My Troubles With Women

My Troubles With Women 

By Robert Crumb (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN 0-86719-374-3

Always worth a look is the work of Robert Crumb, and this themed anthology featuring short works produced between 1982 and 1989 on his legendary relationship with women, both in the disturbing Abstract and the painful, side-splitting, lustful, tender, painful and loving Concrete is a joy for the mercifully distanced beholder.

Beginning with the most recent, ‘I’m Grateful! I’m Grateful!’, before time-warping back to ‘Uncle Bob’s Mid-Life Crisis’ through ‘Footsy’, the eponymous ‘My Troubles with Women’ parts I and II, ‘Our Lovely Home’, ‘Dirty Laundry’ and ‘If I Were A King’, this very public composite of private peccadilloes, often assisted by the contributory work of his wife and partner Aline Kominski-Crumb is a funny and disquieting examination of family-building, rendered in a variety of drawing styles that are the graphic equivalent of daubing a white line in front of a chicken for any aficionado of graphic narrative.

Magical stuff – as long as you’re a consenting adult.

Art and stories © Robert Crumb with Aline Kominski-Crumb. All Rights Reserved.
Edition © 1990 Knockabout Comics.

Hellboy: Weird Tales

Hellboy: Weird Tales 1 

Volume 1
By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-783-X

Hellboy: Weird Tales 2

Volume 2
By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-997-2

Hellboy was swiftly attributed the status of ‘legend’ in the comics world, starting as the particular vision of a single creator and by judicious selection of assistants and deputies cementing a solid take on the character in the hearts of the public. And that’s just how it worked for Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.

This two volume set collects the eight issue mini-series of the same name wherein a star-studded cast of creators tell their own stories in their own varied styles under the watchful supervision of the big cheese himself. Dramas that add to the canon nestle alongside bizarre and humorous vignettes that simply live for the moment.

Among the work to watch out for are pieces by Bob Fingerman, John Arcudi and Roger Langridge, Jason Pearson, Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse, Alex Maleev, Randy Stradley and Seung Kim, John Cassady, Tommy Lee Edwards, Doug Petrie and Gene Colan, Scott Morse, Jill Thompson, P. Craig Russell, Jim Starlin, Evan Dorkin and Kia Asimiya.

With the real world acceptance that movies gave to the triumvirate of characters cited above and comic strips of this quality to back up that exposure, Hellboy seems certain to join and remain in that lofty but small four-colour pantheon.

™ & © 2003, 2005 Mike Mignola. Weird Tales is ® Weird Tales, Ltd.

B.P.R.D. vol 3: Plague of Frogs

B.P.R.D. vol 3: Plague of Frogs 

By Mike Mignola & Guy Davis (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-016-6

The third collection featuring Mike Mignola’s supernatural riot squad from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense pits the team against some of their oldest enemies as the author ties up a number of loose ends and plot threads that span the entire publishing history of the now-legendary Hellboy.

These challengers of the unknown are called in when a spore monster escapes from one of their storage facilities, and the aquatic Abe Sapien, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, bodiless psychic Johann Kraus, Roger the Homunculus and psychologist Kate Corrigan have to stop an elder god from turning Earth into a charnel pit breeding ground for giant frog demons.

Amongst all that mood, mystery, carnage and catastrophe Mignola and the unbelievably underrated and unique Guy Davis even manage to give us the origin of Abe Sapien in such a way as to tell everything and still leave us none the wiser. Great, great stuff and a guaranteed successor to the Buffy TV show.

Oh, if only…

© 2004 Mike Mignola. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Wild Ride

Catwoman: Wild Ride 

By Ed Brubaker & Cameron Stewart (DC Comics)
ISBN: ISBN: 1-84576-190-1

This last collection of tales (taken from Catwoman Secret Files #1 and issues #20 – 24 of her monthly comic) before a major redefinition of the character, sees Selina Kyle take her long time associate (“Don’t call me side-kick”) Holly on a mysterious road-trip across DC Universe America, having adventures in the home cities of other heroes.

After a brief stopover in up-state New York with Wildcat for some self-defence lessons for Holly and a rooftop fight with some Egyptian Cat Cultists, our four-color Thelma and Louise arrive in Keystone City and become involved with Captain Cold’s plan to burglarize the Flash Museum.

As octogenarian Shamus (and sometime paramour) Slam Bradley keeps an eye on Catwoman’s home turf for her, she and Holly hijack a mob hijacking at a diner on the way to Opal City, meeting up with the fondly remembered Bobo Bennetti (from James Robinson’s Starman series), before ending up Down South in St Roch for a team-up with Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

They finally reveal the origins of those cat cultists who have been popping up ever since paragraph two. Most brilliant moment comes as Bradley and Batman have a bitchfight over who gets to be Selina’s boyfriend.

This sassy, thrilling and charming ramble is Brubaker at his streetwise best and the retro styling of Cameron Stewart captures the joy and horror of these extraordinary characters lives in an mesmerisingly subversive way. Utterly recommendable, fun comics.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

B.P.R.D. vol 2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories

B.P.R.D. vol 2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories 

By various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-931-X

This second collection of one-shots again features spin-off characters from Mike Mignola’s excellent Hellboy series and deals with the spooky jobs that typically befall the Enhanced Talents task force of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

It all kicks off with amphibian Abe Sapien, bodiless psychic Johann Kraus, Roger the Homunculus and flame-casting Liz Sherman dispatched to Venice (that other one in Italy) to battle a vampire and liberate an ancient Goddess. The creative team is Miles Gunther and Michael Avon Oeming with a little help from Mignola himself. Brian Augustyn and Guy Davis pit Sapien and Roger against religious zealotry and arcane forces when the bodies of three witches are pulled unchanged from a 300 year interment at the bottom of a duck pond near Salem, Massachusetts in the competent ‘Dark Waters’.

In ‘Night Train’ Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins and Dave Stewart give the old ‘ghost locomotive’ plot an effective tweak for Liz and Roger and the reprinted comic strips conclude with the team solving the mystery of disappearing babies in ‘There’s Something Under My Bed’ by Joe Harris and Adam Pollina.

The volume finishes with a fascinating look at the construction and sketches of the all new adventure ‘Another Day at the Office’ by Mignola and Cameron Stewart which is the sweetener for an already rollickin’ good read.

© 2004 Mike Mignola. All Rights Reserved.

Creatures of the Night

Creatures of the Night 

By Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-911-5

This is a pretty book for the fantasy fan. Gaiman has adapted two stories from Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of his own short stories, with art by his long-time collaborator Michael Zulli.

‘The Price’ is a fairly standard modern whimsy of a writer who adopts a stray cat and the terrible things that happen to the brave beast, and ‘The Daughter of Owls’ tells a much more traditional fable concerning a mysterious foundling and the wages of sin. Although not original in plot, the treatment of the material is captivating and heartrending, clearly showing the kind of power that well crafted word and images can produce in an attentive reader.

The Price™, The Daughter of Owls™ © 2004 Neil Gaiman. All Rights Reserved.
Artwork © 2004 Michael Zulli. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Relentless

Catwoman: Relentless  

By Ed Brubaker & Cameron Stewart (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-84023-821-6

The latest revamping of the Catwoman continues in this third volume, collecting issues #12-19 of her comic series plus the Secret Files one-shot. The transition from slinky villainess to bad-girl super-thief to anti-hero continues with her making one district of Gotham City her own protectorate, earning the enmity of crime-lord Black Mask.

Apparently, when you annoy a gangster he comes after not only you, not only all your loved ones but even anybody who might have stood next to you on a bus once, and Selina Kyle has to defeat a ruthless and obsessive foe determined to make her an object lesson to all.

This is work that avoids the formula writing of many comic series, and the deceptively simple art style hones that storytelling until it’s like a sleek ice-pick for the eyes – but in a good way. Brubaker and Stewart have fully adapted a classic Noir sensibility to the flash and dazzle of super-hero comics and the resulting feel of grimy authenticity permeates these stories. If this had been the stuff of the film, we’d all still be sitting in those gum smeared seats.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

B.P.R.D. vol 1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories

B.P.R.D. vol 1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories 

By Mike Mignola & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-582-9

This collection features spin-off characters from Mike Mignola’s excellent Hellboy series and deals with the spooky jobs that typically befall the Enhanced Talents task force of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. If you’re new to the concept think of a government sanctioned Ghostbusters dealing with Buffy style threats to humanity.

After the events of Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, the demonic hero took a sabbatical from the B.P.R.D. and our tale begins as the remaining investigators question their own validity in an organisation that clearly does not fully trust or appreciate them. Such ponderings are sidelined however when pyrokinetic Liz Sherman sends a spectacular distress call to the Merman Abe Sapien. Since she has been missing for two years nobody downplays it and a team is promptly dispatched to her last known location, a temple in the Ural Mountains, on the Arctic Circle.

And so begins a classic tale of sub-Terrene lost civilisations, ancient races and another imminent threat of world conquest, all dealt with in desperate fashion by genuinely charismatic heroes in the supremely entertaining action-packed, tension-filled nick-of-time.

Mignola’s heroic-culture distillations are refreshingly familiar yet engagingly novel, with disembodied psychic Johann Krauss joining Sapien, Sheridan and the wonderful Roger the Homunculus and psychologist Kate Corrigan in an adventure every bit as captivating, thrilling, and just plain spooky as the previous Hellboy vehicles. Indeed, an ensemble situation seems a much better fit for this kind of story. All this eerie wonderment comes courtesy of Mignola, scripting team Christopher Golden & Tom Sniegoski, the astounding Ryan Sook with additional inking from Curtis Arnold, letters from Clem Robins and magical colours from the himself-legendary Dave Stewart.

Accompanied by a brief but valuable commentary, two back-up strips from the miniseries Hellboy: Box Full of Evil add even more wonderment to this mix. ‘The Killer in My Skull’ is written by Mignola, drawn by Matt Smith, inked by Sook and coloured by Stewart, and features the introduction of 1930’s ghost-breaker Lobster Johnson in a splendid weird science thriller. ‘Abe Sapien versus Science’ is a chilling little character reminiscence of the manphibian’s early days, by practically the same team, except Mignola inks Smith. Pat Brosseau is the under-appreciated letterer in both cases.

Even more thrills come care of writer Brian McDonald, illustrator Derek Thompson and colourist James Sinclair in the extended Abe Sapien solo adventure ‘Drums of the Dead’, a splendidly spooky sea-faring thriller involving voodoo, sharks and the unburied. Rounding out this lovely book is an extensive sketchbook section and the origin of Johann Kraus which originally appeared only in Dark Horse Extra, the publisher’s trade journal.

When the tides of TV fashion once again shift to the fantastic, this bunch should be first choice option for every production company out there. Until then why not get ahead of the rush by reading these truly magical tales?

© 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 Mike Mignola. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-548-9

Not a tremendous amount to be said about this one. If you’re a Buffy fan this collection of short stories featuring the kinds of beasties that she so adroitly killed is for you. If you’re a fan of the comic works of Ben Edlund, Scott Morse, Cameron Stewart, Tim Sale, Sean Phillips and a host of others illustrating stories by Joss Whedon and the writers of the TV series this one has it all.

If you’re a fan of kick-ass action/horror comics you’ll love this. And if you’ve just been a fan of the television show this is your chance to get addicted to comics ‘cause this one’s terribly hard to put down.

™ & © 2004 Twentieth Century Fox.

The Authority: Human on the Inside

The Authority: Human on the Inside

By John Ridley & Ben Oliver (Wildstorm/DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84023-926-3

This all-new story of the comic world’s most “Take Charge” super group sees them as de facto rulers of the world tackling twin crises as the American President they have ousted instigates a bizarre plan for vengeance just as the world, and our heroes, succumb to a global wave of psychological depression.

Naturally there’s shedloads of lavishly illustrated carnage – on both large and personal scales – and the requisite adult language and behaviour abound, but still there’s something missing here.

Artist Ben Oliver delivers sensitive drawing which is technically superb but somehow fails to engage the viewer, whilst the script from novelist and movie veteran John Ridley is frankly uninspired and a touch derivative – which is quite a disappointment from the man who wrote the screenplay for the wonderfully edgy anti-war film Three Kings. Perhaps it’s simply passion for the subject that’s absent.

Whatever the problem, I hope we see more work from them either individually or paired again, perhaps on a Vertigo project which inclines more to sensitivity and mood rather than hyper-cosmic Thud and Blunder.

© 2004 WildStorm Productions, an imprint of DC Comics. All rights reserved.