Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2017 week four

February 22nd, 2017

We celebrate 2000 AD’s 40th Birthday with a love letter after admiring Alexis Frederick-Frost, John Martz, Philippa Pearce & Edith, then Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt, Rick Remender & Jerome Opena, Bill The Bard and more!

Do you want to meet Jillian and Mariko Tamaki? News underneath!

Tom’s Midnight Garden h/c (£12-99, Oxford Press) by Philippa Pearce & Edith.

“The clock belongs to old Mrs. Bartholomew upstairs. She’s rather particular about it…
“It keeps good time but seldom chooses to strike the right hour.”

I need to find a word other than ‘magical’, don’t I? Lord, but I’ve taken that one out to play often enough when it comes to comics, particularly all-ages comics like this. I know, let’s try ‘transporting’.

It’s the beginning of the summer holidays. Tom’s younger brother Peter has measles so, lest he catch it too, frown-faced Tom is hastily dispatched to Uncle Alan and Auntie Gwen who live in a town near Ely where he’ll be kept under quarantine. Uncle Alan collects him by car.

“I hope we’ll get on reasonably well.”

A once grand house, it has since been divided into flats, at the top of which lives the landlady, old Mrs. Bartholomew. Her grandfather clock stands screwed to the wall in the shared hallway, which is dingy even during the day.

His Uncle isn’t unkind but he’s rather remote and slightly austere, and while his Aunt is jolly and a generous cook, you suspect that they’ve never had children. It doesn’t help Tom’s sense of being trapped that there are bars on his windows and he’s not allowed out or to answer the door for the fortnight it takes to ensure he’s not contagious.

Both writer and artist capture the crippling awkwardness and monotonous boredom of staying alone anywhere but home when you’re young, outside your comfort zone, without friends or familiar books and toys: the sense of being very much a visitor. Time passes excruciatingly slowly as Tom writhes on a chair or lies flat on his back on his bed. So, in order to at least feel some sort of contact, Tom begins writing to Peter.

Then, during a typically sleepless night, Tom hears the grandfather clock’s sonorous chiming not ten o’clock, not eleven o’clock, not twelve o’clock but…

“Peter, I had to know what time the clock fingers would be showing when it struck thirteen…”

Tom descends the staircase gingerly in darkness, but the scant moonbeams shining from the narrow window above the back door aren’t bright enough to read the clock face, so he opens the door to let more light in.

Instead of the cluttered back yard he was promised lay outside, Tom is confronted by a vast, sprawling green garden of some country mansion, in full summer flower and in daylight!

I did promise you ‘transporting’.

The contrast is startling.

The drabness of Tom’s confines had been accentuated with but three muted and similar, slightly sickly shades shared by the walls, the bed linen and Auntie Gwen’s frock. Then there was the perpetually dark and gloomy hallway. Now Edith opens everything up – like an orchestra letting rip after mournful, wistful solos – with a full-page blast of fresh, vivid green, bright, sunshine yellows, livid purple and scarlet blooms. In addition, behind the initial, informal garden, there is the promise of more to explore with a meadow and second tree line in the distance behind the hedge.

As Tom begins to beam in his smart, white, best-visiting jim-jams, you can feel the cool, soft grass beneath his tiny feet.

There’s an exquisitely written scene over breakfast the next morning in which Tom tries to rationalise his experience as his Aunt and Uncle having lied about what lies outside. He angles his arguments in such a way as to coax a confession out of one or the other, but they are oblivious. Undeterred, he tries again his Aunt on his own. It’s delightful. Then suddenly it occurs to him to see for himself, to open the back door in broad daylight.

As promised, it’s just a back yard, and a small one at that.

We’ve barely begun but I’m not sure how much further to take you. Tom will continue to make further forays into this enticing realm and you will notice that those he later spies living there – three brothers and their young cousin Harriet – are dressed as late Victorians while Tom, of course, comes from the late 1950s.

On his second visit Tom discovers that time passes differently in his midnight garden than it does at his Auntie and Uncle’s, but a little later he becomes puzzled that a tree struck by lightning in a storm should be in perfectly fine fettle on a subsequent sortie.

I will say that a brief episode involving Tom perched in a wheelbarrow, which you’ll pass over as nothing the first time round, becomes exceedingly funny on your second read through. It’s one of those books which rewards multiple readings to see if it works once you’ve realised what’s happening.

There’s so much to admire in Edith’s line and colour art. The contrasts we’ve covered, although her backlit scenes throughout are some of the most effective I’ve seen, with shadows falling over those approaching to telling effect on subsequent inspection. I also adore Tom’s wide white eyes, big head and body language which are perfect for an age when we haven’t yet achieved full strength or agility. Auntie Gwen, meanwhile, is so plump and homely that she could almost have been pencilled – though not coloured – by Raymond Briggs, and Uncle Alan’s glasses through which no colour passes are perfect for the period.

Where Edith excels above all is on the other side of the midnight door, capturing the not just the scale but the variety of any such rambling estate. There’s the walled vegetable garden with its green door, an ornamental pond, formal walkways round mowed lawns and under organic tunnels of foliage, informal thoroughfares through more remote woodland under vast canopies of trees, shrubbery, flower beds, fences and gates, and a large greenhouse.

The dappled light under the apple orchard’s trees in painted to perfection, their squat, twisting, knotted trunks a sure sign of their maturity.

Now, there is obviously a substantial element of time travelling involved, but it’s far from linear or predictable. Plus there’s something far more complex, personal and intimate at work as you shall see.

For, at its heart, this is the story of two lonely souls craving company, reaching out and finding it.

SLH

Buy Tom’s Midnight Garden h/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Cat Named Tim h/c (£17-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz.

Family entertainment, riddled with mischief, wonder and wit, in a hardbound variety of inventive, unpredictable entertainments for maximum interpretation and so interaction.

Filled with loops – both visual and narrative – this will have wide eyes hungrily scouring the pages, following the paths and bring big, broad grins to both you and your sproglets, as young as you like.

Everything here (bar one double-page spread showing Tim to be a master of many metiers) is emphatically comics, even the double-page spread in which Connie and Mouse activate an enormous, impressive and complex machine full of funnels, pipes and gauges, levers and light bulbs, dials and digital displays.

“What does it do?”
“I thought you knew!”

I saw so many faces in all its intricacies, but then humans will anthropomorphise anything, won’t we? Cars, clocks, trains, house fronts…

 

The loops begin on the very first page introducing our first act, Doug the duck and Mouse. Theirs is one long adventure as they traverse the globe by any and every means imaginable. At one point they navigate a tropical, serpentine river into which the longest snake you’ve ever seen dips in and out, its coiled body disappearing beneath the water’s surface as our heroes progress downstream towards danger. Then, on the very next page, there’s a Looney Tunes-like water-jet gag.

You never know what to expect, including the return of that snake under very different yet hilariously similar circumstances for its body is segmented once more, but by something else entirely. Will you be able to spot it?

Each of our other three acts you’ll find introduced before they take centre stage, and our second is the titular cat named Tim, who will try his hand at any activity, be it professional, recreational, educational, experimental, artistic or domestic. At one point he paints himself into quite the corner, only to extricate himself with comical cartoon logic. It’s so obvious once you’ve seen it, but I defy you to try that at home!

So we come to my favourite loop, that of Connie’s mechanically assisted, twelve-panel day which begins top-left and ends bottom-right, but whose path is far from straight-lined linear. Here her course is subtly suggested by colour and Connie’s line of sight.

Finally it’s time for Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock to keep us entertained while doing as little as they can, for if Doug and Mouse are continually on the move, then Mr. and Mrs. Hamhock are far more sedentary. Whatever could possibly unseat them? Ah, yes, that perennial anxiety / doubt! They may have left it a little too late.

From the creator of possibly the most poignant comic I’ve ever read, BURT’S WAY HOME (even more so that Jordan Crane’s profoundly moving LAST LONELY SATURDAY) comes page after colourful page of adventure, misadventure and japes, as fresh as fresh can be.

I have never, for example, seen a bird dutifully raking its tree branch in Autumn, while the leaves flutter down to collect unattended on the grass below.

SLH

Buy A Cat Named Tim h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hugh (£4-99, One Percent Press) by Alexis Frederick-Frost.

A miniature gem of delighted discovery and life-changing, creativity-catalysing serendipity whose initial black and white cardstock is cut round Hugh’s semi-profile so as to reveal a glimpse of the riotous, fuchsia-and-gold-coloured secondary cover behind.

The very first page of softly smudged pencils is rich in period detail from the buildings’ ornate facades to the fashion of the few men and women seen parading down its relatively tranquil street with their walking sticks, hats and voluminous dresses and the single horse-drawn cart.

On the second we spy Hugh with his prominent nose and pointy, Poirot-like moustache prising open an envelope to reveal an evening’s invitation to an Annual Accounts Report. Although excited, he diligently he maintains his ledger of what is due and what has been paid, but then he sets off at the bong of the clock, his thoughts full of formulae but – oh no! – it is raining, and the actual address is obliterated.

Hugh hastens on, recalling the street’s number, for such is head for figures and attention to detail!

He is wrong.

But he’s never been more right in his life.

What follows is a spiritual and visual blooming, which I’ve foreshadowed in my very first paragraph just as Frederick-Frost has when proving that you can judge this book by its cover.

This is what I love about comics: this!

The unexpected and the joyful, so succinctly expressed and so cleverly crafted by someone with something to say, and the skill with which to say it. If I thought for one second that we could import another hundred copies in time, I would declare this to be Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month for March.

Please note: we secured copies of this and so much more besides from Spit And A Half, the American distributor created, curated and manned by KING-KAT’s John Porcellino.

You can find a full list of our recent acquisitions underneath Page 45’s Reviews for February 2017 Week 2, each title linked to Porcellino’s own summaries where we have yet to provide thoughts of our own.

SLH

Buy Hugh and read the Page 45 review here

John Porcellino’s Thumb (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino’s Mum and Dad.

This thumb is a good thumb.

It boasts all the basic requirements: opposable, four fingers to oppose, and hand still attached for maximum opposition.

In addition it is clean and healthy with no evident signs of necrosis.

The real treasure and star attraction, however, is the thumb nail which is perfectly formed and diligently clipped. Its keratin is shiny and its cuticle kept at bay, revealing a perfect, pale lunula.

This nail is also naturally translucent whereas many come covered in an opaque, albeit glossy colouring which is sometimes a bonus but rarely on men – the male finger and thumb are ill-designed for such a varnish, being relatively stumpy. This is a subjective aesthetic assessment, of course, but it comes irrespective of societal, gender judgementalism which is as much of an anathema to me as variant covers. Please note: there are no variant editions of JOHN PORCELLINO’S THUMB.

In summary, Mrs. and Mr. Porcellino are to be commended for their remarkably good-looking genes and impeccable design sense which harks back to the early work of God. Although do bear in mind that some suspect God was but a pseudonym for Science.

SLH

Buy John Porcellino’s Thumb and read the Page 45 review here

2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years (£12-99, Rebellion) by Alan Grant, Steve McManus, Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Malcom Shaw, John Smith, John Wagner, Rob Williams, & Brian Bolland, John Burns, Steve Dillon, Carlos Ezquerra, Duncan Fegredo, Kevin O’Neill, Dylan Teague, Chris Weston, Colin Wilson.

Hello!

I’m 2000 AD’s self-appointed ambassador for the week, welcoming newcomers and suggesting that loyal devotees might also consider this the perfect present with which to initiate your friends.

Unlike Judge Dredd – the one-man Emergency Response Unit for whom evidence is an irrelevance and juries an unnecessary impediment – I present exhibit A:

“You creeps are under arrest. Attempted murder, fifteen apiece.
“Plus seven for arming an infant.”

We’ll be returning to Williams and Weston’s whimsical short story about the dearly deluded and far from beloved, green crocodilian Klegg soon enough. It is this collection’s prime example of how much intricate detail and unexpected lateral thinking can be crammed into such short stories whilst leaving plenty of space for the eye to roam and the mind to muse on a) mankind’s atrocious lack of empathy b) the bliss of innocence and ignorance and c) what Emily Bronte might do if she were transformed into a bi-pedal alligator on the run from a big-game hunter while stuck in a utilitarian tower block whose elevator door obstinately refuses to open.

But if you’re new to the satirical world of 2000 AD then “Plus seven for arming an infant” should give you quite the clue of what to expect. As should this:

“By the time the traffic was halted, the assassin was spread over 500 metres of Mega-Way.”

Such cadence!

If you are new to Britain’s weekly comic which just last year published its 2000th consecutive issue in addition to new material in monthly magazines and specials, what an achievement is that! Also, what a great place to start: thirteen short stories from throughout this irreverent institution’s forty years, selected and introduced by acclaimed creators commending their peers.

There’s a particularly delicious and ever so English full-colour entry called ‘The Strange Case Of The Wyndham Demon’ by Johns Smith & Burns in which a quaint country village finds itself assaulted by semi-sentient bread dough whose need to feed coincides fatally with a dutiful wife’s need to knead. It’s not so much a hands-on experience as a hands-off experience.

“Ellen screams and steps back, suddenly faint, suddenly worried because her hands have gone.
“Ted’ll be home in an hour and she can’t find her hands.
“Ellen Harris’ last thought, as she faints from loss of blood, is: ‘Who’s going to do the washing up?’”

If that weren’t enough for this blood-letting kitchen sink drama, an angry old man called Doctor Sin – already on a vocal rampage of intolerance towards the satanic influence of rock and roll luring millions of innocent youngsters towards “alcoholism, hooliganism, socialism and self-abuse” – vows to get to the bottom of this devilry by weeding out local perversion and filth like the local St. Judith’s Bell Ringers association.

Speaking of intolerance, Judge Dredd himself is very well represented from as early as Prog 5 and as recently as Prog 1889.

Issues or editions were called ‘Progs’ in the future. That’s a sentence which beautifully sums up the smile-twitching situation we now find ourselves in: that 2000AD seen as a once far-flung future date back in 1977 has now long since come and gone. Not everything predicted has come to pass, although if we haven’t criminalised sugar yet (as they satirically suggested we might back in 1981) then we’ve certainly demonised it. 2000 AD’s semi-accuracy was part of its charm, as was such mischief: you’re not going to get fat on cocaine. I’m pretty sure obesity was a crime. And when I type “semi-accuracy” it was often spot-on, for I seem to recall one Neil Gaiman predicting our current obsession with mobile phones there. It isn’t included.

We’re certainly catching up fast in jettisoning our freedoms, but Judge Dredd’s stomping ground, Mega-City One, had long since dispensed with privacy laws. Everyone was on camera and every client who even bought a stick of lipstick was logged, their names and addresses surrendered to even the most casual police enquiries without question. I don’t think that world even had a word for ‘warrant’ any longer. And I think that’s brilliant: that the kids (and its readers were kids back then) were warned, through comedy, of the dangers of unchecked authority.

The epitome of this totalitarianism was Judge Dredd himself, he of the impassive, iron, jutting jaw as originally impressed upon us by Carlos Ezquerra. It was masterfully perpetuated by the likes of Bolland, Wilson, Weston, Dillon, Fegredo, Teague etc who are all in evidence here, and if you aren’t familiar with Dylan Teague, well, I present you with another Dave Gibbons. He really is that good, his whiplash choreography bolstered by foot-on-the-ground physics.

Crucially, Dredd never once removed his helmet for that would betray / instil in him some humanity. Although you might be amused to learn that he once had an Italian cleaning lady. He wasn’t the most sympathetic of employers: when she ushered in a cold-caller called Kevin O’Neill, Dredd threatened to drown Maria in her Minestrone. Quite right too!

No, Judge Dredd was and remains both hero and villain. He postures in his pursuit of justice, but all Dredd seeks truly is punishment. I doubt he could even spell “rehabilitation”. He is hilariously yet egregiously free from the concept of joy. He is thrillingly efficient to the point that one cannot help but applaud a one-panel button-punch which sends a criminal careening through page after page of aerial pain, and so determined that no perpetrator will go unpunished that you wish so fervently that he’d headed the original Stephen Lawrence investigation. Yet he is implacable, dogmatic, relentless and remorseless. In Wagner and Fegredo’s ‘The Runner’ he shoots a man down in cold blood for achieving his best jogging record:

“B-but he’s not a criminal! He loved running… He was always running. That’s all. Is it a crime to run now?”
“It’s reasonable grounds for suspicion.”

That’s a fabulous short story, by the way, seen from the point of view of that jogger / runner. Artist Fegredo is a maestro of movement as seen to spectacular effect in Mark Millar’s MPH, and remains comics’ king of gesticulation – on a par with Will Eisner or sculpture’s Auguste Rodin – and here his figure’s fingers are seen poised as if daintily drinking a cup of tea.

So we return to where we began with Rob Williams and Chris Weston’s ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Klegg Hunter’. It’s a relatively recent entry with exceptional, glowing colour art by Michael Dowling over Chris Weston’s phenomenally intricate lines. You’re in for a rich and deliciously satirical delight as Williams takes on speed dating, errant apostrophes, employer disloyalty, the humble aspirations and meek expectations of a literature-loving, anthropomorphic crocodile wearing a yin-yang belt buckle, feared and loathed so unreasonably by all, plus the duplicity of vapid, day-time television hosts who should all be taken outside right now and shot.

Sorry… I think the Judge is rubbing off on me.

“Boy, I thought Kleggs were supposed to be fearsome, not tiresome!”
“After sitting through that, Andrea, I for one feel we should invade the Klegg homeworld and wipe out their entire race.”
“Hmm. genocide. Good thing or bad thing? Viewers, press your screen now.”

My only qualm is that even more 2000 AD non-Judge-mental gems like Smith & Burns’ – unavailable in other collections – could have been better served with this spotlight. But I’d reiterate that it’s a crackingly good primer and I’ll tell you this for nothing:

2000 AD is a family, and once you’ve offered yourself up for adoption you will be cherished. I cannot think of a single other publisher whose Twitter @2000AD treats its readers with such all-encompassing, interactive affection. That account is evidently run with a great deal of fun for its readers.

There was (and continues to be) such an outpouring of adoration for the comic’s extensive 40th birthday celebrations (I hear this every day from those who attended on our shop floor) and its 2000th Prog which meant that Page 45 sold 10 times its normal number of copies, shipping it worldwide and – on several notable occasions – off-world.

250+ copies went to a planet called Quaxxan orbiting the very real star which you might well know as Betelgeuse, which was almost as strange and satisfying as when we sent a SCOTT PILGRIM t-shirt to Toronto.

I’ll concede that in this instance the postage was crippling, but you show me any other comic shop on this planet that can and will ship to anywhere in this worldwide wibbliverse. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where there’s money involved, our Jonathan will find a way. He’s from Yorkshire.

Heart-felt congratulations to 2000 AD, then, not just on its prescience, its eloquence, its endurance and its anniversary achievements but also on giving so many individualistic artists and writers – whom we now know so well – their very first jack-booted foot in the door.

All the art shown is from this very collection; it’s just a shame I could find none of Fegredo’s nor John Burns’ online. Soz!

SLH

Buy 2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years and read the Page 45 review here

The Wild Storm #1 (£3-25, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt.

“Take it from me: there’s no such thing as being alive too long.
“There’s always something new.”

There speaks the futurist in Warren Ellis, constantly scanning the technological, literary and political horizons for what’s coming next.

This time, however, the creator of INJECTION, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, TREES et al is concerned with new iterations, specifically of old Wildstorm characters like those he himself introduced in THE AUTHORITY. It was a broader science fiction than its subgenre of superheroes, whilst keeping some of its more prominent trappings – the costumes, HQ and action – right out in front in order to please its readers. It did. I recommend it unequivocally.

This, I suspect, is veering even further away into purer science fiction with a far more European sensibility aided by Jon Davis-Hunt’s clean detail and spirit of place, and Ivan Plascencia’s cool blue and brown, sky and earth palette slashed with mere traces, tiny trickles of blood which make them all the more painful and worrying.

The cover and its colour are a statement of intent.

You need have read nothing before: Ellis is starting from scratch as if nothing had gone before, although there’s no point in throwing the babies with some potential out along with the cold, dirty bathwater. Deliberately, then, I’ll mention no more of the imprint’s prior incarnation and simply suggest some of what is presented here.

Covert civic operations seeking to keep gene-spliced blood out of the city’s water supply. Overt economic operations seeking to make big bucks from cleaner energy sources while keeping the alien nature of their corporation’s head under wraps. Covert International Operations seeking to keep quietly running the world. Miles Craven, director of I.O., seeking to share a street-side citron pressé with his husband Julian without being harassed by a clumsy, scatty and intense scientist / employee called Angela Spica determined to raise the bar on their ambitions exponentially in order to enhance lives worldwide in a whole new way.

Each one of those goals is compromised, in one way or another, by the chain reaction within.

For a start, Angela’s already experimented on herself.

I’m going to leave it there for fear of spoilers, but I’ll just return, if I may, to Jon Davis-Hunt and that “tiny trickle of blood”. There’s a slash in Angie’s t-shirt suggesting the experiment hurt plenty, but that’s nothing compared to a small sequence of panels after Angie sees a man bursting out of a plate glass window high above the HALO billboards advertising “Solar For Homes”, “A Battery Cell For Life” and “We’re Making The Next New World”. It is excruciating, as jagged shards of cellular meta-metal rearranges itself and multiplies, tearing through tissue then skin. The skin is just under one of Angie’s eyes. Every element there has been designed to emphasise the personal price and pain.

So:

HALO wants to make the world cleaner.

Angie wants to make the world safer.

International Operations wants to keep the world broken.

It’s easier to control that way.

SLH

Buy The Wild Storm #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Seven To Eternity vol 1: The God Of Whispers s/c (£8-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena…

“I remember Pa’s hand in mine.
“Grasping and shaking for what felt like a thousand years…
“…before he finally let go.
“His spirit released, allowing me brief communion before returning to the Well.
“I told him that I loved him. That I didn’t blame him.
“Didn’t blame him that his honour had sentenced us to this hard life.
“That I was proud of his sacrifice, that he never compromised his integrity.
“And I promised it wouldn’t be for nothing.
“I lied.
“And he knew.
“His final words to me were brief, the same old mantra.
“That no matter what happens…
Never hear the Mad King’s offer.”

Well, I guess this would fall very neatly into the Dark Fantasy Western genre. Each title that immediately springs to mind as sitting in the centre of that curious Venn diagram – Stephen King’s Peter David and Jae Lee-adapted DARK TOWER series, Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta’s EAST OF WEST and Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten’s WASTELAND – is a completely different animal, and this is no exception.

Adam Osidis is his own man. Though truly he didn’t have any choice in the matter. No, that was decided for him by his father, the moment he refused to give himself over to The God Of Whispers. Those that do are promised seemingly their heart’s desires, but would you really give someone total psychic dominion over you to fulfil that entreaty?

Possibly, if the only other choice was death for you and all those you love. So, sadly the vast majority of people have ceded, allowing the Mad King to amass a vast army under his control, including various powerful magical abilities to wield. The more his power and influence grew, the less people were able to convince themselves to even contemplate resisting, Adam’s father being one of the few brave exceptions. The Mad King very much wanted to add Adam’s father’s ability to his collection, however, and did not forget this slight.

So it is that only a relatively small group of free people remain, including Adam and his family, who were taken into the wilderness by his father to try and remain hidden from the Mad King’s clutches. They all knew it would ultimately be futile, of course; it was only ever going to be a matter of time before they were hunted down and discovered.

Now Adam is presented with his own choice. Is he as strong as his father? Seemingly not… But then he’s living on borrowed time as it is for another reason, so perhaps throwing his lot in with a rag tag bunch of magical freedom fighters who represent the last hope of overthrowing the despot isn’t actually that daring a defiance as it could be. Not that they seem particularly keen on trusting Adam…

This is a truly packed opener featuring the usual sophisticated, complex writing from Remender, and gorgeous, intricate art from Opena, very beautifully coloured by Hollingsworth.  I genuinely don’t know how Remender manages to shoehorn so much plot, subplot and character development into a mere four issues-worth of material, both comprehensively setting the scene and providing spectacular action aplenty as our dysfunctional group’s harebrained, suicidal full frontal assault seems to succeed rather too easily for my liking…

Just what is the Mad King up to…?

JR

Buy Seven To Eternity vol 1: The God Of Whispers s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions:

Nameless s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham.

“From Earth to the Moon.
“Malkuth to Yesod.
“Shit rains down.
“Nothing is real.”

I don’t think I’ve every typed the words “Morrison”, “predictable” and “pedestrian” in the same sentence before.

I remember “passionate”, “compassionate”, “fiercely intelligent”, “parapersonality” and “transtemporal, pansexual, mulltidimensional fight for the future’s freedom”.

You wouldn’t really forget that one, would you?

Also, drugs: I remember a great many drugs and extreme vacillations between “Comics are ephemera, bound only for bins” and “Comics are the last medium unsullied by compromise with corporations – like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

But before we begin, may I take a personal moment to say how fondly I recognised and remembered Glasgow’s Botanical Garden Gates, having lingered there long-time, but not with all those plump, floppy fish seen skewered on its weathervane here?

“Hebrew letter “mun” means “fish”. “Fish” and “Death”. And death is daath.”

Fair enough. I suppose all that has something to do with The Veiled Lady’s henchmen wearing deep-sea anglerfish head masks when they kidnap our protagonist who apparently will remain nameless and dump him in a supermarket shopping trolley. He tumbles out tellingly because our man and his proverbial trolley parted ways way back in 2001 since when, we learn later, he’s been on the run from the police.

Maybe he tried to steal the fuzz’s Dream-Key to their Empty Box in a Tombraider-like dream-space? That’s what our nameless one’s done to The Veiled Lady, which is why she is ever so slightly brittle. Or maybe they want him for pretension, since he’s quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

 

Once rescued, our man of arcane knowledge is told there’s an asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide on a collision course with Earth. It’s called Xibalba, otherwise known as the Mayan underworld, the “Place of Fear” because whichever astronomer was on duty that night was feeling portentous as fuck.

In 33 days there will be an Extinction Level Impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but long before that there will be planetary-wide panic. Of course there will! Have you read Dan Berry’s THE END? So psychologically astute!

If that wasn’t bad enough the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. This sigil is three miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse, and if you think that already sounds a far from promising picnic spot, there are the transmissions emanating from Xibalba in the Enochian angel language of John Dee – Astrologer Royal to Queen Elizabeth I – which, when translated, don’t bode well for hospitality at all!

“Man – every one of you – prepare for wrath.”

And that’s just the opening gambit. The rest of the curse speaks of “one thousand thousand-strong thunders”, “torment”, “flaming firmament”, “poison stars”, “Wormwood” (seldom propitious) and “woe”. All things considered, therefore, I’d probably stick to the original operational agenda which is fly out to the asteroid, drag it off course using tractor physics from off-planet, then bugger off back to moonbase, lickerty spit.

I definitely would in no way descend into the crevasse / scar / open wound and investigate gigantic sealed entrances because I have watched Alien many times over and things went slightly awry. I wouldn’t even dispatch drones down there.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a mighty fine impression of Frank Quitely. While retaining no small element of that, here he comes over all Richard Corben which is perfect for this kind of psychotropic horror. It’s the creepiest sort of horror going wherein things grow into or out of you, and Burnham will certainly make you wince more than once on that front. He does diseased and invasion of personal space all too well.

He’s also spectacular when it comes to the crevasse’s epic contents, its off-the-scale monumentalism, and indeed the textured surface of the asteroid itself as seen from above in the form of a gigantic, circuit-board skull. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

In this sort of horror there’s nothing you can fight, only things to scare you shitless like the degradation of the body and degradation of the mind  – madness itself – and the terror of being lost and alone.

“There’s only me left.”

There are a great many doors here. Doors can be very disturbing. Opening one is quite the commitment.

As well as psychological horror, Morrison’s also very good at that sort of awful, gaping nihilism, here evoking the very opposite of Lovecraft’s “most merciful thing in the world” which, in case you’re wondering is “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”:

“Humankind is a disease, a malignant mistake. The natural world seeks to purge its blissful, ignorant Eden of our contagion.
“Self-awareness: there is the black worm in the apple. Our curse is to know there’s something terribly wrong with us.”

But that’s when he uses language one can comprehend and ideas one can take seriously. The rest is occult psychobabble for which I have a notoriously low threshold, and if you think his ‘Keys to the Abyss in THE NAMELESS’ will clarify shit, I’m afraid it’s mostly more mystic mumbo jumbo involving Thantifaxath, Baratchial, the qlippothic Tzuflifu (are you laughing yet, because I have tears streaming down my face) and tarot cards.

For an infinitely more imaginative, coherent and constructive take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

Buy Nameless s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Merchant Of Venice h/c (£18-99, Candlewick Press) by William Shakespeare & Gareth Hinds.

Promises, promises, and exchanges of vows…

Had Shakespeare decided to apply rhetorical skills to law instead of theatre then English literature would be much impoverished, yet I fancy many lost causes would have been won. The legal debate in the Merchant Of Venice is perfect evidence of that for its oratory – guilefully staged and executed by a disguised, fair Portia – serves both.

There are two main plot threads which are wittily entwined: the courtships and the court case. Antonio secures an interest-free loan from Shylock to be repaid within three months so that his friend Bassanio can woo Portia,  although he will have to solve a riddle which all others have failed at in order to prove his suitability as a suitor: priorities are important! The collateral he stakes – the forfeit Antonio will pay – is that proverbial pound of flesh: if he fails to come up with the goods, Shylock will be entitled to quite literally carve out a pound of Antonio’s flesh from wherever he chooses.

Guess what happens next?

What’s interesting is that it’s the Venetians’ very goading of Shylock and his (hmm…) “Jew heart” that prompts this unorthodox approach to money lending. The ensuing court case – to determine whether Shylock is indeed entitled to start slicing and dicing – is an equally loaded affair, but it’s so incredibly clever than one can’t help but grin throughout. Portia hasn’t finished, though. Just as she tested her suitors so rigorously before even considering their hand in marriage, so now she tests Bassanio’s verbal fidelity versus gratitude for legal services rendered. Will he part with his engagement ring which he swore never to remove and give it to his very own missus (the ironies of disguise – Shakespeare really loved that one), to thank her for saving his friend?

Not really fair, Portia!

Hinds has, once more, chosen a completely different style to draw in here, with black line and blue more reminiscent of Dave McKean’s CAGES than his own colourful take on THE ODYSSEY. It really opens the play out as the cast roam the meandering streets of Venice, crossing its old brick bridges and meeting off St. Mark’s. It’s a contemporary version, but I don’t mean that in the same way that Antony Johnston’s JULIUS radically reinterprets the play with real wit and relish; I mean the setting is contemporary and the language to begin with has been made more accessible before easing us gradually into something more closely resembling the original text when it’s at its most important (the court scene). It’s also, I should add, substantially abridged, which would have delighted me during my school trips to Stratford, aged thirteen.

All this is discussed by Hinds in the back along with the key question one cannot avoid given the treatment of Shylock, and the constant, disparaging use of the word ‘Jew’: is this an anti-Semitic play or anti-racist tract exposing the raging anti-Semitism in Shakespearean England? Well, it’s more acknowledged than discussed, and I can only add that I winced every time Shylock was hailed as “Jew” rather than Shylock but at least Hinds left it there for, one would hope, much more discussion in schools.

SLH

Buy The Merchant Of Venice h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage s/c (£12-99, Penguin) 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 à 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 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored s/c (£19-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & John Wagner, various.

“Ah have a dream, ma friends – a dream where ah see every square inch of this fair land covered by one big MacDonalds burger bar!
“A dream where every American child – be normal or mutie – kin grow up without knowin’ the horrors o’ natural food!
“Where every burger is served with pickle, an’ every ‘shake is so thick yu gotta drink it with a spoon!
“Yes, ma friends, ah dream o’ the day when all that’s decent and American – Mom’s apple pie, Hershey bars and the New York Yankees – yeah, everything that’s decent and American… HAS BEEN WIPED OUT!
“…And in its place will stand MacDonald’s – one huge, onion-spangled MacDonald’s – from sea to shinin’ sea!
“Enough speechifyin’. Let’s eat! The burgers an’ shakes is on me!”

Yes, as Chris Lowder and John Wagner write in their forewords, between their ‘speechifyin” Ronald MacDonald, a scheming Colonel Saunders, a rampaging Jolly Green Giant and even old Bibendum the Michelin man himself, it is astonishing that the <ahem> guest appearances were neither spotted and frantically scratched by the publishing higher-ups or attracted the subsequent attendant legal ire of the corporations squarely in the satirical crosshairs of Mills et al. But then as they also point out, 2000AD was a very different beast back then in 1978 (this collection covers Progs 61-85!), barely gestated and certainly not that well known.

Hence though, having got away with it once, the potentially copyright-offending parts of this epic were expunged from subsequent collections of the Cursed Earth Saga, including JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASEFILES 2, which sees Judge Dredd trying to cross the radioactive wastes from coast to coast to rescue Mega-City Two from the raging Tooty Fruity virus turning citizens into cannibals. Presumably at this point, they have had permission to reprint them! Though I actually recalled the retraction strip they printed at the time which features Dredd and Spikes Harvey Rotten and the ‘real’ Jolly Green Giant, which is included in the back matter here!

Extremely entertaining, iconoclastic brand-bashing aside, this is a classic bit of extremely early Dredd regardless as he battles through the Radlands encountering weirder and weirder resistance week after week, reluctantly assisted by returning villainous biker Spikes Harvey Rotten, even encountering ‘Smooth’ Bob Booth, the last President of the United States, along the way, whom the Judges sentenced to 100 years suspended animation for starting the Atomic Wars which resulted in their subsequent coup d’état.

Current Dredd readers might find such early material a touch two-dimensional and the stories seemingly dashed off and practically joined together with sticky tape, but to me it’s fascinating to look back and see how Mills even managed to get five pages of such exquisite madcap nonsense out on a weekly basis given the very, very limited resources he was working with. It’s also amusing to observe the at times almost polite nature of the early more lithesome Dredd, drawn so beautifully by Bolland in particular here. There’s certainly no such pleasantries from the hulking version of today as he heads gradually out of middle age towards drawing his pension!

JR

Buy Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored 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.

Forbidden Brides… h/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley

Snotgirl vol 1: Green Hair Don’t Care s/c (£8-99, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

Demon vol 2 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

The Autumnlands vol 2: Woodland Creatures s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey

Crossed + 100 vol 3 (£17-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Rafa Ortiz, Martin Tunica

The Foldings (£5-00, Two-Toed Press) by Joann Dominik & Faye Simms

Lake Of Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Nathan Fairbairn & Matt Smith

Outcast vol 4: Under Devil’s Wing s/c (£13-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Spaniel Rage (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Vanessa Davies

Vikings vol 1: Godhead s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Staz Johnson

Adventure Time vol 11 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Christopher Hastings & Ian McGinty

Adventure Time: Brain Robbers s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time: Ice King s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Emily Partridge, Pranas T. Naujokaitis & Natalie Andrewson

Batman: Night Of The Monster Men h/c (£22-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald

Injustice Year Five vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Injustice Year Five vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Wonder Woman vol 1: The Lies s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Liam Sharp, Matthew Clark

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 3: Hell Hath So Much Fury s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 3: Dark Art s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ron Garney

Deadpool: Back In Black s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Salva Espin

Invincible Iron Man vol 3: Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Mark Bagley

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur vol 2: Cosmic Cooties s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder & Marco Failla, Natacha Bustos

Berserk vol 5 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 6 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

The Girl From The Other Side vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Inuyashiki vol 6 (£10-99, Viz) by Hiroya Oku

My Hero Academia vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 81 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

News

ITEM! The Lakes International Comics Art Festival announces guests for 2017 and a brand-new website!

Oh, the #LICAF website is beautiful to behold, streamlined and so much easier to navigate!

Behold the full line-up of international creator guests for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017! You can click on any of their names for full bio!

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki of THIS ONE SUMMER!
John Allison of GIANT DAYS and all things BAD MACHINERY!
Chip Zdarsky of SEX CRIMINALS!
Charlie Adlard of THE WALKING DEAD!
Norway’s Jason!
Sergio Aragonés!
Stan Sakai!
Brendan McCarthy!
Ryan North!
Aimée de Jongh! 
Hannah Berry!
Dan Berry!
Joe Decie!
Emma Vieceli!
Emmeline Pidgen!
John Martz!
Christian Ward!
Peter Milligan!
Sean Phillips!
Duncan Fegredo!
Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and more, more, more, more!

There will be celebrations of TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and A CONTRACT WITH GOD’s Will Eisner!

There will be celebrations of MOOMIN’s Tove Jannson! (I’ve just finished Tove’s ‘Fair Play’ novella and cannot recommend it highly enough.)

What the guests will be up to – their special events – will revealed in due course, but all-you-can-eat day and weekend passes for LICAF 2017’s special events are on sale now whilst remembering that…

ENTRANCE TO THE COMICS-HUB CLOCK TOWER REMAINS ABSOLUTELY FREE!

That’s where you’ll find Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival every year along with our own special creator guests signing for free! Also in the Clock Tower: tables and tables of publishers and creators for you discover and lavish your lucre on.

October 13th to 15th, folks!

ITEM! Comics journalism Ink Magazine #3 is out, and you can read it for free!

Fab interview with Marc Ellerby about his autobiographical ELLERBISMS reviewed, our copies sketched in for free!

There’s also a feature on Bowie bio HADDON HALL awaiting your attention on our own shelves.

I love Steff Humm’s introductions: personal, witty and pithy, welcoming you on board. I suggest you subscribe to Ink Magazine so you can have each issue winged straight to your in-box for free because I can’t keep bleating about its brilliance every fortnight.

ITEM! The Big Issue has launched a new literacy campaign.

“Low levels of literacy costs the UK £81bn a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending.”

Or, as their founder wrote:

“If you are going to cut libraries you must be prepared to build more prisons, and more homeless hostels.”

There are some startling statistics in there. #WhyBooksMatter

Nottingham City Council is selling this building which houses our library. Lovely!

ITEM! Last Wednesday was so bloody gloomy that I couldn’t wait for darkness to fall because everything becomes glossy and glowing with warm colours instead. I took a photograph while waiting for the bus in Nottingham City Centre. With a struck of luck this striking young gentleman turned round at exactly the right time, his rainbow umbrella providing a perfect focal point. Serendipitously, he was standing right next to a sign saying ‘Proud’!

I’m calling it ‘A Time For Reflection’ because I’m pretentious and love a good pun. Please click to enlarge.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2017 week three

February 15th, 2017

Featuring Gael Bertrand, Jess Fink, Gabrielle Bell, Box Brown, Brecht Evens, Sean Ford, Antony Johnston, Justin Greenwood, Mark Millar, Stuart Immonen, Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, more!

Vastly extended News underneath!

The Fuse vol 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions s/c (£13-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood.

And, lo, you shall have answers.

They won’t be the ones you’re expecting.

There will be no spoilers here for even the first three books of THE FUSE, for I am determined you should all leap on board for this, comics’ most compelling crime-precinct procedure, homicide division. The big difference is that this particular precinct lies within an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma.

There are no aliens here, only human anarchists, separatists, the disillusioned, the disowned, the overworked, the mentally fragile and those desperately seeking answers. It’s packed with political power players and family fall-outs and each episode to date has contained several self-contained crimes for Russian Captain Klem Ristovych and new partner Detective Ralph Dietrich to solve through behavioural observation, forensic detail, systematic deduction, and re-evaluation when conflicting evidence comes unexpectedly to light.

All the while, however, another conflict – a potential conflict of interests – has lurked in the side-lines for do you remember where we came in on THE FUSE VOL 1?

“Only two kinds of police volunteer for The Fuse. Guys who are fucked back on Earth and guys who are fucked back on Earth!”

Do you think Detective Ralph Dietrich is fucked back on Earth?

On paper Klem’s new partner was a catch. Aged 28 with a 75% case clearance rate over three years in Munich, Detective Ralph Dietrich would be shooting up the ranks back on Earth. So why was he the first cop ever to volunteer for this deeply undesirable gig?

Clue: he wasn’t fucked back on Earth. But now he’s probably fucked on The Fuse.

From the writer of THE COLDEST WINTER, WASTELAND and UMBRAL and the artist of Greg Rucka’s STUMPTOWN, I guarantee you total immersion within a mere page or two in spite of its unusual location. As I’ve detailed in depth in all my reviews of THE FUSE, one of Johnston’s great strengths here is a refusal to invent for its own sake. The neologisms are scant as are the technological upgrades wherever unnecessary. Why would the interior of an interplanetary passenger ship be significantly different to the current aisles of its aircraft equivalent when we’ve already mastered vacuum-sealed flight and a balance between comfort and space? Greenwood too keeps it familiar or – as the kids used to say – “real” for the shopping streets lined with pavement and the cafe-strewn, leafy parks which look like any other until you look up at the next deck above.

This leaves the writer, line artist and colour artist Shari Chankhamma (see CODENAME: BABOUSHKA) free to concentrate on where the real splashes should occur, like Level 44’s Earthlight experience where citizens can float together in zero-gravity while lying back and bathing in the shared beauty that is planet Earth when seen from space.

Oh dear God, that celestial lighting! I don’t know about you, but I would spend every waking, non-working moment there!

This is where Ralph finds Klem at the beginning of this book, contemplating her well earned retirement on Mars. It won’t come without family complications, but it will finally relieve Klem of the day-in, day-out, non-stop pressures of policing a place which can be an all-too trapped-in tinderbox of exasperation, desperation and detonation. No wonder her hair has gone white.

Now, I promised you no spoilers, but I’m resolved all the same to highlight Johnston’s forethought when it comes to this instalment’s tensions. Because detonation is once more determined to be a real, present and urgent danger, but then it has been before when it turned out to be a hoax. Johnston set that up way back then in order to wrong-foot some of his protagonists now. Specifically – without naming names – individuals’ reactions to prior crises might either inform their current actions or shine a culpable-looking light on their motivations, proclamations or practices.

There is so much more which I want to impress upon you (please see prior reviews), but I’m hoping you can infer from that paragraph alone that your creators have made this all far from obvious. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to make the newcomer Ralph fallible and so the butt of his more mature, resident, all-knowing, no-nonsense Captain? But what if she’s made a mistake? If she read him wrong about being fucked back on Earth, then who knows what other presumptuous miscalculations she’s made, both perilously closer to her familial home and abroad?

I’m afraid this isn’t going to end well for anyone.

SLH

Buy The Fuse vol 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions s/c and read the Page 45 review here

A Land Called Tarot h/c (£17-99, Image) by Gael Bertrand…

Yet another beautiful offspring gestated from the wondrous womb of the ISLAND anthology series, following in the footsteps of paper siblings Emma Rioss I.D., Simon Roy’s HABITAT and Matt Shean & Malachi Ward’s ANCESTOR. This wordless flight of fantasy was collected in 3 parts, beginning in ISLAND #4, concluding in #10, and I think part 2 was in #6. Not that it particularly matters, I suppose, now it has been put together with a handful of extra pages at the beginning and end for good measure.

The extra pages, all full-page spreads, don’t particularly add anything to the story, just bookend it. Also, as Gael Bertrand has commented, it isn’t really about the story as such, more of a meandering journey of a quest that passes by several spectacular locations with a theme of physical and spiritual transformation running through it. (It’s very INCAL in that sense, actually.)

No, this is just more of a relaxing visual engine to pull your train of consciousness along on a ride through exquisite scenery. In that sense it feels a little bit like some of the slower sequences in Miyazaki films. The lack of narration only adds to the magical charm as the Knight of Swords traverses Tarot either confronting or consorting with the inhabitants as he purposefully pursues his goal.

Visually it has the Euro-feel of a Humanoids publication, and the closest work that springs to mind as a whole, artistically and in tone, is THE RING OF THE SEVEN WORLDS, just re-released in softcover. Fans of PORCELAIN will enjoy this too as well I reckon. I think these sensibilities explain why this, relatively unusually for an Image work, has had an initial hardcover release.

 

On that point, I find the cover design itself a rather interesting, if mildly perverse choice. It’s grey and white, with a fairly plain display of four icon-like animal heads, which does practically nothing to indicate the riot of colour and artistic complexity you’ll find inside. I think perhaps it is designed to look like a pack of cards with four suits. Though I can’t deny it is an extremely visual striking image, which, combined with the title, will undoubtedly get people to pick it up and have a peek betwixt its covers, revealing the luminous, dazzling brilliance within.

JR

Buy A Land Called Tarot h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Empress vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen.

Ive Svrocina produces some lovely lambent colours for Immonen’s art which in the first of these fast-paced chapters alone delivers dinosaurs, space ships, dogfights with ‘dactyls, a vast arena of death and many an exploding flight deck.

It is sleek, it is slick, it is sexy.

An artist whose cap carries many feathers, Immonen here is in shiny ALL-NEW X-MEN mode rather than the cartoon bomb of NEXTWAVE, SECRET IDENTITY’s neo-classicism or RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING’s quiet if colourful restraint. He’s basically delivering your epic STAR WARS space opera. He is quite the visual chameleon.

It’s a very quick comic which accelerates from nought to warp in under a dozen pages then continues on much the same flight path and at spectacular speed, as our Empress and her entourage attempt to escape then stay out of the iron-fisted clutches of merciless King Morax.

 

At-a-glance menu, then we’ll get to the meaty bits:

Implacable tyrant: big, burly and thriving on fear; a right old grumpy-chops with a sadistic smile.

Disillusioned Missus: miffed that life with said implacable tyrant hasn’t turned out to be as exotic or erotic as it looked like from the other side of the bar she once served him in, although she has endured her love life long enough to sire…

Children, sundry: allegiances varied until fired upon by Daddy’s Doberman Punchers. Even then, although younger Adam knows he’d have been butchered by his father sooner or later for being soft, his older sister Aine resents her mother’s potential love-interest, one…

Captain Dane Havelok: loyal to miffed Missus, who effects swift departure from Terminal 5 (inter-planetary, non-domestic) before there’s a domestic.

Result: much spluttering in soup etc.

Do you trust Mark Millar? You should by now.

This is the man responsible for KINGSMAN, JUPITER’S LEGACY, JUPITER’S CIRCLE, ULTIMATES, NEMEMIS, MPH, SUPERIOR, CIVIL WAR, AMERICAN JESUS, CHRONONAUTS, MARVEL 1985, SUPERCROOKS and so much more but, hey, that’s what our search engine is for.

In our escapees’ way he throws multiple obstacles including if not kith, then kin, and carnivorous monsters; stop-over planets whose weather conditions prove ill-conducive to their journey’s resumption, an alien race called the Quez who are so money-minded they are prepared to lease out their own bodies to those gluttonous enough to want to go on an all-you-can-scoff, calorie-uncontrolled riot while the Quez keep their original bodies loose and limber; and King Morax’s pitiless pursuit, executing anyone who’s caught a glimpse of his family regardless of whether they attempted to impede their progress or reduce their life expectancy to milliseconds.

What Millar so cleverly does is introduce some of these elements (and more) early on so that by the time their true, fatal impact is felt, you’ve forgotten in what way they might pose a threat.

He does the same for elements which might prove the family’s salvation, including one key skill, a clue to whose hiding he lets drop in such a manner that you will never see it coming but, once that reason for its sequestration is revealed, will give you the most enormous personal satisfaction. And it is – very personal.

Immonen is no slouch with spectacle, yet he excels particularly in his characterisation of younger brother Adam and older sister Aine. Aine shows early signs of a bullish obstinacy, her jaw jutting out in a profiled one-on-one confrontation with her mother, her eyes narrowed in an I’m-not-listening or letting-you-in defiance.

Technologically gifted Adam, meanwhile, shows unexpected resilience in the wake of adversity and spies opportunity where others would see junk, but when – in spite of their combined best efforts – things spiral combustibly out of anyone’s control, his bitten lower lip is so taut that you can almost feel it stretched to tearing.

As to the blue-bearded Captain Havelok, every valiant gallant should be immaculately equipped, and his hair never once lets anyone down.

Have a peak under the dust jacket for an extra gold-foiled thrill.

SLH

Buy Empress h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Powerman (£5-99, Kilgore) by Box Brown…

“I had a vision up there.
“There’s more money in this city than anywhere.
“Infinite money.
“For me. My money.
“The city needs Gary Beesh.
“The world needs Gary Beesh.”

Gary Beesh, with bequiffed orange hair and ginormous ego, parachuted entirely undeservingly into the top job of real estate mogul in a company owned by his wealthy father… Does he remind you of anyone, I wonder…?

The comparison is entirely intended by Box Brown as he launches a ludicrously funny critique of a certain crass, bumptious businessman with the worst haircut a public figure has had since… errmm… forever? Though arguably you could make a case for Arthur Scargill on that whispy, whooshing front, perhaps…

I’m sure when Box was creating this mini-masterpiece not even he knew just how far The Donald was destined to ascend, with real life becoming even more preposterous than surely any writer of fiction would have been prepared to pen for fear of ridicule. Though we are, of course, all waiting for the presumably inevitable, spectacular fall from grace. How can it not end in tears? Just hopefully not radioactive ones…

Here though, taking his cue from the man himself, Box doesn’t worry about the facts and provides a frantically funny alt-biography of the tinsel-haired tyrant. As ever, it’s Box doing exactly what he does best, picking one crackpot conceit and seeing how far he can go with it. Or just one crackpot in this case, I suppose! As the writers of Saturday Night Live are finding out with glee week after week, The Donald provides more than a budget surplus worth of material to work with. Which is just as well, because his chances of providing an actual budget surplus are absolutely zero…

For more from the great man – Box obviously, not The Donald – check out TETRIS – THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY and also AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS. Which, I will grant you sounds the like The Donald’s approach to monitoring twitter for any dissenting voices before chucking his toys out of the pram, or at least in the vague direction of the keyboard, but no, it’s a collection of Box’s finest shorts. The Donald of course, only wears Y-fronts…

JR

Buy Powerman and read the Page 45 review here

Night Animals (£6-99, Top Shelf) by Brecht Evens.

Two early silent stories, finally back on our shelves thanks to John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half in America, from the creator of THE MAKING OF, THE WRONG PLACE and PANTHER.

First a middle-aged man in a business suit zips over it a bunny suit and waits for his date in the park. Evidently stood up, he doesn’t give up but rather gathers his bouquet, takes it to a bar and jumps down its toilet. Thereafter it’s a phantasmagorical, subaquatic journey through hell and high water down to the depths where only the angler fish see. Ride A White Shark is a song which Marc Bolan never quite sang, but he might have been tempted to if he’d read this first; he did love comics, after all. Will our ardent lover’s determination pay off? I wasn’t sure if it would, but I adored the resolution.

There are hearts hidden all over the place in both stories: a nesting pair of vultures, their necks entwined; the snaking shape of a rabbit burrow, on clothes, at the bottom of a bed… Also an awful lot of anatomical holes, not so well hidden.

In the second story there are four birds perched on a branch towards the top-left of a double-page spread, who seem to be signaling in semaphore. I can save you some time and tell you they’re not – there’s a ‘U’ there but nothing else, just the Beatles’ single cover never spelled ‘Help’ (it was intended to, but the photographer didn’t like the shape they made!).

Coming to that second story, then: a young girl changing after a P.E. lesson experiences her first period and flees school to curl up in bed, pulling the covers up, tight to her neck. Small spots of red trace her path up the stairs, past her puzzled parents. The dog has a lick. At night, however, the menstrual stain spreads over the page as a horned, hairy creature of the woods (Pan, to me, not the devil – though it would depend on your thoughts on female sexuality) sits at the bottom of the bed, playing its pipes, its legs in striped leggings, its feet in red, heeled shoes. She is dragged out the window and carried away to a Bacchanal where she’s gradually transfigured (or again, some would say corrupted), growing older, more comfortable, more exuberant by the second.

There are some wonderful creatures flirting and rutting there as the red grows darker still, but the story has a far more ambiguous, sobering conclusion than the first which I enjoyed even more.

Something to make you think, then, and something to admire for all its individualistic craft.

SLH

Buy Night Animals and read the Page 45 review here

Truth Is Fragmentary (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Gabrielle Bell…

“For some reason I felt like a big, inert defenceless slug while everyone bantered around me. I felt spongy and porous, like any effort to contribute to the conversation would collapse in on itself, with no shell to brace myself on.”

Of Gabrielle’s THE VOYEURS I commented “Collection of mostly new material from one of comics’ self-professed mildly neurotic and slightly depressed creators. Not quite up there in the excruciating ‘I’d probably rather not have known that but I’m glad you told me’ honesty stakes of say, Joe SPENT Matt, this is still a very amusing and simultaneously enervating look into the mind of a comics creator. Gabrielle perfectly captures the gently tortured soul of the OCD-afflicted procrastinator, we’re just fortunate that keeping a journal is one of her obsessions!”

Well, nothing much has changed, which is great for us readers who enjoy dissecting said tortured souls of autobiographical comics creators. This time around, however, instead of the North American comics convention circuit (and for more of that anguished existence you really must check out Dustin Harbin’s DIARY COMICS) we get treated to Gabrielle’s overseas visits to various international conventions and festivals whilst anxiously taking in France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and indeed even Columbia. Well, anxious at least for her, I found it hilarious to read.

‘Miss Bell’s travel companion, Mr. Restrapo, did not see the erratic flight as cause for alarm.’

“I was thinking that if the plane crashed I wouldn’t have to finish my graphic novel.”
“Why are you so tragic?”

The tragi-comedy of Gabrielle Bell. Read it and weep… tears of mirth.

JR

Buy Truth Is Fragmentary and read the Page 45 review here

Chester 5000 XYV Book 2: Isabelle & George h/c (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Jess Fink.

More erotic steampunk to get your pistols pumping and your expansion valves venting as Isabelle escapes a mean old boiler at an orphanage by marrying a man she meets down a drycleaner’s on the verge of an automated upgrade.

Almost instantly all their clothes fall off, but – as Kenny Everett’s Cupid Stunt use to wail while flinging her legs crossed in flagrantly faux modesty – “I’m telling you the plot!

Although, in this instance, no. For there are far more Machiavellian forces at work in this dawn of the machine age, most of them involving money and one of them the military, as George falls foul of an industrial accident, thence a ruthless old opportunist prepared to pay off George and Isabelle’s crippling medical costs in exchange for… But that would be telling you the plot.

Fortunately Pricilla and fellow inventor Robert from CHESTER 5000 XYV BOOK 1 are on hand, along with their loving automaton Chester, and some early drunken fumblings suggest that equal-opportunities action may not be far behind.

At 180 pages this second silent saga is far more substantial than CHESTER 5000 XYV BOOK 1 whose review is one long, lewd punathon. I’ll only end up repeating myself if I go any further, but bravo for feminist, non-discriminatory sex without shame, for more of which – and a big heart of gold – I recommend Jade Sarson’s FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE!

Soft, tender but ever so certainly not safe for work.

SLH

Buy Chester 5000 XYV Book 2: Isabelle & George h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Only Skin (£19-99, Secret Acres) by Sean Ford.

“What are ghosts even made of anyway?”
“That’s immaterial, Clay.”

… says the ghost.

Both Stephen R. Bissette and Farel Dalrymple commend this book to you on the back, and I do so here but not for the same reasons. I seem to have had a slightly different experience: that of an enjoyably staged, spacious affair set in and around small-town America with the tone and timing of THIEVES AND KINGS. It’s pretty hefty; few very early works are this long these days. 

Cassie and younger brother Clay arrive back at the petrol station run by their Dad after eight years absence. Chris has been running it 24/7 ever since their Dad disappeared a fortnight ago. He’s so bushed he’s virtually narcoleptic and seems to have slept through the latest incident: severed fingers found in a pool of blood beside the petrol pump. He’s reporting it to Tracy the Sheriff just as they arrive.

Paul is dreaming of his father’s acute illness. The hospital room opens up to the woods – his father has disappeared into them. Still, at least he’s not ill himself, yet. He meets his friend Albert in the diner close to where the locals are protesting against all the people missing after venturing into the woods. The Sheriff wants to close them off while they investigate. Albert suspects ulterior motives: that she’s financially in bed with forest ranger Jonah, wanting to raise the woods to the ground for profit.

Jonah went missing a week ago. Whether or not he is financially in bed with Tracy, he’s biblically in bed with Rachel, and his wife Angie is far from best pleased. She brings their son Jordan over to play with Clay. Chris is drawing deer, Clay is drawing ghosts – specifically the sort of bed-linen ghost that floats through the air, just like the one that lured him out to the woods last night and showed a deer, slashed deep by claws. There was something else in the woods last night.

Jordan says he’s seen the ghost too, but he hasn’t. The floating bed sheet informs Clay of that in no uncertain terms, and has a little fun with Jordan to prove it. A woman falls through the diner door, exhausted.

It’s all very dreamlike and utterly charming. There is something dark in the heart of this as the mystery plays itself out, but no one seems to have picked up on the comedy. The ghost is hilarious. Although immaterial, it casts a shadow wherever it goes and when it rises from the paddling pool it drips water! It is at once demanding yet oblivious, and the piece at the party was in retrospect brilliant.

I won’t deny for one second that the blank-eyed art is slightly derivative, but hey, almost all art by this point has to be derivative and we should all choose our sources so well!

Look, I found you a little something extra, although honesty dictates that I concede that it’s not actually in this new edition.

Still, pretty neat, huh?

Click to enlarge, as with almost all our interior art!

SLH

Buy Only Skin and read the Page 45 review here

The Ring Of The Seven Worlds s/c (£17-99, Humanoids) by Gionvanni Gualdoni, Gabriele Clima & Matteo Piana.

Back at Humanoids after a sojourn at Sloth Comics, this Euro sci-fi fantasy caper was original published in four album-sized French editions.

Seven planets are linked together by a multidimensional ring teleportation system, built by long-forgotten, mysterious creators in a previous eon. One planet has been severed from the others for three centuries after they started a war against the rest of the Empire, but now, somehow, they have launched a devastating surprise attack through a different ring.

The reveal as to how this is possible, when it comes, is very clever, albeit a touch deus ex machina. Clues were dropped, in retrospect, but I didn’t guess. A highly enjoyable romp with not inconsiderable steampunk elements, and exquisitely illustrated to boot.

 

 

JR

Buy The Ring Of The Seven Worlds s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invisibles Book 1 s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, Duncan Fegredo, Steve Parkhouse, Dennis Cramer, John Ridgway.

Hahaha! Well, now.

Like Morrison’s DOOM PATROL – and so many more Vertigo series besides – THE INVISIBLES is being repackaged in chunkier books (as opposed to “volumes”) and this contains #1-12.

I’ve always described Morrison and Case’s DOOM PATROL as one of those high-altitude, serpentine water slides: once you’ve started you cannot get off, so you might as well lie back, prepared to get wet and enjoy the white-knuckle ride. It was deliriously fine, mind-frazzling fun and, however crazy, it never once slipped over the albeit worryingly low edges to plummet into the suicidal insanity and the crowds down below.

THE INVISIBLES managed a mere four issues of rebellious, revolutionary insight and incite – illustrated with vigour and a singularly British flair by ZENITH’s Steve Yeowell – before not just slipping but jettisoning itself over those imaginary railings.

All art by Steve Yeowell from the first four fabulous issues

Normally I would lambast myself for inadequate comprehension, for being far too stupid to understand the great Grant Morrison because on the whole, though not always, I am a fan. See WE3, KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND, ARKHAM ASYLUM, BATMAN INCORPORATED, ZENITH, DOOM PATROL (obviously) and ST. SWITHIN’S DAY (you can’t).

But our Mark independently came to the same conclusion halfway through the fifth issue and (I learned last week) so did our Jonathan.

We would, of course, all stand a much better chance of synching ourselves up to this self-indulgence if DC were prepared to level the playing fields by issuing these collections with the same recreationals which Morrison notoriously consumed in elephantine quantities while writing the scripts.

If you doubt me at all, please read Grant’s autobiographical SUPERGODS.

Your best hope is to buy two copies of each collected edition, snip out all the panels, rearrange them into something vaguely resembling chronological order, then perform a brief, drug-enhanced ritual involving a Tibetan mountain and no less than 39 missing letters of the Urdu alphabet. Even then, like the average pension scheme, we offer only the flimsiest of guarantees.

Wizard magazine for comicbook speculators whose demise was pithily greeted by MILK & CHEESE’s Evan Dorkin as “the end of an error” once published a devastatingly succinct and howl-inducingly accurate piss-take of THE INVISIBLES in the form of an April Fool’s advertisement aping cover artist (the brilliant Brian Bolland) to perfection:

“The End Of The World… Or a Cat On A Bowling Ball?”

But you are due, at the very least, an objective if rudimentary summary, so for those of you new to this provocative meander-thon (pilfered, Morrison maintains, for The Matrix), The Invisibles is a secret cell of anarchists talented in various aspects of what could loosely be described as the occult, determined to see our lives freed from the threat of a trans-temporal, inter-dimensional, pan-sexual straightjacket.

Reality, sexuality, order, chaos, language and control, it’s all here for the decryption. Join Lord Fanny, King Mob, Ragged Robin, Jack Frost, Edith Manning, Jolly Roger and the rest of these mentalists in their fight for your future’s freedom!

I leave you with a guide as to what to expect using the original volumes’ seven-volume titles:

Say You Want A Revolution: Did it really all begin here, with a young boy named Dane and a secret world which he suddenly saw lurking behind what passed for reality?

Apocalipstick: Things go from bad to worse – you can always count on that. You can also count on things not being what they seem.

Entropy In The UK: They say that everyone has their breaking point. But it’s what’s being broken that really matters – and who’s breaking it.

Bloody Hell In America: Secrets are hard to keep, unless they’re too big to be believed. The bigger the government, the bigger the secrets become.

Counting To None: Time is of the essence, it transpires. But the essence of what might surprise you.

Kissing Mr. Quimper: Learning from history is one thing, but writing the history yourself is another, particularly when it hasn’t happened yet.

The Invisible Kingdom: Who even knows?

For a far more in-depth and enlightened appraisal please see News below.

SLH

Buy Invisibles Book 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & various.

Previously in NEW AVENGERS BB CC VOL 1:

The New Avengers learned that they have a problem with S.H.I.E.L.D. – the high-tech espionage unit that’s supposed to safe-guard America and the rest of the world it approves of against the parts of the globe that it doesn’t – in that it had been infiltrated and so corrupted. What they didn’t learn is that they also have a problem with H.Y.D.R.A., the high-tech cult which is particularly partial to just that sort of infiltration and corruption.

They’ve even managed to infiltrate the New Avengers.

Meanwhile back in SECRET WAR (about illegally invading sovereign nations in retaliation to terrorism) everyone concerned learned that they have a problem with Nick Fury – former head of said S.H.I.E.L.D. – who’s since gone underground.

Whose side is who on? Okay, but whose side is who really on? Oh, you’ll think you’ve got it figured out, but there’s reversal upon reversal ahead, and CIVIL WAR approaches.

But first: a trip to Japan to gawp blissfully the cherry blossom.

Finch delivers the first chunk of the art and does so to spectacular, muscular effect, including a chaotic fight with a hoard of ninja way up in one of Stark’s rooftop penthouses. Whoops, there goes another Ming vase.*

You may have begun to suspect that a certain degree of additional reading / homework is required. You’re not wrong, for the rest of this whopping tome heavily references both Grant Morrison’s three-volume NEW X-MEN, Bendis’s own HOUSE OF M (in which you’ll learn what became of Wanda) and relies entirely on you reading the original CIVIL WAR before this book’s final act.

There you’ll find four short stories including one with pencils by Leinil Yu in which Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and their baby are threatened, in their own home, by Iron Man. It is a blisteringly impassioned piece.

Lastly we move on to ‘The Confession’, a poignant two-part reprise in the wake of CIVIL WAR and THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA in which Iron Man addresses Captain America, and Captain America addresses Iron Man under very specific circumstances which I cannot impart for fear of spoiling the first half’s punchline or the end to CIVIL WAR itself.

All I will say is it was typical of Bendis’ instinct for unorthodox storytelling that they are presented in the order they are, and quite rightly so for hindsight is a very cruel mistress courting dramatic irony like she or he was the very last lady or gent in town.

DAREDEVIL ‘s Alex Maleev delivers it directly and you’ll note that although in the first half – the actual, honest, titular Confession –  Stark takes off his helmet, in the second sequence Iron Man keeps his mask on throughout even though the two former friends are alone. The effect is a stony silence, Captain America’s words effectively bouncing back off the intransigent, impassive metal as if unheard or at least unfelt.

King Pyrrhus is referenced with good reason.

* Yes, yes, I know my Chinese ceramics. Call it another invasion / occupation / appropriation reference. It’s far from inapposite as you’ll see further down the line when SECRET INVASION kicks in.

Lord, but you have to read a lot of other books to keep up with this series!

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 2 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.

Seven To Eternity vol 1: The God Of Whispers s/c (£8-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

Eclipse vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Giovanni Timpano

The Killer vol 5 h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Matz & Luc Jacamon

2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating Forty Years (£12-99, Rebellion) by various

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored s/c (£19-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & John Wagner, various

The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage s/c (£12-99, Penguin) by Sydney Padua

Tom’s Midnight Garden h/c (£12-99, Oxford Press) by Philippa Pearce & Edith

Angel Catbird vol 2: To Castle Catula h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Laura Ellen Anderson

How Train Your Dragon vol 1: The Serpent’s Heir s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Dean DeBlois, Richard Hamilton & Doug Wheatley

Locke & Key: Small World h/c (£13-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

The Merchant Of Venice h/c (£18-99, Candlewick Press) by William Shakespeare & Gareth Hinds

Superman Action Comics vol 1: Path Of Doom s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Patrick Zircher, Tyler Kirkham, Stephen Segovia, Art Thibert

Extraordinary X-Men vol 3: Kingdoms Fall s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Victor Ibanez

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 6: Sins Of The Father (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini

Berserk vol 4 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 9 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

News

ITEM! Jiro Taniguchi RIP. Gutted.

After an hour’s contemplation I finally managed to sum up what Taniguchi meant to me in 140 characters for Twitter:

“His works are full of quiet, considered reflection; his art mirrors & matches the beauty of the world he saw around him.”

Of course, we’ve written a great deal more about Taniguchi. A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD was an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and more recently THE GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE wowed us with its lines, light and colours. It’s rare for Japanese comics to come in colour.

For far more, please pop ‘Jiro Taniguchi’ into our search engine.

ITEM! Every month our Jonathan AKA J45 slings together a Page 45 Mailshot dispatched over the mintyweb via email. You can sign up to the Page 45 Mailshot here.

Within he takes a gander at Page 45’s free online edition of Diamond’s PREVIEWS detailing the majority – but not all – of the comics and graphic which will be published in two to four months time.

Here’s what Jonathan wrote about February 2017 Previews on the Page 45 website for comics and graphic novels arriving April 2017 onwards:

“If you are a Jeff Lemire fan, (if not, why not?) you ought to be rather happy with a power trio of treasures. Let’s begin!

“From Fantagraphics there’s some typically diverse delights. Firstly, for really out there period manga lovers – all three of us – we have DING DONG CIRCUS collecting Sasaki Maki’s avant garde material from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It’s… strange, trust me. Then there’s PURGATORY, which according to the blurb “For the committed outsider, adolescence can be a nightmare of constructing elaborate strategies in order to avoid the narrow paths society has paved for us.” Such as reading comics perhaps? Finally, one I am definitely interested in myself, ZANARDI features the work of Andrea Pazienza who “was part of a group of Italian cartoonists who pioneered an approach to comics comparable to Moebius and Robert Crumb. Zanardi portrays teenagers coping with family problems, school, sex, and drugs”. Sounds great.

“It has been rather a while, but I am very happy to report that the third volume of the gorgeous SIEGFRIED from Archaia is finally coming out. Nope, not a Previews two months in advance April Fool, ho ho, it really is coming out! Hopefully they will get the first two back into print as well. (Okay, that is stretching it, this is Archaia we are talking about!) Yet more Jeff Lemire with an original graphic novel ROUGHNECK about “a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.”  The BOOK OF CHAOS from Humanoids sounds slightly like by the numbers Euro-fare sci-fi / fantasy fare, but you never know, they don’t do many duff ones. LOOK by Jon Nielsen about a lonely robot just sounds like a great bit of fun sci-fi that will appeal to fans of Wall-E. Guilty as charged!

“From Image we have the intriguing and also rather, okay very, puzzling A.D. AFTER DEATH from Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rizzo return under cover of furry night with the booze addled, gore-fest MOONSHINE VOL 1. Resurrection romp with a twist REBORN from Mark Miller & Greg Capullo is gripping me in monthly issue form. Meanwhile, break the piggy bank, here’s Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples’ SAGA DELUXE HC VOL 2 collecting volumes 4,5 & 6 with extra goodies. I know you will already have it in one form or another, or both, but don’t let that stop you!

“Finally, a rare mention for some Marvel material… There’s the second volume of Jeff Lemire’s utterly insane and indeed brilliant MOON KNIGHT run. That’ll be cancelled shortly then from total lack of interest from the fanboys… JESSICA JONES is back and up to her neck in it as usual thanks to Messers. Bendis and Gaydos. Also worth a mention is Kelly Thompson’s HAWKEYE VOL 1 now starring Kate Bishop and trying admirably to continue the Fraction themed take on The Archers.

“Can you even imagine Matt Fraction writing The Archers…? Radio 4 listeners would be choking on their rich tea biscuits!”

ITEM! Displeased by my dismissal of INVISIBLES BOOK 1 above?

In 2011 Amy Poodle expended a great deal more thought derived from a much keener intelligence than mine* on Grant Morrison’s magnum opus in two articles for The Comics Journal on ‘The Invisibles And Hauntology’:

http://www.tcj.com/bomb-light-in-faraway-windows-the-invisibles-and-hauntology/

http://www.tcj.com/hauntology-and-the-invisibles-part-ii/

ITEM! Warren Ellis is headlining at the North London Literary Festival, Middlesex University on 16 March 2017.

WILD STORM #1 by Warren Ellis & John Davis-Hunt is on sale today!

ITEM! Sarah McIntyre is announced as the BookTrust’s new Writer In Residence!

Oh, Sarah will be so galvanising there! If you watch the short film, please stick around for the aftermath, then pop ‘Sarah McIntyre’ into our search engine for reviews.

ITEM! Arcadian elegance, eloquence and joy! Look at these trees, buffeted by the breeze (2nd)! Breathtakingly beautiful Nico Delort art prints for sale:

http://www.gallerynucleus.com/detail/22222/

http://www.gallerynucleus.com/detail/22223/

 

 – Stephen

* Please note: that’s neither sarcasm nor false modesty; I am all too aware of my own limitations.

At times I can be more incite than insight.

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2017 week two

February 8th, 2017

Loads of lovely Spit And A Half 1new comics and graphic novels from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half in America this week, all listed and linked to in between this week’s reviews and News underneath!

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Néjib.

“ThatHaddon Hall cover day, like so many others, the London sky was sad like a cold cup of tea.”

If any first or second line can make you smile, then you’ve already won over your audience. It gets better:

“The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
“I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me.”

Yes, like parts of Chris Ware’s great big chocolate box of comics, BUILDING STORIES, the narrator of this whimsical and delightfully dotty graphic novel – about the two years leading up to David Jones becoming David Bowie – is the personable building which David and Angie moved into in 1969, and then invited their friends.

Haddon Hall would come to consider its new occupants dearly beloved friends. They were quite the community, and you’ll have heard of many more of them than you might initially suspect.

The second and third pages are equally endearing as the old-fashioned villa, aware of its own shortcomings – being a bit dated and sparse – holds out hope that its “discreet decrepitude” will nonetheless prove its prime attraction, so securing the company it craves.

Haddon Hall 1

It is indeed discrete – surrounded by woods on the outskirts of London – so the perfect place for a party, both indoors and out, into whose Fashionista throngs strolls dear Marc Bolan. His band, T-Rex, had yet to find success in the form of the deep, groovy, grinding guitar and the celebratory wails across which Bolan would declare himself to be the ultimate 20th Century Boy or croon the most laid-back encouragement imaginable for us all to Get It On and so bang a gong while his cheeks glittered beneath kohl and his mouth – nay, his teeth – did that irresistibly sexy thing which David Sylvian became so found of. At this point he’s still strumming on about pixies. The man who would become Bowie, by the way, had already released ‘The Laughing Gnome’. Not many careers could survive such a thing.

The hair and the clothes of those suited and booted are delicious. No jeans in sight, of course, but boy are there bell bottoms! It was as if men were expressing a femininity which was nonetheless typically competitive by wearing two flaring skirts round their ankles.

Haddon Hall 2

Néjib eschews realistic colour throughout, using it expressively instead, here in livid salmon pink, a glowing sky blue and mustard yellow. These are blocks of flat colour without gradients which define the otherwise borderless panels and often the objects within, for sometimes their outlines are only partially drawn. On the second and third pages I mentioned earlier, these free-floating snapshots of the hall, stairs and landing in orange and purple surrounded by so much white-paper-space enhance Haddon Hall’s sense of emptiness as well as its dated decor.

Haddon Hall 5

This choice of compositions also gives the pages a free-flowing energy which matches the narrative, for however informed it is – and it really is – with historical detail, this is no laden, lumpen, po-faced, drudgery enslaved by its subject like AGATHA: THE REAL LIFE OF AGATHA CHRISTIE which I described as “one long, insultingly clunky, two-dimensional, expository mess”. At great length.

This is its very antithesis with no clunky exposition at all. When David and Angie watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’ you’re expected to recognise the film from Malcolm McDowell’s iconic asymmetrical make-up, and I didn’t think the surname ‘Visconti’ is ever attached to Tony nor ‘Ronson’ to Mick.

Parenthetically, did you know that straight Visconti was once propositioned by New York godfather Don Constanzo as the prospective “girlfriend” for his dandified gay son?

“I’d rather it be you. You’re a nice boy. Not some nutcase he picked up in a smutty club.”

Poor Tony’s face melts in horror.

“You don’t say ‘no’ to Don Constanzo.”

No wonder Visconti ended up in England – almost immediately afterwards.

Haddon Hall 4

That’s just the sort of flashback vignette you’ll be treated to here: whatever Néjib believes will amuse, like David and Tony rescuing Mick Ronson from rock’n’roll retirement as a gardener, catching up with him in a winter park raking up leaves. David dives gleefully into Mick’s wheelbarrow stuffed full of autumnal detritus with a large set of shears… to do what, exactly?

That’s what I mean by “dotty” – this is a joy!

There is, however, no small degree of turbulence. No career is a straight line or even inevitable, ever-upward curve to fame, and the same goes for personal fortune. Quite early on David manages to secure the release of his self-sectioned brother from Cane Hill asylum, but only on the condition that he take custody of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett too. Terry, his brother, gradually disappears into this own little world, dispersing into the air as multi-coloured butterflies.

There are so many more neat visual tricks and accomplishments: Hadden Hall’s secluded back garden in canary yellow and orange, with its urns and its foliage coming off like an overgrown Arcadian idyll; contrasting musical tastes, construction and orchestration represented visually, an auditioning guitarist’s as a maze-like mass (but not mess) of unbroken, fiddly, squiggly lines, David’s as more angular, meticulous composed and pictorial, like a free-range farmyard of Aztec chickens, to be honest.

Haddon Hall 3

Lastly, I think you will love the passage showing how Bowie is first taught to think outside the box. I believe I will be trying that one on so many people I know. Ask me, on the shop floor, and I will happily demonstrate with a pen and paper!

Thinking outside the box: you have never seen it done so demonstrably well.

SLH

Buy Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie h/c and read the Page 45 review here

You Might Be An Artist If… h/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Lauren Purje.

“My potentialYou Might Be An Artist If cover is stifling me…”

Autobiographical insight into what makes an artist tick, so beloved by Jeffrey Brown that we suspect he designed its spine.

As much as anything it’s an act of solidarity with other artists: comforting, consoling, encouraging, reassuring and commiserating with them in their doubts, fears, careers, artistic wrestling, financial struggling, ambitions, self-pity, deadlines and desperation for affirmation.

Note: these attributes are hardly restricted to artists, and Lauren makes the vital leap towards just enough universality for everyone to nod knowingly, sadly yet smilingly in communal, hands-held-up acknowledgement and perhaps a little guilt.

You Might Be An Artist If 4

There’s a lot of light self-mockery but commendably Purje stands her ground with confidence when it comes to the stupidity of squabbles, labels and one-upmanship within the “art world” like looking down on illustration (and, of course comics) and the establishment’s longstanding disdain for humour as a subject inappropriate for High Art. See William Hogarth.

Her deployment of Magritte’s ‘The Treachery Of Images’ (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe”), repurposed to burst the pomposity of furrow-browed, Oxfordian tomb-dwellers was particularly witty: “This is not a joke”.

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Then there are all the assumptions and presumptions which are understandably resented when they come from those not quite thinking things through, and one of my favourite pieces was the reverie catalysed by the innocent enough question, “How long did it take you to make this?” You can interpret the sequence that follows two ways (both of which defy what was meant) in its presentation of the multiple acts of discovery, research, experience, practice, study, confidence and indeed unlearning… all the time each of those elements took… both for one specific picture and throughout one’s learning life to gain the wider perspective required to create that image.

Writers don’t write a script in a vacuum, either, nor judges in the time taken to reach a verdict; doctors to diagnose, teachers to take a class, or monkeys to mash out a review.

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That one was completely new to me, but some of these confessions you’ll have seen made before – like the obligatory page on procrastination – but that doesn’t make them any less true, “true” or True. (Those inverted commas and that capitalisation was itself borrowed from Dave Sim.) Quite the reverse, when you think about it.

“Fake It Until You Make It’ is another case in point, but it’s done so well. You know what I mean: everyone accepting their first job at a bar has to bluff their way in, because they all advertise “prior experience required”. Additionally a great many well respected writers and artists – and indeed individuals in so many walks of life – have to deal with Impostor’s Syndrome, occasionally (or perpetually) feeling a fraud and the fear of being found out.

“Honestly… Everyone feels like they’re holding a front for others and whispering prayers that their inner demons remain private for fear of what would surely be a cataclysmic fall from grace…
“Except for the true narcissistic assholes out there.”

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You won’t find an ounce of such arrogance in any of these 135 pages. This is about sympathy and empathy and honesty instead.

‘Happy New Year’:

“Every year we set new goals and reflect on our past accomplishments.
“I always seem to come up with the same resolutions, though…
“1. Try again.
“2. Fail again.”

A slight smile flickers across Lauren’s face as she pours herself another glass of wine…

“3. Fail better.”

SLH

Buy You Might Be An Artist If… h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Snails (£1-25) by Jack Brougham.

“In our flat snails come out at night.”

Same! Do they come through the cat-flap?

“It’s pretty rare to see one indoors during the day.”

Same again! I seldom see the ninja-like, nocturnal culprits who presumably exit as stealthily as they come in, knowing exactly when I’m going to pop downstairs to make my morning cuppa. The only evidence of their existence / trespass is a shiny silver map of their uninvited transgression. Truly it is a mystery to me yet, I concede, I do love a mystery.

“Hello, little fella,” says Jack on the one rare sighting of his slow, slime-trailing intruder.

“Argh! Make a break for it!” thinks the startled but inherently sloth-like snail, and if that’s not pure Gary Northfield, then I don’t know what is. Instead of Gary’s bog-eyed brilliance, however, our meandering mollusc retains an exterior insouciance, something he probably picked up from Sun Tsu’s ‘Art Of War’.

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Brougham does leave his artistic invertebrate a little light reading for its night-time “peregrinations” (good word!). Do you think it will be appreciatively absorbed?

This is great: a small, affordable, observational truth in the vein of Joe Decie (I BLAME GRANDMA et al – infer what you will) and just like the snail Jack has kindly squiggled inside all these copies too.

From the creator of THE LIBRARIAN, this is roughly the size of a starfish, depending on what size your starfish is.

SLH

Buy Snails and read the Page 45 review here

The Librarian (£4-99) by Jack Brougham.

“Good morning, garden.”

Far more clever and carefully structured than you might initially suspect, from the creator of SNAILS, comes a larger and longer work, also signed and sketched in at the back.

Brougham presents us with three intimate short stories told in a free-floating, six-panel ‘grid’ of neatly spaced cameos drawn with a fine line rich in detail and redolent of country village life. In his garden the lines are more orderly, neater, whilst out in the fields the textures of the undergrowth, hedges and trees grow wilder.

So, here’s that structure:

In the first story, of a morning when one is still fuzzy-headed, most of the thoughts and sensations are communicated as visual impressions.

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There’s the back ache and the knee joint in need of much lubrication, then as he sets off to walk with his head in the clouds his head becomes increasingly cluttered with associated mental images, one catalysing another then another – things-to-do lists, computer screens and keyboards – all linked together and threatening to crowd out then overwhelm him until he steps over a wooden style onto a footpath… and emerges into wide-open fields, far more serene. Then something magical happens.

By noon, in the second, the Librarian is coherent enough to ruminate verbally on the present, visually cataloguing the component parts of his village – including those squat concrete fire hydrant markers I’d completely forgotten since leaving the countryside – which he imagines sending in a letter to I won’t tell you where.Librarian 2

Then finally at night, he is in the mood to reminisce and casts his mind back to the past.

That seems like the natural order of things to me.

I only have interior art for the first episode, but in that third it’s New Year’s Eve – ever a time of reflection – and he’s out for a stroll, the streetlights firing up, as they do, in no fixed order.

“Frost crackles underfoot.
“They’re getting them in at the Black Bull.”

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I love that he perceives life through walls and via the smoke rising through canal-barge chimneys. What he becomes fixated on – of all things – is a zoo whose exotic animals had lived, breathed then died where now stands a Sainsbury’s roundabout. It’s quite an ornate one, full of foliage.

“He thinks of Rosie’s ghost out there on the periphery, stranded on the roundabout…
“And the rest of the zoo animals with her there, out on a herbaceous ark, floating through darkness.”

They make quite the racket too so, for those two panels at least, I was minded of ALEC’s Eddie Campbell.

Rosie was the zoo’s star attraction, by the way: an elephant with a heartbreaking history. She’s been long since forgotten, but Librarians look after the past, don’t they, making sure it’s accessible to the present. A gesture is required to record Rosie’s existence, so a specific sign is swapped…

Lovely.

SLH

Buy The Librarian and read the Page 45 review here

Junji Ito’s Dissolving Classroom (£9-99, Vertical) by Junji Ito…

“It’s our MamaDissolving Classroom 1 and Papa.
“But their brains leaked out already, so they’re all empty.”

That’ll teach them to read comics… And indeed have children! A veritable double whammy of brain disintegration visited upon the fools!!

The master of absurdist horror returns with this selection of shorts featuring sicko siblings elder brother and arch-apologist Yuuma and “the worst sister in recorded history” Chizumi. She really is as well. No one is safe, not even you, dear reader, as you will find your sanity, and stomach, tested reading this material. But then I suppose that’s the point isn’t it?

Fans of UZUMAKI, GYO and TOMIE will know exactly what to expect, which is… people behaving strangely, then mass confusion arising, before epic levels of surreal carnage ensue. I will have to make a confession at this point; I’m not particularly a fan of Ito. I struggle to suspend my disbelief sufficiently with horror that is so patently, ridiculously unbelievable that it makes CROSSED look plausible. I mean, there really is a dissolving classroom, complete with dissolving kids and most definitely a dissolving teacher.

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Which is harsh, because much like CROSSED, which perversely I love, there is so much dark humour in Ito’s works, that trying to even take it remotely seriously is as bonkers as the material itself. He knows full well just how crackpot it is too and even throws in a suitably bizarre, fourth-wall breaking, one-page afterword gag strip that I truly have no idea what to make of.

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Also, I think Kengo Hanazawa’s I AM HERO, which is essentially THE WALKING DEAD with UZUMAKI-styled zombies, plus an additional sprinkle of mentalism in the form of a schizophrenic, shotgun-wielding manga creator as the lead survivor, is utterly brilliant, if just as equally preposterous.

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I think the problem is that I initially struggled with UZUMAKI for the reasons above, and it has now become a sticking point, in my mind at least. Some might say it’s strange behaviour on my part, which will undoubtedly lead to mass confusion amongst Page 45’s many, many Ito fans before I flip my lid and go on a hysterical killing spree armed only with a gun. Price gun, that is. Well, and maybe a pack of comic bags to put all the body parts in. No, fuck it, let’s push the boat out, magazine-sized bags, and the sellotape dispenser… It’s a nasty little serrated swine…

Where was I…? Ah yes, strange behaviour and even stranger comics…

JR

Buy Junji Ito’s Dissolving Classroom and read the Page 45 review here

Prophet volumes 1 to 5 (£8-99, £13-99, £13-99, £15-99, £15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis and many, many others including Marian Churchland, Malachi Ward, James Stokoe, Lando and believe it or not, Rob Liefeld…

“Here, I create new universes of my own…”

Well, I didn’t think I would be reviewing anything stranger than DISSOLVING CLASSROOM this week… But, having absorbed the concluding volume of Brandon KING CITY Graham and Simon HABITAT Roy’s epic psychedelic space opera (created with chums like Farel THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple  and Giannis OLD CITY BLUES Milonogiannis), I felt sufficiently perturbed to pen a few lines on a series I have been gripped by from start to finish, and that has at times crushed my noggin like a walnut in a old school nutcracker.

I am genuinely intrigued how they went about scripting and plotting this whole shebang out, I really am. By all rights, it should have been an utterly unholy mess. There are those who would argue that it is. I would too, just in all the right ways…

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Sometimes, when people write far-flung future sci-fi, you can feel yourselves thinking, “Oh lummy, I really hope everything doesn’t end up totally fucked like this.” Yep, this is one of those!

It clearly owes huge props to the likes of Jodorowsky and Moebius’ THE INCAL, plus actually, some of Moebius’ solo works like THE WORLD OF EDENA and the more dissolute AIRTIGHT GARAGE as well. I don’t really know what the term is for something that appears to be the most abstract thing you’ve ever read but is in fact an incredibly clever, intricately constructed labyrinthine action-fest, but this is it. Errm, and I now I think about it, there are elements of CONAN thrown in there too… Seriously.

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It’s also a homage – a love letter more precisely, I suppose – to the early Image superhero-verse. Yep, multi-millennia in the future, John Prophet, who may or may not be the original Image supersoldier – it’s never made entirely clear, but I suspect it could be – is on a one-man mission to take down an evil Empire against overwhelming odds. An Empire composed of heavily mutated superclones of himself, controlled by even weirder entities. How heavily mutated? Well, some of them are gigantic spaceships that can travel at light speed… though most are just heavily weaponised cannon fodder of every conceivable genotype, and a few you won’t ever have conceived of. He has some of his clones on his side too, plus a few other allies, including some that may be familiar to very long-time Image readers.

Yes, we get cameos from the likes of Supreme (well, sort of, it really made me chuckle, but probably quite wise how they used him), Badrock and even Glory. Die Hard meanwhile, one of the original members of Youngblood, now a robotic being, is an integral part of Prophet’s inner circle of trusted lieutenants. There are several more blink-and-you’ll-miss ‘em appearances which only true Image superhero aficionados will probably spot but it really doesn’t matter, they are purely just the luminous icing on the cakey delight.

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For delight it is. Much like BIOMEGA, perhaps don’t even worry about trying to understand or follow exactly what’s going on in this title, because no concessions to helping you do so will be made by the writers. Just sit back and enjoy the ride and the exquisite tag-team art with Brandon, Simon and their myriad mates taking it in turns to astonish.

However… going back to what I was saying about the writing right at the beginning… perhaps the most incredible feat is that they managed to tie it all up so neatly in the concluding chapter. I really did wonder if this was one of those titles that was going to go out in a spectacular supernova burst of nonsensically entropic plotting like THE INVISIBLES, but no, it all made perfect sense! Now, where’s the gaffer tape to patch up the old noggin…

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So, what next? Well, the various creators have currently just successfully Kickstarted for a new sci-fi series called Cayrels Ring. Huzzah! You can find out more about that HERE.

JR

Buy Prophet volumes 1 to 5 and read the Page 45 reviews here

Citizen Jack vol 1 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sam Humphries & Tommy Patterson.

This Citizen Jack coverexceptionally eloquent critical analysis by Steff Humm originally appeared – with contextualising links – in the first issue of free online INK magazine which you can subscribe to by scroll down here: http://ink-mag.co.uk/  I loved it so much that I belatedly bought in the book. We are enormously grateful to Steff for her kind permission to publish this piece because anything I could come up with would look embarrassingly inadequate by comparison. It would have appeared much earlier in this blog had the book itself not appeared earlier too.

Umm, this is Steff Humm and I believe that you should subscribe.

SLH

The long and absurd adventure that has been the 2016 US presidential election will end this week, with Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th “leader of the free world” on Friday 20th January.

Among the smog of rhetoric that was blasted into the atmosphere during this campaign, there is one term that stands out for its deep irony and denial of public sensibility. “Generation Snowflake” is a reductionist umbrella for “hypersensitive” millennials (an already reductionist term for a generation spanning about 30 years) who have apparently been taught to believe they are “special”.

A stupid criticism for many reasons, the term has become a meme, broadly used to condemn groups as disparate as hipsters, students of the humanities, the mentally ill, and, shockingly, people who stand up to Trump’s nationalist rhetoric.

Putting aside the fact that those who taught the younger generations to think as individuals – through government mandated syllabi and the creation of pop culture that rewards protagonists for breaking free of the status quo – are the very same that now reprimand them for expressing their political opinion, the label itself is a dangerous one.

Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson explore just how dangerous in CITIZEN JACK, their satirical series about an immature and irredeemable man with little political achievement who sells his soul and runs for president of the United States. Getting ahead through flagrant demagoguery, Jack abuses the patriotism of his country to oppose the “political elite” and bring it back into the hands of “real Americans.”

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Making America great again

Although the first issue was released in November 2015, Humphries has said that it was ready to ship in March of that year, pre-dating Donald Trump’s acceptance of the Republican candidacy by four months.

More a parody of the political system than any one person within it, Jack is not really like Trump in background or character, despite several freak accidents of similarity in their campaigns. A failing businessman in a pink dressing gown, a full head of luscious hair framing his fairly generic features, the character is a symbol of something bigger and scarier than Trump alone could hope to be.

The unplanned achievement of the book’s horrific premise is the eerie prescience that the creators show throughout a first volume that was planned and penned before the rabbit hole unfolded into the events of 2016. From the moment the world is introduced to Jack Northworthy as a presidential candidate via a sardonic analogue of Fox News, the book perfectly encapsulates a political climate that appeals to public emotion rather than rational thought.

Standing naked in the Minnesotan snow after voluntarily diving into a frozen lake, Jack declares to the camera that he is better suited to lead America than a “Washington insider” because he has the “stones” for such reckless and unnecessary behaviour. He ends his triumphant entrance into the public eye with the useless slogan, “It’s time for America to get Jacked!”

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It’s never clear whether this banal rhetoric is intended to insult America or pump it up somehow, which is part of Humphries’ brilliance as a writer. The meaningless phrases he puts into Jack’s mouth show that this reprehensible man will say anything to stir people up. Jack isn’t clever – he has his campaign manager and the powers of a scary-ass demon to do the real graft for the election – but he knows what to say to get a reaction out of people.

And this is the hypocrisy of the special snowflake dig. The full quarter of the US and UK populations that fall into the millennial age group(s) are purported to be a bunch of emotional cry-babies by people who have had their hearts stolen by nonsense phrases coined to win elections. Individualism dismissed as infantile, the “mature” society must surely rely on tribes. Tribalism, also known as “we-thinking”, divides the population, whether local, global or national, into groups of “us” and “them”.

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Us and them

In Marjane Satrapi’s (literally millennial) graphic memoir PERSEPOLIS, published in 2000, the creator bears witness to the nature of tribalism as she recounts her experience of national identity as a child growing up in wartime Iran.

Satrapi begins her story as a rebellious and precocious child trying to understand the new restrictions enforced on her public self at the start of the Islamic Revolution in 1980. As the daughter of radical Marxists and a direct descendant of Iran’s last emperor, she struggles to find a balance between the freedom to learn, question and discover that her parents make for her at home, and the strict regulations that she faces at school.

As revolution leads to war, language, both personal and political, becomes more important to Satrapi. With her French school closed and a veil enforced upon her and her female friends and relatives, she realises early on that there is dissonance between her understanding of religious faith and the interpretations being used for control. Whereas CITIZEN JACK’s titular character takes control of a nation through speech, Satrapi’s childhood is defined by her position on the receiving end of such power plays.

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Rhetoric’s place in religion is well-established and young “Marji’s” emotional arc, complete in a way that is difficult to achieve in memoir, rests on her understanding that for many people, Muslim, Iranian or otherwise, must portray a different face in public than they do when they’re alone. Unlike the abstract danger of divisive language in CITIZEN JACK, the clashing interpretations of God’s word by religious extremists and Marxist socialism is often fatal in Satrapi’s world.

The book details many tragedies, which alone challenge the nationalist narratives of countries that have brought destruction upon innocent people in the attempt to rake in power and money, but this clearly isn’t the purpose of PERSEPOLIS. In detailing her flight from Iran to Austria and back again, our narrator tells the story of a nation that has been buried beneath the rhetoric of higher powers. The place and culture that created her comes to life in her description of its pleasures and pain, and shows what can be lost when we narrow our view to “us vs them”.

Perhaps behaviour as petty as name-calling shouldn’t be enough to trigger national division in countries where at least 14 years of education is mandatory. But when patriotism – pride in one’s country – becomes clouded by persuasive tribalism that promises to “make America great again”, urges Britain to “take back control”, or labels bilingual schools in Iran as “capitalist” and “decadent”, the gulf of cultural variation is widened.

“Generation snowflake” is essentially a meaningless term, but the emotion behind it is clear. The people throwing it about are really saying that whatever liberal views are offending them this week don’t matter because the Left lost the election. Unsportsmanlike indeed, the words that put a wall up along the Mexican border, or those that had an entire country regret that they voted to leave the European Union, create an animosity towards any kind of diversity, setting us all back decades of progress.

Steff Humm

Buy Citizen Jack vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various.

Full contentsPunisher Max vol 5 cover below, but here are a few stories which stood out.

Written by Mike Benson, ‘The Hunter’ is one of the most tense and unnerving PUNISHER short stories I’ve ever read thanks in no small part to its artists, Laurence Campbell (line) and Lee Loughbridge (colour).

There’s a sweaty, midnight intensity throughout, but the scenes set in the rain-slashed city were especially terrifying. The glaring yellow squares of high-rise window lights reflected on the streaming car window successfully erode the shadows in front of them so that the Punisher’s face looming out of the darkness comes as a sudden shock to the system.

And Eddie is terrified. He helped torch a tenement full of squatters using a bag of live rats soaked in petrol, and one by one Frank Castle, implacable, unstoppable, has taken the others to task. No one will give Eddie refuge now, it would be suicide.

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By the same artists, ‘Girls In White Dresses’, written by Gregg Hurwitz, had a real Garth Ennis bite to it.

Castle travels south across the border to a town whose women are being bundled into vans in the middle of the night then dumped days later, destroyed. What’s been happening to them during their abduction? Castle finds himself cleverly played before finally putting the pieces together, only to discover he really doesn’t like the full puzzle picture.

Goran Parlov’s Punisher has always been a beefy delight (see PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 3 and VOL 4) and here he returns for Victor Gischler’s ‘Welcome To The Bayou’. He plays burlesque straighter than most and so, to my mind, far better. Here with the help once again of colourist Lee Loughbridge he renders a swamp that’s as dangerous in the dark as the road that rides past it during the day is innocuous.

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Beautiful, bright colours on the verge as Frank Castle, en route to New Orleans to deliver a heavily sedated package, is passed by a crowd of loud students in an open-topped sports car. Both parties end up pulling over at a remote patrol shack – they for beer, Frank for petrol – and it seems like they’re already a little tipsy. Probably why they don’t notice the ogling and the distinctly dodgy decor (“My guess: this place doesn’t get a lot of repeat business”). Yep, there’s something not quite right about that there pit stop which is why, when the students fail to overtake Castle again, he pulls over to wait for them.

“I decide to give it ten minutes.
“Then I give it ten more minutes.
“Shit.”

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What follows is a perfect blend of Garth Ennis’ PREACHER and PUNISHER. In fact the locals during their hoe-down make Jesse’s clan look restrained. Castle’s beautifully succinct and, behind Parlov’s sunshades, as impassive as ever but he’s in for a rude awakening.

That, some dangling, and a great deal of wading.

Collects PUNISHER MAX ANNUAL 2007, PUNISHER: FORCE OF NATURE, PUNISHER: LITTLE BLACK BOOK, PUNISHER (2004) #61-65 and PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX #66-75.

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 5 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Sean Izaakse, Andrea Sorrentino, Olivier Coipel.

Sometimes a collected edition reveals so many more layers, so many more component parts or exciting pieces of narrative language when read as a whole that my original, first issue’s review becomes redundant. Our review for BLACK MONDAY MURDERS had to be re-written from scratch with just a single paragraph retained, such was the wider picture and complexity of its construction.

This, on the other hand, whilst certainly thoughtful and reading infinitely better as a whole, looks relatively straightforward, especially if I’m to avoid spoilers of some substantial developments within, so let’s start with my review of #0 by Bendis & Coipel (rather than main artist Marquez), slightly pimped with a few choice observations, and see what merits adding later…

Elegantly drawn by Olivier Coipel and deliciously coloured by Justin Ponsor, Bendis really needed to surprise on the script if he was going to shed doubts that this wouldn’t follow the law of diminishing returns following the original, exceptional CIVIL WAR and accusations of being a mere cash-in on the substandard film.

Mission accomplished.

Bravely, until the final four pages, this is a refreshingly quiet prologue culminating in the mini-series’ catalyst. In that moment a young man and woman – whom he’s been fond of from afar – are transformed by a cloud of Terrigen Mist into something other than they were. Neither transmogrification works well for them and the boy finds himself seeing something he shouldn’t. Or should he?

I’m now quite delighted with myself that I’ve managed to deliver the crux of the series without giving the game away: half of Marvel’s superheroes will come to believe he shouldn’t have seen it; the other half will be bloody delighted that he’s answered their prayers.

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Thread one: Jennifer Walters, a defence attorney (who is, by the by, as tall as an Amazon and a gamma shade of green), commands attention in her closing statement not by her appearance but by her eloquence. Her client, a former supervillain, has been slightly stitched up by the local constabulary (NYPD) through entrapment. Worse still, it’s not as if they found anything worth charging him with but, seeking to justify their man-hour expenditure, they threw the book at him anyway and took him to court for speculating, idly. That’s all he did. He mused about the “good old days”, wondering what he might have done differently when he once wore a mask. Which he hasn’t – for yonks – and didn’t this time, either. He did nothing wrong, yet he was convicted. Jennifer Walters failed and the individual in question has been banged up to wrongs.

Later, high up in the sky aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, its commander Maria Hill speculates that he would have done it again:

“They always do.”

So that’s the person in charge of the U.N. Peacekeeping Task Force, then: not only presuming guilty until proven innocent, but resolutely blinkered when it comes to rehabilitation. Which is nice. And if you think that’s got Jennifer’s goat, you wait until you discover what happened during the innocent’s intervening hours.

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I mention all this because I cannot see how this pertains to the coming storm in any way whatsoev – oh wait, now I do. Again, this is wonderfully underplayed by Coipel. There’s a look in Walters’ eyes which is almost an ellipsis. But it has nothing to do with the individual’s identity – only his conviction and Hill’s supposition.

Thread two: Colonel James Rhodes is summoned to the White House. Specifically, he is summoned to its Situation Room. There isn’t a situation. As War Machine (a sort of gun-metal-grey Iron Man stand-in / knock off) Colonel James Rhodes has just diffused the most recent situation in Latveria. No, he’s been called to the Situation Room because it’s far more private than the Oval Office, for a one-on-one private consultation with the President who makes Colonel Rhodes a most unexpected offer as well as a future trajectory which Rhodes could never have seen coming.

Ooh, I’m doing rather well in my crypticism, aren’t I? This time I really do not have a clue as to how this might impact on what looks likely to follow. Except… do you know who James’ best friend is? Ah, you won’t need to. Bendis is ever so brilliant and all will be laid clear within.

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Thread three: Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel is back on deck, the deck belonging to The Triskelion, headquarters and home of the Ultimates, an arm of the Avengers which deals with extraterrestrial and planetary-wide threats. She receives a visitor, an old friend who wonders how she’s doing on zero-hours sleep. The thing is, you see, Carol has taken command of three separate superhero institutions, co-ordinating them in order to avoid the disaster which she sees as inevitable: the day that a situation arises which Earth’s metahumans will finally fail to react to in time.

So many of these so-called near-disasters are only narrowly averted every year in the Marvel Universe, lest the company begins publishing one long cholesterol-crazed picnic and Peter Parker porks-out something chronic. Even then, when I type “near-disasters” I mean complete catastrophes. During the recent SECRET WARS, for example, the Marvel Universe ceased to exist. Bit of a lose, really.

“The illusion of control. It’ll eat you alive,” predicts therapist Doc Samson.

I know exactly where that one’s going.

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So in addition to its relative tranquillity and the space it has afforded Coipel to turn in a truly nuanced performance with slow, subtle reactions and the thoughts lingering behind the eyes of those in conversation, what I liked was this: relatively minor characters coming to the fore and providing their own current perspectives on their present circumstances and what they infer from them for the future.

Unfortunately as the legendary, much loved and now much missed Leonard Cohen once growled:

“I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.”

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***

Now that I’ve read the whole book, that last line was pretty damn prescient.

So let’s just pop back to the beginning: the Terrigen mist catalyses nascent powers in any normal-looking individual who happens to have an Inhuman lineage. For more on that, please see the finest, self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, one of the most literate and lambently beautiful books that Marvel has ever published.

In this instance the individual in question appears to have been imbued with the ability to not only see the future, but to allow others to do the same.

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Now, given the clearly stated predispositions of Carol Danvers and Maria Hill, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that both are determined to make the most of this gift. Their eyes, as they see it, are on the bigger picture, defending humanity at any cost. They are going to take those visions at their ‘word’ and assume that they will come to fruition if not interfered with: if not confronted right now, before they happen by contesting, arresting or fighting to the death anyone who is ‘seen’ committing said potential immolations in the future. Anyone, really, who leaves the bottle off the pop or the fridge door open.

To Tony Stark, that is a scientifically unproven and illogical, emotional leap of faith and a dangerous, unjustifiable, immoral course of action.

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Why should you have the right to arrest someone for something they haven’t done? How can you assume any future will come to pass if not averted when all of them have been averted and so proven them to have been only possible futures? Plus, who is to say that what is envisaged isn’t done without bias – the personal history and current emotional state – of the Inhuman having them?

Worse still, when Stark works out how the seemingly precognitive ability functions, it opens up a whole new can of worms.

How do you feel about profiling?

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I’ve still given away no specifics (nor will I below and I have been very careful with interior art) because that’s how we roll; but you can see the conundrum and that conundrum is compelling.

Both sides seek to convert others to their cause and, to Bendis’ credit, there are at least two sequences in which the opposing factions sit down with each other and debate – at length and in depth – the merits of their own arguments and the flaws in the other’s. Some switch sides because of those arguments halfway through. But Carol Danvers is too obstinate, too convinced in her own righteousness to listen and the emotional reaction, ironically and semi-understandably under the very specific circumstances, is Stark’s.

Communication gives way to confrontation when the threats are deemed imminent and those very threats become personal because they involve those close to home whom they love – not just as victims, either, but as the most unlikely perpetrators – and they constantly force each other’s hands.

It’s not without minor flaws (including Panini’s design – yet again). The big battles involve so many combatants that they’re actually quite boring. The individual plight of the protagonists and so your emotional involvement with them is lost in the mass spectacle and the booyah dialogue suffers in those scenarios too. But, like the original CIVIL WAR, the wider picture presented has something to say and Bendis has chosen both his significant victims of disaster and his equally significant victims of presumption very cleverly for maximum, honest-to-god dilemma.

Plus I perceive how one of these visions will wittily [REDACTED] a future development whose paving has already been laid, lo these recent months elsewhere.

Body count high, if that means much to you. And already we know that it does.

SLH

Buy Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Note: all these beauties from Spit And A Half in America already have John Porcellino’s descriptions in their Page 45 product pages, so you won’t have to wait for our reviews. Isn’t our Jonathan a genius?

Spit And A Half 2

 

Spit And A Half 1

Amerika (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Réal Godbout

Black Rat (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Cole Closser

Blobby Boys 1 (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Alex Schubert

Blobby Boys 2 (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Alex Schubert

Bloggers (£4-50, IAMWAR) by Josh Bayer

Bug Boys (£11-99, Czap Books) by Laura Knetzger

A Cat Named Tim (£17-99, Koyama Press) by John Martz

Conditions on the Ground (£26-99, Floating World Comics) by Kevin Hooyman

Deep Woods (£4-50, 2D Cloud) by Noah Van Sciver, Nic Breutzman

Don’t Come in Here (£14-50, Koyama Press) by Patrick Kyle

Don’t Cry Wolfman (£8-99) by Nate Beaty

Doomin (£2-50, Uncivilised Books) by Derek Van Gieson

Drinking at the Movies (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Julia Wertz

Dumb 1+2 (£6-99, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Georgia Webber

Goodbye (£5-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

Gorgeous (£8-99, Koyama Press) by Cathy G. Johnson

Hugh (£3-25, One Percent Press) by Alexis Frederick-Frost

Hollow Hollows (£4-99, One Percent Press) by Dakota McFadzean

Home and Away (£14-50, Blank Slate Books) by Mawil

Iranian Metamorphosis (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Mana Neyestani

Iron Bound (£19-99, Secret Acres) by Brendan Leach

Jaywalker (£13-99) by Lisa Carver with Dame Darcy

Jeremiah (£13-99, One Percent Press) by Cathy G. Johnson

Johnny Viable And His Terse Friends (£6-99, Floating World Comics) by Steve Aylett

Lose 4 (£6-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge

Lose 6 (£6-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge

Mini-KUŠ 43: Meat Locker (£5-50, KUŠ) by Michael DeForge

Men’s Feelings 1 (£4-99, Revival House Press) by Ted May

Men’s Feelings 2 (£4-99, Revival House Press) by Ted May

Mineshaft 33 (£7-99, Mineshaft) by Robert Crumb, Billy Chidish, Noah Van Sciver, Mary Fleener, Jay Lynch, Nina Bunjevac, Bill Griffith, Robert Armstrong, William Crook Jr and way more

Mini-KUŠ #10: OTSO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Mari Ahokoivu

Mini-KUŠ #19: INVERSO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Berliac

Mini-KUŠ #21: JUNGLE NIGHT (£4-99, KUŠ) by Renata Gasiorowska

Mini-KUŠ #22: LUCKY (£4-99, KUŠ) by Oskars Pavlovskis

Mini-KUŠ #23: DOMINO (£4-99, KUŠ) by Ruta & Anete Daubure

Mini-KUŠ #24: SWIMMING POOL (£4-99, KUŠ) by Anna Vaivare

Mini-KUŠ #27: MATHEMATICAL SOLUTIONS FOR A GLOBAL CRISIS (£4-99, KUŠ) by Jesse Jacobs

Mini-KUŠ #28: COLLECTOR (£4-99, KUŠ) by Zane Zlemeša

Mini-KUŠ #37: SNAKE IN THE NOSE (£4-99, KUŠ) by Tommi Musturi

Mini-KUŠ #42: ALIEN BEINGS (£4-99, KUŠ) by Laura Keninš

Miseryland (£8-99) by Keiler Roberts

Nasty Day (£2-99) by Kelly Froh

New Construction (£15-99, Uncivilised Books) by Sam Alden

Night Animals (£6-99, Top Shelf) by Brecht Evens

Only Skin (£19-99, Secret Acres) by Sean Ford

Powerman (£5-99, Kilgore Books) by Box Brown

Rough Age (£10-99, One Percent Press) by Max de Radiguès

Salad Days (£4-50, One Percent Press) by JP Coovert

Skyscrapers of the Midwest (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Joshua Cotter

Vile and Miserable (£19-99, Pow Pow Press) by Samuel Cantin

Spit And A Half 3

 

Spit And A Half 4

Also 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 Land Called Tarot h/c (£17-99, Image) by Gael Bertrand

Black History In Its Own Words h/c (£14-99, Image) by Ronald Wimberly

Chester 5000 XYV Book 2: Isabelle & George h/c (£13-99, Top Shelf) by Jess Fink

Empress h/c (£22-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen

Fuse vol 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions s/c (£13-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

Hinges Book 3: Mechanical Men s/c (£14-50, Image) by Meredith McClaren

Invisibles Book 1 s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Chris Weston, Duncan Fegredo, others

My Neighbour’s Bikini (£11-99, BDANG) by Jimmy Beaulieu

Nameless s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham

Norse Mythology h/c (£20-00, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman

The Ring Of The Seven Worlds s/c (£17-99, Humanoids) by Gionvanni Gualdoni, Gabriele Clima & Matteo Piana

The Survivalist (£5-99, Chalk Marks) by Box Brown

Truth Is Fragmentary (£17-99, Uncivilized Books) by Gabrielle Bell

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 1: Sinestro’s Law s/c (£15-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval

All New, All Different Avengers vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Adam Kubert

Uncanny X-Men: Superior vol 3 – Waking From The Dream s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Greg Land

Deadman Wonderland vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Deadman Wonderland vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

News

ITEM Luke Philippa Jon McN

ITEM! Interview with (left to right Jon McNaught, Luke Pearson and Philippa Rice, Luke Pearson by P.M. Buchan for Broken Frontier

“It’s Important to Do Stuff that You Want to Do – That’s What Will Become the Best and Truest Work You’ll Create”  – Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice and Jon McNaught on Their Comics Careers to Date

Huge congratulations to longstanding editor-in-chief Andy Oliver on becoming the new owner of Broken Frontier.

ITEM Broken Frontier Andy Oliver

ITEM! You may have noticed we have a guest review this week by Steff Humm who is the creator, owner and head-writer of free, online INK magazine bursting with eloquent and insightful comicbook critical analysis. She certainly delves deeper than we do. TBH, a lot of our reviews are essentially sales pitches, though only when we believe in a book. I do, however, like to think we can at least tell a story and often show you how and why it works.

Sign up to receive free, fortnightly editions of INK magazine here: http://ink-mag.co.uk/

Issue #2 of INK is available to read right now!

Additionally you can follow INK magazine on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK

Ink logo

ITEM! “People who don’t read are not stupid, but too often they have been made to feel that way.”

So much of this Waterstone’s blog by the likes of Amanda Craig is true!

My take: so many who don’t read have been put off it by ossified books they were made to study too early on.

Random prose books I delighted in studying at the right age: Paul Scott’s ‘Staying On’ and every Evelyn Waugh masterpiece (both aged 15 upwards), every Jane Austen (13 upwards) and every Gerald Durrell (aged 11 upwards).

ITEM! Jane Austen 10 pound note

Our Dominique informed me that Jane Austen is to appear our £10 notes, and I see the equally magnificent J.M.W Turner is to adorn our £20 efforts.

It’s about time we celebrated our extraordinary wealth of British culture on a daily, transactional basis.

ITEM Turner

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2017 week one

February 1st, 2017

News And Reviews Underneath!

Black Monday Murders vol 1: All Hail God Mammon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker.

“The world weBlack Monday Murders vol 1 cover see is smoke…
“And it’s all the evidence we need to know the flames are real.”

Most of us have no idea.

All we see is the investment bankers’ greed, their ruthlessness, their obscene material wealth and their seeming immunity when things go wrong at our expense.

But with Russian plutocrat Viktor Eresko in particular, this invulnerability, this impregnability which you can hear in every word he speaks seems derived from something far older and much more substantial than mere wealth. Lesser men would mistake his assured self-confidence for arrogance. It’s not. It is knowledge.

Ignorance is bliss. Things once seen cannot be unseen, so be careful what you go looking for. Clue: on the cover one of the co-creators is listed as Abaddon…

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Big, fat-cat package of occult crime fiction exposing investment banking as a deal with the devil, and in which conspiracy theory turns out to be decades of carefully constructed practice. Surprising no one.

If you were spellbound by Brubaker and Phillips with Breitweiser in KILL OR BE KILLED with its exceptional psychological exploration of a single man on his way to murder, then this will make your head spin.

BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is all kinds of uncommonly clever. It’s interactive, and it is only fitting for a crime comic that you’re invited to do some detective work yourself.

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I’ll return you to the plot in due course, but I spent hours on its design as a package alone. As early as THE NIGHTLY NEWS Jonathan Hickman bowled us all over with his eye for design and his reaching ambition for what you could do with a comic. When freed from the constraints of superhero comics – which he nonetheless infused with his own unique, upmarket and intelligent, quite beautiful branding – Hickman can be, in his own very different way, a craftsman akin to Chris Ware.

I do believe he love puzzles.

The contents page in most prose and graphic novels is perfunctory or a bit of a tease at best. Exceptions include philanthropist Henry Fielding’s riotously witty and iconoclastic tasters introducing episodes from his 18th Century novel ‘Tom Jones’. Here the contents last an entire five pages, breaking the book into a four-act play, each of whose scenes carries an individual title. In addition – for Hickman does nothing by halves – every attendant diagram, pictogram, letter, diary entry, transcript, history map or censored personnel file is also titled [in square brackets], except for those whose very titles are censored.

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These interspersed discoveries are presented as if typed manually, and bear all the grained imperfections of having been photocopied badly or expeditiously.

The effect is to present you with a secret dossier whose component parts you will need to analyse for yourselves in conjunction with each other and the main, comics narrative in order to build up the bigger picture. And it is a much bigger picture of language and numbers, the language of numbers, of wheels and of systems, of deals and dynasties, of power, money and magic.

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Like the contents of the dossier, the main narrative also flickers backwards and forwards in time, so you’ll need to mentally slot those sequences in too. Lastly, if you thought the cover credits were clever, wait until you read those at the back of the book, absolutely in tune with what comes before with its sentences hidden within sentences.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. This is brilliant.

For every transaction there is a price to be paid – a sacrifice to the great god Mammon – and most often it is in blood. The bankers just prefer it were ours.

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“The first million dollars you make is self-financed. You earn it with your own blood. The cost is your health, your family, your friends.
“You pay, understand…
“The most common mistake is believing that you can accrue even more by continuing this behaviour. You cannot. If you’re going to earn more… if you’re going to earn real money – accumulate real power – then that is done on the backs of others. Call them workers, call them proles, even call them slaves. I do not care. Just know, it is they who you will sacrifice for gain.”

Don’t you love a little unexpected honesty?

Sometimes, however, as we shall see, the blood-letting is necessarily much closer to home.

The Caina Investment Bank was founded in 1857. In 1989 it merged with the Russian Kankrin Troika to form the Caina-Kankrin Investment Bank, the biggest in the world. But in between there have been fateful and sometimes fatal struggles for power within its rotating, four-pillar structure and the families – the Rothschilds, the Ackermans, the Dominics and the Bischoffs – who sat in its four chairs.

Then the Wheel would become broken.

It was broken when Wall Street crashed on Black Thursday morning, October 24th 1929. As America started haemorrhaging money, the man sat in the Stone Chair at the moment the music stopped started to haemorrhage blood.

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Now the Wheel has been broken once more, for Daniel Rothschild – the managing partner in the Ascendant Seat – has been murdered. The remaining members of the Caina-Kankrin cabal have recalled Daniel’s twin sister Grigoria from exile in England in order to fill his position, so that the cycle can continue. But Grigoria did not leave voluntarily, as we shall see, and now that she’s back she has certain demands. She’s also brought with her the family familiar, a ghostly-white and unreadable woman whose eyes are hidden behind reflective sunglasses, and who speaks only in arcane symbols.

Into this dangerous, twilight world strays one Detective Theodore Dumas, restored from suspension after he shot dead an unarmed civilian man in the middle of the street because he saw something no one else could. Turns out there were eight and a half heads in the civilian’s freezer, with the next victim tied to his bed. He’s been restored to duty because Daniel Rothschild murder involved an impenetrable ritual. With his preternatural insight, what will Theo see now?

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I’m thrilled to see Tomm Coker back. Hopefully you remember him from the likes of the equally umbral BLOOD + WATER and UNDYING LOVE VOL 1, and here his masterful eye for tight composition gives us an elaborately staged, cryptic crime scene with a timely message.

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The very first panel in 1929 is set ominously under the shadow of a barrage balloon which – rightly or wrongly – I always associate with war. What’s bombing is the Stock Exchange. On the second page there’s an acute emphasis on the vertical, on the drop. First there’s the aerial shot of the Bank tower / spire, then there’s the blood dripping from the man in the Stone Chair going down.

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One other free-fall aside, Coker controls all other expressions – just as Garland does the colours – with enormous discipline, lending the dialogue a weight and a power and a shadow, if you like, under which you are drawn to wonder what lurks: hidden motivations galore, and all sorts of nasties dressed up to the nines. Eresko’s one-on-one, close-up, unblinking eye contacts are terrifying.

Parenthetically, the dialogue is so well worded you can hear Viktor Eresko’s accent as you read this purely from the carefully controlled cadence of his words.

Everything in this comic is ominous – wait until you descend deep under the Berlin Wall! – but there’s a particularly impressive, deliciously shiver-inducing scene as Grigoria and her ever-attendant familiar, the impassive Abby, are driven back to New York, the jet-black clouds clawing across the blood-red sky like a shrouded spectre. Red is the only primary colour which Michael Garland uses, and he does so sparingly so it’s all the more startling.

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Coker’s present-day Grigoria is elegant, commanding but where Coker excels himself is in Abigail, Abbrielle, Abby who assumes each era’s contemporary chic. She is insouciant, but surprisingly tactile at times, and I love the way she cocks her head occasionally like a bird of prey, curious to gauge someone else’s reaction to what has cropped up.

It’s an intelligent book, well researched in the schools of economics and confidently delivered when Hickman’s making it up. A lot of this is about truths and lies, truths within lies and vice-versa, including an entire website created to propagate one by using the other. Here’s the sort of thing that’s up for discussion:

“If you ask any competent linguist what’s the most spoken language on Earth, they will tell you – with some assurance – it is Mandarin, and they would be wrong.
“Since we first learned to grunt, man has possessed a universal language, and it remains a language everyone on the planet speaks.
“Mathematics.
“You see, Detective, numbers are primal. What makes them enduring – what gives this language its true power – is when a number is attached to an object.
“We use that union of number and object to count, and counting is how we measure accumulation. And what is accumulation? It is wealth. Now consider that we do the same thing with people…”

SLH

Buy Black Monday Murders vol 1: All Hail God Mammon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love vol 4: The Dinosaur h/c (£15-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci.

Fourth Love Dinosaur coverwordless foray into the food chain that is our natural world, you can read our reviews of the previous three (TIGER, LION, FOX) in our enticingly titled LOVE: THE section. And it is very much the food chain being presented here as our constant companion in this ancient obstacle course – the Bambiraptor Feinbergi – attempts to duck and dive under cover, out of trouble, and off the metaphorical dinner plate.

The substantial cover is provided by a gigantic Isisaurus Colberti, one of those long-necked behemoths like the Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus or Diplodocus. Hasn’t one of those recently been discredited? This one has a thicker, powerful, rubbery neck ribbed with muscles and we are reminded throughout that vegetarians aren’t necessarily pacifists. You don’t have to be a carnivore to be formidably enraged. Eggs are eggs, territory is territory, and self-defence can become exceedingly aggressive.

Love Dinosaur 0

Love Dinosaur 1Not quite as aggressive as in Ricardo Delgado’s AGE OF REPTILES, to be sure, but I’m not going toe-to-toe with a Triceratops. AGE OF REPTILES is a silent series too. Dinosaurs didn’t have much to say for themselves, did they?

I only have one later image from the interior art – and that’s subaquatic – but I can promise you that there will be a Tyrannosaurus Rex or two.

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It begins, however, in a hazy, diffused light, with a bee and a locust which also reminds us that insects are true survivors and that we are lucky to have them still with us or else in some circles pollination would be a thing of the past. Speaking of “things of the past” and “survivors”, I also spy a Solenodon on the very first page. You call tell that it’s ancient by its name. It sounds like it should be some imposing leviathan, but it isn’t. It’s one of Earth’s earliest mammals which exists to this day, so meriting its inclusion in dear David Attenborough’s television ark. And he was only allowed to select ten species.

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It’s these little details which endear me to this edition and I’m endeared to them all. The thought behind the genesis of each LOVE: THE graphic novel shouldn’t be overlooked, however distractingly dramatic and spectacular the art. You are assured of spectacle each and every time, and especially on a day like today; because we haven’t woken up on any random morning.

Initially I was quite startled that the creators had decided to “do” dinosaurs because half of my brain appears inexplicably to consider them fantasy. And I’m no crazy-headed Creationist, let me tell you. I was once quite the dinosaur expert, having collected PG Tips’ excursion into the equivalent of cigarette cards, aged 5 or 6. I stuck them all semi-neatly into a much-treasured album and devoured all their details.

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That love is rewarded and rekindled in the back by a more expansive closing gallery than usual: 22 pages of storyboards, painting and sketches, identifying each exotic creature including four different species / iterations of the cow-like lizard whose best-known example is the Triceratops.

Some of these paintings are rendered on coarse-grained canvas, which works wonders in adding a thick, pitted, leathery texture to their armoured hides, just like a rhinoceros’.

Conversely, Bertolucci’s less intense sketches in ink with wild washes allow the movement and musculature to shine through. There’s one other page in which an eye shines with intelligence, with spirit, with soul, just like every horse and cow that I’ve ever met.

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Is it only me who finds the name ‘Bambiraptor’ oxymoronically funny?

Of all the cast here, he is imbued with a certain, slapstick, Disney anthropomorphism, especially when trampled underfoot by his hunger-frenzied friends.

SLH

Buy Love vol 4: The Dinosaur h/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Thought You Hated Me (£7-50, Retrofit) by Marinaomi.

An eloquent and reallyI Thought You Hated Me Cover quite complex autobiographical evocation of a friendship that was unlikely to have outlived its first few childhood years, I believe this will surprise you.

Certainly the cover doesn’t do it any sort of justice at all: it doesn’t welcome you in. It has none of the tenderness, balance and keenly judged space of the interior art. Instead we see a bitter and angrily resentful Mari – when she is neither within – in a sort of nicotine-perpetuated anger trap.

Please persevere long enough to look instead, for instead this is told with a charmingly direct, warts-and-all seeming simplicity, yet there are a variety of unexpected angles subtly deployed and underneath lies a truthful understanding, clearly conveyed, that within friendships much goes unsaid; that too few survive long enough for a conversational reflection on what went unsaid; that so many shared experiences may have meant different things to one friend than to the other; or maybe they did mean the same but you never knew; whereas other events might have had a profound effect upon one to which the other was oblivious so quite possibly the event never registered at all and was subsequently forgotten.

Each one of those scenarios ticks my own recognition boxes, as well as another which I’ll leave for my punchline.

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So why was this friendship unlikely to last and why did Mari think that Mirabai hated her?

Well, the things we say when we are 9!

For a start, Mirabai was introduced to Mari by her already existing friend, Harmony.

“This is my new friend, Mirabai.
“She’s mine!”

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So there’s a territory claimed. Mari was never confident, but what little confidence she had was completely undermined by Mirabai constantly leading her on, then pulling the rug from under her. Cue Charles Schultz homage, ever so appropriately. You’ll see exactly why it’s spot-on when you read this yourself, but brilliantly there’s a break between how Schultz uses this throughout PEANUTS and when Marinaomi repeats it. There is… a progression.

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Mirabai’s increasing artistic confidence is demonstrated by her diminishing competitiveness, feeling no need to accept compliments with triumphalism. Mari’s honest adulation is conveyed in her accepting Mirabai’s instructions without resentment. Mari even levels up when she suddenly finds a teen fashion style of her own and – on being photographed – seeing herself newly arrived as an adult. Okay, it’s a work in progress, but that has to tick recognition boxes too, yes?

So here’s one of those fresh angles I loved. Every single-page entry here is titled time- and site-specific: ‘Slumber party, 1985’ or ‘Sausalito Steps, 1987’. Suddenly it’s ‘Everywhere We Go, 1987’ and a spacious, single-panel page on which everyone is swooning, love hearts in their eyes, over Mirabai who is “oblivious” and Mari who is “jealous”. That’s it: nothing more complex than that, but “Everywhere We Go” says quite enough.

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Mirabai, a year older, was always more precocious than Mari in art, poetry and experimentation, give or take drugs (I loved the reversal of a particular famous slogan with a couple of opposing TM-ed arguments for good measure). So when ‘Mirabai Moves To The Big City, 1989’ leaving Mari behind, their reunion isn’t so much a conversation as one long outburst of genuine enthusiasm on Mirabai’s part…

“…And my new friend Patrick told my new friend Ashu that my new friend…”

… but oblivious as always, this time as to its inevitable reception. I should reiterate that Mari’s reaction isn’t to glower; she simply hangs back, walking in Mirabai’s wake, looking forlornly to one side in isolated reflection. Am I really the only one here determined that Marinaomi has nailed it?

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I’m going to leave you where I first thought to begin, at a ‘Late-night Diner, San Francisco, 1989’. Mirabai and “this one guy” have been talking animatedly all night while Mari sits silently, forgotten.

“Oh god, please don’t fall in love with Mirabai.
“Please, just this one guy,
“Just this one.”

Afterwards, outside, it’s Mari and the new guy.

“She’s really something, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, Mirabai’s the best!”

A love heart of genuine adoration accompanies Mari’s speech balloon.

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You have pages and pages to go, and many in between to discover for yourselves, like the precise nature of which shared, early experience first changes the direction of their relationship from the careless bully and the enduringly bullied to something more mutual and respectful.

But what one doesn’t realise when one begins reading – because Mari didn’t realise this, either, until later – is that the title of this comic is a two-way street.

SLH

Buy I Thought You Hated Me and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 4 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano…

“Thinking about the round heads of these children…
“… filled with dreams and hopes like weird water balloons…
“… made Punpun…
“No…
“… never mind.”

Just when I thought Punpun might be in danger of getting his shit together…

As with previous volumes in Page 45’s Inio Asano section (reviewed), time has moved on once again since volume 3 and now Punpun is forlornly adrift in post-education ‘adult’ society. But whereas before at school he could mostly keep his head down, go unnoticed, and hide from his woes – primarily induced by the collection of weirdoes that comprise his family, plus girls he was obsessed with, oh and God who kept popping up unsolicited to have a word with him – now he’s starting to realise there’s just nowhere whatsoever left to hide from the big bad world…

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Yes, it’s time for Punpun to meditate deeply in his own inimitable way upon thorny, pressing issues like gainful employment and somewhere to hang his hat. Ah, and the ever-elusive concept of sexual coupling, of course. All the sorts of day-to-day practicalities that Punpun is not particularly well equipped to deal with after his… strained upbringing, and perhaps if we’re being unkind, limited savvy. To start with at least… Yes, Punpun will surprise you – well he certainly did me – as after eventually realising that doing absolutely nothing isn’t a long term solution to his problems, he tentatively begins to apply himself to the rigours of everyday life. Punpun-stylee, of course!

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But then we’ll see the return of certain characters who threaten to rock poor Punpun’s world (and hormones) even further off-kilter than before whereas, for a change, his family, or what’s left of it, doesn’t seem to be particularly impacting upon his shaky mental wellbeing. Even his Uncle, last seen losing the plot spectacularly in volume 3 seems to be holding it together. Well… in the manner of a kettle of water at 97.9 degrees C and rising rapidly, that is… I fear he’s only one misplaced letter away from going fully postal. What is it with that family?

And as for God, he’s seemingly gone on sabbatical. Even in Punpun’s hour of deep existential crisis / neediness (come on, you didn’t think he could get through a full volume without at least one near-total nuclear meltdown-sized wobbly, did you?), when he does his secret-codeword, ridiculous jig of a dance call, the resultant silence is absolutely deafening. Not that God isn’t listening, you understand, he just wants to fuck with Punpun a bit…

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Inio Asano’s epic treatise on the socially dysfunctional struggling to survive amongst us continues. Some might say he has a keen eye for exposing the ever-present undercurrents and riptides that threaten to destabilise the most unsure of mental equilibrium at a moment’s notice for his readers’ pleasure. Others might just say he’s one cruel bastard.

JR

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Beowulf (Graphic Novel) by unknown & Gareth Hinds.

“AbsolutelyBeowulf Graphic Novel cover splendid. Visceral, chilling, elegiac.”

 – customer Chris Gardiner.

Chris Gardiner is something of a Beowulf buff. He’s read the original, come across countless adaptations and this is one of his absolute favourites. Its impact on him was immediate and arresting.

The dragon he called “incandescent” (and it seriously is in a purplish, painted, black-and-white double-page spread that almost sets the paper on fire), and the brutish confrontation between Beowulf and an obsidian Grendel – all muscle, sinew, claws, teeth and wet, globular hair – is a shocking affair after such formal rhetoric. It’s bone-cracking, beam-breaking, bludgeoning stuff from a decade or so ago which would have superhero fans wetting themselves if they cared to look this way, as would BEOWULF by Garcia & Rubin published last month.

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There are three such confrontations as the pages go suddenly silent letting the images roar and bellow for themselves, and my one reservation about this entire adaptation was whether that silence robbed us of some of the best language. “No,” replied Chris, “I can read the original for that.” He’s right, for Hinds has considered his medium – and timing – very carefully.

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The ancient legend of Beowulf’s first known manuscript after centuries of oral tradition is dated around 1000 AD. In it King Hrothgar builds a banquet hall full of good cheer and revelry until it’s invaded by Grendel, a moor-dwelling man-beast capable of cleaving a man’s head from his body with naught but his black, bare hands. No matter how well armed are King Hrothgar’s men, by morning they are no more than bloody, mashed pulps and so for twelve long years the hall goes empty, the heroic King Hrothgar exiled from the heart of his own Danish dominion.

Then arrives Beowulf from a neighbouring territory, announcing his presence with due deference to the mighty Hrothgar but also a determination to rid him of this pestilence. For he has heard word of the accursed Grendel and, if he be so permitted, he would rout the abomination forever. Single-handedly, with neither arms nor armour, he prepares himself for the predatory Grendel to embark on his nocturnal assault. He is committed.

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What may surprise those unaccustomed to the original (if you can call any one such) is that this is but the beginning, for Beowulf has an entire life of such challenges ahead of him. He has a kingdom of his own to rule, and threats there too which he must stave off. Even in old age, far past the peak of his physical prowess, a final battle awaits him.

One of the things I love most about Hinds is that he employs a completely different style for each book he works on. His riff on Homer’s THE ODYSSEY, for example, I described as “A summer sunshine joy, brought to watercolour light and rammed to its bucolic pens with so many of your favourite mythological beasts and best-avoided landmarks”. Similarly within this single book with its muted palette – emphasising firstly the centrality of wood to the Vikings’ everyday existence (see Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell’s ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS) then the platinum hues of iron as the armour returns – there’s a startling demarcation between the sequences set in Beowulf’s youth elsewhere and his old age in his own kingdom.

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Unlike Garcia & Rubin’s BEOWULF which we adore in its own right, you can buy this for your entire family so long as they’re happy with the obligatory severed appendages inherent to the tale.

SLH

Buy Beowulf (Graphic Novel) and read the Page 45 review here

Black Panther: Doom War s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry, Reginald Hudlin & Will Conrad, Ken Lashley, Scott Eaton, Gianluca Gugliotta.

Expanded edition now collecting BLACK PANTHER (2009) #7-12, DOOMWAR #1-6, KLAWS OF THE PANTHER #1-4 and material from AGE OF HEROES #4 so Marvel can charge you more money. In 2011 of the six-issue mini-series only I wrote:

X-Men / Black Panther / Fantastic Four team-up which I initially dismissed as just another of the twenty new Marvel mini-series that month. I take a little of the blame for that but Marvel Central must take most for the aforementioned, not remotely exaggerated reason.

It’s good, and Eaton’s art has a delicate, European flavour to it. Storm’s hair is particularly lovely. Storm’s predicament is not.

Wakanda, you see – the never-conquered nation at the heart of Africa ruled by T’Challa – has been in receipt of a coup. Recorded delivery: they signed for it and everything.

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A revolution for the people by the people: that’s how they’re promoting it to the outside world. T’Challa’s bride, Wakanda’s deposed queen and astonishing X-Man Storm, is on show-trial for her life. She’s convicted as a western poison. Let’s forget the fact that she’s African, and that the real power behind the coup is Doctor Victor Von Doom Esq., ruler of Latveria (black population nil). I wonder what he wants out of it? Can you spell “Vibranium”?

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Maberry does a ridiculously good job of emphasising the heroes’ helplessness. T’Challa and the new Black Panther are stranded on the outside, desperately seeking the succour of a mutant strike force whose nation Utopia is so new and therefore fragile that they daren’t be seen to act like aggressors by illegally invading a foreign country. That’s best left to older nations like America and Britain. In any case, as I say, Wakanda has never been successfully invaded. That much was made abundantly, wittily and somewhat satisfyingly clear at the beginning of Reginald Hudlin’s first run (BLACK PANTHER: WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER?), and is done so again. Storm, who was specifically on trial for attacking Wakandans, is forced by Doom to pick the Vibranium vault locks under Doom’s far from idle threat of slaughtering Wakandans, and Wakandan protestors are given no legitimacy because the new regime will not send in their tanks to suppress them.

Their names are taken, obviously, for when the protests subside.

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The first chapter’s last three pages displayed note-perfect timing from both writer and artist, utilising the one way possible to turn the tide in attempting to invade an unassailable country.

I’m sorry…?

<BAMF>

SLH

Buy Black Panther: Doom War 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.

Black Dog Dustjacket

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash – Original LICAF Signed & Sketched In Ultra-Limited Edition Softcover (£100-00, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean

Ohhhh, yeah we found 9 more copies AND THEY’RE ALL SKETCHED IN! AVAILABLE NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD!

Junji Ito’s Dissolving Classroom (£9-99, Vertical, Terminally Ungrateful Edition) by Junji Ito

Wind In The Willows h/c (£22-99, IDW) by Kenneth Grahame & illustrated by David Petersen

This Is Not My Hat s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen

Snails (£1-25) by Jack Brougham

The Librarian (£4-99) by Jack Brougham

The Fourth Power h/c (£26-99, Humanoids) by Juan Gimenez

You Might Be An Artist If… h/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Lauren Purje

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Nejib

Citizen Jack vol 1 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sam Humphries & Tommy Patterson

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 4: The School Of Death (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Robbie Morrison & Rachael Stott, Simon Fraser

Regular Show vol 2 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by various

Regular Show: Hydration s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Rachel Connor & Tessa Stone

Steven Universe vol 2 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by various

One-Punch Man vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Batman: Detective Comics vol 1: Rise Of The Batmen s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Eddy Barrows, various

Harley Quinn And Her Gang Of Harleys s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jimmy Palmiotti, Frank Tieri & Mauricet, various

Bravest Warriors vol 4 s/c (£10-99, Kaboom) by various

Captain Marvel vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ruth Gage, Christos Gage & Kris Anka, Marco Failla, Thorny Silas

Civil War II (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Sean Izaakse, Andrea Sorrentino, Olivier Coipel

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various

Wolverine: Old Man Logan h/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

News

   American Gods issue 1 coverAmerican Gods issue 2 cover

ITEM! Phew! The comicbook adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS by P. Craig Russell & Scott Hampton is now going to be available in the UK! That’s saved us all 27 months of cultural and financial frustration.

Yes, it’s going to be 27 issues long! Please get your pre-orders ASAP by clicking on the link above and ordering online via our website or by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing page45@page45.com to add the title to your Standing Orders.

Here’s an interview with P. Craig Russell about adapting AMERICAN GODS to comics.

Page 45 LICAF banner door day 4

ITEM! Page 45 goes to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Every year! And we take so many photos of creators grinning their heads off.

But now The Lakes International Comic Art Festival comes to Page 45!

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Page 45 LICAF banner door from the steet

Oh how proud we are to present these glowing red banners on our shop floor!

Thankfully Jonathan hung them, because I get vertigo on the bathroom scales.

Page 45 LICAF banner behind till close

 

Page 45 LICAF banner behind till distance

ITEM! Page 45 has found the last copies 9 of the original, ultra-rare, original LICAF edition of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH with its dust-jacket and everything. Not only that, but they have been sketched in by Dave McKean himself.

All proceeds go to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in order to fund future events.

Black Dog cover image photo

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We take not one single penny, except from you, then pass them all straight onto LICAF. Hooray!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week four

January 25th, 2017

Featuring Philippa Rice; Ollie Masters & Tyler Jenkins; Jim Woodring; Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Bettie B; Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera and more!

News underneath! There’s someone fresh in the field of comics journalism and they are Exceptional!

Kill Or Be Killed vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“See? Kill Or Be Killed coverThat’s what was going around in my head.
“An endless argument spin cycle.
“Point, counterpoint… all day long.”

In which the snow blows thicker and thicker.

To begin with it’s almost soft. It’s softer than a sidewalk from six storeys up, anyway.

It tumbles across the sprawling city as far as the eye can see, which is further than you might think; especially when you’re on one of its rooftops, so precariously close to the edge and determined to jump.

From below the thick flakes recede, smaller and smaller, into the heavens which glow a rich, luminous turquoise, while below all is neon-lit for danger.

By the final four pages of the first chapter it’s a veritable blizzard in blinding, icing-sugar white, with wild flashes of thought and explosions of violence like landmines detonated in your head. Then, when it’s settled, there’s a moment of clarity – for Dylan at least.

He’s not going to kill himself. He’s going to kill other people instead.

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From the Eisner-Award winning creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE and THE FADE OUT, the first six pages are a bludgeoning barrage of quite cathartic violence, all the more brutal to behold because Phillips has dispensed with the frames and the gutters to go full-bleed to the edge of each page. It’s more immediate. It’s more in-your-face, just like that shotgun, which is meticulously rendered and weighted.

Crucially, however, even if it’s more difficult to draw, then it’s as easy to read as ever, for the three-tier structure remains intact, the panels inset instead against an extended background. It’s something he carries right through the subsequent flashbacks and it pays off especially outside because the wider sense of space is phenomenal.

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Anyway, in case you’re reading this on the product page rather than the blog, here’s some of Dylan’s socio-political self-justification. It’s not why he’s blowing holes in these very bad people, but isn’t it kind of comforting to know that you’re making the world a better place than it currently is?

“Just look at the news for five fucking minutes and it’s obvious…
“Big business controls your government…
“Assholes go on shooting rampages almost daily…
“Terrorists blow up airports and train stations…
“Cops kill innocent black kids and get away with it…
“Psychopaths run for President…
“Oh, and the Middle East is one nuke away from turning us all to dust…
“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

What follows does not lead directly into the opening sequence – this is a long-form work, and Brubaker has a lot to explore in terms of psychology and practicalities before Dylan develops into a proficient and equanimous mass murderer – but it does go some way to explaining how Dylan, studying later in life than most at NYU, might eventually find himself a) with a shotgun b) using it.

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It begins with that attempt at suicide – not his first, either – and that began with a girl. It began with his best friend called Kira, one of the few people Dylan felt ever understood him. She got his sense of humour, his taste in music and his sense of isolation which had already set in before his flatmate Mason got between the two of them by dating.

“Their relationship ruined the one good thing I had.
“Kira still came to our place all the time, but almost never to hang out with me.
“And that made me feel even lonelier than I usually did.”

That sense of being cut off from Kira is emphasised by Phillips in a similar way to what Ware did at the window in JIMMY CORRIGAN: by distancing Dylan, isolated inside his own panel, from the rest of the couch where Kira and Mason sit closer together. Breitweiser bathes the lovers in light from the television set they’re watching, whereas Dylan remains shrouded in darkness. I can’t imagine anything much more uncomfortable.

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Oh wait, I can, because that’s what happens next. And eventually it leads to the rooftop.

Where that leads is even more startling, but I’m not about to spoil that for you now. All I will say is that Dylan’s head is far from healthy. He’s fallen far enough already, but he’s got a long way to go before picking up a gun and going if not postal then at least house-hunting.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of Brubaker’s many fortes is making you want to spend as much time as possible in his protagonists’ minds, no matter how disturbed. Here he does so in part through Dylan’s vulnerability and confessional, apologetic and self-searching tone. However confident in his newly acquired worldview Dylan seems on the first six pages – and I’d place money on that being a ‘good’ day – none of that is reflected in any red-bloodedly aggressive tendencies either earlier in life or even now.

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This is not a revenge story and Dylan’s acts are not an expression of angry contra mundum. They are instead acts of survival which require – and result in – all sorts of practicalities which Brubaker explores in depth.

One of those practicalities is avoiding any meaningful conversation with Kira even though their relationship grows increasingly complicated and Kira’s being honest with him. The guilt that he’s not reciprocating gnaws at Dylan, but he is fully aware that if he begins to offload in one way he’s likely to do so in others. Kira’s love and genuine, deep-rooted concern for him is the one thing he has left, and it’s almost certain to evaporate instantly if she learns he’s beginning to stalk and murder very bad men, whatever the crimes they’ve committed.

As well as his prowess as a weather and landscape artist – there are so many daylight cityscape shots of extraordinary detail which Breitweisser colours with a finger-numbing freeze – Phillips gets to show off his photo-realistic skills as Dylan sifts through the erotic fantasy stories his father illustrated, recalling his dad’s craft by conjuring one of those nudes in his mind’s eye. Wouldn’t you just know that she’d look one hell of a lot like Kira? And as he remembers perving over the magazines with his young friends, aged 6 or so, he realises who has behaved so horrifically as to merit being his first target.

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This begs further practicalities for a novice like Dylan, like finding a gun which won’t be traced. As to hunting down someone he only knew only tangentially many moons ago, well, that’s what Facebook’s for, right?

But then there’s the self-searching and doubt which I alluded to earlier.

“See, I kept having this sick feeling that I might have killed someone for no reason.
“Like, think about it for a second. There had to be some possibility that I hallucinated [REDACTED]. “Didn’t there? And if I did, if it wasn’t actually real, that meant my head was fucked, right?
“Which meant the way I remembered that day with Teddy could be wrong too… Right?”

Now, that’s all very specific to this particular story, but one of Brubaker’s interests lies in our universal, shared experiences and another of his skills is in making those connections and exploring their implications.

“I’ve read how memory works…
“I know we edit our memories so we look better in them.
“So what if I made up the whole thing?
“What if I was just like those assholes back in high school, pretending to have some secret link to the tragic dead kid?”

That would be Teddy.

“Except… Why would I make up a childhood story, especially one as sick as that, and never tell anyone about it?
“Who makes up a story and keeps it a secret?
“What is the point of that?”

Sorry to keep the quotations so cryptic, but you’ve got to be wondering what his memory was now… Right?

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We’ve got a long way to go before we get to page one.

For a masterclass in Brubaker getting readers to root for the least likely candidate, try CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT.

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sister BFFs (£4-00, self-published) by Philippa Rice.

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“You’re tacky and boring and I roll my eyes at you so much my eyeball wires have gone curly.”

The disdain in those hooded eyes!

BFFs stands for Best Friends Forever – in polite circles, anyway. I like the way the plural is transposed in the acronym. I always assumed it hadn’t been, and that the first F was an expletive denoting either the extreme strength of the bond, withering sarcasm or our present-day, perpetually potty mouths.

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From the creator of SOPPY, WE’RE OUT, ST COLIN AND THE DRAGON, MY CARDBOARD LIFE and RECYCLOST, these snort-inducing comedy shorts star Philippa and her sister – who may or may not be fictional – in conversation snap-shots either in person or by text. Her sister does most of the talking, more often than not at Philippa’s expense. It’s partly the cartooning, which we’ll come to in a second, but also the hyperbole that’s so hilarious: the extreme and elaborate nature of the put-downs, especially in the cramped train carriage sketch conducted via cell phone. It’s beautifully orchestrated as a dip in the middle so that the tirade erupts almost out of nowhere before being deflected by a virtual non-sequitur from Philippa, after which the target of the ire / petulance is redirected once more towards her sister’s fellow travellers.

Anyway, the sister has just been squashed against a man whose coat “stinks of old smoke and rotting vegetables” and is clearly overdue for a weekend break at a dry cleaner’s. Philippa:

“I’d just spritz it with some deodorant.”
“That’s why you stink.”
“No.”
“You stink of boiled eggs.”
“No.”
“You stink of the egg smell that comes out when you open a packet of cooked chicken slices.”
“You do.”
“You bathe in egg-water and use mayo as a face mask and have boiled egg slices on your eyes.”
“Eggs are good for you.”

It put me in mind of Newman and Baddiel’s “That’s you, that is…” confrontations, except that they never made up as these two do, swiftly, in an alliance of outrage and revenge strategies.

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Rice is immediately recognisably from her autobiographical SOPPY self-portraits. Never one to shy away from self-mockery, there is a delicious panel in which she is shown enthusiastically diving, head-first and with zero dignity, into a bag of her sister’s clothing cast-offs, her rounded bum up in the air, short legs and tiny, white-socked toes waving wildly.

The two BFFs’ mouths – rubbery, flapping, yapping things, like hands in glove puppets – were either the inspiration for or inspired by Rice’s hand-crafted woollen animals who star in her ‘Soft Spot’ animations (http://philippajrice.com/animation/), composed with  SOPPY co-star and the creator of HILDA, Luke Pearson. That’s where I first learned that Philippa could be surprisingly and delightfully rude, and so it is here.

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It’s less Men Behaving Badly, more Children Behaving Competitively, and all the funnier for them being adults. Drawn and lettered in a childlike manner, obviously.

As with all our Philippa Rice books other than SOPPY, each copy is both signed and sketched in for free.

SLH

Buy Sister BFFs and read the Page 45 review here

Snow Blind s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by Ollie Masters & Tyler Jenkins.

Well, that’s a coolSnow Blind cover cover, isn’t it? Full of narrative, and once you’ve read what’s inside you’ll understand how well composed it is too. You’ll be seeing a little more of that Arctic Fox right at the beginning and right at the end of the first chapter.

The lovely, loose line art and wet-wash colours are both provided by Tyler Jenkins who leaves plenty of space for the white Arctic light to shine through. The style and palette’s identical on the inside, and there’s a tremendous sense of movement whether someone’s rising from a chair with their weight on the table, striding through a door without careful consideration as to who’s on the other side, smacking a tree trunk with bare fists in frustration / anger or, umm… look out — !

Thanks to those washes there’s a sodden, weighted-down feel to the coniferous pines even when they’re not laden with snow. Plus there’s a particularly fine shot, from behind knees, of a guard dog challenging an intruder with well developed calf muscles.

She or he isn’t the only intruder. Teenage Teddy Ruffins seems to make a habit of breaking and entering throughout.

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“After last time, my Dad asked me why I broke into a library of all places.
“I didn’t answer.
“I didn’t tell him that sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own home. That I felt more comfortable around the pages of dead authors than I do my own parents.”

That’s because those books are telling you things, Teddy. Your parents are – and have been all your life – a lot less communicative.

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They moved up from Louisiana to Alaska when Teddy was a baby. Teddy never thought to ask why, and they certainly never told him. This trait appears to have been absorbed because Teddy’s no communicator, either. He doesn’t get on with the local lads because he believes they don’t like him unless he bribes their company with a case of beer stolen from his Dad. He’s just done that at a BBQ his Dad’s throwing for friends.

“But as the alcohol took hold, I felt like I had something to prove. To them… and to my Dad. So when he got passed-out drunk, like he always did, I figured… If I have to be here, I might as well have some fun at his expense. I was finally being “one of the guys”.”

That’s what he overheard his Dad tell his Mom: that he wished Teddy would be “just one of the guys”.

So he paints his passed-out Dad with lipstick and paps a snap, sharing it on social media adding: “Dad’s definitely the prettiest girl at the party. Maybe he should run for Miss Louisiana next year?”

Far from surprisingly, Teddy’s Dad is furious. But it’s not because Teddy had mocked his masculinity specifically; it’s because he’s done it all over the internet, the worldwide web where anyone anywhere can see it. It’s not a pride thing, it’s a privacy thing. And I wouldn’t say it went viral but it went viral enough and now maybe it will become clearer to Teddy why they’re in Alaska and can never go home. Maybe it will become clearer to Teddy’s parents that you should always communicate, especially under circumstances like theirs, in the age of the internet.

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Bravo to writer Ollie Masters: there’s more breaking and entering yet zero increase in communication: leopards/spots, habits of a lifetime etc. Over and over again assumptions will be formed in absence of the truth being told, and this will have you screaming at everyone not just to have a word with themselves, but with each other.

By this I mean: Teddy has been lied to by his parents all his life. They don’t know that he knows that because since he found out he’s been lying to them. Finally he gives them the opportunity to tell him the truth and maybe they do and maybe they don’t. But Teddy’s going to presume that they’re still lying and continue to lie to them while he gets to the truth of the matter himself. The truth of a matter which he exposes by mistake and which he will now make a great deal worse.

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Partly because he’s jumped to one wrong conclusion after another, and is now about to jump to many more, tripping himself over, down the storytelling stairs.

Here he’s decided to track down the original intruder by asking around in a bad part of town.

“If he’d any sense he wouldn’t be laying low in the nice part of town… He’d be in the parts of town where being nosy gets it broken.”

Self-knowledge and self-guidance do not communicate with each other in young Teddy’s head.

This really is a complete and utter car crash. Every pun intended.

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Gripping.

SLH

Buy Snow Blind s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Goddamned vol 1: The Flood (£8-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera.

“I had a family once.Goddamned cover
“It didn’t work out.”

Well, this is all jolly European: the lines, the light, and the full-frontal nudity.

It’s male, by the way, and he’s blonde if that makes any difference to you.

It’s all very male here – hardly a woman in sight – perhaps reflecting the patriarchal nature of the Old Testament. Or maybe the women have all seen the brutal, bloody violence ahead and quite wisely eschewed an appearance in favour of something more sedate like a dog fight or a rugby match.

It’s all very western too, with a lone stranger wandering the wide-open landscapes – albeit muddy, faecal-flooded landscapes littered with carcasses being torn into by rabid wolves. He wandered into town last night, got set upon and sliced open by the Bone Boys. After lying face-down in excrement for hours, he seems much better this morning. Not a scar on his body. He’s going to mosey back into now, and there will be much “tohewen” and “toshrede”.

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It’s 1600 years after Eden and, my, how Man has fallen! Or been pushed.

Even according to the Bible, Man’s tenure on this planet didn’t get off to a particularly good start, but I reckon God’s punishment of Eve was a slight overreaction to the relatively mild malfeasance of scrumping. Just one generation later and our chief protagonist and narrator got a little angry and raised the delinquency bar considerably by inventing both murder and fratricide in the very same skull-splitting moment. Can you guess who it is yet?

“My brother was an asshole. The first two children born into the world and we couldn’t fucking stand each other. That alone ought to tell you how fucked we all are.”

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Since then our man / Methuselah with a mission to die has been cursing God for making him live in a Jim Foetus song:

“I’m watching my life swirl down the drain
And I feel about as Abel as Cain
But I guess that that’s the price of fame
When you’re destined to live in this Street Of Shame.”

Destined to live there forever, by the looks of things. Still, at least they’ve invented alcohol.

I love Cain’s moody, scowling drawl, like an embittered cowboy who’s seen too much to let anything impress or excite him anymore. It’s ever so far from Biblical and therefore instantly iconoclastic. I almost expected him to refer to Adam and Eve as “Mom and Pop”.

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Both appear briefly in a bright and radiantly colourful, foliage-festooned flashback which emphasises all the more how bleak, beleaguered and utterly hopeless life on planet Earth is since God’s great experiment decidedly “gan aglay”. There are no flowers, butterflies, clean, flowing, fresh-water rivers or indeed trees since Noah’s been charged with chopping them down for the very first invitation-only, global Cunard cruise.

Noah and his wandering disciples are no more Godly than the Reavers or Night Raiders, by the way. With fire and iron, they’re simply a lot more efficient in carrying out the ultimate executive order. But then if life had truly degenerated to the point where a woman had to announce even to her protector that “You can’t fuck me without a fight, if that’s what you’re thinking” before adding of her son, “The boy, either” then I’d certainly have flooded it too.

The art which you will never be able to unsee – it is highly accomplished and very beautiful but what it depicts is squalid in the extreme – is reminiscent of Brent Anderson’s on KA-ZAR with a Barry Windsor-Smith modelling. No jungles, except in that flashback, but many more cleaved skulls and gigantic dinosaurs guaranteed.

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When a lone splendid peacock shows up, its beak is dripping in freshly pecked blood.

From the creative team behind SCALPED. There wasn’t much hope there, either.

Cruelly, there is a brief glimmer here, for both Cain and two of those whom he encounters. Against all odds, which are firmly stacked against them.

I have no idea of where this series could conceivably go.

SLH

Buy The Goddamned vol 1: The Flood and read the Page 45 review here

Weathercraft h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

New editionWeathercraft new cover of the 2010 classic, this comes with crisp white paper, deckled edges (I adore deckled edges!) and a brand-new cover depicting the greedy, fearful, angry, bitter and normally naked, pronograde Manhog standing poised, upright, in a genteel dressing gown.

What has brought about this transformation and where will it lead?

Metamorphosis lies at the heart of most FRANK fables, usually through assimilation or straightforward ingestion and often catalysed by destruction. He’s a genuine visionary, Jim Woodring, and a master craftsman to boot.

Instead of crosshatching, his textures are formed from wavy lines, closer in effect to those created by a carved lino print. Almost everything in his landscapes is or could be alive, and rituals abound. I always call Woodring’s hypnotic fantasies  “mind-altering yet legal”. What you get out often depends on what you put in: what you bring to the table or even the mood you’re in at the time.

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For once the carelessly curious Frank takes a back seat, although of course he’s there to provide the inevitable helping hand at a key moment. Helping and meddling are two sides of the same coin to Frank; I often find it useful to glance at the expressions on the face of the furiously loyal Pupshaw – she’s usually quite dubious!

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Journeys too are important and here it’s the long-suffering but brutal, begrudging and really quite stupid Manhog who goes all bipedal on us and – a bit of a shocker, this – noble. Perhaps it’s a Frankenstein thing, for here Manhog allows himself to experience and even acknowledge moments of joy. How long will that last, do you think?

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Anyway, I’d better shut up now, for Woodring’s silent sagas are always best experience first-hand, untainted by other people’s input, like your favourite songs free from their promotional videos’ specificity.

This is why I find it vaguely odd that Woodring has actually written an introduction. Still: you’ll find insight.

SLH

Buy Weathercraft h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet Witch vol 2: World Of Witchcraft s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & Marguerite Sauvage, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Joelle Jones, Kei Zama.

Whither will she Wanda?

An unexpected pleasure, refreshingly far from the convoluted cacophony of the central Marvel Universe, I described SCARLET WITCH VOL 1 as geo-specific occult detective fiction.

Its closest comparison point was HELLBLAZER, albeit without its socio-political bite. I don’t know, though, it had something to say about old Spanish nunneries as victims of their patriarchal peers.

Wanda Maximoff journeyed from New York to Ireland and Greece etc partly to atone for her pasts misdemeanours* by helping those in magic-mired distress and partly in search of answers as to why Witchcraft is broken. Its artists were carefully chosen for those exotic locations and each brought something brilliant to the proceedings. Marco Rudy, for example, whose Greece-bound episode featured the Minotaur, deployed panel constructions like those of a maze. Neat!

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Many are on top form again. Tula Lotay’s Central Park of a Thursday, with its spectral, skeletal trees, is a beautiful thing to behold, emphasising the wide-open wonder of its wintery blue sky by being seen from waist-level. One panel prior to that she concludes Wanda’s latest, intense therapy session with the avuncular Doctor Grand with a subtle deployment of slightly sickly and sweaty tangerine as his stare burrows deep into yours / Wanda’s. This uncomfortable claustrophobia signalled a certain something which made me smile and makes the relief of that chilly outdoors all the more palpable.

Marguerite Sauvage also colours her own pages and, if you remember, I said that one of the key strengths of this series – one which set it apart – was that it was geo-specific. Her very first page (and those that follow) leaps out at you with its complete comprehension of that essential quality.

“Paris is a city of many ghosts… and all I need is one of them.”

Paris – as the cliché goes – is also a city of romance. And I subscribe to that cliché. I’ve spent even more time lolling about its tree-lined avenues with a smile on my face and striding down its inviting vistas than I have meandering around Venice’s serpentine canals with their sequestered secrets waiting to be discovered around the next corner. I find both exceptionally romantic.

It is a romance which James Robinson gives us, and Sauvage delivers on every front too. Her forms are feminine, sensual and vulnerable – including the beau’s – as are her frames with their rounded corners and final-page flourish. But on the first page she sets the scene to perfection with its soft, white-lined, pink and purple clouds billowing up above the rooftops of a Paris shrouded in a thin, horizontal cocoon of mist broken chiefly by the Eiffel Tower on the horizon.

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So whither will she wander?

I’m ever so sorry, but I’m afraid this has strayed off course.

Perhaps to appease long-term Marvel Comics readers, Robinson has seen fit (or been editorially instructed) to attempt to marry this new, strident direction which could appeal to any new readers to Wanda’s constipated, contradictory past history which Brian Michael Bendis – against all odds – managed to make perfect sense of briefly, brilliantly, but only once.*

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On top of which Marvel Central intrudes with a whole chapter’s reference to its second Civil War which <yawn>”.

The ever so elegant covers by Aja are included.

* See NEW AVENGERS BY BENDIS COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1. For the first volume you really didn’t have to and that was part of its joy. For this second book, I’m afraid you do.

SLH

Buy Scarlet Witch vol 2: World Of Witchcraft 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.

Black Monday Murders vol 1: All Hail God Mammon s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker

Goodnight Punpun vol 4 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Harrow County vol 4: Family Tree s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

House Of Penance s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Peter Tomasi & Ian Bertram

Love vol 4: The Dinosaur h/c (£15-99, Magnetic Press) by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci

Stumptown vol 4 h/c (£26-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood

Thief Of Thieves vol 6: Gold Rush (£13-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinbrough

Complete Scarlet Traces vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli

Aliens: Defiance vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Tristan Jones, Massimo Carnevale

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 14: North And South Part 2 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang, various & Gurihiru

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 5: The Twist (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & various

Green Lanterns vol 1: Rage Planet s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Sam Humphries & Rocha Robson

Nightwing vol 1: Better Than Batman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Javier Fernandez

Starfire vol 2: A Matter Of Time s/c (£13-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Emanuela Lupacchino, various, Amanda Conner

Black Panther: Doom War s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Maberry, Reginald Hudlin & Will Conrad, Ken Lashley, Scott Eaton, Gianluca Gugliotta

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & various

Berserk vol 2 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 3 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

News

Ink logo

ITEM! A phenomenal read!

The first issue of Steff Humm’s Nottingham-based INK magazine of comics journalism is out, online for free!

Humm’s analysis is far more informed, in-depth and relevantly, socially contextualised than anything I write. I couldn’t believe the erudite ways it managed to link the President Campaign-orientated CITIZEN JACK with the Iran-based autobiographical PERSEPOLIS, but they made perfect sense. In fact, I’m ordering CITIZEN JACK for the shelves on the basis of that review, and I’m not even going to attempt one of my own for fear of any shame-making comparisons.

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Humm also reviews new aspects of Rob Davis’ THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER while Josh Franks interviews Simone Lia and Stephen Collins about their weekly cartoons in the Guardian and Observer, respectively, and the different ways they approach their craft in graphic novels FLUFFY and THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL (also respectively and both reviewed by us). Please pop ‘em into our search engine for more.

You can follow INK on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK and hit the top-left button after clicking on the link above in order to subscribe to future editions FOR FREE!

Simone and Hannah Signing

Simone Lia & Hannah Berry signing at Page 45

ITEM! Wonderful Independent article celebrating THE PHOENIX COMIC’s 5th Anniversary, a thrilling weekly comic which flies in the face of the lamentable kids’ magazines which sell themselves on the cheap plastic tat attached.

Just remember as you read this that although weekly kids’ comics publication has declined over the last 20 years, since then there have been hundreds and hundreds of graphic novels published in their place and now on sale at Page 45 including THE PHOENIX COMICS COLLECTED EDITIONS which have their own section on the Page 45 Comics & Graphic Novel Website and about which we are so passionate that they are almost ALL reviewed by us!

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week three

January 18th, 2017

Featuring Kaare Andrews, Paloma Dawkins, Santiago García, David Rubín, Pat McHale, Jim Campbell, Rob Williams, Ryan Kelly and more!

Includes much-expanded News Section below!

Beowulf h/c (£26-99, Image) by Santiago García & David Rubín.

“To idlyBeowulf cover live is to wait for death.”

It won’t be long coming.

I give it three pages.

Even the first eerie offering foreshadows the doom. Lit like Charles Burns, an underground river cascades through a bleak, black cavern below jagged stalactites and knotted, invasive roots. Lurking in the darkness, a pair of glowing, inhuman eyes incarnadine the gristly, reptilian, obsidian flesh surrounding them.

Something has already had its fill.

Up above on the snow-swept, pink-dawn plains something hasn’t so much raised a dog’s hackles as left them buffeted weakly by the wind. A deafening murder of blood-stained carrion crows has formed and is feasting, fighting each other for the most prized pickings: the eyes. There appears to be a lot of carrion.

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Behind them still stand the fractured remains of the Danes’ banqueting hall of Heorot, if only barely. Its broad timbers have been shattered like wooden toothpicks and smeared with blood.

“Fortune favours the Danes!
“I, Hrothgar, son of Beow, son of Scyld, arrived on these shores in but a humble driftboat…
“Now I lead the Danes’ most glorious era!”

It’s very well done: Hrothgar’s boastful pride is presented through flashback panels embedded above the very same pages on which he discovers its painfully brutal rebuttal in the form of the corpse-ridden obliteration of the very hall which he hailed at the Danes’ greatest glory. It is a perfect piece of juxtaposition, his face falling between past and present as he comprehends his own hubris.

“Who dared massacre our own?” he demands, post-pyre, while we’re shown a sequence of panels inlaid once more above, showing that self-same, limb-rending massacre with mere glimpses of the intruder: a gigantic arm, eyes and teeth which will prove many and set fast in a crocodilian jaw.

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Welcome to a big book of blood, guts and the shredding of sinews. Sinews will feature prominently, as will cleverly inset panels.

The first known manuscript of Beowulf – following many centuries of being passed down through the oral tradition – is dated roughly around 1000 AD. Even once written it preserved the importance of the oral tradition for sung stories featured prominently. These were how names were remembered, how histories were celebrated and how eternal glory became a goal far more treasured than mere trinkets.

“You’ve no debt to my kingdom. Why would you come to die so far from all you know?”
“Eternal glory, M’lord. After all… gold’s spent, life ends. Only glory remains eternal.”

So speaks Beowulf, more than a decade after Hrothgar commanded his finest warriors to seek out the murderous demon Grendel and exact retribution for the massacre.

“May the fury of Danes rain upon the earth.”

It didn’t. They failed. They have since retreated to a fortified town high up an isle like Mont St Michel, only land-bound. Now Beowulf has learned of this Grendel, has come to slay the beast with his bare hands, and as the stranger leads his men up the steep, icy path through its outskirts more inset panels show their own furtive glances and the reception by bird, beast and man alike.

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The very finest deployment of these “windows”, however, lies within a double-page spread of the Danes’ new banqueting hall, glowing red late at night after the warriors have eaten and drunk their fill and lie sleeping on its thick-planked, bear wooden floor. It is so tight with tension that I stared at its details for a good half an hour. And there’s a lot of subtle detail.

At the far right, furthest from the entrance lies Beowulf, naked on fur. The others are clothed but oblivious to the creature who, having ambushed the sentry with its prehensile tail then bitten him in two, has gained entrance. Now, seen from above, Grendel slithers stealthily and unimpeded across the hall in four movements, its freedom to roam emphasised by the absence of vertical panel borders. Instead, multiple square panels hung in mid-air like free-floating portraits depict close-ups of the demon’s potential victims as its gaze darts left and right, assessing them, sniffing them, its steaming jaws mere inches from their faces. But Garcia and Rubin aren’t done, for there is an additional clutch of panels tangential to each of those already inset, all in bright red and revealing the ribbed, skin-peeled muscles underlying their arms, chests and heads. The beast can see through to their actual prowess: let’s call it Grendel-vision.

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That’s about as far through the story as I’m prepared to take you, except to say that the next few pages come with a slight surprise which has sent this book straight to one of our top shelves. Consider that a Parental Warning for I have known Gareth Hinds’ interpretation of BEOWULF (back in stock and on our site in a fortnight – I’ve found an American edition now that Walker Books have sold out) be bought for the whole family. This gladdens my heart but, if you want to avoid some awkward dinner-table chit-chat, I would probably not be sharing this with your young sons and daughters.

I will also add that the title of this book is BEOWULF, not Grendel, and it is much wider in scope that you might initially imagine.

Comparison points for the art come in form of Becky Cloonan, Paul Pope and Rafael Grampa. It’s not as faithful in its literary nuances as Gareth Hinds’ version but it is absolutely riveting in its own right. There’s no real point in replicating others’ interpretations, and what I can promise you in lieu of the strictest tradition is visual innovation and jaw-dropping, jaw-splitting spectacle.

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This is an over-sized book bursting with page after page of visceral, slice-and-dice conflict and gore as the stakes increase exponentially in line with each successive, monstrous adversary so that the pages, however large, can no longer contain the leviathans that lie within. At this point we reference Jack Kirby, Geof Darrow, Michael Oeming et al. None of those are random.

But it’s not just about the battles. The primal, raw sensuality is maintained by feasts depicting mouths dripping with rare-cooked meat and red-berry juices. And, oh lord, the colouring! I don’t think you could make this much more luminous or lambent if you’d lit it on fire: subterranean, glowing greens poisoned by reds and a dragon’s breath which appears to fill the air not just with cinders but it’s as if every single molecule were a curled piece of combusted paper, blinding and burning your eyes.

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If that weren’t enough, the coup de grace comes in the form of an epilogue so unexpected but also so exceptionally apposite for a tale that’s been passed down through so many generations and translated into so many different languages.

Not quite sure what the end papers mean.

SLH

Buy Beowulf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c (£8-50, Image) by Kaare Kyle Andrews.

TheRenato Jones vol 1 cover ‘Super Rich Are Super F***ed’ declares the front cover in sneaky spot-varnish, if you tilt it a little in light.

The contents are equally mischievous and uncompromising in the many ways they stick it to the man, to the establishment, to those so imperviously entrenched at the top by their obscene wealth and the ethic-free implementation of that wealth in order to amass even more. You know what I mean: tax evasion condoned and preserved by politicians in their pockets; slave-condition sweatshops; purchased immunity from prosecution; deliberately finite functioning of the latest technology to encourage upgrading as often as possible.

Warren Ellis calls this:

“A sort of hallucinatory rage pop ‘PUNISHER from Occupy’. It’s gorgeous and also demented.”

With which he scores a deliciously succinct bullseye.

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However, Kaare’s so cleverly crafted set-up comes with its own wider implications for Renato Jones. His targets are the titular One Percent who own half the world’s wealth, and he’s now ONE of them. So unlike the Punisher who sets his sights on distant targets, these are all connected, up close and personal, and there will be ramifications. Did I say “now one of them”? He hasn’t earned the money nor has he inherited it. Well, he has, but perhaps it wasn’t his to inherit.

Like VELVET, LAZARUS and THE WICKED + THE DIVINE it’s one of those many titles perfect for readers who may want to wean themselves off the more inbred corporate comics, relentlessly eating themselves then regurgitating their same old storylines, increasingly nutrient-free simply to keep filling the shelves for their own One Percent’s benefit. Here you’ll encounter all the action you crave, but with much more besides, creator-owned, creator-controlled and creator-enraged, so it’s all the more blistering. Andrews is utterly enraged and this comic comes infused with a fury both verbal and visual, so you really won’t see what’s coming next.

“Action! Adventure! Affluenza!” screams one cover.

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Then there’s the bludgeoning refrain initially after each opening page against stark black and white:

“They’ve run our economy into the ground, destroying jobs and opportunity.
“They’ve taken homes from families. Turned the middle class into poor and the poor into felons.
“They’ve stolen, thieved, bribed and killed. But the ONEs have brought their way out of judgement and persecution…”

What a bunch of bankers.

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Kaare Andrews has long been one of comics’ greatest chameleons with a new style to suit each project. Here he throws a great many of them into the same series and splashed in photographic advertisements for perfume and cologne for good measure. Calvin Klein’s “Obsession Pour Homme” has become “Oppression – For Everyone (Renato Jones, justicier de luxe)”.

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Full-colour flashbacks nonetheless indicate their age by being seemingly sun-bleached, printed in the old Ben-Day dots you may remember from comics of yore, and slightly scarified as if once folded and put in a pocket or the back of the mind, the memories only now unfolding again, triggered by something that is seen, smelled or overheard. Isn’t that clever?

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You’ll find colour, black and white, and black and white with just a hint of cheek-bruised colour suggesting physical abuse. There’s plenty of that, and as the cover makes clear this isn’t for kids. Ooooh no.

But as well as being filled with invention it is brave to boot. Who would expect three consecutive double-page spreads, none of them used for action? The first two feature full-bleed confrontational close-ups / standoffs of eyes and nose only.

For the main action I perceived elements of Frank Miller circa DK1, especially the teeth, and indeed there’s a brief rooftop reference to its most iconic image in silhouette against lightning immediately following what I recognised – rightly or wrongly – as a Kingpin work-out as seen in Miller’s first DAREDEVIL run. Mostly, however, Andrews is emphatically his own man and master and his overhead depiction of a cul-de-sac in a suburb is exactly as he describes it thus:

“Neighbourhoods were once designed as grids, a simple landscape of left and right turns to get anywhere you wanted. The equality of choice. But modern suburbs are a maze of dead ends and looping roads. When you’re above them, they look like footprints.
“Just another little joke amongst the ONEs.”

I promised you anger, didn’t I? How about this, over a factory tannoy system in China:

“Welcome to Tech-Chi. We manufacture tomorrow today…
“Workers, be happy to have this job. Remember others are waiting to take your place…
“Bathroom breaks are earned, not taken…”

It’s not even hyperbole. When our Dominique sojourned at a certain international delivery firm’s call centre, she had to put her hand up if she wanted to go to the loo.

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One of my favourite sequences occurs at a political rally with a Presidential candidate – one of the ONE – disingenuously stirring up sympathy for the beleaguered with crocodile tears and a rhetoric you may find familiar. The punchline is a such a sweet play on words:

“Hate, REAL HATE has always made us great…
“I HATE not having jobs for this country.
“I HATE watching the ‘everyman’ struggle.
“I HATE the terror that threatens our peace.
“I HATE criminals and rapists who threaten our women and children.
“I’m SCARED at what this world is becoming.
“And I HATE not being able to do anything about it.
“I am asking you to join me. To unite in HATE and FEAR. Because if we hate a thing enough, if we truly fear it, we DESTROY IS BEFORE IT DESTROYS US!”

Wait for it…

“Let’s MAKE AMERICA HATE AGAIN!”

SLH

Buy Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Summerland (£7-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Paloma Dawkins.

“The world around us is changing colour.
“I am always changing colour.”

Delicious, delirious and drop-dead gorgeous, this is a neon-bright, rainbow, Day-Glo affair.

I don’t use “delirious” idly, either.

Wide-eyed and innocent and fundamentally optimistic, it is light on script and bright on shared experiences: the wonder of nature.

This is one to meditate on.

At one point Dawkins quietly, solemnly and self-promisingly declares:

“I have to remember…
“Every single detail…
“I won’t forget.”

This rings ever so true to me.

Whenever I stroll through the Derbyshire Dales or even cross the River Trent on my way into work on some mist-shrouded morning, I honestly do consciously promise myself that I will remember every single detail. I soak up eye-candy for future reflection and remembrance. It will sustain me, nourish me and reinvigorate me when the city closes in.

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Dawkins captures that aspect – that specific imperative – to perfection.

Santana and Chucho sneak off from a communal Summerland beach party where the seas sparkle with bioluminescent plankton and so do the shores they’re washed up on as well. They kick its wet sand up into the air, and the all-but-invisible plankton gives off radiant evidence of its existence.

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The stuff of stardust in the sand beneath our feet!

They visit the Graveyard of Exoskeletons: limpets and winkles and the dead carapace of a crab whose life lingers on through its extraordinary shape and its compartmentalised intricacies.

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“The sunrise makes the rock cliff glow a brilliant red.
“And it illuminates the yellow leaves of the crab apple orchard.”

Sunlight is brilliant, isn’t it? And stars are heavenly.

Stardom and cities…? Perhaps not so much.

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Many years later and things may have taken a turn for the kohl-crying worse.

SLH

Buy Summerland and read the Page 45 review here

Over The Garden Wall vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Pat McHale & Jim Campbell…

“Would anyoneOver The Garden Wall cover like a slice of chocolate cake?”
“Please.”
“Can’t digest it.”
“Hey, that’s not chocolate cake. That’s just air. Air isn’t real.”
“Oh, we’re making believe!”
“Yes, it’s fun playing tea party instead of doing chores all day.”
“ROROP!”
“Shh… I noticed too, detective! First the salt went missing, and now the chocolate cake is gone! Something is very wrong… There must be a food magician among us, making everything invisible!”

Ahhh… how sweet. Not invisible chocolate cake, obviously. For whilst the calorie count might hit the spot, I can’t imagine it would be a tasty treat at all. Unless it really had just been made invisible by a food magician, I suppose. However, if I could do that, I’d be busy putting invisible cream cakes on peoples’ chairs rather than their plates heh heh…

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No, what is sweet, is that this is new material! I had mistakenly thought it was merely an adaptation of the exquisitely dark and dreamy cartoon, of which practically everyone who has ever seen it is forlornly pining for a second season. I suspect, like everyone else, that is not going to happen, which I reluctantly respect, so it is therefore wonderful that we have some excellent additional material.

Regular review readers will know my thoughts on media tie-ins: it only ever goes one of two ways, that being brilliant or dreadful. This is exactly like a lovely big yummy slice of chocolate cake as half-brothers Greg and Wirt stumble into mildly hazardous surreal situation after situation in the vast wood known only as errr… the Unknown. With only sarcastic bluebird Beatrice and the old woodsman to help them, will they ever make it home? Or indeed find any cake?!

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The main reason this is such great material is undoubtedly because it’s penned by the show creator Pat McHale and illustrated by the show storyboard artist Jim Campbell. The fact that they are continuing to collaborate on this property still gives me the faintest shred of hope for a second season. Meanwhile, we have this, plus also a forthcoming ongoing series starring Anna the woodsman’s daughter and of course, Greg. I wonder if he’d like some Baileys in a shoe to wash that chocolate cake down with? Ooops, wrong Greg!

JR

Buy Over The Garden Wall vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching (£13-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly…

“Someone tell Batman I just stole his boat.”
“This boat is not Batman’s, Dave. Batman is not real.”
“You don’t say.”

Now despite the fact that Dave occasionally has problems with what’s real and what’s not – like the talking leopard only he can see – he’s probably picked the worst possible person to crack such a joke to, given Deacon, the insane mercenary, sees ‘the Dragon’ everywhere and in everyone. Mind you, that leopard is just about to appear on the wing of said plane to inform Dave he’s going to have to kill a whole bunch of foreign people to survive his current situation, that someone he likes very much is going to betray him, and that Deacon the insane mercenary’s imaginary dragon, which is always apparently coming to destroy everything, is… well, already here… Ah.

At this point I should also probably add the 140 apparently random (and apparently lucky) recipients of dead social media entrepreneur Larry Ferrel’s 17 billion dollars are already down to 134… So the original120 million dollars each from UNFOLLOW VOL 1 has gone up somewhat, and will climb considerably more so by the end of this volume as the bodies of ‘the 140’ – as the news cycle has oh so imaginatively christened them – begin to drop / bleed out / combust rather more rapidly. But who is responsible for the increasing concentration of wealth?

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Well, we know Ferrel’s mad aide-de-camp Rubenstein, with his golden Aztec mask that whispers sweet nothings to him, is on the hunt, having managed to inveigle his way onto the magic list at the last minute, but are there other more clandestine players in the game? Oh yes. Plus a few other not-so-subtle ones trying to muscle in on the action by offering their protection at the point of a gun. All for a reasonable price, of course! Which is the situation Dave currently finds himself in, being ‘helped’ by the Russian mafia.

Social butterfly and spoilt sociopath Courtenay, meanwhile, has followed blade-legged, heavily tattooed author Akira to his private island, where he has been gathering as many of the 140 as possible in his high-walled peace commune for their mutual security. Because collecting all those targets in one place is a great idea obviously… Also, how does Akira’s dystopian doomsday novella, seemingly the inspiration for Ferrel’s crazy idea to dispose of his cash, factor into matters?

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Mike Dowling, Marguerite Dowling and Ryan Kelly share the art duties on this second volume. I’m not usually a massive fan of chopping and changing the artist on a title like this, but actually given the large cast of characters we rotate around, it doesn’t particularly bother me, despite their differing styles. They are all great artists anyway.

Rob Williams keeps the mystery factor high, and even manages to throw in one very huge whopping surprise, whilst weaving this tale of social media-inspired madness. Practically every main character seems at least one hinge short of a cupboard and I am happy to report I genuinely have no idea where this is going or what the endgame could possibly be yet. Given the rate at which the 140 are expiring / being pruned, though, I may not have to wait that long to find out!

JR

Buy Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cameron Stewart.

The second half of Azzarello’s run, finally revealing who landed John in American hot water to begin with, and why.

Lots of grim S&M, and other assorted worries.

Before then we journey back in time to London for a two-chapter instalment illustrated by SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE’S Guy Davis, while Constantine was still lead singer of the punk band Mucous Membranes, in which we learn that even then John was pissing on long-suffering taxi-slave Chas from great heights. At the most inopportune moment imaginable.

I know a few people cancelled their regular order during Brian and Marcelo’s run, but I can’t for the life of me think why. Perhaps because it was a trek across America.

HELLBLAZER hadn’t felt this dangerous since Alan Moore, with some fantastic shadows from Frusin, and ranks right up there for me with Ennis’ main stint, albeit a completely different take.

John’s not your mate here. He’s silent, saturnine and wicked as sin. If you want to hook then reel the trickster in, you’re on a suicide mission. Same if you want to befriend him.

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Please see HELLBLAZER VOL 14 for a much more expansive analysis. What a horrible cover this has.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater and read the Page 45 review here

Prometheus: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Andrea Mutti…

“…They’re back.Prometheus cover They’ve God damn well come back.”
“Please, God, tell me you’re joking.
“Sorry, kid. That’s the way it is. I’m looking at one through my scope right now. A God damn Engineer.”
“I can’t… I just… not after everything. I can’t face them again too. We’re screwed.”

No, not Ridley Scott gee-ing himself up for the forthcoming Prometheus film sequel (entitled Alien Covenant, which as it happens, looks more than half decent from the trailer), but one of the surviving grunts left behind on Tartarus (LV-797) after the cataclysmic and rather bloody events of PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE.

Well, the whole FIRE AND STONE storyline was spectacularly brutal actually, running through the ALIENS: FIRE AND STONE, PROMETHEUS: FIRE AND STONE, ALIEN VS PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE and PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE trades in that order. Oh, and then the subsequent finale PREDATOR: FIRE AND STONE – OMEGA one-shot which didn’t get collected anywhere except in the massive omnibus hardback that came out later… Righhhht, nice one Dark Horse. Actually, more of a inconsequential coda than a true finale, but still…

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PREDATOR: LIFE AND DEATH actually forms the first part of this new storyline, rather than the last this time around. Events in that, and this volume, basically take place one year on from their respective FIRE AND STONE parts, and, in case you were wondering, which I’m sure you weren’t, forty-three years after the Aliens film. (I’m resisting as hard as I can to control my inner Bill Paxton, even after all these years, but it’s tricky!!)

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What’s also different about this second comics’ merry-go-round is that Dan GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY / WILD’S END Abnett is writing all four parts of it, along with any surprise after-thoughts presumably. This almost certainly explains why this arc feels even tighter and more relentlessly paced. The action does not stop.

If you’re remotely a fan of Aliens, Predators, Aliens fighting Predators and indeed even Engineers wiping the floor with everyone, with lots of soft, squelchy humans getting mashed in the middle, you will love this. The art is from a different artist for each tie-in, and here Andrea REBELS VOL 1 Mutti brings his trademark ultra-fine pencil lines to bear on the inevitable mayhem that ensues from the moment another group of grunts lands on Tartarus. Do these people never learn?!

JR

Buy Prometheus: Life And Death 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.

Kill Or Be Killed vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Sister BFFs (£4-00, ) by Philippa Rice

Snow Blind s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by Ollie Masters & Tyler Jenkins

The Goddamned vol 1: The Flood (£8-99, Image) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera

Weathercraft h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring

Prophet vol 5: Earth War (£15-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy & Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, others

Abe Sapien vol 8: Desolate Shore (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Chew vol 12: Sour Grapes (£14-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Star Wars vol 4: Last Flight Of The Harbinger (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Chris Eliopoulos & Jorge Molina, various

Steven Universe vol 1 (UK Edition) (£10-99, Titan) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Sunstone vol 5 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Stjepan Sejic

Flash vol 1: Lightning Strikes Twice s/c (Rebirth) (£15-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico, others

Harley Quinn vol 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin

Justice League vol 1: The Extinction Machines s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Tony S. Daniel

Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

Old Man Logan vol 3: The Last Ronin s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Scarlet Witch vol 2: World Of Witchcraft s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & Marguerite Sauvage, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Joelle Jones, Kei Zama

Blade Of The Immortal Omnibus vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 8 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

News

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ITEM! Here we go again!

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 is open to creators, publishers and retailers to come and join Page 45 in making a ridiculous amount of money! Also, having fun.

What an electrifying poster! Please click to enlarge! And please apply now!

LICAF 2017 runs from Friday 13th October to Saturday 16th October with the exhibitors’ Kendal Clock Tower open on the Friday and Saturday. ENTRY REMAINS FREE!

If you’ve any doubts about why you should be there (comics readers, retailers, publishers and creators like), here’s Page 45’s Report on The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 in which we OBLITERATED our all-time biggest weekend sales record!

I’ve seen the Official Comic Creator Guest List for LICAF 2017 – which is all done and dusted – and it will knock your blinkin’ socks off: some enormous international names including two Page 45 customer female favourites (and indeed female customer favourites).

Here’s the latest American National Cartoonists Society Magazine with a massive report on LICAF 2016 beginning on page 9.

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ITEM! There are some absolute beauties in the current edition of PREVIEWS free online at Page 45 for comics and graphic novels shipping from March onwards. Please consider pre-ordering via our website or emailing / phoning in to add to your Page 45 Standing Order Pull List. We’ll have them whizzing off to you worldwide on arrival or pop them straight into your file.

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  1. SOUND OF THE WORLD BY HEART with its New York cityscapes looks astounding. Lots of interior art for SOUND OF THE WORLD BY HEART on the Magnetic Press website.

Item Gaugin

  1. Fabrizio Dori totally nails Gauguin for the latest in SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters Series. Its English translation will out on 6th March. I don’t have a pre-order page for you on this one, but there’s plenty to whet your appetite at that link and you can always phone / email. (I have no idea what is up with this numerical formatting!)

Item Grass Kings

  1. GRASS KINGS #1 is the latest series from Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins. Tyler Jenkins was the artist on SNOW BLIND whose collected edition is fresh in stock this week and will be reviewed next week. Father / son generation-gap nightmare leading crime-ridden nightmare.

ITEM Bad Mac 7 cover

  1. John Allison’s all-ages BAD MACHINERY VOLUME 7 appears to have undergone a change in format if I’m not much mistaken. You can read Page 45’s reviews of all things John Allison here but why not start with BAD MACHINERY VOL 6 in which I really get into its mechanics.

ITEM Ganges 6 cover   ITEM Crickets 6 cover

  1. Kevin Huizenga’s GANGES #6 and Sammy Harkham’s CRICKETS #6

Well yes, you could wait as usual until the day after they’re published and be disappointed once again as everyone finally descends upon us and we so sell instantly out or – radical idea, this – you could order these things now if you know that you want them, so giving us the confidence to order in greater depth.

Item Terms And Conditions

  1. Finally – and this is frankly insane – Sikoryak is adapting to comics iTunes’ absurdly long and labyrinthine TERMS AND CONDITIONS by illustrating and so mocking it, word for word, in the style of some classic comicbook creators. His Mike Mignola is impeccable and adds just the right level of menace. More full-page examples of Sikoryak’s TERMS AND CONDITIONS here.
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Simone Lia & Hannah Berry at Page 45’s 21st Birthday Party signing.

ITEM! Endearing interview with FLUFFY’s Simone Lia.

It’s mostly on the subject of Simone Lia’s all-ages THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS AT WORM SCHOOL in stock and reviewed by Page 45. Did you come to her Page 45 21st Birthday Party signing? No? And you call me a buffoon!

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ITEM! Families! The PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY for kids is celebrating its 5th Anniversary. It is a hallmark of quality which is why we stock almost every single collected edition whose reviews you can read right there at that link.

Here’s hat-tastic Sarah McIntryre’s PHOENIX COMIC launch blog from way back then. Sarah’s blogs are always the best with photos of creators you’ll never find elsewhere.

Pop her into our search engine for her very own all-ages comics and illustrated prose co-created with the ridiculous witty Philip Reeve who once Tweeted me “Rampaging foodstuffs are a bit of a recurring theme in our books…”

Cakes In Space bigger battle

Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntryre’s CAKES IN SPACE

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week two

January 11th, 2017

Featuring Pushwagner’s Soft City, Sarah Glidden’s rolling blackouts, Shaun Tan, Junjo Ito and explosions.

Rolling Blackouts h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Sarah Glidden.

Sarah Glidden and rolling-blackouts-coverher fellow journalists are on a train travelling through Turkey on its way to Tehran. They’re making friends in its dining car which has become the train’s social hub. One young Iranian who is affable and far from brainwashed (having already disavowed much of what Ahmandinejad proclaimed) shows them his mobile phone.

This isn’t fiction.

“This is my wife.”
“Oh, she’s very pretty! Do you have any kids?”
“Oh no.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.”

In his mind the possibility that America could bomb Iran is so strong, and so very real, that he’s forgoing the pleasure of children lest that joy turn into bereavement.

There’s a great deal of bereavement in this level-headed, searching, thought-provoking and richly informative first-hand account of Glidden’s two months in Iraq and Syria in 2010, for most of those whom she meets are in one way or another displaced refugees, all eager to tell their individual stories, previously unheard because no one has cared to listen.

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They’re interviewed by her companions, Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill of the Seattle Globalist independent collective, for what would turn into fourteen different published features – some of them very high profile – even if they weren’t entirely sure what they were looking for initially. Glidden’s role in the form of this substantial graphic novel is to document that journey – geographical, personal and professional – and the crystallization of their ideas and angles through former contacts and chance encounters as they all wrestle with discoveries, self-doubts, set-backs, successes and the very notion of what constitutes ethical journalism.

Invaluably humanising the de-humanised and abandoned (sometimes left for a decade or more in what are always intended to be temporary, transitory refugee camps), this is measured, well researched, but increasingly sobering stuff. However, I believe above all that you’ll be surprised.

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For a start, this is a very beautiful book.

I can quite easily conceive that many may buy it purely for the joy of bathing in Glidden’s delicate but warm, full-colour washes over confident, clean lines. There are so very many striking landscapes with wet-wash horizons, and she captures the spirit of place in extraordinary detail for such compact panels. There’s Damascus both old and new; the epic open road to Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah with its golden plains and distant indigo mountains; the extraordinary and unexpected spectacle of vast verdant parks in Sulaymaniyah itself, dense in trees, built on what used to be training grounds for Saddam Hussein’s troops.

But essentially this is 300 hundred pages of talking heads told in that most accessible of structures which is the three-tiered, nine-panel grid. It’s immaculately composed and it is riveting, partly because its subject matter is so fascinating, partly because those whom she meets are so compelling, partly because its editing from hundreds of hours of tapes is so judicious and – to no small extent – because Glidden has made every single page beautiful to behold and utterly clutter-free without demanding you stop, stare and acknowledge that. Instead you move swiftly on to the very next nugget of eye-opening observation and recollection.

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They’re joined on their journey by Dan, one of Sarah Stuteville’s childhood friends and a former Marine who for a year was deployed in Iraq during the aftermath of the invasion whose cataclysmic side-effects – in the rise of the militia – displaced most of the refugees whom they meet later on in Syria. Dan is there to make blogs of his own, but also as part of Stuteville’s project: she interviews him on each stage of their travels to see if – no, in the hope that – his initial equanimity with his role as a soldier might falter.

It’s is an odd thing to want for a friend, but it’s that sort of a warts-and-all account.

Dan was in many ways one of those least likely to sign up. His parents were “classic Seattle hippies”, his mother co-founding an organisation called Families For Peace who campaigned to end the sale of violent toys like plastic guns. Dan even joined the anti-war protests and is still adamant that the invasion should never have occurred. However, Dan joined once he saw the resultant carnage – the militia’s bombings and kidnappings and murders – in order to help put an end to it. He believes he made a concrete, constructive difference, so feels no guilt. He also maintains that he’s suffered no lasting trauma in spite of what he experienced. And that increasingly frustrates Stuteville. I’ll leave you to learn how that pans out.

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One of the party’s main focuses in Sulaymaniyah are the prisons and abandoned barracks now repurposed as residences for poverty-stricken Kurds from Kirkuk who lost their livelihoods, houses and cars when they fled their homes for fear of the killings. They refuse to return because of the violence, but won’t be helped by the KRG government until they do so, because the KRG government wants to use their presence in Kirkuk to lay claim to its oil fields.

Quite.

Their other focus is Sam Malkandi whose full history, once revealed, is extraordinary. They discover the heartbreaking details gradually in a series of interviews for which they’ve only a certain amount of allotted time. One of the chief tensions in ROLLING BLACKOUTS is whether the journalists will ever achieve the breakthrough moments which will turn their investigation into a complete, verifiable or at least credible, sellable story. So I’m going to allow those most of those astonishing details to unfold naturally as you read, but essentially Sam went from carefree drama student in tree-lined Baghdad to fleeing frontline duty in the Iran-Iraq War, to a relatively happy reprieve in his hometown of Sulay with his newly-wedded then pregnant wife… to fleeing Iraq for Iran to escape door-to-door searches for Kurdish deserters… thence Pakistan before finally making it to America. Along the way he experienced destitution, desolation and oh, I can’t even tell you. Awful. But he also made a critical mistake in one of those applications, was visited by ridiculous misfortune while rebuilding his life in America at which point that initial mistake came to light and… unbelievable. Involves terrorism in America.

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Sam’s love of America is undiminished and his English is excellent so there’s no need for translators. When they are employed, Glidden cleverly superimposes the interpreter’s speech balloons over the interviewee’s, leaving just a little ‘shadow’ over the original behind it.

In Syria they need interpreters almost everywhere and the love of America is abruptly lost as we begin to understand exactly what has happened to the two million Iraqis who fled the country following America’s (and Britain’s) illegal invasion of this tyrannically ruled country on deliberately falsified grounds (my statement, not Glidden’s; let’s keep this clean) – on top of the 1 million Iraqi civilians estimated to have been killed because of it.

First, through a former Ba’athist colonel, there are introduced to a sitting room full of teachers, doctors, dentists and lawyers. As Glidden notes:

“Since the invasion 80% of the middles class – precisely those who the US hoped would rebuild a new Iraq – have fled the country.”

They are now stranded in Damascus having escaped the violence between the Sunni and Shia and, in doing so, lost everything:

“I lost my pharmacy, I lost my house, I lost my opinions.
“I lost everything. I lost my life.”

Another woman lost 25 family members in a single day.

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They’re living in city apartments rather than tents and their children receive free education up to secondary school but nothing beyond. In addition they aren’t allowed to work legally, so become increasingly impoverished. They are without hope, especially for their children who cannot finish their education and won’t be allowed to work either. Their disgust at America is so strong they refuse to be resettled there and the final interviewee that night is so blunt that even Dan is unsettled. But wait until you meet those who aren’t middle class.

Glidden captures every nuance in their expressions – their anger, desperation and dignity – and in Sarah Stuteville’s pained receptiveness too. It is delicately done.

I’ve run out of time, which is a shame because I have another page of notes on their discussions about journalism itself, which occur throughout their mission. What one forgets while cheering on these committed investigative reporters – whose ethics are so strict that they will never promise help nor even to spread their subjects’ stories unless they know can – is that the wider industry is held in such contempt. Journalism is apparently the second-most hated profession in the US, just after lawyers but, astonishingly, before politicians. I foresee that being reversed shortly. Stuteville:

“There are so many things that are contributing to the decline of journalism as we know it. And much of that has to do with the internet and economic models and so forth.
“But a lot of it has to do with elitism and arrogance and people losing trust in journalists and news outlets. Obviously the lead-up to the Iraq war didn’t help with that.
“And the rise of cable news and their style of gotcha journalism, and journalism being really politicized so here’s Left outlets and Right outlets…
“There are a lot of reasons it fell apart and most of them don’t reflect particularly well on the industry.”

She concludes with a statement which reflects my own view distinctly separate view of the US/UK comics industry and medium:

“But I feel like that’s the industry, not the profession. It’s hard for people to make that distinction, but it’s important.”

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Like I say, I have another page of notes on journalism alone and what I’ve covered in other areas is but a small fraction of this 300-page graphic novel: things they discover like women reporting domestic violence being consigned to prisons full of criminals because there are no safe refuges for them; the wonderful work of the Iraqi Student Project run out of a couple’s apartment in Damascus, providing further education for a handful of youngsters to gain internationally recognised certificates and then university places outside of Syria.

Nor is this just about their interviewees, but also about the roaming quartet later joined by fellow journalist Jessica, their relationship as it develops over the two months and the practicalities of recording and the not inconsiderable effort that must go in to securing an outlet for any proposed feature.

Glidden is never judgemental except about herself, and that extends to her art. Her visual portraits could so easily have been judgemental, but they’re restrained, almost neutral without ever being bland. Her palette is exquisite on every page: lots of cool-colour backgrounds so often warmed by Alex’s and Sarah S’s auburn hair. But her night scenes are truly extraordinary in their depth and detail, like the one depicting their travel by taxi from Beirut to Damascus, counting the vainglorious portraits of chinless death-dealer President Bashar al-Assad, all spot-lit even all the way out in the rich brown countryside.

The greatest compliment I can perhaps pay to ROLLING BLACKOUTS is that Glidden – along with the Globalist – furthers the work of Will Eisner in fiction and Joe Sacco in reportage, in giving a voice to those otherwise without one and that, like Marjane Satrapi in PERSEPOLIS, Art Spiegleman in MAUS and Belle Yang in FORGET SORROW, Sarah Glidden’s book is decidedly non-didactic for you’re learning as they’re all learning – and I Iearned loads.

Maps provided, you’ll be pleased to hear.

SLH

Buy Rolling Blackouts h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c (£20-00, New York Review Comics) by Hariton Pushwagner.

Life as a drone, a soft-city-coverclone and a cog in the inexorable, daily machine is something of a cliché, but seldom have I witnessed it done with such wit, scale and eye-frazzling detail.

The succession of Metropolitan vanishing points is dazzling, relentless, hypnotic.

All is symmetry in this neat, pristine, hollow, factory-farm existence, both on the page and in the narrative as a whole.

After the grandiose, Apollo-like launch of the sun on this brand-new day with its great sense of expectation, of anticipation, the very first perspective is that of a baby’s; the very first vanishing point, appropriately enough, that of its cot, of its cage.

There are an almost infinite number of cages within this boxed-in existence, whether they are the grid-locked cars or the identikit flats with their nigh-identical furnishings identically arranged. Each identical husband in his uniform suit, tie and bowler hat exits his identikit flat at exactly the same time with exactly the same march, although a woman’s slipped in to the elevator and one man day-dreams of a bodybuilder stripped down to his underpants, admiring himself in the mirror.

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The monumentalism truly begins once outside, although there is no sky to speak of. Instead it’s more windows, more boxes disappearing into the distance as your eyes are sucked out of their sockets and into the succession of vanishing points behind a seemingly infinite number of impossibly long, impossibly broad and impossibly tall sky-scrapers.

If you think your commute’s bad, this one’s a bummer.

Impressive as all that is, the multi-storey car parks are breath-taking: an infinite number of bays for an infinite number of cars seen through the yawning, cavernous entrance. That bit’s more Matrix than Metropolis, the regression into the distance enhanced by each storey’s ceiling strip lights.

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Wish I could have found the next page: seeing is believing.

And what of the women? Well, this work was begun in 1965 and completed in 1975 which was four years before RAW so obviously well ahead of its time, but I can’t help but wonder if the shopping sequence, being three-quarters of the way through, wasn’t inspired by the French hypermarchés which began to emerge in the late 1960s. My first sight of one those blew my tiny little mind. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that the endless shelves simply sprang from Pushwagner’s singular vision.

At this point I should mention that I can see no evidence whatsoever of a ruler. It don’t think it would work so well if all the lines where actually straight. That they wobble a bit is part of the wonder. Each composed by hand.

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Nevertheless it is, as I say, a regimented existence which makes the proliferation of the word “soft” in this otherwise sparsely scripted graphic novel all the funnier.

The father reads the Soft Times, its harsh news juxtaposed against fluffy-puppy adverts. Soft Electric is the brand of the cacophonous alarm clock which wakes him to hard work and immediately his wife insists he takes a Soft Pill to get through the bitter pill of his clock-in, clock-out life.

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And wouldn’t you just know what “soft” product Soft Inc manufactures?

You won’t be surprised to discover Chris Ware’s a fan and contributes a substantial introduction. Biographical details – a history of this once-lost work and its origins – are provided by Martin Herbert in the back.

SLH

Buy Soft City – The Lost Graphic Novel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c (£17-99, Arthur A Levine Books) by Shaun Tan.

With the UK edition of this inspirational book now out of print, we’ve found a US version – hurrah!

“Some are exercises to simply keep fit as an artist, where the practice of drawing is about learning to see, a study that never ends.”

“Nevertheless, interesting or profound ideas can emerge of their own accord, not so much in the form of a ‘message’, but rather a strangely articulated question.”

From the creator of THE ARRIVAL and THE SINGING BONES etc. comes a highly illuminating insight into one artist’s driving passions and thought processes. You’ll discover unusual artefacts, sketches and page layouts which eventually found themselves included in some of Shaun’s finished graphic novels, experiments with the language of the sea and curious creatures which themselves suggest stories so far untold. Some of the preliminaries have brief notes jotted in their margins, like the series of interconnected, roofless rooms arranged like a stage set, one evidently a water tank containing an octopus tentatively exploring the next; another, hilariously, on fire. Tiny figures look in on others. “Are we just moving from room to room?” he asks to one side.

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Better still Shaun introduces each segment with some extended, eloquently expressed and inspirational thoughts. On doodling, he writes:

“This always reminds me of fishing – casting loose lines into a random sea, trying to hook something substantial. It’s surprising what sense can emerge from nonsense, and how the juxtaposition of odd images on a page can have a serendipitous effect, catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden by the waves.”

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It’s the perfect cure for ‘artist’s block’: “just start drawing,” he suggests, quoting Paul Klee’s description of “taking a line for a walk”.

“Klee has a second good metaphor: the artist as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience – things seen, read, told and dreamt – in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit… Artists do not create so much as transform.”

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Hence all the observational sketches and the section entitled ‘drawings from life’, a lot of them in colour, where Sean explores “the relationship between individuals and their respective environments”, a theme found throughout the artist’s graphic novels. Likewise “the tensions between natural and manmade forms”. I think ‘tensions’ is underplaying it somewhat! THE RABBITS, THE LOST THING and TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA are all littered with visual and narrative commentaries on what man has made of his natural environment, as a quick glance of any of those reviews will make abundantly clear!

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Rarely have I had as much fun absorbing an art book, or come away so galvanised. It’s a neat little package, and I’d pay good money to see any one of those ‘untold stories’ come to full, expansive life.

SLH

Buy The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito –

From the creatortomie-cover of UZUMAKI and GYO.

Here’s our Mark:

It’s rare than a comic artist will really turn my stomach as Ito has managed to.

These tales are precursors to UZUMAKI, sharing the same themes of life being poisoned by demonic exaggeration of a human failing. Tomie inspires horrible devotion in all who find her attractive. The attraction turns to fixation, then jealousy ending in her murder. Then she comes back. Some time each hacked piece grows into another Tomie. An organ is transplanted and the host is taken over. Really quite disturbing.

This was our Tom:

Tomie was your usual manipulative two-faced High School girl. Until one day while on a field trip, her class – including the teacher – finally had enough of her seductive scheming, and killed her. Sharing the responsibility of their actions, each class member took a piece of her body to dispose of it. But their actions haunted them in a truly strange way as each piece of Tomie grew into a new Tomie. These new Tomies manipulate their victims into doing anything for her, even kill. Until they finally have enough and kill her again, repeating the vicious cycle, over and over.

Junji constantly finds new and ever more gruesome ways for Tomie to orchestrate her own downfall as this true urban horror spreads like a weed across the country.

MAS / TR

SLH

Buy Tomie Complete h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars: Han Solo (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Mark Brooks…

“I only joined the Rebellion to make a quick buck.

“After I’d paid off my mark I kept thinking Chewie and I would get in the Falcon and keep going.
“But I didn’t.
“Maybe I’m as dumb as she says I look.
“Or maybe something’s changed.”

It would take a Sith-like heart not to feel a certain degree of poignancy reading this following the untimely deaths of Carrie Fisher and a certain other fictional character. Or maybe I’m just getting sentimental, a bit like Han in this <ahem> solo romp set shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Seems like the penny is finally dropping as to why he’s agreeing to undertake yet another suicide mission on behalf of the feisty Princess Leia…

This time all Han needs to do is escort the three surviving Rebel informants from a previously extensive network of spies in a nearby star system back to base. Simple, right? Well, not exactly, as one of them is probably the Imperial mole that’s been bumping all the others off. Also, Han is going to need a cover story as to why he’s visiting that star system. So it’s a good job the Dragon Void race, the oldest, most dangerous race in the galaxy, just so happens to be taking place there!

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Now that sounds like a challenge Solo could get on board with… But as Leia is only too keen to point out, right before punching him in the face, just for good measure you understand, under the auspices of adding to his story about why he’s quitting the Rebellion to go racing, Han had better remember the Dragon Void is his cover, not the objective. Han being Han, though, figures he can probably manage to win the race, blah blah Millennium Falcon… Kessel Run… twelve parsecs… blah blah blah and rescue the spies, plus expose the double agent. All because he’s just a great guy, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with trying to impress a Princess…

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Marjorie MONSTRESS Liu pens this hilarious, hokey yarn, throwing in a hidden smuggling compartment’s worth of trademark sarcastic Solo dialogue, ridiculous bum-twitching seat-of-the-pants flying, seasoned with enough sizzling romantic tension between our loggerheaded leads to fry a Hutt. An entire one… Thus she captures the various characters perfectly and provides us with a very entertaining galactic jaunt. Nice clean and straightforward art from Mark Brooks, which seems to be a pre-requisite for pencilling a STAR WARS comic these days. I’d happily read a second arc from this pair.

JR

Buy Star Wars: Han Solo and read the Page 45 review here

 New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch, Alex Maleev various.

Behold!new-avengers-complete-vol-1-cover

This is the starting point for everything Avengers-related which JESSICA JONES’ Brian Michael Bendis wrote with exceptional wit and verve, and it lasted something like a decade.

Outside of THE ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and THE ULTIMATES SEASON TWO by Millar and Hitch, it represents the very finest run on The Avengers, and this is coming from the wizened remains of what used to be a 12-year-old boy absolutely in awe of Roy Thomas’ 1960s’ run alongside John Buscema and Neal Adams as represented by the AVENGERS KREE/ SKRULL WAR.

It begins with ‘Avengers Disassembled’ during which Bendis and Finch tore the team apart – one of them quite literally – in order to build something brilliant from scratch. It is joined in this bumper edition with those first two volumes of NEW AVENGERS.

Alas, I was so enamoured that I wrote the worst review I’ve ever written.

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For a start I forgot the artist, which is unforgivable, and Finch is unforgettable. His neo-classical figure work is so impressive that I could stare at the sturdy neck muscles for hours; his expressions here are appropriately pained and he executes two successive, 4-tier, 360-degree rotations round a cast of four in conversation which I’ve never seen done before. Lots of neck muscles there.

Additionally, his sense of scale is right up there with Hitch’s – and it needs to be, given the carnage that follows – and his ability to halt you by interrupting a quiet conversation of jaunty, toast-and-marmalade teasing with an explosion which rips through the breakfast room walls is unparalleled thanks in equal amounts to Frank D’Armata’s abrupt switch from blue-sky, verdant to volcanic colouring.

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The review’s eloquent, I hope, but it was an all-too heart-felt, sentimental elegy which gives everything away. Everything.

At Page 45 we pride ourselves on avoiding SPOILERS. If it’s a review of the fourth book of a series we love like LAZARUS we avoid SPOILERS even of volume one. Instead we want to intrigue you to start at the beginning. That said, given that there is a decade of material to follow, perhaps this could be considered a review of its prologue. I leave that to you.

Do you love the SCARLET WITCH? This is where you begin.

Avengers Disassembled

“For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.”
 – Stephen, 200 times on a blackboard after falling asleep during Physics.

That, for me, is the key to why this storyline really worked. For all these years one member of this fluctuating team of superhuman powerhouses has been bending the laws of physics with no obviously equal nor opposite reaction. At no seeming cost. When Iron Man flies, fuel is burned. When Hawkeye spends an arrow, he must make another. And when I write a disproportionately long and po-faced superhero fanboy review, I’m punished with a terrible headache and the nagging suspicion that my LOVE AND ROCKETS credibility has finally been depleted.

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Yet all these years, one amongst The Avengers’ ranks has been using her reality-altering powers to break the laws of physics, manipulate probability, and turn a bad situation into good fortune. It wasn’t a magic she had learned, it was a gift she was born with. As she grew older, as she wielded her powers with increasing confidence, so the feats she performed became increasingly spectacular. What, for example, are the chances that a woman could give birth to two baby boys when her husband was an infertile android?

The chances are nil. You’d have to be insane to believe it was possible.

Wanda Maximoff had never had what you might call an easy life. She was brought up by gypsies after being abandoned by her mother. Her father didn’t even know she or her brother existed, which is just as well because he was a mutant terrorist calling himself Magneto – the same mutant terrorist who in her late teens manipulated her into joining his crusade as The Scarlet Witch by preying on her deep fears and past persecution. Throughout her childhood she and her brother Pietro had been hounded by those who hated mutants just because they existed. So any offer of a home was a godsend.

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Her brother was a superior son of a bitch, but he doted on her, fulfilling a paternal as much as a fraternal role. You might say he smothered her. Whatever the case, when fortune suddenly changed and salvation appeared – in the form of an offer of membership on an internationally renowned and domestically adulated, government-sanctioned team of American superheroes – she was, perhaps, a little naive. But then these were the early years, and everyone was a little naive.

Her fellow Avengers (Hawkeye, Captain America and her brother Quicksilver) didn’t question how she performed minor miracles using what she called ‘hexes’, they were just glad to have the gentle soul on their side. They became her new family, and over the years they all came to love her, whilst the archer Clint Barton grew particularly close, always there to lift her spirits with a lame joke or a stupid arrowhead exploding into a bouquet of flowers. He too was a criminal made good, and to a certain extent he understood her perspective. It’s not everyone who’s given a second chance.

The Vision was.

An android created by Ultron (an insane, sentient, almost indestructible robot), the Vision was conceived as the means of the team’s destruction, but his programming was based on the brain patterns of a human, and that flaw proved Ultron’s undoing. It also allowed the Vision to fall in love with Wanda. Well, that didn’t go down well with the public. An android and a mutant…? “Blasphemy!” they cried, and they reacted to their love with hatred. Still, the stoical Vision became a rock to her emotional fragility, and they even got married.

Knowing little more than that that her powers were based in magic, Wanda went looking for help and took training from Franklin Richards’ part-time governess and full-time witch, Agatha Harkness. But soon magic came looking for Wanda, possessing her body, infusing it with a level of power she had never encountered and used the woman against her friends. She recovered, of course, or she seemed to. She had those two little boys I mentioned earlier, delivered by surgeon/sorcerer Doctor Strange. But then her husband was abducted and dismembered by the government, only to be rebuilt with none of his previous empathy, and Agatha Harkness discovered that Wanda’s twin children weren’t even real – just an illusion, a maternal comfort blanket conjured out of thin air by Wanda herself, and she had. A. Nervous. Breakdown.

It was then that a fatal mistake was made. They thought they were doing her a kindness. They thought they were putting the genie back into its bottle. They allowed Agatha Harkness to use her own magical gifts on Wanda to erase the children from her memory. In hindsight it would have been wiser to erase them from everyone’s. Here’s Wanda and the Wasp by the poolside, one day before this kicks off.

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“Wow, did I need this. I am so crazy in my head today.”
“What’s going on, Janet?”
“I — listen, Wanda, I’ll tell you… But you can’t tell anyone.”
“What happened?”
“I had a… bit of a scare.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sshh, I’m fine. It’s just — my little friend came a little late, and I thought I might be — you know…”
“You thought you were pregnant?”
“Sshh! Hey, sshh! I’m not. I just thought I was. I was really freaked out because that is the last thing I need. With all the crap in my life right now… That’s what the world needs… a little Clint Barton walking around.”
[Jan waves at Hawkeye, Hawkeye waves back]
“Are you two still seeing each other?”
“That would entail the two of us having an adult conversation about our feelings, which, clearly, is not either of our strong suits. Ugh, can you imagine? Me with a kid? Like a kid could grow up normal in this environment. Avengers should not have kids. Superheroes should not have kids. That should be the rule. And you thought you could have two?”
“What?”
“What?”
“What does that mean? Two of what?”

* * *

“Agatha?”
“Wanda Maximoff. You gave me a bit of a turn just now. Come sit. We haven’t spoken in a good time.”
“Agatha, I — Why do people think I once had two children?”

* * *

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What are the chances that a dead man could appear out of nowhere and blow up in their faces, immolating Scott Lang? What are the chances that within seconds the Vision would answer their distress call by crashing a plane into the mansion and spawning half a dozen versions of the insane robot that gave birth to him? What are the chances of a rational She-Hulk losing her temper and ripping the Vision clean in two? Smacking Jan into a coma? Slamming a lorry down on Captain America’s head? Of Iron Man being drunk without drinking a drop? Of the alien Kree launching a full-on invasion directly over the spot where everyone’s assembled, and slaughtering another Avenger right in front of them? All in the space of an hour…?!

The chances are nil.

For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.

So for all these years, while Wanda’s been warping reality for the good of others… what has been happening to her?

“Do you know what you’ve done?!
“You killed the Vision, Wanda! Your own husband! Do you know that? Do you?!
“You killed Scott Lang! You killed Hawkeye! Janet’s in a coma!
“You’ve destroyed The Avengers!
“All of it, it’s gone!”

* * *
“Stay away from my children.”

* * *

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New Avengers: Breakout

The Avengers no longer exist.

Their centre of operations, their funding, their reputation and their very lives were all torn apart by a broken friend whom they loved very dearly but who didn’t know what she was doing.

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but for the criminal fraternity it’s a singular opportunity.

So I ask you: how many superpowered psychopaths would you deem it safe to house in the same place? And if there was a jailbreak, how many superpowered soldiers or civilians do you think it would take to contain it? You pick your number, go on. It’s not enough.

Welcome to Ryker’s Island, maximum security penitentiary for the supercriminally insane where, on this very nasty night, several dozen of the most homicidal maniacs in the world are about to be let loose on it courtesy of a single C-list electrical villain who’s about to, heh, “discharge” himself.

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With so many of these genetic freaks still on the loose, Captain America attempts to recruit those who happened to be on hand to help out during the jailbreak (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and The Sentry) for a fresh team of Avengers that he hesitates from announcing to the world but, with Iron Man’s help, secretly locates them in a vast tower rising above Manhattan. Their first mission is to find out who caused the jailbreak, how they succeeded, and return all the creeps to custody.

And you know, if that’s all they had to contend with, it might have been do-able. Instead, the ubiquitous international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to be involved in several clandestine operations: enslaving the Savage Land’s indigenous population as slave labour, stockpiling vibranium reserves to make internationally condemned weapons, and detaining supposedly dead supercriminals for their own purposes. Worse still, it looks as if the new team is compromised before they’ve even started.

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Bendis’ unusual choice of team-mates makes for some delicious exchanges, particularly between hard-ass Luke Cage and the dartingly irreverent Spider-Man. There’s a particularly fine scene involving the latter webbing up the former’s fists without quite explaining how long that’ll last, and if you’ve read the four ALIAS books starring Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, there’s a horrible pay-off here involving the Purple Man. Wolverine also finds himself dragged in, but for the moment, and as they regain consciousness in The Savage Land, this unlikely new team of relative strangers find themselves revealing more about themselves than they would perhaps have liked, as Peter Parker explains to Jessica Drew…

“Yep. We’re naked.”
“They couldn’t leave our underwear on?”
“I wasn’t wearing any.”
“Why wouldn’t you be wearing underwear?”
“I chafe.”
“… I want off the team.”

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The Sentry

The New Avengers have coalesced by chance, but one of their new members – who happened to be there when everything kicked off in the superhuman penitentiary – is Robert Reynolds, The Sentry. Possibly the most powerful man on the planet, he’s an emotional wreck with a memory that comes and goes. Captain America and Iron Man attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the X-Men’s telepath Emma Frost and the comicbook writer Paul Jenkins who invented The Sentry in the first place.

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Dough Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez, various.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 – Edmund Burke

Under any circumstances that is a mighty fine sentence and indeed sentiment: stand up and be counted or stay sitting still in the shadows while you wait for the bigots and other assorted bastards to come for you next.

But as an explanation of the altruistic intervention of costumed superheroes at their own peril, it is exceptional. Gold stars to Tomasi and / or Gleason for selecting it to kick off this collection; gravitational black stars for failing to credit the statesman. It’s common courtesy, yes?

Both bigotry and a degree of black-star gravitational pull will be exerting their influence here in the form of a once-familiar irritant from the days of THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN immediately following THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. Indeed it’s that very era from nearly 25 years ago that is most referenced in the prologue. And it did my head in.

This is the first collection of the brand-new, original DC superhero universe, reborn now that the four-year ‘DC New 52’ sabbatical is no more. Did you understand that sentence? No. That is why superhero comics will never be Mainstream.

Supposedly, this is DC starting once again from scratch so that new readers who may be that way inclined may decide to jump in and jump on. Perhaps this one worked on new readers but I – admittedly only a casual visitor to the DC Universes – was left shaking my head, bewildered. This is a shame because once you’ve skipped the first chapter of mind-frazzling continuity mish-mash there is a brand-new dynamic with plenty of potential.

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Superman is dead. I don’t think it was the original Superman. I think the original Superman is the bloke with the beard hoping that the last one will spring back to life. He doesn’t. We move on.

Clark Kent is now living a quietly concealed, bucolic life on a farm similar to the one Ma and Pa Kent raised him on. He is married to Lois Lane who’s still a journalist but working from home under a pseudonym. Quite how much investigation this investigative journalist can accomplish from the cornfields is uncertain but that need not concern us now. They have a son called Jonathan (half-human, half-Kryptonian) whose existence or at least nature he has concealed from Batman and Wonder Woman. Basically, they are deeper undercover than ever.

The boy is in his very early teens and exhibiting all the lethal powers that his Dad possesses without the fine-tuning to target them with finesse. That is something which both Lois and Clark are determined to teach him in time with due care and attention. But in superhero comics there is never the time, care nor due attention – only emergencies.

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There is a domestic emergency which back-fires on the boy painfully, then there is one bursting inconveniently from their past to scour them: more precisely, to scour the dirty human heritage from their child’s genetic makeup. I told you there was bigotry to behold.

On the plus side: the art by many was surprisingly consistent with a very neat panel in which young Jon, when embarrassed / ashamed, hides most of his face under his sweatshirt, pulling it up over his mouth and nose. It’s a psychological thing, very well observed, which I do, subconsciously, protectively, on occasion: it feels safer when you sink your soul beneath cotton.

I also loved the harrowing image of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman when congregating in secret on the equivalent of the rustic farm’s stoop, glimpsed by a young Jon through his window at night. The whites of their eyes are like tiny skulls: terrifying, threatening, alien and other.

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And when Superman, Lois and Jonathan weren’t smacking seven shades of shit out of their most rude intruder (oh yes, Lois proves inventive / adaptive) in a surprising environment not of their own making, the family dynamic and its desire to nurture their son’s nature is heart-warming.

It’s just a shame about the repetitive, seven-shades-of-shit-smacking which goes on for eons and interests me not one jot.

More family, please!

SLH

Buy Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) 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.

King-Cat #76 (£3-99, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino

Beowulf h/c (£26-99, Image) by Santiago Garcia & David Rubin

Renato Jones: The One Percent Season 1 s/c (£8-50, Image) by Kaare Kyle Andrews

Hellblazer vol 15: Highwater (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cameron Stewart

Over The Garden Wall vol 1 (£14-99, Titan) by Pat McHale & Jim Campbell

Prometheus: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Andrea Mutti

Regular Show vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by KC Green & Allison Strejlau

Unfollow vol 2: God Is Watching (£13-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Marguerite Sauvage, Ryan Kelly

Aquaman vol 1: The Drowning s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & various

Batman vol 1: I Am Gotham s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King, Scott Snyder & David Finch, various

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Two Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor, Marguerite Bennett & various

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide vol 4 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Javi Garron

Black Panther vol 2: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Chris Sprouse

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna

Another Year Closer To Bingo And A Blue Rinse Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Congrats On Whatever It Was You Did Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Congrats! It’s Gonna Be Relentless Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Let’s Get Drunk And Pretend We Can Dance Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Mini Lined Notepad – Write That Shit Down (£4-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Party Till You’re Passed Out With Marker On Your Face Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thanks ‘N’ All That Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thinking Of You Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Make Me So Happy Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You May Be Old Now But You’re Still Cute Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News

SOPPY sketched in for sale

ITEM! We were contacted by one Emma Patching, a student at Trent University, asking us for some input on her interview with Philippa Rice who – with typical generosity – had made a point of mentioning us as keen promoters of new comics talent. I thought my response might amuse you.

“Discovering new talent is what keeps Page 45 fresh; nurturing it keeps the medium alive. It’s all very well promoting someone’s work when they’re already thriving; it’s far more important to help them when they need it the most, to introduce their work to a substantial new audience. Page 45 isn’t just local: our reviews’ reach is enormous and We Ship Worldwide.™

Soppy dinner

“Philippa introduced herself to us years ago, we fell in love, promoted her self-published comics like ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON, begged her to fill our window one year, then she discovered that Page 45 appeared – purely by accident – on page 45 of Philippa’s Nottingham-based photo-comic WE’RE OUT! Once SOPPY went global and stratospheric (hailed by the likes of George Takei) Philippa no longer needed us but, being Philippa, instead of linking to Amazon on her website, she thoughtfully and generously linked to Page 45’s website instead, so we made a fortune. You see, it pays to invest in someone’s talent. You get what you give etcetera.

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“Before that, though, when SOPPY was first published we invited Philippa and her SOPPY co-star Luke Pearson to sign with Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015. Luke was already massive thanks to his stellar all-ages graphic novel series HILDA, and the two of them combined pulled such a big crowd… including her own mother! How many mothers queue to get a book signed by their daughter and son-in-law? It was ridiculously cute. So cute that – in order to level out the karmic balance – we had to start culling kittens.

“I had a bag of them under the counter, and every 15 minutes or so I’d whip one out and wring its neck.

“It was a Good Day.”

Thanks ever so much, Emma!

Stephen @pagefortyfive

Soppy carapace

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2017 week one

January 4th, 2017

Featuring lots of lovely folk who firmly believe that Love Is Love.

Brigada vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Magnetic Press) by Enrique Fernandez.

“Is this how we’re going to die, Father?”
“No. This is how we’re going to live.”

Epic, full-on fantasy of the ilk which prominently features vast, twisted tree trunks, fortified towns, remote, lofty citadels, very big beasties, dark elves, disgruntled, beardy, armour-wearing dwarves wielding mighty stone mallets, magic, lost legends, misunderstood lore and a great deal of back-stabbing.

Enrique Fernandez is an artist’s artist whose vividly coloured art minded me in places of Kyle Baker once he’d discovered computers. Jostling with each other to sing his praises are STRAY TOASTERS and DAREDEVIL END OF DAYS’ Bill Sienkiewicz, PROMETHEA and SANDMAN: OVERTURE’s J.H. Williams III, and FELL’s Ben Templesmith.

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The dwarves are squat, stocky fellows and with enormous eyes and even more enormous, plumed eyebrows flowering from under their helmets. They’re disgruntled because they are lost and leaderless until Captain Ivro grudgingly agrees to shoulder their command. He does so grudgingly because they’re a bunch of ill-disciplined convicts. They’re lost – like the taller, Oeming-like elves – because on entering battle one morn, they stepped into The Mist and were transported into a patchwork land divided by that Mist through which travel is completely unpredictable: you could end up anywhere.

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At the heart of The Mist is said to lurk The Voiradeer, an entity of enormous destructive power, though no one has ever seen it. All they’ve seen is the terrifying side-effects as The Mist advances, ejecting its flock of vast, panicked beasts ensnared in its chaos which stampede out, crushing everyone in their path.

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Both the black elves and the dwarves and even the human population are being used by three sisters said to be witches who won’t stray far from their palace and its arcane repository of power for fear of losing their closely guarded and coveted magic deep down a central well. They have a Repopulation Plan whose numbers, they claim, will keep The Voirandeer at bay and drive back The Mist.

Meanwhile, with their own special ability to discern the veins of the land, the dwarves are dispatched to map the individual territories divided by The Mist, even though the relationship between those maps is fluid, in a constant state of flux. Think of them as individual patches of a quilt without their binding stitches, floating about freely in a viscous liquid.

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The same could be said about the tenuous treaties between the elves, dwarves and humans, and within each faction to boot.

Only one man has seen fit to conduct extensive research on The Voirandeer and its Mist: the father of human children Loon and Senda. As he did so he gathered the Children of Daurin, named after a mythical hero of folklore. But their father was lost many moons ago and the Children of Daurin have disappeared.

Now the Dwarves’ skills appear to be dissipating and with them their respect for authority.

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The sisters’ artificially extended, pink, moon-faced youth is as ugly as it sounds, while the dark elves’ designs are magnificent in their malevolence. However, the real stars are the landscapes with their stone escarpments and the swollen, serpentine roots, trunks and boughs of trees, some of which seem to be knotted with knuckled hands and wrists, perhaps the occasional facial feature, and there are additional, subtle flourishes like part of a small stone fortress at the top of page 51, ripped from its foundations by the sheer power of an invasive tree’s growth, then borne aloft.

Top left, below:

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This reprints the first two European editions in one album-sized hardcover, the second of which finishes with quite the disorientating twist.

SLH

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

Love Is Love (£7-50, IDW) by Many & Varied.

Love is a Good Thing. Love is a positive power which spreads joy.

Hatred is a small, nasty thing which festers inside and destroys all those who harbour it. Hatred is short-sighted, self-destructive and so often counter-productive.

Here’s a specific, delicious irony by way of example: there is a gay gene, and that gay gene would not have been passed this far down the human line had organised religion with its co-conspiratorial political and media weaklings not condemned, vilified and so ostracised those of us who are gay to the extent that many gay women and men felt so fearful of being found out or not fitting in that they paired off with those of the other (not opposite) sex and had children. For millennia.

Those preaching hatred under the lame excuse and umbrella of organised religion thereby perpetuated that very same quality which they still desire so fervently, fearfully and vociferously to wipe out.

What a bunch of numptees!

There is no fear here.

Instead, the dearly beloved of the comicbook industry have gathered here today to celebrate and enjoy this thing which we call life in all its caring, compassionate and constructive rather than destructive diversity.

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There is strength in numbers; do not underestimate that.

When we stick up for others unlike ourselves – when you as a straight girl or guy stick up for gay folks; when we as white men or women protest against racism; whenever all of us whether Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, Atheist or Agnostic confront religious intolerance; when we truly understand the plight and so fight for the rights of those being stigmatised, dismissed and financially cut adrift for being less able-bodied than ourselves – we send out the most massive signals of solidarity which do make a big difference.

There is strength in numbers. There is strength in solidarity, and one of the most resolute, inspirational and galvanising phrases ever invented is this:

Ne touche pas à mon pote!

Don’t touch my friend!

I am deeply, deeply moved by everyone who has so far snapped up a copy of this comic at Page 45 simply because you care. The great news is that this is far from a band-wagon gesture, but instead heart-felt with plenty to say in often witty, well thought-out ways.

We’ll get to that very shortly, but before I dismount from my hobby horse, let me say this: the vast majority of homophobia isn’t even that: it consists of careless slurs which are not even believed by those giving such casual credence to a hatred of those who love… and it is done simply because they seek peer approval. That is why a message like this is important: it says we do not approve, and you will look a complete and utter dick if you continue to be so stupid and small.

Love is love.

Right, I can’t cover everything (this is a surprisingly long read) but let’s crack on with the praise:

One of my favourite pieces – because it made me smile when I needed it the most – was written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir then illustrated by Emma Vieceli. Two proud parents phone their son as he sits alone and aghast at night for the barely comprehensible news is flooding in over the television on June 12th 2016 that 49 individuals have been shot dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Tears stream down his face. The phone rings. As they swap the handset between them, sharing their love, concern and pride at their son’s courage in being himself, the mum and dad also swap complementary qualifiers, and that’s what made me smile: and it sounded like a very real conversation to me, you’ll see! There are still tears afterwards, but they are different tears. Parents, eh? Awww.

It’s preceded by a very simple but striking page of “split-screen” contrasts by Daniel Beals and David Lafuente called ‘Hand Me Down’ in which two much younger children are separated from play and taken home, one to a loving him whose father sits with his son as the same news rolls in and explains why some guys are kissing:

“Because they are sad and they love each other, son.”

It’s perfectly simple.

On the opposite side of the street, the son is left alone by this father and grandfather to overhear their reactions.

“Thin the herd. ’Bout time,” says his grandfather.
“Yeah. Faggots.”

“Faggots,” whispers the child, with wide, impressionable eyes, absorbing this learned behaviour.

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Paul Jenkins and Robert Hack made me chuckle with their hate-mongering placards at an incite rally (“God Hates Dogs” “God Hates Cats”), as did Matthew Rosenberg and Amancay Nahuelpan with Matthew’s stream of robust and self-deprecating parenthetical asides fearing that he’s ill-qualified to comment, immediately after which he proves he’s supremely well equipped with a single simple sentence.

Far from obvious in its angle is Eddie Gorodetsky and Jesus Inglesias’ contribution which broke my tiny heart. I’ll leave you to absorb its exact implications for yourself, but it’s about a boy whose dad was murdered in just such a hate crime, leaving behind more than one mourner.

Devon T. Morales and Rags Morales’ love letter clutched in a dead, bloodied hand was as beautiful and tragic as its final embrace, while Dave Justus and Travis Moore prove they have a heart of gold when they play with your expectations in a gun shop. No, they really, really do, especially with the final line “Don’t forget your ammo” and what is being held aloft. It’s that kind of lateral thinking I truly applaud (and am in awe of) within an anthology which could so easily have been one long stream of didactic finger-pointing, just like my introduction.

Instead this is an overwhelmingly positive comic celebrating courage and commitment and the refusal to be cowed. In Bendis & Oeming’s case this takes the form of a silent double-page spread set down a gay nightclub full of love, lust, friendship and the delirium of dance, all of which deserve the loudest of celebrations.

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Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, this is a benefit book. The publisher’s blurb:

“The comic book industry comes together to honour those killed in Orlando this year. From IDW Publishing, with assistance from DC Entertainment, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talents in comics – mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world. All material has been kindly donated, from the creative to the production, with ALL PROCEEDS going to the victims, survivors and their families via EQUALITY FLORIDA…

“It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is that you love.”

The last thing I’d want to do, then, is rain on anyone’s Parade, but I’d just leave you with this sobering historical context from Justin Hall here, who caught up with comicbook creator Howard Cruse and his husband Ed Sedarbaum two days after the Orlando massacre when they recalled that, following an arson attack on a New Orleans gay bar in the 1970s which killed over 30 individual human beings with lives and loved ones, some of the victims were buried in unmarked graves because their families were too ashamed to claim them.

SLH

Buy Love Is Love and read the Page 45 review here

Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by The Etherington Brothers.

“Yes! Brilliantly gross! You scared them off and taught them a new word!”

As I’ve said so often that it’s almost my trademark, all education should be entertainment.

And vice-versa.

Here you will be starved of neither.

“Are you talking about having an adventure?”
“Nope, it’s much more likely to be a series of horrendous, near-death experiences!”

Well, that’s okay because Don is a dude who’s already dropped dead.

He drowned face-down in bowl of oxtail soup following a split-second chain of Junior School accidents involving custard, a playing card, a not-so-caged hamster, a caretaker, his step-ladder, and a great big puddle of puke.

Our far-from-fortunate schoolboy promptly fell off this mortal coil and into the netherworld now known as Broilerdoom, acquiring a free peroxide into the bargain. In LONG GONE DON AND THE MONSTROUS UNDERWORLD, the first eye-boggling adventure of pun-packed, mirth-making mentalism, Don met many a monster and allies too.

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On the “plus” side was Viktor Rictus, the sentient squid; Safina the thief; Castanet the crow with his fear of fights, flights and heights; deposed ruler Ripley who’s now mayor of The Slums; and a rude dude called Lewd who owns Demon’s Drink, a tavern which (it claims) “Cures What Ales You”.

On the mad, bad and shouty front we have Corpse City’s recent wrongful leader, a demon called Spode; Valush, his right-hand wraith; and now Bone-Dry Henson, a moustachioed Mexican skeleton.

At least, I think he’s Mexican. He might be Spanish. He’s definitely devilish and hell-bent on robbing The Slums’ citizens of their totems and so stealing their sanity – and it wasn’t all there to begin with.

On top of all that, tomb-toothed Thanatos – the gigantic, green lamprey-like creature which may contain the only portal able to propel our young hero home – has become ensnared by General Spode’s moat. He too has been robbed – but of what?!

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Pre-teen excellence like all PHOENIX COMIC COLLECTIONS, this boasts the energy and exuberant cartooning of René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s ASTERIX. I’m not even kidding you: I’m ever so slightly pleased with myself at finding such an apposite comparison. The degree of detail is completely unnecessary and frankly insane, but it’s a testament to how much the Etherington Brothers respect their young readers that they are willing to go those many extra miles to make this such visually thrilling fare, nor do they stint on the script. This is so dense in its best, value-for-money sense that parents can rest assured that their sprogs will be fully absorbed for far longer than almost any comparative comic.

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There is, for example, a single panel in which Thanatos is persuaded to disgorge the considerable contents of its cavernous stomach including an early, experimental tricycle plane and a farmyard tractor. The lettering positively bellows at you and the colouring must have taken forever. Indeed the colouring comes with its own high energy levels, flashed-through as it is with bursts of yellow, pollen-like light.

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For further recommended reading from Los Bros Etherington-os please see the most excellent puzzle adventures VON DOOGAN AND THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN MONKEY and VON DOOGAN AND THE GREAT AIR RACE from Lorenzo, and Robin’s grin-inducing FREAKY & FEARLESS prose.

SLH

Buy Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army and read the Page 45 review here

Lovers In The Garden (£8-99, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Anya Davidson…

“Hey handsome.lovers-in-the-garden-cover You drinking alone?”
“I know who you are.”
“Oh yeah? Who am I?”
“You’re Elyse Saint-Michel. You write for Chance Magazine. You spent six months riding with the Savage Nomads for a story about black biker gangs. You once snuck onto Henry Kissinger’s yacht disguised as a cleaning lady.”
“Yeah, well, I’m through stunt reporting. I’ve been following a story about the heroin epidemic for over a year now. I’ve got dirt on high-level officials in the DEA and the NYPD. When this story gets printed, the mayor’s gonna shit out of his dick-hole.”

She has a way with words, our Elyse, and she loves her hard liquor. She also happens to have struck up a conversation in this particular divebar with Flashback, a hippie hitman with a huge Afro working for one of the very heroin dealers she’s trying to expose, the dapper art aficionado Mister Dog. Meanwhile, Flashback’s partner Shephard has fallen hard in love with a girl he just met at a strip joint, and wants out. Shame she happens to be an undercover cop.

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Yes… I don’t think it takes any great stretch of imagination to see this semi-farcical crime caper set in the seedy side of 1975 New York City is going to end dramatically. The bullets are going to fly every which way. The only question is who is going to be left standing, or at least crawling mortally wounded along the floor…

It’s a curious mix stylistically, like Jim Rugg’s AFRODISIAC mashed up with Brubaker and Phillips’ CRIMINAL, for make no mistake this is a highly entertaining, violent crime yarn. It’s just one that can’t be taken remotely seriously, partly also, I suppose, due to Anya Davidson’s art style which I found a bit reminiscent of both Jeffrey A MATTER OF LIFE Brown and Noah FANTE BUKOWSKI Van Sciver! It does definitely capture the crazy vibe of classic ‘70s flicks like DIRTY HARRY, though, and actually, the more I think about it, the crazy patter of the hitmen makes me think of the brilliant BULLET TO THE HEAD penned by Matz that was somehow sadly strangulated into a truly turgid film.

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This is exactly the sort of off-the wall-material and creator (apparently Anya Davidson draws comics in the attic of a derelict building full of racoons on Chicago’s South Side if her website is to be believed, and frankly I see no reason why not) that Retrofit and Big Planet Comics specialise in championing, and which, thanks to our friends at Avery Hill, we now have ready access to. Well done all around.

JR

Buy Lovers In The Garden and read the Page 45 review here

Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 2 (£26-99, DC) by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle & Guy Davis, Vince Locke, various.

Previously in the highly recommended SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE BOOK 1:

Troubling period pieces for a very troubled period leading inexorably to the Second World War, this is crime fiction populated by remote or cruel parents, brutal, often sexual sadists, their helpless victims and broken progeny, all in a dark, post-Prohibition America.

Rarely outside of FROM HELL has a comic been so successfully steeped in and anchored to its era. Guy Davis’ slightly flabby faces, drab clothing, gritty textures and impenetrable night are as accomplished as Campbell’s were for Moore’s Victorian graphic novel, and Wagner and Seagle served up mystery after mystery which the reader could actively engage in solving before the main protagonists.

Wesley Dodds is the apparently dry and studious heir to a now deceased businessman, perfectly at home with judges and lawyers. But all is not as it seems, for Wesley’s sleep is troubled by enigmatic nightmares which compel him to rise and follow their elusive leads.

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Far across town Dian Belmont is both a romantic and a deep thinker, something rare in her socialite circle. Fiercely independent, she also has a strong will and a reckless streak which her doting District Attorney father does his kindly but inadequate best to curb. Dian’s life is one of gossip, privilege and parties, but she’s in for a rude awakening – and about to meet the man of her dreams…

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The return of artist Guy Davis makes all the difference for ‘Vamp’ as a young man, womaniser and socialite, is attacked in the act of sex, his mouth, nose and urethra all sewn shut, and his body drained of blood. When Wesley climbs the 1930s fire escapes to dig around at the scene of the crime, he finds a matchbox from a club where his new girlfriend, the worryingly adventurous Dian Belmont, hangs out. Why are more bodies turning up with similar, increasingly brutal wounds, and is there a connection between the victims?

More racial segregation, sexual repression and dark, dirty alleyways, the balance between crime and romance, secrets and slow revelations is perfectly judged, and I love the way that Dian’s determined to be open-minded, yet somehow struggles to live up to her own aspirations – in this instance, as it all grows a little sapphic after smoking some weed.

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Following ‘ The Scorpion’ Vince Locke is the perfect textural match for Davis’ period artwork in ‘Dr.Death’. Further acts of slaughter compel Wesley Dodds to stalk the streets and sewers, whilst both he and his girlfriend Dian adjust to the fact that she now knows what he does, if not quite why.

It’s a series that’s thick with intelligent, internal monologue because that’s the nature of this secretive, self-contained and perpetually soul-searching man, but now that Wesley has someone to talk to, will it prove his salvation or will what he does tear the two apart? That was as much of a hook as any of the crimes, for we’d quickly come to care for this kindly couple in a very unkind world.

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Oh, and if you imagine that Dian is the only who will find herself falling short in her inclusivity, future developments will find Wesley taking a long hard look at himself – and other men – too.

SLH

Buy Sandman Mystery Theatre Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon.

Swift, impeccably choreographed, no-nonsense action thriller starring The Implacable And Efficient One looking a lot leaner, lither and younger than he was in Garth Ennis’ PUNISHER MAX.

But he’s still all frowns and scowls. Disapproval is Frank Castle’s default setting.

Gone are that series’ real-world politics, nor is this the comedy burlesque of Ennis & Dillon’s PUNISHER: WELCOME BACK FRANK, but under SOUTHERN CROSS‘ Becky Cloonan you were never likely to see Frank Castle mixing it up with Marvel’s superheroes. What you will find instead are drugs (more enhancing that recreational – unlike steroids you won’t have to waste time lifting weights to ‘enjoy’ their beefed-up berserker benefits), drug development, drug runners, and the DEA in pursuit of all parties after Castle’s last-minute intervention on their long, drawn-out stake-out with a fast-tracked justice of his own which saved American tax payers a considerable sum of money.

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As I’ve written before, not for Frank are the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and you will find a phenomenal number of headshots here. Exploding skulls was one of Dillon’s many fortes, which was odd for such a lovely man. One of his others was quiet conversation which he could make so nuanced and riveting that I would have happily enjoyed a 120-page graphic novel drawn by Steve set entirely down a pub.

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There are very few quiet conversations here, except perhaps that particularly tender scene between a father and his daughter as he lovingly straps her into a vest rigged with dynamite.

Frank Martin’s colours are so rich and warm that he even makes lethal green mists look like something you wouldn’t mind bathing in as a skin tonic / moisturiser.

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The psychopaths are as usual all present and correct. Obviously there’s the Punisher himself, but also a dapper and ever so dishy young man whose grooming regime extends to a particular penchant for facial aftercare which PREACHER fans may find familiar. Admittedly the aftercare is for other people’s faces, and I don’t foresee there being any adequate returns policy under these specific circumstances.

For goodness sake do ignore the back-cover blurb which is so inaccurate in its claims of psychological examination that I can only imagine it to be the result of a long, drawn-out game of Chinese Whispers, whipped together at the last minute by an underpaid, corporate hype-monkey. Enjoy the glorious grotesquery instead.

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R.E. the cover: I never saw a skull. Instead I saw a man with a Max Wall haircut which I cannot un-see. And now, nor can you.

SLH

Buy The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rivers Of London: Night Witch (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan…

“We’re the police.
“By definition, we all about systems, procedures, order…
“But the irony is… that what we really like about the job is…
“When you wake up in the morning…
“You literally don’t know what is going to happen next.”

Of volume one, RIVERS OF LONDON: BODY WORK I wrote…

I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the Rivers Of London prose books penned by Ben Aaronovitch, but I have had a fair few customers recommend them, so that probably explains why this series was relatively popular in comics form. So much so in fact, that has been expanded from a mini-series into an ongoing one. In a nutshell it’s basically Inspector Morse meets HELLBLAZER. Dapper, grizzled, humourless, veteran cop Inspector Nightingale and his amusing, hardworking sidekick Peter Grant fight crime in the big smoke. Except the twist is the crimes are all of the supernatural variety. They even have their own division, the Special Assessment Unit, known colloquially within the Met, and viewed with equally measures of suspicion and derision by the rank and file plod, as ‘Falcon’ or ‘The Folly.’ 

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But after enjoying BODY WORK and now this volume immensely, I think I may well have to pick up the prose books. This arc once again involves a relatively complicated plot involving not one, not two, but three kidnappings, and one other attempted one. Well, two I suppose, ostensibly by Russian mobsters intent on extorting hard cash from a London-based former Oligarch. They’ve taken his young daughter, though his wife seems utterly convinced the abduction was perpetuated by a Leshy – a type of woodland Russian spirit akin to the British Green Man and thus not often seen in Kent!

She therefore reaches out to an intriguing new magical character with a familial connection, introduced here in her own very strange circumstances, one Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, a Russian WW2 female soldier from the mystical Night Witches brigade (not to be confused with the real-life Night Witches pilots) who, much like Inspector Nightingale, shows remarkable powers of longevity. She’s not particularly minded to help find the missing girl, at least not directly, hence Nightingale and Peter Grant are pulled in by the powers that be to help the well connected Russians.

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It is, of course, not remotely as simple as that, with multiple twists and turns provided by the various magical characters and, of course, some good old fashioned detective work from Peter Grant. I shall say no more for the avoidance of spoilers. Lee Sullivan returns on the art, and once again reminds me of Chris Weston.

JR

Buy Rivers Of London: Night Witch and read the Page 45 review here

Hookjaw #1 (£2-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & Conor Boyle…

“Ship’s minion Mag,hookjaw-1-cover meet Big Bertha. Quite possibly the dominant £$%&in’ member of the world-famous Virgin Brides. Ain’t she a beaut?”
“Think that’s a good contact, Professor. And… what do you mean, possibly dominant? Don’t you know? Over.”
“I mean there’s only so much £$%&in’ social observation you can do with binoculars and fishblood, love.”

I think, given the comic is called HOOKJAW, that might possibly turn out to be untrue by the end of this first issue…

But long before then you’ll probably be enthralled by the antics of Professor Leyland and her merry crew who are looking for evidence of cooperative behaviour in packs of Great Whites. They’ve been tracking their chosen chums, with the aid of chum, monitoring their movements in the Somali coastal region, famed for being one of the most polluted ocean regions on the planet. Now, what else is Somalia renowned for…? Ah yes… pirates.

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Boarded by AK47-wielding buccaneers, you might think Professor Leyland would be a trifle perturbed but no, it’s all old hat to her. There follows a hilarious sequence where the cabin boy, a local lad, is interpreting between the pirates and crew. Well, “interpreting” might be putting a Malcom-Tucker-sized spin on it, given the artistic licence he’s applying to both questions and answers. Very amusing.

But that’s all brought to a rather abrupt halt by the unexpected arrival of a third party. Nope, not Hookjaw yet, though rest assured he is following verrrry closely behind, and it seems this shark already has developed a taste for seal. U.S. Navy Seal, that is…

Penned by Si CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE / THE SPIRE / CRY HAVOC Spurrier, with his usual trademark dark humour accompanying the (fish) guts and gore, I am already as snagged as the titular shark. I’ll admit I was rather sceptical about the need for reviving a forty-year-old classic but then Humanoids’ CARTHAGO with its equally large, jagged teeth has been an instant hit here. I can’t believe it’s truly that long ago I was avidly reading HOOKJAW as a young kid in ACTION, bemused by the fact that humans, rather than the titular, flesh-hungry character, seemed to be the bad guys.

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Conor Boyle’s art wouldn’t look out of place in an arc of CROSSED, actually, and so is perfect for this title. One thing I am a bit puzzled about – and I have had the exact same comment from a customer already – is that Hookjaw himself seems to have had some unnecessary cosmetic dental work. Whereas before the hook projected out of his skin just below his bottom row of teeth, in the middle, hence the name, now what he has is a long, straight harpoon that is stuck through the side of his head protruding directly out of his mouth. It looks as though, were the barb to catch on anything, the harpoon would pull straight out. Odd.

Anyway, it’s not going to spoil my enjoyment of this title, which I suspect will only be a mini-series or two. It was a fairly limited premise forty years ago. I think there were only three story arcs if memory serves and I can’t imagine even a writer as talented as Si Spurrier can come up with too much to keep it going for too long. So I shall enjoy the nostalgia dip whilst it lasts. Now, where did I leave my can of shark repellent…

JR

Buy Hook Jaw #1 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.

Rolling Blackouts h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Sarah Glidden

The Bird King: An Artists Notebook h/c (£17-99, Arthur A Levine Books) by Shaun Tan

Invader Zim vol 3 (£17-99, Oni Press) by Jhonen Vasquez & Various

Catwoman vol 6: Final Jeopardy s/c (£26-99, DC) by Will Pfeifer & Alvaro Lopez, various

Grayson vol 5: Spirals End s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King, various & Roge Antonio, Carmine Di Giandomenico, various

Star Wars: Han Solo (£14-99, Marvel) by Marjorie Liu & Mark Brooks

Green Arrow vol 1: Death & Life Of Oliver Queen s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra

Superman vol 1: Son Of Superman s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Dough Mahnke, various

Psycho Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Midori Gotou & Natsuo Sai

Morning Glories vol 10 (£13-99, Image ) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch, Alex Maleev, various

Clean Room vol 2: Exile s/c (£13-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt

Johnny Red vol 1: The Hurricane (£17-99, Titan) by Garth Ennis & Keith Burns

Attack On Titan vol 20 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Berserk vol 1 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

The Totally Awesome Hulk vol 2: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Alan Davis, Mike Del Mundo, various

Spider-Gwen vol 2: Weapon Of Choice s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez

The Punisher vol 1: On The Road s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon

Deadpool vol 5: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot

New Avengers: A.I.M vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi

News

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ITEM! In its entirely: ‘Statueque’, a short storm written and directed by Neil Gaiman, starring Bill Nighy and Amanda Palmer with music by Sxip Shirey.

Please scroll down six or seven screens.

Although, you know, Sxip Shirey’s entire site is pretty inspirational.

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ITEM! On shutting up shop for the year on New Year’s Eve, I took a photo of the shop floor with the lights out. Pretty eerie, eh?

Although if we rented out overnight hammocks with reading lights, I suspect we’d see no shortage of swingers.

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week three

December 21st, 2016

Featuring Rob Davis, Sophie Campbell, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Kelly Thompson, Leandro Romero, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, more.

Page 45 Festive Opening Times in the News Section below!

The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis.

“Making sense is can-openers-daughter-coveroverrated… It’s just confirming what people already think. Making new sense is more important.”

Making eloquent new sense is Rob Davis’ forte; making a nuisance is Vera Pike’s.

“Mum wouldn’t tell me what was going on. She wouldn’t speak to me at all. I tried asking Dad, but she confiscated him and locked him in a kitchen draw.”

We first met Vera in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, my favourite book of that year, wherein we learned that although it is commonly acknowledged that children are the products of their parents – both by nature and nurture – in The Bear Park the parents are very much the product of their children. They are fashioned by their children before they are five in the Motherless Oven itself. They can be quite complex and caring. Certainly they are sentient.

Scarper Lee’s Mum was a barber-shop hairdryer and ever so maternal. Vera Pike’s Mum is the Weather Clock, Grave Acre’s bipedal, fully mobile, ruthless, dictatorial Prime Minister. She doesn’t do maternal. 

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Her Dad is a can opener. The sort with a bayonet blade you have to thrust in to puncture whatever it is you want opening, then wrangle the lid off by force. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

You will find everything here so very familiar, yet looked at anew, askew or turned on its head. Words may have multiple meanings depending on intonation or a minor adjustment. Almost every panel demands a quotation, so dense is the wit on display. Perspectives are important, the fresher the better, so here is the second in Rob Davis’ trilogy, dovetailing precisely into the first to illuminate elements of what went before and leave us gasping desperately for more.

It is a phenomenal work full of surprises which end up making perfect sense.

For a start – just like THE MOTHERLESS OVEN – it explores the generational gap opened up even further by the conceit that all mums and dads are constructs of their children. As mechanical objects, most are dismissively pigeon-holed in their parental role rather than regarded as individuals, then consigned to the scrap head once that role is over.

“Parents are made to make children feel guilt. They exist to deny your freedom so they can make you believe it is theirs to give.”

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That’s Vera’s take, and she has indeed been denied her freedom by being shut away in Grave Acre’s equivalent of Number 10, to be home-schooled initially by the household Ink Gods. These are vocal bottles of indelible ink, and I promise that they’re making sense right from the very first panel they appear in, however random their proclamations might sound. It’s that sort of book.

It’s also the sort of book which presents multiple perspectives. Here’s Vera’s mother:

“They say that parents exist to give children something to rebel against, something that prevents them rebelling against anything that really matters… But what happens when a parent rebels…?”

And it is most definitely a great big book of rebellion. Vera Pike is welcome whirlwind of vital rebellion – a natural impulse in the young – but she’s not alone. Not everyone is content to be constrained by their roles. Most parents choose to have children. As we have seen, that’s not the case in The Bear Park and, without giving too much a way, there is a satisfyingly circular structure to so much history here.

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Time to pull back: THE MOTHERLESS OVEN was set in The Bear Park, a working class area with very specific and absolute boundaries. There was nowhere else. There were plenty of parents, but no brothers or sisters that I can recall. Instead of birthdays, everyone had a deathday. Scarper Lee’s was imminent.

THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER begins in the much more affluent Grave Acre where everyone has a double-barrelled name and we see no such parents. Indeed the reigning (and raining) Weather Clock is terrified of being referred to in public as “Mum”. It may not surprise you to learn that it’s partly a class thing, but I won’t explain why.

In The Bear Park’s schools they teach Circular History and Mythmatics. In St. Sylvia’s School of Bleak Prospects and Suicide, the boarding school to which Vera is banished after a big breach of etiquette, they teach Probable History and Terminal Vertices.

“Everyone paid attention in Terminal Vertices, not because Miss Cavendish-Hole was any less dull, but because your life depended on it.”

In Grave Acre you aren’t assigned a deathday; you plot your own suicide graph using desolation logarithms found in Cullculus. You choose your fate. Vera Pike chooses not to have one. She hides her graph, unplotted, under the mattress.

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It may be by now that those who’ve already read THE MOTHERLESS OVEN are starting to see the connections. They’re ever so clever once revealed, and I’ll just jog them along a little here when Vera speaks up during a class in Hauntology where they’re studying The Bear Park and deathdays.

“Sir, how do we get to Bear Park?”

She’s met with roars of laughter.

“C’mon, Pike. It’s as impossible to travel from Grave Acre to The Bear Park as it is to travel from today to yesterday.”

But Vera’s Mum originally came from Bear Park before she got ideas above her station, as did Vera and her Dad. So what’s up with that?

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The art is deliciously British with nods at St. Sylvia’s to older boarding school comics and if I detected a Gorillaz / Jamie Hewlett vibe in THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, in THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER I’m minded of the likes of Steve Parkhouse in THE BOJEFFRIES SAGA and, while watching the Weather Clock herself – with her spikes, claws, long, curved neck and grotesque in-your-face face – I couldn’t help thinking of Gerald Scarf’s work for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.

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It’s partly on those grounds that I couldn’t shake the notion that the Weather Clock and the Can Opener were riffs on a strident Margaret and a cowering Dennis Thatcher, even if it’s the Weather Clock constantly sozzled after using her husband to uncork the bottles. Talk about enabling.

Speaking of ascensions, I loved Vera’s growth in the book from a baby-faced brat with bunches, through uniformed pudding-bowl private-school girl, to chic, commanding rabble-rouser by simply untucking her shirt and ditching the pinafore dress.

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The animation of the Ink Gods – the glass, stoppered jars sat on small pedestals – is exquisite and all the more remarkable for being accomplished purely by the lettering. They don’t move, but they are emphatically alive.

If THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER dovetails as wickedly as I’ve asserted with THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, you may be wondering how. I’ve barely mentioned the latter’s narrator, Scarper Lee, and Castro Smith not once. Castro, you may recall, has Medicated Inference Syndrome kept in check with a surgically implanted Brain Aid which stops all the signals becoming noise.

It is Castro who can see all the connections. He figured out who Vera’s Mum was long before everyone else. He’s writing a Book of Forks.

“Forks are choices, forks are everywhere. My book is a theory of everything.”

As THE MOTHERLESS OVEN concluded we left Vera and Castro alone together on the other side of The Bear Park’s fence, while Scarper’s deathday was still looming large. So how do we get there from here? I’m not telling you.

“My interest is piqued – you are a source of intrigue, Mr. Smith. What is a Book of Forks and what can it offer me?”
“It’s an encyclopedia of all possible histories and a post-mortem of all possible futures. It explains deathdays, how weather works, where Gods came from, why the Immortals died out and how to repair a kettle.”

He can be quite practical, can Castro.

“The forks… three paths into one… one path into three…”

Next: Rob Davis concludes his own Book of Forks.

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At the time of typing, thanks to Sam Humphrey at SelfMadeHero, all our copies come with beautiful, free bookplates signed by Rob Davis.

“This is where the end starts…”

SLH

Buy The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

“Uneasy friendships between a group of hesitant, second-guessing, slightly paranoid girls at college,” I wrote originally of volume two but, having now read all six WET MOONs so far, I only wish they were more paranoid, for one within them isn’t showing her true, seething colours.

The vulnerabilities are beautifully observed, as are the explorations of sexuality.

For these new editions I only had to adjust my WET MOON VOL 1 a little, while adding a new introduction for this did develop in most unexpected directions, and on re-reading what I wrote here I was delighted to discover that Campbell had continued to fool me and I still wasn’t looking in all the right directions. Before I forget I should mention that there’s a who’s who of WET MOON in the back should you need it to keep up.

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After a quick flashback to High School, the second book picks up almost immediately after the first.

Cleo’s still finding messages left lying around campus saying “Cleo eats it” and one of the chief tensions in this is whether indeed she might be persuaded. She’s just bumped into Myrtle (literally) whilst fleeing a class containing her ex-boyfriend, and their new friendship – though as tentative as any of the others – does seem close with Myrtle appearing to be less judgemental than the rest of the crowd who could all Bitch for Britain. Audrey certainly “eats it”, but her new friendship with Kinzoku (who does actually appear to have a clue when it comes to love and friendships) threatens to unsettle her relationship with Beth. Meanwhile Trilby – the most mean-spirited and spiteful of the cast last book, who did actually try it on with Cleo – has got herself a boyfriend, but he doesn’t seem too confident in the bed department, whilst Cleo herself is disappointed to find out that pretty-boy Glen is [REDACTED].

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I think I’ve just typed “friendship” four times already, so blatantly that’s what this series is about, along with body image and sexuality. The cast are constantly checking themselves out in the mirror and pawing themselves, changing hair styles, and then occasionally changing back based on approval or disapproval or anticipation of either.

Some of them are still getting to know each other so there’s a lot of naturalistic behaviour like languishing about on beds and sofas, exchanging crushes, secrets and scars, metaphorical and otherwise.

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But what about the horror hinted at last time? Yes, that kicks up a notch too, and all those elements seem to meet in Zia, the girl with one arm who photographs herself lying on the ground as if dead, covered in mud and garbage; Fall who wanders around with her mouth open near the swamp, cooking burgers for her mute, scarred and blood-drooling Pa; and fetishist Fern, the uber-rich bald girl whose back bares a butcher’s brace of meat hooks. What is up with all that?

I leave you to see if anything becomes clearer for yourselves, but for me this book just opened things up further and I’m all the happier for that. As I wrote last time, Campbell has an eye for the more interesting female body shape, and relishes big, fleshy pierced lips and scowls. Her lines grow softer as she grows into the series, the eyes widen to become pools of doting and doubt, while her command of tones becomes rich and delicious.

It’s mesmerising, and actually very pretty except when they’re being ugly to each other.

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SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

Now wedescender-vol-3-cover pause for reflection.

Unfortunately not all the robots’ metallic surfaces are as shiny as they used to be or were intended to be. Good old humans, always tarnishing and sullying stuff with their selfishness, disregard or outright viciousness.

So it’s time for five warped recollections mirroring and marrying the present with the past, linking up with each other in unexpectedly intricate ways, then pushing events forwards far enough to make our wait for the next volume excruciatingly  tantalising.

It’s my favourite instalment so far. At least two of these chapters explore the past of protagonists you won’t have imagined even have a back story, but they do, and one of those is of critical importance to what’s gone before and why they’ve said what they’ve said, when what they said I dismissed  as mere whimsy. It’s not.

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For extensive but non-spoilery analysis of the story and craft so far please see our reviews of DESCENDER VOL 1 and DESCENDER VOL 2.

As I’ve mentioned before, none of this would be half so effective or affecting had Lemire and Nguyen between them not made us care so profoundly for young Tim-21. Developed to be a personal companion to humans, he is compassion personified, his devotion matched only by the family’s robotic dog Bandit, as you’ll discover here. Originally Tim-21 awoke lost and alone, save for said dog, on a mining colony ten years after a disaster which wiped out all the colonists except one who went on to… well… none of it’s pretty.

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Ten years ago a cataclysmic disaster also struck each of the nine Core Planets, in retaliation to which all robotic life forms were outlawed and as many as possible have been hunted down to be thrown into furnaces while still functioning. Not everyone concurs with this, while some of the most passionate anti-bot bounty hunters are those you hope would most be not. These two paragraphs may be related.

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Eventually we met Tim-22 on the cover, as did Tim-21, and they seemed to hit it off immediately until things took a worrying turn for the worst. But to some extent or another we are all the products of our past, humans and androids alike, and once again Nguyen and Lemire have here in these flashbacks imbued Tim-22 with far more tender humanity than those around him. It is very, very, very upsetting.

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Each of the memories flash back as far as ten (or in one telling instance seventeen) years ago, before leaping forwards in jolts until they conjoin with the present and wham, we’re off again. I particularly admired the three almost identical panels which moved forwards first then days, then ten months, then ten years.

That’s all you’re getting. Please see the two previous reviews.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 3: Singularities and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leandro Romero with Jordie Bellaire.

“Five A.M. is my nightmare.
“It shouldn’t even be a time.”

This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.

It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmm…. abs.

Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees in her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.

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In righting wrongs master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.

I am not at all obsessed with abs.

Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.

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I never thought I would type this, but I rate this right up there with her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE which remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.

This first issue at least is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).

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Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.

“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”

We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others.

“I don’t do redemption.”punisher-max-vol-4-cover

Ennis wraps up his impressive ten-year run on the implacable one with a finale that’s as thoughtful as it is furious and quite possibly the best thing he has ever committed to paper. He has something to say and it’s well worth hearing.

Before we get to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’, however, although the vast majority of his MAX run was serious stuff dealing with real-world horror like sex-slave trafficking, there’s a brief return to the light relief Garth gave us initially in the likes of WELCOME BACK, FRANK.

Being a MAX title, however, we are well into the realms of the outrageous, almost as O.T.T. as THE BOYS. Sticking at least with the geopolitical, it’s a Central American revolutionary romp starring Marvel’s biggest, baddest – and most surprisingly liberal – big black mo-fo, Barracuda. Evidence includes an inference of two of the chapter headings (“A Mouth Is Just A Mouth,” “Curiouser And Bi-Curiouser”) and the fact that Wanda, his co-conspirator with a constant mouthful, is the world’s most lethal transvestite.

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You don’t have to know who actor Christopher Walken is to understand his adversarial role, but make no mistake, it is Christopher Walken. It’s not just his impeccable likeness by Parlov, it’s also in the speech patterns as perfectly presented as any of Dave Sim’s guest stars’ in CEREBUS. Nor do you have to understand the intricacies of haemophilia to grasp that protecting a mobster’s boy with that particular condition in the middle of a gunship assault on the President’s villa is going to be… problematic.

Barracuda, of course, has his own long-game in play which should net him a small fortune, but he may not want to slap his own back – or anyone else’s – too quickly. It’s funny how Barracuda always ends up all at sea, but he usually figures something out.

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By ‘Long Cold Dark’ you can tell that Ennis is wrapping things up by the number of bodies he’s counting. Yes, it’s another bloody massacre with a particularly spectacular claymore trap and its three-storey detonation at the top of a skyscraper. Artist Howard Chaykin done good there.

It’s been thirty years since Frank Castle last knew “the terror of being a parent”:  the wonder yet constant worry for your offspring’s safety. In Frank’s case he had very good cause for worry and now he does so again because Barracuda’s done some digging around and found the ultimate bait. Insane levels of violence precede and succeed a cleverly constructed, tense game of cat and mouse with a young girl’s life at stake.

Goran’s great: under him both brutes are enormous powerhouses. I think I’ve described him before as a sort of John Buscema who takes liberties, and the result is a carnage that charges away at a rapid rate of shots.

So it is we come to ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’.

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A book is being written about Vietnam and certain soldiers who served there at the time of the Valley Forge Massacre where Castle was the only man left standing. It’s a book whose interviewees have much to say about race, contemporary social conditions and an army at war, while its writer, Michael Goodwin, reminds his readers about the recent revelations regarding the false premises on which war was declared that time as well when we illegally invaded Iraq.

It also harks back to Ennis’ ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1, and it all ties together in the final issue, trust me.

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Meanwhile, those ex-army chiefs who are looking forward to benefiting financially as board members on private construction companies or security firms in future armed conflict, those cowards who’ve hidden behind mercenaries like the Barracuda in their efforts to take Castle out and with him the knowledge of the treason they’ve committed (see ‘Mother Russia’ in PUNISHER MAX COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 2), they know Frank will be coming for them next. But one of them discerns a weakness they can exploit: Frank will never knowingly fire on American soldiers.

I should just add that I’m tempted to transcribe the whole “Buffalo Soldier” excerpt from Michael Goodwin’s book as mentioned above in which he interviews the sister of the black youth his own white brother befriended whilst on their tour of duty in Vietnam. She’s eloquent, stirring and I did type our four paragraphs of keenly observed truth before letting you off.

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The collection is rounded off with three earlier snap-shots of what passes for Frank Castle’s life which were originally collected in ‘From First To Last’, featuring youthful revenge and custodial revenge and post-nuclear revenge. He’ll have his revenge, will our Frank.

‘The End’ was early warning that Ennis had set his sights on having something to say about war in the world: who’s been instigating it, why they’ve been doing it and how far other nations can be bombed into submission before they retaliate with apocalyptic consequences for all but those self-same perpetrators. He fitted the Punisher into the story in a manner which made perfect sense.

Frank Castle is incarcerated when the story opens, and that’s how he survives the nuclear strike: in a purpose-built bunker deep under the penitentiary. Only a few manage to join him, but it’s interesting company which sends Frank back to the surface with one last mission in mind. It’s not a rescue mission.

Richard Corben’s vision of a post-nuclear-holocaust America is the stuff of science fiction nightmares, the very clouds on fire like massive, molten cinders. He is the definition of gritty while Ennis provides the grim.

In ‘The Tyger’ ten-year-old Frank deals with the fall-out of a classmate committing suicide. Veteran Marvel artist John Severin proved that he had not just maintained his power, but improved his craft and was perfect for this piece. I was in awe.

Finally, as to ‘The Cell’ drawn with formidable shadows by Lewis Larosa, you tend to lose track over the years, but until now Frank had apparently failed to bring his family’s killers to justice. I don’t mean they haven’t been locked up, because they have – which is why Frank’s just handed himself in to be sent down.

Because justice to Frank Castle is a very different affair, involving kitchen utensils and a monkey wrench.

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SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 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.

Brighter Than You Think 10 Short Works By Alan Moore s/c (£20-99, Uncivilised Books) by Alan Moore, Marc Sobel & Melinda Gebbie, Stephen Bissette, Peter Bagge, Mark Beyer, Rick Veitch, Oscar Zarate, Bill Wray, Don Simpson

Hopeless, Maine vol 1 – The Gathering (£13-99, Sloth Comics) by Nimue Brown & Tom Brown

Long Gone Don And The Terror-Cotta Army (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by The Etherington Brothers

Lovers In The Garden (£8-00, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Anya Davidson

Rivers Of London: Night Witch (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Sky Doll: Spaceship h/c (£23-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa & various

Harley Quinn vol 5: The Joker’s Last Laugh h/c (£22-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat vol 2: Don’t Stop Me-ow s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams

Ultimates: Omniversal vol 2 Civil War 2 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Kenneth Rocafort, Djibril Morissette, Christian Ward

Blame! Vol 2 (Master Edition) (£26-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Tokyo Ghoul vol 10 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Tomie Complete h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Junji Ito

News

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ITEM! Not long until Christmas now!

I’m not sure any mail order will reach you in time but you may still find this handy for last-minute comicbook Christmas presents from Page 45 or any other outlets wise enough to stock these glorious graphic novels:

Christmas Shopping At Page 45, plus our Top 40 Tips for Comic & Graphic Novel Giving!

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ITEM! Festive Opening Times at Page 45.

Page 45 is closed for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day only.

We close on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve around 4pm

We will be open on Tuesday 27th after Christmas and Monday 2nd January after New Year from 11am to 4pm.

New Comics Day for both those weeks will be Thursday rather than the regular Wednesday.

Other than that, it is wallet-whipping, credit-card-crucifying, sterling-snaffling business as usual!

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ITEM! Lastly, given the way my regular days off / working at home fall this Christmas, it is possible that there won’t be reviews next week, soz!

I’m collecting my parental unit from Chester by car on Thursday, so working at the shop on Friday instead; plus Monday is Boxing Day and – quite understandably – my mother-type-arrangement would not take kindly to me ignoring family in favour of tapping tipsily on the keyboard. That just leaves the Tuesday during which my dearly beloveds won’t have dearly departed until midday or later.

We may work something out, or we’ll be back with a bumper edition in a fortnight’s time! You know, depending on what’s published.

Just in case this is Page 45’s last blog of the year, I’d like to lavish you all with love – whether you shop with us or not – for taking the time and trouble to read our reviews and buy beautiful comics and graphic novels wherever it is you tend to loiter.

I’d also like to hug each and every one of you for following our J45 on Bookface and this twit on our Twitter @pagefortyfive

Your endurance frankly astonishes me.

 – Stephen xxx

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week two

December 14th, 2016

The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins.

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Possibly the most beautiful bookplate I have ever beheld, signed by both Antony and Steven, for which we are enormously grateful.

Not only that but once you’ve absorbed this graphic novel of such smile-inducing, head-shaking craftiness, you’ll understand why Page 45 is so honoured to be associated with it.

It’s a prequel to Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s THE COLDEST CITY but, unlike most prequels, you’re encouraged to dive straight in here first for a winter and a war that could not be colder.

“The snow makes leaving Berlin impossible. Planes are not flying, roads are impassable, and almost no trains are operating. Besides, Lubimov is badly injured. He is still in West Berlin, and they cannot hide him forever.”

West Berlin, 1982, and the entire continent of Europe is frozen in the icy grip of the coldest winter for over three decades. Everything has been brought to a standstill, except for the clandestine manoeuvres of the Soviet KGB and Britain’s own Secret Service.

 

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For a single night in January Dr Lubimov has been released by Russia to address a science conference in West Berlin for the first time in ten years and possibly the last, because Kremlin doctors have given him but two years to live. His condition is believed to be a side-effect of very nasty nerve toxins the doctor has developed for Mother Russia and which Britannia would like to get her dirty hands on too under the disingenuous excuse of developing antidotes. Of course he’s not going to be allowed out unaccompanied by armed agents notoriously difficult to deceive even under the easiest of circumstances and these are far from ideal.

 

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For a start there are the crippling weather conditions about which David Perceval, the West Berlin attaché assigned to the case, has protested in the clearest and strongest possible terms. Unfortunately for him he’s in no condition to complain for he’s already about to be sent home by his immediate commanding officer, William Woodford, after a succession of bodged operations. Then there’s West Berlin’s unique geo-political bind in being a fortress back then, but one designed to hem the West in rather than the keep East out. Not only was it cut off by the Berlin Wall from the east side of the city occupied and administered by Soviet Russia, but it was completely surrounded on all its extremities by both the wall and by the communist German Democratic Republic itself.

Difficult, much…? In terms of extraction, we’re talking the worst wisdom teeth ever.

 

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This graphic novel begins in West Berlin on January 20th 1982, nine days after the conference, with a phone call between Dr Lubimov – sequestered but also trapped in a British safe house – and his aged, already defected wife Olga, desperate to see him again. By the end of that prologue Dr Lubimov has a gun to his head. We then retreat to East Berlin on November 25th 1981.

How did it all go so spectacularly wrong?

 

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From the writer of THE COLDEST CITY (obviously, and we had 50 signed bookplates for that too but they sold out almost immediately so, you know…) and the much-adored UMBRAL, THE FUSE, WASTELAND, two of our three DEAD SPACE graphic novels and adaptor-to-comics of Alan Moore’s FASHION BEAST plus Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adults’ Alex Rider graphic novels like SCORPIA drawn by Emma Vieceli and coloured by Kate Brown… *draws breath*… I believe this is his most brilliant book to date.

The class deference, old school ties, the grudges and period tensions are all captured perfectly, with no one trusting anyone – even on the same sides – as are the semi-derogatory dismissals. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Russians referred to as “Ivan”, the French as “Fritz”, Americans as “Yanks” or “Yankees” and the British as “Limeys”.

 

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It is also so wickedly, so deviously clever that although I emphatically will not punch the man in the face the next time I see him (Johnston would see any such angle coming and have pre-prepped for it in multiple ways, decking me 36-hours before I’d even made my first flailing move) I felt when I finished it as if he had just playfully slapped mine – and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately I cannot possibly tell you why, for I have signed our own Page 45 Official Secrets Act which means spoiler-free reviews.

 

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What I can extol are the extraordinary virtues of Steven Perkins’ art.

You’re on a hiding to nothing if you attempt to illustrate a book called THE COLDEST WINTER – set during a continent-wide blizzard during which political relations are glacial – without being able to convey sub-zero temperatures. I have never seen a starker graphic novel. On turning each page I felt as if I’d accidentally and inadvisably stuck my fingers into a deep freezer and touched its metallic insides. Have you ever done that? You skin sticks, and it is impossible to free it without tearing some tissue away. It’s essentially dangerous, and knife-edge danger is what Perkins delivers.

 

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So much of this is spot-lit from above, casting impenetrable, black brow shadows which make seeing eyes – and so reading minds – impossible. Spectacles are rendered as blank glass screens. Think Sean Phillips’ half-lit art in CRIMINAL which gives you ambivalence and ambiguity, but with the additional effect in this book of poker-faced unguessability. It’s a trick which here renders straight-laced and straight-faced individuals certainly inscrutable and quite possibly implacable.

That is precisely what is required in a graphic novel wherein the dogmatically, diametrically opposed, prideful protagonists are playing dare-you games with each other: games on which real lives so depend.

 

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Then there’s the central car chase prior to Dr Lubimov being stranded hopelessly in the safe house and this is amongst the very best that I have ever clapped my eyes on in comics. With barely any purchase on the compacted snow, you can feel the car tyres skidding in the opposite direction to the steering wheel, and you can experience for yourself the insane adrenaline rush when attempting to lose your murderous pursuit.

 

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Still, doomed David Perceval isn’t without his key moves or parting shots. Here he addresses his opposite, Comrade Aleksander Grigori Bremovych of the KGB, as he leaves a room in which they have both been debriefed by their superiors:

Posli vas, tovarishch.”
“Your German accent was better.”
“So was my driving.”

 

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SLH

Buy The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson.

“The present is not a gift.”paper-girls-vol-2-cover

I still have absolutely no intention of looking it in the mouth.

“Only time is timeless.”

You may have a point there, however high one’s default nostalgia setting’s dialled up.

Much of my mirth in reading PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 was derived from a recognition of the 1980s which was in equal parts affectionate and embarrassed, for it wasn’t the most enlightened era. Set in 1988, it starred MacKenzie, Tiffany, KJ and Erin, four twelve-year-old paper girls at a time where delivery routes were predominantly the sole province of boys. The first three had banded together a while ago for mutual protection while Erin joined them just in time for time itself to go tits-up.

The power grid failed, the sky went well-wonky, locals began to be disappeared (sic) and their quiet suburban neighbourhood was invaded by cowl-covered, incomprehensible, mutated teenage boys on the run from reactionary futuristic knights in shining white armour, riding giant, prehistoric flying lizards.

As you might imagine, no one received their Evening Edition that night.

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Art from volume one

Lastly for now, Erin found a square, palm-sized metal device with a black screen and familiar (to us) silver Apple logo which looks like someone’s bitten a chunk out of it. It didn’t work for her, but then perhaps it was Forbidden Fruit fallen from the Tree of Knowledge – not something you’re supposed to nibble on. There were lots and lots of apples including an Apple phone which was obviously way ahead of its time even if it was one of those old-skool affairs with a circular dial and cradled handset. In this volume it will start working for Erin, but not our Erin or the space-suited Erin; it will start working for other Erin on the front cover who is forty years old.

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There’s no getting round it: that’s who they met on the very last page of PAPER GIRLS VOL 1 and if that had us amused at how comparatively quaint the ‘80s look to us in retrospect, volume two will see you chortling mightily at the girls’ intense culture shock upon arrival in 2016.

“There are waters in the fridge if you’re thirsty.”
“There’s more than one kind of water now?”

Then there are our impossibly thin, gigantic television sets whose resolution might as well be three-dimensional, entire malls closed down in the wake of Amazon, the politics, profanity and just imagine you’re from 1988 and heard the following news bulletin:

“This just in from our social media department, an extraordinary Vine posted by Twitter user @JoanyFootball2.”
“What language is this?”

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I’ll leave you to discover the circumstances our Erin finds future Erin in – the direction her life has since taken – and how about MacKenzie? Her house has certainly been spruced up.

Cliff Chiang once more provides all the vital grounding a science fiction series like this one needs in order to contrast the temporal disturbances – which are once more substantial, startling, enormous and delightfully ugly – with the everyday, out-of-their depth protagonists attempting to survive them. I adore all those clothes: the shirts and the jackets and the way young Erin’s jeans hang in loose folds while older Erin’s hug her thighs tightly. Similarly her mouth hangs agape naturally, even when not speaking, with a certain degree of weariness.

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So much of the background detail is subtle but makes all the difference, particularly in the closed-down, deserted and dilapidated shopping mall: lots of detritus, particularly cardboard, scattered on benches or blown up against shop windows and doors; the grass between its parking spaces overgrown.

The two Erins are quite credibly the same person and, as you’d expect from the writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA, the characterisation throughout is top-notch too, the relationship between the pair evolves beautifully with an endearing empathy for each other even if things haven’t worked out the way the twelve-year-old would have wanted – perhaps.

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Having given the game away about this instalment’s temporal location I think I’ll refrain from revealing anything more about the plot dynamics, but by its end you’ll have a much clearer indication of the sort of structure Vaughan’s working with here. I’m confident its neatness yet unpredictability will leave you with very satisfied smiles, just like the additional contractions and rearrangements our language has undergone, for the futuristic knights have followed the girls through:

“Bystand a nano, Grand Father. Ograph puts us smackmid of… 002016.”
“Ah, the year my mother was born. Must be right before this nation’s election. Poor bastards have no idea The Problems are about to begin.”

So those two are from verrrrry different time zones, aren’t they?

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c (£22-99, Titan) by Jean-François Di Giorgio & Frédéric Genêt.

“Why did hesamurai-vol-1-cover leave me here ten years ago?”

Ah, the glories of nature, sprightly coloured by Delphine Rieu and as crisp as a Blu-ray disc or a PS4 console screen! It put me more than a little in mind of the old Onimusha games so fondly remembered, and should certainly please fans of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, VAGABOND, LONEWOLF & CUB and  LEGEND OF THE SCARLET BLADES which boasted wondrous winter paintings, fantastical wolves and an intricately woven story of cause and effect, of nature and nurture.

Absolutely epic landscapes here too: whether it’s autumnal foliage followed by snow-swept Japanese mountains, the low-lit, emerald, subterranean caverns, the lake bearing The Isle With No Name, the scale and perspectives of the hidden tombs glimpsed from above or the intricate wooden panelling on interior ceilings, it all looks like it’s been drawn on boards far bigger than the ones employed as standard then reduced without clutter or any loss of detail.

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It’s to The Isle With No Name (apart from, you know, “The Isle With No Name”) that Takeo journeys in search of his brother. He’s accompanied by his catering servant Shirow, bumbling about and bemoaning his plight like dear Roy Kinnear in the Musketeer films. But as they approach the lakeside hamlet they’re distracted by the villagers’ chilling reaction to a young girl solving the unsolvable puzzle of The Prophet’s Heart.

Tied to an ancient cult led by insurrectionist General Akuma, the puzzle is a prophetic compass, and this single act will bring the Three Shadow Ladies down on their heads and herald the launch of an unstoppable army towards the gates of the Imperial Palace. For something unspeakable lurks in the stygian depths of The Tomb of Sei-I-Otsuka, and it craves the blood of the puzzle-solver most of all…

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I really enjoyed this just for the sheer visual craft, and now that I think about it readers of Frank Miller’s 300 may also be swept away by the later battle scenes including a fold-out, triple-page spread. It’s a refreshing change to get my hamburger fix from something other than a superior superhero book. Because, don’t get me wrong, there’s little more profound beneath these trappings, but it’s tasty all the same.

Note: the next instalment, SAMURAI VOL 2: ISLE WITH NO NAME, has already arrived. Yup, he’s on his way back again.

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Art from volume 2

SLH

Buy Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos & Phil Noto…

“Why, hellopoe-dameron-cover Poe. So nice to see you again.”

Indeed it is, as self-proclaimed best pilot in the galaxy Mr. Dameron was one of the few highlights, for me anyway, of the recent Star Wars film. Like Wedge Antilles with added charisma, oozing chutzpah, he clearly is being positioned to replace a certain cheeky, if irascible, character who apparently didn’t fancy making three sequels… And I don’t mean Wedge…

Speaking of people who weren’t interested in sequels, actor Denis Lawson was apparently asked to reprise Wedge, which makes you wonder if when he said no, they decided to create Poe Dameron in the first place.

Anyway, I have really enjoyed the main STAR WARS comic and the recently concluded DARTH VADER immensely, but have found pretty much all of the character-named minis a bit flat, indeed pedestrian. This, however, has a fresh, exciting feel to it, and thus succeeds in actually adding to the canon rather than just being propped up by it. Penned by Charles Soule, whose current DAREDEVIL run is also pretty decent, with clean-cut Marvel stalwart Phil Noto on art, it’s quite simply action-packed fun.

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Every good hero needs a villainous nemesis to play off against, though, and Soule wastes no time in introducing the dastardly Agent Terex of the First Order, who’s like a passive-aggressive David Niven, all polished accent and impeccable manners combined with a close cropped half-Mohican and sneering, sarcastic turn of phrase. Oh, and he positively loves torturing and killing people, dear boy.

We get two stories for the price of one here, the first of which neatly establishes the characters, involving a strange egg-like artefact and a missing explorer who may know the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, but also allows Poe and Terex to perform the first of no doubt many a deadly pas de deux and competitive verbal one-upmanship.

“Everybody goes home, and we forget this ever happened.”
“Oh, I doubt I will ever forget this happened, Poe Dameron.”

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The second story has Poe and his Black Squadron crew popping along to the most heavily secured prison in the galaxy to have a word with one of the lovely Hutts, who may have a lead on the errant explorer. Guess who else has decided to pay their respects…? Yep, that’s precisely where my first pull quote comes in. What follows is a neat twist on a jail break story as Grakkus the Hutt pits Poe and Terex against each other by offering to reveal his information to the side that can somehow spring him and get him off-world. Let the game begin!

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JR

Buy Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron 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.

The Can Opener’s Daughter (Bookplate Edition) (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis

Descender vol 3: Singularities (£13-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

Rumble vol 3: Immortal Coil s/c (£14-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

The Spire s/c (£26-99, Boom) by Simon Spurrier & Jeff Stokely

Wet Moon vol 2: Unseen Feet (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Adventure Time: President Bubblegum s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Josh Trujillo & Phil Murphy

Assassin’s Creed: Templars: Black Cross s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Fred Van Lente & Dennis Calero

Bee And Puppycat vol 3 s/c (£13-99, Kaboom) by Patrick Seery & Ji In Kim

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 6: Own It (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Juanan Ramirez

Copra Round Four s/c (£17-99, Bergen Street Press) by Michel Fiffe

Dark Souls vol 1: The Breath Of Andolus (£14-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Spectrum vol 23 (£23-99, Flesk) by various

Tank Girl: Two Girls, One Tank (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parson

Batman And Robin Adventures vol 1 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Ty Templeton,others

Batman vol 10: Epilogue h/c (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 9: Bloom s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo

Deathstroke vol 4: Family Business s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Bonny, Phil Hester & Tyler Kirkham

Guardians Of Galaxy: New Guard vol 1: Emperor Quill s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Valerio Schiti, Arthur Adams

Ms. Marvel vol 6: Civil War II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by C. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyagawa, Mirka Andolfo

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, others

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 1 s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

The Uncanny Inhumans vol 3: Civil War II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Carlos Pacheco, Kev Walker Kim Jacinto

Assassination Classroom vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Blue Exorcist vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Fairy Tail vol 57 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 7 (£14-99, Yen Press) by Natsuki Takaya

Monster On The Hill (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Rob Harrell

That last one keeps dropping off our website even though it’s permanently in stock. We have no idea why.

News

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ITEM! Christmas Shopping at Page 45! Includes Personal Service Promises and a Top 40 Comics & Books from 2016 with some Christmas Present Classics.

THE COLDEST WINTER with its signed bookplate (reviewed above) would definitely have been included had it appeared any earlier!

 – Stephen

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