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Midnight Kiss is a densely plotted, cleverly written and beautifully drawn tale of mayhem and mystery in fairyland. These fairies, however, use some pretty heavy artillery and most of them make the Hitler gang look like a teddy bear’s picnic. Add fabulous references to a Land of Oz fighting a vicious civil war, a bunch of fabulous creatures being hunted for their hearts and minds (literally) and you have one of the richest, most original, engaging and fast-moving graphic stories of the new century.

The above quote is taken from Michael Moorcock’s introduction to this comic book collection. I chose it as this fulsome praise convinced me to buy the book. Moorcock was approached by Lee for permission to use his dimension-hopping anti-hero Jerry Cornelius for this book. One of the most popular of Moorcock’s creations, one that he has in the past allowed other New Worlds authors such as M. John Harrison to use, Cornelius is a devious, dimension-hopping anarchist, perfectly suited for Lee’s story of a multiverse of fantasy realms. Given that this book had Moorcock’s stamp of approval, I bought it without hesitation.

The story begins with a boy named William being confronted by a gang of gun-toting Unseelie Fae, mistaken by him for vampires. Moments before he is captured, Matthew Sable and Nightmare De’Lacey arrive and decimate the heavily armed fairies. The mystically empowered duo explain to William that he is what they call a ‘rational’, someone who believes that one world and reality exist. Sable explains that millennia ago an event called the shattering occurred, with each realm of faerie separated into different dimensions. What normal humans, rationals, assume are fictional worlds or fantasies are actually each unique threads within the multiverse.

William has become the target of a conspiracy to create a demonic demiurge due to his own mysterious parentage. A series of assassinations are being carried out against different creatures of fantasy across a number of worlds. Now that William is under the protection of Sable, two murderers for hire called Jonny Cool and The Flickman, are contracted to recover him. They slaughter their way through several dimensions in pursuit of their quary. A third story thread concerns a police investigator known as Einhorn trying to discover what is behind the series of murders relating to the conspiracy. Each of the protagonists are drawn to the Land of Oz, torn apart by a civil war between the forces of the evil Scarecrow and President Dorothy Gale.

I am sorry to report that I found this to be a bleak and dispiriting story. Despite the warm introduction from Moorcock, Midnight Kiss resembles a derivative, grim ‘n’ gritty take on Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. The excellent blog Too Busy Thinking About My Comics recently proposed a dark take on Robin Hood for satirical purposes. Wouldn’t you know it, the Sherwood Forest archer appears here, consumed with feelings of revenge towards Matthew Sable (for reasons too silly to go into). Our heroes use their magical abilities to sprout dayglo guns and swords from their arms, slaughtering their opponents with impunity. At times I was confused as to what distinguished them from blood-thirsty antagonists Jonny Cool and The Flickman. Of course the break-neck twist in the final issue addresses just that ambiguity with groan-worthy results. Poor William is also just another derivative messiah-child, being dragged along in a state of constant confusion until the plot demands that he suddenly assert himself.

As to Jerry Cornelius’ role in the proceedings, well he’s basically a bag-man. His ability to cross dimensions is here employed to run errands on Sable’s behalf. I found this especially amusing as Moorcock cites Lee as having ‘got’, Cornelius’ function as a character. Tony Lee’s afterword mentions that other writers had misused the character in the past, without consulting his creator. I assume this is a reference to Grant Morrison’s attempt in his seminal book The Invisibles, there named Gideon Stargrove. Ironically I thought the unauthorised use of the Cornelius concept was far more successful than the fully approved one in Midnight Kiss.

Ryan Stegman’s art may suit the material, blood clotting on the panels and breasts thrusting outwards, but once again it reminded me of the bad old days. If you look at the cover image below you will notice a huge robot. Yes, that’s The Tin Man.

A huge disappointment.

In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time f gods…

The Bull and the Spear is the first book in the second series of novels telling the story of Corum Jhaelen Irsei, last of the Vadhagh race, stranded in a world of men. The first series, The Books of Corum, finished with our hero happily living with the human woman Rhalina, with the vile gods that conspired against his race defeated, and Corum’s hatred for the mortals once manipulated by the deities, faded. But…

The opening quote hints at where Moorcock might take this series. The very same words open each of the books and Corum’s companion Jhary-a-Conel claims that their adventures are echoes of those lived by past selves, or that which is yet to happen. This is part and parcel when reading Moorcock’s fantasy novels, set in a multiverse where each of the protagonists are in fact different aspects of the same ‘eternal champion‘.

And so Corum eventually begins to tire of peace and after Rhalina dies of old age he becomes eager to return to the fight. While he does not age he is becoming a legend, dimly remembered by the descendants of his land’s inhabitants. The arrival of Jhary provides an opportunity for new adventures, and the Vadhagh prince is transported into the future where he is worshiped as a god, Cremm Croich, and called upon to defend the people of this future world from a new menace.

Moorcock uses humour and horror in equal doses in his fantasy epic, having some fun at Celtic myth’s expense. Corum’s future name is similar to that given to a pagan deity worshiped in pre-Christian Ireland, Crom Cruach, who received offers of human sacrifice. Having gone to such lengths to defeat the evil gods that bedeviled the Vadhagh people, here, Moorcock has maneuvered Corum into the same position. Even as an immortal hero he is wary of being worshiped, knowing all to well how easily that power might be abused.

All of this and Corum is expected to defeat eldritch armies of giant hounds, undead soldiers and the giant Cold Folk themselves, who can freeze whole armies with but a glance. His only hope of success lies with a magical spear, Bryionak, and the Black Bull of Crinanass. Trouble is, Corum has no idea where to find either! And for good measure, there’s also a bad tempered dwarf named Goffanon to contend with.

What Moorcock specialises in is quick and efficient plots underpinned by big ideas. Reading each episode of The Books of Corum, as well as the next three Further Books of Corum feels like sitting down to a decent, yet not too filling, meal. Somehow each thin volume has far more meat on the bone than those wrist-spraining fantasy epics that weigh down the shelves in Borders. Well recommended for  lazy afternoon.

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