Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2011/07

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The next Islington Comic Forum is on Tuesday the 26th of July. 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:
The Walking Dead Vol 1: Days Gone Bye
by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

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.

All comments welcome. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Books: Takio

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Takio
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Avon Oeming

2011




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

The adventures of two bickering sisters aged 7 and 13 (inspired apparently by Bendis' own kids) Takio is a delighful action adventure superhero thing that's as light, fun and bouncey as a room full of balloons. With artwork from his Powers buddy Michael Avon Oeming who refines his style slightly to something that feels a little more sophisticated with brighter colours that make it pop off the page - whilst retaining his crazy kenetic energy - and not forgetting Bendis' now trademark quick-fire whip-smart banter dialogue this is comic book that people of all ages can embrace. My only complaint? It's all over much too soon - especially when the set-up begs for a whole full-blown series... So guys - if you get a chance - could you write a few more books of this please? Thanks.

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Links: Weekly Comic Book Review Review.

Further reading: Powers, I Kill Giants, Scott Pilgrim, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Books: Batman: The Black Casebook

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Batman: The Black Casebook
Written by Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton et al
Art by Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang et al

2009




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


The notion of Batman's "Black Casebook" was first introduced in the pages of Grant Morrison's Batman and Son: “Vampires, flying saucers, time travel…all the things we’d seen that didn’t fit and couldn’t be explained went into The Black Casebook.” Basically: it's all the stuff that doesn't fit into everyday reality or (as everyone else has already said) it's Batman's version of the X-Files.

So: I'm guessing that this book isn't the same Black Casebook that Batman has (although that would be pretty trippy Grant Morrison-esque thing to do: Batman reading Batman comics) but - instead is a collection of allstrange and trippy pop-tastic stories from the 1950s and 1960s starring the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder. If you've read (or want to read) Morrison's take on Batman then this is the background scene-setting that you need to help make (slightly more) sense of his wild flights of fancy. Bat-Mite, Batmen of All Nations and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh (as referenced in The Black Glove and Batman: R.I.P.) origins are all contained within. Plus a few other tales that apparently have been included because Morrison liked the looks of the covers (and - no - that's not a joke). While it is cool that there is so much grounding and obscure references that are teased out in the Morrison's Batman run the cynic in me says that really this is little more than an excuse to repackage old stories that most people had lost interest in - and really apart from the Morrison angle I'd say there's little of much interest here. There's a reason why comics haven't always been taken seriously and dismissed as 'kids stuff.' - but then again: maybe you can find something to entertain you in the light-hearted carefree adventures contained within.

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Further reading: Batman: Batman and Son.

All comments welcome.

Books: Chosen

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Chosen
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Peter Gross

2005




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

Jodie Christianson is a normal 12 year old boy - until the day he realises he's not. From the sly and mischievous mind of Mark Millar comes a story about that sets the biggest religious happening of all time in a sleepy American town and charts the varying reactions it inspires. It's slightly cheeseball but told in a classy way and has the air of something that I could imagine Steven Spielberg producing in the 1980s: kinda like The Goonies mixed with Poltergeist but with the "epic" levels turned all the way up. The art by Peter Gross is dark and moody in all the right ways and the shocks hit hard and deep. Damn good reading.

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Further reading: Preacher, Marvel 1985, The UnwrittenSuperior.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Books: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Vol 1
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

2002



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

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Vol 2
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill





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

If you're big on Victorian literature then The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - a "Justice League of Victorian England" - is going to leave you giggling like a baby. A superhero team made up from characters featured in Dracula, King Solomon's Mines, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Invisible Man and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this is a comic mash-up of epic proportions for those who like their pulp adventures mixed in with classical references (and literally everything from the minor character to the street names features nods and winks to famous old books). If you wanna fully appreciate it then you're going need to have a good working knowledge of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs et al (or if you wanna use a shortcut: there's always this). But don't be too afraid it you don't know the difference between Professor Cavor and Professor Moriarty - as it's not just a game of "spot the reference" - there's still enough outlandish action and adventure to keep you entertained and Kevin O'Neil's jagged artwork is pretty swell - (but you will probably be missing lots of the jokes). Also - in my opinion - Volume 2 is much more fun and crazy with lots more cooler parts than Volume 1 - if if you don't get into it straight away - it's definitely worth persevering.

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Links: I Am Not The Beastmaster Review, Mindless Ones Article, The M0vie Blog Review of Vol 1, The M0vie Blog Review of Vol 2.

Further reading: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, PrometheaAetheric Mechanics, Heart of Empire or the Legacy of Luther Arkwright, Hellboy, Marvel 1602, DC: The New Frontier, Doom PatrolFrom Hell, Planetary.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Books: Why I Hate Saturn

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Why I Hate Saturn
By Kyle Baker

1990





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

Does this even count as a comic? The words and the art don't really exist in the same space like all other comics do - the drawing are all enclosed by boxes that the text sits outside of - like a kids book almost - except it's not a kid's book because it's all about adult problems and dilemmas and one woman's quiet desperatation to find Mr Right - but well - I guess it's closer to a comic than anything else. Albeit a comic with pretentions to be taken seriously: that wants you to stay in the morning and then phone back the next day. The main character is Anne - she''s neurotic, twitchy New Yorker who works for a magazine called "Daddy-O" (really? yes really) and prone to saying things like "I find my confidence in a bottle." "You mean--?" "Mousse. And plenty of it." - it's so hip you can smell the freshly ground fair-trade coffee beans and so late eighties/early nineties that it will make your teeth hurt. For me - a little bit meh. But at the time a big underground hit - so maybe worth checking out for yourself.

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Further reading: Special Forces, Strangers in Paradise, It's a Good Life, if You Don't Weaken, Embroideries.

All comments welcome.

Books: Batman: Batman and Son

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Batman: Batman and Son
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Andy Kubert, John Van Fleet and Jesse Delperdan

2008




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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So: this entry used to be kinda different. I mean: this blog used to more of a - I guess you could say - "micro-blog" - rather than the much more (rambling)  monstrosity it's become. Way back when I was more concerned about fitting things into as small a space as I could manage so I grouped together Batman and Son with The Black Glove and Batman: R.I.P. forming them into a sorta unofficial trilogy [1] because - hey - it seemed neater that way and that way I didn't have to try and write about all three of them separately (because - man - it used to be that writing stuff about comic books sure was hard) [2]. 

Now tho - I'm much more inclined to give each book it's proper due. And so I thought it'd be good to come back and strip away The Black Glove and Batman: R.I.P. and just take on Batman and Son on it's ownsome. Does that sound alright to you ?

Ok then - let's begin some with preamble: In 1939 the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Batman - one of the most famous superheroes - no, wait - make that - one of the most famous characters - of all time. And since that point - The Caped Crusader has gone through many changes, styles and looks (hell - just look at the film versions - from Adam West - via Micheal Keaton and George Clooney - all the way to Christian Bale) - most of which have been disguarded and left forgotten along the way - most people don't like to think about those stories in the 1950s and 60s where Batman went to alien worlds, fought extra-dimensonal imps or met the the Batmen of All Nations (etc). But then: in 2006 when the madcap comic magnus Grant Morrison took over the writing duties of DC comics flagship title he knew that he needed to put a unique spin on what so many other hundreds of writers had done before. "Grim and gritty" had by that point been done to death: and the shadow of Frannk Miller's Dark Knight Returns hung over all Batman books like a bad smell - so he figured - it was time for something new. His big, fresh idea? Treat every Batman incarnation and every Batman story as being all equally 'real': then mix them up all into the same person. I mean - sure it sounds crazy (schizophrenic Batman anyone?) - but it's so crazy that it works.

Well: mostly works.

Batman and Son is where this grand experiment in Batmetaphysics takes it's first tentative steps and the results are - well - mixed at best. As you can probably intuit from the title Batman and Son introduces the world to the Bruce Wayne's kid in a fashion that's only slightly more convincing that the Superman Returns film (kinda feels like driving very fast over rocky terrain: lots of bumps and wild swings in the wrong direction). I mean - come on - the idea of giving Batman a son (and the suggestion that Batman would play along at pretending to be a dad - rather than - say - dropped him off at the nearest orphanage and then speeding away as fast as the Batmobile could carry him) just leans a little bit too close to the goofy for me to take seriously (and if you're reading your Batman comics - god knows you want to be able to take it seriously - am I right?). But - once you get over that and learn to kinda just roll with the punches - it's kinda good fun.

What's interesting is that throughout the whole book Morrison kinda ticks off all the different things that Batman does so well: I mean - the legend of the Dark Knight is basically built around the idea that he's Alpha Male Plus - cooler than James Bond (does James Bond have a cave that he can go to? No he does not) and with Sherlock Holmes style detective skills that occasionally almost trip into the realms of self-parody (actual quote from the book: ""The blindfold you were wearing had a light adhesive coating. It picked up traces of a unique pollen from an island called Las Montonas in the African Ocean..."): with more gadgets, toys and machines that every Apple store combined. It's almost like - instead of doing that Alan Moore Swamp Thing Anatomy Lesson thing (tearing a character apart to work out what makes him tick) Morrison more wants to reaffirm everything that makes Batman great before he starts to rip it all apart.... Which I guess is why Batman and Son feels a little like (if you're feeling kind) like a greatest hits collection or (if you're not feeling so generous) just another empty rehash of all the Batman stuff you've already seen a thousand times before.

The other great driving force throughout the book is - well - change. And even tho Batman (and by extension the whole Batman universe) is resistant to such an idea (at one point the Dark Knight even states outright: "This doesn't change anything." and there's lots of examples scattered throughout of how Batman is always just running through the same old routines again and again and again - my favourite being a line in the prose piece halfway through [3]: ""You're going nowhere," Batman says. It's the sort of all-purpose semi-hypnotic phrase he often uses to draw fetish-compulsive criminals like the Joker into familiar patterns of interaction, to elicit familiar chains of response. It's not working this time...") it's really the only thing that keep a story moving and - well - interesting and fun to read and it's exactly what Grant Morrison intends to do

Ok - yeah: the artwork is a bit of a mess and all slightly sloppy around the edges and all just a bit too loose or something (I dunno - maybe I'm just too refined?): but then that doesn't make it any different from all of the other mass-produced mainstream superhero comics out there - but it's a bit of a let-down seeing how this is supposed to be (no?) some kinda higher-level Batman book (and if it's too much for you - then don't worry: J. H. Williams III does the artwork on the next book (The Black Glove) and Batman and Robin has
Frank Quitely and (for me at least) - those guys always makes everything better).

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[1] Which kinda made more sense of the time. Seeing how - I guess - everyone just kinda assumed that it was all about building up to the death of Batman in R.I.P. when it turns out that was only a stepping stone to larger and much more grandiose plans... 

[2] I would like to point out that I'm not the only person to have done this (see also: The M0vie Blog's Grant Morrison’s Run on Batman – Batman & Son, The Black Glove & Batman RIP (Review/Retrospective), this Graphic Content Article: Building a Better Batman: Grant Morrison's First Year on Batman (oh) and this Buried On Indian Ground review).

[3] I don't think that there's any shame in admitting that the first time around I saw The Clown at Middnight (an "interlude")  I skipped straight over it. I mean - you don't pick up a Batman book and expect to be greeted by a whole bunch of text and stuff like "Chapter One" do you? (No you don't [4]). Plus: the first line just makes it sound so ponderous and kinda like six-formy "Rain goes clickety-clack-tack through the sticks and branches of bare bony elms, the kind that stands if ashamed like strippers past their best..." that I thought it was for the best that I passed over it. But - well - altho it does veer into some pretty shocking purple prose (the worst offender being: "Gotham City, where the greasy electromagnets of human need, hope and fear radiate into a new January night so rank you can taste it like tinfoil on your fillings.") if you give it a chance it's still pretty entertaining: with the Joker going through some Bizarro-version of Doctor Who regeneration (which I'd like to note is very much in keeping in line with the image of the character Morrison wrote in his Arkham Asylum book) and such delightful moments as the Joker (again) running through the list of all the things that make him laugh.

[4] Like the guy at Freak Comics says: "DC is trying their darndest to make me hate them again. For those of you who didn’t have the extreme displeasure of reading Batman #663, don’t bother. It is not a comic book, it is a novella, and a badly written one at that. Yep, that’s right I said it: Grant Morrison wrote a terrible short story and it got shoved in to the pages of Batman #663 with some horrible art by John Van Fleet (it looks like badly done CG). Please take note of this DC: I buy books to read books. I buy comic books to read comic books. I don’t buy comic book based novels, and I certainly don’t want to buy novellas disguised as comic books."

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Links: Death To The Universe Batman and Son Analysis.

Followed by: Batman: The Black Glove, Batman: R.I.P., Final Crisis, Batman: Batman and Robin, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman: Time and the BatmanBatman: Batman Incorporated..

Further reading: Batman: The Black Casebook, Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, Batwoman: Elegy, Superman: All Star Superman.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

Books: Marvel Zombies

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Marvel Zombies
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Sean Phillips

2006




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

A two word pitch: "zombie superheroes." (Big fat guy puffing a cigar - "That's great - the kid's will love it.") But before you make your mind up you should know: it actually manages to overcomes it's gimmicky origins and lives up to it's promise - turning in lots of fantastical joys (and horrors): as it presents a compelling and nasty vision of the end of the superhero world. Helmed by the author of The Walking Dead (who obviously knows a thing or two about the undead) and with art-duties handled by the lean and mean Sean Philips whose sharp lines and buff bodies are a perfect match for crazy zombie carnage: this is equal parts bloody horror to jet-black comedy and it's nice - seeing how the term "Marvel Zombie" was originally coined way back when to describe die-hard devoted Marvel fans - that there are plenty of treats and sly winks for them to enjoy. The wheel is not reinvented: but it's got gore, despair and a bad-ass attitude. Just don't bother with the sequels - (they're rubbish).

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Links: Comics Journal Article, 4thletter Article.

Further reading: Ultimate Fantastic Four, The Walking Dead, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Marvel 1602, The Punisher: Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher, Marvel 1985, Zomnibus.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Books: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

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The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Yoshitaka Amano

1999




Available now from Islington Libraries
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The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Written by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Art by P. Craig Russell

2009




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


I'm just gonna be honest with you. For whatever unknown reasons [1] so far at least this here is the most popular post on this blog (by a factor of a lot): so - while in terms of the posts on here that I want to try and make a little more pretty and bit more filled out it kinda ranks kinda low I realise that as it's acting as a sorta unofficial entry on to the rest of this site I should at least sweep the floors and change the bedding and yeah - I dunno - maybe a fresh coat of paint wouldn't hurt: (just let me go grab a brush...)

Ok: where's the best place to start? Well: as you no doubt already know: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series ran from January 1989 all the way until March 1996. If you've read it then you already know how - well - damn magical it is (and that's not a word I use lightly). A heady, dreamy mixture of classical myths with contemporary characters sprinkled with it's own unique cosmology for lots of folks out there The Sandman was a high water mark in the same way as your first kiss: if you read it at the right age then it's not something that will ever leave you and reaches a place inside you that no other book will ever come close to (I realise that sounds a little bit precious - but damnit - if you read it during your teenage years like I did - then you'll know that I'm not even coming close to exaggerating). At the time he promised that he was done with the world of Morpheus and all his brothers and sisters and other associated acts: but like the cheeky little chappie he is he has returned a few times since then to the scene of what some would describe (myself included I guess) as his greatest artistic triumph [2] most notably in 1999 with - The Dream Hunters.

With a few exceptions every post on here is about comic books but the 1999 version of The Dream Hunters (I'll get to the 2008 version below - don't worry) isn't really a graphic-novel-kinda-thing. I guess you could call it a novella with pictures but that doesn't quite capture it. The thing it must resembles is sorta children's story book: the basic pattern is words on one page and a picture on the other page facing it - only there's a lot more words than what you'd normally get in a children's book these days and the pictures (from Yoshitaka Amano [3]) are a lot more delicately and artfully composed than what young eyes would be used to: there's a lot of gold and a lot of blacks and a lot of empty spaces.

A folk tale that follows the fortune of a solitary monk and a mischievous fox and badger. The Sandman himself - Dream - sits on the periphery and doesn't do that much - so you don't have to worry if you haven't read the main series. The tone is very gentle and light - with plently of exquisite turns of fortune and fate cribbed from old fashioned fairy tales, myths and legends: the kind of story that you'd want your grandparents to read you when you were a kid: tucked up in bed. In 2008 P. Craig Russell adapted the story into a comic book: it retains all the same elements and is beautifully drawn with his distinctive swirly style. If you haven't read the Yoshitaka Amano version then you will be entranced and bewitched by it's comic counterpart - but if you want to know which one I preferred then I'd go for the former - the images it conjured up in my head just felt darker and stranger and more beguiling than any mere comic book could offer (and you know: that's coming from a confirmed comic book geek - so you know I don't say it lightly).

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[1] My best guess is that - looking around - there just aren't that many people on the internet talking about this book and it's much easier to stand out in a crowd of what? - five people? - than it is to make yourself heard in the chorus of a thousand geeks each chucking in their two-pence worth about that Grant Morrison book.

[2] But yeah ok: that episode of Doctor Who he wrote was pretty cool too. (According to this it was orginally going to be called "Bigger on the Inside" before they realised that it might give the game away a little which is why they changed it).

[3] Who bizarrely is also responsible for the title logo designs for the Final Fantasy video games. So if you think you recognise his art from somewhere - it's probably there.

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Futher reading: The Sandman, StardustThe Sandman: Death: The High Cost of LivingBuddhaCoraline, Murder Mysteries, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Books: David Boring

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David Boring
By Daniel Clowes

2002





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

The first (obvious) reference point for this book is David Lynch. Dreamlike fragments rolling against each other in strange ways and a sense that some complete meaning that makes sense of it all is just out of reach: that would sum it up. Although what's cool about this comic is even as it feels disjointed and trippy - there is enough character interaction and narrative push to keep the reader pulled along; with small moments of lucidity and unexpected comic moments ("this isn't working.") to keep a spring in your steps. You might feel slightly lost at points - but home never feels too far away and when your main charcater is called "David Boring" you know that someone somewhere has a sly smile on their lips - even if they won't let you in on the joke.

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Links: A Critical Reading of David Boring by Shawn Rider.

Further reading: Jar of Fools, Summer Blonde, Black Hole, The Death Ray, The Bulletproof Coffin.

Profiles: Daniel Clowes.

All comments welcome.

Books: Back to Brooklyn

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Back to Brooklyn
By Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Mihailo Vukelic

2009




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

You like your Big Apples rotten to the core and full of maggots - each packing pistols? Well then: this one is for you - a comic that's about what happens when a mafioso forgets about loyalty and goes gunning for revenge. This is not about good versus evil: just who's left standing at the end. Full of over-the-top gangster action where none of the characters can be trusted and everyone has an angle and a price and a main character who's as dirty and dangerous as the people he's fighting against- it's not subtle and you won't stay in your head after you've put it down - but it's an outlandish and crazy ride while it lasts. The artwork is a bit off - the poses are kinda awkward and it has this strange kind of computery effect over it - but what the hell: it gets the job done so whatever: Fergetaboutit. etc.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Interview.

Further reading: The Punisher MAX, 100 Bullets, Button ManRoad to Perdition.

Profiles: Garth Ennis.

All comments welcome.

Books: Jar of Fools

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Jar of Fools
By Jason Lutes

2003





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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It's all the tiny details, little moments and small sleights of hand that make this book such a pleasurable and rich read. That warm cosy feeling is something you only really get when you find yourself in the hands of someone who knows exactly how to expertly structure the movements from one panel to panel and how to blur the lines between awake and asleep: and Jason Lutes knows exactly where to make you look while he's carefully stealing your heart. Spinning a carefully balanced tale of magicians, con-men, coffee shops and relationships. Each character feels fully formed, each event feels weighted with hidden meaning and each emotion feels real. This is perfect comic craftsmanship with artwork that's no frills but still produces powerhouse psychological effects - namely: feeling wistful, heartbroken and (yet) ever so slightly hopeful.

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Further reading: Berlin, It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken, Blankets, David Boring, Summer Blonde.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Books: Death Note

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Death Note
Vol 1: Boredom
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2003



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Death Note
Vol 2: Confluence
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2004



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Death Note
Vol 3: Hard Run
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2004



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Death Note
Vol 4: Love
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2004



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Death Note
Vol 5: Whiteout
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2005



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Death Note
Vol 6: Give-and-Take
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2005



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Death Note
Vol 7: Zero
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2005



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Death Note
Vol 8: Target
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2005



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Death Note
Vol 9: Contact
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2005



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Death Note
Vol 10: Deletion
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2006



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Death Note
Vol 11: Kindred Spirit
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2006



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Death Note
Vol 12: Finis
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

2006



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Bear with me: imagine that there were two versions of Sherlock Holmes who were locked together in a battle to the death both desperately attempting to uncover any small clue they could to destroy the other one whilst doing all they could to stay one step ahead. Each using brilliant deductions and tactical genius to do their uttermost best to stay one step ahead of what they think the other guy's thinking - whilst knowing that the other guy is doing exactly the same. Technically that's not what Death Note is actually about (it's not Sherlock Holmes exactly - but the younger, cooler, more insane, Japanese versions) - but it should give you some idea of what to expect. Or (put more simply): If you enjoy reading books where you can feel the intelligence of the author spinning a complex web of mystery, mind-games and mayhem that slowly but surely fastens around the characters and readers until all hope for escape is gone - then Death Note is required reading. The starting premise (a book that you can use to kill people) at first makes the series feel wafar-thin (my first though was that the idea didn't seem strong enough to support a short story - nevermind several volumes) and led me to expect that it was going to be full of hokey paranormal demons-from-another-world craziness - but what's interesting is how Tsugumi uses the Death Note idea to create a situation where the drama and crisis comes from real-seeming consquences rather than ghosts and ghouls: and like I said above - the culimative effect is like a police procedural series where there's two investigative teams using only the battling against each other using whatever clues or logic comes to hand: the supernatural stuff is just there to get the ball rolling. And once it starts: this is a comic that's massively thrilling, audacious and as addictive as a good scratch (oooh yeah). The artwork is as clear and hassle-free as watching televison and full of pulse-pounding dramatic close-ups and fun character pre-occupations. The only thing that's a little off is the strange attitude it strikes towards some of it's female characters (Misa Amane in particular is almost poodle-like in her characteristics): but maybe I'm just being senstitive and seeing how it's almost never-ending ratcheting up of pressure and suspense almost gave me several heart-attacks (I don't think any other comic has ever come close to the high levels of finger-biting tension).

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Links: Sean T Collins Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2,  Freaky Trigger Review, Sleep Is For The Weak Review, Collection of Death Note Essays.

Further reading: Locke and Key, 100 Bullets, Domu, 7 Billion Needles.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Books: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

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Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again
By Frank Miller

2004





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Why are people always using "comic book" as a pejorative?

Mostly I notice it when people are talking about superhero movies they like: "Yeah - it was good. You know: It wasn't too comic-booky." As if "comic book" was synonymous with "simple-minded" or "stupid" or "something just for children."

I mean - yeah - ok - I understand that there are reasons. Culturally and all that - comic books have usually just been things to keep the kids quite or (even worse) something for nerdy fanboys to drool over and vent all their unhealthy little fantasties. But if I was going to insist on better language use and all (and yeah damn right I'm gonna insist) then I guess I'd say something about how - one - it doesn't really make that much sense to define something with such a board brush (think how much sense it would be if someone said: "yeah - that was a bit too filmy." or "It was a bit novelly." - no?) and - two - even if we just go with the flow and accept that "comic book" is tied to this kinda juvenile definition well hell: what the hell is wrong with things being bright and wild and fun?

Good example of this: my and my girlfriend watched Batman Returns the other day. Now so you know - my girlfriend isn't really big on comic books or any of that kind of stuff and had only ever seen the Christopher Nolan Batman films - and so her expectations were for something gritty and realistic and well much less-comic-booky - so that in the first 5 minutes [1] she was like "What the hell is this?" and then - when the posh parents dumped their monster baby over the bridge and into the river she turned to me accusingly and said: "Oh my god - is this a Tim Burton movie?"

"Striking terror. Best part of the job."

Who knows why fifteen years after the universally praised, game-changed graphic novel masterpiece stupendousness of The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller thought it would be a good idea to write the sequel that no one was asking for. But hey Frank knows best and - thankfully - rather than try to rehash the first book he decided to opt for something completely fresh, different and insanely inspired: The Dark Knight Strikes Again aka (if you really want to) "DK2." Reportedly inspired by the prevalance of all the dark, grim, gritty and nasty comics that sprung up in the wake of DK1 (sorry) and Watchmen - that all seemed to think that the only thing that made those books so successful was that that it mixed up superheroes with mental health issues, psychopaths and rapists - DK2 is an attempt to re-connect superheroes to their fun, crazy, wild starting point: when it was all about heroes in bright coloured costumes effortlessly doing all sorts of silly and impossible things. Or to put it another way: when even comic books are afraid of being too "comic booky" - well: you know that something's up.

So: while it loosely continues the previous book's storyline: this is it's own thing, done it's own way. Or to put it another way: if The DK1 was a orchestral symphony: carefully structured, multi-layered, restrained and delicated poised (or at least as much as a comic about Batman could ever be) - then DK2 - is raucous, dischordant, snot-nosed, day glo punk played hard, fast and loud. With artwork that feels like it was thrown at the page (abstract expressionist superheroes? yes please) and computer-generated colouring that - for once - is used for cool effects rather than as a lazy shortcut and a story that sizzles, flies and explodes like a fireworks factory on fire dropped from the sky. (Or put another another way: it's like Radiohead decided to follow up Ok Computer with something totally different. You know: like Kid A [3]). Revolutionary - but maybe not in the way that you wanted (and yeah: I should say it was panned and booed when it first came out [4]) - but if you want something that's not more of the same and adjust your expecatations from what you thought The Dark Knight Returns Again was supposed to be - this is a comic ready to show you a good time. It's like Batman Returns - but added double-rainbow [5].

Exuberantly bonkers.

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[1] And man if you haven't watched Batman Returns before you can see the opening here - which I'm hoping should be enough to whet your appetite enough to go and see the whole thing. Think it could be my favourite of all the Batman films: it's got such great lines: "Still... could be worse. My nose could be gushing blood." "Why is their always someone who brings eggs and tomatoes to a speech?" and (my personal favourite and best line in a Batfilm ever): "Selina!? Selina Kyle, you're fired! And Bruce Wayne - why are you dressed up like Batman?" Plus - I never really realised when I watched it when I was young (back then I just thought that the casting people must have made a mistake) but Michael Keaton is such a great choice as Batman. Yeah - he's not muscle-bound and he doesn't have the square jaw that I thought was pretty much a must have prerequisite for all Bruce Wayne wannabes: but he's so off kilter and bizarre - like a mixture of Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld that it makes total sense that he want to spend his nights dressing up in a leather suit and go around beating up bad-guys [2]. And - god - after watching the po-faced Nolan Batfilms - it's just really refreshing to watch something that doesn't take itself too seriously - I especially love the bit when Keaton's getting his Batsuit off the coat-hanger. I mean - I know that there was a big fuss when Tim Burton's first Batman film came out that it wasn't anything like the old campy Adam West Batman - but in retrospect they both have the same sense of twisted fun: and the sense that although it's real people - they all live in a cartoon world. Plus (you know): how can you not love something that has Christopher Walken in?

[2] In fact (if I may?) check out this Rolling Stone interview Tim Burton gave when his first Batman film came out: Question: "What's Batman about to you? Bruce Wayne's depression?" Tim Burton: "It's about depression, and it's about lack of integration. It's about a character . . . unfortunately I always see it being about those things, not about some kind of hero who is saving the city from blah-blah-blah. If you asked me the plot of Batman, I couldn't tell you. It's about duality, it's about flip sides, it's about a person who's completely fucked and doesn't know what he's doing. He's got good impulses, but he's not integrated. And it's about depression. It's about going through life, thinking you're doing something, trying very hard. And the Joker represented somebody who got to act however he wants.

[3] Ha: Yeah: try disliking it now without coming across as a philistine.

[4] "OH MY GOD!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!? Honest-to-God, this has got to be the worst comic book that I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s as if you accidentally left a copy of “The Dark Knight Returns” in the washing machine with a handful of crayons, then thought to yourself “f**k it” and repackaged it as a sequel. If I didn’t already know you were the author and artist of this atrocious sequel, I would be angry at this apparent insult to your good name. To realize that the genius behind “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” is also the moron responsible for this clustered mess just makes me sad... DK2 was released between 2001 and 2002, shortly after the tragedy of 9/11, and therefore it had potential to touch on the feelings of anger and the desires for retribution that were on the hearts and minds of its readers. It had potential for historic relevance and to touch on the issues that were on the collective consciousness of its readers, much like its predecessor title did. It was during this time of anguish that we needed our heroes more than ever, something to give us hope and inspiration even in those worst of times.Unfortunately, it is here where DK2 fails utterly. Our beloved heroes are just another series of casualties, assassinated by mischaracterization. They are neither inspirational nor admirable. At some point, this stopped being a graphic novel and degenerated into a bizarre and inappropriate snuff fanfic. While DKR definitely succeeded as a product of its time, DKSA served to illustrate not only how out of touch you were with the times and the readers, but how out of touch you are with reality in general.Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe you’re angry because you’re out of touch with the new generation of comic book readers. It would certainly explain why reading this book feels like an old man with a shotgun is yelling at me to get off his lawn." (from this guy here).

[5] So intense!

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Links: Frank MIller AV Club Interview, 4th Letter Review Part 1 / Part 2 / 4th Letter Transcript of Comics Journal Interview with Frank Miller, Comic Book Resources Frank Miller Interview, Good Comics Review, GraphiContent Article: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7, Thoughts On Stuff Review, Flak Magazine Review, Sean T Collins Review.

Further reading: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: All Star Batman and Robin, Elektra: Assassin, Tom Strong, The Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot, Batman: Year One, Batman: Year 100, Kingdom Come, Marvel Boy, Special Forces.

Profiles: Frank Miller.

All comments welcome.

Books: Summer Blonde

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Summer Blonde
By Adrian Tomine

2003





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The first time I read this I was still a little wet-behind-the-ears in terms of my comics geekdom: a bit of a greenhorn I guess... I mean - I was up on all my Alan Moore and all those other heavy-weights (Ellis, Ennis, Morrison etc): but all that stuff was mainly about being as sensational and wild as possible which I think left me a little unprepared for stuff that was a little more - quieter. It's as if I'd spent my life watching every big Hollywood blockbuster - but had never seen an art-house film.

So when I first picked up Summer Blonde I didn't have that much to compare it to which meant that it managed to get past all my cynical defences and gut-punch me a way that I just wasn't prepared for. Which meant that when it came to writing up what I thought about it I got very sincere and serious [1]. Coming back to it and reading it for the second time I was a lot more experienced and a lot more: ok - you've impressed me once: now do it again. As if it was someone who gave good first date and it was now all about seeing if they could live up to the exalted image I'd built up of them in my head.

The first thing I noticed was the opening dust jacket flap which has a little mini-essay from some guy Dan Raeburn (the Editor and Publisher of something called The Imp). I guess the first time I must have passed over this (no doubt worried about spoilers): but this time I read it and I was a little like - whoa. I'm tempted to quote the whole thing, but I guess trying my best to sum it up: it puts the book is on the defensive right from the start: there's all this talk about "vociferous" critics and detractors and stuff that - for someone like me who doesn't really know what sort of thing he's referring to (wow - I guess I'm not as hot on all the world's comic book writing as I thought I was) it makes it sound more like some rap-dude (rap-dude?) lashing out at their haters rather than - well - rather than a comic about a bunch of middle-class white people. And then there's this bit at the end that goes: ""Ten years from now, when respectable Gotham magazines are publishing Tomine's comics as short stories in their own right, you will have this book to prove that you were here first, and all the bidding wars on eBay will not tempt you to think about even once about parting with this valuable art you now hold." - which just seems like setting expectations a little too high. I mean - I have a bit of an aversion to people describing stuff as "art" especially when - well - it's just a comic book. And it kinda leads you to expect something that's going cure the common cold, cook you dinner and then sing you to sleep as opposed to - well - a bunch of stories about white middle-class people with a bunch of white middle-class problems (and pretty girls being mean and bitchy and unfeeling while the unattractive guys feel bad that they don't get to sleep with them - you know: like in proper literature and stuff).

But - anyway (let's get on with it): what's the actual comic itself like?

My first thought was that - besides all the cutting remarks that are (at points) are just a little bit too quote-worthy for their own good ("Lust and revenge are great motivators when it comes to writing.") and the narration that if given a choice to spell something out or leave it unsaid will mostly go for spelling it out (the first story again: Martin staring out the window of his car underneath the words: "Now he wondered what course his life might have taken if things had gone differently with Samantha... If he'd even be a writer at all") - apart from that was that it was all just (if we're gonna be honest / harsh) a bit Daniel Clowesy with all the bile and violence removed: like someone sedated him - made him put on a nice suit - and then took him over to their parents. Obviously the question of influence is a tricky one and everyone when they're starting out struggle to find their own voice (something which I guess Tomine himself is well aware of: "No, it's good... It just reminded me of other books.").

Credit where it's due: yeah guy knows how to draw: there's definitely a tendency with comics that deal with "normal" people doing "normal" things (you know: like you and me and all that) to settle with a drawing style that looks like it took about 3 seconds to toss off (like Clumsy say or I Never Liked You) but Tomine is obviously - yeah - an accomplished draftsman - yadda yadda. But - mostly - I couldn't escape the feeling that there was nothing inherently comic-booky about it: I mean I realise that this isn't some sort of hard and fast rule about what's "good" and what's "not good": but it always makes me a little bit - uneasy? cheated? - if things don't take advantage of their  chosen medium. Like nearly all of Summer Blonde could just be storyboards for some low-budget indie film - and if that's the case - then why I am bothered to read it [2]?  And I found it cool how it slowly comes out from itself: although I know nothing about Mr Adrian Tomine (hell - for all I know maybe he's some big steroid-addicted jock type who only does the comic book stuff when he's not running triathlons - but somehow - well - I doubt it) the first two stories seem very rooted in his own experiences and points of view (I mean - come on - the first story is about a writer for godsakes! [3]) things open up when we get to Hawaiian Getaway [4] and we get to see the inside of a girl's head instead of all the boys (although I found it telling that one of the male character's makes a remark towards the end about how Hillary is just the sort of girl he's been looking for - which made me think that she's just a well-rounded projection of the type of girl Tomine wants to get with ("Oh god - and then - yeah - she'd make all these prank calls and stuff")... But maybe I'm reading too much into it?). And despite myself almost I did find myself being won over by the way that character's mini-epiphanies would come in a place just before you'd think they would: and although I shudder reading that first draft post underneath - that whole loneliness thing is pretty spot on: a lot of the wrenching moments come from watching someone trying to reach out and make some sort of physical connection (mini-spoiler alert): it's telling and somehow right that the second to last image of the book is someone content with the intimacy that comes from a hug - while the last panel is: well...

But - well - yeah: there's obviously a big difference between just finding something that you know nothing about and experiencing it fresh and then coming back to it a while later with a whole bunch of high expectations. So - hell - I dunno - maybe the third of fourth time round I'll get a better sense of what the book is - removed from my preconceptions.

We'll see I guess.

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[1] If you're curious - this was my first draft attempt (be warned - it's a little worthy): "Loneliness. If you're looking for what the four short stories collected in this book have in common then it's loneliness. What it's like, how it makes us act and the various coping mechanisms we've built up to deal with it. Yeah - it's kinda bleak - but each story is written with laser-precision: bringing you so close to the lives contained within that you can almost hear their heartbeats. Never showy or outrageous: Adrian Tomine is an expert storyteller with an adroit handling of picture and narrative. The art always knows the perfect place to take your eye and the plots are hackneyed or never predictable: unfolding in the same strange fashion as real life tends to - but with enough of a sense of the overall picture to make things feel complete. Ok yeah - some of you may find him slow moving or boring - but stick with it and allow each on of his characters to worm their way into your head and you're in for some rich and refined emotional treats: this is a good comic and well worth your attention."

[2] Yeah yeah: obviously it costs loads of money and etc to make a film - so maybe I should give the kid a break and obviously (sad sigh) not everything can be Scott Pilgrim. It's just it seems a bit of a waste - there's a panel towards the end of the title story where there's this big slab of black and unseen people walking through the rain: and the effect that has sent a small little spark running down my back: it's using the page and colours and framing to create an effect that you couldn't get if it was filmed, or written down or sung: it's unique to the form. Which - for me - is a big good.

[3] Although maybe I'm being a little harsh - especially as it's pretty much the obvious go-to from everyone from Woody Allen to Stephen King to Philip Roth (wait? Writer's are a little self-obsessed? Shocking).

[4] Altho - minus points for her Mickey Rooney style mum: "I want you to go visit Granma... She not doing ver well. She ass about you." "Your father and I struggled ver hard to move from Taiwan so you and Grace have best life possibo." I mean - ok - I guess it's phonetically correct but it still made me feel a little uncomfortable (but then maybe that's my fault? I dunno: no answers here).

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Links: Time Review.

Further reading: Shortcomings, David Boring, Fun Home, Black Hole, Lost at Sea, Jar of Fools, Clumsy, I Never Liked YouJimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Books: X-Men: Astonishing X-Men

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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 1: Gifted
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday





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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 2: Dangerous
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday





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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 3: Torn
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday





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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 4: Unstoppable
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday





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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 5: Ghost Box
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Simone Bianchi

2010



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X-Men: Astonishing X-Men
Vol 6: Exogenetic
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Phil Jimenez

2011



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Joss Whedon. The guy responsible for the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse (amongst other things) but then I'm guessing you already knew that. This is him writing the X-Men and - what can I say? - it's really really good. It's got jokes, wise-ass dialogue and lots and lots of moments of wowness. Picking up where Grant Morrison's New X-Men left off (but don't worry - you don't need to have read it to make sense of things here) this is a modern and dynamic take on the classic X-Men line-up of Cyclops, Wolverine, the Beast, the White Queen and Kitty Pryde taking in diabolical aliens, rogue technology and psychic onslaughts. The artwork is bold yet succinct and takes you everywhere from sitting on top of an island to fighting in outer-space. These four volumes comprise Whedon's entire run on the series before he handed the reins to Warren Ellis and so if you're looking for a the perfect entry point into everyone's favourite cutting-edge mutant action-adventure misfit: this is it. Fun superheroics with an expert handling of team dynamics that knows exactly what it's doing.

And then - oops - the switch from Vol 4 to Vol 5 and Warren Ellis takes over: and as signified by the new title design: it's basically a whole new book which I must admit left me spinning the first time I read it: "this is rubbish, this is nothing like the Whedon stuff, this is a mess, what happened?" My advice for my past self and for you: is basically treat it as a brand new thing that just happens to have the same characters and you will have a whole heap of more fun as Warren Ellis brings his patented obsessions and skewed world-view on to crazy superhero mutants (which when I think about it is pretty much a match made in heaven). Answering questions that you didn't know needed answered (the main one being: What happens to all the alien space-ships that land on Earth in the Marvel Universe?) and with dialogue that tickles in lots of pleasurable ways (albeit in a totally different way to Whedon) this stuff is worth your time. Especially Ghost Box with it's artwork from Italian artist (damn Europeans - how comes they're always so good?) Simone Bianchi - who not only is a great artist - but also manages to frame everything so that it looks absolutely stupendous. (Is it too much of a stretch to compare him to some renaissance artists? hmmm. probably yes. oh well. he is very good tho).

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Links: Ugo Joss Whedon Interview, Forbidden Planet Blog Review of Ghost Box, Forbidden Planet Blog Review of Exogenetic.

Further reading: X-Men: New X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Wolverine: Enemy of the State, House of M, Planetary.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Books: Footnotes in Gaza

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Footnotes in Gaza
By Joe Sacco

2009





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Of all his books so far - this is Joe Sacco's biggest, most sprawling and most ambitious. If you've encountered his work before then you will know what to expect: built to resist all but the most assiduous readers this is a comic that requires diligence, patience and hard work: but for those ready to surrender and commit this is meticulous researched sledgehammer journalism that will crack you hard in the head. Unfurling slowly with testimony from soldiers to widows to school-kids: all combining to create a patchwork of life in a war zone - this is a gut-wrenching experience that attempts to reveal how 111 Palestinians died way back in 1956. With unflinching artwork that darts around from unexpected angles and enforces the human beings hidden behind the statistics: this is a commanding book that demands that you sit up and pay attention.

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Links: Comics Journal Interview with Joe Sacco, Tearoom of Despair Article: Sacco And The Hole Truth.

Further reading: Palestine, Waltz with Bashir, Kiki de Montparnasse, DMZ.

All comments welcome.

Books: Green Lantern: Willworld

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Green Lantern: Willworld
Written by J M DeMatteis
Art by Seth Fisher

2001




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Don't know if I can do much better than Seth Fisher who has described this book as: "'Green Lantern meets Little Nemo in Quantum Wonderland. A playful, surreal, quantum physics fairytale." Apart to say that this is the best Green Lantern story I've ever read - and one that can be enjoyed with little previous knowledge of his convoluted continuity (all you really need to know is that there's a guy named Hal Jordan who has a magical alien ring that can create various effects sustained purely by the ring wearer's imagination and strength of will and you're in). Full of lush art that spirals around through detailed psychedelic strangeness and populated by all sorts of fantastical creatures - all held together by a story that tumbles and rolls around yet still says somehow consistent enough so it's not just randomness for the sake of it: this is a comic with not that much on it's mind than it's next phantasmagoric image and dreamlike wanderings on the nature of reality.

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Links: Supervillain Article on Seth Fisher.  

Further reading: Batman: Snow, The Filth, The World's Greatest Super-HeroesSagaThe Umbrella Academy, Hewligan's Haircut.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Books: Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackham's Treasure

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Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
By Hergé

1943





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Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure
By Hergé

1944





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I'm guessing that this is one of the few comic books written in the early forties that can still be read and enjoyed (with no need for disclaimers) by children and adults today. But then who doesn't enjoy rip-roaring adventure mysteries with the added bonus of unscrupulous pirates and the promise of buried treasure? Starring the angelic boy-scout Tintin and the dangerous alcoholic Captain Archibald Haddock (who's quite the storyteller) this two part story is the perfect place for newbies to begin: taking place relatively early in the Tintin mythology and featuring all the best characters: Thomson and Thompson (to be precise), Professor Calculus (best absent minded scientist ever?) - oh and Snowy the dog ("wooah!"). With artwork that is (as ever with Hergé) clean, clear, crisp and beautifully detailed - this is an easy, untaxing read that is full of small delights and clever touches (my favourite bit: the way that the Haddock poses transpose on each other across the centuries). Fun facts: written when Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany - which is why in relation to other Tintin books it's "less political" and doesn't feature Tintin in his typical "nosy boy reporter" role.

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Links: The M0vie Blog The Secret of the Unicorn Review / The M0vie Blog Red Rackham’s Treasure Review.

Further reading: Tintin: Destination Moon / Explorers On The Moon, Tom Strong.

All comments welcome.