And once you settle in and allow the book to work it’s magic - well: there’s lots to enjoy here and plenty of interesting sights to see along the way: from the signs on the wall (I didn’t realise that signs could sound snooty until I read: ”Groups passing through our neighborhood severely offend the residents. Please. Stop this.” - I mean - really?) to the local groups and the way that they can cut across the grain in interesting ways (“Some ultra-orthodox Jews reject Zionism. They believe the messiah will come and restore the promised land to the chosen people. Not vice versa.”) and the way to the - frankly bizarre - things that religion will make people do (good example of this include: an ice cream seller refusing to give children ice cream cones and whole bit about the search for a red heifers and how it relates to the End Times that kinda blew my little mind ). But I guess the thing that kept me reading is that Guy Delisle is a pretty fun (and chilled out) guy to hang out with - and the Tom Gauld-like simplicity of the art means that (although it’s quite a thick book) it’s real easy to breeze through the pages.
“The Batman of Earth 7 had the same kind of Batcave that all the other Batmen do: a hole in the ground filled with bats, stalagtites and standing water. There’s the obligatory giant penny and various other trophies. But there are telling differences: a close examination of a newspaper photo of the Joker reveals that the Joker of Earth 7 is a black man wearing white face. There are pictures of Batman riding at the head of a horse cavalry, backed by a vanguard of white-hooded Klansmen. In a place of honor sits a photo of Batman shaking hands with President Woodrow Wilson.”
Before I started reading it (and I put that off for quite a while before I actually gathered up enough strength to pick it up: because - gah: a massive long epic about Buddha? No thanks: I’ve stick to my science-fiction superheroes thanks) I’ll admit that I was expecting something a lot more solemn and reverential - that’s for sure. Something like the opening text of the second book maybe - “What is one man’s life compared to the eternity of time and space? No more than a snowflake that glitters in the sun for a moment before melting into the flow of time.” - but (ha) - as it turns out - all that sort of fancy talk is just the airs and graces draped around the - frankly - potty-mouthed and rambunctious extremes contained within.
But - hell - you ask any serious comic book fan worth their salt and they’ll tell you that none of this movie magic / money-making would ever have happened without Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates : it’s like how everyone always talks about Christmas is really “all about Jesus” when - if you just do a quick google - wow: it turns out that there’s loads of stuff out there about Saturnalia and pagan festivals celebrating the end of the dark and stuff like that . Or - in other words: even tho Joss Whedon is the face on the label the formulae was actually first distilled to (some form of) perfection by these guys: they did it first and they did it best: with the ideal and optimal amounts of sugar, chocolate, glucose syrup and wire wool: they concocted a recipe for 21st Century superheroes comics (or movies - whatever) that - really - has yet to be bettered (am I building this up too much? Oh well…).
Yeah - well maybe not. I wouldn’t say that I hated reading Elk’s Run (like: it feel like it gave me cancer or anything ) but it didn’t exactly set my brain on fire (which is pretty much my baseline for whether or not something is worth the energy that it took to read: if I can’t smell something burning and the smoke isn’t slowly pouring out of my ears - then I consider it a wasted afternoon - or whatever). I mean: yeah - alright - it does the multiple point of view storytelling thing but not much else: I haven’t actually gone to check it out - but I would not be at all surprised if - like The Exterminators - it turns out that this was originally supposed to be a TV show or a movie; because as nicely told as the story is (“nice”?ouch) there’s not that much that’s really comic-booky about it - it kinda feels more like a storyboard for a Channel 5 movie or something (do they still have Channel 5 movies? Or is that a reference that no one’s gonna get?). And the artwork - well - I don’t wanna be too judgemental or anything: but some of it is so crude - it looks like it was drawn with the the crayons that you get at the bottom of the crayon box: less pencil-shaped and more like a rock or something.
I don’t know about you - but for me - calling someone a “company man” is a pretty big insult. I mean - I don’t think I’ve ever said it to anyone’s face: but that’s only because in my line of work I don’t get that many chances to interact with people who do stuff like sell out their mothers for a percentage point (or whatever it is). But - as an avid consumer of all forms of mass media (films, music, TV, comics etc) there’s plenty of opportunities to see people go from underground heroes to “selling out to the man.”  I mean - I’m in no way adverse to seeing people rise up and crash their way into the mainstream: but I always thought that the point was to be able to change things and dictate to the rest of the world the way things should be rather than just joining the rank and file. Or - to put it another (much more simple kinda) way: if you’re a square peg facing a round hole then - come on - the plan should be to change the shape of the hole rather than change the shape of your peg (just so we’re all on the same page: the hole being mainstream entertainment and the peg being the stuff you create - yeah? Go that? Good).
I didn’t actually write down any notes when I was reading Cradlegrave. I guess because I just wanted to read it without having to stop every other page and so that I could pretend (if only to myself, if only for a little while) that it was something that I was reading for fun (although “fun” is very much the wrong word to use to describe the experience of reading this comic). I know that if I had been writing things down tho - the word that I would have written down and unlined three times would have been sticky . At this point in time I think that maybe I need to admit to myself that I’m just much too old to be eating sweets. Still at lunchtime today (for whatever reason) I thought that it would be a good idea to buy myself a packet of wine gums which (more fool me) I managed to completely devour in the space of a hour. Now my mouth feels all sicky sweet, coated in chemicals  and just kinda - well - sticky. Do you know the feeling? Well - that’s the sensation that Cradlegrave does it’s best to replicate: only inside of putting it inside your mouth - it puts it inside your brain: and instead of it being just the side-effect of eating a whole packet of wine gums - here it’s masking something a lot more unpleasant and a lot more dangerous.
Folks always talk about Superman as representing the peak of everything that’s great about humankind (I’m too lazy to check - but I’m pretty sure that somewhere on this blog I’ve probably said something very similar myself: you know - honour, decency, the best in people, all that stuff) while Batman is always more that scary guy who hangs out in the dark leaping out at criminal and dangling them off the edges of buildings. But come on people - think: although he’s not real (which is nothing but a minor quibble) Batman is the peak of human achievement. Yeah - ok - the death of his parents is bad and the last thing anyone would ever want to happen to them - but put that aside for a second (because really all that is - is just the trigger ) and consider what Batman represents. This is a human being who has - through years of training and dedication - brought himself up to be the best of all the cool stuff that every kid dreams about: fighting, detecting, gadgeting, getting the girl , blowing things up, thinking of things and then putting “Bat” in front of them. As opposed to Superman who got all his powers by virtue of the fact that he’s an alien (boo!) Batman is the ultimate example of the benefits of hard graft and determination. If you wanted to create the ultimate human being and you had the unlimited resources to do so - then the end result (apart from the Bat-fetish maybe) - would look and act an awful lot like the Caped Crusader.
“Being thrown into the deep end.”  Most of the time people say that like it’s a bad thing. And - yeah - ok: maybe back when you’re a kid and going to the swimming pool mainly consists of running around and splashing your friends - the deep end is something that you want to stay away from. But - growing up, maturing, whatever: well - the deep end ends up being the best place in the pool: it’s the place that you can extend completely, reach new depths and etc etc etc.
So: when I started reading the orange one - it was more an obligation than out of sense of fun: which might explain why I ended up having such a great time (low expectations win again!). In fact - for the first third or so  I think this might be my favourite Dredd book of all (I mean - maybe if I ever get around to rereading it - that could change - but typing it down: it doesn’t feel like I’m lying ). I was taking a few notes when I was reading it (so I could remember all the good parts to write them down here) and at one point I wrote down “Ok Computer” because - ok here we go (let me try and explain this right): there’s this kinda sense I got of creative minds just kinda hitting this perfect flow of ideas and creativity (or whatever you wanna call it): like listening to an album (it doesn’t have to be Ok Computer - I mean: it could be anything: choose your favourite band and take it from there) of a band that’s just in peak physical form: making everything seem sorta - I dunno - effortless (yeah? Does that make sense?). Or - to go with an example from cinema - it’s like when Pixar came out with - say - Ratatouille (you don’t like Ratatouille? Well - then you’re wrong and you don’t know anything): I mean - all the films that came out before that were amazing: and watching Ratatouille (for the first time) - I kept waiting for them to - I dunno - mess up or let it slip - but instead it just keeps going and getting better and better and better. That (for me) was what it was like reading The Complete Case Files 06.
Of course what I don’t think I was quite aware of at the time when I picked up The Hobbit was that (unless I’m imagining things maybe?) is that I’ve actually read this comic a long, long time ago. Like - I’m guessing back when I was a young teenager or something. And I’m fairly certain that it was a library copy (not Islington - but maybe Brixton library or somewhere near to there maybe… ) which makes sense because (is this just me?) but as soon as I took the time to actually think about - rather than just acting on - “ohhhh gimme” instinct - this is a book that has always kinda just been hanging around on the shelves of libraries (and when I say always - well - it was first published all the way back in 1990 - so Peter Jackson had only just made Meet the Feebles - Braindead was still two years away - and if you told anyone that you thought that the Lord of the Rings would be a good idea for a trilogy of films - people would have just laughed in your face ). I mean - maybe it’s just because I read it at a young age - but then it does seem like a good library book - it’s a comic so (you know) anyone can read it, it’s based on a “classic” so it has some sort of literary pedigree but also (bonus) - it’s a fantasy classic  - so it’s got elves and magic and stuff and - ooooh! - there’s even a dragon!
First things: it’s a lovely looking comic. Esad Ribic is not a name that I was familiar with - but he sure does draw pretty. The three things that I kept thinking of looking at his art was 2000AD (I haven’t checked - but I would not be at all surprised if he put in some time at the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic): his art has the same sort of depth and (erm) paintyness (?) that kinda reminded me of the old 2000AD greats like Colin Wilson and Dermot Power. Two (related to one) would be your European comics: the best known example being Moebius - but all those kind of Heavy Metal guys - wide expanses and sound effects that have had as much care and attention paid to them as everything else around them (trust me - you’ll know it when you see it just watch for the BOOOOMs and CRASHs and stuff ). Plus - not being afraid to twist the angles around a bit (the upside down flying and seeing the landscapes all tilted and top-to-bottom being a particular fave). The third thing (and I guess this was the thing I felt the strongest) was that there were loads of panels that really reminded me of the covers of cheap looking science-fiction novels. You know the ones I mean - of giant cities spread out over half a planet with strange towers with bizarre looking noddles (no - that’s not a real word I know) and attachments and things - with giant bright yellow spaceships with lots of bulges and spikes and stuff. Yeah? Well Ribic’s stuff reminds me of that - and that is a really good thing. (Most of the time stories kinda stick to keeping things kinda pared down so that they make more sense - but what’s nice with Hickman at the controls is that you get a superhero story that amps up by a factor of lots all the outlandish science-fiction elements. It’s Stephen Baxter meets Stan Lee - and it’s loads of fun.
Because (yeah) just between you and me I’ve gotta confess that I have trouble seeing exactly what all the fuss is about… Ok - the book didn’t really offend me in any way - it wasn’t nauseating and didn’t make me want to poke out my eyes with hot knitting needles or anything like that… I picked it up: read it all in about (what?) 10 minutes and then that was it. But also - it was very far from being anything special. Most of the time I expect the stuff I read (or watch or listen to) to leave some sort of trace: if it helps then think of it as like eating a meal - the type of stuff I like is something that’s substantial - something with a lot of meat on it  with bits that get stuck in my teeth that’s hard to digest all in one go - so you need to come back to it a few times - and something that makes you feel full afterwards: satisfied and content (I may have said something like this before in a different post - but what the hey). Extending the metaphor - The Living and The Dead is a bit like being served up an air-burger: ok - it’s inoffensive and there’s nothing to actively dislike - but all the same: it’s not really what I’m looking for come mealtime.
That kinda Multiculturalism / Diversity / Big City Life stuff is still going on - but it’s nowhere near the frantic hustling and bustling of the later books: rather everyone is a bit more cautious and a lot more timid when it comes to - well - everything. It’s a brave new world although everyone is kinda of unsure about their place within it - which I guess is kinda the point of the Forty-Niners. I mean - I don’t want to get too English Literature student on you and start pointing out what the story is really about : but practically every character in this book is struggling (in one way or another) with who they’re supposed to be and who they really are: between their public image and (well: as cheesy as it might sound) their secret identity: and trying to decide if they want to fit the shapes the world has cut out for them. What’s interesting about this is that in the original Top 10 books no one really has this type of problem: if you’re a devil worshipper like John “King Peacock” Corbeau or just an all around bad-ass like Jackie “Jack Phantom” Kowalski there’s not that much subterfuge  or people trying to hide who they really are or stuff like that….
I mean - before I say what I’m going to say: don’t get me wrong. This is a marvelous little book: from it’s bright yellow cover to the understated Eddie Campbell artwork (which is a lot more together than the scratchy and jaded black and white version you may be used to from From Hell) and the dour authorial voice that watches over everything in the third person (“The Playwright did this” “The Playwright did that”): it’s well written, everything hangs together in a nice way - you know: it’s a serious little comic book that knows exactly what it’s doing and accomplishes everything it sets out to do. With the overall effect rather like drinking a particularly fine cup of tea in splendid little village restaurant - where the coasters are little white knitted things and the cake is deliciously crumbly. It’s a good book. And if you like your comics unfussy and with a stiff upper lip then you’re gonna enjoy reading it.
So - is it just me? - but the whole notion of there being an Illuminati (basically: a secret organisation that controls everything everywhere) is pretty cool. I mean speaking as a confirmed fan of Lost: everyone likes a good secret - right ? And yeah (etc) the notion of control and meaning in a random and meaningless world is a comforting thought - however scary you might imagine the people with their hands on the levers to be.
Me - well - I guess my first love would be music (closely followed by films: and then somewhere underneath them (coming in at a pretty respectable third place) comes - comics ) so it makes sense that that’s where I notice it the most: I mean - maybe not so much now that I’m no longer full of the piss and vinegar of my youth (nowadays there’s not quite so much of the latter): but I can recall several times putting on a CD  and just getting a strange sense of almost (I dunno) vertigo from realising that music could exist in this strange new form that you’d never quite realised before. (You want an example don’t you?) well - ok then: the first time that I ever listened to Plastikman . I mean - sure: for what it is - it’s nothing that special: it’s just (very) minimal techno - it’s very spacious but at the same time: it just feels really deep and expansive (like if most other music is all splashing around in puddles and jumping in pools - Plastikman feels more like staring into the middle of the ocean or something . But (damnit) the point isn’t Plastikman - the point is coming across something (ok - fine - you might as well call it a piece of art ) that makes you realise that you don’t just have to use the same tools in the same way as everyone else has before: and instead of just smashing things you can use the same elements (sound, moving images, pictures on a page or whatever) and - well - express an idea or a thought or an emotion in a way that no one else has ever thought of trying to express before and instead of making whatever medium it is feel worn out and odd and used up: it kinda opens it up - so that instead (all you can see) are the - possibilities. To take another example that more people will be familar with (sorry Plastikman) it’s like the first time Nirvana showed up and people realised: wow - guitars turned up really loud playing simple melodies actually sounds - really bloody fantastic. Right? You get what I mean? It’s not just that the thing is good: but that it’s different in such a way to what you’re used to that it makes you kinda dizzy - like if someone grabbed a chair and cup that had both being lying around your house and then squeezed them together to make something new: and all you can do is gawp and think: “it seemed so obvious - why didn’t I notice it before?”
I mean: if you were going to name one of the main features of Morrison’s run it would be all the hundreds of references he makes to all the other Batman books out there . At first - it’s kinda fun seeing how many you can spot (and I was no expert by any means - but I think that I may have spotted a few here and there ) but as the story goes in - it kinda becomes more problematic (at least for this reader - who’s somewhere in the no man’s land between the type of person that has the time, patience and inclination to read everything that everyone’s has written about it so far - and the complete novice that just picks up the book because they thought that the cover looked kinda pretty (and they liked that Batman film that one time) - I mean - I have a rough idea of how it all fits together but I know that I’m probably missing some of the smaller print or whatever…). See - obviously - we all know (well - we allshould know) that Grant Morrison isn’t one for making your reading experience simple. In fact - if there’s a way for him to twist your expectations in some unique and crazy way - well: he’s probably going to take it: the least of which is that he’s not much for putting his stories in chronological order - so when you’re reading a book he’s written (and especially this whole Batsaga (of which The Black Glove is only thesecond book)) you know that you’re not getting all the necessary narrative information up front: and - ok - I’m cool with that and it’s fine if you want to leave some important stuff until we get further in - well - I’m an adult and I can deal with that - that’s cool.
So - wait? Where was I? Oh yeah: going into Peanuts I was prepared for maybe a few laughs (I mean - that’s always the hope - right?) but I was really expecting anything with too much bite - I mean: the lesson we’ve all been made to learn nowdays is that if you want to be wildly popular, appeal to millions and get translated into a bagillion languages is that you can’t rock the boat too much - right? You have to play nice and dumb it down and make yourself as presentable as possible. Sure: without Peanuts we wouldn’t have any Calvin and Hobbes (note to self: order some Calvin and Hobbes for Islington), any xkcd, any Perry Bible Fellowship. But compared to all the cool kids: Peanuts is the kindly grandfather sitting in the rocking chair: a nice smile and all - but (at the end of the day) pretty toothless.
Of course I didn’t quite realise that when I first held this book in my hands. Instead I was all like: “Ooooh. Mazeworld! Yeah. I remember you. This is gonna be good. Fantasy and stuff yeah! (And obviously most importantly of all) Arthur Ranson on art! Hell yeah.” etc. (And hey with a subtitle like: “A Nightmarish Fantasy.” I mean - I defy any comics geek to read that and not feel their blood pump a little faster: because most of the time fantasy is way too nice and cosy and happy and not nearly enough like something that makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night: but anyway…).