Readers of The Lost Art

The Ultimates vol. 1: Super Human

April 20th, 2009

Ultimates vol. 1: Super Human

Ultimates vol. 1: Super Human

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Bryan Hitch


The Ultimate Universe was devised by Marvel at the turn of the century in an effort to effectively jettison the 40+ years of continuity in the Marvel Universe proper without getting lynched by the armies of fanboys for whom continuity is basically sacred canon. The idea was simple: a complete reboot of the all of the familiar and cherished Marvel icons following them from day one all over again, watching them as they gain their powers, meet their respective super villains for the first time etc. To do this they brought in a raft of new and upcoming talent in order to kick things off with style. 

In amongst this new pool of talent was Mark Millar, at that point most famous for his run on Wildstorm title The Authority, in which Millar presented readers with a group of sadistic murderers who bore uncanny likenesses to Marvel’s premiere superhero team, The Avengers. Had this been the early nineties Marvel probably would have sued Wildstorm and Millar until they cried, however, under the auspices of new Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, they instead gave him the keys to the kingdom. After successfully launching Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four Millar was let loose on the slick new Avengers reboot they had planned. To whit: The Ultimates

Teamed with artist and fellow Brit Bryan Hitch, Millar began to construct a new version of how the Marvel Universe’s biggest hitters came together, borrowing liberally from early Avenger stories from the Sixties and placing them in the context of the early 21st century. Add the polemical style for which Millar had already gained a reputation and with Hitch’s art (a man born to depict superhuman violence like no other) and you have The Ultimates

Volume 1, comprising the first six issues of the series, starts in 1944 with the Allies launching an emergency raid on a Nazi nuclear facility with an exceptionally advanced missile trained on the U.S.A. This is of course the fateful mission where the Allies lose their secret weapon, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America. We are then introduced to the other main characters in the series in quick succession and given the premise of the series by Nick Fury in a conversation with Bruce Banner. Mutants and super humans are appearing all over the place: some such as the Fantastic Four seem benign, others, such as Magneto, do not. Therefore the U.S. government has freed up enough cash to bribe God with in order to establish a super-human deterrent force to defend against any known or future threats. 

After this we are given a run through of everything that goes into making the team, from the ego clashes and personality defects of the team to the massive P.R. stunts employed to ensure public support of the Ultimates. Millar deftly flits between soap opera, polemic and knowing tribute, allowing cameos by real life celebrities and the then President of the United States and throwing in references to authors such as James Branch Campbell, before unleashing the all action finale as the team come together to take down their first real challenge in New York City, followed quickly with a truly shocking depiction of domestic violence that almost feels like it belongs in another comic. 

But it is in the characterisation that Millar really excels, portraying each member of the team as massively dysfunctional, each with his or her own secrets, fears and foibles. His version of Captain America, for instance, having stepped from the 1940s, often seems utterly lost in the early 21st century, finding many of the ideas and attitudes he fought for seen as archaic at best. The Tony Stark of this universe is already a chronic alcoholic with serious doubts with regards to being a superhero. Thor is an anti-capitalist protester who was sent to the Earth to save its people from themselves – either that, or a Norwegian psychiatric nurse who had a mental breakdown and stole some classified European superhuman technology. 

Bryan Hitch’s art throughout is extraordinary; bringing a level of detail that is astounding and consistent throughout, whether depicting conversations between the central characters, real life celebrities or demolition on a massive scale. Aided by brilliant colouring and inking, the artwork renders any complaints regarding the delays that became the series’ hallmark obsolete. Quality of this standard is worth waiting for at any time. 

All in all, The Ultimates is very much a product of its time, much like the original Avengers, and manages to pay homage to the originals whilst also pushing the characters as far as they’ll go in the direction Millar wishes, creating a fun, well crafted story along the way. This is the best summer blockbuster you can read at the minute, and if Marvel Studios have any sense this is what the planned Avengers movie will look like. If you don’t believe me, just look at who’s signed up as Nick Fury. 

Oh, and did I mention that the art is really, really good?


Paperback: 160 pages

Publisher: Panini (UK) Ltd. (10 Feb 2003)

ISBN-10: 1904159052

Casanova vol. 1: Luxuria

April 20th, 2009

Casanova vol. 1: Luxuria

Casanova vol. 1: Luxuria

Writer:  Matt Fraction

Artist: Gabriel Ba

Reviewer: Aaron


Casanova follows the exploits of adventurer Casanova Quinn as he deals, and double-deals, with the forces of E.M.P.I.R.E, a super-secret, world-spanning spy operation run by his father, and W.A.S.T.E, a super-secret, worlds-spanning organisation run by Mummy look-alike Newman Xeno and his sidekick, an alternate universe version of Casanova’s sister, Zephyr Quinn. The story starts with Casanova being ripped out of his own timeline by Xeno so that he can infiltrate and co-opt E.M.P.I.R.E. for Xeno’s own nefarious plans. Or something. 

This, however, is not what Casanova is about. Casanova is about throwing as many insane science-fiction ideas and cultural references at the audience as is possible in a sixteen-page comic book and still make a modicum of sense. Something that writer Matt Fraction just about manages to do, as he guides us somewhat haphazardly through the world(s) of Casanova Quinn and his Freudian nightmare of a family, showing us along the way an island home to the most sophisticated savages outside of Paris, an island that has been high on Orgone (look it up) for longer than is strictly healthy, and nymphomaniac sexbots. Also, he hits God in the head. In fact the only things from most geeks’ wish-lists not present and correct in this deceptively slim volume are ninja-robots with jet packs and a gorilla in a tuxedo, but since Fraction covered those in Rex Mantooth (also available from your local library), I think he can be forgiven on this occasion.

The stylised art by Gabriel Ba is brilliantly rendered throughout, creating a unique world in which even the most bizarre imagining of Fraction’s seems grounded in its own, admittedly twisted, reality. This is greatly helped by the limited colour palette employed, preventing the art, and therefore the whole damn comic, from making the leap from frenetic to simply indecipherable. Not as simple a task as you might imagine.

When it comes to describing the plotting, the word is Dense. There is not a lot of slack in the issues contained within this volume and the whirlwind of plot, ideas, nudity and people striking poses for no better reason than it looks kinda cool can be somewhat disorientating, and leave the reader with a feeling not entirely dissimilar from trying to watch a David Lynch film after downing a vat of peyote-laced absinthe. But in a good way. Honest. I’d like to say that this feeling eventually goes away, to be replaced with a pleasant, warm and fuzzy feeling of clarity and understanding, but with this comic it’s very definitely a case of, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Buy a ticket, take a ride”. Yes indeedy.

Casanova is currently on hiatus, with Matt Fraction currently writing about a third of everything Marvel is putting out at the minute and Gabriel Ba caught up in the latest run of Umbrella Academy, though thankfully both men have stated their intentions to get back to it as and when their schedules allow. So for now we are left with two volumes of insane gloriousness to relish, with the prospect of volumes 3-7 at some point in the future. Here’s hoping they hurry.

Hardcover: 144 pages

Publisher: Image Comics; illustrated edition edition (7 Mar 2007)

ISBN-10: 1582406898

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