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.

Lux and Alby Sign On and Save the Universe

Lux and Alby Sign On and Save the Universe 

By Martin Millar & Simon Fraser (Slab-O-Concrete)
ISBN: 1-899866-24-8

Back in the 1990’s when British comics were still vibrant, active and politically conscious, creators were still able to inject a little levity and whimsy into the mix. This gem from the sadly missed Slab-O-Concrete operation collected an esoteric little miniseries published by Acme Comics and Dark Horse featuring characters from novels by author Martin Millar, illustrated by Simon Fraser. So much for the convoluted pedigree.

What’s it about? How long have you got? Let’s just say that it’s set mostly in Brixton in the aforementioned early 1990’s, although there are also trips to the countryside, distant planets, various Heavens and of course Nirvana. Squatters Lux the Poet, Alby Starvation and Ruby live upstairs from the World’s Greatest Master of I Ching, who plans to break into Nirvana because he’s fed up with the slow reincarnation/gradual improvement method. Ruby is agitating to become head of the Squatters Co-Operative, Lux can’t understand why Pearl the Lesbian doesn’t love him, and poor, paranoid Alby is terrified the drug addicts will steal his comic collection. Everybody is fed up with the benefits office stopping their giros until they all start really looking for work. Thus they are the perfect agents for the Goddess Ishtar to combat the threat to universal well-being.

This most excellent concoction combines comedy, thrills and pathos in a captivating manner. The dialogue is sharp, the characters well-defined and engaging, and the ironic surreality of living life on the breadline while cosmic forces use the most useless members of society to literally save the universe is impossible to resist. Fraser’s beautiful black and white drawing is sharp, vital and more than able to handle the staggering demands of the script, especially in regard to the gender-bending appearance of Lux, the prettiest Het-boy in London, if all the not the universes of Space-Time.

The management strongly suggests that if you have not understood any of the archaic counter-culture terms used here, or simply need to read more weird, cosmic, sweet, romantic, funny feel-good adventures that genuinely ooze charm, you should track down this book.

© 1990-1999 Martin Millar & Simon Fraser. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who, volume 7: The Flood

Doctor Who, volume 7: The Flood 

By various (Panini Books)
ISBN 978-1-905239-65-8

This is actually the forth – and final – collection of strips featuring the Eighth (or Paul McGann) Doctor. Whether that statement made any sense to you largely depends on whether you are an old fan, a new convert or even a complete beginner.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. All the creators involved have managed the ultimate ‘Ask’ of any comics creator – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun strips that can be equally enjoyed by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated fan.

Writer Scott Gray provides a splendid script for Roger Langridge and David A. Roach’s wonderful art with ‘Where Nobody Knows Your Name’ as the errant Time-Lord fetches up at a bar to and meets a few old friends, before Gareth Roberts spoofs the entire British Football comics industry in ‘The Nightmare Game’. Pictorial fun and thrills in equal measure are provided by Mike Collins and Robin Smith on this nostalgic three-parter.

Gray writes everything else in the book, starting with a short adventure in ancient Egypt. ‘The Power of Thoueris!’ is stylishly illustrated by Adrian Salmon, and is followed by an extended Victorian romp illustrated by Anthony Williams and David A. Roach concerning ‘The Curious Tale of Spring-Heeled Jack’.

‘The Land of Happy Endings’ is a touching and engagingly heartfelt tribute to the days of the TV hero’s earliest strip outings. Writer Gray, penciller Martin Geraghty, inkers Roach and Faz Choudhury with painter/colourists Daryl Joyce and Adrian Salmon all tip their collective hats to Neville Main (illustrator of the first graphic adventures of the Doctor beginning in 1964 in TV Comic) in a charming retro-romp, which clears the palate for a horror-fest set in 1875 Dakota. ‘Bad Blood’ has werewolves, shamanism, ghost-towns, cowboys, George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull as well as the requisite aliens and evil technology rioting through its five chapters, all ably illustrated by Geraghty, Roach and Salmon in an enthralling thriller that leaves the Doctor with a brand new Companion, Destrii.

‘Sins of the Fathers’, drawn by John Ross and coloured by Salmon, deals with the aftermath of that conflict. The severely wounded Destrii has to be rushed to a deep-space hospital just in time for it to be attacked by zero-G terrorists. Both this three-parter and the following epic ‘The Flood’ have extended endings that have never been published before.

‘The Flood’ is the real gem of the book, a huge, eight part saga that was originally intended to conclude the McGann Doctor adventures and bridge the gap to the new TV series with the Christopher Eccleston Time-Lord. Just how that all worked out makes for fascinating reading in the wonderful text section at the back, but Gray, Geraghty, Roach, Salmon and Langridge go out with a bang as Cybermen invade Camden on their way to world domination that is an absolute joy of a tale, full of action suspense, humour and the kind of cameos all fan-boys die for.

We’ve all got our little joys and hidden passions. Sometimes they overlap and magic is made. This is a great set of comic strips, about a great TV hero. If you’re a fan of only one, this book might make you an addict to both.

All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore 

By Alan Moore & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-257-6

Alan Moore is one of the most lauded names in comic history, and much of his most memorable work has appeared – one way or another – under the banner of DC Comics’ various imprints. Here then, finally collected into one volume are all the stories he produced between 1985 and 1988, and set in the continuity of the DC Universe proper.

A revised re-issue of the 2003 edition, this book also includes, at long last, the Batman tale ‘The Killing Joke’ drawn by Brian Bolland and the two part ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ (with art from Curt Swan, George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger) that ended the initial run of Superman and Action Comics prior to that character’s post-Crisis reboot in 1986.

The contents list is long and varied, beginning with ‘For the Man who has Everything’ with art by Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbons (and adapted as an episode of the excellent Justice League Unlimited TV series) from Superman Annual #11, and followed by the two part ‘Night Olympics’ from Detective Comics #549 and 550, illustrated by Klaus Janson. ‘Mogo Doesn’t Socialize’ was originally a back-up in Green Lantern #188, again drawn by Gibbons, and the darkly controversial ‘Father’s Day’, with art from Jim Baikie first appeared in Vigilante issues #17 and 18.

‘Brief Lives’ and ‘A Man’s World’ drawn by Kevin O’Neill and Paris Cullins & Rick Magyar respectively come from Omega Men #26 and #27. The Superman team up with Moore’s signature character Swamp Thing, ‘The Jungle Line’, is from DC Comics Presents #85, illustrated by Rick Veitch and Al Williamson, and O’Neill returns for ‘Tygers’ from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2.

Number #3 of that title provides ‘In Blackest Night’ from Bill Willingham and Terry Austin, Phantom Stranger is the star of the Joe Orlando drawn ‘Footsteps’ from Secret Origins #10, and the Batman Annual #11 was the original home of ‘Mortal Clay’ illustrated by George Freeman.

As a trawl around the DC Universe, you couldn’t find a more eclectic mix that still offered such stellar talents and high quality results. Along with Swamp Thing, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, this burst of creativity marked a watershed in comic book publishing and these tales would be welcomed on any aficionado’s bookshelf.

© 1985-1988, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Horse Book of the Dead

Dark Horse Book of the Dead 

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-59307-281-0

The mystery compilation from the “Book of…” series features tales of Zombies and living dead men produced by a decidedly superior collection of creators. Kelly Jones covers familiar territory in his mountain man tale of ‘The Hungry Ghosts’ and Mike Mignola provides a wonderful new Hellboy short, ‘The Ghoul’.

‘Old Garfield’s Heart’ is a Robert E Howard prose vignette illustrated by Gary Gianni, followed by ‘The Ditch’ from David Crouse and Todd Herman. Bob Fingerman and Roger Langridge lighten the mood if not the tone with ‘Death Boy’, Eric (The Goon) Powell provides the uncharacteristically sombre and oppressive ‘Wallace Expedition’ and the quirky ‘Queen of Darkness’ comes courtesy of Pat McEown.

Jamie S Rich and Guy Davis concoct a haunting tale of feudal Japan in ‘Kago No Tori’ whilst Editor Scott Allie and artists Paul Lee and Brian Horton’s Devil’s Footprint series is represented by ‘The Magicians’.

The unquestioned star of this volume is saved for last as Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson steal the show with the superb ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, a chilling and beautiful tale of household pets that has horror aplenty, yet remembers that sadness can be just as crushing as terror.

As anthologies go, horror and mystery are always a safe bet and should serve as a vehicle for pulling resistant readers into our world of comics. When they can be this diverse and still maintain a high level of quality throughout they should be mandatory for any proselytizing fan.

© 2005 respective copyright holders. All Rights Reserved.

Criminal: Coward

Criminal: Coward 

By Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-610-5

I miss 1953. I wasn’t actually there but if you love comics it was a year of astounding promise. Every conceivable genre of funnybook could be found on US newsstands: Little kids books, war super-heroes, horror, science fiction and especially crime.

Bad guys living – and dying – bad lives were everywhere, and don’t even get me started on movies. Technicolor™ was still expensive so the post-war sensibilities were best captured by gritty, grainy, moody Film Noir.

What has this to do with the book in question? Nothing really except that for the first time since those days there is a genuine resurgence of straight crime thrillers for the comic book crowd. Even acknowledging the standout work of Brian Michael Bendis and David Lapham, there has been precious little straight crime drama in comics of late. But at last creators can once again craft dark, thrilling stories of the other side of society without having to sweeten the comic-fan pot with shadowy organisations or near-superhuman protagonists.

Criminal: Coward follows the bad choices of Leo, a professional bank robber and crime planner as he is lured into masterminding an armoured car heist by a couple of bent cops. Not only is Leo a master of his nefarious art, he is a master of keeping uninvolved and getting away, but this time it doesn’t work out. The thing about bent cops is that you already know they’re untrustworthy, right?

As his world turns to $#!+ around him, the cautious planner must adopt the tactics he dreads and despises if he or any of his loved ones stands any chance of survival. Ed Brubaker provides a masterful modern thriller that is tense, contemplative, action-packed and terminally bloody-soaked and the moody, seductive, understated art of Sean Phillips captures you from panel one, and won’t let go until the bitter end.

Great Stuff! More please! Or I’ll start blathering about the old days again!

© 2007 Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. All Rights Reserved.

Bite Club

Bite Club 

By Howard Chaykin, David Tischman & David Hahn (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-065-4

Produced in DC’s new pocket paperback format, Bite Club seems like quite a small package but delivers a sizable portion of entertainment in the tried–and-true Chaykin obnoxious, spit-in-your-face, poke-in-your-eye style. Writing with long-time collaborator David Tischman and stylishly illustrated by David Hahn, with an enticingly limited palette colouring job by Brian Miller, he’s managed to add to his reputation as a Iconoclast by retooling the Vampire genre for the post-Goth generation.

Vampires are real, they’re not magic, they are super-powerful, and they mostly live in sunny Miami where they run the rackets. When Leto Del Toro, the son of the biggest Vamp Capo became a Catholic priest it was a shock. When he’s called back to rule the family after his father’s spectacular murder, that’s a recipe for slaughter, hip racial intolerance and the cool cynical intrigue that’s been a trademark of this creator for the last twenty-five years.

Those other trademarks; lashings of kinky sex, graphic, gratuitous violence and worst of all, quite harsh language makes this book an absolute treat – or perhaps the next contender for a book-burning near you.

© 2004 Howard Chaykin Inc., David Tischman and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dan Dare: Operation Saturn 2

Dan Dare: Operation Saturn 2 

By Frank Hampson and various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-088-3

The concluding volume of Dan Dare’s adventures on the ringed planet, or more accurately on its inhabited moons, opens with the crew allying with the natives on Titan, attempting to throw off the yoke of the overlords of Saturn. The exploratory mission has discovered life on all the moons, enslaved to these rulers who have also subverted the science officer, Blasco, who has accepted their offer to rule Earth as their vassal. Our intrepid heroes must not only liberate these subjugate races but save their home-world too!

These strips first ran in the weekly Eagle comic from October 1953 to May 1954, and cemented the rise of this new heroic icon in the hearts and minds of British children and their parents. All concerned must have seen the echoes of the recently concluded War in the liberation of alien cultures and especially the scenes of Earth “Blitzkrieged” by robot-bombs as tense Space Fleet personnel scrambled squadrons from Fighter Command map-rooms. The colourful, compelling, cosmic drama seamlessly blended thrills, wonder and national optimism to create groundbreaking, unforgettable fiction.

Rounding out this magnificent comic reading experience are two short complete tales ‘Operation Triceratops’ and ‘The Planulid’, whilst this volume’s text section features an article by Steve Holland on the science of the series plus a fascinating “sketchbook” page illuminating how Frank Hampson prepared images for his burgeoning art-team to finish.

These thrill-a-minute stories rank alongside the greatest of our children’s fictions. The standard of art and story that was typical of Dan Dare has seldom been equalled, never surpassed and nothing has ever beaten it for longevity, vitality and sheer unwavering quality. They are worthy shelf-mates for the likes of Ivanhoe, The Narnia Chronicles, The Once and Future King or indeed any adventure story that makes it onto the National Curriculum Reading List. Buy them all and then start badgering your Local Education Authority to do the same.

© 2005 Dan Dare Corporation, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Books of Magick: Life During Wartime

Books of Magic: Life During Wartime 

By Si Spencer & Dean Ormston (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-005-0

Neil Gaiman is a big name in comics. He’s one of those guys who’s “made it” in the realer world but hasn’t completely turned his back on comics. He is also one of a small creative elite whose name liberally spread out on a book cover can bring non-comic clientele to a package, which is a long-winded way of saying that no comic title he’s been involved with will long stay in Limbo.

The latest return of The Books of Magick and super magician Tim Hunter features yet another revamp of the young, guileless innocent that Gaiman, John Bolton and a small band of painterly superstars tasked with a journey of self-discovery through all the Mystic Realms of the DC Universe back in the 1990s. Unfortunately a lot of pages have been published since then and the scrofulous young yob starring here is no kin to that waif.

This in itself is no bad thing. The adventures begin in another universe where humanity and demons are at war, a supernatural global conflict that has pushed Man to the brink of extinction. One last bastion lies besieged and Vertigo stalwart John Constantine is their embattled leader, as they await the return of their all-powerful deity, The Hunter.

The echoes of William Hope Hodgeson and C. S. Lewis are interrupted with a segue to a young adult Tim in what looks like our reality, dossing about after graduating university, doing drugs, swilling beer and shagging totty, just like anybody. As the story progresses long-time readers will realise that something is amiss, though. This life is just as out of whack as the demon war-scape and events lead to the inevitable conclusion that a deadly congruence of circumstance will catapult Tim and his coterie of reprobates into an alien Armageddon.

My poncey locution aside, this is quite an enjoyable fantasy ride. Si Spencer brings his television writing (Grange Hill, Eastenders) into the mix of earthly and unreal to great effect – let’s face it, most comics are soap-operas these days – and Dean Ormston manages to be grungy and stylish at the same time. My quibble stems from what I said earlier.

Although a re-interpretation, much of the narrative depends on a more than passing knowledge of the DC Universe (Hellblazer, Zatanna etc.) and especially the characters such as idealised girl friend Molly, from the long previous runs of Books of Magick. If those comics had sold well enough to garner a solid readership, we wouldn’t be discussing this new version at all, and to ask new readers to muddle along knowing there’s a subtext but not getting it seems at best harsh and at worst a recipe for yet another early bath.

For those Gaiman groupies, it might be an actual turn off from an otherwise useful addition to comics’ adult fantasy stable, and even comics in general.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.