100 Bullets: Brother Lono 1

I didn’t expect I’d ever be doing this again. When 100 Bullets reached its 100th and final issue, in ruination, death and destruction, Azzarello swore it was the end. All that was to be said had been said: it was complete. Yet four years on, I hold in my hands again a 100 Bullets comic. And the gang’s all here again, the whole damned crew who stuck it out together: Azz and Risso, and Trish and Clem and the Reverend Dave, and Will Dennis riding shotgun like before. Like nothing’s changed, though everything’s changed. Everybody’s favourite big-dick Hawaiian took a bullet to the chest and crashed out a window, but that last panel that showed bloody fooprints and no body was no tease. Lono is back, and the hell of it is that there are only seven more of these left to me.

Brother Lono 1 is an extended first issue of an eight-part mini-series set an unspecified time after the end of 100 Bullets and focussing on the amoral, violent, OTT Lono: The Dog, Medici’s Warlord, survivor. Where is he, what’s he doing, is he still the world’s greatest Fuck? (we are not talking sex here). What’s going on?

This is an archetypal Azzarello first issue. It begins from the end, with a man digging graves, dozens of graves whilst an unknown narrator tells us that this is a tale of a man who believed he had nothing to lose. By the second page, we can see that that man is Lono. Like Dizzy’s first arc, Milo Garret’s, Wylie Times’s, we see the outcome before the why and the what.

And what we see, as the pages begin to turn, are scenes and snapshots: people we don’t know doing things that make sense to them but not yet to us, though we quickly begin to guess. Firstly, we are in Mexico: though the words are in English, they are translated. A man named Ernesto, undergoing bloody torture, pleading that he has told everything he knows. Yet a threat to his baby, the sight of his wife forced into prostitution, and his tongue is loosened yet further.

A man who watches and listens to this torture attends Mass, talks to a Father Manny, hands over blood money from an organisation calling itself Las Torres Gemelas, or “The Twin Towers”. The Father would refuse the money if he could, but he dare not. Instead, he finds Ernesto’s baby on his doorstep.

Then we meet Lono, as we would expect to meet him: in jail, snoring, locked up. There’s something wrong though, that we don’t immediately register, something different… the white shirt. In the ending we have already been shown, Lono has on his traditional loud Hawaiian shirt, but here he’s dressed in white, all white. And there are no obscenities in his speech.

Lono’s getting out, his boss has a job for him, meet the bus, collect a nun, bring her to the church. The other guy in the little jail is getting out too. That’s not supposed to happen: he had a deal, he’d be deported back to the States. But his bail has been paid, and they’re waiting for him outside. ‘They’ are interested in the bus too, the bus from which two women has just disembarked: one grey-haired, fiftyish, a tough old broad who knows the score, the other in her twenties, tall, slim, red-haired, sweet, in the shortest of frayed shorts.

The guy who was in jail has to identify which person on the bus is the DEA: to stop them cutting any more fingers off, he identifies a man, but it’s bullshit: this is Senor Butler, and he’s with ‘them’. Lono misidentifies someone too, assuming Beatrice, the tough old broad, is Sister June: she’s not, it’s the sweet young girl. She’s a nun. She assumes Lono is a priest, calls him Father, but he hastily corrects her. He’s not the Father. But he is Brother Lono… The title of this story isn’t just for show.

Oh, happy day. There’s a lot to learn. Things are not as they once were and there are reasons for this. But things are moving, and things will not be as they are for very long.

Only seven more…

Little Gems – Latrigg

Keswick, Derwent Water and Borrowdale from Latrigg

Latrigg is the Little Gem of Little Gems, an easy to ascend, grassy and gentle fell with views of such beauty that they are almost obscene in the reward they give for such little effort.
Latrigg is the cub of Skiddaw, a low, sprawling, rounded fell overlooking Keswick, a Sunday afternoon fell par excellence, free from risk or difficulty, and blessed with a car park at 1,200 feet that usually serves as a massive leg-up on the Tourist Route to Skiddaw itself, but which turns Latrigg into a veritable pussycat.
Leave Keswick on the main road north through the Village, but turn right at a mini-roundabout, following signposts for Carlisle. Go straight across the A66 at a major roundabout, and immediately turn right onto a side road signposted Underskiddaw and Latrigg. Follow this for a mile, before turning sharply back right, onto a narrow fell road leading uphill at a steep angle.
This is a route for cars with good suspension, although it may have been upgraded since I last passed this way (it needed it!). The road is narrow, and steep, uphill through trees, juddering and shaking and trying to avoid the worst of the potholes. It emerges from the woods into a narrow valley between the adjoining swells of Skiddaw and Latrigg.
The car park is at the head of the road, with room for about 15-20 cars, depending on the courtesy or selfishness with which they have been parked. If there is no room, turn round carefully and start back to find an off-road place where you can leave your car without blocking anyone’s passage.
There are two routes from here. The simplest and most direct is from the further end of the car park: leave via the gate, skirt some reedy and slightly soft ground in the bed of the depression, and bear towards the broad green path rising above the immediate skyline.
This route of approach has nothing to recommend it from a walking point of view. It is enclosed between two grassy convex slopes, and feels a touch claustrophobic as a consequence. There is nothing of interest on the way and the walk is nothing but a monotonous trudge, but the great appeal of this approach is that the stunning and expansive view from Latrigg’s miniature crest comes in the last couple of steps, as an enormous revelation, sudden and enthralling.
A much better walking alternative, longer but infinitely more entertaining, does show its hands over the view from a relatively early stage. At the bottom end of the car park, on the right as you arrive, a gate gives access to a broad path heading downhill and curving away quickly out of sight around the corner of Latrigg.
The path gently descends and it would be easy to develop a fast walking pace, but instead keep an eye open for a grassy ride descending from the left to join the path. Turn back upon yourself, gaining height in a series of gentle zig-zags on the side of Mallin Dodd, until the path levels out, turning south and contouring around the broad swell of the fell. Bassenthwaite Lake, below and behind, is already in view, and the vista is opening up towards the Newlands Valley, and as you progress, further east towards Derwent Water as well.
This high level terrace curves into and out of a sweep of land before rising to a small platform about 100′ below the, now-visible, crest of the fell. A park bench has been placed here, in the perfect position on the corner of the fell, where the view towards the lake and Borrowdale first opens out. It only accommodates two people, or three if they’re friendly, and most walkers, knowing how close they are to the summit, will not feel the urge to stop, but this route is for the leisurely at heart.
When ready, follow the path up the surprisingly steep edge to the crest for the fullest effect of the view.
After this, the direct route is a simple, easy, downhill march, back to the car.

A Universe in one Comic Book: Astro City – Confession

After the ‘failure’ of Astro City at Image comics, the series transferred to Homage, the personal imprint run by Jim Lee, one of the Image founders, where it’s remained ever since, until this month, and the first issue of the series from DC’s Vertigo imprint.
Astro City volume 2 would run for a total of 22 issues from 1995 to 1998, its schedule growing increasingly sporadic to to illness on the part of Busiek, which was eventually traced to mercury poisoning, causing bouts of extreme fatigue during which the writer, having a wife and family to support, concentrated his limited writing time on the better-paid work available to him at various times from Marvel and DC.
The second volume featured a mixture of short stories a la Life in the Big City, and novel length stories. The first of these was ‘Confession’, running in issues 4 – 9, and collected as the second trade paperback.
In his introduction to the Graphic Novel, Busiek discusses Robert Heinlein’s theories as to the very limited nature of stories. One of Heinlein’s categories is ‘A Boy becomes a Man’, and this is the ultimate basis of this novel.
The boy is Brian Kinney, who narrates the story from beginning to end. Originally, Kinney comes from outside Astro, from the small community of Buchanan Corners where his Dad, now deceased, was the Town Doctor. Kinney senior was a better doctor than businessman, more concerned with the treatment of illness than the collection of fees. Unsurprisingly, he was mercilessly exploited by the neighbours he served, and when he died destitute, was stigmatised by them as a deadbeat, and Brian as a chip off the same block. Brian runs away to the Big City, to seek his fortune.
Brian, like many a boy or girl in their late teens, is ambitious: he wants to become a superhero. the best way of doing this is to get taken on by an existing hero as a side-kick, and Astro City has the greatest concentration of costumes in the world. The first thing to do is to get to meet them.
He achieves this by initially getting a position at Bruisers, a down-market Bar and Grill, run by K. O. Carson, who used to be the Black Badge before he retired. Bruisers is the bar of choice for the more boisterous, rough and ready heroes, and Brian is actually a cut above that as waiter/busboy, so Carson recommends him uptown to a very exclusive, very unadvertised club, populated with the more creme de la creme of the community, a place where masks and costumes can be forgotten, where they can meet and mingle and relax.
Except, of course, that the crass Crackerjack turns up in costume, horribly embarrassing his girlfriend, Jessica Taggart (aka Quarrel (II)), and blowing the club’s security so that, a couple of nights later, the place is invaded by cheap gimmick crook, Glue-Gun.
In order not to be set upon by a couple of dozen heroes, Glue-Gun grabs a busboy as hostage, threatening to shoot him a skull-ful of epoxy. But the busboy he’s seized is Brian, who takes the opportunity to use his own martial arts training and knock Glue-Gun for a loop, to the mass approval of the guests.
Unfortunately, Brian’s acted out of turn. All the other waitresses/waiters/busboys and girls have been here for a number of years, looking for that shot, that chance to impress and be picked out, the one that, as far as they’re concerned, Brian’s stolen from them. They’re going to beat the shit out of him in the yard. That is, until a voice intervenes, that of the mysterious, black-clad hero, of whom no photo has ever been taken: the Confessor. And the Confessor wants to speak to Brian…

The Confessor

So Brian gets his wish, albeit under the rather unfortunate name of Altar Boy, undergoing training with the Confessor (whose real name is Jeremiah Parrish, and whose home/base is in an abandoned crypt in the sprawling, unfinished Grandenetti Cathedral). The Confessor is a mystery, but they’re supposed to be detectives, aren’t they? If Altar Boy wants answers, he has to do what they do with villains: find them for himself.
All of which is set-up for the second phase of the story. It’s a hot, dry, increasingly strained summer in Astro. The heat is driving people crazy, and they have something to be crazy about, because there’s a killer striking in Shadow Hill. He’s been killing for some time, but the public only starts to take notice, and demand action, after the first white victim, a smiling, beautiful, but above all white teenager.
It awakens something in the city, something that always underlies a world where figures of immense power, who are simultaneously protectors and ostensible oppressors (how could you stop them doing anything they decided to do?) have such incredible visibility. Gradually, public opinion, fed in many ways by the growing aggression of a City Mayor who seems determined to stand up for the ordinary people of America, the ones who seem to be beneath the notice of the arrogant supers, starts to turn nasty.
And it’s not just the city that’s disturbed, but Brian too, a new figure in transit between two worlds who can’t help sympathising with some of the citizen’s opinions, and wondering why he, and the Confessor, aren’t doing more to directly pursue this killer. That they’re not seems to have something to do with Shadow Hill’s antipathy to the Confessor himself, their obvious fear of him, the one time he crosses its boundaries. So much for Brian to think about, so many patterns to look at, trying each time to find what doesn’t fit, what is out of place, what inescapable conclusion it leads to.
The first revelation is the Confessor’s secret, one that, despite Brian’s trust for the man, disturbs him and leaves him in deep doubt about his role, and whether he should continue as Altar Boy. Meanwhile, the tensions continue to rise, and Astro City’s administration eventually declares virtual war upon its masked community, heading towards a massive quasi-military presence, to support legitimate law and order.
And it’s at that stage that the Confessor sees the flaw in the pattern, and leads Brian to the second, and ultimate revelation, of the other secret that has underpinned all the events of this story. And Altar Boy learns more than just one lesson from more than just one teacher as the hidden currents run through into the open and a resolution.

Altar Boy

There’s an interesting macro-coda to the story in that, after all the dust has settled, the Shadow Hill Killer strikes again, but this time the culprit is apprehended and defeated by the area’s most unusual protector, the Hanged Man. The Killer had nothing to do with anything. It was just a coincidence, an unrelated story, seized upon and exploited as a smokescreen. And there’s an even more interesting micro-coda, four years on from the events of the story, demonstrating just how Brian responds to the lessons he has learned, and the Man he has become.
Overall, Confession is an intriguing, thoughtful, well-constructed story that shows a very different side to Astro City and to how ordinary people respond to heroes at different times. It also illustrates one of the advantages Busiek has created for himself in this series, in that, just like Marvel and DC, his Universe has a past. But unlike them, it’s a genuine past, not an ever-mutable construct that shifts according to the temper of the times, and it has a depth that isn’t available to either of the big companies’ insistence that all their stories have taken place over a fixed period of time, constantly shifting forward.
Astro’s history, as we’ll go on to see, is linked to the history of the comic book industry, to the mood of various eras influenced by the prevailing attitudes of the comics of that time. It lends an extra level of fascination, especially as Busiek’s trick is to refer to historical things in the way that we would do in real life: as history that everyone knows and recalls, needing no more than a brief reference. We are warned that the mood of suspicion and paranoia in this story is not new, that it was prevalent in the Seventies too. Names such as the Blue Knight and the Pale Horseman are dropped, piquing our curiosity.
In time, we will be satisfied as to those two characters, and the temper of the times in which they appeared, but the beauty of Astro City is that its history is long, and, given the publishing difficulties that would arise as a consequence of Busiek’s health issues, much of it is still the mystery in which it begins.
As for Confession, it is rounded off with “The Nearness of You”, a one-off story not published in either of the Astro City series, but instead in a promo issue of the then-successful Comics magazine, Wizard.
Just as Astro City presents a Universe in one comic book, this tale has Busiek presenting a Universe-wide, time and reality shattering event a la Crisis on Infinite Earths in a sixteen page story – or, to be more accurate, in three pages of that story, which is only right and proper given that it’s really only a MacGuffin. Only Busiek, only Astro City…
“The Nearness of You” focusses on Michael Tenicek, an ordinary guy being driven slowly demented by his memories. His days and nights are filled with memories of Miranda, a woman he knows, in intimate detail. But he doesn’t know who she is, or why he knows her, or where he met her. His friends and family have no idea who he’s talking about. He’s unable to think about anything else, and it’s destroying his life.

The Hanged Man

Until, one night, the Hanged Man comes to him in a ‘dream’. Tenicek’s ‘memories’ are dangerous: they are weakening reality. There was an event in which all of reality, all time and space was destroyed, but then it was reformed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect match. All sorts of little details were changed: Air Ace fought the Barnstormers on a Sunday, not a Monday.
Miranda was Tenicek’s wife, but because of that changed detail, her grandparents never met. But his love for her is too strong. He has a choice: to give up those memories, forget Miranda utterly, or to retain them, and with that a sense of understanding that won’t explain but will relieve. Tenicek is one of many who have to make this choice.
The story is simple and affecting. In a universe of superheroes, of vast cosmic beings and cosmic wars in which reality is uncreated and recreated to serve a company’s continuity reboot, these are the unconsidered side-effects, the changes that beak hearts into impossible shapes that no-one cares about, except in this short moment of recognition of a risk everybody takes for granted.
Tenicek chose to remember and understand. Everybody does. The heart in all of us rises to that choice.
And next time DC rewrites its entire continuity, keep a thought for all the people who get fucked over by it. Even if it’s only the ‘real’ Justice Society of America.
You are now leaving Astro City. Please drive carefully.

Discovering Dortmunder: Why Me?

After four Dortmunder novels in seven years, there wasn’t a fifth for six years,the longest gaps between books in the series. It was a fallow period for Westlake, with only two books under his name during that period, one of them the very serious novel Kahawa. Part of the time was taken up with writing the screenplay of the rather unsuccessful comedy crime caper film, Hot Stuff for director/star Dom DeLuise, as well as a pilot episode of the unsuccessful TV series Supertrain.
So by the time Why Me? appeared in 1983, Dortmunder fans were more than ready for it. And Westlake had a brand sparkling new angle to feed them.
I must confess to having a faulty impression about this story before I came to re-read it. The slowly deteriorating relationship between Dortmunder and Kelp, with the former being increasingly reluctant to work with the latter as caper after caper crashed, is reversed in Why Me?, setting things up for the two to work harmoniously ever after. After all, Kelp comes willingly, and at no little risk to himself, to Dortmunder’s aid in this book.
But what I’d forgotten is that whatever reconciliation had taken place has already been and gone before page 1, when Dortmunder is trying to contact Kelp to invite him to join in on this little job he has set up, and which is to be the start of all his troubles.
It’s just a burglary at a jewellers, is all, out near the Airport, a jewellers with a ‘going on holiday’ sign in the window, which is practically an invitation to do your shopping whilst it’s quiet, except that partway through the job the owner pays a late visit, no lights, to put something in the safe, and leave again. Dortmunder, whose interest in that part of the world that doesn’t affect him directly is less than total, shrugs it off, opens the safe and helps himself to all manner of pricey trinkets.
Almost as an afterthought, he takes this massive ruby ring that’s obviously a fake: nothing real could be that big: maybe it’s worth something? Unfortunately, the ring is real. In fact, it’s the world famous Byzantine Fire, and it’s definitely worth something. It was being given up by the United States after ninety years to go to Greece, but all sorts of Nationalist and Terrorist organisations, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian etc, had contradictory opinions as to the propriety of that, and the ruby had been stolen in order that a certain well-trusted and calm Greek jeweller could take it out of the country the next day. A jeweller who planned to keep the Byzantine Fire in his safe overnight. A calm man who folds and confesses the moment the FBI arrive.
Of course, Dortmunder being Dortmunder, he knows nothing of this. New York throbs with excitement over the theft of this famous diamond, the FBI, various security organisations and the New York Police collaborate (in a riven by distrust, jealousy and plain loathing manner) to find the Ruby, and the man who has it doesn’t read the papers or watch the news and doesn’t even know there’s a fuss at all.
Whilst the FBI doggedly pursue the idea of secret and competing organisations, the Police, in the form of Chief Inspector Francis X. Mologna (pronounced Maloney) have the right idea, and the might of the NYPD is turned loose upon the poor unsuspecting criminal fraternity of New York (though virtually all of it is less unsuspecting than Dortmunder).
The blitz affects everybody, very rapidly. Dortmunder narrowly escapes being swept up with the proceeds of the robbery on him, whilst he’s at his fence (a first appearance from the unloved Arnie Allbright), and when he is hauled in for questioning, just a few moments after May has broken to him that he’s the cause of all this ado, and what it is he actually stole, he’s actually got the Byzantine Fire stuck on his finger and effectively in his hand all throughout his sojourn at the station.
The real problem for Dortmunder, and the point at which Kelp unselfishly and unhesitatingly weighs in on his buddy’s side, is that all this hassle has got the backs up of the afore-mentioned criminal fraternity, as presided over by Tiny Bulcher (he didn’t go back to prison after all: the gorilla didn’t press charges).
Tiny, as we already know, is not a man-mountain that takes kindly to anyone who interferes with the smooth and efficient running of his life, and the unlucky person who has brought this shitstorm of discomfort down on Tiny is an irritation not to be borne.
Accordingly, whilst the crooks are running around looking for the guy with the diamond, the crooks are sitting very still – in the back room of the O.J. Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue, where else? – running a parallel investigation into what everybody was doing on Wednesday night. And their powers of subpoena, though not backed in any official way, are vastly more effective.
The real problem for Dortmunder is not so much that confession and restitution will considerably diminish his standing among his confreres, not to mention get him into jail for life, but that Tiny Bulcher insists on having certain dealings with the guy who’s causing all this ruckus, before handing him over to the Police.
So, with only the assistance of Andrew Octavian Kelp, Dortmunder has to work out away of divesting himself of the Byzantine Fire in such a manner as will clear his reputation as the man who everybody – police, crooks, press and all manner of fervently nationalistic and religious groups – is coming to believe has stolen it.
That’s all you’ll get from me, because how Westlake plays out this nearly impossible situation, delivering all manner of comeuppances to everyone whose behaviour deserves it, should not be marred by spoilers. Let’s just say that Dortmunder does, in the end, walk free, walk tall (even with his stooped shoulders) and with his reputation clean, and that there’s no more fallings-out with Andy Kelp so long as the series lasts.
Why Me? is effectively a two-hander, like the final part of Nobody’s Perfect, rather than a gang caper, fleshed out by a great many diversions into the concerns and actions of all the forces seeking the recovery of the Byzantine Fire. Stan Murch has a cameo role, calling Dortmunder up to consider a job he’s found, which has to be put on the back burner during the crisis, but which is still there to be picked up in the aftermath. Tiny Bulcher, as we know, has a central role, but not on Dortmunder’s side, and he ends up in hospital sick from having eaten all the crook’s files on everybody, to prevent the police getting their hands on them.
Arnie Allbright is a new addition to the list of characters in this book. Arnie, as I’ve already mentioned, is a fence. He’s Dortmunder’s regular fence because he gives the best rates, and Arnie gives the best rates because he’s such a repulsive personality, he’s got no friends, so if he didn’t give the best rates no-one whatsoever would visit him, because he repulses them so much, they’d rather go to Stoon even though he doesn’t give such top dollar.
Arnie lives in a top floor apartment in a run-down building that he seems to be doing his best to run down further. He collects calendars: they’re everywhere, every size, shape and subject, even the incompletes.
And mention must be made of the truly monstrous Chief Inspector Mologna, who, like the Security Guards from Bank Shot, is just too vivid a personality not to bring back. Mologna, a mass of old school, Irish cop prejudices, instinctively hating his FBI opponent Zachary as much as Zachary hates him, shifting his immovable belly about the place and, gloriously, refusing to let Dortmunder give the ruby back and insisting on catching him.
Westlake adds another running set-piece in the opening scene, a set-up that permeates the whole story and which goes on to be developed throughout the rest of the series. It’s a mini-masterpiece: Dortmunder rings Kelp to ask him to come on this job but Kelp doesn’t seem to be listening to him so he hangs up. It’s not until he tries a second time, and Kelp’s saying all the same things that Dortmunder realises what we immediately understood, which is that Kelp’s got an answering machine, though for why Dortmunder can’t understand. So he tries to leave a message, completely ignoring the fact that the machine is still talking to him, in fact Kelp has picked up and is trying to get through to John that it’s actually him now, though John is doggedly ignoring that detail!
It’s the beginning of Andy’s ongoing urge to not merely surround himself with all manner of energy-saving gadgets but also to surround Dortmunder with them too, in the face of John’s determination not to want, or even see the point of another one of these crazy contraptions that just make everything more complicated than it really oughta be.
But even if I misremembered the exact circumstances, Why Me? still represents something of a turning point in the series. From this point onwards, the endings do get a bit more positive. There are no great scores, no complete victories and the capers continue to run up against misfortunes and snags that turn them into pain-in-the-ass trials, but from here on there’s usually something in it, and with the next book the gang turns itself into a gang that automatically looks to its partners in whatever jobs might come up.

A Universe in one Comic Book: Astro City (Volume 3) No. 1

By my reckoning (and Kurt Busiek’s), this comic is three years overdue. It was plugged as coming out in 2010, but such minor matters as WildStorm Press being wound up once Jim Lee went in as Co-Publisher at DC, and Busiek’s ongoing debilitating health problems that have played hob with Astro City‘s publication schedule this last decade and a half, have forced a postponement until now. But Astro City is finally back,now from DC’s creator-owned imprint, Vertigo Comics, with a third volume of stories. Busiek assures us that by this time, either 11 or 12 issues will be ‘in the can’, so we’ve got at least a year of new stories to look forward to.

So what of Astro City (volume 3) issue 1, “Open the Door (Part One)”?

To be frank, my intial reaction is disappointment. What we have here is very different to the Astro City we long-timers have come to love. It’s deliberately so. This might be issue 60, if you tot them all up together, but it’s very much a relaunch issue, aimed in large part towards the nascent Vertigo audience, and Busiek has aimed so determinedly at not shutting them out with the expectations of the old audience that he’s gone to the other extreme by pushing anything too familiar out.

Whilst there’s a handful of existing figures, and our old buddy Samaritan gets seeral panels of dialogue as the unofficial but acknowledhed leader of the heroes assembled, Busiek’s emphasis is upoin two strange, new, deliberately unfamiliar characters, American Chiba – a Japanese anime superheroine figure to whom we are deliberately refused access and explanation – and The Broken Man. This latter narrates the whole issue in the biggest and most overt exercise in metafiction the series has ever run, making reading of this book a conspiracy against some shadowy, unimaginable, infiltrative threat. The Broken Man offers no clues as to himself, although the final page features a limp lapse into cliche when he’s revealed as a strait-jacketed patient in an asylum.

This is no more than the first part, which adds to my sense of deflation. All it is is set-up, and the trappings are extremely comic-booky, so much so that it has already built up the onus on Busiek to surprise us, to come up with what is new, fresh, unpredictable about this framework: set of doors mysteriously appears in the sky, heroes try to open them but fail, out steps emissary from star-spanning organisation, here to negotiate with Earth over irs admission, yawn, snore.

The one twist so far is that Earth’s representative to go through those doors is Ben Pullam: that’s right, the anxious divorced father of Astro City (volume 2) issue 1, newly-divorced, newly-arrived in Astro City with two young daughters in tow and massive concerns over what to do for their best. That was seventeen years ago (inside and outside the comic): he’s done not to bad for himself, the girls are women, with promising and exciting lives, He’s the one that the Broken Man manipulates (with our assistance) into volunteering as emissary for the ordinariness of Earth.

Thus ends part one, with very little having happened.

Now having expressed my disappointment at the thinness of this gruel, let me immediately qualify that by ponting out very specifically that this is Part 1. We don’t now how long this story is (if it were a conventional comic, I would sniff the wind of what Busiek has hinted at so far and put the month’s rent money on six issues, though I’d like to see Busiek and Co. bring this in at three, tops: they don’t do bloated in Astro City), and we won’t be able to make a proper judgement until we’ve read all the story, by which time I could be eating my words.

Oh,the nostalgia of it! It’s not just having this series back, it’s the going into Forbidden Planet and buying a contemporary single comic book, and I haven’t done that since Dave Sim abruptly shut down Glamorpuss.

But the best thing of all was this full-page add, just before the end of this issue, for another return series that will have me buying single issues again, and which came as a total surprise on every single level: 100 Bullets: Brother Lono issue 1, due out next week. Sorry, Busiek, Anderson and Ross, I mean no disrespect but if Azarello and Risso are doing 100 Bullets again, that sweeps every other comic off the table.

I’ll be blogging that series as well, by the way, but for now, and the return of Astro City, despite the disappointment of this initial offering, I’m glad to have it back. Roll on the next episode.

Little Gems – Holme Fell

Coniston Water from Holme Fell

Holme Fell is a true Lakeland fell in miniature, rough, aggressive, craggy, and spoiled only by its complete lack of height, just over 1,000 feet.
Geographically, the fell lies north of Coniston village, under the shadow of the Coniston range. Wetherlam’s third, and most diffuse ridge, culminating in the exciting (from below) ramparts of the Yewdale Fells, is bordered to the east by the shy, sylvan Tilberthwaite valley. A low ridge runs from Wetherlam across the head of the valley, which is closed off to the east by the rough sprawl of Holme Fell, which falls away towards the uplands between the Coniston range and Windermere, which includes Black Fell.
The summit of the fell is defended by a rim of crags that is only breached on the eastern flank. Take the Ambleside road north out of the village, into the long, flat, sylvan valley beyond. The road hugs the western side, underneath the Yewdale fells: if the weather has been wet and the becks are in spate, it’s worth pulling up just to look at the tumbling waters. When Holme Fell appears, directly ahead, a side road escapes left, to Tilberthwaite and the main road turns right, across the valley. The gap of Tilberthwaite opens alarmingly wide, the skyline disappearing completely in a most unLakes manner. Pass a side road signposted Hodge Close Only, and the entrance to Yew Tree Farm then, as the road turns left again on reaching the other side of the valley, look to park among the woods on the outside of the corner. This is the recognised car park for the scramble up besides Tom Gill to the picturesque Tarn Hows. If this is full, which on a sunny day is quite possible, there is off-road parking available further on the road, by the artificial fishing tarn.
Walk back, taking great care as this is a busy road, to the entrance to Yew Tree Farm and turn in at the gate. Almost immediately, take the gate to the right, closing it firmly behind you, and finding a path that heads away round the corner of the fell ahead, through fields of overgrown grass. The noise of the road is still there, if slightly distanced, and this is a pleasant stroll round to the eastern side of Holme Fell.
After about a quarter mile, the path starts to tend leftwards, towards the base of the fell. All this flank is quite thickly wooded, and the path makes its way into the trees and begins to rise.
It continues to climb at the same, steady, even angle across the flank of the field. below and to the right, the ground falls away sharply, although for most of the way there is enough of a screen of trees to your right to avoid any risk of vertigo, and whilst the ascent is never easy, it’s completely safe.
After a time, the trees begin to thin out, the sound of cars diminishes and is replaced by the sound of running water. This marks the approach to Uskdale Gap: the path begins to lose a little of its steepness and emerges into the open under the rim of crags, before turning into the wide channel of the Gap. Follow this up, keeping the beck to your right, and emerge onto the edge of a scruffy, rock-strewn top, with paths streaming away north and west.
Ivy Crag, decorated by a prominent cairn, lies directly south, and from there turn west to pick your way to the summit rocks.
Holme Fell’s situation, close to the high wall of Wetherlam, restricts its view, but the full-length prospect of Coniston Water is the obvious highlight, and a fine reason, alongside the exercise, be up here in the first place.
A return by the same route is perfectly feasible, but it’s always more fun to find a different route, and the paths across the back of the fell are too wide and too inviting not to explore. It’s worth a stroll even if you plan on descending via Uskdale Gap, but if you direct your steps towards the north west corner of the fell, you can find a steep and winding path down through the woods on that side, that, if approached with care, brings you down onto the Hodge Close road.
Stroll back along the tarmac, with no worries about traffic disturbing you, and Tilberthwaite Beck bubbling beside. Just short of the main road, a gate leads onto a field path back to Yew Tree Farm, paralleling the road but avoiding the risks of having to walk that, until you reach the farm entrance and have to complete your journey back to the care with your eye on the copious traffic.

Green Arrow: another take

For those of you who enjoyed my recent series of articles on Green Arrow, you might like to know that Comics columnist and writer Scott Tipton is running his own series of articles recounting the history of the Emerald Archer.

Tipton’s column, Comics 101, appears every Wednesday and you can read his first instalment at http://www.comics101.com/?page=C101