Superman: Emperor Joker

Superman: Emperor Joker 

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-433-1

The night is broken with hideous screams. Every night. A black-clad superhuman smashes out of Arkham only to be subdued by the warped Superman clone called Bizarro before daybreak. Every night. A diminutive pixie of a man dashes to an appointment only to be hit by a train, or a giant weight or… In a sky that rains custard pies hangs a moon that has the Joker’s face. What is going on and when will it all end?

Although not a new plot, and despite being the product of more than two dozen creators, this tale of a time when the Joker steals the power of the Fifth dimensional Mr. Mxyzptlk and literally remakes creation in his own image just so he can torture the heroes who have so often thwarted him, actually works. Keeping up a breakneck pace and peppering the action with in-jokes and sly asides, the narrative of Superman under terminal pressure to save the universe is gripping and the eventual denouement actually works in context. This is a marvellous piece of comic eye-candy.

Although taken from a particularly grim and humourless period in recent Superman history, this thinly disguised tribute to the zany genius of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and those wacky Warner Brothers cartoons reads like a breath of fresh air when gathered together in one collection.

Originally published in Superman #160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman: The Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and Emperor Joker #1. Written by Jeph Loeb, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Schultz and Joe Kelly, with art by Ed McGuinness, Can Smith, Mike Miller, José Marzan Jr., Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, John McCrea, Kano, Marlo Alquiza, Duncan Rouleau, Todd Nauck, Carlo Barberi, Scott McDaniel, Jaime Mendoza, Richard Bonk, and Armando Durruthy

© 2000, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sebastian O

Sebastian O 

By Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84023-996-4

The mini-series was one of the earliest Vertigo outings and sadly doesn’t stand so well against later work by the writer or publisher. Blending Michael Moorcock’s alternative spy Jerry Cornelius with steampunk standbys, the myth of Oscar Wilde and the author’s fascination with higher dimensions, this is the tale of effete aesthete and super assassin Sebastian O’Leary, who escapes from Bedlam to wreak vengeance on the man who betrayed him — and inadvertently save the Empire from a cyber-space invasion.

It is well scripted, if a little forced, but the pretentious need to show off one’s cleverness obscures the narrative flow, don’tcha know, and were it not for the spectacularly underplayed drawings of Steve Yeowell, one might be forced to conclude that it’s all a bit of a bore.

©1993 Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. All Rights Reserved.
Cover and compilation © 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lucifer: Evensong

Lucifer: Evensong 

By Mike Carey & various

(Vertigo)  ISBN 9781-84576-448-7

It’s an age old dilemma in comic book storytelling: What do you do the day after you save the universe? Mike Carey answers it by checking in on the survivors in a series of character vignettes that provide closure by counterpointing the Sturm und Drang with charm, humour and melancholy in equal measure.

From issue #70 of the monthly comic, Zander Cannon and Big Time Attic draw Fireside Tales, a yarn of the centaurs and humans of the alternate universe crafted by Elaine Belloc, God’s granddaughter. Evensong (issues #71-72) shows Lucifer setting aright what he can with past allies and enemies as he prepares to depart our universe for the great unknown. The art is by Peter Gross and Aaron Alexovich.

The vulgarly charming demon light relief takes centre stage with issue #73’s The Gaudium Option as the New God gives the repulsive tyke one last clean-up job. Eve (issue #74) and All We Need of Hell (#75) are both illustrated by art veterans Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly and feature a supernatural Girl’s Night Out, and finally the last departure of the Lightbringer, after a suitably telling ultimate chat with the long vanished original God, Yahweh. A perfect end to a masterpiece of comic fantasy.

Or it would be if the book had ended there. However, the editors saw fit to smash the narrative flow by tacking on the one shot Lucifer: Nirvana after that splendid conclusion.

Please don’t misunderstand. Nirvana is beautifully painted by Jon J Muth, an engaging fantasy anecdote as fine as anything else produced by Carey in his career as Lucifer scripter. But you don’t try to stuff in one more shirt after you’ve locked the suitcase. It’s just plain stupid. And annoying. Let’s hope it’s fixed in future editions.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Fall of the Homunculus

The Fall of the Homunculus 

By Pentti Otsamo

(Drawn & Quarterly)  ISBN 1-896597-15-7

Joel and Anna are a young couple just getting by. They both have great artistic aspirations, but when Anna falls pregnant their previously harmonious partnership begins to unravel. Does Joel’s confusion and reluctance mean that they are not as compatible as he’d believed? Does Anna’s willingness to put her career on hold show her lack of dedication to her art?

This pensive Graphic Novella is a brief but telling examination of the creative urge and process that makes some interesting points about competing human drives, and the nature of creativity. Such a gentle tragedy makes no great leaps forward or claims to innovation, but the tale is honest and engaging, and the inviting and expressive black and white artwork is subversively addictive.

©1998 Pentti Otsamo. All Rights Reserved.

Lucifer: Morningstar

Lucifer: Morningstar 

By Mike Carey & various

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-293-2

The penultimate volume of this supernatural saga begins with another Earthly digression as a grim agent of the Angelic Host moves through Hamburg to deliver retribution to some of the mortals touched by this affair. The Wheels of God is drawn by Colleen Doran and the story originally saw print in issue 62 of the monthly comic.

Morningstar (from issues 63-65), illustrated by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly, returns to the main storyline as the war of Heaven inches closer to the flashpoint and Lucifer battles the thing that has been hiding in Jill Presto’s womb. Acquiring allies in the strangest places, he then goes to Christopher Rudd to recruit the new warden of Hell and his remaining Damned, as the war starts and both sides begin to take casualties.

Michael Wm. Kaluta illustrates a second interlude, The Beast Can’t Take Your Call Right Now (issue 66). With all the demons and monsters battling at the end of creation, who is answering when mortals summon infernal powers to make those legendary deals? This much needed and wonderful light relief serves to brace you for the carnage to come as Morningstar resumes (issues 67-69) with a severely wounded Lucifer fending off Fenris, the Avatar of Destruction, who is determined to unmake everything and return the universe to primal chaos.

This is a classic and remarkable end to a spectacular comic series, delivering the emotional pay-off that it promised and more besides. And there’s still one more volume to go…

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.