New Avengers volume 3: Secrets and Lies


By Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch, Rick Mays, Frank Cho, Danny Miki, Jason Martin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1706-3

In 2004, after decades as one of Marvel’s most successful series, “World’s Mightiest Heroes” were shut down in a highly publicised event known as Avengers Disassembled.

Of course it was only to reboot and replace the long-running and long in the tooth team with both The New and The Young Avengers mere months later.

The fresh iteration emerged six months later, culled from the ranks of Marvel’s A-Listers – possibly the most sales-savvy team of superheroes to carry the fabled Avengers ID card – with a few intriguing, underused characters mixed in to add spice, suspense and sub-plots.

Although wearing the trappings of the new, more in-your-face Marvel Universe, Secrets and Lies is at heart an all-action set-up for forthcoming events Civil War and Secret Invasion with scripter Brian Michael Bendis positioning his many players for the epic game-changing adventures ahead.

The contents herein are gathered from New Avengers issues #11-15 (November 2005 – March 2006) with additional material from Giant-Size Spider-Woman #1 (September 2005) and follow a rather strenuous bout of world-saving…

What Has Gone Before: following an orchestrated breakout of a lethal legion of super-villains from floating ultra-penitentiary The Raft, Captain America convinced metahuman first responders Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Iron Man and sidelined S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jessica (Spider-Woman) Drew to form a new superhero squad.

During the riot they had been ably assisted by Matt Murdock, (recently “outed” as Daredevil in the media) and a mystery prisoner named Bob Reynolds who nobody seemed to know anything about. Reynolds or Sentry – the most powerful being on Earth – had in fact volunteered to be incarcerated for killing his wife Lindy… but she was still alive…

Tentatively united, the Avengers – sans Bob – rocketed to the Savage Land (a sub-surface wonderland of cavemen, dinosaurs and stranger things, kept in splendid isolation as a UN Protectorate) to recapture mutant Karl Lykos, who fed on energy to become reptilian monster Sauron.

He had been the actual objective taken during the mass escape…

The impromptu mission was an unmitigated disaster with the disparate champions marooned, mauled by monsters and captured by mutant mega-genius Brainchild until their paths crossed with X-Man Wolverine on his mission to stop Sauron.

Uneasy allies, the heroes subsequently discovered that an apparently rogue faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. had enslaved indigenous peoples of the region, using them to mine the miracle element Vibranium and generally pillage the primordial paradise.

There were even scarier discoveries to come. The breakout had exposed the fact that many of the criminals on the S.H.I.E.L.D.-run Raft had been officially dead for years… Cap’s raw recruits had to face the prospect that the Free World’s greatest peacekeeping force might be partly – or even completely – corrupt. After all, they were demonstrably stockpiling super-weapons, stealing exotic elements and “disappearing” metahumans for what could not possibly be any good reason…

The team then solved the mystery of Sentry, revealing that Bob Reynolds was actually an incomprehensibly powerful superhero excised from history and the memories of fellow costumed champions such as Reed Richards by the psychic manipulations of mutant spellbinder Mastermind and an enigmatic schemer dubbed The Void

Realising that the brain-tweaking has left Reynolds dangerously unstable, the team called in nearly every superhero in America but they were not enough and only psychic surgery by White Queen Emma Frost allowed Bob to throw off the conditioning.

When the breakthrough finally came and the villains behind brainwashing Sentry and mindwiping the world were exposed, Sentry’s psionic backlash instantly transformed the Avengers’ monumental and far-distant New York skyscraper, creating an eerie ebony Watchtower above it in the blink of an eye…

Sentry was invited to join the New Avengers, blissfully unaware that it’s more to do with keeping an eye on him than the immense power he brings to the squad…

With this team determined to be more proactive, the 3-part ‘Ronin’ opens in full swing as a mighty masked ninja rampages through the underworld in Osaka, Japan. In flashback Captain America again fails to convince Matt Murdock to enlist, but the Man Without Fear has an intriguing suggestion for a potential replacement. The job is for a covert investigation of a possible merger between Hydra, The Hand and the Yakuza

The covert crusader penetrates to the heart of the criminal alliance and finds Silver Samurai (another Raft escapee, but one who was apparently renditioned to S.H.I.E.L.D. custody clandestinely and without Due Process) dickering with Madame Hydra about their possible coalition…

Unfortunately Ronin is followed and ambushed just as he reaches the Avengers – hiding in the plush penthouse of Stark Enterprises in Osaka – forcing the heroes to battle a tidal wave of fanatical ninja assassins…

As the battle rages Spider-Woman confronts Madame Hydra, revealing she is working for the terrorist cabal, but is soon forced to capture the queen of evil to preserve her own cover. When Silver Samurai at last enters the fray the fighting actually ceases as he quite reasonably points out that he is on sovereign foreign soil and was illegally abducted by S.H.I.E.L.D.

With no other choice and far more concerned about the mounting evidence of rogue elements in S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers return to the US with the captive Madame Hydra, but something goes amiss in their Quinjet and the lethal terrorist escapes.

Spider-Woman, who might have stopped her, instead saves Captain America from certain death, whilst mystery man Ronin joins the team full-time and reveals her incredible secret to her new comrades…

‘Choices’ (by Bendis, Rick Mays & Jason Martin from Giant-Size Spider-Woman #1) then details Jessica Drew’s fall from grace and explains the fortuitous return of her failing powers prior to the Breakout, whilst exploring the true allegiances of the double-agent who apparently acts as an Intel gatherer for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra whilst actually reporting on both of them to a third faction…

New Avengers #14 pushes the tense suspense further with ‘Secrets and Lies’ (illustrated by Frank Cho) as Cap takes Jessica aside and demands to know what hold Hydra has over her. She breaks, telling him everything and reveals she’s working against both sides for maverick superspy Nick Fury who needs to know what’s happening within S.H.I.E.L.D. – an organisation he ran for years… before they ousted him…

With confirmation from Fury himself the team tentatively accept her, just in time for their latest crisis…

In ‘Public Relations’ Tony Stark officially launches possibly the least-popular roster in Avengers history – mutant Wolverine, media pariah Spider-Man, ex-convict Luke Cage and the mysterious all-powerful basket-case known as the Sentry.

At least Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird (and probably a bunch more code-names by the time you read this) are on hand to pitch in and offer some much-needed if temporary credibility…

Even so the press are less than enthusiastic. J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle has carried out a hate campaign against Spider-Man for years, and despite – or perhaps because of – Stark’s blithe platitudes and shameless bribe, has every intention of pillorying the new Avengers every chance he gets…

Couple all that with a positively hostile US Government and a new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director who’s ruthless when defied and possibly evil too, and To Be Continued… sounds positively agonising doesn’t it?

Dark, gritty, complex and spectacularly action-packed, with covers-&-variants by Finch & Miki, Cho, Andrea Di Vito & Laura Villari, this is another supremely enticing Fights ‘n’ Tights fiesta for the incorrigible fans, and one more ideal jumping-on point for readers familiar with the animation series and movie franchises of the World’s Greatest Superheroes.
© 2005, 2006, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Factor volume 6: Secret Invasion


By Peter David, Larry Stroman, Valentine De Landro, Nelson, Vincenzo Cucca & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2865-6

Since its debut in 1982, X-Factor has been the irresistibly cool and perfect umbrella title for all manner of Marvel mutant teams. Arguably the most impressive and enduring was created by writer Peter David in 2006; blending stark action, cool mystery, laugh-out-loud comedy, fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights action and even social issues into a regular riot of smart and clever Costumed Drama.

The core premise saw Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man – a former member of the Federally controlled iteration of the team – appropriating the name for his metahuman detective agency: X-Factor Investigations. Setting up shop in the wake of “The Decimation”, he and his perpetually fluctuating team began by trying to discover why most of the world’s mutants had become normal humans overnight…

What We All Knew: Marvel crossover event House of M saw reality overwritten when mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch had a mental breakdown, changing history and reality so that “Homo Superior” out-competed base-line humans and drove the “sapiens” to the brink of extinction.

It took every hero on Earth, a huge helping of luck and a strange little girl named Layla Miller to correct the situation, but in the aftermath, less than 200 super-powered mutants remained on Earth…

This alien-infested endeavour gathers X-Factor volume 3, #33-38 (spanning September 2008-March 2009) plus a crossover from She-Hulk volume 2 #31, and finds Madrox and Co. relocated to scenic Detroit (hoping to avoid Government interference from old boss and current Office of National Emergency supremo Valerie Cooper) and about to walk into a world of trouble…

Scripted throughout by David, the adventure opens with the extended saga ‘He Loves You’ and ‘The Darwin Awards’ – illustrated by Larry Stroman & John Sibal – wherein ultra-adaptive mutant Armando Muñoz and his obnoxious new friend Longshot are chilling in the streets and getting into trouble.

In truth, the luck-bending former X-Man is causing the trouble by provoking a fight with a street gang, in order to see how his new pal Armando can handle himself…

Across town XF Investigations – consisting of Jamie, GuidoStrong GuyCarosella, TheresaSirynRourke, de-powered mutant Rictor and multi-powered super-woman Monet St. Croix (AKA “M”) are talking to their latest client.

Hector Muñoz isn’t the best dad in the world but after too long apart he wants to be reunited with his estranged son. The firm are his last hope of seeing his little Armando again…

They take the case and soon realise their client’s son is one of Earth’s few remaining empowered mutants. They know him as Darwin

Even as they start tracking him down, Madrox is confronted by Valerie Cooper. Not only has she tracked them to Detroit but she threatens to tell the rest of his team of truth about the XFI’s relationship to O*N*E unless they drop the case immediately and take on a mission for her…

Out on the streets Darwin has escaped the incensed thugs and reunites with Longshot. Although his gift is to instantly evolve to survive any threat, his power is non-selective and he has no idea his companion is actually a shape-shifting Skrull, part of an advance force targeting Earth’s metahuman protectors…

Since Fantastic Four #2 the Skrulls have been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of use and misuse the insidious infiltrators were made the stars of a colossal braided mega-crossover event beginning in April 2008 and running through all the company’s titles until Christmas.

The premise of Secret Invasion was simple: the former intergalactic empire had been crippled and scourged by a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their power, and subsequently underwent a mass fundamentalist religious conversion. They became utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld – just as their ancient scriptures foretold.

To this end they gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and villains. When the plot was first uncovered no defender of the Earth truly knew who was on their side…

Moreover the Skrulls had also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and humanity’s unique genetics, creating amped-up equivalents to Earth’s mightiest heroes. During this period they hid amongst us, primed and able to destroy the world’s champions in head to head confrontations.

Not all Skrulls were fanatics however. Earth unknowingly harboured a few dissidents opposed to the new regime and one of them – Jazinda – had been befriended by former Avenger Jennifer Walters.

In She-Hulk volume 2 #31 ‘The Darwin Awards’ continued (with art by Vincenzo Cucca & Vincenzo Acunza) as the jade giantess and her alien assistant hit Detroit looking for a Skrull scout called Talisman and stumble into an ill-tempered clash with X-Factor just as the bizarre gumshoes locate Darwin.

The evolutionary dupe has no idea She-Hulk and Jazinda’s prey is actually his new best buddy Longshot…

As the battle inevitable escalates in X-Factor #34, Talisman is forced to reveal himself and explain that he was trying to get the baffled Darwin to convert to the Skrull cause, but he has seriously overestimated Armando’s sense of isolation and underestimated She-Hulk’s determination to kick his alien ass…

With the invader in captivity, #35 slows the pace with ‘Best Intentions’ (Stroman & Sibal) as Armando is reunited with his father and Madrox goes home happy with a cheque.

Soon after, however, Madrox, Rictor and Monet are called to a hospital where Hector Muñoz is fighting for his life. With no other option, Jamie has M use her psionic powers to probe the comatose man’s memories to find out what happened to him and the missing mutant…

Back at the office Guido opens the door to find Longshot and goes ballistic. It takes a hilarious while to convince him that this lucky star is the real deal, unerringly drawn to Detroit by his mercurial probability-altering gifts…

And in a hidden lab facility a very nasty gentleman named Mr. Maru and his Karma Project biologists are performing extremely unpleasant experiments on a subject who agonisingly adapts and evolves to each and every invasive procedure and torturous test…

Longshot is a creature from another reality and his most annoying power – for guys at least – is that all women find him irresistible.

A more welcome talent is his psychometric vision which allows him to view past scenes. With it he backtracks Hector’s movements to the moment when Darwin was abducted and sees with horror how the senior Muñoz sold his son to the Karma Project and got a bullet for his troubles…

Valentine De Landro & Craig Yeung assume the artistic duties for ‘The Big Bang’ as the incensed detectives trail Darwin, whilst in Maru’s facility the terrible trials are rapidly pushing the ever-evolving captive into more dangerous and unmanageable adaptations. When Madrox and Co. arrive, their rescue of Darwin takes a typically violent turn…

Back at the office, Theresa, heavily pregnant with Jamie’s baby, has been on light duties. The last thing she needs is a confrontation with Cooper, who threatens to confiscate her unborn child for government use…

The story continues in #37, with the team wading through Maru’s paramilitary forces and successfully liberating Darwin.

Usually Jamie’s duplicates are obedient even whilst displaying some degree of autonomy. The frequently personify some of his own characteristics, but these days are increasingly going their own way.

When one of them severely oversteps the mark and sadistically executes a Karma soldier, the detective knows there’s more trouble in store…

First though, having fought their way in, the heroes have to fight their way back out, a problem exacerbated by the Karma Project’s latest innovation: hordes of once-human cannon fodder genetically altered to employ Darwin’s adaptation ability…

Back at the ranch, Theresa and Val’s “civil” conversation goes seriously bad, culminating in a crisis when her waters break…

The drama concludes for now with ‘Smart Business’, illustrated by Nelson, Stroman & Sibal, as the battle in the rogue lab is ended in a most unconventional manner whilst Rictor and Theresa’s dash for the hospital is misinterpreted by the amassed Feds from O*N*E and results in a manic gunfight and a shocking casualty…

To Be Continued…

Brash, thrilling, compulsive and always maturely hilarious in a way most adult comics just aren’t, X-Factor is a splendid of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy for everyone who loves superhero soap operas, and this volume comes with a covers-&-variants gallery by Boo Cook, Mike Mayhew & Andy Troy and Mike Deodato Jr. & Rain Berado.
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Secret Service: Kingsman


By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons and Matthew Vaughn with Andy Lanning & Angus McKie (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-703-8

We Brits know everything about the spy-game and think we’ve probably seen it all, from Bond to Smiley, Harry Palmer to Johnny Worricker and Spooks to Carry On Spying.

So it’s not often we get a look at a fresh take, but that’s what’s on offer here as comicbook legends Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons team up with film director/producer Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) to update the genre in a wickedly sly, cynically funny and irreverential thriller which nevertheless harks back to the glory-days of the “great game” of gentlemanly cloak-and-dagger as it was called when were still an empire, as well as the swinging superspy sagas of the 1960s and 1970s…

The original 6-issue miniseries The Secret Service was released as part of Millarworld’s unfailing hit-factory deal with Marvel Comics’ Icon sub-imprint, and this slick, sharp and wickedly tongue-in-cheek pastiche mixes all the favourite trappings and spectacle of big budget movie blockbusters with an archly satisfying class-war aesthetic that finds full expression following the traditional all-action opening attention-grabber, which finds actor Mark Hamill (almost) saved from abduction by an armed gang by an unlucky British secret agent…

The scene then switches to the urban wasteland of Peckham where Gary Unwin – known to his no-hoper wannabe-gangsta pals as “Eggsy” – is again at odds with the cheap thug who’s shacked up with his mum.

Dean is a former soldier. He’s also a bully and a brute: a typical South London Chav who thinks he’s hard and takes it out too often on Gary and his little brother Ryan as well as their long-suffering mother Sharon.

No wonder the jobless, shiftless teen spends all his time playing computer games, doing drugs, nicking cars and making mischief with his mates. Tonight is no exception, except for the part where the hapless joyriders crash their purloined ride and end up in police cells…

Meanwhile in the swank part of town, two movers-&-shakers in Intelligence are discussing a wave of mysterious abductions: actors from Star Wars, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek have all disappeared, as have scientists, sporting legends and other notables. There is clearly some major scheme afoot…

Jack London (I gather they’ve changed his name in the film version) is a self-made man. He escaped his lowborn origins and remade himself into a suave, sophisticated international man-of-mystery and Great Britain’s top operative: the spy who never fails. Nobody does it better. He’s also Sharon’s brother and is once again forced to apply his influence to save his nephew from the consequences of his actions…

He’s had to step in before but he swears it’s the last time and, after an unpleasant confrontation, determines to get Gary out of the toxic environment he escaped from decades ago…

As a mass wedding in Hawaii is turned into a bloodbath by a mysterious mastermind’s hi-tech secret weapon, in Peckham Uncle Jack is telling Eggsy the unbelievable truth. He gets a chance to prove his outrageous claims when Dean’s loutish cronies pick a fight…

Jack, plagued with guilt for neglecting his shameful family, then offers his nephew a chance to better himself by joining the Secret Service training program that made him one of the deadliest men alive…

The boy jumps at the chance to get away and is soon an outcast amongst the cream of Britain’s posh-boy private school and military college recruits, doggedly learning unarmed combat, ballistics, weapons training, tactics, computer science, seduction techniques, languages, piloting any vehicle and every skill and trick needed to keep the world safe from invasion and subversion…

Despite his background and lack of social skills Gary thrives – and even excels – in many of the less salubrious exercises (such as killing drug-dealers on a live fire exercise) even as Uncle Jack returns to his mystery kidnapping case. He slowly makes progress across the world, tracking a certain mad young billionaire with dreams of saving the planet from the plague of humanity. Doctor James Arnold is also extremely keen on preserving his childhood heroes from the Armageddon he’s about to trigger…

At precisely the wrong moment Gary drags Jack back to London again. When the pauper student overhears his well-meaning but privileged comrades condescending and pitying him, Eggsy steals Jack’s gadget-laden, weaponised sports car and goes for an explosive drunken joyride with his real mates from the estate.

Now the super-agent is forced to take extreme measures to sort him out…

Gary wakes up in Colombia with nothing but his underwear and is told he has 24 hours to return to Britain. The Resource Test is the final stage of an agent’s training and is make or break: neither the agency nor his uncle will have anything to do with him if he fails…

He passes with flying colours, and even destroys a drug cartel in the process, leading Jack to take him on as an apprentice, offering style tips and a chance for a palate-cleansing final confrontation with Dean and his mates in Peckham before setting off together to foil Dr. Arnold’s deadly scheme.

…And that’s when it all goes terribly wrong, leaving Gary to cope with imminent world collapse all on his own…

The film was in production simultaneously with the creation of the original six-issue miniseries with Millar, Vaughn and illustrator Gibbons (aided by inker Andy Lanning and colourist Angus McKie) frequently cross-fertilising and amending the print and movie iterations to produce a stunningly clever, outrageously rip-roaring, high-octane read which will astound all us paper-jockeys and no doubt be satisfactorily mirrored in the upcoming filmic extravaganza.

But why wait? Grab some popcorn, hit your favourite chair and experience all the thrills, spills and chills you can handle right now just by picking up this fabulous action comics classic in the making…
© 2012, 2013, 2014 Millarworld Limited, Marv Films Limited and Dave Gibbons Ltd. All rights reserved.

xxxHolic Omnibus volume 1


By Clamp, translated & adapted by William Flanagan and lettered by Dana Hayward (Kodansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61262-591-1

After beginning as an eleven-strong  dojinshi (self publishing or amateur) group in the late-1980s, Kuranpu – AKA CLAMP – eventually stabilised as primarily writer Ōkawa Nanase and artists Igarashi Satsuki, Nekoi Tsubaki &  Mokona (Apapa), whose seamless collaborations on such series as Tokyo Babylon, Clamp Detective School, Magic Knight Rayearth, Cardcaptor Sakura, X, Legal Drug, Chobits and many more revolutionised Japanese comics in the 1990s.

Beginning solidly in the shōjo marketplace, the collective quickly began challenging the established forms and eventually produced material for far more mature and demanding readerships. The sales of their 26 different titles to date in collected tankōbon volumes far exceeds 100 million copies.

This monolithic 560 page monochrome magnum opus re-presents the first three volumes of one of their most memorable mystic sienen (made for male readers) masterpieces; one that broke boundaries in Japan by interacting and crossing over a number of the collective’s other ongoing series: specifically Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle which we know as Cardcaptor Sakura.

xxxHolic ran from 2003 to 2011, at first sporadically serialised in Kodansha’s Young Magazine before finding a regular home (from June 2010 to its conclusion in February 2011) in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine.

The epic 19 volume saga has been seen previously in English translation – in America from Del Rey Manga and Tanoshimi in the UK – and naturally there are a wealth of film and TV anime, OVAs, games, light novels and all the other connected media spin-offs available starring the lead characters.

And in case you were wondering the xxx doesn’t stand for sex: in Japanese culture the triple cross merely denotes “fill in the blank”…

The madcap mystery begins when excitable student Kimihiro Watanuki is driven into the wards surrounding a strange shop. He has always had a slight problem he doesn’t like sharing: Watanuki sees spirits. Not just ghosts but all types of supernatural manifestation. In fact something inexplicable and nasty actually chased him into the mystic fence around Yūko Ichihara’s eccentric little emporium where he is confronted by two creepy little children Moro and Maru

The eccentric proprietrix then smugly claims it was “hitsuzen” – a naturally fore-ordained event – that brought him and before he can stop her proceeds to read his fortune. Her shop offers divination and stocks curios but her game is granting wishes and the slickly manipulative Yūko swiftly and easily tricks the harassed lad into expressing his desire to be rid of his gift.

In her world services cost and although she instantly grants his wish Yūko explains it will only occur after he had paid for it… with an unspecified amount of lowly indentured servitude…

Thus he becomes an unpaid skivvy, cook and cleaner at the little shop of wonders, sorting the assorted artefacts (many of which are portentous icons in other CLAMP tales) and being lectured by the sublimely arrogant witch. Moreover she keeps adding lessons, losses, breakages and other stuff to his account…

He soon gets an inkling of a deeper game when a customer comes in with a wish and tries to play false with the witch. Despite repeated warnings the client continues to lie and Watanuki eventually sees with his spirit vision the ghastly consequence of being untrue to oneself and Yūko …

His onerous service is punctuated with days at the Cross Private School, but one day after he talks to cute Himawari Kunogi and instantly falls in love, Yūko warns of bad tidings ahead…

The lad still doesn’t trust his new boss – with good reason – but after a forthright lecture on the effects and responsibilities of predestination and of all kinds of divination, she takes him on a magical shopping trip and enigmatic errand to meet another potential customer.

A troubled housewife is addicted to social media and wants to be cured of her computer compulsion, but didn’t know how to proceed. When the exotic woman and her goofy servant turn up unannounced on her doorstep she is willing to do whatever Yūko prescribes but utterly unprepared for the consequences…

One rainy day Watanuki’s culinary and other gifts are particularly tested when the hard-drinking sorceress entertains guests from another dimension – (Syoaran and Sakura from the aforementioned CardCaptor series) in desperate need of sanctuary and something only her constantly moaning apprentice can retrieve from the shop’s capacious and sinister back rooms…

The pair of deceptively cute, animated artefacts he finds are then split up, with one accompanying the guests back to their own realm whilst Yūko retains its twin “Mokona” for future emergencies…

One day a delightful picnic with Himawari is too soon ended because Watanuki has to go back to Yūko, who needs him to have his fortune told by a true expert. However, always working to her own agenda, the witch first treats him to the indulgences of a slick and lovely charlatan before introducing him to the innocuous real thing…

Watanuki’s chances with Himawari take another beating when classmate Shizuka Dōmeki falls under Yūko’s influence. He is tall, clever, good-looking and a star of the archery club, but the witch is more interested in his hidden spiritual powers – and the fact that he makes Watanuki feel furious and inadequate at the same time.

She invites all three of them to a mid-summer ghost-story party at a certain troubled house…

The spooky soiree goes exactly as the sorceress intended and turns terrifyingly real when malignant forces only Watanuki can detect attack. However Dōmeki – who can see nothing amiss – is able to destroy them with his own gift – a hereditary psychic exorcism power- if his rival tells him where to fire his imaginary arrows…

With Himawari now part of Yūko’s circle, Watanuki is constantly furious at both his mistress and the suave, couldn’t-care-less archer-rival, but as summer turns to autumn he slowly learns to make peace with and even grudgingly accept the archer’s presence.

After another encounter with the Sakura heroes the schoolboys are inadvertently drawn into an even scarier team-up when Yūko despatches them to investigate a school where female students meddled with “Angel-San” prophecy magic (like western Ouija board games) and called up something uncontrollable…

The Witch doesn’t bother to accompany them but does insist Watanuki wear a pair of magic animal ears so she can talk to him from the comfort of he couch. It also makes him look like a complete idiot…

The entire school is a deadly trap for the unprepared lads but their valiant efforts call forth an unsuspected protective spirit to cleanse the building. Tragically the archer is slightly wounded saving Watanuki…

Now Himawari is certain to pick him…

As things get back to abnormal another client turns up to have her wish fulfilled but is too arrogant to listen to the seller’s advice. Before long the kids are just too late to prevent a ghastly chain of tragedy caused by her cocky misuse of a genuine mummified Monkey’s Paw…

This monumental compilation concludes with a delightful seasonal short as the still loudly complaining but slowly acclimatising Watanuki finally sees the miraculous side of his gift when he meets and befriends a Kitsune (fox spirit) street food vendor and his delightful cub…

Expansive, enthralling and wickedly funny, xxxHolic is a glorious romp combining whimsy and horror that will delight lovers of fantasy in all forms.

This Omnibus edition is punctuated throughout with text features including ‘Honorifics Explained’, ‘Artifacts and Miscellany’ ‘Translation Notes’, background commentary on crossover guest stars and other CLAMP classics in ‘Past Works’, cultural notes on ‘Ghost Stories in the Summer’, ‘Protective Spirits and Ancestor Worship’ and much more.

xxxHolic Omnibus volume 1 © 2003-2004 CLAMP. Shigatsu Tsuitachi CO., LTD./Kodansha. English translation © 2014 CLAMP. Shigatsu Tsuitachi CO., LTD./Kodansha. All rights reserved.
This book is printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

Vignette


Drawings by Antoine Cossé, stories by Alex Jackson (Records Records Records books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-3-3

Here’s a tantalising little digest of comics delights featuring clever collaborations between Parisian expat illustrator Antoine Cossé and Alex Jackson who here pens a beguiling selection of short yarns to charm and chill aficionados of visual storytelling.

The eye-catching entertainments begin with an elysian travelogue as our narrator offers a bulletin of placid news and ethereally calming events straight from an idyllic ‘Paradise’, after which ‘The Architect’ lets his job go to his head in a wryly OTT dissertation on the seductive power and limitations of creativity.

‘Bantam’ powerfully captures the helpless, impassioned loyalty of a lifelong supporter for his local football team, exploring with heartfelt empathy that infernal drive which always tantalises and annually crushes the hopes and dreams of followers of impoverished and perennially second class teams.

‘Dr. Hall’ then endearingly examines English manners and mores in a beguiling record of a GP’s talents and failings, as seen through the doting reminiscences of one of his patients…

Comics and film are similar art forms in that both can deliberately lie whilst revealing truths. By the simple act of juxtaposing visuals and sound/text in opposition (like seeing a baby crying but dubbing in giggling) in a narrative, levels of meaning can be easily manipulated and the consumer made aware of two – or more – stories at once.

It’s an odd psychological quirk in such situations that readers or viewers always treat the pictures as “true” or “real” whilst the words/soundtrack are deemed false, duplicitous or wrong…

Comprising the majority of this evocative and compelling collection, ‘J.1137’ first appeared as a self-contained comicbook from Breakdown Press and is certainly the most engaging and challenging piece in the book.

With words and pictures apparently contradicting or belying each other, a strange, fantastic enigma draped in all the apparent trappings of a movie blockbuster unfolds as an immortal screen star rashly steps outside the bounds and parameters of his lavish but fiercely proscribed existence, seeing too much of the wrong things and inevitably paying a high price…

Constructed of warring layers of reality and illusion, this is a cross-genre saga that will appeal to lovers of the art form who love a mystery and are prepared to work out their own answers.

Beguiling, intriguing, contemplative, astonishingly fresh and appealing, Vignette is a beautiful example of comics’ unique power which deserves to find the widest possible audience. Buy it and show all your friends.
© 2013 Antoine Cossé + Alex Jackson. © & ℗ Records Records Records.

Mighty Avengers: No Single Hero


By Al Ewing, Greg Land & Jay Leisten (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-568-0

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men publishing event, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover many disparate story strands were slowly congealing to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically expanded Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The colossal Infinity storyline detailed that grandiose advance into Armageddon as an intergalactic Hammer of Doom fell with an all-out attack by an impossibly ancient race. The Builders claimed to have fostered all life in the universe, but now they were attempting to rectify their mistake on Earth – and woe betide any species or intergalactic civilisation that got in their way.

When the Avengers mobilised most of their assemblage off-planet to tackle the threat before it reached us, old enemy Thanos of Titan took advantage of the dearth of metahuman defenders to invade, leaving the world’s remaining superheroes with an almost impossible task…

Written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Greg Land & Jay Leisten, Mighty Avengers volume 2 #1-5 (released between November 2013 and March 2014) describes how some of those left behind united as a resistance and stayed together as a decidedly different kind of crusading team…

The action begins as Thanos heads for Earth where blithely unaware former Avenger Luke Cage is pitting his Heroes for Hire apprentices – White Tiger and a new, teenaged Power Man – against seasoned super-thief The Plunderer. Their efforts are interrupted and derided by the Superior Spider-Man who orders them to quit and insultingly offers Cage’s kids a real job.

Everybody sees that the Wallcrawler has become insufferable since he technologically upgraded his act and hired a paramilitary gang to act as his deputies. Many of his oldest friends even think he might be going crazy. What no one knows is that the mind inside the arachnid hero’s head is actually arch villain Otto Octavius AKA Doctor Octopus who, despite a passionate initial desire to reform is slowly reverting to his original manner and habits…

The Web-spinner’s derision spurs White Tiger into quitting but only fuels her male teammates into trying harder to prove Spider-Man wrong…

Elsewhere ex-Avenger Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon but now calling herself Spectrum) is getting back into the crimebusting game after a bout of retirement. She sorting out her costume and talking over old times with an enigmatic fellow champion when the first wave of the Titan’s invasion force smashes into New York.

Donning a store-bought comedy costume, the stranger joins Monica as a generic “Spider Hero” and converges on the landing site where Cage and the still-enraged Superior Spider-Man are battling Thanos’ soldiers and ferocious warlord Proxima Midnight

Elsewhere Mystic Master Doctor Strange has been possessed and corrupted by the Ebony Maw – the most personally ambitious of Thanos’ lieutenants – whilst at the bottom of the sea forgotten hero Dr. Adam Brashear receives a cosmic visitor.

The Blue Marvel is thus stirred from a lengthy self-imposed exile and grudgingly agrees to return to the world which shunned and sidelined him…

In New York ‘The Assembly’ give battle but the Amazing Arachnid seems more concerned with suing his “copyright infringer” than defeating the invaders and Spectrum is gravely wounded by Midnight.

As Cage tackles Proxima, the ordinary citizens are emboldened and join the struggle, compelling ever-watching Thanos to order a retreat.

It’s not over though, as the ravaged metropolis is then assaulted by an overwhelming aspect of voracious Elder God Shuma-Gorath, summoned by the enslaved Stephen Strange. The rampant horror gleefully begins transforming native New Yorkers into ghastly demon duplicates…

As Blue Marvel rockets to the rescue, temporarily stymieing the devil god and healing Spectrum, the mystically empowered White Tiger and Power Man arrive and Spider Hero, demonstrating a keen knowledge of arcane rites devises a scheme to drive Shuma-Gorath back to its own dimension for good.

Cage then has a eureka moment and realising ‘No Single Hero’ could have managed, declares that they are all Avengers…

Once parked above Manhattan, the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan was destroyed during the war and its ruins now languish in the Hudson River. Moreover when Thanos personally attacked Black Bolt, the embattled Inhuman monarch released genetically transformative Terrigen Mists and created a host of new super-powered warriors from the ranks of the humans below…

Issue #4 is set after the invasion is finally repelled and the city engrossed in rapid reconstruction. The space-bound Avengers are still missing off-world but life is returning to normal.

Sleazy entrepreneur Jason Quantrell despatches his industrial spy Quickfire – a recent recipient of Terrigen-induced abilities – to raid the sunken citadel in search of fresh mutagens that he can monetise whilst in Times Square Cage has turned his old Gem Theatre offices into a storefront Avengers HQ.

He has a bold new idea: opening the heroic volunteer brigade to the public who can come to them with meta-related problems or issues of injustice. Even though Reservist The Falcon has come aboard Spider-Man is becoming increasingly intolerant, alternately demanding to be placed in charge and ordering Cage’s crew to cease and desist.

Unable to convince them, the furious wallcrawler storms off…

Meanwhile Spider Hero – who has some ominous magical acquaintances older fans will recognise – has detected an encroaching mystic crisis and resolved to stay. Adopting the vacant costume and identity of martial arts mystery man Ronin, he invites the team to join him in stopping an impending burglary in Attilan…

It’s not Quickfire’s illegal raid that’s the problem but rather that she’s going to inadvertently awaken the slumbering submerged threat of the Death Walkers if somebody doesn’t stop her…

However, whilst the latest Ronin lead the Avengers to the already happening monster catastrophe, Octavius returns to the Gem Theatre and in a manic fit of frustrated rage attacks Cage with all the paramilitary resources he can muster: mercenaries, spider-robots and urban assault vehicles all primed to shut down the Avengers forever.

Happily the harassed Hero for Free had already contacted his lawyer and is delighted to follow Jennifer Walters’ guidance… which basically boils down to “She-Hulk Smash!”…

Fast furious and fantastically offbeat, this epic epistle also offers a gallery of stunning covers-and-variants by Land, Steve Epting,  Bryan Hitch, Jason Latour, Carlo Barberi, Skottie Young, Humberto Ramos, Leonel Castellani, J. Scott Campbell, Francesco Francavilla, Mark Bagley, Salvador Larroca, Ron Wimberly, Daniel Acuña and Kalman Andrasofszky and a wealth of extra content online for those consumers au fait with the AR icons accessed via a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop.
™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Steak Night volume 3: Jobs


By various, edited by Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-5-7

Some old fuddy-duddies like me still read prose as well as comics, and being a veteran consumer I can honestly say that what I miss most is the time when short stories – everything from epigrams to vignettes to novellas – were a thriving, vibrant pillar of storytelling.

Modern book publishing doesn’t like short stories and most magazines (with the possible exception of DC Thomson’s The People’s Friend) no longer regularly carry engaging snippets of fiction or indeed even value the creative discipline necessary to telling a tale succinctly.

The same was true of comics for years but with the recent surge of independent and small press creators that market is changing. There are now a few regular anthology titles, offering a variety of experiences rather than the far more commercially sensible multi-part epics mainstream print-houses always push.

Every book or comic is somebody’s first but how can you possibly build a solid readership with stories that can be twenty or forty or even more parts long? Life’s just too short.

So let’s all shout “well done” for books such as Steak Night which always offers an eclectic mix of strips, gags, art pages and brief prose pieces in an inviting hardback book format, produced with style, honesty, integrity and a broad range of views.

This third volume contains a selection of works dedicated to the theme of Jobs, and after a stirring pep-talk from the editorial team commences with a penetrating dose of reminiscing and self-flagellation in the text tantaliser ‘Keyser Söze’ by Victoria Manifold. Then multi-talented Tom Hall Colonial illustrates Henry Clark’s truly disturbing recollections of his early days as an undertaker and the charming on-the-job training he received at the hands of ‘The Butcher’

A strange and stridently silent cartoon ‘Jobs’ short about a career in extreme pest-control (also by Hall?) leads into another painful memory as Babak Ganjei illustrates Tom Oldham’s graphic explanation for why he turned down the chance to be a ‘Bigshot’ in the sex trade, after which ‘A Guide to Achieving Your Career Goals’ by Amelia Phillips definitively describes her self-perceived failure in clawing her way to the middle of the publishing biz before becoming a happily desperate freelancer…

Another ferocious fantasy comics page of sci-fi hi-tech ‘Jobs’ creation segues sweetly into an keenly observed if doggedly obscure ‘Office Romance’ by Florian Lunaire & Eleanor Summers, whilst Julia Scheele delightfully describes the dilemma all women face on ‘Sundays at the Comic Shop’ (actually it’s more a 24/7 thing) before Melissa Trender examines the role of women in a resolutely post-feminist society with the heartfelt and disturbing ‘Daughters’.

The industrious giant-bug bashing ‘Jobs’ interludes then end with mankind notionally still on top, whilst ‘Small Hours Dept’ by Peter Cline lovingly and lyrically examines the whimsical moments that quiet times can offer from an elevated position, after which Wallis Eates’ prose-&-picture fable ‘Where Are you Going?/Ground Please’ appealingly compares childhood memories with the solitary insights of a hospital cleaner, before former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong winningly describes his succession of dead-end jobs in Bournemouth (trust me: don’t eat the pizza) in a prose paean to the failings of school careers guidance information entitled ‘The Worst Bad Egg’.

The portmanteau of pictorial pleasures concludes with Harriet Gibsone’s hilariously dark and edgy advice on handling the ‘Big Interview’ and a manic glimpse at what it’s all about in ‘Going to Work’ by Grace Wilson…

Complete with a full contact-&-biography Contributors section, this is another superb sampling of contemporary cartoon culture that no lover of the art of storytelling should miss.
And kids remember, it’s a vocation, not a career, yeah?

© Records Records Records 2013.

Thor, God of Thunder volume 3: The Accursed


By Jason Aaron, Nic Klein, Ron Garney, Emanuela Lupacchino, Das Pastoras & Tom Palmer (Marvel Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-575-8

Since his creation by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962) the spectacular adventures of the Thunder God have encompassed everything from crushing petty crime capers to saving universes from cosmic Armageddon. As the decades passed he has also survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an easily jaded readership.

The latest shake-up came after blockbuster publishing event Avengers versus X-Men. From that point on, the banner MarvelNOW! indicated a radical repositioning and recasting of all characters in an undertaking designed to keep the more than 50-year-old shared universe interesting to readers old and new alike whilst cannily crafting material suitable for inclusion in the assorted burgeoning movie franchises.

Don’t take my word for it, just Search-Engine-of-Choice how many Marvel characters have been or will be hitting screens soon and how many more are “in development”…

However, as fortuitous fallout, many formally moribund stars are getting a serious rethink in their printed homes too, as this latest compendium of modern mythological mayhem happily proves.

Collecting Thor, God of Thunder #12-18 (cover-dated November 2013 to March 2014) and scripted throughout by Jason Aaron, this third contemporary chronicle slickly and simultaneously accesses the Lord of Lightning’s mythological roots, fantasy trappings and comicbook continuity to tell a classical quest tale with a decidedly Post Modern slant.

It all begins with a moving, untitled downtime episode illustrated by Nic Klein. After travelling the universe and meeting himself in two separate eras Thor returns to Midgard Realm and the Earth he so deeply loves, spending precious people-time with old friends. Visiting his favourite pub, a treasured acquaintance on Death Row and many other normal decent folk always serves to remind him of why he fights so hard for humankind. The elevating vignettes include being the graduation Prom date for S.H.I.E.L.D. Cadet Rosalind Solomon and a sobering conversation with his one-time true love Jane Foster who declines all his offers to find a mystic cure for her cancer…

The main event then begins with ‘The Accursed: The Great Niffleheim Escape or The Svartalfheim Massacre’ limned by Ron Garney and colourist Ive Svorcina, as the Realm of the Dead is invaded by a fanatical band of Dark Elves who endure appalling horrors to liberate one of the most inimical creatures ever to have breathed.

In the city of Asgard, floating above Broxton, Oklahoma, a Congress of delegates from the mystical Nine Worlds of Norse Existence is disrupted when the Dark Elf ambassador keels over in psychic shock, screaming “Svartalfheim is burning!”

Thor, valiant Sif and the Warriors Three rush to the distant dimension and encounter an atrocity: former tyrant Malekith the Accursed is back and inflicting genocide on his own people.

Holding the heroes at bay by threatening a hostage, the Dark Elf Overlord declaims that he intends to scourge his now too-docile race before dealing with the rest of the Nine Realms. To that end he has unleashed the ferocious Wild Hunt

The carnage escalates in ‘The Accursed Part Two’ as the Dwarves of Nidavellir, currently offering sanctuary to Svartalfheim’s Queen Alflyse, become Malekith’s next target, whilst in Asgard All-Mother Freyja, still hosting a conference designed to end animosity between the ever-warring Realms, informs her son Thor that he cannot pursue the massacre-mad Dark Lord.

At least not alone, but he can be the Aesir representative in a League of Realms acting in concert to destroy him. Despite understandable reluctance the Thunderer eventually agrees, joining Light Elf Sir Ivory Honeyshot, Screwbeard the Dwarf, Mountain Giant Oggmunder Dragglevladd Vinnsuvius XVII and Ud the Troll in sworn quest to end the menace. Inviting herself along is the villain’s former hostage. Despite – or probably because – he maimed and shamed her, sorceress Lady Wazira of the Dark Elves is determined to join in the grim chase…

By the time they all get to Nidavellir, the Dwarf stronghold is a broken charnel house and despite a pitched battle once again Malekith and his fanatics outmanoeuvre Thor and escape.

Throughout the frantic foray the innate prejudices and overt hostilities of the League have been Malekith’s greatest assets, but as the battered pursuers follow him into the Light Elf idyll of Alfheim they score their first victory over his forces and begin to bond. Things soon turn sour again though when they reach the land of Giants, and ‘Bury My Heart in Jotunheim’ sees one of the League heroically perish.

Worst of all Malekith begins his own Dark Alliance, aligning with the malignant, pernicious Frost Giants

After another cataclysmic but inconclusive battle, the surviving heroes pursue their foes into the dead and abandoned Realm of Vanaheim and realise that there must be a traitor amongst them. On very little real evidence the Thunderer decides who it is and acts accordingly…

‘I Thor… Condemn Thee to Die’ (by Garney & Emanuela Lupacchino) then sees the League seemingly dissolved with only Thor and Wazira following their vile quarry to Midgard where an enclave of Dark Elf refugees are holding a Council of the Unhallowed in the caverns beneath Manhattan.

They have joined together to form a response in regard to the rampages of their former ruler, but the only thing these arrogant lords despise more than interference from the Leaguers is each other. However their tribal grudges vanish when Malekith and his Wild Hunt crash the party…

The saga of The Accursed spirals to a blockbusting, shocking conclusion when, despite becoming ‘The God Who Saved the Elves’ (art by Lupacchino & Garney), Thor has true victory snatched from his grasp by the arbitrary nature of the supposed victims in the affair and has to retire knowing the threat is only stalled, not ended…

After the modern day mayhem this superb fantasy feast ends on a poignant, nostalgic note with a fable of Thor’s Dark Ages days in Scandinavia.

More than a millennium ago the young Storm God caroused and adventured amongst mortals, and ‘Days of Wine and Dragons’ – stunningly illustrated by Das Pastoras – details a salutary episode wherein the wining, wenching, wandering Thunderer became drinking buddies with a colossal, fun-loving wyvern and learned to his eternal shame and regret that even gods and monsters must ever remain true to their natures…

This bombastic book of battles, triumphs and tragedies comes equipped with a gallery of covers-&-variants by Garney, Esad Ribic, Walter Simonson, Humberto Ramos, David Johnson, Leonel Castellani and even a photo cover taken from Thor: The Dark World as well as the ever-popular swathes of extra content available via the AR icon option (providing special augmented reality content available exclusively through the Marvel AR app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices and Marvel Digital Comics Shop).

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Hilarious Consequences


By Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-0-2

When I was kid comics weren’t cool and were all a bit the same. You couldn’t find them in most shops and once you got a bit older, you read them from the camouflaging concealment of a large book – or possibly a smutty magazine – so your mates wouldn’t laugh at you.

Now there are strips and graphic novels everywhere, nobody under 90 bats an eye at adults scoping out picture stories and – most importantly – the range, variety and sheer quality of material available today is absolutely staggering.

A wonderful Case In Point is this delightfully enthralling slice of whimsical urban documentary by Babak Ganjei, published by Records Records Records Books.

Hilarious Consequences lovingly details in joyously crushing detail the sad sack saga of an agonisingly self-excoriating, self-effacing, self-proclaimed middle-aging loser who just can’t seem to get his life together…

Babak is a not-at-all successful musician in London. He has a kid, no career, no money and his hair is falling out – which seems to be the most worrisome of his many woes and worries. Still, what can you do, huh?

With nothing better in his future he decides to make a comic strip of his life and that’s also part of the story and another eventual hassle…

We pick up the threads of a fraying life in ‘The Chinese Herbalist’ as the shaggy shambler opts to try alternative medicine to solve his depreciating barnet problem. He feels uncomfortable doing it, unsure it’s working and is unable to pay, but is no match for the pushy purveyors who offer him reasonable-sounding advice and hire purchase terms. He trundles off with assorted unsavoury teas and soups that make his next few days a toxic misery…

His angst levels increase when he reluctantly agrees to go to ‘The Fancy Dress Party’, but just can’t get as invested as his girlfriend Ellie. The booze helps but when he sees a pig-masked person chatting her up, his head – still fiercely shedding follicles – goes to a bad place…

‘Another Morning’ and in the shower there are fresh horrors associated with getting old, exacerbated later when Babak is cajoled into performing at a local acoustic night by Dog, an ambitious kid with a gleaming transcendent mop of healthy hair. There’s no pay but Dog promises really excellent pizza…

Always strapped for cash Babak attends ‘The Interview’ and somehow gets a part-time job at a pub. It’s okay, but the other bar staff think he’s so very old.

He’s thirty…

Shorter moments reveal the more gloomy aspects of ‘The Creative Process’, ‘Drinks’, ‘The Call’ and a ‘Grim Notion’ before Ellie and his son accidentally create ‘Glitter Slugs’ whilst making card presents, leading to a surreal ‘Lynchian Insert’ before a return to the pub proves ‘Tough Work’ can be ameliorated by the right drugs…

After a diversion to ponder ‘Animal Work’, ‘Bad News and Thinkings’ finds our zero compelled to somehow scrape together £300 a week and regretting his childhood educational choices after which a ‘Kaufman-Esque’ confrontation leads to quite understandable ‘Panic’

Then, after a relatively calming ‘Family Hour’ it’s off to the pub and an epic ‘Work Party’ which reveals the problems ineffectual blokes blessed with bushy beards can encounter when trying to snort lines of coke, before things get strange ‘Conversing’ with a homeless guy. And then the slugs return in ‘New Beginnings’

A ‘Near Death Experience’ leads to a half-hearted ‘Work Out’ attempt, but jogging and newspaper headlines result in parental ‘Sadness’ and more self-doubt which even a gallery-hopping ‘Art Trip’ can’t fix.

Conceptual walls start to crack as cartooning diarist Babak suffers ‘Writers Block’ which might be why the slugs slurp back in ‘Them Again’ after which Ellie and the boy come home in ‘They’re Back’

That promised acoustic set is looming in ‘Please’ whilst an unsavoury encounter with the still unpaid Herbalist prompts some uncomfortable ‘Advice’ even as the little lad shows off his ‘Interests’ just before the artist expresses his ‘Issues’ with ‘The Big Show’.

Things go badly for the slugs in ‘Blackout’ but when the pizza arrives at least Babak feels a modicum of satisfaction ‘And Then Happiness’

There’s a comic aside to wrap thing up with an ‘Epilogue’

Episodic but utterly appealing, these dire and dolorous everyday antics of a (very) humble contemporary Eeyore offer a gentle, meandering and endearingly self-deprecating ramble through modern life. There’s even a free soundtrack CD that comes with this extremely readable fun feast, featuring: Dignan Porch, Singing Adams, The Bronsteins, Macks Faulkron, Wonderswan, Round Ron Virgin, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, Cheatahs, Big Deal, Wet Paint, and Matthew C.H. Tong to sweeten the deal and further facilitate knowing acquiescence…

Hilarious Consequences is the sort of book that becomes a cult hit TV series and certainly doesn’t fail to beguile and bemuse as a cartoon history.

Track it down and feel part of something too big to cope with…
© 2010 Babak Ganjei. © & ℗ Records Records Records Books.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems


By Matt Kindt, Marco Rudy & Val Staples (Marvel Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-576-5

The Marvel Knights imprint began as a way to produce slightly darker and more mature miniseries starring favourite characters in stories aimed at older readers. Whilst more askance than outside regular continuity, the adventures of familiar stalwarts could be counted as canon or discarded as the readership pleased, but eventually the Knights tales were all absorbed into the mainstream and the imprint generally retired.

In 2013 the subset was revived with a few new limited series…

The classic days of the Amazing Arachnid (i.e. pre-or-post Otto Octavius as The Superior Spider-Man) briefly returned and were subject to a visually impressive plot-light treatment in Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems #1-5 which ran from December 2013 to April 2014 and featured a startling scenario for everybody’s favourite original hard-luck hero.

In case you forgot

Outcast, orphaned science-nerd schoolboy Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after seeking to cash-in on the astonishing abilities which subsequently developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. His beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered by a burglar Peter could have stopped but didn’t because he refused to get involved.

Permanently traumatised and feeling irreconcilably responsible for Ben’s death, the 15-year old determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in need.

Parker loved and lost many more close friends and family during his crime-busting, world-saving career, but eventually won a measure of joy from all the heartache when he married the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson

For years the brilliant, indomitable everyman hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation whilst his notorious alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe.

He made a lot of enemies…

Sometimes basics is best in storytelling and the plot here is one constant chase and battle as Parker takes a crummy freelance photo gig and is ambushed, drugged and kidnapped in ‘Let the Games Begin’

Spider-Man battles his way off a plane past a gauntlet of costumed villains but the ‘Arachnophobia’ even continues in the ocean before ‘Combat’ transfers the action to a submarine stuffed with prior punks and perils until the battered but incomprehensibly driven Wallcrawler meets at last ‘The Most Dangerous Player’ on a tropical island.

He thinks he’s worked it all out but Peter still hasn’t faced the instigator of his woes and master of his 99 foes. That happens in the blistering conclusion ‘Game Over’

Scripter Matt Kindt’s catalogue of carnage moves things along at a rollercoasting rocket’s pace but the artwork here deserves the most attention.

This tale is primary a stunning exercise in visual acuity and dexterity from Marco Rudy and colourist Val Staples. Explosive, panoramic, even psychedelic in places, the pictorial narrative sublimely pushes Parker to the extreme limits as the hero faces an army of enemies before finally uncovering the twisted brain behind the concerted attack and finding his ultimate enemy is neither who nor what he ever expected…

With covers and variants by Rudy and Carlo Barberi, this is a stripped down, breathtaking primal comics experience that will delight fans of high octane Fights ‘n’ Tights action.

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.