Thursday, 24 March 2011

Comics Round-Up

Here is the first of a new feature for Permanently Weird. A weekly round-up of the comic books that I have been reading:


Written by Brian Wood

Art by Ryan Kelly

Publisher: Vertigo

This is the third in a four part mini-series about five female college student from all over North America who share a house while studying in New York City. The follows their various interconnected lives as they deal with studying, boyfriends, family problems, friendships and New York life. An insight into the inner lives of the characters are given through their video interviews with an unseen psychologist, as well as an insight into New York itself through brief captions describing the story's locations and the author's opinions of them.

People tend to think of comics as being all about superheroes, action, aliens, fantasy, science-fiction and horror, but this is nothing like that, and features no superhero or other fanatsy elements at all. The story is frequently sad, sometimes funny, bittersweet, bleak, hip and sometimes beautiful and Wood's text is brilliantly complemented by Kelly's superbly detailed black-and-white illustrations. The two previously collaborated on the brilliant Local (2005-2008), and like that series this is very much about people trying to connect with others. The feel of it is almost like an independent movie, and it is one of the best books on the shelves right now. If you can get the previous issues, then definitely get them all, if not then check it out when it's released as a trade paperback.

SPAWN # 205

Written by Will Carlton, plot by Jon Goff, additional plot by Todd McFarlane

Art by Szymon Kudranski

Publisher Image Comics
Jim Dowling has no memory of his past and no idea of where he comes from, who he is or who his family is. However he does have a miraculous ability to heal the injured and the sick and has unwillingly become a huge celebrity over night. He also happens to be a "Hellspawn" (or "Spawn" for short) a powerful soldier in the army of Hell. The demonic Clown, who is tasked with watching over new Spawn and guiding them in the right direction, believes that Dowling is the most powerful yet and is determined to test his theory with the help of evil vampire Bludd.

I'm pretty much a newcomer to this title, previously being put off by the fact that it seemed to be weighed down by it's own mythology and back story, but recently it has been very good, with an involving mystery in the plot and a return to the story's basics with the introduction of a new lead character. The artwork is very good, creating a doom-laden, noir atmosphere with the characters half hidden in dim pools of light amidst gathering shadows and sudden vivid bursts of green (the colour of the Spawn's blood and energy) and red blood. Although the disadvantage of that is that it is sometimes difficult to tell some characters apart, as their faces are always half in shadow. Still this is a bracingly dark horror comic. This particular issue contaisn a detailed synopsis of the story so far and, if you're new to it, it's not a bad starting point.

FABLES # 103

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Publisher: Vertigo

Selection Day, Chapter Two of Super Team: The "Fables" (characters from fictional fairy tales and children's story-books) are under threat from the sinister forces of Mister Dark. The solution? To create their own team of superheroes led by witch Ozma (from Frank L. Baum's Oz books) who is less than skilled in the field of employee relations.

How can anyone not love Fables? One of the most thoroughly enjoyable comics on the market, this manages to combine fairy-tale magic and fun, contemporary humour and a sharp adult edge (despite the subject matter this is published by Vertigo and is "suggested for mature readers" i.e. it's not for kids). The artwork is lush and detailed with a wonderful "storybook" look and feel to it, and the writing remains faithful to the original tales and characters while at the same time giving them a contemporary feel.


Written by Peter Mulligan

Art by Guiseppe Camuncolli and Stefano Landini

Publisher: Vertigo

Phantom Pains, Part One: John Thumb. John Constantine is a married man. Could this be the end of nights in the pub, throwing back pints of lager, chowing down on salt and vinegar flavour crisps and fighting flesh-ripping demons from the Outer Darkness? Probably not. Constantine's marital bliss is spoiled by the fact that his wife, Euphemia, is freaked out by his missing thumb. The solution, he decides, is to get a new thumb. Meanwhile, Constantine's niece Gemma, is also set to make life very difficult for her Uncle John.

Another entertaining slice of gritty urban horror fantasy from a consistently impressive title. The idea of Constantine being married is actually working out pretty well and him and Euphemia are a well matched partnership. Although, in the world of Hellblazer, happiness tends to be short-lived. The start of a new storyline for the series, this is a good jumping on point for newcomers, although several elements tie back to the wedding issue two months ago. As often with this title, the artwork is okay but unremarkable.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham
Publisher: DC
The Kane Affair. In Argentina, Batman and Argentine hero El Gaucho are forced to fight to the death by villainous Sombrero and Scorpiana, in order to save the lives of three captured children. Meanwhile Batwoman has to contend with the supposedly long dead Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman. Also thrown into the mix are British spies, and a supposedly unstoppable supervillain.
Batman's adventures in South America have been among the most bizarre in recent times. It's as if the writers are trying to throw everything in the pot to see what will stick. It deals with big themes such as love, jealousy, heartbreak, as well as the usual superheroics and even Latin American magic realism literature. Part of the book is a flashback to Batman's relationship with the former Batwoman, which is illustrated in a style which perfectly captures the Batman books of the 1960s, and includes some humorous teenage angst from Robin. The problem is that there is so much in it that the story becomes confused and loses focus. There is fun to be had with it though. However, if you only get one Batman title this week, make it Batman: The Dark Knight which has been pretty fascinating and really gets back to basics with the Bat.


Written by Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette

Art by Leonardo Manco

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Pursuit of the Flesh, part one. Do you ever get sick of your job and your life? That is how Pinhead, leader of the Cenobites, feels. Heartily sick of being summoned by the opening of his puzzle box in order to rip people apart with chains with hooks on the end, and with no-one to talk to in Hell except his loyal Cenobites and the souls of the damned. He decides he wants to be human and earn the salvation that might get him into Heaven. However, if he fails he will be even deeper in a worst part of Hell than he is now. Also, if he wants to quit, he needs to find a replacement.

This book is co-written by horror legend Clive Barker, who first created the world of Pinhead and the Cenobites in his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, which formed the basis of the 1987 film Hellraiser, which Barker wrote and directed, and marks the first time that Barker has returned to his creation since the first film. The comic features plenty of Barker's trademark poetic dialogue and a lot of beautifully detailed and gruesomely detailed artwork. Imaginative and powerful, this will appeal to any fans of Barker or the Hellraiser film series.

It should certainly sate your appetite until Barker's as yet unpublished novel The Scarlet Gospels is released, which is apparently the difinitive conclusion to the Hellraiser universe.


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