Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Books: Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates


Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

"Rebuild. Enhance."

The Ultimates was always Mark Millar's baby. It was him and Bryan Hitch who kicked it all off with the now seminal (yeah - I said it [1]) Ultimates all the way back in (what?) 2002 (wow): which lead to (amongst other things) the Avengers movie that broke the box office of 2012. I mean - when Nick Fury was just I dunno how you say it - created? born? designed? coined? - in the glory days of 1963 (by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (who else?)) - he had his trademark eye-patch but he looked like a scrawny white guy (ok - so maybe scrawny is the wrong word - but what the hey). It wasn't until Millar and Hitch got on the case that he looked - well - like Samuel L Jackson (I mean this literally you understand - they didn't just decide to draw Nick Fury like a cool bad-ass bald black guy type - they actually based him on Samuel L Jackson. Which led to Hollywood looking over and going: you know what? That's not a bad idea! and etc).

After the high of the Ultimates came the nadir of pretty much the entire Ultimate Universe run the whole Who Killed the Scarlet Witch? / Ultimatum fiasco that I still (still!) can't bring to write about (I'm sorry - it just hurts too much) Mark Millar returned with the re-named Ultimate Comics: Avengers [2] which exploded in a grand firework show of "is that it?" (I mean - I was in there for the first few books - cheering along in order to drown out all the boos - but when I got to the end I must admit that I was left feeling much less than satisfied [3]). Hooray then for Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates! Seeing how the Ultimate universe is pretty much my only reliable destination for superhero comic book thrills [4] I will admit that I did salivate just a little when I first saw this at our library. The cover and that title (with that two-shot Ultimates: I like!) seemed to be making a promise:  straight up action: no messing around - and none of the continuity headaches of all  those other superhero comics out there. Jonathan Hickman on writing duties? Well - ok - we've had our ups and downs (the ups = S.H.I.E.L.D. the downs = Fantastic Four) but I'm game - show me what you've got.

First things: it's a lovely looking comic. Esad Ribic is not a name that I was familiar with - but he sure does draw pretty. The three things that I kept thinking of looking at his art was 2000AD (I haven't checked - but I would not be at all surprised if he put in some time at the Galaxy's Greatest Comic): his art has the same sort of depth and (erm) paintyness (?) that kinda reminded me of the old 2000AD greats like Colin Wilson and Dermot Power. Two (related to one) would be your European comics: the best known example being Moebius - but all those kind of Heavy Metal guys - wide expanses and sound effects that have had as much care and attention paid to them as everything else around them (trust me - you'll know it when you see it just watch for the BOOOOMs and CRASHs and stuff [5]). Plus - not being afraid to twist the angles around a bit (the upside down flying and seeing the landscapes all tilted and top-to-bottom being a particular fave). The third thing (and I guess this was the thing I felt the strongest) was that there were loads of panels that really reminded me of the covers of cheap looking science-fiction novels. You know the ones I mean - of giant cities spread out over half a planet with strange towers with bizarre looking noddles (no - that's not a real word I know) and attachments and things - with giant bright yellow spaceships with lots of bulges and spikes and stuff. Yeah? Well Ribic's stuff reminds me of that - and that is a really good thing. (Most of the time stories kinda stick to keeping things kinda pared down so that they make more sense - but what's nice with Hickman at the controls is that you get a superhero story that amps up by a factor of lots all the outlandish science-fiction elements. It's Stephen Baxter meets Stan Lee - and it's loads of fun.

I mean - yeah - it's not perfect. There's references to other things (I think?) that I didn't quite get (what happened to Captain America? What is Hawkeye up to?) but I guess - sigh - that will be explained if I go away and read those other books. But all in all: I had a good time. Superheroes. Big ideas. Smashy fun. What's not to like?

[1] Plus: strictly speaking - it's true. Looking up the meaning - there's two definitions. One goes: (of a work, event, moment, or figure) Strongly influencing later developments. And seeing how it basically helped kick-start (along with Ultimate Spider-Man obviously) the whole of the Ultimate Marvel line - well... (And we'll just ignore the second definition for now - if you don't mind? (Ok - then: Two: Of, relating to, or denoting semen. Happy now?).

[2] Just imagine the obligatory mention of how the Ultimate Universe was supposed to streamline stuff - but has ended up getting pretty complicated itself somewhere around this point and we can move along ok?

[3] There's a metaphor that I really want to use at this point - but I've always tried to run this as a family comic book blog - so will quell the urge to get scatological... Yes. You're welcome.

[4] Would it be too much if I renamed this blog the Ultimate Islington Comic Forum? (Or: Ultimate Comics: Islington Forum? (Or Ultimate Comic Forum: Islington?)).

[5] I didn't actually write them down: but now realise I should have (oh well).


Preceded by: The UltimatesThe Ultimates 2Ultimate Comics: AvengersUltimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-ManUltimate Comics: Doomsday.

Further reading: S.H.I.E.L.D.The Manhattan ProjectsThe Red WingFantastic FourThe Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012).

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 22 November 2012



Saturday 24 November / 1:00pm - 6:00pm
The Lord Clyde, 340 Essex Road, London N1 3PB

Live music, short films, the chance to chat to writers, artists and performers from TV, Film, Theatre, Prose fiction, Poetry, Comic Books and Comedy in a normal social environment and maybe get some stuff signed or a free sketch - a bookstall, a free book exchange, an amazing raffle with unique prizes, brilliant bar staff, a proper cosy British pub with great beer, wine, spirits and grub and the best Sausage Rolls in London. You want to talk to someone who's work you admire? Just pull up a chair and start chatting. It's the aftershow without the show and everyone gets treated as a VIP.And with this being the last one of the year, we're focusing on cramming the sales tables with fascinating goodies that your nearest and dearest will love but won't be expecting; even better, get them signed personally with a message from the creator. And it's all absolutely free. Full details: HERE.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Books: The Living and The Dead


The Living and The Dead
By Jason

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Have you ever imagined what an old-fashioned black and white silent movie would be like if it had zombies in? (No? Not even once? Not ever?) Well - ok then: regardless - The Living and The Dead is here for you: to give you the experience that you didn't even know you were looking for

As created by hot stuff Norwegian cartoonist - Jason (yep - just "Jason" not even a surname or anything [1]) his real name is : John Arne Sæterøy - which I think sounds pretty cool - but hey - what do I know?) - The Living and The Dead is the latest in a long line of comics [2] that has been heaped with so much adoration (and awards) that I'm sure his head must have trouble trying to support the weight of it all (not to mention - you know - all the swelling). I would copy out all the nice little things that all the critical people have said about him - but I don't have the book in front of me at the moment and - well - if you ever get a copy you can look for yourself and see what I mean.

Because (yeah) just between you and me I've gotta confess that I have trouble seeing exactly what all the fuss is about... Ok - the book didn't really offend me in any way - it wasn't nauseating and didn't make me want to poke out my eyes with hot knitting needles or anything like that... I picked it up: read it all in about (what?) 10 minutes and then that was it. But also - it was very far from being anything special. Most of the time I expect the stuff I read (or watch or listen to) to leave some sort of trace: if it helps then think of it as like eating a meal - the type of stuff I like is something that's substantial - something with a lot of meat on it [3] with bits that get stuck in my teeth that's hard to digest all in one go - so you need to come back to it a few times - and something that makes you feel full afterwards: satisfied and content (I may have said something like this before in a different post - but what the hey). Extending the metaphor - The Living and The Dead is a bit like being served up an air-burger: ok - it's inoffensive and there's nothing to actively dislike - but all the same: it's not really what I'm looking for come mealtime.

I could just leave things there - it's a nice book: it's slightly funny in places (not so much that you'd laugh out loud - but you might smile just a little) but there's not much more to it than that - but I kinda wanna go further and write (just a little) about what I like to term "hipster comics" (seeing how one of the rules of hipsters is that they never think that they are hipsters - hopefully no one is going to find this offensive? [4]). I've kind of had this post on the back-burner for a while now (in both senses: The Living and The Dead has been a book I've been meaning to write about for a very long time - and I've kinda had the draft of this post just kinda sitting there: looking at me blankly while I spend my time writing about Batman and stuff like that...) but it seems like now is a good moment to talk about hipster culture. This morning just before I came to work I read an article on Grantland [5] that kinda went into this sort of stuff (sample quote: "If there are still people left on planet Earth who believe in the sanctity of a thriving underground subculture populated by young, principled artistic types living bohemian lives free of the conventions propagated by lamestream plebs, here is a not-quite comprehensive rundown of pop culture items from 2012 that (intentionally or not) seemed directed at disabusing this idea: Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, the HBO show Girls, the LCD Soundsystem concert film Shut Up and Play the Hits, Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon's Grammys acceptance speech, Justin Timberlake's Justin Vernon impersonation on Saturday Night Live, fun.'s Some Nights, the New York Magazine cover story on Grizzly Bear and the untenable economic realities faced by high-level indie-rock bands, Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the white-people-giggling-over-R&B-covers-on-YouTube novelty act Karmin appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, that good but sort of unlovable Animal Collective album, Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End" appearing in an Axe body spray commercial, this weekend's New York Times piece on "hipster irony." I could go on but, in the interest of space, I won't." [6])

Of course The Living and The Dead came out all the way back in 2007 [7] - so it's not eligible for the list (and also - it's not really disabusing the idea of the underground: so (but anyway...)) but it is a solid gold example of (like I said) "hipster comics" which is the name I like to give to comics that have just enough of an adult sensibility so that you know that they're not supposed to be for kids (so in the Living and the Dead there's a pimp and at another point a character gets a boner - whoop-de-woo) but there's not enough nutritional content to make it something that's really worthwhile for any respectable adult: the only way I can figure that anyone can get anything out of this type of book is if they're a filthy hipster (this is where I might start to get a little bit more harsh - so hang on) - that is: someone more concerned with looking like someone who reads comics than someone who actually gets anything out of them... And maybe it looks snazzy on their shelves or something and then when someone asks "oh - what's that?" then you can go: "oh - this? It's by this Norwegian comic guy called Jason? And it's like a silent movie - only it's got zombies in it. I can't believe you've never heard of it..." And (for me anyway) it's hard to imagine how anyone could seriously say that they were in love with this book unless they were being ironic.

And I say: nuts to that.

[1] I guess Justin Timberlake must have got to him.

[2] Actually maybe I shouldn't have said that seeing how this is the only Jason book that Islington currently have in stock.... So maybe just wipe that from your memory and pretend that this is the only Jason book around (altho if you're really starved for an extra hit of Jason-goodness we do have a copy of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums which has some Jason art on the cover ( you can see it here if you'd like)). 

[3] In real life I'm a veggie (that eats fish - don't get me started) but - hey - it's just a metaphor - right? So i guess we're ok...

[4] Oops - except maybe John Arne Sæterøy? (Sorry - I meant Jason). And man - if you wanted to write a list of examples of hipster behaviour - then deciding to give yourself a one name alias has got to be up there with the best of them...

[5] Loving the Most Unlikable Movie of the Year Lena Dunham, Lana Del Rey, LCD Soundsystem, and the end of indie exceptionalism in The Comedy.

[6] And if you want all the links to all that - then just click the link above.

[7] In fact - speaking of: anyone else remember back when Nathan Barley (aka The Hipster Jesus - and if you've never found yourself uttering any of the thousand of choice lines it spawned in everyday conversation then (well) you're a better man than me) came out in 2005 there was loads of people deriding it as being hopelessly out of date? (I googled "Nathan Barley not relevant" and found this almost straight away: Yes, the “Hoxton Trendies” probably do have a mild stranglehold over the media. You can see the tired and tedious hallmarks of their creative preferences slapped all over newsagents’ racks and the average night’s television schedules. It’s nothing new, though – The Housemartins were lampooning the same type of people, only with slightly different “hip” obsessions, in Five Get Overexcited in 1987." and (trust me) there's lots more where that came from...) Which I guess sadly proves that hipsters aren't going to go away anytime soon... (They're like the common cold: I mean - yeah - sure - it would be cool if someone managed to find a cure for them - but at this point it doesn't seem very likely).


Further reading: It's a Good Life, If You Don't WeakenHilda and the Midnight Giant, GoliathI'm Never Coming BackThe Perry Bible FellowshipThe Dilbert PrincipleSatchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

All comments welcome.

Books: Top 10: The Forty-Niners


Top 10: The Forty-Niners
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Gene Ha and Art Lyon


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

I want to say this in the thing I wrote for Top 10: but what the hey - maybe it'll be better if I say it here (or not? I dunno): but the thing that I finally realised makes Top 10 such a big, fat, fun read is that more than any other comic out there - hell - more than any other anything out there (unless I'm missing something obvious? Am I missing something obvious?) is that it's the only thing to ever really capture a sense of proper (I don't know what you want to call it): Multiculturalism? Diversity? Big City Life? I mean - yeah - obvious there are other books out there that do pretty well with giving you a flavor of what it's like existing in a space with a million other people (at least [1]) - Transmetropolitan springs to mind as a book which does a pretty good job at that - but even that is hampered by the fact that if you want to set up a subculture in the reader's mind - well: you need to take the time to describe it: which means that there's an upper limit of how many different subcultures you can describe (unless you wanna write 2666 or something [2]) which means that most descriptions of teeming metropolises (or "metropoli"?) tend to be a little - well - flat. Being that they're mainly about Group 1 who are like this and Group 2 who are like this (and - if you're really lucky - Group 3 - who are like this): but then - there's only so much information you can fit into one book - right?

Well - Top 10 skips (no wait - make that: gambols) over this problem by using the entire history of superheroes (and fantasy (and assorted science-fiction stuff) plus whatever else falls across Alan Moore's mind) to create a place where on of the background of pretty much every single panel there's a reference to something or the other - thus forgoing the need to describe which group goes where and what exactly they're about. Instead the sense created is kinda like what it feels like walking down a city street in real life (only - accentuated because (oh well) - we don't live in a world where everyone is a superhero [3]): you know what those people are, and what that guy in the sawn off Metallica T-Shirt is about: but what the hell is that group of people over there about? Oh well - you'll never know.

Is this making sense?

Sorry - actually - let me start again for those of you who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about (Top 10? Alan Moore?? Comic books???)

Top 10: it's a two volume series about life in a city called Neopolis [4] where everyone has super-powers. It's great. I can't believe you haven't read it already. Top 10: The Forty-Niners is a prequel (with almost exactly the same creative team - although they've swapped Zander Cannon for Art Lyon which gives the whole book a much - I dunno - deeper feel? Less garish - more sepia and faded - which makes sense seeing how - you know - it's set about 50 years in the past) that came out a few years later and is set all the way back in 1949: when Neopolis is more like an idea than an actual fully functioning city and everyone is basically just making things up as they go along.

That kinda Multiculturalism / Diversity / Big City Life stuff is still going on - but it's nowhere near the frantic hustling and bustling of the later books: rather everyone is a bit more cautious and a lot more timid when it comes to - well - everything. It's a brave new world although everyone is kinda of unsure about their place within it - which I guess is kinda the point of the Forty-Niners. I mean - I don't want to get too English Literature student on you and start pointing out what the story is really about [6]: but practically every character in this book is struggling (in one way or another) with who they're supposed to be and who they really are: between their public image and (well: as cheesy as it might sound) their secret identity: and trying to decide if they want to fit the shapes the world has cut out for them. What's interesting about this is that in the original Top 10 books no one really has this type of problem: if you're a devil worshipper like John "King Peacock" Corbeau or just an all around bad-ass like Jackie "Jack Phantom" Kowalski there's not that much subterfuge [7] or people trying to hide who they really are or stuff like that....

Don't be mistaken tho: it's not all "my dark and hidden secret" stuff with people feeling tortured about the oppression of society and trying not to use their powers or stuff like that [8] - most of the characters in the Forty-Niners are actively making a conscious choice to not allow themselves to be restricted by anything as mundane as the country they were born in or whether or not they're human beings - and for me what was refreshing (and maybe this is only really possible in an imaginary version of 1949 rather than the real thing) is that the majority of them are actually pretty happy with who they are and don't feel too burdened by how they come across (there's one particularly nice scene where one guy is talking to another and he's all like: "Yeah - this is who I am. Deal with it - I don't have time to play games and mess around." that stands in stark contrast to the histrionics you might usually expect in - well - comics, books, films, TV - everything).

Of course - none of that utopian good feelings / "oh actually if you read deeply into what this is about you can see it's all an analogy for x, y, z" stuff is really besides the point if the story isn't actually worth caring about [9] and - well - yeah: sad to say (in fact I said it already in [4]) this isn't a book that many people would put up there with his best work. And in fact - coming from the dynamic bold stylings of Top 10 - the Forty-Niners feels a little muted (a feeling that's only exacerbated by the artwork: even tho it's much clearer and seems like it's had a lot more work put into it (it's a little like Alex Ross if he decided that he was going to calm down a little and take a step back so that he wasn't always so much in people's faces): it's a more "morning after the night before" than a "hey we're having a party!" Yes - there are so nice choice moments (that Time Travel door cutting through the pages is a very nice effect once you get your mind around it) but by the time you get to the end - it doesn't really feel like it's all added up to much: and if you didn't know it was Alan Moore - well - I'm not entirely sure you'd be able to guess [11].
[1] The population of London (at the time of the last census in 2011) was 8.2 million (which - hey - is a lot).

[2] Hey - I work in a library: which I think gives me the right to (now and again) make a reference to a proper book rather than just something from the graphic novel section.... (You never heard of 2666? Well - look it up).

[3] Yet.

[4] And I have only now this very second realised the repetition (reflection?) of Neopolis and Neonomicon (H. P. Lovecraft inspired comic book also written by Alan Moore). Neo of course is the hero of the Matrix trilogy a prefix from the ancient Greek word for young, neos (νέος), which is derived from the Proto-Indo European word for new, néwos: which (obviously) reflects Alan Moore's lifelong obsession with the new and breaking new ground coming at just the point (if you want to be cruel about it) where he finally started to run out of good ideas (Top 10: The Forty-Niners and Neonomicon in particular being books that don't tend to trouble the "best of Alan Moore" lists - and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the only other comic book he had coming out around this time) being very much an acquired taste [5]).

[5] "Acquired taste" of course being an excellent way to describe something as being rubbish whilst still trying to sound polite.

[6] Although - obviously - that's exactly what I'm about to do. (And speaking personally - I do really love it when I can make some sorta insight into what a book is really about: it means that I can something more than just - the writing is good and the art is nice (which is probably about 75% of all the posts I have up on here) but - hell - (I'm not going to lie to you) it makes me feel a little bit smarter: and that's always cool isn't it?)

[7] I mean - there's a bit. And one character (I won't so who) does lie about their sexual preferences - but that's more by choice (and to get out of what could have been a sticky situation) rather than due to the fact that they felt conflicted or because it was socially unacceptable or anything like that...

[8] I'm thinking here of that scene in the first (second?) Bryan Singer X-Men film where that teenager has to come out to his parents and tell them that - sorry mum and dad: I'm a mutant.

[9] In fact - just the other day I was talking to be literary flatmate about Skyfall and he said that I should read this article on Lenin's Tomb ("SKYFALL: conformity, rebellion and the British post-colonial trauma") and although it seemed quite interesting and well thought out - I couldn't actually read it properly seeing how much I ended up disliking the movie (I agree with what the New Yorker said: "This Bond installment is weighty with calculation: it feels like a ploy of demographically targeted marketing, with the personal drama attached to the espionage, the highly specific motives grafted to the thriller plot, looking like a studio decision to attract women viewers rather than like a mapping of any person’s imagination. Its humanism reeks of cynicism, and the sentimental nods to the old-fashioned ways that underpin the story (not least, at its dénouement, at the rustic Bond family estate in remote and rural Scotland) have all the heart of an ad for whiskey.") I found it really hard to actually give enough of a fig to read the article all the way to end. The lesson being: it's only really interesting and fun to read in-depth analysis of things that you already enjoy (or - failing that: it has to be an in-depth analysis of why whatever it is that is talking about is so rubbish: if it just talks about whatever in neutral terms without making any reference to the fact that the thing that it's talking about is shoddy or whatever - then it just kinda feels like the person isn't smart enough for you to want to spend your time on (so something [10]).

[10] Even when it's someone that I normally love (eg Zizek) - it's hard to care when the thing that they're talking about was such a colossal disappointment (eg The Dark Knight Rises).

[11] Yes - it's obvious a good thing that people don't always write in exactly the same way telling exactly the same story: but that's not what I mean by saying that you won't be able to guess it's Alan Moore: more that - no matter what he writes there's always a sense of someone operating at the height of their ability and constantly pushing the medium as far as it can go and spinning as many plates as possible: while this book feels a lot more like a relaxation and rest upon (considerable yeah) laurels. Or - to put it in Radiohead terms: it's a little like Hail to the Thief. Yeah - the song's are alright. But it's not going to change your world.


Further reading: Top 10, SmaxTransmetropolitanArrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms, Aetheric MechanicsNeonomicon, GrandvilleSwamp Thing.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Books: The Playwright


The Playwright
Written by Daren White
Art by Eddie Campbell

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Cloud Atlas isn't out in England yet - but it is out in the States and is probably the only film [1] coming down the pipeline that I have any interest in whatsoever (Yes - like any right thinking person - I totally despised (in the sense of both contempt and deep repugnance) The Matrix sequels and all that they stood for): and so - yeah - I've been bounced around the internet a bit trying to find all the things that people have said about it [2]. Which is how I came to this article [3] which makes a big deal out of the fact that Tom Hanks is often described as an "Everyman" to quote David Haglund (the guy who wrote the article): "The term dates to a time and place where anyone who was not a straight, white (and arguably even British) man was explicitly regarded by law and social norms as inferior to those who were."

When I read this - I thought: well - yeah - ok: we live in a multicultural world and we shouldn't privilege one particular viewpoint over any other and if the Romney Obama election has taught has anything (has it taught us anything?) it's that in the USA white folk can no longer enjoy being in the majority [4]. I mean - back when I was a kid I always used to think that in the future everyone would have brown skin - I don't know how scientifically plausible or not that may be (and I'm a little scared to google it - just in case my computer thinks I'm a racist) but regardless (same as always): all the old ways we have of thinking about stuff are going to become increasingly irrelevant and everything is going to change and (hopefully) one day soon we can all enjoy being a minority. But - saying all that: I didn't really agree with the article. I mean - "Everyman" doesn't have to be a white guy (if someone described Will Smith and Denzel Washington as being "Everymen" I don't think I would disagree) and it's interesting how in the article itself David Haglund says that Tom Hanks had Portuguese ancestors and his father’s side was mostly British - like - it's that cool? That the "Everyman" has a background that's (ever so-slightly) culturally diverse? But whatever.

These are the kind of thoughts that were pinging around my head when I started to read The Playwright by Daren White (sorry - never heard of him before) and Eddie Campbell (oh yeah - The From Hell guy!) a comic that's about a guy who's very much supposed to be a "Everyman" - only not the glamorous Tom Hanks type that everyone wants to be: but the lonely, loser, slightly freaky type that everyone fears that they are inside their heart (or is that just me giving away far too much of myself? I dunno...). Hopeless in love (no - wait - actually - make that: hopeless with all forms of human relationships), cut off from the world around him - he's the kind of person who would be ideally suited for his own verse in Eleanor Rigby: all the lonely people and all that.

I mean - before I say what I'm going to say: don't get me wrong. This is a marvelous little book: from it's bright yellow cover to the understated Eddie Campbell artwork (which is a lot more together than the scratchy and jaded black and white version you may be used to from From Hell) and the dour authorial voice that watches over everything in the third person ("The Playwright did this" "The Playwright did that"): it's well written, everything hangs together in a nice way - you know: it's a serious little comic book that knows exactly what it's doing and accomplishes everything it sets out to do. With the overall effect rather like  drinking a particularly fine cup of tea in splendid little village restaurant - where the coasters are little white knitted things and the cake is deliciously crumbly. It's a good book. And if you like your comics unfussy and with a stiff upper lip then you're gonna enjoy reading it.

But all I could think of as I read it was - does the world really need another book about how hard the world can be for a middle-aged, middle-class white guy? I mean - if The Playwright had been released in non-picture "proper" book form then I could very easily imagine it being the kind of thing to get nominated for a Booker Prize - you know? It has that whole kinda "literary genre" vibe to it. Thing is tho - as we move into the 21st Century - this seems like the kinda of story that we've already all heard a million times before. It's not so much that there's something wrong with the "Everyman" concept say [5]: but if you're going to use it - and you want me on side: then I'd prefer you'd use it to tell a story that hasn't already wore itself out. Or to put it another way: the first five pages of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's The Filth manages to cover the same terrain as the entirety of The Playwright before it goes on the Russian space monkeys and attacks of giant sperm [6].

[1] Ok - fine. Also: World War Z. (2012: with zombies!? Yes please). But that's it.

[2] Out of all the stuff I've found I'd say that this New York Review of Books article is my favourite. If only for the bit when Ken Wilber describes Larry Wachowskis as one of the “most brilliant minds that I have jumped into a dance of intersubjectivity with.”

[3] Slate: Tom Hanks Is Not an “Everyman.” (there's really not that much to it that isn't in the title - but if you're really curious then you can read it here).

[4] I read this New Yorker article just the other day ("THE PARTY NEXT TIME As immigration turns red states blue, how can Republicans transform their platform?" Quote: "At the present rate, by 2016, whites will make up less than seventy per cent of voters. Romney’s loss to Barack Obama brought an end not just to his eight-year quest for the Presidency but to the Republican Party’s assumptions about the American electorate") so I guess all this stuff has been playing on my mind....

[5] In fact there's a Philip Roth novel called "Everyman" that I read once for a makeshift book-group when I just finished university - and (no matter how well written it was) - I kinda thought that story was boring then: and it's still boring now (maybe I'll change my mind when I get older and actually become the type of person these books are talking about? Who knows...? But I hope not).

[6] Of course - that's just where my whole tastes lie (and most of the time (it depends what mood you catch me in) I'd argue that the point of art (or whathaveyou) - and yeah for me anyway - is to show you something new and different and (hopefully) make you think about and experience the world in a different way): you yourself may be completely different - and there's nothing wrong with that (apart from the fact that you're wrong and you don't understand anything [7]).

[7] Ha ha ha - joke.

Links: Comic Book Resources Interview with Daren White and Eddie Campbell, Graphic Novel Reporter Interview with Daren White and Eddie CampbellAvoid The Future Review, Comics Should Be Good Review, Page 45 Review.

Further reading: From HellAlec: How to be an ArtistAmerican Splendor: The Best of American SplendorBreakdownsYears of The Elephant, Berlin, Make Me A WomanAsterios Polyp, I Never Liked You, The Filth.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Books: Avengers (The): The New Avengers: Illuminati


The New Avengers: Illuminati
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Brian Reed and Jim Cheung

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

So - is it just me? - but the whole notion of there being an Illuminati (basically: a secret organisation that controls everything everywhere[1]) is pretty cool. I mean speaking as a confirmed fan of Lost: everyone likes a good secret - right [2]? And yeah (etc) the notion of control and meaning in a random and meaningless world is a comforting thought - however scary you might imagine the people with their hands on the levers to be.

Human beings are all about seeing patterns - that's how we make sense of the world: that's how we learn things: that's how we make them fit together [3]. Conspiracy theorists are born when people's pattern recognition software gets broken or aimed in the wrong direction and they end up coming to the conclusion that two plus two equals five or that the moon landings were faked or whatever [4].

Except - well (blah): The New Avengers: Illuminati isn't actually about any of that kind of secret history of the world kinda stuff [5]: rather it's a collective of five kinda completely separate stories (think of it this way: it's like each issue is a new episode of a cartoon) about a group of people who meet up to discuss the world: as far as I noticed at least - they don't actually call themselves "The Illuminati" (I guess maybe that would have been a step too far) but each of them is a the top of their chosen food chain: the best of the best - so that's: Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme; Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans (who live on the moon! True fact!), Patrick Stewart, founder of the X-Men and mutant-rights activist; Reed Richards, founding member of the Fantastic Four; Namor the Sub-Mariner, king of Atlantis; and Iron Man (aka Robert Downey Jr), founding member of the Avengers and star at the best Marvel movie (so far at least [6]). And (for me anyway) the first time I picked this book up I've gotta admit that I was impressed by such a raw display of power. I mean most of the time your typical superhero team is all about the mishmash of conflicting personalities and vastly different power levels (I watched The Avengers film with my girlfriend last night and throughout the whole thing she kept asking me: "so what is it exactly that Scarlett Johansson can do?" [7]) but this book - if all the other teams out there are more like street gangs - doing the best with what they've got and constantly just adjusting and responding to whatever trouble comes their way: The Illuminati are more like a corporate boardroom - everything's a lot more composed and they mainly spend their time being more proactive than reactive: and basically (trying at least) to fix problems before they can arise.

And frankly - I'm kinda surprised (just a bit) this book isn't more well known or didn't manage to kick start it's own series (or whatever) seeing how (some harsh truths coming people - so brace yourself): most of the time the people who read comics - well - let's just say that (according to the stereotype at least) they're not exactly known for their physical prowess or love of sports [8]. So I would have thought that maybe they would have been drawn to a superhero comic where the heroes where more concerned about using their brains rather than their brawn (obviously yeah - the whole point of fantasy and escapism is that it's unlike your life - so it makes sense that people who aren't so good at fighting and smashing things would find some gleeful joy in watching characters do those very things - but still...)   

The artwork is fresh-faced and clear and has that whole Bryan Hitch thing going on - which means that it's a doddle to read. The only note of warning I would sound is that - well - because it's a Marvel book (and it's not it's alone in this - all Marvel books are like this) it's not really a complete read - I guess it's more kinda like a trap to make you read all the other Marvel books out there (and here's the best place to start if you're planning on reading the Secret Invasion books - plus there's a little Marvel Boy coda too (so - really - you should read Marvel Boy before you read this) oh: and not forgetting the set-up for some stuff in the new 2011 Avengers series too!)... But still: I guess that's just the nature of the beast.

The real pleasure of the book tho is the fact that (because there aren't that many fights) there's loads of space for Bendis to do what he does so well - which is (basically) writing really nifty dialogue. My favourite part of the whole book is Issue 4 where (for the first half at least) it's just six guys hanging out in their own little boy's club talking about (what else?) girls, girlfriends and marriage (with a little bit about human nature and the nature of free will thrown in to keep things interesting - oh: and a brief little mention of the internet). And - if like me (thanks to a wasted life reading superhero comics) you know these characters pretty well: it's just really - well - great to see how they spend their downtime and how exactly they interact. So that's worth the price of admission right there.

[1] Less simply - well it turns out there's a whole different bunch of societies out there (both real and imagined) who have tried to lay claim to the name. According to the wikipedia entry the term was first coined back in 1776 in the superbly named "Ingolstadt" (located in Upper Bavaria - which (to me) sounds like a made-up Tintin kinda place - but whatever): and since then - well - it's become the best way to make any crackpot conspiracy theory sound (a little) more researched and methodical (compare and contrast: "They're running the world behind the scenes!" and "The Illuminati are running the world behind the scenes!" - I mean: things sound better when you give them proper names right?) - and if you're interested in any of this kinda stuff then may I recommend Jon Ronson's Them? It's really good about all this sort of things (plus: I really love Jon Ronson - so that helps too I guess...).

[2] Like it says in the Hitchiker's Guide to The Galaxy: "“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was." "No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”"

[3] I tried to get this thought down properly in the post that I wrote about Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? but all I managed was: "The crux of human existence - looking for patterns and making order where there isn't any." which is pretty weak sauce if I do say so myself.

[4] Saying that: there is a strange sort of intellectual buzz that can come from watching the sorta higher-level conspiracy musings - and I will admit that I have watched the 9/11 "controlled demolition man" film Loose Change (and - man what a strange title for a film about 9/11 - no? Loose Change? Personally I would have gone for something a lot more bombastic - like: The Explosive Truth About The Buildings That Went Boom! or something): not because I believe that 9/11 was an "inside job" but (well) because I thought that it would be interesting to watch (and it was) as - no matter how incredulous you start out - there will be a bit of you (about midway through) that will pipe up and go "now wait a second.... maybe - no?" I don't think that's because the crazy things that they say are true: more like when you've been given a story and you're halfway through your mind (well - my mind at least: maybe you're different) just starts to buy in to whatever it is you're being told. A more recent example (and talking about the moon landing) came from reading this Grantland article about Stanley Kubrick that mentioned the documentary Room 237 and author, filmmaker, and self-described “hermetic scholar” Jay Weidner who has a theory that "Stanley Kubrick was hired by the U.S. government to shoot fake footage of the moon landing, in exchange for the leverage he needed to make his aliens-are-God acidhead epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Weidner, The Shining is Kubrick’s mea culpa, with Jack Nicholson’s unhinged patriarch acting as a doppelgänger for the distraught director, and the sinister Overlook Hotel doubling for the all-powerful feds that infiltrated (and presumably ruined) his life." And (yes) obviously that sounds like the ravings of a crazy-person who's lost his grip on what's real and what's not... And yet (and yet) alothough for much of his video (it's called Kubrick's Odyssey and you can watch it here: just brace yourself for the groaners at the start - I mean he calls his production company Cube Brick (to which I can only say: really? You really decided to go with that?)) you will just think that he sounds like someone who has way too much free time on his hands (he talks about people who think that the moon landings were a hoax with this manner (calm assurance) that just kinda makes you feel like he knows the terrain pretty well: almost like he's talking about his school friends or something...) and then: (I think it's round about when he starts talking about the shape of the pattern on the carpets in the Overlook Hotel and how similar it is to the shape of the Apollo 11 launch pad) and - yeah - like I said: it's not like you really think that he's true but you do - start to believe (let's say): or maybe I'm just more naturally susceptible to this kinda stuff (I dunno)?

[5] But if that kinda thing is what you're looking for then both: S.H.I.E.L.D. and Planetary can probably satisfy your needs... (and now I think about it all this conspiracy theory stuff would have made a lot more sense in the entries for one of those instead - but: oh well - too late now).

[6] Although it's all the bits where it's not in his costume doing all the superheroy action stuff - and basically just being all Robert Downey that are cool: which (well) isn't exactly what you want from a superhero action film is it?

[7] And to be fair: it's a good question. I mean - what? - she has a gun and she can pretend to cry? Big whoop. That other guy has a magic hammer.

[8] True story: During my first term at university we had a meet-and-greet thing were we met everyone else in the same year as us and were encouraged to mingle and make friends which is how I ended up talking to this blonde hulk from somewhere in Eastern Europe who towered over me like an Aryan superhuman / Arnold Schwarzenegger's distant cousin (twice removed). "So" I said (trying my best to make conversation) "what kind of stuff do you like?" His reply (instantaneous): "Sports." "Oh" I said "Ok then" (and - not knowing that much about sports - decided to maybe steer the conversation to film or music: where I always feel a lot more at home (and come on! - everyone likes films and music - right?)) - "Anything else?" He thought about this for five seconds - head turned to the side - eyes gazing into the middle distance until he (finally) replied: "No. Just sports." We never spoke again.


Further reading: The Avengers: The New Avengers (2005 - 2010), The Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012), Civil WarThe AuthorityThe Avengers: Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the WorldS.H.I.E.L.D., Planetary, The Boys, Marvel Boy, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2012/12


Ok. So you know what? It's kinda hard to describe properly what a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum consists of (relax: - I'm not going to use that hoary old cliché about there's not really any such thing as a typical meeting of the Islington Comic Forum because - we're better than that - right?) - I mean: in the strict physical sense - it's a big table full of comic books (at a rough guesstimate I'd say there's usually around - what? - 150 books available for people to take home at each session) and a bunch of people (typically we get about a dozen or so people turn up) all from various walks of life and all with different backgrounds (yeah - I know you're thinking that's it probably all nerdy white guys - but seriously - we're as multicultural and diverse as a corporate video - with an age span from 6 to 90) all sitting around and discussing/arguing/sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me - hi!) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman.

Books available this month will include (unless - of course - they get reserved by other people): Logicomix: An Epic Search for TruthAetheric Mechanics / The Punisher: The Punisher MAX / Supergod / Batman: Batman and Robin / The Avengers: The New Avengers: Illuminati / DMZ / The Living and the Dead / Top 10  / Top 10: The Forty-Niners / Planetary / Kick-Ass / Kick-Ass 2 / The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For / Summer Blonde / Nemesis / Locke & Key (Vols 1 - 4 at least) / Batman: The Long Halloween / Death Note (first few Vols) / Criminal / Batman: Knightfall / Make Me A Woman / Don Quixote / Waltz with Bashir / The Rabbi's Cat / iZombie plus many, many, many (many!) more.

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's: Sleeper Vol 1: Out in the Cold by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. 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).

The next one is: Tuesday the 4th of December / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. It's free. All welcome.

For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Books: I'm Never Coming Back


I'm Never Coming Back 
By Julian Hanshaw

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Sometime. Not often - but sometimes - you come across something that just - I dunno - upends how you think about stuff: or rather (more particularly) makes you rethink the medium it comes in (this might get a little bit blah and hard to follow - but I will do my best to make it as simple and as clear as I can - ok? Cool).

Me - well - I guess my first love would be music (closely followed by films: and then somewhere underneath them (coming in at a pretty respectable third place) comes - comics [1]) so it makes sense that that's where I notice it the most: I mean - maybe not so much now that I'm no longer full of the piss and vinegar of my youth (nowadays there's not quite so much of the latter): but I can recall several times putting on a CD [2] and just getting a strange sense of almost (I dunno) vertigo from realising that music could exist in this strange new form that you'd never quite realised before. (You want an example don't you?) well - ok then: the first time that I ever listened to Plastikman [3]. I mean - sure: for what it is - it's nothing that special: it's just (very) minimal techno - it's very spacious but at the same time: it just feels really deep and expansive (like if most other music is all splashing around in puddles and jumping in pools - Plastikman feels more like staring into the middle of the ocean or something [4]. But (damnit) the point isn't Plastikman - the point is coming across something (ok - fine - you might as well call it a piece of art [5]) that makes you realise that you don't just have to use the same tools in the same way as everyone else has before: and instead of just smashing things you can use the same elements (sound, moving images, pictures on a page or whatever) and - well - express an idea or a thought or an emotion in a way that no one else has ever thought of trying to express before and instead of making whatever medium it is feel worn out and odd and used up: it kinda opens it up - so that instead (all you can see) are the - possibilities. To take another example that more people will be familar with (sorry Plastikman) it's like the first time Nirvana showed up and people realised: wow - guitars turned up really loud playing simple melodies actually sounds - really bloody fantastic. Right? You get what I mean? It's not just that the thing is good: but that it's different in such a way to what you're used to that it makes you kinda dizzy  - like if someone grabbed a chair and cup that had both being lying around your house and then squeezed them together to make something new: and all you can do is gawp and think: "it seemed so obvious - why didn't I notice it before?"

Ok: so yeah - I realise now that I've built up this book quite a lot: but what the hey - these where the thoughts that were in my mind as I read Julian Hanshaw's I've Never Coming Back.Well - actually (tell a lie) my first thought - I wonder why this artwork looks so familar? Oh yeah: it looks like the something from Monkey Dust! (No? Never seen Monkey Dust? - it was a short-lived BBC 3 cartoon that constantly dared itself to see just how dark it could go and get away with it: it wasn't always brilliant - but when it was good it was very, very good - will leave you to youtube it yourself (I mean - I would start checking the clips to find some good ones - but I'm afraid that if I start - I might get drawn in and lose a few hours: but then - hey - what could be a higher recommendation than that?)).

Yes. When I first picked it up I kinda thought it was gonna be another case of "hipster comics" - all form, no content (sickly sweet taste - but no carbs): but then when I first looked at the cover I thought it was a close-up of a flea. But no - it's a lobster - eyes poking out of it's it's shell (which just goes to show that it always pays to take a closer look at things [6]). And instead of feeling like something that's been thrown together without much thought about what it is that's been done: it feels more like a personal vision - like something that's been created because the author had no other choice: and a feeling of enclosed space - like the book was written in a cave hidden from other human eyes and never intended to be read by anyone else. 

I mean - alright - not to build it up too much - not all of the stories work (and the last one I couldn't really get my head around at all - but then maybe that's because I don't much like cricket): but when it works (and my personal favourite is the Cafe in the middle of the nowhere and the Diving Suit man) it's a bit like discovering - well: if not a whole new language - at least a few good new words. Or (like I wrote down in my notes when I first starting reading it): Yes. 

[1] If Islington ever let me then I would absolutely love to do an Islington Music Forum or (the probably more easy to organise) Islington Film Forum. Sadly: that kinda thing is apparently not viable at this point in time (but - hey - if you'd like to help advocate the idea on my behalf then you could get in touch with people: here: maybe something like: "I would very much like an Islington Film Forum to happen run by the same guy who does the Islington Comic Forum please?" Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on....).

[2] For our young readers: The Compact Disc, or CD for short, is an optical disc used to store digital data. It was originally developed to store and play back sound recordings only, but the format was later adapted for other functions. Audio CDs and audio CD players have been commercially available since October 1982. In 2004, worldwide sales of CD audio, CD-ROM, and CD-R reached about 30 billion discs. By 2007, 200 billion CDs had been sold worldwide. But nowadays - thanks to more modern technologies -  audio CD sales have dropped nearly 50% from their peak in 2000. (Ho hum).

[3] That would have been Closer. (It looks like this. And sounds like this).

[4] I tried to find a good review to sum him up to those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: but all I could find was stuff like this: "Is this not the point of techno – to strip bare the funk, to debase the sham, to reveal the fascist core of the wires underneath, the violence of the cold metal, to become closer to that which we create in our metallic movements of mechanized bodies?" (Oh well).

[5] As mentioned elsewhere: I am uncomfortable with the use of the word "art" as - one - most of the time it's unhelpful and doesn't really add anything of real value to the conversation and - two - if you use to describe something (well) for me - it kinda makes it sound like you're reaching for something that you can't quite get a hold on (or something - I dunno: maybe I'll try and explain it better some other time...).

[6] Except - ooops: when you read the book you'll find it's not a lobster - it's a crab. (Oh well). 


Further reading: Goilath, Habibi, Black Hole, A Taste of Chlorine, Blue Pills, ProphetLost at Sea, The Arrival.

All comments welcome.