Runaways Vol 1: Pride and Joy

Runaways: Pride and Joy

By Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, David Newbold & Craig Yeung

Marvel ISBN 1-846530-10-5
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Fashion has always played a large part in determining what goes into comic books, and popular culture has a tendency to feed on and breed with itself. It should come as no surprise then when publishers access the shtick that drives the burgeoning teen TV market.

Six young kids who have nothing in common except that their parents hang out together are suddenly bosom buddies once they discover that those same adults are in fact a team of super-villains intent on world conquest. As all parents can’t be trusted anyway, the kids have no problem banding together to use the powers they didn’t know they had to bring them to justice. The evil adults have manipulative fingers in every pie, however, and frame the kids who have to go on the run…

Playing to the same audiences that buy X-Men and watch the OC, Smallville and Hollyoaks, chock full of whiny, precocious brats taking the puberty-equals-alienation theme to new heights might make this unreadable to anyone whose hormones have stabilised, but in actuality the writing has moments of fun and genuine menace. Sadly the package is woefully betrayed by somewhat mediocre art, which looks a little like animation downloads seen on a screen coated in inch thick dust. Is grey and murky the new Black these days?

This volume originally saw print in the USA as a digest sized edition, and the more substantial page size does a lot to counteract my previous reservations regarding the picture quality.

© 2003, 2004, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Death’s Head Vol 1

Death’s Head Vol 1

By Simon Furman & various

Marvel/Panini UK ISBN 1-905239-34-3
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK had very few long-term successes in its twenty-plus years as a semi-autonomous company, but the robotic bounty hunter — sorry, free-lance peace-keeping agent — was certainly one of their most eccentric. Now the current regime have released the almost complete adventures in a cheerful bookshelf edition for your nostalgia tinged enjoyment.

Along with some welcome background on the big tin guy, there’s the very first one page adventure, the team-up with the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of Dr Who, the preliminary guest shot with the futuristic paramilitary sports team The Dragon’s Claws, and then the first seven issues of his own comic book series, all lavishly re-presented for a manic metal-head’s enjoyment. The only fault to find is the necessary exclusion of the battles against those other big robotic staples of the 1980s comic scene, The Transformers. Due to pesky copyright reasons the battles from Transformers # 113-151 have been left out, but this shouldn’t mar your enjoyment of this good old-fashioned comedy action-fest.

Always played as much for laughs as thrills and mercifully short on the breast-beating angst of his Marvel contemporaries, Death’s Head was created and written by Simon Furman, and this volume has artwork from Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Liam Sharp, John Higgins, Mark Farmer, Dave Hine, Paul Marshall and Jeff Anderson

© 1986-1989, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grimjack: Killer Instinct

Grimjack: Killer Instinct

By John Ostrander & Timothy Truman

(IDW Publishing)

Grimjack originally appeared during the American comic industry’s last great flourishing in the 1980’s. Created by Ostrander and Truman as a back-up feature, he swiftly won his own title at First Comics and almost survived the company’s demise more than a decade later. In a crowded marketplace, and almost irrespective of who was doing the drawing, this hard-boiled fantasy action strip was a watchword for quality entertainment.

John Gaunt, Grimjack, is part private eye, part ronin and all-round problem solver just scratching out a living in the fantastic pan-dimensional city of Cynosure, a huge metropolis that touches every place in the multiverse at once. A combination of dry wit, dark edged fantasy, spectacular action and a willingness to take narrative risks won him a lot of loyal fans.

In Killer Instinct, Ostrander and Truman take us back to a time immediately preceding Grimjack’s first appearance to flesh out the character for the old lags whilst introducing newcomers to a fresh, vibrant anti-hero struggling against a number of corrupt power-mongers, including insane paramilitaries and expansionist vampire cliques, whilst trying to find his own way. There is action aplenty and tremendous style for fans of genre-crossing. Let’s hope this leads someone to publish all those past classics in spiffy book compilations. I know I want them.

Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Violence in the British Underground

Nasty Tales

By David Huxley

Headpress: Critical Vision ISBN: 1 900486 13 X

The creative explosion of the 1960s and early 1970s has been largely forgotten these days, and never more so than in what used to be called “underground comix”. This slim volume, written by one of the lesser luminaries of the scene, traces the developments and points of note of a generally fuzzy period in the history of the comic strip, with lavish illustration and keen insight into how our side of the pond responded to “the Man” and his implacable foes Robert Crumb, Wonder Warthog, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and all those other forgotten immortals of the US counter-culture.

Extensively researched, clearly propounded and sporting what seems to a complete chronological listing of all underground and alternative comic titles published between 1966-1982.

Text: © 2001 David Huxley. Illustrations © respective owners and artists. All Rights Reserved.

The Quitter

By Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel

Vertigo

The cartoon phenomenon that is Harvey Pekar once again breaks boundaries in an industry that operates so much these days on the assumption that most creators do their best work in the first flush of youth.

The Quitter is a bleak, coldly funny and often painful self-examination of a troubled and driven young outsider Everyman in a society gradually becoming a bit of a disappointment. All the trademark Pekar concerns are present: success with women, financial security, success in relationships, history, literature, success in a culture that won’t tolerate failure – or even mediocrity – and respect, all viewed through the fresh eyes of a troubled adolescent.  Pekar’s subtle mastery, gloriously illustrated by the simply magical black and white artwork of Dean Haspiel, is to convey these dark themes in a compelling and frankly joyous manner.

Always gripping, never depressing, and utterly absorbing, The Quitter is, as its hype describes, some of his best work yet, and I’m fervently praying that there’s much, much more to come.

© 2005 Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel.  All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Shooting Script

By Dougherty, Harris & Singer

Titan Books ISBN 1-84576-332-7

Also available for fans of the movie, the comic character or simply just film in general is this highly instructive volume. As well as the aforementioned script, there are deleted scenes, interviews with the relevant creators and a superb storyboard section for those of an artistic bent. Buy the book and then make your own block-buster.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Identity Crisis (softcover)

By Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales & Michael Bair

DC Comics

For such an impressive and far-reaching comics event, this collection is quite a slim and swift read.  Whilst the comic drove the narrative forward in the manner of a whodunit, most of the character by-play and the ripples of the bare events related could only be experienced in the (inter-linked) individual issues of the involved titles. When this is all absorbed week-by-week, month-by-month, the cumulative effect is both bewildering and engrossing, but such an experience cannot be duplicated in traditional publishing.

The plot involves DC heroes re-assessing their careers whilst hunting down the murderer of the wife of second-string hero/detective, Elongated Man.  As the investigation proceeds, heroes and villains confront many of their bedrock principles such as tactics, allegiances and even the modern validity of that genre staple, the Secret Identity.  The dialogue is memorable and the artwork magnificent and the aftershocks of the revelations did indeed live up to their hype. How sad then than this “core” book feels like a rushed “Readers Digest” edition, whilst many of the key moments are scattered in a dozen other (unrelated) collections.

© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Cheap Jack City

Lots of graphic novels that first come out in hardback eventually reappear in an inexpensive paperback/mass-market edition. When a softie comes in that we’ve already reviewed, I’ll just let you know there’s a cheaper version available. And remember, sometimes my only quibble is format and price.

Charley’s War: Book III (17 October 1916 – 21 February 1917)

Charley’s War: Book III

By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-270-3
                    ISBN-13: 9781845762704

After much too long a wait the third volume collecting the greatest war comic strip of all time is finally out. Charley’s War, originally published in the weekly comic “Battle” (beginning in issue #200 – 6 January 1979 and running until October of 1986), tells the story of underage East-Ender Charley Bourne, who lies about his age to enlist in the British Army setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

By the beginning of this volume he has already survived the hellish conditions of trench warfare, endured the cruelty and stupidity of his own leaders and lost most of his friends. The introduction of Tanks has brought a furious response from the Germans, many of whom consider the innovation to be an atrocity weapon. In retaliation, they unleash a savage attack using “Judgement Troopers” whose “total war tactics” overwhelm the British Lines.

Book III opens with the brutal battle for the British positions in full swing, with neither side gaining any real advantage, and ends for Charley when he is wounded sufficiently to be sent home to England (called “getting a Blighty”). Naturally, things are never that simple and the callous indifference of the doctors behind the lines means that any soldier still able to pull a trigger is sent back into battle. Once more facing the Judgement Troops, Charley and his mates are forced to experience fresh horrors before the bloody battle peters out indecisively. Charley is again wounded, losing his identification in the process and returned eventually to England as a shell-shocked amnesiac.

Mills and Colquhoun now begin a masterful sequence that breaks all the rules of war comic fiction, by switching the emphasis to the home-front where Charley’s family are mourning his apparent death and working in the war industries, just as the German Zeppelin raids on British cities are beginning. The writer’s acerbic social criticism makes powerful use of history as the recovering hero experiences the trials of submarine warfare, bombing raids and the callous exploitation of British munitions magnates who care more for profit than the safety of their workers or even the victory of their homeland. The book ends as Charley attempts to rescue his mother from a bomb factory as Zeppelins drop lethal payloads all around them…

Included in this volume are a rare interview with artist Joe Colquhoun, a feature on the history of Zeppelin warfare and writer Pat Mills’ wonderfully informative chapter notes and commentary. Not just a great war comic, Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium.

© 2006 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved.