JLA: Tower of Babel (2001)

 

Quote:
“And as for the most persistent thorn in our side, the Detective … well … distracting him was so obvious a matter, I cannot believe I never thought of it before.”

 

This book collects JLA #42-46 and material from JLA Secret Files 3 and JLA 80-page Giant 1. The main story was by Mark Waid who has worked as a writer on most of the major characters from both DC and Marvel. The book also features a host of pencillers and inkers but the principle story was drawn by Howard Porter and Drew Geraci, in the main.

The main story has Batman investigating the disappearance of his parents after their graves were desecrated by Ra’s al Ghul who implements Batman’s contingency plan to incapacitate the other members of the Justice League. With the Justice League incapacitated or distracted Ra’s is free to pursue his agenda to escalate tensions in the Middle East.

The other stories in this book feature a gang trying to frame Superman for a murder in Gotham, Aquaman inadvertently revealing too much about his feelings for Wonder Woman on a rescue mission and the Atom discovering a bacterial civilisation manifesting as a tumour in a boy’s brain – a civilisation doomed to self-destruction that has a deep resonance for Superman.

The main story is an examination of the paranoia of Batman and the schemes he is prepared to consider, against his friends and colleagues, to ensure that each member of the JLA can be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice if necessary. When his schemes are turned into actions against the members of the Justice League, they must consider how far they can trust a man that does not have faith in them and whether they can continue to work with him knowing that he is constantly judging them. The only slight niggle I have with an otherwise great book is that there are a lot of artists used and even the main story has an interlude with guest artists as does the final chapter of the story – is it too much to hope that a creative team can see out a four or five page story without chopping and changing. A good story that would seem to have ripples that affect not only Batman’s relationship with the JLA but also those of his close companions within their respective teams.

Kickback (2006)

 

Quote:
“I thought we all lived happily together, Micky … scratching each other’s backs. Giving and taking … so what’s up?”

 

This seems to an original graphic novel first published in France with this American edition from Dark Horse. The script and art is by David Lloyd who is best known, of course, as the artist on V for Vendetta but I also have a couple of Night Raven books that he did for Marvel.

The story follows Joe Canelli, a crooked cop in a crooked city. Everything is peaceful in Franklin City until one of the main gang leaders is taken out. Rather than starting a gang war, this event shatters the reciprocal agreement between the cops and the gangs with cops being taken out and violent reaction from the police on the gangs. Against this background, Canelli has to discover who he can trust as he investigates the cause of the disturbance and finds that he has to choose sides between what he thought was right and wrong.

This is a nice crime caper that I enjoyed reading. The story is not too original and parts of it reminded me strongly of the film Magnum Force. But the art is great and I love Lloyd’s colour palette which is perfect for this noirish tale. The one aspect of Lloyd’s art that I don’t like is that the faces of characters are sometimes not too well defined and it can be difficult to recognise characters when they reappear in the story. Other than that a good little book that I am glad I took a chance on.

Fables: Covers (2008)

 

Quote:
“If you’ll look again at any given Fables cover … in addition to being a compelling illustration that makes you want to read the story inside, it’s a story in itself.”

 

Something a little different this time. This is a beautiful oversized, hardback book collecting James Jean’s work as a cover artist on Fables. The book collects covers from the main series (#1-10 and 12-75), standalone books (The Last Castle and 1001 Nights of Snowfall) and the wraparound covers for the first 10 trade paperback collections.

The format of the book is pretty rigid. There is a double page spread for each single issue. The left hand page consists of preliminary sketches and paintings along with a relevant quote from the script for that issue and a thumbnail of the final cover as published. The right hand page is a full page reprint of the cover normally without logos, issue numbers, barcodes and other text or graphic elements unless these form an integral part of the design of the image.

The wraparound covers are treated slightly differently. These get 4 pages devoted to them. The first two have have the preliminary sketches, drawings and paintings with a thumbnail of the final cover and a short commentary from Jean himself on the cover. The next two pages is a reproduction of the cover alone without logos etc.

It goes without saying that if you love Jean’s work then you will love this book. It shows which covers went through a number of iterations before settling on a final image and which seem to have been fully formed from the start. Amazing as the final covers are, some of my favourite illustrations are clean line drawings – the details are amazing and sometimes get lost in the colouring process. Visit his web site which has lots of examples of his other work.

Fables: Inherit the Wind (2012)

 

Quote:
“That’s the trouble with prophecy. It seldom helps and often harms.”

 

Volume 17 of Fables collects issues 108 – 113. The book was again written by creator Bill Willingham and the four issue main story, and the standalone story following it, was again pencilled by the ever fabulous Mark Buckingham with inking mainly by Steve Leialoha with Andrew Pepoy lending a hand. The final chapter in the book is a collection of short tales from the world of Fables with various guest artists such as P. Craig Russell and Adam Hughes.

Spoiler Alert
The next paragraph contains a possible spoiler if you are a long time reader of Fables and haven’t read up to volume 16. If this is you look away now or skip to the end.

The main story is a continuation of volume 16 that deals with the aftermath of the defeat of Mister Dark and the consequences of the death of the North Wind. His death leaves a void that must be filled and, as Bigby has relinquished any claim to the title, it falls to one of his children to succeed to the title. The story follows the trials and machinations as the children are tested looking for the ideal successor and the other cardinal winds turn up hoping to increase their own power while diminishing that of the North Wind. There is a continuing subplot that follows Bufkin and his attempts to lead a revolt against the new rulers of the Pan Ozian Empire. There is also a Christmas issue that details the gradual return of the Fables from Haven to the Farm before moving on to investigate the state of their New York residence. It heavily features Rose Red in a twisted version of A Christmas Carol where she meets other paladins of hope.

Another great volume in the series though the main story was a bit short for me at four chapters and left a lot open for the future. However not a suitable standalone story or entry point for new readers as it is heavily dependent on what has gone before. If you are new to the world of Fables then it really is worth your while to go way back to the beginning and experience the richness and breadth of the story from the start.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century (2009/11/12)

 

Quote:
“All the love and loss. All the chaos. How do you manage it?”

“Well, it … it’s easier for me. You see, I’m really, really shallow …”

 

Century is a three part story told at different points in time over a hundred year time span. Once again it sees Alan Moore teaming up with the great Kevin O’Neill. The League is in part the one mentioned in The Black Dossier with Mina Murray, a rejuvenated Allan Quartermain and the immortal Orlando also involved are Raffles and Thomas Carnacki.

Part 1, 1910, sees the team trying to track down the source of a deadly attack in the East End of London as predicted in the dreams of Carnacki. His dreams include the machinations of the occultist Oliver Haddo but these turn out to be of a time in the future. Meanwhile, a familiar killer is stalking the East End and Nemo’s daughter is reappraising her life in the wake of her father’s death and brutal life since running away to London.

It’s good to be reading another League of Extraordinary Gentlemen story though the literary characters are more obscure than in the first two volumes but do allow Moore to focus more on the occult and some are cleverly used if you know the references. This is the first part of a trilogy of books and as such is not quite satisfying on its own. For though the various plot threads are woven together in the end, the larger picture is only beginning to be revealed.

The second part of Moore and O’Neill’s Century, 1969, reduces the team to the core immortals – Mina Murray; Allan Quartermain; and Orlando. Set against a larger than life, Austin Powers style swinging sixties London, the team come together to continue their investigations into the black magician Oliver Haddo and his cult who are making a fresh attempt to usher in a new age with the creation of a Moonchild. The plot revolves around a mix of dead rock stars, sixties counter-culture, London crime bosses and the various investigations into them.

In this episode, the tensions amongst the League come to the fore as Mina struggles to come to term with the prospect of immortality, the responsibilities of leadership and insensitivity of her lovers/colleagues. While the threat is adverted in the psychedelic haze of a drug trip, the book ends with Mina separated from the rest of the team and a flash-forward to the more drab seventies and and the nihilism of punk reflected in the increasingly sour relationship between Allan and Orlando without the still missing Mina.

As usual with these books, there is a lot going on in the background art with reference to many pop culture icons of the sixties and seventies. O’Neill also puts in some references to his other work with, for example, an image of Nemesis in the background of one panel. The book also contains some contemporary references showing a possible moment when Tom Riddle was set on the path to becoming the Dark Lord.

The third and last part of Century, 2009, opens with Orlando losing him(her)self in combat in the Middle East. On returning to London he is tasked with finding Mina and Allan by Prospero and then tracking down the Moonchild that they were supposed to have prevented being born. She finds Allan living on the streets a hopeless junkie who refuses to have anything to do with her or tracking down Mina. Turning to MI6 for help, Orlando inds that Mina has been in a mental institution since the aftermath of the events in Hyde Park at the end of book 2. Together they track down the anti-Christ and confront him in a last battle to prevent the apocalypse heralded by Oliver Haddo.

This volume contains some savage commentary apparently directed at J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter novels. In this version of reality Harry Potter would appear to be Haddo’s Moonchild and anti-Christ. All in all this series has a much darker tone than the previous ones with themes of nihilism, helplesness and the decay of moral and aesthetic standards. So there is less of a feeling of entertainment and boy’s own adventure but there is plenty or scholars of Moore and his work to get their teeth into. Given the highly irregular release schedule, I am glad that I waited to read all three at once as they would have been unsatisfactory to read as standalone episodes.

For those wanting to delve deeper into the many references littered throughout the series, there are some excellent web pages by Jess Nevins gathering these and is probably essential reading for Brits as well as non-Brits. There is a page for each book – 1910, 1969 and 2009.

Black Orchid – The Deluxe Edition (2012)

 

Quote:
You super-people live in a world of cliches, lady. You shoulda wised up – these are the eighties! Fighting crime is like fighting city hall; it’s counter-productive!

 

Black Orchid is a collection of the three issue mini-series from the late 1980’s. It features the re-imagining of an old DC character by writer Neil Gaiman and long-time collaborator, Dave McKean. This is one of their early collaborations and their first big commission for a major American publisher.

The plot surrounds the death and rebirth of Susan Linden, otherwise known as the crime fighting heroine, Black Orchid, who is investigating a criminal enterprise that would eventually lead to Lex Luthor. When Susan’s ex-husband is released from prison, his dismissal by ex-boss Luthor, sets in motion a chain of events that sees him and Luthor hunting down the Black Orchid and her immature companion.

Although the book is now published by Vertigo, it was originally released by DC and pre-dates the Vertigo imprint by four years. Gaiman delivers an unconventional superhero story that does not feature much in the way of superheroics and creates an origin story for the Black Orchid that links her into DC’s other plant-based heroes and villains – Jason Woodrue, Pamela Isley and Alec Holland. The story is about loss, unrequited love and the search for identity in an unfamiliar world. And while not having the majesty and breadth of his landmark Sandman series, it is still a beautifully told tale that is worth a read nearly 25 years after it was written. The art by McKean is fabulous featuring a photo-realistic style mixed in with some impressionistic renderings of the Green and the Amazonion jungle.

The book features some extra content for this deluxe printing that consists of sketches and handwritten notes from Gaiman as well as early comments from editor Karen Berger which while interesting are probably only of interest to hardcore fans of the character or Gaiman or those interested in the publishing process.