Saturday, 30 April 2011

Authors: Warren Ellis

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Warren Ellis
Born: 16 February 1968
Essex, England









Best well known perhaps for his vitriolic creator-owned hit series Transmetropolitan (starring outlaw journalist from the future Spider Jerusalem: "If you loved me, you'd all kill yourselves today.") Warren Ellis is a craggy, hyper, often-amusing beardy guy obsessed with the future and everything in it (transhumans, extropianism, etc). Big on the web ("I am, in fact, Internet Jesus. Hurrah.") and prone to writing comics that sound like they belong in New Scientist - his work doesn't tend to push the form of comics so much as the subjects and ideas that they can hold. On the one hand responsible - with The Authority - for the development of "widescreen" comics (comics that feel like big-budget blockbuster movies) and on the other hand making small twisted freaky things like Desolation Jones, FreakAngels and Aetheric Mechanics. He's cerebral but at the same time maintains a healthy interest in sex, swearing and superheroes.

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Links: Official website, Wikiquotes, PopImage Interview, GraphiContent Article: Top 25 Warren Ellis Comics.

Selected works: Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Gravel, Ministry of Space, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels, Global Frequency, Fell, Iron Man: Extremis, Desolation Jones, Ultimate Galactus TrilogyFreakAngels, Crécy, Aetheric Mechanics, Red, Black Summer, Anna Mercury, Planetary, Planetary: Crossing Worlds, Doktor Sleepless, Ultimate Comics: Iron Man: Armor Wars, No Hero, X-Men: Astonishing X-Men, Supergod, The Avengers: Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Books: Joker

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Joker
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Lee Bermejo

2008




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Beware the lavishness of the artwork within and plastered all over the cover (mmmmm rancid Joker teeth): they're an empty promise that the writing can't match. Told from the point-of-view of the Joker's latest henchman - Jonny Frost - a two-bit hoodlum with dreams of making of it big - this is an underwhelming story that putters around aimlessly before sinking to the depths (shouldn't a story have a point somewhere?). On the plus side: The design is amazing (the depiction of the Joker comes from the same place as Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight film) and the alternative versions of famous Batman baddies (Riddler, Killer Croc, Penguin) feel grounded but still radiate menace. But - well - I couldn't escape the feeling that it all could have been more scary, more dangerous and more thoughtful. Oh well. A disappointment - albeit a pretty one.

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Links: Death To The Universe Article: Good OneIGN Interview, The M0vie Blog Review, Newsarama Interview with Brian Azzarello.

Further reading: Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Batman: Broken City, 100 Bullets, The Batman/Judge Dredd FilesDC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Books: When The Wind Blows

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When The Wind Blows
By Raymond Briggs

1982





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Jim and Hilda Bloggs are a kindly working-class couple who live on the outskirts of town. Based upon Raymond Brigg's own parents (see his other book: Ethel and Ernest) they're both kind and soft-hearted souls - mildly befuddled by the world around them: a world that just so happens to be on the brink of nuclear war. Written and drawn in his celebrated cosy-middle-englandish fashion - this is a warm inviting book that will draw you as close as it can before it sticks in several knives fashioned from bleakness, horror and despair. There are laughs and small funny joys along the way - but the story is packed like a black hole and allows no escape from it's message of the follies of mutually assured destruction.

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Further reading: Ethel and Ernest: A True Story, The Tale of One Bad Rat.

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2011/05

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The next Islington Comic Forum is on Tuesday the 31st of May. From 6:00pm all the way to 7:30pm.
Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX
Here is a map.

Meet and talk with other members. Hear recommendations. Tell us what you think. And a selection of over 100 hand-picked titles for you to borrow and take home.

The Book of the Month is:
Mecury by Hope Larson
If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

You can find us on facebook here. And join in with the discussions here.

Come and join us. All welcome.
Hope to see you there.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Books: Gotham Central

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Gotham Central
Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty
Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark

2011



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Gotham Central
Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen
Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark

2011



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Gotham Central 
Vol. 3: On The Freak Beat
Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano

2011



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Gotham Central 
Vol. 4: Corrigan
Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Kano and Stefano Gaudiano

2012



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I'd say that everyone everywhere as at one point or another (even if it was only for a second at the back of their mind) entertained the idea that Batman was real.

Don't lie.

I mean - come on: wouldn't it be awesome? Some crazy dark mystery man stalking the city streets ("Batman? Nah - it's just an urban legend man - read what it says on snoops..."): avenging evil, scaring the bad guys and protecting the innocent and all that stuff? It would be great. Taking it apart: I guess that part of the reason is that it's a comforting idea: a guardian angel only without the flowery white robes and heavenly countenance: but coming instead from the shadows, dressed up in black, mean and vicious and completely unstoppable [1]. And also: I guess that there's a part of us that just gets off on the power-trip. I mean - even if it's not us that's actually doing all the Batmaning (that's a word right?) - it's still somehow makes the world better to make-believe that there could be someone out there who stood up against all the stuff that most of us end up passively accepting: because there's so much crud and bad things going on in the world that most of the time the only thing you can do is just to ignore it and just keep trundling on - but damn - what if there was someone out there who was big enough and brave enough and bold enough to make a stand and say: "no." [2]

Of course: the only problem is that well - (brace yourself) the idea of Batman is (yes) inherently ridiculous [3]. You want proof? Well - howabouts it's always the bits of the Christopher Nolan films when they start to focus on the idea of Batman himself (and his stupid growly voice) that the suspension of disbelief gets a little - well - suspended.

But don't worry: Gotham Central is here to save the day.

First published between 2003 and 2006 (and there are collected editions that came out around that time but it's been so popular that they've rereleased them (those are the ones you can see up above [4]) - which I guess must be some small comfort to the everyone on the Gotham Central creative team seeing how notorious it was on it's original release for its outstanding reviews, dedicated fanbase and poor sales (according to wikipedia it was - like - 120th place (?! ) in the comic sales charts (and me - I didn't even know that there could be 120 comics that all came out at the same time)). But then - hey - I guess that adds even more zest (zest?) to the claim that: it's like The Wire - only with Batman in it [6] (you know: ignored while it's been released and then everyone saying "oh my god - best thing ever" when it's no longer around).

Writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker - who (come on) both know a thing or two about making how to cook a comic hard boiled [7] - Gotham Central is a tasty little police procedural series about the ordinary men and women working in the extraordinary city of Gotham (namely: The Major Crimes Unit of the GCPD). Pay attention: this is what life is like in the shadow of the Bat. A slow burning comic that uses the Dark Knight's impressive gallery of rogues (or "freaks" as they're called here) - and a (few of it's own inventions [8]) - to spin out several cases of violent crime, murder and intrigue. Nowhere near as flashy as you might expect - with realistic characters, understated artwork and dynamic plots: this is what happens when the superhero genre grows out from it's comfort zone and out into fresh, new, exciting territories.

Of course - for most of us - up until you're into Gotham Central the only people of the Gotham City Police that you'd be able to name  would be Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara [10] and Harvey Bullock (from the Batman: Animated Series - no? Wore a tench coat? Always acting like a wise-guy?). But the series kicks off at a point where none of these guys are to be seen [11] and so it's straight into the deep end with the distinctly unglamorous day-to-day life of a whole bunch of unknowns (all of which seem to be expendable so (and this is a good thing) it's pretty hard to tell who's going to live and who's going to die): it's not like it's Tom Cruise and his action cops! More like - people who most of the time are looking forward to nothing more than going home to bed and who are more used to dealing with junkie snitches, sorting out their over time and fighting amongst themselves than they are taking on laughing sociopath in pancake make-up (and I like how - even tho it's densely layered with real clues hidden amongst all the red herrings - it still makes time to make have people talking about everyday rubbish: "Besides you're never gonna get Americans to use a currency that isn't dollar green. Just won't happen" / "No, sarge.. I'd bet we have a woman President before we have another one with a beard.").

Of course I realise that maybe that makes it sound like it could be deathly boring (as if the whole series is nothing but people filling out paperwork - and the only tinge of the fantastic is that it says "Gotham" on the letterheads instead of "New York"): but the excitement comes from the way that the crazy and bizarre world of Batman interacts and cuts into typical police normality [12] (and oh: must say - I really liked the way that they make it into a spoken rule that the Batman only comes out to play after dark: "This isn't Metropolis Captain, and not just because our guy works at night."). If you read a Batman comic then you know (and expect) supervillain craziness to explode upon the scene at any given second - but with Gotham Central most of the time you'll find yourself hoping that all the characters that you'll come to know and love [13] won't have to bump uglies with the like of Mr Freeze, The Mad Hatter and the Joker. And then: as opposed to following the usual trails and showing us things that we've all already seen a million times before (Climbing clocktowers! Fighting on rooftops! Hanging off bridges!) it takes us to places that we haven't seen before - the bloody aftermath of crime scenes where people have been killed by science-fiction-level technology and the way turning on the Bat Signal [14] can make someone feel (yeah - I know that sounds kinda stupid - but read the books and we'll talk afterwards) instead of relying upon the bad guys leaving obvious clues (or you know - riddles [15]) there's a strong reliance upon - well - old-fashioned detective work - that (for me anyway) is endlessly thrilling in it's own special way (oh boy - can they crack the case in time? Get all the clues? And all that stuff).

Before I started writing this I thought that maybe I would just refresh myself by rereading Vol 3 - I got about 5 pages into it before I realised that actually it would be much more fun to start from the beginning because - well - yeah: although it might seem like you can just dip in from any point and work your way through (it's all just different cases right? So you can just start anywhere...) - one of the pleasures of going through from the beginning is seeing how there loads of small references to things ("Someone in evidence control lost the knife" / "Aw, no way! That's the first place you look?") that bubble up and reappear at a later point... (Kinda like the stuff that Alan Moore used to do with stuff like Halo Jones and things like that [16]) and watching the way that everyone's relationships build up (and collapse) over time - on the opening page of Vol 3 it has the little "Previously in Gotham Central" bit ("What started as mutual respect between the two has matured into a genuine friendship that has thus far survived every test Gotham has thrown at them") and I just thought to myself - hell: that sounds like much more to read rather than just read about - you know? With Gotham always chewing people up and spitting them back out (so you know: happy endings are in pretty short supply here) a lot of the fun comes from watching the way that the characters weather the storms and then - after the worst is over -seeing how (depending on who it is) things can pick up or (oh yeah - sorry) get even worse. So basically: if you're interested and you're thinking of joining the party- my advice would be to definitely start at the start - it's all just so much better that way.

And yeah - Michael Lark who's the main artist across pretty much the whole series (and I won't lie - I did tend to miss him when he wasn't there - altho Greg Scott does a fairly good impression in Vol 2 [17] and (ha) Stefano Gaudiano is so convincing that it wasn't until I got to Part Two of Keystone Kops that I realised they had switched artists... but maybe that's just me being slow on the uptake) is just the right person to bring the Rucka and Brubaker's grim world to life: he's not really comic-booky in any big way - and his dark shadows and simple non-fussy lines gives the whole a level of sober seriousness that means that there's no problem taking things seriously - and I like the way he draws people: it always looks like everyone is constantly frowning (it's just a shame that his Joker looks more like Cesar Romero than Heath Ledger - but then - hey - The Dark Knight didn't come out until 2008... so) [18].

For the last book - Vol 4 - it's all Kano (no - not the rapper - at least - I don't think so...) and (the previously mentioned) Stefano Gaudiano - who together (and I wish I knew how they split up their art chores) manage to create a strange kinda hybrid of Sean Phillips and Darwyn Cooke - which is especially effective for the final story Corrigan II - where all the wheels come off and the series comes spluttering to a halt (I just finished reading it and I can't really tell if I liked it or - I mean - technically - it's really impressive and does loads of cutting across scenes from panel to panel in a way that you don't normally see - and it very much left me shook up emotionally: but I dunno part of me feels that maybe it was a bit too overblown as a climax - I dunno...)

But - yeah - talking about the whole thing overall: it's nice how faithful it is to all the mainstream Batman comics - not only is there loads of insider fan references to all sorts of stuff like No Man's Land (but then I guess that may be because Greg Rucka was one of the writers who worked on it) - but they also pay respect to famous predecessors through the names of the streets ("Traffic backed-up on the Kane all the way to 203rd" / "No the one on Finger, not Cuttler." [19]). Although in Sunday Bloody Sunday they get drawn into some Infinite Crisis stuff - which - for me at least - cracked the veneer of realism that had been so carefully built up over the past three books (Captain Marvel will do that to you I guess...): but that's the only real serious misstep (and I'm guessing that maybe the writers didn't have that much choice in the matter - seeing how it's one of those company wide crossovers that every book has to take part in).

Still: snuggly fitting between the two taste extremes of people who like their superheroes and people who like their serious comics - I mean - judging from the response that these books have got from the good folks at the Islington Comic Forum (one reader - who normally only really likes Mark Millar comics - returned Gotham Central by dropping them loudly on the table and announcing to everyone: "Best. Comic. Ever.").  And if that isn't enough to make you want to read it - then I'm not really sure what will.

Also: because Batman is always kept at a distant remove (hiding in the shadows, wearing disguises ("You going to turn on that damn light...?")): it's the most realistic Gotham City reading experience out there. `And once you're between it's covers - you will believe in a man dressed as a bat.

And what more could anyone possibly want from anything - right? 

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[1] From the Justice League TV series: Doctor Destiny: "You know, I could let you go. You're a distraction now. And as the others who have the real problems. We're like insects to them. They step on us, ruin our lives. And they don't even realise it. But you're different. You don't have any special powers." Batman: "Oh, I have one, Johnny: I never give up."

[2] Good example - My literary flatmate forwarded this to me: OH MY GOD. I JUST WITNESSED THE SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. "On a bus, heading home from the city I am greeted by an incredibly nice Russian-sounding bus driver with a smile on his face. About 4 stops later (in the valley, of course) a bogan hops on with his skanky (I assume) girlfriend. (May have been sister. May have been both.) Naturally, he does not have the money for a bus, so of course The Bogan (Henceforth referred to as Shit-Skull) blames the bus driver. Using all manner of racial slurs, loud profanities and general offensive douchbagery, Shit-Skull proceeds to be a asshole and make the entire bus shuffle uncomfortably in their seats. All except one man. Ah, this man. I wish I could BE this man, this average looking hero that stepped up to defend the poor bus driver.“Look mate, he’s just doing his job. How’s about you calm down and leave the driver alone. It’s not his fault you can’t pay.” The logic of the situation made a slight whistling noise as it passed over Shit-Skull’s head. We could see the Tonka Truck gears clunk and grind in this mans underdeveloped cranium. Calm…down? It must be a challenge!“Are you try’na start me c**t? You wanna go me you f**king c**t? You wanna f**ing go me?” Ah, truly the words of a poet. But not even Oscar Wilde himself could have predict the Batman-esque reaction of: “Yeah, actually. Let’s do this. Off the bus.” You could hear a penny drop as the 256mb brain inside Shit-Skull’s shitty little skull ticked over. Finally, the judging eyes of the bus coupled with the high-pitched, slurring voice of his sister-daughter telling him to “take him” and (quoting directly) “don’t take none that shit babe” convince them both to step off the bus ready to fight.Calmer than a monk on morphine, our hero turns to the bus driver, simply says “shut the door mate”,  AND WALKS BACK TO HIS MOTHERFUCKING SEAT. The bus driver shut the door, drove away, and the entire bus ERUPTED. We were clapping, we were cheering, I gave Shit-Skull the finger out the window and I’m pretty sure people hugged. Tl;dr: Thank you stranger, for making humans okay in my book."

[3]  As the always wonderful xkcd has so helpfully reminded us: it's a man dressed a bat.

[4] If you're trying to match up the different collected editions with each other then (here you go): Vol 1 In The Line of Duty = In The Line of Duty, Motive and Half a Life; Vol 2 Jokers and Madmen = Daydreams and Believers, Soft Targets, Life is Full of Disappointments and Unresolved; Vol 3 On The Freak Beat = Corrigan, Lights Out, On The Freak Beat, Keystone Kops [5] and Vol 4 Corrigan = Nature, Dead Robin, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Corrigan II.

[5] Fun fact: The Keystone Cops were fictional incompetent policemen, featured in silent film comedies in the early 20th century. The movies were produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 and 1917.

[6] Brief tangent: I was going to start off this little post by confessing that I'm not really much of a Wire fan (before I decided that the whole "what if Batman was real"? was a much stronger way to go). Obviously I realise that in polite company saying that you don't much care for The Wire is like saying that you think that Hitler had some good ideas or that you've always felt that Simon Cowell is a very attractive-looking man but whatever I'm just gonna go for it: for something that's been held up as a shining example of how to make an intelligent cop show that doesn't treat the audience like they're children - it sure does get pretty cartoony at times. Brother Mouzone being the best example of this - I mean: he's played like a Batman villain and completely undercuts the realism of the rest of the characters (he's like a refuge from a Coen Brothers film: a character that maybe got cut out after the first draft and managed to escape to David Simon's house or something). And Omar Little - as fun as things can get when he shows up on screen - is actually only a few steps from just being Batman. I mean: give him a mask and a cape and he is the Dark Knight (not that I'm the first person to think this).

[7] Greg Rucka with the James Bond but played for real (and also way more depressing): Queen & Country (it's like Spooks but for grown-ups): plus the total amazing Batwoman: Elegy (that you should just go ahead and read already) and Ed Brubaker with - well - where do you wanna start? Sleeper, Incognito and Criminal: are all sorts of excellent. Sleeper and Incognito mixing up superheroes with gritty crime noir thrills and Criminal just serving it up straight.

[8] Actually - reading back through this books a second time (after having read Batman: Knightfall) - I know realise that Firefly (oops - sorry Firebug [9]) is actually part of the Batman canon rather than a Rucka and Brubaker invention - oh well (can you blame me tho? It does seem like a bit of a one-note idea: I mean - Firebug? Really? That seems like something that would have taken all of like 5 seconds to come up with... (and it's almost worst that there are two Batman villains with the same gimmick - what's next? The Evil Clown? Umbrella Bird Man? Double Face?). Also - that Black Spider guy in Vol 3? Turns out he's also got previous.

[9] I had started to write this up before I had actually reread the books and (after doing a quick google to double-check that I had the name right: "batman villain firefly") and so then when the book got around to Firebug I just sorta assumed that the writers were making a snide joke about how in the insular world of the Batman comics everyone calls him Firefly - but to everyone else - he's Firebug (no? Not that funny? Ok then - whatever): but then someone does make a crack about it later in the comic - so what the hey...

[10] You know - the fat-faced Irish guy from the Adam West Batman TV series.

[11] When Gotham Central came out both James Gordon and Harvey Bullock were off the force (which kinda adds to the feeling of realism: seeing how both of them are pretty pervasive elsewhere in the movies and cartoons and other comics and stuff - so it's nice that the series gets a chance to find it's feet without them - plus they've both been going for so long - it makes sense that they would be retired) but - DC comics being what they are - (according to wikipedia anyway - home of all my comics news) both have since been reinstated into GCPD (Yay!).

[12] Plus - there's a burst of action towards the end of Vol 1 that's a just little like that Armoured Car Robbery scene in Michael Mann's Heat (or - hell - may as well say it: The Dark Knight film too).

[13] It's a series that doesn't exactly play coy about getting you mixed up with the personal lives of the detectives - which just makes it all better. So it doesn't just feel like cardboard cut-out stand-ins investing Bat-crimes (CSI: Gotham?) - more like messy humans with messy lives that spill out in their professional lives in all sorts of unexpected ways...

[14] "The G.C.P.D. can’t officially touch the Bat-Signal, or in any way acknowledge the existence of Batman."

[15] This article from the Hurting: "Seeing that Batman is - or at least was once - the "World's Greatest Detective," it makes sense that he would have an arch-nemesis devoted exclusively to the creation of mysteries. Nowadays, the most detecting Batman ever does is call in a question for Oracle or one of his other assistants. It doesn't help that few Batman writers seem able to write a genuine mystery to save their lives. But how about a Batman villain who isn't a psycho, who isn't necessarily even a violent criminal - just, say, a man with a mania - some might even say an obsession - for making things fit, for putting together all the pieces to puzzles that other people don't even perceive. And of course, when he figures things out, he isn't content just to enjoy his own private knowledge, he has to share - or at least, he has to leave the clues there for anyone with the brains necessary to follow his formidable train of thought. Batman has psychotic killers, megalomaniacal world-beaters, tragic monsters and even alien despots in his rogues' gallery, but the one thing he doesn't really have is a purely cerebral foe, someone who can match the Detective wit-for-wit, someone whose most basic metier is designing the perfect crimes. The Riddler has been a joke for over twenty years, but he doesn't have to be. What Batman needs is his very own Professor Moriarty. Thankfully, he already has one, sitting in the corner and slightly dusty from disuse, but a very sturdy concept nonetheless."

[16] There's a point in Vol 2 where Jim Gordon makes a brief cameo and drops this little nugget of wisdom: ""What you'll realize over time is that a lot of criminals aren't really all that bad at heart... They just don't think through all the ramifications of their actions. They want something, or they're on drugs, so they do things without ever thinking about the damage they're going to cause... In a way, people like that bother me more than the true freaks. There's just - there's no excuse for that kind of mindless ignorance when you live in a society." And I guess what makes Gotham Central such a treasure is the way that Rucka and Brubaker think through the ramifications of everyone's actions and the way that one bad decision all the way over there can end up affecting a whole bunch of other people all the way over here.

[17] And I do like how he draws Vincent Del Arrazio so that he looks like Joe Pantoliano (better known as Ralphie Cifaretto‎ from The Sopranos).

[18] And at the big conclusion of the Half a Life storyline - it really adds a lot to the atmosphere the way he bends the lines of the panels so that they end up looking like fun house mirrors...

[19] Although - hell - maybe they do that in all the Batman comics - I dunno. (In fact - now that I think of it - I'm pretty sure that Frank Miller did the same kind of thing in The Dark Knight Returns - so huh - whatever I guess...).

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Links: Comics Alliance Article: Gotham Central: The DCU Police Drama Everyone Should Have Read.

Further reading: Powers, Top Ten, Marvels, Batwoman: Elegy, Incognito, Batman: Year OneThe Dark Knight Returns, Queen & Country, Hitman, Batman: KnightfallSleeper, Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles / A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of the Four / The Valley of FearThe Punisher: The Punisher MAX.

Profiles: Ed Brubaker.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Books: The Rabbi's Cat

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The Rabbi's Cat
By Joann Sfar

2005





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

From the acclaimed French writer, artist (and film director) Joann Sfar: a delightful comic about love, cats and rabbis that's as sweet and delicious as a cool glass of orange juice on a hot day. Set in Algeria in the 1930s and told from the point of view of a sardonic cat this is a book infused with feline mischief and warm-hearted Jewish humour: from it's affectionate poking of religious customs and traditions to it's understanding of the inner workings of a jealous heart this is a wonderfully meandering and open minded comic that will win you over with it's combination of old-fashioned charm and sly little insights. Drawn and worded with a scratchy, scraggly style that's as comforting as a cup of hot chicken soup (I should admit I first found off-putting - but was then won over - so stick with it) and characters who refuse to stay in one place: this is a great comic full of wise old rabbi sayings: "western thought works by thesis, antithesis, synthesis, while Judaism goes thesis, antithesis, antithesis, antithesis." Or in other words: it's the cat's whiskers.

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Further reading: Habibi, Persepolis, Kiki De Montparnasse, Blankets, Gemma Bovery, Chicken with Plums, A Taste of Chlorine

All comments welcome.

Books: The Tale of One Bad Rat

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The Tale of One Bad Rat
By Bryan Talbot

1995





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Be warned right from the start: this is a harrowing book. That's not to say that the artwork isn't excellent (because it is: clean, detailed, evocative, perfect in it's use of colour and everything drawn to feel weighted and real): the characters are distinct and believable and the plot is simple but very effective: stomach-churning, tense and gripping right from the get go. That harrowing part comes from the subject-matter: Helen Potter is homeless - a teenage runaway living on the streets of London with a past that she has yet to come to grips to. Obsessed with Beatrix Potter and her only friend a small pet rat this comic follows her attempts to overcome and survive the things that have happened to her. A mini-masterpiece that will leave you emotionally drained but satisfied.

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Links: Good Ok Bad Review, Ninth Art Review.

Further reading: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, I Kill Giants, A Small Killing, Maus.

Profiles: Bryan Talbot.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Books: It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

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It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
By Seth

1996





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

This book has been basted like a turkey with plaudits, praise and critical acclaim. It's been voted one of the best Comics of the 20th Century. And serious comic professionals and intellects have declared it to be smart, funny and wise. I am not one of these people. Keeping in mind that you may love this book - I have to say that I found it dreary, uninspiring, predictable, lame and lacking any spark of real human emotions or life. Plus: it's boring. Boring in that way that only someone who thinks that they are really smart can be. As I was reading it I wanted to tell it to leave me alone and go and bother someone else: I don't care what you have to say: other, better, smarter, livelier, more attractive people have already said exactly the same things in a much more interesting, funnier and deeper way. But like an idiot I kept on reading till the end... (and - no - it doesn't get any better). It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken (and credit where it's due: good title) tells the story of it's author - Seth - bumbling around - having wanna-be deep conversations about surpassingly deep thoughts about existence and (yawn) old comic strips from the New Yorker - the artwork is barely passable - the story goes nowhere - and the dialogue is stilted and embarrassing. If you want to know the mind-set you're dealing with on the front cover it describes itself as a "picture-novella" - (good grief). Life is too short: read something else.

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Further reading: Hicksville, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, City of Glass, Quimby the Mouse, Jar of Fools, Why I Hate Saturn, ClumsyMake Me A Woman

All comments welcome.

Books: No Hero

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No Hero
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Juan Jose Ryp

2010




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From the same twisted guys who brought you the delirious Black Summer (and the middle part of a loose trilogy that includes Supergod) comes even more blood-splattered superhuman action and nastiness. Obviously thinking that most superheroes get their powers much too easily (radioactive spider? pah) - Ellis and Ryp push the entry requirements to darker, more intense levels in a bid to prise open the putrid minds of those attracted to the promise of higher powers and to batter the any reader close enough with it's harsh and hellish depravities. With detailed artwork that resembles Geof Darrow (more-is-more) this is a book full of drugs, violence, gore and vigilantes all guided with typical Ellis malice to shocking climaxes and crazy depths. Yeah - ok it's another superhero comic book: but once you pull the skin off - it's a different picture.

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Links: Major Spoilers Review, Wednesdays Haul Review, Hooded Utilitarian Article, Comics Bulletin Article, GraphiContent Article: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6.

Further reading: Black Summer, SupergodCrossed, The Filth, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels, Transmetropolitan, The OneNeonomicon.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Books: Meanwhile

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Meanwhile
By Jason Shiga

2010





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A strange messed-up blend of a comic, video game, mathematical equation, one of those "choose-your-own-adventure" books you used to read as a kid and some strange, alien, avant garde art-object that's always one step ahead of what you think is going to happen next - or whatever: Meanwhile by Jason Shiga is anything but typical. The story: young Jimmy has to choose between chocolate and vanilla with life-changing consequences for the whole world hanging in the balance. To say what happens next would spoil the surprises (of which there are many) - and anyway - what happens next is up to you. With several branching off points (do you want to go for the left panel or the right panel?) - and a structure that twists, turns and (if you're lucky) loops back on itself this is a book that ensures only the most careful readers will be able to advance to the end. Needless to say: it's very clever and very well-made and a strange step forward for what comic books can do.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Interview.

Further reading: Quimby the Mouse, Promethea, Understanding Comics, Goliathxkcd.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Books: Nemesis

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Nemesis
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Steve McNiven

2011




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One of the things about working in a library that nobody tells you about is the long 11-hour days. And the thing it really taxes isn't your body (shock horror: you don't have to be that fit to work in a library) but your brain. Doing those last few hours and it feels like your brain has been swirled round a bag of fuzz.

I was in the middle of re-reading Stray Toasters: but sitting down with a cup of tea and a sandwich and I realised that the abstract wierdness was going to be too much for my poor battered mind to handle: and so - I picked up this instead. Something all you really want is stuff exploding, people spitting out snide one-liners and lots and lots of gratuitous violence. And if that's all you need: then Nemesis knows how to deliver all of that stuff straight into the lizard-part at the back of your brain. But (most importantly) never actually insults your intelligence. It's dumb-smart but not dumb-dumb.

In terms of describing this book - I don't know if I can do much better than the teaser tagline: "What if Batman was the Joker?" It's pretty obvious (from this and his other works) that Mark Millar loves writing bad guys and Nemesis may be his best yet: super-rich, hyper-intelligent and totally insane: committed outrageous acts of evil and chaos seemingly just for the hell of it. Feeling like it was written with pure adrenaline: this is a comic that will shock, thrill and entertain you throughly - all the way to the bitter end.

Mindless - yes - but what's your point? Sometimes that's all you need. 

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Links: Comics Alliance Review, Comic Book Resources Review of #1 / #2 / #3, Primary Ignition Review, Tearoom of Despair Article: Vulgar Distractions.

Further reading: SuperiorWolverine: Old Man Logan, Preacher, Wanted, The Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: Avengers.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Books: Ex Machina

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Ex Machina
Vol 1: The First Hundred Days
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2005



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Ex Machina
Vol 2: Tag
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2005



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Ex Machina
Vol 3: Fact V. Fiction
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2006



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Ex Machina
Vol 4: March to War
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2006



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Ex Machina
Vol 5: Smoke Smoke
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2007



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Ex Machina
Vol 6: Power Down
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2007



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Ex Machina
Vol 7: Ex Cathedra
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2008



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Ex Machina
Vol 8: Dirty Tricks
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2009



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Ex Machina
Vol 9: Ring Out the Old
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2010



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Ex Machina
Vol 10: Term Limits
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

2011



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There's something glowing beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and there's a new Nirvana song coming through the radio... Bestowed by unknown forces with the ability to speak to machines civil engineer Mitchell Hundred (who's a big comic book fan) decides to use his powers to become a (it must be said - slightly inept) superhero and then - when that doesn't work out the way that he hoped - Major of New York. This is Ex Machina: an exciting, ingenious, explosive cocktail mixing up the adventures and thrills of super heroics with the messy and compromised business of day-to-day city politics. With an inciting non-chronological structure that will keep you coming back for more - and a larger all-encompassing plot tying it all together this is a comic that has arch-villains, car chases and action movie quips (""Bullets are for assholes.") along with issue-of-the-week stuff like: art censorship, gay marriage. school vouchers, drug laws, stop and search, terrorism etc. So basically: it's half West Wing / half Smallville. With writing that's intelligently structured even if it's a little clunky ("There's no justice. There's just us.") and everyone always spouting factiods (did you know New York city hall was built over a jail? etc) it might take a little getting used to - but once you're in - the subtle mysteries and big cliffhangers (and the cool small details - like how much a jetpack would burn your bum) will keep you reading all the way until the end. Ok - the artwork is a little pose-y and Tony Harris seems to have quite a predilection for drawing women with ample chests and men with sturdy chins: but it's elegant and the panel construction is nearly always really nicely designed. Not quite like anything else out there - this is a really nice example of a modern comic that refuses to retread the same old paths.

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Links: Newsarama Review, Sean T Collins Review of Vol 1 - Vol 9 / Vol 10The M0vie Blog Review of Deluxe Edition Vol 1 / The M0vie Blog Review of Deluxe Edition Vol 2 / The M0vie Blog Review of Deluxe Edition Vol 3 / The M0vie Blog Review of Deluxe Edition Vol 4 / The M0vie Blog Review of Deluxe Edition Vol 5.

Further reading: Y: The Last ManSagaDMZ, Black SummerThe OneScalped, The Walking Dead.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Authors/Artists: Frank Miller

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Frank Miller
Born: January 27, 1957
Olney, Maryland, U.S.









One of the all time great creators of comic books both as a writer and as an artist Frank Miller is the kind of guy that begs to be talked about in capital-letter word-long sentences ("DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. HIM." etc). With a brutal style and canny feeling for how to make the biggest impact with just-the-right phrase and just-the-right picture (not to mention his expert use of repetition) - he has revolutionised the graphic novel several times over and pushed it's limits into strange, terrifying and also very very cool places. Ninja time-travellers to the future? Check Ronin. Demon dinosaurs on the rampage? Check The Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot. Batman out of retirement back to take down the bad guys one last time? Check the seminal and very excellent Dark Knight Returns which is basically responsible (along with Watchmen) for everything ever and is awesome all the way from it's art, use of panels, take on classic Batman baddies and brooding apocalyptic overtones (not to mention the expert use of repetition). Yes - he is a little bit wild and crazy and his political views do seem a little extreme and his attitide to women a little prehistoric: but with his larger than life characters (always super-heroic square-jawed, barrel-chested adonises) and titanic plots (always full of yummy pulpy empty-headed goodness) he knows how to make a reader's blood flow faster and heart pound hard. His artwork is always eye-popping and gorgeous: even when (especially when) he's depicting the chipped, broken and wrecked. And he's always smart about how to tell a story crammed with dumb, entertaining fun. Not to mention his expert use of repetition.

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Links: Comic Dom Interview, Why Frank Miller is a Fascist Writer, NYC Graphic Interview Part 1 / Part 2, 4thletter Collection of Frank Miller Reviews and Articles, The Comics Reporter 2005 Collection of Frank Miller On-Line: lots of good and interesting links., Tearoom of Despair: It's Always Been Miller Time, The Hurting Article: The Tao of Miller.

Selected works: RoninDaredevil: Born Again, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Elektra: Assassin, Hard Boiled, Sin City, 300, The Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot, The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman: All Star Batman and Robin, Holy Terror.

All comments welcome.

Books: Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

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Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Written by Evan Dorkin
Art by Jill Thompson

2010




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First appearing as one-shot short stories inside the Dark Horse anthologies of Hauntings, Witchcraft, the Dead, and Monsters (all collected her) Beasts of Burden tells the supernatural adventures of several pet dogs and a pesky stray cat. Dealing with dark scary things like werewolves, hauntings and black magic covens but told with a lightness of touch that makes it feel like a children's tv show Beasts of Burden is a comic that will delight the young and old alike. With fully painted art that sparkles with the same energy and mischief as it's four-legged heroes - this comic will have you purring in delight and barking with joy.

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Further reading: We3, B.P.R.D., Grandville.

All comments welcome

Books: Marvels

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Marvels
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Alex Ross

1995




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With beautiful fully painted Norman Rockwell-style artwork from Alex Ross - this book is a luxurious treat for anyone who's ever read a Marvel comic. One of the first notable series to star a normal human being living at the bottom of a world full of costume powered heroes (see also: Astro City, Powers, Gotham Central and Kingdom Come) Marvels stars ordinary news photographer Phil Sheldon and spans several years from 1939 all the way to 1974. Featuring cameos from all the major Marvel heroes (Spider-man, Fantastic Four, The X-Men etc) but not always in the way you would expect - this is a book that shows you how the epic battles and galactic conflicts of superheroes can affect, shape and change (or fail to change) the life of one man. Ideally balanced with enough references and in-jokes to tickle all the Marvel fan boys and girls but also enough of an emotionally gripping story to satisfy those who don't know the difference between Doctor Doom and Doctor Octavius. This is a thoughtful superhero book that uses classic Marvel storylines to address weighty human issues (tolerance, prejudice, family, love) that will make your rethink your perspective on superheroes.

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Links: The Hurting Article: Another Look At MarvelsThe Hurting Article: (X) + (Y) = You Suck or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The SpandexThe M0vie Blog Review, Whatever Comics Review, The Comics Cube Article: Pop Medicine: All the Fancy Artistic Goals.

Further reading: Astro City, Powers, Gotham Central, Kingdom Come, The World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Watchmen.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Books: Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope

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Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope
By Emmanuel Guibert

2008





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Emmanuel Guibert is a French comic writer and artist. In 1994 he met Alan Cope - an American ex-G.I. living in France. From that first chance meeting the two embarked on a friendship that lasted until Alan's death in 1999. During which Alan related to Emmanuel his experiences growing up, joining the army, first coming over to Europe and the encounters, freindships and memories he made along the way. Taken in by Alan's natural direct anecdotal style Emmanuel took the decison to turn the stories he heard into a comic book: Alan's War is that book. It's worth mentioning for those that may be put off by the size and subject matter: this is a very easy book to read and is refreshing in the way it's so plainspoken. Alan's narrative voice is everything you could hope for: charming and funny and wise and conveyed in a way that mimics the narrative flow of someone speaking - like how he forget's a philsopher's name at one point - but then remembers it a few pages later. He also has a keen eye for detail that lets the book roam everywhere from the praticalties of driving a tank to pubic lice, from the contents of a K ration to his first experience of classical music. Personal history at it's finest. A lifetime depicted in clear, precise black and white: with insights that take you as close as it's possible to get without having been there yourself.

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Links: Sean T Collins Review.

Further reading: The Photographer, Maus, Last Day in Vietnam, Waltz with Bashir, Kiki De Montparnasse, Battlefields.

All comments welcome.

Books: Ultimate Fantastic Four

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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 1: The Fantastic
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar
Art by Adam Kubert, John Dell and Danny Miki

2005



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 2: Doom
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Stuart Immonen

2005



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 3: N-Zone
Written by Warren Ellis,
Art by Andy Kubert and John Dell

2005



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 4: Inhuman
Written by Mike Carey and Mark Millar
Art by Jae Lee

2006



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 5: Crossover
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Greg Land

2005



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 6: Frightful
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Greg Land

2006



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 7: God War
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Pasqual Ferry

2007



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 8: Devils
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Mark Brooks, Stuart Immonen and Frazer Irving

2007



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 9: Silver Surfer
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Pasqual Ferry

2008



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 10: Ghosts
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Mark Brooks

2008



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Ultimate Fantastic Four
Vol 11: Salem's Seven
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Mike Perkins

2008



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The "Ultimate Marvel" imprint was launched by Marvel in 2000 as a place to create "modernized re-imaginings" of their most well-known properties. It's a fresh start - with all new origin stories that free all the characters from the from their massively convoluted back-histories. Thus: it is the ideal jumping on point for new readers eager to dip their toes into the thrills and delights of the Marvel Universe. Ultimate Fantastic Four is the reboot of the trials and tribulations of the Richards family here recast as angst teenagers who - due to a freak accident - wind up with gruesome yet awesome super-powers. Featuring the cream of comic writing talent (namely Bendis, Millar and Ellis) this title is totally worth checking out if you enjoy brain-expanding mind-twisting freaky science-fiction will a large dollop of pumping action adventure and internal family squabbles (and who doesn't?). There's also the pleasant sensation of each successive writer trying to out-do and one-up what came before - as each volumes goes ever further into complete exhilarating insanity that push the limits of what you can get away with in a mainstream comic book. The target audience might be for kids - but really this kinda stuff is much much too good for them. Plus: check out Vol 5 for the first appearance of the Marvel Zombies.

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Links: A Comic Book Blog Review of Vol 1, The M0vie Blog Review of Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis’ Run / Warren Ellis' Run / Mark Millar's Run / Mike Carey's Run, Comic Critique Review of #21 and #22.

Further reading: The UltimatesThe Ultimates 2, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Marvel ZombiesUltimate Comics: DoomsdayFantastic Four: World's Greatest / The Masters of Doom, Tom Strong, Fantastic Four: 1234, Fantastic Four: First Family, Astonishing X-Men.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Books: Grandville

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Grandville
By Bryan Talbot

2009





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Apparently inspired by "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rupert Bear and Quentin Tarantino" - Grandville is a little bit of steam punk mixed with some furry fandom set in an alternative world where animals can walk, talk and engage in fights, shoot outs and all sorts of dirty political espionage. Starring Detective Inspector Archibald "Archie" LeBrock, (who's basically Sherlock Holmes if he was a large, heavily-built badger); and his assistant Detective Roderick Ratzi, (a dapper, monocle-wearing rat) - Grandville is a light-hearted romp that has all the hallmarks of your cheesy mystery: chases, sexy badger ladies, secret groups etc. Featuring a strange - slightly out of place 9/11 reference that you may want to ignore this is Bryan Talbot's lightest work yet - with computer generated colouring that makes everything feel a little bit - cheap. So maybe worth reading as a distraction - but sadly nothing more. I'd rather read The Adventures of Luther Arkwright again (which is much much better).

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Links: Savage Critics Review, SteamPunk Magazine Interview.

Further reading: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Blacksad: Somewhere Between The Shadows, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, Aetheric Mechanics.

Profiles: Bryan Talbot.

All comments welcome.