Assclass Graphic novel reviews, originally posted on


This first volume unfussily sets up the hit manga’s premise – an octopus being has destroyed the moon, then become a teacher of a remedial High School class: his pupils have a year to kill him before he destroys the Earth too. He’s teaching them to do it. There’s high concept, and then there’s Assassination Classroom. Mangaka Yuusei Matsui, sensibly enough, introduces the idea quickly and with a straight face, before getting down to showing us how the manga will actually work. It turns out Assassination Classroom is an affable, low-key kind of a comic. Koro Sensei – our tentacular antagonist – is a pretty likeable fellow, but then so are the kids trying to kill him. The introduction of Karma, a particularly devious student, ups the stakes, and tilts the volume towards being a psychological duel a la Death Note… but then he turns out to be a nice chap too. The problem, bizarrely, is that this manga about murder, teen emotion and the destruction of the Earth feels oddly low-stakes so far. It’s crisply done, though, and Matsui is obviously growing into his ideas, so worth a look to see how things develop. (3.5 stars)

PRETTY DEADLY, Vol.1 (Image Comics)

A bold, haunting, slightly forbidding comic. Reading issue by issue required a right-angle lurch away from whatever mood I’d been in before. Reading as a whole I dodged that problem, but noticed more of a drop-away in intensity as the story (or fable) unfolded. There’s a balance struck in Pretty Deadly between the narrative logic of the Western – lone riders, saloon brawls, frontier justice – and the symbolic logic of the myth Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios are building. As the series goes on the balance tips more to the latter, and a lot of Pretty Deadly’s most thrilling and lasting sequences – the fight in issue #2, for instance – owe more to the former, or have a touch of both. But throughout it’s ambitious, gorgeous, and like nothing else Image is publishing. (4 stars)


An action comedy that’s cleverer in concept (a knowing rip-off of Die Hard set in a Chinese theme park full of knowing rip-offs of other Western IPs) than in execution: the satirical aspects, and the commentary on US-China relations, drop away fairly quickly in favour of, well, doing Die Hard in a Theme Park and having a lot of fun with that. But Jörg Tittel and John Aggs DO have a lot of fun with it (even if some of the action storytelling is a bit unclear) and if you don’t go in expecting a quieter, sharper graphic novel you might have a lot of fun too. Endearingly reminiscent of the sort of things that used to run in the 80s/90s UK comic, CRISIS. (3 stars)

SATELLITE SAM, Vol.1 (Image Comics)

The first issue of Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam is a magnificent exercise in tone – throwing you in at the technical deep end of the lost world of 50s live TV, the action building to the moment of transmission (and the revelation of the book’s mystery plot). Nothing else in this first volume is quite as breathless or immersive – in fact it’s a comic that demands slow reading, as sorting out who’s who and what they’re after can take a while. But it’s a sharp, good-looking, entertainingly nasty book: Chaykin likes to draw hucksters, sleazebags and sex bombs, and Fraction gives him exactly what he wants. The plot bounces back and forth, getting more complex with every issue, but as with most Matt Fraction comics, I’m reading and enjoying this mostly for the atmosphere. Satellite Sam throbs with the sweaty insecurity and curdled dreams of middle age. (4 stars)

THE FUSE, Vol.1: THE RUSSIA SHIFT (Image Comics)

“Police procedural in space” is the hook, and a lot of the time The Fuse gets by on the obvious fun and love Antony Johnston is having simply doing a buddy cop book. I read very few procedurals, and quite a lot about space, so perhaps I should have been put off by the fact that the “space” element doesn’t exactly impose itself on the storyline. But the cop genre tropes were fresh enough for me, and Johnston’s glee in them clear enough, that I kept reading anyhow.

The Fuse is – despite a fairly high body count – a benign book by the standards of recent Image launches. Klem and Dietrich – our inevitably mismatched leads – never truly feel in danger, even when they notionally are. Despite Justin Greenwood’s pacy, gritty art, it gives The Fuse the feeling of a cosier comic than it’s perhaps meant as – an English detective story rather than a gritty cop yarn. But again, that was a positive for me: I enjoyed spending time with these people and watching trust develop between them. (3.5 stars)


None more Goethe. (4.5 stars)

UNDERTOW, Vol.1: BOATMAN’S CALL (Image Comics)

Strong flashes of promise in this Image comic, bogged down by poor pacing and artistic problems. Artyom’s Trakhanov’s storytelling is fine, with plenty of gritty, messy action sequences, but he has real difficulties making characters distinctive. The loss of a limb, for instance, is traumatic for a character but a great blessing for the reader, who can consequently tell two of the Atlantean rebel heroes apart. The colouring is effective at selling location shifts, but not actually effective at highlighting action within said locations. And the interesting part of Steve Orlando’s story – a desperate mission to find a mutated Atlantean who can breathe air and is ruling over primitive humans – runs badly out of steam as the comic’s attention shifts to less charismatic adversaries. All told, an intriguing premise masks a bit of a mess. (2 stars)

WOLFSMUND, Vol.1 (Vertical Press)

Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund has a reputation for nihilism. It’s certainly bleak, and unsparingly brutal: if Kuji’s imagination is dark, though, her character designs are very clean and genre-standard, so the characters she torments across these linked takes of medieval injustice are all disconcertingly (and generically) hot. None more so than smoldering bad boy Wolfram, keeper of the fortress which gives the series its title, a keep that controls a key Alpine pass between Hapsburg-controlled Swiss cantons and the relative freedom of Italy. Wolfram, possessed of an uncanny ability to spot when someone’s trying to cheat him, smirks and sighs as he destroys rebellious Swiss hopes.

Decades of storytelling have conditioned readers to take the rebels’ side in an independence struggle. Their victories here, though, are tiny and won at horrendous cost. With her emphasis on the implacable pass and fortress itself, Kuji’s approach is to coldly detail the human cost of historical moments, while downplaying the ability of any one individual to make more than a piecemeal difference. Will any kind of heroism emerge from the story? Wait and see, I guess. For now, the most a human can do against Wolfsmund (and against the tide of the story) is a brief spell of action. So there are excellent scenes of clashing knights and men-at-arms, and a desperate mountaineering sequence, that let each protagonist make an impression on the reader, even if the narrative remains unscratched. (4 stars)