The Bronx Kill (2009)

 

Quote:
It’s like all the pain just gets handed on and on, ain’t it.

 

This original graphic novel comes from the short-lived Vertigo Crime imprint. It was written by the veteran British writer, Peter Milligan, and the black and white art was by James Romberger.

The derelict area around the Bronx Kill, a narrow strait in New York, holds a grim fascination for writer Martin Keane as it was the scene of his great-grandfather’s murder. As Martin struggles to write his third novel, his mysterious family history is echoed in the present when his wife leaves their apartment and disappears just like his grandmother did many years before abandoning his father as a baby. Martin is suspected of foul play, and murder when his wife’s body appears, and must find answers to the mystery in the events of the past.

A pretty good modern noir story from Milligan. He uses a lot of tropes – history repeating, lessons of the past not learned, mirroring of events in the draft pages of Martin’s latest novel – but he combines them well to produce a gripping narrative. The art by Romberger is suitably dark when it needs to be and has an indie sensibility that is refreshing from the books I normally read. Well worth a read for fans of crime stories.

Vertigo Resurrected (December 2010)

 

Quote:
You’re all looking for something to blame when you should be looking out the window.

 

This comic is an collection of short stories from various Vertigo titles including Strange Adventures, Weird War Tales and Flinch. However, the reason I picked it up is that it features a previously unpublished Hellblazer story from the Warren Ellis run on the character.

The story, Shoot was written round about the time of the Columbine High School tragedy and was felt, probably rightly that it was too sensitive a story to print at that time. However, it is an excellent story featuring Constantine at the fringes of a series of pupil-pupil shootings across America. The story has John railing against the congressional advisor as the demons the children face are ones created by society rather than the Hellish forces that he is comfortable with.

This is story is the kind of horror that really scares me. Never mind scientists shooting corpses for some perverse pleasure or people sodomising the decayed carcasses of dogs (both of which were featured in the last comic I read), what scares me is the horror that could be all too real. So while I love the supernatural horror genre the ones that truly get to me are films like slasher movies where there is no supernatural element only the cruelty of fellow humans. [EDIT: I found a blog entry from Warren Ellis on the release of this story today (23/4/12). He certainly succeeded in his intention with me.]

The other stories feature a heavyweight roster of writers and artists from Vertigo past and present. They include Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Eduardo Risso and Bill Willingham. These stories are of variable interest as they are playing second fiddle to the Constantine one but are mostly entertaining. One of the best features art by Bernie Wrightson in a classic horror tale. It has been a while since I have read any stories featuring Wrightson art and has made me move Roots of the Swamp Thing up in my to-read pile. Bill Willingham’s story, which he wrote and drew, is a good one featuring a nice flip on the trope of the enraged villagers of classic horror movies.

Vertigo Resurrected: Hellblazer (February 2011)

 

Quote:
“… if I go home without you, your lovely wife’s gonna cut my bollocks off …”

“Thank Christ. How do we get out then?”

“Out? How the bloody hell do I know?”

 

This comic is one of a series from Vertigo collecting material that has never otherwise been reprinted. This one features 2 two-part stories from John Constantine, Hellblazer.

The first comes from the middle of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon run of the early nineties and consists of issues 57 and 58. When Chas and John stumble across some modern day grave robbers at Chas’ uncle’s funeral, John agrees to help Chas get to the bottom of the matter. They soon find themselves in a fortified industrial unit in the middle of nowhere where the stolen bodies are being used as test subjects for needless ballistic tests.

This is Ennis at his prime and the humour is dark matter black even for him. The art is typical Steve Dillon and I love it. Reading this just makes me want to do that Hellblazer re-read that I have been promising myself for some time – along with the Sandman, Zenith, The Shadow and a host of others I don’t have time for just now. Excellent stuff.

The second story is by writer Jason Aaron (currently writing Scalped) and artist Sean Murphy (who also drew the Hellblazer: City of Demons mini-series) and collects issues 245 and 246 from near the end of the Andy Diggle run. The story sees a bunch of documentary makers come to Newcastle to make a film about Constantine’s old punk band, Mucous Membrane. However, the site they visit is the scene of demonic ritual that put Constantine in the Ravenscar Asylum. Unfortunately for the film makers, the shade of the demon is still lingering on the site and once disturbed messes with their heads.

I bought this comic for this story as it the only one I don’t have between my comics and book collections. It is quite a good story encapsulating as it does a piece of iconic Constantine back story for readers that may not be familiar the character’s full history. I like Murphy’s art and would be happy to see him have an extended spell with the book and character.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Phantom Pains (2012)

 

Quote:
I … I want you to summon a creature … a terrible creature … who can hurt him. Hurt him like he hurt me.

 

This book collects issues 276 to 282 of the ongoing Hellblazer series. It was again written by Peter Milligan with art on the main story from Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini (one chapter has art from Gael Bertrand) and art on the two single issue stories the bookend the volume was by Simon Bisley.

Married life is not running smoothly for John Constantine. First his new bride finds his wound from his amputated thumb disgusting and runs off to console herself with a demonic spirit. Second his home-grafted thumb, taken from a dying car crash victim, has a life of its own and gets him involved with its previous owner’s affairs. And finally his niece, Gemma, is seeking revenge on John for the abuse she suffered at his wedding that she thinks was carried out by him. All of this while trying to avoid becoming indebted to his gangster father-in-law.

Another enjoyable volume from Peter Milligan, though the two single issue stories are filler and pretty lightweight – which is a shame as the second concerning the demon Julian and his abuses of the prisoners could have been really interesting if it had been given more space to develop the tale properly. The main story has threads that don’t really go anywhere but overall it is very good with yet another person close to Constantine paying the price for his deviousness. The hints in this tale are that John might be about to head out on another of the dreaded road trips, possibly to America if he can’t put off his father-in-law, so that is something I am not looking forward to as I didn’t really like the last one when Brian Azzarello was the writer. But hopefully Milligan can pull it off as he has taken the character back to his roots and created some of the most entertaining stories for a long time in this long-lived series.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Bloody Carnations (2011)

 

Quote:
“I … I think you two know each other.”

“Nah,I’ve never seen this old geezer before.”

“Nice company you’re keeping, Epiphany.”

 

This book collects issues 267 to 275 of the ongoing Hellblazer series. It was written by Peter Milligan, who has been the series writer since issue 250, with art from Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini and Simon Bisley.

The book has two stories. The first called Sectioned sees Constantine violently losing it with Epiphany and then starting to lose his grip on reality and ending up in a psychriatric hospital. He summons Shade to help him escape and figure out what is going on but Shade’s madness contaminates a potion Epiphany has made to heal her facial wounds which disfigures her even more. But Shade has a price for his help that John is unwilling to pay. The second story, Bloody Carnations, has Shade take Epiphany to Meta to heal her face but while there he tries to convince her that she is the dead Kathy George. Angry when she refuses him, Shade sends her back to Earth but in 1979 as a punishment both to her and to Constantine of whom he was jealous. Having decided that he wants to marry Epiphany, John must disrupt the plans of Nergal, who is determined that he not find happiness, and rescue his bride-to-be from his younger self.

Milligan takes Constantine back to familiar territory with this volume. Echoing episodes from his past with the incarceration in a mental institution and the return of Nergal and Gary Lester amongst others who gather for the wedding. I much prefer this kind of Hellblazer story where John is on his old stomping ground rather than when he is off on road trips such as in the last volume India. One reference to the old days that was a bit off for me was the reappearance of Kit, his true love from Garth Ennis’ run on the series. Apparently, he loves Epiphany more than he loved Kit which I find hard to swallow given his seeming indifference to her in the last couple of collections. Also someone should have given the artists a sample of what Kit looks like as I only knew who she was as she was referred to by name. But these are minor quibbles from a big fan of the Ennis run. On the whole this is a great book with Constantine at his tricksy best.

Fables: Super Team (2011)

 

Quote:
So basically, you’ve been wasting my time with nine different costume fittings. Was all this a dodge to watch me undress so often?

 

This is volume 16 of the popular Vertigo series and collects issues 101 – 107. As usual it was written by Bill Willingham and the main story was pencilled by Mark Buckingham. The inking on the main story was done mainly by Steve Leialoha with Andrew Pepoy lending a hand on a few pages. The main story is preceded by a fill-in tale with art by Eric Shanower and Richard Friend and followed by another filler story with art by the great Terry Moore.

The main five part story concerns the Fables latest attempt to rid themselves of Mister Dark. With Bellflower’s scheme to contain Mister Dark failing, the Fables are forced to leave the farm and retreat to Flycatcher’s kingdom of Haven. But Mister Dark is on their tails and there is nowhere else to run. While Flycatcher maintains the wards that are holding Mister Dark at bay, Pinocchio convinces the current leader of the witches, Ozma, to create a super powered group to battle the all-powerful enemy in a scenario inspired by his love of comic books. Ozma agrees and with Pinocchio sets about pulling together the members for an archetypal super group that can hope to gain power from the modern myths of the superhero. But as the group is drawn together another champion steps forth from an unlikely quarter.

The first filler story concerns Bufkin and the aftermath of his battle with Baba Yaga in the business office.Now that the business office is safe he is convinced to go on more heroic quests so that he can become king of the business office. This story sees him escape the office and enlist in a new cause. The second story concerns sleeping beauty and a general who is trying to wake her so that he can access the Emperor’s former administration and sorcerers to forge a new empire. But little does he know that there are rival forces around who will go to any lengths to stop his scheme.

This story sees the resolution of the Mister Dark story line and the death of major character. Despite the cover of the book bringing to mind Superman, the main story is a homage to Marvel comics and Jack Kirby with the design of the characters recalling some classic Marvel characters and the art very reminiscent of Kirby’s work – it seems that it is not just DC characters who wish they were Marvel superheroes. The future is going to be interesting for Bigby and Snow in the aftermath of this story line. Also the return to Fabletown may not go quite as smoothly as everyone thinks with the poisonous nurse Sprat still looking for revenge. The Terry Moore story looks like a set up for Fairest with some of the images resembling some of that new spin-off series. It will be interesting to see if nurse Sprat ends up remaining in the main book or the new one given her new-found status courtesy of Mister Dark.

Fables: Rose Red (2011)

 

Quote:
He’s never fought a duel. I’m an expert at it. He’s agreed to a game he barely knows, where I own the game board, the pieces, the dice – everything.

 

This is volume 15 of the ongoing Vertigo series and collects issues 94 – 100. As usual it was superbly written by Bill Willingham and beautifully pencilled (for the most of the book) by Mark Buckingham. The inking was done by a combination of Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy and Dan Green. There was also a chapter with art by Spanish artist Inaki Miranda which was in a very nice manga-lite style.

This volume finally sees Rose Red emerge from the depressive torpor that she had been suffering from since the death of Boy Blue. This is achieved by a mysterious entity who changes form from the pig’s head, who had been trying to talk her round, to her mother and talks to Rose about her childhood and what really happened when Snow White had to leave the family. The book also sees the culmination of the story started in the previous volume with Frau Totenkinder completing her research and returning to do battle with Mister Dark, the mysterious figure who has ousted the Fables from their New York home.

Though it is unfair to judge individual volumes due to the length of some of the story arcs, this volume was far superior to the previous one as it gave us a complete mini-story with the back story of Snow White and Rose Red and the end of the story of Frau Totenkinder’s plan to deal with Mister Dark. I was glad to see Rose revived in this book. Willingham writes a lot of strong female characters in this series and Rose was one of my favourites. So it was sad to see her virtually written out of the book and mistreated by Jack Horner only, I suspect, because it was easier on the writers to have her out of the way for the crossover story. This volume contains the hundredth issue of Fables which had the climax of the Mister Dark/Frau Totenkinder story but as it was a bumper 100 page celebratory issue it also contained some special material such as a prose story from Mark Buckingham that was illustrated by Bill Willingham and a beautifully illustrated story of the the Three Mice from current cover artist Joao Ruas. And I have to say that as much as I love James Jean’s work on the covers, Ruas has created my favourite with this heart achingly beautiful image of Rose: