Monday, 31 October 2011

Books: JLA: Earth 2

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JLA: Earth 2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely

2000




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Back when Grant Morrison was first dipping his toes into mainstream superhero comics and thus was a little more hesitant (just a little tho) to go all out crazy there was this little delight of a superhero comic: JLA: Earth 2. Featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al (and their evil Earth 2 counterparts): this is an excellent slice of high-powered action mixed with just the right amount of comic book metaphysics. And with artwork duties handled by his now long running collaborator Frank Quitely (see also: All Star Superman, Flex Mentallo, Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn and We3): it all feels solid and real - even when it's depicting watchtowers on the moon and massive flying fortresses. Because the best thing about Frank Quitely is that he never skimps on the little details: most comic book artists (lazy as they are) tend to stick to the important action and just leave it at that - but Quitely's always up for going those extra miles - whether it's showing you motorways thousands of feet below the main action or letting you know the exact layout of Lex Luthor's office (and I love that his desk is a carved out tree stump) - every scene takes place in an enivornment that feels fully realised and fleshed-out [1].

ENJOY.

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[1] Speaking of which - is that the one of the twin towers from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns or is it just me?

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Further reading: Superman: All Star Superman, Final Crisis, Superman: Red Son, The World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Batman: Batman and Robin, We3, Marvel Boy, Flex Mentallo

Profiles: Grant MorrisonFrank Quitely.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Books: Planetary

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Planetary
Vol 1: All Over the World and Other Stories
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassaday

2000



Available now from Islington Libraries
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Planetary
Vol 2: The Fourth Man
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassaday

2001



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Planetary
Vol 3: Leaving the 20th Century
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassaday

2005



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Planetary
Vol 4: Spacetime Archaeology
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassaday

2010



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You ever watch Fringe? You know - the TV series: the one with Pacey from Dawson's Creek? The one that's all science-fictiony mystery stuff? Kinda like The X-Files for the 21st Century?

Me: no. I never watched it. But I do remember that when it first came out J. J. Abrams [1] (or the publicity people or whatever) made a big deal about it being all self-contained episodes. I guess that with Lost being all about the big over-arching mythology thing so that - if you decided to drop in around Season 4 - well not a lot of it is going to make any sense to you: the aim was to position Fringe as a kinda less-threatening user-friendly version - where every episode was complete in and of itself - dealing with an individual instance of spooky weirdness that was then all wrapped up by the time you got to the end of the 45 minutes (or however long it was - I dunno - like I said: I've never watched it) and so you didn't really need to worry if you missed a couple of episodes - so yeah (I'll say it again): kinda like The X-Files for the 21st Century: only without all that burdensome over-arching conspiracy stuff that ended up turning so many viewers off (you know: Cancer Man and the black oil - and something to do with bees [3] and stuff).

Only - well - just like The X-Files (ha - I guess it's the description that keeps on giving) that's exactly the hole that Fringe ended up diving into: so that - well - if you decided to drop in around Season 4: you're not going to have any idea what's happening... [4].

So - Planetary? Well - yeah: if you wanna be reductive about it: it's the Fringe of comic books [5]. Only (hopefully) not as dreadful as that sounds.

For a long while - people [6] were always going at me about Planetary. Saying it was amazing. Saying it was one of the best things Warren Ellis has ever written. Saying that I should check it out. Blah blah blah. And - well - I did try. Twice I think (at least) I picked up Vol 1 and diligently struggled through it... And yeah: I admit it: the idea sounded cool - basically 'super-archaeology' (or like it says on the cover of #1: "Archaeologists of the Impossible!"): three super-powered people less concerned with acting as world police and way more into poking around unexplored areas and digging up crazy artifacts from the past - and what makes it cool (and why you should read it and why you'll enjoy it) is that it's not just Indiana Jones / Lara Croft (delete according to gender) with a cape or whathaveyou and finding golden idols hidden away in buried tombs rather - it's nicely clever-clever (with at least one page (or so) going completely over the top of my head - the whole universe is a hologram or something?) and it turns out that what they're excavating are the myths and legends of the twentieth century (aka of comic books) and then holding them up to the light to show what they reveal about - well - us (you know - erm - something about how much we can learn about the stories we decided to tell ourselves - or something like that? There's probably a good quote by some famous person out there that says it in a much more succinct kinda way: but you get the general point - right?). Plus: there's lot of really big dead things. And we all like those.

But (dang it) reading Vol 1: I digged the concept and the idea and the stories and the way it linked up all these disparate theories and ideas into one big overarching structure (although actually - I guess that big structure only comes to the fore later on...? So maybe ignore that): but (well) it seemed a little too 'bit'y. Every issue was designed to be read alone so you could pick it up from any point (yes yes - like the X-Files and whatever... But then (although I guess I've committed to that example now?) also like your kinda old-fashioned pop singles (I mean - does anyone still buy singles anymore? Or do they the kids just download them directly into their brain? I've gotta confess - I don't really know...) where the rush of pleasure all comes in one big fat sticky hit (something that the book is obviously aiming for - what? - you think it's just a coincidence that the team is a three-piece and one of them is called The Drummer? Come on!) - but then reading them altogether felt too much like snacking and to enough like having a full meal - plus the fact that at that moment in time Islington didn't have the Vol 4 (shakes fist at sky) meant that I thought I'd give it a miss...

I say all of this in order to let you know - well - (ok) firstly everyone else was right and frankly Planetary is all the amazing things that everyone said that it was. But - also (and more importantly) - you've really got to give it a chance to get warmed up: because once it does - it's very very very good indeed. Of course I don't wanna hype it up too much and run the risk of leaving you disappointed: but I was reminded several other comic series whilst reading this - The Sandman in the way that every issue is a single story that all joins up to tell something much bigger (well - most of The Sandman anyway), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the way that takes all the big famous fictional characters and concepts of - well - the past century or so and then reworks and flips them over in lots of delightful and deviously clever ways showing you the type of fun you make when you re-think, re-engineer and re-imagine all the basics concepts holding up the superhero universe from the ground up and - tho this might be a stretch? - The Invisibles (although this might be a stretch: but you can't help it when stuff reminds you of other stuff - right?) in the way that it goes full on with it's inter-connected conspiracies and use of far-out theories about the way that the world is put together.

Altogether Planetary has taken ten years (!) to get from the beginning all the way to it's end - (it started in 1999 and then finally ended in 2009 [7]) - and during that time there's been this sort of story that's been built up around it or (should I say?) a certain way that people talk about it. I mean - a similar example would be Lost (yep - that again) - where for anyone talking about it nowadays the story is about how much the ending sucked / was disappointing [8]. Reading various things across the wilds of the internet it seems like the same kind of thing applies to Planetary too - namely: people think that it started great and then messed up the landing (just check some of those links at the bottom there to see for yourself) but for me anyway (and maybe this is because I got to them them all one after each other rather than waiting months and months for each issue) I didn't really notice any real drop-off. In fact (if anything) I was kinda impressed by the way that John Cassaday's art grew and matured as things went along (I think it's around #16 that it just kinda jumps to a whole new level of loveliness) so much so n fact - that by the end it's hard to tell that it's the same artist - but then I guess ten years will do that to you (and I hope I don't lose too many geek points by admitting that it was only at Vol 4 that I realised that he was the same artist for Joss Whedon's run on The Astonishing X-Men - d'oh).

"It's a strange world... Let's keep it that way."

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[1] Who back then was best known as the creator of Lost (a title which was then taken over by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof [2] - who got all the blame for the way it ended: altho according to like random stuff I've read on the internet (god bless the internet) it turns out that J. J. Abrams was the guy who wrote the Lost ending in the first place and that the other two just did their best to make sure that it all matched up or whatever: but anyway): I guess nowadays J. J. is better know as the Star Trek / the guy who loves putting lens flares over everything guy - so I guess that shows that there's hope for all of us? (or something).

[2] Who (and maybe it's just me?) seem like they would be the cutest couple like - ever.

[3] Bees?

[4] And - yeah - even tho I've never watched it: I will confess that sometimes I do read the episode reviews because (I dunno) it's kinda cool reading about stuff when you have no idea what it's about: so you know - there's stuff about bald-headed Observers and pocket universes and the power of love will save the world or something (I presume they're not talking about the Huey Lewis song - but hey - who knows right?). And - yeah - well: I'm glad I never decided to watch it.

[5] Although - it doesn't reference Fringe someone at one point does say "The Truth is in here."

[6] That's people from the Comic Forum obviously. It wasn't like I was just walking down the street and having strangers accosting me - grabbing me by the lapels and going: "Oh my god - you have to read Planetary! It's like - totally awesome and super-great! I can't believe you haven't put a post up on your blog yet already!"

[7] I think that this has something to with something happening to John Cassaday along the way which meant that he didn't do the artwork for a while or something? I'm not sure what the full story is - but there's this in the dedication page on the second volume that kinda makes me scared to find out exactly what: "During the year in which this art was built, I experienced a great spectrum of personal peaks. Page for page, this book will always remind me of that year and it's towering highs and abysmal lows. And for what I found along the way. So thank you for it Lisa. Thank you for it all. I'll miss you."

[8] The gold standard of which would be this Big Other essay here: “The Ending as Wish-Fulfilment in The Tree of Life, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and Lost,” and Film Crit Hulk going: HULK FINALLY READY TO POINT ON THE DOLL AND SHOW WHERE THE LOST FINALE TOUCHED HULK. (Enjoy!).

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Links: Mindless Ones ReviewForbidden Planet Blog Review, PopMatters Review, Sean T Collins Review of Vol 3AV Club Article: Astro City vs. Planetary: Superhero Reconstruction vs. Deconstruction, Remarkable Review of #27, The M0vie Blog Review Vol 1 and Vol 2, The M0vie Blog Review Vol 3 and Vol 4.

Further reading: Planetary: Crossing Worlds, Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles, The Unwritten, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Global Frequency, The Authority, The Sandman, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, The Avengers: The New Avengers: Illuminati, The Astonishing X-Men, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2011/12

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The next Islington Comic Forum is on:
Tuesday the 6th of December / 6:00pm 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:
Maus: A Survivor's Tale
By Art Spiegelman

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.
For more information (or if you have any questions) you can email us here .
Come and join us. All welcome.
We hope to see you there.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Books: The New York Four

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The New York Four
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

2008




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

Brian Wood likes New York. A lot. I'm guessing his favourite song is Empire State of Mind, his favourite film is New York, New York and his favourite televison show is Friends. Basically: he's like the Woody Allen of comics: except maybe even more obsessed with all things New York.

The New York Four is - yep - set in New York except this time it's from the point of view of young Riley Wilder who's just started at NYU. Riley is a bit of a wall-flower and happiest lost in her own little world: playing on her mobile. Of course it's obvious that's something is going to come along to shatter her enclosed little world - and much of the fun of this book is trying to work out in which direction that smash is going to come from.

With it's abrupt ending (I believe my exact words where "What? That's it?") The New York Four feels a little like a pilot for a television show. I don't know if it was intended to be a longer running series or what - but in it's current form it feels a little under-developed - with a lots of plot threads just all kinda hanging around the place (or maybe that's the point?). Also the frequent inserts about all the hot and cool places to eat, hang out and find the most awesomeness bands (which kinda felt cribbed from the vastly superior Scott Pilgrim) made it feel a little like I was reading a Time Out Guide: but - well - Brian Wood loves New York.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Review Comic Book Resources Interview with Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.

Further reading: Demo, Lost at Sea, Mercury, 7 Billion Needles, The War at Ellsmere.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Books: Elephantmen

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Elephantmen
Vol 1: Wounded Animals
Written by Richard Starkings and Joe Kelly
Art by Moritat, Ladrönn and Chris Bachalo

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
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Elephantmen
Vol 2: Fatal Diseases
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat, Ian Churchill, Axel Medellin, Rob Steen, Boo Cook and Ladrönn

2010



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Elephantmen
Vol 3: Dangerous Liaisons
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat, Chris Burnham, Marian Churchland, Andre Szymanowicz, Rob Steen and Boo Cook

2010


Available now from Islington Libraries
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Elephantmen
Vol 4: Questionable Things
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin, Moritat, Ian Churchill, Marian Churchland, Andre Szymanowicz and Chris Burnham

2011


Available now from Islington Libraries
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Described by it's creator Richard Starkings as "Pulp Science Fiction" Elephantmen is set in the 23rd Century where an evil corporation (MAPPO!) has created transgenic animals to join the war between Africa and China. ("Transgenic animals" you ask? Animals that act and talk and think like humans). Will loads of actions, fights, futuristic cityscapes, crazed scientists, babes with large breasts and all the rest. With a large over-riding story that falls into place ever so-slowly - you will need to be patient and give it some time: but you'll probably be dazzled by all the high-concept fireworks that you won't even notice.

My favourite bit was the Joe Kelly pirate story at the end of Vol 1 - which managed to be both sappy and tough at the same time: the rest of it left me a little cold - but I reckon it's a book that will very much appeal to those a little more gung-ho than me.

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Links: Den of Geek Review of Vol 2, Things From Another World Richard Starkings Interview.

Further reading: Orc StainJudge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaBlacksad: Somewhere between the Shadows, The Goon, Grandville, Tom Strong.

All comments welcome.

Books: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

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Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Andy Kubert

2009




Available now from Islington Libraries
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In 1986 Alan Moore wrote the "last ever Superman story" called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (which - if you like - you can read in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore). In 2009 Grant Morrison though that it would be fun to kill Batman and so the powers at be at DC thought it would be a good idea to ask Neil Gaiman to write the "last ever Batman story."

Gaiman - who made his breakthrough with his now-legendary Sandman series - hadn't done any comic writing for quite a while: having since graduated to novels, screenplays and writing episodes of Doctor Who. But as he so pleasantly describes in the introduction: he'd always been tempted to write a 'proper' Batman story and the chance to put somekind of capstone on the last 70 years of the legend of the Dark Knight proved much too much to resist.

What we have then are two slender issues of Batman (Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853) which together tell the final story of Batman. As benefiting a creature of the dark and mysterious: this isn't a clean-cut tale like it's Man of Steel counterpart: instead slightly strange and off-kilter and contains a slithery mixture of two of Mr Gaiman's pre-occupations: Dreams and Death.

Supplemented by some odds and sods (2 issues isn't much after all) which includes a black and white story with bone-crushing art by Simon Bisley and a delightful nostalgic Riddler story which harks back to the wild and crazy days when Batman was played by Adam West and nobody died.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Review, The M0vie Blog Review, Wired Article: Neil Gaiman Writes a Final ‘Love Letter to Batman’, Comics Cube Article: Retrospective: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

Further reading: Batman: Batman and Son, The Sandman, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Books: 7 Billion Needles

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7 Billion Needles
Vol 1
By Nobuaki Tadano

2010




Available now from Islington Libraries
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7 Billion Needles
Vol 2
By Nobuaki Tadano

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
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7 Billion Needles
Vol 3
By Nobuaki Tadano

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
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7 Billion Needles
Vol 4
By Nobuaki Tadano

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Doing for teenage girls what Akira did for teenage boys - 7 Billions Needles is a lurid take on the numerous stresses of puberty wrapped inside interstellar horror and beings from beyond the stars. Based on the 1950 Novel 'Needle' by Hal Clement (which John Wyndham's Chocky kinda rips off slightly) there's lots of very dramatic craziness externalizing inner conflicts about loneliness, rejection and friendship.

Like Akira it's got loads of pontificating about evolution that I should admit left me a little lost as it went on. But it's also got crazy bodily mutations and far-out almost-surrealist imagery to keep you turning the pages (things get especially wild in Vol 3 - so be prepared).

With a high-detailed style renowned manga style that I'm guessing must be traced from photographs or something (?) that paradoxically had me reading it much faster than if it were less realistic. Also - it seemed that the art got more rushed the further it went - so it ended up resembling (for me anyhow) children's author Satoshi Kitamura (especially in how they both draw cats in the same way).

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Links: Anime News Network Review, Manga Worth Reading Review, Comics Alliance Review, Tor Review.

Further reading: Akira, Domu, Uzumaki, Solanin, Death Note, FreakAngels, The New York Four.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Books: Marvel 1985

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Marvel 1985
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards

2009




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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This feels like even-more of a Spielberg pastiche/homage than Super 8. But - hey - you know what? That's a good thing. Sleepy all American town? Check. Daddy Issues? Check. Teenage boy on the cusp of adulthood about to be thrust into a world where he's the only one who can save the day? Check. Check. And Check. And the added bonus: there's the whole of the Marvel Universe thrown into the mix as well. What's the Stan Lee catchphrase? (clue: it apparently means "Upward and onward to greater glory"!).

For once a story from Mark Millar that doesn't have horrific violent bits (electric shocks to the genitals or whatever) but actually maintains it's innocent (relatively speaking). That doesn't mean that it doesn't have scary bits - and it's pretty cool how much scary mileage he manages to get out of the B-list villains.

The artwork - by Tommy Lee Edwards - is very very nice - hitting that tasty little place between making things realistic - but also stylised (plus: he draws a mean Hulk - pun intended). If you know all your Marvel characters good guys and bad - then there's loads of treats and little jokes to enjoy. For any novices out there - there's probably some stuff that you're gonna miss out on if you don't know your stuff: so it might be wise to brush up a little beforehand if only to sort out your Doctor Reeds from your Doctor Dooms. But - all in all - this is a sweet treat for kids of all ages - with a story that trades on those that came before - but still manages to feel brand new.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Article, Popmatters Review, Read/RANT Review.

Further reading: Marvel 1602, Marvel Zombies, Chosen, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Turf

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Books: Ronin

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Ronin
By Frank Miller

1984





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No. Shut up. Frank Miller is a stone-cold genius. And - damnit - one of the best story-tellers of recent times: (and I'm not just talking about comics). Ok?

(Reaches for the music metaphors) like Bleach was to Nevermind, Definitely Maybe was to What's The Story (Morning Glory) and Spice was to Spiceworld: this (Ronin) is to the ever-so mighty Dark Knight Returns - the plucky, noisey and rowdy predecessor that might not be as poised and polished as what came after: but is still infused with the same golden touch (and - obviously - a small sub-section of fans who mistakenly think that's it's somehow superior - but whatever).

A brilliant mash-up of samurais and science-fiction with a solid steel grasp of what makes a story pop and explode in all the right way (the first chapter is an absolute masterclass in how to set up a world in a fun, dynamic, no nonsense way: trimming out all the unnecessary expository fat and leaving only the lean, mean action muscle).

Oddly reminiscent (or is this just me?) of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics (who must surely owe this book's mix of the far east and evil cybernetic baddies (set in a sprawling and filthy modern day New York) a debt of gratitude): this has the rollicking action and extreme passion for moody sword -wielding heroes and verbose evil do-ers that burns in the heart of every teenage boy all over the world: but contained and directed in expert and precise blasts in everything from it's panel construction to it's wild use of colour (mainly - it must be said - in green, green and more green). A book that's basically a joy to read from start to finish with a particularly devilish sense of humour ("Give you... ...my hands?").

Like it says: "It's the twenty-first century. Try to have an open mind."

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Links: Comic Book Resources Article, 4thletter Review, An Existential Nightmare Review, Uncharted Territory Review, Sean T Collins Review, The Comics Journal Article: Run of the Miller.

Further reading: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Akira, Hard Boiled, The Life and Times of Martha Washington in The Twenty-First Century, 300.

Profiles: Frank Miller.

All comments welcome.

Books: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century
1910
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

2009



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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century
1969
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

2011



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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century
2009
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

2012



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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The Third Volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's equal parts praise-worthy to befuddling epic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. Beginning relatively simplistically with Vols 1 and 2 before taking a detour into ever more esoteric territories with The Black Dossier (which was set in 1958 placing it in-between the adventures of 1910 and 1969 - but which should be read before both - got that?) this is a comic series that began as a high concept rip-roaring boys own adventure type thing before steadily transforming into an aloof byzantium of ever increasing complexity featuring a multitude of characters drawn from across the whole of the 20th (and early 21st) Century popular culture (thus the title).

These are books that I have struggled (and still struggle) very much to enjoy. Totally not the sort of thing that you can dip in-and-out - but rather the sort of work that needs careful and diligent attention paid in order to suss out: so far it's been the sort of thing that I've enjoyed more reading about than actually reading.

It's at this point that I'd like to draw your attention to a few sites linked below. Practically every single panel in this comic has a reference to someone or other - and unless you're a super-brain who's spent every waking second watching and reading everything that's ever been made - you're going to get slightly lost at some point. Help comes in two very distinct flavours: first off is Jess Nevins with a very dry and academic annotations page that lists all the references like butterflies pinned under glass - it's very easy to use: but does make it feel that you're just reading a book of "spot the references." The second is the more complex, much longer - but for me much more satisfying annotations by good folks at The Mindless Ones: which is a thoughtful and in-depth examination of the reasons behind the references and the connotations and thoughts and feelings they invoke. Or (the third way): there's the Newsarama's Cheat Sheet - which is mercifully brief and to-the-point. I don't know whether to recommend that you read the books first without trying to check out the links - or to try and read them side-by-side as I did (which takes away a lot of the fun): but I guess whatever feels good - do that.

There is really is nothing else in the world like this - and nothing else that feels (thanks to it's canny use of other sources) so almost unimaginably vast.

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Links: Jess Nevin's 1910 Annotations, The Mindless Ones 1910 Annotations, Jess Nevin's 1969 Annotations, The Mindless Ones 1969 Annotations Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4, Comics Alliance 1969 Review, Also Sprach Fletchathustra 1969 Review, Newsarama 1969 Cheat Sheet, Newsarama Interview with Alan Moore Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4, The Comics Journal 1969 Review 1, The Comics Journal 1969 Review 2.

Further reading: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, The UnwrittenNeonomicon.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Books: Supergods

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Supergods
By Grant Morrison

2011





Available now from Islington Libraries
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Wait. Don't be scared. Don't run. Yes - it's a proper book - no pictures - just words (crikey): but it's written by super-star comic's author Grant Morrison and is full to the brim with insights, memories and a potted history of all things superhero all with a typically Morrisonsque mystical flourish.

Kicking off with a great line about Scotland's RNAD Coulport and it's power to annihilate the Earth fifty times over. This is a book with lots of dry humour ("Was it a superhero adventure or an English lit student bitching about pollution with Walt Whitman samples running in ironic counterpart to the action?") and informative tit-bits (Including Batman and Robin's homosexual outing in the 1950s).

With a structure that takes in "Sun God" Superman's 1932 birth and the spawning of his many imitators: Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman amongst others (The Golden Age) - before rocketing into the acid-trip of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's sixties Marvel peak (The Silver Age) - and then the slow decent into the grim and gritty eighties and the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen (The Dark Age) and then into recent history as superheros 'go corporate' and their take over of the box-office (The Renaissance) and wrapping it around DNA double-helix style with his own life-story and ever so humble beginnings ("18 and still haven't kissed a girl") all the way to his ascent to the top of the comic's creator pyramid... It's half-history book/half autobiography. Crammed with lots of interesting insights into the creative processes and a no-nonsense answer to that age-old question of "Where exactly do you get your ideas from?" ("There I met intelligent sculptures made of what appeared to be ultraviolet neon tubes, which fanned and changed configuration as they attempted to communicate with me."): it's all very readable and jaunty.

Some of the prose does get ever-so-slightly purple at points ("After this buildup, the accompanying sound effect THOOOM seems almost tame and unambitious and hardly matches the noise in our heads, of which the final piano chord of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" is only a faint echo.") - but that's not necessarily a bad thing: in fact I kinda liked how passionate and palpably excited the book gets as Morrison slips into evangelical mood - talking up lost obscure classics and treasures close to his heart. The thing that I did find slightly disappointing is that although Morrison is really intelligent when it comes to crafting a story (however messy they might get towards the end) - there are  a few bits where he says things that are a bit - silly. Talking about Alan Moore's claim that Watchmen was "unfilmable" - Morrison makes a crack about how the fact that they ended up filming it proves him wrong. Which is... well....   missing the point a little (but hey - what can you do?): but then just because someone can be smart doing one thing (in this case that would be making superhero comics that sparkle and crackle and pop with irresistible delights) that doesn't mean that they're smart about everything (but then - hey - if Albert Einstein ever wrote a comic I bet it would have been rubbish).

Also: contains the answer to whether Superman poos or not. Which - you know - is good to know.

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Links: Wired Article, Guardian Review, Nerd Bastards Review, Mindless Ones Interview, Comic Book Grrrl InterviewRolling Stone Interview, Comic Book Resources Review, The Comics Journal Article, Every Day Is Like Wednesday Article, Comics Without Frontiers Article: Dissecting a Paragraph Part One: Biased Anthropologists & Heroic Missionaries / Part Two: Change & Judgment / Part Three: Saints, Heretics & Hypocrites.

Further reading: Superman: All Star Superman, New Gods, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, Batman: Batman and Son, The Filth, Alan Moore: Storyteller.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Books: Batwoman: Elegy

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Batwoman: Elegy
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by J. H. Williams III

2010




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


If only all superhero books were this cool.

With artwork by the delectable J. H. Williams III who ups the ante of any book he happens to work on (seriously - just check out this random selection of his stuff and tell me that you're not curious/excited to check him out) if every comic was well managed and constructed as this - then everybody would be reading them (woo! Panels shaped like bats! and red bolts! I love it!). Written under the watchful eye of Greg Rucka (who's got previous form with the Gotham underground with his fantastic Gotham Central series and knows his hard-boiled heroines inside and out - as exemplified in his fantastic Queen & Country spy thriller series).

Was shocked to find out (obviously not as knowledgeable with my comics as I thought I was): that far from being a fresh-minted character created by Rucka and Williams III - Katherine "Kathy" Webb Kane first appeared way way back in 1956 (!!!) as a (BAT-FACT) love interest for The Dark Knight to disprove "allegations of homosexuality" - which just makes this book all the more even better.

It's been a while since I've read any Bat book that's managed to feel this fresh, vibrant and stimulating - I don't think there's anyone that I wouldn't recommend checking this book out. It's very very good.

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Links: Savage Critic Article: A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing Mostly on the Art, Savage Critic Article: A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing Mostly on the Writing, Wired Review, PopMatters Review, Schizopolitan Review, The M0vie Blog Review.

Further reading: Batman: The Black Glove, Gotham Central, Desolation Jones, Promethea, Queen & Country.

Profiles: J. H. Williams III.

All comments welcome.

Books: Sweet Tooth

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Sweet Tooth
Vol 1: Out of the Woods
By Jeff Lemire

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Sweet Tooth
Vol 2: In Captivity
By Jeff Lemire

2010




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Sweet Tooth
Vol 3: Animal Armies
By Jeff Lemire

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Sweet Tooth
Vol 4: Endangered Species
By Jeff Lemire

2012




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Gus is a naive 9-year-old waif with antlers growing out the side of his head living in a savage post-apocalyptic world where danger lurks around each and every corner.

Combining the desolation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with the sweet-eyed cuteness of Disney (albeit in a twisted and mutated form): Sweet Tooth is a scrappily drawn saga full of slow-burning mysteries and moody atmospherics. The art feels a little too rushed and for my refined tastes - but speaking to other people there's a lot of love for this book. The main appeal that I can see is that it has that a television series structure which gives you just enough of small taste of a treat each time - whilst at all points promising big further rewards if you're willing to stay the course. Also: the minimal-dialogue and unfussy and mostly empty page set out means that it's very very quick to read - which (I dunno) could be considered a plus. Somehow. Maybe.

You can figure out every character arc from their first introduction (Hard Man with a Heart of Gold etc) and although it does twist the knife on plenty of occasions - it doesn't really find anywhere new to stick it in.

I'm probably going to keep reading it all the way to the end. But I'm always a bit of a glutton for punishment like that. But it does show that once you start - it's very tricky to give it up. Here's where I wrap it up with something about candy and - haha - having a Sweet Tooth.

Or not.

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Links: Sean T Collins Review of #1, Comic Book Resources Interview, Walker of Worlds Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2, Warren Peace Sings The Blues Review of Vol 3, Tearoom of Despair Article.

Further reading: Wasteland, The Walking Dead, Crossed, Just a Pilgrim, Prophet, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Books: Cages

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Cages
By Dave McKean

2002





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Dave McKean is known - first and foremost - as an artist.

I know about him through all the stuff he's done with Neil Gaiman. There's the early Gaiman comic work (including the dreamy Violent Cases and delirious Mr Punch) which McKean did all the artwork for - there's the children's books (Mirrormask, The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish and The Wolves in The Wall - which is EXCELLENT for reading to and scaring the crap out of kids) and then with The Sandman (which is where I'm guessing most of you will recognize him from) where Mr McKean designed/illustrated every single one of it's darkly beguiling covers - most of which appeared to float up from the bottom of murky yet magic ancient English garden pond (or maybe that's just me?). The place that the rest of you will know him from is Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth where together with Grant Morrison they plumbed the depths of the Dark Knights psyche and mashed it up with some spooky imagery and tarot card symbology which went on to earn it a place as the Batman book that serious people like to read (and flaunt around: "oh - have you read this? It's very good." etc). Oh - and - he's also done stuff with Richard Dawkins, John Cale and Heston Blumenthal and the people at The Fat Duck Restaurant (all of which are available from Islington libraries - natch).

For those of you that don't know him from anywhere - I'll try and describe his style: guy can do lots in various type of flavours: line drawing, painting and collagey-photography stuff - all of which bear his unmistakable imprint - and all of which are given free rein to go crazy in Cages. His people all have jagged edges with oval-shaped ever-so-slightly feline eyes that exist on the beautiful edge between realism and abstraction - all walking around with this almost animatronic grace (I know that might not make sense - but I don't care): and every single frozen panel he draws always feels perfectly frozen at exactly the right moment (no more so than in Cages).

Anyway. This was my first taste of a Dave McKean solo project. One that I had heard many great things about (whispers from here and there) and which boasted a recommendation from Terry Gilliam on the front cover (to be fair it's just the one word - ""mesmerizing" - but seeing how it's from Terry freaking Gilliam - it carries serious weight - just as long as we ignore his more recent films (oops - sorry Terry)). I must admit that I was trepidatious at the start - I mean - I totally love his artwork but did that mean that he'd be able to write? (how transferable are the skills exactly? I dunno).

Originally published in ten separate parts between 1990 - 1996 Cages is (I'm gonna break out all the highfalutin words - so brace yourself) exquisitely gorgeous, stunningly opulent and completely mesmerizing in all sorts of ways (Terry Gilliam was right!). With a distinctively Neil Gaimansque vibe (which makes me wonder if the right person got all the credit from their past collaborations? Or maybe Neil's spooky trousers just rubbed off some of their magic Dave's way?).

Seeing how it's almost 500 pages long (phew) it's pretty obvious that this isn't a book that should be undertaken lightly. It's heavy in more senses than one (ha). The first thing I wanna say is that - as with most of the finer things in life - films, books, music whatever (and hey - most 'serious' books) - you're going to need to persevere with this one. Especially with the first chapter which is - well - choppy waters (bit purple with the prose there Dave): and also forego any of his splendid illustrations. And then after that - when we finally start to get treated to some of the graphics - it's all very slow going: which suited me fine (I read it all in one go late at night with a bottle of wine and James Holden's At The Controls on my headphones - which I thoroughly recommend as the ideal reading environment if you get the chance).

The other thing to mention is that - although this is a book that appears on a few lists as "Good Graphic Novel To Give To People Who Don't Normally Do Comic Books" - I'd say that this isn't a book that's gonna be good for newbies. I tried to impress it on my flatmate (who likes comic books - especially if they're by Alan Moore - but only tends to read two or three a year) and he had problems getting into - and complained he didn't see what all the fuss was about and begged me to stop banging him over the head with it (and like I said: it's a heavy book). But (methinks) that a lot of the pleasure of Cages is watching it do things that other comics don't and watching it smash boundaries that other comics tend to stay behind. Which means that you need to have read enough comics in order to know where the limits normally tend to be so you can enjoy that illicit feeling of trespass when those limits are breached - kinda like jazz (even tho I must say that I totally hate jazz).

So. What all the fuss is about (and this is very much a book to be made a fuss of): the artwork is damn amazing and my favourite of anything else Dave McKean has ever done (which is saying a lot): as opposed to say - his work on Arkham Asylum which is all dark shadows - his drawings here are clear, bright and pure and offset wickedly by big dark slabs of black. Also - because there's so much (nearly 500 pages remember) and so of the moments between the panels are so subtle - of all the comics I've read it's the closet that's come to being like animation. And every flick and twist and turn of the characters bodies don't just tell you what kind of people they are - but what they're thinking and feeling from moment-to-moment. The best word I could use to describe the attention to detail is - "god-like."

And the story - well loosely it's (oh dear) about the various Cages that people can find themselves in (but ignore that): concentrate instead of the way it affects little small changes in mood, the sensation of falling in love, hopelessness and denial and the complexity and simplicity of music all evoked oh-so powerfully with the words and pictures mixing up.

This is a damn fine comic book and one I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone looking for a strong hit of good reading. Rich and scrumptious and mature in all the right ways - this is almost without doubt one of the best comic books ever created.

Read it.

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Links: Bookslut Interview, Forbidden Planet Blog Interview.

Further reading: Signal to NoiseHabibiViolent Cases, The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, The Sandman, From Hell, Blankets, Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Elektra: AssassinNeil Gaiman's Midnight Days.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Books: Green Lantern: Rebirth

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Green Lantern: Rebirth
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan Van Sciver

2005




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

"Parallax is not Hal Jordan, and never was. Parallax is the yellow impurity in the Central Power Battery. When Sinestro was imprisoned inside the Battery, he made contact with it - able to since his ring was based on the same yellow energy. On the concentrated power of fear. Sinestro gave the yellow impurity back its sentience. (The Guardians removed it when they placed it inside the Battery millions of years ago). Sinestro manipulated Parallax, and used Parallax to corrupt Jordan and lure him to the Battery."

If reading that makes your head hurt then this comic is probably not the one for you (unless that if you like migraines). If however you want to jump into the Geoff John's rebooting of the Green Lantern legend (which is the whole big run-up to Blackest Night) then this is the right place to start (provided you've already covered the preliminaries in Green Lantern: Secret Origins - in which case this is the right place to start - right after you've read that).

For any DC newbies brave enough - it's all a little confusing to be sure - but there's just enough explanations between the superhero craziness for you to understand about half of what's going on. And: if you're reading them in order - enough to take you to the next exciting installment.

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Links: PopMatters Review, A Comic Book Blog Review, The M0vie Blog Review.

Further reading: Green Lantern: Secret Origin, Green Lantern: Revenge of the Green Lanterns, Green Lantern: Wanted: Hal Jordan, Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps Wars, Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns, Green Lantern: Agent Orange, Blackest Night.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Books: Echo

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Echo
Vol 1: Moon Lake
By Terry Moore

2008




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Echo
Vol 2: Atomic Dreams
By Terry Moore

2009




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Echo
Vol 3: Desert Run
By Terry Moore

2009




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Echo
Vol 4: Collider
By Terry Moore

2010




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Echo
Vol 5: Black Hole
By Terry Moore

2010




Available now from Islington Libraries
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Echo
Vol 6: The Last Day
By Terry Moore

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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It starts with a woman. A woman strapped to a jet-pack wearing a futurist all-in-one chrome suit. Being chased by a couple of fighter jets. Screaming. Cursing. Missiles. All culminating in a big fat big fat explosion.

Seeing how this comes from Terry Moore - who carved his name across a thousand hearts with his tender epic Strangers in Paradise: it's a bit unexpected - but I was sold nonetheless (because that's the kind of guy I am - give me jet-packs and fighter jets and explosions and I'm all: yum yum yum). The thing that makes it more than just tasty empty-headed action movie treats however (which includes such staples as: secret government agencies, evil corporations, cutting -edge science and a mis-matched couple on the run) is the care and attention given to the people doing all the running around and blowing things up. If most stories of this ilk are high in sugar and artificial preservatives junk food: then this is organically grown vegan friendly alternative - that's got storytelling goodness that makes it feel like it's good for you. And you always feel better after having eaten a good meal.

Although there were some things that got stuck in my teeth a little. I know that this is a little niggle - but the earnest quotes at the start of every issue got a little much (I know Watchmen does the same thing - but it kinda felt like the quotes it used had a certain sense of gravitas - even if it was just Bobby Dylan - while here it feels more like reading something from a quote of the day calendar or the back of a school-kid's exercise book).

The artwork is very white and spacious (although of course that might just be because most of it is set in a desert) and like with Strangers in Paradise - it feels less like you're looking at drawings and more like watching actors.

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Links: PopMatters Interview, Comicbook Resources Article, Page 45 Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2 / Vol 3 / Vol 4 / Vol 5 / Vol 6.

Further reading: Strangers in Paradise, The Sword, Y: The Last Man, Rasl, FreakAngels.

All comments welcome.

Books: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

2007




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Alan Moore is for all intends and purposes the guy who first got me sucked me into this all comic book stuff. I mean there were a few others who helped (Garth Ennis and Frank Miller - not to mention the motley crew of 2000AD) but Alan Moore's name was the one that I first started to notice and first started to actively seek out - his name an assurance that the story I was about to read was going to be strange and twisted and weird in all of the best and most exciting ways.

But - hey - just we shared so many fun and good times that doesn't mean I'm going to mindlessly defend him when he makes a wrong turn. In fact: it means I'm gonna be maybe even slightly more harsh than perhaps I would be if it was someone else. Tough love and high expectations and all that.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen began it's life as a sort of Victorian version of the Justice League of America - folding well known fictional figures like The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde into one big crime fighting team. Since those first two volumes however Moore's ambitions have grown from simply telling pulpy action adventures into an epic survey of the fictional landscape of mankind (phew). The Black Dossier then (which was originally pitched as Vol 3 before it became something else entirely) is less hijinks and excitement and more the barest frame of a story (which is admittedly pretty cool and very funny ("Oodles O'Quim" and all) on which is hung various parodies and finely crafted pastiches - most of which are pitch-prefect. But (sadly) no matter how expert the writing is (and how many people do you know who could pull off a perfect Shakespeare impression?) I kinda felt that the only person who would properly be able to understand every small part of it is Alan Moore himself: falling into the toxic pit of being not much more than the sum of it's references - or to put it another way: if you don't know who people are talking about - then you're not going to get the jokes and you're gonna be left out in the cold.

So yeah. I'm didn't exactly taken with The Black Dossier. Even tho (even tho) it is massively and lovingly put together (with a wider scope than any of his other comic book work) and touched all over by flashes of evil magic (my favourite being "THIS WARN YOU") and wicked laugh out concepts (check the P.G.Wodehouse/Lovecraft mash-up: "What Ho, Gods of The Abyss!" - which is great great great).

Also: It does have 3-D glasses. But then - it feels a little gimmicky especially when you don't really care about the characters and it's all cleverness for it's own sake: which pretty much sums the whole thing up. Oh well.

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Links: Comicbook Resources Article, I Am Not The Beastmaster Review, Salon Review, PopMatters Review, Fraggmented Review, Mania Interview with Alan Moore Part 1 / Part 2, Newsarama Interview with Alan Moore, Black Dossier Annotations.

Further reading: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Books: The Perry Bible Fellowship

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The Perry Bible Fellowship
By Nicholas Gurewitch

2009








Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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I'm just gonna come out and say it: I totally love the Perry Bible Felllowship. It's both amazing and awesome and blessed all over (well almost all over - see below) with a strange intoxicating form of crazy and malevolent genius. Or to put it another way: little comic riddles with poop jokes wrapped on the inside.

Most of the comics featured on this blog are of the big sequential type: all telling one big story from page one to page end. But that's not the Perry Bible Fellowship: on one hand you could say it's a newspaper strip (and it's been published in plenty of newspapers including The Guardian where maybe some of you will recognise it from), but one the other hand - it's also been massively successful web-comic winning loads of prizes and such (altho up until now I must admit that I'd never heard of the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards). If you want to read the whole thing online - then you can (right here) but - well - as always with these things - I've always much preferred the luxury and comfort of books and pages: and this particular volume is super chunky and thick - in a particularly fetching shade of red.

What's also cool about the book is that it means you can appreciate apart from it's newspaper and website birthing grounds - and wallow in the comic in what I like to think of as it's purist form (I guess I'm just a sucker for things printed on proper paper).

But - yes - what is this proper form? And what's this Perry Fellowship like? And why the total amounts of love?

Here's the thing: It's jokes in comic form - usually spread out in three or four panels. But unlike say - xkcd - (it's closest cousin) - the artwork is really, really, really good. Most of them are in this kind of high definition brightness with Stay-Puft-Marshmallow-Men type people bouncing around (committing all sorts of unspeakable acts on each other): but then it also veers into all sorts of other different styles taking on people like (off the top of my head) Edward Gorey and Gary Larson and Robert Crumb and aping everything from 8-bit style computer graphics all the way to beautiful watercolour stuff. But then that's not the main selling point that's the added bonus. The main selling point is the way that - after it gets through the first few cartoons - which aren't anything that special and all seem to be a bit penis-fixatated and have sort of a bit of yukky teenage whiff to them - (so persevere!) - is how massively precise Nicholas Gurewitch manages to get with the huge amount of information it's possible to pack into three (or four) little panels. Most comics don't tend to bother with anything too dense when it comes to panel construction (or whats inside them): most of the time - it's just a person speaking - and you can quickly sweep your eyes over them and get all you need in way of the gist. But the Perry Bible Fellowship - wow. I have never had to read any comic so many times in order to understand what's going on (and work out the joke). Sometimes it's like trying to unpick a zen koan (expect it's a Zen Koan about willies. Or suicide. Or sex). The only example of anything that really comes close is Watchmen - which also packed every panel with hidden little Easter Eggs (hiroshima shadows and that guy with The End Is Nigh sign): but then you didn't need to pick up on everything in order to understand what's going on. With this - if you've missed something then you're probably wondering what's so funny.

I really want to set out and link to an example. But - hell - I'll let you read them all yourself. You'll soon see what I'm talking about.

So. If your sense of humour isn't twisted in dark directions and/or if you don't have the time or the patience to unwrap each panel - then this won't be your cup of tea. But if you like an evil giggle or two and want to swim in darker waters - crafted by an accomplished stylist and mischievous trickster - then this is a book that you can totally fall in love with.

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Links: Mindless Ones Article, 10 Zen Monkeys Interview with Nicholas Gurewitch, Guardian Interview, Guardian Review, Sean T Collins Review.

Further reading: xkcdYou Really Don't Look 50 Charlie BrownScott PligrimGoliathWatchmen, Understanding Comics, The Dilbert Principle.

All comments welcome.