Monday, August 29, 2011

Nine from the library

1. The Walking Dead volume 12
By Kirkman and Adlard

The 11th volume of Walking Dead turned out to be something surprisingly powerful, with one of the most disturbing torture and murder scenes I’ve ever seen in a comic book, and I was keen to check out the next book.

But I’ll be less eager for volume thirteen, because by the end of this one, I just didn’t care that much any more.

I guess I just have too much trouble trying to identify with the main characters any more. Like everything else in the Walking Dead, a Big Ass Point has been made, then made again, then pushed down into the dirt, then dug up again and flung about like a desiccated corpse.

I know I’m not supposed to identify with the main characters in the Walking Dead, because they have been through so much horror and trauma. But by the closing pages of the long and drawn-out twelfth volume, they have lost so much of their humanity that I don’t care what happens to them any more. They can’t play with normal people, and are full of so much rage and despair that they’re almost totally lost.

If Rick’s a dick, making the same mistakes over and over again and blaming the whole world for it, then that might be the way he survives, but it’s a rapidly monotonous story.

Charlie Adlard is as solid as ever, though, and handles the introduction of a bunch of new characters with characteristic aplomb. His consistent and understated art brings a welcome continuity to the story, but it really might be time for the Walking Dead to shamble to an end, because they’re shambling away from anything human.


2. BPRD: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
By Mignola, Golden, Sniegoski, McDonald, Sook, Smith and Thompson

I keep reading BPRD completely out of order, but there is always something worthwhile in every one. In this one – which I think is the first BPRD book, but I can’t tell because the library always slap dewy decimal numbers all over the volume on the spine - it’s the Hellboy scenes. A demon’s humanity punching scientific indifference in the face. That stuff is fucking brilliant.


3. Northlanders
By Wood and Gianfelice

Davide Gianfelice draws a mean Viking and some terrific empty desolation and Brian Wood has some brilliant ideas for comics, but I always find the writer's stuff so po-faced and devoid of any kind of humour that they just seem to drag.

There is nothing wrong with having a mean, selfish and unappealing main character like Sven if they show the barest sign of humanity, but the main character in ‘Sven The Returned’ is just so self-righteous and serious that I honestly wouldn’t have minded it if he got his head lopped off by some mad berserker.

It’s not even an outrageous seriousness, when things get so damned important that they cross back over the line into silliness. It’s just a blank and dead-faced as a polar wind.


4. American Vampire vol 2
By Snyder and Albuquerque

This actually has a bit of a sense of humour, and is just outrageous enough. In the wake of Preacher, there have been a few Vertigo series that tried to tell another vast and sprawling American Epic, but most of them disappeared up their own arses before they were two years old. American Vampire is built on a foundation of cliché, but there are enough sly winks to keep things moving along nicely.

It’s also quite well told – it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised it was actually volume two of the series, because I’d had no trouble following it. The ability to pick up a random book in a series and still follow the story is one of those things in modern comics that is much rarer than it should be, so it’s worth following.


5. Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965
By the Kubert

Joe Kubert is a goddamn legend, and even though he is well into the twilight of his career, he is still picking away at the art and producing thoroughly decent books like this one.

Kubert’s deliberately rough pencils tell the story of one little skirmish in the vast clusterfuck that was the Vietnam War. The artist sensibly bypasses all the politics and goes straight to the meat – the men on the sharp end of an escalating war, thrust into a terrible battle and desperate to keep the man beside him alive.

It’s not just the pencils that are raw and bleeding, there is some clumsy narration and the barest stab at actual characterisation, but then the battle begins, and all politics and all justifications and all that shit doesn’t matter anymore. It’s Kubert war comics, about brave men dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and that never gets old.


6. Buddha vol2

Slowly getting through the Buddha series, but I read the first one months ago, and have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

Doesn’t matter, all good, happy here.

Can’t wait for volume three.


7. Vengeance of Moon Knight: Shock and Awe
By Hurwitz and Opena

I was going to give this a miss altogether, because all those grimy Moon Knight comics put me to sleep, but then I ended up enjoying the first 50 pages enormously, because Moon Knight took that baton out of his arse for once.

It’s the same thing that’s so appealing about the latest iteration of Daredevil. Nobody likes a moaner. And after years of standing around in the rain and excessively violent breakdowns, it was nice to see Moon Knight taking down the bad guys without moaning about how shit his life was.

But then some guy with no face was brought back from the dead and started doing horrible things and I ended up skim reading to the end of the book.

It looked like it was something different, but it wasn’t.


8. Avengers vol 1
By Bendis/Romita

I always thought people who moaned that time travel stories were too confusing and made their head hurt were old and stupid.

This means I have officially crossed the line into old and stupid, because I couldn’t follow Avengers - the first story arc in the recent re-launch of Marvel’s mightiest super-team - at all.

Bendis’ Avengers comics can be horribly clumsy and genuinely offensive, but these are side-effects of a powerful energy that often lashes out all over the place. While Bendis often comes across as the last person in the world who should ever be writing the Avengers, it’s that clash that generates the spark of his stories, and makes them compulsively readable, no matter how silly they get.

Fortunately, John Romita Jr has been doing superb action comics for decades now, and while this Avengers book ties itself up and knots that strangle the plot to death, there is always this raw and colourful punch that the artist offers up.


9. The Saga of the Bloody Benders
By Rick Geary

Rick’s Geary’s Victorian murder treasuries are some of the most entertaining and solid factual comics that you could ever hope for.

It’s largely due to Geary’s choice of subject matter – murder stories are some of the oldest stories, and there is something immortally fascinating by real-life tales of unimaginable callousness.

But Geary also puts these eternal murder mysteries in their proper historical context, telling stories of murder mansions in new cities that are growing at a ophenomenally dangerous rat, or in sparse communities far from the rest of the world, where it takes days to ride between properties.

And then he slathers these tales with his own recognisable art style, full of pinched and evil faces and genuine terror on the faces of the victims.

The Saga of The Bloody Benders is as entertaining and invigorating as any of Geary's other Treasuries of Victorian Murder, and there really is no higher praise I can give.

Friday, August 26, 2011

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Happily lost in 1969

It doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references in a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book. You’re not supposed to.

It’s always nice to see a new League story from Moore and O’Neill, but the release of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century:1969 means the same old boring complaints are also trotted out, the critics apparently oblivious that they’re saying nothing new.

Some of these complaints are a matter of taste – O’Neill remains one of the most genuinely disturbing artists in mainstream comics, with his chunky restraint sometimes blossoming into vast psychedelic grossness, and it’s easy to forget that not everybody actually likes that. (The Comics Code certainly didn’t.)

And some of these complaints have genuine merit – the sexual assault that takes place in LoEG: 1969 is an integral part of the story, but Moore’s willingness to use that kind of an act to show just how terrible things are has been raising eyebrows for years, and deserves to be questioned.

But there are other moans and groans that are less worthwhile. Reading a complex work like the League fires up the desire to gauge critical reaction, and to see if other people hated/loved it as much as you, or see if others find it boring/derivative/transcendent.

It’s just so disappointing to see so much thought and effort go into the same old complaints. Apparently, Alan Moore comics don’t have a plot, and there are too many obscure references.

Wow. That’s insightful.

The lack of plot could be aggravating if that is the sort of comic you want, but you haven’t got that from any Alan Moore comic yet, so maybe you should stop trying.

Complaining that an Alan Moore comic is all style and no plot is certainly nothing new – that one has been levelled at Moore’s work since Swamp Thing. If you don’t know that Moore’s stuff are all about Story Over Plot, than you haven’t been paying attention. The bearded one has always been quite clear about this during his career, and his ruminations on the difference between plot and story in his excellent Writing For Comics essay betray no contradiction.

There is some absolute truth in this claim - on a plot level, nothing really happens in 1969. Strange people wander about a strange London, wondering what is going on, and then there is some kind of psychotropic mindfuck of a battle during a Rolling Stones concert.

But on a story level, there are all sorts of things going on. My favourite is the story of immortal beings who are living extraordinary lives, and starting to crack under the pressure of keeping it inside the head. Mina Harker is in her nineties, and should be on her final deathbed somewhere, but she is still out there, trying to be cool, trying to keep up with a modern world that happens to be saturated in occult strangeness. They're fictional creatures, but they can still have a meltdown.

No wonder the story ends with one of these immortals sitting in a pool of his own piss during the grimmest punk gig ever, nodding out into a decade of Thatcher’s Britain. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

The other great complaint that greets any new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book is the bafflement at the huge amount of references to other books, movies and TV shows.

But I’m telling you: You don’t have to get all of them. I’ve enjoyed and understood every single League book without once resorting to the exhaustive efforts of Jess Nevins. Some knowledge is always helpful, but it’s only the most general things – if you’re reading a comic like this and don’t know about Doctor’s Jekyll’s dark side, or why Mina never takes off her scarf, then there’s no hope for you. (And you’re probably reading the wrong blog.)

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is doing nothing new with all of its references and homages. Authors like the brilliant Phillip Jose Farmer were doing the same thing decades ago, with books like Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage bringing the whole world of genre fiction together with a falling star sparking genetic links between heroes with grey eyes and square jaws.

But while all these fun and games certainly provide extra depth to a text, simply because the familiar characters are often very, very familiar, they are mainly just fun and games, and you don’t have to play if you don’t want to. (They can also provide fantastic returns with a re-read. I read Kim Newman's marvellous Anno Dracula for the first time in years recently, and enjoyed recognising a few faces from fiction that I hadn't been exposed to in earlier readings.)

They can nothing more than in-jokes, and Alan Moore likes a good laugh. In two of the writer’s most biting superhero comics – The Killing Joke and Watchmen – a character tells a joke that nicely sums up a major theme of both books, making a serious point with a wink. The references are little different.

And it can be fun – I do get a kick out of the fact that Jerry Cornelius is a bit negative, or that Jack Carter is not going to like what he finds when he heads up north, or that Jumping Jack Flash’s neighbours assumed he was all right now – but they’re just players in somebody else’s narrative. They’re not the meat of the story, they’re the gravy.

Because even without the references, even within the framework of the overall League of Extraordinary gentlemen, there are plenty of powerful moments in 1969. I like a good joke, but it’s the genuine creepiness of Haddo in the bed, or the harsh appearance of Dracula’s moustache, or a mythically strong Mr Hyde’s sudden intrusion into Mina’s tripping consciousness, or those grey tones of the last few pages, that I enjoyed most in the comic.

But the greater critical reaction to 1969 appears to be a bit less positive than mine, and while there have been several good points made, there have been also plenty of people willing to write the book off for the same tiresome reasons. They might be scathing about Moore’s alleged lack of originality, but these are not brilliant new points, just lazy readers and the same old parroting of the same old song. "Such happy times, Such stories I could tell."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Consider some more McCarthy Dredd

Brendan McCarthy’s comics don’t discreetly move towards you with a polite enquiry, they come at you with a wicked glint in the eye and a beautiful passion for vivid entertainment.

They come at you with a ROARR!



After a long and fascinating career that includes some remarkable Dredd comics, McCarthy returned to Judge Dredd with a stonkingly charming Doctor Who piss-take in 2000ad, and has followed that up with The Walking Dredd in issue 311 of the Megazine.

Well, it actually came out in June, but it’s only just shown up locally. It’s the first issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine that I’ve bought since it started putting reprint on the inside. It just got too expensive, but some new Mccarthy was enough to make me part with the $17.70 that #311 cost.

(It’s extraordinary, really – I buy fewer new comics than I have in decades, but I’ll always fork out for something by an idiosyncratic and visionary creator working on a solid character. Who would have thought that this was all it takes? DC apparently didn’t.)

But we’re not here to bitch and moan about the endless oceans of mediocrity that drown the comics business, we’re here to celebrate the fact that there is some new Judge Dredd comics drawn by Brendan McCarthy.

Because nobody does it like McCarthy – beneath a gory cover, the Big Man first shows up with those skinny, skinny legs of his -

- and we’re off and running. There is a particular angle to Dredd’s helmet that only Mccarthy can pull off, and Dredd’s body has that same barbed-wire look wiriness that it had 20 years ago, so it’s unmistakably the same artist.

But – as always – there is always some weird little experimentation that feeds off that familiarity. McCarthy is a Far Out artist, throwing away flights of fancy that other artists could build a career upon. But like many artists in his generation, he thrives on the strict confines of a well-told story.

McCarthy is the ultimate freewheeling artist, but the rigidity of a strip like Dredd forces him to focus on his storytelling, and produces extremely satisfying results. Every single panel in The Walking Dredd is a perfect rectangle. Each little box contains some kind of extraordinary image, there is no need to go for crazy panel shapes when you’ve got crazy art. That restraint is everything – you need the straight man when you’ve got a zombie Dredd riding a giant mutant spider by eating part of its brain:

Dialogue is almost totally superfluous when you’ve got images like that, and credited scripter Rob Williams has the unenviable task of covering up all this lovely art with big word balloons.

The story can still be understood without any words, and there is one bit where Williams does something that pretty much all Dredd writers who aren’t John Wagner do and gets one aspect of Dredd’s deceptively complex character utterly wrong, (it’s the bit where he makes the crack about vegetarians – they have nothing to do with the law, so Dredd would never, ever have an opinion about it), and then nails a totally Dredd moment (it’s the bit where he shakes off the last effects of zombification and takes a whole hour off to get cleaned up before he hits the streets again.)

Besides, all that unnecessary dialogue does give it a creepy silver age vibe, and the ironic and rotting tone of a Tale from the Crypt. That’s perfectly acceptable.

But, with all due respect to Mr Williams, it’s the McCarthy art we’re here to praise. And while his storytelling skills are easily seen in the black and white versions of his comics -
- it’s the colours that keep me coming back, baby. Dig those tones:

These are just as awesomely garish as any of McCarthy’s previous efforts. His eye for colour remains uniquely exceptional – he comes up with tones and entire colour palettes that nobody has tried before in comics, making it all look like a comic from ten years in the future. McCarthy’s comics are ahead of their times in so many ways, most of all in his paintbrush of colours.

Each page in The Walking Dredd is given its own distinctive colour tone – there are pages of purple and green chilly desolation,

or orange and red apocalyptic fun

All balanced out by individual moments of vivacious Pop!

Another notable difference that takes a while to notice between the black and white simplicity and ultra-stylised colours is the border. There is nothing there on the orginal art, but once the colours are applied, it is boxed in and surrounded by a subtle border splashed with neon spray paint

Each colour in the background matches the overall palette of the action in that page, and sometimes it even bleeds into the background of the story. Look at the background smudge in panel four of this page and it matches the swirls going around the edge of the page:

2000ad has often had to run stories that have needed some kind of intrusive border, with many strips commissioned for different publications with different sizes, and dumped in 2000ad with a tasteless banner, but these borders feel like a blatent attempt to give a cheap furturistic 3D effect.

And I’m totally down with that. Dredd should look both instantly dated and timelessly futuristic, and that’s just as hard as it sounds. McCarthy is apparently working on some new 2000ad strip, and I’ll be there for it, or for anything he does. Any artist who provides such beautiful work is always going to find an eager audience.

It’s Brendan McCarthy’s world, kids. We’re just lucky to live in it.

Thanks to David Rees for help with the scans

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kirby wins!

Everybody knows that golden and silver age comic creators got tragically screwed over by giant faceless corporations. The fact that Jack Kirby’s family have to fight so hard for simple acknowledgement is a goddamn tragedy, and no amount of shareholder return can justify Marvel Corp’s innumerable dick moves towards one of their founding fathers.

The latest court action has led to another loss for the Kirby clan, but Marvel is dreaming if it thinks that’s the end of it. These people have Jack Kirby’s DNA – they’re not going to give up. They learned that from their Dad’s art, while Marvel turned out to be just another evil and boring corporate entity that has learned none of the greatest lesson taught in many of its greatest comics – don’t be such a fucking bully.

So it’s easy to take a basic human moral stand and declare that Marvel is ideologically bankrupt, and that it hasn’t produced anything worthwhile since Fantastic Four #102 and that we should stick it to the man by not buying any more Marvel comics.

Unfortunately, while the types of people who take these stands often profess their love for Marvel, if asked to name a dozen creators, they often wouldn’t be able to name anybody who has done anything for the company since 1978. Saying you won’t buy any more Marvel comics for political reasons doesn’t mean dick if you weren’t buying them anyway. It’s not much of a sacrifice if there is nothing to sacrifice.

I don’t blame people for taking that stand and calling for a boycott of Marvel comics, but they do make me feel guilty about buying and enjoying the new Daredevil comic the other day. Even the tribute to Gene Colan at the back was instantly tainted by knowledge of the way Mean Gene was treated over the years.

So yeah, fuck Marvel. Obviously.

But it’s too easy to get mixed up between corporate tactics and artistic visions, and the two rarely fit well together. While I maintain a slightly unhealthy obsession with Marvel and DC superheroes that goes back to the cradle, the vast majority of their comics are of no interest, so it’s easy enough to hold on to my money.

But I still like to read bright and shiny and smart superhero comics that build on their own history and somehow turn silliness into something transcendental and iconic, and that is a lot rarer than it should be. I can’t help myself – I’m going to seize on to anything that offers something clever and colourful, like that Daredevil.

I know it’s not just money, it’s the encouragement, and the terrible tickle at the back of the brain that says you are giving moral support to a corporation that has royally screwed over almost all of my favourite creators. But that niggling feeling is drowned in selfish need, and the desire to support current creators – Waid, Martin and Rivera are all doing fine work that is a real pleasure to read.

Morally speaking, the Kirby family are so obviously in the right, that I can't help thinking my buying habits have zero impact. (Especially when I buy from a comic shop outside the US, whose numbers apparently mean nothing.) I can deny myself a comic I know I’m going to enjoy on purely political grounds, but it isn’t going to make any difference.

Especially when ultimately, irrefutable truth wins. People may try to hide it, or defend it in court, but Marvel and DC’s deplorable treatment of their founding fathers is historical fact now. This is not an argument. There is no fight here.

I just can’t believe there is anybody out there who could support Marvel’s business practices except for moron fanboyz and happy lawyers. This is as simple as one of Steve Ditko’s rants – there is Right & Wrong and Marvel is Wrong.

Somebody like Jack Liebowitz may have made an extraordinary amount of money by steering DC Comics through most of the 21st century, but he has been gone for ten years now, and his legacy is already fading, reducing him to a footnote in the biographies of immortal artists.

People will still going back to Kirby and Colan and Ditko and Siegel and Shuster and Finger and the work they did in comics for centuries to come. Boycotting Marvel comics isn’t going to change that fact. Their families deserve far more than they are getting, but that's an argument that will have to be settled in a court of law and endless commentary pointing out all the injustices committed over the years will not make any difference to that.

Jack Kirby co-created some of the most iconic and powerful fictional characters of the 20th century. Jack Kirby was not suitably rewarded for his efforts, but his work will last for eternity.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The future is known – Senna and A Game of Thrones

We’re all a bit scared of spoilers, but knowing what is going to happen isn’t always a bad thing.

While a good twist is always appreciated - and there have been some outstandingly average stories have been livened up by a last-minute swerve - good stories shouldn’t just have to rely on a shock factor to be interesting.

This has been recently proven with science, so don’t worry about spoilers. They’re not as important as you might think they are.

During the recent New Zealand Film Festival, I went to see Senna on the bloody big screen at The Civic. It’s a terrific documentary that examines the tragically short life of Ayrton Senna, a sheer genius behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. It’s a ridiculously unlikely story and even though it’s a totally one-sided, Senna is such a charming personality, and his story is so fast and crazy, that it’s almost impossible to dislike, even if you don't give a damn about the sport.

Ayrton Senna didn’t just win races – he won championships in the most stylish and impossible manner. If he needed to win one race to clinch the world title, he would stall in pole position and then overtake more than a dozen other cars to win, or crash into his rival, restart his car and drive a blinder to take the win, only to be denied by a dirty old technicality.

There is some incredible in-camera footage, and when Senna finally wins his prized Brazilian Grand Prix, he lets out hilarious screams of joy that are captured on his mike, and then passes out on the track. He is a crazy son of a bitch who also happens to be a goddamn driving genius.

And then he died.

It was the most bogan film festival crowd I’ve ever seen – 85% men in their thirties and forties. And every single one of them watching Senna triumph knew how sad it all was, because they knew what was coming up. They all knew what was going to happen on May 1, 1994.

And the documentary filmmakers knew this, and took full advantage of the fact. The lead-up to Senna’s tragic death is agonisingly slow, with several other serious crashes that same horrible weekend, and the camera dwells on every moment where Senna looks apprehensive or worried.

And then, finally, there is the in-car camera that shows Senna doing his usual thing, skipping around corners and darting through chicanes, and it goes on for ages, and the tension is unbearable. When the fatal corner suddenly blasts into view, it’s almost a mercy.

Everybody knew it was coming, and it was immensely powerful moment. Everything that happens after that terrible second is epilogue, the story of Ayrton Senna is over. But knowing what was going to happen didn’t reduce the enjoyment.

Why should it? I get a kick out of Die Hard every time I watch it, and I’ve watched it a lot. Any insinuations that the first viewing is the only worthwhile one, and that any work can only be truly appreciated when experienced once, are a facile and immature way to treat any kind of art.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself when I started really cracking into George R R Martin’s A Clash Of Kings.

There were a few people with impeccable taste who warned me how addictive the series would be, and I thought they were exaggerating, but after enjoying the TV adaptation of Game Of Thrones so much, I went ahead and started in on the whole series, after demolishing the first book on a Fijian beach.

And they turned out to be all right. It is a terrific read – full of intrigue and action and vast, world-changing events playing across a bloody canvas of raw human emotions. The prose is thick and comforting and warm, and none of the books should be read on an empty stomach, or you’ll be craving one of the brilliantly described feasts.

I can’t wait for the next series of Game of Thrones to kick into life, but I truly believe the spoilers the books serve up will not douse any of that enjoyment, because it didn’t the happen the first time.

I admit – I was plenty pissed when somebody thoughtlessly spoiled the big death at the climax of A Game Of Thrones, but when the TV series led up to that moment, it was as powerful as television gets, because history had been written, and could not be avoided.

And every move that character made that led to that ultimate fate was painful – there were hundreds of tiny little factors that led to that person meeting that sword, and it could have been avoided if somebody had only stepped left instead of right.

Another upcoming key moment in the entire text – a particularly nasty wedding – has also been spoiled for me, but I don’t doubt that it will be any less shocking or horrible when it finally comes.

Isn’t that why we cram our bookshelves and computers with stuff we’ve read a hundred times over? It’s not just an attempt to recapture that first thrill every time, it’s to appreciate the build-up, to see forthcoming tragedy in the tiniest of gestures.

God bless Ayrton Senna and the Gods save the victims of Westeros wrath. We can’t save them or stop them from reaching their ultimate fates, but we can still enjoy the drama and love of their lives.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Other comics I have met and liked (and one that tried to kick my teeth in)

It’s always nice to read a comic that exceeds any expectations, and is clever, witty or fun enough to stand out in the medium’s ocean of mediocrity. It’s always a real pleasure to come across something unexpectedly satisfying.

It’s also always fun to rip into something that is Everything That Is Wrong With Modern Comics. It might be hard to read these kinds of comics, but you can’t go wrong with a good moan to make you feel better about it.


James Sturm’s Market Day is a beautifully understated story, telling the simple fable of Kendleman – a craftsman in the dying days of Old Europe, struggling to find a buyer willing to pay a suitable price for the painstaking amount of work he put into his carpets, and finding modern industrialisation tipping his world upside down.

It’s a way of life that is barely a century old, but already anciently quaint, and the story works so well because Sturm doesn’t overcook his point. The tale takes place over one day, but it’s such a pivotal day in Kendleman’s life that there isn’t anything more to be said.

Sturm’s art is clear and open and deceptively simple, saturated in old colours and full of fittingly old-school craft.

Market Day is a lovely little comic, because it mixes charming simplicity with a seething undercurrent of human emotion. That shouldn’t be much to ask for in comics, and it’s rarer than it should be.

A little craft can go a long way.


So I recently read the last five issues of The Invisibles while drinking gin on the beach, which I haven’t done in fucking years, and it was like catching up with an old friend. It’s an old friend that has gone slightly to seed and has become a little annoying, but there was a surprising amount of warmth in seeing it again.

The Invisibles is getting more disturbing every year, and there are bits in these issues that once seemed sweet and now just feel weirdly wrong. 2012 is next year, and there is still no rocket car or game-in-a-can, but the world is still a lot more different than it was a decade ago, and some kind of metaphysical singularity is still a possibility. (It’s a fucking small one, but it’s there.)

But who cares about the queasiness? It was still bloody nice to catch up with an old mate, and while we’ve both grown in different directions, there is all sorts of catching up to do, and a fondness that has only strengthened with the weight of the years between us. And it’s good to see those characters again.

All the King Mob people I met in real life since the Invisibles ended turned out to be narcissistic twats, but I’ve seen a few little Buddhas like Dane, and always enjoy meeting a new Boy or Lord Fanny.

The Invisibles are everywhere now - mass communication has got all the freaks together. When they were once separated by the tyranny of geography, now they can all tweet their favourite people, and there is a good chance they will reply back.

It’s one of the big points hidden in the messy artwork and ontological breakdowns of those final issues, and one of the reasons I love reading the Invisibles over and over again, because I see something different every time. This most recent time, the dark manuverings of the bad guys feels more empty and purposeless than ever before. There was a lot of drama between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, but it never really meant anything in the end. It was only a game.

The last decade got sidetracked by pointless wars that are routinely ignored by most of the world, even though terrible misery is still occurring on a daily basis. But the end of The Invisibles always tells the truth, no matter how many times I read it: there is no difference between them and us. There never was.

The next morning after the gin and the beach and The Invisibles, I woke up with the WORST hangover. I totally deserved it.


“Well done, that man.”

Garth Ennis is great at these tiny bits of action that sum everything you need to know about a character, and he whips one out for the first five pages of Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker, the final (and potentially most pivotal) mini-series to spin out of The Boys.

After a suitable James Ellroy quote, the comics starts with a young Billy Butcher in action in the Falkland Islands in May, 1982. He’s manning a machine gun as the Argies come calling, holding his ground and death swoops in from the skies and taking the bastard out.

There are six issues in this series, but all you need to know about the character is there in those opening five pages. He’s a fighter and a warrior who will not back down, even when faced with overwhelming odds. And if you come at him, he will stand his ground and take you down.

The Boys is now well inside the most interesting phase of the story, moving past the usual superhero decadence and into far more complex territory, but it’s going to be Billy Butcher leading us there, and his refusal to budge is an admirable trait, but guaranteed to lead to some kind of heartbreak.


Countdown to Final Crisis couldn’t be as bad as everybody said it was, could it?

Yeah, it could. The 52-issue weekly DC series was critically hammered when it came out in 2007, and the vibe was so toxic I never got around to reading it, even though I have a pathological urge to know what is vaguely going on in the DC Universe. (I can’t shake it. I’ve tried.)

But then I saw all four volumes in a local library, and I was all over those comics before I even knew what I was doing. I burned through them in a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and by the end of them I wished I had done something much more constructive with that dead time, like sort out my sock drawer.

There is such a thing as So Bad It’s Good, but there is also lots of So Bad It’s Bad, and Countdown is full of the latter. It’s ideologically dubious, brain-numbingly stupid and full of terrible storytelling.

I can’t even tell what really happened. Lots of superheroes yelled at each other. There is a miserable fate for poor fucking Triplicate Girl – DC’s #1 tragic victim since 1957! Then a whole bunch of people beat up another whole bunch of people, but I couldn’t tell who was supposed to be important, or which one was the Donna Troy I’ve had a crush on since I was five.

It’s astounding to think the head writer of this was also behind some of the finest superhero cartoons of the past two decades, but either Paul Dini has seriously lost his mojo, or there was so much editorial intereference it reduced the story to incoherence.

The bland hemogeny of the writing is matched by some truly average art. The individual styles of artists like Jim Starlin, Pete Woods and ron Lim is scrubbed into the DC House style, a dull, fiftieth-generation copy of ideas Jim Lee tossed off on a lazy morning in 1994.

Countdown is also one of those comics that makes its superheroes so goddamn unlikable that it’s hard to care about what happens to them. In this story, they are often directly responsible for the deaths of entire worlds, and move on with a shrug. Billions and billions of lives lost, but Ray Palmer is okay, so that’s all that matters.

Everybody was right. This is bad comics.


But Absalom is the business.

Gordon Rennie had clearly lost interest in writing for 2000ad when he was wrapping up Caballistics Inc, talking up the money in the video game industry and weary of fanboy expectations, the Best New Dredd Writer Of The Current Lot faded away.

Unfortunately, the story he was telling in Caballistics Inc wasn’t quite over, even though he’d written many scenes where the good guys shot the big bad guys in the face. Fortunately, there is now Harry Absolom, a new series in 2000ad by Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion.

Even better is the fact that Rennie has returned from his slight exile with renewed passion for writing a bloody good story. The Caballistics characters were often a bit too cool for school, but Absalom is a right rotten old bastard, an old school copper with a flask of booze in one hand and a knuckleduster in the other, while secretly upholding an ancient accord between the English throne and the powers of Hell, which makes him a fascinating lead character.

It’s set in the same monochrome Caballistics world, and there have been a couple of walk-on cameos from stars of the previous strip, but Absalom is refreshingly old-school, and it’s worth following his story for a while.

The 2000ad issues now appearing on local shelves are from May, and it’s a particularly fruitful time, with the Red Seas reaching some kind of long-awaited climax, Grant/Ezquerra doing a Judge Anderson story and the usual casual brilliance of Dredd and Dante. But Absalom is yet another unexpected gem in the British weekly, and can be added to a long, long list of brilliance.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Futuristic nostalgias and the post-holiday slump

For the first time ever, I didn’t buy a single comic book on an overseas trip when we went to Fiji late last month, because this holiday was all about snorkeling, sitting around in the sun and reading books instead of hunting for comic shops, which is what I usually do.

But all holidays have to end, and we came back to a grim New Zealand winter, so I went straight out and bought some comics in a bid to feel better.

It totally worked.


Yesterday’s Tomorrows – a terrific collection of Rian Hughes’ art - was the first comic I got, less than nine hours after we got back in the country. I’ve always had a total comics chubby for Hughes’ work, and had been planning on picking up this book for a while, so post-holiday blues were the perfect excuse.

It probably took me so long to get it because I already have half the stuff in the book, with Really and Truly and Dare both sitting somewhere in that disturbingly tall pile of 2000ad paraphernalia in the corner of the room. But it is nice to have them all in one book, along with a bunch of stories that have been a lot harder to find. (It’s just a shame there aren’t any of the Tales From Beyond Science comics, which with creepy stories from John Smith and Mark Millar, managed to be a rare bright spot in early 1990s 2000ad and some of my personal favourite Hughes comics – he even managed to make Alan McKenzie scripts look interesting.) And when the art is this good, it’s impossible to resist for too long, no matter how much redundancy there is.

Hughes is rightly applauded for his design skills – his eye for graphic design is one of the best in the business, always surprisingly fresh while being unmistakably Hughes. It’s a fantastic cocktail of charming retro, stupefyingly modern and queasily futuristic art.

But reading a bunch of his comics all in one go shows that he is more than blocky attractions – his art can be a lot more detailed than it first appears, but there isn’t one superfluous line in his work, every crease and furrow is in service to the story. He can pull off an epic moment like the Mekon’s appearance in the Dare story, or the grim shadows in a Raymond Chandler yarn, or the wide open spaces of The Science Service, or the groovy actioneering of Really and Truly with equal accomplishment.

Hughes’ comics are beautiful to read and impeccably designed, and when a visit to the local comic shop reveals massive shelves full of comics that look like they’re been put together by an intellectually disabled monkey, the work of somebody who actually puts some goddamn thought into the design is always going to stand out. And when it’s a talent like Hughes, it’s beautifully unavoidable.


The other notable comic that I got on an impulse on the day I returned from a land of sun, sand and surf was the latest Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, and it’s damn near as pretty as the Hughes book.

Marcos and Rivera both have a pleasingly open style, with colourful art that is given the space to breathe on the page. Both artists offer up attractive and pleasing art, bringing bright primary colours to a comic that is usually saturated in shadows. Martin can turn a walk across the street into a beautiful little mini epic of sound, scent and movement, which isn’t easy in a static medium, while Rivera switches between the impossible flipping around of a super-hero blazing with confidence and some courtroom shenanigans with ease.

Just as pleasing than this open and colourful art is the book’s apparent direction. Frank Miller’s influence is often impossible to escape, but those brief efforts to do a Daredevil who isn’t moping around in his own misery like a teenager who has been grounded for swearing at his Mum are always welcome.

Miller did do some extraordinary things with his Daredevil stories, but attempts to recapture his spark have never really succeeded and the most memorable runs on the comic since then have not followed his path so religiously. Ann Nocenti and John Eomita Jr cranked up the weirdness, while Karl Kesel and Cray Nord put a grin on the devil’s face, and even though these comics were routinely ignored when they were published, they have held up a lot better than many other Daredevil runs.

So with the new comic, it will be a relief if it manages to avoid tedious ninja politics and adolescent angsting. Matt Murdock’s secret identity is in tatters, but he deals with it in a surprisingly mature way for a super hero comic, shrugging and moving on, and leaving everybody else to worry about it.

There is every chance that the comic will soon return to more gritted-teeth nonsense, but a wry smile is always more welcoming.


I also bought a couple of issues of Paul Cornell’s recent Action Comics stuff, but there really isn’t much to say about them, although I am baffled that anybody could feel nostalgia for the Reign of The Supermen, (I rabidly collected the Supermen comics at the time, and I feel nothing to see the Cyborg Superman, Superboy, Steel and the Eradicator alongside the main man himself.)

But I wasn’t done with post-holiday retail therapy. After burning through A Game of Thrones in two days in Fiji, I couldn’t stop myself from getting the rest of the book series in one lovely boxed set. I also got some Justice League cartoons and some Comics Journal from ten years ago, both of which can be surprisingly hard to find in this corner of the world, and I enjoyed the hell out of the Captain America movie.

I really am a shallow son of a bitch, because returning to winter and work really is made a little easier by scratching these pop-culture itches. When the comics and books and magazines and movies and cartoons are this satisfying and rewarding, who can blame me?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Venture Bros: They're two completely different Batmen!


"I can't keep doing that, it's starting to make them buggy. Look at this. Dean. What day is this?"


"Goooooood. Now Hank, what color is my tongue?"

"It's kind of.. Wednesday? Like a light Wednesday?"



"Look, Ted. It's just hard. I don't get to meet many women and when I do, they play games."

"I love you. Can we play a game?"

"Right. Exactly. They just move in, change your furniture and start right in with the head games."



"Wait, what's with the whip?"

"It came with the hat. It's a detective whip."



"Polygamy! Mr Polyygamy! And this is Mrs Polygamy, Mrs Polygamy, Mrs Polygamy and Mrs Polygamy!"



"Somebody's in my car."

"That is a legitmate superpower."

"I've seen him do that from another country away."



"Leviathan draws near! Death is at hand! We can not outrun the beast!"

"He gets that way around death. It's like he's in a Creed video. Why don't we just go in one of these doors?"

"Yeah, okay. Yeah, that's cool."



"Gary. You've seen too much."

"I've seen my only real friend die. I've seen a giant penny run over a guy dressed like a rainbow. I've seen the Donkey Kong kill screen. I've seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion."

"Aaaaah! G! A! R! Y! You ain't got no alibi! You're Gary! What, what! You're Gary!"

"Okay, I have not seen that ever!"



"Ha ha ha! These ladies are not for you! They are for the Rusty! The Rusty could have any of these women, if he just put in the effort!"

"Lindsay Wagner? Really?"

"Yes! The Rusty met Lindsay Wagner at a party! She was totally into the Rusty! Witty banter was shared! But the Rusty could not seal the deal! This was because the Rusty was tired! Only because of this!"



"Billy? Billy!"


"Robo-Bo! Get the Conject-U-Cycle!"

*dixie horn blares*



"Oh my God! This water is fucking freezing! I am NOT properly dressed!"



"Dean, I think I know what this is all about. You know, a wise man who was either Gurdjieff or Baba Oje once told me you can never step into the same river twice."

"That makes no sense, sir."

"Triana really likes that boy and they are very happy together. And if you truly love her, you should just move on and be happy that she's happy. Don't you think?"

"You know what I think? Fuck you!"