Book Club / 2021 in Review

Hi everyone

Well – ok here we go: 

The official London Graphic Novel Network Book Club / 2021 in Review. 

(Sounds of wild cheering and applause). 

Yes. Yes. I know. I know. 

For those of you who haven’t played before: these are the rules:

1. Yep. You can talk about any comic you like
It doesn’t need to have come out this year. You can talk about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four or Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even have to be something that you liked. If there was a book that you really hated then you can talk about that. Or maybe you felt massively lukewarm about it. The only real requirement is that it’s something that you’ve read in this past year and there’s something you want to say about it. (Also if you want – you’re very welcome to lobby for any particular comic that you feel like we should do in the future).

2. Name the comic in bold at the start of what you write
That way if someone is in the middle of reading it / or they want to read it and they don’t wanna get spoiled then they can just skip over it with no harm done. (Also if you can find some images from the comic and include them – then that would be cool too).

3. Please don’t just recount the plot / instead: tell us what you think
Instead of just writing a synopsis (yawn snooze) try this – Talk about what you liked (or didn’t like) about the comic. But grabbed you / what left you cold. What it did well / what it could have done better. How it made you feel. What kind of things it made you think about. All that good stuff.

4. If someone else has already mentioned a comic then don’t worry – that’s ok
This isn’t a first come / first served thing. If someone else has mentioned a comic then it’s not off the table – you can still write about it all you want. Ideally we don’t just want lots of solipsistic thoughts floating separately from each other so yeah – if someone mentions a book and you have a differing view please feel free to share (just you know obviously – try your best to play nice).

5. If you want to talk about a comic that the LGNN Book Club has already done then that’s cool too
I’ve often been told that three weeks is never long enough. So if we talked about a book this year (or any other past year) and you felt like there was stuff you wanted to say about it that you didn’t get a chance to say (or maybe you didn’t manage to read it in time or whatever). Maybe you only just realised how mind-blowing Prophet actually is or there was something you didn’t get around to saying about Y: The Last Man? Well – now’s the time to say it… Please feel free to go crazy.

If you’re still a little unsure how it works please check out these fine examples from the past few years: 

2017 in Review / 2018 in Review / 2019 in Review / 2020 in Review 

So. I think that’s it. Hopefully should be fun and interesting and a cool time for everyone (or at least that’s the idea anyway). 

The rest is up to you. 

Nice one. 

Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos
Written by John Wagner Art by Henry Flint, Colin MacNeil et al 

The Judge Dredd Day of Chaos storyline was published in 2000AD between 2011 – 2012. It’s a story about how a virus which at first just looks like the flu rampages across Mega City One completely decimating the population. And for many people (including myself) it’s probably the highlight of the entire Judge Dredd series. Needless to say reading it in 2021 is an… interesting experience. 

If you’ve never read Judge Dredd and don’t see what all the fuss is about then I’m not quite sure what to tell you. I’ve said various things about it on a few different places on here and we’ve done Book Clubs on a few of the big hitters (The Apocalypse WarAmerica) but the problem with Dredd is also it’s main strength. Basically it started in 1977 and ever since then it’s never stopped. Which you could (if you really wanted to) start reading Dredd right from that very first prog and keep going all the way to the modern day and it’s all one big story. Which erm yeah is kinda insane / kinda cool no? Like unlike every single major superhero character (although Dredd isn’t really a superhero) they’ve never rebooted the universe and started again from Issue #1. Dredd just keeps…. going and going and going and going. And so yeah even it first started it was just a semi Mad Max parody based upon the idea that people complained when comics depicted violence targeted towards figures of authority (I think there was a controversy about a cover with a picture of a kid throwing a brick at a policeman or something?) and so the decision was made to make the one dishing out the ultraviolence a cop himself. I mean – fucking genius right? And then well yeah – like I said: it never stopped. 

The Dreddverse is now a complete universe and infinitely more detailed than Lord of the Rings or Dune or anything like that. I mean I think only probably Star Wars and Star Trek give it a run for its money in terms of the expanse of its worldbuilding. Only with Dredd it’s all basically based upon taking the piss with the vast majority of its ideas and concepts coming from a bunch of underpaid writers going “wouldn’t it be funny if?” and – whoops – several decades later it’s all still going. Wouldn’t it be funny if all the cities on the east coast of America joined up to create one mega city? Wouldn’t it be funny if there were at war with their Russian equivalents? Wouldn’t it be funny if the hero of the comic just nuked the lot of them? Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a kid who was a psychopath who decided to kill everyone he didn’t like? Wouldn’t it be funny if they recycled all of their dead bodies? Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a bunch of Dark Judges? etc etc etc. Building a universe one joke at a time. 

I grew up on Dredd. I used to read the old black and white Titan volumes that collected the strips haphazardly and now and again I dip in and find it’s still running and it makes me happy in a way I can’t quite describe. As if a childhood friend still existed and was still having adventures and you popped in for tea now and again to see how they’re doing. 

Of course this does make it kinda impossible in terms of giving advice to someone on where to start. After all – how do you tell someone where to start with a whole universe? Oh yeah – that tree is really good. Oh no wait. Maybe start with that rock over there and then you can build up to that mountain. On second thoughts there’s a big lake over there that’s worth checking out. 

You could try on Day of Chaos and I’m pretty sure you could understand the board strokes – but it would be a little like watching Avengers Endgame having never seen a Marvel movie before. Of course you could start all the way at the start with the very first Dredd story but that seems like a little bit of a mammoth undertaking (I’m sure some people have done it tho). The problem with Dredd tho is that when it first started it really wasn’t that sophisticated. It was just an adventure comic designed to keep 8 year old boys entertained. I mean – it was totally amazing and full of some of the coolest ideas you’ve ever seen (“So just outside the Mega City there’s an atomic wasteland called The Cursed Earth and it’s got dinosaurs in because they basically had a bunch of Jurassic Parks that all got nuked”). But most of it is basically just two plus two equals four. 

But as it goes along (remember: it never stops) the world expands and becomes more detailed and more complex and when you have a writer that knows how to manage it properly (basically John Wagner and no one else) it becomes this… orchestra that can make a sound like you’ve never heard before. 

There’s something about reading a good Judge Dredd story that I find so relaxing. So comforting. Partly I think it’s the science-fiction aspect and having my brain transported into a whole different world and the way that most John Wagner stories weaponize your sympathies. Like you’re never really completely with Dredd but you’ve never really totally against him either. He’s a hardass who does what he thinks is necessary because (altogether now) “It’s the law.” But then for me that’s the pleasure that I get from a good story – having my moral certainties messed around with. Watching a superhero going around doing the right thing and saving the day is so boring. It’s so much more fun to watch a supercop from the 22nd Century fight against biological terrorism and lose. 

Lose big.

But hey yeah – if you do want to start with Dredd then I’d recommend Origins and the two Tour of Duty books – which actually both lead up to Day of Chaos because like I said: really it’s all one big story. 

And yeah I don’t know there’s a part of me that can’t escape the feeling that Dredd is what comics are for. Big epic stories juxtaposed with smaller more intimate ones. Taking in a multiplicity of genres from horror to comedy to thriller to romance to everything in between. The whole thing is just pure potential and every time you pick up a new Dredd story you’ve got no idea how it’s going to go. Like I mean – what more could you possibly want? 

Brink
By Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard  

I’ve never really been much of a Dan Abnett fan. In fact – I used to see his name as something like the opposite of a seal of quality. His work was always derivative – full of cheap low-brow thrills and low production values. And this was back when I was a teenager when cheap low-brow thrills were very much to my taste (hell – they still are). 

But god – yeah: he was writing comics when I was a teenager and he’s still writing comics now that I am very much not a teenager and what can I say? I guess somewhere along the line all that practice must have paid off because ladies and gentlemen Brink is a pretty fine comic book indeed and currently the only book where I make sure I buy each new volume as soon as it comes out (high praise indeed!). 

To say too much would be to give the game away so just keeping to vague outlines (much like the comic itself) it’s basically a simple police procedural set in outer space where it looks like society is slowly going insane or there’s some kind of Lovecraftian monster making us go insane. Or both. Or something else entirely. Although maybe that makes it sound cheesy when actually (if you can forgive the reverse pun) part of the pleasure of Brink is how grounded it feels. 

I mean yeah it’s set in giant space stations after the destruction of Earth but Abnett and Culbard spend a surprisingly large amount of time making sure that everything feels real and fully lived in. I mean it’s similar to Dredd in a way but it’s just a really nice feeling to immerse yourself in a world that feels fully rendered. (Like virtual reality without the need for a clunky helmet). And there’s something nicely relaxing about a story that takes its own sweet time getting to the point. Comics being such a chore to produce often go for jugular as soon as it can – but Brink is determined to go the slow burn route. Book Four came out this year (2021) with Book Five due next year and god knows when it’s going to wrap up. But that’s something that fills me with joy rather than trepidation. The whole series just has this really good solid feeling so you feel like you’re in good hands. They know exactly what they’re doing and all you need to do is sit there patiently while they slowly stick their needles in. 

Credit also due to INJ Culbard’s artwork which has a stark Steve Yeowell-like starkness and simplicity to it – at times feeling that it’s been etched directly on to your eyeballs. Plus lots of nice straight lines to indicate large expansive overarching architecture. 

It’s a cool book. Nice one Dan. Glad to see you got good. 

MPH 
Written by Mark Millar Art by Duncan Fegredo 

I took a chance on this book. I didn’t know anything about it apart from it was written by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo did the artwork. But – hell – I’m glad I did. It’s tough to say too much without giving the same away but I would say that this a comic that works best when you go into it completely cold with no real idea of what to expect and (and this was the really lovely surprise) it’s one of the very rare comics I’ve read in the past however many years where the whole thing tells one complete beautifully tied up story. It doesn’t feel like people trying to mint themselves a new franchise or a never-ending series. There’s no “to be continued.” It’s all just done. Which is a really nice feeling (for a change). 

Also yeah – Duncan Fegredo’s artwork is first class. He’s like Chris Weston with more grit. Sean Phillips but more gnarly. Glenn Fabry a touch more sweet. There’s something about his stuff that makes me feel good – you know? Every frame is perfectly balanced with everything around it. The perspectives are dynamic. And each character feels like a living breathing person squashed down into two dimensions. 

And Mark Millar? I mean more and more I feel like I’m basically a secret fan. Especially when he does stuff like this where he releases himself from his edgelord tendencies and instead lets his nerd flag fly. In case you couldn’t tell from the title this is Mark Millar basically strip-mining The Flash for parts and reassembling it into something that feels effortlessly modern and beautifully sleek – and that runs like hell. I mean yeah it’s cheap but it’s fun and twisty and keeps wrong-footing you and there’s this pure sense of joy that seems to be missing from everything else around nowadays. (Oh – and I especially liked the bits where it talks about the evils of Capitalism. Natch). 

Basically – it’s a comic book. And hey what more could you possibly want? 

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