* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *
NEW! HOW I RATE THE COMICS VIA THE GRANT MORRISON SCALE
***** All-Star Superman, We3
**** Zenith, New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman & Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum
*** Seven Soldiers
** Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
* Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men and any of his hippy-dippy, pseudo-mystical crap
WE LOVE libraries in our household. Despite owning thousands of books we still go regularly to our local library and borrow more. While the kids are the primary users, I’ve started frequenting the graphic novel section a bit in recent months. It’s a good opportunity to borrow books that I would NEVER buy but still want to read. Here are a selection of library books that I read this month.
1. The Sacrifice (Allen & Unwin, 2008) ***¼
Writer/Artist: Bruce Mutard
I’ve known Bruce Mutard for a long time – in fact, the veteran cartoonist once contributed a two-page strip to my zine Betty Paginated in the mid-90s. While he’s done graphic novels before (such as The Silence and The Bunker), The Sacrifice is his most ambitious project to date. I’m not sure it was entirely successful but it was a noble effort and truly feels like a “great Australian novel” rather than a graphic novel. It’s the story of Robert and his struggle to balance his pacifist, Communist ideals with the reality of a looming war in Europe. He befriends Austrian Jewish refugees, including their talented daughter Mata. Too much of the first two thirds of the book is filled with unwieldy, unrealistic dialogue that explains the cultural and political climate in Australia in 1939, but it’s hard to wade through. The book really picks up in the final third when Robert eventually joins the army and enjoys a final weekend of leave before being shipped abroad. He finds his mentally fragile mother living in squalor in her house, while a precocious Mata has run away from home, having developed a teen gal thing for men in uniform. Robert’s journey through the sleazy underbelly of Melbourne while looking for her makes compelling reading.
The Sacrifice was meant to be the first in a trilogy detailing Robert’s life, but sadly there have been no more graphic novels forthcoming. Which is a pity – after a shaky start, The Sacrifice eventually blossomed into a legitimately impressive novel and, possibly, the finest work in Mutard’s career to date.
2. Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow? (Abrams ComicsArt, 2009) ***½
Writer/Artist: Brian Fies
This graphic novel made me sad. The exotic ideals of 70-80 years ago of what the future would look like – and the excitement of the Space Race of the 1950s and 60s – turned out to be a fallacy driven by commercial opportunism and Cold War one-upmanship. Optimism fell victim to cynicism and scepticism. Man’s dreams of looking outward to the universe was dropped for a more financially practical plan of looking inward. Instead of jetpacks we got iPhones. Fies makes a case for mankind to return to that optimism, but I’m not optimistic that will ever happen. We are a mean-spirited, narrow-minded, short-sighted race. Travelling to the stars is not on the agenda, and never will be again. Man, I felt so bummed after reading this book.
3. Squirrel Girl’s first appearance in Marvel Super Heroes #8 (Marvel, 1992) ***¼
- as reprinted in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2015)
["The Coming of...Squirrel Girl!"] Writers: Steve Ditko and Will Murray/Artist: Steve Ditko
A hefty 22-page introduction to a chick who only 13 years later would join The Great Lakes Avengers and, a mere 10 years later, star in her own mega-huge series. This tale isn’t great, by any means, but it’s fun. And it’s Ditko.
4.-7. The Books Of Magic: The Deluxe Edition (Vertigo, 2013) ****
- originally published in The Books Of Magic #1-4 (Vertigo, 1990-91)
Writer: Neil Gaiman/Artists: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson
8.-13. Batman ’66 Meets The Green Hornet (Dynamite, 2015) ***½
- originally published in Batman ’66 Meets The Green Hornet (Dynamite, 2014)
Writers: Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman/Artists: Ty Templeton and friends (interiors); Alex Ross (covers)
14. MirrorMask (Bloomsbury, 2008) ***½
Writers: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean/Artist: Dave McKean
Technically, a children’s book but it contains soooo many of Dave’s beautiful illustrations that I’m going to take a liberty and call it a graphic novel. Anyhoo, this is basically an inferior version of Neverwhere. Still good, but not as good as the original. The book also includes stills from the movie, which I now have to watch.
15.-26. Guardians Of The Galaxy Complete Collection by Abnett and Lanning Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2014) ***¾
- originally published in Guardians Of The Galaxy #1-12 (Marvel, 2008-09)
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning/Artists: Paul Pelletier (interiors #1-7), Brad Walker and friends (interiors #8-10); Wesley Craig (interiors #11-12); Clint Langley (covers #1-10); David Yardin (covers #11-12)
Funny to see Wes Craig of Deadly Class fame doing his “cosmic superhero” thang here.
27.-31. Giant Size Little Marvel AvX (Marvel, 2016) ***
- originally published in Giant Size Little Marvel AvX #1-4 (2015) and A-Babies vs X-Babies (Marvel, 2012)
Writer: Skottie Young /Artists: Skottie Young (AvX #1-4); Gurihiru (A-Babies vs X-Babies)
Urrrgggh. I tried to ignore Secret Wars and the whole “Battleworld” schmozzle at Marvel last year. However, I love Scottie Young’s artwork and the “Marvel babies” concept, so I grabbed this book to read. Hey, it was FREE...but it was forgettable fluff.
32.-36. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness Of All Kings (IDW, 2016) **
- originally published in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency #1-5 (IDW, 2015)
Writer: Chris Ryall/Artists: Tony Akins (#1-2), Ilias Kyriazis (#3-5) and friends
Douglas Adams wrote one of the great sci-fi comedy trilogies (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and Life, The Universe And Everything) and three other books that added nothing to the series. He then moved onto the Dirk Gently book series that, frankly, sucked balls. I hated the books when I first read them 30 years ago. It was twee claptrap that meandered along for 200 pages, then resolved the plot at a breakneck speed in the final 30 pages. Utter tosh that wasn’t a patch on Hitchhiker. This comic adaptation only reaffirmed my distaste for Dirk Gently. Nice art, but I want bit more in my comics than that. Anyway, true Douglas Adams fans should avoid this graphic novel.
37.-42. Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More (Marvel, 2015) ***
- originally published in Captain Marvel #1-6 (Marvel, 2014)
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick/Artist: David Lopez
Not sure what the fuss is all about. This series was average at best.
43. Where Bold Stars Go To Die (SLG Publishing, 2009, 2013) ***½
Writer: Gerry Alanguilan/Artist: Arlanzandro C. Esmeña
A poignant tribute to the Philippines’ soft-core erotic film starlets of the 1960s and 70s. The story is made more poignant by the fact that the lovely good-girl art was Esmeña’s first and last published work before his untimely death from cancer.
44. Battlefields: The Green Fields Beyond #1 (Dynamite, 2012) ****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artists: Carlos and Hector Ezquerra (interior); Garry Leach (cover)
45. The Creeps #2 (Warrant, 2015) ***
A nice homage to Warren Magazines’ Creepy, with talent on board such as Rich Buckler, Ralph Reese, Roger McKenzie, Mort Todd and Australia’s own Jason Paulos. It’s topped off by a gorgeous painted cover by Sanjulian.
46. Jungle Action featuring The Black Panther #5 (Marvel, 1973) **½
Writer: Roy Thomas/Artists: John Buscema and George Klein
47.-48. WWE Kids #118-119 (DC Thomson & Co, 2017) ****
The strips suck, but I looooove this magazine, especially for the beaut tip-ons.
49.-54. Saga Vol. 7 (Image, 2017) *****
- originally published in Saga #37-42 (Image, 2016-17)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan/Artist: Fiona Staples
Arguably the most powerful book I’ve read this year and easily the best volume of this incredible series to date. Volume 7 is a damning indictment on racism, governments’ callous treatment of refugees, blind faith and the way innocents are the ones who suffer most in times of war. A couple of beloved characters die brutally in this story arc, but the most poignant scene comes on the final few pages when Hazel loses her best friend in the most futile, tragic way possible. It was painful to read. It was beautiful. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have excelled themselves in this arc. I’m not sure how Saga could be any more heart-achingly wonderful.
55. Albion Origins (Titan Books, 2007) ***¾
Writers: various/Artists: various (interior); Brian Bolland (cover)
I didn’t think much of the Albion miniseries written by Leah Moore, but it was because of that misstep that Albion Origins was released. When I was a kid I adored the House Of Dolmann, a 1960s strip that was reprinted in British weekly Valiant and Lion in the mid-70s. In it, a brilliant scientist called Dolmann invented a bunch of deadly puppets to fight evil. There was a super-strong sumo wrestler Togo, A British commando with different guns at his disposal called Raider, a clawed digger called Mole and many more. Making it even kookier, he would throw his voice to make his puppets “talk”. Anyway, the series rocked and it’s been collected in this book, which also includes other oddball British supernatural series such as Kelly’s Eye, Cursitor Doom and Janus Stark. I scored this cheap on eBay and it’s pretty damn cool.
56.-62. Fear Itself: The Home Front #1-7 (Marvel, 2011) ****
Surprisingly, the best yarn in this maxiseries from the otherwise mediocre “event”, was the Speedball tale (Writer: Christos Gage/Artist: Mike Mayhew). There were also good yarns about Agents Of ATLAS (#1-4) and the Great Lakes Avengers (#6).
63. Secret Empire #0 (Marvel, 2017) ***¼
Writer: Nick Spencer/Artists: Daniel Acuña and Rod Reis (interior); Ben Butcher (Marvel Collector Corps cover)
64.-65. New Avengers #15-16 (Marvel, 2011) ***½
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Mike Deodato
Bought these because I am a Squirrel Girl completist. This was part of the Fear Itself storyline, which was a kinda lame “event”.
66. Stray Bullets: Sunshine And Roses #23 (Image, 2017) *****
Writer/Artist: David Lapham
67.-72. Surgeon X Vol. 1 (Image, 2017) ***
- originally published in Surgeon X #1-6 (Image, 2016-17)
Writer: Sara Kenney/Artist: John Watkiss
I expected much more from this series after reading a preview a few months back. But I found the series a chore to get through. The late Watkiss’s art has a nice David Lloyd’ish quality to it, but Kenney’s quirky, unconventional storytelling technique didn’t work for me.
73.-77. Cage! (Marvel, 2017) ****½
- originally published in Cage! #1-4 (Marvel, 2016-17) and Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 (Marvel, 1972)
Cage!: Writer: Genndy Tartakovsky/Artists: Genndy Tartakovsky and Stephen DeStefano
Hero For Hire: Writer: Archie Goodwin/Artists: George Tuska and Billy Graham/“Creative contributions”: Roy Thomas and John Romita
78.-81. Cannibal Vol. 1 (Image, 2017) ***½
- originally published in Cannibal #1-4 (Image, 2016-17)
Writers: Brian Buccellato and Jennifer Young/Artist: Matias Bergara
82. Logan’s Run Annual (Brown Watson, 1978) ***
Writer: Steve Moore /Artist: David Lloyd
I read an interview with V For Vendetta artist David Lloyd recently and he talked about how his very first paid job was doing all the art for this annual. Naturally, I tracked it down on eBay and found a very good quality, cheap copy. For a novice, Lloyd’s art is already well-defined and not too dissimilar to what he’d create a few years later alongside Alan Moore in Warrior magazine. The British annual is a mixture of strips, short stories, puzzles and articles about the short-lived TV series. Moore’s stories are perfectly acceptable. In fact, probably better than the quality of the actual scripts in Logan’s Run.
BY ACCIDENT, I learned about the Adelaide Toy and Comic Fair while visiting the city in late April. So I dropped in on the Saturday morning and bought a ton of cool comix from local creators. I was informed that Adelaide has a vibrant comics scene, which is obvious from the high-quality material I picked up (and even the stuff that I’ve bought previously in Sydney from dudes like ComicOz, who publish DECAY and Retro Sci-Fi Tales).
My thanks to Anthony and Miranda for the long, friendly chats we had on the day. You guys are all very talented folks.
83-85. In For The Krill #3-5 (Panic Productions, 2010-16) ***¾
Writers: Jill Brett and Greg Holfeld/Artist: Greg Holfeld
A crime noir tale involving penguins? Hey, it works for me. There’s a conspiracy happening on the ice floe, but who’s gonna believe the son of a cannibal, who’s main claim to fame is terrible haikus? Murder, mayhem and tenpin bowling...this entertaining series has it all. Holfeld’s art is amazing, even though I found it hard sometimes to distinguish between all the main penguin characters.
Find out more about the series at http://inforthekrill.tumblr.com/.
86.-88. Sovereign’s Dread Book 1 (Comics On Demand, 2016) ***¼
Writer/Artist: James Wilkinson
I’m listing this as three comics as this classy-looking, A5 graphic novel – the product of a successful Kickstarter project – is broken into three issues by Wilkinson. His Photoshop-enhanced artwork is a bit hit’n’miss, but is spectacular at times and the lush paper it’s printed on doesn’t hurt either. A young guard, a cynical warrior and an arrogant royal from different kingdoms are thrown together when a supernatural army invades their world. I first saw the idea of magic being like a drug explored in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Sovereign’s Dread explores that theme as well. Contact James on how to get your copy at email@example.com.
89. Dappled (New London, 2016) ***¾
Writer: Anthony N. Castle/Artist: Chadwick Ashby
I got talking to Anthony at the fair and he was a really nice guy (as I’m sure is Chadwick, but I didn’t really chat to him as much as Anthony). Anyway, these guys strive to produce work as good as anything you’d see from Image, and I’d say they’re succeeding. Dappled is a stark, B&W horror tale that touches on the taboo subjects of suicide and self-harm in teenagers. It’s pretty damn good.
90. Rag Doll (New London, 2015) *****
Writer: Anthony N. Castle/Artist: Chadwick Ashby
Dappled cost $6 but the guys struggled to find change for my tenner. I told them to keep the change. Instead, they gave me Rag Doll – and I’m so glad they did. This is a wonderful tale about a discarded old rag doll trying to find a new home before making a brave and heartbreaking decision in a rubbish tip. The story is whimsical, sad but ultimately uplifting while the art would fit nicely into a children’s book. In fact, Rag Doll could be reformatted as a children’s book and I think it would sell very well. I enjoyed it a helluva lot.
Anthony and Chadwick are a formidable team. Check them out at www.newlondoncomics.com and www.facebook.com/newlondoncomics.
91.-93. Hail #1-3 (self-published, 201?) ***¾
Writer: Miranda Richardson/Artists: Rosanna Lam and friends
I chatted with Miranda for a while and had a lovely discussion about the Adelaide comix and zine scene. I picked up the first three issues of Hail and it turned out to be another revelation. Hail is superficially a superhero tale, but it’s also a story about a woman with severe anxiety problems and her battle to deal with them. But she’s not alone in her fight. Lena literally shatters like glass and falls to pieces when under duress. Friends encourage her to take this crippling disability and turn it into a positive by fighting crime. By the end of issue three, Lena is a fully functioning superhero with an amazing support team. It’s a very uplifting story and I found the characters extremely likable. Rosanna’s art is part-manga, part-realistic and all good. Support this great local comic by heading to www.hailcomic.com.
And on a related note...
I’M ALWAYS happy to support the local comic scene, especially those that make it to newsagency shelves. So...naturally, I grabbed this mag when I spotted it on the stands.
94. Kid Phantom #1 (Frew, 2017) ***½
Writer: Gabriel Henriquez/Artist: Paul Mason
So this is The Phantom’s version of Superboy ,essentially: how a young Kit Walker became the Phantom. Interesting kick-off issue with FREE stickers (which I’ll never complain about). The story wasn’t the strongest, but I enjoyed Mason’s art and I love the idea that it’s an ongoing series, so readers can see how young Kit blossoms and grows into the masked hero we know and love. So, it’s a cool A5 full-colour comic, but will anyone buy it? Who knows, especially at AUD $7.95? There are a lot of loyal Phantom fans who buy the regular comic, so maybe Frew have hit a home run here. We’ll know for certain if and when a second issue appears.