Way back in February, The Media Show, on Channel 4, was due to have covered Troma — the film company who brought us such delights as The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis must Die and (this one’s one of Jim’s faves!!) Rabid Grannies. However, there I was, waiting with bated breath, and they decided to show a program about “Irangate” instead. This wasn’t totally disappointing to me though, as the program was dealing with investigations by the Christic Institute into the American government’s “covert operations”, and specifically Brought To Light a “comic book” revealing just what our friends across the Atlantic get up to. Yes, this is it, a massive seven months in the making (about 6 months longer than it’d take to make the majority of Jim’s favorite films!!), and here it is… the comics article!! I guess that you’ve all heard some mention of the new Batman movie by now (don’t worry, I’m not about to waffle on about that), and you probably have vague memories of The Incredible Hulk and Wonderwoman on the idiot-box. However, the wonderful world of comics goes way beyond Spiderman, Superman (please note, all trademarks are used without the permission of their owners!!) et al. – just how far, I will attempt to show…
With all the Bat-hype of the past few months, it’d be difficult to avoid the fact that comics do affect other media, but the extent to which it has happened recently is quite surprising — it seems that comics are something of a cult hobby at the moment. Just this year, we’ve had: The Media Slow (as mentioned above); before that, there was an edition of Signals in January about The Day Comics Grew Up (which included pretty piccies from some of the better comics around and also had clips from Akira — The Movie Tokyo’s biggest grossing film of ’88 and a great event if it eventually gets over here (for more mention of who/what Akira is, read on gracious reader); in America, they’ve seen Batman, The Punisher, and Return of The Swamp Thing all based on comicbook characters. There’re plenty of rumours that Terry Gilliam is doing a Watchmen movie; Judge Dredd – The Movie is still, apparently, going to be produced. Maybe it’s a sign that comics really are growing up, mebbe it’s just a sign that there’re a lot of people out there in need of some good, cheap, escapist entertainment!!
As a complete escapist, I manage to totally ruin the cheapness argument, but still — who needs to eat anyway!! As an introduction to what’s available, here’s reviews of my favourite comics from the current crop – i.e. the ones I regard as the best of those I’ve bought recently (or at least of those I still look for in the shops, as some haven’t been seen lately, but aren’t officially over & done with!)
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – Published by Epic
Set in Japan after World war III, Akira tells of mutants with psychic powers. As a comic for ‘mature’ readers, it is somewhat unusual as the majority of the ‘cast’ is young. Kaneda, the 15 year old hero of the tale, his friend Tetsuo, and their gang of biker friends are ‘students’ at a “Youth Vocational Training School”, with all the bad habits that that suggests (drugs, general thrill—seeking and apparent death-wishes being their most obvious vices). Whilst working off some of their youthful enthusiasm, Tetsuo crashes whilst avoiding a mysterious figure. Kaneda is understandably worked up by this, and soon finds himself involved with terrorists, the government and various mutants with ‘special-powers‘.
Akira is a Japanese comic, and is something of an epic — apparently totalling some 1800 pages when the final ‘volume’ comes out. In Japan, Akira is in black & white, but Epic have seen fit to apply computerised colouration to it — this does, in fact, work a lot less tackily than the idea may at first suggest. You may consider a dozen issues into a series to be too late to start, but there’s a synopsis of “the story so far” in each issue to so new readers won’t be completely lost — go out & buy yourself a copy and prove to yourself how good Japanese comics can be.
Deadline by “Various Artists” Published by Deadline Publications Ltd (!)
This is a British, A4 size, Black & White anthology zine, and with strips like “Tank Gir1” and “Jonny Nemo”, should (hopefully) be around for ages. Varying from the anarchic to the insane, Deadline offers readers a chance to read great — if a tad arty – strips plus music reviews and interviews with personalities from the comics & pop worlds. Pop dowm to W.H. Smiths & treat yourself to a copy (assuming they haven’t already sold out of course!!).
Evangeline – Published by First
This is one to read purely for fun. Evangeline is a futuristic assassin in a science—fiction “space—opera” type setting. What makes Evangeline different is that she is an agent for the Roman Catholic Qiurch — a nun to be precise. Set in the future, Evangeline gets to zip around in space-ships wearing skin-tight clothing and carrying high—tech weaponry, with only an ever—present crucifix as a hint to her ‘mission’. I suppose the actual stories are sonewhat ‘ordinary’ comic fare, but somehow the writer/artist manages to bring Evangeline far enough above the Marvel/DC dross (i.e. the vast majority of Superman/Spidennan/Wonderwciinan/Daredevil etc.) to keep it interesting – plus of course, there’s the artists obvious enjoyment whenever he draws Evangeline. Unfortunately, as I write this, it’s a few months since I last saw an issue — it never was particularly regular though, so keep your eyes openl!
Hawkworld – Published by DC
Two issues dowm, and it’s definitely looking good This is about a world populated on two levels, both socially & physically. The upper levels are occupied by the elite and the streets — way, way below — by a mixture of criminals & aliens that have been brought in as (basically) slave—labour One of the elite, ??????, becomes involved with revolutionaries attempting to gain fair do’s for the ground dwellers, but is caught, branded as a traitor & exiled. Eventually returning to the city (on the ground—floor of course!), he discovers that the society’s decadence has caught up with it & things are in horrendous disarray. At the end of the second issue, things look as though they could be hetting up, with a nicely degenerate world ready for rescue from itself and our hero in on the ground floor.
John Constantine: Hellblazer – Published by DC
John Constantine originally appeared in Swamp Thing, as the main protagonist of the “American Gothic storyline. Constantine is a British occultist, troubleshooting in the dark realms of demons and other evils. With the Delano/Ridgeway combination, some marvellous horror was produced — including the totally wonderful “Yuppies From Hell”. Ridgeway’s replacement artist was Piers Raynor, his style differed from R’s, but still worked… however, yet another artist turns his hand to the series now, as JC loses his dirty tan trenchcoat and gets mean with a black coat & shades — whether this is a good or bad sign has yet to be ascertained. The Hear Machine storyline, which has been running for the past seven or so issues, is now hurtling towards its conclusion, so anything could happen, and probably will. Just recently, the first Hellblazer Annual came out, giving a tale of Constantine & his ancestry, with art by Brian Talbot and a nice —— in a horrific sort of way —- storyline involving Merlin & King Arthur. Probably a good introduction to the world of Constantine, if you can find yourself a copy.
Knockabout – Published by Knockabout
Black & white anthology of comics from the world’s independant publishers/writers. As my re—introduction to comics, I have a soft spot for this, and its “underground” feel. It touches on many taboo’s, and could offend sensitive, moral majority readers, but I can’t see that bothering trashophiles like you lot!! It is extremely irregular, but is quite readily available — I first got it from a bookshop in Oxford. ‘
Love & Rockets – Published by Fantagraphics
Los Bros Hernandez produce this, and tis wunderful. Jaime Hernandez offers “Los Locos”/”Mechanix”, a tale of a group of girls, their friends, their relatives and their adventures (as the saying goes. . . ‘an everyday tale of lesbian, punk wrestlers‘ !!). Gilbert H. offers Duck Soup, set in a Central American town called “Palomar”, and tells of the events that affect the tovm’s inhabitants. What makes love & Rockets so special, is the characterization (terrible word, but it’s the one I want). Mebbe I”m just a sucker for a cute story, but this is one of the few comics in which I’ve found myself truly interested in what happens to a diaracter (probably because, just like in the real world, there’s no telling what could happen)
Miracleman – Published by First
Alan Moore’s aging superhero – he who was onoe known as Marvelman. A great tale covering the difficulties M’man has in coming to terns with his rediscovered powers. Probably one of the comics I’d have most difficulty describing without making it sound terrible, so I’ll just reoarmend that if you believe superheroes are asexual & inhuman, Miracleman could make you think again. N.B. This comes out very irregularly
Yunmy Fur – Published by Vortex
Decidedly odd, decidedly offbeat, but still decidedly pleasant. Yummy Fur is Chester Brown’s comic, and its contents show that CB has ideas aplenty. The main tale is that of “Ed the Happy Clown”, a pleasant enough chap, ho somehow gets into weirder and weirder situations. As a backup to this, CB is serializing Mark (Yup, the one from the New Testament!!). All in all, a decidedly odd combination.