Swords of Sorrow – review

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London, 1894. A monster from Mars has suddenly materialised in the Houses of Parliament and eaten the Prime Minister. The case is a little too bizarre for even Sherlock Holmes to handle, and so it falls upon Irene Adler to investigate matters.

It soon transpires that the teleportation-related phenomena work both ways, and Adler is transported with some of her contemporaries to the surface of Mars – where swashbuckling princess Dejah Thoris awaits their arrival.

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Some of the other issues in the Swords of Sorrow event have had their awkward moments in trying to fuse heroines from a range of distinct stories and genres. With Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler #1, however, Leah Moore knows exactly what she is doing in combining the disparate worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Moore’s straightforward approach is to work the two characters into a pastiche of Victorian adventure fiction, albeit one which benefits from a more knowing 21st century point of view. This is best demonstrated when a big game hunter goes off to find the wild beast that terrorised Parliament, and is teleported to Mars. Knocked out and recovering with an addled memory, he believes himself to be back on one of his colonial campaigns.

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Specifically, he believes himself to be in North Africa. As, indeed, he would: after all, Burroughs’ Mars drew heavily on kind of the Orientalist, cod-Arabian Nights imagery beloved by Victorians.

“Am I so far north already? Am I come among Arabs and Egyptians?” asks the adventurer. “I could buy and sell these heathens ten times over!” He then opens fire on the Martian capital of Helium: “Bit of firepower to send them running. Then they’ll be out shouting salaams and trying to sell me their own grandmother!”

This unwise bit of intervention occurs just in time for Adler to be transported to the red planet. The meeting between the two heroines is saved for the very end of the issue; as is so often the case in comic crossovers, they get off on the wrong foot – Adler considers Thoris to be a “common trollop”, while the Martian princess believes herself to be under attack by an assassin.

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Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler shows no intention of being anything more than a pulpy runaround, but its background of nineteenth-century colonialism (the very second page has the Prime Minister articulating his African policy, immediately prior to being scoffed) means that it has some potentially rewarding themes to play with.

Gender, as well as culture, is touched upon: Irene Adler is forced to traverse London in drag, passing herself off as her own brother. Moore succeeds in celebrating her hundred-year-old source texts while also finding time to add a few updates for modern audiences.

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Francesco Manna’s artwork is appealing and has the requisite period details for the sequences in Victorian London. Inlight Studio’s colouring bathes the story in an appropriate range of sepia tones, although the comic suffers from an early continuity error where the Prime Minister’s hair changes colour upon seeing the Martian beast (or perhaps he turned grey with fright, who knows…?

Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler #1 is the most polished of the Swords of Sorrow tie-ins so far, and a fine start to what looks set to be a rollicking three-parter. With a cliffhanger that shows Dejah Thoris transported to London, Leah Moore has given herself a whole new fish-out-of-water scenario to play with…

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Talent

  • Writer: Leah Moore
  • Artist: Francesco Manna
  • Colour: Inlight Studio
  • Cover: Jay Anacleto and Ivan Nunes

 Specs

  • Series: Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler (2015)
  • Issue: 1
  • Price: $3.99
  • On Sale Date: June 17 2015
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Page Count: 36

 

Emma – manga review

Emma – Kaoru Mori

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As I’ve already mentioned on Twitter, Kaoru Mori’s Emma is an early contender for my favourite new release of the year. First published in Japan in 2002, it astounds me that it hasn’t been translated sooner. It is fantastic. It is everything I want to read in a manga, and something I will be quick to mention when recommending series to people.

At its very basic level, Emma is a romance story set in 1890s London. I don’t know about you, but this is an immediate hook for me. I’ve read so much classic literature for my degree, but the canon of fiction in the 1890s is one of my favourites. It is so bleak and spooky and full of social dread and ah! I love it.

But as with all historical fiction, I began Emma expecting to find odd inconsistencies and anachronistic scenes and objects. I kept turning the pages, devouring each chapter, and by the end of the omnibus I realised that not once had I questioned anything about Mori’s story. Admittedly, there are moments where Mori gets a little over-excited and seems to be shouting, ‘I have done so much research and I want to share it all with you!!!!!’

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Rather than feeling bombarded by these details, however, they only ever seemed to make me smile. This is a series that is rooted in a palpable ocean of research, and Mori’s dedication to recreating turn-of-the-century London really does give the story weight.

From incredibly intricate outfits to barely noticeable advertisements, mentions of gentleman’s clubs and the anxiety surrounding trains, Mori has put an immense and admirable amount of work into Emma. And the results are excellent.

I’ve waffled on about the world of Emma, but the characterisation should also be celebrated. For a romance, it is complex and, at times, as bleak as your favourite Dickens novel. Our heroine is Emma, a quiet maid with an emotional storm brewing under her apron. William Jones, a young and bumbling aristocrat, falls in love with her and they set off on a tumultuous obstacle course of social expectations and cultural traditions.

I was particularly smitten with Mrs. Stowner, the widow for whom Emma works. Rather than have her be the uptight spinster stereotype, Mori creates a really wonderful and delicate bond between mistress and maid, exploring a strong female relationship transcending ideas of age and social class.

Kaoru Mori’s art is absolutely stunning. As already mentioned, she demonstrates an almost painful attention to detail from architecture to hairstyles. Nothing is out of place, and nor is it particularly clichéd. It reminded me of the gloriously addictive show Penny Dreadful (no but have you seen Eva Green and those excellent cheekbones), but Emma doesn’t quite have the same level of cheesy Gothic gloom.

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That’s not to say it takes itself seriously to the point that it’s a stuffy rendition of a Hardy tragedy – it is still quite a light-hearted story. It is an enjoyable read for all ages, but I would particularly recommend this to younger readers interested in comics and/or studying classic novels at school. I wish I’d been exposed to Emma when I was first getting into literature as a teenager, but now I enjoy it because I can appreciate just how much research and work has gone into the series.

The Yen Press edition is a lovely hardback omnibus containing two volumes. The dustjacket is double-sided, which I didn’t realise until I got a few chapters in and took it off for convenience. There are a couple of glossy Victorian-style drawings of London by Mori, too. I feel as though I haven’t enthused enough about this series even though I am sure this review has been nothing but positives. It really will be a standout series in your manga collection.

 Information

Batgirl #41 – review!

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The Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr version of Batgirl has carved out a niche best described as bubblegum cyberpunk, with all manner of sci-fi information technology being used to commit crimes in a day-glo Gotham. But issue 41 – which has already gained degree of immortality due to that variant cover – starts off with an abrupt shift into a rather different genre…

At the beginning of the story, Batgirl is exploring a crumbling, cobwebbed old mansion when she comes across a circle of hooded cultists. Its leader wearing a piece of PC fascia as a mask and its acolytes staring solemnly into their laptop screens, the cult worships the remains of the evil computer program vanquished by Barbara in the previous story arc.

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This fetching Devil Rides Out-meets-Tron situation quickly gives way to another change of tone, as Barbara bonds with her father – who, it should be noted for those who have opted out of current DC continuity, has donned a robot suit to become the new Batman following Bruce Wayne’s apparent death.

In contrast to the gothic trappings of the previous sequence, artist Babs Tarr and colourist Serge Lapointe bathe this scene in airy pastels. The two Gordons meet on an old merry-go-round, a favourite hangout from Barbara’s childhood days. James Gordon drops the bombshell by revealing that he is now Batman, and Barbara very nearly comes out of the closet herself… until Jim tells her about his new orders to arrest all of Gotham’s vigilantes, Batgirl included.

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The issue prepares the table for some meaty conflict, but suffers from a weak antagonist. Throughout the series Stewart and Fletcher have shown a genuine talent for crafting entertaining villains-of-the-month, but this issue’s foe Livewire – while visually fetching in Tarr’s hands – is not one of them.

Originally created for the animated Superman series of the nineties, Livewire makes her first major post-Flashpoint appearance here, but is never given her own voice. Although she is implied to have been part of the cult’s attempts to revive the malicious AI, this part of the story is left largely unexplored.

More surprisingly, there is no mention of her established backstory as a radio shock-jock. This would have fit perfectly into Batgirl’s media-studies-in-spandex ethos, the series having previously touched upon revenge porn, social networking, performance art, anime cosplay, video games and more. A supervillainous Howard Stern would have fit right into the current rogues’ gallery, so this is a definite missed opportunity.

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So, Batgirl #41 is not the most satisfying instalment in the current run, being more concerned with setting up a forthcoming conflict between Batgirl and robo-Batman than with telling a story that stands on its own legs.

Still, the dialogue is as punchy and the art as sweet as ever. It’s good to be back in Burnside after a two-month break, and the Bat-titles’ current status quo has given the Batgirl crew plenty to play with.

 

Talent

  • Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
  • Artist: Babs Tarr
  • Background assists: Joel Gomez
  • Colour: Serge Lapointe
  • Cover: Cameron Stewart

 

Specs

  • Series: Batgirl (2015)
  • Issue: 41
  • Price: $2.99
  • On Sale Date: June 24 2015
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Page Count: 32

 

A bunch of literary girls reading comics. We're champions of comic books, realistic female superheroes, indie webcomics & manga. Reading, and reviewing!