No-one knows what this feels like

Jessica Jones vol. 3: Return of the Purple Man
by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colours), David Mack (cover art)

So this is it, the last time (for now?) that Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos will work on the character they created, the almighty Jessica Jones (Bendis and Gaydos have left Marvel for DC). And they’ve certainly gone out with a bang, with what might be the best volume of all the Jessica Jones stories.

As the title suggests, in this volume, super-powered PI Jessica Jones learns that her greatest fear has come true: Killgrave has escaped from the SHIELD prison for supervillains in a very similar manner to his escape in series 1 of the Jessica Jones TV show, but this is not the same story, because the Jessica Jones of the comics universe is in a very different place in her life and has different things to lose. Killgrave can control the bodies and voices of other people and he delights in taking that power to the darkest places imaginable.

The story and the art beautifully capture the fear of having the worst thing that ever happened to you happen again. As Jessica says, this time it’s worse because she knows what the Purple Man is capable of, what he can reduce her to, what he can make her do. And what he can do to her loved ones.

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K-drama review: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

I am very torn in my reactions to this K-drama. On the one hand, I love the lead character and the setting felt more like a realistic modern Seoul than any of the other dramas I’ve seen set there, except maybe Doctors (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon first aired in Korea in 2017 so it is the newest K-drama I have watched). On the other hand, the sense of humour can be not only juvenile, but also homophobic.

And it started so well! This show juggles a few different genres and to begin with I loved the switches from one to another, but they were less well balanced in the second half. Similarly, the storylines all started strongly, but got a bit lost around the halfway point. It’s almost as though different writers took it over. It’s certainly the first time with one of these K-dramas where it hasn’t felt carefully plotted from start to finish.

Genre one is superhero, and the superhero in question is Do Bong-soon (played by Park Bo-young). She is a petite 27-year-old who didn’t do well enough at school to go to university, has never held one job for long, but dreams of designing computer games. Oh, and she has supernatural strength, which she uses to save people from danger. She’s cute and girly but also a little bolshy, which probably comes from her experience of standing up to bullies.

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I’d be rocketing through my dreams

rocket girl vol 1Rocket Girl Vol.1: Times Squared
by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder

This was on the staff recommends shelf at Midtown Comics in New York, and I do like a good staff recommendation. Plus the artist is female, and I was on the hunt for some female representation on our comic shelves.

Rocket Girl has a fairly complex plot, which I suspect will get easier to follow in later volumes, although maybe not. DaYoung Johansson is a detective in the New York Teen Police Department in an alternate-reality 2013 who is sent back in time to 1986 to investigate shadowy but all-powerful Quintum Mechanics for “crimes against time”. There’s some twisty time-loop who-did-what-when stuff going on and some action-adventure chase sequences, but what I found more interesting was the culture clash DaYoung faces.

“I get to fly. It’s why I joined the NYTPD. I used to lay in my bed thinking all about it, trying to make sure that when I fell asleep I’d be rocketing through my dreams. Force it. Focus. Fantasize real hard and hope when your eyes shut you don’t know the difference. It usually didn’t work.”

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The superhero 12 miles from Manhattan

ms marvel vol 1Ms Marvel vol 1: No Normal
by G Willow Wilson (writer) and Adrian Alphona (artist)

When Marvel launched a new Ms Marvel series in February 2014, it got a fair bit of press attention for starring their first Muslim superhero. Add to that the fact that the series is edited and written by women, and cue a lot of clamour about how comic books are changing. What interested me more, though, was that it had a teenage female lead, making it effectively a coming of age story, and I’m a sucker for those.

Kamala Khan is 16 and lives in Jersey City in the US with her parents and older brother. She idolises the Avengers and resents the strict rules imposed by her parents and religion, but as rule-breaking goes she keeps it small, because she does want to honour her parents and her god. So it’s a big deal when she sneaks out of the house one night to attend a party. Of course that just has to be the one night that a mysterious green mist descends on Jersey City that does something decidedly weird to her.

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Female superheroes

When Tim went to our local comic shop a few weeks ago, he brought home issue 1 of several new (or recently started) series, no less than five of them new Marvel series with female leads. Which is a pretty big step to redressing the gender imbalance that has tended to exist in superhero universes. I’ve only read this selection of first issues (plus last year’s new series Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel) but they’re all kickass heroines who promise plenty for the future.

Bearing in my mind that these are single issues, so I’ve only had 20 or so pages of each story, here are my thoughts on these new series.

****Spoiler warning****
Tim has pointed that, because these characters are not new, my reviews do contain spoilers for previous series featuring these ladies, so if you’re a little behind in the Marvel universes, you have been warned!

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Early summer reads in brief

As you might gather from the sparcity of this blog this month, I’ve been busy. I’ve still been reading, but I’m very very behind on writing reviews, so here’s a few shorter thoughts on recent reads.

captain america

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z,
books 1 and 2
by Rick Remender and John Romita Jr

This relatively short storyline is a great example of how comics – superhero comics, at that – can be a really good medium through which to explore unusual or difficult ideas. Cap is doing his thing for the Avengers when he is kidnapped by the evil Dr Zola and taken to Dimension Z, and while he soon escapes his captors it seems that Dimension Z will not give him up so easily. Over time he gets caught up in the ongoing war between Zola’s bioengineered army and the phrox, who look monstrous but are willing to give Cap a home. Which all sounds a bit robots fight monsters grr argh, but while this book is distinctly masculine, it’s also very thoughtful. In fact, my main reservation was that Cap was perhaps too brooding and thoughtful. By far the majority of the text is his thoughts and for several pages I wondered whether he was going to speak at all. But overall I enjoyed it and the take on questions surrounding, among other things, war, parenthood, love, loyalty and belonging.

“Adrenaline surging—enough to jolt a dead man to a waltz. Need the help—so long as I don’t pass out. Pain—the shattered left hand screaming at me—it has no business maintaining a grip on a B-52 in a dead drop. Thank the adrenaline…His howl—agony…a reminder of what happens to a million people if you fail—millions of screams.”

Published 2013 by Marvel.

Source: Borrowed from Tim, who bought them at Excelsior! comic shop, Bristol.

Tales from the Secret Annexe
by Anne Frank
translated from Dutch by Susan Massotty

It pains me, after rediscovering the talent of Anne Frank earlier this year, to conclude that this collection of her essays and short stories is so far below the standard of her diary that it should probably never have been published. There are signs of her writing ability, certainly, and I don’t doubt that if she had lived she would have produced a collection after the war that would have shone with greatness. But this isn’t it; these are the writings of a child and it shows. Even her moving essays about hope and charity suffer from youthful naivety. The first part of the collection is especially odd, as it is a series of alternative accounts of events that are also included in Anne’s diary – essentially discarded early drafts. The book isn’t entirely without merit: it’s perfectly readable, provides a little extra depth to the picture of Anne for anyone who has read her diary, and the foreword is actually the best summary I have read of the Frank family’s war-time experience.

“Everyone is born equal; we all come into the world helpless and innocent. We all breathe the same air…Riches, power and fame last for only a few short years. Why do we cling so desperately to these fleeting things? Why can’t those who have more than enough for their own needs give the rest to their fellow human beings?”

Verhaaltjes, en gebeurtenissen uit het Achterhuis published 1982 by Bert Bakker.
This edition published 2010 by Halban.

Source: I bought it at Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.

Sex Criminals volume 1: One Weird Trick
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

It really tells how much I enjoyed the first volume of Hawkeye by Matt Fraction that I was eager to check out his other current project despite a title that didn’t seem entirely aimed at me. However, it turns out that this is another fun, well written and stylishly presented series. The premise is that librarian Suzie stops time whenever she has an orgasm, an ability she discovered in her teens and has quietly enjoyed since, while getting on with her otherwise normal life. Until she meets Jon, who not only shares her ability, but has ideas about what they could do with it. Her library is closing due to lack of money, they can stop time – it seems like robbing the bank will be an easy solution. But when is life ever easy? Although this comic is undeniably explicit and R-rated, it’s actually much less explicit than some Alan Moore stuff I’ve read and, importantly, far more honest about sex. As Suzie and Jon get to know each other we learn about their teen years, discovering masturbation and other sexual acts, which is a subject that, while not quite taboo, is usually dealt with extremely lightly. This comic combines a good level of honesty and humour with a bit of action adventure thrown in.

Published 2014 by Image Comics.

Source: Borrowed from Tim, who bought it from comiXology.

Anything is a weapon if you’re in deep enough trouble

Hawkeye Volume 1
by Matt Fraction

Hawkeye cover by David Aja

I think Tim is slowly but surely turning me into a Marvel fan. It began with the X-Men films, then the Avengers films, then the TV shows (Ultimate Spider-Man is really very good, and not just “for a cartoon”) and now finally he’s got me reading the comics. Although, thinking about it, I first heard the new Hawkeye comics recommended by Michael Kindness on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and passed that on to Tim, who read the first few and in turn told me I’d like them too. It’s all got a bit meta.

Anyway, the point is that I am writing this review as someone who has never read traditional superhero comics. I’ve read some of the alternative self-contained ones – Watchmen, Saga, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – but never braved the whole mega universe of dozens or even hundreds of characters interacting over several decades that you are faced with when you pick up a mainstream Marvel or DC comic. Until now. I feel that I’m on the brink of a vortex of thousands of stories and I can’t decide if that’s daunting or exciting!

Of course, Hawkeye isn’t strictly a superhero. He’s a really really good archer. But he is part of the Marvel universe and interacts with proper job superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk) and they all have their own storylines that weave in and out of each other’s. What’s nice about this latest series about Hawkeye is that its emphasis is on the time when Hawkeye isn’t working with the Avengers, so it can be read in isolation perhaps more easily and it has a look and feel that aren’t, to me, very “superhero”.

“You cowboy around with the Avengers some. Guys got, what? Armor. Magic. Super-powers. Super-strength. Shrink-dust. Grow-rays. Magic. Healing factors. I’m an orphan raised by carnies. Fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era. So when I say this looks ‘bad’? I promise you it feels worse.”

In fact, my initial attraction to these comics, and still one of my favourite aspects, is the extremely stylish design. The artwork is simple and stylised with a limited colour palette. This hardback volume includes one crossover comic from the series Young Avengers Presents and the difference in appearance really stands out. So I have nothing but praise for the whole art team.

But I think I wouldn’t have lasted 11 issues if the stories weren’t as good as the art. The basic thesis is that Hawkeye/Clint Barton is a good but flawed man with plenty of secrets and not the best history with women. He lives in New York City in an apartment building with a pretty varied bunch of ne’er-do-wells and tries to fend off the local branch of Russian mafia.

It’s not the first attempt to humanise a hero or to get under the skin of a man who’s afraid of commitment, but that doesn’t stop it from being an interesting combination with action adventure and daily life in a grimier corner of the city. There’s also the quite lovely relationship that Clint has with the Young Avengers Hawkeye, a teenager called Kate whose archery skills can match his but who needs advice on some other aspects of working seedy underworld jobs one day, and then for SHIELD the next day.

“Anything is a weapon if you’re in deep enough trouble. There’s no special training. No special skill. Just the belief that at any time you might have to hurt someone to stay alive. What kind of animal walks into a room and figures out what they can use to hurt people if they have to hurt? What kind…”

Another thing that makes this series stand out is the complicated timeline. It really isn’t always clear what order some events occur in. It’s certainly not linear, even within one issue. And some of the other information supplied can tend to the oblique, rather than spelling it all out for you. It’s genuinely complex writing that both draws you in and slows you down, which is good, as I’ve found that sometimes I tend to race through comics and almost skip the artwork. Here, so much is unsaid that I find myself “reading” the pictures carefully to find any clues not provided in words.

So was I won over because the first comic in this series is about Hawkeye meeting Pizza Dog? Possibly. I am a sucker for a dog lover. But I have stayed interested and am looking forward to volume 2 already. Yay, Hawkguy!

This collection published 2013 by Marvel.

Source: Excelsior! comic-book shop, Bristol.

Girls and guns and science

Echo: the Complete Edition
by Terry Moore

So I quite liked this graphic novel, then Tim said that the maths that the whole storyline is based around is complete rubbish and now I’m not sure if that makes a difference or not. I think I still like it.

It’s almost a superhero story, but not quite. Super-clever scientist lady invents a new element and makes herself a suit out of it, then gets blown up by her superiors while wearing it and the suit attaches itself to two unlucky bystanders. That’s the first couple of scenes. The rest of the story follows those two bystanders as they discover what the suit can do and have very different reactions to it. And both get chased by various government agencies and scientists who want their tech back.

This is one of those beautifully drawn graphic novels that includes a lot of panes with no words, so despite this being a huge tome (this was previously published as six trade paperbacks) I tore through it in one day. I probably didn’t pay enough attention to the detail.

The main character is Julie, one of those two bystanders in the desert. She is an artist struggling to pay her bills and resisting signing the divorce papers that her husband has sent. There’s a large supporting cast, but foremost among them are Dillon, who was the boyfriend of the dead scientist lady, and Ivy, a kickass agent for a mysterious organisation. The first time we meet Ivy she is picking flowers with her daughter. In the next scene she is flying a plane on her own and puts it into autopilot while she changes her clothes. Awesome.

The maths/science stuff is complete rubbish and I did get a bit annoyed by it, even before discussing it with Tim. And there’s also a religious storyline that I found a bit questionable, to say the least. But the main characters and their lives on the run are engaging, funny, upsetting, sad and touching in all the right places. A main character appearing to be offended by the suggestion she might be gay is made up for by there being other characters who just happen to gay, without it being a thing.

Throughout the book there are quotes from writers and scientists about man and science, especially the destructive nature of man. Really it’s quite a negative view of science. There are plenty of scientists in the book who are trying to do good, but the suggestion is that it’s futile, that there will always be someone who wants to do something terrible with any new scientific discovery and that someone will always get their way. I prefer not to be that pessimistic.

There’s also a lot of excuses come up with for drawing women wearing very little. In fact, flicking through the gallery of cover art at the end of this collected edition, the majority of them concentrate on Julie and her large chest.

But dodgy science and fan service aside, I really did enjoy this read. I was interested in and cared about the characters, even some we only meet very briefly, and the bikers were very cool. But not as cool as Ivy.

Published 2011 by Robyn Moore.

Maybe I’m just too squeamish

by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr

As with all novels, I prefer graphic novels that have a complex storyline and meaty (though not necessarily likeable) main character. I don’t necessarily need multiple layers of meaning, but I am a sucker for an unreliable narrator or a bit of ambiguity. In terms of graphic novels, I greatly enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and We3 but Kick-ass didn’t cut it. It’s simple, colourful fun and it’s also very brutal.

The thing is, you can usually get away with more violence in books than, say, film because you’re not depicting it – it’s left to the reader’s imagination. But here, the violence is drawn for you and, while it may not be photorealistic it’s real enough to make me squirm.

The story is pretty basic. Loser kid gets so fed up with life he decides to don a superhero costume and beat up bad guys. He researches in comics first and creates an online fanbase. But he has no real training and his only “ability” is a willingness to be beaten up to within an inch of his life over and over. Still, he enjoys being an internet sensation and it gives him something to get him through his “normal” life. But then copycats spring up all over and start to become as famous, or maybe more famous, than him. With better weapons. And who on earth are these people Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, who shy away from publicity and seem like they might have some actual training?

If you’re not bothered by violence and gore then this is great fun and I’m sure the film will be too. I may check it out, but I’ll admit that I’m in no hurry.

Published 2010 by Titan Books
ISBN 978-1-8485-6535-7