July 14th, 2009
Welcome weary traveller, come in from the rain. Pull up a mildewed stack of Doug Moench’s Spectre comics and rest your tired posterior. Take a sip of lukewarm tea and we can leaf through these recently acquired second hand graphic novels together, to fight off the pangs of longing till new comics day….
Goddess Vertigo Comics, Garth Ennis & Phil Winslade
Total cost to the Beast: £1.99
So this is a collection of Garth Ennis’ lesser known Vertigo mini, which appeared around the time of Preacher. After the breakaway success of that series Ennis became a certified hot-shit creator, and Vertigo would publish anything he had his name to, much like Quentin Tarantino. That said, Goddess is pretty enjoyable for what it is. What it is, is a larger than life romp around the globe packed full of the writer’s trademark slapstick and ultra-violence, exquisitely rendered by Winslade.
To be honest my tolerance for Ennis’ funny stuff is pretty low. I much prefer his pitch-black serious work to his knockabout shit - The Punisher and his Hellblazer run are exemplary character driven works with only the darkest moments of humour to leaven the horror. But Goddess is kind of goofy fun, a bit of a throwback to his Dougie and Ivan stories from Crisis or Time Flies in 2000ad. There are the usual painfully unfunny nob gags and cheap stereotypes but if you take the whole thing as a larger-than-life cartoon there’s a certain charm in all the silly carnage. The story concerns a girl named Rosie who begins to manifest worryingly cataclysmic powers one day (initially causing Scotland to actually split off the mainland – something a fair few Scots would be dead pleased about no doubt). Turns out she’s the (SPOILER) incarnation of ol’ Mother Earth herself and…well, look let’s just say it doesn’t really matter. It’s an excuse for Ennis to write a load of crazy situations and sight gags, and fill the comic with as many outlandish incidents as he can. Rosie hooks up with a couple of eco-warrior mates and an archetypal Ennisian loser named Jeff (whose sole role seems to be the butt of all gags) and sets off on a half-baked voyage of discovery, pursued by assorted maniacs and psychopaths from Scotland Yard and the CIA. Although it was published in 1995 you really get the feeling it was written a lot earlier. It’s still pretty assured and brash, but it lacks the crunch and attitude that the writer brought so effectively to Preacher.
Phil Winslade however draws up a storm. Apparently it took him three years to do, and the level of intricacy and care he brings to the work is evident in every panel. There’s a definite learning curve to his art throughout the eight issue run and there’s a real element of Glenn Fabry about his work, but the technical accomplishment is outstanding. Plus he draws absolutely great blood and guts. Ennis script provides ample opportunity for depictions of outlandish grand guignol – the whole thing reads like a hippie eco-fable as directed by Sam Raimi (circa 1982) – and Winslade relishes the chance to draw exploding heads and severed limbs. Add in an ocean liner wedged into a tower block, a couple of plane crashes and a preposterous car chase or two and the whole thing rattles along in an enjoyably tear-away style.
All in all it’s worth it just for the sheer amount of work Winslade put in. The colour is vibrant and lively – a million miles from the sludgy palette of most Vertigo books from that era. I’m not sure how I’d feel being charged full price for it, and to say the story is tossed off would be an overstatement, but there’s a certain amount of frothy, romping charm to Goddess.Starman: Times Past DC Comics James Robinson & various
Total cost to the Beast: £1.99
James Robinson is getting some stick at the moment for his Justice League mini, and deservedly so. As a writer he’s guilty of some terrible, irritating tics and he seems to have gone woefully off the boil of late. But I still maintain that Starman is a very fine work, easily one of the best superhero comics of the 90′s. Sure it’s flawed, but it’s also original, well realised and idiosyncratic. Opal City felt like city you’d like to visit. In a way it was the incidental details and characters that made Starman such a fun read. Robinson fleshed out every nook and cranny and gave the place a thoroughly detailed and rich history, packed with colourful characters and a lineage of heroes and villains. Which is what makes Times Past such a great volume of the series. The ‘Times Past’ issues were breathers between the main plot that filled in back story as well as highlighting future plot points and resonances to the saga of Jack Knight. This gave Robinson a chance to flex his writing pecs and try out all sorts of genres – Victorian gothic, 1940′s crime and 1970′s drug fuelled head comix in this volume alone. It also allowed for collaboration with a number of different stellar artists. While I enjoyed Tony Harris’ work on the series I do find it a occasionally a little bit stiff and awkward. He undoubtedly contributed a huge amount ot the overall flavour of Starman but I was always pleased to see other artists given a crack of the whip (I also didn’t mind one bit when Peter Snejberg took over the series, although my personal favourite Starman artist was always Steve ‘Zenith’ Yeowell). ‘Times Past’ has some great art from the likes of Phil Jiminez, Lee Weeks, the always great Teddy Kristiansen and John Watkiss among others. Kristiansen’s smudged, angular brushwork on the Shade spotlight story is simply wonderful and worth the price of admission alone. The conceit of the Shade hanging out with Oscar Wilde is nicely handled when it could be extremely arch, and their airy banter is a nice counterpoint to the darkness and horror of the latter half of the story.
We get a couple of nice stories from Ted Knight’s past, including one featuring a truly chilling turn from the Ragdoll, a villain that Robinson breathed a real spark of malevolence into. It’s illustrated in a chunky, expressive style by Matt Smith. The other highlight for me however is the Mikaal solo story ‘Superfreaks and Backstabbers’ which is a title that would make me love the comic even if it consisted of nothing but blank panels. Illustrated in a wonderfully overwrought psychedelic style by Craig Hamilton, the issue tells the story of Mikaal’s wallow in in the sordid pleasures of humanity and subsequent rebirth. It riffs shamelessly on ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ and is none the worse for it. Robinson indulges his penchant fo purple prose to the max, but here it really works. The story also features possibly the only psychic superhero battle set entirely in a disco, but I might be wrong.
So, yeah, ‘Cry Cry Justice-face’ might well be as bad as some people say, but I still dig Starman. It feels personal in all the right ways. Robinson put his all into telling the story of the Starmen of Opal city, and if he shot his load doing so, then fuck it. Some people never get it up in the first place.Re-Gifters Minx Mike Carey & Sonny Liew
Total cost to the Beast: £0.99
Well this was absolutely charming. It was part of DC’s ill-fated Minx line of comics, which attempted to capture a chunk of the lucrative manga teen market with a focus on girl-centric stories. Re-Gifters tells the story of Jen Dik Seong (or ‘Dixie’) a Korean-American teen and her troubles with family, friends, boys and martial arts. What could be horrendously trite bullshit is actually genuinely engaging stuff, with a likable, flawed heroine at it’s core. Dixie is hot-tempered and short-sighted, but you root for her nonetheless. Indeed all the characters are nicely sketched, so even the stock types (Blonde surfey hunk, Bad Kid and Sorority uber-bitch) have believable motivations and engage our sympathies at some point. Mike Carey (a writer I can really take or leave) really manages to concoct a story that feels instantly familiar yet genuinely fresh. The fizzy charm of the Karate Kid is present throughout Dixie’s tale. In fact it would make a great little movie of it’s own.
Sonny Liew, ably inked by the always great Marc Hempel, produces some delightful work. It’s a scratchy and loose take on Manga art, which absorbs the verbal shorthand and stylistic tics of that form and infuses it with a sketchbook indy quality that really suits Carey’s likable story. It’s deceptively simple but it really works, and it’s to his credit that he creates a gaggle of distinct characters and a well-realised world whilst keeping the story whipping along.
Call me soppy, but I had a big goofy grin on my face by the end of the book. If all the Minx titles had been this solidly entertaining I would have checked more of them out, but looking at the samples in the back of Re-Gifters. I’m not sure this was the case. Either way it’s academic as the imprint folded pretty sharpish. Another noble failure to rank alongside Milestone, Paradox Press and Piranha. You can’t say DC don’t try new things. One thing I’d say – he design of the Minx books sucks. They all had a weirdly ugly combinations of collage and illustration and hideous colours. If you want to get the Manga kids reading, believe me that ain’t the way. Shame really as DC has a good history of innovative and stylish cover design. Think Rian Hughes’ stellar work on the Vertigo line in the 90′s.
So that’s your lot. Combined cost to the Beast: £4.97. Overall enjoyment – pretty good. Some cool exploding heads, a drug fuelled trip down memory lane and an ass kicking teenage girl.
Come back again soon. There’s a complete run of Dazzler with your name on it….