2sday night reviews

May 6th, 2009

Just time for one last bite of the week-old bread before the supermarket chucks it in the dumpster, from where it will be cycled on to assorted tramps, birds and City sandwich-bar proprietors.

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Tankies 1 by Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, Tony Avina (Dynamite)

First up is the latest from Garth Ennis’ Battleverse. Interesting for the usual reasons, always happy to have a history lesson, especially the ones that don’t skip the blood and thunder [it looks like 'history' is going to be tonight's theme, by the way - review night doesn't have to have a theme, but it's nice if it does]. I’d kind of always had it in my head that after Dunkirk and North Africa, after D-Day anyway, the Brit ground forces were kind of happy spending the rest of the War (still needs the capital ‘W’, doesn’t it? Still got that kind of weight, even to someone as ignorant about the whole thing generally as myself) faffing around Normandy and the Lowlands, not doing very much at all, letting the blood-crazy Russians and Americans do the real work tearing the Germans apart.

Luckily, Mr. Ennis is a bit more keen in getting to both the historic and personal details lying there amongst the impossibly huge web of complexity of the biggest most important and terrible thing ever, going into the British side of the ground assault in Northern Europe with just the right amount of depth. Atleast, sort of – so far it actually looks like it comes down to a broad tale of history’s most enormous, sophisticated and well-motivated war machine versus a bunch of no-hopers from the Home Counties, armed with nothing but weak tea and, of course, lashings and lashings and lashings of spunk. Damn my grandparents were cool. So were yours.

Generally, the Battlefields line has been lacking the weight of its predecessors, Vertigo’s War Stories books, a slightly less reverential tone perhaps, more of a reliance on stereotypes and caricature. These are the same problems which plague a lot of Ennis’ works, but the basic respect with which he always approaches the current subject is still a powerful and coherent enough organising principle to keep things from getting too knobgags. He’s got a top-flight collaborator onboard this time to fill-in some of the emotional and credibible gaps, and in those and all other regards Ezquerra(s) does the expected amazing job. He entirely captures each character’s individual personality with his perfect grasp of posture, body language and expression, before so much as a whisper of dialogue has been breathed into the balloons, and makes the sixty-year old hardware look like its come from some sexy, superslick future where the only currency is hot mechanised death. Big gun action just like your Granny used to make.

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Rasl 4 by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

It goes all high seas churning and (again) doubleyoudoubleyou-eyeeye hardware, a deliberate addition of oppositional elements to the location and atmosphere, providing aninteresting dramatic contrast from the flat, dry desert towns and exotic dimension-hoppers of previous issues. The Tesla thing revealed in no. 3 was a bit of a letdown, pushing this strange little scifi series into territory thart’s been a bit too well-trodden in recent years, but there can be no denying it’s a work that drips class from its punch-bust nose. It now feels like it’s well into its stride, unspinning and tightening the plot with just the right rhythmic mix of questions and answers, historical scope and personal intimacy, high weirdness and straight-ahead action. The established thematic tensions of embodiment, identity and causality are now strung tight like nerve-wire underneath the bumpy musculature of the rugged layouts and deceptively loose pencils. If you don’t know how good Rasl is by now, it’s really time you found out.

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Warlord of IO by James Turner (SLG)

I bought this comic and it was good but I am not allowed to buy it again. The jewel-masters have decreed it an uncomic. This comic is history. Let us never speak of it again.

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Sherlock Holmes 1 by Leah Moore, John Reppion, Aaron Campbell, Tony Avina (Dynamite)

A couple* of thing everybody picking this issue up must have been considering. First, worst: Acockernee ackescents, ain tit guvernour? Second, they fuck you up your mum and dad: It’s a bit like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crossed with From Hell isn’t it?

On the first point, this comic shows an admirable self-awareness. We get precisely one Mechanical, who gets his predictably risible exclamations out of the way by the second page. After that, it’s strictly gentry (with one exception, an appearance by a particularly blatant red-herring / blatant culprit) and generally sticks to some exquisitely panelled interiors, far reducing the scope for painful dialogue, thank god. On the other, well, it does read a little like it’s been put together by people who, like myself, have got 99% of their knowledge of the Victorian era from reading comics – however the nods to Moore Sr.’s in particular are so blatant and unapologetic that they very much invite the reader in to the conspiracy, and thus become rather more than forgivable.

This is the first book I’ve read by Moore/Reppion since the distinctly underwhelming first issue of Albion, many moons ago now (though Reppion’s occasional articles in the old FT are usually well worth the time), and they seem to have developed a charmingly fresh voice. In general, this issue functions like perfect clockwork, doing exactly what you want it to (and looking great in the process – like Chris Weston crossed with John Cassady, Campbell’s one to watch), which isn’t to damn it with faint praise, but rather to express an appreciation of how difficult it must be to make the Doyle formula seem both new and authentic simultaneously. Cool twist at the end of the issue too, which looks like it could turn effortlessly into a great setup for the next. Definitely a welcome addition to the shelves. That’s two this week – these Dynamite people seem to know what they’re doing. Worth noting here is that among all these genre-heavy pamphlets bought this week, a big fat none of them are from the big two.  N’Night boys.

* Or maybe three, actually. As in, this is a fucking tie-in comic to a fucking Guy Ritchie film, isn’t it? Fucking Guy Ritchie being given the reins of a potential multimulti million cash cow like a Sherlock Holmes revamp, starring Iron Man and the black guy from Tropic Thunder? There’s a puzzler even the Great Detective would balk at, surely? It’s going to have Jason Statham in it too isn’t it? It’s bound to. Jesus Christ this is a fucking silly planet sometimes.

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Irredeemable 1 by Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Andrew Dalhouse (Boom Studios)

The ‘history’ theme, yes? Well, this one didn’t come out this week at all, but about a month ago now, though this is the first time I managed to lay my hands on it, after Steve the shop put it in my special pile because he knows how easy it is to sell me anyting with the words ‘Grant Morrison’ on the cover, even if they’re preceded with the words, rare to see on a pamphlet these, ‘Afterword by’. Therein, Our Hero bigs up his chum Mark W.’s book with admirable brio, while also fretting abut the fact that he will always be considered to write impenetrable plotbroken gibberish no matter how hard he tries to be sensible. An almighty ‘whatever’ to that, but his other point, that with Irredeemable Waid successfully writes himself out of the ‘clever, bright-eyed Silver Age homage guy extraordinaire’ stereotype-box that he’s been in since his Flash days, (Which was never really that fair – ‘Prismatic Age co-Architect‘ is probably a kinder and more accurate of Waid’s true position in the scheme of all things strongman) is more interesting.

The response to it, after having read the issue, is…. sort of. Waid’s not so much got out of the box as redecorated its chrome-coloured exterior, painting it the darkest shade of infra-black he could find. It’s as perfect a dissection, investigation and recreation of Dark Age values and obsessions as his seminal Flash run was of the Silver Age, and is every bit as good as that sounds. Its tale of superheroes gone child-killingly nuts recalls Zenith a bit (no bad thing there at all) but mainly, and quite strikingly I thought, right down to the choice of sports stadia and all-American suburban homes as focal locations, Robinson and Smith’s Dark Age semi-classic The Golden Age.

So it’s not necessarily a huge leap into the new, but it is quite good fun. Loads of heroes, loads of violence. There’s a tiny note of clumsiness, in that the issue’s nasty shock reveal at the end just so happens to rely on the details of a superpower revealed in the only notably clunking piece of expository dialogue in the book (all the other superpowers being impenetrably ill-defined – how Dark Age is that?) Overall though, the breeziness of tone which always marks Waid’s writing out for me, mixed with the always-welcome ingredients of good old ultraviolence and a high body-count, and a slyly ‘traditional’ look from Krause, sets up a dissonance which is stylish and sharply engaging. At the moment it’s way too early to tell if Irredeemable is going to be something genuinely brilliant, but I’ll certainly be sticking around long enough to find out.

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Phonogram: The Singles Club 2, by Keiron Gillen,.Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Emma Viecelli, Daniel Heard (Image)

So what could the ‘history’ connection here possibly be here? Yeah okay, cheap shot, can’t blame them for needing to eat. The half-year delay since the last issue has been quite hard on this one though – a lot of the energy and atmosphere from the series opener has dissipated, and the focus of this story, which wouldn’t normally be a problem, is too close and character-focused to recapture what was previously quite so great.

This issue introduces us properly to Marcus/Marquis, Penny’s snubby crush from no.1, giving us a too-intimate look at his lovelife, as the memories kicked up by a certain song take him off to a world of his own. Sadly for us, the inside of his heart isn’t by itself all that exciting a place to be – the dialogue between Marquis and the ghost of an old flame doesn’t quite ring as true or insightful as some people seem to think, and Marquis does come off as whiny and, yep, emo, rather than deep or soulful or engaging. Lovely hair though. In fact, all things considered, it’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care*.

The relationship-politics discussion doesn’t seem quite worth the effort either: Men can feel shame at having casual sex too… Not much of a revelation there really, not enough to hang the issue on, anyway. If you want my opinion, and let’s face it you’ve read enough of this crap from me already so there’s no point fucking off now, Marquis is a dancing dick and Penny would be better off with Lllllloyd who obviously fancies her. Now he’s had his mope Marquis can have another one-nighter with the impossibly excellent Laura, no strings no worries. It’s Christmas after all.

But let’s be real again for a minute: Phonogram is still the toppermost of the poppermost pamphlet being published by a mainstream company at the moment. All things being equal, it’s as close to an inheritor to Deadline as we’re going to get, and it deserves your support. It looks well lush, the clothes and characters and COLOURS are all impossibly on, and the various shifts in time and consciousness are executed seamlessly, fitting entire universes into the sparklingly grubby club interior. It’s also got back-up strips again, including the further adventures of Indie Dave, which now has him striding the moors to find redemption with the hounds of love hot on his heels; and a Diamanda Galas tribute two-pager which hinges on an utterly spectacular splash that you’ll want to look at for ages. The rest of the backmatter is… well, it’s nearly becoming bearable, like a deadly parody of the overcooked music writing you used to read when you were little. The message is: we should all try and be a little littler sometimes, go back into our personal histories and forgive ourselves our embarrassments, turn our perceived humiliations into the triumphs of experience that they really were all along. Here endeth.

* Did you get what I did there? That bit’s actually like the lyrics from a cool song! Did you get it though?

4 Responses to “2sday night reviews”

  1. Sean Witzke Says:

    Yes. If by silly you mean awesome.

  2. Papers Says:

    I have to agree with your estimation of PHONOGRAM 2.2 — honestly, the series has been slightly disappointing so far, story-wise. Art? McKelvie’s the living end in making pretty people and let’s-be-fucking-honest, he absolutely flourishes with colour. It’s enough to make my fan myself.

    But, yeah, the memory-stream “disappointments past” routine felt dull, dull, dull. I did not buy, when the last page hits and the synchronous moment from 2.1 hits, I did not buy that Marcus wanted to be dancing with that ex of his.

    I liked it up until he breaks away from Lloyd, actually, and the girls. They have an interesting character dynamic, the four of them, and that strikes me as more interesting than (a) the central music-is-magic conceit of the series and (b) Marcus’s flat emotional vortex. Drop those and focus on the interplay? I think I’d be more interested. The mechanics of the magic often distracts (and, really, music as magic can be a metaphor reduced to a panel or two, like in 2.1, without major issues), and the memories of doomed love strike me as more hopeless kids fussing on the dance floor; it didn’t really tell me anything about the characters beyond, gasp, they hang out a lot in clubs. That seems to be the majority of their characters here.

    Which is stupid, right? Because we’re given hints that there’s more to them. Lloyd and Marcus hanging out in the restaurant before they go out. The nice detail of Marcus zipping up from the cold (IT’S STILL DECEMBER–AH!). Penny and Laura being friends in spite of Laura being a bit of a user and Penny being oblivious. They’re friendship told in music references and history! Laura as Oracle-of-Long-Blondes! Those are great, great, great bits. Lloyd’s dialogue, every piece of it. It seems a shame to focus on the magic and leave the rest to hang about on the fringes.

    You guys know I’m all over the non-realism and wonder-magic in fiction, but PHONOGRAM’s second album doesn’t, you know, feel like it needs it.

    Great soundtrack, though. Good on Gillen and McKelvie for making me fall for the Long Blondes.

  3. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Mmph. It left me pretty cold. I always enjoy an attempt to do something different (although your Deadline observation is spot on), and the execution is handled nicely, but…I don’t know. I just can’t muster much empathy for these characters.

  4. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Have you done a poo? No, it’s the Tuesday review Says:

    [...] book of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this could be the book for you. As I mentioned in my review of the first issue, Moore and Reppion are only too happy to express the jouissance of influence [...]

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