Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Violence in the British Underground

Nasty Tales

By David Huxley

Headpress: Critical Vision ISBN: 1 900486 13 X

The creative explosion of the 1960s and early 1970s has been largely forgotten these days, and never more so than in what used to be called “underground comix”. This slim volume, written by one of the lesser luminaries of the scene, traces the developments and points of note of a generally fuzzy period in the history of the comic strip, with lavish illustration and keen insight into how our side of the pond responded to “the Man” and his implacable foes Robert Crumb, Wonder Warthog, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and all those other forgotten immortals of the US counter-culture.

Extensively researched, clearly propounded and sporting what seems to a complete chronological listing of all underground and alternative comic titles published between 1966-1982.

Text: © 2001 David Huxley. Illustrations © respective owners and artists. All Rights Reserved.

The Quitter

By Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel

Vertigo

The cartoon phenomenon that is Harvey Pekar once again breaks boundaries in an industry that operates so much these days on the assumption that most creators do their best work in the first flush of youth.

The Quitter is a bleak, coldly funny and often painful self-examination of a troubled and driven young outsider Everyman in a society gradually becoming a bit of a disappointment. All the trademark Pekar concerns are present: success with women, financial security, success in relationships, history, literature, success in a culture that won’t tolerate failure – or even mediocrity – and respect, all viewed through the fresh eyes of a troubled adolescent.  Pekar’s subtle mastery, gloriously illustrated by the simply magical black and white artwork of Dean Haspiel, is to convey these dark themes in a compelling and frankly joyous manner.

Always gripping, never depressing, and utterly absorbing, The Quitter is, as its hype describes, some of his best work yet, and I’m fervently praying that there’s much, much more to come.

© 2005 Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel.  All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Shooting Script

By Dougherty, Harris & Singer

Titan Books ISBN 1-84576-332-7

Also available for fans of the movie, the comic character or simply just film in general is this highly instructive volume. As well as the aforementioned script, there are deleted scenes, interviews with the relevant creators and a superb storyboard section for those of an artistic bent. Buy the book and then make your own block-buster.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Identity Crisis (softcover)

By Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

DC Comics

For such an impressive and far-reaching comics event, this collection is quite a slim and swift read.  Whilst the comic drove the narrative forward in the manner of a whodunit, most of the character by-play and the ripples of the bare events related could only be experienced in the (inter-linked) individual issues of the involved titles. When this is all absorbed week-by-week, month-by-month, the cumulative effect is both bewildering and engrossing, but such an experience cannot be duplicated in traditional publishing.

The plot involves DC heroes re-assessing their careers whilst hunting down the murderer of the wife of second-string hero/detective, Elongated Man.  As the investigation proceeds, heroes and villains confront many of their bedrock principles such as tactics, allegiances and even the modern validity of that genre staple, the Secret Identity.  The dialogue is memorable and the artwork magnificent and the aftershocks of the revelations did indeed live up to their hype. How sad then than this “core” book feels like a rushed “Readers Digest” edition, whilst many of the key moments are scattered in a dozen other (unrelated) collections.

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Cheap Jack City

Lots of graphic novels that first come out in hardback eventually reappear in an inexpensive paperback/mass-market edition. When a softie comes in that we’ve already reviewed, I’ll just let you know there’s a cheaper version available. And remember, sometimes my only quibble is format and price.

Charley’s War: Book III (17 October 1916 – 21 February 1917)

Charley’s War: Book III

By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-270-3
                    ISBN-13: 9781845762704

After much too long a wait the third volume collecting the greatest war comic strip of all time is finally out. Charley’s War, originally published in the weekly comic “Battle” (beginning in issue #200 – 6 January 1979 and running until October of 1986), tells the story of underage East-Ender Charley Bourne, who lies about his age to enlist in the British Army setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

By the beginning of this volume he has already survived the hellish conditions of trench warfare, endured the cruelty and stupidity of his own leaders and lost most of his friends. The introduction of Tanks has brought a furious response from the Germans, many of whom consider the innovation to be an atrocity weapon. In retaliation, they unleash a savage attack using “Judgement Troopers” whose “total war tactics” overwhelm the British Lines.

Book III opens with the brutal battle for the British positions in full swing, with neither side gaining any real advantage, and ends for Charley when he is wounded sufficiently to be sent home to England (called “getting a Blighty”). Naturally, things are never that simple and the callous indifference of the doctors behind the lines means that any soldier still able to pull a trigger is sent back into battle. Once more facing the Judgement Troops, Charley and his mates are forced to experience fresh horrors before the bloody battle peters out indecisively. Charley is again wounded, losing his identification in the process and returned eventually to England as a shell-shocked amnesiac.

Mills and Colquhoun now begin a masterful sequence that breaks all the rules of war comic fiction, by switching the emphasis to the home-front where Charley’s family are mourning his apparent death and working in the war industries, just as the German Zeppelin raids on British cities are beginning. The writer’s acerbic social criticism makes powerful use of history as the recovering hero experiences the trials of submarine warfare, bombing raids and the callous exploitation of British munitions magnates who care more for profit than the safety of their workers or even the victory of their homeland. The book ends as Charley attempts to rescue his mother from a bomb factory as Zeppelins drop lethal payloads all around them…

Included in this volume are a rare interview with artist Joe Colquhoun, a feature on the history of Zeppelin warfare and writer Pat Mills’ wonderfully informative chapter notes and commentary. Not just a great war comic, Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium.

© 2006 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Art of Superman Returns

The Art of Superman Returns

By Daniel Wallace
Titan Books ISBN 1-84576-308-4

This impressive coffee-table art-book, released to cash-in on the long-awaited movie features an eye-popping mix of sketches, stills, pre-production designs and paintings gleaned from the various art departments all necessary to produce a major motion picture nowadays.

Tricky shape for your bookshelf though.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Case of Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith 

By Rick Geary

NBM/Comics Lit ISBN 1-561636-467-0

This eighth volume in master cartoonist Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series focuses on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk and Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. The slow poisoning of one of these mismatched lovers led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody.

Geary’s captivating storytelling and audacious drawing give this tale a compelling dash and verve that makes for an unforgettable read.

Find out more about this series HERE

© 2006 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved

James Bond 007: Trouble Spot

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-269-X
                      ISBN-13: 9781845762698

Jim Lawrence strengthens his position as the premier Bond scripter with these tales from 1971-1973. “Trouble Spot” is a traditional tale of espionage as 007 replaces a lost agent in an effort to recover a mysterious box and prevent its falling into the wrong hands of the gloriously baroque Baron Sharck. His heroic efforts are abetted and hindered by the beautiful if morally ambiguous Olga and the blind wife of the agent he’s impersonating.

“Isle of Condors” features a rare (it is 1972, remember) black lead heroine and a kidnapping leading Bond to a plot to turn nubile young beauties into programmed assassins.

The contemporary fascination with the occult becomes grist for the creators’ mill in “The League of Vampires”, when Bond investigates a fashionable cult that is the mask for a plot to destabilise the British computer defence industry.

The volume closes with the racy “Die With My Boots On”, as 007 yet again tangles with the American underworld in search of the secret of a new designer drug that no-one can afford to ignore or possess. As usual there are thrills and glamour in abundance in plot that still form the basis for all those modern summer blockbuster movies. Sexy women, evil men and organisations, relentless action and hairsbreadth escapes make these timeless thrillers an absolute necessity for any fan of the medium.

© 1971, 1972, 1973 Glidrose Productions Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All Rights Reserved