Sunday, 30 January 2011

Review - Amazing Spider-Man: 24/7

This story originally appeared in Amazing Spider-Man issues 592 to 594, which came out a couple of years ago, but I have just read it in the pages of Astonishing Spider-Man issues 27 and 28. Astonishing Spider-Man is a reprint title, published in the UK by Panini and available from newsagents, WHSmith, etc. Each issue of the Astonishing Spider-Man reprints three comics – two modern reprints and an older adventure – and costs £2.95, which is pretty good value but would seem like even better value if the older adventures weren’t usually crap from the ‘80s.

'24/7' is written by Mark Waid, who is a decent writer, and drawn by Mike McKone, who is a very good artist. At the end of the last storyline, which I didn’t bother reading and reviewing because I’d already read it a couple of years ago and life’s too short to re-read stuff like this, Spider-Man returned from an afternoon of adventure in another dimension with the Fantastic Four only to discover that two months had passed in New York and in that time J. Jonah Jameson had been elected mayor. At the beginning of '24/7', he attempts to make a truce with Jonah, which doesn’t work out that well, so then he decides to be Spider-Man 24/7 for a while – to fight crime night and day – just to piss Jonah off. This does indeed piss Jonah off and it also gets ordinary New Yorkers back on Spidey’s side (for a while).

During the course of this short story arc, as well as fighting street crime and saving lives, Spidey catches Aunt May in bed with Jonah Jameson’s dad, who later asks May to marry him, meets a possible new love interest in the form of Michelle Gonzales, the sister of his flatmate Vin Gonzales (who is in prison), and also tackles a new Vulture, who acts more like a real vulture than previous Vultures, as he feeds on injured and dying criminals. We don’t find out nearly enough about this new Vulture before he is defeated, other than that he is the result of a mob experiment, and I actually found myself thinking that this story arc could have been dragged out over another couple of issues (which is something I never thought I’d say about a modern Marvel comic). The whole '24/7' arc seemed to end quite suddenly, with Spidey managing to piss off ordinary New Yorkers again during the capture of the new Vulture and the sudden appearance of Norman Osborn, who features heavily in the next storyline ('American Son'). Still, this was better written than the 'Character Assassination' arc that I read and reviewed last week, the artwork was nice (even in the last issue where Mike McKone was assisted by Barry Kitson), and it was a perfectly enjoyable light read.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review - Amazing Spider-Man: Character Assassination

This story was originally serialised in Amazing Spider-Man issues 584 to 588 and Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day Extra. These issues were eventually reprinted in the Election Day trade paperback (and hardcover) but I recently read them in the pages of Astonishing Spider-Man issues 23 to 25. Astonishing Spider-Man is a reprint title, published in the UK by Panini, who also publish several other Marvel reprint titles (Mighty World of Marvel, Fantastic Four Adventures, Marvel Legends, etc.). The Panini titles usually reprint three Marvel comics per issue – although sometimes they publish 100 page specials with more comics in them – and retail for £2.95. This is a pretty good price but they would seem like even better value for money if there were ever three comics in a single issue that I wanted to read.

Astonishing Spider-Man usually reprints two fairly recent (well, about two years old) issues of the Amazing Spider-Man and one crappy adventure from the ‘80s. At the moment, the ‘80s adventures aren’t quite as awful as the ones they usually pick – they are currently reprinting the early Todd McFarlane issues – but I still can’t be bothered to read them and am really just buying this title for the modern adventures. Even these modern adventures aren’t that great most of the time, and I often wonder why I ever asked my friendly neighbourhood newsagent to start getting this comic for me (I’m nearly 42!!!), but there is the occasional good issue and I am curious enough to keep buying this (fortnightly) title for now.

Character Assassination saw the culmination of several fairly uninteresting storylines that had been running in the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man ever since the Brand New Day issues started (these issues are also from the Brand New Day era). In particular, we finally got to find out the identity of Menace, a new Green Goblin / Hobgoblin type of villain, and the identity of the Spider-Tracer Killer, a serial killer who had been leaving spider-tracers on his victims, causing most of New York to believe that Spider-Man was now a killer.

Menace, it turned out, was Harry Osborn’s girlfriend Lilly Hollister, who had stumbled upon a vial of goblin gas in Norman Osborn’s secret lab and now possessed the ability to turn herself into a crazed goblin creature at will. Her father is Councilman Bill Hollister, who was running for mayor, and Lilly was using her newfound abilities to help him win the election (without his knowledge). Among other things, this involved her attacking her dad to win him sympathy and attacking and defeating Spider-Man and handing him over to the cops, who stuck him in jail for the Spider-Tracer killings.

The Spider-Tracer killings, it turned out, were actually unrelated killings that a bunch of crooked cops – including Peter Parker’s Spider-Man-hating flatmate Vin Gonzales – had managed to attribute to Spider-Man by sticking spider-tracers on the bodies, in an attempt to get Spider-Man off the streets. Eventually, the other crooked cops framed Vin for the whole thing and he ended up in jail with Spidey.

Overall, this story, written by Marc Guggenheim, was not the best Spider-Man story I have ever read. The stuff in jail was okay and there was some nice interaction between Spidey and his lawyer Matt Murdock (AKA Daredevil) but the rest of the story was just a bit dull. The revelation that Lilly was Menace, like her origin, was pretty lame. In fact, Menace was pretty lame all around and whoever came up with the name ‘Menace’ for Spider-Man’s latest foe should probably be fired and never allowed to work in comics again. The Spider-Tracer Killer storyline was pretty lame, too. For one thing, would the cops in New York really be stupid enough to believe that Spider-Man was committing murders and leaving spider-tracers on the bodies? Surely any idiot would realise that Spider-Man was being framed? Also, wouldn’t it have occurred to Vin that, by framing Spider-Man for a bunch of murders he hadn’t committed, he was letting the real killers get away with murder? I realise that I probably just need to get out a bit more and get a life, but this really annoyed me, particularly as Vin was eventually painted as being just a bit misguided – some of the other cops were really rotten and had actually killed one of the Spider-Tracer Killer’s ‘victims’ – rather than a total f**king idiot.

Luckily, this storyline had some pretty great art in it. One issue was drawn by Barry Kitson, who is okay but not an artist I can ever get excited about, but the rest were drawn by two of the greatest Spider-Man artists of all time, with one issue drawn by my current favourite Marvel artist, Marcos Martin, and the rest drawn by John Romita Jr (inked by Klaus Janson). If the art hadn’t been so good, I probably would have called this a pretty crappy Spider-Man story, but the great art lifted it up to a just about acceptable level. Hopefully, now that these two storylines are resolved, future issues will be a bit better – during this period, the Amazing Spider-Man had a rotating team of creators working on it so Guggenheim was just an occasional writer – but I’m not that optimistic because Character Assassination ended with the threat of more appearances by Menace and a greater role for Norman Osborn, who is one of my least favourite Marvel villains and, at this post-Secret Invasion point in time, was pretty much running (and ruining) the Marvel Universe.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Review - Marvel Masterworks - The Inhumans Volume 1

I'm trying to resist the lure of too many Marvel Masterworks as I know it to be a path down which madness, and bankruptcy, lies. However, I've had my eye on the two Inhumans volumes since they were released a couple of years ago, and when Volume 1 popped up in the Forbidden Planet post-Christmas sale, I clicked on 'Add To Basket' as quickly as my mouse buttons would allow me.

It's a funny old volume though, as discussed in Mark Evanier's excellent introduction. It starts off with a load of Lee/Kirby backup strips from Thor. It's difficult for them to tell much of a story in 5 page instalments so instead, we get a series of short strips introducing a character at a time.

Following this is a one-off story featuring Medusa. The story is underwhelming but the combination of Gene Colan and Vince Colletta on art is terrible.

The Inhumans then got their own regular strip in a new title called 'Amazing Adventures' but Marvel didn't think they could carry the title on their own, so they had to share the limelight with the 'Black Widow', and an ever changing creative team.

The first 4 instalments are written and drawn by Kirby and they're as mad as you would expect, until he upped sticks off to DC. The next 4 issues, the highlight of the book are by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams. Although it seems a bit too reminiscent of Adams' social conscience episodes of Green Lantern, the dynamic art is a huge step up from the rest of the book. It's just a shame that after 4 issues they handed off to Gerry Conway and Mike Sekowsky. The DC artist isn't much of a match for Black Bolt and co, his cartoony impressions being a little too similar to the caricatures featured in Not Brand Echh, also included in this book.

Finally, the extended storyline wraps up in style, with an instalment of the Kree/Skull war from the Thomas/Adams Avengers team. It has a few pages of exposition in the middle that read as surplus in a collection like this, but, like their earlier stories, the confidence and vigour springs from the page.

It's probably the most underwhelming Masterwork that I've read, and had I paid full price for it, I would be a bit annoyed. But I wanted to read it, and so I'm happy enough with the £19.99 it cost me, particularly for those Neal Adams layouts in the middle of the book.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Review - Hellboy / Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice

This Hellboy / Beasts of Burden one-shot is really more of a Beasts of Burden comic than a Hellboy comic. It is written and illustrated by Beasts of Burden creators Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, with minimal input from Mike Mignola, and the story carries on directly from the end of the recent Beasts of Burden mini-series, as collected in the excellent Animal Rites hardcover. And that’s fine by me because, as much as I like Hellboy, I bought this for the Beasts of Burden, a bunch of neighbourhood dogs (and two cats) who investigate the paranormal in a place called Burden Hill.

The story here starts with Hellboy being lured to Burden Hill by one of the ‘wise dogs’, heads of a society of canine (and feline) paranormal investigators in which the ‘beasts’ are junior apprentices, and the action starts pretty much right away, with our heroes tackling some of the ‘skull golems’ they fought in the last issue of the Beasts of Burden mini-series, this time led by the girlfriend of their previous master.

As Hellboy is also a paranormal investigator, these two properties are a natural / obvious fit, ripe for a team-up, and fair play to Mike Mignola for lending his more-popular character to Dorkin and Thompson in an effort to expose the Beasts of Burden to the wider audience they deserve. Despite Hellboy’s mighty presence here, the real stars of the show are the Beasts of Burden, and particularly grouchy pug dog Pugs, who provides lots of laughs and inadvertently saves the day.

This didn’t work perfectly as a one-shot, what with the story being a continuation of the wider Beasts of Burden storyline, but it was still good stuff. It was well-written, beautifully painted and hopefully it will do its job and make some Hellboy fans check out that Beasts of Burden hardcover and any future Beasts of Burden comics.

My confession: Blog rules state that I am not allowed to pay more than £1.20 including postage for any comic published by a company with a Diamond exclusive distribution deal. I broke blog rules and bought this on eBay for £2.30 including postage (because I was worried that I would never be able to get a copy for £1.20, because I knew it would be quite a while before it got collected somewhere, and because I wanted to show my support for the Beasts of Burden) but I am prepared to overlook this incident if you are.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Review - Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol.2 TPB

This second Essential Luke Cage volume collects Luke Cage, Power Man issues 28-49 (not including #36, which was a reprint issue) and Luke Cage, Power Man Annual #1 in black and white. These comics were produced by a variety of creators of varying talent, including writers Don McGregor, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman and Chris Claremont and artists Lee Elias, Frank Robbins, George Tuska and John Byrne.

In the previous volume, Luke escaped from Seagate Prison, where he was serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, after a dodgy experiment gave him super strength and skin like steel. He then headed to New York, changed his name to Luke Cage (we never found out his real name) and set himself up as a ‘Hero For Hire’. He fought a variety of villains it would actually be quite generous of me to call second rate – Mace, Chemistro, Lionfang, Cottonmouth, Black Mariah, etc. – and befriended personality-free hippy kid D.W., whose uncle owns the building Cage rents an office in, and Harlem doctors Claire Temple (Cage’s love interest) and Noah Burstein (the very same doctor who conducted that fateful experiment on Cage in Seagate Prison). At no point during that volume did Cage manage to clear his name, so this book continues in much the same vein as the first one, with Cage fighting even more crappy villains – Mr Fish, Cockroach Hamilton, Piranha Jones, Spear, the Mangler, Big Brother, the Cheshire Cat (actually, I quite liked the Cheshire Cat), Goldbug, Bushmaster, etc. – and worrying that he might get found out by the cops (and also the IRS, because, as he didn’t officially exist, he wasn’t paying any tax on his meagre earnings). Actually, nothing much of interest really happens in this volume until the last couple of issues and anyone reading the rest of the book would quickly realise that this was not one of Marvel’s best Bronze Age titles, even though Luke Cage was one of its best Bronze Age characters.

Most of the stories towards the beginning of the book were written by Don McGregor, who attempted to inject some social realism into his stories – even referencing the ‘70s oil crisis and complaining about fuel prices at one point, which couldn’t have been of much interest to young readers – but these issues just seemed really over-written and got boring quickly. The social stuff took a backseat once Marv Wolfman – who wrote most of the stories in this volume – took over as writer but his stories were very simplistic and often dragged over several issues for no reason at all. Wolfman was probably writing a lot of other stuff at the time – this work probably coincided with his more famous run on Tomb of Dracula – and I got the overall impression that Power Man was a title where various writers went to hack out stories to earn a bit of extra cash and great artists who had fallen from favour went because they couldn’t get any other work.

Several issues here were drawn by the great Frank Robbins, and these were the artistic high point of the book for me, but Lee Elias, another Golden Age veteran but one I was hitherto unaware of, drew the majority of the issues reprinted here and his pleasing style was actually very similar to Robbins’, if slightly less kinetic. Really, though, it wasn’t until the last two issues reprinted in this volume, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, that this series started to seem like an exciting prospect. In this two-part story, Claremont and Byrne introduced Luke to Danny Rand / Iron Fist, who would soon share the title with Cage, and with the help of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, they finally managed to clear his name. This story was still quite weak and full of needless confrontation but compared to the stories that preceded it, it was pretty good and at least the series finally moved forward after 40+ issues. Thanks mainly to Byrne’s art, these issues looked so much more modern that the issues that preceded them and it’s easy to see why Claremont and Byrne took comics by storm in the ‘70s.

I couldn’t honestly recommend this book to anyone else but I kind of enjoyed reading it, mainly because I started reading comics in the ‘70s and have a lot of affection for stuff like this, even though I had never read most of these particular comics before. This book is probably most notable for containing the first meeting of Power Man and Iron Fist but it also contains Luke’s first utterance of his famous catchphrase ‘Sweet Christmas!’ in an issue written by Bill Mantlo (actually, he says ‘sweet jumping Christmas’ in that issue, but it’s near enough for me). ‘Holy creepin’ crud!’ made me laugh more, though.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £12.99 / $16.99 but you can usually get it a bit cheaper online. I bought my copy from my local comic shop – The Grinning Demon in Maidstone – where it was reduced to £5.00.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Review - Batman and Robin Vol.1: Batman Reborn Deluxe HC

Titan Books do an amazing job and really don’t get enough credit for it. For many years now, they have been selflessly sticking impossible-to-remove price / barcode stickers on the backs of perfectly good American graphic novels and distributing them to UK book shops, and all they ask in return is that we pay several pounds more than the already-expensive RRP for these books. At one point, Titan used to publish their own editions of popular American graphic novels (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, various Love and Rockets books, etc.) but at some point they realised that defacing imported graphic novels and charging a premium for them was a better business model. Which is fair enough, I suppose. I mean, it must be working out for them. On the one hand, they are at least getting these books into high street book shops up and down the country and exposing them to a wider audience. On the other hand, who buys these things? Personally, I don’t think I have ever bought a graphic novel with a Titan Books sticker on the back cover from a book shop but I have flicked through quite a few and then gone home and ordered a cheaper copy online.

This particular book, which collects Batman and Robin issues 1-6 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Philip Tan, and already had a pretty high dollar price of $24.99, has a Titan Books price of £18.99. Yes, £18.99! For a book that only collects six comics and has a sticker on the back of the dust jacket! In the long run, these prices will probably kill off the comics industry, as most people who paid £18.99 for this in a book shop must have felt like twats afterwards, and are unlikely to buy another £18.99 graphic novel unless they are really rich or really stupid. In the short run, though, it means that there are plenty of disillusioned former comic readers selling off copies of books like this on eBay to recoup some of their losses, and I managed to pick up my copy of this book on eBay last year for just £6.00 (plus around £2.50 for P&P). Hoorah!

This is the first Batman book to feature Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian (Bruce Wayne’s bastard son from a fling with Talia, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul) as Robin. The first three issues reprinted here are drawn by Frank Quitely and in these issues Batman and Robin go after Professor Pyg, a bit of a nutter who grafts odd faces onto his victims and wipes their identities with a powerful new drug that turns them into his henchmen / henchwomen. As is the case for me with a lot of Grant Morrison comics, I felt strangely detached from the proceedings – which wasn’t helped by Professor Pyg’s nonsensical jibber jabber – but Frank Quitely is a fantastic artist who always brings out the very best in Morrison’s scripts and draws some very exciting action scenes. Professor Pyg was a suitably creepy villain and I love over-confident Damian, who delivers my favourite line from this book towards the end of #3: ‘, we’re agreed. It’s Robin and Batman from now on’.

The next three issues were not as good, mainly because Philip Tan is nowhere near as good an artist as Frank Quitely, but also because I know nothing about the Red Hood, who was one of the main antagonists in this storyline. Until I discovered Grant Morrison’s ‘Batman’ run last year, I don’t think I had read a new Batman comic since the 1980s, so the last time I saw former-Robin Jason Todd he was being beaten to death by the Joker, but now he is back from the dead and killing criminals as the Red Hood. In Batman and Robin issues 4-6, he teams up with Scarlet, one of Professor Pyg’s face-grafting victims who managed to avoid having her identity wiped, and declares bloody war on Gotham’s criminals. This attracts the attention of Batman and Robin, of course, but also a psychopathic mob assassin called Flamingo – ‘eater of faces’ – who leaves Damian in a bit of a mess at the end of the book.

I’m not sure that I really needed to own this – certainly not in hardcover format – but I quite enjoyed reading it, particularly the first half of the book, and I will probably keep an eye out for (cheap) copies of the next couple of volumes in the series, if only because Damian makes me laugh. Also, although I don’t think Frank Quitely ever returned to the title after #3, there are a few issues drawn by Frazer Irving coming up – another artist who works very well with Morrison – and they should be worth buying for the art alone.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Object of Desire - Strange Tales TPB

This trade paperback collects Marvel’s three-issue Strange Tales mini-series from 2009, which contained work by ‘alternative’ cartoonists such as Peter Bagge, Jason, Michael Kupperman, Johnny Ryan, Paul Pope, and more. It also collects Peter Bagge’s Megalomaniacal Spider-Man one-shot from 2002 and some material for the All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special (whatever that was). I don't remember that Megalomaniacal Spider-Man one-shot being that great but I really want to read the rest of this, and am even more keen on getting a copy of the forthcoming Strange Tales II TPB, because that series contained material by the Hernandez brothers. However, this book collects less than five comics and has a recommended retail price of £14.99 / $19.99, which seems like rather a lot to me. This isn’t even the hardcover edition – that had a cover price of £22.50 / $29.95! – but for some reason it is priced like one of those rip-off Marvel 'Premiere' hardcovers.

The Book Depository and Forbidden Planet International seem to be the cheapest places to get this online, but even their price of £11.34 (including postage) seems like quite a lot for what promises to be quite a slender book. I’m setting myself a more reasonable limit of £7.00 for this one, and will be keeping an eye out for a copy on my travels / eBay. Progress report / review to follow.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Review - Conan Vol.7: Cimmeria TPB

I got this for my birthday last February, along with a copy of Conan Vol.6, but have only just read it because Conan Vol.6 wasn’t that great and it managed to put an end to the brief Conan phase I was going through at the time. I was actually about to list this volume for sale on Amazon (unread) but, after flicking through it, I decided to keep it back for a while and read it anyway, and I’m glad I did because I quite enjoyed it.

A couple of years ago, I bought the first few volumes in this series on eBay (for about £3.00 each) and quite enjoyed them, too. They weren’t perfect or anything and mostly they just did that modern thing of dragging out stories that would have been told in just one comic until a decade or so ago over several issues. In fact, many of the stories in those books were Robert E. Howard stories that Roy Thomas had already adapted into single issues of the Marvel Conan series in the seventies, only this time tales such as ‘The Frost-Giant’s Daughter’ and ‘The Tower of the Elephant’ were told over multiple issues. Still, they were quite well done. Most volumes were written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Cary Nord but there was a multi-part story in one volume written by Mike Mignola and some other artists contributed to the series. I remember particularly liking Vol.0, written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Greg Ruth, which told a series of stories from Conan’s childhood in Cimmeria. Vol.6, however, was written by Timothy Truman and illustrated by Tomás Giorello, the same creative team responsible for most of this volume, and it wasn’t very good at all. I don’t remember much about the story now and can’t flick through it to remind myself because I sold it on Amazon shortly after I finished reading it but I do remember thinking that the art was bad. However, either my memory is worse than I thought it was and Giorello’s art wasn’t that bad after all or else he has really improved, because his art in this volume wasn’t bad at all, even if it wasn’t up to the high standards set by previous artists on the title. Even if his art here had been bad, though, it wouldn’t have bothered me that much because at least a third of the pages in this book were drawn by the great Richard Corben, and it was the fact that Corben had contributed to this volume that made me give Timothy Truman’s Conan another chance.

This volume collects Conan the Cimmerian issues 0-7 – Dark Horse’s previous ongoing Conan title having finished at #50 – in which Conan heads back home to Cimmeria, disillusioned with the ‘civilised’ world. In the first proper chapter reprinted here, after the zero issue that adapts a REH poem, Conan is attacked en route to Cimmeria and rescued by on old man. The old man, it turns out, knew Conan’s grandfather, Connacht, and tells Conan the story of how they met, when the old man was just a boy. The book continues in this vein, with Conan being told stories, or else remembering stories, about his grandfather as he heads back to, and eventually arrives in, Cimmeria. Connacht, it seems, was another Cimmerian with the wanderlust, and these stories of his adventures outside, and his eventual return to, Cimmeria are what made this book worth reading, illustrated as they are by Richard Corben. Now 70 years old, Corben is as good as he ever was and José Villarrubia’s colours really bring his stylish art to life, making these sections really stand-out from the rest of the book. These sections are also the best parts of the story by quite a long way, although the parts drawn by Tomás Giorello, in which Conan meets up with his first love, who is now pregnant by another man and caught in the middle of a feud between various tribes, are okay.

What I particularly like about Conan comics – and would probably like about the Conan books if I ever got around to reading that big collection of REH Conan stories I bought last year – is how relentlessly grim the Cimmerian attitude towards life is. Cimmeria itself is ‘a gloomy land that seemed to hold all winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun’ and Crom, the Cimmerian god, is a bit of a bastard who provides the Cimmerians with winter as a ‘way of culling the weak and old’. These moments of grimness often make me laugh out loud (which is presumably not the intention of the authors) and there were several such moments in this book. If the current owners of the rights to the various Conan books ever fancy putting out a book that contains just these moments of Cimmerian wit and wisdom, without all that distracting action stuff, I will be first in line to buy it.

All in all, this was a fair-to-good read that was made much better by the fantastic art of Richard Corben and a few amusing grim bits. I doubt I will buy any future volumes in this series unless I see them really cheap somewhere but I would read them if I ever got the chance to borrow them. This particular volume has a recommended retail price of £13.50 / $17.95. As I said, I got my copy for my birthday last year but the person who bought it for me (my wife) got it from Amazon, where it is currently £9.45.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Review - B.P.R.D. Vol.13: 1947 TPB

Not all of the BPRD books are written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and illustrated by Guy Davis. BPRD Vol.9: 1946 was written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Paul Azaceta, and it told the story of the post-WWII formation of the BPRD by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm. I got into this series mainly because I like the Mignola / Arcudi / Davis volumes and only bought ‘1946’ because I am a bit of a completist – a mentality I am trying to overcome – but I remember thinking it was really good, even if I can’t remember much about it now.

‘1947’ follows on from ‘1946’ (of course) and is again written by Mike Mignola and Joshu Dysart but this time illustrated by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. In this volume, Professor Bruttenholm puts together his first bunch of BPRD agents – comprised of some WWII veterans who, unlike most modern BPRD members, are not supernatural beings of some kind – and sends them off to France in search of vampires. Only two of them make it back and one of them needs an exorcism.

The art here is very nice and in keeping with the style of the various Hellboy books but I struggled to get into the story this time. As I said, I can’t remember much about ‘1946’ now and this is a problem I seem to have with most of the Hellboy / BPRD books – I often enjoy reading them but rarely find them that memorable. I got the impression that, in order to fully appreciate this book, I was supposed to remember a lot of stuff not just from ‘1946’ but also from various Hellboy books, some of which I probably haven’t read yet because I have so far only read the Hellboy stuff collected in the first three Hellboy Library books. A young Hellboy actually makes an appearance here, as does Varvara, a creepy little Russian girl I do remember from ‘1946’ – she is head of the Russian equivalent of the BPRD – but she isn’t in this volume nearly enough.

I’m a bit fed up with reading comics that are bogged down in continuity. I’m getting on a bit now and my memory isn’t what it used to be, plus I only have a certain amount of life left in me and I don’t want to waste too much of it reading books I have already read just so I can understand the latest book in a series. BPRD Vol.14 sees the end of the long-running ‘War on Frogs’ storyline and, once I get a copy, I may re-read all of my Hellboy and BPRD books in order to fully appreciate them. However, unless Vol.14 is really awesome, I may also decide that the end of the war on frogs is a good jumping off point for me with this particular title. I will probably continue to pick up the Hellboy Library books as they are published, but keeping up with the wider Hellboy universe these days requires a bit too much commitment for my liking.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £13.50 / $17.99. I got my copy for Christmas, so it didn’t cost me anything, but the person who bought it for me got it from Amazon, where it is currently £10.49. Not a bad price, I suppose, but also not an amazing price for a book that only collects five comics, plus one other short strip, and turned out to be quite a quick read.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Review - Dork Volume 2: Circling the Drain TPB

This book collects material from Dork issues 7-10 by Evan Dorkin. Like Dork Vol.1, it omits the Eltingville Club strips – which is a shame because the Eltingville Club strips were my favourite strips in Dork and, as far as I am aware, they have still not been collected – but what is here is still pretty good. We get several appearances from the Devil Puppet in ‘The Invisible College of Secret Knowledge’, ‘How to Get Your Ass Kicked in 3 E-Z Steps’, quite a few pages packed with 4-panel gag strips, and lots more. The centrepiece of the book, though, is the strip ‘What Does it Look Like I’m Doing? / Cluttered Like My Head’, in which Dorkin details his mental health problems and a nervous breakdown brought on by the near collapse of the comic industry in the 1990s. As someone who has had to take a ‘happy pill’ every morning for some years now, I found this quite uncomfortable reading and preferred the ‘Devil Puppet’ and gag strips, but it was still good stuff.

This is another slender collection but it is by no means a quick read, as the talented Mr Dorkin packs his panels with content. His strips are always funny and his artwork had become extremely competent by the time the strips in this volume were produced. The fact that Dorkin is still struggling to make a decent living as a cartoonist, while someone like Geoff Johns is probably rolling around in money, is just depressing beyond belief.

Cost: This has a cover price of £10.50 / $13.95 but I got my copy from the Book Depository for £7.80, which probably makes me part of the problem but at least none of my money goes to Geoff Johns.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Review - Smallville Season 9

I know this isn’t a comic but it’s comic-related and I got it ‘On The Ration’ – I rented this 21-episode DVD box set from my local library at a cost of just £2.50 for a whole week – so I’m going to review it here anyway.

Smallville is a long-running television series about a pre-Superman Clark Kent. Initially, the show was set in the town of Smallville, where Clark lived and went to high school, but since Clark and his friends graduated a few seasons ago, the show has been mostly set in Metropolis, where Clark and Lois Lane now work at the Daily Planet and Clark is on the verge of becoming Superman. I have never been a big fan of the various Superman comics but I did love the Superman movies when I was younger – ‘Superman: The Movie’ is still the best super-hero film ever made, as far as I am concerned – and I was curious enough to watch the first episode of Smallville when it first aired here in the UK. It wasn’t brilliant but I stuck with it in the hope that it would get better, which I suppose it did but not for quite some time.

The first few seasons of Smallville were really just a lame Buffy rip-off, with ‘meteor rocks’ (Kryptonite) performing the function that the ‘Hellmouth’ played in Buffy. Every week, some poor sod from Smallville High (or whatever the school in Smallville was called) would turn into a super-powered villain after being exposed to ‘meteor rocks’ and Clark Kent (Tom Welling) would have to deal with the matter with a little help from his friends Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Pete Ross (Sam Jones III). Pete Ross wasn’t in the show very much at all – he isn’t in it at all anymore – and was really just Clark’s token black friend (Pete may very well have been the only black teenager in Smallville) while Chloe played the sort of role that Willow played in Buffy, being the pretty-but-nerdy girl who was able to research impossible things on the internet. Clark also had an unlikely friendship with young billionaire Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), whose life he saved in the first episode, and the pair would frequently advise each other (we all knew that Lex was really evil but Clark was able to see the good in him) despite them having nothing much in common. Clark would also receive advice from his dull-but-loving adopted parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent – played by Annette O’Toole, who played Lana Lang in Superman III, and John Schneider, who used to be in the Dukes of Hazzard – and the last five or ten minutes of every show would usually involve the possibility of romance between Clark and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), who would stare into each others’ eyes a lot but would never actually ‘get it on’ (they did eventually ‘get it on’ but not for many years).

I could just about handle the Buffy-rip-off storylines, the over-reliance on Kryptonite, all those meaningful exchanges between Clark and Lex, and all that cloying advice from Ma and Pa Kent, but all that drippy will-they-won’t-they stuff between Clark and Lana was more than I could handle. I think the only reason I stuck with the show as long as I did is because I really liked Chloe – who was (and still is) the heart and soul of the show – but I eventually gave up with Smallville at some point during season 4 or 5, just as things were starting to get interesting.

From left to right: Lois Lane, some bloke who turned
out to be Doomsday, Jimmy Olsen sitting in a chair,
Chloe Sullivan, Clark Kent, Tess Mercer, Oliver Queen

I doubt I ever would have caught up with the show if it weren’t for my sister, who doesn’t read comics but loves Smallville and lent me the DVDs of seasons 4-8 a year or so ago. Around the time I first gave up on the show, Clark had met a kid with super speed called Bart Allen (the Flash / Impulse) and Chloe’s cousin Lois Lane (Erica Durance) had just arrived in Smallville but wasn’t really in the show that much. Over the next few seasons, however, Lois became a series regular (although she was usually only in around half the episodes in each season until recently) and we gradually met a lot more characters from the DC Universe, including Supergirl, Oliver Queen / the Green Arrow (well-played by Justin Hartley, who is now a series regular), Cyborg from the Teen Titans, the Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Aquaman, Zatanna, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jimmy Olsen, and future editor of the Daily Planet Perry White (played by Michael McKean from Spinal Tap). In season 7 or 8, Clark and some of the other heroes even formed their own super-team, which I don’t think they ever actually called the Justice League of America but that’s pretty much what it was. Best of all, Lana got another boyfriend and eventually left the show, so no more Clark and Lana tedium, and once Clark left high school and moved to Metropolis, things livened up a bit.

It was still hardly a brilliant show but it was an enjoyable enough way to spend 40 minutes (the length of an episode without ads) and it had the potential to be a pretty good show. It also had the benefit of having Erica Durance in it, who is the ballsiest, funniest, sexiest Lois Lane ever. She gets all the best lines (sometimes the only good lines) and every scene she is in is better for it. There is even a certain amount of chemistry between her and Clark – who are now romantically involved but ‘taking it slow’ – but most of that chemistry must be coming from Durance, because Tom Welling has all the acting ability of a wooden plank. I suppose the character he’s playing is rather dull, though, and at least he looks the part.

Anyway, season 9 opened where season 8 left off, which was my biggest problem with this season because I couldn’t quite remember where season 8 left off and didn’t feel that it was ever properly recapped. I could just about recall that Jimmy Olsen was killed by Doomsday shortly after (or maybe just before) marrying Chloe, and I could just about remember that Lois had gone to the future using a ring left for Clark by the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I really couldn’t remember General Zod (Callum Blue) and a load of other Kryptonians coming into it, and they were the main villains in this series.

Actually, I think this Zod (like the other Kryptonians) was just a clone. There was even a clone of Jor-El in one episode but even though the voice of Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude is provided by Terence Stamp, this Jor-El was played by another British actor, Julian Sands, for some reason.

The Kryptonian clones had no powers and needed to turn the Earth’s sun red in order to gain them. I’m not sure why. Lois, who returned from the future in the first episode, couldn’t fully remember what she saw in the future, but we eventually find out that Zod rules this future (red-sunned) world, humans are kept as slaves, and that Zod eventually kills a powerless (under a red sun) Clark Kent. Once Clark discovers this, he makes an effort to befriend Zod and change the future but things don’t really work out that well.

The whole Zod storyline running through this series was really boring and my mind seemed to switch off every time this storyline came to the fore. The better episodes were the ones that were about some other threat, or the burgeoning romance between Clark and Lois, or the Green Arrow and Chloe relationship, and not the ones that focused on Zod or Tess Mercer. Tess is the new Lex Luthor, since Lex left the show a couple of seasons ago. Cassidy Freeman, who plays Tess, seems like a perfectly good actress but the character is just really dull and unnecessary. Is she good? Is she evil? Does anyone care?

I actually nearly gave up on this season of Smallville five episodes in and only stuck with it because a) my wife wanted to keep watching it, b) season ten is apparently the final season (Tom Welling and Erica Durance are both in their 30s and probably can’t get away with playing 20-year olds too much longer) and as I’ve stuck with the show this long I figured I might as well see it through to the end, c) I enjoy seeing all the other DC characters turn up in the show and I knew there was an episode featuring the Justice Society of America coming up, and d) I really fancy Erica Durance (and also think she is a very good actress).

That last reason was probably my main reason for sticking with the show. I could have quite happily watched a DVD box set that contained just Durance’s scenes. In fact, I think I probably would have preferred that. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I stuck with this show mainly because I fancied an actress in it – I don’t think I could have stuck with the show if that was the only reason I was watching it, as even I am not that shallow – but I’m pretty sure the main reason my wife wanted to carry on watching it was because she likes Justin Hartley (Green Arrow), so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Erica Durance: The next Mrs Wells?

As for the thrill I get out of seeing all those other DC characters turning up, well, I can’t really explain that. I am not really a fan of DC super-hero comics and wasn’t even much of a fan as a kid. I was always more of a Marvel kind of guy, but I don’t get any pleasure out of watching movies based on Marvel characters. I didn’t even like the recent Spider-Man movies that much and cringed the whole way through the various X-Men movies – even the supposedly good ones. I often find that people who aren’t familiar with these characters – like my wife – enjoy these movies more than I do. Perhaps I just know too much about Marvel’s characters, while my relative unfamiliarity with DC’s characters allows me to enjoy their appearances in Smallville. Or something like that.

Having said that, the JSA double episode – probably the most talked about episode from this season – wasn’t that great. Written by Geoff Johns, it contained many of the gritty elements that have made modern superhero comics so rubbish. It started with a Watchmen-style murder mystery (without the mystery), as an old JSA villain (Icicle?) was murdering former members of the JSA. In the first episode, two members of the JSA – the Star Spangled Kid and the Golden Age Sandman – were murdered pretty quickly, and while there was talk about other JSA members such as the Flash and Green Lantern, the only other JSA members we got to meet were Star Girl, Doctor Fate and Hawkman, who reluctantly teamed-up with Clark to track down the killer.

Whenever other DC characters show up in Smallville, they are rarely in costume – with the exception of Green Arrow and Zatanna (yay!) – because the producers of Smallville presumably realise that super-hero costumes look pretty stupid in real life. However, Doctor Fate and Hawkman are shown in full costume here and look really stupid. Hawkman looked particularly laughable but even Doctor Fate was wearing one of those stupid, Batman-style rubber costumes, complete with a rubber six-pack on the stomach. The only real pleasure I got from this episode was spotting all the character names that were dropped during the show and explaining to my wife that Jay Garrick was actually the Golden Age Flash, etc., which made her think I was an even bigger nerd that she already suspected. I have forgotten most of the rest of the episode already, but one thing I do remember thinking was particularly odd was a scene in which we saw inside the JSA’s trophy room and one of the items in a trophy cabinet was labelled as belonging to the ‘Golden Age Hourman’. Would anyone in real life refer to themselves as the ‘Golden Age’ anything? Even the characters in DC comics don’t refer to themselves as Golden or Silver Age characters, do they?

Doctor Fate and Star Girl looking a bit crap

This season also introduced the Checkmate organisation to Smallville. I know absolutely nothing about Checkmate but I am aware that there is an organisation in the DC Universe called Checkmate. The Smallville version of Checkmate is led by actress Pam Grier, who has put on a bit of weight since Jackie Brown and seems to spend every scene she is in with her head tilted at a funny angle so we can’t see her double chin (unless she’s had a stroke or something, in which case I take that last line back). Checkmate were somehow linked to the Zod and Tess Mercer storylines, and even another storyline in which Ma Kent (who is only in the show occasionally now that Pa Kent is dead) turned out to be a character called the Red Queen, and I’m afraid I found all the Checkmate stuff almost as tedious as the Zod stuff.

Overall, I did not enjoy this season of Smallville much at all and found it quite a struggle to get through. However, a rather exciting final episode, the promise that Clark will finally don that red cape sometime soon (and no-doubt look really stupid), and the lovely / talented Ms Durance ensure that I will probably be back for the final season. I’m a glutton for punishment.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Review - Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

Gerard Way. If you're a 16 year old over-excited Emo girl, you probably think the sun shines out of his cock ring. Maybe it does. I'm 38, male, and very dull. That said, I don't mind a bit of My Chemical Romance. I'm still down with the kids enough to recognise a good tune when I hear it and Teenagers fulfills that criteria (though probably not the radio edit).

Anyway, where was I? This is a comics blog. Save the music stuff for your own site, Rol. When I first heard that Gerard Way was writing comics as well as being chauffeured round America in a tourbus made of voluntarily donated virgin's cheeks and dolly mixture, I reacted in the way most sad, small press losers would - by calling him a tourist. Bad enough we've got screenwriters like J. Michael Straczynski and Allen Heinberg slumming it in comics... now I have to compete with freaking pop stars too? How utterly ludicrous. Like Gerard Way writing a comic is somehow going to stop Joe Quesada or Axel Rose or whoever's running Marvel this week from calling me up and offering me a gig! But seriously, that's how we think, isn't it? Deluded hacks r us. (Well, r me, anyway.)

Then Grant Morrison got on board and decided to start recommending Umbrella Academy at which point Way decided to repay the compliment by casting Morrison as a surprisingly convincing supervillain in his latest round of promo gubbins... and the whole incestuous celebrity applecart upset itself upon my fragile credibility detection monitor (a particularly laboured metaphor, I know, but it sums up how I felt). No Way was I reading this comic.

And then I saw the first Umbrella Academy trade on eBay for £4 (+ £2 p&p) and the fact that I had some money in my Paypal account and it was drawn by Gabriel Ba (who does excellent work on Casanova) and I actually quite like the new MCR album swayed me enough to put all my prejudices aside and give it a shot. If it was rubbish, I was confident I could resell it for a profit just by putting Gerard Way's name in the listing title. I've been selling on eBay long enough to know that sort of thing makes a difference.

So... paragraph five, and we finally get to the review. You can tell why Grant Morrison rates this book, since it is hugely influenced by his amusing and at times mindboggling run on Doom Patrol back in the late 80s. It's not quite as good, but few things are. Way has an excellent way with storytelling. He has a large cast and a lot of backstory, but he refuses to get bogged down with exposition. At times this can be a wee bit frustrating - I actually want him to sit me down and spoon feed me each character's name and powers and history every issue - but if I put that aside and just enjoy the thrill ride, there's exhilarating and (at times) original comic book fun to be had.

Way gets the origin story out of the way in the first few pages. 43 extraordinary children are born at the same moment. 7 of them are adopted by a wealthy inventor / scientist / philanthropist / space alien (love the way he chucks that last one in as a tease then never mentions it again... not yet, anyway) and grow up to be kid superheroes. They have many exciting adventures - illustrated by an immense battle with an out-of-control Eiffel Tower - and then grow up and fall apart for reasons yet to be disclosed. The death of their "father" and an unknown threat from the future (and from within their own ranks) brings them back together as adults... and that's just the first issue.

Way's script swings gleefully from cartoon shenanigans to emotional realism, from horror to sci fi to comedy. There's a maturity to his writing you really don't expect from a novice to comics - and especially not from a tourist. Ba's art meanwhile is wonderful, recalling Richard Case, Eduardo Risso, Geoff Darrow, Mike Mignola and Mike Oeming, among others, with a spectacular sense of design and loads of hidden detail. It really does make me quite sick just how much I enjoyed this comic... and though I did buy it on the ration, I'd have happily paid full price.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Review - X'ed Out by Charles Burns

I don’t usually mention the price of a book until I get towards the end of a review but this time I’m going to make an exception, because the price of this book seriously affected my enjoyment of it. I mean, this slender hardcover is only 56 pages long and it only took me about twenty minutes to read it, but it has a cover price of £12.99. I only paid £8.05 because I bought it from Amazon but even that seemed like quite a lot for a twenty minute read and I was simply unable to get my head around the fact that I had bought a book that (in theory) cost so much but contained so little. This book didn’t even tell a complete story, as this is just the first of three proposed volumes.

Now I know I probably shouldn’t judge works of art by their price and how long it takes me to consume them, but being unemployed, I’m afraid I do take price into account when passing judgement on books, comics, etc. The unique selling point of this blog is that we do judge things based on the amount of bang we get for our bucks, that we provide you with tips on how to enjoy your favourite hobby without spending too much money, so that you don’t feel like a c**t every time you buy a graphic novel and eventually quit comics in disgust, like so many before you. Based on our strict rules (which are actually completely random), I feel obliged to tell you that this book seemed like a bit of a rip-off.

Before I go any further, I think I should point out that I am a fan of Charles Burns’ work and have been ever since I picked up a copy of Hard Boiled Defective Stories in Forbidden Planet in London in the late-1980s – a book I still own and doubt I will ever sell, and I feel similarly about all the other Charles Burns books I own. I did really want to like this book and if I had enjoyed it more I probably wouldn’t be complaining quite as much – £12.99 for the greatest book I had ever read would be quite a bargain, even if it did only take me twenty minutes to read it – but I even found the content a bit disappointing.

X’ed Out is about a teenager called Doug, who appears to have suffered some kind of head injury (we don’t find out what happened to him in this volume), is hooked on painkillers and is suffering from some seriously weird dreams. Before the head injury, we find out that Doug was a pretentious aspiring poet / photographer who got together with a strange girl called Sarah at a party and this somehow led to his current predicament. Sarah is also into photography – she is in Doug’s photography class – and Doug finds a photograph of Sarah breast-feeding what appears to be a baby pig, along with the corpse of this pig in a jar, at the party. Some other photographs show her naked and tied up. We don’t find out exactly who took these photos but Doug’s chain-smoking dad seems to have a photograph of Sarah, too.

Most of the rest of the book takes place in a weird dream world and makes little sense. Dream-world Doug looks a lot like Tintin (but with black hair) and is led into the dream world through a crack in his bedroom wall by his dead black cat Inky (rather than a white dog called Snowy). There may be a lot more Tintin references here but if there are they are lost on me because I am one of the few people on the planet who has never read a Tintin book before (I do now own one and am going to read and review it soon), so I may be missing something bigger.

I enjoyed this a lot more the second time I read it (I managed to find twenty minutes in my busy schedule), but the first time I read it I only really became interested towards the middle of the book, once Sarah appeared, and the first half of the book just seemed like a lot of random weirdness, complete with William Burroughs references. I gradually became more and more intrigued by the story, but only really got into it right at the end of the book, which was very frustrating as there will presumably be quite a gap between this volume and the next.

This looks amazing, of course, and Burns’ art looks surprisingly good in colour. By the time this series is finished, it could turn out to be the greatest graphic novel ever produced. The problem is, this volume only contains a third of that graphic novel and I wished I had just waited a couple of years for the inevitable collection of all three volumes. My problem here isn’t with Charles Burns, who I assume is not a creator who is able to churn out comics at great speed and probably has to serialise his work to make a living, but more with the expensive format in which it has been published. How many people who picked this up in a regular bookstore – and I have seen this in lots of regular bookstores – will bother to come back for the next volume once they realise they have spent £12.99 on an incomplete story that it only took them twenty minutes to read? I am a fan of Charles Burns and even I am unlikely to continue with this story in this format. Bizarre publishing / pricing decisions are rife in the comics industry at the moment and it’s a shame to see even quality publishers are making the same wrong-headed moves that the likes of Marvel and DC have been making recently. I kind of understand why they have done it; I just think it’s the sort of thing that drives people away from comics.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Review - B.P.R.D. Vol.12: War On Frogs TPB

I usually like the BPRD books – particularly the ones by John Arcudi and Guy Davis – more than I like the Hellboy books that this series span out from. I do like Hellboy quite a lot – I just tend to enjoy reading about these characters more, even if I don’t always find their adventures that memorable. I honestly can’t remember what happened in the last few volumes in this series now, even though I only read them about a year ago, but that’s okay because I’ve got them all and am sure I will enjoy re-reading them at some point. I vaguely remember that I was getting a bit bored with the long-running ‘war on frogs’, which started in the very first Hellboy book and has been running throughout this entire series, but I was under the impression that this volume was the end of the ‘frogs’ storyline. Instead, though, ‘War On Frogs’ contains five one-shots, each focusing on a different member of the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) as they were during different stages of the war, which does not come to an end in this volume at all.

All five stories are written by the usual team of Mike Mignola and John Arcudi but this time we get a variety of artists. The first story, which focuses on the now-deceased Roger the Homunculus, as he goes after the frog monsters from the very first Hellboy story, is pencilled by Herb Trimpe – a name I never thought I’d see gracing the cover of a modern comic. Trimpe’s art is unrecognisable under Guy Davis’ inks, and the finished art ends up looking more like Davis’ art. The second story, focusing on the undead Captain Benjamin Daimo as he tackles frog monsters at some old-time religious revival meetings, is pencilled and inked by Guy Davis, and the art here is only distinguishable from the art in the first story because the art in the first story is slightly more simplistic. Then we get a story featuring Abe Sapien, who helps a crew of BPRD agents tackle frog monsters via radio contact, and the familiar art for this story is provided by another veteran comic artist, John Severin.

The fourth story here was my favourite. It focuses on ectoplasmic BPRD member Johann Kraus, who finds himself troubled by the ghosts of some frog monsters who were killed shortly after being turned into frog monsters. The art, by Peter Snejbjerg, is very nice, too. The book then ends with another well-drawn tale – illustrated by Karl Moline – which focuses on Liz Sherman, burning the crap out of some frog monsters in the days before she lost it.

This was a perfectly enjoyable read but it was hardly an essential purchase. It was a bit of a filler volume, really, which seemed to be killing time before the frogs storyline does come to an overdue end in some future volume. The only story that I really liked was the one about Johann Kraus. The art in all the stories was good, and it was good to see that guys like Herb Trimpe and John Severin are still getting work, but I was slightly disappointed when I realised (after getting the book) that this volume wasn’t entirely illustrated by the series’ regular artist, Guy Davis, whose art is just perfect for this title.

Cost: I got this for Christmas, so it didn’t cost me anything (unless you count the cost of the gift I bought in return, which you probably should). It has a recommended retail price of £13.50 / $17.99, but Amazon currently have it for £9.45, and that’s where the generous soul who bought me this got it from.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Rob's Top 10 Comic-Related Bargains of 2010

2010 was a year when comic-related bargains became harder to find than ever. $3.99 became the standard price for most Marvel and DC comics, and thanks to a poor exchange rate and rising freight costs, that pushed the average price of one of these comics in a British comic shop over £3.00 (both companies have since pledged to put prices on certain titles back down to $2.99, but I doubt they’ll get back all the readers they drove away); high-end publishers like Drawn & Quarterly were releasing £12.99 / $20.00 hardcovers that only contained about 60 pages of material, took about 20 minutes to read, and made you (well, me) feel like a pillock for spending money on them (X’ed out by Charles Burns and Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley are the books that immediately spring to mind, but I’m sure there are plenty more examples); and Titan Books seemed to think that £18.99 was a perfectly acceptable price to charge for ‘deluxe’ hardcovers that only reprinted six comics (Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison, for example). Still, there were bargains to be found if you were prepared to go that extra mile to find them. Comic collecting / reading doesn’t have to be a hobby enjoyed only by obnoxious rich kids (although being an obnoxious rich kid helps), as the following list, my top 10 comic-related bargains of 2010, shows.

10. Batman and Robin Deluxe HC Vol.1

£18.99 my arse! Even the Amazon price of £10 (or thereabouts) was too much for my liking and I eventually managed to grab a copy on eBay, in an auction, for £6.00. I still haven’t read it.

9. Ex-Library Books

Until this year, I had always assumed that all those people selling ‘ex-library’ editions of graphic novels on eBay and Amazon had just stolen them from their local library, as I had never seen a graphic novel for sale in a library before, but it turns out that libraries do sometimes flog off graphic novels on the cheap. A few months ago, I picked up ex-library copies of ‘God Save the Queen’ by Mike Carey and John Bolton and ‘Vic and Blood’ by Harlan Ellison and Richard Corben for 20p each and then, just a few days ago, I managed to find a whole pile of graphic novels for sale in another library and picked up a copy of 'Silverfin' by Charlie Higson and Kev Walker for 50p. These finds probably would have placed higher if any of these books were things I had actually wanted.

8. The Walking Dead Compendium Vol.1 TPB

This big bastard of a book collects The Walking Dead issues 1-48 in one (softcover) edition. It has a recommended retail price of £45.00, but you can currently get it online (Amazon, Book Depository, Forbidden Planet International) for around £32.00, which is a pretty good price for a book containing this many comics. I got my copy from FPI a few months ago for just £28.00 (including postage) and then convinced someone else to get it for me for Christmas, which is why I haven’t read and reviewed it yet.

7. Marvel Essential / DC Showcase books

These books are pretty good value anyway, at around £10 for 500+ pages of Silver / Bronze Age goodness, but earlier in the year I managed to get several volumes in my local comic shop for £5.00 each (Essential Luke Cage Vol.2, Showcase Presents Batgirl Vol.1 and Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol.1). Then, a couple of months later, I bought a copy of Essential Luke Cage Vol.1 on eBay, from a local seller, for £5.00, and ended up buying several more Essential / Showcase books from him for £5.00 each (Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger Volumes 1 and 2, Showcase Presents House of Mystery Vol.1, Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol.1, Essential Defenders Vol.1, etc.) when I went to collect it. Now all I need is the time and enthusiasm required to read them all.

6. Locke & Key Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (Hardcover Editions)

This idea that eBay is a great place to pick stuff up at a discount – a notion perpetuated by eBay in its advertising – is something that I generally find to be untrue. Certainly, most new graphic novels (and CDs and DVDs) that I see listed in ‘buy-it-now’ format tend to be more expensive than they are on Amazon (etc.). However, there are still bargains to be had at auction, if you look for them. Earlier this year, I managed to pick up the first three volumes in this rather good series (the hardcover editions, which have a recommended retail price of £18.99 each and had a combined Amazon price of around £40.00 when I bought them) for a mere £15.87, including postage. Bingo!

5. Amazon Listing Errors

A couple of months ago, Amazon screwed up the prices on some of their hardcover graphic novels. I ordered the Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus for £22.09 (RRP £95.00) and the Captain America by Jack Kirby Omnibus for £19.13 (RRP £55.99) and Paul (Rainey), who told me about these listing errors, ordered a few Omnibus editions, too. It was always likely that Amazon would realise their mistake and refuse to fulfil these orders, but this possibility was made a certainty once Rich ‘spoilsport’ Johnson publicised these listing errors on his site and Amazon did indeed cancel the orders. Still, it was exciting while it lasted, and had these books actually turned up, this particular bargain would have placed higher.

4. Library Books

There are several series that I like to read but don’t feel the need to own (Ex Machina, Jonah Hex, etc.) and for these series my local library is perfect. My local library actually doesn’t have very many graphic novels in stock, but by going to the Kent libraries website I am able to get books from any library in Kent sent to my local branch, and all I have to pay is a 25p reservation fee. Kent libraries don’t seem to be getting that many new GNs in these days, but they do seem to order stuff in for me if I ask nicely, and I still only have to pay a 25p reservation fee. The fools!

3. Amazing Fantasy Omnibus Vol.1 HC

This particular Marvel omnibus edition, which collects all the pre-Spider-Man issues of Amazing Fantasy by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, has a recommended retail price of £55.99, although you can usually get it online for £40.00 to £50.00. This is something that Paul and I have both coveted for a while now, and last week we noticed that Forbidden Planet International had the Dan Brereton variant edition on their site for a mere £17.50 (plus £1.00 P&P) and ordered copies. Then, the following day, Rich ‘kiss of death’ Johnson mentioned this deal on his site, which has probably led to a rush of orders. I don’t know if we will ever receive the copies we ordered – this deal is still listed on the FPI website – but if we don’t I’ll know who to blame and if we do it will be a great bargain.

2. Charity Shop Graphic Novels

About six months ago, in an incident I now refer to as ‘the great charity shop haul of 2010’, I managed to find a shitload of comics and graphic novels for sale in various charity shops in Tonbridge in Kent. Some generous soul / mug had decided to give his comic collection away before he moved abroad, and one particular charity shop, which had received most of his collection, had transformed into a virtual Forbidden Planet for tightwads, with its windows full of graphic novels and boxed action figures. I nearly pushed over an old man as I rushed to get inside, and spent over £100 on cheap graphic novels in that shop alone. I kept most of the books I bought for myself but sold off the rest for a small profit, which effectively meant that the stuff I kept didn’t cost me anything.

1. 80+ Issues of Alter Ego Magazine

This was another great charity shop find: 80+ issues of Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego magazine, plus some other comic-related magazines and some comics, for a mere £7.00. I nearly broke my back carrying these back to the car, but it was worth it, as, after listing a few issues I didn’t want on eBay, I ended up selling them all privately to someone who emailed me a question for £150. This is the sort of thing dreams are made of! Well, it’s the sort of thing my crappy dreams are made of.

Will 2011 bring even greater bargains?