From A Library: The Wizard’s Tale

The Wizard's Tale

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by David T Wenzel

It was a delightful surprise to find in the library this IDW reprint of the graphic novel from 1995 (it was one of the first publications from the Homage imprint of Wildstorm comics) – it is a very fine packaging of the material in a format that does the story and art justice. Because The Wizard’s Tale is a wonderful book: an utterly charming fairy tale with beautiful, exquisite and equally charming art, full of colourful and distinct characters plus tiny background details that bring the story to life.

Once upon a time … there was an evil wizard called Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, descended from a long line of evil wizards. Except he can’t quite get the hang of being evil, no matter how hard he tries – he attempts a storm spell over the village overlooked by his evil castle, only to bring them a nice rain to help them with their drought, even producing a rainbow at the end. Because of this, Lord Grimthorne of the Darksome Council comes to visit Rumplewhisker Keep to demand that Bafflerog finds The Book of Worse, which was hidden by Grumpwort, the toad who lives in the keep and whom Bafflerog calls friend, even though the toad is supposed to be his prisoner. If Bafflerog doesn’t find the book, Grimthorne will destroy the castle. The Book of Worse contains all the spells of all the evil wizards and would have tipped the balance in the final battle between the wizards of light and dark, until stolen by a young wizard of the light called Basil, who spirited it away before the dark wizards could find it. He was then turned into Grumpwort, but he never told anyone this; until now, providing Bafflerog with more details to help him on his quest. Grumpwort does this because Bafflerog is different from the other dark wizards – Grumpwort and Bafflerog are genuinely friends – and so points him in the direction of the book ‘four realities downward’, into a realm more familiar to readers …

The Wizard's Tale

I think that it’s universally accepted that Busiek is a talented storyteller across many genres, so I don’t have to lavish praise on the story. The hyperbole should be pointed in the direction of Wenzel’s art – I had never seen it before (he’s well known for an adaptation of The Hobbit) but it’s fantastic. The charming style perfectly depicts the fairy tale milieu but it’s not just this element that makes his artwork so impressive: the attention to detail and level of charm he brings to each panel without ever losing the narrative flow that makes reading it such a pleasure. Pages are crammed with tiny characters spilling out of the panel borders, something that adds to the magical dimension of the story but also reflects the fleeing nature of the little creatures as they try to hide from view by escaping the frame of artwork so that they can’t be observed. The artwork is meticulous yet warm, magical yet believable, entrancing yet clear – it creates a synthesis with the story and words that makes them all better.

This is a lovely book: warm, inspiring, delightful, enchanting and a joy from start to finish, with a lovely atmosphere throughout. Highly recommended.

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From A Library: JLA/Avengers

JLA/Avengers #1–4 by Kurt Busiek and George Perez

JLA/Avengers #1

My mainstream superhero obsession in my early years was the X-Men books, which meant that I grew up thinking that the Avengers and the Justice League of America were the uncool comic books of the previous generation. Therefore, I was never one of those fanboys for whom this was the ultimate comic book dream – a crossover between Marvel and DC’s big-hitter teams. Add to this (heresy alert), I’m not a fan of Perez’s art; I admire his talent but it doesn’t appeal to me. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this book and enjoy it.

Krona, an exiled Oan, is destroying universes in his quest for the ultimate truth. When he arrives in the Marvel universe, he meets the Grandmaster, an elder of the universe. A game is proposed to save universes. Cut to the DC universe: the JLA (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman in beard and partial armour, Plastic Man, Wally West Flash and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern) are taking down Terminus (with Hal Jordan Spectre on clean-up); in the Marvel universe, the Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Warbird, Wasp, Triathlon, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Jack of Hearts, Vision, Yellowjacket) are fighting Starro. And these incidents are not isolated: Skrulls are attacking Thanagar; Lobo is attacking the Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar Empire; Flash uses Barry Allen’s treadmill to hop dimensions, losing contact with the Speed Force.

The JLA get a visit from the Watcher and the Grandmaster: a quest for 12 items, six from each universe, which must be assembled or ‘countless billions will die’. The team is split up in classic crossover style, sent to different parts of the Marvel universe (Latveria, Genosha, Manhattan), where they see a less wholesome Earth to the one they are used to. When they go to Monster Island to get the Ultimate Nullifier, the Avengers (now with Hawkeye) try to stop them; the JLA are unexpectedly returned to the DC universe, and Metron appears to the Avengers and tells them that they need to find the same items (from the Marvel universe: the Soul Gems, the Wand of Watoomb, the Casket of Ancient Winters, the Evil Eye, the Cosmic Cube; from the DC universe: the Medusa Mask, the Spear of Destiny, the Green Lantern Power Battery; the Orb of Ra, the Eternity Book, and the Bell/Wheel/Jar), and that the Avengers must obtain them before the JLA, unaware that they are watched by the Atom; Metron gives the Avengers a Mother Box, which they use to get to Metropolis. It is on.

Avengers/JLA #2

The next part is one of the best touches in this book: contrasting the two universes against each other by being viewed by teams from the other universes. The JLA are shocked by the realism (in their eyes, the horror) of the Marvel universe and the lack of help they think the Avengers have provided to their world. The Avengers are in turn amazed by cleanliness and the honoured treatment the DC universe gives its heroes (Quicksilver: ‘They have a museum devoted to a super-speedster. A museum!’). Tackling this as part of the story is a lovely way to see the differences between the two comic book publishers and the massive interconnected stories within, and it made me grin like a child. This carries into the meeting of the two teams, in a lovely double-page spread: the JLA floating on top, the Avengers grounded on the surface, i.e. the gods versus the mortals, with Hawkeye typically getting the best line: ‘Those losers – they’re nothing but a bunch of Squadron Supreme wanna-bes!’ Then Thor hits Superman with Mjolnir, and fanboys squee in delight.

The second issue is the fight between the teams, focusing on Captain America and Batman as they face each other – not a slugfest but testing each other out, sussing out their opponent, before Batman says, ‘It’s conceivable you could beat me, Avengers. But it would take a very long time.’, which is another in a line of choice moments – Busiek knows these characters well, having worked in both universes for a while (he was writing the Avengers at the time), and he knows to show these character moments amid the battles that are expected.

Many more heroes appear, may more locations are visited (Wakanda, Asgard, the Batcave, the JLA Watchtower, the Flash Museum, Paradise Island, the Blue Area of the Moon), even Apokolips – Darkseid has the Infinity Gauntlet but it doesn’t work in his reality, so he discards it – until the big rumble in the jungle (i.e. the Savage Land), with hero against hero, and Superman holding Mjolnir as Thor tries to hit him with it –the geek-out levels in this book are stratospheric – until Krona turns on the Grandmaster and Galactus and the universes dissolve …

JLA/Avengers #3

The third issues begins with the universes crossed – the shared history (JSA/Invaders crossovers), the JLA and Avengers are friends (except perhaps for the boisterous nature of the relationship between Hawkeye and Green Arrow). The only doubt in this scenario is found in Captain America and Superman – both characters are so strongly linked to their own universes that they can’t completely believe in this new reality, causing this shared universe to ripple to accommodate it. It is in these sections that Perez comes into his own – he is the crossover artist ne plus ultra, drawing hyper-detailed panels full of as many heroes and Easter eggs as can be humanly packed and rendered, but here he has a blast drawing the different members of the JLA and the Avengers in different incarnations and different costumes, taking characters from various timelines in the different universes and combining them with amusing repercussions. The level of geekery on display is thoroughly charming, with quick highlights of the fake history of their battles achieving particular heights, until Captain America and Superman face off, causing things to unravel. This leads to a fantastic double-page spread of the JLA and the Avengers being shown the universes as they should be – a circular ceiling view looking up at various snapshots of their respective histories; it’s the sort of thing only Perez would attempt and nail perfectly. Now, they team up to restore their universes, even if the reality might be harsh …

The team-up is smart and emotional, and the fight against Krona is as spectacular and as epic as the situation dictates – there are heroes from both universes popping in and out as Krona keeps shifting the universe, with various villains brought into hold off the heroes, and noble sacrifices are made in the effort to defeat Krona. I may think Perez is an old-school superhero artist whose style doesn’t appeal to me but even I can see that he’s put in an astounding job here – the level of detail and effort and sheer all-encompassing nature of the work of showing all the many, many heroes in different eras of the same character is a sight to behold. Busiek does a great job of providing not only a suitably huge story for these two teams to justify this crossover, but also an amazing amount of history and geek knowledge used in service of a good story with character moments and humour. I found this a genuinely good story, despite my reservations, and worthy of being the most recent crossover between Marvel and DC.

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From A Library: X-Club

X-Club

X-Club #1–5 by Si Spurrier and Paul Davidson

My first experience of reading something by Spurrier (his novel, Contractsee my thoughts here) didn’t go well so it meant that I didn’t hunt out his work in comic books; however, I try not to let my experiences blinker me (with the exception of Jeph Loeb), so I thought I would give Spurrier another chance with this collection of a mini-series from 2011, about Dr Nemesis, Kavita Rao, Madison Jeffries and Danger, collectively known as X-Club.

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised, although that could have been a reaction to my expectations coming in, mostly due to the wry sense of humour that permeates the book. The story is called ‘We Do Science!’ and the character descriptions on the third page set the tone (‘Magneto. Old. Powerful. Probably not evil. Doctor Nemesis. Science bastard.’), which is continued throughout with the constant ‘science snark’ from Dr Nemesis.

The story starts with the X-Men teaming up with Stratocorp to create the ‘first viable space elevator’ in the Atlantic Ocean. Things go awry (of course they do – this is an X-book, after all) when a protesting Atlantean goes beserk (Dr Nemesis: There is science to conduct … in the laboratory of violence.) and Danger returns to Utopia in a crazy freakout. In addition, the presence of Terrigen-242 in the area is causing mutations in sea creatures – this leads to the largest element of humour when ‘an echinodermic specimen’ chemically bonds to Nemesis’ head, acting as an ‘empathic starfish’ revealing his ‘inner monologue to the unworthy universe’. For example, to Rao he reveals, ‘I have often admired your shapely behind’; to Cyclops, ‘I wish my costume was as cool as yours’; to Jeffries, ‘I crave your friendship. Please comfort me’. Meanwhile, after escaping the depths of the ocean (where Stratocorp is, of course, revealed to be villainous because it’s a corporation), Jeffries can be seen riding a mutated hammerhead shark, shouting ‘Fly, my pretty! Fly me to explode justice on the crackling wings of science!’, while the starfish is singing Wagner (‘Kill the Wa-bit’). If you laugh at these, you’ll enjoy this book – I know I did.

The villain of the piece is a former Nazi eugenicist (always a good choice for a go-to bad guy in comic books) who tried to trap an extra-dimensional entity but failed, putting him a stasis field so that his consciousness vibrates across realities while the entity was trapped and impregnated Danger to save itself; now the deranged super-Nazi is trying to collapse dimensions to reshape history (it sounds even more ludicrous when I write it down). Therefore, Nemesis has Rao inject him with Terrigen-242 (‘I am become Experimentallo, Wierdking of Science!’) so he can fight the super-Nazi while Jeffries delivers Danger’s baby. Who says comic books aren’t as crazy as they were in the 1960s?

This type of story is what I expect from superhero comic books – crazy, violent, silly, funny, tongue firmly in cheek but staying true to itself. Spurrier seems to have a writing style similar to Warren Ellis (Nemesis is essentially a Ellisian character taken to the extreme), and that’s a good thing; he’s not as good as Ellis but I don’t think there are many people like Ellis so Spurrier shouldn’t feel too bad about it. I haven’t seen much of Davidson’s art before this but his style matches Spurrier’s story – it’s a little off-kilter and unpolished for my particular tastes, and a tonal shift from the Nick Bradshaw cover that adorns the collection, but he’s a competent storyteller, able to handle the uber-weirdness without too much difficulty and keep up with the facial expressions and timing necessary to sell the character humour. It helps that he’s got the same British sensibility as Spurrier, which infuses his work, and this is early in his career, so it’s not as tight as the work he’s producing now.

In summary: I haven’t forgiven Spurrier for Contract but I enjoyed this diverting tale of X-scientists in action.

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From A Library: iZombie

iZombie TP1

Created/written by Chris Roberson & created/drawn by Michel Allred
iZombie: Dead to the World (iZombie #1–5 and part of The House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1)
iZombie: uVampire (iZombie #6–12 and The House of Mystery Halloween Annual #2)
iZombie: Six Feet Under and Rising (iZombie #13–18)
iZombie: Repossession (iZombie #19–28)

Now that iZombie has premiered on television, it seemed a good time to talk about the books from which the show has been adapted. The concept behind iZombie appeals to me – I bought the first issue (bargain priced at 99 cents) – because the main characters are a zombie (Gwen) who lives in a cemetery and works as a gravedigger, a ghost (Ellie, who died in the 1960s) who is her best friend, and a werewolf (well, a were-terrier, whose name is Scott but he gets called Spot), who live in a town (Eugene, Oregon) where vampires run a paintball camp, and where Gwen gains the memory of the dead person when she eats the brain. That’s the sort of set-up that will get me interested. However, the execution never quite grabbed me in that first issue, so I only got round to reading the book through the generosity of libraries.

iZombie TP2

There is more to the book than just the central hook – Roberson has worked out his own reasons for the folklore of the individual creatures, which involves the multiple types of souls that the Egyptians believed in being responsible for different varieties of mythical creatures. Roberson’s version has two souls – an oversoul and an undersoul: the oversoul is in the brain, the undersoul is in the heart, referring to the conscious and unconscious mind, respectively. A bodiless oversoul is a ghost; a bodiless undersoul is a poltergeist; a vampire is when the oversoul remains in the body; a zombie is when the undersoul remains in the body; a bodiless soul can infect a living body, so an animal undersoul infection can lead to a werewolf; a bodiless oversoul can infect the living, which is a possession. Because of all these types, there is obviously an organisation that hunts these monsters: the Corporis Fossorii, who have come in contact with John Amon, the ‘mummy’ who explains all of this to Gwen.

The first volume is all set-up, but this continues into the second trade paperback with the ‘origin’ of Spot the were-terrier and how the oversoul of his grandfather got into the body of a chimpanzee. Then there is the burgeoning relationship between Gwen and Horatio, a hunter in the Corporis Fossorii, the introduction of a Frankenstein’s Bride (Galatea, known to Amon, who Roberson describes as ‘the creation of an alchemist in seventeenth century [sic] Germany’), and the back story of Ellie the ghost, expanding this little universe that Roberson has created. The third volume sees the introduction of the Dead Presidents, who are named after former presidents but are a zombie, a were-cat and a disembodied entity, led by Zombie Lincoln. Comics! This volume also has some of the sloppiest knowledge-dropping in the series – Galatea goes to talk to Gwen but runs off when Ellie tells her about all the zombies in the catacombs but Galatea somehow drops a photograph of Amon and Gwen from when Gwen was still alive, which is found by Ellie – but plots have to be fed, I suppose.

iZombie TP3

We learn that Eugene is a place where the walls between the worlds are thinner and that something is going to break through soon, something which Amon wants to stop. Things are complicated by the arrival of the Dead Presidents and the Corporis Fossorii in Eugene for the zombie outbreak, plus Horatio’s partner in the Fossorii announces that Gwen is a zombie. Gwen’s brother is possessed by a revenant who used to live in the writer/artist of the comic book character The Phantasm. And then Gwen touches Amon and finds out that she knew Amon before: he skilled herself because Amon asked her to save the world.

The huge fourth trade paperback, collecting the final 10 issues, sees the zombie invasion in full effect, with the army brought in to try to contain it, and the build-up to the return of Xitalu (a giant Lovecraftian-type monster), who will consume the earth. There’s a lot going on in this final storyline, with sacrifices and kidnaps and possessions and natives of higher dimensions, but it feels rather rushed, making you wonder if Roberson was trying to fit everything in before the book was stopped.

iZombie TP4

I thought that iZombie was an interesting book with an interesting take on the classic film monsters, with a vibrancy enhanced by the use of real places in Eugene. It was also positive to have a female lead character, still rarer than it should be. I didn’t think that the book completely gelled – the idea and the characters were interesting, but the entirety of the series never seemed to fuse and come to life (if you’ll pardon the pun). The other problem I have is with the art – I’m not a fan of Allred’s pop-art style. I can see that he is a good artist who knows how to tell a story and has a quirky and engaging style, but it’s never worked for me (I always thought that his art in X-Statix was rather ugly). It is a good choice for the book because it counters the ghoulish nature of the creatures involved by presenting them in a colourful and non-threatening manner, but it left me cold and I know that’s my issue. In fact, I preferred the fill-in artists (J Bone and Jim Rugg), which is the reverse of how I usually feel about a book – the original artist is the defining influence on the art style and representation of the comic book.

Despite my reservations about the book, which I mostly enjoyed, I hope that the TV show does well – it seems to be a different thing, going for a police procedural with Gwen as the equivalent of a psychic with her brain-digested memories, and none of the other characters from the comic book, which is a shame because it would have been nice to see the actual comic book on screen – but Veronica Mars was a great show, so I trust Rob Thomas enough to oversee it. I hope we get to see it in the UK, and I hope that it sees some interest in the book (even if Roberson did burn his bridges with DC).

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From A Library: The New Deadwardians

The New Deadwardians Cover 1

The New Deadwardians #1–8
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

October 1910. London (Zone-A). Chief Inspector George Suttle, Murder Squard, is woken in the night when his housekeeper is killed by a ‘Restless’ (a zombie). He calmly stabs it through the throat to pin it to the table before blowing its head off with his service rifle (he saw duty in the Memorial War). The reason the restless didn’t smell him when he intervened is because, as a soldier, he took ‘the cure’ during the war to fight the Restless – he is now a vampire, for the sake of God and country. No one knows where the Restless came from. It was 1861, the year Prince Albert died; the ruling classes took the cure to stop the Restless (being technically dead made them invisible to the Restless, also known as the Cursed), and the world was never the same again.

Suttle is also the only homicide detective left in the Metropolitan police because murders don’t happen any more. Until today: a body has been dumped on the Embankment in front of Parliament. The only problem is that the body was one of the Young (a vampire), and not killed in the usual ways for a vampire. How did it die? What does it mean to this society if the Young can actually die?

The corpse is identified by the prints on its one remaining hand: it is Lord Hinchcliffe, a senior advisor to the Crown, who had been arrested but released without charge over the death of a ‘Bright’ (i.e. a normal human) girl. Suttle visits his townhouse and finds a cufflink box – the cufflinks are made of silver (which is very rare) and the design matches the burn mark on Hinchcliffe’s body. Suttle also discovers that Hinchcliffe had ‘a thirst’ – he liked to visit the East End, the Bright Quarters.

Suttle travels to the East End (Zone-B), via the Aldgate checkpoint, driving past the partition where the Restless gather at the barrier fence (he and his driver have to use a car because the horse, like all animals, won’t tolerate the presence of a vampire; however, it is a rarity in the East End and indicates his status as a Young). He visits the brothel Hinchcliffe frequented until being banned and forced to find a place in Whitechapel, recommended by his artist friend, Pretendleby (obviously not a real name). Things get more complicated before he returns to Scotland Yard.

Subsequently, Suttle is asked to ‘placate’ Lady Hinchcliffe at the family estate, which means driving on the Great North Road, outside the Metropolitan Picket, into Zone-D (the Curse spread from the south coast, then the Midlands, then the North and across the world), and to Cadley House, Buckinghamshire. There Suttle sees the cufflink design on the floor of the hall in Cadley House; apparently, it is connected to a society call The Sons Of Adam. Lord Falconbridge is at Cadley House; he is a senior government minister who tries to steer Suttle’s investigation into a different direction. This leads to a poet called Salt, some sort of magic, a major incursion of the Restless and the reason for the dawn of the Deadwardian Age …

This is a very good book. It’s a great premise that allows for comparisons in the class system (upper classes: vampires; middle class: humans; lower classes: zombies) and an examination of a different culture through the prism of this inventive alternate history (people aren’t called ‘vampire’ or ‘zombie’ because it wouldn’t be a civilised thing to do). Abnett even manages to have fun with this world – when Suttle goes to Cadley House, he encounters Hinchcliffe’s daughter, a keen supporter of the movement to emancipate women to choose the Cure for themselves, because they are not allowed until after child-bearing age, and these suffragettes have a hilarious slogan, Throats For Women. In Suttle, he has an interesting protagonist, someone who has lost all normal appetites because of taking the Cure, but who discovers them again and some meaning in life by investigating a murder. Culbard’s art style takes some adjusting to – I didn’t like it at first but, as I continued to read the book, it became quite clear that the art style is the perfect choice for the material. He is a good storyteller, the period detail is excellent, and I was impressed by the variety of faces he draws to distinguish all the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and hope that Abnett and Culbard get the opportunity to tell more stories in this world.

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Book From A Library: London Falling

Written by Paul Cornell

The concept of police investigating magical-related crime in London is not without precedent – I’m a big fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Folly series – but it’s way that the story is told that makes it different. Cornell, in addition to his comic-book writing, has written for television (Doctor Who, Primeval, Robin Hood) and this book has a televisual feel (SFX glibly describes it as Buffy meets The Sweeney but they have a point) – in the acknowledgements, Cornell admits that the story was originally created as a television series pitch, something that is evident in the story and the collection of characters, but doesn’t detract from the originality and enjoyment of the book.

Detective Inspector Quill, undercover policemen Costain and Sefton, and analyst Lisa Ross are part of an operation to bring down Toshack, the boss of the largest organised criminal network in London. However, when they capture him, he is murdered in police custody by an unseen assailant; while investigating, our four leads are ‘gifted’ with The Sight, which allows them to see the occult underbelly of London, the things which normal people can’t see, including the entity responsible for the murder of Toshack and his enemies before that, and who is now killing in order to stay in existence. Quill and his team are the only people who can figure it out and who have any chance of stopping the killings, while coping with the effects of the developing The Sight and the dark, strange places it takes them.

The book works because Cornell has grounded the story in reality so that the supernatural element has solid grounding from which to work and contrast. The sense of ‘policeness’ is evident throughout the book – Cornell has obviously researched this thoroughly and the reality of police work shows – and the feel of London permeates the book; West Ham United football club and its grounds in the east of London play a big part in the story (although Cornell always uses the nickname of The Irons for the club, whereas I have only ever heard The Hammers used), and he uses London connections to keep the story linked to the area through history in an engaging way. For a chap from Wiltshire, he has a nice handle on London dialogue, albeit one heavily influenced by television instead of reality, but it works in the context of the book. The story is gripping – there is a sense of pace and urgency to proceedings that forces you to turn the page – and the four lead characters are interesting and well rounded, even if there is a slight touch of central casting (for example, Quill feels a bit like John Thaw’s Jack Regan from The Sweeney).

If there is one slight problem, it’s in the prose, which I didn’t expect from Cornell. The first chapter has some horrible expository dialogue during an undercover scene in the first chapter (Quill: ‘Do you know how long it has been for us on Operation Goodfellow? Four years now, from you first getting in with Pa Toil’s gang.’; ‘The top brass are pushing Superintendent Lofthouse to end this right now, understand? Right now, you are the lead UC in the least successful operation SCD 10 has ever mounted in the capital …’ [there is a glossary at the back for abbreviations and slang terms, which I think takes away from the enjoyment]), which is perhaps understandable but it makes the first chapter tough going, and doesn’t reflect the rest of the book. The other aspect is the prose itself, infused with the same London edge as the dialogue, which is a strange authorial choice – the dialogue is supposed to be where the colour is supposed to be; having it in the prose takes away something from the storytelling. Having a character ‘go for a butcher’s’ doesn’t feel right when being told this by the author; the line ‘the mob ripped her fucking heart out’ is supposed to be something that somebody says, not what the omniscient narrator uses to describe a scene. It might be just me, but it was a slight distancing effect in reading an otherwise entertaining read.

The book is open ended, as would be expected from an original television pitch – the idea is to set up a special division within the London police to investigate the crimes that normal police force cannot, a unit that might have historical precedent within the world of the story. I’m fine with that because Cornell has created a perfect vehicle to do that – London Falling isn’t perfect, but it’s a great introduction to the Shadow Police and I’ll be reading future instalments.

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From A Library: Grandville Mon Amour

Written and drawn by Bryan Talbot

The Tower of London – a dog prisoner is to be executed until he makes a daring and murderous escape. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector LeBrock has not come out of his lodgings in over a week – he is still angry with himself and wallowing in self-pity because he blames himself for the death of Sarah, the woman he promised to look after but was killed (see the first Grandville story, which I liked very much). But his friend, Detective Ratzi, brings him out of his seclusion because LeBrock is needed again – the dog who escaped was Mad Dog Mastock, a murderer caught by LeBrock. Mastock was also an urban guerrilla fighter during the Resistance for the battle for British independence against the French, although he also killed innocent French citizens to do it. When LeBrock goes to his commanding officer to demand the case, LeBrock argues and then resigns when he is not given it. But that’s not going to stop LeBrock …

This story involves the history of the alternate world that Talbot has created – the British battle against the French, how LeBrock was in the resistance (the Brixton Irregulars, separate from the Mastock unit, the Angry Brigade); the Brick Lane Massacre, where head of the occupying forces General Woolf set a trap and killed all leaders of the resistance, including LeBrock’s father, except for the leader of the resistance, a bulldog called Harold Drummond, who is now Prime Minister and is about to be made the first President of the Socialist Republic of Britain. Mastock returns to Grandville (the name for Paris in this alternate world) and kills again, so LeBrock and Ratzi have to return there and find him and the truth.

As with the previous Grandville story, there are nice in-jokes – criminals in the French prison include ‘Poo’ Bear and ‘Toilet’ Duck, who looks a lot like a certain trouser-less cartoon character; Drummond says, ‘Oh yus’, just like a certain insurance advert – and the art is beautiful, with strong line work and exquisite colouring and lovely design. The story is entertaining (although I thought the ending was the weakest part, getting the villain to reveal themselves with a bluff and then getting them to do something stupid and out of character) and a lot of fun, even it isn’t ground-breaking. Talbot is an excellent storyteller, both artistically and narratively, and he maintains his usual high quality of work here.

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From A Library: King City


King City #1–12 by Brandon Graham

To read King City is to enter into one man’s singular vision captured in 424 pages of paper with pencil and ink. Twelve issues of a mostly plotless story (as Graham admits in the outro) in an otherly world of delightful inventiveness and wonderful imagination. The protagonist of the book is Joe, who has a car called Earthing JJ Catingsworth the Third, but it is no ordinary cat – this is a special cat that can do just about anything: he can make copies of physical items (‘a copy cat’), be used as a periscope and a hoverboard, act as a video camera, become a fighting machine, among other things, once he’s had an injection. (The reasons for this are not explained, but it doesn’t matter.) Joe is a Cat Master – he has returned from The Farm, where he did his training with the other Cat Masters. Back in King City, he hooks up with old friend Pete (who seems to constantly wear a balaclava) before he gets involved in … things. The things are not strictly important – it is the details that interest Graham.

The city is one of the details that interests Graham – there are unnecessary panels of telegraph wires, huge vistas of the city from a distance that don’t set the scene of the story, a shot looking up at skyscrapers, a panel showing a shot of downtown in the middle of a conversation between Joe and Pete; there are also little background bits that have no relationship with the rest of the panel, such as adverts on the walls, a man asking, ‘Hey, want anyone killed?’, the contents of Pete’s desk, a cross-page panorama showing different people’s homes, a sign saying ‘No dumping bodies after 10pm (seriously)’, a panel showing what happened to people in their life (‘Discovered a new color’, ‘Grew eight new organs’). There’s a page that’s a crossword. For no reason. It’s understandable because he’s created a wonderful place to inhabit and he’s obviously enjoying showing us it in all its vivid splendour. There’s no need for a story because the world-building is so much fun.

There is also a delightfully silly sense of humour (‘cervix entrance’, ‘spice-thyme continuum’), which helps. There is a join-the-dots picture that is a part of a panel. There’s a double-page spread that is a board game where you help the characters to find their destination in the city. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before – the Cat Master idea is a wonderful concept but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in a book full of ideas and silly, unnecessary notions; they create a world of oddness and quirkiness and triviality that add layers that enrich the background and enhance the storytelling experience, allowing it to unfold and breathe. This is helped by Graham’s art, which is whimsical and cartoony but clean and detailed and that revels in the details; all the characters are individuals, even the people who aren’t part of the story, and there is never any moment when the story is unclear or confused. This is a truly unique book that you lose yourself in, and it’s definitely worth the time to investigate.

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Notes On A Book: The Name Of The Wind

Book One of The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

The paperback edition that I read is 662 pages of small print text. It’s a big book. Yet I raced through it in a euphoric rush as I devoured this book (not literally; that would be hideous, to steal a line from Alan Partridge), because the prose is so well written and the story is so engaging. I couldn’t stop and enjoyed it from start to finish, and I need to have the rest of the story NOW because I need to know everything that happens. I think you can call that a recommendation.

We are introduced to Kote, an innkeeper of a hardly used inn of a small out-of-the way town, living a quiet life. However, it turns out that he is actually Kvothe, a legendary hero in hiding, and his assistant, Bast, is his student and also a prince from the mystical Fae. Kvothe saves Chronicler, a travelling scribe, on the road to the town; Chronicler recognises him (in fact, he’s been looking for him) and asks to record his story. Kvothe decides to recount his life story, and the book then turns into a first-person account of Kvothe’s early days.

Kvothe grew up as a child of the Edema Ruh, a respected troupe of travelling performers (his parents are the leaders), where he learnt many things, including playing the lute; he learnt even more when the troupe picked up an arcanist (a sort of magician) called Abenthy, a graduate of the University, who teaches Kvothe about science and ‘sympathy’ (the type of magic in this world – Rothfuss has created a very scientific approach to the concept of magic in this sympathy, connected to quantum energy and control of the mind and knowledge in general), which Kvothe shows aptitude for because he is very intelligent and learns incredibly quickly. Kvothe also learns about the nature of the true names of things and the power that this knowledge can bring (which the title of the book refers to: Kvothe witnesses Abenthy using the name of the wind, and this ignites his quest for knowledge, particularly of true names).

Kvothe’s world is shattered when his parents and the entire troupe is killed by Chandrian, mythical evil creatures, who killed the troupe for singing songs about the Chandrian, and he escapes to live for several years as a street urchin in the city of Tarbean, surviving by his wits. His life is changed when he hears a song in a tavern about the Chandrian, and their enemies the Amyr, making him realise that what he saw when his parents were killed was real and that he must attend the University in order to learn all he can about them before trying to exact revenge. The rest of the book is about Kvothe’s adventures at the University, where his life is hard because he is very poor but his intelligence and skills make a name for himself when he becomes an official student so quickly and the troubles with an entitled student who hates him and his talent with a lute at the local famous musical tavern and his infatuation with a beautiful young woman he met while travelling to the University.

This book uses some classic tropes of fantasy stories, such as the mentor figure and the magical school, but Rothfuss has a way of making you see them in a new and fresh way, reminding you why they are such standards in the genre. He has created a rich and detailed world, with the excellent system of magic and science as the basis for fantasy angle. There is a lovely sense of storytelling, both in the narration of the story and the way that storytelling itself plays a part in the book, from the performances of the Edema Ruh and the stories that contain mix fact and legend, and the use of language (both English and invented) that demonstrates an accomplished ease of communicating an old idea in a beautiful way, resonating with truth and the idea behind the truth. He also has a knack for making this an engaging story, which can have only a certain level of danger because the hero is narrating, and telling a story about an incredibly talented individual (intelligence, music, performance, magic, bravery, honour) without making it sound over the top – I hate stories where they tell you the lead character is ‘the best of the best’ in whatever field, and that never happens here.

There is only one tiny flaw in the book: the piece of plotting that leads to Kvothe being banned from the University’s Archives (nearly a million books of incredible knowledge), which had me groaning with the inevitability of proceedings, but it is a momentary blip on an absorbing read from start to finish. The book is filled with great characters throughout (from members of the troupe to Kvothe’s friends at the University to the Masters of the different academic fields), with great names for people and places, and a great sense of reality in an unreal world. I was amazed at how quickly I got through this book, but that’s a testament to Rothfuss’s great writing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book (although, like the many other admirers of the books, I’ve got a long wait for the final book in the trilogy). I’m happy that the books have been optioned for television (even if I can’t quite work out how they’ll tell the story when the older and younger Kvothes are very different, from a casting perspective), if just for the money that Rothfuss received. If you like fantasy books, do yourself a favour and read this book. You won’t regret it.

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From A Library: Neonomicon

The Courtyard #1 & 2 and Neonomicon #1–4
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Jacen Burrows

I’m sure this is heresy but I’ll say it anyway: this comic book, which was written by arguably one of the greatest writers of comics books and whose work I enjoy very much (so much so that I went to Kettering to see him talk about them), was not a good comic book in the sense of being an entertaining piece of sequential storytelling with the aim of providing escapism in fiction. It was thoroughly unpleasant and I find it hard to believe that it came from the man who bought us Watchmen and V For Vendetta and Miracleman and Top Ten and Supreme. I haven’t been enjoying Moore’s comics of late: I admired the Century trilogy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I didn’t find the experience of reading them particularly enjoyable or satisfactory. That’s not what I want from my entertainment – the primary function should be the ‘entertain’ part. Writing this, it feels like I’m having to explain a relationship that isn’t working any more – “It’s not you, it’s me; we’ve drifted apart. It used to be fun in the old days. It’s just not the same any more.”

The trouble with this book was that I actively disliked it, something I never thought would happen with an Alan Moore comic. It’s a really strange feeling, and it saddens me. The book is deliberately horrific, and I’m not really into horror for my entertainment tastes, but this is not an Alan Moore book I’ll be reading again (and not in the same way as not reading Violator or Violator Vs Badrock again). This depresses me in a way I can’t really explain. Moore may have written worse books (see the aforementioned Image mini-series, although I’d advise against it) but he never seemed to set out to write a book that was unpleasant and nasty and basically unreadable, as he admitted about this comic at the convention appearance at N.I.C.E.

The Courtyard is about a bigoted, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic cop who is undercover investigating murders that have led him to a strange club and a strange drug that causes even stranger things to happen to him when he is exposed to it. Neonomicon follows on from this, as two federal agents visit the detective who is now in a secure psychiatric institute after he killed some people. The agents are investigating murders with the same modus operandi, going back to the same club visited by the detective in The Courtyard. They discover a lead that sends them undercover to Salem, based on a connection to HP Lovecraft, where things go catastrophically wrong almost immediately and then they don’t get any better.

As a story, the plot is put together well enough and it is filled with background detail that roots it in reality. Burrows does his usual detailed job on art duties, drawing talking head scenes and horror scenes and the surreal scenes (particularly the double-page spread in The Courtyard when the detective’s mind is opened by the strange drug) with equal skill and dexterity. However, this is a story where a former sex-addict female agent is repeatedly raped by a Lovecraftian fish monster and then she ends up happy after escaping when she realises she is pregnant with a creature that, when given birth, will bring about the end of the world. It’s not enough to have the great meta moment at the end of the first issue of Neonomicon, where the character the agents are chasing disappears in a mural on a wall – great skill in comic book storytelling don’t make up for a story I found unpleasant to read. Perhaps it is just me, but it’s put me off buying the very few Alan Moore comics that are being produced now.

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