Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Johnny Blaze the Ghost Rider escaped Hell but unintentionally brought Lucifer back to Earth with him who then splintered into multiple avatars - Ghost Rider has to hunt down and defeat each of Lucifer’s avatars to send him back to Hell! But how did Johnny end up in Hell to begin with? Find out here! Also, Ghost Rider goes to Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, to fight Jack O’Lantern (another biker dude but with a flaming pumpkinhead)!
Shapeshifting aliens called Skrulls have replaced key figures on Earth, including some Marvel superheroes – who can you trust? Welcome to Secret Invasion aka Duuuuuuuuuuuh: The Comic!
It’s a Marvel event written by Brian Bendis so I wasn’t expecting it to be good – and I was right, it wasn’t! But ‘tis turkey season so why not scoff down a turkey like Secret Invasion?
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
Man gets stabby-stabbied 12 times on a train - Belgian dick Hercule Poirot tells us thickos whodunit!
Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels though I wouldn’t say it’s among her best. The premise is enticing: a luxury European sleeper train stranded in the middle of the night, a locked room murder mystery, and the killer among the remaining passengers. Also as background to the killing, Christie took inspiration from the scandalous real-life Lindbergh baby kidnapping/murder that shocked the world in the early 1930s.
Jason Aaron and RM Guera get Biblical with The Goddamned, their latest collaboration that puts the Thump in Bible-thumper!
1600 years after Eden…
Monday, 28 November 2016
A criticism I’ve heard from some people who’ve read a Superman comic goes something like “He’s not interesting because I can’t relate to him - he’s too powerful, he’s too perfect, it’s too much. He’s a frikkin’ god!” American Alien is Max Landis’ attempt to humanise Superman and make him an approachable character to those readers. And it’s not a bad comic but it’s definitely flawed.
Wow, that sucked – for me A.D. stands for Awfully Disappointed! You’d think with a concept about humans no longer dying and two big name creators like Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire attached, A.D.: After Death would be awesome - nope! Half of it’s not even a comic! Dear me…
Sunday, 27 November 2016
Charles Soule’s pretty decent Red Lanterns run goes out limply with this sixth and final volume. Red Lantern Guy Gardner teams up with Green Lantern Simon Baz to battle the New Gods of Apokolips - ooo, exciting! - and then halfway through the book that storyline is abandoned. Oh… I guess it was part of a crossover event or tie-in and got completed elsewhere? Fuck’s sake, DC…
Saturday, 26 November 2016
True Stories, Volume 2 collects more four-panel strips from Derf Backderf’s The City, time time from 2009 to 2014, when the comic ended. Like the first volume, they’re funny observational strips about everyday people Derf encounters.
Dylan is a 28 year old grad student who decides to commit suicide because some girl doesn’t like him – aww, poor widdle baby! Except, at the last moment, a demon saves his life! There’s a price to his second chance though and Dylan must kill someone who deserves to die every month otherwise the demon will take his life. Dylan must… Kill or Be Killed!
Friday, 25 November 2016
As if there weren’t enough terrible Batman comics out there already, here comes one more: Batman Vs The Undead!
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Caesar writes his memoirs but is talked out of including the chapter on his greatest failure: the village of crazy indomitable Gauls that holds out against the Romans! Nevertheless, the scroll is leaked and Caesar sends his men to find it before its contents are revealed to the world and he is humiliated. Except the missing scroll has made its way to Asterix and Obelix…
After Deadpool encounters Macho Gomez, supposedly the galaxy’s greatest mercenary, he blasts off into space to prove to the universe there’s no-one more badass at merc-ing than him. How? By marrying a space hippo and picking a fight with a drug-addicted moon of course!
Monday, 21 November 2016
Thanks to Secret Wars the Ultimates universe was blowed up along with almost everyone in it - except for Ultimate Spider-Man/Miles Morales who is now just Spider-Man. Sharing New York City with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. That’s not confusing. And why the hell are so many superheroes in New York City anyway? You’d have to be a moron to consider being a supervillain or even just an ordinary criminal there! Go to Wolverhampton or something, ain’t no Spider-People across the pond!
Years ago a muse to the great 19th century Parisian artists was rumoured to have been given a number of invaluable artworks by them which she stored in a room in the fabled House of the Green Mask. Now, a hidden enemy is kidnapping Bandette’s friends and blackmailing her for the location – sacre bleu!
Sunday, 20 November 2016
The Avengers and the X-Men are kiddie-fied in Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX, adorably “battling” one another over nothing (like their adult selves more often than not)! Then a pair of twins arrive in the neighbourhood and the Avengers and X-Men have a new thing to fight about: convincing the new kids to join their side over the other!
Deadpool, Volume 6: I Rule, You Suck is an improvement over the last book, thankfully, but it’s still not up to the high quality of the earlier books of Daniel Way’s run.
Saturday, 19 November 2016
What the demon doo-doo happened to Hellboy? It used to be a killer series and slapping him in Hell to fight the Devil and shit should be a slam dunk, right? And yet it sucked. Ah, nertz.
A lot of old-school sci-fi as well as the hyperbole that spewed out of the 1950s/60s American space program promised lunar colonies and mostly portrayed it as desirable. Tom Gauld pokes gentle fun at that naivety in Mooncop, imagining what life would be like if we did have a moon colony. The answer? Bo-ring! There’s nowt to do up there!
Friday, 18 November 2016
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Aw man, what happened to Daniel Way’s Deadpool? This fifth volume stinks!
Deadpool hears someone in Vegas trashing him and decides to prove them wrong by being a hero (and because this is set during Marvel’s short-lived “Heroic Age” nonsense). This involves a convoluted plan to knock over a casino with two super-minor Marvel characters: Weasel, who now has a giant robot armour and is working security at said casino, and Grizzly, a douchebag in a bear suit.
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Spoilers ahoy but they’re minor ones and this is an inconsequential Batman story anyway.
Dead To Rights is Andrew Kreisberg’s imagining of Batman/Joker’s first encounter. It’s got a number of flaws but it’s not a bad book and I was never bored reading it. The problems have to do with Kreisberg’s efforts in trying to make Joker look scary which are amusingly stupid and completely fail.
Monday, 14 November 2016
Old Man Logan: Warzones is a sequel to Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s fantastic original Wolverine story as well as a tie-in to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars. Brian Michael Bendis writes this time around with artist Andrea Sorrentino and it’s an ok book, which actually puts it above the majority of the terrible Secret Wars comics!
Sunday, 13 November 2016
In The Elephant in the Room, Jon Ronson takes a look at the alt-right, a formerly fringe group that has risen to take control of the Republican Party at the same time that Donald Trump has ascended to be its candidate. Unfortunately, Ronson’s piece is a rushed collection of obvious observations on American politics that’s solely out there to capitalise on the election.
Expecting To Fly is like a bridge comic between John Allison’s pre-teen series Bad Machinery and university life title Giant Days (and if you’ve never heard of Giant Days before, stop right here and check that out, you can thank me later!). Set in 1996, it‘s about two 16 year old high school kids, Shelley Winters and Ryan Beckwith, who become friends and face defining moments in their lives. And like most of John Allison’s stuff it’s bloody brilliant!
Friday, 11 November 2016
Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman is knocked up hard and about to pop - but oh no, her OBGYN has been taken over by Skrulls (shape-shifting space goblins)! Superhero comics, eh?
Preggo Spider-Woman is an ok comic but I didn’t love it. Why is her maternity hospital in a black hole - is that really the ideal location to be birthing babies? And Skrulls? It all felt so contrived, like Jess can’t just have her baby, she’s also gotta be kicking butt because she’s a superhero. I wasn’t into the forced and silly action.
After literally blowing his brains out from boredom, Deadpool decides to spend his vast wealth on living out his fantasies - it’s a pirate’s life for Wade! And what good is money without friends? To the West Coast, to visit his old buds the X-Men on Utopia!
Thursday, 10 November 2016
Penguin’s recruited Scarecrow to help corral his mob captains – and then suddenly a 10-foot tall Scarecrow monster begins murdering them! Sounds like a mystery for Scooby-Bat and the gang to solve!
Batman: As the Crow Flies isn’t a great Batman book. It reads like a Scooby-Doo cartoon where the monster terrorises everyone for the duration with the story hinging on the reveal of who it really is. And they would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for the meddlin’ Bat-family!
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Tomas is a small town guy happy with his small town life, pumping gas, smoking jays. Then one day he sees an alien posing as a human and his whole world changes. It’s Stoners vs Aliens in The Saviors!
James Robinson and J. Bone’s comic has a fun conceit that’s let down by poor storytelling. Like the aliens’ reactions to Tomas seeing them – this is a dude who’s perpetually high and no-one else saw what he did, so, plausible deniability? Absolutely, AND he was already doubting what he’d seen anyway! But trying to kill him, totally validating his far-out theory, was so dumb! It was immensely contrived, especially as there wouldn’t be a story without this decision.
Everyone knows how Harvey Dent physically became Two-Face - acid to the face, thrown at him by a mobster in a courtroom - but psychologically? There’s the rub because physical deformity wouldn’t instantly split someone’s psyche in two. Paul Jenkins takes us deep into the mind of Harvey Dent to expose his hidden demons and show us where Two-Face really came from…
Tuesday, 8 November 2016
World-famous stage magician and Justice League member Zatanna faces Brother Night, Fuseli the Nightmare, the ghost of her pop Zatara, and a demon lord from hell, Mammon, in The Mistress of Magic. Mage on!
Just as struggling manga creator Shizuo Oguro finds an editor who believes in him, the editor quits and he’s assigned a new one who not only hates his work and him personally but also urges him to quit - poor Oguro-san can’t catch a break!
Monday, 7 November 2016
David Lapham actually writes a pretty good Deadpool, as in the character. He’s got the voice down cold and doesn’t overdo the wackiness or force the comedy, which is what some writers tend to do with Wade. The story side of things though is unfortunately not as strong.
Sunday, 6 November 2016
After one too many cosmic shenanigans, Superman discovers he’s DYING. Oh no! Again…? Then he finds out there’s another Superman out there WHO’S ON FIRE and attacking people! There’s also ANOTHER Superman living in Salinas, California with his own Lois AND they have a kid together! … Go home, DC, you’re drunk!
Jon Allen’s Ohio Is For Sale follows the travails of three anthropomorphic animals in their 20s/30s who live together in squalor - no jobs, no money, no real purpose. The stories might seem mundane to describe - one of them accidentally sets fire to the car and has to get a job to replace it, one of them gets sick, they have a party that goes off the rails - but they’re surprisingly compelling to read.
Saturday, 5 November 2016
Three different criminal organisations vie for the same patch of land in a run-down part of the city. But why are the police and the mayor working with them - and why this neighbourhood? When an innocent child is gunned down in the turf war crossfire, Luke Cage steps up to find answers and dispense justice - awww, yeahh!
Daredevil: Dark Nights is a collection of three short stories, none of which are very good.
In Lee Weeks’ Angels Unaware, Daredevil must retrieve a donor heart for a little girl’s transplant surgery in the middle of a snowstorm while helping others along the way. It’s a slow-moving narrative that’s not very exciting though Weeks’ art is quite good - and this is the best of the three stories!
Thursday, 3 November 2016
A Japanese soldier called Ota Murakami reminisces on his 50 year relationship with the giant irradiated monster known as Godzilla - the time they went to Paris and Godzy proposed to him in front of the Eiffel Tower, getting their first house together, becoming grandparents… Just kidding! It’s Godzilla fighting one kaiju after another with this dude watching from afar.
Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Last Look is the collected edition of Charles Burns’ X’ed Out Trilogy comprising X’ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull. I really liked the first two books for their disturbing, trippy and utterly weird story which was really imaginative and compelling but the ending was a disappointing let-down. For that finale I’ll drop the trilogy rating to a three-star average but it’s still worth checking out if you’re an indie comics fan, especially those who enjoy the work of David Lynch. Also you don’t need to look for three books anymore, the whole story is conveniently found here. Below are my reviews for each volume - enjoy!
X’ed Out - 4 Stars
Before the story even begins, Charles Burns invites comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001 and Kafka’s Metamorphosis with a page of black and red panels followed by a picture of our protagonist, Doug, looking through a window at a vegetable monster lying in bed. This will be an unusual book.
And, with the beginning of the story where a Tintin-lookalike character (the cover’s homage to The Shooting Star is an indicator of one of this book’s key references) with a bandage on his head, waking up in bed, it’s clear Burns is aiming to place the reader on the same uncertain footing as Doug with his deliberately choppy narrative style. Is this a dream? A hallucination? What's real and what isn't?
Like Alice in Wonderland, Doug starts off following an animal into a hole that leads into a fantasy land. Rivers of green water, ruined houses, talking lizardmen, noseless monsters and strange red and white eggs, populate the eerie landscape as Doug tries to figure out what’s happening through a fugue state brought on by drug abuse and/or head trauma.
The story then switches to our world and Doug’s appearance changes from the cartoony look to a more realistic face. We’re presented with fragments of his earlier life as an unsuccessful performance artist called Nitnit (Tintin backwards), who reads Burroughs-esque cut-up poetry (a nod perhaps to the way Burns has written this book?) over discordant music while wearing a Tintin-like mask.
Scenes of his sickly father, his disturbed art photography love interest Sarah, and foetus after foetus - human, pig, alien - pass by. The mood is tragic, doomed, violent and dark, though it’s unclear (so far) what the story is. It’s possible that this is how Doug is dealing with heartbreak from losing Sarah, and maybe the miscarriage of their baby is responsible, especially as a Sarah lookalike enters the fantasy land at the end and is introduced as a “breeder”, a new Queen for the Hive.
And, though the story is as mysterious and unsettling as a David Lynch film, X’ed Out is so well-written, presented, and drawn that not knowing exactly what’s happening doesn’t matter because it’s so enjoyable. The swiftly moving story sweeps you up and you want to know more, you want to find out what’s happening and how it’ll end, and that’s the mark of a great story.
X’ed Out’s short episodic nature is what keeps it from being a masterpiece - maybe after Black Hole Burns didn’t want to make something quite so lengthy? - especially as it seems like it will read much better as a whole rather than individually. But it’s still a brilliant comic that’s ambitious, thoughtful, creative and compelling, and definitely worth reading.
The Hive - 5 Stars
Re-reading series books in an actual series rather than as they come out over the years is worth it - at least for the good ones, which happily includes this title. I never noticed before but the cover shows Doug older and fatter, looking like he’s got some kind of office job, in contrast to the Doug that we left in the last book where he was wandering about as a younger man in his dad’s dressing gown in a haze with a bandaged head.
Well, shall we? Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole we go…
Doug is still deeply troubled that the love of his life Sarah is no longer with him, though we still don’t know what happened to her. Time has moved on and his life has changed but he’s been unable to move on. He talks to a new woman - a therapist, a friend? - about Sarah and his dying father, and it looks like he’s become dependent upon booze and pills to cope. Elsewhere in the fantasy world, he’s still the young Tintin lookalike Nitnit but he’s now working in the Hive alongside the lizardmen to supply the breeders with romance comics.
Images, scenes, phrases noticeably begin repeating immediately. The Japanese romance comic that opens the book re-tells the story of how Doug met Sarah in the first book, and then later we discover Sarah loved to read old romance comics that Doug bought her at a flea market. In each version of the stories Doug is telling, romance comics play a part, and, mirroring this series and his own life, there are issues missing in between the comics Sarah is reading so she’s not getting the whole story. The comics seem to be the key to Doug’s story AND comics are how we’ll find out Doug’s full story. Layer upon layer of meta detail!
The pig foetus reappears though this time it’s coming out of Sarah’s stomach in a self-inflicted C-section, and the Tintin-esque eggs make another appearance. Small clues like the disembodied voice of Sarah’s psychotic ex threatening to murder them both and the buzzer through which he’s speaking gushing blood hints that perhaps Sarah was killed by him. Or maybe he killed Doug and all of this is purgatory where Doug’s soul is trying to come to peace with his strange life before moving on - is that what this fantasy world is? Charles Burns refuses to give us solid answers and keeps us guessing.
For the most part this book is a bit more straightforward than the first though an uneasy sense of despair continues to hang over proceedings. We see the highs of Doug and Sarah’s relationship and his performance art as his stage persona Nitnit is becoming well-received. Burns spends more time with Doug and his dying father, exploring his father’s past and how he became such a beaten man. It’s odd how we haven’t seen Doug’s mother yet and that Burns seems to be moulding Doug into his father’s image ever so slowly.
The Hive itself has biological-looking walls, fleshy sides that produce eggs, so maybe this is Doug’s subconscious hinting still further at the mystery at the centre of this all: Sarah and a baby they were going to have? There’s a scene earlier when Sarah took some photos of Doug that he hated because he wasn’t wearing his Nitnit mask (his protection or real self?) - will we finally understand what’s happening to Doug when he discards the Nitnit persona that “he created” in order to hide from reality?
This really is a very rewarding comic to revisit now that it’s complete. With the way so much of the story repeats on itself throughout The Hive, it feels like it’s building up momentum and the truth is about to come out. It’s an entrancing mystery told expertly by Burns and drawn in an utterly beautiful way - a masterclass in experimental fiction, challenging comics, and imaginative storytelling. Will Doug find the missing issues he needs to make sense of it all - and what part does the Sugar Skull play? Enough questions - onto the final book and (hopefully) the answers!
Sugar Skull - 2 Stars
Dear me. By the end of The Hive, Charles Burns cranked this beauty up to top speed - then in Sugar Skull he ran it smack into a brick wall.
Sugar Skull was an immensely disappointing let-down to what has otherwise been a fascinating series. Charles Burns explains everything in this final volume of his X’ed Out Trilogy, which is something you’ll either appreciate, because you hate any ambiguity at the end of a story, or dislike because that’s not consistent with the way this has been written thus far.
But worse - far worse - is the disproportionate balance between the apocalyptic, messed-up, heightened tragedy of Doug and Sarah’s story, that has been built up now over two volumes, and the bafflingly banal and truly uninspired reveal of the secret at the heart of this series.
I was expecting Burns to show us something shocking and horrific that explains why Doug’s life has been shattered and why he’s created this elaborate fantasy world to cope. And the reveal, without going into spoilers? It’s so ordinary and unbelievably disappointing, not least because there’s no mystery, while the ending was terrible - it was an art school cliche!
I re-read the first two books in preparation for this final volume so I wouldn’t miss anything and so I could fully appreciate what I was sure was going to be a modern masterpiece - and all I got from doing this was the renewed admiration of the journey, and gorgeous art, that Burns provided. He completely fumbles the ending like you wouldn’t believe.
And those are the reasons to read this series: the journey and the art. Maybe it’s just me and you’ll love the ending too - it’s all there, no further mystery leftover - in which case you’re really going to enjoy the series. But if you spent any time in thinking up elaborate explanations for what it all means, prepare for major disappointment going in.
What, specifically, am I talking about? What’s seriously got my goat and how does it all play out? It’s spoiler time!
First of all, nobody’s dead. All of the dead foetus imagery was a red herring, or actually it’s just to do with their “art”. Doug does get Sarah pregnant but she doesn’t have an abortion or a miscarriage, and even her psycho ex, who we discover is named Larry, doesn’t follow through on any of his threats of murder.
So Sarah has Doug’s kid, Danny, but Doug’s such a baby himself that he can’t deal with any level of responsibility, let alone being a father, so he runs away and totally shuts himself away from Sarah. Years pass, Doug eventually marries someone called Sally, whom he occasionally cheats on with someone called Tina (the blonde he’s talking to in The Hive) because he’s still an immature idiot, and, though he’s sober most of the time, he relapses into the booze now and again.
All of which is to say, Doug is a fuckup. He was a pretentious douchebag with his performance art, and he never really grew up at all. His performance art fell by the wayside, he went to work in a record store, the band Sarah’s roommate was in, Bacon, took off and became a successful group called Animal Byproducts. Doug continued being a fuckup.
When Doug goes to the fantasy realm he becomes Johnny 23 (though he previously called himself Nitnit), a Tintin lookalike who’s escaping from reality by pretending he lives in a crazy landscape filled with monsters and aliens and whatnot. That’s really what the performance art was all about - the mask. Putting up a barrier between himself and the outside world and pretending he was someone else. It’s pretty pathetic.
Why’s he bandaged? Sarah’s psycho ex beat him up. Yawn.
What’s with all his dad flashbacks? His dad was sad because of the one that got away and he deeply regretted it. This prompts Doug to seek out Sarah after all these years. That’s it.
It ends with Doug retreating back to his fantasy as Johnny 23 and reverting back to the same imagery of the opening pages of the first book. He’s lying in bed, he sees his dead cat, there’s a buzzing sound and a hole in the wall. He’s doomed to repeat his nightmares forever because he’s a self-loathing dick who can’t change or deal with the reality of his life. Awful.
So the whole story was about a guy who knocked up a girl, ran away, felt guilty about it, eventually talked to the girl without really making an effort to involve himself in her or his kid’s life, she told him to get lost (and good for Sarah for saying that!), and that was it. He built up a massive fantasy mystery around what was a very ordinary story.
See what I mean about the build up not really balancing out with the explanation? Oh well.
Goodnight Batcave is a MAD Magazine parody of the children’s classic Goodnight Moon. Batman is getting ready for bed but suddenly his rogues gallery appears and he must defeat them all before he can go to sleep!
Tuesday, 1 November 2016
Deadpool wants Spider-Man to help him assassinate Peter Parker – oh Deadpool you silly goose!
Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness reunite after nearly 20 years since their first Deadpool comic together in ’97 with Spider-Man/Deadpool. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as fun as I’d hoped.