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.

Superman: Back in Action

Superman: Back in Action

By various

DC Comics ISBN 1-84576-432-3

As part of their One year Later strand, and following on from the continuity altering events of Infinite Crisis, DC comics brings us a Superman who has been missing from Earth for a whole year – how strangely reminiscent of that film it all seems – and who must now prove himself all over again to a doubting populace, government, and distressingly his own friends. Luckily a huge alien eBay style merchant monster has invaded Earth and is parcelling up all and sundry for auction – including all the superheroes – and the big blue guy gets to save the world in a live simulcast feed.

Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza write and Pete Woods draws an effective if uninspired little fable that should pass some time nicely, but the real gold is the three filler adventures from DC Comics Presents, a 1980’s title that teamed the Man of Steel with various heroes of the DC Universe. Here you can enjoy the Metal Men, Firestorm and Deadman in short, punchy romps written by Len Wein and Gerry Conway, and beautifully illustrated by the incredible Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

There’s a lot of gold in DC’s back catalogue along with the dross, and if a series or theme collection seems a losing prospect, I fully welcome them mining out the nuggets and putting them anywhere they might fit. Good stories should be read not stashed away.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

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.