Batman: Turning Points (2007)

This is an odd five issue mini-series from 2001. Each part is a separate story with the only link between them being the developing relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon. The series had three writers – Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Chuck Dixon – and seven artists (not including cover artists) that worked on it.

The series looks at five points in the relationship between Gordon and Batman and explores the doubts, fears and the growing reliance of each for the other over an approximate ten year period. The first story is set in the early days of the Batman and shows the reluctance of the Batman to rush into a hostage situation as he is not confident in his own abilities and he doesn’t want to antagonise Gordon. The second story is set around the time that the first Robin appeared and focuses on Gordon’s doubts as to whether this is a good idea. The third story is set in the aftermath of the crippling of Barbara Gordon and the killing of Jason Todd and concentrates on the doubts Batman feels about how he might be creating the monsters that plague Gotham. The fourth story is set during the Knightfall storyline, when Bruce Wayne has been replaced as the Batman due to his injuries at the hands of Bane, and explores Gordon’s loss at the man behind the mask and whether he can, or should, work with the new Batman. As I stopped reading the various Bat-titles on a regular basis not long after the Knightfall story, I am not sure if the final story is set around any significant storyline in the comics. In it there is a new chief of police and Gordon has lost his second wife and the two old friends have to confront a spectre from the first story as a perpetrator from the first story returns to Gotham to confront the pair.

Before starting to read this book I was unsure as to whether I would enjoy it or not given the multiple creators involved – a case of too many cooks? But to my delight I found that I really enjoyed it. The focus on Gordon and Batman’s relationship worked well for me and it helped that I recognised from the stories where they fitted into the continuity for the most part. The first story was particularly interesting as I don’t think I have read any other Batman story that shows him being anything other than confident in his own abilities from the outset. The importance of the relationship between the two men shone through throughout the book with each taking turns at supporting the other. A fine addition to my collection of Batman books.

Judge Dredd: Babes in Arms (1995)

This books collects a number of short stories that were all drawn by Greg Staples – a regular contributor to 2000AD having worked on such characters as Judge Dredd, Sláine and Sinister Dexter. His style reminds me of Simon Bisley which is appropriate as he was first introduced to 2000AD’s editor by him. The stories are mainly written by a subdued Garth Ennis with a couple from Judge Dredd creator John Wagner.

In Rough Guide to Suicide Dredd has to track down the creator of a dangerous video circulating Mega-City One that encourages its citizens to commit suicide.

Babes in Arms is the story of the revenge of a bunch of jilted wives from Mega-City Two who come looking for the husbands who married them only so they could rip off their money and start a new life in Mega-City One.

Innocents Abroad concerns the Emerald Isle Judge Joyce who comes to Mega-City One on the trail of the O’Dilligan brothers who have fled there after a bank raid. The brothers go to see a third brother who is set up in Mega-City One but who learns that he a has a weird disease, McSod’s Syndrome, that will mutate him unless he can treat it with gold.

In The Squealer Dredd thinks he has found the perfect informant when the wife of a dead squealer, Millard Klinch, claims that she is receiving information from his ghost. However the ghost of Klinch has its own agenda.

The last two stories were written by John Wagner. The first, Enter: Jonni Kiss, is an introduction to a character who assassinates a Sov-Block supreme judge and is then given his next target – Judge Dredd. The last, You Are the Mean Machine is a comic tale taking the reader into the thought processes (or lack of them) of Mean Machine Angel.

Judge Dredd stories are always entertaining and these ones are no exception – while not necessarily being classics. The art is great and it was interesting reading again some of Garth Ennis’s work where he was not allowed to give free expression to his love of ultraviolence (although the red pencil is required quite a bit) and the black humour is not quite as pitch black as it is in some of his later work.

Scars (2008)

This book is the collection of the six issue comic series by Warren Ellis and Jacen Burrows. I presume that Ellis needs little introduction as his work appears almost everywhere – from Transmetropolitan and Hellblazer on Vertigo to Stormwatch and Planetary on Wildstorm to various Ultimate universe books for Marvel to many series on Avatar Press (including this book). He also publishes a free to web comic called Freakangels that is currently up to episode 125. The work of artist Jacen Burrows has been mostly published by Avatar Press and includes several collaborations with Ellis, Alan Moore and Garth Ennis including delightfully sick and twisted Chronicles of Wormwood.

In Scars, homicide detective John Cain’s fragile mental state is shattered when he takes on the case of an eleven year old girl who has been missing for three months but turns up dismembered in three boxes left outside a children’s charity. The case resonates with Cain who has just returned to active duty after having to deal with tragedy in his own life.He becomes increasingly frustrated with his colleagues and the justice system as he makes it his personal crusade to find the killer.

Each chapter is followed by two page comment/observation from Ellis (the first four chapters) and Steven Grant (the final two). In these Ellis repeatedly states that he wanted in this series to move from the normal sanitized depiction of crime in police procedural dramas and introduce more of the horror of real life. I am not sure that he has succeeded. The case while it is horrific, and the effect that it has on the central character is profound, it is still behind the comforting barrier of the printed page and so disconnected from reality. Ellis tries to make that reconnect in his comments by referring to real life cases that mirror some of the story but it is just distracting – we are all aware of some of the dreadful things that go on or are covered up in everyday life – and in one case slightly spoilery as something was mentioned in the comments before it came up in the story. The sense of unreality is heightened by the fact that the main character is seemingly allowed to unravel without any consequences – he attacks an assistant in the morgue and a fellow police officer from another precinct and is allowed to seriously harass his main suspect. Also the suspect once tipped off as to Cain’s suspicions continues to act in a way that is both suspicious and causes Cain to act precipitously.

Having said that I liked the story but was not affected by it in the way that Ellis was hoping – I don’t know that there is anything that anyone can say or do in a work that I know to be fiction that will genuinely sicken and horrify me anymore. The fatal flaw in this story is probably that we are not given a chance to build up any empathy with any of the characters – indeed the main character comes across to me as an unpleasant man for whom I have no sympathy at all despite the tragedy in his life.

Nemesis (2011)

[ Listening to Hunky Dory Currently: Listening to Hunky Dory ]

Nemesis brings together the creative partnership of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven who worked on Civil War – about the only “big event” crossover that I have shown any interest in recently – and Old Man Logan (which is in my to be read pile) both for Marvel. Millar has had two recent books adapted for the screen with Wanted and Kick-Ass and it looks like the same is going to happen to this book.

On the surface, Nemesis is a reverse Batman – a man with wealth and resources but who decides to become a villain rather than a hero. The story starts with Nemesis’ latest killing spree in Japan where he has perpetrated a number of atrocities to humiliate a renowned chief of police culminating in his violent death and the death of numerous citizens. After this Nemesis decides to go after a respected police officer in Washington and along the way storms Air Force One and kidnaps the President, escapes from prison and humiliates the policeman and his family.

This book features a large amount of stylised ultraviolence – why is it that British writers, such as Millar, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, seem to be fascinated with this genre? The story is very good but the book itself is short collecting four issues and with many pages depicting the graphic violence without any words it is a very quick read. The story was entertaining in its own right but only really started to become really interesting in the last few pages when the twist to the story is revealed. The twist while providing a springboard for further stories does lead to a slight bursting of the suspension of disbelief in the abilities of Nemesis himself. It would be interesting to see where Millar would take it on if he continues the series.

The Originals (2004)

[ Listening to Radio Scotland Currently: Listening to Radio Scotland ]

The Originals is a graphic novel with story and art by the legend that is Dave Gibbons. It seems that I have grown up with Dave for most of my comic reading life. In the late seventies he drew a number of strips for 2000AD including Harlem Heroes and Dan Dare, in the eighties came the seminal Watchmen that he created with Alan Moore and in the nineties there was the various Martha Washington series created with Frank Miller.

The story joins Lel and his friend Bok just as they leave school and facing the future but the biggest ambition in their lives is to join the street gang the Originals. They get their chance when they help the gang track down and beat up a rival gang the Dirt. Lel soon finds himself rising through the hierarchy of the gang and believes his life to be perfect when he meets and starts dating Viv. However, Lel’s life is about to take a turn for the worse when a member of the Dirt is stabbed to death during a fight between the Dirt and the Originals and Lel is mistakenly identified as the perpetrator.

There is no time frame for the story but it seems to be set in an alternate world as the construction of the buildings is futuristic and the transportation is all hover based. There is a strong parallel between the events depicted in this story and the violence between Mods and Rockers in seaside towns in England during the early sixties. The Originals (like the Mods) dress alike in sharp suits and drive scooters whereas the Dirt (like the Rockers) are depicted as dirty bikers. This coming of age story is not really enhanced by the setting – it could just as well have been set in Sixties England – its only advantage I suppose is to create a separation between actual events and the story so that it does not come across as autobiographical. Having said that the setting allows for some gorgeous black and white art and while the story is good the art will have you coming back for more.

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game (2007)

This is the excellent sequel to the Scarlet Traces book and is again written by Ian Edginton and drawn by D’Israeli.

The alternate history story continues 40 years after the events in Scarlet Traces. Britain has taken the war to the Martians and has been involved in an extended campaign on Mars itself. But why do so few soldiers ever make it back home to Earth? This is the question that takes investigative photo journalist Charlotte Hemming to Mars with the help of Robert Autumn. There she finds out the secret of the missing soldiers and the secret of the Martians themselves.

I really like this book. It has more of the gorgeous world building that featured in the first book. This one has some more flying machines than the first with aircraft as well as space planes and rockets. Although it is a sequel to Scarlet Traces, it can be read as a standalone book. When Charlotte meets Robert Autumn he neatly summarises the plot of the first book in a few pages. Being an alternate history story it is full of little references to characters – both historic and fictional – and reading Edginton’s take on some of these adds to the enjoyment for me. Most of these references are British, of course, so you may not catch them all unless you know your British history. However the story can be enjoyed on its own merits and is recommended to fans of the alternate history or steampunk genres.

Scarlet Traces (2003)

This book was written by Ian Edginton with art by D’Israeli. The pair have worked together on a number of projects that fall into the Steampunk or Alternate History genres. This book is no exception. Described on the front cover as:

 

Quote:
A murder-mystery sequel to H.G Wells’ The War of the Worlds

 

It has a steampunk feel to it as it is set 10 years after the events of Wells’ novel when the invaders have been vanquished and Britain’s scientists have examined the Martian technology and incorporated it into the fabric of life in Britain. As for the plot, a group of women are discovered in the low water of the River Thames with their bodies covered in puncture marks and drained of blood. Ex army captain Robert Autumn and his manservant Archie Currie become embroiled in the mystery while trying to track down Archie’s niece who has gone missing. Their investigations lead them to discover some black secrets at the heart of the seemingly idyllic way of life afforded by the new technologies.

This is a good story by two great British comic creators. Although described as a sequel on the cover of the book, they really take the original novel as a launching point to design a gorgeous, re-imagined London transformed by the incorporation of Martian technologies. One of the most surprising changes, for me, was the seeming abandonment of the wheel in favour of spidery legs on all forms of transport – such as hansom cabs, prams, cars and motorcycle-type machine shaped to look like horses. There are also some smaller details like mini-Martian fighting machines roaming the pavements destroying vermin. The story was entertaining enough and the murder mystery is solved but the sub-plot built to a cliffhanger ending that is continued in a second book.