b.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

Because, right, because thanks to some dude exercising his right to bear arms a little too enthusiastically (Guess who. Go on.) in close proximity to some chemical weapon smugglers the world is now populated for the most part by deranged cannibals, and that includes the super folk. Faced with a world gone wrong Frank decides to kill it. He’s a simple man. Cue up scenes of Frank murderalising all the old favourites, who are now hunched over and drooling with a malignant savagery that seemingly seeks to pander to the worst conceptions of mature super-hero storytelling, but due to an undercurrent of intelligence actually serves to poke deadpan fun at such edgey larks. The danger with such edgey stuff is that it may swiftly misstep into mean-spirited sadism, and the book fails to dodge this danger on a couple of occasions. The worst is when The Invisible Woman suffocates her kids with her force field. Personally (call me old fashioned) but I’m not super into seeing kids killed (that bit took me right out of the trash classic Planet Terror (2007)). I think your work needs to be pretty weighty to pull that stuff off, and I’m pretty certain MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER isn’t in that weight class. Sure, it’s about stuff like redemption, and the price of peace in such a wronged-up world, and contains Frank’s final frank acceptance of his own bleak nature, but that’s genre stuff; the book’s not about enough real stuff or even about genre stuff robust enough to carry a double infanticide.

 photo MUVP02B_zpsluln2xss.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

It’s just a slip though, and all of one panel of a slip at that. But, you know, it really put me off my stroke. In most other places the older-sibling-breaking-all-the-toys vibe works fine, as when The Thing sits on a pile of skulls while super-ladies caress his shingly thighs. That avoids being crass or misogynistic in and of itself because it’s riffing on an image central to a predominantly crass and misogynistic genre. The visual call-back to crass misogyny applied to a big orange lug in the 21st Century is funny, and that humour carries you past the bad taste. I’m not sure who could get real humour out of a woman suffocating her two kids, Todd Solondz maybe, but it isn’t Jonathan Maberry (and it’s a comics challenge I’m content to leave hanging, thanks). In fairness though, Mayberry’s dealing here with tonally tricky stuff; it has to be horrific but humorous, yet one can’t swamp the other. So, I guess the odd slip’s okay. He sure gets Iron Man’s demise just right though. It’s truly horrible and also sickly amusing. A fate worse than death indeed, but probably not a fate worse than having to appear in two books a month written by Brian Bendis. Death would be a kindness. A few stumbles then, but Maberry manages to avoid Millar Syndrome for the most part to provide a playfully appalling take on the Marvel Universe.

 photo MUVP03B_zps1kpkqybm.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

It might be catty but I can’t help but suggest it could have done with a tighter editorial rein though, as some of the book seems oddly contradictory. The identity of Patient Zero is played out over more than one issue as being some kind of big deal Mystery Reveal, while in fact the comic has already clearly shown Patient Zero in the first issue. So that’s a bit odd. And I’m pretty sure I’d already seen the head of the actual Real Mystery Reveal sat atop a stake in Frank’s garden. It could have been someone else, I guess, what with the uniqueness of that character kicking in below the neck, so that might be me getting confused. Last week I almost poured milk into the kettle, so anything goes! Just little niggles; on the whole the terse and gruffly streamlined approach works a treat. The spread of the contagion is portrayed in a dismayingly convincing manner and the smackdowns are brutal and inventive. Even Deadpool, who capers about on many of these pages, failed to make me wretch. But it wouldn’t be such a treat without Parlov’s art; his storytelling remains a thrilling enough reason for purchase in and of itself. The staging of the Frank vs. The Hulk sequence is perfection, with the reveal of what Frank’s firing a perfect punchline to the preceding sequence of set-up. The basically ridiculous nonsense is all grounded in an overgrown and rubbly New York confidently evoked by Parlov’s use of familiar landmarks with his noteworthy ability to convey a sense of both space and scale. Although clearly doffing his cap to the disgruntled Master Alex Toth, Parlov seems to push past Toth in one respect at least; his daring quest to see how few lines he can put on the page without them buckling under the weight of the visual information they have to carry. However, as much as I fawn over his work, I do take issue with Parlov’s decision to give Frank a pony tail which undermines him a little, because as we all know under every pony tail is a horse’s ass. Just joking, it was getting a bit dry with all that art stuff. But if you are grown man with a pony tail do feel free to take that seriously. The ‘60s are gone and you blew it, Chester.

 photo MUVP01B_zpst4wj5sum.png MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit

Christ, that’s far too many words for what is essentially THE PUNISHER SHOOTS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE IN THE FACE AND DOESN’T TAKE HIS FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL HE JUST HEARS DRY CLICKS. Jonathan Maberry does a good job and Goran Parlov does a better one, so if we add that up, turn around three times, and say the magic word “spangdangler!” we get VERY GOOD! (in terms of craft and entertainment, I stress).

NEXT TIME: Maybe I’ll turn my PENNANCE CRITICAL STARE on Ghost Rider! Maybe I won’t! It’s what’s called a cliff-hanger. They used to have ‘em in – COMICS!!!

The Title of This Blog Post is "Abhay Thinks He Can Write About COPRA Better Than You -- Nowhere to Hide - Nowhere to Cry - I Sunk Your Battleship Edition: 666"

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - !!!

Chapter One: Stephen Probably Could

For the last few years, one of my favorite comics to read has been Michel Fiffe's COPRA.  It's a comic that I really pretty unabashadely love-- one of the few being put out right now where I would talk about it in those terms.

But for the last few years, one of my least favorite comics to read people talk about has been Michel Fiffe's COPRA.

Standard Disclaimer-- Low Self-Esteem: Oh, some people have managed to say decent things about it-- there's always some people.  And I probably won't do any better than anyone else in making a run at it because blah blah blah false humility-- because this is a comic I like more than is reasonable, and will probably just gush about, rather than look at with the critical eye you deserve blabbity bloo. This is going to be me writing about the why of that, which is going to be completely insufferable.

And, in fairness to other people who've written about it: it raises a very old challenge -- COPRA talks about superheros (which folks usually know how to write about), but it doesn't seem to "care about them," at least in the traditional way comics readers are used to (i.e., all the "let me explain at nauseating length why Superman doesn't kill" ways).  It's one of those comics that fall onto the "conversation" at a weird angle -- something always true anytime a comic asking its reader to be on its wavelength has been central to its appeal.

But no, no -- what bugs me is a very specific thing, an unavoidable thing that gets mentioned over and over:  what bugs me is how people talk about COPRA's relationship with its most obvious influence, the John Ostrander, Kim Yale and Luke McDonnell run of SUICIDE SQUAD from the late 1980's.


People who bring up that run in connection with COPRA, they either (a) state the relationship in a very particular "tee-hee" way I find aggravating (discussed below), or (b) mention it in passing, then try to treat the book like John Q. Ordinary Superhero-Comic, no matter how obviously that's fitting a square peg into a round hole.  But in either case, they don't really think about how those two books really relate very intensely, despite COPRA inviting exactly that kind of thought.

The connection obviously can't be denied-- some (though not all) characters plainly rhyme; COPRA homages specific panel sequences, lifts structural ideas; etc.


But as an example of the "(a) tee-hee" school, just picked at near-random, here is the first paragraph from the AV Club's review of COPRA: ROUND ONE:

"Michel Fiffe’s COPRA: Round One (Bergen Street Press) is an inspiring piece for anyone that has ever wanted to work on corporate-owned characters, showing that copyright shouldn’t stand in the way of an artist’s will to create. Fiffe’s love letter to John Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD [...] changes character names and designs to step around legal conflicts, but underneath the superficial changes, this is a story about classic, pre-New 52 Amanda Waller and her team of former supervillains turned soldiers."

And this way of talking about COPRA is hardly limited to the AV Club-- it's the most common way of starting a review of this comic, with legal-buzzword pontificating, by reducing COPRA down to some kind of "legal stunt".  And I sort of hate it-- haaaaate it. I hate that nerd insistence on playing "I know what this is a reference to -- you're not fooling me" to win some argument no one's trying to make.  Categorize. Classify. Regiment.  Bag. Board. Bleh.

I hate how this obsession with phylogeny, this insistence that "ACTUALLY, SUCH AND SUCH IS JUST REHASHED SO-AND-SO TO DODGE LAWYERS" is an unhealthy constant that surrounds superhero comics -- an unhealthy constant that only renforces a crappy status quo.

There are the "true versions of superheros" (the ones owned by DC Comics, overseen DC Comics' crack team of date rapists) and then there are "well-meaning knock-offs", legal loopholes, phonies.   "Actually, COPRA is just the SUICIDE SQUAD.  Actually, THE AUTHORITY's Apollo & Midnighter- that's just a rehash of Batman and Superman. Actually, THE WATCHMEN characters are just the Charlton characters.  Good job dodging lawyers with your little tomfoolery, you fucking children."

I believe Jesus is a reheated Osiris knock-off as much as the next irritating atheist, but I mean geez: Is this healthy thinking?  Has this kind of thinking ever been good for comics?  I think we can all identify a number of occasions where it has been quite damaging:

  • Superman accused Captain Marvel of being a Superman knock-off in a 1941-1952 lawsuit. The result?  The premature death of one of comics' greatest runs of children superhero comics.
  • With the cancellation of the MIDNIGHTER series, it seems as obvious as ever how badly DC bungled THE AUTHORITY brand-- a brand that for at least a short moment in the early 00's had some cache, now all lost. DC couldn't muster any vision for the title-- oh, why should they if it was just knock-off Batman, Superman, etc., after all?
  • How much of the debate about BEFORE WATCHMEN was derailed by comics' D- internet "historians" (and/or craven "creators") insisting that Alan Moore was somehow less-than, somehow not deserving of any respect for his work on WATCHMEN -- just because early in his process of creating that comic, he'd taken some small inspiration from the Charlton characters? "The Comedian is really just an Exact Xerox of the Peacemaker, a character with a bucket on his head that no one sane has ever cared about from comics most of us have never read, which really means that Alan Moore is a hack and any old pimp could have crapped out a Watchmen."

Or consider the opposite: what kind of sorry shape would we all be in, if every time a Batman movie came out, the AV Club was quick to crow that it was just a rehash of The Shadow?  I saw the Shadow movie -- Alec Baldwin couldn't Batdance!  Baldwin no Batdance, sister!

But it's most irritating to me-- most irritating-- because it ignores what for me growing up, and what I know for so many other people my age growing up, was and continues to be a pretty big fucking deal, a touchstone, part of the glue of all things.


Chapter Two: SPOILER WARNING -- The Dog's Name was Indiana


Alan QuartermainDenis Nayland Smith. Commando CodyG-Man Rex Bennett.  1944's Perils of the Darkest JungleLucille Love, the Girl of MysteryProfessor ChallengerCaptain Blood.  Mark Brandon and Valley of the Kings. 

A proud tradition of serial adventurers who ran off into jungles, dangled from zeppelins, leaped from quicksand deathtraps onto moving trains, snatching diamonds from out of the mouths of tigers, stealing used women's underwear from convents, snorting rails of cocaine off erect horse genitalia, etc.


When George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan were creating Indiana Jones, all of these boyhood influences were hardly hidden away-- they were soaked into Indiana Jones from the start.  Listen to George Lucas, from PAGE ONE of the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK STORY CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT (an essential transcript of the January 23-27, 1978 conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan where they created the first and greatest Indiana Jones movie):

"Generally, the concept is a serial idea. Done like the Republic serials. As a thirties serial. Which is where a lot of stuff comes from anyway."

But audiences didn't care.  Was anyone shouting "well, this is just Alan Quartermain with the serial numbers filed off?  This is Alan Quartermain-- alert the lawyers?"  The comparatively tepid box office for 1985's KING SOLOMON'S MINES or 1986's  ALAN QUARTERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD would suggest (as would common sense) that if such people existed, they had no friends.

Were audiences shouting "a rogueish explorer in a leather jacket and a hat?  Nice try, but we all saw Charlton Heston's character Harry Steele race through ruins in THE SECRET OF THE INCAS?" Secret of the Incas [Charlton Heston] (1954) DVDRip Oldies.avi_snapshot_00.08.58_[2016.05.08_21.12.53]

Audiences did not care.

Why not?  I'd like to think part of it is this:

Audiences understand that when they watch RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that they're not watching a careful recreation or rehash of a Republic serial -- they're watching a movie that's very much about what those serials felt like inside Spielberg, Lucas, et al.'s brains, at a Saturday matinee, pre-puberty.  RAIDERS is all about watching the synaptic fireworks of a clever eleven year old-- it's watching Lucas, Spielberg, et al.'s memories of the movies that lived inside their own heads as kids, after seeing Forest Ranger Captain Steve King defy evil, escape peril.

Today, more people are likely to have seen RAIDERS than a Commando Cody serial.  Because arguably-- and this is not the most informed opinion, I haven't spent too many hours watching Republic serials-- but arguably, RAIDERS is a purer, cleaner hit than what came before it.  RAIDERS is almost all a sugar rush of a movie because you can tell they just stole the good parts from whatever was inspiring them.  Nobody remembers the boring parts of movies -- nobody dreams of growing up to recreate the part of STAR WARS where Luke Skywalker wants to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters; when they were remaking that STAR WAR last year, they left Tosche Station out.

indiana and monkey

And because RAIDERS is not ripping off all the boring parts no one remembers about those original movies, all that's left are the parts where Lucas and Spielberg have a fanboy glee for-- a fanboy glee that the original material inherently can't have.  And I would suggest to you that even people who've never seen a Republic serial can instinctually recognize that fanboy glee-- can connect with that glee, even after human memory of the underlying thing has faded away, cracked and crumbled.

Anything that gives some undue primacy to earlier work for being "the original", that casts the "original" in a dominant position just by virtue of being the inspiration instead of the inspir-ee, is thus a questionable logic, at best.

Chapter ThreeWhat happened to Her Vial of Billy Bob's Blood?

But, of course, there's a very obvious counter-argument.  If RAIDERS looted the American movie-going public more than KING SOLOMON'S MINES, maybe that just has no inherent meaning other than that one is simply the better better movie than the other. Maybe audiences thought (correctly) that Karen Allen was foxier Sharon Stone.  Maybe audiences could see which had more craft involved, more star-power both in front of and behind the scenes.  RAIDERS was plainly a movie that came out at the right time for it-- "the hero gets a happy ending, but hoo-boy the government's a bummer" pretty perfectly walks the line in 1981 between the Vietnam-stained Hollywood movies before RAIDERS and the Reagen-stained movies after it.


However, an argument can be made that RAIDERS is a better movie not just because it executed an adventure story better than the alternatives, but because it is actually about something that an Alan Quartermain "Reboot" inherently coud not have been about.  After all, what Lucas, Spielberg, Kasdan, Kaufman, Marcia Lucas, etc., made in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is hard to describe as being a "classical" adventure.

For starters, Indiana Jones is hardly a "square-jawed hero of yesteryear."  The movie begins with Jones an atheist looting foreign cultures of religious idols he thinks nothing of; its most memorable moment is him cheating during a fight; and whatever his relationship with the female lead was, it sure never sounded healthy.


Far from being a character who saves the day, the movie is a catalog of Indiana Jones's failures-- consider this description of the movie by screenwriter Terry Rossio (NATIONAL TREASURE, DEJA VU):

"He loses the golden idol. Marian is kidnapped and he's unable to rescue her. He finds the Ark, but it is immediately taken away. His bluff to destroy the Ark is called, and he gets recaptured. He can't even look upon the Ark when it is opened. And the government ends up with his long sought-after and much suffered-for prize."

Indiana Jones is a loser.  He just loses hard-- he loses in a way you can't help but admire.

By the end of the movie, Indiana Jones is stripped of all the things that make him an Adventure Serial hero, stripped of all his weapons, tied to a stake, made helpless-- and only wins at the end by finally turning to a higher power, a higher power that before he found love he could never believe in.  Indiana Jones never really beats the bad guys himself-- he just survives them thanks to a last-minute conversion.


Or heck: if RAIDERS is not example enough for you, consider KILL BILL, Quentin Tarantino's 2003-2004 "love letter" to kung-fu movies.  But there too, while KILL BILL may seem to occupy a classic kung fu mode, the movie consistently avoids kung fu movie morality.  A promised duel at night between honorable opponents becomes instead the hero of the movie slaughtering a mom with a knife in her own kitchen in front of her daughter -- the movie's samurai duel in the snow is only because the Bride's opponent is a woman adopting racial poses out of insecurity for her half-Japanese heritage. That scene is followed by the Bride disfiguring her samurai opponent's attorney.

All the fake honor and samurai logic gets stripped away from The Bride until the movie has become just a Russ Meyer fantasy of tattered women in a trailer swinging away, tearing each other to shreds.

By the end of that movie, we watch as a pop-culture obsessed filmmaker-- raised by a single mom-- tells a story about a single mom stopping the heart of the guy from TV's Kung Fu in order to (a) save her child from being raised as she was by the toxic masculinity he plainly represents, and (b) get an annoying nerd to stop man-splaining his Grand Philosophy of Superman oh fuck can that happen more how do we get that to happen more...


Yes, these movies are love letters to out-of-fashion genres, distillations and concentrates of the filmmaker's childhood obsessions-- but RAIDERS, KILL BILL, they're also movies about taking those childhood heroes, ignoring the morality they're supposed to have, and seeing what values survive for the filmmakers at childhood's end that allow them to survive a spiritual destruction threatened by their villains.  Both reflect hyper-literate filmmakers ripping away the trappings of genre from their genre super-heroes, because they know that cheap genre thrills must be outgrown for a hero to enter into the world of adulthood (a cultural message otherwise frighteningly absent from your neighborhood multiplex presently)-- their movies end trying to stare at the human values that have to be there when just liking movies isn't enough.

Both are love letters, but not empty-headed "I like to play with the toys" love letters-- love letters that know that what they love is also it own kind of poison.

"What nourishes me, destroys me." -- One of Angelina Jolie's tattoos.  Pretty deep.  (Could I have gotten a whole paragraph out of the fact that she was the Tomb Raider hey metaphors nudge nudge wink wink?  Hell yes, I could have.  I've been doing this for years, son!  *spikes football at home plate*)


But so okay: how 'bout that COPRA?

Consider the key difference between COPRA and SUICIDE SQUAD -- SUICIDE SQUAD is about a team of supervillains, operating in a clandestine fashion to take on the missions that superheros can't perform.  But COPRA?  As far as I can recall, COPRA has never betrayed that superheros exist in its universe.  The COPRA universe is one bereft of any moral alternative to the violence and murders its characters engage in.

From issue 12: "These clubs go deep, beyond reason, kings and even money.  It's the monolith you never address.  It's the little people firmly pressed to the ground, crushed under invisible rule.  No matter what results I was responsible for, we were always fodder..."

One character even explicitly calls COPRA what it is, what all superhero team comics become: a gang.  And its gang-members are mired in violence, imprisoned by their karma, sometimes due to circumstances of growing up in poverty, sometimes worries about being a "coward" (see above, re: toxic masculinity), etc. "Inmates" and "hooligans." As the story proceeds, especially in the latter half of the first year, the team is constantly being dismantled-- its characters flung into other dimensions and abandoned, or turning violently against one another, often just after we've met them.

Indeed, the entire first arc of COPRA is caused by a power from outside of their dimension-- a power that we're told consumes those that wear it.


My favorite issue is #14.  Without spoiling it, issue #14 concerns arguably the most innocent and likable member of the COPRA team.

It goes badly for them.  Or more specifically, it goes bad for the people around that character to know him.

COPRA is a comic that the SUICIDE SQUAD, by virtue of existing in the DC Universe can never be because it is a comic fundamentally suspicious of, derisive of, dismissive of the underlying message of superhero comics: that power can be used responsibily, that our world has space for heroes, that violence can solves problems.  COPRA is so intoxicated by comic's formal properties that perhaps the fact its content isn't so peppy can easily be overlooked, ignored.  COPRA has cheap genre thrills, but plays them like a black comedy-- unburdened by a DC universe context that makes no sense i.e. that the kind of power let loose within COPRA can co-exist with a moral universe.

In other words, and to bring this back to our original thesis, without properly considering the book's relationship to SUICIDE SQUAD in a thoughtful way, some of COPRA's key merits will be overlooked.

Chapter Four: SPOILERS The Greatest American Hero was Actually Your Dad That Entire Time-- Think About It -- It's a Metaphor, You Plebian!

Question: If you were to compare an old Ostrader-Yale issue of SUICIDE SQUAD and an issue of COPRA, would the two really resemble one another?

My answer is no.  Because even besides the differences in their formal qualities, the differences in McDonnell and Fiffe's artistic influences / aspirations... SUICIDE SQUAD is about the SUICIDE SQUAD-- making sure the reader is able to carefully follow the goings-ons of the SUICIDE SQUAD's sordid journey through the dark underbelly of the DC Universe.


But COPRA...?  What is COPRA about?

Pop quiz:  What's the plot of the first 12 issues of COPRA?   Answer: God only knows!  I barely remember and I just reread them before I wrote this.  Some triangle's being an asshole or something-- fuck you, triangle!  It doesn't matter.  Because it's not really about that.

And I think for me, the reason COPRA has meant something to me over these last couple years, is that it's more about a feeling -- a specific feeling that you only used to get from comics, and a specific feeling that comics itself has maybe abandoned -- or at least lost for me.


My favorite issues of Chris Claremont's THE UNCANNY X-MEN when I was a kid were the two issues in San Francisco where the X-Men fought the Marauders-- I talk about them all the goddamn time.  I can still remember a good chunk of those comics-- Dazzler cutting Rogue out from some underwater metal trap; Wolverine fighting Marauders on a bridge until he has to jump off the bridge to save himself; Rogue waking up on a beach next to a guy reading a Wildcards book; Havok trying to kill his wife Polaris at the end because she'd turned evil, been possessed by Malice (metaphor!).  I read those comics to tatters, as a kid.  To tatters.  It's not peak Claremont, but it's peak Claremont-Silvestri.

Here's the part I don't remember:  why the hell were they in San Francisco!  Because who gives a shit?


COPRA, especially in its first year, in the ways that really matter, is about what comics felt like when I was a kid:  superheros who can barely get along with one another on the run from a world that hates them, on the run from themselves; teen self-loathing covering up adolescent realizations that the world wasn't actually built for us, doesn't care about us, is apathetic to our existence; Havok shooting raybeams at a lady because he doesn't know how to talk to girls.

Every superhero comic that mattered was on the run when I was a kid.

The Claremont-Silvestri X-Men were hiding in tunnels, hunted, under constant siege.  Mark Gruenwald's Captain America was fired, replaced by the government with a muscled-up emotionless psycho, lost in his own tunnels with D-Man.  (A lot of tunnels).  Batman, at the beginning of his career, chased by cops, "Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on...none of you are safe".  Batman, at the end of his career, chased by cops: "You were the one who laughed... that scary laugh of yours... 'Sure we're criminals.' You said.  'We've always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'"


Sure, these comics were "power fantasies for alienated kids" -- but back then moreso than today, I think the people who made those comics realized that the key word in that phrase wasn't "power", but "alienated."

Some part of me when I was a kid needed to hear that stuff.  Some part of me figured out early that the world was a shitty and unfair place, and needed to hear outlaw mythologies, not realizing how fucking damaging those were to dumb, schlubby kids like I was back then.  And given how much I salivate when COPRA rang that same bell, given all the stuff I still tend to like, I guess some part of me still likes to hear outlaw mythologies, even 100% fully realizing how fucking damaging they are to dumb, schlubby adults like I am right now.  (Footnote:  I'm not saying it's healthy.  I'm not saying I'm healthy.)

But superhero comics for the most part-- besides COPRA-- they've lost all that for me.

First, if anyone was doing a great and convincing run in that mode pre-COPRA, I suppose that I missed it. The post-Miller generation thought the fascism was the fun part, instead of the sour after-taste.  At least I think that's true for that wide swatch of comics THE AUTHORITY inspired (arguably an awful lot of books).  "Fascists are a bummer, man." -- Pablo Neruda.

But second, for me, it's probably not just a case of "oh hey, I wish the X-Men were on the run again"-- look around.  The people who make those kinds of comics now -- they've bought in.  They bought into gimmicks and "it is the fans who are wrong" and endless crossover scams and ugliness.  They looked at a crowd of date-rapists and said "Sign me up-- boss me around-- I'll be a loyal quiet soldier in your armies of silence."

They could try to write a little outlaw story, but what kind of fucking sucker would believe them?

Chapter FiveI Mean COPRA's Like O-Kay But This is Getting Ridiculous Bro -- Why Don't You Just Marry It?

But okay fine "COPRA is good because I like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK so much that I have somehow deluded myself into some bizarre metaphysical connection between the two things in my head, and also all weak stories were actually 'really about a feeling' this entire time it turns out, thanks genius" -- thesis proven; let's quit wasting your time talking about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Let's instead waste your time talking about an entirely different Harrison Ford movie.  Let's move on to STAR WARS.  Because no one on the internet ever talks about that movie-!  It's weird!

Star Wars strip1

And I didn't really love that last STAR WARS movie-- I find it interesting to think about, but I had issues with a bunch of the plot choices in that movie. Except the complaints that other lonely middle-age failed men-- my brothers in arms!-- usually have with that movie tend to be very different, and ones I care much less about-- the biggest non-racist ones being that it "recycles" the storyline of the NEW HOPE.  That's nerds' biggest complaint in a movie where a guy randomly comes back to life out of nowhere.

But there, I kind of think what the filmmakers have to say makes sense, that their stated intentions are persuasive-- and perhaps somewhat pertinent to pause to consider with what we're talking about here.


Here's JJ Abrams et al. describing what they were doing, to the Hollywood Reporter:

"I can understand that someone might say 'Oh it's a complete rip-off.'  We inherited Star Wars.  The story of history repeating itself was I believe an obvious and intentional thing.  The structure of meeting a character who comes from a nowhere desert and discovers that she has a power within her, where the bad guys have a weapon that is destructive but that ends up being destroyed, those simple tenants, are for me by far the least important aspects of this movie.  They provide bones that were well-proven long before they were used in Star Wars.  What was important for me was introducing a brand new chapter, brand new characters, using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that's new-- to go backwards to go forwards. [..] Yes, the bones of the thing we always knew would be a genre comfort zone-- but what the thing looks like... We all have a skeleton that looks somewhat similar, but none of us look the same. To me the important thing was not what are the bones-- to me, it was about meeting new characters who discover themselves that they are in a universe that is spiritual, that is optimistic, and in a world that you will meet people who will become your family."

I find that more persuasive than the arguments I find his critics making, at least where the "why is it the death star again" criticism is concerned.  Besides "inherited", I think the line in that which gets to me is "to go backwards to go forwards."

But boy, comics really grinds it out of you to believe that's possible.  Comics is usually "to go backwards to go backwards.  Yay, backwards.  Look at all this backwards!"


COPRA's relationship with SUICIDE SQUAD shouldn't be ignored.  But it invites questions deeper than "how does this effect DC's oh-so-important trademark rights?"  Is COPRA about something different than the SUICIDE SQUAD?  Does COPRA use the SUICIDE SQUAD as start pointing in order to explore themes that SUICIDE SQUAD didn't?  Does COPRA question its genre and interrogate its fantasies in a way that SUICIDE SQUAD couldn't?  If content is performance and performance is content, is the fact that COPRA is "performing" the SUICIDE SQUAD's trappings (in addition to DOCTOR STRANGE and X-MEN and all the other ingredients in COPRA's stew) any more significant than if it had performed any other kind of story?

Are we going backwards to go forwards?

Chapter 6I Bet He Put a Carrot at Its Crotch

Final point -- not particularly on-topic -- pure self-indulgence:

The way these reviews always begin by kowtowing to the primacy of the SUICIDE SQUAD-- I think what's interesting about it is how it betrays a sort of anxiety about comics as being a performance medium.  It suggests that those critics think that the audience is looking for Big Ideas, and should not be left surprised to discover this comic has an Idea That's Been Done Before-- oh, that feature needs to be marked out, first and foremost.  They suggest that the authors think the audience has to have their hand held on the elemental idea that serial comics are a performance space-- have their hand held on such a big and basic point about those comics!


Certainly, COPRA more than any other comic in that space right now underlines that point for a reader-- it's a point being made more persuasively by COPRA than any of the story's "messages", that of course serialized comics are performances.

It can be seen in the art-- layouts that stagger between carefully choreographed widescreen action and formalist howls, montage panels, panels of thin-line work next to thick brushwork, lenticular panels and silhouetted action, homages to DC house-style action sequences mixed with art-comic mark-making, color as storytelling, color as ornament, color as punctuation.

Fiffe himself has been open in couching the book about breaking the Kirby Barrier: 

"It's an output thing: churn out those pages, keep moving and odn't you dare think of a rewrite, pal.  The way I see it is not about rushing to produce some slapped together thing, it's about not being so precious that it stalls you, not refining the work until it no longer has any life.  [...]  It's allowed me to unerstand a part of the comics I love, especially the older ones, the less self conscious ones."  

But a fan would have to be pretty thick not to notice this aspect of the comic.

There are other comics out right now that have to be viewed through that performance lens.  There is REVENGER, Charles Forman's action-sleaze beat-em-up comic set in a decayed and deadened American wasteland (a more deadpan A-Team cousin to SEXCASTLE's Roadhouse)(or maybe giggling more over those dopey Andy Vachss books -- I never figured out the appeal of those).  REVENGER's story is plainly overheated, with the fun of the comic not being that story so much as the straight-faced Dateline NBC tone of Forsman's telling of it, how the Stone-Phillips-iness of his delivery makes it all play like a fun inside joke to be in on (though: with Forsman again indulging in a bizarre fascination with big third act twists that I can't say I myself share, but is at least seeming now more like something he's exploring for some kind of  fuzzy reasons, and less like a lack of experience or discipline or whatever).  The performance of REVENGER far more than the content calls attention to (and allows Forsman to focus on) his pacing, atmosphere, the unspoken joke and invisible story of his comic-- arguably, where his strengths seem to lie.

Or, the serialized stories of the ISLAND anthology or 8HOUSE-- I honestly can't make heads or tails of some/most of these comics, the ones I've seen, when I try to "understand" the stories.  I don't really follow what's happening narratively-- a great many ornate ideas but without any narrative structure to hold on to or for the reader to orient themselves with, with the dialogue offering no significant hand-holds.  But I find that many of these comics remain entertaining, provided that I shift my reading speed, speed up, focus less on the "notes" and more on the "melody" -- provided that I respect them as performances, instead of as spoon-fed narratives.  I wouldn't call any of these unqualified successes-- but if you believe that one of the hallmarks of a great comic is that in some way teaches you how to read it, these seem like at least worthy efforts.

And so, among comic creators, the idea of a serialized comic being a performance does not seem like it would be controversial-- the work itself plainly and routinely betrays that understanding, more and more of late.  And yet, when you look at how comics are discussed and particularly sold, the conversation seems strangely oblivious to that fact.

Micronauts 01 07

And here, let's not single out the reviews-- let's not just heap abuse on the poor AV Club.  All the poor AV Club ever wanted to do was tell us every single scene that happened in the latest episode of THE AMERICANS, like an annoying 9 year old.  But no:  consider the Image Expo.

At least as it's reported.  The reports of this Expo are all about high concepts.  Big Story Ideas.  "What if there were dinosaurs ... on the moon?  But: what if the dinosaurs were secretly magicians??  AAIIIIIIEEEEE."

But the weird thing:  people care about these ideas enough to spend years writing and drawing them, one painstaking page at a time, people's adult lives thrown at these concepts.  But you almost never hear why.  Why are people telling these stories, why are they telling them right now instead of other stories, why do they care, who are they, who are they trying to talk to-- you never hear about the performance, at least not in how these Expos are reported.  At best, the very best you can do, if you kind of squint at it, you can kind of tell that Ivan Brandon really saw some crazy shit during the War that he isn't okay with yet and he's trying to work out in his comics -- villages being burned, women throwing their babies onto rocks, men trying to hold their guts in their bodies with their hands, screaming in foreign tongues: "Why did you do this to me, Ivan Brandon?  Why are you so cruel?"

Comics themselves more often than not evidence that people making them plainly understand that they are performing -- but the story that comics tells itself and sells to others never seems to be about performance. And that's enormously strange, if you just think about the history of American comics, and one of the key things that makes that history so great, at least to me.

atari force

Have you ever heard the story (maybe apocryphal) of Michelangelo's Snowman?

In January 1494, a snowstorm hit Florence, Italy-- the home of the young Michelangelo and his patron Piero de' Medici-- who history would remember as Piero the Unfortunate, who centuries later is still described as "feeble, arrogant and undisciplined."  Piero sends for Michelangelo, and tells him to make a snowman in the de' Medici's courtyard.  And so, Michelangelo does -- before he sculpts David, Michelangelo sculpts a snowman, which of course, eventually melts away.  But his biographer Giorgio Vasari describes the snowman as "very beautiful" (though some say Vasari himself never saw it), and that is how it is still remembered today in articles with titles like "Michelangelo's snowman and other great lost works of art."

And for years, that was the the history of comics in the United States-- nobody knew that their work was going to be collected in trades, remembered, filmed, etc.  A comic wasn't supposed to last past the Wednesday it was new on the shelf.  Heck, (and this sounds like an exaggeration now, but at least from how I remember some years), there were times where people weren't sure there'd be a comics in America in 5 years, at least as we understood it.

But plenty of people, more than makes any sense, just said fuck it and danced as hard as they could for their money.  And if you lucked out on the right back issue bin, you could find these bizarre and wonderful things.  Some folks really put on a fucking show, just because that's who they were and at the speed they were working at, they wouldn't have time to think of doing anything less.  For no reward.  For the opposite of a reward-- they had to work in fucking comics.  95% of your favorite artists got date-raped by a DC editorThat's not me talking-- that's just according to science!

But however futile, they did the job anyways, performed their little hearts out anyways, foolishly, pointlessly, and in the absolute stupidest sense of the word, bravely.

And so for reminding readers of comics like that (Fiffe's called SUICIDE SQUAD a "deep cut" in interviews), COPRA links arms with those people, that most honorable comics tradition of "fuck it" through time, and tells that story to readers, a story critics and publishers won't or aren't, a counter-history of comics that for me at least seems infinitely cooler than any alternative.

I mean, who do you think was the hero of the Wile E. Coyote cartoons?  If you rooted for that fucking bird, you probably aren't reading this, you'll die a schmuck, and COPRA's too good for you.  The End, and good night.


“The Matter of Britain Has A Desperate, Clawed Gravity.” COMICS! Sometimes I Suspect History Isn't Finished With Us Yet.

In which I go up against Warren Ellis' current series and...the usual snark is not deployed! Find out why after the “More...”  photo INJ06B_zps1jllx1hk.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

Anyway, this... INJECTION, VOLUME ONE Art by Declan Shalvey Written by Warren Ellis Coloured by Jordi Bellaire Lettered & Designed by Fonografiks © 2015 Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey Originally published in magazine form as INJECTION #1-5 Image Comics, £5.49 (currently £2.99) via Comixology (2015)

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I was going to start off on a portentous note by solemnly intoning something along the lines of “Britain is an old land...” But all lands are old, you know; Belgium didn't just turn up one day and forget to leave. Still stubbornly aiming for that serous note that would get me the gold elbow patches I so dearly I aspire to, I toyed with “Despite its size Britain is full of history...”. But all lands are full of history. Even Belgium. Clearly this wasn't working, particularly as I'm not exactly sure what Britain's history is. Not WW2 and The Corn Laws, no, I mean the stuff they don't cover in class; the bit when we were all running about in woad and worshiping trees and stones. But is even that Britain? I mean we were a very popular spot for invasions, seemingly right from day one. Before wi-fi the old rape and pillage were all the rage, and Britain had plenty to rape and pillage by all accounts. It's not much to brag about but we'll take what we can, thanks. And British people will drone on about how hardy we are, but a lot of the time the invaders won. E.g. in 1066, as commemorated on the Bayeux Tapestry (one of the first long form comics) the French arrived quite violently on our shores, and it wouldn't be until 1399 that we again had a king whose mother tongue was English. Strangely we don't go on about that a lot. But, boy, we never shut up about Agincourt. Like all races the British memory is selective, but facts dictate that the British are a mongrel race; we can agree on that at least? Which perhaps explains their preoccupation with defining British-ness. Seriously, I'm British but that shit is just tiresome. Here we have a comic by Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis which is all about Britain and Britishness but...it's not tiresome in the least. I know! You could have knocked me down with a feather!

 photo INJ05B_zpsgkvcqtn8.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

When I first read INJECTION, I'll admit I was less than impressed. At first glance it looked like a rejig of the PLANETARY template: there's a group of hideously over competent specialists investigating singularly odd occurrences which all point to a larger, world threatening conspiracy. Is that PLANETARY? I didn't read past the first two TPBs, mainly because I got distracted, but also because there was a character called the Drummer who was, sigh, a drummer and every time he appeared I sighed a little harder until I had to drop the series lest all the air sigh from my body. But if I'm writing about a thing I usually give it a couple of go-overs (I know, arent I professional!), and a second read of INJECTION resulted in me ejecting my biases and appreciating the comic more fairly. And having given it a fair shake I'd say it was certainly among Ellis' best work. That I've read, naturally.

 photo INJ01B_zps9qgiz080.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

In INJECTION Shalvey and Ellis have come up with a cast of five specialists, each of whom is typically sickeningly proficient in their area of expertise. (I am of course wildly jealous as I am the kind of man who calls heating a bolognese in the oven “cooking”.) There’s also a healthy spread of ethnicities within the group, unlike PLANETARY. Maria Kilbride is the notional head of the group and she may be white but she is ginger, which in bitter old Britain is treated as a distinct race and abused in a similarly unthinking fashion. Maria's also cracked in the head. Trained in the art of exposition-fu Maria is currently attempting to atone for something she and her gang of four did. And this Something is something the series makes clearer as it progresses. Simeon Winters is, for want of a better description a spy; he is also black. He allows Ellis to bring in his creepy feel for gadgetry and indulge in long stretches of artfully choreographed violence. During an an extended contretemps gone wrong in a plush hotel Declan Shalvey demonstrates once again (see MOON KNIGHT) that he is one of the premier action artists of the modern age. Falling chandeliers, knives through bone and faces smashed into unwashed dishes are just some of the stuff he pulls off. And all as the combatants dance their deadly dance through dimensions discretely defined and adhered to. Fucking beezer, in short. (If Simeon Winters is any indication that Ellis penned JAMES BOND: VAGNA might be worth a look.)

 photo INJ04B_zpshvsk9utw.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

Brigid Roth is your street urchin/hacker and is also not Caucasian, but she is Irish. Although she never exclaims “Bejaysus!” or dances a jig, so I'm taking this Irishness on trust. (Racism Disclaimer: I'm not mocking the Irish, I'm mocking the poverty of their portrayal in comics. I can mock the Irish if you like. Drop me a line.) There are only five issues collected here so not everyone gets equal space and Brigid gets sketched out nicely enough, but I imagine the depth will come later. However, in one of her pieces, Shalvey draws a super piece of body language in one panel as she scoots some discarded grundies under a chair with her foot while hoping her visitor won't notice. He also goes to town on her house and her tech bringing much needed sense of realism to this particular steet urchin hacker thing I find so difficult to digest. I know, I know, there are singing stones distorting the fabric of reality and ancient ents spitting Middle English in modern travel lodges, but what I have problems with is how such a street-wise scamp got so much PC kit. That's on me. Vivek Headland is another non-Caucasian and is the least defined character in the book. At the moment he is the OCD Sherlock type that is currently in vogue. Hopefully he'll be fleshed out later, and if not hopefully he'll fall under a bus. Fifthly and finally, Robin Morel is the token Caucasian male (how'd you like them apples; better get used to 'em. Multiculturalism is here to stay!) and the most explicitly British of the cast. So British in fact that his ancestors were Cunning Folk (i.e. druids) and it is strongly implied that his family tree has its roots in the first soil that settled on the rocks of Britain. He denies he is a magician or has any ulterior motives with all the strength and conviction of someone who is in fact a wizard and has ulterior motives to spare. Wesley's wise words to “always bet on black” are wise indeed, but Kane's creed of “always to keep your eye on the white guy” might also need heeding.

 photo INJ02B_zpsvfg8k0ve.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

Ayup, it's a varied and interesting cast. One which, for maximum narrative interest, we're introduced to in the present and also the past via parallel narratives. In the present strange and deadly shit is erupting, while in the past we find out why that is. Sure, Ellis can't help indulging in tediously sarky banter, but he does keep it to a minimum, leavng plenty of space for actual characterisation, nasty set pieces and technical gobbledygook, all driven by the visual urgency of Shalvey's art work. Art work aided by the sublimely accomplished colours of Jordi Bellaire. Now, I don't have a handle on colours but it's clear Bellaire's up to something here. The play of blues, greens and reds in particular across the pages suggest some underlying theme which I have not yet gleaned. Which is perfectly appropriate for a series I suspect has surprises yet to unleash. INJECTION is a work of quiet strength and that strength comes from the scope of its approach. Ellis works in a cheeky nod to Will Wiles' 2014 novel The Way Inn while also sprinkling in Olde England legends. Ellis explicitly brings in the legend of Wayland The Smith, and it's a cute way of showing the old stories still have meaning in the modern world. I think it's notable though that Ellis keeps Wayland sympathetic, because there's an ending to his legend that Ellis doesn't tell. A brutal and cruel revenge which makes him less symapthetic than he appears here. Which suggests that with this first volume of INJECTION we've just settled on the surface and deeper, darker depths will be broached soon.

 photo INJ03B_zps9jvxiaqz.png INJECTION by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Fonografiks

Essentially, Ellis combines his fetish for the future with a passion for the past and creates a more balanced work than I've yet read from him. Being aided by Declan Shalvey (who similarly elevated Ellis' writing on MOON KNIGHT) ensures that the visuals are compelling and arresting even during the quieter scenes. Crucially then, Ellis keeps his Ellis-isms to a minimum and Shalvey appears incapable of doing anything but shine. I don't really know where INJECTION is going but the chances are good it will have more to say than it's all the Fantastic Four's fault. VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: I don't know! I'm not a machine! COMICS!!! COMICS!!!

“Passive Smoking On The Last Train Home.” COMICS! Sometimes It's All About Family, Innit?

Sunday, and I've been caught a mite short. So I'll just blast through this and see how we do. It's an old Vertigo/DC Comic you might want to look out for in the dollar bins. And I'll tell you for why after the "More..."  photo Mob01B_zpsbbwxws0l.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Anyway, this... MOBFIRE #1-6 Art by Warren Pleece Written by Gary Ushaw Lettered by Gaspar Logo and publication design by Rian Hughes Art & Text © Gary Ushaw & Warren Pleece All other material © DC Comicss DC Comics/Vertigo, $2.50 each (1994-1995)

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Inheriting the family firm at short notice due to the sudden demise of a parent is always a tricky business. For Jack Kellor it's trickier than usual since the Firm his dad ran was decidedly dodgy, not entirely kosher, a bit on the illegit side, you feel me. And that's putting it kindly. See, John Kellor's business was mucky business. Crime if you must. And if you really must then come tooled up, but mind it's with something a bit tastier than a shooter, because in this slightly-to-the-side-of-reality world the scallywags have got a bit of the supernaturals on their side. See, way back when you could leave your door unlocked at night (or were stupid enough to think you could) Jack Kellor ran into a black fellow in a severe state of duress and saved his bacon. Turned out he wasn't just some bloke over here to fill in the post-war labour shortage by driving a bus. Nah, only a blooming witch doctor wanne? And thereafter indebted to the man who saved his hide (because that's how magic works, and who am I to argue?) this Bocor gave John Kellor a decided edge, at least for a bit. After all, it may well have been magic and all that, but in the wrong hands it was just a new weapon, so the other gangs picked themselves some tasty talent handy with the old hocus-pocus and there you go, Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt. That's the world Jack's now chucked into, bad enough to make you wish you'd stayed in bed. But Jack's a chip off the old block in that he has ambition, but where his dad's ambition was to build it up, Jack's going to burn it down. Unless the Bocor gets a whiff of it, because he owed Jack's dear old dad, not Jack; in fact he owes Jack shit, and it looks like he's going to try his level best to make him drown in it. So, no, inheriting the family business might not be all it's cracked up to be for Jack.

 photo Mob05B_zpsbumttsgh.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

The six issues of MOBFIRE were published in 1994-1995 and thus far remain uncollected. This can only have been due to poor sales as pretty much everything was collected back then. If MOBFIRE did sell poorly it wasn't because of any lack of quality, but probably due to the lack of familiarity with the talent involved. I mean, I have no idea who Gary Ushaw is. I hope he's healthy and life has been kind to him, because he wrote a pretty good comic here. The first few issues of MOBFIRE are the densest and tightest, with by far the best writing which serves to suck you in quite nicely. Ushaw and Pleece then keep you on your toes with a surprising development at the fourth issue point, which then results in a lengthy guest appearance by John Constanine. As nicely written as that part is it's an odd choice for a creator owned series, and won't help the chances of a TPB now the rights have probably reverted. Shame, because for all of its six issues MOBFIRE is a pretty good time ,with a varied cast, some surprises and betrayals and it all ends in a bizarre fiasco of violence which is delightfully insane and resembles a Pampers advert directed by 1980s David Cronenberg.

 photo Mob06B_zpswe6hyzfg.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Whoever Ushaw is and whatever he does now, MOBFIRE shows he could write a tidy little comic. The characters are varied and nicely sketched, including but not limited to the addict sister, the mother whose bitterness is rooted in denial of the filth her life style rests on, the chipper best mate and Jack's lady friend (who is not only a woman of colour, but also clearly stronger than Jack in every way without it coming across as unctuous pandering). Ushaw's also a dab hand at that '90s Brit Talent staple the Stream Of Consciousness Babble. You know , the one Morrison and Gaiman dabbled in, Milligan excelled at, and the ridiculously neglected John Smith claimed as his own kingdom and within which he has since dwelt, seeing off all comers quite successfully. Ushaw holds his own in this tricky arena, but his effort impresses perhaps more than it should as he cleverly uses it to confound any creeping misgivings about his portrayal of the Bocor as a largely monosyllabic slab of black Evil. Dude's got depths, just pray you never see them. While the whole thing's played mainly straight Ushaw's not above a bit of playfulness. At one point the criminal enterprise is explicitly explained in terms which make you momentarily wonder whether Ushaw is in fact describing the Free Market as gangsterism. Which he is. (As they say - it's funny because it's true.) Then there’s a Scots bloke who has spooky mirror powers, and if he isn't a cheeky riff on Mirror Master then I'm Beryl Reid. (I'm not Beryl Reid). Not only that but the wee scunner ends a violently bloody encounter by recreating a visual joke made famous by Harry Worth.

 photo Mob04B_zpskadganva.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Don't worry if you're coming up blank there. Harry Worth is a particularly British reference point and Ushaw is pretty sweet at including these without over-egging the colloquial pudding. The singularly British references are there, but they don't run around on fire screaming in a catastrophic and self defeating bid for attention (see James Robinson's FIREARM. Or don't). E.g. at one point a couple of thick necked guards are partaking in some manly banter, and one mentions he won't be going “up The Arsenal” because “it's the big wedding on The Street.” Sure, the football reference is pretty basic, but the latter part is interesting because he's referring there to a wedding on the popular British TV soap opera Coronation Street (AKA “The Street”) rather than an actual wedding on his street. Britain not actually being that big on street weddings, since the weather is for shit and the folk are mostly miserable social inverts. Basically, for the duration of the book if you get the reference everything's better, but if you miss it there's no harm done. Best way really.

 photo Mob02B_zpshkn6n2qa.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

The uniquely British atmosphere is aided no end by the art of Warren Pleece which makes the book worthy of rediscovery all on its lonesome. Warren Pleece is a talented comic book artist, by which I mean he clearly understand the nuts and bolts of putting a page together, but more than that Warren Pleece is a singular talent, because over and above that stuff he understands the importance of conveying a sense of place. The place here is Britain and it looks like Britain. It doesn’t always, not in the comics. There's a bit more to it than Big Ben and a red bus, hard as that may be to believe. Pleece doesn't get much space to play with, but he makes the space he's given work like work is going out of fashion. In crowd scenes everyone is dressed differently, and there are a range of ages on display, but everyone has that singularly worn out and worn down lack of finish which marks every Brit out in a crowd. The shop signs proclaim “MARKS & SPENCER”, “C&A” and “WOOLWORTHS”. Yeah, Woolworths has gone now, but it used to be there; it used to be everywhere in the UK, and so Pleece's art captures not just a place but also a time. And there's also the infernal golden arches in a nod to the cultural homogenisation only just getting a toe hold back then. And Pleece packs all that in one panel on a seven panel page.

 photo Mob03B_zpszkv4hfh6.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

On another page he slides into sight the delights of typical pub grub, discreetly colouring the drinks with a typically urinous wash. Another panel on the same page shows us there’s a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck (in every pub in England there's a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck. Either that or he just left, or he's due in shortly. Bide your time and he'll be by, the man in the England shirt with a tat on his neck). Ella, who Jack runs with, lives in a flat and Pleece treats us to the sight of laundry flapping on the balcony and contrasts the visually tedious edifice with a short arsed but far more characterful terrace. In one panel, that is, on an eight panel page. Get the drift? Pleece's faces are distinctive with their porcelain sheen and implacable drift chinward towards Punchinello levels of grotesquery, and it's easily these that make the most marked impression. But the fact Pleece bothers to give them a fully realised world to move through lifts his work from the quirkily accomplished and into the great. Because of course it's a fully-realised world; it's our world and capturing that is a kind of magic I can believe in. Utltimatley though the book works because Ushaw and Pleece are firmly in creative cahoots, any doubts about that are kicked to the curb with the bit of business in #5 on p. 9 & 10 involving the flowers in the cafe. It does nothing to propel the plot, but does everything to assure you Ushaw and Pleece are having fun, and doing a bang up job while they are at it. Look, what I'm getting at is Ushaw's writing and Pleece's places make MOBFIRE VERY GOOD! So if you see it, tuck in!

NEXT TIME: Go on, guess! That's right – COMICS!!!

“This Fixation With Twentieth-Century Super-Heroes Has Got To STOP!” COMICS! Sometimes Everything Is In Fact Awesome When You Are Part of A Team!

In order to belay any simmering suspicions that I loathe and resent super-hero comics I look at a comic filled to the brim with them. A whole mess o’ super-heroes, a veritable Legion in fact!  photo DCPSL06B_zpsyrcvoek0.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Anyway, this… DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERBOY’S LEGION #1 Art by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer Written by Mark Farmer Lettered by Pat Prentice Coloured by Richard & Tanya Horie Legion of Super-Heroes created by Al Plastino & Otto Binder Superboy created by Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel DC Comics, £2.99 (Comixology) (2001)

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I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never been a big joiner(1) but the Legion of Super-Heroes has always left me cold reading-wise. They always seemed like a bunch of stiffs, basically. Running around the place with their simple-minded names(2) and, worst of all, sitting in judgement over their peers like some frightful clench of Prefects(3). And then there’s Superboy, like the kid from the council estate who got a scholarship to The Good School and now has to jump through the hoops of his “betters” before they’ll let him join The Debating Society. Super Class Traitor more like. His only weakness is kryptonite. And peer pressure. Ugh, who’d want to join that bunch of joyless inverts anyway? Jumped up chumps, every man Jack of them. Legion of Supercilious Bores. So, no I don’t know how to “fix”(4) the Legion of Super-Heroes(5).  Anyway, the failure to love them is of course mine(6), because I am a maladjusted misanthrope with a chip on each shoulder(7) rather than the well-adjusted, thrusting  young shaver the concept is designed to appeal to. And yet I bought this comic(8). Was I looking for something to trash in order to temporarily quiet my raging personal insecurities via the belittling of other more talented people’s work?(9) No, because I don’t do that(10), not on purpose anyway(11). No, I was looking for an Alan Davis comic(12). Because I like Alan Davis comics, but do I like Alan Davis Legion of Superheroes comics?

 photo DCPSL02B_zps9btyqmmc.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Yes. It’s GOOD!

NEXT TIME: I recall a gypsy woman, silver spangles in her eyes. Actually, scratch that, I’ll probably just look at some COMICS!!!


Just kidding, of course there’s more(13)! Think of this as one of those post credit sequences that are so popular today(14).  It’s not just an Alan Davis Legion of Super-Heroes comic though, more precisely it’s an Alan Davis and Mark Farmer Legion of Super-Heroes comic. While Mark Farmer predictably enough continues his robust, decades long, and largely unsung support on Alan Davis’ classically joyful art, here he also scripts. This is clearly his “Shining Time”(15). Second fiddle’s an honourable role, but here Farmer steadies his nerves, clears his throat and takes centre stage (16). He doesn’t disappoint either. Farmer’s script eschews grandstanding and pandering, being a thing of efficiency, event and momentum which despite its space-spanning scope and cavalcade of characters retains focus and clarity throughout. There’s plenty of exposition but it all slips past smoothly thanks to the art’s creamy cheeriness, which jollies things along even when people are saying things in a less flamboyantly discursive way than the is the apparent modern preference(17).  The strength of the writing is easily missed, as it’s the kind of ‘invisible’ writing that would rather tell a tale well than draw attention to itself (or its author), still what no one can miss is the level of affection for the Legion herein. But which Legion?

 photo DCPSL04B_zpsnaei3vfl.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Because, even more precisely, SUPERBOY’S LEGION is an Alan Davis and Mark Farmer Elseworlds Legion of Super-Heroes comic originally published in 2001 as two-issues. DC hasn’t done Elseworlds for a bit, so quick recap for the chap at the back: these are stories where familiar characters are presented in a new way, usually heavily imprinted with the DNA of an atypical genre. So in one story Steampunk Batman might fight Jack The Ripper, in another Superman might have landed in Wales and wondered what to do with himself, in yet another Aquaman might be a PI with the power to talk to his own arse, or perhaps Wonder Woman sells hot dogs in Central Park by day and sleeps fitfully at night, or what have you(18). Much of the fun comes from recognising the deviations from the accepted norm and the little thrill of uncertainty this lends the narrative(19).

 photo DCPSL07B_zpsmfetqro5.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Alas, I got none of that entry level fun as I am basically unversed in the Legion of Super-Heroes(20) and, anyway, they keep dicking about with it(21). Proper Legion of Super-Heroes fans will thus get a lot more out of this than me(22). But I got plenty as it was. Because what I got was a rock solid exercise in Old School Super-Heroics. The set-up is that Superboy’s rocket is found in the 30th Century instead of the 20th Century, and he is adopted by a fabulously wealthy grump, R J Brande, rather than a folksy farmer and his wife. It’s a future of cleanliness and conformity(23) monitored by the Science Police and dependent upon the Universo supercomputer(24).

 photo DCPSL05B_zpsefpmtxfs.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Superboy is a typical young lad on the cusp of adulthood, chafing against both the restrictions of the Science Police, who are always on at him for the property damage his larks incur, and his dad who wants him to settle down a bit. The book opens with Superboy buying two Future Ice Creams(25) to patch things up with his dad but the Science Police get all shirty, and in a fit of pique Superboy flies off and bumps into a Green Lantern who he helps fight a right bunch of Khunds(26). Inspired by the example of the Green Lantern Corps, who pick up the space sector slack of the Science Police but are undermanned, Superboy decides to form his own team. Space being a frisky place he immediately aids a luxury space cruiser being mounted by a blister beast and ends the encounter with two new team mates who take the names Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy(27). Televised try-outs ensue so we get the classic image of the three sat behind a desk in judgement as new peculiarly powered members gravitate to the trio, like peculiarly powered iron filings to three judgemental magnets. Then the plot proper kicks in with an asteroid to be averted, internal squabbles, the Fatal Five proving their name’s no lie and a special guest 20th Century villain with universal enslavement on his mind. Gosh, what capers ensue!

 photo DCPSL03B_zpsdfmua9qx.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice

Thrilling capers they are, to be sure. And delivered with an enviable level of clarity and zest. Surprising no one who has ever read anything by the team, Davis & Farmer’s art is a quiet masterclass in large scale super-heroic storytelling but also excels at the quieter stuff. From Space battles and inter-dimensional wing-dings  to smaller moments when a smile says all that needs to be said, this team spins a magical yarn as colourful as Superboy's speed trail flattened to fractals like a  sparkling sherbet space trail. Yeah, sherbet. You know, for kids. GOOD!

 photo DCPSL08B_zpsavvruqhu.png SUPERBOY'S LEGION by Davis, Farmer, Horie, Horie & Prentice


 The Irritating Footnote Section:

(1) i.e. joiner as in joining groups, rather than as in joining pieces of wood. I mean, I’m crap at that too but that’s not what I’m on about.

(2) Bouncing Boy! He’s a boy who bounces! Matter-Eating Lad! He’s a lad who eats matter! Flaming Anus Lass! She…that’s right.

(3)Yes, a clench of prefects. See also: A colon of Politicians. A shit of bankers. A Cameron of tax evaders. A PM of lies. Etc. Etc.

(4) Judging by comic book site comments this is a subject which taxes the minds of more middle aged men than is strictly seemly. The relative merits of “guest beers”, smirking at the casual racism of Jeremy Clarkson, wearing a caramel coloured leather blouson with the sleeves rolled up, and giving a chuff about how to “fix” the Legion of Super-Heroes are, apparently, to the menopausal male as pianos were to Liberace.

(5) Unless it’s like you “fix” a cat, in which case I’ll bring the bricks.

(6) Obviously.

(7) “Chips on my shoulder/More As I grow older...”, 'Chips on My Shoulder' by Soft Cell taken from the LP 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret' (1981).

(8) In fact a “digital file”. Did you know that the first recorded digital files can be found on cave walls in Indonesia and date back 40,000 years. Remarkable.

(9) Yes, this is the only reason people don’t like something. Clearly.

(10) Trust me, I have read some real crappers and refrained from banging on about them. That HELLBREAK for e.g. was a load of refried beans with all the character and depth of a 1980s 8-Bit arcade game, but with all the charm and intelligence left out. There was at least one whole page in the second issue (hey, I gave it a chance) devoted to a guy smoking silently while stood next to a jeep. I cannot be doing with that kind of Bendisian page wastage. But also, around then the artist was legitimately bemoaning the fact that he barely made enough coin to, well, play a 1980s 8-Bit arcade game. So, you know, since the art was the best bit and I wish him no ill, I didn’t feel like adding insult to injury. Christ, my big heart, it beats for the entire world! HELLBREAK is still going so I hear. Had I intervened, who knows? Such is the scary Amy Irving in The Fury-like power of my critical voice.

(11) DKIII: TMR, however, see, is an absolute botch job for which everyone involved should look as guilty as a startled masturbator. Great Hera, if any book should be good it’s this thing. It’s DC’s Big Ticket Book of 2016, supported by all the marketing muscle and sales inflating methods available, and it’s even by people who have done good work previously on occasion, and yet it’s ineptitude is so great and unwavering in its consistency that it’s tempting to suggest it’s most entertaining display is of its contempt for the audience. And the Talent involved in DKIII:TMR will not be short of coin, you betcha. So, yeah, I’ll be nailing that one to the wall as long as it deserves it. I mean, there are bad comics and then there’s just flat out taking the piss.

(12) Alan Davis the UK comic artist of CAPTAIN BRITAIN fame, not Alan Davies the tousle haired and reliably unthreatening UK comedian.

(13) Brevity being the soul of wit, I am of course possessed of little of it. So, wiping the tears of self-satisfied laughter from my eyes I shall continue…

(14) Insert dismissive remark about people choosing of their own free to sit in the dark for fifteen minutes to catch a glimpse of Thanos’ ring. Then run.

(15) Thomas And The Magic Railroad (2000).

(16) Unfortunately comics is(are?) a visual medium and Alan Davis’ (and, ironically, Mark Farmer’s) art is a pretty visually arresting thing. So Mark Farmer’s moment in the spotlight can’t help but be a bit a bit like when Ernie Wise comes out on his own, but everyone’s really looking at Eric Morecambe walking across the background in his mac with his little carry case. Still, better Ernie Wise than Tommy Cannon, eh? Small mercies, Mark. Small mercies, son.

(17) I mean, I think it’s fair enough, personally. Exposition, that is. At work I don’t mumble and stutter, and lurch disconcertingly into BOLD without cause in a kind of flamboyantly exaggerated distortion of human speech patterns. That sort of jibber jabber has nothing whatsoever to do with realism and everything to do with paying writers by the page. Exposition isn’t the sin, clumsy exposition is. There’s no such sin on these pages.

(18) Basically Elseworlds then are like a lot of Grant Morrison’s cape work, particularly that typified by his MULTIVERSITY “project”. But, regrettably, Elseworlds are usually done by lesser talents who haven’t the wit to limit themselves to waving slightly different versions of B’wana Beast about while an intimidatingly intelligent coterie of fandom maintain they have gleaned the Face of The Returned Christ in such skeletal concepts.  No, these Elseworld schmucks instead are reduced by the paucity of their talent to attaching these rejigged characters to such jejune concepts as stories. The poor fools. They should have done a metafictional Mobius loop which on closer (i.e. any) inspection was just fancy window dressing adorning an attack on narrative devices Alan Moore (Boo! Rapey! Boo! Rapey rapey Boo Boo! Etc.) stopped using twenty years ago. That Frank Quitely’s good though. He did an Elseworlds with Alan Grant(?) where Batman went to Scotland. Actually it might not have been an Elseworlds, I don’t think Batman going to Scotland is enough of a paradigm shift to merit an Elseworlds label. There has to be a bit more to it than that. Scotland has its quirks but not enough for an Elseworlds, I think. Hmmm, I’m kind of drifting lazily away from any point whatsoever here aren’t I? Which, funnily enough, is what happened to the Elseworlds stuff in the end.

(19) e.g. in SUPERMAN: BOOGIE NIGHTS (by Brian Wood and Frank Cho) Jimmy Olsen chokes to death on his own balls.

(20) When I rashly accepted Brian Hibbs’ generous (and no doubt in hindsight much regretted by Old “Two Shops” Hibbs) offer to ruin everything he had worked for on this site he asked me to suggest a Legionnaire so I could have an icon next to my name. I didn’t have a clue. I’m sure he thought I was prevaricating (which I was; I am made of Fear) but (also) really I didn’t know what he was on about. I can’t even remember whose icon I ended up with. Is there a Ball Breaking Lad? Bad Taste Boy?  Who am I? Who is the fictional construct to which my virtual identity has been attached? And I thought I was in an existential crisis when I was fourteen!

(21) Sorry, I mean “fixing” it. See (4) and (5).

(22) A big old Legion of Super-Heroes chubby, pulsing like a beached fish gasping for breath. Unless they are so deep in senescence(4) that it’s just a flicker of a twitch.

(23) It’s a future that’s creepily free of wear and tear in that special way which suggests somewhere out of sight there are planets full of stooped and hollow eyed thralls doing all the proper graft its upkeep requires.

(24) I know, we can all see where this is going, right? If you are going to build a supercomputer don’t cut corners and be sure to develop a super-virus checker, or have a big OFF switch. Did no one heed Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)!?!

(25) Solar Swirl, natch.

(26) That’s a pretty dodgy pun to slip into a kids comic. Kudos!

(27) Yes, it is awfully convenient. You’re going to have to go with a lot of stuff like that. Just relax and let it happen. It's called - COMICS!!!

“Later, Jeef Cooked The Best Northern Italian-Style Dinner Ever.” COMICS! Sometimes it’s Goodbye, Mr Chitts!

To celebrate the release of Batman vs Superman: Collateral Damage and also the appearance of The Punisher on Daredevil I look up at the corner of my living room and wonder if that’s dust or a cobweb. Deciding it’s just a shadow, I galvanize myself and consider a book by Gilbert Hernandez about a woman who kills zombies in the future. ‘Cos I’m dead classy, pal.  photo Fat005B_zps5unlar87.jpg FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez Anyway, this… FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS By Gilbert Hernandez This book collects issues one through four of the Dark Horse comic book series FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS, originally published June through September 2012. Dark Horse Comics, $19.99 (2014) © 2012, 2014 Gilbert Gernandez

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The more donnishly inclined may feel “in media res” a tad too high-falutin’ a term for a book which dives face first into the trough of trash with its mouth stretched quite so cheerfully wide but, nevertheless, FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez opens with the world already more than halfway to being Hell in a blender. Also, I’m not sure what anyone even remotely familiar with the term donnish is doing buying a book like this; one where the cover sports a sturdily thewed female triumphantly erect amid the ketchup spattered and cabbagey looking heads of the downed undead. So, FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS, in stark and humiliating contrast to this review, gets straight in there; it doesn’t do that thing of “worldbuilding” for four issues, ending the book on a splash of Fatima picking up her gun for the first time. No, because Gilbert Hernandez is a busy man; those comics where people fellate themselves inside out don’t draw themselves! World building is for slow bozos, not the human bolt of creative lightning whose name is an anagram of “Blazing Her Tender”. When the book opens ol’ Blazing’s already got his world in place and his girl is in motion.

 photo Fat001B_zpsyk6pu9cz.jpg FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez And what a world it is she moves through!  In the future it seems everything will be designed by the Jesse Marsh School of Architects, on the downside though everything will also be in the process of falling to bits, including the people. Because of drugs. Or one drug in particular – Spin. With just one dose users become temporary heptathletes, unfortunately within hours their eyes turn into runny eggs, their flesh hangs off them like an old man’s ball bag and long pig is dish of the day, every day. Zombies basically, or near enough to make you run like The Devil’s trying to goose you. This is what Fatima and her well-built compadres are up against. Alas, Fatima’s organisation seems staffed entirely by armed fitness fanatics who have not been chosen for their cerebral acumen. I guess a shortage of brains is a plus when up against zombies, but it’s a bit of a minus regarding the mobile action-figure cast’s twofold task – discover the source of Spin and find a cure. Strictly speaking though, that’s the source of the leak of Spin they’re after, since the government developed it itself; but then someone decided to entrepreneurially maximise the fiscal potential of the narcotic i.e. sell the shit on the sly. Fatima and her buff buddies engage in a number of savagely violent and cast-cullingly unsuccessful sting exercises, before things degenerate rapidly and discombobulatingly into a lurid maelstrom of horror, betrayal and sexual grotesquery.

 photo Fat002B_zps1btbfoog.jpg FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez

And, really, who better to so tastefully delineate such luridly diseased and repellently comical larks than The Man Hernandez. Here he brings his typically crisp and efficient cartooning to bear upon the apocalyptic horrors on show, finely calibrating the friskiness of his art to blunt just enough of the horror’s edge to make it fun. It’s not all fun though, FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS is a deeper read than it may at first seem. Fatima’s recurrent refrain of “Whatever” is droll stuff, until it sinks in that this is how she deals with the pain of the world she inhabits, at which point it becomes poignant in its futility. A mob beats someone to death so badly that Fatima can’t tell whether they were a zombie or just a luckless tramp, meanwhile she and her pals cavort about clad in invisibility jockstraps with hairdryer ray guns. In the white glare of the panel gutters years pass and entire cities are razed, but there’s space made on page for Fatima to indulge in artless double entendres regarding her hunky colleague. Society is advanced enough for flying saucers and AI channeling specs, but people remain human enough to still pay to be poisoned for pleasure. There are points being made here, points hidden amongst all the play.

 photo Fat003B_zps2jbs0ooi.jpg FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez

Given his past form it’s no surprise that Hernandez’ work here is intelligent and horrific. The surprise, if one there be, is given the extent of the intelligence and horror on show how much fun, how bouncily appealing, it all is. No mean feat when the book’s multiple Screaming Mad George-esque delights include a man giving birth through his face. The nimbleness of Hernandez’ artistic touch gives everything an adorably camp air which playfully wrestles with the sick shenanigans throughout. As your gorge rises its only Hernandez’ gleeful and seemingly guileless delivery which causes it to subside. Gilbert Hernandez creates and maintains a tone which is consistently inconsistent, which sounds impossible but through Art the impossible is attained or at least grazed, and Gilbert Hernandez is, lest you forget, an Artist. Still more, Gilbert Hernandez is a Rushmore Level Talent (©®™ Tom Spurgeon) even when drawing zombies being kicked in the face so hard twin jets of diseased blood spurt from their nostrils. Do I gush? Only like a severed artery, hotballs. Which is as it should be since FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS is VERY GOOD!

 photo Fat004B_zpsm5gh2wxi.jpg FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS by Gilbert Hernandez

NEXT TIME: Maybe a look at my pull list? It’s been a while since I put you through that particularly tasty Hell. Quality aside, I can categorically state here and now that that they are – COMICS!!!

"I Can't DO This Anymore." COMICS! Sometimes I Wish I Had A Hammer Too.

In which I look at a Batman comic so lacking in self-awareness it unknowingly reviews itself:  photo DK002B_zpsbuuzwjfs.jpg DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

But I still went on about it nevertheless.

Anyway, this… DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #3 Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although third time out DC again only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, John Romita Jnr, Frank Miller Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dean White, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White Retailer variant cover by Geg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Gabriel Dell'Otto, Paul Pope & Shay Plummer, Alex Garner DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane

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Now, I’m not really auf fait with the whole sexy modern Terror thing (torture is awesome, right?) but I was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I have in fact been evacuated from two buildings, watched pubs burn on the teatime news and also had my favourite Saturday shopping centre remodelled by, in all probability, Semtex©®™ (the Czech plastic explosive not the Czech energy drink), and my take away is that the big thing about terrorists is that terrorists are generally perceived (by themselves at  the very least) as the underdogs. They are denied the usual channels of protest and don’t have the resources of whoever they are up against, so they by necessity, and I am in no way endorsing this, fall back on terrorist tactics. Given that, I’m not entirely sure why a city full of Superpeople who can fly faster than a fighter jet, balance a city block on each ear, punch through the earth’s crust, shoot fire out of their eyes and make steel shattering cold hiss from their mouths would see themselves as underdogs. In fact they don’t; one of the (very) few things this comic makes clear is that they consider themselves Gods, so c’mon, get worshipping!  That’s their whole, like, thing. So why (WHY!?!) they would turn themselves into bombs and threaten to drop themselves hither and yon unless Earth kowtows is almost as inexplicable as the first two issues of this thing, where Batman sought to convince everyone he was dead by reminding everyone of his existence.  I’m not sure there was enough air in that bottle these dudes popped out of, because their plan makes about as much sense as beating someone to death with an atom bomb. Or treading on someone whose super power is SHRINKING(!) and believing they are dead. Or trying to convince everyone you are dead by reminding everyone of your existence. Or pretty much anything in this thing. Basically, given the massive imbalance of power on show I don’t think this metaphor is working like anyone involved thinks it is.  photo DK001B_zpsf2xy5nlr.jpg DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

That is of course if they’ve put any thought at all into it, because this third issue seems particularly begrudging in its display of stale thrills. There’s a half-hearted attempt at continuing the whole social media/talking heads thing, but it’s sprinkled so stingily over the pages you get the impression they wished they’d never started doing it. And the heads that talk are hardly impressive, their likenesses blunted by Kubert’s stubbornly generic approach. I think one of them is Donald Trump, which, yes, well done, is super-timely, but has it no real comment to make about him, except his is a face you’ll have seen on television. It might as well be Cookie Monster or Latka from TAXI. Amazingly in a 21st Century comic there’s actually a “my wife” joke, the best I can say about that is at least it isn’t a “my mother-in-law” joke.  On the bright side though, if this whole hacking out cashgrabs thing doesn’t work out, Brian Azzarello could fall back on  touring Working Men’s Clubs with Jim “Nick! Nick!” Davidson. Or maybe not, because the secret of comedy is timing, and here Azzarello and Kubert manage to thoroughly fluff a conceptually pretty good joke about how no one’s too fussed about the Kandorians until they interrupt their web service. It’s a good joke, but it just expires on the page before your eyes. Like they just couldn’t be fussed, and this air of enervation permeates the whole issue.

 photo DK004B_zpslfhwcscw.jpg DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

Which is thematically apt since most of this issue is about people being tired. Here even Batman’s a bit tired of it all. He’s not the only one. His fire’s gone out. Reading this book I can think of some other people whose fire has gone out. I’m not saying there’s some psychological projecting going on on the part of the creators but then nor would I rule it out. Batman’s throwing in the towel, my arse. To stop Frank Miller’s Batman you’d need to feed Frank Miller’s Batman into a wood chipper, give the resultant slurry to pigs, fire the Batman-fattened pigs into the sun, drop the sun into a black hole and then maybe, maybe you’d be on the right track to stopping  the mad thug from coming back. Even so, you’d probably turn round and the last thing you’d see would be his grin as he unzipped you like a sleeping bag and paddled in your guts. Here, though, Frank Miller’s Batman is tired and he doesn’t want to play anymore. Bless. Fantastic grasp of Frank Miller’s Batman there. Almost as good as the one they have on Superman.

 photo DK003B_zpscabwlgpv.jpg DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins

Oh yeah, then there’s Superman – he just gave up one day and sat down and stopped moving. As you do. Fantastic writing there, really gets to the nub of the character. He’s Superman, he’s what’s best in us, and he always finds a way. Of course he’d just give up just…well...er…because. It’s all got a bit much, that’s all the motivation on show here. Hey, it all gets a bit much for me too, Superman, if just sitting down and not moving was an option I’d have grabbed it with both hands decades ago. Anyway he’s sat in some ice (exhibiting truly impressive control of his bodily functions) and although conscious, is unresponsive to stimuli. Look, I’m no professional but I think once the catatonic state is breached we’d try maybe 20 to 40mgs of Citalopram©®™ and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy initially. Were his state more responsive perhaps a talking cure might be an option, but that’s further down the line. Er, sorry. Anyway, medically Batman is a bit more hands-on and hits Superman with a big hammer. This doesn’t work. Luckily Carrie Kelly wakes Superman up by telling him what the problem is. We are told this is a stroke of genius by Batman, you know, asking Superman to help because there are a lot of Superpeople engaging in a poorly conceived metaphor about Terrorism outside. Who would have thought Superman would respond to a clearly articulated problem. Not Batman. But then he has just tried to chivvy someone out of a mental collapse by hitting him with a big hammer.  I liked the big hammer by the way; it’s the only thing in three stubbornly unspectacular and bafflingly self-satisfied issues that has felt slightly “Frank Miller’s Dark Knight”. The fact that Batman carries a massive hammer miles through the snow to break the ice on Superman is just so cartoonishly dumb it spoils everything even more, because you realise all the more keenly how tepid and underwhelming everything around it is. Case in point, next issue is clearly the one where Superman gets a good leathering just like he did in the previous two Dark Knight series, because, well, fuck it, the cheque’s cashed so why not just be totally predictable. Three issues in and this thing remains a pile of stale horseapples. CRAP!

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The mini-comic this time out has the typically pacy Azzarellian zip of an arthritic tortoise with a brick on its back struggling up a steep incline, and disdains the immature allure of an actual fight scene in order to favour the more sophisticated alternative of three ladies floating about while passively aggressively sniping at The Sphinx. The Sphinx it should be noted is an ancient pile of stones, so it is understandably less than forthcoming with responses. Undaunted by the futile idiocy of their actions they carry on trolling the inanimate object while chipping away at it, in the process resembling less super advanced beings and more a bunch of bored scrotes kicking a dried dog turd about while waiting for a bus to arrive. Instead of a bus Hal Jordan turns up. Or a pile of sentient broccoli which has chosen to assume the form of “Hal Jordan” (this, like so many things in this comic, is needlessly unclear). The talk turns Super Deep with questions being raised as to whether it is right than women should be unequal to men (no) or whether the colour of one’s skin makes some innately superior to others (no). Strong stuff and given the complexities of the questions it’s understandable that there aren’t any answers given (No, not even “no”), just questions raised. Quail before the philosophical might of Brian Azzarello!  (Never mind The Riddle of The Sphinx! What about The Riddle of The Azzarello? “Is it right that men and women should be uneq..”, “No.”, “…Uh, lucky guess. Is it right that people’s skin col..?”, “No.”, “Um. What’s black and white and read all ove..” “Dude, no one reads newspapers anymore. Get a clue. Your riddles are balls nasty.”)

 photo DKM001B_zpsjrwoso89.jpg DKIII:TMR by Romita Jnr, Miller, Azzarello, Sinclair & Robins

So flummoxed is Hal Jordan by the philosophical conundrums posed by his floating foes that he just hovers there slack jawed until they take him out, with a sudden act of violence clearly designed to make Geoff Johns purr like a dirty cat. However, as pompous and inanely opaque as it all is (and, boy, isn’t it just), this mini-comic is at least drawn by John Romita Jnr with inks by Frank “The Tank” Miller. Which means it is gorgeous, shimmering gloriously as it does between Moebius and DKSA era Miller.  It’s like someone cracked a window in a room full of stale farts. A breath of fresh air is what I’m saying there.  If these two had drawn the whole book it wouldn’t have made it good, but it would have made it better. Writing –wise the mini-comic is CRAP! But the mini-comic art is VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: Something a bit better than this. Something that's bit better at being – COMICS!!!

"...Spring-Heeled Jack, The Duke of Clarence, Walter Sickert, Arthur Askey..." COMICS! Sometimes It's The Full English.

In which I sulkily refuse to acknowledge my recent absence (ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies) and just go straight into talking about a comic about an old man who fills his days by chuntering incessantly about nonsense to a disinterested and increasingly uncomfortable audience in the low single digits. I can’t imagine what attracted me to it.  photo Figgs02B_zps0f9erfnl.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Anyway this…

ALBY FIGGS by Warren “The Boy” Pleece Blank Slate, £8.99/$13.99 (2014) © Warren Pleece 2014

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What’s in a name, eh? There are worse places to start after all, so over here in the UK Alby is an archaic diminutive for the name Albert, one more commonly encountered today in the heathen lands of Australia and New Zealand, or in movies with astoundingly literal titles in which young men run around CGI mazes. Then there’s the fact that the fruits of figs(sic) are renowned for their laxative and irritant qualities. Keep you loose they do; sparing you the details, sparing your blushes. Basically “Alby” tells us he’s an old geezer, while “Figgs” metaphorically encapsulates (oooh!) his tendency to run off at the mouth and cause low level distress in his listeners. He can talk the hind legs off a donkey, and no mistake.

 photo Figgs04B_zpshnmp0y1t.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Alby’s a pretty common character type in the UK but probably less so in, say, America, as falling prey to his type of harmless verbals depends on a bone deep politeness and a terror of causing offence being present in his target. Now no one wants to come right out and say it, America, but you are a bit uncouth for that, more of a British ”thing”, donchaknow. Mind you, truth to tell, Old Blighty’s getting a bit brusque too. There was a time though, there was a time, when you couldn’t make it from one end of a shopping esplanade to the other without being buttonholed by some loquacious old dear, whose weirdly needy extemporising combined with your repressive upbringing would lead to you nodding glazedly through a highly dubious reminiscence involving Christopher Biggins, Hot Gossip and a Fray Bentos pie while time turned treacley around you. You don’t get that so much now. Seriously, you don’t miss it ‘til it’s gone, do you?

Of course you do still get buttonholed, but it’s buttonholing of a different order, usually by shifty eyed men asking for “bus fare”. However, in a nice nod to traditional values it is still an unspoken but required formality to humour their entire spiel and enter into the shared fantasy that this “bus” isn’t made of heroin or Tennants Extra. No word of a lie, they look really hurt if you just give them the money and hustle off with a “Yeah, sure.” Look at you like you just shat on the social contract. Heart-breaking it is. Not that you’d care, America. Anyway, Alby’s a different breed to those lost to the phantom bus routes of addiction; his addiction is to attention and he’s not after handouts; the only currency he wants is conversation. Nah, I just said that for cheap alliterative effect. Conversation’s a two way street and Alby’s a one way diversion which adds hours to your journey. The scenic route, if you will. He just wants your attention; he just wants someone to listen. I know, I know, I’ve totally lost you now, America. Listening to people, what’s that about; little wonder we lost our Empire. Hang in there, America, I’ll pick something violent next time, promise.

 photo Figgs05B_zpsdj7xvur1.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Anyway, long story short, Warren “The Boy” Pleece captures that familiar character perfectly in the pages of this book. And, bless his cotton socks, he doesn’t just go the one-note route of having Alby yammer on in every episode with the same punchline, strip upon strip until the world freezes in the dark of a dead sun. This probably explains why Alby Figgs isn’t in The Metro every day. One for the commuters there. Heart and soul of the city they are, bless. No, instead Alby Figgs’ fundamentally mundane yet undeniably emotive encounters are instead confined to this tidy little book destined for the perusal of picto-lit sophisticates like what we is. And make no mistake as picto-lit goes this is some sophisticated stuff on show. Now, language is Alby’s bread and butter and Pleece pulls a blinder in this regard. Colloquialisms abound and the rhythm of every dodgy discourse rings true. Mind you, it’s not chat city, it’s not all wall to wall prattle. No, it’ll probably surprise you to learn that for a book in which the main character lives to talk Pleece uses silence to superb effect. Artistically ironical, I’d call that; shrewd stuff like Melvyn might bray on The South Bank Show. Pick of the litter is the strip called “Sis” set on a bus, which with its lengthy silence interrupted by a hurried and carefully neutral farewell contains such depths of truth that it could just as well be titled “The English Character in Four Panels”. ‘S dead clever is what I’m getting at. You know there’s some serious smarts on show when a strip called “The Rickenbacker Falls” is set in a guitar shop and involves not just a Rickenbacker falling, but also a decisive encounter between Alby and his nemesis which ends with doubt as to whether any fatalities have occurred. Geddit, like that Sherlock fellow, yeah? No, not that new soshul medjah effete child one. No, the old one, Rathbone, The Cush; we had proper Holmeses in them days. Oh aye, Alby’s got a nemesis, his very own mouthy Moriaty and they’ve got a history too.

 photo Figgs01B_zpsj7npsvqp.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Given that the book is composed of single page strips of four panels Peece packs them with content while keeping a visual lightness of touch. Proper storytelling, I’m talking about there; the uncanny transference of intangible but weighty emotions via the alchemical magic of words and pictures. Comics, yeah? Not everyone can make it work, but them that can shouldn’t be ignored just because they veer past the flash and the crass to focus on concerns closer to home. Thanks to Pleece’s deft storytelling touch and peerless cartooning chops, what could easily have been an exercise in sour tempered repetition instead involves a rounded character with a lively supporting cast whose commonplace days casts a wider light on all our lives. The nub, if you will is it’s just a book about an old bloke who likes to talk, but it’s bloody well done.

 photo Figgs03B_zpsylf3arvi.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Alby Figgs is a little joy, a little gem of a book. One which, in common with its titular character, tells you volumes about this country but only if you’ll only take the time to stop and listen. Go on, bend an ear and make an old man happy. VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: I haven’t the foggiest, me old mucker. Spare some change for some – 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!!!

“I Fail To See What’s So Remarkable About Two Robots Dancing.” COMICS! Sometimes I’ll Need To See Some ID Before You Go Any Further, Sunshine.

This time out I look at 2000AD yet again, but you can tell I’m getting a bit worn down. Not because you’re perceptive, but because I flat out say so. Then in an attempt to pep things up a bit I take a look at  a one man anthology by the one man affront to all that’s rational! Men want to be him, women want to be with him, and the FBI just plain want him! It’s that loveable scamp, the part-time Cher impersonator and full-time living colossus of Comics, Mr. Gilbert “Betty” Hernandez. And this wretched creature on the end of my critical stick is BLUBBER #2.  (Strictly no kids past the MORE…) photo BlubTopB_zpsjcz32qdm.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

Anyway, this…

2000AD #1967 & #1968 Art by Mark Sexton, Richard Elson, Clint Langley, John Burns, Carlos Ezquerra Written by Michael Carroll, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, Kek-W, John Wagner Lettered by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland Coloured by Len O’Grady Cover by Clint Langley JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner KINGDOM created by Richard Elson & Dan Abnett ABC WARRIORS created by Kevin O’Neill, Brendan McCarthy, Mick McMahon & Pat Mills THE ORDER created by John Burns & Kek-W STRONTIUM DOG created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner © 2016 Rebellion A/S Rebellion, £2.55 each, weekly (2016)

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What? Again? Already? Stomm, I’m not really feeling it this time out. The problem it turns out is that weekly instalments all end up being a wee bit samey, so it’s a little difficult coming up with something new to say. But we’ll persevere, after all that’s why they pay me the big bucks. In the indicia to Prog 1967 Tharg’s hidden message is that he is very busy and everything is late. By Prog 1968 things seem to have calmed a little and he’s crowing about how only the best Venusian oil will do for his droids, but is considering doing a Kickstarter due to the high costs of importing said oil. (N.B. It is tacitly understood by readers that 2000AD’s editor is a green skinned Betelgeusian and the creators who toil beneath his tyrannical yoke are all characterised as robots who should think themselves lucky. Over in the UK we find this kind of thing amusing.)

 photo DreddB_zpstarw3goh.jpg JUDGE DREDD (Sexton, Carroll, O’Grady & Parkhouse)

In Prog 1968 the not entirely convincing saga of Judge Badger and the Secret Citi-Block of Rogue Judges comes to a somewhat sudden end. Taking the tale as a whole I’d have to say it was a well done enough chunk of fun, but very little had changed by the end. Dredd’s fascistic veneer took another tiny little knock but more importantly, I guess, Carroll laid the groundwork for future stories which won’t trip over John Wagner’s stuff. Mark Sexton was the star of this one with his crisply attired Judges smoothly navigating the slightly scruffy future setting. And either Len O’Grady or Sexton himself did some nice layering with the colours to lend the images depth, which really paid off in the fighting on catwalks scenes. Carroll’s story was sound on the surface but had some worrying chinks in its armour. A scene where one of four chains supporting a craft was shot resulted in the craft plummeting onto the bad guys below, but should really just have resulted in that corner of the craft drooping and bobbling about like Bruce Willis’ penis in the Color of Night pool scene. And no matter how close sisters may be, it’s unlikely a fascistic wingnut with delusions of grandeur is likely to risk decades of covert skulduggery just so they can be together. Now, we’re all God’s children so I’m not saying fascists lack normal human feelings but it is a fact that I’ve never seen a “For Fascists” section in a greeting card shop. But, y’know, the twist involving DeMarco was, however, pretty neat and all my typically minor carps were ultimately outweighed by the strong pacing and the high entertainment quotient. Solid stuff so GOOD!

 photo KingDB_zpsncquwr1f.jpg KINGDOM (Elson, Abnett & DeVille)

Despite the fact that Prog 1966 promised all kinds of hell was about to break loose Prog 1967 has a weirdly truncated fight scene which pisses away the promise of the preceding issue’s double page spread to basically just establish our cast are now in a siege situation. Then someone notices a giant insect mound that they should probably go and pour a giant kettle of hot water down in order to stop the insect horde. So they decide to do that. Come Prog 1968 Gene and Co, are well on their way, and in case you were wondering how they got out of the besieged city then be assured that Abnett makes every effort to make you think he’s explained that, but you’re pretty sure he hasn’t. Or maybe he did, I read this when I was tired (but I don’t think he did explain it). Prog 1968’s episode opens with a couple of humans who previously appeared in the strip during the 8 years I wasn’t reading it. That’s okay, because there’s a little note referring to previous events. They don’t do notes like that in North American comics anymore because everything happens so slowly that drawing attention to it would just be dispiriting to everyone. (“Miles first started cooking these pancakes six issues ago!”, Underutilised Ed!) Accompanying the humans is another dog thing who immediately starts fighting Gene, our hero, in a page snaffling instance of the usual clichéd misunderstanding  so beloved of old timey comics. Efficiency remains the watchword with Abnett’s script and Elson continues to steadfastly draw it all with a crispness that Quentin (*) would envy. OKAY! (*) Quentin Crisp not Quentin Tarantino. C’mon, work with me here.

 photo ABCWB_zpsijxju9et.jpg ABC WARRIORS (Langley, Mills & Parkhouse)

If at any point anyone out there (SMASH CUT to street as seen in Western movies, cue tumbleweed and eerie whistling) is considering berating Pat Mills for the lack of subtlety in his satire you may wish to remind yourself that in PROG 1967 the villainous Howard Quartz draws up a Death List of droids for the chop, and he writes the names on a tablet clearly headed “DEATH LIST”. I don’t think Pat Mills is under any misapprehensions about the level of satire he’s offering up. But you might be. These two episodes are set in Gracie’s Bar and the second features Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein doing a song and dance number gussied up in top hat and tails. It’s a Hell of an image and Langley delivers it as he delivers all his imagery here, with an appropriately messy undercurrent to the technology on show. It was at that point that I started to strongly suspect Mills was actually writing this story within (between) the very earliest Ro-Busters stories, because I know that image of the dancing droids of old; it kind of sticks with you. How very clever, Pat Mills. Of course I can’t tell you how successfully he’s doing it, because I don’t still have those issues, but still a doff of the cap and all that.  What is new (to me) is Mills’ subversive take on the “cakewalk” and how by applying it (retroactively) to Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein’s antics he’s able to bed in his slaves/robots  (sub)text so deep it won’t shift. Satire doesn’t have to be subtle (and it doesn’t even have to be funny) it just needs to ring true. Ding! Ding! VERY GOOD!

 photo OrderB_zpswsuafier.jpg THE ORDER (Burns, Kek-W & De Ville)

Like I said back there, I was tired when I read these comics so in-between all the stuff about consciousness transferring, lovers reunited and my personal confusion over the fact that what I had previously thought was one woman was in fact two women (said confusion despite John Burns attiring one in a memory searing outfit of scarlet leather) I think I recall Francis Bacon being in this. No, the philosopher and statesman, not the painter. It’s set in the 1580s, so come on, play fair now. Anyway, if you look him up on Wikipedia so you can type “the philosopher and statesman, not the painter” like you know what you are talking about, there’s a facsimile of his signature. It’s got his birth date and everything on there as well, which I find a touch dicey given all the palaver about identity theft these days. (“Hello, Mr. Bacon? This is VisaCard, can you confirm the fact that you recently purchased a 97” HD-Ready Television in Portugal yesterday?” “No, no, I did not. I live in Balham and I’m perfectly happy with my current television. Damn, it’s those irresponsible fuckers at Wikipedia again!”)  See, whenever a real life historical figure appears in a comic I am unavoidably reminded of Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s (still uncompleted) SHIELD series. In a clear bid for intellectual cachet this series (the still uncompleted SHIELD one by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver) about Tony Stark’s Dad (Larry Stark) and Reed Richard’s Dad (Trevor Richards) bro-ing about, also had Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci squaring off because comics. Being a modern man I know very little about, and I have very little interest in, anything that does not impinge directly on my life, a remit which some long dead boffins scarcely fill, but I’m pretty sure they were clever fellows. Yet in Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s (still uncompleted) SHIELD series these two had their followers dress in uniforms and run at each other in the street like slightly less boorish football hooligans. It’s this deft handling of real-life historical figures which always comes to mind when another such figure rears its head in a story. Um, I’ve lost track of what I was on about. I usually mention John Burns’ art is a treat for the eyes, did I do that yet? OKAY! 

 photo StrontB_zpstq024i6y.jpg STRONTIUM DOG (Ezquerra, Wagner & Bowland)

STRONTIUM DOG continues to be so reliable as to be easily taken for granted when in fact its very reliability should be the subject of envy throughout the Comics World. Guess which bit I left until last and then ran out of time on. Hey, I’m sorry my review isn’t up to snuff but I want a weekend too! VERY GOOD!


BLUBBER #2 by Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics $3.99 (2016) © 2016 Gilbert Hernandez (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)

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WARNING! BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is proper nasty. Dirrrrrrrrty, even.

There is a school of thought that BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is Gilbert Hernandez taking the piss out of the whole Comics Aren’t Just for Kids! horsepuckey by applying to the tropes of childish entertainment: superheroes, zombies, bad girls, monsters etc. a more realistic approximation of the actual recreational thoughts of real-life adults. Sure, everyone pretends adults are forever relaxing with a cheeky red while reading the novels of Stefan Zweig or watching the movies of Shohei Imamura, whereas of course they are mostly getting shitfaced on gassy piss and reading Dan Brown books or watching Star Wars movies. Which they are perfectly entitled to do. And, lest we forget, it’s a white knuckle ride for anyone anticipating sophistication and erudition once they pass through the beaded curtain into the “Adult” section of anywhere at all. So I’m told. Mind you, none of that matters since I am the only person attending that school, and its curriculum reflects so badly on both humanity and myself that its funding has been pulled with a view to it being demolished, the ground salted, and the whole unwise endeavour replaced by a statute of Deadpool miming a slightly risqué joke.

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BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

So, politicians, dog fondlers, Catholic priests, ham radio enthusiasts, bacon fetishists and people with unimpeachable taste in comics rejoice, because YES! it’s the second issue of Gilbert Hernandez’ sanity taunting BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)! That’s right, kids, the Best Comic of 2016©™® has already arrived! In January yet! And yes I do know it is now February but I’ve been busy; those ritual murders currently baffling the finest minds in law enforcement won’t commit themselves! So, February 2016 and already everyone else in comics can pack up and fuck right off, because here comes BLUBBER #2 (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)! In this issue of BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) bestiality and mutilation flaunt themselves with gay abandon upon every B&W page. This time out though the familiar menageries of witlessly priapic and savagely violent species are joined by the most witlessly priapic and savagely violent species of all – humanity! Jism drizzled and blood sodden capers ensue. But don’t take my unbiased and wholly reliable word for it; check out the sordid menu yourself:

BLOVIATE! as the order comes from above for “T.A.C. Man” to track down the pollum and “fuck him up!” Can the world’s first Tactical! Advanced! Commando! Man! best his turgid membered and swingingly nippled nemesis? Meanwhile, back at the base bureaucratic thrills galore occur as Mr. Hippy is genitally mutilated and then cruelly defenestrated by Marshman in a  fit of pique! And could all this dark malarkey be the sinister work of the erectly menacing Wild Dicks? The only way to find out is to rub BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) against your face! T.A.C.TASTIC BONUS! Featuring the discharge enhancing debut of the sensational character find of 2016 – Boat Man! More than a man! More than a boat! It’s Boat Man! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! Orifices on land and sea beware! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! Action and buoyancy in blissful syncopation! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! CHUCH MY MUNG, TRUE BELIEVERS!  photo BlubBoatB_zpsclktinlq.jpg

BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

INVEST! as “XXX Superstar Pupusi And Her Pals” degrade and traduce the beauty of the physical act of love with a cheeky wink, a sticky smile and maybe a philosophical bon mot or two! Ooh! Watch out Pupusi and Maximiliano! That creepy peeper, Mr. Hammernuts is at it again! The big shit!

BOONDOGGLE! as Gilbert Hernandez answers the question which has stumped the finest scientific minds since the world first cooled like a big spherical pie on the window ledge of the universe! Go tell your Momma, go tell the Spartans, “Who Fears The Froat?”

COMBUST! As the micro-dicked Grecian buff-cakes of “Sweet” amble about sating their sexual impulses via the slits, vents and cavities of willing fauna such as the Pooso and the Orlat. What does such mindless and crassly loveless debauchery mean? It means, dude, life is “Sweet”! Whoa! SAVOURY BONUS! Discover the untold secret origin of XXX Pupusi’s name!

LACTATE! for all must fall before the wildly flailing fists of THE TAMPERRRRRR! None must be allowed to slow his surly progress! See how he trundles sowing truculent violence in his wake! But wait! Has our tin carapaced malcontent finally met his match in the form of a Junipero Molestat? Can only an unconvincingly proffered claim as to the debilitating effects of a recent heavy cold save face? The answer will leave you UNRUFFLED! All hail the gutless metal bully! THE TAMPERRRRRR!!!!

SPINDLE! as events take a decidedly spiritual turn when “Father Puto”  takes a break from his incessant pud tugging to join Bulto N. Piper and  Bumps the Faun at the Zombie field. Events soon turn sour as Father Pupa’s dislike of Bumps the Faun lures him into expressing his baser nature. A small mind and a closed heart result in an eruption of anal horror and tragic asphyxiation due to ingestion of a bitten off zombie-cock. But wait? Could this all be part of God’s design? Will the chastened cleric get another chance to get it right? Find out in the latest adventure of the priest with the cum stained pants!

T.A.C.GASMIC BONUS! T.A.C. Man and Marshman “cross swords” once more with attendance at the celebration of the Christian Eucharist hanging in the balance!

N.B. BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is not suitable for children or people with any sense of decorum or shame.

For the rest of us though, BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is EXCELLENT!

BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) - Don’t ask, just weep!

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BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez