Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2017 week three: Lakes Festival Special

October 19th, 2017

The following comics, Moomin tote bag and prints are now available for Worldwide Distribution EXCLUSIVELY from Page 45! Festival photos below!

Also: thank you, thank you, thank you! Page 45 broke its own weekend sales record yet again! £10,195.27 is what we took on top of Nottingham sales, and exactly £1,300.00 of that goes directly to OCDAction and LICAF itself, including its Creator Development Fund, through weekend sales of the following…

Spirit Centenary Newspaper (Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017) (£5-00, LICAF) by Sean Phillips (editor), Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragonés, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho.

“Oh. Thank Goodness. It was a dream.”
“Umm… Not this time, Mister Spirit.”

Haha, dear, dear Chris Samnee!

It can be a rough-and-tumble world, fighting crime.

Under a sensual, bold and beautiful Becky Cloonan cover, this 12-page anthology of 10 self-contained stories is a breath-taking, broadsheet-sized spectacle at a whopping 23” x 14.5” or 58 x 27 cm.

With love, respect and a great deal of grin-inducing wit, a stunning array of top-tier international comicbook creators celebrate the centenary of the birth of Will Eisner (1917-2017) in a project instigated by John McShane and LICAF itself, then directed and edited by Festival Patron Sean Phillips, artist on KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL, USER, THE FADE OUT, FATALE and so much more.

I don’t know if it’s wholly inappropriate to note that Sean also paid for its printing from his own pocket, but I am my own editor, and so I do so.

Sean provides a full page here along with his co-conspirator on the above, Ed Brubaker. It is as subtle as you’d imagine. It is so subtle that you will need to read it with your eyes peeled at least twice to spy what The Spirits spots on Marvin to make him such an obvious suspect in the killing of sadistic (so not much missed) crime lord Mugsy Cleaver.

The Spirit takes his time and does our Zippo-dead Marvin a favour. After all, Marvin has done us all one of those.

Honour, justice, care and compassion: that was Will Eisner through and through.

Ever since our beardly beloved Mark first introduced me to Eisner in the form TO THE HEART OF THE STORM, I have relished the humanity, wisdom, dexterity and integrity of this humble, sequential-art giant who remains the comicbook king of gesticulation. I don’t have many true heroes in life: Rosa Parks, MARCH’s Congressman John Lewis and Will Eisner – I think that’s about it – so I would please urge you at your leisure to pop Will Eisner into our search engine to explore the breadth of his non-genre fiction. I do believe that I have reviewed every single one of his graphic novels, some at great length… except for THE SPIRIT.

I confess that THE SPIRIT is a mystery to me apart from its iconic incorporation of titles into the very environment of its opening splash pages.

From the LICAF Eisner exhibition. More photos below!

Those I have relished for hours. But if, like me, you are new to the character and are buying this to see all the love lavished upon him by some of your favourite contemporary creators, then we are in the same boat! It is completely accessible, I assure you.

Part of the art of the single-page story, it strikes me, is a good, old-fashioned, unexpected twist, either within the tale itself or – in a homage – on whatever it is a tribute to.

ENIGMA’s Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo provide both!

It took me a full three panels to realise that we’ve fast-forwarded to the 21st Century because I am a complete and utter moron. It’s there, right in the opening shot of a subway-train passenger who is accessing – via his mobile phone – one of those ghost-hunting TV-host twerps, grandstanding away in a graveyard.

“For over fifty years people have seen a figure moving among these chill gravestones…
“The figure is usually wearing a crumpled blue suite. Sometimes he sports and ridiculous mask… or a hokey old hat…”

Nice! Unlike that preposterous, self-serving charlatan, attention-seeking is the last thing on The Spirit’s agenda.

“Since Wildwood gained a reputation for being haunted, sartorial insults are the least of my problems…”

He needs anonymity, plus peace and quiet to slip in and out of his home swiftly, unnoticed, or he could miss his opportunity to apprehend. Instead he’s had to skulk in the shadows and dart circuitously from one ivy-strewn gravestone to another to keep undercover. Still, if there’s one thing that The Spirit is adroit at, it’s using whatever’s to hand in order to solve his problems – even if whatever’s to hand is the problem itself. Oh, so many twists are in store!

Jonathan Ross (yes, that Jonathan Ross) and Bryan Hitch give it their all. Truly there is no stinting. Ross takes on Miss Verushka Diamandas – the very essence of sybaritic, oh so supposed insouciance – and peels her back to her bleached, back-street, wrecking-yard roots. But she simply refuses to submit.

If you relish the scale and neo-classical figure work as much as I do of Bryan Hitch (THE AUTHORITY plus THE ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and THE ULTIMATES SEASON TWO, my favourite socio-political superhero comics of all time – yes, including that one!), then you are in for a treat.

“I’m Verushka Diamandas. And I want my jewels.”

I’m not so sure that The Spirit is. I think he’s in for more of a gulp.

ROGAN GOSH’s Brendan McCarthy brings a softer brand of his customary psychedelic swirls of colours to bear on a tremendously moving and affirmative clarion call from the afterlife into action, and you might notice an addition to his blue suit. Loved it!

Seth is more solemn and as quiet as a mouse. He focuses on the buildings and topography of Central City, as you might expect from the creator of GEORGE SPROTT etc. The last two panels say it all. Very sad, that.

By contrast, you just know that Sergio Aragonés is going to make you howl, but he leaves it until the very last minute for maximum impact and the chap checking his watch is a triumph. Irreverent? Of course it is! This is the co-creator of GROO – and there’s a clue!

VIZ’s Graham Dury and Simon Thorp start in on the first paragraph – naturally! – in their ‘Blyth Spirit’:

“Blyth seafront… The biggest magnet for every lawless hood, crook and lowlife in the North East. Except perhaps Sunderland. And some parts of Middlesbrough.”

Of course Britain’s Spirit is going to be bonkers – bonkers, and a bit BEANO.

You’ll be in for a completely different twist from John M Burns (2000 AD’S GREATEST etc) which is ever so contemporary and cool. Such delicious figure work there, with his unmistakeably rich, old-school colour palette.

Finally, Jason Latour (LOOSE ENDS etc) goes for more of a montage effect (above), breaking the collection up brilliantly, nailing Will Eisner’s rain, displaying his broad knowledge of Eisner’s legacy outside of the obvious, making his Spirit ethereal but the very opposite of ephemeral.

Oh yes, sorry: proceeds from sales will go to LICAF’s Creators’ Development Fund. That is exceptionally cool!

SLH

Buy Spirit Centenary Newspaper (Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017) and read the Page 45 review here

Starting (£5-00, LICAF) by Chris Gooch, Marc Jackson, Luke McGarry, John Martz, Mikiko, Jake Phillips.

“In the beginning there was nothing.
“Then there was Kevin,
“And Kevin was hungry.”

Everything has to start somewhere.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and sometimes it’s that often very daunting challenge that prevents or delays all manner of things from communication, creativity, going outside or moving forward in any meaningful manner to ditching a bad habit, tackling an addiction or perhaps turning over a lesser new leaf.

In my Page 45 Staff Profile I wrote:

Which qualities do you least admire in yourself?
Procrastination when I know something definitely needs to be done – all in the vain hope that it doesn’t!

Once I get started I find that I’m fine, but it can prove a struggle for some of us, and so it is in a couple of these stories, but let us first return to Kevin, for he is very hungry.

“He began to feast on the nothingness around him.
“As he ate he expanded.
“But he couldn’t stop.”

So there’s the flipside: sometimes once you’ve started, you simply can’t stop. However, once you’ve digested Jake Phillips’s full four pages alongside their visuals, you might feel very grateful that Kevin consumes. It really is a cosmically quick-witted comic with at least four starting processes, one of which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

Each of the six comicbook creators fashioned a four-page story in the space of four hours on the subject of STARTING. Immediately afterwards they were collated and printed in the form of this anthology, published and on sale the very next day on Saturday 14th October during LICAF 2017. That was a truly Herculean endeavour and monumental achievement by contributor Marc Jackson who had to learn it all on the hoof. If anyone started something astonishing for the first time here, it is he.

Like last year’s LICAF anthology COELIFER ATLAS (reviewed and still on sale for worldwide distribution by Page 45) every single penny of its £5 cover-price continues to go directly from Page 45 to LICAF without us taking a retail cut: thence to OCDAction in the case of COELIFER ATLAS to provide support and information to those affected by OCD and raise awareness amongst the wider public; or in this instance split between OCDAction and LICAF’s Creator Development Fund.

COELIFER ATLAS is a single story told in a relay race between artists that deals directly and eloquently and startlingly with OCD itself, whereas the remit of STARTING is all in its title and, like Jake Phillips’s contribution, once you’ve had time to consider each one properly then multiple beginnings become clear.

Chris Gooch’s cold blue opening offering takes place at the dentist during a check-up on teen Johnny’s braces. He’s just started a new school. But Johnny started something else a long time ago and he’s already started again. Now his dentist starts something else in the hope that he’ll stop. How dark do you like your comics?

With frantic lettering more exuberant than I can match here and eye-frazzling lines that refuse to sit still, Marc Jackson’s about to start using a Wacom and draws a robot. But the robot starts making demands:

“Can you draw me a wife? I’m going to get lonely in here!”
“You got it, Robo Man!”
“Make sure she has lots of rivets, I love rivets!
“O… kay…”

It won’t end there, but where will it?

Equally on the product-placement ball, Luke McGarry begins receiving strange visitors just as Donald Trump starts World War Three (next Tuesday it says on my calendar) then McGarry’s going to need to start keeping warm – one way or another.

John Martz of BURT’S WAY HOME and A CAT NAMED TIM is determined to start his first novel. As I say, everything has to start somewhere. You can crack your knuckles for as long as you like, but nothing beats hitting the keyboard. No, not with drum sticks! Faced with a blank screen, I honestly suggest that you simply start typing. I do that all the time. Plus, we no longer need to use Tippex.

Finally Mikiko’s young artist is off to many a false start, scrunching most of them up then lobbing them into the bin. I’m afraid it’s a bit full by now, but it all could be much worse as the penultimate page close-up makes clear. That’s ever so clever, I promise.

Six creators, four pages each, and not one of them coasting, even under such pressure.

SLH

Buy Starting and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin / LICAF 2017 Tote Bag (£5-00, LICAF) by Tove Jansson & Steve Kerner.

Yes, unless I have maxed out my memory and mislaid my marbles yet again, the iconic logo for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival was created by Steve Kerner; and I have to concede, such is my admiration, that I prefer it even to Page 45’s… just!

Meanwhile, behold young Moomintroll performing a back-flip / handstand with all the grace of Tom Daley on the very top diving board of an Olympic-size swimming pool! He is at peace – at one with his newfound, gymnastic equilibrium – and so will you be once you’ve purchased this in-store or online for worldwide distribution. The only question in-store is, “Do you want this to be the bag, or be in a bag?

This is printed in black on precisely the same colour and heavy-duty, graphic-novel-bearing cloth as the classic Page 45 Tote Bag  which is both a fashion statement and a status symbol.

Page 45 carries the complete range of the Janssons’ MOOMIN graphic novels as well as the very first Tove Jansson MOOMIN novel, THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, and indeed Philip Ardagh’s new MOOMINVALLEY book. You know how to use our search engine, I’m sure.

SLH

Buy Moomin / LICAF 2017 Tote Bag and read the Page 45 review here

Michael Cho LICAF 2017 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 50) (£25-00, LICAF) by Michael Cho.

What do you want me to say? It’s gorgeous, innit?

Sterling composition featuring the hills above Kendal where one man who bought the print said he walked his dog every day. He showed me exactly where.

This is one of the many things I love about LICAF: Entry is free so locals and tourists flood in to discover comics for the very first time. It’s a festival that truly reaches out.

The locals are lovelies. Kendal is kindness personified.

SLH

Buy Michael Cho LICAF 2017 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 50) and read the Page 45 review here

Jonathan Edwards LICAF 2017 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 50) (£25-00, LICAF) by Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards had loads of his own prints on sale in our room – I bought two of those in 2016 and now I’m having this one, cheers.

I was chatting with Sean Phillips about Jonti’s process video of painting a waterfall and he said, “I have no idea how his brain works – to be able to translate what I see into what he sees… It’s astonishing.”

Our own Jonathan suspects he has some sort of prism glasses.

Anyway, Jonti (please call him Jonathan – never call him John – I’m allowed specially dispensation with “Jonti”) is the co-creator this year with Louise “Felt Mistress” Evans of the glorious Archipelagogo exhibition in Kendal inspired by Tove Jansson (photos below).

In our first year at LICAF FeltMistress came up to me in The Brewery bar and said, “I love your Georgian Room: it’s where all the cool kids hang out! Can we sit there next year?” She has a lovely Welsh lilt.

Obviously I screamed “YES!”

They’ve been with us ever since.

SLH

Buy Jonathan Edwards LICAF 2017 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 50) and read the Page 45 review here

Ken Niimura LICAF 2016 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 40) (£25-00, LICAF) by Ken Niimura.

I don’t have an image in front of me as I type this, but I was exceedingly grateful to Bryan Lee O’Malley for introducing us to Ken last year A) because he’s such an exceptionally gifted creator B) because he’s so sweet and C) because he promptly spent £150 in our Georgian Room on graphic novels which we then shipped across the ocean to him.

They would have exceeded his luggage allowance.

That was an awful review, I’m sorry.

SLH

Buy Ken Niimura LICAF 2016 Print – Signed & Numbered (Of 40) and read the Page 45 review here

LICAF Comics & Graphic Novels Still On Sale, Reviewed

Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash (£100-00, original LICAF edition signed and sketched on) by Dave McKean

Carrot To The Stars (£6-00, LICAF) by Regis Lejonc, Thierry Murat & Riff Reb’s (translation by Carole Tait)

Coelifer Atlas (£5-00, LICAF) by Alex Paknadel, Dan Watters & Charlie Adlard, Dan Berry, Nick Brokenshire, Joe Decie, Mike Medaglia, Bruce Mutard, Ken Niimura, Jake Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Craig Thompson, Petteri Tikkanen, Emma Vieceli.

How To Create Graphic Novels (£5-00, LICAF) by by Rodolphe Töpffer with John McShane

New Arrivals, Online & Ready To Buy!

Please scroll down: they’re all at the bottom! Meanwhile (photos mine unless stated otherwise) …

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017: Behold Beauty!

 

 

Oh wait — that’s Jonathan.

We were enraptured by Jonthan Edwards & Louise ‘Felt Mistress’ Evans’s Archipelagogo exhibition inspired by the works of MOOMIN’s Tove Jansson (still on in Kendal!), but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Let’s start again: Behold The Beauty!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh sorry — that’s Jonathan again.

Even in the rain and especially in Autumn, Cumbria is drop-dead romantic – which sounds a bit Keats!

Many of those photos were from our Friday morning stroll right around, up and above Grasmere Lake, a mere half-hour drive from Kendal.

But we’ll get to that again too, and Kendal itself is a town to fall in love with, full of intriguing alleys which promise hidden treasures and more open courtyards and twisted vistas to make your heart soar!

 

 

I do hope the Cumbrian Tourist Board is paying attention. If you could possibly pay Page 45’s hotel bill next year then we would be eternally grateful.

We adored Kendal’s Riverside Hotel where LICAF logistics Commander Carole Tait placed us this year.

Come to think of it, Riverside, you might consider giving us a freebie in 2018. The tourist board could perhaps pay for our petrol.

 

 

Basically this: it’s more pretty than a city!

An entire town en fête, as in Europe, dedicated to our shared love of comics!

One of the many things I love about LICAF is that entry to its core Kendal Comic Clock Tower is free so the locals flood in and swoon over glorious graphic novels and comics for the very first time!

 

 

 

It’s one great big loving outreach to everyone, and that is Page 45’s own Georgian Room, yes!

We were a little bit busy! We broke our own weekend record for the fourth consecutive year, taking over £10,000 and with just 1% of the range of our stock.

Essentially it’s all that we can fit in a van.

Here’s that process from start to finish, with Jonathan playing immaculate graphic novel / tight-van Tetris, and silly old me unpacking all the graphic novels then laying them out on tables until, after four hours, I am vaguely content that we’ve done our best to showcase our shared, beloved medium:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then along comes Oliver East with THE LANKY (brand-new and hot off the press – so I haven’t had time to review it yet, but every copy you buy from that link has kindly been sketched in for free!) and we have to make room for more!

Oliver signed in our room for half the festival along with his adorable son Hunter (a new joke every five minutes – too funny! – I want Hunter signing solo in our room next year!) who bought a 3-foot bag of what claimed to be over-sized Cheesy Wotsits for a quid. They looked like packing chips and tasted like packing chips.

Top-tip: if something looks and tastes like a packing chip, it probably is a packing chip.

 

 

 

We didn’t have to make room for Festival Patron Emma Vieceli and her new YA LGBT graphic novel BREAKS (reviewed) co-created with Malin Ryden because we’d already received that a fortnight before anyone else thanks to Soaring Penguin Press and we’d already sorted out space for Hannah Berry signing LIVESTOCK etc (also reviewed – basically, if I’ve linked to it, the graphic novel’s been reviewed) because, well, Hannah!

LIVESTOCK was one of our best-selling books of the Festival!

Here they all are: Emma Vieceli, Hannah Berry and the stellar Emmeline Pidgen signing and sketching in our Georgian Room.

So, so proud-making!

 

 

 

 

What we did part our graphic-novel Red-Sea for – like Moses – was the surprise, Exclusive Worldwide Book Launch of PORCELAIN III: IVORY TOWER!

We’d grabbed PORCELAIN‘s Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose from Improper Books (who were exhibiting elsewhere in the Kendal Clock Tower) for a Saturday signing but we had no idea that they could deliver book three in time for the Festival!

PORCELAIN II was Page 45’s biggest-selling book of 2015, even though it came out only in October, eclipsing 2-to-1 Neil Gaiman’s return to SANDMAN with SANDMAN: OVERTURE which is published by DC owned by Time Warner with its multi-billion-dollar advertising budget. PORCELAIN comes out of a British farmhouse!

Here’s Ben and Chris and indeed the legendary Paul Gravett who popped by for a chat.

 

 

 

Page 45’s free exclusive signed bookplate. I’d probably order right now!

 

 

We also had our GRANDVILLE V: FORCE MAJEURE book launch which totally sold out!

Big love to Volunteer-In-Chief Chris who with quick wit worked out a way to start the Bryan and Mary Talbot signing an hour early. But even then it lasted over four hours in total. The queues snaked back and back!

You want your copies early? I’d probably pre-order from Page 45 using that link. We Ship Worldwide! We have some signed and sketched-in bookplates to give out for free to the earliest birds.

 

 

 

Mary: “This queue is ridiculous!” Bryan didn’t stop until the last fan / reader was satisfied.

 

 

Oh, by totally sold out, I mean that we had no copies of the new GRANDVILLE graphic novel for sale on Sunday.

Still, I’d recommend the equally anthropomorphic BLACKSAD, which is what I did when the Talbot Tower came crashing down leaving but five graphic novels left standing plus that brilliant Bryan Talbot DVD. It’s in stock, by the way, whatever our website says: we simply haven’t unpacked it from all our boxes back home. My Mum adored the DVD, particularly the tour round the ONE BAD RAT Lakes District.

 

 

Anyway, we also had Jason and those amazing folks from Metaphrog, Sandra and John, signing with us too.

We’re a little bit lucky, you know, to have all these lovely creators giving up their time to sign for free.

I’m not sure why they do it. I’m not sure how they do it. Please think about this: they give up their time which they need so desperately to create and so earn money.

I’m a little bit in awe of all of them.

 

Oh! This photo’s by Jonathan! I spy customers Stephen and Dee Mortiboy in the background! You’ll see them again later. And so did I. For which I was grateful! 😉

 

 

Lastly, we welcomed that dear man Sean Phillips whom you may have seen mentioned above, Festival Patron and artist on KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL, USER, THE FADE OUT, FATALE and so much more. I may have reviewed those (I did, at length and each one in-depth). The hardcovers are the best reviews, even if you buy the softcovers, because by that point I’ve had time to truly digest the whole. No spoilers, I promise you: even when you read a fifth’s book review, I will not ruin book one.

Here he is signing copies of the LICAF EXCLUSIVE SPIRIT NEWSPAPER whose printing he paid for himself, and his own rubbish comics.

 

 

 

Have we all done now?

I’d like to take a break. Somewhere beautiful, perhaps.

I would particularly like to take time out to drink on this glorious Riverside Hotel balcony.

By day or by night.

You could do that while visiting the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

 

 

 

You might enjoy this view opposite from the Riverside Hotel which might consider paying our basic board next year, but even if they don’t then THEY ARE ADORED.

 

 

Seriously, everyone has been lovely.

Exhibitors helping each other: our Jonathan, I believe, even fixed someone’s wonky credit-card machine on Sunday morning! The best volunteers in the world are forever at your side and Colin, the man who commands the keys to the Kendal Clock Tower, let us in early, out late, and could not do enough for us. The volunteers pretty much made me cry with their heart-felt conviction.

We go out with some photo-blasts. firstly from the Will Eisner original art exhibition (I love seeing the deployment of white-out)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That last one is exactly what I meant when I wrote the “comicbook king of gesticulation”.

Now bask in some bucolic beauty, persuading you perhaps to come to next year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival because we had a gas around Grasmere Lake.

It’s just up the semi-submerged, water-flooded road!

 

 

 

 

 

You know, I’m not entirely sure that even was a waterfall before last week.

And now, back to the Archipelagogo!

This exhibition by Jonathan Edwards and Louise Evans is still on show in Kendal!

 

 

 

 

Me in the mirror: I couldn’t resist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Splinters are just wood’s way of shaking hands.”

Brilliant!

Lastly, THIS NEVER HAPPENED!

 

This photo’s by Jonathan too. Obviously!

 

Big love to Page 45 customers Stephen and Dee Mortimer for the “lift” back to our hotel on Saturday evening! What am I like?

But everyone needs a helping hand, now and again, and that’s what LICAF is all about!

Come to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2018 from October 12th to 14th and find out for yourself!

Big love as ever to Festival Director Julie Tait for her unwavering encouragement and support.

Have some BBC LICAF coverage!

– Stephen

Proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

New Arrivals, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Porcelain vol 3: Ivory Tower (£14-99, Improper Books) by Benjamin Read & Chris Wildgoose WITH FREE SIGNED BOOKPLATE EXCLUSIVE TO PAGE 45!

The Worm And The Bird (£14-99, Particular Books) by Coraline Bickford-Smith

Relatable Content (£10-00, self-published) by Lizz Lunney

Street Dawgz: Boxlife (£5-00, ) by Lizz Lunney

The Lanky (£10-00, self-published or LICAF) by Oliver East

The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Bottled (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Chris Gooch

Giant Days vol 6 (£13-99, Boom! Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Harrow County vol 5: Abandoned s/c (£12-50, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Carla Speed McNeil, Tyler Crook

I Hate Fairyland vol 3: Good Girl  (£14-99, Image) by Skottie Young

Marney The Fox h/c (£17-99, Rebellion) by Scott Goodall & John Stokes

Mr Higgins Comes Home h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Warwick Johnson

Baltimore vol 8: The Red Kingdom h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting

Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Santos

Rock & Pop (£4-00, ) by Tim Bird

The Rocket (£4-00, ) by Tim Bird

The Tea Dragon Society h/c (£15-99, Oni) by Katie O’Neill

The Wild Storm vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt

Guardians Of The Galaxy – An Awesome Digest s/c (£8-99, Marvel) by various

Spider-Gwen vol 4: Predators s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour, Hannah Blumenreich & Robbi Rodriguez, Hannah Blumenreich

Inuyashiki vol 8 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Hiroya Oku

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2017 week two

October 11th, 2017

Featuring Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard’s Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! story which was never published in the regular Walking Dead comic series! OMG it is brand-new to you! Also, Nilah Magruder, Alexis Deacon. William Gibson, Butch Guice Katriona Chapman, Mike Medaglia, John Klassen, Konstantin Steshenko. I do hope my spelling’s been up to all that!

M.F.K. h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Nilah Magruder.

Out in the vast, open desert a storm is brewing: a storm of sand, and a storm of confrontation and conflict.

Hopelessly through one and haplessly into the other staggers young, wounded Abbie with her beautiful feathered steed, a giant, speckle-breasted moa.

Exhausted, the moa doesn’t make it, but thanks to the determined and instinctive intervention of Jaime and his grandfather, Iman, Abbie is carefully carried back to the sheltered safety of their family house in their remote town, all alone in the desiccating dunes. As they do so, a blue-and-black-furred jackal-like rakuna watches carefully, cautiously, yet knowingly.

“They’re the servants of Raku,” explains Jaime’s Aunt Nifrain, “Deva of long journeys. And difficult times.”

 

She’s seen a rakuna once before, many years ago, and she will see another shortly.

Abbie’s journey has already been long and she has far further to go in these difficult times, for she seeks to carry her dead mother’s ashes in a fragile urn up  to the mountain range called the Potter’s Spine, there to scatter them and mourn in private.

For the moment, however, haunted by dreams of her dearly departed, she must take time to recuperate in the company of Jaime, Iman and Nefrain.

There’ll be no peace and quiet, but recover she will, for Auntie Nifrain is a doctor with a fiery temper and a very sharp knife, determined that her patients will be healed whether they like it or not! Nurse Nefrain will not brook a bad patient, and even fiercely independent Abbie will have to do as she’s told – for now…

Nor is the wider town life any less loud, for it is constantly beset by roaming, opportunistic Parasai demanding tributes from the poor population. These Parasai look like anyone else, but have tremendous strength and psychokinetic powers which they once used to aid those in need but now take from them instead. One comes off like an anti-Desperate-Dan, even juggling a cow for good measure. But basically they have sunk to the low level of bullies and the town’s mayor does nothing but appease.

“We’re a humble people here. We know our place in the world, and we have no trouble with paying what’s due to those who are better.”

Such low self-esteem!

“All we ask is to live our lives in peace.”

He adds, later, “Treasures can be remade. Lives cannot. You’d do well to teach your grandson, Iman.”

The trouble is that they cannot and are not living their lives in peace while these public raids continue.

But what, do you think, has any of this to do with Abbie?

More all-ages excellence which will thrill, chill and get you right riled up, but which will also take you in unexpected directions and make you laugh as it does so. There is some exquisite, slapstick visual comedy, a running gag about badly made pigeon soup and one page that had me howling with its pitch-perfect timing involving an unattended window, four steaming-hot potato buns and an unfortunate cat.

I so do wish I could find that and perhaps I will before we go to publication but in case we can’t it’ll give you something to really look forward to!

Here you go! – Stephen

The same thing goes for an air-punching moment of cactus catharsis, but I’m saying nothing.

Nilah Magruder isn’t afraid to mix up the art with a plethora of clever comedic devices, one utilising both form and colour for a frozen, statuesque moment of mortified horror during an accident accentuated with the beauty which precedes it in the form of an intricate, delicately blown, marigold-coloured glass figurine. Again, though: there will be surprises!

On a more serious note, this album-sized graphic novel also deals sensitively with subjects like loss, loneliness, isolation and independence, along with family matters, and does so partly with ever so expressive eyes.

Abbie, for example, isn’t the only individual left without parents. Jaime’s mother had an incurable, innate wanderlust, so she left him when young to be looked after by her father and sister Nifrain. They’ve never considered Jaime a burden, but that doesn’t mean that Jaime has thought the same way.

I don’t know either way, but I do wonder if the jackal-like rakuna draws on the same mythology as the apparition in Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton’s AFAR? Either way, I would watch out for that as you watch out for each other – a concept very much at the heart of this journey.

I don’t think that it’s over.

What a tremendously bright, profoundly moving and highly intriguing punchline!

SLH

Buy M.F.K. h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Geis Book 2: A Game Without Rules (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon.

“This is magic.
“This is life.
“It is the will that shapes the world.”

Remember this also:

“There can be no magic without life.
“To make magic, life must be given or it must be taken.
“Student of magic, your first question is this:
“How much will you take?
“How much will you give?”

For something so dark, there is so much bright light and the most radiant of colours to match!

Also life-lessons we would all do so well to learn: give what you can and take only your time. Consider this: what if they were me?

Diabolically ingenious and so cleverly constructed, every element here dovetails precisely, be it the multiple, intense, concurrent action sequences of both fight and flight or the games and the geis itself, all of which most assuredly have rules if only our remaining competitors could perceive then strive to understand them. You, the reader, will have to work out what they are too, so I will merely allude!

What are those who have reached the supposed sanctuary of the castle competing for? The kingdom itself. What is at stake? Their very lives.

Unfortunately they don’t know that. Only young Lady Io and the duplicitous Nemas have discovered this, and they have been cursed into silence.

“Why don’t you just kill us now and have done with it?”
“I cannot. The Geis binds us all alike.  You are bound to be tried and I am bound to test you. This bond cannot be broken.”

This is true. The sorceress Niope may not interfere directly. But what if those tests were to include individual temptation?

In GEIS BOOK 1: A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH we saw the greedy and the opportunistic as well as those who thought they could bring justice all sign themselves up to compete for the kingdom after their matriarch passed away. But from her corpse materialised the sorceress Niope, old and haggard and blue, who issued their first challenge: to reach the castle before sunrise. Some gave up and went home; they did not live long to regret it.

Lady Io never signed up but found herself embroiled all the same. She assumed that her wealthy parents entered her. They hadn’t. In her efforts to save others she has been burned by the life-giving sun, then poisoned by Nemas. Still she saved his life, but in doing so she may well have condemned everyone else to death.

GEIS BOOK 1 was so phenomenal that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and has sold in droves to adults and Young Adults alike, but Book 2 is on another level entirely, forty pages longer, even more beautiful, and far more complex as the stakes and so struggles are ramped up dramatically in direct confrontations.

We begin with a telling prologue from Nemas’s youth in which his identical twin Caliphas invented an innocent, imaginary game to play, along with its goals, its rules and its risks. Their elder brother Toras bullied his way in, threatening to beat Nemas to death with brute strength. Now Toras is a general, Caliphas an architect and Nemas has a chip on his shoulder the size of a wooden stake.

Also key in this second of three instalments are Nelson the doctor, little Artur the bookkeeper who’s lost his spectacles,  their friend the wizard Eloise who has a third eye and so vision, and good-hearted but blundering Count Julius who doesn’t stand a chance on his own.

Then there’s cunning advocate Malmo and his bitter old tutor Tomas who turn the law into a game of recrimination in order to settle old scores. As to Law itself, it’s a loquacious albino raven which was once rescued from its stronger sibling’s attempts to push it out of their nest by The Judge who as a girl learned a prime lesson there and then:

“Law… It must be built upon a single question. It must ask, what if it was me?
“What if I was weak? What if I was strong?
“What if I were the one? What if I were the other.”

She adds:

“The law is no game.
“The law is all that stands between us…
“And the dominion of monsters.”

Are you intrigued? It is time for the second challenge to begin!

“I divide you into two.
“Play the game until one side alone remains.”

Niope dips her now far healthier hand to the throne-room floor and in a flash the castle is cleaved clean in two: one side is white, one side is black.

The contestants / combatants are also cleaved in two, thrown flat on their backs from the monochromatic chasm, their colourful clothing instantly bleached or blackened. Unlike upon a chessboard, however, her black pieces lie on white ground, her white ones on black. Nothing I type here is random.

“Keep to the rules at all times or you will be removed from the contest.”
“What are the rules?”
“What rules?”
“You haven’t told us what they are!”

And she won’t.

“I give each of you two gifts. Do with them what you will.”

Each receives a large coin which they then choose to wear as medallions (engraved on one is “Take”; on the other side “Give”) and a staff or perhaps stick according to colour: chalk for white, charcoal for black. Beneath their very feet they find ancient writing which the learned Judge alone can translate:

“As it is written, so shall it be.”

Now, what do you think that implies? They’ll have to figure it out for themselves.

The sequential-art storytelling is exceptional, not least because Deacon refuses to hold your hot, sticky hands with explicatory words, but instead successfully supplies you and the contestants with all the clues you will need within the art or they in their environs. I cannot begin to tell you how much respect such narrative confidence commands in me. The instant effect of what is hidden within one panel is essential for what follows but it resolutely remains un-signposted so, in the spirit of which, somewhere within this review, I have supplied a page of interior art without comment just as Deacon does. Boy, is it ever so clever!

While we are reaching for superlatives, several sequences struck me as modern manifestations of LITTLE NEMO’s Winsor McCay, not least the page I refer to above but also its equally magical tip-toe through the proverbial, bell-ringing tulips. Or in this case, giant mushrooms.

“Whatever you do, stay in the contest!” screams Lady Io, and I am in awe of her altruism.

As to the central challenge, our bewildered, embattled ones must each make their own up games and write their own rules. Those rules will require quick wit and attention to detail: the very letter of the law, you might say.

The pen may prove mightier than the sword; although sometimes the former can also be utilised as the latter.

It’s all very black and white, with one side fighting the other. Or is it? Please read this review once again.

SLH

Buy Geis Book 2: A Game Without Rules and read the Page 45 review here

One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide To Mindfulness (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Mike Medaglia…

“Love is everything.
“It really is.
“Such an abstract concept. Super hard to define in words. But the fact of its existence is undeniable.
“Love is safety.
“Love is purpose.
“Love is learning who we are as individuals through the way we love others.
“Love is our greatest antidote to hate.”

Very true. From a Buddhist perspective love really is absolutely everything. Even hate, which at its root is, in fact, merely a twisted, malformed version of love. You find many such pearls of wisdom in this latest treatise from Mike ‘Now Several Years Wiser thanks to ONE YEAR WISER 365 ILLUSTRATED MEDITATIONS / ONE YEAR WISER A GRATITUDE JOURNAL / ONE YEAR WISER 2018 ART CALENDAR Medaglia. Not the least of which is that the simple practise of mindfulness will get you on that path to acquiring your own moments, days, months and indeed years of wisdom.

All of which will be very hard won, but very worthwhile. The rewards, though, of seeing one’s own true nature and being able to achieve a degree of tranquillity and equanimity are truly joyful and self-nourishing.  For whilst the practice may indeed be simple, it is the continuing work of a lifetime. But start with a mere moment or two and you’ll soon be very glad you began your own personal empowering promenade, believe me.

Here, over a series of four sections titled as the seasons of the year, Mike talks us through twenty-four varied topics such as the all important Mindfulness, and Meditation, but also diverse jewels like Smiling, Anxiety, The Ego and Impermanence. I note, purely for my own amusement, that the first time Mike sprang fully formed to our attention, was with his superlative SEASONS, featuring four vignettes ruminating not only meteorologically, but metaphorically on the passing of time. I didn’t know at the time he was a fellow Zen practitioner, but it didn’t come as any surprise when I found out.

All the twenty-four chapters in this work are powerfully affecting, in subtly different ways, both in their words and accompanying artwork. I should probably add at this point, that this is a work which can neither be pigeonholed under the description illustrated prose or comics. For it is emphatically a wonderful synthesis hybrid of both! I also totally approve of Mike’s use of his own talking head as occasional narrator, often with a personal salient observation on his own practice, or indeed simply himself! It helps remind the reader that this is indeed not just an academic text, but a very practical handbook.

And it’s not just a primer for beginners, either. There’s a conceit within Zen that is often referred as the layers of the onion. You can think you have attained all the wisdom you might possibly do so about a certain point or topic, but then something in your currently held paradigm will shift and you realise that there is indeed yet another layer to said vegetable and deeper understanding to be found. Thus reading works such as this can be just as enlightening to long term practitioners as novitiates approaching the subject for the very first time with trepidation.

For a subject as ineffable and as ungraspable as mindfulness Mike’s is an ideal approach for revealing and refreshing the knowledge of the universal truths we manage to so successfully obscure from ourselves on a daily basis. We do already know deep down that love is everything, and many other such powerful, profound truths that could aid us in any moment were we to able to keep them to mind. We just need to sit still long enough for our minds to calm down and our natural innate wisdom and knowledge to (re-)appear and replenish our daily selves.

So a big thank you Mike for this wonderful gift to us all… even if we’re then going to make all you good folks pay for it! I highly recommend buying one for yourself and then multiple copies for everyone else you know. Remember, love is everything, and nothing says it like a lovely gift.*

* This is not strictly true, but go on, why not treat them, and yourself?

PSSSST. If you want to treat yourself to two bonus topics / chapters, or perhaps merely dip your toe into Mike’s World Of Mindfulness to get you started, I can heartily recommend his recent two self-published minis POVERTY OF THE HEART and RUSHING FROM A TO A.

JR

Buy One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide To Mindfulness and read the Page 45 review here

Katzine: The Guatemala Issue (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman.

Yet anotherhttp://www.page45.com/store/Katzine-The-Guatemala-Issue.html rich, classy cover for the self-published series which has truly set the new, top-end benchmark for comics of any origin in terms of production values as well as engrossing content.

Wouldn’t huge publishers do well to follow suit and lavish their readers with much-to-be-treasured art objects such as these, rather than immensely enjoyable but arguably throwaway pamphlets?

I’ve said this before but I reckon it’s worth repeating that within each KATZINE Katriona always has something to impart born of her considerable, personal and broad experience that is so worthwhile your time and attention.

She releases them only with careful forethought as to what might genuinely command and so demand her readers’ interest, and with due diligence as to their soft-focus, pencil-shaded and humane execution. By which I mean that Chapman brings individuals alive, giving them their unique depths and perspectives, each and every one.

Here we are treated to not only a preview of her forthcoming long-form graphic novel of travel which you will never again see in this richest of blacks, whites and greys but in full colour (I adore both!), but the most arresting of group-thefts while back-packing in Guatemala.

Chapman’s fellow travellers gather together somewhat despondently but determinedly and between them they piece together the evidence until they logically come to the conclusion that one particular party or its entourage must be responsible. Still retaining the beyond-altruistic, kind and commendable, deep-seated desire that they not offend anyone, hurt their feelings or in any way falsely accuse, they do reluctantly – and with great grace – summon the courage to broach this breach in trust with carefully considered words.

Personally, I was in awe. But what happens next?

Characteristically, Chapman then proceeds to contrast and so mitigate this understandable disappointment in human nature with an uplifting series of cameo accounts of ‘Nice Things’: her many experiences of strangers going beyond the call of anyone’s duty to act in charitable ways when either she or her boyfriend Sergio have been in trouble.

That’s balance, that is. But it’s more than that: it’s a deep-seated sensitivity to her readers’ sensibilities and a care that we don’t despair.

SLH

Buy Katzine: The Guatemala Issue and read the Page 45 review here

Archangel h/c (£18-99, Other A-Z) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…

“Mr. Vice President, please remain still… as I remove the bandages. The final procedure was entirely successful. See for yourself.”
“Granddaddy was a good looking man.”
“They know nothing of D.N.A., so they’ll have no way of knowing you’re not him. You should have no difficulties assuming his identity.”

So why would the Vice President of the United States of America want to travel back in time to February 1945 and replace his relative, one Major Aloysius Henderson of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the C.I.A? Well, given it seems like there has been some sort of catastrophic global nuclear conflict, judging from the scenes of total devastation in Tokyo, Moscow and London that we get a glimpse of on the opening page dated February 2016, I suspect altering the course of history might be high on the VP’s to-do list. A list entitled ‘Archangel’.

Not that it seems everyone on the experimental Quantum Transfer project is of the same mindset. The chief scientist Torres, who seems to have a pretty good idea of precisely who is to blame for the current highly radioactive state of the environment, has just enough remaining quantum transfer juice to send a stealth fighter and two marines back as well, to try and foil the VP’s plot. Except whilst the first time jump works perfectly, the second, well, let’s just say there are some unexpected complications. The action then shifts to 1945 where the various Allied intelligence services suddenly find themselves with a rather perplexing puzzle to solve.

This the first crack at comics from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, and I must say, on the whole, I’m certainly impressed as he avoids the pitfalls most first-timers, even big names, can find themselves tumbling headlong into. ARCHANGEL has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some fabulous bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET.

Gibson can certainly write decent comics based on this outing. There was an interminable delay getting the monthly issues out during the run of singles, which did rather disrupt my enjoyment at the time, but happily, in the collected form, it all runs very smoothly. Just not for the characters… any of them at all in fact. I did slyly enjoy Gibson’s afterword which talks about revising his ‘alternate time-track story’ as he went along. I know he probably wasn’t referring to the publishing schedule but it did make me giggle. Amongst other plot points, he’s actually very specifically referring to the epilogue, which again, caused me to occasion a very wry smile. I thought it a rather fitting conclusion.

The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually. Not sure if Gibson has any further plans to write more comics, this apparently started life as a screenplay before discussions with IDW led to it being commissioned as a comics series. But I’d love to see him tackle a longer speculative fiction series, something which acclaimed horror author Joe Hill did superbly for IDW with his LOCKE & KEY epic.

JR

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

Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…

“You pull your pud that slow, fuckwit?!
“GAME POINT!
“If I had a wrist that weak, I’d need three pictures of your mom to blow my load.
“Now which one of you little pricks is next?”

“Sorry, Coach Negan. Josh has always been kind of a pussy. I’ll try to calm him down.”

And so, the big secret is finally out!! Not the full story of Lucille, but we will get to that, rest assured. No, fans of the man we all love to hate have often pondered precisely what Negan did for a living back in the pre-apocalyptic world. The rumour for a while was that of used car salesman, which I could see, but actually, demented P.E. teacher makes far more sense.

In many ways, he does remind me of a certain junior school games teacher of mine called [REDACTED] who always seemed part-clown / part-concentration camp commandant. One minute he was laughing and joking with us all, the next dispensing immense knee grippers and one-eared full-body-lifts for no apparent reason whatsoever.

I do very vividly remember a certain incident as an eight year old when I got chewing gum stuck in my hair on a school trip and [REDACTED] took just a bit too much pleasure in cutting it out with the serrated blade on his Swiss Army knife. The glint in his eye as he approached me was probably how the cowboys felt when they were out of ammo and that fashionable new haircut that the Native American Indian barbers were offering free of charge beckoned. I should just be grateful he wasn’t using a barbed-wire-encrusted baseball bat, I suppose!

I digress.

Fans of the WALKING DEAD will already have known that Negan’s favourite skull pinyata smasher was named after his late wife. What we get in this collection of material that first appeared in the excellent Image Plus previews magazine (not in the regular comics), is the heartbreaking end of their marital story, pre-apocalypse, and then how Negan gradually evolved / devolved, depending on your point of view, into the chilling, <ahem> articulate dictator he then subsequently became.

He clearly always had the gags, having polished his material ad nauseam no doubt on his young wards, but was he always such a complete and utter dick, or did he once have a romantic homespun heart of gold? As ever, with the man we really, really do love to utterly despise, it will not surprise you to learn he was always, shall we say, a… complex character… with hidden, slightly odious depths.

As good as any regular WALKING DEAD arc, if you are a fan, you will want this, trust me. Yes, it’s a little slim, and it has unfortunately been released as a hardcover first, thus being a different size to all those twenty eight trades you have on your shelves, but it is riveting, essential reading.

I have no idea whether the success of this arc will prove the spur to do any further prequel comics material featuring other significant characters. The Governor received his own similar treatment with the well received quadrilogy of prose novels, which are still available should anyone wish us to order them in. I can’t say there is any real need for exploring the back stories of other characters, though I really wouldn’t be adverse to volume two of Negan’s…

JR

Buy Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! and read the Page 45 review here

Screwed Up (£5-99, Adhouse Books) by Konstantin Steshenko.

Too, too funny!

It is a terrible truth that some marriage proposals swim more smoothly than others.

Some suitors are imaginative, some are so witty; others are eloquent and indeed dextrous, performing this most sacred but fun rite or ritual with elan! I hear to this day of several taking the more traditional root of proposing to their parents-in-law first, which strikes me as both funny and very romantic.

However it comes, however it goes and however the proposal is received, I wish each and every one of you the best in its success and your future happiness!

This proposal, I’m afraid, is a proverbial car crash that takes place far too close to a train track.

Darkness ensues.

 

It many ways I’d compare it to Jason Shiga’s DEMON (cue instant increase in sales!) for its optimism, its pessimism, its staged performance, its utter outrage and one other element that I cannot reveal. Also in this: we really shouldn’t laugh, but I did.

Truly, I must be a monster.

And I am going to leave it there.

SLH

Buy Screwed Up and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Classic Review

We Found A Hat s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen.

“We found a hat.
“We found it together.
“But there is only one hat.
“And there are two of us.”

So the dilemma begins…

“It looks good on both of us.
“But it would be right if one of us had a hat and the other did not.”

Awww! Kind and considerate, brotherly love!

They’ll just have to leave it where they found it, in the middle of the desert, right? Hmmm…

This is the third and final instalment of Klassen’s hat-trick trilogy which began with I WANT MY HAT BACK followed by THIS IS NOT MY HAT. I can only assume that Klassen suffered some sort of hat-related trauma during his formative years, for in each of first two an item of headgear is stolen. Neither ends well for the thief, and quite right too!

Deliciously, what looked on the surface like straightforward illustrated prose was, in fact, comics; for without the images all would have been lost. The pictures began in perfect accordance with the written word, but swiftly started shedding controversial or even contradictory light on what was being said. Howls of laughter from me and every youngster I’ve seen being shown the books on our shop floor.

The simplicity of what’s said is of equal importance – there is an identifiable Klassen cadence – for when the rhythm is first broken in I WANT MY HAT BACK, that’s when you suspect that something is up.

Here we are presented with a three-act play, and although I promise you that Klassen will not prove predictable, there will of course be an equally mischievous break between overt claim and covert curiosity, with its attendant hiccup in the otherwise rhythmic beat.

Also recommended by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett: EXTRA YARN and SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE plus TRIANGLE.

SLH

Buy We Found A Hat s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars h/c (£15-99, Greenwillow) by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg

Coady & The Creepies s/c (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Liz Prince & Amanda Kirk

Dark Souls vol 3: Legends Of The Flame (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Harrow County vol 6: Hedge Magic s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

Hellboy In Hell Library Edition h/c (£44-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola

Hookjaw – Classic Collection h/c (£29-99, Titan) by Pat Mills, Ken Armstrong & Ramon Sola, Juan Arrancio, Eric Bradbury, Feliz Carrion, Jim Bleach

How Comics Work (£16-99, Rotovision Books) by Dave Gibbons, Tim Pilcher

Last Driver (£11-99, Dead Canary Comics) by C.S. Baker & Shaky Kane

Letters For Lucardo vol 1 (£13-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Noora Heikkila

Low vol 4: Outer Aspects Of Inner Attitudes (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini

Mega Robo Bros vol 2: Mega Robo Rumble (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens: Splice & Dice s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by John Layman & Chris Mooneyham

Rat Queens vol 4: High Fantasies  (£13-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Owen Gieni

Seven To Eternity vol 2: Ballad Of Betrayal s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena, James Harren

Star Wars: Screaming Citadel s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron & Marco Checchetto, Salvador Larroca, Andrea Broccardo

Stumptown vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth

The World Of Moominvalley (£35-00, Macmillan) by Tove Jansson

Batman / The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition h/c (£17-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson, Tom King & Jason Fabok, Howard Porter

DC Comics Bombshells vol 5: Death Of Illusion s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Bryan Hitch, John Romita Jr., Renato Guedes, Chris Bachalo, Daniel Acuna

Avengers: Standoff s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, various & Mark Bagley, various

Goodnight Punpun vol 7 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews October 2017 week one

October 4th, 2017

Featuring Reinhard Kleist, Mathieu Bablet, Jeff Lemire, Alex Alice, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis, Kevin Sacco, Nick Cave and Jeremy Corbyn!!!

Castle In The Stars vol 1: The Space Race Of 1869 h/c (£14-99, First Second) by Alex Alice.

“Have you never feared the dark? Or loneliness, sorrow, pain, rejection… or death?
“The great truth that myths have to teach us is not that dragons exist, but that they can be conquered.
“Show me a man who has triumphed over his fears…
“And I will show you a dragon-slayer.”

Top of the range, album-sized, all-ages excellence which had me enraptured: thrilled by its visual majesty, gripped by its power-play, charmed by its adroitly delivered, wholly unexpected comedic notes, then caught anchor, line and balloon-ballast in its steam-punk spell.

I strongly suspect that you’ll weep with wonderment at the Aethership blueprints which herald chapter three. I’ll have those for you shortly.

Meanwhile, let me show you the lovely lilt in the language as young Seraphin Dulac awakens in a guest room of King Ludwig II’s vast Bavarian “Swan’s Rock” castle high above a dense forest of alpine trees and milky lakes:

 

 

“The first note fills the sky from the shores of the lake to the still-starry zenith.
“The next one makes me open my eyes, and yet the dream continues…
“Except it’s not a dream…”

There Alex Alice perfectly captures the dawning realisation when waking up in a strange bed that isn’t your own and throwing open the windows to an unexpected spectacle.

Said spectacle is, of course, the multi-turreted white-stoned “Wow!” that is Neuschwanstein Castle, constructed on such a sheer mountainous outcrop that I’ve always thought not just “Wow!” but “How?!?”

Alice makes the most of the vertigo-inducing terrain over and over again with iron gantries spanning the slopes, cable lifts suspended high up in the sky and the sort of magical, arched glasshouse laboratory that you’d find in computer games like Riven and Myst, buttressed out from the escarpment and over a waterfall!

 

 

There is precise method in all this mechanical madness, I promise you, for there is something under construction.

We begin a year earlier in France with Seraphin’s mother, Claire Dulac, all set to ascend in a hot air balloon much to her engineer husband’s vocal consternation, for he sees a storm coming. Also, Archibald firmly believes that her particular quest is a fool’s errand.

“It’s been more than 2,000 years since the Greeks proposed the idea of aether, and no one has ever proven its existence!”
“Socrates never ascended to 11,000 metres!”
“That’s true – he found another way to kill himself! And he didn’t have a husband and a son!”

 

 

 

Already the tension is tangible, but as Claire rises perilously higher and higher in order to conduct her experiment, through intense cold and ever-thinning oxygen to 11,000 metres, it really racks up. And her mission fails: her instruments detect no aether at all. Rising further to 12,000 metres and the second and third trials still register nothing whatsoever and worse still – as Dulac notes in her logbook – her three-hour supply of oxygen has reached the point of no return!

Desperate to descend, that is exactly when the valves freeze shut. Seraphin’s mother struggles to release the hydrogen manually, but instead the balloon rises further to 12,900 metres… and BOOM! – there it is! – aether at last!

And everything around her explodes.

 

The following full-page spread is such a clever construction. Above we see the thin trail of a small object plummeting through star-lit, blue space towards the hazy surface of the Earth. Within three inset panels, which widen as they close in, the metal cylinder ignites as it enters Earth’s atmosphere. This expansion draws the eyes from the initial tiny white tail of light above to the final, full-page destination below which has been subtly fused with the global view, where the casket lies, cracked-open and fizzing with electrical energy, to reveal Claire Dulac’s logbook sitting precariously on a craggy cliff-edge above that self-same Bavarian Castle.

Now, who do you think recovered it, and what will they do with what lies within? Did Claire Dulac find time to scribble anything else?

 

 

Ah yes, the search is on as a potential source of energy for that elusive aether, the fifth Greek element which was once supposed to permeate the void of space so enabling the travel of light through a vacuum until Einstein finally suggested otherwise. But the Victorians still believed in it, just as they believed that Venus was a jungle-planet populated by dinosaurs and vast, pre-historic dragonflies because it was nearer the sun so hotter and younger than planet Earth. No really, they did! This wasn’t just Jules Verne speculative fiction.

This has all been so meticulously researched both geographically and historically (please note the date), and if you suspect Dulac’s light-bulb aether indicator to be a bit simplistic, you will be in for some far more serious science later on, about the expansion of hydrogen under different atmospheric pressures and the volume that would be required to lift certain weights. Or, I guess, different “masses” under these circumstances.

It is the supposed attributes of the planet Venus which Claire’s son Seraphin delights in expounding upon one year later at school when tasked with a presentation.

 

 

“Of course, despite the logical basis for these conclusions, there’s only one way to be absolutely sure… To go there! As soon as an aether-engine has been developed, we must send an expedition!”

Do you think he’s still obsessed much…? Well, he is. He wasn’t supposed to be research the planet Venus but the Roman goddess of love. Quite clearly: his class in question was Latin!

Even his father wants Seraphin to come to terms with his mother’s death by putting away models of her hot air balloon, but then they receive through the post a cryptic summons about her missing logbook, and an assignation to meet in Bavaria at Swan’s Rock.

But when Archibald and Seraphin try to board the train they are assaulted by other Germanic parties seeking to switch them to Berlin. Crucially, only Seraphin spies the sword-stick-wielding assassin at Lille Station, and that will have enormous implications for their future endeavours.

I’ll leave you to encounter the exquisite comedy moments, so well timed, one of which involves an out-of-control airship crashing Seraphin through the castle window only to get an eyeful of what he shouldn’t before being tugged blushing but face-savingly away. You’ll also like the royal architect who’s more of a set designer, determined to accommodate all manner of extravagances into Archibald’s Aethership, like a sitting room, royal suite, chapel and full orchestra pit!

 

 

 

But yes, this is quite, quite brilliant and beautiful with such attention to detail. Contrast the bright-skied Bavarian rustic tranquillity surrounding the mountain-top castle with its Prussian counterpart, the very real and monumentalist Berliner Stadtschloss, over whose dome drifts an oppressive and foreboding smoke while more industrial smog belches from tall chimneys behind the angry Black Eagle of the Prussian flag which is about to be resurrected for 1870’s Franco-Prussian War.

There the Prussian Prime Minister dwarfs his advisor Busch and casts his hand proprietarily over the globe:

“I don’t like war, Busch…
“I will wage it without pity or remorse, but I don’t like it.
“Do you know what aether would enable us to do? In a few short hours, we could travel to any city on the globe, and without ever having been detected by the enemy…
“Bury it under a deluge of bombs.”

I’m afraid his ambitions stretch even further than that.

SLH

Buy Castle In The Stars vol 1: The Space Race Of 1869 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Royal City vol 1: Next Of Kin s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire…

“Sometimes I wonder if it was hard growing up in Royal City… just hard growing up.
“I mean, there’s just something different about this place.
“I swear you can feel it late at night, a weirdness creeping around the edges of things.
“Keeping you awake and making you feel even more alone.
“Or maybe that’s it. Maybe I am all alone.
“Maybe I’m the only one who thinks stupid shit like this all the time.”

Oh, I very much doubt that.

Following on from his recent barnstorming original graphic novel ROUGHNECK about a former ice hockey enforcer on a search for redemption, Jeff Lemire is remaining firmly grounded in the realm of straight fiction for this series set in the titular Royal City. Well, that’s if you don’t include the ghost of youngest brother Tommy haunting the remaining Pike family members since his death many years previously, that is… It’s a curious thing, though, how Tommy appears as a completely different age to each of them…

Patrick Pike, nominally our central character, is a successful writer, though he’s rapidly heading into the past tense in that respect, crippled as he is by writer’s block with a frantic agent demanding the whereabouts of his long overdue second novel, plus a failing marriage to a minor movie starlet to boot. The only one of the family to ever make it out of Royal City, Patrick’s back in town to visit their ailing father Peter in hospital following a severe stroke, which was at least partly brought on by his relentlessly browbeating nag of a wife Patti. Patrick’s siblings, hard-nosed developer Tara and drunken layabout Richie, make up the dysfunctional Pike family brood.

Over the course of this first volume I gained the distinct impression that the spectre of Tommy, as comforting a presence as he seems to be for all of the family members, is in fact the very thing that is holding them back from progressing with their current lives. Each are most definitely stuck in very different ways.

It’s most pronounced in the case of Richie, who sees Tommy at a contemporary post-passing age, another strange point in and of itself, and who talks to his late brother about the weekend booze benders and casino trips he want them to go on… future tense… Their mum sees Tommy as an older teenager, Patrick sees him as a young teen, Tara a slightly younger pre-adolescent boy and their father as a very young boy. Each of them converses with him as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

Though there is a very… perturbing… moment where Patrick does appear to momentarily glimpse all five incarnations, having been led by Tommy from the motel where he is staying to Tommy’s graveside. Were seeing the ghost of your dead brother not disturbing enough, surely seeing five different versions of him all stood together like they / he were posing for the oddest family snap ever would have you beginning to doubt your sanity?

Tommy in turn does have his own voice, he’s certainly no silent presence, providing us with some very insightful narrative commentary regarding his family and the nature of their individual attachments to him.

I read an interesting interview recently where Lemire was being quizzed as to the significance of him returning to contemporary fiction and whether, like his career-breakthrough ESSEX COUNTY, there were any autobiographical elements he’d recycled into the ROYAL CITY story. He said he liked to think of the character of Patrick as following his life story up to a point, that of achieving a degree of success with his first publication, then promptly, unlike himself, making every bad life choice he possibly could and having pretty much everything go wrong for him. He is the master of the melancholic, isn’t he, our Jeff?

The entirety of volume one is in many ways simply establishing the characters and setting their various, respective scenes of personal engagement, their familial points of connection but also their very distinct differences, of personality, opinion, pretty much everything. Lemire has commented that he is hoping this series could run from twenty to forty issues, and it’s easy to see how, because he’s given absolutely nothing away as yet, unless I’ve missed some vital clue, as to what is really going on. That is also the reason he chose to do ROYAL CITY as a series, rather than an original graphic novel like ROUGHNECK, to give the story and the characters chance to breathe and develop as he was writing.

Artistically, it’s back to full colour, exactly like the subdued yet surprisingly spectacular colour palette he employed in AFTER DEATH as opposed to the much more emotionally bleak primarily pale blues of ROUGHNECK, albeit dappled as they were with the very occasional splash of highly significant pigmentation.  Also, and it’s something I’ve probably noticed before but not commented on, Lemire’s art style really is perfect for making people look haggard and haunted, both metaphorically and phantasmagorically.  But are they really being haunted…? I genuinely have absolutely no idea. Volume two will, I suspect, bring some answers as to the true status of our deceased Pike, and I fear, considerably more conflict amongst the living ones.

JR

Buy Royal City vol 1: Next Of Kin s/c and read the Page 45 review here

‘Hammering the Anvil’

Quick introduction to avoid a whiplash of culture shock: the following review entitled ‘Hammering the Anvil’ was generously written for us by Dr. Matt Green, Associate Professor of Modern English Literature at Nottingham University (he retains its copyright, obviously). It is exceptional on every level. I have only illustrated it with images supplied by Matthew because to impose others seems to me slightly sacrilegious. Oh, okay, I needed another – Stephen

Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist.

I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
Condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty
But still I labour in hope, tho’ still my tears flow down.
That he who will not defend Truth may be compelld to defend
A Lie: that he may be snared and caught and snared and taken
That Enthusiasm and Life may not cease: arise Spectre arise!

— William Blake, Jerusalem, pl. 9.

“Oh please, don’t sell me out”,
Said the man with the hammer,
Hammering the anvil
“I’ve been walking on the road of rocks,
And I keep on hammering,
Keep on hammering,
Keep on hammering,
Hammering the anvil.”

Shovelling the ashes
Chiseling the surface
Firing the furnace
Hammering the anvil.
Keep it on, keep it on, keep it on!
Hammering the anvil.

— The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, ‘Hammer Song’

Those listeners old and brave enough to have attended a bona fide Birthday Party gig might have been surprised when, in a 1996 Radio 3 Religious Services lecture, Nick Cave described the band’s violent interventions in the post-punk landscape by comparing himself to William Blake. But not, perhaps, if they were familiar with Blake’s darker side.

It is to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Cave turns: “to loosely paraphrase William Blake: I myself did nothing; I just pointed a damning finger and let the Holy Spirit do the rest”. Blake’s Marriage, a verbal and visual rebellion against economic and intellectual oppression, certainly enjoyed considerable currency in Cave’s own counter-cultural inheritance: Jim Morrison and W.H. Auden, to name but two, both seized upon that text’s celebration of sexual energy and imagination. But if The Marriage identifies the creative artist as a conduit for divine vision and voice, it is in prophecies such as Jerusalem where Blake explores the darker implications of linking the psycho-sexual outpourings of the artist to the creative destruction of biblical prophecy. Los — whose name is an anagram of ‘Sol’ — is for Blake the archetype of the fallen poet: a blacksmith charged with redeeming a fallen world whose guilt he shares. Los with his phallic hammer and fiery workshop becomes a metaphor for the artist who must first subdue his demons before seeking to liberate the world.

“EXPRESS YOURSELF!!! / EXPRESS YOURSELF!!!” Reinhard Kleist’s post-pubescent Cave screams early in this visionary biography, beating a mic stand against the skulls of his anointed “DONK / DONK / DONK”. This first chapter takes its title from ‘The Hammer Song’, released on The Good Son (1990) and, like the other four chapters — ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel’, ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Higgs Boson blues’ — deploys the fictional world of its namesake as a narrative frame for Kleist’s astute retelling of iconic moments from Cave’s career. Those familiar with Ian Johnston’s Bad Seed (1996) and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth (2014) will already be acquainted with the events depicted, while those coming at this material for the first time would do well to equip themselves for the journey by packing these works along with Cave’s extensive musical and literary back-catalogue. A word of warning: you will need a strong back.

Kleist’s choice of ‘The Hammer Song’ for chapter one unfolds into the sort of doubling effect that Blake associates with the two-fold vision of spiritual awakening. You see, Cave’s oeuvre includes not one, but two Hammer Songs. The Good Son version is narrated by a young man who flees his paternal homestead under the cover of darkness, then from the murderous citizens of a nameless city and finally arrives in a river where he drowns amidst visions of an angel who carries handfuls of snakes. Here the hammer is a gavel beating out the shape of the speaker’s doom. But four years earlier, Cave’s audience was treated to a very different ‘Hammer Song’ on Kicking Against the Pricks (1986). Kicking is an album of cover songs, many of which stood at loggerheads with Cave’s public persona and it tells us something about the paradoxical nature of covering  — these are covers that uncover Cave’s own sources— as well as the nature of creative reception. Whereas Harvey’s song establishes a metaphorical link between the songwriter and the blacksmith, the Bad Seed’s covers evoke the image of a balladeer looking back on his — or her — forefathers with an admixture of self-consciousness and rage. The artist seeks to cover the dead, to show them due respect but also to keep them buried, a task bound to failure because the poet in this day and age is not only a thief but a grave-robber.

Kleist’s rendition of Cave’s life and works is a cover in this sense. His Cave is the self-fashioned rock god that we see tramping through 20,000 Days, the man-god fashioned from the dreams of a boy who watches his father transformed by the recitations of Nabokov and Shakespeare. His energetic line whirls us from Cave’s boyhood memories all the way up to Push the Sky Away (2013). On the few occasions where Kleist’s visuals do allow the eye to pause — on a cob-webbed piano or a waiting electric chair — we are offered nothing less than the uncanny respite at the heart of a biblical whirlwind. If Kleist takes from Forsyth and Pollard a certain mythologising approach to biography and if certain panels reproduce iconic scenes from their film (note how the image of Cave at work on ‘Higgs Boson’ draws on the still used for the movie poster), his work foregrounds the extent to which their use of fiction to convey truth effectively replicates Cave’s own artistic practice as he describes it in the final scene of 20,000 Days:      

“What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us.

“This shimmering space, where imagination and reality intersect, this is where all love and tears and joy exist.  

“This is the place. This is where we live.”

Kleist builds upon the mythologising aspect of Cave’s self-presentations, developing the motif of Cave as a malign demiurge out of Cave’s own reflections concerning his relationship to the beings he creates: “And the more I write,” he tells us early in 20,000 Days, “the more detailed and elaborate the world becomes and all the characters that live and die or just fade away, they’re just crooked versions of myself”. One suspects that there might be something a little masochistic in the portrait of divine madness Kleist paints, though it manifests itself in homicidal compulsion. “For the record, I never killed Elisa Day”, Cave declares in the resounding endorsement of Mercy on Me featured on the back cover; but, this says nothing of the other bodies Kleist lays at his feet: the nameless speakers in ‘The Hammer Song’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’, as well as Euchrid Eucrow and Elisa Day.

The front cover, meanwhile, gets the carnival up and running, announcing Kleist’s willingness to launch himself into the danse macabre of Cave-world. The cover image is itself an adaptation of Cave’s public persona, another example of a fictional mask that lays bare the heart of its artificer: Kleist so loves his subject that he cannot help disfiguring him with his own brand of sacralising violence. The image depicts Cave dressed in the dark suit and white shirt characteristic of his stage performances, lurching sightlessly toward the reader. His absent eyes bind him to a romantic trope associating blindness with inner vision that stretches back to Oedipus, Tiresias and Milton, the poet who first deployed the phrase “red right hand” as a satanic metonym for Christ.

While this sense of artistic guilt is one part of Cave’s post-Romantic inheritance, so too is the hope that the material world can be transformed by the artist’s imagination into something that, if not perfect, is at least better. And this overlap between the fictional and the real is an effect well-suited to the comics medium, whose practitioners must delineate their worlds both visually and verbally. The comics artist who strives to depict historical truths in a literal manner, must forever take pains to separate the kernels of the real from the layers of cultural chaff that grow up around them. For those of a more literary bent, however, history’s tendency to bleed into story demonstrates the dialogic relationship between the worlds inside a book’s covers and those beyond them.

Visually — and also in its obsession with a present haunted by the past and vice versa — Mercy on Me bears an affinity to Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki’s Frankenstein’s Womb (2009) and to Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (2009). In its rumination on the performative dimension of art, however, as well as in its warren of meta-textual tunnels, Kleist’s Gothic wonderland closely recalls Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland. The first Cave biography in comics, a collaboration between Talbot and Cave that featured in Spin magazine’s, ‘Real Life Rock Tales’ (January 2003), was something of a gothic comedy-romance, complete with cake, a corpse dressed as a Christmas tree and teenage love by the river’s edge. Kleist’s own narrative, with its temporal disjunctions, doppelgängers and spiritual visitations, wears its gothic aesthetics with a straight face, more or less. But there is a dark — and dare I say cheeky — humour lurking in the interstice between Kleist’s work and its broader contexts; see, for example, the depiction of Cave in the grip of addiction coming upon a sheet of paper in his typewriter filled by the incessant repetition of a sentence straight out of the Stanley Hotel: “All work and no play makes Nick a dull boy”.

The appearance of Margaret Thatcher in the story world of ‘Jangling Jack’, gig posters and a Berlin wall decorated with graffiti, together with allusions to Franz Kafka and a shipwreck motif reminiscent of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, draw the reader into an imaginative engagement with wider political and cultural contexts. Kleist here asserts implicitly the bardic power and curse laid down for those contemporary artists bold enough to lay their necks on the line. For first and foremost, Kleist reminds us, these worlds he inks into existence were sung. We see this in the way he interweaves scenes from the recording studio and the stage into the unfolding of the song-stories and legends told by and about Cave; we see it too in the rhythmic tapping of Cave on his typewriter, forty-eight tiny hammers beating Euchrid Eucrow and all others of his kind into existence: “Tac / Tac / Tac”.

And we see it in the velocity of Kleist’s own lines, no more so than when their razor-sharp edges give way to smudges and smears. Indeed, there are pages without dialogue or sound effects where the scrape of pen and the swish of brush harmonise with the sound of imaginary whirlpools, pelting rain and the screams of a rock god dancing with a Charybdis. Spend too much time looking at any one panel and you may get sucked into a vortex that is also a rabbit hole, in which characters dream their creators and no one is in Kansas anymore.

Kleist’s work, like Cave’s, transforms and transports us, removing us to a world in which creativity itself is as addictive and dangerous as heroine: observe the panels in which Cave injects ink into the obsidian network of his veins and arboresces over his Seiko Silverette, hands morphing into roots that draw sustenance from the leaves of typescript strewn across the floor of his Berlin bedroom.

 

The repeated emphasis on the materiality, the fecundity, of novels, of comics, of music and of speech draws us back to the truth that words and pictures are things that have a reciprocal relationship with the world into which they are spawned.

Kleist does well to direct our gaze toward the significant others — the lovers, friends and bandmates who collaborate in Cave’s visionary madness. And that adorns the back cover, which depicts Cave grasping one outstretched palm in a field of upraised hands, evokes something of the tactility with which his audience receives him in concert.

Nevertheless, the final page of Kleist’s narrative presents Cave alone, retreating from the stage, while the endpaper treats us to a gorgeous and atmospheric portrait of Cave traversing an empty street in the snow. These images humanise Cave — for who hasn’t dabbled in the iconography of the lone prophet crying in the wilderness: “I alone, even I”. And yet, what these portraits mask is the way that the universalising aspect of Cave’s work — that bit of it that bites into the heart-flesh of his fans — depends on his attempts to both lose and find himself in the midst of some larger organism: a band, an audience.

The stories of the boy racing toward the thunder of an oncoming locomotive or dancing alone behind a locked door — stories Cave himself has a predilection for recounting — give only part of the picture. What we don’t see in such portraits is the singer who doesn’t simply clasp the hands of a chosen one, but dives into the crowd. What the figure of the blind prophet precludes is the moment of mutual recognition when you are standing in the front row and your eyes meet his, when you see Cave seeing you. Elsewhere in the text, Kleist shows us just enough of the collaborative dimension of Cave’s world-building to suggest that when our demiurge walks offstage alone, this is but one stroke of the pendulum.

The Christian concept of mercy is orientated around the startling idea that God might willingly trade places with human beings — Christ suffers and dies so that we have a shot at immortality. Deification is a collaborative and consensual process; it depends on communion. Kleist has given us a beautiful grotesquery of poetic truths. This is a delightful book that richly complements existing iterations of the Cave mythos. But if you actually want to feel the beat of the hammer in your blood, to partake in the apocalyptic act of god-making that Kleist delineates so masterfully, well, that will require some concert-going.

Ecce homo.

Dr. Matt Green
Associate Professor of Modern English Literature,
Nottingham University

Buy Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Hadrian’s Wall (£17-99, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis…

“Edward Madigan is dead, Simon.”
“What happened?”
“There was an accident. He was on an E.V.A. when his space suit… vented.”
“Jesus…”
“The company needs to make sure they have a full understanding of events. With all this unrest between Earth and the colony on Theta… they’re being overly cautious. Between you and me, it’s a formality. A rubber stamp job.”
“Marshall…”
“But it pays one hundred thousand.”
“You gotta find another contractor.”
“Look, I know there are… issues. But like I said… it’s a rubber stamper. We head out, you do a once-over, sign off on how he died…”
“He shot me four times and married my ex-wife. I don’t give a shit why his suit vented.”
“I’m giving you a chance to make a hundred grand off it. Schadenfreude is underrated, Simon. Think about it.”

What Marshall has neglected to mention is that Simon’s ex-wife, Annabelle, is also on the space ship that Simon will shortly be heading for to ‘investigate’ Edward’s death. Both Simon and Edward used to be cops, back in Seattle, in fact Edward was Simon’s boss… Well, at least until he started banging his wife, then he kindly transferred him to another division… In retrospect, though, breaking into their house to look for the engagement ring that used to belong to his mother – which Annabelle wouldn’t give back out of pure spite – wasn’t the smartest thing to do. That’s the sort of behaviour that gives someone the excuse they’ve just been waiting for to shoot you four times. Even if that sort of excessive response can get you pensioned off the force to hush it all quiet…

It is, of course, nowhere near as simple as that, as Simon will find when he joins up with the survey ship Hadrian’s Wall and its crew way out in deep space. For a start, the rapidly heating up new Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony, Theta, has got everyone twitchy, and it’s abundantly clearly to Simon that everyone on board seems to be hiding something from him. If he had any sense he’d do his rubber stamp duty, collect his 100K and head back to Earth to keep popping his painkillers, but the cop in him can’t help but want to get to the bottom of what really happened, not least because he suspects Annabelle is responsible for Edward’s death.

It is, of course, nowhere near as simple as that!

Excellent vacuum-packed piece of police procedural work all wrapped up in lovely shiny science fiction foil. And no, I’m not referring to a particularly bizarre variant cover, thank goodness. Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel have crafted a very tense whodunit here, which even when the culprit has been finally revealed still has secrets galore to give up in rather painful fashion. Simon, grappling with his own not inconsiderable demons from the onset – as are laid excruciatingly bare for us to empathise with, including an extreme dependency on the pain killers he took to after getting shot – rapidly finds his psychological problems accelerating to escape velocity as parties unknown take it upon themselves to flush his stash into space.

 

Once Edward, clad in his battered space suit, starts making hallucinatory appearances, pro-offering advice like Hopkirk, of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), well, it all starts to make the process of deductive reasoning rather more difficult. Wittering ghosts are somewhat of a distraction whilst trying to crack a case, indeed just avoid cracking up, I would imagine. Still, he’s nothing but persistent our Edward, shame he didn’t try so hard on his marriage years previously… something Annabelle is only too happy to point out to him, repeatedly. You’d have thought being in the frame for her husband’s murder with her ex-husband having the power to send her down might make her tongue somewhat less acerbic, but no. Maybe he wasn’t entirely to blame…

Rod Reis simply excels on art duty. Lovely sharp linework and some great little touches are his trademark. His facial expressions are a real strong point too. He manages to make Annabella look like she has the veritable zero Kelvin perma-frost of a demeanour throughout, particularly where Edward is concerned.

This trio of Higgins, Siegel and Reis has worked together before to excellent effect on the sadly short-lived but rather splendid two book C.O.W.L. non-superhero superhero crime series, also on Image. As Stephen commented in his review of the first volume of that series, there’s a sublime touch of Bill Sienkiewicz in Reis’ work. Complete in one volume, this will chill you right to the end…

JR

Buy Hadrian’s Wall and read the Page 45 review here

The Beautiful Death #1 (£4-99, Titan) by Mathieu Bablet.

Oh, this is ever so French!

It’s not so much the poor lone man with the haunted eyes staring out over the lifeless concrete city, weeping inconsolably. For himself, I suspect.

I can’t say that I blame him. It’s been four years or so of unbroken solitary… what’s the opposite of confinement? Sometimes four small walls must seem a mercy.

It’s all there before him, stretching endlessly, emptily, dirtily and a bit broken.

What else is there to do other than rock on a chair, mind-numb, or roam the echoing avenues, passing abandoned communal play areas, unattended gardens, crashed cars and lank electricity lines?

It’s as desolate and derelict as an empty outdoor municipal swimming pool – with some of the same, lame, tiny mosaic tiles.

See tiny tiles on stairwell he’s walking down – swimming pool, no? – Stephen

There are small trails of encroaching vegetation in the cracked concrete. I bet the buddleias got there first – they’re the worst.

Eventually he finds himself back at his equally unpopulated apartment with its lo-tech radio & car battery attached, calling out to anyone else who isn’t there. No reply, obviously.

It wasn’t zombies, by the way. It was the insects.

“I just can’t get rid of it. That taste of ash in my mouth.
“It reminds me… Reminds me of those Wednesday afternoons.
“My mother would take me over to Mrs. Jones for her madeleines. She was terrifying. So were the madeleines.”

Okay, so that’s pretty French.

“Burnt to ash. Just like any love for my dad still left in my mother’s heart.”

Bit of a downer!

“Sadly, for the culinary world, the gentle Mrs. Jones perished in a tragic mishap at the zoo, determined to save a poor adventurous child from the hands of a rutting orang-utan.”

No, what’s so French about this are the three bickering idiots who “supersede” him.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you, but even his exit is French. Too funny!

There’s Jeremiah, the shouty one with spiky blonde hair like some escapee from NARUTO; stern leader Wayne who has set rules and demands discipline except from Soham who doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone or anything anymore. Soham seems to have lost all sense of humanity or connection to it. Although he still looks both ways before crossing a road, even though there hasn’t been any traffic for years.

 

They scour the shops and loot every can that they can. Cans are all that’s left. And even they have their sell-by dates.

“Four years… according to this can that’s all we have left.”
“Say what?”
“We never talk about it, but no matter how you cut it, the days on these cans are our expiration date too.”

There appear to be no viable crops and no edible animals. Although insects are edible, aren’t they? There are an awful lot of those.

It’s very much two against one: they almost abandon Jeremiah at one point.

It’s a very quiet comic. Even the “incident” is more of a situation, simply presented to us without any preceding narrative or the most obvious dramatic action that would have got us all going.

The rescue goes unacknowledged. Instead they stand there in silence, in the needle-sharp rain under coloured umbrellas – very French.

Other roof-top, table-top umbrellas blow poetically away in the squall.

That’s some seriously lovely rain, that is.

SLH

Buy The Beautiful Death #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Corbyn Comic Book (£4-99, SelfMadeHero) by various including Hanna Berry, Stephen Collins, Steven Appleby, Dix, Steve Bell, Karrie Fransman, Kate Evans, Paul Rainey, more.

That’s a pretty impressive line-up and it’s only scratching the surface. A quick glance down the credits shows 40-odd contributors with one to three pages each.

Anyway, I’ve been on holiday this week, so for once I’ll let the publisher speak before adding a few choice words myself because this was very well written:

“Pollsters called it a foregone conclusion. Columnists said Theresa May’s snap general election wouldn’t just return her a thumping majority in the House of Commons it would plunge the Opposition into existential crisis. For Labour MPs, concerns about job security in an age of zero-hours contracts suddenly felt uncomfortably close to home.

“And then something happened. Momentum got to work. Grime4Corbyn gathered steam. Clicktivists became door-knocking, flag-waving activists. Jezza talked jam on the One Show and opened for the Libertines at Prenton Park. All this while Theresa turned into the Maybot and the Conservatives released a manifesto that looked bad for people and even worse for animals.

“Islington-dwelling socialist, bike-riding pacifist, green-fingered threat to the status quo: this revolutionary anthology captures the qualities and quirks of the Daily Mail’s worst nightmare.”

The Guardian wrote:

“In one incarnation, he is Corbyn the Barbarian, facing off against the Maydusa. In another, Corbynman leaves his ‘mild mannered allotment of solitude’ to take on the ‘inter-dimensional invasion fleet of Daily Mail death drones blasting everything with their Tory food bank rays’ with a rallying battle cry of ‘jam on!’. Just in time for the Labour party conference, an unlikely superhero is preparing to take his place alongside the likes of Spider-Man and Wonder Woman: Jeremy Corbyn.”

SelfMadeHero’s Sam wrote:

“Just back from the Labour Conference, where many people took the comic too seriously (the cult of Corbyn! Infantalisation! Nonsense!) but many more got the joke.”

Sam’s such a lovely!

You’re probably no longer reading this so I’m going to feel free to add my two cents’ worth. Not about Theresa Dismay who’s transparently such a “liar, liar, liar”, but about Corbyn who can be equally disingenuous.

Oh, I’m a huge Corbyn fan. Proudly Socialist, me, and Jezza genuinely cares. He has a heart of gold, the lacerating quick wit of a stand-up comedian and the oratory of an angel when he’s not being an unnecessarily old grumpy-goat. I’d happily vote for every one of his policies… except Brexit.

See, the thing is, Corbyn was always in favour of Brexit, so he “somehow” “inconveniently” lost his voice during the Brexit campaign (mislaid down the back of the sofa where he knew he could find it immediately during the General Election campaign) and has since been all too happy to let this most horrifically expensive, economically disastrous, culturally catastrophic and completely counter-productive grudge go unchecked because dear Wedgie Benn (he is adored!) once wanted to leave Europe too (in this he was flawed!).

And that’s all this is for the Britons who bought into Brexit: a decades-old grudge against Europe based on Daily Mail lies that straight bananas would be mandatory (they never were, were they?) and the Continent wanted to mess about with our cheese or something.

So, you know, that’s what I mean by disingenuous.

I’d quite like an Opposition, please.

Still, always end on a high note and if you think renationalising Fractured Rail is going to be expensive (you cannot have a transport or environmental policy without a nationalised British Rail) then have you even seen the Brexit bills so far? And Europe’s proposed costs for quitting…?

Just think of all the money we could have poured into the NHS hahahahahahaha! *sobs*

Hey, this comic is one long review of Jeremy Corbyn, so I’m only joining in.

[Strips shown by Richard Dearing, Martin Rowson, Louis Netter & Olly Gruner in that order. Brexit Chart not included in comic – ed.]

SLH

Buy The Corbyn Comic Book and read the Page 45 review here

Josephine (£11-99, SLG Publishing) by Kevin Sacco.

No interior art online!

None whatsoever at the time of typing.

This is a visual medium and this is a silent comic.

It’s quite a beautiful silent comic too, told in grey tone and clean, graceful, pencils which don’t seek to hide their initial sketch marks.

But there is no interior art online whatsoever. Brilliant.

Accordingly I will be brief.

Revisiting a modernised New York Upper West Side, a man of a certain age reminisces about his childhood in the 1950s or ‘60s. If his father at first seems to be an affable, respectable and much loved if always-absent suited and booted businessman, his mother is a complete bitch and bully. When she’s not sloshing vodka down her grimacing gullet, she’s out shopping in the most expensive department stores while the family’s black, live-in housemaid looks after the young, bespectacled tyke, lavishing him with love and furnishing him with pocket money from her own meagre wages. She even buys him comics, which his mother delights in tearing to pieces right in front of him. Oh there is glee in her eyes, and a truly wicked smile.

The boy’s nanny takes him to visit her friends and relatives, one of whom is an army veteran. They are all smashing and provide more nurture for the lad in one afternoon than his parents combined over the first ten years of his life.

I’d go on, but I cannot see the point. I’m not going to sell any copies online with no art to show you, am I?

For from the first but final warning: publishers, if there is no interior art online, I won’t even bother with a few cursory paragraphs like this. It should not be up to me to write to you.

PS The father proves himself to be a complete monster too.

SLH

Buy Josephine and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Archangel h/c (£18-99, Other A-Z) by William Gibson & Butch Guice

Dalston Monsterzz h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Dilraj Mann

Fred The Clown: The Iron Duchess (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Roger Langridge

Katzine: The Guatemala Issue (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman

M.F.K. h/c (£16-99, Insight Comics) by Nilah Magruder

Morton: A Cross-Country Rail Journey (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by David Collier

Outcast vol 5: The New Path s/c (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta

Samaris s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten

Screwed (£5-99, Adhouse Books) by Konstantin Steshenko

The Visitor: How And Why He Stayed (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Paul Grist

Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! (£17-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

We Found A Hat s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Jon Klassen

Batman: Detective Comics vol 3: League Of Shadows s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Marcio Takara, various

Poison Ivy: Cycle Of Life And Death s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amy Chu & various

Doctor Strange vol 4: Mr. Misery (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kathryn Immonen, Robbie Thompson & Frazer Irving, Chris Bachalo, Kevin Nowlan, Leonardo Romero, Jonathan Marks Barravecchia

Thor vol 1: The Goddess Of Thunder s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina

Thor vol 2: Who Holds The Hammer? s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week four

September 27th, 2017

Spirit Centenary Newspaper (Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017) (£5-00, LICAF) by Sean Phillips (editor), Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho…

… is now available for pre-order exclusively from Page 45. Details below! We Ship Worldwide!

Spinning (Signed Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Tillie Walden.

Keenly observed, discerning and wise, this eloquent autobiography comes with a mind-bogglingly well balanced sense of perspective which understandably eludes almost all of us aged a mere 21.

Or 31 or 41 or 51.

Even more remarkable for someone in her earliest twenties, it is Walden’s fifth published graphic novel so far.

Shall I let that sink in?

In addition to Walden’s exceptionally precocious talent, compulsive creative drive and evidently ferocious work ethic, the most enormous credit must go to Avery Hill Publishing who saw in Walden something so spectacular that they snapped her up in her mid-teens, took a courageous but astute editorial punt and nurtured Walden through her first four graphic novels.

They are, in reverse order, ON A SUNBEAM which for the moment you can read for free online here http://www.onasunbeam.com/ (please don’t tell me that web-comics aren’t “published” – they are self-published and a massive chunk of the greatest comics ever created are and have been self-published),  the dreamy and so slyly structured A CITY INSIDE, then the both epic and intimate I LOVE THIS PART with its Winsor McCay sense of scale which almost two years ago we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and finally (or firstly) THE END OF SUMMER.

We have reached the point of referring to creators like Tillie Walden and Mike Medaglia as Avery Hill Alumnae or Alumni.  I urge you to pay rapt attention to all things Avery Hill, for there will be so many more stellar rises from there to come, and Avery Hill will be joining Page 45 in our Georgian Room at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017.

“A first love is important to anyone…”

It’s a beautiful page: Tillie’s first tender, tentative kiss with beautiful Rae, her one sunshine-saviour whilst trapped under the inescapable, savage shadow of school bully, Grace.

Rae has come for a sleepover in the room above Tillie’s garage. They’ve locked the door and together learned the secrets behind the common childhood mystery known as ‘How To Kiss A Girl” by watching a filmed, top-tip demonstration on a laptop. Their wide-eyed faces glow in its balmy light.

They are fourteen years old and, during their kiss, the purple darkness of the room bursts with an incandescent canary yellow behind them. But it is overwhelmingly a tranquil scene with Tillie quietly smiling with a blush afterwards, Rae looking a little unsure; wrapping her arms around Tillie’s neck, hugging her hard and burying her head behind Tillie’s shoulder.

“But when you’re both young and gay and in the closet, it’s something else entirely.
“It wasn’t the thrill of freedom I felt that I remember…
“It was the fear.”

And that is another page entirely.

The tiny, vulnerable couple recede into the back of the room, surrounded by so much darkness, the light now beaming through a curtainless window, exposing them in its spotlight.

Do you want to know what really happened towards the end of Tillie Walden’s I LOVE THIS PART? To the two seemingly inseparable, confidence-swapping best friends so cosily cocooned in shared and sublime romantic affection?

It is here, it is terrible, and it will break your heart clean in two.

I’ve been relatively lucky, but I would so humbly submit that if you haven’t experienced growing up gay in an overwhelmingly hostile environment (almost anywhere in the world still but Austin, Texas, seems particularly homophobic both when it comes to Walden’s young peers and their parents), then you really have no idea.

A straight, white, Liverpudlian male once attempted to express to me a deep understanding of those of us who’ve endured homophobia – the slurs, the bullying, the beatings, the social ostracism and pack-animal persecution; the legal discouragement and discrimination when the age of consent was unequal, the criminalisation when we were completely illegal, the death-threats and the death sentences in countries where being gay is punishable by execution – by casually comparing all of that to an anti-Scouse sentiment he’d occasionally encountered.

I’m not sure that this evidenced a particularly profound understanding.

Growing up gay can be terrifying, and Walden does an exceptional job of conveying the remove which maintaining such a secret puts one at: something that cannot be shared is endured alone, and Tillie had been travelling with this knowledge solo since she was five. Here she is watching her peers from the sidelines, her shoulders hunched, breath as ever freezing in the ice-rink air:

“The other girls always seemed so much more confident, so much more grown-up.
“I never ignored the fact that I was attracted to them, I had known I was gay since I was 5. Now I was almost 12.
“A teacher’s aide had shown me how to hold your sleeve when you put your jacket on. I still remember her hands on my shoulders. I didn’t have a word to describe it yet, but in that moment I knew.”

It’s very telling that this knowledge was imparted from a teacher’s aide rather than her ever-absent mother. She was the only one disinclined to attend the huge national championships which Tillie competed in – more often than not successfully – both as individual performances and as part of a synchronised team, for which she trained separately, travelling in the dark at 6am and after school.

To these she would journey with Lindsay, the girl who rescued her from pre-teen hell by inviting her up to the older girls’ table, at last replacing her earlier childhood companion Molly whom she squabbled with but missed terribly upon moving to Texas. Lindsay’s Mom came too, of course, driving them such long distances and offering to record Tillie’s performance for her parents to watch later.

“Nah, it’s cool… No really, it’s fine.”

But she’d be the only one there without a proud parent, almost all of them mothers.

Just as Ribon and Fish conveyed so thrillingly the edge-of-your-seat competitive challenges of Roller Derby in SLAM!, so Walden here will have you gripped as the glitter-glam, heavily made-up, hair-scrunched, sequin-strewn synchronised skating team threatens to be torn apart by their own momentum, the close-up of those tiny, pressured fingers a hair’s breadth from becoming unlocked and so undone.

The solitary level-testing outside of competitions was another matter entirely.

“I tested about once a year and always passed.
“But it was a perpetually nerve-wracking experience.
“No music was allowed. The only sound in the whole rink was my blades sweeping the ice.
“I’d perform five-six moves, pausing between each one.
“The pauses killed me. Silence would fill the rink.
“The judges would have their heads down, scribbling their comments.
“My coach, blurry and far away…
“I’d feel my lungs swallowing frigid air, trying to keep up, and my face and arms would prickle with cold sweat.”

Walden’s tiny, fragile form, however graceful, is shown red-hot-cheek-blushing away with self-consciousness even as her puffed-out breath escapes to freeze as cold clouds in the empty environment. In training she would understandably wear a thermally insulating track suit, but while tested she was squeezed into a tight, skimpy costume with so much skin on show and it all looks thoroughly uncomfortable.

She then takes us through the intricacies of the moves in curling, sweeping, reversing diagrammatical detail, her glasses fogging up.

“Skating presented a strange debacle. I disliked the femininity of it all, yet was attracted to it nonetheless. I always tried not to stare too much, but – “

There are signs early on that Austin, Texas, was going to be a far from friendly environment for anyone different – and especially gay – particularly among the pre-teens for whom conformity was a pre-requisite, prize-winning element of synchronised skating. It’s right there in Tillie’s early induction to the jejune game of ‘Never Have I Ever…’

“Never have I ever…”
“Met a homo!
“haha”
“good one”
“haha WHAT EVEN”
“No – Tillie, don’t put a finger down yet.”
“haha”
“omg”
“That means you have met one.”
“Oh –“

It made me feel queasy, so lord knows how Tillie felt right there when put on the spot.

But I really began to worry for Tillie’s well-being when the mothers started to grow silent and give her oblique, funny looks about something unspoken – at least to Tillie – particularly when communing around a closed, tight-knit single table which Walden dubs “Mom Island”.

I was right to be worried.

But you wait until you finally learn the full extent of Grace’s bullying (not unrelated), witness the attempted sexual assault by her male tutor and then get hit like brick by the car accident outside her cello teacher’s house while waiting to be picked up.

“I didn’t see it coming.
“I just felt my body fly
“and then I felt my face on the ground.”

What has any of this to do with competitive ice skating? It has everything to do with it. From the Author’s Note at the end:

“I charged into this story armed with memories of hair gel and screaming mothers, ready to do my tell-all of the seedy world of glittering young ice skaters. But with each memory that I started to put on the page, a new narrative emerged. I realised that more than just ability goes into being an ice skater.

“Your life outside the rink shapes how you skate. Landing a jump was never about whether or not I knew how to do it – I did. It was about whether I was ready to, whether I felt like I had enough control to land it. And what was going on in my life shaped the answers to those questions…

“When you perform you have to put a version of yourself forward for the audience to see. And that becomes a hard task when your idea of yourself is constantly changing and being made anew.”

At a whopping 400 pages you’ll understand that there is far more ground I could cover – I haven’t even touched on her twin brother, with whom she has a close relationship. That story comes with an unexpected twist, and it is ever so sad.

Walden’s development as a visual artist comes later than you’d imagine and, if I’m not much mistaken, you’ll be treated to actual early squiggles in a very fine line, developing into the giants at one with their cityscape environment which made such an impact in  I LOVE THIS PART.

The body language throughout is beautiful – even the way two girls will stand and crouch in relationship to each other – and she’s an expert in conveying confidence, or lack of it, through shoulders and arms.

And if I were to attempt a summary of the book’s heart then it would be about the growth in confidence of a young individual from one who consistently kept their own counsel and repressed desires to their own disadvantage – to quit ice-skating, above all – to someone who finally begins to speak up quite dramatically, and who clears out their cluttered cupboard, metaphorically or otherwise.

“This is an unhealthy amount of medals.”

SLH

Buy Spinning (Signed Bookplate Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Little Red Wolf h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Amélie Fléchais.

Whenever I rootle through the monthly PREVIEWS order form, snuffling out gorgeous new graphic novels for our shelves two months later, I do a lot of research online. I tweet a lot of my findings as I go, in an effort to entertain with the art and generate pre-orders which are golden.

You couldn’t do either of those twenty years ago: it was largely guesswork based on past performances, so new creators were both difficult to discover and risky to take a punt on since comic shops – unlike bookstores – cannot return any unsold books.

Oh, but Amélie Fléchais’ luxurious landscapes stood out a mile! The black-furred anthropomorphic forms were delightful, the rich colours delicious and their harmony with a magically enhanced nature immediately reminded me of Isabelle Arsenault’s YOU BELONG HERE which has been absolutely enormous at Page 45. There’s also a hint of dear Gustav Klimt.

So I tweeted like crazy and dug deep with my orders.

But still, it remains a worry: will the actual story and storytelling be any cop? Many have the riffs been on Little Red Riding Hood and I do not “do” trite nor twee.

Rejoice, for this is neither!

There is a grandmother but she is a wolf; there is a red hood, but that is worn by a wolf; there are some sprawling woods and their navigation may indeed prove quite treacherous but… the similarities to previous iterations pretty much end right there. So many wicked surprises and a very real reason why the wolves you’ll encounter are wearing such fine, woven threads.

It is dark, it is witty and although it is pretty, it has quite the lupine bite to it.

Are you sitting comfortably, my kitty-kins…? Then we’ll begin!

“Once upon a time, there was a family of wolves who lived in a deep and mysterious forest.
“In this family there lived a little wolf pup who was always dressed in red. Everyone called him the ‘Little Red Wolf’.
“Sheltered by the roots of the forest’s trees, the little wolf and his family led a quiet and peaceful life.”

Already, in those opening three double-page spreads, there is so much for all eyes to relish: details to seek out and savour!

Mother wolf – her eyes alert – glides purposefully home through bountiful, fern-and-fungi-strewn woodlands lit up by a lime and golden, gleaming light. Traditional bluebirds take flight and flit about before morphing on the next to more cartoon creations which perch on cobwebs, sat not on their clawed toes, but their bottoms! A hollow tree-trunk bowl collects drinking rain water dripping from a frond of a fir.

The third spread, however, is ridiculously rich in extras, pulling back to reveal a cross-section of domesticated dens: primarily that which belongs to the wolves, nestled within the protective, cosy confines of the tree base itself, but also a warren of populated burrows below, interconnected by ladders or safely secure and entered elsewhere! Fish swim in underwater caverns watched over by proud, crowned parents; bunnies take tea while puffing on pipes in their exceedingly learned library!

It is indeed a “quiet and peaceful life” for all. However:

Today Little Red Wolf’s mother brings home a batch of fresh, juicy rabbits to feed her hungry family, but not all of her relatives live at home. Everyone must be provided for, especially those who once provided.

“Bring this nice rabbit to your grandmother wolf. She’s lost her teeth and can no longer hunt.”

Dutifully and even eagerly the little wolf nods assent, taking the big bundle of long-eared fluff from his mother, but he does tremble a bit when warned of the dangers in the dead wood – the dark depths of the forest where the huntsman and his daughter live – which must be avoided at all costs.

[Parenthetically, parents, I adore how the soon-to-be-consumed dead bunnies all look blissful, as if sound asleep.]

And so our little red wolf cub sets out, immediately forgetting the dire warnings, for there is so much to be distracted by!

“First he followed a little beetle…
“And then he chased a gently flowing cloud of pollen.”

Pollen!

“And then he made his way underground following a bold little mouse.”

What a majestic piece of sequential art storytelling that is! It snakes across the page, diagonally to the right then deep down below and – yes! – once more there are so many additional narratives to spot, explore and then absorb if only you care to dilly-dally just as our so easily diverted wolf cub does!

When he finally emerges back into the stark light of day, he is lost. However, hand on hip, he is undaunted.

”I am a wolf, the forest is my home, I’m sure I can find my own way, even without the dumb trail!”

Hmmm, I’m afraid that a great big dose of the bad-news-blues is imminent!

We have only just begun. First there comes the cub’s own hunger and a cumulatively funny sequence of self-justification as he satisfies it, after which his real worries will begin.

How to explain without spoilers?

You’ve read my warning. Also:

Songs when sung – being originally from the oral tradition – have a way of warping like Chinese Whispers when handed across or down from one generation to another. They also have a weakness to being warped, especially if shame is involved.

Not everyone who stops singing halfway through has forgotten the words.

I suspect that this will be snapped and then lapped up largely by adults, but it is also perfectly safe for your young ones. If you don’t mind a nightmare or two! Kids adore scary but also resolve, surprises and justice. This has the perfect balance.

Now, where did the wolves get their fine, woven cloaks from, do you think?

SLH

Buy The Little Red Wolf h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cosplayers: Perfect Collection (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw…

“A good comic looks good even when nobody is looking at it.”
“Right…”
“These are all things that a merely “good” comic must do…”
“But some comics are truly “great”, understand?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Some comics are a leap forward in the evolutionary sense.”
“Yes sir.”

Ha. Dash Shaw being Dash Shaw why am I not remotely surprised that a comic by him entitled Cosplayers is in fact about far, far more than that? Yes, Annie and Verti, our two stars of their own show, quite literally, do like to dress up in homemade costumes and attend <ahem> comic conventions, but what they really like to do is make films. Often covertly co-starring people who have absolutely no idea whatsoever that they are involved as unsolicited extras in a work of cinematic, well Youtube, fiction… It leads to some extremely unusual moments as you might imagine particularly when Verti goes on a blind date with the most socially awkward lad the ladies can find for their big romantic scene… and promptly falls in love with him!

 

 

There are some great set pieces here, particularly the one in the comic shop with the proprietor who had his mind blown years previously by the cosmic power of Jack “King” Kirby’s comicbook adaptation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey film. Which was a genuine thing! Now sadly out of print. It was such a profound kenshō that his life was transformed and he subsequently achieved the pinnacle of career success… becoming a comics retailer. Annie and Verti, having popped in for some cheap throwaway comics just to pass the time are rather less moved, being much more keen simply to move themselves out of the shop as fast as politely possible!

 

This is easily Dash Shaw’s most accessible work to date, a wise choice I feel after such surrealist kaleidoscopic delights, both structurally and visually, as the former Page 45 Comicbook of the Month THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D. and NEW SCHOOL, brilliant as they both were. To my mind, his closest contemporaries in comics in that sense, despite fanatically ploughing his own furrow of fun, would be the likes of Michael STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO DeForge, and, when he is on one of his own many out-there trips, Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS Brown. This is moving much more in the direction of the farcical, not-so-sensibilities of Brecht THE MAKING OF Evens.

There is, of course, cosplay in there too, which Dash manages to make just as wince-worthy as I find it in real life. One set piece does indeed take place at a convention and makes me more eminently grateful than ever that the sum total of people dressing to impress at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’m sure it’s all great fun if you are into it, I’m truly sure it is, but it really just isn’t my thing. I’m all about reading comics, not living them out. My life is dramatic enough as it is without the need for repeated costume changes. Particularly ones made of stretchy material… Dash, though, perfectly manages to capture the fervent lycra-worshipping  lunacy and backstabbing bitchiness of cosplay devotees that I am quite sure takes place at <ahem> comics conventions. Which is also perfect for me, because I can read about it rather than having to experience it!

JR

Buy Cosplayers: Perfect Collection and read the Page 45 review here

The Last Days Of American Crime (£15-99, Image) by Rick Remender &Greg Tocchini…

“… before you know… avoidin’ pain governs every choice.
“Do anythin’ to keep it at bay. Lie. Steal. Cheat…
Inflict it on others.
“An’ why the hell not?
“Just gotta convince yourself o’ one thing.
“Put in a bad spot…
“… they’d do the same to you.

Not that inflicting it on others might be a choice for much longer… If the intended American Peace Initiative of a nationwide broadcasted neuro-inhibitor stopping all unlawful behaviour is a) not just total propaganda and somehow actually real, and b) is technically even possible and does work precisely as intended, then well, everyone is shortly going to just be playing nicey-nice with each other. No crime. Sounds great right?

Not exactly. In fact in the weeks leading up to the broadcast, emigration is at an all-time high as people frantically try to flee the onset of state-sanctioned mind control and of the population that remains, many normally well-behaved citizens are urgently trying to tick all manner of illegal activities off their bucket list, before having a sex- and-drugs orgy of Sodom and Gomorrah levels is no longer possible. To their shortly-to-be controlled minds, the API also represents the arrival of the fun police.

Criminals, obviously, they’re not too happy about it either, seeing their preferred career choice being rendered obsolete by technology overnight. Progress, eh? Which is why Graham Bricke is planning one last cash-out score of unimaginable proportions before hopping over the border to the spend the rest of his days relaxing on the sunny beaches of Mexico… Plus paying for some advanced stem cell treatment which he hopes is going to cure his mother’s Alzheimer’s, bless him. What a good son! With a crafty, well frankly insane, plan to use the night of the initial broadcast itself as cover for his ultra-high-risk scheme, he’s going to need an equally unhinged crew to pull off this crazy caper.

This is a great crime joint by Rick DEADLY CLASS Remender that mixes in some minor elements of comedy and speculative fiction, much like in his frantic cyberpunk calamity TOKYO GHOST. It also has that same sense of society dancing precariously round the toilet-bowl edge of disintegration. It could all so easily fall apart completely with just one more mis-step. In fact, I can also add his LOW, with artist Greg Tocchini to that list, as that too focuses on a pre-apocalyptic society and a crew of characters under siege from all directions as they try to get theirs, which is mainly just some degree of personal safety.

If you’ve read LOW, you’ll also know that Tocchini produces truly beautiful artwork, but also, he does do sexy, dare I say it, sleazy, femme fatales very, very well, and here, in Shelby Dupree, we have a leading lady who seems primarily to be intent on leading Graham right up the garden path. She’s supposed to be part of his crew, along with her boyfriend Kevin Cash. But whose side is she actually on? Does she even know herself? As the night of the broadcast approaches, assailed on all sides from jealous criminals who’ve caught a whiff of their heist, is there really any chance of them pulling off the crime of the century?

If you don’t mind your crime somewhat on the preposterous side, you will absolutely love this. Straight noir fans probably will struggle with it in that respect, but absolutely everyone should love Tocchini’s art. If not, check yourself in immediately for some mind control aka the Page 45 comic show-and-tell recommendation service! You will buy comics…

JR

Buy The Last Days Of American Crime and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Dark Knight Master Race h/c (£26-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & Andy Kubert…

“Hey, good-looking!”
“What?”
“You make a pretty convincing Batman.”
“You think so?”
“You got mad game. Did he train you?”
“Who?”
“Bruce Wayne. What’s your name?”
“Bruce Wayne.”
“Bruce Wayne?”
“Bruce Wayne is dead! BRUCE WAYNE IS DEAD! BRUCE…WAYNE… IS…”

“Dead. That’s what you said. How?”

Sequels. Whether it be film or comics, it’s very rare that a sequel matches or even surpasses the original. You might actually wonder why they bother, but I’m not going to pop open that particular can of shark repellent… I mean worms…

BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, from way back in 1986, I hope we can all agree, is a classic of the modern superhero sub-genre. Along with Miller’s DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN also from 1986, (soon to be completely bastardised no doubt for the third season of Marvel’s Netflix Daredevil… sigh…), and that other book with the blue person with the funny tattooed forehead in, from yes you guessed it, 1986 (wasn’t that a rather pivotal year in superhero comics?), who will be popping up again shortly in the forthcoming DOOMSDAY CLOCK, they helped shatter the paradigm of what people expected from superhero comics. And thus instantly redefined what people wanted. Shame we’ve had so relatively little of that level of quality since in this niche comics sub-genre.

Its loose sequel, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, from 2001, I would argue, falls into the mis-understood classic category. People wanted more of the same, and Frank dared to give them something different. Thus many people didn’t get it initially, like myself I will very freely admit, but then upon a second read I loved it, because it had something very distinct of its own to say.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Threequel that wasn’t, when we had HOLY TERROR, originally intended to be Holy Terror, Batman! Frank had something else to get off his chest post-9/11, it was just that DC wasn’t comfortable with it being a Dark Knight Bat-book, so Batman became The Fixer, taking out Al Qaeda wholesale in New York City. I found it a bit one-dimensional, frankly, veering dangerously towards crypto-fascism and possibly even a teeny-weeny bit racist (just a personal opinion…) and I think the safest thing I can say about it… is that probably absolutely no one regards it as a classic… Given Frank’s well-documented wider health struggles over recent years, I genuinely wonder how he himself regards it now.

So, here we are. 2017. What has Frank got to say this time? Well… interestingly he’s paired up with Brian Azzarello for the storytelling. I have absolutely no idea who has done precisely what but I’m guessing Frank came up with the plot outline and Brian helped whip the script into shape. Probably like Ben Hur riding a chariot… Before we go any further on that score, I will say Andy Kubert on pencils, Klaus Janson on inks and indeed Brad Anderson on colours are all superb, hitting the heights you want on a book as much anticipated as this. Right, back to the writing…

I read this initially as it was coming out in issues and my thoughts at the time were it got off to an exceptionally strong start in the first couple of issues, neatly reprising certain conceits from BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS like the talk show hosts providing their own one-eyed politicised commentaries, plus updating neat little devices like the television-framed footage to mobile hand-held devices so indicative of our modern social-media sharing society. It then seemed to sag somewhat in the middle, but that was in part definitely due to the delays in release, before seeming to finish strongly enough. It definitely benefitted hugely from being re-read in one go.

In terms of the story, Superman and Wonder Woman now have two children, the teenage Lara and the infant Jonathan, neatly paying a sweet nomenclaturical tribute to both Clark’s Kryptonian and human roots. Though old Big Blue himself has skulked off the Fortress of Solitude to wallow in self-pity, partly due to the events of BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, entirely encasing himself in ice, leaving Diana to take on the parenting duties alone! Consequently she’s struggling with rebellious teen Lara, who definitely sees herself as old-school Kryptonian and not remotely compassionate towards humanity. Carrie Kelly, meanwhile, Robin from the previous two Dark Knight works you may recall, seems to have replaced the late Bruce Wayne, finally killed in action three years previously, as Batman. He’s not dead, obviously.

“This mean you’re not dead anymore, Boss?”

‘This’ being the thousand Kandorians, let loose entirely due to the good intentions of Dr. Ray Palmer aka The Atom and rather less so of Lara, who led by the murderous Quar have decided to take over the Earth and if mankind doesn’t start worshipping them and doing exactly what Quar wants, be wiped off the face of the globe. If only Bruce Wayne wasn’t dead, if only someone could persuade Clark out of his self-imposed isolation, if only Diana wasn’t too busy looking after the baby to help… The rest of the Justice League might be useful too, I reckon… If only someone could do some additional tie-in mini-comics about them…

This is definitely a more straightforward work than either of its two predecessors. It does however have some distinctly on-point things to say about the current state of the world we live in. And the current President makes a typically excruciating appearance. For the most part, it says them very eloquently, often rather amusingly and with some considerable degree of wit, and rather even-handedly. There are only a couple things I wish had been done differently. I wish Quar had had a less Arabic sounding name. And that his ‘wives’ weren’t wearing garb akin to that you would see a Saudi prince dressed in. Those two points just made me slightly uncomfortable.

Miller obviously wishes to very overtly draw the analogy with ISIS and their insane desire for hegemony at all costs. He clearly does, and actually, I suppose that is fine, but it just felt slightly unnecessary for those two strident embellishments to make it so obvious. If it weren’t for HOLY TERROR, and also some of his previous statements, they might not have bothered me at all, but because of that, I was probably subconsciously looking for something of that ilk, which I consequently found. I am aware he still feels very strongly about the events of 9/11, which is understandable as someone living in New York, and he clearly still wants to express that in his comics, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising.

Where any such imbalance, real or not, is entirely redressed, at least in comics terms, is in that which was entirely lacking in HOLY TERROR, for this work has humanity and heart by the bucket load. There are some big emotional swings and profound personal journeys for various characters in this work, not least one stinging betrayal and dramatic redemption in particular, but this book also feels like Frank Miller’s redemption, partial or whole depending on your viewpoint, to me, in comics terms anyway. He can still clearly write good comics, even with the unquantifiable assistance of Brian Azarello, which for all I know was something DC insisted upon for editorial control reasons. Anyway, as a team they certainly worked very well together.

This delightfully chunky dust-jacketed hardcover collects all nine issues of the main Master Race series, plus the additional very enjoyable mini-comics that came stapled into the middle of the issues, featuring all the various major old school Justice League members in a full set of cameos, with art from Eduardo Risso and John Romita Jr. How’s that for two fill-in artists?! There are also a few sketch pages and pin-ups chucked in for good measure. Shame they didn’t include the 57-page DARK KNIGHT RETURNS prequel one-shot THE LAST CRUSADE, also co-written with Azarello, with its delightfully twisted, exquisitely painful ending, that came out in the middle of this run of issues. Still, at £26-99 for all that material, which Marvel would no doubt have been trying to charge at least another fifteen quid for, it’s very good value indeed.

Will this go down as a classic? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly an extremely good sequel well worth the price of admission.

JR

Buy Batman: Dark Knight Master Race h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Up For Pre-Order Now!

Spirit Centenary Newspaper (LICAF, £5-00) by Sean Phillips (editor), Ed Brubaker, Brendan McCarthy, Graham Dury, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Peter Milligan, Seth, Jason Latour, Jonathan Ross & Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Brendan McCarthy, Simon Thorp, Chris Samnee, John M Burns, Sergio Aragones, Duncan Fegredo, Seth, Jason Latour, Bryan Hitch, Michael Cho.

Publication date: October 14th

Celebrating the Centenary of the Birth of Will Eisner (1917-2017), this newspaper-sized comicbook collection of self-contained one-page stories was instigated by LICAF, then directed and edited by Sean Phillips (KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL, USER, THE FADE OUT, FATALE etc) and features a stunning array of top-tier international creators.

It goes on sale at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 on Saturday October 14th and 15th in Page 45’s Georgian Room upstairs in the Kendal Comics Clock Tower (entry is free; access by lift), with all proceeds helping to fund LICAF’s Creators’ Development Fund.

If you would like to pre-order a copy to collect in Kendal, postage-free (and indeed any of our other graphic novels on this website), then please select that option at the check-out. 100% of the proceeds will still go to LICAF, as do the proceeds of all sales on the day of this and all other exclusive LICAF merchandise on sale in Page 45’s Georgian Room.

If you would like to pre-order a copy for Worldwide Shipping post-LICAF, then you can do so right here, EXCLUSIVELY through Page 45. We Ship Worldwide! Hooray!

Please Note 1): decamping from the Lakes Festival each year is quite a time-consuming logistical “thing” so copies of the SPIRIT NEWSPAPER will not be available from Page 45 until Wednesday 18th October (Wednesday is the regular New Comics Day in the US and UK), which is when copies will begin to be dispatched by mail.

Please Note 2): in the interests of honesty we would point out that Page 45 will be taking its regular retailer cut of all these post-LICAF sales, but the rest will still go to LICAF’s Creators’ Development Fund.

Basically this: we recommend you come to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

We do! Every year!

You can find details on our website’s front page by clicking on the LICAF logo, bottom-left.

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

P.S. This not the review. This is a preview. Review to follow Wednesday after LICAF, I’d have thought.

SLH

Buy Spirit Centenary Newspaper and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review

Parker: The Score s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Well, hey, Parker. C’mon in.”
“The deal’s off.”
“What?”
“Someone was following me.”
“Oh that. That don’t mean anything.”
“He’s dead.”
“You killed him? For Christ’s sake, why?”
“He pulled a knife.”
“I don’t know, Parker, that’s a hell of a thing.”
“Tell me, Paulus, how did you know I was followed?”
“It was Edgars, he thought it was a good idea.”
“Who the hell is Edgars?”
“You don’t know him. He’s never worked an operation like this before.”
“Then what is he doing here?”
“He set this up.”
“An amateur? Goodbye Paulus.”
“Paulus! What’s the hold-up here?”

And so we, and Parker, meet Edgars. He’s got a plan, a plan so crazy that Parker immediately wants to walk away for a second time. And yet, it’s such a bold audacious scheme, he can’t help but find himself getting drawn in, responding to the challenge. Edgars’ plan is, quite simply, to knock over an entire town, a town called Copper Canyon, a very small self-contained copper mining settlement located in a box canyon, complete with its own tiny police department.

With a dozen good men, and the right leadership and precision planning (which is where Parker comes in), then robbing the mining payroll, the two banks and even three jewellery stores on the main street just for good measure, all seems eminently possible.

Certainly a less complex story than the previous two volumes, PARKER: THE HUNTER and PARKER: THE OUTFIT, this is very much just an out and out classic heist story. The ensemble cast of experienced villains Parker puts together are all consummate professionals who know their roles inside out and play them to perfection, entertaining both themselves and us alike, plus of course terrifying the locals, with a virtuoso performance of menacing armed robbery, all of which means that nothing should possibly go wrong then…? Well, let’s not forget there is an amateur on board…

Superb pulpy period art from Darwyn Cooke once again, who also handles the adaptation duties with aplomb. After picking blue as his primary colour to complement his pencils last time around, this time Darwyn goes for a dusty yellow, which gets you right into the gritty mood for a good dust up in the sandy, sulphurous hills. As before, you really do you just have to pause and marvel at his artwork, with Parker’s demeanour and mannerisms in particular just a delight to behold, with him barking orders and generally acting the alpha male hard-ass extraordinaire to keep everyone focused and most definitely not on the straight and narrow.

I would think this is probably the most accessible adaptation so far, actually, completely independent of the other two books, which are emphatically linked if not truly two volumes of the same story, just because it’s such a perfect, self-contained crash, bang, wallop of its own. What all Parker adaptations do go to show, though, is just exactly what the right artwork can do to bring a story to life and grip you with just as much intensity as any cinematic experience, thus setting my forthcoming conclusion up nicely.

Ultimately, the other reason all these Parker graphic novels have been brilliant is Donald Westlake’s writing (Richard Stark being his pen name) and I’m sure I have read somewhere that Cooke was in correspondence with Westlake before his passing telling him he intended to leave as much of his writing intact as possible. Sadly something that hasn’t really happened with any of the Parker film adaptations to date, of which I thought there had been six. It’s an odd fact but the main character in every Parker film adaptation has never been called Parker, at Donald Westlake’s request, as he insisted that it could only be used if someone did a series of Parker films, rather than loose individual adaptations.

Now the more astute of you will have noticed my comment that I had thought there had been six film Parker adaptations. Given that The Score is such a brilliantly simple idea, I was genuinely surprised it had never been made into a Hollywood film over the years as it seems perfect for one, so I decided to double-check and found it was actually pretty faithfully adapted in France in 1967 and entitled Mise à Sac (which translates as ‘pillaged’) though once again, the main character is called Georges rather than Parker! Apparently it was never released internationally, so I’ll probably never get to see it, but I am intrigued! It would have to be extremely good to be better than yet another peerless Darwyn Cooke adaptation, though.

JR

Buy Parker: The Score s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’

Castle In The Stars vol 1: The Space Race Of 1869 h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Alex Alice

The Corbyn Comic Book (£4-99, SelfMadeHero) by various including Hanna Berry, Stephen Collins, Steven Appleby, Dix, Steve Bell, Karrie Fransman, Kate Evans, Paul Rainey

The Good News Bible – The Complete Deadline Strips Of Shaky Kane (£24-99, Breakdown Press) by Shaky Kane

Hadrian’s Wall (£17-99, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis

Josephine (£11-99, SLG Publishing) by Kevin Sacco

One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide To Mindfulness (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Mike Medaglia

Royal City vol 1: Next Of Kin s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Sex Criminals vol 4: Fourgy (£14-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Showtime (£14-99, Breakdown Press) by Antoine Cosse

Walking Dead vol 28: A Certain Doom (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

DC Super Hero Girls vol 4: Past Times At Super Hero High s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Agnes Garbowska, Yancy Labat, Marcelo DiChiara

DC Universe Rebirth #1 4th Printing (£4-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank, others

Titans vol 2: Made In Manhattan s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett, James Asmus & Brett Booth

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 3: Itsy Bitsy s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 5: Past Lives s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Filipe Andrade, Eric Nguyen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week three

September 20th, 2017

Featuring Brigitte Findakly, Louis Throndheim, Emma Vieceli, Malin Ryden, Tom Gauld, Nagata Kabi, Campbell Whyte, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun etc

Breaks vol 1 (£15-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Malin Ryden & Emma Vieceli.

“You are not gay.
“Why can’t you get that into your thick and pimpled head?”

 – Ian Tanner in the mirror, after an exceptionally funny, beautifully timed and very telling toothpaste gag.

Which makes him smile: he can laugh at himself.

How many teens have had precisely that conversation with themselves, only to discover further down the line that they might actually have been a bit wrong? Self-awareness comes to some of us later than others.

And let us be clear, this is aimed squarely at teens. It’s an LGBT Young Adult love story, clean so very Mainstream, and as such we’ve racked it between FOUR POINTS and DELILAH DIRK for the moment.

Ian Tanner, on the left of the cover, is neither insecure nor defensive. He’s easy-going, off-hand, popular, funny, with a beautiful girlfriend called Amilah who doesn’t think he’s quite as clever as Ian does. I think you’ll like Amilah: she’s astute and very much aware that most of her friends are dickheads, including sixth-form bully Spence. I wish she’d do something about that: get better friends.

On the other hand, Ian Tanner isn’t quite as brave as he’d like himself to be. He finds it much easier to appease the physically strong, domineering Spence by being at his beck and call rather than stand up to him. I wish he would do something about that too: simply walk away at the very least.

Transfer student Cortland Hunt, on the other hand, has a fiery temper, doesn’t “do” authority and reacts as if he has nothing to lose. He’ll take Spencer on physically after even the slightest provocation and what he lacks in Spencer’s weight he makes up for in ferocity and possibly something more. But Cortland has two massive disadvantages: he’s an outsider, a loner, with no one to back him up; and – if I infer correctly from his brother Harvey, his best friend Irena and his social worker Zane – he has everything to lose. Perhaps what little’s left of his entire family has everything to lose. He desperately needs to keep a lid on it.

The problem is this: with aggressive bullying, there is almost always no let-up. Bullies thrive on knowing that there will be no repercussions to their actions so face-saving is absolutely imperative. They will coerce others to do what they fear to do alone, and this is going to grow dark.

It’s going to grow very dark indeed.

“So where is the love?!” I hear you cry.

It’s in every line: both those written by Malin Ryden and those drawn by Emma Vieceli.

There is ever so much mischief and tenderness evidenced by and in both. There is a vulnerability to the art and an uncertainty in the dialogue whose speakers (in Ian and occasionally Cortland) seek to cover their tentative tracks. You cannot commit whilst in the closet, especially when you do not yet realise its confines or even acknowledge its existence. Trails of thought are left understandably unfinished and so much is left only half-said, often excruciatingly curtailed from without by what happens next.

The faltering is all so instantly recognisable and the tensions are so very taut.

There’s also some deliciously funny dialogue and I’ve chosen some of the pages based on that.

I liked the distinction between “secret” and “private”. I don’t have that one for you, but you’ll see.

Where this differs considerably from the majority of our yaoi is that this is less fantastical and far more fully grounded in an urban, sixth-form reality which we can all recognise: the rat race, reputations and the power-play provocations; the rivalries, the jealousies, the repercussions at home.

Between the two creators the foreshadowing is very well done, and there is so much of it, right from the prologue narrated with hindsight from some point in the future. The big bit on the second page I’m not going to give away. I want it to startle you first-hand with the book in front of you – and it will.

For it’s even bigger than the accompanying snog during which Vieceli draws Ian wearing a highly distinctive shirt which emphatically isn’t school uniform, so that when it finally (finally!) crops up again you know where you’re heading – if not immediately – and the adrenalin starts pumping in anticipation as to how that scene will come about, then play itself out. Cleverly, what you will not see coming is a revelation just prior to that critical juncture which will complicate matters considerably. 

More foreshadowing with even cleverer re-deployment: at one point Amilah compliments Cortland to her boyfriend Ian’s face. Specifically she says, ““He doesn’t need to talk much, he’s a man of mystery… Besides, he’s totally hot.”

Many pages later and that sentence is echoed over and over again as Ian looks curiously at Cortland’s face and exposed neck, studying them without being spotted for he looks away just in time, while attempting to assess and reassess his own feelings while the words reverberate – as the panels’ only backgrounds – in his beer-fuelled, testosterone-charged mind.

He’s wearing that shirt, yes.

Did I mention that I like Ian? He’s disarmingly honest. Eventually, and in as much as he’s thought things through so far, at least…

I warn you, however: this isn’t all sweetness and light.

It’s there in the tag-line: “A love story… but a bit broken”.

You see, you may think you have begun to know Ian by the end of this volume, and you may have grown to love him in spite of his foibles, faults and misgivings, and because of the exemplary way that he fights through them, recognises them, reconsiders them and then acts with no excuses but with full, unequivocal apologies. But you know nothing of Cortland. He keeps his own counsel.

Oh, Courtland is pretty, he is ever so pretty. He has the sort of permanently, artlessly tousled male hair that Emma Vieceli excels at. She’s also exceptional at eyes that drift off into space. So I’m not astonished for one second that Ian finds himself so self-surprisingly attracted on one level or another to his former rival.

I just wish he would be more wary.

Says Si Si Spurrier, writer of CRY HAVOC et al, so succinctly and eloquently:

“Should be required reading for all teens, and frankly anyone – by which I mean everyone – who’s ever struggled to understand what’s in their own heart.”

Which, as I am inordinately fond of saying… “IS WHERE WE CAME IN, STEPHEN!”

Quite.

Now, it’s time for the innocent tooth-paste gag. That final panel is the clincher!

SLH

Buy Breaks vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Poppies Of Iraq hc (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim.

Guy Delisle fans, you will adore this book. So many absurdities encountered!

In the early 1970s the Iraqi government supplied famers with wheat seed coated in red, insect-resistant pesticide, claiming it to be of the highest possible quality, but instructing that it to be used strictly for planting only.

Instead the farmers fed it to their cattle, which died, and ate it themselves, and died. In disgust, they dumped the rest into rivers. The fish all died.

I open with this nugget of information gleaned from Brigitte Findakly’s family memoir about growing up in Iraq during the mid 20th Century because a) I found it funny (sorry, but I did), b) it is exactly the sort of fascinating, recondite history you’ll be treated to, and c) because it so accurately reflects the nature, cameo style and the overall story which Findakly tells so successfully: the gradual extinction of her treasured childhood, recalled and evoked throughout with sunshine, charm and all-embracing individuality.

This we are witness to on the opening two picnic pages as a tiny Brigitte gaily bounces a multi-coloured beach ball between the sandy ruins of Nimrud founded 3,300 years ago, which weren’t actually ruins. Like the equally majestic, ancient archaeological site of Hatra whose statues she also relished clambering over, Nimrud’s antiquities were epic stone monuments of sculptural excellence, proudly preserved throughout the centuries regardless of whoever came later.

Yes, you could clamber (outrageous) and yes you could pick poppies (why not?) but no single stone was allowed to leave. They were sacred, both artistically and historically, as spectacular examples of what humankind could accomplish.

In March 2015, almost overnight, they were both bulldozed and dynamited to death by ISIS.

It’s a prime example of the woefully unnecessary destruction of a once beautiful and culturally phenomenal region of the world by so many successive, revolving-door regimes whose only goal has been not the prosperity of their country, but the consolidation of their personal power along with a seemingly insatiable appetite for revenge.

For example, in July 1958 there was a coup during which Generals Arif and Qasim took power. The King was overthrown and executed, along with his family and servants. Soldiers looted homes.

In 1963 there was a new coup during which exiled General Arif and the Baath party took power. This time General Qasim was executed. Then Arif executed the Baathists too, for good measure.

Side-note: since General Qasim was associated with the Soviet Bloc, the colour red was then banned in public: cars, scarves, hats, signs and presumably poppies. Brilliant! That’s progress!

There are many more fortune-reversing coups, especially when a multi-party democracy is rashly considered, and all of this, especially the ridiculous revolving-door nature, is eloquently illustrated by Louis Trondheim’s cartoon soldiers, coloured by Findakly, trotting first this way, then that, a foot off the ground.

It’s just one indication that POPPIES OF IRAQ is no mere stark, geo-specific history. Like Riad Sattouf’s ARAB OF THE FUTURE 1978-1984 and 1984-1985, it is an engaging and very personal, family-centric and so more vivid and informative account of daily life during a period much neglected.

Everyone talks about Iraq under the egomaniacal, genocidal Saddam Hussein from 1979 and the post-Hussein chaos tantamount to anarchy – let loose by our illegal invasion with no forethought to its social and physical reconstruction – under various so-called religious warring factions, but few have found time like Findakly to proffer a portrait of life before then.

Her family was in a position to experience the period much more safely and more widely than others, not through privilege, but through connections, from their own acts of kindness and a refusal to exclude or be excluded.

Born of an Iraqi Orthodox Christian father and a French Catholic mother, Findakly was christened twice. At school Christians were excused from Quran lessons, but Brigitte felt left out so her dad persuaded the teachers to include her. Her best friend was Nadwa, the daughter of their next door neighbours, their very gardens connected via a door. Since they were Muslim, Brigitte did her Quran homework there. Didn’t make her a believer, nor did her sixth-form school run by nuns. Both made her understanding of others instead.

Quite early on there’s a flash-forward to November 13th 2015, which will be reprised at the end, as cousins call her anxiously following the terror attacks in Paris. By this point they have all finally left Iraq, dispersing to different corners of the globe (Brigitte’s family emigrated to France in 1972 – you’ll understand why), each taking with them the one thing they could, their Christian faith, but also a deep-seated Islamophobia.

“According to an expert here in New Zealand, the Quran says to kill all non-Muslims.”
“But that’s ridiculous. It’s not even about religion. They’re barbarians who are just using religion as a pretext to gain power.”

It’s a rare sense of level-headed perspective that Findakly’s retained but, once again, I attribute that to her – and her family’s – refusal to exclude or be excluded.

Back to school life, then, and the only school trip she can recall was to line up in public to salute the despot of the day. Uniforms were mandatory to encourage a sense of equality, but the state of those uniforms clearly marked out which kids were poor and they gravitated, untold, towards the back of the classroom. The poor kids were the only kids to volunteer for cleaning duty. Why would they even do that? (Probably because they had to do the same at home, or else their mothers would have to work even harder, while the rich kids had maids to pick up after their shit instead.) Typically Brigitte volunteered once, and was considered insane.

Her father was a dentist with both a private city clinic but also a position with the army. It came in very handy when the various rounds of post-coup looting occurred – that, and quick-thinking, afforded them some degree of protection, but at one point her father did buy her pregnant mother a gun. She buried it in the garden.

Censorship was rife. When in Baghdad his phone conversations with his wife would be interrupted by military eavesdroppers and they’d be chastised for speaking in French. Later that same army asked him to read all incoming and outgoing mail in French. He delegated it to his wife who thereby accidentally discovered that a seemingly cordial French couple whom they called friends disliked them both intensely! Photographs of Jewish pop-star were cut out of imported French magazine by customs officials. Such was the institutionalised hatred of Israel that its entry was torn out of the dictionaries even though Iraq, on the opposite page, went with it!

You see what I mean about Guy Delisle…? And Riad Sattouf, as it happens.

Interspersed amongst these more personal anecdotes are ‘In Iraq’ interludes: customs you’ll find curious like refusing second helpings (her mum’s spectacular puddings soon put paid to that), siblings donating a baby to sterile couples (which is a bit weird, but sweet), and highly intimate pre-wedding preparations as dictated by husbands to their prospective wives through intermediaries. That is not sweet.

But they all tend to be funny, drawn by Trondheim as little set pieces or plays. ‘The Good Memories’ which Findakly’s left with towards the end of the book – so far removed from the life she once knew by space, time and the changes regimes have since wrought – are far more poignant full-page cameos.

 

They got out before Saddam Hussein took full power in 1979, but life in Paris was far from fun. Her father found his foreign degree was worth nothing there and her mother was initially refused an ID card at the police station because the officer was adamant she’d lost her French citizenship (she hadn’t) even though she presented him with a French passport. Aged thirteen Brigitte shared a bedroom with her nineteen-year-old brother Dominique; they clashed over politics and pop music. Her brother had a point when it came to Michel Sardou: your eyes will widen when you read those lyrics which I couldn’t possibly repeat.

Also, although she spoke it fluently, Brigitte had never learned to read or write in French so school was a nightmare. Private school was worse with teachers who were proudly racist and peers who refused point-blank to believe that anyone could be both an Arab and a Christian: so much for her old life of inclusion.

Not only that, but return visits to her homeland too became increasingly alienating, with Hussein portraits everywhere including each home, women now required to cover knees and shoulders, children being quizzed daily at school on their parents’ politics, her cousins’ privations following the Iran-Iraq war (plus her cousins’ extraordinary experiences during the Iran-Iraq war!) and, because Findakly and Trondheim have a way of making each instance so personal and far from obvious, one is left in no doubt whatsoever of the loss Findakly feels.

But it’s her resilience I admire the most: her resilience to hatred and her resilience to anger when there is so much she could be angry about if she gave in.

Do you remember her best friend Nadwa, with whom she studied the Quran? Brigitte hasn’t seen her since 1989.

Nadwa had stayed in their beloved hometown of Mosul all those years, and in June 2014 she and husband drove on holiday from Mosul to Iraqi Kurdistan, packing only for a two-week trip.

The next day ISIS invaded Mosul, so they never saw their city again.

SLH

Buy Poppies Of Iraq h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Home Time h/c (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Campbell Whyte…

“You’re not going to ring the bell?”
“That clanging piece of junk? No thanks.”
“But aren’t you sad to be leaving?”
“No. I’m not upset. Not in the least, thanks, Amanda.”
“David thinks he’s too good for primary school.”
“Well, he’s not going to high school. He’s gotta repeat the year.”
“That’s not true! Top of science, top of maths, top of geography.”
“Mum and Dad are worried about your social development. They were going to tell you after Christmas.”
“Nice try. Nothing’s going to put a dampener on me blowing this popsicle stand.”
“I can’t believe this is it. We’ll never hear the bell ringing again.”

Prophetic words… School’s out forever. Well, junior school at least. Twins David and Lilly and their friends Ben, Amanda, Nathan and Laurence are free at last to enjoy the burgeoning respite of summer holidays before they make the step up to big school and they’ve got plans to kick proceedings off with a huge splash. A two-day sleepover pool party movie-fest at rich kid Laurence’s house, which will be especially poignant as he’s off to private school at the end of summer which deep down they all know is inevitably going to change the balance of their future friendship.

Except… a sudden thunder storm sends Lily’s dog Pepu idiotically scampering off into the fast flowing river, and one conveniently collapsed bridge later, five of our kids are struggling to keep their heads above water. In fact they don’t… Only Laurence somehow manages to keep his footing atop the pile of now-splintered timbers. I have no idea what the significance of this separation is, but I am sure it will become clearer in time.

Meanwhile, back to our drowning kids… Much to their surprise, and mine, they don’t seem to end up dead at all, I think, instead waking up on the shores of a very strange land, populated by little munchkins known as Peaches who immediately fete our gang as hallowed spirits of the forest whom they are convinced will have much scholarly wizardry to teach them. To them each child represents a different aspect of the divine: will, rising, growth, beasts and skies. The Peaches do seem slightly puzzled but not overly troubled by the absence of the Spirit of Plenty, which is Laurence…

Over several months our kids either settle into the forest and their roles, or become increasingly unsettled and impatient to return home. Precisely how that could be possibly achieved, though, is something no one seems to have any real idea about, with the Peaches being utterly baffled as to why the sprits might even want to leave their leafy paradise. But it’s far from the only mystery they’ll encounter, for this is a very unusual land with its own peculiar ecosystem of bizarre creatures and fantastical fauna. The tree-based architecture is wondrous to behold also, though there are some surprisingly familiar constructions too…

The story is broken down into monthly chapters, each seen from the perspective of a different child, and told in an individual art style, my favourite being the 8-bit pixelated treatment Nathan gets.

Campbell Whyte is clearly a very talented artist and I could draw comparisons with the likes of Farel THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple, Jose ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN Domingo, Tommi THE BOOK OF HOPE Musturi, Bryan SECONDS Lee O’Malley and several others depending on which of his many styles he’s working in. As a conceit it works well, subtly changing the focus to reflect the differing emotional states of the rotating central protagonists.

As the story develops, tensions build between different members of our gang, and also factions of the Peaches, not all of whom are convinced about the pious provenance of the children. Hidden agendas are gradually revealed and then…  the book ends! Arrrggghhh.

I hadn’t realised this was merely the first volume, of two or perhaps three I think, and consequently I was so that entranced by the expansive milieu which Whyte was weaving – and being perplexed by the puzzle of what was really going on – that I was a little bit devastated to be so forcibly wrenched back to my own reality without any definitive answers!!

I guess you’ve correctly divined I’ll be reading the subsequent volume(s), then!

JR

Buy Home Time h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Goliath s/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tom Gauld.

And lo, there came a stand-off of Biblical proportions.

High upon one mountain stood the mighty armies of Israel, massed in the Vale of Elah. Camped upon another, and sore strong in numbers, were the Philistines’ forces for war. Below and between them lay a lifeless valley of stone and sand, and into that valley strode the Philistine Goliath from Gath. He wore a brass helmet and armour weighing five thousand shekels. Almost twice the size of a normal man, he issued a dire challenge which shook and dismayed the Israelites. For Goliath of Gath was a giant of a man, and the king’s chosen champion.

“Are you sure this isn’t a mistake? I mainly do admin.”

Poor old Goliath!

His size has singled him out for a cunning plan devised by an excitable Captain and approved by a king far too preoccupied to read through it carefully. Now Goliath’s been given his instructions, a fine new suit of armour and his very own diminutive shield-bearer. He’s even had his script written for him. It’s pretty incendiary; it might take a little practice. Thankfully no one seems to be biting…

Exceptional work from one of Britain’s finest cartoonists whom you’ll find in The Guardian and New Scientist and on our shelves in the form of BAKING WITH KAFKA, YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK and MOONCOP.

He’s taken one of the world’s most famous confrontations – the triumph of one barely armed lad over seemingly insuperable strength and aggression – and not so much turned it on its head as tossed its coin to show the other side. For the Book of Samuel is seen solely from the Israelites’ perspective. Nothing here contradicts the story. It’s far more of a “Meanwhile, back at the Philistines…” and the comedy lies in confounding your expectations and the silence which surrounds this gentle giant.

It’s all so still.

I love the rhythm and the crisp, white space which surrounds the sand-coloured, meticulously hatched rocks, tents and protagonists. Space equals time in comics and, I would suggest, not just between the panels. Both the silence and the space here stretch the moments. It’s far from a raging arena of testosterone, but a masterpiece of quiet, uncomplaining bewilderment and absurdity.

That a boy aged nine is commanded to lug around a giant’s mighty shield…!

“Are you ok with that?”
“Sort of.”

The story opens one moonlit evening with a thirsty Goliath popping down for a drink from a rippling brook dangerously close to the Israelites’ army. And there he finds a pebble.

“D’you want it?”
“Why would I want it?”

Goliath contemplates the pebble for a moment then tosses it back in the water. “Plop.”

He’ll be seeing that again shortly.

SLH

Buy Goliath and read the Page 45 review here

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (£12-99, Seven Seas) by Nagata Kabi.

“She was kind to me. But I couldn’t open my heart. I let her feelings spill on the ground, unable to take them in.”

Please do not judge this comic by its cover, its title or that eloquent opening quotation without context.

This is without doubt an exceptionally well articulated graphic novel delving in considerable depth into this young individual’s social anxieties, her developmental dependence upon parental approval – which, in its culpable absence, created the most enormously destabilising and prohibitive hindrance towards autonomy, personal growth and even self-love – as well as the most crippling aversion to any form of physical friendship.

To be emotionally and reactively incapable of giving or receiving a mere hug!

I type “mere” but a hug is ever so important, whether it be between friends or lovers. It bonds and it connects us. We should probably all do more ape- or monkey-like grooming.

No, what Kabi is describing above is not her reaction to a spurned lover (because that is way out of her range right now) but the best she can do when she finally plucks up enough courage to book a date with a professional agency, meet one of their exceedingly kind, considerate and consistently thoughtful companions, and then is left to lead the pair of them (rather than being instructed to do so) to a Japanese love-hotel and choose for them both a room.

She has never kissed, never touched, never loved but – overwhelmed by the crippling occasion and all its new opportunities so sadly denied and thwarted by her ingrained, overriding self-consciousness – Nagata Kabi’s immediate and instinctive reaction is not to feel sorry for herself but consider the feelings of her chosen consort instead, throughout the entire experience.

The very opposite of self-involved, this book may on the surface and in its beginnings test your potential for basic human empathy by seeming overwhelmingly ego-centric. Nagata Kabi was a self-confessed mess. But she didn’t get that way through self-absorbed self-indulgence. I call on Mother Nurture.

It’s autobiography, by the way, and into Page 45’s Mental Health Section it so justifiably goes, not because it has anything inherently to do with sexuality, but because of the monumental strife which Kabi has encountered to get anywhere close to where she is today, which is a phenomenally accomplished creator of manga.

I thought this was so deftly done!

So we come to my opening caveats:

Although touching upon her sexuality as a gay woman – and certainly exploring her relationship with her mother in that specific context in an eye-opening way which I’ve not encountered before but have, strangely, since – Kabi’s wider battle is far more universal and so, I would have thought, of interest to all.

Have you never been in a perpetual state not of flux but of flustered?

I mean that boiling, sweaty, off-kilter wrong-sidedness that can easily up-end any of us? I used to blush terribly in my late teens and wouldn’t recover for hours. If sitting in a pub it would make me excruciatingly self-conscious and render me silent. Kabi evokes that to perfection.

But her own discomfort came with physical pain, debilitation, a vulnerability to temperature and to two diametrically opposed eating disorders including a compulsion to eat while on shift at a supermarket. This is horrific:

“Sometimes there was only instant ramen… And I didn’t have the time to add hot water and wait three minutes (I was already in the middle of a shift)… I’d just bite into them.

“The non-fried noodles are particularly hard, so they’d be speckled with my blood… and if I sprinkled the soup powder on them, it just fell through the cracks and didn’t stick at all.”

She’s open and honest about her naivety.

“I started causing problems for everyone, coming in late, leaving early, calling in sick…
“At that part-time job I was looking for a place that would accept me unconditionally. But, of course, a part-time job isn’t the place for that. It’s a place for receiving wages in compensation for labour. There’s no room for someone who can’t work their wages worth.
“I would have to look elsewhere for unconditional acceptance.”

Unfortunately Nagata looked to her parents, and especially her Mum.

You’d think that would be a pretty safe bet under normal circumstances.

I’m afraid not.

Her mother bares a single mocking mouth line in every panel as, at every turn, Nagata’s incremental achievements are dismissed by the holy trinity of her mother, father and grandmother who throw in her face the sacred mantra of “salaried employee”, undermining her self-confidence still further, which makes her all the more determined to please them.

“Recently, I’ve realised that the times when I’m uncomfortable are related to when I’m trying to make myself look good due to an inferiority complex, or when I don’t understand how I actually feel.”

It is, quite frankly, a minor miracle that Kabi ever clawed her way out of this mental quicksand, but there is the one invaluable helping hand held out to her from a most unexpected source.

A substantial portion of the graphic novel is given over to her encounter in the love hotel, her professional date who is, as I’ve said, kind, considerate and courteous right from the start, but far more than that: confident, unflappable and empowering, leaving Nagata to choose their room from the various screens. Here there are no wrong answers. Instead she is complimented:

“That’s so brave.”

The very opposite of life at home.

But, without wishing to spoil anything, the experience is not quite as transformative as you might hope.

It’s all so respectfully drawn: genuinely sensual but in no way titillating. Remember: any form of touch is a big thing for Nagata.

The choice of pink is perfect. It’s both the colour of the flesh and the colour of the flush – of embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, humiliation. It’s also a healing colour.

Communication is vital for any sort of healing and part of Kabi’s problem was a complete absence of that. Understanding this, she has communicated her experience here with a commendable candour and so small degree of hindsight. And, I’m delighted to say, success, both in its accomplishment and reception.

SLH

Buy My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and read the Page 45 review here

The Realm #1 (£3-25, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun.

“You do know killing our clients is bad business, don’t you, Will? Dead customers are not repeat customers.”

I’ve kept that in mind throughout my entire career.

The key to any opening issue is that it should intrigue by enticing you to ask yourself questions.

The silent sequence opening Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING did precisely that, while Nabiel Kanan’s equally eerie early pages of THE DROWNERS were a masterclass in implication.

Similarly, so much of THE REALM’S initial narrative storytelling is visual alone, such is the trust between its co-creators and their shared understanding that inference is far more fun and emotionally involving than being buried under a mountain of mind-bludgeoning exposition. Never show your full hand on a first pass. Lure or you lose.

We have a modern American city sprawl almost entirely deserted and whose infrastructure is down.

It seems utterly inert.

No one is shopping and wrecked cars are abandoned in shopping mall parking lots. There’s no traffic, and no trains are running. The skyscrapers are largely left standing but their windows are mostly blown out, even several storeys up. Electricity appears entirely offline.

We may get to the floating, graphite-like citadels with their glowing, monocular hollows later on or we may not; around them swarm drakes or dragons.

Across this detritus-strewn emptiness – though preferably under its industrial overpasses – two figures cautiously make their way: a woman on horseback being led by a man with a shotgun.

They are late for an assignation with a man on a make-shift throne whom they address as King. Is that his surname? Is he a crime lord? Or has the entire world gone feudal?

“Nolan! I was starting to get a little worried you’d fallen into some kind of trouble!”
“Jesus! I’m not even a day off schedule, King. I’ve got the girl as promised, and you’ve got my money, I’ll gladly be on my way.”

Not much due deference in the language there. There’s not a great deal of courtly oratory in exchange.

“Straight to business! I like it! I hope the job didn’t prove too difficult.”
“It wasn’t easy. Your intel sucked, and there are half a dozen drakes in the air between here and Missouri.”

Part of that lousy intel involved an under-estimation of the girl’s captors’ numbers. Also: the lady in question turned out not to be said King’s daughter. She was traded as skin for antibiotics; antibiotics which proved beyond their sell-by date. So this wasn’t a rescue mission, it was a reprisal. That piece of withheld intelligence is only coming through now.

Can you spell “reciprocation”?

More visual clues planted early on: Nolan appears to have a diseased neck. You can just about see it above his collar in combat. What does that mean? Within or below those floating citadels the architecture appears to be classical, ecclesiastical and very ancient, but then modern. An obedient priest with a red-glowing eye enters a ritual, ringed centre and performs a sacred ceremony at some certain cost, making a solemn exchange and a proclaiming a vow.

I’m choosing my words very carefully.

Words like “early”, after which “later” tends to follow.

Meanwhile exceptionally acrobatic, armoured goblins abound but good golly Miss Molly is exceptionally proficient with a bow and arrow and she doesn’t flinch under pressure. That’s a new member of our cast who seeks to hire Will Nolan to escort two scientists west to Kansas City. But Will has a Rook who knows where to look out for lies.

It really is like a game of chess with only some of the pieces revealed this early on.

That’s good. That keeps the readers, and Will, on their toes.

For example, the goblins or orcs may prove a pursuant pest for some, but for others they appear to constitute blood-thirstily sought-after trophies down in the subway.

The environment is pivotal to all this, setting it apart from more fantastical iterations of dragon-infested action-adventures. It is uncompromisingly modern with no renewed vegetation and sheer, straight-lined girders coloured to perfection by Nick Filardi with those glowing, monocular hollows ominously reprised at different times of day.

Lastly, even used toothbrushes appear to be a cherished commodity. I have no idea whether that will ever come into play, but I noted it all the same, and appreciated Haun’s subtle, bristle-bent emphasis on the used.

SLH

Buy The Realm #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis, John Romita Jr., Gabrielle Dell’Otto.

Three books in one, this reprints the first two softcovers of the 2010 series and AVENGERS PRIME.

Basically, everything that immediately follows SIEGE.

Avengers Vol 1:

Not so much a temporal anomaly as a temporal catastrophe.

Far in the future the Avengers have had children but the world they have inhabited has been devastated first by Hank Pym’s Ultron (an artificial intelligence housed in nigh-impenetrable metal with an Oedipal Complex like you wouldn’t believe) and then by a war between Ultron and Kang. As always Kang The Conqueror lost (obviously: it’s there in his name) but being a time traveler and a really, really sore loser he simply presses the temporal reset, travels back in time and tries again bringing increasingly vast armies with him. Over and over again. But the thing is, everything has an expiry date: carpets wear thin and metal fatigues. And eventually, groaning at the strain of Kang’s relentless, bludgeoning misuse, time… simply… snaps.

That’s what lies at the heart of this devious time-traveling tale with ominous foreshadowing for the life, times and in particular the inventions of Iron Man, the fate of Bucky Barnes and a whole spread of imminent developments if you care to analyze the bizarrely child-like scrawl on the wall as drawn by a future counterpart of one of the Avengers who has already witnessed what Bendis and others have in store for the Marvel Universe.

But it all kicks off on the first day of this central team’s reformation high in Avengers Tower, and it’s a semi-classic line-up as dictated by Commander Steve Rogers and potential sales figures: Thor, Iron Man, Bucky as Captain America, Hawkeye as Hawkeye (at last), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Kree warrior Nor-Varr all led by ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill. Not the brightest day, you’d have thought, for Kang to show his purple puss, but he has an ace up his sleeve as conceived by Tony Stark.

“But I haven’t even built that yet.”
“But you will.”
“I won’t.”
“You did.”

He did. He went and built a doomsday device and now it belongs to Kang. The how and the why will fall into place later on for Kang is not there to conquer (quite fortunate given his 60-year score card) but to ask for their help. Funny how he doesn’t mention the time fracture.

As I say, this is far more devious that it first appears because there are a whole heap of surprises awaiting them in the eye of the temporal storm: strange alliances whose members aren’t necessarily being straight with each other let alone our assembled Avengers. But then one Avenger doesn’t necessarily end up being straight with the others. Habit of a life-time, really.

Art on a scale of huge from John Romita Jr. as befits a title whose very nature is dealing with the big stuff. That’s what this central book is: the big stuff. Here we have Ultron, Kang, time-travel and Apocalypse whose name I have mentioned just to boost sales. Next we have the Infinity Gems, the Illuminati and a cast of 5,312. Are Tony and Steve going to fall out again?! *

Lastly, there’s one other ex-Avenger Steve Rogers wanted for the team but he’s refused point-blank. In fact he seems determined to do everything he can to thwart the reformation. Do you sense a sub-plot? **

*Yes.

**Yes.

Avengers vol 2:

“I know when someone knows how to fight. This guy didn’t know hand-to-hand combat. He had power but no moves. A guy with a nice car and no license to drive.”

And that’s the very last sort of person you want loose on the roads.

The Infinity Gauntlet: a glove composed of Power Gems affecting space, time and reality, too powerful to be in the possession of any one woman or man. Thanks to Thanos they almost brought about the destruction of the whole wide wibbliverse. Some years ago, therefore, the clandestine Illuminati composed of Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Professor Xavier, Namor, Black Bolt and Reed Richards secretly split the gems up then hid them. One has just been found, it’s the most lethal of the lot, and it will make pilfering the others far easier.

It’s a massive cast for an epic battle including the Red Hulk here written somewhat differently. As in, written well with both rhyme and reason, while Romita excels at such titanic action and big, brutal forms.

Most importantly, however, after Iron Man promised to be on his best behaviour to Steve Rogers with no more secrets, his role in the Illuminati and its clandestine history comes out of a closet so capacious you could fit half the last century’s light entertainment stars in it.

There will be ructions, but also two very clever final pages.

Avengers: Prime

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

“Hop on.”
“There’s got to be another horse running around here somewhere.”
“Hop on! Let’s go.”
“Any excuse to get me to hold you.”
“You see right through me.”
“Where’s Thor?”
“Don’t know exactly. I’m following the lightning.”

Not a single tower of the once mighty Asgard is standing. Amongst the stone ruins there are fires ablaze as the timbers and fine linen of the more opulent halls crackle and spit out flaming-hot cinders, and the night sky is clouded with smoke. Steve Rogers in combats and a black, polar-necked sweatshirt comes straight to the point:

“Thor, tell us what you need and you will have it.”
“Just seeing it like this… my Father’s kingdom in complete ruin.”
“Hey, anything can be rebuilt. Anything. Every time I’ve had to rebuild this armour, I’ve always made it better every time. Wait till you see my new stuff.”

Good old Tony look-at-me Stark: Mr. Sensitive 2010. No wonder Steve is pissed off.

“We’ll see.”
“We’ll see what?”
“I’m not convinced letting you keep that armour is in the best interests of the country, Iron Man. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Just in case you’ve been holidaying on the moon these last five years, the three core Avengers – Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – have issues with each other. Or at least Thor and Steve Rogers have issues with Iron Man, and have had ever since CIVIL WAR. Then Tony Stark took the government’s position on the Superhuman Registration Act and endorsed the construction of a cyborg clone from Thor’s cell tissues. It killed one of their friends. Then he had Steve Rogers locked up for good measure.

Anyway, the destruction of Asgard in SIEGE comes with additional hazards like the Rainbow Bridge, a portal to other dimensions, being broken. But before they can contain the gateway, the gateway contains them, sucking them through to three different, otherworldly locations, none of them particularly hospitable. Stark is deprived of his armour and runs around naked, desperately trying to hide his genitals with rejoinders (he has a sympathetic letterer) and trying to wise-crack his way back into his old friends’ hearts.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, Steve. I take back almost everything I have ever said.”
“Why are you naked?”
“It’s the new armour. It’s see-through.”
“Jokes? Really?”
“It’s very high-tech.”

He even finds time to mix up his Shakespeare, holding his helmet in his hand and paraphrasing Richard III.

A very old Avengers villain reappears in a radically different role, there are dragons, elves and ogres which for once don’t rankle with me at all, a romance snatched away at the last minute for Steve, and the most enormous art from the softest of artists, Alan Davis. What’s not to love?

SLH

Buy Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Little Red Wolf h/c (£17-99, Cub House) by Amelie Flechais

Geis Book 2: A Game Without Rules (£15-99, Nobrow) by Alexis Deacon

Halloween Tales h/c (£18-99, Humanoids Kids) by O.G. Boiscommun

Cosplayers: Perfect Collection (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Dash Shaw

The Last Days Of American Crime (£15-99, Image) by Rick Remender &Greg Tocchini

East Of West vol 7 (£14-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Invincible vol 24: The End Of All Things Part 1 (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Parker: The Score s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

Batman: Dark Knight Master Race h/c (£26-99, DC) by Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello & Andy Kubert

Nightwing vol 3: Nightwing Must Die s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Michael Mc Millian & Javi Fernandez, Minkyu Jung, Christian Duce

Captain America: Secret Empire s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer, Donny Cates & Sean Izaakse, Joe Bennett, Joe Pimental

Moon Knight vol 3: Birth And Death s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood

Batman & Robin Adventures vol 1 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Brandon Kruse

One-Punch Man vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Whoops!

Still no Tillie Walden SPINNING review! I’m on it, honest!

It’s brilliant – just buy it anyway! Free signed bookplate!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week two

September 13th, 2017

Featuring Mike Medaglia, Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock, Tom Gauld, John Allison, Dan Abnett, I.N.J. Culbard, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Cullen Bunn, Luke Ross.

Baking With Kafka (£12-99, Canongate) by Tom Gauld.

‘Last-Minute Changes To The Politician’s Speech’

“How’s your speech coming along, sir?”
“Almost done. I’m just trying to decide whether to end on the misleading statistics, the gross oversimplification, the glib soundbite or the blatant lie.”

The Art of Tom Gauld part one: innocently expressing an almost ubiquitously held derision from the horse’s unusually candid mouth.

Then there are those little home truths we all secretly share, are already vaguely aware of, but recognise instantly upon their exposure. Most of us love to laugh at ourselves!

Take ‘My Library’. Is it yours too? Shop-floor guffaws would suggest so!

Why even read a book before writing your critical essay, Tom suggests elsewhere, when you can studiously avoid studying and absorb all you need to know through Wiki-notes or its film adaptation? I’ve seen film critics do the same: writing their dismissive reviews of COLDEST CITY’s ‘Atomic Blonde’ adaptation without having seen the cinematic experience or read the graphic novel but blatantly plagiarised someone else who hadn’t read the graphic novel, either.

Application is overrated.

So why make the effort to revolt or even pop out to protest when you can sit at your keyboard and sign an on-line petition, neatly cleaning your conscience while soothing any potential urge to actually do anything about anything?

Gauld is also a dab-hand at skewering our polarised and ever so slightly hypocritical biases, as in ‘Our Blessed Homeland And Their Barbarous Wastes’ deftly arranged in a symmetrical, confrontational tableau descending from the lofty, towered, feudal hilltop heights on either side to the seas of separation.

Human behaviour is what’s being satirised, essentially.

As the title suggests, most of these cartoons and comic strips – and even without visible panel borders I would contend that the above was a comic with one hell of a gutter in the middle but also between each “exchange” – are indeed of a literary bent with far more to come from the ‘Guardian Review’ as well as, presumably, an entirely science-based book collected from Tom’s ‘New Scientist’ strips.

‘The Life Of A Memoirist’, for example succinctly shows that they really can’t win.

Many are the result of beholding something customary, traditional, perhaps ancient and so semi-sacrosanct and looking at it anew and askew, often injecting a modern, over-emotional irreverence and need for speed as seen in social media into the formal, long-winded parlance of the past like letters of introduction. Social conventions of etiquette, both past and present, are thus mercilessly mocked in a single sitting as ‘Arabella’ ably demonstrates.

BAKING WITH KAFKA is one extended masterclass in pithy iconoclasm.

“The secret of humour is surprise,” said Aristotle (see CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS) and Gauld achieves this over and over again through juxtaposing the old with the new, the serious with the outlandish, the learned with the clueless, decorum with irreverence, and aspiration with reality.

 

He topples or reverses expectations.

“I thought that being a sci-fi character would be all flying cars, sexy robots and holidays on Alpha Centauri” bemoans a lone man in an oxygen helmet, despondently walking his dog though a flat, desolate, post-apocalyptic, tectonically challenged wilderness.

That’s the entire premise of Gauld’s graphic novel MOONCOP: a future which we presume will be increasingly fast, furious, spectacular, hyper-real and overcrowded in actuality ending up being solitary, slow, mundane and minimalist.

GOLIATH did much the same thing for the legendarily gigantic, combative, ferociously threatening Philistine from Gath. Turns out he’d rather do admin.

Both of those are long-form works, but if you’re in the mood for something similarly hit-and-run as this, don’t forget YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK which featured my favourite short story of all time, told in three panels.

I leave you with something much more drawn out, having a playful stab not only at prevarication but also reliance on hand-holding instruction rather than pen-held inspiration. We’re presented with eight consecutive book release covers and their titles which begin by milking their subject matter as well as their audience before becoming exasperated by both.

‘How To Write A Novel’
‘The Advanced Guide To Writing A Novel’
‘Further Thoughts On Writing A Novel’
‘A Few Last Pointers Before You Start Writing Your Novel’
‘Surely That’s Enough About Writing A Novel’
‘I Have Nothing Else To Say About Writing Your Novel’
‘Seriously, Stop Reading These Books And Just Get On With Writing Your Stupid Novel!”
‘How To Write A Novel: Revised And Expanded Edition’

It wouldn’t work half so well without the final down beat. The key to comedy may well be surprise but timing is everything too.

SLH

Buy Baking With Kafka and read the Page 45 review here

Knife’s Edge (£17-99, FSG) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

    

Delicious!

Even the covers to these FOUR POINTS Young Adult graphic novels are providing some thrilling sequential-art narrative with the identical twins now firmly set sail, for most of book two sees them at sea – though a lot less confused about their true, biological parentage.

COMPASS SOUTH was packed. It was fast, furious and reactive, its cover conveying both energy and urgency as Cleo and Alex escaped across America while attempting to elude the multiple factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspired to keep them apart.

Cleverly, Rebecca Mock enables you to tell the two individuals apart through one of them wearing a waistcoat, and it’s Cleo.

COMPASS SOUTH began in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he once loved and in all probability still does. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he had no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects were small and he had to travel in order to provide. The stranger also bore two objects from which, Dodge was told, they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge had failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’d inherited had reached ruthless pirate Felix Worley who had known Alex and Cleo’s mother, Hester, all too well.

Finally the two twelve-year-olds will discover why Dodge failed to return at their key moment in their lives, who Hester really was and what became of their father, as well as the true purpose of that pen-knife and compass.

They’ll also discover why Worley wants what is now theirs and why he’s being so tenacious about it. Everyone has a childhood, you know; some are bleaker than others.

As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH’s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.

Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.

There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!

SLH

Buy Knife’s Edge and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison.

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

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!

John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children. In BAD MACHINERY at least (a folder where you’ll also find GIANT DAYS, BOBBINS etc) Allison is also all-ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends do fall out, you know. Here’s Shauna and Charlotte:

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

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

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

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

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

I exhort you, then, to…

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

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

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

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

Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you.

John Allison will be joining over a dozen other comicbook creators signing in Page 45’s Georgian Room At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017. You’ll find all the times and details there on our permanent, dedicated LICAF page.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy and read the Page 45 review here

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

Guilty in charging, I’m guilty as charged!

I raise my hands in recognition and have benefited enormously from reading this comic.

It wasn’t always this way.

My original route to any gainful employment was so circuitous that I had to explain it in terms of my preference of driving down A roads and B roads to the mania of motorways which might get you to your destination faster, but what really is the point if you don’t experience anything of interest along the way? Where would have been the beauty, the growth and the sustenance for the soul?

But at least I’d have been rushing from A to B.

“For me, whenever I have been caught in this race it always feels that as soon as I arrive at B…” contends Mike, perched comfortably on top of his prized destination, “… it somehow turns back to A.”

Unsettling: he’s almost unseated.

“Then I find that B has become a new goal, off in the distance.”

Ha ha, yes, yes, yes!

It was with no small degree of amusement that I read that, realising that this mini-comic was coming up for review. Every Wednesday I hand in my weekly assignment which is our Reviews Blog with a huge sigh of relief and hopefully some sense of accomplishment, only to be confronted – on the very same day and usually before I’ve hit “publish” – with yet another huge stack of comics and graphic novels braying for my attention:

B has turned back to A.

And it is therefore with no small degree of irony that I type all this about RUSHING FROM A TO A when I am doing precisely that.

However, at least while I’m reading all these beautiful books with so much to say, I am experiencing beauty and undergoing growth while finding the right words to communicate their excellence. As to sustenance of the soul, there is no more apposite expression to describe the work of Mike Medaglia.

In POVERTY OF THE HEART, ONE YEAR WISER and once again here, Medaglia ever so gently reminds us of those priorities – that we perhaps already know but often forget or let fall by the wayside – which would make our lives and others’ infinitely richer if we just paused for a moment, reflected upon them and re-aligned ourselves with their more giving, forgiving and harmonious wholes. He’s a healer, not a preacher. His writings and art radiate understanding and kindness, not criticism; nor do they sound one single note of holier-than-thou self-aggrandisement. Anyone lecturing you on what to do or (worse) what to think, probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart: they almost certainly have theirs. Mike never lectures; he provides you with possibilities for potential, catalysts for your consideration and opportunities for renewed self-awareness.

Here it is understood that progression is important to our growth and so sense of accomplishment, but so is looking around us while we travel: living in the now.

“Impermanence is a reminder that this life is happening right now.
“Mindfulness is a tool to help us be present and stay present while the world unfolds around us.”

“Now”, I would suggest, is the only opportunity you will ever have to experience the present, first-hand, in all its immediate vibrancy, nuance and splendour. Considering it on reflection later on is of course of great benefit, but those examinations depend entirely on what you took in at the time.

There’s a reason why they put blinkers on race horses: the need for speed with no room for distractions or, as I call them, life.

“Instead, we can step back, take a breath, and observe this process playing out.”

The process of this comic plays out, like POVERTY OF THE HEART, in skilfully balanced opposing pages like the starting flag and the finishing line; the sedentary and the next inevitable journey ahead; two semi-formed, miniature mandalas to help one focus on ‘Impermanence’ and the mitigating art of  ‘Mindfulness’.

The colours are a complementary, calm combination of slight prase green, bright flesh pink and two shades of bilberry blue against a relaxing, mind-expanding emptiness of space except on one key double-page spread which is an utter clutter of detritus we could all do without.

There are no panel borders.

This most ambulatory 100-metre sprint concludes with the quietest, most profound and heart-stirring climax, before a wink and a nod which will leave you beaming for days.

SLH

Buy Rushing From A to A and read the Page 45 review here

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

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

– William Blake, ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’

“Aspiration should be encouraged. Not even the sky is your limit.”

 – Stephen L. Holland, reviewing CARROT TO THE STARS

Neither of those lines is quoted here, but their sentiments are reflected in this most embracing, engaging and empowering of month-long reminders that living life to the fullest will reward you with the fullest of lives. That may seem on the surface to be the most obvious and so fatuous clause that I’ve ever written, but do we always remember the simplest truths? I know I don’t.

So many of us feel pressured to grind away in order to get through each day that we miss out on its myriad pleasures and possibilities.

What better vehicle could there be, therefore, for life-lifting reminders to live in the now and approach each day with a renewed appreciation of its very existence, than a monthly wall calendar? These are the repositories into and onto which we dot in our future days with things to look forward to and Dates That Must Be Obeyed.

Oh how we wall in our worlds!

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”

 – Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m going to a Sparks gig with Jonathan later this month. An evening out with Jonathan…? Yay and Yippee! Hooray and Huzzah! We will have so much fun! Then I’m on the guest list for the new Nick Cave tour. Level-up moment, for sure!

But if you are anything like me, once all these dates start to clutter up your calendar you may begin to become oppressed by them. For sure, we need structure; certainly we need dutiful reminders. But in the midst of these Commitments Which We Have Made that can each and individually (then as an impenetrable mass) come to seem like onerous engagements, how grin-inducingly excellent it is to be elevated from that self-imposed feeling of constriction and appreciate each instance.

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

 – Miyamoto Musashi

There you go: I for one have been steered onto a better course already!

So it is throughout 2018 that Mike Medaglia will remind you how much you have to look forward to at exactly the right moment: when you come to check your calendar for your daily or weekly assignations or drop in another appointment. Unless it’s with the dentist.

He’ll do that not just with these pithiest of priority-reminding, life-enhancing words of wisdom from those who’ve thought long and hard, but also with the organic beauty of his art which constantly calls upon the majesty of nature.

He’ll summon the simplicity of a single tree or the almost unfathomably grand scale of cloud-encircled mountain ranges; the daring dive from a cliff into stormy seas or the flight of an exotic, purple-plumed bird into the paradise that is our own worldly heavens.

“You can go as far as you want to go, past all limitations and live a supremely victorious existence.”

 – Paramahansa Yogananda.

Which is, I believe, where we came in.

Sometimes Medaglia will combine two, three or more of these elements into an embracing, global whole for us to mediate upon or gaze out from, relishing the complexity and diversity of all that’s on offer if only we care to look beyond what lies immediately in front of us and consider the wonder of it all.

So finally, coming back to the seeming simplicity of a tree, please consider this, perhaps:

“You cannot go against nature, because when you do
“Go against nature, that’s part of nature too.
“Our little lives get complicated. It’s a simple thing:
“Simple as a flower, and that’s a complicated thing.”

 – ‘No New Tale To Tell’, Love And Rockets.

No, the other one.

For more Mike Medaglia, we commend to you the equally contemplative mini-comics POVERTY OF THE HEART and RUSHING FROM A TO A, plus the 365-page ONE YEAR WISER which will keep you refreshed or reinvigorate you on any autumnal or winter morn.

SLH

Buy One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar and read the Page 45 review here

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard…

“Quit it! You’re under arrest!”
“This ain’t the way! This ain’t the way! The leper heart will see you for what you are! See your disrespect! See your bruises upon my body!”
“Shut up!”
“Promises were made! You’re spoiling it! The leper heart promised! Took the soil and the air and left us in the dark with a promise it would come back for us too!”
“Shut the hell up!”
“Swelling up, swelling up out of the unreach, keeping its whispered promises! Low Theta hanging inside the sun, Melancholema and Pale Chronozon…”

The Earth is dead, destroyed by a toxic mixture of pollution and greed. Yep, that’ll do it. Humanity now lives in various scattered space stations owned by mega-corporations, known as Habitats or on the ‘Brink’ as it’s colloquially known. Crammed into such confines, with security provided by private firms, it’s perhaps not surprising the locals have a tendency to go a wee bit stir crazy from time to time, some more so than others.

In addition to the crime gangs peddling narcotics, running protection and the like – who of course are going to find their niche in any environment as parasites do – there are also a few oddball cults that spontaneously spring up as people start to collectively lose the plot and look for absolutely anything at all to grasp onto with their remaining shreds of sanity, no matter how implausible or nonsensical. The cults hadn’t as yet, reached Odette Habitat, owned by Sugarsurf Pharma, but all that’s about to change as Investigator Bridget Kurtis and her partner Carl “Brink” Brinkmann have just found out…

I absolutely loved this work and I am delighted to hear the third arc has just begun in parent title 2000AD, second arc collection to follow next year. Part speculative fiction, part crime and definitely a huge chunk of mystery, this will massively appeal to anyone who enjoyed Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood’s THE FUSE. This is like that title, procedural crime set on a space station, just with a great deal of added creepy suspense and even a touch of pure horror blended in. You have been warned.

For a weekly 2000AD yarn it’s impressively slow at revealing its hand and even by the very end I was left tantalised and puzzled as to precisely what is really going on. The enormous cliffhanger that we’re left dangling over by our fingertips doesn’t help in that respect, damn you Abnett!! You may well even start to believe some of the craziness the cultists are spouting. It’s certainly starting to cross Kurtis’ mind…

Another point of comparison you might have caught recently would be the excellent TV show The Expanse which is based on James S. A. Corey’s series of novels. That’s a series which has utterly gripped me, to the point I have now bought the novels because I can’t wait for the TV show to catch up, but Brink has grabbed me equally hard. I’ll be black and blue soon! I might even have to start reading 2000AD for a weekly fix…

The cult element even put me in mind of the first season of the True Detective TV show (which of course gives a neat little callback to Ian Culbard’s superlative adaptation of THE KING IN YELLOW) in that there’s a general, lurking sense of unease which only builds and builds as what you are sure couldn’t possibly be real starts to come into question… It couldn’t, right? That sense there might just really be something scary behind the proverbial curtain after all… Or that could all just be drug induced paranoid mass hysteria of course…

Dan and Ian have worked together before to great effect on THE NEW DEADWARDIANS and two volumes of WILD’S END (we need that concluding volume, guys!!) and I enjoyed Abnett’s foreword that rightly credits Ian’s “distinctive art work and brilliant storytelling.” It’s nice to see as accomplished a writer as Abnett giving just plaudits to his artistic cohort for their contribution to the wider creative process and the plotting. There are a further couple of interesting paragraphs talking about how their collaborations work.

Plus Ian’s art is an absolutely vital part of this title.

From the disorientating, mood-setting cover which neatly foreshadows the psychological component, pull-back outer-space shots of the vast, orbiting stations whose crisp exterior beauty belies their squalid interiors, through to the little background details like the neon signs and graffiti (might be a clue or two there!), he is one of the best scene composers in the business. The action scenes are taut and tense and perfectly capture the claustrophobic, cacophonous confines of life in a corporate-owned floating tin can. He’s also utilised the same strong, vivid colour palette he deployed to such good effect in his other brilliant collected 2000AD science fiction epic BRASS SUN with Ian Edginton,  that is also finally returning, huzzah!! Great to see the cream of the galaxy’s best weekly comic making it into collections to reach as wide a terrestrial, and presumably extraterrestrial, audience as possible. All that remains is to say Splundig vur Thrigg. I probably won’t eat a polystyrene cup though.

JR

Buy Brink vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross…

“I have endured great suffering as part of my training.
“All so I might be an instrument of revenge.
“All so I can kill Jedi.
“But not today.”

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I kill you tomorrow… hmm… pretty sure Darth Maul isn’t a fan of musicals, even if he and Annie are both redheads…

Well, I think we can now all universally agree that the three Star Wars prequels were pretty much bantha dung, right? For me, about the only bright point of that ill-executed trilogy was this attitude-enhanced, double-lightsabre-twirling bad boy himself. By the time we reached his climatic battle with that laugh-a-minute comedy duo Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan, I was so sick of Ewan McGregor’s received pronunciation, in a rather herniated attempt to emulate Alec Guiness, that I was willing Darth Maul to dish out an elocution lesson that involved removing the Padawan’s voice box.

But sadly, we know how that turned out, meaning the subsequent Clone War cartoons (what, you thought Padawan Kenobi actually killed Darth Maul, suckers? Hahaha have a spoiler!) and now these prequel comics are all we have of the snarling Sith.

Cullen Bunn does an excellent job capturing the barely checked blood lust of Darth Sidious’ irascible apprentice and in fact makes that an essential tenet of the story. Here, Darth Maul can’t help disappearing off on a Jedi hunt when he hears a young Padawan has been captured by pirates and is going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. And if Darth Maul has to go through a fleet of space corsairs, plus various ne’er do wells intent on every conceivable type of Jedi harm and even the galactic equivalent of David Dickinson to get his bargain, I mean, Sith vs. Jedi death duel, well he’s going to do just that. And so he does…

Which I will grant you sounds a remarkably thin premise for a great story, but in fact Bunn fleshes it out thicker than a Hutt’s belly, throwing in some great secondary and tertiary characters, mostly engaged in so much double and triple crossing I thought they might wear the carpet out, which is never advisable when you’re floating in space, so that the whole story really comes to life. Well, ends in death, actually, repeatedly, brutally, and in some quite inventive ways.

Luke Ross is an excellent addition to the Marvel Star Wars artists stable. I’ve commented before that they seem to prefer using people with relatively straightforward but very polished art styles, presumably to enhance rather than potentially distract from the story telling, to provide an almost cinematic flow to proceedings, and Ross certainly succeeds in that respect. Definitely one of the better individual character Star Wars titles to date by some several parsecs.

JR

Buy Star Wars Darth Maul s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

The most contemporary comic imaginable, inclusivity is its middle name.

This beautifully designed hardcover, whose silver complements the first book’s gold, collects the third and fourth softcovers along with a wealth of additional back-matter which I can’t see from my study, so sorry. Here’s what I originally wrote with the occasional tweak. One of my top 5 comics currently being produced periodically.

Book three:

“A documentary about public grief can never show too many crowds of people freaking out about people they’ve never met.”

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods and pop goddesses? Turns out that some of them really are.

“You are of the Pantheon.
“You will be loved.
“You will be hated.
“You will be brilliant.
“Within two years you will be dead.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their fate. She helps them shine brightly for their brief two years. If they’re lucky. Because some of those lights have been snuffed out already.

It’s a brilliant conceit. Of course the Pantheon’s role in this modern age would be as those most worshipped today, and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, aspiration, envy, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and manipulation. Some are putting ideas into other people’s heads.

Please don’t imagine we’re treading water in these six short stories focussing on individual members of the Pantheon. If anything, events are escalating in the hunt for the killer. Prepare to drown in dramatic irony.

Since McKelvie was on sabbatical while he drew PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL, his chapter starring Woden is craftily composed entirely of panels repurposed from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE volumes one and two. Which itself involves a substantial amount of time and no small degree of artful judgement. Enhanced with colour filters by Matt Wilson which partially reflect their original source, it’s so successful that if you have no idea that it’s a collage you’d barely twig. Having this foreknowledge, each page made me smile, and I imagine some soul with enough time on their hands spent an entire afternoon identifying each panel’s specific source.

What’s particularly clever, however, is that the remix / reconstruction is entirely apposite since it’s Woden recalling a side of the story you never saw in volume two after that gun was put to his head and he ran back to Mummy to tell tales. By ‘Mummy’ I mean Ananke, and this may make you want to re-read the whole series with fresh insight and hindsight from the start. There’s a very funny sequence in which Luci and Baal’s actual exchange in volume one is replaced by satirical overdubs. There’s also an awful echo of the previous chapter as Woden comes clean about his sexual proclivities:

“”How can I do it?” It’s easy. You take women and just forget that they’re people. It’s not hard.”

No, it seems appallingly easy given the deluge of mob-mentality male hatred thrown like so much repugnant, foul-smelling shit across the internet at female comics and especially games journalists like Leigh Alexander (the visual model for Laura) simply because they are women. Gillen pulls no punches in reproducing its sexually explicit venom here as social-media men-children bombard pop goddess Tara with a barrage of Tweets whose infinite, incessant, babbling inhumanity is represented by a final full page of these cold, callous rectangles receding into the distance and disappearing off the edges.

I cannot show you any of those pages – as in, I won’t. But, trust me, nothing has been exaggerated for the sake of sensationalism.

They’re presaged by Tara’s treatment by men long before she could sing – the casual sexism and worse which is faced by women walking the street or in bars – and presented in stark contrast to Tara’s softness, vulnerability and individuality as a human being, the flesh on her face drawn so warmly by Tula Lotay along with the pain and tears in her eyes. It’s an individuality no one was ever interested in, only her looks. Her fans hate it when she puts on the mask, depriving them of their pleasure, or sings anything she wrote herself.

“Fucking Tara.” It becomes a mantra of sorts.

Individuality is exactly what every artist offers here, and after you’ve read each chapter you won’t be able to imagine them being drawn by anyone else. For sheer, unbridled fury Kate Brown takes the biscuit and I’m not just talking about the line art, either: there’s a cacophony of colours and you too will see red. What Brandon Graham brings could hardly be more different. His Sakhmet is sexual, sybaritic, reclining like a cat, hunting like a cat and disinterested too. Her performance is phantasmagorical.

Individuality is also what you’ll enjoy more of as we learn a lot more about some of the Pantheon and their lives both post- and pre-activation. Plenty of revelations, all of which make perfect sense, particularly and at times hilariously the Morrigan and Baphomet drawn by Leila Del Duca. Heritage also comes up for combative review before artist Stephanie Hans draws Amaterasu going nuclear in the skies above Hiroshima.

“You are a literal artificial sun above Hiroshima! Fuck! Are you even aware of how offensive this is?”

We’ve not seen much of Minerva until now. She’s the Goddess of Wisdom, aged twelve. Out of the mouths of babes etc, I’d say she’s one to watch.

I certainly wish they would listen.

Book four:

They have been played.

You have been played.

Kieron Gillen has been ever so naughty: he left out key moments in order to mess with your mind.

Here they all are. And doesn’t that make a difference!

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Goliath s/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tom Gauld

Breaks vol 1 (£15-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Malin Ryden & Emma Viecili

Poppies Of Iraq h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brigitte Findakly, Lewis Trondheim

Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis, John Romita Jr., Gabrielle Dell’Otto

Hellblazer vol 17: Out Of Season (£26-99, DC) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Leonardo Marco, Chris Brunner, Steve Dillon

Harley Quinn vol 3: Red Meat s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, Joseph Michael Linsner, others

Blame! Vol 5 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Well, that’s not many, is it?

Fear not, we have a few killer cards up our sleeves!

Don’t forget, we haven’t reviewed Tillie Walden’s SPINNING yet.

I promise you it is a belter.

See you next week!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week one

September 6th, 2017

Featuring Pam Smy, Lisa Murphy, Adam Murphy, Sophie Campbell, D.J. Bryant, Katie Skelly, Corey Lewis, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernández., Antony Jonston, Sam Hart.

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant.

“I’d never been in love. Love wasn’t part of my chemical make-up. So why couldn’t I get this boy out of my head?”

Fast-forward four pages and you’ll have a pretty shrewd idea.

Aged anywhere between a precociously self-assured twenty-two and a relaxed twenty-eight, in his pristine slacks and tight, black, concentric-ringed t-shirt, he is a full-lipped, doe-eyed beauty. More importantly, as they glance over at each other then stare fully clothed on his bed, he is strikingly familiar.

“My obsession began a week before.
“I was having breakfast with my husband at this diner called the Topspot. That’s right. I was married.”

She’d felt sorry for him.

Oh, she’d had plenty of suitors throwing themselves at her before – both men and women – and I can’t say I blame them. Markedly more dowdy in the company of her husband (plain dress or diamond-patterned golfing jumper), Nadya, when out and about, is ever so casually chic and alluring, radiating a quiet but commanding confidence.

“I never dreamed the tables would get turned like this.”

You wait until the phone rings, Nadya.

There’s a clue to all this in the third tale, in case you miss it: anadrome.

If I had to summarise the mysteries of UNREAL CITY, tables being turned – both on its protagonists and on its readers – would be very high on my list. Relationships, perception, time, manipulation, reality, fiction… all these will be warped as D.J. Bryant presents you with puzzles to mess with your mind and, once again, with his protagonists’. Control will be sought, control will be lost, and in ‘Objet D’Art’ control may never have been an option in the first instance – whichever instance the first one turns out to be.

It’s all very David Lynch, even down to the sound in ‘Emordana’, but with a fresh inventiveness of its own evidenced most clearly in ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ and ‘Objet D’Art’ which wouldn’t work in any medium other than comics.

The five separate stories are presaged by the endpapers which show a man approaching a black opening ahead, one hand holding onto the wall, the other outstretched in front of him; another sat lifeless and despondent in a crowd; a dolled-up dame in black bunny ears; a youth startled outside his ornate brownstone’s front door; a wild drive in the countryside; and the first man, once again, sat in a theatre’s auditorium, resolutely refusing to clap as everyone around him applauds.

Bryant’s art is meticulous and glossy, sexy and hypnotic; Charles Burns with more of an eye for high fashion. It’s also decidedly top-shelf for two of the tales.

There’s an extraordinary amount of detail in ‘Objet D’Art’ both at a pretentious costume party for performing hipsters and within the pages of a science fiction graphic novel which our narrator discovers in a bookshop window after returning to a city he’d left two years earlier, and to an apartment opposite the Zethus Building where he used to live. You can read its very dialogue if you peer closely enough, and it’s well worth the effort for what follows because – its science-fiction setting aside – it echoes uncannily true to the disconcerted former suitor.

We immediately flash back two years earlier to the future graphic novel’s creator and his wife whom he dresses up as his own female protagonist in familiar black bunny ears to attend a fancy dress party they’d been waved over to attend from the window opposite theirs. It proves to be pivotal both to their lives, the plot of the story and the plot of the husband’s graphic novel. But oh, how much stranger are the final few pages several more years down the line…

There’s a complete change in art style for ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ which is almost Hannah Barbera and in full colour. It sees artist Jack Yellowknife visit the Igloo Gallery with his far better informed lover, Laura.

“It’s the first structure to incorporate the principles of temporal design.”

Jack is sceptical, aloof and above it all. Until on the top-left hand panel of the very next page within the Igloo Gallery, he sees himself (minus the sunglasses still worn inside) racing up to greet him.

“Yo, Jack! It’s me! Yourself from the immediate future!”
“What the fuck?”
“Hey, where did Laura go?”
“I dunno. What the hell is going on here?”
“It’s this gallery, man! It warps time!”

The second of three tiers on that page begins with Jack and Laura entering through the Igloo door, Jack confident, almost proprietarily.

“Temporal design? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before.”
“Basically,” she explains, “the curvature of the walls and the angle of the floor are constructed in such a way so that time loops back on itself from one end of the building to another.”
“You’re shittin’ me!”
“I shit you not!”

And your eye is led down not to the left-hand panel on the third tier, but to the right-hand one as Jack spies them entering the gallery a few moments earlier then races off to see if he can interact with himself.

Now then: pull back and look at that page again: it’s composed like a simple, dice-rolling board game with “squares” in place of panels in the shape of a 6 and the starting square isn’t the top left-hand panel but – by dint of its being pulled out just a little more than the others to the left – the middle left-hand panel. Follow the shape of the 6 round from there up to the top tier then onto the next page and…

It has only just begun.

Lord, how I love comics!

For a comparison point to that particular page, please see Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III’s PROMETHEA VOLUME 3 and its Möbius Strip, along which the two women can hear each other talking through its alternate side.

One thing I’ve not done yet is properly address or even emphasise clearly enough the sexual content of this collection. The tale we tossed off on, ‘Echoes Into Eternity’ is merely playful. Beautifully playful, and it may make you grin. ‘Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt’ is much darker fare, starring a husband caricatured to my mind to resemble Steve Buscemi. It’s in the lips and the eyes. It’s an orgy of castigation, humiliation and emasculation with a Deathcrawl childhood ditty / refrain on a tricycle. It’s gripping.

But perhaps the most complex of all the pieces here is ‘Emordana: The Inflection Of Nothing On The Visual Cortex’. This is a structural analyst’s dream, revealing the truth behind what you think you’re looking at (on the very first page, for example) only as the proverbial onion is peeled away.

All I will tell you that the tale’s title also doubles as that of a vinyl LP…

“A song keeps skipping and repeating. The same beat; the name of some girl. A feat that keeps your heart beating to the same monotonous rhythm.”

… and a theatrical play being performed tonight by its most reluctant trapped actors. Including the one in the audience.

Expect switches everywhere.

The only table-turning twist we don’t have here is the self-reflexive. Outside of that, everything goes.

Behold a new voice that has been bubbling beneath the surface for quite some time. No single page from the original, abandoned UNREAL CITY serialised endeavour has been retained or incorporated. And there were some terrific pages there, I promise you. But, comparatively speaking, they were mere youthful notions and ideas without the confidence or complete command displayed here, and it was both brave and wise to let go.

SLH

Buy Unreal City h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy.

“Ahem… Well… I thought I hadn’t seen you and I asked around and thought that maybe you were avoiding coming down because… well… because a certain person is back.”

A certain person is back.

Even Jane, the single carer who seems to care, cannot bring herself to say her name.

Mary thought she might be safe once that certain person had been re-homed. But no, she always ends up back at Thornhill, and then it begins anew: the laughter, the stares, the thump, thump, thump on doors as she passes by.

“Would you, Mary? If I have a word with her and ask her to be friends, would you try too?”

It’s as if nothing had ever happened. Everyone turns a blind eye as far as she’s concerned.

Mary knew she was back without even looking. She could hear her downstairs, and she locked herself away in her room, the top-most in the Institute, the only one with its own sink and bathroom. To get there you have to go up an extra, dark and narrow set of stairs, through a door off the main landing.

“I am going to go down now and have a chat with her, Mary, and tomorrow you can come down and have breakfast with the rest of us. It’ll be much better for everyone here at Thornhill if we can all get along. I’ll come and knock for you in the morning so we can go down together. OK, Mary?”

And then all eyes will be upon Mary as she is brought into the dining room. There will be low whispers or – worse still – voices just loud enough so that they know Mary knows that she is being talked about.

“Well, I am glad that is all sorted out.”

Mary hadn’t said a word.

That was thirty-five years ago…

There’s an old house opposite Ella’s new bedroom window. More of a small mansion, really, large enough to have four tall chimney stacks; old enough to have sets of simple, deep-carved, stone gothic windows; and neglected enough to have buddleias embedded in its brickwork, some windows boarded up, its gardens overgrown and long gone to seed.

The overgrowth is further tangled up in coils of barbed wire.

At night it stands silent and empty, its ridged roof tiles and ornate flashing lit up by the moon.

It used to be the Thornhill Institute for Children – for girls, as it happens – and it has seen better days.

Better days… and much worse nights.

Did a light just go on in its top bedroom window?

Pam Smy has conjured up a chilling Young Adult horror story, shot through with a prickly, cold-sweat tension which will be familiar to anyone who’s been bullied and whose bullies have been so very careful to avoid detection and any sort of censure. To anyone who hasn’t been believed, perhaps endured it alone or, worse still, could not go home: boarders either at school or a less than charitable institution. The horror here is all too real.

She always makes friends again, no matter what she does. They’re all scared of her too.

Set thirty-five years apart, the past is presented to us in the form of unadorned prose diary entries written by Mary, beginning in February 1982 as her pretty tormentor, unnamed throughout the book, returns with a smile and a promise made just loud enough for every other girl to hear: that she wants to be friends and make amends now. And Mary would like a friend. She really would. She finds it difficult. She doesn’t speak; the words won’t come. She finds it difficult to mix, but she doesn’t mind if no one talks to her. There’s less pressure. She actually finds it quite nice to start walking to school with everyone else again, hanging at the back and listening to them natter excitedly about pop stars or TV programmes they’ve enjoyed. Mary doesn’t watch TV with them in the communal lounge: she’d rather be upstairs, fashioning more of her beautiful, ornate dolls.

Kathleen is kind. Kathleen is there at meal times, then cleaning up afterwards in the kitchen. Kathleen gives her winks and the odd extra small packet of biscuits. She seems to understand.

One of the carers, Jane, seems to care too. But she doesn’t understand.

Where this proves a marked departure from anything else I’ve stumbled across before is that the present comes to us as comics. Tellingly, they are silent comics: bleak, black and white double-page spreads of further isolation: of Ella alone at home while her Dad works long hours, leaving her notes on the kitchen table that he’s left early and will be home late. There’s a framed photo of Ella and her mother during happier times, inscribed by hand, “I will always love you, Mum x” There’s another one taped besides Ella’s window.

It’s through that window that Ella thinks she first spies a girl, about her own age, a month after she’s moved in. But the girl is little more than a silhouette amongst the barbed wire, the sorry sea of weeds and the jagged ash staves run rampant.

But then she turns round, and I defy you not to be chilled.

I don’t have that full image here, but one of this book’s most successfully deployed elements is suspense in ambiguity – ambiguity and hope. Hope can be terribly cruel.

Treachery too is a terrible thing, and there are a gutting couple of pages in which Mary overhears Kathleen talking to her carer who cares, Jane, and it transpires that she doesn’t.

“I know, but honestly, it’s her own fault, if you ask me, Kathleen. It’s one thing to have this Selective mutism thing – if it really is a thing and she isn’t just choosing not to speak – that makes her odd in the first place, but then she spends all her time on her own making those damn dolls. It is a bit creepy.”

The very same dolls which Jane made such a fuss about, praising Mary’s craft.

“She doesn’t even try to fit in.”
“Just because she is a bit different doesn’t mean they should pick on her.”
“A bit different! Come on, Kathleen, she’s weird. You say they are picking on her, but we don’t have any proof. She doesn’t ever say anything. She had never made a complaint. How can we help her if she doesn’t help herself? She just tiptoes about with that tight, pinched, sour face of hers. She never smiles. No wonder no family wants her… if her speech thing isn’t problem enough, she is also the least likeable girl we have ever had here…”

Which is nice.

Like Britt Fanny in JANE, THE FOX & ME illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, Pan Smy also understands all the exhausting acting involved in keeping yourself looking busy in a crowd in the hope that you’ll be ignored – and that being ignored is sadly sometimes the best you can hope for.

Meanwhile, Ella finds herself increasingly drawn to the fenced up estate and gains access via a plank dropped down over her back yard. “Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me” is carved on the pedestal of an ivy strewn statue, and all the while that barbed wire looks as dangerous as the dilapidated house looks unsafe. Creepy doesn’t begin to cover it. Then she finds a doll’s face, and thinks she’ll give it some loving, tender care back home before returning it to the grounds.

And then she finds a whole doll hung by its neck on a noose.

SLH

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

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Scientists (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy.

“Woo! Yeah!
“Science!”

 – Charles Darwin on discovering the Galapagos Islands

Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing! It’s a fifth of the battle won.

It probably also requires a lot of studious research, fiercely analytical minds, a wealth of imagination and the odd dollop of genius – but enough about Adam and Lisa, what about the scientists?

However mirth-makingly irreverent it is in its gleeful delivery, this all-ages graphic novel bubbles full to the brim with history and 100% accurate hard science, often explained with a skill, clarity and loads of lateral thinking to match their much lauded (or shamefully side-lined) subjects.

I learned or re-learned so much that had long-since escaped me while securing a far greater sense of context as Lisa and Adam took me chronologically through scientific break-through after break-through, some building on previous discoveries whilst ditching old, untested presumptions.

This was the key to the Scientific Revolution some 500 years ago: the acknowledgement of ignorance coupled with a renewed curiosity to learn rather than simply accept ancient dictums as if they were written in stone. Which, err, some of them were!

Before then the priority was the preservation of the past, even if the past was a load of old bunkum. But not every party was prepared to take off their blinkers to let in new light, as poor Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) discovered when presenting irrefutable mathematical evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun or strong collaborative research promoting Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution when organised religion had already firmly established through painstaking fabrication that the Earth was in fact flat as well as the centre of the universe, and that God had created its myriad creatures in all their glory in a single day over a quiet week, just the other month.

If you’ve yet to become acquainted with the CORPSE TALK format (previous volumes reviewed in our treasured PHOENIX BOOKS section), Adam Murphy takes it upon himself to dig up old fossils – just as Mary Anning (1799-1847) did before establishment beardy blokes went and stole all her credit – reanimating their brittle bones to badger from them as much as he can before their corpses collapse under the weight of his truly awful puns.

Few of these famous faces appear to have rested soundly in their rudely interrupted, not-so-eternal sleep, for they bring to the sprightly discussion the same sort of modern colloquialisms which Adam brought to his LOST TALES:

“OMG!” Geez!” “Good times!” “Nuts!”

“Pretty freakin’ awesome…” boasts Charles Darwin of his beetle collection. Then, when Murphy reveals that his evolutionary explanation of the whale as a descendant of a land mammal gradually adapting to swimming around with its mouth open, scooping up food on the water’s surface – hence the huge mouth and nose on top of its head – was in fact now well established, but so ridiculed at the time that he felt compelled to remove it from later editions of ‘On The Origin Of The Species’, Darwin declares:

“YESS! I KNEW IT! EAT IT, HATERS!”

Even late in the day, a little vindication goes a long way.

Other idiocies of the times include women being banned from schools, universities and of course the military (for a little light catharsis I hugely recommend Jacky Fleming’s THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN), which is why Margaret Anne Bulkley became famous as Dr James Barry (1790s-1865), toughing it out long enough in a very fetching officer’s jacket to invent modern hygiene.

“I quickly realised that in the army the key thing wasn’t so much looking like a man (I just had to wear the right clothes) as it was acting like a man…
“Most importantly, I had to get used to picking fights, talking over people and generally being insufferably opinionated!”

Unsurprisingly, since the Scientific Revolution occurred a mere 500 years ago, most of our ingenious interviewees come from that same span of time. Three, however, pre-date them quite considerably and each has been selected for that prime, requisite quality of not taking past authorities’ words as gospel, but thinking, observing and experimenting for themselves: Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Archimedes (287-212 BCE) and Al-Haytham (965-1040).

Aristotle was adamant that no theories or contentions should be taken for granted… unfortunately some his own were, like the seeming appearance of insects in animal poop out of nowhere. That took Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) two millennia to disprove by getting her own hands well and truly dirty. The eggs had been laid in or on food and so travelled through animals’ guts. Here’s a selection of Aristotle’s sayings, the first of which is science all over:

“The more you know, the more you don’t know. Y’know?”
“The secret of humour is surprise.”
“Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.”

That neatly anticipates Bookface and Twitter. But the one aphorism I am most delighted the Murphies resurrected is this, in praise of teachers, which has since been corrupted to disparage them:

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

Archimedes I found fascinating because although I knew all about the “Eureka” moment and its discovery of water displacement to measure weight, I had no idea until now what the conundrum he was first charged with solving was. Read this and see! He also discovered levers, for which I won’t thank him: mechanics was the bane of my maths exams.

I was equally ignorant of Al-Haytham who invented the old hypothesis. No, not “of” – he actually invented the whole hypothesis / disproval discipline, as well as modern optics upon discovering that light travels in a straight line from the sun then bounces off objects into our eyes (upside down) rather than being emitted from ourselves like ocular laser beams! Yes, he experienced the pinhole camera effect while lying in a darkened room!

This is all beautifully explained in one of the double-page spreads which now follow every interview. Even though the format is slightly smaller than previous publications, there’s a much greater sense of space on each page and within each pane. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is afforded two double-page spreads but then the Murphies do manage to communicate there his entire Theory of Relatively with astonishing concision and lucidity. They are exceptional communicators, using basketball players’ heights, for example, to elucidate on Natural Selection.

More things I learned include the invention of crop rotation by George Washington Carver (1860s-1993). Oh, I’d studied crop rotation at school, but I didn’t know it was him, why it was first invented nor what cotton was rotated with – you will be surprised! You’ll be surprised both by the crop and that no one was into it. Carver had to come up with multiple new uses for the ground-bound fruit which has since become a staple at soirées.  I knew not that Plague Doctors’ “beaks” contained sweet-smelling flowers to protect them from the infectious miasma that never existed, nor that it was Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) who came up with the Periodic Table.

The full modern masterpiece is printed on one of those double-page spreads but value-for-money is what the Murphies are all about and they manage to pack in extra information in the form of an illustrated example of how each element is used in everyday life or where it is found. Your general knowledge quiz team will slap you repeatedly on the back for those prized nuggets, I promise you.

Another spread includes an “AC / DC Grudge-Match from Beyond the Grave” featuring Edison and Tesla (1856-1943) duking it out in an Extreme Science stand-off, just as they did in real life with Edison’s manipulative, bad-science fear-mongering making him the Donald Trump of his day.

As well as the language, kids will love all the visual comedy too, like the 18th Century aristos smothering themselves in powder to hide the after-effects of small pox, then dotting their faces with so many beauty spots to hide each individual pock-mark that they look as if they’ve come down with multi-coloured measles. Yes, I think that entry for Edward Jenner (1749-1823) will prove particularly popular with those sharing my mental age range (single digits, me) for the disgusting depictions of those in full, porridge-like, pustule-ridden small-pox bloom and the very idea that infected cowpox scabs (scabs!) were inserted into healthy wounds as an early from of vaccination.

There are eighteen entries in total to enjoy, and enjoyed they will be! I’ve long contended that all education should be entertainment, and here you will learn as you gawp, gurn and grin with glee.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists  and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell.

“My new thing is no more secrets.
“All they do is mess shit up.”

Quite right too, and yes they do!

But, oh dear, you’re talking to the wrong person, Cleo. You should be talking to –

Sophie Campbell is a master of the emotional rollercoaster ride; her weapon of choice being subtly deployed and stealthily ramped-up dramatic irony. For there is a shadow falling, and only we can see it.

And I’m not just talking about Glen’s projectile-vomiting morning-after experience in the cafe which Cleo goes to work in, the even worse, unrelated cleaning-up job that Cleo is confronted with or Audrey’s nightmarish babysitting experience.

No, right at the heart of this someone has been seething with the most ferocious, bottled-up anger towards any and all. And not one our cast has a clue.

This fourth volume opens on a much brighter note with what is for some the bonding experience that is softball practice. Even Trilby – previously the most obstinately, wilfully and self-destructively negative of them all – has finally begun to appreciate others and understand the importance of vocalising that admiration and respect.

Meanwhile, there’s a con on: a TV-cult-show and comicbook convention. Let the cosplay commence!

Furthermore, let BY CHANCE OF BY PROVIDENCE’s Becky Cloonan make a guest appearance, sketching away there! She does! Not just in the background, either: Becky becomes embroiled in a prior, physical dispute.

With each of these new WET MOON editions I’ve found myself revisiting much missed friends and found my previous reviews deeply inadequate. That’s hindsight for you. So it was here, for Campbell was always so far ahead of her comicbook peers not just in presenting unique individuals with endearing quirks, understandable foibles and some frustrating flaws, but particularly with beautiful, diverse body forms drawn with relish and lavished with love.

Our ladies on the swamp-side college campus site have had a lot of growing up to do and still more to come, but they are precocious in exploring their sexual identities as fully as they dare, questioning them in private diaries entries and communicating their hopes, fears and doubts to those they trust most.

Some even take to the internet (in relatively closed forums) to question the media proscription when it comes to those body forms and the appalling lack of affirmation (worse still, the actual undermining of pride) when it comes to skin colour.

Campbell is exceptionally astute when it comes to how we can tentatively orbit each other then try as hard as possible to understand each other, over what we might bond: the gives and the takes; or the takes and the takes.

Lastly, I loved Cleo’s attempt to resurrect her childhood pee-pal experience, not necessarily going down so well with an adult Mara. Clue: you both sit on a toilet and pee at the same time.

I can’t imagine guys doing that. *imagines guys doing that* Umm…. Heh.

In summary, then: so well remembered, so well observed and so very well communicated.

“Visually, I can’t think that this creator owes anything to anyone. Nothing out there like this, and highly recommended.”

Those are the only two sentences remaining from my original review many moons ago.

Please see equally rewritten recollections of WET MOON volumes one to three for so much more. All in stock, deeply cherished.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

If I were to recommend any superhero comic published today above all others, then it would be this. It belongs to no long line of convoluted soap-opera shenanigans, but is self-contained, witty and pithy, with so much to socio-politically say. It rises above the genre.

“You know, you’re really quite interesting considering I hate kids. How the hell did that happen?”
“My Dad didn’t abandon me.”

Coruscating!

But it may prove to be the most pivotal sentence uttered in this desperate, dirty, internecine against-all-odds fight to turn the tables and retake the world from its conceited and contemptuous, self-appointed saviours: the superheroes.

That scene will extend far further into the fray. The book begins with a brief moment of paternal bliss and, when priorities are finally relearned, then it will be revisited and there will honestly be moments of “Awww!”

Before then, I’m afraid, there will be moments of awe and gore and a great deal of grievance, with far more to come; for I should warn you right now that this is far from the end.

More considered, meaty and wider in scope than the hugely enjoyable but comparative light entertainments that Mark Millar has produced recently, this epic has been all about family. Family, society and the generation gap – love, jealousy, disappointment and disillusionment giving rise to revulsion, self-seclusion and feuds – but it has been far from obvious in that your elders do not necessarily know better and those regarded as black sheep in youth often have the makings of more compassionate individuals with a more healthy and balanced sense of perspective, free from prejudice and presumption. 

Incorporating first JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 then its prequels JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 and JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 2, it has been so cleverly structured, and that is the order you should read them in before delving in here. The two CIRCLE volumes inform what you’ll find and give it far more emotional weight.

For example, the first to speak above, Skyfox, was merely alluded to in JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 as but a past stain on the family of superheroes’ shared reputation. Read that one book and you might understandably consider him a villain, a sully, because that is how the propagandist media, personal PR and even some families work. Actually he’s the one with the wider and key moral compass:

“I turned because I realised that superheroes were little more than uniformed agents of a corrupt ruling class.”

He tried to help stem the blood loss during the police reaction to the Race Riots.

Although, you know, you could extend that observation to the two real-life superhero comics’ corporations, each attempting to blot out every other genre published to maintain their hegemony over their US and UK’s culpably ill-read, retail co-collaborators. I know I do.

“We were great at throwing the poor in prison, but the real crooks out there were the capitalist elite preying on working men and women.”

Bankers and bought politicians. Millar made the same point from a different angle in THE AUTHORITY.

“You see, the world didn’t like me and in the end I didn’t like it back. I tried my best to fight oppression, but America’s happiest ruled by liars.”

I don’t think I have to spell that one out for you.

America has been overtaken by liars, namely one post-human Walter and his nephew, son of the brother he helped murder along with his sister-in-law. In brazen public, on her suburban lawn, and in a mass beating, Nice!

Walter’s brother’s daughter is still at large, holed up in fear of her life with her pre-teen son Jason and her boyfriend, a ne’er do well son of that ne’er do well father once called Skyfox. Those three fugitive renegades are all that are left of any resistance, and the two parents never amounted to much. One preferred the glamour and financial gain of publicity portfolios and media lights; the other layabout didn’t even impress his prospective father-in-law: useless offal.

*turns to camera and smiles*

I do love an underdog, don’t you?

Artist Frank Quitely (THE AUTHORITY, ALL STAR SUPERMAN etc) owns every single second of this. It wouldn’t work half so well if he didn’t.

For a start, he is a dab-hand at keeping things real with a casual, chic civilian fashion sense right up there with THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Jamie McKelvie, When his figures’ forms are vulnerable then you will know about it. Quitely does it with comparative scale, and with the quality of his line which can become tremulous. In that way I’d compare him to HEATHEN’s Natashi Alterici who comprehends precisely how much difference a broken line means to movement.

But as any reader of WE3 will know, Quitely is also a master craftsman of pin-point, balletic choreography more than a wee bit enhanced by body language.  It’s evidenced at its best here by the improvisational, desperate detour undertaken by Hutch Junior (Skyfox’s son and Jason’s dad) into the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when his teleportational wand has gone wonky and run out of juice.

Almost a spindly, stick-figure and so vulnerable target upon arms-akimbo-entry, he is buffeted about by superior fire-power, but once Hutch has reached his unexpectedly lo-fi and therefore oh so funny recharging pit-stop, his body language changes dramatically in keeping with his rekindled confidence, and he dishes out his dismissive justice – wham, wham, wham – with erect and equanimous, almost off-hand indifference and efficiency.

Oh, I’m sorry: did I make this out to be a meandering stroll in the park? Expect brutality, but a brutality that will mean something to you involving characters who you will come to care about before they are dispatched, forever, with no hope to follow. 

Also: if you do like superhero plot mechanics – this can only be resolved here after that power proves pivotal there – then you will grin your f***ing heads off. There may be only three of them left, but oh, they got game!

Fatherhood is evidently very dear to Mark Millar’s heart and he’s at his most profound when addressing it. MARVEL 1985 drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards is an understated and underrated gem full of quiet and kind consideration when it comes to step-father and son. Its title suggests something esoteric, requiring prior knowledge of a clumsy corporation’s sprawling universe, but it’s actually quite the reverse: a self-contained one-shot, fully accessible, to the left of the main Marvel Universe, partly about trusting in the younger generation’s perspicacity and perception.

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

My Pretty Vampire (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Katie Skelly.

The second I laid eyes on that cover it screamed “Gilbert Hernandez!”

Understandably startled, I dropped it in fright, so thank goodness we currently have carpeted floor.

Richard Sala’s old website had an equally alarming introduction involving a trap door, and there’s something of the Sala inside this: creepy but comical and slightly old fashioned (“of an era” sounds better) although not when it comes to sex.

Sala’s Scooby-Doo sensibilities become particularly prominent when Clover click-clacks down the corridor in a black cloak and high-heeled boots, seeking to make her escape, and in surroundings which later prove alien to our protagonist. These have to be negotiated with caution for fear of what lurks round the corner, through that closed door, or down the bordered-up hole in the wall. Needs must, I suppose, but I probably wouldn’t have ventured there myself.

Gilbert’s brother Jaime Hernandez is on hand on the back and I doubt anyone could summarise this book better:

“I’m thirteen years old, up late watching an early ‘70s ‘adult’ horror movie on TV, waiting for the racy parts. The dumb thing doesn’t deliver. Forty-four years later, Katie Skelly delivers with flying colours.”

She does – also with vibrant colours, and exactly that early ‘70s fashion sense, seediness and gloss.

Someone described it as sex-positive, and I like that; I’ll use it myself. See also Jade Sarson’s FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE and Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYZ etc.

Not so dainty nor sex-positive is Clover’s brother, Marcel. A control freak verging on the abusive, he holds her captive in a remote countryside mansion, perving through peep holes as his sister swims naked in their white-statue-lined Roman-eque baths.

“No one else will take care of you…
“It’s just us.”

Actually there is a housekeeper of eastern origin called Elsa who smuggles in cigarettes (and a book of matches) which our fanged fatale then smokes in a corner, surrounded by teddy bears while planning her daring escape.

Constantly leaking blood as black as bitumen, Clover must evade John, an ex-police Private Eye who’s rarely more than a few tell-tale footsteps behind, constantly puffing away on one cigarette after another. Moustache, eye patch, and butterscotch raincoat: we are still in the seventies. Then there are those parties where the best dressed prove most libidinous.

From the creator of OPERATION MARGARINE (which we will attempt to restock once again shortly via John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half) comes something sensual, suggestive, enigmatic and cursed. There is a cult.

Five years earlier:

“Most people that come to us want money, power… eternal life for themselves.
“Not you.
“You did it for love.
“The one you love will never die.
“(How selfish.)”

SLH

Buy My Pretty Vampire and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh Collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis.

From the creator of SHARKNIFE comes exactly the sort of comic I wanted to produce aged 12: quick-fire, episodic, multi-saga, idea-driven with bat-shit crazy energy and visuals.

You know, as opposed to long-form, pensive, self-contained, streamlined, narrative-conscious, photo-realistic and world-changing.

And although I began with zero technical skills, between the ages of 10 and 12 I did produce some 15 issues of just such a comic containing superheroes, sci-fi, comedy and even a little politics – school politics, anyway. The comedy, as I recall, centred around the search for the singular of ‘sheep’. (It’s a ‘shoop’, since you ask. I WAS TEN!)

Mine was multi-story and episodic because I’d been brought up on black and white Marvel reprints; in Corey’s case it’s been inspired by Japan’s SHONEN JUMP weekly manga anthology which brought us the likes of DRAGON BALL, NARUTO and DEATH NOTE.

And let us be perfectly clear: this is the comic a 12- to 15-year-old would produce if he had Corey Lewis (Reyyy)’s keen adult technical skills. The key is that Lewis hasn’t let those skills inhibit the storytelling.

“What’s it all about, Stephen? What’s it all abaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

‘Bat Rider’ is a thrilling, maximum-contrast, shadow-heavy, skyscraper-silhouette-strewn, black and white, urban challenge starring a chick with a cape, a chap with a Mercury-winged biker’s helmet and his seemingly sentient skateboard. Next!

‘Arem’ appears to be riffing off ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ in that the female protagonist dashes about an alien planet identifying local fauna that occasionally fights back by snapping its photo then loading it onto social media for critical approval, like. Oh yes, she does so in a big, heavily armoured, exo-skeletal bio-hazard fight-suit.

Huge exterior shots of primordial landscapes, the orbiting spaceship and maximum mecha fanfare use up the world’s entire supply of mauve, lilac and indigo for the next fortnight. Also, I loved the structure of one page in particular of our protagonist 1) liking NextiGrams while licking pizza 2) thundering down a treadmill 3) kicking a sack in the same direction before 4) standing before her mighty mech in solemn preparation.

‘Dream Skills’ is Fruit Salad flavoured (Fruit Salad as in the chews) and follows two female friends, one of whom introduces the other to the sacred art of the sword following the discovery of protective “aura circles” owned by everyone. These have suddenly been triggered (we know not how nor why) rendering lead non-lethal, and guns therefore, redundant.

Besides, blades are flashier (discuss). That one looks like it may contain the most mystery, legend and lore and at this early stage, who knows?

Contains 730% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.

SLH

Buy Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández.

That is one well equipped modern mercenary: combat boots, flak jacket… ancient, double-bladed battle axe.

Not quite standard issue.

From the writer of LAZARUS and BLACK MAGIC and – with Ed Brubaker – GOTHAM CENTRAL comes another impeccably researched but more action-orientated mystery of military manoeuvres across the globe. Across time too, and Andy is fucking sick of it.

Clue: her full name is Andromache and, if you know your Euripides, she had a pretty shitty time of it every since Achilles went and whopped her husband Hector. I mean, a really shitty time of it. The Greeks tossed her sprog over the Trojan walls then, just to rub it in, made her a slave to Achilles’ own son.

As the opening three pages make brutally clear the intervening centuries haven’t brought much more peace. She appears to have fought her way through them all. Which is one way to trying to work through your understandable anger issues. She hasn’t stopped fighting, either. Andy and her three male colleagues have one key advantage over others engaged in mortal combat: they’re not mortal. They cannot die.

Unfortunately in the 21st Century keeping that quiet is a tad more difficult than it used to be: live footage not recorded onto a drive which could be deleted, but beamed immediately around the globe via satellite to someone who wants a piece of their anti-agapic action. You’ll see.

What you won’t necessarily see immediately – as Andy and co are on their way to South Sudan to rescue seventeen girls from heavily armed abductors – is what relevance there could possibly be in American marine Nile Freeman’s search of a family home in Afghanistan full of very frightened women. But you will, at the end of chapter one.

The initial scene inside the home is beautifully played by both Rucka and Fernández who delivers both day and night, throughout, in a style similar to 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso: lots of silhouettes and shadows.

“We are searching for someone. We believe he is hiding her. This man. He has killed many of my people and many of yours. Have you seen this man?”
“No,” replies the old woman, staring at the photo in terrified recognition.
“No, there are no men here,” she says, glancing to the door behind which they are hidden, “and a man who would cower behind women… who puts them in danger and uses them as shields… he is no man at all.”
“I thank you for your honesty and help. We will leave you in peace… blessings on your house…”

Everyone’s in for some surprises, including you: being immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if your family aren’t in on it. And cannot be – Andy is adamant about that and eloquent on the subject.

On the other hand, discovering the love of your life early on, if they are immortal too…

Tenderness and brutality in equal measure.

SLH

Buy Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart.

“Well, old boy, I suppose that’s it for us. I suppose now I’ll have to go home. In a way, I’m glad to see you here. Tonight of all nights. Some of them are saying there’ll be no more secrets, from now on. But you and I both know that’s not true.”

From the fiendish mind of WASTELAND, THE FUSE and UMBRAL‘s Antony Johnston, this espionage thriller is so hypnotic that I read it from cover to virtual cover in one rapt sitting, my mesmerised eyes wide open, my mouth somewhat agape. But to cap it all off, the dénouement proved so satisfying, so staggeringly devious that I just shook my head, rolled my eyes and Tweeted:

“You sly bastard!”

You may have seen much made of the startlingly different action sequences inserted into the film version, but here’s the original to compare and contrast with, and I’d remind you that Johnston then went on to create the self-contained COLDEST WINTER with Steven Perkins which was indeed icily slick and smart. Now that does have action sequences!

October 1989, and Berlin is both bleak and freezing. Protesters are massing by the Berlin Wall separating Allied West from the Communist East where the Stasi have informants installed in every work place, every block of flats. Communism is crumbling, tensions are rising, and old allegiances are so far from certain that MI6 don’t even trust their own officers. Left there too long with no Embassy to watch over them, some are suspected of having gone native. And now… now MI6 have a problem.

Three days ago an undercover agent codename BER-2 suddenly went radio silent; last night he was fished out of the river. He was on his way to deliver a list sourced from an agent called SPYGLASS, a Stasi officer who claimed that list contained every name of every officer in Berlin, be they British, American, French, even Russian. That list has now gone missing. MI6 suspect KGB officer Yuri Bakhtin who left for Moscow the day of BER-2’s death. The thing is, he never arrived. Desperate for the list not to surface on the black market then fall into enemy hands, MI6 dispatch Lorraine Broughton, a fresh pair of eyes, to meet with BER-1 in Berlin. An experienced spy fluent in Russian, Broughton’s German is relatively weak, but that’s because she has no former ties to Berlin: no friends, no family and no former colleagues to muddy her loyalties. Or help her out in a crisis.

To make matters worse BER-1, David Perceval, proves to be an old fashioned chauvinist: haughty, dismissive and barely cooperative. Lorraine Broughton is very much on her own and surrounded by agents on all sides. If she’s going to achieve her mission and survive on either side of the Berlin Wall, she will need to get creative and use the city itself – and the events unfolding within – to her maximum advantage.

The art by Sam Hart is riveting. Reminiscent in places of ZENITH‘s Steve Yeowell at his peak, it is startlingly stark, with huge swathes of black shadow cast across offices and officers alike. His close-ups are intense, while outside in bleakest Berlin his figures drift like ghosts though the municipal parks, and I guess they are ghosts in a way. Sometimes they’re eroded by the blinding light into mere outlines of heads, hats, coats and scarves while the trees in both background and foreground loom large in silhouette. I love the way Broughton’s shoulders and hips cast shadows under the small of her back and down the length of her skirt. His instinct is mighty impressive.

SLH

Buy Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Baking With Kafka (£12-99, Canongate) by Tom Gauld

Nick Cave – Mercy On Me (Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist

Spinning (Signed Bookplate Edition) (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Tillie Walden

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Toys Talking (£7-99, Particular Books) by Leanne Shapton

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison

Home Time h/c (£22-99, Top Shelf) by Campbell Whyte

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Eightball: Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes

Extremity vol 1: Artist (£14-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson

Jupiters Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely

Mercury Heat vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Nahuel Lopez

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernandez

Providence vol 3 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell

Knife’s Edge (£17-99, FSG) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Our Super American Adventure h/c (£8-00, Shiny Sword Press) by Sarah Graley

Atomic Blonde (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy

The Only Living Boy vol 4: Through The Murky Deep (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 3: Once Upon A Time (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 2: Beyond Sea And Sky (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross

All-Star Batman vol 2: Ends Of The Earth h/c (Rebirth) (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita Jr.

Suicide Squad vol 3: Burning Down The House s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams, John Ostrander & John Romita, various

Deadpool Vs. The Punisher s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Pere Perez

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 5: Tiny Rick (£14-99, Titan) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby & Cj Cannon, various, Cj Cannon

Batman vol 3: I Am Bane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & David Finch

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha Comics) by Fuse & Taiki Kawakami

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 2 (£10-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

My Hero Academia vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week four

August 30th, 2017

Last week’s Page 45 Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 Comicbook Creator Signing Schedule and more! Lots vital news, lots of pretty photos!

Water Memory (£13-99, Roar) by Mathieu Reynès & Valérie Vernay.

“Hi! I’m Marion!
“I’m your new neighbour.”

Whenever you move into a new home, it’s good to greet the neighbours – especially if they’re few and far between. They can be a bit of a worry, can’t they? An unknown quantity, until you get to know them.

And on this crystal clear morning, her second full day on the Brittany coast, that is precisely what young Marion is doing as she strolls along the grass-green cliff tops, the breeze blowing in her hair. The neighbours are all a lot older than she is and understandable more than a little weather-worn. They’re standing stones, after all.

Some of the menhirs are more impressive than others and of course the less ancient locals have left their own marks with arrow-pierced hearts and initials: evidence of innocent childhood crushes or trysts. There also appear to have been more elaborate carvings on some: amphibian, fish-like faces or masks, only with both eyes facing front.

“It looks like this one’s still growing!
“What are you all looking at?”

They are staring out to sea…

Reynès & Vernay had me hooked from the start: pages and pages of perfectly pitched, companionable dialogue as we make the acquaintance of Marion and her mother Annick while they explore then settle into their new surroundings. These hold but the vaguest of memories for Marion’s Mum who hasn’t been back here since she was four. They’re shown around by kindly Suzanne, an old friend of Marion’s grandparents, married to Antoine who spent his life on the waves, skippering a fishing boat like Marion’s long deceased grandfather.

Evidently at that point Annick’s mother moved away, for the house hasn’t been lived in for thirty years.

It is ever so idyllically situated on a tall, sheltered outcrop overlooking the bay, and Vernay makes the most of the view, filling it with movement and light.

Seagulls surf the sea breeze, directing our gaze to the lighthouse rising above a small, adjacent cottaqe on an island not far from the shore. Beyond lies the fishing village itself, a yawning stretch of bright blue sky between billowing, sunlit clouds funnelling our attention there too.

Later there’s the wind in the washing, and a wave-break of white flowers flowing through the standing stones. The town itself is flooded with local individuality: old whitewashed houses with exterior, half-timbered upper storeys, a restaurant on the quayside where Annick finds work, and a mightily thick stone wall evidently erected to buffer the residents from the worst of any storms.

Against it has been erected a small drinking fountain with that same, curious mask sculpted in semi-relief. One G. Norman has placed an inconspicuous brass plaque to its left:

“En Mémoire des disparus du 02 février 1904”

It’s the date of the last great storm.

If you’re beginning to feel a certain chill in the air, at the heart of this gripping Young Adult graphic novel lies a mystery which may or may not contain a dark, fantastical element. Regardless, it certainly involves local legends of appeasing and emphatically not displeasing sea spirits, and those in the past (and perhaps present) who have believed these myths, become obsessed then undone by them. It stretches back generations and across families as it would in any closely knit community, and unfortunately once Marion has its scent, she simply cannot let go.

Its other heart lies in the relationship between Marion and her mother, its driving force any young person’s natural instinct and compulsion to explore. Their first evening, before their furniture, linen and crockery have arrived, sees them enjoying a sunset picnic together outside and the light there too is just-so. Marion’s Dad, we infer, will not be joining them but their bond is all the stronger for that, and the scene is brought to a close with their thoughts firmly thrust to the future.

Sure enough, on her very first morning, Marion cannot resist the thrilling novelty of it all! Brought up in a city, and you suddenly have private, sandy beaches directly below your doorstep…? A dip in the sea is most definitely required! Have I mentioned the light? At every moment Vernay is in complete control of the temperature through body language and colour.

As Marion ventures tentatively further out from the shore, she spies a boat on the horizon with an outboard motor heading towards the lighthouse. She calls out and waves but although water carries sound, that engine is evidently making more.

The lighthouse has its own lure, obviously, especially after Marion discovers it might be accessible at low tide. The small gate barring access to the steps which lead down to the beach has a No Entry sign but if it’s left unlocked, that sign can’t really be that important, can it? You wouldn’t leave a gate open if access was dangerous.

The thing is, tides can come in a great deal faster than they go out, and there’s an episode Reynès wisely wrote in earlier which won’t leave you head once you’ve read it, ramping up the tension to shoulder-knotting heights.

 

It begins on Day 3, when Marion spies seagulls squalling noisily round a fissure in the stone, close to the bay where she’s begun bathing. Gingerly she makes her way in, wading through knee-deep water, the warmth of the sunlight quickly giving way to an echoing chill, the only blue glow coming from the sea round her feet.

What has excited the seagulls is dead and repulsive, with milky eyes and an army of tiny, sharp teeth. But what’s discovered above it would prove all too distracting for anyone.

 

There’s a wealth of preparatory work and unused art in the back including some spectacular, tsunami-wave storm scenes of biblical proportions but before you get there you can also look forward to: fish beaching themselves en masse; more strange carvings with dates and initials; family revelations; a thick chain clanking ominously against a well’s iron grate; blinding sea fog, one man’s forever haunted eyes, and elderly Suzanne looking as though she were drawn by Nick Park.

Note: this has been translated, yes – quite often it’s easier to find interior art in a book’s original language.

SLH

Buy Water Memory and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

The psychological self-examination of one affable if awkward young man’s descent into mass murder.

If you think it improbable that you will root for the guy, I’d remind you that such is the strength of Brubaker’s internal monologues that the self-contained CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF INNOCENT had us all desperately praying that a man could get away with uxoricide.

This is the periodical I pick up first no matter what else is on offer on any given week.

There’s nothing sensationalist about it. Our narrator is an astute individual with a keen moral compass, and that’s as much of a trigger as anything. Much of the priming in terms of mental isolation has already been explored, but the other trigger – the core motivation, if you like – is an element of the first KILL OR BE KILLED which I deliberately kept from you for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to elaborate here, either, except to say that there is a moment of discovery on the part of his best friend Kira which leaves her in fear for Dylan’s safety, while holed up in his closet as he makes love to an ex-girlfriend. Kira, it should be noted, is undoubtedly the love of his life, but lest he blurts out something incriminating he’s been keeping her at a distance, even as she confides in him.

It’s not this discovery that he’s worried about, but he should be.

And it explains everything which you may have puzzled over in book one.

Where Dylan has become compromised is with both the NYPD and the Russian mob now, after one public blunder (or a spot of bad luck) and a miscalculation about just how wide the Russians’ net is spread and how tenacious they can be. Fortunately institutional sexism and male police pride may give him some breathing space for now, but the Russians are more open-minded and resourceful.

There’s little more that I didn’t explore in my substantial review of KILL OR BE KILLED VOL 1 (so I’d refer you there instead) including Sean Phillips’s decision to retain his three-tier structure while throwing the art full-bleed, right to edges of each page, so that you’re no longer kept at an observational distance but thrust right into the heart of the action and Dylan’s head.

Here’s more of his self-justification:

“Lobbyists aren’t all bad, of course. Some lobby for human rights or the environment. But most of the time, they work for big business and what they do is, they pay a lot of money to politicians to pass laws or repeal regulations… so the corporations they work for can do whatever the fuck they want.
“Gideon Prince was the kind of lobbyist who helped put poison in your drinking water and then laughed about it to his buddies.
“And what I mean is, he’d done that exact thing…
“And yes, look – I know this one is sort of a stretch. He didn’t personally poison that ground water. But people who can look at dumping chemicals as a good thing because it saves them money… who can make fun of the people who are suffering because of it?
“It’s hard to argue the world wouldn’t be better off without them.”

He’s exceptionally self-aware and quite the philosophical conversationalist when it comes to his audience if not his few “friends” whom he keeps at a remove. He’s not deluding himself, except when it comes to that one key element which, when you discover it, is sadly so common.

Most of his longer reflections and reminiscences are aligned down blank vertical columns outside of the art, giving them chance to breathe, but don’t get too complacent about what’s being shown there, that’s all I’ll say.

I never intended this second review to be anything but brief, but you could write an essay on the body language alone: little details which either Brubaker or Phillips drops in, like Detective Lily Sharpe – the one on the ball whom her fellow officers studiously dismiss and ignore – who was raised in foster care between several group homes, reading on the bottom bunk of a bed, the toes of her bare feet digging self-protectively into the duvet as someone else’s dangle over the top.

There’s something squat, rough and ready about Dylan’s physique and physiognomy. It’s not simian, but it’s burly and certainly atypical of most protagonists’, both within comics and without; I keep thinking of the Gallagher brothers from Oasis.

Anyway, with police attention now drawn, so is the media’s and I suspect Sean will become quite sick of drawing news stands before Dylan’s done.

Dylan is forced to become more reactive while increasingly restricted, and even though you know that he lives to tell this tale (if not under what circumstances), you will be kept on the edge of that proverbial seat, toes possibly digging into the carpet.

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet (£7-99, Papercut) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis.

“My life was over the day I ran away.”

One bloody-nosed, flat-on-his-back and barely conscious close-up later, you’re swept straight into action on the previous day.

With the elements against him, twelve-year-old Erik Farrell is racing through the rain under a storm-shrouded sky, looking fearfully over his shoulder. Dodging traffic, he dashes for the relative safety of Central Park, past protesting pedestrians, their umbrellas caught in the squall, and dives for cover under a rock.

“People say that running away doesn’t solve anything at all. “Find somebody to talk to,” they tell you. But when you talk to them they just don’t understand. If you’ve never thought about running away, you’re just lying to yourself. Sometimes, we all just need space to figure things out.”

Clutching another kid’s bear-shaped backpack, he falls asleep, exhausted and oblivious to the obsidian, red-eyed goblin creatures taking his measure. When he wakes up in the morning, it’s a jungle out there. It’s the very moment of peace which Erik will enjoy to figure anything out.

From now on he will be climbing, swimming and sprinting for his life in an exotic but alien land called Chimerika, a composite country full of strange creatures at war, and said to have been patched together from the most dangerous worlds by a dragon-like chimera called Baalikar. It can be anything and see everything. And it now has Erik very much in its sights.

Throwing your protagonist straight in at the unknowing deep end is an excellent way to get your readers on board both with the adventure, the environment and the poor lad desperately trying to navigate it by thinking fast on his feet and puzzle his way out of trouble. You’re learning as he’s learning, and there is plenty to discover, for example why the moon appears to be broken, its shattered shards suspended in space around the rupture. Constantly captured by one faction or another, Erik gleans what he can from each, but their own knowledge is limited to what little they’ve learned themselves, what they have time to impart in a rare, spare moment or whether they have any inclination to do so.

Vitally, however, Gallaher maintains young minds’ investment in Erik with all the real-world baggage he’s carrying with him, so familiar to so many: issues of self-confidence, impotence in an existence which is dictated by the authority of adults or, here, those he encounters, all of whom are bigger and more brutal than he.

A little pluck goes a long way and Erik is determined to do what he can. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he fails, but he does have a go and that, Gallaher reminds us, is what’s important. Also, I feel that this will speak to so many:

“I hate making choices.
“I really hate making the wrong choices.
“At my age, everything feels like the wrong choice.”

Artist Steve Ellis, meanwhile, makes all the right choices, accentuating Erik’s strengths which lie during combat in his relatively small size, keeping him running flat-our and low. As early as the opening few pages he’s charging with his arms and torso thrust forward, close to the ground, nipping between others far more nimbly than an adult would.

Sometimes he’s assertive and cheeky, but more often aghast.

And, oh, there is so much that is monstrous to make wide eyes shine like marbles: huge variety in the various species and individuals with – I see from the next book’s preview – far more to come. His demonic scouts early on reminded me of the lithe, pitch-black subterranean creatures from the episode of John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR where we finally met Ben’s Aunt Petunia, and Ellis does a mean, ominous glint in the eye.

Tantalisingly by the end of this first instalment, we remain in the realm of clues rather than answers.

What is Baalikar up to? Well, there’s the Census in operation: what appears to be a series of experiments and appraisals by Doctor Once, particularly interested in the science of sectarian transpecies. He appears to be something of a duality himself.

Both alliances and enemies have been made: never take for granted which one is which.

Lessons have been learned, but there’s been no respite as of yet during which to put them into practice.

It’s suddenly all grown a lot more complicated and definitely dangerous but, no, I wouldn’t say that Erick’s life was over at all. I do believe that it has only just begun.

Families, young readers, we have a new winner. Books two, three and four in stock next week.

SLH

Buy The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet and read the Page 45 review here

Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! (£10-99, Oxford Press) by Sarah McIntyre, Philip Reeve.

“Do you have any complaints about this book? Write them in the box provided. Please write clearly.”

The box is 5mm squared.

I have never read a funnier kids’ creativity book in my astonishingly long life.

From the cover to cover, it is one big monkey-barrel of laughs; a mischievous and immersive engagement between the two co-creators and their soon to be enraptured, educated and thoroughly inspired young audience.

McIntyre and Reeve are born performers and creatively generous partners. Both authors, both artists, they bounce off each others’ bonkers ideas, adding an extra flourish here and a cheeky post-script there until every page is jam-packed with all the irreverent exuberance that your sugar-buzzed bambino could possibly cope with.

This is the very opposite of those bland, perfunctory, slap-a-puzzle-down, supermarket, rubber-dummy cash-cows.

This is art. It’s entertainment.

It is carefully controlled anarchy.

Even the opening About The Authors splash-page is bursting with individuality and neat things to do: there’s a mug to embellish with any silly slogan, dust bunnies to draw under Sarah’s desk (I don’t vacuum far enough under there, either), and Philip has unwisely left his trousers un-patterned for you to redefine him in the loudest fashion imaginable.

Their table-top work space is a well of creativity and they encourage you too to contribute. “Colour this page!” they suggest.

You can colour every page if you like, including their comics like ‘The Magnificent Dartmoor Pegasus’ or brand-new new ones which they’ve since made up based – like this entire extravagance – on their best-selling illustrated prose PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE and JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR all of which Page 45 has reviewed and keeps permanently in stock on our massive spread of blindingly colourful all-ages shelves!

It’s like revisiting your favourite friends – then drawing all over them!

Yes, there are comics! Comics for you to read, comics for you to create: comics for you to enjoy and absorb first in order to get the general gist of how the mechanics might work, then blank panels for you to fill in between a provocative kick-start and a cuddly conclusion.

You’ll be encouraged to write, you’ll be encouraged to draw! You’ll be actively discouraged from flinging poo.

There’s even a new song to sing, and I have spent over an hour honing my already considerable vocal skills (*entire family plus everyone I’ve ever met convulses with laughter*) to the Sea Monkey shanty which I plan to perform a cappella the very next day that Sarah and Philip fail to run away from me in time.

They’ve become quite fleet of foot.

Some activities are free-form “Go for your life!” exhortations, but more often than not Reeve and McIntrye will offer you examples of their own demented imaginings like ‘Pugémon Go!’ playing cards complete with names, illustrations, powers, strengths and weaknesses, then leave increasingly blank entries for you to design and refine your own. Completed example:

“Name: Pugatchoo
“Powers: Turbo-Sneeze
“Strength: 20
“Weakness: Tissues”

Semi-complete:

“Name: Skellipug
“Powers:
“Strength: 10
“Weakness: Gnaws His Own Legs”

Well, he is made of bone! What would you imagine his powers might be? X-Ray Vision…? Tom-Waits-style ‘Clap Hands’ echoing percussion…? The uncanny ability to scare the living be-jeezus out of your Old Auntie Adderline…?

Invisipug is left entirely blank but probably won’t require much illustration, yet you’ve the rest of its stats to whip up on your own. With Aquapug you have free illustrative as well as stat-orientated rein on, and there are three more completely empty entries including names. Plus: what is to stop you then cutting out cardboard and making a whole new deck of your own Pugémon, Pokémon or any other set of cards to actively play with just like Top Trumps?! Nothing!

That’s how exciting, empowering and inspiring this all is, but “increasingly” is ever so clever: McIntyre and Reeve will never throw you in at the deep end unless you’re a Sea Monkey, in which case you probably deserve it.

That brings us to the ‘Which Character Are You?’ Question & Answer survey towards the end. You’re presented with seven hypotheticals whose answers will determine whether you are more like A) Iris the Mermaid from OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, B) Astra from CAKES IN SPACE, C) Shen from PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH or D) for dunce: a Sea Monkey once more from OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS.

Now, I don’t want you pre-judging me, but my ‘Best Subject At School’ was neither Swimming, Xenobiology nor Art. Also, the only reason I have time to type this review is that I may – inadvertently or on purpose – have defenestrated my television set.

Oh dear. I know I deserve it.

*SPLOSH*

P.S. I’m infinitely better at reading David O’Connell and Sarah McIntyre’s Young Readers’ illustrated JAMPIRES rhyme to youngsters on the shop floor than I am at singing. I really am. Honest to goodness. Try me! Recommended.

SLH

Buy Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! and read the Page 45 review here

Close Enough For The Angels h/c (£31-99, Petty Curse Books) by Paul Madonna.

“Dear Reader,

Whoever you are, whenever you are, and whatever events have transpired for you to be reading this, I just want to begin by saying that, like everything I have ever made, this book is a reaction to circumstance – the reflexive yelp after stubbing a toe; the burst of laugher upon hearing a good joke; the irrepressible cry of relief after having, once more, dragged myself back from the well.

 – Emit Hopper 04/03/14”

Emit Hopper is the protagonist, and those are the first words you’ll read.

The date’s in American, though that matters not one jot for the purpose of this review.

For a start, it is compromised by my having read a mere 65 of 450 pages and only begun to absorb half of its 106 predominantly double-page landscape illustrations in Indian ink – line and wash – on watercolour paper.

I can assure you that I will be drinking those in for many months to come, while absorbing the prose as fast as I am able then issuing a more rounded review. But I am a very slow reader and there is some degree of urgency here.

For a start, this is the latest from the great Paul Madonna whose illustration-driven, snap-shot narratives I first discovered in the form of ALL OVER COFFEE while browsing through an exceptionally personable independent bookstore in the Castro District of San Francisco. You won’t find Madonna in 99.9% of comic shops, no, for he is distributed exclusively by Ingram in America.

Secondly on the snooze-you-lose front, I see that – at the time of typing – a mere week after publication  there are just 150 copies of a total print run of 5,000 left for sale on the western seaboard of America which is all we’ll ever have access to. The west coast is understandably better served: Paul Madonna is, deservedly, a very big name in San Francisco.

His second, architecture-orientated album EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD was also set there, as was his first foray into illustrated prose, a slimmer, wit-ridden socio-political satire very much in the vein of early Evelyn Waugh complete with helpless and hapless naïf buffeted about by insane circumstances and ever so slightly surreal forces beyond his control called ON TO THE NEXT DREAM.

This too is bountifully illustrated prose, but after a mere 65 pages of this 450-page epic it is already clear that this is a far more involved, profound and exotic beast than ON TO THE NEXT DREAM which I had read in full before that review and which I rate very highly indeed.

Half of it appears to take place – or have taken place – in Thailand.

So imagine what that does for the illustrations.

The endpapers alone tantalise with a path leading down a higgledy-piggeldy, hand-railed bank of bamboo steps towards an enclosure defined by a barricade of bamboo stakes and wooden planks, and a lychgate-like aperture: a gate off the latch and ajar, leading through to heaven knows where?

So many other drawings portray steps and bridges which beg the same question; as well as lush fronds, carvings and sculpture.

If I were to define this based on what I have read so far, I’d call it a mystery: a mystery for us and a mystery for its level-headed protagonist, Emit Hopper, who may not be immune to the impulse or foolhardy.

An acclaimed American author who once left his readers believing  that he might well be dead, Emit Hopper’s star is now once more in the ascendance following his revival in Japan. He gave up the musical, literary and celebrity ghost voluntarily two decades ago in favour of running his own quiet, simple, virtually anonymous laundromat service. But his past is far more convoluted than that and his future suggests complications.

Publisher blurb:

“As he’s drawn back into the limelight he meets Julia, a former celebrity chef with a dark past. But when she disappears while hiking with two other women, Emit finds himself chasing down a mystery that promises to leave him forever changed.”

The thing is this: Julia wasn’t the first woman in his life to go travelling, or missing. Many years ago, there was Marie.

Now I know a review from us, whom I do hope you trust, without being in complete command of the facts is something of a risk, especially when you’re contemplating coughing up over thirty quid. I don’t think I’ve ever published one before.

All I can tell you is this: I am currently engaged in my second immediate read-through of Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’, as well as on the cusp of completing Fredrik Backman’s equally exceptional ‘A Man Called Ove’ prose fiction on top of all the glorious sequential art I need to read and review weekly… and I cannot put this down. I’ve read it as fast and as furiously as I can because it will not let me do otherwise, and because I wanted to give you some taster before copies run out on us forever. Paul Madonna is massive at Page 45.

So here’s another thread: Emit has an identical twin. The way Madonna describes their relationship is perfect. It’s like they lived is glass houses: they are transparent to each other at least, However opaque most of us are to others we love – however many deeply absorbing, meandering conversations it takes us to burrow beneath those surfaces and get a good glimmer of the real light within – Emit and his brother did everything instinctively together as one because, really, they were.

And then, two decades ago, with his brother riding high on Chinese-soap-opera-superstardom, everything between them abruptly went dark when his brother’s unexpected mental illness set in, and an extra shroud or curtain was pulled down on top.

Imagine that level of almost unique, intuitive communication blacked out.

Twenty years ago Emit wrote a novel:

“It was called ‘Glass Houses’. An allegorical story about the loneliness and isolation that comes from having to watch a brother shatter into a pile of broken shards, and not be able to do anything about it.”

All I can give you is pieces of a puzzle which I’ve yet to solve.

But, in a way, that is the purest pitch possible.

SLH

Buy Close Enough For The Angels h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Demon vol 3 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga.

Jason Shiga, meticulous with detail, is known neither for imprecision nor for being random.

He is a logic-driven puzzle-maker and a puzzle-solver. In DEMON VOL 1 he invited you to solve a seemingly baffling, complex conundrum involving life, death and resurrection before his protagonist did. The satisfaction after the final reveal – when you then go back and realise how watertight it all is – will have you grinning your heads off then evangelical in spreading the word.

Alas, spreading the word in this case is problematic without spoilers: I’d have to tell you exactly what was happening to prove its ingenuity. Instead in my review, I showed you what was happening without telling you how or why. I sort of drew you a map without providing all its topography or topology.

But if reviewing DEMON VOL 1 was knife-edge tight, reviewing DEMON VOL 2 without spoiling the first instalment was nigh-impossible, though I had a damn good go at some considerable length.

Volume 3…? Forget it.

All I will say is that there is a marked change of pace initially following a substantial change of setting, for things have… moved on. Things have moved so far on that the biggest problem Jimmy Yee now faces after being pursued relentlessly by the Office of Strategic Services… is ennui.

The OSS bar one man are all dead, and Jimmy has become so adept at utilising his almost unique condition for pleasure and gain with no care for the pain that he can do so with impunity. He has lost all sense of ambition, proportion, perspective, enjoyment and empathy, except for one other.

However, it is the precise nature of this condition – both its extensions and limitations (the rules of the game, if you like) – that allows a man as mathematically gifted as lateral-thinking Shiga to pull blinder after blinder right to the end of this penultimate volume.

So much so that there is a completely unexpected 50-page action sequence in the middle of this that is so breathlessly and relentlessly spectacular that there’s no time for any verbal exchange. There is, therefore, the same 50-page gap between the self-assured defiance of one combatant… and its concurring or retaliatory punchline. I won’t tell you which.

That is laugh-out-loud timing.

Reminder: adults only, or there will be some v awkward conversations come family dinner-time.

SLH

Buy Demon vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Ibraim Roberson.

Yes, okay, this was unexpectedly good fun.

Jay Leisten’s inks over Greg Land’s pencils has calmed down their overly slippery photorealism, breaking them up into something no less sturdy but far more involving. Too much gloss and you become removed from the proceedings: distanced to the point of uninvolved spectator. Land’s Old Man Logan is one of the best interpretations I’ve seen, bearing both a humanity and spirit and – when required – a twinkle of experienced wisdom in his eyes.

Thankfully, there’s also a great deal less objectification of the female cast, even though in one specific instance their predicament could have easily given opportunity for more.

Plus almost every Wolverine tale worth its salt will have at least one moment of bucolic tranquillity and a deer.

Oh wait, we don’t call him Wolverine now that he has grey whiskers, do we? He’s OLD MAN LOGAN and if you have no idea what that mean, then our reviews should sort you out.

My eyebrows knotted occasionally at some of the preposterous plot mechanics (if the Weapon X programme is so desperate for these five mutants’ DNA, how is it that the relatively new Hulk, Amadeus Cho, has them all on file to make indentifying comparison points; also why?), but Greg Pak’s dialogue here comes with a credible cadence for each individual along with equally credible twists for their novel new relationships – especially Logan’s and Sabretooth’s as allies – without once seeming forced or hokey. You can tell when someone is contract-bound, deadline-driven, work-for-hire writing-by-the-the-numbers but, far from predictable, it’s actually delightfully deft.

Also clean: a clean start with clean art.

It’s certainly no HAWKEYE or MS MARVEL nor DOCTOR STRANGE – each of which are relatively genre-free, less esoteric so excellent starting points for Marvel Comics – but if you really relish involved, superhero fisticuffs and are on the look-out for something else, this proved infinitely more fun for me than anything else currently being published by this confused and somewhat detached corporation outside of JESSICA JONES and INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN which has since become the even more enjoyably unpredictable INFAMOUS IRON MAN, both being written by Bendis.

So: in order to eradicate all mutants, a secretly revived off-shoot of WEAPON X has begun to capture previous recipients of its somewhat invasive medical procedures or other mutants with keen skills to add to their weaponised, bi-pedal arsenal. Every time they succeed and so upgrade their reconstituted assassins makes it more difficult for future targets to evade their grasp. Old Man Logan attempts to rally his similarly assaulted, potential new victims, but sometimes his reach and his speech don’t prove long or convincing enough to win anyone over.

Thank goodness for young genius Amadeus Cho, then. Being human, he’s not on the hit-list. As a caring individual who cannot abide the American authorities’ disdain nay disgust for minorities, he is the mutants’ most welcome ally. As the new Hulk, prepared to stick his green head above the parapet upon their behalf, he is also their potential saviour.

But as an involuntary blood donor straying far too close into Weapon X’s predatory, opportunist sites, he may well prove the ultimate Weapon of Mass Mutant Destruction.

SLH

Buy Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Nights: Metal #1 (£4-25, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo…

“Whoa. Big door. Vic, I’m sending you over the image…”
“Got it, Barry. I’ve run it over a thousand times already. But it keeps coming up unknown…”

Said big door being on the entrance to the hidden bunker in the centre of the huge mountain that has just materialised in the middle of Gotham City… destroying most of the city centre, sky scrapers and all…

Long-time DC fans will immediately recognise it as the base of the Challengers Of The Unknown, who these days work for… ah, well that would be telling. I do like how Snyder is managing to work all sorts of DC history into this tale already, be it references to individual bat-books which I suspect may prove key like BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE written by Grant Morrison, or lesser used third-string characters like the C.O.T.U.

It is a bit weird having to remember in this current version of the DC Universe that the Justice League has no idea who the Challengers are yet (Batman aside, obviously, being his usual know-it-all self), given how fundamentally involved I can remember them being around the DEATH OF SUPERMAN era. Plus I am pretty sure at some point it was established Rip Hunter was Booster Gold’s son. I think there was also a very odd, brief-lived, New 52 incarnation involving reality TV ‘stars’ as the Challengers if the memory serves. Plus, given Jack Kirby is at the very least partially credited with their creation waaaaay back in Showcase #6 from 1957 it is also a nice timely little nod to the King in the year of what would have been his 100th birthday.

Anyway, DC never particularly worried about re-writing their history with the various Crises and other events over the years. There are also a couple of much more familiar characters who crop up in this issue too, who will be very well known to even casual DC readers. If not the Justice League, yet…

So… following on from events in the Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting one-shots, we are now aware that something not so fun and cuddy from… elsewhere… is on the way, apparently being drawn to this reality in some strange way by Bruce Wayne, who could actually do with a good cuddle, so that’s a shame. There’s a nifty and amusing explanation involving a certain poster of the New 52 Multiverse that probably graced more than a few comic shop walls a few years back which sheds an absence of light on the situation, and that’s probably all I should really say by way of plot explanation at the moment.

There’s a lot, lot more rammed into this issue, mind, which is relentlessly action-packed, including even a prologue battle that will titillate fans of enormous, transforming Japanese robots… It does hav the potential to all get completely preposterous and ridiculous, mind you, but hopefully Snyder can keep it on track.

Capullo, meanwhile, continues to impress with his linework. He and Snyder, team responsible for the BATMAN DC New 52 run, are excellent foils for each other. If as a writer you are going to try and cram in that much action, you do need someone that can deliver clean, precise mayhem. I’m really enjoying this so far; I just hope it doesn’t end up collapsing under its own weight. After all, metal… I mean preposterousness… is very heavy…

JR

Buy Dark Nights: Metal #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hookjaw (£13-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & Conor Boyle…

“Ship’s minion Mag, meet Big Bertha. Quite possibly the dominant £$%&in’ member of the world-famous Virgin Brides. Ain’t she a beaut?”
“Think that’s a good contact, Professor. And… what do you mean, possibly dominant? Don’t you know? Over.”
“I mean there’s only so much £$%&in’ social observation you can do with binoculars and fishblood, love.”

I think, given the comic is called HOOKJAW, that might possibly turn out to be untrue by the end.

But long before then you’ll probably be enthralled by the antics of Professor Leyland and her merry crew who are looking for evidence of cooperative behaviour in packs of Great Whites. They’ve been tracking their chosen chums, with the aid of chum, monitoring their movements in the Somali coastal region, famed for being one of the most polluted ocean regions on the planet. Now, what else is Somalia renowned for…? Ah yes… pirates.

Boarded by AK47-wielding buccaneers, you might think Professor Leyland would be a trifle perturbed but no, it’s all old hat to her. There follows a hilarious sequence where the cabin boy, a local lad, is interpreting between the pirates and crew. Well, “interpreting” might be putting a Malcom-Tucker-sized spin on it, given the artistic licence he’s applying to both questions and answers. Very amusing.

But that’s all brought to a rather abrupt halt by the unexpected arrival of a third party. Nope, not our toothsome lead just yet, though rest assured Hookjaw is following verrrry closely behind, and it seems this shark already has developed a taste for seal. U.S. Navy Seal, that is…

Penned by Si CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE / THE SPIRE / CRY HAVOC Spurrier, with his usual trademark dark humour accompanying the (fish) guts and gore, I am already as snagged as the titular shark. I’ll admit I was rather sceptical about the need for reviving a forty-year-old classic but then Humanoids’ CARTHAGO with its equally large, jagged teeth has been an instant hit here. I just can’t believe it’s truly that long ago I was avidly reading HOOKJAW as a young kid in ACTION, bemused by the fact that humans, rather than the titular, flesh-hungry character, seemed to be the bad guys.

Conor Boyle’s art wouldn’t look out of place in an arc of CROSSED, actually, and so is perfect for this title. One thing I am a bit puzzled about – and I have had the exact same comment from a customer – is that Hookjaw seems to have had some unnecessary cosmetic dental work. Whereas before the hook projected out of the skin just below the bottom row of teeth, in the middle, hence the name, now there’s a long, straight harpoon stuck through the side of the head protruding directly out of the mouth. It looks very much as though, were the barb to catch on anything, the harpoon would pull straight out. Odd.

Anyway, it’s not going to spoil my enjoyment of this title, which I suspect will only be a mini-series or two. It was a fairly limited premise forty years ago. I think there were only three story arcs if memory serves and I can’t imagine even a writer as talented as Si Spurrier can come up with too much to keep it going for too long. So I shall enjoy the nostalgia dip whilst it lasts. Now, where did I leave my can of shark repellent…?

JR

Buy Hookjaw and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

There’s been a Bank Holiday!

Below you’ll find last week’s new books. If they’re new formats of previous graphic novels, reviews may already be up; others will have retained their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

This week’s new books will be added just as soon as we are able at which point this paragraph will be replaced. Bank Holidays, eh? Hope you enjoyed yours!

Water Memory (£13-99, Roar) by Raynes Mathieu & Valerie Vernay

My Pretty Vampire (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Katie Skelly.

Close Enough For The Angels h/c (£31-99, Petty Curse Books) by Paul Madonna

Demon vol 3 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

Hookjaw (£13-99, Titan) by Simon Spurrier & Conor Boyle

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Conor Nolan, Feifei Ruan, Brandon Dayton, Jared Cullen

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (£12-99, Seven Seas) by Nagata Kabi

Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! (£10-99, Oxford Press) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

The Beauty vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun, Thomas Nachlik

Sky Doll: Sudra h/c (£17-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa

Wonder Woman vol 3: The Truth s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Liam Sharp

Deadpool World’s Greatest vol 8: Til Death Do Us… s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan, Joshua Corin, Christopher Hastings & Salva Espin, Scott Koblish

The Mighty Captain Marvel vol 1: Alien Nation s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Margaret Stohl & Ramon Rosanas, Elizabeth Torque, various

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 7 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Neal Adams, various, Mike Deodato

Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Ibraim Roberson

X-Men Blue vol 1: Strangest s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Jorge Molina, Matteo Buffagni, Julian Lopez, others

X-Men Gold vol 1: Back To Basics s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Ardian Syaf

Assassination Classroom vol 17 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Legend Of Zelda vol 12: Twilight Princess vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

One Piece vol 83 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Platinum End vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Tokyo Ghoul vol 14 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Vampire Knight: Memories vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week three

August 16th, 2017

Featuring Joff Winterhart, Seth, Jiro Taniguchi, Yuki Fumino, Elijah Brubaker, Iou Kuroda, Valerie D’Orazio, Rob Williams, Laurence Cambell, more…

Venice (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi.

“Then I discovered my grandfather’s name in the guest book of an old hotel.”

Venice is a city of surprises.

It’s a city of gently lapping water, of dazzling light reflected on its undulating surfaces; of bridges, of sighs, of the Bridge of Sighs; of echoing footsteps and silent facades which are no less impressive when crumbling. But more than anything, Venice is a city of surprises.

If Paris is a city of vistas where everything was re-designed to be seen through, under or over, so that wherever you roam you know where you are, Venice is far more tantalising. You can catch glimpses under and over those pedestrian bridges, be they built of wood or stone, but such are its circuitous and labyrinthine trails within the embrace of its serpentine Grand Canal that all is revealed only gradually and most unexpectedly, as you take one random turn then the next.

It’s magnificent, it’s mysterious and it is coquettish. It is my favourite place in the world.

For Jiro Taniguchi, on his first trip to Venice, the city becomes a deep well of visual inspiration but also personal, familial discovery.

“I hadn’t known that my mother and grandmother had been in Venice.
“My mother never talked about my grandmother.”

Upon the death of his mother, Taniguchi discovers an exquisitely lacquered box containing old photographs and hand-drawn postcards of Venice in the 1920s or 1930s which hint at a family history he never knew and promise further revelations if only he can track down the specific locations and follow the bread crumbs on to bars, hotels and more permanent lodgings. Evidently his mother had also been an exceptionally proficient artist, but so had Jiro’s grandfather.

“A postcard by my grandfather.
“Grandfather, what kind of life did you lead in this city?”

This is non-fiction, but it’s the same searching, quietly contemplative voice one heard in A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Sparsely narrated so as not to intrude on your own perambulations (perhaps forty sentences in total?), we are presented instead with a personalised pencil and wash tour, and I cannot even begin to calculate the time each meticulously rendered, painted panel must have taken. Often there are up to five per page, but there are also dozens of full landscape spreads and one spectacular, double-page aerial panorama looking out over the domed, red-bricked church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo surrounded by smaller cream-coloured domiciles with their bright white chimneys rising up and so standing out against the horizontal planes of terracotta roof tiles. Even the yellow crane to the right is in harmony with the towers of the island beyond.

The album was commissioned by Louis Vuitton as part of its series of deluxe travel books in which artists were invited to bring their sensibilities to bear on cities foreign to them, so I’m sure that Taniguchi was recompensed in full, and it’s a consideration which our favourite Japanese comic creator – both mine and Jonathan’s – rewards with a winking nod towards the finale.

However much it looks like an art book on the first-inspected surface, it is a sequential-art narrative as you wend your way, guided by Jiro, around each corner, down tall, narrow passageways and over the smaller canals in search of the next stunning spectacle or clue as to how his grandfather lived and worked in Venice.

This is the giant responsible for GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, A DISTANT NEIGHBOUROOD, FURARI, QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL etcetera, and he will not disappoint.

We begin – as any approach to Venice should – by boat, surging across the expansive blue-green lagoon towards the north of the city which lies low on the horizon, our eyes tantalisingly drawn towards its vanishing-point promise by the wooden bricola. And it is a promise rather than a full revelation, for the real treasures lie within.

Immediately we’re rushed to Piazza San Marco (and if you can resist doing precisely that, I would be very much surprised), the Byzantine Basilica first hinted at in a crystal-clear puddle’s reflection before being revealed in its full glory beyond the Campanile. Ascending the bell tower early on, as he does, is a top-tip for gleaning your first and possibly last sense of overall, topographical context.

 

Taniguchi’s ability to capture not just the intricacies of the ornate cupolas and the magnificence of the golden, winged lion, but also the different skies which may soar above them (dry brush for the upwards shot of the tower / wet brush for the full landscape spread) is thrilling, phenomenal.

His lines are crisp and clean but also more delicate than mere photorealism, his colours softer and oh, when it rains! From under an umbrella our explorer gazes in wonder at yet another blinding facade, this time that of San Giorgio Maggiore, and it is here that his keen judgement on the varied strengths of line for different degrees of semi-relief really comes into play. Its Palladian white marble brilliance, reflected in ripples on the wet stone below, boasts both engaged, structural columns and decorative pilasters, both adorned with Corinthian capitals. If seen straight on it would have seemed far flatter, but the angle allows the artist to accentuate its depth as well as its symmetry, while the three tourists gathered in conversation closer to the church emphasise its scale and weight.

Many of his meanderings are far more relaxed and some of his discoveries more bizarre. Around the Arsenale towards the south-east of the main island, Taniguchi almost does a double-take as he spies a leviathan of a cruise ship passing what appears to be comically close, its contrasting modernity dwarfing the buildings and footbridge in the foreground. So that’s, umm, another way to enter Venice.

 

The page which immediately follows shows him holding his jacket and slightly dumfounded against the more ancient, castellated shipyard area behind him.

Eventually Jiro finds himself back in San Marco, this time in the evening when the colonnades are lit up to glorious, golden effect against a sable-coloured sky while tourists dine at the posher places and Italian residents take their customary pre- or post-prandial passeggiata along the broad quayside under the shining orbs of free-standing lamps.

After that, there’s time for more than a few final flourishes – several statues and two different views of the white, Baroque, grey-domed Santa Maria della Salute before a fond farewell and a solemn promise to return, delivered with customarily Japanese gratitude.

“Oribe Tsugo, where are you now?
“I will come back and find you. Thank you, dear grandfather.”.

Now, Taniguchi didn’t take all this in nor draw it in one day (!), so I don’t advise that you attempt to absorb this in a single sitting, either. Ridiculously, you will become immune, almost inured to its majesty; bloated on its intoxicating beauty rather than drunk on its detail.

This is the advantage of the painted page browsed at your leisure: that you can focus on the intricacies of an individual balustrade or the effect on its surroundings of a trailing window box. Although there is nothing like the first-hand, eye-candy explosion of a city like Venice, a book like this enables one to sit back and appreciate in detail what might be lost in one long weekend’s exhilarating, overwhelming experience. Inevitably your eyes dart all over the place, such are the limitless wealth of monumental distractions vying for your attention, but with a book like this sat on your lap you can smile in remembrance of everything you adored, or in sublime anticipation of a unique experience yet to come.

There are more verdant areas here that I have evidently yet to discover, so I just know I’m going back. Plus I’ve never seen Venice in the rain. I shouldn’t and do not complain, but I want at least once to see Venice from under an umbrella.

Further, unapologetically personal if irreverent notes (you can honestly stop reading now):

All roads led to the Rialto. It doesn’t matter where you think you’re heading, you will wind up on the Rialto Bridge. On my third visit to Venice I effectively short-circuited that mildly amusing inconvenience by booking us a hotel room right on the Rialto. We returned safely and immediately home every evening.

Random turns: they will be random whether you wander map-free or not. Your ability to navigate Venice with any degree of accuracy will prove inversely proportionate to your injudiciously declared confidence. Being lost is one of its many great pleasures.

View from the Campanile. Get your bearings early, however short-lived!

Selected bits of Venice rotate overnight by 90 degrees. This renders any memorised routes unreliable. Honest advice…? Ignore maps, ditch them completely, and go with the flow. You can identify your destination upon arrival using a pocket guidebook. That’s much more satisfying.

If you have found cars, you have lost your way. I mean, really lost your way. There are no cars in Venice. Suggest re-spawning at San Marco then trying again.

Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore reflected in the rain and discussed in the main review. It was actually designed by Palladio himself!

Venice is a working city, which should go without saying, but somehow didn’t in what used to blind me as a fantasy land. But here we are introduced early on to its vegetable, fish and fruit markets which obviously aren’t catering for tourists but residents. So another top-tip is to rise bright and early at least one morning to mix with commuters on their way into work while the city is still quiet enough, tourist-free, so that you can hear their patent leather shoes clap-clop-clap on stone and share their en-route espressos. I love that washing hangs out on lines between some of the residential buildings. Presumably there’s some sort of pulley system. That’s neighbourly cooperation for you.

Do not attempt to open a bottle of wine alongside the Grand Canal with teenage girls watching you. If you do, do not attempt to mitigate your observed failure by rolling your sleeves up and then trying again. Your consequent, compounded, cork-screw failure will result in much vocalised mirth.

You cannot, alas, sleep on Venice’s train-station platform any longer. My mate Ian Marshall and I did during the 1980s when there was no room one Easter season at the proverbial inn. We had a brilliant, convivial night and awoke the next morning to find so many Venetian youths flocking in to wash then blow-dry their hair using the station’s sinks and hand-dryers (twisted upwards for maximum wind-tunnel effect).

There is if not a cul-de-sac on the Grand Canal to the east of the train station, then at least a virtually untrodden path leading nowhere, which you can find by crossing the train-station bridge southwards, heading just a little in-road and left over the first footbridge, then cutting back north to reappear on the Grand Canal with not one single soul passing by to bother you. Sitting together on the canal’s edge, legs dangling and swaying freely, then opening a bottle of Prosecco is an experience what I can only describe as a sustained, shared and spiritual orgasm as you absorb the reflected opulence of the facades opposite, waving gently and colourfully in the water.

I hope this has helped.

SLH

Buy Venice and read the Page 45 review here

Driving Short Distances (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joff Winterhart…

“Pasties’ll just be a couple of minutes boys. Mary, you met our new Saturday girl yet?”
“No, not yet. What’s she like?”
For all of Keith’s talk of ‘thin ice’ and ‘stern words to be had’ with her employer…
“She’s very quiet, but – between you and me – reckon she might be a bit of a dark horse.”
… this woman continues to work here…
“Yeah… you can just imagine finding her out of the back, taking topless selfies with a couple of cherry danishes…”
… apparently uncensored.
“…strategically placed, if you know what I mean! … AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
Keith does not look happy…
“… AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
… at all. But I wonder if our fellow customer mistakes his disapproval for just intense consideration of that last vanilla slice.

Yes, Keith is most assuredly not happy at this scandalous public display of impropriety in the bakery where he and Sam go to buy their lunchtime pasties every day without fail. But then Keith is a rather peculiar individual in his own right, being that classic British mix of both unashamedly reserved combined with a bucket load of inadvertently endearing eccentricities. There’s his relentless anecdotes about his former boss and mentor, Geoff Crozier, a larger than life character who seemingly filled the surrogate roles of uncle, big brother and father figure in Keith’s early employment, his mild distaste of fame-hungry, local-press-ever-present Councillor Mike Gibbs, an undying love for his King Charles Cavalier Spaniel (Apex Powder Blue Twice-Shy The Third a.k.a. Cleo), plus his encyclopaedic knowledge of the various movers and shakers in the local area.

So why on earth has Keith taken such an interest in our narrator, the shy, gangly Sam? Recently returned home to live with his mum at the ripe old age of 27 after a nervous breakdown, with any interest in his genuine talent for illustration and painting also seemingly shattered by the experience of just dealing with the demanding realities and daily drudgery of post-University life, Sam is in a somewhat fragile state and has come to the conclusion that what he needs to do for the moment is just find a very boring, stress-free job that will allow him to recuperate and get himself back together. So when Keith, apparently a second cousin of his absent father, last seen briefly at his parents’ wedding, appears with an offer to shadow him and teach him the ropes of his ‘distribution and delivery’ business, Sam feels the universe has spoken and decides to accept.

Now, before you get too excited imagining one Keith Lionel Nutt  as some sort of mysterious, shadowy small-town drug dealer, let me stop you right there. Keith sells spare parts for very dull industrial filtration machinery… No, as with his previous work DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, Joff Winterheart once again provides a masterful, absorbing study of the sheer banality of a very typical slice of the British population and their mundane, fairly pointless social interactions. I will however add that Keith is actually a little bit of a minor man of mystery and not just in his own mind, either…

So, as Sam and Keith spend hour after hour in close proximity, mainly driving round and round Keith’s ‘distribution and delivery’ route in his left-hand-drive car (another mystery), punctuated by popping in and out of various works’ receptions encountering receptionists, topping up on meat pasties as their appetites require, Sam finds himself ever more fascinated with Keith and his past. How did Keith end up here in this small town, doing this particular job, still living the bachelor lifestyle? Why do his friends and associates apparently view him behind his back as a figure of mild fun? And why did he really offer Sam a job? The answers, when Sam finally begins to get them, as matters very gradually wind up to the farcical conclusion, are as titteringly amusing as they are sadly poignant.

Joff’s created another very engaging work here. Much like the trials and travails of teenage boredom and partial parental estrangement which he nailed so perfectly in the DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, I think I can safely say we all have known a Keith. Probably more than one. And, if we’ve been particularly fortunate / unfortunate (take your pick) we’ve been a Sam to said Keith, learning more than we ever cared to know about the curious inner workings of their life and mind.

Art-wise, Joff has gone for the same brilliant utterly unglamorous style as before. Weak chins, saggy necks and hairy nostrils abound. I think it perfectly and very humorously captures the everyday man and woman, actually. There are no beautiful leading ladies or handsome hunks here, though Keith mentions he has occasionally been likened to Sean Connery, with a James Bond impersonation thrown in for good measure of course! I know you shouldn’t laugh at people, but you’ll find yourself hard pressed not to, I promise. Joff’s served up a vanilla slice of British comics heaven for us to enjoy. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure, but aren’t they the best kind..?

JR

Buy Driving Short Distances and read the Page 45 review here

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“Generally, each home was a little worse…
“… than the previous place we lived.
“But Louise Street was the worst yet.”

It wasn’t, however, the worst… We do get to that particular abode on a trailer park eventually, though, in this latest instalment of Seth’s rather heart-rending recollection of his formative years. Not that these reminiscences are without humour, not at all. Ever the master of self-deprecation, he also had me spluttering my tea out when I got to the following bit…

“By then, I was deeply into my “New Wave Guru” phase. A mess of clothing and dyed white hair.”

Now, trust me, if you’re picturing Seth in typical emo goth mode with wild locks and ragged apparel, you would be wrong. Ever a man of style and decorum he’s got the most amazing swept-back bouffant and shoulder length combo hairstyle paired with smart white shirt, black trousers with checked bottoms, a long black Victorian style raincoat, black shades, walking cane and the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips.

Well, actually, as he embarrassedly admits, he was rather lacking in decorum in this particular instance he illustrates, as he finally <ahem> reaches fourth base after randomly bumping into one of his childhood sweethearts several years later and promptly getting up and leaving without a word after dealing with their “unfinished business.” What a rotter! I hope she posts a proper photograph of this era Seth on social media if she has one, by way of revenge!!

As ever, this PALOOKAVILLE is a work of three parts: a slice of autobiography and a slice of Clyde Fans, neatly sandwiching some deliciously random filing, which this time round is a selection of individual pieces of art, mainly featuring period buildings, in his own inimitable, dapper style, which featured in two different recent gallery exhibitions.

I should add that for CLYDE FANS fans (sorry, couldn’t resist), this PALOOKAVILLE will be a sad, if fulfilling, moment as the epic story of Simon Matchcard draws to a conclusion by coming full circle back to the year 1957 where we left Simon at the end of the first CLYDE FANS volume. Here we see the epiphany which sets him on the course of what will turn out to be his long, lonely life. It’s a rather poignant scene, knowing as we do everything that is to follow. For here, Simon is nothing but full of optimism of what lies ahead, certain of the path he is taking and the rewards it will bring.

Eh dear.

JR

Buy Palookaville #23 and read the Page 45 review here

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino…

Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

I don’t know!

Even after finishing I’m not sure! When they talk about a gentle romantic comedy, this is like being oh so teasingly tickled with a feather duster. You don’t know whether you actually like it, but it does feel rather pleasant. Or so they tell me…

Actually, I’ve just read the publisher blurb on the reverse and the line… “More than friends, less than lovers…” is a note-perfect description of the peculiar relationship that develops between Kohei, the withdrawn, misunderstood student with a profound hearing disability and the ridiculously gregarious and irrepressibly happy Taichi, who just so happens to have a voice like a foghorn.

We open with a chance encounter involving Taichi falling through some foliage, shattering Kohei’s tranquil lunchtime in his favourite secluded spot on campus for hiding himself away. Following that dramatic entrance an unlikely friendship blossoms. Kohei offers the starving Taichi his bento box and deciding he needs to return the favour somehow, Taichi offers to be Kohei’s notetaker. Which is basically as it sounds, taking notes for him in class because Kohei can’t always hear the lecturer that well.

I then basically spent the rest of the book, which involves various mild misunderstandings and slightly awkward social situations, trying to work out if either Taichi fancied Kohei, Kohei fancied Taichi, or both. Given by the end I was none the wiser, you can probably correctly surmise this is not full-on Yaoi.

I’m not saying there isn’t a kiss, mind you, though infuriatingly, even the circumstances and camera angle surrounding their one ambiguous display of physical affection, only serves to further intrigue the reader as to precise what is, or isn’t, going on…

This softly-softly approach to the storytelling and also the very delicate art put me in mind a little of 5 CENTIMETRES A SECOND, which I also rather enjoyed for its off-beat approach. I don’t know if non-romance romance is an actual romance sub-genre, but that’s precisely what this is. There is apparently also a film adaptation which very recently opened in Japanese cinemas. I may have to check it out, if only to see if it reveals any answers to my questions!

JR

Buy I Hear The Sunspot and read the Page 45 review here

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker…

“Sir, your new bride is here.”
“Sigh, I don’t even know this chick. It’s a marriage of politics. Convenience.”
“Sir.”
“Fine.”
“What you do in this situation?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess being a palace guard is a little different than being king. No one has problems like I have.”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do I do if she’s fugly?”
“She won’t be fugly, sir.”
“She’s probably gross. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened.”
…….
“You must be Ahab, I’m Jezebel.”
“Awesome.”

Now, it maybe a while since you read the Old Testament – specifically Book Of Kings I and it’s imaginatively named sequel Book Of Kings II, which only goes to show the mass entertainment media has been flogging the proverbial sequel donkey since waaaaay back – but you probably recall the name of Jezebel. Phoenician Princess, wife of the Jewish King Ahab, and worshipper of idols.

Having won his heart with her stunning beauty Jezebel generally caused the King no end of trouble, particularly with the prophet Elijah, whom God was prone to having one-to-ones with about how to sort the current situation, which was usually by slaughtering the rival non-Jewish prophets and performing all manner of strange, inexplicable and thus impressive stunts to the masses. I would say miracles, but of course, even the mysterious ways in which Big G himself moves need a more earthly helping hand or two behind the scenes…

This, then, is basically the story of Jezebel, told as if written as an action comedy with modern dialogue. So, on the one hand, whilst it presents its source material factually (well, okay accurately might be a better word, given it’s mostly utter nonsense) as with Robert Crumb’s GENESIS, it is done as a humorous farce much like Tom Gauld’s (imminently back-in-print) GOLIATH.

If you liked Gauld’s deadpan take on biblical babblings, you’ll love this. I can actually see a bit of Tom in Elijah Brubaker’s art, along with a wee bit of Eric BERA THE ONE-HEADED TROLL Orchard too, particularly in the characters’ facial expressions. I also loved how God is portrayed as a bad-headed genie-like midget floating around on a cloud. Not quite as surreal as how he appears in GOODNIGHT PUNPUN, perhaps, but talking about as much sense, i.e. not a lot. I’d say not one to be taken seriously, therefore, but actually the reverse is true, so you can remember just how nonsensical the original material is…

JR

Buy The Story Of Jezebel and read the Page 45 review here

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda…

I remember buying Masamune Shirow’s original APPLESEED run back in the veritable day in the mid to late eighties and absolutely loving it for the beautifully illustrated, comedic cyberpunk instant classic it truly was. And his swiftly following, career-defining, GHOST IN THE SHELL, which alongside Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA set the bench mark for thoughtful, philosophical, yet all-action cyberpunk mayhem and are still very much admired and heavily emulated today.

I have at this point to emphatically state, this is not by Shirow. Iou Kuroda’s style is rather different, considerably looser and, from certain angles, giving the odd glimpse of Paul BATTLING BOY Pope. Who of course, spent considerable time in Japan following his initial rise to fame resulting in practically zero US sequential-art output. Not that Pope has ever been what one would describe as prodigious. A prodigy perhaps. Anyway, I digress.

 

 

This is also not Appleseed. It is, technically, given it features that series two main characters Deunan and her lover combat-cyborg Briareos. But this is a prequel which is set as they arrive in a conflict-ridden New York City and it is an altogether different beast to APPLESEED itself. I found it very, very difficult to read without continuously comparing to, and wanting more of, the original. It is pretty good in its own right though, and fans of APPLESEED should take a look if they are of a mind to have their nostalgia taste buds tantalised. Though this hors d’oeuvre will probably set them off heading up to the loft to rummage around and find the main course. Next stop for your humble reviewer? Yes, you’ve guessed it.

JR

Buy Appleseed: Alpha h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Valerie D’Orazio Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young & Laurence Campbell, Shawn Martinbrough, more.

Almost certainly the final PUNISHER MAX collection – a series in which the implacable one set his sights on real-world horror – and although it’s not as consistently, viciously and socio-politically satisfying as Garth Ennis’ tenure in the first four volumes, reviewed in depth and more often than not with Goran Parlov in tow, there are still some real, pithy gems.

Two I’d single out, both illustrated by Laurence Campbell, are written by Rob Williams (THE ROYALS – MASTERS OF WAR, ORDINARY, UNFOLLOW) and Valerie D’Orazio.

Williams’s ‘Get Castle’ was exceptionally topical for Britain given the half-hearted investigations by the army into its own severe, malicious and covered-up misconduct following several cadets’ suicides.

It’s set in the Brecon Beacons where the S.A.S. train. One rogue faction, back from Afghanistan, has found something else to do on its remote Welsh mountains and, without knowing how well he was connected, they hung Corporal Dan Mitchell whose father you may well remember from PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. They hung him naked after suspending him naked and for hours. Campbell draws the man naked. This is important, for it is as stark as it is dark, and ‘Max’ for Marvel means adults only. The rain and terrain are terrific.

 

Now there’s a stranger in town, an American. He’s made his intentions brazenly clear in the local pub: he’s come to execute the Corporal’s killers. But he’s also done his homework, he always does a recce, and the S.A.S.officers have no idea who they’re dealing with.

It’s Frank Castle’s intuition and inventiveness I liked there, but in D’Orazio’s ‘Butterfly’ it’s the inventiveness of the storytelling I admired. It’s seen through the eyes of the Butterfly herself, an accomplished career hit-woman with pretensions to being published and whose girlfriend is oblivious to what makes the woman tick or even what set her ticking in the first place. It was decidedly grim, and it’s left her with a pretty bleak outlook.

Not a lot made me laugh there, but this did:

“I hate waiting. It’s not that I’m impatient… but waiting implies a certain degree of optimism about the future only to be found in humans and squirrels.”

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 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’

Elves vol 2 (£10-99, Insight Comics) by Oliver Peru, Eric Corbeyran & Stephane Bileau, Jean-Paul Bordier

The Legend Of Korra: Turf Wars Part One (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh

The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet (£7-99, Papercut) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 3: Quest For Hope s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, others

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 3: Totally In Continuity s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Myisha Haynes, Gurihiru, Alti Firmansyah

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 4 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week two

August 9th, 2017

Featuring Natasha Alterici, Pamela Ribon, Melissa Jane Osborne, Veronica Fish, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo plus the WWI anthology returns with Eddie Campbell et al.

The Wendy Project (£11-99, Emet Comics) by Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish.

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story but writes another.”

 – J.M. Barrie

“Man” has been crossed out and replaced by “girl”; an ‘s’ has been prefixed to “he”.

Three figures float, silhouetted and suspended underwater. The water is dark and evidently deep, the girl and two boys helpless, unconscious, their arms and legs all akimbo. A full, rippled moon is reflected.

Imagine the worst mistake you could ever make. Then imagine trying to live with it.

16-year-old Wendy Davies is driving her car late one summer’s night in New England. In the back seat sits her younger brother John, immersed. In the passenger seat her other, bespectacled brother Michael is listening to music through headphones, though it’s evidently still loud. Tetchily Wendy shouts at him and, perhaps reaching for his headphones with her right hand, her left pulls hard on the steering wheel and the car careens into the lake.

There is a frantic struggle, breath escaping in bubbles, as the car’s headlights sink from view. They all reach the surface, gasping for air, but Michael doesn’t stop there, flying up into the stormy sky.

“Michael! Where are you going?”
“Wendy, come with us,” the clouds seem to say.
“I can’t… I have to stay.”

Her blue eyes gaze mournfully upwards.

“I know what I saw.
“So I told them.”

This is such an important book, and it’s so deftly done by writer and artist alike. The parallels with Peter Pan – which we later learn Wendy’s read from a book hidden beneath another dust jacket and a Neverland poster affixed to her wall – are very well struck, as are the marked departures. There’s the ever-open window, the ill-fated arrow, the acorn kiss, the jealousy of a fairy, the free-roaming shadow (oh, the shadow!) and especially the loss of memory: the ignorance and the bliss. That particular twist on what was originally written is of primary importance as to why this works so well (it is not Wendy’s, but that’s all I shall say), so into our much-thumbed Mental Health section this goes.

Dealing with any bereavement is difficult, but dealing with the burden of guilt as well…?

Unsurprisingly Wendy doesn’t deal with it at all well. Never once is she blamed by parents or police, yet nor do they believe her story.

“Does your daughter have a history of substance abuse?”

She is assigned a therapist called Dr. Barrie whom Wendy dismisses as far too young to know what she’s talking about, and is depicted by Fish in Wendy’s mind’s eye as sitting in a high-chair. She’s given a sketchbook to write and draw whatever she finds too painful or even too crazy to talk about. She opens it up and a rainbow of colour flickers across her face.

“No thanks.”
“You owe me two pages next week.”

Which brings me to my first observation about the art and production: the graphic novel comes with rare rounded corners (Marc Ellerby’s diary comics collection ELLERBISMS is one of the first I saw) and faux-leather texture reflecting the Moleskine she’s given. It’s more than a neat gimmick; it’s a very clever clue, for Wendy is our narrator.

The art throughout is rendered by SLAM!’s Veronica Fish in exactly the sort of loose pencil sketchwork which Wendy herself eventually, reluctantly then absorbedly, obsessively starts filling her book with. It also adds to the immediacy, intimacy and accessibility which I loved so much in Sina Grace’s NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. But it is Fish’s use of colour which mesmerised me most, reserved for the recurrent, free-standing shadow, very special items (like the book itself which to begin with is ditched on more than one occasion only to magically reappear), and for the illusions which will eventually come to an all-colour crescendo.

Over and over again, Wendy remains recalcitrant, but then we’re given the impression that she always was which is critical to the credibility of her reaction to this abrupt bereavement and torrent of defiantly repressed guilt, redirected towards her parents as judgemental antipathy. It doesn’t hurt that her social observations are so often astute.

“High school is like developmental purgatory.
“It’s a cesspool of hormones and emotion.
“And everyone is looking for a life raft.”

She spies two teenagers flirting by their lockers, depicted as Captain Hook and a mermaid, then a lone Peter Pan figure bathed in a wash of leaf-green, his hair golden yellow, a fellow rebel to her cause…?

“I know you.”

The colour vanishes and his aspect shifts instantly from what she perceives to how he really is. He doesn’t know her and does not respond, but is swept up instead by another girl who wonders “Who’s the weird new girl?” Returning to the life raft:

“And just when you think you’ve found it…
“You’re lost at sea again…”

We’re only on page 11.

Grief manifests itself in so many ways. Individuals, by their very nature, react differently. Some rail angrily against a God whom they once believed in, go into denial or attempt to cauterise the wound immediately. I make no judgements. At first Wendy’s parents refuse to enter, alter or in any way interact with Michael’s room. Later, they bundle all his effects up into the attic.

“They packed up all his things like he didn’t exist.”

Wendy makes plenty of judgements, but I don’t judge Wendy nor does Melissa Jane Osborne. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressive this is: a ridiculously tricky subject handled with compassion, kindness – and surely some considerable knowledge, I’m afraid.

“The worst thing that could’ve possibly happened to you already did.
“These are just drawings.
“Your feelings can’t hurt you, Wendy.”

I beg to differ, but still, without them you are lost. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time or a purpose to walls, but what one builds up must surely come down if you are to remain connected.

I’ve a page of notes devoted to the shadow alone, another to the colour. They give too much away to risk revealing here, but I hope their existence implies how intricately and thoughtfully crafted the whole is.

It’s another of those graphic novels like the Tamaki cousins’ THIS ONE SUMMER which I firmly believe should be taught in schools at a teenage level because so many mistakes are made in a vacuum when discussion could surely avert them; and, as anyone who’s read A MONSTER CALLS already knows, such profound sorrow as that experienced here is too often endured all alone when friends no longer know what to say… and so say nothing.

That behaviour is far from unique to young adults, but education early on might help us improve our open communication later in life too.

Poor Wendy simply doesn’t understand the vital importance of any funeral which is to say – solemnly or otherwise – “good-bye”. It’s not a rejection, for everyone remains ever-present so long as one is fondly remembered, but it is an admission or concession that a great life has passed. Without that, you cannot move on.

Please don’t think I’ve forgotten the other surviving sibling, John. His immediate, post-traumatic reaction is to shut down or at least shut up, refusing to confirm or deny his sister’s account of that evening. But it’s his secondary reaction that proves far more interesting and one that’s given me much pause for thought since my second reading, once the truth has been established during a climax which is no cop-out, I promise.

So we conclude as we began with another quotation from Peter Pan playwright / prose author J.M. Barrie:

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

It’s the first line of this book, but “die” has been crossed out and replaced by “live”.

As an opening line, it could not have been better chosen.

SLH

Buy The Wendy Project and read the Page 45 review here

Heathen vol 1 (£14-50, Vault) by Natasha Alterici.

Under a cover as soft to the touch as a horse’s hide resides a tale of love, resilience and fortitude told with lithe beauty, great supple strength and the odd dash of light, bright, unexpected humour when it comes to the wight and the wolves.

“I liked him.”
“Me too. I’m glad we didn’t eat him.”

HEATHEN is born from a deep love of stories and storytelling. Alterici proves exceedingly proficient in that art, and judicious in both her timing and selection, for it is constructed with impressive precision, as you shall see.

“Do not be coy. We immortals live cyclical lives, playing out the same dramas over and over again.
“So when a key plot point changes, it’s bound to be noticed.
“And indeed someone has noticed.”

So speaks Ruadan, trickster god and spy. He may well be immortal, but our protagonist Aydis most certainly isn’t.

She is, however, resourceful, fearless and well versed in the legends of Odin and his female Valkyrie.

“They were strong, beautiful, and struck terror in even the bravest men’s hearts.
“Charged with escorting the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyrie were given power over death itself.
“But their power is not without limit, for Odin still dictates the fate of every warrior. No warrior lives or dies without Odin’s consent.”

Except that warrior one did: a king whom Odin determined would be victorious in war was struck down by Brynhild of the Valkyrie, for which temerity Odin banished and cursed her, forcing Brynhild to marry a mortal and live out her endless days in exile.

Evidently, however, Brynhild was not without her bargaining power, for although she agreed to this sentence, she did so on her own terms: on the condition that she chose the mortal in question through a test of her own. As so often with these things, it was a test of worthiness. She ascended Mount Hinderfall and encircled herself in fire – magic fire – to await a mate courageous enough to breach the barrier and free her.

Every element of what I have told you is vital for what follows. Writer and artist Alterici has left nothing extraneous in the mix and thought everything through.

There is, for example, a degree of due ceremony both later on in Aydis’s construction of her helmet from fallen stag antlers – which male deer use in combat with each other for dominance in securing their mates – and in her telling of this tale to her horse. Just as a silhouetted Brynhild raises her arms to ignite the blazing curtain and in welcoming wait of whomever should succeed, so Aydis raises her own in front of her fire and welcoming that challenge.

“That story was passed through our clan for hundreds of years…”

Her arms drop down, lank, to her side, in time to a perfect moment of pomposity-puncturing deflation enhanced by a modern colloquialism:

“If it’s true, she’s been waiting an awfully long time.”

Alterici has made everything here look effortless, including Aydis’s hand-to-horn combat with the bull. Oh yes, that’s more male power conquered.

The choreography is exceptionally slick but, in addition, behold the energy in a broken line!

She doesn’t seek to confine her virile steeds, stag or stampeding bull in a rigid outline, so sapping their movement and might; instead she suggests their exterior contours and body mass in relation to their environment with flurries and flashes of instinctive slashes, while her colouring is equally loose and lambent.

 

I promised you that nothing in Aydis’ opening recollection of the Valkyries (and Brynhild in particular) was random. It’s not. For Aydis too is in exile – a self-imposed exile for everyone believes she is dead. Moreover, she is in exile because she dared to break a taboo, and was caught kissing a girl. Her father (not she) was given an ultimatum by the patriarchal Elders: execute his daughter or marry her off against her will to a man.

Thank the gods for one good soul, then, for he chose neither. Instead he pretended to mourn his daughter at her graveside in order to cover her escape.

Two other things you should know about our Aydis in addition to being fearless, resourceful and very well versed: she is determined and ambitious:

“On some mountain top, a Valkyrie waits alone.
“And I intend to free her.”

Should she succeed, there yet remains Odin’s curse and although you may be thinking “Hooray, for Aydis, for she is mortal and will have Brynhild’s hand in marriage!”, Aydis’s ambition is not for herself, but to prove women equal in courage to men. Also, she has had quite enough of marriage being imposed on others by the dictates of males, be they local leaders or the all-father Odin: she would see Brynhild liberated from her curse rather than further confined by it.

In any case, she won’t have been the first.

“All the men who’ve crossed the flames have been brave, but that trait is often coupled with stupidity, recklessness, cruelty. Not Sighurd, though. He was different. And not just because of his unfortunate immortality. He was good.
“Brynhild really loved him.”

What went so wrong that Brynhild once more waits in that circle of fire? With his limited lifespan, did he die like so many others? Not at all: Sighurd The Broken Hearted is very much alive, though lost to a terrible turn of events and a mightily cruel twist.

“Odin’s curse was very specific…”

All this is narrated to Aydis by Freyja, Valkyrie Queen and Goddess of Love, who has taken a shine to Aydis. Bare-breasted, sybaritic and ever so alluring, Freyja overtly offers Aydis a less lonely alternative to her societal ostracism in sexual fulfilment.

Is that what Aydis’s about?

The final page will tell you precisely what Aydis’s about, and it’s delivered with a fierce, unflinching resolve and an eye to the future.

SLH

Buy Heathen vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

SLAM! vol 1 (£13-99, Boom!) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish.

What a fresh and far from obvious start!

One of my favourite moments is when you finally discover what the direct, no-nonsense, not-easily-impressed cannon ball of a competitor, Velvet Coffin, does for a living. I drop that in early in order that you forget it, for SLAM! made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.

This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules – there are certainly key and keen strategies which you will learn in chapter four – but it’s essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.

“Are you a sportsman, Stephen?”

Clearly not, but I am a convert!

Moreover, its initial, innovative presentation – not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby – proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.

“10 Facts about your new Derby life:
“1. You will have fun.
“2. You will get hurt.
“3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
“4. You won’t. Because you love it more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life.”

Persuade me.

“5. You will find your voice.
“6. You’ll learn all kinds of new phrases.” Namely:

“Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!”
“Fill those holes!”
“Take up space! Wall it up!”
“Get on her!”
“Hit her, hit her, hit her!”

I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.

But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I’m wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially – and may still be to this day – a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for thence be looked down upon for decades to come as second-best. Haha! The shoe’s on the other dismissive and disdaining foot, fellas!

If all that wasn’t enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men are barely even mentioned within. This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There’s one. There’s only one, and he is an absolute sweetie called Theo.

One of our two main protagonists, Maisie Huff (Derby-dubbed: ITHINKA CAN), has only just started dating again and has gone for a young artist that “gets it”. He instantly gets Roller Derby and although far from pushy and certainly not seeking to intrude, he won’t be put off by a no-show but turns up to the real show and cheers from the stalls. Only afterwards do they meet up.

“It looks like you’ve got a great team. But maybe don’t let that stop you from dating me? I’m pretty awesome and I like you a whole so much a lot.”

Lovely line.

“Can you do me a favour? Share an Uber to my apartment and get in my pants?”
“Yes, if that would be helpful to you.”

As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight.

When the teams tear round the tracks it’s at such a keen speed, and Fish’s ability to choreograph the balletic jumps of the jammers working their way through the packs (or falling flat on their faces) is such that you’re impressed both by her dexterity and by the players’ on account of the evident edge and pin-point precision required for such tricky manoeuvres. Without that, all dramatic tension is lost.

Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer who brings such warm tones to the Fish’s tender expressions and such rich, vibrant hues to their sports kits.

There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.

It’s not ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, it’s “Hello, here’s all the fun!”

Although there is one prick managing the coffee house where Maisie works, who overlooks her promotion in favour of male employee who was there for no more than three months, but asked first. She thinks about this, then won’t take no for an answer.

“And I was like, “If you won’t recognize my worth, then I will work somewhere that does”. And then that man gave me a raise!”
“Yes! I am so proud of you.”
“P.S. though – totally gonna take that money and find somewhere else to work.”
“Okay, good. Thanks for making me not have to tell you that.”

We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the delicious cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it’s all THE WENDY PROJECT’s Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.

“7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
“8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it.”

Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day’s performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!

“Fun fact about Derby life #42:
“It gets complicated.”

It does. No life is all plain sailing and friendships as well as those thighs are going to take a battering. No one likes to feel left behind when they were there for you from the beginning, so please mind your manners when texting, especially if you haven’t seen each other for yonks.

“I thought we’d finally watch – “
“She’s so funny.”

Jennifer regards Maisie messaging her new mentor, sadly.

“She must be.”

I leave you with a top tip for blockers hell-bent on bashing opponents to the ground which doubles – as so much of this does – as a life lesson:

“Quit aiming for my butt. You gotta hit here, above my knee. That’s where you want to be. Don’t look where you want to hit – hit where you want to be. Aim for your future.”

SLH

Buy SLAM! Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

It’s been a while since these ‘80s paper girls last did their rounds.

Last episode it was thirty years ago, which is exceedingly remiss.

This time they won’t be cycling round suburbia for twelve and a half thousand years!

*attempts to assess maths*

*ignores in favour of the getting on with the general gist*

It’s 11,706 BCE (the same thing as 11,706 BC, but a little more secular) right at the end of the Pleistocene era, just before homo sapiens had managed to wipe out most of the megafauna in North America, so expect something very big and shaggy to come shambling out of the woodlands.

One glance at the cover should inform you that our four girls – gradually getting to know each other and themselves better while being tossed through time – aren’t the only anachronistic visitors to this era. Nor, however, is either party the first, for the locals are wearing some interesting items round their necks and sporting some very familiar tattoos or pigmented symbols on their chests.

It’s another hugely entertaining and delightfully unpredictable account of young friends (and you’re reminded just how young they are during one unexpected development) encountering so much to test their powers of deduction and self-preservation while revealing far more of their past and their future than they are comfortable with.

We are also reminded, here, that our understanding of procreative biology has come a long way in the last… well, one hundred years.

Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson deliver a deliciously different world to the last two volumes, full of dappled light under lush canopies and giant, multi-coloured, parrot-beaked flightless birds which one can only wish we hadn’t wiped out so assiduously within moments of the ever-expanding human migration.

The wider subplot ploughs ever onwards towards another shocking climax which is no mere jump to another era, for it seems that something’s unravelling.

Anything else risks spoilers, so please see our previous, extensive reviews on the wit and visual wonder of PAPER GIRLS.

SLH

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

Reborn h/c (£22-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo…

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.

Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…

Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.

It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.

JR

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

Back In Stock / Old Review

Above The Dreamless Dead (£17-99) by Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

Eddie Campbell:

“It’s a bit preposterous us thinking we can illustrate this stuff that we know nothing of – sitting here in our air-conditioned rooms trying to imagine the horrors of being knee deep in mud with your feet rotting off.”

Well, quite.

Nevertheless, Eddie does a convincing impression of knowing precisely what it felt, looked and smelled like, at night, and throws it in front of your face. Towards the end there is a close-up of what’s left of a clod-encrusted cadaver, its skull-thin face with opaque eye-jelly being crawled round by maggots.

“A barb had pierced his eye and stuck there, rusting in the socket from which sight was gone.”

It opens with the occasional crack of sniper bullets whipping the sandbags as soldiers stumble about like phantoms in the miasmatic fog, barbed wire lit up in ghostly electric arcs or, later, glistening with spiders’ webs and dew drops as it resists being dragged down and sucked into the mud by the weight of what’s left of a once-living human being. What’s left of Loos church and graveyard is also lit up in a ghastly, bone-strewn son et lumière. The overall effect is like staring into old-school black and white photographic negatives: indistinct, often terrifying.

All interior art from the Simon Gane contribution.

Campbell chose to condense the closing chapter of a novel by Patrick MacGill, The Great Push (1916), but the rest of this black and white book is given over to the World War I Trench Poets – writers on the frontline responsible for breaking through the propaganda with their terrible truths – interpreted by an impressive array of comicbook creators:

Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Lilli Carré, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

George Pratt takes on Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est and Greater Love. He notes in the back that, wishing to avoid overshadowing the words, he deliberately used thick tools like paint rollers and knives which wouldn’t allow him to overwork the images with details. It works.

My other favourite is Simon Gane’s second piece here, Osbert Sitwell’s The Next War, using war memorials from Britain and France, trailed with ivy, their age and textures perfectly rendered, each improbably well chosen to match and so evoke what was written. I urge you to hit the internet and gawp at the man’s architecture and landscape sketchwork.

 

Here you go, a rare external link: http://simongane.blogspot.co.uk/

There is an excellent introduction by Editor Chris Duffy, and commentary by the creators bringing up the rear. Kevin Huizenga’s is particularly worth noting.

Further recommended reading: Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH and THE GREAT WAR by Joe Sacco, both reviewed.

SLH

Buy Above The Dreamless Dead 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’

Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth

Angel Catbird vol 3: The Catbird Roars h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

Dredd / Anderson: The Deep End (£12-99, Rebellion) by Arthur Wyatt, Alec Worley & Ben Willsher, Paul Davidson

Eclipse vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Giovanni Timpano

Rivers Of London: Black Mould (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker

Justice League Of America vol 1: The Extremists s/c (£14-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Ivan Reis, various

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young

Rocket Raccoon: Grounded s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Jorge Coelho

Thanos Rising s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda

Attack On Titan vol 22 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino

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