Best Erotic Comics 2009

By various, edited by Greta Christina (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-711-2

Erotica, it must be said, is in the mind – and not even the eye – of the beholder. This second collection of the year’s best erotic comics casts a broad net and again comes up with a fantastic display of superbly varied strips and creators all addressing our most fundamental drive – and I don’t mean double-bagging Angel and the Ape or Wonder Woman comics… oh I don’t know, though…

I’m trying to be vague and alluring here (all but impossible – ask anyone who’s seen me) so I’ll simply list the contents and see what that gets us, but first let me trot out my usual disclaimer/warning.

This book contains stories and images of an adult nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, and the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids have used by the age of ten. If reading about such things is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something with violence and explosions, so come back then. Please.

This large and copious softcover features stories about all aspects, preferences and interpretations of consensual sex in both stark black and white and lush, lavish colour, and it all kicks off with three short comedic true-story strips from Erika Moen, specifically ‘Odd Things that Made Me Orgasm’, ‘Helping Hands’ and ‘Boobs’, promptly followed by ‘Insatiable Fuck Tart’, the first of eight single page, outrageously faux, classified sex ads from Ellen Forney. ‘Torn’ is a delightful switch on the conventional dating game from Niki Smith, followed by Ellen Forney’s ‘Devilish Desires’.

It might surprise you to learn that there is a shortage of good quality smut. To obviate the shortage Editor Greta Christina has been forced to use occasional older pieces and “Hall of Fame” material where appropriate. One such is Rick Altergott’s uncompromising ‘Mile High Club’, which is followed by ‘I Can Take It’, a chilling look at the dark edges of gay love, with the tension-breaking Ellen Forney’s ‘My French Maid’

I went to a Catholic School so it takes a lot to unsettle me – at least in comic book terms – but the excerpted sections of Robin Bougie’s ‘Down with Herpes’ came quite close. The feature is an illustrated hand-lettered series of reviews of extreme cult and bondage porn films, and it’s not the strip but the films themselves that gave me pause. Consider yourself warned.

Cephalopod Productions comes next with a quirky nostalgic gag-spread cartoonishly capturing the hidden delights of old New York in ‘Broadway Laffs’, then ‘Hairy Girl’ by Forney and the hilarious ‘Wild Girls’ by Jessica Fink, a cute cautionary tale entitled ‘Blowing Head Gaskets’ by Molly Kiely, Forney’s ‘Brad Pitt Fantasy’ and a terrific gay Satanist, zombie love story ‘Dem Bones’ from writer/artist Drub (I’m sure we’ve left no stone un-offended by now!)

The wonderful Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Honeymooners’ is a welcome Hall of Fame classic followed by ‘Screw M Relentlessly’ from Forney and ‘Mantras’ a superbly polemical and thought-provoking piece on sexual politics by Steve MacIsaac using a powerfully effective three colour palette. Diego Greco & Erdosain combine to produce a good old fashioned bonking yarn in the lavish, full-colour ‘Predator’, whilst Adrian Tomine contributes ‘Ginger B’, a Dirty Found exhibit (Dirty Found means a sexually charged object or image that has been discovered in everyday life rather than created by an artist to order), the legendary Peter Kuper contributes the incredible ‘Dirty Beauty’, Gary Baseman paints ‘The Devil’s Playground’ and the magnificent Toshio Saeki reinterprets classical Pillow Book illustrations in his seven fabulous ‘Youren’ illustrations.

John Cuneo graphically illustrates ‘Why I Went to Art School’, Quinn’s ‘Bad Girl Triptych’ demonstrates the cutting edge of experimental painting and Christy C. Road shows how to ‘Reclaim Your Self’, before Steve MacIsaac returns with another marvellous thriller ‘Safe’.

‘April 2005 – A Thought Diorama’ is a terrific piece of design and a cracking commentary on modern romance, Belasco’s ‘Th’ Floodgates’ is a racially-charged but straightforward gay porn story, Christy C. Road returns with the intriguing ‘Content and Disorderly’ and the masterful Gilbert Hernandez makes a Hall of Fame appearance with ‘I Won’t Forget’; an excerpt from his landmark Birdland series. ‘Scenes from the Revolution!’ is another nostalgic gag-spread from Cephalopod Productions; ‘Be My BDSM Tutor’ is another ad from Ellen Forney whilst Marzia Borino & Mauro Balloni’s ‘One Night Stand’ is a nice cautionary tale about pick-ups and bars.

‘Olé!’ by Andrea Camic is a smart little thriller about a matador, a bull and the woman who loved them, whilst ‘Butch and Petey’ is a hysterical excerpt from Jim Goad & Jim Blanchard’s unmissable redneck pastiche Trucker Fags in Denial. Cover artist Junko Mizuno is further represented by ‘You Can’t Keep Fooling Me’, selected pages from her Pure Trance collection and this torrid tome closes with ‘Nibbil’s Birthday’, a charming fantasy from Colleen Coover.

With creator biographies that include directions to more fine adult fare this is a stupendous slice of contemporary rude cartooning and a delightfully innocuous read for the liberal minded. Just don’t tell your Gran, okay?

Entire contents © 2009 Last Gasp. All Rights Reserved.

GI Joe: the Rise of Cobra: Official Movie Prequel – UK Edition

By Chuck Dixon & SL Gallant (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-426-3

I know very little about the movie blockbuster GI Joe and I’m prepared to say even less about it. As a nostalgia-charged toy, animated cartoon and comics sensation of the 1980s the franchise is probably carrying enough baggage to cripple a half-track, and certainly doesn’t need any more opinion from me. However the film-Promotion Machine has generated a couple of new comics adventures and I’m more than happy to babble on about them.

First up is the Official Movie Prequel trade paperback which collects a four issue miniseries, each chapter relating an individual exploit of one of the franchise’s major players. All are written with adrenaline-addictive passion – and a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek wit – by gung-ho action-meister Chuck Dixon with superbly gritty and realistically understated art from SL Gallant.

In case you were wondering: GI Joe is the operating name for an American covert, multi-disciplinary espionage and military intervention force that draws its members from all branches of the Services. At the time of these tales it is just setting up, as is a super-secret society called Cobra that appears set on World Domination. Neither organisation is aware of the other…

Chapter 1 focuses on dedicated soldier Duke Hauser, relating a covert insertion into a “friendly” South American nation where rebels have found a way to interfere with US Military Satellites. Ever the total professional, Duke accomplishes the op with guns blazing and meets the man who will one day recruit him for “the Joes”…

The Scots of Clan McCullen have been weapon makers and arms-dealers for centuries. The Lairds of Destro are seen here learning salutary lessons from some less reputable and distinguished clients such as the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and modern day terrorists. The current Destro will be a pivotal part of Cobra – if not a willing participant in all their schemes…

The Baroness is one of the deadliest women alive, and her high-octane adventure finds her seducing an oil sheik, battling warriors and wild beasts and even dying for her cause…or does she?

This slim tome, power-packed with thrills, concludes with an early mission for mute American ninja Snake Eyes who has to rescue the Vice-President (and a bunch of other, less important, foreign dignitaries) from Eco terrorists determined to flood half of Russia by blowing up the world’s largest hydro-electric dam…

These are no-nonsense, stripped-down blockbuster style plots: lean, clean and designed to thrill, and as such they are some of the best of their kind that I’ve ever seen. Slick, efficient and clever with breakneck pace and still room for humour, these are just what the doctor – or perhaps battlefield surgeon – ordered.
© 2009 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved. © 2009 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Creatures of Habit – the Art of Joe Ledbetter

By Joe Ledbetter (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-718-1

When you were a kid watching cartoons did you ever imagine that one day you could justify your simple pleasures by telling the nay-sayers and terminally unhip that you were a student of serious, capital “A” Art?

It’s happened twice in my lifetime: first in the mid-1960s when Pop Art stormed the bastions of haughty institutionalised snobbery and Stan Lee briefly re-dubbed his fledgling House of Ideas “Marvel Pop Art Productions” and it’s happening again now with the West Coast-led “Lowbrow” or Pop Surrealist Movement.

This highly colourful, multi-media, exceedingly commercialised new trend (as well as the art itself, many creators sell Designer original art apparel and especially toys based on their creations) blends baby-boomer memories of cartoons, comics, television, toys, monster-movies and a million other empty, unforgettable delights into a high gloss, stunningly lavish exploration of modern culture.

A major exponent of the last few years is Joe Ledbetter.

In truth Ledbetter, although highly popular, prolific and much sought after, is only on the periphery of the movement, and a close examination of this beautiful hardback collection of his paintings from 2004-2008 will show why and how he usually follows his own instincts. Adopting the techniques, style and form of cute animal animation, Ledbetter is less interested in examining society and the nostalgia it has generated, and more with revisiting the themes that permeate his source material.

In cartoons kids see that looking distinctive, being mighty and constantly proving your mettle is all that counts. Ledbetter, with his highly stylised, recurring cast of characters; a big-eyed, floppy-eared, rainbow coloured, many-tentacled, fuzzy repertory company combines startling design and composition with a sly, wry inquiry that gently asks the observer to think while awash in a tide of practically tribal, if not heraldic, combative imagery.

Surreal, yes, Absurd, of course, and so very subtly Subversive: rendered with superlative craftsmanship and always at the intersection of graphic design and the elevated Gallery Culture of art, there’s a keen eye and a chiding questioning behind all these superbly punchy and dynamic images. Ledbetter is making the popular street iconography of the 21st century in just the same manner as Vaughn Bodé did with his comic strips in the latter half of the 20th.

It’s the art of the Everyman and you will be seeing it everywhere: when he’s Joe Public you’ll be glad you picked up this magical Ledbetter collection as the wave started to crest…
© 2009 Joe Ledbetter. All Rights Reserved.
To see more images go to

Justice League Elite volume 1

By Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, John Byrne & Tom Nguyen and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-191-2

Every comic-book is a product of – or at least reaction to – the times in which it was created. In the grim, authoritarian, morally ambiguous climate of post 9-11 America writer Joe Kelly wrote an issue of Action Comics (#775) that addressed the traditional ethics and practices of ultimate boy scout Superman in a world where old values were seen as a liability and using “The Enemy’s” own tactics against them was viewed with increasing favour by the public.

With art by Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen, ‘What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way’ introduced super-Esper Manchester Black and his team of Elite metahumans who responded proactively and with extreme overkill to global threats and menaces in such a drastic and final manner (much like The Authority they very much resembled) that Superman was forced to take a long hard look at his core beliefs before triumphing over a team who saw absolutely no difference between villains, monsters or people who disagreed with them…

In a distressing sign of the times, the Elite proved so overwhelmingly popular that they returned in JLA #100 (‘Elitism’ by Kelly, Mahnke & Nguyen), led now by Black’s cyborg sister Vera, to oppose and eventually help the heroes save the Earth from a catastrophic ecological and metaphysical meltdown. Vera Black saw the fundamental flaws in her methodology but also the weaknesses in the JLA’s. She proposed becoming the League’s “Black Ops” division, gathering Intel, working undercover and decisively dealing with potential threats before they become global crises. Her team would get their hands dirty in a way the JLA simply could not afford to…

Over Superman’s protests, but with stringent oversight in place and using a combination of Elite and League volunteers, the plan was adopted and Justice League Elite subsequently won their own 12 issue series.

‘What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way and ‘Elitism’ form the first two chapters in this collected volume which demonstrates a chilling darker edge to the World’s Greatest Superheroes. After some Who’s Who pages from JLA Secret Files 2004 the intrigue begins in ‘Grand Experiment’ as Major Disaster, Green Arrow, Manitou Raven, Flash and mystery heroine Kasumi join Vera, energy manipulator Coldcast, human bio-weapon arsenal Menagerie and Naif al-Sheikh, a normal human spymaster who acts as Director, Adjudicator and Conscience for a unit designed to neutralise organizations and nations that threaten World Security before things ever reach a boiling point.

Their first mission is to infiltrate and dismantle the roving assassination team the Blood Brothers and retrieve mass-murdering terrorist Richard Atwa from the rogue state of Changsha. ‘Candle in a Hurricane’ is a tense two-part thriller full of twists, subterfuge and double dealing, but when the mission goes horribly wrong a prisoner is murdered by a member of the team. Has the grand experiment failed even before it has fully begun?

Same Coin’ mirrors a “straight” JLA mission against magician Felix Faust with the far less clear-cut capture and interrogation of a pair of witches who have attempted to bring about Hell on Earth, and this first volume concludes with ‘The Right Thing’ as the JLE looks inward to find the killer who broke protocol – and faith – to murder their captive in ‘Candle in a Hurricane’

Deliberately distasteful, challenging and compelling these astonishingly fascinating stories are well told, with great art from Mahnke & Nguyen, plus guest illustrators Lee Bermejo, John Byrne, Wayne Faucher, Jose Marzan, Jim Royal, Dexter Vines and Wade Von Grawbadger, and ask the kind of questions of our comic heroes that we’ll be asking about our soldiers and politicians for many years to come.

A must have for every fan who likes to think about what they’re reading…

© 2002, 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack!

By Will Pfeiffer & Peter Woods (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-654-2

Beware any book that begins “the Story So Far…”

Have you ever watched a film or read a book when you were so tired that you kept nodding off, only to repeatedly wake and find whole chunks of the story gone by and you unable to work out where you were and how you got there? If not you could closely mimic the experience by reading Amazons Attack!

And now that I’ve got that off my prodigious chest I’ll attempt to be a little more generous and helpful. But I will say this: if you’re new to comics or need all the details to enjoy a story – buy something else.

They could at least have provided a list of the other titles and issues the story strands this six part miniseries wove through so that interested readers could track them down…

Before all this kicks off the Department of Metahuman Affairs has ordered the arrest of Wonder Woman, on the orders of a shape-shifting agent called Everyman who has replaced the real boss Sarge Steel. On the magical island of Themyscira the evil sorceress Circe has resurrected the Amazing Amazon’s dead mother, but the once serene and stately warrior queen seems a little strange…

When Queen Hippolyta learns that Wonder Woman has been captured and is being tortured by the Americans she declares war on the United States, unaware that US agent Nemesis has already helped her daughter escape…

Now begin reading…

The great pity here is that when taken in conjunction with the missing chapters that comprised this braided mega-event, Amazons Attack! is a tremendously entertaining and powerful read, with Washington DC, Kansas, Gotham City and many other locations spectacularly reeling under the magical assault of the mythological super-women and their fabulous war-beasts surpassing anything you’ve seen as movie blockbusters.

With the US government in retreat, the President declares anyone with Amazon connections a potential terrorist, equalling the iniquities of Japanese internment in WWII, and forcing heroes to choose sides, torn between friendship and love of country.

Naturally Batman deduces that there’s a deeper, double game being played, Superman proves the power of true nobility and Wonder Woman is forced to confront some ugly truths before the whole rotten mess is resolved in a shock ending.

And then there’s another, bigger one that impacts both Countdown to… and Final Crisis!

Will Pfeiffer and Pete Woods produced superb work in the miniseries that manages to amaze and entertain as well as make some telling points about the real American war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s borderline criminal to produce a collection that only gives half the story – and yes I know there’s a text catch-up page preceding each chapter; my point is there shouldn’t have to be!.

Can we have a complete book, pretty please – even if it does have to be a whacking great Absolute Edition?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kelly Green volume 4: The Blood Tapes

By Stan Drake & Leonard Starr (Dargaud International Publishing)
ISBN: 2-205-06956-X

With her cop husband murdered by his own superiors (Kelly Green: The Go-Between), grieving, furious Kelly Green has began a risky new career in the twilight world between the law-abiding and the criminal aided by three of her husband’s reformed “cases”: con-man Spats Cavendish, thief Jimmy Delocke and pugnacious leg-breaker “Meathooks.”

Acting as a fair and impartial broker between antagonistic parties had kept Kelly in groceries for awhile now – and got her into some pretty nasty scrapes – but she had never encountered such unprincipled and dangerous characters as those that populate the Los Angeles music scene. When Rock Legend Alec Blood completed his comeback album he didn’t realise he was signing his death warrant…

When the star was gunned down in the studio parking lot the master tapes were stolen, and with millions of dollars hanging in the balance Kelly was contracted to buy back Blood’s last recordings. But she is horrified to discover that the money is being provided by Tom Ragan, the most dangerous mobster in Las Vegas, and he personally asked for her…

Before she can even begin she has to ascertain if thief and murderer are one and the same, but everywhere she turns the infamous Ragan is dogging her steps. Can he possibly be as murderous as he is good-looking? Is he as good a liar as he is a lover? And can the spiritualist Madame Elsa really convince the murdered Alec Blood to reveal who killed him…?

As usual nothing is what it seems in this superb thriller which blends a classic “whodunit” with the brutal, sexy world of The Mob, where Kelly and her faithful team find themselves punching far beyond their weight, but still doing the best they can in a world crushingly short of White Knights…

The passage of time has made this plot all too familiar but as is so often the case the first is still the best and the tale still has plenty of surprises in store for thriller aficionados and comics fans alike.

Intense and uncompromising, these character-driven yarns are as compelling now as they ever were, and the sheer quality of Stan Drake and Leonard Starr’s narrative creativity, unconstrained by the need to please a family audience – and the editors afraid of offending them – is a master-class in how comics should be made.
© 1983 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

JLA volume 2: American Dreams

By Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, John Dell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-394-0

After getting off to an impossibly cracking start in JLA: New World Order the superb quality of storytelling actually improved as Morrison and Porter began laying the groundwork for their first big story-arc, and this collection of shorter tales (originally appearing in JLA issues #5-9) stands as excellent interlude as well as a fine example of how modern superhero comics can still surprise, beguile and addict impressionable minds.

Leading off is ‘Woman of Tomorrow’ wherein veteran League villains Professor Ivo and T. O. Morrow construct the perfect super heroine to infiltrate and destroy the World’s Greatest Superheroes from within – but for once they build too well…

This is followed by ‘Fire in the Sky’ and ‘Heaven on Earth’ (with Ken Branch joining John Dell to ink Porter’s hyper-dynamic pencils) as the Angel Zauriel risks everything to warn the heroes of a second rebellion in Heaven, and the League must defeat an invasion by God’s own armies. This spectacular mini-saga also features old foes Neron and arch-demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast and was intended to introduce a new Hawkman to the DC Universe, but somewhere, somehow, wiser heads prevailed and the original was eventually retooled and reintroduced with Zauriel winning his own place in the company’s pantheon.

Oscar Jimenez and Chip Wallace stepped in to illustrate ‘Imaginary Stories’ as mind-bending villain The Key attempted to conquer the universe by trapping the individual League members in perfect dreams, and the art team was augmented by Hanibal Rodriguez for the tense conclusion ‘Elseworlds’ which saw the Zen warrior Green Arrow (son of the original, irascible ultra-liberal bowman) join the team in classic “saves the day” style.

Savvy, compelling, dauntingly High-Concept but not afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, the new JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart and Fun. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are the “World’s Greatest Superheroes” and these increasingly ambitious epics reminded everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill that nobody ever outgrows. Got yours yet?
© 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Skin Deep

By Charles Burns (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-167-1

Charles Burns is a creative force with his roots firmly placed in 1950s kids culture (B-movies, cartoons, EC comics: especially Mad Magazine,) and fingers in many areas of the creative media. As an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, film-maker and especially cartoonist, his slick, precise methodology tells stories and evokes responses from a place that is dark, skewed, beautiful and overwhelmingly nostalgic.

His comics work blends horror, true romance and Film Noir sensibilities with a sensationalistic fascination with the grotesque and absurdist; all delivered in a tight, meticulous, heavy line style reminiscent of woodcut prints, with huge swathes of solid black like darkness and light suspended and perfectly balanced in a Cold War on every page.

This gigantic softcover (297mm high x 224mm wide) is the third in a series collecting all the artist’s work prior to the landmark publication of the incredible Black Hole (soon to be a Major Motion Picture! – I love typing that!) and the three interlinked – or rather perhaps, overlapping – stories here all originate from between 1988 to1992, having been slightly revised since appearing in the Big Baby weekly strip and in the case of A Marriage Made in Hell, the legendary Raw Magazine. All in their own manner examine the theme of love in the modern world.

Leading off is Dog-Boy, the simple tale of a young man who has a cut-rate heart transplant and finds himself increasingly taking on the characteristics of the canine who his provided his new ticker. Just because he acts a little differently, does this mean that there is no girl out there for him? This tale formed the basis of a 1991 MTV serial for the Liquid Television TV programme (seen here on BBC2, I think).

This leads to the outrageously funny and deeply unsettling Burn Again wherein reformed televangelist Bliss Blister once more falls under the influence of his huckster father, as well as his own wife, who use him to con the religiously gullible. Unfortunately what only Bliss knows is that God – in the form of a hideous, diabolical extraterrestrial Cyclops, is coming to end mankind’s self-inflicted woes…

The book ends with the aforementioned and intensely disturbing story-within-a-story A Marriage Made in Hell. When horny new bride Lydia finally marries her war-hero husband she regretfully discovers that he won’t consummate their union. Just what is the fantastic secret of battle-scarred veteran John Dough, and how does Lydia cope with the incredible situation she finds herself trapped in?

As well as these staggeringly dry, wry and funny tales there is also a selection from the Burns sketchbook, a look at some of those altered story-pages and a brief commentary from the artist himself.

This volume is also available as hardback edition and was previously released as a Penguin book in 1992.
© 1988-1992 Charles Burns. All Rights Reserved.

Mighty Thor: The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill

By Walter Simonson with John Workman & George Roussos (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-614-7

For many older fans Thor was the comic that truly demonstrated the fevered and unfettered imagination of Jack Kirby – at least until he relocated to DC at the beginning of the 1970s and really let rip. Living galaxies, the conquest of Evolution: gods, heroes and aliens, machines with emotions and humans without, the strengths and liabilities of family ties and the inevitability of creation itself, all played out on the pages of the Thunder God’s action-packed comic-books.

After The King quit the series Thor floundered as everybody who followed laboured in the master’s largest shadow (and many in his style), but high points were few and inspiration was non-existent.

Until Walter Simonson arrived.

Or more accurately, returned, as he had for a brief while been one of those artists slavishly soldiering to rekindle Kirby’s easily synthesis of mythology, science fiction and meta-humanist philosophy, but with as little success as any other. When Simonson assumed the writing and drawing of the title in November1983 with issue #337, deeply invested in Kirby’s exploratory, radical visionary process, free to let loose and brave enough to bring his own vision to the character, he produced a body of work (#337-382 plus the Balder the Brave miniseries – and which can most easily be found in the Marvel Visionaries series of trade paperbacks) that actually moved beyond Kirby’s Canon and dragged the title out of a creative rut which allowed his own successors to actually introduce genuine change to a property that had stagnated for 13 years.

This particular volume is one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, with bold vibrant colours on good paper stock, and collects that first iconic story-arc from The Mighty Thor #337-340, which shook everything up and made the Thunder God a collectible sensation for the first time in a decade.

Moreover the entire tale is but the prologue to a stupendous larger epic which actively addresses the over-used dramatic device of the Doom of the Gods that had haunted this series since the mid-1960s…

The story revolves around a spell inscribed on Thor’s hammer and seen in the character’s very first appearance. When crippled Don Blake was first transformed into the Thunder God he saw on the magic mallet Mjolnir the legend “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor…”

The saga begins when Blake is asked by super-spy outfit SHIELD to intercept a fleet of starships headed for Earth which refuel themselves by absorbing suns! Hurtling off into deep space the Storm God boards a vessel only to be defeated in combat by its alien protector, an artificially augmented warrior named Beta Ray Bill. Moreover, as they crash to Earth the alien somehow activates Mjolnir’s magic and transforms itself into a warped duplicate of Thor! And then Odin mistakes Bill for his son and whisks him to Asgard to defend the Realm Eternal from another monstrous threat!  And then…

Enough tomfoolery: suffice to say that the action and surprises pile one upon another as the alien reveals that he is the guardian of his people, the Korbinites, who are fleeing from a horde of demons that destroyed their civilisation and are hunting them to extinction. And now they’re heading towards Earth…

After the mandatory big fight Thor and Bill – each with his own hammer – team-up to investigate the demons, with confused love-interest Lady Sif along for the bombastic ride, and discover a threat to the entire universe. Worse yet, it’s generated by an Asgardian foe destined to defeat the Gods themselves on the Day of Ragnarok!

Brave, bold and occurring at a breakneck pace, with fresh concepts wedded to the most fundamental elements of Marvel mythology, this short appetizer is the perfect cosmic storm, infinitely rewarding and impossibly re-readable. Art, story, concept and design in perfect harmony – this is an unbeatable Marvel Tale…
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu volume 1

By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-85719-700-6

If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music you might feel a pang of nostalgia at the work in this intriguing and coyly adult collection, featuring Manga sensation Junko Mizuno’s latest subversively compelling creation.

Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned for combining the appearance of childish innocence or “cuteness” with dark, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing and inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).

Moreover the skewed sensibilities of her work in such Manga as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid and Pure Trance (all available in English language editions) and the as-yet-untranslated Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo) has exploded out of the comics ghetto and been taken up by the larger populace with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults including plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and even a line of erotic products and condoms.

She is scheduled to produce a limited edition My Little Pony figure for a Hasbro charity event and by the time you read this Marvel should have released her first Spider-Man and Mary Jane adventure in the re-launched Strange Tales.

Her self-confessed shojo (“stories for girls”) influenced style also borrows heavily from the imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia that grew out of Pop Art, with huge eyed (admittedly not uncommon in Manga), large-headed girls, drawn to look young – no, not young, but actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: living in simplified, reduced detail environments.

As previously stated her content is always sharply at odds with her drawing style, like cartoons for toddlers but involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being eaten by cannibals. Much of her work is in full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan, and this volume (mostly monochrome but with a magically lush colour section) breaks another tradition by using a huge 254 x 201mm page size rather than the usual 188 x 126mm to relate its tales of lonely hearts.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is another conceptual shocker with a subtle subtext and an overt narrative underpinning, redolent of the naively “Swinging Sixties”. The cute pink planet Princess Kotobuki smells delightful but is invisible to human eyes. On its charming surface dwell nothing but beautiful naked young women and one very lovely, placid purple space hippo: but beware because Space Hippos are carnivorous!

And then there’s Pelu: a fluffy excitable ball of fuzz who questions this idyllic existence. From the hippo Pelu learns of Earth where there are two sexes, not one, and when Pelu learns its own origins (the first chapter is entitled ‘Sex Education on a Fantastic Planet’) it determines to go to the planet of humans and father a baby so it won’t be alone any more…

So begins the charmingly unsettling saga of Gigolo Pelu whose adventures in ‘The Naked Enka Singer’, ‘The Sassy Girl and the Bad Boy’, ‘Beach Maidens’ and ‘The Mysterious High School’ mirror the venerable tale of an Innocent’s road to enlightenment (complete with the loss of the aforementioned innocence), given extra punch by the overwhelming accoutrements of perfect childhood that permeate every atom of the tale.

On Earth the fluffy creature observes human interactions whilst always politely asking if anyone would like to be made pregnant – but love, hate, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-loathing and even murder are hard to grasp until Pelu discovers and befriends a hobo who becomes a valued comrade and teacher.

Everything, especially the many beautiful girls, are drawn in the style of late 1960s Playboy icons, the cartoon stylisations that featured in many movie blockbuster title sequences and especially the psychedelic works of Alan Aldridge and the animated film Yellow Submarine. Anybody British out there who remembers the kids show Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is a beautiful velvet trap designed to put the reader in a receptive state so that the author can make her telling points about today’s world.

By co-opting the form of children’s entertainment the author can address fundamental aspects of society in a form intended to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly provoke: hopefully some thought on the readers’ part will be generated beyond the modern shock-reaction to nude young girls and the pre-pubescent idealism and purity that used to be associated with such imagery.

This is a deceptively edgy fantasy with a lot to say about society and relationships – similar to and completely different from Robert Heinlein’s groundbreaking social satire Stranger in a Strange Land, and if enough of the right people read it could have as much impact.
© 2003 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.