Tuesday, November 3, 2015


All-horror last week, all-SF this week, a week the comics world lost Murphy Anderson, an artist who fittingly drew Buck Rogers for two years before hopping over to DC where he pencilled and inked the biggest and the best characters for that publisher and co-created the enduring and ever-charming Zatanna with the equally legendary writer Gardner Fox. Rest In Peace, Mr Anderson, thank you for your years of hard work.

By Frederik Peeters
Published by Self Made Hero

Technonatural creation processes, to slightly paraphrase Dr Rajeev from Frederik Peeters’ Aama, are at the heart of this week’s comics, stories that take the SF paradigm of informational systems running amok into some new and beautifully terraformed imaginative spaces.

Aama is French writer/artist Peeters’ award-winning four-volume saga that concluded its English translation from Self Made Hero earlier this month. Surely destined to be considered as classic as the work of Moebius, Druillet and others I bang on about every week in the Heavy Metal recaps, Aama has both the heaviness of concept and philosophy as well as the boundlessly inventive world-building you want in your finest far-future Euro SF.

Verloc Nim is a wreck of a man. His marriage has failed, he’s lost custody of his daughter, Lilja, he’s been swindled out of his family’s antique book business and he’s struggling to find meaning in an increasingly bleak and stoned existence. Verloc finds purpose anew, however, in the form of his estranged brother Conrad, who now works as something of a Mr Fixit for the Muy-Tang Corporation, one of numerous corporate entities responsible for a “great crisis.” Conrad’s latest mission sees him off to the planet Ona(ji) to ascertain what’s happened to a group of scientists outposted there to work on the mysterious “Aama” project. Conrad convinces Verloc to accompany both him and his cigar-smoking, simian-styled robot, Churchill, on the mission. And so begins arguably one of the finest cosmic epics ever in comics, certainly of the modern era.

Aama, to simplify, is a form of AI-driven nanotech. Verloc and co arrive on Ona(ji) to find the mission in ruins, Aama on the loose, and the world terraformed in increasingly strange and wondrous ways as they trek across the landscape the find Aama itself, who has for all intents and purposes, become the planet’s (re)creator and god. Over four 80-plus page volumes, Peeters slowly amps up his already impressive visual design; there is a surprise waiting on almost every page once the story truly gets underway, from techno-organic insects, to vaginal Venus fly traps, to lush forests of alien flowers all pulled from Peeters’ fertile mind.

Secrets over the project and the true nature of Aama unfurl, as well as Verloc’s true destiny and the plans Aama has for his daughter, a doppelganger of whom has somehow arrived on Ona(ji). Volumes three and Four, “The Desert of Mirrors” and “You Will Be Glorious, My Daughter” are as enthralling a read as I’ve had in 2015, with Peeters showing complete distain for the laws of nature and physics as well as time and space – both of our reality and comics space -- in ways reminiscent of Morrison and Quitely’s finest collaborations, reminders that there are some things that comics will only ever be able to do, other mediums be damned.

It’s easy to do Cosmic Freakout in comics but it’s a very difficult thing to pull it off with this much heart and this much intelligence with no irony at all and no heavy reliance on the canon of cosmic comics. Peeters manages not only this, but even seamlessly sandwiches in a super-powered punch-up and it’s one such originality and imagination that its city-wide destruction is turned into something beautiful, the landscape modified and warped in the slipstream of the carnage and the godlike power of one of its combatants.

Aama is the product of a singular vision. Beautiful and mad and packed with true emotion and a wonderful take on posthumanity and the endless possibilities of something like nanotech, an already captivating speculative technological concept. Injection by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, however, reunites a creative team with spectacular creative chemistry and tackles the notion of technonatural creation processes in a very different way.

By Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Published Image Comics

It’s the near future. Five strange and brilliant people add something let’s call magic to something let’s call A.I and “inject” the resulting “non biological consciousness emulator ”into the internet to keep the wheels of human innovation spinning ever-faster. The Injection is an amphetamine shot to the slowing of human progress, if you will; what could possibly go wrong with that? Quite a bit, it turns out, as The Injection, cheekily stretching its parameters, bends physics and alters reality in sinister and unexpected ways. The world now “poisoned”, The Injection’s brainy, eclectic and damaged creators battle their guilt and the phenomena their creation manifests all while The Injection finds new and startling way to communicate with its parents.

Back when I was lucky enough to preview the first issue of this new series, of which five volumes of five issues are planned, I wrote that the series feels very much like an updated British spin on writer Warren Ellis’ very own Planetary, steeped in the myth and history of the Isles instead of mining the rich pulp fields of America. One volume down and this remains largely true, excepting that Ellis’ more recent concerns with the relationship between magic, science and technology, “Haunted Technology” if you will, are more clearly at the fore and his trust in his readership more apparent.

Like Aama, The Injection is fond of creation – that is, after all, what both of these technologies were designed to do in one form or another. Twisting the laws of nature and physics, The Injection too terraforms the world, but in more supernatural ways, ways drawn from folklore, myth and history (in keeping with its magical origins) and giving them a decidedly sinister bent. Like Verloc, Conrad, Churchill and the team of mentally fraying scientists who worked on Aama, Kilbride and co. walk through a world threating to become increasingly strange and alien, thanks largely to their own inventiveness and hubris.

Fans of this creative team’s all-too short, mic-drop of a stint on Marvel’s Moon Knight (six masterclasses in done-in-one comics storytelling) will love seeing Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire work on something far more subtle and expansive. Don’t get the idea that this is a slow book however, for it’s jammed full of mad Ellisian techno ideas, biting dialogue and blackly humoured gags, and also an action sequence that equals Moon Knight at his most violent, as well as some superbly atmospheric and creepy scenes.

Injection is a patient, complex comic with Ellis slowly unfurling his plot over the first five issues and taking his time introducing and developing the personalities of his cast, the Cultural Cross-Contamination unit of Maria Kilbride, Robin Morel, Simeon Winters, Vivek Headland and Brigid Roth. Each character has his/her own speciality, from tech, to magic, to strategic ultra-violence, to deduction, and each had a hand in The Injection’s creation and a role in attempting to clean up their messes. Injection is episodic in the very best way – drawing readers in as it slowly expands, puts more flesh on its bones, rather than relying solely on the cheap hook of a last page cliffhanger. Ellis expertly combines his SF premise with dollops of horror and espionage and I get the feeling that, as
the series progresses, Injection may well become more and more unclassifiable, as much of a odd mash-up as the world the characters find themselves now living in.

Shalvey’s panels are cinematic, super-detailed and his diverse cast is each unique and realistic. He has come such a tremendous way as an artist in such a short period of time. I recently borrowed The Graphic Canon (2013, although I suspect the strip was drawn well before that) from the library and Shalvey’s work adapting Frankenstein for that project is barely recognisable in comparison to Injection. Bellaire’s subtle and moody palate perfectly matches Shalvey’s crisp lines and bring his autumnal trees, intricately-patterned knitted jumpers (!), glowing LCD computer screens, leafy, folkloric creatures and ejecting brain matter to vivid life. How does she find the time to pump out so much high-quality work? There can be no sleep in the Shalvey-Bellaire household, methinks.

Injection is a must for the patient reader who likes a little heft to their conspiracies and some narrative meat on their genre comics. Make yourself a sanga or two in solidarity with this wonderful, ever sandwich-hungry cast, chomp along with them and get drawn into this gleefully shadowy and paranoid comic. Between Injection and Aama, you’ll have enough fresh SF ideas to mull over for quite some time, assuming you can put the books down long enough to do so.


The last time we checked in with Paste Magazine’s “Songs Illustrated” feature, it was for Emily Carroll’s startling take on Neko Case’s “Wild Creatures.” Equalling that effort is Tula Lotay, whose comic based on Bear In Heaven’s “Demon” went up a fortnight back.

Lotay’s work is perhaps the dreamiest in comics, a quality any regular readers might recognise that I prize highly. Her work with Warren Ellis on Supreme: Blue Rose produced one of the year’s most visually striking collections, overhauling Rob Liefeld’s frankly ridiculous character with elegance and beauty. She’s a natural choice for “Songs Illustrated,” as there is something quintessentially pop music about her work. Perhaps it’s her colours, vivid and lively and frequently pink, perhaps it’s the effortless fashion of her Film Noir-posed femmes in their patterned, modified kimonos or pastel summer dresses.

But perhaps not, as most of that is jettisoned (aside from her love of pink) here for her interpretation of “Demon,” replaced with a fever dream of space, lost love, forever-goodbyes and the neon-saturated supernatural. The perfect accompaniment to the bouncy synth, spacy vibe and spurned lyrics of Bear In Heaven’s tune, it’s also possibly a hint at the moodiness in store for us when Lotay and Ellis team up once more for the forthcoming Heartless, where I suspect pink is a colour we won’t see much of at all.

If, like me, you don’t have Spotify, here’s a YouTube link to a live version of the song to open in another window while you read.


“It’s corrupt! This whole society is corrupt…” so says Tiffo, the head of a prosperous South American development firm before storming out to live his dream, free from concrete, in the legendary city of El Dorado. The strip is Serge Le Tendre and Dominique He’s “Fed Up,” an incongruously realistic (for this mag) story that’s stunningly illustrated by He in hyper-detailed black and white. Befriending some natives during his arduous jungle trek, Tiffo tries to persuade them to take him to El Dorado, but the natives refuse, only acquiescing once Tiffo’s suffered a fatal snakebite and has three days left to live. Carrying a stretcher-bound Tiffo through the jungle, the last thing the former developer will ever see is The El Dorado Hilton, a massive structure carved out of the jungle and built in Tiffo’s honour by his former partners. “Fed Up” is great stuff, with its jungles awash with shadowy leafiness and its characters created with realism. Capped off by its near-EC level ironic conclusion it’s a true palate cleanser for a magazine than can get a little too full of its own cosmic headiness from time to time. Yes, even for me.

But wait! Here comes more cosmic headiness as Druillet’s “Urm The Mad” sadly concludes with Urm being informed that he’s a mere pawn in a grand demonic game and has actually been transported to the very land of the dead itself. Druillet’s ability to make his pages, even his ubiquitous double-page spreads, seem even more immense than they actually are is quite the feat of comics magic, as are his layouts with their circular inset panels overlaying his larger images, expertly leading the potentially overwhelmed, overstimulated reader around the page space. Fighting himself free and becoming something of a hero in the process, Urm is returned to the desert, alone, where an ignominious death awaits him in the form of poison from a creature he attempts to befriend. It’s a sudden, shrewdly anti-climactic ending undercutting not only all the demonic grandiosity of the preceding pages, but also reinforcing the uselessness of the whole endeavour. Dying a painful solitary death under a black moon, “Urm The Mad’ recalls Tardi and Picaret’s remarkably nihilistic “Polonius” (see previous Countdowns) in its total subversion of the expectations inherent in the hero’s journey. Druillet’s story is a masterpiece of cosmic horror filled with rejected Gods, satanic underworlds, and a prideful, hubris-packed protagonist. Existential comics at its finest.

Alex Nino comes armed and ready to blow minds with his “Dancing On A Tender Cerebellum,” a nightmarish journey into the fracturing psyche of a cartoonist splintering under the pressure of both deadlines and output as he tries to create his latest, weirdest fictional world. It’s lovely stuff, coloured in lysergic bursts as its visuals alternate between bad trip and worse.

There’s more quirky, bouncily-cartooned “Barbarella,” sumptuously drawn “Airtight Garage” and grim “1996” in this issue too, but as signalled by his commanding cover, this issue belongs to Druillet.


Coming next month from Titan, in English for the first time in over two decades (but first published in the mid ‘60s), is Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane: Delirius. Titan did a wonderful job with the preceding volume, The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane (although I do miss the hand lettering) presenting Druillet’s bold and expansive artwork in a generously oversized volume so we can all pore over the ridiculous detail of his double-page spreads. Delirius is where things really pick up, however, with Druillet bringing writer Jacques Lob (Snowpiercer, Ulysses) along for this most freaked-out of space rides.

I bang on about Druillet too much, I know, so I’ll shut up now and leave you with this, the whole of Delirius with Klaus Schulze’s Trancefer as a fittingly ambient, cosmic soundtrack.

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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