Monday, 19 December 2011

Books: Doktor Sleepless

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Doktor Sleepless 
Vol 1: Engines of Desire 
Written by Warren Ellis 
Art by Ivan Rodriguez 
2008



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It is not particularly original to point out that Warren Ellis has a mode of writing that owes a lot to Hunter S. Thompson (or as some of you will know him: that guy that Johnny Depp played in Fear and Loathing In Vas Vegas and/or The Rum Diary - you know: the talky misanthropic American guy with the big sunglasses and long cigarette who liked to say things like: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me" - that guy): as styles go - it's pretty fun: there's lots of impassioned speeches that tend to rail majestically against the various and multiple injustices in the world coupled with a vitriolic disgust that spews out in all directions wrapped around a small stubborn - almost imperceptible - hope that the world could be a much much better place - if only we all tried a little harder. Oh: and not forgetting the swearing. Lots and lots and lots of swearing.

Rightly or wrongly - that's the public face of Warren Ellis that lots of people know (and love) and so you should know what I mean when I say that Doktor Sleepless is Warren Ellis at his most Warren Ellisy since Transmetropolitan and the heyday of Spider Jerusalem (and the crowd goes wild). With every character seemingly a black belt in conversational kung-fu and every speech bubble containing phrases that are probably even now gracing someone's T-Shirt:  “Who’s afraid of a cartoon mad scientist?” etc.

What's it about? Well like he says here: "In Europe in 2004, 13000 kids – persons under the age of fourteen -- died due to poor water. It’s 2007 and the society does not yet understand how to operate water." I won't try and improve on that. I'll just say that if you're looking for a book that's so in love with the science-fiction possibilities in the everyday that it has it's own wiki page (see link below) and successfully manages to balance with a story that bounces along into all sorts of strange places - not excluding one of the most despairing conceptions of the universe I've ever encountered then - well - the Doktor will see you now.

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Links: Doktor Sleepless WikiUndress Me Robot Review #1 & #2, Comic Book Resources Interview with Warren Ellis.

Further reading: Transmetropolitan, The Filth, Planetary, The Nightly NewsGravel,
Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.


All comments welcome.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Books: Neonomicon

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Neonomicon
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Jacen Burrows

2011




Available now from Islington Libraries
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I'm gonna start with an Alan Moore quote from a Wired Interview (link below) that sums up (in the best way) what to expect: "With Neonomicon, because I was in a very misanthropic state due to all the problems we had been having, I probably wasn’t at my most cheery. So Neonomicon is very black, and I’m only using “black” to describe it because there isn’t a darker color."

Consider that your due warning.

The history: In 1994 Alan Moore wrote a short little (but nasty) prose story called The Courtyard for an anthology The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H. P. Lovecraft: set in the year 2004 (which I mention so you don't get confused by the small little science-fiction touches) it took as many Lovecraftian elements and references as it could [1] - and mixed them into a dark cocktail of horror, evil and madness. In 2003 this story was then adapted in into a short 2-issue comic by Antony Johnston (who did the scripting) and Jacen Burrows (who did the art): both of which are very worth reading and both as scary as hell.

Then - in 2010 - following a series of disputes with DC Comics (which you can read in his own words: here) which provided the "misanthropic state" mentioned above and needing money to pay a tax bill (hey - at least you can't say he isn't forthcoming) Moore decided to write a sequel - only this time instead of writing it in prose he decided to team up with the Jacen Burrows (the artist of The Courtyard) and make it directly into a comic. And thus we have: Neonomicon.

For those of you that don't catch the H.P. Lovecraft reference in the title - I would recommend getting yourself acquainted with a book of his short stories before you delve into this comic: your experience will be all the richer for it - and if you don't know the difference between these guys or this thing then some important stuff is going to pass you by (not to mention a massively inappropriate joke in #3). A grounding in some Lovecraft is also important to make sure that you get what exactly Neonomicon is up to: namely telling a modern-day Lovecraftian tale that doesn't shy away from the more unpalatable racist elements and also seeks to uncensor things which have only been previously referred to as "blasphemous rituals." There's another element too (that kicks in around the halfway point) that attempts to debunk Lovecraft and the horror that lies beneath his stories. For anyone that's read Swamp Thing or Promethea (particularly Promethea) the message that comes across won't be much of a surprise - but it does have the effect of lessening the horrific elements in play. But that's the trouble with Alan Moore - he's way too restless to stick to telling a straight ahead horror story - when he can deconstruct it and then put the elements back together in fresh new ways (which is what happens in #4). And it's interesting how the horror lurches through the book from the visceral level all the way to something much more intellectual...

My best guess - based on past conversations with members of the Comic Forum and seeing the way that various people have reacted on the internet - is that this is going to be a fairly divisive book and one that is going to inspire a hell of a lot of extreme reactions. Just to be clear one final time: there is a lot in Neonomicon that is incredibly unpleasant - and indeed one of the few other books that it resembles is Garth Ennis' Crossed (also drawn by Jacen Burrows who it seems is dedicated to the horror genre like no other comic book artist I'm currently aware of).  

This collection contains both The Courtyard and Neonomicon. The Courtyard is worth reading here rather than in it's original form seeing how they've added colour - which adds a whole other grisly dimension.

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[1] See here for a full list.

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Links: Comics Comics Review #2Mindless Ones Article: The Mashless Ones on Neonomicon #2, Alan Moore LiveJounal: Happy Neo Year: It's Neonomicon #2Bleeding Cool: Rereading And Translating Neonomicon #3, Alan Moore LiveJournal: Neonomicon #3: Aagluh Luhng-WujjMultiversity Comics Review #4Comic Book Grrrl Review, Dork Forty ReviewA Lay of the Land ReviewMindless Ones Article: The Neonomicon ReReviewed via Swamp Thing, Comics Comics Comic-Book Club, Bleeding Cool: Neonomicon Vs Watchmensch, Imaginary Stories ArticleBleeding Cool Interview with Jacen Burrows, Wired Interview with Alan Moore, The Skinny Interview with Alan Moore, Alan Moore Acceptance Speech for the Bram Stoker Awards.

Further reading: Alan Moore's The Courtyard, Crossed, The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, CradlegraveLocke & Key, Swamp Thing, No Hero, From HellPromethea, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century .

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Books: Fantastic Four: World's Greatest / The Masters of Doom

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Fantastic Four
World's Greatest
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Bryan Hitch

2009



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Fantastic Four
The Masters of Doom
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Bryan Hitch

2010



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In my head this forms the final part of an unofficial Mark Millar trilogy with Part 1 being Wolverine: Enemy of the State and Part 2 being his Spider-Man Down Among The Dead Men/Venomous/The Last Stand story arc. The common thread between them all is that - they all take on popular Marvel characters, they all take place inside mainstream Marvel continuity (which leaves out all the "Ultimate" stuff) and there's a strong argument to be made that each of them are the best, purest versions (as in: distilled to their essences - rather than buried under unnecessary add-ons - new costumes or powers or whatever) of their characters. And - basically - they're all just really really fun to read and enjoy. So... yeah.

And of the three - these two collections of Fantastic Four stories may be the best of the bunch. Taking in one multi-faceted story (that still has time for a Christmas special!) these books not only have the best artwork (long time collaborator Bryan Hitch who previously worked with Millar on the critically acclaimed The Ultimates) but also everything somehow feels as if it's been crystallised to perfection and it has that lovely reassuring feeling that only really tends to come when you're in the safe hands of someone who's spent many many years mastering their chosen form (a bit like watching a Woody Allen film - but with more time travel and parallel dimension fun).

It's worth noting that Millar has previously done stellar work with these character before in Ultimate Fantastic Four - and for a guy who seems most of his time making things as dark and horrible as possible (he sure likes his torture) it's just such a blessed relief to read something where it's all about the fun and sunshine instead of stormy pain clouds.

In a word: Outstanding. Check them out.

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Links: Too Busy Thinking About My Comics Review: The Very Moral Mr Mark Millar: The "Fantastic 4" & How The Richards Family Swallowed Up The Entire World With Compassion & Decency / Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch's "Fantastic Four" # 554: The Quietest Child Of A Rowdy Bunch Fails To Make Friends With All Of The Neighbours, Weekly Crisis Review of #554.

Further reading: The UltimatesWolverine: Enemy of the State, Spider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: 1234, Fantastic Four: First Family

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Books: The Fixer

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The Fixer
By Joe Sacco

2003





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From the one-man vanguard of "serious comics dealing with serious issues" Joe Sacco (the proponent of what Time magazine so delighfully calls: "comix-journalism"): The Fixer sticks you head first into the muddy realities and extreme happenings of the Bosnian War and all of it's many sticky aftermaths... The Louis Theroux/Jon Ronson of graphic novel reportage Joe Sacco tells of his own dealings with "The Fixer" a Bosnian resident called Neven who - for the right price - can help journalists get the inside scoop and exclusive assess that they crave. Think Del Boy - only even more unscrupulous.

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Links: Guardian Review, Time Review, PopMatters Review, Comic Critique Review.

Further reading: Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza.

All comments welcome.

Books: War Stories

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War Stories
Vol 1
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, David Lloyd and Chris Weston

2004



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Even tho I'd count myself as a Garth Ennis fan I had no idea that this series existed until I was told about it at a Islington Comic Forum meeting (thanks Malcolm!). And what can I say now I've read it? Well - put simply: it's emotionally affecting and at points heart-wrenching to the point of torture with a sense of detail in the charaterisation and dialogue that makes it all feel utterly realistic. Put more simply: It's really, really good.

Written in the same no-frills, deadly serious style as his Battlefields series (of which this is obviously the fore-runner) War Stories is a series of tales set in various locations and different units (Allies and Axis) of the Second World War. With the top flight artistic talent dream-team of Chris Weston (The Filth), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), and David Lloyd (V for Vendetta) each delivering knockout material. And with scripts that don't pussy-foot around and refuses to either pull it's punches or go dark just for the sake of it - but rather pulls off that careful balancing act between the two and is all the more better for it.

I don't wanna be too hyperbolic - but hell: Stunning stuff.

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Links: Grovel Review.

Further reading: BattlefieldsThe Shadow303, Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope, Last Day in Vietnam.

Profiles: Garth EnnisChris Weston

All comments welcome.

Books: A.B.C. Warriors: The Black Hole

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A.B.C. Warriors
The Black Hole
Written by Pat Mills
Art by Simon Bisley and SMS

2005



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Hell yes. Or maybe I should say (even better): "BIG JOBS!"

I was not expecting to enjoy The Black Hole. It was one of those books that I picked up to read more out of dutiful necessity for the Islington Comic Forum rather than something I expected to enjoy. And the first third of seemingly mindless robot destruction with an extra heaping muscles and guns (which kinda bordered on the fetishistic) and a story that begins halfway through and makes several reference to other books that I'm tempted to say that I haven't read (but the truth is rather that I had read them a long long time ago and can't quite remember - so the feeling of not really knowing what's going on is pretty much the same).

But then - I dunno - I was reading it with a feeling like I was just trudging through and then suddenly it all started clicking into place and the fun started kicking in - and instead of feeling bored (in that special kinda of way you only get from too much robot action - which is different to say watching paint dry or whatever) a smile started to creep across my face.

Starring the motley crew that is the A.B.C. Warriors (for those that don't know: it stands for 'Atomic' 'Bacterial' and 'Chemical' - and it's the type of warfare they're designed to take: so think Transformers - but without the Transforming and with more (a lot more) of a psychotic edge: crazy killer berserker robots basically - but "A.B.C. Warriors" sounds a little nicer) and taking in plenty of big ideas - this is a book designed for all sort of cheap thrills - even as it sneaks in a few grand philosophical ideas on it's underbelly. The artwork is by the legend that is Simon Bisley and SMS (???) can be very noisy at parts and Bisley (who I reckon was probably just starting out) is a little over the place in parts - but it is kinda cool how the black ink gushes everywhere slightly out of control and it all helps to add to the chaotic nature of the script.

Also - I would be remiss not to mention that it features "The Greatest Robot Ever Created" (who felt like he'd stepped out from the pages of a Douglas Adams book - which I'd say is high praise indeed).

Don't be taken unaware by the form - originally published in 2000AD in short little 5 or 6 page gos way back in the 1980s - it tends to shift it's style around a bit in order to keep the readers (teenage boys mainly) on their toes: but then that magpie sensibility that keeps it hopping from one idea to the idea is a big part of what makes it all so very thrilling...

Meknificent!

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Links: Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? Powerful Panels: ABC Warriors, 2000AD Review Review.

Further reading: Sláine: The Horned God, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

All comments welcome.

Books: Ultimate Comics: Iron Man: Armor Wars

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Ultimate Comics: Iron Man
Armor Wars
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Steve Kurth

2010



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Whizzz! Pow! Bang! Wooooo!

I don't know (don't care) if it's the right meaning of the phrase - but I hereby declare this book to be one of the best examples I know of "pure comics." Knowledge required of background stories = nill. It might start of recounting the events of Ultimatum but really it could be anything. All that's important is that Tony Stark is the most glorious jerk in the whole world and stuff exploding, things looking sleek and cool and every single line is a quotable nugget for you to hold close to your chest forever. I heard that this is somewhat based upon some Iron Man back in the 1980s - but I didn't get any of the references. I just soaked in the blissful escapism and all the little Ellis mind-bombs set up along the way. With comics this good - you don't need anything else. Sublime.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Review #1 / #2 / #4.

Further reading: The Ultimates, Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Comics: AvengersIron Man: Extremis, Iron Man: The Invincible Iron Man.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Books: The Chimpanzee Complex

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The Chimpanzee Complex
Vol 1: Paradox
Written by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio

2009



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The Chimpanzee Complex
Vol 2: The Sons of Ares
Written by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio

2010



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The Chimpanzee Complex
Vol 3: Civilisation
Written by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio

2010



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"...Gentlemen! Pray that this "signal" won't turn out to be a ballistic missile launched by Saddam Hussein's grandson to screw up the free world!"

Oh dear. Dialogue like that (on the first page no less) tends to make me come out in hives. Yes - I know that it's a French book and so maybe that kind of clunker is more the fault of the translator than the original writer - but reading the finished product there's no way to know who's to blame. All I do know is that it sounds like it was written by someone still in sixth form (not good).

The Chimpanzee Complex is a three-part story detailing far out outer space adventures that is severely indebted to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although instead of subtle suggestive philosophical science-fiction - it opts for strangeness seemingly for the sake of it and couples it onto familiar horror and action-movie style nonsense which leaves it more in the Event Horizon bracket: leaving me the feeling that stuff was happening not because it served some deeper point - but rather that the author thought it would seem cool and then couldn't be bothered to work out the details afterwards and just figured that things would take care of themselves.

On the plus side: the artwork is totally sumptuous and with such a fine amount of detail it feels like it must have taken years to complete in that way that European comics so often are. Which kinda makes it worth reading anyway... (sigh) If only the writing exhibited the same amount of care.

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Links: Forbidden Planet Blog Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2 / Vol 3, Down The Tubes Comics Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2 / Vol 3.

Further reading: Ministry of Space, Blacksad: Somewhere between the Shadows, Heart of Empire or the Legacy of Luther Arkwright, The Manara Library.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Batman/Judge Dredd Files

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The Batman/Judge Dredd Files
Written by Alan Grant, John Wagner
Art by Simon Bisley, Carl Critchlow, Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray, Jason Brashill

2004




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Mega City One's fiercest Law-Man meets Gotham City's Dark Protector! That's the level you need to pitch yourself at coming into this book - a collection of three individual stories: Judgement on Gotham, The Ultimate Riddle and Die Laughing (sadly neglected is Vendetta in Gotham - a story that is referred to in Die Laughing - yet has sadly not been included here - what gives?).

Of the two leads - I've always preferred Dredd over Bats (which is probably a Britsh thing) which I think leaves me a little disadvantaged: as good as Batman can be (Frank Miller and all that) - most of his stories tend to be cookie-cutter fighting the bad guys stuff and although Dredd has more than his fair-share of being a "hero" and saving the day action type cases - I've always enjoyed him more when he's just being a grumpy future policeman and butting heads and coming up against weird far-out future crimes and disturbed craziness. Or to put it another way: Batman is always the star of Batman and always the main attraction while Dredd (when he's done right) is always better when he's side-lined slightly and used as a window to take in all the amazing sights and sounds of the not too distant future... Thus: The Batman/Judge Dredd Files always leaves me a little bit disappointed and slightly unsatisfied as it's the action heroes taking on the bad guys flavor rather than subtle satire of whatever. Which is obviously how it should be (Batman's character is too big to really do anything else) - but it does mean that by-and-large Dredd is just an uptight lawman.

The best stories are Judgement on Gotham and Die Laughing (and in fact - you'd be bets of avoiding The Ultimate Riddle altogether - which is just boring and awful and half-baked) - and continuing what I said above - the best bits of those are the Dredd-related jokes ("Subdue him" and "You can't hit me like that" respectively) with the rest being generic race-against-time/stop the bad guys evil plan fluff. Saying that - it's always nice to have a little bit of The Mean Machine and Judge Death and the rest plus the fully painted artwork by Simon Bisley (probably the first comic book artist I ever knew by name) is worth checking out as is the Glen Fabry stuff in Die Laughing (although they switch artists halfway through - which I think is because Glen takes so long to paint stuff).

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Links: 2000AD Review Review.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07, Sláine: The Horned God, The Complete Future Shocks, Joker, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2012/01

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The Islington Comic Forum is a monthly meeting for anyone interesting in graphic novels and comic books. 

The next Islington Comic Forum is on:
Tuesday the 31st of January / 6:00pm to 7:30pm.
Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX
Here is a map.

Meet and talk with other members. Hear recommendations. Tell us what you think. And a selection of over 100 hand-picked titles for you to borrow and take home.

The Book of the Month is:
DMZ Vol 10: Collective Punishment
By Brian Wood, Andrea Mutti and Nathan Fox

If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

You can find us on facebook here.
And join in with the discussions here.
For more information (or if you have any questions) you can email us here .
Come and join us. All welcome.
We hope to see you there.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Books: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man

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Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Death of Spider-Man Prelude
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David LaFuente, Sara Picheli, Joёlle Jones, Jamie McKelvie, Skottie Young and Chris Samnee

2011


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Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Death of Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning and Andrew Hennessey

2011



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Every story has an end. Well... ok - unless it's a story in a comic book featuring a worldwide famous superhero type icon. In those cases: those stories never have an end and just go on and on and on and on and on - and death (when it comes) is just a pit-stop, just a diversion - until the eventual (and always) triumphant rebirth and return (if Jesus can do it - then why not Superman? Batman? Captain American? et al?). Such lessening ("deadening" even - ha) of the normally final and irrevocable nature of The Death of a Major Character is why I can understand the jaded reception that greeted the news that Brian Michael Bendis was going to kill off Spider-Man [1] with the feeling being that Point 1. It was something that was probably going to reversed in a little bit anyway and Point 2. It wasn't even the 'real' Spider-Man anyway - but his Ultimate Universe counterpart [2]. Now - the Ultimate Marvel line is something that I've previously mentioned here - so for those of you that haven't heard of it just read the wikipedia entry [3]. But the main point is that because it's separate from 'mainstream' Marvel continuity (the one that's been going since the sixties) and the point of it is supposingly to provide a fresh alternative to all that - it's really pretty plausible to believe that this might be a story where the dead are actually going to stay dead (oh my goodness). Or to put it another way - Point 2 is the reason why Point 1 doesn't apply. And - you know what? - that's a good thing.

So - hopefully having established that I'm pro-Superhero death - especially in this once-in-a-lifetime case where it threatens to be permanent: what's the story like? Well... before we get to that I should let you know that it's not a case where it's all self-contained - but rather comes at the tail-end of a good decade's worth of storytelling - and so if you want to start at the start (I would very much recommend it) you should begin with 22 Volume long Ultimate Spider-Man series [4]. Or (if you fancy taking a bit of a short-cut) then there's Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man [5] which come after Ultimate Spider-Man and immediately before the two books here - and in fact some places list these books as being Volume 3 and Volume 4 of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man - but I guess that this is starting to get pretty confusing - so maybe I won't mention that [6].

Phew.

Now we're ready to move on to the books themselves: now - to be fair - and as you can probably tell from the weight of all the stuff above - my expectations were pretty high for The Death of Spider-Man. And (oh dear) they weren't quite meet by the story inside. The one word that I keep coming back to in my head is "arbitrary." In that things didn't feel like they happened all that naturally - and they didn't feel either epic enough either. Instead lots of the things that happened and lots of the characters actions seemed to take place because they needed to be in a certain place at a certain time. And lots of it (especially the start) seemed like an hollow retread of some of the epic highs from earlier in the saga (particularly the (what as for me) one of the stand-out stories of Ultimate Spider-Man - Vol. 9: Ultimate Six).

Yeah. Maybe I was expecting a little bit too much - but hell if you're going to kill a superhero - I kinda want massive operatics - and a slow enveloping tragedy. Not blunders and accidents and avoidable mistakes. You know: Something more Michael Bay and less - well - Woody Allen (no offense Woody).

If you want to see what all the fuss was about I should say that they're worth reading - and lots of the incidental stuff in the "prelude" - which generally acts as if it was Vol 3 and hints at lots of interesting futures - is full of good comic action and design. But the main event? Didn't hit the sweet spot that I hoped it would.

Dang.

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[1] Check the comments posted here ("How long until the inevitable resurrection then? Place bets NOW!")

[2] Although all this talk of 'real' Spider-Man stories brings to mind Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow's preamble: "This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?" (see: here for more).

[3] "The universe has been designated as Earth-1610 within the Marvel Multiverse, which comprises an infinite number of alternate universes."

[4] See: here (or you know just: click below)

[5] See: here (or you know just: click below)

[6] Also - in terms of tie-ins - to get the whole story of what happens how - you'll need to read Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man either before or after (which is completely your choice). See: here (or you know - well - just: click below)

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Preceded by: Ultimate Spider-ManUltimate Comics: Spider-Man (2010 - 2011).

Followed by: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (2012).

Further reading: Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics: DoomsdaySpider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Complete Future Shocks

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The Complete Future Shocks
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Steve Dillon, Bryan Talbot, Ian Gibson, Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons, Mike White, Paul Neary, Brendan McCarthy, John Higgins, Garry Leach, et al

2007



Available now from Islington Libraries
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Everyone has to start somewhere. And - for the now-legendary beardy Northampton weirdo (and I say that with the greatest respect) and comic book writer extraordinar Alan Moore - that start was writing short 2 to 6 self-contained science-fiction short stories (or for those that speak the lingo: "future shocks") for the mainstay British comic anthology favourite 2000AD. If you're expecting non-stop genius - then you're going to be a tad disappointed - as there's a fair few duds that don't quite hit the mark: but to be fair they were all written between 1980 and 1983 where comics were still treated by their creators and fans as mindless entertainment for teenage boys. For those willing to take the rough with the smooth - there's some golden nuggets contained within that manage (and I hope this isn't too much hyperbole) to find a sweet spot between the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K Dick.

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Links: The Comics Journal ReviewFlames Rising Review.

Further reading: DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, Tom Strong, Global Frequency, The Ballad of Halo Jones, D.R. and Quinch, Skizz.

Profiles: Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Books: Hellboy

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Hellboy
Vol 1: Seed of Destruction
Written by John Byrne
Art by Mike Mignola

1994



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Hellboy
Vol 2: Wake the Devil
By Mike Mignola

1997




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Hellboy
Vol 3: The Chained Coffin and Others
By Mike Mignola

1998




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Hellboy
Vol 4: The Right Hand of Doom
By Mike Mignola

2000




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Hellboy
Vol 5: Conqueror Worm
By Mike Mignola

2002




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Hellboy
Vol 6: Strange Places
By Mike Mignola

2006




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Hellboy
Vol 7: The Troll Witch and Others
By Mike Mignola

2007




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Hellboy
Vol 8: Darkness Calls
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

2008



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Hellboy
Vol 9: The Wild Hunt
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

2010



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Hellboy
Vol 10: The Crooked Man and Others
Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart
Art by Richard Corben, Jason Shawn Alexander and Duncan Fegredo

2010



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Hellboy
Vol 11: The Bride of Hell and Others
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan and Scott Hampton

2011



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Hellboy
Vol 12: The Storm and The Fury
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

2012



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Ok then: Hellboy. I'm gonna admit: I've never been much of a fan. Something about the way it's never really transcended it's influences or rather: the bits that it put together to make up the character. So that - it's always felt like just a typical down-on-his-luck tough guy with a steady supply of quips plastered all over in red and given a pair of horns (and to be really damning: there's not really much (or anything) separating Hellboy from a video game character - which I mean in all the worst possible ways: there's no growth in any of these volumes - apart from putting Hellboy in lots of different exotic (and not so exotic) locations). I get that the things that he picks fights with (or pick fights with him) are all mythic beasts and fairytale legends and lovecraftian monsters - but I'm bored with fight scenes and I've been bored with them a long long time and I guess it doesn't help that The Sandman was one of the first comics I ever read properly - so that kinda fantasy/legend mash-up thing needs to do more than just be happy with itself in order to impress me.

One of the things that irritated me is the way that pretty much every Hellboy story (especially the big ones) all seemed to rely on some corny deus ex machina to save the day (turns out that the ghost can save everyone - or someone else has a power that no one mentioned before or whatever...) which manages to kill the story stone dead and left me feeling cheated. But then again - there's not really much in way of story in any of these thing. Sure - they have an appearance of story - people go places, stuff happens - but the characters never rise above being voice boxes for plot mechanics and blah-blah exposition and the dialogue rarely rises above the level of an 80s action movie (eg Hellboy shouting "get stuffed!" as he fires a gun) which got real old real quick (or maybe I'm just a big old humbug?).

It was halfway through volume 4 that I realised what my problem with the whole series was: Hellboy isn't really 'about' anything other than the stuff that happens: there's people talking about old legends and stuff - and fights (lots and lots of fights) - but at no point does it ever really convey anything deeper or strike any emotional chords. Ok - there's a bit in The Conqueror Worm where a granddaughter is betrayed by her grandfather which is pretty horrible and actually made me feel something - but as the rest of it: it's just pretty pictures (very very pretty pictures) going all out sound and fury with nothing really said apart from a few empty-seeming gestures here and there about sacrifice and being your own person/not being defined by who you were.

And even after reading all the books in the series - you're not really left with any better understanding of who Hellboy is than you are at the start. Which isn't so good.

Every other bad guy making long speeches about the secret history of the world that - while full of classical text easter eggs - do little to advance the story. In fact - most of the time Hellboy feels like an extended almanac of unearthly spooks and monsters: hitting the reader from all sides with citations and references - and little in the way of fun, action and adventure: all tonic and no sugar (as opposed to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - which covers a lot more ground but (mostly) manages to provide a few bangs for your buck).

On the plus side: The artwork is totally amazing: consistently doing loads of fun things with shadows and small shafts of light not to mention the fine handling of the colours palette (I wonder how feted Hellboy would be if it was drawn by an artist without Mignola's evident talent? oh - and what's with all the people always falling from places?). And - judging from the introductions - there's a lot of fine people who seem to think that Hellboy is worth his weight in gold (including Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock among others).

But yeah: Blah blah blah. All in all - I'd say: Read B.P.R.D. instead. Or better yet: The Sandman. Although I will admit that the later stories do get better - check out Makoma in Vol 7 and The Crooked Man in Vol 10 - which can be dipped into without any prior knowledge needed...

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Links: GraphiContent Review of Hellboy #1, Comics Should Be Good The Crooked Man Review, Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader Review of In The Chapel of Moloch, Comic Book Resources Review of The Crooked Man #3, Comics Alliance Review of Hellboy in Mexico, PopMatters Article: The Devil You Know: Mignola's Hellboy in the Chapel of Moloch and the Old Debate, Robot 6: Your Wednesday Sequence Article.

Further reading: B.P.R.D., B.P.R.D.: Hell on EarthThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Sandman, Lucifer, iZombie, Fables, The Goon, Turf, Mezolith

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Books: Coraline

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Coraline
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell

2008




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Ooooooh. A horror story for children. Excellent!

Originally written as a children's book by Neil Gaiman in 2002 (featuring illustrations by Dave McKean! whoop!) Coraline comes from a long line of English fantasies about kids discovering portals to other worlds and the dangers that lurk within - with the added bonus of some Lovecraftian-style nameless nasties bolted on to the underneath. I've never read the book or the famous 2009 stop-motion film (although now I've read the comic I'm tempted to try both): so I don't know how you'll respond to this book if you're coming from the opposite direction - but speaking just for me - I had a great time. Adapted by P. Craig Russell (who seems to be making a habit of adapting Neil Gaiman prose tales into comic format - see: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters) the illustrations have just the sort of slightly-dreamy fairy-tale feeling necessary to make the story hit home and there's so many beautiful little grace notes that - as much as it kinda pains me to say something so cheesy - makes it all feel somehow timeless.

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Links: Newsarama Article.

Further reading: Anya's Ghost, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman's NeverwhereRudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories, StardustLocke & Key.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Books: Spider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand

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Spider-Man
Vol 1: Down Among The Dead Men
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Terry Dodson

2004



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Spider-Man
Vol 2: Venomous
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Terry Dodson and Frank Cho

2005



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Spider-Man
Vol 3: The Last Stand
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Terry Dodson

2005



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Pow! Everyone thinks that superhero comics are so easy. Good guy. Bad guy. Superpowers. Dangers. Action. Hot love interest. Fight Scene. End. Repeat. But gosh-damn-it: like all things - if you're gonna do it right - if you're gonna make it sing then you need to do more than just re-fry the basics - and in the same way that the people who work in the greasy spoon round the corner use (pretty much) the same ingredients as Michelin star chefs (ok - so this isn't a water-tight analogy - but just go with it...) there are some writers who can take all the superhero staples and then mix them together and cook them in such a way that just makes it all feel... right.

A Marvel Knights tale (which is like mainstream Marvel - only slightly darker/more mature - or as mature as Marvel can get anyway...) Spider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand is one big epic tale that pushes the webbed wonder all the way to the very edge (I really wish that this thing had one big collective title - if only to make it easier to catalogue: but each volume has it's own individual heading - oh well). Taking place at a time where Peter Parker has graduated high school and has now become a teacher - and got over the will-they/won't-they? with MJ (they're now happily married): Mark Millar still manages somehow to turn in one of the most dramatic and nail-biting Spidey stories I've ever read. Seriously: this is up there with Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man saga and if you're read what I've written about that - then you know that I'm dealing out some high high praise. One of the things that made me realise how good this thing is - is how several times reading it I actually feared for Spider-Man's life and assumed that there was a chance that he might just not make it. And there's loads of big crazy action that pushes the limit of how far a hero can go before he cracks.

If you like superheros - and especially if you like Spider-Man - then you owe it to yourself to read this book. And - even if you don't like those things (and if you don't normally like Mark Millar [1]): then you should still give it a spin. Hell - actually I think I'd even say that if you only ever gonna read one Spider-Man story: then make it this one.

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[1] I guess because this was written in 2004 - it's Mark Millar just getting starting up - but not yet gone full torture-obsessed crazy. So it has loads of inventive superhero fun - but none of that dark ever-so-off-putting "I've gonna make this more messed up and crazy than anything else seen before" undercurrent. Bonus.

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Links: The M0vie Blog Review, What Culture Review.

Further Reading: Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four: 1234, Wolverine: Enemy of the State, The Ultimates, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Books: Batman: Broken City

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Batman: Broken City
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

2004




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From the two creators of the superb crime neo-noir epic 100 Bullets comes a Dark Knight story that reads like a detective story - where the detective in question wears a cowl and a cape and runs around rooftops. As always the artwork by Argentinian Eduardo Risso is completely electrifying with some of the best Batman clenched teeth pictures I've ever seen outside The Dark Knight Returns. Unfortunately it's slightly marred by Brian Azzarello's typically twisty writing that doesn't really know the difference between being elusive and annoying. But then I guess you should you able to tell that it's not going to be so great seeing how it starts off with a joke about God weeing on Gotham City (you think I'm joking? Ok then - read it and then get back to me).

Ah well. There's always 100 Bullets...

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Links: Comics Should Be Good Article, GraphiContent Article, Second Printing Review.

Further reading: 100 Bullets, Joker, Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Year One.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Books: Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels

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Thunderbolts
Vol 1: Faith in Monsters
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike Deodato

2007



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Thunderbolts
Vol 2: Caged Angels
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike Deodato

2008



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Ah. It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised. I didn't even know this book existed - I mean - I'd seen copies of it around - but just kind of dismissed it as typical boring mainstream Marvel nonsense - until I realised that it had Warren Ellis' name on it. I don't want to sound like too much of a fan-boy (probably because I'm a bit of fan-boy): but hell: if it's written by Warren Ellis - it's at least worth trying out - right?

Right.

Set in the time of Marvel's "Civil War" when the Superhero Registration Act (or as I always like to think of it: 'The Keene Act') has come into force - and all the costumed adventurers out there have to either sign up and go legit or get hunted down and locked away: these two volumes feature a succession of episodes (it's hard to really call it a story seeing how it takes place in a whole big universe of stuff and Ellis' run only takes place between #110 - #121: but still you can read it and be throughly entertained without feeling cheated at the end) in the career of the Thunderbolts: who in this instance are the ones who have to go round enforcing the law: ie beating up the good guys.

The concept of the Thunderbolts themselves is also really cool. If you don't know (you have something better to do than learn all the ins-and-outs of the Marvel superhuman teams? huh - ok then): The Thunderbolts are just like The Justice League of America or The Avengers - except instead of being made up of goodies who are saving the world because they want to - it's a bunch of baddies who have to do all the dirty jobs because they're forced to. That's cool because: 1. We all know baddies are always more interesting than the goodies (seriously: who would you rather have a drink with boring Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent or Lex Luthor and the Joker?)

Oh: and so you know there is a Vol 3. out there - but it's not Warren Ellis and it's nowhere near as good (so if you ask me - it's best avoided).

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Links: GraphiContent Review: Vol 1 / Vol 2, The Weekly Crisis Review.

Further reading: Civil War, The AuthorityThe Avengers: Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the WorldSpider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand, No Hero, The Avengers: The New Avengers: Illuminati.

Profile: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Books: The Beats: A Graphic History

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The Beats: A Graphic History
Written by Harvey Pekar, Nancy J Peter, Penelope Rosemont, Joyce Brabner, Trina Robbins, and Tuli Kupferber
Art by Ed Piskor, Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, Summer McClintock, Peter Kuper, Marey Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, Anne Timmons, Gary Dumm, Lance Tooks, and Jeffery Lewis

2009

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Ok. So first of all I'm just going to admit that I haven't actually read this entire book. I mean. I tried. Very diligently. But it all got a bit much... I mean - not that I have anything against it - it's just I don't think that it's for me. So then: I guess I should say: who is it for?

From grouchy curmudgeon Harvey Pekar The Beats: A Graphic History is an examination of the lives of the famous and not so famous writers, poets and artists who made up the "Beat Generation" - in particular: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs (whose three stories combined take up the bulk of the book: while the last third looks at more obscure names).

Me myself - I've never really had much time for the type of writing that The Beat Generation spat out. "Unexpurgated means of expression and being"? No thanks. I prefer things which are a little more - erm - thought out. I tried once reading Junkie and Naked Lunch way back when - but didn't get very far before admitting defeat. Saying that I was curious to learn more and gain some sort of understanding as to what all the fuss is/was about. Unfortunately for me - this book wasn't written for the causal fan - but rather for those people that already know about the work and want to know more about the history of the people who made (I guess the title should have tipped me off).

Thinking about it venn diagram style - I don't know how much overlap there's gonna be between the circle of people who dig the Beats and the other circle of those who like comics - but if you are one of those people then you should definitely give this book a shot. For the rest of us - well - unlike other comic book histories (like say Kiki de Montparnasse) - The Beats cursorily over-view doesn't really give the average reader to connect on any sort of personal level: and so while you'll get a whole bunch of facts about who did what were and worked what job and knew which people - you're not going to get any sort of insight to what these people were actually like. And yeah: I guess I found the onslaught a little fatiguing - and well yeah: left me bored. Which is why I skipped out before class was done. But don't let that stop you.

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Links: 3:AM Magazine Review, BoingBoing Review.

Further reading: Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson, American Splendor: The Best of American Splendor, American Splendor presents: Bob and Harv's ComicsKiki de Montparnasse, #$@&!: The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection, Breakdowns.

All comments welcome.

Books: Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man

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Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Leinil Francis Yu

2011




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It's very tempting to argue that most of the problems with this book can be summed up by the hodgepodge list of other titles that you need to read to understand it [1] (let's see now): The Ultimates (which introduces the whole set-up and is amazing), Ultimate Comics: Avengers Vol 1 - 3 (with this book basically existing as Vol 4) and the whole Ultimate Comics: Death of Spider-Man serial which (no duh - just check out the title of the book) crosses over with this one. Not that it's the worst thing in the world to read something that's part of an on-going story but - I dunno - it does feel like cheating when the book is seemingly presented as a complete story in and of itself (i.e. it really really should have a "Vol 4" on the spine) but then doesn't really make sense without the other books which preceded it.

But anyway: Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man is Mark Millar's - if the stories are to be believed (see: here) - Marvel swansong and the capstone to a story/line of comics that started with The Ultimates (which - like I said above - is amazing). On the one hand it does feel like he's trying hard: there are some things here that he pushes slightly further than he has before (namely: the politics - however obvious they might be): so that's nice and it's rare to see such a mainstream superhero go to the kind of places that this book ventures into. But as I write this I might be being a little too kind: because on the other hand when I finished the book the feeling I was left with was disappointment. There lots of elements of this book that shamelessly rehashes plot-lines from Millar's previous outings and the end result is like listening to a distant echo of a good pop song played long ago and far away. Part of that may be down to Leinil Francis Yu's art that left me pining for Bryan Hitch (who drew The Ultimates which - did I mention this already? - is amazing) and whose flurry of muscles and action poses sums up all style and no content. And - well - it also doesn't help that the event teased in the title doesn't even happen in this book - instead taking place in the series Ultimate Spider-Man (altho you'll have to read both to get the full picture - which is a move that feels like it's mainly been done for reasons of commerce as to opposed to - I dunno - making things good).

Summing up: Mark Millar writes cheeseball action craziness that mostly manages to leave me feeling satisfied and somehow well nourished: this book unfortunately didn't manage to hit that sweet spot - but (hell) maybe it's worth reading anyway just to get a sense of the current state of the genre: and now that I've managed to lower any hopes you have going in - there's a chance you could be pleasantly surprised. Who knows?

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[1] And seeing how the Ultimate/Ultimate Comics line was sold as an antidote to convoluted storylines and the like when it first launched - it's also kinda damning too. Even if it's kinda understandable for a line of titles that's been going on for over a decade.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Review of #1 / #2 / #6, Multiversity Comics Review of #1 / #5.

Preceded by: The UltimatesThe Ultimates 2Ultimate Comics: Avengers.

Followed by: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man: The Death of Spider-ManUltimate Comics: The Ultimates.

Further reading: Ultimate Comics: Doomsday, Ultimate Spider-ManSpider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last StandUltimate Galactus TrilogyThe AuthoritySuperior.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.