FIVE GRAPHIC NOVEL MINI-REVIEWS: GREAT BIG SCHOOL HOLIDAY SHOPPING FRENZY EDITION

I bought them all at once. I read them all at once. Let’s review them all at once. Twenty graphic novels purchased while I was in Perth during the last school holidays.

Strap in.

SS Hell to Pay

 

 

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

 

 

This is one of those volumes where your enjoyment may be determined by how heavily invested you were in the property before you read it. Certainly, there’s nothing in here that could be considered required reading. I’ve been a Suicide Squad fan for decades, so this cynical tale of a biter bit, with added lifelong-fan-of-him-too Jason Blood/Etrigan is right up my alley. One for the fans, but then, I’m a fan.

 

Karnak

 

 

Karnak

 

 

Honestly, leave it to me to go buying a shitload of Warren Ellis titles just as he’s being outed as a sex pest douchecanoe of the highest order. Still, buy them I did. I was excited for Karnak— I love the Inhumans, and I’ve been waiting for someone other than Dan Abnett to do them properly for a long time. This is not that time. There are six issues collected here, and about two issues’ worth of actual content. The rest is made up of extended fight scenes, maudlin sub-Hamlet egomaniac monologues, and just general filler. The guy at the comic shop was excited when I plonked this one down: perhaps that should have been a clue. Waffling ubermensch fantasy for the basement-dweller inside us. The wait continues.

 

Infinity Countdown

 

 

Infinity Countdown. 

 

 

Oh God, this is a hot mess. Even granted that it’s a rough bringing together of disparate volumes as the precusor to a dreaded Massive Marvel Crossover “event” (Seriously, I was over this shit with Atlantis Attacks), this is just an concept-salad of bad ideas thrown at whatever wall would let them stick. One example: of all the characters in the (literally) universe who’d be hiding an infinity stone, Wolverine? Seriously? There’s nothing here that doesn’t reek of commercial opportunism and complete lack of care about the fanbase: file under ‘cynical as fuck’. Once was a time Marvel had more than one idea. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, put down the Infinity Gauntlet for five minutes and come up with something new. Please.

 

SA Reverie

 

 

Secret Avengers Vol 1: Reverie.

 

 

Gotta love me a second-hand bookstore, where entire 3-volume runs of graphic novel titles can be picked up on the cheap. Such as this one, for example. Suicide Squad must have had some impact, because this is as close to recreating it as Marvel have come. And while the story is good, it leaves a slightly sour taste, as the upper hierarchy of SHIELD is shown to be both morally and socially corrupt on a grand scale, and the heroes involved are thrown under 40+ years of narrative buses. It’s a good story. It’s readable, has narrative potential for multiple volumes, and is rich with the sort of wrinkles that build a readership. It’s just vaguely… too unpleasant for the title and characters involved.
SA Iliad

 

 

Secret Avengers Vol 2: Iliad.

 

 

More morally-corrupt hijinks, as SHIELD sends its voluntarily-brainwashed superheroes on a pre-emptive invasion of AIM Island, with one aim– to assassinate the Scientist Supreme. No truth, justice, or American Way in this one (Oh, wait, that’s the other guy). This is a story about Avengers setting out to straight up murder the head of a sovereign nation because, well, basically because they don’t like his politics. Yeah. Let’s ponder that for a moment. Let’s ponder the screeds of comics I’ve gotn where the Avengers get all moral and super-preachy while the stop 2D bad-guys-who-exist-just-to-be-bad from doing exactly that. It’s well-written, it’s engaging, and it’s beautifully drawn. Just don’t expect any of the characters to act remotely like the ones you’ve come to expect from umpteen years of reading about them.

 

SA Maim a Mockingbird

 

 

Secret Avengers Vol 3: How to MAIM a Mockingbird.

 

 

The logical conclusion to the three-volume narrative, and one with some genuinely interesting wrinkles. The moral vacuum at the head of SHIELD comes back to bite it, when a deal with the devil brings one of the organisation’s worst enemies into its inner circle. And the reverse plays out, with one of the superheroes mind-washed, abandoned, and relying on a classic Avengers antagonist for not only survival but some sort of moral direction as the lure of joining AIM begins to sound pretty damn logical. As much as the previous two volumes leave a slightly sour taste by virtue of the way classic characters such as Hawkeye and Black Widow are used, this is a satisfying petard, of sorts: I would have liked to see another volume or two explore the fallout. Sadly, the inevitable reboot only picks up some of the elements, and I’ve only managed to pick up the first volume of that run, so it remains to be seen just where it takes me.

 

Umbrella Academy Vol 2

 

 

The Umbrella Academy Vol 2: Dallas

 

 

It feels a bit odd to review volume two before I get around to reviewing volume one, but this is the rule I’m playing under, so we persist. Without giving too much away, this is a far superior book to its predecessor. The characters are much more rounded, and feel like their own creation, rather than the read-a-few-issues-of-BPRD outtakes that make up volume one. There’s a sense that writer Gerard Way is beginning to explore the world he has created, and finding more confidence in the individuality of his voice. Secret societies of outcasts who overcome their individual and collective psychological/physical/emotional damage to band together and save a world that fears them and doesn’t want to know about the weirdness behind the curtain are a dime a dozen — it takes a hell of a lot to step out from the shadow cast by the Doom Patrol, Suicide Squad, BPRD + Hellboy, etc etc and so forth. Volume Three could be a very interesting read indeed.

 

hellblazer family man

 

 

John Constantine, Hellblazer Vol 4: Family Man

 

 

It’s a simple equation. As far as Hellblazer goes, Jamie Delano > Grant Morrison > Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is, as he pretty much always is with any subject matter, a tourist. Morrison is a divine lunatic, but he’s always taken up with his own genius. Delano, on the other hand, is nasty, and Hellblazer is a title that rewards sheer, unadulterated, nastiness. This is prime Delano: a story of cold equations, and loss-loss scenarios that can’t be avoided. The Morrison and Gaiman stories that punctuate it are perfectly good works, but it’s Delano’s grim, tragic, and hateful central narrative that sticks to the skin and refuses to be washed off. It’s great.

 

Something is Killing the Children

 

 

Something is Killing the Children, Vol 1.

 

 

Monsters are killing children, adults can’t see them, and the only thing that can save them is a wandering girl with a sentient hand puppet and a disembodied voice on the end of the phone whom she hates. Boom! Studio has a habit of throwing weird and wonderful shit out into the world, and this is no exception. It’s off-kilter, slightly wrong in all the right places, unashamedly bloody and unrepentantly in-your-face. I am sold. I’ll be back for more.

 

Lazarus Churchyard

 

 

 

Lazarus Churchyard

 

 

More Ellis, from a time before he was Mister Bigtime, but it seems not before he was Mister Creepazoid. This is some good old-fashioned gonzo weirdness from Blast, Judge Dredd, and 200AD magazines, following the adventures of a 400 year old immortal who’s had the majority of his body replaced with intelligent plastic as he navigates a broken, cyberpunk, commercially-empirical future. It’s off the wall, nutso weirdness that hits pretty much all my British nutso weirdness buttons, and may be the most purely for-the-devil-of-it enjoyable stuff Ellis has done. Which says a lot. The art by Disraeli supports it beautifully: normally I find his work too rigidly structured for my taste, but here he’s all about long, loose lines and garish colours, and it works sublimely. It’s very much Marmite stuff — you’ll either love it or hate it. I love it.

 

Ms Marvel Vol 2

 

 

Captain Marvel: The Ms Marvel Years Vol 2.

 

 

Let’s be brutally honest: Brie Larson movie aside, there’s a big problem with Carol Danvers. Despite the fact she’s been around since the day dot, and been through more iterations and variations than a Ridley Scott DVD re-release, she’s really just not very interesting. She’s a classic Marvel cookie-cutter character, without the reinvented edges that brought, for example, Luke Cage up from the D-team into some sort of cultural relevance. This volume tries its best, presenting all the right stories including witty team-ups, soap-opera problems to burn, conspiracies, splash-page fights, and all the required elements for your standard whackemsmackem superhero story… and it comes across as exactly a standard wheckemsmackem superhero story. It’s all adequately entertaining, but like the character herself, simply doesn’t stand out in any way whatsoever.

 

Revenge

 

 

 

Revenge

 

This is, apparently, a prequel of sorts to a highly regarded TV show. I’ll be honest: I’ve never heard of the highly regarded TV show. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter, because this is a well-constructed, taut, and beautifully rendered coming of age revenge story that stands on its own. There are stakes and lessons aplenty, and a gritty, realistic dynamic that doesn’t undermine the somewhat fantastic scenario being set out. As a spandex-noir tale, it sits somewhere between the high fantasy of Batman and the obsessive grit and sleaze of the first volume of Sin City.  If it was the first volume of an ongoing comic book series I’d be more than interested in seeing where it was going.

 

SA Let's have a Problem

 

 

 

Secret Avengers Vol 1: Let’s Have a Problem!

 

The rebooted series discussed above, and while some intriguing elements are retained — one big hint as to what is right there on the cover — it settles for similar plotting and direction to the series it replaced, which begs the question: what was the point of rebooting in the first place? It’s fun enough, in the way that all the umptymillion Avengers titles in the Bendisverse were fun enough. But that’s about it, really. A distracting read when you’re in the mood for something lightweight and disposable, which is pretty much the summation of Marvel itself under Bendis’ beige-ification program.

 

Planetary Book One

 

 

 

Planetary Book One.

 

Last Ellis for this list, I promise. And, put simply, this might just be the best thing he’s ever written. As much as I love The Authority, I do so in slight puzzlement — there’s nothing particularly new, fresh, or exciting about it, but I’m hooked on just how the familiar elements go together. Planetary, on the other hand, goes deeper into the vagaries of a superhuman universe, and has fun playing with the fascistic element of the spandex wish fulfillment — if the idea of the Fantastic Four killing the populace of an entire planet just so they have somewhere to store all the superweapons they’ve taken from all the other planets they’ve destroyed doesn’t make you giggle just a little bit, this book probably isn’t for you. It’s loaded with conspiracies, powers amok, and lashings of extra paranoia. If Grant Morrison could ever put a leash on his internal editor, he’d come up with something like this. It’s grand fun, and deserved a much longer run.

 

Gotham_by_Midnight_Rest_in_Peace

 

 

 

Gotham by Midnight Vol 2: Rest in Peace.

 

Agh, the perils of picking up a volume two without first owning the preceding volume one.  Jim Corrigan heads a secret supernatural investigations unit within the Gotham City Police Department; the Spectre is a fucking psycho; there’s another cop who appears to be some sort of undead faerie; a dead nun ghost who has a kind of sexual-religious connection to the team forensic analyst, who’s about a picnic short of the full picnic; an internal affair subplot that sort of lingers around the edges threateningly… and it all goes together like mashed peas and custard. It barrels along at a million miles an hour with nary a glance at logic or plotting, and somehow manages to be a delightful hoot along the way. I’m going to have to pick up volume one to make sense of half of it, but I’ll be damned well doing so. Hope there’s a volume three…

 

Who Killed Retro Girl

 

 

 

Powers Vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?

 

I’ve read this one before, and I love the Powers series, so this was a no-brainer when I found it on special at the comic shop. Part police-procedural — which is where Bendis initially made his name — part examination of the cultural phenomenon of superheroes, it’s a beautifully collected homage to all the things that make comics cool. For those of us of a certain age, it’s a lot like reading a noir crime version of Astro City: it’s that good. Arguably the best thing Bendis has ever done, and there are may more volumes to be picked up. 

 

guild vol 1

 

 

 

The Guild.

 

Ye gods. Apparently a prequel to a webcomic series, it’s a story about a 100% loser who — of course — finds freedom and self-respect in that well-known bastion of female empowerment and community respect, the online role-playing game community. It’s horrendous. A sophomoric whine-fest wherein every character represents the absolute worst stereotype of online players — the pregnant kid-neglector, the skeevy sex-starved teen, the rule-OCD lonely old guy, etc etc and please stop before I have to slap the ineffectual, simpering, pissant lead character. There is simply nothing to attract a reader, here: the characters are loathsome, the art is mundane at best, the writing little better than a first year poetry student’s first navel gaze, and the story tedious and insulting in equal measure. Just horrible.

 

Deadman

 

 

 

Deadman Vol 1.

 

Neal Adams returns to the character that made him the most famous comics innovator of the 70s, and magic can only ensure, right? Yyyyyeeeeahhhh, not so much. This is an inconsistent mess, full of glaring characterisation flip-flops and gaping narrative holes. For whatever reason, Adams jams every greatest-hits character he can get his hands on into the story until it’s soggy from the sheer weight of nostalgic tap-backs, and for the same inexplicable reason, decides that each one has to be as much of an asshole as possible. Bruce Wayne? Asshole. Dr Fate? Asshole. The Spectre, the Phantom Stranger, Etrigan? Asshole, asshole, asshole. Worst of all, Deadman himself is an utterly unlikeable asshole in every way, making it difficult to care about a character who requires us to give a damn about the cul-de-sac fate has cornered him into. I’ll admit to not having read the initial 70s Adams run, so maybe this is how he was portrayed in his ‘classic’ days, but that was 40+ years ago: characters evolve, and so should the way they are portrayed. It’s all so disappointing, and I’ve no interest in picking up the second volume.

 

Skandalon

 

 

 

Skandalon.

 

An English translation of a French-language story about a vaunted rock singer suffering a permanent-permission induced bout of megalomania that threatens to destroy him and everything he has created. It’s beautifully painted, as is often the case with French works in particular, but narratively it doesn’t cover anything that Pink Floyd’s The Wall did with more depth and incision 40 years ago. There’s a beauty to it, but ultimately, it all feels slightly superficial and rote.

 

Kill my Mother

 

 

 

Kill My Mother.

 

Jules Feiffer is a fine writer, and equally clever artist, and his ability to both reinforce and pastiche genre boundaries is at full work in this  light-noir tale of unwanted fame, matricide wish fulfillment, mysterious murders, and lost opportunities. The grey-and-white washed artwork is a perfect balance for a plot that reveals no clear good or bad guys, and Feiffer treads lightly through intertwining plots that would verge on the ridiculous in the hands of an author without his fine motor control. It’s witty, painful, and infuriating by turns, exactly the way you want a good noir tale to be, and is simply a delight.

 

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