Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rob's Top 10 Comic-Related Bargains of 2011

This time last year, I put together a list of my top ten graphic novels of 2010 and my top ten comic-related bargains of 2010.  I’m not going to bother putting together a list of my top ten graphic novels of 2011, mainly because I don’t think I have read ten new graphic novels this year, so I’ll just say that Love and Rockets New Stories #4 was probably my favourite of the few new GNs I read in 2011, that I also enjoyed reading Locke & Key, Scalped, Jonah Hex and the current reprints of E.C. Segar’s Popeye strips, as well as small press comics by Andrew Cheverton (‘Pictures Made of Light’, ‘West’), Martin Eden (‘Spandex’), Rol Hirst (‘Too Much Sex & Violence’), and Paul Rainey (‘Thunder Brother: Soap Division’) and leave it there.  Instead, here are my top 10 comic-related bargains of 2011:

10. E.C. Segar’s Popeye HCs 

I didn’t get an especially great deal on these – although I have been bought at least two of the five volumes I have so far as presents – I just happen to think that these brilliant books are great value for money anyway.  Each volume has a recommended retail price of £21.99 / $29.99, you can usually get them online for around £15.00 (sometimes less), and yet they are huge books, packed full of comics, which take longer to read than most Marvel Omnibus books (which is something I say every time I review one, but it’s true).  

9. Christian Comics from a Woman in Hastings 

In the summer, following a tip-off from my sister, who met a woman selling comics at a car boot sale and got her number for me, I went to a big house in Hastings and spent an hour or so rummaging through piles of comics priced at £1.00 each.  Most of them were just ‘80s / ‘90s crap and overpriced at £1.00 each, but I did manage to find ten comics I wanted to buy, including two hilarious Christian comics from the 1970s – ‘Hansi the Girl Who Loved the Swastika’ and ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ – which would have made rummaging through all those comics more than worthwhile even if they had been the only two comics I bought.  

8. Books from The Works 

A branch of discount book chain The Works finally opened near me this year, and while they don’t often have graphic novels in there, I have managed to grab a couple of comic-related bargains since they opened.  First, I got a copy of Chip Kidd’s ‘Bat-Manga’ book – which reprints some long-forgotten Japanese Batman comics from the ‘60s – for £4.99 (RRP £19.99) and then I got a copy of ‘The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga’ – a rather large hardcover book that comes with a Tezuka documentary on DVD – for £6.99 (RRP £25.00).  Neither of those were books I was desperate to own, but they are both very nice books, and were impossible to resist at those prices.  

7. Books Subsidised by the Radio Times

A year or so ago, I was asked to take part in online surveys by the Radio Times – a magazine I subscribe to – in return for points which can be converted to Amazon vouchers.  These surveys only come through occasionally and don’t take very long to complete, and so far I have managed to convert my survey points into two £5.00 Amazon vouchers.  The first one I put towards a Jonah Hex book and the second one I put towards the first volume of The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library, ‘Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes’, which I am reading right now.  This has a recommended retail price of £17.99, had an Amazon price of £13.65 when I ordered it, and it only cost me £8.65.  It’s a great looking book!

6. Essentials Books from Ebay

Back in May, a tip-off from Rol led me to eBay, where some bloke had listed a lot of Marvel Essentials books for sale – buy-it-now – for just £4.00 (plus £1.00 for postage) each.  I bought six or seven volumes of the Essential Hulk, Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Volumes 1 & 2, Essential Marvel Two-In-One Volume 1, and probably some other stuff, too.  I haven’t read any of these books yet, but I will enjoy catching up with them eventually.

5. Thor Omnibus Subsidised by LoveFilm

Earlier in the year, I signed up for a free trial with online DVD rental company LoveFilm, who at the time were offering a free £20.00 Amazon voucher along with their trials.  This was only open to first time customers, but I gave it a go anyway, even though I have enjoyed several free LoveFilm trials in the past, and eventually I was emailed a £20 Amazon voucher which I put towards a copy of the Thor Omnibus HC (the one by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) which has a recommended retail price of £75.00, had an Amazon price of £56.13 at the time, and thanks to my voucher, only cost me £36.13.  I wish I’d enjoyed reading it more.  

4. Books Bought with Nectar Points

Have you got a Nectar card?  Well, even if you don’t shop in Sainsbury’s, you should probably get one, because you can also collect points from hundreds of online retailers, including Amazon and eBay, if you visit these sites through links on the Nectar website, and the best thing is that you can later exchange your points for Amazon vouchers.  A few months ago, I exchanged some of my points for a £20.00 Amazon voucher, which I spent on several Jonah hex TPBs, and I currently have enough points to get another £35.00 of Amazon vouchers, which I will (of course) be spending on even more graphic novels soon.

3. Library Books

I didn’t get that many graphic novels out of the library this year but libraries are great and still deserve a place near the top of this list.  This year, I borrowed the first few volumes of Scalped – which I liked so much I have since bought them all – and the final volume of Ex Machina, as well as a few unusual GNs that I was keen to read but not enough to actually buy them, like DC’s ‘Saga of the Super-Sons’ TPB.  Most of the libraries near me have at least a few graphic novels in stock and, better still, if I go to the Kent Libraries website, I can search all the libraries in Kent and get books sent to my local library, and all I have to pay is a 35p reservation fee.  In the past, I have even asked my local library to order books in just for me, which they have, and again, all I had to pay was a small reservation fee, and I recently found out that I can order in books from public libraries all over the UK – not just within my county – which costs more, but it’s still only a couple of quid.  All of the services I have just mentioned should be available in libraries throughout the UK.

2. Digital Comics 

I know that digital comics aren’t for everyone but I love ‘em.  I do find it difficult to read some comics online and I still prefer my graphic novels made of ink and paper, but I much prefer digital comics to monthly periodical comics these days and they also provide an affordable way to sample new series.  I don’t think the price of most digital comics is low enough, considering they have no resale value – $1.99 is usually the most I will pay for a digital comic, and even that seems like a bit too much – but Comixology regularly offer certain comics at just $0.99c for a limited period.  This year, I downloaded issues 1 to 11 of Jeff Smith’s Rasl for $0.99c each (although the first issue was free) and Morning Glories issues 1 to 12 for $0.99c each (I think the first issue of that was free, too), which was quite a saving on the price of buying the paper comics.

1. 110 Marvel GNs

Back in the spring, I noticed that a seller who lives quite near to me had listed a collection of 110 Marvel graphic novels for sale on eBay for about £500 and hadn’t received any offers.  I emailed him and offered him £400 in cash for a private sale, which he accepted, and I went and collected them the same day.  I kept back more than twenty of these books for myself – including all the Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne books, Hulk Visionaries: Peter David volumes 1 to 7, Champions Classic volumes 1 & 2, and What If Classic volumes 1 to 5 – and sold the rest on Amazon for a little over £400.  It was a bit of a pain in the arse selling all the books I didn’t want, and I still have a few that haven’t sold yet, but it was more than worth the effort.  The books I kept would have cost me about £200 to buy new but this way they didn’t cost me a penny, meaning that this deal was always going to be hard to beat as my bargain of the year.

Happy new year!  May 2012 bring bargains to you all!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Swamp Thing issues 2 and 3 (2011)

Swamp Thing is the only one of the handful of DC’s ‘New 52’ titles I sampled that I have decided to stick with beyond the first issue, as I am quite fond of the character and the first issue was reasonably strong, despite it being ‘bogged’ down in continuity and a bit too talky.

In issue one, Alec Holland had returned from the dead and was working as a labourer, some weird horror stuff happened, and Swamp Thing himself – the creature that, for many years, thought it was Alec Holland – only appeared on the final page.  Except it turns out in #2 that this wasn’t the Swamp Thing we all know and love at all, but another swamp creature who looks a lot like him and has come to talk to Alec on behalf of ‘The Green’.  This swamp creature spends most of #2 telling Alec that, even though he never was the original Swamp Thing, he was supposed to be, and that the Swamp Thing that we all know and love was just something ‘The Green’ cobbled together at the last minute when Alec Holland went and buggered up its plans by dying.  ‘The Green’ has brought Alec back from the dead because it wants him to become a new Swamp Thing, a Swamp Thing with a human core, which will be necessary to defend ‘The Green’ against ‘The Rot’ – which is the opposite of ‘The Green’ – and its representative, Sethe, who is on his way to unleash his own brand of horror upon the Earth.  Alec turns down this invitation to become another Swamp Thing, and at the end of #2, while fleeing from some monsters, he is rescued by a short-haired Abigail Arcane, who already knows all about Sethe and ‘The Rot’ and spends half of #3 talking to him about it.

Just as there are some humans, like Alec, who are born with a connection to ‘The Green’, there are others, like Abigail and her family, who are born with a connection to ‘The Rot’, and when the original Swamp Thing disappeared from her life, Abigail began to feel ‘The Rot’ calling to her again.  More importantly, the rot has also been calling to her half brother, William Arcane, who lives in a plastic bubble in a children’s home because he is acutely allergic to chlorophyll, and she needs Alec’s help to save him.  (Note: Even though he does not yet look like an overgrown turnip, Alec has the ability to manipulate trees and plants and other green stuff.)

I was under the impression that all of DC’s ‘New 52’ titles were supposed to be fresh and accessible to new readers, but this series was already ‘mired’ in continuity just a few pages into the first issue, and it’s hard to see how anyone who hadn’t already read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run wouldn’t be seriously confused by now.  Writer Scott Snyder is clearly paying tribute to Moore’s run here, while at the same time pissing all over it, telling us that Moore’s Swamp Thing was a just a failed second choice, a dry run for a new, improved creature.  This decision to write off Moore’s Swamp Thing doesn’t particularly bother me, even though Moore’s Swamp Thing run is one of my favourite runs of comics ever – probably my favourite thing Alan Moore has done.  I still have those comics and nothing anyone else does will stop me enjoying them.  In fact, I want creators to make bold moves, to try something different, and wish this series could have been less tied to its past (which probably would have made it a lot less talky).  Snyder is a good writer, clearly faced with a difficult task – i.e. following Alan Moore – but I did think that some of the dialogue seemed a bit contrived, the many references to ‘The Green’ seemed quite heavy-handed, and the first time someone mentioned ‘The Rot’, I struggled not to laugh.

The good news is that the horror aspects of this comic – which again seem reminiscent of the horror in Alan Moore’s run – work well and are really quite disturbing, thanks largely to Yanick Paquette’s stunning art.  I have enjoyed his work in the past but he really seems to have upped his game here (although at least half of the pages in #3 were drawn by someone called Victor Ibáñez, who did such a good job that I didn’t realise that it was the work of a different artist until I got to the credits on the final page).  I am definitely going to give this series a chance and will stick with it until the end of the first story arc, as it has the potential to be a really good – and great looking – horror comic, and hopefully, once all the set up is out of the way, it will become just that.  Whether or not I continue beyond the first story arc really depends on whether everyone stops talking so much.

Cost: These have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded mine from Comixology and paid $1.99 each, which is the price they drop to once they have been on sale at $2.99 for a month.           

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Sergio Aragones Funnies issues 1 to 5

Sergio Aragonés is in his mid-seventies now but is still going strong, as this new monthly series from Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics demonstrates.  Each issue is a mix of the single-page, silent humour strips Aragonés is most famous for, a few longer strips – some based on historical events, some fictional and funny, some fictional and touching, some autobiographical – and puzzle pages (spot the difference, etc.).  It’s a slightly odd mix, as I can’t imagine most kids being that interested in the autobiographical stories, the humour strips are mostly aimed at a youngish audience, and the puzzle pages are aimed at a very young audience, but it’s still the perfect outlet for Aragonés’ talents and the sort of outlet he should have been given years ago.

For me, the best thing about these comics is the autobiographical strips.  Born in Spain, a refugee in France during the Spanish Civil War, educated in Mexico, and a seasoned traveller, Aragonés has lived quite an eventful life and the stories he has told so far seem to be just the tip of the iceberg.  There is at least one autobiographical story per issue, and so far he has told of his time working as a movie extra (while still a student) in the 1950s, the first time he ever earned money drawing, his love of scuba diving, his love of puppets, and most interesting / unexpected of all, his time working as a camera assistant / sound man on wildlife documentaries, which took him all over the world.  I could honestly read these stories all day long and I hope this series – and Sergio – just keeps on going forever.

These have a cover price of $3.50 (about £2.50) each.  I bought a couple of issues on eBid and the rest on eBay, from various sellers, and paid about £2.00 each, including postage. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Spandex #5

It’s another great issue of Martin Eden’s Spandex.  Last issue, with the exception of their leader, Liberty, and their newest member, Neon, the various members of Britain’s first gay super-hero team, Spandex, were defeated by lesbian super-villain team Les Girlz.  This issue, Liberty finds herself taking on dozens of super-villains, with a little help from the original Spandex team, Japanese super-heroes the J-Team, and the O-Men, in a piss-take of bloated super-hero crossover events.  Along the way, we find out Liberty’s origin, and the origin of the Spandex team, in some nicely done flashback scenes, and eventually we get to find out what has happened to the defeated members of Spandex, and who the traitor in the team is (it’s not who you think it is). 

This is part two of a four-part story, so nothing is resolved by the end of the issue.  In fact, the main story doesn’t progress that much from the end of the previous issue, but what does occur is a lot of fun.  Eden has a gift for creating great characters and this issue is packed full of original super-heroes and super-villains.  Some of his characters are parodies of existing characters given a gay twist – the Gulk, James Bend, etc. – but they are usually witty / clever parodies, seemingly informed by genuine affection for the source material (this very modern, occasionally rude, super-hero comic is clearly not the work of someone who hates super-heroes).  I assume that most of these characters were created especially for this issue, but the O-Men were the stars of Eden’s previous super-hero series, which I regret to say I’ve never read, and I was very pleased to read on the final page of this issue that he will be releasing several large O-Men collections in the near future.  If the O-Men was half as good as Spandex is, I will definitely be buying them all!

Spandex is available for £3.20 per issue (including postage and packing) from the Spandex website.  

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales TPB

Another great Jonah Hex book, this time collecting JH issues 55 to 60, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti (as usual) and illustrated by Vicente Alcázar, Phil Winslade, Jordi Bernet, CP Smith, Giancarlo Caracuzzo and Brian Stelfreeze.  While the previous volume, The Six Gun War, dabbled with an extended storyline, the issues collected in this volume return to the more successful done-in-one (and even done-in-half, as one of the issues collected here contained two stories) format seen in previous volumes.  Best of the bunch is the title story, illustrated by the fantastic Jordi Bernet, in which two kids sneak off one night to watch Jonah hex in action, and discover that he more than lives up to the ‘tall tales’ they have heard about him, but all the other issues are good, too.  Gray and Palmiotti somehow continue to come up with new twists on some otherwise generic Western stories and pepper their scripts with great dialogue.  In the story ‘Tall Tales’, not only does Jonah Hex literally tackle a horse to the ground after he runs out of bullets during a gunfight, but the outlaw who had been riding the horse then says: ‘Well, there it is then, eh?  The wily exploits of a genuine outlaw finally at an end thanks to the acrobatic horse tackling of the world’s ugliest man.’  I would have bought this book for that scene alone!

Spanish artist Jordi Bernet, a Jonah Hex regular, illustrates two stories in this volume and his cartoony European style is perfect for this series – I would be happy if every JH comic was drawn by Bernet – but the work by the other artists contributing to this volume is never less than good.  I really liked the look of the issue drawn by Giancarlo Caracuzzo – like a cross between John Buscema and Tony Moore – but the more realistic art of CP Smith and Brian Stelfreeze was very good, too.

I’ve got no complaints about this book and I’ll definitely be back for the next (final?) volume, ‘Bury Me In Hell’.  This volume has a (Titan Books) cover price of £10.99.  I bought my copy from Amazon, where it is currently £9.89, but as was the case with the previous volume, I paid for it with a gift voucher I got from trading in some of my Nectar points, so it didn’t really cost me anything.  

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Batman #1 / Wonder Woman #1

Here are two more comics I downloaded from Comixology.  Two more comics from DC’s ‘New 52’, in fact.  Considering I had very little interest in DC’s recent reboot, I seem to have downloaded rather a lot of their new number ones, don’t I?  So far, I have downloaded Action Comics #1 (didn’t like it), Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #1 (not bad), Animal Man #1 (also not bad), Swamp Thing #1 (pretty good), and now these two.  That’s all the ones I was even remotely interested in apart from All-Star Western #1, the title I was most interested in, which I probably won’t download at all now as I am intending to buy the eventual trade paperback collection (but I bet the bastards at DC release it as an overpriced ‘deluxe’ hardcover first and make me wait about a year for the TPB).

I started off not liking Batman #1 very much.  It began with yet another breakout at Arkham Asylum and Batman, with a little help from a friend, taking down several of his greatest foes – Killer Croc, The Riddler, Mr Freeze, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Professor Pyg, etc. – over the course of just a few pages, which makes you wonder how this lot ever managed to give Batman so much trouble in the past.  Writer Scott ‘American Vampire’ Snyder’s narration also seemed a bit heavy handed to start with, and I wasn’t particularly taken with Greg Capullo’s art during the breakout, as it seemed a bit too much like the Jim Lee-inspired art on display in a lot of modern DC comics (which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but I don’t – Jim Aparo is the best Batman artist ever, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise).  However, as the comic went on, I warmed to it.  Snyder’s Dark Knight Detective seems to be just that – a detective – and after the initial, obligatory action sequence in Arkham, he goes on to investigate a (very gory for a mainstream DC comic) murder using just his smarts and billions of dollars worth of forensics equipment, rather than beating information out of informants, etc., which makes a change (although I’m sure he will get to do some beating as the story goes on).  What also makes a change is Bruce Wayne’s plans to use his fortune to redevelop some of Gotham’s poorer areas, which might prove a more effective way to combat crime than dressing up as the world’s most expensive bat and punching poor people.  Greg Capullo’s art grew on me as the story went on, too.  I think I just didn’t like the way he drew all the super-villains in Arkham, but everything else was rather nice.

Like most of the other ‘New 52’ comics I read, this doesn’t seem like much of a reboot at all.  I mean, this doesn’t even try and restart the Batman franchise from day one.  Not only is there no new origin for Batman himself, most of his old foes seem to already be well-established criminals, plus former-Robin Dick Grayson is already Nightwing, former-Robin Tim Drake is already Red Robin, and Damian Wayne is already the current Robin, so this Batman has clearly been around long enough to burn through a couple of sidekicks.

To tell the truth, I am not a massive Batman fan and therefore I am not the target audience for this comic.  I only bought it because it had received some good reviews and because it was written by Scott Snyder, and I didn’t really expect to like it that much.  In the end, though, I thought it was pretty good.  I’m not sure if I will bother buying the second issue, but if I ever see the TPB in my local library, I will definitely check it out, and I’d quite like to read some of Snyder’s earlier Batman work, too, as I keep hearing good things about it.

Wonder Woman #1 looked amazing, thanks to artist Cliff Chiang, and writer Brian Azzarello (who I’ve always considered a bit overrated) has written the least boring Wonder Woman comic I’ve ever read.  But that isn’t really saying much.  This issue was action-packed, violent, gory, and even a little bit sexy, but I didn’t really understand what was going on.  Some horses were beheaded, some creatures grew from the horses’ neck-stumps, they tried to kill a girl, Wonder Woman saved her.  I’m sure it will become clear who this girl is in the next issue, or at least several issues down the line, but I’m not sure if I can be bothered to stick around and find out.  Again, though, I’m not really a Wonder Woman fan, am not really the target audience for this comic, and only really bought it because it had received a lot of good reviews.  Azzarello, perhaps wisely, has set this series firmly in the world of Greek mythology, so if you are in to such things, you may enjoy this comic more than I did.  Unfortunately, my interest in such things is low.  I might read the TPB if I saw it in my local library, but if it weren’t for the great art, I probably wouldn’t bother.

Cost: As was the case with all the other ‘New 52’ comics I have bought, I downloaded these from Comixology.  This time, though, instead of getting drunk and downloading them on the day they were released, I waited a month and got them a dollar cheaper than I would have done if I’d been less patient / less sober.  In other words, these cost me $1.99 each.    

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Locke & Key: Clockworks issues 1 & 2

Being a rather impatient fellow, when I saw that Comixology have now started selling downloads of IDW comics and had copies of Locke & Key: Clockworks issues 1 and 2 for just $1.99 each (cover price $3.99 each), I downloaded them right away.  I’m still going to by the next hardcover collection when it comes out, but that probably won’t be out until next spring, at least, and who can wait that long?  Well, not me.  I like this series a lot and, as I said, I am rather impatient.

In Clockworks #1, in a story set in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, in 1775, we finally discover the origin of the various magical keys hidden around the Keyhouse.  In this particularly bloody issue, shortly after seeing his parents hung by the British for treason, locksmith’s son Benjamin Locke and his sister, Miranda, flee to the caves beneath Lovecraft to aid the revolutionaries hiding there, only to discover that there are worse things than the British – yes, really – hiding behind the ‘black door’.  Several revolutionaries are possessed by demons and go kill-crazy, and Benjamin Locke is inspired to create a padlock to hold the black door shut, and 100 magical keys, from some material that came from behind the door.  I enjoyed this issue a lot, and was quite disappointed to find that #2 was set in the present day, like all previous issues of this series, until I remembered where the last book, Keys To The Kingdom, left off – with the body of the youngest Locke sibling, Bode, now inhabited by the evil being formally known as Dodge.

Evil Bode establishes his evil credentials fairly quickly, dispatching one of his classmates, who has figured out that Bode is no longer Bode, by the second page of the issue.  From there, Evil Bode sets about looking for the key to the black door – the Omega Key – and accidently sets free his sister Kinsey’s fear and sorrow, which have been trapped in a jar, believed drowned, since they were removed from her head in L&K Vol.2 (yeah, I know that all sounds a bit odd, but I haven’t got time to fully recap the entire series – Clockworks is L&K Vol.5 – so you’ll just have to read it all yourself or go with me for now).  Kinsey’s fear and sorrow get into oldest Locke sibling Tyler’s head and cause a bit of trouble, but most importantly, by the end of the issue, the Locke kids have found yet another key and Evil Bode has the Omega key in his hands (I do wonder why Dodge / Evil Bode never just tortured the location of the Omega key out of Tyler, instead of putting so much effort into pretending to be a normal kid – going to school, etc. – in order to find it). 

This is a really good series, cleverly / wittily scripted by Joe Hill (I’ve read all his novels and enjoyed them, too – particularly the short story collection ‘20th Century Ghosts’ – but L&K is better) and with great, detailed art by Gabriel Rodriguez.  I can’t wait for the next issue, which I think is out next week, and I will probably download that, too, just as soon as the price drops to $1.99 or less (because I feel weird spending more than $1.99 on a comic with no resale value).

Note: I would like to point out that Comixology do not sponsor this blog – although, if they want to, they are more than welcome to do so – even though it might seem like it at the moment, what with all the downloads I keep reviewing.  I do still read paper comics and still have piles of unread graphic novels to get through, but even though the graphic novel / TPB remains my preferred format, I really can’t be bothered with paper periodical comics anymore, so most of the new serial comics I review from now on are likely to have been downloaded.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

This latest issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories is another great one.  It’s not quite as good as the previous issue, but then, few comics are.  Once again, Gilbert tells two seemingly-unconnected-but-actually-connected stories.  The first, ‘King Vampire’, is a vampire story (duh!) starring Guadalupe’s daughter, Killer, and Fritz, while the second is a story in which a younger Fritz chats to an old boyfriend about various topics, including the possible end of reading and writing within our lifetimes, atheism, and a vampire movie Fritz has been offered a role in but can’t take on for another seven years, because she’s locked into a contract.  The sexy / violent vampire story was okay – well, it looked really good – but I enjoyed reading Gilbert’s second story more, even if it wasn’t necessarily a memorable one, and wasn't as visually exciting as the vampire story.  The real star of this issue, though, once again, is Jaime, who offers a sort-of sequel to last issue’s amazing ‘Browntown’ story called ‘Return To Me’ and also concludes last issue’s ‘The Love Bunglers’.  

‘Return To Me’ tells the story of a teenage Maggie’s return to Hoppers, three years after the events depicted in ‘Browntown’, and her origins as a mechanic, all told from the point of view of a friend.  It’s a good short story, with an unexpected twist in the tail – wisely, it doesn’t try to be another ‘Browntown’ – but the highlight of this issue is the conclusion to ‘The Love Bunglers’, a story about the on / off romance between Maggie and Ray and the return of Maggie’s long-lost brother Calvin.  I don’t want to give anything away but this is great work from Jaime, who has always been a great artist but has now developed into the superior storyteller among the various Hernandez brothers, too, which is certainly not what I thought back in the early days of Love and Rockets (in the 1980s, right up until the end of ‘Human Diastrophism’, and possibly even a bit beyond that, I was always more of a Gilbert guy).  The end of this story feels like the perfect conclusion for these characters and it’s hard to see where Jaime can go from here with Maggie and Ray, at least.  Will future stories focus more on newer characters, like Angel?  Will we see more stories about Penny century instead?  Or will Jaime go somewhere else entirely (actually, I kind of hope so)?  There may even be more Maggie and Ray stories in the pipeline, but whatever happens, I’ll be there. 

Cost:  It seems wrong, somehow, for me to boast about how little I paid for this – which is the usual remit of this blog – so I won’t.  It has a recommended retail price of £10.99 / $14.99.  You could get it for less than that online but I doubt you would regret paying full price for it (unless you have never read a Love and Rockets comic before, in which case you might just end up feeling confused reading this – I have been reading Love and Rockets since at least 1987, even I feel like I need to go back and read everything again in order to fully appreciate this series, and one day I will do just that).        

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jonah Hex Vol.8: The Six Gun War TPB

The unique selling point of the most recent Jonah Hex series (just cancelled in the DC reboot and replaced with a new Western title, ‘All-Star Western’) was that most issues of the monthly comic contained done-in-one stories, and the eventual trade paperback collections – no fancy deluxe hardcovers for this series – read like short story collections, usually featuring work by multiple artists, even if the stories were always written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.  The series wasn’t entirely self-contained – I think there were a couple of two or three part stories, and supporting characters frequently recurred, so some familiarity with previous issues of the series was often useful – but it was usually just about possible to pick up a single issue of Jonah Hex and enjoy it on its own, which is more than you can say for most other comics published these days.  However, The Six Gun War, which collects JH issues 44 to 49, was the nearest this series got to a ‘crossover event’, with one story, in which Jonah teams up with several other DC Western characters, running over six whole issues.

The story starts with Hex getting ambushed by plantation owner Quentin Turnbull, who (wrongly) believes that Hex was responsible for the death of his son during the Civil War (not the Marvel one).  Turnbull buries Hex alive and leaves him for dead but, thanks to the timely arrival of some grave robbers, Hex gets free and goes looking for revenge with the help of Bat Lash, El Diablo, scar-faced female bounty hunter Tallulah Black, and some Comanche warriors he encounters along the way.  It’s a bloody, violent book, with some great dialogue in it – I particularly liked some of the insults exchanged between Bat Lash and Tallulah Black (Mexican Bandit: ‘Don’t try to hide, we have you outnumbered!  Give us the woman!’  Bat Lash: ‘Heh, heh, ha ha... give us the woman... heh...’  Tallula Black: ‘Whut’s so damned funny about that?’  Bat Lash: ‘They clearly didn’t get a good look at you.  If they did, they’d be asking for the horses instead.’) – and decent art by Christiano Cucina, who is not as good as some of the artists that have worked on this series, but better than others.

After a six-issue build-up, the ending seemed like a bit of an anti-climax, and I think I prefer the short story format of previous volumes, but this was still an enjoyable read.

Cost: This has a (Titan Books) cover price of £10.99.  I bought my copy from Amazon, where it was (and still is) priced at £9.89, and paid for it using a gift certificate I got by trading in some of my Nectar points, so it sort of didn't cost me anything.  (Top Tip: Not only can you exchange your Nectar points for Amazon vouchers, you can also collect Nectar points on your Amazon purchases if you log into Amazon via the Nectar website.)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Severed 1 & 2

Severed is a new horror series written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, illustrated by Attila Futaki, and published by Image.  I have no idea who Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki are but Scott Snyder is the bloke who currently writes American Vampire, Swamp Thing and Batman, and this has received some very good reviews so far so I thought I’d check it out.

The story starts in the 1950s, with a one-armed old man called Jack Garron receiving a letter that prompts him to start recalling the story of how he lost his arm.  This takes us back to 1916, where the 12-year-old Jack Garron, a promising violinist, runs away from home and hops aboard a freight train headed for Chicago, hoping to be reunited with his musician father, who abandoned him when he was a baby.  Meanwhile, a creepy old man with razor sharp teeth, who claims to represent General Electric, takes another boy from an orphanage under the pretence of an apprenticeship, and then eats him.  Blimey.

The story unfolds at quite a leisurely pace.  By the end of the second issue, Jack still hasn’t encountered the razor-toothed man – or his father – but it seems inevitable that their paths will collide eventually and I think I’m interested enough to stick around for a bit.  I certainly want to know more about the razor-toothed man, even if Jack’s part of the story hasn’t completely grabbed me yet.  The writing and the art are both very good, but not so good that I am going to rave about either just yet.  I feel like this could develop into something, though.  The disturbing covers to both issues certainly indicate that there is something more to the razor-toothed man than sharp teeth (and some weird tattoos).  I want to know what that something is, so I will definitely give this at least one more issue, and am pretty sure that I will stick with it for a while.

Cost: These have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded #1 from Comixology and paid $1.99.  If I’d waited a bit, I could have got #2 for $1.99, too, but I got impatient (and a bit drunk) and downloaded it the day it came out for $2.99.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Harvey Comics Classics Vol.1: Casper The Friendly Ghost

I’ve decided to make more of an effort to tackle some of the older items in the mountain of unread comics and graphic novels that has built up around me over the years, and while this book is far from the oldest unread book in my collection, it has certainly been sitting around unread for a few years now.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I bought this sometime in 2007, the year it was published.  I was unable to resist ordering it back then, and I have never been able to bring myself to sell it unread, but I really had to force myself to start reading it.  Luckily, it wasn’t quite the chore I was worried it might be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed it. 

Published by Dark Horse, this reprints nearly 500 pages of golden and silver age Casper The Friendly Ghost comics, originally published between 1949 and 1965.  Casper was created by animators Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, who sold the character to Famous Studios in 1944 for $200 (Reit went on to become a successful writer, while Oriolo remained in animation and eventually went on to become the sole owner of – but not the creator of – Felix the Cat, so this isn’t yet another story of two young men selling the rights to an ultimately successful character and then dying broke).  In 1949, after a series of successful Casper cartoons, St John Publications began publishing Casper comics, with Harvey Comics landing the licence to produce Casper comics in 1952, and buying the rights to character outright in 1959.  These comics were produced by (un-credited) artists and writers from the world of animation, and the perfectly-inked pages have the slick, simple, professional look of animation cells. 

This is certainly a very nice looking book.  Published on glossy paper, mostly in black and white, these comics don’t look half a century old at all.  In fact, only the two short colour sections in the book look dated, and that’s because the pages have not been re-coloured and the old-fashioned colour reproduction techniques date these pages badly.  However, as much as I liked the look of this book, and the idea of reading it when I first bought it, the stories were aimed at readers so much younger than myself that it was hard for me to really enjoy them.  Had I been 35 years younger, I may have enjoyed reading this more, but the 42-year old, cynical me, spoiled by reading too many ‘grim and gritty’ comics in the eighties, kept wondering what a modern writer might make of Casper, and why a comic about the ghost of a dead child was ever such a hit.  Harvey editor Sid Jacobson apparently insisted that ghosts are purely fantasy beings, like giants and goblins, with ‘no past life beforehand’, but that is clearly bullshit.  I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, so I guess they are fantasy beings to me, but everything I have ever heard about these fantasy beings implies they are the restless spirits (or something like that) of dead people, and Casper is the ghost of a dead kid if ever I saw one.  Also, I wanted to know if religious groups were anti-Casper.  These comics are almost sickeningly sweet, but most of the characters, even the good guys, are either ghosts or witches.  That had to piss off some religious types, right?  And I also wanted to know why Casper struggled to keep friends.  He would spend whole strips flying around desperately trying to find some friends, would eventually find some... but by the next strip he was friendless and on the hunt for friends again. 

See what I mean?  I am just too old and cynical for this sort of thing, and the only strips in here I really liked were the strips about Casper’s cousin ‘Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost’ – Spooky being a little wiseguy ghost with a Brooklyn accent and a ‘doiby’ hat.  If I had a kid, particularly a very young kid, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to them and I can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t enjoy it.  But if you are over 10 years old and didn’t grow up reading Casper comics, you might want to give this a miss.                                   

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of $19.95 (about £12.99?).  It seems to be out of print at the moment but there are plenty of new and used copies available on Amazon.  As I said, I bought my copy in 2007, and while I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it now, I do remember buying it from an Amazon Marketplace seller and think I paid just over £6.00 (which may or may not have included postage).  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Action Comics #1 (2011)

I wasn’t originally planning on buying this, as I am not a big fan of Superman comics.  I like most of the Superman movies a lot, even the most recent one, and even quite enjoy watching Smallville, but Superman comics have just never really done it for me.  I am generally not a big fan of any DC comics, have very little interest in the recent DC reboot, of which this is a big part, and as regular readers of this blog (I know there are at least two of you out there) will know, I am not even that keen on the writing of Grant Morrison.  However, one of the few Superman comics I have enjoyed in recent years is All Star Superman, which is also one of the few Grant Morrison books I really like, and as Action Comics #1 has received rave reviews pretty much everywhere, I thought I should check it out.  And – surprise, surprise! – I didn’t like it that much.

I do like the fact that Morrison has taken Superman back to basics, has made him less powerful, and has him tackling crooked businessmen at the beginning of the comic, rather than super-villains – which seems like a good / obvious move in this post-credit crunch era we live in.  However, I can’t imagine that Superman’s reduced power levels will last long and Superman versus big business didn’t even last until the end of this first issue, as the main villain was quickly revealed as yet another version of Lex Luthor.  Another positive is that, unlike many other comics written by Grant Morrison, this issue actually made sense to me.  Actually, I wouldn’t have guessed it was the work of Grant Morrison if it didn’t say so in the credits.  There were no really weird bits – nobody took acid, nobody hallucinated, nobody broke through any fourth walls – but there also weren’t any really good bits either.  It was certainly an action packed comic, but it was also kind of dull.

With better art, this might have seemed like a better comic.  Rags Morales is not a bad artist – he is certainly well above average – and I seem to remember quite enjoying his work on the couple of issues of the First Wave mini-series I read, but on big superhero books like Identity Crisis, and on this, his art just reeks of the old DC house style – not bad at all, but really quite variable (some panels appear to be the work of a superior artist, while many others look hurried) and also not particularly stylish.  Had this been drawn by Frank Quitely, I probably would have thought a lot more of the whole endeavour, but as it is, this just seemed like a an above average Superman comic from the 1990s, in which Superman wears jeans and throws villains off of tall buildings to force a confession out of them, even though said confession probably wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.   

This issue ends on a cliffhanger, but I must say that I am remarkably uninterested in what happens next, and won’t be buying the next issue – I feel like a bit of a sucker for falling for the hype and buying this issue!  I bought the digital version of this comic, from Comixology, and paid $3.99 (about £2.54) for it.  That was the full cover price, but it still worked out cheaper than buying the paper version of this comic from my local comic shop, as UK comic shops have to take into account shipping costs, etc., and I think my LCS charges £3.30 for a $3.99 comic.  Still, if I’d waited a few weeks, I could have got this from Comixology for $2.99 or less – in my defence, I was drunk when I bought this – and I really wish I hadn’t bought it at all. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Animal Man #1 / Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #1

Here’s two more digital comics that I downloaded while slightly drunk last week – both of them comics I was planning on downloading anyway, but had I been fully in control of my senses, I probably would have waited a few weeks until they dropped in price a bit.  Oh well.

Both of these are written by Jeff ‘Sweet Tooth’ Lemire, which is why I wanted to read them, and both are also part of DC’s current line-wide reboot, which doesn’t interest me that much at all.  Really, though, there isn’t much in either comic to indicate a new status quo, other than a line of dialogue in the Frankenstein comic which refers to ‘Supermen’ and ‘Batmen’ as if they were a new phenomenon.  Otherwise, both of these comics could have been – and appear to be – set in the old DCU.

Animal Man #1 is the better of the two comics.  It starts with Buddy ‘Animal Man’ Baker at home with his family, reading an interview he did with a magazine.  Buddy’s past as a superhero is openly referred to, so I guess this is the same old Animal Man, all the stuff that happened during Grant Morrison’s celebrated run on the title still happened, and this idea I had that DC were going to start again from scratch with all their characters was just a misunderstanding on my part.  Buddy’s wife thinks he was happier when he was crime-fighting, and pretty soon he is flying off in costume to break up a siege at a children’s hospital.  That dealt with, Buddy starts bleeding from the eyes, for no apparent reason, and then things get weirder.  This wasn’t necessarily a brilliant comic – all the stuff about Buddy’s love for his family, and the scene in the children’s hospital, seemed a bit heavy-handed to me – but I liked it more the weirder it got.  There was a nice creepy dream sequence towards the end and the creepy final page – which reminded me of parts of the new Swamp Thing #1, although I really hope the two comics aren’t linked – left me intrigued enough that I will probably come back for at least one more issue.  Oh, and Travel Foreman’s art, which has received mixed reviews elsewhere, was excellent throughout, but particularly during the dream sequence.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #1 isn’t bad either, it just isn’t quite as good as Animal Man #1, mainly because most of the issue is set-up.  It starts with some big monsters taking over a small town and then we head to SHADE (Super Human Advanced Defence Executive) headquarters, which are set inside a three inch wide, indestructible dome, currently hovering 2,000 miles above Manhattan Island, and accessible only using a combination of teleportation and shrink technology provided by Ray ‘The Atom’ Palmer.  Frankenstein (shouldn’t that be Frankenstein’s Monster?) arrives at SHADE HQ and then spends most of the issue getting filled in on the goings on at SHADE and the monster situation by the head of SHADE, who Frankenstein refers to as 'father', even though he currently wears the form of a ten-year-old girl (I may have missed something in another comic, or I may not, but whatever, I’m prepared to just go along with that for now).  He is then introduced to the new Creature Commandos – a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy, and a woman who looks like Abe Sapien / The Creature from the Black lagoon – and they all head off to ‘Monster Town, USA’ to kick some butt.

Although this issue is mostly set-up, it is at least a decent set up.  Alberto Ponticelli’s art – which is not too far removed from Jeff Lemire’s own style – is very good, and while I’m not that keen on the new Creature Commandos so far, I like the DC version of Frankenstein, I’d like to meet Frankenstein's wife (she’s stuck in ‘Monster Town’ and should show up more in the next issue), and I think this could turn into a fun series.  I’m just not sure if it’s the sort of fun I want to pay for, so while I would happily read the next issue for free, I’m not sure if I will be back for more yet.  I’ll have to see how I feel next month.

Cost: These comics have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded them from Comixology and paid $2.99 (about £1.90) each, which, err, may be the full cover price but it still worked out cheaper than buying them from my local comic shop, which would have charged about £2.50 per issue.  Still, if I’d waited a few weeks they would have dropped in price to $1.99 each, which is usually the most I will pay for a digital comic (no resale value, and all that) and if I do buy the second issues of either of these titles, I will definitely try and be more patient.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Swamp Thing #1 (2011)

A couple of nights ago, I got a little bit drunk and bought some digital comics.  Oh well.  I’ve done worse things when drunk.  They were at least all comics I was planning on buying in digital form anyway, I was just planning on waiting a few weeks, until some of them went down in price a bit.  Still, I paid less than I would have paid if I’d bought any of them from my local comic shop, and there’s no point feeling bad about it now – I may as well just read and review them!

First up for review is Swamp Thing #1, which is part of DC’s new line-wide reboot.  Not being much of a DC fan, I had very little interest in this reboot, and I initially wasn’t planning on picking up any of their new titles, but I like Swamp Thing, am a fan of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s run with the character, am an even bigger fan of Alan Moore’s run, and as this has a decent creative team on it – Scott ‘American Vampire’ Snyder and Yanick ‘nothing springs to mind but he’s a very good artist’ Paquette – and has received some pretty good reviews so far, I thought I’d check it out.  And it is pretty good, actually, if a little confusing.

This starts with a few pages featuring Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, which make it immediately clear that Swamp Thing is back in the DC Universe proper, rather than stranded over at Vertigo.  This shift makes absolutely zero difference to my life, as every Swamp Thing comic I have ever read was set in the DC Universe anyway, and it is only after Alan Moore’s run ended, and I, along with most other people, stopped reading the comic, that Swamp Thing became a Vertigo title.  Anyway, after a few pages of superheroes, we are introduced to Alec Holland, who died in an explosion way back in Swamp Thing #1 (1972 series) and never really was Swamp Thing, even though a mutated plant thought it was Alec Holland for a number of years.  Mysteriously, though, Alec Holland has returned from the dead and is working as a labourer when he receives a visit from Superman, who doesn’t look anything like he does in Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ Action Comics #1 (from what I have read online, I believe that Action Comics #1, which I will review some other time, is set a few years before most of the other reboot titles, but there is nothing in either this comic or in Action Comics #1 to tell me this, even though this is supposed to be the start of a new-reader-friendly era).  Superman is worried about Holland – he knows how it feels to return from the dead – but Holland pretty much tells him to clear off.  Then the horror begins, with Swamp Thing himself (itself?) only appearing on the very last page of the comic.

The reason I said this comic is a bit confusing was not because I found the story confusing.  I am confused about why Alec Holland has returned from the dead, and why he has Swamp Thing’s memories when Alec Holland never was Swamp Thing, but I’m reasonably confident that Snyder will eventually explain all this.  I am also confused about why there are monsters running around, and why some people’s heads are turning 180 degrees, but as this is a horror comic, I expect to see monsters, etc., and I am even more confident that Snyder will eventually explain all that than I am that he will explain the return of Alec Holland.  No, what confuses me is why all this is considered a reboot.  I mean, there is nothing in this comic that couldn’t have taken place in the old DC Universe.  In fact, it does appear to take place in the old DC Universe.  Alec Holland’s memories of Swamp Thing seem to include Abigail Arcane and, presumably, all the stuff that went on during Alan Moore’s run on the title, at least, and Superman even references ‘The death of Superman’.  I was expecting all of DC’s titles to start again from issue one, with new origins for their various characters and no convoluted continuity so that they could attract new readers.  But really, this is just a new number one, apparently set in the same old DCU, where everything that happened before still happened, and everyone still talks about it.

Fortunately, this is a good first issue anyway, even if it isn’t as new-reader-friendly as advertised.  The writing is reasonably strong and I am intrigued by the circumstances surrounding Alec Holland’s return and by the horror elements of the story.  The characters whose heads twisted 180 degrees made me think of the Invunche, from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, which was presumably deliberate, although whether or not this was just a tip of the hat to Moore or an indication that the Invunche are returning is unclear (personally, I hope they are not returning, as I would like to see some new ideas and characters emerging from this ‘reboot’).  The only really weak part of the script – the part that made me cringe – was when Alec Holland told Superman that, after returning from the dead, he briefly returned to lab work and made another batch of bio-restorative formula, but then, disillusioned, threw it into the swamp behind his hotel.  What?  Hasn’t he learnt anything?  Even if he couldn’t remember what happened the last time some of that stuff ended up in a swamp, what kind of scientist throws discarded experiments into a swamp (note: if this isn’t the cause of Swamp Thing’s return on the last page, I’ll buy a hat from a charity shop and eat it)?  I’m pretty sure there are proper disposal procedures for that sort of thing, to stop the outbreak of plagues, etc.  Or am I just nit-picking?  Meanwhile, Yanick Paquette’s artwork was near-perfect and would have made this issue worth buying for the art alone, if I was the sort of person who bought comics for the art alone.  I’ll certainly come back for the second issue, at least.

Cost:  This has a cover price of $2.99.  I downloaded my copy from Comixology and paid, err, $2.99 (about £1.90), which is technically the full cover price.  However, as I live in the UK, where retailers have to pay more for their comics to take into account shipping costs, etc., this does constitute a saving on the £2.50 (or thereabouts) my local comic shop would have charged for this item, and I didn’t have to pay for petrol, parking, etc., to get it – I just got drunk, sat on my arse, ordered it, and got it within seconds.  I love digital comics, me (although I like ‘em more when they are $1.99 or less)!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Invincible Iron Man - Unmasked

At our now legendary 'Comics - On The Ration' panel at Caption, Paul mentioned that 'The Works' was a good place to look for cheap trades, whilst Rol mentioned that Panini's pocket books were bargain collections.

Last weekend, these two coalesced for me when I popped into a branch of the aforementioned bargain bookstore and discovered a collection of pocket books at the price of £1.99 each or 3 for a fiver.

Naturally, I ignored the collections of modern stuff, which is why I'm reviewing a collection of Iron Man from, oh, 1968, or thereabouts. This book collects around ten issues from this era, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by George Tuska.

The stories are nothing special - identikit Marvel fare in which Tony Stark wrestles with the guilt of having a secret identity and how he wants to share his secret with somebody but he can't so he ends up pushing them away whilst he really wants to pull them closer yada yada yada.

However, I've never really been a fan of George Tuska before but that may be because I've only been exposed to the odd issue of his work here or there. His is a crisp cartoony style which reminds me of Frank Robbins, but it's one that lends a charm to Shellhead's Rogues Gallery, and is the major appeal of this book.

Is it value for money? Well, it's probably value for money at £3.99. I paid £1.66 so it would be churlish to grumble.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Popeye Vol.3: 'Let's You and Him Fight!' HC

This third oversized collection of E.C. Segar’s Popeye-era Thimble Theatre strips collects all the daily strips from June 1932 to December 1933, all the full-page, colour Sunday strips from October 1932 to November 1933, and twelve never-before-reprinted strips that were produced to promote the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.  And like the previous volumes in this series, apart from a very tedious introduction, it is brilliant stuff.

This volume features the first appearance of Popeye’s adopted son ‘Swee’pea’ (although Popeye actually christens him ‘Scooner Seawell Georgia Washenting Christiffer Columbia Daniel Boom’ by tipping a bucket of spinach over his head) and the first appearance of Bluto (although Bluto was the main villain in the animated Popeye cartoons, his appearance in one of the storylines in this book marked the only time he ever appeared in a Segar Popeye strip).  In the dailies, Popeye sails the ‘eighth sea’ in search of treasure; returns to Nazilia with King Blozo and helps him fix an election; becomes king of Popilania, thought deserted but actually populated by ‘wild men’ and, even better, ‘wild women’, which gives Olive Oyl cause for concern (Popeye: ‘Can’t a swab take a bath, comb his hairs, shine his shoes, trim his nails, wear a flower, an’ use a squirt of prefume without you thinkin’ sumpin?’) and causes all the men in Nazilia move to Popilania; becomes star reporter for the Daily Blast; and after getting hit in the face with a baseball bat so hard that it drives his head through a wall, is diagnosed with a terminal case of ‘bonkus of the konkus’, spends what must have been a few months’ worth of strips wandering around convinced he is a lonely cowboy (Popeye: ‘I yama lonely cowboy.  Me horsh is gone.  Me horsh run’d away – I ain’t got no more horsh.’), and then makes a sudden, unexpected recovery (Popeye: ‘Nothin’ can kill me ... I am immoral.’  Doctor: ‘You mean immortal?’  Popeye: ‘I means what I means – tha’s what I means.’).  Meanwhile, nearly all of the Sunday strips focus on the antics of arch-scrounger J. Wellington Wimpy.  In the best of these Sunday strips, Popeye pretends to be Wimpy’s grandmother to prove to someone that Wimpy would not choke his own grandmother for a hamburger, and loses his bet, as Segar’s Wimpy is such a greedy bastard that he would do pretty much anything – other than pay – for food.

These books are great value for money.  There is at least as much reading material in one of these volumes as there is in your average Marvel Omnibus book – admittedly on fewer (larger) pages – but at a fraction of the price.  This volume has a recommended retail price of £21.99 / $29.99 but Forbidden Planet International have it for just £13.79 (plus £1.00 P&P) at the moment.  I didn’t pay a penny for my copy, as my wife bought me for it as an anniversary present.  I am tempted to order the remaining three volumes in the series right now, but if I don’t, I know what I’ll be asking for this Christmas!           

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Locke & Key Vol.4: Keys To The Kingdom HC

Locke & Key is a horror / fantasy series written by Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, who I’m sure comes from a good family, too.  The series is about the Locke kids, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, who have recently moved to the Keyhouse in the town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts, along with their mother, where they keep finding magical keys.  These keys include the ‘Ghost Key’, which turns the user into a ghost, the ‘Head Key’, which allows the user to literally open the top of his or her head and insert knowledge (by putting in books, etc.) or remove memories and emotions, the ‘Anywhere Key’, which allows the user to travel anywhere they wish to go, and so on.  These keys have something to do with their late father, although we don’t know the full story behind the keys yet, and there is also some kind of demon, disguised as a teenage boy called Zack, who has befriended the Locke kids and is after the most powerful key of all, the ‘Omega Key’, which will open the black door and let through many more demons.  Or something like that.  This may or may not sound corny to you – I certainly think the title of the series, Locke & Key, is very corny, as is setting a horror series in a town called Lovecraft – but it is actually very well written, beautifully drawn, and it’s a series I would happily recommend to more or less anyone.

This fourth volume in the series introduces several more keys and offers a slight change of pace.  All six of the comics collected here continue the main storyline, but four of them are relatively self-contained, and Hill and Rodriguez use some of these issues to experiment with some new storytelling techniques.  The first issue, in which the youngest Locke sibling, Bode, discovers the ‘Beast Key’ and is transformed into a sparrow, is a tribute to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, with four panels on each page, sitting over a larger splash image, in the style of a newspaper strip.  Bode’s pages, at least, are drawn in a more cartoony style, with the last panel on each page containing some kind of a punchline, or at least a turning point in the story, and it’s a clever issue.  The second issue doesn’t really try anything new stylistically.  Here, Hill and Bode look at the issue of race, when Kinsey and Bode discover the ‘Skin Key’ and turn themselves black so that they can visit a black nursing home resident who knew their father but apparently dislikes white people.  This is a really good issue, and a tense one, too, as Zack also pays the nursing home a visit - with knives! - while the kids are there.  The third issue, entitled ‘February’, is another clever one, with the action taking place over the course of a month, with no more than a page or so given over to any one day of that month.  The scrapes that the kids get themselves into with various new keys are given no more than one (often amusing) panel each, with no explanation for what is going on, while the bulk of the story focuses on the negative effect that Kinsey’s experiments with the ‘Head Key’ have on her friends, and Tyler’s break-up with his girlfriend.  The fourth issue focuses on one of my favourite characters, Rufus, a mentally handicapped boy who is obsessed with war, and his toy soldiers.  Rufus, is seems, can see and talk to ghosts, and here he spends most of the issue talking to the ghost of the man who killed the Locke kids’ dad, who appears to him dressed as a soldier and tells him a few of Zack’s secrets.  Parts of this issue are made to look like an old war comic – a war comic in which the characters are Rufus, Bode and their toy soldiers (and a monkey, and a robot) – but most of the issue is made up of exposition.  Then we get to the two-part story that closes the book, in which the Locke kids finally discover that Zack is not all he seems to be, and the bloody, shocking ending left me very impatient to read the next volume, which probably won’t be out until next year.  All in all, this was another enjoyable volume in this enjoyable series.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £18.99 / $24.99.  It is currently available on Amazon for £10.82, but I bought my copy in my local comic shop – The Grinning Demon in Maidstone – several weeks ago now, and paid £20.00.  Yes, that’s right, I actually paid £1.01 more than the recommended retail price for this book, which isn’t like me at all, but the owner of my local comic shop is so bloody friendly that, when I saw this sitting on the shelves in there, on the day of its release, I just couldn’t resist it.  I do now feel a bit stupid for paying over the odds for this book, but I also feel good about supporting my local comic shop for a change, rather than a big – possibly evil – online retailer.  Mmm, I may have to rethink this ‘on the ration’ lark.  


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rasl issues 1 to 11

Rasl is a sci-fi series by Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone.  I must admit that I lost interest in Bone fairly quickly.  The art was great and the first two books I read were very funny indeed, but I seem to remember that subsequent volumes were much less amusing, with the focus shifting from humour to Lord-of-the-Rings-style fantasy, which isn’t really my sort of thing, and I gave up on the series long before the end.  I think I may have been a bit hasty, and I’d be interested in giving Bone another chance now that it is complete and available in a variety of different formats, but I reckon I’d still lose interest after I’d got past the first couple of volumes and have to force my way to the end.  Only eleven issues of Rasl have been released so far, and I may eventually lose interest in this series, too, but so far it seems pretty great.

The story starts with our hero, Rasl, travelling to a parallel universe to steal an original Picasso painting, and then inadvertently fleeing back to yet another parallel universe – a universe where things are much the same as they are on our world, except Bob Dylan releases records under his given name, Robert Zimmerman – rather than the universe he started in.  Rasl is attacked by a lizard-faced man who shoots a hole in his purloined Picasso, and after following him back home, kills his prostitute girlfriend.  This is not just a crime drama with a sci-fi twist, though, and we soon find out that Rasl is more than a common thief.  The lizard-faced man is after the hidden notebooks of Nikola Tesla, which former scientist Rasl has in his possession, and the secrets hidden in these notebooks could destroy the universe.  In some ways, these comics reminded me of Cerebus, back when it was still good – for me, Cerebus was at its best up until the end of Church and State – as Smith occasionally gives us large chunks of historical information which threaten to reveal the bigger picture, but just when we think we are going to find out what is really going on, the pace changes and Rasl begins a romance with an alternative universe version of one of his dead lovers, or else encounters some offbeat characters, such as the creepy little girl who may or may not be god, or else just has another long fight with the lizard-faced man.  These comics are quick to read but the story unfolds slowly.  If I had been reading these as they were released, with a long wait between issues, I may have gotten bored and given up, but read in one big chunk I found these comics thoroughly enjoyable and quite engrossing.  And Smith’s art is fantastic, too.  I mean, his art was great on Bone, but here it is even better, and it often made me think of the work of Jaime Hernandez, but with a touch of Paul Pope thrown in for good measure (and I don’t think I’m just saying that because Rasl himself looks a bit like photos I’ve seen of Paul Pope).

Cost: I actually downloaded these comics from Comixology, several weeks ago, when they were on sale.  The first issue was (and still is) free to download and issues two to eleven were reduced from $1.99 to $0.99c each (they have since gone back up to $1.99 each).  According to my credit card bill, then, these comics ended up costing me £6.29, which isn’t bad at all for eleven comics that would have cost me over £3.00 each to buy from my local comic shop.  I read these on my iPod Touch, and enjoyed reading them that way, although it was difficult to flick back through them for review purposes – so I didn’t really bother, which explains any inaccuracies in this review – and my preference is still for printed graphic novels, even if I do prefer digital comics to printed periodical comics these days.  I may continue to buy this series digitally, but I enjoyed reading this story in big chunks a lot and am tempted to start buying the slim-but-oversized collections that are available instead.               

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Batman - Cacophony / The Widening Gyre

It's gotten to the stage where I just can't bring myself to spend money on DC comics any more, as (Hellblazer excepted) I'm so often disappointed in them. I still like a lot of the characters though and will keep trying new books in the hope that some of what I liked about those characters in years gone by will be recaptured by today's creators. But until I find a new DC comic that knocks my socks off, I've vowed to limit my reading to the truest form of On The Ration-ing... picking them up from my local library.

However, these two DC books seemed like a good bet. Bruce Wayne is my favourite of the big DC heroes and I've long enjoyed the work (both comics and films) of geek-made-good Kevin Smith, even though he does seem somewhat past his prime these days. After enjoyable runs on DC's Green Arrow and Marvel's Daredevil 10+ years ago, he's been absent from mainstream comics for a while (or when he has turned up, he's failed to finish the stories he's started), but his return to Batman was much-trumpeted. So I thought I'd give it a go.

It's probably a good job I took both books out of the library at the same time as had I just loaned Cacophony, I might not have gone back for its far more interesting sequel. The first book features the return of a masked psychopath introduced in Smith's Green Arrow, a rogue who seems far more suited to Batman's gallery of gimmicky nutcases in that he speaks only in sound effects. Blam! Shik! Boom! You get the picture. He's a fun character, but not really arch-nemesis material, but Smith has that taken care of by focusing much of this book's attention on a gang war between the Joker and Maxie Zeus. At times, Cacophony feels more like a Joker book than a Batman one - and had it been promoted as such, I might not have been so annoyed by some of the jokes. Smith's sense of humour is notoriously juvenile and scatological, and there are many such gags here (including one about anal rape) which just seem out of place in a Batman comic. I've no problem with the jokes themselves and much of Smith's dialogue is witty... it just seems out of place.

The Widening Gyre is a far more satisfying read, although I was unaware when I started it that there's actually a huge To Be Continued... at the end, which also caused me some major problems.

Before that though, Smith pulls his finger out and delivers one of the better Batman stories I've read in recent years. A mysterious new vigilante called Baphomet arrives in Gotham and Batman has to decide whether to trust him. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne's old girlfriend Silver St. Cloud shows up and Smith gives us the happiest Batman I've read since Alan Davis was drawing the character. It's actually quite refreshing, with loads of colourful flashbacks to different periods in Bat-history, and the most human Bruce Wayne we've seen since Frank Miller darkened the knight. But enjoyable as it is, it starts to feel wrong after a while. It's like in On Her Majesty's Secret Service where James Bond finds true love and gets married... you want Bond to be happy, but you know he'll stop being the character you enjoy. And just as in OHMSS, and just as in Smith's own run on Daredevil, a necessary tragedy is waiting just around the corner...

Which is where the first volume of The Widening Gyre concludes: on a shocking moment of violence and an "unexpected plot twist" that Smith confidently asserts (in the afterword) no one saw coming. Well, I hate to break it to you, Kev: I did. I'm reminded of the first time I saw The Sixth Sense and about ten minutes into the film I thought, "I do hope Bruce Willis isn't dead". (Oh, sod off, I've not spoilered it - if you haven't seen The Sixth Sense yet, you never will.) Only it's worse than that here. I actually guessed the twist of The Widening Gyre even before I started reading it. Merely scanning the plot synopsis on the back cover after reading Cacophony, I thought "I bet XXXXXXXXXX". And sure enough, I was right on the money.

Lack of surprise and uncharacteristic Batman aside, I still enjoyed TWG and look forward to reading the rest the story when it finally arrives in my local library. The art by Smith's comic shop owning cohort (and Clerks bit-parter) Walt Flanagan is inconsistent but improves with every issue. He does draws far better women than men, and thankfully non-cheesecakey women at that. And the dialogue has enough depth, wit and "why has nobody ever asked Batman that?" moments to keep me smiling throughout. It's definitely a more mainstream and less impenetrable Batman saga than the one Grant Morrison's currently writing in the proper Batbooks, and self-contained too - not a Black Lantern or Infinite Crisis in sight.