Batman: Gotham County Line

Batman:Gotham County Line

By Steve Niles & Scott Hampton, with Jose Villarrubia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-401-3

Eerie and evocative thriller as Batman investigates a serial killing spree in the sleepy suburbs of the big, bad city that only really kicks into high gear after the death of the perpetrator. Batman is one of the few heroic icons who has always been equally at home with super-science and the supernatural and the Dark Knight’s arena is here extended to beyond the veil of tears and deep into nightmare territory.

Rife with zombies, ritual killers, early life revelations and the odd guest-star, this still manages to be a crime thriller and a detective mystery that Bat-fans will enjoy and cross-over readers – especially horror aficionados – will revel in.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino

(DC Comics)

Hardcover ISBN 1-4012-0447-3 Paperback ISBN 1-84576-144-8

This most reductionist, iconic version of the World’s Finest team returns in a bewildering romp that is an aging fan-boy’s dream, as the time-travelling Legion of Super Villains co-opt history by raising Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be the conquerors of Earth, thus provoking universal doom and a plethora of DC guest stars from all histories and genres dying heroically before our consensus of reality is restored.

Although there is a vast amount of razzle-dazzle from Jeph Loeb and spectacular art from Pacheco and Merino, it still fails to really satisfy, and even the most desperate of continuity freaks know that everything’s going to come out right eventually.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Superman: Infinite City

Superman: Infinite City

By Mike Kennedy & Carlos Meglia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-176-6

This original graphic novel is a sadly lightweight piece of fluff that sees investigative reporters Mr and Mrs Kent tracking down the source of a devastating super-gun, only to be sucked into a strange time-warped dimension. There they become embroiled in a civil war between greedy, slimy, power hungry industrialist Jesden Tyme (yes – oh, ha ha – indeed) and the robotic Mayor, who just happens to be a download of the consciousness of Superman’s father, Jor-El.

Lavishly illustrated in the manner of an animated feature film, the stylizations of Carlos Meglia may not be to everyone’s taste. The plot from Mike Kennedy (Lone Wolf 2100, Star Wars: Underworld and the sadly under-appreciated Ghost/Batgirl, among others) lacks any punch or originality of its own, relying on the clichéd and oft-rehashed. However, as is often the case in these days of sound-bite culture, the dialogue is sharp and effective, and some of the interplay between Lois and Clark is delightful. Perhaps the comic book powers-that-be have returned to an old philosophy, feeling that readers aren’t consumers for life but only read funny-books for a brief time before graduating to DVDs and computer games or regressing to those old fashioned book thingies.

Still, a new graphic novel is a rare enough investment in these days of translated Manga and album editions of almost anything that reaches 6 issues in its own monthly comic, so perhaps we should just shut up and support the gesture.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Forbidden Dance

Forbidden Dance

By Hinako Ashihara

(TokyoPop) ISBN 1591823455

This is the charming, if eccentric, tale of Aya, a young girl who has seemingly lost the power to dance after an accident at a ballet contest. Her life finally turns around after she sees the boy Akira dance with the COOL ballet troupe. Revitalised, she makes joining COOL her life’s ambition, and nothing, not even the fact that COOL is an all-male company, is going to stop her.

Aimed at a young teen audience, Forbidden Dance is replete with the school angst and success pressure that dominates this branch of manga fiction, but the energy, power and enthusiasm of Hinako Ashihara’s story-telling elevates the tale above the crush of its peers. As Aya’s story progresses the ending is never a foregone conclusion and even the most jaded reader must wonder “what next?”

In a crowded and conservative market, it’s good to see quality story-telling in varied settings, and most fans would probably benefit from giving this book a chance.

© 2003 Hinako Ashihara. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend
Captain Britain

 

By Claremont, Friedrich, Trimpe & Kida

(Marvel/Panini UK) ISBN 1-905239-30-0

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting their earliest successes in the traditional weekly papers format, swiftly carving out a corner of the market – although the works of Lee, Kirby et al had been appearing in other British comics (Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, Eagle, Fantastic!, Terrific!, and the anthologies of Alan Class Publications) since their inception.

In 1976 they decided to augment their output with an original British hero – albeit in a parochial, US style and manner – in a new weekly, although fan favourites Fantastic Four and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. reprints filled out the issues. One bold departure was the addition of full colour printing up front for the new hero, and the equivalent back quarter of each issue.

Unremarkable even by its own standards at the time, this first compilation volume (featuring issues #1 through 23) of Captain Britain’s adventures reads quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to the adventures that is sorely missed in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep attentions riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing reader along. Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment apparently due to his being born here, Herb Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for awhile. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced the unhappy Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap) provided rip-roaring art for this entire first volume. Future artists will include John Buscema, Alan Davis, and, if the publishers include the Black Knight strips from Hulk Weekly, John Stokes.

As for content, if you like old fashioned Marvel-style comics you’re in for a treat, as young Brian Braddock learns how to be a hero with help from the likes of Nick Fury and Captain America, not to mention Prime Minister James Callaghan, against the likes of Hurricane, The Vixen, Doctor Synne, Mastermind and even the Red Skull. The only possible quibble to endure is the petty annoyance of the volume ending mid-story, although the next volume is not too far away, apparently. If this sort of stuff doesn’t appeal, you might consider that these stories are pivotal to understanding the Alan Moore, X-Men and Excalibur tales of the last twenty years. Or the fact that there’s a free Captain Britain mask with the book. Not so easy to resist now, huh?

© 1977, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Face the Face

Batman: Face the Face 

By James Robinson, Don Kramer & Leonard Kirk

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-377-7

After the never-ending calamity of DC’s Infinite Crisis event, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin one year later. This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room.

In Face the Face Batman and Robin return to Gotham after a year’s absence. Why and where they went is unknown, but in their place as protector of the city they left arch criminal and literal head-case Two-Face. Although nobody’s safe choice for a hero, the ex-villain has done a sterling job of crime-crushing, so why has he seemingly returned to his old ways of murder and mayhem now?

As a number of small-fry super-criminals are killed in Two-Face’s signature style, Batman and Robin must either prove a frame up, or catch a man they thought they had reformed. Naturally there’s more to this than at first appears and new tragedy lurks around every corner. In Gotham City, nobody ever gets away clean.

Tightly plotted, and well illustrated, this nonetheless reads more like a private eye thriller than a tale of the towering and tormented Dark Knight that we’ve all come to know. Is that a portent in itself? Fans should, naturally, keep tuned…

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: City of Crime

Batman: City of Crime 

By David Lapham, Ramon Bachs & Nathan Massengill

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-336-X

David (Stray Bullets) Lapham makes his Batman debut in a monolithic tale of the dark underside of Gotham. This bleak and sordid story sees the Dark Knight tackle the horrors of dead and missing children, baby-breeding rings, corporate skullduggery, blue-collar brutality, and the sinister machinations of an inhuman monstrosity that can raise the dead and easily replace his most trusted companions and friends.

Calling on his facility with the modern crime genre Lapham examines the master of disguise Batman deep, deep, deep undercover in search of an abducted child, through the uncommon lens of true contemporary evil that would not be out of place in a Vertigo comic. In a style that owes much to such movies as Donnie Brasco or Serpico we see how taking on another identity can affect even the Batman, and through a seemingly unconnected stream of excursions and capers we perceive a vast plot forming. Street shtick and super hero staples combine in an electrifying high-octane finale that owes much to Assault on Precinct 13 and Dawn of the Dead, as well as any comic showdown you’ve ever seen before.

Grittily illustrated in a methodical, underplayed manner by Star Wars artist Ramon Bachs, this stark fantasy is Batman at his evil-busting best.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scott Pilgrim Vol 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness

Scott Pilgrim Vol 3 

By Bryan Lee O’Malley

Oni Press

O’Malley’s Manga-styled tales of an adorable boy-idol slacker, shambling his way through a contemporary, if somewhat skewed, life is a gentle stroll through a world that manages to feel warmly nostalgic no matter what age you are or where you grew up. Scott Pilgrim is young, lazy and gorgeous, shares a flat with his cool, gay best mate, plays in a band and has girlfriend hassles. He lives his life from moment to moment and manages to keep a moist grip on both angst and hormones.

The third outing for the world’s most precious slacker sees his life-challenges spiral to unbelievable heights and depths. Ramona, his new girlfriend, has revealed that before they can find eternal happiness – or at least date – Scott must defeat her seven previous boyfriends – who are all Evil and Mighty! The complications keep on abounding as Evil Boyfriend #3 is Todd, who is currently seeing Scott’s ex! To make things worse, she’s in a more famous band than Scott and is determined to make him suffer.

This extraordinary blend of pop and sub-culture, replete with ninjas, bionic chicks, teen rebellion and sheer surreal cartoonery is absolutely irresistible reading for anyone who’s got a brain and a secret desire to try being young just one more time. Funny, compelling and probably addictive, and so entertaining you could probably dance to it. This is another great comic book. Go buy it now, and don’t miss the first two either.

™ & © 2006 Bryan Lee O’Malley. All Rights Reserved.

James Bond 007: The Phoenix Project

James Bond: The Phoenix Project 

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-312-2

Titan’s run of the newspaper strip Bond nears its inevitable conclusion in these tales from the mid-1970s, but the superlative work of scripter Jim Lawrence doesn’t slacken its pace or its grip on our action-hungry imaginations. The Phoenix Project examines some of the super-agent’s darker edges as he deals with the threat of a technological battle-suit that could revolutionise the way war is fought.

The Black Ruby Caper once again features a black lead heroine in a convoluted yet enthralling tale of duelling subversive organisations and a mysterious plot known only as Operation: Black Storm. As well as the usual fights and chases Bond has to use blackmail and coercion to achieve his goals. The exotic locales of Zurich, Paris and Ghana are no challenge to Horak’s gifted pens and brushes, and the increasing abundance of beautiful, naked women (it is the mid-1970s, after all) keeps everybody’s attention focussed.

Till Death Do Us Part is more traditional 007 fodder, as Bond kidnaps/rescues the daughter of a foreign “asset” to prevent a scandal. This is notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets that had become an increasingly large part of the film version than for the adventure itself, but there are still thrills and flesh aplenty on view.

The volume closes with the brief but enthralling The Torch-Time Affair, wherein the search for a list of Latin American communist secrets leads to bodies on the beach, breathtaking chases over roads and through jungles and an intriguing detective mystery as 007 must save the girl, get the goods and kill the villain. Or must he..?

All the glamour and menace of James Bond is here in abundance and the chance to see two comic strip masters at their peak is very welcome and oh, so satisfying.

© 1974, 1975, 1976 Glidrose Productions Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd.
James Bond newspaper strip is © Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. All Rights Reserved

Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Vol 2

Star Wars Omnibus 

By Various

Dark Horse Books ISBN 1-84576-369-6

In swift succession comes the follow-up omnibus edition of the eponymous band of space pilots led by Death-Star survivor Wedge Antilles, still in that handbag-friendly size and just as packed with thrills and spills. Re-presented here are issues #9 through 20 of the Dark Horse comic book of the same long and unwieldy name, which then saw print as the graphic collections Battleground: Tatooine by Ryder Windham, John Nadeau and Monty Sheldon, Warrior Princess by Michael A. Stackpole, John Nadeau and Jordi Ensign, and Requiem for a Rogue by Stackpole, Jan Strnad, Mike W. Barr with art by Gary Erskine.

Although hardly challenging, these licensed space opera romps are competent action tales that should help plug the void caused by the hiatus of the movie franchise.

© 2006 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.