Speech Bubble Burst

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Today's Speech Bubble Burst deals a double whammy of cool bits and big hits, featuring two comics that have nothing in common besides their superlative quality. Consider yourself spoiled, following last week's brief hiatus, with a look at two of the best things to be found in any comic shop anywhere: X-Force and The Golem's Mighty Swing. Next week might be a bit odd, though, as for the life of me I can't find anything worth reviewing on the shipping list.

X-Force #125

  • Published by Marvel, written by Pete Milligan and illustrated by Mike Allred.
  • £1.60 / $2.25

Upon cursory inspection, X-Force would appear to be a typical example of the superhero genre of comics, and not a particularly inspiring one at that. After all, it looks kind of 'retro', and features such outlandish characters as a human 'battery' with acidic sweat called 'The Anarchist' and a blue-skinned female called 'U-Go-Girl'. U-Go Girl. Wouldn't you agree that this sounds possibly like the worst name for a superhero ever?

Well, I'd say so, if it wasn't for the fact that X-Force is a masterfully ironic spin on the capes-and-spandex side of the comics industry's output. This title provides a thoughtful and (more often than not) blackly humorous commentary on many of the conventions of the superhero genre that is never less than perceptive and insightful.

Taking its cue from the world of pop music, the eponymous team of mutant heroes are more concerned with their image than noble deeds, and would rather face any number of evil supervillains than get bad press. Although this is a comic with a somewhat subversive agenda, however, it still manages to have some of the most sympathetic characters and cracking plots to be found in comic books at the moment.

This particular issue deals with the vexing problem of the fact that the heroes known as 'X-Force' don't possess the rights to the name of their own group so, for branding purposes, they must assume a new name. While this is happening, three of the heroes receive a dire omen of an impending death in the group, as well as facing unwelcome political intervention in their future. Comics are rarely this compelling, amusing or just plain well-written.

The glorious art is indeed fairly 'retro', but this is part of its appeal; the artistic output of Mike Allred and his wife Laura is just as important in creating these wonderful characters as Pete Milligan's writing. The seeming simplicity of the art belies a subtlety and wit that really brings the story to life, and it is very hard not to enjoy the fact that the leader of the group, Guy Smith (aka 'The Orphan'), looks like a purple-skinned young Marlon Brando but with antennae and mottled skin. This is nothing less than a stroke of genius, as it provides the perfect platform for the reader to imagine the character's attitude and reactions.

If you like your comics witty and immaculately crafted, give X-Force a go; in fact, even if you don't particularly, give it a try anyway - you might like it.

The Golem's Mighty Swing

  • Published by Drawn and Quarterly Publications, written and illustrated by James Sturm.
  • £9.99 / $12.95

Set in the 'Golden Age' of baseball in the 1920s, The Golem's Mighty Swing is a brilliant work for two main reasons. One, it evokes a bygone mythic era of sport when baseball was full of great personalities and players of legendary stature. However, contrasting with this rosy-tinted nostalgia is the other legacy of that time, in the form of racial intolerance and hateful attitudes of pre-Depression smalltown America.

The other notable reason for this book's superb quality is its technical virtuosity. Sturm uses the comic strip format to expertly convey the sense of rhythm and tension surrounding a baseball match, and the final game is a masterpiece of well-constructed sequences.

The Golem's Mighty Swing deals with an itinerant team of jewish baseball players called the 'Stars of David' who travel from town to town, playing the local teams and moving on. The team is filled with ageing ex-Major League stars alongside raw rookies and journeymen ball-players. The team's undoubted big draw is their hulking negro batter Henry Bell, who masquerades as a jew under the name Herschl Bloom.

Watching one of their matches is an enterprising promoter, who has the lucrative idea of making Bell dress up as a 'Golem', a mythical creature of jewish legend, to draw in the crowds in a game against the local all-stars side, as a horror film featuring this very monster is all the rage in the picture-houses of New York. This plan becomes far from a simple ball game when the hype about this jewish monster leads to smouldering racial hatred, and the home side have brought in one of the best pitchers in the country to face the Stars of David...

Everything about this book is immaculate, from the taut and impeccably-researched script to the clear artwork that pays tribute to the cartoon style of the era while remaining utterly fresh for a modern readership. This book is ideal for anyone who appreciates great comics or who has a love of baseball. Highly recommended.


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