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Teen Angst, Talking Corpses & Pompous Frogs

PrintE-mail Written by P.M. Buchan

Adventures on Alternative Earths - by P.M Buchan

Welcome back to another senses-shattering instalment of Adventures On Alternate Earths, the column that celebrates a myriad of reasons to love comics and encourages you to sink your money into this industry that I hold so close to my heart.Since the first column we’ve welcomed a newborn into our growing family, another child to mould and sculpt under the influences of the X-Men and Studio Ghibli, but the only thing that you need to know is that so far she’s letting me sleep enough that I still have the coherence to tell you about the comics that have most excited me this month, starting with my favourite new X-Men spinoff!

Uncanny X-Force (Marvel Comics) by Rick Remender and Jeremy Opeña

 

Uncanny X-Force

 

Because of my bank account-crippling addiction to the X-Men I’ve been forced to stop buying all X-related monthly comics, knowing that I’d inevitably buy the hardcovers and trade paperbacks anyway. Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s X-Force (Marvel Comics) was consistently brilliant, picking up lingering plotlines from decades ago and reinvigorating characters that only the most obsessive X-fiends had ever cared about, so it broke my heart when that title was cancelled.  Upon hearing that it would be launched with a new creative team as Uncanny X-Force I felt both jubilant and wary, but now that I’ve finally had the opportunity to read the book I have to say that Remender and Opeña have came together to create one of the strongest titles to ever feature the X-Men, combining spectacularly inventive dialogue with morally ambiguous characters that effortlessly live up to their potential.  Featuring Wolverine, Psylocke, Archangel, Deadpool and Fantomex going up against an Apocalypse that has been reborn in the body of an innocent child, this might be the strongest opening story arc that I can remember Marvel ever publishing.  I have to make clear that these are NOT characters that I care about and by replacing my favourite Marvel writers I was predisposed to dislike Remender’s work, but there’s just so much to love!  If you’re a lapsed X-Men fan and willing to take only one piece of advice from me this year, try out Uncanny X-Force.  Any comic that can make me care about a redundant joke character like Deadpool has to be pretty special, and it is sheer genius when he nurses a famine victim back to life with a combination of popping candy and regenerating flesh carved from his arm.  This is also such a strong comic that I’m now desperate to get hold of everything else either of the creative team have worked on , particularly Fear Agent (Image Comics) and Strange Girl (Image Comics).

 

Venom - Remender and Moore

 

While I’m talking about Rick Remender I should also mention that the recently relaunched Venom (Marvel Comics) written by Remender and illustrated by Tony Moore is equally amazing. It takes a phenomenal talent to tell good stories based around Venom, the creature that always worked better in theory than he did in practise, but Remender has created a tale of international espionage powered by horrific superpowers and populated by characters as over-the-top as they are macabre. The new Venom is everything that every comic about villainous characters has ever aspired to be, and Moore is working at the peak of his artistic powers, no mean feat for a man talented enough to walk away from The Walking Dead (Image Comics) and have it be nothing more than a footnote in his career.

 

Slaughterman’s Creed (Markosia) by Cy Dethan, Stephen Downey and Nic Wilkinson

Thine is the task of blood.
Discharge thy task with mercy.
Let thy victim feel no pain.
Let sudden blow bring death;
Such death as thou thyself would ask for.

 

Finally released in trade paperback this month, Slaughterman’s Creed is a black journey through the heart of London’s gangland, following the decline of an empire based on human trafficking. With a cast of reprehensible characters occupying the kind of world that most people would rather not think about, this is my kind of comic, and the best part is that it was created by a British team of creators that can go toe to toe with any of their international rivals. I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to see British writers and artists making a name for themselves without having to pay their dues by writing third-tier superhero comics.  If you ever wanted to support home-grown talent instead of sinking your money on Event Crossovers then this is the place to start.

 

Slaughterman's Creed

 

Before Slaughterman’s Creed the same team first came together to create Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth (Markosia), a fantastically original story involving brain tumours and other worlds that could be described as the best comic that Vertigo never published. Even more excitingly I’ve just heard word that writer Cy Dethan and letterer Nic Wilkinson are starting work on a new series White Knuckle for Markosia with artist Valia Kapadai.  Due out next year, I spoke to Cy about White Knuckle and he told me that "it’s going to be a riff on the old 'retired gunfighter is forced to strap on his irons again for one last battle' tale, as told through the lens of a seventy-year-old former serial strangler who becomes a local hero after accidentally saving the life of his final victim's grandson. Now he's a celebrity and the bodies won't stay buried much longer.”  I have to accept that not everybody reading this column will agree that that’s the perfect pitch for a story, but now that the idea has been planted I can’t wait to read this one.

 

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (IDW) by Ben Templesmith


 

Following the mature theme, in 2002 writer Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith released 30 Days of Night (IDW), the title that has been widely credited with reinvigorating horror comics after the glut of increasingly absurd supernatural Bad Girl comics at the end of the 90s.  30 Days of Night showcased Templesmith’s unique visual style of sketchy linework complemented by dense, menacing colours.  Despite the assuredness of this, one of his earliest professional comics, for some reason I never actively sought out any of Templesmith’s work until speaking to him earlier this year, and what a revelation that turned out to be!  First I picked up Welcome To Hoxford (IDW), which was easily the best werewolf story that I have encountered in any medium, and in it Templesmith’s art evolves almost from page to page, so that however recognisable his style may be, comparisons between 30 Days of Night and his more recent work are like comparisons between a child and an adult. There’s a depth and assuredness to his colours that completely validates his decision to create his art alone, so much so that it makes me wonder what other fantastic results might be yielded were Marvel and DC to ditch their production-line style predisposition towards separating art into pencils, inks and colours. However great Welcome To Hoxford might be though it pales in comparison to Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, an explosively inventive glimpse into Templesmith’s psyche that involves cross-dressing leprechauns, corpse-inhabiting god-worms and the most empowered table-dancers in history.  For me storytelling comes first in every medium and I primarily love comics for their ability to tell sweeping episodic stories, but somehow Gentleman Corpse is so compelling that I can overlook the fact that Templesmith is flying by the seat of his pants.  At no point during any of the existing story-arcs have I got the impression that there’s an overriding plot in the background or that Wormwood is travelling on a redemptive journey of self-discovery, but the jokes are so funny and the characters so likeable that I don’t care.  I don’t buy the next issue because I have to know what happens next, I buy it because every panel could be framed and hung on my wall, because the robot that longs for human genitalia makes me laugh out loud and because Templesmith writes about my kind of people, shambling drunks and misanthropic deadbeats that would rather get drunk than save the world again!

 

Higurashi: When They Cry (Yen Press) by Ryukishi07 and various artists

Manga! That’s what this column has been missing so far. Higurashi was originally created by Ryukishi07 as a series of 'sound novels' (PC games that featured static illustrations, pages of text and cheesy midi soundtracks), later adapted into a series of manga, anime, live action films, radio-plays, first-person shooters and novels. High-school student Keiichi Maebara moves from the city to the secluded valley of Hinamizawa, where he joins a school full of beautiful girls that meet daily to engage in club activities, namely games where the prices of failure are always humiliating dares involving maid uniforms. The story always begins innocently as friendships are forged and romance blossoms, but ends in a murder and disappearance when one of the circle of friends descends into madness during the Cotton Drifting Festival. This chain of events is retold in a myriad of permutations featuring a consistent cast of characters whose backstories are gradually revealed and explored from different angles, so that from story arc to story arc you’re never sure whether the killer will be driven by the curse of the village’s dark god or whether their violence will be prompted by a broken heart. Combining all the tropes of a carefree harem manga with buckets of bloodshed, Higurashi contains everything that I love in comics, wrapped up in a technique borrowed from Rashomon, that reappraises the same bloodthirsty story from a variety of different perspectives. To truly enjoy Higurashi you have to approach it like a detective, piecing clues together from the different story arcs so that whilst it might not be stated explicitly in the plot you’re reading you remember that one girl has a twin sister and another suffers from an abusive uncle. It’s quite possible to read any of the two-volume story arcs alone and enjoy a complete story, but their motivations shed new light on their actions and with each arc you come closer to unlocking Hinamizawa’s secret. Whether you’re a seasoned manga reader or you’ve decided that big eyes and black and white art aren’t for you, I urge you to give Higurashi a go because it’s chock full of teen angst, graphic dismemberments and a story that becomes more interesting with each permutation.

 

 

Higurashi

 

 

Weathercraft (Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring

Have you ever read a comic by Jim Woodring?  I picked Weathercraft because it was the last of his books that I bought, but as far as I’m aware the man has never created a dull comic and all are worth reading. It feels almost reductive to put his style into words, but the best way that I can describe Woodring’s work is that he has created another world ruled by consistent but incomprehensible laws and logic entirely unlike our own. The majority of his strips are in black and white but they somehow scream psychedelic colours, illustrated in a style that’s superficially childish but used to portray the torment of allegorical characters for moral transgressions in feverishly graphic ways. Anthropomorphic Frank is ostensibly the star of Jim Woodring’s comics, but it is the Manhog character that fascinates me the most, a hideous hybrid of pig and man that hints at the shortcomings, greed and base nature of humanity. Just typing these words it feels like I must be creating empty hyperbole about Woodring’s work, attributing false depth as if I were a student tasked with analysing a poem, but Jim Woodring has created a universe that is as unique as it is brilliant. Even if you come away from reading the adventures of Pupshaw and Pushpaw and saw nothing there but Tom and Jerry-style slapstick violence there’s still a timelessness and art to the way that the characters invariably suffer but never learn, like the world’s most macabre morality play. Congress of the Animals (Fantagraphics) is due out at the end of May and without knowing anything about it I’m certain that it will be worth owning.  If his last book Weathercraft is anything to go by you’ll probably read through the full book in one sitting and then spend weeks thinking about the terrifying images that you saw there.  If any of you have any theories about Jim Woodring’s world and specifically what those pompous frogs are meant to signify then send me an e-mail at phillip.buchan@starburstmagazine.com!

 

 

Manhog's Holiday

 

 

Parker: The Outfit (IDW) adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke

 

After examining all kinds of printed deviancy and senseless violence, I feel that it’s only fair to continue by looking at an amoral killer in a world populated by con-men and criminals.  I’ve just finished reading Parker: The Outfit, Darwyn Cooke’s second adaptation of the crime novels written by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake). In the book, without any sentimentality or hesitation, the central character Parker sets out on a mission to hunt and kill a crime-overlord, first demonstrating the vulnerability of his criminal empire by engineering a series of robberies that strike at the heart of the overlord’s most profitable enterprises. Ignoring the ingenuity of some of these heists, even the different ways that they are shown in the book are innovative, from newspaper articles to schematic diagrams that break down the way organised crime benefits from gambling.

 

I’m under the impression that Cooke uses a variety of techniques to remain true to the period setting of the stories, from limiting his art to a style that could have been printed at the time all the way to faithfully rendering architecture, cars and fashion. Whether or not this is the case has no bearing on the fact that these timeless books are breathtaking on every level: the printing, the binding, the art, the storytelling, every aspect of these Parker books is of the highest quality and represents an incredible artistic achievement. Of all the adaptations of the Parker books that Westlake oversaw in his lifetime these were the only ones that he allowed to bear the Parker name, an indication of the commitment and integrity that Darwyn Cooke brought to the project. If you’ve finished reading Criminal (Icon/Marvel) or Scalped (Vertigo) and are looking for what to read next then look no further.

 

Speaking of the Cookes, it’s possible that Darwyn’s wife and niece might be working on an even more exciting project. Teenage Satan is written by Marsha and Candis Cooke, illustrated by Stephanie Buscema and due to launch in September 2011 as a digital comic, app and game...

 

Teenage Satan - Marsha and Candis Cooke

 

I spoke to Marsha Cooke briefly about the genesis of the project and she told me that she had grown tired of seeing young people at comic conventions that were more interested in playing games than reading comics. She told me that it was the responsibility of comic creators to make a product that would appeal to young people today, and that she thought the key to that would be providing daily updating content with a story compelling enough to want to read it every day. I can’t fault logic like that, I’m 28 and my iPhone never leaves the palm of my hand! With a story based on the emo son of Satan attending high school for the first time and facing all of the trials and tribulations that entails, interaction through Twitter and Facebook plus exclusive art prints available at conventions and merchandise through their online store, Teenage Satan has every possible base covered. If you’re not sure why you should care about a comic that you haven’t even read yet I should point out that the whole team have the discrete support of Darwyn Cooke, who has a background in animation and has won an Eisner award for his work in comics, and Stephanie Buscema is the granddaughter of legendary Marvel comic artist John Buscema. Coming from a background like this AND being that rare thing in comics, an all-female creative team, I can’t help but root for Stephanie, Marsha and Candis and I hope that you will too.

 

If you or anybody that you know has been affected by the issues discussed in this column then you can contact me at phillip.buchan@starburstmagazine.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or follow me on Twitter @FrancisSobriety. I don’t feel particularly inclined to defend the comics that I love, but if you’re reading something that you feel passionately about then I’d love to hear about it. This column has been fuelled by Calabrese, the World’s Greatest Horror Rock Band! If you ever listened to the Misfits and wondered why nobody had followed through on the concept then you should give Calabrese a listen and tell them I sent you.


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Comments  

 
+1 #1 Mr Cheese 2011-06-20 13:28
Really like the look of Weathercraft - has a definite "Tijuana Bibles" look to the artwork
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