The Goon: Nothin’ But Misery

The Goon: Nothin’ But Misery 

By Eric Powell (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-56971-988-5

Before Dark Horse picked up The Goon, Eric Powell self-published a number of issues of this splendidly eccentric retro-feature, and these are presented here (mostly) in colour for the first time. Lord knows how long he’d been working on the thing prior to publication because this is one of those rare Athenaic occasions when the creation springs forth fully formed without the usual noodging and twiddling that customarily occurs as a strip progresses until it settles into a stride.

The Goon is a hulking, two-fisted brawler just getting along as best he can in the seamy underbelly of the city. He and his pal Franky do jobs for the reclusive gang-boss Labrazio, work their own scams when they can and look after their friends. They also hate zombies.

This makes for a pretty eventful life since Labrazio’s biggest rival is The Nameless Man, an immortal witch-priest whose army of the undead keeps trying to escape from their rightful bastion on Lonely Street to take over the whole city.

This spectacular pop-culture spoof is thrill-a-minute crazy as these not-so-Wise (but extremely tough) Guys tackle flesh-eaters, Cthuluistic hell-shamblers, twisted ghosts and every type of thug and monster armed with nothing more than fists, gats, dirty vests and attitude, all in the name of an easy life.

Powell is a sharp, economical writer with a great ear for period dialogue and a truly surreal sense of humour. This is supplemented by the ability to draw like a cross between Jack Kirby and Wally Wood. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

™ & © 2003 Eric Powell. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Girl: Avenging Allies

Spider-Girl: Avenging Allies 

By Tom DeFalco, Pat Olliffe & Al Williamson with Sal Buscema (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-1658-3

The third volume of the collected adventures of the alternate Earth daughter of the Amazing Spider-Man picks up where we left off as May “Mayday” Parker keeps on attacking that learning curve on the way to becoming a proper superhero like her dad.

This time as well as handling the hassles of High School and the seemingly perpetual fights with other super-do-gooders (such as Darkdevil, Stinger and the new Avengers) she encounters her first extended plot-line as Very Bad Villain Kaine enters the murky corners of her life, waiting for just the right moment to leap out and become her ultimate nemesis. There are also angst-attacks and so-so baddies a-plenty, just in case you were anticipating a qualitative sea-change in approach from long-time creators DeFalco and Olliffe.

This wants so very much to be a “return to Marvel Greatness” but it too often feels forced and silly. And yet the comic book from which these stories are collected (issues #12-16 and the 1999 annual in this case) is one of the longest running of Marvel’s latter-day publications so it must have found some kind of appreciative audience.

© 1999, 2000, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Girl: Like Father, Like Daughter

Spider-Girl 2: Like Father, Like Daughter 

By Tom DeFalco, Pat Olliffe & Al Williamson (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-7851-1657-8

The second pocket paperback volume featuring the daughter of Spider-Man carries on the teen-angster adventures (reprinting issues #6-11 of those titles set in the pocket universe – known as M2 – of titles starring the offspring of mainstream characters such as The Avengers and Fantastic Four).

May “Mayday” Parker is the child of Peter and Mary Jane Parker. Her super powers develop whilst she’s still in High-School, although she is much less a nerd than her father ever was. I suspect modern kids aren’t so ready to admit their alienation issues, and besides, reading comic books is enough nerdiness for anyone to admit to. Every month she fights someone and worries what her parents and peers think of her. That’s pretty much it.

As just another title for fans to buy that’s all it needs to be, but for a graphic collection you would hope for a little more for your money, even if it’s just a little thematic shape to the book – like a complete story-arc. I can’t see any one except a follower of the series wanting the album, and they’ve already got the stories. How sad is that?

Writer DeFalco continues to rehash the adolescent trauma shtick of those hallowed – and successful – Lee/Ditko days as May eventually wins the grudging acquiescence of her parental units to become a super-hero (heroine? – is that still an acceptable term?), whilst dealing with classroom politics and the rest of the second generation Marvel Offspring. With appearances by the likes of Nova, Darkdevil, Ladyhawk (no, not Michelle Pfeiffer, although I’m not sure she wouldn’t be preferable), and the Fantastic Five, there are the requisite cameos, crossovers and guest stars. This time though, there is the ever-inevitable team-up with her dad, both the M2 version, and by the miracle of trans-dimensional time-travel, “our” Spider-Man, during his first encounter with the robotic Spider-Slayer.

Artist Pat Olliffe’s work is very easy on the eye, especially supplemented by the inking of the legendary Al Williamson, and the hell that has always been school days is possibly an evergreen theme for comics readers, but this is woefully mediocre fare. Whilst DeFalco may be giving it his all, it’s pretty unpalatable to wade through what feels like a cynical attempt to defend a Trademark and by default recapture the glory days from a corporation unaware, unconnected and oblivious to the passion that once made Marvel great.

© 1999 & 2004 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: Syndicate Rules

JLA: Syndicate Rules

By Kurt Busiek, Ron Garney & Dan Green (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-127-8

The temptation with big bunches of super-heroes is to lob them into colossal, world-crunching extended mega-epics. It gives everyone a chance to shine and doesn’t diminish their god-like stature when they actually have to work for their inevitable victory. After a while, however, there is a tendency to suffer a kind of Armageddon burn-out.

Collecting issues #107-114 of the monthly comicbook and JLA Secret Files 2004 Syndicate Rules is not a bad saga, as such things go, but it really would benefit from a little softness and reflection in places. When this kind of epic was primarily aimed at a juvenile audience there was undoubtedly a genuine frisson whenever the world/universe/multiverse was imperilled, and could only be fixed by twenty or more buff men and women hitting each other. I suspect that was largely due to most of them being generally indistinguishable in terms of ideology and motivation.

Nowadays it’s imperative that each component steroid-case gets a mandated period of angsty, characterisational strutting, preferably whilst punching something. It’s all just too much.

Case in point: The Crime Syndicate of Amerika – evil antimatter counterparts of the JLA (see JLA: Earth 2 – ISBN 1-84023-169-6) – rule their own world and are bored. They attack the just-as-evil Weaponers of Qward, a super-scientific if moribund galactic Rogue Culture, and are just on the verge of defeating them when a Cosmic Burp rewrites the fabric of the Cosmos in such a way that they can now safely assault our own plus-matter heroes of the JLA.

This has been previously unwise not because of the old blowing-up-on-contact problem usually associated with antimatter but due rather to a cosmic codicil that gave an unbeatable home-ground advantage to whichever team was fighting in its own dimension.

Now that this off-side rule has been removed the Syndicators elect to forget Qward so as to impersonate and destroy their heroic doppelgangers on our Earth. The Qwardians, battered and ticked off, obviously want revenge, and so they decant an old universe-destroying doomsday machine and set off to destroy our Earth – not the Syndicators.

This mix is further enhanced by the now obligatory dissent and distrust among our heroes – you choose exactly who yours are – an infant universe that the JLA are baby-sitting and a sub-dimensional electro-planar realm inhabited by a single – or not – electronic organism.

Unbelievably, the story is not absolutely incomprehensible. Ron Garney works wonders with a cast that includes practically every DC hero, lots of alien civilisations and a crew of villains that are all-but perfect duplicates disguised as the major protagonists. It’s simply that sometimes putting everything into an epic shouldn’t literally be that. Usually one kitchen sink should suffice.

And perhaps temper all that testosterone with a little Prozac, perhaps?

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Human Torch

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Human Torch 

By Carl Burgos, Bill Everett & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-1624-9

Marvel Comics have taken a very long time to get into producing expensive hardbound volumes reprinting their earliest comic adventures. Sadly this collection of the first four solo outings for one of Timely/Marvel’s Holy Trinity is solid and expensive proof why. That’s a harsh thing to say and I must personally admit that there was a lot of material here that I have been waiting most of my life to read. I am however a complete comic nut. I have every issue of Bomba, the Jungle Boy and Man From Atlantis and I only need one issue of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane for a complete set. I am not a new, casual – or possibly even wholly discriminating – punter.

During the early Golden Age, novel ideas and sheer exuberance could take you far, and as the alternative escapes for most kids were severely limited, it just wasn’t that hard to make a go of it as a comic book publisher. Combine that with a creative work-force that kept being drafted, and it’s clear to see why declining standards of story and art didn’t greatly affect month to month sales during World War II, but promptly started a cascade-decline in super-hero strips almost as soon as GI boots hit US soil again.

For reasons too complicated to cover here, Human Torch #2 was the first issue to star the flammable android hero, and introduced his own fiery side-kick, Toro, The Flaming Kid! Carl Burgos takes the credit for that, and the Sub-Mariner tale is by Bill Everett, but the remaining strips, The Falcon, Microman, Mantor the Magician and the Fiery Mask range from poor to just plain sad. The next issue is actually fairly impressive, with an ambitious 40 page Torch epic which sees Toro seduced by Nazism, and a 20 page Sub-Mariner crossover (anticipating Marvel’s successful policy of the 1960s onward).

By the third issue much of the work is obviously being ghosted to a greater or lesser degree. The Torch takes way too long solving the ‘Mystery of the Disappearing Criminals’, but Everett is still very much in evidence as the Sub-Mariner takes ten beautiful pages to save an Alaskan village from plague, blizzards, an onrushing glacier and incendiary bombs in a genuine forgotten classic. Lacklustre Captain America knock-off The Patriot shambles through a tale of Bundist (that’s German American Nazi sympathizers to you, youngster) saboteurs to close the issue.

That line-up maintains in the last issue reprinted here as the fiery stars combat a mad scientist named Doc Smart in ‘The March of Death’, Sub-Mariner and guest-star the Angel fight zombies in ‘Blitzkrieg of the Living Dead’ (cruelly attributed to Bill Everett, but clearly not by him) and the Patriot tracks down a Nazi who kills by playing the violin.

I’m happy to have this book, warts and all. I can’t honestly say that any one not a life-long Marvel fan would agree and I’m damn sure none of us are content with a $50+ price-tag. Its value is almost purely historical and this history just isn’t worth all that.

© 1940, 1941, 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Liling-Po, Vol 1

Liling-Po, Vol 1 

By Ako Yutenji (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 1-59532-519-0

The eponymous anti-hero of this series is the greatest thief in the World, and his capture is a major achievement. So what possible crisis could induce the government to release him? When arrested he had in his possession the legendary and mystical “Eight Great Treasures” which the authorities gratefully reclaimed. Now after a mere three months in prison, the Treasures have once again been stolen and Liling-Po is possibly the only person who can find them again.

For reasons of his own, the master thief accepts the proposition and eagerly prepares for the near-impossible task ahead of him. Naturally, as a professional thief, Po cannot be trusted, and in an effort to ensure that the Poacher keeps to his new role of Game-keeper, he is assigned two assistants, a scholar – Mei-Toku – and a warrior, Bu-Cho, with whom he must wander the medieval landscape, ever seeking and encountering new villains and old friends, whilst trying to accommodate his own new secret agenda. This volume contains not only the origin adventure but also the tale of the first two Treasures, a necklace and a piece of artwork.

The theme of secrets and subterfuge is thoroughly explored as the various characters, all initially hostile to each other, are forced to bond to further their quest, although whether there will ever be full trust or friendship between them is always doubtful when the goal is the ownership of objects that can grant a persons every wish.

The characters are all introspective, moody, determined and disturbingly, preternaturally beautiful in the manner of heroes in Shojo (or story for girls) manga, and often this wistful androgyny intrudes into the basic story-telling, whilst another minor quibble is the sheer amount of art-work obscuring word-bubbles in this book, not a thing I ever expected to say about a manga tale.

All in all, though this is an enjoyable, if slow-paced tale that combines crime-caper, historical adventure and buddy yarn to good effect.

© 1997, 2005 Ako Yutenji.
English script © 2005 Tokyopop Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover 

By Hunt Emerson & D. H. Lawrence (Knockabout Publications)
ISBN: 0-86166-049-8

One of the oldest and best proponents of comics for grown-ups in this country is Knockabout Comics, who have been bringing us new strips and publishing some of the best material available from around the world for longer than I care to remember.

This offering is a classic of controversy twice over. The obscenity trial in 1960 of a novel that had been banned for three decades smashed the power of the Obscene Publications Act and in many ways ushered in the liberalities and freedoms immortalised as the “Swinging Sixties”.

In brief, and as you’re all probably too young or too demure to have read the book, the plot concerns the choices of Lady Constance Chatterley to provide an heir for her husband, crippled and left incapable due to wounds suffered in the Great War. To the horror of all, her sexual licence, grudgingly granted by her desperate husband, leads her to a coarse game-keeper, rather than the aesthetes and thinkers of her own class, as imagined, tolerated and initially, provided by her impotent spouse. The novel is beautiful, iconoclastic, passionate, challenging and memorable.

There’s not that many laughs in there, though.

All of which just makes the cartoon adaptation by Hunt Emerson all the more amazing. In this slim monochrome tome he manages to synthesize all that desperation, despair and struggle for personal, emotional and social liberation into a story bursting with the vitality of sexual release, and redolent with the heady perfume of true love as it triumphs over the freshly discredited monuments of class, pride and duty. He also actually adds to the mix by illustrating that sex is not only fun, but, By Gawd! it’s damn funny to watch.

Hunt Emerson is one of our greatest comic strip creators, and his slightly skewed reinterpretation might not to the tastes of some Lawrence purists, but Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an honest piece of work, masterfully accomplished. His take is true to the spirit of the original but is seasoned with the modern sensibilities of generations who have grown up allowed to talk about and even joke about sex. He also gets away with drawing naughty bits without getting the entire comics industry sent to prison. Hoorah for freedom!

© 1986 Knockabout Publications. All Rights Reserved

JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Earth 2 

By Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84023-169-6

One of DC’s most significant core concepts was the multiple Earth/alternate Justice League stories that fired the imaginations of children in the 1960’s. Over the years the company have chopped and changed, tweaking, refining, abolishing, reinstating the concept. In the final analysis, readers of all fiction love the thought of doppelgangers, and counterparts – even evil opposites.

The Crime Syndicate were originally just such a team from an Earth that had reversed the concepts of Law and Justice. On Earth 3 Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman fought for themselves, not for Good. After the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths all those alternates were unmade, but have been creeping back ever since in one form or another.

Comic superstars Morrison and Quitely added their efforts to the confusion with this tales of the first meeting of the two teams. Here the baddies inhabit their own twisted mirror universe of anti-matter – quite literally ‘player on the other side’. When people and artefacts begin ‘leaking’ into each others universes the Justice League must find out why, leading them on a doomed Fool’s Errand to liberate the antimatter Earth.

There are lots of clever touches and beautiful pictures but ultimately this is a silly exercise with little logic to sustain it, innovation to uplift it or drama to carry it. It certainly isn’t a good use of its creator’s great talents. Just one for the dedicated fans I’m afraid.

© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

I Luv Halloween, Vol 1

I Luv Halloween, Vol 1 

By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman (TokyoPop)
ISBN 1-59532-831-9

Are you sick? Are you depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’? Then it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either – if you pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

Every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Li’l Bith, Mush and the rest get together for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest. But this year it’s all botched up ‘cause the very first old lady just gave them fruit, and everyone knows if you don’t get candy right from the start it’s nothing but rubbish all evening. Drastic steps have to be taken, or else this Halloween is ruined! Along the way meet also that friendly old policeman, the vicious, bullying older kids and that really stacked chick who lives next door – see their ultimate fates!

Comics veteran Giffen flexes his comedy – and bad taste – muscles in an irresistible confection that would win nodding approval from Charles Addams and the producers of Shaun of the Dead. The jovial malice is uniquely captured by the totally enchanting art of Benjamin Roman, whose inexplicably charming grotesques are the stuff of any animation studio’s dreams. Toys based on these sick puppies will sell and sell and sell.

If you have no fear of the dark, if you love a gross joke, and especially if you don’t care what your immediate family or the clergy think of you, then you really want to read this book.

© 2005 Keith Giffin & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.

God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen 

By Mike Carey & John Bolton (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-416-1

Now that DC’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only one, here’s another visitation with the Faerie Kingdom, courtesy of Mike Carey and John Bolton.

The plot concerns the overthrow of Queen Titania by the malevolent Queen Mab, and is told through the actions of useless modern waster Linda, whose rebellious descent into thrill-seeking and drug addiction leads her into that conflict via a pack of Faerie exiles living on the fringes of contemporary London society.

As her sordid soap-opera unfolds we find that she has a deeper, hidden connection to the Other Realms and that her own salvation is inextricably linked to the defeat of Mab.

It is a pretty tale but so much less than you would expect from such talented creators. The plot is trite and well-worn, and Bolton’s modern palette often seems to be devoid of the power and passion of so much of his early work – although I will admit that some pages here tick every box an art-lover could ever want – but ultimately there just doesn’t seem to be the fire and wonder we’ve come to expect from them both individually or working together.

These are just my opinions however, and it’s always great to see original graphic novel rather than collected reprints, so perhaps you should get the thing anyway and simply judge for yourself.

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.