Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week three

May 20th, 2015

New comic series from Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey (INJECTION), Phil Hester & John McCrea (MYTHIC) plus THE HUNTER one-shot by Joe Sparrow, Eric Drooker’s silent FLOOD, manga from Tadao Tsuge and more Marvel SECRET WARS with Jodie Paterson’s prints underneath. Hurrah!

Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Drooker.

Lord, but I love the rain!

Preferably in the countryside during summer, accompanied by the smell of ozone or freshly cut grass; on water, on glass or sleeping under canvas but even at night in the city – I don’t think Japan’s ‘Nightporter’ is entirely innocent of the blame on that score.

When it hits here halfway through – as our beleaguered everyman emerges from the infernal subway which is dark and dangerous yet potentially thrilling in a primal way – it comes to me a blessed relief. There seems to be very real light at the end of that tunnel as the rain pours from the heavens onto the concrete steps below.

But an enormous clock tower is cast in stark contrast, silhouetted against the sky – boy, have we boxed in our lives not just with buildings but with time itself! – and the rain is far from fun for the man sat in it, cold, barefooted and holding out a cup rapidly filling with nothing but water.

Our hero is homeless too: he lost his job, he lost his lover then, evicted, he lost his apartment. His heart is exposed, vulnerable, for you to see.

From the creator of the equally eloquent and political BLOOD SONG comes a hardcover reprint of his first wordless narrative composed of three chapters created at intervals during a seven-year span and you can see Drooker as an artist develop in front of you on the page. (In some early panels Robert Crumb leaps out at you.)

It’s a decidedly surreal yet all too real nightmare of life in the far from civilised city. Anyone who’s read BLOOD SONG  knows that Drooker’s no fan. He grew up in New York and was a first-hand witness to the tyranny of landlords and hostile police action evicting squatters from a tenement building, and an entire population from a supposedly public park in riot gear, on horseback, just because. He sees the city as a cruel and fickle oppressor which man has created and ended up shackling his natural self as a slave to its grinding regime. It’s a despair-inducing chronicle of melancholia, isolation, alienation, and helplessness; a freakshow of the rejected, the dejected and the chaos of hoards before the storm. And when the storm hits, it pours into the city and sweeps all away.

The expressionistic art – an essay in black and white long before Miller’s SIN CITY – is extraordinarily versatile, speeding up, then slowing down, moving in then moving out, and when the blue tone joins it just after the deluge itself it is quite awesome to behold.

As to the rain itself, the subtractive medium of scratchboard is perfect for sheets and sprays of water which erode what we can see beyond them. I am a massive fan of rain drawn by the likes of Sacco and Eisner and indeed Miller in the original SIN CITY, but here it positively hurtles across the page, buffeting our man beyond his ability to resist before sweeping him up into the stormy sky, over the rooftops, past the Statue Of Liberty and – immediately and tellingly afterwards – away from the barred window of a crowded prison cell as its inmates look impotently out.

It ends in the prophecy of another watery Armageddon which harks back to the first – the only way to silence the babble and brutality.

For a silent graphic novel, this is one hell of a noisy book.

“Pictures are a means of communicating with people when words feel inadequate. It’s a way of bridging the language barrier,” says Drooker in the interview afterwards.

“Pictures are a more direct language than words. Words are always one step removed, because we’re encoding what we’re trying to express into verbal symbols – which need to be deciphered. Pictures are the earliest form of writing, and drawing them is something we do as young children – long before learning to read and write.”

It’s a fascinating interview raising points I hadn’t thought of before like this:

“Frankly I feel that our Judeo-Christian culture places undue emphasis on the word: “In the beginning was the word.” Other forms of expression – particularly images are sacrilege. The second commandment given to Moses was: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Jehovah is very explicit: images are taboo.

The one thing that the powers that be have always sought to control is communication.

SLH

Buy Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Trash Market s/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tadao Tsuge…

“Weren’t you supposed to go to the beach with your company today?”
“Yeah… I decided not to go… didn’t feel like it.”
“Don’t be silly, you should have fun while you’re young.”
“No thanks. Call me stuck up, but I’m just not interested in horsing around… you get caught up in these meaningless fads, and afterwards it just makes you stupid, what’s the point?”
“… …”
“Maybe it’s square to stand by one’s principles. But I really have respect for that. That’s the kind of person I want to be… like you, Dad.”
“… …”

Ah, the archetypal, repressed Japanese male. Those two non-replies from the father turn out to be very significant, as he then gradually begins to lose the plot during a long, hot summer resulting in an… unfortunate incident. Tadao Tsuge is one of the great unsung heroes of Japanese comics, the younger brother of the relatively more celebrated Yoshiharu Tsuge (who status-wise has been compared within Japan to the likes of Robert Crumb): both made their names contributing to underground comics magazine Garo in the 1960s and 1970s.

To understand his comics, I think one needs to be aware of the fact that he’s never made a full-time living from them, aside from a couple of very brief periods, interludes really, like most of the creators from the alternative manga scene of that time. Instead he’s held down a succession of menial blue collar jobs, and just done comics in his spare time, many of which I suspect are loosely autobiographical or at least containing characters who have crossed his path.

One of these jobs, several decades ago, which he explains more about in one of the essays included at the back of this collection, was for a blood-bank (known colloquially as an ‘ooze for booze’ operation giving alcoholics a few yen for their blood) with somewhat suspect working practices and hygiene conditions, and which almost certainly resulted in him contracting Hepatitis C…

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising therefore that most of his comics revolve around the down-trodden life of the true working class man. Much like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s material, it’s a bleak, uncompromising portrait of lives spent in drudgery, where happy endings are few and far between.

His style is even sparser of line and particularly background than Tatsumi’s, though I can see some similarities. If you are a fan of Tatsumi, you would undoubtedly enjoy this material though. It’s a window into a particular time and never ending struggles of a certain social class, as seen mainly from the perspective of eternally tense, uptight Japanese male, who is seemingly only ever one glass of sake away from going off the deep end in some way or other!

JR

Buy Trash Market s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Injection #1 (£2-25, Image) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey

Professor Maria Kilbride was once an optimist: a fresh-faced, enthusiastic explorer of hidden science. She was given funding by the FPI and four similarly specialised experts to cross-pollinate with. They were to put their minds together, think outside the box and do stuff. They did stuff.

They poisoned the 21st Century.

They did it with an Injection and now they discover that they and this planet are far from immune.

Professor Maria Kilbride now resides at Sawlung Hospital which, translated from old English, means “giving up the ghost”. Nominally a patient, she but is anything but. She is worn out, fractious, unkempt and implicitly under investigation by the FPI’s own inner Cursus which demands she cleans up her mess. Ever since Maria and her cohorts dissolved their Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit in the wake of their Injection, incidents have occurred. Walls of science and nature have come crashing down or are opening up. The breaches are pretty spectacular.

Professor Maria Kilbride is being dragged out once again to stop what she has started and she will try the best that she can. But she is tired, malnourished and would very much like a fucking sandwich.

Could someone please make her a fucking sandwich?

From the writer of GLOBAL FREQUENCY and PLANETARY, this boasts elements of both: weird science, history, ghostly echoes, specialised experts and catastrophic incidents. It’s also highly reminiscent of Jamie Delano’s early HELLBLAZER with secret, string-pulling organisations and references to stone circles, ley lines, cursuses, cunning folk and the Ridgeway. In other words very British indeed, quaint villages included.

I infer that this is the next Ellis epic and I would advise you to get in on the ground floor, by which I mean right here, right now.

Shalvey and Bellaire have done a tremendous job of separating the past from the present: it couldn’t be clearer. Both the body language and colours command that you consider the contrast. In places I get whiffs of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN’s Kevin O’Neill. I may be down-wind.

It’s also typical Ellis in that the first issue demands you go Google-ing specialised terms and then – if you’re anything like me – pretending you knew exactly what they all meant in the first place. You think I knew what a cursus was? Oh, how you overestimate me!

But if you’re also anything like me then you love to learn, you hate being hand-held and you relish a comic with intelligence, wit, and so much hard research and forethought behind it that you embrace the brand-new even when it harks so geo-specifically back to the past.

I am old, I am tired. Can someone please make me a fucking sandwich? Something with mushrooms, tuna and cheese would be ideal, melted even better.

Because like Professor Maria Kilbride I have seen what’s behind this closed door and it shouldn’t be possible.

SLH

Buy Injection #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Mythic #1 (£1-80, Image) by Phil Hester & John McCrea.

HITMAN’s John McCrea appears to have had enormous fun drawing this – it’s infectious!

The black and white preview of MYTHIC #2 set above the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is positively Walt Simonson in its monumentalism!

This had me from the very first page which reminded me of Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse’s hilariously grotesque and grotesquely hilarious BOJEFFRIES SAGA. In it a poor young man at a clapped out till in a run-down phone shop is confronted by a hideously warty old woman, whom I swear I last saw cleaning a lavatory sloppier than a cowshed in a Parisian hotel which haunts me to this day. Some of its wooden stairs were missing and our room wouldn’t lock. I don’t want to talk about the lavatory in any more detail. I’m not sure what I saw could have actually existed.

Our innocent young salesman is in for a similarly nasty surprise when the harridan plops her mobile phone on his counter with the words “Phone dead” and he makes the mistake of touching it. To his fingers sticks a thread attached via the phone to one of the woman’s larger, thumb-sized facial pustules and he probably shouldn’t have pulled on it because what pops out…

You will never squeeze a zit again.

The entire sequence is choreographed by McCrea with such exceptional physicality than I can feel the tension in that thread myself and feel it pulling on a pustule of my own which I haven’t known in over three decades.

You’re probably wondering what this book is actually about. So is the clerk once those demons are down.

“Nate, I’m not just here to spew cryptic exposition about your newfound destiny. Though I have to admit, I am pretty goddam great at it. I’m her to offer you a job.”

The card says “Mythic Lore Services.”.

Here’s the official blurb:

“Science is a lie, an opiate for the masses. The truth is that magic makes the world go round. And when magic breaks, Mythic fixes it. Apache shaman Waterson, Greek immortal Cassandra, and cell phone salesman Nate Jayadarma are the crack field team assigned with keeping the gears of the supernatural world turning, and more importantly, keeping you from ever knowing about it.”

They certainly have a novel explanation – and cure – for drought but it’s too rude to type. Ah, I see you are hooked! Here’s Cassandra confounding a scientist with a much merrier account of the world as he once thought he knew it.

“We are told the sun tracking through the sky above is a mass of incandescent gas, our earthly home a randomly formed satellite… These facts let you sleep at night, let you pretend to know what the world is all about. When actually the sun is pulled across the heavens by a flaming chariot piloted by a god clad in the dust of comets. Earthquakes are not the shifting of tectonic plates, but the wrestling of massive twin lizard-demons fighting for control of the underworld. The tides themselves rise and fall with the weeping of an immortal princess who sleeps beneath the shore awaiting her drowned lover’s return.”

I knew there was poetry in nature.

So what do you imagine the Giant’s Causeway really is? Heheheh.

SLH

Buy Mythic #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Hunter (£6-50, Nobrow) by Joe Sparrow.

Bravado: a “boldness intended to impress or intimidate”.

Bravado: a rash proclamation made when you’re feeling otherwise inadequate.

Bravado: as Marc Almond sang, “Is it me who’s feeling insecure?”

A man whose only skill lies in slaughter holds a big party. For him the best sound of all is “the melodious bark of a bullet”. It’s certainly not conversation so when he finds himself in his own metaphorical kitchen with nothing to say he reacts resentfully and in anger, declaring that he will kill one of every living creature on Earth.

Bravado.

He does so.

“My dear Earl, you’re too much!”

And he is.

But so is what’s coming to get him.

I don’t know why the type and lines have been designed to look like they came out of a dot matrix home printer 35 years ago – all jaggedy. I’m sure there’s a brilliance behind it but it certainly didn’t enhance my reading pleasure. I found it distracting.

Still, I’m totally down with the story and can only endorse its message: predators, please put down your guns and stop shooting the fuck out of our wildlife. Unless you’re doing it on a Sony Playstation.

SLH

Buy The Hunter and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars #2 of 8 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribib.

“Quarantine is for things that cause doubt.”

Previously in SECRET WARS #1 (reviewed somewhat elusively for fear of spoilers – stock depleting rapidly!):

The Marvel Universe was destroyed. Earth ceased to exist and everyone on it perished.

Now (spoiler-free too!):

A new day, a new dawn and a new Thor has been deemed worthy and initiated into the ranks of multiple Thors coexisting side by side. They are the keepers of the law, the Hammers of God. They kneel below their all-seeing, all-hearing, all-knowing deity. Is it the All-Father, Odin?

It is not.

Brilliant. This has been so cleverly thought through and it is so eloquently executed.

Someone has finally got what they always wanted and they are enjoying it enormously. They are king of all they survey (oooh, gender neutral pronoun!) and what they survey are multiple kingdoms between which access is strictly restricted unless someone is summoned for judgement. Judgement proves swift and rarely merciful. Beware which kingdom you are banished to!

Some are populated by superhero and supervillain zombies; others are patrolled by Ultron A.I.s. In others past Marvel crossover conflicts are being replayed in new iterations and you can follow their progress in five and a half billion new, attendant titles which will commence any day now in the place of the those that you loved. You can take a gander at these in Page 45’s Marvel Comics for May, Marvel Comics for June and Marvel Comics for July and a bunch of printed publications (also depleting rapidly!) which we have by our counter for free. If in doubt, ask! We want you to have them!

You’ll find your favourite Marvel heroes and villains cast in brand new lights under utterly alien circumstances but – once again – there is a considerable degree of logic in their new assignations based on their shared past history.

The joy is in discovering all these for yourselves – very much like Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert’s MARVEL 1602 – so I will stay schtum until the collected edition arrives.

I will only add that the already accomplished art has gone up a notch since #1 and here Ribic delivers the best portrayal of Sinister I’ve ever seen. His expressions are so priceless you will be acting out the dialogue in your head. Sinister is jubilant, aloof, dismissive and cross; he’s mock-cross, goading and gleeful. In one panel he positively dances his way to a judgement whose authority he’d never recognise nor submit to in a million years. Don’t know who Sinister is? It really won’t matter.

And if you imagine for one second that this series stands still and you will have to wait for clues as to what waits on the other side of this segue between Marvel Universes, think again!

For what, do you think, has been quarantined?

SLH

Buy Secret Wars #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Olivier Coipel, Guiseppe Camuncoli.

Ummm. Okay.

This is volume three of the current incarnation of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

It is very pretty. But then you’d expect nothing less of Olivier Coipel who did such a masterful work of rendering Norse eyebrows in THOR and so much more, so maybe pop the artist into our search engine and see for yourself!

In it a feuding family called Inheritors have set their gluttonous eyes on every incarnation of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Earth past, present and future along with its alternate Earths past, present and future. They actually want to eat them and eww.

But, boy, there are a lot of Spider-Men! If you wanted to unlock all these costumes whilst playing a videogame then you would be here for approximately 7 billion hours with button-bashing, calloused thumbs like nobody’s business. There’s Spider-Man, Spider-Ham (I kid you not), Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, Spider-*** [SPOILERS! – ed] and even a punk iteration that oh I’ve just bored myself.

If that is your bag then you can consider this the Christian Dior of comics and cheap at just £14-99! Although there is the SPIDER-VERSE OMNIBUS h/c which will set you back oh so much more for a considerably higher, more comprehensive page count. That’d be more of a Gucci suitcase for Spider-spotters. I don’t know, my Fashion-Sense tingles at the mere sight of me in the mirror.

The problem is that what starts off as a customarily witty Dan Slot script with both a sly sleight of hand then an ever so naughty side-bar castigating you for fixating on Peter’s bottom (which the artist has ensured that you will – it is naked and only just beneath the sheets!) turns into an interminable series of side-bar boxes explaining who everyone is and whence they web-weave.

Again, this may be for you the thrill of a lifetime. “Clip ‘em and collect ‘em all,” as Marvel once exhorted of the postage stamps printed within their very own comics. And readers did! They did clip ‘em and collect ‘em, thereby reducing the second-hand sales value of their 1970s’ Marvel Comics from $220,372 a pop to three dimes and a cent.

I have no idea about American currency at all.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Goldfish Copper Foil Print (£18-00) by Jodie Paterson.

Oh just look at these puppies!

Err… guppies!

Err… Veiltail Goldfish!

They shine like copper ghosts floating in the dark.

Jodie Paterson’s cards have been an enormous success here so we’re introducing her prints.

They have nothing to do with comics, although – true fact – Jodie’s CV when applying for a job at Page 45 did come accompanied by an autobiographical comic whose climax came with the triumphant “I’VE GOT THE JOB!”

Guess what? She got the job!

Positive thinking works wonders.

SLH

Buy Goldfish Copper Foil Print and read the Page 45 review here

Badger Blue Mini Print and Badger Green Mini Print (£8-00 each) by Jodie Paterson.

  

Meet Lilly and Edwin!

Would you want them on your wall? Of course you would!

You’ll probably start talking to them before long.

Each of this pair of prints comes on classy, textured watercolour stock.

I have absolutely no idea what possessed Jodie to dress badgers in jumpers but it’s a stroke of genius which has paid huge dividends and is even more of a talking point for customers while have their wallets whipped at the till than my own shop dodo.

We honestly do have a shop dodo. It’s quite dead.

SLH

Buy Badger Blue Mini Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Badger Green Mini Print and read the Page 45 review here

Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print (£20-00) and Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print (£15-00) by Jodie Paterson.

   

“Time To Explore!” and “Let’s Run Away!”

I adore Jodie’s calligraphy – the letters positively dance – and each exhortation is perfectly framed in a garland of fresh flowers.

They’re perfect compositions full of space and light redolent of open, wildflower meadows, while both the calligraphy and the colours gives them a thrilling energy.

Also, notice the love heart on “Let’s Run Away!” implicitly meaning “together”! Awww.

Each print comes on textured watercolour stock and is mounted thereby saving you considerable extra expense.

SLH

Buy Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here

Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print and Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print (£20-00 each) by Jodie Paterson.

Both landscape lovelies on watercolour stock are already mounted which will save you some considerable hassle and a little bit of lolly to boot.

I’m not very good with birds [insert your own joke] so I’m relieved our Jodie has already identified them.

Both my mum and my sister are keen, expert birdwatchers while I am the source of some considerable head-shaking, over-optimistically identifying eagles in the sky when they’re not even birds of prey – on one occasion a sparrow.

It was difficult to judge distance that day.

SLH

Buy Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Velvet vol 2: The Secret Lives Of Dead Men (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Bettie Breitweiser

Ex Machina Book 5 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris

Elders #1 (£4-00) by Ethan Wiltshire

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 2: Lost And Found (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad

The Art Of Flying h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Antonio Altarriba & Kim

BPRD Plague Of Frogs vol 4 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis

Godzilla: The Half-Century War (£14-99, IDW) by James Stokoe

Samurai Executioner Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Strangers In Paradise vol 2 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Stray Bullets vol 2: Somewhere Out West (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

The Spectators h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Victor Hussenot

The Unwritten vol 11: Apocalypse (£12-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, various

Batman: Detective Comics vol 5: Gothopia s/c (£12-99, DC) by John Layman, Brad Meltzer, Scott Snyder, various & Jason Fabok, Bryan Hitch, Neal Adams, Sean Murphy, various

Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina

Monster Perfect Edition vol 4 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Sailor Moon: Short Stories vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Naoko Takeuchi

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Neko Nekobyou

NEWS!

ITEM! Enjoying GIANT DAYS? Me too, more and more with each successive issue! John Allison is currently serialising his SPACE IS THE PLACE online for free.

ITEM! Both versions have been out of print for a while but THE CEREBUS GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING is now available digitally. If I were a creator or a prospective creator in the comicbook industry I would make damn sure I read it regardless of whether I intended to self-publish. Fore-warned is fore-armed etc!

ITEM! Wonderlands one time only graphic novel festival in Sunderland is on Saturday May 30th 2015

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week two

May 13th, 2015

Classic Japanese horror from Junjo Ito, violence as a way of life from Jasons Aaron & Latour; the return of RAT QUEENS,  Jim Henson’s STORYTELLER, Frederik Peeters’ AAMA and Stan Sakai’s USAGI YOJIMBO; introducing Stephan Franck’s SILVER. Oh, and Marvel Comics launches the beginning of their end, SECRET WARS #1!

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely.

“Anyone is capable of kindness… I believe.”
“You hope, rather.”

Brrrr… It’s going to get chilly!

Little about the relatively mundane cover can prepare you for some of the beauty within. “There are witches inside” it seems to say, “And you know they’re all warty. It’s the tradition.”

Which is a shame. How much braver it would have been to have gone with Shane-Michael Vidaurri for ‘The Magic Swan Goose And The Lord Of The Forest” with its inventive layout, light and colour is something I’ve spent some considerable time studying. Our own Jodie Paterson – an inventive artist in her own right (see our range of Jodie Paterson Greetings Cards And Prints) – couldn’t agree more.

It tells of a time long ago when a wild, wooded land was so remote that its king had so far failed to claim it. Its virgin, snow-topped mountain overlooked a village so small that it was self-sustaining and at one with its local habitat. It was in harmony with nature.

“The years fell as quickly and as gracefully as the autumn. And what was once a small town became a city, and a king laid his claim on the forest.”

Specifically he laid claim on the forest’s tallest tree: so tall that its topmost branches were said to catch stars which imbued them with magical properties. Philistine that he was, the king chopped the tree down to fashion a crown for the day of his son’s coronation. But the tree was much loved by Lord Of The Forest, a tall armoured rabbit or hare who took umbrage.

That king already had a daughter much older than his son but, of course – oh, of course! – she was but second in-line to the throne. The princess loved her family but cared not for the court and its mannered pageantry, pomp and dull dealings. She preferred to wander through the forest and was particularly drawn to the sturdy, hollow stump of the tree her father had plundered. It was while loitering, daydreaming there that the princess overheard a curse cast upon the crown and what happened thereafter would change the kingdom forever.

I love a good twist – see Becky Cloonan’s THE MIRE – and have chosen my words very carefully.

There is a lovely lilt to how the words tumble and often chime, Vidaurri’s hand-drawn lettering as much an intimate part of the art as it is in Dame Darcy’s MEATCAKE or Emily Carroll’s THROUGH THE WOODS.

Vidaurri uses the space around each boldly inset panel – often no more than a single panel per page – to further the narration while decorating it with a vaulted ceiling, maybe mountains or mice, oak acorns or red-berried leaves.

The panel borders themselves might be composed as a cloak-clothed woman whose image is mirrored like a knave or queen playing card, or soared over by a majestic white swan. It’s the sort of playfulness I relish in self-published works but which is then often jettisoned when a “proper” publisher makes claim.

But if you prefer your witches traditional then Jeff Stokely’s adaptation of the original teleplay ‘Vasilissa The Beautiful’ with its grotesque Baba Yaga (see Neil Gaiman’s THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and the cover here) will please you enormously. There’s even a wicked step-mother with her equally malicious cuckoo kids and two cracking opening sentences:

“Once upon a time, long winters ago, at the very edge of the world, was a village which God had forgotten. A few lonely houses stood there, fenced by a forest so deep and so dark that the sky stopped above it for fear of getting lost.”

It’s one of three of the four stories here to feature families under threat so prominently. The other is ‘The Snow Witch’ from which I gleaned the opening quotation. It’s a landscape affair which requires you to turn the book 90 degrees but only once when you start to read it. (Too many superhero comics ten years ago required you to do this mid-session then again and again thereby ruining your immersion and – unlike CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY – for no reason other than the artist’s self-indulgent ego / whim.)

‘The Snow Witch’ extracts a promise from a young woodcutter never to speak of her existence or she will find and punish him. Her subsequent connivances put him in the most painful position possible (remember, it is all about family) and what follows is the most frustrating intractability which transmutes love into sorrow and suffering. What will cleave your heart in two is that it’s all so profoundly unnecessary.

SLH

Buy Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour.

Terrifying.

There are several things which are a great deal scarier to me than horror films. Hatred is at the top of that list.

I never back down but hatred, in truth, scares the shit out of me and hatred backed with the threat of physical violence is all too prevalent.

Welcome to the American South.

Our Jonathan wrote an exceptional review of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 in which he cited his own experiences there and I wish that they beggared belief, but they don’t. So you can perhaps see why I was reluctant to read this series at all. I found it traumatising. But it needed to be written, it needed to be drawn and I guess it needed to be read. What the author of the unequivocally recommended SCALPED has achieved here against all odds is to make the vicious villain of volume one the champion of volume two. Aaron is exceptional at delivering different points of perspective and adversity is can be a damn fine catalyst for sympathy and support.

Here you will learn how the American football coach of SOUTHERN BASTARDS VOL 1 came to be in his position of small-town power and the struggle it took to get there. You will also learn a lot about American football. You may in addition be persuaded to thank your lucky stars. Bonus points: if the hero of volume one is gone by volume two, then who do you think will step in for volume three? Surprise, reprise! That’s the other thing Aaron excels at: structure.

Jason Latour’s colouring speaks of a heat in both time periods, but the flashbacks are so dusty you’d be forgotten for checking if you’re got grit in your eye. On the surface the art style may look like Lee Weeks or Ron Garney (which is tribute enough) but stare a little closer and it’s a lot less traditional that it looks with craggy mouths and jagged noses employing the short of cartoon shorthand the likes of Keith Jones use. It can make for some really ugly faces oozing malice and cruelty and there are plenty of both to make you wince here.

SLH

Buy Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c and read the Page 45 review here

GYO 2-in-1 Complete h/c (£14-99, Viz) by Junji Ito.

The walking fish of Okinawa have moved out of the city and are all over Japan and possibly the rest of the world. The parasite clenched to the underside of the fish, powered by the noxious gas that boils in their stomachs, wants new converts; it want human beings. This is the situation that Tadashi finds when he wakes up at the hospital. His beloved Kaori is dead but her bloated body still runs a strange, biomechanical machine. Somewhere out there, he hopes, is the answer to this terrible blight on the land. So he searches.

While not as beautifully constructed as UZUMAKI, this is still an excellent fix for gorehounds and lovers of twisted horror tales. The parasitic machines with their spines and insectoid legs clatter along in a quite disturbing manner and the gas-ridden near-corpses that fuel it look sickly to the touch.

The ending comes rather abruptly but Viz have rounded the series off with two short stories that reminded me why I was first attracted to Ito’s nasty little works (and why I’ve watched so many bad films based on his manga). ‘The Enigma Of Amigara Fault’ disturbed both Tom and myself. After an earthquake, a new side of Amigara mountain revealed itself. Lots of human shaped holes on the side of the mountain, each distinct from the next. Some have been drawn to the place after seeing a news report, believing that the shapes are meant for them. Then one boy enters one of the shapes and is never seen again. If you’re a tad claustrophobic, stay away from this story.

MAS

Buy Gyo 2-in-1 Complete h/c and read the Page 45 review here

aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters…

“In short I believe aama is much more than a way of studying or reproducing life’s evolutionary mechanisms.
“All that’s just a smokescreen. A cover to get people on board. First investors. Then researchers.
“I think aama is a revolutionary attempt to transform the human species by forcing it to take the next evolutionary leap.”
“You’re raving mad. Just like all the others.”

The burning question for me, though, is why there is a girl, who is clearly inextricably linked with the mysterious substance aama, that is the exact double of the daughter of our reluctant hero Verloc Nim, when she is halfway across the galaxy back on earth. His brother Conrad, a secret agent of sorts for the powers that be, definitely knows more than he is letting on, which is why he brought his brother along, under the now transparent guise of fraternal concern.

 

However, instead of finding the small colony of scientists they expected, hard at work researching this wonder creation in a controlled environment on the planet Ona(ji), it is blatantly apparent the experiment has run out of control and gone completely amok, with the entire ecosystem infected by or integrated with aama. Or, depending on how you look at it, everything has gone precisely how the mysterious shadowy figures behind the ‘experiment’ intended. The resultant genetic modifications to the local flora and fauna are as potentially deadly as they are dramatic.

As Condrad and Verloc travel deeper and deeper into this disturbing new world looking for the epicentre of this distortion of natural evolution, matters start to become even more surreal as our travellers begin to hallucinate wildly. What they see as their perception is forcibly altered, what secrets it reveals, to them as well as us, is key to our beginning to comprehend just what aama might be. And yes, we do finally start to get some concrete answers regarding the identity of his surrogate daughter! Without giving any more away, we leave this volume exactly where we began AAMA VOL 1: THE SMELL OF WARM DUST H/C, thus neatly setting up the fourth and final volume which should hopefully be due before the of 2015.

 

I heartily recommend anyone enjoying TREES to give it a look, as the writing is of a similarly excellent standard. Also anyone enjoying LAZARUS or EAST OF WEST would almost certainly love it as well.

JR

Buy aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars #1 of 8 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

“It’s the end.
“But the moment has been prepared for.”

 - Doctor Who: Logopolis

It really is the end: the end of the Marvel Universe as you’ve known it.

The storyline first set motion in Hickman’s own NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 reaches its climax here. Almost all the Marvel Comics titles have ceased to exist – or are about to – as the world they are set on collides with the Earth of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe and both are destroyed.

What will emerge on the other side is a closely guarded secret, but there are clues if you look closely enough.

In the meantime, for four months, you have this central SECRET WARS series which is chaos choreographed with a military precision and five billion new, attendant titles which you can take a gander at in Page 45’s Marvel Comics for May, Marvel Comics for June and Marvel Comics for July and a bunch of printed freebies we have by our counter.

Take a deep breath: you’re about to be thrown in at the deep end!

 

So are the two Marvel Earths. Each has appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations are terrified and their respective superhuman populations have gone straight on the attack without necessarily knowing for the most part that they’re essentially up against themselves.

There will be no winners but already there are an awful lot of losers: big-name character casualties that will cleave hearts in two because love.

The Reed Richards – patriarch personified – of each Earth has prepared best of all but one of their schemes is most assuredly about to go all Robbie-Burns-style “agley”.

Perhaps it is the X-Men’s Cyclops whom you should be watching. Because, yes, that was clever!

The problem is, the problem is, I know all this stuff. Although I now read relatively few superhero comics I’m so ridiculously well versed in Marvel Comics’ history that our Mark originally gave me this job 25 years ago on the strength of that arcane knowledge! I cannot unlearn what I know so I have no idea if new readers will relish this as I did or be baffled by it.

On the other hand Hickman certainly capitalises on the freedom of this being the beginning of the end of it all, with the prospect of phoenix-like resurrection. For example, the Punisher gate-crashing a gathering of top-tier villains with this:

“Gentlemen. They say that when you die, you can’t take it with you. Which begs the question: exactly what am I gonna do with all these bullets?”

Polished art. I don’t have anything more to say about the art than that. It’s accomplished superhero art. Not my idea of a particularly good time: I’d rather have someone more stylised like Johnny Romita Jr at the helm but it is what it is and what it is is accomplished.

Also the end of it all, So let us begin!

SLH

Buy Secret Wars #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic…

Still reeling from the recent upturn in their public approval rating by the good citizens of Palisade, after saving the population from marauding monsters, the Rat Queens get straight back to doing what they do best: binge drinking, excessive drug taking, rampant sexual escapades, just good old fashioned debauchery, really! It won’t be long, however, before their unique brand of bravery is called upon again, as there is a darker evil lurking in the forms of N’rygoth, not an easy name to pronounce after twenty meads!

Continuing on from RAT QUEENS VOL ONE: SASS & SORCERY, we’re gradually getting to learn more about the girls’ utterly bizarre back stories, which go some ways towards explaining precisely why they are as dysfunctional as they all are. They’re an odd bunch to say the least, which probably explains exactly why I like them and their escapades so much! It’s extremely difficult to do ‘ridiculous’ fantasy or science fiction without it being too preposterously so, but for the moment at least Kurtis J. Wiebe continues to maintain the sublimely ludicrous appeal of this title.

 

 

 

JR

Buy Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth and read the Page 45 review here

Silver vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Planet) by Stephan Franck.

Oh, I’m racking this right next to Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY empire and its attendant BPRD spin-offs. It’s the same sort of fusion of horror and period crime.

New York City, 1931, and Jonathan Harker has died, finally reunited with his beloved Mina. He has amassed a wealth of valuable artefacts now being auctioned off to benefit his Harker Foundation, a charity raising money for medical centres for under-privileged children.

James Finnigan is such a successful con-man and thief that his newspaper headlines have paperboys sniggering whenever a policeman passes by. His latest target is that very auction, the final heist which will cap off his career and secure the future for himself and his two cohorts so they can enjoy a relaxed retirement.

Although an expert planner, Finnigan’s heist is not without its complications. It’s only the last-minute intervention of a young Chinese kitchen boy which saves his sorry soul for the lad seems to know what is coming – preternaturally so – and James ends up down a trapdoor leading to Harker’s true secret: an ingot of engraved silver and a journal purporting to tell of vampires and a history dating back five millennia to the existence of a Silver Dragon, a vast, ornate artefact depicting a dragon made from the purest silver which disappeared along with its tyrannical owner and the entire fortress containing it. Obviously that’s rubbish: vampires are the stuff of silly, gothic myths.

Tempting, though, eh?

Once more the cover does no justice to the sleek, slick, black and white twilight within. There are some beautifully high-contrast full-page spreads which I believe would have been better without the occasional, computerised gleam.

The first-person narration carries it through convincingly, entertainingly, and my only concern is that – given this is to all intents and purposes self-published – will we ever see its second-half conclusion? I truly hope so.

BATMAN: LONG HALLOWEEN’s artist Tim Sale is a fan, if that helps, and Mignola fans are in for a treat.

SLH

Buy Silver vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai.

The return of the Ronin rabbit!

It’s no throw-away affair, either. You’re in for a bit of a shocker.

While creating the self-contained 47 RONIN graphic novel Stan Sakai’s been away from USAGI YOJIMBO for three years but in his absence it’s started to be collected into bigger, omnibus editions. Thank goodness because under both Dark Horse and Fantagraphics this has been a title which has been lamentably left half-in, half-out of print for so long that it’s proved very frustrating to consistently stock.

At over 200 issues so far USAGI YOJIMBO is an anthropomorphic epic set in feudal Japan. It’s basically ‘Bedknobs And Broomsticks’ at war with swords.

This flashes forward fifteen years into the future and although almost all of USAGI YOJIMBO’s regular cast have survived the intervening years… not everyone’s going to get out alive this time.

Seriously.

That’s okay. Stan can go back and fill in those fifteen years leading up to this point but, blimey, this is quite the event with a two-tiered double ending which will have you biting your lips for a while. It certainly ramps up the dramatic irony for future instalments.

So it’s the final battle between Lord Hikiji and the Geishu clan: everyone on horseback, charging away, in 17th Century Japan. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Then something falls from the skies. It walks on three legs.

Revelations, I promise you. This is all about family.

And ‘The War Of The Worlds’, obviously.

SLH

Buy Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

A Game Of Thrones vol 4 h/c UK Edition (£14-99, Harper Collins) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

A.B.C. Warriors: Return To Mars h/c (£14-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Aliens: Fire And Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson & Patric Reynolds

Flood: A Novel In Pictures h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Drooker

Revival vol 5: Gathering Of Waters (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

The Hunter (£6-50, Nobrow) by Joe Sparrow

Trash Market s/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tadao Tsuge

Unflattening (£16-99, Harvard) by Nick Sousanis

Forever Evil s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Green Lantern vol 5: Test Of Wills s/c (£13-50, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Charles Soule & Billy Tan, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Edge Of Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Dustin Weaver, Jason Latour, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gerard Way & Richard Isanove, Robbi Rodriguez, Elia Bonetti, Jane Wyatt

Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Oliver Coipel, Guiseppe Camuncoli

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Dalibor Talajic

Drug & Drop vol 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Clamp

Gantz vol 35 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

Badger Blue Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Badger Green Mini Print (£8-00) by Jodie Paterson

Goldfish Copper Foil Print (£18-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Cetti’s Warbler Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Songbird Goldcrest Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Explore Mounted Print (£20-00) by Jodie Paterson

Wanderlust Run Away Mounted Print (£15-00) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! Marvel’s SECRET WARS #1 is reviewed up above but SECRET WARS #2 is out already! Blimmin ‘eck!

ITEM! Drawn & Quarterly, publisher of Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry, Guy Delise and MOOMIN – celebrates its 25th Birthday!

ITEM! Fascinating new interview with GHOST WORLD’s Dan Clowes, although I can assure that at Page 45 at least the readers buying books by Tomine, the Tamaki cousins, Anders Nilsen, Marjane Satrapi etc are emphatically not the same people buying superhero comics!

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2015 week one

May 6th, 2015

Jillian Tamaki, Tove Jansson, Seth, I.N.J. Culbard, Osamu Tezuka, Russell Stearman, Sydney Padua and a John Byrne classic that made me chortle!

The King In Yellow (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Robert W. Chambers & I. N. J. Culbard…

“Don’t touch it, Tessie!”
“But it’s just a book. What was it you said to me yesterday about dreams?”
“Hildred read it. Boris read it. Both took their own lives.”
“But it’s just a book! Now who’s being silly?”
“Ha!”
“Tessie, don’t! Listen I’m serious. Put that book down. Tessie! I don’t wish you to open it.”

Comics are fearfully powerful juju.

They can make money disappear from your pocket and into the Page 45 till just like that… *adjusts fez*. But… I don’t believe they have power to drive you insane and into the clutches of evil supernatural beings. Well… not until you’ve signed up for a standing order with us and then it’s too late, we got you… MWAH HA HA HA HA!!!

Joking aside, the primary conceit of some of Robert W. Chambers’ interconnected short stories is precisely that. The idea that there is a play, the titular King In Yellow, which in book form can cause a reader to begin to lose their mental coherence and thus become at risk from – indeed subjugated to – mysterious sinister forces lurking at the edge of our reality, including a mysterious godlike being known also as the King In Yellow. To fall into his purview is to begin a journey that will surely lead one to a state of utter desolation. Though perhaps that is not entirely true for all…

It’s well known that H.P. Lovecraft read these stories, first published in 1895, in 1927, and they almost certainly influenced his writing to some degree, not least because he references some elements in passing in a couple of his subsequent stories, so he was at least impressed enough to tip his hat in acknowledgement. Others suggest the style of these stories influenced some of his storytelling techniques to a considerable degree. I don’t know about that, but I do know the first few truly spooky stories from The King In Yellow collection – which Ian has gently reworked here to form this adaption (the latter stories being more of the romantic fiction ilk that Chambers plied through the remainder of his writing career) – are rightly regarded as true classics in the genre of supernatural fiction.

So, what of this adaptation? Well, I know I have made this very point regarding at least one of Ian’s brilliant Lovecraft adaptations (AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS / THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD / THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME / THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, plus two more to come later this year!!!) but yet again he’s done a superb job of deconstructing fairly nebulous material content-wise, in this case four short stories, and re-crafting it into a seamless, brilliantly engaging yarn. I had a little chat with him recently and he mentioned he’d only had to invent one brief bridging scene from scratch. The original stories were never truly intended as sequential chapters in a longer narrative, through there are threads of recurring characters and places, but Ian’s taken exactly the right approach by weaving them into one sinister longer-form story. It never feels like a reconstructing of separate tales, merely different strands of individual woe unraveling in turn under the malign, pervasive influence of the King In Yellow.

Art-wise I will simply say the eyes have it. Or rather they don’t!  A distinct lack of pupils on the part of most of the characters, a devilishly deliberate conceit on Ian’s part, is incredibly disconcerting. In certain instances it has the particularly perturbing effect of seeming to allow the character’s gaze to break the fourth wall out to us, the readers, without them even looking directly at us. There’s a cumulative effect to it which is increasingly unsettling, I must say.

There’s also a spectacular extended sequence, as I’ve also come to expect from Ian, where one of the characters, perhaps foolishly believing themselves to have put their macabre travails behind them and taken refuge in the sanctity of a church, listening to a reassuring priestly sermon, is then promptly taken on a mind-bending journey through time and space, or perhaps merely their own disintegrating perception of reality and rapidly draining sanity, before coming face to face with the King In Yellow itself.

Sadly our perilous wander through this weird world all too soon comes to an end. You will be left wanting more though, as was I. Maybe this is not the last we’ll see of the King In Yellow… though if we should see him, it will certainly be the last of us?!

So put this book carefully back on the shelf and watch out for strange people who pay too close attention to your business… or before you know where you are you’ll find yourself penniless and bereft of coherence, wandering Market Street with only a Page 45 bag full of comics in your hand…

Cue the sinister Vincent Price laughter like at the end of the Thriller video again…

JR

Buy The King In Yellow and read the Page 45 review here

Supermutant Magic Academy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki.

What an ending!

Here’s a prediction: the first three or four pages will utterly confound you and the title itself may put you off but then it is rather misleading.

Please, please don’t be dissuaded, for this pays big comedy dividends once you’re within.

It’s certainly a very different beast to the Tamaki cousins’ THIS ONE SUMMER and SKIM in form, tone and content except that in some ways it’s not: it’s all-inclusive, has a heart of gold and fiercely astute at observing and understanding the behaviour of young teens: how they treat each other or what they’re really thinking.

But. This is a comedy! It’s a wickedly clever comedy too, so many of the final panels of the one-page gag strips up-ending the five that have preceded it with a whiplash reversal. As such it’s as likely to appeal to fans of CYANIDE & HAPPINESS for who knew that Jillian was so naughty? Who knew she was such a comedian?

As I first read it I wondered if a longer-form narrative might eventually emerge and sure enough it does, centred on deadpan Marsha’s hilarious hidden crush on Wendy. I was going to attempt to transcribe The Hairbrush incident but I’ve found the actual page so see below or to your right if you’re reading this in the book’s product page. Brilliant!

Wendy is super-lovely, kind of heart and going out with Adam. On one page they make out, Adam asking if Wendy would be put off if she found out he was a robot. No, she says; and no, he wouldn’t be either if he found out Wendy was a robot, he promises. “Sentient robots are so hot, Wendy”, he says.

Wendy considers this for a panel while looking at the reader before uttering, “Beep, boop, beep, beep…”

Adam shudders.

So let us address the title SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY and really there is very little here which is about being a supermutant. Some of the protagonists – but only some of them – just look a little different. Wendy, for example, has cat ears. Not cosplay cat ears but actual cat ears. Another student is a hammerhead shark. Most of them, however, are completely human although Ethan (we only learn later) is Ethan The Everlasting Boy. Which retroactively explains why in one strip a tree has grown round him! There’s no hand-holding whatsoever which is why a second read-through is even funnier.

It is all so, so deadpan and I think Frances the curly-haired, precocious / pretentious performance artist may be the funniest of all. There’s a scene which she films as director, the first (and last, screaming) character wearing bunny ears and a medieval Plague Doctor mask, carrying an alarm clock on the end of a stick which is a cacophony of “MOTHER” tick tock and “father” tick tock before a rat nibbles seeds and “SCREEEECH” tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Pull back to Frances in her director’s chair:

“Cut! Print it. Excellent.”

Excellent indeed! I have no idea how Tamaki thinks of these things! There’s one strip which does touch on what the academy does and who tends to attend. It involves a session in which practising magic turns into the tragic. The pupil changes his form by invoking its desired Latin name. First he becomes a bear. Then he becomes a penguin. But when asked to turn himself into a butterfly he fumbles the ball and so turns into one. Footballs don’t have mouths. He is consigned to a cart full of other footballs destined forever to be kicked about during the school’s P.E. classes. One suspects the other soccer balls were students with similar slip-ups.

This is empathically not necessarily the slick and sumptuous art you have come to expect from THIS ONE SUMMER throughout which is once more why this might baffle you to begin with. Don’t worry about that. Really. This was originally a webcomic and I suspect that Tamaki just did what it took to meet her own deadline because that’s a big thing with webcomics. A lot of it is shorthand but not once does it fail the story she’s seeking to tell.

And I know a lot of this is quotations, but when a comic’s this comedic then the dialogue speaks for itself. It’s its selling point. Here we’re talking the role playing game of Dungeons & Dragons as a young man defends the pastime and his involvement:

“D&D is actually a very sophisticated role-playing game. While it may appear as merely an indulgence in Tolkien fantasy tropes, it is actually an epic, open-ended exploration of free form group storytelling, strategy, psychological warfare, and moral truth in a shared imagined space.”

Playing later:

“You’ve encountered a female dire-waveryn on the trail.”
“Does it have a vagina?”
“What do I need on this roll to have sex with the dire-waveryn?”

OMG boys!

Contains the best metaphor for leaving school, ever. Just when you think you’ve got one life licked, you have to move on to another.

SLH

Buy Supermutant Magic Academy and read the Page 45 review here

Exquisite Corpse h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Pénélope Bagieu.

Oh my goodness, this is exactly what we do at Page 45!

“…….”
“Sorry?”
“I just asked if I can help you with anything.”
“Well, no… just… uh… looking. Um… Actually… I’ve never been in a bookstore before. Pathetic, right?”
“Not to worry. Let’s go. We’ll start at the beginning. You were curious enough to come inside and have a look, right? That’s the main thing. Sooooo… Tell me, what kind of movies do you usually like?”

Providing recommendations – especially for first-time browsers based on what they love in other media – is the best part of this job!

So why is Zoe now curious about books?

Well, hacked off with her boyfriend who sleeps with his socks on and spends his unemployed days slouched in front of the TV… taking a break from her job as a product rep pestered by creeps who want their photo taken with her… Zoe was sitting alone on a park eating her lunch when the curtains in a window opposite started to flutter. There was a man in glasses peering furtively down at her. And she needed the loo so she buzzed his apartment.

He’s the world-famous prose novelist, Thomas Rocher and for some reason he wants her in and out quickly. He’s cagey, suspicious and expecting Zoe to pester him with questions. At first when she doesn’t he’s indignant.

“Don’t you recognise me?”
“Should I? Are you on TV?!”
“But… but I’m Thomas Rocher!”

Then it seems like a massive relief and he begs her to stay longer or at least come back soon.

So begins a completely new sort of relationship for both of them. Zoe finds herself treated to great food and with respect; Thomas finds the fact that she’s not a fan refreshing. She inspires him, curing his writer’s block.

But Zoe begins to grow bored when the curtains stay firmly closed and they never go for walks in the park. In fact, he never leaves the apartment at all. Would he really get mobbed if he did? I didn’t see the real secret coming at all. It’s a bit of a scandal!

Bagieu‘s cartooning is bright, light and expressive: you can tell exactly what’s going on behind each pair of eyes. Thomas’ visiting ex-wife and editor (she’s still firmly his editor) could have been a two-dimensional dragon or fashionista but although she does have a little fun with Zoe’s insecurity you can tell by the way she holds her finger to her mouth that her peace offering of a croissant is genuine.

There’s also a delightful scene with Zoe at work at a cheese fair dressed as a block of Edam, her colleague as a Friesian.

“You look kinda hot as a cow.”
“Thanks.”

Exquisite Corpse, by the way, was a game of collective creativity invented by the surrealists very similar to the one we used to play as a family called Consequences. You’d take it in turns supplying a word or sentence according to pre-agreed rules thereby building a sentence or an entire story.

I should perhaps also supply you with the definition of a ‘red herring’.

SLH

Buy Exquisite Corpse h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Palookaville #22 (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“I have no intention of going into detail here…
“About my teenage sexual habits.
“Unlike some of my cartoonist peers…
“I have no compulsion to reveal.”

Ha, that did make me chuckle. He’s talking about his good chums Chester THE PLAYBOY / PAYING FOR IT Brown and to a lesser extent Joe SPENT Matt, of course. As ever, this next volume of Seth’s magnum opus includes the continuation of the Clyde Fans saga as Abraham Matchcard now contemplates the wreckage of his life following the bankruptcy of his business and endures the very definition of strained conversation with his brother Simon. Strangulated would probably be a better adjective to employ, actually.

It’s quite incredible how such a downbeat, depressing story can be so utterly gripping. I’m always a little disappointed reading a new volume of PALOOKAVILE but only because I inevitably forget the Clyde Fans material only forms the first half of the book! (Note: CLYDE FANS BOOK ONE collects the material that appeared in Palookaville #10-#15 if you want to get started!) But then I’m utterly delighted because I remember there will be some equally fascinating new autobiographical material from Seth’s formative years in the second half of the book, separated with something wonderfully random in between.

This time around the random wonder is photographs and a fake back history, including a fold-out comic about the original proprietor, of the Crown Barber Shop, which in reality Seth recently interior (and exterior) designed for his wife Tania Van Spyk, when she was ready to open her own barbers shop. It’s absolutely beautiful I must say, and you can read a little more about the process HERE in an online newspaper article about the shop.

Design is something that so powerfully stands out in Seth’s work these days. His love of small panels, frequently working on a 4 x 4 or 4 x 5 grid on an already relatively small page, means you really do see the clever constructional conceits that are ever-present throughout his stories. I can’t think of another creator where you can be so strongly aware of the design element without it distracting from the storytelling whatsoever. I am still completely present in the moment reading a PALOOKAVILE, but it’s just I am so vividly aware of this extra dimension and depth to the construction of the page subtly subconsciously seeping into my overall perception. His attention to detail is immaculate.

Which is why it is also always a little surprise each time to remember he deliberately employs a much less precise style for his younger days’ autobiographical material. The grid and page design elements are still there, but you can see he has just quickly drawn each grid with a pen and ruler, plus the lettering is very evidentially done by hand. It’s a clever trick because it immediately helps transport us back in time, to the boy discovering comics, and life itself.

And whilst he might not reveal his teenage sexual escapades, or lack of them, he does lay himself bare. It’s just as painful as any of Chester Brown’s or Joe Matt’s more sordid disclosures in its own way. For example, the choice snippet that he will probably be able to discern a piece of arcane film monster information from his collection of magazines results in the lasting embarrassing schoolboy nickname of “Back Issues”. Although, in retrospect, even he has to admit it was ‘deadly appropriate’.

JR

Buy Palookaville #22 and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin On The Riviera (£6-99, Enfant) by Tove Jansson.

“What a wonderful feeling to be poor… and listen to the rain on my little hut.”

There speaks a very rich man!

“Of course it is romantic to play poor, but I don’t like it when the roof leaks… and it is rather chilly sleeping under a boat at dawn.”

Hmmm. That’s the Marquis Mongaga in love with the idea of being bohemian and slumming with the Moomins after they’ve had enough of high society and posh hotels, neither of which they understood. Nor could they comprehend why almost everywhere was marked “PRIVATE”.

“I think picking flowers would soothe our nerves. It usually helps.”
“This is a private wild meadow. Get off this property!”
“But who owns everything here, then?”
“People with money, of course!”

Yup.

I think you’ll find that 99% of the biggest Bajan houses are owned by 1% of Barbados’ population and 99% of them will be white and only part-time residents.

Still, Snorkmaiden and Moominpappa did want to see The South (it really was that vague) and so they set sail to foreign climes with alien customs. They found it surprisingly easy to get a room at the snazziest hotel but they were under the impression it was a house and they were its private guests. Do you suppose that it all went horribly wrong?

Over and over again Tove Jansson in the form of right-minded Moominmamma extols the virtues of a modest life in MOOMIN (and boy, do we have all the MOOMIN!). She finds the hotel room way too big for comfort so they retire to the bed instead and set up shop under its canopy.

I love the way she answers everyone about everything with “Yes, dear”, reassuring all and sundry whilst sort of ignoring them.

May 22nd 2015 sees the UK release of this as a feature film, by the way. The illustration shows the original black and white Tove Jansson strip which you can find in MOOMIN THE DELUXE SLIPCASE EDITION or MOOMIN COMIC STRIPS VOL 1 and its transformation into an animation frame. This particular version is coloured too, but differently.

SLH

Buy Moomin On The Riviera and read the Page 45 review here

Insurrection #0, #1, #2 (£1-50, £2-50 & £2-50 respectively, Lost Publications) by Russell Stearman…

“Pointless isn’t it?”
“Huh? I’m sorry?”
“Pointless, I said it’s pointless.”
“What them? They look like they’re doing okay…”
“Noo, I don’t mean the people, I mean him, Mr. Heart Attack there.”
“I don’t see what’s pointless about having a heart attack.”
“Look at him, what do you see? Don’t look at his condition, look at the man.”
“Erm, he looks like an ordinary man…”
“Ordinary? Of a type maybe, but what is ordinary? He’s a City businessman who probably worked late for the umpteenth time, possibly for years now. He’s had a stressful day, or will have tomorrow. This was his lifestyle and now this.”
“Well I suppose that’s fate, the way it’s mean to be.”
“Fate. An interesting view, but he’s been working hard for this, his true epoch, his fin-de-siecle award.”
“I don’t want to offend, but how could he have been aiming for a heart attack?”
“See that?”
“His I.D. badge has a RBS symbol on it. He’s a banker, the kind of person who caused the recession.”
“That’s a pretty tenuous connection, he might not have been involved. Anyway one person can’t have the power to cause such a cock-up. And he couldn’t have the power to stop it, things got out of control.”
“You can’t let yourself be carried by the tide even if it seems more fun, one person can make a difference. After all what is a crowd but a group of individuals? He should have been a whistle-blower, should have realised the results of what was going on. Now in his time of individual need he’s in the arms of helpless strangers.”

And they say people don’t converse on the Tube! Clearly our protagonist Matt got somewhat more than he expected when he sat down next to this particularly verbose individual. Matt’s not the sort of chap who’s probably considered anything more radical than what type of beer to drink when he’s down the pub. That’s all about to change though when he meets a girl with a conscience. It’s fair to say his life is about to get turned completely upside down as he’s practically kettled completely unprepared into the unfamiliar world of social activism and protest. It’s probably exactly the kick right in the cods his life needs, but will he survive the experience physically intact, and without getting gripped by the long arm of the law?!

What a fantastically well written piece of polemic this is, which combined with some classic fish out of water comedy makes for a riveting read. Although, most people, myself included, might well add that it really isn’t that contentious to conclude where many of society’s recent problems have arisen from. Darryl SUPERCRASH Cunningham would agree wholeheartedly, I am sure.

So, storytelling chops Russell Stearman has in abundance, for sure; his illustrative abilities do need a bit of work, mind you, which I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning. Much like THE TALION MAKER by far-flung Page 45 customer Neal Curtis, he can certainly construct his panels and pages, it is just the art itself that rather is on the raw side at the moment. That will undoubtedly improve with practice though, he clearly has potential. And much like THE TALION MAKER, this is an extremely strong work with a fantastic story to tell that doesn’t remotely suffer unnecessarily from any artistic shortcomings. If you have any sort of interest in class activism or the protest movement, take a punt on this because you will enjoy it.

JR

Buy Insurrection #0 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Insurrection #1 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Insurrection #2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c (£16-99, Particular) by Sydney Padua…

I honestly can’t decide whether I like this or not. It does have much to recommend it, but it’s not without flaws, I must say. I think I would have much preferred a straight biography a la LOGICOMIX, which manages to explore both the life and mathematical works of Bertrand Russell in a witty, pithy manner that is as entertaining as it is educative. In contrast, this purports itself to be the ‘mostly’ true story of the first computer, whilst regaling us with the thrilling adventures of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. Not that thrilling, frankly.

The true story is that Charles Babbage almost managed to build the first computer, his ‘difference engine’, way back in the 1830s, and that Ada Lovelace suggested computational programs that would have run on it, thus earning her the perhaps deserved moniker of the first computer programmer. The only things that prevented the building of the difference engine really, were ultimately a lack of funding, and perhaps Babbage’s own fondness for argument with all and sundry over just about everything. He was a rather cantankerous chap.

So, when someone decided to build a working difference engine in 1991 from Babbage’s original plans, and worked to the engineering tolerances possible for machining parts in the early 19th century, they did produce a working machine. Babbage also designed a more complex machine, and indeed even a printer, which were both also never built. He was also responsible for code and cipher breakthroughs during the Crimean War, for which he was never credited with during his lifetime. It is perhaps not entirely surprising therefore, that he died an unhappy and somewhat unfulfilled man. Arguing with everyone continuously can’t have helped either, I’m sure…

To me, you could do a brilliant graphic novel biography from such material. Instead this is farcical, spasmodic comedy shorts, weighed down with vast footnotes and interspersed with informative sections that are basically illustrated prose. It just doesn’t quite work for me, unfortunately. Either you have to wholly adopt one approach, like LOGICOMIX, or the other, such as EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH.

This veers around too wildly stylistically, page layout-wise also, for my liking, though others may well not find that a problem whatsoever. I’m not entirely sure the creator knows what audience she has put this together for, though she has certainly done a fantastic job researching and presenting such a body of – relatively complex in places – information. Overall, I certainly learnt a lot, mainly from the footnotes and illustrated prose sections, which of course must be one of the primary, if not the main, aims of any work like this.

JR

Buy The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Ken vol 1 (£10-50, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka…

Published by blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-merchants DMP… so it may well be already out of print by the time you read this review… this work definitely sits down near the fluffier end of the Tezuka canon. This is quite understandable given it was originally serialised in Weekly Shōnen Sunday in the very early 60s, but given the series takes place on Mars, post human colonisation, where humans have already begun persecuting the indigenous Martians thus resulting in mutual loathing, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to learn there was some mild social commentary regarding the post-WW2 American occupation of Japan.

Particularly given that in some other later, more serious Tezuka works like MW, the Americans are often portrayed as an aggressive nation, though never referred to by name, merely as Nation X or similar. Anyway, Captain Ken is a sort of Lone Ranger character, a human who fights for justice on the side of the Martians, trying to prevent their exploitation.

It’s probably one more for the Tezuka completists than an entry point, but it is great fun. I have to say, though, there are many, many other more serious Tezuka works I do wish someone would translate and publish. And then keep in print…

JR

Buy Captain Ken vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne.

Before NEW AVENGERS came Bendis and Finch’s AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED which did what it said on the tin: it tore the team and one of the team members quite literally apart.

Whence the HOUSE OF M graphic novel in which everyone has to decide what to do with an insane but comatose Scarlet Witch before she wakes up and starts using her powers to alter reality so that pigs might really fly, baked beans taste like food and Marmite becomes something other than the bilious tar coughed up by a minotaur on eighty cigarettes a day.

Bendis drew on two key moments in Avengers’ history in which the Scarlet Witch had already shown signs of not being ‘all there’ (although marrying a sentient vacuum cleaner wasn’t the clearest sign of sanity) and this is the main one.

Her husband, the android Vision, is abducted, reduced to nuts and bolts then reassembled using a Homebase instruction manual. So of course there are a few bits missing: like his feelings.

There’ll almost certainly be a second volume in which Wanda’s children are dealt with (clue: they don’t actually exist – something she should have cottoned onto given that everyone else got a good night’s sleep) when I’ll be forced to look up the word “doolally” in Roget’s Thesaurus for further variations on the expression. In the meantime, this is what happened.

Imaginative plottery, but ridiculous also. Byrne’s art is still oh so solid, but the inking by other parties is blunt and lazy. Honest assessment: when I was younger, I loved it.

SLH

Buy Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

aama vol 3: The Desert Of Mirrors h/c (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Frederik Peeters

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Shane-Michael Vidaurri, Kyla Vanderklugt, Matthew Dow Smith, Jeff Stokely

Rat Queens vol 2: Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’rygoth (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic

Silver vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Dark Planet) by Stephan Franck

Skim (£9-99, Groundwood Books) by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

Southern Bastards vol 2: Gridiron s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jason Aaron & Jason LaTour

The Michael Moorcock Library vol 1: Elric Of  Melnibone h/c (£18-99, Titan) by Roy Thomas & P. Craig Russell, Michael T. Davis

Batman: Earth One vol 2 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Batman Superman vol 2: Game Over s/c (£12-99, DC) by Greg Pak, Paul Levitz & Jae Lee, various

Superior Iron Man vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Yildiray Cinar, Laura Braga

Gyo 2-in-1 Complete h/c (£14-99, Viz) by Junji Ito

Magi vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Magi vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

News!

ITEM! Neil Gaiman, Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman step in to host PEN gala which will honour Charlie Hebdo with a Freedom Of Expression Courage award after other authors back out. Note how it’s the comicbook creators who are cited in the headlines. Progress.

ITEM! Jillian Tamaki’s SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY is reviewed above and it is cripplingly funny! You can find Jillian Tamaki’s SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY posted online and select ‘previous’ and ‘next’ at the bottom of each page.

Sorry there’s no more: I’ve been on holiday!

Just so you know, Marvel’s big blockbuster this year has begun: SECRET WARS #1 out now, review next week. We’ve lots of freebies to give away too: just ask at the counter or when ordering online!

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week five

April 29th, 2015

Asaf Hanuka’s THE REALIST: a graphic novel to rival Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR! Books by Brubaker & Phillips; Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo! Final SCOTT PILGRIM in colour! (Plus there may be more stickers, oh yes!)

The Realist h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka.

“Oh no!”
“What is it?”
“Change the channel to Israel.”

I’ve been desperate for an English-language print edition of this for years.

I do mean desperate. Your eyes are in for a feast and your mind is going to be walking more than that metaphorical mile in Asaf Hanuka’s shoes as he lets you climb into his skin, gives you a great deal to ponder and so expands your compassion and understanding.

Imagine, if you can, how scary it must be to receive a phone call from your landlord, out of the blue, to tell you that she or he is selling the house so you’ve got three months to leave. If you don’t find somewhere else to live, you’ll be out on the street.

Now imagine you have a husband or wife and a child…

That’s how this kicks off in the first three panels, the abrupt and unexpected chaos that was ten seconds ago a safe routine spilling into Asaf’s life as the bottle of ink spills onto his drawing and into the face of its cheerfully waving man.

The second tier portrays the pressure perfectly as Asaf envelopes his wife with a hug while their young son cheerfully building a tower of blocks is startled by its collapse then bursts into tears: the pressure of providing not just security but also optimism when your own hope has just evaporated and so left you empty.

In the final three panels the colour and light has been drained from the day, husband Hanuka lying awake in bed while his wife and child sleep; awake for hours as the bed recedes from us into the middle of a road; then further still, left suspended in space, in a void. It’s your quintessential fear of a future unknown.

I can relate: my most often recurring nightmare has been Page 45 being evicted from 9 Market Street in Nottingham and being forced to move to an attic in Coventry, a cathedral where the pews were our shelves or to the northwest coast where we had no customers whatsoever. Sometimes I couldn’t even find the shop.

That’s just the first of dozens and dozens of impeccably composed pages where the level of thought which has gone into every detail from the tier structure and the movement across the page to the colouring which is never for its own sake but always for eye-drawing or emotional impact.

This was originally commissioned by a financial newspaper as a weekly autobiographical comic following the Hanukas’ desperate search for a suitable apartment in a difficult market. There’s a fabulous page split in two, as an agent with a wide and thoroughly fake grin stands back while wife and child survey the dilapidated room anxiously, side-on, and Asaf, central and to the fore, imagines how it might look with a great deal of work in a mirrored second panel below. Again, the colouring says it all.

The book soon branches out into wider worries or whatever else is preying on Hanuka’s mind. He recently declared that this is how he best deals with his concerns: in nine-panel grids or full-page flourishes, finding the most effective visual ways for conveying his exact mental and emotional states both for the entertainment of readers and his own benefit. Once it’s there in front of him he can process these thoughts more constructively.

As well as being an impeccable draughtsman, the creator’s a superb lateral thinker: you can expect thrilling variety and plenty of the fantastical to keep you amused right through the book.

I loved ‘Eye Exam’ in which a young Asaf plays at being Bruce Lee, a soccer star-striker and John Travolta at the disco. Then he takes that eye test to see if he needs his vision adjusting:

L
IFE
ISNT WAT
YOU THOUGHT

There’s so much here I can relate to: having bad news preoccupy so much that it’s topmost in your mind, whatever you do, whoever you’re with, effectively cutting you off from them.

‘Brave heart’ is brilliant: when you drop your kid off at play group and he begs you “Don’t go!” yet you leave him there anyway then burst into tears in private. One presumes initially that it’s the boy who needs to be brave, but it’s the parent.

In ‘Warrior’s Rest’ so much is conveyed by an open door, the light shining through it and over his sleeping son, the dad’s silhouette partially cast on the wall to one side and the toy spaceman from earlier caught in the middle of the floor between two Transformers and his spaceship.

The elaborate strategy and competitiveness of Facebook is simply hilarious, but this is Israel and there are also security checkpoints, Asaf imagining himself being interrogated, and the white lies you tell your child to protect them from the truth, from the world. In some the couple quarrel and in ‘Less Is More’ Hanuka puts on a brave face… with a felt tip pen.

Others are more enigmatic, open to interpretation and I don’t have all the answers but I do love the questions.

I leave you with one page on which Asaf deliberately deprives you of the answer after struggling with a strip, deadline four hours and counting. His wife offers some sage advice:

“The idea isn’t that important. Just make sure there’s a funny ending that people understand, not just you.”
“Okay… yes… interesting… that could work…”

The final panel shows him scribbling in his notebook.

“Haha… brilliant… brilliant!”

You’ll never know!

SLH

Buy The Realist h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

Warning: do not read this if you’re already coming undone!

This will unravel you further. You will be thrown into the headlights about to blind Jacob and wonder what on earth bloody hit you.

Each and every CRIMINAL graphic novel noir is a twisted masterpiece of multi-layered malfeasance but this one is so fucked up it’s not true. As are its protagonists – all of them. Remember I wrote that when you approach the dénouement, start seeing things from other points of view, then realise that what you’ve been reading is a lie. Or at least not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help you, God.

From the creators of Page 45’s current Comicbook Of The Month, THE FADE OUT comes a fourth instalment of CRIMINAL whose first volume was itself a Page 45 CBOTM and whose penultimate chapter comes with a twist of genius I did not see coming. Unfortunately for Jacob, its lust-struck protagonist, document forger and detective newspaper comic strip creator, neither did he. Let us begin.

Do you wish you’d gotten involved when you saw that couple fight?

Most of the time you instinctively fear for the woman. Not always – I’ve known some men get a right battering too – but usually you fear for the woman.

Jacob didn’t get involved that night in the diner; he backed right away. He’d already experienced enough grief in his life when his wife drove off a road in a storm, the car landing in an old culvert pipe where it – and she – lay undiscovered for years while the police questioned him with dogged determination and malice, even leaking his supposed guilt to the press.

But while driving home in the rain Jacob saw the woman once more, flagging a lift, and he pulled in. She was drunk – real booze-breath drunk. Then, a few minutes later, she was passed-out drunk in his passenger seat.

She hadn’t had time to tell him where she lived so he took her to his house, heaved her into his home and onto the couch. Being a gentleman, that’s where Jacob left her, but later that night she was grateful, so very grateful and she showed him her gratitude exactly as you’re imagining.

But it wasn’t too long before he wished that she hadn’t, and that he hadn’t got involved at all. Now the couple are in his home and he can’t get them out. Can you imagine why from what I have written?

Now the couple have leverage. Now the couple have a plan.

No. No, I have not given the game away. I have but alluded and which elements are important I won’t even tell you.

This is much, much more tortuous than you can imagine.

This is petrifying.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c and read the Page 45 review here

MPH (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo.

Oh, look at that cover!

Cool and contemporary with big, bold primary colours. Now that’s how you stand out on our shelves!

It’s a joy to see Duncan Fegredo back in the real world again – well, something more approximating it than HELLBOY: MIDNIGHT CIRCUS. That was an ethereal beauty and Fegredo was perfect for a series starring a big red guy with enormous hands. The hands!

However, it’s the cool and contemporary I love most about him: the arched expressions and Rodin-like wrists, often at angles in TALES FROM THE CLERKS, for example. There’s a gloriously subtle sequence kicked off on page nine in prison when Chevy looks away from a bald, bearded biker dude just as that dude takes an interest in him. It’s a perfect panel, all the important elements including their stares composed along the lines radiating from its vanishing point, far right.

Three panels later and the biker dude is staring towards the vanishing point and the angle of the eye, if you look very closely, is now aimed at Roscoe’s girlfriend, Rosa. Uh-oh!

Let’s pull back…

In 1986 the first and only sighting of a superhuman occurred late at night after he “ran out of juice” in Missouri. Rocketing uncontrollably at such an impossible speed across multiple States that he left a tornado-level trail of destruction in his wake, ploughing up compacted earth and asphalt, bursting through buildings and shattering glass, Mr Springfield staggered to a halt and was promptly arrested, drugged and locked away in solitary confinement by the United States Army.

That was it for superhumans for nearly thirty years.

Now it’s 2014 and young, ambitious, positive and forward-thinking Roscoe, a courier in bankrupt Detroit, has a shattering experience of his own. On a drug delivery he’s set up by his boss to take a fall with the Feds so that self-same boss, Samurai Hal – owner of The Joyside Lounge strip lounge – can have a clear crack at his girlfriend. Which brings us back to prison.

Whatever he dealt, Roscoe wouldn’t even take aspirin so he stays equally clean in jail. He stays positive too, thinking up all manner of ways of legitimately reducing his sentence. Until he finds out the truth, is goaded one step too far by the biker dude and – a stint in solitary later – is offered a pill stamped “MPH”. And he takes it.

MPH stands for Miles Per Hour and, boy, does that change everything!

When you can cross from the East to West Coast in four minutes while time stands still for everyone else, getting out of jail free is a cinch. Getting even is easier still.

Back at The Joyside Lounge:

“These bills floating around you is all the cash you got left, man…
“Any money in the bank I just transferred to a local drugs charity to make up for all those innocent lives you destroyed…
“Oh, I’m not done yet. Because I also just cancelled your home, building and life insurance policies. Can you guess why I’d do a thing like that?
“That gas you can smell is the pipes I bust open…
“The lighter I borrowed from Stacy behind the bar.”

Bam! Bam! Boom!

Each panel lasts as long as he likes for Roscoe who moves faster than lightning. To a horrified Hal they last but a second.

 

I love that Mark Millar even thinks of the insurance policies on top of the immediate destruction. He’s also thought long and hard about where to set this. Detroit – previously known as at the car capital of the world – has indeed been ditched, as derelict as Baltimore on television’s The Wire. Here’s Chevy with Rosa who has been trying to protect her brother Baseball from getting involved with the local, machine-gun-running local gang:

“What else can he do, Rosa? I know he’s smart, but it’s not just jobs we’re missing now. Half the street lights don’t even work. What kind of city can’t afford to light its own streets? It’s all going to Hell, girl. I’m telling you. America is fucked.”
“Oh, America’s doing fine, Chevy. It’s just us who’ve been left behind.”

At which point Roscoe shows up in the blink of an eye with a wink in his eye.

“Which is why the three of us are moving to California.”

What in the world do you suppose happens next?

Okay, I think I’ve given you all you need to know, summarised as this:

Mark Millar doesn’t write any old meta-human comics. They always have something socio-political to say. Pop him into our search engine and you’ll get comics like SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN (which I always sell as “What if James Bond came from Peckham?”), SUPERIOR (a Faustian pact with a monkey at the bottom of your bed), Marvel’s superhero CIVIL WAR (gun control represented in terms of super-powers) and most recently JUPITER’S LEGACY which, while being blisteringly pugilistic and a great big family fuck-up, has at its heart our wider economic crashes.

He’s good. He’s very good, and he thinks outside the box. I can’t think of a single Mark Millar title which is just a big punch-up. Please do pop him into our search engine. I think I’ve reviewed every title the man has ever written.

Then I give you artist Duncan Fegredo:

When the three of them get together – Roscoe, Rosa, Chevy and soon to be joined by Baseball – all necking MPH then you will see such wonders galore! What does the world look like when time stops still with four rogues running amok?

Rain drops, for instance…?

Duncan Fegredo is an absolute wonder at reaction and glee and – accompanied by colourist Peter Doherty – there is so much light and, yes, colour in this comic! Duncan’s depiction of body language is virtually unparalleled in comics: any comics in any genre. His expressions are exquisite and his gesticulations rival those of Will Eisner. He is one of comics’ greatest communicators.

So what would you do with a vial of MPH pills that could last you a week? A vial of pills that would give you super-fast speed while the world dozed off in your wake? What would you do and could you ever give it up?

Well, this is what they do and those who are in power are not very happy.

They’re not very happy at all!

P.S. I may have misled you a little, but you won’t be alone. Any misdirection is strictly in keeping with what happens within. Infer what you will but of course it’s more complex than this. One of the most unexpectedly delightful endings in comics.

SLH

Buy MPH and read the Page 45 review here

Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£19-99, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta.

“I think you still harbour feeling for Raido and myself, yet even so, you ordered his death and have deprived me of the sun. In reality, you are not fully aware of your actions. Do not be so sure that it is you who are the puppeteer.
“That, I never believed. I only cut my own strings and imprisoned the one who controlled them in this temple.”

Terrific surprise, this. I was expecting another SAMURAI: LEGEND, which was certainly very pretty but really little more than another Onimusha.

LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES, on the other hand, is breathtakingly beautiful with vast panoramas of snow-swept mountains and walls snaking up to them; Japanese temples and rooftops, Acer leaves in autumn, cherry blossom petals and birds taking flight; gigantic white wolves called Izuna with ears like the lynx… but it is also an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture, that spans two generations in feudal Japan whose revelations eventually connect almost every event to another and everyone to each other, even if few or even any of the players involved know it until quite near the end. Maybe the wolves know. Yes, maybe the wolves know…

Lone warrior Raido has lost his memory. He’s lost his arm, an eye, and something else – if only he could remember what. Instead he is plagued by voices so loud he can barely sleep. They’re calling to him. He has a tattoo whose symbols don’t bode well and he has a past more complicated than he can imagine which he inadvertently catches up with when he encounters young Meiki and suddenly there’s silence. He sweeps her away from the clutches of Captain Kawakimi, ordered to arrest the girl by Lady Ryin, Shogunai of all that surrounds her. He knows not who they are, but they definitely remember him, as does General Nobu Fudo, the man with three eyes, the man with three arms and the man with two Scarlet Blades. Raido is supposed to be dead.

The past is revealed slowly, subtly and in all the right places, for it’s not as straight forward as you’ll think. For example, does Nobu Fudo have Raido’s eye? He does not. He has an eye that was sacrificed to Raido after Raido as a boy sacrificed his own to feed his starving wolf cub. There’ll be repercussions there. Unfortunately Raido will repay that repayment of kindness with… Ouch. It’s actually pretty affecting in places.

There is a reason, by the way, why the seasons have stopped and the domain of Lady Fujiwara Ryan and Lord Totecu Fujiwara before her is besieged by ice and its raging white Izuna. There’s an explanation for why the Izuna are raging, and why Lady Ryin is such a bitter and cruel mistress. It’s not an excuse but a reason. The same goes for the three-armed Nobu Fudo’s enmity towards Raido.

I can promise you a substantial read and as much eye-candy as you could want whether your thing is majestic landscapes, fantastical wolves or dramatic blade action. It’s not easy painting driven snow, but the blue and purple lights dance off it here perfectly.

SLH

Buy Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scott Pilgrim vol 6 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni Press) by Bryan Lee O’Malley with Nathan Fairbairn.

From the creator of SECONDS, one of my two best books of last year, comes the final colour edition of ingenious comedy with a Ninetendo logic all of its own and a seemingly inexhaustible, playful inventiveness.

Flashbacks can come in the form of (highly unreliable!) Memory Cam stills and I think he invented the lobbed-in labels, the character summary or status boxes which so many other writers have emulated since:

“Julie P (the original and best)”
“Sandra (not the original)”
“Monique (not the best)”

Previously in SCOTT PILGRIM:

Scott is a clot, he really is. He’s a total dumpling. In terms of a Chinese take-away, dim doesn’t even begin to sum the lad up.

But Scott’s at least earned the Power Of Love and leveled up. It comes with a flaming sword: +5 for slashiness.

You see, Scott is in love with Ramona and he’s defeated six of her seven evil exes in combat – thereby turning them into a shower of shiny gold coins – with only Gideon to go. But for the moment Ramona’s gone missing and it’s left him in a zombie fugue state, dribbling away on a handheld video game.

Now it’s time for Scott’s own exes to sort the silly boy out in time for him, Gideon Graves, Envy Adams and Romona Flowers to have a final showdown with gay ex-flatmate Wallace boozed up and rolling his eyes sardonically on the sidelines. There may be casualties. Wallace’s tongue is very sharp.

As for the audience, where would they be without their mobile phones?

“Is that chick a dude?”
“I’m googling her as we speak.”

Fight!

“Is that chick dead?”
“I’m updating her Wikipedia page as we speak.”

Will Scott win through?

He’s almost learned how to tie his own shoelaces.

These colour editions – and oh my days, the colouring is gorgeous; I can no longer imagine the final few pages without it – come with loads of extras in the back. In this instance there’s a step by step process piece with Fairbairn (who also coloured Bryan Lee O’Malley’s tasty SECONDS) taking you through the colouring of a page from flatting through flat colours, lighting and modelling and colour holds to the finish line. If you don’t know what any of those terms mean, you will by the time Nathan’s done. It’s fascinating.

Other extras include O’Malley sketch pages of character fashion designs – actually quite crucial to the series’ success and certainly one of its great pleasures – and posters, other previous versions of covers including the SCOTT PILGRIM BOXED SET interior poster and exterior art, and things that were there but now ditched.

SLH

Buy Scott Pilgrim vol 6 h/c Colour Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol 1 by Greg Rucka & Brian Hurt, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Christine Norrie, more ~

First two softcovers repackaged as one, and although the first half of this spy drama came across a little shaky – not unlike a seventies BBC buddy cop series, wobbly cardboard sets, wooden acting and bad research were all present and accounted for – thankfully the second was far more polished with some really gripping pacing.

Tara Chace, after assassinating a high-ranking member of the Russian mafia, has an attack of conscience which, understandably, could affect her line of work. While she’s sent to the couch (psychiatrist), two of her fellow male operatives are sent to Afghanistan, to find a list of contacts before the Taleban do.

This was apparently all written before 9/11, and it’s a good side plot an’all but that’s not what keeps the ball rolling - Tara’s detailed self-destruction is. She becomes a ticking time bomb, unable to work because of her state of mind, the poor luv spends her days drinking heavily and having meaningless sex with strangers just to see if she can still feel at all. I know just how she feels.

TR

Buy Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Activity Book (£18-99, Marvel) by David Anthony Kraft & Carlos Garzon.

“My Spider- Sense is tingling! That means we’re in danger!”
“No kidding!”
“What evil lurks beyond the next corner?”

I DO NOT KNOW!!!

Oh yes I do, because I’ve just turned the page! I hadn’t realised there was an actual narrative going on. It’s Vic “What A Dick” Doom, Kang The Constantly Conquered, Mag “Not- So-Neat” Neto and Doctor “Minging And Mop-Topped” Octopus. What a bunch of buffoons!

Most have bits of them missing because this is a collection of children’s activity books first printed some thirty years ago to tie in with Marvel’s first line-wide crossover / tie-in thing, SECRET WARS which was originally designed to sell toys. Not to be confused with Bendis & Dell’Otto’s pertinently political and beautifully painted SECRET WAR and under no circumstances to be confused with SECRET WARS II which was drawn by Al “No Idea How He Got The Job” Milgrom and was equally awfully written.

The kids could do no worse so there are speech balloons left empty to fill in, blank faces and appendages to draw, puzzles to decrypt, pages to be coloured in (on paper which will bleed any felt pens like crazy), two big, fold-out posters and lots and lots of oh-so-retro stickers. It’s so totally naff that it is absolutely brilliant.

Written and drawn by two people who had never set foot in the Mighty Marvel Bullpen so had no comprehension of contemporary Marvel art (it was farmed out to a company presumable specialising in kids’ activity books), it loosely follows the story of SECRET WAR itself which featured all the major Marvel heroes and villains abducted by a virtually omnipotent being and dumped on a otherwise lifeless planet to brawl and bicker like crazy.

You may have heard that something vaguely similar of the same title is on the imminent horizon during which all the regular Marvel titles will cease before reappearing several months later on the other side in a potentially very different Marvel Universe. During the break there will be hundreds of other titles, some of which are new iterations of previous company crossovers, all of which are alternate versions of oh my god I’ve just bored myself. Ask at the counter etc.

Quite cleverly during the original version the comics carried on but jumped to what was to happen afterwards so that, for example, readers were suddenly presented with Spider-Man in a sentient black costume and you were left to wonder how on Earth that happened for something like six months until it finally appeared in the SECRET WARS mini-series. Credit where it’s due: that must have taken a great deal of cross-company planning and a lot of restraint on each writer’s part not to slip up with spoilers.

Discredit also where due: read about the sordid truth behind Marvel’s closed doors including this event in MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY. It is a complete revelation, a gigantic scandal-fest and laugh-out-loud funny. Jonathan and I raced each other through it to be the first to delight in each successive outrage!

SLH

Buy Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Activity Book and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 1 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Frankavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm.

First two so-sexy softcovers in one! This is magnificent!

“Okay… This looks bad. Really… really bad. But believe it or not, it’s only the third most-terrible idea I’ve had today and today I have had exactly nine terrible ideas.”

Oh, Clint. Every idea you have is terrible.

Comedy crime with an eye for design so sharp that this is the first superhero book we have ever allowed in our window. Partly because it’s not even a superhero book, but mostly it’s Aja’s design.

There’s a charming use of flesh and purple tones, and a thrilling deployment of stark black and white with plenty of wide-open space. In one instance a newspaper clipping smuggles in the creator credits; in another the only mask in this entire series so far (apart from a certain gold-plated façade) makes for a belly-laugh moment you may have heard whisper of. I’m not going to steal the fun from you. Here’s a Daily Bugle headline instead:

“EVERYTHING AWFUL
“Oh God Somebody Do Something”

Fraction’s timing is immaculate. At least three of these stories kick off in the middle, at the height of yet another monumental disaster, the one quoted above then proceeding to count down through each of Clint’s nine increasingly idiotic ideas. Thank goodness for Kate Bishop, then – the younger, female Hawkeye – who’s smarter, sassier and infinitely more savvy, so often left to pull Clint’s fat (and occasionally naked) ass out of the fryer.

“Tell you what, if I die, you can have the case. It’s good for travel.”
“Think I have quite enough of your baggage already, thanks.”

Here’s some of what I wrote of the first issue before the spying, the lying and the videotapes arrived. Before Clint’s sex-drive got him into the coolest comic car chase I can recall, complete with some old trick arrows he really should have found time to label before dipping his wick. Bring on the tracksuit Draculas, bro!

By his own admission Clint Barton can be more than a little juvenile. The man with the hair-trigger temper and mouth to match has a long history of knee-jerk reactions. But for all his sins, this totally blonde bowman and relative outsider has a heart of gold and a social conscience to boot. So when those who have taken him in – the neighbours he shares communal barbeques with on hot summer nights on the roof of their tenement building – fall under threat of mass eviction, Clint can’t help but act on impulse, and you just know it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s a first-person narrative with a grin-inducing degree of critical, objective detachment. It dashes frantically, nay recklessly, backwards and forwards in time with little-to-no hand-holding, as Clint watches yet another badly laid plan precipitate a cycle of ill-aimed, flailing thuggery. At its centre lies the plight of a battered mongrel which Barton fed pizza to in order to win the dog over. But now it’s in trouble.

“What kinda man throws a dog into traffic – seriously, I ask you – traffic right now – rain – cabs – nobody watching out for sideways demon pizza mutts – c’mon, Clint – c’mon – nobody – nobody watching out – Can’t watch oh God…”

Now, there is a natural affinity if ever I read one.

Second half:

“Okay… this looks bad.”

Of course it does, Clint: you are involved.

Until MPH by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo this week, HAWKEYE VOL 1 was the only superhero comic we have ever allowed in the Page 45 window, and the only superhero comic we have ever made – or are likely to make – Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. Firstly, David Aja’s design skills are phenomenal; secondly, this isn’t a superhero comic: it’s a grin-inducingly inventive comedy crime caper, full of humanity and accessible to all: you don’t need to have read a single Marvel Comic in your life.

Oh, you’ll find so much to relate to, like that unfathomable tangle of wires which links your TV to your digital thingie via the DVD player and VCR, while your PS3 and Wii operate almost certainly by magic if only you can remember which arcane combination of controller buttons to press. God alone knows which plug is which anymore.

Then there are the ghosts of ex-girlfriends. Oh, not real ghosts, but imagine being caught snogging a damsel in distress (and in dat dress) by a) your girlfriend b) your ex-girlfriend and c) your ex-wife, all at the same time. I’m not exactly sure what a motif is, but Fraction and Aja have turned that trio into one. Probably. They recur, anyway, at the most inopportune moments.

Once again, this is one long succession of disasters but this time not all of them are of Clint’s making. The first chapter was written on the fly immediately following the horrific storms which hit the U.S. on October 29th 2012.

Clint has bought the tenement building he lives in to safeguard its tenants from a mob in tracksuits. There have been… altercations, bro. He’s also befriended those tenants, especially chubby, middle-aged Grill who insists on calling our Hawkeye “Hawkguy”. As the winds whip up around them, Clint drives Grill to Far Rockaway where Grill’s stubborn old goat of a dismissive dad is steadfastly refusing to pay any attention to the gale or water levels, leaving their last mementoes of Grill’s dead mum in the basement. Oh look, here comes the flood.

The very same night Kate – our younger, female and infinitely wiser Hawkeye – is preparing to hit New Jersey in an elaborate Emanuel Ungaro dress and Christian Dior stilettos.

“What could a storm do to a five-star hotel?”
“It’s New Jersey. There are La Quinta Inns outside of State pens that are nicer.”
“Oh yeah, Mr. Brooklyn? This where you and Jay-Z tell me Brooklyn is the greatest place on Earth?”
“Okay, one, I don’t know who that is, and two, shut up. Brooklyn is great, New Jersey is a punch line, and you are a kid and don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Both threads are moving tributes to people helping each other in times of crises, and that’s what this title is all about: helping people in times of crisis. And it stars the one man above all who simply cannot help himself – in either sense.

“Whoa, man, you look like hell.”
“Walked into a door. That, uh, proceeded to beat the hell out me.”

Clint seems to have spent the entire series covered in plasters.

He’s also spent the series in a line of personalised clothing like the H hat nodding back to his old mask, and the purple target t-shirt. As to Kate, she’s decked herself out in a variety of purple shades which she’s perpetually pulling down to glare her elder in the eyes with long-suffering disdain.

So yes, let us talk more about David Aja’s design which – with Hollingsworth’s white – fills the comic with so much light. His tour de force here is the Pizza Dog issue, told entirely from Lucky’s point of view, wordless except for those basics the mutt might understand. His day is spent constantly interpreting the world around him through sound, smell and association, conveyed by Aja in maps of connected symbols worthy of Chris Ware himself (see BUILDING STORIES, JIMMY CORRIGAN and, particularly for symbols, the early pages of ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20). There is one seemingly throwaway moment where an absence of both sound and smell means everything.

What is particularly impressive is the absence of almost any anthropomorphism (just two raised paws). Instead it’s all symbols and skeuomorphism as the dog goes about its business (and indeed business) on daily patrol. What you don’t see on the unlettered cover to that chapter is the original credits which would normally read…

Fraction
Aja
Hollingsworth

… but instead read…

Ruff
Ruff
Ruff

And you know what I was saying in HAWKEYE VOL 1 about Matt Hollingsworth’s gorgeous colour palette? There is a highly instructive two-page process piece in the back in which shows you precisely how he achieves that consistency and the trouble he goes to do so. Pays off every single issue.

Anyway, back to the tangled wires and battered old VCR and our catastrophe-prone Clint doing the best that he can.

“Shut up about the show and shut up about my stuff – I know it’s a mess and it’s half-taped together and it’s old and busted – but it’s mine.
“And you gotta make that work, right? You gotta make your own stuff work out.”

Or, to put it another way…

“What is the hell have I gotten myself into? What the hell is wrong with me?”

Oh, Clint! Everything is wrong with you.

Except your heart.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Palookaville #22 (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth

Criminal vol 4: Bad Night s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Exquisite Corpse h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Penelope Bagieu

Fables vol 21: Happily Ever After (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Mark Buckingham, many others

Moomin On The Riviera (£6-99, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adventure Time: The Flip Side s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover & Wook Jin Clark

Avengers West Coast: Vision Quest s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by John Byrne

Spider-Verse Omnibus h/c (£55-99, Marvel) by Various, Olivier Coipel

Sunstone vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Stjepan Sejic

Supermutant Magic Academy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage h/c (£16-99, Particular) by Sydney Padua

Walking Dead vol 23 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Of Menance h/c (£11-99, Quirk) by Ian Doescher

Batman vol 5: Zero Year – Dark City s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 6: The Graveyard Shift h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Gotham City Sirens Book 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Antony Bedard, Peter Calloway & Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, various

Angel Of Elhamburg vol 1 (£12-99, Yen) by Aki

Assassination Classroom vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Captain Ken vol 1 (£10-50, DMP) by Osamu Tezuka

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 9: Lalah (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

One Piece vol 74 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura

The World’s Greatest First Love (£8-99, Sublime) by Shungiku Nakamura

News!

ITEM! Interview / preview of STRANGE FRUIT written by Mark Waid and painted by J.G. Jones! Pretty impressive! Pre-order STRANGE FRUIT #1 from Page 45 here.

 

 

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen plus many more join the creator line-up attending The Lakes International Comicbook Festival in October 2015!

ITEM! James Brubaker’s SITHRAH looks lovely Follow that link then give it a few pages and it really warms up. You can pre-order SITHRATH from Page 45 with a click of this sentence. We ship worldwide! “We know!”

ITEM! Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, will co-star a graphic novelist!

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week four

April 22nd, 2015

Like anthropomorphic comics? It really is your week! DVD Audio Visual comics and stickers as well! Return of Lizz Lunney, Jay Hosler and Dave Sim! A new discovery in Jen Lee from those good folks at Nobrow! Alan Moore & Zander Cannon, Gene Ha; Jason Aaron & Ron Garne; Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso; Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood; Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso; Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen!

Cerebus: High Society (30th Anniversary Gold Signed & Numbered Edition) (£22-50, Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim.

It’s brilliant, it’s back and it’s better than ever!

This or CEREBUS VOL 5: JAKA’S STORY is where we heartily recommend you join the 6,000-page epic that is CEREBUS written and drawn by a single man, Dave Sim, and his landscape artist Gerhard who will join Dave later in the run but here supplies the architecture on the cover.

Re-mastered so that the lines are sharper and the rich blacks of its ingenious framing devices shine through, our initial stock includes a signed, limited edition, tipped-in plate.

(Please note: the new interior art is hard to find online at the time of typing, so examples here may have been gleaned from earlier editions or scans of original pages including the blue lines underneath.)

 

The first book was episodic, Dave as an artist growing on the page in front of you, but this is a single story told in 25 chapters with a beginning, a middle and an end. One of our rationales for recommending this book as your introduction to CEREBUS is that if you can trust Dave Sim to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end over 25 issues – and you can – you’ll be able to trust that he can do the same over 300 of them. It’s also very, very funny.

It’s a cross between Blackadder and Yes, Prime Minister, making mockery not just of politics but of exchange rates: the very idea that you can make money from having money and/or just swapping its currency. Economists quote it at length.

It co-stars arch-manipulator and mischief-merchant Lord Julius who confuses through chaos, and the extraordinary thing about Sim’s treatment is that he looks and sounds precisely like Groucho Marx. You can hear him in your head, and the already impressive wit/actor/iconoclast is given a delirious script eminently worthy of him.

Cerebus – previously little more than a mercenary thug and barbarian for whom greed was (and remains) a primary motivation – finds himself so much in demand amongst High Society that they elect him as their candidate for Prime Minister. His opponent? Lord Julius’ goat.

Not an anthropomorphic goat, but an actual goat. It’s a surprisingly close-run contest until you recall that America did actually elect both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – the second time, anyway.

Also: Jaka, Cerebus’ sole soft spot, returns in a heart-rending scene during which you will learn the difference between inference and implication; after which you will quote Dave Sim on the subject for the rest of your newly pedantic life.

By this point Sim’s skills as a sequential artist have already reached what would be most others’ pinnacle, but he’s only just begun. For example there are sequences in which Cerebus is drunk and so, reflecting that, the pages need to be tilted 90 degrees successively.

It’s also relatively rare to be able to emulate other styles and incorporate them successfully into your own comics (Mark Buckingham’s particularly good at that – see Neil Gaiman’s DEATH: most readers think Chris Bachalo drew the whole thing), but in using his own Roach character to parody Doug Moenchs run on Marvel’s MOON KNIGHT, he pulls off an exceptional impersonation of its artist Bill Sienkiewicz then in thrall to Neal Adams’ neo-classical photo-realism.

 

Note: you don’t have to have a clue what the contents of that last sentence meant to enjoy the comedy in its own right. Over 1,000 copies of CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY have been rung through a till either here or at the last shop where Mark and I worked for during which we organised the creators’ CEREBUS UK TOUR ’93 whose poster is still available for sale!

Each copy was sold with a money-back guarantee. I have had one copy returned in twenty-two years.

Now it is also available as the CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY DIGITAL AUDIO/VISUAL EXPERIENCE DVD SET.

CEREBUS is such an exceptional series that I reviewed all sixteen volumes in the series along with the equally accessible (and far more affordable at a mere £1-80!) CEREBUS: ZERO from scratch before the launch of our website in 2010.

Do you trust me? Of course you trust me! Or if you don’t trust me by now, then you really never will!

SLH

Buy Cerebus vol 2: High Society (30th Anniversary Gold Signed & Numbered Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus: High Society – The Digital Audio/Visual Experience DVD Set (£34-99, IDW) by Dave Sim.

Beautifully packaged! See both photos below!

For the brand-new re-mastered version of CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY in print, please see my review but if you want to enjoy the book basking in your armchair in front of your TV, hands-free, each page is scanned and panned-in on here as its creator, Dave Sim, acts it all out on audio.

Boy, can Dave Sim act!

Sim supplies all of the varied voices and the first revelation as a wary Cerebus makes his way to the hotel’s front desk is this: Dave Sim does an impeccable English accent.

He’s also a dab hand at everything else including Italian and when there’s a crowd scene of a dozen prospectors shouting over each other to get Cerebus’ financial attention, hey, Dave can interrupt himself like nobody’s business! He’s fluent, fluid and even his pleading’s pretty perfect.

 

So this is what you get: 8 DVD discs during which each one of graphic novel’s 25-chapters is set out before you, initially establishing each page before zooming in on the relevant panel then gradually panning across, down or whiplashing over depending on the timing required. It is immaculately shot, completely in time to what is being read. There’s even the occasional, cheeky wiggle when required – you’ll see!

As to the reading, Sim has either an instinctive understanding or a well studied knowledge of how fast or slow to perform. There’s also a surprising yet well chosen choice for background music: monks chanting low throughout.

There’s also more: you can skip if you prefer, but between each chapter Dave’s ex, Deni Loubert, reads the editorials she used to write after which Dave reads out each entire letter column – both those letters and his responses – printed in the original editions of each periodical comic long before they were collected into the CEREBUS softcovers which were usually so thick that the comics industry christened them “Phone Books”!

If you don’t have the originals (I have every original CEREBUS comic except #1 – that’s how highly I rate the series, and the only reason I don’t have the first issue is it is well beyond my financial grasp), then this could prove fascinating. My instinct, however, says that it’ll only be of interest to mega-fans and historians/academics. The letters are long-winded, Dave’s responses are thorough, and although I adored hearing his retrospective chuckles – Dave knew exactly what he had planned, letter writers understandably didn’t – it could be construed by the mainstream as painful.

This is a labour of love. This is a Big Thing which long-term CEREBUS readers have clamoured for.

Visually and practically it is presented with immaculate class. I can’t stand multiple DVD packages where you have to pop each disc back into its often over-competitive circular socket, potentially scraping it if come undone. Instead the discs are housed in indvidual sleeves. In addition the intro and out-ro to each chapter is slickly and sleekly filmed.

My only problem rests in the music chosen for the credits on either side which sounds so outdated that it’s something you’d find parodied on Grand Theft Auto. No music required! Comics is not a musical medium and I once heard the same distinction voiced by Dave Sim himself! But this is a minor thing.

The major thing is this: do you, or do you not want to know which voices Dave Sim had in his head for each character? Do you want to read CEREBUS: HIGH SOCIETY in print and supply your own voices instinctively for yourself in your own head? Or… do you want to know?

Big love to IDW for making this happen.

Big love to Dave Sim for making Page 45 happen!

He did, you know. Page 45 would not have existed without Dave Sim. This is the truth.

SLH

Buy Cerebus: High Society – The Digital Audio/Visual Experience DVD Set and read the Page 45 review here

Vacancy (£6-50, Nobrow) by Jen Lee.

“I’m teaching him that you gotta eat anything to survive. I eat that stuff all the time – Simon’s got to live in the now.”
“Do you live in the now?”
“I do live in the now, I’m living in the now right now.”

Now: there’s a household pet dog named Simon.

Times seem pretty rough, even tough.

His owners haven’t taken care of their garden and they don’t seem to have taken much better care of Simon. He’s been left outside in a garden without grass, littered with up-ended lawn tables and chairs. There’s a length of rope lying in the dirt attached to nothing. There’s a length of rope dangling limp from his kennel that appears to have been cut – or bitten through. It’s impossible to tell.

And our anthropomorphic dog Simon is peering through a popped knot in the wooden garden fence, fixated on the leaf-strewn, broken-branch-cluttered woodland beyond. It’s sunset.

“Stop, Simon. No time for the mopes. Today’s the day,” he exhorts himself.

Simon begins digging in a corner by the fence. He peers deep into an empty tin can and sees nothing. He drags it across the fence before resigning himself to his kennel. And he says to himself:

“It’s okay. There’s tomorrow.
“There are a lot of tomorrows.
“You’re doing a good job. Good boy, Simon.”

Effortlessly moving.

When you read this I implore you not to look at the summary on the French flaps. Maybe I’m dim not to have got it immediately, but to my mind it gives the game which I did not get away. The clues are all there, so let them be clues. When the penny finally drops it is gutting.

Simon is at first confronted then befriended by a feral deer and racoon. Maybe the word “feral” is redundant, but being feral is important. They help him make the leap to freedom: into the woods, the wild unknown! And it’s difficult, you know, when you’ve been pre-conditioned with love and affection and as much food as you need in a loving, domestic home.

I love, love, love the colours here dedicated to the prime times of day. These things are oh so important when you’re trying to survive in the wild with predators on the loose. And Simon will encounter predators, I’m afraid.

I’m also in love with Jen’s attention to detail when it comes to the clothes of these anthropomorphic animals. Is the deer wearing a deer hunter’s cap? I don’t know. I don’t have much experience in deer hunting, thankfully. She really lets rip on the street-fashion front when the predators raise their opportunist heads, but it’s Simon’s design which is the real winner: he’s wearing a green hoodie which is halfway to being street, but look at his infantile little socksies and shoes! Best of all, though, Simon wears glasses – the privilege of being a pampered pet dog, probably insured!

Deliberately elliptical review so you can discover this gem for yourselves.

Big love to customer Carol Smith for alerting me to this. It is a beauty.

SLH

Buy Vacancy and read the Page 45 review here

Last Of The Sandwalkers (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Jay Hosler.

“Curiosity leads to questions,
“Questions lead to doubt,
“And there must be no doubt.”

And he calls himself a professor?! He’s more of a suppressor, and our brave beetle explorers are going to wish Professor Owen had never joined their expedition, exploring the wide world beyond their closed colony for the very first time!

Professor Beatrice Bombardier, Mossy, Raef and leader Lucy are in for the thrill, fright and fight of their lives as they encounter so many predators from ants, velvet worms and trapdoor spiders on the ground to birds, bats and even more spiders high up in the sky. Even fellow insects will have it in for them and the worst threat of all comes from within in the form of the grumpy, duplicitous and credit-stealing saboteur Professor Owen!

In order to survive our heroes are going to have to think fast, think laterally and learn, learn, learn!

At 300 pages it is an epic adventure and some of best fun Adults and Young Adults alike will ever have learning. This is far from surprising since it comes from Jay Hosler, the creator of CLAN APIS (the biographical life cycle of a bee) and the writer of EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH which is a phenomenal entertainment as all education should be!

Jay Hosler is eminently qualified, being a biology professor at Juniata College, and his notes at the back expand on the discoveries made en route in an involving, conversational manner backed up with personal experience and scientific evidence.

Did you know, for example that rhinoceros beetles can heft up to 100 times their own body weight? Yowsa! That some insects lure others to their death by emulating that specific species’ mating lights? So wrong! That antennae are an insect’s tongue, nose, finger, divining rod and speedometer as well? They’re like Swiss Army Knives without the scissors!

Spiders have no chewing mouthparts so they liquefy their prey by injecting with enzymes and ewwww! They also eat their own webs to recycle the silk. Meanwhile predators and parasites can crack the codes animals use to communicate with each other. There’s a species of butterfly whose larvae are cared for by ants because they emit an odour that mimics that of ant larvae. “Living safe and sound underground with a nearly unlimited food supply is a pretty sweet set up for a relatively defenceless insect larva.” Don’t feel too sorry for those ants, though: some species enslave others by “capturing larvae from neighbouring nests and raising the young as their minions”!

Here’s the biggie, though: “approximately 40% of all insect species are beetles, and about 30% of all animal species on the planet are beetles. By comparison, all of the fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals on Earth comprise only 3-5% of all known animal species”.

Back to our own band of beetles, and they each have special assets – and limitations – which will come into play as they cooperate. Into which of those categories Raef’s ceaseless stream of bad puns fall I will leave for you to decide!

SLH

Buy Last Of The Sandwalkers and read the Page 45 review here

Street Dawgz (£5-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney.

“It’s as we suspected. He’s fallen into a crack bone delirium!”

Street Daaaaaawwwgs!

They’re buff!

And ruff!

And tuff!

From the creator of the top-notch TAKE AWAY, hugely recommended to  ADVENTURE TIME fans…

Meet Rossetti!!! Meet Jekyll!!! Meet Dingo!!! Meet Ian.

They’re more like hipster hounds or Beatnik bow-wows than dawgs of ver street. When Jekyll falls into a feverish fugue state having been denied his beloved calcium-rich crack, his three friends roll him in blanket like a giant burrito and Rossetti pronounces, “We should write down what he says – it will be crack bone wisdom”.

I’m not sure Ian – he of the circular sunglasses – has the attention span.

“Life, life is a joke, a steaming ego-driven joke, I’m gonna bite the dealer who dealt me these cards…”

Ah, the existential ennui of it all!

Lizz “Camille Claudel” Lunney is renowned for her neo-classical, three-dimensional modelling which has been compared in some circles – and several semi-circles – to holographic, line-art sculpture. Here she loosens up on her formally strict anatomical accuracy (most austerely enforced during her Lizz “Leonardo” period circa 2004) to the extent that, in one panel at least, Jekyll sports more than the traditional complement of two eyes.

Also: is this really drawn in Biro? Previously Lizz only drew in Biro. I’m pretty sure this is an ink pen of sorts. Please note: illustrations here are taken from an earlier tone-free version. This has tone.

This is as good an opportunity as any to remind you that Page 45 is the exclusive home to The Page 45 Lizz Lunney Superstore containing all things @LizzLizz and we ship worldwide as well as to whichever half of the moon is facing us during any given cycle.

Contains an urban fox called Audi. Top selling point.

SLH

Buy Street Dawgz and read the Page 45 review here

Street Dawgz Sticker Pack (£3-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney.

“Old Dog New Tricks”
“The Streets Still Belong To Us My Friends”
“Old Dog New Tricks” (reprise)

I’ve never reviewed stickers before!

I’ve reviewed blank notebooks and tote bags by Lizz Lunney and I’ve reviewed greetings cards by Jodie Paterson but never stickers.

Obviously there’s the aesthetics to cover, and I do so right now: these are neat! Also: skateboarding always sells here.

But quite early on I concluded that a salient component of any sticker review would be a practical – if not strictly scientific – assessment of their adhesive qualities, their functionality.

To that end I decided to assess the stickers’ stickiness by sticking them onto my uncle’s two original John Constable landscapes in suitable spots where they might enliven the bucolic dreariness and yet fit in without drawing too much contemporary attention to themselves.

If they simply peeled off then their stickiness would be found to be faulty, and Lizz Lunney would be in a world of trouble! We might have sued her under the Trades Description Act.

Fortunately there’s no need for such drastic dobbing-in for I am delighted to report that those suckers sure ain’t coming off in a hurry!

Pretty sure my uncle will be dead chuffed.

SLH

Buy Street Dawgz Sticker Pack and read the Page 45 review here

Men Of Wrath s/c (£10-99, Icon) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney.

Love all the white paint slapped onto black on the covers between each chapter. SIN CITY souls will swoon. Some beautifully broad strokes for leaves, fences, coast sleeves, stained glass window and guns. There’s always a gun. There’s even some dead sheep and one of them. Lovely fleeces. Is that a baby? Better not be a boy.

There’s been trouble with the men of Rath for generations, ever since Ira Rath’s great grandfather stabbed a fellow in front of his son. The man haemorrhaging blood from his jugular was after Isom’s sheep, claiming they the plumper ones as his, and Isom went and snapped. He turned himself in yet served a scant eight months because, to be honest, the community considered he’d done them a favour. But the impact on his son Alford was pronounced. He grew up to keep dogs. He kept ‘em just to kick ‘em then one turned round and bit him, and wouldn’t you just know it, he got rabies. What he did when rabid you will not believe nor what his son did, neither.

So we come to that son’s son, Ira Rath, a distillation of all the meanness that had been handed down along a line that had headed in the opposite direction to mouse-man JIMMY CORRIGAN’s. But it was the same cause and effect: nature compounded by nurture or lack thereof. The first scene post-prologue demonstrates precisely what Ira is capable of when hired to rectify transgressions. Matt Milla’s stormy colours behind Rath’s semi-silhouette are brooding and intense.

So we know what he does, and you remember I said the men of Rath were trouble? Ira’s son has got himself into trouble with folks like the Polks and they’re ruthless too. They’re also Ira’s biggest clients and they hire him with most of their cards on the table. Will Ira silence his own son? Who looks as though he’s about to have one of his own? I wouldn’t expect a great deal of male bonding.

From the writer of SCALPED and ULTIMATE COMICS CAPTAIN AMERICA whence you will also recognise Ron Garney, this is a pretty impassive, smile-free zone, but it’s mean and it’s lean and I can see PUNISHER people getting a  Doc Martin kick out of it.  Ira himself is a sixty-year-old Clint Eastwood with an extra infusion of strong and silent, both gnarled and gnarly, and did I mention he’s just been diagnosed with cancer?

“This doesn’t have to be the thing that kills you, Mr. Rath.”
“It won’t be. I can promise you that.”

SLH

Buy Men Of Wrath s/c and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets Book 2 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

“So why is Graves still alive?”
“That’s a good question, but not the important one.”
“Oh no? And that would be…?”
“What’s he up to.”

So far Agent Graves has been helping ordinary, disparate victims across the US settle their scores with no apparent motive on his part. I can assure that Agent Graves has all the motive as eventually you’ll find out!

In the meantime he hands these individuals an attaché containing irrefutable evidence that someone has screwed them over; the identity of the culprit, a gun and one hundred rounds of untraceable ammunition. By “untraceable” I mean that if those bullets are found at the scene of any crime all investigation will cease immediately.

Of course in 100 BULLETS BOOK ONE we have heard intimations of a much wider picture: about The Minutemen, a body of enforcers Graves used to be a part of, and the organisation they were employed by, The Trust. The Trust is composed of thirteen feuding Families kept at bay by those Minutemen who were there specifically to maintain the peace or exact retribution for any breaches. Now you’ll finally meet those Families and if you do have a pistol I probably wouldn’t leave it at the door.

This also contains The One With The Bandages, as the private detective to whom Agent Graves hands the attaché case this time, emerging from hospital after a close encounter with his windscreen, contrives to turn every sentence he mutters in his head or out-loud into a gritty play on words. Think Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirwell, particularly during ‘Come To Bedrock’ or ‘Street Of Shame’ but basically his entire career! It’s not remotely realistic – no one is that clever or quick- witted – but it’s one of the hallmarks of 100 BULLETS and it makes me smile with so much satisfaction.

Knock-out shadows and silhouettes are Risso’s forté, enhanced by menacing eyes and pouting lips, so being able to play around with white bandages wrapped a head with the eyes staring out is an absolute gift.

Apart from the enormous complexity of this epic in which almost everyone is playing a long game indeed, Azzarello’s strength is as I say the dialogue and dialect, beat perfect and enough to send shivers down your spine.

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood…

“That was a total flop. You saw the way she was holding me?”
“Oh, I saw it… Now I’m wondering when you’ll finally get over yourself and ask her out?”
“Fuck you.”
“Hot sweaty bodies colliding roughly… if it’s not love, it’s lust, admit it.”
“She’s from Seattle. I do not date Flounders. The way you let her score on you, you’re one to talk.”
“That sounds like jealousy to me.”

P.I. Dex Parios returns, and in a football-related story to boot! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, I’ll give myself a stern talking to, and a yellow card…

Ah, I really wish Rucka would make this an ongoing monthly series, his characterisation and dialogue are superb. This time around, after the frankly odd artwork of STUMPTOWN VOL 2 which felt like an increasingly surrealist experiment (STUMPTOWN VOL 1‘s art by the same artist was tremendous strangely enough), he’s also got an artist to match his talents in Justin Greenwood, currently also illustrating Antony Johnston’s THE FUSE.

This case opens with Dex playing in goal against the lovely ladies of Seattle Muddy Balls. Still, her team is called Reál Pain, which isn’t much better frankly, but considerably more classy than FC Vagisil, which was the name of my friend’s Sunday league team for a number of years… But, as Dex has to point out to her teammate Hoffman, it’s just a game. Hoffman, in the vein of Shankly, disagrees vehemently, and if you know the rest of Bill’s famous quote you might have half an idea where things are going…

After her kickabout, Dex is off to take her younger brother Ansell to the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Flounders local derby. It’s a fiery affair to be sure, as much off the pitch as on it, I hadn’t realised Americans soccer crowds had become so skilled in the art of verbally abusing the opposition supporters as their transatlantic cousins. It quite took me back to my own salad days of terrace serenading. The first issue of this volume concludes with Dex’s friend Mike being found near the stadium, having taking a serious beating. On the face of it, it’s a simple case of hooliganism, but of course there’s much more to it than that.

I really feel like Rucka is back on track with the emotional components of this series again after STUMPTOWN VOLUME TWO where I can’t say I really warmed to anyone, and Dex herself felt somewhat peripheral to the main action. Dex and her brother are key elements of what makes this title so interesting so I’m pleased the focus, for this first issue at least, is squarely on them.

I am also extremely happy Justin Greenwood is on board for this arc. It’s exactly what this title required art-wise to bring it back to the forefront of crime comics. Clearly they’ve decided to go for a less gritty and more colourful approach, but Justin’s style still adds a hard-nosed edge to proceedings.

All that remains now is to leave you with that classic parting shot by Bexsy (Gary Oldman) from what remains to this day, hands down my favourite football hooligan film, The Firm. The original from 1989, not the wishy-washy remake from a few years ago. As a young lad skirting around the periphery of football related violence back in the late 80s, early 90s, well, trying to avoid it at all costs frankly, his terrifying performance was seared into my mind’s eye creating a football hooligan bogeyman, (a little sample for you HERE) potentially lurking around every corner at away games, tooled up with hammer and stanley knife, ready to smash me up then cut me to ribbons…

“I come in peace. I leave you in pieces…”

JR

Buy Stumptown vol 3 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Top 10 s/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Zander Cannon, Gene Ha.

Collecting the two original volumes but not TOP TEN: FORTY-NINERS.

TOP TEN is a meticulously directed police precinct comedy drama in which several bizarre law enforcement officers including a talking doberman in an exoskeleton attempt to solve several crimes at once, some of them linked, some of them not. Everyone and every thing in this world has a superpower no matter how ridiculous, including cats – which is just as well because so do the mice: when you get an infestation, believe you me, you get a real infestation.

Whilst gliding you through the precinct’s chaos as officers criss-cross the lobby, Alan Moore packs this series with imagination, style and top-notch gags in the form of graffiti, advertisements, background cameos and full-on confrontations. Some are lobbed in the direction of comics, others thrown wider at various forms of popular culture from boybands to drugs to pretentious spirituality like Blindshot Bob, the visually impaired zen taxi-driver.

“Where we end up, that’s where we’re meant to be!” he gleefully proclaims, steering straight into the path of an on-coming juggernaut.
“This precinct house… is it far?”
“Hey, all distance is as nothing in the mind of the Buddha, know what I’m sayin’? We’ll be there in about ten minutes…depending on traffic!”

Like the rest of the ABC line it’s a great deal cleverer than it looks, as is the art which manages some extraordinary feats of scale and perspective in this futuristic city. Finest punchline award goes to officer Smax, who barges into the scene of a brutal murder in a bar catering exclusively for Norse Gods:

“Okay, we’re police officers. Nobody move in a mysterious way!”

As ever, Moore’s more interested in poking fun by mixing genres and using the set-up to comment on whatever crops up. Lest we forget, it’s the tenth anniversary this week of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence [this was written in April 2003 - ed.], the investigation into which was condemned by Macpherson as hampered by institutional racism. The existence of which surprised absolutely no one that I’m acquainted with.

In this futuristic city bigotry remains rife – it’s just changed targets – so when an Artificial Intelligence joins the force he has a hard time from within, particularly at the hands of Officer Cheney who’s been making snide ‘clicker’ references throughout the series, much to his partner’s irritation.

Which brings us to one of my favourite put-downs in comics as Pete Cheney attempts to grab a candy bar from the public dispenser up against the wall:

“Hell, I ain’t no clicker-licker. Lemme get my candy-bar, okay?”
“This is about the new guy?”
“Jacks, he was great. We’re there three minutes, crime solved, perp in the car.”
“Damn robots, man. Just after our jobs. Not only that, I hear they like, y’know, human women.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah, well, I can see how you’d find that a bewildering concept.”
“Pete, robots and women, that only happens in your porno collection….”
“Yeah? Well here’s the tin man himself. Why don’t I ask him?”
“Pete, don’t be an asshole, man…”
“Hey, Officer Pie-Tin, is that right about you guys and human women? Y’know, how you can’t keep your pincers off ‘em?”
“Jesus, Cheney…”
“That’s an interesting QUESTION, Officer Cheney. As far as I know, it’s much more common for HUMANS to be sexually aroused by MACHINES than the other way round.”
“Huh? That’s a lot of crap! Where’s your evidence?”

…asks Cheney, reaching into the candy-bar dispenser slot.

“Well, with respect, I should point out that YOU’RE the one who’s feeling up my retarded hillbilly cousin EMMY-SUE in public.”
“Whaat?”
“Emmy-Sue, it breaks my clockwork heart to see you lowering yourself like this. Cover yourself up, girl, and we’ll say no more about it.”
“What? What’s funny? Hey, screw you, Bodine! Think this is so goddam funny, laughin’ like a little idiot kid! Damn, I gotta go wash my hand!”

SLH

Buy Top Ten s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fear Itself (UK Edition) s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen, Scot George Eaton.

Marvel’s 2011 blockbuster event starring the Avengers, with a significant knock-on effect for their members’ own titles and UNCANNY X-MEN too.

“People are mad right now, and broke and they’ve been lied to and ripped off. And when people who’re already mad get scared then all hell kinda breaks loose.”

After enduring a United States under Norman Osborn (or George W. Bush – read it how you will), and with the economy in freefall catalysing mass unemployment and the repossession of homes, the American people are fractious. They’re raw and hurting. When Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are caught in the middle of a riot they cannot control, they’re alarmed to discover there’s no foul play involved: no unusual energy signatures, no enchantments, nothing toxic in the air or water. It’s just how the temperature is.

So what will happen when the Serpent arises? When Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, lifts the hidden Asgardian hammer her father could not, is transformed into something else and frees the ancient Skadi, God of Fear and the real All-Father, from the mystic bonds of Odin? What will happen when The Worthy summoned by Skadi and transfigured by mystical hammers into something even worse touch down in the Pacific Ocean, Brazil, China, Manhattan and the small town of Broxton where ancient Asgard lies in rubble?

That’s where the Avengers – both overt teams – are gathered here today, to launch a new Stark initiative to further the bond between Gods and man and put 5,000 Americans back to work by designing and then building a new Asgard here on Earth. But Odin isn’t happy. Disdainful of the creatures he is more used to being worshipped by, he is adamant that Asgard should be rebuilt by enchantment far from this blue and green marble. And when he senses that Skadi is loose upon the world, he orders it so, even if that means dragging Thor behind them in chains.

With robust and shiny art – like John Buscema inked by Jimmy Cheung – this is something rather different from recent superhero events. SIEGE, SECRET INVASION, BLACKEST NIGHT – and even CIVIL WAR to a certain extent – had all been brewing for a while. But this is about to hit our heroes out of the blue and they don’t even know it yet. All they know is that the Gods have left them to fend for themselves and, if that wasn’t enough, Odin is prepared to destroy the whole of planet Earth just to cauterise the threat and hide his terrible secret.

As the catastrophic destruction spreads, so their fear rises and Sin/Skadi grows stronger. And that fuels further panic.

Includes the fall of Avengers Tower, major fatalities and the prelude by Ed Brubaker & Scot Eaton.

SLH

Buy Fear Itself (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Scott Pilgrim vol 6 h/c Colour Edition (£18-99, Oni Press) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Meanwhile #3 (£4-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Gary Spencer Millidge, Yuko Rabbit, David Hine, Mark Stafford, others

Realist h/c (£18-99, Archaia Studios Press  ) by Asaf Hanuka

Mph (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo

Darth Vader And Friends (£9-99, Lucas Books) by Jeffrey Brown

Wolverines vol 1: Dancing With The Devil s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Ray Fawkes & Nick Bradshaw, various, Nick Bradshaw

Loki Agent Of Asgard vol 2: I Cannot Tell A Lie s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Jorge Coehlo, Lee Garbett, Lee Garbett

Dead Boy Detectives vol 2: Ghost Snow s/c (£10-99, DC) by Toby Litt & Mark Buckingham, Ryan Kelly, Mark Buckingham

Justice League 3000 vol 2: The Camelot War s/c (£10-99, DC) by Keith Giffen, J. M. Dematteis & Howard Porter, Chris Batista, Howard Porter

Green Arrow vol 6: Broken s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino, various, Andrea Sorrentino

Master Keaton vol 2 (£14-99, Viz) by Takashi Nagasaki, Hokusei Katsushika & Naoki Urasawa

Evil Empire vol 1 (£10-99, Boom Town) by Max Bemis & Ransom Getty, Andrea Mutti, Jay Shaw

Witchfinder vol 3: Mysteries Of Unland (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kim Newman, Maura Mchugh & Tyler Crook, Mike Mignola

Legend The Graphic Novel (£10-99, Putnam) by Marie Lu, Leigh Dragoon & Kaari

Miracleman Book vol 3: Olympus (UK Edition) h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Grant Morrsson, Peter Milligan & John Totleben, Joe Quesada, Mike Allred

Avengers vol 1: Avengers World s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Jerome Opena, Adam Kubert

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (£10-99, Collins Design) by Lewis Carroll & Camille Rose Garcia

Hawkeye vol 1 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Frankavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Activity Book (£18-99, Marvel) by Various & Various

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 1 (£14-99, Oni Press) by Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Christine Norrie, Stan Sakai, Brian Hurtt, Leandro Fernandez

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 2 (£14-99, Oni Press) by Greg Rucka &  Jason Shawn Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil, Mike Hawthorne

Insurrection #0 (£1-50, Lost Publications) by Russell Stearman

Insurrection #1 (£2-50, Lost Publications) by Russell Stearman

Insurrection #2 (£2-50, Lost Publications) by Russell Stearman

News!

We’ve plenty, but have run out of time! All the more for next week!

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week three

April 15th, 2015

JUPITER’S LEGACY by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely, JUPITER’S CIRCLE by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres, ZENITH PHASE THREE by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, REBELS by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti and the return of STRANGERS IN PARADISE VOL 1 by Terry Moore. News, as ever, underneath including a new comic from Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland!

Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Edition) by Terry Moore.

There is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

I may have declared THE NAO OF BROWN by Glyn Dillon to be the finest work of comicbook fiction, and I have pronounced that the best body of comics anywhere in the world to date is the autobiographical ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS by Eddie Campbell, but there is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE. It means the world to me, and I know the same goes for our Dee.

We have history, you see. We have a lot of history. We also have a lot of love, but nobody I know has as much love for his fellow human being as its creator Terry Moore, and it shines from this series as radiant as any sun in the heavens.

You can buy all 2128 pages of this epic, heart-warming, heart-cleaving story in the STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS BOXED SET EDITION reprinted in two slipcased softcovers restored as nature intended them without several slices of self-censorship. Not only that but at Page 45 all of our copies come with its retailer print signed by Terry himself. Plus we have unbeatable UK and European shipping prices.

From the creator of RACHEL RISING and ECHO plus TERRY MOORE’S SKETCHBOOK: HOT GIRLS & COLD FEET and TERRY MOORE’S HOW TO DRAW – and, boy, does he know how to draw! – here we go!

“I don’t know what to feel anymore. You confuse me.”

Rarely am I allowed the luxury of re-immersing myself in our one my favourite series of all time: there are so many new comics and graphic novels each week which demand fresh reviews. But occasionally a window appears and I defenestrate myself immediately. And that’s very much akin to what the cast experience here: free-falling in love and experiencing one hell of an emotional turbulence.

Twenty years ago there was a relative paucity of comicbook fiction in the US and therefore UK readily accessible to women. Of course there were exceptions – LOVE & ROCKETS, EXIT, SANDMAN, CONCRETE – but exceptions they were and I could show you one hundred women I know personally whose first experience of comics, followed by an immediate love affair with the medium, was STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

Drawn by an artist who loves women as women and not stick insects, who can see the beauty and grace in a curvaceous thigh, and written by a man unafraid to be kind (I’ll put that into context with volume two), it had a heart of untarnished gold, embracing love as the one thing worth living for – and, if necessary, dying for – when so many play games with affection instead. Don’t get me wrong: there are those who play games here, there are those who are proud and stupid and nasty. And what one tends to forget is that actually Terry was really pretty damn saucy. Seriously: lots and lots of sex jokes. Do not denude Terry of his naughtiness!

Indeed the first three-issue mini-series was very much a slapstick burlesque in which we find the main protagonists Francine and Katchoo renting a house together. Katchoo is quite evidently in love with Francine, but Francine is in love with Freddie. Freddie is in love with no one but himself and only after one thing: sex. Francine knows that, Francine tells him that, which is why she won’t sleep with him. Instead, aghast at Freddie’s philandering, she spends most of her time in the fridge. Katchoo meanwhile is so fractious that she shoots alarm clocks. Imagine what she will do to Freddie Femur when she finds out he’s cheating on the absolute love of her life? It’s really quite cathartic.

But what arrested me on re-reading this is that I had forgotten how utterly shocking it was when the real story first kicks in and the comedy is buried under the weight of the protagonists’ past. I’ve typed twelve sentences here already, but I just don’t want to spoil it for you. Instead I will simply tell you that the following scene takes place round a bed nursed by nuns as Katchoo visits the one person in the past that showed her kindness while they both worked as high-class call girls for a certain Mrs. Darcy Parker. Emma is dying of AIDS.

“How you doin’, Chewy? You okay?”
“I’m fine, Emmie. Looking forward to seeing Canada with you when you get out of here.”
“Then you better grow wings.”
“Shhh… don’t talk like that.”
“Really. It’s okay. I talked to God.”
“…”
“I’m worried about you, Chewy.”
“Me?”
“So much… anger. It’ll eat away at you till there’s nothing left. You need to let somebody… in here.”
“You’re there, Emmie. You’re there.”
“I mean somebody who’ll stay with you..”

Katchoo has boundaries and they’ve been built pretty high. The only person she’ll let in is Francine who, let’s remember, is slightly distracted by a) Freddie Femur and b) the fridge. She has no idea how Katchoo really feels. Then along come David; sweet, doting David; puppy-dog David with whom Katchoo has a little fun. They meet in an art gallery and then in the rain (always, always in the rain) and no matter how many times he’s rejected he won’t go away, he just will not give up. He’s fallen head over heels in love with Katchoo, and he believes.

Which brings us to another of this series’ exceptional qualities: the arguments are long. They’re played out in all their confused complexities then exhumed later on, whereas in so many other series they’re merely nodes in a simple plot device. And they almost always end in rage, remorse and tears. Nothing is linear here. When is life ever that straightforward? Here’s David and Francine when Katchoo suddenly sends herself straight off the radar.

“So what was the deal?”
“I don’t know! You tell me! You’re the one who was with her! You’re the one she’s buddy-buddy with these days! You’re the one she talked to about that whole Emma thing! I’m just her best friend! She doesn’t tell me squat!”
“Francine, the only reason Katchoo talked to me’s because I was there and she really needed someone to talk to.”
No sir! I’m not buying that! I’ve been here all along! She can talk to me!”
“She’s afraid to, okay?! She’s afraid if you find out what she’s done, you’ll hate her or something.”
“That’s absurd! I mean, we’re best friends! I could never…”
“I think that’s the whole point, Francine. Whether you want to admit it or not, what you two have goin’ on here is more than just friendship!”
“Of course it is! We… wait a minute! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“I mean I’ve tried to fit in here and believe me, there’s no room!”
“I told you Katchoo wasn’t interested in men! She’s gay! You idiot!”
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that, but I definitely know why she’s not interested in men or anybody else right not… She’s in love!”
“With who?!”
“With you, of course!”

So when I so casually used to type that David is in love with Katchoo who is in love with Francine who is in love with Freddie Femur, it never did justice to this title. Francine is jealous of David’s place in Katchoo’s life, and wonders for a while if she may even be in love with David herself. Katchoo is absolutely dedicated to Francine but David is like no other young man she’s ever met. He’s kind, he’s considerate and sensitive. But David… David is not who he seems. Which brought about what was quite possibly the finest-ever cliffhanger in comicbook history.

“RUN!! FRANCINE! RUN!!”

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Rebels #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti…

“Hold still, or I’ll shoot.”
“My father told you about crossing our fields, you spook the cows and the milk comes spoilt.”
“Come off it, Mercy Tucker. That’s just famers’ superstition.”
“So, what? We’re famers, ain’t we? We’d know, wouldn’t we? You two just gonna stand there like a pair of jackanapes?”
“Mercy, your Pa knows what’s at stake. He knows the militia is what’s keeping this farm out of the hands of the thieves down in Albany. Your Pa would let us pass freely. Your Pa wouldn’t point a musket in our faces.”
“Redcoats came up the big house three days ago, Ezekiel. Pa signed the grant papers over to the Sheriff. Made us tenants, didn’t they? I’ve been out in these fields since, ashamed to see my Pa, knowing he’d be ashamed to by seen by me.”
“Mercy… tell your Pa, we’ll be back with those papers.”

Young Seth Abbott has a lot to learn about the different ways war can be waged. He might be a member of the local militia sworn to achieve independence from the British and their hated occupying armies of Redcoats, but not all battles are fought with a gun.

I suspect this is going to be a fascinating series for anyone interested in history, and particularly this period, which I will fully admit is not one I know much about, probably partly because given the British ultimately got booted out, it doesn’t get taught much in UK schools!

I do however clearly remember inadvertently instigating a full-on cowboy style barroom brawl in Alabama one 4th of July, when asked by a smartarse local what we called Independence Day in the UK. My somewhat alcohol-aided throwaway riposte of it being known as the Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish Day provoked a wild swing from my outraged non-compadre which I fortunately dodged.

Unfortunately for him, it smashed the orneriest nutter in the bar squarely on the back of the head, whom, delightedly taking offense with the idiot in question, after eyeing the pair of us up and deciding my best “it wasn’t me, honest guvnor” face was clearly one to be trusted, went at the haymaker like an out-of-control combine harvester. Suffice to say, before you could utter “Four score and seven years ago…” there were Stetsons being knocked jauntily askew left, right and centre as a group of about thirty locals started going at it en masse, settling old scores. I just inched my way through to the edge of the melee somehow unscathed, picked up my Heineken which was perched on the bar and propped myself up to enjoy the scene. Good times.

Anyway… digression done with, Brian Wood has commented he intends this to be a NORTHLANDERS-style title. By which he means that each arc will be self-contained thus allowing him to tell various different colonists’ stories, not just the famous figures of the time. For let’s not forget that ultimately, that is what all the non-indigenous inhabitants of North America were at that time really, not natives, but relatively recently arrived pioneers, who for the most part, actually didn’t wanted to secede from British rule until the British government caused such dissent and consternation with their taxation policies. Then their rather heavy-handed attempts to crush any dissent didn’t help.

I can see how this everyman concept – which I think worked extremely well in NORTHLANDERS in allowing him to explore the very diverse elements and traditions, plus the varied political and social structures of the Viking world, in addition to some major events of course – could translate very nicely to this milieu, even though it was of course considerably briefer and more geographically condensed. Because actually, that’s what I’m interested in: what was life like for the settlers during this incredible period of upheaval? Inevitably sides had to be chosen, stands taken, and many a heavy price paid. Just not tea taxes…

This first arc then deals with young militia man Seth and his bride-to-be Mercy Tucker, and their trials and tribulations in trying to protect what was rightfully theirs. Well, obviously it was stolen from natives probably not too long before that, but you get my point.

Lovely delicate art from Andrea Mutti, he does like his line shading. Not sure if he is on for the duration of the run, or just this arc. Also, I wish Vertigo would hurry up and recollect NORTHLANDERS into chunkier trades like they have been doing with other material. I do hope they are going to. I know Brian did moot continuing that elsewhere when it came to an end at Vertigo, but I haven’t heard any more about that.

JR

Buy Rebels #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

“I’ve trapped you in a psychic construct, darling. My favourite little trick… You’ve been busy fighting optical illusions while the kids were out there hammering away at your physical body. Care to see the damage?”
“Oh my god…”
“Aneurysm.”

The full-page panel between the assailant’s self-congratulatory gloat and his victim’s moment of traumatised realisation is more brutal than you can possibly imagine, even from the artist of WE3. “Aneurysm” is then uttered right in her face and eye to eye with the most malevolent triumphalism I’ve ever seen in comics.

The entire bloodbath, however, is preceded with such a shockingly abrupt instance of eye-popping kinetic energy – when a daughter is ripped from her mother’s tender, conciliatory embrace in the hall of their home – that you will physically jolt or recoil.

The gored dénouement is all the more horrifying and incongruous because the mother has her hair tied up in a bun, wearing an old-fashioned nurse-blue smock with a white, domestic apron.

I mention all this not to impress upon you how brutal the book is – there are also many tender moments and much mirth to be gained from following a twelve-year-old boy trying to maintain a secret identity at school when he’s on the power level of Superman – but to impress upon you the thought behind its creation. There are lightning-fast changes of pace throughout.

From the creative team of THE AUTHORITY VOL 2 comes a truly great graphic novel reprising ideas from THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 as well, in which those with the capacity to do so – those with meta-human abilities – seek to make the world a better place whether we like it or not. In this instance the protagonists’ original intention was to tackle not tyrannies but the crises which have crippled our global economies both in the past during the Great Depression after the Wall Street Crash and during the more recent banking collapse and Euro-zone implosion whose knife-edge teetering endures to this day.

If you want a searing, non-fictional account of that fiasco in comic form, we commend to you Darryl Cunningham’s SUPERCRASH which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and whose sales have taken us by storm. It’s gratifying that such swathes of readers care.

Although it merely acts as the backdrop, please don’t think that this treats the subject any less seriously, however, for Millar masterfully links the two eras of austerity using language so carefully chosen to shame our the present need for food banks with the lessons we should have learned from the past.

At the time of the Great Depression a young man called Sheldon Sampson was determined to do something for his country. An unchartered island appeared in his dreams and called to him. His wife Grace and brother Walter believed in him unquestioningly and travelled in search of the island along with a small group of friends. Much to their local guide’s astonishment they found it, exactly as it appeared in Sheldon’s dream. It turned them into superheroes, giving America something to believe in when its people needed it the most…

Eighty-one years later and the next generation appears to have other priorities in life. Grace and Sheldon’s daughter and son, Chloe and Brandon, often fail to answer emergencies. Instead the chic social celebrity and media darling Chloe is building up a portfolio of advertising endorsements which Brandon sneers at even those some are for charitable institutions. True, Chloe does love her cocaine kicks, but bitter young Brandon’s a binge-drinker like nobody’s business. Of course, maybe there’s a reason he’s bitter.

Meanwhile Sheldon’s brother Walter is as committed to the good fight as ever, using the power of his mind to manipulate perception, but he wants to do more: he wants to take on the failing economy.

“America’s collapsing, the Euro-Zone’s bleeding to death, the global economy’s hanging by a thread. And we’re still just out there wrestling like children. Don’t you think we could help more directly? Doesn’t this give you a horrific sense of impotence?”
“You’re not an economist, Walter. What are you going to do? Just because you can fly doesn’t mean you know how to balance a budget. You need to accept that we’re public servants and have a little faith in the government we’ve elected.

Walter’s argument goes on: it was the politicians who let the banks run riot and started wars we couldn’t afford so that now America is back where it started in 1929 with food lines! He’s not wrong. But Sheldon is adamant, Sheldon is used to being obeyed, Sheldon is used to having the last word and he might have, as usual. But however righteous and right-minded Sheldon may be, he isn’t half holier-than-thou: lofty, didactic, dismissive and dictatorial. The worst reason ever…?

“Because I said so.”
“And you wonder why your children are a disenfranchised mess?”

Ah yes, the children…

Many of the elements may put you in mind of KINGDOM COME in which a subsequent generation of superheroes is fair less altruistic and so things go horribly wrong, but the relationships here are all far more acutely balanced as are the arguments and you may start ticking recognition boxes on all sides.

Don’t think the arguments are going to be restricted to those between Sheldon and Walter about economics and democracy, either.

Millar arranges his pieces on the chessboard meticulously before going for check. Some move in most unexpected directions because individuals are neither as white nor as black and therefore as predictable as some other writers make out. The family dynamics are going to grow a lot more complicated than they are now following three key moments, some manipulative mind-games and a life-changing revelation for one.

More years than you expect will have passed by the time this first book is over, and children have the power to surprise you.

Also, for another startling abrupt moment – this time hilarious – wait until someone you’ve yet to meet murmurs:

“Shark-infested waters.”

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Circle #1 (£2-75, Image) by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres.

“How do you know Danny?”
“We used to be in the marines together. He’s hooked me up with a few tricks before, but none of them were as handsome as you. Did you know he hooks up all the movie stars at that gas station? I saw Tyrone Stars out there and Walter Pigeon gave me twenty bucks just to give him a hand-job.”
“Oh yeah?”
“So what line of work are you in?”

The look on Richard’s face, post-coital cigarette in hand, wondering what would happen if anyone found out that one of America’s greatest heroes was into men…

This is 1959 and cinema’s greatest heroes were all in the closet – because, umm, box office…? But also: illegal…?

Yes, it was illegal to love if you were a bloke and your loved one happened to shave too. Love, illegal: bonkers.

Imagine the power that gives others over you – strangers, employers, employees and so many other parties: if they found out it was blackmail for life or trial, public humiliation, ostracism, disgrace then prison. There are movies about it.1961’s ‘Victim’ starring Dirk Bogarde for a start.

Here’s Kathryn Hepburn giving Richard her take at a very private party:

“I have to say I find the whole thing ridiculous, Richard… Sure, half of Hollywood’s in lavender marriages, but at least we’re handsomely paid to be hypocrites. You’re out there saving lives every day. Why should you have to lie about who you’re snuggling up with every night?”
“It’s like politicians and preachers, Katie. The public just hold us to a higher standard. People want their superheroes to be whiter than white.”

Quite literally back then.

“Well, I’m just worried what it does to your health, darling. I’ve seen what living a lie can do. We’re a queer town selling the world a heterosexual ideal. Haven’t you ever wondered why we’re all on pills and booze? A double life is a terrible strain and you’re living a triple life. The stress must be unbearable.”

The other secret, of course, is Richard’s secret identity, but he seems to be holding up rather well. Torres can capture a perfect likeness, which will come in very handy on the final page!

From the writer of SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN KICK-ASS, CHRONONAUTS, SUPERIOR, NEMESIS, Marvel’s CIVIL WAR and WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN, all of them recommended, comes the prequel to JUPITER’S LEGACY.

So far it is a very different beast, but equally deserves your attention.

The art for a start is far more innocently, clean-lined and evokes the period perfectly. There are a lot of clean smiles and big, broad grins.

The colours are softer, plus the monsters are mental: giant cephalopods, just like those in the comics back then. Of course, there weren’t any gay superheroes, were there? Probably not the publishers’ fault: those heroes were all in the closet.

In JUPITER’S LEGACY, following the Wall Street Crash, Sheldon Sampson set about giving America something to believe in, people to give them hope: superheroes. So far they have done their job admirably and seem much respected by all.

Sheldon’s brother Walter thinks they should make the role more official by allying themselves with the FBI who’ve reached out with an offer. Sheldon’s dead against it on principal’s sake – they need to remain above politics, autonomous. It’s George Hutchence who elaborates:

“Hoover’s an asshole. Don’t you get it? He’s got dirt on everyone from coast to coast and now he’s trying to get you too. He can’t control us and it’s driving him crazy. He’d bug these headquarters given half a chance.”

Of course it is Walter wanting ties to the government – that’s what he wants to do later. But evidently others are going to change their spots at one point or another.

Bravo for Mark Millar and the post-coital bed scene: if you’re going to do this, do it properly with no shying away or emasculation. Bravo for later scenes too, [redacted]. You’ve never seen that in a superhero comic before, even in his AUTHORITY!

I liked the prologue set in the future. That’s interesting given events in JUPITER’S LEGACY. As for George Hutchence, I will be following him closely for the very same reasons!

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Circle #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Zenith: Phase Three h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell.

Socio-political pop satire with superpowers from 1989 of which we are so very fond.

“Zenith! Zenith! We still haven’t had a chance to talk…”
“I know. Isn’t it brilliant?”

Zenith’s back!

(As they once proudly proclaimed on the back of 2000AD, above a picture of… Zenith’s actual back!)

Yes, Zenith is back and his ego and quiff are bigger than ever. One of Britain’s slickest black and white artists, Steve Yeowell, has now reached his apogee and he’ll stay there for a very long time. Zenith’s individual hair strands whooshing away in the wind now have a life of their own, often dangling down, segmented like fine crab’s legs with two or three points of articulation.

Yeowell’s deploying his shadows with increasingly instinctive confidence to maximum expressionistic effect. On the very third page there’s a shot of speedster Jimmy Quick from the back, breaking the sound barrier and positively bursting the black background in his wake, shouting, “Go!” The exhortation is mirrored by a second “GO!” this time much, much larger, printed on the front of Jimmy’s t-shirt as he charges towards us and almost out of the page. The two panels are divided by a third slim shot of two silhouetted miscreants hovering above him: “Oh, look. Let’s kill it.”

They’re determined to stop the speedster dead in his tracks and prevent a message from Alternative Earth 666, devastated by conquest, from reaching another. We first see one of the possessed on the opening page, and dang if she doesn’t look like a young Siouxsie Sioux.

Previously in ZENITH: Britain came under attack from the many-angled ones, the dark gods called the Lloigor, bent on possessing all and eradicating choice. They were prevented by the only active metahuman: an egomaniacal, perpetually preening pop star called Zenith. A rather reluctant hero, he thankfully found back-up in the form of the few surviving superheroes from the previous generation who’d been keeping their still-glowing lights hidden under their bushels. Also: Richard Branson tried to bomb London.

This time Zenith seems a little more keen on making an effort but only to avoid having to lip-synch on kids’ TV.

“Miming in front of a crowd of brainless pre-school brats… Is this what my career’s come to?”
“Well, get them while they’re young.”
“My last two singles have been total disasters, Eddie. I mean, what’s it going to be next? Singing carols with the Blue Peter dog? Opening the new branch of Tesco in Hartlepool?”

Zenith stairs into the existential abyss…

“Blankety Blank?”

That’s when Archie, the “mad mental crazy” anarchist robot bursts through Zenith’s front door screaming “ACCIIEEEEEED!” and you can almost hear the soundtrack.

Before we continue, there’s another element of Steve Yeowell’s art which shines through here (the reproduction on glossy, bleed-free paper is infinitely better than then last attempt at a reprint over twenty years ago): the erosion of form by light. Subtle things like only the shadows under Spring-Heeled Jack’s boot laces showing, their tops remaining lineless. Oh, and Zenith’s studded, black leather jacket.

Archie, Mantra, DJ Chill and Domino from Alternative Earth 68’s Black Flag have been dispatched by Maximan to fetch as many superheroes from Earths not yet enslaved by the Lliogor to a base of operations on Alternative 23 called the Axis Mundi, a tower Maximan has created by the power of his will. This is not the Maximan you may have encountered before, but a hermit-like sage in a robe, his eyes blindfolded by cloth. His speech flutters, qualified with synonyms and “thank you”s. He declares that The Alignment is imminent: a precise arrangement of alternate worlds to form The Omnihedron. What will happen then he doesn’t claim to know but the Lliogor seem keen so it’s bound to be catastrophic. To prevent this the hundred or so heroes must destroy two Earths crucial to this Alignment which have already been conquered by the Lliogor. Their singularly powerful superheroes have been possessed, blasting the world into post-war ruins, leaving corpses cluttering up the streets and creating people farms – concentration camps. One of those two is Alternative 666, which is where we came in.

I don’t want to take you much further, but Morrison lays the groundwork for so many of the twists very early on, then hides them under distractions, often comedic like Zenith encountering his own much more considerate counterpart, Vector (the only visual difference is the V rather than Z on his black t-shirt) and taking and instant, dismissive dislike to the poor chap’s kindness.

“… That was horrible…”

With 25 chapters first published over a half-year period in 2000AD, it’s longer than you might imagine and some of those chapters climax with such breath-taking timing you’d be left mind-blown for the whole seven days, desperate to know whether what you had seen was as final as it looked.

SLH

Buy Zenith: Phase Three h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Street Dawgz (£5-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney

Street Dawgz Sticker Pack (£3-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney

Cerebus: High Society Signed Gold Foil Edition (£22-50, Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim

Cerebus: High Society – The Digital Audio/Visual Experience DVD Set (£34-99, IDW) by Dave Sim, Gerhard

Girl In Dior h/c (£19-99, NBM) by Annie Goetzinger

100 Bullets Book 2 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson

Bee And Puppycat vol 1 s/c (£10-99, kaboom) by Natasha Allegri

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 2: I Wish (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Cliff Richards, Karl Moline, Richard Corben

Gunnerkrigg Court vol 1: Orientation s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Tom Siddell

Last Of Sandwalkers (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Jay Hosler

Men Of Wrath s/c (£10-99, Icon) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney

Prometheus: Fire & Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Juan Ferreyra, David Palumbo

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Rick Burchett, Brian Hurtt

Stumptown vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood

Top 10 s/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Zander Cannon, Gene Ha

Translucid s/c (£14-99, Boom) by Claudio Sanchez, Chondra Echert & Daniel Bayliss

Vacancy (£6-50, Nobrow) by Jen Lee

Astro City: Dark Age Book 1 s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight s/c (£9-99, DC) by Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola, Eduardo Barreto

Fear Itself (UK Edition) s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen, Scot George Eaton

Marvel Universe All-New Avengers Assemble Digest vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Joe Caramagna & various

Moon Knight vol 2: Dead Will Rise s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Wood & Greg Smallwood

Claymore vol 26 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Vagabond vol 12 VIZBIG (£12-99, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue

News!

ITEM! Oh yes, please! By Brandon Graham (MULTIPLE WARHEADS) and Marian Churchland (BEAST), these preview pages of 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT look startling different to anything in comics right now! Please add to your standing orders here as soon as possible or pre-order 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #1 from Page 45 online now! We ship worldwide!

ITEM! AGE OF REPTILES is back with AGE OF REPTILES: ANCIENT EGYPTIANS #1. Never saw that coming – it’s been ever so long! Read why Page 45 loves Richardo Delgado’s dinosaur driven AGE OF REPTILES OMNIBUS EDITION! The colours and choreography are astounding.

ITEM! China at war with Japan. NANJING: THE BURNING CITY preview pages! If you could voice your interest early that would as always be awesome!

ITEM! Brilliant, one-page, seasonal, Spring-time garden comic by Joe Decie!

-   Stephen

Page 45 Graphic Novel & Comic Reviews April 2015 week two

April 8th, 2015

Beautiful books by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan; Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen; Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larsson; Alex de Campi & Carla Speed McNeil; Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta, Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard; Lisa Wilde; Miki Yoshikawa; Charles Soule & Steve McNiven; Rick Remender & Jerome Opena! NEWS, as ever, underneath!

Demo s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan.

Twelve self-contained stories which readers of LOCAL will love, for each of which Becky Cloonan selects a specific tool from her seemingly infinite art box.

For a start, the strangest of dating games with the boy breaking in to leave Polaroids for Megan in LOCAL is reprised here as a young woman, driven to writing herself proscriptive post-it notes for each and every aspect of her life then sticking them all round house and outdoors, suddenly discovers notes that aren’t hers.

“Who are you?” and “Can we talk like this?”

Initially perturbed, she misses a bus which breaks her routine and triggers a panic. But there on the bus shelter is stuck another note: “I love that this is who you are.”

She smiles, a tear welling up. “…Really?”

That’s a beautiful panel. Cloonan’s thought long and hard about body language, in particular the posture of hands. It’s all so tenderly done, with a superb sense of light.

 

It’s also a story driven creatively on Brian’s part largely through the post-it notes themselves, for what follows is a playful coming together of minds followed by a breadcrumb trail of messages which finally lead to a café; but we never do see who brings her coffee, only that she’s charmed.

The advantage of a long-form narrative as opposed to short stories is that you only need one knock-out punchline, yet here a good nine or ten are electric whilst the stories themselves are dazzlingly imaginative. In addition to light, Becky’s ability to convey the sweaty claustrophobia of being caught on a gridlocked highway choked with exhaust fumes during a heat wave in ‘Waterbreather’ is matched only with the blessed relief of diving into a river below. After a flashback to the man’s unusual childhood sub-aquatic experiences, the resolution is surprisingly serene given where it leads him.

However, you’re going to need a much stronger stomach than the protagonist’s in ‘Pangs’ for which ‘unsettling’ is merely a starting point. Here Cloonan’s art is as bleak as a derelict bathhouse as a young, nail-biting loner rations himself on carefully parcelled frozen food then tries one last time to reconnect himself with those around him by dating a girl at a restaurant. It doesn’t go well so he returns home alone and resorts to measures so drastic they will make you wince.

There’s also a tale about a couple who repel each other like inverted magnets yet can’t stay apart because it destroys their physical health – the ultimate in “Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em” but working both ways. There’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy and then a time-travelling story which addresses the eternal question of what you would say to yourself in your early teens, and whether in fact you would listen.

“That’s me. That’s dinner every night. That’s my Mom, pretending my Dad isn’t calling me, his daughter, every filthy and demeaning name under the sun.

“How do you explain away something like that?

“How do you survive something like that? I should have an answer, but I don’t. Honestly, it’s a blur. But it’s an acutely painful blur. I can feel her pain, the embarrassment, the panic. I can hear her heart pounding from here.”

Whatever Elisabeth planned to say to herself, in whatever way she hoped her life would be changed, it’s when she bumps into her best friend waiting loyally outside for that dinner to be over, hiding behind the car, that she recognises the one fatal error she made.

It seems to be a book about relationships, be they friends or lovers, some of whom understand and look out for each other, whilst others don’t. Two of my favourites are where they don’t, but with very different results.

In ‘Mixtape’ a young man listens to the tape left behind by his girlfriend who’s committed suicide, although in actual fact she’s either communicating from beyond, or he’s coming to an understanding himself. The understanding is that he never understood her. She asks him to take her to their favourite places, only they turn out to be his. It’s not confrontational at all – she just wants him to learn, move on, and then use his fresh self-awareness.

‘Breaking Up’, however, couldn’t be more confrontational as Angie ditches Gabe in public. Interspersed between the present argument are problems from the past, but it’s not as straightforward as it first appears (are these power struggles ever?), nor is it all one-track recrimination. I particularly enjoyed the complexity of that one. You almost forget about the elements of the fantastical after the first few stories, since those elements become less and less obvious.

Even in the earliest episodes originally published a decade or so ago, Becky Cloonan startles one with an extraordinary variety of art styles from hard and dark to wide-eyed yaoi, with bits of O’Malley and Paul Pope in between. At no point does she seem to lose confidence or the ability to submit the art to the task of telling the story clearly and with sympathy – something many corporate comicbook artists find themselves incapable of.

SLH

Buy Demo and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 3: There Is No Us (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

I love the lie.

The lie at the end, discerned only if you interpret the visuals. And that’s what comics at its brightest does best.

This is comics at its best and I beg you to now come on board!

I wonder if the title doubles as there is no US; as in, there is no United States…? Because there isn’t, you know: this is an America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.

Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.

Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with a woman of stature who, he discovers, has born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son.

The Child Horsemen want to kill Death’s progeny; Death wants to save him.

Death wants to save the whole world.

Whenever I write reviews of second, third of fourth volumes I’m actually trying to sell a series I love to completely new readers. Rarely, therefore, would I have given away so much of EAST OF WEST VOL 1, except that in this instance it will help you enjoy the first book which is written with such fierce intelligence and such scant hand-holding that I didn’t grasp what was happening until I’d reached its last chapter. When the various parties and their interests finally fell into place, I was in awe.

As the series progressed and I began to comprehend how individualistically ruled were those nations, and the complexities of their allegiances and machinations, I was thrilled because I was reading something completely new, fully fleshed out, yet created from scratch.

Why do creators of science or speculative fiction get such a hard time from the crusty and entombed establishment that cultural cartoonist and satirist Tom Gauld can sum it up so succinctly as YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK?

That’s a rhetorical question, obviously. Remember, one of Britain’s greatest artists, Hogarth, used to be pilloried for his paintings (like The Rake’s Progress which were, parenthetically, comics, telling a single coherent story in a sequential series of paintings which were then converted to line drawings, engraved, printed then sold as a portfolio set) simply because satire was considered too base a genre for the high and mighty Fine Art cognoscenti. And drama as a medium was once considered so infra dig that theatres in England were closed down.

Comics isn’t the first medium to be sneered at by reactionary fuckwits like Tom Paulin (see our review of Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY containing Paulin’s condescending and culpable dismissal of the same creator’s JIMMY CORRIGAN, winner of the Guardian First Book Prize). But the genre of science fiction like the medium of comics will win the day and we’re now well on our way!

Straight, non-genre, contemporary fiction lauded by the establishment as What Is Best is far easier to write than speculative fiction in this regard at least: its authors don’t have to invent its backdrop, its environment. Contemporary schools exist, as do traffic habits, current means of communication, things you buy at the shops and those shops themselves.

How much more difficult it is to create a world from nothing with brand-new methods of living, power structures, laws of nature, new rules of science and the appliance of each to a coherent, convincing whole! Yet that’s what Jonathan Hickman has invented in EAST OF WEST and my hat’s off to him.

My Stetson’s also off to artist Nick Dragotta for the same level of visual invention is required. We’ve seen the Four Horsemen depicted so many times in their obvious, cadaverous, flying-steed iterations that this is quite the departure and they’re even more unnerving for their relatively innocuous appearance and conversational calm.

He’s erected edifices and monuments from nothing, a tag-team of Death’s two closest companions out of nowhere, and transformed what could otherwise have been a daunting war of words into a slick and sleek, action-packed thrill-athon of noon-day duels at the far from O.K. Corral.

He’s essentially made it personal, and his art and action has all the accessibility of Lee Weeks at his best.

Dragotta’s rendition of the Endless Nation’s representatives finally coming to The Chosen’s table was arresting. Consider distilling Native American culture as you know it – its beliefs, its practices and its dignified deportment – then projecting where it might go logically next in a more technologically driven, grave new world.

Then consider America and its austere, almost vampiric Madame President rendered like Disney’s Creulla de Vil. I don’t fancy the population puppies’ chances.

“Madame President. His name is Peter Graves. Graduated at the top of his class. Thirty years of public service. Beyond reproach, really. An excellent choice.”

“Wonderful. He can carry the bags.”

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 3: There Is No Us and read the Page 45 review here

Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy (£10-99, Boom) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen.

“What did we learn today?”
“That our worst nightmares are real and we should totally be afraid of them because they are coming to get us.”

Hardcore Lady Types!

Friendship To The Max!

That’s what the Lumberjanes’ Camp’s all about.

Also: extreme exploring and v sassy hair. Mal has a haircut just like our Dee’s: shaved on one side then dyed black and whoosh!

You’re not really supposed to sneak out from your cabin at night in pursuit of a shape-shifting Bear-woman only to be ambushed by a savage pack of three-eyed foxes which combust upon contact and project a mystery message like “Beware the kitten holy”. Not even as a posse. You run the risk of “stranger danger”.

But that is precisely what Mal, Molly, April, Jo and Ripley have done and now they must answer to cabin leader Jane who takes them to camp leader Rosie who’s whittling out of wood the most intricate eagle claws – so dainty – with an axe. Curiously, Rosie’s not cross; she’s intrigued. And what’s that glowing crystal doing in her toilet? I don’t think it’s an air freshener.

Highly animated art – positively hyperactive in places – with lots of lovely background laughs, my favourites including Mal in pursuit of a fox, mouth wide, arms flailing and young, sugar-buzzed Ripley dancing with glee when one of her friends starts dancing with glee. Watch Ripley throughout: she is hilariously excitable.

Magic foxes are just the beginning. There are rapids to ride, river monsters to not ride, a Tomb Raiding expedition complete with problem solving skillz, a pack of Yeti but – most frightening of all, the boy scouts’ hairy-legged leader, bounding into their cabin in muddy boots and wielding an axe:

“WHAT THE BEJABBERS IS GOING ON HERE? I THOUGHT I HEARD A TEA KETTLE. PATHETIC.”
“But – but – but we’ve got company.”
“GIRLS? EW. WHY ARE YOU IN OUR CAMP, WOMENFOLK?”
“We fell into some poison ivy.”
“THAT WAS STUPID.”
“NO, YOU’RE STUPID.”
“IT IS YOU WHO ARE STUPID! COOKIES ARE FOR THE WEAK. REAL MEN SHOULD BE SPLITTING WOOD AND SMOKING PIPES.”
“But I like baking cookies…”
“I AM GOING TO CATCH A FISH BY WRESTLING IT AWAY FROM A BEAR.”

This is full of life, full of fun and full of individuality, as are the lady types themselves.

Also, what’s not to love in a comic that deifies Joan Jett?

“Al, Molly, what in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”

Getting into trouble.

SLH

Buy Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy and read the Page 45 review here

No Mercy #1 (£2-25, Image) by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil.

From the creator of FINDER and the writer of SMOKE / ASHES, something completely different lobbed lovingly onto our shelves.

Princeton University sent out a call to its hyper-achieving new students for a pre-freshmen trip to build much needed schools in Central America. After four years struggling to be model Ivy League applicants they were practically preconditioned to accept. Now they have landed, it is a bright, sunny day and they are texting, tweeting and grinning away excitedly.

“So here we are, all present and accounted for. (Though Tiffani hasn’t been totally present anywhere since she got her first iPhone.) … Tiffani?”
“Squeeee! Nun!!!”

Consider the Num pic.twitter’d!

It’s so well set up, De Campi nailing late teenage interaction and its naivety when it comes to the presumption of safety and recourse abroad, engendered by American or British citizenship. Some of them seem to have issues with one other but on the whole it is big, broad grins with Carla Speed McNeil lighting up their eyes as these young strangers get to know and enjoy each other’s company. A nun is exotic – a nun abroad, more exotic still.

The nun is far more concerned with practicalities and her reaction to the unexpected arrival of a tenuous relative is ever so slightly ominous.

But this is truly an adventure and the prospect of bus trip meandering high above this undiscovered countryside – although painfully long – is just another part of that thrill! One amongst them, Travis, is more worldly-wise: a seasoned traveller in India and he’s impressively eco-friendly, resourceful when it comes to money and admirably “freegan” in that he cares about excess and waste.

But even Travis is going to find what comes next almost impossible to grasp and – fuck – those smiles are going to be wiped off their faces in a catastrophic instant which is agonisingly teased out across two tense pages as time expands before…

And now they’re in trouble – more trouble than they can conceive of.

“This is – This is – not good territory. We have, we have to leave here at once.”

Straight fiction so contemporary it will cut you.

SLH

Buy No Mercy #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School (£9-99, Microcosm) by Lisa Wilde…

“Yo, miss – the way Oedipus flipped out on his pops, even though he didn’t know it was his pops, wouldn’t you call him a real O.G.?”
“A what?”
“O.G. – ‘Original Gangsta’!”
“Huh… class, what do you think? Was Oedipus acting like an O.G.?”

Who doesn’t deserve a second chance? We all like to think we are, by and large, a caring, inclusive society, prepared to offer people the opportunity to be educated and thus thrive. But what about those students who can’t or won’t succeed in mainstream education? How do we go about supporting and encouraging those children to help them achieve their potential?

Lisa Wilde spent fifteen years teaching at John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy, a ‘second chance’ high school in New York City where all the students have ‘dropped out, been kicked out, or flunked out’ from at least one other high school, several in some cases. The kids range from those in social care due to serious family issues through to those on probation for serious criminal offences and gang-related activities. The sort of tough-skinned, street-wise kids that would eat the Breakfast Club for err… breakfast, basically. Which makes the process of trying to educate them a daily grind of extreme determination and incredible patience. Discipline is obviously a major issue, needless to say.

Perhaps surprisingly, therefore, Wildcat Academy has an excellent record of getting kids that all-important US high school diploma. Indeed, it’s not unknown for pupils to be referred directly to Wildcat by other schools. Undoubtedly a lot of these kids do want to learn, and better themselves, they just need the right environment – and teachers – to do so. YO, MISS tells the fictionalised (purely due to the need to protect the identity of minors) story of eight students, albeit based directly on Lisa Wilde’s experience, and using, with permission, the written work of some of her students.

Inevitably, there is as much drama outside school going on in their markedly different lives, in addition to the not inconsiderable amount inside the classroom, which affects their educational chances just as much as their desire, or lack of it, to learn. YO, MISS is a very sensitive look at the real challenges these kids face in attempting to graduate high school, before the legal cut-off point of twenty one years old. People who presume that ‘problem’ kids just don’t want to learn, and that teachers in this type of institution just don’t care, will find those assumptions rightly challenged in this fascinating, insightful look into a world that is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. Not everyone will succeed, some won’t even come close, but it’s those who are so near, but ultimately so far, which will really affect you. I would agree completely with Alison FUN HOME Bechdel’s quote on the front cover: “It’s riveting”.

One of the most profoundly moving passages for me was when Will, back in school after a night in the cells, recounts to Miss Wilde about talking to one of the many other prisoners in the holding cell who, upon learning he was a high school student, asked him what he was working on…

“He wants to know what I’m studying, and I tell him Oedipus.
“And he doesn’t know the story, so I begin telling it.
“And I’m getting into Oedipus and Thebes and Tiresias and the corruption, and all of a sudden I notice the whole cell is silent – everyone is listening to me.
“So I keep talking… and now I’m getting to the part where Jocasta’s trying to front on Oedipus, acting like she doesn’t know, and the whole cell is into it… and there’s this giant commotion… C.O.s come in to take guys out, they bring new guys in, doors slammin, yellin’… and the story’s lost.
“Finally things settle down, and I’m thinking maybe I’ll try to get a little sleep. So I’m moving to the back of the cell to see if I can find a corner where I can sit down, and this whole group of guys turns to me. Now, I’m not stupid, so I’m watching my back. But then they say to me, almost in one voice: “What happens next?””

Perfectly illustrating that in almost any conceivable circumstance, with the right person communicating interesting content, of course people want to be educated. It’s human nature.

Finally… my opinion would be that no, Oedipus was not an O.G. because he didn’t get out of the game intact. Yes, he might have achieved a position of power (King of Thebes), amassed a fat paper stack (royalty not usually being short of a few bob), probably wore vast quantities of regal bling, was undoubtedly a hit with the ladies (his mother, granted, but clearly a playa), but ultimately going mad and gouging out his own eyes…? Decidely not O.G. behaviour in my book.

JR

Buy Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Ages (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard.

“Never have I asked the Lord our God for much, for I never wanted to owe him.”

Very wise, very wise.

“I feel his disapproving eyes on me, most days, and I fear his wrath.
“For it is sudden and it is awful.”

My headmaster had a temper on him too.

Still, there are worse things in the world and indeed off-world as Captain Hawkherst and his not-so-merry men are about to find out.

It is early winter, 1333, in Europe, four years before the 100 Years War. The Captain’s cadre are tired and hungry. Being war profiteers, right now times are tough and food is thin on the ground. What they desperately need – and are tempted to pray for – is for hostilities to erupt. They don’t particularly care on which frontier for their loyalties lie only to each other. Be careful what you wish for.

Up in the sky they spy brand-new heavenly bodies: five oddly shaped stars dancing like diamonds in the night. They appear to be in formation. They are. But they are far from heavenly.

From the creators of NEW DEADWARDIANS which we loved so much we made it a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month comes another historical mash-up, this time medieval in nature: aliens versus chain-mailed, human predators. I have my money on the aliens every time.

Crucially the aliens are indeed suitably alien in aspect, their otherness truly terrifying to Hawkherst, Galvin, Aelfric and co. The hardened veterans actually turn tail and run. They run and seek sanctuary in a mountain-top monastery, but its resident monks prove equally unnerving. Their faces hidden under cowls with but silver beards shining through, they say nothing. They talk to no one. And up in the evening’s cold, obsidian sky something even darker approaches, blotting out the stars. Something darker and much, much bigger.

There’s a stupendous final, full-page flourish from Ian Culbard (BRASS SUN etc.) after an already-chilling opening chapter, while Dan Abnett will put the fear of God into you. On so many levels as well.

Its dialogue is suitably sparse and direct, his superstitious soldiers pragmatic all the same. The language has been chosen carefully and lavishly laced with “bloody”s, plus there’s a satisfying cadence to sentences like this, particularly its final clause:

“There are too many princes and kings who want a war won, but are coy with their purse strings when the bill for that bloodshed draws due.”

As to his monks, one at least has a tongue as well as an ear and to one wall, for he has been waiting a while.

“They’re here.”

Whom do you think he is talking to?

Culbard has craftily based other elements of the alien invasion on medieval woodcuts of the devil and the opening shot to the final fourth chapter when those “demons” begin the final assault screams Steve Ditko at his most otherworldly, including the weapons they wield.

I confess that they final three pages currently confound me but the fact that I’m still left pondering them several days on says it all.

SLH

Buy Dark Ages and read the Page 45 review here

A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c (£10-99, Square Fish) by Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larson…

“But how could we have gotten here? Even travelling at the speed of light it would take us years and years.”
“Oh, we don’t travel at the speed of anything. We tesser. Or as you might say, we wrinkle.”

Nice to be completely unfamiliar with the original material for a comics adaptation for a rare change, as I don’t recall even hearing about the prose version of this as a kid, which is a little surprising given how much sci-fi and fantasy I read in my childhood days. The story itself actually reminded me of Philip Pulman’s more recent Dark Materials Trilogy (for several reasons, and I would be very surprised if he hasn’t read this work) plus also the works of C.S. Lewis given some of the Christian references and allusion to the real identities of certain characters, but also children’s books like the Captain Cobweb series and Milo And The Phantom Toolbooth for their vast sense of surreal adventure.

Originally written in 1962 – and rejected by about fifty publishers before someone picked it up, primarily because they felt the time wasn’t right to have a female lead character in a science fiction work (really) – the central plot revolves around feisty young Meg Murray and her search for her missing father, who apparently vanished whilst researching something mysterious for the government. That mysterious something turns out to be instantaneous travel across space by means of bending space-time using the tesseract principle, or ‘tessering’ for short.

Unfortunately for Meg’s father it seems that there is a dark force abroad in the Universe, seeking to enslave whole planets at a time, and during an early explorative tesser he has been captured. How, precisely, has Meg found out this extremely top secret information, given the government haven’t been willing to tell them anything for months? Well, by means of her super-intelligent younger brother Charles equally mysterious friends, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which who, initially at least, appear to be witches, but in fact may be rather more than that. Fortunately for Meg and her brother, the three W’s also have the power to ‘tesser’ them and thus launch an expedition to find and rescue their father.

Okay, that’s probably enough of a synopsis to give you the general idea of what to expect plot-wise, so let’s talk about the adaptation itself, because that is for me the highlight here. This is an exceptionally beautifully illustrated book which is, I feel, Hope’s finest work to date. I get the impression from the art that this was certainly no chore, but probably rather a labour of love, such is the consistency and fluidity of the illustration. CHIGGERS, MERCURY (and the subsequent SOLO) are absolutely wonderful works in their own rights, but in terms of the art A WRINKLE IN TIME has that little something extra, the sense of touch that someone who had already fully realised and harnessed their exceptional talents has, however improbably, been inspired to surge one step further. I found an almost seamless sense of continuity from panel to panel, page to page, the whole work moving onwards with an almost animation-like quality in my mind’s eye. In other words, near perfection.

There were in fact several pages where I almost unconsciously slowed down my reading pace to better take in all the exquisite background details, which always gently embellish the scene, adding real depth and warmth. And without question Hope has completely succeeded in capturing every nuance of the emotional wringer that Meg is put through on her quest, and indeed her whole family at the anguish they feel over the continued absence of Mr. Murray. Just flicking back through looking at the art (again!) you could easily get a complete sense of the story without even needing to read the speech bubbles, just from observing the myriad expressions on the various character’s faces, particularly that of Meg and her brother Charles who go on such an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows during the course of their travels!

Definitely one for fans of Hope, absolutely one for children who love action-packed adventures, but also a great all-ages read in the vein of AMULET and MOUSE GUARD as adults will also be captivated by the surreal world that Madeleine L’Engle has created and which Hope brings so vividly to life to furnish us with a genuine magical mystery tour.

JR

Buy A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Miki Yoshikawa.

Yay for gender swapping! Yay for secrets and furtive glances and embarrassed body jokes!

Ummmm… There’s no hint of any witches so far. And inside bears no resemblance to the cover whatsoever – it’s much more fun than that!

Teenage Ryu Yamada is far from the ideal student. He is notorious for turning up late, leaving early, sleeping in class and his grades set likely to fail him. He’s simply not interested.

One morning he spies beautiful, blonde and high-achieving honour student Urara Shiraishi clip-clopping up some school stairs and his jealousy / resentment is instinctual. Pride, however, goes immediately before a fall and they crash down upon each other and Ryu passes out. When he wakes up he has large breasts and nothing between his legs. Which is pretty disconcerting for a lad. He’s swapped bodies with Urara and doesn’t handle it well!

Urara, meanwhile, has calmly returned to her studies in Ryu’s body and everyone’s rather curious about his new, feminine, knees-closed posture. When they meet up Ryu’s still freaking out while Urara dispassionately observes…

“I don’t like having something strange between my legs.”
“Y-YOU LOOKED DOWN THERE?!”

Hilarious! The very first thing Ryu did when he woke up in Urara’s body was take a quick gander under her garments but the very idea that Urara’s looked down his boy-pants and seen what he’s got – eeek! There appears to be a slight-subplot about what Ryu’s packing down below. She’s not going to be the last one to assess his credentials: stud-muffin Toranosuke’s going to take a good look when he swaps bodies with Ryu.

I think I’d better explain:

It seems that Ryu has the ability to trade places with others simply by kissing them – when he fell on top of Urara they accidentally kissed. The reason he’s only just found this out is that he’s never actually kissed anyone before. Aww. Now he’s going to be doing a lot more kissing whether he likes it or not – and it’s actually “not” every time, although he does discover its uses.

What he also discovers is that being a blonde bombshell or an honour student isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and the once dismissive drop-out begins to discover he does actually care about what Urara has to put up with from boys and girls – enough to do something about it.

This is far from the finest example of Japanese comics and although I did admire Yoshikawa’s use of body language – Ryu as a girl is thoroughly ungainly; he doesn’t know how to comport himself in a body he’s unused to – it was signposted almost every time in the script unnecessarily. On the other hand it wasn’t as obvious as it could have been and its publisher Kodansha has quite the pedigree (AKIRA, ATTACK ON TITAN etc) so it’s almost certainly going to go somewhere.

(I so would, by the way; and so would you!)

SLH

Buy Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Uncanny Inhumans #0 (£3-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven.

Ah, what a lambent surprise!

The cover doesn’t half soak up all light in a room, but inside this shines under its clear blue skies, crackling temporal energy and the sound of a whispered word. No clues as to whose required.

This seemed on the surface to be an oddly low-profile book for the high-profile creators of the DEATH OF WOLVERINE but, haha, I suspect it will prove key on the other side of the tumultuously anticipated SECRET WARS series beginning in May.

If you are unaware of what’s imminent, events first brought to light in motion in NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 are about to come to a cataclysmic head as the two main Marvel Earths (regular and Ultimate) are about to collide, wiping them both out along with their universes. That is why Black Bolt’s palm is glowing: the final Incursion is imminent, and there is one thing above all which he must ensure – that his son survives.

Now, how would you ensure someone survives the end of the universe, do you think? Who are you going to call on? The major Marvel villain will seem so obvious in retrospect but I’m sure not going to spell it out here.

Sorry…? Yes, of course I’ve left clues: I always leave clues.

The Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee INHUMANS hardcover comes highly recommended as an introduction to the family but also to all as a very clever, considered and beautiful self-contained work about society. Some of it smacked of Neil Gaiman. No lie.

SLH

Buy The Uncanny Inhumans #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena.

“Earlier you pondered if there is a God.
“There is now.”

Ooooh, Ultron’s got himself into a right old tizzy.

He’s got a total strop on!

Feel his rage! Raargh!

Actually, he hasn’t. The title seems to be no more than a convenient pun on the other year’s AGE OF ULTRON event. Ultron’s far more calculated than that. If anyone’s bellowing the loudest it’s The Vision, one of whose chief appeals used to be his complete dispassion! I don’t follow the fate of these people so slavishly that I have a clue what’s changed him so drastically, but here he’s miffed at the guilt-ridden creator of Ultron, Hank Pym, as insecure as ever but dispassionate enough to simply switch his enemy off like any other malfunctioning toaster burning the bread.

Good call, if you ask me, but that’s what’s got The Vision – also a machine – pretty grumpy even though Hank has taken pains to ensure The Vision is immune to his Automatic Neural Inhibitor. Cue a great deal of hand-wringing amongst all while millions die.

If they’d listened to Hank it would have been a much shorter graphic novel and things wouldn’t have gone so disastrously wrong that, umm, well it sure doesn’t end well for everyone, I’m afraid.

Instead this is a very, very wordy slugfest which doesn’t have any of the defining parameters / limitations required for a sense of tension. No one is using any particular skill sets skilfully except artist Jerome Opena who serves up two particularly terrifying spreads of the face of Ultron carved into Titan’s lunar, city surface like a malevolent deity.

 His angles and figure work throughout are impressive, increasingly so as this original graphic novel – it’s not a reprint – throws itself forward to its unexpected, game-changing end.

Before that there’s some soul searching about whether parents’ love for their children is unconditional and who is more disappointed in whom as a parent or child.

FYI: Avenger Hank Pym created the artificial intelligence that is Ultron, Ultron immediately went homicidal and created The Vision as an agent of the Avengers’ destruction, The Vision overrode his own programming and earned himself a spot in the Avengers.

This was all back when I was paying attention… in the 1970s. For Ultron’s and The Vision’s first appearances please see MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE AVENGERS VOL 6.

SLH

Buy Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely

Lulu Anew h/c (£20-99, NBM) by Etienne Davodeau

Zenith: Phase Three h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell

Behind The Curtain (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Andrzej Klimowski & Danusia Schejbal

Crossed vol 12 s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Francisco Manna

Astro City: Family Album s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Deathstroke The Terminator vol 1: Assassins s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & Steve Erwin

Harley Quinn vol 1: Hot In The City s/c (£12-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & various

Harley Quinn vol 2: Power Outage h/c (£18-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & various

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gail Simone, Gilbert Hernandez & Ethan Van Sciver, Phil Jimenez, various

Captain Marvel vol 2: Stay Fly s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Marcio Takara, David Lopez

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 22-24 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Naruto vol 69 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Edition) by Terry Moore

News!

ITEM! OH YES INDEED! From the creator of ALEC which I’ve declared to be the single finest body of work in comics, finally the first half of Eddie Campbell’s BACCHUS has been announced with Neil Gaiman exhorting you to relish this mischievously modernised mythology for yourselves! Do you trust us? Do you trust Neil? You can pre-order BACCHUS VOL 1 of 2 for worldwide dispatch or collection in-store! We’d be terribly grateful!

ITEM! The magnificent Mr Culbard has generously declared that every copy of THE KING IN YELLOW ordered from Page 45 before it is published will be signed and sketched in for free! Pop “Culbard” in our search engine and you’ll see why he’s the perfect choice to adapt this prose so influential both to H.P. Lovecraft and to Neil Gaiman.

ITEM! Learn how THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’S creators Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie first met and more in this Emerald City Comics Con interview.  Intrigued? Our reviews: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, PHONOGRAM, YOUNG AVENGERS.

This is PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB, by the way:

ITEM! Andy Waterfield takes the time and trouble to write about what makes a great comic shop.  Cheers, Andy!

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week one

April 1st, 2015

Contemporary fiction, crime, sci-fi and spookiness fromTed Naifeh, Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini, Mark Millar & Sean Murphy, Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri, Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert and another Andy Poyiadgi gem! News as ever at the bottom!

Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini.

“Without optimism for the future how can we hope to shape a better one?”

Swoon!

The crisp yet soft and lithe-as-you-like strokes here smack of the sort of 1960s’ / 1970s’ fashion and romance line art which Posy Simmonds was referencing in her MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS where the secretary loses herself in daydreams. Feed it through a futuristic filter then add more than a little John Bryne at his loose-pencil best in the figures, smiles and eyes and you have a very attractive package.

Early on Greg Tocchini delivers six pages of classy, unsensationalist and quite natural nudity, modestly portrayed with deftly deployed holograms and colours for modesty’s sake, all drawn in life-class poses then artfully arranged so they communicate with one another.

Plus there’s one panel in which Johl Caine playfully pokes his son Marik in the ribs and young Marik positively dances in response, one arm raised, his leg leaping up and away.

Oh yes, the first chapter is bursting with joy!

It’s very, very beautiful, with subaquatic, man-made leviathans which might put you in mind of Sean Murphy’s THE WAKE. Not only that but spectacle-orientated sci-fi should make you gasp and there are panoramas here which will take your recycled breath away – flourishes which don’t constitute a punchline but a moment of irresistibly prolonged awe before the drama resumes.

This is a book about maintaining hope in the wake of barely conceivable adversity.

Over and over again astronomer and loving mother Stel’s determined optimism isn’t just challenged by those who have given in to despair or feckless, ineffectual resignation but brutally contradicted by events outside her control. Up and down and up and down, the family’s fortunes undulate from the highest crests to the lowest troughs: the second chapter climaxes with Stel’s moment of wholly unexpected, delicious triumph juxtaposed with another’s fall from grace so far that it is devastating.

So it has come to this:

In the future our sun will expand then go supernova, at which point the Earth itself as well as its inhabitants will need more than Factor 500. We will be engulfed. Obliterated. And that will be the end of our story. This isn’t speculative, it is a scientific certainty.

Long before then the radiation levels on the Earth’s surface will have exceeded intolerable, so if we haven’t already escaped this solar system we’ll have needed to move underground or deep, deep, deep underwater.

In LOW humanity hasn’t yet found an alternative, habitable planet but Johl’s wife Stel remains optimistic and focussed.

Johl is focussed but more on the immediate: feeding the subaquatic city of Salus by way of hunting using vast, submerged vessels and personal, watertight exoskeletons keyed to family DNA. His son Marik has followed in his mother’s footsteps so Johl is keener than ever for his two daughters, Della and Tajo, to follow his and become pilots. Tajo is dubious but Della’s all for it and keen to take her first helm, so Stel reluctantly – yet with good humour – agrees: today will be the first family outing!

The problem is, the problem is, the future is not what it was. The problem is, the problem is, if you’ve killed their cat, they’ll kill your dog. And there is someone out there in the freezing, oceanic depths with a long-held grudge.

Ten years on – ten long years take place between chapter one and the main event – the enormity of the challenge gradually becomes clearer and clearer: probes were first sent out in search of habitable planets over 13,000 years ago. 13,000 years without success, 13,000 years of failure! Can you imagine maintaining hope in that terrible knowledge? Few others have and, now that less than a year’s supply of air remains for Stel’s deep-sea colony, its leaders have caved in to drug-fuelled, let’s-take-what-we-can-get hedonism. They won’t assist or in any way enable Stel’s action, even when she believes she’s successfully retrieved a probe at least to the Earth’s toxic surface.

As to her family, I’ve deliberately left the various other members’ plight alone, but that lolloping, grinning son isn’t doing much grinning now. Nor are any of the others.

The scope of this first instalment I’ve barely touched on for Stel is resolute and won’t take no for an answer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and this is a book for those like me who believe there is always a solution even if it means discarding your comfort zone in favour of getting out there, going it alone and forging your own way forward.

Tempestuous.

SLH

Buy Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“I’m not afraid. This city already killed me once.”

I love a good structure, and they don’t come more cleverly crafted than this.

As with all six CRIMINAL books and the new CRIMINAL SPECIAL (also available at the time of typing as a CRIMINAL MAGAZINE EDITION complete with a fab faux letter column), this is completely self-contained but for regular readers it’s time for a history lesson because, as Jake ‘Gnarly’ Brown says right at the start, “If you want to understand the truth about anyone, about who they are and where they came from and what they might do, good or bad… you have to look back.”

And so it is that we turn back a whole generation to 1972 to discover how bartender Jake ‘Gnarly’ Brown became childhood friends with Sebastian Hyde, son of the city’s crime boss, through an act of faith on the part of Brown Sr..

We see him fall for beautiful Danica Briggs, step aside for Sebastian, and then lose his temper when he realises how Sebastian bragged his own way into losing a stash of $50k with fatal consequences.

In the second story we see Teeg Lawless (ah yes, that Teeg Lawless) return from Vietnam in body if not soul and you bet that Sean Phillips can do “haunted”.

Haunted, angry and out of control, drinking his way into blackouts, smacking his wife around in front of his son, being called on a debt he took out before the war, and making a single mistake which impacts on them all.

Lastly it’s time for Danica Briggs – she at the very centre of it all – and her own account of the power of her pussy. There’s a brief burst of monologue there which is so specific I wonder if it consciously or subconsciously paved the way for Brubaker and Phillips’ FATALE. This she discovers after you learn what awful means Hyde Sr. used to scar her soul, kill her inside and abort her relationship with Sebastian. I warn you, that chapter’s even nastier than the others.

I’ve talked about this before – though maybe it was on the shop floor – but I also love how Sean does “period”: subtle touches like sideburns and television sets. There’s never too much in a Sean Phillips panel. There is precisely what you need to stay focussed on what the cast is doing, what the cast is saying and tone in which these hard-pushed people are saying it. Everything is in service to the story.

The colours by Val Staples keep it period too, no more than a couple per sequence in various tones: brown and yellow, green and yellow, purple and yellow, blue and yellow or just plain blue. Between Phillips and Staples there is a discipline and orderly restraint letting the protagonists’ lack of either speak for itself. Then when a watercolour dream sequence kicks in it is startling.

As to the structure, each of the three stories informs the other like PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB: you think you know the score until each new perspective reveals a previously unseen aspect. I have a flow chart here (well, a series of criss-crossed arrows and some fifty names and incidents they link together) showing just how tight this is, and the central role that The Undertow bar plays.

Well, it’s where Gnarly winds up, after all.

He’s serving pints of bitter.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Swords Of Glass h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri…

The best slab of Euro-fantasy I have read for some considerable time.

The world is ending, the start of the death of its sun over a relatively rapid thirty or so year span is causing untold environmental catastrophes. Virtually everyone is oblivious to what is happening, but a select few people, such as mystics, scientists and astrologers are aware. There is also a prophecy that the disaster can be averted, a window opened to another world, allowing escape. But only if the prophecy, involving the reuniting of the four swords of glass, comes to pass, of course…

Enter Yama, the tomboy daughter of village chieftain Achard threatening rebellion against the yoke of local warlord Orland. A magical sword falls from the sky like a flaming meteor and embeds itself in the local sacred stone. One of Orland’s men, commanded to retrieve it, is instantly turned to glass, and then promptly shattered by his irate leader, incensed that he can’t get his hands on this shiny new bauble.

Then, sensing the ferment Yama’s father is trying to incite, Orland informs them he will return that evening to take Achard’s wife as tribute, simply to teach the villagers the lesson of what happens if they even think of challenging his rule. The villagers immediately fall into line and kill Yama’s father to prevent him trying to escape with his family.

Distraught and vowing revenge, Yama runs crying into the forest and thus the glass sword remains there for years, those who try to remove it sharing the same fate as the hapless soldier. Yama, meanwhile, is adopted by a mysterious man, a former general in exile, who trains her in the art of swordplay, and raises her as his daughter. He too knows of the swords and the prophecy.

I have to admit not being familiar with either of the creators. The writer Sylviane Corgiat has done various things for Humanoids before, but nothing that has been translated into English, I think, plus some prose books and also high regarded French television crime drama. Similarly the artist Laura Zuccheri has done loads of acclaimed work in Italy, and it is a constant source of frustration to me how little from that country gets translated into English.

Obviously, with a Humanoids book, much is always expected of the art, and whilst the writing of this work is wonderfully strong, the art is simply spectacular, ligne claire of the highest quality. I can see why Laura Zuccheri has won numerous European awards. Expansive, diverse landscapes, huge fortified cities, elaborately armoured and costumed characters, it’s all just so beautifully illustrated. When you see art of this quality you can’t help but admire the talent that’s produced it, and also be delighted that they’ve decided to work in the field of comics.

This work collects the four original albums into one lovely hardback and would be highly appreciated by anyone who enjoys well crafted high fantasy or just gorgeous artwork.

JR

Buy The Swords Of Glass h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lost Property (£6-50, Nobrow) by Andy Poyiadgi.

Have you ever wondered where your childhood treasures have ended up?

Maybe you or your parents gave them up to a charity or a car boot sale?

Maybe you let them go reluctantly – oh so reluctantly! Or perhaps during your teens you felt them embarrassing or redundant before regretting their abandonment later in life. Buying back your childhood on ebay is far from unheard of, you know!

Maybe you simply lost stuff. I once left behind a cushion which was the equivalent of a comfort blanket in a caravan on an Isle of Anglesey holiday one early year. A sentence which I immediately regret typing like almost everything I say on Twitter.

Well, imagine that suddenly all those lost lovelies turned up, en masse, in toto, in a Lost Property Department…

From the creator of THE TEA COLLECTION which Page 45 popped together from its constituent parts comes this new Nobrow publication in its 17X23 imprint, so called after the comics’ size in centimetres. They’re all one-off spotlights for new creators to help kick-start their careers and hopefully herald longer works which is a clever and constructive strategy that I pray pays dividends.

This comes with the same “quiet” cartooning and soft, almost old fashioned colours – lots of sage greens and browns – so that when the really rich colours kick in at two key moments they stand out a mile.

Poyiadgi’s very subtle like that, and satisfying. He’s one of those creators who demand you linger longer and it invariably pays dividends.

His use of the beard in THE TEA COLLECTION’s ‘On Reflection’, for example, was so very clever, differentiating the man from his doppelgänger. The beard’s introduction, however, was equally sly and made sense.

Here all the connecting elements including the lost and found items are arranged carefully and ingeniously so that the final revelation in the form of a last lost item – an unopened letter – comes with maximum impact. And when one realises how they’re connected, one cannot help but smile.

Gerald Cribbin is postman, a job whose duty is to safely deliver items to their correct destinations. One morning, however, he accidentally drops a letter knife engraved with his name in a garden. Thankfully the resident repays Gerald’s diligence by handing it into a Lost Property Office down the road. When he goes to collect the knife, Gerald spies a boat in the office’s window which seems oh so familiar.

“I used to have one just like that.”
“It’s one of a set. Quite beautiful, really. Would you like to see?”
“Only if it’s no bother.”

And so it is that down in the basement it gradually dawns on the unassuming Gerald that every single item once belonged to him, from the boats which he would build with his uncle and which Gerald would then paint right down to the hat knitted by his mother who had sewn his school name tag inside. And when Agatha, the office’s assistant, sees the tag which reads “Ged Cribbin” rather than Gerald she realises she knew him at school. She can see he’s bewildered – it’s that same worried look on his face he used to have at school – but since the office is due to close she suggests he comes back the next day. When he does so, he learns that his old belongings had been handed in on various days over the last eight years and that another item had materialised that very morning: his old tool kit.

Now, I’m going to have to leave it there for what happens next must come as a surprise. But I can assure you that everything is connected – the school, his worried look, even the way when he receives the initial phone call that Ged idly arranges his fork, cup,coin and condiments into a lost, flailing man.

SLH

Buy Lost Property and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

“Did you bring anything to defend yourself with?”
“I’m not helpless, sir. See?”
“Hmph. My pop had an old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.””

Yet you are breaking and entering into a warlock’s domain. What do you suppose the warlock will be fighting with, mate? Probably not bullets.

Have you noticed how Ted Naifeh’s characters in COURTNEY CRUMRIN have only three fingers? Three fingers and a thumb. I hadn’t. Their fingers curl, all elfin-like. It’s incredibly cute.

The saga of Courtney Crumrin herself runs for six volumes with a beginning, middle and somewhat emphatic end. It’s quite the emotional rollercoaster, highly recommended to those who love a little of the other side without the safety net necessarily of happy endings for anyone.

In COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 1, insatiable curious Courtney moves home. Her new classmates are snobbish and superficial bullies, her parents are clueless and indifferent… only the initially austere Great Uncle Aloysius breaks the spell of utter isolation Miss Crumrin feels now that they’ve moved into his creepy old mansion. Gradually, though, young Courtney finds she rather likes creepy, and although she has a knack for biting off more than she can chew she has a few key qualities on her side: resilience, pluck, and a practical approach to problem solving.

This is set decades early and stars her Great Uncle Aloysius as a young gentlemen, infiltrating a secret society dedicated to eradicating those who wield magic. He’s teamed with his employer’s daughter who falls under Aloysius’ spell and therein lies a conflict already.

 

There will be plenty more especially when the society sets its sights on his home town of Hillsborough, specifically Aloysius’ own mansion.

Now, do you think it’s likely to prove that straight forward? What’s the society’s true agenda?

Loved the moment when one of Aloysius’ grand portraits comes startlingly to life. Regular readers will be well rewarded by that!

This series is perfectly suitable for Young Adults as well as Adult Adults and we adore COURTNEY CRUMRIN so much we’ve reviewed every book. They’re luxuriously designed with silver inside and out, coloured with a hauntingly restrained palette and some of the darker entities within are pretty forbidding.

I’m particularly fond of Ted Naifeh’s brows and eyebrows which curl quizzically, tenderly and quite vulnerably in places and I’ve always been a fan of floppy hair so both Alice and Aloysius pleased me enormously here.

Expect transmogrifications and that gun to be useless.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Chrononauts #1 (£2-75, Image) by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy…

“How old did you say this was?”
“The temple? It predates Stongehenge by six thousand years. The oldest place of worship anywhere on the planet.
“But that’s not the interesting part. It’s what the megaliths have been built around that’s causing all the excitement.
“You have to remember this predates metal tools, Doctor Quinn. This was before man even had pottery…
“I told you it was worth the trip.”

As prologues go this one packs quite the punchline delivered by Sean Murphy to eye-stopping effect.

For what were those megaliths were built around, perched atop ornate columns inside that temple… is a fully armed F-14 Tomcat: a fourth-generation, supersonic, twinjet, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft first introduced in 1974. And, funnily enough, one of those did go missing back in the 1970s.

How did it end up in South-East Turkey six thousand years before Stonehenge was built?

That mystery – along with the fleet of sports cars found under Mayan temples and other strange temporal anomalies – convinces Doctor Corbin that he’s on the right track, that time-travel is possible, which is just as well because his prototype satellite equipped with a television camera is about to be bent through a time-stream tunnel to transmit 1863 AD live to a frankly astonished worldwide audience.

It’s quite the success.

Do you think it would have you attention?

 

Good, because Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly are planning their first manned mission in eighteen months time with their hi-tech – and indeed high-fashion – time suits. No point in travelling through time if you can’t look suave whilst doing it.

That our intrepid duo intend to take man’s bold first steps backwards through time, becoming the world’s first chrononauts in the process, all whilst televised absolutely live to the watching billions, possibly suggests an element of foolhardiness that doesn’t bode well for their smooth passage. Inevitably therefore, like in every good time travel yarn, something immediately goes awry, and with Corbin Quinn seemingly lost in time, there’s only one man up to the task of trying to retrieve him.

So given Danny Reilly seems like an egomaniacal jack-ass of the first order, again whilst raising our amusement value considerably, it doesn’t suggest his rescue mission is going to be remotely straightforward. Indeed, the spectacular climatic double-page spread leaves us absolutely no doubt as to where Danny finds himself. Deep in the proverbial temporal doo-doo, that’s where! The when is the siege of Kabul in Samarkand, 1504. Right slap bang in the absolute middle of it…

I can’t really imagine where, or indeed when, this is going to go next. Obviously there’s an extratemporal extrication that’s of paramount importance first and foremost, but how on earth do the misplaced modern day items factor in? Clearly there’s a high fun factor in what is basically a buddy caper, and whilst I certainly don’t think Millar is intending any hard sci-fi exploration of the nature of time, I think there’ll surely be a few crazy plot twists to come too.

Superb art from Sean THE WAKE / PUNK ROCK JESUS Murphy as Millar continues his own personal Pokemon quest to collect all the best artists in the comic industry for his Millarworld imprint before he expires. Fair play to him in that respect for it’d be very easy to stick with a winning formula, but I think given every yarn he writes is pretty distinct, they actually benefit from having very different artwork styles. That’s my theory anyway.

Note: being a retailer with common sense we still have stock of this issue at the time of typing. Let’s hope we still have some by your time of reading…

JR with SLH

Buy Chrononauts #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wolverine: Origin II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert.

“This is a story of wolves and bears. And animals…”

It really is. You won’t meet a single human being during the first chapter other than Logan himself, now entirely feral following the events in WOLVERINE: ORIGIN.

Instead in a breath of fresh mountain air the initial cast consists of a wolf pack which has adopted Wolverine, its new litter holed up in a den on the snow-swept Canadian Rockies, a prowling lone wolf and a gigantic polar bear which has strayed far from its natural habitat, so finding itself at a predatory disadvantage.

“It seemed to believe that covering its nose would disguise it from prey. It didn’t grasp fishing in the rivers, waiting for prey to emerge and being disappointed when it didn’t…”

Fish, unlike seals, don’t need to come up for air. Yes, it’s a long way from home. A very long way. Don’t you find that curious?

Image-driven, that first chapter was magnificent: sweeping landscapes, ferocious battles and some monumental, full-page flourishes all coloured to delicious perfection by… hold on – that isn’t Isanove?! I can assure you that colour artist Frank Martin is every bit as good.

What follows marks Logan’s first contact with the world he and we will come to know well: one in which man uses and abuses man, cages him and tortures him in the name of personal pleasure, medical research and military power. That polar bear itself was an experiment, the sinister Dr. Essex releasing a new alpha predator into the Canadian Rockies and in doing so snagging an even bigger one – Logan – who in turn attracts yet another: a lupine wildlife hunter called Creed who jealously guards his beautiful but disfigured companion Clara.

Memory plays an important part, Kubert’s silent snap-shots flashing through Logan’s mind like blood-stained daggers; but the more he experiences, the more he will want to forget and, as we all know, ultimately he does so.

One of the most pleasurable elements of the original ORIGIN was Paul Jenkins’ slight of hand, leading you up the (secret) garden path when it came to Logan’s true identity. Wickedly, Gillen has reflected this in his own game of powerplay and presumption, leaving it right until the epilogue to pull the rug from under you, but it all makes perfect sense, I promise.

Hahahahaha!

SLH

Buy Wolverine: Origin II s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy (£10-99, Boom) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen

Dark Ages (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Demo s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan

A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c (£10-99, Square Fish) by Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larson

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School (£9-99, Microcosm) by Lisa Wilde

Brody’s Ghost vol 6 (£5-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor vol 1: Revolutions Of Terror s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande

Empowered Unchained vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren & Adam Warren, various

My Little Pony: Friends Forever vol 3 s/c (£13-50, IDW) by various

The Goon vol 14: Occasion Of Revenge (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

DC Comics Zero Year s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Superman: Doomed h/c (£37-99, DC) by Greg Pak, Charles Soule, Scott Lobdell & various

Wonder Woman vol 5: Flesh s/c (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman vol 6: Bones h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

All New X-Men vol 6: The Ultimate Adventure (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mahmud Asrar

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Original Sin (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ed McGuinness

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Blade Of The Immortal vol 31: Final Curtain (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 8 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Miki Yoshikawa

News!

ITEM! “The world is our oyster!” “Our oyster full of cats!” Dreamy comic by Carson Ellis, sadly abandoned.

ITEM! Swoon at the new CEREBUS print by Gerhard, comics’ greatest landscape artist! (Pictured above.) Look to the right at that link and there are some similarly gorgeous prints available to buy right now! *unfurls wallet* *watches moths fly*

ITEM! Fully, physically interactive create-your-own-adventure comics created by Jason Shiga – mind-boggling! Obviously those are ridiculously limited editions but we can sell this piece of Jason Shiga genius – MEANWHILE – which is also a create-your-own-adventure comic with genius use of interconnecting tubes.

ITEM! Did you enjoy JUPITER’s LEGACY by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely? Now would be a very good time to pre-order its prequel, JUPITER’S CIRCLE. A very good time! Before it swoops in and sells out. We haven’t transferred orders automatically because the art is radically different. Preview of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE along with an interview. Includes men canoodling in bed! *gasp*

ITEM! Out now is NO MERCY #1 by SMOKE / ASHES Alex De Campi & FINDER’s Carla Speed McNeil. Have a NO MERCY illustrated interview. We have free badges to give away at the counter. Ooooh!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is running an under-17s art competition! Paint Poblin! Draw him! Make him! Cuddle him!

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week four

March 25th, 2015

All my reviews are sales pitches for series’ first volumes even if I’m reviewing book three. No spoilers, but a new angle which I hope will intrigue. For  current comics I rate LAZARUS by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark right up there with SAGA, VELVET and THE FADE OUT. LAZARUS VOL 3 below!

The Tea Collection (£12-99) by Andy J. Poyiadgi.

Such colours, such craft and such a surprise!

This demure yet decorous package Page 45 has popped together from Andy Poyiadgi’s two fold-out stories ‘Teapot Therapy’ and ‘On Reflection’ plus all three of his ‘Teabag Theory’ minis. Each of those – I kid you not – will need to be prised from a teabag threaded with string.

You see? You’re smiling already! I’m an absolute sucker for packaging.

You won’t need to tear them, just tease open at the top betwixt the twine then lift the mini-comic message out with two fingers! Or tweezers. Or chopsticks. Sugar tongs would be deliriously apposite but who even owns sugar tongs any longer outside of those serving Cornish Cream Teas? Actually one of my Aunts does. I think they’re silver, just like that spoon I was born with.

‘Teabag Theory #2: The Primordial Brew’ discusses Charles Darwin’s famous proclamation in 1871 that the ideal conditions for the origin of life were those of a “warm little pond” or – as Andy would have it – a slowly stewing pot of tea. You’ve got your receptacle and your geothermal juices then “Infuse with a combination of local minerals and organic compounds” is the tea leaves’ role. I hate to spoil a good punchline but “Allow to cool before evolving into millions of unique, self-sustaining organisms” takes the true bravado biscuit.

The other two I’ll leave you to discover yourselves but before we move on we’ve also added on of Andy’s various postcards to each pack, like ‘The Fine Art Of Facial Acting’. I’d be inclined to kill the director.

And so to ‘Teapot Therapy’, the largest component standing tall at just under A4 and folding out twice into what would make a smashing framed print on your wall. With its subdued farmhouse colours and plenty of pristine white space surrounding diversely clustered panels, it’s far from cluttered and not a million miles for Chris Ware in the classy department.

In it kindly Mrs Peartree, perhaps a little past middle-age, relishes the opportunity to share her love of tea time and all its traditions and trimmings – including her homemade cake, biscuits and more biscuits – with the man who’s come to fix her boiler. Of course that’s not all that’s happening because traditions have to come from somewhere, don’t they, and this is pure Alan Bennett ‘Talking Heads’ material.

‘On Reflection’, however, was cleverest of all. Folding out accordion-style it is a little like Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS (adapted by David Mazzucchelli for comics) in that it’s about the loss of self. A young man moves into an unfurnished apartment and buys an antique, full-length mirror. And a bed, table and two chairs, but that seems about it. His life appears to be very spartan. It is only gradually and subtly that Poyiadgi introduces the oddities.

“One day, I thought I saw my reflection fall asleep.”

Andy could have chosen any discrepancy of movement yet chose the one thing you cannot ordinarily do in front of a mirror.

The next is a faint “?OLLEH” coming from the mirror although Andy has reversed the shape of the lettering as well as its order into a true reflection. Fortunately for the longer pronouncements I can read backwards. (And I can recite the alphabet backwards within 3 seconds, but I digress.) Unlike the protagonist who is so drained that he’s pretty much lost the will to live, his reflection – now afforded the opportunity to make himself heard, does so. Because think on this: you can choose to stare at your reflection in the mirror any time you want; or you can choose to stop doing that any time you like and look at an infinite number of other things in books, in comics, on TV, out of the window, down your street, in the city, in the countryside between our cities, across the seas which separate our countries or up and down those foreign countries instead. Your reflection can’t.

All your reflection has to stare at is your ugly mug.

Very few mirrors face a window because, you know, lighting, so your reflection has probably never even glimpsed the outside world behind you.

So what do you imagine your reflection wants most?

SLH

Buy The Tea Collection and read the Page 45 review here

Pablo (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by Julie Birmant & Clément Oubrerie.

“I need a goddess for 10:30.”

You won’t get a line like that in most prose biographies!

You’ll get hardly any of this delirious dialogue.

Drawn with infectious animation by AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY’s and LOVE IN YOP CITY’s Clément Oubrerie then coloured in predominantly sombre, sandy hues, unlike the other recent entertainment VINCENT (Van Gogh), this cover is the only visual element imitating Picasso’s own.

It’s also rather misleading in that the period covered here stretches from Picasso’s arrival in Paris from Spain in 1900, through his Blue Period, Rose Period then finally his African-influenced Period which ended in 1909.

The completion of ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907) is a key moment kicking off that African-influenced period but otherwise you’re rarely given a glimpse of what Picasso’s painting, Cubism barely gets a mention bar a staggered Picasso receiving news that Georges Braque had invented it, and the cover’s much later Surrealist style of the late 1930s is obviously nowhere in sight.

Still, that’s marketing for you.

The climax / culmination is in fact Le Banquet Rousseau with Picasso threw with much mirth and excitement in 1908 for the elderly Henri Rousseau whose brilliance he recognised even those Rousseau had been the laughing stock of the Salon des Indépendants for two decades.

Still, that’s the art establishment for you. Picasso wouldn’t exhibit there, even though his friends did.

And that’s what this graphic novel is actually about: Picasso’s life, love and friendships. It boasts quite the stellar cast! Henri Matisse, much lauded as The Master, is the most establishment figure, André Derain pops by long enough to tantalise Pablo with an African mask, but other than that it’s the more boisterous or non-conformist likes of Gertrude Stein (so entertainingly scripted here!), Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob who apparently had the most almighty crush on Picasso and with whom Picasso moved in briefly. The apartment was so small that they even shared a bed, just not at the same time of day.

No, unlike the rest of the cast who seem to have been promiscuous bed-hoppers, Pablo had eyes only for artists’ model Fernande Olivier otherwise known as Madame De la Baume, née Amélie Lang. And it is an elderly, long-forgotten Fernande who is the narrator.

That Fernande ever escaped to Paris from her loveless marriage to a seedy, abusive reprobate who’d even steal away with her shoes to keep her at home is a minor miracle. Meanwhile Picasso’s wealthier, pretty-boy childhood friend Carlos Casagemar whose family funded their move to Paris falls too far in love with a woman with whom he has a tempestuous relationship exacerbated by drink and, after being rejected, attempts to shoot her before putting a bullet in his own brain at a public dinner.

This is a key moment in Picasso’s life and development as an artist because (I know I said he was relatively monogamous) he cheats on his own girlfriend with dead Carlos’ femme fatale and one big bust-up and a bucket of booze later one guilt catalyses an earlier, more deep-seated one also rooted in death. Et voila: the Blue Period which rendered him a commercial leper.

The other main character (!) and focal point of the narrative is the legendary dingy, dank and dirty Bateau-Lavoir mini-mansion in Montmatre where Pablo and Fernande spent most of their lives living during this period along with fifteen other tenants. There are moments of bed-bug-ridden squalor but Clément Oubrerie pulls out all the colourful stops when Picasso finally succeeds in courting a reluctant Fernande and first introduces her to his studio there.

Oubrerie’s occasional half-page interiors and Parisian exteriors are a space-filled marvel.

Same goes for the Catalan landscapes which provide a thrilling contrast to the city they spend most of their time in.

I learned loads and enjoyed myself thoroughly while doing so: I had no idea that they’d briefly (so briefly!) adopted a young girl.

It is, however, not what I was expecting so, to avoid the possibility of disappointment, I would remind you that this doesn’t do what it says on the tin – or in this case the cover. It does, however, leave you desperate for more as Max Jacob – in his role as part-time astrologer and tarot-card reader (an invention?) – warns Fernande of what lies ahead for them all post-1908.

SLH

Buy Pablo and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus vol 3: Conclave s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark with Tyler Boss.

“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“…”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”
“Please.”

A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.

If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.

Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat.

Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.

LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.

The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.

And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!

But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.

This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.

Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!

Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?

While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:

“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”

SLH

Buy Lazarus vol 3: Conclave and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days #1 (£2-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman…

“Do you think, if we hadn’t been given rooms next to each other, that we’d have ended up being friends?”
“Yes!”
“No.”
“Oh.”

That most incongruous trio of university chums Daisy Wooton, Esther De Groot and Susan Ptolemy return in this six-issue series! Just not quite as you remember them from their first three outings (all reviewed: GIANT DAYS, GIANT DAYS 2 and GIANT DAYS 3) simply because John has concentrated on the writing duties this time around and handed the pencils over to the talented Lissa Treiman.

I was, probably like a few people will be, puzzled by this passing of the artistic torch, so promptly went in search of answers. What I found was an excellent interview with John Allison that explains all: basically he wanted to cut down on his workload, and also the revelatory fact that John is 38!!?! Now I do think I’m looking reasonably well preserved for my beginnings-of-hoary old age of 42, but for those of you who have never seen John in the flesh, let me assure you that he does not look his years whatsoever. I met him for the first time late last year and I just assumed he was a whippersnapper in his mid-twenties, such was his fresh-faced demeanour. Granted, if I had thought about it, I would have realised that meant he started his comics career when we was about 5, but still, it does make me wonder if whilst researching the rum and uncanny antics that frequently beset the residents of Tackleford in his excellent BAD MACHINERY series, he hasn’t discovered the secret of eternal youth.

Anyway… I can’t imagine it was an easy decision to let someone else bring his creations to life, but John made a very wise selection in Lissa Triesman, for whilst she does have a decidedly different style to John’s – and that particular thought did arise a few times during the course of this first issue simply because I loved the his first three GIANT DAYS so much – she imbues the characters with just the same sense of madcap joy and energy, and crazy hair. It’s not an exact comparison, but I can see a distinct similarity in style between Lissa and Adrian Alphona, who has been doing such an excellent job pencilling MS. MARVEL. Actually, if John is going to continue his writing-and-not-illustrating career, now that is a title I would love to see him have a go at!

So, for those utterly unfamiliar with GIANT DAYS, who are Daisy Wooton, Esther De Groot and Susan Ptolemy? They are three students thrown together in the glorious chaos of Fresher’s Week who have already…

“…helped Esther fight off the head girls of four snooty private schools. Then we helped Esther get over a painful break-up and crushed the gross lad ruining her good name all over town. Then there was the whole incident where Esther joined Black Metal Society and accidentally got a weird mystical tattoo and…”

Yes, Esther De Groot is prone to the odd bit of drama. As Susan Ptolemy remarks, Esther radiates a ‘drama field’, which seemingly has sufficient gravitational mass to suck in all those around her. Not that Susan and Daisy haven’t got their own intriguing foibles and indeed… secrets, but there is no doubt who is their resident drama queen, despite her protestations to the contrary. In this opener, though, it’s a mysterious moustachioed and smouldering stranger called McGraw from Susan Ptolemy’s closely guarded past which reluctantly forces her centre-stage.

There’s a story there for sure, not that Susan’s sharing yet. And for those long-term GIANT DAYS readers wondering on the whereabouts of Esther De Groot’s doe-eyed devotee and most wishy-washy man on campus, Ed Gemmell, rest assured, he’s here. He’s just had the misfortune to be made roommates with McGraw…

Anyone who read the first three GIANT DAYS should definitely keep reading for this is a fantastic continuation, but I also suspect this six-issue series is going to win John legions of new fans, which is great news for him, because repeat prescriptions for the elixir of youth can’t be cheap.

JR

[Editor's note: GIANT DAYS #1 has gone to second print after just one week on sale. But we have 20 copies left which you may avail yourselves of like so...]

Buy Giant Days #1 and read the Page 45 review here

United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming.

I don’t know about you but few things terrify me more than the mafia or its equivalents: the IRA and even the CIA etc. I don’t want to get sucked into worlds which leave me impotent and exposed yet from which there is no hope of escape. People with power who are way beyond accountability who can use you and abuse you and demand your submission.

From the creative team who brought you POWERS comes something equally dark but completely free from capes. In a power struggle between some very dangerous men it is so, so tense. I highly recommend it to readers of CRIMINAL.

Here the mafia were never subdued in America. Instead a considerable portion of the country was conceded to them to rule semi-surreptitiously and with impunity as long as they left the rest of the politicians alone.

Handsome young Valentine is sworn in as a Made Man long before his few years of service would generally merit it. But his father – and his father’s father before him – was of such stock that he was effectively fast-tracked. And Valentine is equally committed to the family.

His first duty is to deliver a message to a Senator in Washington DC. The message was in the form of a briefcase and that, however cryptic to others, would speak for itself. Valentine asked for his cousin to accompany him and reluctantly that was agreed. He didn’t ask for hitwoman Jagger Rose to accompany him but she was persuasive, effective, so reluctantly he agreed.

The message was seemingly delivered but another was sent in its place: the detonation of a bomb, blowing up said Senator. Nobody knows what it means. Or at least, no one will admit to knowing or to being its messenger.

The hunt for the truth behind the bomb blast is on and it’s a race against time because Valentine and Jagger Rose – although caught in its path – are the most obvious prime suspects. They’re wanted more dead than alive by the government, the families in general and their very own family in particular who claim to their faces that Valentine and Jagger have betrayed them.

Whom do they trust? Whom do you trust? Who has set whom up and why?

Oeming and Soma have delivered something dark, stark, brooding and sweaty: claustrophobic and unsettlingly lit. The colours are far from naturalistic and occasionally venomous – I’m thinking the intrusion of Valentine’s Ma on her son and Jagger Rose – while the first page’s flashback in chapter two was a wee bit Hernandez. Lots and lots of silhouettes. Quite a lot of crimson.

It’s jagged and nasty and grotesque. The faces are like masks when you can see them at all. So often all you get are the eyes, burning with bitterness or hatred. So much of this is instinctively delivered, expressionistic, like lines of reverse silhouettes or tiny side-panels offering background chatter, the rolling of dice and the cocking or firing of guns.

I haven’t told you everything. Valentine has been set up, I can assure you of that. But was it by his own don, another family, Rose herself or another party? Because in the very first chapter immediately after being sworn in to the mafia family and its innermost circle whom Valentine has been raised to love with all his heart, he is called to one side by his mother.

And she tells him a secret.

I’ve never known a series with so many reversals so early on then repeated throughout right to the very last page. I rate POWERS. I rate it very highly. I am big fan of Bendis to a degree that is almost unseemly. Pop him in our search engine and see for yourself!

But this is on another level completely.

SLH

Buy United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Jake Wyatt, Adrian Alphona…

“I see. Well, if you’re not very good at it… helping people that is… perhaps you need a teacher.”
“A teacher? Wait… you’re not going to tell me to be a good girl, focus on my studies, and do istaghfar or something?”
“If I told you that, you’d ignore me. I know how headstrong you are. So instead I will tell you to do what you are doing with as much honour and skill as you can.”
“I can’t believe it. I thought you were going to warn me about Satan and boys.”
“I’ve been giving youth lectures at this mosque for ten years. If I still have to warn you about Satan and boys, I should lose my job. I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect. Do we have a deal?”

Ha, I am pretty sure that the sort of teacher the Imam had in mind wasn’t Wolverine or, indeed, Lockjaw. Yes, the Inhuman dog. But, those are exactly the first two teachers who appear to Karmala in her hour of superheroing need.

Also, despite the Imam’s words of wisdom, there’s no way of avoiding all the hard learning in Superhero 101 that needs to be done on the job, taking it quite literally on the chin. Much like real life, really. Still, having someone who’s the ‘best at what he does’ pro-offering a few tips can’t be too unhelpful, I suppose. And after their little team-up Logan obviously felt Karmala needed a watchful eye on an ongoing basis, so he dropped a hint to Captain America, who in turn then had a quiet word with Medusa, resulting in Karmala getting her very own teleporting watchdog!

Great to see this title sustaining the effortless sense of nonsensical fun that should be everyone’s teenage years which began in MS MARVEL VOL 1.

Meanwhile, battling the bad guys is only marginally less troublesome to Karmala than staying one secret-identity-in-perpetual-peril step ahead of her well meaning family, her strict, traditional dad in particular. He means well, but he’s clearly no idea what it’s like to be a teenage Muslim girl growing up in modern day America, much less a superhero. Karmala is in many ways a Peter Parker for her generation, an outsider looked down upon by the so-called cool kids.

It’s still very early days for this title obviously, but it’s perhaps not understating the quality of the writing to say it feels as wittily relevant to our time as the original puny Peter Parker, high school version, was back in the day. G. Willow Wilson certainly captures the whole “With great power comes inordinate personal danger and perpetual destruction of social standing” schtick perfectly.

JR

Buy Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Kill Giants (£14-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Nimura.

Visually it’s Sam Kieth inked by Tim Sale.

There’s a little Sam Kieth in the script too as a feisty geek of a girl who insists on wearing bunny ears at home, in class and round at her friends’ house equally insists that she kills giants. Nor will she back down in the principal’s office. She thinks her kind, older sister patronises her, she hates her peers’ obsession with Britney Spears…

She’s an outsider, basically, hopelessly deluded and living in a fantasy world of her own.

Or is she?

SLH

Buy I Kill Giants and read the Page 45 review here

Oink: Heaven’s Butcher s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by John Mueller.

“Things are put in holes to be forgotten… The deeper the hole, the darker the truth… Until one day they realise the hole be not deep enough.”

I wish I could have found you that particular hellish hole online. Shot with such an acute perspective that it’s vertigo-inducing, a thick iron chain draws your eye down storey after storey of square, rusted-metal walkways into what seems like a bottomless industrial pit.

Thankfully I did light upon the vast and equally formidable exterior to Public Slaughterhouse 628 which used to be a school, it seems, complete with all the battlement barbed wire I remember so well from my own.

In case you haven’t gathered yet, you’re not here to have fun.

I can only assume that John “meat is murder” Mueller is a vegetarian. Originally published twenty years ago when we were still talking about factory farming, animals’ cramped conditions and the sheer horror of the slaughterhouse, this grotesque anthropomorphic horror story stars two distinct breeds of pig: those that have been bred to eat, so stuffed that their legs can no longer support their weight and so stuck in a truss on a trolley, and the slave race cross-bred with humans to breed those pigs which they’re then served up as dinner.

The consequent mad pig disease comes in the form of insubordination: questioning authority and the temerity of asking for answers. The punishment young Oink is dished out with in retribution is repulsive.

As the story opens he’s no longer young but locked in a cell about to confess his “sins”. The rest is all axe-flashing flashbacks.

Fleshed out with a great many extra story pages, pin-ups and process pieces (I’m not even trying to pun this one out), it is immediately evident how much hard work and painterly skill has been sunk into this. Admittedly you’re going to need to love the Simon Bisley school of painting (thick, muscular and positively oozing testosterone), but it’s as accomplished as any I’ve seen. Obviously the overall message I’d also agree with: can we not treat people like animals, please, and can we not treat animals the way we treat animals, either?

It is, however, somewhat blunt.

Also: I’m the first one to throw stones at organised religion’s mind-control and hate-mongering but I’m not quite sure how it’s a viable target in this instance!

I don’t think anyone really relishing horror will be disappointed, though. Includes mouths and eyes sewn shut.

SLH

Buy Oink: Heaven’s Butcher and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

The Swords Of Glass h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri

Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Lost Property (£6-50, Nobrow) by Andy Poyiadgi

Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini

BPRD Plague Of Frogs vol 3 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis

Reflections s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by David Mack

Big Hard Sex Criminals h/c (£29-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Ziggy Chooch

Morning Glories vol 8 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

Wayward vol 1: String Theory (£7-50, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Superman Wonder Woman vol 1: Power Couple s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Tony S. Daniel

Inhuman vol 2: Axis s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Pepe Larraz, Ryan Stegman

Runaways: Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian K. Vaughan, others & Stefano Caselli, Mike Norton, Michael Ryan, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa

She-Hulk vol 2: Disorderly Conduct s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Javier Pulido

Wolverine: Origin II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert

Neon Genesis Evangelion vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

UQ Holder vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

News!

ITEM! Colour in Comics: LIGHTEN UP by Ronald Wimberly – such a wittily rendered and cleverly constructed comic on colour. As in those of the spectrum and as pertaining to race. You’ll see, you’ll see!

ITEM! Sean Phillips curates ‘Comics Go Pop!’ – A Lakes International Comic Art Festival exhibition in October of music sleeve art created by comicbook artists.

ITEM! Funny! Artist Steve Pugh on getting so carried away with drawing that you forget what you’re drawing

ITEM! “When your lover may be dead, how long can you hold on to what remains? To whatever is left of you? A plane crash, a package, her dog, her voice. A notebook, his writer’s block, and heat-distorted summer memories of a search for Jumbo the Elephant and an absent father.”

That’s the synopsis for Kathryn & Stuart Immomen’s RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING arriving in May. Please click on that link to pre-order. Because this also intrigued me: RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING previewed. Then I saw this beautiful Border Collie and extraordinary quality of light…

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week three

March 18th, 2015

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS by Raymond Briggs, new Dylan Horrocks plus Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky, Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon, Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Warren Ellis & Colton Worley, Mark Millar & John Romita, Peter Milligan & Jordan Crain.

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (£14-99, Knockabout) by Dylan Horrocks…

“One day he hears a word that sticks… “Anhedonia.”
The absence of pleasure, of joy.
He tries to remember the last time he really enjoyed something…
After all, what’s to enjoy?
Comics feel like work.
Novels feel pretentious and contrived.
Movies are all the same.
Food tastes stale.
Music palls.
As for writing and drawing…
That’s where I live now (thinks Sam)…
ANHEDONIA.”

Given that HICKSVILLE was published back in 1998 (can it really be that long ago?) and the main character in this work, Sam Zabel, is credited with having published a comic called Pickle (in which Dylan first serialised HICKSVILLE), I wonder to what degree the aspect of this work pertaining to writer’s block is auto-biographical? Possibly not at all, but I am intrigued nonetheless. I mean, HICKSVILLE in part was a karmic missive on the perils and pitfalls of someone enriching themselves through plagiarism and I’m not aware it’s something Dylan has ever suffered from, or indeed indulged in!

Indulgence. Now there’s a word that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of the fraught emotional mindset of Sam Zabel, either, but in one sense that’s precisely why he’s in the fragile state he is. Having taken the cushy number of the regular corporate paycheck to write and illustrate the adventures of Lady Night for a large publisher, he’s gradually lost his creative spark, even the will to work on his own projects. Indeed he’s reached the stage where he doesn’t even feel he’s honouring the spirit of the original classic Lady Night comics from 1954 drawn by Lou Goldman, which were existential, metaphysical musings by a character with genuine emotional depth, as opposed to the repetitive beatdowns by a buxom babe in a skimpy outfit Sam’s now peddling. It’s a situation which has caused Sam to drift into a spiralling self-defeating loop of guilt and ennui.

Dealing with the topic of writer’s block alone would be sufficient material enough to make an extremely compelling graphic novel, but Horrocks takes it considerably further with the titular conceit of the magic pen, in essence a wish-fulfilment device which enables the holder to draw comics that become realities it is then possible for people to enter, and indeed characters to switch between.

Now comics, being comics, are occasionally written with, perhaps putting it unkindly, a certain audience in mind, thus Sam, having begun an epic odyssey to locate the pen, and solve his particular problem, finds himself experiencing the fantasy realms of other people’s minds. Some of the characters of certain realms, are, shall we say, somewhat predisposed to removing their already skimpy clothes and indulging in carnal acts.

I have to say, bravo to Dylan for tackling such a thorny issue within our beloved medium. I was actually slightly uncomfortable reading it when the story started to go in a certain direction, which is probably exactly the sort of response he wanted to engender in his readers. It makes perfect sense in the context of the story, and it neatly foreshadows a rather dark turn in the plot later on, highlighting a particularly unwholesome sub-genre of manga, which gives the topic a certain sense of gravity, and indeed perspective. But you can’t tackle wish fulfilment in comics without heading into the murky world of sexual gratification, which at the thinnest edge of the wedge rears its head in the typically insalubrious form of the female superhero costume…

Thus bringing us neatly back to Lady Night, for the original was penned by Lou Goldman using the magic pen, allowing Sam to meet the character who ought to be his muse. It’s a pivotal, touching scene, which ultimately allows Sam to reconnect with himself, and in turn what’s most important to him, his family and his art. It also provides a comment on what comics, even superhero comics, can be at their finest. Food for thought, even nourishment for the soul. Not that they need to be, not all of them, obviously. Not even the majority. It’s perfectly fine for them to be merely entertaining too, even purely about wish fulfillment perhaps, provided they fall within what’s morally acceptable.

I’m not making the call about what is and what isn’t morally acceptable, by the way, and ultimately that isn’t what this story is about, but it is extremely clever to weave that discussion into the fabric of your graphic novel in a manner that’s both intelligent and humorous. This is definitely one of those works that stays with you for a little while after you put it down, pondering a few things, having a reflection pop into your head about it unexpectedly.

Art-wise, you can see Dylan has moved on since HICKSVILLE. It is very interesting flicking back through it now, how relatively raw that work looks in comparison. I don’t make that observation pejoratively, but this is certainly the work of a far more accomplished, experienced professional. Yes, you can tell it is the same basic style, but he’s clearly put a few hours in drawing over the years, real or fictional writer’s block or not! He’s certainly learnt a few compositional tricks too, and obviously this work is coloured, very nicely as it happens, which is I think is a pre-requisite for selling the somewhat considerable suspension of disbelief conceit that is required for us to accept that a magic pen is taking a grown man on an adventure through the pages of various comics.

I am delighted to say it was well worth the long wait for this, and I am quite sure SAM ZABEL AND THE MAGIC PEN is a work that would even get included in the legendary Hicksville town library for posterity!

JR

Buy Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen and read the Page 45 review here

When The Wind Blows (£8-99, Penguin) by Raymond Briggs.

“Do you have to dig a hole, like the old Andersons in the war?”
“Oh no, dear. That’s all old-fashioned. With modern scientific methods you just use doors with cushions and books on top.”

Jim and Hilda have just heard the Prime Minister warn of an imminent nuclear attack on the radio. Fortunately Jim’s found some leaflets from the Council on how to make ready. There’ll be perfectly safe, then – it’ll be just like The Blitz.

Did you ever watch The War Game by Peter Watkins? Originally scheduled to be screened on BBC1 in 1965 on the anniversary of Hiroshima, the chilling pseudo-documentary depicted the derisible domestic preparations for – then the horrific repercussions of – a nuclear strike on Britain. It was brutal, and I don’t just mean people at the epicentre being vaporised or the slower necrosis of those further out: I mean socially. It was banned for 20 years. Self-censorship, press pressure or a government which knew it would cause a countrywide mental meltdown?

I saw it in 1985, two decades on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I still wet myself.

All of which means that this graphic novel, published in 1982, hit the public first.

A scathing diatribe on “govern-mental” advice on how to prepare for a nuclear attack disguised as a tender comedy, this was the first time that the British Mainstream Press had been confronted by a comic they weren’t sure was for kids. Okay, which they were pretty damned sure wasn’t for kids. MAUS wouldn’t be collected and then hit some headlines for many years to come and in any case, you could simply ignore that if you fancied. But the British Press could not ignore this because Raymond Briggs was a household name and I defy you to think of another British comicbook creator to whom that applies. Not even Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman are household names, nor Posy Simmonds. To make things more problematic for them Raymond Briggs was a childhood favourite (FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN, THE SNOWMAN, GENTLEMAN JIM) and it would be many years before he released something so obviously adult-orientated as the biography of his parents, ETHEL & ERNEST.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the British Press reacted spectacularly well from the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph right now to the Daily Mail. And I’ll bet you being a childhood – and so sacrosanct – favourite made all the difference.

It begins with a relatively large landscape panel with elderly Jim being dropped off on a quiet country lane in the heart of the British Countryside with rolling, green-grass hills and big fluffy cumulus clouds. The sun is out, the sky is blue, nature is in full, colourful bloom. Colours are very important here.

He’s greeted by his wife Hilda in a clean white apron and headscarf tied in a knot.

“You do seem a bit down, dear.”
“Yes, well – been reading the papers in the Public Library all the morning.”
“Oh those things! Full of rubbish. I never look at them. Except The Stars.”

Now, I want to make one thing clear before we go any further: what is not being poked fun at is Jim and Hilda’s class; it is their age and their particular generation, increasingly bewildered by the world shifting so fast around them. You’ll see exactly the same thing throughout Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST. As you’ll discover they simply don’t get the scale of an atomic detonation. Nor is it that Hilda’s a woman; because Jim for all his reading hasn’t quite understood what he’s read and what he has understand he’s got the wrong words for. Here he is building his bomb shelter in the living room:

“It says here “The-Inner-Core-or-Refuge-should-be-place-at-an-angle-of-60º-for-maximum-strength.”
“I should place it up against the wall if I were you, dear.”
“Yes, but which are the degrees? We haven’t got any angles… unless it means in the corner… I think we did it at school… with degrees in… only I can’t remember properly… I’ll ring our Ron. He’ll know.”

He rings their son.

“Yes, Ron says I need a protactor. He says I can get one at Willis’s. He was killing himself laughing. I can’t understand it. I think it’s nerves. He’s gone a bit hysteriacal.”

To me it reads like Alan Bennett.

Jim’s optimism – his complete and unfaltering faith no matter what in Doing The Correct Thing as directed by The Powers That Be in order to achieve The Best Results – is as touching as it is painful. And I do love the A.A. Milne use of Capital Letters. Jim goes through lists and lists of emergency items they’re supposed to stock up on but nobody has any and so they make do. They improvise. If any exchange demonstrates the conspicuously wretched inadequacy of the UK government’s official instructions released purely to placate – to fool the populace from comprehending the futility of it all – it’s when Jim starts painting the glass in the windows white:

“It’s for the Radiation, I think. Like you do greenhouses to keep out the sun. It’s the correct thing.”
“It won’t be that hot, surely?”
“Well, I don’t know – they say the one at Hiroshima was equal to one thousands suns. So it is quite hot…”

As Jim busies himself being the motivator and practical man-about-house, Hilda is all about propriety and the paintwork. We don’t want that getting scratched in all the kerfuffle of an atomic bomb!

The panels are dense with dialogue and the pages are dense with panels: seven tiers of them with up to four panels per tier. And yes, there is the sense of them being boxed in and unable to escape what’s coming, but also Jim and Hilda are just little people going about their insignificant little lives in their tiny little panels and doing so ineffectually for every few pages there are, in the starkest of contrasts, giant double-page spreads in bleakest blue and murkiest brown:

“Meanwhile, on a distant plain….”

“Meanwhile, in the distant sky….”

“Meanwhile, in a distant ocean….”

And then, unexpectedly, halfway down a page as Jim and Hilda discuss which shirts would be best to wear (“You’re not going to wear that nice new one I gave you for Christmas! I don’t want that spoiled. You can wear your old clothes for The Bomb and save your best for afterwards.”) the consistently, reliably, small and orderly, densely packed panels cease being so orderly or densely packed.

As I read this again for the first time in thirty years I was as sure as I was confident the first time round that half the humour was going to be how unnecessary Jim’s preparations had been. That he had made his missus go through the rigmarole of it all only for it to be yet another false alarm! A closer shave than most, to be sure, but kind old Uncle Briggs would not make you care for such a loving if dotty couple then actually put them through a nuclear strike, would he?

Remember what I said about colour.

SLH

Buy When The Wind Blows and read the Page 45 review here

The Surface #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Jordie Bellaire…

The children turned off their lifelogs.

“…our war against the hackers and digital pirates… the true heirs to the damaged brand of terrorism perpetrated by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS… has reached its final stage..”

People don’t usually do that these days. Turn off the lifelogs, I mean.

“… it is true that most of their leaders are locked up… but new, even more cunning, cold-blooded worshipers of terror stand in their place…”

The popularity of lifelogging exploded fast. Wear a few tiny unobtrusive camera chips and microphones at all time. Log your life.

“… as we know, most of these hacker terrorists are… known spies…”

The ‘share’ buttons became the ‘no-share’ buttons. Privacy as an opt-in. Sharing as default.

“…I refuse to give them but an inch of our civilisation… our land, our data, our capital…”

Embrace interconnectivity. Have a memory you can access any time, a complete account of your life, and more than that.

 

Best bit of cyberpunk I’ve read for a while, this, combining as it does cutting-edge technology and a chaotic society either on the brink of dystopian collapse, or evolving apace in ever more unpredictable ways, depending on how you look at it. And all the while the great and good try and cling on to their power and wealth through whatever nefarious quasi-legal means are at their disposal.

I think we can agree that the premise of lifelogging is almost certainly going to come to pass en masse in some form or other in the not-too-distant future. It’s not that far a remove from how some people seem to use Facebook right now, frankly. In THE SURFACE, the people in charge would have you believe it’s only a boon, after all, how you can you ever be accused of a crime you didn’t commit if your entire life is documented for all to see? Or looking at the flipside, how can you ever get away with doing anything at all they don’t like? Particularly something that might upset the status quo.

Which is where our main characters Gomez, Nasa and Mark come in.

Mark, by the way, is the disowned son of the President of the Three State Union, that chap who was spinning bile about hackers and pirates above on television, whilst Mark provided the counterpoint narrative. Mark has some rather interesting ideas about the nature of reality itself – dangerous ideas, some like his dad might argue – and he’s decided it’s time to test his theory. Believing that the universe is a holographic  projection which we inhabit, he’s posited a VERY BIG question. If that theory is correct, then precisely where is it projected from?

Which is where the title of this comic and the quote on the rear cover of this issue… “A surface separates inside from out and belongs no less to one than the other.”… comes in presumably. That’s from Don Delillo by the way, an American author who has himself been referred to as the ‘chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction’. But as Delillo also said, not quoted here… ‘Writers must oppose systems. It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments… I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us’. He’s got a point. I think it’s a school of thought Ales subscribes to.

I am intrigued by where this opener is going to go. Much like Ales’ previous works (WILD CHILDREN, CHANGE, ZERO) it’s chock full of current scientific theories and ideas, designed to make you stop and think. Plus there’s a lot going on in this first issue even on top of the incredibly rich plot itself, from the infovercial on the interior cover (love the three seditious lines in tiny yellow type right at the bottom of the page), the mysterious prologue, fake adverts, the odd page of scientific concept presented in essay form, and a three-part interview with the ‘elusive writer’ which may or may not be a real interview with Ales himself.

Whilst this is no way the same sort of story as TRANSMETROPOLITAN, it does have the archetypical idiotic corrupt politicians, which combined with the technological shenanigans did bring it to mind. Also, there is great a little nod to Spider Jerusalem in the background of a panel which made me chuckle. I can well imagine fans of that title might get a kick of this.

Where is it going? I have no idea. None at all. I do like that about Ales’ writing. To whatever or wherever ‘the surface’ is I would hazard a guess. But precisely what Mark and his friends will find when they get there, well, your guess is as good as mine at this stage, it really is.

Nice art from Langdon Foss, which reminds me of Brandon Graham, particularly KING CITY (and I think it is probably the speculative fiction context driving that connection), which combined with the lurid colours employed by Jordie Bellaire (whom Ales has worked with before to great effect on ZERO) serve to create a real sense of a future permeated with data feeds and flows, bursting to capacity, headed somewhere, probably not the right direction, at breakneck speed.

[Editor's note: not actual cover. Another reason variants suck.]

JR

Buy The Surface #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky…

“So we ran like hell and didn’t look back.
“We stopped having sex and robbing banks.
“We stopped worrying about the Sex Police after a while.”

Hmm… almost certainly a bad idea, that.

SEX CRIMINALS VOL 1 is still available if this is your first time.

Volume two opens up with Suzie and Jon having just got away from Kegelface and the Sex Police. Given they’ve worked out they’re not the only ones who can manipulate time through the power of orgasm, you might think they’d be a little more paranoid about their criminally charitable funding of the local library, ensuring a stay of execution on its foreclosure through the cash they appropriated from financial institutions. Once Jon has a not-so-chance encounter in real time with Kegelface however, which he keeps to himself, his paranoia kicks in with a vengeance, rapidly turning in him into a dribbling mess, necessitating some serious medication which in turn doesn’t do much for his libido. Oh dear.

Suzie on the other hand is just feeling relieved that they’ve seemingly got away with it, and reconnecting with best friend Rachel. She’s clearly concerned for Jon and what he’s going through but perhaps also a touch relieved to get away from the madness their lives had become. Jon meanwhile in his deranged state decides it would be a good idea to indulge in a little breaking and entering of Kegelface’s house. Given Kegelface’s response is to arrange the demolition of the library they’d worked so hard to save, it’s not surprising Suzie is a teensy-weensie bit upset. So, as you do, they decide to enlist the help of a former porn star turned professor who also shares their peculiar ability, to try and take the fight to the enemy. I’m not entirely sure if they could get away with it, but I am half expecting volume three to be subtitled Fuck The Sex Police.

That brief synopsis barely scratches the surface of the contents of this second volume, by the way. Every issue is just non-stop conversations and inner monologues recounting the most bizarre scenarios, frequently sexual, of a hilarious nature from our various characters to drive the plot along. It is just so, so much fun to read. For a title based on such a ridiculous single premise it’s amazing what comedy gold Fraction is managing to craft. For example, the sequence where Ana (the porn professor) is recounting her first time-stopping orgasm just so happens to be on the set of a porn shoot… a WICKED + THE DIVINE-themed porn shoot… Really.

 

Chip Zdarsky, meanwhile, continues to draw, colour and letter this title to climax-inducing perfection. Beautiful panel and page composition, tremendous design work, amazing delicate and detailed lines, brilliant colouring. This title is actually my current monthly favourite both in terms of storytelling and the artwork at the moment. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Zdarsky to visualise and render such an unusual story. He really does contribute just as much as Fraction to the success of this unique title. Indeed as Matt comments in his heartfelt and touching dedication…

“To Chip’s mom and dad
Thank you for fucking
And making my Chipper
He is my everything.”

JR

Buy Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop and read the Page 45 review here

Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon.

On the surface this looks like a full-colour crowd-pleaser about a pride of lions set in the war-torn wreckage of modern Baghdad. Awwww, they so cute!

And to a certain extent it is – apart from the “cute” because if the blood on the cover didn’t give the game away then the bolted, industrial iron should have. Much of this actually happened. As Brian K. Vaughan (SAGA, EX MACHINA, Y- THE LAST MAN) wrote in his original proposal for Vertigo (reprinted in this new deluxe edition along with later, fleshed-out additions and dozens of original thumbnails by Henrichon including over 30 designs for the cover):

“In April of 2003, a pride of starving lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo during the American bombing of Iraq… only to be shot and killed by U.S. soldiers.
“Surprisingly, this dramatic true story was hardly covered by the American media.
“Then again, few Iraqi casualties were.”

So yes, on one level it is about the pride’s sorry fate.

But beyond that and man’s ill-treatment of animals, this book is about all innocents caught in a conflict not of their making, and – more specifically – this is about the people of Iraq who were catapulted into civil war following the vacuum left when we broke Iraq’s back then failed to fix it fast enough. It’s about the individual factions who may well have cooperated if they had created their own freedom but, having it had it thrust upon them by outside forces, used it instead to settle old scores or fight for control for themselves.

Here Noor, the mother of the lion pride – strong and passionate and burning for freedom – tries to engage with a Cantaloupe long before the sky fills with noise and bombs up above them:

“You, me, the camels, the mountain goats, all of us… we’ve spent too long bickering with each other when we only have one real enemy — the keepers. If we work together, I think we can take them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Here me out. The keepers know that if they ever set foot in our pit, my group would slaughter them. But the humans are foolish enough to lower their defences around your kind. It would be a simple matter for one of you to gore a keeper, take his keys –”
“And do what with them? Assuming we’d be willing to risk our lives for something so insane, what would we do with the keys?”
“That’s where the monkeys come in.”
“Monkeys? You’ve been sitting in the sun too long, Noor.”
“They’re already on board! They’ve even promised to open both our cages first.”
“And why do I get the feeling that the first thing you’d open would be my jugular?”

The Cantaloupe’s proven wrong about Noor, but she is right about the monkeys who break their promise the second they’re free and steal Noor’s cub.

The parallels are so poignant it’s painful, and if you think this is going to be cloyingly sweet or twee your first rude awakening will be the giraffes’ necks exploding in a bloody spray of pulped flesh and shredded bone.

Maybe it’ll be the second, actually, for the lions each have a different perspective on all this. Old Safa, for example, remembers her life before the zoo when she was raped in the wild, and Vaughan manages not so much a balanced perspective on “before and after Saddam” but instead a catalogue of “before and after and after that” horrors (wait until you discover what lies within the palace), whilst in order to keep your attention firmly on the animals’ perspective, you don’t encounter any living humans until right at the gut-wrenching end.

As to Niko, his creatures are fierce, lithe and muscular with the anthropomorphism kept to a minimum. When they reach the deserted, inhospitable city centre the air fills with a lung-choking, deep orange dust. But around the leafier outskirts across the Tigris a bright sandy light is cast by the far from obvious choice of hazy sea-green sky and it dapples the path, lions and turtle’s backs to the extent that you can almost feel the difference in temperature when padding from full shade into sunlight, however patchy.

Also, he draws the most frightening tanks I’ve seen, erupting over a listing horizon and splintering the tree trunks in their path.

I think this is going to surprise you; it certainly surprised me, and it’ll upset any young children no end so please do be warned. It has all the power and beauty of an early piece of feature-length Disney animation, but none of its sentimentality – just its heartbreak and suffering.

SLH

Buy Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill…

“Mr. Coghlan, do you think you could assist me in seating myself? This pile of slain enemies will suffice.”

Thus completes the Nemo Jr. trilogy, with a high body count of buxom blonde robotic Nazis and the satisfaction of scores finally settled. After the events of volume two set in Berlin, Nemo is chasing Nazis, and the apparently dead Ayesha, to that traditional holiday hidey-hole of Swastika-abusing idiots, South America.

Much like the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY material I have personally found this run a bit up and down. Or more precisely yet again I’ve loved two volumes out of the three and been considerably less fussed about one. This volume I thought was great fun, with Alan once again working in various parodies of classic 20th century literary characters, which has always been a key facet of the appeal of this material.

 

This storyline of this particular volume just felt much stronger than the previous one, but taken as a whole I do concede the two together do form one excellent story. Wonderful art from Kevin O’Neill as always, crammed full of lovely conceits, such as Nemo’s octopus-sucker-styled armour. Overall I have enjoyed this trilogy, but I think if Alan decides to return to the League again, I would prefer him to do another team-based romp: I have missed the relentless verbal jousting and interplay between a wider cast of characters that raised the original two books (now compiled in this OMNIBUS) to its considerable heights.

JR

Buy Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Cross #1 (£2-25, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger.

Congratulations to artist Andy Belanger: he made me stare into Alex’s eyes on pages one and two for a good 15 minutes, trying to find the precise right words to describe the look of not-love she is giving the officious pen-pusher at customs.

Combined with an arched eyebrow which puts even my ceiling-scraper’s to shame, it’s this: contempt, cool-steel rage, come-on-then-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough and you’ll-never-know.

He’s stopped her before boarding the Southern Cross tanker flight 73 to Titan currently docked at a space ring. That’s space ring’s scale is pretty impressive but you wait for the Herb Trimpe space-tanker in hyperdrive just before the staples!

Oh yeah, Belanger has got to be the most enormous Herb Trimpe fan (and there aren’t that many about these days): look at those faces – the hair and the eyes from afar!

Megacorporation Zemi’s bought a lot of billboard advertising around that space ring. Zemi’s also bought some ships, like the one Alex is about to travel on. If you’re not sure why that’s worrying then let me explain…

Titan is the Saturn’s largest moon, second only to Jupiter’s Ganymede in the entire solar system. It’s the only one to have an atmosphere though it isn’t quite comparable to ours. It does, however, have a whole lot of ice. And oil – that’s what Zemi’s interested in, although drilling for it is dangerous.

Alex’s sister Amber used to work for Zemi but Amber’s now dead which is why Alex is flying to Titan: to collect her sister’s effects. She’d also like some answers because the thing is, however dangerous the job drilling for oil, that’s not how Amber died. Amber worked in admin.

I was as immediately suspicious as Alex of almost everyone I met here. I wouldn’t let my guard down, not even for affable Doctor Lon Wells or over-accommodating Captain Mori Tetsuya. He has a fulsome beard and that Herb Trimpe look in his eyes, but still I don’t know. First mate St Martin I can at least empathise with because she’s bloody busy and doesn’t have time for this.

The interesting one is the cabin mate Alex has been lumbered with. Fractious Alex is not a people person at the best of times but I think Erin McKenna’s 2013 successful revival of the ‘80s asymmetrical haircut is getting on Alex’s wick because she’s gone for the bouffant-flopping-over-headband look and that was always wrong! I don’t think it has anything to do with discovering that Erin’s in ***** of the ******* into *****’* *****.

I have idea what the panel above’s all about!

SLH

Buy Southern Cross #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Blackcross #1 of 6 (£2-99, Dynamite Entertainment) by Warren Ellis & Colton Worley.

“Please. I don’t want to do this.”

It’s very early evening as the clear blue of the sky behind tall, craggy mountains becomes tinged with a pale yellow. A young, unshaven man drives to the silent shore of Lake Nedor. There’s not a soul in sight to see him strip naked, soak himself in gasoline then take a flare from his bag.

“Please,” he repeats.
“Do it.”

Some great textures over the next three pages as the man soundlessly erupts like a human torch before sleepwalking slowly into the water aflame.

 

 

Cut to a crime scene in a forest where the few leaves still clinging to the trees appear to have been transmuted into fragile, ultra-thin slithers of something crystalline, brittle. The body of a man lies in the centre of a scorched-earth circle, his shirt torn open, a representation of the Stars & Stripes carved into the flesh of his chest. He’s not the first.

They called the killer The American Spirit. “Do we always have to give these bastards names?”

A fraudulent medium is drinking alone, at least when her old man will let her. Three nights she’s been at it, this self-styled Lady Satan, knocking back the booze and staring into the mirror. This evening the mirror stares back. First it’s a woman, then something else.

“I am you and you are me. And this is how we escape.”

Supernatural crime-capes, the cover suggests. I really don’t fancy any of the remaining cast’s chances.

Speaking of covers, there were Q of them for this. Q!

That’s 17 if I’ve countered my fingers correctly (some more than once, I’ll have you know). What sort of series needs 17 covers and what sort of publisher prints them?

SLH

Buy Blackcross #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Kick-Ass 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

“There’s a prisoner in the east wing goes by the name of Schutz. I understand he’s been dealing heroin to some of the other inmates when I explicitly forbade all forms of drug abuse in my prison.”
“Your prison?”
“Tell him he’s new and that buys him one warning. But if he makes another sale I’m going to slice his junk off. I run a nice, clean joint since taking over the gangs. Drug abuse, like molestation, is now a capital offence.”

That’s Hit-Girl talking from her maximum security prison cell to her state-appointed psychiatrist. She’s, like, fourteen or something.

This is the fourth and final volume of KICK-ASS (don’t forget the KICK-ASS 2 PREQUEL, HIT-GIRL) in which everything by now should be thoroughly predictable. It couldn’t be much less predictable had it been published as a liquid and guest-starred the colourful cast of MY LITTLE PONY.

 

Previously in KICK-ASS (and I’m going to do this without any spoilers, I promise you): a school boy called Dave Lizewski decided it would be cool to emulate his favourite comicbook heroes, dress up in a green gimp suit and fight crime on the streets with two truncheons, no powers and zero hours of training. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to suggest that if you attempted that in real life things would not go well for you.

Then he met Hit-Girl who was even smaller but had been trained by her somewhat driven Dad in almost every combat discipline known to man, the use of every weapon in every imaginable environment etcetera. She would have been turned down by the SAS as overqualified. The contrast between this dispassionate, foul-mouthed, ruthless and relentlessly efficient underage weapon and meticulously polite, compassionate and considerate Dave (even when trying to intimidate gangstas) was part of the comedy, as was the whole tender age / extreme violence marriage.

Still things did not go well. I mean, Hit-Girl is being marched into prison on the opening page in the pouring rain and in serious need of some surgery; and although Dave has access to all her resources the bravado of his fellow crime fighters is as fragile as a freshly boiled egg. Essentially they’re all cosplayers, living out their idols’ stories as close as they can, even if that includes the emotional indulgence of taking photos at a parent’s graveside like a recently heartbroken teen playing their favourite power ballad.

“It’s so much cooler when you’re brooding in a big, black coat. I tried this in my jeans last week, but it all just looked so inappropriately casual.”

Specifically:

“I want to try some shots of me kneeling down with my head bowed like a Batman cover. Does this look good?”
“Dude, you look spectacular.”

Anyway, with Hit-Girl in prison and the police in his pocket, mafia boss Rocco Genovese returns from Sicily to take command not only of his own family but everyone else’s and merge every gang from Maine to Florida.

Nothing about that scenario will play out as you predict, not even the police on the take, and Rocco Genovese’s particular predilection will only dawn on you slowly, at which point his remarks to a young, unfamiliar policeman will prove even more chilling. Millar seems to have found a new angle for almost everything. When was the last time you saw things from the perspective of a supervillain’s mother? Here’s Angela, mother of the last book’s brutal little bastard being stopped in the street by a woman:

“My brother was one of the people your son murdered last year when he and his friends shot up our neighbourhood. Now my sister-in-law doesn’t have a husband and my two little nephews don’t have a father… all because you shat out the Antichrist.”

That’s perfectly played by Romita: Chris’ mum has a very lived-in face from having had to move house over and again after her photo was published in the papers. She looks genuinely appalled for the woman, then broken when spat on. Ideally she’d like to move much further away, but feels she cannot while Chris is in prison. She is, after all, a mother.

And if you think at least that part will prove predictable… wrong!

As to John Romita Jr, while looking for interior art for my BLACK PANTHER review the other day I did wonder what it must be like to have drawn so many spectacularly beautiful pages of comics – ten thousand or more – and know that they wouldn’t have existed without you. Because no one does John Romita Jr: it’s the representation of physical mass and weight rather than the photorealistic depiction of it. Not everyone could have pulled off the tender age / extreme violence marriage like Romita. Others would have audiences baulking and I think the representational short-hand of his style is key: when I caught 30 minutes of the film on TV I winced because, umm, it doesn’t get more photorealistic than photography!

Having Dave’s blonde hair flop out from under his mask was a defining, amateur-hour touch: imagine it without and it’s oh so generic and not at all what this book’s about.

So yes, this is it, it’s emphatically the end but you’ll have to discover why for yourselves. But at least before then Dave is afforded some genuine happiness for once in the form of his first-ever girlfriend, Valerie.

“I take it all the fantasy busts are yours?”
“Yeah, my guilty secret. I started out reading Harry Potter and then graduated onto anything with elves or vampires. You know, all those big, global franchises the internet hates because it makes female writers rich?”

SLH

Buy Kick-Ass 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Matteo Lolli, Jacopo Camagni.

There was quite a funny joke in here but it took three issues to set up, all from the improbable notion that someone requiring a hearing aid wouldn’t put it in when they had plenty of opportunity to do so. I don’t wander round the shop with my glasses off when I’ve no contract lenses in!

In between there were approximately 100 other attempts at humour which failed.

So let’s nail our colours to the mast!

We adore the current series of HAWKEYE (three books so far, one on its way) to the improbable extent that it’s the only superhero series we have ever let in our window. The other week’s ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 was equally chic and contemporary with some watercolour flashbacks which merged with the present panes at the climax. So that was clever.

And we are enormous fans of the sales of DEADPOOL. We are so grateful and if you’re having a riot we’ll be the last to bring water cannons.

But it’s a title that has seemed to suffer during each of its incarnations from some sort of editor’s edict commanding that Deadpool himself crack a joke or issue a rejoinder in every single panel. What are the chances of them all being funny unless your name is Evan MILK & CHEESE Dorkin? In fact what are the chances of any of the jokes being funny if you’re commanded to be funny at such a rapid rate of knots?

Oh wait, I’ve just realised: this is Jim Carrey’s The Mask done badly.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Venom Vs. Carnage s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crain.

Paternal instincts aren’t all they should be when you’re an alien symbiote.

If I’ve got this right then Carnage (white-eyed, crimson monstrosity with very sharp teeth who looks like he’s made up of multiple, prehensile entrails) is the offspring of Venom (white-eyed, blue-black monstrosity with very sharp teeth who used to be bonded to Spider-Man), and Carnage is currently pregnant. He cannot abort or stop its gestation, but is determined to kill his child the second it’s born. First he needs to find it a host then kill the host, so he pops it into a policeman whose wife is pregnant and then tries to off said policeman.

I’m not sure I understand this at all; it wasn’t covered in Biology A Level.

Milligan (HUMAN TARGET, ENIGMA) fills the dialogue with punning reversals (“Carnage, I’ve loathed you like a son.”), Crain fills the pages with the slick-as-you like, computer generation protagonists (humans look wonky, but the creatures look cool), and together they cash-fill our till. Hurrah!

Not what Mr. Milligan was born for, though.

SLH

Buy Venom Vs. Carnage s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?

Lazarus vol 3: Conclave s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark, Tyler Boss

Criminal Special Edition #1 Magazine Sized (£4-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Tea Collection (£12-99, ) by A. J. Poyiadgi

Ant Colony h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

Baltimore vol 5: The Apostle And The Witch Of Harju h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting, Ben Stenbeck

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 10 -  The Devil’s Wings s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell, Joe Querio, Tyler Crook

Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Deadly Class vol 2: Kids Of The Black Hole s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig

Fables: The Complete Covers h/c (£37-99, Vertigo) by James Jean

Oink: Heaven’s Butcher s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by John Mueller

Pablo (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by J. Birmant & C. Oubrerie

Prophet vol 4: Joining (£13-50, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly & various

United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Justice League Of America vol 2: Survivors Of Evil s/c (£12-99, DC) by Matt Kindt & Doug Mahnke, various, Ken Lashley

Deadpool’s Art Of War s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Scott Koblish

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Original Sin h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ed McGuinness, Valerio Schiti, David Lopez

Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Jake Wyatt, Adrian Alphona

Attack On Titan vol 15 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

News!

ITEM! Preview of Mark Millar & Sean Murphy’s CHRONONAUTS #1 on Page 45’s shelves! Also on our website: CHRONONAUTS #1. There’s an optical illusion embedded in the CHRONONAUTS cover – Sean Murphy explains.

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival announces new Canadian Guests for October 2015! Includes Kate Beaton (HARK! A VAGRANT), Seth (PALOOKAVILLE, WIMBELDON GREEN, GEORGE SPROTT, THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS – that’s emphatically fiction!) and Stuart Immonen (SECRET IDENTITY, ALL-NEW X-MEN, NEXTWAVE etc) and more! Also, some Brits there are off to TCAF and I am not remotely jealous. *cries*

ITEM! The ART SCHOOLED graphic novel has gone down so well here! OFFLIFE interviews ART SCHOOLED’s Jamie Coe about that and future plans.

ITEM! New Page 45 interview about the British Comics Industry conducted by Sophie studying at Lincoln University. She’d certainly done her research and makes me sound far more eloquent than I am!

ITEM! Colourful Kickstarter for BEAST WAGON by Owen Michael Johnson & John Pearson. Black comicbook comedy set it a zoo. Love the performance of it all! Owen Michael Johnson wrote RAYGUN ROADS which was a sort of Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy TANK GIRL car crash.

- Stephen

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