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.

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.

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.

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.

Batman: The Bat and the Beast (2010)

 

Quote:
No, hold back your men, Lukzov, I’m pretty good at this stuff.

 

This book collects Batman Confidential 31 to 35 and was written by Peter Milligan with art by Andy Clarke. Peter Milligan is a veteran writer that I first came across in 2000AD where my favourite series he wrote was probably Bad Company but he has moved on to write for both DC and Marvel. Andy Clarke is a name new to me but he is also an alumni of 2000AD, of a later generation of creators, who has moved on to work on a number of titles for DC.

The story concerns a nuclear threat to Gotham from a Russian crime lord called the Tsar. Batman travels to Moscow to tackle the problem at its source only to find that the criminals do not fear him as they are much more afraid of the Tsar and his genetically modified muscle, the Bear. Batman must battle against the underworld in Moscow as well as a corrupt police force if he is to save Gotham from the predatory gaze of the Tsar.

This is a perfectly acceptable tale of Batman without being in any way extraordinary – as it is part of an ongoing series I am not sure if there was further context for the story in earlier issues but I doubt if it would make it any more compelling. I was expecting more from Milligan as he is usually a writer whose work I enjoy but I suppose that the things I like by him are more self created or esoteric – such as the aforementioned Bad Company and Shade, the Changing Man for DC . The art by Clarke was very nice and clean and reminded me of Frank Quitely’s work with maybe a dash of Dave Gibbons and helped to make up for the weak story.

Batman: Private Casebook (2008)

 

Quote:
Next thing you know she’ll be trading in her top hat and fishnets for a cape and cowl. “Bat-anna”. It has a ring to it.

Batman: Private Casebook cover

 

 

This book collects Detective Comics 840 – 845 and a short tale from DC Infinite Halloween Special 1 that features Scarecrow and Zatanna. The book was written by Paul Dini (with one of the chapters written by Peter Milligan). The excellent art was by Dustin Nguyen with inks by Derek Fridolfs – both of whom have worked together on various Batman titles.

As the title would suggest, this is a collection of stories rather than a story arc itself. The stories feature some of Batman’s long time foes and colleagues such as Ra’s al Ghul, the Mad Hatter, Scarface (with a new ventriloquist), Zatanna and the Riddler. If the book has a theme then it probably one of manipulation and deceit – the Mad Hatter finds himself at the mercy of his own mind controlling technology; the new Ventriloquist is used by Scarface as a means of revenge against a small time criminal; Riddler’s eagerness to solve a series of crimes is used as a lure for the killer to exact revenge on him for past misdemeanours.

Although the individual stories were fine, I was slightly disappointed in this collection. The blurb on the back promises that “old secrets are revealed as the Dark Knight becomes haunted by his past” which would have been great but I got no sense of Batman feeling haunted or of any secrets being revealed. My favourite stories were probably the Riddler story and the two part Scarface story that also featured one of my favourite superheroines, Zatanna. I have not really been keeping up with all that has happened in the recent Batman continuity but one of the greatest surprises is the fact that the Riddler has given up a life of crime to become a private investigator – as also seen when I read the first volume of Gotham City Sirens recently. This story also reveals that Batman occasionally uses online crime forums to discuss cases and perhaps pick up new leads when he is feeling at a dead end.

Even though I enjoyed the stories I would probably recommend that this is a book to borrow from your library rather than buy. Unless they are complimentary to some other storyline within one of the Batman titles they don’t really hang together enough as a book for me.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – India (2010)

This book collects issues 261 to 266 of this long running title from Vertigo – it has been published continuously for 22 years and is the only title that survives from the imprint’s launch. This collection contains two stories – India and No Future.

The main story, India, continues the storyline from writer Peter Milligan that extends back to the start of his run on the book. In it a grief stricken John Constantine travels to India to purify his soul so that he can resurrect his dead, on-off girlfriend, Phoebe. While there he runs across a demon that is killing young girls in Mumbai that he must dispel before he can get what he is after from a local holy man.

The second story has echoes of John’s youth when he visits a punk collective on the verge of a Tory election victory. This story has a possessed effigy of Sid Vicious, evil, demonic Tories masterminding the election strategy and John getting a punk haircut.

A good collection but as the storyline carries on from the previous two collections it is maybe not a book for the casual reader. Nice to see Peter Milligan’s take on this character. I always feel that Hellblazer works best when a British writer is at the helm – the Azzarello run was not my most favourite – Milligan is a long time favourite of mine.

Greek Street #12-14 (2010)

Having read all the offerings from Marvel that my son and I had on loan, I am taking a quick break by reading some recent issues of Greek Street before moving onto the DC books that I have from the library.

For those that don’t know Greek Street is a reinterpretation of Greek Myths set in modern day London. The writer is Peter Milligan who I have been a fan of from the days of Bad Company in 2000AD. This 3 issue story arc, called Ajax, does not contain any of the main characters introduced in the first 11 issues except two as bit players. The story concerns an ex-soldier Alex Jackson who is trying to come to terms with life after seeing his patrol blown up in Afghanistan. After a series of flashbacks and visions of an ancient Greek soldier he decides to take vengeance on the politician he feels has been the cause of all his problems.

It was a bit of an oft told story but written well and felt as though it could have been taken from a serviceman’s recollections – even with the ancient Greek allusions. I’m back on more familiar ground with this title after all the Marvel comic collections and it was a good chance of pace. I like this series even though the parallels between Greek myth and present day London can be laboured at times – most especially in the names of some of the characters.