Reviews April 2014 week four

April 23rd, 2014

Intricate in detail yet gigantic in scale, the mountainous landscapes warp and flow as they are created and uncreated by the mind of a man who has acquired the ability to make manifest whatever he so desires but not the power to control it. There is no off-switch.

There is no moment of not.

 - Stephen on Genesis by Nathan Edmondson & Alison Sampson.

Sex Criminals vol 1: One Weird Trick (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky.

A heart-warming tale that will make you feel fuzzy in which two new lovers talk dirty to each other for days. It’s so frank that if I started quoting it out of context this would begin to read like a lads’ mag, so no. Where does the crime come in?

Well, it’s like Bonnie & Clyde with orgasms. Orgasms during which time stops more than figuratively and the world goes completely silent. Do you see stars when you come? Sorry, that was a bit personal. Suzanne sees swirling colours and flashes of light which linger longer than you’d expect. Or maybe you wouldn’t. You lucky thing.

All of this Suzanne discovers during her first, unplanned episode with her head underwater and the taps still running in just the right place. Now imagine what sex with a partner would be like if you were Suzanne: you orgasm, the earth may move for you and the colours may come but the world itself stops and goes silent. You have to extricate yourself from your partner who’s “paralyzed”. That’s not completely satisfying. Then imagine that, after years and years of this, you met someone else just like you and you could finally enjoy post-coital bliss in your shared world of silence.

“Jon… is your dick glowing?”

Suzanne calls it The Silence. Jon calls it Cumworld. He’s a bloke – please forgive!

It was the name of his favourite porn shop he used to ransack while in the zone and its legitimate customers were suspended in time, oblivious to his presence. And those early escapades have given him an idea. Suzanne loves libraries – they helped her out while attempting to research her condition – but hers is suffering and its bank is about to foreclose. So if Jon could successful pilfer from a porn shop… why can’t they just spank a bank?

This is absolutely magnificent: an up-front celebration of one of life’s better pleasures – as long as you’re over eighteen. If you’re under eighteen, it’s rubbish. You really won’t want it. Please don’t buy it, we could get into trouble.

I never did understand reverse psychology.

Chip Zdarsky is the perfect choice of artist for he draws a bit like Michael Avon Oeming, so whilst explicit, this isn’t titillating. It’s sexy art, don’t get me wrong, but sexy in a stylish, engaging and thoroughly attractive way. And the amount of time he’s spent on those lights during climax… there are a lot of climaxes here.

There’s also a lot of laughs as you’d expect from the author of HAWKEYE, and they don’t dry up at the end for there are process pieces from Zdarsky who is a mischief merchant in his own right, and a short radio drama created by Matt and Chip to promote the first issue in which Chip phones a sex line expecting lovely Linda and finds Matt on the other end instead. Hey, equal opportunities!

It’s a play which will say that we’re all a bit gay whether locked in the closet or loo. Actually, it will prove it. Seriously prove it. You’ll like it, it’s liberating.

As to the main event, anything can happen. When Suzie starts singing Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls I guarantee you never seen or read anything quite like it, and I’ll have to go back and check the individual issue it was first printed in to see if they changed it for the collected edition.

It’s also incredibly cute: early inter-date texting, hesitancy in half-sentences and sharing your sexual secrets is such a turn on! Jon and Suzanne have plenty – it’s nice of them to share. Matt Fraction too.

Now, back to the bank and what could possibly go wrong?

SLH

Buy Sex Criminals Vol 1: One Weird Trick and read the Page 45 review here

Genesis (£4-99, Image) by Nathan Edmondson & Alison Sampson.

“So quickly I have learned what haunted means. It is not some phantom from the afterlife, it is what we hold in our minds and do not release; it is the blade with which we cut ourselves, masochists to the end.”

Oh, but this is beautiful: a short story made epic by the art!

Intricate in detail yet gigantic in scale, the mountainous landscapes warp and flow as they are created and uncreated by the mind of a man who has acquired the ability to make manifest whatever he so desires but not the power to control it. There is no off-switch.

There is no moment of not.

For you know how ideas flash fleetingly into your mind even if pushed back immediately afterwards? Imagine that was too late and those ideas became actuality.

This is a man who from childhood had been raised to want to change the world: to believe that he would indeed change the world. The boy played with building blocks, creating houses and towns which were in his mind as detailed as the architecture he saw all around him. As an adult he built a church and created a congregation for it, but though they listened they learned nothing and changed not at all, so nothing around them changed either. So he jumped from its steeple and that should have been that.

It was just the beginning. For when the man wakes up he discovers that his childhood imagination is matched by reality. What he wishes for instantly occurs. Buildings are built, the famished are fed and it happens before the blink of an eye. Even his wife’s hair becomes fuller. But what happens at home one night – not a lapse in judgement but a simple cause and effect – destabilises everything. The man comes undone and as the man comes undone so does everything around him.

“Desire met and battled my thoughts. My subconscious was like a tide washing over what my mind wrote in the beach sand.
“But like trying to stop the flow of water with your hands, it continued.
“It is impossible to tell yourself to stop thinking a thought.”

If there is a lesson I learned here it is how desperately we all need our physical parameters. And company. Without either lies madness.

For me this is (predominantly) a horror story that made me quite queasy. I couldn’t look away because I loved what I looked at. Coloured so sensitively by Jason Wordie that the light shines through, Alison Sampson has matched the imagination of the protagonist and has herself made manifest what is in his and her minds. The landscapes bulge and buckle, reconfigure and spiral away on command.

Her bear is a beauty (there is a bear), but there are moments which elicit more intellectual smiles like the double-page spread in which the global architect attempts to fix things, starting from scratch and going back to basics. The basics in his case were childhood building blocks which we see on the very first page. But were you never given also a kit of cardboard whose pop-out pieces had folding lines and tabs?

In some ways the style harks back two decades, but with the production values of today (the paper quality and, I repeat, Jason Wordie’s colouring) it feels thoroughly fresh and looks thrilling.

SLH

Buy Genesis and read the Page 45 review here

New York Postcards (£11-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Adrian Tomine.

People-watching.

Ask me or my Ma what one our favourite activities is, and it’s people-watching.

I don’t mean sitting in judgement: that’s supercilious and sad. Bitching only blackens the soul.

No, I mean observing and enjoying the interaction of those walking past or sitting around us while we’re relaxing on a boulevard outside a café with a bottle of chilled white wine and a quiet cigarette or two.

Venice, Paris or Aix-en-Provence… Adrian Tomine’s chosen New York.

And that’s what these are: 30 observational pieces taken from the NEW YORK DRAWINGS art book of the man responsible for one of comics’ greatest treasures, the OPTIC NERVE oeuvre.

Can I say that? The OPTIC NERVE oeuvre?

Ah well, I just did.

SLH

Buy New York Postcards and read the Page 45 review here

Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves (£12-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

The climax to the first full story arc. It’s going to get chilly!

“Zoe – that’s Satan’s! Hide it! Bury it! Throw it in the ocean! Don’t use it!”
“Too late.”
“Oh God.”
“Really? Now you’re religious? Geez, Lilith, pick a side.”

Let’s talk about Zoe, shall we? That’s her on the cover – such a charmer. She looks much sweeter in real life, though you’re never sure what she’ll do next.

We’ve come so far with RACHEL RISING that talking about Zoe is much safer than Rachel, Jet and Aunt Johnny – especially given the cliffhanger to book three.

But we will learn more about what originally happened to their 17th Century counterparts Bryn Erin, James, James’ sister Mary Scott and Lilith herself during the town’s conflagrational witch hunt. The deftness with which Terry Moore slides in and out through the time periods is astonishing especially since the first two [redacted].

Anyway, Zoe’s being groomed by a priest who sees great potential in our homicidal maniac, enabling her already not inconsiderable killing spree. Whatever would possess him to do so?

“Have you given any thought to your future, Zoe?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Taller.”
“Seriously.”
“I am being serious. I’ve been this height for a long time. I’m tired of looking at bellies and butts.”
“I’d like to help you, Zoe. Send you to the best schools. Help you find a career. Maybe politics.”
“I’m not going to have your baby.”
“…”
“…”
“I know who you are.”

Short but sassy, Zoe doesn’t “do” intimidated. She does slice-and-dice, and she sure has a way with words. Here’s Zoe and Mary Scott reincarnated in Zoe’s sister Lindy. They are having a shouting match across a snow storm.

“Lindy? Is that you?”
“Your sister’s dead! You killed her!”
“You look just like her!”
“This is her body, you little psycho!”
“Oh! Okay! Then you might want to get tested to STDs. She was a hot item on Craigslist!”

There’s one hell of a lot of snow as Lilith unleashes her final assault on the town of Manson and a rare deployment of graded grey tone makes for some jaw-dropping nigh-apocalyptic skies filled as far as the eye can see with –

Look, you try reviewing the fourth book in a series without spoilers!

SLH

Buy Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets: Killers #2 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham.

“Virginia! Virginia! Look at me! He’s joking. He’s joking. Stop…”

And Virginia is back!

So is Eli from STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1, our current Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, only many years later.

That was prime STRAY BULLETS as is this, reminding you that everything is connected just like the previous series STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES EDITION, whence our Virginia Applejack.

The first was prime STRAY BULLETS because yet another child got caught between the grievances of adults, maiming them for life. This second issue is prime STRAY BULLETS because not only does it remind you that everything is connected but also that behind even the most docile domestic doors there lurks stifled suffering and violence just waiting to erupt.

Though it is no excuse for anything they are put through, some children can prove very resilient. Virginia is one and Eli is another. This is what happens when these two seemingly different souls meet.

I’m not going to stop going on about STRAY BULLETS because it is the best crime on the market – right up there with Brubaker and Phillips’ CRIMINAL – and we thought we would never see it on sale again.

Please see those previous reviews of STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES EDITION and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 for more.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets: Killers #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Sunny vol 3 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.

I love the way Matsumoto draws these orphans with flushed faces, messy hair, tiny, individual teeth, shouting over each other to be heard as snot streams from their noses especially on a cold, wintry day.

There’s an opening double-page landscape in the palest of colour, wet white paint almost obliterating the ochre Sunny Datsun and the kids hanging round the eerily empty equivalent of what we called “the rough”: a scruffy bit of disused wasteland to one side of our houses. Behind the scrubland rises a watchtower, giving the impression of a concentration camp.

SUNNY revolves around an orphanage but as I wrote of SUNNY VOL 2, Japanese orphanages are very different beasts to our own. The homes don’t house only orphans: the kids often have parents. Parents who, for one reason or another, leave them in state care.

Can you imagine what that’s like, wondering why you have been abandoned? Wondering if you will ever be reclaimed? Desperate for a visit yet, as soon as that visit starts, knowing it will end; that knowledge colouring all your precious time together? Book two was heart-breaking.

Megumu won’t be going anywhere because her parents really are dead, and she feels guilty that because of this she so desperately wants no one else to leave, either. But unlike Kiko who constantly reacts to kindness with complaint, Megumu likes to think the best of others even as she thinks she worst of herself.

She’s invited to tea by Rie and her friends from outside the orphanage and Rie’s mother is so gentle and generous. Megumu keeps zoning out so cuts her finger while preparing some food and Rie’s mum sticks a plaster on it.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” is what she says. “Thank you, Mom,” is what she thinks.

She’s zoning out because all the other girls there have family and keeping talking about them.

“Oh…”
“What, dear?”
“This cup… It reminds me… This picture, a bear on skis. When I lived at home we had the same cups. On Sundays, me and my mom and dad would have tea together.”
“Then please take that cup back with you, Megumu.”
“No, I… I… I couldn’t…”
“I want you to have it, Megumu. You don’t want it?”
“That’s neat, Megumu. Your special cup…”
“You should take it.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Thank you.”

The kicker is what Megumu reveals later through her private thoughts. Naturally – quite, quite naturally – she just wanted to join in.

Equally moving (I really must learn to stop reading graphic novels on the bus if I can’t control my barely stifled sobs) is the opening episode in which a once-wayward Nishita pays a return visit to the orphanage he grew up in so long ago that only Makio and his grandfather, the orphanage’s frail father figure, remember him. There was an incident with a large, sharp kitchen knife – a very, very serious one. It was how Makio’s grandfather reacted both then and now which halted me so.

On a lighter note, a television crew visit and, oh, the illusion of spontaneity!

“It’s not phoney, it’s film-making.”

SLH

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

Essex County new printing (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Jeff Lemire.

Loaded with melancholy and loss but above all stoicism, of this BONE and RASL’s Jeff Smith writes, “The subtle inter-weaving of Jeff Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY Trilogy is brilliant and constantly surprising. The cumulative impact left a lump in my throat.”

Jeff Lemire you may know from later works SWEET TOOTH and THE UNDERWATER WELDER etc. Here are excerpts from our reviews of the trilogy’s constituent parts, the first from myself, the superior two by school headmaster Simon Robinson…

The first chapter begins with four seasons on a remote farm. Lester lost his mother to cancer shortly after she begged her brother to look after him.

Uncle Kenny doesn’t know the first thing about children, but he tries, bless him. He tries to involve Lester as much as possible, but he’s rebuffed, time after time (and none too sensitively on occasions) with a “no” or a “nah”. It’s not that Lester is offensive or rebellious, he’s just quiet and contained in his fantasies of alien invasion and just a little lonely until he meets Jimmy, an ox of a man who was injured on his first ice hockey game for the Toronto Maple leafs, and who Uncle Kenny says is now somewhat slow in the head.

Jeff Lemire could have played all this so much more obviously, mining Les’ plight for sympathy, but he doesn’t. The countryside scenes in the shifting seasons are beautiful – not too fussy, not remotely overwrought, with a light that evokes the weather and time of the year beautifully.

 

* * *

“You know, there are only two ways to be completely alone in this world…lost in a crowd…or in total isolation.”

Upon reaching the end of this second book I did something I have never done before in 20-something years of reading comics: I turned straight back to page one and read the whole thing through again from start to finish. The first read left me stunned, in a self-reflective silence. The second read left me in tears; and in a public place as well. My father would be deeply ashamed.

‘Ghost Stories’ follows the lives of brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf over seven decades. It is told mainly in flashback by Lou as his brain withers from the blight of senile dementia. In the 50s, he and Vince played professional ice hockey. But that was before. Before the play-off finals, before the injury, before Mary…before the accident. Twenty-five years later the brothers are cast together once again but Vince finds an empty place in his heart where he used to keep his love for Lou. And yet, dying, they cling to one another as their fragile lives splinter and weather until nothing but memories remain. The strength of this book lies within the subtle ease with which it captures the human spirit. The awful gnawing sadness of old age is delivered in every glass of whiskey, every aching joint and every single tear.

“Only two ways to be alone in this world, ey? Looks like I went and found another.”

* * *

And there it is on page 447: the glue that holds the ESSEX COUNTY trilogy together. With a simple family tree, backed with the sorrowful, ageing glare of Sister Margaret Byrne, the full melancholic scale of this wonderful, tragic story is finally revealed.

‘The Country Nurse’ interweaves the heartbreak of the fire at Margaret’s orphanage in 1917 and the unbearable poignancy of her granddaughter’s life as the modern day country nurse. Weaving, gliding between the two tales flies the now familiar crow – a harbinger of death or a bringer of hope? It’s difficult to tell – so many of the characters in ESSEX COUNTY are like retired boxers, back for one comeback too many. They’ve been thumped and kicked from one corner of life to the other and yet, punch drunk, they reel to shaking feet only to have life smash them to the ground once more for good effect.

‘The Country Nurse’ makes my chest ache and my limbs heavy with sadness. Yet, simultaneously, it exhilarates me and leaves me addictively turning the pages for more.

SLH & SR

Buy Essex County and read the Page 45 review here

Operation Margarine (£9-99, AdHouse Media) by Katie Skelly.

When you wake up in the garbage, you know you’ve been dumped.

Meet Marge and Bon-Bon: one is Missing; the other is Wanted.

To be precise, Margarine Litres has just fled the funny farm and made the front page of the Tribune. Mommy is not best pleased. We don’t know what Bon-Bon is running from apart from yet another fruitless affair with a married man.

But now they have motorbikes and black leather jackets and guns and each other. Also: bounty-hunter Billy and The Faces Of Death on their tails, and the thing about the desert is “there’s nowhere to hide”.

From the creator of NURSE NURSE, this is a whimsical little road trip with danger lurking at every pit stop. I can’t promise you much substance, just style.

SLH

Buy Operation Margarine and read the Page 45 review here

Ranma 1/2 2in1 vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi –

One of the funniest series that I’ve read.

I think that she was the best-selling manga artist in America before all the cute merchandise bunnies came along but I’m sure that she’s still the most loved.

The basic premise is of Ranma and his father arriving back in Japan, fresh from a decade of martial arts training in China. It was there that they found the legendary cursed springs. During training Ranma fell into ‘spring of drowned girl’ and a splash of cold water will give him female form. Hot water reverses this transformation. His father fell into ‘spring of drowned panda’ with similar results: he turns into a Giant Panda! Later we will meet folks who fell into various last resting places of a pig, a cat and, oh… the list goes on.

For fans of over-the-top martial arts prancing there’s more than enough bizarre ancient techniques and high-jumping near-misses. Nearly every new episode will bring a new discipline as two people pair off to resolve some feud or other.

Some of the appeal of Takahashi, for me, is the values of honour and family that she put across. Father and son have returned to Tendo’s Martial Arts School of Indiscriminate Grappling because Ranma was promised to marry one of the owners’ daughter. As in MAISON IKKOKU, the courtship and many, many confusing love triangles make you wonder if the two will ever get to the altar. Although you know that they will, anything else would not fit into Takahashi’s world view. Bad things happen, misunderstandings occur but all gets sorted out in the end.

For comic inventiveness her nearest peer would have to be Al Capp when he was on form with LI’L ABNER. Confounding (“amusin’ yet confusin’ ” – to misquote) situation is piled upon confounding situation leaving you breathless and wondering what she will come up with next. Some of my favourite scenes have included the Martial Arts Take-Out Competition with teams racing across the city to deliver fast food and the recent episode where Ranma is engaged to marry a young man from high society. In the latter he’s bolted into an iron corset (natch) unable to switch back into male form. He was previously bettered by his suitor and now must learn the fearsome Parlais du Fois Gras in order to win the eating-without-being-seen contest. Follow any of that?

As much as I rave about woodland and open space, I do enjoy depictions of far-away suburbs whether it’s California (see LOVE & ROCKETS) or Japan.* I have no idea if it’s accurate or not, just that Takahashi’s world is believable. The school, the noodle bars, the family home all exist.

* [For Japanese suburbs of the most exquisite order, please see A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD volumes one and two by Taniguchi! - ed.].

MAS

Buy Ranma 1/2 2in1 vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

Oh, wait, sorry. Because of the two bank holidays books won’t arrive until tomorrow. Will pop them in then.

ITEM! Becky Cloonan’s BY CHANCE OR BY PROVIDENCE limited edition hardcover won’t be long now! It contains WOLVES, THE MIRE and DEMETER plus extra material. From Page 45 it will cost £17-50 plus p&p and you can pre-order now and secure yourself a sexy free bookmark by phoning 0115 95085045 or emailing page45@page45.com

THERE WILL BE NO RESTOCKS FOR THERE ARE NONE FOR US TO BUY!

ITEM! Not entirely safe for work but almost: Lucy Bellwood’s FLIP THE SWITCH short online comic on experiencing an isolation tank.

ITEM! A process piece (i.e. working process from concept to finished art) by Isabel Greenberg, creator of my favourite graphic novel of 2013, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH.

ITEM! Ted Nefaih’s Cover to the 15th Anniversary h/c of Serena Valentino’s GLOOM COOKIE – isn’t it beautiful? I don’t have a release date for you yet, sorry, but if you haven’t read Ted’s own COURTNEY CRUMRIN, then prepare to swoon at will. Four books so far, two more on their way.

ITEM! Elliot Baggott’s HUNDRED METRE GARDEN coming from Great Beast UK.

ITEM! Great piece for pedants like me from The Comics Journal on what constitutes a comic and what boils down to illustrated prose.

ITEM! Ludicrous assertion that boy’s literacy is suffering because of female editors’ stranglehold on the children’s book market. Beyond pathetic.

Typical to scapegoat women for a male shortcoming. I think you’ll find the author of HARRY POTTER, responsible for persuading a lot of young men to prose, was a woman.

There are so many books and graphic novels out there which young men will devour if you take the trouble to match the right reading material to each individual young adult.

Page 45 has been working with school librarians to successfully boost literacy for years.

I’m driving over to Staffordshire to address its School Library Association’s annual get together in June and there will be an updated blog full of beautiful graphic novels then.

- Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week three

April 16th, 2014

Ryan’s eye for history, combat and outright frenzy is as impressive as it is for contemporary North American architecture and, combined with some startling work by colourist Jordie Bellaire, you will know by page five the true meaning of bloodlust.

 - Stephen on Three by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire

The Undertaking Of Lily Chen (£20-99, First Second) by Danica Novgorodoff.

This is a fiction.

It is a delightful fiction, a dazzling fiction, a whimsical fiction, a most peculiar fiction and a funny old fiction with the unlikeliest streak of romance set in rural China.

This is not fiction, as reported on July 26th 2007 by The Economist:

“Parts of China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called “ghost marriages”. Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave. Sometimes, when a man died unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a “wedding,” and bury the couple together… A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides. Marriage brokers – usually respectable folk who find brides for village men – account for most of the middle men. At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers – and now murderers.”

It was at this point that I began to doubt the comedy value ahead.

The startling prologue did little to dispel these doubts as former pilot turned security guard Deshi fends off a drunken attack from his brother Wei Li on an airfield at night. The tussle throws Wei into the headlights then onto the bonnet of a military jeep, killing him instantly. Deshi flees the scene and breaks the news to his parents. This was always going to be an awkward conversation and sure enough the parents are enraged with grief and evidently, in the silent panels, enraged at Deshi. His is not the apple of their eye.

“I wish it were me instead,” mutters his mother, head in hands, on the sofa later.
“I wish it were me,” says his father, prowling the lounge as Deshi raises his bowed head, fearful.
“Or you,” Deshi’s mother tells him.
“Not Wei,” confirms his father.

Silence.

You’re not feeling the comedy, are you?

To atone, Deshi is dispatched before sunrise to find a bride for his brother who will be laid to rest in a week. As his pinch-mouthed mother begins the ceremony of cutting cloth then stitching the corpse bride’s red burial dress (one size evidently fitting all), Deshi glumly sets off with some money and a mule in search of a grave robber. He finds one.

“Count on Song when things go wrong,” chimes his calling card.

And you can count on Song, for once he’s started, he will finish. But there is an air of the bandit to him and a desiccated skeleton isn’t what Deshi Li had in mind: that’s far from a comfortable companion for his brother.

Interrupted mid-disinterment and separated from Song, Deshi discovers a poor and famished rustic household in dispute. The mother and father are in dispute with their landlord because the lease on their land has come up for renewal and Mr Peng has received a much better offer in the form of a mining company’s requisition. Mr Peng is sure he can do something about it for the right price. Unfortunately that price is only right if it includes the couple’s daughter Lily Chen’s hand in marriage. Lily Chen is not keen.

Instead Lily sees Deshi as her means of escape – to Beijing where there is money to rolled in, lanterns to light the way and all manner exotic foods to eat. So she elopes with Deshi, hopping on his mule in the hope that he will save her from this unholy wedding! Deshi is determined to deliver her to another.

With 430 pages ahead I can promise much absurdity with many twists and turns of the most outrageous fortune. All parties will diverge and converge again and again while Deshi’s ear drums get a right bloody battering.

I confess that the catfish on the back in immaculate, aquatic watercolours made me wish this was told in that style initially. There is many a floating phantom and dream sequence which is indeed rendered just so, but for the most part Novgorodoff employs the same joyous line technique which initially brought her to our attention with A LATE FREEZE which we made a very early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month (no longer available sorry). Very quickly I wanted it no other way.

Deshi is all gangly and consistently clumsy as the man of action he is completely unsuited to, Lily Chen’s father is an angry and exasperated, gonad-gripping gorilla of a man, while poor Lily Chen in her canary yellow dress is all overeager naivety, oblivious to Deshi’s true intentions.

There is so much space in this graphic novel with many a chapter break which makes it all the more epic. So often it is all about the silent journeys and those journeys climb so many mountains and span so much countryside illustrated by dry and wet brush techniques. The escarpments and trees’ bark are rendered in dry brush while the greenery is washed in as loose as you like along with pale purple shadows dappled across the paths’ stone or chalky surfaces.

There’s one particular page which had me weeping with wonder, harking back to more representational Chinese landscapes, as Deshi leads Lily on her mule round the nearest corner of the long and winding lakeside road, the stark white mountain losing definition in the distance as it climbs through the clouds to its summit.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Wei Li’s wedding day awaits.

SLH

Buy The Undertaking Of Lily Chen and read the Page 45 review here

Three (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire.

Ancient Greece, 364 B.C. and Sparta is in trouble.

It has lost battles, it has lost empire, but it is determined not to concede its sense of self: what it means to be Spartan. What it has retained in abundance is pride.

This book is riddled with pride.

Eastern Lakonia, and the land is being worked by Helots, slaves owned not just by individual masters and mistresses but who are also in service to the state, shared when deemed necessary.

Now, lords and masters inviting themselves to supper unannounced isn’t something unique to the Spartans. The British monarchy were doing it right up to Queen Victoria’s time, but at least most of them had the decency to phone ahead. Not so here, as Ephor (civic official) Eurytos and his bullish son Arimnestos plus their heavily armed entourage set foot in an unsupervised, communal Helot household late at night demanding hospitality.

You can tell Nestos is a particularly officious dick because he’s wearing a Corinthian helmet which really wasn’t the thing anymore unless you were intent of impressing on everyone around you how rich and important and powerful you are.

So it is that, not content with food, drink and shelter, an evening’s entertainment is contrived, humiliating the Helots by plying them with unwatered wine and making them dance drunkenly round the fire naked. It’s then that Nestos cannot resist upping the ante and things grow swiftly squalid until Helot Terpander – who can never resist sticking his oar in while sober – goads the proud Nestos with a history lesson involving, oh, I don’t know, lost battles and lost empire.

Unsurprisingly all hell breaks loose as Eurytos demands every last Helot be slaughtered. What does surprise is that taciturn Klaros is far from the maimed slave he’s claimed to be, and the tide of battle is turned leaving only Nestos to run with his tail between his legs.

It’s here that things for me grew particularly fascinating as the story switches to Sparta and more of its traditions are explored we meet one of its two kings, Kleomedes II, and his right-hand man and former lover Tyrtaios. Kleomedes isn’t particularly well respected on account of his father’s failure at Leuktra (lost battle, lost empire), so when that brat Nestos staggers into town with news of Eurytos’ death, Eurytos’ fellow Ephors – the true rulers of Sparta – command King Kleomedes to track down the three surviving slaves – Terpander, Klaros and Damar – and kill them. You might think that a waste of a perfectly good king (Kleomedes does) but I did warn you the Spartans were proud. There must be no signs of weakness… like running from a battle with your tail between your legs.

Such cowards were called Tremblers and when Nestos is sent home, humiliated by having half his fledgling beard shaved off, he is roundly rejected by his mother.

“It would even have been better if we had a daughter. At least then it would have been less likely she would disgrace the line.”
“You speak as if I were one of your horses.”
“These will soon be bound for Olympia. They will race. And, if I am any judge, this year they will win. They are the finest in Greece. You are most unlike my horses.”

Ouch.

“I had a son. I loved him. I wish he had come home.”

So it is that we follow three parties: the Helots fleeing west to Messene, Kleomedes and Tyrtaios in pursuit and Nestos… well, his pride isn’t going to take any of this lying down, is it?

This is Gillen’s direct reaction to having re-read Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s 300 after a late-night booze bash. It’s a lot less formal and far more personal, revelling in its research with the help of Nottingham University’s Classics Department (Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Lynn Fotheringham et al) and delighting in lacing every conversation and confrontation in the book with its results.

Gillen’s conversation with the professor exploring Spartan and Helot traditions and the very latest findings are reprinted in the back, along with a new notes section supplied by Kieron on what is currently considered to be historical fact (it’s an ongoing endeavour) and which aspects are informed supposition and literary flourishes. I was, for example, completely unaware of the Helots’ curious reaction to wine but have now added that biological predisposition to my knowledge box where it will continue to rattle round virtually friendless.

Helot Terpander’s storytelling (via PHONOGRAM’s Kieron Gillen, obviously) is particularly impressive, its sentence structure in places reflecting that of the classics. There are a great many stories told here – the Greek’s were quite keen! – and exchanges are rammed with reasoning or loaded with guile depending on the speaker’s intentions.

You can tell when a creative team is really relishing what they’re doing and, like any great oratory, this commands one’s attention.

Even the skies are transfixing: some of the colours chosen are far from obvious but throughout you get a true sense of each time of day which is vital when you’re in a race. The golden armour glows under torchlight and the uphill battle climaxes are injected with so much adrenaline that I lost several pounds then slumped over exhausted.

Ryan Kelly you may know from Brian Wood’s magnificent LOCAL, THE NEW YORK FOUR and THE NEW YORK FIVE, all highly recommended pieces of contemporary comicbook fiction starring women. Yet Ryan’s eye for history, combat and outright frenzy is as impressive as it is for contemporary North American architecture and, combined with some startling work by colourist Jordie Bellaire, you will know by page five the true meaning of bloodlust.

SLH

Buy Three and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets: Brother Lono (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

“We all die as we are born… gasping for air.”

El Hombre Respira!

After the blood-bath finale of 100 BULLETS (every single one of those books reviewed!) Lono was himself left gasping for air with a great big bullet in his guts, yet here he is in a mass and potentially make-shift Mexican graveyard, at sunset, shovelling the dry earth onto a coffin. Prologue or epilogue? Only time will tell. Also: maybe it’s sunrise and he’s been at it all night…

Either way, the entire team behind 100 BULLETS is back with a wit-ridden vengeance, verbal sabres and all, including colour artist Trish Mulvihill whose rich tones are, as ever, the perfect complement to Risso’s sharp silhouettes. So real is the feel of the heat that you’ll be reaching for your Factor 5,000.

Equally palpable – excruciatingly so – is the post-preamble torture scene. What is your personal pain threshold? How much can you endure to even watch? I ask because throughout this book Eduardo Risso has a way of making your toenails curl even as he pulls others’ off. Well, not Risso but Cortez’s captain of action, Cráneo, is keen.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am that comics is a silent medium without the sort of sound effects that come, say, with the hatching of an Alien egg. The final panel of this inquisition will haunt you with that precise, glutinous crackling all the same. I think we can consider the information fully extracted, along with much more besides.

 

Cut to Father Manny who runs a remote mission full of orphans funded, whether he likes it or not, by Las Torres Gemales – the Tower Twins in whose name the above information was being extracted. So that’s awkward.

It’s there that a young nun called Sister June is to be escorted by “Brother” Lono but the bus she’s travelled in on also carried a D.E.A. about to be fingered by a thug recently released, much to his horror, from jail. Whether he’ll have any fingers left to do that fingering with is doubtful because he’s being held in a smoke-glassed car opposite, very much against his will, by that overzealous torturer. That pick-up scene is so tense there’s barely any air to breathe, Brother Lono and Sister June seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around them.

Tension is one of the hallmarks of 100 BULLETS – the arid air is thick with it. The protagonists are constantly challenging each other, baiting each other with tight, wit-riddled wordplay implicit with threats whether overtly voiced or not.

It’s not just Azzarello’s script, either, for Risso’s glares can make your knees buckle from a continent away. No one wants to back down, so why is it that Brother Lono effectively does so in bar when relatively young shaven-headed Pico challenges him about eyeing up his girl?

Three years ago the conscienceless killing machine lumbered into confession and what he confessed before passing out made Manny’s ears bleed. Yet there he’s since stayed helping the thin-limbed orphans paint carved wooden statues for sale. Occasionally he strays into town for a drink before admitting himself to Sherriff Cesar’s jail for the night. They have an arrangement which both know is for other people’s good.

But other people haven’t been good.

The suave Cortez who administers the elusive Twin Towers’ drug trade is receiving visitors for State-side distributional discussions while ever vigilant for the D.E.A. dropping into town. His enforcer Cráneo has also been busy meaning that Sherriff Cesar has been busy with those who’ve seen the business end of Cráneo’s negotiation skills. So has Pico. He’s ditched one of those corpses on church land which is strictly off limits, threatening the fragile relationship between his boss Cortez and Father Manny and his mission. Now why, do you think, would he do that?

As stability is threatened and tempers fray, new threats are made, some more explicit than others; some involving the children. Pico reveals his secret, Father Manny discovers one he shouldn’t but all the while, as Uncle Remus would say, “Brer Lono, he lay low”.

Remind me what the best practice is for sleeping dogs, please.

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets: Brother Lono and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 2: We Are All One (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta…

“Then came a reckoning, following that day, there were no more judges, there were no more juries…
“There were just lawmen, and to a person, they were Rangers.
“God save the republic.
“God help the lawless.
“God damn the guilty.”

“When the Rangers had finished with the judges, they turned on the politicians.
“No thieves, no liars, and no whores were left alive.
“Amen.”

I might have gone for hallelujah myself, once the politicians had all been dispensed with, but still. Of the first volume I wrote… “This could easily prove to be Hickman’s most comprehensive piece of speculative fiction yet. This first volume reads very, very much like the opening chapter to a prose novel, in is that rich with detailed promise of what is yet to come, and also to be revealed, of what precisely has transpired in the distant past to bring us to such an… unusual… time and place.”

In that sense I could quite simply conclude this review by saying this is chapter two, for the dense, prose-like, tightly woven plot strands are only just beginning to start to teasingly unravel as we gradually learn more about our various protagonists, the complex alliances and arrangements that precariously politically balance their familiar but strange world, and their motivations as multitudinous Machiavellian schemes to undermine each other start to be revealed. They didn’t get rid of all the thieving, lying, whoring politicians after all, then, what a surprise! The only person interested in outright head-on confrontation, though, is Death himself – if that is what he really is, we still don’t know – but then his desire is altogether more simple: he just wants himself some good old fashioned revenge, pilgrim, and nothing is going to stand in his way. A true force of nature, then? Perhaps, perhaps, but I think there is more to learn about our cold-blooded killer too, and possibly for him to learn about himself…

There are still so many things which remain frustratingly obscure or unclear, not least how the mysterious, prophetic Message itself fits in or indeed came about, but at this point Hickman has done nothing to disavow me of the opinion this is easily his finest speculative fictional work to date.

JR

Buy East Of West vol 2: We Are All One and read the Page 45 review here

Lumberjanes #1 (£2-99, Boom Studios) by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson & Brooke Allen.

Hardcore Lady Types!

Friendship To The Max!

That’s what the Lumberjanes Camp is all about.

Also: extreme exploring and v sassy hair. Mal has a haircut just like our Dee’s: shaved on one side then dyed black and whoosh!

You’re not really supposed to sneak out from your cabin at night in pursuit of a shape-shifting Bearwoman only to be ambushed by a savage pack of three-eyed foxes which combust upon contact and project a mystery message like “Beware the kitten holy”. Not even as a posse. You run the risk of “stranger danger”.

But that is precisely what Mal, Molly, April, Jo and Ripley have done and now they must answer to cabin leader Jane who takes them to camp leader Rosie who’s whittling out of wood the most intricate eagle claws – so dainty – with an axe. Curiously, Rosie’s not cross; she’s intrigued. And what’s that glowing crystal doing in her toilet? I don’t think it’s an air freshener.

Highly animated art – positively hyperactive in places – with lots of lovely background laughs, my favourite being Mal in pursuit of a fox, mouth wide, arms flailing. It’s full of life, full of fun and full of individuality, as are the lady types themselves.

Jo, do you know the Lumberjanes pledge?

“I solemnly swear to do my best
Every day. And in all that I do.
To be brave and strong,
To be truthful and compassionate,
To be interesting and interested,
To respect nature,
To pay attention and question
The world around me,
To think of others first,
To always help and protect my friends
Then there’s a line about god of whatever
And to make the world a better place
For Lumberjane scouts
And for everyone else.”

Commendable!

“Mal, Molly, what in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”

Getting into trouble.

Bonus feature: editorial by Shannon Watters on a caffeine surge.

SLH

Buy Lumberjanes #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Cosplayers (£4-25, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw…

“You might see one of us and think we’re delivering your mail, or waiting on your table, but we’re actually acting, and we’ve given you a bit part.”

I have the strangest feeling there is some element of non-fiction in this slightly creepy and cringeworthy tale of two girls who like to film everyday social situations, then overdub the other participants’ voices with fake lines to make youtube videos. If I ever meet Dash, I’ll ask him. It starts off innocently enough as you would expect then veers into slightly darker territory as the set-up scenarios become more and more elaborate. I won’t spoil the different ‘scenes’ by explaining precisely what they entail, but let’s just say the emotional content gradually escalates…

Interspersed with chapter breaks of Dash illustrating people in cosplay outfits, probably taken from real life photos – without permission no doubt heh heh – this is just great fun. It is easily one of the most accessible pieces he has done given his penchant for the more elaborate, intricate and visually and linguistically surreal works such as BODY WORLD, THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D., THE BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON, s NEW STORIES and NEW SCHOOL. I really think this premise could easily be spun out into a book, and maybe that’s the intention with this one-shot. Hope so!

JR

Buy Cosplayers and read the Page 45 review here

The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James (£12-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams…

Released 26th June 2014!

“If I tell you something, would you promise to keep it secret?”
“Of course.”
“It’s just that, while doctors must keep their patients’ information confidential, there is no reciprocal agreement.
“I’ve had a few patients with OCD over the years but I’ve never told them any of them this…
“Nor any of my partners, nor many friends, and I’m not sure why I feel like sharing this with you…
“… but I’m about the same age as you and I had OCD when I was younger.”
“Oh… right… that’s…”
“It developed in my teens and I had it right through medical school.”
“What sort of treatment did you get?”
“None, I hid it. It was hellish. I thought I was insane. I just tried to act as normally as I could. It wasn’t until years later that I sought help.”
“Oh, and I drank very heavily… but that wasn’t unusual at medical school.”

Ahh, Dr. Iwan James, our titular doctor, I don’t think he’s so bad, but he might think otherwise. For whilst his OCD is under control these days, it’s clear it colours significant aspects of his everyday view of life. He’s aware of it, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less real, or emotionally comfortable for him, as people who have ever suffered from any sort of mental malaise will know. That mild, if that’s the right word, continuing undercurrent of personal torment aside, he’s actually exactly the sort of doctor you’d want if you were able to choose. He listens, cares about his patients, and wants to help them, rather than just paying lip service and prescribing pharmaceuticals.

He also has an apparently unrequited crush on fellow practice doctor Lois, last seen with travails of her own in DISREPUTE, as together they battle against the bureaucracy and general bone-idleness of senior partner Dr. Robert. Not the Dr. Robert of Blow Monkeys fame I probably have no need to add, just in case you were momentarily confused… but music of the metallically heavier and, in his mother’s eyes at least, considerably more Satanic variety, has certainly played a big part in Iwan’s upbringing and issues with OCD. Just as well he’s into mountain biking in a big way, his rides into the countryside with his best mate Arthur his own stress-busting therapeutic release.

I was speaking with Ian a few months ago regarding this forthcoming, as it then was, book, and I’m delighted to say it’s everything I was sure it would be. It has genuine parochially British humour observantly highlighting our peculiar cultural fascination with illness. It’s mordant in some senses, but Ian’s not being mean. The Americans might like to shout about cosmetic surgery, but I can certainly think of a few British folks that are never happier than when lamenting i.e. whinging about their various day-to-day ailments, and Ian captures the GP’s eye of it here perfectly.

Plus in Iwan we have a character of real depth and complexity, having been through the emotional maelstrom himself, he’s perfectly placed to help those still in its midst. Not that he’s capable of that empathy towards all his patients mind you, but then the resident town weirdo / potential serial killer Aneurin Cotter is the sort of chap who would make anyone uncomfortable, and thus also neatly points out that GP’s have to engage and encounter all corners of their communities whereas most of us* do not. I also liked the fact we get a real insight into the roots of Iwan’s OCD, its effects upon him, particularly in the early days. I found that aspect of this work alone quite fascinating.

A mention too for Ian’s black and white art style, which upon first glance appears relatively straightforward and simplistic, but the more you study it, is in fact intensely detailed and varied in places, primarily in the composition of the panels and pages themselves. For example, whilst I note that a significant proportion of the panels, typically those which involve talking head conversations, are entirely bereft of background, where there is a background required for the purposes of exposition, it’s usually richly illustrated, which provides a nice subconscious, subtle juxtaposition as one is reading.

Similarly, you could conclude his character’s faces are quite plainly drawn, but there’s a lot of expression there, which is a neat trick to pull off, and I can see similarities with Kevin GLENN GANGES Huizenga in that respect. Panel borders, or lack of them, rounded corners, speech bubbles without borders, simple single lines apportioning text to a character, it’s clear Ian has put a lot of thought into the anatomy of this book, how the sum of the parts draw together to produce the whole, and I admire that attention to the construction of this work. I have no idea whether Ian considers himself an accomplished illustrator, but I certainly think he is a very clever artist.

*Although retailers get all the freaks of humanity through their doors too, rest assured.

JR

Buy The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James and read the Page 45 review here

Iron Fist #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kaare Andrews.

HAWKEYE’s Matt Fraction and David Aja are a hard act to follow. Their previous run on IRON FIST was a rejuvenating joy.

Fortunately one of comics’ finest chameleons, Kaare Andrews of SPIDER-MAN: REIGN, is no slouch.

He’s using at least four different visual styles so far including an exquisitely rendered black-and-white sequence like freeze-frame footage from a Bruce Lee film lit from the left by an industrial spotlight so throwing Daniel Rand’s body into stark silhouette, indelible on the east but eroded from the west.

He’s channelling Jim Steranko.

“Two apaches descending hard and fast almost drown out the slide of nylon rope and chambered bullets. Almost.
“I draw them away from the girl. The apartments. Away from innocent lives.
“If they’re looking for something to destroy, how about an insurance company?
“I’m assuming they’re covered.”

Daniel Rand is tired and jaded. Numb. He is going through the motions.

He is being interviewed by a young lady “three steps out of a journalism degree, subsidized by Mommy and Daddy, enabled by a pretty face”. He is aware of the flattery yet prone to her interest not to mention her young, pretty face. So he tells of his childhood wrenched from home and into blizzardous mountains but seconds away from an avalanche by his father’s mad-eyed obsession with the mythical city of K’Un Lun. The expedition didn’t end well.

Now he’s in bed with her because whatever he’s earned it.

But whether sat opposite in the restaurant, brushing his teeth both before and afterwards or lying catatonic beneath Debbie / Barbie / Brenda or whatever her name is during sex, he remains robotic-eyed, close to drooling.

That is, until the helicopters strike.

I’d quote you the restaurant monologue in lieu of actual conversation which is hilarious in its relentlessness and slide towards size but please pick up the comic instead.

Once upon a time these satellite C-list series were mere filler while the big guns blazed well ahead. Now there seems so much invested in the five million Avengers titles to fuel its films’ fires that they’ve become self-indulgent, turgid and impenetrable. I prefer these far more accessible and individualistic series when given to creators of note, like LOKI and MS MARVEL and MOON KNIGHT – and of course YOUNG AVENGERS before them.

For more about Iron Fist himself, please see my review of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1 and buy Fraction’s book: it’s a killer.

SLH

Buy Iron Fist #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

Rachel Rising vol 4: Winter Graves (£12-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore
Operation Margarine (£9-99, AdHouse Media) by Katie Skelly
Sex Criminals vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Sunny vol 3 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo MatsumotoRanma 1/2 2in1 vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Retroworld h/c (£17-99, Humanoids) by Patrick Galliano & Cedric Peyravernay, Bazal
Criminal vol 2: Lawless US edition (£10-99, Icon) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Chronicles Of Conan vol 26: Legion Of The Dead (£14-99, Dark Horse) by James Owsley & Val Semeiks, Vince Giarrano, Andy Kubert
BPRD Hell On Earth vol 8 – Lake Of Fire (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Tyler Crook
Superior Spider-Man vol 5: Superior Venom s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage & Humberto Ramos
Dorohedoro vol 12 (£9-99, Viz) by Q. Hayashida
Fairy Tail vol 37 (£7-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Final Crisis s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & J. G. Jones
Joker Death Of The Family s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo


ITEM! I have totally run out of time on account of stuff happening!

ITEM!s will return next week!

- Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week two

April 9th, 2014

We kick-off with a couple of previews this week. I do love comp copies! If you order now they’ll be dispatched immediately upon arrival and you never pay in advance, only when books arrive.

Plenty more to buy right now underneath. Daredevil: End Of Days s/c is a belter.

 - Stephen.

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary Talbot & Kate Charlesworth, Bryan Talbot.

Published 1st May 2014.

There’s a well dressed woman on a Huddersfield High Street, July 1908, hand-selling the progressive paper ‘Votes For Women’. She’s approached by the sort of angry, flushed-faced battle axe you’d expect from Sir John Tenniel.

“The truth for a penny! The truth for a penny!”
“No, thank you!”
What? Don’t you like the truth?
“Certainly not!”

Exquisite cartooning.

This is nothing short of a masterpiece: a most affecting piece of personalised fiction so steeped in British social history – at specific times, in specific places – that I was under the constant illusion of reading a biography. Most of the individuals surrounding Sally Heathcote were very real, well documented campaigners for women’s suffrage and wider rights, while all the events so meticulously researched here actually happened.

Moreover it is primed with a punchline which, when detonated after so much assiduously laid groundwork of sacrifice and suffering, will ring in your ears for years.

From the creative team behind the 2012 Costa Book Award winner for best biography, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES, with the addition of Kate Charlesworth’s period pencils and washes so soft until a staggering level of violence erupts catastrophically across the page, it is another arresting reminder from Dr. Mary Talbot of things that must never be taken for granted and should never be forgotten.

It seems barely conceivable now that women were ever denied the right to vote: on average that would mean half your friends and relatives and potentially yourself. The word is “absurd”.

What this graphic novel impresses upon one above all is both the sheer teeth-gritting tenacity of these determined individuals in pursuit of nothing more than basic humanity which we call equality, and the dissemblance, the callousness and the viciousness they were met with by a dogmatic establishment determined to hoard power for themselves, plus the obstruction and resentment they faced from their peers who jeered at them in the street. The threat of personal assault was constant, its level prohibitively intimidating to most.

Under circumstances such these it would take a saint to remain pacifistic. Under circumstances such as these, militancy was inevitable while to others it betrayed everything they believed in. But when words fail to work yet actions ignite headlines, well, what would your strategy be? Here’s the indomitable Mrs. Pankhurst after her daughter Christabel had sent her followers on a mass window-shattering campaign on November 21, 1911:

“Why should women go to Parliament Square and be battered about and insulted, when it produces less effect than when they throw stones?”

Sally Heathcote is caught in the middle and swept up in the moment.

It is in 1912, during this first moment of most extreme schism, that Sally’s recollections begin.

Fred and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence are returning to Britain. Old-school philanthropists, it was they who originally launched the newspaper ‘Votes For Women’ and who, as loyal supporters and bankrollers of The Women’s Social and Political Union, have been so badly hit by the government for compensation for that evening of extensive property damage that they nearly lost their house. And it is at this, their most vulnerable hour, that Mrs. Pankhurst severs her ties with the couple (as she would later her own daughter Sylvia) by expelling them for the W.S.P.U.. Which is nice.

But we are fewer than a dozen pages into the graphic novel before being pulled back even further to Spring 1898 when Sally, a pauper-prisoner of the workhouse, is first taken in by a younger, gentler Mrs. Pankhurst who employs her as a maid-of-all-work while aiding her seamstress skills. She is treated well and, while waiting on the family in Manchester, is privy to many a conversation on the current campaigns of Mrs. Pankhurst, her daughters, and their fellow activists. Unless provoked by the crowds they are relatively peaceful. The arrests and hunger strikes, brutal force-feedings and governmental cat-and-mouse games have yet to begin. Reason will win the day, surely.

But when Mrs. Pankhurst is lured down to London by the early successes of her more interventionist actions Sally is cast aside and is referred instead as a domestic servant to a Huddersfield household which is much less enlightened both upstairs and downstairs. It is a very rude awakening. Off her own bat she attends joyous, regional rallies – for the women’s movement is far less centralised as yet – but this lands her in even more trouble with the men of the house. So it is that Sally Heathcote too finds herself drawn to London and, through curiosity and the kindness of strangers, finds herself at the doorstep of the Pethick-Lawrences and back on the Pankhursts’ radar. Her journey has only begun.

Rarely have I found myself leafing through a graphic novel on first, cursory inspection and found myself absorbed in such an attractive or consistent atmosphere. As you would expect from the creator of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT, Bryan Talbot’s layouts are an immaculate essay in clarity, accessibility and restraint, his architectural panoramas quite breath-taking, redolent of their precise time and place. Charlesworth’s treatment of these is enticing and sumptuous, bursting with humanity. There’s a gentleness in Sally and her future beau Arthur which reflects their vulnerability both as individuals and to the exterior forces which threaten to envelop them.

 

We’re not just talking about the suffrage movement, its escalating violence and its backlash: we’re talking about the game-changing eruption of the first World War. So much of this book’s success lies in evoking the multiplicity and complexity and contradictory nature of the societal pressures at this pivotal point in history and I am frankly agog at Dr. Mary Talbot’s inclusion and balance which allows us to ponder, equally bewildered, which stance we’d take.

Seriously: the Liberal government (which was anything but) obstinately and vehemently denies women the right to participate in national life with the right to vote, yet emotionally blackmails them into persuading their men to enlist for the sake of that self-same country:

“TO THE WOMEN OF LONDON
“Is your “Best Boy” wearing Khaki? If not don’t YOU THINK he should be?
“If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for – do you think he is WORTHY of you?
“If your young man neglects his duty to the King and Country, the time may come when he will NEGLECT YOU!”

These and so many more contemporary clippings are included by the Talbots at judicious intervals then annotated at the back, but never once did they rip me from the story at hand. Instead they made me feel that I was walking in Sally’s shoes and so living this life for myself: battered by headlines over tea and toast before wondering what on earth the day would bring next.

I cannot overemphasise how critical the art is to this absorbing atmosphere, predominantly washed in warm antler-greys and so reflecting the period as modern readers perceive it in photographic sepia or newsreel black and white, but with canny colour-coding for Sally’s ginger hair and Mrs. Pankhurst in purple.

In addition the marches and protests are brought alive with their respective union colours: red, white and green for the National Union Of Women’s Suffrage and purple, white and green for the National Women’s Social and Political Union. A lush bunch of flowers is given a very rare, multi-coloured array, concealing as it does an axe buried within.

 

Equally startling in its stark and shocking departure is the sequence involving outright terrorism which, I put it to you (I have not consulted with either Talbot nor Kate Charlesworth), is either a deliberate or subconscious throwback to David Lloyd’s work, appropriately enough, on V FOR VENDETTA.

Nothing, however, will prepare you for the grotesque scenes in Holloway Gaol which Sally has read about happening to others in the papers. Nothing we read in the papers can prepare us for anything like that happening to us, but it is now that they happen to Sally.

None of this would work half so well if all three members of the creative team hadn’t built up our personal, involved relationship with Sally the erstwhile seamstress for page upon succinct page. To some a straight biography, hagiography or historical account would have appeared the natural route to take. And that way I would have sat there, semi-educated, shaking my head dolefully and muttering “tut tut”.

This way I was enraged.

SLH

Pre-order Sally Heathcote: Suffragette h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 of 5 (£5-00, Inky Little Paws) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton.

Due May 7th!

A brand-new, break-neck adventure for Young Readers which has a lot more layered beneath its furry surface than you might initially suspect.

Here learned linguist Professor Wrenfew explains the mystery of the third pictorial Incan language which our intrepid mice have discovered carved on an ancient stone and sandwiched between two surprisingly similar Egyptian and Greek accounts of their gods venting wrath on unfaithful worshippers.

“It was Viracochia who created the sun, the moon, and the stars, and set them all in motion, thus beginning time.
“From the stones of the earth, he sculpted the first race and breathed life into them.
“Brainless giants that they were, they disobeyed and displeased him, so he punished them with a great darkness and floods.”

And that’s when my smiles – catalysed by something I’d already spotted back at the Egyptian dig – turned into a big, fat grin! I give you no more clues, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in an anthropomorphic story before.

It is a perfect comicbook moment because you’ll only be able to put two and two together by spotting what’s implied visually in the Mayan Mouse mythology, harking back as it does to the arid excavation site.

“As the waters cleared, he set about making a second race from the smaller stones, more intelligent than the first. When they emerged, he divided them into groups and taught them different customs, languages, and songs.”

That one, I’ll tell you: they’re mice.

These mice have now evolved to the equivalent of our Victorian era and this has a delightfully period feel, Sara Dunkerton’s eye for fashion and body language matched by her eye for colour which is consistently dry and sandy both back in Egypt and then in London, before bursting into something young eyes will find wondrous when the secrets of the stone are revealed!

Unfortunately our mice are in trouble.

 

It was Professor Harvest-Scott who made the astonishing finds in his archaeological dig, but first his camp was ransacked by rogues then, less than a week later, his fellow researcher Sellsey went missing along with many of his notes. Summoned by his old friend Cornelius Field, the dashing Jack Redpath flies into Cairo just as Victoria Jones of the London Guardian newspaper is due to report both on the unearthed [redacted] and on the mysterious stone carvings.

But en route to the site Jack and Cornelius are ambushed by a sniper, delaying them just long enough for a third party to make its Machiavellian move. It seems they know more about the stone than Professor Harvest-Scott himself, and they’re crafty enough to extract its meaning by any means necessary…

This has all the elements of a classic kids’ adventure like TINTIN itself: secrets and experts and exotic locations; infiltration, reputation and ducking for cover.

Moreover, more than a little lateral thinking gone into it. Most of the mice may scoot about on off-track motorbikes and slink about London in sexy Hispano Suizas, but where humans would hump up on a camel then our dessert rats use spiky African Armadillo Lizards as steeds. Better still, for the heavy lifting they employ beetles who can in real life carry umpteen times their own body weight about. Clever!

Right, so you have bought your daughter, son, nephew or niece this thrilling adventure. Well done, you! And you bought another copy for yourself. Well, quite right too! But I bet you never expected the Sara Dunkerton sketchbook in the back whose pencil work is a veritable masterclass in pistol-packing, punch-throwing pugilism. The eager young artists in your family will be copying and learning from those poses for hours!

SLH

Pre-order Mulp: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 and read the Page 45 review here

To Afghanistan And Back (£7-50, NBM) by Ted Rall.

Originally released and reviewed so long ago that things will have changed but, oh, have they really? From the creator of the equally essential SILK ROAD TO RUIN

Think you’ve been following the news pretty thoroughly and are totally clued up on the military action over there? Reckon you’ve got all the background you need to reach a considered opinion on its legitimacy, its effectiveness and its motivations? Do you trust the BBC to be honest, thorough, and objective? Think again. This book seared through my skull with more concussive force than a car full of fertilised semtex.

Well, no, obviously it didn’t or Mark would’ve found this terminal splattered in a rainbow of head-jelly; but hyperbolae aside I wasn’t remotely prepared for the revelations here, reported by cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall, who has a background in the surrounding region and was there on the frontline covering the initial conflict for the Village Voice and KFI radio in LA.

It’s a tendentious piece of journalism, to be sure, but his arguments are persuasive, beginning with an assessment of just what can be accomplished (the escalating options he proposes still don’t bring much light), why it’s being attempted (Kazakhstan’s oil, anyone? A pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistani ports prevents the Russians helping themselves, and would avoid Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev from incurring the wrath of the US by negotiating with Iran), and a reminder that because it was politically expedient, it was the US with Pakistan who ushered in the Taliban with funds and ammunition, and that as late as 1999 US taxpayers were paying the annual salaries of each and every one of its officials.

As Ted moves into the heart of the action he witnesses entire Northern Alliance towns being obliterated when 5,000-pound precision-guided missiles hit precisely the wrong target, or the US simply throws its artillery around indiscriminately. The journalist death count escalates well beyond the reported figures as some are blown to pieces, have their skin ripped off them by prisoners or are murdered in their accommodation by opportunistic thieves. As the Taliban leave each area women sensibly leave their Burqas on (after a quick $1 shot for western television with them off) because they believed, often correctly, that their persecutors would return as the Afghans changed sides back and forth more often than they bothered to pray to Allah. And without the Taliban’s order, Rall witnesses Afghanistan’s society teetering on the brink of murderous, hedonistic anarchy. Having read his accounts, I’m surprised he got out alive; there’s no help coming from the US if you’re a journalist (or if you’re a local, for Rall saw not one single drop of those much vaunted food parcels), only from the occasional act of unwarranted and barely affordable kindness on the part of poverty stricken Afghanis.

Half the book is prose, half of it sequential art with more than a nod to Groenig’s style on AKBAR & JEFF, and if some of the sequences mirror each other, reading something twice gave me double the opportunity to absorb it – and I can tell you, it took some absorbing. I can’t say I agree with absolutely all of Rall’s conclusions, but this is certainly what he saw, and it’s more worth watching than the sanitised, feel-good dross I just saw this morning on BBC Breakfast. After which “Some readers may find these images disturbing”…

SLH

Buy To Afghanistan And Back and read the Page 45 review here

Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World s/c (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli, Greg Tocchini.

“Whoa whoa! Wait! Don’t come in here! I… I’m… not dressed!”
“Relax, we’ve known each other since we were little. I’ve seen you in the pink. You haven’t got anything I haven’t seen – “
“—before.”

Many thanks to Francesco for that nicely played, beautifully drawn page of male nudity. Nice poster collection you’ve got there too, Angus.

It is only now that I type this that I realise that this not inconsiderable body-issue involving teenage Angus Chung has yet to resolved, one’s most immediate supposition confounded by the true nature of the Hinterkind later on. I think fans of FABLES will be delighted. I’m not one of them, but I was delighted anyway. We’ll get to that.

In the meantime, thanks also to Francesco Trifogli, this is the most beautiful post-apocalypse you will ever behold, and well worth the sacrifice of what we laughably call “humanity”. Nature has reclaimed even New York City: verdant, fully formed trees blooming atop its tallest skyscrapers in vast, billowing clouds of lush, leafy green. There’s been some structural damage, but then roots are like that.

“Calling it the end of the world was a conceit. The world kept ticking on just fine, it was humanity that took the hit. Seven months from top of the food chain to endangered species.
“Mother Nature breathed a sigh of relief. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Fish and house guests smell after three days”. By extension, after three hundred thousand years, we’d really stunk up the place.”

There are still some of us left, though, hunting with bows and arrows, loin cloths thankfully absent. Small numbers of survivors have built a village in Central Park, its relatively formal parkland repurposed for agriculture. There are also stockades scattered across America in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis – or at least, there were. They’ve recently gone radio silent, though their channels are still open.

Against everyone else’s better judgement Asa, their resident, grey-bearded doctor, is determined to make the two-month round-trip to one of those outposts in Albany to find out what became of their friends. No one from Manhattan has left the island for years so there’s really no telling what’s out there. Something is stirring, that’s for sure.

Young Angus has also decided he’s better off out there lest the village discovers his secret, and in case his sister Sophie is tarred with the same brush and suffers for it. He’s feeling pretty wretched. Not one to abandon her childhood friend (or resist the opportunity to tease), Asa’s grand-daughter, Prosper Monday, catches up with him but as the pair prepare to cross the bridge they are attacked first by a pride of ligers and then by something much, much bigger with six arms, tattoos, and a strangely familiar vocabulary.

I enjoyed this thoroughly from the offset thanks in no small part to the affections established early on with witty word play by writer Ian Edginton, Culbard’s collaborator on SHERLOCK HOLMES and D’Israeli’s on SCARLET TRACES. Then the Hinterkind are introduced and although I don’t want to give too much away, they are not a single race but a collective of colourful, diverse and perpetually hungry omnivores who are most emphatically not a mutation of mankind but victims of it.

“You’ve never been good at accepting anything other than yourselves. You even turn on each other – black, gay, Jew, Muslim. You look for any excuse to grind someone else under your boot heel!”

Whatever you think this means, it’s a speech proved all too true when yet another faction rears its exceeding ugly head, plus you wait until you meet the monarchy and if that wasn’t enough… Jeepers, how big is this going to get?!

In short, things aren’t looking good for what’s left of humanity, but at least the world’s forests are enjoying a well earned respite.

SLH

Buy Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World and read the Page 45 review here

Caliban #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio.

Love the cover which positively glows and informs you immediately that you’re in OCEAN and ‘Alien’ territory. In space no one can hear you lose your shit.

The Caliban is a mining ship navigating warpspace with a small, somewhat fractious crew of conscious officers.

“The miners sleep down below along with the cargo. That’s so they don’t spend too long gazing at infinity that they step outside to get a better look at it.”

There’s an officious, unresponsive navigator called Karien who looks a lot like Hitler minus the Charlie Chaplin moustache; a man named McCartney who doesn’t respond well to officiousness; a timid and doting young man called Canny; sharp-tongued San, the woman who can (and they’ll be bloody grateful for that later on), and finally our Nomi the note-maker.

“One hundred nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable. Suits of rebreathers, every time. Life: forget it. An orange mould they found on an asteroid. Some kind of mollusc on somebody’s moon, that lives inside its own excrement.
“So it’s stations, ships, recycled air. Fake light. Suns too bright to look at. Your body adapting in ways you don’t dwell on. Stillborn things that go straight in the trash.
“But all those dead rocks have yielded up a ton of treasure. Ore and oil and gas and water. The megatonnage is immense: you see the figures on a screen and the zeroes just go on forever.
“And because almost no one wants to live out here, everything goes back to feed the industries on earth. Which, last time I saw it, looked like a tumour breathing through a smokestack.”

Oh wait, I forgot the Captain. We haven’t seen him. He’s been too busy “banging the shit out of his executive officer”. We haven’t met the executive officer, either, who could be bloke for all we know. One doesn’t like to presume.

I’m not sure we’ll ever find out, either, because – wham! – out of nowhere in warpspace where they shouldn’t even be able to touch anything, they do. It’s big, it’s beautiful, almost ancient Egyptian in design, it’s just fused with Caliban inside and out, the sleeper pods are venting into the void and – oh. Poor Canny. That had to hurt.

Okay, so far I haven’t really read or seen anything I haven’t encountered before, but the script was mightily enjoyable and there were several flourishes from Facundo Percio which were very impressive.

It’s Garth Ennis. I trust him.

SLH

Buy Caliban #1and read the Page 45 review here

Daredevil: End Of Days s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack & Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, David Mack.

Matt Murdock is dead. He was beaten to death in full view of the public, and the ugly images were transmitted uncensored across the nation, across the world, to an audience transfixed by their grotesque brutality. And I do warn you right now that Klaus and Billy have ensured that it is very uncomfortable viewing. It’s supposed to be.

But if you were to listen closely on playback, if you were to turn up the volume and really, really concentrate, you would hear a single word muttered by Murdock as his last breath passed his lips. Bugle veteran Ben Urich, once one of Matt’s sole confidants, heard what was said and will not let it lie. Disgusted by the sensationalism, he is equally confounded by the circumstances of Matt’s death and the events leading up to it during which Matt killed the Kingpin, alienating all of his peers, then completely fell off the radar. But Ben is nothing if not dogged and determined to do his old friend one last kindness. He wants to tell the world what Murdock was doing before he died.

Unfortunately no one is pleased to see him.

 

As Urich begins to revisit Murdock’s past and those who populated it you’ll begin to see the depth and scope of this story gradually unfurl and then comprehend – like Urich himself – the extent of the silence he’s up against. It’s not a wall as such, but a void. An evasion. And a secret almost nobody knows.

Out of the shadows steps someone who should know what happened; someone who is old and angry and claiming that Urich’s best lead – Matt’s former lover, the Black Widow – is dead. Then into the shadows steps Urich when he tracks the license plate of an SUV from Matt’s funeral, ill-attended apart from the media vultures, to a park where children are playing soccer and one particular mother is watching, missing nothing.

“It’s very brave of you to come here, Mister Urich. You remember me when I had nothing to lose… Imagine what I’m like now.”

Oh yes, almost everyone you would expect to see makes most unexpected appearances. The strange fate of Typhoid Mary, for example, is both surprising and delightful but packed with poignancy. Oh, her final panel!

The art is absolutely extraordinary throughout and grows increasingly refined as everyone settles in, with additional bursts of David Mack splendour when appropriate. But right from the beginning there is the sheer sense of space in the Daily Bugle office in a double-page spread whose interior windows I stared at for ages; the breathtaking, Sienkiewicz-solo of the Kingpin at night, brooding as he stares out at the neon-blazed city he owns, or two separate panels of gritted teeth in the second chapter’s dark, dank, behind-the-bar alley – the first coming off like Byrne at his best, the second perfectly recapturing the glory days of Frank Miller as inked by our good Klaus Janson, present and correct on pencils.

What you see here are artists at one – no egos – each working in unison in service to the story, and there’s a considerable gallery of process pieces in the back which will show you Janson’s original pencils for that Daily Bugle spread, Bill Sienkiewicz’s sketches and inimitable inks (and I used the word “inimitable” with precision), David Mack washes you can bathe your sore eyes in, plus a host of unused covers.

Meanwhile, Bullseye himself is discovered dead in a rented room, a bullet blown straight through his skull. Above him, scrawled in his own blood, is the last word Matt Murdock ever uttered: “Mapone”.

What does that mean?

You will find out, right at the end. There are no anti-climaxes here.

SLH

Buy Daredevil: End Of Days s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Inhuman #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Joe Madureira.

In which a cloud of Terrigen Mist is sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.

“You really need to think about a change.”

A change, you say? Did you know there is a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans?

“Change. Pfft. Easy to say. Hard to do.”

Not when there’s a cloud of Terrigen Mist sweeping across the world, changing humans into Inhumans.

“I’m on a track, with no way off. I know it’s not what I’m supposed to be. I can feel something better for me, I just can’t find it.”

Don’t worry, it’s heading your way, sweeping across the world as a cloud of Terrigen mist. Look, it’s on the TV in the next panel, and it’ll be with you on the next page. That’s, like, so ironic.

Drivel.

As to the art: horrible.

Especially the colours by Marte Gracia who has made this as impenetrably murky as ULTIMATUM.

Cover’s okay, mind.

SLH

Buy Inhuman #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

New York Postcards (£11-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Andrian Tomine

100 Bullets: Brother Lono (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life And Times Of Dr. Iwan James (£12-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams

Celeste h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by I.N.J. Culbard

East Of West vol 2: We Are All One (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Number Cruncher h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & PJ Holden

Three (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Ryan Kelly, Jordie Bellaire

The Undertaking Of Lily Chen (£20-99, First Second) by Danica Novgorodoff

A Game Of Thrones vol 3 h/c UK Edition (£18-99, Random House / Vertical) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Astro City: Shining Stars s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Daredevil vol 5 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Earth 2 vol 2: The Tower Of Fate s/c (£12-99, DC) by James Robinson & Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, various

Soul Eater vol 19 (£8-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

 

ITEM! Monumental page by Colleen Doran, previously unseen, on a project with Warren Ellis currently on the back burner.

ITEM! Something new from Isabel Greenberg (creator of my favourite book of last year, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH).

ITEM! Hair trouble! Unused CHLOE NOONAN pages by Marc Ellerby. What a shame!

ITEM! A reminder of the magic that was ZENITH and is Steve Yeowell, one of Britain’s all-time greatest artists. There is a retail collection coming, yes! I don’t quite know when, no.

ITEM! Short interview with Kate Brown about her new serial Tamsin And The Deep in PHOENIX, written by Neill Cameron and set in Cornwall.

ITEM! Do you love shadows and silhouettes? THE HOUND, a Celtic Myth set in Ancient Ireland, by Hugh Welchman. Some truly gorgeous images there and its support appears to double each time I look.

ITEM! A thrillingly animated French-language feature on Michel Rabagliati, Canada’s answer to our Andi Watson.

- Stephen

Reviews April 2014 week one

April 2nd, 2014

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood by Jeffrey Brown. After reading Jonathan’s review I can now imagine Jonathan telling his daughter that there *are* monster under the bed just to keep her there.

 - Stephen on Jonathan’s parenting techniques. Oh, the stories I could tell!

The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn & Dave Gibbons.

“RU in LONDON?
GARY is in
BIG TROUBLE
again. Really
need UR help X”

What if James Bond came from Peckham?

Don’t know Peckham? Chap on the left of the cover: that’s Gary. He plays a lot of video games, drinks while driving stolen cars and cannot abide his Mum’s current boyfriend, Dean, who’s constantly belittling the pair of them. For a party trick he’s taught Gary’s young brother Ryan to roll spliffs. It’s something to show off to his friends. Sometimes Dean gets violent.

Uncle Jack’s on the right. He too came from Peckham but has done considerably better for himself. They think Uncle Jack’s in the Fraud Squad. He isn’t. He’s Britain’s highest-ranking Secret Service agent specialising in overseas threats. There’s one bubbling below the service right now and it’s about to go global.

But first… Gary’s got himself nicked by the coppers again. Time for Jack to pay one of his rare visits to neglected sister Sharon and sort it all out. Again.

From the writer of SUPERIOR and a great many more of the sharpest superhero books on the shelves, and the artist on another one: WATCHMEN. Dave Gibbons is the perfect choice for something so quintessentially British and does “reserved” to crisp, sharp-suited perfection while delivering the balls-out action to boot.

Millar, meanwhile, has plenty to say about class, its portrayal in the media and the practical ramifications of poverty both on the street and behind closed doors. I don’t just mean nuts-and-bolts poverty, either, but poverty of aspiration and poverty of opportunity.

Uncle Jack has neglected his family but he’s about to make amends: he’s going to give Jack the opportunity to join the Secret Service. He believes in Gary. It’s a shame that no one’s ever taught Gary to believe in himself.

The training missions are a complete departure from anything you’d expect but all make perfect sense. Begging for bus fare on the streets of London, for example. Successful coercion and blending in: observing exactly who told you to piss off and get a job, plus what they were wearing when they did so.

Yes, Jack can shoot like nobody’s business and GTA proves his forte. That’s video games for you. But he’s lived in a cultural vacuum and social cul de sac so his powers of persuasion leave much to be desired and his seduction techniques are lame. It’s not a straightforward trajectory at all. He was far more comfortable in his own skin back in Peckham, so there’s every chance he’ll give up and give in to the familiar.

Meanwhile, like all James Bond scenarios, there must be one godalmighty threat to fend off with specialised weaponry and ad hoc ingenuity. This one is epic in scale and topical both in its motivation and deployment. There is, however, something a little odd and oh so Mark Millar about the early warnings.

“Anything new on the kidnappings?”
“Nothing we can figure out. That’s six cast and crew from the Star Wars films, four from Doctor Who, eight from Battlestar Galactica and five from Star Trek.”
“The original or the JJ Abrams version?”
“Oh, the originals, of course. But Lady Hunt and I watched the new one on pay-per-view last weekend and I have to say I was very impressed. I resisted the idea of a remake at first, but the chap playing the doctor was practically channelling De Forrest Kelly.”

The threat is not to sci-fi celebrities. Believe it or not the kidnapper is doing them a favour. He honestly believes he is doing the entire, over-populated world a favour.

Features the worst wedding fight ever, no matter how much you hate your in-laws.

SLH

Buy The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“Bookgasm.”
“Don’t get too excited, they’re mostly review copies. Younger writers are always looking for “blurbs”, one of the few words that sounds exactly as awful as the crime it’s describing.”

Our fastest-selling graphic novel to date!

It’s beautiful, funny and completely unpredictable. Unlike this intro. New readers, I present you with… previously in SAGA:

Alana and Marko are in love. She’s from the planet Landfall; he’s from its moon. Unfortunately their people have been at war for as long as anyone can recall. But both factions soon realised that either world’s destruction would cause the other to spin out of orbit. Such an assault would be suicidal.

So what they’ve kindly done is they’ve taken their fight to other people’s worlds. Which is nice.

Marko was sent to the frontline, didn’t like what he saw and surrendered. Alana was his captor and freed him. Each, therefore, is now on the run from their respective species for treachery, desertion… and blasphemy. Because, worst of all, they’ve successfully mated to produce a beautiful baby called Hazel. This unholy union is despised by all sides and for morale’s sake – to ensure no one else gets the wretched idea that love might be better than hatred – all traces of it must be eradicated.

Marko’s people have dispatched The Will, a phenomenal assassin with a Lying Cat. It is a cat that can tell if you’re lying. Problematically, it has Tourette’s Syndrome so it is likely to say so right in the middle of your poker-faced bluff. Alana’s people have dispatched Prince Robot IV from a race of walking, talking, fornicating television sets. You’ll be surprised what pops up on his screen.

But Marko and Alana have at least found sanctuary in a semi-sentient, wood-based rocketship along with an impromptu babysitter from what’s left of Cleave’s indigenous population. She’s a floating, glowing, pink ghost of a girl with her lower half missing, trailing her intestines behind her.

Now they arrive with Marko’s abrasive mother at the doorstep of monocular D. Oswald Heist, the avuncular author of the subversive romance novel that first brought the couple together. He has much to impart: wisdom, wit and cunning ways to win at board games.

He’s singularly smart at ensuring hot heads see eye to eye with him, even winning over Marko’s mother by being candid when it counts.

“They say it’s the worst pain imaginable, losing a child. But that wasn’t my experience. Don’t get me wrong, my son’s death just about destroyed me. But if I’m being honest, nothing will ever hurt quite so deeply as the moment I heard the first person I ever really loved was gone. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?”
“I wear it that plainly?”
“I’m guessing you lost him recently. For what it’s worth, your son will get better with time. And maybe you will, too. But if your spouse was anything like mine, I regret to inform you that the rest of your days will be, by and large, kind of shit.”

Vaughan has enormous fun using this author scenario to poke fun at himself via Heist who first presents himself to the family outside his lighthouse lurching under the influence with a gun in one hand, a bottle in the other, and urine-stained Y-fronts splayed between a dressing gown whose loose belt trails over the rocks beneath his pink-slippered feet.

“Over the years, we met every kind of person imaginable. But no one makes worse first impressions than writers.”

I cannot even quote what Heist says to earn that accolade, but you will guffaw. Like everything here it is handled with delicate – or even indelicate – aplomb by Staples, as is a later scene in which Alana has managed to strike the fear of God into Heist to the extent that his hands close weakly in tentative terror, held up almost in supplication. How has she done this?

“If you like kids’ books so much, why haven’t you ever written one?”
“Because it requires collaborating with an artist. And artists… terrify me.”

The Will, meanwhile, is nursing his ship’s wounds on a planet that seems like paradise, even if its flying fish are sharks which circle overhead. The age-old problem with paradise, of course, is that you have to be very careful what you eat. Haunted and taunted by his dead ex-girlfriend, The Will also has to contend with Marko’s ex-fiancée who doesn’t handle rejection very well. Nor unsolicited attention, for that matter. I really wouldn’t do that, The Will.

They have with them a girl whom The Will rescued from sexual slavery in SAGA VOL 1. She is bright, optimistic, yet suffering from the scars of what she was once made to do. In related news: the best-ever use of the Lying Cat which will elicit the biggest of “Awwws” from each of you.

All our protagonists will converge before the end of this chapter which, I would suggest, concludes Act One. As surprising as anything and everything that precedes it, I think you will love the punchline.

SLH

Buy Saga vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c (£10-99, Image) by Simon Roy.

Whimsical slithers of lo-fi sci-fi from the co-writer and artist on Brandon Graham’s PROPHET.

You’ll hear some of the critters chittering round the crowded bar but don’t presume that just because you don’t understand them, they cannot understand you. And don’t presume that just because you haven’t been open and honest about your neo-imperialist expansion plan that these simple, insectoid souls didn’t get the measure of you the second you stepped foot on their arid, infertile soil.

Most of the aliens and animals are fully conversant in English, however. This includes a Gorilla called Dan who has resigned himself to life marooned on a tranquil dessert island rich in the fruits of the sea, whereas Brian remains restless:

“Five fucking planes fly over this goddamn island every day. One pilot has to look down.”
“Let it go, Brian. If someone was coming…”
“Yeah. A fella can hope, though…”
“Aww, I shouldn’ta said anything. We’ve got a little while until the next fly-over. Let’s go smash open some crabs with rocks.”

Because they can. They don’t eat them or anything – just pulverise them, before growing bored.

It’s a sweet tale, and I loved that last panel I quoted in which Dan the gorilla casts a comforting arm around Brian’s shoulder. Later they’ll get drunk and shoot bottles. I wonder what will happen when a yacht washes up on the shore…

‘Homeward Bound’ stars two magpies who’ve also discovered a wreck, this one from the stars, and I can’t help but think that Simon has read Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS as one pair of birds wonders about what they discovered while a second has altogether more practical priorities.

Violence is never too far round the corner, but that’s the problem with male egos. Some people just cannot let it lie, no matter the risk of escalation, and the title ‘Bar Fight’ says it all. It’s also the problem with territorial lines (which are basically male egos on a military scale), hence ‘Good Business’ and the longest story here, the titular ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’. Following a car crash, Jan’s medical insurance company has paid for him to be housed temporarily in a robotic body. It’s an old model and Jan is experiencing problems.

“Getting dressed this morning was like trying to force a t-shirt on an oil drum. That’s why I’m wearing these fucking sweats – they’re all I could get on.”

Of course you’d still want to get dressed in the morning – it’s part of your identity! Unlike the opening salvo which was so slight that it should never have been included for fear of putting potential readers off, ‘Jan’s Atomic Heart’ is a deviously well written number. Reading it through a second time with hindsight is a revelation. What looks like casual conversation – or even exposition – is anything but.

Simon’s art also takes a massive leap between the two stories and continues to evolve into something far more recognisable to readers of PROPHET, first incorporating washes then the more bulbous features and finally the distinct form of aliens he favours.

No mere curiosity, I enjoyed this both for the comedy and for the recognition factor: human behaviour.

SLH

Buy Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood (£9-99, Chronicle) by Jeffrey Brown…

“Why can’t I go outside and play?”
“Oscar, it’s past your bedtime. Plus there’s a curfew for kids.”
“What’s a curfew?”
“It means that kids all have to be inside at night or the police come. If we let you play outside the police would take Mommy and Daddy to jail.”
“But that’s not fair to me or the police.”

Ha ha, yes, the police card. Most played in our household to get my daughter to stay sat in her car seat. She is rapidly starting to get suspicious of the number of unmarked police vehicles and undercover policemen that seem to be patrolling the streets though. I keep expecting her to ask if we are living in a totalitarian state. Still, I suspect most toddlers and kids feel that is the case at least some of the time. Let me tell you though, being an absolute dictator, albeit benevolent, is far harder work than you’d believe!

I think it would be fair to say that this is basically a mash-up of Jeff’s excellent autobiographical material, especially the more recent stuff featuring Oscar such as A MATTER OF LIFE, and his humour material like DARTH VADER AND SON. Fans of both should be appeased and indeed amused though I suspect only those with kids themselves will know just exactly how on the money this observational humour is.

It was probably the same for cat lovers and his CATS ARE WEIRD and CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG books.

Great fun.

JR

Buy Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood and read the Page 45 review here

Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c (£18-99, Image) by Paul Pope…

This collection of original art and process material, accompanied by the thoughts of Paul Pope, is an excellent companion piece to the BATTLING BOY graphic novel. Art heads will undoubtedly love pouring over the deconstructed pen and ink work without the colour of the finished pages, plus all the character sketches which forms the bulk of this book. But I actually enjoyed reading Paul’s take on the characters and the storyline: I found it insightful into his mind as much as the creation process itself, and I would have liked a lot more of it. I do think the whole thing feels a bit light for the money, but I am sure Pope fans will probably buy it regardless.

Meanwhile for those who didn’t pick it up first time around all those years ago, ESCAPO gets re-released next month. I’ll probably pick it up myself actually, given it is now coloured, has an additional ten page strip, the alternate two page French ending, and all sorts of other goodies included. Makes you believe THB might actually get finished one of these years. I do have it on good authority he is working on it, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

JR

Buy Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cradlegrave (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Smith & Edmund Bagwell…

“Callum! Shit! I didn’t notice you there…”
“Blanking me, more like. When’d you get out then? I thought first thing you’d do is ring your bezzy mate Callum.”
“Well, I woulda done, wouldn’t I, but I’ve been banged up for eight months so me battery’s a bit low, like, y’know?”
“Sarky git. Ey, we’re getting mashed round at Tozzer’s while his mum and dad’s out if you wanna come round. Your Craig’s there too. Come down with us, man. We’ll get a bucket going and get you monged out your case.”

Buckets… yes… the less said the better I suppose, you either completely understand that particular reference or you don’t. I remember leafing through 2000AD whilst this story was running and being intrigued. Sometimes they do run a story that’s a change from the norm, like MAZEWORLD, for example, that just perfectly hits the spot. I’d like it if they did a bit more of this sort of material instead of playing safe with the rote of established characters, but I guess they know their readership. And it’s possibly also a slightly unfair criticism as I don’t read it week on week.

So, after eight months inside in a young offenders’ institution for arson, young Shane is back on his shithole of an estate. His mates haven’t changed much, and there’s still absolutely nothing else to do except get off your head. Cue the creeping suburban horror lurking inside an elderly neighbour’s home, which is precisely the sort of thing you might be paranoid enough to imagine after a few buckets… but it’s all too real. Quintessentially British horror, I think it manages to capture both the depressing flavour of modern-day life for many of today’s inner city kids and also the B-movie feel of a low-budget cult horror classic. A modern day Quatermass is how it struck me.

JR

Buy Cradlegrave and read the Page 45 review here

Real Heroes #1 (£2-99, Image) by Bryan Hitch.

“Why the faces? I was just giving a member of our public some one-on-me time. Twice… She’s bringing friends later.”
“I can make my own friends, thanks.”
“I hadn’t heard that.”
“Shall we go?”

Yes, go and meet your adoring public! Thousands of them are outside squealing their tits off after the Los Angeles world première of Olympians 2: Devastation, the superhero movie to end all superhero movies and now officially the world’s biggest film franchise. Yowsa! Do you think its cast get along fine behind the fire curtain? They do not!

Is this Bryan Hitch’s first script? It certainly doesn’t show: complete confidence, snappy banter and much referential mischief that turns it into a sort of multimedia, superheroic ouroboros.

Oh, I can only begin to imagine how many reviews are making comparisons to Galaxy Quest but for me this is infinitely more interesting in that. It kicks off like SUPERIOR in the middle of some high-octane film footage complete with cheesy dialogue to pull back to those watching themselves on screen, some more absorbed than others. There’s an arch reference to what many comicbook creators perceived as the last Superman film’s biggest (of many) flaws and eventually there will be a moment of pure Doctor Who.

But it is, of course, the film Avengers Assemble – and indeed its cast as interviewed for television on the red carpet – whose leg is principally being pulled with affection. Avengers Assemble was based stylistically on Bryan Hitch’s own four ULTIMATES books during the course of whose reviews I compared his monumental art to Hollywood special effects, and starred those Avengers assembled there by Mark Millar including a Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson long before Samuel L. Jackson signed up to play Nick Fury. You see where I’m going with the ouroboros?

I don’t find this derivative, I find it inspired. Plus I always get a big, sexy feeling when drooling over Hitch’s neo-classical art. This has little to do with fist-fights and costumes. Hitch’s eye for sharp suits (actual suits, not battle suits – although he’s no slacker there) and slick, sleek dresses makes me clamour for a comic in which they take centre-stage. I would love to see Bryan do something without the science fiction element – like crime – so that a completely different audience could feast its eyes on his talent and enjoy his work as much as I do.

He’s been lucky enough to snag Laura Martin on colours and let us never take embellisher Paul Neary for granted who keeps Hitch’s forms soft, pliant and therefore human when other pencillers aren’t half so lucky. I do wonder, however, if ZENITH artist Steve Yeowell popped round for tea when the last panel of the penultimate page was ready for inking. I’m absolutely serious. Loved it.

Back to the world première of Olympians 2 and its cast, some more sober than others, are about to greet their adoring fans, some of whom have cosplayed all day. As the event is broadcast live all over the world, the movie company has promised an extra surprise. There’s a surprise all right – for everyone. Then in the midst of the carnage our various protagonists start to show their true, un-pre-prepped colours.

I love the contrast in body language between the covers to #1 and #2. Body language: Bryan’s pretty damn good at that too.

SLH

Buy Real Heroes #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Matt Kindt & Marco Rudy.

Rarely do you see anything like this in a Marvel Comic!

It is delirious, with an expressionistic interior monologue and art coloured to eye-popping perfection by Val Staples.

There’s an eye-leading deployment of black and white during both the intricately cross-hatched panels and the smoke-ridden segues, Marco Rudy veering drunkenly from J.H. Williams III (PROMETHEA, BATMAN AND SON) to Jae Lee (INHUMANS, FANTASTIC FOUR F 1 2 3 4) and even Bill Sienkiewicz (ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, STRAY TOASTERS) complete with triangles, side-bar instructions and Gustav Klimt. Plus the double-page spread whose lettering forms the Spider-Man chest symbol with its stream-of-barely-consciousness is brilliant! Should we credit letter artist Clayton Cowles there? I don’t know, because this is very much an ensemble effort and a virtuoso performance even if Peter appears boss-eyed on one page and looks nothing like Parker anyway. Minor snafu.

What the hell is actually going on you won’t find out until the end, which is perfectly apposite because neither will Peter. He has been lured to a neo-gothic, three-storey house by way of a low-grade photo assignment. Within he finds psychic Madame Web – the old crone version – who predicts he will die unless he can solve the fabled riddle of the Ninety-Nine problems while the exploding girls beg, “Help me!”

The rest is like one long, disorientating, underwater acid trip as ninety-nine foes assault him with gas, taunt him with pills (which he may have already taken) and who even knows if they are real or not? It’s a bit disconcerting to suddenly find yourself in the aisle of a passenger jet without so much as a boarding card and a racially profiled strip-search at customs.

You’re already guessing that this is one mass illusion by Mysterio. If it was then some of the very brief pauses for thought might make sense, but it isn’t, so they don’t. The plot itself does once finally revealed with its extra generational twist, but being allowed to pass out on a desert island beach unmolested by a javelin does not.

Never mind, if the evocation of chaos and exhaustion is your thing, this is done to perfection.

One thing I should clear up before you even begin is that this has no ties to current continuity. Like the SPIDER-MAN: MARK MILLAR COLLECTION, which I always recommend as the single finest standalone Spider-Man book, it takes place during the vaguely classic period when Peter is either married to or at least dating Mary Jane Watson.

SLH

Buy Spider-Man: Marvel Knights – 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land.

“Synchronicities are the canaries in the mines of magic, my friend. If fate is bringing us together like this…”
“Then we’re running out of time.”

Written by the author of the current LOKI series and drawn by photo-realist Greg Land whose art I happen to find very sexy indeed, this will be a breath of fresh air for those muttering that the current AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS runs are nothing more than convoluted and over-extended science lessons. This is a far more traditional Avengers affair – or at least the tradition established by Bendis over the last decade which involves snappy dialogue and the obligatory “Who even is this Ronin dude?”

I think I know who he is this time given his specific areas of expertise (the nunchucks are always a red herring – that too is part of the tradition), personal connections and former geographical assignation. So obviously “he” will turn out to be a “she” again and I will look even more stupid than usual.

It kicks off during INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 and then deals with its fallout, Attilan-wise. If you wondered where the Doctor Strange sub-plot in those two books went, it landed here, splat in the middle of New York City which comes under assault first from Thanos’ minion called Midnight and then from a giant, tentacular, trans-dimensional beastie summoned by dear Doctor Strange possessed by the Ebony Maw. No one ever finds out about that, do they?

Al Ewing has borrowed Kieron Gillen’s introductory power-set boxes – which I think were themselves kind of borrowed from Bryan Lee O’Malley’ SCOTT PILGRIM – so  you know who’s who, what’s what and whether you should worry:

“The Superior Spider-Man: Delicious Doc Ock In A Crispy Spidey Shell.”
“Luke Cage: Runs The Show. Dresses The Part.”
“Barbara McDevitt, A.K.A. Quickfire: Corporate Superspy. Has Powers. Doesn’t Need Them.”
“Jason Quantrell, C.E.O. Of Cortex Inc: Wants It All. Wants It Now.”

The line-up’s in flux but there’s a much greater racial diversity including black and Hispanic characters which isn’t as important as whether they’re interesting. They are. Led by Luke Cage (missus Jessica Jones and baby Danielle are very much in evidence, Danielle offering many a pithy “out of the mouths of babes” pearl of wisdom), they are:

Spectrum (Monica Rambeau, formerly Photon, formerly Captain Marvel, now without silly mask but with hair straighteners instead – upgrade!)

Power Man (who’s more of an Iron Fist)
Falcon (Captain America And The…)
Superior Spider-Man (until everyone is sick of the supercilious motherfucker)
White Tiger (see Bendis’ DAREDEVIL)
Spider Hero (no hyphen; deliberately gaudy ad-hoc costume and our man of mystery who will become Ronin)
Blue Marvel (who never existed until now but has been around for years)

There are some great jokes, a public which refuses to be intimidated, a wider subplot involving our man of mystery, and vitally Ewing has a pitch-perfect handle on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones otherwise it wouldn’t work at all.

SLH

Buy Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c and read the Page 45 review here

World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c new printing (£22-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross.

A reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales in one infinitely more manageable, won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume which, a little taller and broader than the standard American comic size. Pretty good value for money it is too.

Alex Ross (MARVELS, KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE) has a unique take on DC superheroes in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey.

In addition to the stories reviewed below, this also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out. Are you ready?

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. Gorgeously painted, quiet, thoughtful and dignified. Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man.

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic. Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing. What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics.

Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a photo-realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the very real aisle.

Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and conversely in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical or otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook, it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems. Ta-da!

The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he choose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.

SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’ triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens the father, physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural desire but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN once handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here. A tad irresponsible.

WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH was the fourth giant-sized annual and like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH the premise is a good one: that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and suped-up they may be. Wonderwoman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those she seeks to help. So she talks to Clark Kent who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly, and that she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them. So she does. She goes on protest marches and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve, and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling, blows up the truck and then frees the women.

If the idea of this story is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, then that’s admirable. Unfortunately the solutions are distracting, for not only would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage, but each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower which we don’t possess. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because, superheroes not actually existing, the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

All of which explains why I still rate the SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH as the best of this beautiful bunch.

SLH

Buy World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Brody’s Ghost vol 5 (£4-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond s/c (£10-99, DC) by Adam Beechen, various & various

Hinterkind vol 1: The Waking World (£7-50, DC) by Ian Edginton & Francesco Trifogli

Justice League vol 3: Throne Of Atlantis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Jeff Lemire & Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, Tony S. Daniel

Justice League vol 4: The Grid h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

Superman: Red Son (New Edition) s/c (£13-50, DC) by Mark Millar & Dave Johnson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo s/c (£18-99, DC) by Denise Mina & Leonardo Manco, Andrea Mutti, Lee Bermejo

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land

Uncanny Avengers vol 3: Ragnarok Now h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Salvador Larroca, Steve McNiven, Daniel Acuna

Dragonar Academy vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Sea) by Shiki Mizuchi & Ran

Dragon Ball Full Colour Saiyan Arc vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

One Piece vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Kingdom Hearts II vol 2 (£13-99, Yen Press) by Shiro Amano

 

ITEM! How To Stand Out On The Shelves! Stunning cover to Mark Millar’s MPH #2 by Duncan Fegredo – bold, bright and contemporary! Looks nothing like the mass of other covers which will be crowding the rows of superheroic fisticuffs.

ITEM! Preview of Millar & Parlov’s STARLIGHT #2 out this week! We still have some copies of STARLIGHT #1 reviewed by Jonathan here.

ITEM! Submissions Guides for a range of comicbook publishers. Don’t be put off by the icons at the top, the likes of Nobrow are down below too.

ITEM! THE KEY by Grant Morrison & Rian Hughes created for BBC’s Freedom 2014 season.

ITEM! Page 45’s PREVIEWS for comics coming June 2014 is up online. All orders placed before 14th April 2014 are guaranteed. Orders placed the night before publication in June: not so much.

Includes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel SECONDS.

If you have a Standing Order with us, then don’t feel you have to order online, you can just phone us on 0115 9508045 or email page45@page45.com and ask for the book or series to be added to your pull list.

If you do want to order online then you don’t get charged until the book actually arrives and is shipped straight off to you. Within 24 hours, yes. Dominique runs the most efficient mail order service in the business.

Cheers,

- Stephen

Reviews March 2014 week four

March 26th, 2014

These are such very gentle tales, laden with wisdom and wit, which may make you think about how you conduct your own lives, much like DAYTRIPPER did for me.

 - Stephen on Death by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham et al

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c (£45-00, Image) by David Lapham.

Terrible things happen to terrified young people, turning them into terrifyingly out-of-control car wrecks. They get caught in the cross-fire of other people’s greed, grief or beef, and it sends their lives careening in completely unintended directions.

Joey’s a car wreck. You just won’t find out why for hundreds of pages and then it all makes such appalling sense. But almost immediately it will dawn on you that a main protagonist in one chapter plays another role in someone else’s story as the narrative flips backwards and forwards in time.

Everything is connected.

This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ CRIMINAL, and we have missed it terribly. The new series kicks off with STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 at £2-75: that’s the perfect place to start and the best single comic I have read all year.

This dangerously heavily tome collects all forty-one issues of the previous series including STRAY BULLETS #41, finally published a decade after #40, making this little more than a quid a comic. Forty-five pounds is a big ask, but once you’ve read STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 you will have no doubts whatsoever.

With more compelling individuals and more convincing characterisation in a single story than most people manage in a whole graphic novel, there is a density and intensity to these tales broken by moments of golden sunshine that make what follows all the more devastating.

In a way we are in Lynchian territory, for these suburban families seem perfectly normal from without, but wait until you see what simmers within. Also, I remember wondering what the fuck was up with the early, action-packed episode starring Amy Racecar and set in outer space. All I will say is that David Lapham isn’t the only one with a vivid imagination.

At one point these lives converge in a small town called Seaside, way out in the middle of the desert. Naturally. Young Virginia Applejack tries her best to protect vulnerable, drug-addled Nina from the advances of Seaside’s revoltingly seedy old-age pensioners, while Nina’s own friends, the ever-volatile Beth and Orson, land in trouble of their own when Spanish Scott turns up in search of his missing coke. And with Scott comes Rose, and of course little Joey. I told you everything was connected.

What follows is an accelerating climax of desperate, tangled gambits and frankly wince-worthy violence as these impossibly complicated relationships finally play themselves out. It’s an immensely satisfying pay-off for all your hard concentration that point, but we have only just begun. It’s followed by a new set of domestic freaks, and a short story which shows Lapham at his most manipulative:

After Kathy drags her boozed-up man into the house and out of the rain, she hears a knock at the door and finds two guys and a gal, pissed out of their skulls, insisting that Ricky owes them money. Kathy tries to shut the door on them, but the big guy – who insists he’s a cop – wedges his foot in the door, and the rest of that chapter grows increasingly worrying. Anything could happen. Anything.

Lapham’s command of the way dialogue can shift from confrontational to conciliatory to threatening – within breaths – will keep you on the edge of your anxious seat, but you’ll never guess from the lead-in how this story will end. To kick up the contrast, the next issue sees the return of the inimitable Amy Racecar in a private-eye spoof as ridiculously convoluted and funny as the opening credits to American television’s satirical SOAP. Amy’s on top, world-of-her-own form, and possibly Lapham’s most clever creation; I’m constantly forgetting that she’s actually [redacted].

Just when you think you’ve witnessed the worst atrocities this series of victims, survivors, chancers, bullies, losers and lowlifes has to offer, Lapham delivers a story of fatally misplaced trust which will have you turning the pages so tentatively with the words “No…  no…” quietly riding your breath. You’ll start to worry ten pages in. It’s always the quiet ones to watch out for, but as soon as that photograph is surreptitiously slipped into the pile that the man is showing the boy, you’ll begin sweating. Child abduction and abuse are not subjects to be treated lightly or sensationally. Lapham does neither; you’ll soon wish he had.

The main differences between this and, say, 100 BULLETS which we all love to wit-riddled death is that this is all so intimate, so personal, and that the individuals – the victims in this series – are so young. That’s what made Lapham’s SILVERFISH such a nail-biter too.

As they reach their mid-to-late-teens with sex high on the agenda they make more mistakes. And because they’re older and so capable of doing so much more with much greater strength, those mistakes have greater consequences. Brian and Mikey… now that’s one friendship which will never be the same.

As to the art, extraordinarily Lapham starts off knowing immediately how he wants to present these tales: all 1,200 pages are completely consistent whereas during STRANGERS IN PARADISE you can see Terry Moore develop in front of you. The paper used here has a satin sheen so that the shadows shine on the page. And it is pure black and white with no grey tone at all. It’s incredibly clean but supple as well. The figure work is immaculate, the forms soft are soft and yielding, and the hair falls just-so. As to the expressions, they communicate so much going on behind the eyes whether you like what you see or you don’t. Everyone here lives and breathes. For a while, anyway.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Death s/c (£14-99, Vertigo/DC) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Bachalo, Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Mike Dringenberg, Colleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Malcom Jones III, Mark Pennington, Jeffrey Jones.

“Have you thought about getting help? I mean, seeing a doctor, or a priest, or someone? I really think you should see someone.”
“Oh, that’s no problem, Sexton. Sooner or later I see everyone.”

Death of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN:

She’s funny, she’s sweet, she’s gorgeous and gothic. She’s enormously kind and very good company – as you’ll find out for yourself one day.

But once every hundred years Death becomes human to glimpse mortality from the other side of Charon’s coins. In THE HIGH COST OF LIVING she bumps into a lank-haired and disillusioned sixteen-year-old dropout called Sexton who was hell-bent on committing suicide until he stares Death right in the face while buried under a refrigerator on a garbage dump. It’s not the best first impression.

Eager to sample life’s pleasures while she can – chief amongst them, music and food – Death drags Sexton along for a night on the town together, taking in the first live gig of new singer-songwriter Foxglove. Foxglove’s pregnant girlfriend Hazel is there but two other individuals have made a note of Death’s diary, and neither are half so welcoming.

Utterly charming, both the story and its protagonist are gloriously optimistic and remind us to appreciate all that we have in front of us while time allows, even if it’s just a bagel, a hot-dog, a compliment or smile of a passing stranger.

 

THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE is far more sobering, for there is always a price to be paid. A few years have passed during which Foxglove’s musical career has taken off and Hazel has had baby Alvie. They’ve moved from New York to Los Angeles where they live happily together in a vast, splendid mansion where –

No, they don’t. Foxglove is forever on promotional tour leaving her “secretary” Hazel at home. Foxglove’s second album has already garnered over 650,000 advance orders and she’s about to appear on Letterman after which she is bound for Britain. Two men have her back: her agent Larry and tour-manager Boris. Foxglove wants to come out of the closet she never personally shut herself in no matter the professional presumptions, but worldly-wise Larry advises against it, citing all manner of PR pitfalls. Plus Foxglove hasn’t exactly been faithful.

Worse still, she failed to listen to Hazel when Hazel told Foxglove that she and baby Alvie had bumped into an old acquaintance outside their mansion one rainy night last February. She was funny, she was sweet, she was gorgeous and gothic. And I am so very sorry, but there’s only one reason why you would usually do that.

These are such very gentle tales, laden with wisdom and wit, which will make you think about how you conduct your own lives, much like DAYTRIPPER did for me. There are many very good questions and the answers may not be easy, but they are surprisingly simple.

Chris Bachalo’s design sense is as glorious as his sweet, chic portraiture and oh how I loved his two-tone chequered backdrops! Unlike his equally pretty but impenetrable pages of late, there are no silly and so-easily-confusing across-the-page layouts: this is as accessible as it gets!

Additionally so skilled is Mark Buckingham that, when Gaiman was deserted by Bachalo halfway through DEATH: THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE to join Marvel, many remain unaware that it was Buckingham who pencilled the pages thereafter. Bucky is one of those rare artists who is not just an exceptional, individual force in his own right, but also an accomplished chameleon. He can do Chris Bachalo as well as Bachalo himself, and many other artists to boot. That, let me tell you, is no mean feat.

In addition there are so many extras that it is ridiculously good value for money. There’s the refreshingly non-alarmist yet candid and cautionary HIV / AIDS awareness six-pager illustrated by Dave McKean called ‘Death Talks About Life’ which guest-stars a deliciously embarrassed John Constantine, a sheepishly proffered banana and a condom. All education should be entertainment. There’s also ‘The Wheel’ from 9-11: THE WORLD’S FINEST COMIC BOOK WRITERS & ARTISTS TELL STORIES TO REMEMBER (bit of a rarity, that); Death’s first appearance from SANDMAN #8 then #20; ‘A Winter’s Tale’ from VERTIGO: WINTER’S EDGE #2, ‘Death And Venice’ from SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS; and finally a whole gallery of swoonaway pin-ups.

Death as a sex symbol: how very Shakespearian.

SLH

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

Sailor Twain (£10-99, First Second) by Mark Siegel.

“I’m not sure I can do it.”
“Do what?”
“Seven loves… It’s barely manageable. Practically speaking.”
Morally speaking, I should think not!”
“My sky needs more than one star. I’m a man of constellations, me.”
“And what of your loves, do many stars fill their sky?”
“They’re day-time beings who crave a singular sun!”

At which point Captain Twain’s eyes virtually pop out of his head. They do that a lot.

Plus Lafayette can turn a good phrase, especially went bent on distraction. Why, do you think, does he really need seven lovers? It’s not just to inflate his ego or satisfying his sexual desires. He’s working to a very specific plan, and it involves this graphic novel’s sub-title: ‘The Mermaid In The Hudson’.

Let us pull back by flashing forward six months when the book begins in the Ferryman’s Tavern on the banks of the Hudson River where Captain Twain drinks alone, staring out at the docks. A woman he knows as Miss Camomille has been searching for him ever since the trial. She has questions for him. She needs to know the truth. Twain is resistant until she pulls out a glowing pendant which he recognises instantly.

“He gave it to me… that last day. Said it came out of the river. Tell me! And it’s yours.”

Coming in at nearly 400 pages, this is a substantially story whose truths only reveal themselves towards the end, but know this now: mermaids do exist.

Captain Twain of the Lorelei passenger steamboat knows this for in May 1887, after struggling to find his poet Muse, he fished one out of the Hudson. She was gravely wounded as if she had been impaled on a harpoon. He carried her back to his cabin and nursed her back to health but she never sang to him. She never ensnared him and yet, although married, hooked he most certainly was.

He begins to suspect that Lafayette also believes in mermaids, and has perhaps been seduced himself. He suspects that is why Lafayette is courting six women with his eyes on a seventh for Lafayette’s older brother who went missing on the same steamboat wrote extensively on the subject and Lafayette is studying those journals with a feverish intensity. He is also in correspondence with a certain celebrated author called C.G. Beaverton who has just published a book called ‘Secrets And Mysteries Of The River Hudson’ which includes two chapters tellingly entitled ‘The Case For Mermaids: Disappearances And Strange Reports’ and ‘The Case For Mermaids: Cures & Remedies To A Siren’s Song’. Twain knows this for Lafayette, reluctant tot go ashore himself, asked Twain to pick it up for him.

I promise you this: it’s a lot more complicated than that.

I was enthralled myself, not least because Siegel is as interested in the art of conversation as much as anything else, and the subjects discussed by the ship’s residents of varying wit include moral outrage in the cause of control, hypocrisy, critical acclaim, the New Testament, the best use of any public platform and something I can’t mention here for giving one of the games away.

A book about spells has to be magical, and this was certainly that. There are strange apparitions who will also be explained, and the weather plays an important atmospheric role as the Lorelei makes its way up and down a river which flows in two different directions.

So much graphite is employed on the densely shaded pages that, periodically, you’ll be checking your fingers and thumbs for smudges. Combined with the cartoon figure work and ever-expressive wide-eyed wonder or consternation on Captain Twain’s part and you are indeed immersed in the sort of magical world you could expect from a century of animation.

The wit also extends to some of the chapter headings. When you come to ‘The Twain Shall Meet’ it so hilariously appropriate you wonder whether Siegel chose it purely for that pun, but no: it’s simple serendipity stumbled upon by a writer’s mind which naturally predisposes itself to word association.

It’s also a deeply melancholic book for the sun rarely shines figuratively or otherwise. A lot of time is spent alone, deep in thought, as our variously cursed characters struggle with their hearts if not with eloquence.

“You always seemed cheerful to me.”
“Yes, naturally. Despair likes discretion. Some demons howl and roar at their victims. That one preys in silence.”

SLH

Buy Sailor Twain and read the Page 45 review here

A Contract With God Trilogy h/c (£25-99) by Will Eisner.

“Dropsie Avenue as we knew it is gone.
“Only the memory of how it was for us remains.
“In the end buildings are only buildings.
“But people make a neighbourhood.”

I have had very few idols in life. There’s my Mum, Rosa Parks, Tony Benn and David Attenborough. But the late and very great Will Eisner was one.

To me, it’s all about heart and humanity: the courage to stand up and be counted, the compassion you show unto others, and the ability to communicate that message thereby helping us all understand what is important and that which is but vain and ephemeral.

Exceptional value for money, this time-capsule trilogy of geographically specific but in some ways universal social history contains three of the finest and wisest Will Eisner graphic novels, all set on The Bronx’s Dropsie Avenue: A CONTRACT WITH GOD s/c, A LIFE FORCE s/c and DROPSIE AVENUE itself.

Dropsie Avenue:

One of my three favourite Eisner books along with TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and THE NAME OF THE GAME in which Will Eisner condenses generations of intricately linked family lives and their evolving environment into 170 pages without sacrificing even a fraction of the intimacy and humanity that is Eisner’s hallmark.

It is, if you like, the life cycle of a community with its fluctuating fortunes from an open arable land farmed by two feuding families through early, spacious gentrification to the rise of the tenement buildings housing a wealth of ethnic immigrants, then their decline and fall into strip-mined ruin. Prohibition is the first nail in the community’s coffin, extortion leaching business’ rent money dry whilst setting the worst possible example to the children and making a violent example of those who refuse to comply. Then there’s the cunning of more legal profiteers luring the chief town planner into debt – their debt – to get what they want.

But most saddening of all is that each successive influx of English, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black or Hispanic migrants are viewed with disdain and disgust as “foreigners” by the previous generation of ‘foreigners’ without any sense of perspective or acknowledgement of the benefits most waves bring. Amongst the tensions and outright hostility, however, there are some with a kinder heart and a certain self-awareness, the rabbi and Catholic priest delighting in their first inter-faith marriage and pulling together to form an early youth group.

I read DROPSIE AVENUE again this week with just as much joy as I did in 1995. Some of it is a little fanciful, like the burglar straying into the last living garden only to be charmed by its owner’s granddaughter who is, quite frankly, away with the fairies, but even that has its charm. Most of this, however, is an unflinching account of the ruthless, self-centred commerce which dictates how a whole neighbourhood lives – or struggles and dies in poverty – told with more than a passing knowledge of how real estate works. The figure work is as expressively theatrical as in any of Eisner’s books, whilst the buildings themselves in their various generations have a lifespan of their own which mirrors their inhabitants’. It is, in the end, like all Eisner’s works, about how we treat each other as human beings – rarely as well as we’d like to be treated ourselves.

A Contract With God s/c:

“Born and brought up in New York City and having survived and thrived there, I carry with me a cargo of memories, some painful and some pleasant, which have remained locked in the hold of my mind. I have an ancient mariner’s need to share my accumulation of experience and observations. Call me, if you will, a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak and the never-ending struggle to prevail… or at least survive.”

 - Will Eisner from his Preface, December 2004

Hailed by some as the first American graphic novel, A CONTRACT OF GOD is actually four short stories set in the same tenement buildings in the Bronx as A LIFE FORCE and DROPSIE AVENUE. All of these have survival high on the agenda for a population trapped there by poverty, plus individuals’ personal fortunes waxing and waning with a complex interdependency.

Of the three books that make up the CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C, this is the most personal, the most autobiographical, and it was only in 2004 that Will Eisner revealed that A Contract With God, the first short story here was “an exercise in personal agony” written and drawn eight angry years after his only daughter Alice died, aged sixteen, from leukaemia. The details have been changed but the essential raw sentiment remains the same, and it’s one I have seen in so many parents who have lost their children including my Uncle and Auntie and my best friend Anita’s no-longer-Catholic parents: a complete loss of faith in a God who could betray their trust so spectacularly as to deprive them of their child.

Here Frimme Hersch had been told over and over again as a child that he was “favoured by God” and that God would reward him for his many kindnesses. That’s not why he was kind; he was kind because he cared, and so when a baby girl was abandoned on Frimme’s doorstep he took her in and raised her as his own. This, to him, was all part of his contract with God which Frimme honoured to the letter, to the very full-stop. But as the story opens he is returning alone to 55 Dropsie Avenue after having buried his daughter, and the weight of the water pouring from the heavens on the man’s hat, coat and shoulders is immeasurable. That single page, as he struggles to heave himself up the tenement’s stone steps, water streaming over the balustrade and obliterating all but a streetlight behind him, is one of Eisner’s finest-ever illustrations.

What happens next is typical of Eisner in that it involves property and finance which rarely benefits those who need money or accommodation the most. The fourth story here is also prime Eisner in that love, money, marriage and social standing become the seemingly inseparable issues with infidelity also quite high on the agenda. But it’s also a coming of age story involving the tradition amongst Bronx residents back then of going on holiday to farms which they would share with other families, do their own cooking and help out with the chores.

‘The Street Singer’ is also based on a phenomenon Eisner was familiar with: random individuals wandering the back alleys of the Bronx singing with some accomplishment in the hope of receiving loose change. A single woman becomes entranced by one of these singers and hopes to revive her own career in a partnership but in her vanity she is oblivious to the degree in which the self-fixated drunkard is using her, while for him it’s an opportunity well and truly squandered. Domestic abuse is no stranger to Eisner’s works and so it is here, but I’ve a feeling the third story as well as some elements of the fourth will shock those who think of Eisner as but a kindly old gent.

Eisner was full of humanity – bursting with it – but humanity has its atrocious sides which Eisner was all too aware of and never shied from addressing. It involves a tenement’s Super – its bully of a live-in, do-little custodian – who more than meets his match in a ten-year-old girl who uses his warped lust against him.

A Life Force:

“Staying alive seems to be the only thing on which everyone agrees.”

The second book available as part of THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY H/C along with DROPSIE AVENUE and A CONTRACT WITH GOD, this is an intricate, interdependent affair gradually built around America’s Great Depression during which unemployment rocketed, wages crashed, starvation set in, Hunger Riots exploded and swarms of moths were apparently thick enough to stop New York traffic. Biblical!

No one is immune, not even the affluent Manhattan stockbroker whose fortune is wiped out and fine-living obliterated as stocks tumble faster than those bankers decent enough to throw themselves out of the fucking windows.

But the ordinary residents of Dropsie Avenue, already hard-pressed by penury, living figuratively under the shadow of Manhattan island, find it even more difficult than ever. No one has these immigrants’ best interests at heart: not the mafia-like enablers who now call in their favours, the brutally bullying unions, and most certainly not the Nazis back in Germany or the American government seeking at the very same time to deny as much access as possible to Jewish refugees. Eisner knows his history and presents it occasionally in bursts of newspaper clippings to give events here their proper socio-political and historical context.

Each of these forces exerts itself on individuals in this book and it’s their particular, tightly interwoven stories that Eisner is telling. The sequence in which Jacob so generously, so desperately attempts to free Frieda and her family from Germany’s anti-Semitic claws and America’s red tape – when he himself has nothing – is agonising. At the same time, however, Jacob’s reaction to his own daughter’s romantic involvement mirrors that of the Nazis’ to mixed marriages:

“My daughter Rebecca is going to marry Elton Shaftsbury!”
“Mossletov!”
“But Elton is a… a… Goy!”

One of the many things I love about Eisner is his zero toleration for hypocrisy, exposing it whenever and wherever he sees it. Jacob’s wife, for example, proclaims that her children are her sole reason for living yet she refuses to meet her son’s fiancée whilst emotionally blackmailing him round for dinner. Neatly done!

Humanity in all its kindness and cruelty, that’s what Eisner’s about, as well its foibles and flaws. There’s an informed depiction well ahead of its time here of a mental illness that leads Aaron to recoil from reality, and it’s eloquently explained:

“Unhappily, somewhere in the divine cauldron where mysterious forces fabricate life, something went awry for Aaron, and in the soft circuitry of his brain an infinitesimal welding failed.”

Eisner is renowned for his expressive body language and a certain degree of overacting when the characters overreact themselves, but his mouths in particular can be ever so subtle. No one does glum or bewilderment quite like him. Also, there’s such a variety of panel structures here that you almost don’t notice it, panel borders and gutters often disappearing entirely without once confusing the reader, such is his impeccable sense of space. He really does make it all look so easy.

Easy to do, easy to look at: lives not so easy to live.

SLH

Buy A Contract With God Trilogy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Noah h/c (£22-50, Image) by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & Niko Henrichon…

“You lied to me. You cheated me. You cheated the human race. I should have killed you a long time ago.”
“You were too busy leading your people astray.”
“And you? Your own son plots against you and wishes you dead.”

Absolutely no idea how close the current megabucks film adaptation is to this work, but this basically reads and looks like a Humanoid publication i.e. glorious to look at and a bit off the wall. The graphic novel came first and I believe Aronofsky then basically reworked (i.e. dumbed down) the script for the movie, though rumours that Russell Crowe insisted on all the cast and crew referring to the ark as Tugger during filming are probably apocryphal.

This is great, though, a real epic, and it does touch upon all the central points of the Old Testament story whilst incorporating other fantastical, mystical and indeed almost sci-fi elements. I think have seen it commented somewhere that this story could almost be set several thousand years in the past or future, and indeed on a different planet, and I can understand those comments. Always nice to see someone really going for it in terms of scope. This will hopefully prove as successful as adaptation as say SIEGFRIED has here; it deserves to.

JR

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

Sock Monkey Treasury h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionaire.

Whopping collection reprinting the majority of the SOCK MONKEY series – 300 pages in both colour and black and white – which started out so innocently that we thought it was aimed at children. Whoops! Even early on, Dominique had her suspicions. She wrote:

I love the setting: a large turn-of-the-century house full of colonial nick-knacks and potential death traps, living dolls houses and miniature galleons, bristling with wee little guns. It’s twee comedy with a darker edge – Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow are sweet but meddlesome and idiotic, and nothing they embark upon ever seems to end well. The faux colonial / Victorian dialogue at first put me off, but actually it works very well, reinforcing the oblivious stupidity of our heroes and injecting the necessary dose of morbidity. Pity the poor creature that these two try to help out, it can only end in evisceration, immolation or shipwreck.

Not sure I’d give either of these books to my children unless I wanted them to grow up all weird in the head.

So yeah, actually, maybe I would.

For the The Glass Doorknob I appear to have gone off on one about the colours.

It’s the colours. Every single page, elegantly composed and delicately drawn, radiates warmth. From the first spring morning, throwing its soft light across the gables of the toys’ wooden-roofed house and through the misty, pink-purple mass of the huge, pendulous tree behind it, to the blustery autumn afternoon, when the winds toss the vermilion and russet leaves up into the cold blue sky, swirling them away from the windows, this picture book delivers page after page of understated beauty.

Nor is it easy to discern just which media have been employed: some colours are flat tones, others appear to have been applied in washes and perhaps sponged out, whilst others, like the sage wallpaper behind the cream mantelpiece which Sock Monkey climbs in summer, must surely have been patterned by computer – I can’t see a stencil providing such regular or intricate shapes. Finally, there’s the linework which delineates each major area with a crisp, darker hue, never, thankfully, with the use of a ruler.

I’ve stared at some of these for ages. Which is just as well since this is a storybook with a simple, single thread and as such it’s not a huge read, even if there’s a second exchange between a tit and a beetle, running in parallel as the seasons change, in the bottom left-hand corner of the text pages. The main affair follows Sock Monkey and his friends as they discover – and quickly become transfixed by – the magic of a spectral light cast by a glass doorknob in the hall. But as summer approaches and the trees become thicker, the sunlight is obscured and the refracted rainbow disappears. The toys, unaware of how these things work, believe it is broken and, in a naive attempt to boost its power, they set about scavenging baubles and metal dishes, glass jars, bottles and necklaces, and tie them around the doorknob…

The “Inches” Incident

More chaos and catastrophe on the high seas as Sock Monkey, Mr. Crow and indeed their very house come under fire from an Inches turned evil.

Inches is the doll, and they’re horrible at the best of times but this one seriously creeps me out. She’s like a vampiric version of Playschool’s hideous Hamble, glaring implacably down from the mansion’s gable. It’s as if she’s possessed! Oh wait, she is! But by what?

Tony’s got a thing about insect infestation/animation, and I like it no more than I like hideous dollies. Brrrr.

Sock Monkey volumes 3 & 4

Quite the evolution going on. Previously you could sit back safe in the knowledge that Tony’s MAAKIES was a sick little puppy whilst SOCK MONKEY would remain a child-friendly Bagpuss gone wrong. But any child encountering these tales of woe is going to have some sinister dreams ahead of them.

It starts out ominously enough when Uncle Gabby, the titular toy, decides to go a-hunting. Tigers and foxes and even herons seem a little overambitious, so they plump for salamanders instead.

“Salamanders! I believe I could “take” a salamander! Just show me the salamander that could get the better of me!”

But over this smile-inducing, child-like silliness the skies quickly darken, as Gabby grows increasingly aware of the fragility of life, and the dark and naughty humour finally bursts wide open in a downpour of despair once Gabby carelessly breaks the neck of a nestling. The pages of silence – cold and bleak – are thoroughly arresting, and the self-mutilation as Gabby shears himself open is no less shocking for him being stuffed full of fluff.

“The tragedy is that it once had life, and now I have taken it away… I only wish I were alive, that I might have the ability to run to the comfort of death.”

And if you think that’s morbid, wait till you read the final chapter in which Mr. Crow is persuaded to dump the love of the Sock Monkey’s life into the rag-man’s truck, sending Uncle Gabby into a homicidal spree of mass immolation worthy of underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson.

Inspired!

Finally, Sock Monkey: Uncle Gabby

Feels like the SOCK MONKEY swansong, in the last Winnie The Pooh tale fashion. Was this ever for children, or did I read it all wrong? Externally it’s so very inviting; internally it’s still very pretty. Going to read the words now…? Please remove all razor blades from your domicile.

Uncle Gabby has studied “un-naming” in order to free objects of their constrictions. He embarks on a journey with fellow stuffed animal Mr. Crow and the hideous doll called Inches to visit Ann-Louise who originally made him. But the house they find is completely deserted with a stone monument in the back garden, and all of Uncle Gabby’s memories unravel as the fantasies they were, and then someone smashes the house in anyway.

It’s almost funny, it’s so unremittingly harsh.

SLH

Buy Sock Monkey Treasury h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Silk Road To Ruin (£14-99, NBM) by Ted Rall.

Originally released as a h/c in 2006, this remains one of my favourite books from our extensive travel and politics section.

Time to dust off the old world atlas!

“Central Asia is the new Middle East: thrilling, terrifying, simultaneously hopeful and bleak, a battleground for a proxy war and endless chaos. It is the ultimate tectonic, cultural and political collision zone. Far away from television cameras and Western reporters, Central Asia is poised to spawn some of the new century’s worst nightmares.”

Yet Ted’s fallen in love with it in all its crazy anarchy and its various dictatorships, through travelling. Or attempting to travel. Geography and History were never my strong suits at school, and it’s only in the past ten years or so that I’ve become addicted to news programmes and interested enough to crave an education through the likes of Marjane Satrapi, Guy Delisle and, of course Ted Rall.

Like TO AFGHANISTAN AND BACK, this is three-quarters prose with some searing strips slotted in, not for comic relief (because Ted’s as ruefully entertaining in prose as he is in comics), but for added illustration of just how fucked up these countries are. Orphans of the Soviet Union, they were never going to grow up to be well-adjusted, but some of these places are bonkers. So first a quick bit of background: when the Soviet Union collapsed, it deliberately jettisoned some of its constituent countries whose inhabitants stopped being Russian employees overnight (teachers, doctors, nurses, police etc. were all paid by the central Communist State), and so found themselves unemployed and broke. Yet in spite of sitting on some of the world’s largest oil reserves, they’ve ended up poorer than ever on account of bungled negotiations for pipe lines (they’re not exactly coastal) and their leaders being avaricious and vainglorious old toe-rags. The results included 2,520% inflation during the first year, death rates rocketing, birth rates plummeting, schools disappearing altogether, and police forces subsisting on bribes (those bribes being extracted at random checkpoints if you want to get anywhere by “road”, at stations if you want to buy a train ticket… in fact anywhere their individual imaginations take them).

Seriously, Turkmenistan, for example, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous/tragic (fact: not a single river runs through it). Its dictator, Turkmenbashi (translation: “Leader of all Turkmens”), is mind-boggling: ”Not only has the Central Asian dictator created the most elaborate and grotesquely comical personality cult since Ptolemy put the pharaohs out of business, his unique blending of naked greed and breathtakingly obvious stupidity has elevated autocracy to an art form.” His egotism rivals that of North Korea’s father-and-son despot dynasty. His picture is everywhere – absolutely everywhere. Can you imagine seeing Blair’s face on a cereal packet, or Thatcher with her own brand of perfume? (Maggie Musk: Smells Like Mean Spirit.) That’s the state of play in Turkmenistan whose ubiquitous, Nazi-inspired motto (dreamt up by Turkmenbashi, natch) is “One Nation, One People, One Leader” (One Choice). He built a gilt statue of himself, high above a column, which rotates 360 degrees a day so that he’s always facing the sun; he renamed January after himself, April after his mother, September after his book (compulsory rather than compulsive reading, and I seem to recall that you have to take an exam on it even to get a driving licence!); and yes, he did build a hospital with state-of-the-art operating theatre, swimming pool and air conditioning — but it’s for horses!

Rall takes you with him on rail trips from hell (70°C, no windows, no air conditioning; Rall and friend spent the trip shirtless in the corridor, their lips sucking in what air they could through an inch-wide vent 6 feet above the floor), fending off muggers, bargaining with militia and being asked to marry the ex-wife of a mobster who’d kidnapped her son.

Prepare yourself for a whole different world in a region you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about, and sooner than you think.

SLH

Buy Silk Road To Ruin and read the Page 45 review here

Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Emma Vieceli, Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle, Maris Wicks, Joe Quninones, Christian Ward.

“Happy families. Now there’s a contradiction in terms.”
“Don’t be cynical. It takes practice. Doesn’t suit you, princess.”
“I really wish you’d knock it off with the “princess”.”
“I’m trying to be nice.”
“Don’t be. It takes practice. Doesn’t suit you, princess.”

In which one of the freshest, funniest and most inventive series – in any genre of comics in recent years – comes to a perfect close.

Oh, you have wailed and wailed, for you wanted so much more and who can bloody well blame you?

But Team Phonogram, as they like to call themselves, will shortly be bringing you THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE.

Meanwhile Al Ewing and Lee Garbett’s LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD continues Loki’s journey with delicious mischief and Marvel have just reissued Kieron Gillen and Dougie Braithwaite’s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY which is full of the young tyke’s tall tales and manipulative gameplay.

I wrote about YOUNG AVENGERS VOL 1 and YOUNG AVENGERS VOL 2 at considerable length, so please check out those reviews. I’ve little more to add than that McKelvie delivers more of his eye-frazzling innovation and spectacle and that all of the carefully selected guest artists will have you squealing. Emma Vieceli’s spotlight on Wiccan and Hulking is particularly sexy, stylish and as glittery as all get-out without being for one second saccharine or effete.

Now, if you’re anything like me you’re going to get your money’s worth by starting again at the beginning to see just how cleverly Gillen – and thereby some of his protagonists – have played you.

If you’re anything like Gillen, then you are probably going to want breakfast first.

SLH

Buy Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Encyclopedia h/c (£30-00, Marvel) by various.

Updated for the first time in five years – and I like the new cover by Mike Deodato who’s no longer Junior but evidently now his own man – this is a monster.

It weighs more than my brain! Actually, helium weighs more than my brain.

This weighs more than my skull and possibly even my ever-expanding belly.

It’s massive!

It’s extensive!

It is horribly laid out and illustrated which is shocking given how many exceptionally talented artists have worked on these characters in the past. Still.

SLH

Buy Marvel Encyclopedia h/c and read the Page 45 review here

UQ Holder vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu…

Nominally set in the same universe as NEGIMA, one of Ken’s previous mega-selling works, but several decades later, this is a world where magic and technology are almost indistinguishable. Our hero Touta has designs on being an adventurer, handily enough, and so the fun begins. The basic premise underpinning it all is that there are a number of people who are UQ holders, or immortals. The wrinkle? Well, I will let Touta’s teacher, who has revealed herself to be a vampire and in the process of saving Touta’s life conveniently turned him into one, thus ensuring this manga can run for several thousand volumes, explain all…

“So you’re saying all these guys are completely immortal too?”
“Not quite. Everyone here is a few cards shy of a full immortal deck. They’re not the real thing.”
“So, what is the real thing?”
“Hmm, let me see… vampires, like you and I. Specifically the nobility.
“There are also… people who use items to gain immortality – nectar of the gods, miracle drugs, philosopher’s stones, etc.
“Other supernatural beings, with a similar immortal nature to that of vampires, like Stan Lee.
“Those who gain immortality through electronic means, like robotics.
“And there are some I haven’t figured out yet… people cursed with immortality through a twist of fate, people who are built with multiple lives, people with an incarnation that brings them back when they die.
“Etcetera, etcetera. And there are those who have been genetically altered.”
“SOUNDS LIKE FUN! I WANNA BE FRIENDS WITH ALL OF ‘EM!”

It does sound like fun, actually. I rather enjoyed this first volume. Yes, it’s frothy and light, but it is well written. He is a consummate pro, our Ken. Also, I might have made that bit up about Stan Lee being like a vampire. Or not… pretty sure he is immortal, though.

JR

Buy UQ Holder vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Gangsta vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Kohske…

I mainly read this because it is on Viz’s Signature Imprint which is usually reserved for stuff of decent quality. It appears to be weird crime capers with a few laughs, involving Nic and Worick, the ‘Handymen’ who you call when you need to make someone disappear permanently.

So far, though, it’s the cops who want a new gang in town taken out, so it seems our duo are playing both ways, and it’s not even a yaoi!

With that said, Nic does work weekends as a gigolo, whilst Worick has some sort of strange condition that means he rarely talks, but when he does his speech bubble is rendered in inverse…

Art is nice enough, kind of reminded me of Natusme Ono a little bit, which is probably the link in that this, I think, is supposed to be a sort of contemporary HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES. I.e. no good guys, but nobody is that bad either, getting into scrapes, with some gentle comedy of manners thrown in for good measure. I’m probably not going to bother reading the second volume, to be honest.

JR

Buy Gangsta vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Uber vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Caanan White

Pope: Monsters & Titans s/c (£18-99, Image) by Paul Pope

Kids Are Weird And Other Observations From Parenthood (£9-99, Chronicle) by Jeffrey Brown

To Afghanistan And Back (£7-50, NBM) by Ted Rall

Daredevil: End Of Days s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack & Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, David Mack

Jan’s Atomic Heart And Other Stories s/c (£10-99, Image) by Simon Roy

Chew vol 8: Family Recipes (£9-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

American Vampire vol 5 s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Dustin Nguyen

American Vampire vol 6 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Rafael Albuquerque, various

World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c (£22-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross

Superman: Earth One vol 2 s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

Catwoman vol 3: Under Pressure s/c (£18-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Paul Gulacy, Sean Phillips, Diego Olmos

Batwoman vol 3: World’s Finest s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Trevor McCarthy, J. H. Williams III

Batwoman vol 4: This Blood Is Thick h/c (£10-99, DC) by J. H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Trevor McCarthy, J. H. Williams III

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 5: Char & Sayla (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

Magi vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Shinobu Ohtaka

Fairy Tail vol 36 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

The Secret Service: Kingsman (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn & Dave Gibbons

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 10-12 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Blue Exorcist vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Avengers: The Enemy Within s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Scott Hepburn, Matteo Buffagni, Filipe Andrade

Avengers Assemble: Science Bros s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christos Gage & Pete Woods, Stefano Caselli, Tomm Coker

Cradlegrave (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Smith & Edmund Bagwell

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Matt Kindt & Marco Rudy

Thor God Of Thunder vol 3: The Accursed (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nic Klein, Ron Garney, Das Pastoras

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 2: Angela (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli, Oliver Coipel

 

ITEM! Topical! Exceptional short comic by Richard Swan called ‘Wallpaper’ but about so much more besides.

ITEM! Adrian Tomine postcards coming soon! They’re not on our website yet because only comics and books go up in advance, but if you want to pre-order all you have to do for anything not on our website is phone 01159508045 or email page45@page45.com and we will make sure you get whatever it is you want, even if you live in China.

ITEM! Fascinating interview with Alison Sampson and Nathan Edmondson about the GENESIS one-shot.

ITEM! Comicbook creators, current and future, Nobrow has released its submissions guideline for graphic novels. Invaluable.

ITEM! Trailer for the DVD film The Graphic Novel Man about the life and art of Bryan Talbot

ITEM! Preview of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie. I would add this to your Page 45 Standing Order right now! Phone 0115 9508045 or email page45@page45.com! Thank yooooooo!

ITEM! Tories ban prisoners from receiving books. Oh, brilliant! If there is one thing which those in prison should have unfettered access to, it is books. Because literacy. Because learning. Because inspiration. Because books, basically. Oh wait, sorry, education: we don’t actually do that any more, do we?

- Stephen

 

Reviews March 2014 week three

March 19th, 2014

If you have an interest in finding out more about one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese mediaeval history, you’ll love this, because it is well written and skilfully executed, as indeed were the 47 rōnin eventually.

 - Jonathan on 47 Rōnin.

Hilda And The Black Hound h/c (£12-95, Flying Eye) by Luke Pearson.

“How does an armchair fall down the back of a sofa anyway?”

Good point, well made, and in the strangest of circumstances.

Did you ever wonder what happened to those odd socks, hats, scarves, sixth issue of your favourite comic and that 5lb slab of milk chocolate you can’t find?

Err, I can explain the milk chocolate and I’m ever so sorry, but the rest didn’t get lost in the wash, you know! You don’t even put comics in the wash, do you? Do you…? No, there is a far more thrilling explanation which lies in bits of your house which you won’t find revealed in the average home survey!

Now what, do you think, does all this have to do with the gigantic black wolf-like creature, nearly two storeys high, which has been seen lurking at night in the heart of the city of Trolberg? Even Hilda’s mother has spotted it out of the corner of her eye and the papers are calling it The Black Beast Of Trolberg! It could make Hilda’s first weekend camp with the Sparrow Scouts ever so slightly dangerous.

Welcome to the fourth British Comics Awards-winning HILDA mystery in which you will discover that the countryside doesn’t hold the monopoly on fanciful creatures and geographical wonders. There are House Spirits called Nisses hidden in your home, you know. Yes, yours! They have big bulbous noses and they’re so very hairy that you can’t even see their eyes. They’re solitary creatures and highly territorial, which is why you’ve probably not met one before. You will, though, you will…

 

Hilda and her mother are slowly adjusting to life in the city, but Hilda still yearns for camping under canvas. When her mother is nearly slapped in the face by a wind-tossed leaflet advertising the Sparrow Scouts’ next meeting she recalls how much fun she had erecting tents, building bonfires and earning more badges than anyone else in her flock! Hilda is dutifully enrolled with its Raven Leader in time for a six-week course preparing for their weekend camping expedition, learning to secure shelters, tie herself in knots, read maps and rescue a family of inch-tall elves from the bundle of kindling they had reasonably presumed to be some sort of tepee. They’d moved their entire lounge in.

Hilda is determined to impress her mother and win as many trophies as possible, but her Camping Badge comes under threat when she discovers in the woods a Nisse who’d been summarily evicted from his house for trashing it. He claims that he hadn’t, but once banished he cannot return. Later that night she sneaks out with provisions but instead of finding the House Spirit, she is faced with a giant black shadow with huge white eyes glowing in the dark!

All of these things are connected, as well as the sudden growth in homeless House Spirits. With so much for our insatiably inquisitive Hilda to investigate with her white-furred, antlered Twig it will be a wonder if she earns any badges at all!

With Flying Eye Books you can guarantee top-quality production values, lavished here on art which deserves all the pampering it receives. The beast is a black beauty, while dappled pet Twig is one of the cutest creatures ever drawn. More than once he is tossed from his basket by the frantic goings-on in comedic panels worthy of Charles Schultz. It’s an odd thing to pick out, but I also adore the way coloured hair falls over one of Hilda’s eyes – and her mother’s – yet you can see the rest of its outline underneath. Even a trip to the grocery store is a visual feast, with such exciting jars, bottles and paper packets lining the shelves that you wonder what on earth’s in them and can’t help but speculate how tasty they’d be. There’s a great deal of nose-to-nose contact, a sneaky guest-appearance by Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson himself in a typically domestic SOPPY tableau, and an action-packed, runaway, space-hopping finale that will have you on the edge of your car seat.

It seems to me that three things drive the HILDA series: the magic of the art, the curiosity of a cat, and Hilda’s overriding instinct to help, even when she’s advised against it or the odds are all stacked against her. Not everything goes to plan, and there are quietly affecting moments of silent contemplation staring out of windows, but then in the morning resolve is renewed and Hilda will try once again!

I’d be proud of that sort of determined compassion in any of my children, and I beam to see it portrayed in the pluckiest of young people here.

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Black Hound h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets #1 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham…

“They wiggle like my mom’s jello cake.”
“Whoa.”
“Did you touch one?”
“If he touched a boob other than his mom’s I’ll eat dirt.”
“Haven’t touched one yet but I’ve seen lots.”
“That’s a really good drawing.”
“These are just some kinds. They’re all completely different.”
“Boobs are awesome.”

Indeed they are, indeed they are. I’ll leave it for you to discover just how it is that young Eli has managed to purvey so many breasts without ever actually having touched any, but rest assured it’s all done in the name of good old fashioned teenage horniness and you’ll get a good eye-full, just like Eli, right on page one to perfectly set the scene. Straightaway, we realise we’re back on familiar Lapham ground, lurking in dens of seedy iniquity, surrounded by the pond life of humanity, riding the ripples on the vile underbelly of society. I love it!

But whilst poor old Eli might think he’s having the time of his life, careening headlong into the undiscovered country of the finery of the female form – even adorned with mesmerising tassels as they are – he’s going to be yearning for his lost days of innocence by the end of this issue. What an opener! Talking about hard-hitting, this is like getting ploughed into by an oil tanker whilst you’re just lighting up…

David Lapham, the real David Lapham writing stuff you so obviously care about, we have missed you and we salute you, sir. For this, this is real comics.

For those of you new to STRAY BULLETS, just take a moment to study this cover closely. Very, very closely… because, it actually sums up the complete and utter mayhem you will find within to perfection. And, at the centre of it all, on the pages inside just like on the cover, is that most cool of cool bad-ass motherfuckers, Spanish Scott, solitary finger raised to lips, instructing us, politely, for that is his way, to quieten ourselves before we read on.

 

 

 

 

There is a two-page driving sequence, Spanish Scott at the wheel, an unsuspecting Eli in the passenger seat that is pure Grand Theft Auto in its execution. At its conclusion, dropping Eli back off at his house, our superfly bad guy is behoved to dispense a few words of wisdom, to complement the (terminal) life lesson he’s just dispensed to a couple of not-so-wise guys.

“Sorry about that, kid. You have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Your loser father probably won’t tell you that.”

Eli’s father… yes… he’s a strange one…

Ah, some people are just made to create a particular comic, and so it is with David Lapham. He is STRAY BULLETS and STRAY BULLETS is him. The snappy dialogue, so street, so witty and so on the money, is beyond even Bendis at his finest. The plot, pure convoluted, gritty, brutal contemporary-fiction unpleasantness, made real for our guilty and salacious enjoyment. Is he the best at what he does to borrow a well used phrase? I think so, I think so, he is certainly right up there. To give this material some context, there are a handful of other comics of this ilk over the last twenty years that have had as much impact on me as this one issue. Some of SCALPED and 100 BULLETS probably, much of CRIMINAL certainly, but then STRAY BULLETS is that good, it always was.

There are some artists – and this is the only way I can describe it – about whom you get the sense they are drawing it entirely for themselves, not for anyone else, just for them. I get the strongest sense that Lapham is precisely like that. This is his comic, written just how he wants, then drawn just how he likes: tough, uncompromising, exactly how a contemporary crime comic should be. I believe he has found the perfect home at Image for this title and I hope this new series runs for a very long time.

JR

Buy Stray Bullets #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Bojeffries Saga (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse.

A suburban sitcom created over the course of three decades to poke light-hearted fun at British society and contemporary culture, this is Alan Moore’s most accessible work of all time.

Well, it is if you’re British, ever paid rent, despised officiousness and despaired of the tabloids.

“Right! Inchmale. Council. I’m coming in. Don’t try to stop me… So, another member of the family, eh? There are rules on overcrowding, you know. Five people at least not counting a baby and a dog.”
“Døck?”
“Yes. A dog. Didn’t think I knew about the dog, eh?”
“Døck? Vhere is døck? You shøw me døck.”
“I rather think you’ll show me, sir. I have a warrant.”
“Vørrant? You are pøliz come about døck? I never ate døck. Vos nøt døck anyway. Voss pøødle.”

In case you hadn’t gathered, Uncle Raoul is a Slavic werewolf and the joke never tires. Over and over innocent animals are left just a little too close for the poor creatures’ comfort and ravenous Raoul does what only comes naturally. The reprises grow cumulatively funnier and Parkhouse’s visual ellipses are hilarious.

Moore describes this as a “paranormal soap opera” for it is riddled with Chas Addams twists. The Bojeffries clan includes barking-mad, malapropism-prone werewolf Uncle Raoul, Festus the vegetarian vampire, Ginda the mop-topped minger who can “turn a cream egg into a diamond and then eat it anyway”, a basement-bound baby so toxic that you need biohazard suits to feed it… and then there is Dad. Dad is in flux. Dad may be moving on to the next stage in organic evolution. You’ll find him in the greenhouse. Or on the greenhouse. Slime is subjective, you know?

Without Steve Parkhouse – and, I would contend, only Steve Parkhouse – this would flail flat on its furry-fat feet. His is a burlesque, grotesque cartooning worthy of Leo Baxendale’s. His butch-ugly Ginda is a hippo-jowled, tooth-gapped joy except to those she voraciously attempts to bed. It is no small mercy that she must have played truant during sex education classes. We’re talking Roger Langridge’s The Gump from ART D’ECCO in an all-too-short skirt but with an even shorter temper and infinitely higher self-esteem.

Soft targets gently dealt with include seaside holidays in a caravan, goth and deaf metal (I know what I wrote), Big Brother (the televisual fiasco not the Orwellian dystopia) and the wisdom dispensed free both of charge and of any discernible intelligence:

“Quite right, guv. Hang asylum seekers, boost house prices, common fackin’ sense, ennit?”

Matching page-panel later:

“Now yer talkin’! Public blindings for underage drinkers, repatriate global warming. Sorted!”

Oh yes, our still-rampant racism is given several more kicks in the comedic cods, especially during the light opera / libretto.

This definite package is given an all-new 24-page send off in the form of a “Where Are They Now?” documentary delivered to camera by Professor Mark Glasses in a thick, phonetic, broad-Brummie accent (so when I typed “accessible” I do apologise) and I so wish I could communicate what had become of our vegan vampire Festus, now cross-dressing on goth-rock stage but both the cartooning and the typography are integral to the joke. However, Alan liked to leave each episode with a fond farewell, so it is only fitting that I do the same by concluding with this from the Christmas special:

“Somewhere, a traditional reliant robin trilled plaintively from a snowdrift.
“Statistically, people killed themselves, drank heavily, and listened to Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’…
“Although not necessarily in that order…
“Happy New Year, everybody!”

SLH

Buy The Bojeffries Saga and read the Page 45 review here

Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Titan) by various.

An all-ages feudal fantasy created by David Petersen, MOUSE GUARD’s central series is written and drawn by David Petersen himself and I cannot commend its latest instalment, MOUSE GUARD VOL 3: THE BLACK AXE highly enough as the best place to start, taking place as it does several decades prior to volume one.

This is the second of its satellite series in which Petersen opens the world up to other creators he admires for short stories linked by his own framing sequences. There are all kinds of treatments here for you to discover, but two of my favourites were ‘Love Of The Sea’ by Christian Slade and ‘Back & Forth’ by Jackson Sze. Visually they couldn’t be more different.

The latter finds veteran explorer Faramond and newly qualified guardmouse Owain journeying from harbour to harbour, mountain to tree-tops, mapping out potential safe passages and trading routes while discarding those they deem perilous like the cavernous Forgotten Realm. Undoubtedly computer generated – you can just see the backlight shining through – the effect is yet one of bright brushstrokes of vivid colour as the rustic, riverside Bridgeporte, for example, its lodgings set atop a natural arch, gleams in the sun.

 

‘Love Of The Sea’, by contrast, is closer to Jeremy A. Bastien’s CURSED PIRATE GIRL liberated from such insanely intricate detail. The faces have a mid-Disney look to them (think: The Rescuers), but the silent story is performed in clean sepia line with lovely textures on panels coloured and frayed to pass as old paper. A mouse, a mermaid, and the passage of time. Simple, but effortlessly moving. Awww.

SLH

Buy Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

47 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai…

Arguably the most famous example of bushidō (the code of Samurai honour) in Japanese history, this recounts the tale of the 47 brave men who decided to avenge the unjust death of their daimyo (feudal lord) knowing full well it would certainly mean their own. Asano Naganori, by all accounts quite a nice chap as feudal lords go, heads to the Imperial court where, despite being forewarned to expect rampant corruption amongst the civil service officials and demands for bribes being the norm, he finds himself being goaded into attacking one of them.

The only possible sentence for his actions in drawing his sword on a court official, as that official well knew, was death by seppuku or ritual suicide. Being an honourable man, and hoping to protect his family, Asano took his own life, but the damage was done and the decree came down that his family also be stripped of its title and its land. All to set ‘an example’ of what happens to those who disobey the rules of the Imperial court, just so the Emperor did not look weak. This was despite the Emperor knowing full well that the blame truly lay with the official in question, Kira, who was also ‘reassigned’ from the court to the countryside, thus leaving him fully exposed to revenge as his punishment.

Asano’s chief retainer decided his loyalty to his late lord demanded such revenge and asked who amongst the three hundred plus men under him were prepared to swear an oath to ensure such revenge was exacted, no matter what the personal cost. In total, they numbered 47 and once their mission was complete, they entered into legend.

Truly a heartbreaking tale, rendered sympathetically by the man best known for his anthropomorphic rabbit bodyguard Usagi Yojimbo, this actually has far more in common tone-wise, if not in terms of art style, with the fictionalised biographical epic that is VAGABOND – i.e. no rabbits of either the common garden or indeed sword wielding variety… This work also perfectly shows how ossified the codified strictures that permeated pretty much every aspect of Japanese life at that time had become. Eventually, put under stress, something had to give.

Whilst we may consider modern Japan to still be a fairly structured society, and obviously we can trace the roots of that back to myriad such cultural institutions as bushidō, it’s happily a far more relaxed place today, though it perhaps took WW2 and the American occupation that followed to finally administer the true killing blow, severing the head of the past. Honour is one thing, but to undertake such a task, knowing it will mean certain death, either in battle, or at one’s own hand because again honour demands it, I couldn’t live my life that way. On the other hand, you don’t pick up your standing order for several months and mysteriously disappear without having the good manners to cancel, I am coming round to your house to fuck you up and burn your comic collection before your eyes.

Looked at in one sense, bushidō is simply brainwashing, conditioning. When you consider that originally according to bushidō a samurai was supposed to commit seppuku simply upon the death of his master, and if you didn’t you chose the life of shame and became a rōnin, it’s clearly a nonsense. The whole rōnin thing came about because other feudal lords didn’t want those men simply signing up to serve someone else en masse thus increasing their power at a stroke potentially tipping the balance of power against them. Paranoia, in a word. Unsurprisingly, more and more samurai became rōnin, choosing dishonour over death, and eventually rules were relaxed to allow samurai to serve someone else, but it’s clear that they were viewed by many in their ivory towers as little more than low ranking chess pieces on the board of power. But for some, brainwashed or not, honour was everything.

But I digress. If you have an interest in finding out more about one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese mediaeval history, you’ll love this, because it is well written and skilfully executed, as indeed were the 47 rōnin eventually. They did get their ‘revenge’ first, though whether their wives and children thought it was all worth it is a different matter.

JR

Buy 47 Ronin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets #41 (£2-75, Image) by David Lapham…

“Come. Sit down. Kevin and I have been having a conversation.”
“Oh…?”
“About what you boys have been up to.”
“Up to?”
“Huss, he knows.”
“Knows what, Kevin?”
“Kidnapping? Violence? Blackmail? What the hell have you got my son into?”

Nine long years we have waited… and finally that patience has been rewarded! Talk about a cliff-hanger?!!! I am so, so happy for David that he has got this issue out at long last; and of course about the joyous news that the entirety of STRAY BULLETS has been reprinted in one glorious volume out this week, plus there will be much, much more to come, starting with STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 out now!

After the previous forty issues, spread over nearly ten years, it would be fair to say that I needed closure about the exploits of Virginia Applejack et al. I never doubted the toughest teen out there would be able to smash up the bad guys one last time and rescue her friend Leon, but I just never thought I would see it writ and drawn large, for real!

I was having a conversation with a customer recently, how longer-form drama has become the big thing in the on-screen entertainment medium over the last ten or fifteen years beginning with TV shows like 24 and The Sopranos through to Breaking Bad and True Detective today. But long before the Sopranos started back in 1999, David Lapham was telling gripping, bleak, even frightening stories of contemporary fiction in the longer form. Yes folks, comics got there first. For those who were along for the whole rollercoaster ride like myself, you will get a huge kick out of the denouement, whereas Huss is just going to get a huge kick in the nuts. It’s a perfectly fitting finale to what was a groundbreaking, award-winning title, with both the creator and the title itself winning Eisners, back in the days when that really meant something. Now, if Paul Pope could just kindly finish off THB… ha ha, ha ha, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

JR

Buy Stray Bullets #41 and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer: Shoot (£10-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan, Jason Aaron, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan, China Mieville & Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Gary Erskine, Sean Murphy, David Lloyd, Rafael Grampa, Eddie Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini.

“Impressive member you’ve got there, old boy.
“But you’re forgetting one thing…
“Mine’s bigger.
“Shall we measure?”

He’s talking to a thirty-foot, bipedal wolf. It’s an awful thing.

Now, will you just look at that top-tier talent! Even the seasonal short stories deliver the “Oh God, no!” goods with wit, depth and some ingenious twists. Sean Phillips’s art – on the Dave Gibbons piece set round the banks of the New-Year’s-Night Thames – is so rich in action and architectural detail that it bears some serious study.

However, the gruesome two-part ‘Newcastle Calling’ by Jason SCALPED Aaron & Sean PUNK ROCK JESUS Murphy is the balls-out winner, bearing all the trappings of a perfect HELLBLAZER shudder-thon: British culture in the form of punk rock, a prime piece of Constantine history reprised (the clue’s in the title; see HELLBLAZER VOL 2), and a fractious gang of video journalists over-confident in their crusade to discover the truth behind Constantine’s past which, as we all know, is best left buried.

Instead they break into the dark and derelict Casanova Club where John’s Mucous Membranes angrily snarled out ‘The Venus Of The Hard Sell’. It was also where John made the most serious of his five thousand, six-hundred and fifty-eight terrible mistakes, landing him in the legendary mental asylum called Ravenscar. Now they have woken what they shouldn’t and what they wind up doing to themselves – and to dead dogs – will make your toes crawl and their bunions bleed. Sean Murphy shows you just enough to make you wonder what God was thinking when he invented eyes.

All of this before our John joins us on the first chapter’s final two pages having got wind on the ectoplasmic plains of what the fuck is up, pulling him back so very, very reluctantly to Newcastle.

“Just this once, how grand would it be if this whole dammed mess didn’t somehow turn out to be entirely my bleedin’ fault.
“Fat fuckin’ chance of that though, aye?”

The other chief attraction is the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’ which tackled child-on-child gun crime and which DC originally spiked. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.

A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can’t see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is a very real real-world problem.

The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.

Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer: Shoot and read the Page 45 review here

Captain Marvel #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & David Lopez.

Nearly miscredited this to Jelly Sue DeConnick.

I have a wobbly keyboard and this typing malarkey is tough.

Isn’t that a lovely cover? It’s fairly indicative of what lies within: softer than usual superheroic art for a softer than usual superheroic saga but make no mistake: Carol Danvers is a very naughty lady. You can see it the mischievous smile and the I-know-what-I’m-doing smile.

Except that Carol’s never quite known what she’s doing: not in the wider scheme of things, anyway. Once she was lost to alcoholism and became ultra-defensive to boot. Now she’s having a tryst with Rhodey, pilot of War Machine (now Iron Patriot). They seem pretty well matched.

“Tony Stark just tried to play me with the suggestion that you’re a better pilot than me.”
“I am.”
“In your dreams.”
“Let’s talk more about my dreams. I’m seeing you in a little black lace number –“
“Careful. Your heart.”
“A cocktail dress. Colonel Danvers. Who’s the one with the dirty mind here?”
“I am. I thought we established that.”

Alas, the subject which Stark was trying to play her on was the opportunity to head into space as part of a formal, rotating Avengers presence and it’s seems the perfect opportunity during which to find herself.

Fast-forward to the first page and Colonel Danvers (who in costume appears to accept demotion) has evidently already accepted and gathered a personal posse of intriguing individuals one of whom nearly crash-landed on Earth in an escape pod six weeks earlier. At which point you know just about as much as I do.

The ever-competitive exchange between Stark and Danvers takes place while they nonchalantly deal with a couple of lowlifes, killing two narrative birds with one rolling stone and thereby keeping the whole thing popping along at a bright and breezy pace.

SLH

Buy Captain Marvel volume #1 and read the Page 45 review here

FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Lee Allred & Joe Quinones, Michael Allred.

Upsettingly undersubscribed series of gleeful wit and innocent joy, as playful as you like.

This features a pool party for the kids. Expect cool swimming costumes, petulant splashing and dive-bombs!

And in spite of this cover (far from the series’ best), it’s all about the kids. I’m not sure their adult supervision is up to the task. In fact, I’m not sure that all their supervisors are necessarily well-adjusted adults. You just know that Queen Medusa hired a nanny.

The best bit was discovering that the singularly solitary Watcher – aloof and never allowed to interfere – actually has a missus. We’d just assumed he was celibate or a castrato. Also, he does occasionally need to go to the toilet. Who knew?

Below its effervescent surface, however, there also lie some serious scientific investigations into long-standing Marvel phenomena like the shrinking / biggening thingummyjiggies called Pym Particles used by both all three Ant Men (and far more characters than you may have suspected) to –

“Shut up, Stephen!”

Look, my review of FF VOL 1: FANTASTIC FAUX tells you all you need to know, and once you’ve read that you will understand why I loved this bit, in which our over-protective, idol-worshipping Young Moloids who’ve since ditched The Ben and latched onto The Jen (She-Hulk) are particularly alarmed that The Watcher has a sex drive.

In unison, they demand:

“Do not pitch the woo to our Jen!”

Do not!

SLH

Buy FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 (£12-99, Kodansha) by Saki Nakagawa…

“SO YOU’RE THE PANTY THIEF!”
“They’re gym shorts, and they’re not what I meant to steal! That is…”
“THE STUDENT WHOSE PANTIES YOU STOLE IS IN TEARS! APOLOGISE PERVO!”
“What?! No way! I… refuse to bow my head to any titan…”
“JUST LOOK HOW SAD SHE IS!!”
<slump>
“EREN?! Seriously? You fainted? You’re worse at apologising than Shia Leboeuf.”

Ouch! Really wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this at all, but I found myself chuckling throughout. It is such a bizarre concept, take one of the most horrific titles out there and then applying every conceivable comedic high-school manga trope imaginable to it – and, believe me, there are a lot – plus a smattering of topical social satire to boot. Certainly nice to see Shia Lebouef is being pilloried by the comic community on even the far side of the globe. Hilarious hi-jinks fun, will make absolutely no sense whatsoever to anyone not reading ATTACK ON TITAN, but would certainly tickle those who are. For a volume or two at least anyway.

JR

Buy Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki…

“Tch! You’re soweak, you’re so weak, you’re not even worth beating.
“SPEAK UP TITAN!! HUH?! WELL?!
“This is no fun. Fight back a little, why don’t you? Fight back. FIGHT BACK.”

“Fi…ght ba…ck.”

So, those of you reading ATTACK ON TITAN will know there is a fair amount of mystery to it: who or what are the Titans, where did they come from, why does the title make no grammatical sense etc. etc? Not sure exactly how much will be revealed in this straight prequel, set in the relatively early days following the rise of the Titans and humanities retreat behind their towering, walled defences. Defences which, as readers of ATTACK ON TITAN will know, have some very dubious foundations indeed. I strongly suspect after reading this first volume that BEFORE THE FALL will indeed be a vital companion title, will eventually have some important revelations, but undoubtedly not before much allusion and indeed possibly misdirection have taken place. Nice.

Indeed, even the set-up premise of a human baby found alive inside a titan after his pregnant mother was consumed provides much to puzzle over. The general consensus is he must be the son of a Titan. Unfortunately for the baby in question he himself is going to have plenty to time to ponder his lot, as he spends his entire childhood in chains in a dungeon being repeatedly beaten by the child of a wealthy merchant who is determined to toughen his son up before he enters a career in the higher echelons of the military. And I do mean repeatedly. Dark stuff in places actually, I must say, but it certainly creates an interesting starting point for this title.

JR

Buy Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition s/c (£45-00, Image) by David Lapham

Saga vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Death s/c (£14-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman & Chris Bachalo, Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Mike Dringenberg, Colleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Malcom Jones III, Mark Pennington, Jeffrey Jones

Wasteland vol 9: A Thousand Lies (£10-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

Hellboy: The First 20 Years h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola

Judge Dredd Casefiles 22 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar & Carlos Ezquerra, Ashley Wood, many more

Noah h/c (£22-50, Image) by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & Niko Henrichon

Sailor Twain (£10-99, First Second) by Mark Siegel

Silk Road To Ruin (£14-99, NBM) by Ted Rall

Sock Monkey Treasury h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Tony Millionaire

Green Arrow vol 4: The Kill Machine s/c (£12-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino

Green Lantern: Rise Of The Third Army s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, various & Doug Mahnke, various

Iron Man: Epic Collection – War Games s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by John Byrne & John Romita Jr., Paul Ryan, Mark D. Bright, Tony DeZuniga

Marvel Encyclopedia h/c (£30-00, Marvel) by various

Mighty Avengers vol 1: No Single Hero s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Greg Land

New Avengers vol 1: Everything Dies s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 4 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Sara Pichelli

Wolverine Max vol 3: Vegas s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Starr & Felix Ruiz, Roland Boschi

Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour & Yves Bigerel, Paco Diaz

Young Avengers vol 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Emma Vieceli, Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle, Maris Wicks, Joe Quninones, Christian Ward

Gangsta vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Kohske

UQ Holder vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

 

ITEM! Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SECONDS to be published by SelfMadeHero in the UK in August. Gorgeous cover!

ITEM! New Paul Pope book and more besides in First Second’s Autumn schedule.

ITEM! Jamie Smart exclusively reveals the official poster for the next Spider-Man film! I do hope it is in black and white – preferably with French sub-titles.

ITEM! Gender-specific books: the Independent refuses to review them. Hurrah!

ITEM! I don’t have many “idols” and, since Will Eisner, I certainly can’t think of any in comics. Completely off-topic, then, but because I can: three pieces to read on Tony Benn, one of those very few idols, who’s left us all the poorer for his passing. Compassion is what does it for me.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26573929

http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2014/03/14/the-socialism-of-humanity-a-tribute-to-tony-benn

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/03/tony-benn-1925-2014-ten-his-greatest-quotes

- Stephen

Reviews March 2014 week two

March 12th, 2014

What a very beautiful book and, oh, you will love the clouds of butterflies glowing under the moon’s reflective gaze and erupting from the oddest of places. Look, there’s one now crawling out of Kohta’s mouth!

 - Stephen on Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph. Don’t. Just… don’t!

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by John Allison.

“Who are you phoning?”
“The dictionary. I want a word for when “ungrateful” isn’t enough.”

John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children.

He’s also one of the finest cartoonists we have, right up there with Dan Berry for movement and energy, supple forms and exuberant gesticulation.

In the opening exchange we had Jack admonishing young Linton who has been saved from drowning by Archibald, Mildred’s adoptive “dog” who leapt into water like a Jack Kirby hero with suspiciously anthropoid grace. Hmmm. Rather than just lying lifeless on the sandy shore soaking, Linton is scuffling about in circles either through petulance and irritation or in order to dry off his back. I don’t care which: this movement which few others would have thought of brings extra life to the panel and a great big grin to my face.

As to the characters’ expressions, they are priceless: Charlotte’s eyes closed in sanctimonious approval of her family’s month-long moratorium on meatballs out of respect for the removal of her dog Pepper’s bollocks; Sonny, Jack and Linton’s epileptic response to the fair ride Obliterator 500 and its ilk; the boggle-eyed baby Humphrey burbling “Borb Ground Wee” and “Botty”; plus Sonny’s super-serious, fire-lit eyes on getting to grips with a new mystery!

“Beasts intrigue me, Jack. Tell me more about the beasts.”

Although loaded online page by periodical page, John’s stories are long-form so now that they’re being published, case by investigative case, the fluidity of the narrative is far more obvious – as well as their considerable substance and length.

The town is Tackleford and the two sets of twelve-year-old friends are Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred; Linton, Sonny and Jack. They are linked by Shauna’s pash on Jack. She slipped a pink love note into Jack’s pocket complete with two panda stickers, three hearts and a butterfly. Unfortunately Linton found it and teased Jack without let-up (he is very funny!) which is why Linton ended up in the river. Friends do fall out, you know. Here’s Shauna and Charlotte:

“Fancy fightin’ over a flippin’ “magic pencil”.”
“Ugh. I know. Let’s add it to the list of things we’re not allowed to row about.”
“OK. Licking other people’s yoghurt lids. Best singers.”
“Rules of tennis, “badmington”, marbles, hula hoop. Imaginary… magic… trinkets.”
“Hula hoop defo doesn’t have rules, Lottie.”
“FORFEIT DANCE, NOW.”

Allison packs so much of these “things that kids do” into his series leaving the mystery to percolate gently in the background into its full flavour is ready: the romance, the bullying, the school smokers’ corner, the family squabbling, the embarrassing nightmare which is parents evening… and why Mildred’s parents refuse to let her play computer games – in her case wisely. They’re also strict about Mildred’s diet when she goes to stay with cousin Sonny:

“There’s some of her veggie burger mix in there, and an organic berry salad. Don’t let her anywhere near yoghurt.”
“Mum’s got me on a superfoods diet.”
“Superfoods!”
“The name is a trick. It’s basically things from the garden that even slugs aren’t interested in.”

The intertwining mysteries this time involve nine missing babies (the first of which vanished under nursery manager Susan Bovis’ hilariously slapdash care: “Little ones are always wandering off. I’m sure they’ll come back. They’re probably having a wonderful time.”), the Magic Pencil which Mildred won from a fairground con-man with hastily calculated complex mechanics and sheer bloody-mindedness (“Whatever it draws, whatever it writes, comes true!” Will it?) and The Tackleford Beast, a huge bipedal shadow spotted roaming the ‘urbs by the usual suspects you would never believe in a month of Sundays. Oh yes, and then there’s the surprise find of curiously capable dog ‘Archie’, another of John’s cartooning triumphs.

This is brilliant, this is bonkers and if you are desperate for me to find a comparison point then this is the lo-fi, parochial UK equivalent of (amongst many other things) SCOTT PILGRIM.

I exhort you, then, to…

Discover the leaf-loving joys of Nature-craft Folk Club!

Gasp at the wrist action of Jack’s throwing prowess and note down the time it takes for his stick to go under the bridge! (“Fifteen… point six… seconds… heart heart kiss kiss… PANDA STICKER. NEXT!”)

Wonder at the wisdom of deploying the Magic Pencil when you’ve read W.W. Jacobs’ ‘The Monkeys Paw’ and be careful what you wish for!

And finally gawp at the glossary contrived for our American chums, every bit of mirth-making as the contents themselves.

Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you. I haven’t read it yet because it was stolen from me by our Jonathan in fact THIS IS THE FIRST JOHN ALLISON BOOK I HAVE EVER BEEN ALLOWED TO REVIEW.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn (£3-00, Rolling Stock Press) by Oliver East…

“The first train of the day allows me enough time to walk to Grange-Over-Sands, keeping as close to the train tracks as possible. A distance of just over 5km as the train flies.
“That is if the powers that be had had the foresight to lay a footpath of sorts along the 600-metre viaduct that stretches across Milnthorpe Sands.
“But they didn’t and they haven’t.
“This forces me to circle the sands and mud flats for 30km and 7 hours, get lost more than once, hounded by a dog, encouraged by a different dog and finish this leg with my stance as a non ‘dog person’ totally unaltered.”

Ha ha, I do like Oliver’s deadpan delivery. If you’re going to write a comic about tramping through the mud around Cumbria, you need a bit of humour, frankly. Whether it’s being surprised by a sleeping tramp (TRAINS ARE MINT) or experiencing sudden paranoia at the unlikely prospect of being sexually molested on a lonely footbridge (PROPER WELL GO HIGH), I’ve always enjoyed the undercurrent of observing the absurd in the everyday which runs throughout his work.

 

Commissioned by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (we may have we mentioned we’re going to be there this year…?) this is a typical walk through Oliver’s world of… err… walking and, as ever, trains or at least tracks are involved somewhere, as he battles the elements as well as the wildlife on what seems anything but a pleasant stroll in this particular instance. Definitely one for those who like the idea of a bracing, refreshing walk in the countryside, if not the actuality of getting off one’s arse, heading out the door and getting piss-wet through.

I have reproduced some pages for those unfamiliar with Oliver’s unique art style. Do not be fooled by its apparent simplicity, it actually takes an immense amount of skill to illustrate so expressively and suggestively with such economy of line and no shading tones. The more I study any particular panel, the more I admire his compositional ability. A true British gem.

JR

Buy The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn and read the Page 45 review here

Nijigahara Holograph (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Inio Asano.

“The promised day is near.
“The butterflies that had been pulled apart by fate…
“Shall become one.”

What a very beautiful book and, oh, you will love the clouds of butterflies glowing under the moon’s reflective gaze and erupting from the oddest of places. Look, there’s one now crawling out of Kohta’s mouth!

Kohta has found a butterfly pendant in the pitch-black warren of tunnels behind the school, beneath the Nijigahara Embankment. It’s one of a matching pair of pendants which will be lost and found, passed on from one protagonist to the next throughout this book. Kohta entrusts this one to former classmate Maki, now waitress in the café Makota inherited so fortuitously from his dead parents. It is to be delivered, and soon, for the promised day is coming and the connections will finally be made clear.

If you’re paying attention, of course. Inio Asano, the creator of SOLANIN, won’t be holding your hand. He’s created an elliptical narrative which orbits a cast of characters, gliding in and out of their lives as adults and school children. It’s such a gentle, sleepy, dreamy read that when sudden acts of extreme violence erupt seemingly out of nowhere, it is altogether halting. Except that they don’t erupt out of nowhere: they come from the human heart – and what happened at school and around the Nijigahara Embankment eleven years ago.

It all begins with a girl called Arié who claimed there was a monster in that tunnel. It begins with what was done to her, what kept her in a coma for over a decade, and its effect on classmate Kohta who develops an… affinity… for those tunnels and, for a bully, quite the protective streak.

Or does it begin with Amahiko, product of a loveless home and ostracised at each successive school he’s moved to? As an adult he is visiting his dying father in hospital – the same hospital Arié’s still sleeping in – lost in reverie:

“These days… I have dreams. It makes me wonder if what I’m seeing now isn’t really just a dream. Each day, the dreams become more and more real. And yet…”
“… In the end… you wake up, and you are yourself. Isn’t that the way it always is? Simply by virtue of being alive, all persons have some kind of role to play. They just don’t realise it.”
“.. Who are you?”

He’s on old man on whose balding head a butterfly has alighted.

“Could you push my wheelchair for me?”
“Excuse me?”
“Over there. To where that boy is crying.”

There are a lot of dreams here whose meaning may at first elude you (you may want to have a pen handy for jotting down the vast cast’s names!), but I promise you it will all make sense in the end. A very worrying sense, I might add, for even some of the quietest and ostensibly sane prove to be monsters if you join the dots between far-from-random flash-panels and listen carefully to what prove confessions. Then there are those moments of casual conversation which suddenly take an abrupt turn for the hideously dark. Threatening. Brutal. Cruel.

I did have a pen and paper handy and jotted down all sort of questions and connections – the repercussions – but I only did that for my own benefit. School teacher Miss Sakaki, and eye wrapped in bandages, will have an edifying lesson for you about ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu who once dreamt he was a butterfly.

“A butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he woke up and there he was… Chuang Tzu. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.”

No one here is going to be flitting and fluttering around, happy with themselves and doing as they please. Or at least if they do as they please they won’t be happy for long because there will be repercussions. As to the Nijigahara Embankment – about which the mere mention will begin to trouble you deeply – “Niji” can be written using the Chinese characters for “rainbow” or “two children”. It’s only recently that it’s become “the plain of the rainbow”; it used to be “the plain of two children”.

Rarely have I seen photography incorporated so successfully into exquisitely fine pen line like this. You’ll barely notice it’s there in the foliage, the overhanging canopies, the blinding sunsets with backlit clouds and trees silhouetted against the sky. I put it down to a skilled deployment of tone and indeed the light is exquisite throughout while the butterflies will leave you breathless. There must be thousands here.

SOLANIN proved to be one of Page 45’s most popular Comicbook Of The Month and this shares its contemplative nature, but its content is quite the departure, delving as the back-cover copy says into “David Lynchian territory”. There’s a lot more going on underneath than you may initially suspect but once it starts clawing its way up to the surface you won’t be able to look away.

P.S. I lied: it all begins with Arié’s mother, but it definitely begins with those tunnels.

SLH

Buy Nijigahara Holograph and read the Page 45 review here

Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c (£29-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

From the creators of CRIMINAL, this too is crime but with a Lovecraftian twist.

It begins in a graveyard.

Nicolas Lash is burying his godfather, one Dominic H. Raines who published a string of bestselling detective novels beginning in 1960 before dying alone, bitter and broken. He was also an avowed atheist, so when Nicolas spots three sigils on Dominic’s gravestone, he is ever so slightly perplexed. At which point Jo, the most beautiful woman Nicolas has ever beheld, appears as if out of nowhere:

“My grandmother had them on her grave too…
“She and Mr Raines were in love once. I think that symbol was something private between them…
“Some piece of the past they couldn’t let go of.”

And immediately, like a kid in a school yard, Nicolas is irretrievably smitten.

Later that night he goes through his godfather’s effects and discovers an unpublished manuscript dated 1957 called ‘The Losing Side Of Eternity’.

At which point all hell breaks loose before we flash back to San Francisco, 1956, when Dominic Raines was a happily married man with a kid on the way. He’s not yet a writer, but a reporter determined to expose police corruption and in particular one Walt Booker who happens to be dating… oh, hello! She looks familiar!

Then there are tentacles and some heads explode.

 

 

Okay, that’s my shop-floor-show and tell, replacing my introduction to FATALE VOL 1 s/c for this deluxe hardcover of the first two books which, vitally, restores the opposing-page structure Sean Phillips originally intended and it makes all the difference in the world.

It also contains the sort of extras you’ve come to expect from this creative combo’s hardcovers: the prologue pages used to advertise the series, process pieces including the evolution of series’ logo (a design triumph), a cover gallery, the issues’ back-matter essays, other studies (oh, god, that monkey!) and an afterword by Brubaker.

Back to the contents, however. Back to the losing side of eternity, and Josephine is both cursed and conflicted.

“She hates herself… For wanting to survive this badly. For the things she’s done and the things she’s willing to do. She can still feel Hanks’ hands on her. Still taste him on her lips. And she hates herself for that too.
“She thinks about his wife… pictures her waiting up… lying to herself that her husband is working late. Or out all night chasing a lead. And she wants to cry, for what she’s done to this woman. But she doesn’t… because it’s not just about survival.”

Ah, la femme fatale: beautiful, seductive, and disastrous for all who stray near. But Brubaker and Phillips have carved something far more interesting, especially in Josephine who can’t help each act of seduction just like you can’t control your own pheromones, while she sees all those around her paying the price. Also, I’ve deliberately said little about Walt himself – both his public and private investigations into a death cult – nor what happens to Nicolas back in the present, because although this is everything you love about the same team’s CRIMINAL, it’s also a horror comic: the less you know, the better.

It’s another perfect fusion of genres, but the big change and one of the keys to its complexity lies in the multiple, third-person perspectives: Josephine’s, obviously, but also that of the men who find themselves stricken by the raven-haired beauty who appears to weather the ravages of time infinitely better than those who fixate. Each for their own reason feels they have no option but to forge forward in their different directions; each believes they are running out of time. All of them seem linked by and trapped in a web woven wider and wider across time, spanning an entire century or perhaps even longer.

I love the way Sean Phillips draws gunshots – jagged flashes of fire – and there’s plenty of action and more gore to come as the tentacles first start to show. Almost all of this takes place indoors or at night, and I’ve long said that I never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips. The faces are constantly cast in shadow, masking their motives and making your fear the very worst – either of them or for them. Cigarette smoke is rendered with a very dry brush, while much of the violence is framed in expressionistically rendered and instinctively positioned darkness.

But it’s his quietest moments set in beds, bars or out on the street that I relish even more. The opening pages in the bucolic graveyard are particularly sublime, and the covers – including their subsequent printings, so wittily re-rendered – have been the best designed this year.

 

As to the second half here and the men hooked on Josephine, theirs is a different perspective, though no less driven:

“It’s only after Claudia leaves and Miles realises that he feels sorry for her that he has a moment of clarity about how much he’s changed in the past week.
“He hasn’t used anything but pot since he first slept with Josephine. And he hasn’t even missed it. No cravings… nothing.
“Like she was all the drugs he needed.”

Los Angeles 1978, a dozen years on from FATALE VOL 1, and Josephine still hasn’t aged a day. Holed up in her luxury villa, she has – she realises – become that Hollywood cliché, “the strange old lady who stays indoors and watches old movies every night on TV. Except she doesn’t look old. She just feels it.” Everything she needs is fetched by Miss Jansen while her devoted gardener Jorge watches on from afar. Other than that she has successfully avoided the company of men. Given her history, it’s… safer that way.

Tonight she is watching the only decent film that failed movie star Miles ever acted in before being relegated to a life of B-movies, speedballs and subsequent self-loathing. And tonight is the night that Miles clambers over her walls with a wounded and bloody Suzy Scream in tow, clutching a reel of film. What they have witnessed is abhorrent; what’s on the film is worse. What Josephine knows is that in her life there is no such thing as coincidence so she takes the fugitives in. That’s when she holds strips of the film to the light and spies the prize that eluded her for years: a specific book being read by an acolyte of the Method Church before its ritual sacrifice. And as with all things, I’m afraid, Josephine simply cannot help herself – and subsequently neither can Miles.

Self-awareness is key to this series’ success: its protagonists retain just enough self-knowledge to realise that their self-guidance is fucked whilst being unable to alter course. Clearly we’re in for a multiple pile-up and you cannot help screaming, “Nooooo!”

Indeed, Brubaker and Phillips have concocted something uncanny in that its theme of compulsion is mirrored by its effect: FATALE is as addictive to its audience as Josephine is to those caught within her gravitational pull.

And yes, there’s plenty more on Nicolas Lash who’s succumbed to her charms in the present, desperately chasing her ghost and about to experience one hell of a flashback in a childhood memory which has somehow been blocked until now. Oh, but that’s clever – dovetails beautifully.

Also smart is Phillips’ art, whose rigorous self-discipline means his storytelling is instantly accessible (i.e. legible) even to those new to comics. You won’t notice this (which is part of the point) but each page is clearly tiered, with the lettering arranged at the top of each tier so that one’s eyes move swiftly from left to right rather than straying perilously down a row way too early.

Sean Phillips’ male faces all have that lived-in look: slightly battered both by the years and what life has thrown at them. Interestingly (I’ve not seen this mentioned elsewhere), although most of the male faces in FATALE are as semi-shrouded in shadow as they are in CRIMINAL, Josephine’s isn’t, even at night. It makes her seem slightly ethereal – not quite of the world around her.

SLH

Buy Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Starlight #1 (£2-25, Image) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov…

“They say a funeral is for those who are left behind, but I don’t really take much comfort from all this.
“I’ve lost my best friend, the mother of my boys, and my soulmate…
“Joanne is here in a wooden box and everyone is acting like it’s so damn normal.
“The preacher says she’s happier now and living up there in a better place. But how could it be better?
“We didn’t spend one night apart in thirty-eight years of marriage.
“How can it be paradise if she and I aren’t together anymore?”

I really did not believe that it was possible for Millar to produce a comic with more pathos than SUPERIOR, but I think he might have managed it with just one issue of this new series…

There are so many heart strings getting tugged it’s practically a full violin concerto of melodrama! Okay, our main character Duke McQueen (think a pension-age Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, basically) might not be in mortal danger, yet at least, but this introductory issue showing the great man in his silver haired dotage, safely retired from derring-do, mourning the recent loss of the love of his life, gradually being ever more sidelined by his two busy adult sons, is moving for the simple truth it portrays so well. Human beings are social creatures, and denied the contact with those we love, through time and distance, or mortality, it can be a rather lonely existence.

Duke seems to be coping well enough though. After all you’d expect no less from such a renowned space hero, right? Except, except, his youthful exploits took place somewhere far, far away, and no one on the planet Earth ever believed a single word of it, aside from his late wife. Even two generations on, his notoriety and public shaming hasn’t been forgotten and has become something even young kids like to tease a crazy old man about…

“Uh, are you the guy that thinks he flew his plane to another planet?”
“What?”
“The guys were saying you got sucked through a wormhole and came home telling everyone you’d met real aliens. Is that true or are they just messing with me?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure if it was a wormhole, but yeah… I ended up somewhere else for a while and saw some crazy stuff. I just don’t like talking about it.”
“Is it true they put a probe in Uranus?”
“Get the hell outta my sight!”
“Sorry Duke.”
“Relax buddy, I’m used to it.”

These days, he’s playing out his third and final act almost as if in a dream, for all he has are his memories. Those of his dear departed wife… and those of his time riding dragons and duelling space dictators. When his two sons and their families aren’t able to come and visit him on the anniversary of their mother’s passing, inadvertently ruining the special meal which they have no idea Duke has spent days planning and preparing, it seems like he can’t feel any more alone in the world, or should that be universe? So when Duke’s house begins shake as if a huge earthquake is starting, he’s as shocked as anyone when… TO BE CONTINUED IN STARLIGHT #2!!!

Sorry, couldn’t resist an old Buster Crabbe era Flash Gordon-style to-be-continued-next-week ending there!

 

 

This is superb work from Millar. I was gripped from the first page, not least because of Goran Parlov’s opening sequence set on an alien world which is pure Moebius, and that top-notch standard of art is continued throughout once we’re back on more mundane Earth in Goran’s own inimitable style. But also because instantly you care about Duke and by the end of this first issue you desperately want something, anything, good or better yet exciting, to happen for this care-worn, gentle giant of a man. Better buckle up!

JR

Buy Starlight #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Where Bold Stars Go To Die (£5-99, Other A-Z) by Gerry Alanguilan & Arlanzando Esmena.

“Anna, it doesn’t matter anymore if I ever see you again. But wherever you are in this world or the next… this one’s for you.”

Hahahaha! That’s not a dedication, it’s the punchline. What follows may give you a clue why I’m laughing.

Firstly, this is deliciously beautiful.

The landscapes in particular – the intricately gnarled bark, the fine-bladed grass and even the copulating dragonflies – put me immediately in mind of the great Mike Zulli, he of Neil Gaiman’s CREATURES OF THE NIGHT and THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF THE DEPARTURE OF MISS FINCH and original, of course, of the long-lamented PUMA BLUES nature comic. There should be more nature comics. This is a fact.

If you like your ladies tastefully draped with semi-transparent chiffon blowing in the breeze but naked and curvaceous all the same, you will absolutely adore this slim graphic novella. In the spirit of equally opportunities I should also confirm that the teenage protagonist, who fervently does adore these ladies from afar, is also delightfully fit. The ladies aren’t alone in showing some nether curves as Daniel rolls over or sits up in bed in order to facilitate his self-administration.

“Bold Stars” were not porn stars but soft-core stars of the Philippines’’ film industry and it is with one in particular, Anna, with whom Daniel falls in love. Absolutely besotted. Alas, he can find no reference to her online, so any printed glimpse of her on paper is like the Holy Grail which Daniel pursues as far as he can. As the sun sets he gazes out of this bedroom window across the bay and daydreams about her. And then he falls asleep…

It’s possible I have already said too much but it’s the dream that’s the key, and his rude awakening from it. For however relieved one always is to wake up from a nightmare, imagine conversely being torn not just from a most exhilarating fantasy but absolute heaven instead.

Arlanzando Esmena nails the sheer crumpled misery on Daniel’s face as subsequent days become weeks during which Daniel pleasures himself obsessively and exhaustingly with no pleasure at all. He’s doing this partly in order to try to recreate some second-best aspect of heaven in his head, yes, but that is not all, oh not at all.

Do you remember Neil Gaiman’s conceit about the prosperity – the persistent existence – of gods depending on their followers continuing to worship them and how, if they stopped, the gods would first wane then blink out of existence? Prepare for an unexpected appropriation for similarly feverish devotion which makes perfect sense to me.

All will be revealed, appropriately enough, in the dream.

SLH

Buy Where Bold Stars Go To Die and read the Page 45 review here

Nights (£8-99, Sublime) by Kou Yoneda.

Three separate stories in which:

A 30-something detective is prepared to put himself out – or in fact just put out – in pursuit of a smuggler, bringing a brand new meaning to the term entrapment…

A shy mechanic falls for an emotionally reserved car salesman and, as you can imagine from that summary, this short sure takes the longest to tell as they both dither hither and yon…

Kugo, a college student so sure of himself yet completely oblivious to the bleeding obvious, spots a reticent lad called Usui bashfully eyeing up from afar Kugo’s best buddy Nakaya from whom Kugo is inseparable…

This one is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, for cock-sure Kugo takes pity on Usui and decides to help him out, befriending him so that Usui can finally make a move on Nakaya whom Kugo – who would fail even the most cursory examination in self-awareness – considers “as dumb as they come”. Our Mr. Know-It-All is nothing if not direct.

“Hey. You’ve got a crush on Nakaya, don’t you? If you want, I can help you out.”
“Wh… what are y-you talking about?”
“You don’t even try to hide the way you look at him. I thought even Nakaya would’ve noticed by now. But he’s incredibly dense. I’m always with him, so I couldn’t help but twig to it.”
“…”

“…” is right. Have you spotted the flaw in Kugo’s detective skills yet? It’s no wonder their eyes meet. Usui gratefully accepts Kugo’s interest but doesn’t seem keen on making a move on Nakaya at all.

“Just being able to talk with you about Nakaya is enough for me.”

Funny, that.

I like Kugo. He may be much, much dimmer than Nakaya but at least he’s no egotist: he doesn’t presume the world revolves around him even, so he doesn’t presume Usui’s world revolves around him even though it does. Plus he’s altruistic enough to let a lad into his friendship with Nakaya rather than getting all territorial or indeed homophobic about it.

In fact, here’s a thing about yaoi: it exists in some snowglobe utopia in which homophobia doesn’t seem to exist at any level of society or within any age bracket. I’m not objecting to that; quite the reverse. These are, after all, fantasies to fuel others’ daydreams and wet dreams. Not everything has to be some gruellingly accurate socio-political commentary on the sad state of affairs in which we appear to be going globally backwards after so much hard-fought progress (see Africa, Russia, India, parts of America and of course UKIP).

Publish enough books in which love between the same sexes is taken as the for-granted norm with no one giving a toss and maybe the bigots will blink themselves out of existence.

“I have a dream” etc.

SLH

Buy Nights and read the Page 45 review here

Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster (£9-99, Capstone) by Kean Soo.

“Okay, let’s never talk about what happened in that washroom ever again.”

Aww, welcome reissue for this heart-winning Young Readers graphic novel about which I wrote:

This is so attractive that I’m abandoning my moratorium on big purple monsters in comics, for this all-ages escapade positively glows on the shelves between BONE and OWLY, and the scene on the train where our great, grape, dragon-winged friend tries to impart his desperate need for the loo is priceless.

Do you remember Watch With Mother’s ‘The Herb Garden’? Well, Jellaby is Parsley The Lion all over: big, innocent, slightly forlorn eyes on a giant, silent, nodding head, off-setting the critter’s reputation for being scary.

Discovered outside her house one night after a particularly disturbing dream, young Jellaby’s taken in by Portia, hidden from her mother, stopped from eating the flower arrangement (oh, wait – no he isn’t!), then taken to meet her school chum Jason. Portia decides that Jellaby’s simply lost, and together they embark on a journey to find the heavily bolted door that Jellaby appears to recognise in a newspaper. Unfortunately there’s someone waiting for them on the train — someone Portia’s encountered before, in a nightmare…

SLH

Buy Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Knight #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey.

Here’s the essential thing you need to know about Moon Knight:

He’s barking mad.

With a minimum of four individually functioning personalities (they do at least do that – they function) he gives even Hank “Who Even Am I Today?” Pym a run for his mentalist money.

He’s also driven, but not like the snow. He’s driven by Egyptian god Khonshu under whose statue he died. Then he rose again from the dead and continued to verily smite things.

This madness – its origins and manifestations – was dealt with in different ways recently by Charlie Huston & David Finch, then by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev’s (see those MOON KNIGHT reviews) and I loved both. Hell, I was gripped by Doug Moench & Bill Sienkiewicz’s considerable and considered run 30+ years ago. Ellis has found an approach which acknowledges them all and then does something different:

Former mercenary Marc Spector doesn’t throw a punch.

Rather than descend, crescent-caped from a ‘copter, he sits sedately in the back of a silver stretch-limousine, calmly coordinating technology to take him to the scene of a crime. He inspects the scene of that crime. He doesn’t really consult with the cops although he does acknowledge their presence. He analyses, deduces and decides on a unilateral plan of action.

“This is all real interesting, but you are not a police officer. So you can’t just –“
“Officer, I appreciate your perspective. But I’m talking about going underground into the hide of a highly trained killer, which will be where he keeps all his weapons. I’d prefer to do that part for you.”
“You’re crazy.”
“It’s been said.”
“Also, I hate to be the one to point this out, but wearing a white suit… he’s kinda going to see you coming.”
“That’s the part I like.”

He is, in short, a gentleman, in a gentleman’s attire, and he will take matters into his own more-than-capable hands with the maximum preparation that’s possible for an impromptu operation and the minimum of fuss.

 

 

Similarly, there is something slightly Ditko-esque in Declan Shalvey’s side-stepping, white-suited squire and the way he descends through the city’s strata. Maybe it’s more Dean Mutter’s MISTER X – unlike Mark I never read enough of that. Regardless, I loved the way he strides to the scene, all matter-of-fact and determined, without a care in the world for how he’s perceived, gimp-mask and all. I also loved Jordie Bellaire’s complete disinclination to colour him in costume: it’s pure black and white. Spectral.

The other departure is in the Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis at the end.

“You don’t “catch” D.I.D. simply by pretending to be other people for a while. If that were true, we would be under an epidemic of soap opera actors putting bags on their heads and cutting people’s faces off, no? Not that that would be uninteresting to me.”

So. What is up, doc?

SLH

Buy Moon Knight #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Satellite Sam vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin.

“Mikey, any chance that dick you call a dad will grace us with his presence today?”

New York City, 1951, and Satellite Sam is the name of a space-faring television show recorded live – though thankfully not in front of a studio audience. Its titular star, Carlyle White, is ever so slightly unreliable, you see, and although he’s only got one line this week – and right at the end of the show – no one is confident he’ll make it.

A shame, then, that a) some vital investors have popped into the studio control room unannounced and b) this week’s episode has just begun filming. Looks like it’s time for some improvised stalling in the form of over-egged extemporised lines and a mad dash across town for the network’s Elizabeth Meyers to Carlyle’s secret pad. I wonder how she knows where it is? I wonder what she will find there? I wonder what miraculous cliff-hanger they can come up with in the next half an hour in case Carlyle is a no-show for the show?

Clue: he’s a no-show, and his son Mikey is going to have to pick up the pieces then hope he has time to assemble them later on.

Howard Chaykin is perfect for this period piece, relishing the fashions, and his art’s a lot softer than of late. Not everything’s inked – there’s pencil shading and well placed tones. Fraction, meanwhile, has nailed the on-the-hoof histrionics and network skulduggery/ambition.

Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning this, but because you would expect an Image book to be in colour, I will just add that it’s black and white, just like the television of the times.

SLH

Buy Satellite Sam vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…

“So… today’s the day?”
“Yeah…”
“How do you feel?”
“Overwhelmed… this is big… bigger than anything we’ve ever done. This is war.”

“You can’t have a war without… casualties.”

Yes, never a series to shy away from killing beloved characters, Mr. Kirkman has decided to up the ante and go all-in for the next twelve issues, six of which are contained within this volume. Well, technically all-out according to the title, but that didn’t work with my poker metaphor.

What next? Rick and Negan doing the all-in, all-out Hokey Cokey mano-a-mano to decide the winner of their private war? I think I saw that in a Kevin Costner film once… More likely, though, is simply the highest body count yet, as both sides conclude peace in their time is starting to look about as likely as a zombie Michael Jackson suddenly appearing to lead the walking dead in a rendition of Thriller. Though, technically, if you think about it, that is possible, he has to be shambling around somewhere…

Pretty surprised Kirkman hasn’t played the celebrity zombie card yet… in fact, maybe like Rick’s weird full technocolour alien dream sequence in issue #75, Kirkman’s saving a celeb cameo for the 200th issue… How about a zombie Stan Lee? Also, remember the tiger? Yes, that tiger which spawned the “Ezekiel has got a tiger” merchandise t-shirts? Not sure if it’s too late to get a refund, but…

JR

Buy Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Complete Accident Man h/c (£22-50, Titan) by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond,  Duke Mighten, John Erasmus.

Meet hitman Mike Fallon: he’s your accident waiting to happen.

“There was a guy on telly had a theory that a quarter of so-called “accidents” are really murders.
“That’s ridiculous.
“It’s only about ten percent.”

From the lurid pages of short-lived British weekly anthology TOXIC comes the blunt bombast of a shallow assassin who preened with a “pretty boy” comb and whose better days were easily his earliest.

Emond gave him a Phil Oakey flop under which his eyes rolled knowingly to the heavens as he bit his lip and uttered appeasing sweet nothings just to get his end away. He leapt like a lunatic across the page, insanely contorted and exactly right for this no-nonsense nonsense.

Each episode would contain at least one complete hit while furthering a wider storyline, one of which involved gaining The Death Touch which was apparently what done in Bruce Lee from a self-righteous sensei. An even long subplot kept tabs on his ex-wife Jill’s lover Hilary, a rainbow warrior turned “Veggie-lante”.

It’s basically MARSHAL LAW lite with fewer background jokes and ham-fisted colouring but it amused me no end originally, like these Golden Coffin Awards for the most artful assassin of the year.

“As you know, Maurice can’t be with us tonight – or indeed any other night – as most of him is scattered over Beirut…”

SLH

Buy The Complete Accident Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

FF vol 2: Family Freakout s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Lee Allred & Joe Quinones, Michael Allred

Daredevil: Dark Nights s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Lee Weeks, David Lapham, Jimmy Palmiotti & Lee Weeks, David Lapham, Thony Silas

Wolverine vol 2: Killable s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Mirco Pierfederici, Alan Davis

Fantastic Four vol 3: Doomed s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Christopher Sebela, Karl Kesel & Mark Bagley, Raffaele Ienco

Justice League: Trinity War h/c (£22-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire, J.M. DeMatteis & Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke

Lucifer Book 3 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, others

Wonder Woman vol 3: Iron s/c (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman vol 4: War h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Deadlock vol 1 (£9-99, June) by Saki Aida & Yuh Takashina

Crossed vol 8: Badlands s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier, David Hine & Rafael Ortiz, German Erramouspe, Gabriel Andrade

47 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai

Intron Depot vol 5: Battalion (£33-99, Dark Horse) by Shirow Masamune

Drifters vol 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kohta Hirano

Mouse Guard: Legends Of The Guard vol 2 h/c (£14-99, Titan) by various

Uncanny X-Men vol 1: Revolution s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Frazer Irving

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 1: The Selfish Giant, The Star Child h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 2: The Young King And The Remarkable Rocket h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 3: The Birthday Of The Infanta h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

The Fairy Tales Of Oscar Wilde vol 4: The Devoted Friend, The Nightingale And The Rose h/c (£12-99, NBM Books) by Oscar Wilde & P. Craig Russell

Attack On Titan: Junior High vol 1 (£12-99, Kodansha) by Saki Nakagawa

Fairy Tail vol 34 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Crimson Spell vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ayano Yamane

Crimson Spell vol 2 (£8-99, Sublime) by Ayano Yamane

My Little Monster vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico

Also, ah ah, I can’t sell you this yet but I have my own copy to swoon over…!

Sally Heathcote Suffragette h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth & Bryan Talbot

 

ITEM! Glorious, fantastical art for MoCCA festival by SAGA’s Fiona Staples.

ITEM! The Lakes International Comics Art Festival gains cool new mascots designed by Jonathan Edwards.

ITEM! Mark Millar interviewed about new comic STARLIGHT plus a preview of the second issue. STARLIGHT #1 reviewed by Jonathan above.

ITEM! East Gate: another beautiful sci-fi landscape (proportions: portrait!) by Ian McQue

ITEM! Swoon and giggle at this Easter-Egg panel featuring Philippa Rice’s SOPPY in Luke Pearson’s HILDA AND THE BLACK HOUND – in stock now, review next week!

ITEM! Philippa Rice triumphs with book deal for an expanded edition of SOPPY in America, Britain… and South Korea!

ITEM! VERN & LETTUCE’s Sara McIntyre (comics’ “celebrity hatstand”!) featured in a Dubai newspaper. Random but brilliant!

ITEM! THE FIRELIGHT ISLE’s Paul Duffield provides a guide to creating your own scrolling web comics.

ITEM! Finally, Page 45’s shortlisting for The Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year Award is covered by the Nottingham Post.

Warning: photo of my increasingly decrepit self. The results of the regional winners to be announced this Friday. Please wish us luck! Eeeep!

- Stephen

P.S. Prompted by the above, it appears I’ll be filming a TV pilot tomorrow (Thursday) which involves me bringing half a dozen graphic novels into the studio for a show-and-tell plus maybe an interview, I guess? Although it won’t be transmitted, it’s going to be filmed live which may give you a clue as to the sort of programme it is. If I don’t balls this up then the potential is very promising indeed. I have an idea, yes.

 

Reviews March 2014 week one

March 5th, 2014

Stok saves her own expressionism for Vincent’s volcanic meltdowns as the air becomes brittle in the wake of his wrath and the panels and their contents contort during his feverish hallucinations. The early intimations of these more violent episodes – as financial pressure and artistic frustrations crawl under the perfectionist’s skin – are rendered as dots which follow him round town like flies. You can almost hear the buzzing in his skull.

 - Stephen on Vincent (Van Gogh)

Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill…

“We must have been hurting Germany’s supply lines for them to go to all this trouble ensnaring us. Do you think we’re any nearer the city’s underworld?”
“Depends. What do you suppose “Staatbordell” means?”

Jocular japes and steampunk shenanigans aplenty in this second Nemo Jr. adventure following on from the Lovecraftian-flavoured NEMO: HEART OF ICE. As before, there are numerous literary and cinematic references to be found, from the striking nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the rather more obscure which I will leave you to find for yourselves for that is part of the joy of any new LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN material these days.

Janni Nemo, fearsome fighter and devoted mother has been drawn into a deadly trap, her daughter – presumed captured and spirited off to Berlin by the Nazis – the lure. But what, or more precisely who, she finds waiting for her in Berlin, is a far more deadly enemy than whole legions of leather-clad stormtroopers. For it is someone with revenge on their mind, and for whom time is no obstacle at all…

Not sure how accessible a jumping on point this is for new readers, or indeed whether it hits the heights of the original material, but it is great fun and probably closer in both respects than the CENTURY trilogy. I think it probably is as good as the original material actually; I just personally miss the team dynamic.

What is certain is that you simply couldn’t have any League material without Kevin O’ Neill on art: the two are simply and sumptuously synonymous for me. Even the four pages before the main story are absolutely glorious, featuring respectively: an all-guns-blazing German battleship, Nemo embracing her lover against the backdrop of a porthole letting a blood-red sky bleed through, a Nazi propaganda poster portraying Nemo as a trident wielding Kraken, and a submerged Nautilus launching a salvo of torpedoes. Not often I’m mesmerised by the art before I even start the story but Kevin managed it here!

JR

Buy Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny vol 1 Season Of Hungry Ghosts (£14-99, Dynamite) by Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell.

“Festival Of The Dead means I’ve been in Singapore for a year now. Figures. Getting too comfortable. Getting stale. But this place has rich pickings for a man in my line of work… And this smug fuck is ready to fall.”

I’m sorry, Weaver, which smug fuck is that? Do you mean Mr. Lee, the man in the suit sitting on the opposite side of the poker table to you?

“I read him before the game. He’s a bluffer with more money than sense. Been luring him into a false sense of security all night. Letting him think he’s winning… before I spring the trap.”

Oh, before you spring your trap! You crafty fellow, Weaver. There’s no fooling you, is there? You smug fuck. That smile’s about to be wiped right off your face.

From the writer of SNAPSHOT and THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 3, oh, how we loved this!

Juicy, shadow-strewn art, maximum action, charismatic voice. You’ll enjoy spending time in this quick-thinking but over-confident idiot’s head; almost as much as Weaver enjoys spending time in his victims’ heads.

Weaver is a man who can, for a span, absorb other people’s memories and physical capabilities. Take Mr Lee’s bodyguard, Xiong, a black-belt in Taekwondo. One bluffed handshake later and Weaver is too – plus he also “remembers” exactly what the bodyguard’s packing. Well, almost. There’s a limit to what you have time to recall in the middle of a duff-up.

I love how Diggle has thought all of this through: both the potential and the pitfalls – the limitations.

“By the time I find Xiong’s car, there’s not much of him left. His repertoire of kicks, punches and disarm manoeuvres fade like a waking dream. Always hate the comedown. That hollowed-out feeling mixed with sour adrenaline. That and the muscle burn. It’s not like I had time to stretch.”

With skills like those you could do a lot of good for the world. You could also do one hell of a lot of damage. Weaver has no such ambitions either way. He’s no more than a gambler and a thief, enjoying the kiddie thrill of conning people, getting one over them and taking their money. It’s his pitifully small-time revenge for a youth spent languishing in state custody being diagnosed with every neurosis and full-blown mental illness known to man. What else were they to make of the voices in his head he absorbed through physical contact?

Weaver doesn’t care how he came to be like this but other people do, for there is strategic power to be gained and significantly more money than Weaver has ever lost or won. As slick as you like with barely a second for breath, this thriller goes global in no time.

There’s Maggie, sent to save him and deliver Weaver to one Deacon Styles in New York City. There’s the wolf in Maggie’s head when Weaver tries to read her, then the wolf on the wall in Styles’ opulent apartment. Styles is… acquisitive. He has acquired money. He has acquired knowledge. He has acquired Maggie and, although he doesn’t know it yet, he has acquired Dominic Weaver. All these assets will be used and abused to get him to the one place and the one person he wants most of all. They’re very well hidden. For now.

Together Campbell and colourist Crabtree will feed your greedy eyes with sunsets, cityscapes, tropical terrain; 100-mile-an-hour motorcycle mayhem, helicopters deafening you with their rotor-blades and a great big garbage truck with front-loading prongs which I wouldn’t mind taking for a motorway spin myself. Take that, BMW drivers! I’ll show you the true meaning of tailgating.

First six issues plus the script to #1, always handy for those wanting to peek behind the curtain and see how it’s done.

SLH

Buy Uncanny vol 1 Season Of Hungry Ghosts and read the Page 45 review here

Thief Of Thieves vol 3: “Venice (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, James Asmus & Shawn Martinbrough.

THIEF OF THIEVES is comicbook crime that will have you laughing out loud right to its multiple punchlines, not least because your adrenaline will have shot through the roof.

It’s a battle of wits.

On the one side is Conrad Paulson AKA Redmond, master manipulator and the world’s most accomplished grifter and thief. On the other side is everyone else: tenacious (read: perilously obsessed) F.B.I. Special Agent Cohen, the Mafia, the Cartel and one very nasty man with a customised key ring called Lola. Oh, there are a few other parties with interests heavily vested, for Redmond isn’t the only one who can play the long game to perfection.

Redmond’s weakness is his estranged wife Audrey whom he still loves, along with his hopelessly flailing son Augustus. Augustus didn’t fall far enough from the tree and he fell resentful and rotten to the core. Determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, yet with little of his swagger or skill, it is Augustus who creates most of the god-awful mess which Redmond is forced to clean up.

Right at the beginning of THIEF OF THIEVES VOL 1, on the verge of a Venice job into which old Arno had sunk millions of dollars, Redmond quit crime forever. Now his son is being held hostage, naked, in chains and driven around America in the back of furnace-hot truck until Redmond returns with ten million dollars. He has one month to do it. Venice it is, then.

The sparkle of this series lies in the lies and element of surprise which I am not about to spoil for you. Let’s just say that this Thief of Thieves is about to thieve from thieves the very articles he once stole himself. He will have Don Parrino to contend with, the very Godfather of the Italian Mafia. He will have Colonel Bianchi and Captain Valenti of the Italian police to contend with. He will naturally have Agent Cohen to contend with because she cannot, she will not let go, even though Redmond has successfully sued to F.B.I. for harassment.

The key seems to lie in the mysterious Sabatini, broker of a specific sort of stolen goods, whom the Italians are onto. Watch out for that flashback!

 

 

Created by THE WALKING DEAD’s Robert Kirkman, each THIEF OF THIEVES book comes with a self-contained coup, a heist so ridiculously well planned that it will have you grinning from ear to ear once the writer finally delivers the key components craftily kept from you (and even the co-conspirators) until exactly the right moment. The authorial baton has been passed from Nick Spencer to James Asmus and now to Andy Diggle to orchestrate the players and mess with your mind as he did so successfully in SNAPSHOT and UNCANNY.

It is extraordinarily consistent, the mood maintained by permanent artist Shawn Martinbrough whose covers with colourist Felix Serrano form a striking, spot-varnish series of variations on a theme. Within Shawn and Felix are slick, sleek and sexy, whether it’s the intense eye-to-eye contacts with so much in minds, or the oh-hell-it’s-gone-tits-up action sequences. The suits are sharp and the shadows are just-so plus, as a bonus level-up here, they are given Venice to play with. My favourite city in the world! The piazzas under moonlight echo at night and if you have to run for your life across rooftops anywhere they might as well be those of Venice.

Ah, Tombraider 2! Ah, Assassin’s Creed too!

It has quite the skyline.

SLH

Buy Thief Of Thieves vol 3: “Venice” and read the Page 45 review here

Vincent (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Barbara Stok.

“I DID NOT PAINT IT TO PLEASE PEOPLE!”

Oh, Vincent, it’s just as well because, other than your brother, few people will see anything in your paintings until the end of your days.

It didn’t stop Van Gogh, obviously. Nothing short of a complete mental breakdown halted his prolific, obsessive output. Even then he picked his easel back up and the subsequent seizures were but pauses as he sought to transform aspects and objects others took for granted into orgasmic, orgiastic confluences of colour to evoke their explosive passion rather than their plain, photographic likenesses. He was inspired!

As was I by this graphic novel which I entered into warily if not sceptically before Stok won me over page by early page. I almost considered writing this review as a timeline of my own reading reactions (hey, the reviews I have written exceed five figures after which novelty is hard to come by), but it’s not about me but both the artists, the book, and the subtle but very real skill with which Stok has chosen to write it. I mention this merely in case you’re wary too.

Vincent’s move from Paris to Provence was dealt with swiftly and, I thought at first, perfunctorily as he negotiates his initial bed and board at L’Hôtel Correl:

“A room, please. For an indefinite period.”
“Welcome to Arles.”

Da-dum. Simplicity itself, just like its visual staging. I thought I was watching finger-puppet theatre!

I am, of course, an arse. The second Vincent Van Gogh hits the bucolic beauty and whipped out his materials, dashing it all down in a frenzied hurry lest light be lost, I became as transfixed as the random passer-by who stops to admire both the vista before him and the one captured on canvas or board. I was also as dismissive of the local painters’ contempt as Vincent was. But why?

How could Barbara Stok begin to convey the thick, churning, delicious and delirious swirls of colour you could potentially read like Braille when her own chosen art style was wobbly outlines, dots for eyes, flat coloured tones and… Oh, no, no, no: there is plenty of perspective and depth in her own landscape panels over which she lingers as long as the two gentlemen in silence, drinking in the majesty and tranquillity of it all.

Stok saves her own expressionism for Vincent’s volcanic meltdowns as the air becomes brittle in the wake of his wrath and the panels and their contents contort during his feverish hallucinations. The early intimations of these more violent episodes – as financial pressure and artistic frustrations crawl under the perfectionist’s skin – are rendered as dots which follow him round town like flies. You can almost hear the buzzing in his skull.

This is assuaged but temporarily as Gauguin arrives. Oh, he has been so desperate for Gauguin to share his sanctuary and take up his role (as Vincent sees it) as grandmaster of this new starving artists’ retreat! But Vincent lives in a world of his own and is oblivious to even the earliest warning signs that they are not on the same wavelength at all.

But where were we? Oh yes: money.

The narrative is peppered by letters exchanged between Vincent and his loving brother Theo. Quite why Theo had all the money is never made clear and it’s only now that I type this sentence that I notice this. As I read the book, I simply didn’t care. All Stok made me care about – and all that counts – was Theo’s genuine respect for his brother and his bottomless generosity reciprocated on Vincent’s side by an acknowledged indebtedness. For Van Gogh is, from the very beginning, painfully aware of how much his sojourn in Arles is likely to cost Theo, and how unlikely it is that he can ever repay him. He will, however, die trying.

As represented by Stok, Theo is a saint but by no means a martyr. He genuinely admires his brother’s artistic ambitions, discerns his immediate genius and is content to let posterity declare his artistic success. In short, he acts as an old-school patron in its finest, most laudable sense.

I don’t know to what extent this is a hagiography, but Vincent is not wise with money. All that matters to him is to catalogue the beauty he spies around him in sweeping campaigns: multiple studies of spring blossom, fruit trees, wheat fields, vineyards, the sea, the stars and sunflowers!

But thanks to Stok’s delicious cartooning this loud and argumentative optimist / proselytizer comes a cropper twice to hilarious effect when confounded first by the killer combo of exorbitant hotel bills and a local lack of chromium yellow, then when singing the sweet amorous praises of a prostitute. He’s so naïve!

“All is for the best in the best of worlds,” declares our man with the plan when laid up in bed. Oh dear, that’s Voltaire’s ‘Candide’! Hahahahaha!

Seriously, this is masterful. Give me another couple of weeks and I will pinpoint exactly how Barbara Stok has turned a tragic life including mental illness and violent self-harm plus an unwavering devotion to the pursuit of intimate art into a consummate comedy and edifying eulogy for one of the greatest painters this world will ever know.

SLH

Buy Vincent and read the Page 45 review here

Nine Lives (£2-00, self-published) by Kristyna Baczynski.

Nine card panels and a cover measuring 10x10cm each which fold out, concertina-style, to confirm what happens to curiosity-stricken cats.

Quite how our misfortunate moggie ended up floating downstream in a cauldron you may debate amongst yourselves.

The black, rust-red and egg-shell blue inks gleam on the matt surface and the whole production screams “Nobrow Press”.

This should be the easiest comic in the world to review yet I am, this afternoon, registering no cranial activity whatsoever. Please send jump leads.

SLH

Buy Nine Lives and read the Page 45 review here

Vantage (£2-99, self-published) by Kristyna Baczynski.

An early bird wings its way to a window sill. A tired, shaggy-haired woman with hooded eyes discovers she has no coffee.

What follows happens every day.
Right under our noses.
Over our heads.
Behind our eyes.
In our veins.
Across the universe.
Behind the metaphorical curtain.

Blue landscape comic in which it’s all a question of scale and perspective, be it microscopic, aerial or cosmic.

SLH

Buy Vantage and read the Page 45 review here

In A Flat Land (£5-00, Moon Underground) by Richard Swan…

The first thing that will probably strike you upon commencing this sixty-four-page, wordless children’s story is the exquisite amount of detail in each finely inked panel. I can’t imagine how long it much have taken Richard to illustrate this, I really can’t. You get a sense of the time and effort required before you’ve even opened it up because the front cover, featuring a huge rain cloud, must have about a thousand drops of rain beneath it, beating down at a near forty-five degrees to the windswept ground. I would imagine a fair degree of stoicism is required to persist with such an intricate style of illustration for fields of grass and wheat are composed of near-infinite numbers of individual blades, buildings hand-hewn, well drawn, brick by individual brick, and you can practically see the pattern in the knitted jumper our main protagonist, a bored young boy in need of an adventure, is wearing. And that’s before we’ve got to the grain dust…

So, back to that boy…

He goes awandering in the manner of bored boys in need of a good adventure to liven up their day… first along the coastline near his home, past the pier and a long-abandoned pillbox, then delving into the fields and trees, gradually getting further and further off the beaten track, until he comes across a disused and somewhat dilapidated windmill, overgrown with ivy and missing its crowning glory of domed top and sails. After squeezing past the boarded-up door, he comes across a dusty model of the windmill, but again missing its top. Idly constructing something from an empty drinks can and four feathers lying on the floor, he then drops what appears to be a strangely shaped pin into the can, before popping his creation onto the top of the model. And that’s where, possibly quite literally, the magic begins… I’m loathe to say more regarding the plot, not wanting to spoil the magic, but suffice to say, the black and white illustrations take a delightfully golden twist as the windmill begins to crank into life.

 

Whilst this was apparently written with children in mind, it’s a wonderful all-ages read and the odd moment or two where you have to actually stop and think about what’s happened – not entirely unexpectedly given it’s a wordless comic – are signposted beautifully, producing a wry smile as you realise the boy has just experienced the same momentary puzzled bemusement as yourself. Cleverly composed, both narratively and artistically, I think this will have widespread appeal.

JR

Buy In A Flat Land and read the Page 45 review here

The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 1: Getting The Band Back Together s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber…

“Okay, then, by a 4-1 vote, the bathroom stays unisex.”
“Sorry, Shocker.”
“Now, any other business, or can we start drinking?”
“Never stopped.”
“Uh, yeah, I have something… can we talk about the empty chair? I miss the Living Brain.”
“You’re the only one.”
“No, Overdrive’s right… we’re supposed to be the Sinister Six.”
“Yeah, so?”
“So… there’s five of us.”
“Oh, come on, Beetle… Seriously?”
“What?”
“Look, what’s a better deal than being the Sinister Six, but only splitting the money five ways? Huh? Huh?”
“Plus, Obamacare, you go to six employees, it’s tricky.”
“People are going to be confused.”
“No they’re not! Did we not talk about the whole ‘air of mystery’ thing? People see us, they’ll just think, “Who’s the secret sixth guy,” right? I mean it could be anybody! It could be Dormammu!”
“It’s always Dormammu with you…”
“I’m telling you, that’s way cooler.”
“Boomerang… that is genuinely the stupidest thing I have ever heard a real person say.”
“You’re stupid! …Sorry.”

Heh heh, you’ve probably realised by now this is not a book to be taken seriously. What it is not, however, is stupid like, say, pretty much any Deadpool title… <cue much gasping and sounds of fanboys hitting their collective heads on the floor in mass fainting hysteria>. What this is, is basically a hilarious sitcom starring very low-grade villains bickering, backstabbing and generally non-stop bitching about each other.

It falls to Boomerang, who has elected himself the nominal leader of our gang to try and steer them on their not so straight and narrow course en route to fabulous wealth and riches.  So, if getting blackmailed on pain of death by the Owl into stealing the head of Silvermane is the sum total of your masterplan, what you most assuredly don’t need is one Frank Castle taking a personal interest in what you’re up to… This is great, fun little book by one of Marvel’s best writers (check out his non Marvel work BEDLAM, INFINITE VACACTION, MORNING GLORIES, THIEF OF THIEVES if you haven’t already), which I’m personally reading in single issue format, to help get my essential monthly quota of chortles and chuckles.

JR

Buy The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 1: Getting The Band Back Together s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch s/c new printing (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Joe Madureira.

In the first four ULTIMATES books Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch spent over two dozen issues constructing a comprehensive geo-political thriller played out by a credibly complex cast of individuals in a media-savvy, military and palpably real environment.

By contrast, Loeb lobs five slim issues of pile-it-on puerility, expending no more than a single page building “tension” before servicing the fanboys with a double-page spread of Venom. Why Venom…? He’s popular and he brings Spider-Man with him in issue two for no very good reason other than sales. Seriously, neither of them have any role to play in this other than for hero to turn on hero old-stylee as Hawkeye shoots Spider-Man as a “Hey, man, how you doing?” pat on the back. And, oh God, here comes that mindless, mid-battle exposition again:

“Maybe I have gone a little crazy. Maybe every time I hear a gunshot it takes me right back to when my family… my kids…”

Did you lose your family, mate? Are you feeling a little down? I couldn’t tell from the first issue.

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“Yeah, so…?”

Not only have Millar and Hitch’s strategic soldiers and functional kevlar reverted to self-pity and spandex, but Jeph insists on holding your hand every step of the way on what amounts to little more than a series of battle cries and fist fights. Cliché after cliché. It’s tired, it’s transparent, it’s an unnecessary waste as every innovation Millar carefully crafted is jettisoned for the sake of a short-term buck. Am I too guilty of whining that someone broke my childhood toys? No, I loved it when Millar broke them because I’m a grown-up now and enjoy reading something a little more politically astute. I’m complaining that Loeb turned them back into plastic toys with no points to their articulation.

Of course, it’s Lichtner who’s to blame for the disastrously stodgy colouring, but then he had little more to play with than Madureira’s old-Image-style “storytelling” in which the environment is irrelevant so long as the muscles are bulging, the pages are splashing and everyone wears spikes and claws. It’s particularly unfortunate when Quicksilver starts pursuing that oh-so-important bullet because you can’t tell a) that it’s the same bullet or b) that it just did a u-turn.

As to the story, see title. Leads into ULTIMATUM in which there is no ultimatum.

SLH

Buy Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case Of The Good Boy s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by John Allison

Fatale: The Deluxe Edition vol 1 (vols 1-2) h/c (£29-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn (£3-00, Rolling Stock Press) by Oliver East

Jellaby vol 1: The Lost Monster (£9-99, Capstone) by Kean Soo

Nijigahara Holograph (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by Inio Asano

Bedlam vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Ryan Browne

Satellite Sam vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin

Walking Dead vol 20: All Out War Part 1 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Where Bold Stars Go To Die (£5-99, Other A-Z) by Gerry Alanguilan & Arlanzando Esmena

The Complete Accident Man h/c (£22-50, Titan) by Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond, Howard Chaykin, various

Hellblazer: Shoot (£10-99, DC) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan, Jason Aaron, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan, China Mieville & Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Gary Erskine, Sean Murphy, David Lloyd, Rafael Grampa, Eddie Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini

Eve: Source h/c (£29-99, Dark Horse) by CCP Games

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 7: The Rift Part 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 vol 5: The Core (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty

Oz: The Emerald City Of Oz h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Sonic – Mega Man: Worlds Collide vol 2 (£8-99, Archie) by various

Animal Man vol 4: Splinter Species s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Steve Pugh, various

Harley Quinn: Welcome To Metropolis s/c (£14-99, DC) by Karl Kesel & Terry Dodson, Craig Rousseau, Brandon Badeaux, Phil Noto

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 10 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr.

Nova vol 2: Rookie Season s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Paco Medina, Carlo Barberi, Ed McGuinness

 

ITEM! This building is alive and tells so many stories! Think Will Eisner, Chris Ware, Ilya and Jamie McKelvie! Click here for the whole Think Of A City tumblr!

ITEM! Search Party by Ian McQue, animated by Mondo Ghulam. Ooooooh!

ITEM! Excised from my review of VINCENT above, the following postscript, lest the irony be lost (I am a fan, yes):

“I don’t even like this crazy guy’s stuff. He was utterly rubbish at perspective: just look at that chair! I’m buying him a Painting By Numbers set next. Come on Vincent, stick between the lines!”

ITEM! New interview with Lizz Lunney! Yippee!

ITEM! Jaw-droppingly beautiful! Starry, Starry Night: What big cities like New York would look like if you could see the stars above them.

ITEM! Eric Stephenson, head of Image Comics, makes a laudably direct speech about circumnavigating the lies of corporate comics to ensure the future prosperity of the comicbook industry. Sound familiar? I have been saying exactly the same thing for twenty years, yes, but still, bravo!

ITEM! We have these beautiful Becky Cloonan bookmarks to give away with copies of her limited edition BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE hardcover which we will be selling at £17-99.

Containing WOLVES, THE MIRE and DEMETER with a new sketchbook section, it arrives in a couple of months, but we urge you to pre-order right now by phoning 0115 9508045 or emailing page45@page45.com and we will reserve you a bookmark.

Please note: not distributed by Diamond and printed to order only. If you don’t pre-order this week we cannot guarantee you a copy.

ITEM! Lastly, this is a bit massive!

Page 45 makes The Bookseller’s shortlist for Independent Bookshop Of The Year 2014!

I think that’s the first time for a comic and graphic novel shop. We are so stoked!

Credit where it’s due: our submission was all our Jonathan’s work and he put one hell of a lot of time and thought into it.

- Stephen

Reviews February 2014 week four

February 26th, 2014

Loki lovers, this one’s for you!

It’s a battle of wits contested by a right royal cleverclogs, and written by another one too: YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kieron Gillen

 - Stephen on Journey Into Mystery: Kieron Gillen Complete Collection vol 1 s/c

Rage Of Poseidon h/c (£22-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen –

This is really illustrated prose rather than comics as you don’t really need the images to make sense of the text. Which is understandable as they originated, I think, as slides, hence the strict black and white silhouette / cutout style of each picture. The images are cleverly and beautifully done, though, and the entire thing is actually a single sheet, bound concertina-style so that when you fold it out the panels flow together. So actually, maybe it is “more” than illustrated prose, as the art does work in a sequence. Whichever thing we decide it is, though, it is quite lovely and a very cool idea.

We start with Poseidon and work through a bunch of the pantheon of gods (the names swap between the Greek and the Roman versions but basically a god is a god whatever you call it). Initially I thought Poseidon was going to be mad (hence the Rage of) because of our misuse of the Oceans, which he sort of is, but he’s also more generally peeved at being forgotten, not worshipped anymore, not having so much influence over humanity now we don’t rely on the sea as much as we once did. He’s generally pining for the good old days of hounding Odysseus all over the place and being a major player and the more he walks among us mortals the grumpier he gets. In the end he destroys a water theme park and feels a lot better for it, the petulant old bastard.

 

Some of the other gods still find relevance in the modern world; Mars god of war is still doing a fairly tidy business and Bacchus has opened a nightclub. Athena has got herself into a bit of a scrape, waking up with a bullet in her shoulder and a police-issue pistol in her handbag but she’ll no doubt sort it out. Informal and personal in its tone, this is an unusual but still awesome project from Anders Nilsen, an artists who is never, ever anything but extremely interesting in my eyes.

DK

Buy Rage Of Poseidon h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Cute Girl Network (£12-99, First Second) by Greg Means, M. K. Reed & Joe Flood…

“How was living with him?”
“Don’t even think about it.”
“I’m just asking.”
“What was it like? Well, go home and fill a laundry bag with 150 pounds of your dirtiest clothes. Sit it on the couch in front a telenovela, cover it in paper chips, dust, and then light your debit card on fire. It’s kind of like that.”
“Ouch.”
“Actually, that’s giving him too much credit. A bag of dirty laundry doesn’t get you fired from your job and doesn’t talk to your mother about your sex life.”
“What?! That didn’t happen.”
“Unfortunately, it did.”

Ha, ha, not often a character or indeed characters in a graphic novel actually makes me angry, but it certainly happened with the members of the eponymous cute girl network. Which is entirely a testament to the writing powers of Greg Means and MK Reed! I was familiar with both Greg from his curating the truly excellent PAPER CUTTER anthology series (whose issues we get in via John Porcellino and his one-man US-based Spit And A Half distribution machine) and MK from her teen testament to standing up to censorship that is AMERICUS, but even so I didn’t expect to be as simultaneously amused, irritated and indeed moved as I was by what – I found myself juddering slightly at the thought before I started it – I suspected from the somewhat ebullient cover was going to be the comic equivalent of a chick-flick rom-com. Just goes to show, one shouldn’t. Judge a book by its cover, that is. You think I would have learnt that by now, for this is simply brilliant, well-observed comedy.

So, new girl in town, skater grrl Jane, falls quite literally head over heels for Jack, right in front of his soup cart, from where he vends the finest takeaway soup in town. Cue a rather bumbling, fumbling wooing process as Jack tries to romance his ideal woman into becoming his girlfriend. All is proceeding smoothly enough in the course of true love department, until Jane’s new roommates discover the object of her affections is someone the Cute Girl Network has got an all point bulletin alert on. Yes, the ladies of this town have got each other’s backs, girlfriend, with negative information on any and all potential mates ready to dish up for you to digest, whether you desire to hear it or not.

Thus poor Jane, awash with the first flushes of love, is reluctantly dragged round a collection of Jack’s exes to hear precisely how he failed to meet their exacting suitor standards, in excruciating detail. She just wants to hang with Jack, have some fun, but no, the fun police have got other ideas. Actually, it’s not that bad as Jack definitely falls nearer the clueless fuckwit rather than complete bastard end of the crap boyfriend spectrum, but still, the members of the network did have me grinding my teeth rather. Will true love win out? Or will the Cute Girl Network chalk up another victory for taste, discernment… and bitchy bitterness? MEOWWW!!!!

Lovely art from Joe Flood too! It’s not often you say this with respect to a modern graphic novel, but the first comparison that sprang to mind was Will Eisner. I think certainly in terms of the exterior of buildings, he’s been a student of the great man. In terms of figures completely different, but in any event, it’s an ideal style for this work, and he’s captured the respective characters of fresh faced Jane and genial buffoon Jack perfectly.

JR

Buy The Cute Girl Network and read the Page 45 review here

On Loving Women (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Diane Obomsawin…

“There were butches with ducktails in my town.
“It was a combed-back hairstyle, like this:
“The girls at convent school all looked like lesbians. I hated it.
“At twenty, all in the same day, I quit university…
“Dropped acid…
“And fell in love with a woman.
“I’d never been in love before.
“We were all alone in the world.
“We had nothing to go by.
“Later, we broke up on a trip.
“There were three of us.
“She left with the other girl.
“I was in a state of shock.
“I travelled to northern Greece.
“I met this nice, cute girl.
“I dropped some acid to see if I’d fall in love.
“But it wasn’t the same.”

That was Maxime’s story, by the way.

Intriguing collection of biographical shorts about finding first love between two women and thus discovering one’s sexual identity. All of the protagonists are friends or previous lovers of artist Diane Obomsawin, apparently, not that I could spot any overlap between any of the stories. All are told in a similarly staccato style, one sentence per panel of illustration, and it works brilliantly given that you would think such a sensitive, personal topic would require far more extensive exposition to narrate and explain all the emotional nuances involved. But no, the rapid fire delivery, accompanied by the black and white, cartoon, anthropomorphic art style, simplicity itself, just hits the spot every time. The art reminded me a bit of Louis Trondheim in his LITTLE NOTHINGS mode.

 

 

 

In conclusion, the rear cover has a pull quote from Ellen (MARBLES: MANIA, DEPRESSION, MICHANGELO, AND ME) Forney which sums things up rather neatly: “Simply told, heart-tingling personal vignettes about coming out.”

JR

Buy On Loving Women and read the Page 45 review here

Zero vol 1: “An Emergency” s/c (£7-50, Image) by Ales Kot & Michael Walsh, Tradd Moore, Morgan Jeske, Will Tempest, Mateus Santolouco.

“Existence is a perpetual state of war.”

Fast, furious and utterly brutal, the one thing this isn’t is pretty.

But then neither is war nor espionage nor the means with which either are executed. As much as anything this is a book about indoctrination and duplicity. We suspect we’re being lied to most of the time; not just casual omissions, either, but a wholesale jettisoning of the truth to hide what us grunts should never be allowed to know.

As Shami Chakrabarti wrote in the Guardian this week, “Orwell’s observations on the power of language “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable” is something that Liberty has witnessed throughout its history – “extraordinary rendition” wasn’t sweet singing, but a chilling euphemism for kidnap and torture during the “war on terror”. “Waterboarding” was never a seaside sport. Governments have twisted words to sanitise abomination and obscure outrage.”

Now imagine you are part of the military mechanism perpetrating those wars – those illegal infiltrations, undercover ops, calculated assassinations. If you routinely deceive other nations, side-step national boundaries and fabricate falsehoods to mollify the public, you’re almost certainly blindsiding your own operatives.

This book slides backwards and forwards in time during the forty years during which orphaned Edward Zero was trained to be the ultimate in detached obedience and the sharpest scalpel in surgical assassination The Agency ever had, through the gradual realisation that his superiors were lying to him and to each other, to what he decided to do about that, when he was found out, and when they finally caught up with him.

2038 AD. Atop the white cliffs of Dover sits a battered, buff military man, a bottle in his hand. Behind the man stands a boy about twelve, and in his hand is a gun. It is pointed directly at the back of the bruiser’s head.

“You sure this is a decision you want to make, kid? I killed my first man when I was ten. The Agency wanted to make sure we were all ready early on. The point being, killing is easy. You can do it. I won’t try to stop you…”

The boy hesitates, uncertain.

“Just got a story to tell first.”

It begins in the Gaza Strip, 2018.

“A war zone. A mission. A target.
“A thing to steal. A place to use. A person to kill.”

The mission is an extraction. The target is a Hamas soldier, bio-modified with a unit in his chest using tech stolen from The Agency’s lab. That is what he is there to steal: he is going to extract that unit from the Hamas soldier’s chest. Unfortunately there are complications: Israeli soldiers after the very same thing, their own bio-modified soldier, and The Agency back home monitoring his progress.

That one is quick and slick, narrated with total authority backed up by hard research and punched onto the page by Michael Walsh in gruesome glory using broad brush strokes uncluttered by extraneous detail. Jordie Bellaire’s palette is a minimal mix of sand and blood – although there is an awful lot of that, along with shards of broken glass.

There’ll be more of that glass in Rio during October 2019 when Edward Zero finds himself on the other side of that gun, trained on a fellow operative The Agency has decided to “retire”. It is there that he discovers he is not Sub-Director Zizek’s “hound” but his “bitch”. He is being used.

Oh, it’s all delightfully complicated, Ales Kot relying on implication rather than explication, letting only a little out at a time. Where exactly Zizek’s real loyalties lie remains unclear. Often at overt odds with his immediate boss Sara Cooke with whom he has a love / hate relationship, he appears to have more covert priorities too.

The writer of WILD CHILDREN and CHANGE is joined here by five strikingly different artists. Morgan Jeske is given the Rio chapter, closest to Walsh’s in skull-crushing brutality and matches that with wince-inducing success luridly lit in lime-green and blood. Love the higgledy-piggledy, sprawling hillside suburb too. In total contrast Tradd Moore comes off in places like a late-career Carmine Infantino (I’m thinking his tenure on SPIDER-WOMAN) with hair and beards full of maritime swirls and the most innocent-looking young Edward you can imagine. Until that innocence is shot down not so much by the sniper but by a single sentence uttered by his I.R.A. target.

Mateus Santolouco is closest to your traditional action artist, inked à la Paul Pope, but none of those words will prepare you for his two pages spent squeezed, naked in a ventilation duct. And I mean truly squeezed: superb use of space to depict the lack of it.

It’s in this Shanghai sequence that lies the first real clue to the first-book’s conclusion which I doubt you will ever see coming, back where we started on those same Cliffs of Dover. Although maybe another clue comes in the form of Will Tempest’s ultra-fine line and Jordie Bellaire’s sudden shift of hue to various shades of grey. To me that signalled more than a change of tone, but one more word and I will have given the game away.

We can talk about that on the shop floor, if you like.

SLH

Buy Zero vol 1: “An Emergency” s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Revival vol 3: A Faraway Place (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton.

Teeth.

REVIVAL book one had the teeth, and Seeley and Norton know just how to pull them. It made me shudder so hard that a filling fell out.

This one has eyes, but not in a way you’ll be expecting. Oh, there’s that too but then it gets worse. It always gets worse when there are children involved, doesn’t it?

What follows after the next paragraph is one massive SPOILER for those who have yet to immerse themselves in the first two volumes of one the best horror comics out there with the most intricately connected community cut-off by quarantine from the rest of the country. You can read the next paragraph but then stop and buy REVIVAL VOL 1 instead.

Wausau in rural Wisconsin and there’s been a revival: a revival of townsfolk from the dead. They’re not mindless zombies but fully sentient individuals most of whose families are delighted to welcome them back. Most. Unfortunately not everyone is happy to be back, given the state they were in when they died, and old Joe feels he is missing something. For his entire adult life he suffered from an unrequited love: the one that got away. Now he doesn’t. He’s also lost the ring he was going to give the woman he loved. Where did that go?

Young Jordan Borchardt, 3rd Grade, knows what she’s missing. She knows what the wraiths which only the children can see are saying.

Also missing are the three Check brothers who were dealing in drugs then diversified into body parts. Think about it: the so-called-medicinal black market for body parts of those risen from the dead would outstrip even that for tiger cock. And with revivalists slowly regrowing their organs after each gory harvest, the supply would be endless. You’d just need to keep one captive…

We know what happened to them last volume and why. So does police officer Dana Cypress, daughter of the sheriff, but she cannot tell anyone because it was her sister Martha what done it to protect Dana’s son Cooper and ex-husband Derek. Unfortunately local reporter May Tao misses nothing, she’s closing in fast and she would have no qualms about telling everyone.

Failed writer Professor Aaron Weimar is interviewing old Reviver Joe about what he’s missing. What Professor Weimar is missing is a legacy. What Professor Weimar’s wife is missing is that her husband is having an affair with Martha. What Martha is missing is Jordan, who bailed from her car in search of what she is missing.

The Sheriff appears to be missing all of this, but Dana’s missed nothing: only she knows that her sister Martha is a Reviver. But the thing about those newly risen is this: they have to have died in the first place. Who killed Martha Cypress?

“Officer Cypress, I’d like to celebrate our time spent together without the issuing of a speeding ticket by buying you a drink.”
“Huh. I’ll take it.”

SLH

Buy Revival vol 3: A Faraway Place and read the Page 45 review here

Journey Into Mystery: Kieron Gillen Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi & Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson, Pasqual Ferry, Whilce Portacio.

“Did you bring us anything, Dad?”
“Little Gudrun, I brought you the greatest gift of all. I brought you a story.”

Loki lovers, this one’s for you!

A sparklingly literate mythological fantasy, this is a battle of wits contested by a right royal cleverclogs and written by another one: YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kieron Gillen.

Its star is a Loki reborn as a boy. He’s no longer interested in perpetrating evil, just the successful execution of a meticulously laid plan, acquiring leverage with cleverage in this case to save Asgard and Earth from the Asgardian Serpent.

Loki as a cunning, mischievous and eloquent young tyke is infinitely more interesting than he ever was as a bitter and malevolent adult. He’s naughty, irreverent, gleeful and funny and here on the side, if not of the angels, then at least of the gods. As Thor and Odin do battle against the Serpent and his minions in FEAR ITSELF, young Loki gathers his wits to marshal his resources in the form of Mephisto, Hela et al. But the King of Hell and Queen of Hel are no mere pawns – except in the hands of the ultimate trickster. Indeed Loki manoeuvres each of his pieces across a board only he can see clearly with an ingenuity that will make your smile crack into a big, broad grin.

Loki’s guile, of course, is completely dependent on Gillen’s and Kieron is thinking right outside the box. The very idea that a shadow can be transported, and that wherever the shadow goes so must what casts it, is a brilliant way to smuggle something out of captivity. Similarly Loki’s early quest to find himself – quite literally – is far from obvious, taking on the form of a most original treasure hunt.

All this Loki must accomplish without true allies, for after his last lifetime as a liar, trickster and revolutionary, no one in Asgard, Limbo, Midgard, Hell or Hel trusts him. Only Thor acts as his benefactor, his protector in a universally hostile environment. He’s like a kindly foster father and it’s this new dynamic which first makes the book. Here Thor’s caught Loki Tweeting on a Stark Phone he bought with the proceeds of gambling:

“Were you cheating, Loki?”
“Yes! But they were too! Cheating was the game, and I triumphed unfairly most fairly.”
“I do not think I approve.”
“There was no harm! Unlike this! The humans of the internet are uncouth. When I said I was an Asgardian God, they called me a troll!”

Braithwaite judges the young lad’s expressions to perfection and Thor’s body language, leaning down conspiratorially as he points out Loki is half-giant, is actually quite touching. While we’re on the subject of Braithwaite, this is like nothing I’ve seen from him before, coloured as it is straight over his pencils, and full of the requisite eerie light for these fantastical otherworlds.

It’s written with a real love of language enriched with a singular wit, and when the dark lord Mephisto takes the stage, he frankly steals the show. Far from the two-dimensional soul-stealer of yore, this debonair devil (“I have the most luxuriant sideburns in all creation”) is a bon viveur with a penchant for power but also for pretzels. He’s an iconoclast who loves messing with minds and mocking the misfortunate from a position of relative impunity. Here he’s telling a barman about his trip to the Infinite Embassy created by Living Tribunal:

“They say that all realities’ Embassies are one and the same, and if you know the way you can emerge anywhere and anywhen. Which just proves that gods and demons are just as likely to make up myths about things they haven’t a clue about. But everyone agrees on one thing. You come in peace. Otherwise, the Living Tribunal gets a tad touchy… and, generally speaking, unless you want your existence privileges revoked, that’s a bad idea.”
“Is he… God?”
“Oh, you are just so cute. I could eat you up with a spoon. Maybe later… No, he’s not God. He’s just the biggest kid in all the playgrounds. And if he knows the principal, he’s not exactly chatty about it.”

This is a book about stories and storytelling. That is, after all, how Loki achieves his goals: spinning the right yarns to the right entities in exactly the right fashion. Volstagg’s tall stories told to his children are an exuberant joy.

But back to the action – and there’s plenty of that – as Loki and his motley crew must navigate the halls of a far darker Asgard in order to, well, tell another story. You’ll see. Unfortunately the opposition is considerable.

“We need a distraction. Destroyer? Act in a suitably eponymous fashion.”

Collects the first sixteen chapters or the first three original softcovers.

SLH

Buy Journey Into Mystery: Kieron Gillen Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spaceman s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso…

“This batch… I came cross some primo chemo… tweeked the playlist. Strong like bull, so go eez. Little tastes or your head’ll come off. You ear me, Orson?”
“I ear, I ear. Lil tastes.”
“You kno yer funs are low…”
“Kno, I know. Why I’m goin out beyond the Rise tonight.”
“Say?”
“Couple junkers been fishin there, bringing in significant hauls. New currents, draggin out the good shit.”

The duo behind the complex crime classic 100 BULLETS return, this time with a grimy post-apocalyptic piece set in the deprived fringes of a coastal city, where the rich live in splendid isolation high and dry behind a huge protected wall, and everyone else is pretty much left to fend for themselves amongst the flotsam and jetsam, left behind by the rising sea levels that have flooded most of the original city and indeed coastal areas all around the world.

There’s a thriving society there, but it’s populated by as many lowlifes, whores, junkies and crooks as honest people, it seems. In other words, a tough neighbourhood! Good job, then, that our hero Orson was bred, or more precisely engineered for an even tougher one, Mars. Designed for the rigours of prolonged space travel, he’s one of a handful of so-called Spacemen, who have more than a touch of the look of Neanderthal about them. He’s a sensitive soul deep-down, though, and when he finds himself caught up in the midst of a kidnap plot, he takes it upon himself to try and do the right thing. Bad idea…

Excellent story from Azzarello which definitely has a feel of a William Gibson book about it. The dialogue is entirely done in an extremely credible future dialect too, which is part phonetics, part contracted (well, strangulated) slang, which is an extremely hard trick to pull off successfully. All too frequently this type of linguistic trick distracts or irritates, but I found myself drawn in even further to the story by it here. Clearly, this is primarily a crime caper, even though also a worryingly plausible future fiction, and that is something Azzarello knows how to do perfectly as he sets out his suspects, then muddies the already muddy waters a little further still. Risso’s art compliments the writing perfectly as ever, capturing the inequities and equalities that exist everywhere in such a polarised, dystopian society and he easily demonstrates Orson’s Caliban-like personality and charm.

It wouldn’t be Azzarello if there weren’t a few convoluted twists and turns before the typical not-happy-for-everyone end, but that’s half the fun, agonizing as Orson is put through the mill by foe and faux-friend alike.

JR

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

WE3 s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.

Softcover version of the enhanced hardcover edition of the earlier softcover which itself collected the three-issue mini-series. The extras remain.

I count ten brand-new story pages: four in the first chapter adding an unexpected angle to Doctor Berry’s immediate and very recent home life; two in the final chapter before ***** bites the dust; and four more later on in the construction site which will have your heart pounding before you realise the act of aggression’s true intent. More on the extras in second after two paragraphs of actual content…

Not for the first time Morrison questions man’s less than honourable relationship with animals, and this time goes for the jugular as a dog, a cat and a rabbit – household pets on which we as a civilised species traditionally lavish profound affection in the home, yet which we are perfectly content to have experimented upon in order that shampoo should taste like tropical fruit juice – are converted into abominable military hardware, their brains drilled deep with wires, their limbs encased in weapon-stuffed armour, their instincts vocalised as simplistic text messages.

Then the project is threatened with termination. One scientist finds sympathy (not when she was sawing skulls off, this may be vanity speaking instead) and unwittingly unleashes three ferocious killing machines that won’t be stopped in their quest to find their way back to their original homes and owners.

Every now and then a comic comes along that’s so different it takes your breath away, and this was one of them. Morrison and Quitely have a long history and a big reputation, yet here, staggeringly, they hit overdrive on what is at heart a simple tale but in execution a riveting, emotionally traumatic, visually mind-blowing tour de force which will swiftly head your list of “Comics To Buy My Friends Who Don’t Read Comics”.

Quitely’s panels-within-panels are insanely detailed, perfectly positioned and merciless in their content. I cannot think of a single customer who wouldn’t be thoroughly affected by this. You might not thank me for the recommendation when you start reading, but I recommend it all the same if only to leave you feeling distressed, disgusted and perhaps a little ashamed. That’s okay; I’m with you on that.

In addition to the ten new story pages, this edition features a twenty-eight-page sketchbook in which Morrison & Quitely explain their reasoning and design work behind the logo (dog collar disc / military name-tag melting in an act of liberation), the insanely detailed “animal-time” panels, some of them suspended then rotated for the cat to jump through (that double-page spread is an innovation of pure beauty!), the armour itself, the three front covers, and the unique physical artefact behind the six-page surveillance camera sequence which Quitely’s family nearly binned by mistake! All of which are revelations that reaffirm one’s love of creators who think outside the box about what they’re putting on a page, why, and how.

SLH

Buy WE3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Peepo Choo vol 1 restocks (£9-99, Vertical) by Felipe Smith.

“Smart, sexy, and cruel,” writes the publisher, “Smith’s PEEPO CHOO shoves a gleaming knife into the trans-Pacific romance and vandalises the tired walls of manga.”

That’s really good copy, and before I forget: extreme sex and violence, though thankfully not in the same panels.

If the title sounds familiarly fey like a saccharine, Saturday morning anime show of yore, then that’s partly what it’s parodying as well as those who watch its ilk and then think they’re learning foreign culture when the studio probably had its eye on international sales in the first place!

Milton lives in a rowdy, overcrowded flat with a lot of brothers and sisters. There he’s the softy but with his glasses ditched into his rucksack, a bandanna on board and a band aid artfully stuck down the side of his cheek, on the street he’s a scowling teen… Except that he’s not. Once in a comic shop he is in reality a cosplay geek of the most excruciatingly overactive proportions, all-singing, all-dancing, and completely addicted to all things he perceives to be Japanese but in particular the latest episodes of Peepo Choo which makes Pokemon look tough. Taunted by the rich kid whose Daddy buys him everything, Milton desperately wants to go to Tokyo.

Jody’s the hard guy who works at the comic store. Except that he doesn’t. He hates his job and makes Milton do all the work for him. And he isn’t the hard guy or stud he claims to be: he’s a porn-obsessed virgin.

Now the guy who owns the store, Gill, he really is hard: a murderous, mohawked psychopath straight out of jail who goes by the masked name of Fate. He too needs to go to Tokyo but to carry out a hit, and a raffle won by Milton might be just the ticket to get him in and out whilst under the radar.

The scenes set in Tokyo, meanwhile, show just how deluded Milton’s expectations are. His view isn’t just rose-tinted, it’s made from opaque, pink frosting. But then the Tokyo scenes are part-parody too, for Yakuza gangster Morimoto is exactly the sort of preening peacock psycho-dandy seen in Ichi The Killer. They’re all on a collision course because Morimoto is Gill’s target…

There are a couple more threads whose relevance I can’t see yet, but basically Felipe is taking several strands of manga/anime, each drawn in its relevant style, and giving them all a right good shafting. There’s also the hierarchy of geekdom as superhero readers sneer at anime fans, the anime fans look down on superhero readers, and the comic store sales assistant looks down on all of them: the customers paying his wages.

So sad. Room here for everyone, folks.

SLH

Buy Peepo Choo vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Thief Of Thieves vol 3: “Venice” (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, James Asmus & Shawn Martinbrough

Uncanny vol 1 Season Of Hungry Ghosts (£14-99, Dynamite) by Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell, Sean Phillips

The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man vol 1: Getting The Band Back Together s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Angel & Faith vol 5: What You Want, Not What You Need (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs

Invincible vol 19: The War At Home (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Mice Templar vol 4.1: Legend Part 1 s/c (£13-50, Image) by Bryan J. L. Glass & Michael Avon Oeming

Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Joe Madureira

Fairy Tail vol 11 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

 

ITEM! Luke Pearson’s beautiful cover to ADVENTURE TIME #25 all big and blown up. Can you spot Luke’s Hilda hidden away there? HILDA: one of the best all-ages series of graphic novels imaginable!

ITEM! Shami Chakrabarti, Edward Snowden and more write about Liberty – about the sanitising of terror and torture through language, and the Big Brother surveillance we are subjected to right here and right now. Well worth your time, folks! I reference/quote Chakrabarti in my review of Ales Kot’s ZERO, above. This is its source.

ITEM! Inspiration and sound practical advice on creating comics from PRETTY DEADLY’s Kelly Sue DeConnick. In short: do it! Funny too, that interview.

ITEM! Slightly random but you will swoon: hundreds of photos of Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s iconic giant panda. True fact: I named one of my two Giant Panda teddies after Chi Chi. The other one was Little Chi Chi because he was… yeah. I also used to rotate all the teddies on my pillow each night so that none felt favourited and none felt left out. Stephen L. Holland: egalitarian from birth. … and soppy git still.

ITEM! Neo-Classical superhero artist Bryan Hitch unleashes REAL HEROES. Please pre-order, I’m begging you!

ITEM! School Librarians, you are vital to us all! To our schools, our children and, err, we make a tidy packet from you ourselves. IN EXCHANGE FOR INFORMED ADVICE ON THE BROADEST RANGE OF GRAPHIC NOVELS AVAILABLE. Here is a competition for libraries which could raise the profile and plight of school libraries all around the UK!

ITEM! Interview with Kieron Gillen about his forthcoming series with Jamie McKelvie, THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE Sorry? You know the team from YOUNG AVENGERS (two books so far, one more to follow) and PHONOGRAM (two series so far, a third one promised).

ITEM! Speaking of Gillen and McKelvie, this had Dominique and me in stitches. Sent to us by Twitter’s @altheak1 it is a mash-up of YOUNG AVENGERS and I WANT MY HAT BACK. Read those reviews first, please (for it relies on that prior knowledge) then come back for the genius hilarity that is…

Kukki Monster’s I WANT MY BOYFRIEND BACK!

ITEM! This one from Monday seems to have taken you by surprise – and storm! Never known a reaction like this!

Page 45 Announces 20th Anniversary Celebrations At The Lakes International Comics Arts Festival.

Key features:
A full-blown Scott McCloud signing!
Special comicbook creator guests in our very own palace!
3 free interactive show-and-tell sessions on specific subjects!
A ticketed talk!
20th Anniversary Booze Bash with everyone invited!
21st Anniversary Birthday Bash 2015 announced already!

It’s Page 45’s very first road trip with our comics, graphic novels and everything!

You keep pleading, “Please open up a Page 45 in Edinburgh / Glasgow / Bristol / Liverpool / Manchester / Milton Keynes!”

Well, now we are opening up further afield, but for two days only. Please come and join us then we’ll do it again! It’s taken months of crafty, covert planning, and it is going to be so much fun!

- Stephen

Page 45 Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014!

February 24th, 2014

Surprise!

They’ve got Scott McCloud!

They’ve declared Jeff Smith!

And now…

Page 45 is honoured to announce that to celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Friday 17th October 2014, we’ll be hauling our asses oop north and contributing to an entire weekend of special guests and glorious graphic novels in Cumbria’s picturesque town of Kendal during the UK’s finest, European-style comics convention, The Lakes International Comic Art Festival!

 

 

This includes a full-blown signing at the Page 45 tables by UNDERSTANDING COMICS’ venerable Scott McCloud!

There’ll even be a Page 45 20th Anniversary Booze Bash on Friday night itself, and you are invited. Yes, you!

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is vital to the profile of comics. It brings the medium out of the bedsit and into the open for the whole world to see! It’s our very own Angoulême, celebrating this medium in all its diversity, attracting connoisseurs and the curious alike to its exhibitions, interviews, workshops and creators merrily signing and sketching all weekend long.

This is Page 45’s first-ever road trip!

What We’ll Be Doing

On Saturday and Sunday Page 45 will have multiple tables stacked high with beautiful books and special guests in our very own designated palace, The Georgian Room in the Comics Clock Tower.

Oh, it is opulent, and the entire room is ours!

Free entry too!

Jonathan and I will be on hand to answer your questions and provide recommendations, whether you’re a regular reader or completely new to the medium. All age ranges too! We do this for a living, and love it.

In addition, Jonathan will be whipping your wallets while I provide 3 free, extended and interactive show-and-tells in that very same room just like the ones I gave at the Windsor School Library Conference and The Broadway Book Club. Times to follow!

I’ll also be giving a ticketed talk close-by on a subject close to my heart.

My liver, possibly.

“Who Are Your Guests?!”

 

Scott McCloud for a start!

20 years ago Scott called Mark and myself out of a meeting in London to congratulate us on our nascent shop and (inspired by the 45th page of UNDERSTANDING COMICS) our name which he described as “Style positive, content neutral”.

Now Scott McCloud has graciously nay gleefully agreed to sign with Page 45 in the Georgian Room during our 20th Anniversary! It’s all come full-circle! Exact time to be decided.

Just as thrilling, among the wandering wastrels we’ll be sheltering at greater length throughout the weekend are some more of Page 45’s all-time favourite creators! Pop ‘em in our search engine and see what we sell! These are their blogs, all linked to!

Lizz Lunney
Dan Berry
Sarah McIntyre
Fumio Obata
Joe Decie
Kristyna Baczynski
Jade Sarson
Jack Teagle
Joe List
Glyn Dillon

Yes, you read right! At times Page 45 will be kidnapping THE NAO OF BROWN’s Glyn Dillon from SelfMadeHero whom I hereby challenge to sell more copies than ourselves. Let’s keep a running tally on two great big blackboards as if it were a cricket match only interesting.

There will be more guests too, some of them spontaneous, and I may bust my thumbs on Twitter @pagefortyfive!

It all kicks off on Friday 17th October 2014, the exact date of our 20th Anniversary with the…

Page 45 20th Anniversary Booze Bash 2014!

The town: Kendal
The venue: The Batcave at Ruskins (I’m not even kidding you)
The date: Friday 17th October 2014
The time: 7pm then sliding down the walls until one in the morning

We’ve taken one of the two rooms at Ruskins, but everyone is welcome. You don’t need a ticket nor will there be bouncers otherwise I’d never be let in myself.

Some of our creator friends will be popping in from time to time. Keeling over too, I’d surmise. You know what comic creators are like. It’s a fabulous spectator sport.

Please introduce yourselves, we would love to meet you and I mean that!

Don’t know what we look like? Left is Jonathan, and then yeah…

      

Sorry.

“We Have To Go To Kendal For Your Anniversary?!”

We hope that you will, but only for our 20th Anniversary.

Oh, my kittykins, we have thought of this!

Page 45 duly announces the…

Page 45 21st Birthday Booze Bash 2015!

The city: Nottingham
The date: Saturday 17th October 2015
The time: Of your life!

Can you keep a secret? I mean, seriously, because if this gets out I will never pull again.

It’s my own 50th Birthday that very night, and I want to spend it with you!

Keep up to date with the Festival:

Twitter: @comicartfest
Website: http://www.comicartfestival.com/
How To Get To Kendal etc http://www.comicartfestival.com/visiting-kendal/

Big, big love and gratitude to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival’s killer combo: curator and publicist Julie Tait for inspiration and exhortation and Jenny Graham for assignation and implementation.

I am so stoked! Are you?

 - Stephen @pagefortyfive

Page 45 credentials

Page 45 won the first ever award for Best Independent Retailer in Nottingham 2012.
Page 45 won the Best Independent Business in Nottingham 2013.
Page 45 won the only ever Diamond Comics Award for Best Retailer in the UK in 2004.
Page 45 has been shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year 2014
Stephen was a judge of the British Comics Awards in both 2012 and 2013.
Jonathan used to market biohazard suits.

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