A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

Slow Science Fictions #1: Mike Weller's Cosmic Crusaders

Posted on December 9, 2006

Five attendees of a night class on 'Understanding Comics' each share an identical dream about being a cosmic-crusading-costumed team fighting bad in the world. Years later the collective dream is all but forgotten when four of the five cross paths again in Croydon. But this reunion is no accident: the Duke and the Duchess of Hell have declared war on God's Earth in the three spheres of Common, Social and Political Reality; in nearby Addingcombe, local democracy is being complicated by powerful developers; elsewhere, committee-prompted alterations fuelled by marketing strategy are made during the gaming adaptation of characters and situations from Space Opera, a small press book which details the history of the UK's first costumed superheroes, the Cosmic Crusaders. The Croydon four – Elaine Clark, Becky Schwaffer, Hussain Elmaz and Peter Piggott – have been chosen by the Guardians of Life and Civilisation to be the New Cosmic Crusaders.

"We have a powerful wish to be something super human," comments Elaine Clark in this origin issue of the New Cosmic Crusaders. This perhaps is the thematic fulcrum of the story: the desire for personal power to combat resignation and victim status, and refusal to accept limitations. As usual, resonant concerns lurk beneath author Mike Weller's superhero trope-laden work, where parallel realities meet in confluence: the hijacking of all that is popular in society by crass commercialism, capitalist bulldozing of our culture, the substance of a response to corporate momentum; and as ever Weller succeeds in crafting a gleeful read while quietly adding or removing things familiar to both our reality and our reading experience. There is a dizzying meticulousness here, too, and endearing complication, and if comics readers are to rest from exclusive consumption of the word-ballooned panel, the sure-footed prose of Mike Weller's Cosmic Crusaders provides the perfect substitute.

40 A5 pages, £2 - available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk