Star Wars Clone Wars vol 7: When They Were Brothers

Star Wars Clone Wars vol 7: When They Were Brothers 

By various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN 1-84576-107-3

Another solid package of space-opera thrills from the Star Wars: Clone Wars franchise concentrates on the foredoomed relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin (Darth Vader) Skywalker. Reprinting Star Wars Free Comic Day Special 2005 and Star Wars: Obsession issues #1-5, all the stories here are set a few months before the opening of the film Revenge of the Sith.

The action begins with Haden Blackman and Brian Ching’s tale of obsession when a hard-driven Obi-Wan risks not just his life but also his reputation in a manic hunt for the Dark Jedi Asajj Ventress. The she-Sith is believed to be dead by the entire galaxy, trusted companion Anakin, who clearly remembers that time when he personally killed her. There’s all the grit and derring-do you’d expect and no real surprises, but it’s all done well enough to carry one along for the thrill-ride.

Miles Lane and Nicola Scott provide the balance of the book with their tale of foreboding friendship as the Jedi dynamic duo find themselves crashed on an enemy planet with a hard deadline to capture the insidious Count Dooku. High on action but short on plot, the emphasis here is mostly with examining any tiny cracks that might be forming in the heretofore indomitable and steadfast team.

As always the Dark Horse franchise provides reliable bang for your buck and produces reading that should satisfy the comic fan as much as the Star Wars aficionado.

© 2005 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved

Rizelmine

Rizelmine 

By Yukiru Sugisaki (TokyoPop)
ISBN 1-59532-901-3

The premise of RizelMine will be familiar territory to long-time manga fans, featuring as it does a hapless high-school boy/all-around geek (this one is 15-year-old Iwaki Tomonori) and a beautiful, super-powerful girl who inexplicably falls hopelessly in love with him, leading to the traditional slap-stick chaos and fearsome personal embarrassment all around.

Rizel is – or appears to be – a cute twelve year old girl, which would be annoying enough to a young man preparing to declare his undying love for his high school teacher. But his protestations are not only largely ignored, but they seem to inevitably lead to humiliation and quite a lot of bruising.

Tomonori adores older women, and cannot understand why this girl bursts into his bedroom brandishing a marriage certificate and telling him that they are now man and wife. He certainly can’t imagine why his parents are going along with this nonsense, nor why Rizel’s three incredibly scary “guardians” have moved in with them.

It soon transpires that Rizel is an artificial life-form needing to experience human love to further evolve. Furthermore, the government are prepared to go to any lengths to maximise their asset, and it doesn’t care how embarrassing or inconvenient it might be for some of its citizens. Enduring the approbation of his school-mates, the machinations of the world’s richest boy – who wants to marry Rizel himself – and the truly catastrophic repercussions of annoying his child-bride (something Tomonori does with astounding regularity) our hero soldiers on, determined to regain his pride, social standing and equilibrium. If only Rizel wasn’t so darned nice…

Although perhaps a slightly disturbing premise to contemporary western eyes (I don’t even know if school-children can marry in Japan!) this is a fairly standard manga comedy-fantasy that will delight aficionados of the genre but probably baffle the casual reader.

© 2002 Yukiru Sugisaki /KADOKAWA SHOTEN. All Rights Reserved.
English text © 2005 TOKYOPOP Inc.

James Bond: Goldfinger

James Bond: Goldfinger 

By Ian Fleming, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-908-5

This edition of Titan Books’ 007 newspaper strip collections comes from the period when the workmanlike John McLusky was the artist and features Henry Gammidge’s adaptations of no less than five Ian Fleming tales of the world’s most famous Secret Agent.

The title tale faithfully adapts Fleming’s novel of the world’s most ambitious bullion robbery, so if you’re only familiar with the film version there will be a few things you’ve not seen before. The action fairly pounds along and the tension is high throughout this signature tale.

Following Goldfinger is Risico. Bond is tasked with stopping a heroin smuggling gang whose motive is not profit but social destabilisation. Next is A View to a Kill, a traditional Cold War thriller with 007 on the trail of a gang who have been stealing secrets by ambushing military dispatch riders.

For Your Eyes Only, which was cobbled together with Risico to become the Roger Moore film version, is an adaptation of Fleming’s short story, wherein Bond is given a mission of revenge and assassination. Set in Jamaica with the Nazi war-criminal Von Hammerstein as culprit and target for the man with a licence to kill, it is a solid piece of dramatic fiction that once again bears little similarity to the celluloid adventure.

The volume concludes with the controversial Thunderball adaptation. That particular tale was censored and curtailed at the behest of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express, where the strip was running. Five days of strip were excised and for the full story you’ll need to read the ancillary text feature, but what remains is still pretty engrossing comic fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended.

James Bond was to return a year later in the adaptation of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service .These stories are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of terse gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style is never out of fashion.

Strip © Express Newspapers Ltd. 1987. All Rights Reserved.

Pyongyang

Pyongyang 

By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books)
ISBN 1896-597-890

The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and the TV so this book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of Canadian animator Delisle, who, working on a French work-permit, is invited behind the bamboo curtain to train and supervise Korean artists as a production supervisor. Cheap animators, of course, being one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West.

What he finds and illustrates both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty. Using a simplified, utilitarian style he shows us an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar too ourselves, albeit they do their best not to let it show. The book is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.

Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone of drawing accentuates the oddly strictured sense of foreboding. Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and his CD walkman (since personal radios are banned) his airport interrogation is sheer mental torture. Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and the personal foibles of the people he is allowed to meet does the compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!

Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.

© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.

The Originals

The Originals 

By Dave Gibbons (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-011-5

Dave Gibbons is, like me, a bit of a geezer, except better looking, more talented and, hopefully, much more understanding. Our memories stretch back further than last week’s EastEnders. Combine that with the current zeitgeist (go look it up) for introspective reminiscent drama and The Originals could have been an edgy coming-of-age tale of 1960s Mods and Rockers, delivered in the meticulous and hyper-detailed graphic style that is his trademark, which might not in and of itself be a bad thing.

What Gibbons has chosen to do, however, is to move the entire thing into the future and layer it with a mythic subtext, making it more allegory than reportage or documentary. The beautiful monochromatic art captures a feel for the past but has somehow excised the grime and the grit that you know must be there.

Has the choice of setting amplified or castrated the story? I don’t know. It is enjoyable but feels like there ought to be more to it. Perhaps I should read it again with Quadrophenia playing really loud…

© 2004 Dave Gibbons. All Rights Reserved.

Constantine: Hellblazer Rare Cuts

Rare Cuts 

By Various
ISBN 1-84023-974-3

A solid representative selection of the life of John Constantine can be found in Rare Cuts, a collection of one-off stories that have managed to escape being reprinted thus far. Contained within these pages you can find “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come” (Hellblazer #11) by Delano, Richard Piers Rayner and Mark Buckingham, which is something of an origin story for the character and sets the thematic scene for all the issues to follow.

Next up is the excellent two-parter “Early Warning” and “How I Learned to Love the Bomb” (#25-26) by Grant Morrison and David Lloyd, a truly eerie tale of political subversion and occult possession. Delano and Sean Phillips produced “The Dead Boy’s Heart” (#35), wherein little Johnny Constantine has his first traumatic glimpse into how the world really works, and issue 56 by Ennis and Lloyd provides “This is the Diary of Danny Drake”, a moody, chilling tale of the terrors of parenting.

The last story is from Hellblazer #84 (“In Another Part of Hell”), wherein our ‘hero’ and his good mate Chas experience a truly macabre event featuring an old house, an old bag and a monkey in a wig. With a timeline and map of Constantine’s London to round out the package this is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to Vertigo’s most successful publication.

© 2005 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

James Bond: Dr. No

James Bond: Dr. No 

By Ian Fleming, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-089-1

The Dr No edition begins with an adaptation of Diamonds are Forever, which pits the Bond against an insidious gang of diamond smuggling criminals, in an explosive all-action romp before directly segueing into the tense, low-key thriller From Russia With Love, both courtesy of Gammidge and McLusky. The artist hits a creative peak with Dr No itself, scripted by Peter O’Donnell – before he created the amazing Modesty Blaise – as Bond returns to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two operatives and stumbles upon a plot to sabotage the American rocketry program.

These stories come from an age at once less jaded but more worldly; a place and time where the readers lived daily with the very real threat of instant annihilation. As such, the easy approachability of the material is a credit to the creators.

These volumes are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of terse gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style never goes out of fashion.

Strip © Express Newspapers Ltd. 1987. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: Black Pearl

Modesty Blaise: Black Pearl 

By Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84023-842-9

The greatest heroine in comics returns for four more high-octane capers and dark intrigues. Starting off with the classic, exotic mystery of “The Black Pearl”, the deadly duo move on to an almost science fiction driven thriller in “The Magnified Man”.

We return to basics with the all-action set-piece “The Jericho Caper” and the book concludes with the little known gem “The Killing Ground”. This was produced to fill pages in the syndicated Scottish periodical when industrial action hit the parent paper (the London Evening Standard).

O’Donnell and Holdaway produced some of the best comic strips in the world during their collaboration and these breakneck pace, subtly engaging tales show all their skills at their creative peak, whilst the captivating behind-the-scenes features are an absolute treat. A ‘can’t miss’ collection.

© 2004 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four 1963

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four 1963 

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Dick Ayers and various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN 978-1-905239-61-0

Here’s another cheap‘n’cheerful UK edition of early Marvel landmarks, this time starring the first family of super-heroics.

1963 was a pivotal year in the development of Marvel. Lee and Kirby had proved that their new high concept – more human heroes with flaws and tempers – had a willing audience. Now they would extend that concept to a new pantheon of heroes. Here is where the second innovation would come to the fore.

Previously, super-heroes were sufficient unto themselves and shared adventures were rare. Here, however was a universe where characters often tripped over each other, sometimes even fighting each other’s enemies! Even the creators themselves might turn up in a Marvel Comic! Fantastic Four #10 features ‘The Return of Doctor Doom!’ wherein the arch villain uses Stan and Jack to lure the FF’s leader into a trap where his mind is switched with the bad Doctor’s. Issue #11 has two stories, ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Impossible Man’ as the innovations continue, in a travelogue and a baddie-free, comedic tale.

FF #12 features a crossover as the team are asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’, followed by ‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’, a cold war thriller pitting them against a soviet scientist in a race to be the first on the Moon. This tale is notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing the very adroit Dick Ayers for one episode) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers.

Issue #14 features the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ followed by ‘The Fantastic Four Battle … The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’. Number #16 tells of ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero the Ant-Man, and that villain instantly returns with infallible, deadly traps in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’ A shape-changing alien with all their powers is next to menace our heroes in ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’ and issue #19 introduces one of the company’s greatest super-villains as the FF become ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’. This time travel tale has been revisited by so many writers that it is considered one of the key stories in Marvel history. Fantastic Four #20 introduces ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’, and the next guest-stars Nick Fury, fresh from his own World War II comic book (and soon to be the company’s answer to James Bond) to battle ‘The Hate-Monger!’ (inked by veteran George Roussos, using the protective nom de plume George Bell).

The rest of the book is taken up with reprinting the first summer Annual, a spectacular thirty-seven page epic battle as Atlantis invades New York City, and presumably the rest of the world, in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’. Also included is the charming short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’, a re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wall-crawlers own comic. Drawn this time by Kirby, Ditko once more applied his unique inking for a truly novel look. Here are also a swatch of pin-ups and information pages illustrated by Kirby and chums.

Although possibly a little dated in tone, these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents just approaching his mature peak. They are fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read. This bright, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can be.

© 1963, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection

Hellblazer Collection 

By various (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84023-979-4

When the movie was about to leap on us at any moment, DC were banging out huge amounts of Hellblazer material, which was of course only sensible. This collection continued the procedure created for the dire Catwoman movie by producing a bookshelf version of a recently released film adaptation padded out with a selection of reprints from the characters’ back catalogue.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, and after reading the frankly appalling adaptation reprinted here, I’m unlikely to. But in case you intend to, I’ll just say that Steven T. Seagle, Ron Randall and Jimmy Palmiotti have obviously done the very best they can, and if we’re all lucky they worked from an original script rather than a final cut of the movie. If they have, there’s an outside chance that the movie actually made some sense. By the bye, in case you haven’t heard, you shouldn’t have to suffer Keanu Reeves’ Scouse accent as Constantine’s a Yank here.

Filling out the book is “Hunger” from the first issue of the Hellblazer comic by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway, “Hold Me” from #27 by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean and “The Beginning of the End” by Garth Ennis and Will Simpson from #41. These are of course fine examples of the character at his best from some of the industry’s most talented creators, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the stories are incomplete and if you wanted to find out how they ended, you’d have to get hold of the Original Sins and Dangerous Habits graphic collections which is, as you are also probably thinking, a bit of a cheek.

© 2005 DC Comics. All rights reserved.