The Last American

This book was all about expectations. I had been waiting to read it since 1991 when I was exposed to a single panel in an advert for Marvel UK’s short lived Meltdown comic on the back cover of Transformers. The UK newstand was brimming with anthologies at the time (see Deadline, Revolver, Crisis etc) and Marvel UK decided to put out a book containing mature themed reprints from their US cousin Epic’s line. Sadly I never saw the actual comic (though today eBay provides) and always wondered what the story was about!

Straight from the 90s, it's Meltdown

The others also had expectations: Dan was keen to revisit having read the Epic issues in his youth, and Jake & Kelvin had opposite thoughts: one hoping to see echoes of Marshall Law and the other fearing the brutal fascism of Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill’s book would be present here too.

The four issue story has been reissued by 2000 AD’s publisher Rebellion. Creators John Wagner, Alan Grant and Mick McMahon all hail from the Prog and it seemed like the perfect place for the creator-owned series to now be available, ironic since it originally landed at Epic in the 80s following fallouts with 2000 AD’s then-publisher Fleetway over creator rights.

TLA’s authors were not swept up in the original creator poaching by DC Comics editors, perhaps due to their work having less of the literary affectations that attracted Berger and co to Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman, but they had a US in at Epic thanks to a connection with editor Margaret Clark. Clark was even due to help Wagner and co publish their own anthology Toxic!, but this didn’t happen and that title floundered without an editor, lasting less than a year.

TLA is certainly feels a book of its time, with its Nucleomituphobia and an appearance by Ronald Reagan. That is, it was a book of the eighties. Sadly the book did not come out until 1990 due to McMahon’s ill health; it took him up to six years to complete the four issues. But regardless his work is stunning. Created with fineliners and marker pens, the red skies, green tech and purple scenery create an oppressive view for this post-apocalyptic future.

Mick does Epic well

The consistancy of the work appeals to me immensely; I had been a fan of McMahon’s since his early Judge Dredd days but it required me to grow up to appreciate his evolving style. Dan also loved the art, he sees no mimicry in McMahon’s style and respects how it has grown over the years. Sadly he could not say the same for the story, and he felt the same letdown now he had done originally. For him it was not satisfying.

Songs in comics are not popular with the group

Kelvin’s main problem with the book was the musical number in issue 2. He cannot stand lyrics in sequential storytelling and feels it is totally the wrong medium. Jake wasn’t so bothered by that section: he was happy reading through the lyrics, though he couldn’t place the song and thought it a touch self indulgent.

Jake enjoyed the robot sidekicks, they were fun although not as fun as they could be. He didn’t think the writers had quite pulled it off. Dan pointed out the film Silent Running as a place where this had been more successful, I thought of the skutters in Red Dwarf and Kelvin pointed to the film Black Hole’s robot companions.

Charlie bonds with Captain Pilgrim

In the end, we were let down by the book. The ending drifted for Jake; they were trying to be bold but the end of the world would always be bleak. Dan was not satisfyed by the re-read and I personally had too much expectation built up. Kelvin ironically thought that the ending had been lifted by the writers, and thought it could have been even more down. He was left with the unanswered questions on his mind - what happens next?

So, As an example of stunning McMahon art this is to be pored over at length, however it is not career best work from the Wagner and Grant writing team, most likely a reflection of the fact it was their last work together.

-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“This is a curio, an art reference book to be waved about at people rather than a story to be revisited time and again. I love the art to bits.”
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐

“I was expecting more, something like Marshall Law. I usually like Post-Apocalyptic stuff but this feels like a romcom version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road”
-Jake ⭐⭐⭐

“I didn’t hate it, it was pleasant enough and easy to read; the tone was better in the first half. I wanted to give it four but don’t like the art enough.”
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐

Resident Alien

I first got wind of Resident Alien in an article by Brian K. Vaughan listing 10 comics he considers unadaptable to movies or TV. We all love Saga and BKV has pretty darned good (if rather weird) taste so I thought we could give it a bash.

A few of us had heard about the book already. Tom knew both creators as 2000ad alumni. I’d also made the 2000ad connection but my memory was foggy. I knew the name of the writer, Peter Hogan, but couldn’t recall any of his previous work. I kept confusing Steve Parkhouse with the great Jim Burns. In my addled brain their styles are very similar.

Is this seriously from 2013 and not, like, 1991 or something?

Dan

Tom reminded me that Parkhouse was responsible for the art on Big Dave, a notorious story that run during the abortive 2000ad ‘relaunch’ in the 90s.

Big Dave

I remembered hating Big Dave with a passion which didn’t bode well for Resident Alien. For once, Kelv had read the book as soon as it had arrived. Apparently his first thought upon breezing through it was “Dan’s not going to like this”. Given it was my pick, things looked bleak…

I got the book and immediately thought “This looks a bit sh*t”

Jake

All in all, first impressions were lukewarm simply due to the lack of… oomph. As a book, it’s fairly unassuming. The cover is straight out of the 90s and the logo a horrific mash-up of bad sci-fi and acid house type which is best forgotten altogether.

The horror! The horror!

But get past the painfully dated cover and Resident Alien starts to become a bit more interesting. The main character, the titular Resident Alien, is as far away from the standard warrior badass as you can get. For the majority of the book he’s content to stay away from anything that looks remotely like trouble, using his superior technology and psychic abilities to pass as human.

Harry’s bored on earth. He’s completely human

Kelv

And, to be honest, not much more than that actually happens. There’s a pretty thin murder mystery but that serves little purpose, aside from being the deus ex machine to force Harry, our friendly alien, into the community as a replacement doctor. The rest of the story tapers out over the course of the 4 issues, turning into a set of vignettes that introduce us to the other townsfolk. These characters are drawn in pretty broad strokes, fitting the usual stereotypes and clichés found in quirkier American TV dramas like Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls and the more sedate episodes of Twin Peaks.

Hanging out with the lads

In fact, we all felt that the book was an exercise in comfort reading. There’s precious little jeopardy anywhere in the story and any lurking threat (Where will the murdered strike next? What if they discover I’m an alien?) is smoothed over with a large dose of well-meaning whimsy.

This is certainly not a book to get your heart pumping. Maybe that’s a good thing every once in a while.

Tension! Suspense! Action! Carp?

This sense of gentleness is well-served by Steve Parkhouse’s slightly cartoony art. Despite his habit of drawing rather bulbous noses on everyone, the art is clean, easy to follow and flows nicely from panel to panel. Kelv thought the art reminded him of Lee Weeks and his work on Captain America. Jake liked the art too and confirmed that it became bolder and more confident in later volumes.

Hogan and Parkhouse are masters of what they do. Is that over-egging it?

Tom

Jake and Tom both went on to read beyond this first volume, electing to go digital as they were considerably cheaper than the trades. Although Tom thought he might be getting to the limits of his interest a few books down the line, Jake is still enjoying Harry’s ongoing adventures. Kelv’s happy to hold on to his copy and might read some more if he ever finds the time between Batman.

Me? I’ve read it once and I think that’s probably enough. However, I do still see that logo in my nightmares every now and then :-)

The scores

Tom - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jake - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kelv - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dan - ⭐⭐⭐

Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin - Vol 1 Activation

They say you should never judge a book by its cover but wow look at this one. It stirs a wistful excitement in me rooted from a time long ago and far, far away.

The cover to Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 1 Activation

Be prepared for a long ramble about what I patchily know of Gundam. It is both comfortingly familiar to me and also a mystery. The familiarity stems from the whole brand being so iconic, yet a mystery because I never really delved into it. But before I bore you with my love of giant-robo mecha suits, let’s hear from someone who doesn’t really like giant robots.

Jake and the giant robots

Let’s start with what he didn’t get on with. He found it a bit of a confusing mess. Although he questioned whether he just wasn’t used to the genre, and was unable to fill in space. He also sometimes struggled distinguish the spaceships from the robots.

Jake couldn’t work out what was going on in the space battles. The confusion combined with Jake’s disengagement with the characters led to him admitting he didn’t really pay much attention to it. He was rather disinterested in the Battlestar Galactica plot.

What he did like was the art. Particularly the colour segments, calling it arresting. He wished it was all in colour. Despite not liking most of the characters, he did single out Char Aznable - the dashing arch-nemesis of our rather bland protagonist. He found it amusing how hard-assed Sayla Mass gasps at Char when he removes his helmet to reveal his handsome visage, noting it as superb.

Jake conceded that the book looked dead cool though.


:star::star:

Giant robots are not for me. There were no farting sharks.

@tygertale

Confused Dan

Dan echoed much of the same points as Jake, citing his loss of sense of scale in the opening scene. He didn’t realise the Zaku were giant robots at first. He was also unsure who were the goodies and the baddies.

He found some of the art absolutely gorgeous and looked absolutely amazing, but Dan wanted to understand what was going on.

He supposed that it could be good as a dark military story and quite hard hitting war story, and in some cases it was, but then red ferret with his super cape turns up (I’m assuming he means Char) and Dan found that he couldn’t stop laughing.

It went from some not particularly spectacular bits to truly spectacular. It feels like it’s of its time, although it’s like Star Wars in that it drawn as the future and cool. But you can feel that it was done in the late 70s/80s.

Dan had a number of quibbles but overall enjoyed it. Didn’t think it was rubbish at all but not intrigued/engaged enough to read more.

:star::star::star:

I will not be burning it or throwing out the window as I’m driving through Sally In The Woods.

@dandineen

Big Robot Love

As a fan of big robots in general having grown up with Transformers, Tom enjoyed it a lot.

Tom was reminded of this being quite typical of a science fiction setting “cylinder world” as Tom had seen that in other things such as Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C CLarke). In 2000AD’s “Brink” the Earth died, and their colonies were crates in space. Halo Jones too were tubes in space. And recently in The Fuse from Image.

Well Tom, here’s a fun fact: all of these stories are representing the O’Neil Colony, a proposal for space colony design by a physicist in the 70s.

Tom enjoyed the story and characters as it went along. Subtly different from “girls in peril” or “upskirt” you’d see. It was well restrained.

Tom also had the issue of understanding what was going on, but this was only in the “spacey bits. But I just carried on - I’m much more forgiving”. He definitely came away having enjoyed it more than the other two.

Tom mentioned a right hand problem: because he has to hold the book in his right hand, he couldn’t turn the pages with his other hand easily because the book was “backwards”. I suggested he could’ve held the book in his other hand.

I have to say at this point I’m a little fed up with the complaints about manga being backwards or “wrong way round” and minded to avoid picking manga for this reason in future. On the other hand more exposure might get rid of this problem. Or we’re just a bunch of cranky old men.

:star::star::star::star:

As a fan of big robots it really hit the spot.

@tomwe

Gundam nostalgia for something that never was

I was very much looking forward to this book and enjoyed it immensely. The art was as the others have already attested, quite stunning. I didn’t have any of the problems the others encountered and I do wonder if that is because I’m more used/experienced/open to manga? Gundam in particularly has always been something I’m familiar with but not to any real depth. I’m no expert.

I know that for Japan this is to them what Star Wars is for many others in the West. I cited a story about how staff from an official (possibly governmental) organisation were sacked because records found they had spent many, many work hours updating wikipedia articles on Gundam. I mentioned the Odaiba statue.

The RX-78 2 statue in Odaiba, Tokyo

It was fun to read about how the founding Mobile Suit Gundam TV series was cancelled, but it was the populairty of the licensed plastic model kits that revived it. Now those kits are called “Gunpla” (Gundam Plasic) and the series has spawned so many spin offs it’s ridiculous. There’s even a series on now about kids who have magical Gunpla that battle each other ala Pokémon. Gundam is the very epitome of iconic.

As a child growing up in SE Asia for a while I was exposed to Gundam but only as tantalising imagery. Never had I actually seen the original anime with my own eyes until a kind fellow in the 90s furnished me with VHS copies of the Hong Kong dubs. The guy was a member of the family who ran the best local Chinese restaurant, lived down my road and was a regular customer to the comic book shop I worked in. Sadly I as a hyperactive teen I couldn’t get into the anime. I felt bad as it took him an effort to make those tapes but also I was left underwhelmed.

This time I’d hoped that I would “get” what Gundam is and I really wasn’t disappointed. I think the artwork is what’s really won it for me this time. It’s exquisite in places. Sometimes breath taking.

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that not all of my clubmates enjoyed this book. I was really hoping we all would and I had expected that it would be met with universal favour. Alas.

:star::star::star::star:

Beautiful rendering of a truly iconic giant robot

@chao_xian

The Complete Don Quixote

Gan?
Here!
Dineen?
Here!
Hayes?
Here!

Good! Right, if you will open your set text to page one we will begin our look at the 400 year old novel “El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha”, I hope everyone can read Spanish…

Sadly that is how some of us felt approaching my next pick, “The Complete Don Quixote”, as adapted by Rob Davis. I had been looking for more indie books for the club and came across Davis’ OGN The Motherless Oven. However, after adding that book to my list of possibles I found he had also adapted the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes and so went for that. When I announced Quixote to the group Dan made a face and Jake had the sensation of being assigned homework.

I knew little about Don Quixote, my previous experience limited to stories of Terry Gilliam’s attempts to make his own adaptation, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. In fact I had the image of the Don himself in my head but nothing else. Davis writes on his website he heard from many who had attempted to read the original work and failed, and so he wanted to be able to offer a version that could be completed (a sly jab at Gilliam for not completing his).

Davis' Quixote vs Picasso's

What we bought was a hefty hardback tome, a beautiful book I’m pleased to have on my shelf. It has the smell of a good book, not unlike The Encyclopaedia Of Early Earth that we reviewed quite recently, and when you flick through you’re immediately struck by the consistent quality of the art. Davis takes a few creative detours when the story does, but for the most part the illustration is the same with flat muted colours and loose line work. There are no lined borders, or outlines for the speech balloons and everything has a torn edge. His cartooning is exemplary and every drawing is full of character and feeling. We all agreed on that at least! I wondered if the lead pair began the illustrative tradition of one character fat and one thin, and also if Davis had taken his interpretation from the famous Picasso sketch.

Inventive use of panels and page turns

From the opening of the book with the narrator I was immediately laughing. This is a funny book! Dan said he LOL’d within the first few pages and so lifted his trepidation of reading the classic story. The handling of this one-volume edition’s transition from the first half to the second is brilliant too. In fact the book is full of inventiveness, taking asides in the story as their own mini-comic-within-a-comic and also breaking the fourth wall on numerous occasions. Jake said it was a freewheeling Gulliver’s Travels while Dan said he saw feminist thinking in the Girl In The Hills chapters and wondered how this could be reflected in a 400-year-old novel, but then men have always been a nightmare!

Surrealism and the Knight Of Mirrors

We were split overall as to the better halves of the book. If I have any criticism it is for the second half, which for me drags a little once the Duke and Duchess get their claws into our heroes. However, Jake and Kelvin preferred the narrative trickery found there to the repetitiveness of part one. Kelvin noted that the Don was having his “end of life crisis” and said with Quixote and Sancho reunited at their end it was a powerful moment, making up for his difficulty suffering the foolishness of their first adventures. Dan was upset by the way the Duke and Duchess mocked Quixote, and cross to find no comeuppance for the meddling pair.

Where Don Quixote tilts his lance

This book is certainly a contrast some of our more recent choices, and definitely a novel rather than a short read. Jake described it as inventive, with superb colours that reminded him of Lucky Luke, but as it fizzled out a bit and had the whiff of a Guardian reader’s book club gave it ⭐⭐⭐. Kelvin enjoyed it eventually, but only for less than half of it and so matched the ⭐⭐⭐. Dan was surprised that he liked it, as it was not naturally what he would choose to read and gave it ⭐⭐⭐⭐. However, I truly loved reading it and give it ⭐⭐⭐⭐! In fact I loved it so much I went on a bit of a Rob Davis binge afterwards.

More works by Rob Davis

I picked up not only The Motherless Oven, but its sequel The Can-Opener’s Daughter and the 2012 British Comic Awards Book Of The Year: Nel-Son, which was edited by Davis with Woodrow Phoenix and featured a veritable whose who of the British Indie comics scene. …Oven and …Daughter are an expansion of Davis’ short strip “How I Built My Father”, which was an off the wall concept but I found it incredible how Davis took that and expanded it into the parallel reality in these two books. I spent most of the first waiting for an explanation of the ‘rules’ of the world, but most of that does not come until later, if at all. I assume there will be a third part at some point.

Rob Davis is now on my list of ‘must buy new works’ creators.

Aleister and Adolf

When I first heard about Aleister & Adolf via Mike Avon Oeming’s Twitter I envisaged a slam-bang battle royale between two 20th century icons of evil.

I thought we were going to get a pulpy smackdown with Hitler getting his ass kicked by the great beast. Unfortunately, what we got was something very, very different indeed…

The book

The book itself is nicely put together, in the A5 hardback format that Dark Horse seem very fond of. It’s also my second CBC selection in a row that employs an exclusively black, white & red colour scheme (Mister X - August 2016). It wasn’t a conscious decision so let’s chalk that up to Crowley’s will manifesting itself across time and dimensions to influence my comic book club recommendations.

GET OUT OF MY HEAD CROWLEY, YOU MANKY OLD GOAT!

I do like a bit of red and black don’t I?

Dan

The big problem is that Aleister & Adolf just isn’t very good. And Hitler’s barely in it!

The art

Oeming’s art is always pretty distinctive, his signature style giving a loose, cartoony dynamism to everything he draws. Where his style was a tight fit for the exaggerated superhero antics in Powers it can feel jarring in a book that combines terrible real-life events with magical fantasy.

Put simply, Kelv wasn’t a fan of the art. Oeming’s leaning towards to gratuitous T&A didn’t sit right with him and made it difficult for him to get in to the book.

Tom’s an Oeming fan, having first seen his work on DC’s short-lived Judge Dredd run. He found the period visuals interesting and had no problem with Oeming’s propensity for drawing bare flesh!

The visuals are interesting. Nice to see a bit of flesh!

Tom

Jake was more drawn to some very detailed backgrounds, especially the Paxton & Whitfield shopfront (“I like shopfronts”) behind which Crowley plots his magical propaganda attack on the 3rd Reich.

The Paxton and Whitfield shopfront in wartime London

I was in two minds about the art, finding some of the line work loose and a bit rushed. I far preferred the complex panels rendered in grayscale watercolours. However, in general it all feels a bit lightweight and gratuitous.

Crowley summons the great beast

It’s all a bit… bollocks.

Kelvin

Symbolism

Whereas we all thought the story would be about Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler going head-to-head on the occult magick battlefield it all turned out to be far more (un)subtle than that.

The book is essentially an illustrated essay on the use of symbolism and iconography as propaganda and the idea that symbols can be infused with a power greater than their visual meaning. There’s an ‘interesting’ modern interpretation of the two-finger ‘V’ salute that ties it in with the source of Crowley’s powers but this ends up being nothing more than a throw away line.

Alone

Although all this sounds fun, the story is delivered with a dryness that Jake compared to an illustrated text book. It was all so serious. In fact, for a book with so much potential to go completely insane, I’m sad to say it was really rather dull!

An academic treatment in comic book form.

Jake

The biggest problem

There’s a lack of respect for certain historical events in this book that really bothers me. Aleister & Adolf takes these events from the 2nd World War and uses them for minor narrative purposes, resulting in some very unpleasant imagery rendered in Oeming’s cartoony style.

I genuinely cannot think of an instance where using the holocaust as a narrative device is a good call. I’m just not sure that the horrors of Belsen have a place in any comic, especially not one that twists these real life events to propel a limp fiction along.

The story is not without any merit though. Douglas Rushkoff has concocted an else worlds-style story that unfortunately hangs on a not very successful twist, telegraphed early on in the book. Kelv had blown the twist by skimming through the book to the end when he got tired of the boobs.

90s web designer

Jake was interested in the framing device - a 90s web designer who’s story bookends the main tale. he found some small sense of connection in that he had friends in the 90s who were into Crowley. There was a certain sense of nostalgia in the deification of a rather pervy old man.

The end

We all agreed that the end was abrupt and a bit rubbish - Just like the one to this write-up. You can blame that on Crowley too. He made me do it.

The scores

Tom - ⭐⭐

Jake - ⭐⭐

Kelv - ⭐

Dan - ⭐