Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 2

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 2 

By Hiroki Endo (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-488-9

In a world decimated by the ‘Closure Virus’ and racked by global civil war, survivor Elijah Ballard is ranging through South America, seeking his lost mother when he is captured by a band of 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.

As the group make their way over the mountains to rest in Cuzco City they are attacked by a Propater force. Although that is basically the plot for this volume the asides into the nature of ideology and conflict are intriguingly revealing and the examinations of the various characters motivations and coping mechanisms are both evocative and telling. Trapped and under pressure Elijah and the others exhibit rare humanity in a milieu both dehumanising and increasingly artificial.

By flashback and cross cutting we also learn that Elijah and his mother may be much more that citizens caught in the tide, and the young man may well be the most strategic piece on the blood-soaked world stage. Was his capture just an accident or does he have a secret value?

This Titan Books edition is printed in Japanese format – that is read from back to front and right-to-left, but don’t let that deter you. You’ll rapidly adjust and the slight effort is worth it. Blending beautiful drawing with breakneck action and strong characterisation, this series will appeal to fans and casual readers alike – as long as they’re over 18. Fair warning: this volume ends on a cliffhanger, so if you’re impatient you might want to wait for the third volume before you start reading.

© 2007 Hiroki Endo. All Rights Reserved.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 1

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 1 

By Hiroki Endo (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-487-0

Despite the truly monumental breadth and variety of manga, I suspect that to western eyes Japanese comics are inextricably linked to science fiction in general and cataclysm in particular. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, merely saddled with a few unfair presuppositions. With that stated and in mind any fair reader should sit down to Eden: It’s An Endless World! and be prepared for a treat.

Elijah Ballard is one of a small group of immunes who have survived the global pandemic named the ‘Closure Virus’. Most of humanity has been eradicated, and those infected who have survived their initial exposure are doomed to a slow deterioration that compels them to augment their failing bodies with cybernetics simply to survive. They barely qualify as human by most standards.

Pockets of survivors immune to the plague are dotted about the planet and as the years pass various factions form to take control of the world. Through a series of flashbacks we see the immediate aftermath of the plague before jumping twenty years to follow this young man’s picaresque ramblings through a devastated South America. Accompanied by a robotic bodyguard he is eking out a precarious existence when he is captured – or perhaps adopted – by a rag-tag band of soldiers.

When the world died political society divided into two camps. The fragmented remnants of the United Nations tried to retain some degree of control but found themselves under attack by Propater, a revolutionary paramilitary organisation that had been planning a world coup even before the virus hit. Global war has raged among the survivors ever since.

Now caught up in this conflict Elijah begins to realise that his long missing parents are major players in the new world order and day to day survival is no longer his only concern…

Despite the cyberpunk appurtenances and high octane pace of the narrative, this is in many senses a very English approach to the End of the World. There are echoes of that other Ballard (J. G., an author, not a comic strip scripter), Aldous Huxley, and even Chapman Pincher. The adult themes present here aren’t simply nudity and violence – although they are here in an abundance that will satisfy any action manga fan – but also a lyrical philosophy and moral questioning of political doctrine that underpins the text in the manner of much Cold War era science fiction.

This Titan Books edition is translated into English but printed in Japanese format – that is read from back to front and right-to-left, but don’t let that deter you. You will adjust in minutes at most and the slight effort is really worth it. Subtly engaging, beautifully illustrated and balancing swift action with introspective mystery, this series looks set to appeal to that literate sector that needs their brains tickled as well as their pulse rates raised.

© 2007 Hiroki Endo. All Rights Reserved.

The Dead Boy Detectives

The Dead Boy Detectives 

By Jill Thompson (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-181-2

The legacy of The Sandman continues under the auspices of Jill Thompson, but her second venture into this Mangamerican style sadly isn’t as good or even as readable as her previous At Death’s Door. The two dead schoolboys, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, who refused to go when collected by Dream’s sister, Death, have hovered around the Vertigo corners of the DC Universe since their introduction in Sandman: Season of Mists, obviously garnering some fans amongst both creators and the general public, but their role here might be something of a stretch.

As consulting detectives they are contacted by a girl from a private school in Chicago. Her new best friend has disappeared, but her teachers refuse to care about it or even acknowledge her existence. Having both died under similar circumstances, our heroes rush to the rescue.

So far, so good, but then it all breaks down. Thompson has elected to produce the tale as an homage to the Japanese publishing convention of Shōjo Manga, which emphasises a world of passivity, dreams, inner searches and human relationships over conflict, drama, perseverance and action – or as we’ve come to define it, Girls’ comics rather than Boys’ comics. It must have been a plausible pitch, but the actual story is vapid and meandering with no real dramatic hook, no threat, real or implied, to produce tension, and a resolution copped from the worst days of Scooby-Doo. A series of embarrassments and misadventures leads to a conclusion devoid of revelation, empathy, or satisfaction.

All that leaves is the humour, and there is precious little of that. I’m afraid that dressing dead boys up as girls will never make it into the gagsters Hall of Fame, no matter how venerated a tradition it might be. Its good news that such memorable characters aren’t being sidelined and doubly so that DC are prepared to let creators experiment with them. Sometimes, however, that means a miss rather than another hit. Let’s just wait for next time, then.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Day of Vengeance

Day of Vengeance 

By Bill Willingham, Judd Winick, Ian Churchill & Justiniano (DC Comics/Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-230-4

Another story strand in DC’s ambitious and ubiquitous Infinite Crisis publishing event, the miniseries collected here dealt with the various magic users in the company’s current continuity.

The graphic compilation begins by setting the scene with a text piece defining the nature of magic and a reprint of “Lightning Strikes Twice” (originally printed as Action Comics #826, Adventures of Superman #639 and Superman # 216) which pitted magic-based hero Captain Marvel and the Man of Steel against the demonic and ethereal spirit of rage, Eclipso. Following this rather standard possessions-and-punches outing from Judd Winick, Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund there is another highly informative and rather necessary text feature outlining the major (or should that be ‘minor’?) protagonists of Day of Vengeance.

The writing of Bill Willingham is always a treat and he adds a gloriously wry and contemporary air to what might have a turgid and silly enterprise, namely rationalising the role of magic as a narrative and plot device in the new continuity that DC is building.

The Spectre, an all-powerful spirit charged by Heaven with the task of punishing the wicked and exacting Divine Vengeance, has been seduced by Eclipso and determines to end all evil by wiping out magic and its practitioners. Using this pompous, ponderous and awe-inspiring premise as a starting point, Willingham constructs a sly, sassy, cynical and utterly irresistible caper, starring a team of mystical second-raters, bar-flies and no-hopers who determine not to wait for the ghostly hammer to fall but rather to risk everything on a pre-emptive strike against the ultimate in the Wrath of God stakes.

Led by septuagenarian sword-swinger Nightmaster, and with strategy and planning by the brilliant and worlds-weary Detective Chimp, The Enchantress, Ragman, Blue Devil, Nightshade and Black Alice, C-list occult heroes though they are, determine to stop the Spectre and save what’s left of their universe.

With enthralling illustrations by Justiniano, Ron Wagner, Walden Wong, Livesay and Dexter Vines, this rollicking, roller-coaster romp is possibly the best and certainly the most accessible of all the various tales that make up Infinite Crisis.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Marvel: vol 2, Coven

Captain Marvel: vol 2, Coven 

By Peter David, Kyle Hotz & Ivan Reis (Marvel Comics)
ISBN 0-7851-1306-1

It’s a return to Reality for the cosmic symbionts Genis and Rick Jones after their near catastrophic brush with hyper-metaphysicality (for clarification see Captain Marvel: Nothing to Lose ISBN 0-7851-1104-2). Coven picks up a little later as a still-mad-as-a-bag-of-badgers Captain Marvel is back on Earth, only held in check by the will-power of Rick Jones. Then the man named Coven enters their lives.

A sadistic serial killer sentenced to death on Rick’s testimony, Coven unsuccessfully claims immunity from prosecution since he’s an alien and not subject to human law. After his execution he revives and begins another murder-spree, only to encounter our hero(es) fresh from being kicked out of Asgard – home of the Norse Gods – where Captain Marvel had ticked everybody off by declaring himself a better god than them and claiming squatter’s rights.

Rick, convinced his life is threatened by the resurrected murderer, is astounded when Genis unaccountably decides he wants to hear Coven’s side of things, precipitating a team-up/battle with Spider-Man, an alien invasion and a chilling lesson in inter-species Real-Politik which leaves Jones wondering just who is the monster and who the checking force?

David’s signature dark whimsy and sharp dialogue create some brilliant moments and the story is seldom predictable. The absurdist sensibilities and love of word-play sadly don’t completely solve the major problem, however, which is the seven tons of backstory needed to follow it. This is the kind of quality comic work that would win over new readers, but neophytes and civilians can’t help but be deterred by the bewildering amount of necessary research needed before starting.

© 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Marvel: vol 1, Nothing to Lose

Captain Marvel: vol 1, Nothing to Lose 

By Peter David, ChrissCross, Ivan Reis & Paco Medina (Marvel Comics)
ISBN 0-7851-1104-2

This particular incarnation of the “trademark-that-must-not-die” features the son of the Kree warrior who was Marvel’s first holder of the name (after the copyright on a character held now by DC, but originally taken out by Fawcett in 1940 finally lapsed in 1968) and long-time company supporting character Rick Jones in a symbiotic relationship that echoes the heyday of those flower-power glory days. Fair warning though, despite the excellent writing and great art, if you are not at least passingly familiar with Marvel’s close continuity, this is not a series of books you want to read.

Nothing to Lose (reprinting Captain Marvel: volume 4, issues #1-6 and I told you it was confusing didn’t I?) is the story of Genis, the test-tube baby son of Mar-Vell, an alien warrior who saved the Earth and the Universe countless times before dying of cancer in the landmark Death of Captain Marvel, the company’s first ever Graphic Novel.

Artificially matured, Genis tried to emulate his father as a galaxy-spanning crusader, with mixed results, before hooking up with Rick Jones – his Dad’s original sidekick who offered the promise of real, insider insights into what made him such a hero.

When Nothing to Lose opens he is in fact, in just the same situation his father endured with the teen-aged Jones back in 1960’s. Their bodies are linked by “Nega-bands”, which are fantastically powerful alien wrist-bands, which both wear, but sadly only in turns, as they have the drawback of merging their molecular structure. This means that only one body can inhabit our universe at once, and the other is trapped in a sub-atomic pocket-universe called The Microverse, from where they can observe and communicate, but not affect us here.

Marvel also has his father’s greatest power, “Cosmic Awareness” an ability to discern everything happening everywhere at once. Sadly, and inevitably, this ability is turning Genis into a raving madman. Just knowing something bad is happening doesn’t mean that the only solution you can offer is ultimately the right one for the universe. This is tragically demonstrated when Captain Marvel stops a suicide bomber from detonating, only to see her murdered by one of her intended victims. This hopeless situation is repeated and magnified by their intervention in an alien invasion and other missions.

As the days progress Rick has to face the fact that his partner’s omniscience is more curse than blessing, and an increasing capriciousness is affecting Captain Marvel’s desire to “Do Good”. When the cosmic avenger starts taking advice from the Punisher, joins the militaristic Kree’s colonial space fleet and even kills himself (successfully but apparently not permanently) he decides that his destiny is to destroy creation, and it leads to a confrontation with a number of the universe’s most powerful conceptual entities before a new status quo can be reached.

Peter David’s blackly tongue-in-cheek examination of power and perspective has some truly chilling moments, and has a lot to say on the nature of heroism, all leavened by his absurdist sensibilities and love of comedy word-play. It is such a shame that there’s so much baggage to attend to before the casual reader can even approach it.

© 2002, 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary 

By Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Vertigo)
ISBN 1-84576-198-7

Fleetway veterans Ennis and Ezquerra have a long association with British war comics and the apocalyptic 2000AD, so combining those sensibilities in a near-future World War III adventure must have seemed a natural for the fledgling DC science fiction imprint Helix. Since the first four-part miniseries spawned an almost immediate sequel they must have been more or less correct, but as Helix folded in the space of a year, with its surviving projects being absorbed by Vertigo, this compilation comes to us courtesy of them.

In 1999 Europe went back to war, massive, bloody conventional war with the bankrupt and barmy US of A, ostensibly over economic and religious differences, but actually because our creators needed a backdrop for the world-weary Mary to display her exceptional talent for slaughter in the signature arena of idiot Generals and venal politicians whose sole reason for existing seems to be to prune back the surplus of the current generation of decent folk.

Under the guise of a mission to secure a biological super-weapon, Mary and a crack team of expendables battle a spectre from her gore-splattered past and the EU’s top hit-man as they carve a swathe of destruction through Europe’s few remaining landmarks in the first tale (released in 1996), whilst the follow-up story (“Lady Liberty” from 1997) sees her return to a devastated America on a mission to wrest New York City from the army of religious maniacs who have captured it.

Trenchant, savage, satirical, gripping and plain old thrilling, this slice of fun shows these creators at their best, giving you an everyman view of all the hell and stupidity our leaders drag us through on much too regular a basis. Grown-up comics at its very best and long overdue for its rightful place on your bookshelf.

© 1996, 1997 Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Hong Kong

Batman: Hong Kong 

By Doug Moench, & Tony Wong (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84023-758-9

This Batman outreach project is a surprisingly engaging piece of Hong Kong cinema in comic form by frankly inconsistent writer Doug Moench and the anonymous horde of illustrators used by Comics Supremo Tony Wong to churn out literally thousands of lavishly executed Kung Fu comics that have earned him the title “the Stan Lee of Hong Kong”.

The story itself is fairly unsurprising tosh. A serial killer who webcasts his murders as realtime snuff movies leads Batman to the former British colony and a civil war between a Triad leader and his brother – a cop determined to bring him to book. Add to the mix a dashing young nephew who loves his family but thirsts for justice and you have all the elements for the next John Woo blockbuster.

Although a touch stiff in places and a little disorienting if you’re unused to the rapid art-style transitions of Hong Kong comics (artists and even forms of representation – paint, black line wash, crayon etc. can vary from panel to panel) this has a lot of pace and fairly rattles along. This book is a lot better and more accessible than many outings for the caped crusader in recent years.

© 2004 DC Comics

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight 

By Brian Augustyn, Michael Mignola, P. Craig Russell & Eduardo Barreto (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-403-X

This long overdue volume collects the seminal classic Gotham By Gaslight, which spawned DC’s eclectic “Elseworlds” imprint, and its cruelly neglected sequel Master of the Future.

The conceit of the first story is the transposition of the most recognisable icons of the Batman mythos to the end of the 19th century, enabling troubled millionaire and would be avenger Bruce Wayne to begin his caped career in gory battle with the world’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Brian Augustyn’s moody steam-punk script is elevated to spectacular heights by the astounding artwork of comic giants Mike Mignola and P Craig Russell, and the results have long been considered one of the comic high-points of the last twenty-five years.

Which in some ways is a shame, as Master of the Future is in many respects a better story, with the superb but criminally unappreciated art of Eduardo Barreto recreating the turn of the (20th) century technological wonderment of Jules Verne and H G Wells. As a Mad Scientist threatens to destroy the burgeoning metropolis of Gotham City from his airborne dreadnought, only the by-now disenchanted Batman could possibly stand against him… if he can be bothered. Augustyn’s examination of vigilante motivation once his anger is expiated, especially in an era and milieu of extreme wealth and privilege, provides an interesting counterpoint to the mind-numbing obsessive ness of the “regular” caped crusader.

Batman was voted the most popular comic character of the 20th century. How strange, then that two of his best escapades deal with the age before then? How about judging for yourselves with this superb collection?

© 1989, 1991, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Detective

Batman: Detective 

By Paul Dini & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-428-5

Here’s a pure and simple treat for all Bat-fans, ancient and modern, as award winning animator Paul Dini joins the monthly Detective Comics magazine as regular scripter. A consummate storyteller, he’s also quite obviously a lover of the character in all his aspects.

Playing to a long-forgotten facet of the Batman’s CV, that of ‘World’s Greatest Detective’, Dini has kept the bloodletting insanity rampant in Gotham City to a minimum and concentrated on the solving of outrageous crimes that used to such a large a factor in the popularity of the Caped Crusader.

These gripping yarns (Detective Comics issues #821-826) also showcase a host of premiere artists to great effect. J. H. Williams III starts the ball rolling in his unique high design style illustrating ‘The Beautiful People’ as a mugging gang, trained to pass as upper class swells targets Gotham’s Glitterati. ‘E. Nigma, Consulting Detective’, with art by Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher, features Batman’s obsessive arch-foe as a seemingly cured and reformed private eye on the trail of a murderer attempting to frame Bruce Wayne.

The homicidal poison Ivy features in ‘Stalked’ but as the prey of a marauding monster determined to destroy her. Joe Benitez and Victor Llamas provide pictures for a tale where not every thing is as it seems. Riddler returns, as does the art team of Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher in ‘Night of the Penguin’, as another apparently reformed foe plays victim not villain. This one is also noteworthy for a sparkling guest appearance by Superman’s wife, Lois Lane.

All the regulars take a break as guest writer Royal McGraw and artists Marcos Marz and Luciana Del Negro describe the vengeful campaign of murder and mayhem undertaken in ‘The Return of Dr. Phosphorus’, an homage to the era – and villains – of the groundbreaking Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers run of issues in the early 1970s.

The volume concludes with one of the best Joker — and definitely the best Robin — stories in decades. Dini, Kramer and Faucher all return for the Christmas horror story ‘Slayride’ as the Crazed Clown traps the Boy Wonder in a stolen car and makes him an unwilling participant in a spree of vehicular homicides amongst the last minute shoppers. If there is ever a ‘Greatest Batman Christmas Stories Ever Told’ collection, (and if there’s anybody out there with the power to make it so, get weaving please!) this just has to be the closing chapter.

Great Character, great creators, great stories; let’s pray that this is the start of a Batman renaissance. Even if it’s not though, this is still the best Bat-book in simply forever and you should get this superb read.

© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved