Pulp (2020) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

“That was one of the problems of getting older. You hit an age where everyone either ignores you, or treats you like some hassle they’re being forced to deal with. But inside, you still feel like the same person you were thirty or forty years ago.”

-Ed Brubaker

A few years ago, my brother introduced me to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ brilliant crime comic book series Criminal. I quickly became a fan of the series and searched for other works by this creative team. That led me to Kill or Be Killed, a comic book series that explores the experiences of a young vigilante, and also contains a supernatural element. Another great read, I collected all twenty issues of the series. Now, when a new title by Brubaker and Phillips is released, I will usually buy it “sight unseen” because I know it will be of the highest quality.

Publisher’s Synopsis

“Max Winters, a pulp writer in 1930s New York, finds himself drawn into a story not unlike the tales he churns out at 5 cents a word – tales of a Wild West outlaw dispensing justice with a six-gun. But will Max be able to do the same, when pursued by bank robbers, Nazi spies, and enemies from his past?

One part thriller, one part meditation on a life of violence, Pulp is unlike anything the award-winning team of Brubaker and Phillips have ever done. A celebration of pulp fiction, set in a world on the brink. And another must-have hardback from one of comics most-acclaimed teams.”

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Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits (1991) by Garth Ennis & Will Simpson

My horror-themed month continues with one of the best John Constantine, Hellblazer stories: Dangerous Habits. For this, we have to go back in time to 1991 when Garth Ennis became the regular writer of DC Comics’ horror title Hellblazer. This was in the days before the Vertigo imprint existed. (Alas, it is no more!) Hellblazer was “suggested for mature readers,” and was one of a group of “mature” titles being published at that time. These included Swamp Thing, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Shade the Changing Man.

Cover Art by Glenn Fabry

My Synopsis

John Constantine has faced all manner of ghosts, demons, and even serial killers before. But this time it’s serious! Years of smoking 30 cigarettes a day has left John with terminal lung cancer. That’s right, he’s going to die, and there aren’t any magic spells he knows to make it go away. In fact, he’s even contemplating giving up and ending it all. Who would’ve thought it? “Conjob” Constantine not even trying to talk or trick his way out of something? Unbelievable! But hang on a minute. Perhaps there are a couple of possibilities still open to him. Now you think about it, if anyone can actually pull this off, it has to be John Constantine, right?

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Once & Future, Vol.1 (2020) by Kieron Gillen & Dan Mora

“Plenty of things that are real are nonsense, love. Most things, even.”

I’ve always enjoyed the tales of King Arthur. When I was a teenager, I got hooked on watching John Boorman’s 1981 film Excalibur on VHS. I still believe it is the best movie adaptation of the old legend. I went on to read T. H. White’s wonderful novel The Once and Future King, and even dipped my toe into the deep waters of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. So I was intrigued to hear that BOOM! Studios were publishing a comic book based on the Arthurian Myth, only set in modern-day England.

Publisher’s Synopsis

When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead to gain power, ex-monster hunter Bridgette McGuire escapes her retirement home and pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat.

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Hellblazer: Original Sins (1988) by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway & Alfredo Alcala

Cover of issue #1

“I’m a nasty piece of work, chief. Ask anyone.”

Dark and dirty, this is magic that comes with a very high cost. Jamie Delano’s depiction of working-class John Constantine is brilliant. It’s a bit dated now with its comments on Thatcher’s England, but definitely worth a read for the dark, horror-themed storylines and John’s sarcastic Scouse humour.

The art looks a bit rough compared to more modern releases, but I think it suits the style and feel of the book. There’s a dark, scratchy, gritty and grim atmosphere to both the art and the stories in this first collection. The covers are wonderful, though.

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Watchmen (1987) by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

I remember first reading Watchmen as a teenager. Until then, I’d been reading comics like Spider-Man, Batman, and Daredevil. They could sometimes have grittier, more mature storylines, but nothing on the level of Watchmen. It really knocked me for six. I knew I was reading something special, something different to the norm, but I think quite a lot of it went over my head.

On my first read, I skipped the sailor’s story and just focused on the main narrative. I know that Alan Moore reportedly finds it funny that so many readers “like” Rorschach, but he is such a compelling character that he quickly became my favourite. On my second read, I read the sailor’s story as well. This time, it really drew me in and I enjoyed it despite its darkness. But I must admit to giving up on reading all the text pages that Moore wrote at the end of each issue. I wonder how many readers have actually read them all.

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Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol.1: (1983) by¬†Alan Moore,¬†Stephen R. Bissette & John Totleben

Volume 1 collects issues #20-27 of the series.

I missed this when it was being published monthly back in the early 1980s. At that time I was reading UK comics like The Beano and The Dandy. Or borrowing my brother’s copies of Batman or the Marvel Star Wars comic. I would’ve been too young to appreciate it, anyway. My brother gave me the Volume 1 collected edition for one of my birthdays. I remember getting lost in the storytelling and loving the horror aspect of the book. Also the stunning artwork by Bissette and Totleben.

I’ve since re-read it a few times and always got something out of it. It is a must-read for any fan of great comic book stories. Intelligent, compelling, frightening and addictive.