Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Hi there,

Lots of things to get through this week, so onward as I steal the format from old Marvel Bullpen Bulletins!

ITEM! As I’m sure you’re sadly aware, TVs Batgirl, Yvonne Craig, died last week at the age of 78. While I always found Catwoman (whomever was playing her) more appealing than Batgirl (calling Dr Freud!), Yvonne Craig’s effervescent presence on the show was always more than welcomed. As noted by news sources everywhere, she also tried to kill Kirk in Star Trek and kissed Elvis in movies, so I think we can all consider that a life pretty much full of triumph. Rest in peace, Ms Craig, thank you for your hard work and ever-enthusiastic portrayal of our beloved Babs Gordon. See this week’s Comics Video for a wee treat with Ms Craig in full Feminist Icon Batgirl mode acting in a clip you may not have ever seen…

ITEM! In honour of the mighty Becky Cloonan visiting our shores, our state and, yes, our favourite shop on September 4th and 5th, next week this particularly long-serving Cloonanite will present an all-Cloonan column. How many more times can I write “Cloonan?” We’ll all find out next week, but I’m wagering my Cloonan collection that it will be a lot. Bust out your Shiraz and get ready to go deep, brothers and sisters, into the work of this high priestess of the four-colour form…

ITEM! Your help desperately needed! Did anyone else out there read Vertigo’s collection of The Names by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez last week? If so, please, please leave a comment or tweet me or write me a letter and drop it off in-store, or come over to my house with scotch and cookies and a suave therapist’s chaise lounge because I have been unable to stop thinking about it for days now. Just what the hell is this thing? Is it brilliant? Is it terrible? I honestly have no idea.

Vertigo has been described many times as the HBO of comics. Yet The Names, with its forced expository dialogue, bewildering structure, ludicrous character interactions, baffling sequences, but yet genuinely compelling cliffhangers, recalls instead the thoroughly cheeseball efforts of American network television, like The Following or 24 or CSI: Whatever. I became so convinced of Milligan’s intent to bring this cornball TV aesthetic to comics that I started Googling and actually found this interview with the writer, in which he says, “I wanted [The Names] to feel like one of those fast-moving, complex TV shows.” Indeed, even as I sat there reading it and shaking my head at how silly it was, I found myself reaching for a non-existent box of popcorn and flipping the pages ever faster, constantly unsure of which end of the good-bad spectrum this comic fell under…a state in which I tragically remain.

Fernandez is, as ever, brilliant and really carries the load here. If you were to flip through the book without reading any of it, it would probably be an instant buy for anyone who likes their comics shadowy, their characters stylised, their layouts imaginative.

Cantered around Katya Walker, a young widow obsessed with finding out the truth behind her rich husband’s alleged “suicide,” The Names sees Katya spiralling into a complex and paranoid plot featuring a group of stock market manipulators called The Names which is filled with assassins, in-fighting and transparently evil one-percenters. This would all be complex enough, but throw in the fact that the algorithms used by The Names to manipulate the markets are becoming not only sentient, but also able to infect flesh and blood humans and the comic becomes stuffed full of more “High Concept” than a two hour pitching session at Writers Victoria.

The Names is either a brilliant satire of high concept action TV shows and financial thrillers or it’s a surprisingly schlocky and amateurish work by a hugely accomplished writer. I really, truly have no idea. Either way, make no mistake, it’s totally recommended. You’ll likely either love it, or find it as bizarrely compelling as something like Neal Adams’ bonkers, so-bad-it’s-amazing Batman: Odyssey or the hilariously terrible Dexter: Down Under.

ITEM! Last week’s promised discussion of Savers-bought Diabolik fumetti is delayed due to brain poisoning by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez. Come back in two weeks for discussion of that.

Spoiler – this sums up my general feelings towards said Diabolik comics:

By Juan Cornella
Published By Fantagraphics

Looking like a Little Golden Book designed by Satan, with a spine of explosions and guns and blood in place of cute Disneyfied animals and flora, the print collection of Joan Cornella’s Mox Nox arrived in store last week. 56 pages long, Mox Nox features grotesque six panel gag strips that are so hideously, hilariously wrong Mrs Ashley actually said, “Stop showing me this stuff!” even as she laughed guiltily and pretended not to be interested when I ran back up to her and shoved another page under her poor eyeballs.

Cornella’s work proves that there is no limit to human stupidity, cruelty and dysfunction, but his gift is to render all this with such undeniable humour that you’ll find yourself giggling along with the unending parade of psychopaths -- many of whom clearly believe they are doing the right thing -- populating his surreal strips and are presented with such colourfully warped glee.

The cover is a perfect example of the comics within – a cute brown bear peels its face off as if a mask, revealing a pink-skinned cartoony approximation of a bear underneath, its anthropomorphism warped, perverted, re-imagined with a madman’s off-kilter sense of what relatable adorableness actually looks like. The pages within are filled with similarly grotesque and grinning humans, animals and things in-between engaging in all manner of taboo-smashing awfulness (take that, Crossed!). Murder, maiming, death, aberrant and deviant sexuality, it’s all here, presented with absolute relish and a genuine gift for comedic timing by the author.

It’s the characters’ bizarre sense of heroism that creates the best of Cornella’s punchlines. The strips are arguably at their most potent when clean cut white men rush to the aid of someone in distress only to amplify the horror of the situation and yet still walk away, blank-eyed and grinning, with self-satisfaction at a job well done.

At once wonderfully clever and supremely gross, Mox Nox comes highly recommended for the reader who likes their comics strange and their humour with a lot of bite. 

By Claire Connelly

Halloween comes early as we welcome Claire Connolly back to this column. Her latest, Phantom Harvest, sees a bewildered hobo out late at night encountering an agriculturalist of unusual and supernatural origin…

Silent, colourful and quirky, Phantom Harvest is short and as such is tough to talk about without spoiling. It’s good fun, however, with the whiff of lost folklore about it – one can easily imagine the startled transient character endlessly telling everyone he meets riding the rails from city to city about the apparition he once sighted in a field out in Hicksville.

Rich colours, attractive character designs and terrific shot choice highlight this little comic and a splash page of the tale’s mystery farmer, standing shovel in hand, ominously backlit by a blood red moon above, is a terrific and somehow cute nod to a million backwoods horror movies. I’m fast becoming a big fan of Claire’s work and really look forward to seeing what she’s up to next.


Oh, this letters column! Packed with as much sass as Yvonne Craig in this week’s video! Between the responses to the stoned-to-the-gills missives received and jaw-droppingly crafted editorials (no, really, this issue’s is incredible), I wonder if I should just stop talking about the comics this magazine printed and type these text pieces out whole and unabridged…

One baffled but eager reader, S. Gredler, complains, “Some boxes did not flow i.e. pertaining to action. Some artwork could be more intricate. Some boxes could be smaller to allow more action…”

“You got us there, S.,” comes the snarky reply from editorial. You can almost hear the guffawing from the office as this letter was passed around along with the bong, echoing through the pages almost forty years later.

Anyway, on with the show.

“Quiet. I fear some beast prowls the catacombs.” Ulp. Yes, Corben’s “Den” continues as he and his ridiculous appendage traverse landscapes composed of orange and indigo and end up on the run from subterranean beasties. A quick digression – I read most of Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving’s Annihilator today and I’m struck by how if anyone is the likely inheritor of Corben, it’s Irving. On the surface, it’s likely a weird comparison to make, as the two artists are fairly dissimilar at first, second and likely third glance. Irving has no time for the hyper-masculine men and ultra-pneumatic women that litter Corben’s terrifying, bad trip weird fiction worlds, but both artists are possessed of singular visions, similar gift with hue and a seeming ease with the utter strangeness of their work. More on this when I visit Annihilator some time shortly. But back to HM! It’s September ’77 after all and this was a real ad:

Sergio Macedo’s wonderfully rad Psychorock stories conclude with “Orcyb” in which our rockers-turned naked space hippies traverse from their utopian, Garden of Eden space station, listening to a device which turns cosmic radiation into music, to battling Orcyb—our protagonist’s “shadow in the cosmos”—in unarmed combat, to the death. The denouement has the unfortunate whiff of Buck Rogers finale about it, with the whole battle being a “dream” caused by these far-out tunes man, but despite this, Psychorock still stands tall as a pretty happening piece of ‘70s cosmic comic books.

Also of note: “Polonius” by Picaret and Tardo continues, a short story by the legendary fantasist Roger Zelazny (If you are a fan of this kind of HM craziness and have not read Lord of Light, it’s highly recommended you do so), “Is There A Demon Lover in The House?” which sees Jack The Ripper visiting a movie theatre playing a snuff film, and a double-dose of Moebius, with the full colour “It’s a Small Universe,” and the lengthy. Black and white, “Major Fatal,” which introduces the character of Major Grubert one of the stars of possibly Moebius’ most enduring solo work, The Airtight Garage, which begins in earnest next issue. It is a given that both of these pieces are dreamy, stunningly illustrated and deserving of serious re-reading. The iconic image of Grubert, having apparently trophy hunted some monstrous reptile, adorns the back cover and this alone could be pored over for hours.


By 1973, the Batman TV show was long gone and well on its way to being both somehow simultaneously derided and acting as a gateway drug for the next generation of comics readers (of which I absolutely was a part). I was born a year after this amazing advertisement, made by the U.S. Department of Labour (Wage and Hour Division), aired which makes me feel really quite old. In this 30-second video, a disgruntled, fired up Batgirl rescues a tied up Batman and Robin, stops a ticking time bomb and complains about her working conditions and wages. There’s some serious sass in Craig’s voice as she delivers the line, “Same job, same employer means equal pay for men AANNDD women.”


Thank you again, Yvonne Craig.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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