Fairest #8-13 (2012-13)

“I wish they’d let me join them in death. I would have been a great ghost. Maybe I didn’t have the right hat.”

Fairest #8 cover

This spin-off series from Fables enters its second major story line, and its first without creator Bill Willingham who remains as a consultant, with South African author Lauren Beukes taking on the writing duties. The art is handled by Inaki Miranda who has previously had some one issue credits on the main Fables title. The covers were all by Adam Hughes.

The focus of this story is Rapunzel and it is set back in 2002 before the start of the escalation of the war with the Adversary and Mister Dark – so we see them in their original residence, have Snow White in power, in all but name, and some old characters that have since passed on such as Boy Blue and Jack  who has a fairly prominent role in the story. The story itself sees Rapunzel travel to Japan on the hunt for the children that she believes where stolen from her but instead she runs into an old lover from the Hidden Kingdom, a feudal Japanese Fables homeland where Rapunzel lived for a while after the loss of her children. The actions of the past  catch up with her as her lover, now a Yakuza style gang lord, seeks revenge for the role she believes that Rapunzel played in the destruction of the Hidden Kingdom.

I read the first novel from Lauren Beukes, Moxyland, a while ago and I wasn’t terribly impressed. For me there were no sympathetic characters for me to have an emotional connection with and so in the end I didn’t really care what happened to anyone in the book. And the same problem affects this story line to a certain degree. In the end the story itself was fine and the broadening of the back story of Rapunzel was good – with enough left unresolved so that it could be revisited in the future – but the emotional connection was not there for me. Part of the problem may have been setting it in the past and so it doesn’t connect with much that has happened in the main series but mainly there was no threat as we know the fate of a lot of the main Fables that appeared and so the drama was lessened. The artby Inaki Miranda was clean and cute for the most part but horrific and brutal when it needed to be. It remains to be seen if there is to be any impact of this story on the main series or upcoming story lines in Fairest but at the moment it feels like a throw away, standalone tale with no real weight as it was not written by the series creator.

Nemo: Heart of Ice (2013)

“It’s just this coat. It’s so big and heavy sometimes.”

A spin-off story from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books featuring Janni Dakkar as Captain Nemo. The normal creative team of writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill are in charge again for this short adventure.

Set in 1925, the story sees Janni and her crew stealing the belongings of Queen Ayesha who is in New York as the guest of Charles Foster Kane. Back in her hideaway, Janni reflects on her life and her need to emulate and exceed the deeds of her father and so decides to travel to Antarctica to retrace her father’s steps on a quest that left his companions dead and him near to madness. Meanwhile Kane has hired three scientific adventurers to capture Janni at all costs to seek reparation for the loss and embarrassment felt by his house guest.

A more straight-forward story that the dense Century series that was completed last year, this story marks a return to the lighter storytelling of the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. The shortness of the story does not give time for much context within the LOEG universe or a well defined reason for the adventure to the South Pole but it is still entertaining nonetheless. The usual elements are here with numerous figures from film and literature making an appearance as well as hallucinatory sequences and alien civilisations. Perhaps not a joining in point for readers new to the LOEG but a fun ride for those who liked the early books.

 

Fables: Cubs in Toyland (2013)

“Only silly Dorothys arrive in a magical land and want to go home.”

The latest trade collection of the Vertigo series, Fables, takes us to volume 18 collecting issues 114 to 123 – marking 10 years of the series. The usual contributors are present again with writer Bill Willingham and artists Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. There are two stories in this collection the eight issue title story and a two issue story, The Destiny Game, featuring art from guest artist Gene Ha.

The main story, Cubs in Toyland, follows on from Therese receiving the odd Christmas present of a toy boat in the last volume. The present becomes even odder when it starts to talk to her and whisks her away to a land of toys looking for a queen. But this toyland is a dark place with broken down toys who all hide a dark secret of their own and will do anything and sacrifice anyone to be restored to their former glory.

The second story, The Destiny Game, features a grown up Ambrose, one of Snow and Bigby’s cubs, relating a tale of his father and how his fate was decided by an encounter with a woman who can pass the fate of others onto different people.

Another solid entry in the Fables canon. The only problem that I have with the recent collections is that, since the defeat of Mister Dark, the wider story of the general population of Fables has been marginalised to just a handful of pages – both in this book and the previous one. The focus has instead been on Snow, Bigby and their family and while the stories are interesting and entertaining, I miss the wider canvas available when a more diverse mix of Fables are brought into the story. But like I say a minor quibble in an otherwise great series as it heads into its second decade.

The Bufkin tale that had been running through the main story is missing from this volume. Looking at the Vertigo web site pages for the single issues, it looks like #114 was the start of a back up feature that starred Bufkin and his adventures in Oz. These are not reprinted in this volume but I hope that they will be collected together along with the standalone issue #124, which was the end of that storyline, in the next trade collection.

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files Volume 3 (2013)

“You’re willing to kill Grud knows how many of our own children to get at people you don’t even know are our enemies?”

The latest volume of collected Judge Anderson stories from 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine and various annuals and specials was written in the main by Alan Grant – two illustrated prose stories are provided by Peter Milligan and Andy Lanning/Dan Abnett. The majority of the art in this volume was by Steve Sampson with another longer story being illustrated by Arthur Ranson and the single issue stories being illustrated by a variety of artists including the great Ian Gibson.

The book contains 4 longish stories, a couple of shorter stories and 7 single issue stories.

Something Wicked carries on from the end of volume 2 and sees Anderson on probation with Judge Dredd after going AWOL. A series of crimes where the perps were possessed, leads Dredd and Anderson to suspect the charismatic leader of a cult who is about to leave Earth with his followers to set up a new life on another planet.

Satan, illustrated by Arthur Ranson, sees the arrival of an omnipotent being to Mega-City One. It believes itself to the Devil incarnate and seeks the destruction of Mega-City One.

Wonderwall is an Alice in Wonderland inspired story that sees Anderson probing the defensive constructs of a young girl’s mind as she tries to understand why she is catatonic and who caused her condition.

Crusade carries on the theme of the life of children within Mega-City society and, in a tale reminiscent of the Pied Piper, Anderson and the senior judges must formulate a plan to save the city’s children when they follow a series of angelic child prophets on the promise of a new life.

Grant again uses Anderson to explore the more social side of Mega- City One. The main stories deal with the lot of children in the sprawling urban decay – abandoned without any parental control to run wild and their eventual slide into crime and abuse. While I love Judge Dredd, it is the more human side of the city revealed by Anderson and her outlook that really appeals to me and this collection is a good example of that. Although the stories carry on from what has gone on before and there are some fleeting references to past events, I think an interested reader could pick this volume up and give the world of Judge Anderson a go without too much of a problem.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland (2012)

“… dead gods are another thing altogether. They can be infinitely more useful.”

This long delayed original graphic novel is a spin off from the long running Vertigo series, Fables. As with the main series, it was written by Bill Willingham. The book has a number of artists – Jim Fern who did layouts, pencils and inks, Craig Hamilton who did pencils and inks; Ray Snyder and Mark Farmer who did inks.

While on a quest looking for a suitable location for a new home for Fabletown, Bigby Wolf drops in on Story City, a town secretly funded by Bluebeard. King Cole has charged Bigby to find out what is there and what Bluebeard’s interest in the town could have been. Bigby finds the town populated solely by werewolves whose origin lies in some of Bigby’s activities in the Second World War. But the arrival of Bigby acts as a catalyst for change in elements of the citizens of Story City not happy with the way things are being run.

I usually love all things Fables but this book didn’t do much for me. Although it is a standalone story it has some ties back to events in the Mean Seasons collection. However, the events in The Mean Seasons are recounted here so it would be possible for someone not familiar with the 120 odd issues of Fables to pick it up and read it. But I would not recommend it as a starting place for new readers as the story is one of the weakest that I have read in the Fables universe. It has been left open for some consequences of Bigby’s actions perhaps coming back to haunt him in the main series but unless that happens and is spectacular then this book is a big disappointment.

The book is not even rescued by the art which is pretty sketchy. The large number of contributers seem to be used at random and the art style can change from one page to the next within the same scene leaving the reader confused. The colour palette is very muted with browns and pastel colours tending to dominate helping to make it feel all very mundane. All in all, I’m afraid, I found the book to be a major let down.

JLA: Earth 2 (2000)

“There is justice after all. A whole new world stretched out and screaming.”

This recent reprint is of a graphic novel from 2000. The book was by the Scottish creative team of writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. The pair have worked on a number of projects together including Flex Mentallo and We3 for Vertigo, All-Star Superman and the launch of Batman and Robin for DC and New X-Men for Marvel.

Alexander Luthor uses stolen technology to cross the barrier between an anti-matter and matter dimension. He arrives on what he calls Earth 2 looking to call on the Justice League to help him bring justice to his cruel dimension. In Luthor’s dimension good is evil and the Justice League has it’s own dark reflection in the Crime Syndicate of Amerika who use their powers to subjugate the populace and profit from its misery. How much good can the JLA do in a world of evil and what about the the CSA when they get the chance to terrorize a new world?

There are two sides to Grant Morrison – the straight ahead, traditional comic book writer and the more surreal writing usually reserved for his own creations but which sometimes is seen in the superhero books that he writes, such as his run on Doom Patrol. I tend to love his more out there work more but this is a fine example of his conventional comic book writing. As he does with a lot of his work on established characters, he has taken a team from the history of the JLA and updated it for a new audience. The CSA is new to me so I am not sure how much is in the archives and how much comes from Morrison but the mirror dimension is nicely imagined and brought to life. Being a Batman fan I was most interested in the different ways life had turned out for Batman/Owlman and their families and friends. I am also a big Frank Quitely fan so the book is worth the money for his wonderful art alone.

Alabaster: Wolves #1-5 (2012)

“First thing you learn about birds, they ain’t got no manners.”

Alabaster: Wolves #1 cover

The series was written by horror/fantasy author Caitlin R. Kiernan and is set in the world of some of her novels. Caitlin’s work is familiar to me not through her prose work but the various Sandman spin-offs she has written for Vertigo including The Sandman Presents: Bast; The Girl Who Would be Death; and The Dreaming. The art was by Steve Lieber who was artist on Whiteout on Oni Press, Underground on Image and Shooters on Vertigo.

 

Dancy Flammarion is a teenage albino girl who is God’s instrument of justice on the Earth. Accompanied by a seraph she wanders across America ridding the world of supernatural creatures in God’s name. In this series, she comes across a seemingly deserted town in the American south but which is home to werewolves and other beings. Having killed a female werewolf and lost the protection and guidance of her angelic guide, Dancy finds herself questioning her life after being rescued from a burning church by the ghost of the werewolf she killed.

 

Dancy Flammarion first appeared in the novel Threshold and features in a book of short stories called Alabaster. This book had the look and feel of a series that could have been published on Vertigo and so should have been perfect for be but was ultimately disappointing. While this series can be read on its own merit without any previous knowledge of the character, I felt that there seemed to be a lot assumed in the background of the character of of Dancy that would have meant more if I had read the prose stories. Also the story in this series does not feel like a complete tale. It feels like the middle passage of a bigger story and so suffers from the same limitations that a lot of middle books in trilogies can suffer from. While the book was not for me it might well appeal to a fan of Kiernan’s writing who is familiar with the character and I would encourage anyone in that position to give this series a try.

It’s oh so quiet

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately – sorry about that. Extended holidays and a touch of flu have meant that I have not been reading much in the way of comics recently – currently I am enjoying the the excellent Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks.

Anyway the New Year starts tomorrow – or at least gets back to normal – with a return to work. So hopefully I will get back on track working on the backlog of titles I have accumulated from various Comixology and Dark Horse sales.

And because I love her so, here is another burst of old school Björk.

The Shadow #1-6 (2012)

“They call me the Buffalo.”

“They call me sir.”

The latest comic book incarnation  of The Shadow comes from Dynamite. The first story, The Fire of Creation, was written by Garth Ennis with art by Aaron Campbell. Ennis has had a string of hit series for both the major publishers as well as his recently concluded series, The Boys,  for Dynamite. Aaron Campbell is a new name to me but he seems to have worked mainly on other Dynamite titles such as Green Hornet and Sherlock Holmes.

Set sometime in the 1930s, Lamont Cranston is working with US Military Intelligence to prevent an ex-crime boss turned Japanese army officer getting his hands on the “magic rocks” being auctioned among the world’s super powers by a Chinese crime lord. Along the way he must escape assassination attempts by the Nazis and the interference of the Military Intelligence officer sent with him to legitimise the mission.

I gave this one a try because I like the gun-toting vigilante known as the Shadow especially the incarnation from the 80s by Andrew Helfer and Kyle Baker. This version did not live up to that mainly because writers seem to have been restricted in what they can do with the character since that time – the book was pulled from DC without warning in the middle of a storyline. As a Garth Ennis piece it also did not live up to its potential, probably for the same reason, as a lot of the signature Ennis tropes are missing – the black humour, sexual deviancy and gallons of blood and gore. So we get a fairly standard pulp thriller that touches on the origin of the Shadow and his relationship to Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard without going into too many details. The Shadow’s only companion in this story, from his usual selection of sidekicks, is Margo Lane and the action mainly takes place outside of New York in a China under the control of Japan. A good enough read that retains the pulp essence of the character but I think I will stick to my Helfer back issues.

Green Lantern: 1001 Emerald Nights (2001)

“Reign of terror? I’m not sure I understand. But you’ve got lots of time to explain it to me. Well, at least the night.”

This prestige format one-shot from DC is part of their Elseworlds series where a twist is applied to a familiar hero usually by changing their normal setting. This mash up of Green Lantern with 1001 Nights was written by Terry LaBan who is more of an underground comic writer/artist but has done some work for major companies including The Dreaming for Vertigo and a Grendel mini-series for Dark Horse. The art was by Rebecca Guay whose work I know from the Black Orchid ongoing series from the 90s and some Sandman spin-offs.

In this story, Scheherazade is a Green Lantern has come to the town of Isafakhar to end the reign of the wicked sultan Ibn Rayner. But once she insinuates her way into the Sultan’s chambers, she finds that he is not the cruel ruler that she was expecting but more of a naive, misled puppet ruler. Through three tales of the reluctant hero Al Jhor Dan and his powerful genie, she tries to educate him in how a ruler show behave personally and towards his people.

A not bad story transposing the Green Lantern mythos onto the tales of the Arabian Nights. As usual with these Elseworlds tales, a lot of the elements of the superhero remain the same just subtly tweaked to fit with the new setting. So in this case the Lanterns do not have rings to start with but summon genies from lamps to carry out their will instead. Perhaps the story was a little over-moralistic but that is the nature of the originals I can live with it. Rebecca Guay’s art is perfect for this tale as she specialises in fantasy illustration and it looks great on the page – especially the leading ladies.