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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week one

August 2nd, 2017

Featuring Becky Cloonan, Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction, Albert Monteys, Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham, Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, Ian Edginton, I.N.J. Culbard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Real Friends (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham…

“Let’s make the ‘I hate Shannon’ club.”
“Adrienne…”
“Sorry, we’re the ‘I hate Shannon’ club and you can’t be a member.”
“Well, I don’t want to be anyway! Because I hate you!”

Fortunately the ‘I hate Shannon’ club only lasted one day. Though the ups and down, or rather ins and outs of being one of the friends that formed ‘The Group’ went on considerably longer for young Shannon, engendering an  ongoing state of nervous tension in her that developed into mild OCD and other issues.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I do wonder whether young girls aren’t far worse for this sort of behaviour than boys, which fortuitously for us here, makes for some fascinating reading! As a kid at primary school I only ever remember bickering disputes between boys being settled with a brief exchange of windmilling bunches of fives, then everyone was friends and playing again normally as though nothing had happened!

Meanwhile, I’m already seeing a little bit of the sort of behaviour Shannon details in this intriguing autobiographical work – well, it’s basically an anthropological study of playground behaviour – amongst some of my daughter Whacker’s friends, particularly one otherwise delightful girl who seems utterly incapable of playing with more than one friend at once, and can become very unpleasant and extremely possessive of individual friends in a group situation. I have suggested the bunch of fives solution but fortunately Whackers is more restrained than her father was in that respect, at least as far as girls are concerned. Boys who annoy her on the other hand are fair game as her best friend Edward occasionally finds out when he pushes it too far…

Still, I digress. As gripping as this is, well because of it, it actually makes for a little bit of uncomfortable reading knowing that my child will undoubtedly go through (though hopefully not be the instigator of too much of) the sort of behaviour that not infrequently made young Shannon’s life miserable. Not that this is all doom and gloom, not at all, it focuses just as much on her true ‘real friends’ as the false ones, and it is just as interesting to see how those friendships first took root and then developed over time, standing the test of it, and others calculating attempts to hijack them, as all happened with Shannon’s first real best friend Adrienne.

Then, there is her older sister Wendy, who to the younger Shannon seems to have a mysterious switch that flips her from loving sibling to total bitch for no discernible reason whatsoever, making home life just as testing at times as her school day. It’s not until an impactful conversation with her mum that Shannon starts to realise Wendy might be far more like her than she’d realised…

LeUyen Pham’s artwork, meanwhile, is utterly delightful. She’s absolutely brilliant at drawing kids, with all their myriad facial expressions that can go from ecstatic to devastated and back again in the space of three panels. Plus she also neatly adapts her style for Shannon’s daydream / fantasy sequences, or where she’s illustrating the girls’ elaborate role-playing games, usually involving them being spies or superheroes. Ah, the joys of unbridled childhood imagination and seemingly all the time in the world to just play and have fun with your friends. Assuming they’re not busy making an ‘I hate you’ club that particular day, that is! 

The term all-ages is frequently bandied about, not least by myself, but this is a genuine example of a title that works brilliantly well in very different ways, depending on the age of reader, to equally resounding effect. I will certainly be encouraging Whackers to read it before too long, as an educative, informative but also entertaining piece, whereas older readers will certainly read it with wistful / grimacing reminiscence as they cast their minds back to making their first real friends, and indeed arch-nemeses!

Recommended for voracious readers of Raina Telgemeier (SISTERS, SMILE, DRAMA, GHOSTS), for some young ones far prefer real-life material that they can relate to, rather than the more fantastical thrills which we carry so much of.

JR

Buy Real Friends and read the Page 45 review here

By Chance Or Providence s/c (£14-99, Image) by Becky Cloonan.

Was there ever an artist so in love with an era? I think not.

These three stories are mesmerising in and of themselves but this new edition with colours by Lee Loughbridge also boasts the best selection of back-matter sketches and associated finished art I can recall: page after page of lush, sensual, sexually charged portraits of men and women at one with their natural environment.

There are trees, there are leaves, and aquatic fronds reflected in the reptilian skin of those hiding behind them. There are tresses! Now, “tresses” is a word that evokes not necessarily a singular style of hair but a particular period in which it was worn, bound for courtly consumption. As to the guys, you can almost smell the male musk and taste the built-up grease by the way the thick strands fall heavy and thick over their eyes which glare up through their parted curtains in anger or seduction.

This reprints the three self-published A5 comics WOLVES and THE MIRE originally reviewed by myself and DEMETER reviewed by our Dominique, now out of print.

Wolves

A haunting tale of blood and lust that gives up its secrets slowly.

There is a naked man gone feral in the forest. A skilled hunter, he can down birds with a single stone then feast on them raw. But he is cursed – cursed by his king, cursed by what he has done, and cursed by its memory which won’t go away.

It’s all in the eyes.

The Mire

“Please remember, this letter means the difference between life and death.”

On the eve of battle, Sir Owain dispatches his young squire on an urgent errand. He is to deliver to Castle Ironwood a letter which is sealed with wax and stamped with the knight’s signet ring. The squire protests, for he swore an oath to fight at his master’s side, but when Sir Owain insists that this is a most noble and vital task, the squire promises to be back before the fighting is done.

However, the swiftest route is via the Withering Swamp, a stagnant mire rumoured to be haunted. What will our squire encounter during this treacherous endeavour?

“We all have ghosts that haunt us.”

This is Cloonan at her finest, crafting a tale so clever that you will want to re-read the second you are done, for hindsight is a funny old thing. It’s also beautifully written: I love how Cloonan maintains the metaphor between these two sentences:

“The trees stood guard like a row of immovable sentinels. Any light that managed to break their lines felt old and mouldy.”

She’s also employed a neat little trick which David Mazzucchelli utilised in CITY OF GLASS whereby speech bubbles drifting directly out of the mouth imply that the words aren’t spoken – no lips are moving – so emanate from somewhere much deeper and darker and colder within.

“So I kept moving. You should keep moving too.”

Demeter

Like the previous two comics, DEMETER is a short story which seems at first to be simple but which you know from the outset will have a twist. It’s not so much the surprise of the twist which grabs you, it’s the inevitability. As with a fable, you know the lesson is coming and dues must be paid; the hook lies in watching the protagonist as the moment approaches.

Will they go peacefully or will they refuse to accept what has come calling for them? Are they the victim or did they bring this on themselves? And if so, can their weakness be forgiven; is their eventual sacrifice enough to settle the bill?

In proper Gothic Fiction tradition Cloonan’s setting here is Olde Worlde; a beautiful, pregnant young woman tends house by the sea while she waits for her husband’s boat to return. What should be simple and charming is overlaid from the outset with a tinge of dread; even in her husband’s arms our lady seems tense, watchful, on the edge of panic. She is asking him to recall the time they first met but he can’t seem to remember. He’s lost some of his memories, it’s like there’s a boundary in his mind beyond which he can’t move, some trauma that has disconnected him from his past. Is something about to come home to roost?

I love these comics from Becky Cloonan, I hope she always finds time amongst all her other work to turn them out because they are just so gorgeous and satisfying! Her art is clean and line-perfect, her stories punchy and paced just right. Really handsome slices of comicbook goodness.

SLH & DK

Buy By Chance Or Providence s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Solid State (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction & Albert Monteys.

Protestors’ placards:

“BOO”
“BAD BOOJI”
“I DON’T LIKE THIS”
“SHARE OUR DISCONTENT”
“BOOJI DOESN’T BELIEVE IN PRIVACY”
“YOU CAN’T OWN OUR PRIVACY”
“UNDO!”

I don’t think CTRL+Z is going to do it for you, fellas.

A 10” single of a comedic graphic novel initially conceived by musician Coulton, further fashioned by Fraction (SEX CRIMINALS, ODY-C, HAWKEYE) then orchestrated by Mr. Monteys with ever such subtle tones, I believe this may hit you where it hurts.

Shall we begin with Side B?

Outside the solid steel gates of the sprawling, industrial yet verdant Booji complex, a throng of semi-enraged activists have gathered to protest the usurpation of their user data. They’re clambering all over its ever-so-jolly, brightly coloured logo. They’re quite the gaggle to goggle at.

“Read your Terms And Conditions, losers. You’re already too late.”

So mutters Booji programmer Robert Nowlan, travelling into work on its exclusive overhead monorail. But he’s not unsympathetic to their cause. He’s heading for a meeting with elderly Booji Boss Ray for whom grimace is a default setting, and involuntary, foamy-mouthed spitting an optional extra. Ray’s computer calmly announces:

“Your Buddy Robert Nowlan has confirmed your invitation to chillax.”

But Robert is hardly chillaxed. Bounced up from bed by a bad dream, vision or communication from the future, he’s been typing furiously and loudly into the early hours of the morning much to the irritation of his sleepy missus.

“Bob. Why are you awake? It’s too early.”
“Because. There are dumbies on the internet that are wrong about things.”

I love Montey’s depiction of his intense, in-your-face screen concentration / confrontation as he tap-taps furiously away, then braces backwards while typing ever-onwards, as indignant and pursed-lipped as ever until, victory within his grinning reach, he realises that the sun’s come up.  He takes the protestors’ privacy concerns to Ray, but do you recognise this?

“They all clicked ‘agree’ after pretending to read the rules like the 1.9 billion other users all over the world did.”

That’s even after they began objecting to the securing and sequestration of personal data, and on a recurrent, monthly basis too. We just do, don’t we?

“It’s not too late. We could open the data. Be – maybe not transparent, but at least… I don’t know. Is “translucent” a thing?”
“No and – no. That data is ours, legally and in perpetuity. Having it – access to it – that’s how we do what we do. It’s gonna be worth more than Booji itself one day.”

But code-writer Robert is now on a mission and does something determined or desperate – you take your pick – and I think you may well end up wincing. There are two full pages of public reaction in private, as individuals stare at their screens and cup their mouths in wide-eyed horror. One man in particular quietly sobs. There are diplomas framed proudly on his wall.

I cannot commend Fraction and Montey’s collaboration on this project highly enough for its lack of hand-holding: for Fraction’s judicious decision to let Montey do so much of the storytelling that it’s overwhelmingly implication over explication. The cover itself is one such perfect teaser with the moon shining bright above a citadel of surveillance cameras as Robert’s fingers hover tentatively above a keyboard within a rounded, triangular, toxic-yellow Hazard Sign.

There’s so much more to follow, but shall we regroup on supplementary Side A?

I don’t wish to imply that they are separate entities – they’re interlinked by multiple, trodden tracks which inform the whole – nor that the first half is any way extraneous. It’s just that anti-agapic food supplements play a prominent part.

Ray, for example, is still here, suspended in a colloidal solution at the heart of the futuristic Boojitropoplex surrounded by multiple concentric, impenetrable walls built by its Boojibuddy citizen-drones who constantly rate their own experiences or others’ behaviour using green thumbs-up or red thumbs-down emojis. They’re up-voting or down-voting, and no one likes to be down-voted, do they? Imagine if that were an option on Twitter!

The graphic novel opens with a lyrical invitation to wake up, which reads a bit like ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’.

 

Immediately our Buddy Bob does wake up on rough, grey, rubble-strewn terrain, surrounded by his construction co-workers, each wearing an orange survival suit complete with air-tight dodecahedron-shaped helmet. Bob’s has been breached, his pink visor cracked and perforated, a trickle of blood flowing from his forehead. He’s still breathing remarkably well.

What knocked him on the noggin then rendered him unconscious is another dodecahelmet, only more primitive with tiny eye holes rather than a visor. Inside, they discover a skull.

Back in his apartment, Bob stares in the mirror, evidently designed for maximum flattery, with a tree-lined waterfall cascading soothingly away in the background.

He looks fresh and young, the hole in his helmet pixilated out with any other skin blemishes. Unfortunately his visor won’t open – it’s broken – which will make eating impossible. Necessity being the mother of invention, instead he lobs a food supplement capsule through the breach in his helmet, catching it in his mouth.

He’s not always so successful (much laughter to follow) but, in any case, that’s no long-term solution for healthy well-being. Can the simple malfunction be fixed in this most technologically advanced age? After due consideration our aged, all-knowing leader Ray is optimistic.

“Ah-ha! Science. That’s the ticket. Engineering!”

Excellent!

“We need to get you a really great straw, Buddy.
“Buddy, get our Buddy Bob here a really great straw. Real long, okay? And really great.”

The empty, inarticulate feel-good factor and facile, faux solution put me in mind of successive Republican Presidents like Reagan, W.B. Bush and Trump.

The first half is full of such low-tech farce. Earlier Bob had attempted to requisition a replacement helmet from an Argos-like emporium whose assistant attempts to emulate an automaton by reading scripted questions and responses from a printed paper manual.

“Uh… okay. “Hi Buddy, I’ll be your Helpr today…” Uh… “What is the nature – “ No no, hang on buddy, hang on –“

It takes them ages until they establish that Bob’s original request was sent in 10,699 days ago.

The number of days crossed out on Bob’s several annual calendars provides an intriguing sense of context; and in the background there is an equally telling piece of propagandist encouragement involving the complex’s last major accident…

So where does Earth’s lunar satellite fit into all of this? It is one of Bob’s two jobs to track the trajectory of the moon – to be more precise, its analemma (its pattern of deviancy as seen in the sky over the period of a year from a fixed point in the planet) – by fallible human hand. Yes, but in an age of far more accurate robotics…?

Bob’s best friend is a giant robot called Robo-Grande who seems as out of the loop as he is when it comes to weird workings of the Boojitropoplex, and as perplexed when it comes to the unexplored concepts of dreams and “desire”. Bob’s going to start dreaming more and more, and they are both going to begin to explore the “want” lacking in their lives when something vital up above goes suddenly missing.

That’s it, folks!

Judging by the interior furnishings, the protests outside Booji take place perhaps a decade into our future; how far ahead the first half is I will leave you to discover for yourselves, along with how they’re connected and all the little intricacies in between.

Singer-songwiter Jonathan Coulton provides an invaluable afterword which I would suggest reading first, about the genesis of the project which was originally orientated around an album he was creating around the idea that “the internet sucks now”.   

If you haven’t already figured out what Booji is, I really can’t help you any further, but of course the concerns voiced here spread wider than a single corporation. Fraction has had enormous fun with the satirical elements. Everyone in the Boojitropoplex refers to each other as Buddy. “Bro” is banned; Buddy is the brand.

With Fraction’s welcome insistence that Monteys provide so much of the narrative visually, you are invited to solve its puzzle yourselves, hence my omissions which are many. Albert Monteys does not disappoint.

Unlike Jeff Lemire’s recent SECRET PATH collaboration with musician Gord Downie, there’s no free download code for the Solid State album released in April 2017 so you’re going to have to buy that separately or, you know, Spotify / YouTube it.

I leave you instead with a recurring sentiment or riddle…

“The brain and the mind are two discrete entities.
“Guilt and shame are two discrete entities.
“Yet both are the result of who you are versus what you do.”

… with the promise that all will become clear and give you much pause for thought.

SLH

Buy Solid State and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road vol 2: A Pagan Death (£14-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“We’re going to lose this war, Kitta. Why not set terms that we can live with rather than fight and lose everything?”

“Because we’re Norssk? Do I really need to tell you that? People don’t change as fast as you think they do, Magnus. You have rough times ahead of you.”

Indeed. But then it’s all grim up North on the Black Road, where the culture clash between invading Christendom with its one, true God and the old ways of the Norssk and their many Gods, is being settled with steel and blood, not peace and love. And the Norssk are most definitely losing, both hearts and minds as well as limbs and heads.

Magnus the Black knows it; he can see the future all too clearly. But despite being a warrior himself who can only enter Valhalla if he dies with his sword in his hand, he has for various reasons, including still being in mourning for the death of his wife, decided that working with the proselytising Catholic clergy and their heavily armed shock troops is in the best longer-term interests of the Norssk.

Until, that is… well, you’ll need to have read BLACK ROAD VOL 1: THE HOLY NORTH to know all the gory details that led him to this particular cul-de-sac in his new career’s progression, but suffice to say, working with is not the same as kowtowing to. Having reached the vast fortress that the rogue Bishop Oakenfort has been constructing, Colonel Kurtz-style at the end of the Road, in an attempt to overthrow the seat of papal power in Rome with the aid of a certain holy relic, Magnus finally finds himself forced into action against his employers.

This second volume brings the first story arc to a suitably claret-soaked, concussive conclusion. Events are very neatly tied up with such seeming finality, I have no idea whether there will be any future BLACK ROAD stories, featuring Magnus or otherwise. I hope so, because I have enjoyed this just as much as NORTHLANDERS.

Once again, Garry Brown’s brutally minimal art perfectly encapsulates the privations and hardships of the lands and life of the Norssk. He does a very good fight scene too, I must say, having quite the talent for making sequences of extreme violence very fluidly pleasing to the eye. The one that’s not just been stabbed with a dagger, that is.

More, please!

JR

Buy Black Road vol 2: A Pagan Death and read the Page 45 review here

Repackaged Edition / Considerably Embellished Review

Wasteland Compendium vol 1 (£35-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.

“Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in.”

 – Warren Ellis

First hefty half of what was originally a ten-volume series and, at the time of typing, we do have some of those slimmer WASTELAND volumes on sale at a mere £5-49.

I know you crave your post-apocalyptic fiction, and this one takes place during the most severe hose-pipe ban in history.
There’s a constant dread of danger in this catastrophically damaged world. The various factions and indeed this whole, barely re-industrialised, mountainous city teeter precariously on the verge of violence, under threat as they are from ruthless political power-play, religious intolerance, and the very terrain which is barren and broken.

Whether it’s the environmental Armageddon we currently face, the exploited lorry loads of refugees smuggled then sold into slavery, the destructive politics of tyrants like chin-less liar and coward Bashar Hafez al-Assad, or the wilfully ignorant racism that doesn’t even have the good grace to lurk beneath the surface of our societies any longer, Johnston has found novel ways of building them into his depraved new world, giving it far more bite than most.

He’s even thought about the language we use, particularly when swearing which traditionally references dogs and religion. Here the dogs are substituted with goats which are the cattle of this future, for there is no grass to graze, and since to those struggling to survive outside citadel limits goats represent their very means of subsistence, it’s no surprise that some of their language revolves around them. As to religion and religious intolerance, an interesting point is made as a crowd gathers round to gawp at the corpse of a murdered sun-worshipper. There may be swears.

“Fuckin’ deserved it. Filthy fuckin’ sun-slaves.”
“How do you know he was a sunner?”
“Look at him. All those freaky fuckin’ tattoos.”
“Weren’t no slave, though.”
“Oughta be. Sun-damned savages.”
“No, why you say that? Why you say “sun-damned” when you don’t believe in no Mother Sun?”

While we’re on the subject of the two religions explored so far here, although there have been tax incentives to encourage marriage, this is the first time I’ve come across the idea of using such incentives to encourage conversion from one religion to another!

This all takes place in the city of Newbegin whose cold, calculating and treacherous leader is referred to in the text of a letter found by the scavenger Michael out in the wilderness, and attached to a machine which speaks in Tongue, a mysterious and (perhaps) lost language.

It’s written by a father to his son, instructing him to follow the machine to A-Ree-Yass-I where, legend says, the Big Wet that destroyed their world began. He brings it to a town thence a woman called Abi, but when their settlement is burned to the ground by marauding Sand-Eaters, the survivors are forced to embark on a punishing journey to Newbegin itself which, if they survive the bandits, slave traffickers and their own tempers, might not be the salvation they hope for.

I so wish I could have found for you images of Christopher Mitten’s soaking storm online. It slashes in front of the ramparts in bright, blinding sheets which erode so much behind or beneath it. There are some spectacular, full-page aerial shots of the astonished multitudes scurrying urgently about below.

In that second of the five chapters within in particular, Mittens remaining women and men are ghostly on the page, radiating light as much as reflecting it, from within or without the partial or total ruins and the opaque, grey, basic accommodation which boasts little-to-no decor which isn’t entirely perfunctory. Implements of torture – that sort of thing. Speaking of which, it’s good to know that we’ve got our priorities as straight as ever with what little electricity we’ve managed to regenerate. There may be the odd, lamp-lit main thoroughfare, but mostly it’s used to shock the living daylights out of prisoners.

If the interior jail cells are fashioned from old iron bars, then the vast, warped exterior cages that resemble those of a zoo seem to be cobbled together from thick bamboo – or perhaps it’s repurposed lead or copper piping.

You’ll enjoy long, jagged blades, protective bandages wrapped around wrists, billowing dustcoats and utilitarian hairstyles ranging from shaven to short-cropped or the I-can’t-be-arsed-to-even-cut-my-hair curtains. Basically this: it’s all been thought through.

You may know Mitten already as Johnston’s cohort on UMBRAL whose first volume we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, an act which reportedly caused the most massive spike of internet interest which Antony charted, and deservedly so. We very much recommend UMBRAL, particularly if you’re partial to purple.

I now return you whence we began to Warren Ellis, renowned grumpy-chops and ever-so-astute writer of PLANETARY, INJECTION, TREES, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, GUN MACHINE and so much more. Why not pop him in our search engine, lock the door then throw away the key? If you do, you’ll find some of his swears are the best.

” Yesterday’s “time off” was spent reading the four extant collections of Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten’s WASTELAND, which can be viewed as Antony’s death metal take on DUNE, given that it’s ultimately about the crisis of the cogs of competing systems clashing against each other on the stage of a world that’s not really geared for supporting life. That there are wheels within wheels and systems unseen by many of the protagonists is part of the work’s developing tragedy.”

SLH

Buy Wasteland Compendium vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

The re-release of all four Edginton & Culbard SHERLOCK HOLMES graphic novels in a more palm-pleasing size and pocket-friendly price is the only excuse we need to reprint slightly titivated versions of our original reviews.

I love the new covers with their distressed corners as if already well thumbed-through, much loved and picked up, perhaps, at a car boot sale.

The first two are by Jonathan. Re-reading my third review in this same sitting, even I might convict myself of plagiarism, but I swear they were written years apart without referring to Jonathan’s lead.

Cue unfortunate segue:

A Study In Scarlet (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

“What ineffable twaddle! I never read such rubbish in my life. The writer claims by a twitch of a muscle, or a glance of the eye, to fathom a man’s innermost thoughts! Deceit, according to him, is impossible to one trained in such observation and analysis! It’s evidently the theory of some armchair lounger who evolves these neat little paradoxes in the seclusion of his study! I’d like to see him in a third-class carriage in the underground and give the trades of his fellow travellers. I’d lay a thousand to one against him!”
“You would lose your money. I wrote the article myself. I have a trade of my own… I suppose I am the only one in the world, I am a consulting detective.”

This is the second Sherlock Holmes adaptation from Edginton and Culbard, and it’s another masterfully jumbled jigsaw puzzle of investigative theatre laid out on the table for us to bemusedly grapple with.

A STUDY IN SCARLET features the story of how Holmes and Watson first met and began their firm friendship, set of course against the background of a rather puzzling double-murder. Well, puzzling to everyone except Holmes who with his usual trademark arrogance and love of a good denouement strings everybody along, including the Scotland Yard detectives with their own errant theories, to the point where they are virtually threatening to arrest him if he doesn’t tell them whodunit. He, of course, goes one better, contriving a dramatic arrest of the culprit in a manner worthy of the master detective.

Brilliant adaptation from Edginton and Culbard which perfectly captures the sneering arrogance and in turn bewildered astonishment of the younger Holmes and Watson.

JR

Buy Study In Scarlet and read the Page 45 review here

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard…

”Hmm… are you armed, LeStrade?”
”As long as I have my trousers I have a hip pocket, and as long as I have a hip pocket I have something in it!”
”Good man.”
A lovely piece of completely unintentional innuendo between Holmes and LeStrade towards the climax of the book that had me sniggering like a schoolboy. What a fantastic adaptation this is from Edginton and Culbard of one of master detective’s best-known adventures. I would actually have to say I prefer this to the original text by some distance.

Edginton’s tight adaptation of the witty verbal interplay between the characters is a joy to read, particular when combined with Culbard’s vivid and luminous artwork, from the assiduously patterned flock wallpaper in Holmes study to the imposing facades of Victorian London.

Here’s a little sequence when Sir Henry, the American inheritor of the Baskervillles’ wealth, is travelling by train to his new estate with Dr. Watson and sees the beauty of the English countryside for the first time. Edginton and Culbard capture the scene perfectly:

”Y’know, I’ve been over a good part of the world, Dr Watson, but I’ve never seen a place that compares to this.”
”Indeed, I never saw a Devonshire man that did not swear by his county.”
”I’m as keen as possible to see the moor.”
”Then your wish is easily granted… for there is your first sight of it.”

The highest possible compliment I can give is that I’m quite sure Conan Doyle would be absolutely delighted with how his creations have been brought to life once again in this work, and remain as relevant, engaging and entertaining over one hundred and thirty years from when he first imagined them.

JR

Buy The Hound Of The Baskervilles and read the Page 45 review here

The Valley Of Fear (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

“I have been in the Valley of Fear.
“I am not out of it yet.
“Sometimes I think I never shall be.”

THE VALLEY OF FEAR, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS… It’s all about fucked up geology for I.N.J. Culbard, isn’t it? Don’t you think he should mellow out a little? I’m thinking The Glacier of Gloom, The Estuary of Ennui, or The Meadows of Mild Malaise.

I read this on a sunny Sunday afternoon in my Garden Of Ineffable Joy, and the book matched the setting perfectly. I was thirteen the last time I read Sherlock Holmes and this brought back its brilliance indescribably well. The mere mechanics of the mystery alone are compelling enough – truly it’s a devilish plot with plenty of misdirection and false assumptions – but Edginton has distilled the prose to a gripping perfection whilst abandoning none of its original language. A note is scrawled “rudely” rather than crudely and the murder is reported by a “much excited” Cecil Barker rather than one agitated or alarmed, as we might say now.

Moreover, artist Ian Culbard has choreographed Sherlock Holmes’ confident performance with a quiet intensity, focussing on the eyes and the knowledge behind them, so that he is imbued with as much charisma as any actor I’m aware of that has taken the role to date. Holmes immerses himself in the tiniest details and revels in any mystery that successfully challenges his wits. To Holmes it is the perfect opportunity for a piece of theatre that he can direct, which is why he insists that it plays itself out in front of his captive audience of fellow detectives as they lie in wait for one of the cast to walk on stage and make his telling move:

“Watson insists that I am a dramatist in real life. Some touch of the artist wells up within me and calls insistently for a well-staged performance! Surely our profession would be a drab and sordid one if we did not set the scene so as to glorify the results. The blunt accusation, the tap on the shoulder – what can one make of such a dénouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories – are these not the pride and justification of our life’s work?”

Importantly, throughout that speech, far from gesticulating melodramatically like some self-obsessed luvvie, he stares straight ahead from under hooded eyes watching eagle-eyed for his prey, for it is the prize itself – the solving of the riddle and that way that it plays itself out – which absorbs him.

Similarly I will allow the mystery to present itself to your own good selves in the way it was intended by Mssrs Edginton and Culbard, with but a note that the central murder is framed by Holmes’ earliest insistence on the culpability of Professor Moriarty who lies waiting patiently in the wings without one single line, but with a presence all the same which makes itself felt.

Sherlock Holmes is an enduring creation, part of whose allure is his smiling conceit: he knows he will get there first. Privately, I was amused to find our merchant of mischief employing a phrase I’m inordinately fond of myself:

“Exactly so!”

The wallpaper’s aged well too.

SLH

Buy The Valley Of Fear and read the Page 45 review here

The Sign Of The Four (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard.

OMG! We never reviewed this!

It was indubitably awesome.

Will that do?

SLH

Buy The Sign Of The Four 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’

Venice (£19-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) (£12-99, Robinson) by Robert Wells

God Country (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Geoff Shaw

Heathen vol 1 (£14-50, Vault) by Natasha Alterici

Paper Girls vol 3 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Reborn h/c (£22-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo

SLAM! vol 1 (£13-99, Boom!) by Pamela Ribon & Veronica Fish

The Wendy Project (£11-99, Emet Comics) by Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish

Unfollow vol 3: Turn It Off (£14-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, Simone Gane, Javier Pulido

Green Arrow vol 3: Emerald Outlaw (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Otto Schmidt

Superman vol 3: Multiplicity (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Ivan Reis

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 3: Empire Building s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Rod Reis

Fairy Tail vol 61 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Above The Dreamless Dead (£17-99) by Eddie Campbell, Luke Pearson, Simone Gane and more

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week four

July 26th, 2017

Featuring Jiro Taniguchi, Andi Watson, Aleš Kot, André Lima Araύjo, Jason Latour, Chris Brunner, Rico Renzi, Spencer Woodcock & Denny Derbyshire, plus Jason Aaron & R. M. Guéra in a brand-new Scalped review.

Loose Ends (£14-99, Image) by Jason Latour & Chris Brunner with Rico Renzi.

Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi have got a whole lot of Kyle Baker going on in their exceptionally expressive forms and neon-bright, Miami night colours. There’s a huge weight to the heads and hips as Sonny and Cheri cruise the throbbing boulevards, getting shit-faced and grin-faced after an absolutely wasted night in a hotel room and obliterated afternoon in a bar by South Beach.

Sonny is perpetually wasted throughout, in the past and present, even when handling explosives in a can on the can.

It’s the sort of cartooning where thoughts fly round your head in the form of flags, butterflies, bees, burgers and broken hearts and an anthropomorphic pink bunny rabbit might bug you from behind your bleary, red-eyed, booze-bruised head as cops patrol disconcertingly close by. Kyle Baker, Kyle Baker, Kyle Baker!

Baker’s even there in bomb-blasted Baghdad and the brutal raid by law-ignoring police-thief Robbin’ Hood on a gangland crib many moons ago. The ghetto blaster’s banging so loud that it’s bouncing on the table-top as it’s rocking up the room. They’re not going to hear the murderous prick coming, especially after they’ve silenced Spidey, the look-out perched on the head-high fence reading a Spidey comic in his Spidey tee. Loved that!

There’s one hell of a lot of noise achieved not by lettering but by line and colours just as Paul Peart-Smith did so masterfully at the Notting Hill Carnival in NELSON. As well as the sound there’s the smell under the armpits and the sensation of smarting knees.

It’s straight-up cartooning excellence (Kyle Baker, Kyle Baker!), Latour leaving Brunner and Renzi to deliver so much of what counts in the form of implication rather than explication, though as a reviewer I do love a comic that kicks off with the main protagonist announcing his name as you’d have to after receiving a call on a public phone booth. Makes my life much easier, cheers!

Right from the get-go it’s for you to infer what you will from the map, the midday sun and its setting, or Sonny’s mobile home decor (rifle, bong, gas mask!).

Apparently this was written a decade or so by the artist on SOUTHERN BASTARDS and co-writer of BLACK CLOUD, but it’s exceedingly tight in construction. You watch where that gasoline can goes carefully, along with its cell-phone trigger.

Sonny and Reggie met in the army in Afghanistan and Iraq. There they discovered both the lucrative allure of opium and the unpredictable aspect of car boot bombs.

Now Reggie has persuaded a reluctant Sonny to run another cross-country errand but before then Sonny’s stopping off to see old flame Tina who’s now working as a waitress at The Hideaway. So how does he end up with Cheri? It’s a figurative car crash.

Reggie, meanwhile, is having a more literal collision, first with a telephone pole then with two cops, one of whom was once partnered with Robbin’ Hood. His new partner’s not one for the letter of the law, either – nor indeed its sentence, sub-section or full-blown statute. They want Sonny or, more accurately, they want Sonny to lead them further up the drug-running chain which leads everyone to Miami and vice.

Frantic climax as fortunes flash backwards and forwards in various factions’ favours, and a particularly neat piece of choreography in a leap over a second-storey external hotel walkway.

SLH

Buy Loose Ends and read the Page 45 review here

Scalped Book 1 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guéra.

“And yet, here we are, still forgotten, still a third world nation in the heart of America.”

Crime and grime on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, South Dakota, “where the great Sioux Nation came to die”.

Gone is the majesty, the beauty, the health, the wealth and the freedom to roam.

They’ve been replaced by grinding poverty enforced by unyielding societal shackles, dilapidated housing patched up with corrugated iron, refuse-strewn streets, gutted car wrecks abandoned on pock-marked asphalt and a burned-out people deprived of any opportunity but to drink themselves to death.

“From us Lakota they took the Black Hills, our sacred Paha Sapa, and the billion dollars in gold that was buried there. They took the herds of buffalo and the prairie where they roamed. They took the pride and the dignity of a once great nation, giving nothing but misery in return.”

The Lakota have been left with nothing except 80% unemployment, the highest alcoholic rate in the country and a life-expectancy fifteen years below the national average. The suicide rate’s through the roof. Take White Haven, Nebraska, where the locals pick up their processed cheese with food stamps:

“Population – 28. Average annual beer sales – 4 million cans.”

Young Dino’s family is a perfect example: amongst the eight living together is a brother enduring the after-effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, an uncle who’s a diabetic amputee, while his sister Krystal has upgraded from crystal to crack. And she’s pregnant.

Oh, and Dino has a daughter. Dino dreams of leaving and never coming back, but his dreams are so far beyond reality so it’s time to get a job as a janitor in the casino.

Oh yes, there’s a new casino in town, which is exactly this community needs. Partially paid for by misappropriated federal funds and a hell of a lot of ill-gotten gains, it “belongs” to tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow. As does almost everything and everyone else.

“Most powerful crime figure in three counties. Traffics in methamphetamine, illegal arms and prostitution. Runs his own private army of murderous thugs. And generally rules over this reservation like a medieval warlord.”

Or, as Lincoln Red Crow would put it:

“You’re looking at the President of the Oglala Tribal Council… as well as the Sheriff of the Tribal Police Force, Chairman of the Prairie Rose Planning Committee, Treasurer of the Highway Safety Program… and managing director of this here brand spankin’ new casino.”

Essentially, he doesn’t have much trouble with the law anymore. He is the law, locally at least.

 

Agent Nitz of the FBI has other ideas, and it’s personal. For over thirty years he’s held a grudge following the murder of two fellow agents by radical Native American Rights activists amongst whose members were Red Crow and Gina Bad Horse, once close but now obviously very much at odds. For years Nitz has been unable to pin down who pulled the trigger and make them pay, but recently he’s found a way in: Gina’s son Dashiell.

Unlike Dino, Dashiell did escape the Reservation when his mother sent him away in his early teens. He’s been gone fifteen years during which he toughened up quite considerably. Resenting all the time she took protesting, he too swore that he would never come back but now – much to Gina’s astonishment – he’s back and – much to her horror – he’s working for Red Crow, ostensibly as a cop but more of a hired thug. One of his very first actions is to bust his mother over the boot of his police car.

Oh yes, Dash has fitted right back in, with much of the muscle he’ll need to survive.

And that’s exactly what he was sent back to do: fit in.

He’s working undercover for the FBI. He is FBI. It’s Dash’s job to find blood on Crow’s hands, even if the blood in question is Dash’s. For what no one has thought to tell Dashiell is that he isn’t the only Agent in town. It’s going to get brutal.

Now, the reason I’ve placed so much emphasis on the abject misery and decay is that it is essential to what transpires. It’s not just the setting, it’s the cage which forms the confines of whatever actions or reactions are open to its many protagonists. There is a poverty of opportunity for almost everyone here and Jason Aaron is not about to belittle the reality – for it is a cold, stark reality for Native Americans and First Nations Canadians who aren’t feeling too bright right now about their colonisers’ anniversary celebrations and wouldn’t necessarily be best pleased with my even referring to them as Canadians.

Dino Poor Bear’s story is particularly poignant and – after being given a break by Dashiell in not busting him when Dino was so blatantly running supplies for the meth manufacturers – I felt a twinge when he later reaches out to Dashiell as a possible guiding father figure or big brother substitute only to be ignored… until I remembered that Dash is as damaged and so as dangerous as everyone else. Here’s Agent Nitz:

“This punk is not just arrogant…
“He’s reckless, stubborn and completely out of control.
“A borderline sociopath driven by deep-seated anger, and maybe an unconscious death wish to boot.
“He’s a violent meltdown just waiting to happen. A definite danger to everyone around him.
“In other words…
“He’s fucking perfect.”

No one here is on the side of the gods except perhaps Catcher of the deep green sunglasses who has squandered his native visionary gift and international Oxford education (which could have made him the upstanding leader the community so desperately needed) in favour of the white man’s gift of alcohol-induced oblivion (of which he is all too aware)… Granny Poor Bear who feels her prowess waning in spite of the enormous, potent animal spirit which Catcher sees rearing up behind her… and Gina Bad Horse. But even Gina is guilty of maternal negligence as well as… well, you’ll see.

On her way to make amends for the latter Gina spends an entire day trying to make amends for the former by persistently attempting to contact her son, but he’s one dismissive step ahead of her and the only interaction they’ll have in this first instalment is over the boot of that car.

By the same grey token, however, what Aaron goes to great pains here and throughout is to emphasise that although there are some major malfunctions of humanity in the form of Diesel and Red Crow, neither are monsters without some considerable making.

Lincoln, for example, was raised in a residential school run by white Christian priests, reduced to a number rather than a name and then regularly flagellated in order to induce him to pray:

“We must kill the Indian inside you in order to save the man!”

The sins of the fathers…

It’s Red Crow rather than Dashiell who will reach out to Dino in a most unexpected manner at a most unexpected moment, but with the most predictable and entirely understandable results. It may make you weep. One of the volumes that follows actually did make me weep, physically.

Structurally the second half of this book is exceptional. Those six chapters revolve around the intense, bloody launch-night of the casino. Each is devoted to an individual protagonist and some of the key events in their past which inform their present, as well as their future trajectories. Along the way their own, differing perspectives on those key hours is limited by their experience of them: what they see, who they overhear talking to whom, and who they get hit by. As events go out of eye-shot or move out of ear-shot, then we are left waiting for the next witness who might have seen more. This places you firmly in each individual’s shoes while you walk in them which is vital for your emotional investment both now and during the horrors to come. But, of course, as a reader you are privy to them all and as the dots join up in the order which Aaron has controlled to precision, you are left not only with so many secrets which no one else knows, but a burning desire to learn precisely which single, blisteringly time-sensitive question Catcher wants answered by Red Crow.

I’m ashamed that it’s taken me this long to talk about R. M. Guéra.

For if this is a cage of confinement, you couldn’t feel the bars without them being smelted behind you, cooled down while you wait then set in their stone or concrete.

To comprehend their physical constrictions and choice-based restrictions you have to be able to see them with your own eyes or else those taut tensions are lost.

As I wrote previously, the environment here is all.

The Prairie Rose Reservation is far from pretty. It’s wretched, worn out and its walls as well as its doors are all too boot-brittle thin. As a township it is insular. It is surrounded by countryside – so much countryside! – yet therein too lies its awful isolation from any judicial force which might give a  good goddamn.

Guéra draws this all this alluring nature in the form of owls, stags and bears and it is beautiful to behold. It’s just appallingly rare, so often dead and decaying, and crawling with maggots in Catcher’s drunken day-dreams or visions.

The art is both bold and fluid, well lit at night and dramatically exposed during the day.

Dino’s smooth face and open eyes are seen in stark contrast to Granny Poor Bear’s wisely narrowed slits between puffed and hooded bags, while her flabby jowls and wizened mouth speak volumes, if only anyone would listen.

The glint of light on Catcher’s green aviators under his wide-brimmed hat unexpectedly suggests mid-John Byrne as inked in different places by Klaus Jansen or Tom Palmer.

This new package contains the first two slimmer volumes with enhanced production values yielding much sharper lines and brighter colour while losing none of the original atmosphere.

If the opening few paragraphs of this review got your teeth grinding in anger at the injustice of it all, I highly recommend Ethan Hawke & Greg Ruth’s INDEH: A STORY OF THE APACHE WARS to see the white man making his first inroads before making off with the lot.

SLH

Buy Scalped Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Furari h/c (£18-99, Fanfare / Potent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi…

“Get your greens! Root vegetables! Bamboo shoots from Meguro!”
“Very soon now.”
“What?”
“Sakura”
“Huh? Oh. The cherry blossom. Indeed. They say they’ve already started budding on Ueno mountain. They’ll be here before you know it. From where you’re standing the cherry blossoms look like a white cloud. It’s a real sight.”
“Wow. It must be. That’s something I’d like to see at least once.”

Me too. One day, perhaps.  Inō Tadataka (1745 – 1818) produced the first extensive accurate mapping of Japan using what we today would recognise as the modern techniques of surveying. Having retired early at 49 after very successfully expanding the family business of rice trading and sake-brewing, he then set about learning geography, astronomy and mathematics from a renowned Japanese astronomer.

After five years of intensive study, he then petitioned the Shogunate to be allowed to perform a survey of the entire country, using only his own money. His request was perhaps unsurprisingly promptly granted! So, for the next seventeen years until his death, that was practically all he did, producing maps that remained the definitive word on Japanese cartology for nigh on a century. Which sounds like a rather onerous, intensive, all-consuming task entirely devoid of fun. However, for Tadataka the daily rigours of surveying and precision map-making brought him immense joy and satisfaction.

Taniguchi doesn’t overtly state that Furari, which can be translated as ‘go with the flow’, is the story of Inō Tadataka, but it clearly is, set in the latter days of his period of study. However, much like THE WALKING MAN, this work isn’t really about the central character at all, but rather his world, being the diverse districts of Edo, seen through his eyes, and even the eyes of the animals such as birds with their very different perspectives, as he wanders the streets, counting paces, trying to achieve a consistent result and thus be certain of the distance travelled. We do learn a little of his home life, and his doting wife, who is rapidly beginning to realise that she is going to have to share their much longed for retirement with the third wheel of surveying. Or perhaps she’s the third wheel to Inō and his surveying. Still, she doesn’t seem to mind too much as long as he involves her and she’s quite the student herself.

Taniguchi brings the world of Edo so vividly to life, showing us every aspect of the bustling streets of ancient Tokyo, from the topography of the terrain itself and the various buildings sat on it, from hovel to grandiose, also neatly illustrating the ongoing transition from mediaeval to modern. We also get to meet its people, from hawking food vendors and hustling street corner tradesmen to even a beatific, wandering Haiku composer. The overall effect is to transport you to an entirely different, simpler, if no less busy, time. Allow yourself to meander those streets with Tadataka, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Let him worry about counting the steps, frequently forgetting to do so as some delightful everyday distraction captures his attention. It would happen to you too, I promise! Reading this might not be anywhere near as good for your physical health as actually getting out for a stroll yourself, but it’s not far off for the soul. A wonderful, virtual, walking meditation.

The art is exquisite, of course. I did wonder beforehand whether, this being a relatively early Taniguchi, I might be slightly disappointed, as I was in places with the art in THE TIMES OF BOTCHAN, his treatise on the revered Japanese author, Natsume Soseki. But whilst Taniguchi connoisseurs might be able to detect the odd difference between this and perfectly polished works such as QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL and A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD, plus his final work for the Louvre collection before his death, GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, such as slight over-rounding of the odd face, and not quite as much extensive background detail as his later works, no one will be remotely disappointed. It is just utterly captivating artwork from a true mangaka genius who is a true personal favourite of mine.

Plaudits to Fanfare and Ponent Mon for continuing to publish his work in English, hopefully there’s more to come.

JR

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

Alice Isn’t Happy (£10-00) by Spencer Woodcock & Denny Derbyshire.

Nor would you be.

Approaching ninety-five, Alice lives a largely sedentary life in sheltered accommodation run by Eileen. Apparently they’re called managers now, not wardens. And it’s ever so sheltered. They don’t get out much.

Every so often Spencer pops by. My guess is that Spencer is in his mid-thirties at this point. He’s since moved to the Outer Hebrides by mistake. All it takes is one wrong turn at the traffic lights.

“Do you want your windows washed?”
“Oh, I suppose.”

Spencer is working for a support scheme for older people in NW5. I’m not sure if it’s exclusively for socialists, but Alice is very much a member – once of the Communist Party until the Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956. She wasn’t happy then, either.

“What she really wanted was someone to hold forth to about Blair and Brown… and how they were betraying the Labour movement and the working classes.
“I knew that, of course, and it was fine by me. Half our members didn’t give a monkeys if their windows got washed or their grass got cut. What they wanted was a little prison visit.
“A break in the routine.”

It’s May 2002, and if Alice isn’t very mobile now, she’ll be flat on her back and ever so frail by February 2003. The decline is swift and steep.

Did I mention that this is autobiographical?

Back in December 2001 she was nimble enough to make a dash for it from the sprawling Bluewater shopping centre during a group outing. It was the peak Christmas shopping period so the centre was swarming and locating a little old lady in a blue bobble hat wasn’t going to be easy.

“Another check. Security had not seen her. Alice was just gone. That vast pit of capitalist consumption has swallowed her old socialist soul whole.”

Or she’d done a total runner. There are so many lovely lines like that.

“By the time we arrived the other bunch had been engulfed. A few flecks of people plankton in a Bluewater sea.”

Each era comes with its own colour. I was going to type “season” because this covers little more than a year, but they do seem like eras: varying stages of health and mobility.

By the time of the trip to the Chilterns in September 2002 Alice is confined to a wheelchair – for the outing, at least – so is a great deal more manageable, if as difficult as ever. But I don’t think “stoical” is the right word to describe Spencer: I think it’s “committed”. It takes a great deal of effort to wring the right information out of the hospital on his several visits, just to locate her in what seems like Bedlam. Or, as Woodcock calls it, the “Hieronymus Ward”.

I’ll leave it to Denny Derbyshire to provide the giggles there – it’s a fantastic, fantastical tableaux – but they won’t last long, for her tour de force is a full page devoted to Alice’s ancient hand, each knuckle gnarled like a knotted tree branch, its bony back veined like a mountain range seen from the sky. The shading is subtle, the tips of her fingers just-so.

It’s an arresting moment, standing out from the rest of the art which is deeply unglamorous and appropriately bleak, except in its recollections of Soviet Russia and Alice’s gypsy lineage, and the view of the Chiltern Hills which prompt them.

There aren’t enough graphic novels about old age: A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES, CEREBUS: THE LAST DAY… The title CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT INSTEAD? sums the subject up, really.

“How are you doing, Alice?”
“Oh. Not too bad.”

Bedridden, drained, with a drip sticking into her skin: “Not too bad.”

“Her voice is weak and slightly tremulous.
“The venom is drained out of it.
“As if all the piss and vinegar has been sucked out through those tubes.
“She has to take a little rest before managing another sentence.”

It’s the most surprising sentence in the book.

“Thanks for coming to see me.”

SLH

Buy Alice Isn’t Happy and read the Page 45 review here

Generation Gone #1 (£4-25, Image) by Aleš Kot & André Lima Araύjo.

“Everything in the world is code…
“The human genome. The computers. Your phones. The traffic. The movements of the oceans, the movements between our neurones.
“Everything is code. Including our flesh.
“So how do we rewrite it?”

Well, my own computer codes are rewritten every so often by an update that’s unsolicited and unilaterally installed, shutting it down in the middle of a project while I’m making coffee, after some external force has grown bored of me pressing “postpone”. After which I have to re-learn how to use it again, which is a pisser.

It even happened to my cell phone last week, so when I needed to take an urgent, time-sensitive photo I was left flailing by a 3-minute camera tutorial instead. Familiar to you, much…?

I make a joke, but it’s far from inappropriate to the final few pages which are one hell of a wake-up call.

Ales Kot is a man of ideas. The writer / philosopher of  WOLF, ZERO and MATERIAL has given us much to ponder on in the past and I have every faith that he’s about to do so again.

Take the cover. At first glance the logo looks like a corporate brochure, doesn’t it? That’s not an accident.

At second glance the ensemble looks like something from CEREBUS in the late 1980s crossed with its later iterations after issue 200 (you can check them all out in the CEREBUS COVER TREASURY) when the story would kick off on the cover, complete with opening dialogue.

Most adept comics’ covers are an enticing advertisement for what lies within: a summary, a distillation or an attention-grabbing image. They’re stage-setters. They’re drooling posts. But in effect they are a distancing veneer: you only become engaged once you’ve settled yourself down with a chilled glass of white wine and flicked open the comic excitedly. What this does is throw you right into immediate immersion, in this case to a couple’s late-night, flat-on-their-backs, star-gazing wishes.

Elena wishes that her boyfriend Nick would reciprocate her declared love for him, vocally. Nick wishes that his “babe” would just shut the fuck up. Actually Elena’s aspirations aren’t even that high: she’s all apologies for her open expression. He insists that she should feel gratitude for his tolerance towards her emotions. Sadly, she does.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Born ready. Born to make a mark.”

They’re really not ready for anything that will follow but, yes, Nick wants to make a mark. I don’t think you’ll like him at all.

Nick, Elena and Baldwin are three young friends who are precociously consummate, code-breaking hackers. They’ve already broken into the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s exceptionally well protected website twice and, in a trial run for their real end-goal elsewhere, they are about to do it a third time.

Baldwin is alone, organised, and driven but disciplined. You may discern what drives him within. He exercises at the crack of dawn then blends nutritious juice to sustain his peak physical and mental acuity. Then he wipes the surfaces clean. He is meticulous.

Elena is loving and doting, not only on dismissive prick Nick to whom she is loyal, but on her mother who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Constantly they cuddle up on the coach. They tease each other too.

Nick eats with his family in silence before skulking upstairs – to his childishly door-declared exclusive domain – to draw his own bath. Perched on the toilet and staring into his smart phone while the water runs, his finger is idly pressed between his big toe and second, and you just know that he’ll sniff himself before getting in. The devil is in these details.

What happens during their final trial run at code-hacking is telling.

They think they’ve gone undetected. They haven’t.

So let’s flick back to our other chief protagonist who welcomed us in with his theory of code. This is young, bespectacled Mr. Akio, working for S.T.A.R., a subsection of D.A.R.P.A., tasked with helping to re-establish America’s global dominance which, as he perceives it, has been eroded “at an increasingly rapid rate since 1970s”. He has contributed to this military endeavour by building ideas, codes and thence machines. We are shown some very big mechs indeed.

Now he unveils to the military board his own private ideal, Project Utopia. It is code-based and clever, pertaining both to machines and to humans. But how do we rewrite that code in humans which generally takes multiple generations of genetic evolution?

“Have you ever read a book that changed your life? I bet you have. The content of the book changed the way you processed information. Then it changed the way your brain processed the information. Then it changed the way you interacted with the world.”

They want to revolutionise the military.

He wants to revolutionise the world.

They throw the book at him.

Then, behind his superiors’ backs, Mr. Akio throws the book at our three.

Change the code, change the human.

It’s a pretty grim ordeal, the transmogrifications throwing them up in the air, but the single Araύjo image that haunted me most – and does still – is Mr. Akio’s eyes when threatened and dismissed.

SLH

Buy Generation Gone #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Back In Stock, Tweaked & Titivated!

Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson.

Young B’Adult Literature at its best!

What can I even mean?!?

Poor Princess Dee is so very industrious.

Well, she has to be: there’s mail to be minded, state papers to be signed, laws to be licensed and delegations she’s been delegated to attend. The Underworld doesn’t run itself, you know!

This should all fall to her father, the king. Alas, he is utterly exhausted from so many hours devoted to bed, attending assiduously to each of his own ailments and really putting his back into putting everybody else’s up – especially his daughter’s and chef’s. He’s so addicted to Wellbeing Weekly and each of its dull-as-dishwater fads that he’s demoralised his last royal chef into seeking alternative employment where the food is more nourishing and tasty: Dismal Vista Prison!

And that’s what I mean by B’Adult:

The king is a bad adult – an emotionally manipulative and selfish shirker, evading every exertion and exigency. He relies instead on the limitless patience of his doting daughter who takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.

“Just when I think I’ve cleared my desk, CLUNK, down comes another pile of papers.”
“You need a holiday.”
“Then I’d never be able to catch up.”

I hear you, hon! I hear you!

 

Into this limp and unleavened bread mix comes Count Spatula, master pâtissier with a shaved head, slightly pointy ears and twin gaps in his teeth where some would sport fangs! Oooh!

But young Count Spatula has a rare sense of perspective, a heart of gold and a recipe for the most unconventional lemon-drizzle cake you can imagine. Umbrella required! He picks our Dee up when she’s at her most down and even attempts to bring a zing of zest to the dining table of the old king himself. Unfortunately that may get him noticed…

From the creator of Young Reader soaraway successes GLISTER and GUM GIRL, plus British adult classics which we cannot sell you for shame that they are out of print (BREAKFAST AFTER NOON and LITTLE STAR, our first-ever Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), comes the sort of kids’ comic I crave: one which, as ever with Andi Watson, neither underestimates nor talks down to its audience with linguistically or visually infantile clichés.

PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA, for example, owes everything in its inking to silent cinema creep-fests ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari’, hence the misty mid-day focus when Dee and Cee are out and about in the Overworld summer-sunshine, and all the speckled, flecked and flickering, scratched-black-celluloid effects at night!

So much of this art is to die for. I love Princess Decomposia’s minimal, pointy nose, often appearing so far to the right that it’s merely representative. I love the shiny adoration in her eyes at the climax of her six-page plea for reason and reaction – for responsibility – from her father. I love the black, bat-winged buns of her hair! I love her father’s face, a wizened black-hole of wrinkled skin being sucked into itself through sheer lassitude. And I laughed out loud at the Lycanthrope delegation’s dismay when offered a biscuit in the form of a Winalot Shape.

Give those dogs a bone!

SLH

Buy Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula 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’

By Chance Or Providence s/c (£14-99, Image) by Becky Cloonan

Black Road vol 2: A Pagan Death (£14-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Tales h/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Cory Godbey

MULP: Sceptre Of The Sun #4 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton

Real Friends (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Shannon Hale & Leuyen Pham

Serenity vol 5: No Power In The Verse h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson & Georges Jeanty, Stephen Byrne

Solid State (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction & Albert Monteys

A Study In Scarlet (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard

The Sign Of The Four (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard

The Valley Of Fear (£9-99, SelfMadeHero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard

Valerian: The Complete Collection vol 2 h/c (£24-99, Cinebook) by Pierre Christian & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Valerian: The Complete Collection vol 3 h/c (£24-99, Cinebook) by Pierre Christian & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Wasteland Compendium vol 1 (£35-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten

Deathstroke vol 2: The Gospel Of Slade s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Priest & Larry Hama, Carlo Pagulayan, Gary Nord, Denys Cowan

Flash vol 3: Rogues Reloaded (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico, David Gianfelice, others

Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords Of Midgard s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman

Uncanny Avengers: Unity vol 4 – Red Skull s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Kevin Libranda, Pepe Larraz, Rodrigo Zaras

Bleach vol 70 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

MULP: Sceptre Of The Sun #1 (£4-99, Improper Books) by Matt Gibbs & Sara Dunkerton

Green Lantern: Rebirth s/c (£13-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver

Green Lantern: No Fear s/c (£11-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Darwyn Cooke, Ethan Van Sciver, Simone Bianchi

Blackest Night s/c (£17-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

Green Lantern: Blackest Night s/c (£17-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke

 

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week three

July 19th, 2017

Featuring Sarah Burgess, Laura Kenins, Mike Medaglia, Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen, Warren Ellis, John Cassady, Laura Martin.

Planetary Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday with Laura Martin.

“They killed an entire world…
“So that they had somewhere to store their weapons.”

For me this is the work of Warren Ellis’s career to date.

Cassaday’s and Martin’s too.

Science fiction at its most wondrous, inclusive, mysterious and thrilling, it is meticulously composed, vast in scope, broad in appeal and spectacular to look at.

It also boasts a mordant wit, with superb cadence in conversation as the three members of Planetary’s field team play verbal sabres at each other’s expense. It’s one way of staying sane.

The 20th Century is coming to a close, but it has left scars behind in its wake.

Planetary is a covert, private organisation seeking its extraordinary secrets. Funded by an unseen Fourth Man, they are archaeologists of the unknown, travelling the globe to unearth all the weird science which has been foisted upon the Earth from other dimensions, or which we have visited upon ourselves. Though some of their discoveries prove breathtaking treasures, few are less than horrific, yet Planetary is determined to repurpose as much as they can disinter for the betterment of mankind.

Unfortunately they find themselves up against The Four, astronauts secretly launched into space in 1961 using physics developed by Nazi physicists exported to America and led by a scientific genius in “disciplines as long as your arm”. They returned… changed… and they do not have our best interests at heart.

As Planetary kicks off, its surviving field team members Jakita Wagner and The Drummer invite Elijah Snow to fill their recently ‘vacated’ third place. Elijah Snow is terse, grouchy, suspicious but exceptionally experienced in the arcane and trained by the best in deductive reasoning. Why, then, is he unaware that he has been a member of Planetary for years?

Warren Ellis proves himself to be something of an archaeologist himself, for as PLANETARY proceeds you’ll begin to discover that he is digging up science fiction history too. Like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, half the fun is in spotting the sly references, though you will lose nothing whatsoever if they elude you. Pulp fiction prose, British gothic fiction prose, American horror prose, Godzilla and other giant monster movies, the more iconic superhero comics (see a previous, precisely-worded paragraph for but one example) and even DC’s Vertigo imprint are all referenced and warped to Ellis’s own goals. There will be many a smile upon recognition. That last one comes under a mock McKean SANDMAN cover, and includes a certain grumpy and garrulous, uniquely tattooed bald bloke, with a red cigarette lighter held on top a green pack of twenty.

The specifics I leave for you to identify yourselves (I have an extensive list to expound upon if you ever want to swap notes) apart perhaps from Doc Brass (Doc Savage, Man of Bronze) for he appears very early and will prove pivotal to the plot. Like Elijah Snow he is dressed all in white and was born on 1st January 1900. Readers of Ellis & Hitch’s THE AUTHORITY might recall another individual with a penchant for white and the same birth date, and you’ll be delighted to hear that not only does this massive first half of PLANETARY contain issues #1 to 14, but also PLANETARY / AUTHORITY one-shot and many an appearance by the inter-dimensional Bleed. Here’s The Drummer on those auspicious birth dates:

“I got theory about that. I think you’re humanity’s immune system.”
“You want to run that by me again?”
“I think the world grew you all as its defence system for the 20th Century… Without Doc Brass, Edison might still have built their Super Computer. But also without Doc Brass, there never would’ve been a team in place to stop what came through the Multiversal Gate it created. Therefore, without Doc Brass, humanity would be extinct. Without Jenny Sparks, no Authority. Without you… ah. I see the flaw in my master plan. You don’t do much other than use up good oxygen.”

Elijah Snow and The Drummer do not get on.

The recurring Snowflake effect of the Multiversal Gate is just one of a myriad of visual triumphs by Cassady and Martin contributing to the series’ eye-popping opulence.

Cassady loves to embellish with exquisitely intricate gold, whether it be Flash Gordon’s rocket, a certain mythological mallet, a futuristic, altruistic knight’s shining armour or the beyond-Baroque bridges, arches, cupolas and columns which rise out of sight to the heavens inside a crystalline, sentient shift-ship buried beneath a city ever since it crash-landed right at the very end of the Cretaceous period.

Through Laura Martin’s lambent colours it glows like the ornate stained-glass windows which enhance the sense of awe that any such cathedral induces.

There’s a lot of light, a lot of white and a lot of pale blue and gold throughout, but a Hong Kong night might glow purple with neon where you’ll find Geof Darrow in the detail of a charging car exploding under the impact of a boot.

The Planetary members have not escaped such sharp design, either. Elijah Snow is dapper in his pristine, loose-fitting, all-white three-piece suit and tie, no-nonsense Jakita strikes a contrasting figure in a red-rimmed, black leather impact-resistance ensemble, while The Drummer provides all the colour.

Even the lettering is used to indicate different languages, and Snow’s own speech patterns and vernacular differ dramatically in his less couth youth. There’s a lot of ground to cover in 100 years and the series flashes back and forth as Snow searches his past and thinks through his present to uncover what’s buried deep within his mind.

It’s tightly structured stuff, beginning with self-contained episodes, each ending in a pithy 3- or 4-line reaction before the multiple threads gradually appear and begin to make their weave known. Similarly each team members’ preternatural capabilities are only made manifest as each mission dictates their deployment before proving life-savers later on. One chapter flickers on opposing pages between immediate past and reactive present. A conversation may take place between two individuals while action is undertaken by a third. Visual cues and clues are subtle in the form of a previously broken window or a background street sign to denote a telling location.

You’ll encounter the most horrific experimental human concentration camp, a German castle in a 1919 lightning storm, a 1969 inter-spy fire-fight with attendant Steranko-riffed cover, a very familiar British study, and the most unusual cross-dimensional weapons-storage facility accessed through the release of kinetic energy, like the bang of stick on stone.

But of all the experiments, this takes the proverbial biscuit.

“We’ve a strange relationship with our fiction, you see. Sometimes we fears it’s taking us over, sometimes we beg to be taken over by it… sometimes we want to see what’s inside it.
“That was the initial project profile. To create a fictional world, and then to land on it. A sample return mission.
“To bring back someone from a fictional reality.”

Will marvels ever cease? I do hope not.

“It’s a strange world.”
“Let’s keep it that way.”

SLH

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

Boys Club (£5-00) by Sarah Burgess.

“I’m not as shallow as I had hoped.”

Oh, that would make life so much easier, wouldn’t it? To let knock-backs roll off your slippery, polished surface; to not care about others’ feelings as much as your own; to be happy-go-lucky, remaining unfazed under all circumstances.

It would certainly soothe Sarah’s stress in social situations, and relieve her bewilderment when it comes to all the awkward intricacies of friendship levels within love, sex and romance.

What Burgess wants above all is to learn about herself, so she started to think aloud on paper by drawing diary comics, observing her thoughts and reactions in some considerable depth and with astonishing clarity, even when it comes to confusion.

But the best thing about this entire enterprise is that in bravely publishing them first online and now in this joyously colourful, printed pamphlet – at the risk of exacerbating her already considerable vulnerability – Burgess achieves her other heart’s desire of helping others who might recognise themselves, to some degree or other, in what they read here and so find sympathy, solace and, better still, succour. That’s why you’ll find this in Page 45’s online Mental Health section.

What Burgess learns eventually, snuggling under a floral duvet with a sleepy friend is:

“I want to be quiet, with someone.”

It’s a tranquil page in purple and early-morning sunshine gold, with the potential for well earned contentment and hope.

It is, however, but a brief respite, for the series titled ‘The Truth Is…” returns with ‘The Truth Is… I Worry. (A lot.)’ And she does.

Particularly anxious in social situations, so often the conflicting, debilitating and often escalating voices raging in her head allow Burgess little peace and virtually no quiet except in those rare moments when she manages to quash her insecurities, self-doubts and second-guessing of others’ opinions with a little level-headed observation and logic… before another stray thought once more blows her precarious house of cards down.

Burgess is especially adept at these circular mental maps. I’ve seen so many more, each of which deserves publication for they have all made perfect, powerful sense to me.

Quite often her layouts have this same organic, wavy, serpentine or circular flow with a lot of free-floating. Most of the short stories come in two contrasting or complementary colours, ‘The Jungle’ being beautiful in purple and green. The fronds are thick as Sarah seeks to navigate this jungle of dating, pushing through the dense undergrowth, attempting to identify what she and others want by slapping on labels, before being ambushed by an unexpectedly blunt and alarmingly hungry offer which changes her own hand-held signs from “Casual” and “Open-Minded” to “Meat”.

“For whatever reason, I decided the best way to get through this jungle was just being honest.”

More signs spring up, as during the opening to ‘The Herb Garden’: “Open”, “Awkward”, “Scared”, “Selfish”, “Love”.

“Mostly I felt like that just give me more trouble” in the form of question marks all round, “Then I meet a friend.”

Delightfully at this point, the jungle of delicately delineated, veined leaves moves inside the couple as they dance round each other leaving their surroundings full of space, sparkling with light. Inevitably Sarah soon starts to over-think things, desperate for clarification, and the jungle creeps outside again, threatening to smother them, but oh what a punchline of promise!

What I’m attempting to convey here is the fierce thought that Burgess – creator of THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR and BROTHER’S STORY – throws into how she can most imaginatively and accurately represent her complex predicaments and evoke the thoughts, feelings and sensations they induce in her; and that progress so often isn’t straight forward and free from struggle with a linear trajectory ever-upwards. It ebbs and flows with waves of uncertainty and self-reassurance.

Reading others and reading their signs – the signals they’re putting out – is never easy, especially when it comes to the often blurred boundaries between friendship, romance and sex. Are they flirting with you or merely being polite? Do they want to frolic once more or will you ruin that friendship by hugging too intimately and suggesting that you do? Essentially, does somebody want what you want too?

In this instance, perhaps, telepathy might for once be a boon. Or it could lead to even more self-consciousness.

There are much lighter notes, like the disappointment in discovering that a new crush is already taken – and it was going so well!

Self-perception is a big problem here, trust and intimacy, plus the masochism of over-thinking things very much like Sarah Andersen does in BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP. Oh yes, and then there’s rejection and validation, even more of an issue in this age of social media.

“People keep saying, keep saying, Validate yourself, Validate yourself.”

Burgess pushes her head deep inside her chest.

“Oh my god!! There’s just a big hole in here, what if I just need constant validation???”

We’re only human! Jeez, if you only knew the deflation and worry whenever I hit ‘publish’ on these weekly reviews and Twitter is nothing but tumbleweed!

Speaking of human (and indeed self-perception), everyone here is depicted as human except Sarah. Her self-portrait is as a Morph-like, alien creature with twin horns or animal ears: the outsider.

As to dependency and independence, BOYS CLUB begins with ‘The Road That We Could Take’, created shortly after “coming out of a big relationship”.

The first six pages in deep red and pine green are entirely silent. Miserable, sat lost and alone, wounded by the side a rural track, a young woman is helped to her feet by a handsome lad with a smile on his face. Together they begin to explore a mountain range of stunning vistas. He heaves her up steeper slopes or carries her on piggy-back. Gradually the wound heals, then in a moment of shared self-awareness they both realise, joyfully then bashfully, the love that they hold in their hearts for each other. They travel on, hand in hand, following unmarked signs to enjoy stunning views down below.

Then comes a direction which the woman wants to take and she eagerly rushes forward, but he holds her back, quite forcibly, before hugging her close. She looks sadly back over her shoulder and the route untraveled, denied her. She tries once again to suggest they take that road, but he is adamant.

I wonder if you know where that is going.

“I don’t know what’s right for me anymore.”

And so Sarah’s journey begins.

SLH

Buy Boys Club and read the Page 45 review here

Poverty Of The Heart (£3-00) by Mike Medaglia.

I defy you not to beam broadly every time this cover meets and greets you in your home.

My reaction, time and again, has been both immediate and instinctive and joyful.

Its composition and colours are elevating!

It is organic, embracing and radiating affection from its strong centre whilst cleverly clasping you at its outer edges with a more soothing balm. The cover is a tonic for tired eyes just as its contents will prove healing for your heart and sustenance for your soul.

The cover is, of course, a mandala, so it is time for some quiet contemplation.

“It’s funny how we have two meanings for the word – HEART.
“The one that beats inside us.
“And the heart that is less tangible. Less noisy. But just as important.
“We certainly cannot live without the function of the one.
“But without the other we cannot fully experience life.”

There is no preaching here, no holier than thou, but instead a huge kindness, gently reminding us all of which priorities actually make us happiest when sometimes we forget.

We’re not on this planet to receive: we are here to give and in giving we all receive so much more back in return.

We are not here to crave, for in craving lies dissatisfaction and discontent. And I should know: I still smoke 40 a day. So that’s at least one of my hearts in jeopardy.

True happiness lies instead in appreciating what you already have, if you have it. Not everyone has it, as I’m keenly aware, so it is all the more important that we open our hearts to others: important not just for them, but for us as well.

“Any time we close off our hearts to any being we close off our hearts to ourselves.
“It is impossible to cage our hearts off to the world and still have access to it ourselves.”

There is a balance here. There is a balance between opposing pages, both verbally and visually. Surrounded by so much white space which leaves our thoughts free to roam, the outlines are simple and distinct, the colours cool and natural in pinks, blues, greens and cream.

Hands reach out lovingly and tenderly in all shapes, colours and sizes, the wrists adorned to all individual tastes. Some are a bit grabby on the coinage front, but true wealth so often eludes them.

This quiet comic is all about patience: patience with yourself, forgiveness of yourself and so love of yourself. If you’re anything like me, you may focus too hard and too long on what you think you’ve said or done wrong. Mike humbly suggests that you give yourself a break, and begin anew.

“Allow yourself to be warmed.”

Free from the distracting clutter of self-regarding cleverness or long-winded, pompous verbosity, POVERY OF THE HEART is instead slim and succinct. It gets to the point; yet what it has to say is plenty.

If you want more words of wisdom from Mike Medaglia then we all recommend his ONE YEAR WISER which I imagine is at least 365 pages long. I can’t check from home.

SLH

Buy Poverty Of The Heart and read the Page 45 review here

Steam Clean (£8-00, Retrofit) by Laura Kenins…

“Sara just wants everyone to be victims of the patriarchy.
“Or some nonsense like that.”

Actually, Maija has some interesting and very valid points to make, particularly about sexist discrimination in the workplace, but not everyone at this women-only sauna evening on a dark autumnal night somewhere in very northern Europe has come for a socio-political discussion. Sara in particular. No, they’ve mostly just come to kick back, have a few beers, escape the world for a while, maybe even flirt a bit, and perhaps meet somebody. Kaisa, recently single and now perpetually perusing dating apps certainly has an eye on some steamy goings-on.

Others were anxious about coming at all for rather different reasons. Miika, for example, feels extremely uncomfortable, almost fraudulent, going to a women-only event as a non-binary gender person, despite her friend’s protestations that they would be welcome. And then there’s Laima, who is the physical embodiment of the goddess of women but is finding herself conflicted about her sexual orientation. Apparently even goddesses have to deal with emotional angst.

 

So, as the temperature rises inside the sauna, our characters shed their clothes and begin to tell their stories, aided by a beer or two. Old friendships are tested, new friendships are formed and a certain goddess gradually comes to the realisation that it’s perfectly alright to just be who she actually is.

It’s truly wonderful how this comic manages to deal with some extremely serious issues and yet also be such wryly amusing good fun at the same time. Laura Kenins makes all the characters with their various woes and anxieties entirely believable and powerfully demonstrates the positive benefits of just having a good chat about how you’re feeling, no matter the circumstances, whether that’s to a close friend, or a complete stranger.

She has previous form actually, in this respect; as her MINI-KUS!: ALIEN BEINGS packs a very powerful emotional punch with a story about divorcing parents whilst simultaneously managing to be hilariously ridiculous at the same time, as it’s seen through the eyes of the daughter who is convinced the strange lights they saw driving home one night has everything to do with her parents sudden inability to love each other.

Both are told in a very colourful art style that I am reasonably sure is entirely coloured pencils, along with grey pencil hand-lettering that looks like it’s been done with a very fine hard-wearing propelling-pencil-style lead. The sort that has the leads mounted in the pop-out bits of plastic, that when you wear one down, you just pop in the back of the pencil and a new pointy one pops out of the front. At least that’s what I’m imagining…

There’s a sophisticated blend of fine lines filled out with shading that looks like it’s been done with the side of the pencil on top of a wooden desk which gives additional texture. It’s similar to what the stylish polyglot (in art terms) herself Eleanor HOW TO BE HAPPY Davis employed to great effect on the joyful sleepover joint LIBBY’S DAD, which I just adored and didn’t half make me chuckle too.

I do a lot of drawing with precisely this type of coloured instrument with Whackers and it’s fantastic to see the levels to which professionals can elevate the humble coloured pencil. And six year olds too, for that matter, as young Whackers is actually already far better at drawing than I ever managed… Her current speciality is rabbits, having devoured FLUFFY recently – let’s be honest, anything where the main character is continuously doing daddy’s head in was bound to be a winner with my daughter – so Simone Lia had better watch out as I think she might have some competition soon!

JR

Buy Steam Clean and read the Page 45 review here

It’s A Bird… s/c (£15-99, Vertigo/DC) by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy H. Kristiansen.

Brilliant.

Yes, that is Superman’s back on the front cover, rendered with all the stockiness of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN’s Frank Quitely, but this isn’t a superhero comic.

It’s semi-autobiography and cultural analysis, exceptionally astute and poignant as anything.

Originally published in 2004, it was a firm favourite of all three of us who have co-owned Page 45 over the years and comes with the mighty Teddy Kristiansen on phenomenal form, proving that he is as versatile an artist as Jillian Tamaki, Bryan Talbot, Eleanor Davis, Stuart Immonen or Mark Buckingham… all within the confines of this single sustained narrative.

The plot: Steven’s writing career has been firmly Vertiginous in nature. Not for him, the aspiration to write brightly-coloured spandex. Now he’s just landed the SUPERMAN title – many a comicbook creator’s wet-dream job, I’m sure – but he has absolutely nothing to say. He simply cannot relate.

He’s moved away from his mother, grown apart from his father and brother, and has a beautiful, mature and understanding girlfriend called Lisa. But every time he experiences an inadvertent twitch, an innocent, involuntary spasm, he’s haunted by a family secret which emerged during a childhood hospital visit and is about to erupt once more. Now Steven’s father’s gone missing, his mother’s beside herself, his editor demands to know if he’ll take the gig and he cannot bring himself to let his girlfriend in on what’s troubling him. What exactly is troubling him?

My first thoughts on breaking into this original graphic novel thirteen years ago were “Eddie Campbell”. This reads so much like Eddie Campbell (see ALEC) and, believe it or not, it’s just as good.

It’s full of wit, charm, meandering excursions and calm considerations of ideas that might never occur to you. It’s also absolutely devastating. Moreover, if you’ve ever held an interest in Superman as an American icon or just as a character, this will give you much pause for thought. And if you’re interested in writing, you’ll both empathise with and perhaps even learn from this, especially if your objective is comics.

Whereas some works sadly fall straight through the cracks between conflicting, incompatible areas of appeal, this bridges so many interests and as Grant Morrison wrote:

“It defies genre categories and poses questions about the relationship between man and superman which are hard to answer but important to consider here at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s also about as mordantly accurate a description of what it feels like to write superhero comics for a living as anything I’ve ever read.”

As Seagle searches for his father he delves through his memories, and begins to ponder Superman. He thinks about secrets and vulnerability, about solitude, symbolism through colour, our history of power, about being an outsider (Superman is the ultimate immigrant) and who the real outsiders are. He considers his school days, his own personal demons, and – most uncomfortably of all – how some genes don’t provide potential or powers as manifested by Marvel’s mutants, they take them away. They can wreck a healthy body, often irreversibly.

Apart from a superb supporting cast in the form of Lisa…

“It’s your boyfriend.”
“Which one?”
“Funny. Buzz me in before I drop your lunch.”
“Then it would be your lunch.”

… kind editor Jeremy and his Puerto Rican fan-boy taxi mechanic (who aids, abets and interrogates during his search), Seagle also lucked into the perfect art partner here: Teddy Kristiansen.

You might know Teddy from THE RE[A]D DIARY precisely one half of which was also written by Seagle (you’ll see!) which was a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month or from SANDMAN MIDNIGHT THEATRE now included in Neil Gaiman’s MIDNIGHT DAYS, but you have never seen him in quite such fine, chameleon-like form.

I count twenty-one distinct art styles are on show here: one from the central narrative, another for the flashbacks, and the rest to complement the individual diversions, each of which is entirely apposite for illuminating its respective proceedings.

One of them which Teddy emailed us ahead so long ago is all Kent Williams in its sombre silhouette while Seagle contemplates The Death Of Superman.

The school episode sees Kristiansen erasing individual identities by withdrawing facial features, leaving the cape to make its statement of standing out from the crowd as one kid, habitually ignored, receives a single day of undivided attention whilst dressing up as Superman during a Halloween celebration. Then, after reverting to invisibility when wearing regular clothing, the lad makes the mistake of repeating the performance the next week…

And one of the most powerful pieces, ‘The Outsider’ sees a complete change of pace both in the script and visuals which I can only describe to you as utterly Seth.

(See GEORGE SPROTT etc.)

SLH

Buy It’s A Bird… 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’.

Black Eyed Peas Presents Masters Of The Sun – The Zombie Chronicles (£22-99, Marvel) by will.i.am, Benjamin Jackendoff & Damion Scott

Black Science vol 6: Forbidden Realms And Hidden Truths s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Scalped Book 1 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera

Southern Cross vol 2 (£14-99, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles s/c (£17-99, DC / IDW) by James Tynion IV & Freddie E. Williams II

Amazing Spider-Man vol 6: Worldwide s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Stuart Immonen

Inhumans Vs. X-Men (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule & Leinil Francis Yu, Javier Garron, Kenneth Rocafort

Ms. Marvel vol 7: Damage Per Second s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Mirka Andolfo, Takeshi Miyaza, Francesco Gaston

The Punisher vol 2: End Of The Line s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Steve Dillon, various

Blame! Vol 4 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 1 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week two

July 12th, 2017

Another fab batch of Avery Hill / Retrofit books below, but first…

Glister (£12-50, Dark Horse) by Andi Watson.

Families, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Andi Watson is a true British Treasure.

We’re talking Alan Bennett, David Attenborough, Posy Simmonds and Raymond Briggs.

Highly regarded by his comicbook peers, ask diverse British creators from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Jamie McKelvie or Kieron Gillen to THEY’RE NOT LIKE US artist Simon Gane whose Mediterranean landscapes are as assuaging on the eyes as dear old Optrex, and you will find Andi Watson sharing much-cherished space at the top of their lists.

What we have here is a mammoth collection of all four GLISTER comics reproduced at twice the size of the Walker originals which allows the art to breathe properly and your children’s eyes will, I promise, shine like marbles at the wonder within.

I’m going to cheat now, for this is what I wrote when each first appeared, edited to remove repetition and inject a little later-learned insight or afterthought.

   

The Haunted Teapot and The House Hunt:

Printed in puce then aquatic blue inks, these two are an all-ages joy!

It’s like splashing about in a puddle or a fountain: gleeful, playful and ever so refreshing.

“Strange things happen around Glister Butterworth.
“Perhaps it’s because she gets out of the wrong side of the bed.
“Or perhaps it’s because the clocks struck thirteen when she was born.
“Occasionally the strange things begin with a knock at the door…”

Such a simple set-up announced with economy and eloquence like Oliver Postgate’s ‘Bagpuss’ or ‘The Clangers’, with an execution similarly liberated from the strict laws of reality but in a perfectly credible and individualistically realised, charming world of its own.

Magically, however, unlike the opening sequences of ‘Bagpuss’ etc, each introduction is a variation on the original theme and can go off on quite spectacular tangents, depending on the mood of Glister herself or the wobbly-towered, cobbled-together cottage-come-mansion she lives in.

 

 

Possibly it’s rural England in the 1950s, but it’s one where there may be trolls extracting tolls under bridges or your house might take umbrage at being described as a little rickety and go off in a huff, leaving you homeless on the village green.

That’s exactly what happens in ‘The House Hunt’ after snobbish Mr. Swarkstone pays an official and officious visit to Chillblain Hall in order to see if it’s up to inspection-scratch after their village is entered into rustic beauty pageant. Glister gives him a guided tour, but experiencing Chillblain Hall is akin to visiting the Addams Family: disconcerting to say the least.

“The best thing that could happen is for this ramshackle lean-to be shipped brick by brick across the Atlantic and pieced back together in some Texas rancher’s theme park. Good morning to you.”

Unfortunately their home overheard him.

Oh, Glister tries to cheer it up, really she does, because she loves its creaky, dilapidated, warped-wall ways!

“Doesn’t the tower look handsome in this light, Dad?”
“The what?” says her Dad, camera pointing in the opposite direction. “Yes, the tower, splendid feature.”

You know what it’s like, though, when you’ve been told that you’re an embarrassment. It’s not very nice, is it?

“But the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like a cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night. Roof tiles fell more frequently than ever. The wood panelling groaned excessively in the small hours.”

Then, later that day, it was gone.

Before that, in ‘the Haunted Teapot’ our Glister receives an anonymous package containing an old china teapot, and I know you should seldom look a gift horse in the mouth but the Trojans would tell you otherwise.

Here too the seemingly innocent gift harbours a presence of its own: the ghost of an author who claims that his works have fallen from grace, and needs the young lady to transcribe the novel which he left unfinished. Glister gamely agrees at first (“Will it take long? We’re having boiled eggs for tea.”), but finds that the work is not only interminable, but positively Dickensian in its suffering. She offers more compassionate alternatives:

“Can’t there be a kindly landlord at the local tavern whose wife takes pity on Albert and saves him a piece of game pie?”
“Splendid idea! Albert suffers from food poisoning.”
“An indulgent grandfather returns to care for him?”
“Capital! Grandfather sunk in a typhoon on the way home from India.”

Poor lamb!

The writer’s really quite obdurate in his calamity-coloured ways.

Glister lives with her dressing-gowned Dad, by the way, whose pipe blows bubbles and whose silver hair is in permanent disarray – a bit like their adorable home. Like most of the early interiors, it’s viewed through the curves of a fish-eye lens, for the art too has been liberated here. Andi rarely plumps for more than four or five panels a page, often merely one or two, giving him space to relax and gently sweep his hand across the paper.

FYI: as he showed us at the first pub meeting of Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month Club (Watson’s woefully out of print and so off-our-system LITTLE STAR was our inaugural selection), to enhance the organic nature and sense of space on the page, Andi first writes the script out on separate pieces of paper, and moves them around the page before even beginning to pencil the final image. The script is then dropped back onto the page once it’s completed. Ta-da!

  

The Faerie Host:

“What’s the most important rule of Fairieland?”
“Don’t go there.”
“What are the three other rules of Faerieland?”
“Don’t eat anything. Don’t drink anything. Don’t touch anyone.”
“They can be good neighbours and they can be bad neighbours, but they’re the best neighbours when they’re left alone.”

The best and bravest GLISTER book so far, this delves into the history of our young heroine’s missing mother, broaching the pain of separation and loss.

For years now Glister has lived virtually alone with her father in Chilblain Hall but when its boundaries change so that its new neighbours are Faerie Folk, Glister starts receiving messages from her mother in the mirror. Is this really her mother or the cruellest, most wicked practical joke in the world?

When they unearth a crude stick figure with a lock of her mother’s hair attached, buried in a newly manifested grave, against her better judgement Glister cannot help but follow its instructions (just in case) to cross the carefully demarcated boundary to the land of the Fey in pursuit of the truth. But will she be able to resist all the other temptations therein?

It turns into quite the adventure.

Please don’t expect Andi to insult those who’ve lost parents by presenting a glib, happily ever after ending. Instead he comes up with a scenario far more subtle and magical to bring a certain comfort, with a lovely little epilogue to boot.

As ever there’s the added value of an activity – in this case bake your own wizened Faerie head which you can then eat if your stomach’s up to it – and the language is far from simplistic, evoking a truly repugnant stench in the heart of the Faerie King’s court:

“The floor was a slippy carpet of rotten fruit, the air as thick as curdled milk with the stink of withering and dust.”

New word: “widdershins”.

The Family Tree:

Anarchy erupts round the grounds of Chilblain Hall, the semi-sentient, shape-shifting mansion that has been the ancestral home of the Butterworths for many generations.

It’s seen better days. In fact when it’s in a particularly despondent mood, it just lets itself go like a sulky teenager, making its maintenance a full-time occupation for Glister’s Dad. It does, however, have a lot of history and it’s that which causes the kerfuffle when Glister gets it into her head that they really should have more family around in spite of her Dad’s informed and prescient warning:

“Those idyllic family dinners you’re imagining never happened. At least, when they did, they never reached pudding without a row or some disaster.”

 

Unfortunately Glister has been sticking her baby teeth into the Family Tree – an actual ancient oak! – swapping the bounty of the Tooth Fairy for a single potent wish: that one day the Family Tree would bloom again. And so it does, bearing fruit in the form of her ancestors who fall to earth with a <thunk> and then proceed to cause chaos.

There’s Eliza and her flock of ravenous bunnies, American Scotty and his guitar of discord, an aloof butler, a pair of brothers still congenitally at odds ever since the English Civil War, an etymologist and… Charles. Charles whom Glister cannot account for in the family’s ancient records at all.

In every GLISTER book there are things to make or bake, in this case the Butterworth Brothers’ cannon. Yes, that’s how riotous the tall tale grows! All of them have been reprinted in this 300-page collection along with puzzles, games and – best of the best! – an Andi Watson art lesson which comes with the reassurance for young ones that even Mr. Watson’s drawings go wonky sometimes!

But what I really appreciate, apart from the immaculate cartooning with its gnarled trees, organic architecture, tufted hair and anything-can-happen exuberance, is that the language is far from patronising with a vocabulary which will stretch young readers and so lead them to learn: words like ‘dyspeptic’, ‘dissonant’, ‘atonal’ and ‘philately’.

Also there are many moments of parenthetical, throwaway wit as when the new crowd stumbles upon one of Chilblain Hall’s many unusual features:

“It’s the Abyss, whatever you do, don’t look into it.”

SLH

Buy Glister and read the Page 45 review here

StarDrop vol 1: When On Earth… (£8-99, I Box) by Mark Oakley.

Long-lost comedy treasure from twenty-five years ago, which has dated not one jot.

The cartooning is exquisite, with pointy-to-non-existent noses and huge attention to background detail whether it’s in the coffee-shop clutter or the wild flowers and trees of a leafy suburb somewhere in America which is quiet enough to be quaint, with countryside on the gabled-porch doorstep, but not too far from a shopping mall, within driving distance of a beach.

Into this environment strides ingénue Ashelle, both a stranger to the town and a stranger to Earth: she’s run away from her home in space to avoid military conflict with her father. What are the chances that trouble will follow?

It’s bright and breezy, but far from light on the comedy quotient or quality.

This is derived partly from the earnestness of youth, over-analysis of one’s own predicament and the disproportionate pride and joy which Princess Ashelle takes in what we’d consider irksome or mundane, like washing dishes while working in a bed and breakfast.

“I’ll do any kind of menial labour to help out. A good community member helps out. The experience will enrich me, and I’ll go home with lasting memories.”

Oh yes, and in the absence of any internal editor whatsoever, Ashelle does tend to over-share:

“I hope I don’t seem too strange. I’m finding your culture challenging. But even though half my references want me dead, I’d still be a good worker. Ugh! I shouldn’t have mentioned that! I’m saying stupid things. I really want to have this job!
“Please don’t allow my personality to colour your opinion of me!”

She’s trying her hardest to fit in and harbours a genuine, almost Japanese desire to never inconvenience anyone. Indeed her open-heartedness is infectious and is met in kind. By the local residents like new-found friend, Jen, at least: her off-world ex-boyfriend, sent to kidnap her on pain of death, will stoop to anything (including his knees) to convince his valuable commodity to accompany him home.

“Please Ashelle!
“I know you have a good heart!
“Let me exploit it just one more time!”

He’s not very good at kidnapping. He’s not even her ex-boyfriend. He just told everyone he was going out with her.

Anyway, job interviews are tricky, especially when you’re not sure what will make the weekend residents at a B&B feel comfortable. I wonder what pertinent qualifications our princess possesses?

“I am fully trained in four-dimensional sub-light warfare strategy and ground-based tactics.
“Though I disapprove of violence. That’s why I ran away from the academy.”

Again, with the internal editor!

I wish I could find you more interior art from this volume, but it’s all twenty-five years old and tiny. In desperation, then – and this is a first – I’m using a page from a subsequent volume, not this one. Because, yes, after all this time off our shelves, STARDROP has spawned not just this new edition but brand-new instalments, STARDROP VOL 2 and STARDROP VOL 3. At the very least they give you plenty of indication that things move rapidly on!

I leave you at the shopping mall (try to take me to one and I will leave you there), and this is the sort of lateral thinking that makes me smile.

“This place is like an Imperial System Fortress, but with more colour and less weaponry. Do people come here of their own free will?”
“Sure. What do you mean?”
“I don’t know… There’s something weird about this place. What’s that noise? Are the sub-sensories being broadcast?”

Indeed there are, every hour of the day, but especially in the morning when they want you to start shopping and at night when they would very much like you to bog off back home.

File under Young Adults or old ones, like me.

SLH

Buy StarDrop vol 1: When On Earth…  and read the Page 45 review here

Something City (£10-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Ellice Weaver.

“What, have you been using your phone?
“That is against the retreat rules.
“You’re being so disrespectful.
“Let’s go somewhere else. She has just ruined my zen feel.”

Welcome to the outer suburbs of Something City. Even the endpapers made my eyes burst with joy.

Each individual, colourful community comes with its own distinct identity, but they’re all interconnected through family, friendships and relations – except maybe the Amish one which removes itself from the world to such a strict degree that Pokemon playing cards prove utterly baffling.

Each of these ten short stories also comes with its own colour scheme, our Amish friends in plum purple, custard yellow and green. The panels are relatively free from lines so that they resemble silk-screen prints. Your eyes are invited to explore the chapters’ initial full-page landscapes which are open and actively populated by those going about their daily routines, some dancing, shopping, or stopping to throw up in the street after far too much booze.

The amenities are many and varied, the homes well appointed. There are dogs and cats and fountains and flowerbeds. Any fences or privet hedges are low, with neighbours gaily interacting. It’s all ever so relaxed.

Pffft!  Beneath its gentle veneer, Something City is a hotbed of bitching, disgruntlement and conflict – except, perhaps, in its prison. The book-end chapters come with a bite but otherwise Weaver gleans a great deal of comedy in these surprisingly satirical short stories, full of the unexpected, with deft turns which will delight you.

Take the opening quotation from a tale set in a nudist retreat where everyone roams merrily liberated from the constraint of clothing, taking yoga classes naked and revelling in the shared freedom and tranquillity which engenders a bonding and bonhomie. Or: where almost everyone vies to be holier than thou in their heavily proscriptive, self-righteous judgementalism. You’re going to be enlightened, whether you like it or not.

Speaking of proscriptive, self-righteous judgementalism, the very opposite of nakedness rears its artificial head in the form of the latest, hot-trending Face Action App which upgrades your appearance to an earlier age and it’s all the rage amongst those ploughing into the realm of wrinkles and furrowed brows. It’s like an extreme daily make-up routine, foundation-free, at the click of a switch as long as your dates are on Skype. Face Action Enabled and…

“Hey gorgeous, you caught me before I leave for work.”
“Oh you big shot. I was wondering if you’re still free for our date tonight?”
“Of course I am. Same time as usual. Can’t wait to chat. You look amazing by the way. Have you done something new?”
“I got the ‘fuller mouth’ update from the Face Action site.”
“Knew it! It suits you, babe.”

Of course you have to cover up outside in hats, scarves and sunglasses and those who flagrantly choose to eschew are viewed with the same embarrassment and outrage as if they’d ditched all their clothes. Now, I did sort of suspect how this episode might end, but the rebuttal is so much juicer than I’d anticipated.

Lies are also Matt’s stock in trade down at the fishmongers. Or at least, he does seem to be a compulsive liar, claiming to be friends with Eminem and a former genius at Apple but what he truly lacks is a sense of proportion. His lover, on the other hand…! Again, a terrific punchline.

Some encounters are much more poignant: the girl who won’t go outside, so keen on astronomy but cut off from the village star-gazing party by her fear of disease which she is convinced is made all the more virulent by the moon. Instead, she watches Star Trek re-runs. Fictions and fantasies, eh?

The rest I’ll leave for your unearthing, like that lady throwing up in the street.

There’s a wonderful fleshiness to the forms here – and a whole lot of flesh – and a frailty in old age plus a heavy weight of sadness which some characters come close to being crushed by.

Many an attempt is made to move on, but more often than not it is thwarted by outside circumstances or their own vulnerability.

Overlaps abound, right to the end.

SLH

Buy Something City and read the Page 45 review here

Goatherded (£7-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Charlo Frade…

“Hellooo… you have a question for me?”
“Everything is changing… so quickly…”
“Why not? You left the cube, in which all the others stay. Is it not what you wanted, laddie?”
“…Mmm, I was curious.”
“Long ago, your kind catapulted themselves.
“With wings of fire and gleaming metal, and swung along the beasts past the skies.
“Exploring the circles that hover above.
“A bespeckled darkness flourished and known through their curiosity.
“You too could soar with wings of fire and gleaming metal.”

We’ve all heard of curiosity killed the cat, right? And I don’t mean the crap late ‘80s band with the implausibly named silly-hat-wearing singer…

I think our post-cubist ought to be seriously considering the wisdom of taking advice from a weird, multi-coloured, swirling-bodied, goat-faced entity he’s just met. I mean, our naïve waif only popped himself out of his jelly cube two minutes ago! Next thing you know he’ll be blithely wandering into a red spherical spaceship and blasting off into another realm where… well, let’s just say it gets stranger…

Amusingly whimsical, mildly absurdist exploration of just what might happen if you do actually metaphorically jump off that cliff which parents and teachers alike repeatedly demanded assurances you wouldn’t be daft enough to do if anyone ever asked you to. Oh, and presuming you were living your life stuck in an odd jelly cube on a barren, faraway planet. Hmm, when you put it like that, I’d probably jump in that red spherical spaceship too. Then wish I hadn’t later…

Wonderful, well realised fantasy with neat touches of space opera, elevated further by some fantastic punchlines of preposterous humour, plus glorious pencilling and an expansive, part-dappled colour palette that is sensually subdued but entirely engaging. There’s a lot of highly impressive, very finely detailed background pencilling work going on that’s easy to miss against the open expansive use of space and colour but more than rewards a little patience perusing the panels.

JR

Buy Goatherded and read the Page 45 review here

Ghosts, Etc. (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by George Wylesol…

“Hey Kids… you wanna see something?”

Be warned. You won’t be able to unsee it once you have.

It’s like a fortuitously lightning-quick psychedelic DMT flash taking you pell-mell through a very strange version of heaven before promptly then being dragged back to reality through a hell which I think Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS Brown would be pretty proud of, design-wise, all very straight symmetrical lines and perfectly rounded smooth curves. The uber-harsh palette of bright mustard yellow, ketchup red and classic fountain pen ink blue only serves to disrupt the mental balance and heat up ‘n’ melt down the synapses even further past the point of repair. But given it’s the ‘bad kids’ being exhorted to take a peek and paying the brain-crushingly heavy mental price in ‘Worthless’, the third of three equally crazy tales in this collection, rather than me, meant I just found it all rather amusing, if a tad disturbing…

‘Rabbit’, the second tale, is even more surreal, believe it or not. I would be amazed to discover that George Wylesol doesn’t adore Michael LOSE DeForge, because probably the highest compliment I can give this work, is that if you had told me it was Michael DeForge, I would have completely believed it. The distinct contrast in illustration styles between ‘Worthless’ and here, with its intense, deliberately dense pseudo-random patterning lines, well, I guess technically it is shading, though perhaps texturing would probably be a better choice of word, shows our George has got several strings to his artistic bow, nay, harp!

The palette for ‘Rabbit’ is even more subconsciously intrusive on the eyes, particularly for his not infrequent plonking blocks of intense colours deliberately a few millimetres to the right or left of where they are supposed to go. In terms on engendering mild unease, it works extremely well as your brain is telling you something really isn’t quite right here… The story itself is of a lonely human portrayed as a ghost-like white sack with a wooden mask for a face wandering through a watchful forest, encountering a most peculiar rabbit with sticks for legs, and the human’s ill-advised attempts at taking it beyond the confines of the trees.

Since we’re working backwards, I have no idea what the odd photograph of pink roses that looks like it has been printed on an inkjet printer running out of one of the colours in the colour cartridge is all about, nor indeed the odd hand drawn couple in the flowery frame on the opposite pages. Maybe some strange exhortation of love to person(s) unknown by the author? That peculiar double-page spread sits immediately before ‘Rabbit’ and just after ‘Ghost’, the lead story which gets top billing as well as  naming rights on the collection.

‘Ghost’ tells the story of a night porter wandering the ten of miles of tunnels below a hospital, never encountering a soul, but certainly having some strange supernatural encounters which may or may not be due to his equally odd imagination. Then, our night errand boy somehow turns a corner into a previously undiscovered part of the tunnel network and has a mild existential crisis which is only ameliorated by utilizing his own particular mantra of mild murmuring madness to get through the experience.  ‘Ghost’ is actually the least obtuse of the three stories, and visually is far less intimidating than the others, though still with its own wonderful peculiarities, both in terms of the writing and artistically. It reminded me to a degree of Nick Drnaso’s BEVERLY.

A very accomplished trio of stories that showcases someone who is seemingly without any fear whatsoever when it comes to the arduous artistic process of making comics. Bravo George Wylesol.

JR

Buy Ghosts, Etc and read the Page 45 review here

A.D. After Death h/c (£22-99, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire…

“Look, Jonah, I’m just going to come out and say it. You know how bad it was when we all came up here. You might not remember, but you know, from your book, from just… facts.
“Forager went down, and then sent, what, one message back? One call? Then nothing.
“That’s silence for six hundred years. It’s a dead world, deadly to all life. So please, tell me you dropped your plans, will you? You let it go?”
“You’d tell me, though, right? If you heard something?”
“My god. Don’t you get it? This was my gift to you, cycling through here. I did it so you don’t have to. So you can move on. So you can burn that book of yours, or toss it down into the clouds and start a new life.”

Jonah Cooke, former professional thief of highly unusual items, however, is not the sort of man to let it lie. No sir. He is adamant that beneath the ever-changing multi-coloured electrical cloud layer blanketing the Earth since death was eradicated, with only a few teensy-weensy side effects like eliminating most of the population and rendering anywhere under 20,000 feet completely uninhabitable, someone stills lives. He’s heard them, just, over shortwave radio, or at least he thinks he has, and now he has his mind set on going down to see for himself. Actually, he has his mind set on a whole lot more than that, due to the guilt he feels at being partly responsible for the world’s current situation… Did I mention he was a professional thief of highly unusual items? Some people just don’t know when to stop…

I am very tempted to leave my summation of the plot there, actually, for one of the real pleasures of absorbing this vibrant mix of trademark, strong Lemire linework and sumptuous watercolour palette, sometimes as pure pages and panels of comics, sometimes illustrating the not inconsiderable chunks of Scott Snyder prose, is trying to work out, quite literally, what on Earth is going on? Or what is going on on Earth, but you get my drift. I doubt you will realise what is happening, until right at the end. I certainly didn’t. In that sense, Jonah is in a very similar situation, working in the dark, or at least near total radio silence…

This is an exquisite combination of two of comics’ current finest creators at the absolute zenith of their powers. Initially I started the first extended chunk of prose thinking “C’mon, I just want comics”, but by the end of said passage of Snyder’s preconceivedly-on-my-part purple prose I was so utterly engrossed by Jonah’s pre-after death back story that I was reluctant for the focus to shift. Fans of his THE WAKE with Sean Murphy and (the finally very shortly returning) WYTCHES with Jock will already know what a gripping and talented speculative fiction / horror writer he is.

Similarly, and I don’t know if it’s because of the glossy paper, but Lemire’s watercolours have never looked so lustrous and lively, the freakish atmospheric effects in particular are compellingly, hypnotically striking.

I think the closest either has done previously in terms of its rewarding complexity that would be a suitable comparison point are Lemire’s TRILLIUM and Snyder’s WYTCHES. This has even more of a mystery element to it, though, with some great little additional speculative fiction devices and conceits I haven’t mentioned that just broaden the story out beautifully, deployed to great effect by Snyder, but it is precisely that obsessive desire to know the truth once and for all… that is going to test Jonah’s sanity to breaking point…

JR

Buy A.D. After Death h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Empress Book 1 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Result: much spluttering in soup etc.

Do you trust Mark Millar? You should by now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

DC Universe: Rebirth – The Deluxe Edition h/c (£15-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez…

“There’s going to be a war between hope and despair.
“Love and apathy.
“Faith and disbelief.
“When I was outside of time I felt their presence.
“I tried to see who it was.
“I couldn’t, but I know they’re out there.
“And they’re waiting to attack again for some reason.
“I can feel it.
“Even now, Barry…
“… we’re being watched.”

If you’re the one remaining person on Earth-33 (New 52 Multiverse designation) who doesn’t know the twist at the end of this DCU reboot opener, which, rather neatly to be honest, explains why the entire New 52 Multiverse was a… fabrication… I’m not sure I can actually review this without spoiling it for you so I’m not even going to try. The implication is that Dr. Manhattan, yes he of WATCHMEN fame, was unbeknownst to anyone, responsible for hijacking events during the resolution of FLASHPOINT, and ensuring that reality took a different turn resulting in the creation of the New 52 Multiverse.

It’s a ballsy move by Geoff Johns, which is sure to antagonise as many people as it delights, but given he’s now moving on to take up the position of co-overlord of the DC Film division it’s up to everyone else to step into his sizeable scribe shoes and follow the blazing path he’s set with this revelatory one-shot. It think that’ll be tricky given this is easily his best bit of writing (possibly his best full stop) since his exemplary extended run on GREEN LANTERN which perhaps co-incidentally, or perhaps not, began with a mini-series entitled GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH…

Interestingly that particular rebirth brought back someone the fans had long been clamouring for the return of but which seemed impossible for reasons I really don’t need to elaborate on, in the form of Hal Jordan. And here, Johns performs the same trick again, as the Scarlet, well ginger, speedster Wally West, last seen during Johns’ BLACKEST NIGHT before apparently ceasing to exist when the New 52 came into being post-FLASHPOINT (also penned by Johns), is trying to break back into the DCU. Where has he been for the last several years? Well, Johns’ makes good use of the Flash fact that unlike all the other myriad speedsters Wally couldn’t be separated from the Speed Force, so has merely been lost there for ten years due to the mysterious meddlings of who we now assume to be Doctor Manhattan.

Wally therefore is the thread quite literally running through this entire story as he tries desperately to find one of his friends, even one of his enemies, who might, despite their minds – indeed entire reality – being altered, somehow remember him and bring him back. His problem is that to all intents and purposes everyone he has ever known has absolutely no idea he even existed. As he zooms from locale to locale, allowing us readers glimpses of what is to come for all the major characters in their own ‘rebirths’, his connection to the real world becomes ever more tenuous as he faces the prospect of physical disincorporation and completely merging with the Speed Force, to become nothing but fuel for other speedsters to tap into.

Even his beloved Linda, ten years younger than he remembers (as everyone is, again due to the mysterious meddling, conveniently explaining how all the heroes had their ages reset when the New 52 started) simply has no recollection of who he is. That only leaves Uncle Barry, the original Flash. Wally knows not even Barry will be able to rescue him, but he feels he needs to say his thanks to his inspiration and mentor then say goodbye before he disappears forever.

Which is the point at which I had to reach for my hankie… or to paraphrase a certain well known DC tagline, you will believe a man can cry… Forget the hyperbole of the Watchmen connection, the real heart-wrenching, gooey emotional centre of this yarn is Wally himself, plus the promise of what’s to come for the characters themselves. I came into this Rebirth one-shot full of cynicism and a heavy heart, my DC reading over the last few years having tailed off to simply Scott Snyder’s BATMAN and nothing else, but you know what, I was actually inspired to give the new slate of Rebirth titles a try.

JR

Buy DC Universe: Rebirth – The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Boys Club (£5-00) by Sarah Burgess

Poverty Of The Heart (£3-00) by Mike Medaglia

Carthago Adventures h/c (£24-99, Humanoids) by Christophe Bec, Alicante, Giles Daoust & Aleksa Gajic, Jaouen, Fafner, Brice Cossu, Alexis Sentenac, Drazen Kovacevic

Driving Short Distances (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joff Winterhart

What Is A Glacier? (£5-00, Retrofit) by Sophie Yanow

Planetary Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

Justice League vol 3: Timeless s/c (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Fernando Pasarin

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Mike Deodata Jr., Daniel Acuna

Goodnight Punpun vol 6 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week one

July 5th, 2017

Includes breathlessly awaited return of Hellbound Lifestyle’s Alabaster Pizzo!

Deserter’s Masquerade (£16-99, Knockabout) by Chloe Cruchaudet.

“Say it like you’ve got honey in your mouth.”
“Hello, my name is Suzanne…”

Well, this is a sell-itself cover if ever I saw one.

There’s an exceptionally strong, tactile physicality to the bare male back being wrapped round with a brassiere by a woman who looks lovingly but apprehensively up into his eyes as she seeks to close its clasp. Her wrists, hands and fingers are graceful, and her touch is tender, while his knuckles on hips aren’t those of a closed fist but open. It’s as subtle and soft as the molding, the shading. Their skin glows as if under moonlight.

Equally beautiful body forms populate this period graphic novel throughout, along with exquisitely expressive, gesticulatory character acting reminiscent of Will Eisner.

And Suzanne will have to do an awful lot of acting for fear of being found out. But after an initial reticence and reluctance to feminise herself in order to fit in, she finds that she actually relishes it and so much more.

At which point, the couple’s lives grow increasingly complicated…

Perhaps I should have used “historical” rather than “period” for DESERTER’S MASQUERADE is firmly rooted in a real story which begins one evening in pre-WWI Paris.

Louise is being prepped for the night out by her mother, advising her on etiquette and deportment as she deems befits a young lady; Paul is being bigged-up by his mum who admires the way his jacket shows off his broad shoulders. Unfortunately she’s making leek soup as he dresses for the occasion, and it’s ever so possible he’ll pong. His mates, on the other hand, gently tease him on account of his ardour for Louise but he’s determined that his enigmatic act will win the day. Louise, meanwhile, is being tutored by her friends on the affectations which she’ll need to pull off in order to attract.

“You need to fuss and fret a little bit.”
“She’s right. Play with your hair, stroke your knee, straighten your skirt… That way you appeal to his hunter’s instincts. You are his prey… The coup de grace: you throw back your head and laugh to show him your neck…”

It’s like being coached for a role in the crowd scene of a play. It works.

“Come on, let’s dance.”
“Well… okay but I should warn you now… I don’t know the steps like the other girls do.”

That matters not one jot. For many more nights over so many years, they’re going to make up their own dance instead.

Tonight it is beautiful to behold, Cruchaudet choreographing their hand-in-hand, give-and-take movements with a sweeping grace, accentuating their hips as they throw themselves up and Paul swirls Louise about. There is energy and freedom in their free-floating forms. Trickling down their hot necks there are rivulets of sweat which are both moist and pleasantly pungent, a sensory reaction which Cruchaudet has already set up for her readership with the leek soup, just as she has all the acting.

Except for the emphatically cramped and claustrophobic WWI trench scenes on the French frontline, all the panels here are borderless in black, white and grey washes, the cameo effect of the cinematic haze reminiscent of early film-making from around the same period. The bright scarlet dresses, skirts, and scarf (and a later, orange, chiffon chemise) could be a more modern tinting of those original black and white frames, adding extra sensuality to what is an exceptionally sensual experience.

The heady dance is immediately followed by a romantic, more serene scene in a boat on the lake in the Bois de Boulogne, which in turn leads swiftly down the altar, thence to the train station, Louise still adorned in her wedding dress. Alas, Paul is in army uniform for war is about to be declared, the virile young soldiers parading proudly in an orderly fashion down open avenues, full of optimism for the future.

One turn of the page later and you are in Hell.

What happens in the trenches won’t stay in the trenches: it will haunt Paul forever, and Cruchaudet proves as adept at ugly as she is at elegance. You will comprehend completely why Paul chose to desert – or saw little choice but to desert – but will still wince at the lengths he goes to in order to do so.

I’ll flash forward instead to Paul having to hide away in a hotel while Louise goes to work, in order to bring in an inadequate wage for the pair of them. Louise is at equal risk should Paul ever be discovered for she made all the arrangements, but Paul is far from grateful, slouching around in his vest, hairy chest on show, and begins drinking heavily.

It is the need for more drink which finally propels him outside at night in one of Louise’s red dresses, and oh, that look of naughty-boy joy as he strides down the lamp-lit street!

If he wants to saunter out during the day, however, they’re both going to have to be far more thorough and grow more inventive with the latest epilatory gadgets. And that’s how Paul becomes Suzanne.

I mentioned Will Eisner earlier, but the lines, noses and high Parisian fashion, as Paul learns his new role and then even a trade, also put me very much in mind of what I call early-mid Disney circa ‘One Hundred And One Dalmatians’.

We’ve still barely begun, but I can take you no further; instead I pull you back. For the book doesn’t begin with the dance, it begins with three pages of a courtroom trial which will be reprised later but already inform everything as you read it. For you know from the start that something went awry, so you’re kept in a constant state of suspense, worrying what went wrong, when it went wrong and why.

You are given no clue at all as to the nature of the charges, and that is vital.

The very first page depicts a quite elderly man of unremarkable appearance swapping his civilian clothes for long black robes and the white scarf of office, assuming the identity of a judge.

“Clothes make the man,” as they say.

That’s how clever this is.

AGE ALERT for school librarians etc. It’s rare that we issues any age alert in reviews – although we are always responsible on the shop floor – but there’s far more going on between the covers and indeed down the Bois de Boulogne than I had anticipated, although the Bois de Boulogne is sign-posted early on (right there in wrought iron!), and that neck of the woods does have a certain history of exotic, libidinous, nocturnal activity. “Delicately put, Stephen!” Thank you.

SLH

Buy Deserter’s Masquerade and read the Page 45 review here

Ralphie & Jeanie (£10-00, Alabaster Comix) by Alabaster Pizzo.

Job interviews:

These are serious, potential life-altering affairs which should be conducted with the utmost decorum.

A little levity, when judiciously targeted, may well prove endearing to your prospective employer, for engagement and individuality as well as a quick wit and a sprightly demeanour are treasured by some as qualities conducive to a cooperative and constructive relationship between co-workers. It pays to be positive, you know.

You should arrive well prepped, but also fresh as a daisy.

Jeannie’s sure had a bath, but the bath was in beer which here boyf had left brewing. She thought it was a thoughtful, aromatic offering to calm her nerves.

“I really have the best boyfriend ever. <3”

It was certainly aromatic, and now so is she. Also “relaxed”, by which I mean drunk as a skunk.

“Uh, Eugenia Barboncino?”
“HEEEERRE’S JEANNIE!!!!!”

That panel features some truly tasty cartooning, our Jeanie thrusting herself effervescently, horizontally through the office doorway, wild-eyed, mouth wide and arms akimbo, addressing her imaginary, adulatory TV audience; emphatically not her startled potential employer.

But making an entrance that impresses is not without merits, so let’s see what transpires.

“Ms. Barboncino, why do you think you’re qualified for this position?”
“Please, call me Jeanie,” she proffers generously, waving her hand to dismiss the formality. “”Ms. Barboncino” is my father.”

There follows the loudest and most profoundly moving Oscar-acceptance speech of all time, before Jeannie THUNKs her head down on his desk.

“Ms. Barboncino, are you drunk?”
“Drunk with desire for this job!!!”

He picks up the phone. “Security?”

From the co-creator of HELLBOUND LIFESTYLE, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, comes an ill-advisedly A4 floppy of blindingly bright, exuberant, anthropomorphic ordeals which had me howling with laughter. Is it so very puerile of me to find hilarious a po-faced art-gallery owner answering the phone with “Hello, Pooperdink & Plop?”

It probably is. I might try that at Page 45.

Note that the love-struck couple call each other Ralphie and Jeanie, not Ralph and Jean, affectionate nicknames of adoration which also denote a certain absence of level-headed maturity. They are clueless and completely impractical, not rising but falling to every occasion. Although Ralphie may surprise you – and Jeanie too – when it comes to his empathy and instinct in controlling some lively kids in a crèche.

“Thank you so much for coming on such short notice,” says the day care centre’s supervisor, smiling but so drained by the drought of support in her job that her hair is a crinkled, crumpled, frazzled mess and the bags under her eyes are bruised blue. “The other counsellors keep changing their phone numbers or abruptly leaving the country.”

Also on offer: a free day at the beach requiring massive, burdensome and accumulatively expensive accoutrements hauled over half a dozen subway stops; tax returns (you send them in; you don’t actually get anything in return except a bloody big bill), a wedding invitation, DIY (see: ill-advised), alien abduction (possibly) and unearthing a time capsule buried together during college, containing arcane objects whose function’s forgotten.

“Wow, so many CDs.
“Do you remember what we did with these?”

It’s simply masterful.

I love that their love falters for not one second and cannot emphasise in strong enough terms how infectiously endearing and keenly observed the cartooning is. Ralphie is perpetually stoned and therefore tired-eyed, dazed and lank, while take-charge Jeannie is such an expressive creation, ebullient and exclamatory, with a self-congratulatory pride evidenced in her chin lifted and eyes angelically shut when she buys into urban, small-hold farming by growing veggies on their terraced city rooftop.

“But what’s wrong with letting the grocery store grow the food as always?” ask Ralphie.

Jeanie’s face is a picture of pure, lip-sealed, Dame Edna Everage wobbling-eyed exasperation before bursting into visually star-struck dreams:

“Cause if we become farmers we can quit our jobs and live off the grid!!”

Live off the grid! Jeannie gleaned the idea from Woke Magazine which, much to my surprise, does actually exist. I thought it was satire.

SLH

Buy Ralphie & Jeanie and read the Page 45 review here

Shit And Piss (£8-00, Retrofit) by Tyler Landry.

As above, so below.

“Grief is grief,
“No matter where you find it.
“But in this hole
“The grief,
“The filth,
“The scum,
“They amount to… nothing.”

I’ve seen a lot of self-indulgent, determinedly transgressive and meaningless claptrap scrawled in biro by juveniles in their twenties or thirties, merrily mixing sex and violence, and there will almost always be a huge dong. Page 45 is a mature Real Mainstream retailer for a mature Real Mainstream readership of any age, so we don’t stock such drivel.

This is not that.

Tellingly, there are no genitalia on display whatsoever.

The title is blunt – I’ll give you that – but in this scathing, angry and particularly powerful instance, it is entirely merited.

To begin with SHIT AND PISS appears to be a bleak and brutal horror comic, set in a dungeon-like sewer system into which effluence pours from above, hence its weeping walls, where a “meat man”, without the senses to comprehend its environment in anything but the most primitive manner cannot therefore engage with it an any meaningful manner except through violence. All this is overseen by our narrator, a skull whose sockets house a piercing intelligence which appears to be dispassionate, sitting in judgement.

So far, so heavy metal, but again, this is not that. Pay close attention to what is being said and the manner in which it’s being communicated.

“Within these hallowed hall
“Of shit and piss,
“Dwell creatures so entrenched
“As to permeate the bricks themselves.
“Expertly organised –
“And in ways not dissimilar to your own.”

You’ll find them establishing abodes, fortifying boundaries, constantly in conflict and ravenous.

On either side of the central column of this ruled, nine-panel grid lurk more familiar city dwellers or a colony of ants. Later you may spot dead dinosaurs and medieval knights impaled on lances in the wake of a mass battle, their castle burning behind them. I don’t think that’s a comparison point: I believe that’s the main meat.

Landry makes the most of his nine-panel grid which, as I say, is gutter-free and so may merge at  any moment to form a composite image with a striking use of defining tone between each constituent element (just as his silhouettes and inverse silhouettes do throughout) so that the beats are maintained in the monologue.

They are such damning beats, not least the last one, delivered with economy and eloquence.

“Down here in the shit
“And the piss.
“Genocide is a matter of course.”

As above, so below.

SLH

Buy Shit And Piss and read the Page 45 review here

Combed Clap Of Thunder (£5-00, Retrofit) by Zach Hazard Vaupen…

“Insanity witches.
“Drug maniacs.
“Friend addicts.
“Bathroom intolerants.
“The world is broken and I’m a person in it.”

Three of the most bizarre, surreal and yet delightfully coherent short stories that I may have ever read. These are as utterly out there as PICNOLEPTIC INERTIA by Tsemberlidis and pretty much anything by Michael STICKS ANGELA, FOLK HERO DeForge.

The titles ‘The Lonely Autocannibal The Scientist’, ‘Bodhisattva’ and ‘The Real Jesuses’ give you an inkling Zach Hazard Vaupen is about take you for a walk on the weirder side, but you will quickly find yourself drawn into three fascinating, if twisted, worlds of very well constructed  and thought-through existential crises.

The first features a strange individual abstractedly pondering the pros (and apparently no cons) of eating human flesh whilst taking in the delights of the natural world and philosophising / losing the plot. You can probably guess from the title precisely who the titular Scientist ends up sampling in the culinary sense…

The second is possibly the most disturbing given that it features a pair of identical twins, sort of, for one seems to be imaginary, whilst the other is determined to commit suicide, seemingly from practically the moment she was born. She just doesn’t want to do it by herself though, and since her twin isn’t interested in ending it all, she spends most of her childhood years trying to persuade other people to join her in a suicide pact. The punchline is the kicker. I can see exactly what the writer was intending here, and it is a genuinely affecting read.

The final story was probably my favourite as it took the nigh on apocalyptic state of the world to utterly bizarre and excruciatingly farcical levels of odd. As humankind gradually swirls upwards around the plughole towards the Godhead, the Real Jesuses themselves fervently playing their vital, if transitory, bit-part role along the way, the believers are in for a wee bit of a surprise when they finally meet the big man himself.

As I said then, three of the most bizarre, surreal short stories that I may have ever read!

Artistically I was also extremely impressed. Zach has an incredibly strong style but a very light touch which did remind me of the likes of GARDENS OF GLASS by Lando, but also very strongly of Ben Sea’s equally kooky EYELASH OUT. And actually, now I think upon further, also the odd bit of Frederick AAMA Peeters for good measure, particularly in the Lonely Autocannibal’s facial features. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any future works.

JR

Buy Combed Clap Of Thunder and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Night: A True Batman Story s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso…

“Get up. Go back to work.”
“Your bedside manner is lousy.”
“Your attitude is worse. Calling in sick. Moping and feeling sorry for yourself. Wasting your time with this trash. You’ve accomplished nothing.”
“I’ve been having a hard time.”
“And doing nothing to rise above it. Make a new choice.”
“Like what?”
“Mitigate the chance of being attacked again. For a start. Be alert. Be smart. Drop some weight. Tone up. The exercise will nourish both your body and your mind. Soon you’ll be walking with pride and authority. It will take a few months of hard work, but if you want to heal and restore your confidence, there really is no other way.”
“I want to buy a gun.”

That’s Batman, there, dispensing the tough love to the battered Paul Dini. Back in the 1990s, whilst on the up and up and writing for Batman: The Animated Series in Hollywood, Dini was very badly beaten during a mugging. In addition to shattering his face, the assailants shattered his confidence, resulting in a long and difficult recovery process that was as tough, if not considerably tougher, in mental terms, than the physical.

During that period, having withdrawn nearly completely within himself emotionally, Dini would frequently find himself talking to the Batman, and a whole host of Bat-villains, all the while oscillating between despair and self-loathing. From blaming himself for walking blindly into the situation, to not being able to fend off his attackers, to repeatedly choosing to avoid putting it behind him and moving on with his life, Dini’s internal dialogues with the cast of characters that it had long been second nature writing, would form his psychological crutch whilst simultaneously also being the barrier preventing him regaining his mental health.

Much like Steven T. Seagle’s thankfully back-in-print IT’S A BIRD with art by Teddy Kristiansen, about his mental travails around working on Superman (also on Vertigo), this is not your normal Batman book. There are some fascinating little Bat nuggets thrown in here, including a Sandman and Death guest appearance (blessed by Neil himself) whilst Batman was hovering between life and death that Dini pitched for the animated series and sadly never happened, but ultimately this is simply a very painful, very tragic, true crime story. It is all the more excruciating to read when you are watching the blows rain down and enduring Dini’s protracted, emotionally suffocating recovery process, because you know it really happened.

He certainly picked the right artist to work with him in Eduardo 100 BULLETS Risso too because as soon as I saw the two hoodlums sauntering towards Dini, him having petulantly refused a lift home from his hot actress date for the evening in a vain attempt to induce jealousy, well, any sort of interest in him from her, and him then thinking I don’t want to be that white asshole who crosses over the road just to avoid two black guys, who are probably simply well-to-do Hollywood creative types, I knew just how viscerally brutally the beat down was going to be illustrated. And it was. It’s one thing revelling in that sort of thing whilst enjoying crime fiction like 100 BULLETS, it’s another thing reading it, knowing it was a man’s life on the line.

 

I admire his honesty in writing this. There was undoubtedly some degree of catharsis in doing so, indeed there’s a little sequence between Dini and The Joker berating him for exactly that, but he certainly doesn’t spare himself, or attempt to portray himself as some sort of martyr. Quite the opposite really, Dini lays bare the relentless hard time he, directly, and through the proxies of the entire cast of Bat-villains, plus Batman too, gave himself. For events during, after, and indeed before the mugging. Nowhere near as painful to read as what he went through I’m sure, but he does a very good job of giving us a glimpse of what a punishing period of his life it must have been emotionally.

JR

Buy Dark Night: A True Batman Story s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground s/c (£14-99, Young Animal) by Gerard Way & Michael Avon Oeming…

“We’re going too fast, hold on! Between my eye, and the Mighty Mole’s sensors, we might just avoid hitting a gas line or a chasm.”
“I love this. I LOVE IT!”
“Why is this happening?! Who are these guys?!”
“Your mother was a princess of an ancient underground civilisation called Muldroog. These guys need you, her descendant, to open up some kind of vault.”
“You care to run that shit past me just one more time, please?!”

Cave Carson safely retired, if not completely unscathed, from the underground adventuring business, after putting in more subterranean miles than even the Mole Man, was all settled down to enjoy the good life with wife Eileen, and daughter Chloe. And life was very good, for a time. But with Chloe now all grown up and away at college, and Eileen sadly recently deceased, Cave suddenly finds himself at somewhat of an emotional loose end. It’s a good job adventuring is going to come a knock-knock-crashing through his proverbial door like a pickaxe, then!

Cave Carson was actually a very obscure ‘60s DC sidebar sci-fi character who never even had his own title until now, so (mine-)props to Gerard Way for excavating a little bit of long buried DC history to work with. I’m not certain whether he had his cybernetic eye back in the day, but that artificial ocular implant, which Cave is not entirely sure where / when / why / how he acquired – hey, he had a lot of adventures, but probably not at his local Specsavers, I suspect – is going to prove very crucial to the plot. I guess that was kind of obvious, though, otherwise why would it be in the title?!

In fact, before long he’s having strange hallucinations which seem to be coming from said eye, rather than his noggin. Bet he wishes he’d kept the receipt… These episodes of sensory overload are certainly going to prove as much hindrance as help to him, as Cave is called upon once more to get out a jam by going underground, this time with Chloe, plus best mate and top mechanic Jack in tow. Their destination? The fabled lost city of Muldroog… which might just have a pivotal connection with his pesky peeper…

This is just a really fun title, utterly absurd escapist adventure nonsense. It’s far more simple and straightforward a read than Way’s excellent, if intense, DOOM PATROL. It’s very nominally in the main DC universe itself, as we enjoy a brief cameo from Doc Magnus and some of his merry Metal Men, for example, plus a Superman reference, but I think that’s probably about as far into capes and tights territory as this is going to get. Which is another plus. It is basically, then, a mildly psychedelic sci-fi romp, with some surprisingly dark elements of suspense and horror spattered in occasionally, which I’ll say no more about as to not spoil the squirming surprises.

Oeming is a great choice of partner for Way here, and I’m delighted he’s got this gig. Nice to see him on something else high profile other than the still barely chugging along POWERS and the now seemingly, sadly, extinct UNITED STATES OF MURDER INC. He choreographs the decoratively deranged and at times mind-bendingly colourful action-packed artwork to perfection.

JR

Buy Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground 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’

Alice Isn’t Happy (£10-00) by Spencer Woodcock & Denny Derbyshire

Badger Vs. Tiger! (£5-00) by John Cei Douglas

Beanworld vol 4: Hoka Hoka Burb’l Burb’l h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Larry Marder

Empress Book 1 s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge Tardi h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Leo Malet & Jacques Tardi

Glister (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Andi Watson

Loose Ends (£14-99, Image) by Jason Latour & Chris Brunner

Monstress vol 2: The Blood s/c (£14-99, Image) by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

Songy Of Paradise (£30-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Gary Panter

Star Wars vol 5: Yoda’s Secret War (£15-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson & Salvador Larroca & Emilio Laiso

DC Universe: Rebirth – The Deluxe Edition h/c (£15-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez

It’s A Bird… s/c (£15-99, DC) by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy H. Kristiansen

Erased vol 2 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanbe

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week four

June 28th, 2017

Don’t miss the new editions of Luke Pearson’s Hilda and Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre’s Pugs Of The Frozen North underneath!

Clockwork Watch Omnibus Edition (£16-99) by Yomi Ayeni, Corey Brotherson & Jennie Gyllblad.

The future holds no guarantees; the past does not have all the answers.

Unless you dig deep enough.

TOMORROW:
“Stop!”
Innocence.
“Stop”!”
Slain at the altar of intolerance.
This is England.

Indeed it is. That’s quite the arresting first page: cog-enhanced speech balloons over black and white tiles, increasingly splattered with blood. The question is: whose?

I’ve known Yomi Aveni for over three years now – we greet each other annually at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival – and he is many things: gregarious, engaging, always grinning, always laughing; witty, generous, persistent, ever so dapper and devilishly handsome. One of the things Yomi isn’t is obvious. Ayeni and Brotherson have honed that first page’s script so spectacularly well, for its precision plays with our preconceptions of victimhood and Victorian England at the height of its empire. Its words will continue to resonate throughout these three chapters.

Anyway, Steampunk ahoy!

I promise you plenty of socio-politics, costumes to cosplay, and delicate, even dainty watercolours whose initial, decorous beauty will give way to bludgeoning violence. I’ve seen plenty of split lips and livid purple bruises in my time, but few artists I’ve encountered can recreate the wateriness of a punch-induced eye-haemorrhage like Jennie Gyllblad.

Outside of the automaton Clockworks themselves, there are relatively few fanciful, fantastical genre diversions in her art – the hairpins, perhaps, hats, and the spectacles – which instead replicates in elaborate detail Victorian upper-class finery with its global maps proudly proclaiming empire, framed portraits, stuffed animals, entomological glass cases, luxurious drapes and Indian robes, along with those hideous zoological elephant cages etc with their thick iron bars, and Crystal Palace itself.

Ah yes, Indian robes…

Scientific and global discovery were symbiotic beasts during the British Empire’s expansion, so steampunk is a perfectly natural indeed logical genre. Here, circa 1900, an extortionately expensive foreign war has both decimated the population and driven the lower classes further into poverty. With additional power shortages in an already inefficient industry, Her Majesty’s government in its wisdom has charged scientists with developing clockwork labour. I say “in its wisdom” but we all know the effect of automation on employment. See working classes / poverty.

Amongst the leading lights of the Empire’s scientific community is wealthy kinetic scientist Chan Rabir who arrives from India with his wife Tinku and eight-year-old son Janav in tow to an enthusiastic reception. Driven through London, they are housed in luxury.

Along with an old acquaintance Lord Frobisher Pilbeam, Chan Rabir is on the cusp of unveiling a self-sustaining, mechanical humanoid prototype powered by its own movement – which won’t be a problem since it’s created to be a servant working without break and so perpetually in motion.

It is young Janav who is to launch this invention with a tool given to him as a gift from Lord and Lady Frobisher Pilbeam as part of an ornate toolbox, and then christen the Clockwork himself.

Janav christens it Ashwin after his best friend in India, and he does so delightedly. I cannot tell you how many levels of irony will unfold in the two decades that follow, all of them entirely unexpectedly.

Vitally, Brotherson and Ayeni have presented the family’s arrival in England from Janav’s point of view. To an eight-year-old such a transition is thrilling in its novelty and daunting in its unfamiliarity, and then, of course, there are those left behind. Gyllblad, meanwhile, is at pains to portray how small, tentative and frightened he is (that fear is infectious) initially both by the idea of a mechanical man and of his father who is stern, impatient, aloof and abrupt. His mother is gentler but firm, proud of her son but worried. And she should be.

Because there is something they haven’t told Janav. Not only has he lost his best friend and home country, but now he is going to lose the sanctuary and comfort of his mother as well: they’re sending him away to boarding school.

Twenty years later, and that may have been a mistake.

Now, for fear of spoilers, I can tell you little more about the family dynamics, but everything I’ve touched on comes into play because everything our creators have laid down early on proves pivotal. Nothing here is extraneous. The very first page of chapter two, for example, echoes that of the first specifically, deliciously, horrifically, with the implied violence ramped up even further.

One of the things about science is that its developments tend to accelerate dramatically. Compare the last century to the nineteen that preceded it; the last two millennia to the eighteen that preceded them. So what do you think might have happened to the Clockworks during the last two decades? To the society they serve…? To those who created them? To those who bought them? To the boy who was intended to follow in his father’s footsteps as per patrilineal tradition?

You’ll have to read this to find out.

I’ve two pages of notes joined by multiple, criss-crossing arrows which ably demonstrate how intricately every element of this has been ably assembled and interlinked, but I simply cannot use them responsibly.

However, the cog-enhanced speech balloons which Gyllblad designed for the Clockworks – already denoting a certain whirring, clicking accompaniment to whatever’s exclaimed – comes into its own twenty years later when otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to discern who was human. It’s something which Ayeni and Brotherson employ so deviously that you’re going to be re-reading conversations with big grins on your faces after you’ve subconsciously attributed non-existent cogs or missed them completely.

Right, what else have we got? Between chapters we are treated to pages and pages of process from Jennie, project updates from Yomi, astute considerations on adaptation from Corey, and a wealth of faux advertisements and newspaper headlines / letters to the editor etc. The advertising slogans are punchy and playful; the posters are lettered to perfection; while the London Gazette boasts the tag line “Splendid Isolation – Since 1802”.

Now that is attention to detail!

SLH

Buy Clockwork Watch Omnibus Edition and read the Page 45 review here

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

Fourteen full-colour, smile-inducing short stories including ‘Colin Turnbull – A Tall Story’ which won Dooley the Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize 2016.

It’s predicated on the notion that height might be of innate value in bringing your best to each daily doorstop delivery, and that winning the award for Lancashire’s Tallest Milkman could be the greatest honour imaginable. ”Imaginable” is the key word there. Also, that one could actually prep for such a contest!

Otherwise, there’s much of the Tom Gauld in evidence here, both in tone (deadpan) and format (outside of the six- and nine-panel grids).

‘Eight Potential Existing Threats For You To Consider’ will certainly put your next deadline into context while, opposite, ‘Eight Methods For Distracting Yourself From Possible Existential Catastrophes’ doesn’t include meeting or beating any such deadline, mentally dealing with any such existential threats nor taking counter-action.

The possibility of civil breakdown is reprised later on. This is evidently the threat which Dooley deems darkest but he’s in silver-lining mode, for there are upsides to everything if you inspect enough angles: “affordable London property”, “new management opportunities” and “the easing of health and safety regulation”. The genius of that strip is its double-flip: first the absurd optimism of the posited silver linings, then the illustrations which accompany each, none darker than “the forging of close community spirit’.

‘Uniforms 1988-2015’ begins at school and if you‘re lucky that will be both your “first great inconvenience” and your last. However, should you find “gainful” employment at some more corporate institutions, you’re going to have to endure some howlingly horrible and humiliating ensembles and here some big brands take a bashing for their questionable customer service. This is all beautifully set up for a brilliantly oblique punchline coming right out of leftfield and knocking the ball out of Parliament Square.

Dooley’s punchlines are all far from obvious. In one instance – the final one – it comes two panels earlier than you’d expect, demonstrating remarkable judgement in perfect keeping with what indeed are ‘The Practical Implications Of Immortality’. On another occasion the whole tradition of the message in a bottle is reversed – in that they’re normally sent out by those craving company rather than received by those seeking solace – before being totally trounced in the final tier / tear.

 

Other strips explore the gravity of a good night’s sleep, the tyranny of the bathroom scales (and the lengths some go to minimise their measurement), and a jeering birds-eye view of St Helena’s most famous former resident, standing on the shore and looking out to sea as if he were getting away from it all – “it all” being what was some not inconsiderable hustle and bustle.

As well as Tom Gauld, there’s more than a little Chris Ware going on in the crispness of lines, some of the colour palettes, the sombre restraint and supposed reflection, plus the wider cartooning particularly when Matthew himself appears. It’s an especially successful self-caricature, immediately identifiable as Dooley while accentuating the ginger beard for all its worth, beneath which his mouth completely disappears.

There are several tales I’ve not even touched on, but we’ll finish with ‘A Series Of Things That I Spent My Childhood Thinking About That Have Barely Featured In My Adult Life’ purely because it is surprisingly spot-on – it’s a big Yes from me to all of them – and so that, between reading this review and picking up your own copy of the comic, you can anticipate the experience by making your own list of nine and then see if they match Matthew’s or – if they don’t – whether Matthew’s list reflects your childhood experience more accurately than your own recollection of it!

SLH

Buy The Practical Implications Of Immortality and read the Page 45 review here

The Dying & The Dead vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim…

“I’m sorry, Colonel. There is nothing we can do.
“We can try to make her comfortable…
“Manage her pain…
“But she’s beyond our abilities now.
“Clair was a wonderful woman… but it’s time to start thinking about letting go.”

One of those five lines will turn out to be the whole crux of a conundrum presented to Colonel James Canning by a mysterious individual known as The Courier. For whilst it may be beyond the abilities of mortal doctors to cure his wife of her terminal cancer, there are… others… who have that power: the power over life and death itself. Furthermore, Colonel Canning is one of a very few mortals who are even aware of these others, having previously encountered them in circumstances which I suspect may well in time become clearer.

Time… yes, that is also something which seems in flux for some of the participants in this first volume. For there is a mysterious, hidden underground paradise of extraordinary architectural beauty called The City whose Second (that is her title or rank) is tasked with guiding Colonel Canning from the surface to his meeting with The Bishop, the leader of these others. The Second seems completely unaware of Colonel Canning. Having been The Second since 1948, this puzzles her greatly, as do the Colonel’s comments regarding a great fire in The City because it’s an event of which she has no memory at all…

The Bishop on the other hand, well, he seemingly knows much, possibly all there is to know, and during his conversation with the Colonel many deep, philosophical matters are touched upon, such as the fact that there is a tree of life in The City. Not the Tree of Life, note, but “a”, which in turn suggests much. And that his kind bestowed religion of all shades upon humanity. Now, you might wonder why such beings, and I have my own personal theory about precisely what they are at this point, would wish to even deign to converse with a human. It turns out they need a proxy, to whom they are prepared to make a mutually beneficial proposal. If James Canning is prepared to undertake a task in our world for them, they will restore his wife to perfect health.

The task? Well, the impressive opening sequence – involving an amphibious assault on a wedding party on a Greek island by what appears to be a covert terrorist organisation, consisting entirely of an army of clones called The Children, all of just one male and one female, headed by an older dictatorial figure wearing a uniform with a modified infinity symbol, purely for the purposes of stealing an artefact called the Bah al’Sharur – is another huge tease in and of itself. All the Colonel has to do is recover the artefact. Now why I do suspect it isn’t going to be that easy…?

What an opener! This is Hickman at his fluid, mesmerising best here, constructing an intricate puzzle to intrigue us, scattering some enticing pieces on the table to pique our curiosity, and then the game begins in earnest. It is considerably less dense, though no less mysterious, than his utterly intriguing BLACK MONDAY MURDERS. Fans of his speculative fiction joint EAST OF WEST will certainly lap it up, and also those who enjoyed SECRET, the previous espionage-flavoured project which he also undertook with artist Ryan Bodenheim. He does like his detail, Mr. Bodenheim, and I can see elements of Geof Darrow and Simone Bianchi in there. The sequences as the Colonel descends deeper into The City are particularly spectacular.

Also, as with SECRET, there is a colour palette of merely one additional colour per panel used by colourist Michael Garland, in a maximum of two tones, which is very striking and really adds emphasis to the art itself. The only exception I can see to this ‘rule’ is the cover, which actually was my least favourite bit of art in the whole volume by some distance. Seems somewhat churlish though, to have such a minor quibble over something so close to perfection!

JR

Buy The Dying & The Dead vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 4: Orbital Mechanics (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

I’ve just figured it all out: the connection between tiny Tim-21 and the planetary-sized Harvesters.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about Tim-21’s codex, his electronic DNA found in the human-hating Harvesters. To be more precise: the organic-hating Harvesters.

Which is impossible, obviously: for a start the Harvesters devastation of the Nine Worlds occurred when Tim-21 was but a stripling in human terms: but a few years off the assembly line. How could it reside in these vast Celestials of carnage? Also, Tim-21 adores humans. He was created to be a family companion, an android brother, child or grandchild.

What am I talking about now?

Please see all three substantial, spoiler-free reviews of DESCENDER. I know I repeat this too often to endure, but even a third book is reviewed at Page 45 without spoilers for the first because we want new people on board. A fourth is more difficult.

DESCENDER is phenomenal, space-born science-fiction which plays about with story structure so satisfyingly and successfully (see DESCENDER VOL 3) and does so again in the first chapter here, with three contemporaneously occurring fight and / or flight scenes each allocated a single-panelled tier per page so that you can read two at a time across a double page if you fancy, or just the one. There’s a slight glitch when they switch, but it’s still pretty thrilling stuff, with a huge, horizontally enhanced sense of trajectory, even for the couple who aren’t even running but lying flat on their post-coital backs.

As to the pencil, ink, and watercolour-wash art, it’s been lambent from the start but have you noticed that, as time moves on, everyone on active duty is growing increasingly ragged? Frayed at the edges, or buggered up completely inside.

You’re going to love the assembled space fleet here. It’s “An armada to vada!” as they say in Polari.

Is it a big nod to Babylon 5…? I believe so!

So here’s a not-unrelated question for you: whatever happened to Tim-22?

Others may wish they’d asked the same question.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 4: Orbital Mechanics and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars Doctor Aphra vol 1: Aphra s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Kev Walker…

“BLEEP!”
“Oh, yes. She’s alive. I do indeed owe you money. No need to gloat, Beetee.
“Master Aphra! I take it by your continued breathing you managed to avoid being backstabbed by the ruffian, Ulbik Tan?”
“Oh, no. He backstabbed me and left me for dead. But I wasn’t!
“Then I backstabbed him and left him for dead. But he is!
“And I picked up a souvenir!”
“Oh, excellent, Master, that is a beautiful piece…”
“It feels strange to be actually dealing in artefacts again, this is an object of genuine cultural importance. Stealing… I mean, recovering something that can’t be used to kill people is kinda novel.”
“BLEEP!”
“Quite, Beetee, we have to disagree, Master Aphra. It’d suffice as a fairly sturdy bludgeon.”

My favourite non-film Star Wars characters return for their own run, once again under the peril-filled pen of Grand Moff Gillen, following their calamitously chaotic appearances in his run on DARTH VADER! The not-so-good Doctor may take the title billing – and she is indeed top extermination entertainment value, best observed from a safe distance, of course – but it’s the hilariously homicidal and decidedly deadly duo of BeeTee-One and Triple-Zero, constantly chipping in with their snide asides, which make this title such a delirious daft delight. Throw in the utterly lunatic bounty hunter Wookie Black Krrsantan, riding shotgun until Aphra repays her enormous debts to him (debts which aren’t going to ever get paid if he just rips her limbs off however satisfying that would be)… and, well, it’s not going to be a boring read, is it?

We start with a bit of back story in this first volume, of precisely how a gifted archaeology student could turn into such an unhinged freebooter, and it seems her dad has rather a lot to answer for. Still, given she’s then forced to team up with him to investigate the long lost palace of the Ordu Aspectu, a fabled Jedi splinter sect that was pursuing immortality, they’re probably going to have chance to work through those pesky family issues! This is a great fun intro / catch-up to all the cast, and neatly sets up the forthcoming Screaming Citadel crossover (that didn’t take long, did it?) with the main STAR WARS title.

I enjoyed Kev Walker’s art too, I must say. I’ve always liked his style since his work on various 2000AD characters like Rogue Trooper, A.B.C. Warriors, even Judge Dredd himself, back in the very early nineties, plus some of the bits and pieces he’s done for Marvel more recently. He was also the artist on Chalie Higson’s rip-snorting young James Bond adventure SILVERFIN. I’m slightly surprised at him getting the nod for this given Marvel seem to have gone for uber-clean pencillers stylistically on everything Star Wars-related so far. Hopefully he gets to stay on this title, as I note he didn’t do the two Aphra issues in the crossover mentioned above.

JR

Buy Star Wars Doctor Aphra vol 1: Aphra s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review

Hilda And The Black Hound (vol 4) s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson.

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

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

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

Err, I can explain the milk chocolate and I’m ever so sorry.

But the rest didn’t get lost in the wash, you know. You don’t even put comics in the wash, do you? Do you…?! No, there is a far more thrilling explanation which lies in those hidden corners of your house which you won’t find revealed in the average home survey!

Now what, do you think, does all this have to do with the gigantic, black, wolf-like creature, nearly two storeys high, which has been seen lurking at night in the heart of the city of Trolberg? Even Hilda’s mother has spotted it out of the corner of her eye and the papers are calling it “The Black Beast Of Trolberg”!

It could make Hilda’s first weekend camp with the Sparrow Scouts ever so slightly trepidatious.

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

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

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

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

With Flying Eye Books you can guarantee top-quality production values, lavished here on art which deserves all the pampering it receives. The beast is a black beauty, while dappled pet Twig is one of the cutest creatures ever drawn. More than once he is tossed from his basket by the frantic goings-on in comedic panels worthy of Charles Schultz.

It’s an odd thing to pick out, but I also adore the way that coloured hair falls over one of Hilda’s eyes – and her mother’s – yet you can see the rest of its outline underneath. Even a trip to the grocery store is a visual feast, with such exciting jars, bottles and paper packets lining the shelves that you wonder what on earth’s in them and can’t help but speculate how tasty they’d be.

There’s a great deal of nose-to-nose contact, a sneaky guest-appearance by Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson himself in a typically domestic SOPPY tableau, and an action-packed, runaway, distance-hopping finale that will have you on the edge of your car seat.

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

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

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Black Hound (vol 4) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Radically Re-Written Review!

Pugs Of The Frozen North s/c (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre.

“The Kraken? You don’t believe in that old story, do you? It’s just a legend of the sea, like the Bermuda Triangle, or the Night of the Seawigs.”
“Idiot.”

Idiot indeed!

Young Sika knows that the Night Of The Seawigs is real because she’s almost certainly read this same creative team’s award-winning OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, an honest-to-goodness David-Attenborough-style natural history documentary on the migratory lives of the Rambling Isles and the Night Of The Seawigs itself. You couldn’t make it up – although they have.

Effortlessly inventive, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS had a lovely lilt to its language fully integrated into sweeping landscapes of sneaky Sea Monkeys, sarcastic seaweed and semi-sentient islands with a penchant for beautifying their barnets with shipwrecks and submarines then entering annual competitions to see who brings the best bling.

The competition is equally fierce in PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, and the imagination brought to bear on the book is no less thrilling. For if you thought that the Arctic was a vast expanse of featureless flat ice, oh no! This is a True Winter in which waves flash-freeze in a second and La McIntyre has created the most luminous icescapes out of giant, white, jagged and crystalline shards juxtaposed against backdrops of majestic, sweeping curves and aquamarines which manage to be both warm and sub-zero at once.

It’s like the most modern, and really rather chilly outdoor cathedral!

Likewise, I swear you have seen nothing like this particular Icicle Palace which lies at the heart of this adventure and competition, but I’m not about to spoil that surprise. If you’re imagining traditionally pointed spires and castellated walls (or really walls or any sort at all), then you are going to be out-invented. This is the land of the Northern Lights, remember, so light plays a significant part in its aspect. And in any case, truly magical monuments don’t conform to mundane laws of physics.

We’ll encounter the Yetis later on (as will Shen and Sika!) but McIntyre’s monsters are always amazing, and when her Kraken awakes chaos is unleashed. Its eyes glare up from beneath the frigid depths as tentacles thrash across the page, tossing the yip-yapping sixty-six pugs this way and that as they gamely chomp down on its octopoid extremities!

I think I need to pull back. And probably breathe.

Cabin-boy Shen is abandoned in the Arctic by his captain when his ship, Lucky Star, proves unequal to its name by becoming frozen in the North. He’s left stranded on the ice with its cargo of sixty-six pugs and a package of pullovers whose sleeves Shen snips off to slip over the excitable pooches like body muffs.

Without food or shelter their prospects look ever so bleak, but somehow they make it to the ‘Po Of ice’ outpost whose sign is missing an ‘s’ next to a ‘t’ then an ‘f’ later on. It is a very convenient store, just like all our own used to be.

There he finds Sika living with her Mum and her ancient Grandpa who once knew a True Winter just like this. They only come round once in a lifetime but, when they do, they catalyse a now-legendary, frantic race to the North Pole where materialises a magical Icicle Palace with its kindly Snowfather who grants the winning contestant their heart’s desire.

Sika’s grandfather took part in the last one and he came back with a treasure trove of stories (aren’t stories cool?!), but unfortunately he didn’t come first. The only thing he’s fit enough to ride in this day and his age is a bed, so now it’s up to Sika and Shen, her grandfather’s whalebone sledge, and their sixty-six yip-yipping pugs.

If Sika wins, she would wish her Grandpa another lifetime. Shen’s not sure what he wants because he’s never had anything to call his own – not even a family. He was discovered, lost at sea, in an upturned umbrella. It could only have been worse had it been a handbag, buoyancy-factor zero.

So what of their competition?

Helga Hammerfest has two pet polar bears, Snowdrop and Slushpuppy: that’s some serious, indigenous pulling power for you! Helga’s grown a beard just to keep warm and that’s seems admirably practical to me. Fetching too, I think. Our tongue-poking pugs will be ever so grateful now and then. Awwww!

You’ve already met Professor Shackleton Jones in the opening quotation, whose faithful assistant and robot SNOBOT are pulled along in his slick, sleek, scientifically sourced sledge by a crew of equally inorganic Woof-O-Tron 2000s. Then there’s Mitzi Von Primm with her pack of four pink-dyed poodles who reminded me of Penelope Pitstop. Those poor poodles are so embarrassed!

There are many more besides, but the Arctic is a land so freezing that if you twirl your Machiavellian moustache it’s likely to snap off in your fingers. That’s precisely what happens to wicked Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling, so determined to win this Wackiest of Races that he comes off like Dick Dastardly. How low will he go? So low!

Reeve as ever brings his natural, lateral thinking to bear for it’s not just Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling’s moustache that feels the polar pinch:

“The night grew so cold that pieces of the Northern Lights froze and fell out of the sky. They lay strewn about on the ice, glowing gently.”

Of course they did! And you know how it’s said that Inuits have 52 different words for snow and ice? (They don’t.) Here Sika and Shen discover 50 different sorts of snow!

“They crossed patches of blindsnow and patches of echosnow. They plunged through warbling drifts of songsnow and screaming mounds of screechsnow. They crossed a broad, rolling plain of slumbersnow, which snored and mumbled and farted like someone asleep under a huge white eiderdown.”

Brilliant! Why not make your own snow up? I vote for nosnow which is a little more conceptual and certainly warmer or, if a consonant is swapped out, instead of turning up for work on time I lie cosily at home in bed.

There will also be werensnow, stinksnow and THERE WILL BE YETIS!

Yetis play a big, big, big, big part in this book! I don’t want to give too much away but once again McIntyre excels herself by ensuring that each Yeti is an individual with different hair styles, braided beards, headgear and waistcoats. There may be a good reason why!

Reeve’s even written them a song for you to sing along to, and I’ve already composed my own tune and rhythm. This is a book that demands to be read aloud at night to children, for there are so many different voices to do!

Oh, but this has a big heart of gold and a finale that’s far from obvious which draws on much that has been so subtly introduced along the way.

I leave you with this truth, so infer what you will.

“All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born.”

SLH

Buy Pugs Of The Frozen North 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’.

A.D. After Death h/c (£22-99, Image) by Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire

Combed Clap Of Thunder (£5-00, Retrofit) by Zach Hazard Vaupen

Deserter’s Masquerade (£16-99, Knockabout) by Chloe Cruchaudet

Ghosts, Etc. (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by George Wylesol

Goatherded (£7-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Charlo Frade

Nnewts Book 3: Battle For Amphibopolis (£9-99, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel

Ralphie & Jeanie (£10-00, Alabaster Comix) by Alabaster Pizzo

Shit And Piss (£8-00, Retrofit) by Tyler Landry

Siegfried III: Twilight Of The Gods h/c (£31-99, Archaia) by Alex Alice

Something City (£10-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Elice Weaver

StarDrop vol 3: Home In Time (£8-99, I Box) by Mark Oakley

Steam Clean (£8-00, Retrofit) by Laura Kenins

Adventure Time: Ooorient Express s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Jeremy Sorese & Zachary Sterling

Bunny vs. Monkey Book Four (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground s/c (£14-99, Young Animal) by Gerard Way & Michael Avon Oeming

Dark Night: A True Batman Story s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso

Warhammer 40,000 vol 1: Will Of Iron s/c (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Tazio Bettin

Flash vol 9: Full Stop s/c (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & various

Superman Action Comics vol 3: Men Of Steel s/c (£14-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Patch Zircher, Stephen Segovia, Art Thibert

Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur vol 3: The Smartest There Is s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brandon Montclaire, Amy Reeder & Natacha Bustos, Ray-Anthony Height

Ultimates2 vol 1: Troubleshooters s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Travel Foreman

Furari h/c (£18-99, Fanfare / Potent Mon) by Jiro Taniguchi

Tokyo Ghoul vol 13 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week three

June 21st, 2017

Featuring Kate Evans, Junko Mizuno, Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland. Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, a great many more and a new Raymond Briggs edition.

Threads From The Refugee Crisis h/c (£14-99, Verso) by Kate Evans.

“You ever wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Our relief effort – it’s just a band-aid, isn’t it?”
“Only in that it would hurt a lot of people if you suddenly removed it.”

There is a wealth of similarly bright wit and wry humour throughout, along with the exchanging of beaming smiles and food and felt-tip pens. You’ll meet people at their very best, because they can be! You’ll just have to wait for me to get there.

By far the finest, most thorough and affecting documentary I’ve seen or read on the refugee crisis in any medium, its clear, concise, cause-and-effect analysis is irrefutable except by those with lies on their tongue and hatred in their heart. Contempt for others is never an attractive quality.

Kate Evans concentrates on her personal, hands-on experience of helping out in the camps at Calais and Dunkirk in January and February 2016 – on the volunteers’ construction and distribution, on a great many asylum seekers she meets trapped there (often children without parents or other family), and on the French authorities’ atrocities, particularly on March 1st 2016 when the police moved in en masse for what can only be described as a black-booted massacre.

We will return to those first-hand accounts of these courageous individuals – and they are all very much individuals and ever so bloody courageous – because that’s what this book is about. 

However, on the rare occasions that we are pulled back into an objective consideration of said cause and effects, our key witness proves as pithy as she is passionate but nevertheless spot-on. Here Evans borrows what she emphasises is the dubious metaphor of the proverbial flood, along with that which plugs in the sink while the water continues to gush and then consequently spills over.

“What turned on the tap?
“The bombs and the guns: the ones that we drop and we sell and we profit from. The marauding psychotic death cults of Daesh (ISIS) and the Taliban, which rose from the ashes of countries we invaded.”

“We”: we who are not willing to mitigate, by providing succour or sanctuary, what we have started.

“Just imagine that you have a young child – half the world’s refugees are children. Imagine your country is at war, that your government is dropping bombs on your city, that the terror troops are a day away from your town. What kind of a parent would you be if you stayed?”

This is precisely what our Jonathan has written repeatedly in his reviews, for he has a child. Perhaps you have a child too?

Earlier Evans meets an old man too afraid to seek medical help in Calais for the most hideous, exposed wounds to his stomach “taped up with an old plastic bag” because they will photograph him and use that as evidence to “prove that he entered Europe through another country” which would immediately disqualify him from asylum in the UK. Immediately afterwards she reports:

“In the early hours of the following morning, US forces bomb the Médicins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The main hospital building is struck precisely and repeatedly for more than an hour despite its co-ordinates being known to the US military command. As a consequence of the bombing, MSF pulls out of the region, leaving the whole of north-east Afghanistan without life-saving medical care.”

From the afterword and then, I promise, we will return to what is really at stake – the real-life plight of individual human beings trapped between a bomb and an implacable, intransigent and culpably unyielding hard place – this is the simple, economic truth of it all:

“Austerity doesn’t prevent our government from directly subsidising the British arms industry. We are the second-largest exporter of weapons in the world.
“The bombing raids we conduct over Iraq and Syria cost an estimated £1million each.”

They cost an estimated £1million each. Also: not just paying for British arms but “subsidising” its industry. I never wanted to hear another word spoken against farmers again.

Imagine this: we stop bombing at £1million a pop (so causing this carnage) and funnel that money, immediately freed, to help to alleviate the suffering of millions of meet-you-and-look-you-in-the-eye lives by inviting them in to our exceptionally wealthy country. Next…? Once we stop causing this mass displacement through extortionately expensive bombing and so have even more money to spare, we take ourselves out on a global fucking picnic which we can then afford.

This is no picnic.

Sometimes there’s even no bread.

On 18th February 2016 the French police, on a whim, decide to stop bread being brought into the already destitute camp at Dunkirk.

From 15th February 2016 they decided to deny refugees dry blankets. Blankets bought and brought by English, French and other international donors in order to help keep families – children and even pregnant women – warm whilst living in rain-soaked, wind-swept, drain-less winter squalor. There is a single photograph taken outside the tent of a pregnant woman, artfully integrated into the sequential artwork, which will arrest you.

But oh that is nothing compared to the overnight beatings by those bearing blue uniforms with their badges removed, police tear-gassing children in their beds overnight (some threat to security, that), and I’ve a note about pages 127 to 132 that simply says in capital letters “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!”

And that wasn’t the cameo by Theresa May as former British Home Secretary, deployed in exactly the same place on the page as a previous appearance by Marine Le Pen, in precisely the same pose and gurning with the same ferocious inhumanity.

 

Instead, it involves a heavily pregnant woman and her equally vulnerable children whom we’d already met being violated by armoured police who hide their faces behind helmets as they do so.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I am in awe of Evans for all that she accomplishes here: for her kindness and caring in returning repeatedly to the front line (a telling phrase if ever I typed one), and for spreading the word in bringing this all home with such judicious, creative skill as to make it in so many ways more meaningful, intimate and affecting than a filmed, one-hour documentary one may watch late at night. Those are vital: I do not in any way mean to belittle any one of those many exceptional broadcasts which I’ve absorbed and pondered over for hours.

But this is more permanent, more personal and personable, delivered with immediacy, colour and comedy.

“Gaffer tape!”
“There’s nothing in the world that can’t be fixed with gaffer tape.”
“If you think it can’t be fixed with gaffer tape…”
“…You’re not using enough gaffer tape!”

Hooray for gaffer tape!

“We’re about to attempt to fix an international humanitarian catastrophe with sticky tape.
“Wish us luck.”

The cartooning is bright, unaffected and wherever possible bursting with the same energy which Evans, her friends and her husband pour into building accommodation then moving accommodation when the French authorities threaten to bulldoze it down.

“Today we are moving house. Literally, moving the whole house…”

Joyfully they sort donations, buy fresh goods, and hand them out while talking to as many people as possible. Occasionally Kate sits down to paint some portraits of young sitters for them to keep in plastic sleeves, and they are so very tender, rendered in soft, gentle washes rather than coloured with crayons. She brings out the individuality in each, the real nature underneath any high-spirited, boisterous buffoonery.

Speaking of soft, there’s a lot of lace used throughout the book. Calais was famous for its lace-making before it became famous for its fence-building, and it’s used here as the gutters between panels.

As to the conversations – again for immediacy – they’re hand-written in lower case, free from traditional comicbook speech balloons which would have jarred with the art and put the reader at a remove from the life and lives depicted here. That she avoids that potential pitfall is absolutely critical. This is far more natural.

Equally well judged is the way in which the commentary is delivered as if from a typewriter, bashed out onto complementary-coloured paper then cut into strips with scissors before being pasted onto the art. Brilliantly, there are breaks between its fragments so as to keep it as one with what it’s reporting. It’s ever so lo-tech, reflecting their basic surroundings.

One of my favourite encounters is with Hoshyar who invites Evans & co. into his eight-foot hut which he shares with Alaz.

“It’s well insulated. It would be warm(ish) except we have to leave the door open to let in some light.”

The things we don’t even think of…

“”I’ll make you lunch.” It’s not a question.”

Hoshyar had been in the Jungle for 120 nights at that point, and you can see that it’s taken its toll. It hangs in his haunted, faraway eyes and hunched shoulders, but still…

“Hoshyar busies himself in his eighteen-inch kitchen, knocking two eggs together and tipping them into a pan.
“The sadness temporarily ebbs from his face in the process.
“Welcoming, cooking, sharing.
“You can tell this fits with his sense of how things should be in the world.”

One of the brightest nights is spent with little Evser, laughing and giggling as she and Kate play catch with a football for over an hour. Once more they have been treated to dinner by those with virtually nothing of their own. Months later, and Evser and her mother have been moved to Dunkirk and downgraded from shacks to mere tents in the mud.

“We give her mother some oranges.
“There is an awkward moment.
“Her mother would dearly love to invite us in and offer us tea, but she lives in a mouldy pit, a hole – it doesn’t even qualify as a hovel.
“I fish about in my bag, find some lemons and press them into her hand.
“Evser doesn’t remember me.
“There are no footballs.
“She’s not laughing anymore.”

That wouldn’t be a fair place to leave you, would it? It’s hardly a fair place to leave Evser, either.

But what I’m trying to impress upon you is that it’s not all doom and gloom. Calais at its best, thanks to the volunteers, became a community with a school created by Zimarko after he gave up trying to get to the UK himself. It came with quite the elaborate playground. Sue contributed an art workshop housed in a miniature version of the Eden Project: “grown men, hunched over, colouring with felt-tip pens”. Everyone needs sustenance, especially for the soul.

But I’m afraid it’s also the venue where the volunteers trip up and make a mistake: nothing to do with Sue, just a well meaning miscalculation on handing out youngsters’ clothes. That episode is genuinely frightening.

There are also small, shanty-town cafes declaring themselves with good humour to be 3-Star Hotels and the food there is absolute heaven.

But there’s a brutally bleak double-page spread contrasting all his with what the French authorities had in mind for the Jungle’s future.

“125 shipping containers [not for shipping: for accommodation]. Ring-fenced. Spotlit. Biometric entry control. No cooking facilities. No privacy. No autonomy.
“A man stands, brushing his teeth by the wire.
“He gestures back at the 3 Star Hotel, the legal centre, the aid distribution points, the caravans, the brightly painted playground – a monument to human ingenuity and charity, however desolate and desperate it may be.
“”All this… will go.”

Please don’t believe that I am singling out the French government for criticism: it is Britain which controls and has closed the other side of the border.

“Passengers can expect delays of up to two hours on Channel Tunnel crossings this morning after the reported death of a migrant at the Calais Terminal.

“The impact of the train was such that it is not possible to tell the age, sex or nationality of the victim.”

I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Also recommended: Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS.

SLH

Buy Threads From The Refugee Crisis and read the Page 45 review here

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

“A hunt? What a charming idea. Did you know that the first nature photographers were safari hunters?”
“Um, no.”
“Preservation can take many forms.”

As tightly constructed as it is eloquently expressed, SPILL ZONE is charged with a fierce imagination and narrative drive which Puvilland has pulled off with panache. I have some stunning interior art for you following, but for the moment let us stick with preservation.

In Grolleau and Royer’s AUDUBON – which captured the pioneering, ornithological artist’s awe of the natural world and the plumed beauties which populated it – we learned that he didn’t half love to preserve his birds, after shooting them clean out of the sky.

Addison Merritt is preserving her home town too, in photographs taken at extreme risk to her life during illegal excursions undertaken alone and at night on her dirt bike. What she captures in the most radiant colours is both terrible and beautiful to behold.

As is her home town which was caught one night in The Spill, transforming the once mundane urban environment into an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of what might be considered ideas, experimentation, self-expression, but also killing almost everyone in its boundaries.

Since then the town has been quarantined lest other lives are lost, which makes it nigh-impossible for anyone to analyse what happened to it.

But Addison’s illicit images have become an obsession with elderly art collector Tan’ea Vandersloot, who has bought every shot and hung them in her private gallery in gentrified Harlem. Like most individuals with an eye for the arts Vandersloot is insatiably curious. Unsurprisingly, then, Ms Vandersloot has been conducting her own extensive research into The Spill, and with wealth comes contacts, the ability to acquire information under the counter and, if necessary, trade for it. Her reach is extensive; it is international; and not every country is as safety-conscious as America.

We do not know what caused The Spill, nor the nature of it. It is only via Addison’s observations that we can even begin to guess.

“An alien visitation? Something spilling from another world?
“Most of the people who escaped don’t say much of what happened that night.
“My little sister, Lexa, hasn’t uttered a sound since then.”

Lexa is seen clutching ragdoll, Vespertine, who also hasn’t uttered a sound since then.

Except to Lexa.

“I’d snuck off to New Paltz that night for a little underage drinking. Lucky me.
“Instead of watching it live, I got to see it on TV.
“My parents weren’t so lucky. They were at work that night at the hospital.
“Now there’s just the two of us.”

This first instalment comes with terrific stage-setting, our entire focus on Addison’s P.O.V., hitching along on her ride, but don’t imagine she necessarily notices everything which you will.

Our first glimpse of the town is seen at a very late hour from above, black bird-shapes flocking in synchronised flight like a murmuration of starlings, while below the buildings throb in a rainbow of radioactive colours, especially effective as the outer suburb rooftops emerge from the surrounding trees.

Once inside one would be forgiven for forgetting it is night for everything is so Day-Glo bright.

Even looking through the toy-shop windows where some of the former inhabitants hang as “meat puppets”, suspended in mid-air as if on hooks, the light is unnatural. Their eyes are empty, a vile yellow mist emanating irregularly from their open mouths.

“Whatever’s watching though their eyes isn’t them anymore.
“I hope.”

Out of respect, Addison won’t photograph the dead, but her other rules are born more out of self-preservation.

“Rule Six: never, ever get off the bike. Even in here in the playground where nothing has ever messed with me.

Is the playground empty? Puvilland puts tremendous weight on the springed things, and the swings, they are swinging like crazy.

“Because in the Spill Zone, there’s a first time for everything.”

Cue 0 to 60 and a full-throttle chase at some excellent angles past Flatsville, a stretch of road where the cars look accommodatingly level with the tarmac so leaving the route unimpeded, but make the mistake of riding over one and you’ll join the silently screaming cyclist, also squashed into two dimensions.

Are you beginning to see what I mean by “charged with a fierce imagination” yet? Also the “narrative drive” for the wolf-shadow’s pursuit propels Addison where she least wants to go: to the hospital where her parents worked as nurse and paramedic.  Far from modern, it is instead a vast, foreboding, neo-gothic affair and if the intense level of dust-devil, geometric activity is anything to go by – both at ground level and spiralling above in the sky – it appears to be the very centre of this unearthly disturbance.

“Almost forgot I was scared of this place even before the Spill.
“And it’s not like a generous sprinkling of Hell has improved it much.”

As to the tight construction, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you discover that this – for all its unnerving beauty and cleverly conceived, steadily built rules which are never to be broken and some of which I have intentionally left unspoken – is all just a taste and a teaser, a foreshadowing for the first climax upon which Puvilland will provide a walloping vertical spread at exactly the right moment after which my jaw required emergency medical treatment before I could articulate anything again.

Including my jaw.

But that’s just one climax, not the cliffhanger, so I would refer you all backwards to infer what you will.

The colouring throughout is phenomenal, not least during one of the creepiest scenes which was so well observed in terms of young behaviour. In it young Lexa has been left alone overnight. Well, left alone with Vespertine, her rag-doll who, I’d remind you, also survived The Spill.

There is something of the ceremony in child’s play.

I would assemble all of my Matchbox cars onto a starting line and play out my version of The Wacky Races, an animated cartoon starring Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop et al, few of whom were afraid to get their hands dirty in order to win (in terms of our stock, please see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I’d move all the cars about incrementally, a bit like shooting for stop-animation, and make my own narrative up in my head.

Here young, silent Lexa similarly assembles all her cuddly toys and dresses herself up as the Mistress of Ceremonies for her Royal Dance. She picks her toys’ partners for them and then, in the low-lit shadows, she holds one in each hand around their backs in order to make them dance together.

Around and around they go, Vespertine with her handsome pink beau, a bear…!

Then Lexa lets her hands go.

Oh.

That’s not the cliffhanger, either.

SLH

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

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno.

Ooooh!

There are eyes everywhere on the cover, most of them gleaming in gold – as are the stars, the debossed title, and some of the five-leaf clover designs.

I don’t know why there are five-leaf clover designs: Ravina proves singularly unlucky in spite of her good intentions, the friendships she makes, the good deeds she does and the wrongs which she rights.

If you’re looking for a coherent moral or message, though, I think you’ll be disappointed. Perhaps men are idiots (except those that wear dresses), prideful, deceitful and quite happy to wager their wives in a drinking contest in the hope of winning riches. Others like their bare bottoms being whipped.

Each to their own, I say, but if you’re looking for a new Young Readers graphic novel for bed-time reading, you’ll also be disappointed. This is Junko Mizuno! She’s neither a traditionalist nor renowned for being kid-friendly.

It’s more of a sensual experience instead, rich in illustrative wonder, taking delight even in the environs of a garbage tip which is where Ravina grew up, cavorting with crows who are happy to pluck beetles from her hair then brush it all silky-smooth. There’s plenty to eat and plenty to play with. It’s amazing what people through away once it’s passé. What’s wrong with a car boot sale?

Alas, she can only speak crow so when a naked old woman hobbles her way, pricked like a pincushion with needles, and bequeaths the young girl her magic wand along with the words required to activate it, Ravina doesn’t understand a word she has said. Still the magic wand’s pretty, as is the old, tortured witch, especially once the wriggly, writhing, slippery, slimy maggots start slithering out of her empty eye sockets.

You see? Garbage dumps! They are amazing places, full of such wondrous curiosities! Ravina would very much like to have remained there, thanks, but then men come along and it all goes horribly wrong.

Mizuno has revelled in traditional, all-ages storybook elements like giant, flying owls and added her own brand of bonkers. There is neither rhyme nor reason as to why the giant, flying owl is so intent on solving a crossword puzzle. It just is.

The king is very much the traditional fantasy king with puffy pants, white stockings, tiny feet, a tidy neck frill and bejewelled crown sitting atop a quite ridiculous hair-do. It’s not half as ridiculous as his moustache, though. All the men are rocking ridiculous moustaches: the courtiers’ look like crusty nose scabs and the rich man with his friends who first play host to Ravina in exchange for her services as a hostess look like the sort of psychedelic aristocrats as re-imagined by the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Even the bloke who loves to wear pretty dresses has something questionable going on round his mouth.

I promised you sensual and it’s already there in the hair and the bows and basques and flowers – and goodness, there are such a lot of serpents! – but once pretty-dress-man introduces Ravina to the unexpectedly efficacious benefits of being blind-drunk, Ravina remembers those magic words and acquires quite an appetite. Shame she doesn’t acquire a napkin too, for she dribbles and drools her way almost until the end of the book. Nobody does dissolute quite like Junko Mizuno.

It’s a beautiful book, flowery, beautiful and baroque with black rats, bats and beetles galore and, although the reproduction here is perfectly exquisite, I’d like to see a deluxe edition with the gold-studded highlights on every page actually printed in shiny gold. Maybe the wine could be real wine as well, please, and the bare bottom actually bottoms.

Did I mention that this isn’t for young readers?

SLH

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

The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

Aren’t the covers growing darker?

Quality, diversity and effortless inclusivity…

Yet this comes with the death toll quotient that characterises a Nick Cave CD.

It’s impossible to review a fifth volume of any series such as this in any depth whatsoever without spoiling it for others whom we still want on board, because THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is unafraid to destroy the status quo – repeatedly, dramatically and without any hope of clawing it back – almost soon as it’s set up, so that it is in a constant state of flux and its protagonists in a constant state of quandary, whether they admit it or not.

Kieron Gillen is, I own, a very fine writer but he is incapable of even spelling the words ‘safe’ or ‘predictable’. I put a pen and paper in front of him when drinking down The Dragon the other year and, I promised you, he fluffed it.

Would you want it any other way?

Fortunately Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Sergio Serrano are each so adept in their own fields that all I had to do was Tweet the other week “Aren’t the covers growing darker?” (attaching a photograph of this one) for several of the so-far initiated to express an intense curiosity, thence swear a new-found allegiance.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is already our biggest selling series of graphic novels outside of SAGA, PORCELAIN, LAZARUS and anything created by the Unholy Trinity of Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser (KILL OR BE KILLED etc.) but I am a rapacious retailer plus an exuberant comics-lover, and I can always find room for one more.

In lieu of a new review, then, I beg you to cast your jaded, jaundiced but soon to be rejuvenated eyes over our previous accounts of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE and their glowing interior art (which I do actually talk about) while offering you my admittedly regurgitated high pitch:

Pop stars on their pedestals. You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods or pop goddesses? It transpires that some of them 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 potential or fate. She helps them all shine for their brief, incandescent years.

It’s a brilliant conceit, executed immaculately: of course in this age the roles assumed by these gods would be as those most worshipped today – pop stars – and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, envy, aspiration, exasperation, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and even manipulation, for some are putting ideas into the other people’s heads.

They have been played.

You have been played.

As Eddie Campbell once wrote in BACCHUS, “Immortality isn’t forever”. One by one, some of these gods’ lights have already gone out.

But when it comes to the covers, I’ll wager it’s far more than that.

SLH

P.S. “Drinking down The Dragon” is not a euphemism. This isn’t SAGA. Jeepers.

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart…

Semi-serious sci-fi speed-themed malarkey set in a near-future world of illegal street racing, where a machine-stimulant drug known as the Crush is used to illicitly overclock bike engines, as well as her own metabolism in the case of our main protagonist, Domino Swift, who is most certainly a lady in a rush. Usually headlong over the proverbial handlebars into the next sticky situation, entirely fuelled by her own questionable life choices…

But she’s just one of those people who are always convinced they can rectify the situation, with yet another disastrous decision, of course. Her friends and family try their best to steer her in a different direction, rather than careening into the crash barriers of life yet again, but some people are just too stubborn to listen.

Now she’s racing for her liberty in the toughest race of them all, the Cannonball, though that’s seemingly the least of her problems, with the mysterious all-in-black racer trying to up the stakes even further. Throw in a life-long addiction to Crush – not her fault, I’ll give her that, as I really do mean life-long – and a weird upside floating pyramid firing laser beams that just appears out of nowhere at the most inconvenient moments, and no, there’s never a dull moment, or indeed any down time at all for Domino. Concluding this volume with an ending even more totally hat-stand bonkers than the rest of the book, I felt equally out of breath myself!

This is absolutely frenetic, frantic fun from the trio that did a pretty decent New 52 run on BATGIRL. Probably one for fans of SLAM and LUMBERJANES, and actually also SCOTT PILGRIM, it’s an impressively stylish, well designed and also astonishingly extensive continuity they’ve created in the space of a mere five issues.

I particularly enjoyed the vibrant artwork, with the humid, neon-lit, palm-tree-lined streets of Nova Honda echoing to the roaring sounds of epic bike races replete with swerving light trails. Plus the extensive use of faux letratone, which just adds a lovely little element of textural depth to proceedings throughout. I’m definitely not the target audience for this work, but I really rather enjoyed it.

JR

Buy Motor Crush vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Days: The Forge one-shot (£4-25, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr.

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously.

Bats has also actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in this intriguing set up issue that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this is great, given the writers are the long time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events. There’s a second set up issue to follow, Dark Days: The Casting #1, with the same creative team, before the main event begins. I’ve seen enough already to that I’ll admit I’m going to get lured into reading it all…

 

Basically, the Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS. Maybe… [I’m positive of it – ed.]

Regardless, this is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up issue that has piqued my curiosity.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…

Next: DARK DAYS: THE CASTING one-shot followed by the main, six-part mini-series DARK NIGHTS: METAL by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. There is honestly no second ‘k’ there.

JR

Buy Dark Days: The Forge #1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Ancient Review

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs.

In this exceptional piece of British social history Briggs chronicles the life of his parents, from their chance encounter in 1928, through decades of change (wartime, decimalization, nationalisation, transportation, television and a wave of other new household appliances), to their deaths just one year apart.

“Both simple and complex, emotional and dispassionate,” wrote The Guardian and, yes, I’d be hard-pressed to conjure up another title whose power to move matches this masterpiece of honesty, clarity and tenderness. This is also an extraordinary social document, chronicling not just the changes but how his parents reacted to them, occasionally with resistance, sometimes enthusiasm and quite often with total bewilderment. They certainly haven’t been white-washed to make them anything other than true representatives of their particular class and generation.

“ETHEL & ERNEST has an historical sweep and a sure command of social detail not often found in contemporary fiction,” wrote the Daily Telegraph and I couldn’t agree more – apart from the implication that it’s fiction!

Particularly powerful is the way that, following the day of his mother, the panels loom larger and larger: his father alone in all that space. And then when his father finally dies on a random day, the cat simply saunters out the door…

This served as a Christmas present to five of my relatives this year, all of whom declared that it was their parents, provoking memories long-forgotten. Recommended to all.

And it’s not often you can say that of any piece of art, is it?

Also by Briggs and reviewed by us: WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and GENTLEMAN JIM.

SLH

Buy Ethel & Ernest 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’.

Clockwork Watch Omnibus Edition (£16-99) by Yomi Ayeni, Corey Brotherson & Jennie Gyllblad

Descender vol 4: Orbital Mechanics (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

The Dying & The Dead vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim

Empowered vol 10 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren

Hilda And The Black Hound (vol 4) s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson

King-Cat Comics & Stories #77 (£4-25, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino

Space Riders vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Black Mask) by Fabian Rangel Jr. & Alexis Ziritt

StarDrop vol 1: When On Earth… (£8-99, I Box) by Mark Oakley

Tank Girl: Gold s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parsons

The Witcher vol 3: Curse Of Crows s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, Karolina Stachyra & Piotr Kowalski

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 4: Queens s/c (£17-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

DC Super Hero Girls vol 3: Summer Olympus s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Harley Quinn vol 2: Joker Loves Harley s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, various

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad h/c (£26-99, DC) by various

Avengers: Unleashed vol 1: Kang War One s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mike Del Mundo

Spider-Gwen vol 3: Long-Distance s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour, Tom Taylor & Robbi Rodriguez, various

Pugs Of The Frozen North s/c (£6-99, Oxford) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Assassination Classroom vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Inuyashiki vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Hiroya Oku

Dark Souls vol 2: Winter’s Spite (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

Star Wars Doctor Aphra vol 1: Aphra s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Kev Walker

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week two

June 14th, 2017

Featuring Jillian Tamaki, Sina Grace, Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham, Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Gerard Way & Nick Derrington, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev wnew editions from Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Smith & Charles Vess.

Boundless (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki.

Reveries, perspectives, freedoms, constraints…

Bodies, faces, fiction and fabrication…

Illusion, isolation, engagement and disconnection…

There’s so much to absorb in this phenomenally rich and varied collection of searching short stories. You neither know what you’ll get next nor know how it will be presented or indeed how each will end – except unexpectedly.

It’s bookended on either side with two vertical, vertiginous tales, the first being a seeming celebration of newly discovered World-Class City life, away from home, as a fledgling woman enjoys heady independence…

“I’m gonna live in a World-Class City
“Not gonna leave
“’til my mom comes and gets me.”

… up to a point.

The forms are brave, bold and weighty, but if you look closely, in spite of what the author contends, a price is being paid.

‘Boundless’, meanwhile, is life seen from sky-level by a bird, ground-level by a squirrel and the point of view of a house fly very much aware of its mortality, further jeopardised by the irate attention it attracts on the move. The bird luxuriates in the freedom flight affords, un-confined to “a lateral axis”, but it must beware of where webs are woven.

“Most webs are so finely spun as to be completely undetectable and of no consequence to most organisms. We must avoid them at all costs. A simple lapse of attention or care can be deadly.”

That’s worth bearing in mind throughout this collection and, of course, life. Webs of deceit are being woven throughout ‘The ClairFree System’ which seeks to ensnare the unsuspecting with sincerity, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off. And the narrator can. There is a blindingly brilliant moment in the middle involving a hands-on approach whose intimate touch is reprised as the punchline. You’re not quite reading what you’re presented with at the beginning.

Further illusions are examined in ‘1.Jenny’, this time in the mirror-life that is Facebook, where the facts and stats begin to diverge from reality. Well, they do that, don’t they? What was it Charlie Brooker said about Twitter being an interactive game where one presents an approximation of oneself in order to win the most followers? Something like that.

“The mirror Facebook was all anyone could talk about for two weeks.
“At first it looked like an exact duplicate of the main Facebook, But soon small changes started to appear in everyone’s profiles…
“1.Katie’s liked National Broccoli Day
“(Katie hated broccoli.)
“1.Jonah was married to 1.Caroline
“(Jonah was 16, openly gay, and not yet dating.)”

These departures are amusing enough to observe in others but when 1.Jenny’s life begins to deviate dramatically from Jenny’s, Jenny becomes obsessed with following her mirror self, judging it and finding it wanting. Her therapist wants to discuss Jenny’s home life, her past; Jenny would rather discuss 1.Jenny’s.

As with almost all of these stories – a dozen or so including one on the back of the book – I’m still processing it and will do for months to come.

‘Half Life’ I knew I recognised – it’s from the NOBROW 7 anthology – but it’s even more fascinating in this context, as a woman gradually becomes more conscious of her own body, just as it starts to diminish, to physically shrink and doesn’t stop. What happens with her relationship to the outside world is riveting and goes far further than you would anticipate. It’s not an unhappy tale. The narrator is relatively equanimous to her situation, calmly observing its details before becoming fascinated by where its trajectory unexpectedly takes her. It’s really quite sensual.

Rarely does one encounter such a variety of visual styles as well as narrative approaches in a single creator’s compendium, although Eleanor Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY immediately springs to mind.

Here we are treated to the soft forms and fleshy colour apposite for the reminiscence by its producer of the short-lived but bright and bouncy sitcom-porno created for television.

 

But there’s more than a little up in ‘bedbug’, haggard husband Jeremy drawn very differently to his narrator wife – slashes of line and a clueless, open mouth as opposed to her more voluptuous, fully realised physique.

“I got bitten first, on my lower leg. We assumed mosquitoes – Jeremy closed the bedroom window. But soon, we both had bites in the tell-tale rows.
“We stripped the bed. No sign, not even a hollow moulted shell. The internet said that was common, though.”

Nothing here is accidental. Jenny’s lines are much, much looser in ‘1.Jenny’ – again, approximations – while ‘The ClairFree System’ is in black and white and quite precise, hailing the Holy Grail of a perfect skin and creepy, cult-like images too. Full-page poster panels, the lot of them.

For more Jillian Tamaki, please see SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY, SKIM and THIS ONE SUMMER with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, each as different from the other as the tales told here.

Jillian Tamiki and Mariko Tamaki will both be at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 this October. Come join us; it’s fun!

SLH

Buy Boundless and read the Page 45 review here

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace.

“I stop listening.
“I can’t deal with answers.”

A tender, honest and unsanitised self-expression during which Grace finally begins listening to himself, so starts to find answers and, in doing so, discovers the other thing he was searching for within: his perfect comics project.

There’s a telling two-page parallel in which, on the left-hand side, he scrutinises previously drawn pages hanging from a studio washing line, some appended with notes, others linked by thematic threads, anguishing over what he should create next.

“It’s gotta be: funny, cool-looking, have emotion and –“

His mobile phone interrupts. It’s Date O’Clock. On the right-hand side, he’s paying no more attention to the present.

“I try to combat the weirdness of internet dating by going overboard on personal stuff with “strangers” I chat online with…”

Which might be fine if you ask them about their lives as well… and so long as you on no account begin blathering on about your ex-boyfriends.

“I met an ex for lunch today…”
“So am I your sloppy seconds?”

Unable to take the hint (not listening…), Sina launches into a self-absorbed emotional post-mortem on that meeting before sitting up afterwards in bed, on his own, between the empty, upturned shells of his date represented as a toy – a Russian Doll.

“My strategy to overshare really doesn’t help me learn more about Dear John…”

Quite.

But this is what I mean about unsanitised: Grace is well aware of his own shortcomings, the contradictions between what he most wants to know by a third date but can’t bring himself to ask (“Do you feel like I’m “it”?”), and the over-commitment he doesn’t want to hear from some others on date two: this sends him running very scared indeed. But I suppose it depends to some extent at least on who asks, and how they ask.

Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this is artlessly slapped onto the page as either a careless emotional evacuation or a didactic, I know-best critique of others’ behaviour. It’s free from guile but it’s so tightly structured as a second, vital reading will make emphatically clear.

“Did you not like your ramen?” asks his Dear John date.
“I did! I think I may have a gluten problem or something with starches… ‘Evs! Check time!”

On a first read-through one could easily conclude that Grace was so caught up in his own monologue – preoccupied with offloading – that he failed to stop talking and eat: that his supposed gluten problem is just an excuse for that bad behaviour, and his “‘Evs! Check time!” was a hurried way of concluded that line of questioning. If you study his face, he’s certainly anxious about something.

But this is still quite early on, and earlier still there’s a similarly ambiguous end to a conversation at a convention which has been equally well set up in advance. In it he seems to duck a fan’s question about what’s next on his plate before ducking into the toilet to throw up.

“Must be stress… Yeesh, hope that doesn’t happen again.”

The ambiguity wouldn’t have worked half so well had Grace not preceded the encounter with self-doubts as to which artistic direction he should indeed pursue next, and immediately preceded that question with a convention-floor interview after which he castigates himself for what he perceives to be an evasive answer or at least one insufficiently confident about “the more sexual portions of SELF-OBSESSED”.

“Fuck, that answer sucked.
“In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, I shouldn’t have to be concerned about others…
“Like, wouldn’t a kid in the closet in Iran expect me to live loud?
“I am unfettered by religion and shame, I should revel in my freedom!”

I can assure you that Grace does revel in it loudly and proudly throughout, encouraged by the likes of fellow comicbook creators Eric Stephenson, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan and Brandon Graham to make both his comic and his craft as individualistic as he wants. He also revels in it poignantly and endearingly in a recollection of an early crush, aged 14, on a 28-year-old teacher which he attempts to pursue with a clumsiness which is ever so cute, online. One AOL chat ends with the teacher signing off:

“Gotta run. Alias is on. LY.”

And oh, the high, heart-fluttering thrill, hoping beyond hope that he meant “Love you”!

Then the down-to-earth crash as your hopes are dashed. It signified “Later, yo”.

“Ah…” replies Sina in a speech balloon dripping with desolation, a giant heart breaking behind him, “That’s what I thought…”

Let’s pull back again to the structure and the book’s immaculate, yet oh so subtle panel-by-panel composition, however. Between the comicbook convention restroom jitters and RamenGate, we are presented with a page called ‘All the times Amber was right…’ Amber is his best friend and confidante, his wise woman with unfalteringly fine advice, encouraging and emboldening when appropriate, puncturing his puffed-up delusions wherever necessary:

“And put some weight back on! I don’t wanna see any of that anorexic actress B.S. from you!”

The thing is, the first four free-floating examples are given in blue whereas that final sign off is bordered, in pink. It’s only on a second reading that the reason behind this far from random artistic decision will become clear. Little impresses me more than such an absence of sign-posting, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

I’ve considered whether such a critical observation itself constitutes sign-posting, but I have at least refrained from critical analysis in this instance, and on balance it seems far more important to impress upon potential readers that what may initially appear to be a jumble of multiple snapshots presented with mixed levels of rendering – either created for this highly original graphic novel or salvaged from sketchbooks, journals or lined notebooks – is in fact a painstakingly arranged, intricate lattice of increasing intimacy.

Diaries lend themselves to observation, introspection and self-analysis if you care to pursue your thoughts far enough. And that’s essentially the overt aesthetic: immediate, loose, candid, exceptionally revealing in every sense, and not afraid of being published for public consumption without polishing either the presentation (which would have eroded the intimacy) or the author’s personality (which would have obliterated it).

Instead his inconsistencies which we all harbour – his highs, extreme lows, and his self-destructive dating choices demonstrating an initial chasm between self-knowledge and self-guidance – are bared not for his own benefit, but for others’.

Just look at the cover with its attendant, top-right comprehension! It is, both in its sentiment and placement, the very antithesis of veneer.

This is above all about digging beneath the surface in order to help heal, and as such it reminded me in no small part of dear, dear Sarah Burgess (THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR – 3 volumes – and BROTHER’S STORY) whose struggles with sociability, self-confidence and self-worth in the form of her online comics I have long admired and pestered her on several occasions to press into print so that we can place them proudly (as we have this) in Page 45’s online Mental Health Section.

For as NOTHING LASTS FOREVER progresses, so it increasingly cuts to the chase.

“Why am I surrounded by love & support and still think about dying?”

Sina is indeed surrounded by love and support, even by his one central on / off ex-boyfriend – prepared to pick him up by car, by hand and in standing steadfast with both arms braced on either side as Sina wibbles aimlessly on about some nebulous future at a party – but it is so often that one feels most alone when surrounded by friends. And, for some like Sina, it is so often that one can feel most empty, remote and removed when in bed with another, during sex.

Please don’t judge. You may feel very differently, for we are all unique and complex individuals. Forgetting that is to fail to consider and acknowledge the validity of others’ struggles and their very humanity.

“Acclaim doesn’t fix depression.
“Therapy, supplements, talking about it, time, medication… these things help.”

A comic like this doesn’t come round very often, though I do wish it would (Sarah Burgess, you are brilliant and so please take note) and I, for one, relish meeting new people with experiences outside of mine which enrich my understanding of life and of love and of hurdles which I could never stride over nor vault. It’s ever so eloquently expressed, even in the silences.

I’d like to end on another high note, the title: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.

You don’t think really believe that Grace is alluding to relationships, do you? Even if he may be in part, it’s far more positive than that.

SLH

Buy Nothing Lasts Forever and read the Page 45 review here

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham…

“I believe you were a member of the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael expedition.”
“Well?”
“There was a scientist in the party.”
“That’s right.”
“What was he investigating?”
“He didn’t talk much. Was only interested in the experiment. And his son. James, was it?”
“No, John. Very bright boy…”

Rip-snorting, high-seas, high-octane, time-travel, all-ages, hyphen-heavy yarn penned originally for The Phoenix Comic by His Dark Materials author (first and second volumes of the first part of that trilogy, NORTHERN LIGHTS, have been adapted for comics) and adeptly illustrated by able seaman Fred Fordham, who I must admit I wasn’t familiar with, but certainly is a talent with his neat and tidy shipshape ligne claire linework.

I note, actually, it has just been announced Fred is going to adapt Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as a graphic novel for Harper Collins, who clearly view him as a safe pair of hands on the proverbial tiller for tackling such a heavyweight literary title. I think that is probably more than enough sailing puns now…

Cast adrift on the oceans of eternity, buffeted by the ever-changing tides of temporal instability, boy genius John Blake is determined to get his millennia-spanning motley crew back home to their respective eras safely. There are others, however, who covet his time-travelling vessel, the Mary Alice, and will stop at nothing to get their dastardly hands on it!

Ah, this is a great bit of fun, speculative fiction with Bond-style delightfully preposterous ‘espionage’ elements, courtesy of secret agent Roger <ahem> Blake, and the main bad guy, multi-squillionnaire tech giant Carlos Dahlberg and his enormous super yacht and gigantic guided missiles. I would make allusions to him making up for some inadequacy perhaps, but let’s keep this review as all-ages as the work itself!

Adults will undoubtedly love this boy’s and girl’s own adventure, as John teams up with a young lady called Serena whose daft dad managed to dump her in the drink without a life jacket in the middle of the South Pacific. Now she’s part of the ghost ship’s crew, criss-crossing time in search of safe harbour and answers to explain their peculiar odyssey.

Can John keep his crew, with the assistance of the eponymously named suave naval intelligence officer, out of Dahlberg’s megalomaniacal clutches?! Or will Carlos finally break the maxim that money can’t buy you everything and achieve his tyrannical ambitions of global, and temporal, total domination?! Why am I using a question mark as well as an exclamation mark?! The answer to the last question, dear reader, is that I am a idiot. For a resolution to the other two queries, however, you will have to read the book…

JR

Buy The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“In fact, you’re spoiled for literary heroes tonight. I believe the gentleman next to that older lady is Lovecraft, whose story you enjoyed.”
“Really?”

Really.

Yes, good old H.P. himself makes a suitably saucy cameo appearance right at the end of this volume. If you think that sounds like a rather cheeky conceit, it isn’t, trust me, as H.P. will become a vital if minor part of our chief protagonist Robert Black’s supporting cast. It does, however, provide more than a little bumptious and welcome comedic relief after some of the most intensely horrifying pages you’re ever likely to cast your disbelieving, widening eyes over.

Fans of the Call Of Cthulu RPG may well recall that whilst reading certain skin-bound tomes and encountering mysterious otherworldly entities in all their various guises – some considerably less human than others – would garner you precious arcane knowledge, it would also cost you precious Sanity Points, of which you winsomely started with a seemingly relatively substantial, if finite, number. Lose them all, though, and a permanent gibbering vacation in the nearest asylum promptly ensued, also thus requiring the rolling up of… a new character.

What did you think I was going to type there, hmm? I’m not entirely sure at this point just how many Sanity Points I have left after this second of three such tomes… fortunately not flesh-encased, mind you, unlike the direct market editions, albeit being still limited to a most bizarre 6,666 copies for each volume before you’ll ever see sight of any softcovers. 6,666 being the number of publisher hyping greed rather than the much smaller, and less offensive, traditional Satanic 666…

If you thought NEONOMICON had some… disturbing content, shall we say, in one or two places (yes, I am thinking of the absence-of-contact-lens scene in the swimming pool…), this is as wrong as that on practically every other page. It’s small wonder, therefore, that poor old Robert is the veritable quivering jelly by the time he somehow makes it back to Boston from the genetically questionable wilds of upstate Massachusetts. Then matters start to get really strange as, well, let me get Pitman the photographer to explain it to you, and the ever-trusting Robert, as he leads him on a literal and metaphorical underground trip where the intersections between the world of dreams and our own are… less asymptotic, indeed entirely unbounded…

“You see, there’s, uhm, realism and there’s realism.”

Yes, it’s all about to get very real for poor old Robert, as he continues to try his quavering best to make sense of his increasingly bizarre experiences and detail them in his extensive prose journal writings, once again included, betwixt and between each issue of comics, for our entertainment / warning.

I stand by my comment in my review of the first volume of PROVIDENCE that this is the best comics Alan has written in years. If this really is to be his last comics project, as he insists, it’s certainly bowing out at the very apex of his prodigious powers, leaving a legion of highly perturbed readers in his majestic wake. In many ways, I do see this as a companion piece to PROMETHEA, which also explored the theme of imagination as reality, and the apocalypse, just from a rather more transcendent perspective, in the positive, traditional sense. This, however, is a huge warning of what (hopefully not literally) lurks beyond our immediate tangible perception, insidiously, relentlessly searching for a way in…

JR

Buy Providence vol 2 h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Tom Fowler…

“Exceptional! Make some room! It’s time to take things to their next logical conclusion!
“Engage neurotic pain amplifier! Bypass settings one through four and begin at “Disorientating Agony”!
“Yesss! Yesss!  Release your fluids!
“Level six! Level seven! You will open up and let us in! We will obtain the meat!”

There are those who will inevitably find reading this disorientating agony, I suspect, much like Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL run, but sometimes, you just need to let it all wash over you and be transported along for the ride, even if that is in a stolen ambulance barrelling through dimensions unknown whilst reality falls apart spectacularly around you. Which is exactly what Gerard Way espouses in his interesting afterword, referencing a bemused reviewer who felt this wasn’t a comic that could be reviewed, only experienced. He has a point.

Still, I suppose I’d better try…

The Doom Patrol as we know it appears to be extant, though improbably disparate, scattered and utterly dysfunctional, both individually and more certainly collective. Okay, they were always exactly like that, but the gang is most empathetically not together. Neither individually nor collectively…

Cue Casey Brinke, EMT technician and who “only wants to do good things.” When she was a little girl, her mother told her… “Be a bright light in a black hole… just before she flew into the sun.”

Okay! Whether Casey, or parties with a guiding hand hidden behind the scenes know it, her mission seems to be to get the Patrol back together, apparently in as chaotic and messy a fashion as possible. Several of your old favourites will reappear one by one, such as Cliff Steele, Larry Trainor, Crazy Jane, Danny The Street, and my personal favourite Flex Mentallo. My absolute top moment in this volume, actually, is the Man Of Muscle Mystery suicidally riding a bomb, Dr. Strangelove style, to the rescue. The Hero Of The Beach doesn’t worry about trivial matters like getting blown to smithereens!!

I am presuming Casey is going to stick around, hazardous to her own health as that will no doubt be. And then there is a new Patrol member Terry None, which might be a wee nod to Morrison’s Number None of the Brotherhood Of Dada. Doom Patrol fanatics, as Way avowedly is, will probably notice all manner of Easter eggs inserted meltingly into the proceedings.

It’s gloriously daft writing from Way, I’ll give him that! There is an immensely engaging and even moderately coherent story slipped in there amongst all the froth and frolics, which is just enough to hold this emergency call of a comic on the proverbial road, tyres screeching, blue lights-a-flashing and the psychic sirens wailing and Dopplering away merrily. Lovely, friendly, frisky pop art from Nick Derington and Tom Fowler. Very clean, clear and consistent too, to say there is so much madness occurring on every page. Just one question remains then…

What’s Going On With Niles Caulder? No, really, what is going on with Niles Caulder? You’ll find out, as he also has a mini-story within the story told one-popping-up-apparently-but-definitely-not-so-randomly-page-at-a-time, with enigmatic titles like “What Are You Doing, Niles Caulder?”, “Niles Caulder: Habitual Snoop” and “Meanwhile, In Larry Trainor’s Innermost Parallel Lifetime.” It will all make sense in the end, trust me. And The Chief. You should always trust The Chief. Plus, it would seem, Gerard Way.

JR

Buy Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“So you’re the one who’s been giving my son a hard time all these years.
“Naughty boy.”

Along with Matt Hollingsworth who keeps the colours subdued until the cauldron comes out, line artist Alex Maleev absolutely owns this title.

He was Bendis’ creative partner on what was the finest run ever on DAREDEVIL and, more recently, this series’ immediate predecessor INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN. It was there that we first met the reformed, harmless and armourless Victor von Doom, smooth-faced, suited and booted following events in SECRET WARS. Now, following the events in CIVIL WAR II, there is slight a gap in the market for an Iron Man. So Doom swaps armours in order to atone for decades of home-grown tyranny, international terrorism and the world’s worst overuse of the term “Bah!” (which is a little like “Meh!” but a lot less dismissive and much more infuriated).

 

All three books are fab, but as reference you only need INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN to comprehend the dynamics between Doom, Tony Stark (now actually absent yet virtually present) and Stark’s ex-belle, the exceptional scientist Amara who is, I believe, falling for Doom against her own dear wishes and much better judgement. If she isn’t then I do apologise, but it’s subtly done and I really do think so.

With the aid of Stark’s armour, Doom is now using his years of prior knowledge to take down former associates in crime with very little effort, tearing their home addresses out of his Filofax as he tears down their laboratories.

He’s expending neither much effort nor half so many words as he used to: it’s all very admirably efficient. Less is more when you are as powerful as Doom and this is where Alex Maleev comes in. He renders Doom far more of a presence through relative relaxation: an inexertion, both in battle and conversation.

The very first page shows Doom in his original armour, gauntleted hands folded one over the other in the most keep-your-own-counsel, foreboding manner imaginable, speaking only when spoken to and when provoked; sometimes not even then. He takes one solitary action which is instantly effective, concluding the one-way conversation in a manner akin to putting the phone down on a cold-caller, but with additional benefit of knowing you won’t be cold-called again anytime soon.

This that page; this is that panel.

Honestly? I think the second panel of this collected edition is the best rendition of Doom of all time. I’d have stopped talking right then.

Glaring from under his cowl (gauntlets folded, yes) Victor growls – without growling anything – are you seriously going to fuck with me…?

Fast-forward to the heavily fortified S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier floating high above the world’s surface, and its Commander Maria Hill is fobbing off a pedantic phone call from her mother whilst painting her toe nails. Now, I know that’s in the script so credit as always – always – to Brian Michael Bendis, but Maleev nails the multi-tasking mundanity of applying polish while listening to bothersome shit which you really shouldn’t have to take except from your mom. One of those actions requires real concentration.

What happens next requires even more concentration, but I would be exceedingly distracted throughout if I thought my socks had smudged the wet varnish.

Alex Maleev Exhibit C comes from Switzerland whither Doom temporarily re-houses Amara, and the mountainous backgrounds are – in their truest sense – awesome. Hollingsworth once again fires on all restrained cylinders and the effect is tranquil, idyllic.

I should probably be telling you the plot.

Doctor Doom has reformed and wants to set the world to rights, empowered by Tony Stark’s armour. No one believes him, especially former Fantastic Four adversary Benjamin Grimm. So that gets in his way a bit.

Doom is disgusted by what he finds has become of his kingdom, Latveria, which lies in rubble and under the command of a military rabble which should, he now believes, have transformed his prior dictatorship into a thriving democracy. Instead, there aren’t even any schools to go to, so the kids clutter up the streets, carrying rifles with live ammunition.

He’s also disgusted to find Ben there.

Things, however, are looking even more grim for our Benjamin whose rocks are coming off, clink, clink, clink, one at a time, because someone in the shadows appears to have made an unexpected return from the dead.

“Grimm.”
“Ah… Vic?”
“You need not speak.”
“It’s… She says she’s…”
“I know. I knew when I walked in. Hello, mother.”

But there’s someone else waiting in the wings whom Doom knows so well, and he should no longer exist, either.

Exceptional for Marvel right now, this is written with all due care for the past, but with a refreshingly thorough reassessment in the light of sweeping changes which comes from a lot of lateral thinking.

SLH

Buy Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Salsa was a stick-up man from Cuba. He’d been a revolutionary, a gigolo and was now an armed robber. When he saw the call come through he keyed his Dodge. He’d been stalking out the gas station since Parker’s letter. Two years ago he’d stopped for gas and made it as a layoff dump. As he roared towards the station he pulled on his mask. The two clowns didn’t know what hit them. All they’d remember was that they were robbed by Frankenstein.”

This, the second Darwyn Cooke adaptation of a Richard Stark ‘Parker’ novel is a direct sequel to the first, PARKER: THE HUNTER. As mentioned in my previous review, with crime it’s all about the plot for me, but Cooke’s art on the first book just took my breath away literally right from the moment I opened the book. THE OUTFIT, if anything, is even more beautiful for reasons I’ll come to, and once again we begin with a panoramic double-page splash of the locale, this time Miami Beach c.1963.

Following the events of THE HUNTER Parker knows he’s made some serious enemies in the shape of the Outfit having taken them for $45,000, which sure isn’t chump change, but that’s how they’ve been made to feel, and it’s sure how they’re choosing to take it. The Outfit are coming after Parker so repeatedly now he decides the only option is to change his face as well as his scenery. But easy living costs money, and after an armed robbery heist to generate some quick cash goes slightly awry, all thanks to a good old-fashioned double crossing at the hands of a greedy dame, the Outfit learns just why it is they’ve been unable to spot Parker recently. And, so the chase begins again.

Parker, a smarter wit than all the bosses put together, surmises the only way he’s going to be able to get them to stop coming after him for good is if he keeps hitting them hard, where it hurts them the most… in their wallets, so that they’ll have no choice but to make peace with him. Of course, Parker being Parker, he has a few more angles to his plan than that, but he’s certainly not one to show his hand until it’s time to claim the whole pot. And so, with the aid of some long standing friends scattered across the States, who might not exactly be adverse to some easy scores against the Outfit themselves, he starts a co-ordinated campaign of action, having forewarned the Outfit this is just a taste of what they can expect if they don’t leave him alone.

One key addition to Cooke’s glorious armoury of endeavour this time around is the use of devices relatively atypical to sequential art, such as floating narrative text-excerpts to build extra vital detail and background information into the plot. Often when this device is used in comics, it makes the work feel text-heavy, but here it’s so punchily done in a breezily staccato manner, it really adds to the action. And in a particularly delightful conceit, when Parker’s extended gang of colleagues launch their concerted series of heists all aimed at interests of the Outfit, he employs a completely different art style to chronicle each heist, switching from illustrated magazine article to Pink Panther-esque cartoon style, to panelled newspaper strip, to ligne claire, further adding to the gloriously period ’60s feel of the whole joint. It also neatly provides a very clever mid-book interval in true old-school cinema style, before Parker takes central stage once again to bring the hidden elements of his master plan to a concussive conclusion.

JR

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

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith…

Using some of the supporting characters from BONE but set in an earlier time, this standalone work is quite different in that it is a straight story without the comedic element that often featured in its parent title.

This is in essence a high fantasy story about the Princess Rose and her sister Briar involving talking dragons, strange creatures (some of which will be familiar to readers of BONE), mysterious protectors, dastardly villainy and the usual expendable cannon-fodder villagers.

The lush painted artwork from Vess put me in mind of his slice of THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and adds to the magical fairytale qualities of the book. Personally I was left with the interesting paradox of finding the character of Rose slightly annoying because everyone seems so easily able to manipulate her naivety and exploit her, but on the other hand as a device it is used well by Smith to generate some lovely tortuous and unpleasant plot twists. You’ll almost certainly find yourself muttering under your breath to Rose, come on you really can’t be that daft, but in the end I found myself rather carried along by the story.

JR

Buy Bone: Rose 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’.

Giant Days vol 5 s/c (£13-99, Boom Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Threads: From The Refugee Crisis h/c (£14-99, Verso) by Kate Evans

Pop Gun War vol 2: Chain Letter (£17-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

Batman: Detective Comics vol 9: Gordon At War s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin, Scot Eaton

Nightwing vol 2: Back To Bludhaven s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Marcus To, Marcio, Takara, Min

Teen Titans vol 1: Damian Knows Best s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Khoi Pham, Diogenes Neves, Jonboy Meyers

Venom vol 1: Homecoming s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Gerardo Sandoval, Juanan Ramirez, Iban Coello

The Girl From The Other Side vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

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