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Bendigo Record, Comic and Toy Fair coming up

The Bendigo Record, Comic and Toy Fair is fast approaching, and will host an expanded Melbourne Comics panel for the day.

Following the successful launch recently in Melbourne of their anthology Melbourne Comics Quarterly, the Melbourne Comics Community will be doing their first Regional Launch and it’s exclusive to the Bendigo Record Comic and Toy Fair.  Melbourne Comics Quarterly Issue 1 second print has a new cover which will be launched at the Bendigo Record Comic and Toy Fair.

Artists confirmed so far are:

SAUCE‘s Falling Star creator – Cristian Roux
That Bulletproof Kid‘s creators – Matt Kyme
From Above comic book creator – Craig Bruyn
Killeroo creator – Darren Close
Gaining Velocity and Melbourne Comics publishers and editor Alana Bruyn and Neville Howard
www.whitecatpress.com creator Dale Maccanti.

Specialist back issue dealers will also be present, as well as vinyl and toy sellers.  It all takes place on March 22nd, at the Bendigo Expo Centre, in the Prince of Wales Showgrounds, Holmes Road Bendigo, from 10am to 4pm.  For more info check out the Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/BendigoRCandTFair or email Bendigorctfair@outlook.com.

Bendigo launch

Review: Sandman Overture #4

Sandman-OvertureI’ll admit. I read issue 4 and was confused. There has been a long wait between issues, even on top of the gaps for the Sandman Overture Special Editions. (Which I’m not reading – I don’t really watch the extras on DVDs either.) The artwork by J. H. Williams III has been lush. Big double-page acid-sheet spreads, dripping with trippy. Some reviewers have called it a bit over the top. No such issue with me. It was visually reading more like a Promethea story than a Sandman story, but you’d expect that from the Promethea illustrator.

This series was making me angry largely because I felt that it was missing something essentially Sandman about it. There were some very Neil Gaiman-esque touches through the story, and some familiar themes were being re-visited (dreams of cats, Morpheus being a callous bastard and having to deal with the fallout, rules that are meant to be followed, stories within stories), but it felt like it had been written by a Neil Gaiman plot generator. All of the elements were present, but there was something genuine missing.

Or maybe I had just not been paying enough attention. So I re-read the 4 issues out to date in one sitting, to see if it was me, or if, indeed, Neil had lost the plot (so to speak).

It turns out, it’s a bit of both, I reckon.

The story makes more sense now. But I reckon I’ve put my finger on why I’m annoyed with this series, given I’m such a fan of Sandman in particular, and Neil Gaiman generally.

I don’t care about what’s happening in this series. Or why.

Sandman Overture seems to be explaining to us the events behind and the reasons why Morpheus was weakened enough to allow himself to be captured at the beginning of the Sandman series. It’s a prequel. The trouble is, I’d never really given it a thought as to why Morpheus was weakened enough to be imprisoned in the first place. I never felt that it needed explaining. So I’m not jumping around with excitement with having this particular revelation tacked onto the Sandman universe. And the revelation that The Endless have a Mother and Father (the Father we meet in issue #4) just doesn’t resonate.

So what’s good about issue #4? Well, the artwork is a real trip. Which you’d hope would be up to it, given that Morpheus, and a Cat version of himself, and some annoying blue child called “Hope” (facepalm) are visiting a City of Stars.

And there was one moment of genuine Gaiman when Morpheus referred to a star both by its present scientific name (Formalhaut), and (presumably) a title, Eye of the Lonely‘. This had me thinking. How many names do stars have? A Scientific Name? A title? Does that depend on their position within a constellation? Would that change if seen from another planet, another constellation by alien races? Would a star have a million names for each group of alien races making stories about them? Could a star tell a lot about you, depending on what name you call it by? This is the Gaiman I remember, who could explode in my head with just a provocative phrase. He’s been a bit heavy on the ‘explanation’ and a bit light on the ‘evocation’ in this series.

It’s revealed that the insane star whose madness has already killed one aspect of Dream, and is threatening the universe with its insanity, was caused by Morpheus and his delayed action over killing an alien child ages ago who was ‘a vortex, an anomaly. An Annulet’ (whatever that is), Her madness has spread and infected her whole planet, and it was Morpheus’ responsibility to kill her, and her infected world. But he couldn’t bring himself to kill the sun of the world and now it’s insane. Cosmic, to be sure, but it all feels a bit ungrounded, and convenient. And it’s starting to sound a bit like a plot from ‘Shade the Changing Man’ a la Pete Milligan (I’m so glad that is finally being reprinted!).

So maybe that’s it then. Sandman Overture is a Shade the Changing Man story dressed up as a Promethea story masquerading as a Sandman story. I knew there was something fishy about this limited series. I know Vertigo is struggling, but this pastiche? Joking aside, for all that, it’s still worth picking up, if only to see what the hell Neil Gaiman is up to with his beloved Sandman multiverse. Fingers crossed he ties it all up.

Has Neil Gaiman ‘lost the plot’? Do you care whether The Endless have parents or not? Are you a bit sick of a ‘vortex’ being the cause of every cosmic problem in the universe?

Review: Usagi Yojimbo Senso #6

24907Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story. Well, actually, it’s kinda one of those.

(Warning. This review is from a long-time Usagi Yojimbo fan. He tried to keep a lid on it. He really did.)

Stan Sakai is back after a break from looking after his sick wife, with a superb Usagi Yojimbo story. We have come to expect over the 30 years (!) Stan has been crafting Usagi stories, particular styles of stories from the master. Not so much predictable or formulated, as a welcome dip into a familiar world carefully crafted with long term appeal. Senso (War) has introduced something we don’t get to see so much in the world of Usagi.

Something unexpected: an outright WTF!

Because the way the story was developing, as much sheer fun as it was to read, the question in the back of my mind was, This Changes Everything! And I mean in a B.P.R.D. monsters now rule the world kind of way! He’s gone down a path that is impossible to back out of, without turning it in to a hoax story of some kind.

(Spoilers ahead)

Senso starts out with a battle scene between Lord Hijiki and an adult Lord Nobiyuki, so most of issue 1 reads like a welcome return to the world of Usagi after a long break. Then things get weird. Senso has read like a ‘Usagi: The End’ story, with familiar faces meeting their deaths in glorious battle. But this is all against the backdrop of the story being invaded by The War of the Worlds. Everyone in Usagi world now faces survival against the seemingly indestructible tripods of the alien invaders. Gen, Jei, Chizu, the Komori Ninja clan, all die. Even the evil Lord Hebi, faced with the depths of Lord Hijiki’s evil, dies a noble death. It looks like no-one is getting out of this story alive!

Amid the carnage, Usagi snatched a moment with Tomoe in a very Japanese exchange regarding what ‘could have been’, and the price of honour in the face of feelings for each other.

So, when faced with a larger-than-life threat to everything in Japan, even in anthropomorphic feudal Japan, there’s only one way to respond. Jump in to a giant robot suit and go toe-to-toe with the enemy. Enter…Usagi Gundam! It just keeps getting better – issue 6 is a glorious homage to every Japanese monster movie. It’s East vs West in a funny animal comic, and Usagi was enjoying every minute of it! Well, until everything crashed down after immense property damage to Edo, but that’s to be expected.

Oh, and Usagi dies. Did I mention that this wasn’t a hoax story? Or a dream? Or an imaginary story? Well, here’s the final twist. This isn’t a Usagi Yojimbo story. It’s a Space Usagi story! How does that work out? I won’t give everything away, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Needless to say, Stan Sakai has returned to Usagi Yojimbo in style. He has mixed everything we have come to expect with some thoroughly enjoyable liberties, and tied it all up with everything making perfect sense and all is well again in Usagi world.

I’m very much looking forward to the re-launch of Usagi Yojimbo, and maybe even a few more WTF moments too.

Review: Red Baron Book 2 – Rain of Blood

Red-Baron-Bookofblood

Red Baron Book 2 Rain of Blood By Pierre Veys and Carlos Puerta Published by Cinebook

Warning: Review with major spoilers

Red Baron on first impression is an engrossing visual feast. And that first impression never goes away.   The immediate standout feature of this series is the lush artwork by Carlos Puerta. At times, especially when detailing locations, the artwork showcases a photo-realistic level of detail. This eye for detail remains constant, even when rendering motion blur in action shots for heightened visual drama. It’s all the more remarkable as the graphic narrative is entirely free from sound effects, freeing up each panel from clutter and drawing in the eye with mesmerising sweeps, whether it be aerial shots over landscape, or a boxing match.

This book doesn’t entirely fail at reading like a slideshow, which is an easy pitfall for a sequence of panels that are pretty much frameable in their own right, but for the most part it’s not an issue. The ultra-thin gutters are precision separators of the panels, and add to filling the page, making each page a visual pool to drown in. It certainly helps that the books are being published in the larger European volume-size editions.

Which brings me to the second impression reading this series: the balance of picture and words. There’s a sparseness of words that, together with the freedom from sound-effects, lead to a very modern feel to the book (it’s an English translation of a 2013 comic, so it is actually a very modern comic, unlike many other Cinebook translations). The similarity however ends there. I tend to feel a bit empty after reading many ‘modern’ comics that seem tailored more for tablet readers than anything else. Here there is an intriguing story at work, using an economy of words that drives the artwork along – there is a sense of satisfaction after having read a volume.

And so we come to the second volume of the series. In Book 1: The Machine Gunners’ Ball, we are introduced to Manfred von Richthofen a.k.a. The Red Baron. This story could easily have been a straight historical war story and been none the poorer for it, but in this fictional account, we are introduced to a plausible fictional rationale for the Red Baron’s aerial success. It turns out that Manfred is in possession of a ‘supernatural’ sense, not unlike a mutant power, that acts like a Spider-sense and involves a low-grade telepathy as well. Manfred can sense danger, can read the intentions of an enemy pilot, and so can anticipate actions and counter them. This gives him a ‘supernatural’ advantage, not just in the air, but in any form of combat as we find out in the boxing match at the end of this volume. There’s certainly no attempt to turn this into a post-human manifesto – Manfred just accepts this as something to take advantage of in his own sadistic way.

In Book 2, Manfred struggles to learn the art of flying a plane, rather than being a gunner and relying upon other pilots as he had been forced to do until now. In this he is as human as the rest of us. The heart of the story is essentially Manfred’s will – he is a dashing figure with a sadistic streak, not unlike Jaime Lannister. The comic drives this paradox of brutality lying at the heart of civilisation using both the character study of the Red Baron and in visual cues throughout the story. A particularly striking example is the cut between a plane shot down by Manfred in a nosedived upright position, and an upright flute glass of champagne and bottle at the social gathering for the pilots after the event.   Manfred has no illusions about it, and for him, there is no conflict. His reflection, after downing an enemy pilot in a particularly cold manner is “I have but one desire – to start all over again!”

At the start of Book 2, in an infirmary when being treated for a self-inflicted wound after a dog-fight, Manfred is informed that he has also received a bullet-wound from the enemy pilot, as his flight jacket has been shot up at the shoulder. Manfred remarks, hand on heart, “Hell…I didn’t feel a thing.” Significant, as the shoulder-wound wasn’t near his heart. He feels nothing like remorse for his enemies but does go on to feel the barbaric lust of combat. For him it’s the ‘indescribable pleasure’ of inflicting death upon people which he sums up eloquently in the opening scene of Book 1:

“For me there is nothing better in the world. War is a fabulous thing!”

There are two things to look forward to as the series progresses. First, how much more we learn about Manfred’s ‘supernatural’ power, and the cruel use he will put it to, and second, the wait for the Fokker tri-plane, the Red Baron’s signature aircraft.  I’m drooling in anticipation over Carlos Puerta’s visual depictions of the classic Red Baron in action. The story so far is reading like the origin of the Red Baron, with marvellous visuals over Ostund, Champagne, Verdun and Luxembourg in Book 2 alone.

I am a sucker for fine European comics. And war stories. So Red Baron is another fine series to add to the already impressive output by Cinebooks.