Lucifer: Crux

Lucifer: Crux 

By Mike Carey & various

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-23811-X

The war of Heaven is going badly for all concerned. God has vanished and, despite the machinations of each being of power, a rank outsider has assumed his position and responsibilities. Many disparate factions have aligned and realigned and final battle lines have been drawn. When the battle for everything begins it will affect all reality — and not all the combatants expect, or even plan, to survive.

The sides broadly coalesce into Lilith (the woman Adam and God replaced with Eve – and look how well that turned out!) and every creature that feels wronged or slighted by Heaven, ranged against the Host of Angels and Powers besieged in their Silver City. The first story, The Eighth Sin (issue #55 of the monthly comic), by Carey and artist Marc Hempel, concentrates on events in Hell as the Angels caretaking the fell domain cede control to medieval philosopher Christopher Rudd. Following is the eponymous Crux (issues #56-57), with art from Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly as Lilith recounts her meeting with a band of sinister beings at the fringes of creation and what she sacrificed to join their alliance to destroy Heaven.

The Yahweh Dance (drawn by Ronald Wimberly, from #58) depicts the first stumbling steps of the Replacement Creator and the amount of guidance one can honestly expect from the arch-rebel Lucifer. Gross and Kelly return to end the volume with The Breach (issues #59-61). As the preparations for all-out war accelerate and the implications are felt throughout the universe by all of the truly huge cast that populate this epic, the human Jill Presto must reach some accommodation with the supernatural force in her womb that intends to be born before it kills her — or she it.

Lucifer is a true epic that reaches beyond the cosmos by concentrating on the actions of small characters as well as mighty forces. It does the work no favours to parcel it up into broken portions, even if those portions are entire Graphic Novels.

Read in one continuous flow, it becomes a masterpiece.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lucifer: The Wolf Beneath the Tree

Lucifer: The Wolf Beneath the Tree 

By Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, P. Craig Russell & Ted Naifeh

(DC/Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-164-2

This would be a terrible book for a first time reader. The eighth collection of Mike Carey’s compelling new adventures of the devil collects the stories from issues #50, 45 and 51 – 54 of the monthly mature fantasy comic, and frankly, they’re all absolute crackers.

The first of these, Lilith, is a 40 page, self-contained delight illustrated by the magnificent P. Craig Russell, revealing not only the origins of Lucifer’s charismatic supernatural assistant Mazikeen, but also the building of the Silver City of the Host (where the Angels live) and the events leading to the Angel Samael’s defection from Heaven.

Another single issue tale, Neutral Ground, follows, with art by Ted Naifeh, relating the grim and cosmically unjust end of John Sewell, a poor working stiff who has the tragic misfortune to be selected as the venue for a board meeting of disaffected demons plotting to overthrow the current rulers of Hell. Either of these would be a wonderful introduction to a great series, so it’s a real pity that the main body of the collection recounts a pivotal tale in the seventy-five episodes (plus mini-series and one-shots) that tell the adventures of Lucifer since he abdicated his position as Lord of Hell in the Sandman volume Season of Mists.

Now, after many trials and tribulations, God has abandoned the universe and his disappearance has triggered the entropic end of Creation. Lucifer, who has made his own, separate, Universe, has reached a tense accommodation with his former peers and manoeuvres to survive and/or assume control. All the characters and sub-plots have to jockey for position in an outrageous coming together of disparate story-strands stretching back to the original mini-series and even the Sandman comics this title originally spun off from, when the Norse Deity Fenris attempts to bring Creation to a premature close on his own terms.

This is gripping reading, stylishly depicted by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly, but you absolutely have to see what comes before if you want a cat in Hell’s chance of understanding what’s going on. So, why oh why waste two little gems, tailor made as “jump-on” stories, by cramming them into the equivalent of the middle reel of Citizen Kane or the last ten minutes of Fight Club?

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hellblazer: Haunted, & Setting Sun

Hellblazer: Haunted 

HELLBLAZER: HAUNTED
ISBN 1-84023-362-1-

Hellblazer: Setting Sun

HELLBLAZER: SETTING SUN
ISBN 1-84023-923-9

By Warren Ellis & various (Vertigo)

Warren Ellis is an iconoclastic writer and very much a “big draw” at the moment and his short run on this venerable, not to say inconsistent, horror standby was long overdue for collection. It can’t have hurt to see the tag “major motion picture” finally applied to the guy either – Constantine that is, not Ellis.

Of the film I shall say nothing, but these two slim volumes, reprinting issues #134 – 143, show the character at his best. By turns sardonic and pathetic, vicious and vulnerable, John Constantine is perhaps comics’ most human hero, and in Haunted he returns to London to find one of his few fond memories destroyed and desecrated by an upstart wizard who has a nasty line in Sex Magic. A brand new cast of “old friends” come and go in a bloody welter before the world is put to rights, Constantine-fashion. The art is by the splendid, and always impressive, John Higgins.

Setting Sun is a series of single issue stories that highlight different aspects of a very, very complex character. Locked, illustrated by Frank Terhan, gives new meaning to the phrase ‘locked room mystery’, as well as initiating a new relationship for Constantine and the police, whilst The Crib, drawn by Tim Bradstreet, looks at a different kind of magic.

Javier Pulido handles the art on Setting Sun, a grisly exorcism tale. James Romberger draws a bittersweet romantic recollection, Hellblazer –style in One Last Love Song, and Telling Tales concludes the fear-fest, as Marcelo Frusin depicts a tense night’s drinking for Constantine and a new, if temporary, friend. For fans, these must represent Hellblazer at its gruesome best, but as an introduction to new readers brought in by the magic of celluloid, they are an invaluable insight into how the character should be played.

Both volumes © 1999, 2004 DC Comics

Hellblazer: Highwater

Hellblazer: Highwater

By Brian Azzarello, Marcelo Frusin, Guiseppe Camuncoli and Cameron Stuart

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84023-861-5

Highwater completes an epic comic strip road-trip across America by the trickster magician and thorough-going bastard John Constantine, as scripted by Brian Azzarello and previously seen in issues #164-174 of the monthly comic. For the beginnings of this US adventure the interested reader should seek out the trade paperbacks Hard Time (ISBN 1-84023-255-2), Good Intentions (ISBN 1-84023-433-4) and Freezes Over (ISBN 1-84023-531-4).

Here, the Scouser from Hell settles some old and justifiable scores with American Nazis, religious zealots, morally bankrupt billionaires and the USA’s covert government agencies, and still finds time for smoking, drinking and high-octane – not to mention often disturbingly graphic – sexual debauchery. It also depicts some of the nastiest violence seen in the series to date, from the likes of long-time 100 Bullets associate Marcelo Frusin, as well as Guiseppe Carmuncoli and Cameron Stewart, so be warned.

Hellblazer has consistently surprised everyone with its adaptability and longevity, and John Constantine is well on the way to becoming an iconic comics character. This volume, however, might not best serve as a first introduction to the old sod.

© 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Boneyard in Color, Volume 2

Boneyard in Color 

By Richard Moore

(NBM)  ISBN 1-56163-487-5

Richard Paris is pretty average. Or at least he was until he inherited that cemetery. You know the one: out by Raven Falls — where that sexy vampire chick and those monsters and ghosts and demons all hang out. Yeah that’s the one. And now that he’s living with all those weirdos, strange stuff just keeps on happening to him. No sooner has he sent Belzebub packing back to the inferno than the Internal Revenue Service has come after him. And they won’t be content with blood, souls or eternal damnation. They want half a million dollars! How can Richard and his peculiar cast of reprobates get out of this crisis?

There’s a great tradition of combining horror and comedy, and Richard Moore has shown that there is still much fun to be had in this vein. Combining traditional cartoon drawing with a wicked sense of slapstick and screwball humour, filtered through a modern lens of cynical modernism, this is an absolute joy of a funnybook.

This edition is printed in colour for all those fools who wouldn’t buy it when it was first released in the original black and white. Still damned funny though.

© 2002 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol Two

Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol Two 

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-391-2

Here’s another collection of tales tracing the Man of Steel’s history and development, this time seemingly concentrating on character rather than physical achievement. First off is the much-reprinted, but always glorious, The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk (which was later Anglicised to Mxyzptlk, presumably to make it easier to spell) from Superman #30 (1944). Jerry Siegel and artist Ira Yarbrough created a cornerstone of the Superman myth with this screwball other-dimensional pixie, against whom all Superman’s strength and power are useless. From then on brains were going to be as important as brawn as they introduced frustration as the Big Guy’s first real weakness.

By the mid-1950s Superman had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing would ever change, and thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show cementing the action, writers increasingly concentrated on supplying wonder instead. Superman’s Other Life by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye (Superman #132, 1959) shows what might have happened if Superman had grown up on an unexploded Krypton, courtesy of Batman and the projections of a super-computer.

Superman’s Return to Krypton (Superman #141, 1960) by Siegel, Boring and Kaye shoots successfully for Grand Tragedy as Kal-El is trapped in the past on his doomed home-world. Reconciled to dying there, he finds love with his ideal soul-mate, only to be torn from her side and returned to Earth against his will. This tale was a fan favourite for decades thereafter, and it’s truly deserving of a place in this volume, as is The Team of Luthor and Brainiac (Superman #167, 1964), a kid’s dream of an adventure by Edmond Hamilton (from a Cary Bates plot), Curt Swan and George Klein – possibly the most effective art team ever to work on the Man of Steel.

When Julie Schwartz took over the editorial duties, he decided to shake things up — with spectacular results. Superman Breaks Loose (Superman #233, 1971) by Denny O’Neil, Swan and Murphy Anderson, revitalised the Man of Tomorrow and began a period of superb stories that made him a ‘must-buy’ character all over again.

The Legend from Earth-Prime (Superman #400, 1984) is a clever little pastiche by Elliot S. Maggin and Frank Miller, and The Secret Revealed by John Byrne and Terry Austin comes from the second issue of the remodelled, Post-Crisis, Superman (1987), and reveals just how differently the new Luthor thinks and works. Following that is Life after Death (Adventures of Superman #500, 1993), by Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood, the concluding episode of the infamous Death of Superman story-arc.

After a pin-up by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens the volume concludes, symmetrically, with a recent, and absolutely hilarious, Mxyzptlk tale from Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark and Andy Lanning (Adventures of Superman #638, 2005).

Every generation has its own favourite Superman. This selection has the potential to make a fan reconsider just which one that might be. It’s probably wiser to just love them all.

© 1944, 1959, 1960, 1964, 1971, 1984, 1987, 1993, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Trailers

Trailers 

By Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau

(NBM/Comics Lit)  ISBN 1-561636-445-X

Josh Clayton is a good kid, pretty much. Sure, he lives in a trailer park, and, yes, his mother’s a bit of a tramp, but Josh has never been in any kind of real trouble…

Back from school, Josh is stuck tending to his baby brother again when Ma gets into another screaming match with her drug-dealer boyfriend. This time it doesn’t play out as usual though, and she kills him. When she comes out of the bedroom and tells Josh that he’s got to get rid of the body before his other brother and sister return, his life changes forever.

It’s hard enough being a sensitive teenager in America these days, especially if you’re dirt-poor. High-school is hell and life generally sucks. If you add to that the fact that the body just won’t stay buried, it all adds up to a miserable time for Josh. So when pretty Michele makes a play for him the pressure and confusion reaches fever pitch. And still his inevitable slide into a life just like his mother’s seems to suck him further and further down. Can Josh keep his family together, get the girl, survive school and ever sleep without screaming? Can he break out of this grim, dark spiral, or is he fore-doomed and fore-damned?

The answer makes for a superb slice of modern fiction that should tickle the palate of all those ‘mature’ comic fans in need of more than just a flash of nipple and sprinkle of salty language in their reading matter. Neece and Collins-Rousseau (employed at the faculty of Sequential Art, Savannah College of Art & Design), have created a real story of realistic young people in extraordinary need. This is the kind of book fans need to show civilians who don’t “get” comics. Sit them down, put “Born to Run” on the headphones and let them see what it can be all about.

© 2005 Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau. All Rights Reserved

Los Tejanos

Los Tejanos

By Jack Jackson

(Fantagraphics Books)  No ISBN

Known as ‘Jaxon’ in his underground comix days, Jack Jackson’s infectious fascination with the history of Texas was seeping through into all his work even from those early days. Portions of Los Tejanos appeared as the comic books Recuerden el Alamo and Tejano Exile (published by Last Gasp) in the mid 1970s, which the author fleshed out for this early prototype of the Graphic Novel.

Drawn in a captivating, etching-like, cross-hatched style that simply screams ‘true story,’ Los Tejanos provides an absolute wealth of information, social texture and sheer entertainment. It tells the story of Juan Nepomuceno Seguin, a “Texian” of Mexican birth who sided with the rebels fighting for independence. Before becoming part of the United States of America, Texas was briefly a nation unto itself, having won its freedom from a Mexican empire that was bloated, corrupt and in decline. How Seguin turned his back on one culture, only to be eventually betrayed by the other during that period when Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures battled for hegemony in continental America seems to echo even now with relevance. That battle still isn’t over.

The eventual fate of Juan N Seguin makes for powerful reading, rich in fact, well-paced as narrative, and even delivering the occasional solid horse-laugh. But the true measure of a history book, and this most wonderful tome is certainly that, is how the material impacts on the contemporary. Here it also succeeds. The issues were germane in 1840, they were just as much so in 1982, and they still are now.

Why this epic isn’t required reading for every US history or sociology course I’ll never understand.

©1982 Jack Jackson. All Rights Reserved.

Kid Eternity

Kid Eternity

By Grant Morrison & Duncan Fegredo

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-239-8

British writer Grant Morrison’s jump to the US big time was facilitated by way of this retro-fitting of the venerable Golden-Age character first published by Quality Comics in 1942 (Hit Comics #25). In his original outing the Kid was a young boy machine-gunned by Nazis and taken to the heavenly realm of Eternity by a hapless soul collector years before his actual due date. Unable to simply return, he was given the ability to temporarily walk the Earth, along with permission to summon any person, myth or legend that has ever existed. Thus armed, and aided by the bumbling and beneficent spirit Mr. Keeper, the Kid fought crime and injustice until all the really good Golden-Age comic-books were cancelled.

Working on the tried and trusty “everything you know is wrong” principle of modern comic scripting, this revival reveals that was all a lie and sinister forces have been secretly at work all this time. Escaping from Hell, where he has been imprisoned for decades, Kid Eternity teams up with third-rate stand-up comedian Jerry Sullivan. As magical chaos and bloodletting begin to devastate the world they return to the Inferno to rescue Mr Keeper, only to discover the truth behind the Kid’s death and subsequent career, and their part in a cosmic plot to alter the nature of reality.

Full of flash and dazzle, Morrison’s own signature pantheon of multi-dimensional higher beings and visceral-magic entities and metaphysical un-realpolitik, bombast their way through this rather weak tale of revenge and deception, although the complex, full colour art of Duncan Fegredo is compelling throughout and occasionally spell-binding. This miniseries spawned a short lived revival of the character: one of the Vertigo imprint’s first forays into periodical publishing after hiving off from the regular DC Universe.

© 1991, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

GREEN LANTERN: FEAR ITSELF

Green Lantern: Fear Itself 

By Ron Marz & Brad Parker

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-56389-310-X

Comics has a rich history of successful character redesigns, and probably none more so than Green Lantern, whose backstory has now become the very fabric of the DC Universe. Therefore an epic tale featuring three generations of Emerald Crusader would seem like a fan’s dream come true.

At the beginning of World War II a team of Nazi occultists break in to a Washington DC museum and release a C’thulu-like monster. After a rampage where it defeats the mighty Justice Society by afflicting them with their deepest fears, only Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, can throw off its attack and ‘destroy’ it.

During the height of the Cold War, test pilot and Green Lantern Hal Jordan thwarts a KGB attempt to retrieve the monster’s remains and inadvertently reactivates it himself. Although aided by the Justice League of America, it ultimately falls to Jordan himself to defeat the beast.

Kyle Rayner is (at this time at least) the last Green Lantern. A freelance artist and a more introspective type of hero, it’s up to him to find a final solution when the fear-monster returns for a last assault upon humanity.

This is not a particularly unique story, but the decision to use a computer-illustrator for the artwork did make it note-worthy at the time. To what degree that was a good decision is largely a matter of personal taste, but I suspect that this is a book that will only appeal to die-hard fans.

© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.