Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week three

September 20th, 2017

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

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

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

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

Which makes him smile: he can laugh at himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to grow very dark indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s wearing that shirt, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

I just wish he would be more wary.

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

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

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

Quite.

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

SLH

Buy Breaks vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

Poor old Goliath!

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

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

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

It’s all so still.

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

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

“Are you ok with that?”
“Sort of.”

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

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

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

He’ll be seeing that again shortly.

SLH

Buy Goliath and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought this was so deftly done!

So we come to my opening caveats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s open and honest about her naivety.

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

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

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

I’m afraid not.

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

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

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

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

“That’s so brave.”

The very opposite of life at home.

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems utterly inert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you spell “reciprocation”?

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

I’m choosing my words very carefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

Basically, everything that immediately follows SIEGE.

Avengers Vol 1:

Not so much a temporal anomaly as a temporal catastrophe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Yes.

**Yes.

Avengers vol 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers: Prime

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops!

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

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

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week two

September 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application is overrated.

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

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

Human behaviour is what’s being satirised, essentially.

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

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

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

BAKING WITH KAFKA is one extended masterclass in pithy iconoclasm.

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

 

He topples or reverses expectations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Baking With Kafka and read the Page 45 review here

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

    

Delicious!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH’s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.

Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.

There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!

SLH

Buy Knife’s Edge and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison.

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

Yes! John Allison’s web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious, widescreen technicolour!

John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children. In BAD MACHINERY at least (a folder where you’ll also find GIANT DAYS, BOBBINS etc) Allison is also all-ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends do fall out, you know. Here’s Shauna and Charlotte:

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

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

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

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

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

I exhort you, then, to…

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

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

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

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

Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you.

John Allison will be joining over a dozen other comicbook creators signing in Page 45’s Georgian Room At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017. You’ll find all the times and details there on our permanent, dedicated LICAF page.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy and read the Page 45 review here

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

Guilty in charging, I’m guilty as charged!

I raise my hands in recognition and have benefited enormously from reading this comic.

It wasn’t always this way.

My original route to any gainful employment was so circuitous that I had to explain it in terms of my preference of driving down A roads and B roads to the mania of motorways which might get you to your destination faster, but what really is the point if you don’t experience anything of interest along the way? Where would have been the beauty, the growth and the sustenance for the soul?

But at least I’d have been rushing from A to B.

“For me, whenever I have been caught in this race it always feels that as soon as I arrive at B…” contends Mike, perched comfortably on top of his prized destination, “… it somehow turns back to A.”

Unsettling: he’s almost unseated.

“Then I find that B has become a new goal, off in the distance.”

Ha ha, yes, yes, yes!

It was with no small degree of amusement that I read that, realising that this mini-comic was coming up for review. Every Wednesday I hand in my weekly assignment which is our Reviews Blog with a huge sigh of relief and hopefully some sense of accomplishment, only to be confronted – on the very same day and usually before I’ve hit “publish” – with yet another huge stack of comics and graphic novels braying for my attention:

B has turned back to A.

And it is therefore with no small degree of irony that I type all this about RUSHING FROM A TO A when I am doing precisely that.

However, at least while I’m reading all these beautiful books with so much to say, I am experiencing beauty and undergoing growth while finding the right words to communicate their excellence. As to sustenance of the soul, there is no more apposite expression to describe the work of Mike Medaglia.

In POVERTY OF THE HEART, ONE YEAR WISER and once again here, Medaglia ever so gently reminds us of those priorities – that we perhaps already know but often forget or let fall by the wayside – which would make our lives and others’ infinitely richer if we just paused for a moment, reflected upon them and re-aligned ourselves with their more giving, forgiving and harmonious wholes. He’s a healer, not a preacher. His writings and art radiate understanding and kindness, not criticism; nor do they sound one single note of holier-than-thou self-aggrandisement. Anyone lecturing you on what to do or (worse) what to think, probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart: they almost certainly have theirs. Mike never lectures; he provides you with possibilities for potential, catalysts for your consideration and opportunities for renewed self-awareness.

Here it is understood that progression is important to our growth and so sense of accomplishment, but so is looking around us while we travel: living in the now.

“Impermanence is a reminder that this life is happening right now.
“Mindfulness is a tool to help us be present and stay present while the world unfolds around us.”

“Now”, I would suggest, is the only opportunity you will ever have to experience the present, first-hand, in all its immediate vibrancy, nuance and splendour. Considering it on reflection later on is of course of great benefit, but those examinations depend entirely on what you took in at the time.

There’s a reason why they put blinkers on race horses: the need for speed with no room for distractions or, as I call them, life.

“Instead, we can step back, take a breath, and observe this process playing out.”

The process of this comic plays out, like POVERTY OF THE HEART, in skilfully balanced opposing pages like the starting flag and the finishing line; the sedentary and the next inevitable journey ahead; two semi-formed, miniature mandalas to help one focus on ‘Impermanence’ and the mitigating art of  ‘Mindfulness’.

The colours are a complementary, calm combination of slight prase green, bright flesh pink and two shades of bilberry blue against a relaxing, mind-expanding emptiness of space except on one key double-page spread which is an utter clutter of detritus we could all do without.

There are no panel borders.

This most ambulatory 100-metre sprint concludes with the quietest, most profound and heart-stirring climax, before a wink and a nod which will leave you beaming for days.

SLH

Buy Rushing From A to A and read the Page 45 review here

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia.

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

– William Blake, ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’

“Aspiration should be encouraged. Not even the sky is your limit.”

 – Stephen L. Holland, reviewing CARROT TO THE STARS

Neither of those lines is quoted here, but their sentiments are reflected in this most embracing, engaging and empowering of month-long reminders that living life to the fullest will reward you with the fullest of lives. That may seem on the surface to be the most obvious and so fatuous clause that I’ve ever written, but do we always remember the simplest truths? I know I don’t.

So many of us feel pressured to grind away in order to get through each day that we miss out on its myriad pleasures and possibilities.

What better vehicle could there be, therefore, for life-lifting reminders to live in the now and approach each day with a renewed appreciation of its very existence, than a monthly wall calendar? These are the repositories into and onto which we dot in our future days with things to look forward to and Dates That Must Be Obeyed.

Oh how we wall in our worlds!

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”

 – Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m going to a Sparks gig with Jonathan later this month. An evening out with Jonathan…? Yay and Yippee! Hooray and Huzzah! We will have so much fun! Then I’m on the guest list for the new Nick Cave tour. Level-up moment, for sure!

But if you are anything like me, once all these dates start to clutter up your calendar you may begin to become oppressed by them. For sure, we need structure; certainly we need dutiful reminders. But in the midst of these Commitments Which We Have Made that can each and individually (then as an impenetrable mass) come to seem like onerous engagements, how grin-inducingly excellent it is to be elevated from that self-imposed feeling of constriction and appreciate each instance.

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

 – Miyamoto Musashi

There you go: I for one have been steered onto a better course already!

So it is throughout 2018 that Mike Medaglia will remind you how much you have to look forward to at exactly the right moment: when you come to check your calendar for your daily or weekly assignations or drop in another appointment. Unless it’s with the dentist.

He’ll do that not just with these pithiest of priority-reminding, life-enhancing words of wisdom from those who’ve thought long and hard, but also with the organic beauty of his art which constantly calls upon the majesty of nature.

He’ll summon the simplicity of a single tree or the almost unfathomably grand scale of cloud-encircled mountain ranges; the daring dive from a cliff into stormy seas or the flight of an exotic, purple-plumed bird into the paradise that is our own worldly heavens.

“You can go as far as you want to go, past all limitations and live a supremely victorious existence.”

 – Paramahansa Yogananda.

Which is, I believe, where we came in.

Sometimes Medaglia will combine two, three or more of these elements into an embracing, global whole for us to mediate upon or gaze out from, relishing the complexity and diversity of all that’s on offer if only we care to look beyond what lies immediately in front of us and consider the wonder of it all.

So finally, coming back to the seeming simplicity of a tree, please consider this, perhaps:

“You cannot go against nature, because when you do
“Go against nature, that’s part of nature too.
“Our little lives get complicated. It’s a simple thing:
“Simple as a flower, and that’s a complicated thing.”

 – ‘No New Tale To Tell’, Love And Rockets.

No, the other one.

For more Mike Medaglia, we commend to you the equally contemplative mini-comics POVERTY OF THE HEART and RUSHING FROM A TO A, plus the 365-page ONE YEAR WISER which will keep you refreshed or reinvigorate you on any autumnal or winter morn.

SLH

Buy One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar and read the Page 45 review here

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard…

“Quit it! You’re under arrest!”
“This ain’t the way! This ain’t the way! The leper heart will see you for what you are! See your disrespect! See your bruises upon my body!”
“Shut up!”
“Promises were made! You’re spoiling it! The leper heart promised! Took the soil and the air and left us in the dark with a promise it would come back for us too!”
“Shut the hell up!”
“Swelling up, swelling up out of the unreach, keeping its whispered promises! Low Theta hanging inside the sun, Melancholema and Pale Chronozon…”

The Earth is dead, destroyed by a toxic mixture of pollution and greed. Yep, that’ll do it. Humanity now lives in various scattered space stations owned by mega-corporations, known as Habitats or on the ‘Brink’ as it’s colloquially known. Crammed into such confines, with security provided by private firms, it’s perhaps not surprising the locals have a tendency to go a wee bit stir crazy from time to time, some more so than others.

In addition to the crime gangs peddling narcotics, running protection and the like – who of course are going to find their niche in any environment as parasites do – there are also a few oddball cults that spontaneously spring up as people start to collectively lose the plot and look for absolutely anything at all to grasp onto with their remaining shreds of sanity, no matter how implausible or nonsensical. The cults hadn’t as yet, reached Odette Habitat, owned by Sugarsurf Pharma, but all that’s about to change as Investigator Bridget Kurtis and her partner Carl “Brink” Brinkmann have just found out…

I absolutely loved this work and I am delighted to hear the third arc has just begun in parent title 2000AD, second arc collection to follow next year. Part speculative fiction, part crime and definitely a huge chunk of mystery, this will massively appeal to anyone who enjoyed Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood’s THE FUSE. This is like that title, procedural crime set on a space station, just with a great deal of added creepy suspense and even a touch of pure horror blended in. You have been warned.

For a weekly 2000AD yarn it’s impressively slow at revealing its hand and even by the very end I was left tantalised and puzzled as to precisely what is really going on. The enormous cliffhanger that we’re left dangling over by our fingertips doesn’t help in that respect, damn you Abnett!! You may well even start to believe some of the craziness the cultists are spouting. It’s certainly starting to cross Kurtis’ mind…

Another point of comparison you might have caught recently would be the excellent TV show The Expanse which is based on James S. A. Corey’s series of novels. That’s a series which has utterly gripped me, to the point I have now bought the novels because I can’t wait for the TV show to catch up, but Brink has grabbed me equally hard. I’ll be black and blue soon! I might even have to start reading 2000AD for a weekly fix…

The cult element even put me in mind of the first season of the True Detective TV show (which of course gives a neat little callback to Ian Culbard’s superlative adaptation of THE KING IN YELLOW) in that there’s a general, lurking sense of unease which only builds and builds as what you are sure couldn’t possibly be real starts to come into question… It couldn’t, right? That sense there might just really be something scary behind the proverbial curtain after all… Or that could all just be drug induced paranoid mass hysteria of course…

Dan and Ian have worked together before to great effect on THE NEW DEADWARDIANS and two volumes of WILD’S END (we need that concluding volume, guys!!) and I enjoyed Abnett’s foreword that rightly credits Ian’s “distinctive art work and brilliant storytelling.” It’s nice to see as accomplished a writer as Abnett giving just plaudits to his artistic cohort for their contribution to the wider creative process and the plotting. There are a further couple of interesting paragraphs talking about how their collaborations work.

Plus Ian’s art is an absolutely vital part of this title.

From the disorientating, mood-setting cover which neatly foreshadows the psychological component, pull-back outer-space shots of the vast, orbiting stations whose crisp exterior beauty belies their squalid interiors, through to the little background details like the neon signs and graffiti (might be a clue or two there!), he is one of the best scene composers in the business. The action scenes are taut and tense and perfectly capture the claustrophobic, cacophonous confines of life in a corporate-owned floating tin can. He’s also utilised the same strong, vivid colour palette he deployed to such good effect in his other brilliant collected 2000AD science fiction epic BRASS SUN with Ian Edginton,  that is also finally returning, huzzah!! Great to see the cream of the galaxy’s best weekly comic making it into collections to reach as wide a terrestrial, and presumably extraterrestrial, audience as possible. All that remains is to say Splundig vur Thrigg. I probably won’t eat a polystyrene cup though.

JR

Buy Brink vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross…

“I have endured great suffering as part of my training.
“All so I might be an instrument of revenge.
“All so I can kill Jedi.
“But not today.”

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I kill you tomorrow… hmm… pretty sure Darth Maul isn’t a fan of musicals, even if he and Annie are both redheads…

Well, I think we can now all universally agree that the three Star Wars prequels were pretty much bantha dung, right? For me, about the only bright point of that ill-executed trilogy was this attitude-enhanced, double-lightsabre-twirling bad boy himself. By the time we reached his climatic battle with that laugh-a-minute comedy duo Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan, I was so sick of Ewan McGregor’s received pronunciation, in a rather herniated attempt to emulate Alec Guiness, that I was willing Darth Maul to dish out an elocution lesson that involved removing the Padawan’s voice box.

But sadly, we know how that turned out, meaning the subsequent Clone War cartoons (what, you thought Padawan Kenobi actually killed Darth Maul, suckers? Hahaha have a spoiler!) and now these prequel comics are all we have of the snarling Sith.

Cullen Bunn does an excellent job capturing the barely checked blood lust of Darth Sidious’ irascible apprentice and in fact makes that an essential tenet of the story. Here, Darth Maul can’t help disappearing off on a Jedi hunt when he hears a young Padawan has been captured by pirates and is going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. And if Darth Maul has to go through a fleet of space corsairs, plus various ne’er do wells intent on every conceivable type of Jedi harm and even the galactic equivalent of David Dickinson to get his bargain, I mean, Sith vs. Jedi death duel, well he’s going to do just that. And so he does…

Which I will grant you sounds a remarkably thin premise for a great story, but in fact Bunn fleshes it out thicker than a Hutt’s belly, throwing in some great secondary and tertiary characters, mostly engaged in so much double and triple crossing I thought they might wear the carpet out, which is never advisable when you’re floating in space, so that the whole story really comes to life. Well, ends in death, actually, repeatedly, brutally, and in some quite inventive ways.

Luke Ross is an excellent addition to the Marvel Star Wars artists stable. I’ve commented before that they seem to prefer using people with relatively straightforward but very polished art styles, presumably to enhance rather than potentially distract from the story telling, to provide an almost cinematic flow to proceedings, and Ross certainly succeeds in that respect. Definitely one of the better individual character Star Wars titles to date by some several parsecs.

JR

Buy Star Wars Darth Maul s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

The most contemporary comic imaginable, inclusivity is its middle name.

This beautifully designed hardcover, whose silver complements the first book’s gold, collects the third and fourth softcovers along with a wealth of additional back-matter which I can’t see from my study, so sorry. Here’s what I originally wrote with the occasional tweak. One of my top 5 comics currently being produced periodically.

Book three:

“A documentary about public grief can never show too many crowds of people freaking out about people they’ve never met.”

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods and pop goddesses? Turns out that some of them really are.

“You are of the Pantheon.
“You will be loved.
“You will be hated.
“You will be brilliant.
“Within two years you will be dead.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their fate. She helps them shine brightly for their brief two years. If they’re lucky. Because some of those lights have been snuffed out already.

It’s a brilliant conceit. Of course the Pantheon’s role in this modern age would be as those most worshipped today, and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, aspiration, envy, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and manipulation. Some are putting ideas into other people’s heads.

Please don’t imagine we’re treading water in these six short stories focussing on individual members of the Pantheon. If anything, events are escalating in the hunt for the killer. Prepare to drown in dramatic irony.

Since McKelvie was on sabbatical while he drew PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL, his chapter starring Woden is craftily composed entirely of panels repurposed from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE volumes one and two. Which itself involves a substantial amount of time and no small degree of artful judgement. Enhanced with colour filters by Matt Wilson which partially reflect their original source, it’s so successful that if you have no idea that it’s a collage you’d barely twig. Having this foreknowledge, each page made me smile, and I imagine some soul with enough time on their hands spent an entire afternoon identifying each panel’s specific source.

What’s particularly clever, however, is that the remix / reconstruction is entirely apposite since it’s Woden recalling a side of the story you never saw in volume two after that gun was put to his head and he ran back to Mummy to tell tales. By ‘Mummy’ I mean Ananke, and this may make you want to re-read the whole series with fresh insight and hindsight from the start. There’s a very funny sequence in which Luci and Baal’s actual exchange in volume one is replaced by satirical overdubs. There’s also an awful echo of the previous chapter as Woden comes clean about his sexual proclivities:

“”How can I do it?” It’s easy. You take women and just forget that they’re people. It’s not hard.”

No, it seems appallingly easy given the deluge of mob-mentality male hatred thrown like so much repugnant, foul-smelling shit across the internet at female comics and especially games journalists like Leigh Alexander (the visual model for Laura) simply because they are women. Gillen pulls no punches in reproducing its sexually explicit venom here as social-media men-children bombard pop goddess Tara with a barrage of Tweets whose infinite, incessant, babbling inhumanity is represented by a final full page of these cold, callous rectangles receding into the distance and disappearing off the edges.

I cannot show you any of those pages – as in, I won’t. But, trust me, nothing has been exaggerated for the sake of sensationalism.

They’re presaged by Tara’s treatment by men long before she could sing – the casual sexism and worse which is faced by women walking the street or in bars – and presented in stark contrast to Tara’s softness, vulnerability and individuality as a human being, the flesh on her face drawn so warmly by Tula Lotay along with the pain and tears in her eyes. It’s an individuality no one was ever interested in, only her looks. Her fans hate it when she puts on the mask, depriving them of their pleasure, or sings anything she wrote herself.

“Fucking Tara.” It becomes a mantra of sorts.

Individuality is exactly what every artist offers here, and after you’ve read each chapter you won’t be able to imagine them being drawn by anyone else. For sheer, unbridled fury Kate Brown takes the biscuit and I’m not just talking about the line art, either: there’s a cacophony of colours and you too will see red. What Brandon Graham brings could hardly be more different. His Sakhmet is sexual, sybaritic, reclining like a cat, hunting like a cat and disinterested too. Her performance is phantasmagorical.

Individuality is also what you’ll enjoy more of as we learn a lot more about some of the Pantheon and their lives both post- and pre-activation. Plenty of revelations, all of which make perfect sense, particularly and at times hilariously the Morrigan and Baphomet drawn by Leila Del Duca. Heritage also comes up for combative review before artist Stephanie Hans draws Amaterasu going nuclear in the skies above Hiroshima.

“You are a literal artificial sun above Hiroshima! Fuck! Are you even aware of how offensive this is?”

We’ve not seen much of Minerva until now. She’s the Goddess of Wisdom, aged twelve. Out of the mouths of babes etc, I’d say she’s one to watch.

I certainly wish they would listen.

Book four:

They have been played.

You have been played.

Kieron Gillen has been ever so naughty: he left out key moments in order to mess with your mind.

Here they all are. And doesn’t that make a difference!

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

Poppies Of Iraq h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brigitte Findakly, Lewis Trondheim

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

Hellblazer vol 17: Out Of Season (£26-99, DC) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Leonardo Marco, Chris Brunner, Steve Dillon

Harley Quinn vol 3: Red Meat s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, Joseph Michael Linsner, others

Blame! Vol 5 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Well, that’s not many, is it?

Fear not, we have a few killer cards up our sleeves!

Don’t forget, we haven’t reviewed Tillie Walden’s SPINNING yet.

I promise you it is a belter.

See you next week!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews September 2017 week one

September 6th, 2017

Featuring Pam Smy, Lisa Murphy, Adam Murphy, Sophie Campbell, D.J. Bryant, Katie Skelly, Corey Lewis, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernández., Antony Jonston, Sam Hart.

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant.

“I’d never been in love. Love wasn’t part of my chemical make-up. So why couldn’t I get this boy out of my head?”

Fast-forward four pages and you’ll have a pretty shrewd idea.

Aged anywhere between a precociously self-assured twenty-two and a relaxed twenty-eight, in his pristine slacks and tight, black, concentric-ringed t-shirt, he is a full-lipped, doe-eyed beauty. More importantly, as they glance over at each other then stare fully clothed on his bed, he is strikingly familiar.

“My obsession began a week before.
“I was having breakfast with my husband at this diner called the Topspot. That’s right. I was married.”

She’d felt sorry for him.

Oh, she’d had plenty of suitors throwing themselves at her before – both men and women – and I can’t say I blame them. Markedly more dowdy in the company of her husband (plain dress or diamond-patterned golfing jumper), Nadya, when out and about, is ever so casually chic and alluring, radiating a quiet but commanding confidence.

“I never dreamed the tables would get turned like this.”

You wait until the phone rings, Nadya.

There’s a clue to all this in the third tale, in case you miss it: anadrome.

If I had to summarise the mysteries of UNREAL CITY, tables being turned – both on its protagonists and on its readers – would be very high on my list. Relationships, perception, time, manipulation, reality, fiction… all these will be warped as D.J. Bryant presents you with puzzles to mess with your mind and, once again, with his protagonists’. Control will be sought, control will be lost, and in ‘Objet D’Art’ control may never have been an option in the first instance – whichever instance the first one turns out to be.

It’s all very David Lynch, even down to the sound in ‘Emordana’, but with a fresh inventiveness of its own evidenced most clearly in ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ and ‘Objet D’Art’ which wouldn’t work in any medium other than comics.

The five separate stories are presaged by the endpapers which show a man approaching a black opening ahead, one hand holding onto the wall, the other outstretched in front of him; another sat lifeless and despondent in a crowd; a dolled-up dame in black bunny ears; a youth startled outside his ornate brownstone’s front door; a wild drive in the countryside; and the first man, once again, sat in a theatre’s auditorium, resolutely refusing to clap as everyone around him applauds.

Bryant’s art is meticulous and glossy, sexy and hypnotic; Charles Burns with more of an eye for high fashion. It’s also decidedly top-shelf for two of the tales.

There’s an extraordinary amount of detail in ‘Objet D’Art’ both at a pretentious costume party for performing hipsters and within the pages of a science fiction graphic novel which our narrator discovers in a bookshop window after returning to a city he’d left two years earlier, and to an apartment opposite the Zethus Building where he used to live. You can read its very dialogue if you peer closely enough, and it’s well worth the effort for what follows because – its science-fiction setting aside – it echoes uncannily true to the disconcerted former suitor.

We immediately flash back two years earlier to the future graphic novel’s creator and his wife whom he dresses up as his own female protagonist in familiar black bunny ears to attend a fancy dress party they’d been waved over to attend from the window opposite theirs. It proves to be pivotal both to their lives, the plot of the story and the plot of the husband’s graphic novel. But oh, how much stranger are the final few pages several more years down the line…

There’s a complete change in art style for ‘The Yellowknife Retrospective’ which is almost Hannah Barbera and in full colour. It sees artist Jack Yellowknife visit the Igloo Gallery with his far better informed lover, Laura.

“It’s the first structure to incorporate the principles of temporal design.”

Jack is sceptical, aloof and above it all. Until on the top-left hand panel of the very next page within the Igloo Gallery, he sees himself (minus the sunglasses still worn inside) racing up to greet him.

“Yo, Jack! It’s me! Yourself from the immediate future!”
“What the fuck?”
“Hey, where did Laura go?”
“I dunno. What the hell is going on here?”
“It’s this gallery, man! It warps time!”

The second of three tiers on that page begins with Jack and Laura entering through the Igloo door, Jack confident, almost proprietarily.

“Temporal design? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before.”
“Basically,” she explains, “the curvature of the walls and the angle of the floor are constructed in such a way so that time loops back on itself from one end of the building to another.”
“You’re shittin’ me!”
“I shit you not!”

And your eye is led down not to the left-hand panel on the third tier, but to the right-hand one as Jack spies them entering the gallery a few moments earlier then races off to see if he can interact with himself.

Now then: pull back and look at that page again: it’s composed like a simple, dice-rolling board game with “squares” in place of panels in the shape of a 6 and the starting square isn’t the top left-hand panel but – by dint of its being pulled out just a little more than the others to the left – the middle left-hand panel. Follow the shape of the 6 round from there up to the top tier then onto the next page and…

It has only just begun.

Lord, how I love comics!

For a comparison point to that particular page, please see Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III’s PROMETHEA VOLUME 3 and its Möbius Strip, along which the two women can hear each other talking through its alternate side.

One thing I’ve not done yet is properly address or even emphasise clearly enough the sexual content of this collection. The tale we tossed off on, ‘Echoes Into Eternity’ is merely playful. Beautifully playful, and it may make you grin. ‘Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt’ is much darker fare, starring a husband caricatured to my mind to resemble Steve Buscemi. It’s in the lips and the eyes. It’s an orgy of castigation, humiliation and emasculation with a Deathcrawl childhood ditty / refrain on a tricycle. It’s gripping.

But perhaps the most complex of all the pieces here is ‘Emordana: The Inflection Of Nothing On The Visual Cortex’. This is a structural analyst’s dream, revealing the truth behind what you think you’re looking at (on the very first page, for example) only as the proverbial onion is peeled away.

All I will tell you that the tale’s title also doubles as that of a vinyl LP…

“A song keeps skipping and repeating. The same beat; the name of some girl. A feat that keeps your heart beating to the same monotonous rhythm.”

… and a theatrical play being performed tonight by its most reluctant trapped actors. Including the one in the audience.

Expect switches everywhere.

The only table-turning twist we don’t have here is the self-reflexive. Outside of that, everything goes.

Behold a new voice that has been bubbling beneath the surface for quite some time. No single page from the original, abandoned UNREAL CITY serialised endeavour has been retained or incorporated. And there were some terrific pages there, I promise you. But, comparatively speaking, they were mere youthful notions and ideas without the confidence or complete command displayed here, and it was both brave and wise to let go.

SLH

Buy Unreal City h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy.

“Ahem… Well… I thought I hadn’t seen you and I asked around and thought that maybe you were avoiding coming down because… well… because a certain person is back.”

A certain person is back.

Even Jane, the single carer who seems to care, cannot bring herself to say her name.

Mary thought she might be safe once that certain person had been re-homed. But no, she always ends up back at Thornhill, and then it begins anew: the laughter, the stares, the thump, thump, thump on doors as she passes by.

“Would you, Mary? If I have a word with her and ask her to be friends, would you try too?”

It’s as if nothing had ever happened. Everyone turns a blind eye as far as she’s concerned.

Mary knew she was back without even looking. She could hear her downstairs, and she locked herself away in her room, the top-most in the Institute, the only one with its own sink and bathroom. To get there you have to go up an extra, dark and narrow set of stairs, through a door off the main landing.

“I am going to go down now and have a chat with her, Mary, and tomorrow you can come down and have breakfast with the rest of us. It’ll be much better for everyone here at Thornhill if we can all get along. I’ll come and knock for you in the morning so we can go down together. OK, Mary?”

And then all eyes will be upon Mary as she is brought into the dining room. There will be low whispers or – worse still – voices just loud enough so that they know Mary knows that she is being talked about.

“Well, I am glad that is all sorted out.”

Mary hadn’t said a word.

That was thirty-five years ago…

There’s an old house opposite Ella’s new bedroom window. More of a small mansion, really, large enough to have four tall chimney stacks; old enough to have sets of simple, deep-carved, stone gothic windows; and neglected enough to have buddleias embedded in its brickwork, some windows boarded up, its gardens overgrown and long gone to seed.

The overgrowth is further tangled up in coils of barbed wire.

At night it stands silent and empty, its ridged roof tiles and ornate flashing lit up by the moon.

It used to be the Thornhill Institute for Children – for girls, as it happens – and it has seen better days.

Better days… and much worse nights.

Did a light just go on in its top bedroom window?

Pam Smy has conjured up a chilling Young Adult horror story, shot through with a prickly, cold-sweat tension which will be familiar to anyone who’s been bullied and whose bullies have been so very careful to avoid detection and any sort of censure. To anyone who hasn’t been believed, perhaps endured it alone or, worse still, could not go home: boarders either at school or a less than charitable institution. The horror here is all too real.

She always makes friends again, no matter what she does. They’re all scared of her too.

Set thirty-five years apart, the past is presented to us in the form of unadorned prose diary entries written by Mary, beginning in February 1982 as her pretty tormentor, unnamed throughout the book, returns with a smile and a promise made just loud enough for every other girl to hear: that she wants to be friends and make amends now. And Mary would like a friend. She really would. She finds it difficult. She doesn’t speak; the words won’t come. She finds it difficult to mix, but she doesn’t mind if no one talks to her. There’s less pressure. She actually finds it quite nice to start walking to school with everyone else again, hanging at the back and listening to them natter excitedly about pop stars or TV programmes they’ve enjoyed. Mary doesn’t watch TV with them in the communal lounge: she’d rather be upstairs, fashioning more of her beautiful, ornate dolls.

Kathleen is kind. Kathleen is there at meal times, then cleaning up afterwards in the kitchen. Kathleen gives her winks and the odd extra small packet of biscuits. She seems to understand.

One of the carers, Jane, seems to care too. But she doesn’t understand.

Where this proves a marked departure from anything else I’ve stumbled across before is that the present comes to us as comics. Tellingly, they are silent comics: bleak, black and white double-page spreads of further isolation: of Ella alone at home while her Dad works long hours, leaving her notes on the kitchen table that he’s left early and will be home late. There’s a framed photo of Ella and her mother during happier times, inscribed by hand, “I will always love you, Mum x” There’s another one taped besides Ella’s window.

It’s through that window that Ella thinks she first spies a girl, about her own age, a month after she’s moved in. But the girl is little more than a silhouette amongst the barbed wire, the sorry sea of weeds and the jagged ash staves run rampant.

But then she turns round, and I defy you not to be chilled.

I don’t have that full image here, but one of this book’s most successfully deployed elements is suspense in ambiguity – ambiguity and hope. Hope can be terribly cruel.

Treachery too is a terrible thing, and there are a gutting couple of pages in which Mary overhears Kathleen talking to her carer who cares, Jane, and it transpires that she doesn’t.

“I know, but honestly, it’s her own fault, if you ask me, Kathleen. It’s one thing to have this Selective mutism thing – if it really is a thing and she isn’t just choosing not to speak – that makes her odd in the first place, but then she spends all her time on her own making those damn dolls. It is a bit creepy.”

The very same dolls which Jane made such a fuss about, praising Mary’s craft.

“She doesn’t even try to fit in.”
“Just because she is a bit different doesn’t mean they should pick on her.”
“A bit different! Come on, Kathleen, she’s weird. You say they are picking on her, but we don’t have any proof. She doesn’t ever say anything. She had never made a complaint. How can we help her if she doesn’t help herself? She just tiptoes about with that tight, pinched, sour face of hers. She never smiles. No wonder no family wants her… if her speech thing isn’t problem enough, she is also the least likeable girl we have ever had here…”

Which is nice.

Like Britt Fanny in JANE, THE FOX & ME illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, Pan Smy also understands all the exhausting acting involved in keeping yourself looking busy in a crowd in the hope that you’ll be ignored – and that being ignored is sadly sometimes the best you can hope for.

Meanwhile, Ella finds herself increasingly drawn to the fenced up estate and gains access via a plank dropped down over her back yard. “Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me” is carved on the pedestal of an ivy strewn statue, and all the while that barbed wire looks as dangerous as the dilapidated house looks unsafe. Creepy doesn’t begin to cover it. Then she finds a doll’s face, and thinks she’ll give it some loving, tender care back home before returning it to the grounds.

And then she finds a whole doll hung by its neck on a noose.

SLH

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

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Scientists (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy.

“Woo! Yeah!
“Science!”

 – Charles Darwin on discovering the Galapagos Islands

Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing! It’s a fifth of the battle won.

It probably also requires a lot of studious research, fiercely analytical minds, a wealth of imagination and the odd dollop of genius – but enough about Adam and Lisa, what about the scientists?

However mirth-makingly irreverent it is in its gleeful delivery, this all-ages graphic novel bubbles full to the brim with history and 100% accurate hard science, often explained with a skill, clarity and loads of lateral thinking to match their much lauded (or shamefully side-lined) subjects.

I learned or re-learned so much that had long-since escaped me while securing a far greater sense of context as Lisa and Adam took me chronologically through scientific break-through after break-through, some building on previous discoveries whilst ditching old, untested presumptions.

This was the key to the Scientific Revolution some 500 years ago: the acknowledgement of ignorance coupled with a renewed curiosity to learn rather than simply accept ancient dictums as if they were written in stone. Which, err, some of them were!

Before then the priority was the preservation of the past, even if the past was a load of old bunkum. But not every party was prepared to take off their blinkers to let in new light, as poor Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) discovered when presenting irrefutable mathematical evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun or strong collaborative research promoting Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution when organised religion had already firmly established through painstaking fabrication that the Earth was in fact flat as well as the centre of the universe, and that God had created its myriad creatures in all their glory in a single day over a quiet week, just the other month.

If you’ve yet to become acquainted with the CORPSE TALK format (previous volumes reviewed in our treasured PHOENIX BOOKS section), Adam Murphy takes it upon himself to dig up old fossils – just as Mary Anning (1799-1847) did before establishment beardy blokes went and stole all her credit – reanimating their brittle bones to badger from them as much as he can before their corpses collapse under the weight of his truly awful puns.

Few of these famous faces appear to have rested soundly in their rudely interrupted, not-so-eternal sleep, for they bring to the sprightly discussion the same sort of modern colloquialisms which Adam brought to his LOST TALES:

“OMG!” Geez!” “Good times!” “Nuts!”

“Pretty freakin’ awesome…” boasts Charles Darwin of his beetle collection. Then, when Murphy reveals that his evolutionary explanation of the whale as a descendant of a land mammal gradually adapting to swimming around with its mouth open, scooping up food on the water’s surface – hence the huge mouth and nose on top of its head – was in fact now well established, but so ridiculed at the time that he felt compelled to remove it from later editions of ‘On The Origin Of The Species’, Darwin declares:

“YESS! I KNEW IT! EAT IT, HATERS!”

Even late in the day, a little vindication goes a long way.

Other idiocies of the times include women being banned from schools, universities and of course the military (for a little light catharsis I hugely recommend Jacky Fleming’s THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN), which is why Margaret Anne Bulkley became famous as Dr James Barry (1790s-1865), toughing it out long enough in a very fetching officer’s jacket to invent modern hygiene.

“I quickly realised that in the army the key thing wasn’t so much looking like a man (I just had to wear the right clothes) as it was acting like a man…
“Most importantly, I had to get used to picking fights, talking over people and generally being insufferably opinionated!”

Unsurprisingly, since the Scientific Revolution occurred a mere 500 years ago, most of our ingenious interviewees come from that same span of time. Three, however, pre-date them quite considerably and each has been selected for that prime, requisite quality of not taking past authorities’ words as gospel, but thinking, observing and experimenting for themselves: Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Archimedes (287-212 BCE) and Al-Haytham (965-1040).

Aristotle was adamant that no theories or contentions should be taken for granted… unfortunately some his own were, like the seeming appearance of insects in animal poop out of nowhere. That took Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) two millennia to disprove by getting her own hands well and truly dirty. The eggs had been laid in or on food and so travelled through animals’ guts. Here’s a selection of Aristotle’s sayings, the first of which is science all over:

“The more you know, the more you don’t know. Y’know?”
“The secret of humour is surprise.”
“Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.”

That neatly anticipates Bookface and Twitter. But the one aphorism I am most delighted the Murphies resurrected is this, in praise of teachers, which has since been corrupted to disparage them:

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

Archimedes I found fascinating because although I knew all about the “Eureka” moment and its discovery of water displacement to measure weight, I had no idea until now what the conundrum he was first charged with solving was. Read this and see! He also discovered levers, for which I won’t thank him: mechanics was the bane of my maths exams.

I was equally ignorant of Al-Haytham who invented the old hypothesis. No, not “of” – he actually invented the whole hypothesis / disproval discipline, as well as modern optics upon discovering that light travels in a straight line from the sun then bounces off objects into our eyes (upside down) rather than being emitted from ourselves like ocular laser beams! Yes, he experienced the pinhole camera effect while lying in a darkened room!

This is all beautifully explained in one of the double-page spreads which now follow every interview. Even though the format is slightly smaller than previous publications, there’s a much greater sense of space on each page and within each pane. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is afforded two double-page spreads but then the Murphies do manage to communicate there his entire Theory of Relatively with astonishing concision and lucidity. They are exceptional communicators, using basketball players’ heights, for example, to elucidate on Natural Selection.

More things I learned include the invention of crop rotation by George Washington Carver (1860s-1993). Oh, I’d studied crop rotation at school, but I didn’t know it was him, why it was first invented nor what cotton was rotated with – you will be surprised! You’ll be surprised both by the crop and that no one was into it. Carver had to come up with multiple new uses for the ground-bound fruit which has since become a staple at soirées.  I knew not that Plague Doctors’ “beaks” contained sweet-smelling flowers to protect them from the infectious miasma that never existed, nor that it was Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) who came up with the Periodic Table.

The full modern masterpiece is printed on one of those double-page spreads but value-for-money is what the Murphies are all about and they manage to pack in extra information in the form of an illustrated example of how each element is used in everyday life or where it is found. Your general knowledge quiz team will slap you repeatedly on the back for those prized nuggets, I promise you.

Another spread includes an “AC / DC Grudge-Match from Beyond the Grave” featuring Edison and Tesla (1856-1943) duking it out in an Extreme Science stand-off, just as they did in real life with Edison’s manipulative, bad-science fear-mongering making him the Donald Trump of his day.

As well as the language, kids will love all the visual comedy too, like the 18th Century aristos smothering themselves in powder to hide the after-effects of small pox, then dotting their faces with so many beauty spots to hide each individual pock-mark that they look as if they’ve come down with multi-coloured measles. Yes, I think that entry for Edward Jenner (1749-1823) will prove particularly popular with those sharing my mental age range (single digits, me) for the disgusting depictions of those in full, porridge-like, pustule-ridden small-pox bloom and the very idea that infected cowpox scabs (scabs!) were inserted into healthy wounds as an early from of vaccination.

There are eighteen entries in total to enjoy, and enjoyed they will be! I’ve long contended that all education should be entertainment, and here you will learn as you gawp, gurn and grin with glee.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists  and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell.

“My new thing is no more secrets.
“All they do is mess shit up.”

Quite right too, and yes they do!

But, oh dear, you’re talking to the wrong person, Cleo. You should be talking to –

Sophie Campbell is a master of the emotional rollercoaster ride; her weapon of choice being subtly deployed and stealthily ramped-up dramatic irony. For there is a shadow falling, and only we can see it.

And I’m not just talking about Glen’s projectile-vomiting morning-after experience in the cafe which Cleo goes to work in, the even worse, unrelated cleaning-up job that Cleo is confronted with or Audrey’s nightmarish babysitting experience.

No, right at the heart of this someone has been seething with the most ferocious, bottled-up anger towards any and all. And not one our cast has a clue.

This fourth volume opens on a much brighter note with what is for some the bonding experience that is softball practice. Even Trilby – previously the most obstinately, wilfully and self-destructively negative of them all – has finally begun to appreciate others and understand the importance of vocalising that admiration and respect.

Meanwhile, there’s a con on: a TV-cult-show and comicbook convention. Let the cosplay commence!

Furthermore, let BY CHANCE OF BY PROVIDENCE’s Becky Cloonan make a guest appearance, sketching away there! She does! Not just in the background, either: Becky becomes embroiled in a prior, physical dispute.

With each of these new WET MOON editions I’ve found myself revisiting much missed friends and found my previous reviews deeply inadequate. That’s hindsight for you. So it was here, for Campbell was always so far ahead of her comicbook peers not just in presenting unique individuals with endearing quirks, understandable foibles and some frustrating flaws, but particularly with beautiful, diverse body forms drawn with relish and lavished with love.

Our ladies on the swamp-side college campus site have had a lot of growing up to do and still more to come, but they are precocious in exploring their sexual identities as fully as they dare, questioning them in private diaries entries and communicating their hopes, fears and doubts to those they trust most.

Some even take to the internet (in relatively closed forums) to question the media proscription when it comes to those body forms and the appalling lack of affirmation (worse still, the actual undermining of pride) when it comes to skin colour.

Campbell is exceptionally astute when it comes to how we can tentatively orbit each other then try as hard as possible to understand each other, over what we might bond: the gives and the takes; or the takes and the takes.

Lastly, I loved Cleo’s attempt to resurrect her childhood pee-pal experience, not necessarily going down so well with an adult Mara. Clue: you both sit on a toilet and pee at the same time.

I can’t imagine guys doing that. *imagines guys doing that* Umm…. Heh.

In summary, then: so well remembered, so well observed and so very well communicated.

“Visually, I can’t think that this creator owes anything to anyone. Nothing out there like this, and highly recommended.”

Those are the only two sentences remaining from my original review many moons ago.

Please see equally rewritten recollections of WET MOON volumes one to three for so much more. All in stock, deeply cherished.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

If I were to recommend any superhero comic published today above all others, then it would be this. It belongs to no long line of convoluted soap-opera shenanigans, but is self-contained, witty and pithy, with so much to socio-politically say. It rises above the genre.

“You know, you’re really quite interesting considering I hate kids. How the hell did that happen?”
“My Dad didn’t abandon me.”

Coruscating!

But it may prove to be the most pivotal sentence uttered in this desperate, dirty, internecine against-all-odds fight to turn the tables and retake the world from its conceited and contemptuous, self-appointed saviours: the superheroes.

That scene will extend far further into the fray. The book begins with a brief moment of paternal bliss and, when priorities are finally relearned, then it will be revisited and there will honestly be moments of “Awww!”

Before then, I’m afraid, there will be moments of awe and gore and a great deal of grievance, with far more to come; for I should warn you right now that this is far from the end.

More considered, meaty and wider in scope than the hugely enjoyable but comparative light entertainments that Mark Millar has produced recently, this epic has been all about family. Family, society and the generation gap – love, jealousy, disappointment and disillusionment giving rise to revulsion, self-seclusion and feuds – but it has been far from obvious in that your elders do not necessarily know better and those regarded as black sheep in youth often have the makings of more compassionate individuals with a more healthy and balanced sense of perspective, free from prejudice and presumption. 

Incorporating first JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 then its prequels JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1 and JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 2, it has been so cleverly structured, and that is the order you should read them in before delving in here. The two CIRCLE volumes inform what you’ll find and give it far more emotional weight.

For example, the first to speak above, Skyfox, was merely alluded to in JUPITER’S LEGACY VOL 1 as but a past stain on the family of superheroes’ shared reputation. Read that one book and you might understandably consider him a villain, a sully, because that is how the propagandist media, personal PR and even some families work. Actually he’s the one with the wider and key moral compass:

“I turned because I realised that superheroes were little more than uniformed agents of a corrupt ruling class.”

He tried to help stem the blood loss during the police reaction to the Race Riots.

Although, you know, you could extend that observation to the two real-life superhero comics’ corporations, each attempting to blot out every other genre published to maintain their hegemony over their US and UK’s culpably ill-read, retail co-collaborators. I know I do.

“We were great at throwing the poor in prison, but the real crooks out there were the capitalist elite preying on working men and women.”

Bankers and bought politicians. Millar made the same point from a different angle in THE AUTHORITY.

“You see, the world didn’t like me and in the end I didn’t like it back. I tried my best to fight oppression, but America’s happiest ruled by liars.”

I don’t think I have to spell that one out for you.

America has been overtaken by liars, namely one post-human Walter and his nephew, son of the brother he helped murder along with his sister-in-law. In brazen public, on her suburban lawn, and in a mass beating, Nice!

Walter’s brother’s daughter is still at large, holed up in fear of her life with her pre-teen son Jason and her boyfriend, a ne’er do well son of that ne’er do well father once called Skyfox. Those three fugitive renegades are all that are left of any resistance, and the two parents never amounted to much. One preferred the glamour and financial gain of publicity portfolios and media lights; the other layabout didn’t even impress his prospective father-in-law: useless offal.

*turns to camera and smiles*

I do love an underdog, don’t you?

Artist Frank Quitely (THE AUTHORITY, ALL STAR SUPERMAN etc) owns every single second of this. It wouldn’t work half so well if he didn’t.

For a start, he is a dab-hand at keeping things real with a casual, chic civilian fashion sense right up there with THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Jamie McKelvie, When his figures’ forms are vulnerable then you will know about it. Quitely does it with comparative scale, and with the quality of his line which can become tremulous. In that way I’d compare him to HEATHEN’s Natashi Alterici who comprehends precisely how much difference a broken line means to movement.

But as any reader of WE3 will know, Quitely is also a master craftsman of pin-point, balletic choreography more than a wee bit enhanced by body language.  It’s evidenced at its best here by the improvisational, desperate detour undertaken by Hutch Junior (Skyfox’s son and Jason’s dad) into the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when his teleportational wand has gone wonky and run out of juice.

Almost a spindly, stick-figure and so vulnerable target upon arms-akimbo-entry, he is buffeted about by superior fire-power, but once Hutch has reached his unexpectedly lo-fi and therefore oh so funny recharging pit-stop, his body language changes dramatically in keeping with his rekindled confidence, and he dishes out his dismissive justice – wham, wham, wham – with erect and equanimous, almost off-hand indifference and efficiency.

Oh, I’m sorry: did I make this out to be a meandering stroll in the park? Expect brutality, but a brutality that will mean something to you involving characters who you will come to care about before they are dispatched, forever, with no hope to follow. 

Also: if you do like superhero plot mechanics – this can only be resolved here after that power proves pivotal there – then you will grin your f***ing heads off. There may be only three of them left, but oh, they got game!

Fatherhood is evidently very dear to Mark Millar’s heart and he’s at his most profound when addressing it. MARVEL 1985 drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards is an understated and underrated gem full of quiet and kind consideration when it comes to step-father and son. Its title suggests something esoteric, requiring prior knowledge of a clumsy corporation’s sprawling universe, but it’s actually quite the reverse: a self-contained one-shot, fully accessible, to the left of the main Marvel Universe, partly about trusting in the younger generation’s perspicacity and perception.

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

My Pretty Vampire (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Katie Skelly.

The second I laid eyes on that cover it screamed “Gilbert Hernandez!”

Understandably startled, I dropped it in fright, so thank goodness we currently have carpeted floor.

Richard Sala’s old website had an equally alarming introduction involving a trap door, and there’s something of the Sala inside this: creepy but comical and slightly old fashioned (“of an era” sounds better) although not when it comes to sex.

Sala’s Scooby-Doo sensibilities become particularly prominent when Clover click-clacks down the corridor in a black cloak and high-heeled boots, seeking to make her escape, and in surroundings which later prove alien to our protagonist. These have to be negotiated with caution for fear of what lurks round the corner, through that closed door, or down the bordered-up hole in the wall. Needs must, I suppose, but I probably wouldn’t have ventured there myself.

Gilbert’s brother Jaime Hernandez is on hand on the back and I doubt anyone could summarise this book better:

“I’m thirteen years old, up late watching an early ‘70s ‘adult’ horror movie on TV, waiting for the racy parts. The dumb thing doesn’t deliver. Forty-four years later, Katie Skelly delivers with flying colours.”

She does – also with vibrant colours, and exactly that early ‘70s fashion sense, seediness and gloss.

Someone described it as sex-positive, and I like that; I’ll use it myself. See also Jade Sarson’s FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE and Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYZ etc.

Not so dainty nor sex-positive is Clover’s brother, Marcel. A control freak verging on the abusive, he holds her captive in a remote countryside mansion, perving through peep holes as his sister swims naked in their white-statue-lined Roman-eque baths.

“No one else will take care of you…
“It’s just us.”

Actually there is a housekeeper of eastern origin called Elsa who smuggles in cigarettes (and a book of matches) which our fanged fatale then smokes in a corner, surrounded by teddy bears while planning her daring escape.

Constantly leaking blood as black as bitumen, Clover must evade John, an ex-police Private Eye who’s rarely more than a few tell-tale footsteps behind, constantly puffing away on one cigarette after another. Moustache, eye patch, and butterscotch raincoat: we are still in the seventies. Then there are those parties where the best dressed prove most libidinous.

From the creator of OPERATION MARGARINE (which we will attempt to restock once again shortly via John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half) comes something sensual, suggestive, enigmatic and cursed. There is a cult.

Five years earlier:

“Most people that come to us want money, power… eternal life for themselves.
“Not you.
“You did it for love.
“The one you love will never die.
“(How selfish.)”

SLH

Buy My Pretty Vampire and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh Collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis.

From the creator of SHARKNIFE comes exactly the sort of comic I wanted to produce aged 12: quick-fire, episodic, multi-saga, idea-driven with bat-shit crazy energy and visuals.

You know, as opposed to long-form, pensive, self-contained, streamlined, narrative-conscious, photo-realistic and world-changing.

And although I began with zero technical skills, between the ages of 10 and 12 I did produce some 15 issues of just such a comic containing superheroes, sci-fi, comedy and even a little politics – school politics, anyway. The comedy, as I recall, centred around the search for the singular of ‘sheep’. (It’s a ‘shoop’, since you ask. I WAS TEN!)

Mine was multi-story and episodic because I’d been brought up on black and white Marvel reprints; in Corey’s case it’s been inspired by Japan’s SHONEN JUMP weekly manga anthology which brought us the likes of DRAGON BALL, NARUTO and DEATH NOTE.

And let us be perfectly clear: this is the comic a 12- to 15-year-old would produce if he had Corey Lewis (Reyyy)’s keen adult technical skills. The key is that Lewis hasn’t let those skills inhibit the storytelling.

“What’s it all about, Stephen? What’s it all abaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

‘Bat Rider’ is a thrilling, maximum-contrast, shadow-heavy, skyscraper-silhouette-strewn, black and white, urban challenge starring a chick with a cape, a chap with a Mercury-winged biker’s helmet and his seemingly sentient skateboard. Next!

‘Arem’ appears to be riffing off ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ in that the female protagonist dashes about an alien planet identifying local fauna that occasionally fights back by snapping its photo then loading it onto social media for critical approval, like. Oh yes, she does so in a big, heavily armoured, exo-skeletal bio-hazard fight-suit.

Huge exterior shots of primordial landscapes, the orbiting spaceship and maximum mecha fanfare use up the world’s entire supply of mauve, lilac and indigo for the next fortnight. Also, I loved the structure of one page in particular of our protagonist 1) liking NextiGrams while licking pizza 2) thundering down a treadmill 3) kicking a sack in the same direction before 4) standing before her mighty mech in solemn preparation.

‘Dream Skills’ is Fruit Salad flavoured (Fruit Salad as in the chews) and follows two female friends, one of whom introduces the other to the sacred art of the sword following the discovery of protective “aura circles” owned by everyone. These have suddenly been triggered (we know not how nor why) rendering lead non-lethal, and guns therefore, redundant.

Besides, blades are flashier (discuss). That one looks like it may contain the most mystery, legend and lore and at this early stage, who knows?

Contains 730% of your recommended daily sugar allowance.

SLH

Buy Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández.

That is one well equipped modern mercenary: combat boots, flak jacket… ancient, double-bladed battle axe.

Not quite standard issue.

From the writer of LAZARUS and BLACK MAGIC and – with Ed Brubaker – GOTHAM CENTRAL comes another impeccably researched but more action-orientated mystery of military manoeuvres across the globe. Across time too, and Andy is fucking sick of it.

Clue: her full name is Andromache and, if you know your Euripides, she had a pretty shitty time of it every since Achilles went and whopped her husband Hector. I mean, a really shitty time of it. The Greeks tossed her sprog over the Trojan walls then, just to rub it in, made her a slave to Achilles’ own son.

As the opening three pages make brutally clear the intervening centuries haven’t brought much more peace. She appears to have fought her way through them all. Which is one way to trying to work through your understandable anger issues. She hasn’t stopped fighting, either. Andy and her three male colleagues have one key advantage over others engaged in mortal combat: they’re not mortal. They cannot die.

Unfortunately in the 21st Century keeping that quiet is a tad more difficult than it used to be: live footage not recorded onto a drive which could be deleted, but beamed immediately around the globe via satellite to someone who wants a piece of their anti-agapic action. You’ll see.

What you won’t necessarily see immediately – as Andy and co are on their way to South Sudan to rescue seventeen girls from heavily armed abductors – is what relevance there could possibly be in American marine Nile Freeman’s search of a family home in Afghanistan full of very frightened women. But you will, at the end of chapter one.

The initial scene inside the home is beautifully played by both Rucka and Fernández who delivers both day and night, throughout, in a style similar to 100 BULLETS’ Eduardo Risso: lots of silhouettes and shadows.

“We are searching for someone. We believe he is hiding her. This man. He has killed many of my people and many of yours. Have you seen this man?”
“No,” replies the old woman, staring at the photo in terrified recognition.
“No, there are no men here,” she says, glancing to the door behind which they are hidden, “and a man who would cower behind women… who puts them in danger and uses them as shields… he is no man at all.”
“I thank you for your honesty and help. We will leave you in peace… blessings on your house…”

Everyone’s in for some surprises, including you: being immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if your family aren’t in on it. And cannot be – Andy is adamant about that and eloquent on the subject.

On the other hand, discovering the love of your life early on, if they are immortal too…

Tenderness and brutality in equal measure.

SLH

Buy Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart.

“Well, old boy, I suppose that’s it for us. I suppose now I’ll have to go home. In a way, I’m glad to see you here. Tonight of all nights. Some of them are saying there’ll be no more secrets, from now on. But you and I both know that’s not true.”

From the fiendish mind of WASTELAND, THE FUSE and UMBRAL‘s Antony Johnston, this espionage thriller is so hypnotic that I read it from cover to virtual cover in one rapt sitting, my mesmerised eyes wide open, my mouth somewhat agape. But to cap it all off, the dénouement proved so satisfying, so staggeringly devious that I just shook my head, rolled my eyes and Tweeted:

“You sly bastard!”

You may have seen much made of the startlingly different action sequences inserted into the film version, but here’s the original to compare and contrast with, and I’d remind you that Johnston then went on to create the self-contained COLDEST WINTER with Steven Perkins which was indeed icily slick and smart. Now that does have action sequences!

October 1989, and Berlin is both bleak and freezing. Protesters are massing by the Berlin Wall separating Allied West from the Communist East where the Stasi have informants installed in every work place, every block of flats. Communism is crumbling, tensions are rising, and old allegiances are so far from certain that MI6 don’t even trust their own officers. Left there too long with no Embassy to watch over them, some are suspected of having gone native. And now… now MI6 have a problem.

Three days ago an undercover agent codename BER-2 suddenly went radio silent; last night he was fished out of the river. He was on his way to deliver a list sourced from an agent called SPYGLASS, a Stasi officer who claimed that list contained every name of every officer in Berlin, be they British, American, French, even Russian. That list has now gone missing. MI6 suspect KGB officer Yuri Bakhtin who left for Moscow the day of BER-2’s death. The thing is, he never arrived. Desperate for the list not to surface on the black market then fall into enemy hands, MI6 dispatch Lorraine Broughton, a fresh pair of eyes, to meet with BER-1 in Berlin. An experienced spy fluent in Russian, Broughton’s German is relatively weak, but that’s because she has no former ties to Berlin: no friends, no family and no former colleagues to muddy her loyalties. Or help her out in a crisis.

To make matters worse BER-1, David Perceval, proves to be an old fashioned chauvinist: haughty, dismissive and barely cooperative. Lorraine Broughton is very much on her own and surrounded by agents on all sides. If she’s going to achieve her mission and survive on either side of the Berlin Wall, she will need to get creative and use the city itself – and the events unfolding within – to her maximum advantage.

The art by Sam Hart is riveting. Reminiscent in places of ZENITH‘s Steve Yeowell at his peak, it is startlingly stark, with huge swathes of black shadow cast across offices and officers alike. His close-ups are intense, while outside in bleakest Berlin his figures drift like ghosts though the municipal parks, and I guess they are ghosts in a way. Sometimes they’re eroded by the blinding light into mere outlines of heads, hats, coats and scarves while the trees in both background and foreground loom large in silhouette. I love the way Broughton’s shoulders and hips cast shadows under the small of her back and down the length of her skirt. His instinct is mighty impressive.

SLH

Buy Coldest City (Atomic Blonde) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

The Wicked + The Divine vol 2 h/c (£39-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Toys Talking (£7-99, Particular Books) by Leanne Shapton

Rushing From A to A (£3-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

One Year Wiser 2018 Art Calendar (£12-00, Mike Medaglia) by Mike Medaglia

Bad Machinery vol 2: The Case of the Good Boy (£11-99, Oni Press) by John Allison

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

Brink vol 1 (£12-99, Rebellion) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Eightball: Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes

Extremity vol 1: Artist (£14-99, Image) by Daniel Warren Johnson

Jupiters Legacy vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely

Mercury Heat vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Nahuel Lopez

Old Guard vol 1: Opening Fire s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernandez

Providence vol 3 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Sun Bakery vol 1: Fresh collection s/c (£14-99, Image) by Corey Lewis

Unreal City h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by D.J. Bryant

Wet Moon vol 4: Drowned In Evil (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni Press) by Sophie Campbell

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

Our Super American Adventure h/c (£8-00, Shiny Sword Press) by Sarah Graley

Atomic Blonde (£13-99, Oni Press) by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart

Thornhill h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Pam Smy

The Only Living Boy vol 4: Through The Murky Deep (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 3: Once Upon A Time (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

The Only Living Boy vol 2: Beyond Sea And Sky (£7-99, Papercutz) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Star Wars Darth Maul s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Chris Eliopoulos & Luke Ross

All-Star Batman vol 2: Ends Of The Earth h/c (Rebirth) (£20-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita Jr.

Suicide Squad vol 3: Burning Down The House s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams, John Ostrander & John Romita, various

Deadpool Vs. The Punisher s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Pere Perez

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 5: Tiny Rick (£14-99, Titan) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby & Cj Cannon, various, Cj Cannon

Batman vol 3: I Am Bane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & David Finch

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha Comics) by Fuse & Taiki Kawakami

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 2 (£10-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

My Hero Academia vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week four

August 30th, 2017

Last week’s Page 45 Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 Comicbook Creator Signing Schedule and more! Lots vital news, lots of pretty photos!

Water Memory (£13-99, Roar) by Mathieu Reynès & Valérie Vernay.

“Hi! I’m Marion!
“I’m your new neighbour.”

Whenever you move into a new home, it’s good to greet the neighbours – especially if they’re few and far between. They can be a bit of a worry, can’t they? An unknown quantity, until you get to know them.

And on this crystal clear morning, her second full day on the Brittany coast, that is precisely what young Marion is doing as she strolls along the grass-green cliff tops, the breeze blowing in her hair. The neighbours are all a lot older than she is and understandable more than a little weather-worn. They’re standing stones, after all.

Some of the menhirs are more impressive than others and of course the less ancient locals have left their own marks with arrow-pierced hearts and initials: evidence of innocent childhood crushes or trysts. There also appear to have been more elaborate carvings on some: amphibian, fish-like faces or masks, only with both eyes facing front.

“It looks like this one’s still growing!
“What are you all looking at?”

They are staring out to sea…

Reynès & Vernay had me hooked from the start: pages and pages of perfectly pitched, companionable dialogue as we make the acquaintance of Marion and her mother Annick while they explore then settle into their new surroundings. These hold but the vaguest of memories for Marion’s Mum who hasn’t been back here since she was four. They’re shown around by kindly Suzanne, an old friend of Marion’s grandparents, married to Antoine who spent his life on the waves, skippering a fishing boat like Marion’s long deceased grandfather.

Evidently at that point Annick’s mother moved away, for the house hasn’t been lived in for thirty years.

It is ever so idyllically situated on a tall, sheltered outcrop overlooking the bay, and Vernay makes the most of the view, filling it with movement and light.

Seagulls surf the sea breeze, directing our gaze to the lighthouse rising above a small, adjacent cottaqe on an island not far from the shore. Beyond lies the fishing village itself, a yawning stretch of bright blue sky between billowing, sunlit clouds funnelling our attention there too.

Later there’s the wind in the washing, and a wave-break of white flowers flowing through the standing stones. The town itself is flooded with local individuality: old whitewashed houses with exterior, half-timbered upper storeys, a restaurant on the quayside where Annick finds work, and a mightily thick stone wall evidently erected to buffer the residents from the worst of any storms.

Against it has been erected a small drinking fountain with that same, curious mask sculpted in semi-relief. One G. Norman has placed an inconspicuous brass plaque to its left:

“En Mémoire des disparus du 02 février 1904”

It’s the date of the last great storm.

If you’re beginning to feel a certain chill in the air, at the heart of this gripping Young Adult graphic novel lies a mystery which may or may not contain a dark, fantastical element. Regardless, it certainly involves local legends of appeasing and emphatically not displeasing sea spirits, and those in the past (and perhaps present) who have believed these myths, become obsessed then undone by them. It stretches back generations and across families as it would in any closely knit community, and unfortunately once Marion has its scent, she simply cannot let go.

Its other heart lies in the relationship between Marion and her mother, its driving force any young person’s natural instinct and compulsion to explore. Their first evening, before their furniture, linen and crockery have arrived, sees them enjoying a sunset picnic together outside and the light there too is just-so. Marion’s Dad, we infer, will not be joining them but their bond is all the stronger for that, and the scene is brought to a close with their thoughts firmly thrust to the future.

Sure enough, on her very first morning, Marion cannot resist the thrilling novelty of it all! Brought up in a city, and you suddenly have private, sandy beaches directly below your doorstep…? A dip in the sea is most definitely required! Have I mentioned the light? At every moment Vernay is in complete control of the temperature through body language and colour.

As Marion ventures tentatively further out from the shore, she spies a boat on the horizon with an outboard motor heading towards the lighthouse. She calls out and waves but although water carries sound, that engine is evidently making more.

The lighthouse has its own lure, obviously, especially after Marion discovers it might be accessible at low tide. The small gate barring access to the steps which lead down to the beach has a No Entry sign but if it’s left unlocked, that sign can’t really be that important, can it? You wouldn’t leave a gate open if access was dangerous.

The thing is, tides can come in a great deal faster than they go out, and there’s an episode Reynès wisely wrote in earlier which won’t leave you head once you’ve read it, ramping up the tension to shoulder-knotting heights.

 

It begins on Day 3, when Marion spies seagulls squalling noisily round a fissure in the stone, close to the bay where she’s begun bathing. Gingerly she makes her way in, wading through knee-deep water, the warmth of the sunlight quickly giving way to an echoing chill, the only blue glow coming from the sea round her feet.

What has excited the seagulls is dead and repulsive, with milky eyes and an army of tiny, sharp teeth. But what’s discovered above it would prove all too distracting for anyone.

 

There’s a wealth of preparatory work and unused art in the back including some spectacular, tsunami-wave storm scenes of biblical proportions but before you get there you can also look forward to: fish beaching themselves en masse; more strange carvings with dates and initials; family revelations; a thick chain clanking ominously against a well’s iron grate; blinding sea fog, one man’s forever haunted eyes, and elderly Suzanne looking as though she were drawn by Nick Park.

Note: this has been translated, yes – quite often it’s easier to find interior art in a book’s original language.

SLH

Buy Water Memory and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

The psychological self-examination of one affable if awkward young man’s descent into mass murder.

If you think it improbable that you will root for the guy, I’d remind you that such is the strength of Brubaker’s internal monologues that the self-contained CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF INNOCENT had us all desperately praying that a man could get away with uxoricide.

This is the periodical I pick up first no matter what else is on offer on any given week.

There’s nothing sensationalist about it. Our narrator is an astute individual with a keen moral compass, and that’s as much of a trigger as anything. Much of the priming in terms of mental isolation has already been explored, but the other trigger – the core motivation, if you like – is an element of the first KILL OR BE KILLED which I deliberately kept from you for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to elaborate here, either, except to say that there is a moment of discovery on the part of his best friend Kira which leaves her in fear for Dylan’s safety, while holed up in his closet as he makes love to an ex-girlfriend. Kira, it should be noted, is undoubtedly the love of his life, but lest he blurts out something incriminating he’s been keeping her at a distance, even as she confides in him.

It’s not this discovery that he’s worried about, but he should be.

And it explains everything which you may have puzzled over in book one.

Where Dylan has become compromised is with both the NYPD and the Russian mob now, after one public blunder (or a spot of bad luck) and a miscalculation about just how wide the Russians’ net is spread and how tenacious they can be. Fortunately institutional sexism and male police pride may give him some breathing space for now, but the Russians are more open-minded and resourceful.

There’s little more that I didn’t explore in my substantial review of KILL OR BE KILLED VOL 1 (so I’d refer you there instead) including Sean Phillips’s decision to retain his three-tier structure while throwing the art full-bleed, right to edges of each page, so that you’re no longer kept at an observational distance but thrust right into the heart of the action and Dylan’s head.

Here’s more of his self-justification:

“Lobbyists aren’t all bad, of course. Some lobby for human rights or the environment. But most of the time, they work for big business and what they do is, they pay a lot of money to politicians to pass laws or repeal regulations… so the corporations they work for can do whatever the fuck they want.
“Gideon Prince was the kind of lobbyist who helped put poison in your drinking water and then laughed about it to his buddies.
“And what I mean is, he’d done that exact thing…
“And yes, look – I know this one is sort of a stretch. He didn’t personally poison that ground water. But people who can look at dumping chemicals as a good thing because it saves them money… who can make fun of the people who are suffering because of it?
“It’s hard to argue the world wouldn’t be better off without them.”

He’s exceptionally self-aware and quite the philosophical conversationalist when it comes to his audience if not his few “friends” whom he keeps at a remove. He’s not deluding himself, except when it comes to that one key element which, when you discover it, is sadly so common.

Most of his longer reflections and reminiscences are aligned down blank vertical columns outside of the art, giving them chance to breathe, but don’t get too complacent about what’s being shown there, that’s all I’ll say.

I never intended this second review to be anything but brief, but you could write an essay on the body language alone: little details which either Brubaker or Phillips drops in, like Detective Lily Sharpe – the one on the ball whom her fellow officers studiously dismiss and ignore – who was raised in foster care between several group homes, reading on the bottom bunk of a bed, the toes of her bare feet digging self-protectively into the duvet as someone else’s dangle over the top.

There’s something squat, rough and ready about Dylan’s physique and physiognomy. It’s not simian, but it’s burly and certainly atypical of most protagonists’, both within comics and without; I keep thinking of the Gallagher brothers from Oasis.

Anyway, with police attention now drawn, so is the media’s and I suspect Sean will become quite sick of drawing news stands before Dylan’s done.

Dylan is forced to become more reactive while increasingly restricted, and even though you know that he lives to tell this tale (if not under what circumstances), you will be kept on the edge of that proverbial seat, toes possibly digging into the carpet.

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet (£7-99, Papercut) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis.

“My life was over the day I ran away.”

One bloody-nosed, flat-on-his-back and barely conscious close-up later, you’re swept straight into action on the previous day.

With the elements against him, twelve-year-old Erik Farrell is racing through the rain under a storm-shrouded sky, looking fearfully over his shoulder. Dodging traffic, he dashes for the relative safety of Central Park, past protesting pedestrians, their umbrellas caught in the squall, and dives for cover under a rock.

“People say that running away doesn’t solve anything at all. “Find somebody to talk to,” they tell you. But when you talk to them they just don’t understand. If you’ve never thought about running away, you’re just lying to yourself. Sometimes, we all just need space to figure things out.”

Clutching another kid’s bear-shaped backpack, he falls asleep, exhausted and oblivious to the obsidian, red-eyed goblin creatures taking his measure. When he wakes up in the morning, it’s a jungle out there. It’s the very moment of peace which Erik will enjoy to figure anything out.

From now on he will be climbing, swimming and sprinting for his life in an exotic but alien land called Chimerika, a composite country full of strange creatures at war, and said to have been patched together from the most dangerous worlds by a dragon-like chimera called Baalikar. It can be anything and see everything. And it now has Erik very much in its sights.

Throwing your protagonist straight in at the unknowing deep end is an excellent way to get your readers on board both with the adventure, the environment and the poor lad desperately trying to navigate it by thinking fast on his feet and puzzle his way out of trouble. You’re learning as he’s learning, and there is plenty to discover, for example why the moon appears to be broken, its shattered shards suspended in space around the rupture. Constantly captured by one faction or another, Erik gleans what he can from each, but their own knowledge is limited to what little they’ve learned themselves, what they have time to impart in a rare, spare moment or whether they have any inclination to do so.

Vitally, however, Gallaher maintains young minds’ investment in Erik with all the real-world baggage he’s carrying with him, so familiar to so many: issues of self-confidence, impotence in an existence which is dictated by the authority of adults or, here, those he encounters, all of whom are bigger and more brutal than he.

A little pluck goes a long way and Erik is determined to do what he can. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he fails, but he does have a go and that, Gallaher reminds us, is what’s important. Also, I feel that this will speak to so many:

“I hate making choices.
“I really hate making the wrong choices.
“At my age, everything feels like the wrong choice.”

Artist Steve Ellis, meanwhile, makes all the right choices, accentuating Erik’s strengths which lie during combat in his relatively small size, keeping him running flat-our and low. As early as the opening few pages he’s charging with his arms and torso thrust forward, close to the ground, nipping between others far more nimbly than an adult would.

Sometimes he’s assertive and cheeky, but more often aghast.

And, oh, there is so much that is monstrous to make wide eyes shine like marbles: huge variety in the various species and individuals with – I see from the next book’s preview – far more to come. His demonic scouts early on reminded me of the lithe, pitch-black subterranean creatures from the episode of John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR where we finally met Ben’s Aunt Petunia, and Ellis does a mean, ominous glint in the eye.

Tantalisingly by the end of this first instalment, we remain in the realm of clues rather than answers.

What is Baalikar up to? Well, there’s the Census in operation: what appears to be a series of experiments and appraisals by Doctor Once, particularly interested in the science of sectarian transpecies. He appears to be something of a duality himself.

Both alliances and enemies have been made: never take for granted which one is which.

Lessons have been learned, but there’s been no respite as of yet during which to put them into practice.

It’s suddenly all grown a lot more complicated and definitely dangerous but, no, I wouldn’t say that Erick’s life was over at all. I do believe that it has only just begun.

Families, young readers, we have a new winner. Books two, three and four in stock next week.

SLH

Buy The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet and read the Page 45 review here

Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! (£10-99, Oxford Press) by Sarah McIntyre, Philip Reeve.

“Do you have any complaints about this book? Write them in the box provided. Please write clearly.”

The box is 5mm squared.

I have never read a funnier kids’ creativity book in my astonishingly long life.

From the cover to cover, it is one big monkey-barrel of laughs; a mischievous and immersive engagement between the two co-creators and their soon to be enraptured, educated and thoroughly inspired young audience.

McIntyre and Reeve are born performers and creatively generous partners. Both authors, both artists, they bounce off each others’ bonkers ideas, adding an extra flourish here and a cheeky post-script there until every page is jam-packed with all the irreverent exuberance that your sugar-buzzed bambino could possibly cope with.

This is the very opposite of those bland, perfunctory, slap-a-puzzle-down, supermarket, rubber-dummy cash-cows.

This is art. It’s entertainment.

It is carefully controlled anarchy.

Even the opening About The Authors splash-page is bursting with individuality and neat things to do: there’s a mug to embellish with any silly slogan, dust bunnies to draw under Sarah’s desk (I don’t vacuum far enough under there, either), and Philip has unwisely left his trousers un-patterned for you to redefine him in the loudest fashion imaginable.

Their table-top work space is a well of creativity and they encourage you too to contribute. “Colour this page!” they suggest.

You can colour every page if you like, including their comics like ‘The Magnificent Dartmoor Pegasus’ or brand-new new ones which they’ve since made up based – like this entire extravagance – on their best-selling illustrated prose PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, CAKES IN SPACE and JINKS & O’HARE FUNFAIR REPAIR all of which Page 45 has reviewed and keeps permanently in stock on our massive spread of blindingly colourful all-ages shelves!

It’s like revisiting your favourite friends – then drawing all over them!

Yes, there are comics! Comics for you to read, comics for you to create: comics for you to enjoy and absorb first in order to get the general gist of how the mechanics might work, then blank panels for you to fill in between a provocative kick-start and a cuddly conclusion.

You’ll be encouraged to write, you’ll be encouraged to draw! You’ll be actively discouraged from flinging poo.

There’s even a new song to sing, and I have spent over an hour honing my already considerable vocal skills (*entire family plus everyone I’ve ever met convulses with laughter*) to the Sea Monkey shanty which I plan to perform a cappella the very next day that Sarah and Philip fail to run away from me in time.

They’ve become quite fleet of foot.

Some activities are free-form “Go for your life!” exhortations, but more often than not Reeve and McIntrye will offer you examples of their own demented imaginings like ‘Pugémon Go!’ playing cards complete with names, illustrations, powers, strengths and weaknesses, then leave increasingly blank entries for you to design and refine your own. Completed example:

“Name: Pugatchoo
“Powers: Turbo-Sneeze
“Strength: 20
“Weakness: Tissues”

Semi-complete:

“Name: Skellipug
“Powers:
“Strength: 10
“Weakness: Gnaws His Own Legs”

Well, he is made of bone! What would you imagine his powers might be? X-Ray Vision…? Tom-Waits-style ‘Clap Hands’ echoing percussion…? The uncanny ability to scare the living be-jeezus out of your Old Auntie Adderline…?

Invisipug is left entirely blank but probably won’t require much illustration, yet you’ve the rest of its stats to whip up on your own. With Aquapug you have free illustrative as well as stat-orientated rein on, and there are three more completely empty entries including names. Plus: what is to stop you then cutting out cardboard and making a whole new deck of your own Pugémon, Pokémon or any other set of cards to actively play with just like Top Trumps?! Nothing!

That’s how exciting, empowering and inspiring this all is, but “increasingly” is ever so clever: McIntyre and Reeve will never throw you in at the deep end unless you’re a Sea Monkey, in which case you probably deserve it.

That brings us to the ‘Which Character Are You?’ Question & Answer survey towards the end. You’re presented with seven hypotheticals whose answers will determine whether you are more like A) Iris the Mermaid from OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, B) Astra from CAKES IN SPACE, C) Shen from PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH or D) for dunce: a Sea Monkey once more from OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS.

Now, I don’t want you pre-judging me, but my ‘Best Subject At School’ was neither Swimming, Xenobiology nor Art. Also, the only reason I have time to type this review is that I may – inadvertently or on purpose – have defenestrated my television set.

Oh dear. I know I deserve it.

*SPLOSH*

P.S. I’m infinitely better at reading David O’Connell and Sarah McIntyre’s Young Readers’ illustrated JAMPIRES rhyme to youngsters on the shop floor than I am at singing. I really am. Honest to goodness. Try me! Recommended.

SLH

Buy Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! and read the Page 45 review here

Close Enough For The Angels h/c (£31-99, Petty Curse Books) by Paul Madonna.

“Dear Reader,

Whoever you are, whenever you are, and whatever events have transpired for you to be reading this, I just want to begin by saying that, like everything I have ever made, this book is a reaction to circumstance – the reflexive yelp after stubbing a toe; the burst of laugher upon hearing a good joke; the irrepressible cry of relief after having, once more, dragged myself back from the well.

 – Emit Hopper 04/03/14”

Emit Hopper is the protagonist, and those are the first words you’ll read.

The date’s in American, though that matters not one jot for the purpose of this review.

For a start, it is compromised by my having read a mere 65 of 450 pages and only begun to absorb half of its 106 predominantly double-page landscape illustrations in Indian ink – line and wash – on watercolour paper.

I can assure you that I will be drinking those in for many months to come, while absorbing the prose as fast as I am able then issuing a more rounded review. But I am a very slow reader and there is some degree of urgency here.

For a start, this is the latest from the great Paul Madonna whose illustration-driven, snap-shot narratives I first discovered in the form of ALL OVER COFFEE while browsing through an exceptionally personable independent bookstore in the Castro District of San Francisco. You won’t find Madonna in 99.9% of comic shops, no, for he is distributed exclusively by Ingram in America.

Secondly on the snooze-you-lose front, I see that – at the time of typing – a mere week after publication  there are just 150 copies of a total print run of 5,000 left for sale on the western seaboard of America which is all we’ll ever have access to. The west coast is understandably better served: Paul Madonna is, deservedly, a very big name in San Francisco.

His second, architecture-orientated album EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD was also set there, as was his first foray into illustrated prose, a slimmer, wit-ridden socio-political satire very much in the vein of early Evelyn Waugh complete with helpless and hapless naïf buffeted about by insane circumstances and ever so slightly surreal forces beyond his control called ON TO THE NEXT DREAM.

This too is bountifully illustrated prose, but after a mere 65 pages of this 450-page epic it is already clear that this is a far more involved, profound and exotic beast than ON TO THE NEXT DREAM which I had read in full before that review and which I rate very highly indeed.

Half of it appears to take place – or have taken place – in Thailand.

So imagine what that does for the illustrations.

The endpapers alone tantalise with a path leading down a higgledy-piggeldy, hand-railed bank of bamboo steps towards an enclosure defined by a barricade of bamboo stakes and wooden planks, and a lychgate-like aperture: a gate off the latch and ajar, leading through to heaven knows where?

So many other drawings portray steps and bridges which beg the same question; as well as lush fronds, carvings and sculpture.

If I were to define this based on what I have read so far, I’d call it a mystery: a mystery for us and a mystery for its level-headed protagonist, Emit Hopper, who may not be immune to the impulse or foolhardy.

An acclaimed American author who once left his readers believing  that he might well be dead, Emit Hopper’s star is now once more in the ascendance following his revival in Japan. He gave up the musical, literary and celebrity ghost voluntarily two decades ago in favour of running his own quiet, simple, virtually anonymous laundromat service. But his past is far more convoluted than that and his future suggests complications.

Publisher blurb:

“As he’s drawn back into the limelight he meets Julia, a former celebrity chef with a dark past. But when she disappears while hiking with two other women, Emit finds himself chasing down a mystery that promises to leave him forever changed.”

The thing is this: Julia wasn’t the first woman in his life to go travelling, or missing. Many years ago, there was Marie.

Now I know a review from us, whom I do hope you trust, without being in complete command of the facts is something of a risk, especially when you’re contemplating coughing up over thirty quid. I don’t think I’ve ever published one before.

All I can tell you is this: I am currently engaged in my second immediate read-through of Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’, as well as on the cusp of completing Fredrik Backman’s equally exceptional ‘A Man Called Ove’ prose fiction on top of all the glorious sequential art I need to read and review weekly… and I cannot put this down. I’ve read it as fast and as furiously as I can because it will not let me do otherwise, and because I wanted to give you some taster before copies run out on us forever. Paul Madonna is massive at Page 45.

So here’s another thread: Emit has an identical twin. The way Madonna describes their relationship is perfect. It’s like they lived is glass houses: they are transparent to each other at least, However opaque most of us are to others we love – however many deeply absorbing, meandering conversations it takes us to burrow beneath those surfaces and get a good glimmer of the real light within – Emit and his brother did everything instinctively together as one because, really, they were.

And then, two decades ago, with his brother riding high on Chinese-soap-opera-superstardom, everything between them abruptly went dark when his brother’s unexpected mental illness set in, and an extra shroud or curtain was pulled down on top.

Imagine that level of almost unique, intuitive communication blacked out.

Twenty years ago Emit wrote a novel:

“It was called ‘Glass Houses’. An allegorical story about the loneliness and isolation that comes from having to watch a brother shatter into a pile of broken shards, and not be able to do anything about it.”

All I can give you is pieces of a puzzle which I’ve yet to solve.

But, in a way, that is the purest pitch possible.

SLH

Buy Close Enough For The Angels h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Demon vol 3 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga.

Jason Shiga, meticulous with detail, is known neither for imprecision nor for being random.

He is a logic-driven puzzle-maker and a puzzle-solver. In DEMON VOL 1 he invited you to solve a seemingly baffling, complex conundrum involving life, death and resurrection before his protagonist did. The satisfaction after the final reveal – when you then go back and realise how watertight it all is – will have you grinning your heads off then evangelical in spreading the word.

Alas, spreading the word in this case is problematic without spoilers: I’d have to tell you exactly what was happening to prove its ingenuity. Instead in my review, I showed you what was happening without telling you how or why. I sort of drew you a map without providing all its topography or topology.

But if reviewing DEMON VOL 1 was knife-edge tight, reviewing DEMON VOL 2 without spoiling the first instalment was nigh-impossible, though I had a damn good go at some considerable length.

Volume 3…? Forget it.

All I will say is that there is a marked change of pace initially following a substantial change of setting, for things have… moved on. Things have moved so far on that the biggest problem Jimmy Yee now faces after being pursued relentlessly by the Office of Strategic Services… is ennui.

The OSS bar one man are all dead, and Jimmy has become so adept at utilising his almost unique condition for pleasure and gain with no care for the pain that he can do so with impunity. He has lost all sense of ambition, proportion, perspective, enjoyment and empathy, except for one other.

However, it is the precise nature of this condition – both its extensions and limitations (the rules of the game, if you like) – that allows a man as mathematically gifted as lateral-thinking Shiga to pull blinder after blinder right to the end of this penultimate volume.

So much so that there is a completely unexpected 50-page action sequence in the middle of this that is so breathlessly and relentlessly spectacular that there’s no time for any verbal exchange. There is, therefore, the same 50-page gap between the self-assured defiance of one combatant… and its concurring or retaliatory punchline. I won’t tell you which.

That is laugh-out-loud timing.

Reminder: adults only, or there will be some v awkward conversations come family dinner-time.

SLH

Buy Demon vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Ibraim Roberson.

Yes, okay, this was unexpectedly good fun.

Jay Leisten’s inks over Greg Land’s pencils has calmed down their overly slippery photorealism, breaking them up into something no less sturdy but far more involving. Too much gloss and you become removed from the proceedings: distanced to the point of uninvolved spectator. Land’s Old Man Logan is one of the best interpretations I’ve seen, bearing both a humanity and spirit and – when required – a twinkle of experienced wisdom in his eyes.

Thankfully, there’s also a great deal less objectification of the female cast, even though in one specific instance their predicament could have easily given opportunity for more.

Plus almost every Wolverine tale worth its salt will have at least one moment of bucolic tranquillity and a deer.

Oh wait, we don’t call him Wolverine now that he has grey whiskers, do we? He’s OLD MAN LOGAN and if you have no idea what that mean, then our reviews should sort you out.

My eyebrows knotted occasionally at some of the preposterous plot mechanics (if the Weapon X programme is so desperate for these five mutants’ DNA, how is it that the relatively new Hulk, Amadeus Cho, has them all on file to make indentifying comparison points; also why?), but Greg Pak’s dialogue here comes with a credible cadence for each individual along with equally credible twists for their novel new relationships – especially Logan’s and Sabretooth’s as allies – without once seeming forced or hokey. You can tell when someone is contract-bound, deadline-driven, work-for-hire writing-by-the-the-numbers but, far from predictable, it’s actually delightfully deft.

Also clean: a clean start with clean art.

It’s certainly no HAWKEYE or MS MARVEL nor DOCTOR STRANGE – each of which are relatively genre-free, less esoteric so excellent starting points for Marvel Comics – but if you really relish involved, superhero fisticuffs and are on the look-out for something else, this proved infinitely more fun for me than anything else currently being published by this confused and somewhat detached corporation outside of JESSICA JONES and INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN which has since become the even more enjoyably unpredictable INFAMOUS IRON MAN, both being written by Bendis.

So: in order to eradicate all mutants, a secretly revived off-shoot of WEAPON X has begun to capture previous recipients of its somewhat invasive medical procedures or other mutants with keen skills to add to their weaponised, bi-pedal arsenal. Every time they succeed and so upgrade their reconstituted assassins makes it more difficult for future targets to evade their grasp. Old Man Logan attempts to rally his similarly assaulted, potential new victims, but sometimes his reach and his speech don’t prove long or convincing enough to win anyone over.

Thank goodness for young genius Amadeus Cho, then. Being human, he’s not on the hit-list. As a caring individual who cannot abide the American authorities’ disdain nay disgust for minorities, he is the mutants’ most welcome ally. As the new Hulk, prepared to stick his green head above the parapet upon their behalf, he is also their potential saviour.

But as an involuntary blood donor straying far too close into Weapon X’s predatory, opportunist sites, he may well prove the ultimate Weapon of Mass Mutant Destruction.

SLH

Buy Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Nights: Metal #1 (£4-25, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo…

“Whoa. Big door. Vic, I’m sending you over the image…”
“Got it, Barry. I’ve run it over a thousand times already. But it keeps coming up unknown…”

Said big door being on the entrance to the hidden bunker in the centre of the huge mountain that has just materialised in the middle of Gotham City… destroying most of the city centre, sky scrapers and all…

Long-time DC fans will immediately recognise it as the base of the Challengers Of The Unknown, who these days work for… ah, well that would be telling. I do like how Snyder is managing to work all sorts of DC history into this tale already, be it references to individual bat-books which I suspect may prove key like BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE written by Grant Morrison, or lesser used third-string characters like the C.O.T.U.

It is a bit weird having to remember in this current version of the DC Universe that the Justice League has no idea who the Challengers are yet (Batman aside, obviously, being his usual know-it-all self), given how fundamentally involved I can remember them being around the DEATH OF SUPERMAN era. Plus I am pretty sure at some point it was established Rip Hunter was Booster Gold’s son. I think there was also a very odd, brief-lived, New 52 incarnation involving reality TV ‘stars’ as the Challengers if the memory serves. Plus, given Jack Kirby is at the very least partially credited with their creation waaaaay back in Showcase #6 from 1957 it is also a nice timely little nod to the King in the year of what would have been his 100th birthday.

Anyway, DC never particularly worried about re-writing their history with the various Crises and other events over the years. There are also a couple of much more familiar characters who crop up in this issue too, who will be very well known to even casual DC readers. If not the Justice League, yet…

So… following on from events in the Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting one-shots, we are now aware that something not so fun and cuddy from… elsewhere… is on the way, apparently being drawn to this reality in some strange way by Bruce Wayne, who could actually do with a good cuddle, so that’s a shame. There’s a nifty and amusing explanation involving a certain poster of the New 52 Multiverse that probably graced more than a few comic shop walls a few years back which sheds an absence of light on the situation, and that’s probably all I should really say by way of plot explanation at the moment.

There’s a lot, lot more rammed into this issue, mind, which is relentlessly action-packed, including even a prologue battle that will titillate fans of enormous, transforming Japanese robots… It does hav the potential to all get completely preposterous and ridiculous, mind you, but hopefully Snyder can keep it on track.

Capullo, meanwhile, continues to impress with his linework. He and Snyder, team responsible for the BATMAN DC New 52 run, are excellent foils for each other. If as a writer you are going to try and cram in that much action, you do need someone that can deliver clean, precise mayhem. I’m really enjoying this so far; I just hope it doesn’t end up collapsing under its own weight. After all, metal… I mean preposterousness… is very heavy…

JR

Buy Dark Nights: Metal #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hookjaw (£13-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier & Conor Boyle…

“Ship’s minion Mag, meet Big Bertha. Quite possibly the dominant £$%&in’ member of the world-famous Virgin Brides. Ain’t she a beaut?”
“Think that’s a good contact, Professor. And… what do you mean, possibly dominant? Don’t you know? Over.”
“I mean there’s only so much £$%&in’ social observation you can do with binoculars and fishblood, love.”

I think, given the comic is called HOOKJAW, that might possibly turn out to be untrue by the end.

But long before then you’ll probably be enthralled by the antics of Professor Leyland and her merry crew who are looking for evidence of cooperative behaviour in packs of Great Whites. They’ve been tracking their chosen chums, with the aid of chum, monitoring their movements in the Somali coastal region, famed for being one of the most polluted ocean regions on the planet. Now, what else is Somalia renowned for…? Ah yes… pirates.

Boarded by AK47-wielding buccaneers, you might think Professor Leyland would be a trifle perturbed but no, it’s all old hat to her. There follows a hilarious sequence where the cabin boy, a local lad, is interpreting between the pirates and crew. Well, “interpreting” might be putting a Malcom-Tucker-sized spin on it, given the artistic licence he’s applying to both questions and answers. Very amusing.

But that’s all brought to a rather abrupt halt by the unexpected arrival of a third party. Nope, not our toothsome lead just yet, though rest assured Hookjaw is following verrrry closely behind, and it seems this shark already has developed a taste for seal. U.S. Navy Seal, that is…

Penned by Si CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE / THE SPIRE / CRY HAVOC Spurrier, with his usual trademark dark humour accompanying the (fish) guts and gore, I am already as snagged as the titular shark. I’ll admit I was rather sceptical about the need for reviving a forty-year-old classic but then Humanoids’ CARTHAGO with its equally large, jagged teeth has been an instant hit here. I just can’t believe it’s truly that long ago I was avidly reading HOOKJAW as a young kid in ACTION, bemused by the fact that humans, rather than the titular, flesh-hungry character, seemed to be the bad guys.

Conor Boyle’s art wouldn’t look out of place in an arc of CROSSED, actually, and so is perfect for this title. One thing I am a bit puzzled about – and I have had the exact same comment from a customer – is that Hookjaw seems to have had some unnecessary cosmetic dental work. Whereas before the hook projected out of the skin just below the bottom row of teeth, in the middle, hence the name, now there’s a long, straight harpoon stuck through the side of the head protruding directly out of the mouth. It looks very much as though, were the barb to catch on anything, the harpoon would pull straight out. Odd.

Anyway, it’s not going to spoil my enjoyment of this title, which I suspect will only be a mini-series or two. It was a fairly limited premise forty years ago. I think there were only three story arcs if memory serves and I can’t imagine even a writer as talented as Si Spurrier can come up with too much to keep it going for too long. So I shall enjoy the nostalgia dip whilst it lasts. Now, where did I leave my can of shark repellent…?

JR

Buy Hookjaw and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

There’s been a Bank Holiday!

Below you’ll find last week’s new books. If they’re new formats of previous graphic novels, reviews may already be up; others will have retained their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

This week’s new books will be added just as soon as we are able at which point this paragraph will be replaced. Bank Holidays, eh? Hope you enjoyed yours!

Water Memory (£13-99, Roar) by Raynes Mathieu & Valerie Vernay

My Pretty Vampire (£17-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Katie Skelly.

Close Enough For The Angels h/c (£31-99, Petty Curse Books) by Paul Madonna

Demon vol 3 (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

Hookjaw (£13-99, Titan) by Simon Spurrier & Conor Boyle

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Conor Nolan, Feifei Ruan, Brandon Dayton, Jared Cullen

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

Pug-A-Doodle-Do! A Bumper Book Of Fun! (£10-99, Oxford Press) by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

The Beauty vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun, Thomas Nachlik

Sky Doll: Sudra h/c (£17-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa

Wonder Woman vol 3: The Truth s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Liam Sharp

Deadpool World’s Greatest vol 8: Til Death Do Us… s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan, Joshua Corin, Christopher Hastings & Salva Espin, Scott Koblish

The Mighty Captain Marvel vol 1: Alien Nation s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Margaret Stohl & Ramon Rosanas, Elizabeth Torque, various

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 7 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Neal Adams, various, Mike Deodato

Weapon X vol 1: Weapons Of Mutant Destruction Prelude s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Ibraim Roberson

X-Men Blue vol 1: Strangest s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Jorge Molina, Matteo Buffagni, Julian Lopez, others

X-Men Gold vol 1: Back To Basics s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Ardian Syaf

Assassination Classroom vol 17 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Legend Of Zelda vol 12: Twilight Princess vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

One Piece vol 83 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Platinum End vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Tokyo Ghoul vol 14 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Vampire Knight: Memories vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week three

August 16th, 2017

Featuring Joff Winterhart, Seth, Jiro Taniguchi, Yuki Fumino, Elijah Brubaker, Iou Kuroda, Valerie D’Orazio, Rob Williams, Laurence Cambell, more…

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

“Then I discovered my grandfather’s name in the guest book of an old hotel.”

Venice is a city of surprises.

It’s a city of gently lapping water, of dazzling light reflected on its undulating surfaces; of bridges, of sighs, of the Bridge of Sighs; of echoing footsteps and silent facades which are no less impressive when crumbling. But more than anything, Venice is a city of surprises.

If Paris is a city of vistas where everything was re-designed to be seen through, under or over, so that wherever you roam you know where you are, Venice is far more tantalising. You can catch glimpses under and over those pedestrian bridges, be they built of wood or stone, but such are its circuitous and labyrinthine trails within the embrace of its serpentine Grand Canal that all is revealed only gradually and most unexpectedly, as you take one random turn then the next.

It’s magnificent, it’s mysterious and it is coquettish. It is my favourite place in the world.

For Jiro Taniguchi, on his first trip to Venice, the city becomes a deep well of visual inspiration but also personal, familial discovery.

“I hadn’t known that my mother and grandmother had been in Venice.
“My mother never talked about my grandmother.”

Upon the death of his mother, Taniguchi discovers an exquisitely lacquered box containing old photographs and hand-drawn postcards of Venice in the 1920s or 1930s which hint at a family history he never knew and promise further revelations if only he can track down the specific locations and follow the bread crumbs on to bars, hotels and more permanent lodgings. Evidently his mother had also been an exceptionally proficient artist, but so had Jiro’s grandfather.

“A postcard by my grandfather.
“Grandfather, what kind of life did you lead in this city?”

This is non-fiction, but it’s the same searching, quietly contemplative voice one heard in A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Sparsely narrated so as not to intrude on your own perambulations (perhaps forty sentences in total?), we are presented instead with a personalised pencil and wash tour, and I cannot even begin to calculate the time each meticulously rendered, painted panel must have taken. Often there are up to five per page, but there are also dozens of full landscape spreads and one spectacular, double-page aerial panorama looking out over the domed, red-bricked church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo surrounded by smaller cream-coloured domiciles with their bright white chimneys rising up and so standing out against the horizontal planes of terracotta roof tiles. Even the yellow crane to the right is in harmony with the towers of the island beyond.

The album was commissioned by Louis Vuitton as part of its series of deluxe travel books in which artists were invited to bring their sensibilities to bear on cities foreign to them, so I’m sure that Taniguchi was recompensed in full, and it’s a consideration which our favourite Japanese comic creator – both mine and Jonathan’s – rewards with a winking nod towards the finale.

However much it looks like an art book on the first-inspected surface, it is a sequential-art narrative as you wend your way, guided by Jiro, around each corner, down tall, narrow passageways and over the smaller canals in search of the next stunning spectacle or clue as to how his grandfather lived and worked in Venice.

This is the giant responsible for GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, A DISTANT NEIGHBOUROOD, FURARI, QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL etcetera, and he will not disappoint.

We begin – as any approach to Venice should – by boat, surging across the expansive blue-green lagoon towards the north of the city which lies low on the horizon, our eyes tantalisingly drawn towards its vanishing-point promise by the wooden bricola. And it is a promise rather than a full revelation, for the real treasures lie within.

Immediately we’re rushed to Piazza San Marco (and if you can resist doing precisely that, I would be very much surprised), the Byzantine Basilica first hinted at in a crystal-clear puddle’s reflection before being revealed in its full glory beyond the Campanile. Ascending the bell tower early on, as he does, is a top-tip for gleaning your first and possibly last sense of overall, topographical context.

 

Taniguchi’s ability to capture not just the intricacies of the ornate cupolas and the magnificence of the golden, winged lion, but also the different skies which may soar above them (dry brush for the upwards shot of the tower / wet brush for the full landscape spread) is thrilling, phenomenal.

His lines are crisp and clean but also more delicate than mere photorealism, his colours softer and oh, when it rains! From under an umbrella our explorer gazes in wonder at yet another blinding facade, this time that of San Giorgio Maggiore, and it is here that his keen judgement on the varied strengths of line for different degrees of semi-relief really comes into play. Its Palladian white marble brilliance, reflected in ripples on the wet stone below, boasts both engaged, structural columns and decorative pilasters, both adorned with Corinthian capitals. If seen straight on it would have seemed far flatter, but the angle allows the artist to accentuate its depth as well as its symmetry, while the three tourists gathered in conversation closer to the church emphasise its scale and weight.

Many of his meanderings are far more relaxed and some of his discoveries more bizarre. Around the Arsenale towards the south-east of the main island, Taniguchi almost does a double-take as he spies a leviathan of a cruise ship passing what appears to be comically close, its contrasting modernity dwarfing the buildings and footbridge in the foreground. So that’s, umm, another way to enter Venice.

 

The page which immediately follows shows him holding his jacket and slightly dumfounded against the more ancient, castellated shipyard area behind him.

Eventually Jiro finds himself back in San Marco, this time in the evening when the colonnades are lit up to glorious, golden effect against a sable-coloured sky while tourists dine at the posher places and Italian residents take their customary pre- or post-prandial passeggiata along the broad quayside under the shining orbs of free-standing lamps.

After that, there’s time for more than a few final flourishes – several statues and two different views of the white, Baroque, grey-domed Santa Maria della Salute before a fond farewell and a solemn promise to return, delivered with customarily Japanese gratitude.

“Oribe Tsugo, where are you now?
“I will come back and find you. Thank you, dear grandfather.”.

Now, Taniguchi didn’t take all this in nor draw it in one day (!), so I don’t advise that you attempt to absorb this in a single sitting, either. Ridiculously, you will become immune, almost inured to its majesty; bloated on its intoxicating beauty rather than drunk on its detail.

This is the advantage of the painted page browsed at your leisure: that you can focus on the intricacies of an individual balustrade or the effect on its surroundings of a trailing window box. Although there is nothing like the first-hand, eye-candy explosion of a city like Venice, a book like this enables one to sit back and appreciate in detail what might be lost in one long weekend’s exhilarating, overwhelming experience. Inevitably your eyes dart all over the place, such are the limitless wealth of monumental distractions vying for your attention, but with a book like this sat on your lap you can smile in remembrance of everything you adored, or in sublime anticipation of a unique experience yet to come.

There are more verdant areas here that I have evidently yet to discover, so I just know I’m going back. Plus I’ve never seen Venice in the rain. I shouldn’t and do not complain, but I want at least once to see Venice from under an umbrella.

Further, unapologetically personal if irreverent notes (you can honestly stop reading now):

All roads led to the Rialto. It doesn’t matter where you think you’re heading, you will wind up on the Rialto Bridge. On my third visit to Venice I effectively short-circuited that mildly amusing inconvenience by booking us a hotel room right on the Rialto. We returned safely and immediately home every evening.

Random turns: they will be random whether you wander map-free or not. Your ability to navigate Venice with any degree of accuracy will prove inversely proportionate to your injudiciously declared confidence. Being lost is one of its many great pleasures.

View from the Campanile. Get your bearings early, however short-lived!

Selected bits of Venice rotate overnight by 90 degrees. This renders any memorised routes unreliable. Honest advice…? Ignore maps, ditch them completely, and go with the flow. You can identify your destination upon arrival using a pocket guidebook. That’s much more satisfying.

If you have found cars, you have lost your way. I mean, really lost your way. There are no cars in Venice. Suggest re-spawning at San Marco then trying again.

Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore reflected in the rain and discussed in the main review. It was actually designed by Palladio himself!

Venice is a working city, which should go without saying, but somehow didn’t in what used to blind me as a fantasy land. But here we are introduced early on to its vegetable, fish and fruit markets which obviously aren’t catering for tourists but residents. So another top-tip is to rise bright and early at least one morning to mix with commuters on their way into work while the city is still quiet enough, tourist-free, so that you can hear their patent leather shoes clap-clop-clap on stone and share their en-route espressos. I love that washing hangs out on lines between some of the residential buildings. Presumably there’s some sort of pulley system. That’s neighbourly cooperation for you.

Do not attempt to open a bottle of wine alongside the Grand Canal with teenage girls watching you. If you do, do not attempt to mitigate your observed failure by rolling your sleeves up and then trying again. Your consequent, compounded, cork-screw failure will result in much vocalised mirth.

You cannot, alas, sleep on Venice’s train-station platform any longer. My mate Ian Marshall and I did during the 1980s when there was no room one Easter season at the proverbial inn. We had a brilliant, convivial night and awoke the next morning to find so many Venetian youths flocking in to wash then blow-dry their hair using the station’s sinks and hand-dryers (twisted upwards for maximum wind-tunnel effect).

There is if not a cul-de-sac on the Grand Canal to the east of the train station, then at least a virtually untrodden path leading nowhere, which you can find by crossing the train-station bridge southwards, heading just a little in-road and left over the first footbridge, then cutting back north to reappear on the Grand Canal with not one single soul passing by to bother you. Sitting together on the canal’s edge, legs dangling and swaying freely, then opening a bottle of Prosecco is an experience what I can only describe as a sustained, shared and spiritual orgasm as you absorb the reflected opulence of the facades opposite, waving gently and colourfully in the water.

I hope this has helped.

SLH

Buy Venice and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Pasties’ll just be a couple of minutes boys. Mary, you met our new Saturday girl yet?”
“No, not yet. What’s she like?”
For all of Keith’s talk of ‘thin ice’ and ‘stern words to be had’ with her employer…
“She’s very quiet, but – between you and me – reckon she might be a bit of a dark horse.”
… this woman continues to work here…
“Yeah… you can just imagine finding her out of the back, taking topless selfies with a couple of cherry danishes…”
… apparently uncensored.
“…strategically placed, if you know what I mean! … AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
Keith does not look happy…
“… AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”
… at all. But I wonder if our fellow customer mistakes his disapproval for just intense consideration of that last vanilla slice.

Yes, Keith is most assuredly not happy at this scandalous public display of impropriety in the bakery where he and Sam go to buy their lunchtime pasties every day without fail. But then Keith is a rather peculiar individual in his own right, being that classic British mix of both unashamedly reserved combined with a bucket load of inadvertently endearing eccentricities. There’s his relentless anecdotes about his former boss and mentor, Geoff Crozier, a larger than life character who seemingly filled the surrogate roles of uncle, big brother and father figure in Keith’s early employment, his mild distaste of fame-hungry, local-press-ever-present Councillor Mike Gibbs, an undying love for his King Charles Cavalier Spaniel (Apex Powder Blue Twice-Shy The Third a.k.a. Cleo), plus his encyclopaedic knowledge of the various movers and shakers in the local area.

So why on earth has Keith taken such an interest in our narrator, the shy, gangly Sam? Recently returned home to live with his mum at the ripe old age of 27 after a nervous breakdown, with any interest in his genuine talent for illustration and painting also seemingly shattered by the experience of just dealing with the demanding realities and daily drudgery of post-University life, Sam is in a somewhat fragile state and has come to the conclusion that what he needs to do for the moment is just find a very boring, stress-free job that will allow him to recuperate and get himself back together. So when Keith, apparently a second cousin of his absent father, last seen briefly at his parents’ wedding, appears with an offer to shadow him and teach him the ropes of his ‘distribution and delivery’ business, Sam feels the universe has spoken and decides to accept.

Now, before you get too excited imagining one Keith Lionel Nutt  as some sort of mysterious, shadowy small-town drug dealer, let me stop you right there. Keith sells spare parts for very dull industrial filtration machinery… No, as with his previous work DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, Joff Winterheart once again provides a masterful, absorbing study of the sheer banality of a very typical slice of the British population and their mundane, fairly pointless social interactions. I will however add that Keith is actually a little bit of a minor man of mystery and not just in his own mind, either…

So, as Sam and Keith spend hour after hour in close proximity, mainly driving round and round Keith’s ‘distribution and delivery’ route in his left-hand-drive car (another mystery), punctuated by popping in and out of various works’ receptions encountering receptionists, topping up on meat pasties as their appetites require, Sam finds himself ever more fascinated with Keith and his past. How did Keith end up here in this small town, doing this particular job, still living the bachelor lifestyle? Why do his friends and associates apparently view him behind his back as a figure of mild fun? And why did he really offer Sam a job? The answers, when Sam finally begins to get them, as matters very gradually wind up to the farcical conclusion, are as titteringly amusing as they are sadly poignant.

Joff’s created another very engaging work here. Much like the trials and travails of teenage boredom and partial parental estrangement which he nailed so perfectly in the DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER, I think I can safely say we all have known a Keith. Probably more than one. And, if we’ve been particularly fortunate / unfortunate (take your pick) we’ve been a Sam to said Keith, learning more than we ever cared to know about the curious inner workings of their life and mind.

Art-wise, Joff has gone for the same brilliant utterly unglamorous style as before. Weak chins, saggy necks and hairy nostrils abound. I think it perfectly and very humorously captures the everyday man and woman, actually. There are no beautiful leading ladies or handsome hunks here, though Keith mentions he has occasionally been likened to Sean Connery, with a James Bond impersonation thrown in for good measure of course! I know you shouldn’t laugh at people, but you’ll find yourself hard pressed not to, I promise. Joff’s served up a vanilla slice of British comics heaven for us to enjoy. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure, but aren’t they the best kind..?

JR

Buy Driving Short Distances and read the Page 45 review here

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth…

“Generally, each home was a little worse…
“… than the previous place we lived.
“But Louise Street was the worst yet.”

It wasn’t, however, the worst… We do get to that particular abode on a trailer park eventually, though, in this latest instalment of Seth’s rather heart-rending recollection of his formative years. Not that these reminiscences are without humour, not at all. Ever the master of self-deprecation, he also had me spluttering my tea out when I got to the following bit…

“By then, I was deeply into my “New Wave Guru” phase. A mess of clothing and dyed white hair.”

Now, trust me, if you’re picturing Seth in typical emo goth mode with wild locks and ragged apparel, you would be wrong. Ever a man of style and decorum he’s got the most amazing swept-back bouffant and shoulder length combo hairstyle paired with smart white shirt, black trousers with checked bottoms, a long black Victorian style raincoat, black shades, walking cane and the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips.

Well, actually, as he embarrassedly admits, he was rather lacking in decorum in this particular instance he illustrates, as he finally <ahem> reaches fourth base after randomly bumping into one of his childhood sweethearts several years later and promptly getting up and leaving without a word after dealing with their “unfinished business.” What a rotter! I hope she posts a proper photograph of this era Seth on social media if she has one, by way of revenge!!

As ever, this PALOOKAVILLE is a work of three parts: a slice of autobiography and a slice of Clyde Fans, neatly sandwiching some deliciously random filing, which this time round is a selection of individual pieces of art, mainly featuring period buildings, in his own inimitable, dapper style, which featured in two different recent gallery exhibitions.

I should add that for CLYDE FANS fans (sorry, couldn’t resist), this PALOOKAVILLE will be a sad, if fulfilling, moment as the epic story of Simon Matchcard draws to a conclusion by coming full circle back to the year 1957 where we left Simon at the end of the first CLYDE FANS volume. Here we see the epiphany which sets him on the course of what will turn out to be his long, lonely life. It’s a rather poignant scene, knowing as we do everything that is to follow. For here, Simon is nothing but full of optimism of what lies ahead, certain of the path he is taking and the rewards it will bring.

Eh dear.

JR

Buy Palookaville #23 and read the Page 45 review here

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino…

Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

I don’t know!

Even after finishing I’m not sure! When they talk about a gentle romantic comedy, this is like being oh so teasingly tickled with a feather duster. You don’t know whether you actually like it, but it does feel rather pleasant. Or so they tell me…

Actually, I’ve just read the publisher blurb on the reverse and the line… “More than friends, less than lovers…” is a note-perfect description of the peculiar relationship that develops between Kohei, the withdrawn, misunderstood student with a profound hearing disability and the ridiculously gregarious and irrepressibly happy Taichi, who just so happens to have a voice like a foghorn.

We open with a chance encounter involving Taichi falling through some foliage, shattering Kohei’s tranquil lunchtime in his favourite secluded spot on campus for hiding himself away. Following that dramatic entrance an unlikely friendship blossoms. Kohei offers the starving Taichi his bento box and deciding he needs to return the favour somehow, Taichi offers to be Kohei’s notetaker. Which is basically as it sounds, taking notes for him in class because Kohei can’t always hear the lecturer that well.

I then basically spent the rest of the book, which involves various mild misunderstandings and slightly awkward social situations, trying to work out if either Taichi fancied Kohei, Kohei fancied Taichi, or both. Given by the end I was none the wiser, you can probably correctly surmise this is not full-on Yaoi.

I’m not saying there isn’t a kiss, mind you, though infuriatingly, even the circumstances and camera angle surrounding their one ambiguous display of physical affection, only serves to further intrigue the reader as to precise what is, or isn’t, going on…

This softly-softly approach to the storytelling and also the very delicate art put me in mind a little of 5 CENTIMETRES A SECOND, which I also rather enjoyed for its off-beat approach. I don’t know if non-romance romance is an actual romance sub-genre, but that’s precisely what this is. There is apparently also a film adaptation which very recently opened in Japanese cinemas. I may have to check it out, if only to see if it reveals any answers to my questions!

JR

Buy I Hear The Sunspot and read the Page 45 review here

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker…

“Sir, your new bride is here.”
“Sigh, I don’t even know this chick. It’s a marriage of politics. Convenience.”
“Sir.”
“Fine.”
“What you do in this situation?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess being a palace guard is a little different than being king. No one has problems like I have.”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do I do if she’s fugly?”
“She won’t be fugly, sir.”
“She’s probably gross. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened.”
…….
“You must be Ahab, I’m Jezebel.”
“Awesome.”

Now, it maybe a while since you read the Old Testament – specifically Book Of Kings I and it’s imaginatively named sequel Book Of Kings II, which only goes to show the mass entertainment media has been flogging the proverbial sequel donkey since waaaaay back – but you probably recall the name of Jezebel. Phoenician Princess, wife of the Jewish King Ahab, and worshipper of idols.

Having won his heart with her stunning beauty Jezebel generally caused the King no end of trouble, particularly with the prophet Elijah, whom God was prone to having one-to-ones with about how to sort the current situation, which was usually by slaughtering the rival non-Jewish prophets and performing all manner of strange, inexplicable and thus impressive stunts to the masses. I would say miracles, but of course, even the mysterious ways in which Big G himself moves need a more earthly helping hand or two behind the scenes…

This, then, is basically the story of Jezebel, told as if written as an action comedy with modern dialogue. So, on the one hand, whilst it presents its source material factually (well, okay accurately might be a better word, given it’s mostly utter nonsense) as with Robert Crumb’s GENESIS, it is done as a humorous farce much like Tom Gauld’s (imminently back-in-print) GOLIATH.

If you liked Gauld’s deadpan take on biblical babblings, you’ll love this. I can actually see a bit of Tom in Elijah Brubaker’s art, along with a wee bit of Eric BERA THE ONE-HEADED TROLL Orchard too, particularly in the characters’ facial expressions. I also loved how God is portrayed as a bad-headed genie-like midget floating around on a cloud. Not quite as surreal as how he appears in GOODNIGHT PUNPUN, perhaps, but talking about as much sense, i.e. not a lot. I’d say not one to be taken seriously, therefore, but actually the reverse is true, so you can remember just how nonsensical the original material is…

JR

Buy The Story Of Jezebel and read the Page 45 review here

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda…

I remember buying Masamune Shirow’s original APPLESEED run back in the veritable day in the mid to late eighties and absolutely loving it for the beautifully illustrated, comedic cyberpunk instant classic it truly was. And his swiftly following, career-defining, GHOST IN THE SHELL, which alongside Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA set the bench mark for thoughtful, philosophical, yet all-action cyberpunk mayhem and are still very much admired and heavily emulated today.

I have at this point to emphatically state, this is not by Shirow. Iou Kuroda’s style is rather different, considerably looser and, from certain angles, giving the odd glimpse of Paul BATTLING BOY Pope. Who of course, spent considerable time in Japan following his initial rise to fame resulting in practically zero US sequential-art output. Not that Pope has ever been what one would describe as prodigious. A prodigy perhaps. Anyway, I digress.

 

 

This is also not Appleseed. It is, technically, given it features that series two main characters Deunan and her lover combat-cyborg Briareos. But this is a prequel which is set as they arrive in a conflict-ridden New York City and it is an altogether different beast to APPLESEED itself. I found it very, very difficult to read without continuously comparing to, and wanting more of, the original. It is pretty good in its own right though, and fans of APPLESEED should take a look if they are of a mind to have their nostalgia taste buds tantalised. Though this hors d’oeuvre will probably set them off heading up to the loft to rummage around and find the main course. Next stop for your humble reviewer? Yes, you’ve guessed it.

JR

Buy Appleseed: Alpha h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Valerie D’Orazio Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young & Laurence Campbell, Shawn Martinbrough, more.

Almost certainly the final PUNISHER MAX collection – a series in which the implacable one set his sights on real-world horror – and although it’s not as consistently, viciously and socio-politically satisfying as Garth Ennis’ tenure in the first four volumes, reviewed in depth and more often than not with Goran Parlov in tow, there are still some real, pithy gems.

Two I’d single out, both illustrated by Laurence Campbell, are written by Rob Williams (THE ROYALS – MASTERS OF WAR, ORDINARY, UNFOLLOW) and Valerie D’Orazio.

Williams’s ‘Get Castle’ was exceptionally topical for Britain given the half-hearted investigations by the army into its own severe, malicious and covered-up misconduct following several cadets’ suicides.

It’s set in the Brecon Beacons where the S.A.S. train. One rogue faction, back from Afghanistan, has found something else to do on its remote Welsh mountains and, without knowing how well he was connected, they hung Corporal Dan Mitchell whose father you may well remember from PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. They hung him naked after suspending him naked and for hours. Campbell draws the man naked. This is important, for it is as stark as it is dark, and ‘Max’ for Marvel means adults only. The rain and terrain are terrific.

 

Now there’s a stranger in town, an American. He’s made his intentions brazenly clear in the local pub: he’s come to execute the Corporal’s killers. But he’s also done his homework, he always does a recce, and the S.A.S.officers have no idea who they’re dealing with.

It’s Frank Castle’s intuition and inventiveness I liked there, but in D’Orazio’s ‘Butterfly’ it’s the inventiveness of the storytelling I admired. It’s seen through the eyes of the Butterfly herself, an accomplished career hit-woman with pretensions to being published and whose girlfriend is oblivious to what makes the woman tick or even what set her ticking in the first place. It was decidedly grim, and it’s left her with a pretty bleak outlook.

Not a lot made me laugh there, but this did:

“I hate waiting. It’s not that I’m impatient… but waiting implies a certain degree of optimism about the future only to be found in humans and squirrels.”

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Elves vol 2 (£10-99, Insight Comics) by Oliver Peru, Eric Corbeyran & Stephane Bileau, Jean-Paul Bordier

The Legend Of Korra: Turf Wars Part One (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh

The Only Living Boy vol 1: Prisoner Of The Patchwork Planet (£7-99, Papercut) by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 3: Quest For Hope s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, others

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 3: Totally In Continuity s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Myisha Haynes, Gurihiru, Alti Firmansyah

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 4 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews August 2017 week two

August 9th, 2017

Featuring Natasha Alterici, Pamela Ribon, Melissa Jane Osborne, Veronica Fish, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo plus the WWI anthology returns with Eddie Campbell et al.

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

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story but writes another.”

 – J.M. Barrie

“Man” has been crossed out and replaced by “girl”; an ‘s’ has been prefixed to “he”.

Three figures float, silhouetted and suspended underwater. The water is dark and evidently deep, the girl and two boys helpless, unconscious, their arms and legs all akimbo. A full, rippled moon is reflected.

Imagine the worst mistake you could ever make. Then imagine trying to live with it.

16-year-old Wendy Davies is driving her car late one summer’s night in New England. In the back seat sits her younger brother John, immersed. In the passenger seat her other, bespectacled brother Michael is listening to music through headphones, though it’s evidently still loud. Tetchily Wendy shouts at him and, perhaps reaching for his headphones with her right hand, her left pulls hard on the steering wheel and the car careens into the lake.

There is a frantic struggle, breath escaping in bubbles, as the car’s headlights sink from view. They all reach the surface, gasping for air, but Michael doesn’t stop there, flying up into the stormy sky.

“Michael! Where are you going?”
“Wendy, come with us,” the clouds seem to say.
“I can’t… I have to stay.”

Her blue eyes gaze mournfully upwards.

“I know what I saw.
“So I told them.”

This is such an important book, and it’s so deftly done by writer and artist alike. The parallels with Peter Pan – which we later learn Wendy’s read from a book hidden beneath another dust jacket and a Neverland poster affixed to her wall – are very well struck, as are the marked departures. There’s the ever-open window, the ill-fated arrow, the acorn kiss, the jealousy of a fairy, the free-roaming shadow (oh, the shadow!) and especially the loss of memory: the ignorance and the bliss. That particular twist on what was originally written is of primary importance as to why this works so well (it is not Wendy’s, but that’s all I shall say), so into our much-thumbed Mental Health section this goes.

Dealing with any bereavement is difficult, but dealing with the burden of guilt as well…?

Unsurprisingly Wendy doesn’t deal with it at all well. Never once is she blamed by parents or police, yet nor do they believe her story.

“Does your daughter have a history of substance abuse?”

She is assigned a therapist called Dr. Barrie whom Wendy dismisses as far too young to know what she’s talking about, and is depicted by Fish in Wendy’s mind’s eye as sitting in a high-chair. She’s given a sketchbook to write and draw whatever she finds too painful or even too crazy to talk about. She opens it up and a rainbow of colour flickers across her face.

“No thanks.”
“You owe me two pages next week.”

Which brings me to my first observation about the art and production: the graphic novel comes with rare rounded corners (Marc Ellerby’s diary comics collection ELLERBISMS is one of the first I saw) and faux-leather texture reflecting the Moleskine she’s given. It’s more than a neat gimmick; it’s a very clever clue, for Wendy is our narrator.

The art throughout is rendered by SLAM!’s Veronica Fish in exactly the sort of loose pencil sketchwork which Wendy herself eventually, reluctantly then absorbedly, obsessively starts filling her book with. It also adds to the immediacy, intimacy and accessibility which I loved so much in Sina Grace’s NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. But it is Fish’s use of colour which mesmerised me most, reserved for the recurrent, free-standing shadow, very special items (like the book itself which to begin with is ditched on more than one occasion only to magically reappear), and for the illusions which will eventually come to an all-colour crescendo.

Over and over again, Wendy remains recalcitrant, but then we’re given the impression that she always was which is critical to the credibility of her reaction to this abrupt bereavement and torrent of defiantly repressed guilt, redirected towards her parents as judgemental antipathy. It doesn’t hurt that her social observations are so often astute.

“High school is like developmental purgatory.
“It’s a cesspool of hormones and emotion.
“And everyone is looking for a life raft.”

She spies two teenagers flirting by their lockers, depicted as Captain Hook and a mermaid, then a lone Peter Pan figure bathed in a wash of leaf-green, his hair golden yellow, a fellow rebel to her cause…?

“I know you.”

The colour vanishes and his aspect shifts instantly from what she perceives to how he really is. He doesn’t know her and does not respond, but is swept up instead by another girl who wonders “Who’s the weird new girl?” Returning to the life raft:

“And just when you think you’ve found it…
“You’re lost at sea again…”

We’re only on page 11.

Grief manifests itself in so many ways. Individuals, by their very nature, react differently. Some rail angrily against a God whom they once believed in, go into denial or attempt to cauterise the wound immediately. I make no judgements. At first Wendy’s parents refuse to enter, alter or in any way interact with Michael’s room. Later, they bundle all his effects up into the attic.

“They packed up all his things like he didn’t exist.”

Wendy makes plenty of judgements, but I don’t judge Wendy nor does Melissa Jane Osborne. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressive this is: a ridiculously tricky subject handled with compassion, kindness – and surely some considerable knowledge, I’m afraid.

“The worst thing that could’ve possibly happened to you already did.
“These are just drawings.
“Your feelings can’t hurt you, Wendy.”

I beg to differ, but still, without them you are lost. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time or a purpose to walls, but what one builds up must surely come down if you are to remain connected.

I’ve a page of notes devoted to the shadow alone, another to the colour. They give too much away to risk revealing here, but I hope their existence implies how intricately and thoughtfully crafted the whole is.

It’s another of those graphic novels like the Tamaki cousins’ THIS ONE SUMMER which I firmly believe should be taught in schools at a teenage level because so many mistakes are made in a vacuum when discussion could surely avert them; and, as anyone who’s read A MONSTER CALLS already knows, such profound sorrow as that experienced here is too often endured all alone when friends no longer know what to say… and so say nothing.

That behaviour is far from unique to young adults, but education early on might help us improve our open communication later in life too.

Poor Wendy simply doesn’t understand the vital importance of any funeral which is to say – solemnly or otherwise – “good-bye”. It’s not a rejection, for everyone remains ever-present so long as one is fondly remembered, but it is an admission or concession that a great life has passed. Without that, you cannot move on.

Please don’t think I’ve forgotten the other surviving sibling, John. His immediate, post-traumatic reaction is to shut down or at least shut up, refusing to confirm or deny his sister’s account of that evening. But it’s his secondary reaction that proves far more interesting and one that’s given me much pause for thought since my second reading, once the truth has been established during a climax which is no cop-out, I promise.

So we conclude as we began with another quotation from Peter Pan playwright / prose author J.M. Barrie:

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

It’s the first line of this book, but “die” has been crossed out and replaced by “live”.

As an opening line, it could not have been better chosen.

SLH

Buy The Wendy Project and read the Page 45 review here

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

Under a cover as soft to the touch as a horse’s hide resides a tale of love, resilience and fortitude told with lithe beauty, great supple strength and the odd dash of light, bright, unexpected humour when it comes to the wight and the wolves.

“I liked him.”
“Me too. I’m glad we didn’t eat him.”

HEATHEN is born from a deep love of stories and storytelling. Alterici proves exceedingly proficient in that art, and judicious in both her timing and selection, for it is constructed with impressive precision, as you shall see.

“Do not be coy. We immortals live cyclical lives, playing out the same dramas over and over again.
“So when a key plot point changes, it’s bound to be noticed.
“And indeed someone has noticed.”

So speaks Ruadan, trickster god and spy. He may well be immortal, but our protagonist Aydis most certainly isn’t.

She is, however, resourceful, fearless and well versed in the legends of Odin and his female Valkyrie.

“They were strong, beautiful, and struck terror in even the bravest men’s hearts.
“Charged with escorting the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyrie were given power over death itself.
“But their power is not without limit, for Odin still dictates the fate of every warrior. No warrior lives or dies without Odin’s consent.”

Except that warrior one did: a king whom Odin determined would be victorious in war was struck down by Brynhild of the Valkyrie, for which temerity Odin banished and cursed her, forcing Brynhild to marry a mortal and live out her endless days in exile.

Evidently, however, Brynhild was not without her bargaining power, for although she agreed to this sentence, she did so on her own terms: on the condition that she chose the mortal in question through a test of her own. As so often with these things, it was a test of worthiness. She ascended Mount Hinderfall and encircled herself in fire – magic fire – to await a mate courageous enough to breach the barrier and free her.

Every element of what I have told you is vital for what follows. Writer and artist Alterici has left nothing extraneous in the mix and thought everything through.

There is, for example, a degree of due ceremony both later on in Aydis’s construction of her helmet from fallen stag antlers – which male deer use in combat with each other for dominance in securing their mates – and in her telling of this tale to her horse. Just as a silhouetted Brynhild raises her arms to ignite the blazing curtain and in welcoming wait of whomever should succeed, so Aydis raises her own in front of her fire and welcoming that challenge.

“That story was passed through our clan for hundreds of years…”

Her arms drop down, lank, to her side, in time to a perfect moment of pomposity-puncturing deflation enhanced by a modern colloquialism:

“If it’s true, she’s been waiting an awfully long time.”

Alterici has made everything here look effortless, including Aydis’s hand-to-horn combat with the bull. Oh yes, that’s more male power conquered.

The choreography is exceptionally slick but, in addition, behold the energy in a broken line!

She doesn’t seek to confine her virile steeds, stag or stampeding bull in a rigid outline, so sapping their movement and might; instead she suggests their exterior contours and body mass in relation to their environment with flurries and flashes of instinctive slashes, while her colouring is equally loose and lambent.

 

I promised you that nothing in Aydis’ opening recollection of the Valkyries (and Brynhild in particular) was random. It’s not. For Aydis too is in exile – a self-imposed exile for everyone believes she is dead. Moreover, she is in exile because she dared to break a taboo, and was caught kissing a girl. Her father (not she) was given an ultimatum by the patriarchal Elders: execute his daughter or marry her off against her will to a man.

Thank the gods for one good soul, then, for he chose neither. Instead he pretended to mourn his daughter at her graveside in order to cover her escape.

Two other things you should know about our Aydis in addition to being fearless, resourceful and very well versed: she is determined and ambitious:

“On some mountain top, a Valkyrie waits alone.
“And I intend to free her.”

Should she succeed, there yet remains Odin’s curse and although you may be thinking “Hooray, for Aydis, for she is mortal and will have Brynhild’s hand in marriage!”, Aydis’s ambition is not for herself, but to prove women equal in courage to men. Also, she has had quite enough of marriage being imposed on others by the dictates of males, be they local leaders or the all-father Odin: she would see Brynhild liberated from her curse rather than further confined by it.

In any case, she won’t have been the first.

“All the men who’ve crossed the flames have been brave, but that trait is often coupled with stupidity, recklessness, cruelty. Not Sighurd, though. He was different. And not just because of his unfortunate immortality. He was good.
“Brynhild really loved him.”

What went so wrong that Brynhild once more waits in that circle of fire? With his limited lifespan, did he die like so many others? Not at all: Sighurd The Broken Hearted is very much alive, though lost to a terrible turn of events and a mightily cruel twist.

“Odin’s curse was very specific…”

All this is narrated to Aydis by Freyja, Valkyrie Queen and Goddess of Love, who has taken a shine to Aydis. Bare-breasted, sybaritic and ever so alluring, Freyja overtly offers Aydis a less lonely alternative to her societal ostracism in sexual fulfilment.

Is that what Aydis’s about?

The final page will tell you precisely what Aydis’s about, and it’s delivered with a fierce, unflinching resolve and an eye to the future.

SLH

Buy Heathen vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

What a fresh and far from obvious start!

One of my favourite moments is when you finally discover what the direct, no-nonsense, not-easily-impressed cannon ball of a competitor, Velvet Coffin, does for a living. I drop that in early in order that you forget it, for SLAM! made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.

This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules – there are certainly key and keen strategies which you will learn in chapter four – but it’s essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.

“Are you a sportsman, Stephen?”

Clearly not, but I am a convert!

Moreover, its initial, innovative presentation – not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby – proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.

“10 Facts about your new Derby life:
“1. You will have fun.
“2. You will get hurt.
“3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
“4. You won’t. Because you love it more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life.”

Persuade me.

“5. You will find your voice.
“6. You’ll learn all kinds of new phrases.” Namely:

“Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!”
“Fill those holes!”
“Take up space! Wall it up!”
“Get on her!”
“Hit her, hit her, hit her!”

I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.

But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I’m wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially – and may still be to this day – a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for thence be looked down upon for decades to come as second-best. Haha! The shoe’s on the other dismissive and disdaining foot, fellas!

If all that wasn’t enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men are barely even mentioned within. This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There’s one. There’s only one, and he is an absolute sweetie called Theo.

One of our two main protagonists, Maisie Huff (Derby-dubbed: ITHINKA CAN), has only just started dating again and has gone for a young artist that “gets it”. He instantly gets Roller Derby and although far from pushy and certainly not seeking to intrude, he won’t be put off by a no-show but turns up to the real show and cheers from the stalls. Only afterwards do they meet up.

“It looks like you’ve got a great team. But maybe don’t let that stop you from dating me? I’m pretty awesome and I like you a whole so much a lot.”

Lovely line.

“Can you do me a favour? Share an Uber to my apartment and get in my pants?”
“Yes, if that would be helpful to you.”

As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight.

When the teams tear round the tracks it’s at such a keen speed, and Fish’s ability to choreograph the balletic jumps of the jammers working their way through the packs (or falling flat on their faces) is such that you’re impressed both by her dexterity and by the players’ on account of the evident edge and pin-point precision required for such tricky manoeuvres. Without that, all dramatic tension is lost.

Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer who brings such warm tones to the Fish’s tender expressions and such rich, vibrant hues to their sports kits.

There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.

It’s not ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, it’s “Hello, here’s all the fun!”

Although there is one prick managing the coffee house where Maisie works, who overlooks her promotion in favour of male employee who was there for no more than three months, but asked first. She thinks about this, then won’t take no for an answer.

“And I was like, “If you won’t recognize my worth, then I will work somewhere that does”. And then that man gave me a raise!”
“Yes! I am so proud of you.”
“P.S. though – totally gonna take that money and find somewhere else to work.”
“Okay, good. Thanks for making me not have to tell you that.”

We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the delicious cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it’s all THE WENDY PROJECT’s Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.

“7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
“8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it.”

Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day’s performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!

“Fun fact about Derby life #42:
“It gets complicated.”

It does. No life is all plain sailing and friendships as well as those thighs are going to take a battering. No one likes to feel left behind when they were there for you from the beginning, so please mind your manners when texting, especially if you haven’t seen each other for yonks.

“I thought we’d finally watch – “
“She’s so funny.”

Jennifer regards Maisie messaging her new mentor, sadly.

“She must be.”

I leave you with a top tip for blockers hell-bent on bashing opponents to the ground which doubles – as so much of this does – as a life lesson:

“Quit aiming for my butt. You gotta hit here, above my knee. That’s where you want to be. Don’t look where you want to hit – hit where you want to be. Aim for your future.”

SLH

Buy SLAM! Vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

It’s been a while since these ‘80s paper girls last did their rounds.

Last episode it was thirty years ago, which is exceedingly remiss.

This time they won’t be cycling round suburbia for twelve and a half thousand years!

*attempts to assess maths*

*ignores in favour of the getting on with the general gist*

It’s 11,706 BCE (the same thing as 11,706 BC, but a little more secular) right at the end of the Pleistocene era, just before homo sapiens had managed to wipe out most of the megafauna in North America, so expect something very big and shaggy to come shambling out of the woodlands.

One glance at the cover should inform you that our four girls – gradually getting to know each other and themselves better while being tossed through time – aren’t the only anachronistic visitors to this era. Nor, however, is either party the first, for the locals are wearing some interesting items round their necks and sporting some very familiar tattoos or pigmented symbols on their chests.

It’s another hugely entertaining and delightfully unpredictable account of young friends (and you’re reminded just how young they are during one unexpected development) encountering so much to test their powers of deduction and self-preservation while revealing far more of their past and their future than they are comfortable with.

We are also reminded, here, that our understanding of procreative biology has come a long way in the last… well, one hundred years.

Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson deliver a deliciously different world to the last two volumes, full of dappled light under lush canopies and giant, multi-coloured, parrot-beaked flightless birds which one can only wish we hadn’t wiped out so assiduously within moments of the ever-expanding human migration.

The wider subplot ploughs ever onwards towards another shocking climax which is no mere jump to another era, for it seems that something’s unravelling.

Anything else risks spoilers, so please see our previous, extensive reviews on the wit and visual wonder of PAPER GIRLS.

SLH

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

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

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.

Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…

Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.

It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.

JR

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

Back In Stock / Old Review

Above The Dreamless Dead (£17-99) by Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

Eddie Campbell:

“It’s a bit preposterous us thinking we can illustrate this stuff that we know nothing of – sitting here in our air-conditioned rooms trying to imagine the horrors of being knee deep in mud with your feet rotting off.”

Well, quite.

Nevertheless, Eddie does a convincing impression of knowing precisely what it felt, looked and smelled like, at night, and throws it in front of your face. Towards the end there is a close-up of what’s left of a clod-encrusted cadaver, its skull-thin face with opaque eye-jelly being crawled round by maggots.

“A barb had pierced his eye and stuck there, rusting in the socket from which sight was gone.”

It opens with the occasional crack of sniper bullets whipping the sandbags as soldiers stumble about like phantoms in the miasmatic fog, barbed wire lit up in ghostly electric arcs or, later, glistening with spiders’ webs and dew drops as it resists being dragged down and sucked into the mud by the weight of what’s left of a once-living human being. What’s left of Loos church and graveyard is also lit up in a ghastly, bone-strewn son et lumière. The overall effect is like staring into old-school black and white photographic negatives: indistinct, often terrifying.

All interior art from the Simon Gane contribution.

Campbell chose to condense the closing chapter of a novel by Patrick MacGill, The Great Push (1916), but the rest of this black and white book is given over to the World War I Trench Poets – writers on the frontline responsible for breaking through the propaganda with their terrible truths – interpreted by an impressive array of comicbook creators:

Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Lilli Carré, Lisbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, Phil Winslade.

George Pratt takes on Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est and Greater Love. He notes in the back that, wishing to avoid overshadowing the words, he deliberately used thick tools like paint rollers and knives which wouldn’t allow him to overwork the images with details. It works.

My other favourite is Simon Gane’s second piece here, Osbert Sitwell’s The Next War, using war memorials from Britain and France, trailed with ivy, their age and textures perfectly rendered, each improbably well chosen to match and so evoke what was written. I urge you to hit the internet and gawp at the man’s architecture and landscape sketchwork.

 

Here you go, a rare external link: http://simongane.blogspot.co.uk/

There is an excellent introduction by Editor Chris Duffy, and commentary by the creators bringing up the rear. Kevin Huizenga’s is particularly worth noting.

Further recommended reading: Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH and THE GREAT WAR by Joe Sacco, both reviewed.

SLH

Buy Above The Dreamless Dead and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Kill Or Be Killed vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Palookaville #23 (£20-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth

Angel Catbird vol 3: The Catbird Roars h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Corpse Talk Ground Breaking Scientists (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

Dredd / Anderson: The Deep End (£12-99, Rebellion) by Arthur Wyatt, Alec Worley & Ben Willsher, Paul Davidson

Eclipse vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Giovanni Timpano

Rivers Of London: Black Mould (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

The Story Of Jezebel (£17-99, Uncivilised Books) by Elijah Brubaker

Justice League Of America vol 1: The Extremists s/c (£14-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Ivan Reis, various

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 6 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by various including Jason Aaron, Rob Williams, David Lapham, Peter Milligan, Jason Latour, Skottie Young

Rocket Raccoon: Grounded s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Jorge Coelho

Thanos Rising s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi

Appleseed: Alpha h/c (£21-00, Kodansha) by Iou Kuroda

Attack On Titan vol 22 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

I Hear The Sunspot (£11-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino

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

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