A mixed bag this week. So let’s get down to it:-

battle Vixens panel

Battle Vixens © Yuji Shiozaki

First up is Battle Vixens from Yugi Shiozaki and published by Tokyopop.
The tale of Hakufu Sonsaku, a teenage schoolgirl who loves nothing more than a good kick-ass battle. An unwitting member of a mystic sect of warriors (whose ancestors tried to re-unite China, and failed), she is feisty, powerful, “racked and stacked” and a total klutz. It’s no problem taking someone of a better rank on, but finds it more fun to tease her cousin about him not trying to get a glimpse of a “bodacious bod”.

With its drop-dead cutie schoolgirls, violent fight scenes, torn school uniforms, sexual references and lots of panty shots, this book is definitely aimed at teenage males. Good clean art blends well with a deprecating sense of humour, and although the story itself is generic with the usual blend of mysticism, battle warriors and high school life. It’s still more fun than Kill Bill Vol 2.

Battle Vixens Vol 1 is priced £6.50

Love Bites panel

Love Fights © Andi Watson

Love Fights by andi watson is an extension of his Love In Tights comic from a few years ago.

It can be hard enough for a normal person to find a date in the real world, but how do you go about it when super-heroes are a common sight and you have to deal with their iconic status? This is the problem that Jack has and its compounded by the fact that he’s the penciller on a comic for a super-hero who’s found himself in a child paternity case. His inker and writer have jumped ship to do another super-teams book. He may have found a new girlfriend who’s chasing the story behind said super-hero; and his cat has been kidnapped, only to have it return after being made into one of the legion of super-animals. Confused? You won’t be after reading this really lovely, bittersweet first volume.

Watson’s style has shifted of late as he moves from a clean line into a more painterly fashion, using a lot more grey to emphasize mood. His expressions though are still immaculate. A couple of lines will totally convey what a character is thinking or feeling. The situations the characters find themselves in are believable and not false (especially when Jack has reached the delicate bra-unclipping point with his girlfriend, only for his, now super-cat, to hawk up a furball on same couch), and Watson even manages to make a real-life comparison between the media and celeb status (though I have the feeling this was very unintentional).

Recommended and Vol 2 should be with us later this year.

Love Fights is priced £9.99

Fables panel

Fables © Bill Willingham

For a long time now DC/Vertigo have been trying to find a replacement for The Sandman. Something that will blend mythology with pretensions of high art. With Fables by Bill Willingham/Various they may be onto another winner.

Fables is about the secret community set up by all the various fairy-tale, fantasy, Brothers Grimm, Christian Anderson characters that have fled their lands after a war with an unseen adversary. Unfortunately for them the only place they could escape to is our world, a place full of Mundy’s (mundane), and because their stories keep on going they are virtually immortal, which leads to some unforeseen consequences (including, in the latest volume, accused of being vampires)

Snow White is the administrator of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf is its sheriff. King Cole is the major, Jack (of beanstalk fame) is still a chancer on the make, and someone like Pinocchio is still a little boy, although over a hundred years old, pissed off about it and very horny. Prince Charming is a lothario/gigolo who is always leeching off his latest conquest. Rose Red looks after The Farm (where all the magical creatures reside, seeing as talking animals and Frost Giants etc. don’t mix well with humans) and Goldilocks is an animal rights militant activist who has no problems with bestiality.

As you can tell from some of this, Fables is for adults and is a very different take on what we would like our fantasy characters to be. Willingham has a lot of fun messing around with our perceptions of them and whilst some of their magic is missing (they do tend to be a very cynical lot), it’s a very entertaining what-if story. The latest volume contains the continuing fallout from Goldilock’s uprising on The Farm and how the Fables deal with humans who find out their secret. It’s funny, violent and still has magic and charm (Bigby’s reason for loving Snow White for one). Probably not to everyone’s taste, but then, neither are the originals.

Fables Vol 3: Storybook Love is priced at £9.99

The Spirit panel

The Spirit © Will Eisner

Will Eisner’s postwar Spirit continues with Vol 13. With it came a more confident sense of line and composition. The stories became more noirish as Eisner began to use black more extensively than before, creating whole tales that contained nothing but different shades of shadow and light. The lines became juicier, more bold. The storytelling devices he honed to a new level, especially in the splash pages. Here the Spirit logo could be formed by the rooftops of Damascus, or the spinning waters of a whirlpool, on street signs, billboards, telegraph poles, embroidered veils. The splash page, Eisner realized, was the hook. The drawing that could convey mood instantly and make the book be picked up. It often rained in the splash pages. It added drama and intrigue straight away.

Eisner’s femme fatales emerged full-blown in the postwar stories. They had names that hinted at romance whilst offering only heartbreak. All were petty criminals or persons of questionable character. None moreso than P`Gell. The splash page by which Eisner first introduced her is one of his most reprinted. P`Gell is not exactly a crook. She does not steal money, she marries it. Her husbands are the crooks. They are also very deceased: they tend to die shortly after marrying P`Gell. But since they are criminals, no one seems to mind. Least of all P`Gell.

It easy to see now, how much Harvey Kurtzman was influenced by Eisner. And how that, in turn, influenced Mad. The comic turns, voluptuous females, the heavy use of close-ups and shadows to convey mood. The early days of Mad owe a lot to Eisner, as does the whole comicbook industry.

The Spirit Vol 13 is priced £32.99

Superman panel

Superman © D.C Comics

Go out for a walk. Go on. Right now

Go to any place where there are a great number of people. Sooner or later you’ll see somebody with one of the most recognizable icons in the world either on their clothes or body.

The Superman mythos has transcended beyond its “funnybook” beginnings. Everyone knows the story, but it has taken on new meaning. Instead of “the alien ” coming to Earth, we now have the human “alien”. The immigrant, the lost, the orphan, the outcast. All looking for their place in the world. Trying to be part of the human race whilst feeling alone and rejected beneath their secret identity.

It’s the secret identity that features prominently in It’s A Bird by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. It’s A Bird keeps its secret identity in plain sight. Its a Superman book that isn’t really about Superman at all. It’s very much in the human sphere, the vulnerable, the lost, the weak. A semi-autobiographical tale from Seagle telling how he feels nothing for the Superman legend and finds it hard to relate to, thereby finding it unfathomable why his editor wants him to write for Superman. How can anyone tell tales about such a fantastic character, saving the world, time and time again, when all around a writer is the proof that no such character really exists?

It’s just lines on paper.

No one will come to save the day.

Except, except… people do save the day. Firemen, the police, coastguards, doctors, nurses, etc. They don’t wear fancy spandex or have rippling muscles that can move continents and they don’t always succeed, but here is the other secret identity of It’s A Bird. It manages to remind us that we don’t need the icon on our chest and that we can take the “Super” out of Superman.

Following on from my column about super-hero deconstruction, this is one of the best about Superman in a long time. His very mythology is taken apart and put back into its proper place. How two young, Jewish immigrants wanted to tell about someone who was on the side of the oppressed. How he relates to Nietzsche’s ideal of the Ubermensch (which actually means “Over-man”, but has come to be more associated with the “Super-man”). How the letter “S” can do so much good and harm and how we all have secrets and secret identities.

Teddy Kristiansen’s artwork is amazing. Twenty-one distinct styles, from the bleak harshness of real-life to the sepia tones of a 1930’s New Yorker. 1800 woodcuts to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s rare to see a book wherein the art and writing perfectly compliment each other. Seagle and Kristiansen explore the many meanings underpinning the icon of Superman in a variety of styles and voices and is highly recommended.

It’s A Bird is priced at £16.99

Battle Vixens is by Yuji Shiozaki and is published by Tokyopop.
Love Fights is by andi watson and published by Oni Press.
Fables:Storybook Love is by Bill Willingham/Various and published by DC Comics
The Spirit Vol 13 is by Will Eisner and published by DC Comics.
It’s A Bird is by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen, published by DC Comics

All should be available from your local comicbook shop.

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