Babel #2

Babel #2
Babel #2

By David B., translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-809-1

The second release (I hesitate to call it a volume, as the format, though bold and wonderful, is more than a magazine but less than a book) from the eclectic and surreal ongoing masterpiece of French creator David B. continues the startling, intimate tale of the artist and his family through the most evocative years of recent history.

Printed using only black and red screens, the tale resumes with the artist recalling how, as children, he and his brother became obsessed with all the far-flung wars as seen in their grandfather’s old issues of Paris Match. Especially affecting were the pictures of the natives of Papua, New Guinea…

Years later, as a teenager he reads more of the Papuans and tries to apply their striking beliefs and convictions as he comes to terms with his brother’s crippling epilepsy. Via surreal and introspective diversions, the artist arrives at a point where he can picture how the Algerian conflict (ongoing during his childhood) might actually be unfolding…

David B is a founder member of the groundbreaking strip artists group L’Association, and has won numerous awards including the Alph’ Art for comics excellence and European Cartoonist of the Year (by the Comics Journal) in 1998. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism, visual metaphor, and high and low cultural icons makes this work (the 8th book of his “Ignatz” saga) a mesmeric and darkly lyrical treat for anyone who needs more meat in their narrative.

Wrapped in a fabulous gate-fold wraparound cover with a fascinating strip exploring the cultural significance of the horse to the Native American (part of the Acta Zoolologica sequence that describes “psychopompic” animals) this is not a book for everyone, but for the open-minded it offers truly magical experiences.

© 2006 David B. Book edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press.

Marvel Masters: The British Invasion, Vol 2

UK EDITION

British Invasion 2
British Invasion 2

By various (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN13: 978-1-90523-996-2

The British Invasion was a term coined in the 1980s to describe the influx and influence of a band of creators (most with 2000AD or Warrior credentials) that began working in and revolutionising the American comic-book industry. In this context, however, it’s simply a collection of work by British creators who have contributed to Marvel’s vast continuity.

This second volume of notable Bits By Brits has a much bolder and more varied selection than its predecessor (ISBN13: 978-1-933160-68-9), kicking off with an average tale illustrated by an unsung genius of the industry.

Lee Elias moved to America in 1925 (aged 6) and worked for all the major US publishing houses beginning in 1943 at Fiction House. With Jack Williamson he created the brilliant science fiction newspaper strip Beyond Mars (1952-1955) before returning to comic-books at National Comics/DC, most notably on the Green Arrow feature, although his runs on Tommy Tomorrow in Showcase (#41-42, 44, 46-47) and both Ultra, the Multi-Alien and Adam Strange in Mystery in Space (#92-110) are well-loved classics.

In the 1970s he moved over to Marvel before settling at Warren Publishing where he produced his best ever work on the Rook and the Goblin. From his time at the House of Ideas comes a capable psycho-drama from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #35 (1979) ‘Labyrinth’, scripted by Tony Isabella and inked by Mike Esposito.

John Bolton is a major creator who hopefully needs little introduction. His classically illustrative style added a fresh realism to the superhero genre in Classic X-Men as well as many Marvel Magazine and graphic novel projects. From the black and white magazine Bizarre Adventures # 32 (1982) comes ‘Sea of Destiny’, written by Alan Zelenetz, a mythical wonder featuring Mighty Thor and the Heroes Three, rendered in glorious wash tones.

Comics Renaissance Man Paul Neary began his career at Warren, art-directed and edited Marvel UK through its most creative years and illustrated a long run of Captain America and the landmark Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. miniseries before settling into a productive career as an inker. In 1986 he drew a solid superhero romp written by Bob Harras for Iron Man Annual #8, teaming the Armoured Avenger and the resurgent mutant Superteam X-Factor. ‘When Innocence Dies!’ is an effective and readable parable on intolerance, inked by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey.

Probably one of Britain’s most visible comics exports, Barry (Windsor) Smith made the jump straight to Marvel in 1969 after serving an apprenticeship producing pin-ups for the UK comics Fantastic and Terrific, published by Odhams Press and almost exclusively featuring Marvel reprints. After popping up all over the Marvel Universe he settled on the groundbreaking Conan the Barbarian title for a few years before beginning his own Fine Arts studio. On his return to comics he had his pick of projects and worked often with Chris Claremont on X-Men related tales. From Uncanny X-Men #214 (1987) ‘With Malice Towards All!’ stars Storm and Wolverine in pitched battle against a murderous disembodied mutant who can possess a victim’s body…

Alan Davis was discovered by Paul Neary, and his clean linear style captivated a whole generation of artists, just as he had in turn been galvanized by the work of Neal Adams. As well as a magnificent artist Davis is a superb writer, most often associated with Marvel’s X-books and has produced stunning work with Chris Claremont. One such example is 1987’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #11, inked by Neary. ‘Lost in the Funhouse’ features the mutant team (and Davis’ signature character Captain Britain) in combat with an omnipotent alien called Horde in a battle to save reality itself.

Comics Legend Dave Gibbons has done relatively little work for Marvel, but the Dr. Strange tale included here is possibly the best of them. Written by Walt Simonson, ‘Perchance to Dream’ from the experimental anthology title Marvel Fanfare (#41, 1988) finds the Sorcerer Supreme battling deadly dreams in an eerie netherworld. In this case, Gibbons also contributed a rare painted colour finish to the artwork.

Bryan Hitch also got his start thanks to Neary, graduating from Marvel UK’s licensed properties to the likes of StormWatch, the Authority, the Ultimates and Fantastic Four. Along the way he brought an elevated artistic standard to a few less well regarded titles. The Sensational She-Hulk volume 2, #24 featured the sometime Avenger in comedic combat with Freelance Peace-Keeping Agent (don’t call him bounty hunter) Death’s Head in an engaging little romp entitled ‘Priceless’, scripted by Simon Furman and inked by John Beatty.

Scottish superstar Frank Quitely has reached dizzying heights since he debuted in Glasgow adult comic Electric Soup, his lush, precise visuals and unique vision marrying the hyper-bizarre and ultra-mundane into an always credible graphic reality. Extracted here from a much longer saga – with concomitant loss of sense, regrettably, is ‘Imperial’ (New X-Men #122, 2002), scripted by long-time collaborator Grant Morrison, and inked by Tim Townsend, Perrotta and Florea. Pictorially stunning, this bridge between two much longer stories is virtually impenetrable to all but the most dedicated X-junkie, and commits the cardinal narrative sin of being a “middle” with neither beginning nor end.

The Punisher volume 4, #23 (2003) provides a fine example of the talented and inimitable Steve Dillon’s economical mastery of line, and as ‘Squid’ is written by fellow wise guy Garth Ennis there are plenty of the other sort of lines in this hugely funny revenge drama.

The volume concludes with one of the very best Spider-Man stories of the past decade, written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated in magical style by Mark Buckingham (with colours from old CCG comrade, D’Israeli), who’s equally at home with fights ‘n’ tights melodrama and cutting edge adult fare, such as the multi-award winning Fables. From Spectacular Spider-Man #27 (2005) comes a deeply moving moment as Peter Parker has a brief graveside conversation with his dead Uncle Ben; drawn as a tribute to the winter scenes of Bill Watterson’s legendary Calvin and Hobbes strip. Touching, illuminating and poignant enough to make a tombstone cry, this alone is worth the price of admission.

This collection is a much more balanced read and augmented by highly informative biographical features from Mike Conroy, is a Marvel primer that could win the company a lot of new fans, and even rekindle the lost magic for many older ones.

 

© 1979, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2005, 2008 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Presents: Aztek, the Ultimate Man

Aztek, the Ultimate Man
Aztek, the Ultimate Man

By Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, N. Steven Harris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-785-3

One of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar’s rare failures-to-launch, this was an attempt to create a new super-hero rather than tinker with or reset a previously named property (an increasingly rare thing itself in modern comics publishing).

Aztek is a perfect physical specimen trained from birth by a hidden society in the Andes, outfitted with a technologically advanced outfit and sent into the world to defeat the prophesied menace of the mythical shadow-god Tezcatlipoca.

Arriving in the fairly typical US city of Vanity – the predicted site of the god’s return – the new hero begins to settle in. Stealing – say rather, co-opting – a doctor’s identity under fairly unique conditions Aztek becomes Curtis Falconer, and joins the staff of undermanned, overstretched St Bartholomew’s hospital, swiftly becoming a media darling in a city stuffed to the brim with wannabe super-villains.

In short order he meets Green Lantern, Batman and Superman, defeating up-and coming bad-guys and such established menaces as Major Force, the Joker, Parasite and Lex Luthor. On the way he discovers the dark side of his mission and his mentors, and eventually ends up in the Justice League of America.

Poking gentle fun at many modern superhero clichés and conventions, and more than competently illustrated by N. Steven Harris and Keith Champagne, this engaging series couldn’t find an appreciative audience during its initial run but the entire ten issue saga makes for an pretty enjoyable, if off-kilter, fights ‘n’ tights experience.

© 1996, 1997, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hercules, Prince of Power: Full Circle

A MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL

By Bob Layton, with John Workman & George Roussos (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-397-0

One of Marvel’s earliest miniseries successes was an “out of continuity” saga featuring Greek demigod and occasional Mighty Avenger Hercules in a lighthearted action romp across the universe of the future. Carousing and combat were the order of the day (see Hercules, Prince of Power ISBN-13: 978-0-78510-555-8) and with comedy comrades the Rigellian Recorder (a po-faced, sentient robot programmed to acquire all knowledge) and a cheap ‘n’ sleazy Skrull named Skyppi, he had a fine old time until Zeus called him home to take over the family business. As the only remaining Olympian god on our plane of reality he was charged with settling down and creating his own pantheon…

Thirty years later on the planet Wilamean in the Andromeda Galaxy a supremely powerful dictator named Arimathes is Emperor of a rapidly expanding, aggressive interstellar nation. Incredibly strong, and boiling with indignant rage, he is hunting for the deadbeat dad who abused his mother and disappeared into the void…

Closing out this future saga was never going to be an easy task and this competent thriller sadly falls a little short of the mark set by its boisterous, exuberant predecessors. The laughs are fewer and seem a little forced when Hercules is put in the position of responsible adult, but the action is spectacular and the subplot of the Prince of Power’s one time paramour as embittered, spiteful Queen Mother adds some welcome balance and consequence to the immortal’s “love ‘em and leave ‘em” serial dalliances.

Less fun, more considerate but still full of mirth and mayhem, this is a solid end to a saga from an industry that doesn’t often do “closure”. Produced in the oversized 285 x 220 mm (rather than the now customary 258 x 168 mm) format this big story is – warts and all – still a big, enjoyable read well worth tracking down; and who knows, perhaps one day American publishers will revive the large-page format for our edification and their profit.

© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hellgate: London Volume 1

By Arvid Nelson & J. M. (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-4278-0700-7

This trans-Pacific collaboration between Arvid Nelson and J. M. (Korean artist Jeong Mo Yang) is a solid supernatural thriller based on a video game (a prequel to it in fact) and supplements a number of prose novels in fleshing out your “point and shoot” experience.

In 2020AD the Battle of All-Hallow’s Eve resulted in hordes of demons escaping from the Pit and establishing beachheads in many earthly cities. But this was not a completely unexpected or sudden surprise. For many weeks before there had been portents that the wise and the gifted were privy to…

College boy and London Rugby hero John Fowler awakes on October 1st from horrific dreams of rapacious, murdering devils in the streets. Late for his archaeology class, he catches up with his friends just as they’re uncovering a skeleton buried face down. Whilst the professor lectures them on satanic burial rituals John finds a talisman that the others have inexplicably missed, and when he gets home for some reason there’s an incredible sword hidden in his attic…

As the grisly dreams continue, augmented by visions of robed figures and monsters, little do John and his feisty sister Lindsey (a dab hand with the dreaded cricket bat!) discover that they are descendents of demon-fighting Knights Templar, and in the dark days to come their inherited abilities will make them valuable champions of Mankind in The Last Battle…

Full of spooky omens and devious mysteries this is standard monster-hunting fare, albeit carried off with great style and aplomb. Hellgate: London is no classic but does deliver everything a supernatural action fan could want from a book, and has the singular advantage of being totally accessible to even the most vehement Video Game avoider.

This volume also includes an extract from Goetia, book two of a new Hellgate prose trilogy by Mel Odom

 

Hellgate ™: London © 2008 Flagship Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Eden: It’s An Endless World! Volume 5

Eden 5
Eden 5

By Hiroki Endo (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-503-3

The world has been devastated by the flesh-calcifying “Closure Virus” and subsequently racked by global civil war as the despotic forces of the Propater secret society attempt to conquer the survivors.

Mysteriously linked to the origins of the virus, young Elijah Ballard is making his way through war-torn South America seeking his lost mother when he is captured by a band of anti-Propater soldiers. Initially they seem more interested in Cherubim, his robot bodyguard, but eventually he begins to bond with the disparate unit of flawed and exotic warriors fighting a war for power on a planet that needs every human left if humanity is to regain its pre-eminence.

Due to cybernetic advancements the very definition of humanity is constantly in question and, as Elijah and the unit move on towards Cuzco City after surviving a particularly vicious assault, the story focus here shifts to the deeply troubled Sophia whose consciousness (can we call it a “soul”?) is currently inside an incredible artificial form whilst she seeks a preserved body under strict Propater guard. Is this, at least in part, the reason for much of the bloodiest fighting between the Conqueror-armies and the resistance forces of Nomad?

The brooding character study eventually turns into another of the spectacular battle sequences that this series is justifiably famous for when Elijah and his comrades make a play for the body at a “neutral” Gnosian airport. As the life of perpetual warfare and desperate searching for some greater meaning continues Elijah too is coming to some unpleasant conclusions about “humanity” regarding its nature and worth.

Amid incredible, beautifully realised carnage the book ends on another tragic cliffhanger. If you want to follow this adult (lots of sex and very explicit violence are part and parcel of this series) saga – and you should because it’s a truly brilliant work – you absolutely must start at the beginning.

Unmissable, but impossible to jump into late, this is a tale you must enjoy from the very start. This book is printed in the Japanese right-to-left manner.

 

© 2007 Hiroki Endo. All Rights Reserved. English language translation © 2008 Dark Horse Comics, Inc.

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle
Welcome to the Jungle

By Jim Butcher & Ardian Syaf (Titan Books/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-208-0

Jim Butcher is a best-selling novelist and comics fan whose tales of a wizard-for-hire on the mean streets of modern Chicago have won him legions of fans, and even spawned a short-lived but excellent TV series.

In this tale set just before the first novel, Storm Front, Harry Dresden is an “unconventional” Private Eye who occasionally consults for the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, walking a fine line as a specialist fighting supernatural menaces whilst trying to keep all things mystical a secret from the unsuspecting public.

When a Zoo keeper is torn to shreds he uncovers a plot by an ancient horror that will have catastrophic repercussions for frail humanity…

Exceedingly readable, the premise may not be fresh to fantasy fans but the characters and dialogue are top-rate and the art from Ardian Syaf and inkers Nick Nix, Joe Pimentel, David Rivera and Rick Ketcham is understated and highly effective.

This lush hardcover comes with a cover gallery, production sketches plus character studies and profiles. As well as being a great piece of comics storytelling, this book will hopefully entice a few more hold-outs into our magical world of pictures and words. A potential seasonal gift for your favourite comics-resister, perhaps..?

© 1997, 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend

Rarebit Fiend
Rarebit Fiend

By Winsor McCay (Dover)
ISBN: 0-486-21347-1 ISBN-13: 978-0486213477

Born in Spring Lake, Michigan, on 26th September, 1869 (or perhaps 1871- records differ) Winsor McCay was a brilliant and hugely successful cartoonist and animator who worked on strips and political cartoons from 1903 until his untimely death in 1934. The first of these was Jungle Imps (1903), for The Enquirer, before moving to New York and creating Dull Care, Poor Jake, The Man from Montclair, The Faithful Employee, Mr. Bosh, A Pilgrim’s Progress, Midsummer Daydreams and It’s Nice to be Married for New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett between1903 and 1911.

He also originated Little Sammy Sneeze for the Herald in 1904 and Hungry Henrietta in 1905 before abandoning them for two much more important features. On October 15th 1905 the most important children’s strip in the world, Little Nemo in Slumberland, debuted in the Sunday Herald, but even before that McCay had created a version for adults entitled Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend for The Evening Telegram. The editor, wishing to distance the feature from other strips, asked McCay to use a pen-name, and he complied, signing the strips “Silas”, reputedly after a local garbage cart driver.

Where Nemo was a beautifully clean and surreal fantasy of childish imagination, Fiend was aimed at grown-ups and displayed a creepy, subdued tension that resonated with the fears and worries of its audience. Black, cruel and often outright sick humour pervades the series. Even the root cause of the otherworldly nightmares was salutary. Each self-contained episode, every disturbing sequence of unsettling or terrifying, incredibly realistic images was the result of overindulgence; usually in late night toasted cheese treats!

Every anxiety from surreal terror to social embarrassment became grist for the fantasist’s mill and the startling perspectives, bizarre transformations and uncanny scenes – always immaculately rendered – made Fiend a hugely successful and well regarded strip in its day.

In 1906 the American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter created a landmark seven minute live action special-effects movie entitled The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and the Edison company created a cylinder recording with the same name the following year – played by the Edison Military Band. McCay himself produced four animated films in 1916-17: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville.

This book is an almost exact reproduction of Rarebit Fiend, a collection of the first year’s strips originally released by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1905. The very last strip has been excluded from this edition however, due to its content being potentially offensive and at odds with modern views on race and ethnicity.

Although working more than a century ago Winsor McCay still affects every aspect of graphic narrative produced ever since. If you can’t afford Ulrich Merkl’s superb complete edition, reprinting everything from 1905-1914, this lovely package – still readily available from internet retailers – is a superb introduction to the darker side of an absolute master of our Art-form.

© 1973 by Dover Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Deitch’s Pictorama

Deitch's Pictorama
Deitch's Pictorama

By the Deitch Brothers (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-56097952-4

There must be something to this DNA stuff. Gene Deitch is an Oscar winning animator and cartoonist, his first son Kim has been at the forefront of comics’ avant-garde since the days of the Counter Culture and “underground commix” scene whilst his other two, Simon and Seth Kallen, have both made their mark in the popular creative arts.

In this bold new venture the Deitch boys have created a graphic narrative oddity that is both compelling and captivating. Combining heavily illustrated prose, comics, calligraphy, pictorial lettering, cartooning and plain old strips, the five tales blend into a tribute to the versatility of illustrated storytelling in all its variations.

Beginning with a captivating paean to bottle caps and the collecting bug entitled ‘the Sunshine Girl’, followed by an intriguing prose-ish fantasy, ‘The Golem’, the full range of tale-telling is explored. This leads into the disturbing ‘Unlikely Hours’, and a whimsical shaggy dog story ‘Children of Aruf’.

Wisely leaving the very best ‘til last, the Pictofictorial fun concludes with the superbly engaging and informative ‘The Cop on the Beat, the Man in the Moon and Me’; an especial treat for anybody interested in the history of comics and music.

Once again I’ve been as vague as I can be, because this is a book that rejoices in storytelling, and half the art and all the joy comes from reading it for yourself, so if you’re an older reader you should do just that.

© 2008 Gene, Kim, Seth Kallen and Simon Deitch. All Rights Reserved.