B

Derf Backderf - My Friend Dahmer
Cartoonist Derf went to school with Jeffrey Dahmer.  The book is sort of autobiographical but also biographical as he mostly relates tales of his interactions with the teenaged attention seeking Dahmer mixed with short accounts of Dahmer’s home life.
Throughout, he presents him in a fairly sympathetic light, making regular allusions to the lack of parental interest shown towards Dahmer and of the singular inability of all other adults in Dahmer’s life to take any interest in him.
The book is well constructed and very nicely drawn in a strong cartoon style but due to the subject matter it’s lacking any real depth.  It’s lacking any real depth.  It’s a memoir and as such reads mostly like a series of pasted together anecdotes rather than a coherent narrative.  It’s an unusual glimpse behind the crimes though and well worth a read.

Alan K. Baker - The Martian Ambassador
This is the first in a series of Steampunk novels featuring secret agent Thomas Blackwood and psychical researcher Lady Sophia Harrington.
It's a bit of a mess. The world into which we are plunged is at first glance that of Wells' War of the World but with benign Martians helping out, computers operated via little fairies that allow contract with the Earth's akashic records and there's an evil Venusian running around killing people whilst yelling "Look at me! I'm a Martian!" so people look to blame the peaceloving and helpful Martians.  Like I said, it's a mess.  It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, urban fantasy, sci-fi, period Lovecraftian horror, Gaiman-esque appropriation of a English fairy lore or none, some or all of the above and so ends up being a hodgepodge of each and unfortunately doesn't have it in it to transcend its limitations.
In its favour though I read this on holiday and it was a bit of fun that I could dip and drop at will and certainly helps laze away the day but I won't be hunting out the second in a hurry.

Jonathan Barnes - The Somnambulist
Perhaps more magical-realist Victoriana than steampunk this startling little novel about the exploits of a fading magician / detective and his gigantic, mute, milk drinking associate as he investigates a series of unlikely deaths is maybe not an absolute joy but is certainly an intriguing one.
Whilst occasionally straying into the psychogeographical realms of Iain Sinclair, Barnes' tale is a stirring tale of deduction and destruction. Holmes is the obvious reference point here but is only that as Moon has a fully developed quirky personality of his own that needs no counterpart. The Somnambulist himself (the above mentioned milk drinker) is very much a peripheral character with minimal effect on the proceedings which makes his role as the title character a little confusing but then again he does have a cool name so why not. The setting, London, is treated as as much of a character as the flesh and blood (or whatever it is The Somnambulist is made from) ones and there are a number of odd and unusual characters revolving around the core that it makes for interesting reading.
The Somnambulist (the book not the character) is an entertaining enough read. Steampunk purists should probably stay away but personally I enjoyed it. As a novel it was always reaching, it didn't quite make it to where it was going but it never stopped trying and that was good to see especially in a debut novel.

Trevor Baxendale - Doctor Who: Wishing Well
Another of the 10th Doctor books from the BBC. I've got hold of the entire set of these and am about halfway through - actually I think i've passed the halfway point. Yay me.
This one was about a haunted well in Derbyshire that turned out to be home to a big alien weed thing. It was a little more violent than the norm for these books and reminded me very much of the old Pertwee episodes. A bit slight on plot but good dumb fun.

Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming - Powers vol 4: Supergroup
I'm going to say up front here that I think the Brit writers (Moore / Millar / Ellis / Ennis / Morrison) do superheroes way, way, way better than the Americans. I know I'm biased but I'm of a similar age with most of these guys, grew up reading the same sort of stuff and so share some of the aesthetic. For the most part I think American superhero comics are crap, regardless of who their written by but the ones these fellas do are generally (not always) worth searching out.
Obviously there are exceptions to my pocket theory and right at the top of that exceptions list is Brian Bendis. I first read his stuff - New Avengers: Breakout - having snuck it into the Starbucks upstairs in the Borders store here in Swansea and thoroughly enjoyed it. It had the feel of supe stuff I read as a kid but the story had a bit of presence. There was none of the glorious irreverence or the disdain you get from the Brits. It was pure supes but done with heart and with style. I later realised that this was the same guy who had written the Ultimate Spidey book that I'd been lent a couple of years before and been impressed with. Following on from this I picked up a couple of his Avengers trades and his Goldfish collection which I really dug.
I'd been planning to dip into Powers for a while. I'd tried reading it online but the reader frustrated me so I stopped. The other month I found someone selling the set on eBay pretty cheap and so I grabbed them. I was outbid on vols 4 & 10 but got the rest. I read the initial three and pretty much enjoyed them but it took a few months to finally track down a number 4. It was well worth the wait. Walker is a great character and it's great to see him finally come out from the background in this volume. The previous ones really did have Deena as the focus - which was cool, she's great fun - but it was good to see Walker finally step into the spotlight. The story is obviously both and ending and a beginning as it sends Walker off into the great unknown whilst also dropping a giant teaser right at the end.
I'm going to be working my way through the next five volumes over the next couple of days so expect a few entries along this theme.

Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming - Powers vol 5: Anarchy
Set a year after the bean spilling of vol 4 and Walker is called back to talk to a cape killer. It turns out to be a ruse to find out where he is so the killers can get to him. He survives, some cop brutality ensues and he's back on the force.
There's another little teaser line dropped in - 'No-one walks away' - to keep the suspense up in terms of the unfolding big picture. The book itself is a very light entrant into the series but certainly not a bad one.

Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming - Powers vol 6: The Sellouts
Now this was great fun. After the fairly low-key fifth volume this was a real change of pace.
When a member of a famous powers team is caught with his pants down and killed. Walker and Pilgrim's investigation leads them to New York to the groups headquarters and an encounter with several ex-members. At this point all hell breaks loose as one of the most powerful heroes in the world finally starts believing that he's god and takes the world by the throat. The book suddenly takes on a global perspective but we remain with W & P and experience events from where they are without the usual comic book god's eye view of events.
The book is beautifully paced with as much happening off the page as does on. It's nice to see Cutter get a chance to do something good and his vice cop friend was fun. There's a lovely little reference to a teeny little event of few volumes ago too in the big bad's stilted speech patterns. The ending opens up a whole new dimension of shit for the next few books.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol 7: Forever
I thought it was about time I dug into another one of these as there are a stack of them on top of the speaker in front of me. 'Forever' was the story of the Powers. In particular the story of Walker and his equally immortal nemesis Wolfe. We see them tangling all the way through time from the Neanderthal origins a la 2001, through some sort of Robert E. Howard hyperborean wet dream into China around the time of the boxer rebellion before it stops briefly in the 1920s / 30s where Walker is making his first tentative steps at heroing and then into present day.
It was good fun if a little inconsistent with some of what's gone before but not in any major way.
The art as ever was very nice but I wish he'd sort his layouts out. There're many occasions in each book where you're just not sure whether you're meant to go down the page or across the staples. It does get to be a little frustrating.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol 8: Legends
Dealing with the fallout of the events of the previous volume when one of the world's most powerful Powers went nuts and destroyed a few cities this is an odd volume.
There're two distinct threads running through it. One is the arrival of a new Retro-Girl and the other is the return to work of Pilgrim after her not near but actual death experience in the last vol.
The appearance of the new Retro-Girl ignites all the newly retired (by presidential decree) hero powers to return and sort out the new powered up gang warfare that has erupted in their absence.
Deena gets caught up in the war early on and is tortured by one of the players. This torturing brings on Powers of her own and she manages to bust free.
It's a fun volume but a little on the slight side. It didn't seem to take very long to read but I didn't really clock the time. The whole thing feels like a set up for something bigger.
I like this series.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol 9: Psychotic
Deena goes completely over the edge in this one as she uses her new power Grosse Point Blank style on her obsessed ex-boyfriend.
The main story revolves around the search for a killer and a magic gem. The case is solved quite quickly before the gem goes missing again and we get a flashback to 'little' Deena.
I really dig the back story of Walker teaching Calysta how to use her powers and the interaction between the two is a joy.
I'm not sure where this book is going at the moment but I'm digging it and I've three more volumes sat on top of the speaker in front of me.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol.10: Cosmic
Better and better and better; and it didn't start off half bad.
Probably my favourite Power storyline so far.  There have been a couple of strong ones but this one rocked (as they say on TV)
The pair investigate a murder (guy squished by flying guy) only to discover that the dead guy is, not just a Power but the guardian of our entire galaxy (basically a Green Lantern).  Walker then through the course of the story inherits the guys powers and responsibilities but also finds a girlfriend.
Deanna on the other hand is being investigated by internal affairs and really struggling to deal with her new powers.  It looks like these new abilities are boosting her somehow as she leeches off of and kills some gangster type with the same powers and the FBI woman keeps commenting on how good she looks.
I'm really having to ration myself on these books as I've only 2 volumes left and I don't really want to just hurtle through them and squander the ride.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol.11: Secret Identity
A strange one this time out.
We see Walker coming to grips with a new role, new powers and a new relationship.
Right in thew middle of this Queen Mab's husband is found murdered. Chaos and retribution abound as various members of her team either turn up dead or are murdered in front of Walker and Pilgrim.
The resolution of the book sees a new angle opening up as we now have demons thrown into the mix.
I'm not sure how I feel about this but it'll probably be interesting to see how it pans out.

Brian Bendis & Michael Oeming - Powers vol.12: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time
And so for now it ends.  This is the last of the big stack of Powers books that I bought recently.  There is another just out but it's pretty pricey still so it'll be a while before I get hold of a copy.
This one finally brings an end to the Deena storyline as they catch the people behind the Powers virus.
It's got a fair bit going for it but I found this one to be a bit of a mess.  It never really flowed and seemed a messy sort of ending but then I suppose endings are generally fairly messy.  It was nice to see Deena get a good send off even if she does end up in tears.
Looking forward to more of these.

Brian Bendis, David Lafuente & Takeshi Miyazawa - Ultimate Spider-man: Chameleons
Gosh this comic has changed. A few years ago I borrowed a load of the original Ultimate Spidey run and was really impressed with them. A solid re-invention of the character. They hadn't tried to remake the wheel they'd just carefully updated all the parts that needed it and left the rest all alone. It was solidly written and the art was clean and slick. So, I had high hopes when I borrowed this one from the library this morning. Same writer, different artist combining to make a pretty poor comic all things told.
The writing is still pretty solid but do young people really speak like that? The ones I teach certainly don't. Some of the plotting was a bit off too. The dark Kitty (Pryde) thing was unlikely but the Chameleon and Chamelia (I kid you not) was just weak.
I'm not impressed with this artist either. His layouts are ridiculously hard to follow as half the time you're not sure whether you're meant to be reading across the staples or not. His faces are lifted straight from the Big Bumper Fun Book of Shitty Manga Cliches and it all generally looks ugly.
It's a real shame this book (along with the rest of the Ultimate line) was allowed to go to the dogs quite this badly.

Chris Blain - Gus & his Gang
A nifty little cowboy graphic novel with absolutely none of the cliches you usually get.
Gus is a long nosed outlaw & lothario - he's very successful at the former, less so at the latter - who also has a soft spot for interior decoration and an eventual hankering to be a writer. His gang consist of the hapless but loyal Gratt who is Gus' foil for most of the book. The majority of the narrative though is concerned with the life of Clem who bounces back and forth between his authoress wife Aja and his daughter Jaime and his photographer girlfriend Isabella and her rampant ways.
The storytelling is spacious and the characters human. Each chapter is a tiny snapshot and often manages to be both funny and a little teeny bit sad sometimes too. Clem is a fabulous creation though, as is Isabella and her reaction to her bank robbery was very funny indeed. I loved how Blain managed to find the balance with wife and mistress. Both are good people and you wish and hope that Clem will continue to love them both equally.
It's never going to be top of my comic list but this was a great fun read. First Second press are producing so much good stuff with two Eddie Campbell books so far and now this too.

Simon Bovey - Slipstream
This is a groovy little wartime sci-fi tale about a covert British commando group heading to Germany to locate and capture a flying saucer.  It’s a strange combination of stiff upper lip Englishness and amoral cold-bloodedness, the two being not mutually incompatible. 
Major Barton (the leader of the force) is a fab creation straight out of the Garth Ennis war books.  He leads the force through a story which has a strange mix of total war attitudes mixed with a yearning for peace and understanding – mostly on the part of the ship & Jurgen the ex-Luftwaffe pilot.
I thoroughly enjoyed this.  It was both Quatermassy and Garth Ennisy.  Good old fashioned British sci-fi.

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
(HarperCollins UK)
Time, I think, for a classic. I do this every now and again. I'm a fairly freeform sort of reader normally and just go with what catches my eye but now and again I like to dig into the classics for a while. They rarely disappoint. I did A Canticle for Liebowitz recently which turned out to be a corking experience so, as I said, time for another. This is one of those books that regularly sits near the top of 'Greatest ever...' lists so I had high expectations for it and disappoint it did not.
The story, as I'm sure you all know, tells of the awakening of fireman Guy Montag from a world of blinkered, sanitised corporate delusion where he burns books for a living to one where he becomes one of the saviours of the very things he's meant to hate.
It's a poignant, sad and exhilarating and is as tightly wound as Montag's nerves. Most of all the novel seems utterly and depressingly real. Magnificent.

Richard Brautigan - Revenge of the Lawn
62 small tales of giant stature take root in fertile soil and bloom.

Richard Brautigan - The Hawkline Monster
I love Brautigan. I read his In Watermelon Sugar way back in my stoned youth and loved the unrepentant hippie utopianism of it. Trout Fishing in America (probably his most famous) came next and was also wonderful but in a more poetical Beat manner. The Hawkline Monster is on the surface a more straightforward novel where two killers are hired by Miss Hawkline to kill the monster that lives in the caves under the house. Such a mundane plot was never going to satisfy Brautigan though and things soon take a side-step. For me though it's the gracefulness and the dance of his prose that is the real joy.

Nicholas Briggs – Doctor Who: One Small Step
A strange but rather nice little audio Doctor story read by the author.
The Second and his companions take a short seaside holiday during the moon landing thinking they’ll have a nice quiet time as everyone will be inside watching then T.V.  While Zoe and Jamie arse around on the beach the Doctor goes for a walk to find ice-cream and meets a little boy who’s snuck out of his house.  Sending him home the kid is accidentally killed.  Wracked with remorse the Doctor risks the structure of the universe in order to put right this horrible accident and, of course, succeeds.
It’s not entirely satisfying in the way it transpires but is lacking in histrionics and silly sci-fi-ness and was an agreeable little trip.

Charlie Brooker - Dawn of the Dumb
I think Brooker is probably the funniest writer in Britain at the moment.  His Guardian columns, even when they're mediocre, are streets ahead of any other columnist.  He's also currently being much funnier than anyone else on the 10 o Clock Show.
This book is a collection of his writing from around 2005 and 2006.  The articles are taken from both his Monday column and also his weekend Screen-Burn. So, it's a nice mix of TV rants and freeform rants.
Good, honest, vitriolic fun.

Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips – Incognito
I had good reason to be expecting quality from the pair behind the Criminal  series.  I was right too.
Incognito is the story of a pulp-esque supervillan who is starting to get very bored of his life in the witness protection scheme.  As he slowly rediscovers his powers he starts roaming the night acting strangely against type and helping people.  This behaviour soon starts to attract the attention of people who shouldn’t know is location and all hell breaks loose.
It’s a fab romp with elements of Ennis, Ellis & Millar rolling around; it particularly had a ‘Wanted’ vibe.  It read like a dream and looked lovely.

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips - Criminal vol.5: The Sinners
This has been a very fine series indeed and this episode doesn't change that fact.
This volume is a return to the story of Tracy Lawless the AWOL soldier from the second volume. Here he is working for mob boss Sebastian Hyde as an increasingly unreliable hitman until he finds himself tasked with looking into who is knocking off bad guys all around town. This, and other certain entanglements, along with an agent from the military bent on taking him back means that he finds himself in all manner of hot water.
There was a little logic leap towards the end that raised an eyebrow but on the whole this was a fun little jaunt into noirland. 10 years ago when I was reading lots of Raymond Chandler and Charles Willeford this would have been my absolute favourite comic book. As it is it's simply one I like a lot.

Christopher Bulis - Doctor Who: Imperial Moon
The phrase ‘British Imperial Spacefleet’ on the back of a book is always going to catch my eye.  This is the first of the PDA books that I’ve read and I chose it because of that phrase.  That the book is set in 1878 certainly didn’t hurt its chances of being pulled off the shelf.
The Doctor (travelling with Turlough & Kamelion) find a diary in the TARDIS safe that tells the story of the mission to the moon and makes mention of the Doctor & Turlough.  They head back for a look-see and are soon part of a rescue attempt across a strange oasis on the moon filled with strange and deadly creatures and beautiful ladies in scant clothing. There’s a mutiny and a warder to deal with before things get really nasty and the Doctor resorts to gun-play to eliminate the marauding Vralls who were there in hiding.
It was a typically Doctor type book with no real suspense but lots of running around a fairly unorthodox setting.  It was fun but not essential.


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