Thorgal volume 5: The Land of Qa/The Eyes of Tanatloc


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-80-9 (Album PB)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series ever created, Thorgal deftly accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Le Journal de Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. The far-reaching, expansive generational saga has won a monolithic international following in numerous languages and dozens of countries, generating a flotilla of spin-off series, and thus naturally has found a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical setting of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean legends and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades. The creative duo co-completed 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013.

In 2016, Xavier Dorison wrote one and in 2018 Yann (Yannick Le Pennetier) another, after which the latter remained as scripter whilst Rosiński took a break with Fred Vigaux illustrating 2019’s L’Ermite de Skellingar: the 37th tome in the sequence…

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his psionically-gifted son Jolan, but also other indomitable family and cast members through a number of spin-offs (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal), gathered under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with each eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985, American publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover book translations but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

What Has Gone Before: As a baby Thorgal was recovered from a ferocious storm at sea and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived an interstellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne. For his entire childhood, Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety…

The original series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fifth double-album edition (comprising 10th epic Le pays Qâ and sequel saga #11 Les Yeux de Tanatloc from 1986, and available in both paperback and digital formats) reveals how Thorgal Aegirsson’s dreams of a life of splendid and secure isolation are forever ended by an old enemy…

The Land of Qa opens in the deepest winter as Thorgal and Aaricia’s island home is invaded by a band of mercenaries. The warrior and his wife are hosting new friends Argun Tree Foot and his tempestuous nephew Tjall the Fiery but the idyllic holiday ends in rage and humiliation as vicious pirates abduct the aged armourer and Jolan.

Before the enraged father can head after them, he is intercepted by a former acquaintance: ruthless thief Kriss of Valinor. She has taken a profitable commission and ensured Thorgal’s assistance despite their past animosities and potential objections. Gloatingly enjoying the upper hand, Kriss even acquiesces when Aaricia forcefully insists on coming with them…

The situation escalates into madness when Kriss’ allies/clients arrive, sailing a boat through the winter skies, held aloft by a series of vast balloons. Jolan and Tree Foot are already far out at sea, in a more conventional vessel, but their ultimate destination is anything but familiar…

Aboard the sky-ship, Thorgal and his companions, having been rendered unconscious by alien technology, are given a subliminal history lesson by a high priest of the distant Land of Qa – a region resembling pre-Columbian Central America. Since his own memories of his alien origins have been suppressed, the astounding tale of two warring men of godlike power who elevated savage primitives into warriors able to subjugate a continent means nothing to Thorgal…

He has no conception that he is the son of one of those pale deities and grandson of the other. All he knows is that he must steal the magic mask of one of them for the other, and his despised partner-in-crime Kriss cannot be trusted…

The mission seems doomed from the start. As Jolan and Tree Foot are unceremoniously marooned in a strange, arid land by their captors, far away and high above them the sky-ship is ambushed by enemy vessels. The horrific skirmish leaves Thorgal, Aaricia, Tjall and Kriss stranded in wild jungles miles from their target-destination: the imperial city of Mayaxatl and the almighty Ogatai who is their destined victim…

Compounding the crisis, Jolan and Tree Foot have also discovered a lost city. Xinjin is the capital of Ogatai’s puissant alien enemy, and holds secrets that somehow trigger strangely familial intuitions in Thorgal’s psychically precocious son…

And in the lush jungles, the father too experiences unwelcome premonitions and vague memories of people he has never met…
The saga continues – but does not conclude – in The Eyes of Tanatloc as the distanced and separated family works to reunite, driven by unknown and inexpressible forces. After endlessly battling horrific beasts, enduring and defeating deadly swamps and the perils of their own motivations, Thorgal’s party finally escapes the green hell and begins their assault on Mayaxatl. It has left them all exhausted and changed…

All the while, in Xinjin, dying Tanatloc has been subtly training little Jolan, trying to explain to his wary descendent the nature of the powers they share and their unearthly origins. The tutelage is sadly wasted, as high priest Variay subverts and derails his God’s efforts for his own reasons and with the intention of installing the boy as the new god-king of Xinjin…

To be Concluded…

A rousing generational fantasy epic, Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure: by turns ingenious, expansive, fierce, funny, phenomenally gripping and incredibly complex. this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant, hero and the waves he makes in a fabulous forgotten world. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1986, Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA). English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue


By Ralph Macchio, George Pérez, Gerry Conway, Paul Gulacy, George Freeman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78514-474-8 (HB) 978-1-3029-0026-7 (TPB)

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Soviet Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. As superhero fever mounted, Natasha Romanoff was subsequently redesigned as a supervillain, fell for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – and finally defected; becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder leader of superteam The Champions and occasional commander in chief of The Avengers.

Throughout her career she has been considered efficient, competent, deadly dangerous and somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that she had undergone experimental procedures which had enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological processes which had messed up her mind and memories…

Always considered a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after appearing in the Iron Man and Captain America movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation originally surfaced in 2010 but was revived for the post-Avengers movie crowd, compiling an extended adventure from Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), a landmark mission from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981) and 1990’s Marvel Graphic Novel – The Coldest War.

Leading off the espionage entertainment is Ralph Macchio’s introduction ‘For Your Eyes Only’, extolling the virtues of the genre and reminiscing about his time as Natasha’s scribe scripter, and an Al Milgrom pin-up before the action and intrigue kick off with a convoluted yarn by Macchio and George Pérez, with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Milgrom & John Beatty as ‘Widow’ finds the superspy tapped by SHIELD to rescue an abducted asset – her beloved  mentor Ivan Petrovich.

As she tracks and trashes assorted killers and crazies, we get a potted rundown of her complex origins before she arrives ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, infiltrating a top-secret science project and facing the assemble killer elite of a mystery madman with a grudge…

As the mercenary assassins close in, ‘The Web Tightens!’ until a last-minute rescue by SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo and frenzied clash with mad killer Snapdragon at last leads to revelation and full disclosure after ‘The Widow… Alone!’ faces a foe long believed dead and spectacularly triumphs…

That superheroic struggle is followed by an iconic appearance from 1981, seen in mature-reader monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #25 featuring short tales starring female heroes. Here Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ finds the Widow despatched by SHIELD to assassinate her former teacher Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot, but as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful tonal art of Paul Gulacy who fills the piece with ironic tributes to many movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

The book concludes with intriguing superhero spy-romp The Coldest War.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the entire affair was clearly scripted as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic. The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

Gerry Conway provides a typically complex, double-dealing tale set in the dog-days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” (“openness”) government where ambitious KGB upstarts undertake a plan to subvert Natasha (nee NataliaRomanova) and return her to Soviet control. Their leverage and bait is husband Alexei Shostokoff – whom she has believed dead for years. Naturally, nothing is as it seems, nobody can be trusted and only the last spy standing can be called the winner…

Low key and high-tech go hand in hand in this sort of tale, and although there’s much reference to earlier Marvel classics this tale can be easily enjoyed by the casual reader or movie convert.

And what art! George Freeman is a supreme stylist, whose drawing work – although infrequent – is always top rate. Starting out on the seminal Captain Canuck, he has excelled on Jack of Hearts, Green Lantern, Avengers, BatmanAnnual #11 (with Alan Moore), Wasteland, Elric, Nexus and The X-Files (for which he won an Eisner Award). Here, inked by Ernie Colon, Mark Farmer, Mike Harris, Val Mayerik & Joe Rubinstein with colours from Lovern Kindzierski, he renders a subtle and sophisticated blend of costumed chic and espionage glamour that make this tale to a “must-have” item all by itself.

Augmented with original art by Arthur Adams, previous collection cover by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morals, Steve Buccellato and Pérez, this epic Primer into the world of the Widow is a dark delight no fan should miss.
© 1990 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

A City Inside


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-541-7 (HB) 978-1-91039-520-2 (TPB)

Transitions are important. In fact, they are literally life changing. Here’s another one captured and shared by the amazing Tillie Walden…

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but maybe that’s not the case for Texas-raised Tillie, whose incredible string of releases include I Love this Part, Spinning, On a Sunbeam, and Are You Listening? and award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer.

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through the tentative alliance with an ideal first love. That fumbles and fails, thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

Alone volume 1: The Vanishing


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-849181-96-9 (PB Album)

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and was a student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started being paid to draw them in 1988, after being hired by Spirou editor Patrick Pinchart on the strength of his portfolio alone. Before long he was illustrating Le Petit Spirou with Tome & Janry. In 1989, he and Tome created New York Cop Soda, which kept Gazzotti busy until 2005, when he resigned to co-create award-winning feature Seuls

Released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition is a superb example of a kids’ thriller suitable for all ages: evoking the eerie atmosphere of TV series Lost and the most disturbing elements of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Translated as The Vanishing, the first chapter show us peeks of an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business. Our swift glimpses show us a cross section of kids: Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never sees his dad any more and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always has time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Camille is studious and over-focussed on exams and achievement and Terry is pretty much still a baby. He certainly acts like one, trying to stay up late, binge watching TV and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Sadly, not all children in town have such typical lives. Dodzi has just been taken into the system. His early life has made him tough and resilient but won’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night…

Next morning dawns overcast and forbidding. The city is quiet. Roaming empty streets, Dodzi calls out to anybody who can hear and is met – or actually run over – by Leila and Terry on her bike. They are all pretty scared and have seen nobody else at all…

No one else is around. All the adults have gone, and all their child pals. The internet is down, television and radio only blare out static. Above, fearsome storm clouds gather. Within minutes fear turns to panic and violence but eventually Dodzi brutally enforces calm and leads them away, only to stumble into Camille being attacked by a dog. As the tough guy tries to fight it off, the rabid beast senses something in the shadows of an alley and flees…

As they wander, someone watches the waifs and after they joyously blow off steam in a fountain, they meet final lost boy Ivan. He invites them back to his mansion on the edge of town where they find food while being subjected to his theories on what’s happened: everything from a shared dream to an extinction event to the possibility that they’re dead and in hell…

Needing more information, Dodzi and Leila try to drive one of many cars on the estate while the smaller ones sort out a proper meal, but neither task goes well. The cooking is a disaster while the near-lethal reconnaissance only finds more empty streets, wrecked shop fronts and wild animals in the streets. While the motoring minors seek to evade two rhinos, Terry and Camille are almost eaten by a white tiger that’s got through the estate gates…

When Dodzi and Leila return – and following a burst of viciously released tensions – the kids modify and weaponize a 4 by 4 and head back to town. Ivan’s dad owns the tallest building in the city: somewhere stuffed with resources and easily fortified and defended…

As the first day alone ends, the kids are bloated with vending machine snacks and playing in the vast office block’s upper reaches, but de facto leader Dodzi is still uneasy.

When Leia reports little Terry is missing, he heads out to search and finds to his horror where all the animals have come from: a scene of destruction that distracts him enough that a hidden stalker almost takes him.

Thankfully, the others have ignored his orders and followed so it isn’t Dodzi that dies…

Thus begins a spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination with the bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation…

Alone rapidly became one of the biggest critical and commercial comics hits of the decade and if you love eerie enigmas and powerful tale-telling, you’ll soon be buying this and seeing why for yourself…
© Dupuis 2006 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

I Love This Part



By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-532-5(HB) 978-1-91039-517-2 (TPB)

Happy St. Valentines’ Day. I’m stifling my usual curmudgeonly attitudes for a while and reviewing a book that’s solidly on the side of being in love, but not so disingenuous as to tell you that it’s all hearts and flowers…

Sweet but not calorific, I Love This Part deliciously pictorializes the happy, introspective, contemplative and aspirational moments of two schoolgirls who have found each other. Shared dreams, idle conversations, disputes and landmark first steps, even fights and break-ups are seen and weathered. Novelty, timidity, apprehension, societal pressure and even some unnecessary shame come into it, but generally it’s just how young people learn to love and what that inevitably entails…

Apart from the astoundingly graceful and inviting honesty of the tale, the most engaging factor is the author’s brilliant dismissal of visual reality. These interactions are all backdropped by wild changes in dimension and perspective, abrupt shifts in location and landscape and shots of empty spaces all adding a sense of distance and whimsy to very familiar proceedings.

Tillie Walden is a great admirer of Little Nemo so fellow afficionados will feel at home even if neophytes might experience the odd sensation of disorientation and trepidation. Like being in love, I suppose…

Glorying not just in the relationships but also in the sheer joy of drawing what you feel, Texas-raised Tillie is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific and immensely gifted one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works (frequently combined in the same stories), she always engenders a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

Before globally turning heads with such unforgettable tales as On a Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, and Are You Listening? she followed up on her Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer with this fluffy yet barbed coming-of-age tale.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad


By Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-55-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-71-9

Contemporary history is a priceless resource in creating modern narratives. It has the benefits of immediacy and relevance – even if only on a generational level – whilst combining notional familiarity (could you tell the difference between a stone axe and a rock?) with a sense of distance and exoticism. In comics, we’re currently blessed with a wealth of superb material exploring the recent past and none better than this enchanting trawl through a tragic time most of us never knew of…

Carol Isaacs is a successful musician (just ask the Indigo Girls, Sinead O’Connor or the London Klezmer Quartet) and – as The Surreal McCoy – a cartoonist whose graphic gifts are regularly on show in The New Yorker, Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Times and The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain. She found her latest inspiration in a two-thousand-year old secret history that’s she been party to for most of her life…

British-born of Iraqi-Jewish parents, Isaacs grew up hearing tales of her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad: part of a thriving multicultural society which had welcomed – or at least tolerated – Jews in Persia since 597 BCE.

How 150,000 Hebraic Baghdadians (a third of the city’s population in 1940) was reduced by 2016 to just 5 is revealed and eulogised in this potently evocative memoir, told in lyrical pictures and the curated words of her own family and their émigré friends, as related to her over her growing years in their comfortably suburban London home.

Those quotes and portraits spark an elegiac dream-state excursion to the wrecked, abandoned sites and places of a socially integrated and vibrantly cohesive metropolis she knows intimately and pines for ferociously, even though she has never set a single foot there…

As well as this enthralling pictorial experience, the art and narrative have been incorporated into a melancholy motion comic (slideshow with original musical accompaniment) that also demands your rapt attention.

The moving experience is supplemented by an Afterword comprising illustrate text piece ‘Deep Home’ (first seen in ‘Origin Stories’ from the anthology Strumpet) which details those childhood sessions listening to the remembrances of adult guests and family elders and is followed by ‘The Making of The Wolf of Baghdad’ which explains not only the book and show’s origins, but also clarifies the thematic premise of ‘The Wolf Myth’ which permeates the city’s intermingled cultures.

‘Other Iraqis’ then reveals some interactions with interested parties culled from Isaacs’ blog whilst crafting this book, whilst the comprehensive ‘Timeline of the Jews in Iraq’ outlines the little-known history of Persian Jews and how and why it all changed, before ‘A Carpet’s Story’ details 1950’s Operations Ezra and Nehemiah which saw 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel.

Wrapping up the show is a page of Acknowledgements and Suggested Reading.

Simultaneously timeless and topical, The Wolf of Baghdad is less a history lesson than a lament for a lost homeland and way of life: a wistful deliberation on why bad things happen and on how words pictures and music can turn back the years and make the longed for momentarily real and true.
© Carol Isaacs (The Surreal McCoy) 2020. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad will be published on January 30th 2020 and is available for pre-order now. Isaacs will be touring the motion-comic throughout 2020 at various venues and festivals around England. For more information please check her blog.

Saint Young Men volume 01


By Hikaru Nakamura, translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley (Kodansha)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-936-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: ‘Tis the Season to be Thoughtful… 9/10

Here’s a divine treat and global sensation with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild eclecticism to boost its appeal, all neatly released in English just in time to make your day and make you think…

Born in April 1984 in Shizoku Prefecture, Japan, Hikaru Nakamura is one of the world’s most successful manga creators, thanks mostly to her thought-provoking yet inviting conceptions such as Arakawa Under the Bridge and the bizarrely engaging buddy-comedy under review today.

In September 2006 Seinto Oniisan began as an occasional gag feature in Morning 2 magazine where, due to its rapturous reception, it grew into an unmissable regular narrative strip that remains to this day. The divine comedy has filled 17 tankōbon collections plus all the usual mass-media iterations that follow such popularity: a brace of anime DVDs and films, a live-action series and much more.

In this premiere stunning and sturdy hardback English compilation (or its ethereal digital equivalent), more extensive detail and context can be found in the effusive Foreword Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men Power’ by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere (who curated a Japanese Exhibition at the British Museum in which Saint Young Men played a major role). Whilst this aids overall comprehension, the book also graciously provides a comprehensive set of Translation Notes for each chapter episode, offering cultural comparison points, theological points of interest and even general notes on modern life in the East.

It sounds like the opening of a joke – and, in fact, it is – but the narrative premise is simple: one day after a particularly arduous millennial turnover, Jesus Christ and Guatama Buddha opt to take a break from Paradise/Nirvana/the Great Beyond and indulge in a kind of gap year experience by re-manifesting as two young guys in Tokyo: living as anonymous mortals; chasing rent, getting picked on, playing with fashions and new technologies and just generally being human. What could possibly go wrong?

The trials begin in ‘Buddha’s Day Off’ as the impoverished pair settle into their tawdry dwelling and ardently discuss the unexpected ways other people respond to them, after which they try adjusting to culture shock but endure even stranger reactions and responses on overcrowded trains and subways in ‘Most Holy Travels’

Man-Toys, gadgets and fashions are perennial fascinations for the pair – their near-infinite logo T-shirt collection often acts as a barometer and commentary for what’s about to occur – but it’s hard to leave their pasts behind and the pair as often visit shrines and churches as theme parks. Sometimes – such as in ‘Another Paradise’ – it’s hard to tell them apart. Moreover, although earthbound, their transcendental natures still adversely affect everything around them, leading to unearthly surprises when they become overfocussed on mundane delights such as shopping in ‘Debut Performance’

‘Oh My Hobby’ finds the holy goofs seeking further homogeneity as Buddha tries screen printing to round out his days whilst Jesus further pursues his dream of being a comedian whilst attempting to curtail his unhappy tendency to make miracles if his concentrates too hard or laughs too much…

Cooling down and discussing their slow assimilation leads to more confusion in ‘Summer Jam at the Community Center’when their oblique mutterings convince a mobbed-up eavesdropper that he’s stumbled into two Yakuza princes trying to get out of “The Life”, after which ‘Buddha and Jesus’s “Can I Do It?”’ reveals how their escalating heavenly energies compel the pair into staying home and trying new pastimes such as drawing manga and throwing pottery…

There’s another innocently bewildering clash with celebrity, commercialism and gangsterism when the inquisitive waifs attend a ‘Sacred Fall Festival’ before Christmas (in its thoroughly formulated Japan-ised form, and celebrated here by a partial conversion to full-colour for their generally monochrome exploits) intersects with an unfortunate ‘Holy Birthday’for Jesus.

That debacle leads to dabbling with disguises to attend the ‘New Year’s Self-Worship’ ceremony, segueing into a nasty brush with human frailty and disease in ‘Hospital Fever’.

Manly vanity rears its inevitable head when Buddha rashly responds to accusations of becoming a ‘Portly Prince?!’, but it’s his scatty roommate who makes an unlikely public scene by losing concentration in ‘The Park Nearest Heaven’. This leads to a necessary but unwise ‘Pilgrimage’ to the shopping mall before these initial devotions conclude with a catastrophic bout of tonsorial ablutions and accidental miracle-making for the ‘Thrice Stranded Bath Drinker’

It’s true to say that in fiction, there are precious few original ideas whereas tone and treatment are everything. Whilst not a new notion, the concept of divine beings popping back to Earth is one that has plenty of antecedents but also infinite appeal and permutations, and here at least, there’s been a vast amount of research undertaken to confirm canonical veracity and deep thinking to keep the jokes fresh and outcomes original.

Charming, funny, brash and subtly challenging, Saint Young Men is a delightful peek into other realms that will leave you hungry for further scriptures and might even lead to a lifelong conversion…
© 2008 Hikaru Nakamura. English translation © 2009 Hikaru Nakamura. All rights reserved.

Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
Saint Young Men volume 01will be released on December 19th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Mimi and the Wolves volume 1


By Albaster Pizzo (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-548-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Fairy Tale with Plenty of Bite… 9/10

Alabaster Pizzo is an animator and cartoonist who hails from New York, but these days makes her living in Los Angeles. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she’s been intermittently releasing episodes of an epic anthropomorphic post-modern fantasy since 2013.

When not animating or storyboarding for major companies you or your kids are quite familiar with, she crafts her own comics such as Ralphie and Jeanie, Hellbound Lifestyle and more of the one under consideration here…

Those early Mimi minicomics – three thus far – have been lavishly compiled into a sturdy hardback monochrome tome by the astute powers-that-be of British publisher Avery Hill and comprise the opening salvo in what I trust will be a potent and lengthy allegory for personal empowerment… as all the best fairy tales are…

Preceded by a handy and informative map of the bucolic Hilly City region and a roll call of the major characters, Mimi and The Wolves Act I ‘The Dream’ opens with enigmatic, voyeuristic magician Severine chiding her attendant spirits in snow-draped forests before herbalist Mimi goes gathering plants and herbs for the constructions, concoctions and confections she makes.

Times are tough for her and partner Bobo, but they have good friends in the same boat and each other, so the treehouse they live in is all they really need…

The couple spend a lot of time helping out old farmers Cato and Ceres. Shady Island Farm is getting to be too much for them, so trading toil for food is always a welcome standby option…

Thankfully, Saffron at the general store is always ready to trade for Mimi’s creations and the farm’s dwindling produce, but the sensitive artisan is painfully aware that unrelenting strain is getting the better of her fellow workers. Tough but happily idyllic, life would be perfect for Mimi if only she wasn’t plagued by horrific dreams and terrifying nightmares…

Determined to get to the bottom of her traumas, Mimi distils a brew to provoke a lucid dream and is “rewarded” with an audience: a face to face confrontation with a seeming goddess calling herself the Holy Venus. The ethereal visitor tells her to seek out like-minded others and reveals to her a strange symbol by which she will know them…

As spring turns to summer, the image obsesses her and becomes part of her artistic output, much to the growing discomfort and increasing resentment of Bobo. Evermore distracted, Mimi forages deeper into the woods around the village and one day comes face to face with a huge wolf…

For small woodland creatures like her and Bobo, the giant predators are a constant terror, but this one is different. His name is Ergot and he is a dedicated follower of the Holy Venus. In Mimi he sees not lunch, but a fellow congregant. Before long she is invited to join his pack and share knowledge. Hungry for answers – and new experiences – the little artisan slowly falls under Ergot’s sway, and her life changes forever…

Act II ‘The Den’ was included in Best American Comics 2015 and reveals how life has treated Mimi since Bobo turned into an abusive controlling dick and she moved in with the wolves. Ergot and his mate Ivy have been sharing history and doctrine with her, but other than her former lover Mimi still maintains contact with hr other friends in Hilly City.

That circle expands when Ceres and Cato take in wandering musician Kiko, and all but implodes when Mimi finally introduces them all to Ergot. Some prejudices are hardwired and cannot be placated or ameliorated…

Life becomes even more bewildering after she meets other wolfpacks. Cobalt, Copper and Opal are friendly enough – although they have unspoken problems with Ergot – but night-dark Nero and Galena live up to every scary stereotype the city folk hold dear… and they seem to have an unsettling, unspecified interest in Mimi…

Events take a dark turn in Act III ‘The Howl’ after the revelation that constantly-observing Severine has a foreboding connection to the Holy Venus and is gradually enacting a long plan. Mimi, however, is now fully inducted into the pack, but blithely unaware that she is a highly desirable pawn in plans between rival groups who act more like cult “Families” than simple kin.

When Nero approaches her, she is so terrified that she flees back to her city friends, but soon returns to the lupine lair and agrees to attend a large gathering of packs.

And in the unnoticed background, Kiko quietly observes all…

Joining the Howl is a big mistake. Mimi is attacked by Nero and given to the Holy Venus as an offering. Although possibly an induced hallucination, in the aftermath allegiances amongst the smaller packs are now twisted and shifted. When Ergot reverts to his true nature, the Goddess makes her move and Mimi comes into her true power…

One common notion of Paradises, Edens and Utopias is that they are always under imminent threat of ending. Life in the allegorical Hilly City and evergreen woods is a rural and a small town ideal, but it’s never portrayed as immutable and stable. Amidst the cunning social echoes of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons – as plain and simple rustic folk eke out a hard but generally rewarding life – comes an implicit awareness that things beyond the group are disrupting and potentially harmful. Dissent is bad, change is bad, we trust only ourselves are proven truisms but they don’t mean a thing if the society harbours – and hinders – a rebel who needs to find their true self…

Bewitching and enticing, this is a magical mystery tour of self-discovery that will charm and reward readers, so why not start your own quest for knowledge by joining this pack?
© Alabaster Pizzo. All rights reserved.

Tamba, Child Soldier


By Marion Achard & Yann Dégruel & various; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-236-6 (HB album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 9/10

It may be a wonderful world but modern Earth is far too often a terrible place, especially if you’re weak and powerless.

The global scandal and shame of children forcibly co-opted into paramilitary and terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history boys and girls have fought in adult wars. Comic books are full of them, but there’s two big differences: they all “volunteer” without being groomed by cruel power-obsessed scum and THEY’RE NOT REAL.

So prevalent and pernicious was the practise of African and Asian militias, religious groups and other factions (even governments), that in 2000 the civilised world agreed to an Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict. The OPAC accord restricts armed forces recruitment to adults of 18 years or over and has become known as the Straight 18 standard.

It’s a good start but hasn’t stopped ambitious war-criminals and monsters raiding villages for kids, who they drug, beat and starve; enslaving and brutalising them to use as cannon fodder and shock troops in hope of securing their own evil ends.

Rather than concentrate on any specific case or example (there are so damned many) this stunning oversized (216 x 279 mm) full-colour hardback and/or digital book gathers and synthesises many true incidents into the dramatised testimony of Tamba Cisso: taken aged eight from his African village – along with all of his young friends – and forcibly inducted into a scavenging band of killers.

The specifics of the tragically documented events he participated in – and the unhappier fates of his fellow abductees – are revealed through the venue of his later testimony to an initially hostile crowd at a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. Tamba’s account of everyday life as a reluctant warrior for a jumped-up rebel warlord is no less harrowing for being one step removed from our own world’s actual atrocities…

Acutely examining the greater effect of kidnappings on generations of citizens, Young Adults author Marion Achard (Je veux un chat et des parents normaux, Pourquoi je suis devenu une fille) brings bitterness, barely harnessed anger, righteous indignation and potent empathy to an appalling subject. Tamba, l’enfant soldat is her first graphic novel – hopefully not her last – rendered with vivid virtuosity and great subtlety by artist and animator Yann Dégruel (Genz Gys Khan, Sans Famille).

Augmenting their visual narrative is Achard’s text essay Child Soldiers: describing what happens to these shunned victims of violence and sharing some extremely disturbing facts and figures, and is augmented by features on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Professor Laure Borgomano’s (Department of Defense, NATO) breakdown of the purpose and functions of The UN High Commissioner for Refugees: UNHCR…

Compellingly engaging and boldly, beautifully illustrated, this is a chilling, sobering yet ultimately encouraging reading experience everyone with a stake in a less toxic future must seek out and share.
© 2018 Edition Delcourt. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great and challenging reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight


By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.