Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Coffin Hill, Volume 1: Forest of the Night Review (Caitlin Kittredge, Inaki Miranda)

Have you heard of Coffin Hill? No, me either, which is why I’m rewriting my first review which detailed the numerous problems that made the first volume such a failure – this title is on nobody’s radar (for good reason), it’s not a landmark book, nor will it be in hindsight, nor is it even a slightly important one, so it doesn’t deserve that level of scrutiny. No, this pathetic comic will be reviewed in broad strokes and then forgotten like it should be. 

Coffin Hill is the comic book version of a cruddy CW show. It stars a personality vacuum amongst a cast of one-dimensional nobodies in a plot that doesn’t make sense. It’s a supernatural story and is filled with clichés you’ve seen it before in a hundred cheap horror movies. Eve Coffin is a witch, there’s an evil spirit on the loose, and it’s up to her to stop it – somehow, it manages to be even more boring than you’d expect yet more confusing too. 

Caitlin Kittredge simply doesn’t understand how to write a comic – her scene transitions are awkward and don’t make sense when read in a sequence, her dialogue is corny, and the scenes themselves feel recycled and unoriginal. The story pointlessly jumps from 2003 to 2013 with few of the scenes in 2003 adding to what’s happening in 2013. In a good book, each scene should add to the story rather than stagnate uselessly, which is what most of this book does. 

All of the “characters” are forgettable nothings but the ending really underlines just how poorly Kittredge has written them. She hinges the “cliffhanger/shock twist” ending on a character who I’m not sure was even in the book – either way, rather than gasp, I belched and wondered “Who the hell is that? Why should I care?”. And I was paying attention – I read it in one sitting because I knew if I stopped once, I wouldn’t pick it up again. Anyway it doesn’t really matter because I’m never going to read another Caitlin Kittredge book again, let alone Volume 2 of this tripe. 

The Dave Johnson covers make the book look good but don’t expect that level of artistry inside – Inaki Miranda’s art is mostly uninspired, clunky and amateurish. I feel like he’s going for Mike Allred’s style but coming up way short. 

Coffin Hill is a boring, badly written mess that fails to engage on every level and leaves zero impression on the reader. I’d say don’t bother but I can’t imagine there were many people lining up to read this anyway. So long, Coffin Hill/Caitlin Kittredge/Inaki Miranda – you were all awful!


This is an aside rather than part of the review, it’s just something I’ve noticed in recent years about Vertigo. 

I had a lot of time for Vertigo. This is a company that put out such quality comics that for a while a few years ago, Vertigo comics were the only comics I read. Of my favourites they’ve published are: The Sandman, Transmetropolitan, Y: The Last Man, Northlanders, and my favourite comics series of all time, Scalped. Other titles I’ve enjoyed include The Invisibles, Sweet Tooth and iZombie as well as the standalone graphic novels A History of Violence, Pride of Baghdad, The Nobody, Sloth, and Get Jiro! 

With Coffin Hill, I’ve realised that over the years I went from reading only Vertigo comics to reading just one – Scott Snyder’s The Wake (which is only ok if I’m being honest). They’re still publishing titles: The Unwritten, Fables, American Vampire, Astro City, FBP, Hinterkind and Dead Boy Detectives, but, in my mind, they’re all pretty terrible. I’ve tried reading all of them – some I’ve made it all the way through a book – but none are of the same standard as the glory years of titles above. 

And then I realised I’m reading a lot of Image comics these days – Velvet, Chew, The Walking Dead, Jupiter’s Legacy, Starlight, Sex Criminals, Rat Queens, Luther Strode – and realised that, back in the day, these would have been Vertigo titles. Now? All the would-be Vertigo titles have shifted to Image, helping make them the third largest comics publisher in the world, right behind DC in second. 

It’s disappointing to see but Vertigo – once the market leaders for innovative, exciting comics – now publish the also-rans. It seems the rot of bad comics at DC has spread, like a cancer, to its sister publication. I’ll recommend a lot of Vertigo stuff from the 90s and 00s but nowadays? Nowadays you get crap like Coffin Hill and Hinterkind (which is another review), while Jason Aaron’s new non-superhero series, Southern Bastards, is being published over at Image rather than the publisher of his Scalped series. 

Goodbye, Vertigo - you were great once!

Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of The Night

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: A Compelling But Stupid Novel About Stupid And Crazy People Doing Stupid And Crazy Things

Nick and Amy Dunne seemingly have a great marriage. Two young people in love with another - what else is there? But then on their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing, and, as the investigation into their lives begins, it turns out their marriage was a long way from perfect, and Nick is suspected of foul play. But what really happened - is Amy dead and Nick a killer… or is something else happening here? 

Are you curious about reading Gone Girl? Don’t read any further. In fact, don’t read any reviews of Gone Girl if you’re planning on reading it - read the synopsis and then back off, because the less you know about this book going in, the more you will get out of it. Preferably go in completely cold and let Gillian Flynn’s tricks and surprises work to their full effect on you because they are effective if you don’t know they’re coming. 

So unless you’ve already read this or have no interest in reading it, or maybe you’re part of that rare breed of reader who doesn’t mind spoilers (bless you), carry on. 

Ok, spoilers ahead everyone, because I can’t talk about this book without giving away big reveals. 

Let’s address the biggest issue with this book: the characters. Because while it’s a heavily plot-driven story, the characters are the plot in a weird way, so talking about Gone Girl is a bit of an anomaly. Normally I’d say that it doesn’t matter whether a character is likeable or unlikeable but only realism matters - did the characters seem real to you? – which determines the quality of the writing, but because of the first person narrative and alternating voices of Nick and Amy, we get the plot from the characters so the two are intricately tied together like symbiotes. If the characters behaved realistically - which they don’t - Gone Girl’s plot wouldn’t work. Hell, the book wouldn’t even exist! But they remain poorly written, contrived husks to carry the story rather than actual characters.

While there are no dragons or orcs, this book is pure fantasy. We’re supposed to believe that a woman like Amy exists or could exist? Someone whose entire life was a performance and that she fooled literally everyone - her husband, her doting parents for gods’ sake! - besides a couple of people she revealed her true nature to? No, I’m not buying it. Nobody could live like she did, wearing masks and toying with people forever, without someone figuring out she was a sociopath and/or faking it; the two people who do only find it out because Amy tells them. It’s so stupid! 

And even though she’s set up as this criminal mastermind genius who literally gets away with murder, we’re supposed to believe she fooled everyone? Not just small town cops but federal agents and detectives? And that the ridiculously elaborate treasure hunt that implicated her husband as her “killer” with evidence that was so damning, could be waived away so easily and everyone just walk away believing her bizarre explanations? If the evidence itself could have potentially sent Nick to prison - even without Amy’s dead body - then there’s no way she could just wave her hands and make everyone believe otherwise. How is everyone taken in by this woman - is everyone blind and stupid? 

Nick is no better even though he’s innocent of murder. He’s deliberately coy with the reader, which is fine, but why is he this way with the police who believe he murdered his wife before dumping her body in the Mississippi river? Because he didn’t want them to know he’d been having an affair with a younger woman! Yeah, that’s much worse than MURDERING YOUR WIFE, YOU TOTAL IDIOT! But it needs to be this way to sustain the rather mundane first half of the book - if Nick came right out with his secret, there’d be no suspense driving the book to the big halfway reveal. This is why it’s problematic to make the characters the plot. Contrived much? 

And why would he hire Tanner Bolt, the Johnny Cochrane-esque lawyer in this world? He was innocent, he knew he was innocent, there was no body, and he had an alibi. Plus, seeing how easily Amy managed to convince police differently about the evidence, it probably wouldn’t have held up at trial. Hiring Bolt just made him look super guilty AND Bolt did nothing. Think about what happened from when he was hired to the end of the book - did he do anything? He talked for Nick to the police, telling them that he (Nick) believed his psycho wife was framing him (which she was), but any lawyer could’ve read lines. He’s “Tanner Bolt - the guy who swoops in and saves the guilty” and he did nothing at all for Nick. Bolt is a pointless character for a supremely dumb - but written so very deliberately by Flynn – “character”. 

But let’s give Flynn some credit - it is a compelling story and I did read all 463 pages of it. It keeps you guessing and, while you can feel that the first part of the book is building towards a big reveal, you don’t know what that is until you read the first page of part two. I never anticipated that and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with that twist, so it’s original in that regard, and the many twists and turns the story took were unexpected and did keep me reading. 

However it’s definitely overlong by at least a third partly because, despite the reveal at the beginning of the second part, precious little happens in the second part and a lot of that stuff in the Ozarks could’ve been cut. Nick does next to nothing either besides hire Tanner Bolt who turned out to be a waste of time anyway. 

And I did like the ending, which seems to be something a lot of people are mentioning as bad and/or unsatisfactory. No - it was different and it was more memorable and effective than a predictable “bad guy loses/is punished” ending. Flynn challenged the reader with her ending to make them think about what it meant and did the unexpected - good stuff. 

That said, I’ve still got to get back to the “I can’t believe she got away with it!!!” angle. I just never bought the whole “Nick wanted to be a dad really bad” angle and the whole book becomes dependent on it. Gah… And think about how insane the whole setup was for someone as crazy as Amy to have gotten away with it: she wanted to punish Nick for cheating on her, so bad, that she was willing to have the state execute him and then kill herself! That’s taking the “woman scorned” saying to the Nth degree! 

And the motivation just baffles me. She wanted to make Nick so docile so they could continue a loveless and farcical marriage – and then introduce the responsibility of another life to look after? Whaaat?! This is another reason why I don’t buy Amy as a real character – who the hell would want that? I know Amy comes across as a sociopath (and she probably is) but I don’t want to write it all off as mental illness, that’d be too easy. I mean, she’s proven that she’ll go the distance for the most petty of things so maybe having a kid and using that kid as a weapon against Nick FOR HAVING AN AFFAIR is like her “character”, but is that something a sociopath would do? Are they that determined? Or maybe it is that easy – she is just a sociopath? I’m not psychologist so I can’t say whether this is symptomatic of sociopathic behaviour but it seems like a really long way to go. 

So it’s not a perfect novel. Flynn’s writing isn’t particularly incredible but it’s also not shoddy - it does what it needs to, much like the novel itself, which is a bumpy ride but I did for the most part enjoy the journey, though as you can see I had some reservations after finishing it that I had to vent! I wish it was shorter but I’m glad I read it. Flynn tells an original, though often unbelievable, story that didn’t grip me the whole way but gave me enough to keep me going until the final page. 

Because of the many problems with the book, I don’t want to give it four stars but it’s not a three star read either - 3.5 stars. But be prepared to suspend your disbelief far more than you’d have to compared to reading, say, George R R Martin - and his books are pure fantasy!

Gone Girl

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Walking Dead, Volume 5: The Best Defense Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

The Walking Dead continues to be an exercise in how much darkness the audience can endure with Robert Kirkman getting increasingly darker with each succeeding volume. 

Besides the very graphic nature of the series already featuring an ample number of decaying zombie corpses feasting on human flesh before being shot/hacked at in the head, we’ve had execution-style murders, multiple suicide attempts, amputation and decapitation, child murder, and now: repeated gang rape! … Where will Kirkman go next? Well, there’s a relatively unscathed pregnant woman in the cast – given Kirkman’s penchant for sadism, particularly toward women, I’ve got a bad feeling about what’ll happen to both mother and baby! 

Anyway, in this volume, the gang continue to clear out the prison when Glenn and Rick see a helicopter go down. They set off with Michonne to look for survivors and possible news on the outside world but discover they’re too late and another group has taken them away – but who and why? The trio soon discover a nearby fortified town of survivors and meet their leader, the cruel ‘n’ crazy Governor. 

I’m glad the series finally has a plot and a villain because the soap-opera nature of the survivors’ stories in the increasingly boring prison was getting really old fast. That the group now have enemies in the better-armed redneck survivalists is only a good thing and has definitely given the series a shot in the arm. 

And while the series has been grim as hell so far, the Governor single-handedly takes the series down to even darker territory. Ruling over his small town of hillbilly morons by providing them entertainment in the form of gladiatorial fights between “normal” people with chained zombies on the fringes of the arena, and with dozens of decapitated heads in boxes in his house in lieu of a TV, Rick and co. have stumbled into a nightmare where they find out what it would be like if Jeffrey Dahmer were leader of a town. 

Despite more gruesome amputations/decapitations and the aforementioned horror of one of the characters being gang-raped, Kirkman’s crafted a morbidly fascinating volume that raises the stakes of the series and gives the group’s story an edge it didn’t have before. Will Rick and co. make it back to their loved ones or will they perish at the brutal hands of the Governor? I don’t know but I’m definitely going to read the next volume to find out – I guess slowly introducing progressively darker elements does inure audiences to the terrible places you take them.

The Walking Dead Volume 5: The Best Defense

Monday, 28 April 2014

Action Philosophers: Ayn Rand Review (Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey)

While I rate this comic highly, don’t think that it’s because I hold Ayn Rand or her objectivist philosophy in the same regard – instead it’s a reflection of the talented creative team, Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, and their quality work on this issue. 

Born Alisa Rosenbaum, she left Soviet Russia after her father’s business was seized by the communist state and left her family without a means of support – a grievance she would nurse for years before developing her ideas of individual accomplishment rewarding the individual into her extremely pro-capitalist philosophy of objectivism. 

She wanted to become a screenwriter in Hollywood but found success with novels, writing under the pen name Ayn Rand so that her family back in Russia wouldn’t be associated with her anti-Stalinist work and face reprisals from the state. 

Van Lente succinctly summarises Rand’s life and philosophical outlook with amusing and thoughtful illustrations from Dunlavey. He ends the issue by choosing to focus on Rand’s affair with her protégé, Nathaniel Branden, which ended after Branden began sleeping with a younger woman and which Rand took very badly – at odds with her “emotion is for the weak-minded” inhuman brand of thinking, which also showed the failings and hypocrisy she had of successfully applying objectivism to her own life (Van Lente is not openly critical of objectivism in this comic, instead presenting the facts and allowing the reader to make up their own mind). 

This comic is definitely worth reading if you’re looking for a brief but informative and enjoyable look Ayn Rand’s life and philosophy, and it’s got the added benefit of learning about Ayn Rand without having to read anything by her!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Savage Wolverine, Volume 2: Hands on a Dead Body Review (Zeb Wells, Joe Madureira)

Two volumes in and I’m still not sure what “Savage” Wolverine is supposed to be - how does this series distinguish itself from other Wolverine titles? I initially thought it was because in volume one Wolverine was in the Savage Land, so the series would be a weird dinosaur themed Wolverine book, but in volume two he’s left the Savage Land behind and is onto other stuff. So is it because he behaves more “savagely” in this title? Nope, no more so than in other Wolverine comics. So… it’s basically just another Wolverine book with “savage” in the title. 

The second volume features two three-issue arcs. Zeb Wells writes the first one with art from Joe Madureira: Kingpin’s rule of The Hand, a ninja organisation, is brought into question so a tangled plan that draws in Elektra and Wolverine is set into play to re-assert Kingpin’s dominance. The second arc is written and drawn by Jock who takes Wolverine into space and throws him onto a hostile alien planet to protect a kid who also has metal claws. 

Neither arc are particularly well written. Wells’ is overly complex and could easily have been written without Wolverine - it’s essentially an Elektra storyline. Kingpin, the Hand, Elektra and the corpse of Bulllseye, all of that stuff works fine together - throwing in Wolverine is pointless and felt unnecessary. That said, convoluted plots, arbitrary twists and weird cameos do make a very engrossing read. 

Jock’s arc is a bit more straightforward in that there aren’t that many twists and turns but it’s still a really odd story. For no reason Wolverine’s in space, hurtling towards an alien planet - how, why? - and he’s given a kid to look after who has similar powers to Wolverine: metal claws/skeleton. 

Maybe Jock was influenced by Rick Remender’s Captain America series where Cap’s sent to an alien planet and forced to look after a kid and this is the Wolverine version of that? Except what happens when that kid grows up to his adult size - does his metal skeleton grow with him? No, because it’s metal! So he’d be an adult with a metal kid’s skeleton? He’d probably just die, actually. Not really well thought out, Jock. 

While the writing is pretty poor, the art is fantastic. Savage Wolverine, for all its confusion from concept to stories, remains a great looking series. Frank Cho, Joe Madureira, and Jock - that’s a helluva trio of artists! Madureira’s art for the spooky Arbiters is stunning as are his renderings of Elektra in action, Kingpin, and Wolverine when he gets riled up - really energetic and exciting imagery. Jock too does tremendous work. I get the feeling with his story that his desire to draw alien landscapes/creatures came first and then he built a story around his drawings - the story might not be all there but the art sure is. 

Savage Wolverine remains a very weak series with forgettable and badly written Wolverine stories but if you’re a fan of the artists involved, you’ll get something out of the books.

Savage Wolverine - Volume 2: Hands on a Dead Body (Marvel Now)

Maria M. Book One by Gilbert Hernandez Review

Set in 1950s America, Maria arrives from Latin America to seek her fortune with her “milky, silky smooth” skin and enormous bust, leading to a series of exploitational gigs like posing for nude pictures, starring in pornos, and stripping. Eventually she becomes the gun-loving wife of a prominent gangster whose son Gorgo falls for her and, using his skill at fighting and killing, makes sure nobody ever exploits her again - but what will happen between Maria and Gorgo? 

At this point in his 30+ years in comics, Gilbert Hernandez simply can’t create a bad comic. His latest books like Julio’s Day and the new Love and Rockets strips with his brother Jaime are all superb examples of the comics medium. Maria M. Book One is also a compelling comic that flies by, but I wasn’t as enamoured with the story as I was with his previous books. Gangster moll, gangland shenanigans - it’s been done before, not by Hernandez but elsewhere in pop culture, so while I enjoyed his rendering of the story, I don’t feel that it’s the best example of his recent, highly original work. 

The pacing though is perfect. Hernandez knows exactly the right amount of space to give a scene before moving on to the next one so there’s never a wasted panel. Because of this he’s able to put so much into the book without it ever seeming that he’s rushing or not doing justice to a particular moment - it’s all measured out so well. 

It is very sexploitational with Maria M. being a ridiculously proportioned male fantasy - watermelon-sized boobs, tiny waist, always parading around in bikinis or low cut tops - but the format of the story is supposedly a sleazy pulp rendering of Maria’s life so it’s meant to be this way for the targeted male audience (not to mention the pandering graphic hyper-violence for that stereotypical male double whammy of sex and murder). That said, I’m sure female readers will be rolling their eyes a lot during this one! 

I’ve read a lot of Hernandez brothers comics but almost nothing of their most famous work, Love and Rockets. Maria M. is apparently a spin-off of a story from those earlier comics but even if you’re unfamiliar with the series, this book can still be enjoyed on its own. And I think it’s fantastic that Hernandez’s work is syncing up so that there’s a link between his decades of comics.

Big-boobed women feature quite a bit in Hernandez’s books so it was surprising to see Maria’s “filmography” included a lot of books I’ve previously read - I thought Maria’s “type” was a quirk of the artist, not the same character! Hernandez’s comics are very layered and meta in a way few comics - or books of any kind for that matter - rarely are. 

Maria M. Book One is an entertaining, never dull, and fast-paced comic that’s well-drawn and really creatively presented. If you enjoy non-superhero comics, Gilbert Hernandez’s work is always worth checking out, and Maria M. is no exception.

Maria M. Book One

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo: Roses of Berlin Review (Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill)

I should’ve stopped after the first page which warned me this book was another episode in Alan Moore’s Journey Up His Own Backside because the first page is written entirely in German. Untranslated German. And not just the odd word like “ja” or “guten tag”, but packed panels of dialogue which non-German readers - ie. most people picking up this ENGLISH version of the book - won’t be able read unless they pull out their English/German dictionaries or type all the dialogue into Google Translate - none of which I did because why should I? That’s not isolated to the opening page either, several pages throughout this brief book have lots of untranslated German dialogue. 

So it’s 1941 and Janni’s 15 year old daughter’s blimp has been shot down over Germany and she and her husband (who, by the way, looks to be in his late 30s) have been taken prisoner. Janni and her husband journey deep into the underground heart of the weirdly mechanised German regime to rescue them. 

I’ve read all three parts of the Nemo series and have to wonder what the point of it all is. Book 1 - Janni leaves her dad to work in a brothel, then decides to burn half of London; Book 2 - Janni goes to Antarctica where Moore writes a terrible parody of HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness; Book 3 - Moore gets Kevin O’Neill to draw boobs amidst lots of imagery taken from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Why? And why is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen still continuing with a character who wasn’t even in the League?! 

Janni’s not a particularly interesting character - she’s monotone, competent, and more-or-less personality free. Her story has been unnecessary and, for the most part, unimaginative. All Moore seems to be doing is referencing other, better works of art in his increasingly pointless comics, but so what - who reads a book for the references over the story? This entire book - which, at roughly 50 pages, is more of an extended single issue than a book - is a straightforward action montage of characters firing guns or sword-fighting with explosions going on in the background. That’s it?! 

I read this because, as some of you may know, Moore is a very vocal critic of contemporary comics and I wanted to see what his comics were like - you know, see how to do comics “right”. And what did I read? Contrived scenes with forgettable action, trite dialogue (those that I could read that is), stiff, two-dimensional characters, and an unengaging, paper-thin “story”. 

Alan, I think you need to start taking a look at your own work before you blanket-assess the rest of the comics world with your uninformed, derogatory opinions.

Nemo: Roses of Berlin:

The Walking Dead, Volume 4: The Heart's Desire Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

The subtitle to The Walking Dead should be: A Post-Apocalyptic Soap Opera as the series veers away from depressing horror to hokey melodrama in this fourth volume, appropriately titled The Heart’s Desire, as if it were an episode of Melrose Place! 

The cliffhanger of the last volume is dealt with in no time at all, as if that entire last volume’s conflicts didn’t matter at all, and a new character called Michonne appears, while another character dies, and a lot of relationship stuff happens. 

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how damn dark this series is, and it still is, but it’s become almost comical now, like Robert Kirkman’s parodying himself. When a character gets bitten and Rick decides to amputate his leg to save his life, the scene cuts to Carl and Sophia staring at the wall of zombies outside the gates and musing as to their mindsets, then the character is rushed by them screaming, and then we cut back to Carl and Sophia’s shocked reactions - and I couldn’t help but laugh! It’s so silly, it’s like something out of Chew! 

Then nothing horrible happens for a few pages and I began to think, right, something awful’s going to happen - a character will die suddenly or will do something bad - and what happens? An attempted suicide! Again, I laughed at the predictably “sad” style of storytelling. Of course someone would slit their wrists - you can’t go too long in The Walking Dead without despair! 

But most of the book is focused on the characters’ relationships. There’s some more pointless “love” scenes between Glenn and Maggie, Dale and… uh, the blonde lady (it’s hard to remember which two-dimensional figure is which), and Tyreese and Carol split up. It’s not an unreadable book but at this point I think the series needs a real story, some kind of driving force other than the ever present threat of zombies - so far it’s just characters getting worked up over their dull relationships while exploring the even drearier prison with obligatory zombies popping up out of the shadows every now and then. 

I was going to give Kirkman a pass on the writing in this book but he ends this volume in the dumbest way possible: a two page spread of a close up on Rick’s face as he grimly asserts: “We ARE The Walking Dead!” which made me laugh again. Really? Hadn’t everyone already figured that out from the first volume? And the pseudo-intellectual discussion on the righteousness of killing certain people was a bit blunt metaphorically given that the characters are all wearing orange jumpsuits and sleep in cells. Real subtle, Mr Kirkman! 

The downside of this volume is that nothing really much happens but the upside is that it’s a pretty funny book in a gallows-humour kinda way!

The Walking Dead Volume 4: The Hearts Desire: Heart's Desire v. 4

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Invisibles, Volume 4: Bloody Hell In America Review (Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez)

Set a year after his torture session with Sir Miles, King Mob is resting up in America with Robin while the others swan about New York City. They meet Jolly Roger, leader of another Invisibles cell, who has lost all of her team members after a failed strike against an underground government facility where they discovered the cure to AIDS, and decide to team up to liberate the cure.

Changing tack from the last volume, Grant Morrison gives us a slim, faster-paced volume collecting four issues of a singular storyline rather than the usual eight-issue volumes that gleefully jump about the place. And I suppose that’s a concession and/or appeal to make The Invisibles more appealing to a larger audience, but it’s only a half-hearted one that doesn’t quite work because Morrison just can’t do dumb action - he has to to throw in elements of history, cross-cultural magical rites, semi-philosophical discussions, and so on! 

But you can more or less follow what’s happening - the Invisibles storm a Bond villain hideout and win, basically. This involves an interesting mix of stereotypical and original moments like lots of guns being fired while running around and messing about with plastic explosives, while also psychically battling a midget in a noh mask and masturbating to bring about a deadly hail storm. 

I like that Morrison’s expanding the world a bit more by introducing other Invisibles cells who’ve only been mentioned so far and, besides Jim Crow, we haven’t seen yet. Phil Jimenez’s art is outstanding as well with incredibly imaginative layouts and awesome character designs - I particularly liked his rendering of King Mob’s hairy war mask that makes him look like both Han Solo and Chewbacca in one! 

But there’s a lot of things about the book - and I suppose the series so far - that irritated me. We’re over the halfway point now and though we’ve gotten to know some of the characters a bit, they’re all still pretty much undeveloped. Robin in particular remains a complete blank but she’s now been made the new leader and features prominently in this volume. Yet all we know about Robin is that she’s apparently eight years old (but looks to be in her twenties), she wears clown makeup (ironically parodying makeup in general?) and she’s now in a relationship with King Mob (which, if she is really eight, makes him a paedo!).

The problem, for me anyway, goes beyond knowing very little about the characters - what little I do know about them just isn’t very endearing. When Lord Fanny, Jack Frost and Boy make their entrance (and it is an entrance), they stand in the doorway, posing and yelling out their arrival as if they should be greeted with a standing ovation. Throughout the book the characters do “cool” things like going to “spiritual” places and drop LSD while talking about visions they’ve had; other times proving how progressive they are by showing up ordinary peoples’ prejudices against trannies and/or homosexuals; they have tantric sex (because regular sex isn’t chic) and talk about the movies of the day and their secret meanings. Basically I realised the Invisibles are very self-aware that they’re “cool” and come off as obnoxious showoffs that in real life I would cross the street to avoid. 

The book, and series, is very dated, especially in that scene where they’re talking about current movies like Speed, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day, not to mention the recurring mentions of “smart drinks” (a staple of the 90s rave scene, which Morrison was a part of) and Kula Shaker records (Bing it). It’s not just the films though, it’s the banal interpretations of the films that I think a lot of readers of this comic would have already heard - that Marsellus Wallace’s soul being in the briefcase, etc. - being repeated, or else ascribing an overly-intellectual meaning to a piece of shlock, like saying Speed is an allegory about the end of the world. It goes back to not liking the characters and because they’re coming off as more and more pretentious. And you can’t get more dated than an actual date that was the future then and is now the past to us - Morrison puts the apocalypse down as December 22, 2012… 

Morrison continues to pursue the theme of individual identity over conformity but fails to develop it further. The same arguments are brought up as they were earlier in the series. King Mob guiding one of his crew into reminding them of their training to overcome the mental conditioning of the evil government types, while the baddies sit around and talk about how they want everything to be homogenised and sterile. It’s getting repetitive now and has the opposite effect that Morrison’s going for - it’s become a stale and tired message. 

The story didn’t grab me, partly because I’m not really into conspiracy theories so “shockingly” revealing that they’re true didn’t make it more exciting to read, and partly because there’s not much of a story here to begin with. It’s straightforward dull action featuring anti-heroes I’m increasingly becoming ambivalent to against cliched bad guys behaving in over-the-top evil ways, most of whom are actual monsters! I can understand what’s happening but I’m not really that invested in it or anyone in the book. 

I think at this point in the series, if I’m not liking the characters, I don’t think I’ll ever like them - that might change, and I hope it does, towards the end, but I’m going to bet that it doesn’t. I’m starting to get the creeping sensation that The Invisibles will go down as one of those Grant Morrison titles that simply wasn’t for me. I’m still going to see where the series ends though (not least because I’ve bought the remaining three volumes already!) and hope I’ll become more drawn in as we near the end. 

By the way, the correct Oppenheimer quote is “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” not “shatterer of worlds” - what a weird thing to get wrong!

The Invisibles: Bloody Hell In America

Friday, 25 April 2014

Original Sin #0 Review (Mark Waid, Jim Cheung)

Who is The Watcher? asks the front cover, and it’s a valid question. For many new readers brought in by Marvel’s recent re-launches, the Watcher is a curious figure. A giant humanoid alien with an even bigger, bald head and pupil-less eyes and a penchant for togas, Uatu aka The Watcher, is a holdover from classic Marvel – a figure whose appearance signalled the onset of ominous events to come, but who in recent years has barely figured in their range of comics. So it’s unsurprising to hear the character is to be killed off with his death kicking off this year’s Marvel Summer Event, Original Sin.

But he’s not dead yet! Comics legend Mark Waid writes the prelude issue to the Event, Original Sin #0, focusing on Uatu and informing us about this odd character’s background and why his death would have the impact it will in the Marvel Universe. Waid uses Sam Alexander, aka Nova, as the audience stand-in for this comic, neatly summarising Jeph Loeb’s first Nova book in a couple of pages before having Sam voice the question to the Avengers that most readers will likely have: why is The Watcher watching – to what end?

Nova’s curiosity sends him to Uatu’s home on the moon to find out first-hand and we get to see what the inside of The Watcher’s place is like. Waid weaves in what could be clues, foreshadowing or macguffins hinting at Uatu’s murder with Nova’s helmet screaming at him that danger is on the way, multiple ghostly versions of the Watcher appearing and then disappearing, and then revealing Uatu’s armoury which houses the ultimate nullifier (a weapon that can destroy entire galaxies!). Waid does also answer the cover question and shows us why Uatu watches, all of which has a tragic flavour, as could probably be guessed.

Jim Cheung seems to be the go-to artist for drawing opening issues of Marvel Events, drawing Original Sin #0 as well as last year’s Infinity #1, and he does a great job. He throws in some interesting visuals like when Uatu reveals what he watches and how with the effect being very disorientating. But my favourite panel is when Sam introduces himself to Uatu and gives him a present: a piece of the battlefield from when the Avengers and the X-Men defeated the Phoenix Force - Uatu’s expression is brilliant and very funny!

Original Sin #0 is a decent comic that’s well-written and does what it needs to – establish the character of Uatu and set up the forthcoming murder mystery – but it’s not terribly exciting. Intellectually it makes sense and even seems to give away the reasons behind Uatu’s impending death, while already eliminating some possible suspects. However, given that this issue should also be making readers excited about Original Sin, it’s not exactly a pulse-pounding prelude and, I suspect, will be an inessential issue for the forthcoming series as nothing much really happens.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman Review (Marc Tyler Nobleman, Ross MacDonald)

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were teenagers when they created the world’s first – and greatest – superhero, and then sold the rights to Superman to the company that would become DC Comics for a measly $130! 

Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ross MacDonald’s short picture book – at 26 oversize pages with a large paragraph or two per page, it definitely feels aimed at educating younger readers – succinctly recounts Siegel and Shuster’s lives up to seeing their creation take off in popular culture in the 1940s, while sadly realising they’d given away a fortune to get him there. 

Superman was an ingenious and revolutionary character for many reasons. While stories of Flash Gordon, The Shadow, and Buck Rogers were popular, it was Jerry Siegel who imagined a man with incredible strength and the ability to jump so high it looked like he was flying and, in so doing, had created the world’s first superhero! The timing was fortuitous as comic books were just then taking off and Superman’s inclusion in Action Comics #1 helped cement the popularity of the character while clearing the way for many more superheroes to follow. 

That Siegel and Shuster made Superman an alien and not a human was the other masterstroke – his disguise isn’t the superhero identity and costume, it’s the mundane human clothing and ordinary identity as Clark Kent that is the disguise. This totally original setup and the Superman origin story would become staples of the character’s canon, being retold and explored numerous times over the years while still retaining its potency to enthral audiences. 

And while DC would refuse to credit Siegel and Shuster as Superman’s creators for several years, the two indelibly left their mark on the character. The “S” symbol on his chest stood for “super” as well as Siegel and Shuster (the chest symbol’s meaning would be retconned years later to stand for the Kryptonian symbol for peace) while Superman’s Kryptonian name, Kal-El, means “all that is God” in Hebrew (both creators were Jewish). 

Though brief, Boys of Steel is informative for anyone who wants to know the basics behind Superman’s creators without wanting to spend too much time on the subject but, while Nobleman includes an afterword that covers the numerous legal battles between the Siegel/Shuster estates and DC Comics, if you’re looking for an in-depth look at those stories, this isn’t that book. 

The infamous legal battles over the creators’ estates looking for more compensation from DC for the millions – billions at this point, surely – that the character has made them, are why I don’t count myself as a DC Comics fan. I’m a Superman fan; I’m a Batman fan; I don’t care for DC Comics, the company, at all. The way they treat their creators, but Siegel and Shuster especially, has been appalling (you could argue that culture persists at DC today with the many, many creators who’ve worked and left DC in the last few years alone, of which more than a few have bitter words to say about the company). 

It took decades of legal battles, and years after the creators’ deaths, for the Siegel and Shuster families to receive a meagre $20k per year from DC, while the character continues to reap enormous profits for the company. There was even a time in the late 50s/early 60s when Siegel had to go hat in hand to DC to ask if they would employ him to write for them, which they agreed to but refused to credit him, even refusing to put his and Shuster’s names down as creators of Superman. That’s an utter travesty. 

Ross MacDonald draws the book in Joe Shuster’s style and looks absolutely fantastic, while Marc Tyler Nobleman’s writing gives the reader everything they need to understand Superman’s creators. It’s a fine tribute to the imagination and creative brilliance of these two artists and their remarkable legacy. 

In the comics, Superman’s two dads are Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, but his real two fathers were called Jerry and Joe – and their story is well worth reading.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Eternal Warrior, Volume 2: Eternal Emperor Review (Greg Pak, Robert Gill)

I won’t spoil the second volume of Eternal Warrior for anyone who hasn’t read the first one but I will say that it doesn’t live up to the first volume’s tantalising finale at all. Volume 2 is set in 4001AD and the whole point of doing that, I thought, was because “someone” was supposed to be set free in 2000 years after the events of the first volume so we’d get a showdown between Gilad and that “someone”. And, disappointingly, it doesn’t happen. 

In the 41st century technology has been all but erased and everyone lives in huts and farms all day long, entranced at seeing grain pour from a basket, apparently. But of course there are a few bad apples who enslave people using crude robots and live in ramshackle “cities” that look like bad props from ‘90s dystopian future movies. Powering places like these are unstable radioactive power sources which are poisoning everyone. It’s up to Gilad to leave his “empire” of a couple dozen huts and get a cure for his granddaughter (and, grudgingly, the 30 or so others he’s “emperor” of).

I appreciate that Greg Pak’s taken an unconventional route for the second volume by taking the story a couple millennia into the future but I expected at least one of the things he set up in the first book to mean something in the second, rather than none at all! His kids, the various natural groups his family are champions of, and of course that finale - none of that make it into this book so it feels like a completely different series. Basically you don’t need to have read volume 1 to understand volume 2. 

Eternal Emperor is a straightforward quest story with Gilad taking out every obstacle in his path without any problems all to accomplish the small goal at the end. At no point did I care much about his quest or about anything that happened along the way, and it felt like neither did Greg Pak. Gone is the great art of Trevor Hairsine and Clayton Crain, replaced with Robert Gill’s uninspiring, rather sparse and unimpressive art, so not even the look of the comic can make up for Pak’s lacking script. There’s not even an enticing cliff-hanger final page like in the first volume! 

Eternal Warrior Volume 2 is a total let-down. The main character is like the personification of the book itself: like Gilad as a world-weary old man, the story is totally lacking in any kind of energy or spirit and just plods along predictably and tiresomely until the final page. Just two volumes in and the series has already tanked!

Eternal Warrior Volume 2: Eternal Emperor TP

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Amazing X-Men, Volume 1: The Quest for Nightcrawler Review (Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness)

Beast decides to get rid of those drunken, annoying Bamfs from the grounds of the Jean Grey School once and for all but uncovers a strange hidden portal they’ve been protecting. He and a handful of X-Men are drawn through it with some ending up in heaven and some ending up in hell. And guess who they meet in Heaven? Well, the subtitle of the book is The Quest for Nightcrawler, so you know already: heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Kurt! But with his demonic dad, Azazel, threatening the afterlife, Kurt must make the ultimate choice: sacrifice his eternity for the sake of the world or let his evil father burn it all. 

The first volume of Jason Aaron’s new X-Men series, Amazing X-Men (following the end of his acclaimed Wolverine and the X-Men run), is a very mixed bag – on the one hand, NIGHTCRAWLER’S BACK!!! And on the other, the rest of the X-Men get embroiled in a very bland adventure with elements from one of the most heinous X-Men books ever written, The Draco. 

And split down the middle is exactly how I feel about the book – the Nightcrawler stuff is perfect, from his time in Heaven, to the reveal of who and what the bamfs are and why they’re in the Jean Grey School, to the delightful reunions between Kurt and the X-Men, all of whom are overjoyed at having him return (Logan genuinely smiles several times!). If that had been the whole book it really would be amazing. 

But that’s not enough material for a book so Aaron throws in some arbitrary X-Men action that doesn’t matter and isn’t in the slightest bit interesting to read. Storm, Iceman and Firestar fight demons in hell – but Iceman’s melting!! Wolverine and Northstar battle Azazel’s fiends in heaven – but they’re freezing!! Beast fights pirates - !! It reads like exactly what it is: filler. The characters are given some tedious busywork while they wait for Nightcrawler to get around to them and they can exclaim surprise and have a nice moment with him. It really is Kurt’s book and everyone else’s inclusion feels unnecessary. Who would’ve guessed the X-Men as pirates (aboard the Warship Xavier!) would be so boring?

Ed McGuinness does a marvellous job with the art – his Nightcrawler is easily among the best depictions of the character and he makes him both dashing and agile all at once. His design is perfect and the large panel/one pagers where we get to see Kurt in all his glory are just plain awesome. And his Bamfs are hella cute – blue or red, looking for whiskey or no, they are so darling! If there aren’t any stuffed toy Bamfs around for sale, there damn well should be! 

Jason Aaron is a fine writer who can’t help but do some really interesting things in his work even his superhero storytelling tends to vary in quality. That Kurt is a devout Catholic who has gone to heaven and returned is some great psychological material to explore, but what Aaron does to the character at the end is really interesting – the decision Kurt takes and what that means for his faith and worldview. And I can’t totally dislike a book that ends so perfectly with Logan and Kurt, arms around their shoulders, happily and drunkenly lurching into the dawn after a night of celebratory drinking. 

It’s worth reading if you’re a Nightcrawler fan as he’s got nothing but great moments in this book but know that you’ll have to put up with some very dull scenes involving the other X-Men to get to them. A halfway-amazing X-Men book, the heart-warming takeaway is that Kurt Wagner’s back in the Marvel Universe. Wunderschon!

Amazing X-Men Volume 1: The Quest for Nightcrawler

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Walking Dead, Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

Volume 3 of The Walking Dead might be the bleakest, bloodiest and most miserable in the series so far - and the first two volumes were pretty damn miserable! This is a book where the dead are dug out of their graves just to be shot in the head, and that’s not even counting the butchered children or the suicide pacts! 

So the group have made it to a prison which is infested with zombies but, once cleared, could be a safe haven for them. Inside are a handful of remaining inmates - but can these convicted criminals be trusted around the families? 

At this point in the series I’ve actually started to remember some of the characters’ names as a core number have survived but the cast is still very big and is continually dropping off and adding new characters so its difficult to care all that much when someone dies. 

Robert Kirkman’s dialogue also isn’t as terrible in this book though the tone remains unrelentingly dark. When kids are being killed or are planning on killing one another, the adults are standing around shell-shocked, crying internally or externally, with characters like Rick or Hershel melodramatically blaming themselves for all the death. When Rick dug up Shane to shoot him in the head again, I had to laugh at how absurdly depressing it all was - even when you’ve been killed once you’re not safe! 

I did notice one weird detail Kirkman’s added: whether you’ve been bitten or not, once you die, you become a zombie (also they call them zombies in the book, unlike the TV show where they’re called “walkers”). I don’t understand how that works - if you have the potential to become a zombie, shouldn’t you become a zombie rather than wait to die off? 

The inmates added an interesting slant as the story became a murder mystery over which one of the prisoners chopped up the kids, and the reveal was a surprise. There’s also the requisite zombie action which has already become rote and, despite the large cast, I’m not really interested in about 90% of their mundane stories.

I still don’t fully see what fans of the series do but the third volume is definitely a step up from the previous books and even manages to become quite exciting in parts. I’m bumping the rating up a star because Rick literally tells the ever-annoying Lori to shut the fuck up!

The Walking Dead Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars: Safety Behind Bars v. 3

Monday, 21 April 2014

Superior Spider-Man, Volume 6: Goblin Nation Review (Dan Slott, Giuseppe Camuncoli)

Superior Spider-Man has been one of the best and most consistently high quality titles of the Marvel NOW! relaunch. The controversial body-swap idea of Otto’s mind inhabiting Peter’s body while Peter’s mind was lost in the ether and Otto’s Spider-Man becoming a different kind of hero could’ve gone either way but Dan Slott managed to make it work really well and proved all the naysayers wrong; Superior Spider-Man was a success, critically and commercially.

But it was never going to be the status quo (though that didn’t stop some gormless cretins from sending Slott death-threats for getting rid of their beloved Peter Parker), and so with Volume 6: Goblin Nation we see the end of Superior Spider-Man, the series and the character, and the return of Peter Parker once again as Spider-Man in the forthcoming All-New Amazing Spider-Man title (this last point is not a spoiler - Peter Parker’s return has been publicised heavily these last few months and with Superior ending, what else was going to happen to the character?).

So is Goblin Nation a fitting finale for this great title? For me, not entirely.

What made Superior stand out when it first started was how fresh and exciting it was. Otto did things differently and, despite having read Spider-Man before, you could never quite guess what he was going to do next. He even lived up to the name and really WAS the Superior Spider-Man, setting up the ultimate crime-fighting network, toppling Shadowland in no time, even shocking readers by executing some criminals - he was a controversial “hero” but he wasn’t boring and was enormously pro-active in reducing crime. Goblin Nation, on the other hand, is nothing if not predictable. I won’t go into specifically how things play out but suffice it to say that what you expect to happen, happens.

The Green Goblin, here calling himself the Goblin King, has launched all out war on New York City and has managed to evade Spider-Man after hacking his spider-bots so they failed to detect anyone with a goblin mask or logo. As the Goblin army descends on New York City, the spirit of Peter Parker ascends, making his way through Otto’s Mindscape to return triumphantly.

I liked how in this final volume Dan Slott did a round-robin of everything that had happened in the series by including characters as minor as Don Lamaze to Spider-Man 2099. It was like reading a greatest hits of Superior Spider-Man before the classic final close-out between Spidey and Green Goblin and in that respect was a good way to end the series.

But I don’t think Otto got the great exit he deserved. Slott gave him a great final speech as he prepared to hand over the reins to Peter and you do see that he’s really grown as a character, though I thought his exit was a bit anti-climactic and rushed. I was also hoping he wouldn’t say the line he ended up saying (twice!) which was “YOU are the Superior Spider-Man!” (groan). I would’ve preferred if his final words were about Anna-Maria instead.

Superior Spider-Man #30 was really the final issue as that’s Otto’s last appearance while #31 is Peter’s triumphant return though its a bit tedious to read. Peter cleans up all the loose Superior story threads in that issue, ready for a whole new storyline in All-New Amazing Spider-Man, and the way he does this is both efficient and unimaginative. There was no excitement with his fight with the Green Goblin and no question that the Goblin Nation would fall - the only surprise was the Goblin’s identity reveal but even that was more of a mild “oh... ho hum” than a shocking revelation.

Superior Spider-Man has been a high watermark in Spider-Man comics and one of the most enjoyable and original storylines the character’s ever had. The first few trade paperbacks are superb and are Dan Slott at his finest. The last couple trades though? You can feel things were being hurried along so All-New Amazing Spider-Man #1 could coincide with the latest (and lamest) Amazing Spider-Man movie, so the comics suffered in declining quality as Slott was rushed and Christos Gage was brought in to co-write the issues to fit the demanding release schedule.

Goblin Nation is a decent last bow for Superior Spider-Man but definitely not amazing.

3.5 stars. 

Superior Spider-Man Volume 6: Goblin Nation (Marvel Now)