Readers of The Lost Art

Scott Pilgrim: Series Review

December 6th, 2010

Author and Artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Reviewer: Louise

Note: I assume throughout this review that you’ve either read the books, or don’t mind being spoiled for them. 

Scott Pilgrim is the eponymous star of a set of six books, all of which are reviewed below. He’s also the star of the recent movie based on the books, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, which I’ll get round to reviewing once I’ve seen it. First, a little backstory… 

The first encounter many members of the Readers of the Lost Art had with Scott Pilgrim was the short story featuring him and his friends for Free Comic Book Day a few years ago (probably 2007). I remember little of it except that I was confused about who the characters were, and that it featured Scott puzzling about a girl he knew who’d become an actress after he saw a poster for a film called “The Girl Who Kicked Me”. Most of us were left resoundingly unimpressed by Scott, thanks to this story, and thought no more about it until the film appeared. Suddenly, posters started appearing in the Odeon bearing the legend “Get the Hot Girl. Defeat Her Evil Exes. Hit Love Where It Hurts”. And we were like “Whuh? They turned it into a movie? Back up a little here…” 

Looking back, I rather feel that Scott and his companions (because “Scott Pilgrim” is very much an ensemble book) were sold a bit short by Free Comic Book Day. I suspect the story used for that event is one that would make far more sense to regular readers, or at least people who’ve read book 1, “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”, since Scott’s world isn’t quite like ours. Read on to find out how…


Scott Pilgrim 1: “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”

 Scott Pilgrim vol. 1 

In which we meet 23-year-old slacker Scott, his sarcastic friends, his cool (and sarcastic) gay roommate Wallace, his slightly stalker-ish 17-year-old soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Knives Chau, his cool new girlfriend Ramona Flowers, and learn of the Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends*, including #1, Matthew Patel.  

That more or less sums up the plot, so here’s with the review. Vol. 1 feels fairly slow-paced, yet it’s an interesting little book, inasmuch as it reads pretty much like a straight-played comic about a group of slacker friends in Toronto. We learn that Scott shares a grotty flat with Wallace (and bed, though they’re not both gay – they just only have one bed), doesn’t have a job, plays bass guitar badly with his kind-of-crappy band Sex Bob-omb, and is sort-of dating a 17-year-old schoolgirl with the interesting name of Knives Chau following a bad break-up a year ago. And then Scott meets Ramona Flowers, deliverygirl extraordinaire, and things start to get interesting. 

I’ve read reviews of Scott Pilgrim which comment that the final sequence of the book, where Scott fights Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriend #1, Matthew Patel, in a video-game style aerial battle, is too much of a change from the more naturalistic style of the first two-thirds of the book. Certainly, much of it does read like a straightforward Friends-style tale of the lives of a bunch of twentysomethings, although there’s a fairly hefty clue to the fact that this isn’t set in the real world when Ramona explains that she can deliver so fast by slipping through “subspace tunnels”, and that she and Scott keep dreaming about each other because one of those tunnels passes through Scott’s head. Perhaps the problem is that if you were looking for a story being told in a completely straight way, this isn’t it, but the first two-thirds of the book might lead you to think it is if you don’t read closely. 

I suppose it depends a lot upon whether you enjoy Scott and Matthew’s battle. Personally, after a large chunk of the book in which Scott wanders about being indecisive (albeit in a very funny way) and mucking his young girlfriend around, I found it was about the right point for Scott to actually do something decisive and yell “Guys, get off the stage!” to his bandmates, as Matthew bursts through the roof shouting “Consider our fight begun!”. The clash between the conventions of heroic quests / videogames and the real world is really funny, as Matthew goes from yelling “It is I, Matthew Patel!” to muttering “Didn’t you get my email explaining the situation?”. 

In some ways, it’s actually rather a shame that [SPOILER] Matthew Patel got vapourised so early in the series, as his ability to wear lots of eyeliner and summon demon fireball-wielding hipster chicks to fight his battles was pretty funny. It also sets up the rest of the series nicely. Scott defeats Matthew with the aid of all of his friends, Ramona explains that he’ll need to defeat her remaining six evil ex-boyfriends (“You dated seven evil dudes?” “Not all at once!”), and we get the impression that Scott is going to really need his friends to help him survive the challenges ahead. Buckle up – the ride’s beginning!

 * As they are referred to in the books, and as the series creator prefers them to be referred to. Yes, I know. You’ve seen the movie poster. I’ll deal with this in my review of Vol. 4.


Vol. 2: “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”

 Scott Pilgrim 2

In which Scott’s ex-girlfriend and current girlfriend battle it out in Toronto’s Public Library, we learn more about Scott’s friends and bandmates, and Scott gets thrown into a building by Evil Ex-Boyfriend #2, Lucas Lee.

 Scott has defeated Ramona’s Evil Ex #1, and is now hanging around waiting for Evil Ex #2, ex-skateboarder and “sell-out” film star Lucas Lee to put in an appearance, so they can fight. We also learn a bit more about Scott and his pals’ histories, and about Scott’s very own Evil Ex, Envy Adams. 

For those who were wondering, it’s pretty clear throughout this book that Scott and his pals aren’t stuck in a videogame being controlled by someone else. It’s just that in their world, the conventions of videogames apply; so Ramona can run through subspace tunnels, Knives Chau can battle with a pair of sais and run up walls, and when Scott defeats Evil Ex-Boyfriend #2, Lucas Lee, Lee turns into a pile of coins and a Special Object (a Mithril Skateboard, which Scott can’t use since he failed to pick up a Skateboarding Proficiency earlier on in life). 

We also learn here that, happily, the series will not just be about Scott fighting Ramona’s ex-boyfriends over her whilst she hangs around in the background like a swooning maiden. Ramona’s a pretty nifty fighter herself, which comes in handy since Knives Chau has turned from heartbroken schoolgirl into love-crazed stalker. It  becomes clear that, whilst Scott may be the protagonist of the series, he’s also something of a… well, I think the word “douche” is flitting across my mind here. His treatment of Knives in the first book was pretty self-centred and unintentionally cruel. As Wallace comments, playing his role as the Gay Best Friend and Voice of Wisdom to perfection, perhaps Scott and Ramona are a perfect match for each other, given that a woman with seven demonically angry ex-boyfriends maybe didn’t treat some of them too well, either.

 Scott and Lucas’s final battle is a bit of an anti-climax; but this book is really more about the history of the characters, and O’Malley has a knack for creating an interesting set of people. Oh, and there’s a really good recipe for vegan shepherd’s pie, as well.


Vol. 3: “Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness”

In which Scott’s very own Evil Ex, Envy Adams, appears, Envy and Ramona slug it out in a battle royale featuring high-kicks and giant mallets being swung at people’s heads, and Scott faces off against Evil Ex #3, Todd Ingram, in a Bass Battle. (Which Scott is destined to lose, since Todd Ingram can actually play bass.)  

Scott Pilgrim 3In which Wallace, Stephen Stills and Julie Powers are still very cool and very awesome, and it’s about time for Envy to appear, since she’s been built up throughout books 1 & 2 as a major figure in Scott’s life (a mere phone conversation with her leads to Wallace finding Scott curled in the foetal position on the apartment floor), and book 2 ends with the revelation that Envy is in a band with Ramona’s Evil Ex #3, Todd Ingram, and they’re dating. 

Book #3 is very much the story of Scott and Envy’s break-up, told in flashbacks throughout the book. Unfortunately, I found it sometimes a little hard to keep track of which is the current timeline and which is the flashback, although it did help when I realised that the pages with black borders were the flashbacks. Some slightly better signposting would have helped. 

Though the lightness of “Scott Pilgrim” is very much what makes it fun, it wouldn’t work if the characters were cardboard cut-outs, and Scott and Envy’s breakup is a familiar tale well told; two people dating in college who grew apart. Although Envy acts pretty evil, she’s characterised well enough that whilst we cheer for Ramona in their fight (where Ramona whips her giant hammer out of her purse for the first time – no, that’s not a euphemism!), we still care for Envy when the ending leaves her [SPOILER] minus both her boyfriend and her band. 

The same cannot be said of Todd Ingram. Not the characterisation I hasten to add, as that’s done very well. Todd is excellently characterised as the first of the Evil Exes we really don’t like; a self-centred, narcissistic, vegan rock star who we’re just cheering for Scott to take out as fast as possible. You’ve got to love a book where the bad guy’s downfall comes from gelato. Speaking of bad guys, someone very important puts in an cameo towards the end of the book… read carefully!

Chew vol 1: “Taster’s Choice”

July 15th, 2010

Chew vol. 1

Writer:             John Layman                        

Artist:              Rob Guillory

Reviewer:       Louise 


Tony Chu is no ordinary detective.

Tony Chu is a cibopath, one of only three in the world. Whatever he chews, he gains a psychic impression of; how it was grown, how it lived… and how it died. The only exception to this is beetroot. 

Tony Chu works as a homicide detective.

And if you’ve read comics even slightly, you can see how this works out for him. 

“Chew” is that rare beast, a comic with a genuinely new idea. Tony’s experiences learning to live with his powers / curse form the plot of volume one, “Taster’s Choice”*, in which he is recruited by one of the other two cibopaths, Mason Savoy, who becomes his mentor. Their powers alone would make for an interesting series, but there’s a lot more going on here. Since a massive outbreak of avian flu, poultry is an illegal substance, meaning that the police spend a lot of time tracking down dealers and users in “chicken speakeasies”. Tony’s powers are certainly useful here, but is there a cover-up going on, and will he live long enough to find out? 

The art is excellent. It’s a slightly cartoonish and exaggerated style – Mason is about four times the size of Tony – but that’s not a criticism; it works very well indeed for the plot, which is fascinating and doesn’t let up. Though this book should come with a warning; don’t read this if you’re very squeamish! 

Thankfully, the great art and skilled writing prevent it descending into Saw-type levels of horror, but there are one or two sequences that Chuck Palahniuk would have been proud to have written. Certainly it’s the only comic I’ve read containing the memorable line “I HAD TO EAT A DEAD DOG TO PROVE WHAT YOU DID!”. Strongly recommended. 

* The brand name for Nescafe Gold Blend in the States, if you were wondering. 

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Image Comics (25 Nov 2009)

Language English

ISBN-10: 1607061597

Robert Crumb’s Genesis

July 5th, 2010


Author: Various

Artist: Robert Crumb

Reviewer: Ronan

So I’m working my way through Robert Crumb’s illustrated Genesis, and it is the most fun I’ve had reading that book, even given how much I’ve enjoyed reading it in the past.  Obviously there’s not much new in Crumb’s version, as he has kept the text intact, deciding to go for a straight retelling rather than the satirical take he had originally planned.  With a text like that I don’t think you can help but be awed by it  – if, that is, you’re not approaching it with the bias and hostility that the bible alone amongst ancient texts seems to be subject!  Going over the illustrated Genesis does give one the opportunity to read the texts in a different way and to see old passages in a new light.  Starting with the creation account itself, what comes across is the powerful impression that God is, among other things, a masterful story-teller, and puts into perspective the emphasis in Hebrew tradition on scripture as the Word of God.  The creation account in particular, and also the Flood narrative that follows, are especially evocative and highly figurative stories, with a childlike simplicity, and they are obviously meant to speak to our imaginations and emotions.  Unlike, say, Leviticus, or the Passion narratives, which are very adult texts, these stories don’t demand that the reader take them as hard fact.  Instead, God presents his Word primarily as a story, accessible by children and adults alike; the same could be said for the Nativity narrative in the Gospels. 

The other thing I like about Genesis is the warts ‘n’ all way that its characters are presented.  Noah, for example, is shown to be a bad drunk in the epilogue to the Flood story, as we see him hungover and cursing his grandson cos he’s pissed off with the boy’s father.  Maybe it’s small beer compared to whatever the folk who died in the flood were up to, but he’s not exactly the genial old soul you’d imagine from the Flood narrative alone.  Then there’s the story of Abraham, who winds up offending not only God but also the foreign Kings in the lands he visits by asking his wife to claim she is his sister.  The basic idea is that she will help ensure the smooth running of Abraham’s business by keeping the powerful men happy.  Of course, this sort of thing would be used by the New Atheists as a stick to beat the bible with, but it is pretty clear what God’s feeling on this are, and he ensures Abraham is challenged and sent packing for his deception. 

One of my favourite stories in Genesis, which isn’t one of the ones you hear as a kid, is that of Hagar, the handmaiden to Abraham’s wife, Sarah.  Sarah is convinced that she is infertile, and so asks Abraham to impregnate Hagar so he will not be without an heir.  However, once Hagar is pregnant, she begins to see herself as superior to Sarah, who jealously chases her from the camp.  Hagar then has an encounter with God, who encourages her to return to her mistress and tolerate her harsh treatment for the sake of her child.  A similar event takes place later in Hagar’s life, when God gives Sarah the gift of her son, Isaac.  Now that Abraham has an heir by Sarah, she wants rid of Hagar’s son, seeing him as competition.  Again, Hagar is cast out, and again it is God who gives her the strength to carry on, although this time they go on their way and her son becomes a reknowned hunter and fathers a nation in his own right.  Again, God doesn’t condone Abraham’s fathering of a child outside of his marriage to Sarah, seeing it as a betrayal of the trust in Him that he expects them to have.  But he also looks after the abandoned child and mother, which is more than Abraham and Sarah were willing to do. 

So far I’ve gotten up to the story of the destruction of Sodom, with Lot and his family escaping thanks to God’s angels.  I really enjoyed Crumb’s rendition of Abraham haggling with God to spare the city for the sake of 50 good men, which he whittles down to 10 before calling it a day and deciding not to push his luck with The Almighty too far.  Again, we see how disgraceful are the people God has chosen when, following the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s daughters get him blind drunk and sleep with him!  Anyway, more filth ahead, I’m sure.  I haven’t even got up to the story of Judah and Tamar yet…


Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (29 Oct 2009)

ISBN-13: 978-0224078092

100 Bullets vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call

January 5th, 2010

100 Bullets vol.1: First Shot, Last Call

“They did it.

You know it.

They deserve it.

You’ll get away with it.

Question is, do you pull the trigger?” 


So ran the advertising poster for 100 Bullets when the series first emerged back in the late nineties (and my God, writing that sentence makes me feel old), neatly summarising the series. A mysterious man – Agent Graves – appears and hands you a briefcase containing incontrovertible proof that a particular person – maybe you know them, maybe you don’t –  is responsible for wrecking your life, along with a handgun and 100 untraceable bullets. You can get your revenge in the certain knowledge that the police can’t touch you for it.  What do you do? 

This first volume tells the tale of two people visited by the mysterious Agent Graves, one an ex-con just out of prison, the other a ruined restauranteur scratching a living working in a down-at-heel bar. All the classic noir elements are here: ex-cons, corrupt cops, junkies and dealers, world-weary detectives, sleazy bars and strip joints, and maybe, just maybe, a shot at redemption. Yet “100 Bullets” is far more than the sum of its parts. Right from the start, the creators have never shirked answering the question, “how the hell do you shoot someone without being arrested?”, and the series slowly reveals the massive conspiracy lurking behind Agent Graves’ lined face and pinstripe suit. All the characters are memorable too; Graves, Isabelle “Dizzy” Cordova, Mr Shepherd, the cold-hearted Megan Dietrich, and one of the most frightening comic book monsters of all time, the psychotic hitman Lono. 

Azzarello and Risso’s partnership is truly one of the all-time great writer-artist partnerships; it’s impossible to think of “100 Bullets” without either. This first volume has it all; great attention to detail, great colouring, and there’s always something in the background that rewards a closer look. Very, very, highly recommended. 

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: DC Comics  
  • ISBN-10: 1563896451

Dark Entries

December 11th, 2009

Dark Entries


Or John Constantine does Big Brother. Penned by Ian “Inspector Rebus” Rankin, this tale takes John Constantine into the murky world of reality TV. Six contestants are locked in a haunted house, searching for a mysterious prize whilst the producers try to frighten the wits out of them. Problem is, the house has started frightening them all of its own volition, and the producers would like supernatural detective and master of bad-luck magic Constantine to go in and sort it out. 

This has received mixed reviews. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining tale with a nasty twist, although if you’re familiar with the Constantine series, you may well guess what’s coming in advance. On the other, it’s nowhere near what can be done with Constantine; it’s not the next “Dangerous Habits”, and the target of reality TV is almost too easy to satirise, and rather passé by now. (If you want to see really vicious satire on the topic of reality TV, go watch Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, but for God’s sake don’t eat sausages in tomato sauce beforehand, or indeed anything else). 

In many ways, the situation in Dark Entries is not enough of a challenge for Constantine, and whilst in some ways it’s refreshing to see him doing what he does best without having to screw someone over or pause to consider the morality (or lack thereof) of what he’s doing, it also makes for a rather slight tale. On the other hand, it is great to see writers of the calibre of Rankin and fellow crime-writer Denise Mina getting to grips with Constantine. I really do hope Rankin writes more Constantine; this is a good warm-up, and the Rebus series proves that Rankin can do battered characters facing nasty moral conundrums like few other. 

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (2 Oct 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1848563426

Short Reviews: Recent Limited Series

November 4th, 2009

1.     Werewolves on the Moon vs. Vampires

Werewolves on the Moon

Read that title. Go on, read it. Does it not make you laugh? 

That’s the idea, and the comic delivers… exactly what you’d expect. It’s got everything: werewolves, vampires, spacesuits, and tough chicks with guns. The phrase “hilarious romp” is often applied to works which aren’t really worth your time, but this is. To quote a review I once read of Dodgeball: “Thankfully, it’s made by people who fully understand that if the destination is going to be this predictable, the journey had better be fun”. Three of the goofiest werewolves ever head to the moon in search of new people to bite, only to find themselves on a moonbase run by the beautiful and hard-as-nails Captain Maggie Pilgrim, and under attack from a horde of ravening vampires. Will the werewolves and humans set aside their differences long enough to keep from becoming dinner? 

It’s an amusing tale with lots of action and, crucially, characters you actually do care about (a surprisingly hard trick to pull off in a funny comic). The artwork is good too; there’s a particularly nice example of how skilled the artist is on the first page of the second issue, where we see three “Most Wanted” posters of the werewolves’ human personas. Even though we never see them in their non-wolf forms in the comic, somehow you know that’s exactly what they look like. For once, this is a limited series I’d actually like to see more of. For another one… see below! 


2.     Mysterius the Unfathomable

Mysterius the Unfathomable

Roll up, roll up, for the adventures of Mysterius [sic] the Unfathomable. Or “Mysterius the Amazing Pregnant Man” as I’m tempted to refer to it, given the artist’s predilection for drawing most of his male characters with eight-months-pregnant-sized potbellies. I’m all for a comic series in which heroism isn’t the preserve of the implausibly pretty and skinny / buff, but it’s slightly distracting. 

Shame, because the comic itself is a blinder, and, aside from that one point, the artwork is excellent. Imagine Doctor Who with a more adult rating. (No, not Torchwood. This is actually good.) The magician Mysterius and his assistant Delfi [also sic] find themselves trying to solve a mystery after an antiques dealer contacts them to lift a rather embarassing curse. In course of doing so, they encounter seances, witches, a brilliantly-imagined realm of the imagination which resembles a nightmarish Dr Seuss cartoon, and a showdown at the Burning Man festival in Arizona. Gripping, entertaining, and with characters you’ll care about, as Mysterius and Delfi try to work out their working relationship whilst at the same time trying not to die horribly. Recommended. 


3.     Screamland


A monster tale unlike many others. This tells the story of four monsters (Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf, mummy and vampire) adrift in Hollywood; the work used to be good, but since special effects improved they’ve been struggling to find employment. Some are embittered, some live on past glories, some are hitting the bottle, and one lives in hope of his secret never being revealed. A clever look at Hollywood from an unusual perspective with good artwork. I found it a little bit predictable, but it is a first comic, and for a first comic, it’s far better than much other stuff out there by more established writers.

American Virgin vol. 1: Head

August 28th, 2009

American Virgin vol. 1: Head

Writer: Steven T. Seagle

Artist: Becky Cloonan.

Reviewer: Louise 


“American Virgin” is an interesting little tale, with probably the best title for a new comic I’ve seen in some time. It tells the story of Adam Chamberlain. The son of a fervent right-wing Christian in the US, Adam is the likeable poster boy for a Christian movement promoting chastity among teenagers, going on TV and giving interviews about how he and his girlfriend are going to wait until marriage. Despite scuffles with his cousins (who definitely aren’t Christian), and arguments with his brother (who definitely isn’t chaste),  Adam is fundamentally happy with his life, including his friendship with his smart-mouthed (and also not chaste) female cousin. Until his girlfriend is kidnapped whilst volunteering in Africa, and Adam must venture there in search of her… 

This is an interesting, if slightly flawed story. It’s a very good set-up; it’s probably a safe bet that many of the readers of “American Virgin” aren’t going to share Adam‘s outlook on life, yet he himself is quite a likeable individual – not perfect, but sincere in his views; he wants to have sex with his girlfriend, but believes they should wait. There’s an ongoing tension there that the story could exploit. Do we, as readers, want to see Adam change his views? The abstinence movement in America isn’t a topic I’ve seen addressed in comics before, and seeing it explored through the experiences of a character we can empathise with would be good, particularly since his cousin’s and brother’s viewpoints are sufficiently different to provide a contrasting outlook. And let’s face it, the “will they? won’t they?” erotic tension plotline is a tried-and-true way to keep the reader’s interest. 

Unfortunately, once the plot moves to Africa these potentially interesting issues get sidelined. Whilst yes, it is interesting to see how Adam copes with a very different culture (whilst at the same time trying to cope with what he learns about  along the way), it did feel rather like a remix of two very old plots: the hackneyed “white man finds his beliefs challenged in the darkest continent” plot and the standard blockbuster “man tries to rescue his girlfriend” plot. 

Overall, though, it is an interesting read with high quality artwork by Becky Cloonan, and, as it’s an ongoing series, there’s room for the characters to develop and the issues to be explored. Recommended. 


Paperback: 112 pages

Publisher: Vertigo (Nov 2006)

ISBN-10: 1401210651

Pride of Baghdad

August 14th, 2009

Pride Of Baghdad 

Author: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Niko Henrichon

Reviewer: Louise


Based on a real-life incident, “Pride of Baghdad” tells the story of four escaped lions in war-torn Baghdad. Noor, Safa, Zill and Ali, live peaceful, if slightly boring, lives in captivity in Baghdad Zoo. When war breaks out, a bomb shatters their enclosure, allowing them to escape into the ravaged city… 

Is freedom better than captivity? That’s the central question posed by “Pride of Baghdad”. The lions’ escape is an obvious metaphor for what’s going on in their surroundings. Is it better to live a safe, well-fed life under tyranny, or to be free in a dangerous world? That might sound a little simplistic, and indeed if that was the entirely of Vaughan’s approach to the story, it would be. Right from the start, however, it’s pretty clear that there are not going to be any black and white answers, as one of the older lionesses in the pride, reflecting upon the hardships and horrors of life in the wild in Africa, remembers how she lost an eye whilst being brutally gang-raped by a pack of marauding lions. 

I mention this latter to underscore the point that whilst yes, this is a book with talking animals, it’s definitely not for kids, though it would comfortably fit into the “young adult” section (i.e. about 14 up). There’s some violence, swearing and sexual references, although it’s not so graphic it merits an “adults-only” rating. Indeed, this is one of the approaches to storytelling which graphic novels do so well; taking an approach which might seem to be childlike and using it to explore some very adult themes (“We3” by Grant Morrison is another good example, and also highly recommended). 

To a certain extent, though, it does slightly limit the book. There’s only so far you can push a metaphor, after all, and the plight of the escaped lions cannot be entirely comparable to the plight of (human) Iraqis under Saddam Hussein’s regime.  

Fortunately, it’s not all heavy moralising and philosophical musings. The four lions are both very lionlike, and very human; each has their own personality. There’s the odd flash of humour, as well; when Ali the lioncub is told that there will be other animals his own age on the outside, he replies: “Cool; I always wanted to kill a baby goat!” Ultimately, that’s what makes this very affecting .We do feel for the pride, even though we suspect we already know how this will end. The artwork, too, is excellent – clear and beautifully coloured. It’s not easy to convey human expressions on an animal’s face, and  deserves major plaudits for doing so. Overall, it may not be this decade’s “Watchmen” (very few graphic novels ever will be), but it’s a very good book, and worthy of your time. 


Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (22 Feb 2008)

ISBN-10: 1845763750


August 7th, 2009



Writer:            Grant Morrison

Artist:             Frank Quitely

Reviewer:        Louise 


Like a modern-day version of Richard Adams’ “The Plague Dogs”, We3 tells the tale of three escaped animals – a dog, a cat and a rabbit – who have been the subject of horrifying experiments. We3 is the collective name for the three animals, once family pets, now modified into living weapons. “Weapon 1” is the dog, “Weapon 2” the cat, and “Weapon 3” the rabbit, all equipped with robotic suits containing deadly weapons. When they escape from their confinement, the US military will do anything to get them back – including unleashing the terrifying Weapon 4…

We3 is extremely violent, but not without heart. It’s hard not to sympathise with the plight of the three lonely and confused animals. Cleverly, Morrison sets up a situation where the experiments have granted them rudimentary powers of speech, allowing them to speak to each other in a strange version of English, half-animal, half-machine. We thus see some of their inner thoughts – “What home?” “Is no more run” – but they are never so anthropomorphised that we forget their essentially animal nature. 

The contrast between the horrendously deadly weaponry they have been equipped with (if you don’t like pictures of rabbits being killed in gruesomely inventive ways, you might want to skip this one) and the pathetically vulnerable animals inside it gives We3 its heart. Yet at the same time, the animals’ determination to find somewhere safe gives the reader something to root for; they are not only victims. Morrison does a nice job of portraying their personalities – the dog’s loyalty to his companions, the cat’s sarcastic nature – and we do sympathise with them. 

The artwork is very high-quality too. It’s not easy to convey emotion on an animal’s face without going too cartoony and anthropomorphic, but Quitely does an excellent job of keeping We3 looking like actual real animals. He also realises Morrison’s nightmarish visions of the weaponry they have been equipped with very well. There’s a particularly effective scene where two scientists discuss the fates of animals where we see in the background a cage full of rats who have had body parts replaced with tools (drills, screwdrivers, etc). Though the premise of We3 is fantastic, we are thus sharply reminded that it’s not all that far-fetched, as the US armed forces have carried out research into using animals in warfare in similar ways. 

Although the ending seems to me to have one loose thread (the animals are dependent on medication to stay alive, which is a plot thread that to me doesn’t seem to be properly resolved), it’s sad but not depressing, and does justice to the rest of the book. The plot cracks along at a fair pace, making this a gripping read with heart. Recommended. 


Paperback: 104 pages

Publisher: Vertigo (Jul 2005)

ISBN-10: 1401204953

Nextwave vol. 1: This Is What They Want

June 18th, 2009



Writer: Warren Ellis

Artist: Stuart Immonen

Reviewer: Louise


Nextwave is what happens when a writer with an urge for satirising the Marvel Universe takes a bunch of Z-list Marvel heroes – Monica Rambeau, Elsa Bloodstone, Machine Man, Meltdown, and the Captain, who is the only original character and a pastiche of every terrible Marvel superhero whose name begins with Captain – and villains and decides to use them to relentlessly take the mick out of every superhero cliché in the book, whilst at the same going for the surreal and outrageous at every turn. 

You want Machine Man to be swallowed by Fin Fang Foom? You got it. You want Captain America to fight the Enhanced Bull-Men of Gamma Zeta IV (“…and they’re naked!”)? You got it. You want Nick Fury, ahem, Dirk Anger, to be a vengeful nutjob with an urge to eat Prozac and ice-cream and dress up in his mother’s nightgown? Right there! 

This of course is not new. For as long as there have been superheroes, there have been people taking the mick out of them, because, as we all know, there is something inherently ridiculous about grown men in tights walloping each other. Since this is Warren Ellis writing, however, Nextwave pulls this off with considerably more brio and invention than most. In particular, the Captain’s (“His name is the Captain!”) origin story had several of us crying with laughter.

We also cracked up at Nextwave’s all-out assault on Dirk Anger’s floating HQ and its “drop bear” defences (altogether now, “Ickle cute cuddly bears!… Of death!”) and at the Nextwave theme song, complete with references to the Titanic, Goethe, and gratutious swearing. Yes, there is a theme song, and you can find it online. The artwork is very good too; slightly cartoony in a way that really suits the writing. 

So, Nextwave. Reading it won’t make you a better person. It won’t make you think “Wow, that was one of the most enlightening half-hours of my life”. It will, on the other hand, make you crack up laughing and show it to all your friends. And that’s never a bad thing. 


Paperback: 144 pages

Publisher: Marvel Comics; Direct Ed edition (14 Mar 2007)

ISBN-10: 0785119094

All Star Superman: Vol. 1

May 20th, 2009

All Star Superman vol. 1

All Star Superman vol. 1

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Frank Quitely

Reviewer:  Louise


 Like Batman, Superman seems to have been around for ever. Unlike Batman, it’s harder for the casual reader to see how he could be reinvented for the new darker, more self-aware era of comics so perfectly exemplified by “The Dark Knight”. After all, he’s not human. He didn’t have a traumatic childhood. He married the love of his life. Dammit, he’s far too happy to be a modern superhero… or is he?

At this point I must state my own position with regard to comics. I started out by watching the X-Men cartoon series as a kid, found the local comics shop and discovered that the actual books were way more interesting. Graphical storytelling (and yes, I know that sentence qualifies me for Pseud’s Corner, but I hate writing “comic books” lest people think I read the Beano) has been a great hobby of mine for years, but, because I started on Marvel’s output aged twelve, I kind of missed out the DC “classic” universe of heroes, going straight to DC Vertigo when I hit my misunderstood teenage years. (I hope at some point these will end. I’m still waiting.)

I can reel off a shopping list of DC heroes – Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash – but ask me for anything other than the basic details and I’m in the dark. They always just seemed too goody-two-shoes when I was younger, and I’ve never really had the time to catch up, not when there are so many interesting “adult” graphic novels out there (Maus, Fun Home, Watchman, From Hell) needing to be devoured.

In “All-Star Superman”, however, Grant Morrison proves both to me and anyone else who happens to be reading that it is possible to do something genuinely new and interesting with Superman by giving him the “million-dollar budget” treatment. The classic example of this, of course, is The Authority, in which the sheer scale of what’s going on – wiping out entire countries, killing “God” – is enough to make the reader’s jaw drop. To make this work, however, the writer has to manage the tricky balancing act between the scale of what’s happening and the humanity of the characters.

Which may be an odd word to apply to Superman, but Morrison manages it very well by [SPOILER… ] setting up a situation from the beginning in which Superman is mortally injured by being over-exposed to solar radiation. Suddenly, like everyone else, he must confront the fact that he will eventually die. This underscores the entire comic, juxtaposing the themes of life and mortality against a world in which Superman can dive into the sun to save a spaceship, create a key to his Fortress of Solitude that only he can lift from the dense matter of a dead star, kiss Lois Lane on the surface of the moon, and play “fetch” with his pet dog Krypto across the entire Milky Way. It really is stunningly good, and made me care about Clark Kent / Superman in a way which no-one else has managed. Suddenly, he’s interesting.

The artwork too is amazing. I could single out something on nearly every page that is worthy of a special mention, but I’ll agree with the introductory notes that Frank Quitely’s treatment of well-meaning, klutzy, baggy-suited, bespectacled Clark Kent should take pride of place. Suddenly, you realise why no-one would ever think this guy was Superman.

The only thing I would say is that if, like me, you’re not au fait with the mythology of Superman, you will probably miss a layer of references and reworkings that the fans will get instantly. Then again, this may not be a bad thing. Comics that rely entirely on in-jokes and in-house references have, by definition, a limited audience of fanboys and fangirls. Having read this without having been a life-long Superman fan, I still enjoyed it.

All that’s left for me to say now is, go read it. If only for the truly brilliant eight-word summing up of Superman’s origins. Really. It’s that good.


Paperback:  160 pages

Publisher:  Titan Books Ltd (24 Oct 2008)

ISBN-10:  1845763947

The Boys vol. 1: The Name of the Game

April 9th, 2009

The Boys vol. 1: The Name of the Game

The Boys vol. 1: The Name of the Game


Author: Garth Ennis

Artist: Darrick Robertson.

Reviewer: Louise

Note: This graphic novel is rated for Mature readers, and it richly deserves this rating. This review does not contain Mature content itself, but it does contain references to it. As with all the reviews on this site, the review gives an opinion on the book, but does not endorse it as being suitable reading material for all ages.


They’re violent psychopaths.

 But, dammit, they’re such endearing violent psychopaths.

 Such is the nature of “The Boys” (and one Girl) in Garth Ennis’s latest offering. To a certain extent, you always know what you’re getting with Ennis. There’ll be violence, copious and inventive swearing, violence, male friendship, violence, heroism, violence, weird sex, violence, a certain amount of gross-out, violence, pub philosophy, violence, a hidden message of liberal tolerance, and yet more violence, in which, at some point, at least one person will have their face ripped off. (One of these days someone will discover why Garth Ennis has such a thing for people having their faces ripped off. I can wait to find out, though.)

 With this series, however… one wonders if at some point, the following conversation took place:

 Comics Bigwig at Top Cow: We’d like you to do a series with superheroes.

 Garth Ennis: You know how I really hate superheroes?

 Comics Bigwig: We’ll pay lots of cash.

 Ennis: Did I mention how I really, REALLY, hate superheroes?

 Comics Bigwig: So that’s a yes.

 Ennis: (cackling manically) Yup… heh heh heh.


(Indeed, “The Boys” turned out to be so vehemently anti-superheroes that it ended up shifting publisher from Top Cow to Dynamite, after Top Cow got nervous about its likely effect on their other titles’ sales.) The premise can be summed up by “Superheroes exist, and they’re all selfish *******s “.

Ennis has said that it was inspired by his reading about the CIA’s clandestine operations in the 20th century and wondering “What if superheroes really existed – what would be the truth behind the façade?” The truth, in this instance, is that all superpowers are caused by ingesting a powerful substance, Compound V, (developed by Nazis during WWII, natch) which grants a person special abilities – although, naturally, many “heroes” prefer to make up their own, more dramatic, origin stories for marketing purposes. Though superheroes and supervillains may slug it out for the benefit of the news, in reality they’re all in it for the marketing profits, the political influence, and the opportunity to have sex with whoever they like and get away with it.

 Naturally, the powers that be (particularly the CIA) are not thrilled about having a boatload of super-powered costumed crazies running around, but since said costumed crazies are capable of ripping the arms off anyone who hasn’t taken Compound V without breaking a sweat, they’re involved in a delicate balancing act, trying to keep the supers from killing too many innocent bystanders without starting a war with them. Which is where the Boys come in.

 Violent, black-leather-trenchcoated, and super-powered themselves, the Boys are the CIA’s top “black ops” squad, called in to handle any situation involving rogue supers. Led by Billy Butcher, an ex-SAS man with a pet bulldog called Terror and a real loathing for anyone with superpowers and a costume, and staffed by an ex-marine (Mother’s Milk), two cute-but-violent nutjobs (the Frenchman and the Female), and a newcomer who closely resembles Simon Pegg (Wee Hughie), the Boys are the people you really don’t want knocking on your door. If they bothered with a team ethos, it would be “We’re *******s  – but the alternative is worse”.

 “The Boys” is largely told from the perspective of Wee Hughie, the aforementioned Simon Pegg lookalike (Pegg himself is said to consider this an honour). Having watched his girlfriend killed by the careless actions of a so-called “hero” in the first issue, Wee Hughie is recruited onto the team by Billy Butcher to replace a missing member. The rest of the series is probably best described as his journey into the world of the Boys, and the messy moral dilemmas facing them. Are all supers bad? If you’ve taken Compound V to be able to fight them, does that make you as bad as them? Ultimately, does Wee Hughie want to become Billy Butcher; super-violent, utterly ruthless, and out for revenge? Certainly, entertaining though the rest is, the series really comes alive in the scenes between Hughie and Butcher. And between Hughie and his new girlfriend – though, unknown to him, she has a big secret herself…

Darrick Robertson’s artwork also deserves major kudos; without it, the story wouldn’t work. The Boys is a very, very well-drawn book, with each character having their own distinct identity (even Terror the bulldog). Sounds easy, but there’s rather a lot of artists out there whose characters all have very similar faces… Though Robertson can certainly do the slam-bang action, it’s perhaps his gift for facial expressions that makes the Boys work as well as it does; we really see the characters’ inner lives and feelings. I particularly like the scene in issue 3  in which Butcher and the Frenchmen meet again after a long period apart; the Frenchman (who’s really quite a nice person when he isn’t morphing into a violent killer) hugs his friend, and   perfectly captures the mixture of happiness and embarassment on Butcher’s face.

 Another scene deserving of a mention is the expression on Butcher’s pet bulldog Terror’s face when Butcher tells him to… do something I can’t actually describe in this review; let’s just say it’s another example of the oh-my-gosh-that’s-bad-I-shouldn’t-really-laugh-but-it’s-so-funny humour that Ennis specialises in.

 The rest of the book is occupied by Ennis making crude jokes and having a go at every single superhero and superteam he can think of. The Avengers, the Justice League, Superman, Batman and Robin, Doom Patrol, the X-Men… they all come in for Ennis’s lacerating treatment. Indeed, if you’re not prepared for some pretty vicious satire on all of the aforementioned, not mention them all being given a good kicking, this might be one to avoid. If, on the other hand, you’re up for more Ennis and you want a really gripping, well-drawn comic, pick up the Boys – it’s one of the few comics that has had the Readers of the Lost Art all talking about it for a while!


Paperback: 152 pages

Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (26 Oct 2007)

Language English

ISBN-10: 1845764943