Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week three

July 19th, 2017

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

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

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

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

Cassaday’s and Martin’s too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elijah Snow and The Drummer do not get on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will marvels ever cease? I do hope not.

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

SLH

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

Boys Club (£5-00) by Sarah Burgess.

“I’m not as shallow as I had hoped.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to be quiet, with someone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burgess pushes her head deep inside her chest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if you know where that is going.

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

And so Sarah’s journey begins.

SLH

Buy Boys Club and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

Its composition and colours are elevating!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Allow yourself to be warmed.”

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Steam Clean and read the Page 45 review here

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

Brilliant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(See GEORGE SPROTT etc.)

SLH

Buy It’s A Bird… s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week two

July 12th, 2017

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

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

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

Andi Watson is a true British Treasure.

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

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

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

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

   

The Haunted Teapot and The House Hunt:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Unfortunately their home overheard him.

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

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

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

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

Then, later that day, it was gone.

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

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

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

Poor lamb!

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

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

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

  

The Faerie Host:

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

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

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

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

It turns into quite the adventure.

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

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

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

New word: “widdershins”.

The Family Tree:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Glister and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, with the internal editor!

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

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

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

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

File under Young Adults or old ones, like me.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overlaps abound, right to the end.

SLH

Buy Something City and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Goatherded and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Hey Kids… you wanna see something?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Ghosts, Etc and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Result: much spluttering in soup etc.

Do you trust Mark Millar? You should by now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Boys Club (£5-00) by Sarah Burgess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews July 2017 week one

July 5th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clothes make the man,” as they say.

That’s how clever this is.

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

SLH

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

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

Job interviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He picks up the phone. “Security?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s simply masterful.

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Ralphie & Jeanie and read the Page 45 review here

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

As above, so below.

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

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

This is not that.

Tellingly, there are no genitalia on display whatsoever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As above, so below.

SLH

Buy Shit And Piss and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye vol 1: Going  Underground s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week four

June 28th, 2017

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

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

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

Unless you dig deep enough.

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

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

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

Anyway, Steampunk ahoy!

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

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

Ah yes, Indian robes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll have to read this to find out.

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

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

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

Now that is attention to detail!

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

What am I talking about?

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

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

What am I talking about now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others may wish they’d asked the same question.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

New Edition / Old Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

New Edition / Radically Re-Written Review!

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

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

Idiot indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what of their competition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Pugs Of The Frozen North s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week three

June 21st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no picnic.

Sometimes there’s even no bread.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Hooray for gaffer tape!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The things we don’t even think of…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please don’t believe that I am singling out the French government for criticism: it is Britain which controls and has closed the other side of the border.

“Passengers can expect delays of up to two hours on Channel Tunnel crossings this morning after the reported death of a migrant at the Calais Terminal.

“The impact of the train was such that it is not possible to tell the age, sex or nationality of the victim.”

I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Also recommended: Thi Bui’s THE BEST WE COULD DO and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS.

SLH

Buy Threads From The Refugee Crisis and read the Page 45 review here

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland.

“A hunt? What a charming idea. Did you know that the first nature photographers were safari hunters?”
“Um, no.”
“Preservation can take many forms.”

As tightly constructed as it is eloquently expressed, SPILL ZONE is charged with a fierce imagination and narrative drive which Puvilland has pulled off with panache. I have some stunning interior art for you following, but for the moment let us stick with preservation.

In Grolleau and Royer’s AUDUBON – which captured the pioneering, ornithological artist’s awe of the natural world and the plumed beauties which populated it – we learned that he didn’t half love to preserve his birds, after shooting them clean out of the sky.

Addison Merritt is preserving her home town too, in photographs taken at extreme risk to her life during illegal excursions undertaken alone and at night on her dirt bike. What she captures in the most radiant colours is both terrible and beautiful to behold.

As is her home town which was caught one night in The Spill, transforming the once mundane urban environment into an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of what might be considered ideas, experimentation, self-expression, but also killing almost everyone in its boundaries.

Since then the town has been quarantined lest other lives are lost, which makes it nigh-impossible for anyone to analyse what happened to it.

But Addison’s illicit images have become an obsession with elderly art collector Tan’ea Vandersloot, who has bought every shot and hung them in her private gallery in gentrified Harlem. Like most individuals with an eye for the arts Vandersloot is insatiably curious. Unsurprisingly, then, Ms Vandersloot has been conducting her own extensive research into The Spill, and with wealth comes contacts, the ability to acquire information under the counter and, if necessary, trade for it. Her reach is extensive; it is international; and not every country is as safety-conscious as America.

We do not know what caused The Spill, nor the nature of it. It is only via Addison’s observations that we can even begin to guess.

“An alien visitation? Something spilling from another world?
“Most of the people who escaped don’t say much of what happened that night.
“My little sister, Lexa, hasn’t uttered a sound since then.”

Lexa is seen clutching ragdoll, Vespertine, who also hasn’t uttered a sound since then.

Except to Lexa.

“I’d snuck off to New Paltz that night for a little underage drinking. Lucky me.
“Instead of watching it live, I got to see it on TV.
“My parents weren’t so lucky. They were at work that night at the hospital.
“Now there’s just the two of us.”

This first instalment comes with terrific stage-setting, our entire focus on Addison’s P.O.V., hitching along on her ride, but don’t imagine she necessarily notices everything which you will.

Our first glimpse of the town is seen at a very late hour from above, black bird-shapes flocking in synchronised flight like a murmuration of starlings, while below the buildings throb in a rainbow of radioactive colours, especially effective as the outer suburb rooftops emerge from the surrounding trees.

Once inside one would be forgiven for forgetting it is night for everything is so Day-Glo bright.

Even looking through the toy-shop windows where some of the former inhabitants hang as “meat puppets”, suspended in mid-air as if on hooks, the light is unnatural. Their eyes are empty, a vile yellow mist emanating irregularly from their open mouths.

“Whatever’s watching though their eyes isn’t them anymore.
“I hope.”

Out of respect, Addison won’t photograph the dead, but her other rules are born more out of self-preservation.

“Rule Six: never, ever get off the bike. Even in here in the playground where nothing has ever messed with me.

Is the playground empty? Puvilland puts tremendous weight on the springed things, and the swings, they are swinging like crazy.

“Because in the Spill Zone, there’s a first time for everything.”

Cue 0 to 60 and a full-throttle chase at some excellent angles past Flatsville, a stretch of road where the cars look accommodatingly level with the tarmac so leaving the route unimpeded, but make the mistake of riding over one and you’ll join the silently screaming cyclist, also squashed into two dimensions.

Are you beginning to see what I mean by “charged with a fierce imagination” yet? Also the “narrative drive” for the wolf-shadow’s pursuit propels Addison where she least wants to go: to the hospital where her parents worked as nurse and paramedic.  Far from modern, it is instead a vast, foreboding, neo-gothic affair and if the intense level of dust-devil, geometric activity is anything to go by – both at ground level and spiralling above in the sky – it appears to be the very centre of this unearthly disturbance.

“Almost forgot I was scared of this place even before the Spill.
“And it’s not like a generous sprinkling of Hell has improved it much.”

As to the tight construction, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you discover that this – for all its unnerving beauty and cleverly conceived, steadily built rules which are never to be broken and some of which I have intentionally left unspoken – is all just a taste and a teaser, a foreshadowing for the first climax upon which Puvilland will provide a walloping vertical spread at exactly the right moment after which my jaw required emergency medical treatment before I could articulate anything again.

Including my jaw.

But that’s just one climax, not the cliffhanger, so I would refer you all backwards to infer what you will.

The colouring throughout is phenomenal, not least during one of the creepiest scenes which was so well observed in terms of young behaviour. In it young Lexa has been left alone overnight. Well, left alone with Vespertine, her rag-doll who, I’d remind you, also survived The Spill.

There is something of the ceremony in child’s play.

I would assemble all of my Matchbox cars onto a starting line and play out my version of The Wacky Races, an animated cartoon starring Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop et al, few of whom were afraid to get their hands dirty in order to win (in terms of our stock, please see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I’d move all the cars about incrementally, a bit like shooting for stop-animation, and make my own narrative up in my head.

Here young, silent Lexa similarly assembles all her cuddly toys and dresses herself up as the Mistress of Ceremonies for her Royal Dance. She picks her toys’ partners for them and then, in the low-lit shadows, she holds one in each hand around their backs in order to make them dance together.

Around and around they go, Vespertine with her handsome pink beau, a bear…!

Then Lexa lets her hands go.

Oh.

That’s not the cliffhanger, either.

SLH

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

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno.

Ooooh!

There are eyes everywhere on the cover, most of them gleaming in gold – as are the stars, the debossed title, and some of the five-leaf clover designs.

I don’t know why there are five-leaf clover designs: Ravina proves singularly unlucky in spite of her good intentions, the friendships she makes, the good deeds she does and the wrongs which she rights.

If you’re looking for a coherent moral or message, though, I think you’ll be disappointed. Perhaps men are idiots (except those that wear dresses), prideful, deceitful and quite happy to wager their wives in a drinking contest in the hope of winning riches. Others like their bare bottoms being whipped.

Each to their own, I say, but if you’re looking for a new Young Readers graphic novel for bed-time reading, you’ll also be disappointed. This is Junko Mizuno! She’s neither a traditionalist nor renowned for being kid-friendly.

It’s more of a sensual experience instead, rich in illustrative wonder, taking delight even in the environs of a garbage tip which is where Ravina grew up, cavorting with crows who are happy to pluck beetles from her hair then brush it all silky-smooth. There’s plenty to eat and plenty to play with. It’s amazing what people through away once it’s passé. What’s wrong with a car boot sale?

Alas, she can only speak crow so when a naked old woman hobbles her way, pricked like a pincushion with needles, and bequeaths the young girl her magic wand along with the words required to activate it, Ravina doesn’t understand a word she has said. Still the magic wand’s pretty, as is the old, tortured witch, especially once the wriggly, writhing, slippery, slimy maggots start slithering out of her empty eye sockets.

You see? Garbage dumps! They are amazing places, full of such wondrous curiosities! Ravina would very much like to have remained there, thanks, but then men come along and it all goes horribly wrong.

Mizuno has revelled in traditional, all-ages storybook elements like giant, flying owls and added her own brand of bonkers. There is neither rhyme nor reason as to why the giant, flying owl is so intent on solving a crossword puzzle. It just is.

The king is very much the traditional fantasy king with puffy pants, white stockings, tiny feet, a tidy neck frill and bejewelled crown sitting atop a quite ridiculous hair-do. It’s not half as ridiculous as his moustache, though. All the men are rocking ridiculous moustaches: the courtiers’ look like crusty nose scabs and the rich man with his friends who first play host to Ravina in exchange for her services as a hostess look like the sort of psychedelic aristocrats as re-imagined by the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Even the bloke who loves to wear pretty dresses has something questionable going on round his mouth.

I promised you sensual and it’s already there in the hair and the bows and basques and flowers – and goodness, there are such a lot of serpents! – but once pretty-dress-man introduces Ravina to the unexpectedly efficacious benefits of being blind-drunk, Ravina remembers those magic words and acquires quite an appetite. Shame she doesn’t acquire a napkin too, for she dribbles and drools her way almost until the end of the book. Nobody does dissolute quite like Junko Mizuno.

It’s a beautiful book, flowery, beautiful and baroque with black rats, bats and beetles galore and, although the reproduction here is perfectly exquisite, I’d like to see a deluxe edition with the gold-studded highlights on every page actually printed in shiny gold. Maybe the wine could be real wine as well, please, and the bare bottom actually bottoms.

Did I mention that this isn’t for young readers?

SLH

Buy Ravina The Witch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

Aren’t the covers growing darker?

Quality, diversity and effortless inclusivity…

Yet this comes with the death toll quotient that characterises a Nick Cave CD.

It’s impossible to review a fifth volume of any series such as this in any depth whatsoever without spoiling it for others whom we still want on board, because THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is unafraid to destroy the status quo – repeatedly, dramatically and without any hope of clawing it back – almost soon as it’s set up, so that it is in a constant state of flux and its protagonists in a constant state of quandary, whether they admit it or not.

Kieron Gillen is, I own, a very fine writer but he is incapable of even spelling the words ‘safe’ or ‘predictable’. I put a pen and paper in front of him when drinking down The Dragon the other year and, I promised you, he fluffed it.

Would you want it any other way?

Fortunately Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Sergio Serrano are each so adept in their own fields that all I had to do was Tweet the other week “Aren’t the covers growing darker?” (attaching a photograph of this one) for several of the so-far initiated to express an intense curiosity, thence swear a new-found allegiance.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is already our biggest selling series of graphic novels outside of SAGA, PORCELAIN, LAZARUS and anything created by the Unholy Trinity of Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser (KILL OR BE KILLED etc.) but I am a rapacious retailer plus an exuberant comics-lover, and I can always find room for one more.

In lieu of a new review, then, I beg you to cast your jaded, jaundiced but soon to be rejuvenated eyes over our previous accounts of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE and their glowing interior art (which I do actually talk about) while offering you my admittedly regurgitated high pitch:

Pop stars on their pedestals. You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as rock gods or pop goddesses? It transpires that some of them are.

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

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their potential or fate. She helps them all shine for their brief, incandescent years.

It’s a brilliant conceit, executed immaculately: of course in this age the roles assumed by these gods would be as those most worshipped today – pop stars – and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, envy, aspiration, exasperation, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and even manipulation, for some are putting ideas into the other people’s heads.

They have been played.

You have been played.

As Eddie Campbell once wrote in BACCHUS, “Immortality isn’t forever”. One by one, some of these gods’ lights have already gone out.

But when it comes to the covers, I’ll wager it’s far more than that.

SLH

P.S. “Drinking down The Dragon” is not a euphemism. This isn’t SAGA. Jeepers.

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart…

Semi-serious sci-fi speed-themed malarkey set in a near-future world of illegal street racing, where a machine-stimulant drug known as the Crush is used to illicitly overclock bike engines, as well as her own metabolism in the case of our main protagonist, Domino Swift, who is most certainly a lady in a rush. Usually headlong over the proverbial handlebars into the next sticky situation, entirely fuelled by her own questionable life choices…

But she’s just one of those people who are always convinced they can rectify the situation, with yet another disastrous decision, of course. Her friends and family try their best to steer her in a different direction, rather than careening into the crash barriers of life yet again, but some people are just too stubborn to listen.

Now she’s racing for her liberty in the toughest race of them all, the Cannonball, though that’s seemingly the least of her problems, with the mysterious all-in-black racer trying to up the stakes even further. Throw in a life-long addiction to Crush – not her fault, I’ll give her that, as I really do mean life-long – and a weird upside floating pyramid firing laser beams that just appears out of nowhere at the most inconvenient moments, and no, there’s never a dull moment, or indeed any down time at all for Domino. Concluding this volume with an ending even more totally hat-stand bonkers than the rest of the book, I felt equally out of breath myself!

This is absolutely frenetic, frantic fun from the trio that did a pretty decent New 52 run on BATGIRL. Probably one for fans of SLAM and LUMBERJANES, and actually also SCOTT PILGRIM, it’s an impressively stylish, well designed and also astonishingly extensive continuity they’ve created in the space of a mere five issues.

I particularly enjoyed the vibrant artwork, with the humid, neon-lit, palm-tree-lined streets of Nova Honda echoing to the roaring sounds of epic bike races replete with swerving light trails. Plus the extensive use of faux letratone, which just adds a lovely little element of textural depth to proceedings throughout. I’m definitely not the target audience for this work, but I really rather enjoyed it.

JR

Buy Motor Crush vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Days: The Forge one-shot (£4-25, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr.

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously.

Bats has also actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in this intriguing set up issue that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this is great, given the writers are the long time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events. There’s a second set up issue to follow, Dark Days: The Casting #1, with the same creative team, before the main event begins. I’ve seen enough already to that I’ll admit I’m going to get lured into reading it all…

 

Basically, the Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS. Maybe… [I’m positive of it – ed.]

Regardless, this is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up issue that has piqued my curiosity.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…

Next: DARK DAYS: THE CASTING one-shot followed by the main, six-part mini-series DARK NIGHTS: METAL by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. There is honestly no second ‘k’ there.

JR

Buy Dark Days: The Forge #1 and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Ancient Review

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs.

In this exceptional piece of British social history Briggs chronicles the life of his parents, from their chance encounter in 1928, through decades of change (wartime, decimalization, nationalisation, transportation, television and a wave of other new household appliances), to their deaths just one year apart.

“Both simple and complex, emotional and dispassionate,” wrote The Guardian and, yes, I’d be hard-pressed to conjure up another title whose power to move matches this masterpiece of honesty, clarity and tenderness. This is also an extraordinary social document, chronicling not just the changes but how his parents reacted to them, occasionally with resistance, sometimes enthusiasm and quite often with total bewilderment. They certainly haven’t been white-washed to make them anything other than true representatives of their particular class and generation.

“ETHEL & ERNEST has an historical sweep and a sure command of social detail not often found in contemporary fiction,” wrote the Daily Telegraph and I couldn’t agree more – apart from the implication that it’s fiction!

Particularly powerful is the way that, following the day of his mother, the panels loom larger and larger: his father alone in all that space. And then when his father finally dies on a random day, the cat simply saunters out the door…

This served as a Christmas present to five of my relatives this year, all of whom declared that it was their parents, provoking memories long-forgotten. Recommended to all.

And it’s not often you can say that of any piece of art, is it?

Also by Briggs and reviewed by us: WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and GENTLEMAN JIM.

SLH

Buy Ethel & Ernest s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

Empowered vol 10 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren

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

King-Cat Comics & Stories #77 (£4-25, Spit And A Half) by John Porcellino

Space Riders vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Black Mask) by Fabian Rangel Jr. & Alexis Ziritt

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

Tank Girl: Gold s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Alan Martin & Brett Parsons

The Witcher vol 3: Curse Of Crows s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, Karolina Stachyra & Piotr Kowalski

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 4: Queens s/c (£17-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & various

DC Super Hero Girls vol 3: Summer Olympus s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Harley Quinn vol 2: Joker Loves Harley s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, various

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad h/c (£26-99, DC) by various

Avengers: Unleashed vol 1: Kang War One s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mike Del Mundo

Spider-Gwen vol 3: Long-Distance s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour, Tom Taylor & Robbi Rodriguez, various

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

Assassination Classroom vol 16 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Inuyashiki vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Hiroya Oku

Dark Souls vol 2: Winter’s Spite (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Alan Quah

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week two

June 14th, 2017

Featuring Jillian Tamaki, Sina Grace, Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham, Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Gerard Way & Nick Derrington, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev wnew editions from Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Smith & Charles Vess.

Boundless (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Jillian Tamaki.

Reveries, perspectives, freedoms, constraints…

Bodies, faces, fiction and fabrication…

Illusion, isolation, engagement and disconnection…

There’s so much to absorb in this phenomenally rich and varied collection of searching short stories. You neither know what you’ll get next nor know how it will be presented or indeed how each will end – except unexpectedly.

It’s bookended on either side with two vertical, vertiginous tales, the first being a seeming celebration of newly discovered World-Class City life, away from home, as a fledgling woman enjoys heady independence…

“I’m gonna live in a World-Class City
“Not gonna leave
“’til my mom comes and gets me.”

… up to a point.

The forms are brave, bold and weighty, but if you look closely, in spite of what the author contends, a price is being paid.

‘Boundless’, meanwhile, is life seen from sky-level by a bird, ground-level by a squirrel and the point of view of a house fly very much aware of its mortality, further jeopardised by the irate attention it attracts on the move. The bird luxuriates in the freedom flight affords, un-confined to “a lateral axis”, but it must beware of where webs are woven.

“Most webs are so finely spun as to be completely undetectable and of no consequence to most organisms. We must avoid them at all costs. A simple lapse of attention or care can be deadly.”

That’s worth bearing in mind throughout this collection and, of course, life. Webs of deceit are being woven throughout ‘The ClairFree System’ which seeks to ensnare the unsuspecting with sincerity, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off. And the narrator can. There is a blindingly brilliant moment in the middle involving a hands-on approach whose intimate touch is reprised as the punchline. You’re not quite reading what you’re presented with at the beginning.

Further illusions are examined in ‘1.Jenny’, this time in the mirror-life that is Facebook, where the facts and stats begin to diverge from reality. Well, they do that, don’t they? What was it Charlie Brooker said about Twitter being an interactive game where one presents an approximation of oneself in order to win the most followers? Something like that.

“The mirror Facebook was all anyone could talk about for two weeks.
“At first it looked like an exact duplicate of the main Facebook, But soon small changes started to appear in everyone’s profiles…
“1.Katie’s liked National Broccoli Day
“(Katie hated broccoli.)
“1.Jonah was married to 1.Caroline
“(Jonah was 16, openly gay, and not yet dating.)”

These departures are amusing enough to observe in others but when 1.Jenny’s life begins to deviate dramatically from Jenny’s, Jenny becomes obsessed with following her mirror self, judging it and finding it wanting. Her therapist wants to discuss Jenny’s home life, her past; Jenny would rather discuss 1.Jenny’s.

As with almost all of these stories – a dozen or so including one on the back of the book – I’m still processing it and will do for months to come.

‘Half Life’ I knew I recognised – it’s from the NOBROW 7 anthology – but it’s even more fascinating in this context, as a woman gradually becomes more conscious of her own body, just as it starts to diminish, to physically shrink and doesn’t stop. What happens with her relationship to the outside world is riveting and goes far further than you would anticipate. It’s not an unhappy tale. The narrator is relatively equanimous to her situation, calmly observing its details before becoming fascinated by where its trajectory unexpectedly takes her. It’s really quite sensual.

Rarely does one encounter such a variety of visual styles as well as narrative approaches in a single creator’s compendium, although Eleanor Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY immediately springs to mind.

Here we are treated to the soft forms and fleshy colour apposite for the reminiscence by its producer of the short-lived but bright and bouncy sitcom-porno created for television.

 

But there’s more than a little up in ‘bedbug’, haggard husband Jeremy drawn very differently to his narrator wife – slashes of line and a clueless, open mouth as opposed to her more voluptuous, fully realised physique.

“I got bitten first, on my lower leg. We assumed mosquitoes – Jeremy closed the bedroom window. But soon, we both had bites in the tell-tale rows.
“We stripped the bed. No sign, not even a hollow moulted shell. The internet said that was common, though.”

Nothing here is accidental. Jenny’s lines are much, much looser in ‘1.Jenny’ – again, approximations – while ‘The ClairFree System’ is in black and white and quite precise, hailing the Holy Grail of a perfect skin and creepy, cult-like images too. Full-page poster panels, the lot of them.

For more Jillian Tamaki, please see SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY, SKIM and THIS ONE SUMMER with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, each as different from the other as the tales told here.

Jillian Tamiki and Mariko Tamaki will both be at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017 this October. Come join us; it’s fun!

SLH

Buy Boundless and read the Page 45 review here

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace.

“I stop listening.
“I can’t deal with answers.”

A tender, honest and unsanitised self-expression during which Grace finally begins listening to himself, so starts to find answers and, in doing so, discovers the other thing he was searching for within: his perfect comics project.

There’s a telling two-page parallel in which, on the left-hand side, he scrutinises previously drawn pages hanging from a studio washing line, some appended with notes, others linked by thematic threads, anguishing over what he should create next.

“It’s gotta be: funny, cool-looking, have emotion and –“

His mobile phone interrupts. It’s Date O’Clock. On the right-hand side, he’s paying no more attention to the present.

“I try to combat the weirdness of internet dating by going overboard on personal stuff with “strangers” I chat online with…”

Which might be fine if you ask them about their lives as well… and so long as you on no account begin blathering on about your ex-boyfriends.

“I met an ex for lunch today…”
“So am I your sloppy seconds?”

Unable to take the hint (not listening…), Sina launches into a self-absorbed emotional post-mortem on that meeting before sitting up afterwards in bed, on his own, between the empty, upturned shells of his date represented as a toy – a Russian Doll.

“My strategy to overshare really doesn’t help me learn more about Dear John…”

Quite.

But this is what I mean about unsanitised: Grace is well aware of his own shortcomings, the contradictions between what he most wants to know by a third date but can’t bring himself to ask (“Do you feel like I’m “it”?”), and the over-commitment he doesn’t want to hear from some others on date two: this sends him running very scared indeed. But I suppose it depends to some extent at least on who asks, and how they ask.

Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this is artlessly slapped onto the page as either a careless emotional evacuation or a didactic, I know-best critique of others’ behaviour. It’s free from guile but it’s so tightly structured as a second, vital reading will make emphatically clear.

“Did you not like your ramen?” asks his Dear John date.
“I did! I think I may have a gluten problem or something with starches… ‘Evs! Check time!”

On a first read-through one could easily conclude that Grace was so caught up in his own monologue – preoccupied with offloading – that he failed to stop talking and eat: that his supposed gluten problem is just an excuse for that bad behaviour, and his “‘Evs! Check time!” was a hurried way of concluded that line of questioning. If you study his face, he’s certainly anxious about something.

But this is still quite early on, and earlier still there’s a similarly ambiguous end to a conversation at a convention which has been equally well set up in advance. In it he seems to duck a fan’s question about what’s next on his plate before ducking into the toilet to throw up.

“Must be stress… Yeesh, hope that doesn’t happen again.”

The ambiguity wouldn’t have worked half so well had Grace not preceded the encounter with self-doubts as to which artistic direction he should indeed pursue next, and immediately preceded that question with a convention-floor interview after which he castigates himself for what he perceives to be an evasive answer or at least one insufficiently confident about “the more sexual portions of SELF-OBSESSED”.

“Fuck, that answer sucked.
“In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, I shouldn’t have to be concerned about others…
“Like, wouldn’t a kid in the closet in Iran expect me to live loud?
“I am unfettered by religion and shame, I should revel in my freedom!”

I can assure you that Grace does revel in it loudly and proudly throughout, encouraged by the likes of fellow comicbook creators Eric Stephenson, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan and Brandon Graham to make both his comic and his craft as individualistic as he wants. He also revels in it poignantly and endearingly in a recollection of an early crush, aged 14, on a 28-year-old teacher which he attempts to pursue with a clumsiness which is ever so cute, online. One AOL chat ends with the teacher signing off:

“Gotta run. Alias is on. LY.”

And oh, the high, heart-fluttering thrill, hoping beyond hope that he meant “Love you”!

Then the down-to-earth crash as your hopes are dashed. It signified “Later, yo”.

“Ah…” replies Sina in a speech balloon dripping with desolation, a giant heart breaking behind him, “That’s what I thought…”

Let’s pull back again to the structure and the book’s immaculate, yet oh so subtle panel-by-panel composition, however. Between the comicbook convention restroom jitters and RamenGate, we are presented with a page called ‘All the times Amber was right…’ Amber is his best friend and confidante, his wise woman with unfalteringly fine advice, encouraging and emboldening when appropriate, puncturing his puffed-up delusions wherever necessary:

“And put some weight back on! I don’t wanna see any of that anorexic actress B.S. from you!”

The thing is, the first four free-floating examples are given in blue whereas that final sign off is bordered, in pink. It’s only on a second reading that the reason behind this far from random artistic decision will become clear. Little impresses me more than such an absence of sign-posting, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

I’ve considered whether such a critical observation itself constitutes sign-posting, but I have at least refrained from critical analysis in this instance, and on balance it seems far more important to impress upon potential readers that what may initially appear to be a jumble of multiple snapshots presented with mixed levels of rendering – either created for this highly original graphic novel or salvaged from sketchbooks, journals or lined notebooks – is in fact a painstakingly arranged, intricate lattice of increasing intimacy.

Diaries lend themselves to observation, introspection and self-analysis if you care to pursue your thoughts far enough. And that’s essentially the overt aesthetic: immediate, loose, candid, exceptionally revealing in every sense, and not afraid of being published for public consumption without polishing either the presentation (which would have eroded the intimacy) or the author’s personality (which would have obliterated it).

Instead his inconsistencies which we all harbour – his highs, extreme lows, and his self-destructive dating choices demonstrating an initial chasm between self-knowledge and self-guidance – are bared not for his own benefit, but for others’.

Just look at the cover with its attendant, top-right comprehension! It is, both in its sentiment and placement, the very antithesis of veneer.

This is above all about digging beneath the surface in order to help heal, and as such it reminded me in no small part of dear, dear Sarah Burgess (THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR – 3 volumes – and BROTHER’S STORY) whose struggles with sociability, self-confidence and self-worth in the form of her online comics I have long admired and pestered her on several occasions to press into print so that we can place them proudly (as we have this) in Page 45’s online Mental Health Section.

For as NOTHING LASTS FOREVER progresses, so it increasingly cuts to the chase.

“Why am I surrounded by love & support and still think about dying?”

Sina is indeed surrounded by love and support, even by his one central on / off ex-boyfriend – prepared to pick him up by car, by hand and in standing steadfast with both arms braced on either side as Sina wibbles aimlessly on about some nebulous future at a party – but it is so often that one feels most alone when surrounded by friends. And, for some like Sina, it is so often that one can feel most empty, remote and removed when in bed with another, during sex.

Please don’t judge. You may feel very differently, for we are all unique and complex individuals. Forgetting that is to fail to consider and acknowledge the validity of others’ struggles and their very humanity.

“Acclaim doesn’t fix depression.
“Therapy, supplements, talking about it, time, medication… these things help.”

A comic like this doesn’t come round very often, though I do wish it would (Sarah Burgess, you are brilliant and so please take note) and I, for one, relish meeting new people with experiences outside of mine which enrich my understanding of life and of love and of hurdles which I could never stride over nor vault. It’s ever so eloquently expressed, even in the silences.

I’d like to end on another high note, the title: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.

You don’t think really believe that Grace is alluding to relationships, do you? Even if he may be in part, it’s far more positive than that.

SLH

Buy Nothing Lasts Forever and read the Page 45 review here

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham…

“I believe you were a member of the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael expedition.”
“Well?”
“There was a scientist in the party.”
“That’s right.”
“What was he investigating?”
“He didn’t talk much. Was only interested in the experiment. And his son. James, was it?”
“No, John. Very bright boy…”

Rip-snorting, high-seas, high-octane, time-travel, all-ages, hyphen-heavy yarn penned originally for The Phoenix Comic by His Dark Materials author (first and second volumes of the first part of that trilogy, NORTHERN LIGHTS, have been adapted for comics) and adeptly illustrated by able seaman Fred Fordham, who I must admit I wasn’t familiar with, but certainly is a talent with his neat and tidy shipshape ligne claire linework.

I note, actually, it has just been announced Fred is going to adapt Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as a graphic novel for Harper Collins, who clearly view him as a safe pair of hands on the proverbial tiller for tackling such a heavyweight literary title. I think that is probably more than enough sailing puns now…

Cast adrift on the oceans of eternity, buffeted by the ever-changing tides of temporal instability, boy genius John Blake is determined to get his millennia-spanning motley crew back home to their respective eras safely. There are others, however, who covet his time-travelling vessel, the Mary Alice, and will stop at nothing to get their dastardly hands on it!

Ah, this is a great bit of fun, speculative fiction with Bond-style delightfully preposterous ‘espionage’ elements, courtesy of secret agent Roger <ahem> Blake, and the main bad guy, multi-squillionnaire tech giant Carlos Dahlberg and his enormous super yacht and gigantic guided missiles. I would make allusions to him making up for some inadequacy perhaps, but let’s keep this review as all-ages as the work itself!

Adults will undoubtedly love this boy’s and girl’s own adventure, as John teams up with a young lady called Serena whose daft dad managed to dump her in the drink without a life jacket in the middle of the South Pacific. Now she’s part of the ghost ship’s crew, criss-crossing time in search of safe harbour and answers to explain their peculiar odyssey.

Can John keep his crew, with the assistance of the eponymously named suave naval intelligence officer, out of Dahlberg’s megalomaniacal clutches?! Or will Carlos finally break the maxim that money can’t buy you everything and achieve his tyrannical ambitions of global, and temporal, total domination?! Why am I using a question mark as well as an exclamation mark?! The answer to the last question, dear reader, is that I am a idiot. For a resolution to the other two queries, however, you will have to read the book…

JR

Buy The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows…

“In fact, you’re spoiled for literary heroes tonight. I believe the gentleman next to that older lady is Lovecraft, whose story you enjoyed.”
“Really?”

Really.

Yes, good old H.P. himself makes a suitably saucy cameo appearance right at the end of this volume. If you think that sounds like a rather cheeky conceit, it isn’t, trust me, as H.P. will become a vital if minor part of our chief protagonist Robert Black’s supporting cast. It does, however, provide more than a little bumptious and welcome comedic relief after some of the most intensely horrifying pages you’re ever likely to cast your disbelieving, widening eyes over.

Fans of the Call Of Cthulu RPG may well recall that whilst reading certain skin-bound tomes and encountering mysterious otherworldly entities in all their various guises – some considerably less human than others – would garner you precious arcane knowledge, it would also cost you precious Sanity Points, of which you winsomely started with a seemingly relatively substantial, if finite, number. Lose them all, though, and a permanent gibbering vacation in the nearest asylum promptly ensued, also thus requiring the rolling up of… a new character.

What did you think I was going to type there, hmm? I’m not entirely sure at this point just how many Sanity Points I have left after this second of three such tomes… fortunately not flesh-encased, mind you, unlike the direct market editions, albeit being still limited to a most bizarre 6,666 copies for each volume before you’ll ever see sight of any softcovers. 6,666 being the number of publisher hyping greed rather than the much smaller, and less offensive, traditional Satanic 666…

If you thought NEONOMICON had some… disturbing content, shall we say, in one or two places (yes, I am thinking of the absence-of-contact-lens scene in the swimming pool…), this is as wrong as that on practically every other page. It’s small wonder, therefore, that poor old Robert is the veritable quivering jelly by the time he somehow makes it back to Boston from the genetically questionable wilds of upstate Massachusetts. Then matters start to get really strange as, well, let me get Pitman the photographer to explain it to you, and the ever-trusting Robert, as he leads him on a literal and metaphorical underground trip where the intersections between the world of dreams and our own are… less asymptotic, indeed entirely unbounded…

“You see, there’s, uhm, realism and there’s realism.”

Yes, it’s all about to get very real for poor old Robert, as he continues to try his quavering best to make sense of his increasingly bizarre experiences and detail them in his extensive prose journal writings, once again included, betwixt and between each issue of comics, for our entertainment / warning.

I stand by my comment in my review of the first volume of PROVIDENCE that this is the best comics Alan has written in years. If this really is to be his last comics project, as he insists, it’s certainly bowing out at the very apex of his prodigious powers, leaving a legion of highly perturbed readers in his majestic wake. In many ways, I do see this as a companion piece to PROMETHEA, which also explored the theme of imagination as reality, and the apocalypse, just from a rather more transcendent perspective, in the positive, traditional sense. This, however, is a huge warning of what (hopefully not literally) lurks beyond our immediate tangible perception, insidiously, relentlessly searching for a way in…

JR

Buy Providence vol 2 h/cand read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Tom Fowler…

“Exceptional! Make some room! It’s time to take things to their next logical conclusion!
“Engage neurotic pain amplifier! Bypass settings one through four and begin at “Disorientating Agony”!
“Yesss! Yesss!  Release your fluids!
“Level six! Level seven! You will open up and let us in! We will obtain the meat!”

There are those who will inevitably find reading this disorientating agony, I suspect, much like Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL run, but sometimes, you just need to let it all wash over you and be transported along for the ride, even if that is in a stolen ambulance barrelling through dimensions unknown whilst reality falls apart spectacularly around you. Which is exactly what Gerard Way espouses in his interesting afterword, referencing a bemused reviewer who felt this wasn’t a comic that could be reviewed, only experienced. He has a point.

Still, I suppose I’d better try…

The Doom Patrol as we know it appears to be extant, though improbably disparate, scattered and utterly dysfunctional, both individually and more certainly collective. Okay, they were always exactly like that, but the gang is most empathetically not together. Neither individually nor collectively…

Cue Casey Brinke, EMT technician and who “only wants to do good things.” When she was a little girl, her mother told her… “Be a bright light in a black hole… just before she flew into the sun.”

Okay! Whether Casey, or parties with a guiding hand hidden behind the scenes know it, her mission seems to be to get the Patrol back together, apparently in as chaotic and messy a fashion as possible. Several of your old favourites will reappear one by one, such as Cliff Steele, Larry Trainor, Crazy Jane, Danny The Street, and my personal favourite Flex Mentallo. My absolute top moment in this volume, actually, is the Man Of Muscle Mystery suicidally riding a bomb, Dr. Strangelove style, to the rescue. The Hero Of The Beach doesn’t worry about trivial matters like getting blown to smithereens!!

I am presuming Casey is going to stick around, hazardous to her own health as that will no doubt be. And then there is a new Patrol member Terry None, which might be a wee nod to Morrison’s Number None of the Brotherhood Of Dada. Doom Patrol fanatics, as Way avowedly is, will probably notice all manner of Easter eggs inserted meltingly into the proceedings.

It’s gloriously daft writing from Way, I’ll give him that! There is an immensely engaging and even moderately coherent story slipped in there amongst all the froth and frolics, which is just enough to hold this emergency call of a comic on the proverbial road, tyres screeching, blue lights-a-flashing and the psychic sirens wailing and Dopplering away merrily. Lovely, friendly, frisky pop art from Nick Derington and Tom Fowler. Very clean, clear and consistent too, to say there is so much madness occurring on every page. Just one question remains then…

What’s Going On With Niles Caulder? No, really, what is going on with Niles Caulder? You’ll find out, as he also has a mini-story within the story told one-popping-up-apparently-but-definitely-not-so-randomly-page-at-a-time, with enigmatic titles like “What Are You Doing, Niles Caulder?”, “Niles Caulder: Habitual Snoop” and “Meanwhile, In Larry Trainor’s Innermost Parallel Lifetime.” It will all make sense in the end, trust me. And The Chief. You should always trust The Chief. Plus, it would seem, Gerard Way.

JR

Buy Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

“So you’re the one who’s been giving my son a hard time all these years.
“Naughty boy.”

Along with Matt Hollingsworth who keeps the colours subdued until the cauldron comes out, line artist Alex Maleev absolutely owns this title.

He was Bendis’ creative partner on what was the finest run ever on DAREDEVIL and, more recently, this series’ immediate predecessor INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN. It was there that we first met the reformed, harmless and armourless Victor von Doom, smooth-faced, suited and booted following events in SECRET WARS. Now, following the events in CIVIL WAR II, there is slight a gap in the market for an Iron Man. So Doom swaps armours in order to atone for decades of home-grown tyranny, international terrorism and the world’s worst overuse of the term “Bah!” (which is a little like “Meh!” but a lot less dismissive and much more infuriated).

 

All three books are fab, but as reference you only need INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN to comprehend the dynamics between Doom, Tony Stark (now actually absent yet virtually present) and Stark’s ex-belle, the exceptional scientist Amara who is, I believe, falling for Doom against her own dear wishes and much better judgement. If she isn’t then I do apologise, but it’s subtly done and I really do think so.

With the aid of Stark’s armour, Doom is now using his years of prior knowledge to take down former associates in crime with very little effort, tearing their home addresses out of his Filofax as he tears down their laboratories.

He’s expending neither much effort nor half so many words as he used to: it’s all very admirably efficient. Less is more when you are as powerful as Doom and this is where Alex Maleev comes in. He renders Doom far more of a presence through relative relaxation: an inexertion, both in battle and conversation.

The very first page shows Doom in his original armour, gauntleted hands folded one over the other in the most keep-your-own-counsel, foreboding manner imaginable, speaking only when spoken to and when provoked; sometimes not even then. He takes one solitary action which is instantly effective, concluding the one-way conversation in a manner akin to putting the phone down on a cold-caller, but with additional benefit of knowing you won’t be cold-called again anytime soon.

This that page; this is that panel.

Honestly? I think the second panel of this collected edition is the best rendition of Doom of all time. I’d have stopped talking right then.

Glaring from under his cowl (gauntlets folded, yes) Victor growls – without growling anything – are you seriously going to fuck with me…?

Fast-forward to the heavily fortified S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier floating high above the world’s surface, and its Commander Maria Hill is fobbing off a pedantic phone call from her mother whilst painting her toe nails. Now, I know that’s in the script so credit as always – always – to Brian Michael Bendis, but Maleev nails the multi-tasking mundanity of applying polish while listening to bothersome shit which you really shouldn’t have to take except from your mom. One of those actions requires real concentration.

What happens next requires even more concentration, but I would be exceedingly distracted throughout if I thought my socks had smudged the wet varnish.

Alex Maleev Exhibit C comes from Switzerland whither Doom temporarily re-houses Amara, and the mountainous backgrounds are – in their truest sense – awesome. Hollingsworth once again fires on all restrained cylinders and the effect is tranquil, idyllic.

I should probably be telling you the plot.

Doctor Doom has reformed and wants to set the world to rights, empowered by Tony Stark’s armour. No one believes him, especially former Fantastic Four adversary Benjamin Grimm. So that gets in his way a bit.

Doom is disgusted by what he finds has become of his kingdom, Latveria, which lies in rubble and under the command of a military rabble which should, he now believes, have transformed his prior dictatorship into a thriving democracy. Instead, there aren’t even any schools to go to, so the kids clutter up the streets, carrying rifles with live ammunition.

He’s also disgusted to find Ben there.

Things, however, are looking even more grim for our Benjamin whose rocks are coming off, clink, clink, clink, one at a time, because someone in the shadows appears to have made an unexpected return from the dead.

“Grimm.”
“Ah… Vic?”
“You need not speak.”
“It’s… She says she’s…”
“I know. I knew when I walked in. Hello, mother.”

But there’s someone else waiting in the wings whom Doom knows so well, and he should no longer exist, either.

Exceptional for Marvel right now, this is written with all due care for the past, but with a refreshingly thorough reassessment in the light of sweeping changes which comes from a lot of lateral thinking.

SLH

Buy Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke…

“Salsa was a stick-up man from Cuba. He’d been a revolutionary, a gigolo and was now an armed robber. When he saw the call come through he keyed his Dodge. He’d been stalking out the gas station since Parker’s letter. Two years ago he’d stopped for gas and made it as a layoff dump. As he roared towards the station he pulled on his mask. The two clowns didn’t know what hit them. All they’d remember was that they were robbed by Frankenstein.”

This, the second Darwyn Cooke adaptation of a Richard Stark ‘Parker’ novel is a direct sequel to the first, PARKER: THE HUNTER. As mentioned in my previous review, with crime it’s all about the plot for me, but Cooke’s art on the first book just took my breath away literally right from the moment I opened the book. THE OUTFIT, if anything, is even more beautiful for reasons I’ll come to, and once again we begin with a panoramic double-page splash of the locale, this time Miami Beach c.1963.

Following the events of THE HUNTER Parker knows he’s made some serious enemies in the shape of the Outfit having taken them for $45,000, which sure isn’t chump change, but that’s how they’ve been made to feel, and it’s sure how they’re choosing to take it. The Outfit are coming after Parker so repeatedly now he decides the only option is to change his face as well as his scenery. But easy living costs money, and after an armed robbery heist to generate some quick cash goes slightly awry, all thanks to a good old-fashioned double crossing at the hands of a greedy dame, the Outfit learns just why it is they’ve been unable to spot Parker recently. And, so the chase begins again.

Parker, a smarter wit than all the bosses put together, surmises the only way he’s going to be able to get them to stop coming after him for good is if he keeps hitting them hard, where it hurts them the most… in their wallets, so that they’ll have no choice but to make peace with him. Of course, Parker being Parker, he has a few more angles to his plan than that, but he’s certainly not one to show his hand until it’s time to claim the whole pot. And so, with the aid of some long standing friends scattered across the States, who might not exactly be adverse to some easy scores against the Outfit themselves, he starts a co-ordinated campaign of action, having forewarned the Outfit this is just a taste of what they can expect if they don’t leave him alone.

One key addition to Cooke’s glorious armoury of endeavour this time around is the use of devices relatively atypical to sequential art, such as floating narrative text-excerpts to build extra vital detail and background information into the plot. Often when this device is used in comics, it makes the work feel text-heavy, but here it’s so punchily done in a breezily staccato manner, it really adds to the action. And in a particularly delightful conceit, when Parker’s extended gang of colleagues launch their concerted series of heists all aimed at interests of the Outfit, he employs a completely different art style to chronicle each heist, switching from illustrated magazine article to Pink Panther-esque cartoon style, to panelled newspaper strip, to ligne claire, further adding to the gloriously period ’60s feel of the whole joint. It also neatly provides a very clever mid-book interval in true old-school cinema style, before Parker takes central stage once again to bring the hidden elements of his master plan to a concussive conclusion.

JR

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

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith…

Using some of the supporting characters from BONE but set in an earlier time, this standalone work is quite different in that it is a straight story without the comedic element that often featured in its parent title.

This is in essence a high fantasy story about the Princess Rose and her sister Briar involving talking dragons, strange creatures (some of which will be familiar to readers of BONE), mysterious protectors, dastardly villainy and the usual expendable cannon-fodder villagers.

The lush painted artwork from Vess put me in mind of his slice of THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and adds to the magical fairytale qualities of the book. Personally I was left with the interesting paradox of finding the character of Rose slightly annoying because everyone seems so easily able to manipulate her naivety and exploit her, but on the other hand as a device it is used well by Smith to generate some lovely tortuous and unpleasant plot twists. You’ll almost certainly find yourself muttering under your breath to Rose, come on you really can’t be that daft, but in the end I found myself rather carried along by the story.

JR

Buy Bone: Rose and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Giant Days vol 5 s/c (£13-99, Boom Box) by John Allison & Max Sarin

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

Pop Gun War vol 2: Chain Letter (£17-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Ravina The Witch h/c (£19-99, Titan) by Junko Mizuno

Ethel & Ernest s/c (£10-99, Jonathan Cape) by Raymond Briggs

Motor Crush vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

Batman: Detective Comics vol 9: Gordon At War s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Fernando Pasarin, Scot Eaton

Nightwing vol 2: Back To Bludhaven s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Marcus To, Marcio, Takara, Min

Teen Titans vol 1: Damian Knows Best s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Khoi Pham, Diogenes Neves, Jonboy Meyers

Venom vol 1: Homecoming s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Gerardo Sandoval, Juanan Ramirez, Iban Coello

The Girl From The Other Side vol 2 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week one

June 7th, 2017

New Jason, Jeff Lemire, Hamish Steele, John Lennon (?!?) and more!

Secret Path (£23-99, Simon & Schuster) by Jeff Lemire, with songs by Gord Downie.

A tremendously powerful, album-sized book, silent save for the inclusion of Gord Downie’s lyrics from songs you can download using a unique code enclosed in a sealed insert, although such is Lemire’s exceptionally well wrought craft that you can hear the poor lad’s relentless chattering of teeth and his shivering rasps of exhausted breath, exhaled into the empty, freezing air.

And then it starts to rain.

Yes, then it starts to rain.

When he huddles at night alongside the long, rigidly straight and so exposed rail tracks, arms wrapped around his legs, there is no cover, and snot drips snorting from his nose.

There’s no cover, no company, no respite and very little hope save for his dwindling dreams of ever finding himself home.

To begin with these daydreams are more vivid and colourful, the starkest and coldest of blues and his black leather boots giving way to bear feet dangling idly above water and banks of soft, tufted green grass below an apricot-coloured sky. He pictures his family – mother, father, younger sister and baby sibling – welcoming him back from a bountiful fishing trip with beaming smiles and unbridled pride. Everything is as it should be.

Nothing has been that way for years.

If you’ve ever seen the Australian film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ directed by Phillip Noyce, based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara, you will have a very clear picture of the appalling story being told here. I’m afraid it was all too true, as is this. On the book’s back cover we are told:

“Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966. He was trying to walk home, along the railroad tracks, trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.”

Several boys aged 7 to 12 attempted the same thing at my prep school, Packwood Haugh, such was its… environment… but always during much more clement nights, and with far fewer miles to travel.

“Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where his home was, nor know how to find it. But like so many kids from residential schools – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried.”

Why would he do that? You know, apart from the not inconsiderable wrench of not actually being at home, in the arms of his loving family where he belonged?

Throughout the graphic novel we are given glimpses of incidents our runaway would rather forget. Not just his initiation into institutional “care”, either, though those scenes are repugnant enough: boys being stripped of their individuality with mandatory, ugly, perfunctory and identical haircuts; then stripped of all their clothes, privacy and dignity. They huddle, humiliated, naked and vulnerable under the communal showers, clutching their privates as the priest watches on.

We are never shown his face, then or late at night as he patrols the dormitories, pausing by bedsides. His disembodied hand flexes, and then reaches out. But we quite clearly see the awful fear in the young boy’s eyes, presumably not a one-off occurrence but a fear to be feared throughout each long hour of every successive day and then its subsequent night.

Predatory Russian Roulette.

Lemire’s recent ROUGHNECK was phenomenal, a real return to contemporary-fiction ESSEX COUNTY excellence where he all but began, with colouring as equally restrained and resplendent as this. There’s a starry-night splash page which had me agog. Here too Lemire packs a punch as emotionally charged as they were physically rendered in ROUGHNECK.

Not only that, but he has made maximum use of the size and shape of the format which was originally to have included a 12” vinyl album, wisely replaced (given international shipping) with a free digital download instead.

It begins, post-prologue, with the last vestiges of autumn – the few lingering, dried-up, senescent leaves – blowing over the open, exposed and austere rail tracks, the skeletal trees ranged like spiked railings on either wide side.

But it is its following page which I cannot find online uncut or at the right size which impresses me most. It shows four horizontal tiers of the same, unrelentingly straight (and so, by inference, infinite) railroad with no end in sight, as the lost lad approaches us, his eyes closed, his haunted thoughts inevitably elsewhere.

The combination of the vertically stacked, diagonally driven vanishing points creates a thoroughly unnerving, disconcerting, recurrent vista on which the eye cannot possibly rest, so inducing what I can only describe as a an involuntary flickering of vision in which you cannot help but skip alternate horizontal panels back and forth, up and down.

I’ve never seen anything like it in comics. The effect is akin to a stroboscope.

For my money this is best absorbed without the lyrics every dozen or so pages, but it’s far better to have something included to skip rather than something missing.

Proceeds go to the Canadian National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) which promises to publicise yet-to-be-revealed atrocities such as those alluded to within, and then preserve them in the public conscience alongside the Catholic Church’s systematic but consistently covered-up sexual abuse of young boys by priests who were sworn to celibacy, which is now thankfully well within the proven public domain so you cannot sue me for saying so.

In the interests of balance: I’ve not known the Protestant Church’s clergymen to be any less hands-on, nor British public-school masters, in my day at least. God save us from closed, cloistered cults.

SLH

Buy Secret Path and read the Page 45 review here

On The Camino (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

“There’s a dead cat in the side of the road.
“A rainbow!
“I can see the sun, but where’s the rain?

Almost immediately:

“Ah! …”

The ups and downs and the truly unexpected: there’s nothing like a trek into parts unknown, and for the first time ever Norwegian-born Jason journeys into the realms of autobiographical comics, celebrating his 50th birthday by walking the Camino de Santiago.

I walked all 500 miles alongside Jason and relished every single second of his jaunty Spanish stroll, without having to endure his blisters or bed bugs. As much as I prayed for our pilgrim to reach his chosen destination, I wish he never had, for I didn’t want this ambulatory, countryside idyll to ever end.

I felt as if I had met each individual whom Jason encountered – as much as the adorably reticent and retiring Jason can bring himself to meet anyone. I dined alongside him, whether the meals be kitchen cook-ups which he had to cater and scavenge for himself, hostel-hosted group dinners, cheap Pilgrim’s Menu choices found around each town or the occasional, v. rare, solo self-indulgence on an à la carte menu!

Initially John finds it difficult to break the habits of a lifetime, preferring to walk in solitude anyway and make conversation in the evening, but until he grasps the easy way in – the routine of enquiring which nation each traveller is from and why they’ve chosen this special route, undertaken by many as a religious vocation – he can’t quite make that first move, and the first legs are full of actual silence or missed (and immediately mourned) opportunities to join in.

But as John wends his way, he gradually gets into his conversational stride and builds brief bonds with individuals whom he leaves behind in his pre-dawn departures or falls behind only to be reunited with them farther down the trail which is marked by handy yellow arrows which unfortunately don’t glow in the dark.

Top tip: take a torch for early morning starts, last late-night furlongs and extricating yourself from a hostel without disturbing anyone else. Packing in the dark becomes an art which John masters early on; choosing the right hostel, however, is one he never quite gets the knack of.

Oh yes, Jason’s real name is John. I think we’ll keep calling him Jason.

He finds plenty of time for imagining how conversations might unfold or events might play themselves out, before pulling back with “Nah! That didn’t happen”. I’ll leave those to surprise and make you chuckle.

He also finds time for self-reflection:

“Look at the view, you idiot! Try to be present for once in your life!”

Yes, nature’s eye-candy is one of the primary motivations for meandering around such spectacular countryside and the one thing I found odd is that, unlike Eleanor Davis’ recent YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, I didn’t experience quite the same sense of the changing environment. In one panel Jason exclaims simply “View!” but we’re looking at Jason instead!!! Funny!

The individuality and sanctity of some of the chapels he encounters is keenly evoked. Far from religious himself, Jason still appreciates the short church services with the passing of candles and exchange of hugs or their Gregorian chants, atmospherically interrupted by mobile phones. These services are sometimes part of a hostel’s lure and along some sections we discover selfless local devotees providing refreshments:

“It’s free. You’re a pilgrim.”

Such all-embracing, unquestioning generosity, also experienced in YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, is profoundly moving.

Jason, of course, has embarked on his endeavour not out of religious fervour but to celebrate his half-centenary, having only recently discovered nature. He’s beginning not to feel his age, exactly, but to acknowledge it with respect to others.

“I’m sunburned on my left ear. I say good-bye to all dignity and put a t-shirt under my hat.
“I meet Gorka and Minnie Driver again. We exchange experiences before they walk on.”

It’s not really Minnie Driver, but the similarity was noted on a previous evening.

“I can see myself through their eyes: an okay enough guy. But old enough to their dad, or uncle, let’s say.
“Or maybe they just didn’t want to walk next to someone wearing a t-shirt on his head.”

Ha! It may be Jason’s first foray into autobiography, but he’s retained his trademark bird and dog figures which seems perfectly natural, yet when each of the many statues popping up along the Camino is depicted similarly instead of as is, it brought a smile to my face. I don’t know why!

The big advantage, of course, in retaining the anthropomorphic aspect for Jason’s on / off acquaintances is that in his skilled hands one gleans a better sense of their demeanour and temperament, their essential character rather than a superficial likeness which serves no purpose in a comic like this at all.

As to Jason himself, there’s a tremendous panel in which he’s waiting outside the bathroom for a free shower after a 36km hike. Holding his wash bag in one hand, a towel draped over the other arm, he shows himself leaning back against the wall with an extraordinary sense of weight for such lean lines, and an expression which is quintessentially one of quiet composure, like a car idling in neutral.

Jason will be at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2017 this October, so feel free to ask him how on earth he expresses so much so minimally, with what is the very opposite of exaggeration.

And it really is free if you catch him signing in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower at 2pm that Saturday, which I’ve not been authorised to announce yet.

I’m ever so naughty!

SLH

Buy On The Camino and read the Page 45 review here

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

Oh dear gods, this is funny! I’m quite sure it shouldn’t be, but it is.

“Warning: PANTHEON contains incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy.”

There’s something for everyone, then.

Always wise to read the back-cover blurb, and they’re not making it up. Believe it or not, the “suspicious salad” is the worst offender of the lot, tossed without any mind to Health & Safety; in fact, quite the opposite.

But believe it or not (reprise), Hamish Steele isn’t making this up, either. Although he’s mined the mythology for maximum mirth – lobbing in every anachronistic, artistic armament he can find – this is quite honestly how the Egyptian legends of creation and indeed procreation played themselves out without any heed to the niceties of familial decorum, marital boundaries, genetic wisdom or avuncular beneficence.

Prompted by the promise above I immediately searched the hand-dandy family tree of gods and goddesses arranged in such a way that they are linked as sibling, married to, child of, or even same guy. I wondered how many parallel lines I would find. The only way in which I was at all disappointed was in a narcissistic failure of the “same guy” to be married to himself. Otherwise…? All bets are off.

In particular Isis and Osiris really did keep it in the family, and their expressions in that timeline – one to-camera – are priceless.

The prologue’s punchline – the very act of creation – is equally iconoclastic, perfect in its pithiness, and its use of a very rude word sets the tone admirably for all that will follow; little of which is, in any shape-changing form, admirable.

Still, you can’t create an omelette without breaking eggs or cleaving heads and caving in the skulls of your followers, and the same goes for new worlds and new world orders, apparently. Transitionally the mortal Egyptians are to be presided over by a pantheon of four second-generation gods, Osiris being their first pharaoh married to his sister Isis, with their brother and sister, Set and Nephthys, equally entwined.

What one expects most from such tales of divine intervention and antiquity is solemnity, majesty, Dire Declarations in Capital Letters and Multisyllabic Words.

Instead you’ll be reminded, again and again, that Set is the most unbelievable cock.

Here’s Ra / Atum, sun-god supreme and the top-tabler in this celestial convention:

“Young Osiris.
“It is now up to you and your siblings to maintain the balance of Egypt during the transitional period between the Eras of God and Man. And one day you shall join us in Duat too.
“Now, don’t fuck it up.”

Young Set, to camera – immediately, gleefully and not for the last time:

“I’m gonna fuck it up.”

Set is the king of contradiction, his ambition for power limited by nothing whatsoever, certainly not Osiris’ oblivious gullibility. It doesn’t just end in tears; it begins in tears with Set dethroning Osiris almost immediately through blatant, see-through trickery and in spite of Isis’ repeated warnings.

Guys, please listen to your wives!

The problem, of course is that Isis is not only Osiris’ missus but his sister too, and no one listens to their sisters except sisters. Here are sisters Nephthys and Isis discussing their current conundrum:

“I’m sorry about my husband, Isis. I dunno what Set has against Osiris.”
“Maybe it’s to do with when Osiris kicked Set last week.”
“Maybe… Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sleeping with Osiris.”
“Eww, Nephy! He’s your brother!”
“So is Set!”
“He’s mine too!”

Meanwhile, as I said, Set’s seized power and Isis is deeply pissed off:

“That’s not your throne!”
“The pharaoh is gone and so his crown passes to his brother! Which is me!”
“You’d be a crap pharaoh!”
“I know! It’s hilarious! You can still be queen if you want, sis. You’re a solid eight.”

We’re nowhere near the suspicious salad yet, although it is fruit born of similarly inbred shenanigans which are so outrageous / extreme that I cannot possible write about them in public. So instead I’m going to roll out one of my favourite words: transgressive. If you’ve been enjoying the three MEGG & MOGG books, BOY’S CLUB or Joan Cornell’s MOX NOX and ZONZO, then I would humbly submit that this morass of family misfortune is right up your back alley.

I wonder if this is why Nobrow Publishing gave birth to its all-ages imprint Flying Eye? You certainly wouldn’t want this falling into the same tiny hands as HILDA.

Hamish Steele’s designs for these gods are exquisite (and perversely ever so attractive to children!), some of them sampling Matt Groenig’s penchant for wide-eyed, bulbous cartooning while others like uncle Set and nephew Horus lend themselves to equally expressive mischief with Horus’s head coming off like an innocent greetings-card blue tit in black; one which will certainly start singing more than the dawn chorus once Horus is on the receiving end of Set’s flamboyant flagrancy.

At which point I would just remind you that although this is a mesh of many mythologies from different localities, what’s here was there: Extraordinarily, Hamish is merely re-presenting these extant legends presented by and to the Egyptian populace in all seriousness (in fact, more than seriousness: with all the sacred weight which comes with the divinity they describe) in an irreverently off-hand and jocular fashion whose comedy lies in that very contrast, the startlingly sexual nature of what he’s disinterred, and the lightning-bolt timing and sometimes contemporary context with which he delivers it.

Additionally, some of the jokes are more subtle than others, Steele leaving this piece of minor genius until quite close to the end when Horus comes a cropper in a manner not so dissimilar to Anglo-Saxon King Harold, as made most comically famous by the late and indescribably great Stanley Holloway.

“Horus! Your eye!”
“What are you talking about? My eye is fine!”

Yup, looks fine to me.

“No! Your other eye!”
“My… My other eye?”

This ‘what other eye?’ joke is predicated upon the fact that Egyptian paintings universally presented all personages in profile when it came to their heads and that those thus characterised might be unaware that they even had a second, unseen eye.

That’s ever so deliciously meta.

Finally, thanks to Steele’s remarkable restraint in leaving this so long, it was only at this juncture – forgive me for being so slow! – that I realised I was reading what must surely be the first comic ever to be to be conducted throughout using  profile-only faces.

Except for the very next page.

You are hearing a round of rattling, full-throttle and unequivocal applause.

SLH

Buy Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities and read the Page 45 review here

I Killed Adolf Hitler h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

A luxurious new hardcover edition with a satisfyingly tactile debossed flag, released in time for the launch of Jason’s autobiographical perambulations ON THE CAMINO, this is far closer in tone and content to the likes of Jason’s LOW MOON, IF YOU STEAL and ATHOS IN AMERICA etc, all of which come highly recommended.

Calmly coloured by Hubert and told in a clean and relaxed, four-tiered, eight-panel grid, this ingenious, comedic dance is the last story you’d expect from a title like that, except that it does feature quite a lot of sudden deaths!

Set in a world where earning a License To Kill is as legal as a license to practice medicine, Jason clearly demonstrates why conspiracy to murder – to hire someone to kill someone else for you – is against the law here in the UK, Ireland and most American States. It’d be highly lucrative and the waiting list longer than the average builder’s. Everyone would be at it and for the most spurious reasons. But if you can hire someone to off your missus because you’re bored of your relationship, you’d better look out for tell-tale signs of ennui in your next lover’s eyes.

 

The star is one such hitman who – after a snappy succession of assignments, each with its own punchline – is paid to travel back in time and shoot Adolf Hitler.

He botches it.

Instead Adolf escapes in the same transtemporal globe and ends up back in the here and now. The delight of this, however, is that this isn’t really about Adolf at all, and wherever and whenever the various time-travellers end up, the majority of the action occurs in the present.

But how does everyone get here if the machine takes fifty years to power up after each two-way journey?

It’s actually a love story, told, deadpan, with the absurdist wit of Lewis Trondheim.

SLH

Buy I Killed Adolf Hitler and read the Page 45 review here

Lennon: The New York Years h/c (£17-99, IDW) by David Foenkinos, Eric Corbeyran & Horne.

“At first I found it really strange to live at Mimi’s. My mother never explained anything to me, I didn’t dare ask any questions.
“I must have thought that it was going to be for two or three days like before.”

His tiny suitcase remains on the bed, packed and ready to go, or perhaps never unpacked in the first place.

“I lived my whole childhood with a sensation of everything being temporary. I was always on deposit somewhere.”

That’s a fine piece of writing, and the art throughout is faultless, especially in the quiet moments. Horne is an exceedingly fine portrait artist; moreover, this softly shaded art, dappled with light, boasts a suppleness and deftness of touch which eludes so many engaging in such photo-realistic comics, inevitably in this case relying heavily on reference material. Too often the desperation to achieve likeness causes each rendition to become rigid and their flow as a sequence to become heavy and static, but the lines and light here are as pliant as you like.

Occasionally there’s the same image repeated a little too often but I can happily put that down to snap-shot recollection which is something that flickers through my own mind, and is essentially what Lennon is supposed to be engaged in: offloading to his therapist in a series of sessions, the first of which takes place just before the birth of his second son, Sean, to Yoko Ono, on John’s 35th birthday, October 9th 1975.

And therein lies my problem with this book and its central conceit: if Lennon were writing an extended, contemplative article for publication, or even as a personal exercise, it might work, but here he is far too lucid and fluent to be talking off-the-cuff to a counsellor who doesn’t get a word in edgeways. There’s no prompting, he just goes off on one – a very long one – in a measured, highly structured fashion, at first relating the self-confessed absence of any paternal feelings towards his first son, Julian, to his own abandonment as a child by his father and then his mother.

It’s very well expressed by both artist and writers – too well expressed by the writers – as the father then returns to use Lennon as a lure to regain his wife, with no thought whatsoever as to the further destabilising effect (after so many) on their poor son.

There are four terrifically well chosen and delineated panels on Horne’s part which depict the young lad waiting for his mother to return in Aunt Mimi’s entryway, dressed in school uniform and cap as if he were waiting outside the headmaster’s office – for hours.

The door doesn’t open.

Amongst the other things that irk me, however, is that that this isn’t a reflection on Lennon’s New York Years as its title professes. It may be a reflection from his New York Years with occasional allusions to them, but they’re far from the focus which instead sprawls over his years as a Beatle, yet with but a two-page footnote about ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, John casually, lazily asserting (but not necessarily erroneously, for sure!) that it was “the most revolutionary album of all time” without any explanation as to why – a subject about which you could easily fill a five-hour documentary.

I did nod thoughtfully to the notion that Lennon’s uptake of spectacles – after years of enduring blurred vision for the sake of vanity – was a direct result of a film he agreed to take a part in, that character being one who wore glasses.

But to return to the credibility of the conceit, when one sits down to write something (editing out all the false starts etc), one hopefully comes up with something a lot more coherent than most of us manage in conversation, with a wider vocabulary to boot. But not only is this too considered for verbal therapy sessions which usually involve some degree of faltering then coaxing, it’s also too well phrased and the language didn’t seem like Lennon’s, as spoken, at all.

The overall effect is to leave this feeling false, contrived and untrustworthy so I stopped trusting its accuracy let alone engaging in it as entertainment and, in the end, this falls through the cracks of being neither one thing nor the other.

Wish I could have found the Lennon-as-a-lad art online for you, though: it truly is tremendous. 

SLH

Buy Lennon: The New York Years h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh.

“Five A.M. is my nightmare.
“It shouldn’t even be a time.”

This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.

It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmmm…. abs.

Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees with her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition-vision is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.

In righting wrongs, master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.

I am not at all obsessed with abs.

Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.

Although living up to her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE  would be an impossible act, this still kept me mightily amused to start to finish. That series remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.

This is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).

Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.

“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”

We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith

Fantasy Sports vol 3: The Green King h/c (£12-95, Nobrow) by Sam Bosma

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

StarDrop vol 2: A Place To Hang My Space Suit (£8-99, I Box Publishing) by Mark Oakley

Abe Sapien vol 9: Lost Lives And Other Stories (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie & Michael Avon Oeming, Dave Stewart, various

Justice League Of America: The Road To Rebirth s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Jody Houser & various

Suicide Squad vol 2: Going Sane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Jim Lee, various

Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords Of Midgard (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Rafa Garres, Frazer Irving

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Jim Cheung, Joe Quesada, Mike McKone, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic, Bryan Hitch

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 2: Side Pieces s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

Crossed + 100 vol 2 (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Fernando Heinz, Rafael Ortiz

Crossed + 100 vol 3 (£17-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Rafael Ortiz, Martin Tunica

News!

ITEM! First-ever all-comics issue of The New York Times Magazine is online for you to devour!

Comics creators include Kevin Huizenga (above), Tillie Walden, Sammy Harkham, Tom Gauld, Franceso Frankavilla and ASTERIOS POLYP’s David Mazzucchelli.

ITEM! Comics creator Jason (see two books above) will be attending LICAF 2017 in October

So that’s a bit of a rarity!

I may made an exclusive, unauthorised announcement about this in my ON THE CAMINO review above. By which I mean, I did!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week five

May 31st, 2017

Paul Madonna, John Allison, Noah Van Sciver, Asaf Hanuka, Ben Passmore, Alex De Campi, Tony Parker, Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Jason reprints.

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

In which, following the success of THE REALIST and THE DIVINE, Asaf travels to receive awards in Japan.

There he experiences the tradition of bowing, business card presentation offered and received with both hands, the cleanliness of public toilets, and violence-free order even on the most crowded of pedestrian streets.

“I was wondering if all the cute characters were a reaction to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wish collective traumas were translated into something huggable in Israel.”

He also learns why formal photographs avoid showing fingers and buggers that up completely, thereby experiencing another Japanese tradition, that of the lowest point a man can reach: public embarrassment.

But for all this travel you may have already noticed that Hanuka’s thoughts rarely stray far from home and – given that his home is Tel Aviv in Israel – terrorism is at the forefront throughout, not just pervading his conscious but intruding physically into his life in the form of armed police, military manoeuvres and the sorts of threats which make you think twice: airborne missile strikes. At one point his family have to take refuge in an air raid shelter.

Typically during this atypical six-page instalment (the standard is a single-page splash or nine-panel grid), he manages to weave in a thread about “nothing”, the nature of which is on his son’s mind:

“What is nothing made of?”
“Well, it’s made of… umm… It’s made of nothing.”
“So it’s not really nothing, right?”
“What do you mean?” asks Asaf, struggling with a Rubik’s Cube.
“If it’s made of something, how can it be nothing?”

At which point his younger daughter, little more than a toddler, drops a TINTIN rocket on her toes.

Good old Dad does manage to come up with a wise and coherent answer eventually, but then his own dad calls to check that the family are okay following the explosion and flames we see through the window just a couple of blocks from their home, and the retaliatory strike we see through military-jet crosshairs on Gaza.

“It was nothing.”

The very first page, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ shows the artist at work, fretting about his contribution to the wide-ranging acts of solidarity in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the enormous responsibility of getting his own response right. So many discarded failures lie crumpled on the floor below as he sweats over a new page, staring directly down the length of his pen… and down the barrel of a gun.

It’s a phenomenal composition.

Elsewhere the gleaming floor of a Parisian airport reflects Hanuka’s preoccupations but again, however bad we have it here with what to most of us are unfathomable atrocities, try living in Israel. In fact, try living in Israel during the kitchen-knife stabbing-Intifada if you look like Asaf. He strives to shave more often, for a start.

“I can spot suspicious looks when people notice me on the street. I can’t blame them – if I’d seen myself I would probably be worried too.
“Everyone is afraid and everyone is a suspect. Arabs in particular, or those who look Middle-Eastern. Arab-Jews, like myself, and Arab-Muslims look exactly the same.”

He sinks up to his nose into a sea of blood, casting his eyes anxiously around.

“Fear, paranoia, hysteria, an angry mob, and misidentification. That’s all you need for someone innocent to be lynched in a central bus station in Israel these days.
“I’m a walking target, twice. As a Jew I’m a target for terrorists and as an Arab I’m a target for those who look for suspects to neutralise.”

Identity is an issue that permeates both books (and the masks and peeled faces are back), Hanukah constantly considering himself “stuck in the vacuum between camps” as he explains in ‘Costumes’ on the subject of Jews from Kurdistan and Iraq. Then, of course, there’s his marriage – mixed, between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi – which wouldn’t have been allowed had they been Religious Zionists or Orthodox Jews.

I promise, however, that there is much mischief too, with titles like ‘Emojinal’ and ‘The In-House Designer’, the latter being a catalogue of clothing purchases from Paris, New York and home, sweet home, personalised / ruined by the creative endeavours of his daughter.

Along with the thrilling compositions, there’s a glorious physicality to Hanukah’s forms, both impressively displayed in ‘Double Dad’ as his son squelches him into a photocopier and gaily replicates him multiple times, the sheaves of flat paper falling to the lime-green floor. These reproduce the back of Asaf’s shiny head and shoulders, but then his arms emerge, hands heaving against the paper as he pulls himself up and out into the three-dimensional world.

Shame about the copy that got crinkled in the blockage…

‘Secrets From The Kitchen’ offers an alternative recipe for pancakes that the one you might be used to, and is a far more relaxed culinary escapade than ‘Chill’ in which husband Hanukah is left to cope solo with the domestic routines including a fry-up when his wife’s back gives out.

“Come eat! The food is ready. Where’s the girl?”

Clue: “Hottt…”

And yes, just like last time, the family sits, skips and trips centre-stage with movement-cartooning worthy of the great Kyle Baker as the household ups sticks and drips its way to holiday heaven.

For more, including the origins of this series, please see our review of THE REALIST in which I talk about the ingenious ways in which the creator utilises the nine-panel grid, often making structural use either of the tiers or the columns in linking the various threads weaved into a single work of wonder.

I leave you instead with the end of an anecdote from boyhood during which, as an eight-year-old, the artist was chased on the way back from school by a wild horse, here a fearful black shadow. Running as fast as he could, he falls as the horse still catches up, and resigns himself to its hooves. 

“But instead of trampling me, the horse skipped over me and continued to gallop wildly to someplace else.
“When I got home I told my mother everything. She said I should try and draw what happened. That it would help me relax.
“I began to draw, slowly feeling that paralysing fear transform into inspiration.
“Now, whenever disaster approaches, I pull out my markers and draw calmly. I know by now the chances are, it’s on its way to someplace else.”

SLH

Buy The Realist: Plug And Play h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“The lettering, the title, the cover… this is the best zine. Good thing I printed twenty thousand of these puppies! That ought to be enough for now!”

The literary legend – in his own boozy endless lunchtime, that is – returns to titillate us with his latest set of trials and tribulations in attempting to write the ‘Great American Novel’ and find stellar fame and Croesus-like wealth into the bargain. Moving on from the scene of his previous spectacular failure, as chronicled in FANTE BUKOWSKI, this time he’s mooching around that well known literary hotbed of Columbus, Ohio, where all the greats have seemingly spent time, or indeed, currently live!

Columbus, Ohio, being where a certain Noah Van Sciver happens to reside… I’ve been there oddly enough and let me tell you, not a lot happens… Still, it’s an amusing conceit, but one that’s promptly and brutally bettered in the rib-tickles department by said Noah Van Sciver, replete with the now sadly shaved off, sarcastically self-proclaimed 4th best moustache in comics, appearing in this volume as a larger-than-life and I’m sure, entirely more odious version of himself as the romantic makeweight for Fante’s former flame, Audrey. Who just so happens to be on that very self-same meteoric rise to stardom that Fante so desperately craves. Audrey, for some strange unknown reason, as she freely acknowledges to herself, despite Fante abandoning her in volume one, still harbours some fond affection for him.

Fante, meanwhile, is living in a cockroach-infested hotel with some delightful boutique features such as a profusion of voyeurs’ peepholes and a kleptomaniac junkie manager. The Ritz it is not. Still, it’s all grist to the metaphorical mill for a future Pulitzer Prize winner…  In fact, were it not for Fante’s steadfast, unshakeable belief that his own prodigious, innate talent will eventually be enough that the whole world will recognise his genius and thus provide him with his very own happy ending, he might consider giving it all up. Oh, and so long as his parents don’t cancel his credit card that they pay off each month… Hmm… now, I wonder what they’ll do when they see a streetwalker’s personal services on the next bill?

As before, there’s so much additional chortle-worthy nonsense packed in on every single page such as excerpts of Fante’s own poetry, of which there are several suitably dreadful examples scattered throughout. Mainly reflecting upon just how tortured his chosen life is, musing on the likes of facing the insurmountable existential crisis of running out of beer and having to brave the sarcastically dismissive cashier at the corner store.

Another little conceit I loved, was the occasional artistic nod to a comics’ creator or a classic panel. If you know your stuff you might spot as diverse references as Robert Crumb and the final page of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50! There are also some other choice real-world comics cameos, besides Noah himself, that only add to the fun. In fact one of which proves hilariously crucial to the farcical denouement.

If any creator ever wanted an example of how not to waste a single bit of space, they should look at this work. Even the inside cover has a brilliant little visual gag, which I won’t spoil, that completely initially fooled me. There was also supposed to be an additional visual gag on the rear cover, involving a fake label but hilariously it was mis-printed requiring Fantagraphics to then actually print a genuine additional ISBN label to stick over it!

Plus, as with volume one, there’s innumerate pearls of wisdom from the great and good dispensed like self-motivational medication for poor old Fante with disturbing frequency as page headers. Not that he’s paying the slightest bit of attention being entirely wrapped up in his epic travails… In fact, I’ll leave the last word to Fante. It’s about himself of course…

“How can the world have so little faith in me? It’s like nobody wants me to be the famous writer I’m meant to be…”

JR

Buy Fante Bukowski Two and read the Page 45 review here

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

A densely worded eleven-page opportunity to listen to a fresh perspective we’d all do well to see the world from, lest we assume that we all experience it the same way.

Your titular black friend has much on his mind from his extensive experience of being your black friend. He has plenty to say about that experience and he does so with commendable clarity, directness and level-headed balance; but he’s not about to waste what little space he has by mincing his words, either.

He’s going to say what he means and mean what he says.

The comic is bookended by your black friend “sitting in a coffee shop, your favourite coffee shop”, eating a sandwich he’s bought elsewhere “hoping that white guilt will keep the barista from confrontin’ him about.”

Let’s see if that will work in his favour. Let’s see if anything does, frankly.

“Your black friend listens to a conversation between a nicely dressed white woman and the barista.”

The nicely dressed white woman is boasting about her speed in calling the cops after seeing a “sketchy guy” coming out of a backyard with a bike. The barista asks the nicely dressed white woman to describe the man.

“I dunno… black, tall, dreads, the bike was a 98 Gary Fisher w/ a big marlin on it, drop bars, disc breaks, a broken spoke and one of those Brookes racing saddles instead of the factory seat.”

The nicely dressed white woman is curiously well informed, but no matter.

“Was that house on France Street? Did he have a big nose ring?”
“Yeah…”
“That sounds like Darren, he comes here all the time. That’s his house. That’s his bike.”

The barista, beautifully drawn to be of a certain age yet far from behind the times, is shown to be more than a little alarmed. You could add exclamation marks to her protests.

However, this is what I mean by the calm clarity and level-headedness which runs like a vein or hallmark right through Passmore’s many cultural and social observations exemplified by his own interactions:

“This is an important moment, your black friend has seen this many times: a white person unaware of their racism, blunders into a moment in which it is undeniable. He knows that this woman still will not see it, she is both afraid of black people and the realization of that fear. It will take the barista, seeming race savvy and familiar to the rich lady, to clarify what has just happened. But, your black friend knows the barista will say nothing. What white ppl fear most is “making things awkward”.”

It gets better.

“Your black friend would like to say something but doesn’t want to appear “angry”. He knows this type of person expects that from him and he will lose before he begins. This’ why he has white friends, he thinks. White ppl are allowed to be “angry” when he is expected to be calm and reasonable. He wishes he could make you understand this, and many other things…
“For example: your black friend wishes you understood why he hates it when the barista calls him “baby” like she is his “auntie”, or any other black woman over the age of 50.”

He has a damn good go at providing illumination during the nine packed pages that follow, in which he recounts numerous examples of feeling uncomfortable on both sides of the racial divide, even managing to fall through the cracks of fitting in when that division is narrowed. I liked this:

“Your black friend’s black friends tell him that black-owned businesses will end racism but your black friend is sceptical that scented afro picks can be utilized as a political apparatus.”

So will our black friend speak up in the coffee shop, do you think?

This comes with an exceptionally well timed ending, every element of which is set up right at the beginning.

SLH

Buy Your Black Friend and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Back home I found my front door plastered with nine more eviction notices. Did my landlord think I couldn’t read?”

Illustrated prose from the creator of swoonaway, San Francisco art albums ALL OVER COFFEE and EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD, each containing predominantly sepia-tinted landscapes, some illustrated by short stories to form snap-shots, vignettes, which you could almost consider comics (I do).

And that’s a turn-up for the books: art illustrated by prose.

Here’s another: the gentrification of San Francisco with its attendant, sky-rocketing price-hikes in rent demands and property values – already so extortionate as to be exclusive when I visited a decade or so ago – has turned into such a runaway engine that it has steam-rolled over long-standing residents and resulted in thousands of no-fault evictions in order to gouge new, prospective occupants even more. Amongst them was San Francisco Chronicle’s highly successful and highly regarded Paul Madonna, ejected from his rented accommodation in the Mission District.

There’s a flat, open park in the Mission District I visited before breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning while staying in the Castro. This was ten years ago, remember, but even then I found the park populated by dozens of affluent ladies walking their dogs while picking their way between what I estimate to have been some two hundred homeless individuals waking up under blankets.

So that was a thing.

Paul Madonna’s reaction to this experience has been, well, to move, for one; but also to create this short, surreal and scathingly satirical farce that isn’t a million miles from early Evelyn Waugh, Madonna casting himself as the central naïf in its first-person narrative, buffeted by the cut-throat market forces in this already overheated closed system.

“It’s a bubble,” the woman said. “One small and ridiculous microcosm inside the already small and ridiculous bubble that is San Francisco.”

And he really is buffeted: bashed off the pavement into the path of cars flashing past at high speed, or bundled into others, and caught constantly off balance, disorientated by the ever-shifting dream-like sequences, in one of which there really is a bubble surrounding a much sought-after shoe-box of a flat.

Another residence on offer is an actual cardboard box in a corner.

“Asking price is one million,” I heard the real estate agent call out. She was standing on the kitchen table, strapped into a square-shouldered business suit, scanning the crowd with eyes like an airport x-ray machine.
“But of course it will go for hundreds of thousands more,” a man said, pushing me aside with a baby stroller.”
“Obviously,” said the agent. “A million is just how much it takes for me to treat you like you actually exist.”

Have you noticed there’s furniture everywhere?

A recurring couple rudely intrude into his nightmare, at first attempting to grab each new apartment themselves by anticipating which attributes its landlady or landlord might favour most in its tenants and so attending their impromptu, on-site auctions suitably disguised. And bungling it. Actually, this is ever so very Evelyn Waugh!

Our protagonist, this mock-Madonna, attempts to articulate how wronged he feels by these forces which, being forces, take no heed of success or repute, and reward only those making money by already having money – the parasitic landlords:

The guy smiled tightly. He put a hand to his heart.”I hear you,” he said. “You’re an artist –“
“And a writer,” I said. But for some reason he was still unable to hear that part.
“ – And you’re able to make a living in San Francisco? That’s amazing.”
“Right – “
“But – “ he pointed out with his thumb to his friend “ – her family has owned real estate here for generations.”
To which the woman responded by waving her hand through me as if I wasn’t there.

Each of the fifteen chapters plus prologue opens with a brand-new Madonna cityscape.

They are, of course, gorgeous.

I’ll leave you to discover where the cover comes in, with its bright white blemish, as if were a hole burned in celluloid.

The book opens with an invitation to imagine yourself on a passenger plane, on a long haul flight to somewhere you love dearly, only to be thrown out of your seat by the stewardess to make room for someone else. The nightmare scenario grows a great deal worse and proves the perfect metaphor for what follows.

But yes, Paul Madonna, long revered mostly for his drawing, most definitely earns his wings as a writer here. Exhibit E:

“Inside, the flat felt different. I was suddenly hyper-aware of all my things. Of how I would have to touch every object, then decide what to keep and what to toss. The thought was overwhelming. Because the truth was, I owned way too much. Ten years had turned my place into a stuff hotel; items checked in, but they didn’t check out.”

SLH

Buy On To The Next Dream h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“FLIP! Ole Knotty’s coming!”
“Get in there! Quick!”
“Oof, move up!”
“HEY!”
“Which one of you touched my bum?”
“SHUT UP MAN”
“I NEVER”

The bad boys have hidden in the science lab’s fume cupboard. There’s something very strange about that fume cupboard, and it will lead to a forked road – but a forked road to where?!?

Jonathan and I have both written extensively and in depth about all things John Allison (GIANT DAYS etc) so if you want a more detailed analysis of Allison’s comedy craft try BAD MACH 6 or the BOBBINS one-shot, Page 45’s biggest-selling comic of 2016.

It’s all very British and ever so brilliant and BAD MACHINERY itself is all-ages.

However, kids do grow up, and speaking of fumes one of my favourite albeit brief sequences this time involves Sonny’s bedroom.

“So, Mildred… did you get much out of him?”
“No.”
“Sorry. He’s a bit… you know.”
“That’s all right, Uncle Tom. I opened a window.”

Sonny lurches out, shoulders hulked high, in nothing but his boxers and vest, a blonde, teenage, monosyllabic Neanderthal, to spray deodorant under his armpits in the bathroom then return, equally unresponsive, to sit cross-legged, frowning at a screen.

“Just going to play video games in your pants, then, son? I’ll shut the door.”

In fact, not to disrespect the central mystery – which is ingenious and comes with quite the sly epilogue involving The Beetles (sic) – but most of my favourite sequences involve the three lads, Linton, Jack and Sonny, who sit most of this session out while they hit or “catch” puberty, experiencing its own mysteries in hilarious single-panel growth spurts, beautifully drawn, before coming out of their hormonal chrysalises as three different varieties of a classic subculture. In this, as in everything, Allison actually thinks to maintain their distinct individuality where other, lesser creators would have dressed them all up the same. And it all works so well: of course Linton, Jack and Sonny – specifically they – would emerge into young adulthood as modern iterations of that particular British subculture!

Now, you may think puberty an unsuitable topic for what has been so far an all-ages comic but a) I don’t think so (there was way too much misinformation in my day filling the void that is British reserve, reticence and outright embarrassment), but also b) the references are both fleeting and innocent, plus 3) the youngest most people start in on BAD MACHINERY is aged 12, and even if you begin aged 10, most kids will be 12 by the time they reach volume 7. See also a) and b) if they can’t really wait.

It’s very much like Jeff Smith’s BONE in that what starts off as a light-hearted comedy comic which children as young as 6 adore grows ever darker as it gets older, but its readers grow with it too.

As to the girls, Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred, of course they handle things better – with books and the like – but then they’ve got their mystery-orientated minds focussed elsewhere. Haven’t they?

“Mildred. I… are you all right?”
“I saw something strange yesterday evening. But I need to ask my dad about it.”
“What? Mildred, what?”
“Was it a daddy cow on top of a mummy cow in a field? Because you don’t need to ask your dad. I will lay it on the line for you.”
“No, Lottie.”
“S-R-S-L-Y. Strickly scientific.”

Again, see BAD MACH 6 for what I love about Lottie’s language (it amuses me to refer to this series as BAD MACH – it sounds like a blunt and so defunct razor, or a hypersonic speed completely out of control), but here we are treated to “Britane”, “Laaa!”, “MENTILE!” and “the BECHAMEL test”.

“Right, so if you make a film with two ladies in it, and all they do is talk about MEN… it fails the BECHAMEL test.”
“… the bechamel test!”
“Yeah. It means your film is bland and cheesy.”
“Lottie, you are ruddy treasure trove of culture.” *

Hmmm….!

Meanwhile there are as ever strange “doings” to discern, cogitate upon and pursue to their logical conclusions, like why a young boy has appeared at Griswalds Grammar School in Tackleford wearing a school cap and shorts when nobody wears shorts and even Shauna wears full-length trousers rather than a skirt.

Did you spot that she wears trousers? Details! John Allison’s characters are all individuals, and he is all about the details. Pay attention to Occam’s Razor early on too!

“Why is this case 80% CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING? We were so close to CAKE!”

* It’s the Bechdel test. As in comics’ Alison Bechdel of FUN HOME etc.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Speaking from experience…
“A lot of experience…
“It ain’t easy to describe the feeling of waking up in the unknown.
“Being in a spot you have no idea how you got to.
“It’s disorienting, a hole in the memory.
“And while the most immediate bit is to get your legs under you, it’s what’s missing that’s overwhelming. The hole…
“Did I dig it myself?”

Like ‘Boardwalk Empire’ meets ‘An American Werewolf In London’.

Do I really need to add anything else?

It’s brought to you by the same team that produced the mesmeric, convoluted crime epic 100 BULLETS.

At this point if you’re not reaching for your wallets, what is wrong with you?!

Yes, Messrs. Azzarello and Risso return with a mash-up so exquisitely flavoured, I suspect they’ve been supping direct from the mash tub! It’s such a simple concept too. New York gangsters, desperate to get their hands on the good stuff get a line on some top-notch moonshine being distilled by a clan of Hillbillies out in the sticks up in the Appalachian mountains. One slight problem: werewolves… Yep. Well, actually, there’s a whole load of other problems too, but the werewolves are kind of the major one. In terms of staying alive, that is, unless you have a few moves, and I’m not talking of the dancefloor variety…

Azzarello sends the slick and entirely dispensable hoodlum Lou Pirlo, who certainly fancies himself as a John Travolta-style ladies man the way he struts his stuff and coiffeurs his hair, out into the wilds to cut a deal for the hooch on the orders of real life Mafia boss Joe Masseria, a man so feared his nickname was simply “The Boss”. Enough said. Unfortunately for Lou, who is under, shall we say, a certain degree of pressure from Joe to deliver the goods, the family Holt don’t want to sell. Not clan head old man Holt, anyway. The younger generation, with more of an eye for business, some of them might have different ideas…

And thus begins the double-crossing, triple-crossing and… hold on a minute… everyone knows crosses don’t work against werewolves, you need silver bullets! Unlike the very deliberately slow paced 100 BULLETS, however, this wastes no time whatsoever in pitching Lou right in at the metaphorical deep end of the whiskey jar, so before too long, as one of the more polite members of the Holt clan sweetly points out to him, “You’re drowning in blood.” Indeed, it becomes apparent rather quickly that Lou is going to struggle getting hold of enough hooch, well any at all, to keep Joe Masseria happy. Good job he’s such a reasonable boss to work for! That enforced abstinence, however, will soon prove to be the least of Lou’s issues.

Expect high proof liquor and an even higher body count. Between the sore heads and the decapitated ones, I expect this title to keep the sozzled horror factor higher than a Saturday night out in Yates’ Wine Lodge in the old Market Square…

JR

Buy Moonshine vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Jesus, man, put that away. You perforate my Commie and I will put you six feet under a preacher with my bare hands.
“Our game has two rules, cowboy. One, wives and kids are off limits. Two, we don’t shoot at each other’s operatives. Because once we let that devil out of the bottle, we’ll never get him back in.
“Where does a man who speaks no English go, in the middle of the night, with no clothes, a bag of state secrets, and a bottle of vodka?”
“Um… a really good party?
“Wherever he is, whoever has him, they won’t get far if they cracked open that vodka. No sirree Bob.
“It’s laced with my own special recipe. Sodium pentothal and L.S.D.
“Ol’ Pete Stomparelli is smarter than the average bear, yes he is.”

Hmm… what Pete Stomparelli, local FBI field agent, is, in fact, is a complete dickhead.

He is also a contender for my favourite comics villain of the year! Utterly loathsome and spectacularly incompetent in equal measure, yet so cocksure of his own overblown abilities, he’s the veritable dictionary definition of a loose cannon, indeed, that proverbial car hurtling around a blind bend on the wrong side of the road at high speed just waiting for that inevitable, multiple pile-up car crash to happen. It will, trust me.

Good Ol’ Pete Stomparelli has been entrusted by the C.I.A. with keeping a Russian, codename CKGROUPER, spying for the Americans in Hong Kong, safe and sound upon his hasty arrival in L.A. He’s attempting to stay out of the clutches of the Russian authorities who’ve decided to recall him to Moscow for a friendly little chat…

Just overnight, mind, that’s all Pete needs to do, until the C.I.A. operatives tasked with bringing Codename CKGROUPER in – along with his handy list of every Soviet undercover agent in the East  including those who’ve infiltrated the U.S. forces in Vietnam – get there as fast as they possibly can to take charge. Not least because they have precisely zero confidence in the Bureau.

It’s fortunate then that our man Pete is bang up to the task. Ah…

A dynamic duo of Russian agents have been dispatched to re-acquire the defector then whisk him – figuratively not literally, that would be all a bit ‘Ello ‘Ello – and his list, back to the Motherland. They are decidedly more competent than Pete and promptly extract him from the not-so-safe house with ease. But not so much more competent that they proceed directly to the K.G.B. Residenz in San Francisco, instead deciding to have a rather saucy party with some dirty hippies out in the desert first to see what American ‘freedom’ really feels like. It’s a bring-your-own-bottle sort of affair, so good job they brought along the special vodka that Pete kindly left…

From there it only gets hazier, indeed rather spaced out, as the situation spirals more and more out of control for everyone concerned. A tight-run operation along the lines of THE COLDEST WINTER this is not, and therein lies all the fun! Will the Ruskies somehow manage to get their man and / or the list to the ‘safety’ of the Residenz, or can Pete Stomparelli and his by now incandescent C.I.A. chums finally manage to do something right and head them off in time?

This is a great bit of fun writing from Alex GRINDHOUSE De Campi that minded me of the TV show ‘The Americans’ but set in the early seventies when the sixties dream had well and truly died and one certain Richard Milhous Nixon was settling into the White House, rather than the frosty Reagan years of the cold war proper. Actually, I think Nixon might well be Pete Stomparelli’s idol: he has more than a touch of the oily huckster about him.

Very fine lined art from Tony Parker, admirably kinetic in the action sequences, and neatly coloured by the mysteriously named Blond. I have no idea whether that’s Mr. or Mrs. Blond and whether they prefer their inks shaken but not stirred, but between them, they’ve created some very vibrant art here. The full-on psychedelic freak-out experience amongst the sand dunes is particularly spectacular, I must say. A final mention for the lettering, which is a little bit different from the norm and done by Alex herself as she usually does (there’s a gag in there somewhere about wanting to have the last word but I think the pun is over at this point…) and just adds that little extra unusual period feel twist to the whole badly aimed shooting match. On the various protagonists parts that is, not Alex, as once again, she’s right on the mark.

JR

Buy Mayday s/c and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews, Tweaked

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

Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ezra Pound struggle to make ends meet in the Latin Quarter of 1920s Paris, and wonder if the comics game is really for them.

That’s right: comics. Jason has reinvented these 20th century literary figures as anthropomorphic comicbook creators doing pretty much all the same things they struggled with in reality, and which actual cartoonists today always seem to be troubled by: integrity, money, ideas, critics, the size of their manhood and money again.

In the Shakespeare And Company comic shop:

“Anything come in this week?”
“Not much there’s a new edition of ‘War And Peace’.”
“Oh? He’s a decent cartoonist but all his characters look alike. They all have the same face, and all those Russian names… I can never manage to keep track of who’s who.”

As Hemingway, the most downtrodden of the bunch, suggests a small heist to make ends meet, it all becomes slightly absurd in the way that only Jason can get away with, as we see the robbery from seven different perspectives.

Guest-stars Jean-Paul Sartre.

Beautifully written.

TR & SLH

Buy The Left Bank Gang and read the Page 45 review here

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

“How many stories do you have to tell?
“Stories? What do you mean?”
“How many amusing or exciting anecdotes have you lived that you’d be able to relate during an evening with friends?”

Over the next few pages, Alex gets an anecdote or two to tell at dinner parties and the like. His best friend is murdered and the blame is pinned on him.

On the run from the police, he strays into Geraldine’s pet shop and, after searching his eyes to see if he did it or not, she takes him in. There is, as there usually is, a web of intrigue behind the murder and Alex does his best to stay on top of it. He and Geraldine grow close, he gets on with her daughter but he’s still a wanted man.

Jason’s simple storytelling and dog / bird-faced characters are used well here.

A stunning thriller and an ending that just floored me. 

MAS

Buy Why Are You Doing This? and read the Page 45 review here

We used to be a lot more succinct, didn’t we?

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Secret Path (£23-99, Simon And Schuster) by Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire

Lazarus vol 5: Cull s/c (£13-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

On The Camino (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

I Killed Adolf Hitler (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

One More Year (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann

Boundless (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterley) by Jillian Tamaki

Lennon The New York Years h/c (£17-99, IDW) by David Foenkinos, Eric Corbeyran & Horne

Bitch Planet vol 2: President Bitch s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kelly Sue Deconnick & Valentine De Landro, Taki Soma, Kelly Fitzpatrick

Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c (£14-99, DC) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Tom Fowler, Tamara Bonvillain

Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 4: Old Monsters s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Filipe Andrade, Andrea Sorrentino

Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Young Avengers The Childrens Crusade s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung

Deadpool The Duck s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Stuart Moore & Jacopo Camagni

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 2: Bottled Light s/c (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval, various

Harley Quinn vol 6: Black, White and Red All Over s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, various

Fairy Tail vol 60 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

ITEM: ANNOUNCING for October 2017:

Bryan Talbot will be signing and sketching in Grandville: Force Majeure a month before publication in Page 45’s Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Yes, a whole month before publication!!!

    

All the details are there, on our updated LICAF Page including links to LICAF and Bryan’s own website.

Come to LICAF!

You won’t be able to buy the book for another month elsewhere!

ITEM! LIAR LIAR by Captain SKA reaches Number 1 in the Download Charts.

Hooray! Tune of the year – and certainly of the General Election.

Let’s hope it now reaches Number 10!

 – Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week four

May 24th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be Devon Ayre, yes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot actually imagine.

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

Priorities are important.

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

Genius!

SLH

Buy Livestock and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is sincere. I made sure of it.”

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

“Samantha?
“Are you okay?”

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

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

Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, but you answered it anyway, Sam!

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

It’s all so subtly written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think TANK GIRL fans would love this.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent advice! It was pretty fruity.

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

I will explain in a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eat a spider OR kiss a pig?”

What’s wrong with pigs? Chauvinists aside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are all cordially invited to bite me.

SLH

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

New Edition / Old Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the space and the light!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 News!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of…

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘7 Ways You Can Support Illustrators’ for BookTrust

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

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week three

May 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So what doesn’t work for me then? Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that Alison Greene thinks Jessica would betray her friends, particularly her best friend, Carol Danvers. It’s a real stretch, frankly. By the end of this volume I understood precisely why Bendis did it, and I shall say no more for fear of spoilers, but… it still feels forced.

Then, my real bugbear: Jessica takes Dani, Luke’s and her baby, and leaves the marital home, without any word of explanation to Luke, as part of her going underground cover story. Yes, you can say she felt she couldn’t tell anyone at all, including her husband, the father of her child, what was going on, blah blah blah, but the reality of it is, would she really put her husband and the father of her child through that, with no word of warning whatsoever, just out of the blue? I think not.

I understand Bendis clearly feels Jess works best as a character as the isolated outsider, rather than the happy contented wife, presumably also explaining the double meaning in the volume’s subtitle ‘Uncaged’, which is quite clever, actually, I will give him that. This set up immediately achieves that isolation, stirring up a whole cement mixer load of dramatic tension between our leading dramatis personae as a bonus, but again, it felt rather forced.

It’s almost as though Marvel, having seen the success of the Jessica Jones TV show – plus the forthcoming Defenders series featuring the character – has said, “Bendis, bring her back in the comics, just like before, exactly like before, nothing must change, just like Stan said, make it happen”. “It’s only a comic, Jonathan!” I hear you cry. But when Bendis has made his name writing realistic characters (and dialogue), I expect perfection.

Still, that sting in the tale I’m talking about, makes it all worthwhile and carries the story over the rocky plotholed (sic) ground. Plus I’m still reading the monthly single issues, so I’m clearly hooked and will shut up moaning now! And this title is a trillion times better than most of the utter shite Marvel is churning out at the moment. I really will shut up now.

Previous ALIAS collaborators Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth return on line art and colours, respectively, which is also a definite huge plus as the change in art ruined the PULSE material for me. Again, this welcome return of said dynamic drawing duo is presumably trying to make it feel like it is business as usual, but they are the definitive Jessica Jones art team so why not.

Also, at the risk of seeming like I actually condone variants, which I really don’t, I was pleased to see they had included all the cover art, as chapter breaks too, rather than tucked away unnoticed at the back. When you’ve got the likes of David Mack, Alex Maleev, David Aja doing some brilliant covers, they do deserve as many eyeballs as possible rolling over them. There are also some totally duff covers from other people, mind, but they just make you appreciate the genius of the likes of the Mack even more.

JR

Buy Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (£13-99, Oni) by John Allison

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Fante Bukowski Two (£13-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice

Outburst h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Peter Coudyzer

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis

Archie vol 1 (£17-99, Archie) by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish

Flash vol 2: Speed Of Darkness s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & David Gianfelice, various

Deadpool: Bad Blood h/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Rob Liefeld, various

Spider-Man / Spider-Gwen: Sitting In Tree s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour & Sara Pichelli, Robbi Rodriguez

Boruto – Naruto Next Generations vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto & Mikio Ikemoto, Ukyo Kodachi

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 12 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

News!

ONE WEEK UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE TO ORDER!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 23rd, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

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