Back to Brooklyn (2009)

“It wasn’t Saetta, oh no, but it was part of the shitstorm he’s stirred up. Part of the fucking walking warzone the son of a bitch just is.”


This book collects the five issue series from Image Comics. The story was by Jimmy Palmiotti and Garth Ennis and was written by Garth Ennis with art by Mihailo Vukelic. Hopefully Ennis requires no introduction from me as he is one of my favourite writers and I have written about him and some of his books on this blog. Jimmy Palmiotti is a writer and inker who often collaborates with Justin Gray and had a five year run on Jonah Hex. This series marked the comic book debut of Mihailo Vukelic.

Bob Saetta is a gangster who has turned himself over to the police and federal agents to testify against his crime lord brother, Paul, and bring down his criminal empire. However, Paul is holding Bob’s wife and child and so Bob arranges with the lead investigators that he be released long enough so that he can free his family. They agree and so begins a bitter battle waged on the streets of Brooklyn between the brothers.

This is a pretty straight forward hard-boiled crime story from Garth Ennis. Whether it is under the influence of Palmiotti or not, the violence portrayed in the book is grim and brutal but without the underlying black humour that we expect from Ennis’ own work. The reason for Bob’s turning against his brother seems like a typical Ennis shocker but there are moments of the blackest humour when Bob visits his mother to talk about what Paul has been up to. The art from Vukelic is very nice but somewhat unusual too. The colouring leaves the book looking like a sepia toned document of the past and the colour palette is muted throughout. All in all a good read but I do miss the all out craziness of one of Ennis’ own scripts.

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.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat (2012)

“Welcome to Hell, John …”

With this latest collection (#283-291), the regular creative team since #250 – Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini – are just one issue away from matching the previous longest run on the series. This was the peerless run in the early 1990s by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The book contains two related stories from the long running series -The Devil’s Trench Coat and Another Season in Hell. In the first, Constantine’s niece has stolen his old trench coat and sold it. But the coat being exposed to years of magic has a will of its own that it exerts on a series of new owners leaving death in its wake. Meanwhile John finds that he is more susceptible to wild magic and not as finessed in the spells he casts. All of which results in a Mafia hit man trying to gun him down while possessed by the coat. In the second story Constantine agrees to go to Hell to speak to his sister so that his niece, Gemma, can find out why she found her mother crying one day and free her soul from Hell. While John thinks he has out-smarted the First of the Fallen, the demon comes to Earth to enlist Epiphany’s consent to bind her father’s soul to him.

During his run, Milligan has done a good job of taking Constantine back to the basics of the character and gradually introducing a darker tone to the storyline. This book contains some of the darkest material yet with the dark magic radiated from his old trench coat to Constantine’s return to Hell and his revenge on his evil twin for raping his niece. Not comfortable viewing or reading at times but a must for long time Constantine fans and horror lovers.

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 – 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.

Jennifer Blood: A Woman’s Work is Never Done (2012)

 

Quote:
“Clippity-clop, clippity-clop! Mommy, how will I get into his base …?”

“Oh well, grenades through the windows and then kick the door in shooting. Or just sneak up with a flamethrower if you want.”

 

This book collects the first six issues of Jennifer Blood from Dynamite. It was written by the now veteran of the field Garth Ennis – writer of The Boys, Hellblazer, Preacher, Hitman, Just a Pilgrim and many more. The art duties were carried out by Adriano Batista, Marcos Marz and Kewber Baal.

On the surface, Jen Fellows is a typical American, suburban housewife. She has a loving, if slightly boring, husband with whom she has had two children – Mark and Alice – the perfect nuclear family. But Jen has a secret. At night she drugs her family and takes to the streets delivering justice to a notorious crime family the Blutes. But for Jen the attacks on the Blutes are more than just vigilantism for the target of each of her attacks is one of her uncles.

Ennis invites comparison to the Punisher with the very first page of this series:

And while she has had her life torn apart by the actions of criminals just like the Punisher, the focus of her attacks, at least in this book, is desire for revenge on the specific men who killed her father and destroyed her mother. But unlike the Punisher she has built a new life beyond the revenge she seeks and must take extraordinary steps to protect her new family.

According to an interview in the back of the book this series sees Ennis returning to the lighter side of life. Fortunately for his fans the usual elements are still in place – black humour, sexual deviancy and a high, gory body count. This is a great story and a good introduction to the character. I will be interested to see where he takes it now given that her initial revenge has been satisfied and her peeping tom neighbour has discovered her secret – though not the secret he initially thought it was. One slight annoyance was a change of artist midway through issue 3 which was slightly disorienting due to the main bad guys not looking the same as they did just the page before but despite this recommended for fans of Ennis.

Punisher: The Resurrection of Ma Gnucci (2009)

 

Quote:
“Funny thing is I should be in bed with a supermodel now.”

“Shouldn’t we all?”

 

This book collects issues 1 – 6 of Punisher: War Zone. It was created by the fantastic team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon – responsible for arguably the best run on Hellblazer, the fantastic Preacher and other Punisher stories.

When the Punisher hears rumours of the return of crime boss Ma Gnucci – a woman who had her limbs bitten off by polar bears and who was last seen being kicked into a raging fire by the Punisher (in the excellent Welcome Back, Frank) – he tracks down her only remaining ex-gang member and enlists his help to track down the truth of the rumours. Castle soon finds that the truth is more mysterious than the rumours and that they lead to a new incarnation of a criminal called Elite – the original was also killed in Welcome Back, Frank – who is seeking revenge on the Punisher.

I am a big fan of both Ennis and Dillon – as I said in the introduction they are responsible for two of the best storylines from Vertigo, outside of Sandman, a run on Hellblazer and the series Preacher. In this book he revisits some of the characters he used in Welcome Back, Frank – including Lieutenant von Richtofen from the Punisher Task Force. The book features the usual Ennis excesses – a Punisher who takes no prisoners and uses violence to excess with impunity, bizarre animal related mutilations, people having sex with vegetables. While not quite as good as Welcome Back, Frank it is still a worthwhile read for fans of Ennis’ humour and over the top story telling.

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.

The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game (2007)

[ Listening to Dio Currently: Listening to Dio ]

This book collects the first six issues of the on-going series written by Garth Ennis – who has written such series as The Punisher, The Authority: Kev and Chronicles of Wormwood amongst many others. He has been a long time favourite writer of mine most notably for one of the best runs on Hellblazer and his own Preacher series for Vertigo. He is not to everyone’s taste – he populates his books with sexist, misogynist characters and his storylines are often filled with extreme foul language, extreme sexual situations and graphic violence but also with a wicked black humour – quite often all at the same time. His co-creator on this series is the artist Darick Robertson who is best known to me as the artist on the Transmetropolitan series.

The book explores similar themes to the classic Marshal Law – in a world where superheroes run riot, with no regard to public safety, who can bring them to account for their actions. At the start of the book Hugh Campbell has his girlfriend killed in front of his eyes as a super-battle spills into a fair in Glasgow. He is recruited into a reactivated covert CIA unit whose remit is to gather intel on the 200,000 super powered individuals active in the world and keep them in check when necessary – by fair means or foul (though mostly foul). This first book introduces to this team, some of the superheroes and the first recon mission on a superhero team called Teenage Kix.

As this is an on-going series, the end of the book, although coming to the end of a storyline, just left me wanting more. All the trademark Ennis touches are here and if you liked the work he did on Preacher, the Punisher and Chronicles of Wormwood then you will probably love this. If you have never come across any of his work before (and why not?) then be warned that, as mentioned above, the situations portrayed are extreme but very funny. I will definitely be looking forward to reading more.