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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jenny Finn Doom Messiah. Mike Mignola, Troy Nixey (Writers), Troy Nixey, Farel Dalrymple (Art), Pat Brosseau, Ed Dukeshire (Letters) Boom! Studios


This is a not completely successful story that uses themes from H.P. Lovecraft and mixes them with a splash of steampunk to get something different. In an unnamed city someone is killing prostitutes, the dead women all sprout tentacles and fear and anxiety are growing. Joe, a good natured man, sees Jenny Finn in the street and seeks to speak to her, he is interrupted by a stranger who shouts at Jenny and when Joe tries to stop him attacking her, is beaten off. Joe thinks that the stranger is the killer and claims that he is, the man is caught and killed by an enraged crowd. Joe in the meanwhile has discovered that he was mistaken and finds that Jenny Finn and the stranger are involved in a most peculiar fashion. There is some sort of plague going around, those effected by it sprout scales and octopus suckers and Jenny Finn has something to do with it. A greater conspiracy develops and envelopes Joe and it is finally resolved in a satisfactory fashion, including a fine "Christmas Carol" joke.
The reason this book does not quite succeed is that it is not quite creepy enough, the fishy plague, echoing H.P. Lovecraft's ideas about semi human creatures hiding in the basements and underground tunnels of a port town, offspring of humans and older races that live in the sea waiting to return to dominance, is not bleak enough. It is slightly too picturesque, grotesque rather than repulsive. This robs the story of the essential weight it needs to grip the reader. Also the lettering in infuriating, it is so small I had difficulty reading it comfortably, it was a distraction and did not allow me to drop into the story as I read it. The severe change in art is a bit of a distraction as well. Still the book has enough good ideas and the art is striking, that it is worth reading.

Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage changed the Course of History. Giles Milton. Sceptre (1999)


This is the amazing story of the "Spice Race" and the extraordinary and unexpected consequences arising from it. Spices had an enormous importance in the 15th & 16th centuries, both for food preparation and preservation and more importantly in medicine. Nutmeg in particular was considered an essential part of the cure of bubonic plague, and was wildly expensive and exceptionally scarce. One doctor noted "I confess they are costly, but cheape medicines are as dear as death". The source of nutmeg was a mystery in Europe until 1511, prior to that Venetian merchants bought the spice Turkey from merchants there with no idea where it originated from. It only grew in a small cluster of islands near Indonesia, due to singular climatic and geological features. It was a Portuguese ship that was the first European vessel to land on one of the islands and from there the spice race developed a huge, violent and extraordinary momentum.
Portugal at first, followed swiftly by the Dutch and English who quickly squeezed out the Portuguese, set out building up a trade route to the islands to harvest their near unimaginable riches. Ten pounds of nutmeg cost one penny in the East Indies and sold for fifty shillings (600 pence) in London. With ships transporting tons of spice the return was so great that the absurd level of risk associated with the trade was worth it to the merchants involved.
For any ship setting sail from Amsterdam or London to the Spice Islands it was far more likely that they would sink, loose most of their crew to illness before they arrived, then lose yet more to disease when they arrived, be involved in violent confrontations with other European traders before having to manage to repeat all the trouble of the outbound voyage on the way home. This book tells the extraordinary stories of the people who threw themselves into the unknown motivated by greed or excitement at seeking out the unknown. Their travels and trials are extraordinary, and described with clarity and skill. All the usual vices of colonial enterprise are listed, slavery, casual massacre, treachery, destruction, there are also notable instances of physical and moral courage, friendship and spirited adventure.
The final resolution of the spice race was completely unexpected for me, the consequences justify the sub title of the book. This is a first rate popular history telling a little known story with verve and skill, mixing the wider context with telling details in just the right measure.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron. Starz Media ( 2006)


One of the really striking things about the way that the Hellboy franchise has developed and expanded is the way in which it has allowed different versions of the story grow in different versions, the comic, live action and animated versions all follow different routes. This freedom of action is a great strength for the franchise. Blood & Iron is not an animated Hellboy comic, though it does use some ideas from the comic Wake the Devil, it follows its own path. The character design is distinctive and most importantly Professor Broom is very much alive in the film.
A hotel, due to open soon, reports that it is haunted, its well connected owner has the pull to ensure that the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defence) are involved. Professor Broom, although retired, joins the team ans seems to have a suspicion regarding the events he is unwilling to share with the others. What Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien and the rest of the team find at the hotel is that someone is trying to resurrect a vampire called Erzsebet Ondrushko. Professor Broom had thought he had destroyed Erzsebt years before and finds himself in conflict with her again. When the goddess Hera shows up things get very difficult for the team.
Threaded through this narrative is the story of Professor Boom's first encounter with Erzsebet. This is told in a reverse chronological flashback with the story unwinding back from the final encounter to the point where Broom is leaving for the expedition. This is a very effective device, it not only counterpoints the actions in the haunted hotel, it is a gripping piece of story telling in its own right. The whole story is available in straight chronological order among the extras.
This is a super Hellboy story as well as a very well made piece of animation, the cast are very effective, the plot enjoyable and has everything that could be desired, Hellboy thumping monsters, Elizabeth Sherman toasting wolves, Abe Sapien being a really tough opponent, a great set piece fight, smart crisp dialogue and finally release for the innocent victims. Great fun for Hellboy fans and non-fans alike. The voice talent is provided by the actors from the live action films and is excellent.

Lady S. Vol 1. Here's to Suzie!. Jan Van Hamme (Writer) Philippe Aymond (Artist). Cinebook (2008)


A smart story set against a diplomatic background that has a well developed plot, exciting set pieces and a very capable and charming heroine. Susan Fitzroy is the adopted daughter of James Fitzroy, a diplomatic trouble shooter for the US State Department. Susan acts as his assistant, she is very pretty and has a gift for languages. She is also someone with a shattered past that comes back to haunt her. There are two story threads in the book, the story of who Susan Fitzroy really is and the second is a plot to get hold of an incriminating file.
Susan's back story is told in a series of flashbacks that gradually fill in the complete picture, Susan is a survivor and a thief, capable and self sufficient who also carries the burden of unintended consequences. This past provides an opportunity for a mysterious man to blackmail Susan into helping with a plot to steal a file from the Turkish embassy in Brussels. The file is the centre of the second plot line as the theft becomes increasing complicated by diplomatic issues and various groups all struggle to find and use the file and its contents.
Susan is a fallible and credible heroine, full of courage and a willingness to take a risk, anxious not to harm those she loves and very smart. Both plot lines in the book are enjoyably convoluted, they double back on themselves and reveal their complexities in a very well paced and thoughtful fashion. The way that Susan has her revenge on one of her antagonists is both satisfying and fitting.The art is excellent, the cast are well drawn, the action is effective and griping and the sense of place is strongly realised. A pacey, thoughtful adventure comic.

The Scorpion: The Devil's Mark. Enrico Marini (Artist), Stephen Desberg (Writer). Cinebook (2008)


This is an exciting period swashbuckler that captures and updates nicely the best of the Erroll Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. The Scorpion is a relic hunter among the catacombs of Rome, he sells the items he finds to rich patrons who desire holy and scarce items. He is handsome, fabulously athletic, happily sexually active, in short everything that he should be.
He is called the Scorpion because of a birthmark on his shoulder in the shape of the insect, his mother was burned at the stake for witchcraft and he is considered the devil's offspring in some circles. He becomes snared in a plot when he is marked for death by Cardinal Trebaldi, who hires an woman to kill him, she is an Egyptian, a Gypsy whose skill is poison and she is a very dangerous and determined enemy.
The Scorpion survives his first encounter with her in a entirely suitable way and sets out to find out why Trebaldi wants him dead. The reasons for this stretch back to the dying days of ancient Rome and a plot by a group of people to maintain their power under the cloak of the expanding Christian Church. At the time the story is set the autocratic rule of the Church is being questioned by the Pope as part of the changing political tides across Europe and there are move afoot in the Vatican to ensure that this change does not continue.
The story is well developed, the plot threads are cleverly interwoven and the reveals are nicely paced. The struggle between the Scorpion and the Egyptian is a battle of equals, each are determined capable people and they clash has real vigour. The rest of the cast are treated with care, they all have clear voices and identities, the swirls of intrigues among them are worth following.
The art is clear and vibrant, the city itself is drawn in detail and provides a great stage for the action, the costumes are properly detailed and distinct. The uniform of the group of warrior monks is reminiscent of the uniforms of the Inquisition in Rex Mundi, they actions are also somewhat similar. Solid storytelling, lovely art, rooftop chases, sword fights, the spirit of swashbuckling burns brightly.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dr. Grave. The Unholy Twelve. Ed Clayton. Antix Press (2008)


This exuberantly creative comic is a happy reminder of why I love comics. Ed Clayton is a very singular voice, bursting with talent and craft. He has produced a truly independent comic that takes the most mainstream of ideas and makes them utterly his own.
Dr. Grave may the most selfish, arrogant, petty and utterly insensitive hero in comics, for he is a hero, he truly does battle with demonic forces that seek to do harm in the world. He is a turbo charged Basil Fawlty and the gap between his vision of himself and his actions are a source for skillfully drawn comedy.
Dr. Grave, along with his much abused manservant, Shandar, are called to a monastery in the Austrian Alps to deal with a case of suspected demonic possession. While this is resolved with the maximum confusion and carnage, it leads to a greater threat, The Unholy Twelve. This group is dedicated to the destruction of the earth and they are old enemies of Dr. Grave. The encounter with the Unholy Twelve leads to stunning episode which had me laughing and gasping at Ed Clayton's nerve and skill in equal amounts. The afterlife will never look the same to me again.
Ed Clayton has taken a threadbare concept, a master of the mystic arts defending the Earth and getting no thanks for his lonely work and animates it with savage wit and sharp artwork. Dr. Grave is a superb creation, repellent and self-righteous in the extreme, yet possessing such vitality that he is to be cherished, his dignity never punctured he is a true comic gem.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. John LeCarre. Sceptre (1974)


This classic spy story is as fresh and gripping as when it was first published. The slow and destructive discovery of the identity of the Russian mole in British Intelligence is told with force and a terrible understanding of the price paid by people whose stock in trade is deception.
George Smiley is recalled from retirement when strong evidence emerges that the Russians have a double agent somewhere in the upper levels of British spy service, the Circus. Smiley has to track back over his own history as he follows the leads and suggestions to finally set a trap for the mole. This is about the laborious bureaucracy of spying, the filing and expenses, the time sheets and assessments that people far from the field carry out every day.
John Le Carre captures the extraordinary paradox at the heart of spying, the people who spend their lives deceiving others and living with mistrust as an operational necessity to stay alive require extraordinary loyalty and trust in and from their own organisation.
One of the strongest aspects of the story is the way that infighting among the managements is as fierce as any struggle with external enemies and ultimately considerably more dangerous. This is spying as office politics and anyone with some experience of working in an organisation would see how accurately Le Carre has captured the way power struggles work.
The man at the heat of this book, George Smiley is a wonderful creation, he is a shell of a man when he is out of the secret world, when he is back in he is a master player. He has a strong appreciation of the damage done to the people who live in that world, he is bound to it and to duty.The writing is lush and extensive, it takes it time, much as the story does and it is a pleasure to read the descriptions and the dialogue, they give force and weight to the plot which is brilliantly constructed and unwinds with tremendous skill. The atmosphere of the Cold War has not dated at all, the concentration on the human characters allows it to be a necessary context for their conflicts without dominating or distracting.A great read, thoughtful, sad, considered and wonderfully written.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Green Manor 1: Assassins and Gentlemen. Fabien Vehlmann (Writer), Denis Bodart (Artist) Cinebook (2008)


This comic book is good yet just falls short of being as good as it needs to be. Whoever wrote the blurb on the back cover has done the book no favours, it gives a very mistaken impression of the contents, in addition there is a prologue which serves no clear or useful purpose. Once you get to the actual stories themselves, matters improve considerably.
The book is a series of short crime stories centering around the Green Manor club, they involve members of the club in one for or another and all take place in Victorian London. The stories are short with a twist and are well crafted. The problems are that they are not quite sharp enough to be satisfying. For such stories to work they need to be coiled very tightly, with a considerable core of repressed energy so that the twist has some savagery and momentum. The stories in the book do not create that energy, they are all well constructed and the plots are solid, they are just a bit tame.
That art does not help in this regard, it is slightly cartoony and it tends to soften the impact of the stories. The book really is a bit of a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Iron West. Doug TenNapel, Writer & Artist. Image Comics (2007)


When faced with a robot army determined to kill all the humans they find in an effort to turn California into a synthetic paradise in the late 1890's Preston Struck, train robber and card cheat, runs away as fast as he can. Events conspire to keep bring him back to the town Twain Harte and the battle with the robots.
Doug TenNapel has created a most unexpected adventure, brimming with great jokes, vivid characters and a very clever plot that skillfully takes the stereotypes of the Western and the science fiction B films and makes something fresh and new.
Preston Struck is a great character, a complete coward, willing to desert anyone in his efforts to survive who finds himself forced into a corner and action.
The supporting cast is equally lively and interesting, the robots are not dull mechanical creatures, they are vibrant personalities, happily dedicated to the destruction of humans. The population of Twain Harte are swiftly introduced and equally swiftly dispatched in true western style, the sheriff is a reluctant hero who faces his duty, Preston's lover, Ms Sharon is faithful and not stupid or blind to his faults.
With the addition of a Indian Shaman who has an army of Indian Robots, the assistance of the Sasquatch (Bigfoot) and the unexpected appearance of the Loch Ness Monster and a plot that weaves everything into a coherent whole, this is a book to cherish.

Epicurus the Sage. William Messner-Loebs (Writer),Sam Keith (Artist), Seeve Oliff & Alex Sinclair (Colourists)


William Messner-Loebs has fashioned a highly entertaining comic from some very unlikely material. Mixing up Greek myths and philosophers seems like the worst sort of high concept, snoot and exclusive at the same time. Happily William Messner-Loebs has two extra ingredients that give the whole book a fantastic boost,his script is very funny and Sam Kieth provides the art. Both of these mean that the book is treat to read. laugh out loud funny and the art is striking.
Epicurus is one of the lesser known Greek philosophers, he has been overshadowed by Plato, Socrates and Aristotle just as he is in the stories in the book. His humane rationalism is constantly mocked and he is beset by gods whom he does not believe in. The myths of Persephone, the many loves of Zeus and the Trojan war, among others, are all cunningly retold with Epicurus finding himself, along with Aristotle and a very young Alexander the Great, trying to resolves problems involving vengeful or lustful gods.
Sam Keith's art is thoroughly cartoony and appropriate to the stories, the colours are bright and vivid and they add great context to the words. The combination is a great comic that is great fun to read.

The Man in the Window. K.O. Dahl. Faber & Faber (2008)


The very satisfying police procedural does a number of things really well. It sets up the situation very neatly, the detectives are professional, steady and interesting and the resolution is well thought out. It is a nice addition to the increasing number of Scandinavian crime novels becoming available in English.
Reidar Folke Jespersen is found dead in the window of his shop. He is naked and has been posed with red string tied around his neck, three crosses and the number 195 have been painted on his chest. Detective Inspector Gunnarstranda and his subordinate Frank Frolich lead the investigation into the murder, one that has no shortage of possible suspects. The opening section of the book covers the last day of Reidar Folke Jespersen's life and in that short space of time Jespersen gives a large number of people plenty of motives to harm him. Gunnarstranda and Frolich patiently follow all the threads while at the same time dealing with their own lives. The resolution is unexpected but not improbable, there is a pleasing degree of misdirection employed to ensure that the reveal works.
The atmosphere in the book is a bit gloomy, none of the characters are really content, they are all in somewhat awkward situations which they are trying to resolve in one way or another. This gives a nice texture to the book, neither of the lead detectives are unhappy loner with troubled family relationships, it is more muted and mixed than that. The time spent in their company is enjoyable as they grapple with their lives as much as with the murder, indeed they feel on a much surer footing with a crime that with their emotional lives.
The overall cast are well drawn, the principals are given the space to breathe and develop distinctively. This contributes greatly to the pleasure of the book, as the possibilities develop along side the characters and their various interactions.
An impressive crime novel.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lio: Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod. Mark Tatulli. Andrews McMeel (2007)


Lio is one of two newspaper strips that Mark Tatulli has created and this book a collection of the strips. The strip is a pantomime strip,there are no captions and essentially no speech within the strips. This is a considerable constraint as the strip has to convey all the information visually. Mark Tatulli succeeds wonderfully, Lio is a treat, sharp, acidic and very, very funny.
Lio the character is like one of the children from the Adams Family, his interests are all on the grotesque side of existence, in one strip his glee at turning into a werewolf is expressive and complete.
The strips are surprisingly varied, Mark Tatulli includes great variety of targets and situations, the lack of any supporting words has clearly inspired him rather than constrained him in any way.
The art is clean and simple, they have enough detail to convey the intent without drowning them. Lio himself has an innocent air to him, he is driven by curiosity and enthusiasm rather than by any darker motives. This takes the edge of the strips and allows the artist to play with very creepy ideas and images without being repulsive or sadistic.
Lio is sharp, creative and repays rereading.

I.R.$. 2: Blue Ice. Stephen Desberg, Writer, Bernard Vracken, Artist. Cinebook (2009)


This very enjoyable crime story is the second in the series about Larry B.Max a special agent for the American Internal Revenue Service. The story opens with a number of apparently unrelated killings and the arrival from Mexico to Los Angles of Ryan Ricks, a financial wizard and money laundry who has been underground for twelve years. The question is what could be bringing him back into daylight. The Drug Enforcement Agency are organising surveillance on Ricks when Max joins the meeting and the operation.
Max reveals that one of the agents is working for Ricks and they use him to track Ricks. There is a plot to kill one of the DEA agents, the Blue Ice of the title. The story develops nicely the reason Ricks is in Los Angles becomes clear and Max breaks into a roof top meeting Ricks is conducting. In the ensuing melee Ricks escapes and returns to Mexico pursued by Max.
The story continues in Mexico as Max attempts to pursue Ricks with the reluctant support of the Mexican authorities, who have a significant operation underway themselves. The story drives to a satisfactory conclusion with plenty of action along the way.
One of the admirable aspects to the book is that Max is not a plain clothes superhero, he is a highly trained, very persistent, very human law enforcement agent. The entire cast are skillfully presented and managed, the interactions between them all are not sacrificed to spectacle. The action when it arrives is driven by the cast and gains greatly from it. The overall plot is thoughtful and well paced, you are not hurried through the book and neither are there gaps that drop you out of the story.
The art is crisp and clean, there is a very significant amount of detail in each panel, it never appears crowed or full, they anchor the story very effectively in time and space, giving it weight and solidity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Politics of Pleasure. A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli. William Kuhn. Simon & Schuster UK (2006)


Benjamin Disraeli remains the most unlikely person to have become Prime Minister of The United Kingdom, even more unlikely he did so as the leader of the Conservative Party. Disraeli was born a Jew and baptised a Christian at the age of twelve, he was very probably gay, certainly flamboyant, wrote a number of best selling novels, and went into politics in part to gain protection from being arrested for debt.
William Kuhn explores a thesis that Disraeli was significantly autobiographical in his novels, not overtly so, that he explored his own life and expressed himself most truthfully in his fiction. Therefore they key to understanding the man lies in his novels and the relationship that writing them played in the rest of his life, political and personal.
Disraeli was surprisingly frank in his novels about his likely sexual orientation,William Kuhn examines each of Disraeli's novels as commentaries by Disraeli on his own life. They were an opportunity to review himself and his circumstances and to organise his life into a more pleasing pattern. As Disraeli became more involved in politics he wrote much less, he had a different use for words.
Disraeli's relationships with women were critical, he wrote in one of his books, " a female friend, amiable, clever, and devoted is a possession more valuable than parks and palaces; and without such a muse, few men can succeed in life,none be content".
Disraeli had a series of very deep and rewarding friendships with women throughout his life, and while he undoubtedly married for money, his marriage developed in a genuine love relationship.
Benjamin Disraeli was a extraordinary man, he was a dandy but never a fop, a flamboyant writer who loved the power words gave him in politics. He loved pomp and ceremony,he developed a deep friendship with Queen Victoria, had crushes on young men all his life and his deepest relationships were with older women. This book presents a very clear and balanced picture of a very singular man, it is well written, thoughtful and clear. Well worth reading.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Justice League. Season One Box Set. (Warner Video) 2006


The challenge of creating a animated television series that would attract and retain an audience of non-comic fans has invigorated the superhero genre. In comics the ingrown continuity that has developed around the genre is slowly choking any creative life from them. Freed from those constraints and faced with the requirement to actually entertain, the creative team behind Justice League, the animated series, rise strongly to the challenge.
What this series has done is to re-discover the science fiction aspect to super heroes and to use that as the basis for the stories. They travel through time and space, they fight galactic villains, they use super powers to beat gigantic enemies. This is the best collection of superhero stories I have seen in a very long time. They are simple, straightforward and never ever stupid. The audience they are primarily aimed at, children, have no tolerance for stupidity, they expect to be taken seriously enough to have creators work for their attention. The great problem in the comic versions is that the audience is willing to be taken for granted and will put up with stupidity.
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl combine to form the Justice League and the stories give each of them an opportunity to shine. The interaction between the members of the Justice League is skillfully done and they each have distinct personalities.The animation is excellent, fluid and clear, the action is crisp and effective with sufficient detail to feel solid. The voice talent is excellent, it goes a long way to establishing the people inside the costumes.
Superheros are naturally optimistic, the future is bright and making that work in our unsurprisingly cynical times is a big achievement. Making it just so enjoyable and a wonderful reminder of some of the pleasures of comics as well is just super heroic.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Flesh House. Stuart Macbride. 2009 (Harper)


Flesh House is the fourth of Stuart Macbride's crime novels set in Aberdeen and featuring Detective Sergeant Logan (Lazarus) McRae and I think it is the best to date. This is saying a great deal as all the books are very skillfully written, brimming with tar black humour and as grim as the awful crimes they deal with.
In this book Stuart Macbride has changed the structure from the previous three, previously there was a double plot strand in the books, in this one there is just a single focus for the story. Human flesh is found in a supply of meat being sent to an oil rig and this sparks fears that a violent killer, nicknamed, The Flesher, a old name for a butcher, has resumed his activities. A man had been caught, tried and imprisoned for those crimes, he is now out on appeal and the attacks have re-started. The members of the original investigating team are also being attacked.
There is a very large cast in the book and everyone is given the space and time to establish themselves before increasing numbers of them are killed off.
Any book like this has to do a number of things successfully, the villain has to be sufficiently grotesque to stand out from a very crowed field yet be sufficiently credible to retain the interest of the reader. The challenge to the investigating team has to be huge but not inexplicable, it must unravel in a natural way. Most of all there must be a believable, almost palpable sense of place and context that gives the reader an anchor for the events and allows the events to gain momentum and traction.
Stuart Macbride scores on all these points, in particular with the sense of place that he has been building up over the previous books, Aberdeen and its surroundings have emerged as a distinctive and assertive character in the books and this is very important to the success of the book. The human cast are equally well developed and developing, while Logan McRae is the leading character, he is surrounded by a vividly drawn and bolshie cast who all demand attention and sthrengthen the book.
As for the Flesher and his activities he is a very successful bogeyman in a butchers apron and a Margret Thatcher mask. While his activities are described in awful detail, he remains a shadowy figure and all the better for it. There is a sort of explanation, it is not convincing and could easily and profitably have been dropped from the book.
Overall this is a griping, bloody and melancholy book, it is a terrific read.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Confrontation at Lepanto: Christendom Vs Islam. T.C.F. Hopkins. 2006 (Forge)


All I knew about the great sea battle between the Ottoman Navy and the Holy League, a fleet put together by various European countries, was a stray line from a poem about Don Juan of Austria going to Lepanto. This excellent book provides a vivid and very enjoyable account of why the battle took place, what happened in the battle and the impact it had.
Lepanto was the biggest naval battle between Islamic forces and Christian European forces,the number of causalities were enormous. This was the first time that the Europeans actually banded together to fight the common enemy and it was to mark a historical turning point. The echoes of current events are clear, T.C.F. Hopkins acknowledges them without making too great a feature of them. The differences are greater and more significant.
The rise and expansion of the Ottoman empire,the way that it was steadily expanding West and becoming the dominant force in the Mediterranean is clearly and effectively outlined. While the religious element is clearly important,trade is given due weight as a critical factor in the rising tension.
The great advantage that the Ottoman forces had was a relative degree of unity, they were a single empire and could aim their forces with greater speed and precision where they chose than the fractious states of Europe. The Europeans were involved savage religious struggles between Catholics and Protestants as well as strategic struggles for dominance and trade. The Ottoman's could pick their targets and deal with individual enemies rather than a united group.
The differences between Venice and the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburg dynasty,mixed with the concerns of France, England and the Papacy make for riveting reading. The fact that they were forced to actually combine at all, let alone effectively is the true measure of the threat the Ottoman Empire presented to Europe.
T.C.F. Hopkins describes the creation of the Holy League, its leadership by Don Juan and the battle itself with clarity and skill. For a general reader like myself there was just the right amount of detail balanced with a broad sweep to put it into a historical context.
This is a very enjoyable, vivid piece of writing, an excellent popular history.

B.P.R.D. 9: 1946. Writers :Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart, Art: Paul Azaceta, Clolours: Nick Filardi, Letters: Clem Robins. 2008 (Dark Horse)


This is the first time we get a story about Professor Trevor Bruttenholm ( pronounced Broom), the man who rescued and raised Hellboy and died in the opening pages of the first Hellboy book. We get to see Professor Bruttenholm in his prime in the post war years and get a sense of what kind of man he was.
Bruttenholm is in post war Berlin to investigate Nazi occult activities and really to find out more about the origins of Hellboy. He is given the assistance of a group of soldiers who are waiting to go home and resentful of further duty. Most of the information Bruttenholm really wants is in the Soviet sector and tensions between the Soviets and the Americans are already rising making access difficult at best.
Bruttenholm goes directly to the Soviet sector to try and get information and meets Varvara, the little girl who is the head of the Soviet version of the B.P.R.D. She is not all she appears to be, the explanation of who she really is is a nice part of the story and shows how far Mike Mignola ranges for his sources and inspirations.
Bruttenholm discovers, much by accident a Nazi project called Vampire Sturm, a plan to create a vampire army that would be unleashed in the dying days of the war. This ties explicitly back to the Hellboy book Wake the Devil, it is not necessary to have read it however. The story moves in a happily unexpected direction, a mad scientist who is a head in a bottle with spider like mechanical legs and his krieggaffe, which have to be seen to be believed.
Amid the adventures, mad science and occult happenings,the victims of Vampire Sturm, the poor unfortunates who were the subject of the exponents to be turned into vampires are not forgotten.They are treated with care and sympathy and this adds greatly to the book.
The characters are well differentiated and the mood is sombre throughout the book. The work of all the creative team is very coherent and effective without any part unduly calling attention to itself,they flow together very naturally to provide an excellent story and comic.