Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week four

May 25th, 2016

Includes Tillie Walden’s A CITY INSIDE, the new BROKEN FRONTIER anthology, David Lapham’s terrifying STRAY BULLETS VOL 5 and Boulet’s autobiographical comedy.

Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve (£16-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Boulet.

YOU BURNED MY MUM?”
“It-it was an accident! She-she was phosphorescent!”

Astutely observed and phenomenally funny, expect much self-mockery!

You may be wondering how the above could possibly form part of these autobiographical entries from Boulet’s online blog, and I’m half-tempted to leave you guessing. However, the incensed is Jesus, for the incinerated is the Holy Virgin Mary – or at least a statuette of the same which glowed in the dark, was tipped into a bin and thence onto a garden bonfire.

Talk about childhood trauma!

If I were to summarise the whole it would be in two lines after Boulet’s successive string of humiliations after posing naked for a life-sized portrait for fellow Fine Art student Wilfried in Dijon, when he thinks his embarrassment is finally at an end.

“BUT: Destiny is the cruel cowboy, and you are the naive Mexican.”

He’s finally set free only for Fate, from afar, to take aim with all time in world and shoot him in the back.

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It’s this sort of lateral thinking which typifies the daily reports or reveries here which can fly off into all sorts of visual fancy, and it’s exactly this sort of toe-curling “There but for the grace of God go I” which you can relish in the privacy of your own home while chuckling in the knowledge that Paris-based Boulet found it within himself to publish them on the worldwide web first.

At which point I should point out that all art here is taken from the website. It’s been reformatted and verbally tweaked for publication.

The stories in this volume in a vast variety of full-colour treatments are from 2004 to 2005, interspersed with black and white postscripts or analyses adding further embellishments, retrospective context and balms to avoid potential litigation or diffuse angry feedback. How could you possibly be irate with someone so charming?

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Incidentally these crisply delineated and comparatively svelte inserts make a feature of Boulet’s strikingly carrot-coloured mop of hair, turning it into an instantly recognisable trademark. If he used the same process as the blog entries then they too were drawn straight onto paper in ink – no pencils – which give them both eras’ pages a vibrancy which immediately put me in mind of Dan Berry, his THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS in particular.

Other comparison points for the general tone include the more episodic recollections from Eddie Campbell’s ALEC; Pascal Girard (REUNION, PETTY THEFT), Joe Decie (THE LISTENING AGENT etc), Liz Prince (ALONE FOREVER et al) with more than a hint of Jeffrey Brown’s cartooning shorthand (FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY) behind these sleek, graceful lines.

Basically this: you’re going to be entertained.

Deadlines and money matters are a constant concern here, as they are to so many overworked and financially under-rewarded comicbook creators, and there are two early Man Versus Machine anecdotes which once more made me think of dear Eddie Campbell in – amongst so many other instances – THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.

The first involves Boulet’s battle with computers which as we all know have a habit of dying on us just when we need them the most. It is then that we need computer experts the most, and find ourselves at the mercy of rapacious corporations and their jobs-worth employees. You better pray you didn’t bully those nerds back at school. But Boulet is resourceful and Boulet is resilient. He is tenacious. Also: smug at the counter in sunglasses.

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Not so smug or adept is he when it comes to Man Versus Multi-Carriage Machines which should transport you, hitch-free, to your Swiss Comics Festival… so long as you catch them before they set off. Unfortunately Boulet like Campbell is one of the world’s worst travellers, neither adept at catching trains or planes in time. Fail and – although we tend to revere the SNCF from this side of the Channel – it appears to be open-upgrade-surcharge-season and complications like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sets of battles will be revisited many times over, but also the opportunities to make us thoroughly jealous during Festivals in both Switzerland and Korea – specifically Seoul which is six times the size of Paris (who knew?) and where absolutely everything appears to be “an hour away by bus”. In spite of the buckets of booze, Boulet manages to comport himself much better there, is swooned over by teenage school children and delights in accumulating the most highbrow and classy cultural artefacts that the country has to offer. Possibly. In fact much of the comic relief in both Sienne and Sierre comes from his constant companion at comicbook festivals, the seemingly shameless Reno, fearlessly navigating foreign territory – no matter how drunk – populated by his fellow Festival-going and most esteemed creators, on occasion at night in nothing more than his Speedos.

More seriously, we tend to assume in England and American that everything is all love and light when it comes to BD in France, individualistic creators receiving both the recognition and the consequent rewards they so justly deserve, but there is a truly upsetting account of one year at Angoulême where the more serious and significant signals are drowned out by the crass noise of L5 promoting their godawful comicbook, their queue obliterating cartoonist Juju from view. With Boulet in anthropomorphic mode, this isn’t the end of such similar travesties where fame triumphs over talent. It is to weep.

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What else is on offer? Post-Festival come-downs, late-night parties, flat-sharing, cookery, Christmas lights, the curiously conductive properties of Cambert, demonstrations, a little score-settling and a missed opportunity on Valentine’s day which ticked a recognition box for me also – in Paris too!

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‘How To Avoid Having Sex’ comes with a killer phone-centric punchline you might want to take note of lest you be caught out as well, while you may more happily connect with the French maestro rediscovering his childhood in the form of classic Amstrad games, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Fruity Frank and Boulderdash.

Throughout Boulet experiments both in terms of narrative and style, and there’s a double-page spread of ‘Grimaces’ with more rounded forms and expressions which put me in mind of animator Nick Park.

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To say that the man’s body-conscious would be misleading – he’s more body-comfortable – and there’s an anti-Charles-Atlas advert promoting a less threatening physique and a cuddlier tum which had me giggling away. But he’s certainly in complete command of the human form, presenting page after page of beautiful, beautiful figure drawing with limbs that flap, flop and hang just-so, articulating in all the right directions, at all the right angles.

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Come December this will still rank as one of my favourite books of the year for sheer expressive exuberance as Boulet battles through whatever life throws at him, tears of frustration, terror, self-pity or exhaustion never far from his eyes, cheeks or brow.

Top tip: should you ever want to terrify him at a signing – simply say with a French accent, and preferably while his head’s down in concentration – “Pour Louis…”

That should do it.

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Top tip two: Boulet is a Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes place every year during October in Kendal. At some point or another he’ll be signing. Do not say I sent you.

SLH

Buy Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve and read the Page 45 review here

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem from Tillie Walden, creator of I LOVE THIS PART, a recent Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and one of my favourite little books in the shop.

I’ve just found another, with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess. I’m three decades down her timeline and recognised the truth here, finding myself standing at one of the key crossroads in this graphic novella.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

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The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?

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“Then one day, you met her.”

Cycling through the sky.

“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.

High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.

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SLH

Buy A City Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd.

“The lines we draw.
“The lines we walk.
“The lines we repeat.
“The lines we hold.”

There’s one more line, and I love it.

From ‘The Lines’ by Owen D. Pomery of BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS etc.

Top-notch A5 anthology published by Broken Frontier whose website, ringleader Andy Oliver and his equally eloquent cohorts continue to scout out and promote to the heavens the very best emerging British talent, nurturing it as they do so. Truly they are custodians.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the flexible theme is breaking frontiers, be they physical, metaphorical or even metaphysical boundaries. Lord knows but we love to escape, and some are in more need than others.

Others, of course, delight in imposing strictures and Jess Milton’s ‘The Young Marquis De Sade’ finds the rebellious young man’s family attempting to put the fear of God into him through the firm hand of a Christian education. He does learn his lesson but it isn’t the one they intended!

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Delightfully stylish lines, faces and palette which put me in mind of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV which is not remotely inapposite, and I loved the way in which the strict and sedentary composition in class yields upon awakening to something much more turbulent and so thrilling. Not just for the reader, either…

Sticking to the subject of all things edifying, anyone who’s read Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT already knows how naughty he is, wrestling humour into the most macabre and head-shakingly embarrassing constructs then sewing it up so seamlessly you cannot help but laugh, wide-eyed and as quietly as possible lest someone – particularly a Higher Authority – overhear you.

So it is with ‘Dead Things’, the first dead thing being a brother and sister’s grandmother. Their mother impresses upon them the benefits of a Christian burial, after which they take the lesson learned into their garden.

“When we went outside to play we found some dead animals.
“A bee, an ant, and a worm and we gave them Christian funeral.
“But after a while we ran out of dead things.”

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That last line and the silent panels on either side of it constitute perfect sequential-art storytelling, the penultimate paragraph is the sort of the thing that will make you sneeze whatever you’re drinking through your nose, and the story ends with an ellipsis so innocent yet ominous that I couldn’t help but cackle.

BUTTERTUBS’ Donya Todd was never going to behave, but if you thought she might (because her art is every so pretty and… yeah) then this early exchange between a couple is a delicious reminder of why we all love her:

“I like your dog.”
“I like your skull.”

She’s not carrying one.

Refusing to conform too – or being told what she can’t do – is Adam Vian’s fortune teller who demands a window on her world so that she can at least see what lies beyond. The Mapmaker refuses, declares it impossible – that she can’t change a world with drawing or pen. Well, we all know you can – my world’s been changed by both. Before she makes her exit, however, she has this exchange with a customer following her previous prediction:

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“”You’ll meet a beautiful maiden across the ocean.” Wow. Generous. So… you crossed the ocean already?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”

You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for your future to come to you.

Two other escapees are Rozi Hathaway’s young protagonist in ‘Afloat’ and Alice Urbino’s ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but what they are escaping is very different: abject poverty and loneliness; the sensory overload of society’s non-stop judgementalism.

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The former is a deeply melancholic affair of isolation, neglect, broken windows and threadbare socks until a vision floods onto the page in oceanic colours which are fresher, more healthy and hopeful. What actually happens is open to interpretation but if there’s a whiff of mortality is still as wondrous and magical as a Studio Ghibli or Tillie Walden affair, with the child’s own origami taking on a life it its own and attracting company to boot.

There’s such a lot more to explore including an oh so satisfying page from THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING OUTSIDE’s Gill Hatcher whose nest of bunched-up baby birds debate the pros and cons of flying the coop as full-fledged independent individuals. The colourful birds, the black and white nest and the eaves it’s built under form their own free-floating panels from which speech balloons emanate in perfect union.

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Lastly, for now, the collection is closed by Rebecca Bagley’s ‘Catch’ in deep, rich and pale violets blazing with golden dreams of far more fecund fishing trips than those a child’s father manages to secure in order to feed his family. The landscapes looked down on at night from a three-quarter angle are things of wonder, lit by stars, a full moon, its light caught by clouds and a glow from the home on the hill’s windows.

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SLH

Buy Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 and read the Page 45 review here

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley…

“Hooray! They’re coming!”
“Uh-oh.”
“There’s a dead squirrel right here where the truck is going to drive!”
“If they squish it, it’ll be all over the road when the guests arrive! What do we do?”

Cue the mother of bride coming to the rescue by whipping the dead rodent out of the way with her bare hands just in time, much to the awestruck admiration of the bride-to-be! Haha, there is no way in the world my mother-in-law would have done that! This is easily my favourite Knisley work yet, packed with self-deprecating humour relating to the sheer insanity of deciding to plan and execute her own beautifully bespoke and intimately personal wedding down to the most minute detail. Still, it’s probably put her off ever doing it again so there’s one good reason not to get divorced…

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It’s been fascinating to see her improve from book to book in recent years, both in terms of her storytelling and art. I had sometimes felt with her works, increasingly less so, that we were being presented with set pieces and situations rather than a continuous narrative flow, as though perhaps she was working with a paucity of material at times or a touch uncertain how to seamlessly stitch it together. I certainly didn’t get that impression remotely here, this felt like a work of real depth and punch and flowed gloriously from cover to cover. I hope that’s not perceived as a being too critical of her previous works: RADIATOR DAYS, FRENCH MILK, RELISH – MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN, AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE and DISPLACEMENT, because I am big fan. It’s just lovely to see the ongoing progression.

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After giving new readers a quick recap of her and John’s chequered relationship background (see mainly AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE) she goes on to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of the extended lead up to the nuptials and the big day itself. She shares the many laughs and more than a few tears she experienced whilst gradually realising the full, dawning  horror of just how much is involved with planning your own wedding. You will chuckle, particularly if you’ve been through such torment yourself, just as I also did with Adrian Tomine’s SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE.

As mentioned, I feel this work is also a big step on for her again art-wise too. I have commented before on her at times sparse style, pages with just characters on, no backgrounds for example. There is far less of that here, with much more in the way of traditional panels and fully fleshed out scenes, and it really helps with the sense of continuity to the overall story. Where we do have the type of page I’m talking about, it’s done much more as an occasional punctuation, usually with some amusing visual gag involving wedding paraphernalia.

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So, what next for Miss Knisley? Assuming she keeps her maiden name for comics, that is! Well, now she’s pretty much caught up chronologically with regaling us with the trials and tribulations of her life, I would dearly love to see her take a crack at some fictional material next. Yes, it might be a stretch for someone who, as she freely admits, sees herself as autobiographical comics maker, but on the basis of this work, I’m sure she’d succeed admirably. Failing that, there’s always a potential career as a wedding planning to fall back on.

JR

Buy Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

I’ve had nightmares like this:

For some inexplicable reason you’re back at school. Having escaped its horrors years ago, you’ve returned to the grounds as a pupil and they’re at once all too familiar yet disconcertingly alien. You hardly know anyone anymore and you’re not quite sure where everything is and what’s changed.

The warring cliques and back-stabbing rat race certainly hasn’t.

Virginia Applejack ran away from her horrendous home years ago in STRAY BULLETS and if you’d forgotten why, a single encounter with her malicious mother will remind you instantly. Fortunately her years of freedom – in spite of the atrocities she has witnessed and endured – have given her a sense of distance which will stand her in sanity-saving stead and a capacity for take-no-shit violence which will make anyone standing in her way today rue it something rotten.

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But first, one friendly face in the form of Leon, who’s just got the crap kicked out of him yet again.

“I’m in the duck-and-cover group. We’re like the CIA – we hang together, but if one of us gets caught the others disavow their existence.
“The jocks are probably, like, the biggest assholes, and the most powerful. The burnouts really suck, too. Their leader is Jesse Barret. I wish him dead every Sunday in church.”

The jocks and the burnouts have grown complacent. They’ve begun to imagine themselves invulnerable, immune even to each other’s threats. But Virginia Applejack will prove an unexpected, incendiary new ingredient in their midst.

“Hey, kid. Ginny!”
“It’s your turn to bat.”

It most certainly is.

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I can promise you a great deal of catharsis, but also fear in the form of another wild card, Mike Hussey, and this volume includes that chapter. The chapter which had both Mark and myself wide-eyed a decade ago that Lapham would even go there: a consensual sexual experiment between two teenagers with catastrophic results both for their friendship and for anyone encountering Mike Hussey ever again. Whatever you’re thinking, David Lapham will up the stakes then and thereafter, leaving you cowering away in the corner, wincing.

Based on an eight-panel grid, the storytelling could not be more accessible to newcomers to comics, and its clarity is matched by his attention to detail. His portraits are extraordinarily vivid and individualistic given his economy of line. A single panel of a crowded party can contain more characterisation than you’d believe possible or is remotely necessary. There’s also an intense physicality to the forms. I sat staring at several jaw bones for ages, marvelling at the skull I can could see and almost touch beneath the skin – or rather the contoured line demarking that skin!

Critics harp on about the complexity of Alan Moore’s best plot structures – and rightly so – but it is frankly insane how intricately mapped all the confluent elements are in the whole of STRAY BULLETS and even within this single, stand-alone strand. Ha! I’ve just called a whopping, eleven-chapter chunk “a strand”, but that’s how epic this project is. All of it is connected, skipping backwards and forwards in time – which is how Lapham manages to mine more from characters with a lot of life left in them even after biting the dust yonks ago – but here it’s particularly clear how cleverly cause and effect plays its awful part in every element which builds towards crescendo after crescendo. If there’s a life lesson to be learned here it’s that you reap what you sow: it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass or in the ass of someone you care for.

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And that’s another thing: after everything she’s gone through, Virginia Applejack still cares. So does poor Leon. If nobody cares then nor will you. Everyone else is repugnant.

For far more on Lapham’s actual craft, please see my previous reviews, particularly of the STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES edition of which this contains the final eleven issues, otherwise it’s just me repeating myself.

This collection now fills the one remaining gap in the individual STRAY BULLETS softcovers, meaning you can go straight on to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: THE KILLERS, which was the first in the new series launched the other year.

This is the only crime I rank as highly as Brubaker’s and Phillips’.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla.

A lovely little number for all ages which should appeal to fantasy-loving families including fans of Jeff Smith’s BONE, this is light on text for those whom it frightens.

Not-very-old ones can marvel instead at the beautiful designs like the huge, all-encompassing head-dresses and masks – even the beasts bear masks! – as well as the sheer spectacle of a fellow, spirited youngster who will not be daunted nor nay-said in spite of being tiny, clumsy and a foundling outsider.

Its scope is potentially enormous and I would be far from surprised to discover in a decade’s time that this was but a prologue. Which is to say that this first instalment comes with many more questions than answers.

Ripe with legend and lore, it tells of the Rook Men’s animosity towards light and so love of a “halfway beast” which stole it from the world, hid it in a whelk shell then swallowed that whole.

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Without the sun’s life-giving rays the tribes of the two rivers found themselves hard-pressed to forage and hunt in a perpetual winter and ousted from the forest they’d once made their home. Fortunately they had a champion in the form of Mali Mani who had defeated the monster with a bell and sword, but was swallowed by the forest and kept incarcerated there by the Rook Men.

So it’s still pretty cold.

Tomorrow our tiny Bali should be embarking on The Smokewalk, his adoptive River Tribe’s rite of passage, but his centre of gravity is considered too low to even lift a spear let alone throw it accurately. Lakasi has a point there. But Bali sets off anyway late at night and of his own accord in search of an ancient ruin discovered earlier by accident in that same deep wood. And in doing so, he may be beginning his journey anyway…

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Some small parts of the storytelling I found it difficult to discern – in a largely wordless comic you need maximum clarity – but I’ll put it down to Bali being caught in the heat of the chaotic moments, all of which were still beautiful to behold. Young minds are more dextrous than mine anyway, and will move swiftly, eagerly on, relishing Bali’s fortitude and resourcefulness and refusal to back down or give in when danger rears its multiple clawing, scratching and intimidating heads. Also, I know from experience that I’m no more competent with a javelin, either.

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The pictorial wall paintings and pillar engravings are glorious, as was the elaborately ornamented fireplace. Look around carefully and you may notice a small entrance slashed at by much bigger claws sharp enough to make their carved mark on stone. Visually this world is very well built.

Plus there was an element of Playstation’s Shadow Of The Colossus in one particular encounter and Disney’s Fantasia in another sequence.

HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola’s a fan.

SLH

Buy Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues’ full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.

Of LAZARUS VOL 3: CONCLAVE, I wrote:

“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“…”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”
“Please.”

A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.

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If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.

Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

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Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.

LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.

The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.

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And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!

But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.

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This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.

Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!

Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?

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While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:

“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“Yes.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”

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Of LAZARUS VOL 4: POISON, this:

“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”

That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana.  He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”

There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.

Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.

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Previously in LAZARUS:

In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.

It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.

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Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”

The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.

And now… for the shooty bits.

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Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.

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The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.

Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.

“Family Above All.”

SLH

Buy Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Archangel #1 (£3-99, IDW) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…

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

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

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

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Fantastic opener from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, I’m certainly very intrigued. This has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some great bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET. Gibson can certainly write comics, I have to say, based on this first issue.

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The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually.

[Editor’s interference: So true! Wait until you see the opening page’s bomb-blasted buildings. Combined with Tom Palmer’s as ever extraordinary inks, the textures are absolutely Lark. This series gets a triple thumbs-up from me, but then I was never too brilliant at biology. Gibson introduces a great many process pieces in the back, with gorgeous Guice character sketches.]

JR

Buy Archangel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera…

“It’s okay Rees, I removed your name from the 140.”
“Okay! You got me! You caught me, all right! I added myself to the 140 list… But you need me, Rubenstein. I programmed the app. You need me… You… Oh Christ… You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”

… CRACK…

“One hundred forty characters. Now it can begin.”

Larry Ferrel is rich. Very rich. To the tune of 17 billion dollars, made through building social media platforms. He is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Which is why he has decided to donate his money. All of it. To 140 lucky people. That’s 120 million dollars each… I should probably add for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, 140 is the number of characters that a single tweet can contain, presumably explaining the conceit of the title.

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But given it all starts with the execution of one of Larry’s loyal – well, not-so-loyal, actually – employees, by his gun-toting right-hand man Rubenstein, wearing an Aztec priest’s golden mask, the 120 million dollars is, one would suspect, going to come with a few strings attached. Such as possibly not living long enough to spend it.

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And indeed once the 140 are all flown to Ferrel’s tropical island by a fleet of private jets the first catch rapidly starts to become painfully clear…

“You have all received an app on your phones and computers. It states the number of you left alive, currently 139…
“If the number shrinks to, say 138, your app will register this… your share will increase.
“And hypothetically, of course, were only one of you to be left alive, that individual would receive all of my money.
“In such a hypothetical scenario, that lone survivor would receive 18.42 billion dollars.
“All he would have to do is kill 138 people.
“But it’s not as if any of you would be willing to do that.
“Is it?”

So, I initially thought, we were going to be in very familiar Battle Royale-style territory, and indeed we are to a degree, especially given Ferrel’s stipulation that once he’s passed on to the great unknown and his loot been divvied up, if one of the 140 dies their money will be automatically returned to Ferrel’s estate and shared out again amongst the remaining survivors. At least that’s what Rubenstein says Ferrel wants… I can’t help getting a strong sense he might have his own deranged agenda going on, though. I mean, anyone wondering around in a terrifying shiny mask waving a weapon around is probably up to no good. But there’s a lot, lot more happening as well, such as the appearance of talking animal spirits to at least two of the ‘winners’. Quite how that factors in is, at this point, a complete mystery.

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Then there’s the fact that the 140 don’t seem to be have been picked entirely at random, if at all. For example there’s a cross-dressing, blade-prosthetic-wearing, facially tattooed Japanese author who has noticed there are startling similarities between the plot of one of his novels and their current predicament. When he challenges Ferrel on this and receives acknowledgement that indeed he took inspiration from the book, it provokes the author to tell Ferrel he will do everything in his power to ensure the actual ending of the book doesn’t happen. Ominous.

My personal favourite, though, is the heavily armed former special forces solider who believes God is speaking to him and the Dragon who needs to be combated is everywhere. And indeed the final issue of this arc is mainly a flashback concerning his chequered history. The phrase wild card certainly springs to mind! This issue was an interesting change of pace and I suspect will be repeated from time to time with different characters. So by the end of this first volume we’ve probably only really been properly introduced to four or five of the 140, and we haven’t, ahem, lost too many yet. Just as well because I’m really enjoying this and I’d like it to run to several volumes! I can also see exactly why it was almost immediately picked up for a television show.

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Art-wise, I can see some hints of Frank Quitely in Michael Dowling’s work, but the person I am mostly strongly minded of is Arthur MAZEWORLD (and sadly currently out of print BUTTONMAN) Ranson. It’s in the black linework, particularly the faces. Great opening volume, and this is exactly the high quality material Vertigo need to get back to putting out consistently if they want to seriously compete with the likes of Image.

JR

Buy Unfollow vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Incomplete Works (£14-99, Alternative Comics) by Dylan Horrocks

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Ethan Van Sciver

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree

Club Life In Moomin Valley (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frederic Bezian

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

They’re Not Like Us vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

Black Science vol 4: Godworld s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Wayward vol 3: Out From The Shadows (£12-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Octopus Pie vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Daredevil Vs Punisher: Means And Ends s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by David Lapham

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky & Erica Henderson

Crossed vol 16 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Max Bemis & Fernando Melek, German Erramouse, Mauro Vargas

Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Rick And Morty vol 2 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman, Marc Ellerby & CJ Cannon & Andrew Maclean

Steven Universe vol 2 (£14-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Superman Adventures vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott McCloud, Mark Millar, others & various

Batgirl vol 2: Family Business s/c (£12-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher &  Babs Tarr, Bengal

Birthright vol 3: Allies s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 1: Call To Adventure s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 2: Homecoming s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

News!

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ITEM! Buy Tickets for Dave McKean’s live multimedia performance of BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal this Saturday 28th May 2016!

I have a copy of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival limited edition of the graphic novel and it is glorious!

If you want a copy of that limited edition (only 300 copies printed), as things stand, you will have to be in Kendal, Cumbria, this weekend. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for the regular edition from Dark Horse which will launched at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, October 14-16 2016.

What? Do you think I’m holding out on you? That’s the only way to guarantee yourself a copy!

But look, you can get it signed! For free!

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ITEM! Dave McKean BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel talk and book signing is FREE on Sunday May 29th 2016 but you will need to book tickets here.

There will, possibly, be a rather fun and most certainly exclusive news update on this graphic novel this time next week, right here.

So maybe I am holding out on you.

Hahahahahaha!

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– Stephen

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We appear every year, exclusively.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week three

May 18th, 2016

Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke, Farel Dalrymple, Neill Cameron, Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, Malachi Ward, Michel Rabagliati, Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma, Ellis, Ennis, Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, more!

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

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

 – William Blake, from The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

Glorious!

An inspired and inspirational black and white classic from 2003 – with some pages coloured for the Italian edition by Fazi Editore – which proudly proclaims freedom, individuality and self-expression.

It comes with a double-barrelled defiance towards those who would dilute, control or own others including the young outright.

Here is the sinister, manipulative and disingenuous Mr Grimshaw from “a magnificent corporation” who has already ruined the dreams of those with long-term, creative goals by appealing to their immediate gratification. One of them is now living on the street. Another, I infer, is so bitter that he seeks to spite others while wearing a ball and chain.

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“Gentleman, really listen to what your heart is saying. Give her your time.”

In front of the children – whom he has weaned away from someone with something to say – he produces the head of Medusa:

“Try to be rock and roll
“Throw trash on the ground.
“You will look cool.
“Walk slow. Act tough.
“Don’t think too much.”

For that would be inconvenient.

“Maybe even smoke a cigarette.”

The ultimate in poisonous, corporate indoctrination.

Please don’t think this is heavy. It is as light as an air-born feather and full of space, although its images do allude to that very space between buildings and the light which is lost under their sun-blocking edifices.

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Down below, the grottiness is seen from ground-level. Ground-level…? Dumpster-level from which the trashed are lucky to escape.

There are so many moments, however, when the protagonists rise above it in ways which will make you wonder, and the collected edition is introduced by the sort of detailed three-dimensional, illustrative map of the city island, full of architectural detail and surrounding geographical features, which makes the imagination soar. How many more stories are left to be told?

Here’s what our Mark wrote back in 2003:

“No pop, no guns and no war, but a dreamy meandering through an urban landscape. An angel falls to earth and asks for his wings to be chain-sawed off, leaving stumps behind to remind him of his former life. Little Sinclair, smart and out of place in the city with his sharp shirt and bow-tie, adopts the wings and ties them to his back. It’s not every day that you manage to scavenge such fine quarry. Fleeing from a gang of kids he finds himself on a precipice and finds that the wings still work, even when borrowed.

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“That’s just one of the magical touches of this book. You get a roaming mad monk, a huge flying fish (with glasses) and Emily, Sinclair’s little sister, who is becoming a local star with her band, The Emilies.

“The art captures the grit and grime of a big, impersonal city, managing to strike a balance of realism and magic that stops the characters being lifeless illustrations. For a first major work it’s impressive if rambling but marks Dalrymple as one to watch out for.”

As prescient as ever, our Mark. Since then I give you:

THE WRENCHIES, IT WILL ALL HURT (which I thought we’d reviewed), DELUSIONAL and so much more.

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Throughout I was put in mind of Eddie Campbell, specifically in this case BACCHUS.

It’s not just names like Sunshine Montana, but the sight of pint-sized, debonair Sunshine Montana in his old-fashioned top hat and tails wandering around a contemporary city in search of his errant friend, Percy the floating, bespectacled goldfish. When Sunshine Montana opens the basement door oh so dubiously he is a spitting image of Campbell’s Eyeball Kid – albeit with but the regular requisite complement of eyes. And they have a reputation which seems to precede them.

“Hello, Sunny,” says The Rich Kid.
“May I?” asks Sunny, opening The Kid’s car door.
“Not if you’re going to make fun of me.”
“I would rather make fun of someone who has a sense of humour.”

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If you think that Montana is hitching a lift, I’d remind you of the more famous SUNNY in comics, the stranded Sunny Datsun which fuels the kids imagination. Here too the car is suspended on breeze blocks, going nowhere. It’s the perfect final panel to any page, neatly undercutting everything you’d supposed that far.

I’m delighted to report that it’s that sort of graphic novel.

SLH

Buy Pop Gun War: Gift and read the Page 45 review here

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke…

“I knew it, I knew it.”
“Bundo’s not in his house.”
“Maybe the big ball took him away with it.”
“If we’re lucky. Or maybe Bundo’s a complete idiot.”
“Call the Institute and tell them to cancel their visit.”
“I did, but they still want to send someone. A scientist, at least.”
“I still want people to stay away from the spot where the ball sat. We don’t know what this scientist will find out.”
“Yes, sheriff.”

Well, little did we all know that this was to be Darwyn Cooke’s swansong, but what a glorious and triumphant swansong it is. When I heard that Vertigo, amongst the many new titles, were putting out a mini-series penned by Gilbert Hernandez and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, I knew it was inevitably going to be something wonderful and so it proved.

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The story, featuring a strange glowing orb that appears and vanishes in a remote coastal South American village – apparently at random, sometimes seemingly taking people with it – is a humorous, quirky take on the classic alien invasion theme. Or hopefully the prevention thereof… In addition to the vanishing locals, the orb is also prone to the odd explosion and has blinded a group of children. They don’t seem to be remotely distressed though, strangely enough…

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Meanwhile, how does the sudden appearance of a mysterious beautiful woman tie in with the orb? Everyone seems very willing to help her, perhaps a little too willing. Well, except for the local femme fatale who’s none too happy to see someone with even greater powers of persuasion pop up on her pitch! Sure, it could be the classic small town good manners at work, but it seems like there might be a little more to it than that. Throw in a very bizarre pair of not-so-undercover CIA agents and a smooth young scientist sent to investigate for good measure and it’s a curious scenario indeed.

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Gilbert is on top form here, you can tell he is having great fun writing the various characters and their tangled, titillating parochial lives. That’s his stock in trade, mind you! Darwyn Cooke, meanwhile, is simply on fire artistically. It’s the slightly softer style he applied when working on his non-PARKER material, such as CATWOMAN with Ed Brubaker or the annoyingly currently out of print DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, (softcover reprint coming in July!) that you always felt was full of such fun.

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A mention for colourist Dave Stewart, who along with Elizabeth Breitweiser, is the best in the business. Between them they perfectly capture that sunshine filled, sleepy backwater feel. It made me want to go mix myself a margarita! The sort of place where nothing of any great significance ever happens, so every little bit of intrigue and gossip, true or otherwise, is salaciously devoured, before being promptly forgotten. The perfect place for an alien invasion beachhead to establish itself perhaps…

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JR

Buy Twilight Children s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron…

Published June 2nd!

“ALEX! FREDDY! COME ON! We should have left five minutes ago!”
“But Dad! Freddy tore my comic!”
“It’s my comic!”
“No, you swapped it me for my Ankylosaurus!”
“That was for a lend, not for keeps!”
“Well then I want my Ankylosaurus back!”
“BOYS! We’re going to be late! Never mind about the comic!”
“But what about the Ankylosaurus?”
“JUST GET DOWN HERE!”
“Jeez, Dad, you don’t have to shout.”
“Robot hearing, remember?”

First day back at school for a new term and after the comic capers, of course Mega Robo Bros Alex and his younger brother Freddy miss the bus. Dad knows he’s going to be in deep trouble with Mum, a government scientist, as the boys are only too happy to remind him. The only alternative is letting the boys fly there unsupervised, after a stern talking-to about not fighting on the way… It couldn’t go that wrong surely?

“… Three hours late, and completely soaking wet when they got here. It’s not a great start to term, is it?”
“I really am terribly sorry, Headteacher. I had to, um, go and fish them out of the Thames. There was an incident.”
“Sorry, miss. You see Freddy tore my comic…”
“It’s my comic!”

Haha, that comic gag is a great running joke that keeps on giving throughout.

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Well, this might just be my favourite PHOENIX PRESENTS story so far. It has all the requisite ridiculous humour that the kids demand, but it’s a really great story as well. I would actually put this on a par with the likes of THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN as an exceptional all-ages read.

Alex and Freddy are robots: the only sentient ones in existence, created by the late Doctor Roboticus. After his mysterious passing they were adopted by Doctor Sharma and her husband. But just like every single set of new parents, Doctor and Mr. Sharma had absolutely no idea just what they were letting themselves in for…

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Neil has captured the essence of two continually bickering, mischievous brothers perfectly here. It just so happens these battling boys can shoot lasers beams from their hands, punch through walls and fly through the sky! Mainly whilst arguing with each other! They’ll need those skills to rescue the public from sky trains plunging towards the pavement, rampaging robotic dinosaurs roaming the National History Museums and much more besides. For it seems someone, or something, with an ulterior motive is testing them… and it’s not just the bullies at their school who are determined to verbally torment them for being different. It does take great restraint not to zap a bully with your in-built laser, mind you…

I continually found myself chuckling at Neill’s dialogue, particularly the ever exuberant Freddy with his ridiculous made-up songs involving poo. He is quite the expert at picking the most inopportune moment to debut them to his parents. And I can completely understand exactly how his brother Alex spends half his time protectively looking out for Freddy then the other half wanting to exasperatedly atomise him. A typical annoying younger sibling, then! Together though, when engaged in their dynamic duelling against all and sundry they make a most formidable team, with Freddy prolifically popping out pithy punchlines in a manner a certain Peter Parker would approve of! The interior cover sums it up perfectly with the pair of them stood outside their front door, Freddy excitedly blasting a couple of feet into the air, heels clicking, fists pumping, Alex just staring at him, hands in pockets, irritated.

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This is brilliant fun, a supremely well written romp, that also has much to say about tolerance for our fellow man, and err… robot, and it’s just as fantastically and vibrantly illustrated. The action sequences are a joy to behold with about as much carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem as I think I’ve ever seen on page after page of comics. Neill’s future London with lanes of flying, red double-decker buses and robotic Coldstream guards replete with bearskin hats looks a fabulously crazy place. Oh, and his take on the future Royal Family made me grin very broadly indeed. I look forward to the next volume!

JR

Buy Mega Robo Bros vol 1  and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£10-99 UK s/c, 18-99 US h/c, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo.

Have you ever had trouble with your scalp? Itchy? Nits? Dandruff, perhaps?

“It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash, but then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the Emergency Ward, but they screamed and threw bedpans at me.”

Poor Zelma Stanton! She’s a librarian from the Bronx and, after hesitating on its threshold, she appears to have brought quite the infestation to Doctor Strange’s architecturally outré mansion. But then it was never very safe in the first place.

“The Sanctum Sanctorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoteric and mystical phenomena in existence.
“It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step.
“In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash Hell on Earth.
“And then there’s the refrigerator. Seriously, don’t get anywhere near my refrigerator.”

Fruity and flamboyant, this is a comedy accessible to all. Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, it has a tried and tested appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum.

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But since we are in the business of beginnings: here, let me help you.

Doctor Stephen Strange was once a surgeon.

In a way he still is. It’s just that the cancers he cuts from infested individuals are now more mystical in nature and often come with a great deal of grumpy attitude, several sets of serrated teeth and breath that stinks of sulphur. But I believe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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As a highly skilled and sought-after medical doctor Stephen had an ego like nobody’s business until an accident crippled the nerves in his hands. He searched the furthest and most inaccessible corners of the globe for a miracle cure – which is an odd thing to do for a man of science or even basic geometry – and found instead The Ancient One, after which he earned his place as Master Of The Mystic Arts and the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

“The nerve damage never healed properly.
“My hands still ache and tremble most of the time.
“Which is why my handwriting is beyond atrocious, even for a doctor.”

Anyway, as our story opens, instead of an ego he now has a libido, even when confronted by an insectoid laydee sucking away at the soul of a comatose boy. What does our Stephen Strange do?

“Quietly casting a spell of romantic divination to confirm my suspicions. I think she’s into me.”

Hmmm. I think the ego’s intact.

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He cures this poor lad but is then set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.

So there’s the soul eaters, the leech and now those ravenous mouths growing out of Zelma Stanton’s head, wreaking havoc all over the mansion. His grimoires are dying, his magic is failing. Something is seriously wrong.

What is wrong is this: Stephen has forgotten a very important lesson taught by the Ancient One long, long, ago. The laws of physics apply equally to magic: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“The harder you punch, the more it hurts you.
“If a normal punch takes a physical toll on the one who throws it, what do you imagine the price of casting a spell to be?”

For years now Doctor Strange has been casting defensive and offensive spells willy-nilly. In the back of his mind he’s known there is a price to be paid but he’s brushed all that under the mystical carpet and buried his head in the sand. And now it is far too late.

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From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, this is by far the best book of DOCTOR STRANGE I’ve ever read. Aaron has learned Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE lessons well: if you want to make superhero comics more mainstream with a much wider appeal, then sever them from extraneous continuity no one can keep up with, make them fun, full of foibles and a humanity we can all comprehend.

It is also breath-takingly beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman’s DEATH?

Chris Bachalo brings you exquisitely crisp if not brittle, late-summer leaves and colours them to senescent perfection. Yes, even the season is in synch with the story. They’re being tugged from the trees opposite a mansion which you might malinger outside as well.

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Within you’ll find precarious towers of leather-bound books, stacked like a spiral staircase free-floating in space. The actual staircases have been designed by Escher.

The dying realms are truly ashen. It might be nuclear but it’s certainly not a natural winter, more like a volcano erupted across the void, its particles dispersed on invisible, cosmic currents to smother all colour in dust.

Something or someone has harboured a long-festering grudge against magic and is now taking revenge. Across the dimensions it has travelled, executing Sorcerer Supremes, sending waves of pathogenic pestilence ahead of itself, eating away at the fabric of hyper-reality and bleeding its energies dry.

“When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm.
“So if these are still just the birds…. what the hell is that storm going to look like?”

Unpleasant.

“Some days it sucks to be Strange.”

SLH

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c and read the Page 45 review here

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward…

Thirteen stylishly illustrated time-twisting science fiction tales from Brandon Graham’s PROPHET and ISLAND contributor and cohort. This is much more understated material than the mentalism that is PROPHET. Each yarn here is more of a vignette, though I did start to realise with great delight that a few of the stories do… overlap (I think might be the right choice of word) even if the protagonists don’t remotely realise it. It’s relatively gently told stuff, but I do mean that in a positive sense. Both in terms of the overall feel of the collection and some of the art, I was actually minded of Ethan Reilly’s POPE HATS much more than, say, Box Brown’s equally enjoyable AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, which is actually the sort of sanity shaking shenanigans I was expecting.

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So whilst the stories are ostensibly science fiction, they are all really character pieces, set against the backdrop of timey-wimey weirdness. In more than a few cases, it has all gone horribly pear-shaped and the characters are somewhere on the sliding scale of trying to pick up the pieces / make the best of a bad situation / desperately avoid a rather painful demise. Some of the stories are definitely more convoluted than others in terms of plot, but overall it’s an excellent eclectic spread of different things you can do with a loose conceit.

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There are some substantial variations on the art style from story to story too which was a nice touch. Half the tales are black and white, the other half are coloured. A couple reminded me of Chester Brown, some of Joe Daly, also Ethan Reilly as mentioned, plus a bit of Matt Kindt here and there, especially on the coloured strips, and even Ray Fawkes. Malachi is clearly a very versatile and talented artist. Highly recommended.

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JR

Buy From Now On and read the Page 45 review here

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati.

An ancient review from when this was first published, this particular graphic novel keeps disappearing off our website, we know not why! Honestly: if you see it, snag it, before it slips our hooks again.

I’ve never read any of the previous PAUL books but Mark was deeply enamoured, and now I know why: Rabagliati is a French-Canadian Andi Watson in thought and word and visual deed. Indeed this could almost be a prequel to LITTLE STAR, with Paul and Lucie expecting a baby, along with their friends Peter and France.

I know the titles sound as if they’re from some early-learning Ladybird range (PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS, PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB etc.), but nothing could be further from these considered musings, memories and affectionate tributes to those Paul knows and loves. It’s all about how we interact with one another and – as it is with Watson in BREAKFAST AFTERNOON, LITTLE STAR and SLOW NEWS DAY – work is high on the agenda, which is only natural given that we spend so much of our lives hard at it.

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Paul’s brother-in-law, Clément, for example, works in the aviation industry which used to be about a whole team of enthusiastic specialists using their innovative nous to design and build new Canadian aircraft. But then the Production Specialists – bean counters with no knowledge of or interest in the aviation industry – were brought in from outside, and the layoffs began in their hundreds, followed by further mechanisation, just-in-time production, inventory reduction and subcontracting abroad. Sound familiar?*

Similarly, Paul has seen his own work as a designer change dramatically over the last twenty years following the rise of the multipurpose Mac during the late ’80s and ’90s, with the consequent loss of jobs in the different disciplines of colour separation, typography etc. The production office would be somewhere for the exuberant exchange of ideas, knowledge, projects or just human chit-chat. Now Paul works alone in his studio on his Apple Mackintosh. He doesn’t even have to venture out for research: he can do it all online.

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These little histories of himself and his friends are sprinkled throughout the main narrative as Paul takes a break from work and leaves Montreal for the pastoral pleasures of fishing, where he and Lucie find Lucie’s sister Monique, her husband Clément (quite the expert angler) and their two daughters already relaxing on the lakeside. Even here, however, it’s surprisingly artificial, and the tranquillity is occasionally rocked by a lack of basic consideration or – in the case of a couple of young delinquents overindulged by their parents – by acts of shocking barbarity. Even the rain halts play for a while (though I have to disagree here – rain on water? I’ve been in heaven!), but none of this prepared me for what suddenly happens next. In hindsight it’s foreshadowed, but I won’t say with what, although I’ve done a little of it myself in this review.

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What I will say is that within pages of beginning the book I had completely forgotten the existence of any prologue, let alone what it was (it centres around a church collection box), and it was only with the last two or three pages that I remembered…

So, very highly recommended and a new discovery for me. I shall have to go back and read the other PAUL books now.

*Immigration, historically, has never been the cause of mass unemployment. It’s mechanisation – technology – and always has been since the Industrial Revolution.

SLH

Buy Paul Goes Fishing and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Darko Macan, Paul Jenkins, Dave Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, Andy Lanning, Javier Pulido, James Romberger, Frank Teran, Dave Gibbons.

Once upon a time – when DC was cherry-picking, reprinting bits and bobs rather than the whole series in order – there was a HELLBLAZER book called HAUNTED which reprinted the first slither here by Ellis and Higgins, but this is much meatier and grows increasingly rank. So sordid are some of these additional tales that one can only shake one’s head at DC’s decision initially to spike the short story ‘Shoot’ by Ellis & Jimenez which has since seen publication and does so once again.

It was at the time a long overdue return to the roots of a very British, anti-establishment title which mixed occult horror with the very real and repugnant nightmares of racism, homophobia, homelessness, other assorted social deprivations, callousness, cruelty and cover-ups. Ellis immediately stamped upon it a recognisable spirit of place.

“And all over London the sirens start and the cries go out and the tears don’t dry and everyone looks up to find that the sky’s so stained with streetlight that you can’t see the stars anymore.”

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John Constantine, working class wide-boy and ruthless manipulator – a middle-aged trouble-magnet in a mustard-coloured trenchcoat – returns to London to find that an ex-girlfriend has made the headlines… as the victim of a particularly gruesome, sexually charged murder. Her ghost haunts the playground where she was happiest, before she’d met John, before he gave her the first taste of magic which may have led her to down the road to her death. Pulling in favours from Scotland Yard (for which there is always a price to be paid) Constantine comes into possession of her diary which details her seduction by an Aleister Crowley aficionado who began manipulating her perception, alienating her from her friends and using her for his own occult purposes.

For someone with John’s esoteric knowledge it’s not hard to figure out how, what or why. He even knows the who. But he’s going to have to call in a lot of favours and get his own and others’ hands dirty before he can lay Isabel to rest.

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Ellis evokes a London whose very foundations are soaked in spilled blood, and populates the city with a fresh cast of supporting characters or – as regular HELLBLAZER readers refer to them – victims-in-waiting, for hanging around with Constantine is lethal. Nor does he waste any time in shoving the boot into Labour’s successively right-wing Home Secretaries through the mouth of dodgy copper Watford:

“Things get worse every bleedin’ day. It’s like Maggie never left office. Lovely jubbly.”

It’s this string of friendship fatalities which PREACHER’s Garth Ennis and THE NAO OF BROWN’s Glyn Dillon exhume in the back of this collection when Constantine reflects on the sorry circumstances that led Gary Lester, Emma, Nigel and Rick The Vic into John’s poisonous path. If anyone can ill-afford to become sentimental now, it’s Constantine. Thank goodness his Kit got away.

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Before that Ellis further examines the power of storytelling and depths of credulity: with artist Tim Bradstreet when John interrupts a writer’s account of how he came into contact with the crib of the anti-Christ stillborn a year before baby Jesus popped unopposed onto the scene; and with Marcelo Frusin as another scribe seeks a scoop on the serpentine heritage of our beloved royal family. Oh, and I mentioned a price to be paid, didn’t I? In a bedroom in Hackney a man has taken eight days to kill two low-level thieves in very imaginative ways. Landlords, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted and read the Page 45 review here

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma.

“Baboushka:
“You might think she’s a hero.
“That would be a mistake.”

The back and interior covers screamed James Bond title sequence. We’ll return to that in a minute. I thought it was terrific marketing but prefer the honesty of cover art like this which reflects what lies within.

From the writer of UMBRAL, WASTELAND, THE FUSE and its colourist on full art duties here, this a marked departure from Johnston’s other espionage outings like THE COLDEST CITY. As Antony mentioned a few months ago THE COLDEST CITY’s star “pulls a gun precisely three times, only shoots once, and doesn’t hit a thing”. Baboushka will be shooting, hitting, poisoning and blowing many, many things – and by ‘things’ I mean people.

“I promise you, these earrings are dynamite.”

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She’ll be doing so swiftly, methodically and effectively without the art once losing its femininity. Chankhamma’s faces put me in mind of Kate Brown (FISH + CHOCOLATE, TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc) and she luxuriates in the Contessa’s scarlet high heels, tiered pearl necklace and flesh-coloured dress then throws everything she’s got – just like the security guards – at Baboushka in the field.

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What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that the first chapter’s 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn’t part of the main event – it isn’t the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. That will come later on a luxury liner which the general public – innocent, pleasure-seeking holiday makers – are going to rue boarding. There the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network) are not to assassinate the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets.

“You’ll have all my routes and contacts, across the whole world. Names and details of every politician I ever squeezed, every government I ever sold to or blackmailed.”

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All these are very much on the table for the highest bidder – including a sub-Saharan warlord, a European gang chief, a member of the Yazuka and a certain Scottish master thief whom the Contessa’s bumped into before – but Felton would never sell to the Americans. He might, however, sell them to the notorious mafiya boss Baboushka if she came out of retirement. Guess which guise Contessa Annika Malikova used to go by back in Russia?

The prologue, then, is a signature move designed to attract Felton’s attention, working precisely like those James Bond opening action-fests leading straight into the films’ title sequences as Codename Baboushka comes out of retirement in spectacular fashion.

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So far, so good. Unfortunately no one’s prepared for piracy – and that’s pretty prevalent right now. I hope the Contessa can keep Felton alive…

As a young-teen-orientated thriller akin to Antony’s Alex Rider graphic novels with elements of a blazing Tomb Raider adventure, this works very well. It’s emphatically not Brubaker & Epting’s VELVET – there’s far too much melodrama and explication in the dialogue for that – but it could very tempt some of the action-orientated manga merchants to look west.

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SLH

Buy Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

ODY-C vol 2: Sons Of The Wolf s/c (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Apocrypha Now h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jun Maeda & Yuriko Asami

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 13 – End Of Days (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Parsley Girl: Carrots (£6-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Matthew Swan

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley

Star Wars: Kanan vol 2 – First Blood (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Weisman & Pepe Larraz, Mark Brooks

Unfollow vol 1  (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera

Artificial Flowers (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Rachael Smith

Zodiac Starforce: By The Power Of Astra s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

Batman War Games vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Dylan Horrocks, Bruce Jones, Andersen Gabrych & various

The Flash By Geoff Johns vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins

The Joker: Endgame s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Wonder Woman vol 7: War Torn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Meredith Finch & David Finch, Goran Sudzuka

All New Inhumans vol 1: Global Outreach s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, James Asmus & Stefano Casselli

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

The Tick: The Complete Edlund (£26-99, NEC) by Ben Edlund

Blue Exorcist vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

One Piece vol 78 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

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

News!

Philip Pullman

ITEM! Philip Pullman on Why I Love Comics including excerpts from his series in THE PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY!

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ITEM! Diversity in comics featuring GIANT DAYS, LUMBERJANES, THE BACKSTAGERS etc in The New York Times!

That’s not some token article, either, it addresses women and LGBT content in comics not just for adults. Hooray!

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ITEM! Comicbook creators! Hiveworks is now accepting submissions until 15th June!

“Hiveworks is a creator owned publisher and studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses. We serve as mentors and as a home for many comics.”

Opportunity knocks etcetera!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week two

May 11th, 2016

Featuring Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Kieron Gillen & Ignacio Calero, Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott, Sarah Andersen, Simon Hanselmann, Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen, Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood, Pierre Maurel, Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono, Brian K Vaughn & Steve Skroce and more!

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott with Chiara Arena.

“You going to invite me in?”
“That’s vampires, Alex… Besides, the house knows you.”
“You might’ve set wards.”
“Not yet.”
“That didn’t sound like a joke… Ro? Are you serious?”
“I’m being targeted. Someone… someone is coming for me.”

There’s something about the way that Detective Rowan Black announces her presence at the hostage scene. As she settles into the headphones and mike, her eyes become hooded, staring into a distance measured not just in metres, but in years. Many, many years.

“I’m here” comes with far more weight than a mere “I can hear you.”

Less than an hour ago, she wasn’t anywhere near hostages in the burger bar on McKenna.

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Less than an hour ago Detective Rowan Black was celebrating the balance of the spirit and the flesh, the cycle of death and rebirth, “The Lady and the Lord entwined and entranced, beloved and belonging…” with her the rest of her coven, sequestered in a forest under the crisp light of a full white moon…

Then her mobile phone went off.

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From the writer of LAZARUS. Had I not known, then I would never have guessed it. I don’t mean to impugn the quality here; I mean to commend a writer’s refreshing versatility. I can perceive little connection between the two in style or content, only in the depth of research involved.

For fans of RACHEL RISING we are once more in the realms of witches. Witches who historically have not been well received, so obvious Rowan’s department hasn’t the first fucking clue.

This deliberately, specifically, seeks to juxtapose the contemporary, the clinical, the procedural and the professional with the personal, the spiritual, the historical and arcane which may seem completely at odds or, if not merely at odds then worse: dangerously misaligned.

And now these worlds will collide.

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Oh, you may think on first reading that Nicola Scott’s painted art with its deep motorcycle tyre treads and perfect pelvises is monochromatic, but look again! For a start it’s certainly not black and white, but the softest of warm, natural colours like sable, rabbit pelt and antler grey. The architecture’s very plush. Nobody’s short of a few bob here, not least our Rowan – wait until you witness Rowan’s cubbyhole of grimoires and other esoteric objects! – who probably couldn’t afford all that on a Portsmouth Police pay packet, no.

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Yes, the colouring is restrained, reserved for maximum impact during moments of magic and sudden conflagration when Chiara Arena really lets rip. When that protective ward is finally cast it is breath-taking, sublime. When Rowan glamours a blank silver zippo lighter – freshly engraved with a distracting sigil to disguise it as the police evidence she’s about to purloin – it glows a feint turquoise which only the reader and Rowan can see. Nichole certainly can’t even though she’s looking straight at it. I love implication and inference, don’t you?

But when the hostage taker has secured Rowan alone at the beginning of the book and drops that damned zippo, lit, into the kerosene, the result is truly incandescent.

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“There’s something off with this guy.”
“I think taking hostages was the first clue.”

No, there’s something very seriously off with that guy, and the third clue was kerosene. The second was asking for Detective Rowan Black by name.

His own was Rowan White, by the way, and none of this did he do voluntarily.

“Alex? It’s me.
“It’s starting again.”

SLH

Buy Black Magick vol 1: Awakening and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 2: Machine Moon (£10-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

“This is so… weird. I’ve never seen a book on paper. Why do you like reading them like this? Feels so… fake.”
“I don’t know. Mom used to read them to Andy and me before bed. I grew to enjoy it.”

Any science fiction worth its salty credit chips will not only make you think of the future ahead but ponder the present right in front of you. Different perspectives can be so useful in making you reconsider your own or appreciate it in greater depth.

I’m of an age where reading anything other than printed paper still seems artificially, tinny, awkward and fake: even reviews on a computer screen but most certainly prose or comics on a tablet! To our two robotic boys fashioned to mimic as closely as possible ten-year-olds in order to become perfect companions for humans, young or old, anything other than a straight digital download is going to seem clumsy and impure.

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But of course the Tim series’ emotive abilities were enhanced to adapt and expand, and Tim-21’s experience as a brother to human colonist Andy has left him missing his absent friend terribly. The picture book Tim-21 salvaged from his former colony stars Trinket Tocket And His Tin Rocket, a nod towards another young android, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. As Tim-22 excitably dashes off leaving his new companion alone, Tim-21’s artificial fingers trace the wobbly, handwritten inscription below the printed “This book belongs to”:

“Andy Tavers and Tim-21”.

Their friendship bonded in a book for all to see, like some proud, legally binding document.

It is that childhood friendship seen from both perspectives after so many years apart which will form the heart of this second volume, along with the nascent relationship between the two Tim bots which will prove far from obvious (they’ve had different experiences, after all) and that between Tim-21 and Bandit, the artificial dog he’s been forced to abandon on a hostile planet.

Can you imagine what that must feel like?

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The key to this title’s success is that Lemire and Nguyen have both imbued Tim-21 with more humanity than anyone else in this series which now seems set of a cycle of destruction. They only way you can tell Tim-21 and Tim-22 apart – and indeed Tim-22 from a human child – is that latter’s lack of speech contractions and perhaps an overly analytical interest in what’s prepossessing him. Tim-21’s ditched that in favour of something simple, more intuitive: a core response to his own feelings.

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For a detailed analysis of the catastrophic events leading to a universe if which our treasured robotic servants have become outlawed and hunted down in the hope extinction through no fault of their own, please see my extensive review of DESCENDER VOL 1: TIN STARS. The plot is ridiculously clever with a great big lie revealed right at the climax which makes a re-read almost obligatory, and I stick to my guns comparing Nguyen’s delicate, lambent watercolour washes here – loose enough to let lots of white-paper light shine through – to Jon J. Muth’s in the much-missed MOONSHADOW collection. Blugger even reminds me of Ira.

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Now you will meet not only The Hardwire robots, rebelling against the universal cull (designated terrorists, obviously) but also The Between whose queen has a personal past with one of our cast. They’re technologically augmented humans. Quite how they’ll fit into the big picture I’ve no idea, but The Hardwire won’t necessarily respond in kind to their cull because – remember – they are not human and we shouldn’t judge them by our own lack of standards. Although one of them’s quickly catching up, obviously…

Now, what about Tim-21’s dream about a robotic afterlife, like some heavenly data-dump up in the clouds…?

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SLH

Buy Descender vol 2: Machine Moon and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood…

“This is not so bad. I expected chaos.”
“Hold that thought, Marlene. After today’s done, then come talk to me about chaos.”
“I find the entire concept fascinating. Five million kilometres closer to the Sun may sound a lot, but our total distance is still 147 million kilometres. On a stellar scale the difference is negligible.”
“And yet, enough to drive people crazy.”
“But I wonder, how much of it is cultural? A self-perpetuating social construct. What if people go crazy on Perihelion day precisely because everyone expects them to?”
“That’s amazing, Marlene. I can’t believe nobody ever suggested that before. Maybe you should write a book, do the talk-show circuit.”
“Your mockery is unnecessary, Sergeant. I realise I am not the first to consider the theory, but it remains interesting.”
“Yeah, well, like the old Chinese curse says… May you live in interesting times.”

Ah, she’s quite the wag, our grey-haired, grizzled Sergeant Klementina ‘Klem’ Ristovych! When she’s not cracking cases, she’s keeping herself busy by busting her partner’s chops, the relatively new arrival Detective Ralph ‘Marlene’ Dietrich. I think it’s done out of affectionate respect as much as anything, but still, it’s good to see the time-honoured tradition of taking the piss out of the rookie is alive and well, even in the futuristic confines of a cop drama on the orbiting energy-generating platform known somewhat prosaically as The Fuse. Klem clearly has no idea that Marlene is keeping secrets from her…

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It’s perhaps not surprising, mind you, missing what’s right under her nose. Firstly, because Marlene is being very, very careful. Secondly, Klem’s got the busiest beat of them all, 22,000 miles up in space with half a million people stuffed into a five-mile tube, and today just so happens to be the busiest day of the year, Perihelion…

You can postulate theories all you like as to why a bit of extra sunshine might send people round the bend, like mad dogs and Englishmen swilling lager and getting all leery in the oh-so-brief summer rays, but between a knees-up that makes the Notting Hill Carnival look like a sedate affair, a hair-snipping serial killer, a political rally threatened by a terrorist group claiming to have a bomb, a mob boss with a dodgy ticker trapped while a nutter holds an entire hospital hostage, an artificial farm food worker seeing visions of the Devil, an escaped prisoner and oh, a mysterious murder of an apparently devoted husband… well, you can see how Klem might not spot anything shady about her partner. Yet.

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We, the readers, finally find a little more out about what he’s up to though… maybe. I’m not entirely convinced whether the big reveal at the end of this arc is exactly what it seems or merely misdirection, so that particular little mystery continues unabated. Oh, Antony, you are a tease! As ever, Justin Greenwood’s art is note-perfect for this unique blend of cop drama and speculative fiction. He does the best sneaky sideways glances of which there are more than a few in this arc!

JR

Buy The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Elias The Cursed h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono…

“Those pieces of The Game Of Celestial Beings make you a great Magus.”
“What do you know of this game?”
“During my travels I never stopped reading the fables and legends of these talismans coveted by fools. They say that this game comes from an era so ancient that it has been forgotten. They say that its power is so great that a lifetime is not sufficient to reunite the 32 pieces that are scattered throughout the world…”
“They say that the 32 pieces represent 32 stars in the sky and that each one imparts its special power to a talisman…”
“… And especially he who reunites the game in its entirety. They will then have access to a 33rd power. That is what you wish, is it not?”
“What more do you know, little man? And what is the power in question?”
“He who possesses the game in its entirety has the power to change his destiny, to travel back in time and start anew wherever he chooses…”

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Which would be very handy for someone who has been cursed. Someone, say, who used to be a mighty and feared tyrannical ruler, having conquered most of the known world by the age of twenty before losing his entire army during a catastrophic 128-day siege and climatic final battle with the magician Melchior, who just for good measure then stole Elias’ youthful body for his own. Now, believed to be dead, Elias wanders the earth looking for a way out of his plight, and perhaps also reflecting on the foolishness of youth, desiring world domination and indeed coveting talismans. Although, perhaps he’s not entirely realised the latter just yet…

Another action-packed, exquisitely decorative slice of high fantasy from Humanoids. The French writer Sylviane Corgiat came to my attention with the brilliant THE SWORDS OF GLASS and here has come up with a yarn that’s even more intricately crafted and just downright epic. Well, it was originally published in 2004 through 2007 in three parts in France, though wasn’t translated into English until now as this complete collection. Italian artist Corrado Mastantuono is new to me I have to admit but it’s the typical beautiful ligne claire illustration you hope for in a Humanoids publication.

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I actually wrote of THE SWORDS OF GLASS that it was ‘The best slab of Euro-fantasy I have read for some considerable time.’ I think this is even better actually in terms of story-telling. Corgiat puts Elias through the veritable wringer plus assorted other medieval torture/plot devices on his quest to obtain the 32 talismans, and of course obtain his reckoning with Melchior, in a tale told with as much humour as there is gore.

JR

Buy Elias The Cursed h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cinema Purgatorio #1 (£4-50, Avatar) by Alan Moore, Kieron Gillen, Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, Christos Gage & Kevin O’Neill, Ignacio Calero, Raulo Caceres, Michael DiPascale, Gabriel Andrade.

“Let’s get back to the station. A little child’s gone missing.”

Quick! Back into the truck!

“Ten to one the parents did it, eh?”

Ouch.

What’s so arresting is that the above comes in the form of one of those ornate white-on-black caption cards from silent, black and white comedy capers like the Keystone Cops which we all associate with hilarity. Within panels – or frames – here, the violence no longer seems quite so “cartoon”, their mass incompetence not half so funny or innocent.

Was it ever really so when one of their stars, Fatty Arbuckle, was framed with a smear his career never recovered from?

Oh look, there’s Charlie Chaplin distracting the paying public with a card trick while booting a bag of the robbed bank’s lolly into the back of the van! Now turn back to the movie’s title: silence is golden, they say.

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That’s the first self-contained story from the Moore and O’Neill, creators of the equally acquisitive and satirical THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and O’Neill gives it all the energy you associate with the stunt-centric buffoonery.

It’s joined in this not overly horrific horror anthology by the first chapters of four serialised stories: a Godzilla monster-movie riff; something involving the American Civil War which is explained in an afterward; a piece of vampirical whimsy and – my other favourite – a sort of post-apocalyptic Pokemon written by THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen in which the cutest daemon imaginable – a doting, Alsatian-sized dog with butterfly wings and long, lolling tongue who won’t bark but “Yip! Yip”s instead – is coveted by a Daemonatrix who’s gotta catch ‘em all.

“You know the rules. Fight or just hand her over.”

It’s not Fluffbumble’s owner who has to do battle, it’s Fluffbumble herself who quite obviously doesn’t have a bellicose bone in her body. Nevertheless she is forced to fight something that looks like a mechanised, weaponised Judge Death.

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Full marks to Ignacio Calero for a Fluffbumble that’s a gentle giant, loyal and stoical but far from effete – anything camper would have rendered this into crude, two-dimensional comedy. Instead the pep talk and aftermath are both genuinely affecting.

SLH

Buy Cinema Purgatorio #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann.

T is for Transgression!

Hurray for Transgression!

But also for Tales so Toxic your skin might start itching and skunk so soporific that you run the risk of suffocation. It billows in pungent green clouds from almost every one of these pages so that if you’re not properly ventilated your mind might grow light and your stomach may turn.

Megg is a witch, Mogg is her monged-up moggie and this will be so, so familiar to anyone who is – or ever has been – so drug-dependent that you’ll do almost anything or anyone to get more, after which your decision-making processes are even further impaired.

Whatever I have found in the way of interior art above, below or to your right is infinitely cleaner than almost every page. Clue: Megg and Mogg are in a relationship. A sexual relationships. Pray, do not go there – unlike Megg.

The sordid sequel to Hanselmann’s MEGAHEX, this is empathically not the FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS who, for all their derring-doobage, at least kept it amicable and none of them interfered with FAT FREDDY’S CAT.

This is far from amicable, for Mogg and Megg share a flat with Owl who wants a clean, quiet house, secure from burglars, so he can sleep soundly. He is going to get none of those.

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Neither Megg nor Mogg are disposed to give a fuck, nor is their neighbouring drug-dealer called Werewolf Jones who – over and over again – manages to wangle his way into their home along with his delinquent ten-year-old kids whom he’s brought up as personal slave-labour and public performers on webcam. Those sorts of performers, yes – as a rule of thumb, if you want to infer the worst from whatever I write about this, you would not be far wrong.

At home the kids are content to shit all over their lawn because it’s their turf and they are wolves. At Megg, Mogg and Owl’s they’re still left to run amok, one of them shattering Owl’s beak with an ashtray. Twice. So well drawn is this that if you don’t immediately think of and fear for your own teeth then I’d be very much surprised. Parental supervision?

“I blame the school system.”

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To be fair, Owl is an uptight, judgemental prick. On the other hand it must be hard to find your clean white towels strewn all over the bathroom, shit smeared all over the toilet, junk all over the floor, a naked, jaundice-skinned witch passed out next to a stinking bucket bong, a dildo on your kitchen table, crumbs in your best butter (crumbs in your best butter!) and a cat in your kitchen sink:

“Quit whining, Owl.
“Nothing matters. Everything is meaningless.
“Stop trying so hard.”

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A triumph of injustice, I present you with the unhealthiest comic ever committed to paper, a dire warning never to share a flat nor invite any guests over ever, and the most careless, callous and often mean-spirited miscreants ever to spoil your party / meal / gig / camping trip / holiday abroad / quiet, private time / underwear / appetite / fondest memories imprinted on photographs.

All of the above actually included.

SLH

Buy Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

Adulthood Is A Myth (£10-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

Of course it is! I’m still playing videogames into the early hours of the morning, and do you know how old I am now? No…? Good!

Even parents are merely playing at being adults. Responsible…? Knowledgeable…? They haven’t got the first flippin’ clue. The whole rearing thing is done on a wing and a prayer, the prayer predominantly being “Why did I ever have children?”

Now along comes Sarah Andersen with a big book of comic strips designed primarily to make you feel so much better about your lives – your own insecurities and perceived inadequacies when compared the rest of the right-thinking world which doesn’t actually exist.

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This will tick almost every recognition box except those possessed by ridiculously high achievers who would be hard pressed to pass for human anyway.

Delivered in the Matt Groening school of cartooning, even the Groening failed to achieve such a high hit/miss hilarity ratio in his LIFE IS HELL series, as Anderson addresses the following with admirable confessional candour:

Nightmares for introverts, written communication versus verbal communication, oh so clammy hands; comfort dressing, heels, clothing sizes in general; over-think on dates, over-prepping for dates, and how to know that your loved one is here for the long haul; gorging, guilt and the making of friends (sort of – neuroses neutralising all hope of progress); good relationships / bad relationships, new relationships / old relationships; internet comment threads, internet search histories (yours!) and the barely controllable desire to defenestrate your laptop each and every time some twerp tags you in a Facebook photo.

Adulthood Is A Myth 3I feel Sarah’s frustration at slow walkers ahead of me, five-abreast families scoring 10,000 bonus points for being inconsiderate oblivo-bots! I demand the right to complain without someone soothing me with mitigating plus-points or stress-relieving advice; but I have to confess I had no idea about when to wash bras versus when most women truthfully wash them. Is this a thing? Admittedly I cannot recall any lad at school washing his groin-protecting cricket box out during an entire year of dashing sweatily between creases, but nor do I remember any of them still wearing that box out of a date.

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Throughout Anderson bravely hangs her mental underwear out on the metaphorical line in order to demystify our oh so common neuroses whilst praying you don’t laugh at her bloomers.

Basically this, then: you are not alone.

And you never listen to your own sage advice.

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SLH

Buy Adulthood Is A Myth and read the Page 45 review here

Blackbird (£12-99, Conundrum International) by Pierre Maurel…

“And now, closer to home: parliament today adopted a law that repeals the fixed price on books. It includes a clause that prohibits self-publishing. All published works are now required to pass through the hands of accredited certified publishers. The new law is intended to crack down on contentious content and improve distribution for all authors.”

Whatever would Dave Sim say?!!!

Where does suppression of public discourse really begin? What would be the thinnest leading edge of that particular wedge? You might believe that freedom of speech is something we in our country are entitled to without any strictures or consequences. But if the government were going to attempt to begin to crackdown on those with dissenting views, or indeed any views, what form would it take…? Here Pierre Maurel looks at a world where the diminishing of such liberties begins with the removal of the right to self-publish. The criminalising of the independent proliferation of ideas on paper if you will.

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Unsurprisingly, there are those amongst us who aren’t going to just take such injustice without fighting back and this is their story. The makers of the Blackbird zine are a rag-tag bunch of libertarians, anarchists, political thinkers, pissheads and skate punks. They don’t have much, but the loss of their right to be heard, irrespective of what they’ve got to say, doesn’t sit well with them at all.

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Clearly they’re not going to be able to act with impunity, though. No, covert guerrilla tactics and more than a few kickflips and emergency ollies are going to be required to escape the ever more encircling arms of the law, as their campaign escalates from initial amusing and seemingly harmless protests against politicians to rather more serious tactics. But can they really fight the encroaching evil of authoritarianism, or is it just a matter of time before the law wins? But if they do fall, who, if anyone, will step forward to take their place?

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Very salient piece of social commentary wrapped in an incredibly engaging and believable story, much like Ant Sang’s THE DHARMA PUNKS. Just as Ant did, Maurel has also captured the essence of his characters perfectly. I have no doubt such a group would be composed of the bickering dilettantes he depicts, and he extrudes the various clashing personalities out into fully fleshed-out individuals with their own stories, plus the sacrifices that they are prepared to make for the cause. Some considerably more than others…

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I can see various different creators in his black and white art. Early Chester Brown, Dylan Horrocks, Jessica Abel, even a bit of Jeffrey Brown and possibly even a bit of Jacques Tardi, actually. This will appeal to anyone who appreciates the power of protest and absolutely loves the idea of someone sticking it to the man. So me at least, then!

JR

Buy Blackbird and read the Page 45 review here

Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristantina, Tristan Jones…

“Hold still, or I’ll shoot.”
“My father told you about crossing our fields, you spook the cows and the milk comes spoilt.”
“Come off it, Mercy Tucker. That’s just famers’ superstition.”
“So, what? We’re famers, ain’t we? We’d know, wouldn’t we? You two just gonna stand there like a pair of jackanapes?”
“Mercy, your Pa knows what’s at stake. He knows the militia is what’s keeping this farm out of the hands of the thieves down in Albany. Your Pa would let us pass freely. Your Pa wouldn’t point a musket in our faces.”
“Redcoats came up the big house three days ago, Ezekiel. Pa signed the grant papers over to the Sheriff. Made us tenants, didn’t they? I’ve been out in these fields since, ashamed to see my Pa, knowing he’d be ashamed to by seen by me.”
“Mercy… tell your Pa, we’ll be back with those papers.”

Young Seth Abbott has a lot to learn about the different ways war can be waged. He might be a member of the local militia sworn to achieve independence from the British and their hated occupying armies of Redcoats, but not all battles are fought with a gun.

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I suspect this is going to be a fascinating series for anyone interested in history, and particularly this period, which I will fully admit is not one I know much about, partly because, given the British ultimately got booted out, it doesn’t get taught much in UK schools!

I do, however, clearly remember inadvertently instigating a full-on cowboy-style barroom brawl in Alabama one 4th of July, when asked by a smartarse local what we called Independence Day in the UK. My somewhat alcohol-aided throwaway riposte of it being known as the Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish Day provoked a wild swing from my outraged non-compadre which I fortunately dodged.

Unfortunately for him, it smashed the orneriest nutter in the bar squarely on the back of the head, whom, delightedly taking offense with the idiot in question, after eyeing the pair of us up and deciding my best “it wasn’t me, honest guvnor” face was clearly one to be trusted, went at the haymaker like an out-of-control combine harvester. Suffice to say, before you could utter “Four score and seven years ago…” there were Stetsons being knocked jauntily askew left, right and centre as a group of about thirty locals started going at it en masse, settling old scores. I just inched my way through to the edge of the melee somehow unscathed, picked up my Heineken which was perched on the bar and propped myself up to enjoy the scene. Good times.

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Anyway… digression done with, Brian Wood has commented he intends this to be a NORTHLANDERS-style title. By which he means that each arc will be self-contained thus allowing him to tell various different colonists’ stories, not just the famous figures of the time. For let’s not forget that ultimately this is what all the non-indigenous inhabitants of North America were at that time really: not natives, but relatively recently arrived pioneers who, for the most part, actually didn’t wanted to secede from British rule until the British government caused such dissent and consternation with their taxation policies. Then their rather heavy-handed attempts to crush any dissent didn’t help.

This everyman concept – which I think worked extremely well in NORTHLANDERS in allowing him to explore the very diverse elements and traditions, plus the varied political and social structures of the Viking world, in addition to some major events of course – could translate very nicely to this milieu, even though it was of course considerably briefer and more geographically condensed. Because actually, that’s what I’m interested in: what was life like for the settlers during this incredible period of upheaval? Inevitably sides had to be chosen, stands taken, and many a heavy price paid. Just not tea taxes…

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This first arc, then, deals mainly with young militia man Seth Abbott and his bride Mercy Tucker. Actually, it’s mainly about their dual lives, during the long, seven-year separation the war causes them. In truth, though, it’s as much choice for Seth as duty, something his wife, bringing up their son and protecting their homestead alone, does not appreciate one iota, even if she intends to remain faithful and true to her wedding vows. Then there are also some individual issues featuring very different characters: a wife fighting alongside the soldiers including her husband on the front lines, a Native American Indian who finds conflicting friendship and tribal loyalties impossible to resolve, and a freed black slave fighting on behalf of the Crown. I think Brian Wood certainly delivers and then some on his intentions to show the individual human stories of the war.

Lovely delicate art from Andrea Mutti on three of the six issues in this volume (#1, #4 & #5), he does like his line shading, very ably supported by Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristiantina, Tristan Jones, who take an issue each. The changes in art style neatly accompany the changes in character or focus of the storyline.

JR

Buy Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 1 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli.

Manhattan is no longer the thriving hub of culture and commerce it once was.

It is a wreck ravaged by all, caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Army and America’s own home-grown, anti-establishment militias which rose up while all the eyes and soldiers’ feet were abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did a little insurging of their own.

A supposedly demilitarized zone, Manhattan is prone to be bombed with a moment’s notice and has become a no-go zone for everyone but the most intrepid or reckless reporters.

Matty Roth is neither of those. He’s an inexperienced rich kid whose dad called in a favour and bought him a ticket to shadow a veteran war journalist on an expedition into the heartland of the DMZ. They had a military escort but that lasted all of five seconds before an ambush left Roth scuttling for cover, alone and ill-equipped to survive this alien, inhospitable and virtually lawless environment.

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Roth tries to report what he sees, but it’s not long, of course, before he begins being used by the military and media alike, whose mendacity is not to be underestimated.

Gruelling but gripping. Warren Ellis raved about the final issue reprinted here, ‘New York Times’, as the most ground-breaking comic of year in which it was originally published. It wasn’t, but it was a clever collage, with Brian Wood himself (or rather, the protagonist) assembling snapshots of life and culture into a “year-one report” for Independent World News.

Other than that, Burchielli’s art reminded me a little of Mike McMahon’s on THE LAST AMERICAN. It was craggy that way, with a lot of chin. Also, it was the shell-shocked and pocked environment.

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Like Brian K. Vaughan in Y – THE LAST MAN, Wood soon begins to examine other practical ramifications of his chosen scenario, in this case the island’s isolation, the lack of sustainable firewood and the fate of the zoo whose custodians turn out to be a lot less cuddly than David Attenborough or dear old Johnny Morris.

The best is yet to come, however, when the series whose premise is the result of America’s illegal invasion of Iraq becomes the perfect vehicle to damn so much that occurred there including the deployment of private military corporations like Blackwater, the deadly, indiscriminate, gun-ho actions of its mercenaries, and oh so much more.

SLH

Buy DMZ Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard h/c (£18-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so that’s convenient, eh?

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Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one. During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs blown are off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

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Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper.

But she’s about to have company and not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable.

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But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit in their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

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Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… Well, it brings the horror all home, hopefully.

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.

SLH

Buy We Stand On Guard h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man: Brand New Day s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Zeb Wells, Marc Guggenheim & Phil Jimenez, Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Phil Winslade, Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson, Marcos Martin, Mike McKone, Paulo Siqueira.

Omnibus reprint of what – in many ways – was that start of whichever SPIDER-MAN series you’re reading now.

Following Jo Quesada’s intervention at the end of Straczynski’s run, “Brand New Day” should have been a very hard sell. The clock hadn’t just been turned back, it had been thrown against the wall, smashed to pieces and put together again with some missing parts replaced. Some of the cogs were new, some were very old, and some had simply been given a different coloured varnish. But guess what? The clock still ticked at a fine, steady pace – it was just a different clock.

Peter had never married Mary Jane – in fact, they broke up, though why was a mystery they let linger for a while. Harry Osborne – the son of the original Green Goblin and his successor – was still alive and suddenly no one knew who Spider-Man was, not even those who saw him unmask during CIVIL WAR.

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“Oh no!” the men-children cried. “That means that the last twenty years of stories I’ve enjoyed never happened!”

“No,” I replied, “they never did happen. They never happened because this is fiction and they are stories! But you enjoyed reading those stories, so what are you complaining about?! Here are some more stories. If sales here are anything to go by, you’re enjoying those as well, aren’t you?”

Anyway, as I say, something happened to prevent Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane. You won’t find out what yet because they’re avoiding each other. In the meantime, Harry Osborn’s back from Europe with a sexy entourage and determined to slide his way into politics, Aunt May is doing voluntary work with someone a lot shadier than she knows, Peter’s given Jameson a coronary, and Jonah’s wife’s solution to his stress levels is to sell his shares in The Daily Bugle!

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Oh yes, all-new villains, even if one of their rides looks a lot like the Goblins’. Do you think all their cackling, monomaniacal ways will cross? I suspect so!

Dan Slott absolutely nailed the tone, the characters, the humour and the pace, whilst McNiven’s camera angles, even during conversations, were unusual and fun. Not only that but throughout the run which eventually culminated in Doc Ock’s tenure as SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN (after a few more books yet to be repacked into these new, giant-sized editions) Slott managed to corral its multiple contributors into creating a surprisingly consistent series.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Chris Bachalo came on board with all the blizzard scenes I’ve found as your interior art here, but it began round the breakfast table in the New Avengers’ hideout with Wolverine drinking beer, Dr. Strange walking air and Spider-Man stealing the toy from the cereal box. *sigh*

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It’s freezing outside.

Dr. Strange: If you’re sure my assistance isn’t required…
Spider-Man: Well, I’ve got twenty blocks to go in this blizzard. If you can make it stop snowing, I’d appreciate it.
Dr. Strange: Hmmm. I will not stop the snow, but perhaps I can tell you when it will cease.
Wolverine: Yeah, this is a good use of his time.
Spider-Man: I was kind of joking…
Dr. Strange: Verium, equinu, helerium….
Wolverine: You’re using our Sorcerer Supreme as a weatherman…
Spider-Man: I have a lot to do today…
Dr. Strange: The storm comes not from the north, east, west or south… But from the void, from darkness’ mouth. There is no time, the end is near, in blackness dies all we hold dear. From the snow a threat emerges, eyes of red, with murderous urges. A protector fights to seal the lock… Right here tonight… at four o’clock
[Dr. Strange collapses: THUNK!]
Wolverine: Anything else?

SLH

http://www.page45.com/store/Spider-Man-Brand-New-Day-sc.html

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward

Lou (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Melissa Mendes

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Secretimes s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Keith Jones

Invader Zim vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Jhonen Vasquez, Eric Trueheart & Aaron Alexovich

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Why Would You Do That? (£7-50, Hic & Hoc) by Andrea Tsurumi

Chew vol 11: The Last Suppers (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma

Complete Peanuts: 1999 – 2000 (£16-99, Canongate) by Charles M. Schulz

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan & John Higgins, various, Francis Manapul

Judge Dredd Casefiles 27 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Henry Flint, Peter Doherty, Greg Staples, Ian Gibson

Stan And Nan h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Sarah Lippett

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke

Batman And Robin vol 7: Robin Rises s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, Andy Kubert, Juan Jose Ryp, Ian Bertram

Injustice Year Four vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Bruno Redondo, Mike S. Miller, various

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 1: Ghosts Of Cyclops s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Catwoman vol 5: Backward Masking s/c (£18-99, DC) by Will Pfeifer & Pete Woods, David Lopez

Grayson vol 3: Nemesis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, various

All New Wolverine vol 1: Four Sisters s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & David Lopez, David Navarrot

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 1: Chinatown s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka

Spider-Gwen vol 1: Greater Power s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 00: Don’t Call It A Team-Up s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Daniel Way & various

Web Warriors Of The Spider-Verse vol 1: Electroverse s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa, Robbie Thompson & David Baldeon, Denis Medri

Monster Perfect Edition vol 8 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Tokyo Ghoul vol 6 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati. Again?!?!

News!

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ITEM! The debate rages on!

Article on print versus digital reading in schools, who prefers which and what makes all the difference in the world: choice!

Young, male, reluctant readers make good use of the iPad, probably because it turns reading into something that feels similar to a computer game, but the preference for print is encouraging and here’s some things you might not have thought of:

1) A book is more likely to be read, finished and enjoyed if the child has had an active role in selecting that prose book or graphic novel
2) iPads give very few clues as to form or content of any prose book or graphic novel
3) To successfully select, you first need a wide range to choose from.

Can’t wait to expand the space we give teen comics too, but in the meantime, yes, Young Readers, we have choice!

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

ITEM! Interview with MEGG & MOGG’s Simon Hanselmann (see review above) who you might remember getting married to comics (yes, comics) during the Ignatz Awards at SPX 2014 and snogging Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth.

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It is an exceptionally fine and fun interview about Simon’s creativity, cross-dressing and drug-addled mother. Simon makes a much prettier Megg than Megg does.

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– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week one

May 4th, 2016

Reviewed: Inio Asano, John Allison, Brecht Evens, Sophie Campbell, Samuel C. Williams, Francesca Sanna, Mark Crilley, Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay, Neil Gaiman & Mike Zulli, Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, Nick Spencer & more!

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens…

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“ROOAARR…. Oh! Are you the little girl I heard crying?”
“Um… yes.”
“What’s troubling your heart, my child?”
“Lucy… my kitty… she’s dead.”
“Rooaarr, how dreadful! Was it some kind of automobile?”
“Sniff. No. The vet…”
“Those quacks! I am so sorry… Here, take my handkerchief.”
“Sniff. Who are you?”
“Ah! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland! But you can call me Panther!”
“How did you get into my dresser?”
“Rooaarr! We Panthers go wherever we please!”
“But Pantherland… That’s not a real country, is it?”
“Not a real country? Christine, how dare you?”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you my name.”
“Mmm?”

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Well… this wasn’t what I expected… and yet reflecting back to Brecht’s first work, the now-out-of-print NIGHT ANIMALS, it makes much sense. I was expecting something hilariously farcical akin to his two most recent works, THE WRONG PLACE and THE MAKING OF. This does have a lot of ridiculous humour in places, but there’s a very dark undercurrent here that left me feeling rather unsettled and uneasy upon its conclusion. Which, I should add, will be entirely what Brecht Evens intended.

Casting my mind back to NIGHT ANIMALS, where a young girl suddenly spontaneously matures physically, experiences her first period, and is whisked away from her soft toy strewn bed by the Devil to a wild orgy full of terrifying creatures in a forest, before she vanishes forever inside a strange birdman, there are clearly some parallels here. Askance ones at least.

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For whilst the titular Panther may on the surface appear to be a captivating, charismatic, magical creature, who only appears to a young girl called Christine, living alone with just her father, her mother having left for reasons unknown and mourning the recent loss of her dead cat Lucy, by the time you finish this work, you’ll have a hard time not concluding that in fact the Panther is a sexual predator, grooming Christine. You might also find it difficult not to conclude that the Panther is her father… I have on the other hand heard it suggested that this is a story of initial sexual awakening, emergence from adolescence, and the Panther is indeed merely an internal representative figure. Much like NIGHT ANIMALS, then. But, as I say, it’s all very ambiguous, right to the very end…

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What isn’t in doubt is that this is another Evens masterpiece, both in terms of storytelling and the art. You will find yourself squirming in your seat as Panther ingratiates himself further into Christine’s life, appearing as he only does in her bedroom, presenting himself as an understanding ear to bend and furry friend to play with. You can always tell, though, that he is being somewhat parsimonious with the truth. When not being downright evasive…

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Art-wise, well, wow! The cover is an extremely accurate representation of the kaleidoscopic illustrations you will find within. Already one of the most unique and inventive artists out there, Brecht has taken it to new levels here. What also furthers the discomfort regarding the identity of the Panther is his amorphous features, indeed his entire head, and also sometimes even his body. They are constantly changing, transforming completely, to perfectly fit the moment in terms of expression and emotion, usually to evoke a reaction from Christine, and sometimes slipping quite perturbingly when he knows she can’t see. Occasionally it’s even three or four times within a single illustration in a kind of time lapse movement that’s quite the accomplished visual treat.

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Once again Brecht also eschews the need for panel or page borders, indeed even pencils, just getting his watercolours straight down on the page. It adds a certain fairytale quality here in places. Overall, between the psychedelic art and the frenetic, fluid, false showman that is the Panther, there is a real Alice In Wonderland feel to this work. I closed the book feeling disturbed and delighted in equal measure. I have no idea what drove Brecht to write this particular work, but I can’t deny it’s a compellingly cruel story.

JR

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

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison…

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“Lottie, put that yogurt away.”
“Street yogurt’s the best Shauna, well nang.”
“You’re not even using a spoon? You’re using the lid?”
“Yum.”

Hahahaha, I read that page very shortly after a quick lunch on the hoof in Market Square, where upon discovering I hadn’t picked up a disposable spoon for my coconut milk yogurt, I was forced to fashion a makeshift one from the foil lid… It was, indeed, well nang! Not sure what it says about me that the BAD MACHINERY character I seem to have most in common with is Charlotte Grote, though!

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So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, all the whilst attempting to crack another confounding case. This time around Sonny is besotted with a mysterious new girl who has just arrived at school, and possibly on land… Mildred, meanwhile, is falling for the charms of bad boy Lee Chaplin, though there’s the slight problem of a not-quite-yet-ex who is ready to fight Mildred to the death for her man! Good job Grandpa Joe is on hand to dispense some pearls of hard-won pensioner wisdom on the subject of romance and ill-advised beachcombing…

“Mildred, if the first thing a lad tells you is a lie, you’ve no reason to ever trust him.”
“But he’s so handsome and strong.”
“Lies are like a flower, the truth’s like a brick.”
“Eh?”
“What about you Sonny?”
“I saw a girl swimming in the sea one day. I couldn’t stop dreaming about her. Think she… I think she… turned up at school and sat next to me.”
“You’ve flummoxed him. “Girls who come out of the sea are like… are like a… like…””
“Sonny, listen to me carefully. Did you take anything from the beach?”
“An… unshakeable sense of melancholy?”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of.”

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This is British farce at its finest. John sets up verbal punchline after punchline, page after page. I think possibly the episodic nature of BAD MACHINERY’s initial release in webcomic form, one page at a time, has finely honed John’s ability to be able to deliver pugilistic punctuation to world heavyweight championship standards. Not sure if that makes him the Rocky Balboa of British humour comics, but I do know that there are at least three more rounds of BAD MACHINERY material already out there on t’interweb for Oni to collect. Knockout!

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What really makes BAD MACHINERY (and John’s university-based GIANT DAYS) such a gleeful pleasure to read, though, over and above the bonkers Scooby Doo-style sleuthery, is it will transport you back in time, to when all you really had to worry about was the sheer terror of working out just how to talk to the object of your erupting adolescent desires without dying of shame, avoiding flailing fisticuffs and torment at the hands of psychotic bullies who are probably now practising corporate law, and coming up with ever more imaginative excuses as to precisely why your homework seemed to have mysteriously not accompanied you to your seat of learning yet again…

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John must have an eidetic memory of his formative years, though, because there’s so much I had forgotten about that comes flooding back every time I read BAD MACHINERY. Truly was life ever once so simple but simultaneously so fantastically complicated in such an emotionally jumbled up hormone infused manner? Indeed it was and what a pleasure it is to vicariously read all about it without actually having to go through it all again!

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In terms of his art, I continue to marvel at how deceptively simple it looks. He’s refined it to an amazing degree now, it’s so smooth on the eye, yet packed with expression and detail, plus random hilarious visual background gags. (I truly want to believe there is an arcade game called King Beaver in which it is possible to enter Beavergeddon Mode!) It would be fair to say his style has attracted more than a few imitators in recent years, yet they are mere contenders compared to John. Whereas his art feels seamlessly put together, the wannabes are going to need to put in a lot more hours in the illustrative ring before they’re ready to take him on. Cue training montage. Or not.

JR

Buy Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.

“I don’t get it!
“I don’t understand!!”

He really doesn’t. He doesn’t understand any of it: God, girls, crushes, friendship, promises, life, death by environmental disaster, dreams… Why his father decided to smack his mother into the middle of next week and then blame a burglar… That was particularly flimsy.

He doesn’t understand and it makes him so anxious that he frets and sweats and his little legs go jiggling about, nineteen to the dozen. Also, it renders him mute. He doesn’t say a word directly throughout the entire graphic novel. His friends and relatives tend to interpret how tongue-tied Punpun is coping with the world by asking him questions for him to respond to with vigorous nodding, timorous, alarmed eyes, a hastily beaten retreat or full-on floods of tears.

On the other hand, the world as presented to him is all kinds of crackers.

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His melodramatic teacher’s down-with-the kids “Psych!” winks are wince-worthy and his headmaster and principal, also rendered in terrifying detail, appear to be engaged in a Vitally Important if childlike game of hide and seek. In addition, his uncle taught him an infantile rhyme about God in order to bolster the boy’s confidence, but now God appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a gormless, grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out that’s sod-all use to anyone. In any case, his uncle doesn’t even believe in God.

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“Dream big, everyone!” commands his teacher. “Because dreams are free!”

He then adds, “But don’t forget to be realistic about your abilities and financial needs. Otherwise you’re in for some serious disappointments in life!”

There’s no shortage of disappointment here, but from this mixed message Punpun draws enough encouragement to write in his homework about studying space, becoming a professor and discovering a planet on which everyone can live once this one’s resources have been drained dry. His inspiration comes from a telescope his Dad won while gambling – a bribe to distract Punpun from the family breakdown in front of him – while his motivation is to impress school newcomer Aiko whose first words to Punpun are “In a few years we’ll run out of oil, the environment will be destroyed and Earth will be uninhabitable” right after “Why are you following me? I’ll call the cops!”

So there’s a right one to develop the most almighty crush on.

The essay would have impressed Aiko, except that at the last minute Punpun must have remembered his teacher’s more cautionary note and baulked, replacing ambition with the mediocrity of “My dream is to work in an average office and have an average family”. Then he ran away.

Did I mention that Punpun is drawn as a sort of cartoon bird-ghost with little stick legs..?

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Strangely enough you’ll get used to it quite quickly, but it emphasises Punpun’s timidity, fragility, distance and alienation from the world which baffles him, and the surreality of it all. His entire family’s drawn like that. Perhaps it’s because they’re all living in a shared cloud-cuckoo-land – including his uncle whose eyes behind his glasses on occasion widen from black dots to the photorealistic when shit, as they say, gets real. However much he strives to keep it at bay. (“Whatever! I’m taking a nap! I’m napping!”)

Different things seem real or credible to a kid than to an adult. At one point Aiko declares:

“If you break this promise…
“If you betray me again…
“Next time I’ll kill you.”

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And he believes her. It doesn’t dilute his adoration or his desperation to please her, but he fully believes she will kill him. Worse still, he cannot bear to disappoint her and that’s largely what’s running through his mind even when the kids are off to an abandoned miso-making factory in search of corpses and cash as alluded to by a murderer confessing his fratricidal, matricidal and patricidal sins on some doctored porn video-cassette they found in the street.

Sorry…? Which bit about “all kinds of crackers” did you not understand?

From the creator of A GIRL ON THE SHORE, NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, SOLANIN, and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD comes a new series I cannot compare to any of the above, each of Asano’s projects being a marked departure from the last.

In many ways it put me more in mind of SUNNY for, beyond the messed up family, the “Yup yup!” lawyer and Punpun’s internalised infatuation and stress, it’s another astute portrait of how twelve-year-olds operate: how they behave towards each other in a group and behind each other’s backs, their body language on meeting in the street, and even how they sit or kneel on public transport, a sandal dangling loosely from one boy’s foot.

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I loved the way some marched from time to time just to heighten the adventure of a journey as you do (or did), and the boys’ expressions when caught with porn by a gang of girls is absolutely priceless!

Shimi, Seki, Komatsu and Harumi are as individualistic as you like. Seki’s family fortunes are connected to those of the miso factory, Shimi’s snot streams as freely as any of the orphans’ in SUNNY, Asano correctly observing that within any group of similarly aged children some will still look older than others. One of the lads – not named as far as I could spot – is drawn, hilariously, with exactly the same expression in every single panel no matter what the context, snake-like eyebrows frowning away, his permanently shocked gap-toothed mouth agape.

As you may have inferred by now like A GIRL ON THE SHORE there is a certain degree of sexual exploration in evidence – albeit entirely solo, but then it’s only the first volume – and like NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH there is a sequence of such protracted terror that I’m still not sure how Asano recovered from it except by deploying some Terry Gilliam collages as absurd as hipster God’s disembodied solo manifestations. It’s a trigger for an extended sequence of flashbacks to things Punpun never understood, particularly his parents’ marital breakdown, culminating in gormless God “looking unusually serious” declaring:

“Humans, as long as they live, have an emptiness inside them that can never be filled. If, no matter how much people need each other and hurt each other, there’s still no such thing as perfect understanding, then what on earth can you believe in? Just kidding – lighten up!”

I have no idea where this is going – to be fair, I’ve no idea where some of this went – but it kept me wide-eyed in wonder at all the traumas, bottom-of-the-same-steps accidents, and complete confusion.

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I think as much as anything this is indeed about isolation, for Punpun experiences everything at a remove by dint of his appearance, his reticence and his silence. Every dozen or so pages there’s a single small panel set apart at the far end of a blank page depicting two-dimensional Punpun small and alone in a detailed suburban city scene.

Isolation and family as a disappointment, perhaps – one’s stable refuge proving to be otherwise. There’s a heartbreaking scene against a sunset later on followed by a legal manoeuvre that’s cold. But don’t think that cassette-tape confession is irrelevant, either.

“The suspect further testified, “We argued about work and I lost control and I killed them”.”

SLH

Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Cleo Lovedrop! Wet Moon vol 1 coverPossibly the best-named protagonist ever!

“If you can’t judge a comic by its cover, then it’s not the right cover,” I began ten years ago. “This is the right cover.”

It was a different cover!

“Framed in black, a young, tubby gothstress with a fag in her mouth, looks up uncertainly over her black-rimmed glasses… The cover says GHOST WORLD with piercings and pvc, and that’s pretty much what the contents deliver.”

Do you know what? They still do to a certain extent. That WET MOON developed into something far more chilling in its six volumes (so far) obviously colours a re-read but I saw some of that coming too. I simply failed to spot its simmering source. As, I’m afraid, do the cast.

I like the new cover. It speaks of a more profound melancholy, a deeper malaise than the comparatively fashionable original. This is someone alone with the thoughts while nobody’s watching, rather than someone perhaps being photographed.

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The forms inside will become a great deal softer, kinder, plumper, doe-eyed, love-struck and a lot less abrasive and tired over the six books, but that note aside, I’ll leave the original review pretty much as it stood…

Term’s about to kick off for a cast of young college girls, all unsure of themselves and their relationships, most of them awkward.

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Audrey – black, pretty and gay – is the exception, but Trilby – pale, freckled, Tank-Girl hair falling over a nose-ring and braces – provides a weighty counterbalance to Audrey by being hideously ugly, both inside and out. It’s not that she’s intent on turning her face into a human curtain rail – so many others are too – it’s that she’s relentlessly and remorselessly selfish, callous, moody, bitchy, and disloyal, dismissing anyone’s misgivings with “Who cares?” and “Whatever” while caring very much that no one walks in her watching Star Trek: Next Generation. She’s so two-faced she can be briefing against a friend five seconds before flashing a smile in their very direction.

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Fortunately the focus of this first book (and it does look as if it will be quite the saga) is Trilby’s friend Cleo Lovedrop, the girl on the front who is far more honest and open and therefore vulnerable and seems fascinatingly complex to me. Ross gives her pages and pages of silent panels, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in her head, even though diary pages full of insecurity verging on paranoia are provided, as she stares at the moon, vulnerable and troubled, her hand over her belly. What’s going on when she turns tail in terror each time she bumps into a particular, tall fellow student called Vincent? (Have they had a relationship? a bad meeting? or is she just being weird?)

While working on Antony Johnston’s SPOOKED, Campbell proved she was one of those rare artists who, refreshingly, refrain from making everyone and everything LCD-perfect i.e. bland. It’s obvious she relishes more individualistic body forms. Here, however, she has managed to make some seductive art of it. The lines are far cleaner, the forms bolder and the grey tones reproduce the balmy atmosphere of the bayou. There’s some real subtlety in the expressions, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but I loved the way that it wasn’t until later on I realised that Cleo was so remarkably short.

I mentioned the bayou, and there’s an awful lot of water here, most of it decidedly ominous. As yet I haven’t decided whether the ‘Wet Moon’ in question is the reflection of the lunar sphere on the lapping lakes, or has more to do with the menstrual cycle, mentioned throughout, perhaps tying in with those belly rubs and Vincent.

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What I do suspect is that this will end up containing an element of horror, because there’s a brooding Charles Burns something-or-other going on with slack-jawed, drooling residents.

[For the record, that wasn’t where the horror ended up coming from! You could try to cheat by clicking ahead to my reviews of the other volumes but even there you’ll find me tantalisingly evasive.]

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams…

“Are thereAt War cover any other things like that? Things you may have ignored that you now know were part of your PTSD?”

“Well there definitely things I identified as triggers later on. (Sit!) But I didn’t understand what was happening at the time.”

That was Matt, a former soldier, answering a question from the creator Samuel C. Williams whilst they take a walk in the park together. I should probably add the command to assume a recumbent position wasn’t aimed at Samuel, but Matt’s dog!

Okay, that’s my one jokey aside regarding PTSD, which clearly isn’t a laughing matter for sufferers. This work, the latest in the series of excellent medicinal prescriptions from Singing Dragon publishers, aims to prime people regarding PTSD’s causes and symptoms.

Samuel, as he strolls with Matt, talks us through what the medical profession currently know regarding PTSD. As a member of the military, Matt is clearly amongst the most well known demographic of PTSD sufferers, along with people working in emergency response, but the general public is gradually beginning to realise the causes of PTSD, from both one-off events and also cumulative trauma, and therefore those who can suffer from it, are considerably more widespread and varied than initially appreciated.

As they perambulate along peacefully Matt also gradually takes Samuel though his own diagnosis to the treatment he received and at the same time recounts his own harrowing trauma, plus some unintentionally humorous experiences that occurred at unexpected and inconvenient moments. As someone trained in counter surveillance, Matt would occasionally become convinced a car was following him and his wife whilst out driving, resulting in some awkward instances when he suddenly took a few random turns to try and shake them off! There are only so many times you can pull the old “I’ve just taken a wrong turn, darling…” excuse whilst trying to covertly evade pursuit!

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Matt makes the very salient point that his experiences are always going to be with him, so it was necessary to learn how to live with them, and how to manage his PTSD. It’s nice to see there’s been a happy outcome for him and his family, and he rightly pays tribute to his wife for her part in that. Though as we clearly know, that’s sadly not the case for everyone because frequently people are too scared or self-conscious to seek help. Often with ultimately tragic consequences.

I have commented before with Singing Dragon publications that this is exactly the sort of material that should be sat in GPs’ waiting rooms for potential patients to read. It’s far more inviting, and dare I say it, informative, for someone who is already experiencing extreme trepidation about talking to a medical professional, than some glossy prose pamphlet filled with jargon. I think the relatively simple illustration style, just as with Alex Demetris’ DAD’S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE, will work to great advantage in appealing to the non-comic public. These works looks intriguing and most importantly feel like something that is extremely accessible to everyone. They would definitely be picked up and absorbed.

JR

Buy At War With Yourself and read the Page 45 review here

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.

“The further we go…
“The more we leave behind.”

Much has been made recently about teaching empathy in the classroom – promoting kindness and compassion through understanding. Quite right too, and to further that goal, this has just shot to the top of my list.

A carefully weighted cross between Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, the images do so much of the heavy lifting that you can certainly consider it comics.

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It begins on the pristine sands of an enormous, open beach, mother in her modest swimsuit reading away, son exploring the shore and a tiny, tentative fish nearby, father and daughter building sandcastles so ornate that they are indistinguishable from the exotic city close to the sea. Then on the very next page war breaks out, the ocean becoming an enormous black leviathan of chaos and cruelty sweeping lives and all those castles so carefully constructed aside.

“And one day the war took my father.” It is a very stark page.
“Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried.”

The mother envelopes her children, one of whom is weeping, protecting them from the multiple, encroaching, black hands of danger and despair. Drawing a book from their extensive bookcase, the mother she shows her children pictures of “strange cities, strange forests and strange animals”, reassuring them that is a safe place, that they will go there and not be frightened anymore.

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“We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.”

Everything. Everyone. Devastating enough but there is much worse to come.

At first they journey under their own steam in the family car, suitcases strapped on top. They still have a certain degree of control over their lives. Almost immediately, however, they find themselves in the back of a man’s van, squeezed between urns of olive oil…

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…Then amongst the produce of a fruit seller, with no room for the possessions they have had to jettison along the way. Then, with nothing left, they arrive at the border, its enormous wall, and an angry guard who demands they turn back.

Where? They have nowhere to go.

And it’s here that we come to the pages which most put me in mind of Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD in which Moominmamma is the ultimate mother, reassuring Moomintroll in their journey through the dark forest even when worried herself. The mother has already done plenty of this, of course, proclaiming that their migration will be “a great adventure” and protecting them from the shadowy hands of her own dark fears. It is here, however, at their most vulnerable that the mother surpasses herself and the art comes into its own, entirely at odds with the narrator’s knowledge.

“In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me.”

Once again the mother embraces her children, nestling them in her thick, black hair amongst the forest’s foliage.

“But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.”

 

“Never scared…”? She is petrified.  While they’re awake she meets her children’ wide-eyed gazes; once they’re asleep she cries her eyes out. And there is a long, long way to go yet.

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That this is told in the present tense keeps the future uncertain – as it is for this family every step of the way – right up to and beyond the conclusion. This is vital to keep readers walking every exhausting mile in their shoes, and to avoid the falsehood that endings are easily attained. This doesn’t have a “happily ever after”, but it does have the aspiration for one.

It is perfectly pitched.

Equally I wondered for a while whether this book with all its warm colours wasn’t too beautiful, but then I slapped myself for being so silly. Terrifying children out of their tiny minds is no use to anyone, and the beauty and fantasy of this book acts as the mother within, turning it into an adventure which will keep their shiny eyes utterly engrossed while they learn how the other half lives.

Which is obviously where Shaun Tan comes in, and so very often.

Also recommended when teaching empathy to young ones: LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke, the creator of ZITA SPACEGIRL. Friendship, basically.

SLH

Buy The Journey and read the Page 45 review here

Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley.

Big fat, omnibus edition of the little pocketbooks of joy from the creator of all-ages AKIKO and the seasonal MIKI FALLS. This collects all six slimmer black and white volumes and some full-colour short stories which I imagine originally appeared in DARK HORSE PRESENTS, online or otherwise.

It also collects the various annotations which were substantial and will be of enormous use to nascent creators, being considerable and considered process pieces involving the development of certain looks, concepts, characters and confrontations – particularly the confrontations! Vitally Crilley supplies the alternative art which was later ditched in favour of what was finally printed so you can compare and contrast. When you get to it, the observation that rounded corners turned what looked inescapably like a dull function room into a dramatically extended tunnel is spot-on.

There’s a shift in art style since MIKI FALLS (and obviously AKIKO!) for he’s gone all Chynna Clugston on us. The hair is feathery and brightly grey-toned art is crisp as crisp can be. Space, there is aplenty.

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Crilley’s always had an epic sense of space and texture, and the dilapidated city – whose sky is snaked with girdered monorails and concrete overpasses that are mossed-over with shops and hoardings – is no exception. There’ll be plenty more where that came from. The equally decrepit Japanese temple is a wonder as well but, apart from that, Crilley keeps the pages free from clutter for maximum action and turning.

Brody is broke. A part-time busker, he’s taken being a slob to a professional extreme. And maybe the hunger’s got to him because after a game of blink with a pretty young lady in the ramen noodle van opposite him, the girl makes her move… right through its roof!

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I cannot tell you how well weighted that extended, silent sequence is: immaculate choreography, immaculate timing. It has to be: it’s the entire hook for the following five hundred and fifty + pages. That, and his dumbstruck disbelief and her dumbfounded disappointment that – having waited for over five years – Brody is what she’s been lumbered with.

So it’s match postponed until Brody can pick his jaw off the floor. It may take some time because so far he’s run a mile, and even tried to lock Talia out of a staff room.

“I go through stuff, Brody. I thought we’d established that.”

 

In some ways the dry disdain put me in mind of Terry Moore, some of whose characters secrete sass through their skin. Add in Talia’s lapsed relationship with the land of the living and RACHEL RISING is a very fine fit.

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“Let’s get this over with. I’m Talia. I’ve been dead for about five years now.
“Leukaemia.
“Very depressing story. Don’t make me go into it.
“All you need to know is this.
“I’m locked out of heaven.
“They say I can’t move on to the afterlife until I’ve done, like, a super good deed.”

The mission she has chosen to accept for herself is to identify, track town and stop the Penny Murders serial killer, but for one thing physically disabling someone isn’t so easy when your hands are intangible. That’s where Brody comes in if he can stop freaking out. Not only can do the physical stuff, but he’s evidently something of a psychic given what he’s witnessing right now. And that’s what Talia needs:

“Someone who’s capable of seeing ghosts… hearing ghosts… and talking to ghosts.”
“….”
“Obviously we’re still working on the “talking” part.”

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With five hundred and fifty pages still to go, what have I failed to fill you in on?

Well, when the truth about the Penny Murders Serial Killer is finally revealed hundreds of pages later – the initial catalyst followed by her or his subsequent (consequent?) motivations – it makes a chilling sort of sick sense.

Talia may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but you try being disembodied for five years and being unable to affect or effect anything. This is her one chance and what she’ll be prepared to put Brody through you will not believe. I can promise you this: she doesn’t bluff.

Also, Brody’s mourning a death of his own – that of his two-year-relationship with Nicole. It’s been over for six months but Brody, like Talia, cannot move on and with Nicole dating again I’m afraid Brody’s in very great danger of making matters worse.

His psychic skills will need honing, hence the haunted Japanese temple, as will his aptitude for combat because he’s just has his ass kicked by a gang’s pet twelve-year-old.

Oh, and his morals will almost certainly need diluting because Talia is lying to his face about many things. Here’s one for a start:

Talia emphatically did not die of leukaemia.

SLH

Buy Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

At Page 45 we have dragons for all from the sublime (IN SEARCH OF LOST DRAGONS) to the ridiculous (ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON) with the hunted and the harried in between. If you despise cockfighting and the setting of mastiffs upon one another, the recently reprinted FOUR EYES will get you proper riled. Poor dragons! It rarely goes well for them, does it?

This is a much more traditional setting for our scaly serpents / ancient wyrms and here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted through the islands to extinction.

But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.

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Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.

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That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.

Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t “do” opaque is merely a personal preference. As a hardcover this went down a storm.

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Heart-warming autobiographical introduction / tribute by Neil Gaiman.

SLH

Buy The Last Dragon and read the Page 45 review here

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli.

Good lord, Sir Neil has a beard here!

And it is most definitely Neil, just as it’s Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane sitting down with him over sushi to recall the events leading up to the strange disappearance of Miss Finch – which was not her real name. No one would believe them if recounted, but recount them Neil does.

It begins when Neil holes himself up in a London hotel to finish off a script that’s been eluding him. No one should have known he was there, but Jonathan Ross has his ways and means and off they all go out to the theatre with Miss Finch, if only to dilute the horror that is Miss Finch – which was not her real name.

That Miss Finch is a horror as becomes immediately apparent when she arrives at Jonathan’s door to his elaborate home. An austere and pedantic bio-geologist, Miss Finch is an abrupt, humourless, supercilious and sanctimonious cow.

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What, then, will they as a party make of the pseudo-phantasmagorical freak-show down in the warren of cellars that stretches under the train tracks of London’s rainy night? Is it really a fake? And what becomes of the stone-cold-hearted Miss Finch? It’s quite the transformation.

Neil keeps the tension racked, whilst Zulli (PUMA BLUES COMPLETE SAGA, SANDMAN: THE WAKE etc.) provides rich watercolour art which to begin with is overly busy, but burst out halfway though with cleaner ink lines before the lushest of light in the final tropical jungle scenes.

Oh, and Ross is depicted as a slim Oscar Wilde, which I imagine went down well with the fop!

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SLH

Buy The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette…

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

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

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”
“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

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

JR

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

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett.

Wall Street.

“The first thing I’d like to tell you is this: you are not bad people.
“I read the same headlines you do. The greed of the one percent. Corporate bailouts, corporate handouts, corporate welfare, Malfeasance. Corruption.
“We’re sure not in the eighties anymore, are we?”
Hahahahaha!

This isn’t the first collection with former Falcon Sam Wilson as Captain America – that was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen’s ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA VO 1: HYDRA ASCENDANT whose review will stand you in good stead for context – but it is a fresh new satirical start.

Gone is the straight white male Steve Rogers who believes that when the chips are down his country will do what’s right; here instead is African American Sam Wilson who just hopes it will because he’s seen it do the opposite so very often.

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As America faces a Presidential Election in which Barrack Obama could very easily be replaced by Donald Trump – a disingenuous, racist, corporation-friendly, multi-millionaire fuckwit who wants to wall off Mexico – THIEF OF THIEVES’ and THE FIX’s Nick Spencer throws immigration and that specific border crossing unflinchingly in your face along with post-SNOWDEN whistle-blowing and post-SUPERCRASH continued corporate greed, its complicit media collaborators and political enablers.

If this were British I would have expected Tory darling Sir Philip Green to have made a personal appearance, so direct is this.

We’re back in the boardroom again, with captive audience and socialist Sam Wilson being given a grilling.

“You think you’re helping – with your coddling, your welfare state, your demands for equality.
“Whatever happened to exceptionalism? Whatever happened to rewarding hard work? Instead we punish success!
“Today’s businesses face unfair and oppressive regulation at the hands of an overreaching government. I mean, where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air, anyhow? Sounds to me like free market demand for filtration systems and gas masks.
“Someone has to stand for the job creators and innovators that we’ve bound up in red tape. Someone has to make America marvellous again…
“And I say I’m just the super villain in a snake suit to do it.”

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The live media coverage endorsing the Viper and his Serpent Solutions as pro-profit pioneers even as they’re attempting to murder Sam Wilson outside the Stock Exchange as is as outlandish as Grand Theft Auto’s Weasel News. Except of course that Weasel News barely constituted satire: it was Fox news with barely a tweak and by any other name!

Somehow each of the artists manages to keep a straight superheroic face, even on the golf course, but to give you an additional indication of where to place this in the scale of po-faced punch-em’-ups and comedies like HAWKEYE, Sam spends most of his time here on a plane in passenger class sandwiched between two Twitter-obsessed idiots… or as a bipedal wolf, licking plates, scratching fleas and barking territorially at anyone attempting to read the metre.

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SLH

Buy Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Oh wait, it was a Bank Holiday! Books to follow!

News!

How To Make A Quill

ITEM! Comics! How To Make A Quill Pen by Tom Morgan-Jones. Instructional and hysterical!

ITEM! $30,000 grant open to comicbook creators. It’s not a scam. Rules very clear. Apply!

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ITEM! Excellent article on Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER.

Here’s Page 45’s review of Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER written two years earlier. Relieved to read I was on the right tracks!

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ITEM! An eye-opening read for anyone interested in this creative industry. ‘Can you illustrate my book?’ Some tips for writers approaching illustrators by Sarah McIntyre is well worth a read before you start sending out unsolicited emails. Illustrators, I feel for you all!

ITEM!  STRANGEHAVEN’s Gary Spencer Millidge reviews The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition at the Cartoon Museum open right now and including work by Gary, Nabiel Kanan, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons and – ooh, look! – here’s a map by Hunt Emerson! Fabulous!

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week four

April 27th, 2016

Includes FOUR all-ages books from historical education to historical action-adventure and historical hysteria!

Also: Corey Lewis, Alan Moore does Lovecraft and brrrrr….

Mordawwa #666 one-shot (£3-00, ScaryGoRound) by John Allison.

“Please stop calling me “Archduke Horns”, your Majesty. Everybody’s started doing it.”
“Your real name is 15 V’s in a row. I don’t consider that acceptable nomenclature.”

She does have a point. Also: an expansive vocabulary and a waspish tongue with which to dispense it.

From the creator of GIANT DAYS, BAD MACHINERY and EXPECTING TO FLY, welcome to something equally mysterious but a little less institution-of-education-orientated. Allison has for once abandoned the small towns of Great Britain and dug deep – infernally deep – to come up with Mordawwa, Queen of Hell, resplendent in red-lined cape, pin-stripe troos, twin, twisted horns and a tie that disappears ‘neath her bodice.

All is not well as we join the story 666 issues in, for Mordawwa is throwing a party and the only thing she’s pleased with is the sound of her own voice.

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Her greatest friend, ally and guest of honour – the black-winged shadow that’s The Sheriff – is running late and a metatronic call comes in from envious info-entity Ba’Al about a blockage in the River Styx. It’s causing Lucifer to run dry of souls, both pre-tormented and to-be-tormented, and to-be-continued is what he’s counting on.

“Lucifer considers restoration of flow to be mission critical.”
“By mission critical, does he mean “important”?”

It’s an odd assortment she consorts with. The most intelligent amongst them is a sentient blue horse called Scientist whose assistance is impeded by the unfortunate shortcoming of being slightly unable to speak. Barbed Amanita is far from impressed at Scientist’s intricate scuffing of hooves:

“What are you doing, pony? Drawing a map of your favourite places to drop piles of ordure? It must be hard to draw a map that encompasses “everywhere”.”
“Oh Scientist. That is a beautiful solution. There is poetry in your use of compound gears.”
“I’ve trod in Scientist’s “poetry”. Not actually all that great.”

Love, love, love Scientist’s frowny brow, furious at Amanita’s ingratitude and belittling torment.

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So what’s the problem to which Scientist’s solution is so poetic?

“Well,” as Vvvvvvvvvvvvvvv observes, “this isn’t going to be popular.”

Prepare to enter… The Age of Endless Grief!

The subterranean setting gives John an opportunity to have fun with both body forms and architecture uncommon around towns like Tackleford, but you can even see him relishing the full-on curves of his two suited and booted vamps. There’s an exquisite panel in which Amanita drop-kicks her yellow pet at demonic rock throwers who are really going to regret it. Her long, thin legs – muscles in all the right places – are like a black beetle’s body.

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Also amusing: how the shadows thrown totally fail to match those throwing them. Or are there others throwing them, unseen?

I suspect John was the most enormous fan of Marvel’s NEW MUTANTS (Mordawwa’s Illyana; the Sheriff is Lockheed the dragon), and I’m reasonably sure Archduke Horns’ teeth is a Maxx reference. But these are mere fancies, irrelevant to your enjoyment of this underworld absurdity which, like EXPECTING TO FLY, comes with a pastiche of 1980s Marvel Comics’ Checklists, Hype Boxes and Pro Files along with a mail order offer cheap enough to make any bricks-and-mortar comic shop weep.

I might subscribe to Marvel’s SCOTT WALKER, and read it on Mordawwa’s Bone Throne.

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SLH

Buy Mordawwa one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“Say, weren’t you planning on writing a book, I heard?”
“Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don’t even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
“I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
“That talks about things nobody’s dared talk about before.
“You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors.”

If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are “timely preparation for future eventualities” and “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power”. However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan’s return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON

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It’s initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.

Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, apparently, immensely homophobic.

Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert’s back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.

With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.

Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness… I’m pretty sure, however, it won’t be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University…

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There’s much to admire in Alan’s writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it’s a project he’s greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don’t need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.

I’m intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers’ states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.

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This limited edition hardcover, of a print run of 6666, will apparently not be reprinted, nor will any soft covers be released until all twelve issues of the series are out and the two further hardcovers released. In any event, both the hardcovers and softcovers will collect all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It’s ostensibly Robert’s journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it’s the best thing he has written for several years.

JR

[Editor’s note: for, umm, alternative art which I didn’t feel we could run in the blog, please here click here…]

Buy Providence vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa…

“Cool.
“Good.
“I’m good.
“It’s all good.
“I am a hero.”

If I had to sum this up in one sentence it would be… “Mentally ill, second-rate manga creator prone to hallucinations finds himself caught up in the zombie apocalypse.’

If I had to sum it up in two sentences, my second would be… “I loved it.”

Hideo Suzuki is many things, but a hero he is not. Yet, at least. As he neatly observes as his life starts sliding even further out of control than he believed possible… “How can I be a hero when I’m not even the main character in my own life?”

It’s just such a lack of characterisation that various editors and sub-editors and sub-sub-editors in the cut-throat world of manga publishing have accused him of, whilst endlessly turning down his latest pitch. Even his one brief hit floundered spectacularly after the second meandering volume for precisely those reasons. He had his fans, including his girlfriend Tetsuko, who works as a manga assistant. Sadly, being a studio assistant is all the manga work Hideo can get now too.

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Poor old Hideo’s tormented to sanity-testing levels by a number of things on a near-continuous basis, but not least these: his lack of success, his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend (an up-and-coming superhot manga creator who ironically is the one person who thinks Hideo’s work is utterly brilliant), whether his girlfriend and said superhot creator might still be having a little something on the side, plus his hallucinations of various odd characters who pop up and start conversations with him at seemingly random moments.

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So when the decaying faeces really starts hitting the proverbial fan and his newly zombiefied girlfriend attacks Hideo whilst he’s letting himself into her apartment, he’s actually convinced he’s merely having a serious mental meltdown! Eventually it becomes apparent even to him, if not to the rest of the manga studio holed up frantically trying to make the next ridiculous deadline, that that the end of the world is nigh. Cue a comedy chase across town (comedy value for viewers only) that’s ended by possibly one of the finest zombie decapitations I have ever seen, caused by the undercarriage of a crashing jumbo jet!

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Oh, I think Hideo might just have unwittingly become the lead character in something. Just not any sort of story you would ever want to star in…

This is such a peculiarly brilliant mash-up mix taking, as it does, the complete piss out of the whole frenetic manga industry treadmill and all its attendant emotionally maladjusted and downright antisocial members, and scaring the bejeebers, or whatever the equivalent Japanese colloquialism is, out of us all while it is at it. For make no mistake, these zombies are horrific, far more akin to Junji Ito-style distorted, bloated, twisted terrors than shambling WALKING DEAD.

So I guess if I had to sum it up in three sentences my third would, as unlikely as it seems, be… “It’s BAKUMAN meets UZAMAKI…”

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JR

Buy I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Nameless City vol 1 (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire on colour art.

An all-ages epic which stole my heart and took my breath away. Prepare to be dazzled, enraged and ever so proud in equal measure.

Sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest, The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that the city through which all commerce now passes controls the flow of wealth.

It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless. Instead they watch silently, resentfully – and hungrily – as wave after wave of invaders steal their natural resources.

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All of this is set out succinctly in the first five pages, Hicks and Bellaire establishing both an epic tone and landscape, emphasising what is at stake. Now they begin to make it personal…

Young Kaidu has travelled from the provinces to meet his father, General Andren, for the very first time. First, however, he must begin training in combat under Erzi, son of the General Of All Blades who conquered the city for the Dao three decades ago. Erzi is determined to ensure that the Dao don’t go soft and sets the fifteen cadets up against his bodyguard Mura, a native from the city below.

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They don’t fare at all well but behind Erzi’s back they disparage Mura sneeringly as “skral” (think “pleb”, “scum” or any outsider you like to look down on and dehumanise). That Kaidu won’t stand for such small-mindedness impresses Erzi (Mura, not so much – not much impresses Mura – I think you’ll like her!) but don’t be deceived: Erzi’s in an odd place mentally and his affinity for the native inhabitants who have begun to call themselves The Named only stretches so far.

“When I was your age, if I went into the city, the children I met there would throw rocks at me. I was born here, but to them I was a Dao invader. When my father began bringing Dao children from the homelands to the city, they thought I was strange. They avoided me.
“The city is my home, and the Dao are my people. I belong to both, and because of that it’s hard for either to truly accept me. “Maybe it will always be this way for me. But when I become the General Of All Blades after my father, it will be the first time the city is ruled by someone who was born here.”

Hmm. By “here” he means within the safety of the fortress, not in the city below. I think he’s missing the point somewhat, especially with Mura standing right behind him!

The cadets are forbidden from exploring the city on their own but Kaidu’s Dad is far from the regimented soldier Erzi aspires to be and the first thing he does is take his son on a field trip to sample the street life and delicious cooked meats outside the walled confines above. They bond easily, swiftly, Kaidu’s father emanating a kindly warmth which fails only on a girl Andren calls out to on a rooftop, offering her some of their food.

“I see her at the market sometimes. She always looks hungry.”

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Seen with fresh eyes, everyone around them looks hungry.

Kaidu’s Dad offers to take him back to the city the next night but in the end trade negotiations keep him away. It is then that Mura steps in, perhaps seeing some hope in the boy after all:

“You should go on your own. You don’t need your father to hold your hand.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to go into the city alone.”
“Everyone should go alone into the city once in their life. To see how it truly is.”

What I hope I’m establishing is that no one here is a two-dimensional cipher with singular loyalties or intransigent dogma because that never ends well. Come to think of it that doesn’t begin well, either, and the bit in the middle’s a bore. Everyone can see that the situation is untenable – no one has held onto the city for long; you might as well invade Afghanistan – but no one agrees on the proposed solutions.

While that discussion evolves and generals are summoned for a meeting, Kaidu does sneak out of the fortress but quickly becomes lost and his reception is bordering on hostile. No one will speak to this Dao except rooftop-racing Rat, the girl from yesterday, and even she’s not going to easy to win over.

What it really needs is someone to reach out: an act of friendship; an act of trust.

A leap of faith, as it were, right over the River of Lives!

And that is one arresting spread, isn’t it?

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From the creator of FRIENDS WITH BOYS and the colourist of INJECTION etc, I am convinced that this will prove massive for fans of AMULET, DELILAH DIRK, PORCELAIN, COURTNEY CRUMRIN and all those Doug TenNapel graphic novels constantly erupting from our shelves.

It’s so well crafted with elements which later prove pivotal presaged well ahead in the game. I don’t think I’ve turned the final forty pages of any book so fast – and then gone back for re-gawp, obv. Love what both Bellaire and Hicks did with the Festival of Ruins at night. It’s not easy upping the exotic on a city already established as so spectacular, but when I first clapped eyes on the festival I thought immediately of Venice.

I like all the design elements which are convincingly coherent and must have taken some time to coalesce. There are early explorations of Rat’s possible garb in the back and, although I enjoyed them all, some were less “indigenous” and a great deal more contemporary than others. What was settled on was perfect for a poverty-stricken child for whom jewellery of any sort would be out of the question.

Not only that, but if you stripped out all the speech bubbles and were compelled to read this “silently”, you’d still understand the import of every sequence and enjoy the actors’ priceless expressions in doing do.

Round of applause for the most unexpected yet very well judged piece of slapstick on page 112.

“Uh-oh” indeed.

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield.

Hot on the hooves of JULIUS ZEBRA – RUMBLE WITH THE ROMANS clops another instant classic of cack-handed combat and bog-eyed buffoonery as Julius Zebra attempts to win over the hearts and minds of a cruel Britannia.

Yes, not content with becoming a gladiatorial superstar at the Colosseum, Julius Zebra (don’t call him Debra) is hoping to repeat his Roman success while being sent off on his jolly holibobs by Hadrian himself!

Not only that, but all his equally inept friends will be coming with him. Bang that bucket! Spank that spade! Pack your favourite pebble collection!

Slight problems:

1) It is no holibob
2) It is to Britain
3) So it will be cold and it will be wet, for there will be rain.

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There will be so much rain that artist Gary Northfield will need to buy himself an extra pot of ink.

And it’s not as if central heating had been invented.

[Editor’s Note: Errr, it had, by the Romans and they exported it to Britain.]

Well it’s not as if our chums are going to benefit. They’re all still slaves so the only stars of their accommodation will be the ones they can see through the gigantic hole in its leaking roof, they’ll have to swab the ship’s deck on their way over and these animal crackers couldn’t survive in the wild, let alone in a deadly arena.

“I hate running!” spluttered Felix. “I’ve got flat hooves.”

Felix is an antelope.

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Why has Hadrian really bundled these bozos off to Britain? Which bad-ass beasties will be breathing down the numpties’ necks? What lurks in the spooky old shack and why did she spit in the cauldron? (“Needs more salt.”)

As the clots trot up the gangplank at the start of their voyage they have idea of the traumas in store on our shore. Let’s hope they learn to tut loudly while queuing.

I love this hybrid of comics and prose which slip in and out of each other effortlessly. I couldn’t bear to part with Julius all dubious about the bowl of broth he’s been offered (see “Needs more salt”!)…

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… and the former often delivers a punchline to the latter which could not be replicated with words alone. So integral are the illustrations that if you attempted to remove these visual and verbal gags you’d be left wondering which pages were missing.

Like GARY’S GARDEN and THE TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS this is in part about animals attempting to make sense of the world around them – which, when we’ve constructed it, rarely has their best interests at heart – specifically animals with barely a brain cell between them.

It’s essentially CCLXXV pages of mad-eyed, exuberant high camp. Gary Northfield has turned gormless into an art form and a hugely enjoyable spectator sport – just like gladiatorial combat. The two probably shouldn’t be mixed…

Back at the gate Julius put his head in his hooves.
“This isn’t going to end well.”

You sense that, don’t you?

SLH

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Buy Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Discover… The Ancient Egyptians / Discover… The Roman Empire (£8-99 each, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg.

Discover covers use as interior too

First two fabulous and – important, this! – fun books in what I hope will be a sprawling series of history lessons, excitedly received by those who love works which wink. All education should be entertainment and this balanced both so beautifully that at the end of each I was holding out my begging bowl for more.

Instead of feeling like illustrated prose, the Mediterranean-coloured, image-orientated pages read like info-splattered illustration into which is injected the illusion of comics. The illusion of comics! So clever!

The illusion’s achieved by assigning mischievous môts and satirical side-swipes in speech balloons to the guides, guest-stars and bystanders commentating on the institutions, inventions and initiatives being explored.

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I particularly enjoyed the third and fourth page instructing us on Egyptian gods: Osiris of the underworld, Isis (both his sister and wife – don’t try that at home, kids!), their son Horus of the sky and… oh, there’s always one in every family, isn’t there?

“This is Seth. He’s Osiris’ brother, and he was the god of chaos… He’s trouble!”
“Heh heh heh,”

… Pants jackal-headed Seth, a barely suppressed smile playing across his mouth. I suspect he knows what’s coming next, and I fear “trouble” might be understating it slightly.

“Seth brutally murdered his brother Osiris….”

What I did I tell you?

Fortunately Isis resurrected Osiris long enough to have that child Horus so that this could all this symbolically represent the death and regrowth of crops which is nice.

“Heh heh heh” smirks once Seth again but Horus won’t let it lie:
“I declare you shall be banished, Uncle Seth!”
“Ugh. Whatever.”

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If all this seems so very Lizz Lunney it’s actually the result of the Greenberg sisters, Isabel of course being responsible for the enormously playful ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH which was my favourite graphic novel of its year. It was Epic and Awesome, a story about Stories, but brilliantly it poked fun at itself, the Epic and the Awesome.

As to the other tome, did you know that as well as their own gods the Romans were such big-hearted / open-minded / conquest-crazy fickle thieves that they worshipped gods from other countries and religions as well? See Isis above, but also Pan, the Greek god of mountains it says here but also field-friendly discos.

Books like these should always surprise and this certainly throws in a few googlies down its timeline. You’d get a Q.I. alarm bell, for example, if you buzzed in with “Emperor Julius Caesar” for he was nothing of the sort. Caesar was a genius general who declared himself dictator only to be ousted before so very long by his adopted son Augustus who did become the first Emperor of Rome. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth” etcetera.

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Before we return to Ancient Egypt, here’s another one: not only did Emperor Constantine (pronounced ‘wine’, just like the star of HELLBLAZER – they are related!) convert to Christianity, taking much of the empire with him, but he built a new capital to rule from which he called Constantinople. Which was just as well because – believe it or not – the Roman Empire kind of lost Rome in 410 AD to the Visigoths and, umm, never recaptured it!

Coming back to how well visual aspects like the River Nile are incorporated and utilised within the page, I loved how the Egyptians’ pyramid-shaped, feudal society, is explained within a pyramid. Apposite in every way.

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Surprises from thereabouts come in the form of our 365-day calendar which they invented (although it fell to the Romans to add the twelve months and seven-day weeks), a three-season year revolving around the condition of the Nile (and therefore the crops), and the surprising news that Upper Egypt was down south and Lower Egypt was oop north because the Nile ran south to north and the Egyptians rulers were all a bunch of elitist Tory bastards.

Lastly, the Ankh…? It’s a hieroglyph meaning life, not DEATH, which was Neil Gaiman’s point all along. So I imagine that’s sent a whiplash round what’s left of the gothic community.

Heh heh heh.

SLH

Buy Discover… The Ancient Egyptians and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Discover… The Roman Empire and read the Page 45 review here

Take Me Back To Manchester (£12-00, self-published) by Oliver East.

In April 1872 a man called Lorenzo Lawrence walked a seven-year-old Asian Elephant called Maharajah 200 miles south from Edinburgh to Manchester in 10 days.

Why? Entertainingly, it depends on who you believe, but here are some facts:

On April 9th,1872, an auction was being held at Waverly Market in Edinburgh to dispose of the animal assets of Wombwell’s Menagerie – some at such knock-down prices one might suspect the knackers yard was their next destination. Many including Maharajah were scooped up by one James Jennison, co-owner of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens (as they were all called then) back in Manchesterland.

As the animals were being loaded onto wagons at Waverley Street Station two days later the normally placid Maharajah, quite used to being transported, threw a strop, thrust his head through the front of the horse box then backed through its rear, causing quite a commotion as he did so. Wombwell Menagerie’s resident lion tamer, one Lorenzo Lawrence, bravely stepped in to quell the bellicose beast’s ire… almost immediately after which it resumed its regular, docile demeanour.

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It was then that Lorenzo offered to lead Maharajah to Manchester, thereby neatly postponing his penury by prolonging his employment. I don’t want to sound cynical – though I wouldn’t be the first – so instead I will congratulate Lorenzo on yet another sterling performance: in agitating the elephant in the first place!

As the graphic novel proceeds we follow Lorenzo – as loquacious as The Good Old Days’ Leonard Sachs – as he barters his way down south, earning extra money by giving rides and seeking what lodgings he can for himself and a steaming elephant. It’s quite the pantomime and no trick is lost in maximising publicity including an increasingly exaggerated account of Maharajah’s dismissive disdain for the route’s multiple toll gates.

Very clever, that: these seemingly ubiquitous toll gates must have been as unpopular with a poor public as the Poll Tax, and the pachyderm’s trash-and-dash reputation must have made it a people’s champion.

What do I love about this graphic novel?

The story itself, the colours and its forms!

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I’ve not seen magnolia and walnut brown dominate a comic so boldly as here and it works so well in a scene, for example, framing the elephant sleeping in peace outside an inn, the courtyard viewed from inside a stable which almost certainly failed to accommodate the animal.

I also adored the corrugated aspect of the beast’s furrowed forehead and trunk – viewed both in profile and face-on – demarked by a brush or nib (virtual or otherwise) which doesn’t once leave the page. The ridges are so deep you can almost fit your fingers in and maybe use them as handholds to scale onto the beast’s back.

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Again I would return to the brown and the cream and their sheen on glossy white paper. I’ve stared at some of those pages for ages.

There’s another couple opposite each other which deploy a tempestuous purple along with cream which to me streams from the heavens like sunbeams through thunderous clouds – possibly the most dramatic of any weather conditions – the left-hand page emphasising the wide-open space of the British countryside as well as the distance travelled each day, the right at rest and under shelter being positively cosy by comparison!

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Set pieces like those genuinely took my breath away but this isn’t a gallery of images, it’s a comic. It’s a sequence of images supposed to tell a story and I have to tell you that there were so many instances – quite important ones– during which I did not have the first clue as to what was going on, such was the lack of defined or precise visual information.

It may sound as if I did, but I had to do research. Flashbacks were unheralded and that’s fine if you’re Greg Ruth or Hwei Lim and at least giving clues for the reader to latch onto. Here I was utterly lost. Sometimes I felt as if I was trying to peer through a dense, form-eroding mist for the slightest hint of context.

Also, I hate to sound like a martinet but there’s organic lettering and then there is scrappy and scruffy. This was in places unnecessarily scruffy.

Nevertheless I’m convinced that the images reproduced here will impress you enough to embrace once again an old favourite – your travelling companion on TRAINS ARE… MINT and PROPER WELL GO HIGH etc – who himself undertook the arduous walk from Edinburgh to Manchester to get a proper feel for the trek. Whether he talked to himself in the same affectionate manner Lorenzo chatted with Maharajah (as we do with pets, supplying each purported reply in our head), I don’t know; but I suspect so, don’t you?

This is Lorenzo at the start of his journey but you just know that it’s Oliver East all the way.

“What did you buy?”
“Um, maps. I bought maps.”
“Maps? But it’s just two roads. South to Carlisle then the old Roman Road to Manchester.”
“What can I say? I like to know where I’m walking. Might as well learn while I’m on the road.”

SLH

Buy Take Me Back To Manchester and read the Page 45 review here

Sun Bakery #1 (£4-50, Press Gang) 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.

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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!

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‘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, bio-hazard, heavily armoured exo-skeletal fight-suit.

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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.

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‘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 #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca…

“The boy cannot hide from his destiny.

“Or from me.”

It’s time for a STAR WARS / DARTH VADER crossover party, as Daddy Darth indulges in some hide and seek with Luke, whilst Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen play pass the writing parcel and Mike Deodata and Salvador Larroca swat the goodie-filled pictorial piñata to and fro. Technically this is volume three of both series, though Marvel will no doubt number the next individual volume of each as the third, being the party poopers they are…

Anyway, Darth is hot on the hyperspace heels of Death Star destroyer Skywalker, and he’s tracked his wayward progeny down to the planet Vrogas Vas, where Luke is visiting the remains of an old Jedi temple searching for some answers of his own. Cue one unfortunate encounter with a Rebel Squadron later and we’re crash-landing our way into a little father son tête-a-… errr… helmet… on the surface.

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But, it’s not all about father / son time! Rest assured Princess Leia plus C3P0, Han and Chewie are soon en route to the knees-up, despite not being invited. Plus everyone’s favourite new characters Professor Aphra and her psychotic robotic entertainers Triple-Zero and BeeTee are gate-crashing too. That trio alone are guaranteed to make sure any party goes with a bang, and the guests with a blood-curdling scream… In fact, I’ll leave it to them to explain precisely what mayhem is going to ensue during the course of this particular reunion celebration…

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“This is officially not good. I’ve intercepted Rebel communications that say Vader was definitely shot down over Vrogas Vas. No word yet if he’s alive or dead. At this point… I’m not sure if which would be worse. But either way, we’ve got to go after him. And if he’s dead…”
“We could always simply murder everyone we encounter. No matter the problem, I usually find that to be the most elegant solution. BeeTee rather excitedly agrees.”
“ We’re flying right into a nest of Rebel troops, Triple-Zero. I expect you’ll get your wish.”
“How splendid! Did you hear that, BeeTee? We get to torture and exterminate indiscriminately!”
“BLEEP!”

JR

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Buy Star Wars: Vader Down s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Brodys Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay

Octopus Pie vol 3 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Rumble vol 2: A Woe That Is Madness s/c (£12-99, Image) by John Arcudi & James Harren

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 6 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Wood: The Of Art Of Tomorrow Kings h/c (£39-99, IDW) by Ashley Wood

Adventure Time vol 8 (UK Edition) s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Ryan North, Christopher Hastings & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Zachary Sterling

Adventure Time: Fist-Bump Cavalcade (£9-99, Titan) by various

Tiny Titans: Welcome To The Treehouse s/c (£9-99, DC) by Franco Baltazar & Art Baltazar

Astonishing Ant-Man vol 1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas

Carnage vol 1: The One That Got Away s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Conway & Mike Perkins

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

Extraordinary X-Men vol 1: X-Haven s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Humberto Ramos

Spider-Man 2099 vol 1: Smack To The Future s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney

X-Men: The Age Of Apocalypse vol 4 – Twilight s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Assassination Classroom vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Shuriken And Pleats vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Koutarou Yamada

News!

How fabulous to find Page 45 on a billboard! An Etherington Bros billboard with a pull quote from 5,000-STAR review of VON DOOGAN AND THE GREAT AIR RACE which you’ll find with all our other PHOENIX WEEKLY COMIC favourites!

Von Doogan Page 45 Billboard

Other than that you’ll have to wait till next week, I ran out of time! Reviews! Life! Etc!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week three

April 20th, 2016

New John Allison GIANT DAYS, graphic biographies of Munch and an Olympic athlete we’ve never heard of; Chester Brown, God, Jesus, Mary and Vikings!

Hello, what’s this?! A brand-new CRIMINAL reviewed on its very day of release with interior art you’ve never seen before thanks to Sean Phillips?! Hurrah!

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition (comic-size £3-99, magazine-size £4-50; Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

CRIMINAL is the best crime comic in the business.

I have without fail reviewed every single edition, and relished doing so. This is its brand-new, 10th Anniversary, self-contained one-shot and a perfect introduction to these imperfect individuals in their less than ideal worlds.

How was your childhood?

“It’s easier to be a fictional character.
“How sad is that?”

Not as sad as the ending, as an almost unheard of act of kindness in twelve-year-old Tracy Lawless’ bleak young life is flushed down the pan, along with all its potential, out of fear.

Looked at from another angle, however, it is perhaps the one ray of hope that Tracy might turn out okay against all nature and nurture odds, because it’s not for himself that he fears. It’s for a local girl who’s befriended him on the streets of a small town where, as a stranger, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

“I’m not supposed to be doing this. Mike Johnson isn’t supposed to have fun.
“And he doesn’t get to make friends. Friends get remembered.”

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Oh dear. We’ve already discovered what happens to those might remember Tracy. Brubaker deliberately sets this up on the very first pages so that it informs everything else that follows, throwing a terrible pall over anyone who comes near the boy.

This includes Lana, one of the individuals that Tracy’s Dad is out searching for. Because of this looming threat one fears, rightly or wrongly, that Tracy may have doomed the smiling shop assistant simply by identifying her. Tracy himself recognises this almost immediately afterwards. It’s not exactly a Judas moment, but it’s certainly made all the more poignant by their mutual, momentary affection which elicits the other act of kindness and their eyes light up. So it might as well have been a kiss.

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Mike Johnson, by the way, is that fictional identity Tracy is forced to adopt whenever he’s travelling on the run (or otherwise undercover) with his career-criminal dad. He shouldn’t have been roaming the streets, he should have stayed safely shut away in the motel reading the comic which his father Teeg stole for him (which is nice), but Teeg hadn’t come back in the evening nor in the morning, and that’s pretty much par for the course. The boy’s got to eat.

What follows is a rough scrap of a friendship scraped from the car crash of Tracy’s neglected childhood before he witnesses that which a twelve-year-old son never should.

There’s a telling line early on from Tracy himself, referring to himself being taught to drive his dad’s getaway car last year as “just a kid” as if he considers himself an adult now. But he’s neither one thing nor the other: he’s not his father’s adult accomplice because he’s not been let in on what the mission is; yet if he’s still a child what on earth is he doing behind the wheel and changing number plates? What is he doing – worst of all – understanding his father’s fucked up priorities?

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Sean draws the boy all droopy-mouthed and saggy-shouldered – weighted, weary beyond his years, far from care-free and truly troll-like. His eyes would be scathing if they could summon the energy but are instead so heavy, so sceptical, expecting nothing – which is just as well. It’s what makes the brief burst of reignited hope and rekindled vivacity in the shop with Lana so unexpected and arresting. The boy can actually smile – he can beam – if engaged with at all.

But that’s as nothing to the central panel in a single page which is one of the finest I’ve seen in comics.

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It is the epitome of wide-eyed, awe-struck enchantment as Tracy’s face comes electrically alive, spellbound by the DEADLY HANDS OF comic which straddles the same worlds he does between adult and child.

“This comic is weird…
“It kind of reminds me of the ones my dad gets some times…
“But those have naked ladies and stuff in them.
“And this one, you just feel like it’s about to have naked ladies all the time.
“Like it’s a comic for kids pretending to be a comic for grown-ups.”

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Of course it is. It’s a mischievous tribute to a Marvel Comics combo of SHANG-CHI, MASTER OF KUNG-FU and WEREWOLF BY NIGHT – very seventies indeed, Daddio – pages of which are paraded in front of you in all their tanned, aged-paper glory by Sean Phillips in immaculate impressions of expressionist Paul Gulacy the for sub-lunar werewolf sequences and of the far more conservative Sal Buscema inked by the likes of Mike Esposito when the angst-ridden protagonist reverts to puny Peter Parker-like form. It’s all in the eyebrows.

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Tracy’s father, of course, was reading the equivalent of macho, alpha-male CONAN in the previous CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 (also available as CRIMINAL SPECIAL EDITION #1 MAGAZINE SIZED; both still in stock at the time of typing) whilst biding his time and trying to stay off the radar in jail. I like that they share an interest in something, but I still don’t think Teeg’s going to be winning many parental awards any time soon.

I like what Breitweiser’s done with both the daytime and evening colours here: it’s something completely different to FATALE or THE FADE OUT for this is set is in such a small town it’s virtually deserted after dark. There are no fancy-schmancy multicoloured neon bar signs projecting onto the street: in the evening the only monochromatic glow comes from the few sickly sodium lights and they don’t light anything up properly. In the daytime the colours may be muted and mundane but they do at least look relatively healthy and safe by contrast.

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I don’t know whether Brubaker of Phillips decided which comics would be racked in the grocery store’s spinners but whichever it was we evidently shared similar summer holiday experiences. Speaking of similar summer holiday experiences, hats off to both for the kids’ visit to the second-hand bookshop – the only place you’d find old comics back then. Phillips has almost beaten Bernie Wrightson at his own game for internal clutter. I could feel the binding of every single book on those shelves, but of course Tracy’s not interested.

“I’m just looking for comics.”

We’re all just looking for comics.

Criminal 10th Anniv screenshot

SLH

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The last magazine-sized edition came with a faux letter column for the CONAN-like comic. This one signs off with the latest DEADLY HANDS movie machinations and hints to its “female-type readers” that they might soon find themselves represented in the form of QUEEN LAO, the She-Fighter!!! Bonus black-and-white painted pin-up!

Buy Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Hands Of Magazine Ed and read the Page 45 review here

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist…

“Training at Coni Stadium in Mogadishu is a bit different than at the Beijing Olympic Games. Here you have to be careful not to trip. There are holes all over the track from the bombs.”

The German comics biographer Meister returns with another intriguing choice of subject. Following on from the likes of CASTRO, ELVIS and JOHNNY CASH, his previous work – his best for me – was on a considerably more obscure figure in the form of THE BOXER: THE TRUE STORY OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR HARRY HAFT. Much of its appeal was the fact its subject was someone I knew absolutely nothing about, but whom had lived a long, difficult and utterly fascinating life.

This time it’s the story of an equally obscure athlete, Samia Yusuf Omar, who represented her country of Somalia at the Beijing Olympics with great pride and whose great dream was of competing at London 2012. Sadly, that aspiration was cruelly dashed as she drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Italy along with several other migrants. But in her short life she achieved, and endured, far more than most of us pack into a lifetime.

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It’s a very clever work, this. Yes, it’s Samia’s story, but it’s also the stories of the multitudes who attempt to seek a better life in Europe, regardless of their reasons. For whatever one’s opinions, informed or otherwise, regarding the rights or wrongs of ‘illegal’ economic migration, there is one simple fact which remains true. Would the vast majority of EU member state citizens, if we found ourselves in the same position as those people in Eastern Europe and Africa, do exactly the same as they are doing? I know I would.

Anyway, Samia’s heart-wrenching decision to leave her mother and the rest of her family was simply in order to be able to train. For the main problem she faced in Mogadishu was not simply the lack of facilities in her war torn country, but the fact that the ruling Islamist militia Al-Shabaab had deemed running unacceptable for women under their repugnant version of Sharia law. After the summary execution of her father in the market place a few years previously Samia had learnt to keep her head down and try to avoid trouble, but she was still determined to pursue her training.

Germany. An Olympic Dream

However, the daily harassment from the local armed goons eventually turned more serious, with texted threats informing her they knew where she lived and that she would be killed, finally convincing her she had to leave. Initially she moved to Ethiopia to train there, but the usual official corruption and also misogyny, albeit not on the levels of Al-Shabaab, forced her to decide to try to get to Italy in the belief she would be able to pursue her athletics there in freedom. Her story ended, like so many others attempting similar journeys, in tragedy, and not before experiencing incredible trauma and hardship along the way.

Putting a very human face on migration, as Kleist does here with Samia’s story, undoubtedly helps people to understand precisely why people do leave their homes and attempt these odysseys in search of a better future. Her conversations along the way with fellow travellers attempting the journey for far less prosaic reasons are extremely illuminating. When we talk about social inequalities between the haves and have-nots in our own rather more comfortable country, it’s easy for us to forget that as tough as many do have it in the UK, it’s absolutely nothing in comparison to the suffering and utter destitute poverty some people experience day in, day out elsewhere in the world.

So again, I return to the fact that were I in their situation, would I attempt to get into the EU no matter what it took? Of course I would. Economic migration has been going on since time immemorial and whilst the rewards might not be quite what they believe, à la Dick Whittington and his streets paved with gold, when their lives are so deprived and so hard, I can completely understand their motivations to try. Would Samia have ever won a medal at an Olympics? It’s extremely unlikely. But did she deserve the opportunity to be able to try and achieve her dreams? Of course.

JR

Buy An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar and read the Page 45 review here

Munch (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Steffen Kvernland…

“Munch is the perfect comic book character! Almost everything he created was autobiographical, so I can use his letters, diaries, notes, drawings, graphic works and even his paintings. He called some of his diaries ‘literary journals’, so they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But what the hell, it’s great stuff!”
“Yeah, it’ll actually be Munch on Munch! And all of the diaries are pretty much literary dramatisations.”
“Will you keep the spelling mistakes or outdated language?”
“Yup, everything stays! The language will be totally uneven with lots of the sources and historical periods all jumbled together. But a quote is a quote! My contribution will be my subjective perception of Munch, and that’ll mostly be determined by the visual interpretations of, and what will be included or not. It’s going to be a monumental puzzle to figure out. I’ve read kilometres of books on Munch and there’s more to come.”
“It’ll take years to draw everything!”
“Huh! A year at the most!”

‘…Seven years later…’

Ha, I really did enjoy the prefacing six-page autobiographical introduction explaining just how Steffen Kvernland convinced himself over a very boozy lunch that it would be a great idea to do a graphic biography of Munch. Little did he suspect what he was letting himself in for! I’ll say this for him, though: he stuck the course over those seven long years and ended up producing a masterpiece.

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Speaking of liquid heavy repasts, Edvard Munch was undoubtedly, besides being a great artist, a true hellraiser, surrounded as he was for most of his early career by a coterie of artists and intellectuals who were, of course, all massive pissheads. So by the time he reached his mid-forties, with his most celebrated works long behind him, his lifestyle of hard drinking and love of brawling was close to tipping him over the edge, necessitating some chill-out time in rehab.

However, I love the fact that as part of his ongoing treatment his doctor advised Munch “to only socialize with good friends and avoid drinking in public.” After that episode he became extremely reclusive, but still immensely prodigious, even if none of the output achieved the recognition of early paintings such as The Scream series. It was as though, to quote the final two pages of this work…

“Munch had become a monk whose life was devoted to art.
“Art was his religion.”

Quite so. What is so impressive about this work is just how comprehensive it is. Yes, Munch was undoubtedly a real character, but it’s delightful to read a graphic biography by someone who is a true aficionado on their subject. Not only does Kvernland have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Munch, both the man and his art, but you can tell he has a real passion for him. It’s this enthusiasm, combined with a compelling art style that makes this such a pleasure to read, or indeed just look at.

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The stroke of genius, though, is making Munch himself the main narrator. Mainly it’s a wiser, more sanguine Munch looking back at his capricious, youthful self, but it imbues the book with a sense of truthfulness that might otherwise give way to mild disbelief at the appalling antics and emotional eruptions Munch was prone to. It allows Kvernland to walk us through Munch’s careening career and louche life without passing comment, but merely act as our educated museum guide, adding in some judicious hard facts.

The art though was a revelation. I can see exactly why it took him seven years. Munch famously advocated painting not what he saw, but what he felt, and you can see Kvernland has adopted this process to a degree. The artist’s early life is portrayed in really quite jocular caricature, entirely befitting Munch’s absurd behaviour, with vibrant colours and dashes of cubist flourish. Also, Munch’s haunted eyes occasionally minded me of a Richard Sala creation! The elder Munch, in his rare ‘on camera’ appearances, is portrayed much more statesmen-like in black and white, Victorian plumbago-style portraits.

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Sitting alongside PABLO and VINCENT as part of Self Made Hero’s Art Masters range, this exquisite picture of a most peculiar man and highly talented artist should help inform new generations that The Scream was first and foremost a series of paintings and not merely an internet meme

JR

Buy Munch and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin.

“This next place is great. It’s the ultimate. It has the answers we seek.”
“Please no more boutiques, Esther. I can’t take my clothes off again today.”
“All these fancy shops. There are so many clothes. So many garments. And they’re all… they’re all made of stars.”

That’s a perfect opening page, neatly encapsulating one aspect each of Esther, Susan and Daisy: up for adventure, bewildered by fashion, and away with the fairies, respectively.

It also kicks off the first chapter’s challenge immediately: prep for, then survive a university ball. Survive means 1) not snog your best mate’s face off, 2) not cop off with your ex and 3) not make a fool of yourself in front of the beau of the ball. Umm… that’d be a great big whoops, then.

But first they need to dress for the occasion and Lissa Treiman does each of them proud, although Susan was always going to be traumatised now matter what she ended up in.

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“You look amazing!” gasps Daisy, hands clasped with rapture as is tradition. “Esther is like a wizard.”
“First she squeezed my blackheads. Then she trussed me up like a turkey. Then she aggressively blow-dried me for twenty minutes.”

One of Allison’s many seemingly simple skills is lobbing in one extra word like “aggressively” and making it work for him like a ‘Q’ tile in Scrabble placed on a Triple Word square, maximising the comedic value of entire paragraphs.

“She said she worked out I was the exact same shape and height as Bette Midler.”
“Ohh!”
“After that, she looked at me the way Stephen Hawking looks at a Black Hole. She knew too much.”

Both Treiman and Sarin succeed in squeezing out the maximum drama from every line, whether it’s Susan staring into the distance there as if having undergone some profound Lovecraftian trauma, Esther’s gleeful self-satisfaction at building then delivering a kidney-kicking pun, or Daisy’s wide-eyed worry at where it will all end. Here’s Susan’s ultra-practical ex, McGraw, bypassing some bouncers and flourishing his gadget like Zelda levelling up:

“I had to get in… with this 12-in-1 multi-tool. I pried the beading off a uPVC window casing and removed the sealed unit.”
“What if you used those powers… for evil?”

This is the thing that daunts me about BAD MACHINERY’s John Allison: how does he even know about uPVC beading? How did “meniscus” end up in his vocabulary? And what does this even mean?

“Lovely use of the flat felled stitch on Susan’s seams, by the way.”
“Sir, you’re making me blush.”

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Esoteric is inherently funny, I think. Of course there’s also room for slapstick and I for one wholeheartedly side with Susan, having lived on top of Nottingham’s tallest knoll above the Arboretum Park, and attempted to scale its glacial 3-in-1 winter summit wearing Cuban heels.

“There’s nothing wrong with my shoes! It’s this hill that’s wrong. They built this city wrong!”

There follows the suicide slide I know oh so well right back down to the bottom of the hill.

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Previously in GIANT DAYS SELF-PUBLISHED PACK and then in GIANT DAYS VOL 1: Susan, Esther and Daisy experience the joys of communal kitchens etc at university for the very first time.

Now it’s the Student Ball, Christmas Break, Exams and Bad Boyfriend Decisions. Susan has a secret! Daisy becomes a Life Coach! Ed Gemmell bears his soul – then quickly covers it up again but is he in time?!?!

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John Allison knows exactly how old couples rekindle their flame, loudly, arms flailing:

“Best record! Best songs!
“I agree completely!”

All three panels are too, too funny.

Also, watch what Treiman does when Esther hits the dance floor in Northampton to attract / distract every boy in sight. She succeeds, of course, but as anyone who’s seen such a show will know, half the lads are checking out each others’ moves, not the luring lady’s.

SLH

Buy Giant Days vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown.

“Simon.”
“Yes, Jesus?”
“If you consider Mary to be a sinner, you don’t understand my teachings.”

Quite.

Love, love, love the format unique to comics, emulating the shape and weight of a prayer book.

Within you’ll find nearly 200 pages of Biblical comics with a very strict theme and 75 pages of afterword / annotation. Even the afterword has been annotated, as have a couple of the annotations!

But one man’s onerously self-referential is another man’s thorough and I found this fascinating. I was transfixed throughout, and if you have any interest in stories – in their evolution, censorship and other sleights-of-hand – then I think you will be too.

For a start, intentionally or otherwise, they are delivered with all the droll deadpan of IF YOU STEAL and LOW MOON’s Jason. Here’s King David who’s been availing himself of Bathsheba, wife of one of David’ most loyal and committed soldiers, Uriah.

“David sends Bathsheba home before the sun rises. Weeks later, one of her servants delivers a message to him.”
““I’m pregnant. – B””

Given his sincerity I’m not sure Chester was intending to be this comedic throughout, but the modern economy of that note put me in mind of Tom Gauld’s GOLIATH (nothing to do with its subject, everything to do with its execution) and even the iconoclastic satire of anti-atheist Evelyn Waugh. Indeed it is that very economy and stripped-down clarity of storytelling throughout which makes much of this so laugh-out-loud funny.

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Now, I’ve heard some of Chester Brown’s peers saying that they enjoyed the comics in their own right and have zero interest in reading the annotations. Normally I might be tempted to side with them but I was curious enough about what Chester was up to (it struck me as far from clear as why these specific stories had been selected: what themes or thought processes linked them), and it took no more than three of four paragraphs to have me hooked.

The afterword and annotations in this instance are for me the absolute heart of this book and its riveting joy. A couple of Brown’s arguments struck me as a bit of a leap but overwhelmingly – 98% of the time – I was as surprised by his observations as Jesus’ followers were by the big man’s radical rule-breaking and bowled over both by the thoroughness of Brown’s scholarship and the persuasive logic of his analysis.

There is a lot to analyse: not just the stories as published in the current, compromised editions of the Bible, but previous versions like ‘The Gospel of the Nazareans’ which has a very different, infinitely more likely take on the parable of the Talents and was written in Aramaic (Jesus’ own language) before being translated into Greek then presented as the Gospel we now know as Matthew’s.

And let’s face it, it’s all thoroughly compromised whether through oral inaccuracies, accidental translation errors, deliberate tampering for political propagandist reasons, physical manuscript loss, omissions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations, and the slight fact that not only was no one standing next to Jesus H Christ with a microphone as he spoke, but the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were highly unlikely to have been written by anyone called Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in the first place!

And that’s just the New Testament. Anyone entering into the Old Testament unaware that it’s out-and-out fiction should have their heads examined. What’s more I’ve always considered it reactionary fiction designed to intimidate, control and make subservient as opposed to liberating radicalism of JHC but what Chester Brown has succeeded in doing is marrying the Old to the New in a way that is mutually illuminating especially when it comes to the ostensibly odd tales like God’s seemingly incomprehensible reaction to Cain and Abel’s sacrifices.

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He’s done this by altering some of the stories as he sees fit, but why shouldn’t he after they’ve all been “tweaked” so spectacularly already? It’s always done with well reasoned insight, expounded upon in the back, in order to bring some consistency and coherence to the proceedings.

Context – because context is always important: Chester Brown considers himself a Christian. However, “It’s a version of Christianity that’s not at all concerned with imposing “moral” values or religious laws on others; its focus is inward. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within”. I’m interested in personally connecting with God, not in imposing my beliefs on anyone else. While I accept that Jesus was a genuine historical figure, I don’t think he was God or “The Son Of God”… rather, Jesus was a spiritually advanced man.”

I’ll say! Basically, Chester believes in the central tenant of love rather than the hypocritical hate-mongering which too many deeply flawed, self-serving human beings within organised religions spread in God’s Name without His Permission. You know, the sort of thing that Jesus himself exposed and condemned as abhorrent.

This is all vitally important because, as I say, above all else Chester succeeds in tallying the teachings of Christ with the old tales of God in a way that shows them both to be contemptuous of man-made religious law when it gets in the way of what is truly important like helping people (see ‘Good Samaritan’). Moreover, his carefully considered reinvestigations of the stories strongly suggest that God was very fond of rule-breakers – those who thought for themselves utilising their God-given Talent of Free-Will – rather than simply followed subserviently like the Good Son in ‘The Prodigal Son’ who ended up sulking sullenly, blinded by resentment. That’s never going to do you any favours.

This is where Cain and Abel come in, I promise you, along with Chester’s restoration of the ‘Parable of the Talents’ and I say “restoration” because it is there that his arguments hold most persuasive water. Remember ‘The Gospel Of The Nazareans’? Eusebius, the first Christian historian (circa 240-340) recalls the Talent contest thus:

“[The master] had three slaves, one who used up his fortune with whores and flute-players, one who invested the money and increased its value, and one who hid it. The first was welcomed with open arms, the second was blamed, and only the third was locked up in prison.”

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Firstly, the parable as currently represented celebrates financial investment which Jesus emphatically didn’t; it fails to reflect the nature of Jesus’ parables which always clash with “traditional views of justice” and “challenge conventional thinking by containing an element of surprise”; and thirdly, makes no storytelling sense in that it lacks the natural, three-stage progression – two of the slaves do the same thing with the same result – whereas the Nazarean version contains three slaves, three different approaches, three different results. Oh, and there’s also the question of the circular tendency which works rather well in the older version.

I suspect I know what you’re thinking. It’s about the sex-workers, isn’t it? You don’t think Jesus would approve of blowing your wad – or someone else’s – on sex workers. Well, boy, does Chester Brown have some meticulously researched and impeccably well argued news for you!

It involves the rabbis of the Talmud’s teachings on the three levels of charity; attitudes towards sex workers – at no time outlawed in ancient Israel – during both periods of the Bible (as I say, context is so important: try reading Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’ without its socio-historical context and you might mistake Fanny for a wimp when she is in fact quite the proto-feminist); and extensive research into various translations of the words for prostitute and their appearances in the Bible aaaand….

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Once you’ve read all that and about Matthew’s inclusion of women in his gospel’s genealogy (and some very specific biblical women at that) which was so unheard-of as to be pointed, everything else about this book, its narrative as a whole and Chester’s interest in its elements falls into place. It’s at this point, perhaps, that I should reference Chester Brown’s PAYING FOR IT.

As I say, I am completely won over, even to the idea that Jesus’ mum was a sex-worker. Yup, that Mary, but wait until you read the research. And if part of your reaction to that is assertion is, “Eww, sex-worker,” well, shame on you because that’s what Jesus’ enemies used too. Hope you enjoy the other ironies.

I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise to anyone that the titular Mary (Magdalene / of Bethany) was a prostitute but Brown delves deep into the traditions of hair in conjunction of the specific scenario in order to shore up the argument while reminding you that her specific act of anointing Jesus is what made him a “messiah”, a “Christ” (translation: “anointed one”). “That’s a point worth emphasising: a prostitute made Jesus a christ.” It is indeed a pretty big deal, entirely in keeping with the man constantly demanding his followers rethink their priorities and reject superficial and groundless prejudice.

Umm… guess what the Hebrew for feet was often a euphemism for? I’m probably not going to go there.

Anyway, love verses piety, taking the sexual initiative, employment versus charity, Christ the questioner – and Chester too – and stop pointing your finger lest fingers point back to you, Judah!

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I think the story of Tamar and Judah, as told here, may be my favourite apart from the parables. It’s where onanism comes from.

There is so, so much to discover or perhaps rediscover here and I’m certainly going to enjoy re-reading this in a newly informed light.

I began with Chester’s deadpan delivery which I personally cannot unsee, but more objectively it’s a side-effect of Brown wisely playing down the emotional and the emotive in order to present the tales as honestly as possible in spite of him making bits up! There’s a little anger in evidence from the slave master and a panel of merriment at the Prodigal’s return but on the whole the cast of characters remain implacable – even Job under considerable provocation. In addition the strict four-panel grid maintains an even equally even keel free from distractions.

As to Jesus, you’re only shown him only in silhouette. Another wise decision.

SLH

Buy Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Road #1 (£2-99, Image) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown…

“Fuck off. I’m eating.”
“Take it easy.”
“This is business. You are Magnus, yes?”
“I only arrived in town this morning. No one should know me.”
“Perhaps your reputation precedes you?”
“Reputations kill. I prefer to be alone and unknown.”
“How much privacy, Magnus, would this buy you?”
“What’s that for? You want someone killed?”
“Not at all! Good heavens. I’m not talking about murder. I’m talking about an escort job. Taking a church official up the Northern Road to Hammaruskk Coast.”
“The Northern Road. We call it the Black Road, and had you spent more than two fucking minutes in this land, you’d have known that. And a voyage up the Black Road most likely is a murder trip.”

Finally! For those of us who have been waiting patiently since the flaming longboat burial afforded to Brian Wood’s NORTHLANDERS saga on the Vertigo imprint, our patience has been rewarded, and how! Magnus the Black is a man with much on his mind. He’s had the emotional bedrock of his life shattered with the loss of his wife and seen the presumed sovereignty of Odin and the old gods smashed by the one true God of Christianity.

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It’s the latter which probably causes him to take the escort job, at four times the original price of course, because it gives Magnus the chance to ask the Cardinal some burning questions. About how a man born a heathen can get into Heaven, for example… He’s hoping the answers will give some structure to the rest of his life, one way or the other. Not that he believes a life of piety and forgiveness will be required in either eventuality…

“… I wanted to be closer to the Christians. They talk in riddles. They preach peace and love in the midst of performing incredible violence.
“There’s a structure, a purpose to what they do that is beyond my ken. They’re changing Norskk, changing it with words and with iron and with blood. I need to understand them better.
“I have yet to determine if I will go to war for the Christians, or against them.”

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It won’t surprise you to learn that the trip up North isn’t without its challenges. Of the head meets hammer variety, that is… The Cardinal’s not worried, though, he says he’s got a guardian angel. Which is where the mystery really begins…

What a wonderfully dark opener! It’s like NORTHLANDERS never went away (please note, the re-collected bigger editions of NORTHLANDERS will be starting to come out in about four months). And whilst Garry Brown never worked with Brian Wood on that title, fans of THE MASSIVE will be more than familiar with his work. It’s a gritty, flinty style that’s perfect for this title and as with NORTHLANDERS, the colours, provided here by Dave McCaig are suitably understated and restrained.

JR

Buy Black Road #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr…

“Oh. Oh, I get it. You almost got me, Clark. I have to admit, without the glasses, you’re actually a dead ringer. How did I ever not notice it before?”

That takes some brassneck as a writer, does that, bringing up possibly the most ridiculous secret identity conceit in all of comicdom! It works, though, because actually the concluding issue, well more of a coda really as the potentially world shattering action is all done and dusted by the penultimate slice, is a lovely little Jimmy & Clark buddy-buddy piece. It is one of the sweetest chunks of SUPERMAN you’re ever likely to read. After all the recent hoopla regarding the recent dark cinematic depiction of the world’s greatest boy scout, this is Big Blue back to doing what he does best.

It begins with Clark professing his true identity to a disbelieving Jimmy before our duo simply go for a quiet stroll in the park together… I was fully expecting there to be a cat stuck up a tree that needed rescuing – actually it was a child falling out of one – before there’s a half-hearted mugger to talk down. There’s a twist to it all, of course, which I’m not going to spoil, but after the maximum peril level dimensional invasion of the preceding eight issues, it was just the perfect wind-down.

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The main event is great fun too. It’s not the most original story, with a benevolent Superman-like character called Ulysses returning as an adult from another dimension, having been sent there as an infant by his scientist parents when they believed their research site was about to explode. Again, there’s a twist, obviously – several, as it happens – but it’s well written. What increased my enjoyment of it considerably, though (well okay, made me bothered enough to read it in the first place) was Romita Jr.’s art. I do like Romita Jr. He’s the first superhero artist whose style struck me, when young, as really different to the norm with his work on IRON MAN: ARMOUR WARS II back in 1990, and it’s nice to see he’s still on absolute top form.

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I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to recommend Superman comics, normally because they’re utter bobbins – classic exceptions like Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN and Millar’s SUPERMAN: RED SON aside – and whilst this is nowhere near the level of those, it’s still a significant cut above the run of the mill if you’re desperate for a fix of Big Blue.

JR

Buy Superman: The Men Of Tomorrow and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Mordawwa #666 (£3-00, Scary Go Round Comics) by John Allison

Angel Claws Deluxe Coffee Table Edition h/c (£59-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Moebius

Kramers Ergot vol 9 (£33-99, Fantagraphics) by various including Michael DeForge, Johnny Ryan, Gabrielle Bell, Al Columbia, Dash Shaw, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell, Antoine Cosse

Providence vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Deadly Edition Magazine Sized (£4-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Death Sentence vol 2: London s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Montynero & Martin Simmonds

I Hate Fairyland vol 1: Madly Ever After (£7-50, Image) by Skottie Young

Julius Zebra – Bundle With The Britons h/c (£9-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield

The Nameless City (£10-99, First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks

Novo vol 1: The Birth Of Novo Extended Edition (£14-99, Alterna) by Michael S. Bracco

Retroworld s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Patrick Galliano & Cedric Peyravernay, Bazal

Star Wars: Vader Down s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca

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

Flash By Grant Morrison And Mark Millar s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Ron Marz, Chuck Dixon & various

Justice League: Darskeid War – Power Of The Gods h/c (£22-50, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Francis Manapul & Fernando Pasarin, various

All New, All Different Avengers vol 1: The Magnificent Seven s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mahmud Asrar, Adam Kubert

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett

Deadpool And Cable: Split Second s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza & Reilly Brown

Deadpool: World’s Greatest vol 1: Millionaire With A Mouth s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne

New Avengers: A.I.M. vol 1: Everything Is New s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Gerardo Sandoval

A Silent Voice vol 6 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosario s/c (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

Step Aside Pops 0

ITEM! This had me howling with laughter: Kate Beaton takes on the twerps who designed Dagger’s breast-baring costume plus porno-pose artists with… Tit Windows!

I’m not posting a single one here. You *will* have to click on that link and go to Kate’s website.

Love, love, love Kate Beaton: try STEP ASIDE, POPS!

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ITEM! Teachers! Schools! Families! Sarah McIntyre introduces four Book Trust videos on making comics in the classroom, and does so with tremendous enthusiasm, and empathy for others.

Pop Sarah into our search engine to discover where the Sea Monkeys came from (OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS) and so much more besides!

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ITEM! Una unveils her new comics project, a very personal insight into mental health

 

ITEM! And the Eisner Awards 2106 Nominations are in! Congratulations to all! Pop any of those puppies in our search engine to read our reviews!

Superfab congrats to Kristyna Baczynski, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata, Jack Teagle for their Eisner nominations for 24 BY 7 collection of comics created at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.

24 Hour Comic Crew

Photos of the 24 Hour Comics Marathon comics & creators 4/5ths of the way down this extensive account of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014!

24 Hour Comic

All the news so far for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th-16th. We will be there – will you?

Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week two

April 13th, 2016

News underneath including Re-imagining Beatrix Potter competition!

5000 Km Per Second h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior.

Now that is a cover.

Against all your understandable expectations, it is not a scene that happens anywhere in this ever-so-sad graphic novel.

By the time the rain pours down back in Italy, Piero will have stopped doing anything so care free as riding that bike and Lucia will no longer be such an inexperienced teenager caught in the summer-sunshine of its headlights.

Lucia will have moved on and then on again, but Piero the worrier will still be dwelling about what he had and what he lost, and why. Alas, self-knowledge was never his forte.

No, it’s not a scene that happens anywhere, but it does encapsulate the whole perfectly. For although it begins in the blinding lemon-yellow and lime-green of a blissfully hot summer in Italy when adult concerns and parental practicalities seemed so constrictive, restrictive and dull, the rain begins falling almost immediately between each consecutive chapter in one drop, two drops, three drops then four as Lucia and Piero find themselves 5000 substantial kilometres and one second apart.

Après ça, le déluge.

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This is a graphic novel rammed full of possessive jealousy, one of the most potent poisons in any relationship, pushing away everything and everyone it seeks to contain and sustain.

Lucia will bear the brunt of it not just once but shockingly twice. The second time when she is far more vulnerable is perhaps infinitely worse but in any case it is telling that after escaping the first she writes to Piero, “I felt like I could breathe again.”

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As to Piero, well, we’ve already established that he’s far from self-aware so if he’s the victim as well as the culprit of this sort of smothering intensity and it singularly fails to register, do not be surprised.

It is oh so cleverly crafted with Piero’s childhood friend, Nicola – sweet, loving, loyal and uninhibitedly tactile Nicola – caught to one side / in the middle.

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“From the moment we got together Nicola became so jealous,” says Lucia.” Not that he liked me… he was just scared of losing his friend.”

Entirely understandable: not only had Piero’s eyes alighted upon new arrival Lucia, but he was also about to move away soon to university while Nicola, far less gifted academically, was always going to stay behind and take over his father’s shop. Yet in spite of all this – in spite of his friend about to leave him behind on the metaphorical beach (see ROBOT DREAMS), Nicola did nothing wrong.

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Fior’s forte for me came in the form his portraits of a mature Lucia, out to dinner, so happy to be laughing until she could barely catch her breath, then quietly and with defence-free dignity considering her failure in love, after which her face almost implodes with grief (?) embarrassment (?) at what she considers her diminished appeal. I remove one spoiler yet this remains:

“I teach literature at a provincial technical school. I’ve gotten as fat as a cow.”

She really hasn’t. But the worst face comes later when Piero just won’t let it lie.

Expect telling dream sequences, anger, resentment and an unexpected element of futurism dropped in at the end.

SLH

Buy 5000 Km Per Second h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant (£12-99, First Second) by Tony Cliff.

“It’s nice here. I like it.
“Lots of ground. Nice, dependable, solid ground.
“Very nice indeed.”

Poor Mister Selim! Flying boats are not his cup of tea.

Come to think of it, even when they were sailing on the ocean he was all at sea.

He doesn’t know his port from his starboard, but do you know what? Delilah could have said “left” or “right”, couldn’t she?

A couple of weeks ago I raved about Tony Cliff’s all-ages DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING with its gorgeous Portugese and Spanish landscapes, its British stately homes, its exceptional fight-scene choreography and the genuine wit in the snappy patty patter between Delilah Dirk and her travelling companion, Erdemoglu Selim, whose first name will henceforth be Mister. Feedback informs me that you liked the promise of running tea jokes best and there are plenty more here from page three onwards.

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This is the first book in the series which chronicles how the unlikely pair met in Constantinople, Istanbul, 1807. Mister Selim was a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps; Miss Dirk was the Agha’s captive. Neither party’s position there lasted very long. There’s an exquisite early sequence with Selim extolling Delilah’s reputed prowess in escapology and combat, his master believing not one word of it, culminating in Miss Dirk bashing her captors through a thick wooden door and waving.

“Hi, Selim!”

So that’s Mister Selim unceremoniously sacked. I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him. He wasn’t earning very much. The Agha’s method of distributing his soldiers’ salaries was far from orthodox: he threw a bit pot of gold coins into the centre of a room and let his employees scrabble about the floor, snatching up whatever they could.

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Surrounded by much bigger bruisers all poor Selim came away with was much bigger bruises.

It’s at this point I break to remind you just how lithe Cliff’s figure work is, and how supple their limbs in motion. There are some thrilling perspectives as well, some of the action being perceived from ground-level.

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The balance between the calms and the storms is very well judged. The pair’s travels go uninterrupted just long enough to soak up the bucolic beauty and for Delilah to contemplate why she lives her nomadic existence and explain it to her charming and charmed new recruit.

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Speaking of charming there’s another perfect piece of sequential art storytelling when the couple are offered ten days’ respite as guests of a full-on friendly man and his family, the images contradicting Mister Selim’s somewhat disingenuous narration in every possible way. Wonderful!

Indeed all the Turkish people we meet are open, kind, convivial, and generous to a fault apart from evil pirate Captain Zakul The Terrible, but you can’t exactly accuse him of wearing sheep’s clothing. Also explaining his somewhat sullen behaviour, Delilah may have slightly stolen a great big cart load of treasure from him.

This is where we came in, with Delilah and Mister Selim fleeing the hoards of Captain Zakul (The Terrible) in a flying wooden boat bombarded with multiple flaming arrows. It’s an incendiary combination that causes them to crash-land under an aqueduct and I don’t suppose that landmark lasts very long, do you?

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What I’m trying to get across to you is how much fun this all is. Personally I’d still start with DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING which packs quite the punch but I will take anything from Tony Cliff I can get. There the journey’s Delilah’s, here it’s Mister Selim’s for as our story opens Delilah craves adventure and thrives upon it; Mister Selim emphatically does not.

“Ugh. What is happening? Why… did you cut me free back there? Why did you bring me all the way out here?

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“Because, Mr. Selim…. you make the finest tea in all of Europe.”

SLH

Buy Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant and read the Page 45 review here

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

You can tell that these animals are all from the North because it tends to be snowing, ice features fairly prominently in their habitat, and several are found walking whippets.

100% class through and through, this deliriously seductive all-ages art book has bugger all to do with comics but I am so far past caring because beauty.

Recommended to fans of Brrémaud & Bertolucci’s LOVE: TIGER and LOVE: FOX, the paper stock is thick and matt and the hardcover itself roams free from the fetters of any unsightly insta-rip dust jacket, thus making it ideal for school libraries.

As a kid myself I own that my idea of nature-book heaven would have been one illustrated by KINGDOM COME’s Alex Ross but as a big kid now this more stylised approach with elements of Jonathan Edwards lights my fire far, far more.

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The forms are bigger and bolder for their blocked-out beauty and I strongly suspect that any family acquiring this educational excellence will discover their young ones equipping themselves with paper, pencil and paint in no time in order to emulate its awe.

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Featured creatures come with a paragraph which is far from predictable, eschewing cold stats in favour of something more akin to storytelling, bringing each animal’s individuality alive.

Snow leopard:

“A snow leopard never roars.” Already I am surprised. I never knew that.

“Its call is drawn-out howl which – depending on the direction of the wind – can be mistaken for the cry of the yeti.” I’ve never heard a yeti, so I’m not sure what that means.

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“Because it’s so shy and rare, the Kyrgyz people also call it the ‘ghost of the mountain’. Its long busy tail gives this avid climber the necessary counterbalance it requires for scaling the mountainside. When resting, it uses its tail to protect itself from the cold by curling it around itself and covering its nose. It is said to jump over 15-metre crevasses – and even if the crevasse were a few centimetres shorter, this cat would still be the world champion long-jumper of all mammals.”

See? Instantly memorable even if you have the attention span of a five-year-old that’s just washed down a dozen packets of Tang-Fastics with five fizzy litres of teeth-melting pop-u-like.

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Other birds, amphibians and mammals, alas, come with little more than a name but maybe you can make your own entry up for Mountain Goats which I’ve seen abseiling down cliffs without ropes. I’ve also spotted them walking along sheer drops, halfway up on what must be three-millimetre-thick ledges, suggesting that each and every one was once bitten by a radioactive spider.

I know my natural science!

SLH

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

Clan Apis (£18-99, Active Synapse) by Jay Hosler –

From the creator of all-ages entertainment and education EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH, comes his first classic graphic novel from 2000 which BONE fans adored. Our Mark was particularly smitten and wrote this:

“I discovered this treasure on a glorious sun-filled afternoon, spent lying on the grass in one of my favourite quiet places and reading this surprising book. It’s partially an educational volume – you’ll get to learn plenty about the life cycle of a bee and the rules and traditions of a hive – but it’s also a fine dramatic story.

“We meet Nyuki as a larva basking in the hedonistic glory of being able to relax and just plain eat for five days. She’s unwilling to make the move and metamorphose into her next state, for growth can be a frightening concept. Luckily she has Dvorah on hand to explain her role in the community and the life outside her cell. Once fully grown she ventures outside, meets other insects, collects pollen and generally does what bees do.

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“Holser has managed to give the central characters enough individuality without removing them from the hive collective mentality.

“There’s an introduction which echoes the ‘form & void’ creation of the world seen in CEREBUS: CHURCH & STATE and an attached sense of religious invention that recalls Jon Lewis (a high recommendation).

“The guy’s a research biologist so he knows his bees.”

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Editor’s note:

Hosler also knows his beetles as evidenced in this far more recent graphic novel, LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS, which maintains educational standards whilst upping the adventure element considerably.

Here too there’s a host of educational extras in the back putting both bees and insects in general into context, as well as the story itself. Sub-titles include How To Build A Bee and The Calm Before The Swarm which, I assure you, is no mere pun.

For more education please visit www.jayhosler.com/clanapis.html]

MAS / SLH

Buy Clan Apis and read the Page 45 review here

The Fix #1 (£2-99. Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber.

“If you liked classic crime comics like CRIMINAL and 100 BULLETS we apologize in advance for letting you down.”

Having read over 100,000 solicitation summaries over the past 25 years – most rammed full of po-faced hyperbole – it’s refreshing to read something that redirects a mug of tea right through your nose.

It also sets the tone perfectly for this is far closer to the mischief-riddled THIEF OF THIEVES, except that these contemporary criminals here have zero finesse, cannot conceive of pre-planning and couldn’t even spell ‘fiscal prudence’. Thanks to Steve Lieber there’s even some fine visual slapstick as the buffoons who pass for our heroes only just get away to steal another day.

Let me be perfectly clear: if I were a betting man I wouldn’t bet on these two.

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They do, however, have an ace up their career sleeve I which I won’t spoil for you even if the original solicitation copy did. It’s delivered in the form of a very specific car radio after their old people’s home heist, during which they are gentle, respectful and far more considerate than their absentee orderlies and supervisor.

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That car radio changes everything you thought you were about to read, but then that’s what this comic does: confound your expectations at every comedic corner over and over again. Sometimes it’s no bad idea to return to the scene of a crime; sometimes you simply have no choice. And always these two cannot resist pushing things just a tad too far.

“I wish we could chalk this up to being a learning experience…
“But that would require learning something.”

What they have learned is that modern crime is virtual. The only people who carry cold, hard cash are old age pensioners, hence the heist, and it’s true. It is not unusual for someone to pay by credit card for a two-quid Lizz Lunney comic at Page 45 after they’ve asked for a Student Discount.

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What you will learn is the lack of wisdom in sticking someone up while wearing a floral shirt, and at this point I would like to thank all the shoplifters who’ve taken the trouble to identify themselves in advance with very specific, stand-out tattoos.

Far more when the book is released but for now I’ll simply assure you that you will laugh and laugh and laugh. Though by the end our champ chumps will have their grins wiped right off their gormless faces.

SLH

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

Empress #1 (£2-99, Icon / Marvel) by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen.

Ive Svrocina produces some lovely lambent colours for Immonen’s art which delivers dinosaurs, a vast arena, space ships, dogfights with ‘dactyls and many a ‘sploding flight deck.

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

A man of 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, just as he is in, umm, STAR WARS right now.

It’s a very quick comic which accelerates from nought to warp in under a dozen pages even if there’s nothing you can call new so far.

Do we trust Mark Millar? I think we do.

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. Hey, that’s what our search engine’s for.

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In summary, then:

Implacable tyrant, big and burly, as merciless as Ming; a right old grumpy-chops with a sadistic smile.

Disillusioned Missus, miffed that life with an implacable tyrant isn’t as exotic or erotic as it looked like from the other side of the bar she once served him in.

Children, sundry; allegiances varied until fired upon by Daddy’s Dobermen.

Captain loyal to miffed Missus effects swift departure from Terminal 5 (non-domestic) before there’s a domestic.

Much spluttering in soup etc.

SLH

Buy Empress #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c (£33-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie.

Matt black hardcover with gold-foil design which reprints the first two WICKED + DIVINE softcovers with the following back-matter:

Variant covers
Promo poster
Two-page promo teaser comic
Gillen’s photo-comic on pre-ordering comics
That Nathan Fairbairn fresco in full
Three early character descriptions with Jamie’s design sketches
Process pieces
‘Immortality, Of A Kind’ poem by Gillen
All 11 issues’ Writer’s Notes

We begin with Side A:

“Reach out and touch faith!”

Popstars on their pedestals: that’s where we place them in order to worship, just as we used to old gods. Mass hysteria really is nothing new. Add in unhealthy hubris and the confluence of ideas here makes perfect sense.

There is little more likely to drive me to ecstasy than a gig.

“Her eyes scan the front row like the sun rising and setting. Oh god. Oh god.
“The girl to my left passes out, hyperventilating. The boy to my right falls to his knees, cum leaking from his crotch. She’s not even looking at them. She’s looking at me. I swear, she’s looking at me.”

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I love Amaterasu there, her black eyes blazing with the corona of a solar eclipse.

Amaterasu is a relatively new pop goddess already catalysing the sort of tearful, screaming crowd hysteria formerly generated by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran; commanding a Bowie-like level of devotion which inspires one to dress up and make up to match. Also: generating all the cynical, scornful nay resentful press coverage that can come with it. Paul Morley is a very clever man, but he can also be the world’s most crashing bore.

The difference is that Amaterasu isn’t just a pop goddess in Smash Hits terminology, she’s a pop star who claims that she really is a goddess and she’s not alone. There is a pantheon of them performing gigs separately, each with a shtick of their own – which is fabulous marketing.

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And that’s all today’s interviewer sees: a sophisticated advertising campaign built around bullshit. Mythological claptrap. Pretention. Dissemblance. Malcolm McLaren. To Cassandra – a journalist with a Masters in Comparative Mythology – the very idea that Amaterasu is anything other than Hazel Greenaway from Exeter is preposterous. She did her thesis on The Recurrence and she’s taking it all very personally.

The Recurrence is supposedly this: every ninety years twelve gods are born again, found within young, extant lives then activated by the pantheon’s keeper, the ancient Ananke, a woman wizened with age, austere and unknowable. Throughout the flux – the rise and the fall – Ananke appears to be the one constant. And yes, there is a fall for in two years each god will be dead: immortality doesn’t last forever. But for those two years the twelve gods will blaze as bright as the sun before burning out. Surely that price is worth paying.

Cassandra remains unconvinced and in is giving Amaterasu a hard time which really gets the most vocal of the pantheon’s goat. That would be Lucifer, by the way, the devil herself.

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“Please. The empress of stupid is annoying me.”
“Do you know what I see? Kids posturing with a Wikipedia summary’s understanding of myth. I see a wannabe who’s never got past the Bowie in her parent’s embarrassingly retro record collection. I see a provincial girl who doesn’t understand how cosplaying a Shinto god is problematic at best and offensive at worst. I see someone who’s been convinced that acting like a fucking cat is a dignified way for a woman to behave!”

All of which is witnessed by seventeen-year-old Laura – last to pass out, the first to wake up – who has lucked into Lucifer’s favour and been taken under her wing. Suddenly the ultimate fangirl finds herself very much on the inside. And so, shortly, will Luci…

 

I love Luci: sexy, slinky, positively sybaritic. As styled by McKelvie she is the ultimate in androgyny, immaculately dressed in pressed white. As scripted by Gillen she is an arch, knowing merchant of mischief but beneath the velvet veneer there is something sharp and a little brittle waiting to break. Oh yes, it’s called a temper.

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From the creative crew behind PHONOGRAM and YOUNG AVENGERS and the writer of Ancient Greece drama THREE and cyberpunk MERCURY HEAT, the first issue moved startlingly fast in a flash. For a writer who relishes wit-riddled repartee – and provides plenty here packed with musical winks and nudges – this is quite the “fuck, no!” jaw/floor thrill, and you just wait for the final fifth chapter’s wham/bam double punchline. I nearly wet myself.

Without giving the game away (which is what someone usually says when they are about to give the game away) McKelvie and Wilson have come up with multiple special effects involving dots, rays and flat, spot colour to make the more miraculous moments stand out a mile from the warmer, graded pages. Who decided what is always difficult to discern with Team Phonogram, but there is some gorgeous design work on display as well (hello, Hannah Donovan!) from the logo to the make-up and most especially the recurring round-table / constantly ticking clock of symbols, each denoting the twelve gods’ current status. After each major act it’s updated depending on whose hour has come round at last. Study it closely and infer what you will.

As ever with Gillen there’s many a contempory pop culture reference – and I don’t just mean music – like Twitter DMs and “snapchats” and the odd naughty crack in that febrile fourth wall as when Laura starts Googling the gods on her mobile. This is what pops up:

“SITE WITH NO RELEVANCE
“Blah blah blah…

“ANOTHER SITE WITH NO RELEVANCE
“Yet more blah…

“AM I GOING TO HAVE TO
“GO ONTO THE SECOND
“PAGE OF SEARCH
“RESULTS? OH GOD. NO.
“This is turning into homework…”

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Laura, by the way, is visually modelled on Gillen’s good friend Leigh Alexander, one of games’ most insightful journalists who campaigns eloquently and relentlessly for individuality, diversity and creativity in her chosen craft very much like Page 45 does for comics.

Meanwhile if I misread Baphomet and The Morrigan’s subterranean tube-station appearances as The Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew von Eldritch and Patricia Morrison, well, there’s none-more-goth than me.

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What is any live performance, however, without an encore? I won’t tell you why Lucifer is remanded into custody but it’s that which propels this first epic act. Here she is at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, being visited in Holloway Prison by Laura:

“Now I know you must feel terribly teased we didn’t consummate our flirtation, but this screen makes it somewhat tricky. Intangible cunnilingus is beyond even my abilities. That said, I’ve never tried. They do say I’ve a wicked tongue… Do you have a cigarette? Or cocaine? Ideally cocaine?”
“Nuh-uh.”
“Not even a little bit of cocaine?”
“Nuh-uh.”
“What kind of teenager are you that you don’t have Class A Drugs to hand? Hmm? Has The Daily Mail been lying to me?”

Tuned in.
Turned on.
Drop doubt.

It’s time to get recreational.

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Side B:

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

One of the most important lessons my maths teacher taught me had nothing to do with geometry.

“Always ask why,” he said. Always ask why.

For more, please see my WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 2 review.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot (£18-99 h/c; £10-99 s/c, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez.

This is the first book since SECRET WARS which I am not about to spoil with its most enormous repercussion here. I’ve even chosen the illustrations carefully.

There will be no love lost there but in Dr Amara Perera Tony may have finally found someone worth dropping his facade for. She’s not feisty, she’s thoughtful, and I like her already.

“I have a cure for the mutant gene.”
“You do not.”
“One that would absolutely do not harm to the host.”
“Wow.”
“But it… it is like curing Judaism. It’s not to be done. I won’t do it.”
“Because by the weekend it would become a law that everyone has to take the cure.”

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should is no new scientific argument, but usually those who have discovered fight the opposite, self-serving corner. I told you I like her.

“I didn’t even write it down. I didn’t want anyone to find it if I died.”
“That’s not good enough, actually. There are psychic spies, psychic industrial spies, and psychic mutants. And psychic mutant industrial spies.”

If that does become sub-plot it’s not happening here.

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Under David Marquez the various Stark Towers, particularly the one is Japan, are slick pieces of architecture and Marquez’s fashion sense is impeccable with smooth, broad strokes for soft-skinned beauty contrasting with the most intricate details of Dr. Perera’s necklace or Madame Masque’s mask. It’s almost unearthly – which is handy given what will become of Madame Masque and her mask.

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Yes, sorry, the protagonist is Stark’s ex-lover Madame Masque who – in an uncharacteristic departure – has taken it upon herself to seek out mystical artefacts which that have fallen through the cracks between dimensions into ours. What would possess her to do that?

None of this has ping-ed on the astral radar of our Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, but it’s certainly set off alarm bells at Castle Doomstadt – home to Doctor Doom – which Masque has raided for a Wand of Watoomb. Apparently there are five of those spell sticks. Who even knew there were two?

Again, not Doctor Strange, but in case you’ve forgotten Victor Von D is an accomplished mage himself and here comes before Stark as a much-changed man, and in more ways than one.

It’s going to drive Tony nuts.

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As much as anything else, this is a comedy. Everything Bendis writes is at least in part a comedy, even JESSICA JONES. The reason it works so well here is that Tony Stark is at the top of his inventive and mental-health game, but he’s thrown by all the magic involved, confounded by Doom’s open-arms about-face* and finally found a woman – in complete contrast to mentalist Madame Masque – who deserves being dealt with sincerely rather than charmed using his trade-mark, defective, deflective, non-stop quippery / self-deprecation:

“I can’t shake the idea that becoming the man that would actually deserve you… would be a good goal in life at this stage of the game.”

It’s not the only serious thing he says, either. For the first time there is some serious consideration of whether Tony truly has any friends he can offload to when things go wonky on the scale that they do. It would go some way to explaining his former ‘friend’ in the bottle. Offloading is important, but Stark’s faced with two walls few seem prepared to scale: in his line of work someone else’s day was almost certainly worse, and poor little rich boy, boo-hoo.

Some of the best exchanges are between Stark and his dead-pan, on-board artificial intelligence called Friday, partly because they can afford to upset / annoy each other, and do. I cannot wait, however, to see what happens when someone new joins the crew next volume. She’s been a major supporting cast member of another title for decades and Bendis has written her before but within NEW AVENGERS instead.

Lastly, this delivers the best “Hail Hydra” ever, in the most unexpected context.

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* I am trying to be subtle here!

SLH

Buy Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Frank Tieri & Ariel Olivetti, Mike Deodato, Staz Johnson.

While Garth Ennis continued to bring serious real-world issues like sex slave-trafficking and military geopolitics into PUNISHER MAX, Fraction was assigned to tackle his interactions with the spandex brigade of Marvel Universe who at this point – you might have heard – had a bit of a bust-up called CIVIL WAR.

I haven’t wanted to read much of this which appears to be one long arched eyebrow from Luke Cage and co. aimed at Captain America enlisting the aid or accepting the assistance of Frank ‘Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right: I Think You’ll Find It’s 5,722 Wrongs’ Castle, but when I dipped in I quite enjoyed the issue set in a bar where some C-list super-villains are holding a wake for one of their own: the dude at high altitude, Stilt Man, a thief who’s shtick was to totter on top of a couple of ever-expanding tin tubes.

“Are there a lot of banks up on the 30th floor or something?”

It had the added advantage of being drawn by Deodato rather than Ariel ‘Opaque’ Olivetti, and you don’t generally associate Deodato with comedy, do you?

“It’s just – I’ve struggled with depression, you know? This is hard.”
“Let it out, guy. Let it allll out.”

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Deodato

 

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Olivetti

Every so often the primitive Doombot (Victor Von Doom decoy) which they’ve rigged to make the Stiltman’s wife think he ranked higher than he did declares “Kneel before Doom!” at random and increasingly funny intervals, even as he attempts to get served at the bar.

Here they’re toasting Wilbur Day, the Stilt-Man:

“To the man that made me a momentary super-villain!”
“Wilbur Day!”
“Wilbur Day!”
“Kneel before Doom!”

SLH

Buy Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Marvel Universe (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Paul Jenkins, Dan Slott, Ed Brubaker, more & Marc Silvestri, various.

Goodness, you don’t think that cover gives the game away, do you?

In spite of some of the names credited above we are in the realms of Public Service Announcement rather than recommendation for – on top of all the ugly, unlisted dross to appear here – the Brubaker / Fraction / Aja IRON FIST short story will mystify anyone who’s not read Brubaker’s run on DAREDEVIL.

In addition the post-CIVIL WAR pieces written by Ellis and Bendis leading into THUNDERBOLTS and MIGHTY AVENGERS VOL 1 respectively are drawn by Silvestri and that’s no good thing by this point, the women being drawn in porn poses. Even the final shot of an armoured Iron Man from behind makes him look like he’s braced in stilettos. You’re not missing anything.

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Collects CIVIL WAR: THE INITIATIVE #1, CIVIL WAR: CHOOSING SIDES #1, CIVIL WAR: THE RETURN #1, SHE-HULK (2005) #8 and WHAT IF: CIVIL WAR #1.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Marvel Universe and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Clayton Crane, Angel Medina, Sean Chen.

Ah, bless ol’ Spidey: he’s Amazing, he’s Sensational, he’s Friendly in your Neighbourhood, and he manages to be all three at the same time! Maybe you read CIVIL WAR and then CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and you thought you knew what Peter’d been up to during those hours. Somehow he’s managed to squeeze in all this as well.

I wish I had three titles: I could accomplish so much more!

I could do the dinner, the dishes, the drinking and play PS4 games in the HILARIOUS, HOUSE-BOUND HOLLAND. At the same time I could burn off all those calories down the Derbyshire Dales in SEASONAL STEPHEN, SAUNTERING while making money at Page 45 as TILL-MONKEY TURPIN. I could even take at least one ANNUAL holiday.

Anyway, by pure chance I actually read the first issue of this (SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #28, with art by Clayton Crain), and it’s brilliant. Its focus is Jordan, one of Peter’s students, a young man whose passion for marine biology has driven him to contact the University of Miami well in advance of needing to apply, just to find out what he should be doing right now. He studies hard on his own, but wants to be pushed and Peter – as Jordan’s fill-in biology teacher – has promised he’ll be there to push. Then, one morning, Jordan wakes up to see his teacher splashed all over the news, at a specially held press conference. Well, I know I’d be thinking “How does this affect my grades?!”

The script’s neither heavy nor sloppy, but warm with a twinkle in its eye, and with Dr. Octopus feeling just a little bit dim that – after originally unmasking Peter back when the boy was fifteen – he dismissed the kid as being too young to be Spider-Man and “threw him back”.

Can’t say I’ve read the rest or want to, but you may…

SLH

Buy Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Take Me Back To Manchester (£12-00, self-published) by Oliver East

Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus h/c (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown

An Olympic Dream: The Story Of Samia Yusuf Omar (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Reinhard Kleist

Discover… The Ancient Egyptians (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

Discover… The Roman Empire (£8-99, Frances Lincoln) by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

Hellboy: In Mexico s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Mike Mignola, various, Mike Mignola

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 12 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

The Manhattan Projects vol 6 (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra

Rat Queens vol 3: Demons (£10-99, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Tess Fowler

Batman: Europa h/c (£16-99, DC) by Matteo Casali, Brian Azzarello & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jim Lee, Diego Latorre, Gerald Parel

Superman vol 6: The Men Of Tomorrow s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & John Romita

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Mrs Deadpool And The Howling Commandos s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Salva Espin

Thanos: The Infinity Finale h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin & Ron Lim

Uncanny Avengers vol 1: Unity – Lost Future s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Ryan Stegman, Carlos Pacheco

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Fairy Tail vol 53 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tsubasa: World Chronicle 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

News!

Love Lion 1

ITEM! Six-page preview of Magnetic Press’ LOVE: LION graphic novel.

You can pre-order LOVE: LION by Brremaud & Bertolucci from Page 45 here

Love Lion 2

You can buy LOVE: TIGER by Brremaud & Bertolucci, reviewed by Page 45, here

Love Tiger waterfall

 

Love Tiger waterfall 2

You can buy LOVE: FOX by Brremaud & Bertolucci, reviewed by Page 45, here

Love Fox 3

 

Love Fox 4

ITEM! Gerard Way interviewed about his very own ‘Young Animal’ DC comics imprint

Already written by Gerard Way we have:

UMBRELLA ACADEMY VOL 1

UMBRELLA ACADEMY VOL 2

TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS

Delilah Dirk King 2

ITEM! We reviewed Tony Cliff’s DELILAH DIRK AND THE KINGS SHILLING a couple of weeks ago and DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT above.

However, to whet your appetiteTony Cliff has a 36-page self-published comic DELILAH DIRK AND THE SEEDS OF MISFORTUNE available online as a pay-what-you-want e-book.

Lumina

ITEM! Italian graphic novel LUMINA just needs a few more Euros to fund it. Looks pretty swoonaway to me!

1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

ITEM! Ah yes, a rollickingly well edited promo video for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival: youtu.be/OiyhwGT4RP4

LICAF Beatrix Potter Competition

 

Beatrix Potter Competition

ITEM! New Beatrix Potter Competition For Students from The Lakes International Comic Art Festival!

Spread the word far, spread the word wide, my lovelies! Judges for the competition are #LICAF Patrons:

Sean Phillips
Emma Vieceli
Bryan Talbot
Mary Talbot

Stephen El Holland

Yes, this old buffoon! What on earth do I know about creativity? About Beatrix Potter…?

Enough to remind you that you really should have read Bryan Talbot’s THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT by now! Contemporary fiction set in the Lakes District, it’s pretty powerful stuff!

Tale Of One Bad Rat cover

 

Tale Of One Bad Rat 1

 

Tale Of One Bad Rat 2

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2016 week one

April 6th, 2016

Julie Doucet returns! So does The Phoenix Weekly Comics’ Von Doogan in a second fiendish puzzle comic for kids! Alan Turing sadly does not return, but is here all the same.

NEWS GALORE UNDERNEATH!

Paper Girls vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

“Whoa.
“I am tripping my face off.”

And it all looks so innocent and straightforward on the cover.

I’m not sure chain-smoking’s a particularly wise idea for a 16-year-old – or at any age, trust me – but then MacKenzie’s going to be displaying a distinct lack of wisdom, 1980s-style, throughout. It wasn’t a particularly compassionate time, was it? I think you can trust the writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA to make that matter. Retrospect is a funny old thing. “The past is a foreign place” etc.

Before we begin, I like what Matt Wilson – colourist on THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc – has done with the faces within. The mouths, eyes and brows have retained Cliff Chiang’s black lines while the more subtle shadows round the lips, nose and furrows are gentle, darker tones of the flesh itself.

Apart from the winged apparition of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe in full space helmet; and shaggy old Beelzebub torturing Erin’s young sister in her school classroom. Dreams, eh?

Paper Girls 0

“We warned you… Never eat from the Tree Of Knowledge.”

Of course it’s an apple. There will be a lot of apple for you to discover / decipher / decrypt along with a secret language – I’m not even joking. Decoding that by substituting letters of the alphabet for the symbols will yield many more lines of dialogue. There’s even an apple phone – which is ahead of its time.

November 1st 1988 and Erin awakes from her nightmare at 4-40am to prepare for her paper round. She’s got a big stash of cash in her bedroom’s desk drawer next to the keys and elastic-band ball so she’s obviously not doing badly, but this morning she’ll have to contend with the teenage detritus of last night’s Halloween. Thank goodness for MacKenzie, KJ and Tiffany, then – three more paper girls who’ve banded together for mutual protection precisely in case of dweebs like these.

Paper girls 2

Erin is slightly in awe of MacKenzie, the first local paperboy who wasn’t actually a boy.

“Hey, I was the altar girl long before Mac took over her brother’s route.”
“Yeah, Tiffany’s like the Amelia Earhart of crap that doesn’t matter.”

They’re going to need it too because umm, that thing in the basement. Extra constellations in the sky. Extra creatures in the sky. Three skulking figures wrapped in black linen with far from humanoid pupils. You won’t like what they find underneath. Thank goodness one of the young ladies had saved up enough paper-round money for a set of walkie-talkies. You remember them…! Oh god, you’re only eighteen, aren’t you?

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I love how the kids attempt to rationalise all the strangeness their lives have just become in terms they can comprehend without completely freaking out. People keep blinking in and out of existence as if they’re not really there. Or weren’t there. Or won’t be.

Take MacKenzie’s mom who is well past freaking out and reduced to glugging bourbon straight from the bottle. She introduces herself to Mac’s friends, but…

“Actually Alice is my stepmother. She met my dad in A.A.”
“Which part of anonymous don’t you understand?”
“I don’t know, which part of not drinking don’t you understand?”

Paper Girls 1

There’s an excellent execution of environment with Cliff Chiang providing scowls, late ‘80s early teen fashion, exquisite figure work, pavement-level perspectives and a sprawling, early morning suburbia with enough trees to make it somewhere you wouldn’t actively hate too much to live – unless, like MacKenzie, you have the local cops on your case. Once this essential grounding’s been done in dullsville, the odd giant flying reptile tends to mark more of an impact.

Best sequence so far: Tiffany’s life flashing before her eyes. All of it.

“…Why didn’t I stop when I was stuck at Level 28…”

Hilarious.

Paper Girls 4

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Carpet Sweeper Tales (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Doucet.

Photo-comics – weren’t they fun?

Julie Doucet: she was a riot too!

Now the creator of MY NEW YORK DIARY and MY MOST SECRET DESIRE is back, but she’s ditched the drawing board for paper, scissors and glue, creating satirical short-story collages from 1970s Italian fumetti and – by the look of the type-faces – slightly earlier magazine adverts.

The women are kohl-eyed, demure, wistful and all waiting for Mr Wonderful to come along and sweep them off their suburban feet with the latest carpet cleaner or sundry other domestic appliance. That’s the state of the sweet nothings on offer from these Connery Bonds and Roger-Moore Saints as they express their adoration in words that only a housewife would understand:

“Kiddie, I AM Dust-Resistance for you. ME Clean “Magic” carpet LOVE.”

Carpet Sweeper Tales 2 - Copy

And if you think love and romance is all that’s become commoditised, I offer you spirituality in the form of Sister Chevrolet!

Sister Chevrolet – the nun who runs on many more miles per gallon than any other wimpled recluse – pimps the Virtue Bra and teaches caution at all times, especially when it comes to one’s own inner plumbing:

“Install the new Safest Chimney ever built NOW!”

Carpet Sweeper Tales 1 - Copy

Yes, do it now – and at all costs before page 132 when the first of the one-track brat packs appear! These James Dean drop-outs have got on their bikes in search of skirt, and got their leathers in a virtually monosyllabic lather:

“OOOK!”
“DDDDDOLL!!!”
“BBABYYYY”

You can almost see the drool dripping onto their chrome handlebars. Finally the poor woman snaps and confronts them face-on.

“STOP it you APES, me no banana.” This they clearly can’t comprehend, for she’s met from a floating fence of question marks and she’s not best pleased – disdainful in fact – “Boo boo!”

By the time we get to “Tuf! Treat ‘em Ruf They Plenty Tuf!” the Marlon Brando bonobos have forgotten what women even are, along with vowels. Instead they turn on each other with one long, primal and guttural consonant: “ggggggggggggg”.

“Bbbbbbbbbb,” begins another before their allegiances dissolve and they resort to that time-honoured past-time of all healthy young males: smacking seven shades of shit out of each other. Down goes the weakest, held face-down in the dirt before hissing a resentful submission. It’s good to be a guy!

All this is rendered in multiple type-faces which I can’t duplicate in this blog or on our product pages, ‘B’s, ‘b’s, ‘G’s and ‘g’s in multiple fonts flaunting most laws of grammar. It’s all very merry and mirthful, although I have to confess some the material in the middle lost me.

I leave you with the inner musings of a nascent feminist determined to stand on her own two feet:

“I AM me NO hangers around, no Sponge no Rfrigerator…
“IM A BIRD.”

BBbbbbbabbyyyYYY.

SLH

Buy Carpet Sweeper Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Golem (£14-99, Magnetic Press) by Lorenzo Ceccotti…

“People don’t want to be free. They want to be slaves. They want to be told how to live. They want an excuse to complain, an excuse for failing in life.
“Peace is the greatest gift we can offer humanity, but sometimes violence is necessary to obtain it. Peace can only be maintained by absolute power. And absolute power comes from money. This is why the masses must endure misery: to live in peace.
“Nanomachine G is an attack on capitalism and the very balance of our democracy. The people find peace from envying the rich and taking no accountability for themselves.”

All hail President Trump! Ah, sorry… wrong dystopian future…

Well, Magnetic Press have turned up another gem! Following on from the likes of LOVE: THE TIGER, LOVE: THE FOX (and the forthcoming LOVE: THE LION), DOOMBOY and A GLANCE BACKWARDS comes another slice of self-contained hybrid Euro / Japanese style sci-fi in the mode of former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month ZAYA.

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Set in a frenetic hyper-capitalist Italy – now little more than a tiny node within the overarching Eurasian superstate, which is itself merely a front for four controlling mega-corporations that have achieved almost complete control of the citizens through an indoctrinated culture of spend, spend, spend – paid-for politicians front the show and ensure the wheels of industry run ever smooth.

Every consumer’s need is anticipated and a simple and immediate route to purchase provided. About to run out of toothpaste? Don’t worry! A virtual advert, floating in mid-air, complete with buy button will pop up in right front of you. About to run out of comics? Don’t worry! Head to www.page45.com and… whoops, got a bit carried away there…

Golem-1

This relentless, quite literally in-your-face continuous 24/7 sales pitch, all under the auspices of making peoples’ lives simpler – of course – has greatly contributed towards turning the populace into good little consumer drones. That’s exactly how they wanted it, though, if you believe the faceless ones in charge that is… Cash dispensers even offer an optional fruit machine game: a chance to win some extra cash for a small fee, though in reality it is of course a mug’s game. What a hideous nightmare, though it is really that unbelievable? I suggest to you it is already well on the way. It might only be targeted advertising on your browser today…

However, there is hope. Several years previously a scientist was on the verge of a miraculous breakthrough called Nanomachine G, a particle capable of recombining matter at the molecular level using just a little water and light. Anything could be transformed into anything else. Limitless inorganic and organic resources beckoned… removing the need for production and all its associated waste, pollution and energy consumption at a stroke. Removing the need for commerce, therefore. But no commerce means no need for money… which means capitalism dies. Unsurprisingly, those four mega-corporations controlling the status quo were not happy at all.

“Our power is based on commercial consumption. A one-way channel of goods!”
“A machine that can freely transform and recombine matter will allow people to produce any goods they want! It will eliminate the very concept of purchase and possession!”
“An economy based not on money, but on the concept of sustainable recycling and the free sharing of knowledge… do you have any idea what that would mean??”
“Stop them. By whatever violence necessary. Or you will pay with your own life. Go! That’s an order of the high board of Eurasia!”

Golem-2

So they thought they’d silenced the scientist permanently, before he could complete his work. In a way they did, but not before he’d hidden it in the most unlikely of places. Now, a small resistance group of futuristic ninjas known as the Shorai, aimed with illegal cutting edge technology, have seen a unique opportunity arise to try and take down the government and free the population from their ideological and fiscal chains.

I really, really enjoyed this. Yes, it’s a wee bit whimsical in that way Euro sci-fi can be, rather than pure hard sci-fi in the ilk of say LAZARUS. But it’s clearly pushing a message that the vast majority of us would dearly espouse. Evil mega-corporation owning overlords aside, I think we’d all like to see the sort of utopian future that Nanomachine G might bring about. Wouldn’t we? You don’t really find peace from envying the rich and taking no accountability for yourself, do you?

Golem-3

The art, though, is genuinely exceptional. If you are a Brandon Graham fan then I think you’ll be in absolutely heaven. I have no idea if Lorenzo Ceccotti is a Brandon Graham fan or vice versa, but the similarities are most certainly there in the illustration style. Then there are also those hints of other Magnetic Press books like ZAYA and LUMINAE, also present in pure manga like Tsutomu Nihei’s ultra-kinetic BIOMEGA. Plus there are some seemingly almost oil-painted dream sequences which are used to great dramatic effect. I presume they are actually done using computer software.

I’ll freely confess I hadn’t heard of this Italian creator before, but I am extremely impressed. I will have to ask my Italian bank manager mate who is a massive fumetti fan to see if he is well known over there. Hmm, actually thinking about it, bank managers, they wouldn’t want a world without money would they, or they’d be out of a job?!

JR

Buy Golem and read the Page 45 review here

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c (£15-99, Abrams Comics) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Purvis…

“That wasn’t the only madness he was up to.
“There was also, well… I don’t even know how to… I mean, I was proud of him, but…
“Machines that think? How… distressing.”

Hmm… she was very good at changing the subject, Alan’s mum. Particularly when people were trying to pin her down on whether she knew about his sexuality. I read an extremely good book regarding the wartime goings-on at Bletchley Park and the various code-breakers many years ago, the name of which eludes me now, unfortunately. But understandably it contained a substantial section on Alan Turing, though primarily focused on his immense contribution to the war effort, so I was reasonably aware of him already from that respect.

This work covers not only that esteemed service to King and country which saw him awarded an O.B.E. immediately after the war in 1945, but also substantially bookends it, beginning with his childhood as a socially awkward mathematical prodigy, his subsequent prodigious academic achievements at Cambridge and Princeton, and his burgeoning reputation as a leading thinker of his time. Post-war it covers his remarkable grounding-breaking work in the design of possible ‘stored-program’ computers and his still applied Turing Test which has become an indispensable concept in the debate surrounding artificial intelligence.

Imitation-Game-1

Then comes his devastating fall from grace due to his arrest for gross indecency in 1952, homosexual acts between men being a criminal offence in UK at the time, a law that was not changed, albeit then even partially, for over another decade. Offered hormone treatment as an alternative to imprisonment (in effect chemical castration), the immensely detrimental effects on his mind and body tragically led to his death within two years.

Whether it was suicide or not remains the subject of some debate, though it seems inconceivable to me given the circumstances of his demise that Turing did not choose to end his suffering. (Which is handled very well here, actually, and something Ottaviani talks about in his afterword.) That such a visionary, on the cusp of further amazing discoveries and progress, could be brought down in such a devastating and discriminatory fashion is a salutary reminder it really isn’t that long ago that times were very different and much less enlightened indeed.

Imitation-Game-2

This is an extremely detailed and thorough graphic biography. I shouldn’t be surprised, it coming from the same writer as FEYNMAN and PRIMATES: THE FEARLESS SCIENCE OF JANE GOODALL, DIAN FOSSEY & BIRUTE GALDIKAS. It works through both a direct presentation of the facts and also retrospective interview excerpts with family and colleagues, talking about Alan directly. What comes across very strongly is just what a remarkable man he was, held in the very highest esteem by those who understood his work, or him, just enough to see his brilliance, and through his shy, shuttering demeanour that could easily be misunderstood for aloofness.

It took me a little while to get into the art, I must say. Leland Purvis’ style not being so easy on the eye as Ottaviani’s collaborators on his other works, but once I had I didn’t find it a distraction at all. Though I suspect that is in great part testament to the fascinating subject matter and the writing. There are some excellent conceits and artistic devices employed upon occasion that add a little something, though. I particularly enjoyed a theoretical discussion between Alan and two colleagues on the subject of building a machine (the term computer not yet being in use) constructed of an infinitely long strip of paper with someone marking marks on it to give this construct instructions. As the three walk through their imaginary discussion, alongside the paper, Alan gradually leaves his colleagues behind in their respective capacities to understand his ideas, and eventually is surprised to find himself standing alone, holding the paper, looking around to see where they have disappeared to, before shrugging his shoulders and carrying on, theorising to himself.

Imitation-Game-3

For anyone wanting to learn more about this great man, a true genius of the 20th century, who ought to be held in as high regard as the likes of Albert Einstein for his contributions to science, this is an excellent starting point. Most people aren’t aware but there is actually an annual award, the A.M. Turing Award, which is given to an “individual selected for contributions of lasting and major technical importance in the field of computer science.” This award is recognised as the highest possible distinction one can achieve in the field, and is regarded as being as prestigious as a Nobel Prize. So it’s nice to know that at least his peers did find a way to recognise his brilliance for all posterity.

JR

Buy The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

Von Doogan And The Great Air Race (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Lorenzo Etherington.

Suffering semaphore!

How keen are your code-cracking skills? How refined is your spatial awareness and how sharp your straightforward eyesight? Strategic planning? Is this the season of reason for you?

If your answers are “mighty” and “I leap logic for breakfast” then this is the comic for you!

Comic…? Why yes, from THE PHOENIX comic weekly, that stable of thoroughbred storytelling, this is both a death-defying, danger-driven, neurotic, exotic comicbook adventure and a set of 37 mind-frazzling puzzles so grin-inducing fiendish that they will ruin other puzzle books for you.

Except for Lorenzo’s previous puzzle-comic VON DOOGAN AND THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN MONKEY, of course!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 1

To move the story along you will need to solve puzzles like these:

See through a disguise in a crowd by piecing together what someone’s torn up and trashed.

Escape through the burning wreckage of a fuselage using fire extinguishers to clear paths through a maze – but each fire takes up a whole tank and you can only carry two extinguishers at once – it’s trickier than you think!

Repair circuitry, avoid collision, and identify which pilot is flying which plane based on a series of statements.

Best of the lot: after examining a map of a cafe and 8 separate pieces of time-specific and location-centric evidence from 4 different waiters, work out who was the only diner that night who didn’t have an opportunity to poison competitor Klaus!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 2

Impossibility Levels ranging from one to five indicate how much of a meal you might make of things.

With puzzle 1, ‘Sandwich Secret’, you’re looking at a light snack – no, you actually are! There’s a tray in front of Von Doogan bearing sandwiches, a drink with a straw and umm, a triangle (because triangles are tasty?) You need to summon your spatial awareness skills to work out how each of the items would look to Von Doogan (who’s facing you) in order to decode a secret message, thence a secret location around you in the room. This has an Impossibility Level of Two Skulls.

But up immediately next is The Magic Square puzzle whose solution will enable you to work out numeric values of similarly square but quite complex symbols which when translated into letters in turn reveal the location of a race, after which there’s another challenge to discover its date… all on the very second page! This has an Impossibility of Five Skulls – Five Skulls already!

Von Doogan Great Air Race 3

What I’m trying to convey is that these are far from straight forward, and you will at the very least need a pen and scrap paper, a pair of scissors and Doogan’s Danger Kit, a copy of which you can download from an address in the back so you won’t need to cut up the book (or you can trace shapes and use coins).

You will also need maths skills. Not advanced mechanics skills, but maths skills all the same. At one point to you have to determine how long you’ve got to rescue a pilot bailing from her plane by calculating how long her parachute drop takes when free-falling then open, after which how long she can survive at sea during specific water temperatures.

There are clues in the back if you struggle on any particular page and then the solutions. I think I found an additional solution to ‘The Dreaded Fog’ which didn’t involve me crashing my plane and which may have moved me ahead in the race! Umm, it might also have got me disqualified.

Von Doogan Great Air Race 4

I cannot begin to tell you how much glee I gleaned from this, but I do wonder if you’ll work out long before I did exactly which character is attempting to sabotage your best efforts to win this whacky race. There is a certain logic I should have seen through earlier, and I think you may rechristen me Dumbo. Do let me know!

For laugh-out-loud Etherington Brothers idiocy (Lorenzo being joined by Robin), please see their LONG GONE DON and MONKEY NUTS graphic novels.

SLH

Buy Von Doogan And The Great Air Race and read the Page 45 review here

Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale (£5-99, Piccadilly) by Robin Etherington & Jan Bielecki.

‘Chapter 5: The Shipshape Shop’

“The Captain did not choose the name of his shop because he liked to keep things tidy. The shop was almost as messy as Ruby’s bedroom. No, the real reason was that The Shipshape Shop was a shop shaped exactly like a ship. Which is hard to believe, but even harder to say.”

Haha! Brilliant!

A shop shaped like a ship! What could be cooler than that? If it sold comics, of course, and it does!

Two of its most popular titles are the titular FREAKY and FEARLESS – printed throughout this book in their EC-style, blood-dripping logos – much beloved by storyteller Simon and his ace-cartoonist mate Whippet. The book opens with the first three pages of the latest issue of FEARLESS and, my, how prophetic they’ll prove to be! Indeed, it gradually dawns on Simon that so much of what happens today will have been presaged by stuff that popped into his head – almost if he made it come true!

Illustrated prose perfect for those of my own mental age (if not reading ability!) written by one half of the Etherington Brothers, the mirth-merchants responsible for kids comics LONG GONE DON and MONKEY NUTS, instead of FREAKY & FEARLESS this could have been equally aptly entitled, ‘Smelly & smellier’ for it includes a chapter called ‘The Toilet That Trolls Built and it pongs like nobody’s business.

It clops along at a cracking pace and it is – as you’d expect – both thrilling and hilarious but it also boasts an arresting turn of phrase of two for, then it comes to said toilet…

“Darkness looked as if it had been painted across every inch of the rotten, two-storey shack, and painted with a brush made from pure misery.”

Simon had never seen the shack before because it was hidden under the archway of Turnaway Bridge whose foreboding nature had always instilled in Simon so much fear that he’d never been able to face it. Jan Bielecki’s illustration for the page on which he finally does so positively looms over the boy, the black left-hand page with its white words sucking all warmth as well as light from the scene.

Freaky & Fearless - Copy

Does this all sound too scary? It isn’t! It’s eerie, to be sure, and exciting, I swear, but at the same time it’s mostly played for adrenalin and laughs as Simon, Whippet and the dual-crossbow wielding, no-nonsense, nine-year-old death-machine known as Lucy Shufflebottom pursue a shadowy creature which has escaped from Castle Fearless, pursued Simon at a distance then snatched his baby sister Ruby. Why?!

Have you ever played ‘Simon Says’?

I have so much I could shout about here, from the clever way Robin drops Simon’s age into the proceedings by pronouncing that his eleven-year-old arms weren’t up to a task (how much better than the dismally dull “Simon was eleven years old”) to chapter titles like ‘Seven Seconds In Which The Worst Happened’ during which the worst happens during seven bullet-pointed seconds arranged down a no-pause-for-breath time-line… and Simon spinning one of his fanciful yarns about The True Pre-History Of Garden Gnomes And The Slightly More Migratory, Predatory Dinosaurs.

“The word ‘massacre’ isn’t quite big enough, so let’s say that by the time the dinosaurs were finished, there were very few gnomes left in one piece. Those that did survive did so by hiding. Standing still didn’t work. The dinosaurs called the gnomes who tried to hide by standing still ‘ready meals’. The ones who tried to run were known as ‘fast food’.”

Look, we don’t stock that much prose here. With 7,000 different graphic novels we’ve no room for prose if it ain’t absolute genius like Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Dave Shelton, Gary Northfield, Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre, Patrick Ness & Jim Kay. I’m struggling to think of much more, making it less than 0.25% of our stock. I’m having this because I bloody loved it and any of our younger readers who enjoy our more ridiculous graphic novels in THE PHOENIX weekly comic range by Northfield, Smart, Murphy and Turner will laugh their snot-ridden heads off.

Oh, and do you remember The Shipshape Shop that sells comics?

“One final thought: you two can believe what you like, but Captain Armstrong really is a pirate. I’ve seen him in action. The real question to ask is why would a famous pirate sell comics for a living?”

*smiles benignly*

SLH

Buy Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets Book 5 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

“No more attachés, no more revenge…
“No more hundred bullets. Graves’ game is over.”

Oh, but it has been a very long game, cleverly played, and it ain’t over until Agent Graves says it’s over. There are many more bodies to be bagged before then.

No one here gives up without a fight, least of all Lono and, let me tell you, it’s going to get gruesome.

There has been an additional mini-series since these 100 issues, already collected into 100 BULLETS: BROTHER LONO which, if anything, is even more wince-worthy. Each previous book has also been reviewed in greater depth than this. However, how’s this to whet your appetite?

100 BULLETS was riveting crime fiction which sensibly began with a simple proposition before spirally into all-out warfare.

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The war is being waged between the Houses of The Trust, The Minutemen they used to employ as keepers of the peace, and anyone Agent Graves believes he can use in his very long game of goading, guile and perfect positioning, even from the very beginning.

The proposition was this: ancient Agent Graves would turn up at your house and present you with a briefcase. In that briefcase would be irrefutable evidence that someone has done you wrong, who the culprit was, and how if not why. Also enclosed: a gun and 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. By that I mean that if these rounds were found spent or unspent at the scene of any crime, all investigation into that crime would cease. You have immunity – from the cops at least. What would you do?

Every nuance, every cadence of contemporary urban street patter is captured. Each line has a lovely lilt, and every character is ridiculously witty that the series reads like one long Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirwell song.

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As the series unfurls sleeper agents are activated, sides are taken, sides are swapped and lives are wrecked at home, in the street, and in prisons, bars and hotels all over the country. Now the final battle is on.

The shadows – already dark – grow longer, the colours are very rich in red and, lord, but those bruises are livid.

“Some people just deserve to die.”

The End.

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets Book 5 and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

“That’s all you got?
“My father hit harder than that.”

Ooof!

You love alternate Earths with divergent histories, don’t you? Stuff like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, MINISTRY OF SPACE. Here’s another and it’s fiercely intelligent and fresh. There have been four substantial reviews of EAST OF WEST already – the first two by Jonathan; the second pair by me – so this is just a nudge to say that book five has arrived and that they are all very much deserving of your attention.

America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.

Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.

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Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with Xiaolian Mao, now leader of the Mandarin-speaking People’s Republic Of America and a woman who, he discovered, had born him a child.

The hunt is now on for that son dubbed The Great Beast, Babylon.

The Child Horsemen want to kill Death’s progeny; Death wants to save him.

Death wants to save the whole world.

It’s that sort of a book, riddled with ironies, like the Endless Nation of Native Americans once so myth-based now being the technological champions of the modern world and, militarily, its mightiest: they have just conquered The United States of Texas.

Hahahahahaha!

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets and read the Page 45 review here

The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven.

“Hnh. Almost amusing. The silent king cannot keep his word.”

Very good, very good! If I’d written a line like that I’d have taken the rest of the month off.

Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS s/c or h/c comes highly recommended as an introduction to this royal family but also to all – not just Marvel superhero fans – as a very clever, considered and beautiful series about society. Some of it smacked of Neil Gaiman. No word of a lie.

This is much more Marvel-centric and quite specific in its context but certainly one of the best most recent examples with a cracking punchline bursting with attitude which was set up very early on indeed. Comeuppances are so very satisfying.

From the creative team behind the DEATH OF WOLVERINE, the first chapter shone under its clear blue skies, crackling temporal energy and the sound of a whispered word. No clues as to whose required.

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I personally missed Justin Ponsor’s colours after that opening salvo, but it’s still all much more attractive than this stiff and ill-composed cover.

The silent king is Black Bolt who cannot speak a word for fear of levelling a mountain – the very essence of the strong, silent macho man – and he’s certainly going to be biting that stiff upper lip raw now that he’s been deposed and his ex, Queen Medusa, is dating the Human Torch. It’s a startling development given The Torch’s history with Medusa as a member of the Frightful Four and with Medusa’s sister Crystal as an ex-lover. Also given that Medusa is one of the most reserved and dignified characters in Marvel’s stable, while Johnny Storm is its mad, rutting colt.

It all came crashing down for Black Bolt in the highly recommended Avengers crossover INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 from which to you can move straight on to here. Here is mere moments before SECRET WARS – before the death of everything.

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Events first brought to light in NEW AVENGERS VOL 1: EVERYTHING DIES are about to come to a cataclysmic head as the two main Marvel Earths (regular and Ultimate) are about to collide, wiping them both out along with their universes. That is why Black Bolt’s palm is glowing: the final Incursion is imminent and there is one thing above all which he must ensure – that his son Ahura survives. Now, how would you ensure someone survives the end of the universe, do you think? I’d probably take them outside of time itself.

“If I do this thing for you, if I take your son back into the timestream with me, saving him from what is to come, then he is mine.
“Forever.
“Even if the death of the universe is somehow averted, know that Ahura will belong to Kang always.”

Yes, it’s Kang The Constantly Conquered.

Chapters two to five take place after SECRET WARS when, umm, the death of the universe was somehow averted. Whoops.

SLH

Buy The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

5000 Km Per Second h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Fior

Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant (£12-99, First Second) by Tony Cliff

Giant Days vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 2: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Joshua Dysart & Brian Froud, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John

Chain Mail Bikini: The Anthology Of Women Gamers (£14-99, ) by various

The Complete Alice In Wonderland s/c (£14-99, Dynamite) by Lewis Carroll, Leah Moore, John Reppion & Erica Awano

Flink (£10-50, Image) by Doug TenNapel

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna

Luminae h/c (£18-99, Magnetic Press) by Bengal

Munch (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Steffen Kverneland

The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: Year One h/c (£33-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

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

Batman: Adventures vol 4 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Paul Dini, various & Bruce Timm, various

Gotham By Midnight vol 2: Rest In Peace s/c (£12-99, DC) by Ray Fawkes & Juan Ferreyra

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Amazing Spider-Man vol 1: Worldwide s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Black Panther: Complete Christopher Priest Collection vol 3 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest, J. Torres & Sal Veluto, Jorge Lucas, Ryan Bodenheim, Jon Bogdanove, John Buscema, Paolo Rivera

Civil War: Peter Parker Spider-Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Clayton Crane, Angel Medina, Sean Chen

Civil War: Punisher War Journal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Frank Tieri & Ariel Olivetti, Mike Deodato, Staz Johnson

Invincible Iron Man vol 1: Reboot h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Awkward Silence vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Hinako Takanaga

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 34-36 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura

News!

Paul Duffield costume

ITEM! I think you’ll agree this is a pretty neat design from FREAKANGELS’ Paul Duffield which would look perfectly at home in his continuing FARLIGHT ISLE project, yes?

Now, imagine Paul Duffield actually inhabiting that costume. In real life! Photos! Pretty special, huh?

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ITEM! Duncan Fegredo draws! Time-lapse! Jaw-drop! Etc! I find watching all those individual creative decisions and revisions being made fascinating.

Julia Scheele - Copy

ITEM! For those who’ve enjoyed the Sarah Burgess and Jade Sarson’s pages I’ve linked to here, I think you’ll love the empathy and understanding Julia Scheele brings to mental health / confidence in her comics.

Rachel Rising vol 4

 ITEM! Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING BLACK EDITION OMNIBUS – pre-order now direct from Terry Moore only!

750 copies only worldwide
Signed, limited bookplate
Signed, limited print BUT ONLY FOR THOSE WHO PRE-ORDER
$90 before postage is not expensive. IT’S LESS THAN THE 7 SOFTCOVERS IT CONTAINS!

Why we love RACHEL RISING: all six books so far reviewed by silly old Stephen.

Giant Days vol 2

ITEM! John Allison’s most recent BOBBINS from the beginning. I’ll never get tired of typing sentences like that. Free online comics are one thing, but free online comics as funny as that?

Err, why we love John Allison: BAD MACHINERY/ GIANT DAYS / EXPECTING TO FLY / MURDER SHE WRITES comics all in stock and all reviewed apart from GIANT DAYS VOL 2, out today and in stock now!

 

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ITEM! Another blog, another new graphic novel from THE PHOENIX weekly comic library reviewed above, plus an Etherington Brother prose book too!

Page 45 now has a category for all of THE PHOENIX comic’s graphic novels (as well as associates) which you can reach from our website’s front page by clicking on:

LET’S START SHOPPING
TEEN & YOUNGER READERS
YOUNGER READERS
PHOENIX BOOKS at the top!

Cairo Mural - Copy

ITEM! Giant mural across 50 buildings in Cairo! And if you think this image is spectacular, click on the link for photos of its creation, night scenes and so much more!

Cairo Mural at night - Copy

 

Rough Trade cover

ITEM! Rough Trade has a brand-new music magazine out! Oh yeah! You can buy it from that product page or from Rough Trade shops in London, New York City and Nottingham. Nottingham!

Apart from our shared adoration of our respective media and our fiercely guarded independence, why that launch – and Rough Trade in general – is particularly important to Page 45 will become increasingly clear in the next few months.

Fabulous interview with Rough Trade Magazines’ curator Liz Siddall – another name you’ll be hearing a lot more of here. I like her No Wankers policy.

Rough Trade Nottingham

Rough Trade Records Nottingham, 5 Broad Street. 0115 8964012

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week five

March 30th, 2016

Scott Pilgrim vol 4 h/c Colour EditionBryan Lee O’Malley News! Also: Jonathan does the heavy lifting with Dan Clowes’ Patience and Sony Liew’s Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, we unearth a review by our Mark for the reprint of Through The Habitrails while I’m all about Tony Cliff’s new Delilah Dirk and Jeremy A. Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl plus Hickman & Ribic’s Secret Wars. Finally! It’s actually very good.

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c (£22-50, Pantheon) by Sonny Liew…

“In the beginning, there was Tezuka. They called him the God of manga.”
“I’ve got that book of his over here…
“As for me, I was born in the year of nothing. 1938.
“Well, as far as Singapore’s history is concerned, anyway… 1938… It was before the war, not a year of any particular significance…
But it was the year that The Beano first appeared in the UK…
“… and Superman made his debut in the United States.”

I never knew that. Perhaps someone needs to organise a Dennis The Menace vs. Superman centennial crossover for 2038? I can just imagine the put-upon Clark Kent being best chums with Weedy Walter. It wouldn’t be the weirdest match up, surely; I mean SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMED ALI was pretty odd, though I would contend BJORN BORG VS. PLUG of The Bash Street Kids, with the toothsome teen thrashing the great tennis maestro, is probably more bizarre still.

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Hmm… not sure if one can technically have said to digressed before you’ve actually started something, but I’d best get on with the review! Or at least provide some background first…

Singapore, the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire”, is arguably the most successful former colonial territory, of any of the ‘great’ 19th and 20th Century European empires, in terms of its transition to independence. It’s economic prosperity and increased living standards enjoyed by its citizens were the envy of all its Asian neighbours in the latter half of the 20th Century. Most of the plaudits for that progress can be laid at the feet of The People’s Action Party which has formed the democratically elected and re-elected incumbent government since 1959, and its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who actually held the position until 1990.

That progress, guided by Lee who is regarded as the founding father of modern Singapore, from “third world to first world in a single generation”, is clearly impressive. As ever, of course, along the way, there were certain dissenting voices who were, shall we say, removed as obstacles, by a combination of political chicanery, state abuse of power (particularly in the sphere of silencing dissenting journalists) and a disturbing use of extended internment without charge for certain radicals. It is probably testament to the relatively small scale and generally bloodless nature of these measures, that the vast majority of Singaporeans regard them as having been a necessary evil.

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That moral conundrum, plus the history of this island from colonial trading outpost to fully fledged Asian tiger and much more besides is explored through the eyes, and art, of Singapore’s greatest comics artist: Charlie Chan Hock Chye.  Except… such a person never existed…

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Sonny Liew has created a truly fascinating proxy to allow him to take us on the Singaporean independence journey, warts and all. That story in and of itself is immaculately laid out, very objectively, without shying away from any of the darker elements. But it’s the retrospective of the faux career of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, shown in snippets of chapters and sketches, à la mode of Seth’s THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS, which elevates this to a work of genius. Because Charlie Chan Hock Chye was always a man who expressed himself through his comics, and was someone who had much to say. With the arm’s length remove of anthropomorphic satirical gag strips or a speculative fiction premise about a fascistic future regime of hegemonistic alien overlords, his comics allowed him far more freedom of speech than the oppressed journalistic press itself enjoyed.

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Thus Sonny Liew is very neatly able to provide a much more personal and subjective commentary on the never changing political landscape and various tumultuous events as they affected the typical man in the street. As with Seth’s masterpiece, you’ll be left wishing that some of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s works actually existed because you’ll be wanting to read them in full!

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There is an additional comedic level revolving around Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s entirely self-appointed status as “Singapore’s greatest comics artist” and his complete lack of any substantial commercial success, including his attempts to crack America, which is almost certainly a bit of personal commentary on Sonny’s part on working as a comics creator I would imagine, but which only serves to season our appreciation of this fake master even further.

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Sonny employs a truly enormous range of art styles throughout this work, which is undoubtedly his magnum opus, demonstrating the various creative twists and turns (and cul-de-sacs) a comics artist might take during such an extensive and varied career. Fake or not, he’s had to draw them all! I seriously hope this work serves as a springboard to greater widespread recognition and rewards for Sonny though, because he truly deserves it. I can’t imagine how he can top this creatively, mind you, but I’m fascinated to see how he’ll try.

JR

Buy The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff.

Key words: energetic, refreshing; thrilling and funny.

We are certainly not at home here to Comrade Cliché who has been sent packing back to his identical twins, Praetor Predictable and Father Formulaic. Instead entire households have the capacity to surprise with their absence of snobbery, racism and chauvinism even if certain less oppressive formalities must be maintained for the sake of one’s reputation.

Ah, reputation, very much at the heart of this tale and on the front cover, dichotomous Delilah having more than one to uphold.

Set in Portugal and Britain during 1809, this quick-witted action-adventure is my fav all-ages read of the year so far. And I do mean all-ages, just like AMULET whose Kazu Kibuishi is an enormous fan.  It’s easy to see why: just as AMULET is bursting with fantastical Hayao Miyazaki flourishes, Tony Cliff delivers landscape after landscape with perfect perspectives and period detail:

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Lisbon harbour with its exotic, early 16th Century Belém Tower; galleons setting sail; and at least three English, aristocratic mansions from the homely and rustic Nichols estate, late on a moonlit night with a solitary room’s windows shining ever so bright, to the more grandiose and Palladian on the evening of a ball.

We are indeed talking Jane Austen’s era of etiquette-ribbing match-making and I can assure you this is equally iconoclastic, only with a great many more swords and some balletic, fight-scene choreography worthy of Frank Miller circa DAREDEVIL.

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We first meet wall-climbing, roof-hopping, sword-flashing Delilah Dirk during a rescue mission / child-abduction in Portugal. It depends on your sense of perspective – something Delilah’s long-suffering side-kick Mister Selim has far more command of than she does. Selim offers a constant, cautionary and pragmatic counsel to his more hot-headed counterpart. Where Delilah sees revenge, Selim would rather seek justice; where Delilah would rather protect her legendary reputation as fearsome and formidable even with an arm wound so debilitating than she could not possibly succeed, Selim suggests strategy. Lovers of nail-biting tension will be delighted to learn that, obstinate to the end, she never listens, even to an obvious admonition to avoid Spanish soil overrun with warring French and English redcoats.

“We should leave. I don’t like all this red. It reminds me of blood; specifically mine, and specifically not where it should be.”

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It’s there that they first come afoul of ambitious aristo-git Major Jason Merrick who has the most god almighty chip on his shoulder on account of feeling unappreciated by his father, Colonel Phillip Merrick. Not knowing whom he has in his clutches, Major Merrick drags Dirk in as a French spy. This goes somewhat unappreciated by his father who knows Dirk by reputation and where her loyalties lie, so he dismisses both the charges as unsubstantiated and his son as ignorant. This is not appreciated by his son who swiftly plants evidence and so now Delilah Dirk has a reputation – for treason! This is not appreciated by Delilah.

Over and over again, this single-minded mule’s deceit will make your blood boil, but that’s as nothing when you find out his true ambitions.

As I say, reputation is central, whether it’s London’s reputation as glorified throughout the wider world, Delilah’s now that she needs to clear her name and ensure no further opportunists believe that they can win a fight against her… and then there is the Nichols family reputation back in England. Who? Oh, for someone who seems to be so concerned about the truth, Delilah has been far from forthcoming herself, especially when it comes to poor Mister Selim.

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What makes this for me is the actual wit – the dry humour – evidenced by Mister Selim. On the very first page there’s some positively parched humour when he attempts to start a small, distracting fire while observing that the grass is far from green; later he’s asked when he would expect out of a British reception. “Nothing extravagant,” he shrugs, eyeing his double-page, imperialistic, triumphalist fantasy which is too funny to behold. I also love the running gag about British tea, the last one I clocked being visual.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and, for the facial expressions and general relationships you might feel towards the characters, make a comparison to Kate Brown (TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, FISH + CHOCOLATE, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3).

I’m also delighted to have found my final illustration online, for I marvelled at this early page on which Tony Cliff thought to add this extra detail of one of the sheets (drawn down to protect the Portuguese patio from the searing midday sun) either having been taken by a breeze and got itself hooked on the railings or never having quite made it to the floor in the first place!

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Now that is classy.

SLH

Buy Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling and read the Page 45 review here

Patience h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes…

“And this is where my story begins.
“The pain was beyond anything you could imagine, a fucking cannon hole in the chest.
“I couldn’t move for what seemed like hours, like I was stuck in drying concrete. Probably just a trick by my DNA to keep me from bashing my brains in.
“The fact is, I didn’t want to kill myself. My memories were all that was left of her. I couldn’t bear to snuff those out too.
“And even though this event had demonstrated the total absence of order in the universe, I couldn’t stand to think of some inhuman demon walking free while the cops pinned the whole thing on me.
“But I’ll be fucked if that isn’t exactly what happened.”

It would be fair to say that 2012 wasn’t a good year for Jack Barlow. I mean, coming home and finding your pregnant wife murdered will do that to you.

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When the cops seem more interested in trying to pin it on him rather than conducting a serious investigation into the titular Patience’s death, Jack decides he’ll need to try and find the culprit himself. However, fast forward to 2029 and no matter how many spurious tips he’s run down and flimsy leads he’s followed up…

“… That one fizzled out like all the rest. More pointless bullshit. And so, here we are.”

Indeed. Here we are. At least for now…

Meanwhile the fact that the more time passes it becomes ever less likely Jack will be able to find his wife’s killer is not lost on him. In fact, it’s all he can think about, so obsessed and all-consumed is Jack with what has been taken from him. Not just his wife, but the potential of a being a father, a future of being all together as one happy family. That Jack is utterly convinced the killer is someone from Patience’s shadowy past only adds to his agony.

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So when a prostitute Jack saves from a beating lets slip that she has a client who mentioned something about trying to invent a time machine, he’s desperate enough to track the guy down. He knows it’s going to be just one more kick in the teeth, but when it turns out to be true, he’s headed straight back to 2006 to try and learn the identity of Patience’s killer and alter the course of history by stopping her murder.

Of course, Daniel Clowes isn’t going to let it be that simple for Jack, now, is he?! No, what follows as Jack is put through the emotional and temporal wringer, quite literally time after time, is as darkly comedic as it is disturbing. Jack is determined to be the discreet unseen observer, yet completely unable to stop himself from intervening as he sees his wife getting into various horrific scrapes she’s only ever alluded to with various local scroatbags and ends up changing events in ways he could never have envisaged. He’s convinced he can correct matters and still save the day of course, but as events start to spiral further out of his control, and the effects of repeated time hops starts to play havoc with his body and his mind, who knows where, or indeed when, it will all end up.

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As ever a note-perfect construction story-wise across the decades, blending complex brooding story-telling with farcical comedy to superb effect once more, just as he did with WILSON. It takes real skill to make a reader want to laugh and cry at the same time, with a fair amount of wincing thrown in for good measure. I frequently found myself shaking my head at Jack’s latest catastrophic transgression whilst simultaneously egging him on.

Art-wise, Clowes is on top form as ever. I particularly loved the grey-haired older version of Jack who looks every inch the bad ass, in complete contrast to the sweet, innocent 2016 version. It’s also quite amusing and revealing when he goes to visit the younger version of his own mother (yet another line he wasn’t going to cross…) and we find she bares more than a passing resemblance to Patience. No idea whether Mrs. Clowes looks like his mother did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it was so! Plus there are some great surreal timestream sequences near the end as things start to get very messy indeed. Finally, the absolute last double-page spread, after the story has finished, I could stare at for hours. Purely as a piece of modern art in its own right I think it is one of the most enticing / intriguing / strangely comforting images I’ve ever seen.

JR

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

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles (£10-99, Dover Publications Inc.) by Jeff Nicholson –

Includes a new epilogue by Jeff, new foreword and intro by Fraction & Bissette, and fresh, shiny new paper for crisp, pitch blacks and zero ink-bleed. To be honest, it looks as if it’s been completely reshot.

It’s one of our favourites. Review from 2001 by our beardly beloved Mark:

The unnamed narrator works in the illustration department of a large advertising agency, hacking out pictures of happy pizza delivery and pointless mail order trash. He has dreams of producing his own work but the sales force and their little taps that drain the creative juices from his system leave him numb and desolate at the end of the day.

He shows us his colleagues: The Doomed One (his dreaded future), destined to toil there forever, complaining and bitching, trapped at her work station; The Infiltrator, possibly an agent of the bosses, spying on the workforce; the writer who returns after an illness with a great novel but loses his nerve to publish it, sinking back into the soft, easy life.

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Metaphors are pushed to the surface. The creative juice is literally drained from the workers. This is then fed to the maze of gerbils which run round the office in an elaborate tunnel network. The workers – always shown without a mouth – can kill the creatures to relieve stress thus making them feel less helpless.

‘Jar Head’ deals with his descent into alcoholism:

“The act of drinking beer became cumbersome, and I drank in such quantity that it became more practical to fashion a large pickle jar around my head. In time, the air seemed less important, and the carbonation from the beer was enough to sustain me.”

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It’s probably the most grotesque chapter and the page with the scalpels and the insects is not something that I care to think about too often.

Throughout the book, he searches for escape whether it is in relationships, travel or his own projects.

This is horror: one guy quit his job after reading it.

MAS

Buy Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles and read the Page 45 review here

Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastian.

“What business does one so small have afloat those dark waves?”
“You may think me a spring shower, sir. But I’ve a hurricane in this heart that’d sink the Royal Fleet. So if your old bones would be so kind there’s a pirate here that needs to be squeezed through yer pretty door.”

What a thunderous, exuberant and intoxicating read! Jeremy A. Bastian, as if giddy on grog, liberates himself from all constraints to deliver a fantastical romp both above and below the Caribbean high seas.

It is so rich in detail that you’ll be scanning its nautical nooks and pirate-cabin crannies for hours. The lines are ridiculously fine yet as smooth as silk, as shrimp-strewn seaweed swirls to frame the pages or when the Pirate Girl is lowered down the hull of a galleon in a cage which is fashioned in the form of one enormous, ornate teapot. It’s not just ornate, this is bursting with inspiration and imagination, the pages populated by James Gillray grotesques and Sir John Tenniel hybrid creatures.

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And yes, while I’m think about it, there is more than a little of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical mischief here combined with the anarchy of Tony Millionaire (SOCK MONKEY, MAAKIES), whilst the cluttered galleys and captain’s quarters o’erbrimming with jewel-encrusted treasures are delineated with lines as classy and intricate as Bernie Wrightson’s or Franklin Booth’s.

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Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, David Petersen and Gerard Way line up to praise the book’s originality as the Cursed Pirate Girl and parrot Pepper Dice take a deep breath and dive underwater past squabbling swordfish siblings to rise in search of the girl’s missing father, one of five Captains sailing under the Jolly Roger flag in the Omerta Seas. Each ship they board presents a different challenge with new friends or foes, but the Cursed Pirate girl has boundless energy, a quick wit and at least one keen eye, while by the end of this first foray ‘x’ will mark the spot of the other.

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There’s an extensive gallery of previous covers, maps and head-dressed skulls, additional fantasies like the Lands of the Lions whose crowned Kings Castle rises above the forest tree tops and a moat patrolled by gunships like the grandest Indian temple never constructed. Guest artists galore include David Peterson, Katie Cook, Stephano Gaudiano, Mike Mignola and Moritat, they’re portraits coming complete with in-character commentary.

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It’s almost as if Archaia doesn’t want to stop giving you stuff but, alas, they have when it comes to the paper stock which was previously deckled – crisply crinkled as if pressed from older pulp slurry – but is now a smooth, silky cream. French flaps, though!

Continued in CURSED PIRATE GIRL 2015 ANNUAL.

SLH

Buy Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall…

“Yeah well… look I was just wondering… this is a little awkward… but it’s just we saw one of your old posters… and I couldn’t help but notice one of the faces and look just… do you know anything about that girl who died?”
“Excuse me??”
“You know, the gymnast or contortionist or whatever?”
“It’s just we saw this old poster and she was on it and…”
“Anyway I was just curious…
“CURIOUS! About a dead woman? A dead woman you’ve never met?”

As main character Malorey Hassan said herself, awkward! Quite why Mal has got such a bee in her bonnet about a deceased performer of Parvati’s Circus I don’t know. But it is certainly going to get Mal and her friend Eddie into some increasingly exciting social situations, that’s for sure, as they start to investigate precisely what it is that the carnies are covering up. Oh, and some trouble, of course, obviously!

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This is the second self-published graphic novella from Verity LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL Hall, and it’s lovely to see her continued development both in terms of storytelling and art. This work is the first volume in an ongoing series, so it’s also great to see there are no limits to her ambition too! By the end of this first instalment I was sufficiently hooked from what juicy details Mal and Eddie have uncovered in their investigations so far – plus some other reveals regarding the characters including one huge reveal regarding Mal herself – to want to know more!

Verity has created some characters with real heart and depth here. I found myself beginning to care as much about them as I was intrigued about just what’s really going on underneath the big top… Fortunately for me, Madame Parvati’s mysterious decision that the circus will stay in their sleepy back water town indefinitely should ensure I get some answers…

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In terms of the art, I think it is pretty fair to make the comparison to John Allison’s very early SCARY GO ROUND material. If you look at what John is producing today, you can see how much progress he has made in the meantime, and I don’t doubt Verity has the same intent. This is very colourful, very expressive. It perhaps feels a touch too much so in places, occasionally I found myself noticing I was observing why the construction of a panel had broken my concentration on the story for example.

I think Verity just needs to continue naturally softening her style, which I can see has happened already from LIKE A SHARK IN A SWIMMING POOL. But overall this is an excellent example of the level, in terms of the story, art and production values, that just starting out self-publishers today need to be aspiring to. Verity evens includes a pack of four prints and two stickers featuring the cast as a little bonus.

JR

Buy Mystery Circus – Week One and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Dougie Braithwaite & Leandro Fernandez.

“Later on, she told me the whole story.
“About the way she left her village. About the old man, about Cristu and Vera.
“About the thing her father said.
“About her baby.
“When she was done, I knew a lot of men would have to die.”

The second of four thick volumes reprinting the original ten adult-orientated PUNISHER MAX books plus attendant mini-series, this is a far cry from Ennis and Dillon’s PREACHER-lite burlesque of WELCOME BACK, FRANK. Don’t get me wrong, that book made me chuckle heartily, but any humour here is much, much blacker as Castle confronts real-world politics and sexual slavery.

Following the slaughter or his wife and kids, Frank Castle is a man with one mission: to kill those he believes prey on others, particularly on women and children. As he made resoundingly clear in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1, Frank is not a gun for hire. He accepts no one else’s authority and no one else’s instructions.

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The only man in the Marvel universe who boasts the same self-assured, dogged determination is Nick Fury, which is possibly why he’s one of the few people Castle will listen to.

In ‘Mother Russia’ Castle is told that the Russians have developed a virus; one which – if it made its way onto the black market like other arms from that crumbling military monolith – could prove lethal to the rest of the world. It’s locked in an underground nuclear solo… inside the body of a young girl.

Nick needs the girl safely out, and only Frank would be both insane enough to attempt the mission and ruthless enough to accomplish it. Unbeknownst to Nick Fury, however, there’s a more cowardly form of ruthlessness in action behind the desks of the Pentagon, where they’re prepared to sacrifice innocents to cover their tracks, even if it means doing to others what was done to America on September 11th, 2001.

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That was of Ennis’ best performances to date – you may find yourself punching the air when you hear Castle’s uncompromising ultimatum at the end of chapter five, delivered deadpan to the Russian command. And do you honestly need me to tell you how great Braithwaite’s pencils are (see JUSTICE)? He brings a gnarled and brutal physicality to the proceedings. You can almost feel the bruised, puff-eyed swellings throb and hear the headache behind them. The Russian leaders’ faces are weary, drained of all life and humour. There are a lot of hard stares, and if I had to describe Travino’s colour palette it would be winter gulag green – at midnight.

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However, after ‘Up Is Down And Back Is White’ – which I confess I don’t remember – we come to ‘The Slavers’ also illustrated by Leandro Fernandez and its bite is even harder. It deals with the all too real horror of international sex-slave trafficking: of young women from the Balkans being tricked into believing they have a future in the West, then being sold into sexual slavery here.

It’s usually a family business, believe it or not, but you can forget any cuddly connotations that may spring to mind. I remember seeing a couple of undercover investigations into this – and a TV dramatisation – a few years back, and one of the many things that hit me hardest were the madams: the wives of the abductors, the women who would treat other women like meat, offering them up to be gang raped in order to break them early on. It’s all here, barely diluted (“An unbeaten woman is like an untidy house”), and the Punisher realises early on that those he’s up against are more hardened than his regular mafia targets. They’re the father-and-son Romanian leaders of a Serb militia outfit, the results of whose genocidal campaigns had been reported by the papers:

“In the space of two years, they’d taken out a dozen villages.
“The last four places that they hit were different. Same streets of corpses as before, a total of over eighteen hundred. But men, kids and older women only in the last four. All the girls were gone.
“Someone must have had a brainwave. More profit in slavery than massacre. You already run a death squad: all the recruits you’ll need when you join the private sector. And when NATO takes a hand and it isn’t quite so easy doing business, what else do you do but move out West?
“One way or another, the badlands of Eastern Europe have been at war forever.
“They give their world its hardest soldiers. Always have. Men who play soccer with severed heads in kindergarten yards; who wire their captives with explosives, drug them, then send them staggering back to unsuspecting families.
“The things I’d have to do to break those men – to make them talk…
“Would be extreme.”

By the Punisher’s standards.

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Once you meet the father-and-son war-versus-commerce contingent you will understand just how extreme those measures and must be and what an uphill task it will be deploying them without the women being whisked off somewhere else or caught in the crossfire. Because Ennis makes it personal, about individuals, you’ll be rooting from Frank harder than you have done before – unlike the police who are doing fuck all about the traffickers themselves. Instead they’re distracted by one corrupt Detective Westin to lie outright to the media during high-profile press conferences about how Castle is coming undone and assaulting officers, thereby hindering (and in one instance thwarting) Frank’s best efforts to free the women before even worse goes down.

I have to confess that I’m more of a Braithwaite fan than Fernandez, but it’s still powerful stuff and almost every panel the vile old man appears in is suitably grotesque and appalling.

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Next? Believe it or not there will be a little light relieve courtesy of a bloke called Barracuda and – depending what order Marvel choose to reprint things – Christopher Walken as well.

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Wars (£16-99, UK Ed. s/c; £37-99, US h/c, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic.

“Everything dies.”

SECERT WARS is many things, amongst which it’s the culmination and climax of a storyline first set in motion by Hickman in his FF / FANTASTIC FOUR run then NEW AVENGERS VOL 1.

“Everything dies” we were told over and over again as the cabal called the Illuminati – Reed Richards, the Black Panther, Iron Man, Beast, Namor, Black Bolt and Dr. Stephen Strange – witnessed a series of Incursions: intrusions of planet Earth from one parallel universe to another. There could only be two outcomes: one of those Earths was destroyed / sacrificed to save the other… or everything died in both.

As the book opens there are now only two Marvel universes left: the regular and the Ultimate. The Earth of each appeared in the other’s sky, blotting out almost everything else up there. Their populations were terrified and their respective superhuman populations went straight on the attack without knowing for the most part that they were essentially up against themselves.

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The good news is that Reed Richards, having seen this coming for months and failed to find an acceptable solution, came up with a contingency plan instead and, along with his equally erudite daughter Valeria (still aged seven or something!), constructed a life raft they believe could withstand the death of the universe. It could contain no more than 60 individuals – Reed’s immediate family, some, scientists and superheroes.

The bad news is that as existence blinked there was a catastrophic hull breach and only a handful of heroes made it through. The others simply ceased to exist.

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Now…

“Quarantine is for things that cause doubt.”

A new day, a new dawn, and if there are fewer stars then at least there are a lot more Thors, each wielding an enchanted hammer forged from one of the missing celestial bodies. (Got to love legend! Ignorance is the mother of invention!). They are the keepers of the law, the Hammers of God. They kneel below their omnipotent deity. Is it the All-Father, Odin?

It is not.

It is Doom.

By sheer force of unflinching will – and a certain source of power – Doom has salvaged from both universes what he can and created a composite world of multiple kingdoms from incursion point remnants between which access is verboten unless strictly authorised or summoned for judgement. Judgement proves swift and rarely merciful. Beware which kingdom you’re banished to! Many are key Marvel events playing themselves out differently; others are populated by superhero or supervillain zombies, the seasonally migrating Annihilation Wave or Ultron A.I.s kept at bay by the enormous Shield.

At the centre sits Lord God Doom on his throne, the World Tree Yggdrasil.

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His right hand of justice is Sheriff Stephen Strange who baulked at the prospect of so much power but is the only one other than Doom to remember the past and know this world’s secret: that it is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a construct. To say so is heresy.

To his left is Valeria, daughter of Doom’s wife Susan Storm and head of The Foundation of science and discovery. What they have discovered is this: an anomaly. A thing which might cause doubt: something which must be quarantined. What do you suppose that is, eh?

Okay, I’ve given you enough, I hope, to raise your eyebrows. Half the fun – very much like Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert’s MARVEL 1602 – will be discovering for yourselves you favourite characters cast in a new light under utterly alien circumstances but with a considerable degree of logic in their new assignations based on their past shared history.

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This is far more complex than your average summer event, and prettier too with sweeping Euro-sci-fi sequences like Minister Powers’ investigations, and vast Ribic landscapes like the Isle Of Agamotto, its epic hidden chambers boasting beasts bearing secrets and gifts on their tongues.

Ribic delivers the best portrayal of Sinister I’ve ever seen. His expressions are so priceless you’ll find yourself acting out the dialogue in your head. Sinister is jubilant, aloof, dismissive and cross; he’s mock-cross, goading and gleeful. He’s basically Tim Currie. In one panel he positively dances his way to a judgement whose authority he’d never recognise nor submit to in a million years. Don’t know who Sinister is? It really won’t matter.

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Towards the end a major battles between two individuals goes representational, totemic, and Ribic pulls that off with aplomb.

I loved that Doom is omnipotent but not omniscient, for his power may have expanded, but not his mind. I like Stephen and Valeria as Doom’s “duelling ideologies” and adored how the survivors interacted with the salvaged, tentatively testing each other out for truth. Other little things like Advanced Idea Mechanics becoming the equally seditious Advanced Idea Mythologies; the Black Panther’s role as king of the dead finally coming into play and line like this from Namor when a weapon makes itself known: “Don’t look at me. We both know I can’t be trusted.”

The epilogue sequences revisiting the genesis of this storyline were enormously satisfying and the final sentence, answering a much older one, note-perfect. I’ve a feeling Hickman had that planned from the start.

Smart move to use capital letters for the regular Marvel Universe castaways and lower case for those washed ashore from the Ultimate Universe whose comics have always used lower case. “I’m sorry…? There are survivors from the Ultimate Universe?!” Why yes. For if one Reed Richards has a contingency plan, then surely the other would too?

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Practicalities:

The UK softcover and US hardcover both include the prologue originally published after the first issue, but while the softcover leads with this, the hardcover incorporates it as a bonus in the back. Both editions contain vast quantities of cover / pin-up material. The softcover, since it comes from Panini, inevitably has ugly design flaws between chapters which wake you up from your reverie, but is half the price and – and at over 9 longer-than-usual chapters long – exceptional value for money.

SLH

Buy Secret Wars h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thors: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka.

Includes Walt Simonson’s MIGHTY THOR #364 and #365 from – what? – three decades ago in which Thor has been transformed into a bullfrog and attempts without success to make his plight known to the Avengers’ butler Jarvis and co. Waaaaay out there, yes, but Simonson’s run on THOR was for me the definitive one, he was firing on all thrusters, and the dramatic irony was pretty gripping!

I don’t think he was given the name Throg at the time, but he is here.

“Names, Throg. I need an I.D. on the victims. So far Ray and I have nothing to go on.”
“What can I tell ya? They’re not in the database.”
“None of them? How is that possible?”
“You’re talking to a frog that carries a hammer, pal. Any damn thing is possible.”

It is now!

In SECRET WARS the regular Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart collided, obliterating both. Now all that’s left is Battleworld, consisting of concurrent cross-overs and major events from Marvel’s past playing themselves out further than they did or in different ways. Each takes place in a different domain between which travelling is strictly forbidden by decree of Battleworld’s deity Doctor Victor Von Doom. He is the law; order is maintained by the Thors. This was, therefore, a pantheonic police-procedure crime comic and it began intriguingly enough.

It starred every Thor throughout history – well, Marvel’s history – and there have been many: Stormborn (the X-Men’s Ororo), Thorlief (the Ultimate Universe’s Thor), Beta Ray Bill (he had the head of a skinned horse!) and Throg (he’s a frog – keep up, we’ve covered that). There are in fact hundreds of the hammer-hefting hearties.

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The primaries on this investigation are Thorlief and Beta Ray Bill and the pressure is on for it’s just been designated an Allthing by Odin. This means all hands on deck because the case needs to be closed quickly before Doom himself gets wind of it and demotes the two primaries which would involve losing a great deal more than their police pensions.

So what’s got them all baffled? Five dead bodies have appeared in five different domains but what aren’t different are their identities: they’re all the same woman. Five versions of the same woman have been murdered. Who is the woman? Clue: she’s ever so slightly central to the Marvel THOR mythos.

What I love about the best of these SECRET WARS satellite series (and there are hundreds of those too, amongst which we’ve reviewed OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES and PLANET HULK: WARZONES) is that they each contain a different piece of the jig-saw puzzle which is Battleworld and the secrets that lie behind it. Beta Ray’s informant, living on the street out of a cardboard box, knows stuff:

“I can tell you what I’ve learned in the shadows, Stormbreaker. I can tell you why people are dying. Your good friend Loki can tell you about the greatest lie of all. But I don’t believe you’re gonna want to hear it.”

A lie that’s bigger than Loki’s? Blimmin’ ‘eck!

The art initially was by Chris Sprouse so it was big and bold with smooth and attractive figure work without being over-busy or brutal – and then it wasn’t by Chris and to be honest I fell asleep halfway through. If you get to the end and it’s awesome, please shake me and wake and let me know.

SLH

Buy Thors: Battleworld s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rivers Of London: Body Of Work (£10-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan…

“My name is Inspector Nightingale, Mr Debben. I hope you don’t mind me letting myself in…
“… and I’m afraid no one goes home just yet…
“… this was merely the beginning…”

I’ll have to confess I haven’t read the Rivers Of London prose books penned by Ben Aaronovitch, but I have had a fair few customers recommend them, so that probably explains why this series was relatively popular in comics form. So much so in fact, it has been expanded from a mini-series into an ongoing one. In a nutshell it’s basically Inspector Morse meets HELLBLAZER. Dapper grizzled humourless veteran cop Inspector Nightingale and his amusing, hardworking sidekick Peter Grant fight crime in the big smoke. Except the twist is the crimes are all of the supernatural variety. They even have their own division, the Special Assessment Unit, known colloquially within the Met, and viewed with equally measures of suspicion and derision by the rank and file plod, as ‘Falcon’ or ‘The Folly.’

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This case starts with a drowning in the Thames, a poor unfortunate unable to get out of their car in time after it careered through the barriers. It is, on the face of it, an open and shut case of accidental death. But once Grant receives a tip-off from the daughter of the Goddesses of the River Thames that magic may be involved, our dynamic duo get to work working out who or what is responsible for our victim  taking the plunge. Inspector Nightingale’s mystical prowess is comparable to one John Constantine, with some impressive, show-stopping, indeed life-saving displays of legerdemain. Peter Grant, well, he’s more of a Tommy Cooper standard.

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I really enjoyed this work. For a start off, the plot is a relatively involved affair, the main characters have some genuine depth, so Aaronovitch is clearly a decent writer, though when you have a co-author as with Andrew Cartmel here, you’re never quite sure just how much the prose author has contributed. The art is pretty decent fare too from Lee Sullivan. It very strongly minded me of Chris THE TWELVE / MINISTRY OF SPACE Weston, which is never a bad thing. Definitely one for fans of the prose books, but perhaps also HELLBLAZER fans needing an extra mystical fix.

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JR

Buy Rivers Of London: Body Of Work and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

100 Bullets Book 5 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 12: Smoke And Shadow Part 3 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Clan Apis (£18-99, Active Synapse) by Jay Hosler

East Of West vol 5: All These Secrets (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta

Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly (£10-50, June) by Kou Yoneda

Freaky & Fearless: How To Tell A Tall Tale (£5-99, Piccadilly) by Robin Etherington & Jan Bielecki

Golem (£14-99, Magnetic Press) by Lorenzo Ceccotti

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Game h/c (£15-99, Abrams Comics) by Jim Ottavani & Leland Purvis

Octopus Pie vol 2 (£8-50, Image) by Meredith Gran

Paper Girls vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Von Doogan And The Great Air Race (£7-99, David Fickling Books) by Lorenzo Etherington

Walking Dead vol 25: No Turning Back (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Justice League vol 7: Darkseid War Part 1 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok

Red Hood Arsenal vol 1: Open For Business s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & Denis Medri

Wonder Woman: War Of The Gods s/c (£18-99, DC) by George Perez & various

The Uncanny Inhumans vol: Time Crush 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven

Attack On Titan vol 18 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 4 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

News!

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ITEM! You will now be coming to Kendal!

Bryan Lee O’Malley To Make Exclusive Appearance At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th!

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That’s right, Bryan Lee O’Malley, the creator of SECONDS, SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA will be making his only UK public appearances this year at #LICAF in Kendal.

It is indeed an exclusive!

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Bryan will not be signing anywhere else in the country this time except with Page 45 in our regular Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower (to which entrance is always free!), in addition to which there will be other events in Kendal yet to be announced.

Of course Page 45 will be bringing Bryan’s books to Kendal, but – guess what? – as well as ordering any of our 7,000 graphic novels from www.page45.com to be sent anywhere in the world, you can  now also select “Collect for free from Kendal  at LICAF 2016 £0.00)” no matter how many comics you order, guaranteeing you whatever you want when you get there!

Pick Up In Kendal

You see that there internet? You’ll find hotels you can book right now!

– Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week four

March 23rd, 2016

Includes less news but a lot more Retrofit Comics – by Kate Leth,  Ben Sea, Yumi Sakugawa – thanks to UK suppliers, Avery Hill Publishing. And this, by the by, is a brand-new review for a much treasured classic…

Pocket Full Of Coffee (£5-00) by Joe Decie.

“Leaflets, leaflets!” shouts Sam, picking up a leaflet. “What does it say?”
“It says don’t waste paper picking up leaflets.”

Ha! This comic features the best back-cover blurb ever!

“The ink-washed tale of one family’s Wednesday.
“It’s autobiography, but with lies.”

It’s certainly the most honest assessment of autobiography as entertainment and yet the most mischievous, telling you everything you need to know about Joe Decie’s propensity to set the cat amongst the pigeons and revel in all the feathers flying!

“A day-in-the-life story of Joe spending time with his son,” wrote Jonathan, “whilst trying with varying degrees of success to perform other essential adult tasks, this will ring many bells – a veritable cacophony, in fact – with those people who have children. It certainly did with me. As commentary on precisely just how your daily routine will never quite be the same again after the introduction of your very own personal tornado into your life it’s absolutely bang on, even down to Joe’s slightly wistful observation that he doesn’t even have time to indulge in mild hypochondria anymore.”

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Campanology aside, children are inherently funny whether you’ve bred them or not. Minds fizzing, mouths open, internal editors entirely absent, they are an endless, free-flowing stream of nonsense, non-sequiturs and the innocently inappropriate or direct. You can’t possibly listen to everything, which is why so many of Sam’s speech bubbles drift off panel – out of sight, out of mind, and well out of earshot.

They will spare your feelings not one jot.

“You look really scruffy, Daddy. TURBO BOOSTER!”

They’re also tenacious.

“Can I have a sister?” asks Sam, three times, as if requesting an ice cream.

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It helps that Joe himself is as mildly ridiculous as the rest of us. The difference is that Joe The Deech delights in self-denigration and embellishing the already absurd. Do you really think he mans a National Dandruff Helpline?

“I’m listening.
“Do you rinse?
“Interesting.”

It’s all so whimsical, almost every page accompanied by a punchline which is often prepped by one or two preceding observations about jobs, statistics and to-do-lists written after you’ve already to-done them in order to inflate your sense of accomplishment. There’s even a joke within that joke if you look down the list. Same goes for his household objects like ‘Cheap’ ‘Shoe’.

The ink-washed portraits are an inherent part of the comedy. Decie excels at his own body language but also his own likeness: no one else’s glasses hang on their nose quite like Joe’s. But they’re also beautiful in their own right and some of the compositions are ever so clever – quite subtly so.

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Take the first full-page panel in which those trainers appear on the bedroom floor at eye level, the only thing closer being an empty comic page. They’re sleek and satisfyingly aerodynamic, drawn with the clairest of lignes, the ‘Cheap’ and ‘Shoe’ appellations appearing on one heel then the other, each under a £-sign brand. But that’s by-the-by. What thrilled me was that this particular perspective threw Joe into centre-stage below an open, empty ceiling, the arm he’s studying for its newfound rash exactly halfway up the page and the prime focus of a pentagon which moves from its elbow across Joe’s other arm, then up to his shoulder, from there up Joe’s neck, then back down Joe’s angle of vision to said spotty rash on this wrist.

It’s also a page of perfect three dimensions, each object or appendage cutting just a little in front of the others.

Anyway, all that sounds way too serious so I’ll only add that there’s a lot of clean white space on each and every page which I do so wish students of sequential art would take note of, along with the diligent economy of text. I’ve said it before, but Joe’s lettering is amongst the most attractive and individualistic in the business, achieving the neat trick of make capital letters look and feel like lower case, and therefore more direct and accessible.

SLH with JR

Buy Pocket Full Of Coffee and read the Page 45 review here

Eyelash Out (£3-00, Retrofit) by Ben Sea.

Think Donya Todd’s BUTTERTUBS gone Southern Gothic.

“OUTTA MY WAY, I SEE SOMETHING I WANT!”

I saw something I wanted last week but I didn’t barge past everyone, slapping them out of the way to pluck the object of my desire from someone’s tender eyelid.

There’s something unique about plucking an eyelash: it’s a very particular and pointed prick of pain – mild, brief but because it’s so close to your eye it’s feels quite the intrusion. To steal an eyelash is therefore a very personal theft.

That’s how this begins, so it was never going to end well. Almost immediately the couple on the bendy-legged run become corrupted by this act of anti-enlightenment, their own sore eyes swelling. I felt no sympathy.

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The lash is not the last thing which will be pulled on, either: laces, entrails, those sorts of things. And there’s a lot of lactating as well – eruptions and excretions galore.

The whole heavenly skyscape seems alive – flashing, twinkling, puffing, dripping, sweating in celestial semi-sentience.

What the hell am I on? It’s quite the trip.

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SLH

Buy Eyelash Out and read the Page 45 review here

Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed (£3-00, Retrofit) by Kate Leth…

“Hi, I’ll start here: I’m Kate, and I have a lot of tattoos!
“I’ll probably have more by the time I’m done drawing this, to be honest.
“I got my first tattoo quite young, so I’ve been a sounding board for questions, advice etc. for a long time. I get asked a lot of stuff…”
“Does it hurt?”
“How expensive is it?”
“Can I bring a friend?”
“Should I tip my artist?”
“How do I take care of it afterwards?”
“Where should I put it on my body?”
“What if my job doesn’t allow visible tattoos?”
“Can I use my own design?”
“Does it have to mean something?”

The answers to all these questions and many more besides you will find within the covers of this handy little primer to permanently printing on your body! The most important I would have thought being, where can I find the Da Vinci of subdermal decoration?

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But no, it would seem the topic that probably concerns people the most is just how painful is it going to be. And as Kate says…

“Yes it hurts.”

… but with the important caveat…

“Differently, in different areas and different ways.”

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And so she provides two full-page spreads, front and back, of the human body, from tip to toe, detailing all the various places you might wish to get inked with a colour-coded traffic light indicator of just how close to breaking the World High Jump record you might get… from a seated start. Me, all I can see is red, red and more red!

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Kate gradually works her way through the various queries one by one and provides her thoughts, plus those of various experienced tattoo artists, to give both perspectives of victim and torturer! So, if you’re planning on turning yourself into a human canvas, I heartily recommending reading this, as it probably will answer just about every single question you might conceivably have. But yes, it will hurt…

JR

Buy Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed and read the Page 45 review here

Ikebana (£4-00, Retrofit) by Yumi Sakugawa…

“Welcome class, to our final day of critiques.
“As you can all see, we are switching the order of things around a little bit.
“Cassie will be going first today. And in lieu of presenting a year-long body of work as the rest of you have, she informed me via email this morning that her senior thesis will instead be…
“… an organic bio-painting / ritualised movement piece.”

Someone clearly hasn’t done their homework. A whole year’s worth… Rather as I felt entering my second year organic chemistry exam, as long-term review readers will no doubt have heard me mention before, which was most definitely my academic nadir. I somehow managed 14% in case you were wondering…

Still, I’m not sure that even if someone had offered me the opportunity of wondering around Nottingham in my underdraws wearing a pair of palm leaf wings and a giant lotus blossom as a hat instead of taking the exam, I would have taken them up on the offer. Stark naked in the mentally unprepared sense I can deal with, even if I do still wake up occasionally in a panic some twenty-five years later having dreamt I am just heading into said examination room. Physically naked, without the aid of several pints of alcohol at least, is an entirely different matter.

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Most of Cassie’s student colleagues aren’t best impressed either, seeing it as a gigantic 365-day skive which their professor seems daft enough to have fallen for. Still, they all traipse off following her around as her silent, one-woman interpretation of The Emperor’s New Clothes begins. By the end, though, there’s only one person left in the mobile audience, as the figurative invisible curtain comes down in a manner entirely befitting the rest of the performance.

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Ricky Miller of Avery Hill Publishing, which distributes on behalf of Retrofit in the UK, mentioned to me how much he enjoyed this particular work and I can completely understand why. It’s that perfect blend of sublime and ridiculous. One can entirely believe some desperate art student would come up with such a crackpot scheme, and the conceit is fleshed out and pencilled to perfection by Yumi Sakugawa. All assuming this isn’t some sort of quasi-autobiographical yarn, of course!

JR

Buy Ikebana and read the Page 45 review here

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography 10th Anniversary Edition (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown.

In one of the most extraordinary transformations in comics since Ed Brubaker ditched autobiography for superhero crime, Chester Brown, better known for his confessional reflections, turned his attention first to Bible and then to Canadian political history in a book which, in its hardcover form, sparked enormous intellectual interest from the likes of Dave Sim, yet also a level of ground-floor sales here which has utterly astonished us (next I’d like to see his mate Joe Matt poke his nose from under those semen-stained sheets and draw a jaunty little travelogue, please).

Here’s a little of what Mark wrote:

“Riel was a 19th Century mystic and politician from Quebec. Due to his bi-lingual skills he was, initially, dragged into the fight between his people (the Métis, half-European, half-Indian) and the Canadian Government. Their land had been sold out from under them by the British and this is partly their battle for independence but mostly about a tumultuous period in Riel’s life, running for Government, his exile in the US and his religious visions.

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Brown has, as he admits in the lengthy appendix, changed a few of the facts, avoided the route of straight historical fiction. Even for Canadians this is a pretty obscure figure but for Brown the story (or the parts that he’s attracted to) has elements that have popped up in his work for years. The historical reconstruction (beautifully done, nothing is crowbarred in) works in the same way that his bible stories did. There was a question about Riel’s sanity which ties in with Brown’s ‘My Mom Was A Schizophrenic’ [reprinted in LITTLE MAN] and the process for that piece was a springboard for RIEL. And he makes it compelling.”

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Coming from Chester Brown April 2016: MARY WEPT OVER THE FEET OF JESUS, in which Chester returns to the Bible and indeed prostitution (see PAYING FOR IT).

In stock right now and reviewed: CHESTER BROWN: CONVERSATIONS.

SLH / MAS

Buy Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography 10th Anniversary Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Nameless h/c (£18-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham.

“From Earth to the Moon.
“Malkuth to Yesod.
“Shit rains down.
“Nothing is real.”

I don’t think I’ve every typed the words “Morrison”, “predictable” and “pedestrian” in the same sentence before.

I remember “passionate”, “compassionate”, “fiercely intelligent”, “parapersonality” and “transtemporal, pansexual, mulltidimensional fight for the future’s freedom”.

You wouldn’t really forget that one, would you?

Also, drugs: I remember a great many drugs and extreme vacillations between “Comics are ephemera, bound only for bins” and “Comics are the last medium unsullied by compromise with corporations – like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

But before we begin, may I take a personal moment to say how fondly I recognised and remembered Glasgow’s Botanical Garden Gates, having lingered there long-time, but not with all those plump, floppy fish seen skewered on its weathervane here?

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“Hebrew letter “mun” means “fish”. “Fish” and “Death”. And death is daath.”

Fair enough. I suppose all that has something to do with The Veiled Lady’s henchmen wearing deep-sea anglerfish head masks when they kidnap our titular protagonist who apparently will remain nameless and dump him in a supermarket shopping trolley. He tumbles out tellingly because our man and his proverbial trolley parted ways way back in 2001 since when, we learn later, he’s been on the run from the police.

Maybe he tried to steal the fuzz’s Dream-Key to their Empty Box in a Tombraider-like dream-space? That’s what our nameless one’s done to The Veiled Lady, which is why she is ever so slightly brittle. Or maybe they want him for pretension, since he’s quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

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Once rescued, our man of arcane knowledge is told there’s an asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide on a collision course with Earth. It’s called Xibalba, otherwise known as the Mayan underworld, the “Place of Fear” because whichever astronomer was on duty that night was feeling portentous as fuck.

In 33 days there will be an Extinction Level Impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but long before that there will be planetary-wide panic. Of course there will! Have you read Dan Berry’s THE END? So psychologically astute!

If that wasn’t bad enough the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. This sigil is three miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse, and if you think that already sounds a far from promising picnic spot, there are the transmissions emanating from Xibalba in the Enochian angel language of John Dee – Astrologer Royal to Queen Elizabeth I – which, when translated, don’t bode well for hospitality at all!

“Man – every one of you – prepare for wrath.”

And that’s just the opening gambit. The rest of the message / curse speaks of “one thousand thousand-strong thunders”, “torment”, “flaming firmament”, “poison stars”, “Wormwood” (seldom propitious) and “woe”. All things considered, therefore, I’d probably stick to the original operational agenda which is fly out to the asteroid, drag it off course using tractor physics from off-planet, then bugger off back to moonbase lickerty spit.

I definitely, emphatically, would in no way descend into the crevasse / scar / open wound and investigate gigantic sealed entrances because I have watched Alien many times over and things went awry. I wouldn’t even dispatch drones down there.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a mighty fine impression of Frank Quitely. While retaining no small element of that, here he comes over all Richard Corben which is perfect for this kind of psychotropic horror. It’s the creepiest sort of horror going wherein things grow into or out of you, and Burnham will certainly make you wince more than once on that front. He does diseased and invasion of personal space all too well.

He’s also spectacular when it comes to the crevasse’s epic contents, its off-the-scale monumentalism, and indeed the textured surface of the asteroid itself as seen from above in the form of a gigantic, circuit-board skull. That’s worth the price of admission alone.

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In this sort of horror there’s nothing you can fight, only things to scare you shitless like the degradation of the body and degradation of the mind  – madness itself – and the terror of being lost and alone.

“There’s only me left.”

There are a great many doors here. Doors can be very disturbing. Opening one is quite the commitment.

As well as psychological horror, Morrison’s also very good at that sort of awful, gaping nihilism, here evoking the very opposite of Lovecraft’s “most merciful thing in the world” which, in case you’re wondering is “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”:

“Humankind is a disease, a malignant mistake. The natural world seeks to purge its blissful, ignorant Eden of our contagion.
“Self-awareness: there is the black worm in the apple. Our curse is to know there’s something terribly wrong with us.”

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But that’s when he uses language one can comprehend and ideas one can take seriously. The rest is occult psychobabble for which I have a notoriously low threshold, and if you think his ‘Keys to the Abyss in THE NAMELESS’ will clarify shit, I’m afraid it’s mostly more mystic mumbo jumbo involving Thantifaxath, Baratchial, the qlippothic Tzuflifu (are you laughing yet, because I have tears streaming down my face) and tarot cards.

For an infinitely more imaginative, coherent and constructive take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

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

The Beauty vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley…

“Two years ago, a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm.
“This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before.
“This was a disease that people actually wanted.
“Victims of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus.
“Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed.
“It became known as The Beauty.
“The Beauty quickly became a fad.
“Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.
“The only downside appeared to be a slight constant fever, but that didn’t seem to slow people down.
“Now, over half the country’s population has The Beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it.”

Which is where our story begins, followed almost immediately by the apparent spontaneous combustion from the inside out of someone rather pretty on the subway.

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Ah, so there might just be at least one more teensy-weensy downside to The Beauty than everyone thinks! Consequently, the cops are dispatched to investigate, including the dashing and debonair, virus-free Detective Foster. Sure he has a few grey hairs and some laughter lines, but he’s ruggedly handsome, and completely devoted to his equally naturally lovely wife.

His professional partner, meanwhile, Kara Vaughn, has been virally enhanced to statuesque, goddess-level looks, but she’s actually one of the few people who managed to contract the virus unwittingly, and would rather she hadn’t. Particularly once the forensics expert has given them the run down on what she thinks killed their subject, before agents from the Centre for Disease Control swoop in and quarantine the scene. It’s enough for Foster to draw his own conclusions…

“It was The Beauty. The Beauty killed her, and they know it.”

Still, the why and the how, that remains unexplained, and so our cops do what they do best, and start running down leads on anti-Beauty terror cells – the type of people who might have the inclination to want to induce some temperature-based terror in the more glamorous half of the population. One such lead results in a shoot out with a suspect, requiring some prompt and messy – but ultimately unsuccessful – medical assistance from Detective Foster. After another yet late night on the job, and another missed dinner date with his doting wife, he’s more than happy to hit the sack, but his wife wants to share a tender moment or three before they fall asleep. So imagine his surprise when he wakes up in the morning, feeling twenty years younger. He looks it too. Oh dear. I guess The Beauty might suddenly not just be sexually transmitted… Maybe…

Excellent speculative fiction premise, plus our leads are well written, I can certainly see some potential for sidebar drama. Is Detective Foster’s wife really going to believe the excuse for his – and presumably by extension her own – unexpected midnight makeover? Especially with that hot partner who’s prone to calling him up at all hours of the day and night. I think he might well have to earn his detective corn just to save his marriage, never mind half the population! Still, at least he’s got a real incentive now, what with being a ticking time / sex bomb himself!

Great art too from Jeremy Haun, including a fabulous cover. I can see strong hints of Michael LAZARUS Lark in there, though obviously with softer colours here.

JR

Buy The Beauty vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Judge Dredd: America (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil…

“I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Judges.
“I suppose it’s because they were always there. A dark presence in the background of our lives – as much as a part of growing up as the air we breathed and the streets we played on.
“Wherever we went they were there. Watching. Always watching.
“They could fix you with a special kind of stare, like they could see right into your soul.
“Adults, they’d tell us the Judges were there for our good, to protect us and make the streets safe.
“But we’d hear the tremors in their voices when they talked about them and see their furtive expressions whenever a Judge caught their eye – and we’d know they were afraid.
“And at night mothers would tuck us in with warnings – sleep or the Judges would come for us.
“So we didn’t need ghosts or goblins. We had the Judges.
“And they were worse.
“We knew that they did exist.
“And there was a strong possibility they would come for us.”

Hmm… might have to try informing Isabella about Judge Dredd. Grud knows, I’ve tried everything else to get to her settle down at bed time. Perhaps the concept of someone even more fascistic and totalitarian than her parents might actually have some sway. Failing that it’s going to have be five to ten in the Juve-Cubes for her, or perhaps more likely a Kook-Cube for me…

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So, I got this back in because I was doing some recommendations for mail order customer Finlay Jones by email the other day and he had asked about good Judge Dredd jumping on points and self-contained stories. I had commented that you used to be able to get various epics published separately but now they were all reprinted in the many COMPLETE CASE FILES collecting  everything. So, for example, the epic Block War and Apocalypse War are both in COMPLETE CASEFILES VOL 5 and that is a perfect early-ish slab of Dredd to go for. Then once things had gone full colour COMPLETE CASEFILES VOL 14 would be a good modern-ish introductory Dredd chunk as it collects the big epic Necropolis with all the Dark Judges etc.

I was also trying to work out which CASEFILES this story was in when I discovered to my surprise it was completely omitted (possibly because it isn’t a Dredd story). I think I probably did know this but had forgotten. Given it is Dredd co-creator’s John Wagner favourite ever Mega-City One story and considered by many to the best storyline ever, particularly in terms of the socio-political satire it brings to bear, it seems very odd the powers that be should have chosen to omit it. It’s almost as though the powers that be don’t want this seditious material getting into your hands…

Anyway, seen from the perspective of Bennett Beeny, whose unrequited love for childhood friend America Jara eventually drives them apart, only for them to be reunited in the most unexpected and shocking circumstances, this story tells of the growing discontent amongst the covert pro-democracy ranks of the Mega-Citizens that eventually fosters the Total War terrorist organisation, who are dedicated to overthrowing the Judges by any means necessary. Clearly, the Judges aren’t about to take it lying down and what ensues is as brutally violent as it is heart- (and head) breaking.

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This collection contains the initial story “America” which was published in Judge Dredd Megazine #1.01-1.07, the sequel “America II: Fading of the Light” from  Judge Dredd Megazine #3.20-3.25 and the coda “Cadet” from Judge Dredd Megazine #250-252. All are penned by Wagner with art from redoubtable 2000AD stalwart Colin MacNeil.

Over the years, as I occasionally re-read some Dredd and have the odd gander at a 2000AD I find the material I am the most fond of is that which really has something to say, beyond the confines of the pages. Which was a surprising amount of the very early material, actually, even story-of-the-week driven as it mainly was for the first few years. In the interim there are only so many repetitive action-based derivative storylines you can recycle over nearly forty years, which I’ve why I’ve long since stopped reading Dredd regularly. But undoubtedly material like this storyline deserves to remain available as part of the historical record of great British comics by great British creators, if nothing else. Plus possibly to scare children to sleep at nights as well…

JR

Buy Judge Dredd: America and read the Page 45 review here

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c (£22-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith.

From the artist of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, Warren Ellis’ FELL, Antony Johnston’s DEAD SPACE some SILENT HILL and, unsurprisingly, THE ART OF WORMWOOD GENTLEMAN CORPSE, this was an investigative comedy horror in the vein of Steve Niles’ Cal McDonald CRIMINAL MACABRE starring a sentient worm / maggot animating a dapperly dressed corpse to fend off supernatural disaster.

In the first issue, his favourite lap dancing club hosted by Medusa was infected by a transdimensional, parasitic weed, all because someone was doing something unspeakably rude to the beer pumps.

Or, as Tom once wrote:

Wormwood spends his time “driving” corpses with the sole intention of downing a cold Guinness in Medusa’s strip bar. Which is interrupted every so often by having to save the world from pan-dimensional invasion.

Easily some of the finest art Templesmith has ever done with some really imaginative touches, such as Medusa’s serpents being all-over body tattoos that flow off her as glowing, ethereal, skeletal snakes. Whereas the paralytic, paranormal plots tumble along nicely like HELLBOY off-duty. Cthulu never looked so good (through beer goggles).

Collects issues #0-8, the one-shot, CALAMARIS RISING #1-4, and LAST CALL.

SLH

Buy Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c and read the Page 45 review here

International Iron Man #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Hallelujah! Bendis is back off autopilot, a word which Maleev can’t even spell.

It’s time once again to throw away the costumes and enjoy some honest-to-goodness human interaction and humour à la JESSICA JONES: ALIAS which was the very best comic ever to be published by Marvel.

As brilliant as Bendis & Maleev’s DAREDEVIL with all of its wit-riddled snappy patter, this catches Iron Man at an inopportune moment under Bulgaria’s Monument To The Soviet Army, dead, paralyzed, or “rethinking his disastrous life choices that led up to this humbling moment”.

Amongst those disastrous decisions was Stark’s determination – twenty years ago while studying at Cambridge – to get to know a mysterious young woman with an overprotective family, famous in some circles at least. She knows exactly who Tony is, but Tony…?

“You really don’t know who I am?”
“Should I? Is your father a big deal or something? Is it – is he Bono?”
“My mother.”
“Is she Bono?”

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“What does your Mom do that warrants bodyguards? I only ask because they’re coming this way and I think one of them is about to punch me in the face so hard I probably won’t remember even meeting you.”
“Ugh! You’re going to get tasered.”
“I’d really rather not.”
“I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I. Can you request that they don’t?”

All the while Maleev plays it as deadpan as usual, except with a new energy and irreverence of youth. Tony cannot help throwing his head back and laughing with joy at Cassandra Gillespie’s fantastic name, nor can he resist smiling at his own bravado and wit.

Paul Mounts’ daytime colouring adds a new air of optimism to Maleev’s fresh-faced students meeting for lunch (less of an assignation, more of stalked-stalking-stalker scenario) and lo if you don’t look at those panels, concentrate on the eyebrows and lip-line especially, imagine a moustache, chop the flop of his hair right back… and that really is our Tony Stark.

“You Googled me by now.”
“I did.”
“How’d that go?”
“I found out you’re a world-class trapeze artist.”
“Is there a trapeze artist with my name?”
“Just admit you trapeze. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

New verb: to trapeze.

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What could any of this possibly have to do with Iron Man flat on his back, systems down, in Bulgaria?

Well, first it’s time to meet Cassandra’s family for dinner in not the most awkward and hostile reception by prospective in-laws ever (he lies)… and then there’s the unsolicited postprandial intervention by those oh-so-shouty, regenerative ones.

Has Bendis watched ‘Brideshead Revisited’ recently? Because Cassandra’s mother is Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic matriarch Lady Marchmain – specifically as played by Claire Bloom – to a tee.

SLH

Buy International Iron Man #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Mike McKone, Paul Pope.

One of the closer tie-ins to CIVIL WAR, though by no means as integral as the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN volume, this follows Reed and Sue’s bust-up, showing it to be less abrupt or final than it might seem in the main event – which makes sense. Sue can turn invisible, and you probably would check in on your husband once in a while if you loved him and were engaged in superhuman combat against him.

I have no raw data on this, so if you can turn invisible and you have at one time or another been engaged in superhuman combat against your husband or wife, please let me know how you spent your down-time.

The arguments go round and around in circles, as arguments do, and Sue gets angrier and angrier at what she perceives to be her husband’s cowardice and capitulation, while he sits there like a deflated whoopee cushion, saying, “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but it’s the law.”

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Actually he has an altogether different motive which he’s kept to himself, and whether it’s scientifically feasible to make the calculations he has or not, common sense weighs in his favour: carry on out of control and things can only get worse. It’s still difficult to sympathise with the pro-registration brigade when they’re being such knobheads in the way they go about things, but still…

I’ll say it again: McKone draws the best Ben Grimm since Barry Windsor-Smith.

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SLH

Buy Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Front Line s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & various.

The first half contains two concurrent stories and a real-world history lesson.

The first follows reporters Ben Urich and Sally something-or-other as they move from mourning the loss of a fellow journalist in the Stamford Disaster to covering the imminent Registration Act (see CIVIL WAR itself). Both are liberals, but the Bugle is enforcing its editorial policy of support for the new laws with an iron fist. Spider-Man pops by Sally’s apartment in the hope that she’ll convey to the public exactly why superheroes with family need to maintain their secret identities, whilst Iron Man makes a public announcement that’s going to make that argument more difficult to sustain.

To be honest, it all felt a bit stodgy.

The second, shorter segment, however, reveals that one of the brazen attention-seekers who appear to have triggered the explosion has survived. You also learn how.

He’s about to learn, however, that he’s probably the most unpopular git in America.

The second half contains Captain America’s last interview before his assassination and Tony Stark’s real game plan uncovered by reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd.

It also follows the shooting and masochistic re-emergence of the sole survivor of the original massacre as Penance, and the clandestine use of Norman Osborn as a weapon of “choice” and, as such, leads directly into Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato’s magnificently dark and sweaty THUNDERBOLTS.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Front Line s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Fallen Son s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & John Cassady, John Romita Jr., David Finch, Ed McGuinness, Leinil Francis Yu.

What a waste of some top-tier artists!

Previously at Page 45, following the most excellent DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA:

“In the meantime, it does make sense to explore such an enormous development in depth — if that’s what Loeb ends up doing.”

Yes, well, I suspected otherwise, and here’s the reason I wish I’d stopped reading ULTIMATES post-Millar and Hitch. (I didn’t, hence this review of Loeb’s ULTIMATES SEASON 3 with a bright red triangle round it as a warning to website traffic of a landslide ahead – if not of rocks, then of standards.)

What is it with Loeb that when teamed up with Sale he’s reasonably magnificent? Is it because those books, like BATMAN: LONG HALLOWEEN, are set in the past? That he’s good at nostalgia? Because modern, he ain’t! This is everything Marvel Comics used to be – juvenile, superficial, crass:

“You ready to do this thing, Thing? Heh. Thing thing.”

Was that one of the pre-pubescent Power Pack twerps trying to impress his babysitter? No, believe or not, that was JESSICA JONES‘ Luke motherfucking Cage.

Anyway, just in case you forgotten how dead Captain America was this week and how terrible it all was, the mourners obligingly remind you during a poker game:

“Spidey, you aint planning on wearing yer mask while we do this?”
“Yeah… uh… sure… just… <sniff> Look, Ben, my eyes are kinda red and… I just never thought…”

Oh, Christ – cartoon emotion.

And then they fight each other, obviously.

SLH

Buy Captain America: Fallen Son s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Patience h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes

Cursed Pirate Girl vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Archaia) by Jeremy Bastian

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye h/c (£22-50, Pantheon) by Sonny Liew

All My Ghosts (£7-50, Alterna) by Jeremy Massie

Blood And Honor: The Foreworld Saga Graphic Novels (£10-99, Jet City Comics) by Tony Wolf, Erik Bear, Christian Cameron & Joao Viera, Haiwei Hou, Dmitry Bondarenko

Carpet Sweeper Tales (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Doucet

Delilah Dirk And The King’s Shilling (£13-50, FirstSecond) by Tony Cliff

Rivers Of London: Body Of Work (£10-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Batman: Arkham Knight – Genesis h/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Alisson Borges, Dexter Soy

Starfire vol 1: Welcome Home s/c (£10-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Emanuela Lupacchino

Civil War: Marvel Universe s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Paul Jenkins, Dan Slott, Ed Brubaker, more & Marco Silvestri, various

Civil War: Young Avengers And Runaways s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Stefano Caselli

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Dougie Braithwaite & Leandro Fernandez

Bleach vol 66 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

One-Punch Man vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

Paradise Residence vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P4 Volume 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Mizunomoto

UQ Holder vol 7 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

News!

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ITEM! We adore Katriona Chapman’s dreamy autobiographical KATZINEs.

Now Katriona Chapman walks Broken Frontier through her KATZINE processes – and earlier work – revealing a few secrets completely new to me!

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ITEM!  Watch Duncan Fegredo draw, draw, then draw some more; redraw, redraw, draw. Top drawer!

More hairstyles than I’ve had in my entire lifetime.

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ITEM! Ryuko, apparently. No, not published in English yet – it’s more of an excuse to reproduce that beautiful drawing.

– Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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