Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week four

May 24th, 2017

Terry Moore, Philippa Rice, Eleanor Davis, Hannah Berry, Devin Grayson, Sean Phillips, John Bolton, Koren Shadmi, David Kushner, Maggie Thrash!

We’ve two graphic novels celebrating the human imagination’s capacity for shared and sustained, interactive world building in games.

Livestock (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry.

Comes with free, signed, limited edition bookplate exclusive to Page 45!

Meet Clementine Darling, up for a fourth consecutive victory as Best Female Singer and Political Spokesperson. It’s a single award.

“Well done, Clementine!”
“Thank you, I’m literally beside myself!”

Hannah Berry is back with the work of her career, a blisteringly funny, fiercely inventive and scathing socio-political satire which doesn’t content itself with blasting the blithe disingenuousness of politicians and pop stars – both increasingly vapid and transparent in their self-serving mendacity – but focuses its ire instead on their equally unprincipled co-conspirators: their spin-doctors who here have seen fit to combine their calculating machinations in a coordinated affront on the public’s intelligence in order to benefit both parties and bury what little remains of the truth.

This is the core conceit and it works all too well: firstly, that the same PR agency could be as adept at manufacturing long-term, soap-opera strategies for celebutards as for political parties and their inept ministers; secondly that those self-same sleights of hand might be mutually beneficial.

“Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“From Das Booty?”
“No. Devon Ayre was with Daynjaryuz when they released Undress 2 Impress. He went out with Coral?”
“Right, right – that big break-up during the energy contract scandal!”
“Yes. Him. Please let Clementine know that she’s going out with him now.”

Clementine is sitting in the same limo, oblivious to her latest life choice, dutifully listening on headphones instead to a new song as instructed by PR guru Paul Rourke.

“I like it a lot!”
“What’s that, Clem?”
“I like the song a lot!”
“Oh good! That’s your next single, to be released next month. Ties in with the passing of the new Human Rights Act. Selina, Pen, if you could get this one to memorise the words ready to film the music video on Thursday thanks.”
*click*
“Guess what, Clementine! Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Well, he’s going to be your new boyfriend.”

Clementine’s blank, cheery face flickers not one jot. Instead she slurps on a cartoon of pineapple juice. She wanted apples but was persuaded that pineapple was like apple. Happily so.

That *slurp* is far from accidental, reminding us of Clementine’s suggestibility, susceptibility, malleability, and Berry plays each episode of this deviously entwined distract-athon with just such deftly edited precision.

For that’s what this is: one huge, elaborately orchestrated distraction from any real news vital for an informed electorate, bumping it swiftly from the front-feed of ‘What’s Trending’ with vacuous, superficial headline-grabbing click-bait.

The ‘What’s Trending’ internet front page is reprised throughout, with all its corporate sponsorship, forming a constantly refreshed narrative of its own, charting the success of their meticulously scheduled shenanigans against the downward trend of any unfortunate, unforeseen hiccups which might blip briefly to the radar’s surface.

Clementine’s entire career as a pop-star – and “author” of best-selling autobiography – is but a means to that specific end so that she’s in the right place at the right time, whether it’s yet another vacuous Daytime TV husband-and-wife chat show masquerading as news and so satiating what little demand there is for it still, a spot on OMFGTV or an actual Newsnight interrogation where she can do the most damage possible.

Although let’s not forget that Clem’s trajectory is in itself highly lucrative, especially when it’s sent on a crash-collision course with that of her arch-rival Coral whom we first see on ‘What’s Trending’ with a new hairstyle / look in order to launch her new novel. Here’s Coral basking in public applause at that book launch, with a live Twitter-feed behind her:

“It’s always been my dream to write a book, and now after many days of harduous work I can finally cross it off my list!”

It’s a shame then that after so many – or at least several – days’ work, Coral should find her spotlight at risk of being stolen by Clem’s unexpected materialisation next to her own display of autobiographical best-selling success. No matter, time for a bit of improv.

“Because the thing is, some people are just not talented enough to write a book – anyone can write an autobiography, because they can just remember what they did and write about all that – and if they can’t remember things, they can pretend to be exciting by stealing other people’s ex-boyfriends…” 

That would be Devon Ayre, yes.

 

Do you realise the two ladies share the same publicist? Clem and Coral do: they’re just too dim to comprehend they’re being played against each other.

This is only Round One. The carefully choreographed bouts will become increasingly brutal.

The Twitter feed, by the way, is well worth scrutinising! It’s that sort of graphic novel: craftily constructed with multiple, layered threads, each precisely dovetailed, and so dense in detail if you care to look closely enough. There are dozens of crowd scenes among which you might recognise more than a few comics-related reprobates. Hannah Berry is quite the accomplished portrait artist!

I love that however beautiful each antagonist might be (and they are all antagonists – there’s more antagonism going down in here than at a similarly staged WWF tournament), they still all toad-like, with big mouths and squat faces, like they’re drained an entire of pond of Botox.

The colours are sickly rather than bright and primary – that would have been far too obvious – for this whole sordid affair is designed to make you feel slightly queasy, and we haven’t even approached the issue of the day which is the government’s back-door endorsement of human cloning… to the private sector.

And what is the primary goal of the private sector? Is it quality control, due diligence or commitment to ethical standards? It is not. The primary goal of every private sector company is to make money.

Now, where do you think the title LIVESTOCK comes in?

If lack of scrutiny gets your goat then this will have you chewing your own leather leash off.

LIVESTOCK could not be better timed given ex-‘reality’-TV star Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades successfully drowning his destruction of healthcare, women’s rights, civil rights and environmental sanity for the sake of big-business dollars as well as masking so many of his own private and public missteps. But let’s remember that this graphic novel was written many moons ago, Berry astutely observing the fabrications for what they were then, why they were being deployed by a complicit media, why they were so swiftly gobbled up by a public more likely to vote on Britain’s Been Brainwashed than during actual elections, and presciently predicting the path which would lead to this godawful excuse for a culpably cultivated future.

But if you think Trump’s bad, wait for beleaguered MP Duncan Frears and his beloved Border Collie during a doorstep interview that threatens to unveil a particularly pertinent truth and so unravel his career.

You cannot actually imagine.

Why don’t we play this review out with Clementine’s latest pop video? I’ve seen them do that on Newsnight. In it Clementine articulates the current geopolitical climate with grave concern for its most vulnerable victims and – in case you can’t quite discern the lyrics – the director has chosen to emphasise their eloquence by superimposing them artfully around the most prominent issues at hand.

Priorities are important.

Oh wait, here’s that exclusive signed Page 45 bookplate I mentioned.

Genius!

SLH

Buy Livestock and read the Page 45 review here

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton.

“The more I think about it, the less reality has to recommend it.”

Originally published in 2001, this comic was so clever, accurate, eloquent and way ahead of its time.

It speaks of gender identity, sexuality, the escapist lure of the internet, online addiction, and the dangers of substituting virtual priorities for real-life interaction to the point of culpable negligence.

By the by, it also predicted how many of us would arrive bleary-eyed and outrageously late for work following an obsessive all-night session thumb-thumping away on video games.

But here, vitally, Devin Grayson is dealing with the creative capacity of the human imagination and the immersive power of stories and words, for Megan’s obsession is with text-only live action role playing. It delves far deeper than you might anticipate and, as a graphic novel, it comes with its own illusions so mesmerising that they are water-tight.

 

For a start, although Sean Phillips’s soft, shiny, largely monochromatic, photo-realistic art with its subtle deployment of colour charts Megan’s real-life struggles outside of the online arena… every single richly hued, neon-bright, fantastical image created by John Bolton is a complete sleight-of-hand. It’s a sleight-of-hand that has become even more successful since the ascent of massively multiplayer online role playing games with their visual components because we are used to seeing these avatars interact with each other on the screens, but every single one of these images lies only in Megan’s head.

When, therefore, we come to the first key climax at the end of chapter one, Megan’s wide-eyed “Oh shit…” shock – graceful fingers hovering uncertainly over the keyboards – is a reaction not to the previous “on-screen” painting by Bolton or indeed the subsequent afterglow which we see before us, but to the text which has conjured that startling image in her mind.

I have no idea whether Sean Phillips even had access to that image: one should not presume; each artist is more likely to have been working independently, concurrently, from script alone. Regardless, that moment once more proves what an extraordinarily accomplished character actor Sean Phillips is, and if Phillips couldn’t see it, then that goes double.

Throughout the graphic novel Phillips nails those bleary eyes, as well as Megan’s mood-swings. These become increasingly dramatic as the emotional pressures ramp up both inside and outside her virtual existence, the former’s grip growing increasingly fierce and compelling while the latter is left to fall apart as reality begins to escape her grasp, Megan begins to make various levels of contact in out-of-character conditions and then loses the plot in so many more ways than one.

“I can no longer tell if there’s something wrong with the world or something wrong with me,” she concedes in a moment of rare lucidity before, “Or if that makes any difference.”

I don’t want to give too much away, but online Megan has assumed the guise of Sir Guillaume De La Coeur, a paladin who, Megan decides, is willingly in thrall to his adopted lord and mistress and who considers honour of paramount importance. In her mind, Sir Guillaume is a young, buff, blue-skinned beau who begins to fall in love with his master – a development which repels that master’s real-life, out-of-character counterpart – and in lust with his best friend Lieutenant McCraven, also male and played by his OOC counterpart with a charming Celtic twang. Now that is received far more readily.

But an outsider calling herself Rose Violette, not part of the guild, had taken such a shine to Sir Guillaume that, err, well, and he in return courted her back. The next two sentences, when you stop to analyse them properly, are the perfect example of why I consider this the work of Devin Grayson’s career to date.

“He is sincere. I made sure of it.”

Seriously.

“And it’s better than real. It’s her dream come true.”

Will Megan try to tread softly lest she tread upon those dreams? She will not.

When “Rose” becomes too clingy for Megan’s comfort, Meg finds herself becoming as angry as her Dad, and voices that anger bluntly, brutally and in equally chauvinistic terms.

This is what I meant about gender identity for all the while Grayson – through having Megan adopting a gender which isn’t her own – has encouraged you to wonder who else may not be who they seem away from the keyboard. And by “delves far deeper than you might anticipate”, you will not believe the car crashes which the subsequent, extended, out-of-character interactions (which are blithely deceptive on Megan’s part) begin to catalyse.

“I no longer think that it’s just a matter of people not caring who you really are.
“I think we don’t even know how to be who we really are.”

Well, quite.

So what initially drove Megan so fervently into this online community?

With her home life disintegrating in the wake of her mother’s departure, leaving her feckless father to wilfully ignore his other daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to find off the unwanted sexual advances of his own supposed best friend (a silence Meg is complicit in), she found herself ignored and all but invisible except when asked to buy toothpaste.

Moreover at work she was growing disillusioned not only with importance attached to the bland stats of customer satisfaction surveys, but to the disingenuous compromise of allowing a drug’s owner to fund a survey as to its efficacy.

By contrast to all this, as soon as she takes her first tentative steps into this virtual world, Megan is both noticed and embraced. Instead of being rebuked or rebuffed for her naivety, she is kindly and patiently educated during OCC asides, and she discovers a liberation in being who she wants to be while appreciating a structure she find easier to adhere to within this fictitious environment than dealing with the chaos without, which she is quick to abandon as beyond her control. Additionally, in place of dry statistics, Megan immediately starts relishing not just the fantasy but the creativity which is poured into such a sustained, shared narrative.

Grayson finds so much to commend in this remarkable communal endeavour: she is, after all, a wordsmith herself and her script is as immersive as the virtual, text-based experience she is conjuring.

Let us not forget that not everyone is as predisposed as Megan to abandon their sense of perspective.

The moment which I remembered most vividly from my first encounter with this work some sixteen years ago was when Megan – who had already begun subconsciously adopting the French language she employed in character – begins hysterically screaming “LOLOLOLOLOL!” as if having some sort of seizure.

That wouldn’t work in film, but printed, in this medium, it’s a triumph.

There’s plenty more where that came from, along with a great deal of terminology and shorthand, new then, but which remains with us today even more prevalently deployed in text-messaging and on social media.

Speaking of that which endures, I leave you with these pithy truths which I grant you aren’t quite so absolute in the age of the PS4 controller, but still:

“Live one’s life so that it’s worthy of respect and honour by all…
“And don’t eat anything at the keyboard that requires more than one hand.”

SLH

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

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And that’s a diminutive, comedy, green alien on the cover, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm…

No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.

But is that really all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who’s made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma?  All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45’s Mental Health Awareness counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What happened here?”
“Iraqi prison.”
“You were in the military?”
“Marines.”
“I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?”
“I guess. They hit me every day for ten months.”

Sam’s recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally witness the silent flashback, it will flatten you.

“Is that where you got these scars on the back of your scalp?”
“I suppose. They liked to work the backside so the front looked okay on camera. Y’know… for NATO.”
“Did you receive medical attention after captivity?”
“Nine weeks in the hospital, a year of rehab.”

It wasn’t enough.

“That’s a lot to go through alone.”
“I wasn’t alone. I was never alone.”

Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It’s almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.

Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam’s imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn’t real. Mike, of course, is a straight male gorilla: infer from that what you will.

Samantha’s so skilled she can identify any car and its condition by the sound of its engine. Her ideal career would have been a racing car driver.

“People actually pay you to go to cities all round the world and drive fast. What could be better?”
“Lying in a hammock by the beach, beer on ice, fish on the grill… watching the girls play volleyball.”
“That was a rhetorical question.”

Yes, but you answered it anyway, Sam!

“They ask me to join in.”
“You done?”
“But I can’t, see?” ‘Cause I’m there with Scarlett Johnasson… and she gets jellyyyy…”
“Omigod, shut up.”
“And they start wrasslinnn…”

It’s all so subtly written.

So if Mike isn’t real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer’s engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien’s antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam’s boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain’s still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be… unless Sam’s imagining that too?

On that, I will stay schtum, but there has to be some reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé’s TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.

I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to “do” intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam’s needs and treats her like a daughter. She won’t sell unless Sam’s ready to move on, and she isn’t. She has a family that worries about her, but she’s simply not ready.

I can hear Libby’s “Ooo dogey!” drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning.

As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby’s also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.

DRINK!” Drink or you’re going straight to bed with no supper!
“That’s what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
“Now I drink a Martini every day at five…
“And toast to Momma.”

So yes, new shorter-form series which is far from predictable before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there’s an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party’s launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don’t need to carry firearms.

I think TANK GIRL fans would love this.

SLH

Buy Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life and read the Page 45 review here

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis.

“I like going further than we tell ourselves is possible.”

I used to love country bike rides: three or four miles down verdant Cheshire country roads to feast with a friend on sandwiches and sugary, fizzy pop like Dandelion & Burdock high up on the hill at Beeston Castle; three of four miles back again. Lovely!

Here Eleanor gets on the bike which her Dad’s just built for her and cycles across America from her parents’ house in Tucson, Arizona towards her own home… in Athens, Georgia. She’s drawn you a little map: it’s basically coast to bloody coast!

Between 15 and 50 miles she manages each day depending on the state of her knees and which way the wind’s blowing (against you is a ‘mare), and she doesn’t stop for 56 days. Extraordinary.

Also exceptional: this entire graphic memoire. I think that’s what the trendy people are calling autobiographical comics these days.

But it is! Davis has some remarkable encounters. Mostly they’re acts of spontaneous generosity we should all aspire to: an invitation to join a camping family eating a catfish they’d just caught; water from Mexico border patrols (they’re not always so kind: you’ll see what I mean when you meet the man in the canal); and on Day 21 she nearly gives in to what has become extreme pain in her knees by then, which catalyses intense grief and depression, but the bloke in the bike shop trained as a therapist, helps her through it, calls a doctor friend, recommends a sports masseuse then finds her a couple to stay with.

“Brian says you’re having vegetable soup for dinner!”

It’s all so thoroughly inspiring, as is Davis’ pencil art which conveys every ounce of gratitude as well as the pain, sweat, exhaustion but also elation at being surrounded on all sides by horizon or thrusting forward through “tunnels of green”.

Her body forms are beautiful: such enormous weight from such few lines as punters loom large over a billiard table or Eleanor herself sets up her tent at dusk then sits up inside, almost filling the bright, cosy space while outside the night and unknown are contrasted in a dense, graphite darkness which radiates, as might light. On both pages she makes superb use of the shape of her legs, knees and thighs in body-hugging black lycra, while the strength of her shoulders then the curve of her arms freed from a white singlet vest are thrillingly physical. That her head is drawn so much smaller only adds to the sense of scale.

“While you are setting up your tent anything can get you.
“Inside your tent you are safe.”

She stares out at us from inside that tent with her tiny head and an expression which seems to imply the qualifying addendum, “arguably”.

The trees in the wood put me in mind of those so elegantly delineated by Isabelle Arsenault in JANE, THE FOX & ME. In their own way those pages are as lush as the double-sided landscape cover extended through its French flaps, but then anyone who’s read Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY or LIBBY’S DAD knows that she is a master of many mediums and a vast array of disparate styles.

Apart from exceptional portraiture on Day 57’s ever so moving encounter, few other pages are as detailed as that but I sense that Davis drew this on the road – or at least on its various verges – in a series of diary entries. I could be entirely wrong. They all do the trick, though: at no point do you not sense that you are there alongside her as she crosses different terrains, spying a mountain ahead in the distance, moving towards it, “Now you’re climbing it” before “Now you’re over it” then leaving it far behind. Looking ever forward, “Now it’s gone”.

There are many dodgy moments like crossing an almightily high, exposed bridge with no room for manoeuvre should a bludgeoning jugger-bugger come thundering up behind her. Anything towards her at the same time…? Jeepers! Plus let us not forget that Davis is travelling alone (though often claims to be with her husband for intuitively understood safety’s sake) and although she does use more RV Parks and motels than she would have liked, sometimes an invitation to use a trailer or official camping ground otherwise deserted are wisely declined.

Occasionally Davis grows frustrated and angry at herself (I fail to see why, but then I fail to see why I sometimes do the same when I later consider the general state of play rationally), then once back on her bike repudiates herself:

“Eleanor, you would never use that language with someone else so please don’t use it on yourself.”

Excellent advice! It was pretty fruity.

“But by the afternoon I’m skimming through streams in hysterics.”

What I hope to convey here is that this is more than just a read and beautiful thing to behold: it is an experience. It is an experience we are so lucky to share without the considerable inconvenience of getting our collagen clapped out.

I leave you, however, with a sense of context candidly expressed early on which cannot help but inform your journey together, and it engenders an additional element of already excellent empathy as Eleanor pedals on.

““What made you decide to do this trip?” people ask.
“I say:
““My husband and I want a baby so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.
“Or
““My Dad built me this bike and I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!”
“I don’t say:
““I was having trouble with wanting to be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling”.
“But that is also true.”

SLH

Buy You & A Bike & A Road and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi…

“But that’s against the rules, Gary.”
“Then the rules need to be changed.”

Ah, the heady days of youth, heading down to the local Games Workshop to pick up a selection of psychedelically coloured, improbably shaped dice. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably remember the fevered excitement when books like the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual actually came out. If you weren’t too busy playing Manic Miner, that is…

Still, at the time, before the Marvel and DC encyclopaedias came along, that monster mash of a tome, plus the core AD&D rulebooks themselves, the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, made for the ultimate rainy-day read, and, if you and your mates could agree who would put the not-inconsiderable effort in to be the Dungeon Master, actually do some role-playing.

I was more of a Golden Heroes fan myself, an RPG that perhaps not unsurprisingly allowed you to be superheroes. Or indeed villains if the fancy took you. But, like many, I did also succumb to the lure of the twenty-sided icosahedron and spent some time dungeoneering. Mainly at school where I couldn’t play computer games, it has to be said, but still, I was well aware of the name Gary Gygax, and appreciated his efforts in endeavouring to stimulate my teenage imagination almost as much as Sir Clive Sinclair…

Gygax’s childhood and own formative years certainly make for a fascinating read. He loved listening to his father’s made-up fantasy stories and his mother reading the likes of Tom Sawyer to him. As a schoolboy he much preferred venturing into the labyrinth of tunnels underneath an old nearby sanatorium and exploring the abandoned insane asylum near a spooky lake than actually attending lessons, including a few narrow escapes dodging oddball locals who used to hang out there for presumably more nefarious reasons. Consequently, no one was entirely surprised when he dropped out of high school. A series of dead-end jobs followed, before a chance discovery of war gaming completely turned his life around.

There are some fascinating nuggets in this work which I was unaware of, such as the origin of modern war gaming is attributed to one Herbert George Wells. Good old H.G. actually published a non-fiction book entitled Little Wars, which described how he and his friend commandeered his son’s toy soldiers and created a game of their own, taking turns to tactically move their troops on imaginary battlefields. Wells then drew up a set of detailed rules so his readers could play such games for themselves. Shortly after he moved to Chicago aged 18, Gygax chanced upon a copy of Wells’ book, and thus his life’s obsession began.

It wasn’t, however, until over a decade of ever more elaborate war gaming, with an ever-increasing circle of friends and acquaintances, including postally, that the inspiration for D&D struck, courtesy of a particular medieval war game and a life-long love of the likes of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian books. 

Trying out his new mash-up game, which he’d titled Chainmail, amongst his hardcore war gaming friends, the magical, fantastical elements were met with staunch resistance, even disgust. It wasn’t until Gygax met a young man called Dave Arneson another year later that things really took off.

Arneson then went away and added many of the true cornerstone concepts of D&D, such as the dungeons themselves, neatly constraining the environment for what is a virtually limitless, free-form improvisational game, plus the idea that the game never really ends, with players instead gaining experience, before undertaking the next challenge, and the next, and so on.

Gygax instantly saw the commercial potential of this variant version of Chainmail and immediately set about codifying his own large set of rules to cover as many eventualities as possible. Setting up a company called TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) to manufacture and distribute the game after little success touting it to the established game manufacturing companies, it promptly overran the imagination of the public and the subsequent sales went stratospheric. Arnseson, meanwhile, so instrumental in the creation of the game, was never asked to join the fledging company…

Gygax, frankly, during the rise and rise of TSR, comes across much like the master huckster himself, Stan Lee, with his obsession for minutiae, micro management of absolutely everything, plus a total inability to give Dave Arneson the credit, or cash, he so clearly deserved. Eventually, begrudgingly, when lawyers got involved, Gygax did the ‘decent’ thing, with Arneson getting the long overdue well earned credit as co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and a valuable 10% of royalties on sales.

Arneson, who like Gygax, features heavily as a talking head in this work, seemed pretty sanguine about it all, in retrospect at least. Though at the time, crafty moves like Gygax retitling Dungeons & Dragons as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, purely to claim Arneson was no longer entitled to his 10% royalty cheques, probably tested his temper, and sanity.

We then get the inevitable fall of the TSR empire, Gygax’s own tempestuous departure and his subsequent various endeavours, some more successful than others. Still, it’s an impressive legacy Gygax left, one which modern gaming, both online as well as offline, has heavily built on.

Still, despite enjoying it, I found this work a little bit perfunctory and dry in the narration, and I don’t think the grey-tone, art style helps in that respect, either. There’s pure Gygax gold I expected to be in there which sadly isn’t, such as his apparently successful personal wooing of no less a talent than Orson Welles to star in a planned D&D movie (can you imagine?!) which was shelved as the scale of the financial troubles at TSR became all too apparent.

Compared to Box Brown’s TETRIS, which is an utterly forensic, meticulously designed and brilliantly illustrated in-depth examination of that blockbuster classic plus the crazy characters and total chaos behind it, this feels, well, a touch by the numbers. Dare I say it, even lacking in imagination, which for a book based on the game that touted the very use of said quality and all about the man whom single-handedly (according to him heh heh) revolutionised gaming, is a bit disappointing.

JR

Buy Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D and read the Page 45 review here

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice.

What a lot of delightful, light-hearted, thought-provoking fun!

For by OUR SOPPY LOVE STORY, Philippa Rice emphatically means yours.

This one is for you to write down, drawn in and co-create!

I will explain in a second.

Rice has already chronicled much of her own, ongoing love affair with HILDA’s Luke Pearson in SOPPY itself, a collection of dreamy yet often irreverent cartoons and comics so astutely observing their behaviour together. I wrote:

“Rarely have I been so immediately, directly and profoundly touched by a work of such intimate art. There is a purity here both in the content and the lines and shapes which depict this autobiographical insight.”

We were so transfixed that we invited Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson to sign SOPPY together at Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015 and this proved so endearingly cute that we had to start culling kittens behind the counter in order to level the Karmic Balance. I’m not making this up: every five minutes I would pull a cat from its bag and then wring its neck. It’s an odd sort of crunch, I can tell you.

Then, heralded by the likes of George Takei, the graphic memoire went global! An entire second-print run selling out worldwide within a mere ten days! A third print run immediately went to press and it sold and it sold, and continues to sell like crazy to this very day. Had it been anodyne and quite as soppy as the title suggested that would never have happened. Its mischief is a mirth-making joy.

This too is a joy, and there are indeed a few scattered comics and cartoons contained within, but it also a very different beast.

Instead, it is a cheekily inquisitive and surprisingly substantial, gently guided journal for you yourselves to fill in, as your one true romance begins to blossom and bloom.

I hope you don’t have to buy too many copies.

Not only will it prove a testament in time to your unique, highly personal, enduring love for each other – by noting your traditions, aspirations, and average day in your lives together – but, far more importantly, it will crystallise thoughts and feelings right now which you never necessarily knew you had and help you to articulate them. It will catalyse communication!

I’m no expert, but I would have thought that was one of the primary joys in sharing your lives with each other: communication. Sometimes, however, we do need a little nudge.

Rice knows exactly which questions to ask, and which prompts to offer for you in order to pursue this potentially illuminating, heart-felt investigation for yourselves, whether they be about yourself, your girlfriend or boyf, your husband or wife, or indeed your illicit other.

“Would you rather:
“Never read a book again OR never eat a dessert again?”

Leave out an ‘S’ and it’s easier: the last desert I ate gave me very dry wind and indigestion. I was also slightly suspicious of how many reptiles I might have wolfed down. Reptiles are important.

Anyway, I infinitely prefer books to banoffee pie, so that one’s very simple.

“Be able to talk to animals OR be able to read minds (human minds)?”

Before you make any snap decisions, may I suggest that being able to access the innermost thoughts of serial sexual harasser Donald Trump or any similarly suspected reprobate whom you come across down in London’s Tube might prove personally and profoundly uncomfortable or at least very awkward?

However many games of poker you might win with the “gift” of telepathy you would lose your sanity to in round one to a new deep-seated paranoia on discovering that ambivalence is nigh-ubiquitous. And that your two-faced neighbours actually hate you with a passion.

Jonathan can already talk to animals, but I rarely answer back.

“Be invisible OR be the only person who’s not invisible?”

Facial expressions are ever so important, don’t you think?

“Eat a spider OR kiss a pig?”

What’s wrong with pigs? Chauvinists aside.

So that’s about you, but you’re also asked about your significant other! You’re even invited to pose your own questions.

Do you really know what you truly think of each other? It’s time to find out in comparative checklists wherein you can debate between you which one is the more ticklish, tidy, calm, silly, sophisticated, organised, clumsy, grumpy, sleepy, happy, dopey.

You’re asked about the passing of time and your favourite weather. I’m only happy when it rains.

But you’re also prompted to live in the present as well, which is ever so Buddhist in appreciating what you have and expressing what you are experiencing in this moment that will never come again.

Finally, you’re encouraged to plan ahead with critical decisions like this for your future, which may well inform what happens next in your relationship should things go slightly skew-whiff:

“If I become a zombie, please…
“1) Kill me
“2) Leave me alone
“3) Allow me to bite you
“4) Keep me contained somewhere safe
“5) Other”

You are all cordially invited to bite me.

SLH

Buy Our Soppy Love Story and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review:

Honor Girl s/c (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash.

What a price! Quick, before they change their minds!

“What was I doing before? Was I just… floating along? Maybe I was better off that way. Because what’s ironic is that being in love doesn’t actually make you happy. It makes it impossible to be happy. You’re carrying this desire now. Maybe if you knew where it came from, you could put it back. But you don’t.”

Maggie is only fifteen and she’s just fallen in love for the first time. With a woman. With a summer camp counsellor.

Maggie’s stomach is churning and she hasn’t the first clue what to do about any of it. She can’t get Erin or her feelings towards her out of her head and she’s stuck there for the summer. What if any of any of her friends find out? What if any of the counsellors find out? What if Erin finds out? What on earth is she supposed to do with all this?

Oh, the space and the light!

I knew this was graphic memoir was going to be a pleasure to read as soon as I opened it and the colours flooded out. But, being set in a remote, American summer camp for girls, I had no idea it would tick so many recognition boxes.

I’d praise Thrash’s memory – her ability to put herself back in her head aged fifteen – but my own memory’s appalling yet I remember every little bit of falling in love for the first time when my nascent self-awareness was too new to comprehend or cope. It’s not something you forget.

Still, there were a lot of surprises and this may not come with the conclusion you expect.

Thrash goes to great pains to emphasise right from the beginning how traditional this particular summer camp was. Unchanged since 1922, “There were mandatory Civil War re-enactments every morning. It was literally the blues screaming “blue” and the greys screaming “grey” for twenty minutes.” Grim. There’s also flag-raising and flag-lowering at morning and night, and singing lots of lovely Christian songs to each other.

Being a good little girl, Maggie had a pillow with all her merit patches sewn on; being a somnambulist, she also had a Somnambu-leash which she was supposed to attach to her ankle every evening. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to tell you she doesn’t – not every evening – and it’s worth bearing that in mind later on.

There were uniforms for uniformity (“I was used to environments where it was important for everyone to be the same”) and zero diversity bar one blonde Jewish girl so seemed to set each year’s fashion trends. Oh, and then there was the whole Honor Girl system.

“On the first night, we always serenaded the Honor Girl, a 16-year-old camper appointed the previous summer… Everyone would light a candle, and at the end of the song, we’d each touch our flame to hers. It was meant to be symbolic – the Honor Girl imbuing us with her perfect spirit.”

Are you getting a sense that this might be one of the least hospitable environments for anyone suddenly stumbling upon the notion that they might be gay? Add in a mass of insecure teenage peers and being trapped there with them morning, noon and indeed overnight… There were a couple of girls the previous year about whom rumours swirled and they were ostracised all season long.

As I say, I think this is going to surprise you, and it’s got 270 pages in which to do so.

I’ve seen this sort of stripped-down style done so badly, so blandly – most recently in a reasonably high profile Young Adult graphic novel I decided didn’t merit a review – but this is full of nuance and character and great body language. It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple lines as long as they’re placed just-so. The expressions often contradict what’s expressed like tells at a poker game. It falls under the umbrella of minimum fuss for maximum empathy, and the colours ensure it’s certainly no mope-fest.

There are great many giggles to boot. I loved the old camp commandant – sorry, director – popping out on the odd occasion to wave a canoe paddle furiously and bellow prohibitions before collapsing, pooped out on the deck.

The storytelling is crystal clear with plenty of variety – another of the problems I had with that YA graphic novel was it was as so repetitious, so deathly dull, like someone telling you a story with “And then he did this and then she did that and then he did this and we didn’t” – opening up at exactly the right moments with landscapes to let you linger and ponder like Maggie herself.

As the memoir kicks off and concludes she’s had two years to do precisely that.

SLH

Buy Honor Girl s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Realist: Plug And Play h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka

Your Black Friend (£4-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

The Left Bank Gang (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

Why Are You Doing This? (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

The Selfish Dream (£5-00, Ichor) by Om Lekha & Blinky 4

The Practical Implications Of Immortality (£4-00, Throwaway Press) by Matthew Dooley

A Castle In England h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Jamie Rhodes & various including Isabel Greenberg

Everything Is Flammable h/c (£23-50, Uncivilised Books) by Gabrielle Bell

Garbage Night (£12-99, Nobrow) by Jen Lee

Hellblazer vol 16: The Wild Card s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Steve Dillon, Lee Bermejo, Doug Alexander Gregory, Jock, Jimmy Palmiotti

How To Survive In The North (£12-99, Nobrow) by Luke Healy

Mayday s/c (£13-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Tony Parker

Moonshine vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

On To The Next Dream h/c (£11-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna

Pantheon : The True Story of the Egyptian Deities (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (UK Edition) (£14-99, Titan) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Batman: New Gotham vol 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Shawn Martinbrough, various

Moon Knight vol 2: Reincarnations s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, Francesco Francavilla, James Stokoe

Uncanny Inhumans vol 4: IVX s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & R. B. Silva, Kim Jacinto, Ario Anindito

The Unworthy Thor s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Olivier Coipel, Kim Jacinto

Dragonball Super vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

My Hero Academia vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 82 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

 News!

 ITEM! We are so lucky to have this so local!

 Liam Sharp comic art exhibition at the Derby Museum Art Gallery, June 23rd to 3rd September 2017

This is the sort of thing you’d normally have to travel to London for – or even America!

I’m not guaranteeing that this piece will be there, but it gives you a clear indication of the level of intricacy which has been Sharp’s hallmark throughout his extensive career.

The former Derby resident will be flying back from San Francisco to be there in person, so if you want to shake his enormous, Viking hand in person, please keep track of my Twitter updates, turn up on the appropriate day and I will personally introduce you to one of the friendliest creators in comics who I have ever been lucky enough to call one of my mates.

We once stayed up all night and all morning, with no sleep at all, sharing our favourite tunes, some of which were written and recorded by Liam himself. Oh yes, the man is also a musician!

Speaking of…

ITEM! Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash songs & music CD is out now!

Just 10 quid direct from Dave so the man can make all the money himself without giving Mamazon a cut. Hurrah!

Reminder: BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel is such a powerful, eloquent, involving, almost overwhelming experience that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and it was one of my favourite graphic novel of the year.

We have the last 5 remaining copies worldwide of the original LICAF DUSTJACKETED EDITION OF BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH signed and sketched on by Dave McKean, which was itself distributed exclusively by Page 45.

ITEM! I cannot begin to tell you how important this is, and how accurately observed the ramifications are if artists aren’t credited.

Sarah McIntyre continues her campaign to prove that Pictures Mean Business in:

‘7 Ways You Can Support Illustrators’ for BookTrust

Illustrations all by Sarah McIntyre: obvious to you perhaps, but not to everyone and therein lies the point. Some scumbags even erase other artists’ signatures to suggest the work is their own.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week three

May 17th, 2017

Feauturing new Guy Delisle, Jeff Lemire, Giacomo Bevilacqua, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos. Everything reviewed by our Jonathan! It’s a first!

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua…

“A challenge to my inability to communicate, to my misanthropy, to my constant need for a challenge.
“… A challenge to respect the rules one places upon himself, whether he likes them or not.
“… A challenge to find love, the kind we often unknowingly brush against on the street, only to forget a moment later, overwhelmed by the river of our own thoughts, and the thoughts of a million passersby…
“That pure love that I have often found in the instance of a photograph…
“It is a challenge to the city of New York, the city of my birth, the city that sheltered and cared for me, both physically and mentally, throughout the years…
“… Sometimes successfully…
“… Sometimes not.”

Of course… it’s rather tricky to mend a broken heart and find love afresh if you’re not planning on speaking to anyone at all for sixty days…

Such is the scope of the emotionally self-sequestering challenge that Sam is taking on, at his own behest, and also his magazine’s editor Jorge. I think that probably reveals that Sam is a masochist and Jorge definitely has sadist tendencies, but it’s certainly an intriguing premise to explore both the fractured psychology of an individual and also the near-infinite fractal human interactions taking place within a city like New York on a continuous basis.

Like an endless game of bagatelle with eight million unpredictable balls, with pointy elbows, pinging around on the most insanely complex ever evolving three-dimensional board imaginable. How could you possibly hope to find the one person able to repair you emotionally in such an environment?

Our story begins with an unknown person narrating Sam’s epic undertaking to us, and also providing us with some personal background on our protagonist. Thus we gradually begin to understand the apparent reasons for his peculiar experiment as he strolls through the city of his birth, all the while carefully composing and taking photographs. I had presumed the narrator would turn out to be a possible future soulmate looking back sagely. In fact, it turns out to be someone completely different and entirely unexpected. And yet it makes perfect sense, in retrospect.

Giamcomo Bevilacqua treats us to a visual feast with shots of skyscrapers, Central Park and people, lots of people, from every conceivable aperture and angle. His art style, particularly of architecture, reminds me of Paul ALL OVER COFFEE / EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD Madonna, though a touch tighter. Plus this work is all in vibrant colour that perfectly captures the feel of a gloriously bright autumn day, even down to striations of wispy cloud being gently pulled across the sky, accompanied by the vapour trail from a departing aeroplane. The only thing that’s black and white are Sam’s photographs. As a creature of habit, he’s only ever printed his photographs sans colour, preferring to use the same print shop whenever he’s in the neighbourhood.

So, what happens to shatter Sam’s pseudo-serenity and deflect our tale into an altogether different direction? Well, it’s the unexpected presence of a red-haired girl in many of his most recent batch of photographs. She’s definitely there, in full glorious technicolour, which is a conundrum in and of itself given the photos obviously aren’t. But the real puzzle perhaps, is that Sam is entirely certain she wasn’t there when he took the pictures. Not once. After all, as someone who carefully composes every picture he takes, he knows exactly what, and who, is in the scene he wants to convey. And the girl was most assuredly not, when he took the pictures, in any of them…

Thus begins Sam’s real journey of introspection, finally getting below the protective surface layers he’d so carefully built up, as the mysterious red-haired girl begins to appear in front of him in the real world, seemingly at every turn. Sam’s reaction is always to turn away, to run, to flee. But what precisely is he really running from? And where will he end up? And who will be there? Some connections, however tenuously established, it seems, just can’t be broken…

What a wonderfully moving, poignant and beautiful work this is. As we, and Sam, finally gain a true understanding of what’s going on inside his head, plus out there in New York city, it seems all those millions and millions of endless human collisions can produce some quite startling and unexpected results.

JR

Buy The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle…

“Nothing happened last night.
“Nobody came to get me out of here.
“Maybe they’ll come tonight?
“In the meantime, I’ll be spending another day attached to this radiator.”

Guy PYONG YANG / SHENZHEN / BURMA / JERUSALEM Delisle returns, but this time with someone else’s story. Actually, I kind of feel his travelogues are often really the locals’ stories of the places he visits, he’s just the conduit for expounding their unique flavour of cultural craziness, but here he is ‘merely’ the messenger.

If you ever wanted to know just how boring, frustrating and soul destroying getting kidnapped and chained to a selection of ironmongery for a period of several months is, then this is the book for you! Now, you might think a book where practically nothing happens would be rather dull, but in fact the exact opposite is true. Guy Delisle brings to vivid life the entire spectrum of emotions Christophe André was put through repeatedly during his confinement.

Desperate for any shred of information that might indicate even the teensy-weeniest step of progress towards regaining his liberty, Christophe instead focuses on making certain he always knows precisely what date it is, wondering whether his sister would postpone her wedding or not (she didn’t, instead leaving an empty chair and plate in his honour at the reception) and, being a military history buff, re-enacting famous battles from around the globe in his head.

He did also conduct some rather amusing ongoing character assessments of his small gang of captors, including casting one very adroitly as Thénardier, the crooked innkeeper from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables! Plus continually be on the look-out for escape opportunities, of course… When those very slim possibilities of flight did occasionally arise, Christophe is totally torn between the ridiculous risks involved in making a break for it from an unknown location, with no knowledge of the local language whatsoever, versus sitting tight and simply waiting for what will surely be his inevitable negotiated release… After all, it’s not like he’s being treated badly during his incarceration, despite his total isolation. It’s a nigh-on impossible conundrum, I think, that one.

Guy captures all the sanity-sapping subtleties of Christophe’s plight to perfection, completely conveying the utter, unbearable mind-shattering loneliness of being locked away with absolutely no one to communicate with, all the whilst tormenting yourself wondering precisely what is being done to rescue you, and why on earth it is taking so long. He’s employed his trademark minimal colour palette once again, but his figures and facial features are more realistic than his autobiographical works, purely I suspect because that particular style is deployed for maximum comedic effect whereas he clearly wants to damp that down here.

Not to say that there isn’t humour in this work, there is, because obviously, it’s an entirely absurd situation, and human beings can find things to laugh at in even the most adverse of circumstances, especially given that we know Christophe did make it home safe and sound. In that respect this work reminds me of THE PHOTOGRAPHER by Didier Lefèvre & Emmanuel Guibert, where the main protagonist manages to get himself kidnapped in remote Afghanistan and has myriad tight scrapes and escapades before finally getting back to Kabul.

JR

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

Roughneck h/c (£20-00, Gallery 13 Comics) by Jeff Lemire…

“I was never really a hockey player… I was just a thug. At least now I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.”

The doyen of downbeat is back with a frosty contemporary fiction feast of self-destruction and misery. Straight out in graphic novel form, unlike his equally excellent new ongoing mildly mysterious monthly series ROYAL CITY, this is Jeff firmly smack bang against-the-boards back in ESSEX COUNTY territory. Even to the extent of having a former professional ice skating central protagonist, hence the body check…

I’m starting to think Jeff is a frustrated plumber. By which I actually mean an ice hockey player who likes to go get the puck out of trouble, working in the dirty areas of the rink. Because that’s exactly how he writes. He drops his characters in a whole world of pain, leaving them slipping, sliding and scrapping on the metaphorical thin ice for their lives, the Zamboni bearing down on them for good measure… then writes a way out for them, even if they don’t exactly all make it out intact. But then, getting run over by a Zamboni will do that to you.*

Here, in the frostbitten, half-forgotten arse end of Canada that is the small (ice-)burg of Pimitamon, known locally as The Pit, we find Derek Ouelette, temporarily assuaging his ever present despair with an equally ever handy bottle of beer and / or shot of the hard stuff. Plagued by headaches from his days as an enforcer out on the rink in the NHL, before the red mist took his career in a spectacularly brutal, gruesome loss of temper, he’s now barely making ends meet as a short order cook back in his home town, whilst sleeping on a cot in the janitor’s office at the local ice rink.

He’s still willing to fight all-comers, though, being one stubborn Cement Head who’s clearly not learnt his lesson yet, but this time his opponents seem entirely to be those idiotic enough to taunt someone whose former profession was repeatedly battering people in the face for fun. They might think they have a chance against someone who’s slightly the worse for wear and seemingly over the hill, but given Derek used to give people a good beatdown whilst dancing around on ice skates, I hardly think a few beers is going to prove too much of an impediment to his balance or indeed fisticuffs technique. It doesn’t.

So, it seems like Derek is on an endless cycle of drink, beat, repeat which is only going to end up with him getting sent to prison, killing someone or possibly even both. So what will make him change his ways? Not even repeated ‘final’ warnings from his old school friend, and police officer, Ray, can make him hang up his metaphorical gloves. Enter stage left Beth, his long lost sister, who ran away from home as a teenager, down to the bright lights of the proverbial big city Toronto, ending up drug-addled and sleeping rough for a few years, before allegedly getting clean and her shit together. So if that’s the case, how come she’s turned up back in The Pit, penniless, with a black eye?

Well, she hasn’t got her shit together, obviously, she isn’t clean either, but she is pregnant…  and the fruitcake future father with the free-flying fists is in hot pursuit… Guess it’s at times like this that having an equally psychopathic brother to turn to could come in handy. Except… remember what I said about Derek being on the probable path to killing somebody and winding up in jail…? Still, it’s difficult to imagine him suddenly turning into the type of guy who he’d once of described in hockey parlance as having ‘eggs in their pockets’…

As much as I love Jeff’s writing, no matter who is illustrating, it is always wonderful to see Jeff wield the pencils and paints himself too. He’s gone for a typically subdued palette here, just black lines and shading with light watercolour blues, reflecting the chilly northern landscape and stunted, alcohol and oxycontin-anaesthetised emotional vibe, similar to ESSEX COUNTY and THE UNDERWATER WELDER. Where we have full colour panels here, as with his TRILLIUM and SWEET TOOTH, it is always either in flashback to scenes of the kids’ (in-)tense family life growing up with an abusive Cannuck knucklehead father and their put-upon Native mother, or Derek’s glory days out on the ice. And hallucinations…

It’s a device that well serves to further impress upon us the oppressive situation and circumstances of Derek and Beth’s lives. Then, there is an exquisite use of a single additional colour on two other pages which, well, I have perhaps said enough already, so I shall leave you to discover those masterstrokes for yourselves. In summary, another contemporary classic from Jeff.

* No Zambonis were hurt in the writing of this graphic novel; however several Hosers do get a good thwacking from the Cement Head.

JR

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

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos…

“Okay… I asked you a question: where’s our daughter? Where’s the baby?”
“Get out of here, Luke. I’m on a case.”
“I don’t give anything close to a shit.”
“Just leave. This… this isn’t the time. You were following me.”
““Not the time”?! Where’s my BABY?”
“Stop this macho shit. It doesn’t scare me.”

Jessica Jones has well and truly finished her extended maternity leave and is back in the investigative saddle, going undercover, playing double agent, and generally getting herself neck-deep into all sorts of preposterous trouble trying to find out who Alison Greene is working for.  Alison Greene being the bean-counting, low level accountant Captain Marvel gave the full shakedown to, thanks to some equally shaky precognitive intel from the Inhuman Ulysses, during CIVIL WAR II. Ms. Greene was seemingly completely innocent, much to Captain Marvel’s extreme embarrassment. Now it turns out, unsurprisingly, she has an axe she’d like to grind on Captain Marvel’s head and is trying to recruit Jessica Jones into her merry scheme.

 

Meanwhile, Jessica’s also been hired by Mrs. Brownlee to investigate why her husband claims to no longer be her husband any more, but someone else entirely. Given our superhero chums propensities for flitting from dimension to dimension and traversing back and forth to other worlds when the mood strikes them, a la SECRET WARS, she’s desperately hoping for some sort of explanation that might mean he’s not had a complete psychotic break. With Jessica’s connection to the capes and tights world, Mrs. Brownlee’s basically hoping she might entertain her insane sounding theory…

“So we’re clear… You’d rather pay me to find out if your husband is from another earth than have him checked into a…”
“I’ll pay whatever.”

It’s seemingly a nothing, nonsense case, right…?

There’s much that’s utterly brilliant in the opener of this new run of everyone’s favourite female Marvel fuck up. (I nearly left out the female, but come on, all equality and feminism aside, Clint Barton is clearly even more of a fuck up than Jessica Jones, hands down, no contest!) In fact I think there is only one thing wrong with it. Meh, maybe two if I am being picky.

Firstly, it’s just great to see Alias Investigations back. As fun as Jess’ appearances in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST are, as the alpha-wife, hen-pecking poor put-upon Luke into submission, this is the version of Jones we want. Then, the dialogue, which is absolutely Bendis at his best, with every page a pure pleasure of witty to-and-fro. The only other thing he’s writing at the moment that’s anywhere near as good as this is INFAMOUS IRON DOOM featuring the trials and tribulations of a certain Victor Von Doom trying his hand a little superheroing. Then, there’s that ‘nothing, nonsense case’, which is almost certainly going to turn out to be anything but, given the sting in the tale at the end of this volume. Fabulous stuff.

So what doesn’t work for me then? Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that Alison Greene thinks Jessica would betray her friends, particularly her best friend, Carol Danvers. It’s a real stretch, frankly. By the end of this volume I understood precisely why Bendis did it, and I shall say no more for fear of spoilers, but… it still feels forced.

Then, my real bugbear: Jessica takes Dani, Luke’s and her baby, and leaves the marital home, without any word of explanation to Luke, as part of her going underground cover story. Yes, you can say she felt she couldn’t tell anyone at all, including her husband, the father of her child, what was going on, blah blah blah, but the reality of it is, would she really put her husband and the father of her child through that, with no word of warning whatsoever, just out of the blue? I think not.

I understand Bendis clearly feels Jess works best as a character as the isolated outsider, rather than the happy contented wife, presumably also explaining the double meaning in the volume’s subtitle ‘Uncaged’, which is quite clever, actually, I will give him that. This set up immediately achieves that isolation, stirring up a whole cement mixer load of dramatic tension between our leading dramatis personae as a bonus, but again, it felt rather forced.

It’s almost as though Marvel, having seen the success of the Jessica Jones TV show – plus the forthcoming Defenders series featuring the character – has said, “Bendis, bring her back in the comics, just like before, exactly like before, nothing must change, just like Stan said, make it happen”. “It’s only a comic, Jonathan!” I hear you cry. But when Bendis has made his name writing realistic characters (and dialogue), I expect perfection.

Still, that sting in the tale I’m talking about, makes it all worthwhile and carries the story over the rocky plotholed (sic) ground. Plus I’m still reading the monthly single issues, so I’m clearly hooked and will shut up moaning now! And this title is a trillion times better than most of the utter shite Marvel is churning out at the moment. I really will shut up now.

Previous ALIAS collaborators Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth return on line art and colours, respectively, which is also a definite huge plus as the change in art ruined the PULSE material for me. Again, this welcome return of said dynamic drawing duo is presumably trying to make it feel like it is business as usual, but they are the definitive Jessica Jones art team so why not.

Also, at the risk of seeming like I actually condone variants, which I really don’t, I was pleased to see they had included all the cover art, as chapter breaks too, rather than tucked away unnoticed at the back. When you’ve got the likes of David Mack, Alex Maleev, David Aja doing some brilliant covers, they do deserve as many eyeballs as possible rolling over them. There are also some totally duff covers from other people, mind, but they just make you appreciate the genius of the likes of the Mack even more.

JR

Buy Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (£13-99, Oni) by John Allison

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Fante Bukowski Two (£13-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice

Outburst h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Peter Coudyzer

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis

Archie vol 1 (£17-99, Archie) by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish

Flash vol 2: Speed Of Darkness s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & David Gianfelice, various

Deadpool: Bad Blood h/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Rob Liefeld, various

Spider-Man / Spider-Gwen: Sitting In Tree s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour & Sara Pichelli, Robbi Rodriguez

Boruto – Naruto Next Generations vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto & Mikio Ikemoto, Ukyo Kodachi

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 12 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

News!

ONE WEEK UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE TO ORDER!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 23rd, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week two

May 10th, 2017

The Wicked + The Divine enamel pins ordering instructions in News below!

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider.

‘Good Morning’:

“The sound of rain
“On rooftop and windowpane
“Is the universe applauding
“Your decision to remain in bed.”

Even rainclouds have silver linings.

There’ll be more weather warnings in the form of metaphorical meteorological conditions as Grant Snider forecasts which elements are most conducive to creativity in the ever-unpredictable ongoing trawl for ideas through stormy seas.

Gale force winds would necessitate lowering your search-sails, I’d have thought, and battening down your hatches until you reach more clement climes, but Snider is never so obvious and the final panel there, with its absolute excess, had me howling.

You’ll find ‘Brainstorm’ under ‘Perspiration’, one of ten categories the cartoonist has chosen to explore creativity under, each taken from his first page called ‘Genius Is…’

1% Inspiration
29% Perspiration
5% Improvisation
8% Aspiration
7% Contemplation
15% Exploration
13% Daily Frustration
11% Imitation
10.9% Desperation
0.1% Pure Elation

You’ll get there in the end!

Ideas come in all sorts of curious shapes and surprises. It’s worth fishing about for them, because they won’t simply appear out of nowhere if you don’t go looking for them.

       

There’s a lot of witty wordplay – though not necessarily as physical as that – throughout this collection of success and failure, hurdles and highlights, extreme pain before gain.

‘Types of Motivation’ will be instantly recognisable to anyone regularly dealing with deadlines with all their attendant pressures and pick-me-ups, and I’m astonished that Snider managed to find six different words ending in “-ernal” which worked so well together, each annotated with an illuminating internal monologue with variations of the end-goal to “finish”!

There’s also a certain degree of poetry as when Grant explores the ramifications of asking different sorts and sizes of questions, concluding with a flourish:

“When you come across an unusual question
“There’s not much to do
“But to stick with the question
“And see where it takes you.”

Lovely lilt, don’t you think?

Not all the strips are o’er-brimming with optimism – disaster can often loom large – but there’s usually and usefully some similar sort of consolation.

Sometimes the pay-off can be outstanding reward rather than mere consolation. In ‘Theories of Disappointment’ Snider provides two contrasting pages in order to catalyse you into reconsidering your entire outlook on life. On the left he presents a conservative, pre-emptive approach to avoiding disappointment by setting your sights low or eliminating them completely. But inaction gets you nowhere and it couldn’t end much more bleakly. On the right, however, the risk taker’s option reaps much larger rewards, ending on a note of abandon and consequent euphoria.

Grant’s here to invigorate or re-invigorate you, for example with a mental Spring Clean or fresh perspectives. ‘Imitation’ is bursting with novel ways of looking at traditional forms, colours and even art movements.

‘Draw Like You’ve Never Been Taught’ comes with that one unexpected beat extra, each time, for maximum mirth.

He has secrets to impart (“pay attention” is pretty good advice!) and encouragement aplenty to brighten your day and cheer you on that uphill, shale-strewn road to artistic success.

Openness to opportunity will prove key, but opportunity doesn’t half knock at inopportune moments. Still, dive in! Hanging about will only give you arm ache.

This should please fans of Tom Gauld’s short comics and cartoons like YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK enormously.

SLH

Buy The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity and read the Page 45 review here

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by J.G. Jones, Mark Waid & J. G. Jones.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

‘Strange Fruit’ – Lewis Allan, Maurice Pearl, Dwayne P Wiggins
Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

That jaunty little lynching song has to contain some of the finest lyrics ever composed. The extraordinary control and restraint are part of why it works so well, along with its plantation and harvesting connotations.

This sumptuously painted graphic novel, on the other hand, has to contain the finest – in fact, possibly the only decent ever – use of the confederate flag which is regularly hauled out as a public, repugnant, celebratory display of racism. Its reclamation through repurposing had me grinning from ear to ear with vicariously vengeful glee. It could not have been better placed, but I know you’re a delicate crowd so I will save everyone’s blushes.

Although I have just found the interior art and it is so exceptionally beautiful that I cannot resist. I hope it intrigues.

 

 

In the spirit of similarly saving steaming hot welts of shame I should warn you that this graphic novel also portrays the horrific levels of overt, verbal and brutal, physical racism which the use of that song’s title suggests. I’m not going to be typing those words myself because in a review that would constitute an unnecessary normalisation of them, but I disagree vehemently with anyone decrying their replication in this comic for we are in Chatterlee, Mississippi, April 1927 and that was the hateful language so casually bandied about around there back then, and we shouldn’t bleach history of its most disgusting elements lest we forget how fetid they were.

Brilliantly, script-writer Mark Waid juxtaposes that absence of any racial goodwill with the higher priority of the day, that of good manners by not swearing in front of women. Cussing meant taking a fictitious God’s name in vain by the way (I don’t think He’d have minded much); it did not extend to ethnic slurs about actual living, breathing, individual human beings.

Right, I think it’s worth reprinting Mark Waid’s brief post-script here to set the scene:

“The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was no fiction. It was, at the time, the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States. Uncharacteristically heavy rains up and down the Mississippi transformed the river into a raging buzzsaw up to 80 feet wide that cascaded over riverbanks and levees, flooding an area the size of Connecticut.

“In most communities, the levees, man-made, were all that held that river back. They were built and maintained almost exclusively by African American plantation workers who received little or no pay while their white superiors hoarded provisions and allowed little rest for their labourers.

“Ultimately, nearly 250 flood-related deaths were reported, and over half-million men, women and children were displaced by the floods.

“You can guess what colour the vast majority of them were.”

“Reported”: you wait until the two final pages. They will make you seethe.

But everything in the promise of that post-script is delivered here: the desperate fight to save Chatterlee from the floods, the reliance on harangued, conscripted, black slave-labour to do so; and the baiting of that so desperately relied-upon black, slave labour by the Ku Klux Klan, driving the work force away.

By “baiting” I mean hounding at the point of pistols and shot-guns.

Only one soul here treats her workforce with any consideration and Sarah Lantry’s surprisingly cooperative plantation is the one that’s going to be drowned if an old spillway is reopened to divert the alarmingly swelling waters from swamping the town.

Although I notice the contextually exemplary widow Sarah Lantry doesn’t carry her own umbrella.

Little details like that, un-signposted, make for a much meatier book than you might expect, and it’s certainly the work of artist and originator J. G. Jones’ comicbook career. If you already loved him from WANTED, you will weep in adoration at the glory within.

For a start, he’s a superb portrait painter, especially of Mr Fonder McCoy, the initially dismissed and resented, bespectacled engineer sent from Washington, with his intelligent eyes and double chin.

The first few pages are meticulously painted with ridiculous attention to denim detail and ever so lambent they are too, but even they are completely outclassed by the thrilling compositions of the first chapter’s final nine pages and their raw, physical beauty.

On top of the impeccable, muscular neo-classical physique, the weight of a hefty tree trunk, the folds in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan and a purple stormy sky crackling with lightning, there are two perspectives of phenomenal power shot from below then a double-page spread split into radial panels worthy of Neal Adams (except these actually work better – *cough*) to present a monumental sense of movement.

I don’t believe I have ever seen it done quite like this: a first panel whose figure is super-imposed upon its successors without in any way contradicting the explosive, sequential-art narration of what happens next.

What you might infer from the above is a distinct change of pace and perhaps even genre, for this wasn’t what I was expecting when I first read it.

I was expecting straight historical fiction – and for the most part, it is – but what I’m trying to imply is that there’s more than one reason why fans of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME will love this.

My first clue was the comet streaking across the sky.

SLH

Buy Strange Fruit h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercutz) by Hans Christian Andersen & Metaphrog.

Before the anodyne days demanding a feel-good-factor Hollywood ending, children’s fairy tales were scary tales through and through, and we should all rejoice that the likes of Metaphrog are rekindling that fire and brimstone both here and in THE RED SHOES.

Yes, it’s dire warnings for all in THE LITTLE MERMAID as an underwater world of visually evoked wonder, prospects aplenty and the innocent fondling of sensual marble statues gives grass-greener way to dreams of the impossible and – when made possible by a witch’s brew about which the side-effects, possible pitfalls and other potential repercussions are made perfectly clear (death, that sort of thing) – all this wonder and innocence and all those prospects of bobbing along quite contentedly on the bottom of the beautiful briny (shimmering, shiny) sea turns to dry-land, abject misery.

Yes misery, children, misery!

 

Be careful what you wish for, look before you leap, and don’t get ideas above your station or at the very least your regular tideline.

Also: life is cruel and unfair, plus stilettos are a bitch.

Don’t you just love those proscriptive, prohibitive, cautionary, finger-wagging tut-tuts of woe? No, nor did William Blake:

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”.

 – ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’.

The thing is, though, that’s not really what this is; plus: she gives up her sub-aquatic wings for something that emphatically isn’t her own, and you don’t exactly choose who you fall in love with.

LOVE IS LOVE, a most wonderful thing. Shame it seems to involve so much self-sacrifice.

The titular Little Mermaid falls in love with a human prince first spied dancing on a galleon with women wearing split dresses down the sides, revealing their lovely long legs. He looks just like her treasured marble statue. The ship is struck by lightning and sinks.

She swims.

Oh, how she swims! She saves her dear prince from drowning by propping him all night long in the raging, storm-tossed sea until at dawn they reach land. He is unconscious all through this episode; she is exhausted. And when three girls approach she retires to hide behind a rock. The prince has no idea who has saved him, but he knows whom he first spies upon waking.

The Little Mermaid cannot let this lie, for she is completely and utterly in lust.

Sorry, it’s probably love. Love, lust, infatuation: who can tell except in retrospect?

This review is getting away from me.

So she makes a deal not with the devil but with a sea-witch and not all witches are evil. Most of those I know are lovelies! Hello! *hugs*

No, that’s just children’s fairy tales.

This witch is as kind as you like in giving the Little Mermaid an opportunity to seek what she most desires and is open and honest about what might go wrong. Well, she does demand payment: the Little Mermaid’s voice.

The one cautionary element which I would pick up on in this gorgeous graphic novel – and endorse 100 percent – is that you never agree to give up your voice.

Do you see that Page 45 accepts no advertising on its website? I am grateful to all (especially to co-workers and customers) but I will be beholden to no one. It’s a trust thing, you see. Recommendations, personal relationships and socio-political stances are all about trust, and I will never give up my voice.

The Little Mermaid gives up her voice.

I don’t know who does what at Metaphrog – Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers are as one – and I kind of like that. No, I really, really like that, for comics is a composite visual and (but not necessarily) verbal medium and both elements in comics are narrative. I know them both vaguely but have never thought to ask who does what because I don’t care: between them they are exceptional storytellers.

There is a tenderness and femininity here where it counts; a sensual aspect too. A luring, exotic nature to the form and colours which to my mind are Indian when those count most, putting you in the metaphorical feet / flippers / shoes of the smitten protagonist: you experience first-hand her dazzled attraction to this world of new wonders, however exotic the one she forsakes. And at fifteen you just want it all, don’t you?

I like that when the ship goes down (as do the lights) then so do the words.

Also highly recommended for tears before bedtime then long into that cold and dark night: Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti’s restoration of the “grim” into The Brothers Grimm HANSEL & GRETEL and (speaking of Los Bros Darkity-Darkoss) Shaun Tan’s THE SINGING BONES album of exquisitely sculpted then thoughtfully photographed beauty.

SLH

Buy The Little Mermaid and read the Page 45 review here

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame.

A very gentle graphic novel full of quiet conversations and even quieter contemplations with such a huge amount of space that I devoured the entire 300 pages in a couple of hours, and I am a very slow reader.

It’s certainly no car crash or culture clash – this isn’t a book of conflict – but certainly eyes are opened and I learned stuff too. I did know that there is a tattoo ban in public swimming pools because my mate Ryz visited and she is covered in tats (tattoos are associated with organised crime), but I didn’t know that the Japanese don’t hug. Although young Kana does becomes delightedly addicted to this novelty.

Young Kana is delighted by most things and inquisitive about everything, so when burly and bearded Mike Flanagan from Canada arrives on her Dad’s doorstep she is stunned then uncontainably excited to learn that a) Mike was her Dad’s recently deceased brother’s husband b) in some countries outside of Japan men can marry and c) that her Dad even had a brother. But what she has now is a hugely exotic new uncle: a great big bear of a man with chest hair and everything! And he gives hugs!

He probably shouldn’t have hugged her Dad, though.

Immediately she invites Mike to stay which puts her Dad in an awkward position because… well, Kana’s Dad, Yaichi, feels pretty awkward about it all, and he begins to realise that he has a lot of thinking to do, and not a little soul-searching ahead of him about his twin brother, why they became so distanced (after an early, closely knit childhood), and his attitude towards sexuality.

I’d like to emphasise right now that Yaichi isn’t homophobic: he’s a thoroughly decent bloke and devoted single father, but there is a lot that this sensitive man has avoided until now and initially he catches himself having double standards that he’s ashamed of. For example, he’s used to wandering around the house in nothing but his boxers after bathing, but feels the need to cover up now that there’s a gay guy in the house. Especially since his brother Ryoji and he were pretty much identical twins! But then, he’d probably have thought to cover himself up with any strange man new in the house… I always have.

Basically he massively over-thinks things, realises he’s massively over-thinking things, and then becomes embarrassed about that. I think it’s all thoroughly forgivable, don’t you?

In the meantime Kana is a whirlwind of enthusiasm – it’s Mike this, Mike that, Mike the other – and asks the bluntest of questions as kids do, even though she’s not quite aware of what she’s asking. Funny!

It’s his daughter’s wide-eyed, unwavering adoration that bonds Yaichi to Mike in these vital early stages and gradually Yaichi begins to come around to the idea of showing Mike round all the local haunts where he and Ryoji used to hang out. Opening up about Ryoji might take a little longer, but Mike’s a very, very patient guy…

As I say, this isn’t a culture clash – Mike is well versed in Japanese culture because he was married to a Japanese guy and he doesn’t go round wearing the pink triangle you see on the front – but where things grow slightly askew is after Kana, desperate to introduce Mike to her friends, learns from a friend’s mother the term “negative influence”. And her father, having become completely comfortable, with his new brother-in-law, is horrified at the prospect of his daughter being taught prejudice.

There’s so much more in these three hundred pages for you discover yourselves, including a deeply affecting silent scene which has nothing to do with Yaichi or his brother, plus on top of that there’s Kana’s Mum’s place in the family to unfold.

I like that Kana’s drawn in the perceived ‘classic’ style of sugar-buzz manga (see YOTSUBA! for equally unbridled curiosity) which suits her personality perfectly, whereas the men are slightly closer to Taniguchi, if on steroids. The parks where the boys played have that same Taniguchi serenity too.

The sentences are much shorter than mine – markedly so – and this helps keep things free from melodrama, mawkishness, and didactic proselytizing.

Beware the visual thinking device, however! Tagame likes to present instinctive reactions at the top of a page – sometimes a couple of panels – and only if you look closely will you notice them joined by thought-bubbles to the subsequent scene below, which is the one that actually, thankfully, occurs.

Now I know what the Japanese sound effect for a snore is.

Concluding volume to come.

SLH

Buy My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Black Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell…

“Hear us, Great Darkness, whose skin burns with the brilliance of a million black fires of dissolution.
“You are the origin of all things, and devourer of all things.
“Your perfect song can be heard in the void, but also in the hum deep within all living things in this breathing world.
“Though having form, you are formless. Though you are without beginning, so are you without end.
“Your time comes again, Great Darkness.
“This life will end so that yours may begin again.”

Oooo, when is sidebar not sidebar? When it’s this blinking good, that’s when! Fans of BPRD will be very familiar with the titular character who has cropped up as the main baddie in that most epic of series three times now, albeit in slightly different incarnations, plus made the odd guest appearance elsewhere such as in SLEDGEHAMMER 44 and LOBSTER JOHNSON.

What has not been explored up until now is his genesis. We know the original human host of the Flame, up to and including WW2, was one Raimund Diestel, often accompanied by his mysterious wife Kamala, before maniacal Landis Pope assumed the rather charred mantel in the modern day BPRD era.

This, then, explores just how the German naval deserter underwent his dramatic transmogrification to the supernatural psychopath, albeit one with impeccable manners, and that, perhaps, it was always his inescapable destiny. A path that indeed began many years previously with simple misstep as a small boy visiting a Berlin museum…

What a fantastic piece of horror writing this is. You never quite know with some of the Mignola-verse mini-series just how vital to the main story arcs they are, or indeed precisely how good they will be. The ABE SAPIEN material for example, is pretty essential reading, if you want to understand precisely what is going on in BPRD. But WITCHFINDER, LOBSTER JOHNSON etc., as fun as they are, can be a bit hit and miss for me and are not remotely essential. This mini provides much insight into the true nature of the Black Flame.

With that said, it also stands alone perfectly, you don’t need to know anything about BPRD to be mesmerised by this gripping tale about two British Empire policemen stationed in Rangoon, Burma, heading into the steamy jungles of the sub-continent to investigate the disappearance of young girls. Not that anyone in authority was paying attention until it was two young English girls that were taken, of course…

As our redoubtable comrades head deeper and deeper into a shadowy world inhabited by cultish magicians and freakish monsters, you start to feel their trusty service revolvers might prove somewhat inadequate protection against such sorcerous adversaries. Fortunately for them, along the way they’ll encounter a former colleague of Sir Edward WITCHFINDER Grey, a Miss Sarah Jewell, who’ll prove far more valuable to their survival prospects than any bullet ever could.

But, as we know, the phoenix-like rise of the Black Flame is inevitable. Therefore the only question that remains is whether the young girls can be saved…?

Absolutely brilliant writing from Mignola and – with long-term collaborator and firm favourite of mine, Christopher Mitten on the pencils (finally making his Mignola-verse debut!), plus of course, Dave Stewart on colours – this is nigh-on perfect. Unless you’re an ill-prepared policeman about to embark on an expedition to the very heart of darkness, that is…

JR

Buy Rise Of The Black Flame and read the Page 45 review here

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse…

“And then they were gone.
“Just like magic.
“I was completely alone.
“Or I thought I was.
“That was the first time in my life I understood the true nature of fear.
“I understood that fear isn’t an enemy, but a friend.
“Fear clears the mind and slows down the passage of time.
“It makes you act that split-second faster.
“It gives you an edge.
“Then I SAW it…”

I was rather hoping they would collate and collect all this material one day. So a quick hurrah for that! Back in early 1988 a new character appeared for the first time and took the galaxy’s self-styled greatest comic in an altogether darker direction. Over the years, when 2000 AD has done horror, aside from the obvious recurring villainy of the Dark Judges forever imperilling the Big Meg ad nauseam which is starting to get seriously old now, I think it’s been done rather well, and by and large stands the test of time. Arthur Ranson’s MAZEWORLD (currently out of print) trilogy being an obvious early example of 2000 AD horror, through to more modern takes on the genre such as the extremely creepy CRADLEGRAVE set on a sink council estate.

I did chuckle at the bold legend atop the front cover which states “Before Harry Potter There Was Luke Kirby!” Indeed there was, and the first Luke Kirby material also predated the premier comics boy wizard, which is hands-down Neil Gaiman’s Timothy Hunter in the BOOKS OF MAGIC, by a few years. This material, in essence a collection of short stories published sporadically over nearly eight years, is not anywhere near BOOKS OF MAGIC level, despite how good it is. That work, for me at least, is on a level of its own.

What this material neatly blends is the peculiarly atmospheric flavour of classic British horror flicks such as American Werewolf In London, The Wickerman, plus practically anything from the Hammer Studios, with the twist that our main hero is a nine-year-old mage of immense potential learning on the incredibly hazardous job. Today’s Health and Safety Nazis would have a field day with young Luke’s lack of risk assessment and shunning of protective equipment before plunging headlong into his next perilous escapade. Still, this is set in the early ‘60s where the concept of health and safety was probably limited to finally realising it wasn’t a good idea to send a nine-year-old down a mine…  To the tenth, count ‘em, tenth, circle of hell, though, no problem guvnor, right this way.

Read as a whole, where you can see the weekly joins, particularly with the early stories compared to the later ones (something 2000 AD improved considerably on over the years to the extent that the likes of CRADLEGRAVE is simply one seamless narrative very smoothly spliced from the weekly chunks), it has all the charm, and mild inadvertent amusement, plus a dash of pure stoopid, engendered by said period flicks.

With all that said, this is genuine brooding horror with child abductions, werewolves, vampires, devils, demons and random exsanguinations lurking around every corner. Luke Kirby, though, has the magical chops to take on all-comers, once he’s got a bit of practice in. Girls, though, they’re an entirely more terrifying prospect…

Penned entirely by Alan McKenzie (who also scribed the excellently spooky Brigand Doom around that time, about an undead highwayman cavorting around in a dystopian future, though I have still to forgive him the woeful Supersurf 13 featuring a certain Marlon Shakespeare esquire), with very different turns on art from 2000 AD stalwarts John Ridgeway, Steve Parkhouse, Graham Higgins, I finished this wishing, as with a fair few other characters (including Brigand Doom which ‘concluded’ on a cliff-hanger to say the least), that there will one day be new Luke Kirby in the pages of the self-proclaimed galaxy’s greatest comic. It just feels like there is so much more they could do with the character.

But, perhaps that is also part of the charm of 2000 AD. They relentlessly find talented up-and-coming writers and artists, create new characters, churn out some great stories, then move on and keep on innovating. Aside from Dredd, obviously. There must always be Dredd. There really must. But you don’t get to 40 years old producing the same old shit week in, week out. Unless you have the marketing budget of Warner Brothers or Disney, that is…

JR

Buy Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo.

For which you will need Bendis & Yu’s SECRET INVASION, which is where Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS has been heading since its very beginning. I’m not kidding: as will be revealed here, a very long game has been played by both the creator and so the characters. This is it come to fruition, then almost immediately moved firmly on.

That cat can’t help leaping right out of the bag now, clawing and scratching away, so if you want to read the best-ever AVENGERS series outside of ULTIMATES Season One and Season Two, with knock-out comedy dialogue, but you don’t what the surprises spoiled for you here, please click on NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 for that review instead, and walk away now!

I wrote: “NOW!”

I’ve heard from one quarter at least that all SECRET INVASION was to them was one massive fight. Actually it was several, but point taken. The thing is, it isn’t self-contained. Not only was it the climax to several hundred pages of sneaking about, whispering, mutual suspicion and second-guessing about the shape-shifting Skrulls’ infiltration of planet Earth, but the flesh of it – the emotional core – lies here.

Its flashback revelations are stunningly clever with gorgeous art from Jimmy Cheung for the episodes revisiting the Illuminati’s covert counter-strike against the shape-shifting Skrulls all those years ago (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3) and you finally learn exactly what the Skrulls have done since with all that genetic lost property.

Then, appropriately enough, its ALIAS’ Michael Gaydos who provides exceptional acting for the argument between lovers Luke Cage and Jessica Jones – first on the telephone and then face to face in front of Avengers Tower, home of the opposing MIGHTY AVENGERS who want this underground team locked up – about the custody of their baby after its recent near-murder.

Luke insists that Jessica has sold out, citing principles, honour and standing up for what’s right; Jessica’s sole contention is that as parents they must put the child’s safety first. Its truth and simplicity seem incontrovertible, even to a non-parent like me. Furthermore, Jessica maintains that, under their virtually unique circumstances, Avengers Tower is the only place where their baby is safe.

But S.H.I.E.L.D. has been played. Hydra has been played. The Avengers have been played. All by a single Skrull disguised as one of their own. Who, where, when and how? You’ve seen it all before, just not from this perspective.

Learn precisely how the Skrulls gained the inspired element they’d need to escape detection so long as they remain in human form and for what psychological reasons they carefully selected which individual super-humans to replace with their own infiltrating agents many moons ago! Watch it dawn on the Skrull Empress that her personal sacrifice and long-term strategy lay in tatters when several years ago The Scarlet Witch turned the world upside down during HOUSE OF M! Wince as The Scarlet Witch subsequently hands them their invasion on a “No More Mutants” platter!

Then weep as Jessica Jones’ words about the safety of her baby come back to haunt her.

The second half of this whopping repackage deals with the fall-out to SECRET INVASION whose repercussions are substantial: the last person in the Marvel Universe you’d want to be given the keys to the door has been given the keys to the door.

Clint Barton, the only current long-term member of the Avengers (as Hawkeye then Goliath now Ronin) is horrified to discover [REDACTED] marketing himself and his fellow convicted criminals to the public on television as the new official team. There’s a great scene in which they try to figure out who each shady figure is underneath their new masks, and once again Hawkeye is not best pleased to find himself represented by [REDACTED].

And you know our HAWKEYE, right? “Act in haste, repent at leisure” were words specifically written about him. Every idea he has is a bad idea.

What follows is a game of super-powered chess as each side tries to out-manoeuvre the other with several layers of misdirection, bluff and countermeasures, resulting for now in a stalemate with one notable exception.

My only qualm amongst so much excellence lies in the ‘Dark Reign’ chapter masterfully illustrated by Alex Maleev in which Bendis’ dialogue for Emma Frost sounds lazily like his own Jessica Jones rather than Grant Morrison’s, Joss Whedon’s and Warren Ellis’ louche, sybaritic Emma Frost well established by the trio of writers in NEW X-MEN then ASTONISHING X-MEN.

Still, every other element here will give you a great big grin.

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua

Casanova vol 5: Acedia vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba

Batman: Detective Comics vol 2: Victim Syndicate s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 5: Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Humberto Ramos & Guiseppe Camuncoli, Francisco Herrera

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

News!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 21st, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week one

May 3rd, 2017

I should probably mention THE PAGE 45 2,500-GRAPHIC NOVEL 50% SALE!

And I probably will (with photos) in our News underneath.

The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire.

Halfway through this extraordinary graphic novel – and so the trilogy – there is a moment so shocking that I had to re-read it three times to ensure it had actually happened.

It actually happened.

Take nothing, and no one, for granted.

“What’s your name?”
“Names are for people. I’m just street vermin.”
“No one is street vermin. Under Dao law, all the people of the city are equal.”
“You’re very stupid if you think that’s true.”

Quite. Saying everyone’s equal does not make it necessarily so. The American Declaration of Independence loftily stated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But by “men” it meant “white men” and certainly not women. Slaveholders signed as readily as anyone.

No one is treated equally in America, Britain, or anywhere else. The hierarchy remains absolute.

 

As with all Faith Erin Hicks books, this is a tale about friendships. So much time is taken to explore their nuances if new, or their history in the case of old acquaintances.

The above was eight years ago, with young Erzi – Prince of the Dao Empire and heir to the Nameless City’s throne – riding alongside his father in a petal-strewn procession. I don’t think you will find either of them “equal” under Dao law to the ragged, green-eyed street urchin he’s just rescued from a beating by one of his soldiers. This was the even younger Mura: angry and defiant after being tossed out of The Stone Heart by its resident monks for trying to steal something they had long locked away.

She is the same Mura who now acts as Erzi’s bodyguard after last volume’s attempt on his life and that of his father, the General of All Blades. She is now stern and taciturn, ever so watchful with those piercing green eyes, and on each sleepless night she haunts the palace’s library.

In THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1 we learned that – sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest – The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that this city, through which all commerce now passes, controls the flow of wealth. It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless.

One of those inhabitants is Rat, a young athlete able to run across rooftops at blinding speed, which is how she first met Kaidu or Kai. Kai only arrived in the city four months ago to begin training as a rather reluctant warrior. It was the first time he’d met his father Andren, also a general, who now has a plan to form a unifying Council giving everyone a say – not just the Dao – in the city’s future. Obviously the monks are keen, as is Rat who was brought up by them after the death of her parents. But the Dao have many enemies including the Yisun from whom they took the city, and they’re refusing to come to the table. The pressure is on and time is running out.

Right, I think that’s all the context you need, but for more hop back to THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1.

As I say, like FRIENDS WITH BOYS, this is at its heart a book about friendships, and it has so much heart! Dozens of pages are devoted to sharing and caring enough to listen. You will, for example, finally find out what happened to Rat’s parents after Kai finds a small statuette of them which Rat normally hides away. Hicks is a master of these natural conversational triggers, and the way confidences then impact on consequent behaviour.

She’s also exceptionally gifted when it comes to exploring the joy, and sometimes initial difficulties, in being introduced to new friends for the first time. When Rat introduces Kai to Hannya and Iniko who are older, Hannya is open and solicitous towards Kai, encouraging him when he shows an interest in Iniko’s string instrument and teasing Iniko about his own dubious prowess. Kai in return is delightfully self-deprecating, but Iniko remains wary, protective, defensive and even slightly resentful towards this son of a Dao general.

It’s beautifully played by Hicks and colourist Jordie Bellaire who knows exactly how to flush a face in myriad different ways to denote tentativeness, bashfulness, awkwardness, embarrassment, shame, disdain and fury all in the same exchange after Kai finishes strumming.

“What’s the song about? I’ve never heard it before.”
“Oh, um… It’s about a battle between the Yisun and the Dao. Uh, we beat them pretty badly.”
“Pft. Even Dao music is about conquering. Everything is about violence. What they conquered, who they killed – “

Rat interrupts him.

“Iniko, stop it.”
“I’m just saying –“
“And I said STOP IT.”

I don’t have that page for you, sorry!

As to the music itself, evoking harmony and melody, it swirls around the page in purple and pink in a way that put me in mind of Hope Larson, as did the first page following the prologue with Rat underwater before she bursts to the surface in an open air swimming pool reminiscent of Roman baths. The midday, summer-sunshine light is remarkable – with hot skin against cool blue and pale, cream-coloured stone – as is the sense of space the two artists create between them both there and throughout with wide gates, broad corridors and evening, rooftop views of a glowing city below.

Kai and Rat’s new and unlikely friendship – between the conquering and the conquered – points to new hope for a far brighter future if Kai’s father can fulfil his plan for a united council. Unfortunately unity will prove in short supply in the most extraordinary quarters, and there was something which Rat let slip out without thinking, which she probably shouldn’t have.

“Sometimes I forget the monks have secrets they want to protect.”

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart and read the Page 45 review here

Big Mushy Happy Lump (£9-99, Andersen) by Sarah Andersen.

Do you want to feel happier about your own life?

About your hang-ups, neuroses and self-confidence issues?

Sarah Anderson is here to make that happen, and hilariously so!

Perhaps you don’t have any hang-ups, neuroses or self-confidence issues: laugh at Sarah’s instead! She’s positively inviting you to do so in a warm and welcoming way, from inside the most recent big woolly sweater she’s stolen.

Highly recommended to readers of Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, anyone who’s already read Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH will know that she is mischievous, open and honest; and honesty is vital for this sort of comedy for without it you wouldn’t connect and so be ticking all those recognition boxes.

I, for example, read this very first page in bed when I had written not one weekly review so far and desperately needed to crack on. I didn’t get up until I finished the book.

To be fair, that’s not so much my fault but Sarah’s. Her comedy is comics’ equivalent of Jaffa Cakes or Maltesers. I saw a bag of Maltesers the other day which boasted that it was resealable: I laughed so f***ing hard.

You also need consistency and conviction. Cumulative jokes are funny when they’re variations on a theme and if you pander to what’s popular you will lose your signature identity. Although there is the most excellent extended sequence involving Andersen’s conversion from aversion to cats through the necessity of containing her mouse infestation, which grew so bad that she’d find half a dozen of them hanging off the latest sweater she’d stolen… while she was wearing it.

One of those variations on a theme involves hurt feelings. When someone hurts Sarah’s feelings she shrugs them off; when someone hurts her friend’s feelings she rides through the wall in a tank.

Although you remember I mentioned that matter of honesty? Exuberantly, flamboyantly, wearing a fur coat and shades:

“I’M A TOUGH B****!!! I DON’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE SAY!! I’LL DO WHATEVER I WA –“

Reality Rabbit, the tiny white bunny of truth, sympathetically steps in:

“Somebody hurt your feelings, didn’t they?”

Silent panel, close-up, shades lifted: it’s quite the beat.

Then, quietly, hands clasped around knees in a panel shared with Reality Rabbit but with ever so much grey space around them:

“Maybe.”

Click on images to enlarge! You should be able to do that with most of our art.

There are so many different devices deployed in the punchlines.

There’s the ellipsis in ‘There Are Two Types Of People’, Anderson edging, slowly, gingerly into cold water followed by another girl throwing herself eagerly in: the joke lies in what you know happens next.

Then there’s the paralysis on discovering the shocking cost of cute clothing. The camera pans back. A new gulf appears between the article in question and its previously smitten but now horrified, freeze-framed, bog-eyed potential customer widening, white-faced in the void.

What else will you find within? A whole load more clothes (seasonally adjusted), the squeeze of time when even on a Sunday you are worrying about Monday; finances, fears, learning and lyrics; tattoos and traumas, plus the brilliance of bottling up emotions so that neither you nor your friends have to face them. That’s always a good idea, isn’t it, because that glass is never going to shatter then leave sharp shards in your gelatinous brain fluids or mental make-up?

Emotional rollercoaster rides! Just because it’s obvious, that doesn’t make it any less than 100% true.

Then there’s the cruelty of memory which wilfully chooses to fixate on mistakes. It’s another extended sequence involving self-perception and over-thinking things which I for one am far from immune to. Jumping to conclusions? Andersen pole-vaults to them! You have to put some real effort into that.

So much of this comedy is visual that I could not possibly do Andersen justice in words.

I adore her when she dips into the difference between the sexes, during puberty especially or hanging out in a bar. Time and again she taps into truths then articulates them with verbal and visual, pithy wit and dexterity.

My favourite truth above all in this outing is ‘How I Spend Money’.

I have gleefully shown so many customers this page over the course of the week and each one of them howled. They giggled, guffawed; they cackled and cried real tears at the counter in recognition.

After which I successfully rinsed them for every penny they had.

SLH

Buy Big Mushy Happy Lump and read the Page 45 review here

Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Paolo Bacilieri…

I am not, I must confess, a fan of crosswords, but my dad is, hugely so, so that’s one Christmas present sorted then! For this is, in part, a fascinating history of the original fiendish word puzzle from its inception in pre-World War One New York. The other part is a fictional story, itself a protracted puzzle whose ‘solution’ is only revealed right at the climax.

The two are seamlessly melded together through the conceit that our ‘hero’, the oddly titled Zeno Porno, (being a character from a previous work by Bacilieri who is a Disney comic book writer and also apparently a former secret agent of the CIA, though nothing is made of that latter point in this work) bumps into a long-time hero of his in Milan, the equally implausibly named Professor Pippo Quester (based on Umberto Eco), who just so happens to be writing a book on the history of crossword puzzles.

 

 

What follows is a both an insightful and fascinating historical analysis of the rise of the definitive fiendish word game, in all its various subtly different international flavours, and a gripping yarn that becomes a thrilling piece of suspense with a conclusion I certainly didn’t guess. Pretty much like any crossword clue…

JR

Buy Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords and read the Page 45 review here

Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“True for bacteria and people.”

If you thought LOW’s futuristic premise based on scientific certainty was pretty crushing, welcome to another far, far closer to the bleak hour at hand.

All too topical, this medical and medication-based conspiracy thriller addresses bacterial immunity to antibiotics – which is already reaching dangerous levels – and speculates on its repercussions for a society in a political climate currently lurching horrifyingly far to the right.

It’s 2036, and the Conservatives have been eclipsed by the ultranationalist red-on-white Lionheart Party which is currently in power. I imagine they once had no members of Parliament whatsoever, but were given equal airtime by a feckless, controversy-cultivating and so complicit media. That’s wild speculation of my part, obviously. It couldn’t happen here.

In 2016 700,000 individuals died from antibiotic-resistant infections. By 2036 that annual figure has risen to 9 million. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable. The condition is critical: you could now die of an infected paper cut.

This is far from a sensationalist prospect, I promise you.

“Alexander Fleming’s messy lab led to the serendipitous discovery of penicillin. The very first class of antibiotic,” we are told in a lecture by microbiologist Dr. Martha Scott. It saved hundreds of thousands of lives during WWII and “became the bedrock of modern medicine, curing once deadly diseases and infections”.

That is all true, and so is this:

“By 2010, antibiotic use was rife in farming as well as medicine. And no new classes had been found since 1987. Some poor countries even sold them like sweets since it was cheaper than seeing a doctor. And so the resistance grew.”

Bacteria adapt and evolve a great deal faster than we do: they multiply faster than we do.

“For decades, big pharma failed to invest in new antibiotics – not profitable. And governments didn’t devote enough resources until it was too late. Hospitals have become breeding grounds for these deadly infections, and enforced home isolation is now the only option for the seriously ill.”

Complacency is one of the things modern humans do best.

Featuring the finest (and unfortunately final) art of John Watkiss’ career, printed on paper stock which make his deep and rich blacks glow alongside James Devlin’s colours, this is a nightmare scenario so grippingly executed not because of its death toll (that is not what this is about) but because Kenney has concentrated on its ramifications for individuals under a regime which has decided – as a result of the limited resources and their efficaciousness – to ration the remaining antibiotics.

For a start, you will not receive treatment of any kind if you do not qualify for it under the stringent Productivity Contribution Index.

If you are deemed and dismissed as a waste of space by The Powers That Be – by being disabled and/or obese, for example – then you can probably fuck off and quite literally die.

The scenario has been so well thought through.

There are of course riots, for what else can one do when you are otherwise powerless and outright rejected by intransigent authorities? We begin with a bombing at a London mayoral election debate which injures both candidates and in attendance by accident is Dr. Martha Scott’s sister, Rosa. Like her mother, Dr. Martha Scott is a microbiologist involved in education and active research; but, like her father, Dr Rosa Scott is a frontline surgeon. She works for the NHS. Under the Hippocratic Oath she has sworn to uphold certain ethical standards. She does not believe in the rationing, by governmental command, of antibiotics: these decisions she believes should be made by doctors. She believes all patients in need should be treated equally regardless of the PCI and that she must certainly do them no harm through her actions or inaction.

Yet faced with two political candidates in need she chooses to help the one whose policies are in accord with her own, and hesitates to help the other. There are… dramatic repercussions.

Two weeks earlier Dr Rosa Scott operated on a patient whose life was immediately at risk but who didn’t qualify under the PCI and, threatened with disciplinary action, she quit the NHS. Instead she opened her own long-planned private surgery in the basement of her house. Unlike her father in the private medical sector, she is determined to operate on patients in need regardless of their financial resources. She is Surgeon X: underground and illegal. But she’s going to find that those initially most in need are those closest to home.

And that’s where the heart of this series lies: so close to home.

Far away from home was Rosa and Martha Scott’s mother six weeks earlier, last seen on a refugee boat off the coast of Burma, injected with a paralysing drug then drowned in the sea. She was on the brink of discovering a new class of antibiotics but someone evidently didn’t like what she’d found.

I know what you’re thinking: this is packed!

And it is. I haven’t even hinted at Rosa and Martha’s half-brother Lewis, a schizophrenic desperately in need of maintaining his medication but who ditches it in order to feel liberated by its side-effects and suffocating restraint. If Sara Kenney hasn’t had personal experience of a loved one in this condition then I would be stunned, for every element is perfectly played from Lewis’ deluded decision that this time he will be fine (when he wasn’t in the past) to the resultant suspicion and distrust of those once again closest to home and the wider, deep-rooted paranoia regarding authority and a conspiracy to constrain. The mind-set and language are both spot-on. I know: I’ve been there with two mates.

But what is brilliant is that it dove-tails into this scenario so well.

Also exceptional: the poetry when it’s practised, the history lessons and the extrapolation of a credible future from where we are today (surgeons still only 15% female – long live the patriarchy, eh? – see Y – THE LAST MAN), with lovely little satirical side-swipes at Twitter (“Chatterblast”) and cabbies who can’t keep their predictable, opinionated gobs shut even when they’re self-driven / automated:

“Welcome to London cabs. Would you like to know the predicted weather for this afternoon?”
“No.”
“Would you like to discuss politics or a topic of your choosing?”
“No!”
“Okay. How about King Charles’ views on architecture, the environment or complementary medicine?”
“Noooooo!”
“University College London – Cruciform Building. We’ve arrived at your destination. Have a nice day – and please don’t slam the door…!”
*SLAM*

My only complaint is that because this series is so rich in skulduggery that it does at times suffer from excessively expository dialogue. In this instance I can live with that: other than being released as an original graphic novel I’m not sure how it could have been avoided. It’s just that we don’t naturally remind each other in conversation of events that have dramatically impacted on our shared lives in the form of little memorandums or post-it notes.

I loved the bits out in orbit, the sunsets in Scotland, the flashbacks to Rosa’s mistake working in the war-torn Libyan field, and the entire examination of how highly we regard surgeons when they are – like us all – individual, flawed human beings who cannot get everything right their first time. Institutional failings are unforgiveable but individual mistakes are inevitably made.

So tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable and the condition is critical: you could die of an infected paper cut.

But what if an old-school epidemic reached our shores…? One with “prior”, as they say.

It gets worse.

SLH

Buy Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£44-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

I love that the deluxe hardcovers’ covers focus, close-up, on young Hazel’s development.

She is, after all, SAGA’s narrator, filling the series with foreshadowing, the wisdom of experience, and the insight of hindsight. What don’t know yet is how long she has had to acquire her worldview, for we have no idea at what age Hazel is telling her story.

It’s essentially a comedy about love – of relationships, parents and children – and a discourse on the atrocities of war in which no one is safe. That its setting is science fantasy gives Vaughan and Staples the opportunity to fill it with the wonders of diversity, which they’ve both taken full advantage of, as well as its attendant bigotry. Hazel is having to hide her biological nature, for she’s a miraculous child born of two distinctive species which are at war. One has wings, the other has horns; Hazel has both.

 

 

Not only have they been at war for as long as anyone can remember, but for so very long that no one has so far recalled a moment when they were once at peace. Hazel’s not the only one within who has decided to hide a truth, but she is the only one privy to that secret.

It’s a deliciously inclusive series, is what I’m saying, and prospective newcomers are heartily encouraged to read my overview of SAGA DELUXE EDITION VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying one of the seven softcovers so far. That contains the first; this contains 4 to 6 so please click on those SAGA covers if you want to read those reviews because conjoining them – as I did for Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser’s VELVET h/c or Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser’s THE FADE OUT – is far more work than you’d imagine, involving a great deal of cutting and splicing, and the occasional bloody finger.

 

 

You know, if Fiona Staples hadn’t nailed the image above with those incredible eyes accentuated by the occasionally worn glasses, then that sentence would hang limp. As it stands, it shines. I remember the first few pages of SAGA  when she did the same for Marko: the love in his eyes when Hazel is born!

Not included in this volume, obviously:

The deluxe hardcovers come with extras, this time in the form of brand-new guest art from Jen Bartel, Bengal, Cliff Chiang, Pia Guerra, Faith Erin Hicks, Karl Kerschl, Jason Latour, Marcos Martin, Todd McFarlane, Sean Murphy, Steve Skroce and Chip Zdarsky.

Each of these pieces is accompanied by an introduction by Brian, then a Q&A in the same spirit as the periodical’s annual readership survey, while the extras themselves are introduced by a page of musings and an illustration by Pia Guerra which reminds me to warn you that there is in each volume One Of Those Moments which will leave you exceptionally relieved that you never leant this book to your grandma or grandpa. One of those here involves a dragon in an act which you will never, ever forget.

SLH

Buy Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Simply Samuel h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi…

A few years ago there was a wordless Nobrow work I absolutely loved called ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN by Jose Domingo. It was utterly surreal, brilliantly bonkers and totally hilarious featuring the horrifically relentless worst day ever in the life of the titular protagonist. This is definitely the closest anything has come to that since, with its weird, trippy sequences featuring the main character. Also, artistically, it has a number of similarities to that work too.

It also visually very strongly reminded me of Marc Bell’s SHRIMPY AND PAUL, plus I could see, believe it or not, elements of Chris Ware in there with some of the crazy little design elements that are thrown in and Tommi’s frequent use of straight lines and perfectly formed half circles. Also, at times, believe me, this is as odd as Jim FRAN Woodring, in fact even Hans FOLLY Rickheit.

 

I shouldn’t have been totally surprised, given this came from the crazed mind that produced THE BOOK OF HOPE. But whereas that is a strangely soothing and whimsically philosophical musing on the passage of time as seen through the lens of the autumn years of a perennial underachiever, this is just an all-out assault on one’s sanity with a number of reality distorting and flipping devices deployed at regular intervals throughout. He’s clearly a very versatile writer, our Tommi.

 

I finished this absolutely none the wiser as to what the hell it was all about, but I did feel like I had certainly had an extremely interesting and enjoyable experience.

JR

Buy Simply Samuel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #3 (£4-99) by Io Black & Crylocliare…

“The, um, the idea, Miss H…, uh, Ma’am, was to make the software more approachable to the American public. Using some of today’s most beloved young sitcom stars, we created a pitch, that’s a little more, uh, light-hearted, more funny…”
“Funny? FUNNY? Bleeding Christ almighty, we had more laugh lines at my second husband’s funeral. What else have you got?”
“Um.”
“Let’s cut to the chase. When we bailed your operation out two years ago, you said you were making VR bigger than big. Building a virtual future, with virtual gaming, virtual vacations, virtual concerts, virtual fucking. Something for everybody. So we kept our hands off, even after you blew three release dates and every last cent of your development budget twice over. Didn’t even blink when you paid some washed-up New Wave act a quarter million for a piddling three-second start up noise…”
“…Error noise, Ma’am. Specifically for when the user…”
“The point is that we’ve put a lot of time, money and patience into this little project of yours. Now we’re in the show me phase and all you’ve shown me so far is this.”
“All due respect, Ma’am, but Dreamspace ’95 is the best VR creation tool on the market today. The problem is not with the software.”
“Of course it isn’t! That’s why you chucklefucks are being outsold by ‘Freddie Ferret’s Fun With Fractions!’ at every retailer on the East Coast.”
“Maybe if our Director Of Sales would…”
“I’m done talking. Get this fixed or start blowing the cobwebs off your resumes. It’s that simple.”

Haha, I do like a good tirade. I did initially mis-read the last part and think the choice insult in question was chuckleferrets, which only tickled me further. This mirth-moist third instalment of DRUGS & WIRES only serves to further deepen the mystery regarding precisely who is trying to wipe out the fringe headwear community, and indeed now messing around with VR providers. There’s a curious game afoot, and neither I, nor those at the pointy end of the virtual probings, have a clue about what’s really going on.

This title, neatly blending speculative fiction and relentless humour fits perfectly into the sci-farce sub-genre. I have no idea if that’s a genuine term, mind you, but if not, it should be! Anyone who has ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would appreciate the digital daftness of this mash up of cyberpunk and clown school. Main character Dan is such a hapless car crash of an individual he fits perfectly into that Arthur Dent–esque idiot on the loose role.

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #3 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Jim Cheung, Giuseppe Camuncoli, R.B. Silva, Javier Garron…

“Great! So Doc Ock’s back now?! Perfect! I guess Jackal’s just cloning everybody, is that it?! Couldn’t he clone somebody cool, like, I dunno, Prince? No! Let’s go for Tubby McPsycho here!”
“Your taunts ring hollow, Spider-Man. I know you well enough to see that, in your heart, you know the truth. I am no mere clone, simulacrum, or hologram. It is I, the one true Otto Octavius. The man who cheated death itself!”

Errr… I think Peter got the ‘back-from-the-death’ badge (along with half the Marvel Universe, mind you) long before you, Otto. But still, it is good to see Tubby McPsycho back in all his monologuing, ranting glory. Though he’ll be working on that physique with a most extreme weight-loss plan before the end of this latest Spider-epic…

Ah, it feels good to finally enjoy the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man again. The first three volumes of the current ‘millionaire playboy’ so-called ‘Worldwide’ run have been spectacularly average so it’s really nice to see Slott back on better form.

 

Casting my mind back over Slott’s now extremely lengthy run, the thought does occur that the highlights have definitely been the events: SPIDER ISLAND, SPIDER-VERSE and now this. I did also enjoy the entirety of the SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN run when Otto was on the loose in Peter’s body, which again, was something a bit different. It has to be hard to keep writing the same title and character for so long, and inevitably there will be downs as well as ups in the quality, I suppose. Long-term Slott collaborator Christos Gage also provides the bulk of the excellent pencils throughout.

Anyway, here Peter is pretty much correct: the Jackal is indeed cloning and thus resurrecting everyone who has ever died with the likes of Captain Stacey and Gwen Stacey returning from the great beyond. For long time Spider-fans, the reappearance of that particular duo will provide a little tug on the old heartstrings. Then there’s a plethora of villains, such as the Rose, the Rhino, Mysterio, various Goblins, Enforcers, the Stiltman, Miles Warren… hold on a minute, Miles Warren was the Jackal… So if it’s not him behind the Jackal mask, who is it?

It all makes perfect sense, as much as anything can in the Marvel Universe when you get the big reveal, but when this new Jackal offers Peter a Faustian pact to bring back [REDACTED] by twirling the test tubes with all the power and none of the responsibility… it’s a reincarnation too far for Peter and tips him over the edge. Then the punching starts, obviously! At the end, when the disintegrated clone dust has settled, it’s who’s left standing, in what condition, in whose body… that’s as fascinating as anything and will hopefully set up a few more decent storylines over the next couple of years.

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Crickets #6 (£6-99, American Comics) by Sammy Harkham

Elves vol 1 (£10-99, Insight Editions) by Jean-Luc Istin & Kyko Duarte

Honor Girl (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash

The Last American (£15-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Mick McMahon

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercut) by Metaphrog

Magical Twins Deluxe h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess

Rise Of Black The Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Three: Psychopomp h/c (£15-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Simon Davis

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & J. G. Jones

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse

Valerian: The Complete Collection vol 1 h/c (£24-99, Cinebook) by Pierre Christian & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Wonder Woman vol 2: Year One s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Champions vol 1: Change The World s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame

News!

ITEM! PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

ITEM! The Inking Woman Exhbition at The Cartoon Museum until 23rd July 2017

Wish I’d been there on opening night!

ITEM! Did you enjoy Gareth Brookes’ A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES?

Ink #8 is out with an article by Gareth Brookes on “Expressing perceived reality through the language of comics”

You can follow INK on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week four

April 26th, 2017

Comics from Simon Spurrier & Jonas Goonface plus Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow as well as graphic novels from the likes of Lynda Barry! I know she’s not British, but she should so be made a Dame!

One! Hundred! Demons! h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.

“I didn’t mention the fact that the acid was two years old and had spent two winters wrapped in tin foil behind a brick in a garage, abandoned during my Jesus-freak period which was at least six personalities ago.”

Haha! Dear, dear Lynda Barry! That her drug-taking days were already pretty much over aged fourteen tells you everything you need to know about her precociously experimental nature which remains to this day in full throttle. That she is willing and able to turn self-denigration into a pithy, comedic side-salad tells you everything about her open and honest generosity of spirit, especially when the reasons behind such early instability were far from funny. She alludes to it earlier with an equally adept turn of phrase:

“When your inner life is a place you have to stay out of, having an identity is impossible. Remembering not to remember fractures you.”

If her more recent WHAT IT IS, PICTURE THIS and SYLLABUS: NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL PROFESSOR are all about catalysing creativity (you won’t find anything more inspirational on our shelves) then this earlier autobiographical work from 2002, finally reprinted, was all about jogging memory, which she highly recommends with specific instructions in the back for this Asian-style artistic experiment.

Those titular demons aren’t always awful, but they are all the moments which haunt you, stay with you, and had such a profound effect on you that they shaped you.

Smell, for example, is as potent as music in being able to thrust you back through time in an instant, and in ‘Common Scents’ Barry concentrates on the singular smells of specific houses in her neighbourhood. Of course, the one house you can’t smell in childhood is your own: it’s the one you grew up in so it forms your own personal baseline of normality and Barry’s was full of aftershave, perfume, dog, hair spray, fried garlic and onions and 9,000 cigarettes.

I adore Lynda’s grandmother, a cigarette and lighter poised ready on almost every page, and her language and lilt carried over from the Philippines which I won’t attempt to transcribe for fear of fluffing the capital letters etc.

Lynda’s mother, on the other hand, I adore not one jot. Her cigarettes are constantly clenched between gritted teeth as she castigates the creativity out of her daughter time and time again.

“Nako! My stationary! Idiot! What are you doing?”
“Making a picture for my teacher.”
“Estupido! You’re wasting it!”

Thank goodness for her school teacher, Mrs. Lesene, who cultivated it instead. That’s another of those things – one the happier instances – that can stick in your mind: the salvation of the right teacher at exactly the right time who can turn your whole life around for years to come.

Instead her mother addresses her like a dog, and Barry does make the connection with the way she initially handled her dog as an adult and child.

“The dog I had when I was a kid was a shelter dog too. I don’t think I would have made it through those years without him. I wish I could say I was always as loving to him as he was to me. I regret so many things.”

Art shown is from earlier format. Please click to enlarge.

That’s ever so sad, as are the pages on which she attempts to fathom the differences between her grandmother and her mother who “didn’t seem to like me much [emphasis on ‘like’, mine], but she meant more to me than anyone.” Instead “Mom used to scream that she couldn’t wait until I had children so I would know what Hell was like.”

“You wait! You’ll see! You’ll be sorry you ever had kids! Children are a punishment!”

So that’s going to be a fairly formative experience.

What else is on offer here? Head lice and her worst boyfriend. Dancing when young without a care in the world! The paralysis if ever you suspect you’re not any good (see WHAT IT IS for Barry’s 30-year paralysis when it came to her own art).  Childhood games in the street: the hierarchies and disputes but also the sheer fun! Losing your earliest comfort blanket or toy by leaving it behind accidentally!

Dropping your best friend on purpose:

“She was an extremely kind and funny person. We were always together. She was two years younger than me but it never mattered until I turned 13.
“Once I turned 13 and started junior high and realized how weird and lame I really was, there was no way I could have an 11-year-old best friend.
“I never talked to Ev about it. I never explained what was going on. I just avoided her and hoped she would forget about me. I did this 31 years ago but my stomach still knots up when I think about it.”

It’s a very personal book, its intimacy with its audience enhanced by the strikingly large size of the script on top of each panel compared with the dialogue below. I don’t know how this works exactly, but I imagined it smaller and something was lost: it felt more mundane, more perfunctory, more like I was being told a story and less like it was being shared with me.

Apart from the grandmother whose every appearance I relished, my other favourite sequences of exquisite cartooning were Lynda’s gawky and gangly self-portraits, all teeth and frankly weird red hair, and the dancing! During dancing the forms undulate rhythmically and you get a real sense of the physical pleasure involved. As to Lynda demonstrating the hula with her knees bent, her hips thrust up and out “like a crazy heifer, as well as one shoulder with her arms thrown to the other side, it is a scream.

Each chapter of this new edition (some of the art here will be from the old edition) is introduced with a double-page landscape, “Today’s Demon(s):” framed to the right, with its inspirations or catalysts to the left, and sometimes commentary or apposite illustrations, which could come in any form from hand-crocheted dolls’ dresses and flowery, frilly and lacey things for ‘Girliness’ to a hand-made cuddly toy inscribed with ‘Where are you?” for the ‘Magic Lanterns’ of lost toys and other treasured items. There’s a particularly poignant photograph of Lynda and Ev when once together.

 

It’s all so fluent, Barry’s ability to turn a phrase or reverse a perspective with insight or hindsight remarkable throughout.

From ‘Lost Worlds’ about those childhood street sports during which young Lynda would break off to wave at aeroplanes as if the pilot and passengers could see her so far below:

“This was long before I grew up and found out you can’t see very much from an airplane window. Big things, yes, but the little things are lost.”

The panel shows a mournful, adult Lynda Barry, very much alone and looking out of the tiny passenger portal at night. We then flip back to her young hyperactive self surrounded by all her friends, caught up in the energy and excitement of game.

“The city is there and so are the streets, but at a certain distance people disappear. Whole neighbourhoods of children just vanish.”

It happens at a distance; it happens over time.

But, with a little applied meditation, it can all come flooding back.

SLH

Buy One! Hundred! Demons! h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Godshaper #1 (£3-25, BOOM Studios) by Simon Spurrier & Jonas Goonface.

One of the things I love most about Simon Spurrier’s creator-owned work is that on top of all the lateral thinking that he pours into its premise, he doesn’t let it lie there: there’s also the language which is far from flippant but instead – like Rob Davis’ THE MOTHERLESS OVEN and THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER – comes with carefully thought-out connotations.

Here Jonas Goonface too goes that extra mile with lithe illustrations reflecting physical prowess and creative endeavour, leaving you much to infer from what they silently depict down the bar (none of which is clumsily and unnecessarily sign-posted by Spurrier) while adding, here and there, subtly highlighted details like this visual rebuttal to an idiot all too fond of the sound of his own ignorant voice:

“Man’s gotta be a martyr to fashion these days, wants to get anywhere.
“Sometimes I wonder if you poor schmoos got it easier, huh? No god, no money, no style
“You know the first thing about fashion, Shaper?”

The staid, self-regarding, disregarding, pot-bellied, barrage-balloon of a man has failed to do more than glance at the man – from behind – who is currently restyling his god with some considerable artistic skill and who is the very epitome of understated dapper in gloves, rolled sleeves, braces over a well-starched shirt, a quiff fashioned topiary-like from dense hair above chic, shaved sides and – to the fore so that the reader’s eye cannot miss it on the bottom of the left-hand panel – a single and small diamond ear stud.

Now that is attention to detail.

God is in the detail and the detail has most certainly been injected into this title’s gods.

This is a world in which everyone has a god of their own, and every god has a person.

It just so happens that they treat their gods like employees or slaves, and their gods are the equivalent of personal bank accounts and/or role-playing console game characters, both of which we love to upgrade as much and as often as we can.

All transactions are conducted via these gods: the series’ sole currency lies in these powerful upgrades. What do we worship more than money and power? They’re basically the same thing, right?

There are, however, some singular individuals born without gods.

They are regarded as “nogodies”.

In this society – as in ours – they are treated as outcasts: the poor. For without a god they can neither acquire nor accrue money. They can never own a home for they have no money (and certainly no access to a mortgage without that bank account), so they are itinerants forever shunned but desperately needed for labour – for their unique ability to refashion everyone else’s gods. They are called Shapers.

We’ve only seen one Shaper so far, called Ennay. He’s black, and the way he’s treated by our first customer – told to exit via the back door lest he be seen, for example – says it all.

He is, however, a bit of a hit on the cantik scene, which is akin to rockabilly and played unplugged, without a god.

“No holy harmonies here. No superpower pop. No gods as guitars. We don’t get aaawwwwf on that godly groove.
“We got a new manifesto. We’re here to repair the square.
“What we play, we play with our mouths and our hands and our hearts.
“This is cantik.
“It cannot be stopped.”

Ennay throws himself into the music and the colours and the crowd go wild.

“Underground, unrefined, unlegal.
“A movement, a manner, a counter-culture crime.
“One seriously unholy racket.”

After which the spotlights go down, leaving a fluid double-page spread bathed in blue and purple neon as Ennay works the floor between tables, taking his credit and receiving his dues. He’s definitely an equal opportunities kind of a guy.

It’s a spectacular piece of fluid figure work and colouring, tracing Ennay’s movements and his admirers in a serpentine path of purple and pink between the rest of the onlookers in indigo, while their cartoon-animal, ghostly gods are lit in bright blue, their outlines an ethereal white.

Which brings us to Ennay’s second secret: he does have a god called Buddy. It’s just not his.

“Weird. Can’t see its believer.”

Gods aren’t supposed to exist without believers. Without believers they’re supposed to fade away (see SANDMAN / AMERICAN GODS). So what on earth is up with Buddy?

Once the subplot involving war and “riff-raff rations” kicks in, the relationship between gods and their owners is explored a little further and grows far darker than you’ll be anticipating, but I’ll have to leave that for the collected edition’s review. Let’s just say that we all know the pain when our bank account’s drained but what if our bank account was a sentient god / ghost / animal?

SLH

Buy Godshaper #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Tula Lotay.

“BRIGGS! You got a visitor. Fifteen minutes, Jim.”
“So what the fuck happened to yesterday?”
“I got busy.”
“I needed you here yesterday. We have a schedule for a reason, Grace. It’s like this: you come visit me and I give you orders. Now, if that’s suddenly becoming difficult for you to understand, well…  forgive me if I’m not sympathetic to you and your frivolous life. What the fuck do you do all day, anyway?”
“Jim, please…”
“Shut up. I run this family. Me, not you. I know it. You know it. Our boys know it. And everyone else we know knows it. And if you are ever late coming here again…”
“STOP IT! This is the last time I’m coming here. I’m telling you this face to face as a courtesy. We’re over. I’m taking over control of the family.”
“Yeah, right. Over my dead body you are. What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“I know about your negotiations with the Albany County D.A.’s office. How’s that for starters? I put a thousand dollars in your commissary account. Consider it severance pay. I suggest you make it last. Don’t underestimate me on this. I’m no sellout. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to protect our land and our history. I’ve been a Briggs since I was seventeen years old. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

And that, as they say, is where we come in. It’ll not surprise you to learn that incarcerated antigovernment secessionist and local white power hoodlum Jim Briggs is not best impressed with his wife Grace’s attempt at a de facto coup. Quite how their three sons, all very different characters, each with their own agendas and differing degrees of filial piety (plus the rest of the rank and file shock troops running protection rackets and goodness knows what else throughout the county) will react, remains to be seen.

It’s an absolute certainty Jim isn’t going to just sit back in his prison cell and take it, though, that is for sure. But being stuck inside serving a full life term for an assassination attempt on the President of the United States might make his control on the clan more than a little shaky, especially given Grace’s inside knowledge of his recent attempts to cut a deal with the authorities, potentially for lucrative fracking and real estate rights to their hundred square miles of rural wilderness. And presumably some reduction of Jim’s sentence…

Sell out indeed, or perhaps buy out might be more appropriate depending on your point of view. If it’s one facing certain death behind bars gradually decaying in a tiny cell, well, it can give even a hardcore anti-establishment man a different perspective on the benefits of the grand old political system and the peoples’ representatives’ fondness for a spot of chicanery.

Brian MASSIVE / DEMO / DMZ / LOCAL / STARVE / NORTHLANDERS / BLACK ROAD / NEW YORK FOUR Wood (he’s written a lot of great comics!!)  has come up with another belter of a premise for us here, fleshing out the rest of the opening pages by giving us the lowdown on Mama Briggs and her brood, as seen through the eyes of the pair of romantically involved FBI agents on undercover surveillance duties, who are just as intrigued as everyone else by the power grab and how raucously it’ll play out.

We don’t have long to wait on that score as Wood fires off the first round of gunfire and high explosives that I’m sure will become an ever-present  punctuation on this title. As far as warning shots go, it’s a pretty full-on scorcher right through the bows, never mind across them, incendiary one for Grace, but given she was expecting it, she doesn’t seem the slightest bit phased. I dare say she’d almost have felt disrespected if it hadn’t been forthcoming… The question now, is precisely how does she respond?

I wasn’t aware of artist Mick Chater before, but it’s damn fine minimal artwork, I have to say, very similar to Butch ARCHANGEL Guice. This is certainly going to appeal massively to fans of SOUTHERN BASTARDS and SCALPED, plus the Justified and Sons Of Anarchy television shows. In fact, Briggs Land is apparently already in development for an AMC TV show, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

JR

Buy Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign #1 (£3-25, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow.

“You got Dick Jeezuz on all Christian, all American, all white, alright Radio K.R.O.S.S. – what’s your question, brother?”
“Dick Jeezus… big believer. Listen to you every day. What kinda gun do you think Jesus carries?”
“Well, bless you, son. To answer your question, the Son of God don’t carry no gun. He is a gun. Next caller!”

I think it’s fair to say that Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow is not a big fan of organised religion incorporated.

Nor of so many modern priorities and propensities such as driving while using a mobile phone which, I would remind you, is illegal in this country.

His books are full of such careless cretins and this is no exception: an endless convoy of cars and commercial lorries hogging the desert highway, either oblivious to our battered and blood-soaked hero or throwing cigarette butts at him as they speed noisily by, ejecting a seemingly limitless stream of expletives (at their children) as well as beer cans and fast-food trash.

You don’t have to have read anything previously, but FYI this picks up almost immediately after SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET during which Darrow nimbly and fluidly fashioned variation after variation of meat-cleaving mutilation in what I can only describe as the ultimate chainsaw massacre before the juice runs dry and our Cowboy quick-foots it across his quarry instead, deftly dispatching the beetle-bearing shamblers on the stepping-stone hoof.

It was utterly relentless and all the funnier for it. Think Jackie Chan played by a chubby but equally acrobatic Beat Takeshi.

This instalment has a bigger bite to it with satire splattered all over the background details including car number plates, car stickers, graffiti, advertising slogans, cigarette-smoking spiders, prosthetically ‘enhanced’ dogs, assorted other unhealthy animals and a great many guns. It’s not a nice neighbourhood, is what I’m trying to say.

Also, it is extraordinary what modern mobile phone apps you can now download.

The Shaolin Cowboy is much the worse for wear, but is doggedly pursued by vultures, a glowing green warden from Hell and those in service to King Crab (it is a crab) using their new I’m-Hung 7 cell phones to track him via satellite and drones.

Umm, read the SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET review, probably.

SLH

Buy The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wild Animals Of The South h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun.

South-bound sequel to WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH: you could tell that those animals were all from the North because it tended to be snowing, ice featured fairly prominently in their habitat, and several were to be found walking whippets.

Here the animals are 80% wealthier and 90% healthier, far less likely to visit the NHS Drop-in Centre, in no small part thanks to having a proper doctor’s surgery in every suburb. Generally there’s also a great deal more sunshine, although be warned that you can stray too far south and so finish back oop North (see Eastbourne / Antarctica).

Absolute class through and through, this deliriously seductive all-ages art book has bugger all to do with comics but I am so far past caring because beauty.Recommended to fans of Brrémaud & Bertolucci’s LOVE: TIGER and LOVE: FOX etc, the paper stock is thick and matt and the hardcover itself roams free from the fetters of any unsightly insta-rip dust jacket, thus making it ideal for school libraries.

 

As a kid I own that my idea of nature-book heaven would have been one illustrated by KINGDOM COME‘s Alex Ross, but as a big kid now this more stylised approach with elements of Jonathan Edwards lights my fire far, far more. The forms are bigger and bolder for their blocked-out beauty and I strongly suspect that any family acquiring this educational excellence will discover their young ones equipping themselves with paper, pencil and paint in no time in order to emulate its awe.

Featured creatures come with a paragraph which is far from predictable, eschewing cold stats in favour of something more akin to storytelling, bringing each animal’s individuality alive. We did the snow leopard last time, so here’s its warmer cousin:

“Leopards are great climbers. They withdraw with their prey – which can weigh up to twice as much as they do – high up into the trees to be safe from enemies like lions and hyenas.”

I hate climbing trees – vertigo, general lack of bravery etc. – so it’d probably be safe from me too.

“This solitary creature doesn’t even enjoy the company of its own kin. When it crosses paths with other leopards there is often a display of threatening behaviour that can lead to bloody fights.”

Please insert your own personally biased regional smear here. Also: that was my Mr. Bob-san all over. He once successfully took on a fox which took off pretty sharpish.

Admittedly Mr. Bob-san was a cheetah.

My point is that there’s not too much info and it’s all instantly memorable even if you have the attention span of a five-year-old that’s just washed down a dozen packets of Tang-Fastics with five fizzy litres of teeth-melting pop-u-like.

Did you know, for example, that hippopotamuses aren’t especially good swimmers even though we see them doing that all the time with Sir Richard Attenborough, whereas the African Elephant is a very strong swimmer? I’ve only ever seen them wading. Perhaps the canal at the bottom of my garden’s not deep enough.

The scientific name for a giraffe is giraffa camelopardalis and must always be typed in italic (I don’t know why). The second half “comes from the Greek words for ‘camel’ and ‘leopard’ because it looks like a mix between the two!” And it does a bit!

If you ignore the giraffe’s most significant feature.

Its neck only has seven vertebrae, by the way, just like ours. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

Anyway, this is all so ridiculously exotic and lush (and positively dazzling / electrified in the case of the Indian peafowl) with the emphasis on shape, although I could not imagine anything fluffier than the beard of the blue wildebeest here, and as to the intense-eyed, nocturnal jaguar I cannot imagine an animal tasting more like blackcurrant Spangles.

Perhaps I’ll take a photograph of that page for when I tweet this. I’m afraid I can’t find that image online.

SLH

Buy Wild Animals Of The South h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Empire #0 (£4-25, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna.

Written by the co-creator of THE FIX etc., this is far from stupid.

Steve Rogers is Captain America, a super-soldier created to help beat back the Nazis.

Since then he’s fought fascist organisations of every ilk including Hydra.

Blonde and blue-eyed, he’s basically the one individual you can rely on to stand up and be counted for what he believes is right, and what he believed during CIVIL WAR was that his own government could not be trusted to command superheroes as a military asset.

In the wake of CIVIL WAR II Steve Rogers was appointed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., a military organisation barely an arm’s length from that government.

Were a full State of Emergency to be declared by that government then, under the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act, Rogers would become supreme commander of all the U.S. military. As the most trusted man amongst the superhero community he already has their almost undivided attention, their allegiance at his command, and respect as the world’s greatest strategist.

During CIVIL WAR II FALLOUT he made a speech signalling that America and the world in general could not afford for superheroes to continue turning on each other as they have done relentlessly (see AVENGERS VS X-MEN etc). During CIVIL WAR II FALLOUT he also warned Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel that she had become increasingly fascistic and dictatorial, using an extreme form of profiling involving predications of the future then acting pre-emptively before any crime was actually committed during CIVIL WAR II and, moreover, that her obsession with a Planetary Defence Shield was dangerously counter-productive. She warned Steve that an unstoppable alien invasion force in the form of the Chitauri was on its way so the need for that Planetary Defence Shield was paramount.

Now: every one of those elements comes to pass, but I won’t be spelling it all out. You’ll just have to read those paragraphs again.

The Chitauri have arrived. Without the Planetary Defence Shield they will be unstoppable even by the likes of Carol Danvers up in space. And the Planetary Defence Shield is down.

Manhattan, home to 95% of the world’s superheroes, is assaulted by a hoard of supervillains incensed at their prior incarceration by S.H.I.E.L.D. in a covert, illegal, mind-wiping, body-altering experiment. So that’s where the super-powered ground troops are all focussed.

Hydra has invaded Sokovia, seizing launch codes for seven supposedly decommissioned nuclear warheads now aimed at Europe.

The U.S. government declares a full State of Emergency and Steve Rogers proves himself to indeed be the world’s greatest strategist, for he has lined all of his ducks up in a row.

The only slight snag is that the nature of those ducks for Steve Rogers is not just an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Blonde and blue-eyed, Steve Rogers is – and always has been – an agent of Hydra.

This is his game-plan come to fruition.

And Carol Danvers is going to rue which side she’s on… of that Planetary Defence Shield.

SLH

Buy Secret Empire #0 and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

The Filth s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston.

All thirteen issues in one value-for-money volume of full-colour mentalism.

This might be the story of cat-loving, porn-perusing, lonely old Greg Feely living in a flat with criminal ‘70s furnishing. Or it could be that of Ned Slade, for whom Greg is just a parapersonality when he’s not maintaining Status Q as the top operative in the extradimensional clean-up squad known as The Hand.

Regardless, this is THE FILTH, a book bulging with sex, sensory overloads, warped worlds, infectious ideas, fourth walls, monomania, Nazi dolphins, a full-mouthed Communist Chimp, an agent with an accent all but incomprehensible for those not reared in south-west Scotland, and some slightly bewildered policemen.

There was a two-page review in a COMICS JOURNAL published just before I originally which this review which I considered plagiarising to make myself look halfway intelligent (I never read other reviews before I write my own to avoid precisely this risk of contamination). Fortunately I didn’t understand it.

I can, however, promise you a far more focussed book than the INVISIBLES epic, and some astonishingly detailed, bulbous and sordid art from Mr. Chris Weston who constantly impresses with his ability to bring Grant’s mind-fucking concepts to life. He deserves an Eisner just for keeping up.

Lastly, if you honestly need an added incentive: giant, flying spermatozoa!

SLH

Buy The Filth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette.

“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”

“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.
“NO MORE!”

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.

On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.

No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.

Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.

You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”

It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.

Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.

So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals rooted in experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.

And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”

“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Paolo Bacilieri

Big Mushy Happy Lump (£9-99, Andersen) by Sarah Andersen

Drugs & Wires #3 (£4-99, self-published) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

Kid Savage (£13-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & Ilya

The Nameless City vol 2 (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks

Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£44-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Squarriors vol 1: Spring s/c (£16-99, Devil’s Due) by Ash Maczko & Ashley Witter

Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss

The Flash by Mark Waid vol 2 s/c (£31-99, DC) by Mark Waid, Gerard Jones & Greg Larocque, various

Green Lanterns vol 2: Phantom Lantern s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Sam Humphries & various

Justice League vol 2: Outbreak s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Neil Edwards, Jesus Merino, Matthew Clark, Tom Derenick

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Jim Cheung, Giuseppe Camuncoli, R.B. Silva, Javier Garron

Attack On Titan vol 21 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 15: North And South Part 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week three

April 19th, 2017

A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c (£17-99, Myraid) by Gareth Brookes.

“This really is unacceptable.
“They’ve barely gritted this road.”

Will wonders never cease? They won’t, not once, nor will Fred.

It’s the neighbour’s garden which gets his goat the most.

“Unbelievable.”
“It’s just intolerable.”
“Absolutely typical.”
“Totally outrageous.”

I’d be surprised if something wasn’t beyond the pale.

A very British book full of singularly English gripes and recognisably regional obsessions, Raymond Briggs devotees will find much to adore. For Gareth Brookes has resurrected that era in the form of an elderly suburban couple in an equally insular environment: the husband in the front-room and back garden; the wife in the front-room and kitchen.

Fred is set in his ways, forever moaning about anything modern or fancy while oblivious to the wonders of nature while Myriam is quietly experiencing wonders galore, spectacle after unexpected spectacle, spawning in the street, bursting from bookcases or sprouting from electricity pylons: tendrils of green, floral growth blooming with a multitude of pink-and-white, yellow-stamen flowers; rifle-bearing soldiers with Elizabethan ruffled collars, step-ladders rising upside down from their khaki helmets; a procession of small girls dancing in bright blue blouses and red motorcycle helmets, climbing up stairs to float through the ceiling.

It’s a far cry from custard, budgies and boiled eggs. Fred loves boiled eggs. After he’s eaten one, it amuses him no end to up-end its empty shell in the egg cup and pretend that he hasn’t even started it.  Oh, he never gets tired of that!

“Myriam, what on earth is this?”
“It’s curry.”
“Curry? Have you gone stark raving mad?”
“I thought it would be nice.”
“Nice? Myriam, we’ve never eaten curry. We don’t eat curry.”

Of course the proscriptive old duffer doesn’t eat curry, but I do love the dictatorial “we”.

On the other hand, Myriam didn’t think it would be nice; she merely picked up the wrong tin in the supermarket by mistake. Her eyesight is failing, you see: a big, blurred blotch at the centre of her sight. Can this and her wild, hallucinatory private life be connected?

Immediately striking is Gareth’s seemingly, almost wilfully perverse deployment of the bluntest of art instruments: that of wax crayon. But it’s a brave move which pays off, for it’s perfect for conveying imperfect, grainy vision, hallucinatory experiences and it adds to the sense of era. It’s a contemporary era, obviously, but Fred and Miriam live in their own, long gone by.

For Miriam’s nocturnal sorties, into the back garden with the aid of a torch, the spectral blue gutters between panels add an eerie, ethereal quality, apt for the proceedings when she is witness to her neighbour out in the unkempt garden which infuriates Fred so incessantly. There are an awful lot of small white crosses in the rough. And now that neighbour is digging another hole. Or, you know, Myriam’s imagining things.

I should mention that all faces are blank: again, it’s all part of Miriam’s inability to see properly or straight, and it’s as disquieting and unbalancing as having imperfect vision or an ear infection.

But Miriam’s true isolation will begin when her family begin to suspect she’s gone barmy and she’s ganged up on both by Fred and their daughter Claire, worried that her mother will have to go into a home. Not worried because “Poor Mum”, but because nursing homes are expensive so bang goes her inheritance.

Which is nice.

Coming back to the comedy before I really hit you where it hurts, Fred’s absent-minded sing-songs while clipping the hedge or mowing the lawn are hilarious. He never gets anything quite right: he even comes a cropper when dunking biscuits into tea (more Britishness for you there). Here he mis-croons to the Brotherhood of Man, another perfectly judged ‘period’ reference:

“Kissing for you, keep all my kissings for you,
“Ba ba baby, ba blah.
“I think I felt a drop of rain.”

He’s no longer the solicitous optimist he once was in his youth, dreaming of starting a vegetable garden and planting a cherry tree in order to treat Myriam to fresh cherries in bed. This reverie is catalysed by a box of photos, one of which shows the couple side by side in deckchairs out in the wide world, on a cliff top looking out over the sea and indeed their future life together.

It doesn’t last long.

“I think I felt a drop of rain.
“Oh well, nice day down the drain.”

Fred’s constant “down the drain” refrain is funny to begin with, but decreasingly so, for Brookes’ initially quaint and quirky tail comes with many a sharp edge to it. With real empathy and understanding Brookes evokes the bewilderment, frailty and potential helplessness of being lost or alone in old age, with prospects diminishing rapidly.

It reminds me of Paul Scott’s prose masterpiece ‘Staying On’ (which featured an elderly couple similarly at odds but trying to get by), never more so than in this halting moment, mid-book:

“I’m losing my mind…
“And now I’m losing my sight.
“Who will look after Fred?
“Who will look after me?”

Notice she worries about Fred first.

“Myriam, what are you doing? Come inside now, it’s getting dark.”

The late-evening shadows loom large on the lawn, Fred’s speech balloons capturing his wife in a pincher movement, while Myriam, isolated in her own tiny panel, is left staring into an unknowable future, surrounded by a chasm of black.

“I know.”

SLH

Buy A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos.

Well, this will bring a smile to your umm… oh.

Playful, refreshing and chock full of ideas, rarely has a graphic novel surprised and delighted me so consistently throughout.

Conversationally narrated by our faceless friend – and she is very much our friend – its lightness of touch belies the wealth of what it so deftly addresses, leaving you plenty of headspace to ruminate on your own.

“Let me start with the principal that I am perfect and have a perfect life.”

That’s always good place to start. Appreciate what you’ve got, etc.

“I mean, almost perfect.”

Ah.

“I think I’m quite a normal girl: I like having beers with friends, dancing, you know, but also chilling out at home with a good glass of wine… Exactly like any other girl would describe herself on ‘Getaroom’.”

It’s just that she doesn’t have a face.

She’s not ostracised or anything, although dogs don’t react well and kids, “They don’t have a sensible middle ground, you know?” They’ll either stare and stare or immediately burst into tears. Some babies really do not like beards. Or baldness. Or, evidently, facelessness.

No, Face, as we shall call her (because that’s what her friends do) just hasn’t had much luck with the ladies. She’s feeling a bit lonely, so a friend suggests a thoroughly modern way to meet her match: on a dating app. And that’s where her troubles begin. They just won’t be the troubles you’ll expect.

Wherever you think this will go, it will go somewhere else, so I’m going to keep my summary succinct by leaving it almost there. Almost there, because one of the key elements of dating apps is the mandatory profile picture, and that’s Face seemingly screwed at the very first hurdle. She doesn’t have a profile. She literally does not have a profile – it’s a smooth curve – so she decides to buy some make-up. She’s going to have to really concentrate on the contouring…

Everything about this is inventive: even the lettering won’t conform to the norm. There will even be a startling but ever so clever, universally recognisable Batman reference. Universally recognisable: a bit key, that.

Conforming to the norm is partly what this is about in so many ways, whether it’s society’s expectations, one’s looks, one’s search for a romantic partner or one’s dynamic within a relationship.

There’s so much to consider here from identity and self-perception to symbiosis, gravitation and assimilation. There will be a certain degree of alignment, as is so often the case, but – I cannot repeat this enough – in far from predictable ways! There are also the rules of attraction to consider. Read this again after the graphic novel: oh yes, you’ll see!

Self-castigation will rear its ever so common head; the way we can end up making constant comparisons with the lives of others: their careers, relationships, creative successes, beauty, athleticism, entertainment value and gardening expertise.

We left Face beginning to explore the all-important issue of make-up, didn’t we? Some people firmly and even fervently believe that make-up is superficial, artificial, that in short it’s a sin. Its cost certainly can be.

“I had a look at the pictures of my female contacts on the social network and wow… I was shocked to find out that 75% were using makeup in every single picture, even in ones at the swimming pool at the gym or in bed!!”

But to some of those of us less gifted genetically in the facial department, it’s a playing-field leveller. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t use a little artistry to give myself a leg-up – and get my leg over, to be honest. You bet I wore it in bed! Will our Face do the same? Dilemma!

Told largely in black, white and tone but with some thrilling splashes of colour, on top of all the lateral thinking it’s the timing that impressed me the most with some excellent comedy beats, for example, after the turn of a page.

“I carried on with my life.
“I decided to stop messing around and have a break from the hideous mission of finding a partner. It was about time.
“Furthermore, it couldn’t be that difficult to be on my own and enjoy things like I used to before, right. My job, reading, going to the cinema, you know.”

Good on you, girl! Being single isn’t the end of the world. You don’t need to be in a relationship to feel validated. Enjoy your free rein and reign!

“Just to clarify: I got depressed.”

SLH

Buy Face and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Yet another immediately arresting cover: your eyes cannot help but meet Mara’s as she looks on from an angle at everyone around her, at everything happening around her, in her absence.

With her friends partnering up, she’s been left behind, posting alone on Livejournal, comments: 0.

Livejournal was a thing back then – an unfathomable thing, to be sure, living your whole life online in public – as was MySpace. Campbell captures the naive illusion of privacy to perfection there as well as implying its potential pitfalls should word get around, just as she does the intimacy of Cleo’s genuinely private, hand-doodled diary entries. It’s psychologically spot-on: the questioning, the doubts and self-doubts, and the way in which, in a letter to yourself, you can meanderingly think your worries through on the page in the hope of a better future, or as a means of self-justification.

It’s all so completely credible that this series’ comparatively low profile is a crime.

A much thicker book than previously, this third volume of ruminative WET MOON – featuring often strained friendships between young and so understandably insecure, individualistic punky girls experimenting with their hair, faces, bodies and each other in a southern college campus – grows kinder in places, in others even more ominous with a missing cat, stalking and daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence.

Also, one terrible, totally unexpected betrayal that will have you screaming: “Noooooooo!”

This time round I re-write that with hindsight (especially the “daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence”) for the original editions of WET MOON have already reached volume six and if you think you can wait another three or four months for the next re-issue after this, well, I admire your seemingly limitless self-control. If you can’t (and you can’t) then we have the equally delicious earlier editions of volumes 4, 5 and 6 still in stock. Only the covers are different.

So yes, Trilby, with her Tank Girl quiff, certainly grows kinder during the course of this volume, although to begin with she’s in familiarly unfaithful form, dissing her best friend Cleo to her new boyfriend Martin as a far from ideal best friend, thereby proving herself to be a far from ideal best friend.

But then the now-adorable Cleo – who wouldn’t just not hurt a fly, she would pamper it – wasn’t always such a considerate soul during High School. There’s a flashback followed by further recollections and self-recriminations which makes that abundantly clear. But then I did type “psychologically spot-on”: some of us were monsters when young.

Amongst other truths of youth: bonding over bands and tattoos, embarrassment over enthusiasms you sequester even from your friends; the sharing of secrets, the betrayal of secrets; and not quite knowing if you’re going out with someone or not. Hoping desperately that you are, but not wanting to fuck things up with presumption or the first move, this is tentative to a T:

“So… um, am I really your girl?”
“What?”
“Like… You said… You said I was your girl.”
“I did? When?”
“When… Um, when I met your band…? You said, like… you introduced me as your girl…?”
“Oh… yeah. I dunno…”
“Well, I…”
“You wanna be?”
“What…?”
“Do you wanna be my girl?”

You’ll have to wait for the turn of a page.

“Oh… Um, I… I dunno… maybe… yes?”
“Good enough for me. Heh.”

The ecstasy and adoration in Cleo Lovedrop’s bright eyes!

And that’s another reason why I consider it a crime that the profile of WET MOON isn’t bigger. Long before THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, SAGA et al, Campbell’s WET MOON was all-inclusive. Sexuality, the diversity of skin colour and body forms… it’s all here without either judgement, proselytising or indeed any indication that those were anything but the norm, thereby evaporating the very idea of the norm.

Here Campbell’s art evolves once more. Trilby’s collar bones are so skinny that you can pinch them and physically feel them between your fingers, and the freckles right down her back are sublime.

Campbell experiments in flashback by leaving out certain tones, delivering more delicate lines throughout in spite of extreme tendonitis, and giving Cleo absolutely enormous, smitten eyes like pools of liquid love.

There’s a scene in which Cleo and Audrey finally confide in each other in bed, in the dark, late at night. Instead of Cleo’s eyes bouncing with reflected light which isn’t there, they are instead great big orbs of open, trusting grey.

Exceptional!

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are corrupt police officers.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are hilariously inept.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in debt to the wrong guy.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in way over their heads.

Previously in THE FIX VOL 1… Look, it’s an extensive review and you’d be far better served reading that.

I’ll just reiterate that Spencer and Lieber present you with a series of expectations – not least of which is that no one could be more inappropriate than Mac and Roy – then confound them, royally, at every comedic corner over and over again.

It’s actually everyone’s blithe, deadpan openness and honesty about their awfulness that’s funniest.

Off camera Los Angeles’ Mayor Kincaid could not be less statesmanlike. Even on camera he’s being outrageous behind the podium. Learn which celebrity items of interest sell best on e-bay, especially if they’re dead! Then wish you hadn’t. Discover how cookery-mad local crime lord Josh achieves his centre during yoga. Hey, everyone had a different equilibrium, right?

Police partners Roy and Mac have been separated by this point: Roy’s dealing with the death of the celebutard he was hired to bodyguard; Mac’s been assigned to airport customs duty and a drug-sniffing beagle called Pretzels but charged by Josh with letting certain traffickers through.

 

Unfortunately Pretzels is less inept and more devoted to his job than Mac.

“Uh, Detective Brundo, it’s Anne…
“We got a young male, acting suspicious and Middle Eastern in the customs line.”

SLH

Buy The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50) by Paul Rainey…

“I bet I would look well suspicious with all these new clothes if Soap Division hadn’t set up that fake part-time job in a supermarket for me.”
“Sally, I need to talk to you.”
“I’m sorry… do I know you…?”
“I know you. I need you to liaise with Soap Division for me urgently.”
“Thing is, I have to be back for my tea by five or I’ll be in trouble for being late.”

“Okay… meet me in the cafe by the lake tomorrow morning at eleven… or your parents will learn all about how it really is that their daughter can afford to pay for all that shopping.”

Perhaps you have always secretly believed that soap opera characters were real…? Okay, you probably haven’t, but then that means this unlikeliest of premises will plough a fictional furrow less err… ploughed. Then firmly trampled all over.

Yes, Paul Rainey returns with another peculiarly British farcical romp following on from his superb time-twisting nerd-nonsense THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT and his wickedly satirical skewering strips in his POPE FRANCIS GOES TO THE DENTIST and TALES TO DIMINISH. Actually, this very much feels an extended version of one of his crackpot strips, which is great because they usually leave me wanting more!

Soap Division is the covert organisation that records the ‘real’ lives of all the myriad TV characters for your guilty viewing pleasure. In addition, they fulfil the vital role of ensuring the soap worlds are never sullied by the unsuspecting viewers themselves. Obviously it’s a nigh on impossible task, one that teenager Sally now finds herself utterly mired in as apprentice to the chief Soap Division security officer himself, the implausibly named Thunder Brother. It’s completely madness, clearly, but let’s face it, all soaps are totally insane condensed parodies of real life, so this neatly squares the lunacy factor and in doing so makes it infinitely more enjoyable than an episode of Emmerdale could ever be..!

JR

Buy Thunder Brother Special and read the Page 45 review here

 

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu…

“How many men are left on the face of this planet? A mere handful of what once was. Beasts who do nothing but butcher each other… Soon humanity will be too scarce to even propagate itself…”
“I think I can guess the next part…”
“Shut up…”

Adapted from a story by acclaimed French science fiction author, Éliane Taïeb, writing under one of her two pseudonyms (the other being Gilles Thomas), this dystopian road trip is a bloody tale of dogged determination, perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds and the unslakeable thirst for reviews… I mean revenge! Sorry, it all sounded like the weekly slog to get the Page 45 reviews written for a moment there…

As a young woman on the relatively idyllic isle of Porquerolles, Helene’s life is irrevocably shattered when marauding raiders slaughter her parents and kidnap her younger sister. From that moment on, her only concern is to find and rescue her sibling, whom she believes has been taken to the ruined city of Paris. As a woman travelling the overgrown, crumbling highways of France alone, there is horrific danger lurking everywhere. Eventually she finds some trustworthy travelling companions willing to accompany her on her odyssey for mysterious reasons of their own. As Paris looms on the horizon, the personal peril factor only escalates ever more dramatically for Helene. Ooh la la…

An enjoyable Humanoids speculative fiction romp that has enough post-apocalyptic elements of the likes of Mad Max to make it entertaining without remotely hitting the levels of storytelling sophistication of, say, LAZARUS. I thought the main characters were very well realised though and the reveal regarding the great catastrophe, apparently involving a motif common to many of Verlanger’s works, was a nice touch.

The art from Zhang Xiaoya may be familiar to fans of the CRUSADES, also published by Humanoids a few years ago. It’s a touch more rugged on the linework than some Humanoids’ art, but it aptly suits this particular story.

JR

Buy Savage Highway h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison, Mathieu Lauffray. & Mathieu Lauffray.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Possibly inspired by the extraordinary 1995 south-east Turkey Göebekli Tepe archaeological find of elaborately carved monuments erected around 9,500 BC which dwarf Stonehenge’s and predate them by some 7,000 years (and were built by hunter-gatherers – the stats are quite stunning), this visually impressive but unhinged graphic novel begins high up in the Himalayas in 2006 with Professor Jack Stanton of Miskatonic University and Professor Alexander Kandel discovering something they shouldn’t.

The Sanctuary is 2,600 high, carved from granite over 16,000 feet above sea level, “at an altitude where you can barely breathe without an oxygen mask”. Vast, demonic statues surround a sphere.

Professor Kandel’s desperate, dying words are a fervent wish the world never know!

Four months later and the surviving Professor Stanton has not only gone and written an entire book on it (typing with astonishing alacrity – even Methedrine has its limits) provocatively titled ‘Ante Genesem’, but is publicising it along with his exhibition on national television, claiming that this discovery could change life as we know it. Not our historical perspective, but the entire world.

And it does, in a way which I won’t give away, but everything quickly goes tits-up after an ocean liner crashes into Manhattan, mounting its shores to thrust its way through several sky scrapers. Fleeing by car, Jack goes splat through a bridge and into a primeval world of gigantic trees sporting skulls the size of two-storey buildings whose hollow eye sockets have been poked through with spears.

Some of this world’s denizens are deeply unpleasant. Also, Jack finds himself with a bleeding tattoo.

That’s not some sort of low-key British swear, it’s a glowing tattoo what bleeds.

A lot of Biblical splish-splosh (and one year) later and I think he’s back in Manhattan which has risen thousands of feet from the sea, only to find himself further pursued by a blood-red bat-demon and a floating airship filled with crusaders who consider him a prophet. Which, as I like to say (possibly overly often), is where we came in.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Now, there is a key element in the plot that allows for all kinds of fantastical doings, but what I don’t understand is how Jack – who is a professor – seeks to rationalise any of this palaver more than a couple of panels after the initial GTA Insane Jump from the Manhattan bridge into florageddon. Nor can I comprehend how he appears to have an unlimited supply of unbent cigarettes at his command and an unblemished A5 photo in his smaller-than-A5 back pocket.

Not only that, but from a Professor:

“The Sanctuary far surpassed, in both horror and scale, our most deeply-buried fears. It has been there for thousands of years. Perhaps millions, even.”

Thousands or millions – do make your mind up – that’s quite a leap in scale.

It’s a very long journey. It’s a very long book. I didn’t come close to finishing it.

Bored!

Weak narrative tension full of credibility-eroding gaffs which put me in mind of SIBERIA 56 about which I was even more lacerating. Because we have to be honest, you know, or you won’t trust us when we big-up what we love.

SLH

Buy The Book Of Chaos h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Tula Lotay

Ganges vol 6 (£6-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga

Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Gary Gianni

One Hundred Demons h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry

Revival vol 8: Stay Just A Little Bit Longer (£13-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

Simply Samuel h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi

The Filth s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston

The Hunt s/c (£13-99, Image) by Colin Lorimer

The Secret Of Black Rock h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton

Wild Animals Of The South h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun

Witchfinder vol 4: City Of The Dead (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Ben Stenbeck, Julian Totino Tedesco

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy h/c (Rebirth) (£22-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita

Batman vol 10: Epilogue s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes & Greg Capullo, various

Superman Action Comics vol 2: Welcome To The Planet s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Patrick Zircher, various

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Black Panther vol 3: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 4: #takebacktheshield s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paul Renaud, Angel Unzueta

Ghost Rider By Daniel Way: The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Richard Corben

Scarlet Witch vol 3: Final Hex s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & various

Assassination Classroom vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Fairy Tail vol 58 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tokyo Ghoul vol 12 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week two

April 12th, 2017

Collecting Sticks h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie.

First 50 copies come with the wittiest of free, signed bookplates designed by Joe Decie exclusively for Page 45!

Three things you should know about Joe Decie: he’s extremely decisive, fiercely practical, and always learns his lesson.

Glastonbury Festival 2003, 6:00am in the rain:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Cornwall 2012, 6:00am after a sleepless night of nocturnal, outdoor ablutions:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Back home in Hove, they’ve decided to go camping again.

This time it will be the entire Decie household – Joe, Steph and their young son, Sam – but they’re going to do it differently because not enough water has gone under the bridge for Steph. Too much of it went over the tarpaulin sheets. No, this time they are going to go “glamping”: glamorous camping sequestered in the woods, with real beds in a wooden shack with a wooden shed adjacent for those necessary nocturnal ablutions. It may or may not have a lock.

“Sounds expensive.”
“Oh it is… It costs more than a hotel.”
“Ah well maybe we should have a think.”
“I’ve booked it.”

Right, so it’s Steph who’s decisive.

 

Sam, meanwhile, has inherited his Dad’s DNA when it comes to preparation and practicality. Charged with packing his own town-bound suitcase for a stint in the countryside, top of the list is sticks. Lots of sticks. In the countryside, you will need sticks.

It’s time to come clean: Joe Decie is the most impractical man alive. You’ll discover this later when he’s building a fire, but they’ve got to get there first and you should see him navigating. Not for Joe, the dictatorial directions of an AA Route Planner. Oh, he’ll print it out, but when lost in its precision at a critical juncture, why not resort to the hard-science roll of D-20 die? It’s better than asking the locals: that would be publicly admitting private incompetence.

But never say Joe doesn’t come fully prepared with precisely the right equipment: he’s brought along graph paper and a very specific edition of a D&D rule book called ‘Lost In The Countryside’. They’ll be there by next Tuesday, latest.

 

Welcome to the uniquely mischievous, autobiographical world of Joe Decie, creator of previous Page 45 best-sellers POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and most recently DOGS DISCO which was packed so full of joyous sleights of hand that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. When I heralded that last one as “the return of the pint-sized prankster”, Joe immediately fired back to his followers on Twitter, “I’m really quite tall, you know”.

He’d fit comfortably into your pocket.

Verisimilitude is Joe Decie’s forte.

His pen and ink-wash passion is for portraits which are so instantly recognisable from panel to panel as such individual, living, breathing human beings that you are conned into what becomes a joyfully shared connivance that everything you see on the page actually occurs.

Normally I wouldn’t dream of pulling back the proverbial curtain like this, for so often what is seen cannot be unseen and what is learned cannot be unlearned. But Decie’s ever so wicked stream of seemingly limitless conjuring tricks is so seamless, so involving, that however many times I have been fooled before by the first three panels of a four-panel, confessional, family-orientated gag strip, I still accept every word of what he writes in the next one as absolute truth, because there is so much of it in there.

Who knew that Coney Island was so close to Kendal?

I promise, however, that you will still read this ridiculous, extended family dysfunction as straight-up fact, then smile in hilarious hindsight, so here is another thing: I’ve met Joe Decie on several occasions and it still all seems just as plausible. He is a buffoon, a mischievous imp with constantly twinkling eyes.  It doesn’t hurt, however, that he hits every single nail of behavioural observation on its universally recognisable head. From The Dance of the Wasp Attack to treating reality like it’s the virtual reality of a console game and the side effects of social media.

 

My closest comparison would be Eddie Campbell’s equally impractical ALEC. Make what you will of the fact that I’ve previously declared that particular book the greatest body of work in comics.

Just as when Eddie Campbell begins a family in ALEC, his kids start providing so much of the material, so attention-span-lacking Sam’s obsession with sticks and Star Wars and his wonderfully wonky worldview – jettisoned liberally and seemingly apropos nothing – are mined for maximum mirth.

“Do you believe in the olden days?” is a gem in its own right.

But the confident follow-up that “In the ‘80s they used spears” tells you everything you need to know about a youngster’s sense of scale. Anyway, it’s time for bed.

“Daddy doesn’t like Jango Fett but I do.”
“Sam, you need to start thinking about things other than Star Wars.”
“Hmm?”
“There’s more to life than Star Wars.”
“Yes. So tomorrow I will play Star Wars and make a blaster out of…”
“There are other things you can enjoy.”
“Elephants?”
“Yes, elephants.”

On the following page Steph brings a bottle of wine outside to Joe: “That boy. He’s a one.”

Joe: “I know. Jango Fett! Honestly.”

As a result of the discipline involved in previously producing so many one-page punchline comics – often preceded by multiple other winks and parenthetical asides – COLLECTING STICKS has more comedy beats than almost any other graphic novel in existence. I’m not even sure about the “almost” but John Allison’s work, much of which was similarly created for daily, on-line dissemination in page-sized bites, is probably the closest contender. In addition, this longer form allows Decie to vary the beats and reprise jokes throughout, and he’s littered this book with cumulative comedy like his penchant for cluttering up any and every spare space with foraged bits and bobs (the more broken the better) and his constant, incurable worrying:

“You should give it a try. Stop reading this for a bit, and have a go, have a worry.”

Four pages of lunch-orientated ‘live action’ later:

“Oh, how was your worrying? Did you manage to make a mountain out of a mole hill? Amazing, eh?”

This conversational commentary – either on his own funny foibles or directly engaging the reader – forms a secondary, parallel narrative dancing about outside of the panels, never once tripping over or intruding too far. It’s like a DVD extra, except that those audio commentaries eclipse the dialogue, interrupting your ability to hear what is said and so follow the thread, whereas here they are in complementary harmony in the wonderful world of comics.

Oh yes, it’s all part of the rich and intricate language unique to this medium of comics, and although others might garble their words or jabber on way too long, Joe Decie is effortlessly fluent.

Everything here is so well judged, from when to let a line linger on its own merits to the balance of light and dark on a twin set of pages. And they are all exquisitely beautiful pages which will compel you if not to go glamping then to at least seek out your nearest beach, stream or woodland in order to follow its trails and forage for vintage goods like discarded candy-bar wrappers which might make you a mint in the future on e-bay.

As my book of the year – yes, my book of the year – this is going to take some beating.

So I’d snap up those signed bookplates ASAP.

SLH

Buy Collecting Sticks Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton.

I love a good quest, and this is a most excellent quest involving Thor, Odin and Fenrir, the enormous, sable-coated wolf sired by the trickster god, Loki. It is ever so black and bad tempered!

Rich in the warmest of colours and with a superb sense of scale, HILDA fans are going to lap this up; ZELDA fans too because young Arthur is essentially an Icelandic Zelda, addicted to exploration and a certain degree of pilfering, forever adding artefacts to his arsenal of treasured possessions.

This includes the Hand of Time, an actual hand (a bit creepy!) which Arthur once discovered high up in an ancient tower, sat on an ancient stone column at the top of some ancient stone steps and bathed from behind in moonlight cascading though a window in the shape of a stopped clock. I imagine Arthur must have successfully interpreted this clue before whipping it away, for the Hand of Time has the power to freeze anyone who touches it – which is a neat piece of self-defence, when you think about it.

It’s probably best to use gloves.

Arthur’s also adept at making friends in high places, like the mighty red rooster Wind Weaver, nested towards the top of even more ancient, tall, craggy cliffs. Such was Arthur’s fortitude and determination that he managed to climb that nigh-vertical escarpment and return to Wind Weaver her missing egg, against all odds unbroken.

He also once rescued a cat from a tree.

Arthur is going to need to summon all his courage and command his quickest of wits, however, in this daring quest to restore fire to his otherwise frozen town after its gigantic brazier is knocked down and extinguished by Fenrir. I told you it had a bad temper.

To be honest, the townsfolk aren’t that much better, especially the adults. They scowled at Arthur and his adventures, his trophies and trinkets and the little goblin folk who followed him in rootin’, tootin’ celebration after he mediated an end to their war with the fairies. But, battered by Fenrir’s assault, the citizens are sure going to need our young Arthur now, for the only way to restore fire to the town’s brazier is to curry the favour of Thor, and the only way to curry Thor’s favour is to help him defeat the five-hundred-foot Fenrir.

For this meticulous Arthur will need three things: to capture a cat’s footfall, to snip off the roots of a mountain, and remember old lessons learned.

The Asgardians have tried to vanquish the beast by themselves, but Fenrir nearly squished Frejja, barely missed breaking Baldr between its teeth and successfully bit poor Tyr’s arm off. Can frail Arthur triumph where the mighty gods have failed?

In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.

Oh, you tut at the term “rules” but I didn’t write that they couldn’t be broken! What I mean is that a child will see through any gaps in narrative logic just as easily as an adult would, and might even be far less forgiving. They are ever so astute! This is a beauty, so casually foreshadowing whatever will follow so that its pay-off is perfect and caught me completely by surprise. But it’s all there! All of it!

The wit lies both in the background details, the denouement above, and in the keep-them-guessing intrigue which is scattered throughout. How can Arthur possibly capture a cat’s footfall? It’s insane! And a mountain doesn’t have any roots: that had me stumped.

As to the eye-candy, there are maps – yes, maps! – and so many pages which reward real inspection, from old-duffer Brownstone’s armchair introduction contrasted with his hours-later adieu (look at what’s happened to those bookshelves behind him in the intervening time!) to the mapped-out meandering’s of Arthur’s double-page sea-voyage. There tiny fingers will love to trace the serpentine path of our diminutive hero’s trials and tribulations past pirate ships and old beardy Neptune, through the coils of undulating sea monsters and battling a giant squid which is ever so intent on wrestling Arthur’s oars from him.

Then there’s beardy Brownstone’s initial, proud appearance inside his family vault of exotic heirlooms bathed in a spotlight. Young eyes are immediately invited to scan every shadow-strewn corner for curiosities: there are chests and chalices, a deep-sea diving suit, skulls and statues, a one-eyed owl, things floating in jars, swords, stones, and swords in stones. Oh wait – I think the second one is stuck in a giant eyeball!

There are swords stuck everywhere in Valhalla’s hall. Can you find them all?

I mentioned Todd-Stanton’s sense of scale – vital for making a quest like this seem as daunting as possible – and it’s everywhere from the fearsome Fenrir who towers over the brazier, and the brazier itself, so vast that it looms large in comparison to the rest of the town when seen from afar. On that very same shot, so high in the sky, you’ll spy that ancient tower which housed The Hand of Time and, on the mountainside opposite, Wind Weaver perched on her nest. Furthermore, Arthur may be small when standing beside adults and smaller still in Thor’s imposing presence, but compared to the goblin folk he’s a giant.

Finally we come to the gods’ hall library and it is as vast as vast can be. Poor Arthur most read every dusty tome in his research for find the roots of a mountain. You can see him scampering up ladders, balancing books on his head, receiving a nasty surprise, but if you look really, really carefully…

I love it. I love this to bits.

SLH

Buy Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop…

“Eagle slowly rose toward Columbia. Collins and Aldrin coordinated the approach whilst Armstrong piloted Eagle.
“They came back together at about the same altitude where they had separated, in a stable orbit 60 miles above the moon’s surface.
“Collins and Armstrong had just pulled off a flight manoeuvre that no one in history had ever done before.
“NASA Mission Control read them congratulations from leaders all over the world, but the only thing Collins cared about was seeing Armstrong and Aldrin getting back into Columbia.
“There would be time for congratulations and reflections later.”

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Two names you will have almost certainly heard of. But can you name the third man in the Apollo 11 crew? Who orbited round and round the moon all by his lonesome, another first in itself, completely out of contact from the rest of humanity for long swathes of time whilst the dynamic duo forever placed their footprints in history on July 20, 1969. Probably not. Well, this is Michael Collins’ story and an insight into his unique perspective on the Apollo 11 mission.

Firstly, he never regarded himself as history’s nearly man, despite admitting he ‘didn’t have the best seat’ in the Apollo 11 module. Possibly partly because he wasn’t even initially on the rotation for Apollo 11, but he ended up getting a seat due to getting bumped from an earlier launch, as he required neck surgery to correct an injury sustained during Gemini 10’s splashdown. (A mission during which he also made history by becoming the first person to spacewalk to another orbiting vehicle.) I have no idea which astronaut he in turn effectively replaced from the intended rotation for Apollo 11, but they probably have more to feel aggrieved about!

Still, given the 1967 disaster that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White in a fire during a launch test of the Apollo capsule, Collins, like most astronauts, was well aware of the inherent risks of their chosen profession. Which almost certainly factored into his surprising, if circumspect, decision to not return to space after piloting Apollo 11 safely back to terra firma. Well a splashdown in the ocean, but you get my point. Even given that he would have been assured of a lead seat on a subsequent moon mission meaning he would have finally got his chance to walk on the lunar surface.

He simply decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children and have a normal life again. Given the subsequent dramatic events of the Apollo 13 mission, I’m sure both he and his family felt he’d made the right decision! After briefly dabbling in politics he settled into his new dream job as Director Of The Smithsonian Air And Space Museum. Where a certain capsule occupied pride of place in the museum’s collection, right inside the front door!

The facts are very nicely presented, if a touch perfunctorily, in this small landscape hardcover edition. The cover art, all black interstellar background punctuated with splashes of white stars and purple shading of a suited-up astronaut, with a bit of explicative overlaid narration, is exactly what you’ll get throughout. It’s a really clean, simple style entirely appropriate for this historical / biographical snapshot. Where you get a bit a technical explanation it’s often presented as white on a purple background which gives it the feel of old-school technical drawings.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone who has experienced an entirely different perspective on our planet that very few others have. As he surmises below, perhaps a little naively though entirely well intentioned, it’s a vista that inevitably and irrevocably widens one’s philosophical and political outlook…

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its sub-divisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogenous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears; blue and white, not Capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue or white, not envious or envied.”

JR

Buy The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage, Art Baltazar…

“Well?! Whadya think?”
“I dunno. How come I’m not in it?”
“Oh, don’t you worry, dude… I come to your rescue in the second issue.”

Haha, that is so wonderfully meta. Probably my favourite strip from this collection, both artistically and in terms of the story, sees Finn and Billy (BIIILLLLYYY!!!) teaming up to rescue Princess Bubblegum from the Lich. The reveal is that it is in fact the first issue of the very homemade Savage Sword Of Finn! Not sure that Jake’s particularly impressed, mind! Also, when we finally catch a glimpse of one of Finn’s own crayoned panels, it certainly isn’t up to the real Greg Smallwood’s standards who actually created this particular strip!

This is a most mathematical selection of shorts from a truly wide spread of talent in terms of artistic sensibilities. Actually, Finn’s upping-the-base-ante comment “Hexadecimal!” in one strip did make me chuckle. But then given practically everyone in the world is an ADVENTURE TIME fan, and one million years dungeon for you if you’re not, I’m sure they didn’t have any problems getting people to work on this gig. Thus we have the likes of Tony SOCK MONKEY Millionaire, Box TETRIS Brown, Art SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES Baltazar and Marguerite DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS Sauvage giving us their take on Ooo’s finest.

Art by Baltazar

 

Art by Marguerite Sauvage

I’ll have to come clean at this point, though, I actually started this anthology with only mild enthusiasm, just because I much prefer the long-form original Adventure Time graphic novels, or OGNs in comics parlance, like PIXEL PRINCESSES, MASKED MAYHEM, FOUR CASTLES, PLAYING WITH FIRE, BRAIN ROBBERS, BITTER SWEETS and GRAYBLES SCHMAYBLES over the ongoing title and thus I foolishly thought this would be an inferior offering. Instead, it’s like getting a whopping 16, count ‘em, 16 graybles!!  The parsimonious Cuber only ever gives us five at a time, so this was a real treat!

The tales mainly feature Finn & Jake, BMO, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline but there are of course many an appearance from the likes of Lumpy Space Princess and Ice King. Still waiting for Lemongrab to squeeze in his acerbic moment of glory in the comics but maybe he’ll get his own OGN at some point!

Words by Kelly Thompson, art by Savanna Ganucheau

Art by Greg Smallwood

Some of the yarns are as totally daft as a clapped-out toilet brush, others very sweet and moving, just like the show can be. A very well rounded selection, my compliments to the editors. It probably won’t win any new Adventure Time fans, but with the sad news of the impending end of the show, hopefully the comics will keep on flowing for some time to come.

JR

Buy Adventure Time Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston…

“It’s not too late to stop. Simply close this magazine. Seal it in plastic and never open it again!”
“No? Still here? Very well… There is no turning back now. Welcome then…”

Jeff! Why did I doubt you?! This is the best opening salvo to a superhero series I have read in a very long time. At least two Marvel non-reboots and a DC existential Crisis… I guess perhaps I was just a touch underwhelmed by PLUTONA which never really seemed to find its feet and I foolishly expected this to be more of the same. I’m currently enjoying his OLD MAN LOGAN and finding his MOON KNIGHT brilliantly baffling for Marvel, but this is on an entirely different level.

Basically because he’s entirely freed from their corporate constraints to get really out there with the capes and tights genre in terms of his typical cast of emotionally tortured characters á la ESSEX COUNTY, DESCENDER and his new monthly ROYAL CITY. It therefore has far more in comparison with the likes of Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY with Jeff’s own prodigious talent for writing imperfectly formed people whisked into the mix. I note Charles Soule has commented in a pull quote on the rear cover that this “… feels like a superhero story through an X-Files lens: it’s strange and melancholy and real.” I think that’s an excellent, very accurate summation.

Here Jeff’s constructed a team of dysfunctional superheroes and villains stuck out in the literal, metaphorical and possibly metaphysical boondocks on a tiny farm on the outskirts of a remote, rural American small town. Well, town is pushing it, frankly. It’s little more than a farming community. And when I say stuck, I really mean stuck, STRANGEHAVEN-style. Our gang of bickering chums have been desperately trying to leave for the last ten years without success, mysteriously confined to their utterly dull locale, forced to live entirely in their secret identities. Well, those of them that can pass for human, that is; the others are forced to spend their days cooped out of sight in the barn…

So who are they and how did they land there from their hallowed home of Spiral City? Well, each one of them is a pastiche of / homage to a classic character, or composites thereof. Golden Gail, now pension age, but forever young as a nine-year-old girl having to go to school to keep up appearances is a nod to Mary Batson of the Shazam family. Markkon Markken the Barbalien, Warlord from Mars, firmly in the closet and masquerading as a human police detective will be instantly recognisable as the classic original J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter. Puny Abraham Slam, transformed into a Super Soldier by allied scientists, well I bet you can guess… And so it goes roguishly, lovingly on.

How they got to the back of beyond, and then some, was as a result of yet another selfless act of daring-do, facing down the near omnipotent Anti-God (think Darkseid, basically!) in a climatic showdown in the very heart of Spiral City. During which they – and several villains who, realising the seriousness of the situation, also pitched in to help – were presumed to have been totally obliterated. Including their leader, Joseph Weber, the titular Black Hammer… However, there are those in Spiral City who steadfastly believe the supes are merely missing and haven’t given up hope of their eventual triumphant return. Not all of our gang of exiles share their confidence, mind you, which isn’t perhaps surprising after a decade of despair.

Thus for most of them, it’s like being trapped in a living hell, though some like Abraham Slam, playing the grandfatherly role of the head of household, are even beginning to find some degree of happiness within the confines of their current existence. What is a total puzzle, mind, is the whereabouts of Black Hammer himself, who is neither with his colleagues nor in Spiral City. Now given he is clearly meant to be a homage to Thor, and thinking very specifically about one of mighty Mjölnir’s powers, let’s just say I have a theory about precisely where he, and they, might be…

Barnsley’s finest, Dean BODIES / NORTHLANDERS / LUCIFER Ormston, is apparently someone Jeff has wanted to work with for a while since seeing his stint on BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME (really would like that to be recollected). His fine, flicky lines, which in my sliding scale of artists seems to sit somewhere just between Faryl THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple and Guy BPRD Davis, are perfect for this unsettling tale. As ever, colourist Dave Stewart, then applies his own vibrant brand of spectral genius to finish the pages off to perfection. I’m tempted to go as far as to say, if you only read one superhero title currently, make it this one.

JR

Buy Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. Talk about Fake News! We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so there’s convenient, eh?

Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one.

 

During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs are blown off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian, snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper, but she’s about to have company, not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable. But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit within their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… It brings the horror all home, hopefully.

 

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, and will come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.

SLH

Buy We Stand On Guard s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others.

Previously: CIVIL WAR. Wow, that was succinct.

Now that the team of Avengers which Iron Man used to finance have gone underground, hiding from the law that’s made them illegal (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3 for their constant harassment by Stark), he’s building his own team afresh, overtly to fight the good fight but also to undercut any claim to the name that the others might have, thereby undermining their legitimacy.

It’s exactly what Andrew von Eldritch did with the 1986 ‘Sisterhood’ LP, snatching the name from under the noses of his ex-bandmates before legally reclaiming the Sisters Of Mercy moniker for himself.

Unfortunately within five seconds of assembling the new team from its more conservative veterans, Iron Man has his firewalls breached by A.I. enemy Ultron, and is transformed into a metallic facsimile of The Wasp (it’s all in their somewhat Oedipal history) which then proceeds to weaponise the weather, detonate an EMP and distract the individually effective but collectively unaccustomed-to-each-other Avengers into confronting it head-on.

Ares, God of War and the very essence of male pride / presumption, needs little such goading, but in the end it is he who nudges things in a more production direction which – thanks to the Wasp’s ex-husband and Ultron-creator Hank Pym – involves a Commodore Sixty-Four.

Yes, this was Bendis’ version of old-school AVENGERS, which is to say it was about the wider dysfunctional family that has grown over the years, but with a modern sensibility and dry, caustic wit.

He even brought back the thought bubbles which are cleverly employed for dramatic and often comedic purposes to contradict what individuals’ internal editors actually let out of their mouths.

Frank Cho’s art is sleek and sexy, particularly his seamlessly jointed Iron Man armours (there will be many), but not so sexy as to be overly objectifying. Evidently as this point he still listened to editors.

It took him forever, however, to draw so by the time ‘Venom Bomb’ came along the book was running so far behind its sister title, NEW AVENGERS that the SECRET INVASION was rapidly approaching, its sub-plot boiling over, and I’m going to be careful what I adapt or redact from previous reviews for what follows.

‘Venom Bomb’ was drawn by Mark Bagely.

What is a Venom Bomb, I hear you ask? It’s a biological weapon that turns everyone into raging Symbiotes. It went off by mistake, but it came from Latveria.

Iron Man: “You are a horror.”
Dr. Doom: “A lot more people hate you than hate me.”

Not far from the truth at the time for, post-CIVIL WAR, Tony Stark had become commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. aka S.I.N.K.I.N.G.S.H.I.P. and the futurist had become damned as an untrustworthy reactionary.

In some ways Bagley’s style seemed too plastic for this title, but there were some very clever tricks when Iron Man and Doom start time travelling. It’s a tradition they share when on the same page. Just as you might meet a particular friend and decide that it has to be tapas because that’s what you do together, every time Tony and Victor von D find themselves in the same panel it inevitably ends on Doom’s Time Platform.

In this instance they end up in Manhattan during a period when Marvel comics were coloured with Ben-Day dots and advertised their other titles at the bottom of each page with sentences like “What’s it like to be a living vampire? Find out in the pages of FEAR – because only Morbius knows”. Each of these pages, then, is coloured in Ben-Day dots (a trick Kaare Andrews went on to incorporate in the raging RENATO JONES), features similar slogans and a nod to Bob Layton’s Iron Man inking over John Romita Jr. circa those original time-travelling travails (to Camelot!).

Also, the exposition in Doom’s thought bubbles neatly takes the piss out traditional exposition in the word balloons, whereby a villain reveals all and so gives their adversaries the upper hand.

The second half of this all-in-one-edition consists of short stories taking place during, after or even before SECRET INVASION (for extra, painful dramatic irony). They were drawn by the likes of Maleev, Cheung and John Romita Jr. before Marvel ran out of adequate artists and printed pap instead.

There was, however, an elegy in an epilogue which by far the finest chapter in this half, as a funeral is held for one of the original Avengers who fell during SECRET INVASION.

Regrets, recriminations and for one bad man an uncharacteristically quiet satisfaction that he finally has everyone exactly where he’s long wanted them: under his heel or his thumb.

SLH

Buy Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein with Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford & Dave Cockrum, John Byrne with Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga.

Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Sunfire and Warpath join Cyclops as a new team of mutants is coerced by Professor X into rescuing the other original members of the X-Men who left on a school outing without proper adult supervision and ended up in a terrible accident on an island. Well, in an island.

It was hungry.

Actually the original X-Men are adults by this point, as are ex-X-villain Banshee, Sunfire (who promptly flounces out with a pout of Japanese nationalistic pride), and of course Wolverine who was already pushing 100, though looking remarkably spry on it. Alas, in those 100 years he had yet to learn any social skills whatsofuckingever.

Of the originals only Cyclops remains, wailing about responsibility of wearing spectacles, though Jean will be back pretty pronto and regret it almost immediately.

This 500-page, full-colour whopper reprints GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1, X-MEN #94 to #110, IRON FIST #14-15, MARVEL TEAM-UP #53, 69-70, ANNUAL #1 with Wolverine only appearing on six of those eighteen X-MEN covers.

That’s an extraordinary observation from a current perspective, but back then it was Cockrum on covers, as well as most of the insides, and Cockrum was all about Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler who here discovers that he has the ability to blend into shadows. Cockrum wasn’t remotely interested in Wolverine, a character so new to readers that they knew nothing of his back-story, let alone that there was a century of it to come.

As far as Logan’s concerned these are the first friends he’s ever had, and he doesn’t even like them very much. He certainly doesn’t know how to react to friendship. He’s curt, very defensive and quick to rise to any bait. But Wolverine’s sometimes right on the money as witnessed when he reaches out, quite uncharacteristically, by announcing his intention to join Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira McTaggart on a countryside picnic so that he can hunt. Here’s Storm:

“You would take the lives of innocent animals — not for survival but merely for sport?!”
“Even if I would, broad, what flamin’ business is it of yours?! I said huntin’, honeybunch — I said nothin’ about killin’. It takes no skill t’kill. What takes skill is sneakin’ up close enough to a skittish doe t’touch her…”
“Wolverine, I am sorry. I… misjudged you.”
“I could care less, ‘Roro. You’ve all been misjudgin’ me since the day I joined this turkey outfit!”

This is issue #109, the first truly accomplished issue which will settle in to become the classic run on UNCANNY X-MEN when Logan’s past first comes back to haunt him in the form of James Hudson and Alpha Flight. But the issues leading up to that are still vitally important in terms of sub-plot and context, kicking off with the death of Jean Grey in the space-shuttle crash, her rise from the river as the nigh-omnipotent Phoenix, and the first signs of Logan’s burning desire for her.

Also revealed is Storm’s past as a petty thief in Cairo following the death of her parents in such a manner as to catalyse a profound claustrophobia. Plus there’s this new team’s first confrontation with Magneto on Muir Island, and a hint of the Proteus story to follow in a couple of dozen issues’ times. Finally, Professor X is haunted by dreams that will lead to Lilandra’s first appearance (along with the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard) and the first, worrying hint that Jean Grey is not in control of her new powers nor comprehends the true extent of them as she becomes transfigured into a creature of pure, burning energy and knits together an entire neutron galaxy.

Scott Summers immediately spots the problem but Claremont and Byrne cleverly contrive to keep the couple apart often enough and long enough over the next several months so that there’s little time for them to talk, and it will be Jason Wyngarde who gets there first.

Oh dear.

Cockrum’s art was sturdier the more space he was afforded: his splash pages and double-page spreads had real weight, balance and eye-popping power as did most of his covers including the one above, which, I have only just realised thanks to Jonathan, features Xavier standing in the form of a cross. How is he standing? Oh come, I’ve given far too much away already.

Whereas Claremont’s figures tended to become toy dolls when cramped, Byrne, on the other hand, could make the most of the tiniest of panels. He had the ability to draw in miniature and there’s more of his art here than you might think as – for the first time – Marvel editorial has elected to fill in the mutants’ appearances in other titles.

It doesn’t actually benefit the story, but completists will thrill at all the missing links.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50, ) by Paul Rainey

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

World Of Tanks vol 1: Roll Out s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra & P.J. Holden

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray

Collecting Sticks (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Aliens: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Moritat

Rick And Morty vol 4 (£17-99, Oni) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby, CJ Cannon

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 3 s/c (£11-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela

Steven Universe And The Crystal Gems s/c (£11-99, Titan) by Josceline Fenton & Chrystin Garland

Batman vol 2: I Am Suicide s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Hugo Petrus

Batman: Legacy vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant & various

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 2: The Trial Of Maria Hill s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz

Toppu GP vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima

Attack On Titan Adventure – Year 850: Last Stand At Wall Rose (£9-99, Kodansha) by Tomoyuki Fujinami

Fairy Tail vol 59 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

ITEM! I went back to school!

I did, and I brought a grand’s worth of graphic novels with me for a regional School Librarians’ show-and-tell. I brought them all in a suitcase, packed to perfection and ever so heavy. Pulped, dead tree is truly heavy! Thank goodness for suitcases with wheels, I thought. Then I realised that I still needed to lift it into the boot of my car.

School librarians, prison librarians, gen-pop librarians, this is how Page 45 can help you:

http://www.page45.com/world/about/libraries/

We’ve been doing it for 22 years!

With four days this coming week to rest up (by which I mean write more reviews), I’m hoping to update Page 45’s 2014 easy-link secondary Library Page aimed specifically at schools to include all these new graphic novels and more, so I’m saving most of my photos for then. But you can find them right now on Twitter by following us @pagefortyfive for I formed a thread which I’m adding to even today.

If you like what you see then please retweet because otherwise school can fall in thrall to corporate agents of mediocrity and minimal diversity. And diversity is what we do best!

Here ends the self-serving sermon.

ITEM! So, yes, Easter opening hours!

We are open as always on Good Friday and this Sunshine Saturday (9am-6pm) but closed on Easter Sunday (on regular Sundays we are open from 11am-4pm) and closed yet again on Bank Holiday Monday. Good grief, what is wrong with us layabouts?!

If ever in doubt: Page 45: Where We Are And When We Are Open.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week one

April 5th, 2017

Featuring new Saga from Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, YA gn Afar by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton, the return of Seth’s George Sprott and more!

Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“I didn’t believe that Frank Lancaster had killed X-14…
“So I looked into it… and my entire life fell apart.”

There are some beautiful books on the market but few more so than this, reprinting all three VELVET softcovers, along with process pieces, the original trailer pages and an afterword by Brubaker on its origins.

Set in Paris, Monaco, London, Belgrade and the States during the 1970s and pulling back even further to the likes of the Bahamas in the 1950s, it is lush with 20th Century fashion from the sleekest sports cars to the slinkiest stealth suits, and wait until Velvet hits the Carnival of Fools, a masque full of masks in Monaco.

By “masks” I mean spies, few more disguised than Velvet.

1973. There is an international espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Its agents are so exceptionally effective that the chances of any of them being taken out in the field are minimal. As the story opens, one of their very finest is taken out in the field.

Immediately an inside job is suspected and all fingers point to agent Frank Lancaster. But Velveteen Templeton, the Director’s secretary, has doubts: she suspects it’s a set-up.

It is a set-up. But what Templeton doesn’t realise is that she’s being set up to believe it’s a set-up and so get set up herself.

What most of ARC-7’s agents outside of the Director don’t realise is that Velveteen Templeton wasn’t always the Director’s secretary: she was one of ARC-7s most effective, deep-cover field operatives for so many years. And that may prove the undoing of whoever has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.

On the run from her own agency, Templeton has to retrace assassinated Agent X-14’s steps and his contacts across Eastern Europe, criss-crossing the globe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why X-14 was murdered from within. What had he stumbled upon in America that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn’t recover.

Brubaker’s internal monologues – in CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED et al –  have always been compelling, individualistic and often fucked up affairs – but here you’re almost as much in the dark as Velvet is, learning as she goes along, so you’re even more emotionally invested than usual. Several times I found myself suspicious of what I was being told because it sounded almost too perfect but with the strangest gaps and I wondered if I was missing something.

I was. But then so was Velvet.

During the middle chapters you will have your head whipped round not once, not twice, but three times in swift succession and at exactly the same moment as Velvet’s, because these people she’s up against are so deviously clever, and who is playing whom at any given moment is far from obvious.

I cannot imagine the physical or metaphorical map Brubaker must have drawn to link all these dates and destinations so intricately, but his CRIMINAL can be exactly the same. Here as there he provides a gripping internal monologue as we keep pace with Velvet’s frantic plight in trying to keep one desperate step ahead of those who’ve evidently planned her undoing for ages.

“The suit’s synthetic microfibres stopped my ribs from breaking… that’ll have to be good enough. I’ll just box the rest away. But then, I’m good at compartmentalising. It’s one of the first things you have to master in this field. And not just storing away pain or secrets. It becomes a new way of thinking. A way of surviving. Your mind always running down four or five tracks at the same time. Even now, as I scramble to get away… a quieter part of me is planning an escape route.”

At which point artist Epting inserts a mental map of her potential escape route over the nocturnal ducking and diving which he has choreographed immaculately over the dozen panels accompanying that voice-over. It’s positively balletic throughout.

Finally, with only one lead left alive to follow, Templeton believes she has no choice but to take the fight back to America, even though she knows that the second she sets foot on its shores alarm bells will start ringing. She’s counting on it.

“Every move I make from now on has to be two moves.”

Sometimes you won’t see the second move coming; often you won’t have seen the first move being made.

I love that Templeton is middle-aged and shows it. It’s not just the thick, white streak of maturity in her sable hair, it’s in the eyes that have seen too much and the suggestion of extra flesh around her mouth which put me in mind of Terry Moore’s equally individualistic women in RACHEL RISING. There was an American TV company desperate to sign the series… if Brubaker would just agree to Templeton being in her mid-20s, thereby missing the point and literally losing the plot. This is a period espionage thriller starring a woman with decades’ experience at the agency. It’s this very history that’s revisited which informs her psychological makeup and indeed the whole story.

In addition, so subtly, Velvet’s body language changes when undercover as a temp in Paris, her hair dyed grey to fade into the background. She holds a file modestly and meekly to her chest. When she brings a tray of tea to the investment manager’s desk, she’s slightly hunched in high heels. Successful espionage lies in the details, and the artists reflect this.

Epting and Breitweiser have steeped this series in its period time and place. It’s not just in the fashion of fabrics, though the black bathing suit in VELVET VOL 1 during the flashback to 1950s Bermuda was a masterpiece, its white stripe anticipating the streak which will later appear in Velveteen’s hair. It’s also evident in the hotel room furnishings, the bar tops, aircraft interiors, office spaces, shop windows, fly-posters, the monumental, white-stone, classical facades and balustrades, cars with their polished chrome, and a particularly posh, trans-European train dining car. Another quick nod to the fashion, though, and I almost wept when she had to ditch that exquisitely patterned, knee-length, black and white pashmina cardigan.

I’m very emotional, aren’t I?

As to those Regency facades, there are a couple of early pages I use most often to sell this on the shop floor – on top of the splintering glass shards which Breitweiser electrifies in the first chapter’s cliffhanger – in which the heavens have opened on a comparatively calm London town outside an elitist gentleman’s club, the street lights are reflected on the rain-rippled pavement, and thin streams of water pour with just the right weight from an umbrella as a cigarette is lit and then *pfuff*…

 

I have no idea how much time two pages like that must take to colour, but it is all very much acknowledged and appreciated.

Later on Breitweiser introduces some of the more expressionistic effects which lit up the THE FADE OUT and helped draw the eye. However, so much of this takes place at night that you may be enjoying the effects without necessarily noticing their cause.

Lastly – and I mention this only as a love song to Steve Epting for I will not be giving the game away – the final chapter of the first softcover includes a reveal which is visual-only and takes the most extraordinary and subtle command of human anatomy to convey. In retrospect Brubaker slipped in one single clue earlier on, trusting Steve Epting to have laid all the groundwork then pull off the punchline to sweet, ambiguous perfection.

It worked.

SLH

Buy Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 7 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“These are innocent people displaced by an evil war. They’re us.
“You really want to turn them away in front of our daughter?”

They’re also two-foot-tall, anthropomorphic meerkats whose eyes glisten like chocolate buttons dipped in even more liquid chocolate. One of their youngsters, Kurti, finds a photon rifle in the grass while gathering berries and brandishes it like a toy.

“Reach for the sky…
“Or I’m gonna war-crime you in the face!

Unfortunately, it’s not a toy. It’s very real and they finally find its trigger by mistake.

In many other hands the scene would be far more catastrophic po-faced, but Vaughan’s already made his point about war zones and live ammunition left where children play, and he and Staples milk the subsequent comedy for all its worth.

“HEY! What the fuck is wrong with you kids?!” shouts a heavily pregnant Alana, narrowly missed.

Kurti, tiny paws clasped to his mouth in horror, whispers in equally tiny letters: “Missus Alana said a cuss.”

As well as love, family, childhood and parenthood, SAGA’s always been about war, but here it comes right to the fore as Alana, Marko and their daughter Hazel find themselves trapped on a violently contested asteroid – for months while their depleted ship refuels from its subterranean resources – along with their resident, supercilious enemy Prince Robot (a walking, talking, bipedal television set) the fractious ex-soldier Petrichor and Hazel’s self-appointed nanny, Izabel.

Izabel, you may recall, was one of the few remaining members of the indigenous species found on the war-torn planet where Alana first gave birth and, like all remaining members of that indigenous species, she is quite, quite dead, floating around as an intangible pink ghost, severed at the waist and dripping entrails exactly as she did when she took her last breath.

She bonded with Hazel, allowing Izabel to travel alongside, but Hazel’s growing up and beginning to wield the magical abilities inherited from her father in the same way some kids wield a magnifying glass over ants.

“Eksplodis!”
“Whoa! That fat one blew up real good!” shrieks a delighted Kurti.
“Young lady! What in the world are you doing?”
“Don’t use your angry voice. It doesn’t scare me.”
“I’m not angry, I’m disappointed. You’re hurting innocent creatures? For laughs?”
“They’re just bugs.”

They’re just bugs. The things we learn during war.

And then Hazel says something she will profoundly regret.

Right, so, hello! I always recommend that those who’ve yet to savour the wicked delights of SAGA read my review of SAGA VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying the softcovers, largely because I made a hash of the first softcover review which bears no resemblance to how I now sell the series on our shop floor. I also recommend you remember that there will be at least One Moment per book when you will be horrified that you leant a copy to your grandmother or began reading it on public transport. Here it slaps you in the face then pokes you in the eye as early as page four.

SAGA is one of the most all-inclusive comics around, Vaughan and Staples taking full advantage of its space-setting to wring as much diversity as possible from its limitless possibilities. Let’s not forget that Alana and Marko are from two separate species – not just races – so Hazel is a major miracle. Just when you think they must have mined the last vein, they come up with something wholly unexpected and fresh. They will never fail to surprise, but that comes with great risk when it comes to your heart because remember (again) war has come to the fore and warmongers do terrible things from many miles away.

SLH

Buy Saga vol 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Afar s/c (£13-99, Image) by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton.

If ever you need reminding of the joyous, unburdening relief in sharing a secret – after days, weeks, months or years of awful isolation and crippling fear lest you be found out – then this original Young Adult graphic novel should do the trick. It won’t always go well, but that’s a whole lot of mental energy eaten up by the effort to continuously conceal that you can more profitably expend elsewhere.

Additionally, if you’re in the market for some gorgeous anatomy, beautifully delineated body language, carefully considered and exceptionally realised, localised costume plus a startlingly wide array of aliens as exotic as the most mythical of beasts, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, either.

Hold on, hold on, although this is emphatically a fantasy rather than historical fiction, most of this takes place in an environment akin to East Africa and, later on, ancient Egypt.

There Kit Seaton conjures up a city surrounded by lush, irrigated agriculture, with palatial buildings, clean, spacious and orderly thoroughfares between marketplaces bustling not just with commerce but theatrical entertainments and leisurely pastimes. All of this in stark contrast to where we kick off: an arid costal town where even fresh water is a much sought-after commodity, then another inland which is high-walled, inhospitable and surrounded by a shanty of shacks. I love the angle there, the weight at the summit, dangling over the edge, contrasted with the faded colouring in the distance down below for maximum vicarious vertigo.

In addition, there are foreboding deserts between them, littered with dangerous relics of a more technological past which has been long left behind and forgotten.

Each of these will have to be navigated by the far from wealthy fifteen-year-old Boetema and her younger brother Inotu if they are to survive when abandoned in each other’s care by their parents for much-needed itinerant work as salt shepherds.

But the siblings have further troubles to contend with. Although picking up a new friend in the form of a feral monkey with whom he develops a vital bond, thirteen-year-old Inotu falls foul both of the local lads when he defends the cornered and cowering animal, then of the long arm of the law which appears to be surprisingly metallic.

Boetema, meanwhile, has been having strange dreams which become increasingly vivid to her and in which she becomes more and more emotionally involved. Oh, it’s not just that they take place underwater or in jungle terrain above which hover luminous, ringed moons…. it’s that she is no longer herself but, for example, a green, four-eyed tiger, mother to a cluster of cubs she could not possibly have sired.

Gradually she realises that she’s not actually dreaming but projecting, travelling and inhabiting these bodies, however temporarily, and it terrifies her. Worse still, in one such manifestation she makes a hasty miscalculation which has fatal ramifications then finds she cannot go back to rectify or atone for her mistake.

The killer is this: the sister and brother aren’t confiding in each other. For fear of scaring the other, each is going through their alienation alone.

And I’m afraid it may prove the death of them.

I wish I could end this review with a bombshell like that because this book made me smile in so many ways – I’ve fallen in love with another artist new to me – but honesty dictates that I have to put my hand up in order to declare one major problem: in this self-contained graphic novel one gigantic plot thread dangled above us so enticingly – and repeatedly in order to catalyse two narrative trajectories – is never resolved, that of Inotu’s encounter with the cyborg. It’s not resolved in any sense at all: not in his existence, his nature, his intention nor his success or failure in whatever scheme(s) he might have had in mind.

This is an editorial oversight. I don’t normally go casting stones in that direction except that – uniquely as far as I can recall – the editor is credited on the cover.

SLH

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

Yeast  (£3-99) by Stanley Miller…

“So, um…”
“Cough…”
“Someone… stole our nut…”
“Hmm…”
“He’s just sitting by our hole.”
“You could bribe it?”
“What with?”
“Drawings.”
“…Of what?”
“Whales…”

Teenage comics guerrilla surrealist Stanley Miller returns with, as requested, a sequential-art based narrative following on from his pair of gag-strip rib ticklers THINGS I THINK ABOUT SOMETIMES and WIZARDS N STUFF. Here we have the story of three psionically powered errr… entities… that live in a very non-descript hole in the ground and fervently worship a nut. They love nothing more than levitating said foodstuff up to their excitable eye level with the pulsating power of their prayer. It appears, to my snack-savvy senses, to be a partially opened giant pistachio, but I wouldn’t bet a bag of pickled walnuts on it.

But then, disaster strikes, and the object of their adoration is abducted by, well, an even stranger faceless being. Confused and distraught, our trio seek solace and advice from Old Man Gribble. His random suggestion above might seem like a completely crackpot approach to establishing diplomatic relations, but his shamanic ways could just hold the key to retrieving their talisman intact and uneaten. Or simply be as bonkers as it sounds and not remotely help at all…

Stanley once again deploys his trademark David Shrigley-esque art style but the story seems like, plucking two flavours from my mind, a bemusing blend of Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen and Hans FOLLY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDISCRETION Rickheit. Thus a curious combination of the sweetly profound and the farcically preposterous which just works. It left me feeling rather uplifted, actually! Sure, it’s not reinventing the pictures and words in beautiful unison wheel, but it’s certainly another step in the remarkable evolution of this undoubted future comics genius.

Do you like nuts, by the way? Particularly hot nuts so fiery that when you pop them in your mouth they make your eyes water? I do. If you do too, I can’t recommend The Notts Nut Shack highly enough. Their Garlic & Habanero and their Scotch Bonnet nuts, rocketing up the Scoville scale to the levels of 350,000 & 400,000 Scovilles respectively, are some serious tongue-tingling taste-delivery dynamite. If you’re city-centre-based you can purchase them at the Brew Cavern in the Flying Horse Arcade where I also fulfil all my extensive beer needs! And trust me, these bad boys are so hot, you will feel like your head is levitating off your shoulders and want a nice beer handy to slake your blistering mouth afterwards.

Which weirdly, rather synchronously, brings us full circle to the inexplicable title of this mini, as no yeast, no fermentation, no beer… Is it opening time yet?

JR

Buy Yeast and read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol Book 3 (£31-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & various.

“There is another world. There is a better world. Well… there must be.”

In which everything and everyone falls apart as one of our resident freaks and misfits discovers that none of them were the results of accidents, but a single experiment, carefully choreographed very close to home.

There’s an agonising chapter devoted entirely to Cliff helplessly enduring an increasingly horrific explanation of what has gone before, his deactivated robotic body housing his very human brain, straining to express his mental agony. It’s all about Catastrophe Curves and unpredictable events. There’s another one coming.

But let’s not forget all the fun. Morrison packed DOOM PATROL with outlandish inventions, and here the Chief comes up with molecular-sized processors held in colloidal suspension, which are able to “interact in a way that simulates the electrical activity in the neurons of a human brain” to create the most powerful neural net ever assembled.

“The Think Tank is the future of artificial intelligence.”

And it looks just like a swimming pool.

It’s always entertaining to blaze out with an apocalypse, and this concluding chapter in Morrison’s ode to insanity comes with not one but two. The first of these is catalysed by Dorothy letting The Candlemaker out of her head. It’s not the first time she’s done that, either, her chief childhood bully paying the bloody price.

A product of her willpower and imagination, The Candlemaker’s apocalypse is likewise one of ideas, setting out to destroy the anima mundi – the world’s soul:

“Listen: if you want to destroy a people, first destroy its dreams.
“Generations of missionaries have lived by that noble creed.
“Modern man has successfully razed the imaginative landscapes of primal peoples the whole world over. Kill the gods first, slaughter the sacred animals, rewrite the mythologies, and build roads through the holy places. Do all this and watch the people decline. Without souls, they soon die, leaving dead shells, zombie cultures, shambling aimlessly toward oblivion.
“We’ve been experts at this kind of thing for centuries…”

Also: the ultimate incarnation of Rebis, some more bodywork for Cliff, the emergence of Sane Jane from Crazy Jane, and a massive expansion of everyone’s favourite stretch of sentient, semi-detached, but foundation-free housing, Danny The Street. Who needs planning permission when you can teleport? Bona to vada, Danny!

This whole series was about ideas and wonder and strangeness, Morrison’s own imagination running wild, and it ends on a deliberately ambiguous note which may cause you to rethink everything you’ve read after a distressing post-script in which a doctor determines to kill Crazy Jane’s: her imagination, her ideas, her wonder and strangeness.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies DOOM PATROL’s world better than a scene deep in the subterranean bowels of the Pentagon as a plot is hatched to unleash a homicidal maniac on the screamingly insane Presidential candidate Mr. Nobody and his Brotherhood Of Dada:

“Didn’t this ‘Brotherhood Of Dada’ transform a police officer into a toilet in France a couple of years back? What happened to him, Ms. Roddick?”
“As far as I know he’s hanging in the Beauborg Gallery.”

At the bottom of the page we discover that the military commander and Ms. Roddick are bouncing down the midnight corridors on animal-headed Space Hoppers. It’s a joke that’s revisited in different ways time and again.

Finally, as an added bit of fun – and I mention this partly as a warning, because I wouldn’t want you to think you still had thirty more pages of DOOM PATROL left to read – the DOOM FORCE one-shot parody of Marvel’s height of infantilism, the original X-FORCE, is tucked on at the end, each artist lacerating Rob Liefeld’s art as ably as Morrison nails the wretchedly piss-poor dialogue.

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

New Stock Discovered!

George Sprott 1894-1975 s/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Seth.

Thank goodness we have discovered fresh stock, for this was once made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month!

For sheer, immediate and arresting beauty this has to be one of the most magnificent books we have ever stocked. The cover alone takes my breath away with its silver and blue-foil titles embossed on an enormous, thick, antler-grey card and a black-cloth spine. Open it up and you’ve got the most indulgent double-page landscapes of snow and ice; painted, three-dimensional cardboard recreations of individual buildings significant in the strips; and the meticulously composed, delicately coloured vignettes themselves which together form the life and times of George Sprott.

Former Arctic explorer, lecture-hall regular and local Canadian television celebrity whose weekly series Northern Hi-Lights has long run its 22-year-old course, George Sprott is tired. He’s tired and old and past his time, and this evening, on October 9th 1975, his life will to come to an end.

“Tonight, of all nights, George is preoccupied with death. Mind you, not his own. If you recall, this morning George read of the death of an old flame. This sparked a rather regretful mood in him. At this moment he is thinking of the death of his mother. Back in 1952. George has always considered himself a loving son. In fact, he’d prided himself on the depths of his tender feelings for his mother. Not much of love was ever said between them. Yet he had felt secure in the unspoken bond they shared. It was only as he sat by her deathbed that it occurred to him. As she lay gasping, he realised he had not visited her in two years.”

So well written.

As the various vignettes accumulate – the recollections of his former colleagues, Sprott’s own troubled dreams and memories, and indeed the narrator’s occasional insights (Seth is in very mischievous mode: “As your narrator I must apologise for beginning yet another page with an apology.”) – it becomes increasingly apparent that George is a bit of a sham and his life, when he can bring himself to think about it clearly, has been a disappointment not least to himself. His Arctic adventures weren’t all that he made them out to be, and therefore the two careers he built upon them as lecturer and broadcaster are to some extent a lie. As to his time in a seminary, well, the dates (1914-1918) are as interesting as the episode there is telling. Here’s one short interview that speaks volumes, with Fred Kennedy, the local TV channel’s afternoon-movie host:

“George Sprott was a good friend of mine. I was with him at CKCK from the very beginning. God, we tied on a few together. Believe it or not, he was popular with the ladies. And I didn’t mind picking up his discards. And yes, he could talk. But always about himself. He never asked you a goddam question. Ever! I hate to say it, but George was a crashing bore.”

Seth’s always been one to dwell: to dwell on the past and concern himself with memory itself. Here mortality and indeed legacy come into play, for George hasn’t left one: his broadcasts were all junked by the station, he’s barely remembered and he doesn’t even know his own daughter. Given how he treated his wife, he’s lucky to have the affections of his niece

Seth’s previous book, WIMBLEDON GREEN, was a similar exercise in composite collage and thoroughly enjoyable it was in its own right, but if that was an exercise then this is the finished performance, far more grounded in reality and set in a very specific time and place now long past. Like Eisner in DROPSIE AVENUE it’s the cityscape itself which is of equal interest to those inhabiting it, Seth charting the history of individual buildings as time and circumstance like the Second World War dictate their evolution, their rise to prosperity and fall into dilapidation. Mark would have swooned at those cardboard constructs and indeed at every one of the pages here which give ample space to the magnificent art inside.

 

My favourite work from Seth to date, with plenty for you to ponder. Great little epilogue too: a throwback to WIMBLEDON GREEN in a way, which neatly ties together a few loose threads as we meet Owen Trade, collector/scavenger/thief.

SLH

Buy George Sprott 1894-1975 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd Stanton

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop

Lumberjanes vol 6: Sink Or Swim (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Carey Pietsch

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce

Superman vol 2: Trial Of The Super Sons s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, various

Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey vol 1: Who Is Oracle s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson & Claire Roe, Roge Antonia

Green Arrow vol 2: Island Of Scars s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Stephen Byrne, Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 6: The Maglignant Truth (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & I.N.J. Culbard, Simon Fraser

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Goodnight Punpun vol 5 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 3 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

One-Punch Man vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

 

ITEM! Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie interviewed on film about THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

We may have reviewed THE WICKED + THE DIVINE extensively. It’s ever so wicked. And divine.

Wasn’t that trailer excellent?

That’s it, really. I’ve run out of time!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week five

March 29th, 2017

Featuring Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland, Michael DeForge, Ron Regé Jr, Ray Fawkes, Katriona Chapman, Sarah Graley, Jon Klassen and more!

“Giotto would be gurning in his grave.” – Stephen on Siberia 56

Katzine: The Factory Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman.

But then, months later, the Dutch police arrive…

Would you just look at that cover!

Printed on rough-grained watercolour paper, it’s a gorgeous thing to hold in your hand. The balance of form is phenomenal, its sense of box-burdened weight is impressive and the combination of colours so surprisingly rich when you take stock of each individual component. Those have to be the warmest greys I had ever beheld in my life… until the glimpse we’ve given within of Chapman’s forthcoming graphic novel.

It cannot come quick enough.

This is the sixth self-contained KATZINE so far, each one of which I found mesmerising, but none more so than this. Chapman has that rare ability not merely to engage her readers with personal areas of interest – always judiciously chosen from her rich, well travelled life – but to entrance us almost immediately and leave us pondering long afterwards.

Here she’s taken a subject you’d least expect to rivet you – that of monotonous, assembly-line factory work for one and a half years in Amsterdam – and created an absorbing account of living, breathing individuals learning from each other. This must have been one of the most diverse gatherings of international co-workers ever and here is the key: Katriona cares. She’s profoundly interested in people, and her interest is infectious. They’re also a fascinating bunch.

Every workplace is a community, and within most communities there are both nurturers and nightmares. So it is here.

What amused me most of all, however, is what this factory was constructing: conveyor belts for other assembly-line factories! Some fit together in pre-ordained patterns from interlocking plastic modules like ridiculously long jigsaw puzzles, but others require the ramming of lubricated steel rods right through their width, and you know how when you’re running, leaping, diving and rolling around on screen during a console game and you realise you’re replicating exactly those movements while sat on your sofa…? Such is the skill in a single panel when Chapman rams the rod “through hard, with a twist of the wrist” that I caught myself almost mimicking it. I could certainly feel the force required.

Her tenure and recollection begins on 11th March 2002 when a man took eighteen people hostage at gunpoint in Amsterdam’s Rembrandt Tower. It’s a context which never quite leaves one throughout the account, so when Kat’s agency rep comes to call with a new set of contracts, however innocuous they seem, one begins to feel slightly uneasy for her. Nope, they’re fine – it must have been my imagination.

But then, months later, the Dutch police arrive…

SLH

Buy Katzine: The Factory Issue and read the Page 45 review here

Arclight s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland.

“Arclight?”
“My lady, your body has returned.”

There are so many strains of fantasy but the most infectious by far are those that are ethereal and otherworldly, not just in aspect but in custom and cadence and the way in which their creators communicate them to us. ARCLIGHT excels at all four.

Mysteries should not be delivered to you, hand-held, but laid before you in such a way that you are required to tease them apart yourselves. There’s a difference between obscure and oblique.

We first meet Lady Kinga in the protection of her loyal knight, Sir Arclight, far out at the border-edge of the Blood House lands. She seems far more at ease amongst its vast trees than surrounded by the courtiers of her kingdom and this is as well, for she is not as she was.

Those are not matted tresses blowing in the breeze from beneath her hood, but twigs jutting out from under it. The noblewoman has become trapped in an alien body, her nature known only to Arclight. She is in possession of arcane knowledge and an instinct in touch with both the natural and unnatural world. She senses that a powerful magic has passed by, warping the wood in its wake, shaping it into tunnels of knotted and gnarled, raised roots.

It is there that they discover a newt-like creature of fire-red skin, limp and dying from its contact with that magic so, in order to preserve the beast, they must perform some of their own, transferring its essence to a goose. For this transition they require blood which, while sustaining life within the body, is always on the move and of which Lady Kinga has none. Instead she uses a portion of what she carries in flasks. All magic here requires the letting of blood, and a lot will be required; but Lady Kinga’s supply is limited.

There’s so much to recommend this, from the world-building to the world-painting. Like ZAYA, the early pages come with a restrained Arthur Rackham palette in an ancient woodland setting which Rackham admirers would feel quite at home in and populated by the two figures they would be equally comfortable keeping company with. The light at the root-tunnel entrance is very subtle.

Against these olive-browns the blood, the beast and the turquoise cloak which Sir Arclight wears over his carved-bone armour stand out a mile. Later the light – and there is so much light! – will be flecked with pale blues, purples, yellows and greens whorling around in the sky like a William Turner sunrise or storm.

Given that this is written by the creator of MULTIPLE WARHEADS and KING CITY and both drawn and coloured by the creator of the equally allusive, elusive BEAST, you would be so surprised if this repeated old tropes without infusing them with something new to comics. I imagine Charles Vess of SANDMAN, STARDUST and DRAWING DOWN THE MOON would swoon over this, but equally so Monsieur Moebius, for the double-page landscapes are epic.

But this is an alchemical fusion which transmutes those and any other influences into an entirely new element of Churchland’s own crafting. I’m speculating on Rackham, Vess and Moebius but I know for a fact that Churchland incorporated Yoshitaka Amano’s fashion sense into the mix. Sir Arclight in his aquamarine cloak could easily be from Faerie nobility, far from incongruous in A Midsummer Night’s dream, and there is much of the Elizabethan about everything here from the courtly intrigues to its couture.

And so we come to the androgyny and it’s not your Natassja Kinski ‘Cat People’, girl-with-a-boy’s-bob thing going on. Cut to the court, and it’s ostensibly a much more sybaritic affair but also, above and beneath that, a genuine, heartfelt and complete relaxation of stereotypes to form new norms. Well, new to comics. Thankfully it’s being going on around us in real life for years.

Meanwhile, far beneath those palatial, stone surroundings Lady Kinga’s modest apartment, hidden away in a quiet understone pass is – like her new body – far more fibrous with wooden bookshelves, books and an armchair fashioned rather than carved from a tree, retaining its organic shape. I love that her potted houseplants, and those trailing from baskets hanging above, radiate a natural light but – best of all – there’s a single panel in which Lady Kinga refreshes her roots by soaking them in a steaming basin of water.

There she studies scrolls to discern what could have hurt her new familiar friend which snuggles itself down on a cushion by her side on the floor. A few hours later there is a knock on the door and that news from Sir Arclight:

Lady Kinga’s body is back and resides once more in court. But if Lady Kinga’s no longer within it… what is?

SLH

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

Underwinter #1 (£3-25, Image) by Ray Fawkes.

“I keep having these nightmares and I think I know why.”

‘Symphony’ part one: it’s all very sensual.

It’s also more than a little sinister, evoking early on the taut tensions of sado-masochism, the sharp string bow playing across soft, bared flesh.

Precisely worded, like any musical movement it builds beautifully.

“It’s my bruised ribs, struck, col legno, hit with the bow and not the hair…
“It’s my welted skin, the jete strokes, where the bow bounces again and again in ricochet.
“And then as the music intensifies, sautille, tremolo, bariolage… then it is also my voice.
“And there’s a pain that is beyond all imagining, beyond sanity
“And I weep…
“Because I don’t want it to end.”

‘Overture’ has two meanings, you know.

I am most definitely in!

A string quartet is invited to play blindfold at an exclusive party at a secluded mansion. There is a lot of money involved: £10,000 each for this first session. If they are pleasing, and enjoyed, they will be asked back.

The gig is brought in by Kendall, the libertine of the group: well built, well racked and well packed, first seen laid back in the arms of an older man, his lunchbox painted to be prominent.

However harmonious they may be on stage, in private Ms Ortiz at least is fractious, sneering, until she sees the colour of the money.

“Welcome. I am Meister Maranatha.
“You will play the pieces in the order selected for you. Do not improvise. Do not speak during the performance.
“You will wear the clothes we provide. You will not remove your blindfolds.”

From the creator of the fiercely inventive ONE SOUL and THE PEOPLE INSIDE whose construction, specific to the medium of comics, you will never have seen the like of (no exaggeration), this is a complete change of delivery in watercolour washes reminiscent of David Mack, expressionistic flourishes which reminded me of Bill Sienkiewicz and Francis Bacon, then a raw, roaring, abrasive crescendo during which the blindfold slips and –

You might want to Google ‘Maranatha’.

SLH

Buy Underwinter #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge…

“Sticks?! You came. I always thought you hated me, but here you are visiting me in my time of need.”
“No, I’m visiting girl. She was bitten by a harmless snake.”
“Oh.”
“I do hate you. You’re literally the worst. But I have to recognize I have certain obligations to the residents of this forest, so I’ve hired proxies to keep you company.”

Not sure having ants crawling all over me is what I’d want if I was lying on a drip in a hospital bed, but still, it’s about what you’d expect from the rather hard-hearted “49-years-old former Olympian, poet, scholar, sculptor, minister, activist, Governor General, entrepreneur, line cook, headmistress, Mountie, columnist, libertarian, cellist.” As Sticks Angelica is want to self-promote, sorry, describe herself…

Following on from a disturbing family scandal, Sticks has decided to live off the grid deep in the Canadian woods in total isolation. Except she seems to be perpetually surrounded by the local wildlife that antagonise and annoy her in no small measure simply by existing. Which is a shame, because they all actually seem to idolise and adore her despite her obnoxious manner. Particularly a rabbit named Oatmeal who is deeply, madly and utterly unrequitedly in love with her. My favourite denizen of the dense foliage, though, was the cross-dressing moose named Lisa Hanawalt. And of course, harmless snakes are anything but!

It starts to get really strange (remember who the creator is…) when a reporter called Michael DeForge turns up to interview Sticks for a proposed biography. In typically terse fashion she’s having none of it, promptly knocks him out on the spot, and buries him neck-deep in the heart of the forest. Then, presumably believing no one could possibly do it better than herself, she becomes our narrator informing us all about her upbringing and myriad odd occurrences during her formative years. Meanwhile, Sticks develops an almost maternal instinct for an unnamed feral child that provides us with an interesting counterpoint to her character compared to the brash, hard exterior that she projects, well irradiates, out to the world.

What we thus end up with is a typically trademark surreal DeForge yarn (FIRST YEAR HEALTHY, DRESSING, ANT COLONY, A BODY BENEATH)   that is also a curiously insightful examination of how we are all curators of our own personal public history, some of us infinitely more subjectively so than others. All that really matters in the end, though, is were we loved and cherished, and did we reciprocate those emotions to others unselfishly? I will leave it up to you to decide whether Sticks eventually manages to pass muster in that particular respect… As fine a potted / potty comics faux biography as Seth’s GEORGE SPROTT and Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 in its own very, very peculiar way.

JR

Buy Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero and read the Page 45 review here

Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c (£10-00, Shiny Sword) by Sarah Graley…

It would be fair to say that Sarah Graley’s comics star is ascending. Well, if you think being involved with something called Lil’ Poopy Superstar a noteworthy rung on the comics ladder to stardom, that is…! Given it is RICK AND MORTY’S: LIL’ POOPY SUPERSTAR and Sarah wrote and drew it, I certainly do!

That’s a pretty big licence to be allowed one’s own largesse with. I should also add that back-up comic art in that particular tome was provided by a certain Marc ELLERBISMS Ellerby. Plus she’s got KIM REAPER #1 arriving very shortly too, following the mis-adventures of the “part-time Grim Reaper; full-time cutie” which sounds and looks very fun. Maybe the cute-but-dead genre has some after-life in it yet…

Sarah’s evidently daft sense of humour and energetic, engaging art that tips its metaphorical hat to the likes of LUMBERJANES, OVER THE GARDEN WALL and SCOTT PILGRIM is proving a winning combination, it seems. And we’ve sold myriad copies of her autobiographical OUR SUPER ADVENTURE to locations as far flung as Australia! So who, or what, is Pizza Witch… and what, or who, is she after…? I shall let the supernatural lady speak for herself…

“I parked the broom, what’s up?”
“Do you believe in love at first sight, George?”
“WHAT.”
“I just delivered a pizza to the dreamiest babe who ever babe’d!!”
“More babe than me?
“Shut up George!!”
“When she comes back with the money, I’m gonna ask her on a date!!”
“Hm.”
““Hm” What?”
“Just… Let your pizza do the talking? Everyone who eats it pretty much falls in love with you anyway. Also, people don’t want to be asked on dates when they order pizza… They just want pizza…”
“Eheh…”

George is her cat.

Except… the dreamiest babe ever is lactose-intolerant and hasn’t even tried Roxy the Pizza Witch’s perfect pizza laden with her trademark (and very literal) pizza magic but also loads of digestive dairy disaster!! Eheh indeed. Cue one cheesy cheese-free rom-com as Roxy is determined to do whatever bizarre questing activities it takes to get a slice of the action with the girl of her dreams…

Originally a webcomic, then very kindly offered by Sarah as a limited print run thank-you as part of Sarah’s Kickstarter for OUR SUPER ADVENTURE, the pineapple-sweet, 24-page main tale is reprinted in a far swankier (and neatly re-lettered) format here. The rest of this lovely gold-embossed, shiny hardcover is then bulked up and out with extra toppings of a bonus short story and various concept and process pages. Sarah has also very kindly signed and sketched a small pizza slice in each our copies! Go on, dig in!

JR

Buy Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Triangle h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Jon Klassen eyes are unmistakable and ever so expressive.

They either stare directly at you, poker-faced, with an alien intelligence and unknowable thoughts or they slide hither and thither, assessing the situation, attempting to keep their own counsel but often betraying a truth. Or a lie.

They allow the rest of his faces to perform not at all, enhancing the deadpan delivery while ramping up the comedy quotient, for there lies much mirth in the repetition.

You may know Jon Klassen, as the co-creator of all-ages SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE and EXTRA YARN plus the sole creator of the I WANT MY HAT BACK, THIS IS NOT MY HAT and WE FOUND A HAT tricks.

And they are all tricks in one form or other, the images informing the true meaning or contradicting what is written outright. This, I argue – in each review and possibly to deep sighs of “Do shut up, Stephen” – makes them comics, for without the visual narrative they would mean a lot less or nothing at all.

This is not a comic.

That doesn’t matter: illustrated prose is a wonder as well and the visuals are still delicious. I’m sure there will be gurgles and chortles throughout from very young readers and this is what we want!

But whenever I write “all-ages” I do so deliberately, meaning that the books are likely to be enjoyed equally by oldsters and even, like HILDA, bought as often as not by adults for adults. I adore every one of the above. Absolutely adore!

This one, not so much. With no mid-story gags to speak of, I was anticipating a ferociously funny punchline.

I’m still waiting. “Heresy!” etc.

Triangle travels to play a sneaky trick on Square. I’m sure it’ll enhance spatial awareness no end.

SLH

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

Siberia 56 h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Christophe Bec & Alexis Sentenac.

From the writer of CARTHAGO, the sub-aquatic, shark-infested shiver-fest featuring razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belonged to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn’t have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised.

This too has teeth, but they feature in a future so far off that I probably don’t have to dread its arrival. They’re also found only on a planet so far away that I’m unlikely to stray there by mistake, even with my preternatural ability to catch the wrong bus.

Let’s hear the low-down on SIBERIA 56 from its publisher, shall we?

“It is the age of space exploration, and five scientists travel 80 million light years from home to study the planet of Siberia, the location of Earth’s 56th colony. Covered with dense snow and steep mountains, Siberia’s poles reach temperatures of -300° F with icy winds of close to 200 mph.”

It’s not that much more clement at its tropics.

Now, I grant you that no one could possibly know what lurks thereupon until it is investigated, but I don’t think it’s the most massive leap of imagination or cold, deductive reasoning to extrapolate from a present rife with flying drones that this far-flung future might have satellites capable of picking up 600-foot, heavily armoured, ice-bound, predatory lampreys on the prowl which they have mis-monickered “snakes”.

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t need frail feet on the ground before you discovered that.

They’ve a more plausible excuse for failing to identify the planet’s even more antisocial alpha predator (no clues in this review), but even so: which particular meteorological property of this planet made it even a passing consideration as a potential colony when you’ve 55 others on the go?

At this point we’re just talking about the weather. And since the daily weather is what human beings talk about most, I don’t see anyone in their right minds decamping to Siberia 56 from infamously rain-drenched Britain let alone folks from Florida. Even Earth-bound Siberian inmates would probably decline swapping their current gulag for a life-long fling on a planet which would be equally fettered: with all-encompassing survival suits not to breathe oxygen but to quantifiably decrease the probability of contracting chapped lips.

With but a couple of exhibitions of extreme over-acting, the art on offer is ever so pretty. Sentenac excels at landscapes: landscapes which are as epic and as alien and as luminous as you’d like. That’s why you’re here. Alexis can also ramp up the tension like nobody’s business when you’re all alone on the glacier and you feel something very big and presumably ravenous thundering towards you and – not to be underestimated, this – underneath you.

But Sentec is left woefully adrift by Bec throughout on the cold, hard logic front. No, not just the logic front, but the story-building front.

The colonists’ database seems of paramount importance throughout: that’s what they’ve been sent there to construct from inexplicable scratch (see drones earlier) and the new expedition’s greatest asset which they rely on in order to survive. Yet it has (firstly) the most implausible, negligent gaps when shit they knew simply wasn’t entered, then (secondly), on narrative command, the most ridiculous leaps of instantly summoned stats derived from no discernible evidence.

And that destroys all the tension Sentenac attempts to build.

It’s as if the writer lost his original map or his Card Index System and, with it, the plot.

In Christophe’s defence, perhaps the translator was rubbish. I don’t know because I haven’t read the original. But we are told early on of the key subterranean carvings which reminded the crew of Lascaux cave paintings that…

“According to the analysis of the microresidue, these drawings were done with a metal tool. They’re at least 60 million years old.”

Okay, fair enough. So why are they referred to later on by beardy, irritatingly know-it-all, go-to scientist Boyett as “frescoes”? A fresco, by very specific definition, involves painting on plaster: painting on wet plaster most often, but certainly painting specifically on plaster and not “drawings done with a metal tool”.

*grinds teeth*

It’s far from the only ill-informed gaffe, but Giotto would be gurning in his grave.

SLH

Buy Siberia 56 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions

The Cartoon Utopia (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Regé Jr.

“Believe only your own consciousness and then act accordingly and abundantly.”

I thought only my step-mother could make black and white dazzling, but Regé is back with a spiritual manifesto and ode to creativity: a singular, secular vision delivered with all the fervour of a religious sermon. It’s a call not to arms but to peace and perception unshackled from the conditioning of ages, exhorting all to see new possibilities, infinite possibilities, so enabling one’s full potential to be realised in both senses of the word.

The result is empowering and positively euphoric.

It’s also mesmerising: wave after wave of hypnotic patterns, symmetry within asymmetry and vice-versa, pulsing, radiating and mutating with a kaleidoscopic rhythm.

 

I love the way that the lettering is fully integrated into the art, often delineated with exactly the same thickness, the hollowed capitals precisely the right size, totally at one with each page and its constituent panels. I’ve never been allowed to review a book by Ron Regé Jr before. I found it profound, inspirational and beautiful to behold.

Alternatively: a great big colouring book for adults.

SLH

Buy The Cartoon Utopia and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli…

Wizard magazine hilariously recommend this series to readers of FABLES. This is a bit like recommending a John Pilger documentary to addicts of ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Manhattan is no longer the thriving hub of culture and commerce it once was.

It is a wreck ravaged by all, caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Army and America’s own home-grown, anti-establishment militias which rose up while all the eyes and soldiers’ feet were abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did a little insurging of their own.

A supposedly demilitarized zone, Manhattan is prone to be bombed with a moment’s notice and has become a no-go zone for everyone but the most intrepid or reckless reporters.

This reprints the thinner volumes 6, 7 and a little of 8. Here’s Jonathan’s most excellent overview of DMZ written – please note – in 2009:

“The normalisation talks were the fucking scourge of lower Manhattan. Don’t believe the hype — any signs of improvement on the ground are completely manufactured. It’s old-fashioned Surge tactics. Swarm a dozen square blocks with troops and air cover and suddenly it’s the safest place in the world. The next dozen blocks…   … not so much.”

For those people who are already gripped by DMZ, no background explanation is necessary on this volume except to mention that Wood’s level of storytelling has not dropped at all; if anything it’s gone up a notch a two as the conflict in the DMZ gets even more political (if that’s possible) and bloody (if that’s possible) as it grinds its way inexorably towards the inevitable end game. It’s just a case of who’ll be left standing to take a seat at the table once the dust has settled over what little’s left to eat…

For those unfamiliar with DMZ, or perhaps have thought, “Oo, it looks a bit too political to me I’ll give it a miss,” well you’ll only have yourself to blame when you’re asked to sign up for your compulsory ID card in the not too distant future, no matter which government is in power.

DMZ is an excellent education on exactly how politicians of every stripe and hue will seek to turn things to their own advantage and fuck the cost to the men and women caught in the middle.

Yes, it’s obviously meant to be a representation of what is happening on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and various failed states in Africa right now writ large with internecine tribal rivalries, impotent international bodies, paid-for security goons and journalistic spin, conflicts of huge egos, and the inevitable scramble for power and money. But it’s a credit to Wood’s writing that the central premise of all of this taking place in the heart of America, in downtown Manhattan, is utterly believable making it not only a powerful warning to us of exactly what we’re letting our governments get away with in our name all around the globe right now, but also a brilliant story in its own right.

Every character is flawed or compromised by their ideological idiocy, cowardice, greed or just plain stupidity; it’s just to a greater or lesser degree that allows them in turn to be manipulated by someone further up the food chain with more power and influence to wield. Is anyone completely pure of heart and deed in this narrative? No, but then, that’s just like the real world, no? Even non-action can make you complicit as our non-hero journalist Matty Roth knows only too well. Pick a side, though… well, then you’re in it nostril-deep… Read it and weep, and be grateful you’re not living somewhere where someone else controls virtually every aspect of your day-to-day existence not least your survival.

JR

Buy DMZ Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & various.

From the writer of SAGA, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD etc

With the Joker and Arkham Asylum playing roles in Brubaker’s BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, there was more than a cursory reference to madness there, but here Vaughan delved a little deeper into mental illness, specifically when it comes to identity.

In a short story themed heavily around Alice In Wonderland (and Lewis Carroll aficionados do stand a chance solving the clever clues throughout before the dark detective does), The Mad Hatter kidnaps Dr. Kirk Langstrom (the Jekyll-like geneticist able to transform himself into a creature with the Hyde of a bat) and one of his psychiatrists, using the former to transform the latter into a raving Jabberwocky, perhaps subconsciously in order to give the Arkham analyst some insight into his condition.

In the WONDER WOMAN two-parter Clayface steals some of the Amazon’s essence (Diana herself was originally created from magic clay), rendering her into a state where she is once more a Donna Troy twin which neither of the two ladies – priding themselves on their individuality – take too kindly to.

But the big one here is the three-part ‘Close Before Striking’ in which Nightwing (the first Robin) begins to seriously doubt the strength of Batman’s self-awareness when faced once more with Scarface, the ventriloquist’s doll with an eye for the moll, and a hair-trigger temper and Tommy gun. Except that Scarface isn’t the problem – he’s not real:

“The Ventriloquist is an extremely dangerous man. Arnold Wesker has a dissociative disorder that allows him to guiltlessly act out his psychopathic disregard for human life through a puppet persona. Possessing more than one distinct identity allows a man to do things most people would never imagine.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about that, huh?”

Why is Nightwing so worried? Well, for a start, how real has the identity of Bruce Wayne ever been since his parents were killed? He’s been a mask the Batman uses either to distract or extract information. The same goes for Matches Malone, a woise guy arsonist whom “Bruce” has been impersonating for much of his career in order to infiltrate the mob. Except: Matches Malone is real and isn’t Bruce, as becomes appallingly clear when a man fitting the description of Matches is gunned down by Scarface after apparent betrayal.

There is far more to that one than I’m giving away, both in terms of what Batman has been keeping secret, what he has erroneously presumed, and how stable he is in any identity. It’s actually a Batman gem amongst so much similar, trite old paste.

Oh yes, I’m constantly forgetting the art, aren’t I? Standard and perfectly acceptable superhero stuff for the Wonder Woman thing, animation-style rendering for the Hatter episode, really quite cool McDaniel fare that put me in mind of console game Time Splitters for ‘Close Before Striking’ and for the bonus five-pager, it’s so compact that the density of writing takes over, but you will not mind because it’s all very clever and would have made the most amazing spring-board to dive off of, had someone at DC recognised what Vaughan had given them: a brand new villain who thinks well outside the box and who was intended to have strong ties to Bruce himself, plus a very filthy joke involving the Periodic Table.

Niton will take a little bit more research than you think.

SLH

Buy Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Saga vol 7 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser

What Parsifal Saw (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.

Afar s/c (£13-99, Image) by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton

Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 15 – Cometh The Hour (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Doom Patrol Book 3 (£31-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & various

George Sprott s/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Seth

Hillbilly vol 1 s/c (£15-99, Albatross) by Eric Powell

Invincible vol 23: Full House (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker

Livestock (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry

The Hellblazer vol 1: The Poison Truth s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Simon Oliver & Moritat, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan Jr.

Astonishing Ant-Man vol 3: The Trial Of Ant-Man s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas, Brent Schoonover

Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol 2 s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Nico Leon, Sara Pichelli

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 1: Believe It s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Danilo Beyruth, Gurihiru

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 2: Head Of M.O.D.O.K. s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Irene Strychalski, Rachelle Rosenberg

X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford & Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Bleach vol 69 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 11 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

Platinum End vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 5 (£9-99, Yen) by Kiseki Himura

News

ITEM! LOVE IS LOVE raises $165,000 for Orlando Pulse victims!

Brilliant! Let’s keep the funds coming: LOVE IS LOVE in stock, reviewed.

We Ship Worldwide!

ITEM! Riveting and exceptionally eloquent Q&A with Yuval Noah Harari whose blindingly brilliant ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ I am currently addicted to.

Try this, on fictions:

“The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions. If people bear in mind this distinction, it could improve the way we treat one another and the other animals. It’s not such a good idea to cause suffering to real entities in the service of fictional stories.”

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2017 week four

March 22nd, 2017

Featuring American Gods #1, cannibalism, crackpot Arthurian fantasy, new John Allison & Max Sarin, Oliver East, autobiography by Dominique Goblet, Paula Knight, plus Io Black & Cryoclaire and more!

The Facts Of Life (£16-99, Myriad) by Paula Knight…

“We tried to carry on as normal but my negative chatter started up again.
“I’d never be one of those mums who could bake cakes for a school fare…
“… or one of those mums who could rustle up costumes for the school play.”

It is, perhaps, one of the facts of life that you are inevitably not going to get everything you want. But somehow, to not be able to conceive or carry a child to term for whatever reason, when you fervently desire for one, seems one of the cruellest tricks that life can play. Yes, there are those who are adamant they do not want children of their own, women and men, but the majority of people do wish to procreate and bring their own progeny into this world and seem to do so without any problems whatsoever, by and large.

To be denied that chance is to undoubtedly experience a sense of loss akin to losing someone who has been born and lived a life, however long or brief. Though it is also a very different loss, perhaps absence might be a more appropriate term, because you will never quite be sure what it is, who it is, that is missing from your life. You can imagine, you can dream, you can wonder, but you can never truly know.

Consequently, like BILLY, ME & YOU (about the loss of a child) by Nicola Streeten and HOLE IN THE HEART (having a child with Down’s Syndrome) by Henny Beaumont, both also published by Myriad, this is one of those works that leaves you feeling rather raw emotionally. Which is clearly how Paula felt upon finally accepting that her dream of having a child was gone, which in her case as she explains, was at least in no small part due to her ongoing battle with ME. I don’t doubt there are elements of that pain which are still with her today, and probably always will be. How can that not be the case? But Paula has at least been able to come to terms with it, begrudgingly perhaps, to some degree, and find a measure of peace.

This is her story, of how a little girl growing up in the north east together with her best friend, ended up travelling a divergent path entirely due to the vagaries of fate. Upon reaching adulthood her friend quickly settled down and became a mother with seemingly effortless ease, having a beautiful daughter and embracing being a parent in all its innumerate, relentless ups and downs. Whereas for Paula, who would have welcomed the maelstrom of madness that motherhood brings with open arms, well, matters were sadly much more complicated and rather less fulfilling.

I will have to hold my hand up at this point and say this is a book which it is probably impossible to digest with an entirely objective perspective. Whether you just don’t want kids, or desperately do but just haven’t met the right person yet and time is ticking, are currently trying but are struggling to conceive or carry a child, currently have a child or children, were sadly unable to, or indeed are currently pregnant, you have a subjective world view on this issue. It is inevitable. But given this is a work about trying to allow people to see a traumatic situation from another’s perspective, I don’t think it remotely matters. In that sense this is a very interesting work in that it will engender entirely different feelings in the people that read it.

I would imagine those who wanted children and were unable to do so will have the closest sense of what Paula has been through rekindled rather painfully. Those, like my wife and I, who ended up going down the route of IVF to get our daughter, will be reminded once more just how fortunate we personally were to overcome our fertility issues and know just what Paula has missed out on. People struggling with fertility currently will definitely empathise with the agonising uncertainty and not-knowing Paula and her chap went through, combined with wondering just how it will ultimately turn out for them. People who just popped kids out without any problems may well feel sorry, but really can’t hope to grasp what they have endured, despite what they might think. And there may well be some, not wanting children themselves, who probably think they’ve simply swerved a bullet.

The point is, this is her, their, story and Paula does an incredible job of allowing us to understand just what they went through, indeed, what they are going through. And actually, on that last point, as someone who does suffer with ME, Paula does ponder deeply upon whether having children would have been a real uphill struggle for her. I gained a slight sense, rightly or wrongly, of looking for crumbs of consolation where truly there were none for her, but it’s just part of the indefatigable honesty Paula pours into this work, when bone-sapping fatigue was in fact at times her mortal enemy on several levels.

What this work also does, in addition, is allow Paula to look at society’s perceptions of women, particularly in relation to children, and how they have and haven’t changed since her childhood. In that respect, like Una’s BECOMING UNBECOMING about her childhood during the Yorkshire Ripper years and sexual violence towards women, there is a dual narrative going on which neatly broadens out the conversation.

Artistically, I was extremely impressed. I’ve only seen a few mini-comics and short strips that Paula has done before, but this is very accomplished work. The linework combines real fluidity and motion with a gentle neatness that enhances the detail. Neither under-inked nor over-inked, just a perfect weight, it gives a robust purpose to the art that is also very easy on the eye. A real talent and this was a very deeply moving read as I am sure it will be for most people.

And I should add, despite the upsetting subject matter, there are happier times shown too, which do underpin the whole story, told by a clearly very strong woman, despite her recurring physical frailties due to ME. I have only had the pleasure of meeting Paula once, but she made me smile by reminding me in occasional depictions of her here, of an impish mischievousness I definitely detected in person!

A veritable triumph of autobiographical comics, which will only help to further much needed conversation on a very difficult, harrowing subject for many people, whom we should all have boundless empathy for, whether we truly understand their suffering or not.

JR

Buy The Facts Of Life and read the Page 45 review here

Pretending Is Lying h/c (£22-99, New York Review Comics) by Dominique Goblet.

In which Belgian cartoonist Dominique Goblet turns autobiographical comics into an extreme sport.

Dominique’s daughter Nikita wants to draw with coloured crayons while the grown-ups talk.

It’s all a little alien to her because she’s never met her moustachioed grandfather before. You remember what it was like when you’re in a strange new room with odd old people and they’re all immediately arguing about semantics as you do when you haven’t seen each other in four years.

Proudly, Nikita shows off her picture to her grandfather’s strange new missus:

“Here, see her hair… that’s my friend!!!”
“Ah, does your friend have long hair?”
“Well no, why?”
“You just said that it’s your friend and that she has long hair!!”
“Ha, hope, it’s just a character!”

Kids, eh? Don’t we love to indulge their whimsical ways? Mum’s certainly smiling.

“Hey, Nikita, Blandine is right, you said that it was –“
“Yeah well sure, but that was just for pretend!”

Pretend, see? Nikita dances gleefully around the room in her pretty floral dress, ever so pleased with herself. And you’d have thought that would have been the end the matter, all adults charmed by innocent jest.

But elderly, ghoul-faced Blandine sees things a little differently, towering over Nikita and gesticulating wildly like a demonic puppet on maniacally lurching strings, her shrieks of rage blotting out almost everything behind them:

“Well, then you are a LIAR!”
“PRETENDING IS LYING
“IT’S LYING!
“PRETENDING IS LYING!”

So that’s one way to handle a family reunion.

You’re on page 22. If fractious is your idea of fun then you’ve come to the right place: a graphic memoir of quarrels with several such expressionistic flourishes, Dominique’s blustering, boastful buffalo of Dad depicted during one of his many moments of deluded self-martyrdom as a boss-eyed, beatific saint complete with Byzantine halo, his hand raised in blessing on a page of illuminated manuscript.

“I gave you everything I did everything for you!
“I worked like a slave!! Day and night… did everything!! All… All for the two of you!”

He pours himself another glass of wine. (He doesn’t drink anymore. No, not a drop! I can’t think why his wife left him.)

“Well, true, or false?”

False…?

He’s full of these proclamations, these ultimatums to respond, and belittling nick-names for a daughter who remains astonishingly devoted, responding to his bullying tirades with surprising equanimity. I almost expected him to declare his daughter “FAKE NEWS”.

By contrast the book is introduced with an enchanting four-page prologue told in smudged puce biro. In it young Nikske (Dominique) is skipping down the road, heedless of her mother’s cautionary words. The child trips over and bursts into tears not on account of her grazed knees but the holes in her stockings. Her mother smiles, reassuringly.

“It’s not the end of the world, look, I’m going to fix them!”

She scrunches the stockings into a ball then rolls them around in her hand before dressing Dominique back in them. Lo and behold, the holes have gone, and the child looks up, wide-eyed into her mum’s smiling face! Her thoughts float from her head, all wobbly with wonder:

“She… she can do magic…”

It had me totally taken in too: over the page on the final panel, we see that her mum had merely popped the stockings on back-to-front.

There’s a more sobering side to her mother recalled later on which also involves laundry but a lot less love. All I will say is that the irritable tension in the claustrophobic confines of the sitting room is exceptionally well built by noise: the rain tapping incessantly on the window, the click-clack of scissors, the tak-tak of tiny, restless feet under the table top and the roar of racing cars growling from the television set as Dominique’s Dad lies prostrate on the sofa, drinking and smoking and taking fuck-all notice of the escalating domestic crisis right in front of him.

He’s not the only liar in Dominique’s life. Wait until you meet her boyfriend!

Unlike Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO carefully considered exploration of her parents’ past in order to understand them, this is like an exorcism of ghosts which certainly deserve a good banishing (one hovers all around her boyfriend in soft spectral white on the dense, graphite pages), and although it’s expressionistic style isn’t going to appeal to everyone, I couldn’t imagine it so successfully done in any other way.

SLH

Buy Pretending Is Lying h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rolling Stock #1 (£4-50) by Oliver East.

“But I’ve only got eyes for what’s straddling our strada.”

Our Oliver’s out for a bit of bimble.

That’s what he does: he’s comics’ wandering, ever-observant explorer, setting himself a goal, packing pens and paper, then seeing what comes of it.

Always on foot but far from pedestrian, Oliver set off in TRAINS ARE… MINT then PROPER WELL GO HIGH to follow railway tracks as faithfully as was practicable, charming us with whatever unexpected details caught his keen rover’s eye. Since then he’s widened his expeditions to include the likes of a 200-mile trek south from Waverly Street Station in TAKE ME BACK TO MANCHESTER.

Here Oliver’s headed east and become something of a troubadour, ditching his first love, the railway, for a Romanian River called the Someșul Mic and committing to paper his impressions of this sun-filled stroll in the form of poetry. And they are very much impressions.

The language is full of words like “bimble” and “strada” that should be taken out for their own stroll more often, and illustrated by the pared-down shades of strutting, noisy cockerels and packs of kennelled or stray dogs announcing “some slight or other” and giving “unsolicited counsel” while casting shadows on gravel and asphalt. That’s what dogs do.

It’s exquisitely enhanced by the complementary colours of sand and blue sky on a bright white paper reflecting the blinding erosion of form. There’s a huge sense of space and a spirit of place as the locals go about their dusty, daily business, unaware that the Homesick Truant is roaming amongst them, casting his speculative eyes left and right, jotting it all down in a series of visual and literary sketches.

SLH

Buy Rolling Stock # 1 and read the Page 45 review here

American Gods #1 (£3-25, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaimain. P.Craig Russell & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton.

“Shadow had done three years in prison.
“He was big enough and looked Don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.
“So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.”

It’s so long since I read Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS prose novel that much of this came as a pleasant surprise: it was like being reacquainted with an old friend who was as charming and witty as ever yet – thanks to P. Craig Russell on crystal clear layouts and Scott Hampton on highly polished art – had grown even more handsome in the interim.

It also triggered recollections of further down this long and winding road which reminded me that – as any SANDMAN reader knows – Neil Gaiman is a master of foreshadowing.

Craig Russell, whose exceptional adaptations to comics include Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNG and THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE and who has here distilled Neil’s prose to its vital essence, is no slouch on the foreshadowing front, either. See Shadow’s calendar.

Shadow is a level-headed, pragmatic man and in this lies much wisdom.

“He did not awake in prison with a feeling of dread; he was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring because yesterday had brought it.”

Instead he kept himself much to himself and marked the days off until he would see his wife once again. During these three years of calm incarceration Shadow’s cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, introduced him to Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ (circa 425 B.C.) and the self-professed reluctant reader became hooked. What happened to Lyesmith? Transferred without warning, apparently: vanished into thin air.

“Shadow did not believe in anything he could not see.
“Still, he could feel disaster hovering in those final weeks, just as he had felt it in the days before the robbery.
“He was more paranoid than usual, and in prison, usual is very, and is a survival skill.”

With five days to go before his release, after a collect-call to his beaming wife who enthuses about the last leaves of autumn, Shadow is warned of an approaching storm: something cataclysmic waiting outside. There’s no audible thunder in the figurative air but then lightning strikes: Shadow is told that although he was due to be released on Friday… he will in fact be released a couple of days early. His wife has been killed in a car accident.

In an instant everything Shadow had mapped out for himself after his three years in prison is gone. He still has a future but it is empty, unfurnished, unforeseeable and so unimaginable. Numb, he boards the bus to the airport, then his plane home, but home is not what he thought it would be. Shadow falls asleep in the storm.

“Where am I?”
“In the earth and under the earth. You are where the forgotten wait. If you are to survive, you must believe.”
“Believe what? What should I believe?”
“Everything.”

When he dozed once again he was back in prison.

“Someone has put out a contract on your life.”

Then when he wakes up, Shadow’s nightmare begins.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly lost, late and disorientated in my dreams. But that is now Shadow’s reality. He’s at the wrong airport: the plane was redirected because of the storm. He misses its replacement; the next one is cancelled; but if he’s quick there is one he can catch.

“Shadow felt like a pea being flicked between three cups.”

Once on board he discovers he’s been given a duplicate ticket, but “This is your lucky day” for there’s a single spare seat in First Class.

Now, after the death of his wife, his early release, the redirected plane, the plane that he missed, the one that was cancelled and the seat which taken, Shadow is finally where he needs to be. Well, he’s where Mr. Wednesday needs him to be: right across the aisle.

“You’re late.”
“Sorry?”
“I said… you’re late.”

Normally I wouldn’t take you this far through a comic, but there are 36 more chapters to go, so I think you can consider this fair game! I’ve tried to remain allusive.

One of the key elements already reawakened in this instalment is something Neil had touched on in SANDMAN: that of faith, and the dwindling of gods’ power if followers fall by the wayside. If ancient gods are no longer believed in or worshipped, but lie forgotten, what power have they left?

As to structure, slight-of-hand stepping stones are one of Neil Gaiman’s fortes. We have spoken of this twice before in HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE wherein Neil’s stories begin grounded firmly in our shared reality but then his protagonists pass over a subtle, metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another. It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

Back in prison Shadow took comfort in the inevitability of his release but – Gaiman being a master of foreshadowing – he thought of it in very specific terms:

“One day the magic door would open and he would walk through it.”

And now he has.

Top tip: avoid reading his on public transport. I’d forgotten how priapic this initial episode grows towards the end. My adjoining seat wasn’t empty.

SLH

Buy American Gods #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c (£17-99, Candlewick Press) by M.T. Anderson & Andrea Offermann.

“I shall speak of love… and of hate. It is truly a marvel, but I tell you, hatred and love may live cramped together, crouching in the same heart.”

True. Cramped and crouching: it can grow awfully crowded in there. Are we talking jealousies? The teenage me was a nightmare.

“There are many secret chambers in our hearts where love can hide and many battlements where hate can stand, watching for enemies.”

We might still be talking jealousies: obsessively searching for and rooting out rivals. But we’re not.

“There was once an age when love was honourable.
“Or so I’ve heard.”

Was that a disclaimer?

Based on the 12th Century tales by Chrétien De Troyes, much of this may come as a bit a surprise. I’ve read a lot of complex courtly love, but this is not it. You may have read many Arthurian legends springing out from Sir Thomas Malory’s much later Le Morte D’Arthur where it’s all very valiant but this ain’t that, neither. To be honest, the court consists of a right bunch of frivolous idiots.

 

We begin with a beautifully drawn bit of falconry, the first sentence’s love and hate bisected by a panel border through the same image; once the hood is removed, the bird takes flight, soaring above the sorry figure of a knight who’s had the stuffing knocked out of him, dripping blood as he and his horse retreat through a cave towards Camelot.

There he’s greeted during the feast of Pentecost and immediately probed for gossip. They loved a good story, that lot. And they’ll hear it by hook, crook or emotional blackmail.

Our wilted warrior is Sir Calogrenant who’d set out in search of adventure and found it at a fountain where he poured a little too much water over a magical stone, at which point the weather went bat-shit crazy. This is cleverly told on a sequential-art tapestry behind them as Hurricane Harold strikes, deer scatter, the trees are lashed by gales, rain and lightning, and the local landowner charges out on his steed with a great big lance which he introduces quite intrusively to Sir Calogrenant’s stomach, then stabs at him a sword.

“Let me enter my complaint! Here!” Ouch. “And here!”

To be fair, even though his crops received a right battering, the lord does let the loser leave.

Vengeance is immediately called for at which point King Arthur wanders in or wakes up:

“What’s this? An adventure?”
“For the whole court.”
“Sounds jolly. Is it full of honour and so forth?”

Define honour. Alternatively: no, not so much.

Determined that the honour should be all his, Sir C’s cousin, Sir Yvain, takes the reins of a more sturdy steed, receives directions from a cave-dwelling troll, finds the spring and – do you know? – he’s not that frugal with the water, either. Even weatherman Michael Fish could have predicted what happens next. Understandably irate at what must now look like meteorological harassment…

“Who does my dukedom this discourtesy?”

… the lord lets loose once again but this time comes quite a cropper – as does Sir Yvain’s horse when it’s a little late on the final furlong in pursuit of the lord through a descending portcullis.

The lord is dead and Sir Yvain is trapped in his castle. Fortunately he is recognised by Lunette, maid to now-widowed Lady Laudine, as someone who once did her kindness and she fixes him up with an invisibility spell. Unfortunately that allows him to witness to Lady Laudine’s heartfelt, inconsolable grief… and her radiant beauty. He only goes and falls in love, doesn’t he?

We haven’t even begun. Okay, we have begun. But we’ve barely begun.

But I think you might perceive that if – and I’m only saying “if” – Sir Yvain is going to win the hand or even the heart of Lady Laudine, Lunette is going have to think fast and Sir Yvain is going to have to be on his best behaviour from now on in.

But honestly…? He’s not the brightest flame in the fireplace, his time-keeping sucks and the waylaying lads back at Camp Camelot really could do with growing up.

So far – unless I read this very wrong indeed – both Anderson and Offermann have played this mostly  with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, but there are hearts involved, monsters to be fought, slaves to be liberated and other injustices whose their intricate legal and intellectual merits must be adjudicated upon by bludgeoning, skull-splitting fights.

Even if Anderson dots the script with anachronistic colloquialisms (Sir Yvain Oblivion: “It was just stupidity that kept me away from you that long year. I recognise my mistake – honest!”) Offerman maintains the period feel throughout with a variety of castles, rows of tents and descents into briar-like woodland madness.

 

If you’re in it for the fantastical you won’t be disappointed, either: there is one hell of a lion / dragon death-match with a belter of a double-page spread as Sir Yvain first claps eyes on the ferocious, clawing beasts, followed by a flurry of dense, chaotic panels suggesting she might be aware of Gareth Hinds’ BEOWULF.

I don’t know if it’s straight-faced enough for some fantasists, but we’re constantly being asked this sort of fare, so here you go.

SLH

Buy Yvain – The Knight Of The Lion h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 4 (£13-99, Boom! Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin.

Three young women discover the freedoms and financial constraints of leaving home for university.

How’s that for a mass-appeal high concept pitch?

John Allison wrings every millilitre of mirth imaginable from the proceedings and evidently drank a lot less at university than I did, for he remembers all its home-leaving, life-altering novelties with pin-point accuracy.

Previously in GIANT DAYS Susan, Esther and Daisy have discovered:

Halls of Residence, their loud landing congregations and the bedsits’ wafer-thin walls.
Halls of Residence’s communal kitchens with foodstuffs protectively labelled.
Those labels routinely ignored!
Choosing degree courses for which you are singularly ill-suited.
Bluffing your way through them anyway!
Learning to dance and your first night clubbing!
Friends from home on weekend-long binges, crashing and burning in your bedsit, then finding a job to fund those binges!
Finding more binges to burn out on.

But oh, above all, I recall the exhausted delirium of staying up two nights on the trot, feverishly writing an entire last-minute dissertation which you had a whole month to hand in on time.

Now, in year two, it’s time to be weaned off the comparative safety of campus and take a step even further towards self-governance if not more mature self-guidance: it’s time find to sign a house-sharing tenancy agreement!

First, of course, you have to find a house to share and people to share it with.

With so many students competing for a finite number of digs, things move fast and it can seem like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt. Except not all of the houses are treasures. There’s the live-in landlady from hell who won’t abide free love or even self-love; the semi-detached whose definition extends to both its gutters and indoor plumbing; the one with no heating; several in a suburb far too posh, twee or net-curtain-twitching to feel remotely comfortable crawling back and forth from drunken and /or drug-addled late-night assignations.

[Top tip: unlike John’s BAD MACHINERY which is emphatically all-ages, the responsible side of me – and I do have one! – would caution you that this may be for teens but not tweens.]

Susan, Daisy and Esther are already their own ideal unit but sometimes all that’s on offer are four-bedroom houses. This means that you may have to poach popular people from other prospective households to live with you, but there is a much bleaker alternative:

“So what you’re saying is, let’s go fishing in the pool of isolated loners, whose friendlessness is the mark of how good they’d be to live with.”
“Yes. Let’s invite a nightmare into our lives.”

All of this and more is explored by Allison then delivered direct to that part of your brain that craves ebullience by the magnificent Max Sarin. She will make the most of every opportunity to represent fanciful, figurative notions as actual occurrences, like the winged flight of available houses from a mobile phone’s app.

“Come back, houses, come back!” screams Esther, clawing the air.
“The motherload has been compromised! We have to find Susan fast before they’re all gone!”

Yes, there is a certain degree of melodrama both in the declarations and gesticulations, but that’s what we relish in cartoon comedy: mountains for molehills, dug up with due diligence then thrown in our face with a precision that makes us smile with its smart. The great Will Eisner firmly believed in body language augmented for maximum empathy and communication, and he rarely worked in this burlesque genre for which it is most appropriate. Max Sarin is one of its masters.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #1 & #2 (£4-99 each, Dead Channel Comics) by Io Black & Cryoclaire…

     

“Ugh. So much for getting in early. Aaaand of course there’s a queue for the shower. Fantastic.”
“What’s the hold-up? Did someone hang themselves in the bathroom again?”
“This is exactly why we banned auto-erotic asphyxiation in the common spaces. You think I made these signs just for the hell of it?”

Haha, the very rude punchline on the sign in question only adds to the ribald feel of this exceptional chunk of comedy sci-fi.

I’ve said it before, but speculative fiction that makes you splutter with tea-spitting mirth is verrry tricky. What a highly polished piece of self-published material this is, both in terms of writing and artistically. Artist Cryoclaire popped into the shop recently and asked if we would take a look at their work. Now, we get a fair few requests of this nature, so I asked if she could leave us a copy to look at when I got chance, which she kindly did of #1 and #2. You never really know what to expect with such submissions, but I was absolutely blown away with what I read.

To sum it up in a nutshell, I’d have to say this is the chimeric offspring of William Gibson and John Allison. Our main character deadbeat Dan, the poor chap above who can’t have a wash because someone’s up to self-abuse in the water closet, is described as a… ‘pissy misanthrope and recovering VR junkie, now condemned to a dead-end job delivering sketchy packages in a post-Soviet urban hellhole.’‘

Dan made his cyber-notoriety by getting massively off his tits on various pharmacopeia and recording his ‘out there’ psychonautical experiences, usually having a bad one, for other people to vicariously experience through the safe remove of virtual reality. He stoically, and rather self-delusionally, saw himself as a pioneering trailblazer of consciousness exploration, whereas everyone else just saw him as someone to have a good laugh at. Then a new computer virus partially fried his implanted cybernetic operating system and thus his brain causing him to be forced offline and marooned in the drudgery of everyday life. He’s still got his drugs, of course: he needs those more than ever these days, bereft of his online life. He does still get the odd troubling hallucination that he can’t explain mind you.

Most worryingly though, the virus seems to be gradually accounting for a not insubstantial slice of this particular tech-addled / drug-abusing fringe of society. Dan is actually one of the lucky ones as all the others to date were rather more permanently synaptically fried. The fact that he barely escaped with even a few neural pathways semi-intact is down to his friend Lin, a black market cybernetics installer who isn’t averse to cutting a few corners whilst slicing through tissue! Both Dan and Lin are determined to find out who is behind the killer virus wiping out their… well, acquaintances is probably a better word than friends, frankly.

I should have guessed the creators were big William Gibson fans even before opening the first issue up, given their publishing imprint is called Dead Channel Comix, undoubtedly referencing the first line of Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer…

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Now that’s a opening line, and if someone is going to try and emulate the master of cyberpunk (though I seriously wish Gibson would get his finger out and write the last two issues of his comic debut ARCHANGEL – getting a bit tedious waiting now, William), you better be ready to take me on a technological rollercoaster of a ride. Writer Io Black most definitely is; the sci-fi elements of this work, the operating system implants, the cybernetic hacks, the underground techie community, they all feel perfectly credible as a possible mildly dystopian flavoured future. What then flips it all on its head like the blue screen of PC death is the bawdy, knockabout pithy John Allison-esque humour that punctuates the pitter-patter dialogue like phaser fire…

“Ever perform implant surgery when your blood sugar’s crashing? Last time I started operating on an empty stomach, I whacked off the wrong limb…”
“Well, that’s…”
“… three times.”
“Oh.”
“But hey, mistakes happen. And I finally unloaded those prosthetics we found on that dumpster-dive last month so that’s a win-win right there. Anyway, what’s been new with you? Implant still holding up okay? Any cool new hallucinations I should know about?”
“… Just the usual….”

Art-wise, Cryoclaire keeps the Allison vibe alive as I suspect she might well be a big Max GIANT DAYS Sarin fan, which only adds to the frivolity. The other resemblance I could see, which I actually mentioned to her and to my surprise she was utterly unaware of (so clearly not an influence, then!) was Natsume NOT SIMPLE, RISTORANTE PARADISO Ono. It’s in the faces.

#2 also hit the mark, moving the mystery elements of the story along and further developing the characters nicely. I’m keen to see where the story goes next and just how much further down past the U-bend Dan’s life can possibly get! At least he’s still got his drugs, they’ve not got flushed away yet, though Lin does keep confiscating them in an effort to keep his remaining grey matter from turning to mush! What a friend…

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Drugs & Wires #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Cannibal vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Steve Buccellato, Jennifer Young & Matias Bergara.

For those who are not regular readers I would impress upon you that we do not do spoilers and that misdirection is amongst my middle names. Double-bluff is another of them.

“Let him go.
“A man’s got to follow his own path. Even if it’s headed in the wrong direction.”

We seem to love our gruff, small-town communities in comics at the moment. You know the sort I mean: where outsiders are spurned, grudges are grown, the law might turn a blind eye to due process when browbeaten into it and real power lies in those with the loudest, surliest and often drunkest mouths.

Somewhere in swampland Florida there’s a bar called Hog’s River where almost everyone congregates of an evening. It belongs to the Hansens and Pa Hansen is amongst the surliest son-of-bitches of them all. They’re practical, capable folk. His two sons, Cash and Grady, tend the bar and of course they all have beards.

They’ve a family friend in Danny who’s clean-shaven but not local and renowned for his disappearing acts, even on his son, estranged wife and sister-in-law. He’s just wandered back into town, but seems mighty skittish, often retreating to the shadows. His son Boone and Boone’s Aunty Louise are currently on the road, driving up to find him and they won’t bring good news.

Cash too is doing a disappearing act, but that’s to go courting Jolene. They have an unusual courtship routine. But Cash is so stoked he’s bought her a ring and is practising how to propose.

Thing is, right now, you don’t want to be doing any disappearing acts. People have gone missing and Sheriff Mays and Deputy Sheriff Mays (his son – it’s that sort of town) are mighty suspicious. It could have something to do with the virus that’s turning folks into cannibals. Oh, they get rabid for human flesh, so the worst thing you can do in a fight is bite someone; or get accused of biting someone. Grudges, due process: we’ve covered that one.

It’s making a closed community like this with easily frayed tempers even more antsy than usual.

And that’s when Jolene goes missing.

Lots of long shadows are in evidence on the art front, and on the writing front too. That’s why this works so well. It’s far from an epidemic, but that this cannibalism virus exists on the periphery at all is enough for eyes to narrow and for everyone to jump to conclusions. No one can let their guard down or take any chances.

So somebody obviously will.

And obviously other acts of violence which have nothing to do with this virus may slip through the cracks and so get overlooked.

One last thing… Here’s Sheriff Mays:

“No one with the virus can last more than a few days without getting overtaken by the fever.”

So that’s kind of good news / bad news. It’s bad that the urge is uncontrollable; it’s good that if you lock someone up for seventy-two hours and they don’t start salivating that you know they’re free from infection.

But it’s very, very bad that between brunches anyone, for a couple of days, could pass for fine, dandy and normal.

SLH

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

Demonic s/c (£13-99, Image) by Christopher Sebela & Niko Walter…

“She’s got you on a short leash, partner.”
“I need my leash yanked every now and then. It’s good for me.”
“Wow. Remember when we used to say she was like a tick you couldn’t…”
“Long time ago, Fischer.”
“Lighten up, Graves. I’m allowed to use your past against you, Mr. Sensitive. It’s in the partner’s manual.”
“Uh huh. Let’s roll. Faster we knock this out, tell the roomies to stop fighting over the milk, faster we can catch something worth our time.”
“Famous last words. 5-to-1 we walk into a complete clusterfuck.”
“Your lips to God’s ear, Fischer.”
THWAMM…

…as the eviscerated body hits the sidewalk just in front of them.

I guess the title is some clue as to what to expect, so it’s no surprise to find our erstwhile partners in crime-fighting walking straight into what appears to be a full-on demonic possession and indeed total clusterfuck of the highest supernatural order. It’s a situation that sends chills straight up Detective Grave’s spine, given his very strange upbringing as part of a commune, and more besides…

That’s a piece of his, as yet to us, shadowy past that Graves and his wife have agreed to never, ever talk about ever again. Unfortunately for Detective Graves, though, it seems his past isn’t done with him yet as he is offered a very dark deal indeed to preserve the lives of those closest to him. He takes the deal, of course, but did he actually need to…?

I enjoyed this dark tale from the writer of HIGH CRIMES with its intriguing plot and snappy dialogue. It’s basically a blend of KILL OR BE KILLED and OUTCAST with a police procedural backdrop. Sketchy artwork, which really does seem to be de rigueur at the mo, from a name new to me, Niko Walter, which very much adds to the creepy feel. Detective Graves and family are in for a very rough and extremely bloody time. Whether that will extend to more issues than this, I know not. This volume was not numbered which makes me think not, yet certain matters are left, shall we say, dangling tantalisingly…

JR

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

New Editions, Old Reviews

Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition (£8-99, Oni) by John Allison…

“Well now, you have a good day at school.”
“Aw Mum, don’t cry.”
“Snif, I can’t help it, sorry love.”
“Bye then.”
“Aren’t you going to give your mummy a kiss?”
“But…”
“Do those boys not have mothers too? Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, my little baby boy!”

“Linton, you really ought to catch the kisses your mum is blowing. They’re for you, it’s only right.”

Yes! John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious widescreen technicolour!

If I had to name one person in comics whose art style is the very definition of illustration, I personally would immediately say John. To see his work laid out like this really is like watching an exquisitely produced animation, his linework is so consistent and the colours so eye-strainingly vibrant.

It’s also clear John really does have a love for sleuthery, mysteries and general all around weirdness, as seen in his SCARY GO ROUND material, and his shorts featuring the slightly ditzy children’s author and part-time detective Shelley Winters, THAT! and MURDER SHE WRITES. Fans of that last work will be delighted to learn, if they didn’t know already, that Charlotte the tween sleuth is one of the six young stars of the show here, as the boys and girls of Tackleford form their very own Blyton-esque numerical investigative unit to find out who or what is behind the apparent curse on the mega-rich owner of local football club Tackleford FC. Results haven’t been going well recently and the one boy who is actually bothered about football is concerned that their benevolent oligarch will up sticks and leave. I needn’t add that all is not as it seems, I’m sure! It did amuse me greatly too that I didn’t guess who the ultimate culprit was! I also suspect Surreal may well be John’s middle name, as along with his brilliant art, this type of off-the-wall humorous fiction really has become his trademark.

John writes his stories with such apparent carefree glee and obviously understands the inner workings of the juvenile mind because, over and above the chortling, fruitloopy storylines, it’s the interaction between all the kids that make this such a total hoot. It really does take me back to the more inane aspects of schoolyard humour, and the dashes of ribald cruelty too, which I had mostly forgotten about. For me John’s star has been steadily rising, and I do hope, and think, this could be the work that really breaks him through to a considerably wider audience.

[Editor’s note: Allison’s EXPECTING TO FLY #1 of 2 went on to become our biggest-selling comic of 2015; his BOBBINS our biggest-selling comic of 2016. And it only came out that October!]

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 1: The Case Of The Team Spirit s/c Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, supposedly, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

I am happy to report this hardcover collects all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Arclight s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland

The Cartoon Utopia (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ron Rege Jr.

DMZ Book 3 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli

The Flintstones vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Mark Russell & Steve Pugh

Forbidden Brides… h/c (£14-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley

Katzine: The Factory Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman

Pizza Witch – Deluxe Edition h/c (£10-00, Shiny Sword) by Sarah Graley

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 3 (£14-99, Titan) by Tom Fowler, Pamela Ribbon & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (£17-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Steven Universe: Too Cool For School (£10-99, Titan) by various

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

A Thousand Coloured Castles (£17-99, Myriad) by Gareth Brookes

Triangle h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Batgirl vol 1: Beyond Burnside s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Rafael Albuquerque

Batman By Brian K. Vaughan s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & various

Civil War II: Fallout s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing, Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, Nick Spencerv & Karl Kesel, Ramon Bachs, Mark Bagley, Rod Reis

Uncanny Avengers: Unity vol 3 – Civil War II s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ryan Stegman, Pepe Larraz

Blame! Vol 3 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Viz) by Tsutomu Nihei

Erased vol 1 h/c (£21-99, Yen) by Kei Sanbe

Legend Of Zelda vol 11: Twilight Princess vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

News

ITEM! Black Queer Romance Comics!

Hooray for BINGO LOVE from Inclusive Press whose romance lasts a full lifetime!

There are very few romance comics of any ilk that end well! What is it with us in comics that we are all such terrible doom-merchants?

And why will we not deal with old age?

Of course I will give you exceptions for we love to stay positive at Page 45:

Jade Sarson’s thrillingly free-from-guilt, all-inclusive and thoroughly feminist FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE on the romance front!

Roz Chast’s CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? on the old-age front!

Then there’s Paco Roca’s WRINKLES.

But BINGO LOVE looks to be all-embracing on every front and, God, it looks gorgeous!

ITEM! Animation test for the HILDA cartoon!

And it is perfect!

Oh, well it was perfect, but they’ve taken it down. Hope you caught it when I retweeted on Twitter!

Luke Pearson’s five HILDA graphic novels to date, each one reviewed!

ITEM! Philip Reeve addresses the completely counterproductive term MG (Middle Grade) to describe children’s books.

Stop it. Stop it now.

Everyone will think you mean “mediocre”.

There’s nothing mediocre about Reeve & McIntyre’s OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH and JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR or indeed Reeve’s own Railhead, Black Light Express etc.

– Stephen

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