Black Hammer Volume 1

We are once again with Dark Horse for my most recent pick. I am feeling there is something about the publisher that allows its books to slip below our immediate purchase radars. In this case I became aware of the book as it was announced, being a long time admirer of the artist Dean Ormston, but I laid off buying in the hopes it would make a good choice for the group!

Black Hammer TPB cover: A page from Harke & Burr

As it turns out it was only Dan who also knew of it and although he initially seemed excited at the choice his review was mostly a downer. The cover especially he called a nightmare (above left), and not in the way you would want a horror artist like Ormston’s work to be perceived! I think he was over-reacting personally, as although it lacks the punch of some of the series’ later covers I don’t honestly see the problem.

The back-matter of the book gave us a bit of an insight into the book’s art though, it turns out Dean had a stroke after completing the first issue and it took him a year to get back on track. Whether this had a detrimental effect on his drawing is to be perceived by the reader but in Dan’s case he was thinking of early 2000 AD painted work and felt this was not the artist he remembered (above right, a page from Harke & Burr).

In fact, I’m surprised Dan ever thought he would enjoy this book, as writer Jeff Lemire is not his cup of tea either. He said he was bored to tears by breakout Vertigo book Sweet Tooth, and this was just more Americana.

“It’s a thing. A Jeff Lemire thing. It’s not my scene, but I’m glad Dean is on the mend”
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐

Golden Gail through the decades

Kelvin dug the way the series pulled established superhero character tropes together in a new pastiche and became more absorbed in the story than he expected he would be.

The series stars a Captain America, a Mary Marvel, what I believe to be an amalgam of both Adam & Doctor Strange, Madame Zanadu, The Martian Manhunter and an android in the tradition of Vision and The Tornado. Finally, the titular Black Hammer takes his roots from Thor and the creations of Jack Kirby.

We all loved Gail, the character who mirrors the Billy Batson / Shazam / Mary Marvel legacy character, her brattish behavior giving the series great comedy. Kelvin observed that the characters formed a dysfunctional family, with the de facto head and lead character Abe trying to tell everyone to act as normal as he appears to be- but that is impossible in an inverted world like the one seen in this story.

“Despite the artwork I really enjoyed it and want to know what happens next. I’m worried it’s all going to go horribly wrong”
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Colonel brings the Weird : Dragonfly & a man of the swamp

In contrast to Dan, Jake is big into Lemire, namechecking Essex County, Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth as particular favourites. But he was less aware of each of the Black Hammer character’s sources. He was worried Lemire might be trying to do too much at once with quite so many ideas whirling around, handling each character’s origin in five or so pages made it all so synopsyssy. There are some huge themes handled in the Colonel Weird and Madame Butterfly chapters and some of the subtext passed me by.

This book is just the beginning of the story and we all wondered just how long it was planned to go. Some of Lemire’s work tends to build small and only in the long game pan out to a truly exceptional story.

“The strength is in the small town setting and all the broken relationships. They all come together for support but then stab each other in the back. It’s too early to judge this as a complete story”
-Jake ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Lemire's own take on the heroes

Black Hammer was more than enough to keep me entertained though, and I enjoyed both the moody, autumnal art and the strong character writing. The idea of taking established superheroes and filing off the registration plate has been done quite a bit but this book has a unique enough voice to stand out.

My disappointment in my pick was that we only got so far into the world of the characters, and for this book club I want to feel we get a complete story to review and feel satisfied with even if we don’t enjoy it.

-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

KaijuMax

I’ll be honest with you all here…

After my first read through of KaijuMax I felt pretty damn confident I’d picked something AMAZING. I’d seen the book appear on any number of ‘books you should be reading but probably aren’t’ lists and every review I read was a glowing tribute to a masterpiece of modern comic book fiction.

This is your time Dan. This is your moment.

This is a full 20. It’s in the bag.

You're the monsters!

This, ma lizzas, is the goj-damn ambergris

Dan

Funny how things don’t always work out how you think.

I’m not really sure how anyone could conceivably have an issue with a comic book that smashes together The Wire and Godzilla and then plays it straight, despite the fundamental ridiculousness of the whole thing.

There’s no concessions to playing nice, the main characters are pushed through (giant, tower block-sized) wringers over and over again, with the plot touching on some seriously nasty stuff.

Jake’s not a fan of prison stories and doesn’t have much history with kaiju either. This proved somewhat problematic for him and meant that he wasn’t really engaged with the whole thing at all. Tom’s foreknowledge of the big monster genre was mainly based on the awful 80s Godzilla cartoon (Die Godzookie! Die!) so didn’t have any massive expectations either way. Kelv grew up with this stuff and he knows his references off-pat. As soon as he got into the book Kelv was picking up on little hints of Ultraman et al. He was enjoying the pure nostalgia of it all.

KaijuMax prison guards go LARGE!

When the giant human guard got off with the monster - how did that happen?!

Jake

So with Kelv and I loving the setup, Tom wondering when something would fart radioactive fire and set someone’s hair ablaze and Jake thinking that he had 200-odd pages of this shash to get through before it was over, my chance of 20 stars was looking decidedly shaky.

Electrogor is so dull

Our lead protagonist, Electrogor, is some kind of giant radioactive bug moth-man thing. He’s also a dad, imprisoned for trying to protect his young family. He’s no hardened criminal and hasn’t stomped a city in a long, long time.

Newsflash - Electrogor is mega-dull.

But that’s the point. That’s the trope. He’s that bog-standard template archetype that serves as the audiences introduction to the nastier, darker, more evil monsters detained in KaijuMax prison. Which is a shame ‘cos he’s just so boring! We know he has to go on the usual arc of set-backs, redemption, fighting for his children etc. It’s a bit of a shame this is all so slavishly and predictably served up as something new and exciting.

Saw the cover and was immediately happy to get stuck in

Tom

As with the other aspects of KaijuMax we were all somewhat divided on our opinions of the art as well. On some pages there are rushed looking characters with sausage fingers wedged into uncomfortable, cramped and over-complex panel layouts. Then Cannon pulls out a truly magnificent splash page and, for me at least, almost every other artistic misdemeanour is forgotten.

Tom was immediately taken with the art and Kelv vibed on the colouring. Jake, on the other hand, felt the colouring was dull and boring, with it’s propensity for erring on the brown side of things.

KaijuMax on lockdown

As with everything in this book, the attempt to meld gangland slang with giant monster references had mixed results. I loved ‘megafauna’ and ‘ma lizzas’ but couldn’t help but feel ‘ambergris’ was a bit of a stretch too far.

It was clear to all that this is a true labour of love by Cannon and that there’s a huge amount of effort put into each episode. Given the depth of material available, both crime and giant monster-wise, the series is likely to run and run.

I think we all agree that the rap bits are pretty weird. We’re all still struggling with the showtime section of The Last American and this might’ve pushed us over the edge!

Dropping beatz

DEAR COMIC BOOK CREATORS, NO MORE COMICS WITH SONGS IN THEM PLEASE. WE DON’T LIKE THEM.

  • Love Dan, Tom, Jake and Kelv

The scores

“FIVE RED-KING STARS MEGAFAUNA!”
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“I enjoyed this”
-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Just not my thing at all”
-Jake ⭐⭐

“I feel like a little kid when I read this”
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Yotsuba&! Vol 1 (and Vol 2)

My daughter insisted I read this. I couldn’t find a book for when it was my turn to choose the club, so plumped for this and made the other dads read it too. It turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.

AUTHORS NOTE: This has sat on my laptop for many, many months so I’m putting my notes from the night out there for this writeup with as little editing as required. Removing anything offensive or embarrassing. We’re 4 cantankerous men in our 40s. It’s very likely. So here are the review notes, in as raw and awful state as I can present it. My own review however is written 6 months after the fact, as I never got round to it, so it’ll be brief.

Arrival

Dan

First impression: little book, cheap, cool £1.27 from eBay! Not precious about it - quite nice. 2 bits… First 3 stories, upto Global Warming and at that point my first impressions were “WTF is this???”. The dad was seriously weird. The treatment of Yotsuba is weird. No handle of who she was? Some nice casual sexism in there. Almost an upskirt panty shot of neighbour which is weird. But ok it’s manga.

Short skirt. But Tom points out another artist would have drawn the exposed pants.

The dad is a waste of space as far as I can gather.

Neighbours who are the plain one, you’re the boring one and generally ranking them by attractiveness.

Thought not sure I can get through to the end of this… Then I read the rest of it and I think I found some kind of rhythm and probably go so far as to say I probably enjoyed the rest of it. Some proper LOLs at the last 3 or 4 chapters. No real grip on the characters. Still don’t understand the dad and the kind of relationship. Established somewhere else?

My first impression was it was a book taking the piss out of a kid with learning difficulties(!). Why doesn’t she know what a doorbell is?

It was just bizarre.

Went past quite quickly and didn’t really have a problem with it. Not necessarily an earthbound orphan just from “somewhere else”. Liked that it didn’t really say anything about it. Found it a bit annoying that they won’t tell me where she came from but not curious enough. I’m left with this “Oh look at the green haired weirdo child”. Just kind of extrapolate with the question of “What’s wrong with her”?

The rest of it is just manga stuff. I said to someone else I know who reads quite a lot of mange that I’d never seen the blank eyes blank mouth thing. Other person said that it is a thing and not unusual as I seem to think it was.

Quality of finish, there were some quite nice things (pg 191). I liked Boxer Man when the dad became a dad. Dan got the feeling that he didn’t know what to do with her and is bemused by someone who’s completely nuts. Other than when he was making her food he got the impression that he was kinda out of his depth.

Boxer Man

It was a weird thing. I don’t have any desire to read anymore. The translator’s notes is interesting. I think I enjoyed the fact that it felt like a thing. Hon read 2 pages of it and went “No”. Though I (Kelv) think it’s because Dan gave it to her.

Won’t buy multiple volumes but definitely didn’t loathe it. And I really did like the format and enjoyed not feeling precious of it.

Really interesting.

:star::star::star:

Not awful but not going to go buy tons more.

@dandineen

Tom

I’ll quickly mention the right to left thing: it’s the first time I found it easy. Perhaps because it’s fewer words crammed into the balloons than Gundam. (Yay!) Not a problem at all on this 3rd manga choice which can only bode well. I found it hard to write anything bad about it because I didn’t want to offend her. She’s so nice. Found it odd that it immediately mentions that she’s strange. I found it more that she wasn’t being strange but maybe as the father of intense daughters. He’s obviously happy to write about teenagers (having seen the ad for Azumanga Daioh). If I were to write a story about P it would not be dissimilar to this. I liked her reactions to things. Like her arm waving out the window. Waving to everyone. That tickles me.

But having said that by the end of the first book I was burned out by her continual one level reactions to everything as it’s kind of intense but I still ordered the 2nd one. It started to put some flesh onto the bones and introduce maybe deeper themes on where the story can go. The last chapter was just about the neighbouring family. A bit like Sandman did. But the wiki page states this the only story that’s not about Yotsuba.

As far as the art’s concerned it’s incredibly consistent. Always question if there’s a studio involved (I point out they have assistants). Probably the lightest casual sexism that it could ever be. Dan says they just can’t seem to escape that cultural expectation.

So many modern US artists are influenced by manga. I think there was a time they were trying to get people to draw in this way because that’s what they thought people wanted but now I think they’re employing people who just want to draw in this way.

Shows friend Dani’s pic and seems influenced and thought Yotsuba was exactly like it, but actually it’s much more toned down.

I enjoyed it but had enough, even though in 2nd volume there were hints of more.

:star::star::star:

An enjoyable read that hit some of the right buttons but exhausting as my own daughter is exhausting already.

@tomwe

Jake

I had no idea what to expect. Looked at the picture and thought it was a brave choice following John Blake which had been attacked as a children’s book (aw Jake!), with this one being a much younger one. A bit like Dan found it strange and not quite what I expected. It’s the way the kid was treated and the schoolgirl outfit.

A horrible relationship with the 16 year old girl? I was really worried. A strange relationships book that I didn’t want go near? But then it moves away from that and Yotsuba comes into her own. An alien? A robot? He’s created her? Or acquired her from somewhere?

I liked how it’s about nothing. Super mundane stuff and no particular pay off. Some funny jokes but nothing building. Her emotions are on a higher level than others which is nice. Similar to My Naughty Little Sister from 50s, and Lotta by Astrid Lindgrom about a pre-school girl with older sisters. And Charlie and Lola. Something appealing about pre-school girl with wide-eyed innocence and anarchy. With boys it feels kinda bully-ish but with girls it loses that edge.

By vol2 more depth, focus, funnier. One story that made me laugh all the way through - the sleeping dad and drawing on his face!

Drawn face

I get what Dan says about the casual sexism but by book 2 the characters are more fleshed out and the interplay is quite interesting. The pretty older sister isn’t just a princess, she’s kind of odd in her own way. She’s aware she’s pretty and it’s a real relationship. The sisters are a bit nasty to each other but with love. It feels realistic. The mother’s introduced and she’s not mother-ish. She had authority. The relationship is interesting. A dad mentioned but not there.

Quite interested to see how it continues.

I loved all the exclamations. Like Tom the right to left didn’t get in the way and that was pleasing. Liked the translation of the SFX. That was useful. The detail’s great - goes to town on the backgrounds like the temple countryside, the bugs. Contrasts to the the pop art surreal-ness. “Nice to meet you” (page 50). It feels like a nice thing in this format. Feels like the right place for it. You don’t long for something larger. The intro/outro thing is great. It lets the story flow.

C read it but said “I want a quest dad”.

I really loved it. Probably one of my favourite things we’ve read so far in the club.

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

Giving it a 5 because it’s Yotsuba and she thinks that everything is brilliant.

@tygertale

Me

I bought this pack of pre-owned volumes from Orbital Comics for my eldest daughter. She loved them so much and kept telling me that they were so good, and insisted that I read them too. I just never had the time. Making it a Comic Book Club choice was a good excuse to do it. I am so glad I did. She binged on these books and asked for more for her birthday (she has volumes 6 and 7 as well now). It is a hilarious book, happy, innocent, beautiful book. I don’t mind that there is no “quest” or a story. Many cartoons are like this. I think we probably missed that this likely started as a weekly serial.

Swing

What really surprises me about the creator of Yotsuba&! is that he is also a Hentai artist (DON’T google it!) yet can come up with this really quite sweet and… purely good story.

I’ve read volumes 1 to 5 and would love to read the newer volumes that I got for my eldest. I just don’t seem to have the time…

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

This book gave my daughter pure joy and that adds to my own enjoyment of it.

@chao_xian

Volume 1

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 - ⭐⭐⭐