Friday, 29 November 2013

Letter 44 #2 Review (Charles Soule, Alberto Albuerquerque)

Read my review of Letter 44 #2 here:

The Wake Part One Review (Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy)

Dr Lee Archer is a cetologist and a single mother who’s approached by a shady government agent to take part in a secret underwater operation to identify the source of a strange sound off the Alaskan coast. The sound belongs to what seems to be a mermaid – but mermaids aren’t real (or are they?) and this one looks and behaves far more monstrously than their fairy tale creations, as Archer and her team are about to discover.
This is the first Scott Snyder book since American Vampire that I’ve not completely loved partly because the characters are so two-dimensional and partly because the story just isn’t very interesting. Archer (just the name!) is your standard moral scientist-type – you know Bill Paxton in Twister? That kind. She even has an evil double who’s in bed with the government – you can almost hear the same dialogue, “they’re not in it for the science, man!”.
Agent Cruz is your standard issue man in black government type, who talks in a monotone, is very secretive, and of course turns out to be duplicitous, while there’s a bounty hunter character who feels like he’s stepped out of an 80s action movie, who’s here to hunt rare species ‘cos he’s a tough guy! All of the characters are highly unoriginal and boring, and aren’t helped by Sean Murphy’s art. If you’ve read Punk Rock Jesus, you’ll notice how similar Archer looks to Gwen and Agent Cruz to Thomas McKael – it’s like Murphy has a handful of character designs and has to keep reusing them.
Story-wise, it’s fairly ok up to a point and then it becomes repetitive. The fish monster predictably escapes because there’s no story otherwise, you’ve got humans trapped in limited space, a cat and mouse chase ensues, and then the ending happens. Reading several issues in a row which are basically just characters running from a monster is frankly boring and there’s little variety in what happens. Move from one part of the station to the next, repeat.
Snyder does throw in some interesting scenes now and then, showing us a dystopian Waterworld-esque Earth set 200 years in the future, before hurtling us back hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of years back to the past, hinting at a much larger and mysterious story. I loved seeing these but unfortunately they are very brief snippets so most of the time you’re spent with a crew of unconvincing cardboard cut-outs running around. The good news is that the second part looks to be entirely set in the dystopian future with a new set of characters so I anticipate liking that book a lot more than I did this one.
Snyder’s writing in The Wake Part One isn’t especially exciting – he’s always had the propensity to throw in plot-relevant anecdotes into his stories though in The Wake they feel very heavy-handed and awkwardly placed. At one point in the middle of a chase, the characters pause and wait while Archer tells a story! Murphy’s art is fine and I think his fish monster designs are effectively scary but I’m still not as in love with his art as many others are. The Wake is definitely readable despite the script’s flaws and has some interesting story moments but it’s not nearly as good as other books Snyder’s writing at the moment like Batman and Superman Unchained for DC. The Wake Part One is like Aliens crossed with The Abyss but not nearly as good as either.

The Beatles' Let It Be by Steve Matteo Review

Let It Be was initially conceived as a warm-up for the Beatles to return to live stage gigs with the first to be a lavish show in a ruined Roman Amphitheatre in Tunisia and in actuality became just one show - the legendary rooftop concert, the Beatles’ last live gig together. Originally titled Get Back to highlight the band returning to its roots, the rehearsals were filmed for an accompanying documentary and showed a band on the verge of breakup, and it was retitled Let It Be, as a fitting epitaph to the fractured group. Though the album would be the last released under the Beatles name, it was recorded before their actual last album, Abbey Road.
Steve Matteo writes wonderfully about the creation of the troubled recordings, interviewing the many engineers, documentary crew, and Apple staff who witnessed the work, and using quotes from the Beatles themselves, giving us an insight into the process and the band’s personalities rather than in-depth interpretations on the songs themselves, like other books in the 33 1/3 series sometimes do.
Despite John’s increasingly troubling drug problems (he and Yoko were snorting a lot of heroin at the time) and George’s discomfort at Paul’s overbearing attitude, the recordings over several weeks were very fruitful with the band enjoying playing music together and in addition to the songs that appeared on Let It Be, half of the songs to appear on Abbey Road would be written during this period and others would appear on John, Paul and George’s solo records.
Matteo provides detail of the equipment used and recording process without being too didactic, gives us a compelling image of the chaotic atmosphere of the Apple offices, and even manages to write about the complex bootleg cottage industry spawned in the years following the scores of tapes of these sessions disappearing. He follows the record into the 21st century when a Phil Spector-less production of the record appeared called Let It Be…Naked, up to Phil Spector’s murder trial (which he would later be found guilty of).
Let It Be certainly isn’t The Beatles’ best record but it contains some legendary classics and captures an interesting time in the group’s existence, namely what it was like near the end. As someone who hasn’t read a lot of Beatles books and wasn’t looking for an overlong account of this time, this 130+ page small book was exactly what I was looking for and perfectly sufficient for general readers interested in the subject. It’s a fascinating story, well-researched and written by Steve Matteo and a highly enjoyable read.

The Beatles' Let It Be

Kick Ass 3 #5 Review (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr)

Read my review of Kick Ass 3 #5 here:

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Fantastic Four, Volume 2: Road Trip Review (Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley)

Reed discovers the cosmic particles that give him and his family their powers are slowly killing them. Keeping the discovery to himself, he orchestrates a family holiday trip through time and space on the pretext of educating the children while searching for the cure he knows is out there. In this volume they encounter an alien world who inexplicably have cave paintings of the Fantastic Four dating back eons, travel back in time to the days leading up to Julius Caesar’s assassination, encounter the titan Blastaar, and Ben goes back to Yancy Street to visit his Aunt Petunia. 

Fantastic Four isn’t the hottest Marvel title being published and doesn’t seem to be talked about much by regular comics readers but, reading the second volume, I forgot how enjoyable the series is. Matt Fraction’s best known at the moment for his comics Hawkeye and Sex Criminals – deservedly so – and though his run on Fantastic Four and FF is over so that he can helm the new Marvel Event, Inhumanity, I feel that his work on the series has been of the same high quality. 

The opening chapter is an unabashedly heart-on-sleeve romantic love letter from Reed to Sue. Fraction retells the story of their relationship from the first time they met (when Sue, already a knockout, was somehow still single!) to the present day. The reveal of how the cave paintings came to be is syrupy sweet and sentimental in a way I liked purely for being so guileless. 

The Caesar issue is great fun and plays to the series setup of time travel adventure stories in a way that’s reminiscent of classic Marvel comics. The Age of Ultron tie-in issue is also included and it says a lot that, despite not liking the Event, the one issue, out of 20, that stuck with me was this tie-in. The Fantastic Four head back to Earth to help fight the Ultron invasion, leaving behind Franklin and Valeria on the time-ship as the kids spend the issue watching holographic messages from their family saying goodbye to them. It’s ridiculously sad, especially as the following issue doesn’t make any mention of the fact that the Four “died” or even left – it’s treated more like a nightmare Franklin dreamed. But Reed saying goodbye to his kids… aw, man. I did cry at that and thought the way Fraction handled it was absolutely perfect. 

A lot of this book deals with classic Fantastic Four-style stories with the two-part story of the Four encountering the titan Blastaar feeling like a Silver Age comic. Going back to witness the big bang, the Four discover Blastaar in the midst of his punishment, unknowingly interrupting it, before heading to the end of the universe to right their wrongs. You rarely see Blastaar these days as the only titan Marvel seem interested in is Thanos, so it’s good to see this crazy character make an appearance. 

Fraction’s writing is sharp, witty and funny, though more gentle and emotional than in his other comics. The stories in this book don’t really address the main storyline of searching for a cure but they’re still highly enjoyable imaginative stories to read. Mark Bagley’s art is absolutely brilliant. He’s thrown the task of drawing alien worlds, Ancient Rome, 1920s New York, and the end of the universe and he does amazing work in bringing such a vast range to life. He also has to draw one of the most difficult to draw characters in the Marvel Universe – the Thing – and does so magnificently (I was going to say “I really liked looking at Bagley’s magnificent Thing” but thought it’d sound a bit weird!). 

Fantastic Four, guys – it may not be at the top of anyone’s to read pile but when you get to it, it doesn’t disappoint!

Fantastic Four Volume 2: Road Trip

Hawkeye #14 Review (Matt Fraction, Annie Wu)

Read my review of Hawkeye #14 here:

The Goon #44 Review (Eric Powell)

Read my review of The Goon #44 here:

Black Science #1 Review (Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera)

Read my review of Black Science #1 here:

Superior Spider-Man #22 Review (Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos)

Read my review of Superior Spider-Man #22 here:

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #1: Batman and Robin! Review (Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela)

Read my review of Scooby-Doo Team-Up #1 here:

The Best Comics of the Week (27 November) + Biggest Comics News Stories!

What're the best comics of the week? Check out my picks for the five best here:

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Batman: Lovers and Madmen Review (Michael Green, Denys Cowan)

Lovers and Madmen is a deeply flawed Joker origin story which borrows elements from far better Joker stories like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and the 1989 Batman movie and warps them with Michael Green’s own bad ideas and pitiful characterisation. 

Jack is a young man recently come to Gotham to make it as a career hitman. But he’s bored – robbing banks and shooting cops isn’t enough for him and his boredom translates into a death wish, where he deliberately fouls up any heists he’s involved in to see if someone can put him out of his misery. That is until he meets Batman and his entire outlook changes. He becomes obsessed with this “ridiculous” figure, doing everything he can to draw him out with his crimes. And then he goes too far and a confrontation in a chemical factory leads to the creation of the most famous villain in comics history – the Joker. 

Alarm bells started ringing as soon as I saw Green had attempted the unbreakable rule about the Joker: he gave him a name and a backstory prior to his becoming the Joker. This is a cardinal rule of the character: that you never give him a solid backstory. But here he is, Jack (imaginative!), a hitman (yawn) who shoots playing cards (!?!?!). 

Most Batman readers understand this already but the power of not knowing the Joker’s origins is a large part of why he’s such an appealing villain – the mystery lends itself to the reader’s mind where we have to imagine how such a creature could come to be. Many writers and artists have implicitly understood this, and the most recent Joker incarnation on the big screen also played to this strength – Heath Ledger’s Joker telling everyone a different story of how he got his scars, and Batman unable to find out the character’s real background. 

If you’re going to give Joker a background, at least make it interesting like Moore did. Green just goes for the laziest, most uninteresting version imaginable, emphasising in the clumsiest and most offensive way possible that Batman is partially responsible for the Joker’s creation. Because here’s the second part of why this book is such trash: the way Green depicts Batman. 

Batman’s girlfriend for the book, Lorna Shore, who only appears in this book and who’s such a transparent character that she may as well be called Batman’s Character Motivation, gets hurt by the Joker and makes Batman angry. So angry that he throws a giant Frisbee-sized Batarang at Joker which slices open one side of Joker’s face, comes flying around and slices up the other half! First of all, that is so stupid and the visual is even stupider. Second, d’you wanna know how I got these scars? Batman! So on top of Batman capturing Jack’s attention, he literally supplies the character’s most physically defining physical characteristic! 

Green’s out-of-character Batman carries on as later in the story Batman orders a hit on Joker. Yes, Batman orders a hit. He doesn’t kill – but that doesn’t stop him from getting other people to kill for him! And the way Batman treats Alfred is offensive, to both the character and the reader. Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father and his most trusted confidante though you wouldn’t know it from this book. He’s verbally abusive to Alfred, sneering at him, mocking him, treating him like absolute crap – this is another totally uncharacteristic display of behaviour and offensive to readers who cherish Bruce and Alfred’s relationship.

Other bizarre moments include Jack meeting Harley in the first bar he stumbles into when he arrives in Gotham and Harley falling for his charms right off – though it would be years before she got her psychology degree (paid for by Joker!), went to work at Arkham and fell in love with “Mistah J”. And speaking of Arkham, in Green’s story Jonathan Crane built it! The freakin’ Scarecrow! Oh and Joker created the Bat signal. I… I give up. Every single one is an awful choice.

The layouts are ok for the most part but towards the end things get very shoddy. In one panel Joker clearly leaps off of a building backwards to prove that Batman will save him because he doesn’t kill, then in the next few panels the two are having a conversation face to face, and then they’re fighting, and then he’s back to falling – whaaaat!?! And no it’s not a flashback mid-sequence either as it’s the same background, and no Batman’s not holding onto Joker either. It’s such a poorly put together scene in an otherwise ok-drawn book. The art’s not amazing and everyone’s eyes are too far apart but I didn’t hate it, though this sequence was just baffling. 

Lovers and Madmen is the argument against writing a Joker origin story. The best Joker stories happen after whoever this person is becomes Joker, like The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker which does a far superior job of telling the story of Batman and Joker’s first encounter, and part of its brilliance is that Brubaker doesn’t attempt to explain Joker’s origin – the character is fully formed, his mysterious origins intact. Batman doesn’t find out, the reader doesn’t find out, the legend continues. Fair enough, Alan Moore got away with it, but Green ain’t Alan Moore and this book isn’t a tenth of the same quality as The Killing Joke. 

Michael Green’s book is garbage – it takes better ideas from great creators and fudges them, with Green tossing in his own bad ideas to create one hell of a crapfest. He fails in telling a compelling origin story and fails in adding anything of remote value to the Joker character. His dismal attempts at characterising Batman only further serve to underline how little he understands the character or his world. Lovers and Madmen is one of the worst Batman books I’ve ever read and definitely the worst Joker book of the bunch. 

Here are some better Joker books to read instead:

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Mad Love by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke
Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman Lovers And Madmen

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Demeter by Becky Cloonan Review

Demeter is the latest addition to Becky Cloonan’s Ink and Thunder series of black and white digital comics and though this is the third in the series, after 2011’s Wolves and 2012’s The Mire, each is a standalone one-shot so even if you haven’t read the previous two, you can still jump straight into Demeter. 

Set in an indeterminate time in the past (definitely pre-Industrial Revolution), Anna and Colin are young lovers living in a small cottage on the coast. Colin is a fisherman and Anna the housekeeper/farmer of their small land, and the two are very much in love (lotta sex!). But a strange figure haunts Anna in the night, looking in through the windows and watching them as they sleep. Anna holds a dark secret at the heart of her seemingly perfect romance, and their idyllic love is anything but…

Cloonan’s Ink and Thunder comics have this wonderful fairy tale quality to them, set in a fantasy land where werewolves, ghosts, and this time, magic and spirits of nature, exist alongside ridiculously beautiful humans. Maybe it’s because of the doomed romance angle and the fact that magic and the sea are central to the tale that I kept thinking Demeter read like a comic Samuel Taylor Coleridge would’ve created if he were a comic book artist today. It’s got a very lyrical narrative tone alongside the haunting imagery that makes it really attractive to read as well as ambiguous in all the right places to keep the story lovely and mysterious. 

Though the comic is 30 pages, it’s peculiarly complex storytelling structure where Cloonan leaps about at different points in the story and leaves on an ambiguous, open-ended note means that this is a comic you’ll want to flick back and re-read to tease out its puzzling meaning. And, like all of the Ink and Thunder series, Demeter is available only digitally though the price is far cheaper than most digital comics, longer too at 30 pages compared to 22, and of a much higher quality, so it’s excellent value for money. 

Cloonan’s art is absolutely gorgeous, there’s no other description for it. I love her mainstream work on books like Batman, Killjoys, and, most recently, Harley Quinn #0, but her art in her own comics is the best it is and is so good, it’s unreal. Her manga influences are still there in her human characters’ faces, but her layouts and designs are distinctly her own. There are fantastical elements to the comic, and they look amazing, but even domestic scenes are rendered in breath-taking ways. 

Demeter is another triumph for Becky Cloonan and a fine addition to her amazing series. Wonderful art coupled with a haunting tale of love, lost and found, Demeter is a brilliant fantasy/romance/supernatural/Cloonan comic, well worth a read.

Superior Spider-Man, Volume 4: Necessary Evil Review (Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman)

After all the nonsense of the Marvel Events Age of Ultron and Infinity, time rifts have started occurring leading to a 90s character being sent back to our present - that’s right, bitheads, Spider-Man 2099 is back! Meanwhile, Otto must deal with his old flame, Angelina Brancale/Stunner as she emerges from her coma to avenge her beloved Otto’s death against Spider-Man!

What the shock, you say, Spider-Man 2099? Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the character, and the whole time-travel thing is really played out this year. The storyline where Superior Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 battle to save the future is ok but I wasn’t really invested in it. There’s a time-bomb thingy going off in 15 minutes, will Spider-Man save the day? Course he will. I suppose Peter David fans were eating it up, seeing his 2099 character making a comeback, and Dan Slott is obviously a huge fan too, but it’s a lot of the usual time-travel dialogue and future swearing (what the shock, son of a glitch, jammit, etc) and that kinda stuff just bores me.

The other storylines though are brilliant. Horizon Labs gets shut down by the government leading to Otto setting up Parker Industries with his new girlfriend Anna Maria, and Otto gets accused by Lamaze of plagiarising his own work when presenting his PhD! Carlie Cooper and Yuri Watanabe/Wraith are tracking down the source of Superior Spider-Man’s funding, leading them to Otto Octavius and getting closer to the truth, while the Goblin King amasses his growing underground group.

I really liked the scene where Otto’s wracking Peter’s memories and we see classic Spider-Man scenes with Otto in them instead of Peter - Ryan Stegman did a fantastic job of presenting them in a pseudo-Ditko style. Also in that scene, it’s subtle and you could easily miss it but Slott seems to be strongly hinting that somewhere in the recesses of Otto’s mind, Peter’s still alive in there! There’s also a brilliant scene with Black Cat - her first encounter with Superior Spider-Man - which plays out very differently to the classic Spidey/Black Cat encounters of the past in a really funny way.

I don’t know a lot about Angelina Brancale/Stunner, an overweight woman with no powers who uses a super-strong holographic avatar, but it was pretty cold to see the way Otto approached this situation - she was his girlfriend before he got Peter’s body after all. Though this is what I like about Superior, the storylines are unexpected and fresh, and this blend of super-villain prowess with heroics is a potent mix.

I feel that the new (to this series) characters in this book - 2099, Stunner - are pretty low-rent making for a less-than-brilliant fourth volume, though I still enjoyed it a lot as there’s a lot to like besides them. Slott’s writing and plotting is still first class, Stegman and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art both continue to be among the best being published by Marvel, and Superior Spider-Man is still a must-read title, four volumes in. Can’t wait to see the next story arc involving Venom - Superior Venom! It’s gonna be shocking great!

Superior Spider-Man Vol. 4: Neccessary Evil

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Pixies' Doolittle by Ben Sisario Review

Music critic Ben Sisario takes a look at The Pixies’ 1989 record Doolittle, a masterpiece of rock music from one of the most interesting and influential bands of all time. In just 120 pages, Sisario manages to introduce us to the band members, how the band was formed, their influences, how the album was recorded, the subsequent years to follow, their breakup, their legacy, and their reformation, as well as a thorough breakdown of each individual track - it’s pretty impressive for a relatively short book.

If you were wondering whether the songs had complex, deep meanings or Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis aka Frank Black, the lead singer/songwriter of the band) had a message to put out with his music - they don’t and he doesn’t. In fact when Sisario meets up with Thompson for a three day interview in Thompson’s home in Oregon, very little is revealed about the album by Thompson (besides the fact that he doesn’t own a copy of it!) leaving Sisario to deconstruct and explain the tracks as he sees them. This isn’t actually a bad way of doing it given Sisario’s loquaciousness and amount of time he’s spent thinking about Doolittle, so that even if the band members themselves have little to contribute because they don’t or they want to maintain the album’s puzzling mystery, you at least get an interpretation of the album that’s worth reading.

So why doesn’t Thompson or anyone have anything to say about the record? Thompson was very into surrealism and this quote from David Byrne pretty much sums up his ethos: “Stop making sense and have rhythm. Or have groove. Or rhyme. Or use some interesting imagery. Or be very convoluted about what you’re trying to say, for the purpose of making it interesting for all of us.” Thompson was in his early twenties with little life experience - what was he going to write about, dropping out of college, whining about some girl he broke up with? No, he chose to write about biblical imagery and fantastic nightmares - none of it meant anything (or did it?) but it was better than the alternative. And music wise, he and the band just put together what they thought sounded interesting which worked really well.

There’s actually very little of interest in the recording of the album with the band going in having rehearsed the songs and knocking it out quickly. Their producer Gil Norton elongated some of the songs and Monkey Gone To Heaven was a conscious stab at commercial success (which was moderately achieved) but otherwise it’s a remarkably bland episode for such a mercurial record.

If the recording sounds boring, I was surprised at how even more boring the rest of the band were like in person. Joey Santiago comes across as a pleasant but very dull man with a limited vocabulary (“thingie” is a frequent word used) while Dave Lovering, having given up music, turns out to be doing magic these days! Kim Deal was the only member who refused to talk to Sisario though her rocky relationship with Thompson is discussed.

On its own, the recording of Doolittle is very uninteresting, even to fans, but the Thompson interviews are entertaining and funny at times. Sisario’s illuminating interpretations of the songs are the highlight of the book, giving the reader the layers that Thompson, whether knowingly or not, gave to the album with his lyrics. You have to be a big fan of the Pixies (like me) to enjoy this book and I did find it an interesting read of an album I listened to over and over when in high school. I listened to it again right after reading this and it still sounded awesome, and I understood Thompson’s approach to the album - write some cool lyrics, put it to the right chords, and, meaning or not, you’ve got music that’ll live forever. Thompson truly achieved his surrealistic vision of art and Doolittle is a true rock masterpiece - if you love the album, this book is definitely worth a read. 

The "Pixies" "Doolittle" (33 1/3)

The Incredible Hulk, Volume 2 Review (Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon)

One of the big discoveries I made about reading Jason Aaron’s Marvel stuff is realising how funny he is. It’s not immediately apparent when you read his debut, The Other Side, which deals with the Vietnam War and its aftermath, or the equally serious - but no less brilliant - Vertigo series, Scalped, because both titles are dramas and Aaron gives them their due.

But when Aaron made the transfer over to mainstream comics with his Marvel work, it immediately became apparent this dude could write funny stories for some of Marvel’s biggest and brightest stars, and write them really well. Readers of his Wolverine and the X-Men series can attest to this and if you’re looking for more whacky Aaron, look no further than Incredible Hulk, Volume 2.

Reading Volume 2 of Aaron’s short-lived Hulk run was a really pleasant surprise because Volume 1 was played so deadpan and dull that it was exactly that to read. I don’t know if this was always the plan but it’s like Aaron said “fuck it” and just went nuts in this book, throwing in every crazy bit of imaginative awesomeness onto the page. And I’m so glad he did because this book was so much fun to read!

So in the first volume Hulk somehow separates himself from Banner which led to the question, who is Banner without Hulk? Well, a crazy mad scientist it turns out, and, after the events of that first volume, Hulk and Banner are fused together once again after Hulk tries to kill Banner by holding him in front of a gamma bomb explosion.

This book puts Hulk through the wringer. Almost as if he’s apologising to Hulk for this, Aaron gives Hulk a holiday in the prologue: Hulk swims with whales, has a relaxing spa day in a volcano, eats some fresh reindeer, rides a triceratops, and drinks a lot of beer. To top it off he has two hours of intense sex with Betty Ross/Red She-Hulk - so intense, they fall asleep on a pile of burning wreckage in the middle of a destroyed street!

Now Banner has a plan and he’s going to manipulate Hulk into achieving it: finding a cure for the Hulk. We never see Banner in each of the following issues until the final act of the book, with each issue told from Hulk’s perspective where he “wakes up” without realising what’s happened and each time discovers he’s in danger. This is a genius move because it maintains the mystery, puts us straight into the thick of the drama without the boring pseudo-science stuff and it’s also an amazing cat and mouse game, like Jack and Tyler in Fight Club, where the antagonist and protagonist are in the same body!

Remember me telling you Jason Aaron can write comedy? These issues are where he had me genuinely laughing out loud as I read this. Who else but Steve Motherfucking Dillon could Aaron get to draw the Punisher issue? Hulk and Frank are down in Juarez taking on a team of drug-trafficking man-dogs - the name literally evoking the person. I can’t tell you how funny the visual is but it had me cracking up, especially the poodles in the backseat. And the way Hulk maintains Hulk instead of turning back into Banner is to remain really angry so he asks Frank to shoot him in the face, which of course Frank unquestioningly does, and the visual Dillon gives of Hulk with a face full of bullets is too much, it’s too perfect!

There’s no way I’m going to be able to describe every scene I loved in this book without making this review even longer than it is so here are the broad strokes: Atlantean hillbillies drinking Atlantean moonshine; cyborg Cold War bears in space; the secret land of the Sasquatches; and a fight in Hulk/Banner’s mind between a mental assassin called the Vegetable who Banner fights using Hulk hands (the kind you can buy in real life!). It’s all gold. It’s so entertaining, clever, and funny, and there’s no way the reader can predict the story’s trajectory, that it all adds up to enormously fun comics from a master.

I wasn’t crazy about all that Dr Doom stuff, or the fight between Hulk, Thing and Wolverine, which is just your usual Marvel bullshit to get covers and whatnot, plus the whole stated aim of getting rid of Hulk and Banner - well, we all knew that would never happen, right? As if Marvel would get rid of one of their most iconic and popular characters! These were the only predictable moments in the story.

Otherwise, this might be the best Hulk comic I’ve ever read. Aaron is on fire in nearly every chapter in this book, bringing you the best of what you love about Hulk - the action, the lunacy, the unpredictability - with the best of what you love about the Marvel Universe - the fantastic, colourful, barmy and amazing things that can happen within it. The writing and plotting is top notch and Aaron is joined by a roster of terrific comics talent - Jefte Palo, Tom Raney, and Carlos Pacheco to name a few. Honestly, there are far, far too many scenes in this book that I loved and haven’t mentioned that you should discover for yourselves. This is how every Hulk book should be!

Check it out guys, this one is hilarious, creative, and highly enjoyable - Jason Aaron writes his funniest and most entertaining Marvel book yet.

Incredible Hulk by Jason Aaron - Volume 2

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Nova, Volume 1: Origin Review (Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness)

I never thought I’d say this, but:
I really enjoyed this comic written by Jeph Loeb.
Sam Alexander is a high school kid in a dead-end American Mid-West town called Carefree. His drunk dad is the janitor of his school and is often so wasted Sam has to stay behind after the school day is done and do his dad’s job for him before helping to walk him home to pass out in his shed.  But in his more conscious moments, Sam’s father tells him and his little sister fantastic cosmic stories of a time when he was part of an intergalactic superhero group called the Nova Corps, stories Sam believes are just drunken delusions or stories for little kids. Then one day his dad disappears and a talking raccoon with a gun and a green lady with a sword show up. Sam’s about to realise his dad wasn’t telling stories, the Nova Corps are real, and he’s about to become the latest – and greatest – of all the Novas! The fight for the universe and the search for his dad begins!

There isn’t much to say about Nova because it’s not a layered story, it’s not overly complex, it’s straightforward and simply a cool story. That said, stories that are just cool aren’t necessarily bad and Nova works just fine for what it is, which is a pretty straightforward superhero origin story.
It’s the setup though that really gets me – the dad telling stories of his past life as an intergalactic superhero, a time now long past leaving him with all the memories of the wider world out there and the disappointment that he’d never see it again. That’s a great angle, then factor in his son, the protagonist, and his journey of discovery, and it’s a really sweet, surprisingly really well put-together story.
I should say that I’ve never read a Nova book before – I have no idea who Nova is, who the Nova Corps are, so my reaction to this book is purely visceral, it’s not at all based on comparisons to what’s gone before, though I understand some long-time readers of the series dislike the direction Loeb’s taken it. From my standpoint as a reader completely new to the character, I found it fresh and enjoyable with Sam reacting like a teenager would to the crazy new things happening in comparison to his previously dull, go-nowhere life.
Which isn’t to say it’s not without its flaws – I’m still not entirely sure why Sam’s dad gave up being a Nova, especially as it was killing him not to be one. Was his wife that much of a bitch that she’d rather see her husband destroy himself than be a hero? Or maybe it was because he wanted to be with his kids or something, right? Or the Nova Corps went bad…? I never quite got this point in the story. And I’m not really sure what Nova’s powers are. At first he’s like a cosmic Rocketeer and then he can shoot beams from his hands like Iron Man’s repulsor blasts? And it’s all the helmet, right? Uh…ok.
I really liked the cameos from Rocket Raccoon and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Uatu the Watcher too (though Ed McGuinness makes him look a bit too Grey Alien-y around the eyes), as they introduce Sam to this strange new world he finds himself in. They’re fun, familiar characters and the trigger-happy, salty Rocket has some great moments with Sam as his new instructor.
The book’s appearance looks very cinematic, not least because it features the Chitauri and their giant whale ships from The Avengers movie . Ed McGuinness’s art is as polished and sleek as you’d expect and is wonderfully suited to the sparkling beauty of the cosmos where most of the book is set. McGuinness’ art on Earth isn’t bad but where he really shines is when the action takes off into outer space as Nova battles his dad’s old “buddies” and strafes enemy ships.

Nova is a really solid book, with some fun storytelling, wonderful art, and a likeable protagonist. I honestly picked this up thinking I’d be putting it back down after the first issue or two but read it straight through and kept turning back to the cover to see the writer’s credit: Jeph Loeb. Well, I’ll be! This is gonna sound weird but… good job, Mr Loeb? (goes out to see if the world has ended)

Nova - Volume 1: Origin

Sex Criminals #3 Review (Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky)

Read my review of Sex Criminals #3 here:

Harley Quinn #0 Review (Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti)

Read my review of Harley Quinn #0 here:

Superior Spider-Man Annual #1 Review (Christos Gage, Javier Rodriguez)

Read my review of Superior Spider-Man Annual #1 here:

Valiant 8-Bit Adventure: Unity Review (Ben McCool, Donovan Santiago, ChrisCross)

Read my review of Valiant 8-Bit Adventure: Unity here:

A Voice in the Dark #1 Review (Larime Taylor)

Batman '66 #5 Review (Jeff Parker, Colleen Coover)

Read my review of Batman '66 #5 here:

Best Comics of the Week! (20 November)

I review the best comics of the week here:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Death Note, Volume 1: Boredom Review (Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata)

Death Note is trashy good fun. That’s basically all you need to know going in. The writing and plotting is borderline retarded though the concept is completely enthralling so while I couldn’t put the book down, I was constantly aware of how dumb things played out or were set up – and I loved it, this book is hilarious! Tsugumi Ohba is definitely an ideas man though - as a writer he’s mediocre at best, kind of like a manga Dan Brown. 

But I’m jumping ahead of the gloriously high concept plot! Light Yagami, Japan’s top high school student happens to notice a black notebook in the schoolyard. Despite a notebook of any colour in a school setting not really being special, he picks it up and takes it home with him. He discovers that this is a Death Note – a magical notebook for demons, or shinigami as they’re referred to here, and finds out all about its properties from its owner, Ryuk, a death god. 

Once Light finds out that any name he writes in the notebook – while visualising the victim’s face – will kill that person by heart attack in 40 seconds unless he specifies the type of death, he decides to create a utopia, free of criminals who deserve to die. But after a number of criminals die of heart attacks one after another, the United Nations decide to bring in L, the world’s greatest detective, to track down the killer. 

I honestly don’t know where to start with this nonsense – and it is nonsense but enjoyable as hell – but I think I’ll start with the most glaringly obvious detail that I couldn’t get past in my head: why there is any conflict in this book at all. Think about it: you have a nondescript notebook in your room, you write a name down in it, that person dies. This is easily the most fool-proof murder weapon of all time. Writing a name in a book. Putting the book away. Going on with your life. You would never be caught. Never! And yet Light manages to somehow show up on the radar of police who suspect him of murdering these criminals! He is the dumbest, dumbest, dumbest character I’ve come across in a long while. And then for no reason he starts ranting about creating a utopia and ruling over it?! It makes no sense! It’s funny but it comes completely out of left field. To be fair, L does some detective work (he’s the world’s greatest detective) to figure out it’s Light, or someone who lives in Light’s area, but it’s mostly guesswork on his part to get to that conclusion that that too is ridonkulous. 

Then there’s the Death Note itself and its gazillion rules. First we find out about how you need to visualise the person whose name you’re writing down – which makes sense as every name is replicated at least once and you wouldn’t want to kill every John Smith or Sarah Jones – but then there are more and more rules shoved in about how if you touch the Death Note you can see the shinigami (Ryuk the death god is a constant companion of Light’s which provides a great visual of this S&M Sharon Osborne lookalike with no eyelids floating around behind Light, unseen by all). Every chapter introduces a new rule, not elegantly woven into the story but explicitly stated at the start of the chapter like a rulebook and then bluntly stated by Ryuk again and again throughout the chapter. And why is there an arbitrary 40 seconds from writing the name down before the death? Is there some magical timer in the notebook? 

This brings me to Tsugumi Ohba’s writing which is good enough to keep me reading the story but bad enough to find it laughable too. When Light wants to try out the Death Note, he encounters a biker dude hassling some girl but he needs the biker’s name to kill him (because that’s an appropriate punishment for hitting on a girl). The biker then states his name and one of his buddies literally says “that’s his real name too!” so Light is able to kill him – well, that’s convenient! There’s also supposedly a moral question being posed in this book about Light killing killers and whether this makes him a bad guy or not. First off, Light is a dimwit – I know he’s Japan’s greatest high school student but he shouldn’t be getting suspected by the police of these random killings (I still can’t get past this – a dozen criminals die of heart attacks and they’re able to trace it back to a high school student who wasn’t anywhere near them when they died!!!). Second, having him talk about ruling the world or anything along those lines skews the readers’ perceptions in one direction only. Third, I don’t like him anyway. But this moral question is so stupidly handled that it’s not even worth discussing seriously, I mean, the guy’s name is Light and he does dark things – that’s the level we’re talking about! 

Light’s adversary isn’t Dark (though it wouldn’t surprise me if that turned out to be the character’s real name) but simply L. This guy is the world’s greatest detective who’s brought in by NATO (or the United Nations, it’s some international organisation made up of representatives from the richest countries in the world) to catch the killer (or Kira – bless the Japanese, can’t pronounce their “L”s). So his identity is a secret, which doesn’t bother the top governments of the world nor are they able to find out who he is for some reason, he never leaves his bare room which only contains top Apple products from 2003, and he operates with possibly the most evil-looking gumshoe who’s his physical presence in the world. I get that other world’s greatest detectives are improbable, but Sherlock Holmes’ identity was known to Scotland Yard when they approached him – L could be Kira for all they know! – and Batman operates without the consent of anyone unlike L who is hired by world governments. This entire character is totally bizarre – and what a coincidence that his real name isn’t known, preventing Light from killing him! 

All of this might seem like I dislike this book but I really don’t – I thought it was a hoot! - I just had to talk about the insanity that makes up this book. It’s not on the level of sophisticated adult comics but it can definitely be enjoyed by adult readers, as I did. It’s like watching Con Air and enjoying it for what it is, even though it’s absolute nonsense through and through (why was Dave Chappelle on that plane in the first place?!). Death Note is the Con Air of comics – big and dumb but great fun.

Death Note: Volume 1

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Palookaville #21 by Seth Review

It’s always a delight to see a new issue of Seth’s Palookaville published, especially as its publication is often sporadic with issues spread out over many years (Palookaville #20 came out in 2010!). It’s also a tribute to how far Seth has come as a cartoonist that his series that started out like so many indie comics as a pamphlet, is now published as a hardback by a major publisher! Palookaville has been going for over 20 years now, with the saga of Abe and Simon Matchcard being central to the comic, albeit their story plays out at a fiendishly slow pace as their family business, Clyde Fans, winds down while the brothers become old men. I adore Seth’s work, with books like It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and Wimbledon Green being among my favourites, but I’ve always found Clyde Fans to be among his least interesting comics - and unfortunately this latest episode doesn’t get any better. 

Simon’s dementia continues to deteriorate, sitting alone in his room with his memories and imaginary people, while Abe briefly gets into a squabble with his ex over the house and continues his melancholic soliloquising as he wanders from room to room repeating employee surveys from years ago. Clyde Fans remains stubbornly resistant to traditional narrative, content to wallow in its own depressing nostalgia than bother with things like plot or story – this comic doesn’t even seem to be about the characters anymore, it appears to be about the buildings and its histories! It’s as exciting as it sounds, though I think that maintaining the same tone and look of the comic for so many years is pretty amazing – though, to be fair, nostalgia and misery seem to be Seth’s comics default setting!

Seth prints some of his daily diary strips in the second section of the book. A daily diary strip is quite demanding on top of his illustration work so he ingeniously had a dozen or so rubber stamps made up of panels he could use every day, eg. him sitting in his studio, going for a walk, a view of his house, then he adds some captions and he’s got his diary strip! This might sound repetitive but he includes a blank stamp to draw in a new picture, which he tends to use quite a bit for variety. These strips don’t really talk about his day-to-day personal life very much but instead focuses on his inner life, portraying a particular thought or moment in his day, like going for a walk in the spring and noticing the plants, or thinking about how much he enjoys the outdoors when he’s outside and then realising he much prefers the indoors, and so on. These are very quiet, meditative cartoons that PasteMagazine brilliantly observes “Seth’s so old school, his blog is a hardback book!”, though they are almost instantly forgettable. 

The third and final section of the book is an autobiographical comic about his childhood. It covers his family’s numerous house moves, his parents’ turbulent and unhappy marriage, his awkwardness fitting in at school, discovering comics and learning to draw – in short, nothing particularly memorable. In the author’s own words, he had an unremarkable childhood – well, lucky us, getting to read about it! I did find the section on his mother interesting though, as he talks about his lack of affection from her bothering him his whole life and then slowly discovering his mother’s multiple mental problems, like being committed to a psychiatric hospital prior to becoming a mother and receiving electroshock treatment for depression, and then being put on a highly regimented series of drugs for the rest of her life. That he discovered this incrementally over years says a lot about their distant, uncommunicative relationship, and I found this episode both sad and moving.

Seth is a tremendous cartoonist whose art style is truly unique and eye-catching and that’s certainly the case once again with Palookaville #21. The book is as good looking as the best of his work, but unlike books like Wimbledon Green or It’s a Good Life, Palookaville #21 features quite plain stories that are mostly dull to read. The book has its moments, the art is beautiful, and Seth knows how to tell a story sequentially like a true master – I just wish his stories in this book were a bit more interesting!

Palookaville #21