Tag Archives: comics

Saga 7

Fiona Staples (artist) and Brian K Vaughan (writer), Saga volume seven (Image Comics 2017)

saga7.jpegThe adventures of Hazel, now at least five years old, and her two-species family continue.

This time she has a little brother on the way. At least, one of the cute meerkat-like creatures who temporarily join the family when they land to refuel on war-torn comet Phang is sure it will be a brother. A page-high image of an erect penis on page 3 is adequate warning that this volume is not suitable for children or for reading at work. (The Explicit Material in the first volume passed me by; this lot is unmissable.) And there’s not just (mostly joyful or comic) sex, but also (mostly swashbuckling or spectacular) violence. War continues between the horns and the wings, with vast collateral damage. Both sides, and a growing number of individuals, are still out to kill Hazel and her family. Our little crew is on a mission to rescue the Robot prince’s son. Hazel’s father, Marko, struggles to maintain his principled pacifism in the face of necessity and his remembered joy in violence.

A delightful new development is the television-headed Robot entertaining the young ones with cartoons on his screen ‘face’, and then their sneaking into his room to watch his dreams play across the screen:

Kurti: This is a creepy one.
Hazel: His dreams are always creepy, Kurti.
Kurti: I suppose. Least they’re not as boring as reading sacred scrolls with my cousins.

And in the following frames, as Kurti and Hazel lose interest and discuss the pressing matter of who will look after the baby when it arrives, we see the rest of the Prince’s nightmare play out on his screen in the background.

The juxtaposition of Hazel’s text narrative, which sometimes could almost be from a Wonder Years script, with the action taking place in the images makes brilliant use of the comics medium. For example, an image of Hazel’s mother kneeling between the prone, possibly dead bodies of Marko and the Robot prince is accompanied by the hand lettered text: ‘By the time they’re out of preschool, most children have seen thousands of acts of violence.’ Turn the page, and Hazel is playing hide and seek with her new friend Kurti, while the hand-lettered narrative continues, ‘Granted, for the average kid, these acts are mostly fictional … and unlike the real deal, fictional violence is cool as shit.’ And the last frame of the opposite page shows Kurti looking with terror into the faces (sic) of an assassin.

Most of this volume is spent in one place. At the end, we are on the move again, but the situation is, literally and graphically, very dark.

Bill Willingham’s Fables 14–22

Bill Willingham (writer), many artists, mainly Mark Buckingham, Lee Loughridge (inking) and Todd Klein (letterer), Fables:
– 14: Witches (Vertigo 2010)
– 15: Rose Red (Vertigo 2011)
– 16: Super Team  (Vertigo 2011)
– 17: Inherit the Wind (Vertigo 2012)
– 18: Cubs in Toyland (Vertigo 2013)
– 19: Snow White (Vertigo 2013)
– 20: Camelot (Vertigo 2014)
– 21: (two short chapters written by Matthew Sturges) Happily Ever After (Vertigo 2015)
– 22: Farewell (Vertigo 2015)

Tl;dr: I binged on the last nine volumes of Bill Willingham’s witty, edgy, intelligent, original stories entwined with twisted versions of fairytales. Mark Buckingham and a host of other artists serve the story brilliantly. While catering to the bloodlust and other lusts of ‘grown-up’ comics readers, this huge work does what the best fantasy does, makes us think about what it means to be human – with a particular emphasis on power struggles. But really the story is the thing.

Fables is a long-form story whose telling spanned 13 years, 150 individual magazine comics, and 22 compilation volumes. I’ve written about earlier volumes here, herehere, here, here and here, and have just finished a most satisfying binge-read of the last nine volumes in less than two weeks. What follows here is a spotty recap.

fables14 In Volume 14, Witches, the narrative picks up with new coherence and energy after a bit of stumbling and crossing over with spinoffs after the halfway mark, when the great battle that had been stewing from the start had been fought and won, and a new, more dangerous enemy unleashed (shades of ISIS rising from the ashes of Saddam Hussein).

Bufkin, the ape librarian who is a close cousin of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld librarian, begins his transformation into a revolutionary hero whose feats appear as a B plot until his apotheosis as a Hanuman-like figure in Volume 20. Here, he is still bookish, as his friend the magic mirror testifies to Baba Yaga, Bufkin’s antagonist in this volume:

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP imageTotenkinder, the powerful ancient witch, becomes even more fearsome, and transforms into a gorgeous young witch (clearly about to become a heroine, as heroines in comics must be young and gorgeous). Ozma, little-girl in appearance, vast in ambition and witchy power but fortunately on the side of good, moves toward centre stage. And Geppetto, the conquered Adversary, begins his long attempt to regain power, in this book with two naked wood spirits as his protectors. As always, the family life of the Fables continues: Beauty announces to Beast that she is pregnant, which is alarming given the gift that Totenkinder has given them (see image on the right).

Fables15With Volume 15, Rose Red, we’re deeply immersed in complex power politics.

Mister Dark continues to consolidate his power, and wreak havoc in New York City, but the Fables are engaged in a web of struggles for dominance. Much of the volume is taken up with Rose Red’s back story, a delightfully, darkly twisted version of a number of Grimm tales (Snow White’s time with the seven dwarfs is spent in a ‘comfort cottage’, and if that phrase reminds you of Japanese army’s treatment of Korean women in the Second World War, you’re barking up the right tree). Things come to a head with a great, shapeshifting duel between Mister Dark and Totenkinder.

fables 16.jpgVolume 16, Super Team, makes the necessarily but potentially dreary preparation for further armed conflict not only tolerable but even enjoyable, as the comics-educated Pinocchio persuades the Fables that they need to dress as superheroes to prevail against the mounting forces of darkness. The battle when it comes is much more personal that the build-up suggests, but this is the book where Mister Dark is disposed of, thanks to fairytale cleverness rather than big explosive violence (though there is some of that amidst the shape-shifting).

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Volume 17, Inherit the Wind has many plot balls up in the air, or should I say plates spinning – the dexterity of the telling is brilliant to behold. Mrs Pratt has had a change of name, lost a lot of weight and turned to the Dark (capital intended) side. Ozma utters an oracle about the seven ‘cubs’ of Bigby and Snow, providing a slightly clunky spine for their unfolding narrative (one is to die, one become a king, etc). Rose Red has a Scrooge-like dream on Christmas Eve.

fables 18The main story of Volume 18, Cubs in Toyland, is a digression in which the Fisher King legend is mashed up with the notion of a place where lost toys go.

About here the game of Spot the Author comes on the scene – that is, Bill Willingham come close to disclosing that his alter ego in the Fable universe is the plump and earnest Ambrose, son of Snow White and Bigby. Ambrose narrates much of this book, and, we discover, is to end up partnered with one of the most formidable (and gorgeous) of the fairies.

fables 19.jpegAlmost half of Volume 19, Snow White, is taken up with the revolutionary adventures of Bufkin and his diminutive unrequited lover Lily. Bufkin&Lily.jpgThe art, by Shawn McManus, is brilliantly comic.

In the main story, Snow White’s history comes back to haunt her, and tragedy ensues, not without a lot of big, noisy drama. In this story, not even the most loved characters are safe, and there’s a devastating death, not the first.

fables 20.jpegIn Volume 20, Camelot, things comes to a head, ready for the climactic showdown in the last two books. Rose Red assembles a cohort of knights of a new, very large Round Table. Bigby Wolf meets Boy Blue in an afterlife, and is brought back into this world, but whether a force for good or evil who can say. The former Mrs Sprat is planning major bad stuff. Geppetto has found a way to build a new wooden army of his own – and the last time he had a wooden army he conquered many worlds.

fables 21.jpegThe title of Volume 21, Happily Ever After, is at least partly ironic. But each chapter of the main narrative is followed by a short ‘Last Tale of’ – so we see how at least ten characters end up, or at least what further good or evil they are up to when the series ends (Prince Charming is fighting the good fight on a world that is being taken over by Sinbad, Sleeping Beauty is turning into a zombie somewhere in space, Beauty is happily on the road with a new Beast, the Three Blind Mice logic their way to a happy ending …)

Meanwhile, on the main screen, the great final battle is shaping up to be be between Rose Red and Snow White. The rest of their back story is now told, and in a wonderful use of fairytale logic their sisterly rivalry is revealed as part of a family curse. Both discover they have vast magical powers, and both begin to wear armour. The character who has inherited the title of North Wind (I’m avoiding spoilers) is gathering great forces of nature. There are two male threats to be dealt with: Bigby Wolf, back from the dead, and Snow White’s apparently immortal first husband. There’s a very funny version of Sir Gawain’s decapitation of the Green Knight. By the end it looks as if everyone we cared about in the series is either dead, exited or about to kill the others.

fables 22.jpegAnd then, ‘Farewell’: where other volumes are compilations of up to 11 individual magazine, this one is from a single bumper issue, Nº 150, featuring what the text calls ‘the battle which ended Fabletown for all time’. (If like me you were just a little bored by the big battles at the halfway mark, be of good cheer, this battle has much more character – Willingham isn’t an idiot.)

For evidence that Bill Willingham is a brilliant story teller, you wouldn’t have to go past the way the Bigby-Wolf-out-to-kill-his-children story is resolved, in three and a half spectacular spreads. The dispatching of Snow White’s first husband is masterly in a different way – we’ve understood how it will come about for a hundred pages, but the execution is just beautiful.

Once the final confrontation has played out, there are more ‘Last’ stories. Some are on the raunchy end of the spectrum, as in the solution to the Snow Queen’s love life. Some are blissfully domestic, as in (The Lady of the) Lake’s. There’s politics (Pinocchio becomes a President of the US who will never lie – imagine that!), religion (the Boy Blue cult leader moves on to mammalian jihad), and philosophy (Death’s single page story is not a story). And then there’s a four-page fold-out happy-ever-after picture of Bigby and Snow with 20 generations of descendants.

A word about guest artists and stand-alone stories: in the last two volumes these are the ‘Last’ stories, but every volume has some of them. My favourites are:

Volume 15: ‘A Thing with Those Mice’, in which three blind mice could almost be characters invented by Lewis Carroll, art by Brazilian João Ruas.

Volume 18: ‘The Destiny Game’, in which Ambrose tells the unexpected story of how the Big Bad Wolf came to marry Snow White, with breathtaking guest art by Gene Ha. This incidentally sets up one of the main themes of the remaining volumes, that if someone enters a version of an old story, there is a powerful force at work to make things go the way they did in the original.

Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges’ Great Fables Crossover

Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges (writers),
Mark Buckingham, Tony Akins, Ross Braun, Andrew Pepoy, José Marzán, Jr and Dan Green (artists),
Lee Loughridge and Daniel Vozzo (colorists)
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Vertigo 2010)

fables13.jpgThe crossover of this title refers, not to any plot developments in the continuing tale of the Fables (see my earlier posts on Books 1, 3–4, 5, 6–10, and 11–12), but to the fact that its contents were first published in three separate comics franchises – Nos 83–85 of Fables, Nos 33–35 of the spin-off Jack of Fables, and the first and so far only 3 issues of The Literals.

There’s a fairly bumpy start for those of us who haven’t seen Jack since he long ago stormed out to start his own franchise. It seems that he has been heading an army, toying with the affections of a formidable trio of sisters (no, not the Fates but the Page sisters, glamorous librarians with special powers), and generally amassing an entourage of odd non-human and possibly immortal characters. Perhaps readers of Jack of Fables will feel at home; latecomers like me can work it out as we go.

The Mister Dark story arc is put on ice for a story involving the Literals – personifications of aspects of the story-producing process. The most powerful Literal is Pathetic Fallacy, but he rarely uses his power because, well, he’s pathetic. There’s the Reviser, the enemy of imagination. There are the Genres. There’s Writer’s Block, a drooling idiot in a straitjacket. And so on.

Much meta fun is to be had, and this crossover sequence may have been intended to introduce a separate Literals franchise. But it turns out to be a bit of a squib. Rather than character development there’s silliness (the Writer turns Bigby Wolf into a cute little girl) and violence (the cute little girl has a couple of pages of graphic mayhem – and I remind you that the technical meaning of mayhem is the ripping off of parts of an opponent’s body). Though the Genres argue among themselves about how to fight the Fables, it’s the more violent ones – Blockbuster, War, Western and Science Fiction – rather than romance or Comedy, who dominate the action. The comic ends up being a grim reminder of just how militarised the US and its imagination have become.

Of course there are good things: the weird Boy Blue cult that developed in Volume 11 takes an interesting turn; a strange little blue bull, possibly familiar from the Jack of Fables franchise, does a deft parody of a Snoopy Peanuts strip; Jack Frost, son of Jack and the Snow Queen, has a lovely coming-of-age story; the meta elements are interesting – to what extent, for example, do characters take on a life of their own so that their creator can’t change them?

I guess it’s good to know that Jack of Fables exists, but I haven’t been seized with an irresistible urge to read it. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Mister Dark story in Volume 14.

Bill Willingham’s Fables 11 & 12

Bill Willingham (writer),
Mark Buckingham, Niko Henrichon, Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy (artists),
Lee Loughridge (colorist)
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 11: War and Pieces (Vertigo 2008)

Bill Willingham (writer),
Mark Buckingham, Michael Allred, Andrew Pepoy, David Hahn and Peter Gross (artists),
Lee Loughridge and Laura Allred (colorists),
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 12: The Dark Ages  (Vertigo 2009)

fables 11.jpgI’ve blogged about earlier volumes of Fables here, herehere and here. Volume 11 was originally published in single magazine form (that is, as monthly comics) as Fables 70–75. The epic battle that has been brewing between the forces of good and evil – the exiled Fables versus the Adversary’s hordes – in earlier volumes explodes into action here.

The teaser line at the end of the first section says, ‘Next: More gratuitous mayhem.’ And it’s not kidding. There’s a lot of gore, lots of explosions, plenty of dismemberment. Not my cup of tea, especially on Anzac Day, when the Australian government and media cloak the hideous waste of young men’s lives at Gallipoli in borrowed rhetoric about freedom.

I’m glad I read it all the same. It’s intricately plotted with a gratifying twist or two at the end. Bill Willingham is consistently witty – I love his dedication, to ‘the wonderfully restless shade of Edgar Rice Burroughs’. The longer story arcs move along significantly. And it’s a light read, perfect at bedtime and for a walk with the dog when the other book I’m reading at the moment requires solid concentration.

Mercifully, the war comes to an end with this volume, and we can move on.

fables12.JPGVolume 12 (comprising magazines 76–82), The Dark Ages, introduces a new slew of artists. In contrast to the ominous title and the James Jean’s dark pietà on the cover, an optimistic note is struck in the new, bright, clean look of the first chapter’s art, by Michael Allred with color by Laura Allred. It looks as if the main problem now will be how to integrate the recalcitrant but now virtually powerless old Adversary into the community.

But no! As with real wars, the war with the Homelands casts a long shadow. In chapter two Lee Loughridge’s moody color work is back and the Fable community has to deal with terrible grief, first with the loss of one much-loved hero, and then with the slow, agonised death of another.

Worse, as with real wars, new dangers, even more deadly, rise from the ashes of the old. The end of World War One gave rise to Hitler. George W Bush’s declared victory in Iraq unleashed civil war and the horrors of ISIS. Here, the looting of the conquered and devastated Homelands sets loose a dread figure known only as Mister Dark, and all of Fable land is in deep trouble again.

By the end of Volume 12, the whole political geography of this world has changed. The Fables have fled their refuge in Manhattan, and there are hints that Mister Dark is corrupting their relationships from afar, and sowing the seeds of a weird cult (or maybe the weird cult is a separate postwar ailment). Perhaps the ending of the war wasn’t so merciful after all.

There are ten books to go, and I’ve just borrowed the lot from a fellow enthusiast.

Brian K Vaughan’s Paper Girls Books 1 and 2

Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Image 2016)

Yet another comic series from the brilliant and prolific Brian K Vaughan, co-creator of Y: The Last Man and Saga. This time, working with an all-male team (Cliff Chiang on pencils, Matt Wilson colorist and Jared K Fletcher as distinctive letterer), he gives us lead characters who are all female: twelve-year-old girls who deliver newspapers in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.

No sooner are the four bike-riding heroines introduced, doing their rounds early on the morning after Halloween in 1988, than weird, deadly dangerous things start to happen. It’s like a female Goonies or Stranger Things, only even more incident-packed and – at least at first – explanation-light. The word that came to mind as the first volume’s action progresses, complete with weird time-machines (note the plural) and pterodactyl-riding robots (I think), is ‘bonkers’, but in a good way. The second volume’s carnivorous grubs the size of four-story buildings don’t do much to restore equilibrium.

1632158957By the end of the second volume, most of the weirdness has at least a broadbrush explanation, but I have no idea what will happen next, or why these four girls are so important to the participants in the massive multi-generational multi-time-period battle that rages around them.

Any confusion doesn’t come from muddle in the artwork, which is wonderfully clear,  or for that matter in the story-telling. The teasing is deliberate. The girls are caught up in a hugely complex conflict. We are ahead of them in a couple of details – we recognise the Apple logo on an artefact dropped by an ‘alien’, for instance, and likewise a ‘Hillary for President’ poster seen on their visit to 2016 – but mostly we’re plunged into the action with hardly any more perspective than they have. For them of course it’s life and death. For us it’s fun.

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour, Southern Bastards: Volume 1: Here Was a Man (2014) and Volume 2: Gridiron (2015)

1632150166_b.jpg163215269X.jpgThe first two volumes of this Eisner winning series are a gift from a son who has been an excellent gift-giver since he was very young.

Without detract from the excellence of the gift, or indeed of the series, I have to say they’re not my cup of tea. They tell interlocking hyper-macho stories of sons dealing with violent legacies from their  fathers in a small southern US town, one a hyper-violent sheriff, the other a no less violent fringe-dwelling criminal.

The art is powerful, but generally murky – and though there is one poorly registered image the murkiness isn’t something that can be laid at the printer’s door. In the frequent passages of violence, everything turns red, as in the covers above, a deeply unpleasant effect, and the drawing style, appropriate though it is to the subject, is crude and, well, repellent.

The first volume (issues 1–8 of the original comic) has a story line very like the movie The Judge: a son returns to Southern home after long absence and is reconciled with his father  – though in this case the father is long dead, and the reconciliation takes the form of the son becoming a spectacularly violent vigilante. The second is like the vicious underbelly of Saturday Night Lights: the murderous college football coach is held in very high esteem so long as the team keeps winning.

In forewords to the first volume, the creators (Jason Aaron writer and Jason Latour artist, I think) acknowledge their Southern roots, and their love–hate–fear relationships with the South. The hate and fear are a lot more apparent than the love. The foreword to the second volume is written by a US football player and is largely incomprehensible to me.

The final images of the second volume hold out hopes that things will be different in Volume 3. A young African-American woman soldier is returning home from Afghanistan. Does this prefigure a departure from the ugly-masculine mode of the first two volumes? Or will the violence continue, now with added boobs? I don’t plan on finding out.

Vaughan & Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Books 3–5 and my November Verse 13

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man Book 3 (2004, 2005, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 4 (2005, 2006, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 5 (2006–2008, this edition 2011)

Previously in Y: Yorick, a 23 year old New Yorker escape artist, and Ampersand, a trainee-companion monkey, are the only two male mammals on earth to have survived a mysterious plague. They have teamed up with the woman known only as 355, who is a member of the Culper Ring, a mysterious organisation, and Dr Alison Mann, who has ben experimenting with clone technology and so has a good chance of ensuring a future for humankind. Dr Mann’s New York lab is blown up by Israeli operatives, and the three of them travel across the US to her West Coast lab where her back-up data is safe, encountering an assortment of female post-apocalyptic enemies and allies: the Israelis, a Russian operative, survivalists, escaped convicts making a new life, an astronaut, paranoid cowgirls. Yorick’s sister, Hero, has meanwhile joined a group of neo-Amazons who are fanatically and violently determined to erase all vestiges of the patriarchy. And Yorick has a personal mission, to meet up with his girlfriend Beth, who was in Australian when the plague hit and has since been out of contact.

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The adventure continues in Book 3 with plenty of violence, and a modicum of sex. It turns out that the Australian navy had women active in submarines where the US did not. As a result a fully armed and dangerous Collins Class sub intercepts the ship taking our little band across the Pacific. Australia also comes to the fore as we get some of Beth’s story. There’s some deeply worrisome representations of Warlpiri culture (though you have to give Brian Vaughan credit for actually naming a people rather than giving us generic mystical ‘Aborigines’ like the ones in Werner Herzog’s Green Ant Dreaming).

Goran Sudžuka joins Pia Guerra in the pencilling, and to my untrained eye the seams are invisible.

y4

In Book 4, Yorick, Dr Mann and agent 335 reach Australia, which isn’t a happy place, though there’s plenty of amusing US attempts at Australian slang, and some cheerful sex and one bit of comic full frontal male nudity (poor Yorick is drawn looking all heroic on the covers, but doesn’t fare so well in the actual stories).

We also get the back stories of a number of characters, and lectures on the status of women that in any other context might be tediously didactic, but here have a certain charm. For example, there’s a key plot point when two capuchin monkeys escape from their cages in an airport. This is how we see it:

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And the reader responds by secretly cheering for the ‘gendercide’ that is to come. Similar moments, such as a short debate about whether the mistreatment of women in the Catholic Church was perpetrated solely by men, or whether women might have been pretty bad as well, turn out to be important to the plot.

y5

Then in Book 5 it all comes together – or apart, depending on your point of view. Yorick finds Beth and their reunion turns out pretty much as the discerning reader might have expected. There’s another romance that also turns out pretty much as expected, though in a way that surprised and, yes, shocked me. In fact, the working out of all the plot strands is almost at the level of Shakespearean comedy. Of the many hypotheses that have been floated about the cause of the catastrophe, the one that is finally given may not be realistic but it fits the world of the story better than any other: at least grounds have been laid for it.

It all ends happily for the human race, though almost literally up in the air for Yorick himself.

One more note: It seems to me that a successful comic series has to have a certain amount of sex and violence. Y does that. It also manages to be witty, literate and occasionally instructive. Yorick and his sister Hero were named after Shakespearean characters by their nerdy parents. When it seems one woman is going to have to spend time in hospital, Yorick draws up a reading list for her – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is at the top of the list. It’s similarly refreshing that one of the characters becomes President in the final pages but not, it turns out, of the USA: in this US comic, other countries exist.

And let me burst into verse, for the second last time this November. Extra points for readers who spot the Bill Haley reference.

November Verse 13: On Reading Y: The Last Man
Alas poor Yorick, last man standing!
Two male mammals left alive
on earth, just him and Ampersand, an
ape, his kind-of pet. These five
thick comic books by Vaughan and Guerra,
amuse and tease, prompt pity, terror.
A single man left on the ground,
three billion women all around.
But here’s no superhero fiction,
no Bacchanal or things more blue,
no Warhol shooter’s dream come true,
no earnest SF clone prediction,
just good fun: the men are dead,
that’s sad, but what a watershed!

Saga 6 & November Verse 6

Fiona Staples (artist) and Brian K Vaughan (writer), Saga Volume Six (Image Comics 2016)

163215711X.jpgThe continuing adventures of bi-speci-al Hazel and her family.

Hazel is now in kindergarten in prison, with her wings bound so she can pass as a purebred member of her father’s horned species. Her parents are reunited and searching for her. Her grandmother is taking to prison life with gusto, getting tattooed and making friends. The cute but lethal Ghüs and Friendo are protecting the exiled former Prince and his little son. The Will is hallucinating and out to avenge his arachnid lover’s death.

There are a pair of web-footed closet gay journalists, Petrichor the glamorous horned trans woman prisoner, and innumerable extras.

Vaughan and Staples spin a great yarn, and the series benefits from being the work of a single artist. We don’t have to constantly adjust to different renditions of the characters, and can enjoy small felicities such as the sense that furry little Ghüs has wandered in out of a different comic.

The sex and violence continues to put the series in the Adults-Only category, though the nudity and sex scenes are a lot less grotesque and more joyful  than in previous instalments. It’s painful to think it’s likely to be a year before Volume 7 arrives.

And because it’s November here’s a little verse (with a link to information on Fredrick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, which made alarming assertions about the dangers of comics in 1954):

November Verse 6: On a frame from Chapter 32 of Staples and Vaughan’s Saga
Ghost Who Walks, friend of Bandar,
pirates’ foe, Diana’s love,
some say racist propaganda:
back then I treasured you above
all other comics. I was seven
when a nun intent on heaven
and panicked by Fred Wertham’s book,
took my Phantom ‘for a look’.
She gave it back a full week later
embarrassed that she couldn’t tell
how it might pave my way to hell.
Her ghost today might well berate her
younger self. She would not bless
this bare post-coital tenderness.

Vaughan & Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Book 2

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man, Book 2 (2003, 2004, this Deluxe Edition 2009)

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In Book 1, all mammals with a Y chromosome except two died in a mysterious plague. We were introduced to the two survivors, Yorick Brown and his companion monkey Ampersand; their nemesis, Yorick’s younger sister Hero; their protector, a secret organisation operative named 355; and Dr  Mann (get it?) who seems to be the world’s best chance of understanding the plague and securing a future for humanity.

At the end of Book 1, our main characters had set off from New York to San Francisco, to Dr Mann’s backed up research, her main lab having been torched by Israeli soldiers. And on its last page we had glimpsed a trio of astronauts, two male and one female, who are about to return to earth.

Book 2 is the equivalent of a road movie. As in all good road movies, we learn a lot more about our three main characters: 355’s organisation comes slightly more clearly into view; Dr Mann may not be the great scientist she’s cracked up to be; and young Yorick reveals depths and vulnerabilities, that is to say he becomes more interesting. The astronauts land, with predictable and unpredictable results. The Israeli soldiers become a serious problem. There’s a paranoid states-rights militia, a group of travelling players, a shadowy ninja-like character who seems to be working for the government, pistol-toting cowgirls, a kick-ass Russian agent, a tragic dominatrix (or is she?), and a host of interesting single-page characters.  There’s plenty of violence and PG sex, though (possible spoiler) Yorick manages to remain faithful to his girlfriend who is still in Australia.

The story zings along. Yorick’s major in English Literature allows literary references to be pulled off: a bizarre form of therapy, we are told, was developed in a secret meeting between Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Sade (Brian K Vaughan’s invention, I think); Mary Shelley wrote a novel called The Last Man set in the 21st century (true); there’s explicit homage to Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. Pia Guerra does most of the pencilling but is joined in this issue by Goran Parlov for three  of the original 13 issues and Paul Chadwick for two – for a non-expert reader like me the transitions are seamless.

I read this on an evening when I had intended to go to the movies. Nothing I wanted to see was on at a convenient time, so I hopped on a bus, got to Kinokuniya just as it was closing, and read this pretty much in the time a movie would have taken and with at least as much enjoyment.

Just as I was about to hit Publish I read on the jacket-flap what purports to be a summary of Y‘s set-up but is in fact a statement of just how male-dominated the world is at the start of the 21st century. As a result of the mysterious plague, ‘495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead, as are 99% of the world’s landowners … Worldwide, 85% of all government representatives are now dead … as are 100% of Catholic priests, Muslim imams, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis’. The book is fun, but it’s having its fun in a seriously fraught place.

Vaughan & Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Book 1

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man Book 1 (2002, 2003, this Deluxe Edition 2008)

1401219217.jpgMy younger son and I are enjoying Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera romance comic, Saga, as it appears book by book. So Y: The Last Man, written by Vaughan in an earlier collaboration with artist Pia Guerra, was an excellent gift from him to me on a recent birthday.

All the men on earth, indeed all mammals with a Y chromosome, die suddenly, cause unknown. In the grief-stricken chaos that ensues, the highways of the USA are choked with crashed vehicles and the great majority of society’s institutions screech to a halt. Suddenly it’s a post-apocalyptic landscape. But wait, there is an unexplained exception to the equally unexplained die-off: Yorick, a 22 year old amateur escape artist and his pet monkey are still alive. Yorick has two goals: to get to Australia to rejoin the woman he hopes is his fiancee (the proposal phone call was inconclusive); and to do what his mother wants and help restore humanity – no, not by going on a reproductive marathon, but by finding a woman known to be an expert in cloning and working with her.

It’s slightly silly, but mostly played with a straight face as Yorick confronts gun-toting widows of Republican congressmen who believe they are entitled to their dead husbands’ seats, a fanatical Amazonian sect who are determined to finish what Mother Earth has started and exterminate Yorick, the escaped inmates of a women’s prison who have established a self-sufficient village, and sundry other outlaws, scroungers, allies and protectors.

This book is the first of five – I expect to be reporting on the remaining four in the fulness of time.