Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ONCE MOORE, WITH HEART

 
REVIEWS:
Nemo: Heart Of Ice (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill) – published by Top Shelf
Unearthing (Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins) – published by Top Shelf

I HAVE to be up-front at the beginning of this review and confess that I don’t particularly like Alan Moore. Oh sure, I know he’s a visionary, a revolutionary, a magician, a man who tore up the rules of comic books and forever changed the way we perceive these funny four-colour boxes filled with pictures and words. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

The Alan Moore of the mid-1980s – the genius who gave us Marvelman/Miracleman, V For Vendetta, a reinvigorated Swamp Thing and his magnum opus Watchmen – is not the Alan Moore of 2013. These days, you’re more likely to see the grumpy old man bitching about the many (admittedly varied in quality) film adaptations of his finer works. Or hypocritically bemoaning people exploiting his artistic creativity for their own ends (even though he’s exploited other people’s artistic creations numerous times during his career). Or whinging about a billion-dollar corporation doing what billion-dollar corporations do: exploit the worker and make money (in this case, DC’s Before Watchmen line of comics – a relatively successful if redundant expansion of the Watchmen universe). Seriously, Alan, what next? Complaining that lions roar? That ants attack picnics? That dogs sniff each other’s bums? It’s the nature of the beast. Deal with it, son.

The truth is, I’m more peeved by Alan Moore’s general decline in talent (somewhat expected in artists when they get older) than his curmudgeonly rants (also expected in older folk).

Frankly, a lot of his work in the past 25 years has been entertaining at best (From Hell, his reimagining of Supreme) and self-indulgent crap at worst (most of his other work-for-hire dross of the 1990s, much of his non-comics writing, his hideously banal Dodgem Logic zine). His best years are long behind him.
 
This decline is best typified by League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was first published in 1999.

The first two volumes of this ongoing series of graphic novels (beautifully illustrated by Kevin O’Neill) - about a world where all fictional heroes are real and connected - were magnificent. What a fascinating concept: a literary super-team containing the likes of Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man battled Fu Manchu, the Martian invasion and each other.

But subsequent entries were pretentious, unpleasant (what is it with Moore’s 30+ year obsession with rape and sexual abuse, anyway?) and, quite frankly, dull. Moore’s decision to focus on the three least interesting characters – vampire attack survivor Mina Harker, debauched adventurer Allan Quartermaine and androgynous immortal Orlando – dragged the series down through increasingly tedious instalments: The Black Dossier, Century: 1910 & 1969. While he redeemed himself with the a rousing final episode of Century: 2009, by the conclusion I was thoroughly fed up with his bisexual, boring threesome. But I wasn’t tired of the LoEG world they lived in.

So it’s nice to see Moore exploring the LoEG world through a fresh pair of eyes in the newly released hardback graphic novel Nemo: Heart Of Ice. And the end result from the great hairy English author is one of his better works of recent years.

Nemo: Heart Of Ice focuses on uber-pirate Janni Dakkar, daughter of the original Captain Nemo. Following in her dad’s footsteps, she takes her crew on an expedition to the South Pole, but encounters something monstrous in the ice: creatures straight from the imagination of horror writer HP Lovecraft.

As per usual with this series, Moore fills the book with rich literary characters, including Orson Welles’ amoral media tycoon Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha, HR Haggard's savage lead character in She. As usual, Moore reinvents some well-known fictional heroes as odious villains. This time round it’s teen scientist/adventurer Tom Swift, who's reimagined as a woman-hating, sadistic racist. He and his colleagues are sent to Antarctica by Kane on a mission to hunt down Janni.

In the end, everyone gets their comeuppance at the hands of elder gods. Or do they?

What I like most about Nemo: Heart Of Ice is that it’s a short, self-contained GN that tells a cracking adventure/horror yarn that will entertain both old fans and new readers sampling the series for the first time. I hope Moore and O’Neill explore the LoEG world further in the future – there are some great stories waiting to be told. Who knows? Perhaps they can rekindle that spark of genius currently lying dormant within Moore’s heart.

 
Unearthing – written by Moore and featuring exquisite photography by Mitch Jenkins – is a biography of sorts: partly of ultra-nerdy comic book writer/occultist/possible nutcase Steve Moore and partly of his suburb in London. It starts slowly – and slightly pretentiously – but turns into a fascinating story about a creative, sensitive man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s until the author pulls the rug from under the reader’s feet and challenges all our preconceived notions on who Steve Moore really is. It’s a fantastical, lyrically beautiful, poetic biography that genuinely surprised me. This sumptuous 2013 coffee table-sized paperback is a revised version of a story Moore first published in 2006. For those who persevere through the somewhat inpenetrable opening few pages, they will find a book that challenges and fascinates in equal parts.

Is Alan Moore making a resurgence? Who knows? If these two new releases are any indication, it’s perhaps possible.  

* Nemo: Heart Of Ice and Unearthing are available from all good bookshops and comic stores, as well as direct from Top Shelf (www.topshelfcomix.com).
 

Friday, March 1, 2013

COMICS READING FOR FEBRUARY: “Warren Ellis time...like a swift kick to the nuts!”


* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

HOW I RATE THE COMICS VIA THE ALAN MOORE SCALE
*****   Watchmen, Miracleman, V For Vendetta
****     From Hell, Supreme, Swamp Thing, Fashion Beast, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (first two series)
***        Axel Pressbutton, Tom Strong
**           Promethea
*             LoEG: Century: 1969
DUD (or lower) any of his non-comics stuff

1. Marvel NOW! #3 (Marvel, 2013) ***½
Writers/Artists: various
Well, I swore after I decided to cut back on my comics purchases that I would not pick up any new titles, especially from the Big Two. But after reading this preview anthology, I may have to change my decision...at least for one issue. Guardians Of The Galaxy, Nova, the new Wolverine and the new Secret Avengers all have great creative teams and the teaser pages have me intrigued. Damn! Don’t tell my wife, but I’ll have to check them out......

2. No More Heroes #4 (self-published, 2012) ***½
Writer: Gordon McLean/Artist: Caio Oliveira
This self-published four-part series from England was excellent value (only $1.60 per PDF download) and I really enjoyed the first three chapters, especially Caio’s Gary Chaloner/Kevin Maguire-style art. Basically, a random guy called Sid receives a mobile phone message asking if the caller should kill himself. Thinking it a joke – and urged on by his drunken mates – Sid texts back, “Yes.” When he later finds out the call came from superhero Dark Justice , who’s just been found dead, he’s filled with remorse. Especially when Dark Justice’s sidekick Black Fury turns up seeking answers. Meanwhile, deranged mass murderer Jack Slaughter is killing a bunch of people. This is the case that sent Dark Justice into deep depression in the first place. At the end of part three, Black Fury had finally captured Jack Slaughter and we were waiting for the big reveal of his secret identity. Well, the last chapter was, frankly, a bit of a letdown. I know Gordon wanted to have a swerve in that Jack Slaughter turns out to be some nobody not connected with any of the main characters. The gender swerve is good, but the fact that she’s just some random really deflates the storyline. While there are some good tense moments during the issue – including a flashback to Dark Justice’s final moments – I felt a little empty at the end of it. Still, I suspect this isn’t the last we see of Black Fury and Jim, who’s now wearing the hood of Dark Justice. Will there be another series of No More Heroes? I hope so. I think Gordon and Caio show a lot of promise – despite my misgivings about the conclusion, I really did enjoy the miniseries. I urge superhero fans to seek it out at nomoreheroescomic.wordpress.com or “No More Heroes Comic” on Facebook.

DOWN THE RABBIT WARREN
AFTER reading Warren Ellis’s highly entertaining new novel, Gun Machine – published by Mulholland Books, check it out – I got a hankering to check out as the unread Ellis comics in my collection. See how the guy’s evolved over the years. So let’s get started.

3.-6. Wolverine #119-122 (Marvel, 1997-98) ***¼
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
This short tale takes place during the period Wolverine was stripped of his adamantium and had bone claws. A silly time, but we’ll ignore that for now. Featuring some of Yu’s earliest art, it’s an okay yarn that suffers from a bit too much overwrought writing and Image-style flashy art. Perhaps Warren felt inhibited by being in a mainstream superhero comic, perhaps a little hamstrung. Either way, it has a few nasty moments, but not enough to make this run a roaring success. Jumping back and forth in time, the four-parter reveals the relationship between Logan and drunken Scottish assassin Roddy McLeish in Hong Kong some years in the past. Even though McLeish is an evil killer, Wolvie has no problems drinking with him. Logan is also dating a hot Hong Kong chick, whose movie producer father is later murdered by McLeish, under orders from the Triad. Wolverine kills McLeish (or so he thinks). Years later, McLeish returns (or does he) to exact his revenge. He murders Logan’s now-ex-girlfriend and a bunch of villagers, to lure Wolverine to a small town to kill him. Naturally, he fails. This tale is entertaining in a stand-alone fashion, but aspects of McLeish’s personality (and Wolvie’s character) don’t ring true. I’m not sure why Logan – an essentially good man, if a little psycho – is happy to pal around with a clearly evil man in McLeish. It makes no sense. All the usual tired Wolverine philosophising – I’m-a-man-not-a-wild-animal crap – that has dogged his character for decades is in full flow here. I hope this sorta stuff will be eliminated in the upcoming Wolverine series, written by Paul Cornell and drawn by Alan Davis. I’m kinda over that boring shit now. All in all, this isn’t one of Ellis’s better efforts, but he was younger and hampered by writing in the old Marvel house style. Better things were to come...and in the very near future.

7.-12. Planetary Vol. 1: All Over The World And Other Stories (Wildstorm, 2001) ****½
- originally published in Planetary #1-6 & Planetary Preview (Wildstorm, 1998-99)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Art: John Cassaday
I done given this first volume a grave injustice. Two years ago, when I first read it, I gave this TPB a rating of ***¾ . Having reread it, I’ve given it a hefty raise in the ratings. It’s a brilliant start to a series that re-examines and reinvents all the classic movie/pulp novel/comic/TV tropes of the past 100 years and weaves them into a fascinating secret history of the 20th Century, as explored by self-styled “mystery archaeologists” Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer. The JLA, Doc Savage, Tsui Hark cop flicks, Godzilla, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and more are reinterpreted by Ellis at his finest, with glorious cinematic art by Cassaday. A gorgeous kicking off point to this series. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into volume two.

13.-18. Planetary Vol. 2: The Fourth Man (Wildstorm, 2001) ****½
- originally published in Planetary #7-12 (Wildstorm, 2000-01)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Art: John Cassaday
19.-24. Planetary Vol. 3: Leaving The 20th Century (Wildstorm, 2004) ****½
- originally published in Planetary #13-18 (Wildstorm, 2001-04)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Art: John Cassaday
25.-27. Planetary: Crossing Worlds (Wildstorm, 2004) ****½
- originally published in Planetary/The Authority: Ruling The World, Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta & Planetary/Batman: Night On Earth (Wildstorm, 2000-03)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Art: various
28.-36. Planetary Vol. 4: Spacetime Archaelogy (Wildstorm, 2010) ****½
- originally published in Planetary #19-27 (Wildstorm, 2004-09)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Art: John Cassaday

37.-42. Transmetropolitan Vol. 1: Back On The Street (Vertigo, 2009) *****
43.-48. Transmetropolitan Vol. 2: Lust For Life (Vertigo, 2009) *****
49.-54. Transmetropolitan Vol. 3: Year Of The Bastard (Vertigo, 2009) *****
55.-60. Transmetropolitan Vol. 4: The New Scum (Vertigo, 2009) *****
61.-66. Transmetropolitan Vol. 5: Lonely City (Vertigo, 2009) *****
67.-72. Transmetropolitan Vol. 6: Gouge Away (Vertigo, 2010) *****
73.-78. Transmetropolitan Vol. 7: Spider’s Thrash (Vertigo, 2010) *****
79.-84. Transmetropolitan Vol. 8: Dirge (Vertigo, 2010) *****
85.-90. Transmetropolitan Vol. 9: The Cure (Vertigo, 2011) *****
91.-98. Transmetropolitan Vol. 10: One More Time (Vertigo, 2011) *****
- originally published in Transmetropolitan #1-60, Transmetropolitan: I Hate It Here, Transmetropolitan: Filth Of The City & various short stories (Vertigo, 1997-2002)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artists: Darick Robertson & friends

99. Aetheric Mechanics: A Graphic Novella (Apparat/Avatar, 2008) ***
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: Gianluca Pagliarani & Chris Dreier
Overpriced tale of an imaginary steampunk England dreamed up by a time traveller, featuring weird alternate universe versions of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. OK, I guess, but not one of Ellis’s better efforts. Glad I got this cheap, too.
100. Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut (Image, 2001) ***
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: D’Israeli
101.-106. John Constantine, Hellblazer: Haunted (Vertigo, 2003) ***¾
- originally published in Hellblazer #134-139 (Vertigo, 1999)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: John Higgins
107.-110. John Constantine, Hellblazer: Setting Sun (Vertigo, 2004) ***½
- originally published in Hellblazer #140-143 (Vertigo, 1999)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artists: various
111.-118. The Authority, Book 1: Relentless (WildStorm/DC, 2000) ****
- originally published in The Authority #1-8 (WildStorm, 1999)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artists: Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary

I will discuss all these titles in a future podcast.....probably.